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a turn of the earth

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September 18, 2001

            Dean’s minding his own business when something, quite literally, falls from the heavens and crashes into his back windshield.

            He’s on the phone with Bobby when it happens, something about a revenant case in Minnesota, impatiently answering questions with, “No, I haven't heard from Dad. Why the hell would he tell me where he is—does he ever? The dude's basically the Boo Radley of—”

            That's when it happens: the loud, splintering crack of glass that ricochets behind him and the corresponding jolt that makes the whole car frame shudder. Dean shouts and swerves, slamming the brakes so hard that they groan in protest. The tires skid against the highway so that he fishtails toward the shoulder of the road before the car pulls to a juddering stop.

            For a stunned moment, all he can hear is the ticking of the Impala's engine, his own shocked breathing, and Bobby's tinny voice going, "Dean? Dean?" from where the cellphone had gotten cast into the shotgun seat.

            Dean throws the car in park and swivels in disbelief to stare at the giant, spiderwebbing crack that fractures the entire back windshield. He stares some more before he grapples for the cellphone and chokes out, "I'll call you back," and scrambles out of the car.

            He can barely see the road, other than the red cast of the taillights, and a soft mist has started up, curling in thin clouds around the headlights.

            Dean, still shaking with adrenaline, takes two uncertain steps toward the crumpled shape on the concrete, a dark and formless mass that seems to blend in with the rest of the road.

            “Oh my God,” he hears himself say. “I killed someone.”

            After a few more seconds of shocked hesitation, he stumbles toward the shape and crouches down to take a closer look. It's definitely a man; in the dim light, he can parse out a wet beige coat and dark hair, and he's curled in on himself, eyes closed, unmoving. There's dark wet liquid on the concrete, and in the neon red of the Impala's backlights, he can't make out if it's rainwater or blood.

            Dean slides one trembling hand under the man's nose to feel for his breath, and when that fails, he presses two fingers to the pulse-point on his neck. To his shock, he finds a heartbeat easily.

            "Dude, you should be dead," he whispers, pulling his hand back. "How are you not dead?"

            The man suddenly stirs, a wet cough rattling from him, before he attempts slowly to move.

            "Hey," Dean says, cupping a hand on the guy's shoulder. "Don't move, okay? You took a pretty hard fall."

            The man's head lolls for a moment, as though he's trying to relearn basic movement, before he blinks dazedly and groans.

            "Hospital," Dean says dumbly, at a total loss for what to do. "I'll find the nearest—"

            "Don't," the guy says in a deep, crackling voice. "No hospitals."

            "Dude, you literally hit a car." The fuck had he come from, anyway?

            The man tries to stand, and Dean grabs at his elbows to help. He thinks being vertical is probably a shitty idea at this point, but the guy seems determined, hooking his fingers into Dean's sleeves and experimentally shifting his legs.

            Dean helps him stand, where he takes up a shaky, unbalanced footing and leans on Dean heavily for support.

            "You gonna explain how you uh, tripped on my car?" Dean asks, his voice way higher-pitched in his distress than he'd like it to be, and the man seems to register something, refocusing his gaze and squinting at Dean's face. Dean watches the softening change in his expression—recognition, then relief.

            "Dean," the guy breathes out, and Dean goes stiff and recoils, all the alarm bells sounding in his head.

            "Who the hell are you?"

            The guy seems like he's struggling to form an answer but he, conveniently, passes out, his legs buckling under him as he falls forward into Dean. Dean oofs and catches his weight, still seeing a stubborn red flag waving behind his eyes because hello, total strangers knowing his name and body-checking his car is a weird day even for him.

            For a long moment he just stands there like a dumbass in the middle of the empty highway, still supporting the guy's deadweight by his elbows, and he thinks about his life choices. He could leave the guy here for dead—that's probably what Dad would do. The dude's clearly not human, given most of the bones in his body seem to be intact, and therefore he's some kind of threat. He could take the guy to a motel and patch him up, try to glean information from him—that's what Sam would do. The most reasonable thing would be to drop him at a hospital and let doctors deal with him, but the guy had been emphatic about no hospitals.

            Maybe he's an escaped convict or something.

            Dean sighs, repositions his grip, and hauls the man as gently as he can toward the backseat of the Impala. He lays the guy out as comfortably as he can on the leather seat and for a few more moments just stares at the guy's outstretched form, debating some more, before he makes up his mind, shuts the back door, and clambers back into the driver's seat.

            It's not like his dad has to know.

---

            Dean gets some appropriately concerned looks from the motel staff on the way in, given the mystery guy is down for the count and drooling blood all over the carpets, which he waves off with excuses about a bar fight. He manages to half-pull, half-drag the man down the hallway into his room before he dumps him unceremoniously on the bed.

            Dean takes close stock, now that he can see every inch of the guy in the proper light. He's probably mid-thirties, maybe older or younger; it's hard to tell when he's knocked out. He's dressed like some sort of churchgoer, black dress pants, black shoes, white undershirt, blue striped tie, wet trenchcoat. Stubbled jaw, dark hair, long eyelashes. He's still got a thread of dry blood from the corner of his lips that trails to his lower jaw.

            "Alright," Dean says under his breath to the unconscious stranger. "Let's figure out what you are."

            Salt warrants no reaction, when applied—neither does his dad's flask of holy water or the small cut to the man's fingertip with a silver knife.

            So nothing that he knows of, then. Maybe Dad would know? Dad always knows this crap.

            Dean's still pretty hung up—on the crashing into his car from nowhere, yeah, but more on that this guy had said his name with such…familiarity. He's pretty damn sure he's never seen him before, which means maybe he's a friend of Dad or Sam’s, but even that doesn't sit with him quite right. He can't shake the way the guy had looked at him, like…almost like, Thank God. Dean.

            Dean shakes off the thought and goes about the next natural course of action, which is confiscating all the guy's stuff. He starts by clinically patting down the man’s shoulders, flitting to the bulge of his front pants pocket and fishing out a plain, black leather wallet. He slips it into his back pocket for later scrutiny and runs his hands along the guy's arms, frowning in surprise when he feels something hard and pointed along his sleeve. Further investigation reveals a long, sharp silver blade that Dean's never seen before, but it looks valuable and important.

            "We'll see if you get this back," he mutters to the stranger, filing it away in the back of his waistband, before he pats down the man's trenchcoat pockets.

            There's a slight jangle at the touch, and Dean's search results in a set of car keys. He's about to toss them to the side in disinterest, but stops short when the light catches them, and he stares. And stares some more.

            No fucking way.

            Dean shoves the handful of keys under the lamplight just to be sure, carding through the individual keys on the ring, before he reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out an identical set, holding them side by side just to be sure once, twice, and a third time.

            Surely there's a reason why this guy has a set of keys to the Impala when Dean knows for damn sure his dad only had one set made. Surely there's a rational, explicable, reasonable reason for that.

            Dean goes for the wallet in his back pocket, dropping both sets of keys on the bedside table with a clatter. He thumbs it open, squinting at the driver's license in the plastic holder.

            James Novak, Pontiac, IL, 61764. DOB 7-10-1973.

            Dean thinks the guy looks a little old for 28, but maybe he's wrong.

            "What the hell," he mutters to himself out loud. As if this could get weirder.

            He searches the rest of the wallet, but there’s nothing else except for about $50 in cash, two fake credit cards, and a crumpled receipt.

            The man stirs in his periphery vision with a soft groan, one hand flying up to cup his temple, and Dean goes tense, the knife in his back waistband suddenly seeming much heavier.

            "Good, you're awake," Dean says in an even, flat voice when the man opens his eyes, ignoring the nervous flutter his stomach gives when the guy swivels his head to stare at him. "I've got some questions that should be easy to answer, if you cooperate."

            The man tries to sit up but fails, sinking back into the pillows with a groan, before he casts his eyes around the room dazedly. "Where are we?"

            "Motel room. You said no hospital, so."

            "Thank you," the man says, massaging his jaw tenderly and rubbing at the dried blood.

            "First questions first," Dean says, sliding the knife out of his waistband so that it catches the light sharply. The man goes curiously still, staring at Dean with a wide-eyed, bewildered expression. "How do you know my name?"

            "What year is it?" the man asks, apropos of nothing, and Dean blinks, taken off-guard.

            "Is that supposed to be funny?" he snaps, and the man's bemused blue eyes fasten on him again.

            "2001," the man says, like he's confirming something to himself. He blinks at Dean as though seeing him in a new light, then says in surprise, "You're just a child."

            Dean bristles, insulted. "Dude, I'm 22."

            "Hmm," the man says, narrowing his eyes, still focused on Dean with uncanny precision. It makes Dean's skin crawl, like the guy can see right through him to his bones. "I see I have some explaining to do."

            "Yeah, no shit."

            "Would you believe me if I said I was a friend?" the man says.

            "I've never seen you before in my life," Dean says with a scoff. "Usually friends require like, I don't know, an actual past conversation, or something. So either you start explaining, or I start in with the knife."

            "You won't," the man says kindly. "You're not truly a torturer, Dean."

            "Shut up," Dean says, waving the knife in a circular motion. "Quit acting like you know me."

            The man half-raises both of his hands in defeat, palms faced forward.

            "Let's start again. Who the hell are you?"

            The guy rubs a hand over his face wearily. "My name is Castiel."

            "Alright, fine. What the hell are you?"

            Something like a grimace twists the man's features. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

            "Try me."

            "No, truly. You won't."

            "Okay, then explain how it is, in a way that I will believe you, that you hit my car when I was going 75 and you're somehow not a pile of slop on the roadside right now. Because that definitely ain't human. Oh, and while you're at it, explain why you have these—" the last word is hissed as Dean reaches for the Impala's keys and jangles them loudly for effect, "in your coat pocket."

            "You gave them to me," Castiel says, slowly and with infinite patience.

            "Yeah, right."

            "What other explanation would you accept?"

            "I wouldn't just hand over the keys of the Impala to a random stranger," Dean says angrily. "You'd have to be…"

            Castiel raises his eyebrows when Dean trails off, and he fills in, questioningly, "Family?"

            "Yeah, exactly."

            Castiel's expression suddenly contorts into a wince, and he surges up and gasps in pain, his hands clutching around his ribs.

            "You okay?" Dean asks gruffly, trying not to look concerned. He keeps the knife out in front of him in case it's an act.

            "Fine," Castiel wheezes, his pained expression arguing otherwise. "My body is…adjusting."

            "Adjusting to what?" So far Dean's got more questions than when he'd started, which was not how he optimally saw this going.

            "Travel," Castiel says, with a wryness that leads Dean to believe he's missing out on some private joke.

            "Look," Dean says shortly, taking an aggressive step forward, to which Castiel appears stoically unmoved. "I'm not in the mood for games, alright? You've got my name and the keys to my car, which is more than most people got, so I want answers from you. How much do you know about me and my family?"

            "I know a fair amount about both you and Sam," Castiel says. "The others, I'm admittedly less familiar with."

            "You know what we do?"

            "You're a hunter," Castiel says in a mild voice, "born in Lawrence, Kansas in 1979."

            "Alright," Dean says through gritted teeth. "So you're a stalker, perfect. Still doesn't explain how you've got my keys."

            "Dean, how open-minded are you to the idea of time-travel?" Castiel asks, tilting his head and eyeing a pattern on the ceiling with apparent interest.

            Dean barks out one short, disbelieving laugh and lowers the knife. "You've gotta be fucking kidding me."

            "I figured as much," Castiel says. "Well, regardless of whether you believe it or not, that's how I ended up on the road. Trust me when I say it wasn't my intention or my desire to be here."

            "So, what, you expect me to believe that you're—"

            "Yes," Castiel says, pinning him with that unnerving, steady gaze again, so assured that Dean finds his resolve nearly wavering. "I am a friend of yours, but not in this year. Not for some time yet."

            "You honestly think I'm gonna buy your Back to the Future bullshit? Buddy, try a little harder maybe."

            "Check the receipt," Castiel says, in that maddeningly calm voice again.

            "What?"

            "I know you went through my wallet. Check the receipt."

            Dean makes a face at him, which is peacefully received, before he snatches the wallet off the bedside table. He flips it open again and pulls out the receipt, smoothing out the crinkles so he can read the faded print.

            It's from Walgreens, and the purchase date reads February 13, 2015.

            No fucking way, Dean thinks to himself again, and he doesn't realize he's said it aloud until Castiel replies, "I know it seems impossible to believe, but you also hunt the impossible on a near-daily basis. Is it so far outside of your realm of rationality?"

            "You could've printed this or something," Dean grumbles, still searching for a loophole.

            "I don't know how to use a printer," Castiel answers, exasperated.

            "Okay, fine, let's say you time-traveled, or whatever. Humans can't time-travel, even in the future, so if you'd enlighten me—"

            "I'm an angel," Castiel says, pursing his lips into a flat, white line. "Of the Lord."

            Dean smiles demurely. "Right. And I'm the fucking tooth fairy."

            "That I did not know," Castiel says, totally solemn, and Dean scowls at him.

            Two loud knocks rap on the door, and after a moment of tense silence, a woman's voice questions, "Room service?"

            Dean looks to the closed door, then back at Castiel, whose bright eyes are still locked on him, unwavering.

            "Don't move," Dean warns, pointing the knife at him, and Castiel sighs.

            Dean hides the knife before he moves toward the door and swings it open, taking in the smaller, aproned woman on the other side. "Excuse me, miss, this isn't the best time."

            "I just brought fresh towels," the woman says, arching an irritated eyebrow. "Two, right?"

            "Yeah," Dean begins, "I guess—" but when he turns back toward the bed, Castiel's gone, only rumpled white sheets in his place.

---

            "Pick up, pick up, pick up," Dean mutters to himself, his cheek pressed to the sticky pay-phone receiver. He digs his thumbnail into the grooves of the metal phone-cord as he waits out the drone of the dial tone. "Dammit, Sam—"

            "Hello?" comes Sam's breathless voice on the other end, high-pitched and jagged like he's just come off a marathon run.

            "Did I interrupt something?"

            "Dean? What number is this?"

            "It's a payphone, alright? I've only got a couple minutes. Look, I'm…I'm kind of hunting something, and I need to know if you've heard of it. Think you can do that?"

            "On a hunt? By yourself?" Sam asks, sounding shocked. "Does Dad know?"

            "Not yet."

            "What are you hunting? Are you in trouble? Is everything okay—"

            "I'm fine, Sam, seriously. I just need to know if the name rings a bell with anything we've hunted before."

            "Alright," Sam says, inhaling deeply like he's catching his breath. "Shoot."

            "It's called, uh…Castiel?"

            "A Castiel?" Sam echoes, and Dean can practically see his nose wrinkling in confusion. "No, pretty sure I've never heard of it."

            "You sure?"

            "I'm positive. What's this about, Dean?"

            "Just following a lead. It’s probably nothing. I, uh…how's…you know, college life?"

            Sam pauses for one, two, three seconds, and Dean holds his breath with an anticipatory wince, waiting. They don't really do this—call to talk to each other about stuff outside hunting-related shit, that is.

            "It's…good, I guess," comes Sam's voice then, guarded. "I mean, I'm taking like eighteen hours, which sucks ass, plus I'm working two jobs but—yeah, it's good. What've you been up to? Still running around with Dad's crowd?"

            "No," Dean says quietly, and his voice cracks, so he clears his throat. "I'm fine. You know how it is."

            "Yeah," Sam says. "I do. Look, just call me if you need anything else, okay? Or if you get into trouble."

            "Sure thing, Sammy."

            The call runs out then, and Dean curses under his breath and digs into his pocket for another handful of quarters. He dials his dad's number and gets the voicemail with the usual spiel, call Dean with your shit because he's basically my secretary, blah blah (Dean's not bitter), but he figures his dad is playing hard-to-get as usual and tries again.

            Sure enough, his dad picks up. Predictable.

            "Who is this?"

            "Dad? It's me. It's…Dean."

            "Dean," John says, sounding just as suspicious as Sam had. Can't a guy just call to say hello? Dean thinks, irritated. "What do you need? Everything alright?"

            "Yeah, I just. I think I might be following a lead on something big."

            "Big?" John's voice sharpens, avid when he speaks again. "Big as in—"

            "No, not the thing that killed Mom," Dean says, swallowing with difficulty. "Different kind of big."

            The line goes flat with static silence for a moment, which Dean imagines is filled with his dad looking disapproving.

            "It's this thing I ran into called Castiel. You heard of it?"

            "No," John says. "You sure it wasn't human?"

            "Yeah, totally sure. Dad, he…"

            "What?"

            "He said he was an angel," Dean says, hating the way his voice tilts up questioningly at the end. "You don't think…I mean, is it possible that—"

            "Son, you know angels aren't real," John says, incredulous. "Come on now."

            "I know," Dean answers, his throat uncomfortably tight and his face a shade hotter, like he always gets when his dad gets on him. "I know, but…never too careful, you know?"

            "Yeah," John agrees. "It was probably lying to mess with you, maybe some sort of deluded angry spirit. Do you need my help with it? Do I need to meet you somewhere?"

            "Nah, it's fine, honestly. It's probably nothing. I can take care of it."

            "Good. You talk to Sam recently?"

            "Yeah, just got off the phone with him."

            "How is he?"

            "He's…fine," Dean says.

            "Good, good. Well, call me if you need anything, okay? Be careful. Take care of that car."

            "Yes, sir."

            John hangs up, and Dean spends a good minute listening to the singular string of dial tone, monotone in his ears until it buzzes. He sighs out slowly before plugging in some of his remaining change to call Bobby.

            He picks up first ring. "Real considerate that you called back, boy."

            That's definite sarcasm.

            "Bobby—"

            "You realize you damn near gave me a heart attack? Don't do that shit again, you hear?"

            "Yeah, I know, I know, Jesus—"

            "Don't you 'Jesus' me—"

            "Bobby," Dean yells into the receiver, his remaining patience shriveling up. "I've got like two minutes and I really need your help, okay?"

            Dean's met with stony silence for a full four seconds before Bobby asks, dryly, "And how may I assist you?"

            "I'm hunting something and it's big. I need to know if you can dig up anything on him."

            "By yourself? What is it?" Bobby asks, sounding reluctantly curious.

            "It's called Castiel. He—it—said it was an angel, but that's obviously crock so I need you to see if the name comes up anywhere. Can you do that? Please?"

            "Yeah, I'll see what I can do," Bobby says. "Everything alright, Dean?"

            "Fine, just…" Dean breaks out into a helpless laugh, the chill off the wind sending goosebumps rippling up his bare arms. "I just don't know what the hell I'm getting myself into. This guy knew my name, Bobby—knew me and Sam, my birthday, where I was born. He even had a copy of my damn car keys. Dad and Sam aren't pulling through on this so I just…I really need your help, alright?"

            "John Winchester dropped the ball on something?" Bobby says snidely.

            "Bobby."

            Bobby sighs. "Fine," he says, "I'll call you back in a bit."

            "Thanks, Bobby, seriously."

            Dean hooks the phone back on the receiver and flips up his coat collar against the rain, starting the slow trudge back to the motel, loose change jangling in his pockets with his steps. The only sound besides that on the quiet street is his shoes crackling against the wet pavement, and he finds himself lost in thought—said thoughts mainly satelliting around Castiel.

            Dean's doing, rationally, what he needs to do, which is to look at this like a hunt. Castiel is a creature of at least some substantial power with a formidable amount of knowledge about Dean and his family, and he's not human, even if he looks like it. He's not human, so he's got to go. No question, no doubts.

            He can't shake the stupid, fond way Castiel had looked at him on the highway, his eyes lidded half-consciously but still that bright recognition there, like he'd expected Dean to embrace him back.

            He stops at a small gas station for a six-pack, and when he gets back to the motel, he shakes off his wet jacket and checks his cellphone. Two missed calls from Bobby.

            Dean punches the call button and when Bobby picks up, he asks, a little too eagerly, "Yeah?"

            "Got something."

            "Awesome." Dean reaches across the table and cracks open one of the beers, tilting his head back to take a long swig.

            "One of the books I've got has a detailed index of seraphim and cherubim. I've seen the names 'Castiel' and 'Cassiel' crop up a few times as lower-ranking seraphs. Technically the angel of Thursday, but I don't know if that's really—"

            "Angel?" Dean repeats skeptically. "Bobby, you can't be serious."

            "You got something better?" Bobby snaps through the line. "I ain't rulin' anything out here, and neither should you."

            "Dad said—"

            "I don't care what your dad said. There's boatloads of lore on angel mythology, just as much as on demons and ghosts and all the rest."

            "Yeah. That completely explains why a hunter's never run across one, right?"

            "Except for maybe you, if you weren't so thick-headed about it," Bobby says, exasperated. There's a rustle on the other end, like he's rifling through more pages.

            "Whatever," Dean says, before an idea occurs to him. "Hey, you see anything about summoning spells?"

            "That sounds like a stupid idea waiting to happen."

            "Kinda my style, Bobby."

            "Moron," Bobby grumbles, his voice muffled as the phone gets shifted against something that sounds like fabric, and Dean grins and takes another drink. "Nothing here, but I’ll see if I can dig up more stuff tonight and I'll send some files your way. Good?"

            "Yeah," Dean says, picking at the beer label with his thumbnail. "Sounds good."

            "And Dean? Stay out of trouble."

            "Sure thing," Dean says with an eye roll, and hangs up.

--

October 10, 2001

            "Coffee, black please, and some fries," Dean says as he shrugs off his jacket and slides into a red laminate booth. The waitress nods and heads off as Dean settles in, pulling out a file that he's aptly named "ANGEL SHIT." For a moment he thumbs at the corner of the folder before he flips it open, spreading out the various pages on the table and bending forward to pore through them. Something about holy oil, ring of fire, blah blah, nothing actually attainable, at least on this side of the globe. Bobby'd been patient enough to fax the files to him, and while there's a ton of stuff on angels, like he'd said, there's probably only a solid three pages on Castiel in particular.

            It's been about three weeks since Castiel hit his car, and it's been the same amount of time that Dean's gotten a lead on anything. He wouldn't call it an obsession, but it's definitely some kind of determined fixation on getting an explanation. The thing about the Impala keys still bugs the shit out of him, just on principle.

            A mug of coffee plunks down beside him and Dean says, absently, "Thanks, sweetheart," before he glances up to wink at the waitress—then promptly starts like he's been shocked.

            It's Castiel, whose dark hair is mussed and windswept, his tie flipped backwards and askew. There's a small branch tangled in his hair.

            "Hello, Dean," he says, sounding out of breath.

            Dean scrambles up from the booth, caught somewhere between shock that the guy is actually here in front of him and the sudden urge to trap him for answers before he can get away again.

            "You," Dean says. "I—I've been—"

            Castiel looks at him curiously, his blue eyes bright in the slant of light through the diner windows.

            "I've been hunting you," Dean finishes lamely, his mouth going dry at the admission.

            "Have you?" Castiel asks, bemused. "How long has it been since I've seen you?"

            "Like, three weeks."

            "For me it's been three seconds," Castiel explains. "I can't control when I travel, when I come or go or…how I land." His eyes shift pointedly toward the window, refocusing on something outside. "It's very frustrating."

            "You've got a twig in your hair."

            "Yes, I landed in a bush."

            Dean drums his fingers on the table nervously, suddenly at a complete loss for what to say or do. For days he's been imagining confronting Castiel and now, when the opportunity’s actually here, he seems just as innocuous and un-huntable as when they first met.

            Castiel slides into the booth without request or preamble, his gaze refastening sharply on the case file spread out. "May I?"

            "Uh," Dean says, still standing.

            Castiel picks up four of the pages, his brow creasing in a small frown as he leafs through them slowly. "This is thorough research," he says after a moment. "It's only about 40% correct, but angels are notoriously evasive so the effort is impressive."

            "Still clinging onto that angel crap, eh?" Dean says, mustering up some lost bravado as he slides back into the booth.

            "Yes," Castiel says idly, his eyes still skimming the text on the printouts. "For future reference, I'm actually a high-ranking seraph, or I was. I should also clarify that I'm not the same angel as Cassiel. I imagine you wouldn't find their company…pleasant, anyway."

            "Good thing I didn't try to summon you then," Dean says, playing along. "Because that was in the cards for awhile."

            A strange look crosses Castiel's face, and his eyes flicker up to meet Dean's from under his eyebrows. "That would be imprudent."

            "Why?"

            Castiel returns to the files, his face a mask of neutrality again. "Because you would be summoning me from the year 2001, and I can guarantee you won't like the results of that. I've undergone certain…changes since then, and I also likely wouldn't be in this form, so I doubt you'd recognize me. We would also probably try to kill each other, given your unchecked hostility and my former disposition, which would be extremely counterintuitive for later events."

            A batch of fries is set down between them. Dean's just staring at Castiel.

            "Okay," Dean says, after a few moments of silence, in which Castiel appears to be absorbed in thought. "Okay, let's say I believe you for a second. Hypothetically."

            "Hypothetically," Castiel agrees, "of course."

            "If we're really friends from the future or whatever, then tell me something about myself only I could've told you," Dean says, leaning forward over the fries in a challenge.

            Castiel doesn't answer for a moment, still shuffling through the papers, and Dean thinks he's stumped him before he starts to speak. "Your favorite breakfast cereal as a child was Lucky Charms. Your father caught you smoking a cigarette once when you were fifteen and made you smoke the whole pack—you threw up. You have a crescent-shaped birthmark on your upper thigh, and one of your back teeth is chipped from a bar-fight you got into at age eighteen." The fucker's not even looking up from the papers. "You fix cars when you feel like you can't fix anything else. Your knowledge of old westerns is practically unparalleled. You carry a picture of your mother with you. And you can't sleep without a gun under your pillow."

            Dean stares.

            "Dude, seriously," he says hoarsely. "Who the hell are you?"

            "I told you, I'm a friend."

            "That's a little freaky for just a friend."

            "Close friend," Castiel amends, picking up a fry and chomping down on it. "And I assume I don't need to remind you of Rhonda Hurley."

            "I told you about that?" Dean says in horror, feeling acutely the hot rush of blood to his face. Castiel's eyes track the blush with apparent amusement, his lips pressing into a line to hide it.

            "Among other things."

            "Okay, how do I know you're not just a freaky voyeur? Or like a Vulcan mind-reader?"

            "You don't," Castiel says, reaching across the table to scoot Dean's coffee toward himself. "But I don't suspect you really believe that."

            Dean huffs. "You're really annoying, you know that?"

            "So you've told me," Castiel says, raising the mug to take a long sip.

            "Okay," Dean says again to process it, snagging his coffee back from Castiel the moment he sets it down. "Okay, say you're actually from the future. Fine. What are you doing here? Why me?"

            Castiel's mouth, which had been tilted up in a soft smile, thins out into something taut and uncomfortable.

            "For some reason," he says slowly after a moment, leaning forward and interlacing his hands on the table, "my energy is attached to your timeline. I've tried deviating to other points in time, but it seems I'm following the trajectory of your…personal history."

            "So what, you're just gonna keep randomly popping in on my life at weird times? No warning or anything?"

            "Most likely," Castiel says, resting his chin on his knuckles, "unless I can somehow learn to control it."

            "And you're trying to get back to your own time," Dean guesses, narrowing his eyes. Castiel's gaze flits to him quickly, then away, just a slight tell but one all the same.

            "You're running from something," Dean says, realization dawning on him. Castiel doesn't look at him, but his jaw gives a soft tick. "That's it, isn't it? Someone's chasing you down?"

            "Not someone," Castiel says quietly. "Something."

            "What is it?"

            "It's a lot to explain," Castiel replies. "Another time."

            Dean snorts, folding his arms and leaning back in the booth. "Right. Another time. Which could be either tomorrow or in ten years, right?"

            Castiel's mouth tightens again unhappily, but he doesn't answer, confirming Dean's question.

            "Alright," Dean says again, sensing it's time for a subject change. "If you're really from the future, then tell me something cool about myself."

            "What?" Castiel asks, looking startled, his gaze finding Dean's again.

            "Y'know, spoil something. Do I do anything cool?" Dean waggles his eyebrows and grins. "You know, go to the Grand Canyon, get a hot girl, invent some new cool ghost technology? I bet I'm still hunting, right? Dad said I could maybe go to school later on, but I don't really mind if I don't go. Kinda always wanted to be an MLB player, though."

            Castiel is looking at him sideways with a somewhat stricken expression, heavy and almost sad, and Dean's unsettled by it, for some reason.

            "What?" he asks, frowning.

            "Nothing," Castiel says, dropping his gaze again to his folded hands. "Perhaps that's not the best idea."

            Dean swallows, feeling his chest tighten uncomfortably. "Is it bad? Like, does bad stuff happen to me? Is that why you won't tell me?"

            "No," Castiel says carefully. "I've already upset your timeline significantly just by being here. I fear telling you future details will convolute it further."

            Yeah, right, Dean thinks, still feeling unsettled, but he senses Castiel doesn't want to talk about it so he says, lightly, "Okay, then. Future friend. Is there anything you are allowed to tell me?"

            Castiel hesitates, his teeth worrying his lower lip, and Dean finds himself strangely fixated on the movement.

            "Depends on what you want to know," Castiel says eventually, looking up at Dean through his dark lashes, before he drops eye contact and goes stealthily for Dean's coffee again.

            Dean smacks his hand away. "Hey, get your own. You could have angel herpes for all I know."

            "So you do believe me, then?" Castiel asks, a smile in his voice.

            "Psh. No." Dean stubbornly leans back in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest again, his foot tapping restlessly on the floor. "You don't act like an angel even a little bit, you know that? Like, if I had to imagine what an angel was, you'd be the opposite."

            "Is that so?" Castiel says, his head canting sideways, eyes narrowed. Dean, again, gets the sense that he's being teased.

            "Uh, yeah," Dean replies, arching his eyebrows. "Sorry that the mental image I have of 'heavenly warrior' isn't a short guy with bad bedhead who drinks coffee and steals french fries."

            Castiel frowns and leafs careful fingers through his hair, leaving it messier than it was before. "I don't have to eat," he says, trying unsuccessfully to mat his hair down. "Or drink. It can be quite unpleasant, actually. I choose to."

            "Okay, sure. And how is it exactly that we're friends? You're a little…weird, no offense."

            Castiel hesitates before answering, propping his chin gently on his knuckles again, and okay, Dean thinks. He's a little endearing. A little bit. In his snarky weirdness.

            "We've been through much together," Castiel says, the cadence of his words halting now. "Our relationship is…a little difficult to explain, and would take considerably longer to explain than I'd wager I have at the moment."

            "Your relationship with future me, you mean," Dean clarifies, looking at Castiel reproachfully over the rim of his mug. He gives the headshake version of a finger wagging. "Don't go getting any ideas about us being friends. I don't trust you yet."

            "What would you consider me, then?" Castiel asks. "An enemy?"

            Dean thinks that over for a moment, staring down at his coffee as he swirls it in the cup. "Someone who I'm not actively trying to kill, but also not an ally," is what he eventually comes up with.

            "I'll take what I can get," Castiel says dryly.

            The waitress stops by and wordlessly refills Dean's coffee, casting Castiel an odd look before she saunters off. When Dean looks back to Castiel appraisingly, he double-takes when he sees Castiel's hand is…literally glowing.

            "Uh," Dean says blankly. "Dude."

            Castiel blinks at him in confusion, his fingers still laced together, and he looks down to follow Dean's gaze.

            "Ah," he says, mildly. "That appears to be my cue."

            "What is that?" Dean asks, engrossed as the gold light splinters out from a small patch of the tan skin on Castiel's hand, dappling the plastic tabletop with light.

            "It's temporal energy," Castiel says, standing swiftly, stiffly. "If you'll excuse me."

            "What, you're just taking off?" Dean asks in disbelief as Castiel bends his knees to slide out of the booth. "When the hell are you going to be back?"

            Castiel casts him a pained glance over his shoulder, a small patch of light fracturing out from under his right eyelid. "I don't know. I can't be sure. I'm sorry, Dean. I hope, truly, to see you soon."

            And he just…walks out. Dean propels himself halfway out of his seat, craning his neck to see if he can see Castiel's departure through the window, but the dude's definitely gone.

            Dean swears loudly, turning to stare at the spot where Castiel had just been. There are still some fry crumbs and a few grains of salt in his vacant spot; there are traces of coffee residue from two mouths on the rim of his mug. So it hadn't been a fever dream, at least.

            Dean yanks out his cellphone, which is slowly but surely inching toward scrap metal material, and punches in Bobby's number by heart.

            "'Yello," Bobby answers, sounding half-distracted when he picks up.

            "It was him," Dean launches in without preamble. "Cas was just here."

            "Who?" Bobby says skeptically, his voice growing closer to the phone.

            "Castiel, you know, the angel."

            "Are we pet-naming him now?"

            "What? No, shut up. Are you listening to me? He was just here, in front of me—"

            "Well, d'ja kill him while you still could?"

            Dean deflates at that, drumming his fingers on the tabletop, watching the glint of his silver ring in the sunlight. "Uh, no. I…."

            "You've got his blade, don't you? You could've taken him out, Dean."

            "I…." Dean grimaces, runs his tongue over his teeth. He tries again. "I couldn't. He's just…I dunno, a regular dude. Like a geeky, harmless dude. I just didn't have it in me to knife him."

            "A geeky dude who happens to maybe be a celestial warrior of the cosmos," comes Bobby's voice, all sarcasm crackling with static.

            "I'm tellin' you, Bobby, I don't think he's trying to hurt me. Whoever I am in the future, he likes me."

            "God help us," Bobby mutters to himself.

            “Do you think I should try to trap him and question him next time?” Dean asks uncertainly. “I…I don’t really know what to do here.”

            “I’m not sure I’ve got advice to give,” Bobby says with a heavy sigh. “I’ve really got no clue exactly what it is we’re up against. Just…be careful, you hear me? We don’t know what this thing is. The last thing we want to do is piss it off and blow up a hemisphere or somethin’.”

            “Okay. I’ll…I’ll call you back. Thanks, Bobby,” Dean says, and hangs up. For several moments after, he stays in the booth and drums his cellphone thoughtfully against the tabletop, staring at the place where Castiel had been as he wonders, again, just what the hell he’s gotten himself into.