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The Game of God

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--Day 153--

At half an hour past midnight, the storm's been going for twenty minutes, power's been off for over two hours, and Cas has been unconscious for just over three.

Dean ignores the knock on the door, eyes fixed on the too-still figure on the bed in a room lit by an entire box of soothingly-scented candles, competing scents of jasmine and sage and lemongrass and mint filling the room. Clarity, focus, serenity, inspiration, patience, strength, endurance--virtues all, he's sure, though he can't feel a single goddamn one.

"It's me," Vera says before coming inside and shutting out potential noise with the closed door, not that it matters; the storm hit just after midnight like fist to the face, stopping everything dead in its tracks.

Those stationed at the checkpoints and those driving the buses refused to leave, running relay until it was impossible to see and taking up positions near each checkpoint to offer shelter to whoever could get there. Manuel and Teresa are out there with Hans, Anthi, and other members of Ichabod's patrol and civilian helpers, and so are Kamal's team and Sean's. Dean doesn't remember exactly what threats he shouted via walky-talky while they claimed interference, which is probably for the best; he's pretty sure none of them were the kind he could back up without a higher muscle mass and maybe some specialized equipment or something.

Vera goes through the motions, checking the IV line and the battery-powered monitors, pulse and oxygen and blood pressure and everything else you have to know when you have someone on a cocktail of fentanyl patches and a midazolam drip. Dean doesn't remember if she stopped to explain why--on a guess, she didn't waste time when he wasn't gonna listen--but he knows the second Cas stopped screaming. Alicia, pinning Cas to the bed like she did the guy in the infirmary, one hand on his forehead to keep his head still and eyes on her, just kept talking, voice hoarse, apparently at the tail-end of an honestly terrifying narrative of all the fun things they could do if they get some catapults or trebuchets or something (both, he thinks). Cas blinked as sense returned, looking startled and terrified and then he was out like a light. For the next twelve to sixteen hours, if Alicia's memories from Jeffrey are accurate on the time it takes for the step down from waves of agonizing pain that sent Cas into seizures twice before Vera medically wizarded it away.

Making notes on the chart on the bedside table--a chart, on Cas--Vera lingers by the bed while he pretends not to know his militia is taking turns going out into the storm, fully-armed casual walk in a blizzard and in no way checking for strays or monsters. They just need some fresh air, and maybe, to get away from him. Which is fine; he gets it now, what Cas meant about breathing.

"He's fine," Vera says abruptly, which Dean doesn't acknowledge because he already knows that. That thread's a rope right now, and he can feel the low, nearly subliminal hum of Cas's unconscious mind, no fear or distress or horror or revulsion or endless agony, just--rest.

The abrupt drop after Cas burned out most of the shit Crowley gave him was the worst part, freefall with nowhere to land, and he hopes to God that Joe forgives him, for he really knows not what the hell he was doing. When Amanda showed him she could bench press him and probably a couple of demons by throwing him at Joe so she and the others could get to Cas, he's pretty sure he didn't deal with it well.

"It's--" She tightens her lips. "I've never seen him this still."

The pile of blankets and hot water bottles and whatever means Dean can't see his chest move; she's right, Cas isn't this still even sleeping and the monitors, what do they mean, they beep…but inhale-long beat-exhale-long beat-repeat, that's real. He's grateful and everything, but Vera's kind of fucking with his listening here.

"There's something…probably should have told you this before," Vera is saying, and Dean looks up to tell her to get out when she adds, "I failed out of the nursing program."

Dean emerges from contemplating how to make sure that rope doesn't fade out with the rest--the thread thing was fine, but that was before he had this--and stares at her for a minute. "What?"

"Just the once," she explains, staring down at Cas, and even with the candles, he can't catch her expression. "Junior year, went to a rave, two hits of x and two days later woke up with a new tattoo and totally missed finals." She reaches down, arranging the blankets around Cas more securely, checking the IV line carefully. "Maybe--maybe if I hadn't been fucking off all year, they would have, you know, cut me some slack, but--I mean, when you're the one known for giving the best parties or knowing where they are, that doesn't cut it."

He stares at her, locked hair in the professional version of a messy knot, perfect posture, fresh scrubs over freshly washed clothes: ultra-competent, cranky nurse-doctor who treats impossible medical situations like personal insults to her intelligence…. "You?"

"I barely made it through college." She hiccups a laugh. "I just test really well and I can interview like no one's business. And I know how to make the right friends."

Her hobbies are sewing, Amanda's book club, and reading gigantic-ass medical books. New Year's Eve was the first time he ever even saw her drink. "You're fucking with me."

He gets the impression of a smile before she gracefully takes the chair beside him, tucking her feet underneath her. Looking at her, he tries to think 'party girl', but all he can see is Vera at that table in his room, surrounded by medical books and paperwork. "Nope."

He has no idea what to do with this. "Then how--"

"Begged, pleaded, talked to everyone, and made more of the right friends," she answers. "And they let me back in. Had to repeat the year, but whatever."

Dean frowns suspiciously. "Is this gonna be one of those inspirational stories?"

"Oh God no. I skidded by just like I had before but suspended my social life during finals. Mostly." He gapes at her. "Graduated at the bottom half of my class, but I did graduate."

"Like, what part of the bottom--"

"Numbers aren't important here," she says dismissively. "Anyway, did my time, got a specialization, got a regular job, made more friends, had the best parties, and eventually got my APRN because like I said, good tests, good interview, and very, very good friends."

"Do you--do you even like medicine?"

"You'd think I'd have asked myself that question at some point, wouldn't you?" She shrugs. "Nice job, fucking amazing apartment, great friends, great family, even a genuine black sheep in there no one would talk about at Thanksgiving--and a mysterious hookup who I met in the ER with the weirdest goddamn wounds I'd ever seen."

He straightens, almost losing his blanket. "Debra."

She smiles slowly. "Not gonna lie, I saw her come in and got myself assigned to her stat. I knew she was lying about how she got those that in retrospect were claw marks--and I still don't know what did it, but I narrowed it down a couple of years ago to not werewolf--but I stitched her up, got her antibiotics, and kept her overnight before asking her if she wanted to get some coffee. Best weekend of my life, by the way."

Despite himself, he feels himself smiling in return. "I always wondered what that was like from the other side."

"Mysterious," she says wryly. "I never knew if I'd see her again, much less when--but for about five years, every couple of months, she'd show up with a new weird injury that needed fixing and a new name for the chart followed by a weekend--or a very memorable week--in bed. Normal person probably would have wondered about that."

"A normal person," Dean tells her, "installs a new security system and changes the locks on their doors."

"Me, just made it better." Vera shakes her head ruefully, smile fading. "Nursing, career, it was just something I did. I wasn't bad at it, but I was just one of the nurses you see doing shit; my one claim to fame was my bedside manner, top marks across the board."

"Really?" Dean bites his tongue, but Vera can't even manage to maintain the offended expression a second before bursting into laughter. "Sorry, you're--fine, really. Really. Had worse, trust me."

She snorts, wiping her eyes. "I think about my professors sometimes. The entire potential speech, the do good in the world, all that. For over two years of my life after I came to Chitaqua, I kept thinking what they should have said is at some point in your life, you may need to know this because there will be no doctors, you're in a militia camp, and the patient has to be taught by trial and error that pain is not an inconvenience to be ignored but a possible--and his case absolutely definite--injury his nurse needs to treat."

Suddenly, Vera's records start to make a terrifying amount of sense, and they were terrifying before.

"And you don't know how to treat it," she adds tonelessly, and Dean stills. "Because you weren't paying attention in class. Or to do most obvious shit; I did time in the ER, all the departments on rotation, but I had the head nurse and a doctor there to tell me what to do, and it wasn't my responsibility to know why. So Darryl had books, genuinely a surprise; I stole them when he passed out, read most of the night, before I got a mission that took me to the library and walked out with everything I could hide under the seat of the jeep. About eight years of education I had to repeat, half the time while Cas was sitting there, personally offended by the concept of 'injury' and sincerely wondering if he really needed all his toes or telling me how that ligament was really unnecessary to the human body. I had to know everything, from hunter first aid--which is nothing like the regular kind--to adhoc surgery with a local, I had to teach Cas to…." She trails off, a loose lock of hair falling to obscure her profile. "He's too still. He only does that when I'm working on him--had to teach him that, too, and use my elbow where it would do the most good when he didn't listen--but…."

Wrapping an arm around her, he tugs her head back onto his shoulder, stroking back the loose locks.

"I never had monitors for him. Everything I had, I stole on missions, and it wasn't much," she whispers thickly. "I had to learn to watch him, every second, he was his own diagnostic machine for me, all of them. Six months, he came back from a mission I could see by the way he got out of the jeep whether there was something wrong and even guess where and severity. Pulse, blood pressure, respiration, I can do his stats by touch, I can check his actual pain level by the back of his neck and how he holds his shoulders--and he's under like five thousand blankets because we gotta keep him warm and that goddamn monitor won't shut up so I can hear him breathing and be sure everything's okay."

Tightening his hold, he turns his face into her hair; yeah, that would be it. "He's fine," he tells her roughly. "Promise."

"I know," she whispers back. "That's why I had Joe restraining you where I could see you--and that's the only reason you were in here, by the way, there's a reason relatives and loved ones aren't allowed in the same room when we're working. I needed you so I could be sure and get the dosage right." She turns her head to look at him, and Dean can see both the wetness around her eyes and on her cheeks as well as the smile. "Generally, when you're effectively putting someone in stage one anesthesia, you go to school for that for a few years to learn how to do it without killing them."

Dean stares at her for a long moment, then at Cas. "Uh."

"I was pretty sure I was right," she adds. "But you almost passing out was helpful, thanks."

He's gotta say something here. Something….with words. "Huh."

"Before you called me here," she continues in a different voice, "I'd just finished cleaning up from an emergency C-section; not Sudha," she says quickly when he stiffens. "She's fine, still walking it off. One of the refugees, literally the last off the last bus already in distress, had to move fast, baby's fine, boy, Apgar 8, 9, seven-twelve and nineteen inches. Before that, I set two broken arms, wrapped a badly sprained ankle, treated six fevers cause maybe anything but two are probably flu, checked on a pneumonia, and consulted on six other cases, including Dolores's which makes no sense. I assisted Karl and Lewis with triage and was suturing people right in their chairs, didn't even think about it. I'm in surgery tomorrow afternoon for a questionable appendix that's making me and Dolores very nervous and is being watched very closely tonight. Dolores is worried about actual surgery because she only assisted years ago; I haven't even done that much, and I'm not worried at all." She looks up at him soberly. "What you asked, if I liked medicine? I do, yeah. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor. Save the world one patient at a time, what do you think?"

Dean grins. "Pretty sure you already are."

She starts to laugh, curling closer, and Dean can't help joining in. After a few seconds, she sighs, lifting her head slightly, and Dean starts to let go, but she just adjusts the position of his shoulder (along with him) before settling back down. "Comfortable?"

"Yeah, thanks." Blowing out a breath, she watches Cas for a long moment. "I don't know her anymore. She wouldn't have prepped a patient for a C-section while checking two charts for Karl, she wouldn't have had a circle of people watching her while she narrated how to make the first incision, she wouldn't have…she wouldn't have known enough to do it or even think she could. I mean, amazing apartment and the job and the parties and the mystery hookup--it wasn't a bad life, don't get me wrong, it was great. But--when I think about--I can't imagine living it anymore. It was--it's a nice life for someone, but I don't fit there at all. I don't even want to. I'd go crazy even trying."

He catches his breath, swallowing hard.

"It sounds stupid, I know," she starts.

"It doesn't." Reaching for the blanket, he pulls it over them both, and watches Cas. "It makes perfect sense."

"Dean," Joe says on opening the door and disturbing he and Vera's competitive count of how many times Cas breathes per minute, which doesn't mean she wins but he already knows she's gonna say she did, "we got a problem."

"Off-duty," Dean reminds him.

"Library and YMCA." Dean twists around in his chair; he doesn't need light to guess Joe's expression. "Two incidents, ten, maybe fifteen minutes apart."

James's team was at the library tonight. They did a shift with his team before taking Nate to join the repair crew frantically getting the library ready for habitation and helping the volunteers organize the refugees. Nate was still checking rooms when Dean stopped by; sure, this could end with a mysterious increase in the number of rooms in the library, but that's all to the good; they could use the space.


"He and Zack are downstairs," Joe says, and Vera twists around. "Nate and Mira are fine, but they're helping Naresh's people keep everyone calm at the library while Naresh wakes up everyone he can to help. Most of the ones awake were already at the YMCA, so…."

"Stay with Cas," Dean says reluctantly to Vera, sliding out from under the blanket as Vera takes his chair and following Joe out the door and toward the stairs. "How long until the power's back anyway?"

"We're only ten minutes past the five hour limit," Joe says reassuring, and Dean is reassured except for the fact he's one of the few (two, including Alison) who know the estimate was four hours and his only regret is he's among those who know that.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Dean sees a shaken James and even more shaken Zack waiting by the desk where Rachel's under a mound of blankets looking worried. "Report."

"No idea what happened," James says, voice hoarse, like he's been shouting, and Dean can see familiar dark stains on the worn sweater beneath his unzipped coat. "Mira said everyone seemed fine--well, fine as…."

"I get it," Dean says soothingly. "Then?"

"A fight started," James answers. "Mira says she heard the argument start on the other side of the room while she was helping settle some kids and was making her way over, then suddenly one had a gun and shot at the other guy, and like that, ten others started attacking him, too. Then more--she said she got a couple disarmed and then it stopped." James looks at him helplessly. "Just--stopped, no reason, just like it started."

"Anyone killed?"

James nods shortly, and Dean takes in Zack's faintly glazed look and James' trembling hands, and turns to look at Rachel. "Rache, we have any coffee?"

"Upstairs," she says, raising an eyebrow; 'upstairs' means 'the break room with no windows' where everyone's waiting out the lack of electricity and storm in a citrus and passionfruit haze and sometimes even actually sleeping instead of pretend to. He nods: might as well let everyone hear this when he does, since he's going to be sending them to help.

"You two, go up with Rachel," Dean says, cutting off James' protest. "I'll be right behind you; faster I can hear it all, faster we can deal with it."

Dean watches them go up and goes to lock the front door--does have some really, almost unnecessarily good locks and an amazing bolt just above his head, interesting--already knowing what Joe's gonna say. "Dean--"

"I can't go, I know." This time, at least, he doesn't need to be told why; if this is repeat-one of the mess (twice), they've confirmed Alicia being creepily right on most if not all points and also something new; whatever it is might be spreading. It's not that he's the most dangerous person from Chitaqua (Cas), or even the most dangerous human (Amanda); he's just the one they (sometimes) obey, along with the rest of the only comparatively less dangerous members of his militia. "I'm sending everyone else--"

"Except for Rachel," Joe says, "not because you need protection," it's totally because they all think he needs protection, "but because you're off-duty for a reason. Besides, blizzard. I can update you as often as you want."

"Storm will be gone by dawn." Dean scowls at Joe's significant look toward the stairs. "Fine. Let's get their report so we can get started."

Vera's copperplate handwriting even under stress isn't a judgement on him or anything, but it feels like it. "I'm wearing a walky-talky," she says as he skims down the (unsettlingly long) list of what to do if this happens and on the back of the page (the back) is a numbered list of what looks like descriptions of--conditions? "If anything happens, first rule--"

"Don't panic."

Pausing in pulling on a heavy sweater, she grins at him. "Yes. Max it'll take me to get back is ten minutes by jeep, and there is nothing--and I do mean nothing--that I can't walk you through over walky-talky if I'm delayed; list is right there, just give me the number corresponding to the problem. The only real worry I have is the very remote possibility the stress of whatever that shit is doing to him causes cardiac arrest--"

Dean almost drops the paper. "A heart attack?"

"Not likely at this point," she says reassuring. "Now, I showed you how to give him the next dose, which is right there by the aquamarine candle of happiness," she says, pointing to the folding table by the bed, where everything's laid out in some kind of Vera-specific order (along with a selection of blue and green candles). "If he gets agitated, or wakes up enough to start moving, just put a hand on his chest and apply firm pressure--Alicia's method works faster, but she was an EMT and knows how not to break ribs--give him that and call me immediately."

He actually didn't think to wonder about that. "How was she holding him down anyway?"

"She wasn't," Vera says distractedly before meeting his eyes. "Okay, look at me."

Dean scowls. "I am."

"And pay attention," she says, voice serious. "Things to know, and you probably have guessed by now if you didn't before; Cas takes injuries as insults."

Oh yeah. "I know."

"Yeah, no, you think you know," she answers. "He won't admit it, but he does, actually, think mortality and the human condition exist to fuck with him. 'If your right eye offend thee, pluck it out?' He would do it if he could, just on principle."

Dean shuts his mouth.

"Exactly," she says, grinning maliciously. "Your job--that you've chosen to accept, and did I congratulate you on your--"

"Don't," he snarls, "say it."

"--broadened horizons?" she finishes smugly. "Anyway, with Cas, your job is to remind him you only get the one mortal body, you can't get a better one--and his is just fine--so it's best to care for this one correctly. If he tries to tell you about how superfluous something is--fingers, toes, muscle groups--"

"You're kidding."

"I'm not. Remind him one, infected zone, two, he's a wanted fugitive, and three, no. Not that he'll be arguing tonight, but context." Dean's still absorbing his own horrified lack of surprise when she adds, "Call me. You're not sure, call me. Any reason is fine, just call me. And I'll be checking in regularly, okay?"

He nods absently and is abruptly being--holy shit, she's hugging him before she's on her way to the door so both of them can more easily pretend that didn't just happen.

After a moment, Dean pulls the chair up to the bed and sits down, settling himself to listen.

Dean's still thinking about Joe's last update--rooms secured, people calmed, infirmary for some, first aid for others, bodybags for a chosen few--when he's out of the chair and by the bed just in time to hear the first hitch of Cas's breath. Doing the math Alicia told him on the step down one more time--also on a convenient piece of paper he doesn't need--he knows no matter how much he wants it to be different, it's way too damn early. He memorized Vera's instructions, but he calmly sets them under the light of three candles as he calls Vera on the walky-talky, sliding the corded earpiece in his ear.

"Of course it's now," Vera says venomously, and in the background, he can hear screaming, moaning, what sounds like half of goddamn Ichabod injured. "Honest answer, Dean: can you do it or you need me there?"

He wants her here. "I can do it."

"You can't do this wrong," she lies, because when it comes to things that fall under first stage anesthesia, he's pretty sure doing it right is what they have to train you how to do. "Okay, I can work and talk, so let's get started. Get his stats--"

"He's waking up!"

"It's gonna take a while, and he won't remember anyway," she answers calmly. "Midazolam is also a hypnotic, inhibits new memory formation, there's a reason I picked it. Now, breathe. We have time to do this right, Dean, so we're going to take it. Pulse, blood pressure, temperature: go."

Hands perfectly steady, Dean does as he's told with the kit Vera left on the table, listening to Cas's breathing hitch, another slight increase in speed, reporting everything with a voice that sounds exactly like his own. The background roar of wherever she is (YMCA? Library? Infirmary?) quiets as if by magic, the quickening of Cas's breath all he can hear. "Vera, he's--"

"He sounds distressed, I know," she says calmly. "He's fine, this is perfectly normal. Better, actually. Cas doesn't like sedatives, he fights them, and sometimes even wins. He can't against this one, but he's still gonna try. It'll be fine, I promise."

"How do you know?" he snaps, and in horror he sees his right hand is shaking, almost dropping the thermometer. Putting it down, he flattens it on the bed and sees Cas's eyelids flicker, the tiny movements that mean he's going to wake up and start screaming and Dean can't can't handle hearing that again. "You're not even here!"

"Because you're still talking normally," she answers, and distantly, he hears what sounds like Dolores saying something about stitches. "Yeah, Karl nailed it, bandage and go." Then, to Dean, "Now look at my numbered list, start with one, and tell me what you see: go."

Fisting his right hand, he picks it up with his left, sitting on the edge of the bed, unreasonably comforted by the mound of blanketed Cas against his hip. Reading the list out loud--because Vera--he says no to each one--he checks each that he can; gums are fine (pinkish), skin isn't clammy to the touch, fingernails and toenails aren't blue or grey, no problems with airway or breathing ("I know it's faster," Vera says calmly. "It's a good thing, trust me."), and pupils are responsive to the penlight.

Dean puts the penlight away but keeps a hand on Cas's forehead; it's not only him that feels better doing that.

"Dean?" Vera says sharply, and he remembers she's still there.

"His breathing--it slowed down." A little, anyway: even Dean can tell Cas is either starting to feel it, or is going to very soon. "Okay, now what?"

There's a short pause. "Now we're gonna put him back down, and before you say it, we're well within recommended dosage. Cas is still in a human body, just a non-standard one, and we're resilient as fuck. Now, before we start, how cold is the room now?"

What the hell? "Uh." He's not sure, but 'chilly' wouldn't be a terrible way to describe it, now that he's paying attention. "Not freezing?"

"Even covering the windows isn't going to help much longer," she says, almost to herself. "Okay, take off your boots now, or unlace them, whatever. Before we start: when we're done and Cas is going back down, strip down as much as you're comfortable with, and get in bed with him."

Dean nearly loses the corded earpiece; that sounds like a deceptively awesome plan, so he has to have heard it wrong. "What?"

"Body heat," she answers succinctly. "We don't have heat or electric blankets, and the foil blankets can only do so much. He's lost some already from checking him and he's gonna lose more when we replace the patches. Much like ice baths in your cabin with a literal tub, we're going old school in keeping Cas warm. Not gonna lie, it's gonna feel weird with someone who's down as far as he's is--"

"I don't care." Dean grabs his coat and drops it on the floor before easing out of his boots, tossing his belt as well, and unbuttoning the flannel one handed for quick removal later. "All right, what now?"

"Pick up the needle by the bed; the dosage is the same as the one earlier," she answers. "There's a second beside it; we probably won't need it, but it never hurts to be prepared. Don't touch that one. Check the labels--I put a blue sticker on the one we're using."

Nodding (she can't see it, but he feels better), he picks it up and takes a deep breath, checking for the blue sticker three times--still blue, awesome--and says, "Got it. Where did you get stickers?"

"Cas's map supplies," she answers. "I labeled everything earlier in case of emergency, and glad I did. You saw where I put it in the IV? Just slide it in and depress the plunger, no sudden movements, just easy. And before you panic, there's a second IV in the corner behind you, all ready to go in case you mess up."

Dean snorts as he tentatively picks up the fragile-looking IV line, almost surprised by the tough material and feeling like an idiot; this isn't his first time at the goddamn IV rodeo here.

"Alicia said you did a great job helping her out after Jeffrey," Vera tells him quietly. "There's nothing about this you haven't done or watched me do with you, remember?"

Depressing the plunger, Dean carefully removes it, discarding the needle in the wastebasket and wondering if he should have grabbed gloves and then wondering why the hell he's worried about that.

"Nice and easy," Vera says after talking to someone where she is. "You're fine, Dean. It's always going to be harder when it's someone you care about, that's why it's not recommended we treat loved ones."

"I never had this problem with Sam," he says before he can stop himself.

"Of course not," Vera says with a ripple of laughter in her voice, and he finds himself wondering what the hell she's doing; the vague, wet sounds are creepy as hell. "Once, Merry came in to my ER with an open head wound and concussion from an unfortunate incident with a ladder and a potted plant, don't ask, I never worked out what the hell she thought she was doing. Drove herself to the ER, of course, because my sister does shit like this. I lectured her the entire time I was checking her and suturing her up. Siblings are part of you; when you're close, when you know them, it's like taking care of yourself." She's quiet for a long moment, and Dean doesn't think it's entirely whatever the hell she's doing. "Sorry. I--I'm guessing that's not something you like to talk about."

Cas said that, too, he remembers, and then it hits him; she's talking about the Sam who's Lucifer's willing vessel, not Sam who is in another world, sure, but perfectly safe and only said yes to Lucifer because it was part of a plan. Who never--and Dean knows this--would have said yes otherwise; he would have killed himself first.

"No, it's fine. We were close, yeah." Tugging the container of patches closer, he reaches out to rest a hand on Cas's forehead; cool but not clammy, probably losing body heat but fine. "I took care of Sam for years. Knew how to suture before I knew all my states. Barely got my GED."

"I don't think I could recite all the states," Vera admits with a giggle--a giggle--while Dean's still working out why he told her that. "Amanda got hers when she was nineteen, she told me. For a job, but it's under her legal name, I think."

"That sounds about right." Watching Cas for any problems (depressed respiration, waking up, changes in color, the list goes on), he hears himself say, "Sam was about to graduate from Stanford, go to law school. Before--you know, shit happened."

"It does that." There's another pause, then Vera says, "Okay, let's do the checklist again, make sure everything's in order." Going through the now-familiar (ish) steps, Dean watches Cas carefully, but while his breathing's still a little fast, it's slowing again, and everything is proceeding almost eerily right, which Dean trusts not at all. The manual ventilator is on the other side of the table, along with the neatly labeled boxes of different medications, unused but ready for action. "Now the patches. Remove the old ones first, toss 'em, then add the new ones. They're self-adhesive; just put them near the others, this is not an exact science and doesn't need to be."

When he's done, he sits back on the edge of the bed, he runs through the checklist again, and waits out the fifteen minutes listening to the weirdly soothing sound of Vera handling an unsettling variety of problems. "What are the casualties?"

"No final count yet," she answers soberly, and he hears the sound of running water. "Five DOA from the library, thirty-eight from the YMCA, thirty-two total injures, but only about four serious, and one died on the way to the infirmary. Which," she adds thoughtfully, "is weird."

"Everything about this is weird."

"No, I mean…" She makes an annoyed sound. "Mira described it like a miniature mob turning on this guy, shots fired and everything, but only maybe a quarter of the people in the room participated and almost no bystander injuries. Dean, the volunteers didn't have exact numbers, but we're talking about over five thousand people in the YMCA and at least two thousand in the library. Even if we didn't have suspected compulsion going on, under these kind of conditions I'd expect something like this to happen; this is people being people and some armed. It's not that it happened, it's where and the results."

Dean reviews his memories of Joe's updates as he checks Cas's pulse again, discarding his flannel while he's at it. "Only one room in each building."

"Exactly. The YMCA has a basketball court and an empty swimming pool, both of which are filled with people; the library has a ton of open space, or did, since it's now filled with people. But both of these happened in isolated rooms. Mira said the one in the library--storage or something--was just opened up for occupation and wasn't close to being filled. These people are exhausted; Mira said half in that room were almost asleep when it started."

Dean nods, retrieving his weapons and placing them in easy reach from what will be his side of the bed. "What are you thinking?"

"My experience in compulsions is barely theory," she says. "So let me ask an expert--how consistent are they? Forced behavior: you do action 'x', noncompliance causes you to do 'y', is it that simple across the board?"

Dean thinks about it as he finishes his preparations. "Not sure. If this is a compulsion, anyway; Alicia said 'coercive', and that's a lot bigger field." And now he's got a nasty thought. "We don't even know how many actually have whatever it is, or how they got it, or--"

"Could be anyone," Vera interrupts and he hears the water turning off. "Okay, on my way back now."

Startled, Dean straightens. "You're done?"

"It's an hour until dawn and Dolores just ordered me out of her ER until I have a note from you that I've slept," Vera answers in amusement. "Everything's pretty much at done or wait and see. Just close my last gunshot and update my charts. Now, get in bed and get him warm. I'm going to pick up a couple of saline bags; anything you need?"

Dean looks around the dark room and swallows; no electricity. "Any ETA on power?"

"You would have heard if we had," she answers. "Get in bed, Dean. Don't worry if you fall asleep," he snorts, which makes her laugh, "you need it."

"See you in a few," he answers, clicking off the channel and checking the others as he eases out of his jeans and removes the thermal before kicking everything under the table and quickly climbing into bed, teeth starting to chatter. Not freezing, but definitely really goddamn cold.

Diving beneath the pile of blankets gratefully he maneuvers through them until he can feel Cas beneath the crinkle of foil and wool and the quilt from their bed at Alison's (he's definitely going to see what they can trade for that, soon). Curling up against Cas's cool body, stretching out to hit as much skin as possible, he focuses on the sound of Cas breathing, sets the walky-talky in easy hearing distance, and waits for Vera to show up.

Dean's not entirely sure what wakes him up, though on a guess, having Joe staring at him from a few feet away may be responsible. Untangling himself from the blankets, he automatically checks on Cas, though Alicia curled up in the closer chair with a folder in her lap reminds him of the dawn changeover so Vera could get some sleep.

"Do you sleep?" he asks her, rubbing his eyes.

"I do," she says virtuously. "Five hours, between my shift at the infirmary yesterday and midnight, ask Matt."

"I will," he says, and sees Joe still--looking weird--and is as awake as he's ever been in his life. "What? More incidents, power plant blow up, zombie attack, Croat attack, demons, abominable snow monster?"

Joe and Alicia exchange a really questionable look before Joe says, "No, no, no, no, no, and no--"

"What's the ETA on power?" he asks, sliding out of bed and hissing at first contact with the freezing floor--where are his socks? In bed, dammit. Finding his and Cas's bags in the corner, Dean pulls out the first things that look vaguely warm. Also, the lights are on and it's not freezing in here. "Oh, we have power. What time is it?"

"Hour before noon. Power came on around the time the blizzard stopped," Joe says impatiently. "Boots are over here, can you hurry?"

Scowling, Dean drags on his jeans and shirts, grabbing a flannel at random--glad he packed all of 'em--and a pair of socks, circling around to sit on the edge of the bed to drag them on. "You wanna be less mysterious?"

"Yeah, I do," Joe answers, and there's a note in his voice Dean's never heard in his voice before. "Which I'm going to need your help with. Let me get your coat."

"He brought coffee," Alicia offers, reaching over to retrieve a thermos from the table as Dean stamps into his boots. "Stop being weird, Joe."

"Being weird--" Joe starts incredulously.

"People are so weird about change, you know what I mean?" Alicia asks, and Joe's face turns red beneath the short beard. "It's all good," she says brightly. "I'll wait with Cas; doing fine, by the way."

Dean just avoids Joe stuffing him into his coat--what the hell?--and takes the thermos gratefully, unscrewing the top and taking a drink as he checks Cas with (sort of) experienced eyes. "Be right back."

"I doubt it," she says cheerfully. "No worries: I got it under control. Did I mention I really want a catapult? We could make one."

Then Joe's physically pulling him out the door and okay, fine, what the hell? Dean manages to slow down the breakneck pace down the stairs and frowns when he sees the front desk is empty, chair halfway to the wall behind it, and both doors are wide open. "Hey, where's--"

"Where everyone else in the world is," Joe snaps, fingers digging into his arm warningly, and Dean figures crazy people and goes along with it, going through the endless stupid alcove and out into--wow, street's kind of crowded. And--

Stopping short, Joe turns him and pushes his head up until he's looking at the churning grey warning that is the sky--oh. "Huh."

"Storm eased off about half an hour after dawn," Joe says. "Huge surprise, by the way--"

"Yeah, that," Dean starts.

"--and then we got power and heat, so kind of distracted, right? Right. It's a little dark, fine. And then someone finally looked up," Joe finishes, following Dean's gaze upward. "And saw that."

Dean takes a drink of coffee as he gazes at that; even in the snow-cloud gloom, he can see a barely-there iridescent sheen like mother of pearl in an oyster shell, hovering just beneath the angry swirl of clouds, sudden sparks of bright color chasing themselves across the surface every time they come into contact with the grey.


"About a week," he says, taking another drink. "Lots of snow, though, couldn't help that part. That should be enough; once the backlash stops, it'll break apart anyway, so--"

"Dean," Joe says flatly, and startled, he meets Joe's eyes. "Cas stopped the blizzard?"

"No, too--it's like a dam and a huge river," he explains to Joe's blank expression. "Too much to hold back for long. More like a--filter. So just snow. Cool, huh?"

Joe shuts his mouth, looking--yeah, no idea.

"What's the problem?" he demands, taking another drink. "Told you last night, should be cleared up around dawn."

"I'll give you that one," Joe says after a way too long pause and Dean realizes he's fighting back a grin. "My bad, I should have taken your one single comment on it as literal truth. And the other thing?"


Joe points down the street. "That."

Dean drops his thermos. "Holy. Shit."

Here's the thing: Dean's memories are kind of--weird--when it comes to details on this--thing. He doesn't think he can be blamed with everything else that happened to be unclear on certain--facets--since he had the key points down. Mostly.

Key point: very useful for defense of a growing town and something about history and--tensile strength? Non-reactive something.

Unclear facet: it's a wall.

A really, really, really big wall. Around Ichabod.

Armed with a refilled thermos via Joe after checking on Cas ("Still down," Alicia tells him cheerfully, looking up from--is that a library book? About…. "Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking," she says, showing him the cover. "Did you know shrinking genitals are a thing?" He didn't and wishes he didn't now. "Couldn't find any Waller, what can you do?" she asks, like he said something and not just stared at her in horror. "Go away. Get fresh air. See if they got ladders yet? What are your feelings on catapults again?"), Dean makes his way through the now less crowded street to the presumptive--front gate thing?--just past Third of what is apparently the newly fortified city of Ichabod, because when he and Cas talked about fortified cities on New Year's, it really, really stuck.

Looking up the twenty-four foot height with a sense of unreality (Christ, big), Dean takes a long drink of coffee and waves up at the bewildered looking citizens walking on top (walkway?) just behind the three foot-high--lip?--not unlike that which surrounded the roof they'd been sitting on when New Year's Day began. Cas is apparently safety-conscious even when crazy; no one's gonna trip and fall to their death without making an effort to do just that.

He can't nail down the color exactly, drifting between a dark, sandy off-white (maybe?) and a weird silvery grey, a little like unpolished granite, come to think, but with a faint, nearly-indiscernible sheen that reminds him of volcanic rock. He can't be sure--snow clouds, lack of sun, iridescent dome, not enough coffee, giant wall--but there's a vague sense it might just--fuck his life--glint when exposed to direct light in a way not unlike a sparkle. Glitter: of fucking course it'll glitter. This is his life, after all: brownie bites, crazy ex-angel partner, crazy militia, town the destination of choice for a massive Kansas-specific migration, and surrounded in goddamn glitter.

Turning his attention to the tall, wide archway--excellent size for a gate or hell, a drawbridge, and right, more coffee now--his gaze travels helplessly toward the nearby people industriously deciding the better part of valor is not to question the wall, but to build a gate (door?) for it, or that's what he assumes the giant slats of wood and steel beams they're working on are supposed to eventually become. The noise from the tools and talking is loud, but apparently not loud enough, especially when Alison appears beside him, wearing fingerless gloves and clutching a thermos like it's her only hope of sanity. She's also holding a piece of paper that--wait, is that a drawing of the wall?

"Cas still out?" she asks, and he appreciates the courtesy, since from her expression, she knows that already. Seeing his face, she shrugs. "The box is drifty, but nothing like…you know."

"Yeah." No reason to think about that too hard; that way lies how many ways Crowley's gonna suffer for that and he's in triple digits and barely getting started. "Alicia says about six hours before he's awake. Teresa and Manuel?"

"Fine," she says with a smile, eyes distant for a minute. "They and Neer and a couple of others are placing the new wards directly on the wall. She said with a permanent object to ground them on--that surrounds the town--we can get the line extended maybe fifty feet out or something, which she really liked."

"Cool," he says, taking a drink and looking at wall, trying to take it in again and failing. It surrounds the town.

"Tony says two of the gates should be ready in a couple of hours," she tells him as they both watch not-entirely-blasé-but-trying patrol teams escort groups of exhausted, shivering people into Ichabod through the opening--from here, he's estimating the thickness at ten feet, which granted, is a long way to go without noticing you're walking through a cavern of--wall substance, did Cas even give it a name?

Then, "Two?"

"Yeah, two," she says with relish. "Of four gates. Six doors--doorways, I guess? Wait--" She consults the paper, and craning his neck, Dean realizes it's not just a drawing, it has labels. "Postern doors. So we can easily get to the fields without opening the gates, I assume."

"Where'd you get that?" he asks, craning his neck to read it. The top of the wall is a--walkway (got that all by himself), which is protected by a--battlement (really?) on the outer side and…nothing on what to call the inner, crap.

"Derek," she says, taking another drink. "Hit the books this morning like the fist of a really enthusiastic god of Renfaires past." She pauses for another long drink, eyes traveling back up to the people currently walking twenty feet above their heads, tipping her head sideways. "Only surprise is the lack of turrets. A couple of towers, maybe….." she trails off. "Ran out of material, I guess."

"Fortified cities."

"Yeah, that makes sense," she agrees with the calm of someone who's learned to just go with it. "You know Tony already had to argue how a drawbridge would be pointless because we don't have a moat? Ask me what Derek wanted next?"

Dean closes his eyes for another drink.

"Here," she says, thrusting her thermos into his hand. Frowning, he almost asks why until he recognizes the smell and gulps a swallow without flinching. There's definitely coffee somewhere in there, but the whiskey definitely adds to the flavor. Coughing his abject gratitude, he hands it back, staring up with watery, approving eyes at the history of the world of defense stuffed into a single fucking amazing wall. "Before you ask, yes."

"I have no idea what I was going to ask." There are so many questions, after all, and none he actually wants to ask out loud.

"We're still getting the figures, but 'big' would be about right. All the town including the--what used to be the east side, most of the winter pasture, barns, power plant, oh, the training field too, it's fine, no cars blocking it now--Tony said it's hard to calculate an ellipse and then told me what an ellipse is, since it's been a little while since geometry class." She pauses, eyes glazing. "Goes underground, too."

"Yeah, about ten feet, I think." They did talk about demons burrowing under salt lines, after all. "So Cas was thorough."

"Anything attacking us trying to dig their way in will have some problems, yeah. Ten feet? Tony was wondering. "She stops short, licking her lips. "So the storm?"

"Yeah." He takes another drink, understanding how she feels right now; every time he tries to think about it too hard, his mind stutters to a stop. "It's a filter. Just snow. It'll last about a week, but by then--storm should break up or something."

"Right." Alison takes a deep breath. "I don't believe in miracles. I don't, they're bullshit, there's no--yet here I am, looking at a wall beneath blizzardless skies. I’m dealing with the dissonance, but come on."

"Here," he says sympathetically, giving her back her thermos and watching her take a long drink.

She's quiet for a moment, dark eyes are nearly unreadable. "I'm getting the feeling some of the people who arrive aren't gonna want to leave for a while, so we're gonna need the space."

Dean lets out a breath between his teeth; yeah, he can see the attraction of a walled town. Very popular for the average person wanting not to die, yeah. "Alison--"

"Not your problem," she interrupts, still staring at the wall. "It's mine."

"Doesn't mean we won't help." He's not sure what the hell he can offer; he's not going to help drag people outside the walls--because Ichabod has walls now, really big walls--when this is over. She wouldn't ask him for that, of course, but it's not like they have a lot of other skillsets. She gives him an incredulous look which abruptly melts into something far too thoughtful for his peace of mind. "What?" Oh God, he hopes he was wrong about her asking.

"How do you feel about rounding up wild livestock from around Kansas?" She frowns at his expression. "What, it's beneath you to do as our ancestors did and herd shit? If they don't wanna go back, fine, but in the rush to get here, they might have left some things behind. Like livestock and extra food. After this is over, we're doing a major roundup of supplies, and we could use your help."

"Oh, yeah." Dean has no idea how you herd livestock, but he could swear he saw a movie once about guys taking cows somewhere. "We can do that."

"Good." She turns her attention back to the wall, looking less like she's wondering if life just hates her more than everyone else and more--glee?


"Walter got the power up as soon as the blizzard stopped--they couldn't get to one of the thingies, don't ask me what that is, no idea--and it was stable on the first try. We got two people with him now, he won't leave the plant but gotta sleep, so they're watching the dials, everything's working." She looks at him, eyes dancing. "Dissonance dealt with. Oh, Tony wants to talk to you; he's near Fifth, I think."

Dean nods, then backtracks: after this is over. "So you think we're gonna survive this." Whatever it is.

"Oh yeah," Alison agrees. "I got a snowy week, a militia of hunters, nine streets of electricity, and a walled city. No way am I missing what comes next." Her eyes rest on the future gate speculatively. "Come on, don't you want to see what Walter will make for towers? He was muttering about that before he fell asleep at the plant, and I gotta see that."

"A drawbridge would be cool," he admits, wondering how you get a moat anyway.

"God," she answers sincerely. "I know."

Finding Tony isn't hard; apparently, sleep is for people not him, but at least he's stationary, and from the look of the members of city services, is being watched to make sure he stays that way. Sitting a few feet from the wall off Fifth Street in a lawn chair by a table with what looks like draft paper taped to it, he oversees city services scurrying around and sips from a thermos of coffee.

Looking around, it occurs to Dean a lot of people are out today, and sure, he doesn't recognize everyone from Ichabod on sight, still.

"Hey," he says, and Tony jerks his gaze from contemplation of the wall to grin at Dean. "So--" He's not sure what goes here. "How's it going?"

"Making sure I'm not hallucinating," Tony says genially, waving at the table, where Dean sees a giant piece of draft paper taped covered in sketches--the wall?--and fuck knows but some of it isn't numbers or letters. Also, he notes in interest, a copy of Derek's Parts of a Giant Wall, and hey, where can he get a copy? "I need more coffee. You?"

His thermos is empty, so. "Okay."

Nodding toward the north corner of Fifth Street a few feet away, Dean follows his gaze and sees the crowd is gathered around--oh, a coffee bar. Well, row of coffee tables, on which are several coffee makers the likes of which Cas will definitely be taking back to Chitaqua one way or another, and a plethora of mismatched cups piled up in boxes behind several unnaturally cheerful people in a variety of coats. As they join the line, a casual glance back by someone in front of them sets off a sudden flurry of whispering, and to Dean's horror, an aisle abruptly opens up in front of them.

Before Dean can say anything--seriously, what?--Tony sighs, grabbing his arms and moving them to the front, where two teenagers wait with wide-eyed anticipation, taking Tony's and Dean's thermoses for fast refill.

"Black's fine," Dean says helplessly when he realizes they're waiting for instruction, taking the thermos back and clutching it to his chest as a quietly chuckling Tony leads him away, followed by murmured "Dean Winchester, are you sure?" and "You're kidding? That was him?" and something a lot like squealing.

"What was that?" Dean hisses to Tony, who smiles indulgently at him.

"The lifeblood of civilization," he answers. "Gossip and a lot of it."


"The Croat attack a few weeks ago and Chitaqua's role, of course," Tony explains as they pass the gatemakers. One of them is involved in explaining to everyone the historic uses of defensive walls around cities throughout time (not accurate at all), and something about Mongols. "New people to tell the stories to, that kind of thing."

Looking back to the coffee bar, Dean sees they're still being watched and gets several excited waves; waving back helplessly, he retreats to his chair and drinks coffee determinedly.

"How're your girls, by the way? They okay?"

Settling in his chair, Tony's face lights up, the way it always does when he's with his kids, making Dean wonder about if he had a family before or this was his first opportunity to have one.

"For once, Lily was excited about daycare," he answers, smiling fondly, and Dean thinks of the three year old's clinging arms and stubborn frown. "Dee was ready before I was this morning. With so many new friends to play with, I'm old news."

The daycare in the town square, now hosting God knows how many kids, must be the best thing since the death of Disney World. And that takes care of every subject he can think of while they're both staring at the (really goddamn big) wall. "So--two gates?"

"We're almost done with them. Should have the other two by tomorrow. I got a couple of guys hunting up more of the steel beams we had left after we finished the city center," Tony says, waving his thermos in the general direction of the warehouses (he thinks). "We can use those to reinforce the doors for now. Later, we'll hunt up a better design and see how we can adapt it to here. I have no idea what was standard for a…." he cocks his head, studying the opening in the wall intently. "You have any idea what Cas had in mind?"

"I don't think he knew," Dean answers honestly. "It was really--spontaneous."

"I got that feeling," Tony says wisely. "I'm making a list of what we'll need for the permanent gates, though God knows where we'll get industrial diamonds."


"To cut boltholes. Or maybe try a plasma torch, if we can find one. Nothing we got is making much of a dent in the surface, so for now we'll use a frame to hold the gates themselves and just epoxy that shit into place. I'm still not clear what we're dealing with here, though. It's gonna be a challenge."

"It's mostly brick and concrete. Well, was, anyway, not anymore." Wood and glass and whatever else was inside those buildings and houses (and cars), but more than that, he's not sure. Staring at it, he thinks about another time, looking at something that was nothing like what it actually was, except this time, no one dissolved reality afterward. "It's like you destabilize everything….molecularly," he tries. "And then--do things with it."

Tony stares at him, coffee forgotten in his hand.

"Put it back together, I mean," Dean says quickly. "Obviously. Just--differently."

"Okay," Tony says, nodding, and Dean celebrates success with another drink. "So this is new, you're saying? Any idea what it is exactly? Or like?"

"Carbon and silicon," Dean says uncertainly. "Crystal sheets?"

Tony blinks slowly. "Say again?"

"Graphene start value?" In no world is Dean even vaguely conversant with the kind of science that requires diagrams and equations and formulas, but that's not a problem at the moment, since he's got several very complicated letter-number combination floating through his memory. The challenge here, he thinks, is working out what's relevant, which hey, Tony may know that. "Uh, you have a piece of paper?"

Tony passes him a pencil and points at the one side of the draft paper. "There's fine."

Dean writes it down, remembering Cas working his way up the periodic chart (oh, there we go, thank you context) and stops when he finds the right number and goes from there, reproducing in order Cas's backward engineering of his wall substance once he found the stable solid form (whatever that means). Molar mass, density, toughness, hardness, tensile strength, malleability, melting point, properties in individual and the whole's composite forms. Writing the final equation, he frowns, then sketches the bright crystalline structure as the graphene allotropes (he thinks) were chained together in atom-thin sheets and fused (stitched?) between ultra-thin bilayer bands of silicon carbide (that's a ceramic? Cool), and sits back, feeling a little dazed from the sheer amount of what the fuck he just wrote.

"So," he starts and just avoids being shoved aside so Tony can read the entire thing start to finish. And then again.

"Huh," Tony says eventually, and Dean tries to decide if that's a good 'huh' or not as Tony sits back, staring at the paper with a distant look before his gaze fixes on the wall thoughtfully. "So this is really new."

"Cas said it worked with physics," Dean offers hopefully, employing euphemisms ruthlessly; 'said' is at least a word that exists. "Obeys, whatever. He checked."

"Good to know." Tony cocks his head. "Have we discovered all the physics this obeys, though? Just curious."

Yeah, that. "We can definitely reproduce it," he says, because he doesn't know physics, but he does remember Cas checking for that like a dozen times. "So it'll--it's good wall stuff, right? Work okay?"

"Yeah," Tony agrees, taking a sip of his coffee and looking at the wall again with a speculative look. "Pretty much ideal. Cas up yet?"

"Still down," Dean answers without thinking; this rope thing is working for him, no effort at all to feel it. Drifty box, or maybe a very zen infinite ocean. "Uh, does anyone know about…." He's not sure where he's going with that. The storm thing, he can almost imagine playing that off as 'huh, isn't that strange and completely no idea because random magic who knows?' but that wall…those don't just happen in convenient circles--ellipses--around entire towns (and assorted fields both livestock and training). At least, not that he knows of: he should find out. "That Cas…."

"I was wondering about that," Tony agrees calmly, and Dean's never appreciated more how nothing seems to faze him. Though again, two kids under six: that does explain a lot. "Not many that I know of, and no one's talking, figured--you know." Dean nods enthusiastically. "You talk to Cas, we'll play it by ear, see what happens."

See what happens: he likes this plan. It's not a good one, but you take what you can get. "That works."

"So we're still getting measurements," Tony says, returning to the (awesome) wall. "But it looks like about five miles north-south and eight and change east-west, so roughly twenty-two to thirty-five mile perimeter, but haven't had a chance to really measure everything."

"Cool." Dean nods complacently; it's an awesome goddamn wall, no question. And yeah, that's really goddamn big. "Twenty-two to thirty-five miles?"

"So math tells us until I can get more than a guess on the arc. Ellipses are like that." They both take a moment to watch one of city services leap to his feet, projecting frustration and pointing at something on the future gate and yelling--numbers? In the background, he sees Laura pause beside Alison, and Alison, the traitor, point in his direction and Laura start toward them. Technically--and he does get this--he's actually in charge here, and there's no reason to hate Alison right now.

Straightening, Dean pastes smile on his face as Laura jogs up to him, looking red-cheeked and filled with determination to succeed at any and all costs. "How's it going? Is Kamal hiding from me?"

"The interference made it impossible to understand what you were saying," she recites, making no effort whatsoever to make him believe it. "We are all very sorry--"

"Seriously?" He rolls his eyes. "Okay, anything happening other than resumed relay? And by the way, you're going off duty like now. All of you. For disobeying orders and food and sleep."

"Yes sir," she agrees, also not believably. "Nothing last night at any of the four checkpoints and nothing since we started relay again after the blizzard stopped. All points reported in and with the snow so fresh and the salting last night after….." She frowns thoughtfully, obviously torn on how to phrase whatever happened to all the cars and snow left on IH-Ichabod, and he waits for it, because Cas wasn't specific on how that happened (Did it vanish? Float away? Turn into wall-stuff? What?). "Cleared. Anyway, shouldn't be long to get it clear to D again, and relay's already started taking people from B and C to A. So far, everyone's reporting people are still coming in, and the old wards haven't acted up."

Dean braces himself. "So there are some survivors?"

"Yeah. Actually…" She hesitates. "Some of them this morning said--right before the blizzard hit, they said someone told them to get in the nearest car and bundle up and not to get out until they saw the sun. When they did--there'd be people waiting to bring them here." She shrugs uncertainly. "Was that Cas?"

No, but he can guess who, and what her range is now. He wonders if she even knew before Cas told her to give that 'stop' command. "I'll ask him when he wakes up. Who's on escort right now?"

"Alison told Joe that Chitaqua is off duty until we've all slept, eaten, and checked for all our fingers and toes," she answers with a grin. "Hans and Antonio for Ichabod, Jim and Benjamin for Mount Hope, Bridget and Dax for Andale, Donald and Muriel for Noak--"

"Lourdes' husband Donald?"

"He was first at Volunteer Services this morning, Claudia said," she says, frowning in thought. "Cody and Christian for Harlin, hold up….Lees and his wife Kayla for Bentley, Abel and Frances from--somewhere in the west, sorry, but they took the first group of volunteers. Sya and Pippin took the second, Anabelle and Douglas for the third and--yeah, that's all I met so far."

"Back up. Volunteers from where?"

"Everywhere," she explains. "Well, Kansas, anyway. They showed up at Volunteer Services this morning, asked to help, and were already helping clear the snow and get more buses ready to go when we got the first bus back."

"They just showed up?"

"I think Donald and some of the Alliance people went around asking for volunteers to help out so Ichabod's patrol could get some sleep," she says. "Alison and Teresa approved them. They're still organizing, so only ten groups are out now running escort. Joe's got a list from Volunteer Services."

"Right," Dean says blankly, mentally scheduling a long talk with Joe, stat. Tony looks pleased, settling back for another drink of coffee. "Good job. Get some rest."

"Yes, sir," she says with a grin, saluting (mockingly) before starting back toward Second.

"Trust me, Alison was as surprised as you are, but she came down to check them personally, especially considering what happened last night," Tony says reassuringly. "All good intentions and helping people and determination in the face of adversity or something, that kind of thing."

"Yeah." The casualty count was forty-five before he fell asleep, and he really needs to check in with Joe soon about that. He doubts with everything else they've gotten far with the investigation. Another group of refugees wander in, looking cold, exhausted, and dazed as they stare up at the wall before being herded away by the next group of volunteers for medical checks and food and sleep. "Alison was saying something about towers?"

"Hell yeah," Tony says, leaning forward intently. "I got some ideas about that."

Returning to HQ half an hour later (when Dennis showed up to herd Tony to bed no matter how much math and arcs and tower designing needs to be done), Dean gets an entire five seconds of dazed shock at the sheer number of people crossing the lobby and coming down the stairs who were definitely not here before. All wandering in the same direction at that "What--"

"Chitaqua and all the recruits are on stand-down," Joe tells him, coming out of nowhere, hand dropping on his shoulder and steering him away from stairs. "No, Alicia checked and you haven't eaten since lunch yesterday. Then visitation hours start again."

"How would she know--"

"Don't ask those kinds of questions," Joe advises him, waving at Jeremy at the front desk and an unfamiliar girl in her late teens that Dean assumes is Joelle from Jeremy's really unnecessary level of alertness, like worlds will die if that log book isn't watched carefully. "Sixteen and above are helping out around town assisting the volunteers, and Joelle got assigned here. She really wants to know what the minimum age is for Chitaqua, by the way."

"Oh God." Tossing back her long braids, Joelle gives him a bright smile and waves, and helpless, Dean waves back, noting that the wall behind them now has a massive bulletin board with, among other things, the shift schedule for today, what looks like a rough layout of the three floors of their building with labels he can't quite read from here, a street-level map of Ichabod from Baltimore to Seventh, and what appears to be the same diagram of the wall that Alison had.

"Lunch is available in our mess," Joe says, grabbing his arm before he can go get it and review the parts of a big wall. "Stop stalling--food, Dean. There's bacon. More supplies showed up after the blizzard stopped, so eat while we can, for who the hell knows when we will again? Well, dinner at least, that should be fine. And probably breakfast."

Dean starts to ask when they got a mess but…bacon. For lunch. But wait, mess. "We're not keeping this building." Because they're not, and yet, there's a weird sense of--something like the crazy militia form of nesting going on here.

"I kind of like it," Joe says thoughtfully, and then he's pushed into yet another beige room that's now filled with tables, chairs, and….people. "Alison had a second mess opened on Fifth this morning in an old restaurant and plans another for Seventh, but with this many people, they're triple shifting. Alonzo said everything in the kitchen's working, and him and Britney did a supply run this morning and started cooking the minute the electricity came on."

That would explain all the people. "So our recruits all here?"

"We got the space," Joe says reasonably. "Their buildings are hosting double or triple--or quadruple--the usual numbers, and they're working with us anyway, so might as well bring them here."

As they make their way up the aisle, Dean's abruptly very aware of the attention he's getting from a lot of only vaguely familiar faces. "Huh."

"Food, then report," Joe says firmly, and Dean goes with it because there is, actually, bacon. He can smell it right there on their buffet tables. Which they now have. In this building they aren't keeping. "You get the food, I'll grab us a table."

Dean learns the following: Chitaqua and Ichabod's patrols are on stand-down from noon until dawn by Alison's order and confirmed by the Alliance, along with anyone who's been on perimeter duty since this started. He wonders what it's like to give orders and have them be obeyed. Sounds pretty cool.

The incidents are still under investigation, which considering the potential witness list is in the five hundred person range, isn't a surprise, though one of the names on it is unsettling: Rosario, a member of Haruhi's team.

"YMCA," Joe confirms over a fork of beans and rice. "She was helping getting people organized, froze up, same as Haruhi. Naresh sent her straight to isolation. Derek's assigned to help city services and Vicky here and yeah, both probably guess they're being watched, though…"

"Anyone else local?"

"Not so far, but they're barely started," Joe answers soberly. "Alicia helped Naresh and Rohan get initial statements and a rough timeline. However, new information: one of those in that room at the YMCA was also around at one of the fights they were having at the entrance point yesterday."

"But--" Dean starts.

"Yeah, from the outside, they looked like regular crowd problems," Joe agrees, getting a forkful of potato-onion-pepper thing as Dean reaches for one of the tortillas stacked on a plate between them. "But Naresh said they said it was like that, same pattern. Everything was fine, one cranky or hostile person, then boom; that person turns on someone, one or two people join in, then it spreads."

"Like a compulsion to bully the weakest in the herd?" Even compulsion-crazy people couldn't have possibly looked on Cas and thought that. "Different people?"

"Not a big enough sampling, but an escalated mob mentality might also explain it," Joe offers. "Anyway, at the entrance point, patrol was breaking it up before it got too far, and like I said, from the outside, not anything to write home about." Joe takes a bite of rice. "You know, Alicia had a point about us not listening to them."

Dean raises his eyebrows as he chews to indicate 'huh?'

"The new arrivals. Here's a thought to make your noon: that attack on Cas in the mess, sucked yeah, but would we have even known this was happening otherwise?"

Dean swallows quickly. "You mean, would we have cared if it wasn't one of ours?" That's probably not untrue, exactly.

"More the danger of taking Occam's razor as gospel," Joe answers, raising his eyebrows in acknowledgement of that inconvenient truth as well. "Even with Cas's report, none of us but Alicia really thought it was anything but tired, crazy people being more than usually crazy. Naresh independently confirmed Alicia's suspicions before they started sharing notes, and now you know why she likes him."

Dean finishes a slice of bacon. "So you're going somewhere with this."

"Something I was thinking about when I was helping out at the Y," he says, finishing off the rice and reaching for another tortilla, folding it in half and demonstrating no one at Chitaqua has table manners by biting it in half and still talking. "What's the end game here?"

"With the crazy people being compulsively crazy?" Dean shrugs, picking up a tortilla, adding a few forkfuls of rice and beans, rolling it up neatly, and biting off a quarter of the whole; might as well be a good example and hope others follow (that doesn't work with orders, but hey, anything could happen. A wall did, after all; who saw that coming?). "Giant mob in Ichabod killing each other in an end game bloodbath…yeah, no, doesn't work. Unless Alicia's wrong about how and why this happened."

Joe takes a very significant bite of potato to broadcast how little he believes that. Which yeah, Dean doesn't either, so.

"Or a second plan, unrelated to all existing plans…." It's not that it's not possible, but honest to God, Dean can't handle this plan-within-a-plan bullshit. He's got something about (a contract?) and Crowley, Cas (auction?), and Crowley definitely knowing about him; how these things fit together he's not sure, but nothing he's come up with yet is even in the realm of 'not a disaster'. "Listen to them."

Joe swallows the rest of the tortilla like a machine who likes flatbreads too much. "Huh?"

"Alicia said 'accept all these thing as true'," Dean says. "Giant spiders, cockroach armies, Democratic party as interpreted by the NRA, military…."

"Some of these are not like the others in tinfoily and phobic ways?"

"Can you get me a full list--or a bigger sampling?" Dean asks at Joe's horrified expression. "From early arrival to latest, figure out a sampling that looks legit and we'll use that. Find out what people thought they were running from."

Joe cocks his head. "Tell me what I'm looking for?"

"I'm not sure," he admits. "But if I'm right about what I'm not sure about, bias is gonna fuck it up. By the way--Haruhi's interview, gonna need to check that, too. And everything she and her team have done together or apart since New Year's Eve."

"You're enjoying being mysterious," Joe says accusingly, scraping up the last of the potato with intent.

"Yeah," he admits, picking up the last piece of bacon. "Kind of liking it."

Under the aegis of 'sampling of crazy people', Joe abandons him with a half-bowl full of potato thing, alone and unprotected, and after a short, fraught period, Dean's surrounded by--fuck his life--recruits. Who, as it turns out, are over the 'leader of Chitaqua shock and awe' thing and have moved--he assumes--into the 'talk him to death for coup purposes' phase of their professional relationship.

Between frantic bites, he's listens to the news: there'd been some sightings of unusual shit in the distance, but nothing closer than thirty miles from Ichabod so far; some of the new people coming in gave some unsettling narratives of things not quite seen and the feeling of being watched, but nothing definite except that weird thirty-mile line.

Looking around in hopes of someone desperately needing him for something--he'll take anything--he catches Lena and Martin, one of their recruits, hovering at the mess door, trying to catch his eye while Sean and the rest of his team wait nearby, all looking really tense.

"Duty calls," he says, swallowing the last bite and smiling like a leader at really enthusiastic subordinates before giving them a tiny head jerk and retreating to put his dishes on the table apparently designated for that but keeping his coffee cup. He has a feeling he's going to need it.

Going out a door nearby, he finds himself in a new hall he's never seen before and Jesus Christ, what is wrong with this goddamn building? A few feet down the hallway, the noise muffled, Dean turns to see them coming toward him and over their shoulder recognizes the edge of a lobby door. Sean and the other two hang back as Lena and Martin approach, and taking in Martin, the ashen quality beneath the dark brown skin, jeans and coat both liberally sprinkled with fresh blood, Dean braces himself.

"What happened?"

"We just brought in a group," Lena says, resting a reassuring hand on Martin's shoulder. "Martin saw them when we were searching cars down D about three miles down and helped get them in. Emergency, needed medical attention ASAP, so we brought one of them back in the jeep ourselves. They were attacked yesterday evening about ten miles from Checkpoint D." Just outside the thirty mile if he remembers the map right. "Teresa got the wards up on the wall just as we brought them through."

Dean stills. "And they went off."

"Yeah, but not what you're thinking," Lena confirms grimly. "Emergency was a woman with her leg pretty torn up, was defending her group. It was her leg and her knife that set off the wards. Teresa took the knife and did--something--and she said Hellhound."

"Son of a bitch." Dean takes a deep breath, trying to think. If that woman had been the target, she wouldn't have survived, but that she survived at all…. "What else?"

Lena hesitates, eyes flickering to Martin, and okay, that's not good.

"Get some rest," Dean tells him. "We're on stand down until dawn. Check in with front desk and I will check you're actually resting. Good job."

Martin's thin cheeks flush with hot color. "Thanks. Going now, sir."

Lena jerks her head at Sean as Martin goes back down the hall but waits until he's out of sight before looking at Sean. "You're up."

Sean takes a deep breath. "The woman was Carol."

Dean's blank expression is apparently read as 'totally knows who that is but more information about something'.

"Didn't recognize her at first," Sean continues, and the rest of his team nods agreement. "But if anyone could kill a Hellhound, it'd be her. One of the people with her said salt-load straight in the eye after wounding it enough to see where it was."

"Yeah, she couldn't see it." Okay, one, it wasn't after her, and two, Carol can now be presumed as probably former Chitaqua. Looks like some of their former members stayed in Kansas. "You talk to her?"

"She wouldn't even look at me," Lena answers flatly, giving him a quick glance before her gaze drops to her boots. "Any of us."

"She's not the only one here," Sean says, and Dean goes on full alert at the change in Sean's voice. "Micah and his crew are on the next bus coming in. Saw them myself."

Where has he heard that name-- "Alicia's ex."

"That'd be him," Tara says, and searching their faces, Dean sees the same carefully neutral expressions combined with something dangerous. Like when you're not sure what to say or--on a guess here--what your leader knows or what he wants to hear but want to say it anyway.

He should have asked Cas more about those that left. Even if he didn't want to tell who was at his cabin that night, Dean's pretty sure by now he could guess by Cas's reaction to their names. "Just say it."

"I don't know," Sean starts, looking at Lena a little desperately. "I barely knew the guy, he left about a month after me and Lena got out of training with a couple of his buddies. None of them were fans of Cas, that much I remember." He gives Dean an apologetic look. "That doesn't mean much, though. Not like Cas was trying to win popularity contests, and Micah--not a lot of people liked him, to be honest. Alicia sure wasn't upset when he was gone. Knowing her now, I'm kind of surprised she didn't help him on his way with a bullet to the ass."

Dean nods, trying to decide what to do with this. "Alicia's with Cas, I'll talk to her. Anyone else from Chitaqua show up?"

"Just them so far," Tara says. "So you want us to--"

"Spread the word? Yeah. And talk to Karl at the infirmary before you go to bed, ask him to keep us updated on Carol. How bad is her leg?"

"They did a good job dressing it," Lena says. "But Karl asked to use our jeep to get her back and was on the walky-talky with Dolores while Kim drove, so no idea. They'll probably call for Vera if…"

"Yeah." He sighs. "Infirmary, then bed, and you're all off-duty until dawn. Dismissed."

Dean checks in at front desk (in the lobby of the building they're not keeping, come on) where he verifies the log (read: looks at it and nods wisely), checks the duty schedule for reception (Jeremy until dusk, then Natalie), and duty schedule for the mess (they have one of those now, Jesus Christ), then listens straight-faced to Jeremy give the most thorough report of sitting at a desk he's ever heard (Joelle, he notes, keeps a straight face all through, but her mouth twitches once or twice, and Dean gives her points for self-control).

"Cas looks better," Jeremy says suddenly after Dean's nodded his approval. "Alicia let me in while you were checking out the wall. You know how much longer until he's up?"

"Last dose was about an hour ago," he says casually, leaning a hip against the desk; Jeremy was at Volunteer Services when they brought Cas in, a fact that in retrospect he's grateful for. There's only so much reality any kid should have to face, and he doesn't think Jeremy's gonna lose any important life lessons not knowing the details. "Vera told you what happened?"

"Exhausted after making the wall and the weather thing," Jeremy answers promptly, transparently unworried. "Cas's always had problems sleeping."

Dean glances sharply at Joelle, who catches his gaze and bites her lip. "I guessed," she says, frowning at Jeremy when he starts to speak before looking at Dean again. "Maman was at the meeting where Cas told the parents about the symbol. We talked before I came this morning when I told her my assignment: I'm supposed to say thank you when I see Cas and remember the rule about talking about things that aren't other people's business."

Dean cocks his head; Maimouna isn't super-strict, but from what Vera told him, she has no illusions about seventeen year olds. "What's the rule about being on duty here?"

"That." She rolls her eyes and slumps in her chair while she and Jeremy exchange (hilariously) aggrieved looks. "Being allowed to assist Chitaqua and the other member of patrol is a privilege, not a right, and I'll be helping with sanitation forever if I don't take my responsibilities seriously. Also, she and Vera talk to each other in the infirmary a lot, so if I'm not in the lobby or the common rooms in view of an adult, she'll find out and ask me why."

Jeremy flushes interestingly, staring at the desk. "Duty at the reception desk with Joelle is a privilege, not a right. Sanitation with Cyn," he mumbles, a universe of horror in his voice. "And possibly your disappointed speech, which she says even Cas avoids if he can."

"What are you doing after you go off duty?" he asks Jeremy like he has no idea what he could possibly want to do with his free time.

"Mom said to ask you, Cas, Vera, or Joe if Jeremy could spend the evening with us," Joelle says, looking hopeful. "He'll be back at nine."

"He can," Dean says magnanimously, because he's cool like that. "Log out with Natalie and check in with one of us when you get back. Got it?" He gets twin nods. "I'm going to be upstairs with Cas. Any problems and Joe isn't around, come get me, okay? Otherwise, check in once an hour until you go off-duty."

"Got it," Jeremy says, just barely avoiding a salute, and Dean nods as seriously as he can as he pushes off the desk.

"Good job," he says as he starts toward the stairs, then remembers something. "Oh, and tell Alonzo to make some broth or something and have that ready around dusk."

Alicia's expression doesn't change at all, blue eyes unreadable. "When?"

"Sean saw him on the bus coming in," he answers, noticing the library book's been replaced by the folder again, and it's gotten much thicker--reports, he assumes, and wonders who's keeping her updated. "Anything I need to know?"

"Micah?" She frowns, eyes fixing on the bed. "He was a dick, one. Two, he really didn't like Cas. Three, giant dick but also a coward. Four, did I mention--"

"He's a dick, yeah."

"If you feel some need to say, take him on a walk on the wall and push, that's okay," Alicia assures him. "You wouldn't be the first."

Dean sighs: that kind of a break-up. "His buddies? Didn't get their names--" Should he know that? Probably not: back then, he was kind of a dick, too.

"Barney and Stephen, probably, and I'll be surprised if you remembered their names, they're that forgettable," Alicia states. "Also, both dicks, but more the sycophantic kneeling at the feet of the master, Micah, who I'm not sure I made clear, is--"

"A dick," Dean agrees. Really bad breakup, then. "Carol's here, too."

Alicia looks at him. "Our Carol?"

"So they tell me." He wonders if he can figure out how to get a description without in any way implying he hasn't met her, then notes Alicia's thoughtful expression. "What?"

"She and Andy were involved before she left." Alicia's frown deepens. "Maybe--three months after Andy got out of training, they had a fight and she up and left. Hence the Kat-Andy-unresolved-forever-followed-by-too-much-sex-in-my-cabin: he was really into Carol and getting over it, not something he was quick to do. Did they come together?"

"Who? Micah and Carol?" Good question. "Lena said Martin found Carol's group, and Sean said he saw Micah and his friends on the bus. Why?"

"They would have said if they'd seen them together," Alicia answers, sitting back with a distant look. "And yet, in all the world, in all of time, in all this migration from Hell, Carol shows up at the same time as Micah and the subdicks two. The wall's twenty-four feet, people stumble, we could push them all off--"

"I’m getting the feeling," Dean interrupts, "that you don't like them."

"Just kidding about Carol," Alicia assures him. "Mostly."

"What does that mean?"

"Judgy," Alicia says, tipping her head sideways to regard the air above Cas's head thoughtfully. "And not in awesome way that gets you a cool superhero name, but the kind where you want to invent new mortal sins just to offend her more. I had a list."

Dean stares at Alicia. "You're kidding."

"She was fun at parties," Alicia offers. "Official drinking game: drink every time she disapproves of something and die in like an hour. You had to pace yourself even with beer or you'd get the worst hangovers and never remember where you left your underwear. Or if you do, remember how they got there." She frowns. "Not saying Justin didn't look hot in them, baby blue is totally his color, but that lace had to be uncomfortable, especially after twenty-four hours."

"Why," Dean asks before he can stop himself, "was he wearing your underwear for a whole day?"

"Prodigiously clever drunken use of tape," she says proudly, shaking her head. "Even I was impressed with myself when I saw that. No way he could have gotten it off himself without snipping some very key--"

"Okay, stop there," he says, and sees Alicia's cheerful grin, which conveys to him that she could also tell him which color of her underwear looks good on him. Because she's seen him in them. Possibly with tape. "What were we talking about that wasn't that?"

"Carol and parties," Alicia answers tranquilly, settling back while Dean ruthlessly suppresses any speculation about what she and Cas used to talk about over coffee other than camp gossip. "Disapproval. Drinking game. Fun."

"So why did she even go to them?"

"To disapprove of everyone," Alicia explains. "At length. Pace yourself, that was my motto: only when she quoted Old Testament and use the word 'thy'. Otherwise: see poor Justin--"

"Again," he interrupts frantically, "not that. Anything else I should know about her and Micah and the other two?"

"They're cowards," she says dismissively. "Doesn't mean I'd show them my back, ever."

So he'll be giving Cas some names soon. "Got it." He jerks his head toward the door. "Bed until dusk." He cuts off her protest with, "I talked to Matt." It's a lie, but her expression darkens.

"I slept at least three hours."

"And now you're gonna get another five," he says, pointing. "Dusk, Alicia. Don't make me walk you to your room and tuck you in."

"Fine." Alicia tips her head toward the bed. "His last dose was about two hours ago. I already removed the catheter," oh thank God, some things he's pretty sure even Cas's unfamiliarity with boundaries may have a problem with, not to mention God, no, "and checked with Vera, so a couple of things. Cas snaps out of regular sedatives pretty fast, but reactions to anesthesia vary. Nausea, hostility, homicidal tendencies toward needles and mortality--though latter two are Cas anyway, so could we really ever be sure?"

"Because Cas," he agrees, grinning at her. "Dusk."

"Ugh." Picking up the folder, she gives him a dirty look and wanders out, and Dean takes her chair and scoots it close to the bed before looking at the forgotten library book warily (genital shrinking?). Morbid curiosity wins: picking up Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking (if that title could be more pompous, he'd really like to know how), he flips it to chapter one and resigns himself to more variety in his nightmares.

Dean's halfway through Chapter 7: Latah: Strange Mental Disorder or Exotic Custom? when his attention is jerked toward the bed, where he watches Cas slowly blinking his eyes open, glaring the ceiling like he's done with this bullshit (whatever that bullshit might be).

Swallowing hard, he puts down the book and gets up, easing down on the mattress and picking up one fragile wrist, wondering uncertainly if Cas is thinner than he remembers, and pressing his thumb to the pulse like Vera taught him. Cas blinks slowly, focusing on him for a long moment with a frown.

"How you doing?" Dean asks softly. Cas's lips part, as if to say something, before he makes a face, and yeah, that. "Hold up, got you some water." Helping Cas sit up and piling the pillows up behind him, he holds the glass carefully, ignoring Cas's efforts to take it despite the fact his hand-eye coordination at the moment is kind of shot. "So--"

"Crowley knows about you," Cas rasps out breathlessly, and Dean's never felt more conflicted in his entire life, because Jesus Christ, what is it about his voice? "You were one of the terms in a double-blind contract written by Crowley, signatures other than Crowley unknown, holder unknown; bringing you here when Dean died was one of the terms so the Apocalypse would continue, complete in full with the death or caging of Lucifer while you're still alive and here. The barrier was to protect you until you--until you were acclimatized and I'd taught you your duties here. They're raising it again because apparently I haven't done a very good job." Cas gets a strange look on his face. "Who on earth would think I would?"

"Dude, you did great," Dean says soothingly, letting all that slot into place: him, contract (double blind, okay), Crowley (gonna die), demons (of course), barrier. Leaving out the part where everything went to hell (because of Crowley), this is one of the better results of dealing with demons: questions answered (whether they knew about those questions or not), everyone survived, and no one sold their soul. Part that went to hell--totally Crowley's fault. "You were fine."

"I think I--" Cas stops for a breath, like the most important thing here is getting out all needed information, and sure, right now Dean gives no shits and it can wait, compromise is important in relationships and so are feelings. Cas's feelings say he needs to talk, fine. "He didn't know anything about what's happening now. The migration of Kansas. That's something else--related, but not part of the contract or possibly any of his demons. Though that part I don't believe."

"Huh." This is so not the time, but just like that, Dean's aware of that not-faded-much bruise pulling sharply against the muscle of his thigh, the mess of Cas's hair, and he's a terrible human being. It's not like he needs more reasons to want Crowley dead, but it occurs to him the fucker also messed up his newfound sex life and for a second, the nearest crossroad beckons, for this is indeed bullshit.

Cas, oblivious to Dean's deeply fucked up priorities (though sex makes you healthy and less moody, and just to point out, he leads a militia: health both physical and emotional are important), says, "Did I hurt anyone?"

Pulling back the blankets, Dean frowns at him in incomprehension, which is apparently exactly the wrong thing to do. A hand closes over his wrist, and look at that, Cas got his hand-eye coordination back. Not the time, he reminds himself frantically: this is not the time. "How many?"

Dean looks into the frightened blue eyes. "You don't remember?"

"Not yet," Cas whispers, looking away. "I remember wanting to, and I'd rather…don't lie to me. It won't help, and when I do remember…."

"I'll never lie to you," Dean says, turning Cas's head so he can look into his eyes. "Never. Unless, you know--necessary to save your life or something, then I'll do it and love it. You didn't hurt anyone."

"I destroyed half of Ichabod."

"More than that," he says without thinking and quickly adds, "Just the useless parts. No one'll miss 'em. Dangerous buildings, people, shitty combination, it's fine."

Cas searches his face like he's reading a new language, one that makes no sense. "Then what did I do?"

Dean only thinks about it for a second. "Can you walk yet?"

"What?" Cas suddenly looks around the mostly-empty room, focusing on the table of medical whatever with an offended look (yeah, saw that coming) before looking at Dean again. "Where are we?"

"Our totally not permanent headquarters in Ichabod," Dean tells him, getting up to find Cas's boots and a pair of clean socks. "Come here."

Looking baffled, Cas lets him ease him to the edge of the bed and remove the IV and tape gauze over the tiny drop of blood forming. Kneeling, Dean pulls one narrow, cold foot into his lap, sliding on the sock. Something makes him look up, and he quickly looks back down after a glimpse of Cas's expression, biting back a (totally not the time) smile; so he's not the only one. Gotta remember that.

"What," Cas pauses to clear his throat, and Dean's not smug at all. "What are you doing?"

"Footwear," Dean tells him cheerfully, finishing with the other sock and making quick work of getting his boots laced up with a mental note to come back to this real soon now. Getting up, he gets Cas's coat, then on reconsideration also pulls the top quilt free; those scrubs are thin, but this won't take long. "Stand up."

Cas's balance is off, but Dean was ready for that, steadying him with an arm around his waist and fighting back a (again, not the time but who cares) grin. "Where are we going?"

"You'll see," Dean says, sliding Cas's arm over his shoulders (just in case). "You'll like it. Promise."

Jeremy and Joelle are still in the lobby, though Natalie's on duty at the desk, which he assumes means they're waiting for Maimouna to escort them to their building.

Then Jeremy looks away from Joelle and stands up, almost knocking over his chair, and smiles in relief.

"Cas?" Then, remembering he's an almost-adult (and Joelle grinning beside him), adds more casually, "You're feeling better?"

"Very much, yes," Cas says, having just braved the epic swirl of those goddamn stairs and focusing on him thoughtfully. "Joelle, I presume?"

"Joelle," she confirms, getting to her feet and casually pushing back the wrist-length braids in one of those automatic things girls pretend doesn't take practice to make look that effortless. "We're waiting for Maman finish up at the infirmary."

"Jeremy's having dinner with them and will be home at nine," Dean explains.

"Excellent," Cas says, eyeing Jeremy, who straightens. "Check in when you return, and remember to thank Maimouna for the invitation."

"So where you going?" Joelle asks, looking between them and then on Cas. "Oh, you just got up, right? Maman said to say thank you."

Cas frowns. "For what?"

"Give us a minute," Dean tells her, grabbing Cas's wrist and tugging him to the door. "Be right back."

"But the storm…." Cas's frown deepens, but he doesn't fight too hard, and sliding his hand down, Dean laces their fingers together and Cas stops fighting all together; yeah, that's what he thought.

Pushing the door open, Dean leads him outside, snow crunching cheerfully beneath their boots; it's snowing again, a barely-there powder drifting in the faint breeze, and Cas looks around with a bewildered expression. Copying Joe, Dean faces Cas and tips his head up just at a bright streak of red-limned violet chases itself across the sky beneath the threatening roll of clouds, and Cas goes still.

Looking back at him, Dean stills at his expression, throat closing at the sheer wonder, like--holy shit, he had no idea.

"How…." Cas licks his lips, and Dean glances up in time to see a flicker of electric blue swirl into green, then a burst of gold sparkles across the whole as the snow strengthens for a minute before reluctantly returning to a gentle drift. "It worked."

"Pretty good parlor trick," Dean says breathlessly, and forgets to breathe altogether when Cas looks at him, blue eyes filled with wonder. "River's too strong, can't stop it with a dam, so…."

"Slow it down." Cas looks back up, licking his lips before making an effort to compose himself. "Some will still get through, of course, it's not stopping it--"

"Just filtering it," Dean agrees, unable to help the grin spreading across his face. "And we get a nice, snowy day. Days." Cas nods helplessly, and from the corner of his eye, he sees Jeremy and Joelle at the door, both grinning at them. "Okay, ready for part two?"

"For what?" Taking Cas by the shoulders, Dean faces him to the west and steps aside, watching gleefully as Cas's face goes blank, blanket falling to the ground at their feet.

"What," Cas asks in shock, "is that?"

"About four-fifths of Ichabod, a couple of parking lots of cars, and fuck if I know, but a lot of it," Dean tells him smugly. "We call it a wall."

Cas drags his incredulous gaze to Dean.

"Didn't get a name for it," he continues, trying to keep his voice steady. "Me, I like casteele, what do you think? No steel in it, yeah--at least, didn't see iron in the formula, that's Fe, right?--but--"

"I made that?" Cas whispers.

"You made that." Reaching for the collar of his jacket, Dean tugs him around to meet the shocked blue eyes. "'He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed'," he says, "'miracles that cannot be counted.' Though here, we'll go with 'at least three I know about'."

Cas blinks at him. "There's a third part?"

"That'd be you." Cupping Cas's cold face, he kisses him, trying to put everything into that, because otherwise he may have to resort to words or something and he's not sure there are any for this. "Saving the world one small, overrun, fortified, stormless Kansas town at a time," he murmurs against Cas's lips, trying to catch his breath. "Not too bad."

"I didn't save the world," Cas whispers, hands clenching in Dean's flannel like he's not planning on letting go, and Dean really likes this plan. "I just--"

"You can't do everything," Dean answers, and feels Cas's snort of laughter against his cheek. "Gotta leave something for the rest of us."

"Infinite," Cas says suddenly, and a cold hand slides around the back of his neck, glaring at him for a moment, which would be much more effective if there weren't tiny snowflakes caught in his lashes. And not smiling: that would also help. "The number of ways you're frustrating. I wondered about that."

Laughing, Dean wraps an arm around Cas's waist and jerks him closer, leaning in for another kiss. "Look who's talking."