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It wasn't like they didn't have enough weird crap going on in their lives. There was never any kind of a weird crap shortage.

But apparently Dean was wrong and they really, really didn't have enough weird crap in their lives after all. Sam was the one who started it this time, when he found the Thing in the Men of Letters vault that was supposed to be set aside for pretty-much-harmless stuff.

When they found that vault, and realized what it was supposed to be, they had sort of shrugged and left it alone. For months. What did they need with harmless stuff?

But Sam must have had some slack time, or else gotten sick of what he was researching and needed a break. (That, Dean could relate to all right.) One day Sam brought out three or four oddball things he said might be useful. Later on Dean couldn't even remember what the other ones were. Maybe there was a cardboard box, or maybe it was something inside the cardboard box. But the one he remembered was the one that started - Everything.

Dean's everything, anyhow.

"You're shitting me," Dean said flatly to Sam as Sam proudly displayed it in its case. It was an old fashioned scale, like they show Justice holding, or like the sign for Libra. Or more like, it was meant to look like one, though it was more kind of a sculpture, made of some green stone. It didn't actually weigh things. It was a mind switching machine. Or so Sam had just claimed.

"How the hell is that harmless? And why the hell did you drag it out to show me? You've gotta be the last person to want that to happen again. Remember Gary? Remember being Gary?"

Sam made a face, because he did remember that. "No, I know, that sucked on ice. But this isn't like that. It's, like, it's a kind of a toy really. A game. It can't be used by force. It's a kind of cooperative magic. One of the Men of Letters back at the turn of the last century was studying it. There are some limitations, but it's safe. He worked out a whole formula for how - "

Dean stopped listening at this point, as Sam went into way too much detail about math.

"...so it's perfectly safe," he tuned back in as Sam was winding down, "it just takes two people at the most to switch it all back, no matter how many switches are made. And depending on the circumstances you could even fix it with just one extra person to help. You get it?"

No. Dean didn't get it. Dean was ready to interrupt the flow now anyway.

"Yeah. What I don't get is why anybody would want to do this. No, okay, maybe some situations it'd be, I dunno, interesting. Or necessary even. Like, like a spy mission or something. But for fun? What the hell would be fun about it?"

"Well, maybe it was meant to be… I don't know… like, educational fun."

Dean snorted.

"Don't act like you don't remember Sesame Street," Sam said sternly, and Dean sighed.

"Yeah, all right."

"It is from another world," Sam said. "Maybe it makes more sense where it's from. But according to Baum's notes, the Men of Letters tried it out and proved the theorem worked. It wasn't his theorem though, apparently some guy named Keeler - though his name isn't in the list of Men of Letters…"

He would have gone off into all the details again, but Dean had finally remembered where he'd heard the name Baum before.

"Wait. Is this thing from Oz? " And what kind of life did Dean live where he asked questions like that with a straight face.

"Well, it's from Ev, actually. That's a neighboring country to Oz. Same world as Oz. Across the Impassable Desert to the northeast - only their compass is reversed so they'd consider it northwest..."

Dean made a strangled noise. Sam blinked at him. He really did enjoy showing off all the details he kept in his head.

"So why are you showing me this? Why did you get it out?"

Sam blinked again, then shrugged. "I just… thought it was kinda cool. All the dangerous crap around here, all the dangerous stuff we do, I just thought it might be fun to, I don't know. Rummage in the toy closet."

He wasn't looking Dean in the eye as he said this stuff, and Dean wondered just what was up with Sam, and thought how lately he'd been kind of sad. It's not like Dean didn't notice these things, but he never knew what he ought to do about them. If Sam actually wanted to do something to feel better, instead of all of the usual talking about feelings, then Dean was 100% on board with a plan like that.

It's not like Dean didn't have feelings, all right. It's not like he had anything against Sam having feelings (even big feelings, since he was so damn big, and anyhow all the crap he'd been through). It was the talking about the feelings that made Dean have to pay attention to it that he objected to. It seemed to Dean that it just gave the actual feelings more power than they deserved to have, like the way ghosts clung to life through seemingly ordinary objects. It wasn't so bad to be a little angry all the time, was it?

But if there was one thing Dean did know about feelings, some feelings didn't want to be talked about. He sighed.

"So you wanna try it out?" he said, and Sam looked both happy and surprised in a way that made Dean feel guilty and glad at the same time.

"Yeah. It'd be interesting. And it shouldn't be too weird for either of us."

Dean didn't know about that. But there was already a vibe of childish excitement coming from Sam that was hard to resist. It was easy right now to see the little kid he'd been, there inside the big guy. This was the Sam that loved the fireworks. Dean would do just about anything for that Sam. Even if it made him feel stupid.

"All right."

Sam smiled, but then, "Promise me one thing, Dean," very serious. "Do not cut my hair, shave my head, paint my nails or any other stupid thing. I better find me the way I left me. Okay?"

Dean hadn't even been thinking along those lines, but now he laughed. "No Mohawk, Sammy? Or how about some wacky color job like the kids are all doing these days? I could get it done in a rainbow for when people ask how the weather is up there."

Sam had been starting to glower, but this one cracked him up. Just two days ago Dean had heard someone ask him that dumb old question. Sam never gave the rude answers the dumb questions deserved. He was too nice for his own good. Also too tall.

"Fine," Dean said. "Spoilsport. And you, promise not to get me any tattoos or piercings. Or rainbow, mermaid, unicorn looking hair... anywhere."

"I promise, no pranks," said Sam, and you had to admit that pretty much did cover absolutely everything. "No pranks," Dean agreed. "Well, no pranks on each other. Anybody else is fair game."

Sam looked thoughtful. "Do you think Cas will be able to tell?"

The thought or mention of Cas always felt kind of personal to Dean, like Sam was watching him for a reaction. Dean didn't much like thinking that that feeling alone WAS a reaction. "Maybe," he said, but he really did have to wonder. Did he like the thought of Cas not being able to tell whose soul he was talking to?

Why was he even thinking about that?

As he usually did, Dean shoved thought away with action. "Well, what do we do? Any ritual or words or anything?"

"Nope," said Sam, and opened the top of the case so that the green stone scales sculpture was now out in the open. There was a lot of scrollwork around the base of it, old-timey looking was all Dean could think of it as. There was some similarity to some of the scrollwork in the bunker's library. Turn of the last century, Sam had said. But that was older than the bunker.

He was getting distracted again. Sam was saying, " - just both willingly touch their side of it at the same time. That's all there is to it, apparently."

"Well, okay then," said Dean. "You ready?"

"Okay."

They both touched it.

***

He really thought for a moment that nothing had happened, because he didn't feel anything - you'd think there'd be, like, some wrenching feeling, or dizziness, or some thing. But between one eye blink and the next, the room just swiveled around Dean. And there he was, standing in front of himself. His good old, regular, normal familar self.

He looked... Short.

But that had to mean that he, the current he, was really tall now. He looked around the room, then back at himself - who was not himself, now, but Sam.

"Whoa," Dean said, in Sam's voice, and that right there was way more disorienting than being tall enough to see himself as short (when he was NOT short, he was over six feet!) and he saw his own startled face react to hearing what he must think of as his own voice… Yes. It was weird enough for anybody to have to deal with. What could it have been like for Sam, he suddenly wondered, with Gary, when it happened without Sam even knowing what was going on? Dean had even brought it up, but he had never wondered what it had really been like for Sam.

Or being possessed. That had happened to Sam a bunch of times now. But not to Dean. The thought of it made his blood run cold, even when it was somebody else's blood.

The Dean that was Sam said, cautiously, "Are you okay…?" and then Dean could hear that it was Sam, using Dean's voice but talking the way Sam talked, and that made him feel better for some reason. He could deal with this. For a few minutes, anyway.

Something tickled his neck. He reached up to scratch at it or bat it away, and found that it was his own goddamned hair. He hadn't had hair this long since the nineties. The early nineties.

"Remember your promise, Dean," said Sam, squinting up at him, and oh God but he really did look kind of like a little bulldog, didn't he? Sam must be laughing at him all the time.

Dean had seen 'himself' before, a bunch of times before now. Demon self, future self, not really real but a perfect mirror image just the same. Those never bothered him like this.

"I gotta sit down," he said.

He pulled a chair out and tried to drop into it but misjudged the length of his legs and almost fell right out of it again before getting his ass planted in the seat. "Jesus fuck!"

Okay, it was kind of funny to see his own face looking all shocked. Dean relaxed just a little bit.

"Okay," said Sam in Dean's body, "let me just say that you'll need to watch your head a lot from now on. There's pretty low clearance in a lot of places in the bunker and you don't wanna find that out at speed."

Dean waved that off with Sam's gigantic hand. He'd already had more than enough of this. "Never mind 'from now on,' dude, curiosity satisfied here. You good? Let's switch back now."

The look of incredulous dismay on his own face was pure Sam somehow. "Uh."

Dean experienced a sinking feeling so deep it deserved its own Celine Dion song. "Oh God, what."

"Dean - I explained it - I explained the whole thing to you! You weren't listening??"

"I was listening - you said it was 'perfectly safe' - "

"And I said it would take the help of two extra people to get switched back to our own bodies! You said you got it!"

"I tuned all that out, okay? I was thinking about something else. Sue me!"

As they argued, Dean found himself starting to get used to their switched voices already. He was used to arguing with himself, after all.

"Well, if you're not happy in my body," said Sam, "it's your own stupid fault for not listening to me."

"Hang on a minute. How do I know we can't switch back? Just because you say so."

"I didn't say so, Baum and Keeler said so! It's a kind of immune response - Fine, try it, you'll see."

They both put their hands on the switcher again. Absolutely nothing happened.

"Right - You stand over here and I'll stand over there this time."

"Fine."

Absolutely nothing happened again.

"Told you," said Sam.

"Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck!"

"Dean?"

Both of them jumped and looked around, guilty as shoplifters. Cas was standing in the doorway, his blue eyes wide on Dean's - which appeared to be Sam's - face.

"What are you doing in Sam's body?"

So Cas could tell, just by looking, where his soul was. There was something a little bit okay about that. Reassuring.

"How could you tell?" Sam as Dean asked.

Cas said, "I've never heard Sam swear that much."

Well, fuck.

***

Sam prevented himself from laughing out loud at the look on his own face as captained by Dean, but thankfully managed it. It wasn't nice, really. But Dean did this to himself not listening.

Sam wouldn't really mind so much if he'd been going into unnecessary detail, geeking out about something of interest, because he did do that sometimes, but he hadn't even done that this time at all. He'd been explaining essentials, and not only had Dean tuned it out, he'd pretended to be listening. Typical! It would serve him right to hit his head on every inconvenient doorway and overhang in a fifty mile radius.

However, Sam wanted his own head back and didn't really want it bruised or concussed. So they had better resolve this as quickly as possible. Cas made one extra person, and Sam had a feeling that Charlie would not only be willing to help out, but would find the whole thing hilarious.

Kevin would have been intrigued by the theorem - and the historical stuff that Sam had not even tried to tell Dean about - but Kevin was gone. Sam knew well the arguments why that was not his fault, but he would never stop feeling that it was, never.

But Charlie and Cas were enough to put them right again, no harm done, and they would put the toy from Ev back into its case and lock it in the vault and never bring it out again.

It just wasn't worth all the hassle. Sam didn't even know what he'd been thinking. He'd just thought it was interesting, and Dean had gone along with it (because he hadn't been listening) and then Dean freaked out. He'd looked a little sick, even.

But at least Cas was here, that would give Dean something else to think about.

It was so, so obvious to Sam how Cas felt about his brother, but less obvious how Dean felt in return, especially since Sam could never get him to talk about it without seeming like he was evading an interrogation by somebody trying to frame him.

Sam went to get his phone out, and was momentarily confounded by the fact that he was wearing Dean's clothes. They dressed similarly enough most of the time, but Dean kept his phone in a different pocket than Sam did. Also, it was Dean's phone. He handed it off to Dean, and got his own in return (once Dean could find it.)

Charlie preferred email to texting, so Sam wrote up a quick explanation and plea for a visit ASAP. As he did so, he found it easier to use the phone/keyboard interface with Dean's fingers than he ever had with his own. A benefit he would probably be better off not mentioning to Dean, who had been faintly defensive about height and size since Sam was seventeen and had never really gotten all the way over it.

He hit Send and looked up in time to see Cas curiously touching the green stone sculpture.

"Cas, don't - "

It was two of them talking at once, both noticing at once, and both moving at the same time to stop Cas. And both of them at once, in the wrong size body, converging on the same spot, but one of them with legs too long, and the other with arms too short.

And another switch happened.

"Fuck," said Castiel's body, now containing Dean. "Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck!"

Aghast, Sam looked at his own body. Castiel was much less surprised by changing bodies than any human could be. He sighed. "I'm sorry. I've made this more complicated."

"Aaaargh," Dean complained, and grabbed at his own head in frustration, only to be visibly startled by the feel of Castiel's hair gripped in his hands. He let go quickly.

Sam's phone dinged softly. He looked down at it, expecting a reply from Charlie, but it was a voice mail notification. Sam frowned. There wasn't any 'missed call' notification to go with it.

When he went to the voice mail screen, his frown intensified. The message was from a number he didn't know, somewhere in California, and was 99 minutes long - the maximum length of a voice mail. What the hell could it be?

But all that was on it was static. Loud, unvarying static.

Weird. But just one of those weird things. Sam was putting the phone back into his preferred phone pocket when it dinged again. This time, it was Charlie.

If you're kidding I'll never forgive you. Don't move! I'll be there as fast as the Tesseract can carry me!

He read this out. Dean in Cas snorted, hunching his shoulders. Cas in Sam looked intrigued. "Charlie knows how to tesser?"

"What…?" Oh. "No - it's kind of a joke. It's that yellow Gremlin she drives. She calls it the Tesseract."

This branch of conversation ended with Cas looking up the reference on Dean's phone. Sam left them to it and went to his own room to sit down, head in his hands, and wonder why he'd ever thought it was a good idea to switch bodies when he damn well knew better.

Sam heard approaching footsteps and braced himself for what he assumed would be Dean freaking out, but instead he looked up in time to see Castiel in Sam's own body bonking his head as he misjudged the height of the doorway. Sam winced in sympathy.

Rubbing his head, Cas said ruefully, "Ow. - My healing powers seem to be with my body. I don't know if Dean will be able to use them. But I came to say - Dean  is making something to eat. Will you come?"

Sam had to laugh. "Yeah. Watch yourself in all doorways and stairwells, all right? I warned Dean but he wasn't even in there long enough to find out for himself."

Cas nodded solemnly. What a life they led, that saying things like that were normal.

Sam followed him back to the kitchen. He could already smell onions sizzling in olive oil - that meant spaghetti. His stomach roiled noisily, just like Dean's always did - duh, because it was Dean's stomach.

Dean had taken off Castiel's raincoat and rolled up his sleeves, and he seemed to be moving without too much trouble - he and Cas, or rather, he and Jimmy Novak were about the same height, so it was obviously a lot more comfortable a fit for Dean. And there was another thing Sam was never going to dare to say out loud.

"Smells good," was what he did say. "Want me to help? I could help."

"You stay there," Dean pointed a spatula at him. "In fact sit down. I don't want you cutting stuff with my hands."

"Jeez, all right," but since he stumbled a little just sitting down, Sam had to admit that Dean was probably right. He could wash dishes later. That would be a lot harder to mess up.

They ate spaghetti with meat sauce, and it was awesome. Dean was a good cook whatever body he was in, though again, Sam was glad he got switched again before he really tried out that hypothesis in Sam's body. He also wanted all of his fingers back. Dean made garlic bread as well, though he disdained salad as rabbit food.

It was a little weird seeing Dean in Cas' body, maybe because Dean didn't seem to find it weird at all, in contrast with Sam's. Cas' face animated with Dean's soul, his voice speaking with Dean's words, was… not a bad mix somehow. Sam remembered, though, what Cas had told him about the powers staying with the body, and wondered if Dean even knew that.

The phone dinged again, this time with a text. Charlie was on approach, and as she didn't have a key to the bunker - they couldn't exactly get it copied at a hardware store - Sam went out to let her in.

***

It made it a lot easier on Dean to be busy. He liked cooking, he liked how useful it was, and how it made even a weird ass place like the bunker feel like a real home when that was never what it had been made for.

He looked at his hands while he scraped out the cast iron skillet, and they weren't his hands, they were Cas' hands. Well, everything he had right now was Cas' everything. Why was that embarrassing? His ears were turning hot.

"Dean?" said Sam's voice, but just in one syllable Dean could hear that was Cas. "May I help? I could wash the dishes."

"You don't have to," reflexively. "You never eat - Oh. Right." Because he did this time. Cas and Sam had both devoured the pasta and the garlic bread and Dean - hadn't eaten. He hadn't even thought about it. He hadn't even had a beer.

"Uh," with a creeping feeling. "Do I have your powers now?"

"I think so," said Cas. "But it might be better not to try using them."

And he moved in on the sink without asking permission again, and started pretty competently washing the dishes. "The food was delicious," Cas said solemnly, without looking up from what he was doing. Maybe he had to keep an eye on those enormous hands of Sam's to prevent breakage. "I haven't been able to enjoy food since the last time I was human. I'm glad to have had a meal you made. It was the best thing I've ever tasted."

If anybody else said that, it would be fake, a buttering up thing to say. But Castiel actually meant it and oh man it was just really embarrassing. Nice. But Dean was so flustered he couldn't even reply for a long time. Cas in Sam didn't seem to be waiting for any answer, anyway. He methodically washed and dried the dishes. Dean caught himself watching him - he didn't have anything else to do now, with the washing-up being handled - and thought it was so weird, that he hardly even saw Sam when he looked at him. Maybe that was some kind of angel vision, but this was so obviously Cas that the body he was in was more like an outline.

Well. Call it angel vision and then stop thinking about it. Because goddammit, if there was one thing Dean never wanted, it was to be a goddamn angel puppet. He wasn't - this wasn't the same thing. He knew that. You had to say Yes to that. But this did cut uncomfortably close, when he didn't even notice he hadn't eaten the supper he took all that trouble to make.

Fuck, and that meant there was not enough alcohol in the entire bunker to get him drunk, was there.

There was a sudden, loud ruckus approaching down the hall. Charlie was here, and Dean could hear her voice raised in an angry shout.

"I cannot believe you!" she was shouting, and it got louder and louder with the thunder of footsteps. "Get back here! What were you thinking??"

Charlie and Sam burst into the kitchen, wild eyed. That is, Charlie was wild-eyed.

Dean said, sharply, "Charlie! What's the matter?"

Charlie swiveled to stare at him and then took a deep breath. "I'm Sam!" she yelled. "I told her not to touch it! Now we have to find two more people!"

What looked like Dean Winchester hunched his shoulders a little and then gave a shamefaced grin to the room. "What up, bitches."

***

This change was impossible not to stare at. Dean could not decide which was more godawful and fascinating: Sam in the body of Charlie, or Charlie in Dean's own original body.

For one thing, Sam was trying to play it cool and not freak out about being a chick. Dean could tell. For another, Charlie was not trying to play it cool at all and seemed delighted to be a dude.

Dean resolved not to leave her alone with his body even for a moment. Hell, turned out that even Sam couldn't be trusted to hang onto it, but Charlie kept kind of… touching her own shoulders and the back of her own neck in a way that made Dean uncomfortable to watch. It didn't matter that it wasn't about him personally, that she wasn't even attracted to dudes, it just felt embarrassing.

Imagine if you were attracted to the body you happened to be in. Or the person who was usually in it.

No, wait, no, don't imagine it.

Charlie in Dean was sitting down at the table now, and Sam in Charlie was pacing around the kitchen. Cas in Sam had finished washing dishes, and now seemed unsure what to do with his hands.

Charlie said, "Dude, there's no need to get all salty at me, what did you expect, you invited me to come and try it out!"

"No, I asked you for your help!"

"I can still help. I've only switched once."

"With someone who had already switched! Now we need two people who haven't switched."

"Are you sure…?"

"I'll show you the math."

It had seemed like they would be fighting forever, but suddenly they were both huddled around Sam's laptop, muttering to each other about "disjoint cycles" and "arbitrary permutations."

Dean and Cas looked at one another.

"So. Two more people," said Dean. "Who do we ask now?" It was kind of depressing to think about this problem, because there were so many people they could have asked that weren't around anymore to be asked anything.

"Jody Mills is understanding and responsible," said Cas.

"Yeah, that's true. And Claire's there with her, maybe she could help?"

"We could ask," said Cas. Then after a moment, "She would make fun of us, of course."

"Well, that's gonna happen no matter what we do."

***

It turned out that on the phone, their voices were confusing to Jody, who was on her guard and suspicious of people who might be possessed. This was understandable, totally, but frustrating in practice, because it took more than an hour to convince her. (Claire had arrived home by that time and tartly suggested they just FaceTime already. She'd been right, which was more annoying than the original problem in Dean's opinion.)

And then after all that hassle, Jody and Claire couldn't come right away.

"But this is important!" said Dean, but Jody gave him a Look that ought to have fried him to a crisp. It was probably for the best that he had Cas' powers at the moment. "Claire's finals are important! This wasn't a case, Dean, you guys were fooling around with stuff you shouldn't have been, and it won't hurt you to wait a couple of days - "

"Half a week," said Dean, thinking sadly again of booze and food.

Claire pushed into the conversation now, which was still over FaceTime. "Hey Dean. Given the circumstances. Maybe we ought to call you Dest -- "

Dean hung up before she could finish saying it. It was bad enough that Sam teased him like that, but - not in front of Cas.

"Are you in distress, Dean?" Cas asked him. "Is my vessel uncomfortable for you?" He sounded worried, like he thought he was being a bad host.

"No," and he felt his ears getting hot again. He hadn't known that this was how Cas blushed. The embarrassment was Dean's, but the blush response seemed to go with the body. "It's more comfortable than Sam's was. You seem to be okay with being tall."

"I'm really quite a lot taller than this," Cas said gently.

"Right…" Dean frowned. "But are you now ...? I mean, if I have the powers, am I really as tall as the Chrysler Building?" He tilted his head, trying to have some sense of secret tallness, but as far as he could tell he fit just fine in this body. Oh Christ there went his ears again, why.

"It's not really a yes/no question," Cas was starting to say, when Charlie launched herself up at them from where she'd been sitting.

"So I overheard, a couple of days then?" she said brightly. And this was weird, really damn weird, seeing his own meatsuit animated by a wacky, bubbly, offbeat but still rather feminine woman. The way she widened Dean's eyes. The way she bounced on Dean's feet. That… whatever that she was doing with his hands, fiddling his fingers and playing with his ring. She had better not lose that.

"Yeah. Wasn't negotiable," said Dean, but Charlie's attention wasn't on him.

"Wanna trade with me?" she said to Cas. "This might be a better look on you."

"Wait, what?" said Dean, aghast, but they ignored him. He followed them back to where the switcher was. "What the hell, don't keep going , for fuck's sake - "

"Dean, we have two people coming to help. As long as we have that, we can switch ourselves silly if we want. And you can stop worrying about what I'm doing with your body when I'm out of your sight. Everybody's happy. Trust me."

She turned and tried to give him a meaningful look, but he refused to understand it.

He stood hovering in the doorway, still protesting that this was stupid, but they paid no attention to him at all. They marched right up to the green thing from Ev and slapped their hands down on it like they were playing blackjack at a casino.

He watched carefully, hoping that angel vision would show something - a flash, a pulse, anything - but there was no sign of the change except in the people who had changed. Charlie, now in Sam, looked around and then stretched her arms up toward the ceiling.

"Whoo hoo!" she exulted, making Sam's voice crack. "Oh my God I am SO FUCKING TALL! GOOD MORNING TOKYOOOOO!" and she went on to do a really first rate Godzilla impression, pulling the arms against her chest T-Rex style and walk-stomping around the table. "rrRRRRAAAAHHHHHRRR!"

"Oh God," said Sam in Charlie, half hiding behind Dean. "She's out of control."

"At least somebody's having a good time," Dean muttered.

"Guys! These legs! I can totally do the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch now!" and now Dean was fumbling for his phone to get a picture of this. When they all got themselves back in their original bodies again, nobody would be able to tell that this goosestepping idiot wasn't the actual Sam.

Sam only had Charlie's short arms to work with now, but he was still interfering with Dean's efforts to snap the picture. All he caught was a blur, unsuitable for teasing Sam till the end of time with. "Goddamnit," Dean muttered. "Spoilsport."

Still gripping Dean's arm, Sam frowned at the phone in Dean's hand. "Hey. Did you get one of those too?"

"Huh? One of those what?"

"The voice mail. With no call to go with it. I got a really long one that was just static."

Sam took his phone to check this out. So Dean didn't even see Charlie doing the Karate Kid stuff in the background until she accidentally kicked a lamp, and there was no chance of any pictures. Total spoilsport.

Charlie had been so distracting with her Trying On The Sam Suit Montage that Dean hadn't even noticed what Cas was doing. Maybe, he'd been trying not to look at Cas, not that he hadn't seen several people animating his body already today, but he sort of felt like… Cas might need a few minutes to get used to it, so maybe it was better if everybody was paying attention to something else anyway.

Only later did it occur to Dean that Charlie might have been thinking the exact same thing.

"Dean," said Cas, and Dean turned toward him.

It was both more and less weird than Charlie in his body. At least Cas didn't have all those hyper mannerisms - or the nervous giggle! - but he had a look on his face like a bull who woke up in a china shop, not knowing how he got there, and afraid to move and break everything.

"You okay?" Dean asked, startled, and Cas' face (his face!) shifted slightly, a bunch of little expressions that added up to something that looked like guilt.

"I should have asked you first. For your permission. I don't want to make you more uncomfortable than you are."

Perversely, being told he was uncomfortable made Dean feel like settling in and being anything but. "Nah, you're fine. It's kind of easier like this." He didn't even know what he meant by that, but at least Cas seemed reassured. It really wasn't the same as angel possession. It didn't bother him like that would. It didn't mean Dean had said Yes.

Still looking at Dean's phone, Sam said, "Yeah. It's like the one I got. It maxes out the voice mail time and it's just loud static."

Cas said, "Play it aloud so we can hear it, Sam? Please?"

"Oh - sure," and there was a sound of white noise, unvarying, like a TV tuned into nothing. Sam moved to turn it off again, and Cas lifted his hand, "Wait, please, Sam."

Dean looked at Cas' face, his own face with Cas behind it, listening intently, head tilted to one side. The expression was so familiar that it made Dean relax. And the TV sound of the static… rippled. Something in the wind.

"What was that?" he said, frowning in concentration.

Charlie had finally stopped showboating and drifted close to listen. "'They're here' ," she said in a creepy singsong, made even creepier in Sam's voice.

"Shut up!" Dean snapped. "I'm trying to - "

Oh.

The white noise wasn't white and it wasn't noise, it was filled with information, woven and stacked and flowing through the shifting layers. It was like one of those Magic Eye pictures coming into focus but in every sense at once, with a whole lot left over.

Dean?

There was so much, more than he could understand. It didn't stop. It was overflowing. He couldn't contain it but it kept flowing in, like water, something that could drown you. Something so deep the pressure could crush you like a bug. Flowing. Overflowing. Something in there, reaching out, pushing and pulling, making it overflow, over and over the flow.

Dean!

The flow stopped abruptly, and Dean gasped, his head rocking back like he'd been slapped hard in the face. His ears were ringing with sudden silence.

"What…?"

The others were clustered around him as though they'd teleported. Everyone's eyes were wide. Cas was gripping him by the shoulders. When Dean focused on him, he let go.

"What happened?" Dean put a hand to his head. "Whoa."

"You froze for a minute," Charlie said - no, that was Sam, right. Sam in Charlie's body.

"You could hear something in that sound, Dean?" said Cas.

"It wasn't hearing," said Dean. "And it isn't sound. Shit, I gotta sit down."

"Was that angel radio?" Sam asked, but he was asking Cas.

Cas shook his head slowly. "That would not be audible to human ears at all. I don't understand what this is. I couldn't hear anything but a loud hiss."

Charlie said, "In the books, y'know, when you first showed up and you weren't in a vessel yet, and you tried to talk to Dean, it blew up the TVs and radios nearby with static. Could it be, like, a voice mail in angel speech?"

"I don't know," said Cas.

"If it were, I don't see why the phone wouldn't explode just playing it," said Sam.

"Can I get my phone back?" said Dean, holding out his hand for it.

"Actually," said Cas, "that's my phone."

Oh. Right. They did look similar. As in identical.

"This one is yours," and Cas handed to him. When he did, his fingers brushed against the back of Dean's hand.

It made Dean gasp. He looked at Cas in shock. Cas was staring at him too, eyes wide, mouth open. This really should have looked stupid to Dean on his own face, but somehow it didn't. Somehow, he saw Cas even more clearly in there.

"What's the matter?" said Sam.

"Nothing," said Dean, in the same breath that Cas said "I felt a powerful connection."

Dean's ears went hot again. Dammit.

He looked down at the phone to have something else to stare at. "Well shit," he said, frowning and swiping at the screen, "I got one of those voice mails too."

***

The originating numbers were all different. Sam tried calling them, but none of the people on the other end knew anything.

The phone was unexpectedly huge in his hands now. Sam was privately grateful that Charlie didn't paint her fingernails, but she still had small, delicate fingers, and though they did have an easier time typing on a cramped phone screen keyboard, Sam could not stop feeling that he was the wrong size all over. The whole bunker looked bigger. And his own body, well. Did he really look that big to other people? No wonder they called him 'moose' and 'giant' and everything else.

Of course, not everyone was as petite as Charlie, either, but it certainly had always seemed to Sam that there were lots more short people than tall. Someone Sam could meet level eyes with while standing up was a rarity. Honestly he liked it that way. Whenever he did meet someone that tall, they both seemed embarrassed by the whole thing.

Now, Charlie was occupying his body, and she seemed to be enjoying it a lot more than he ever did.

She had been right, he thought, to switch in so that Cas was no longer in Sam's body. She might be having a little too much fun trying to be a matchmaker between Dean and Cas, but it was a good impulse all the same. Dean needed the help. With all he'd been through, all he'd sacrificed and suffered, Dean deserved some happiness, and he obviously wasn't going to get there without a little help.

Unfortunately all of the warm feelings Sam was experiencing toward Dean evaporated in the next moment when Dean, clearly feeling panicked by Cas touching his hand and talking openly about 'powerful connections,' said loudly, "So how is it being a chick, Sammy? Can you tell any difference? Is it everything you ever dreamed of?"

Charlie straightened up to her new full height. "Oh no dude, you did not just say that."

"Of course he did," said Sam in disgust. "He's freaking out, so he's being an asshole to me to take attention off it."

"I AM NOT FREAKING OUT!"

"At least you didn't try to say you're not being an asshole."

Dean shoved his phone in his - Cas's - pocket and stood up.

"I'm gonna go find, buy and drink a liquor store."

He stomped out of the room.

"Do we have to go after him?" said Charlie in disgust.

"No need," said Sam. "He'll be back. His keys are in the wrong pocket," and pointed at Cas by way of explanation.

"Couldn't he - I dunno, fly?" asked Charlie. "He's got Castiel's powers, right?"

"He can't really use most of my powers. But even if he could, he definitely can't fly. My wings are too damaged."

The way he said it sounded admirably calm to Sam, but Cas didn't have enough control over Dean's face to keep it from looking sad. Sam had sort of noticed that Cas didn't zap around anymore, but he hadn't realized exactly why. The angel had never mentioned it to Sam. He wondered if he had ever mentioned it to Dean, but doubted it.

"Can they... heal? Angel wings?" said Charlie, hesitantly.

There was a long pause.

"I don't know. Perhaps. Over time. Maybe a few millennia." Castiel's expression clouded even more. Sam had a feeling that he was thinking about all the other angels - the surviving ones - in the same condition.

Charlie gulped audibly. She traded a look with Sam and opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, Dean was back, glowering in the doorway.

"Dude," to Cas. "You've got my keys."

While Cas fumbled to figure out where they were and then produce them, Sam looked at Dean's face carefully. Had he heard them talking? About the wings? He couldn't tell. Dean in Cas was a lot harder for Sam to read than Cas in Dean.

Cas handed over the keyring. Sam couldn't help but notice that Dean avoided touching any fingers in the process.

After Dean had stomped out and the sound of Impala's engine had faded away, Cas cleared his throat. "Um. I'm in a difficult situation."

"I know," Charlie said, clearly thinking in matchmaker mode. "He's so repressed!"

Cas looked increasingly uncomfortable. "I mean… I need to… The body I'm in needs to go to the bathroom."

"This is too much information all of a sudden," said Charlie.

"Dude, then go! - In the bathroom. You've been human before." Thank God they didn't need to teach him from square one, Sam thought. He couldn't even imagine trying to deal with that.

"I think Dean would be angry."

Sam was sure he was right, but Dean would surely be angrier if Cas let, well, accidents happen.

"Dude. A human's gotta do what a human's gotta do."

Cas nodded and then hurried off. Charlie said, "Go, and obsess no more," but not till after he was out of earshot.

She sighed, and Sam sighed, almost in unison.

"They're idiots," she said. "Both of them."

"I know it," said Sam. "Believe me."



***

Dean had only driven a couple of miles before he swore fiercely and pulled over. Usually he liked being in motion to think, his brain just seemed to work best when he was driving. But not now. He didn't know if it was because he wasn't in his body, or because he was too wound up for it to work. It was kind of a coin toss.

Why didn't Cas tell him that, about his wings being broken? Why didn't he even say anything?

And why didn't Dean think about it for himself in the first place? Cas never zapped around anymore. He drove now. All the time. You could pray to him, but he had to show up in a human way. Why hadn't Dean noticed that?

Dean had, of course, never actually seen Castiel's wings. He'd only ever seen the shadow of them, that one time, when Cas was proving he was what he said he was, an Angel of the Lord. He thought of them as black, but they could be white, or flamingo pink for all Dean knew. He hadn't seen them.

But judging by the shadow of them, they had been whole, and full of feathers, or whatever angels really had back there. It had only been a glimpse, and there had been a whole lot of other crap going on, but that image had pretty well burned itself into Dean's brain. And probably not just because Cas was the first angel he ever met. Or heard of.

What did they look like now? What did broken angel wings look like, even the shadow of them? Dean had never seen them.

But he had them now. How could he have them and not know where they were? And he knew - or he'd been bragged to - that some angels had more than one pair. How did that work? It didn't even make any sense.

Maybe Cas' wings were so fucked up that Cas had them - sort of - put away somewhere, where he didn't have to think about them. Or feel them, maybe? Maybe they hurt .

Dean gritted his teeth and gripped the wheel, staring straight ahead through the windshield, even though the car was stopped and in Park.

Maybe they did hurt. That bothered Dean. That bothered the fuck out of him. Why didn't he say anything? Was it a 'soldier' thing for him, to suffer in silence? That sounded possible.

Maybe he thought he wouldn't get any sympathy from Sam and Dean. No, be honest, he'd be expecting no sympathy from Dean in particular. And maybe he thought he didn't deserve sympathy, Dean could easily see him being an idiot like that. Especially after the hard things Dean had said to him about it in the time since.

He did, though. Cas did deserve sympathy. Sure he'd fucked up a couple of times… on a pretty big scale, even, but as far as Dean could see, he and Sam were way ahead of him on that score. And they didn't need to keep score anyhow. His intentions were always good. Without question. That mattered. That had to matter.

Dean groaned, put the car into Drive and turned her around. Getting drunk was pointless. And more trouble than it was worth. What good would it do? He wouldn't even enjoy it.

It was going to be a long couple of days before Jody and Claire could get here and get them out of this.

Nobody seemed surprised to see that he had come back. Dean wasn't sure what to make of that.

Probably nothing. It was as obvious to everyone as it was to him, there was no point trying to run away from crazy. Crazy went with you wherever you went, in Dean's experience.

***

In retrospect, Castiel wished he hadn't said anything about it, had just come to the obvious conclusion that it was simple basic maintenance in a human body and that it should all be fine - in fact, how fine it was was probably in inverse proportion to how much it was talked about openly. Humans were very strange about these matters.

But that was exactly why he had worried about it. Dean had reacted so violently to a simple, accidental touch of hands. Surely he would be even more displeased at something truly intimate. And what could possibly be more intimate than that? Cas had already had this struggle, when his grace was lost and he had had to live as 'Clarence' or 'Steve'. He'd had to come to terms with the day to day, hour to hour minutiae of bodily functions. He'd been all right with it eventually. It couldn't be helped. But now he was in Dean's body.

Dean's body was something he knew well, of course, had to know well. He had reconstructed it for Dean to reoccupy when Castiel was sent to bring him out of Hell. He knew Dean down to the subatomic level - though to be honest, he couldn't quite bring that knowledge to mind right now, and even if he concentrated he couldn't quite think fully about the songs of the spheres.

He could only think about things in a human way, with Dean's human brain.

Dean was an intelligent and sensitive human, far more of both than he would give himself any credit for, but some human limitations were for their own preservation. They weren't supposed to know things that would cancel out their own existence, or cause them to explode. That was only common sense, Cas thought. Some of them came breathtakingly close to such knowledge through madness, or drugs. There was a human desire sometimes to flirt with such knowledge. But as far as Cas had ever ascertained, Dean was not one of those types of people. Dean liked to get drunk. To feel less, Cas knew.

He was washing his hands, as he thought these things, staring down at the water as it rushed over Dean's fingers and palms. It would be a few days before they could be restored to their own bodies. Could he get Dean's permission to take a shower before then? He would surely need one, but he didn't know how he was going to ask. If Dean was going out to get drunk, maybe asking wouldn't be necessary.

But when he came out of the bathroom he found that Dean had already returned, without any liquor at all. Cas braced himself for Dean's reaction to having done something intimate without permission, but Dean just gave him a little nod.

It was confusing. They had been friends for quite some time now, at least from the human perspective. Dean was without question his favorite person in the universe. But Castiel still could not predict his reactions to the simplest things.

"You, uh, you may as well have my room for now," Dean said, surprising him further. "I'm assuming I don't need to sleep, right?"

Cas could only nod.

"But you will. I slept like crap last night so, you'll probably be running out of steam pretty soon. So. Just." He was looking around the room in a way that indicated mild embarrassment. "If you're feeling weird about it you don't have to. Get a shower before you sleep. It uh. It feels nice."

The embarrassment seemed to be ramping up. Cas waited, mystified. Dean finally said, abruptly, "Just nothing extra , all right? All right. Good talk."

He was already fleeing the room when Cas said, "All right. Good night, Dean."

For all his own social ineptitude, he understood exactly what Dean was talking about this time. Just as Dean shouldn't try to use Castiel's grace, Cas should not take any liberties with Dean's body. He wasn't sure he really had needed to be told that, but it was rare enough for Dean to be even this direct about his wishes and desires, and it was better than nothing.

Cas hadn't even looked at himself, in the mirror or otherwise, when he'd undressed before turning on the water. He did know better than that.

Of course, a few minutes later in the shower, it became difficult not to think about what exactly constituted "extra" when Dean's own body was reacting so pleasurably to being washed.

Castiel was trying with all earnestness to obey Dean's wishes. There could be no question about that. But the wonderful hot water pressure available here in the Men of Letters bunker felt good. Even better than he remembered. All over his naked body. All over Dean's naked body. Cas tried to think of other things, but the immediate task of washing and the feedback loop of how nice it felt and how much he wasn't supposed to overenjoy it was making that very, very difficult to manage.

He had been washing himself very efficiently, maybe even briskly, to at least do a decent job of being responsible and keeping Dean's body clean and in good order for Dean to reoccupy it. He wasn't lingering anywhere. Cas wasn't trying to get aroused. In fact, he had been almost completely fine while washing Dean's private parts, and had moved on to the legs, all entirely businesslike, when suddenly Dean's parts seemed to notice independently that they had been touched.

Alarmed, Cas tried to ignore the response and finish the shower quickly, but bending down to reach his feet caused water to run down in different places and that just made it worse.

Just as he had done earlier when he realized he needed to urinate, Castiel thought of Dean's entirely righteous anger at such liberties being taken and quailed. This wasn't a possession. He did not have permission even to occupy this body. Even worse, this was exactly what Dean had just minutes ago told him not to do. (This absolutely must be an example of 'extra'!)

But he also had no powers. What was he supposed to do about this?

It was not the first time he'd experienced an erection. Castiel had been a human male before. But he'd never had one that wouldn't go away when he ignored it.

Maybe the problem was that he was trying too strenuously to ignore it?

Maybe if he just waited a few minutes, and thought about other things. The hot water did not run out, here in the bunker. He took deep breaths. He counted each breath. He tried to think in Enochian, and discovered that he no longer understood more than a handful of words in Enochian. The knowledge of it was a power - he hadn't known that. It was with his grace - with Dean.

He looked down. He might be getting distracted, but his penis was not. Dean's penis. Oh no, thinking about 'Dean's penis'just made it worse .

He couldn't just - walk around like this and pretend it wasn't happening. Cas tried to imagine that for even a fraction of a second and then he was in a full blown panic, heart pounding wildly. He closed his eyes.

Oh Dean. Please, please don't be angry at me. I don't know what to do!

***

Fortunately, Dean was by himself when it happened.

Charlie and Sam were nerding out over some nerd thing that they were watching in Sam's room. 'Game of Nerds.' He could hear swords clanging halfway down the corridor. That was so normal that it was easy to ignore that their bodies had been swapped.

But Dean felt anything but normal himself, and he found himself pacing around the bunker, top to bottom, end to end, trying to pass the time until this stupid week ended and he could have his own body back.

It didn't seem all that fair, if the angel powers were going to keep him awake and not let him enjoy things, that he wouldn't be able to do anything with them. He didn't want anything crazy, no cosmic crap or lion faces or what not. But even just -

Oh Dean

Please please

don't be angry at me

I don't know

what to do

"What the fuck??"

Dean had stopped short where he was, pacing alongside the upper story railing. He stood frozen, trembling as these words poured into and through him from outside of himself. It wasn't sound, but it was Cas' voice. He would know it anywhere. Even if it did come at him like a poem upside the head.

It wasn't just his voice, either. There was a wave of despair and panic that was like a cold slap in the face. Cas was in trouble. Cas was scared. He needed help.

How the fuck did he get into trouble in the shower??

Well, he was about to find out, because he was homing in toward that feeling of anguish like a hunting dog with a scent. "Cas??" He was at the door. He was lifting his hand to knock - oh fuck, why was he opening the door? But he couldn't seem to help it, the other side of the door wasn't enough for the hunting dog, he had to barge right on in. Because of course , Cas hadn't locked it.

"What's the matter? Are you o - OH GOD DAMN," and for some stupid reason, turned his back on Cas and covered his eyes, too late of course to unsee what he just saw.

Cas, naked, with a hard on, trying to cover it with his hands and really, really failing.

"Oh no," Cas was moaning, and it sounded like he was in full on tears now. "I wasn't - I didn't mean to - how can this get any worse, I wasn't trying to pray to you!!"

"Pray to me??" But yeah. That made sense. That's what just happened, that's why it hit him like that. "Is that what it's like when I pray to you??"

"Wh- what was it like?"

"Like - all - feelings . Calling for help in surround sound. Like I couldn't ignore it."

Apparently the answer was yes.                                                                               

"I'm sorry! I just - I was only - Taking a shower, and it just - It won't stop . I swear to you, Dean, I wasn't doing anything - extra - "

Goddammit, this was all Dean's fault, wasn't it. It really was.

"Did you try cold water?"

There was a pause.

"Cold… water?"

"Yeah, usually that does the trick. So, okay? We don't ever have to talk about this ever again?"

"I'm sorry, Dean," so wretched sounding now that Dean couldn't help it, he was apparently still under the influence of being prayed to. He turned around, just in time to see Cas turn the hot water entirely off, and then cringed in horror as Cas screamed.

OH

DEAN

I'M

SORRY!

rang through Dean's head, glowing neon blue with misery, and then he was lunging in to turn the water all the way off, getting a blast of icy cold water on top of his head as he did so.

"Okay! Enough!"

Well, it did solve that one problem, anyway. But now Cas was shivering, teeth almost chattering. The hot water here in the bunker was good and hot, and the cold water was likewise really fucking cold.

Dean snatched the towel from its hook on the wall and wrapped it around Cas, rubbing briskly, like he did a thousand times for Sam when he was still little. "Here. Jeez, dude. I shouldn't have said anything. I freaked you out over nothing. Well. Heh. It's not nothing . But I, you know, I didn't mean to like, psych you into a panic attack or anything. It's only natural. I uh. Kind of haven't had any in a while. It happens."

Cas peeked out of the towel at him, and Dean hardly saw his own face, that wasn't him at all, that was Cas. Was that clearer now, after the praying thing? But he remembered that it happened when Cas was in Sam's body, too. The body was like an outline, after a little while of getting used to it. Maybe this was the same. It was just an angel power.

Or it was just Cas .

This was the point when Dean would normally get uncomfortable and bail out of the train of thought, but Cas was still trembling, and Dean was completely aware that they were together in the shower and one of them was pretty much naked, but now he felt kind of… protective about it. About Cas. Another angel thing, right? He might be more okay with that if he had any of the actual powers.

"I feel very stupid," said Cas, muffled against him. Because Dean was hugging him close now, with no memory of having done it, and there was nothing but a towel between them. "I didn't know that. About cold water. Forgive me for embarrassing you. I know you hate that."

Dean wanted to protest that he wasn't that uptight, but casual lies were not jumping up to his mouth the way they usually did when he wanted them to. Probably yet another angel thing that wasn't a power at all. He was kind of that uptight, he realized uncomfortably.

"Well. Forgive me , for freaking you out about it. I ought to have known you wouldn't do anything weird. Not on purpose, anyway. Sorry."

He let go of Cas then, because he wasn't trembling anymore, and the panic and misery that had brought Dean barging in here was dissipating now. "You okay now? Okay. Go get some sleep, and you know what, never mind what I said before, it's your body for now, just - make yourself at home and don't worry about it."

"Okay, Dean," in that solemn way that was kind of stupidly adorable to Dean by now. "Thank you."

Cas went into Dean's room, and Dean nodded as he shut the door. They didn't say good night. He wasn't sure why. He didn't feel awkward about the whole thing, though he thought he probably should have. Cas was okay now. Dean was content.

Dean really had nowhere to go after that but back to his pacing around the bunker. He was grateful the Nerd AV Club hadn't been able to hear Cas' cold water screams over the sound of Conan the Barbarian or whatever it was. They would have found the whole thing hilarious, and it wasn't hilarious. It was private. This wasn't about Dean being uptight. It was about keeping them from laughing at Cas.

He made another couple of circuits of the bunker. Eventually Sam and Charlie both fell asleep. Dean assumed Cas was asleep too, but he didn't try to find out. He'd told Cas to make himself at home, whatever that meant to Cas. Dean happened to know from experience that the effects of the cold water solution didn't last very long.

***

Castiel stood with his back to Dean's bedroom door, eyes wide. He couldn't figure out what to do with his hands. He touched his mouth, then gripped his shoulders, then he dropped his hands to his sides. Nothing felt quite natural.

Dean had come to him when he prayed. (Not that he had been consciously doing so, but that was what had happened.)

Dean had, yes, briefly , reacted in the sort of way Cas had expected, with a horrified shout, but - then he had helped. He hadn't run off, he had stayed and helped.

Cas had never expected that. He wasn't even able to imagine that. But it just happened. He was just there, in that moment. It was a real thing that really happened . And it kept playing over again in his mind, defying his imagination with giddy reality. Dean . Actually entering the shower to stop the cold water pounding down over him. Dean, wrapping a towel around him and drying him off, his hands warming Castiel's chilled skin through the fabric of the towel.

Dean, embracing him. Just - just like that. As though it weren't the most amazing thing in the universe.

And then, after all that, apologizing, explaining, and finally, telling Cas to make himself at home.

Well. He was standing here in Dean's body, in Dean's room, even wrapped in Dean's bathrobe. He was about to lie down in Dean's bed.

But that wasn't what Dean had been referring to. Dean had been referring to the 'extra', to the liberties Cas had thought would be the worst thing he could possibly do, forever alienating his one true - Friend.

Cas frowned absently at his own silent cowardice, and took off the robe. Dean had old T-shirts aplenty in a bureau drawer, and plenty of clean underwear in another (black boxer briefs was a clear preference), but he couldn't find any kind of pants other than blue jeans, and he knew he couldn't sleep in those. So he put on a T-shirt chosen at random (it was so worn that the writing on the front was barely legible), and underwear, and pulled back the covers and got into Dean's bed.

He was tired, Cas realized suddenly, as he pulled the covers up over and around him and snuggled into the single pillow. He had been moving rather automatically, following Dean's suggestions, but he did need the rest - Dean's body did, and he did too. The bed was extremely comfortable. It made him happy that Dean normally slept in such a nice bed.

And it smelled like Dean . He was completely wrapped in Dean's scent.

(The heat of Dean's hands through the chilly wet towel. The weight and pressure of Dean's arms around him. The gentle rumbling of his voice asking forgiveness even while giving comfort.)

Oh, the cold water wasn't working anymore.

It's your body for now, just - make yourself at home and don't worry about it.

It's only natural.

It happens.

I kind of haven't had any in a while.

It wasn't much of a struggle really. Castiel no longer felt panic, and hardly any guilt at all. His penis, erect again, needed arranging for comfort inside the tight fabric of the underwear. He did that. That was much better. Then his fingers grazed down the trapped length. It felt so good . He did it again, and made himself gasp. Dean's body, his body felt eager, ready.

If he could just keep himself from accidentally praying to Dean at an inopportune moment, everything should be completely fine.

Oh.

Cas bit his lip, and pulled his hand away. That… That was a problem. He'd done it earlier, prayed when he hadn't meant to. If he let go and did this, his imagination would be entirely with Dean, and where was the line between longing for him and summoning him?

Dean had already shown great patience and forbearance with him. Kindness, as well. Castiel could not take further advantage of that kindness, Dean would truly never forgive him for that.

But he'd said - don't worry about it. And here Cas was, definitely worrying about it.

After an agonizing minute of indecision, he slipped out of the bed and locked the door. Then he turned out the light, and got back into Dean's bed, still warm from his own body heat, which was Dean's body heat, and Cas made himself stop worrying about it.

***

Dean sat in the kitchen, bored with pacing when it couldn't tire him out, and pulled out his phone. He supposed he'd make breakfast for everybody in the morning; even though he wasn't going to eat it he still needed something to do, and he was the only person here who could cook worth a damn. But that was hours away. God, how did Cas fill the time?

Not that he didn't have a pretty good idea of how Cas filled a little bit of time this evening. If there's one thing Dean knew, it was how much of a bastard Little Dean could be, and cold water worked in the short term but it would just be even more of a bastard until Dean dealt with it properly.

- Until Cas dealt with it properly.

He hunched his shoulders and felt his ears getting hot all over again. And not just his ears, either. Cas' body might not need food or sleep, but it really wasn't junkless. He could blush. He could get hard. As hard as evidence.

Hah. 'As hard as evidence.' That could be a title for some old-school gay porn paperback. Dean had definitely never accidentally read any of those from cover to cover.

He'd been fourteen. He'd found a couple of old books stashed away in a barn, and one of them was about cowboys. That one really had been an accident. At first. But he totally knew what he was doing when he read the one about the detectives.

He'd had to get rid of them, of course. Sam was ten and he was always bored and he read everything he could get his hands on, the dictionary even. Dean burned them, as a matter of fact. The thought of Dad finding out made him do it right away.

Then he'd jerked off about a million times over the years since then and sometimes, in his fantasies, there was cowboy stuff, and sometimes there was detective stuff. They'd both been hot.

He didn't remember a whole lot about the specifics of either of them, but they definitely stayed with him. The detectives had been kind of kinky about it, like almost in public - almost getting caught sometimes and liking it. They would get it on with their clothes still on, just removing enough to reach what they were after. And the kinky thing about them, fourteen year old Dean had realized at the time, wasn't that they were dudes, it was the thing about almost getting caught getting them all wound up.

But he'd liked the cowboys better, and not just because he liked cowboys, though he really couldn't even try to deny that. He did like cowboys. But these guys, they were kind of… sweet to each other in this totally manly way that also involved a lot of fucking. But they didn't want to get caught. Because they wanted to stay together no matter what.

That had stuck with him even more.

Dean could think about this now, somehow being out of his own body made it just distant enough to be okay. But not so distant that it didn't turn him on. He knew damn well Cas was lying there in his bed… probably touching himself right this moment.

What was he thinking about?

No, he didn't want to actually know that, he thought hastily, for fear the angel mojo would kick in and actually tell him. That was way more intrusive than what he was actually about to do, which was make himself at home in Cas' body.

In the kitchen?

Dean looked around.

Well, he couldn't go to his room, could he. He had no excuse to take a shower either. The kitchen was just a room, it wasn't a church. He wasn't going to defile it. He wasn't gonna get frisky with the food. Or get come on the counter.

He settled himself more comfortably in the chair. He didn't do anything at first, just indulged in a little fantasy to get himself really hot and bothered.

In the fantasy Cas says to him: Dean, I found these in with your clothes, are they a memento? and he's got those panties Dean bought that time, on a whim, when he was by himself and a little drunk with time to kill: he'd charmed the crap out of the salesgirl, and definitely made her think they were for his girlfriend, and he couldn't wait to see her in them - but they were for himself. Pink satin with creamy lace that was soft and not scratchy.

And in the fantasy Dean is blushing but he's cool about it instead of getting defensive, he says, he says No Cas, they're mine. And of course Cas is a baby and he doesn't get it at first so Dean has to say it more clearly, say it right out, They're mine, I wear them.

In the fantasy Cas finally understands, Dean can see it happening on his face, his blue blue eyes going wide and then - darker, his pupils opening up and his face getting pink. He says, Really? but the tone isn't horrified at all, it's hushed and excited and Cas licks his lips and says, Do you wear them under your clothes? When you hunt? because even though it's a fantasy Cas would totally ask something like that… Dean tells him, Sometimes , and Cas makes a little sound like he's so turned on and then he says, Will you wear them for me?

He was panting now. That was it, the whole fantasy - because Dean couldn't quite picture what Cas would do next. But he didn't need any more encouragement to get his pants open.

Dean was pretty sure Cas hadn't had any in even longer than he had, never mind being an angel, he was an angel dude . And he had a nice cock, too. Dean looked down at it as he wrapped his hand around it, Cas' hand, Cas' cock, and it felt good to his hand to touch it, to find out what it was like. Almost as good as it felt being touched. He was so close to the boiling point already, it didn't take more than a minute. Dean arched back in the chair, biting his lips to try to keep himself quiet out of long habit. He thought about Cas looking at him in those panties, and he came so hard he saw actual stars.

***

Cas stretched out all his limbs under the covers and took a deep breath, looking up blindly into the dark. He didn't know where to start.

If he were really with Dean, properly, the two of them in two bodies, he would hope to be allowed to kiss him, look at him, touch him. If Castiel were allowed to do whatever he wanted, yes, those things above all. But even the Dean of his imagination had some fairly strict limits. It was the real Dean he wanted, of course, not some fantasy construct.

He could touch, though, and he carefully gave that a try. But he started at the top.

Literally at the top. He touched his hair, and it was soft and a little damp against his fingers, prickling where it was shortest around his ears, or at the back of his head. Easy to picture in his mind's eye. Dean kept his hair the same year after year, while Sam's would slowly change. Cas stayed the same himself, though not so much by choice as by not seeing any need to change.

He touched his face, so well known to his own eyes, but a new landscape to his fingertips. Cas traced his brows, his cheekbones, felt the soft flutter of his lashes as he blinked into the darkness. He skated down the bridge of his nose. He touched his lips. Dean's lips. Traced the shape of them, marveled at their softness. He could feel how beautiful they were.

Cas kissed his own fingertips, and trembled.

He touched his throat, felt the fast pulse there. Then the T-shirt was in the way of further exploration. Impatient now, he pulled it up.

Under his hands: Dean's chest. Cas bit his lip and whimpered with excitement. This felt… was this a transgression? But it felt good, so good, and Dean had told him not to worry about it.

It felt good to be touched, and to touch. Dean's skin was warm and smooth and wonderfully sensitive. Somehow Cas's fingers felt surprise at being able to feel the lines of the tattoo, faintly raised - marring him in order to keep him safe.

And OH, his nipples were hard, and so sensitive that all he had to do was brush against them to send lightning coruscating down his nervous system to throb trapped between his legs.

Cas squirmed, panting, as it subsided with agonizing slowness, then he did it again.

Did Dean do this, when he touched himself? It was amazing. It felt so deliriously good, and oh, he longed to do this for Dean with his own hands - with his own mouth. Just the thought of it sent more lightning down. To make Dean feel like this. To hear his breathing quicken and maybe, maybe, whisper his name.

Oh how he wanted that. Oh how he wanted that and more, so many things he could not say, had barely let himself think of even fleetingly, but now, now - whether or not there was ever any chance of it, Cas could not stop himself wanting it now.

Dean, under his hands. He did have that. Just for a few minutes. And surely not for much longer than that. He was already wound up to a fever pitch of excitement and he hadn't even touched anything below the belt yet.

He spread his hands then and slid them down Dean's belly, over hard muscle and softness both, so very Dean. He traced Dean's navel, shivering, then couldn't wait any longer. He pulled at the waistband of his underwear with one hand, and slid his other hand inside.

It made him gasp to touch himself. The feedback of the naked flesh beneath his fingers was almost too much. He panted, reminded himself as sternly as he could that he was not to pray to Dean under any circumstances, and touched more gently.

It was getting hot, under the covers. Cas pushed them back and thrust his hips up. He could come so easily, he knew, he could tell. It would take the merest effort to just do it right that moment, but… He was enjoying it. There was pleasure not just in the physical feeling, but in the associations. He could not make love to Dean, but he could make love to himself in Dean's body.

If only the echoes of it could remain long enough for Dean to feel for himself, once he was back in his own body where he belonged. If only…

But this was just another kind of worrying about it, wasn't it? Cas had permission to do anything but that. He touched as gently as he could with shaking hands. He felt and weighed his cock in his hands, coaxed it and teased it, felt and then tasted the slick wetness that leaked out.

It was the taste of it on his tongue that pushed Castiel past his ability to endure any more. This whole body, and his spirit inside it, was imbued with excitement and emotion and heat and throbbing, yearning towards joy, thrusting to reach it, begging to finish. Yes. Yes. OH, he came into his stroking hands, writhing and crying out, and just barely managing not to make it a prayer.

Cas lay there for a few minutes afterward, his heartbeat roaring like the stormy ocean, and wondered if Dean would pound on the door, but he did not. Cas cleaned himself up with his towel - he wasn't certain if that was what he was supposed to do, but past the heat of the moment, the stuff on his hands had seemed less enchanting - climbed back into the bed, and though he would have liked to spend the time thinking over the experience, the moment he closed his eyes he was plummeting down into deep, dark, warm sleep, surrounded by Dean's scent, lulled by Dean's heartbeat in his chest.

He woke many hours later, disoriented and confused by the rhythmic sound that had hounded him out of a dream. What… Where…? Lifting his head, he was reminded by the rustle of the sheets where he was, and he fumbled for the bedside lamp. The wall gleamed with weapons. He was in Dean's room. In Dean's bed. In Dean's body. Of course. Dreaming was extremely disorienting.

The sound again. Pounding on the door. Charlie's voice. Sam.

"Uh… Cas…?"

Cas fumbled out of the bed and staggered to the door. He opened it, looking up to see Sam, but had to readjust his gaze to find Charlie. He felt well rested, but it seemed he was very slow to realign his expectations this morning.

"Is everything all right, Sam?"

"Is, uh…" There was well over six feet of embarrassment in just over five feet of person. "Is Dean in here? With you?"

"What? No," and suddenly remembering everything that happened the night before, Cas found that sleepiness could vanish very quickly in a surge of embarrassment and adrenaline. "Why would - "

"The door was locked," Sam cut him off, looking apologetic. "I thought maybe - I hoped. 'Cause if he's not in here with you, then he's missing."

***

Dean didn't even realize what had happened for - he couldn't tell how long. Because suddenly, time didn't mean anything.

But when his mind cleared enough from orgasm to look around himself, he wasn't in the kitchen anymore. He was, but he wasn't. Something - angelic must have happened, there, in that instant of perfection, he'd felt - or heard - his wings move. That must have been what that was. Because his heart had been pounding like

like the stormy ocean

He blinked, or tried to. That hadn't felt like his own thought, even though that was exactly what it had felt like.

Dean stood up, found himself drifting, not properly rooted in the gravity of the world. It was - well, trippy was what he would call it, though he'd never actually done that. The most Dean had ever done was get high smoking pot, but this - this was much weirder.

He was still in the bunker, but the walls weren't really solid. He could pass through most of them, like a ghost. But he wasn't a ghost, he was sure of that. This was some kind of dimensional bullshit, probably. Did he get himself unstuck somehow, like the guy in Slaughterhouse Five?

If he'd known he wasn't supposed to jerk off, he wouldn't be in this mess. Cas had not exactly given him permission, that was true. He'd said not to use the powers. Well, he'd said something like probably shouldn't. But Dean had no idea that that was what he'd been doing. How could he?

He tried to swear and only then discovered that his voice didn't work. He could try, but there wasn't any air somehow. This caused a few moments of real panic before Dean remembered that he must be able to live like this with angel powers if he hadn't already exploded or dropped dead. If he got himself into this mess, like a cat up a tree, he could get himself out again.

He definitely didn't want to meet the angelic fire department.

The obvious thing to do would be to go to Cas. Maybe Cas would be able to sense him or tell him what to do. At least Dean was only a little bit lost. He hadn't flung himself out to Pluto or wherever.

He did get a little lost trying to make a shortcut to his room from the kitchen right through the walls, instead of drifting along the corridors. He just didn't really like drifting. It made him feel stupid. Fake walking, when the whole point of being insubstantial was taking shortcuts!

He found his own room at last, passed through the door without noticing that it had been locked. It was dark inside, probably - but there was a uniform grayness to everything around Dean right now, and he could see Cas there in his bed.

He was there in plenty of time to see Cas writhing and panting, the covers thrown back, his cock in his hand. In the middle of the static grayness, he moved and flickered like a film.

Well damn. Dean was kind of making a specialty out of barging in on Cas with his hands full! But this time, Dean held still, and was quiet, and watched.

Creepy, yeah! But it was his own body, wasn't it? And he'd come here looking for help, not jollies. It wasn't Dean's fault.

He'd shown up right at the end anyway. He saw Cas tasting his shiny-wet fingertips, realized what that was about, and then he saw Cas lose it. Oh God damn that was so fucking hot.

It was so fucking hot that his wings moved again, and then Dean didn't know where he was at all.

It was dark. Total dark. Cold.

Oh, there were stars again.

Things blurred, and there was a noise bigger than the entirety of sounds Dean had ever experienced in his whole life, all at once. And he'd had a noisy life so far, too.

Where the fuck was he? But when he made the mistake of thinking about this, it got worse. The universe was stretching and reshaping itself under Dean's feet, and he was in a bunch of places at the same time, because they were all tangled up somewhere near where he had started.

Where had he started? Oh, with Cas. That was where his lifeline before Hell had been pointed, and where it picked up, because Cas had literally picked him up. Out of Hell. And put him all back together again and then… left him in his grave to Kill Bill his way out of it, thanks so much, Cas.

If he could find Castiel, Dean could find out what he'd done wrong, and how to get back. He'd sort of heard Cas thinking, hadn't he? And maybe Cas would pray to him, that would have to help him find his way back. Dean remembered the hunting dog feeling it had given him before, when Cas was panicking in the shower. He ought to be able to follow that back from wherever he'd gotten himself into now.

But if Dean knew anything about himself, it was that after an orgasm like that, Cas was going to pass out for a good long time. He wasn't going to notice Dean was gone, or think to pray to him, for many hours yet. He wasn't sure what 'hours' really meant to him in this nothing-nowhere-nowhen place, but he settled himself in to wait it out.

The stars were really far away now. He probably did fling himself out of the solar system this time. But here was some kind of nebula, and that was cool. It was all these layers of light, like the Northern Lights, but big as a little planet. It wasn't really a place, but it was something soothing to look at.

Oh, hello, said the nebula to Dean.

It was kind of like suddenly being talked to by a work of art, or even by the whole museum. Dean was so surprised he almost moved Cas' wings again, but just in time he managed to hold himself very still. It was an instinct, really, not anything he thought through. He'd spoken to gods, after all, but never something as crazy or as big as this.

Hi , he said to it. Uh. Just passing through. Don't mind me.

That's fine. Whenever it spoke to him, tiny lights shivered here and there in the colossal, multicolored mists that made it up. Its voice was large, and calm, and without gender.   I am interested to see you. You are usually in two bodies. Most of the multiverse has you in two bodies. Why is some of you missing?

Dean felt his brain rolling around in his skull in total confusion. I - I don't understand.

There was a long pause. Dean wondered if maybe he was being scanned, if maybe that was the wrong answer to give a giant-ass talking nebula, but how was he supposed to know that when he didn't even understand the question?

Could this be a dream? It was totally fucked up enough to be a dream. Dean didn't know what kind of cosmic crap angels might dream about.

Thinking was the same thing as speaking in a conversation like this, it turned out. The nebula answered him, You are conscious, but confused. Some benign force has reassembled your parts. Would you like explanation?

Uh...

It wasn't even an answer, Dean was just trying to stall for time while he figured out what the thing was talking about, but it went on, eager as Sam to geek out telling him useless facts about something not even related to the case at hand.

You are part of a set of paired molecules.

Okay, now that wasn't helpful at all. Dean shook his head, though that probably didn't mean anything to a nebula.

You are from a planet that is the center of its recursive universe, it said then, with an air of trying again with smaller words.

Listen - buddy - I have no idea what you're talking about, Dean said. But I would kind of like to get back to that planet now.

I can direct you to your planet. But which dimension? You are in the Outside.

Okay… that was an answer Dean didn't like , but at least he sort of understood it this time.

I don't know, he said finally.

There was real fear now in the pit of Dean's stomach. If Cas prayed to him, he was so far away - Outside, apparently - maybe Dean wouldn't be able to hear it. Maybe Cas had already tried. Maybe Dean was lost forever. And he wouldn't even die eventually, would he? Just float out here forever?

But Cas was in his body, his human body - and he would die, eventually. Because his grace was here, with Dean.

Dean still didn't understand how that worked. He'd thought an angel's grace was its soul. But then Cas had still been himself when his grace was taken away, just without powers. And it wasn't like when Sam had been soulless, at all.

Would you like further attempt at explanation?

There was something just a little bit computerlike about the way it talked, Dean thought, resentfully noticing the addition of the word 'attempt'. I guess, but why would you even want to help me?

I do feel compassion for all living things, it said musingly, then added, and also ineffable boredom. Would you like further attempt at explanation?

He had no hope of getting anywhere if he didn't understand what the Siri Nebula was trying to tell him. So Dean sighed inside and answered, Sure. Yes. Thanks.

You are welcome, buddy, it said warmly. Prepare for access.

Wait. What?

The next part was so much like that trippy sequence from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey that later, Dean had to wonder if Stanley Kubrick had ever had a chat with a nebula. But it was only the comparison that stayed with him later. The details became lost the moment they were experienced, streaming through him like light through a prism. Refracting and twisting into a kaleidoscope. Spinning. Wheeling. Massive. Neverending.

It was like a wind blowing, and he was a wide open door, and then the wind blew the door shut.

***

Cas had to be told to put pants on. He seemed fine with walking around in Dean's underwear and his Houses of the Holy T-shirt, but Sam insisted, so he struggled into a pair of Dean's jeans.

"You're certain he didn't just - go out? For alcohol? Or something to cook for breakfast?" Cas' voice sounded hopeful of this last. Sam knew he had missed being able to taste food the way humans did. He was hungry, himself.

"The car's still here. All the vehicles are here. And he usually leaves a note."

"Also," said Charlie, "the kitchen looks weird. Maybe you ought to come and see."

She was rubbing her head again. She was not adapting quickly enough to living with Sam's height. Sam hoped devoutly that she had hit it for the last time, before he got his brain back with dents in it.

Castiel went into the kitchen - and saw, as Sam and Charlie had seen, how almost everything in it had been knocked askew, as though a whirlwind had been through. Paper napkins and some of the cards Dean jotted recipes down on were in the corners, in drifts like snow.

"Oh no," Cas breathed.

Sam and Charlie looked to Cas, and Cas could not keep the dismay off his face.

"He's done something with my powers," he groaned. "Or - or they've done something with him. My wings - they've been dead, useless. Ever since I fell. I haven't been able to feel them at all but - This - they must not be completely dead, but they're broken, he could be anywhere - "

He was shaking his head, teeth gritted. Sam and Charlie looked to one another in alarm. "I should have thought of this!" he burst out. "I should have realized this was a danger - he could have destroyed himself already, right here, and I can't tell, I can't feel anything! He might be gone - and I will be here - Like this - " His hand swept down to indicate himself, human. "To age and die and never see him again."

"Cas," Sam said, but it was Charlie who went over to him, putting arms around him in a tight impulsive hug.

"It won't be like that," she said, firmly. Sam was impressed by how calm and sure she made his voice sound. "It can't be like that. There's got to be something we can do, something we can try."

She looked over at Sam, lifting her eyebrows as though to say, Help me out here. Sam cleared his throat.

"Maybe you could try praying to him?" he said, more or less thinking out loud, but was taken aback when Cas reacted to this with embarrassment, pulling away from Charlie with a reddened face.

"I - I could - Yes, I could try that."

They waited, breathless, as Cas half turned his back, closing his eyes.

They waited.

***

You need to use your powers. Can you hear me? You need to use your powers to heal yourself if you can.

Come on. I know this is hard. Please, Cas. Come on.

He frowned as things came into slow, dragging focus. He - he was trying. He didn't know how - he'd seen it but he didn't know how to do it.

Wait. Who was calling him Cas? He wasn't Cas. He was Dean!

"There you are," said a weirdly familiar voice. "You okay?"

There was another Dean here with him. But unlike the other Deans he had seen before, this one was smiling and pleased to see him. Oh - of course. This Dean thought he was looking at Cas.

"I'm from a different universe," this other Dean said. "The nebula called me for help when you tried to access it. Something went wrong." His face changed to worry and dismay, "Your wings, what happened to them? Oh Cas," and he was embracing Dean, making sounds of distress like Sam might do, and it was weird and embarrassing, and what did he mean the nebula called him for help?

"I'm not Cas! I'm Dean!"

The other Dean pulled back, and there, that was a more familiar look on his face, worry and distrust. It almost made Dean relax to see it. "You look like Cas. You're an angel. I can see you're an angel. The Dean of your universe is supposed to be human."

"I am human! We got… body switched." He resented having to even talk about it. It was totally Sam's idea in the first place! "Aren't you human?"

"Of course not," and for fuck's sake, as though Dean had just walked right into it, the other Dean did just like Castiel had done that first day they met on Earth. He showed off the shadow of his wings. There was a hint of halo brightness around his head, too. Showoff. "I'm an angel of the Lady."

So it turned out that in this angel-Dean's world, Cas was human. When Dean asked where he was, the other Dean's behavior got even more familiar, clamming up and changing the subject. Am I that transparent, he wondered suddenly.

"Listen," Dean said. "I never meant to go, I dunno, space tripping in the first place. And I didn't try to 'access' anything, the twinkle cloud said it would explain things and then my brain turned inside out. For all I know, you're another one of those dreams or visions of myself or something, it happens to me more often than you could imagine.

"But if you're real then you know how much I need to get back. You've got a Sam, right? And you've got a Cas, so. You know more about what's going on than I do. You've got working wings and all. Can you help me get back to where I belong?"

"I am real," said Angel Dean. "But this is the nebula explaining things to you. It assumed at first that you could talk to it like an angel does, but you're only an angel in form, not in fact. It called me to help you, but I didn't realize you weren't actually Cas at first. Body switching, seriously? I mean, what were you thinking?"

"I know," Dean muttered. "Trust me, I know, I know."

"I almost kissed you, dude."

"Oh, fuck, that would've been weird."

"I know. That's why you shouldn't body switch."

They both shuddered.

"So can you help me?"

"I am helping you. Work with me here. - How did Cas' wings get like that? What happened?"

Dean groaned. "Jeez, how far back would I have to go? You can't figure it out? He fell, he was cast out of Heaven. By Metatron. All the angels ended up like that." Except Metatron, of course. "They all fell. A lot of them died. The ones who lived are like this." He gestured around himself, referring to wings he couldn't see or feel. Angel Dean could obviously see them just fine. The look on his face said everything.

"Looked like that didn't happen to you, though, in your world, that's good," Dean went on. But the other Dean shook his head, not looking happy at all.

"I don't wanna talk about my world."

"Okay," said Dean slowly. Angel Dean certainly didn't seem to mind being away from it. If they were away from it.

"Where are we?"

"Well, technically, in the 'twinkle cloud'. It made a kind of neutral place for you to protect you. And you know, you're lucky it did. You could've killed yourself in like, a thousand stupidly creative ways out here. Do you have any idea what would happen to a human soul in an angel body that got crushed like a bug in the Outside??"

"No," said Dean, defensively, and was about to go on and point out that he had already said he didn't mean to end up out here, but the angel cut him off, because even in a universe where God was a chick, all angels were dicks.

"Neither do I! Neither does anybody. And what would happen to Cas? And what about your Sam? Did you even think about them?"

Angel Dean was really angry now. It made Dean even more hotly defensive, and it was a frankly much better feeling than all this helpless confusion.

"Yeah, pull up, there," he snapped. "You totally sound madder at yourself than me, I told you I didn't do any of this on purpose. I mean yeah, I did go along with it when Sam brought it up, it's not like anybody sprung it on me without asking. I wasn't even the one in my body when Cas switched in! That was Charlie's big idea.

"But unless you've decided to blame me for Cas' wings being broken - and maybe yeah, maybe that is a little bit my fault in the end, just for being such a crappy influence on him in the first place - I did not plan or ask for this trip to Crazytown. I'm glad you came to help me, don't get me wrong. I just wanna get home. I keep asking, can you help me."

Angel Dean's face had changed again while Dean was speaking. Dean assumed it was because he'd said the thing about being a crappy influence, but no.

" Charlie ...?" said the other Dean, looking as stricken as though Dean had said 'Lucifer'.  It gave him an awful sinking feeling.

"Oh fuck me, do not tell me Charlie's evil in your world. I don't care what kind of crazy ass universe you're from, I won't believe it."

"Evil?" said Angel Dean, aghast. "Our sister?"

Well, that stopped Dean short.

"Literal sister?" he wondered. "Like, an angel Charlie?"

"Yes. My sister." Dean could tell what Angel Dean was about to say before he said it - his face was so easy to read. "She's dead. Long ago now. I miss her."

"Oh," Dean said, feeling poleaxed. The thought of it was too close to the bone of his continuing worry over his Charlie, the way she had flung herself into the hunting life as happily though she were LARPing, instead of risking her unique and vulnerable life. If she were his real sister… well then, she would only have been risking it longer. As in, all her life.

"Sorry," he muttered, belatedly. He thought he was getting a glimpse of why Angel Dean didn't want to talk about his world.

***

Charlie could tell that Castiel was trying to pray. She let go of him and stepped back, and this time she remembered just in time to duck her head a little before she hit the rack of pots and pans Dean kept there.

She was already really sick of being this tall. She had had no idea what an enormous hassle it was to be enormous. And the appetite! A man as big as Sam had to eat a lot, Charlie had never noticed it, because Dean was the one who made a big deal out of his various food fetishes.

"We need food," she said to Sam. "Can you cook anything? I prefer to microwave frozen crap, but you know…" gesturing helplessly. There wasn't anything like that in the bunker for them to eat, because Dean refused to buy it. He'd eat the most repulsive diner and road food you could imagine, but when it came to the contents of his kitchen, you'd have thought he was from a different universe.

"I can make some things," Sam said, doubtfully. "But right now, I can't reach half the cabinets. It's gonna need to be a team effort."

Cas looked around at them. "I know how to make beverages," he said, but in a distracted way, looking lost. "I - I prayed, I can't tell if anything happened, I can't feel if he heard me. I don't know what else to do."

There was a soft dinging sound from two different phones in the room - Charlie's and Sam's. They discovered later that Cas' phone had also received another one of the long messages of static, but he had left the phone behind in Dean's room.

Charlie said firmly, "Right, this is not a coincidence, remember how Dean zoned out listening to one of these messages? We need to do something to analyze them, maybe they've got something to do with his disappearing."

Sam was frowning, but in a thinking it through way, not a dismissive way. "I haven't got much around here for audio stuff, but  - "

"Oh I'll rustle us up a little something to work with." She'd been dying to get at the old Men of Letters computers again for a while now, and she had a feeling they definitely would be needing the processing power. She cracked her knuckles in anticipation. Sam winced when she did. Sam was not a knuckle cracker.

Then she looked at her big hands again and frowned.

"Might need your help with some of the finer wiring." It needed a lighter touch. Like a safecracker. Or a pickpocket. Nothing against Sam's dexterity, but those old computers had not been designed with access in mind.

"You got it. After we scrape up something for breakfast."

'Scrape up' turned out to be pretty apt, since they burned everything. Sam was frankly on the paranoid side about the doneness of eggs and the associated health hazards.

Cas hardly ate anything, but that was obviously not about the food. He offered listlessly to wash the dishes, but Sam said, "Dishes can wait. We might need your help. You still know more about angelic stuff than anybody."

***

Angel Dean said, "You seem pretty okay with the idea of alternate universes."

Dean actually laughed. "Are you kidding? This ain't exactly my first alternate universe rodeo. I've been in one where I was supposed to be - some - soap actor playing me! My whole life as a TV show. I mean, yeah, this is weird, but it's not THAT weird. So your world has, what, the humans as angels and the angels as humans? That's not even weird."

That wasn't true at all, as it happened. It WAS weird to be confronted with what looked like himself if he said Yes. (If Dean was the angel in his universe, who the hell had his vessel been? He never did get a chance to ask.) And the nebula thing was definitely weird. But he might as well try to be cool about it. Or seem to be cool about it.

"It's not that weird, but you don't like it," said Angel Dean. It seemed like the easy to read thing went both ways.

Dean spread his hands. "I don't have to like it. I just want - "

"To go home , yeah Dorothy. I heard you the first million times. We have to wait a little while. Things take longer Outside. Time passes really slowly."

"Tell me about it," muttered Dean.

"What's a rodeo?"

Dean gaped at him, then began to sputter. "What - you don't even - does your ass-backwards universe not even have cowboys??" He was prepared to go on a nice long rant about Clint Eastwood, but this time the angel Dean turned away with his face totally closed up, in the way that meant he was done talking about this, or about anything, so shut the fuck up.

Nobody ever shut the fuck up when Dean didn't want to talk about stuff, so he didn't see why he should be the one to start.

"Okay, dude," he said, and goddamn did he wish for a drink in his hand, even if he couldn't get drunk off it. "Instead of all this wasting time acting all tragic, just spit it the fuck out, all right? Is your whole universe fucked? Let me guess. Did you fuck it up? Personally? Because either you did, or you didn't and you can quit acting like it."

"If you weren't in a Cas body, I would punch your stupid fucking head off," said angel Dean.

Now that was more like it. "Well, I am. So you couldn't anyway." ...He doesn't think.

"Are you even together in your world?"

Dean literally didn't understand what the angel even meant by this. At first it sounded like a taunt, a kind of a weak taunt, suggesting Dean's not 'together', whatever that was supposed to - Oh. Oh, Dean got it then. He'd meant 'you' as in 'you and Cas'. Naturally, his ears turned red hot. "No," resentfully. "No we're not. We're friends."

But he thought about holding Cas in the shower. And he thought about spying on him in the bedroom. Kind of more than friends… and Dean had been acting like less than one.

"Really?" said the angel in disgust. "Seriously? What the fuck are you waiting for?"

"Are you kidding me?" Dean snapped back. His voice sounded as scratchy as the real Cas for a minute, for some reason. "I didn't even know he felt like that, and even if I did what was I supposed to say? I mean - he's an angel, I don't even know if angels are the same kind of thing in your universe, but they're at least supposed to be good ."

Angel Dean was frowning at him. Dean didn't feel like being asked more questions so he barrelled on.

"Either he already knows how I feel and it's not okay so he ignores it, or else he doesn't because he shouldn't. Isn't that obvious?"

Angel Dean sighed. "We must be stupid in every universe. Listen. I'll try to tell you what the nebula told you, but in even smaller words. There's a Dean in every world. And a Cas in every world. And they're supposed to be together. It's part of the natural frigging order that they be together. Do you understand that, or do I need to make little puppets?"

Dean snorted. "Supposed to be together. That sounds nice. But it can't be true."

"Why not?" The angel pointed at him, at the center of his chest. "You're carrying his grace, you got here with his wings. You have all of his powers except one."

"What do you mean, except one? Which one?"

"His love for you!" the angel Dean shouted. "That's with him. I have no idea why you're pretending you're just friends. If you didn't know before, you know now. I just, how old are you as a human, anyway?"

"Thirty-six."

"Are you shitting me?? All that time wasted. In some worlds we meet as kids in school."

Dean tried to imagine that. Himself the cool kid, and Cas shy and nerdy… Or maybe flip that around, even, with Cas as a punk and Dean the quiet loner type who couldn't take his eyes off him…

"And somewhere or other, I'm sure there's one where you're cowboys, since you like them so much."

Dean remembered the book he read so long ago and his ears turned redder than ever. Involuntarily he thought, Yeah, and one where we're detectives, getting it on for thrills…

"So, what, we're supposed to be more than friends? Suppose we both don't want more than that?"

"Suppose you're alone forever?" said angel Dean, and there wasn't any more anger in him. "Suppose you're apart forever? How does that idea feel?"

It made him feel… lost in space with no idea how in the hell to get home.

***

"I still don't understand what you want from me," Cas fretted as Sam and Charlie worked. He was sitting on the steps leading into the computer room, looking glum and tired, though he'd slept so well before he knew Dean had disappeared. "I don't understand anything about computers, and I couldn't hear anything but static in the messages."

"Yeah, we know. You keep saying it. We don't know what we don't know here. We may need to bounce some ideas off you."

Cas sighed. He didn't know what else he could do to make them understand. He didn't even have any Enochian left in his brain, there was no sense in him trying to listen to angel radio. Even if he could hear something in it, he would have no understanding of the message. Sam was of more use than Castiel in this.

It wasn't as though he had really wanted to wash the dishes. Cas just wanted to have something useful to do. And sitting here while the other two muttered to each other and tested connections was not useful to anyone.

He looked around the room, longing for some connection, any connection to Dean. But this room was not exactly one where Dean had ever spent a lot of time. He would be better off in Dean's room, or better yet, sitting behind the wheel of his car.

He supposed he needed another shower, but the thought of actually doing it now made Cas sad. He put his head down on his crossed arms, leaned against his knees.

Dean, he tried again to pray. Oh Dean. I want to see you, to hear your voice. I want you to come home. Please come home.

He knew he couldn't expect to feel anything. And that even if Dean was hearing him every time he prayed, it might take him time to follow the prayer, to get to him.

Or he might be praying into the void, where Dean's soul and Cas' grace would both be scattered in the darkness.

"Okay, this is interesting," said Charlie. There were two laptops open, and a veritable pasta dinner of wires connecting them to the large machines built by the Men of Letters. The screens showed clusters of jagged lines that didn't mean anything at all to Castiel. "We're missing at least one, from Dean's phone, but here are the rest of them. In sequence, they seem to get simpler. Like, the stuff going on in there keeps smoothing out more and more, see?" She was talking to Sam as she pointed out bits of squiggle on one of the screens, then some other bits on the other one.

"They're all the same length still, they just max out the voice mail box. But the content , look, this waveform…"

"Oh!" said Sam, excited now that he could see what Charlie was showing him. Cas still didn't see anything to get excited about. "Yeah! I see. It's like, like if a piece of music started out with a full orchestra, and then the next one is a simpler arrangement with fewer instruments, and the next one…"

They started appending musical terms to the rest of the gibberish. It was good, Cas supposed, that they were enjoying this - and why should they not? They, too, wanted to be useful.

Also, it was an unspoken but unshakeable fact that nobody wanted Jody and Claire to arrive on Saturday with Dean still missing. They would be able to put Sam and Charlie back into their own bodies easily enough, he knew, but then here he was, in Dean's body, no powers, and no real abilities. All of Dean's gifts were with Dean, in his mind. Well. His body was a gift too, but Castiel shouldn't have been allowed to occupy it in the first place. Dean had never given permission. Dean had never said Yes to it, not even in the most basic sense. Common courtesy had been superseded by the body switching.

And some other things, as well. A new hot coal of guilt was glowing now in the pit of Cas' stomach. If he hadn't been so selfish - yes, Dean had given permission more or less, but if he hadn't been unconscious after taking pleasure in Dean's body, he might have helped - or known - or heard - Something. But there was no way to know.

If only there were some way for Dean to send a message.

Cas' phone dinged again, but it was still in Dean's bedroom where he had left it, and nobody heard the sound.

***

"So what's the big plan then?" Dean said after some time - no way of knowing how much - had gone by. "I agree me and Cas belong together, and that's it? You'll help me then?"

"No, dumbass. You'll help you. And believe me, getting you back where you belong is better for everything, you'll pull the balance of everything out of whack being all jigsawed like that, and being out here."

"Well but what do I do? And spare me any more self help talk. I've been waiting forever already."

"You really haven't," Angel Dean said flatly. "You don't know what waiting even is. But I do."

Hello there, said the big calm twinkly voice from all around them. The nebula had joined the conversation, great. All hail the frigging Glow Cloud.

"I give up," Angel Dean said. He was looking at Dean while he spoke, but it was obvious he was talking to the nebula by the way his voice was raised. "I just can't get anywhere with him. Are you sure he's the prime?"

One hundred percent. Are you truly this self-incompatible, Deanael?

Before Dean could even snort at how dumb this name sounded, the angel Dean gave an "ugh!" of disgust, moved his wings and was gone.

"Will he be back?" he wondered aloud.

Probability is not one hundred percent, but it is extremely close.

"Okay… Uh, can you tell me? Is there anything I can do besides wait?"

You can become receptive to new ideas, the nebula said helpfully. That is always a productive use of the millennia.

Dean pinched the bridge of his nose for a minute. Without someone humanoid to talk to, he felt more alone than ever, even though he was surrounded by the nebula - inside the nebula, duh. The angel - Deanael , that could not sound more girly, even while somehow, 'Castiel' sounded completely masculine to his ear - had said something about a 'neutral place' the nebula had made.

"Do you have a name?" he wondered.

Yes.  

"Well?" Probably it was a hundred syllables long or all in shapes or something.

It is entirely pronounceable in your tongue, but we are not sufficiently acquainted.

Okay. Dean couldn't really think of any good reply to that.

I have further simplified my explanations, said the nebula with whom he wasn't sufficiently acquainted. Please use this interface if you are able to comprehend it.

There was no way that nebula wasn't being a total smartass. Dean felt like he did when Claire ragged on him.

The interface was a glowing ball about a foot across. It floated gently into Dean's hands. He looked it over. It was made of something like glass, but there was nothing fragile seeming about it. Anyway, if he were to let go of it, there wasn't anything like ground for it to drop and shatter on.

It warmed in his hands. He turned it, frowning, all around - it had no markings, no top or bottom. The glow was softly piercing like when you looked at a cell phone screen in the dark.

Dean thought with disgust that he didn't comprehend it after all, and next thing he knew, Principal Twinkle Cloud was going to put him in the remedial class with a safety pencil and a circle of paper. If he ever got back to Cas, could Dean even tell him anything about how stupid he'd been? It would just all sound like a crazy ass hallucination.

But maybe not to Cas. Cas would listen, and believe him.

The glow between Dean's hands changed, warmed, and opened up.

***

Cas was still sitting down in the computer room when an electrifying feeling went down his spine. He stumbled to his feet. The other two barely noticed.

"I'll be right back," he said hoarsely, and swung out of the room, eyes wide, hands spread, trying to capture and understand this feeling, which was coming from outside of him, but inside as well. Hope crowded in his chest with his quickened heartbeat. Dean's heart.

He went to the first mirror he could find, in the bathroom, and stared anxiously into it. He saw Dean's face, of course, familiar and beloved, but with the wrong spirit behind it, and so less beautiful than it should be. Cas added that fuel to the little glowing coal of guilt.

He was so busy with that that he almost didn't notice when something changed. The reflection was rippling, like one cast on water, or in starlight. But there was something else in the mirror besides just him. Dean. Dean was alive, and reaching out to him.

Cas gasped when he understood this, and moisture clouded his vision for a moment. When he blinked it away, the reflection was flat once more. But the face was smiling. Dean was alive, he was sure of it. That much, he knew. That much was all he needed to know in order to keep going.

He went to get his cell phone, then. In Dean's room, he looked at the mussed bedcovers, blushed at the memory of what he'd done there, and then picked up the phone. When he saw the new voice mail notification he gasped. It was from Dean's number!

Hands trembling, Cas opened the voice mail and pressed the Play button. He put the phone to his ear, eagerly - but then jumped and pulled it away again, as the same loud, meaningless static poured out of the phone.

He stared at it, helpless with a mixture of anger and frustration. He had felt so close…! What did this mean? Why was this happening?  

Cas went back to Charlie and Sam with the phone in his hand and such a puzzled look on his face that it wasn't necessary to interrupt them.

"Cas? What's wrong?" asked Sam, and mutely he held the phone out to Sam, who took it and after one look, he and Charlie went into an even more frenzied mode of analysis.

"If the messages were from Dean, why did Dean get one?" wondered Charlie, but nobody could answer that. Besides, if the messages were not from Dean, the appearance of his number was alarming.

"I am certain that Dean is alive," he said, "though I can't prove it. I had a… feeling. He was trying to reach me, to answer me, I know it." He could still feel the hope, but the dreamlike sensation of overlapping was already starting to fade from the memory of his currently human brain.

The only thing he could usefully do, he decided, was to continue trying to communicate. He left them and returned to Dean's room, closing the door and lying down on the bed, though first he did pull the covers up and straighten them as best he could.

Cas lay on his back, but after a moment, turned his head and breathed in Dean's scent. Then he closed his eyes, and began to pray. Not just a single prayer, the short form like text messages that Dean was used to sending him. But a long, ongoing stream of prayer, like a beacon, like a lighthouse.

Dean, oh Dean, hear me. I would talk to you like this all the time if you could hear me, but it's probably for the best. You would find it tiresome, I'm sure. But right now, I'm going to keep talking so that you can find me, wherever you are, so you can find me and come home to me. Please, Dean.

He realized he was starting to repeat himself. Was that a good thing? When humans sent signals out into space, the messages repeated over and over. But those messages were meant for strangers. This was something very different.

When I first met you - after you were rescued, after I rebuilt you, when I first met you when you were alive - I did not understand you. I thought I knew what to expect, I thought I knew you to the subatomic level, but you surprised me. You attacked me. You distrusted me. I did not expect any of those things. But most of all I did not expect you to feel you did not deserve to be saved. This made literally no sense to me, Dean. You had already been saved. Therefore you had to deserve it. How could it be otherwise? Could you actually not understand what you had been given, that it was a gift?

I was naive about the secret intentions of Heaven, then, of course. There were so many things I did not understand. I have been human myself now and I still don't feel that I truly understand what it means to be human. And of course, as things unfolded, I never understood what it meant to be an angel. But when I met you, I discovered that there was somewhere else to find meaning.

You've never understood how important you are in the scheme of things. I think you don't want to, to be honest. But would you ever want to understand how important you are to me? I'm not certain it is even expressible, Dean. But I feel the need to try. Please forgive me for trying.

You have told me that I am a part of your family, Dean. I was astonished when you first said this. You care more for your family than for yourself. You were telling me, without telling me directly, that you care for me. You were telling me that you would fight for my sake, even sacrifice for my sake. I don't want you to have to, but knowing that you would - oh Dean. Please come back to me. Please find your way home.

I suppose it might be all right to repeat myself just a little. I hope it is. Oh Dean, if I annoy you all the way home, I will do anything to make amends. Only come home. You must have found life in my dead wings somehow, or even inspired it - but I wish you hadn't, if they got you lost. I wish I had lost them entirely rather than that. I don't even know how you can find home but I have faith. In you. I think if it can be done, you will do it. That is just the way you are.

I believe that what I feel for you is love. I do understand the feeling of family, with all other angels my siblings. Agape love. But what I feel for you is different, it is more. Half the time, I am content to be your friend, your family, because I know there is no possibility of your ever feeling the same kind of love for me. Eros love. Love that desires to join together. Your eyes prefer to behold women. This is so obvious that I feel foolish even to think about it.

But the other half of the time I see hope gleaming out at me like light from behind clouds, or through leaves. Sometimes sunlight, sometimes moonlight. When there is moonlight, I feel the most hope.

I… don't know if I can explain that any more clearly. If you could hear me you would be incredulous! I can just imagine your face. Your real face, not just the one I'm currently wearing. I can see you looking at me in that way you do when you think I am like a baby.

I saw you once when you were a child, I don't think you know this. No, I know that you don't, because though I still don't always understand what you consider to be 'creepy', I am quite confident in assuming that this would be, to you. And so I haven't told you. I was shown you by my superiors, so that I would know you later when it was time to bring you up out of Hell.

I didn't know what to expect - I had had little time to reflect on any of it yet, as the assignment had only just been given to me. A child, three years of age, male; I knew your fatelines and your DNA before I thought to ask your name. Dean.

You seemed a normal, happy child for all I knew or understood. I didn't see you as a person like me, not even likely to become one. Not all angels love humans, as you know very well by now. But even the ones that do - that did, back then, I should say - do not see you humans as equals - more like animals, even though they know you have free will, even though they know the entire point of your existence is that you have free will and what you choose to do with it.

I didn't spend very long observing you. It wasn't necessary. I thought I had seen all I needed to see. I would be able to find you once you were grown and had suffered sufficiently for Heaven's purpose. I am sick with shame just thinking about this, Dean! I did not understand the horror of this until much later, but I should have seen it then. Even in Hell I didn't see it. Not until I knew you.

I need for you to stay my friend, my family, so I don't dare ask for more than that. I wish that you would ask, Dean. I am praying for you to ask. But barring that, come home. Follow my prayer. Find me. You are needed. I need you.

***

Dean held still as the softly glowing sphere seemed to wrap around him like a blanket, then puffed out to a bubble. Everything was light inside that sphere, in the same way that everything was darkness out in space.  

Prepare for access, said the nebula voice, which now felt so close that it vibrated in his chest like the loud-ass speakers at an Ozzy concert.

Wait, he'd heard that before. Recently. And then his mind blew up. "Hey! Don't do that to me again!" 'Deanna-belle' might not come back and save his ass this time.

Actual repetition is not necessary. The original experience is accessible in your own memory.

"No, it isn't." All Dean could remember about it consciously was a big trippy streak of colors and sensations.

It is a technical aspect of the phenomenon 'grace'. There is access. I will filter the data appropriately for you this time. Prepare for access.

Dean still tried to protest, but suddenly the nebula was thinking at him in Enochian. He tried to say then that it could give that up already, he couldn't even ask where the bathroom was in Enochian, but he couldn't speak, because what it was doing was filling his head.

He was there again in that previous moment, when things went all Space Odyssey on Dean. But then it all slowed down to a crawl, slower and slower. The kaleidoscope effect disappeared at that speed, because it wasn't a kaleidoscope at all. That was all that Dean's mind could make of it before, because what it actually was, refracted through an angel's perceptions as (temporarily?) reprogrammed by a giant sentient cloud, was an infinite flow of worlds, whole worlds, so big he didn't know how to comprehend it. But at this speed, he could at least glimpse what it was.

Many of the worlds were similar to one another. Those lay close together. Then as they spun out from the center like stars in a galaxy, there were whole arms of worlds, thickly clustered. Each world was a whole universe.

One world was broken. Dean didn't even have to wonder whose.

In each of these worlds, there was, or there was supposed to be, a Dean and a Cas. World after world unreeled past him. So many ordinary worlds. No magic, no monsters. And then, so many bizarre worlds, ones with rules he couldn't guess.

He did see cowboys, in there somewhere, and detectives and actors and librarians and dinosaur wranglers and rock stars and florists and firemen and models and astronauts… But they were rarely both the same thing. Dean and Cas were usually from different paths of life, but not always. They were usually both men, but not always. In at least one world Dean saw, they were both men but one had knocked the other one up somehow. Yikes.

That was weird. But there was weirder stuff than that. In some worlds he could only think of them as aliens, but he suspected he just didn't understand and it might even be that the nebula was screening some of it so he wouldn't get too distracted.

So where was Dean's world in all this, if he was "Outside"?

Your existence is the prime , the nebula told him after he got tired of looking and rubbed his eyes. It seems I am unable to locate your world, because part of you is still in it. It is a blind spot.

It sounded regretful.

"Well, great. So after all that, you can't figure out where I came from?"

Accessing…   and another stream of Enochian. Dean didn't even pay attention this time. Root access gained, no data on origin. - Many worlds assume they are unique and do not mark their property.

Dean would have snorted at that if he could. He no longer doubted that the nebula, though helpful, also enjoyed yanking his chain a little bit. Root access! He knew the angels were programmed by their Creator, but that was really kind of laying it on thick. Root access would mean God-level control. That was fucked up. What about free will?

You still have free will, the nebula assured him. Root access commands - hm?

"What?" The calm voice had suddenly sharpened a little on that last curious noise.

Nothing, it said hastily. Accessing…

The Enochian went on for a little longer, but Dean ignored it, because the nebula was a smartass.

"You're forgetting something," said Angel Dean, who was suddenly back in the way angels apparently did anywhere in the multiverse.

Dean frowned and tried to speak, but the angel wasn't talking to him, but to the nebula.

Specify?

"Re-entry. You need to set a delay, or else you're going through all that for nothing."

Acknowledged.

What the hell were they blathering about?

"You owe me," Angel Dean said, and Dean realized belatedly that this time he was talking to him.

"Uh," he said, but that was all he got time for. Because all of a sudden, Cas' voice was filling his head, loud and clear.

Follow my prayer. Find me. You are needed. I need you.

"Cas?!" he said aloud, though Cas' voice went on - it was like a radio signal. It was a signal, beaming out into space. How the hell did Cas do it? But Dean should have known - should have had faith in Cas' faith in him. He couldn't stop himself grinning like a fool. Because even he could see that the way was lit up now like a runway in the dark, though it went winding away across millions, billions, might be trillions of miles.

It was really damn far. The thought of spaceships being able to get here seemed like a joke, like thinking you could cross the oceans in a bathtub toy boat.

Well, so long, said the nebula. Remember what we talked about.

"What?" said Dean.

"Good luck," said the angel Dean. "Try not to break the universe."

Dean opened his mouth to say that he was never TRYING to break the universe - but then in the next instant he was hurtling down that long twisting runway, faster than the speed of really fucking fast, and screaming a little with his eyes tightly shut. It was just as well that nobody had told him to enjoy the ride, because he definitely didn't. He couldn't even hold fast to the thought that he was on his way home, because he couldn't hold any thoughts in his head. They felt like they were whipped away in the wind.

It couldn't help but remind Dean of Hell, some of it. When he first got there. In the shock after dying a violent death, that painful descent into the dark -

Okay, he was actually kind of screaming a lot. It was as bad as it had been when too much information had broken his brain, and maybe worse, since he didn't black out for a long time. Not until after all the light and heat, and then he hit the ground hard.

He lay there, stunned senseless, forgetting to breathe, unable to move.

***

Sam had, thankfully, just finished the adjustment he was making to the wiring assembly on Charlie's laptop when all of the Men of Letters computers suddenly turned on. (He didn't think it would have electrocuted him to be touching it, but it did make him jump, and he might have pulled something loose in his surprise.)

"What the hell?" said Charlie. It wasn't just the mainframe they were using. It was everything in the whole massive room, every old light flickering on, big noisy old fans chugging into motion inside housings as big as beer freezers. "What are all these doing? They shouldn't be networked at all!" She went around the room, and her scowl of incomprehension kept getting deeper. "They're not. So why are they all doing this? - Sam? Is there some kind of broadcast tower or something…?"

"No," said Sam in surprise. "The Men of Letters seemed more into taking data in, not letting it out. I don't know of any tower. Kind of hard to hide. We'd have seen it, wouldn't we?"

"Maybe we have," said Charlie slowly. "The whole place is done with patterns - devil's traps, sigils, glyphs, everything - but what about that power plant up on top? You haven't been in there, have you? Suppose that's got spellwork inside?"

"Yeah, but for what, these files we're analyzing? You said they're not even networked - "

"Where's Cas?" she interrupted. Sam stared at her for a moment, trying to make the non sequitur of a question make sense.

And then they both gasped, "Oh!" because they understood it at the same time. Cas was praying. The bunker was boosting the signal. Maybe it had been activated by those messages - somehow.

"What do we do?"

"Let him keep praying, we shouldn't interrupt him."

It was hard to keep still, hard to wait. The furious activity of all the old computers was very loud, with old style switches and reels all chugging along. There was a smell of scorched dust, and an occasional whiff of ozone, like from some old train set. Sam found himself fidgeting with his/Charlie's hair, and Charlie herself was starting to crack her/Sam's knuckles again. Both tried to stop when they noticed each other noticing. But they were all interrupted a few minutes later, by a dull THUD that shook the earth.

And then, all the computers powered down. The sudden quiet of the room was deafening.

Sam's first thought was that they'd blown all the fuses. But it wasn't that the power was out - all of the lights were on, and the laptops still glowed. It was just the sudden activity of the Men of Letters stuff that had stopped.

And that noise outside...

Charlie and Sam looked at each other, then ran to get Cas.

***

Fortunately, he hadn't locked the door this time, only closed it. Castiel had already stopped praying when he heard Charlie and Sam thundering down the corridor, and he sat up blinking as they burst in.

He felt very calm now, as though the extended prayer to Dean had been a meditation, which one could well say it was. He had begun to repeat himself at last. Sam and Charlie on the other hand were in an agony of excitement, and he followed them, bemused, out of the bunker.

In the field behind the stand of trees to the southeast, there was the unmistakable track and landing crater of a fallen angel.

Dean!

He only noticed that he was barefoot when he was running over the cold, hard ground with Dean's human feet. But it was an unimportant detail, a distraction. Castiel's heart was pounding now with real fear. Dean. Did he survive? Was he all right? He had whatever Cas had left of power, but was that enough for his body to survive a second fall?

"Dean," and Cas fell to his knees next to the sprawled-out figure of his own usual vessel, reaching out automatically to assess and heal damage, but - he couldn't heal anyone. Dean had that.

Dean wasn't moving.

"Breathe, Dean," Cas said, forcing his voice to sound calm. "You've been in space. You need to breathe here. You're home."

For an agonizing minute nothing happened. Then Dean's eyes flew open first, and then he coughed, and then he breathed.

Even Dean could be knocked out, but it seemed to take a planet.

Sam and Charlie stood near, out of breath from sprinting. "Dean!" "Is he okay?"

"Are you okay, Dean?" Cas said, still as calmly as he knew how, trying to be reassuring - to Dean, he would say, though probably himself as well.

Dean coughed again, then rasped, "Cas? You said you needed me."

"I did. I do," helping Dean to sit up. "Thank you for answering."

Dean seemed none the worse for wear, wherever he'd been, as far as any of them could tell. Cas did not have the ability now, in human form, to sense anything in detail, but Dean moved as though unhurt, so the angelic strength had cushioned Dean's collision with the Earth. And, well, there was one hidden blessing to his ruined wings - they couldn't be ruined again by the atmospheric re-entry. Dean had not had to experience that agony. It was a somewhat bitter comfort, but Cas took it just the same.

"Can you stand?"

"Uhh. Let's find out."

As Dean staggered to his feet with Cas supporting his arm, Sam started to come forward to help - then paused in confusion as Charlie, in his body, did the same. After an awkward hesitation he deferred to her as more likely to be of help.

Dean, finally steadied between them, nodded. "Okay, I think I - "

Then in the next moment, Dean's eyes turned to light, the hot white of grace. At the sight of it Charlie started back, dropping Dean's arm. Cas let go too, but more slowly, his eyes still on Dean's face, though he had to squint now.

"Dean?" He tried to make it sound as calm as he had a minute ago. He couldn't tell whether he succeeded at this.

Dean, standing rigid, said a few words in Enochian, eyes still alight. Then the light spread out around his head to illuminate a halo.

"Get back!" Sam shouted to them, his voice shrill with panic. Charlie tried to conply, but Castiel knew that if the worst were to happen right now, there was no chance of any of them getting far enough away for the end result to make a particle of difference. It would be like a nuclear bomb. At least they were all together.

But the worst didn't happen. What happened was - incomprehensible.

He only had Dean's human senses to see it, but human senses are enough to behold a miracle.

The shadow of his wings. All of them saw it. They were outdoors, so the shadow was cast on the ground by gracelight. The sad, tattered, broken remnants he had been left with after Metatron used him and tricked him and cast him down - were regenerating. The shadow of them straightened and shivered as the snapped primaries righted and lengthened. Cas had to tear his gaze away from this to look anxiously to Dean's face. Eyes lit, lips parted, Dean appeared to be in that slack doll-like trance state the angels tortured by Crowley had shown, but this programming must be coming from within.

Only God could do something like this to an angel. Only that highest power could remake something angelic that was broken in that way.

Had Dean met God , out there somewhere? Had God helped bring Dean back to him, when he had been praying to Dean?

But now the light was fading and Dean's eyes looked human again. The wings' shadow faded with the light, but the shape of them was burned into Castiel's mind. They were healing. They were almost whole. His wings. Those were his wings. He'd been proud of them once, as he'd been able to contemplate at great length since his fall. They had been strong, and dexterous. It wasn't just any angel who could be trusted to travel in time with a human passenger.

However it had been done, Dean had done this.

"Okay," said Dean, "What the fuck just happened? I'm getting sick of trippy shit just happening at me all the time. I was - Cas - are you okay?"

Cas's eyes felt hot and there was a lump in his throat. He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

Dean looked around at them. "Everybody's still in the same bodies, right? Sam? Charlie?" - pointing at each in turn, and when they nodded, "And Jody and Claire…?"

"Should be here sometime tomorrow," said Sam.

Charlie asked, "What kind of trippy shit was it just now?"

"Well. Uh. Depends on whether Cas' wings actually grew back or not."

"They did ," said Cas, and he was definitely crying now. He couldn't have stopped it to save the world.

"Wuh - hey - c'mere." Before Cas even understood Dean's intentions, he was enfolded in a tight hug.

He stood rigid in shock for a moment, then melted before the inevitable. Dean was hugging him just like he had when he answered Cas' prayer in the shower. Only now the other two were still here, and increasingly uncomfortable. Only some of this discomfort was due to embarrassment. Charlie looked downright interested.

Sam sighed and said, "Listen - if Dean is okay to walk we should get back inside. It's cold. And Cas is barefoot, look."

The last thing Cas wanted was extra attention, but all Dean said was, "I can walk all right. Let's get home."

Dean only let go of Cas with one arm. The other arm stayed around Cas' shoulders - supportive, even affectionate. Dean had been the one who made a crater in the Earth after falling out of the sky, but now he was supporting Cas.

The others noticed, but they didn't say a word.

***

Dean could not believe it. They didn't have the nerve to say so, but they seemed to expect him to cook them all something to eat after all that. Sure, if he needed to eat, then he probably would have. But for crying out loud. And they'd left dirty dishes in the sink...!

"Don't give me those puppy eyes! Just go into town, both of you, and get some kind of decent takeout for everybody - I mean the three of you. I faceplanted in a pile of dirt! I don't care if I need a shower, I damn well want one."

Dean was mostly putting on the grouchy front. He was really pretty pleased with what the nebula had obviously done for Cas. But then Cas said humbly, "Should I go with them?" he felt bad for Cas to have misunderstood. "No, I want you here," and when Sam/Charlie tittered at that, he didn't rephrase it. But he did add, "Please."

"Of course," said Cas, and without even asking for anything, he was doing the puppy eyes more than anybody, but Dean didn't object.

Sam and Charlie left, proudly bearing Dean's keys - anything at this point to get rid of them for a minute, and Dean would rather not have to go and get them if that piece of crap Gremlin keeled over - and once he heard the big door slam behind them he heaved a sigh of relief.

Cas was looking at him carefully. "Dean? Will you tell me what happened, where you went?"

"Yeah, I will," he said, stepping closer. "I dunno how much of it will make sense, but I totally will. First though. There's, there's something else, first."

Maybe it would have been better for him to wait a day, he supposed, wait until they were back in their own bodies so they could be looking into the right eyes and all. But it just couldn't wait anymore. Not one more day. And as he laid his hands on Cas' shoulders he knew it was just the same for Cas. He was leaning in, and Cas met him halfway.

It was weird, yeah, to be kissing your own mouth with somebody else's mouth. There was never going to be any part of that that wasn't a little bit weird.

But it was their first kiss, and there wasn't any other kiss to compare it to, and they made it work.

Dean drew it out as long as he could, because it was awesome - warm and a little clumsy but figuring things out quick - so Cas, in short. But he could tell Cas needed to catch his breath, and pulled back just enough to let him, their foreheads touching.

Cas was panting. His eyes were shining green - should be blue, but the shine was all Cas. He licked his lips and said, "I love you."

He looked scared as he said it, and he said it quietly like he was afraid he was saying too much. That was kind of heartbreaking in and of itself. Dean smiled at him. "You too."

The look on his face. Damn, that was better than anything. He'd have to say it again when Cas had his own face back so he could see it right.

Cas kissed him, this time, and he did a damn good job of it, they were both all flushed and panting the next time they broke apart.

"You… you were going to shower," Cas started to say. Dean interrupted him, "Yeah I am. You wanna come with me? No cold water, this time." His heart was pounding, but what was there to be afraid of now? "Maybe I could... try praying to you." He made it clear with his tone what he actually meant. In case Cas was slow on the uptake, though, he glanced down, then slowly dragged his gaze up to where Cas stared open mouthed. Yup. He got it.

"Yes," Cas said, almost whispering. "Yes, please."

His eyes were all dark now from Dean flirting with him, which was awesome, and they went into the big  bathroom and locked the door.

They looked at each other for just a moment, and then moved close and started undressing each other. It was instinctive, they didn't even think about it, each undressed his own body from the other one's perspective. That made sense, but at the same time, he was aware of what were really Cas' hands taking off his own clothes, for Dean - the perspective of it seemed to bounce back and forth but it was effortless, it was easy, it was no big deal. Why had it seemed like such a big deal for so long, to be here and do this with Cas?

It wasn't even about the thought of wasted time, though, not really. Dean tried not to look back in that way. He'd been to the past and he didn't like it there.

It was just that the whole thing had seemed so fearful, so momentous, but the truth was that the secret feelings he'd been fighting, the feeling that he and Cas might be - (what? together - special - in love - fated - meant to be - ) right, had been on the money all along. The something else, something more he'd been vaguely longing for in his life was Cas, of course, and more than that, was meant to be his after all. That was amazing to Dean. That was as amazing to Dean as, he hoped, having his wings remade was for Cas. Dean couldn't take credit for that really, he hadn't knowingly asked for it, but if helping that happen had been all he got out of the experience, it would have been more than worth it. But there was more. There was a multiverse of worlds. He'd seen them.

They turned the water on and made it nice and hot, thank you Men of Letters. They did wash a little, but mostly they made out, lazily groping, then less lazily. Once again, Dean resolved that they'd do everything over again when their bodies were all sorted out, but it was nice knowing exactly how to touch a new lover's body without any of the getting-to-know-you fumbling. They might still do that later, but Dean guessed they'd find that out then.

Right now, Cas was gasping and squirming under his hands, because Dean happened to know how sensitive his nipples were, and how even a light touch was almost too much, and so he stayed on just this side of it. Then he gave them a break and dropped his head down to give a gentle bite to the side of Cas' neck, and put his arm around Cas' waist to keep him from falling down.

Speaking of falling down, he'd meant what he was hinting at before. He made sure Cas had his balance, then slid down to his knees, angling his shoulder so that the water falling on him from above didn't run into his mouth. He didn't need to breathe, he knew that now, but he kind of liked to since Cas had asked him to before. After he landed. Cas had sounded so calm, but so happy underneath.

He wasn't calm now, but Dean thought he could be even happier. Again he applied his knowledge of himself as best he could and put his mouth on Cas' cock, humming with pleasure as Cas cried out. Dean would do this for Cas, he'd do just about anything for Cas, if it made him sound like that.

Cas' fingers were in his hair, and the rhythm of his voice was urgent now. Dean stroked his thighs and hummed low and Cas lost it, gasping "Dean, oh - !" Dean had never felt so proud in his life as Cas came in his mouth. It was another thing they'd be having a do-over on when they could do it in their own original bodies, but it was a pretty damn good start.

He had to get up again quickly when Cas swayed, and Dean put both arms around him to hold him steady.

"You okay…?"

"Mmmmn. Oh - Dean - I want to do that for you."

"Hell yeah, when we get switched back - "

"No, now ."

Oh.

God, he wanted that, but - aarrrgh. He held Cas by the shoulders.

"Uh. I gotta confession to make here. Right before I left the bunker, I, uh. I'm sorry, I didn't have your permission but I kind of - jerked off. I mean, not kind of. I totally did. In the kitchen. Please don't tell Sam. But that - when it was all over... that's what made your wings move. Now they're all fixed, what could happen if I…?"

Cas was staring into his face, wide eyed, and visibly wilting with disappointment. "So you have to wait. Yes, I see." He sighed. "I know it's only a day. But the human perspective makes it feel like an eternity."

Dean remembered Sam comparing the body switcher to an educational toy. It was certainly living up to that theory. Or was it theorem. What the fuck ever! It wasn't any easier to downshift out of the heat of the moment as an angel than it was as a human. He could stop having an erection, that was easy enough, but that wasn't all there was to it after all. Upstairs brain was at least as responsible, at least in Cas' shoes. Interesting to know, but still fucking frustrating.

He sighed, too, and settled for another kiss, but that started getting all heated again, so they had to stop. But Charlie and Sam should be back with something to eat by now, and Cas needed to eat. Dean turned off the water, and then they realized they had never grabbed any towels.

***

Castiel was both glowing with contentment and seething with frustration. What Dean had done - he had never even dared to fantasize about Dean doing that for him. It had been glorious, the pleasure of it had filled his human senses. Whatever had happened to Dean out there, something had melted his reserve. Something had convinced him. Cas wondered what, but he could find out soon enough.

He didn't really mind that they had to dry off with paper towels. He also didn't really mind that when they emerged naked to run to Dean's room for clean clothes, both Sam and Charlie caught sight of them.

"Get a room!"

"We have a room! We're trying to get in it!"

"Get in a room!"

It just would have been nice if they were going in there to make love, instead of get dressed. Dean could have put Castiel's usual clothes back on, of course - but he apparently didn't want to. He wanted to wear his own usual clothes, and they fit Cas' body well enough. He also handed garments to Cas, and Cas put them on without complaint.

"So, uh," Dean began, "what happened to me, I guess I have to tell the others something, but I wish I could just tell all of it to you. It's, it's about you, you and me, pretty much all of it.

"But I know you're hungry, I can hear your stomach growling at me. Let's go see what they brought back and if they left you any. And then I'll tell you all about it."

Yes, Cas was hungry, and he was at the door when Dean called him back. "Dude! Will you not run me around barefoot? Take my slippers. And these," clean socks.

Charlie and Sam had brought back the sort of food Dean usually liked, a bacon cheeseburger and a generously sized piece of blueberry pie, and Cas enjoyed it, though he felt hungry enough to have eaten practically anything.

"You're gonna tell us, right, Dean?" Sam in Charlie's body was saying to Dean, glaring up fiercely at him.

"And what's this crap about it being private?" said Charlie, glancing from Dean to Cas and back again. "It's so obviously something to do with him and you, we just saw you parading naked down the hallways - "

"We weren't parading! We forgot towels!"

"Yeah, yeah," said Sam. They were bracketing Dean now, one glaring up and the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  other glaring down. Dean looked helplessly over at Cas.

"It might be best to just tell all of us, Dean," Cas said, gently. "As much as you can."

Dean sighed. "I want booze," he moaned. "I want my body back. Fine! Fine. I was in the kitchen when my, when Cas' wings moved. I didn't mean for them to, it just happened." His eye was on Cas, and Cas didn't say anything about what Dean had been doing to make them move. Dean visibly relaxed.

"It made me kind of - phase out, I was floating around the bunker like a ghost or something - And then they moved again - "

Cas wondered what made them move again. Perhaps he should save that question for later, since Dean skipped over it so quickly.

" - and I was just way the fuck out in Nowheresville, Space, population me. But then it wasn't just me. I met this nebula."

Dean looked around as though he expected someone to scoff or say "A nebula??" but no one did.

"It was - mostly friendly, when it wasn't making fun of me. It kept trying to explain things to me, but because it thought I was an actual factual angel it tried to tell me angel style and almost broke my brain. Then another me showed up - "

He looked around again, seemingly waiting for someone to say "Another you??" but no one did that, either.

"He helped me. He said the nebula had called him in to help. Get this, he was an angel. From a different universe. And I don't mean, like, a different me who said Yes to Michael. I mean like, me if I was an angel. Dude said he was an 'angel of the Lady.' And Cas was human in his world. But something went                                                                                                                                                            wrong with their world. "

By the time Dean had finished speaking, Cas felt himself go cold all over, and his head felt light and dizzy as though he were very drunk. Dean noticed, and reached out to steady him. "Cas? What's the matter?"

Cas stared at him, feeling the food in his stomach threatening to congeal in terror. "You met… an angel of the Darkness?"

"Uh. Maybe? He only said 'the Lady.' Seemed like he was from Opposite World, I guess. In his universe, God's a chick. He didn't seem evil or anything. He showed off his wings, looked like one of you guys. He was just kind of a dick, he yelled at me a lot. But he did me a favor, though, I realized what it was after. That part's kind of at the end."

Cas slowly tried to relax. It couldn't have been what it sounded like. If such a thing happened it could have killed Dean, but it had not. He had to reserve judgment.

"He didn't realize at first that I wasn't you, Cas. But once he realized, he wanted to know how your wings got like they were. And he yelled at me all over the place because - " he hesitated, then sighed and went on - "because it turns out, in all these other universes, like, all of them, and there's a lot, Cas and me are supposed to be, uh, together, and why weren't we. He really put me through the wringer about it. And the thing that almost broke my brain when the nebula thing tried to show me, it was this whole - fuck, I don't know how to say it. This whole - unfolding - of all those worlds - they slowed it down for me later so I could focus on some of it, but I still only took in a little bit. So many worlds. All different kind of lives. Ordinary lives. Weird lives. All kinds of everything, the craziest shit. And it was still you and me. You and me, always finding each other somehow.

"I'm trying to think, what else. He never said it right out, but it was obvious he lost his Cas, maybe his whole world from the way he was acting. He wasn't happy. Half of his yelling at me was at himself, I think. Oh, and Charlie, you were an angel. He said you were his sister."

"Aww," said Charlie. Dean cleared his throat.

"So anyway after they kept trying to explain this stuff to me over and over, dumbing it down a little every time, suddenly - your prayer came through. Loud and clear. Out there in the Outside. You have to tell me how you did that. - Then the nebula did some - programming. I guess it was the wings? And Deanae - other Dean butted in and reminded it about re-entry, so he definitely did us a favor, otherwise I'd've grown you a new pair of wings just in time to burn them off again when the sparkle cloud flung me home."

"Did you say 'Deanna'? Dean, was the other you a woman?" Sam demanded. "Is that what you're leaving out?"

"What? No! I mean there were plenty of those in the other worlds. Did I not mention them? I mean when I say everything I mean everything . - Dude's name was 'Deanael'. At least, that's what the nebula called him."

"When you saw the other worlds, did you see his world too? Deanael's?" Castiel asked.

Dean nodded slowly. His gaze was shadowed. "I saw it. I didn't look too hard. It was - broken."

It must have been a pitiful sight, Castiel thought. That Dean must have been so unhappy. What could have happened in that world? If it wasn't what it had sounded like at first, what was the truth of it? He would never know.

Sam asked, "You said you were - Outside? Outside what?"

"Well, Outside - everything. The nebula called it 'the Outside.' It was totally empty."

"What was the nebula doing there?"

Everyone turned to stare at Charlie. She was frowning, tapping Sam's big hands against the counter.

Dean snapped, "What do you think it was doing there? Floating!"

Sam said slowly, "You're right. That's a pretty tall coincidence."

Charlie smiled aside at him. "Freudian slip there, big fella? Admit it, you're tired of being short."

"I am tired of being short," said Sam. "I grew out of it last time. - So was it waiting for you, like it knew you would be there?"

"Or did it do something to bring you there?" said Charlie.

Dean looked scandalized. "You did hear all the parts where it was helping me? Why are you so suspicious all of a sudden?"

"Hey, don't get us wrong," she said. "I think it's safe to say, we're both really happy for you, and congrats to Cas on the rewinging, that's awesome. We're just - "

"Worried," Sam finished the sentence. "Or not even worried, all right, concerned. I believe everything you said, Dean, just give me a chance to wrap my head around everything, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," said Dean, sounding mollified but looking back and forth between them.

"Can you remember everything it said? Exactly?" Charlie asked him.

Dean swung around toward her, opening his mouth in irritation, then stopped, looking confused. "I… guess I can. Is it an angel thing?" to Cas. Cas nodded.

"Okay. First it said 'Oh, hello.' And I said - Do you need to hear exactly what I said too?"

"Just the gist of it's fine there."

"I said I was just passing through, don't mind me, like trying not to freak out at being talked to by a giant nebula - and it said it was fine, and then it said 'I'm interested to see you, you're usually in two bodies. Most of the multiverse has you in two bodies, why is some of you missing'.

"I guess it was thrown off by the body switching too," said Sam.

"Who wouldn't be?" said Charlie. "I can't believe I ever thought it would be fun."

Dean spoke more loudly. "I said I didn't understand, and then I wondered if I was dreaming, and it said 'You are conscious, but confused. Some benign force has reassembled your parts. Would you like explanation?' It repeated itself a lot about 'would you like explanation', like it sounded like a computer sometimes. But... I don't think it really was one."

"Why don't you think so?" Cas asked, and Dean shrugged.

"I dunno. It kind of… seemed to be enjoying itself. Like a person. Not like a machine."

"'Benign force,'" repeated Charlie thoughtfully. "Interesting."

"Do you want the rest of what it said?" asked Dean, impatiently. When they all quieted, "It said, 'You are part of a set of paired molecules.' And when I didn't get that it said 'You are from a planet that is the center of its recursive universe'."

"Oooh," said Charlie. "I know what I'll be thinking about the next time I get high." When Dean glared at her, she spread her hands. "I am one hundred percent serious." Then she caught Sam's eye. "And of course I meant, when I get back into my own body."

Dean continued, "So the nebula goes, 'I can direct you to your planet. But which dimension? You're in the Outside.' And of course I didn't know, so we were stuck. And it kept asking if I wanted explanation, and when I said Yes my brain almost got pureed."

"But why would it want to help you in the first place?" Sam wondered, and Dean said hastily, "I almost forgot, I did ask it that. It was all 'I do feel compassion for all living things, and also ineffable boredom.'"

Castiel was the only one among them who even knew what ineffable boredom felt like, though his memory of such a feeling was vague, blunted in this human body. What he felt now wasn't at all vague. Now that it was no longer a forbidden, secret desire, he longed for Dean - but now he had to suppress it for Dean's sake, until the next day - how many hours?? He longed to get this madness of displaced bodies over and done with, so that he and Dean could find their new way, the way of being together - whatever Dean might want that to look like.

Dean seemed to feel Cas looking at him, visibly came to a decision and strode over to take Cas' arm. "There's some other stuff I'm just telling Cas. So we'll see you guys later."

As they went back to Dean's room, Cas was smiling. "What?" said Dean, when he noticed it.

"Nothing, I just like you touching me."

"Oh. - Good."

Inside his room, Dean turned to face him. "Listen. Uh, the thing I left out is, I crossed the line another time, not just in the kitchen. I'm, I really, what I did wasn't okay."

Bewildered, Cas could only ask, "What is it? What did you do?" He couldn't think of Dean doing anything so terrible. For example, he had thought it was a given that since Dean had given him permission to 'make himself at home', that Cas would have given him such permission in return. He would have done so readily if asked, because he had had no idea his wings had any life left in them to make climax dangerous.

"I watched you," Dean said softly, and Castiel gulped in shock - excitement - dismay. "I'm sorry," Dean said, reacting to the look on Cas' face. "I didn't mean to. In the kitchen I got kind of knocked out of phase, so I thought I'd come to you and maybe you'd be able to see me, but I found you - getting off, and - God, you were so hot, Cas, just the sight of you - coming - made the wings move again. And then I ended up Outside."

Cas was blushing, his face uncomfortably hot. "I understand, it was an accident. I'm sorry you had to see me - I must have been - so awkward." He couldn't look at Dean, didn't want Dean to see how aroused he was, because they mustn't do any of that until they had their bodies back.

"What? What are you even - Cas I'm the one who did wrong, I'm trying to apologize to you here. I didn't go intending to peep, I swear it, but I didn't look away when I saw. I'm sorry."

"It's all right," said Cas, looking up into Dean's eyes briefly so that he could see that he meant it. "I really don't mind about that." Then he looked down again, swallowing.

"What's the matter?"

"I just - oh, Dean, I'm terrible at being human. I don't know how you do it. I mean I do know, in the short term. But even that wasn't easy. And now I'm worse than ever at it, I feel so impatient and - selfish, it must be, because I should be happy just to be near you at all, to talk with you, to be of use to you, but now I've had more than that and it just makes me want more. I'm sorry."

Dean laughed a little and put his arms around him. "You're actually good at being human, I think. You kind of always have been, even before you ever were one."

Castiel was not certain that was a compliment if sifted to the bottom, but he didn't sift. Dean was hugging him. It was a compliment.

"Don't be sorry for wanting more," Dean said softly. "I want more too."

"But that's the problem," Cas protested, "if you can't, then we can't." Lovemaking was supposed to be reciprocal. Wasn't that most of the point of it?

"Not necessarily," said Dean, and he moved so that Cas thought he wanted to look into his eyes while they talked, but instead Dean kissed him.

It was a wild, breathless kiss that kept going until he was panting, whimpering with desire, why would Dean be cruel and tease him, oh -

Dean wasn't teasing him. Dean was undressing him.

"Dean, we can't! It's too great a risk - you came back once but anything could happen if you - "

"I can't, but you can," Dean said hoarsely, maneuvering them onto his bed. "I can wait. I'll get mine later, tomorrow, okay? But you, I wanna see you come again. Think you could do that for me, Cas?"

"Really…?" He panted, licking his lips, staring at Dean. He hadn't expected this at all.

Dean nodded. "Really. And just for the record I don't care about keeping score. I want, oh God I want a lot of stuff. I don't, I don't even know what you might be into. Or what I might be into, I don't even know. But right now I wanna make you come so hard that you scream, if that's okay with you."

"That is okay with me," said Cas in a hushed voice. "Would it be okay if I, uh…" He faltered.

"What…?"

"Pray to you?" Cas blurted out. Dean laughed, but not at all unkindly.

"Sure. You can do that all you want."

He did. It was good that he had permission, because once Dean had all of Cas' clothes cast aside and was applying his tongue to one nipple while gently fingering the other, Cas' mind was a kaleidoscope of oh and Dean and yes and please . Dean's hands trailed like stardust over his skin, a soft touch that made Cas squirm for more, but Dean made him wait.

He tried to hold his voice back, for the longest time. Gasps and whimpers kept escaping him until he finally understood that Dean wanted to hear the sounds he made. He had said he wanted to hear Cas scream, but also he wanted to hear all of the sounds that led to that scream, as he nipped and licked and slowly stroked at Cas' most sensitive places.

So, Cas let him hear it in his voice, let it rise and fall like music that Dean was making. Inside his mind his praying did the same. He wasn't able to just lie here passively and take all this pleasure without trying to give something to Dean in return.

His prayers became so passionate that Dean lifted his head, panting and licking his lips, and said, "Cas. I promise. You'll be able to do anything, absolutely anything you want to me. But ease up on me right now or I'll lose control and go flying and I don't wanna be anywhere else but right here. Let me do this for you. I like it."

"Ease up how?"

"Pray a little softer."

"Oh!" He could do that. He lowered it to a whisper, let it subside inside the blank sound of waterfalls. And a strange look crossed Dean's face.

"That sounds kind of familiar," he said.

"Like the phone messages?"

"Yeah. But hold that thought."

Cas was quickly unable to hold any thought, or to pray. Dean was doing things with his tongue that Cas hadn't known anything about. Then some things with his fingers that made a lot of sense in context.

"Dean," he cried aloud, writhing. "Oh, I'm - I can't - "

He thought he was doing it too soon, but Dean was saying, "Yeah, come on, that's right - " with a smile on his lips and warmth in his eyes, and then Cas understood and let it happen.

He lost all sense of self to pleasure, for those long aching moments. He was supported by warm darkness and Dean's arms.

Dean had not asked him how an angel could make love to climax without moving their wings. The answer would have been that they couldn't. If Cas had those strong new wings on his back right now, he would feel them spread wide and then he would have to return. Dean wouldn't know how to do that. It had been so long for Castiel that he would have had to struggle to find his way back. He looked forward to that challenge. He was experienced enough to find Earth by now. And nothing could keep him from Dean's side. Or indeed, his bed, now that he'd been in it.

He shook himself all over, coming back to normal consciousness, and Dean flopped down beside him on the bed, crammed close so that both of them could fit. Cas looked over at Dean. Dean was red around the ears and biting his lip. But when he saw Cas looking at him, he smiled.

"You can pay me back some of that later, if you can't think of anything else for Christmas," Dean said. "I always wanted somebody to do that to me. Looked like you liked it."

"I did," said Cas hoarsely, "and you will." Then he paused, confused. "And I will?" He didn't mean it to be a question. "I definitely will," he said, nodding. He felt slightly drunk.

Dean laughed, looking more relaxed now. "You could take a nap," he suggested.

"I could." He yawned, then shook himself again. "Or I could get up and find some way to be of use to Sam and Charlie."

Dean glanced up, then shrugged. "From the sounds coming out of Sam's room, they're playing some videogame."

Cas had seen the two of them playing videogames before, and while it was somewhat interesting depending on what they were playing, there was nothing as interesting to Cas as being where Dean was. But that might possibly be construed as being 'creepy'.

"Do you need your space?" he asked Dean hesitantly.

Dean laughed out loud. "I've had all the space I can take lately," but when Cas' face remained serious he sobered quickly. "I know what you're asking. And no. I don't need to be by myself. I like being with you. I'll stay if you want, while you sleep. I could wake you up if I go anywhere. Okay?"

"Okay." Before he could slide off into sleep, he said, "Thank you, Dean."

"You're welcome, buddy."

***

Dean was starting to understand - physically first, and only afterwards with his mind - that having healed wings, even if he didn't know how to and therefore shouldn't use them, also meant that the other angelic powers were stronger, and easier to use. Or maybe it was just that he'd been in an angel body for long enough that he was at least starting to try to adapt.

Or maybe both. But he definitely could hear things he wasn't able to hear before. Charlie and Sam had been bickering a little over their game, but they soon settled into a rhythm where they spoke only rarely, agreeing on tactics - it was some kind of warfare game. It must be something Charlie owned, the only stuff Sam had like that was cutesy, non-violent stuff like Wii Sports. Charlie had a military looking backpack of consoles and related stuff that she carried in her Gremlin. Since Sam's room had the TV set (Dean was sick of them from the endless parade of years in motel rooms and wouldn't have one in his bedroom) she would have zeroed in on that room anyway, regardless of who was in whose body. Or should that be 'whom's'?

Wait. If the TV was playing the war game, what were those other voices he could hear talking? He might have thought it was some artsy-toity thing off the BBC that Sam liked, only with them playing the game -

Oh fuck fuckety fuck!

He leaped up out of the bed and tore open his bedroom door. Behind him, Cas said, groggily, "Dean…?" but there was no time to answer. Dean ran toward the voices, a man and a woman arguing. Crowley. Rowena. In their bunker! and not only that - in the room where the body switching thingy was still sitting out on the table.

"Crowley!" he shouted from the doorway, "what the hell are you doing here?"

Both Crowley and Rowena were standing awfully close to the green marble scales sculpture. Close enough to reach out and touch. That was all they needed. The thought of Jody or Claire having to interact with Crowley to get everyone put back in order was un-fucking-acceptable. Why the hell had they left the stupid thing out like that? Even with people who knew what it did, they'd kept on tripping over one another and activating it.

This was like the sorcerer's apprentice's boss - he guessed that'd be the sorcerer, come to think of it - leaving his magic wand lying around. What the fuck was that guy even thinking? Whatever it was, they'd been just as bad. Why did Sam ever drag the thing out in the first place? Why did Dean ever agree to it?

Crowley said, "Well, if it isn't - " and then he paused, cocking his head to one side inquisitively. "Huh. Been trying it out already, have we?"

Rowena was eyeing him in a way Dean had never experienced from her direction before, and it made him uncomfortable all the way down to the soles of his feet. Cas' feet. "I'm warning you, Crowley," pointing a hard finger at the King of Hell, "do NOT get mixed up in this stupid shit, I'm telling you, you won't like it, whatever it is you think you're doing."

"Oh, he's Dean," said Rowena, but Crowley snorted. "Of course he's Dean! I guess that makes you the Flying Squirrel, eh? Looks like somebody's had an upgrade since I saw him last."

"Ooh," said Rowena, even as Dean could hear footsteps behind him. Cas was wearing jeans and nothing else - he just did not like putting shoes on, Dean decided, like a baby - but a shirt might have been nice.

"What are they doing here?" said Cas, his voice tight with panic.

"I was wondering the same thing," said Dean.

Not that they needed to ask, by this point. Rowena had a black silk bag in her hands, which had been folded small, and she was now opening up. "We'll just be taking this wee beauty along back with us and - "

Crowley moved quickly. Even Dean had trouble seeing exactly what happened, but he slapped his hand down on one side of the scales, while nudging his mother's hand to touch the other.

Nothing happened. Rowena stared up at him in contempt, then snatched her hand free and slapped him across the face with it. He stood, seemingly frozen. She was so tiny, but in her anger she seemed to fill the room with massive, vengeful shadows.

"You are a fool, Fergus," she said. "A fool, and thrice a fool. I should have known better than to listen to you for a moment! I curse the day I whelped you. I told you about it, and did you listen? I said that both parties have to be willing to switch. And I am not. What did you think, that you could gain my powers and do - the gods know what all with them before changing back, no cost to you? My powers are with my mind , you worm. And before you think of some cheap way around the rules, I'll just take this temptation out of your hands."

Dean thought she meant that she would take it, put it in the bag she'd brought and leave, and he thought he'd be able to prevent her leaving, or follow her. He didn't know what she meant until it was too late. She pointed at the switcher, said a few low growling words and slashed at the air with the side of her hand.

And the green stone broke into pieces with a low, dull crack. Cas and Dean both cried out, "No!"

"I'll just be going," said Rowena, and she leveled a dark look at her son before turning and whirling into smoke, a stylish exit she had practiced for effect.

All thought of pursuing her fell out of Dean's mind as he stared, slack jawed and bleak eyed, at the rubble lying scattered on the table and the floor. All of their hopes.

He felt something brush his hand. Startled, he looked over to see Cas, looking similarly stricken. Dean glanced at Crowley, who still stood frozen, then made a decision and took Cas' hand in his.

***

Charlie was in the process of thoroughly kicking Sam's ass at Total Annihilation IX: The Unhappening ( and disproving his theory about muscle memory) when they both heard it, and felt it - a low, sharp, unnatural rumble that rippled through air and ground equally. Therefore, magic.

They dropped the controllers (one of them landed pretty damn hard too) and ran down the hall to find Dean and Cas, and Crowley, and the remains of the body switching device from Ev.

"What the hell?" Sam wailed. "Crowley what the fuck have you done??" When Crowley didn't answer he turned to Dean and Cas, who were holding hands now for some reason.

So that was Crowley. He didn't seem like much. But nothing seemed lke much, compared with the realization, visible, tangible and irrefutable, that they were not getting back into their own bodies after all.

Maybe ever.

Nothing against Sam. But Charlie was long since tired of seeing him when she looked in the mirror. She'd never wanted to be a dude. She'd just wanted to try out life as a tall person.

The women she would be able to attract in Sam's body were not the women Charlie wanted to be with.

The short, dark-eyed man in the sharp suit still hadn't moved. He wasn't even blinking. He seemed to be under some kind of spell. Sam had approached him, walked around him in a circle, and stood scowling at him - up at him. Charlie's own body was even shorter.

"Rowena was here," Dean was telling Sam, in a tight, angry voice. "She and him came here - he had some dumb ass plan - but he fucked it up, as usual, and she slapped him upside the head and broke, broke the thing. She just - wham." He imitated her gesture toward the obvious result.

"She slapped his face," Cas said musingly. "And called him 'thrice a fool'. She was very angry and she seems to have resorted to a simple charm of spite, but it's powerful enough to hold the King of Hell. Someone will have to slap him again to release him."

"Might even have to slap him three times," said Sam, in a matching tone. It was clear now to Charlie that Crowley must be conscious despite being in a standing stasis, and they were performing a little for his sake now. She approved. She felt pretty vengeful too.

"Or maybe we don't slap him at all?" she suggested. When the others turned toward her, she shrugged, "Throw a tarp over him and leave him alone. Just kind of work around him. Or shove him in the corner. Maybe we can move him on a dolly, stash him in a closet. Or one of the vaults. That ought to be nice and quiet."

Maybe she was getting into the spirit of it a little too much, if the others looked alarmed. But that was too bad, she was pretty fucking disappointed.

"I'd really like to slap him," said Dean, drifting closer. "Nice and hard. Let me warm up my arm."

Cas said, "Maybe we could hit both sides of his face at the same time."

"Or we could both go for the same side and see if we could slap his face around to the other side of his head?"

"Guys!" said Sam. "I know it's fun tormenting Crowley but I'm not putting up with him standing here and I'm not getting a tarp. Let's get on with it."

They let Dean do it, because he would be able to hit the hardest out of all of them. He had the angel powers, and he was really motivated. The sound of his palm colliding with Crowley's face was like a bat colliding with a fastball. Crack! Holy cow!

It worked. Crowley staggered back a step, then looked around feverishly for an exit even while talking. "Christ! Flying squirrel! Unneccessary roughness."

Wrong sport, thought Charlie, but didn't say aloud. She didn't really want his attention, but of course that meant he noticed her right away. "And who's in Moose? I guess that's you," pointing at Sam. "Well, this has been fun."

Then Dean had him gripped by the front of his clothes and was shaking him around, growling in his face. "You don't know what fun isn't . Yet. - You little fucking toad!" More shaking. If Crowley wanted to answer he really couldn't without biting his own tongue. "I want my body back! I want Cas to have his body back! We were all gonna get sorted out, the geniuses here had it all sorted out, and I'm trying not to blow up the universe but give me a fucking break! You ruin our only chance to get back - "

"Is it the only chance?" said Cas, in surprise. "There must be something else we can do."

Dean was so surprised he stopped shaking Crowley for a moment. He stared at Cas, and so did everyone else.

Charlie stooped, picked up a shard of green pottery and lifted it up to examine it. It had had a nice finish, but now it was in pieces, that was revealed to be a veneer over much cheaper material. It actually looked kind of mass produced. It made Charlie think of the 'ancient stone columns' you could buy in plaster at a garden supply shop.

That didn't negate the magic it had obviously had in it, of course. And magic was not her area of expertise. Just a hobby. It just looked... off to Charlie's eyes.

Crowley was saying, "Put me down, you've made your bloody point already! Don't go swinging those wings around in my face, I know damn well you don't know how to use them. Maybe you could stop acting the thug and let me explain."

Charlie picked up another largish fragment. She thought she'd spied some engraving, or something. She turned it over in Sam's large hands. "Huh. Guys?" It was engraved with raised, printed caps: MADE IN EV. PAT. PEND.

"Maybe we can get another one of these things."

"Where from? Ev?"

"Well - maybe? Or from some other collector? There's a ton of things here in the bunker - "

"Whoa, who knows what would happen if we tried to mix magic with some other - "

"No - I meant for something to trade. Collectors of this kind of stuff, you know. They usually wouldn't let something really powerful go for just money. And we don't really have money anyway. Artifacts, though, you've got out the yin yang."

"Yeah but we can't just go letting people have them, the Men of Letters had them put away for a reason - which yeah I know is really damn ironic in the circumstances but give me a break here!"

"Or," said Cas, his eyes fixed on Crowley, "someone else could go to Ev and replace what he caused to be broken."

"But - "

"Shut up! If you say your mother did it, that's your fault," said Dean, who had let Crowley back down onto his feet but had not relinquished his grip on the front of his suit. "You brought her here. Was she right? Was this some dumb ass plan to glom her powers? Even I could've told you that wouldn't have worked. Or are you just fucking with us and she's in on it? You think it's funny to strand us in the wrong bodies? I DO NOT HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR ABOUT THIS ANYMORE ALREADY."

"Stop bending my lapels! You're not a proper angel, Dean, so you can leave off with the vengeful roaring and all that. Next thing I know you'll be whipping out your flaming sword."

Dean did let him go, Charlie noticed. Crowley was pretty manipulative even when he was backed into a corner.

"Castiel, will you get a leash onto your pit bull?" he went on, and yes, on cue, Dean stepped closer to Cas, instinctively protective against that slimy tone Crowley was now thickly laying on.

"What's in it for me, if I choose to go?" said Crowley, gathering shreds of dignity about him and restoring his suit's pristine appearance with a brush of his palms. "Ev was tiresome enough back in the day, but I'm so over steampunk I can't even tell you. So are the people of Ev! But they're stuck with it, poor sods."

All Charlie could hear, through the layers of lofty complaints, was the dizzying truth: Ev was real, and Crowley had been there and could go again. She wanted to go! Oz was a dream come true, of course - but as a kid Charlie had been so intrigued by Ev, a place that didn't have many stories about it, a place that might need new stories, the way the Childlike Empress in the Neverending Story had needed a new name.

"I want to go with you," she blurted out.

Everybody turned to stare at her.

***

Castiel felt strangely calm, in the face of this disaster. Of course, it was easy for him, he knew. He was in a much easier position than Dean was. Despite being human and mortal and all that entailed, he at least had been allowed to enjoy pleasure with Dean. But he resolved now that that must stop for Dean's sake, for the time being. They would find a way out of this. But they must not risk everything out of impatience.

He hoped Dean wouldn't argue too much about it. Cas did not want him to misunderstand in any way. But he had lived many years in love with Dean without being able to express it, and he thought he could manage being allowed to express it at something less than the full intensity previously experienced.

Well. He thought that, until Dean turned toward him and put an arm around his waist. Crowley made an impatient noise, but if they had expected wisecracks from him about the obvious change in their relationship, he didn't seem to have them at the ready. He certainly didn't look in the least bit  surprised.

"It's not a wise idea," Cas said to Charlie. "Crowley is only helpful on his own terms, and he is tedious company."

He was rewarded with a laugh by everyone in the room except Crowley. Maybe he was getting the hang of humor at last. Dean's laugh had seemed a little bitter, however.

"It certainly does take tedious to know tedious," said Crowley. "Far be it from me to interfere with anyone's sudden, impetuous travel plans. But so sorry, She-Moose. I'm not taking passengers."

"Because you're not planning on coming back?" she shot back, hands on her hips.

"Leave it, Charlie," Dean said. "Please. Otherwise he'll strand you there, or kick you off a cliff, or else get you into some kind of trouble so bad you'll think only a deal can get you out of it. Even if he's only gonna fuck off, let him just go and fuck off." He sounded tired, but of course he looked the same as usual. "We wouldn't be any worse off, and I'm sick of looking at him."

"You're a lot less easy on the eye than usual yourself," Crowley snarled. "That dumb doe-eyed look" - with a gesture toward Cas not unlike the one Rowena had used to destroy the machine - "doesn't suit your face at all."

Castiel could feel Dean bristling beside him, but he only smiled placidly. "I'm in love," he said. Crowley rolled his eyes. "Ugh!" And then he was gone, before anyone else could say anything.

"Hey!" said Charlie. "I wanted to go to Ev!"

"Is he gone?" someone said.

They all looked around. A shimmery place in the corner of two bookshelves was speaking. Rowena appeared there, like an octopus shrugging off camouflage.

"He won't be going to Ev," she said calmly, seeming to enjoy the way they stared at her. "He'll find himself stuck at home, in Hell, and no way to get out again, no matter what he tries, for one full turn of the Moon. So it's a good thing you didn't go with him after all, Giant Lass. Lots can happen in a month in Hell, y'know." She smiled a private little smile.

"Why are you still here?" asked Cas, before Dean could shout what would probably have been more or less the same thing, only with expletives.

"Oh, I wanted to see the part where somebody slapped him," Rowena said, warmly. "Well done , by the way," she purred at Dean in a way that made Cas uncomfortable. "Though," turning to Charlie, "I did like the tarp idea. That made him sweat! I was watching. His eyes went all beady. Well, beadi er."

"Okay," said Sam. "Now he's gone, so why are you STILL still here?"

She pouted, but Cas could see she wasn't at all fazed. She was more like her son than she probably liked to know - she was here to make a deal of some kind. But for her own purposes, not those of Hell.

"I can help all of you get back into your own skins," she said. She was definitely enjoying their attention now. "In return for a little something for me."

***

Sam kept his eyes on Rowena, deeply uncomfortable at the knowledge that she had been there the whole time when they'd thought she was gone - distracting them all with that showy exit that was not an exit.

"We can't let you rummage around or take stuff that belongs to the Men of Letters," he said firmly. "Not even to get our own bodies back."

"We don't even know what she wants yet," said Charlie.

"I only want to see something," Rowena promised. "Not to touch it, or take it, or have any influence over it. But only to see it with my own eyes." She smiled reassuringly, which had very much the opposite effect on Sam by now.

"What is it?" said Dean.

"It looks like a cardboard box," said Rowena, "perfectly ordinary, no markings or anything of the sort - only it's got a universe inside of it." She spread her hands. "I just want one wee little peek inside. I can wait, while you all talk it over, to death probably." She examined her nails while they argued.

Sam eyed Dean, watched Dean struggling to do the right thing instead of what he wanted, and spoke up. After all, the box she was talking about had been in the 'harmless things' vault. "Is it really such a bad idea? This is much better than the idea of trading something to an occult objects collector. If she can put us back, let's get put back for God's sake and let her look in the box."

Even as he said it he wondered if he was just doing Rowena's work for her. In the end, he decided, he had been. Because once she had looked for a long moment under the lid of the ordinary-looking carboard box, with her face illuminated by multicolored light, she sighed, sat back, and smirked at them all.

"That's just what I wanted to know. - I knew my son, that fool, was bringing me here to try to trick me out of something he shouldn't have. He made a big, big deal just recently. Thought he'd shake things up in the human world, as though the human world needed any more shaking. Well, that nasty little puppet of his can go a month without any help whatsoever from Hell. That ought to be interesting."

Frowning, Dean said, incredulously - "Is she talking about - "

"Don't even say it," said Sam.

"So, thank you very much, I'll be going now," said Rowena.

"Oh no you don't! You said you'd help!" Dean looked and sounded like he was at the end of his rope. "Is there a spell? Or can you put that green switcher thing back together? You're the one that broke it!"

She laughed at him. "You're no better than the stupid Men of Letters, treating magical things as though they should work by science, by computers. Like all there is to it is maths! That 'switcher thing' was a child's toy, you complete fool! It's not supposed to be a permanent effect. Even if you don't know the counterspell, it wears off. With time. Once you stop using it. How much time I don't know, so there's no point pestering me about it. Once you find out, I suppose you could add it to all your useful science notes, but you can just throw those pieces in the rubbish. I've found out the hard way, magic stone doesn't recycle."

***

Dean muttered, "She ripped us off. She could've just told us that." Rowena had left, without smoke or style, and they had double and triple checked that she had in fact left the bunker and wasn't skulking around like a chameleon.

"But it was knowledge we didn't have," said Cas. He looked thoughtfully at the box as Sam put it away in the vault. "We might have tried dangerous things in pursuit of something we now know we can just wait for."

"I guess," Dean grumbled.

Cas took his hand again. "Hopefully not for long," he said shyly. "I want - a lot of things."

"Your wings," Dean said, and Cas smiled. "Those too."

"And if I had gone to Ev, what would have happened if the switch wore off then? - What was in that box, anyway?" Charlie asked. Dean shrugged.

Sam said, "The label on the side says there's a universe in there."

"Wait, what, literally?"

Sam shrugged. "I didn't look. I'm not as much into forbidden knowledge as I used to be."

Dean was glad to hear that.

"But what could she find out by looking in there?" Charlie persisted.

Nobody could answer that. Rowena had only looked into the box for a moment, and she had seemed pleased afterwards. It seemed very little, even if she had given somewhat light weight in return.

Still. It was good news. It would be nice to know how much time it would take, but if it really was a child's toy as Rowena had said… It had already been days. How long could it last?

"How long do days last in Ev?" he wondered.

"Good question," said Cas. "But even if we knew that, we wouldn't know how long we'd have to wait. We were doing that, anyway, when we needed Jody and Claire."

"Oh Christ!" said Dean, and he got out his phone to tell the two of them not to bother making the trip to Kansas after all. But he found the battery had run down and the phone was dead as a doornail. He hadn't charged it since before he went out into space. "Shit. Somebody call Jody and tell her never mind. - I need to find a charger."

It was in his bedroom, sensibly enough, and when he plugged it in and the phone came back to life, it dinged with yet another one of those weird-ass messages. This time it claimed to be coming from Sam's number. That was weird. But the message was the same as ever - multilayered static. If Dean had the senses to listen to it, he didn't have reliable access to them.

Cas would, though. Soon. Oh, how soon Dean wished it would be. If wishing could have changed them back, that would have worked already.

He'd thought Cas would have followed him back here to his bedroom, but he'd stayed out with Sam and Charlie. Dean sighed. He looked forward to food and booze, yeah, but most of all he looked forward to 'getting a room'. Cas was probably trying to avoid him right now to spare him from getting too frustrated, but being apart from him at all kind of amounted to the same thing.

He left the phone where it was and went back out. He supposed he'd better think about what to feed them all. Whatever he made, and it was gonna be something good, he was stashing some away in the freezer. For himself. Later.

It was hard at first, getting used to waiting for something he wanted so badly. Not knowing how long he had to wait was a torment. She couldn't even give a ballpark, frame of reference, were we talking days or weeks or years kind of an idea… ?

Probably she could have, but she would have made them pay for it with something else they probably shouldn't have let her see. He had seen the strange multicolored lights bathing her face. He couldn't help but wonder if his old friend Nebula had something to do with it. But what was it doing in a cardboard box?

What had it been doing outside of space, like Charlie had asked? Ugh, Dean was really fed up with all of the cosmic crap. He was looking forward to his mortal human existence again something fierce. To be able to eat, sleep, drink, fuck. Everything.

Well. And die.

He'd been rummaging and gathering in the freezer and the pantry while thinking about this, but now his hands slowed and he stood still, not even blinking.

Dean had died a lot of times by now. Not that it got easier, but he knew what to expect.

Cas was immortal. Or he was supposed to be. He would be, whenever the mystery timer was up and they all snapped back.

The point was, if the two of them were together, and they already were, what happened to Cas when Dean eventually died for the last time? Even if Dean qualified for Heaven anymore - he really, really doubted that by now - no one was getting into Heaven whether they deserved it or not. He could face going to Hell again. What choice did he have? But he'd heard the demons talking about it when he was there last. There were some people Hell didn't want. What didn't go up or down, or belong in Purgatory, went to the Void. Thrown away. Non-recyclable.

Dean figured that was where he was probably going to go. What else did he deserve?

Behind him, Cas said, "Dean? I'd like to help, may I?"

He looked around. He realized, as Cas' expression changed to dismay, that Cas had been talking about the cooking, but now he could see the look on Dean's face and he wouldn't be able to get out of talking about it. A quick glance showed that at least Sam and Charlie weren't hovering in earshot for once.

Cas gently took the things Dean was holding - some frozen vegetables, a bag of onions -set them down, and put his arms around Dean. Dean braced himself for the inevitable questions. But Cas didn't even ask him anything. He just held Dean, his presence close and warm and reassuring in a completely human way. It felt good. It held back the cold and dark of the Void.

"You can help," he said, muffled against Cas' neck. "Thought I'd make soup."

"That's good," Cas said. "Humans have been cooking soup for tens of thousands of years. It's nutritious and comforting."

It made Dean laugh, though he could never have said exactly why. He turned to the practical matter of sorting through carrots and potatoes. Potato soup. Hmm.

"Here, peel these," he said, handing over the carrots, and then a minute or so later, "Here, let me show you how to peel those so there's some left to cook with when you're done."

"Sorry," Cas said penitently, and Dean stopped what he was doing to kiss him very slowly and really thoroughly.

"You're helping, which is more than even occurred to the other two," he said, as though the conversation hadn't been interrupted. He could tell from Cas' face though, he looked a little starry eyed.

"Well, you do yell at them to stay out of your kitchen."

"Yeah, guess that's true." He showed Cas how he wanted the carrots cut up, and where to put them, and "dude don't hold a knife like that I'm gonna need those fingers back thank you very much. And you'll thank me, very much."

Cas was laughing a little at this, and leaning in for another kiss, when his expression changed completely. Dean dropped what he was doing - potatoes rolled all over the floor - staring in cold panic into Cas' blank eyes, Dean's own body like an unoccupied meatsuit. So goddamn creepy.

Then he gasped, looking up and focusing. Dean relaxed fractionally. "You okay? What happened?"

When he got no answer he said more urgently, "Cas??"

"No - I'm Charlie! How the hell did I get in here?"

"Where the hell is Cas then?"

"Dean…?" came a plaintive call from down the corridor.

Castiel was in Sam again. That was, well, that was good in one sense, Dean knew where he was, but not great in another, because Dean could be okay with making out with himself when Cas was at the helm, but he was just not okay with making out with Sam.

Hugging was fine, though.

"Why are we still in the wrong bodies?" he demanded of no one and everyone. Maybe of the air. He didn't expect answers.

Charlie, in Dean's body, was obsessively picking up and washing the scattered potatoes. "We've reversed the previous change. We just have to wait for the next one. How many times did everybody change…?"

They corrected each other a lot, and finally Charlie dragged out a whiteboard and started squeakily writing. She was left-handed, and Dean was right-handed. Scribbling for too long gave her cramps, and before she could even finish writing everything down, another switch took them all by surprise.

Charlie said, startled, "Whoa!" She looked at her hands. "Is this me? Am I me?" She groped at herself for a few seconds, looking more and more gleeful. "Home sweet home!" She did a little dance, wrapping her arms around herself and giving herself a big hug.

Dean felt something huge and invisible and totally impossible to resist bounce him out of where he thought he was firmly placed. It must be something like how it must feel for a fully grown tree to be plucked out of the ground by a tornado. He staggered - looked around - and he was back in Sam's body now. So Sam must be in his now. That had been the first change. That meant Cas -

He looked to Cas in time to see Cas realize where he was. He saw the joy spreading on that familiar face that he himself had been wearing just a minute ago. Funny, the shift of perspective was both weird and perfectly normal. Was it like that for angels when they changed from one vessel to another?

Cas shut his eyes, smiling with such happiness. He had his hands clasped in front of his chest, and he was glowing a good bit, but he had his eyes shut, Dean realized, to keep anyone from getting hurt. There was enough light to show them, though. The wings. Dean didn't know it but they were already bigger and more fully grown than when the others had seen them before.

They looked like they had looked when they first met, as far as Dean could tell. Only now he wasn't in the familiar accountant outfit, he was wearing Dean's own clothes, and Dean kind of liked that.

Cas opened his eyes, the holy light dimming down again, and smiled, "Dean." Then he frowned. Dean lifted his hand.

"Over here," he said. "In Sam. Should be the last change."

He hoped it would be quick, like the last one. He wouldn't have to find out whether Cas would be okay with making out with Sam.

"Of course," Cas said. Damn, it was good to hear him talking with his own raspy voice, see him blinking his own big blue eyes. He looked around. "Is everyone else all right?"

"I'm fine," said Charlie, but she was frowning. "I am incredibly short. I wonder if the Men of Letters ever found a 'happy medium' machine."

"Ugh, don't even joke about it," said Sam, waving Dean's hands around as though at invisible gnats. "If it did exist - "

"It does," said Cas. "It's the Bed of Procrustes. You wouldn't like it."

"Never mind that," said Dean. "We're in the home stretch." He couldn't keep the grin of anticipation off his face to save his life. He was still in the wrong body, but he was human again, at least. Any minute now, he and his brother would switch back, and when that happened, nobody was getting any soup unless Charlie and Sam decided to learn how to make it. The cook was going to be extremely busy for the next little while.

Sam said, "Please at least wait till you're back in your own body to get started," and Dean was just protesting that he WAS waiting when a new voice spoke.

"Hello, Cas," and Dean stood still in shock, because that was Dean's own voice talking, but Sam was in Dean's body so - But it wasn't Sam at all, it was another Dean, standing there among them. It was the other Dean. The one he'd met before. The angel one. He was wearing black, and he looked physically a good few years younger than Dean was now, but his eyes looked much, much older.

And he was looking at Cas like he was starving.

"Hello," said Cas, cautiously.

"Cas," said Dean, urgently, "That's - " but Cas lifted his hand, nodding to Dean without taking his eyes off the newcomer.

"Yes, I see. You are the angel version of Dean? The one who helped him when he was with the nebula?"

"The one who helped you , yes," said Deanael. His gaze flicked over the others and lingered on Sam and Dean. "Still in the wrong bodies? Children's games." He looked away, dismissing them, and back to Cas. "But you're just where you should be, Cas. The wings suit you."

"You speak as though we're acquainted," said Cas. "But I've gotten out of the habit of trusting other angels. I'm grateful for the help I hear you gave to my Dean." Everybody heard the way his voice leaned on 'my'.

"I gave that help to you ," said the angel Dean. "It was you I wanted to talk to in the first place. But of course it couldn't be that easy, could it? When you showed up it was almost you, only then, it wasn't you at all, just some dumb other me that can't even take advice.

"I want to talk to you. Alone."

Dean remembered how Deanael had behaved before he realized it was Dean he was helping. And, I almost kissed you.

And just now, It was you I wanted to talk to in the first place.

He met eyes with Sam. Sam was taking all this in, thinking it through, but Dean had trouble reading his own face with Sam's mind behind it.

***

"Can I ask something?" said Charlie, and Deanael flinched at the sound of her voice. Cas narrowed his eyes, studying him.

Charlie went on, after a puzzled pause, "Does that mean that you and your nebula friend didn't just happen to run into Dean, that you had something to do with his being there?"

It seemed that the angel wasn't going to answer at first, but then he looked up at her, wary as an animal. "We saw him coming and got in the way. We thought he was Cas ," he repeated, stubbornly.

"I will talk with you," said Cas, "but not without Dean."

"Why??" said the other angel, loud enough in his frustration to startle all human ears.

"You know perfectly well why," he said to the other angel. "You are a Dean, but you are not my Dean. Dean can be rather crafty and manipulative and he doesn't always honor promises when he feels there's something more important at stake. You are likely to be much the same. So I will talk with you, but not without my Dean knowing what is said and what happens.

"Since he is still in Sam's body, that means Sam will need to hear it too - unless you will wait for the switching reversals to finish. They're on the last one."

"Wait. I'm crafty and manipulative??" said Dean, hotly. "That's nice, coming from - " He hesitated. Castiel watched as it happened: Dean and Sam were standing close together, so it was possible to see both faces change at the same time. Dean, now in his own body again at last (and he was a gorgeous sight in Castiel's eyes) continued his sentence, sounding confused now instead of offended, "a guy… who… whoa?" He put his hand to his head. "Hey! Am I back?"

"Yeah," sighed Sam happily, stretching his shoulders. "Everybody's back where we belong."

Except one. One was still out of place. Cas looked at Deanael. He was not really identical to his Dean. They were more like brothers to one another - the angel one, though he must of course be much older, looked so much younger. Even his own Dean had not looked this young, when they had met. This Dean had a face that had never been to Hell, but had somehow made his own instead.

"Fine," said the angel Dean.

Dean walked to Cas' side and nodded to him. Cas thought he could read Dean's face fairly well by now. Dean would have very much liked to kick this other Dean's ass out of his bunker and left the making of soup to the others. But Cas had done the right thing insisting that Dean stay. There was no other good way of reassuring Dean that he wasn't going to leave him. Dean couldn't be told everything, Dean had to be shown. Cas understood that by now.

They went into the computer room. Deanael looked around at the hulking old equipment with a skeptical expression. The combined smell of scorched dust and ozone was still in the air. "Is this where I was calling to? I can't believe it worked. All this weird old crap!"

"You were calling…? You left those messages on everybody's phones?" said Dean.

Deanael shrugged. "Planets rotate. Had to lock on to some signal."

So he hadn't been trying to leave messages at all.

"And how did you get into the bunker just now, when you showed up?"

"I was already in the bunker," said the angel.

"What??"

Cas cut across this purposeless exchange with, "Did you have something to say to me, Deanael?"

"I shouldn't even have to say anything. Isn't it obvious why I'm here? I'm an angel who loved a human, and now I'm alone. You're about to start with this human Dean here, but you know he's gonna die. I hear your Heaven's all kinds of fucked up now, too. What happens to you when he's lost in the dark? And nothing you can do can get him back? You've thought all this through, right?"

He really sounded so like his own Dean. A glance aside at his own Dean showed that this line of thought was not a new one for him. He'd been thinking about this himself. They were both Dean, after all. For the first time, Cas found himself wondering just what his human self of that world had been like. Was he a hunter, like Dean? Or had it been more like his vessel's virtuous but otherwise ordinary existence?

It was obvious he could not ask, so there was no point in speculating.

"Yes, I have," he said calmly. "I have thought it through. And I am not 'about to start,' we've already begun. You're much too late to stop anything. That can't possibly be what you're trying to do. Dean told all of us about the things you said to him. You were very persuasive.

"Are you going to suggest that, because we're both angels, we would make a better pair? Is there no world in all that kaleidoscope Dean told me about, where both of us are angels? Have you not seen one?"

"There may be one," Dean said, beside him, being painfully fair. "There was more than I could see."

"But he's looked at them all. Haven't you, Deanael?"

"Worlds get made somewhere," said Deanael, in much the same tone as he had said, 'planets rotate'. "Coins get flipped. Why can't I ask? He can't live forever. You'll lose him someday. After that, when you're ready, you could be with me."

Cas found himself gritting his teeth in a very human way. It was the kind of thing an angel would say to another angel, if they had to be on the distasteful subject of mating with humans at all. This angelic Dean was not his Dean, didn't have the warmth or the loyalty or the sweetness in him at all. He was coldly bargaining for the future.

"Well that's just really, really classy," said Dean. "Way to sound desperate."

He sounded disdainful, but Castiel could hear a soft chord of fear struck in Dean's heart by the idea, that after he died, he would be replaced by this angelic, immortal Dean. There was no way he could be allowed to imagine for a moment that Cas would ever countenance such a thing.

He extended his wings, and wrapped one of them around Dean. It didn't have any physical effect, but the other angel saw it all right.

"There isn't any 'after' for me," Cas said, and reached out to take Dean's hand in his own. Dean's hand gripped his hard. "Wherever you go, Dean, I'll go with you." No matter where that meant. It would be a far, far better end to just dissolve together in the Void than to live miserable millennia with no hope of ever seeing him again.

"Cas," Dean protested weakly, but Cas only looked him in the eyes and said nothing else. Dean looked, then gulped, then dropped his gaze.

"Yes," Dean said. "That's right." He looked up at Deanael, then. "So. Why didn't you do that?"

It was a hard slap of a question, and the angel reacted to it similarly. Castiel tightened his wing around Dean's shoulders, protectively. Dean even seemed to feel it this time. But he stood up straight, green eyes snapping. The question was a personal one, after all.

"Is it, like, the one thing angels can't do where you come from," Dean said, "or like, did he make you promise you wouldn't, or... "

"That's none of your business,"  said Deanael. This was getting dangerous now. Cas had meant what he'd said, but he had no desire for Dean to die right now so that he could prove it.

"Dude, you crossed the line over what is whose business, like, a million light years back," said Dean. "I don't think you even mean what you're asking for here. And you always meant for me to hear you ask. I think you think we'll be so offended we'll just spike you and put you out of your misery. Or if we're a little too nice for that, you at least want us to out you for all the stupid shit you did and find some way to punish you. Right? It's gotta be some dumb shit like that."

"Dean," said Cas quietly.

"I didn't do that, because I literally can't ," said the angel. "Programming. Root level. We're not allowed to harm ourselves. Not even - Not even to save someone we love. Not even to save - Everything." His bitterness was infinite, drowning-deep. "Definitely not to keep a promise."

"Was it a promise to Cas?" asked Dean, and Deanael nodded.

"Of course. Promises are a human thing. With angels, there are only orders."

What Castiel gleaned from the ensuing conversation, which was emotional and needed many questions to keep prompting Deanael forward, was that in his world, the angels served their Lady in many ways, but ultimately their highest calling as warriors was in being willingly sacrificed to give Her power as She fought Her neverending war. And this sacrifice could only be made by another angel. So that even though the angels were family to one another, they had no choice to but to do this, and they tried to do it honorably and with due kindness.

Cas was able to understand this very quickly from Deanael, but explaining it to Dean was another matter. It was impossible to forget Dean helping Sam to prepare for Lucifer. The sight of his troubled face now was painful to Castiel.

"So, Charlie then?" he asked, another blunt object of a question, but this time, the angel Dean didn't even flinch. He just nodded, miserably.

"The Lady sent word that her sacrifice was necessary, and brought her several steps closer to victory against the Adversary." He didn't make "air quotes" when he said it, but they were audible in his voice.

"I take it you don't believe this," Cas said, trying to be more gentle than Dean.

"I did - I did then! I believed every stupid word of it, I had to, I'd just killed my sister, it couldn't be for nothing, it couldn't just be - for - " He didn't go on. It looked as though he couldn't go on.

'Food', Cas rather thought the angel had been about to say.

"What about your Sam?" Dean asked then, though Cas wished he hadn't. Deanael seemed close to a breaking point. But to his surprise, mention of Sam relaxed him somewhat.

"Oh, Sam was already all grown up by then. They didn't sacrifice seraphim . Just the regular soldiers like me."

"But they didn't sacrifice you."

"No. The Lady needed me to - to sacrifice all the others."

So that was what had happened, until Deanael was the only one left.

"That makes you the Angel of Death," he said, to which the only reply was an impatient shrug that said as eloquently as could be said: What else?

"That is fucked up," said Dean, but softly, under his breath, as though he hadn't intended them to hear.

So his world had gotten destroyed in that war - the whole human world, including his Cas, had died. And Deanael, the last angel left, was alone, because the Lady had left then, or else been destroyed as well, by the Adversary. He didn't even know. Or care, anymore.

Dean said, "Hey, I know for a fact that your buddy the nebula can do angel programming. You know it too. Why don't you ask it to reprogram you…?"

"To do what exactly?" said Deanael sharply. For the first time, Dean seemed to feel the effect of his own words on the other version of himself.

"Well, uh. To be able to, uh. Die, if you wanted to."

"I could never ask him to do that!"

"Why?" Cas asked this time, in a conscious effort to take some of the pressure off Dean.

"Well - then he'd be alone ," Deanael said, as though to a small child. "I may be a stupid, miserable asshole, but he's my family. We're all either of us has left. Even if he is like a big ol' head in a jar now to talk to, and he's grown too big to see all of at once. He's still my little brother."

There was a long, digestive pause.

"Okay, I'm finally gonna get that drink now," said Dean. "And also sit down before I fall down. Fuck, I thought life was weird before." He looked over at Cas, then back at Deanael. "And dude. We're gonna help you somehow, you know. We're gonna find a way. We've got normal extra-large size Sam, and human Charlie is a total genius, and the answer to - all - that isn't showing up trying to act like a supervillain so we'll have to destroy you. We suck at those anyway. So don't kill anybody, don't switch bodies with anybody, and, uh, don't try to seduce anybody else's Castiel. Okay? Okay."

"'Castiel'?" said Deanael incredulously. "Is that your actual name? - Ugh, I guess it's an angel name, but damn. 'Castiel'. Sounds weird."

To his credit, Dean didn't dignify this with a response. However, he might not have heard it, as he was leading the way toward the kitchen and the nearest available alcohol.

***

It was a weird conversation, but beer and, when that was finished off, whiskey made it a little easier to take, the second time. He never did get around to making the soup, but Dean dragged out all the snacking foods, with an emphasis on frozen vegetarian appetizers that Sam had enthusiastically overbought that one time they made a fake Costco ID.

Deanael, fortunately, didn't seem to feel free to mingle. He didn't want to talk to anyone, and he didn't want to eat or drink (no point), but he stayed in a loose orbit, near the door. Charlie tried to go over to him once, but he looked so scared of her that she aborted the mission halfway across the room and awkwardly swung around to talk to Dean. She was startled to see him there, and embarrassed to realize he'd seen what just happened. She didn't know the story, and Dean didn't really want to tell her that part of it.

"He's kind of got PTSD," he murmured, and she nodded in a way that said, I can deal with that answer.

"I can tell. He's got a real Winter Soldier kind of vibe. He needs his Cas, doesn't he?" she said. She glanced toward him, but if he was listening, he showed no sign of it. Dean knew he could hear every word, though. Angel senses did not give a crap about 'privacy', he knew that for a fact.

He was warm with alcohol, but he had had two beers and a shot of nice whiskey and then stopped for now. He had, yeah, had wanted to be a little bit numb, after a fucked up story like that. To keep himself from trying to imagine it too much. But he didn't want to be so numb that he didn't feel anything else.

He wanted to get this scary-ass Dean out of here and on his way to wherever he was going, so that he and Cas could finally be alone together. And the only way to really get rid of this guy was to treat him like a case, a really important case, an Apocalypse Level basically. This guy's story needed an ending, happy or not, but an ending.

It was just that a happy one would be kind of nice, and would probably please Cas, too.

"Time travel?" she was saying. She had raised her voice to deliberately address the angel Dean across the room. "Have you tried that?"

He muttered something. Dean sighed and went over to relay. "Of course I've tried it," Deanael was muttering already when he got within earshot. "I tried it over and over. But a cataclysmic event, the gravitational forces - it's too big, I can't stop it or change it, and I can't interact with myself in the past."

Charlie had drifted closer too. Deanael looked at her with mild panic, but this time stood his ground. Dean noticed she didn't try to look him in the eye.

"Well maybe he could try going back further than that," she said to no one in particular.

"Anywhere on his timeline, I would be intersecting with myself, and I can't. I can't go anywhere near him anymore. I tried - a lot. I just ended up making it all worse." He shook his head, his hands curling into fists at his sides. "I can't even see the past anymore."

"But it's still there," she said.

Before he could reply to this, Dean said suddenly, "I could see the past. Your world. In all the crazy stuff the nebula showed me…" It still threatened to break his brain, the thought that that nebula was - But it had reminded him of Sam more than once. "I didn't look hard because I could tell it was fucked up. But it was there."

"You won't be able to remember it now," said Deanael, dismissively. "You're back in your human body and human brains can't hold all that. And you can't time travel, either."

"I can," said Castiel, as though remembering. Dean felt again a surge of pride that he helped Cas have that look on his face now. Lit from inside, and not by grace, but happiness. Even if it was grace related. "And these," gesturing at his own face, "are the eyes that saw. And, in fact, could see again, if your brother would show me."

"So - wait - what are you proposing to do?" said Deanael, stepping back from them all now, wide eyed. "You're just going to - Pluck him out of time and bring him, where, here? And do what? This isn't his world - and - and even if you could do all that - Even if he could stand the sight of me - He'll die again. Don't you understand anything? He'll just die again! You think I can take it again? You don't think I would just go STARK FUCKING INSANE and be like a - what did you call it - supervillain and just - fuck your world over too? What the fuck is wrong with you people? Why did I ever think to ask for help from people who think body switching is a good idea?"

Sam and Charlie both looked alarmed, but Dean was less worried by this than anyone else. His other self was exploding with anxiety, which wasn't great, but a whole hell of a lot better than bottling up anxiety and leaving all that unsaid.

And it so happened that Dean had an answer. Not to the question of what was wrong with them, or about the body switching being stupid, Deanael was totally right about that.

"You could ask him to say Yes."

He didn't mean to say it so loud, but the angel had been shouting, and now silence filled the room as everybody stared at Dean. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Cas' mouth hanging slightly open.

Was it really so shocking that he should mention this? Wasn't it obvious what they should do?

"I mean, unless the rules are totally different for the angels in your world. But so far you've seemed pretty close… I don't know. Here, an angel has to have permission to be in a vessel. If he said Yes, then - well -  you would be together, immortal. Or," adding a disclaimer since angels certainly could die, "if something ever did happen to you, it'd happen to both of you at once. Right?"

Deanael was staring at him incredulously. At first, for a moment, Dean imagined that it was an impressed stare, but he got over that impression pretty quickly.

"So your big idea… Your plan that you're suggesting to me… involves more body switching?"

That younger version of Dean's face was really, really smug and annoying, Dean thought.

"No! And for fuck's sake, that was Sam's - "

"And that's not how angels are embodied! We're chosen. By the Lady. We get empty vessels." His anger and derision slid off his face as he muttered. "She probably emptied them out."

Dean was starting to feel like that other world was better off destroyed.

Cas said, "Then that is how the Darkness chose to see you embodied, but you can - " He was hesitating, and Dean wondered if it was the language, if he was trying to not to offend the humans in the room with too-blunt truth, "join with a human vessel, someone who isn't empty, and with their full understanding and permission, and - share a future that way. You can do that here. It's not body switching. It's body sharing. But you would have to be very sure. Your current vessel will die, when you leave it."

He didn't say 'if'.

Deanael's face was still not doing what Dean expected. Now he looked confused.

"What's this about 'the Darkness'? What are you talking about?"

Dean remembered Cas mentioning it once before, but he didn't fully know what Cas was talking about either.

Cas looked confused now too. "Your 'Lady' you've been speaking of. Isn't she - In our world, the Darkness is the sister of God. She's the power of Entropy, while he's the power of Creation. I assumed - "

"I really have no idea what you're talking about," said Deanael. "There's nothing 'Dark' about the Lady, and She definitely isn't anybody's sister."

Dean didn't really know what he was talking about either - it was the first he'd ever heard of God having family - but it didn't matter now.

"I'm not really sure She created anything, either," he said, more slowly, his focus sliding away as he thought about it. "None of us were there for that."

"Whoever she is," Dean said, "there it is. My stupid plan. Think it over. Now, I'd like to talk to Cas. Alone. Okay?"

Cas looked so serious, as Dean tugged him down the corridor and into his room. He waited while Dean painted a sigil on the door to keep the other angel out, and then when Dean turned toward him Cas blurted out,

"Dean, I - never imagined you would even think of that - of being a vessel - as an acceptable solution."

Dean's heart was already pounding, but he gave Cas his best attempt at a Han Solo grin. "Don't get me wrong. I mean - maybe. I've been in YOUR body just recently, of course I thought about it. But right now, being in two bodies… These two bodies! - it's pretty awesome. 'Cause I've been wanting to do this… for years, dude. I admit it. I know that doesn't seem so long to you, but I know you've been human too so you gotta understand." He was absolutely babbling now.

But Cas looked pleased. So Dean guessed he liked them being in two bodies, too.

"You've been wanting to do… what?" said Cas. Dean blushed. His own, all-over blush. He put an arm around Cas' neck.

"This," he said, and kissed him. Up against the door, smearing the freshly drawn sigil onto the back of Cas' shirt, as it turned out later, but not enough to break the sigil's effect, which was nice.

Dean felt like he'd been waiting so long, he hardly knew where to start. Yes, he'd made Cas come a couple of times now, but in his own body. It's not that it didn't count, but it wasn't the same, either. This was real, this was for real.

No pressure or anything.

Cas looked up at him, blue eyes all full of stars, his hair sticking out every which way after Dean's fingers were briefly in it just now. Dean knew he was back to his full angel self, but he had never looked more human to Dean's eyes than he did right this moment.

He knew they didn't really have time for everything he wanted to do, not right now. They didn't even have to discuss it - it was obvious that they were in a hurry, that they couldn't disappear for hours or days or however long it would take to even need to come up for air. Not yet. But they would.

Meanwhile, they were urgently making out and rubbing up together and it was perfect, it was awesome. They were like teenagers, pent up and ready. They were like the detectives, slipping aside into a broom closet when they were on a case to make out and get off, daring others to catch them at it. He pulled at Cas' T-shirt and then at his pants and Cas' hands were doing the same thing to his clothes as they stumbled back to the bed.

Dean landed on his back, and when Cas hesitated Dean pulled him down on top of him, hands landing on Cas' hips. It was not so different from what they had already done but everything was new, the delicious feeling of his skin against Dean's - and Cas had his wings . Would Dean be able to see them, when…? He'd try to find out. He wanted to see them. Dean wouldn't try to be a dick and take credit for them all over the place, he'd just been a messenger really, no different from carrying Benny out of Purgatory - but he could still feel pride about them, because he'd seen their shadow once and he knew they were beautiful.

"Dean," Cas panted against his lips, and the way he said it was so goddamn sexy it went to Dean's head. He rocked his hips up urgently, their cocks were pressed together, hot naked skin rubbing together, throbbing, Cas was an angel but his human vessel's heart was pounding, and it was because of Dean.

"I wanna see you come," he rasped, "I wanna see you, let me see you, Cas, show me," and the look on Cas' face - just that look - and nothing else - made Dean start to come right then as Cas went off.

He could feel it, pressed against him, the wild spike in his pulse down there, like Dean's. He could feel both of them pulsing and wet heat. But these were all far in the background compared to what he saw.

He was beautiful. So fucking beautiful.

The wings were still in shadow. But a detailed shadow, where every perfect feather was cast and etched on the walls, stopped in time, spread wide.

It wasn't just him, lovestruck. Time did do something funny for a moment there. Dean blinked away the dark afterimage of Cas' wings, reached out and gathered him close, wings and all. Cas squirmed around until his mouth could reach Dean's for more clumsy, needy kisses that went on for a good, long time.

Finally Cas lifted his head and looked down at Dean, smiling. Dean knew he didn't need to sleep, but there was still a flatteringly sleepy look to him that made Dean push up to kiss him some more.

"We have to go back," Cas sighed at last.

"Yeah, I know. - Not sorry at all, though. Just to be clear."

"That is wonderfully clear," Cas said. He smiled again. Had anyone else ever seen this? His real smile? His real smile was perfect.

But if it was for Dean's eyes alone, he was fine with that.

***

Sam couldn't believe they would go off like that and leave him and Charlie alone with Deanael. He had surreptitiously acquired an angel blade during all the talk and confusion, but he still wasn't sure if he could bring himself to use it against an angelic Dean. It just didn't sit right.

Not that Deanael looked as though he were inclined to do anything, but you really never knew with angels. And this one was somehow even more messed up than the usual type they were used to dealing with.

"Should I leave?" Charlie wondered. "Am I making things worse?"

Sam didn't even know, but the angel heard her, of course.

"You don't have to leave. I can leave. I don't belong here. There's nothing for me here."

"But where will you go?"

He didn't even answer. He had nothing to say. But he also didn't leave. That was an answer in and of itself.

Sam didn't know everything that was going on, but he had gathered enough to guess most of what was left out. Charlie, too, was intuitive and clever. If he was going to have anyone in the world to help him think something through, it was Charlie.

He looked up to see Dean and Cas coming back, both obviously having gotten a little something-something. At least Dean had waited till he got his own body back.

Sam thought it was a good thing, of course. He couldn't help but approve. It had been so obvious for so long, and Dean was the last one to see it, but he did finally see it. He was more relaxed right now than Sam had ever seen him. And he had his arm around Cas like it was no big deal. It was a big deal to Cas, though and that was nice to see, too.

Charlie was frowning, not in a thinking way but in a didn't-like-what-she-was-thinking way.

"What is it?" said Sam.

"Well - now hear me out - I say this as someone who has read all the Supernatural books, okay? - the stuff that's been happening the last few days… this is, by a wide margin, the least likely thing that has ever happened. Unless it was some kind of story."

"I don't know about that," said Sam uneasily, reflecting on a whole montage of improbabilities that flashed through his memory.

"Come on, it's been like a weird romantic comedy. Hasn't it?"

"Weird?" said Cas.

"Comedy?" said Dean.

"See what I mean?" said Charlie, waving her arms at them. "Things have been getting weirder and weirder, and less and less likely, since the whole body switching idea began, as far as I can tell."

Everyone was frowning now, except for Deanael.

"There's a limited cast of characters," she went on. She was pacing around as she thought it through. "Some doubles of us, we've only ever heard about. I'll bet my limited edition Time Turner that Angel Dean here's Lady must be Rowena. Who else? And then there's all of the, well, I don't know what to call it except for wish fulfillment. I mean hey! nothing against wish fulfillment! But you know? I don't find it so hard to believe they'd be off having sex all the time, not at all actually, but for Cas' wings to be repaired, that's just - it's like, some part of Dean must be longing all this time to repay Castiel for pulling him out of Hell. Cas may still be an angel but something like that, it'd make Dean feel on equal footing with him, wouldn't it? As, you know, a provider, kind of?"

Sam didn't like this, because his gut was agreeing with the gist of what Charlie was saying. He also didn't like the look on Dean's face, which was anything but relaxed now.

"Does that mean… was any of the stuff you showed me real?" Dean said to Deanael. "All those other worlds? This whole 'multiverse' where me and Cas are meant to be together?"

Despite his distress, Sam noticed, Dean did not let go of Cas. Cas was frowning, in his own figuring-things-out way.

Deanael sighed. "Still haven't figured it out?" he said to Sam. "I knew she was the smartest person in the room here, but you've got experience with archangels."

Sam, mystified, had no time to reply before Deanael turned back to Dean. "The one big lie I told you was that you, meaning your world, was the prime," he said. "Your world isn't real either. Your original world is. Well, sort of is. There's no point splitting hairs. - Your original world is the world of the books, let's say. But that's not where you are right now."

"Well where the hell are we right now?"

"I think," said Sam, unconsciously lifting a hand as though he were in school, "I think we're inside that cardboard box."

That was where he'd found that body switching machine, after all. Inside the 'harmless' vault… inside a cardboard box. There had been a bright light when he first pried it open. Had everything since then been… not real?

"And the calls," Charlie said, "the calls have been coming from inside the bunker. - Outside the box."

Deanael was slow clapping with a smirk on his face. Sam was frowning now, in a oh-shit-I recognize-you-now way.

"You've got to be shitting me," he said in disgust. "Gabriel."

***

"WHAT," Dean shouted. He could see, at his side, that Cas was every bit as shocked as he was, that he hadn't had any idea either, that it wasn't just Dean stumbling along in the dark like a total idiot.

"Hey, before you go blowing a gasket, hero," said Gabriel, more and more like his old recognizable self with every word, but the smirk had come first, like the Cheshire Cat, "I think you've done pretty well here, don't you?"

"But - what - is it not even real? Is it," with utter disgust, "all a dream?"

"No! Duh. It's an alternate reality. All of you have been in it. But the rules have been easier to, uh, bend. Here inside the box."

"How am I supposed to believe one thing you say, now? You've only ever been full of shit, Gabriel."

"Check your arm, Dean. Do you have the Mark of Cain?"

Dean recoiled. "The - the what…?"

But he was clutching at his arm, at the sudden memory, suppressed for all these many days, of the burning Mark on his skin. He pulled his sleeve up, and there was nothing there - but he remembered it now, he remembered getting it, and he did not remember getting rid of it.

"So me not having it is part of a story too?" he said through gritted teeth.

"Well, sort of, but I don't think you've suddenly started asking philsophical questions," said Gabriel. He was still wearing the same black clothes. "It's more like, a story within a story that pretty much ignores your having it. But it can't really hold all of you anymore now that you're aware of it, so, everybody out of the pool, kids. It's time to start thinking outside of the box."

There was another mind bending jolt, the kind of thing Dean had started to get used to lately. Not that it was exactly the same, but at least when you knew it was the same old same old, you could just kind of relax and go limp.

But he knew perfectly well when he was back in his own reality, his own bunker, his own story, because of the dull hot ache in his arm. He didn't even need to push his sleeve up to see. He tried to trade a look with Cas, but he couldn't tell if Cas understood.

He hadn't thought about it once. How had he not even thought about it one time? Cas would have been carrying it. He would - would have seen it. When they were together.

"So how did we end up in there? I didn't go looking for - I dunno - wish fulfillment." He said the phrase derisively, because it hurt. Dean had never even thought about what Charlie had said. He was ashamed, but it had never even occurred to Dean to try to pay Cas back for pulling him out of Hell. Cas hadn't even known him then - he'd been under orders. But Charlie was right. Giving him back something as important as that would have been good, would have felt good. If it had been real.

"No, Dean, everybody is really really clear that you didn't start any of this," Gabriel sighed. "And every time, you've said it yourself: it was Sam's idea. Yup! Sam's hopes for you drove most of the framework that the nifty little box - which by the way is definitely not from Ev - constructed to make it happen. Miniature universe to order! Can you believe the Men of Letters, leaving this around, and thinking it's harmless? I mean it's not a weapon… but it can change worlds. Probably shouldn't even leave it here, you know. But it's not like I've got anywhere safer to stick it." He grinned like a shark at them.

"I can't believe I fell for your shit," Dean said disgustedly. "Again."

"Dean," said Cas softly, but Dean said impatiently, "No, hang on. I don't care how powerful he is. He's been fucking with us for years, and never mind me, the stuff he's pulled on Sam was un-fucking-forgivable - "

"Dean, I - "

"but dude, ugh! were you spying on us? That is so uncool, and what about Cas, what about making him think his wings could grow back, what kind of asshole move is that?"

"Dean," and Cas was gripping his arm now, kind of hard, so that Dean, still scowling, mouth still open to keep yelling at Gabriel, turned to look, demanding, "Cas, what , I'm - Oh."

Cas was showing his wings, his eyes downcast in case the grace light should blind any humans looking. And his wings were still whole, still perfect as when he'd shown them to Dean when they were in bed.

Oh.

Dean felt a whole river of angry words drying up in his throat. He still would have liked to kick Gabriel's ass all around the bunker, but as the light faded out and the wing shadow disappeared once more from view, Cas met his eye, and this time Dean understood what the look meant.

It made him blush.

"Okay, I've got a question," said Sam. "If the calls were coming from inside the bunker - who are they from? If we've all been in the box, then who made the calls?"

"We did. We will," said Charlie. She had a little smile on her face, like she'd figured out a puzzle.

"There you are!" said Gabriel, warmly now. "Thank you, exposition is kinda tiring." He stretched his arms up over his head, cracking his knuckles.

"Are we talking about time travel again?" said Dean. "What's the point of that now?"

"We do have to account for it," said Cas. "As it's already happened."

His hand was on Dean's shoulder, even though they were back in the real world now. What they both remembered, happened, whether it was real or not. But maybe it was all real, if Cas' wings were real.

"When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all."

"Oh, come on," said Charlie. "You have done some good, but this only happened because you were hiding in that box. Right?"

"Oh, don't you start giving me a hard time," Gabriel complained. "I haven't even done anything to you. Your death was theoretical and off-screen."

"You freaked me out, acting all traumatized. I felt sorry for you."

"Everyone give me your cell phones," said Castiel. "So I can leave the messages."

Dean had to go and get his from his room, where it was still plugged in. Cas followed him as he got it, and when he handed it over, Dean pulled him close and kissed him, in the real world, outside the box. Just to make it good and clear that that was real too, like Cas' wings.

Cas smiled at him, then took a deep breath. "I'll be right back."

But he wasn't right back. You'd have thought, with time travel, that he could have timed it so that he arrived a second after he left - or, okay, a minute. Planets do rotate. But by the time Cas came back, Dean had sat down - just for a minute - on the edge of his bed (which he'd made up with fresh sheets and all)... Then he was lying down, just for a minute, while he waited… because however much real time had actually passed out here in the real world, Dean had been through a lot since it all started and sleep hadn't accounted for much of it. Even if Cas had been in his body, and slept, it wasn't really the same if Dean didn't experience it for himself.

He needed a second pillow in here. Not that Cas would sleep, he guessed, but they were gonna be spending a lot of time in here not sleeping, and there ought to be a pillow for Cas. Just… for the principle of the thing. He closed his eyes, just for a minute.

So he was asleep when Cas came back. But Cas made a point of touching Dean's hair and then giving him a scratchy nuzzle of a kiss on the side of his face until Dean smiled. And then he went back to sleep.

***

Cas gave Sam and Charlie their cellphones back.

"He's sleeping, isn't he?" said Sam. "Like a baby?"

"He seems content, if that's what you mean by that," said Cas. "Also very cute."

"Ugh," said Sam, and Charlie laughed.

"Sucking his thumb?" said Gabriel. "That's promising."

"Are you still here?" said Cas, turning to face him. "No more leering at Dean. Even in absentia. He's mine."

"What, after all that, I can't even - ?"

"Yes, especially after all that. You - " he fiercely employed "air quotes" -"'can't even'. I do thank you for your part in helping to restore my powers, brother. But we both know you have your own motives - I'm guessing you see the advantage of having one of your only allies back at full strength - and we both know, too, that it couldn't have been done without Dean, without what he went through. I know you can't do anything about the Mark of Cain - "

"I would! I would if I could, you know that."

"Yes, I know. And as for me, I - didn't mean to tell them about that. About the Darkness. I really thought your 'Lady' - with everything else in opposites - "

"Well, they'll know soon enough. Spoilers, prophecies, meh! It all comes out in the wash. I'm outta here now, if you're done lecturing me, Casio. Off to find a better hiding place."

"I'm not lecturing!" said Cas, exasperated, but the golden wings had already moved on.

Charlie and Sam did, between them, consult the internet for potato soup recipes, and after some comparisons and arguments, settled on a mutually acceptable YouTube chef who showed them techniques. So when he went to wake Dean a few hours later, Cas had a little tray with a bowl of soup, a bottle of beer, and some toast. It was just ordinary, store-bought bread toast - the lady on YouTube had been very persuasive about how homemade bread showed one's family the most love - but the soup had turned out very well, according to Sam. Charlie, it seemed, preferred soups to be more spicy.

Cas turned on the little desk lamp and set the tray down there before turning to Dean, breathing deeply in the bed. He looked down at Dean. Perhaps he shouldn't wake him? He could just stand here and watch over him until Dean woke naturally. This used to disturb Dean whenever Cas did it - that is, whenever he was aware of Cas doing it - but perhaps, now that their relationship was intimate, that would no longer be true.

Still, Dean must be hungry, and the soup would become cold by the time he woke up on his own. So Cas sat down on the edge of Dean's bed and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Dean," softly. No response.

Dean was dreaming. He was dreaming something that gave him distress. Castiel hesitated. Should he try to enter this dream? Would it help, or just be an intrusion? Their relationship had changed but Dean's need for privacy would still be there.

He could see the Mark on Dean's arm. How had he forgotten about it entirely? He had been in Dean's body but he did not remember seeing it there, or feeling any of its effects. When Dean had done it, taken this on, Cas had not been there, had not known about it till afterward. The moment he'd been in Dean's presence again, after, he'd been able to sense it, to smell it on him. He'd known it was there before he seized Dean's arm to push his sleeve up and look.

But he hadn't been aware of it, inside the box. Had it been Sam, then, who had wished the Mark didn't exist?

Something wasn't entirely adding up, somehow. Cas was starting to suspect that there was some other part of Gabriel's little shadow play that he hadn't understood.

He did not enter Dean's dreams, but he looked in. It was a field of blood, desolate and foul. Castiel called to Dean. Dean shuddered, and actively tried not to answer.

"Dean," he called firmly. "It's time to wake up."

Dean shuddered again. Cas sighed, and entered the dream. What was this place? It was familiar. Dean was naked. His arm was unmarked, but he was covered with blood. Very little of it was his.

Oh. They were here again, then. Their true first meeting. Not on Earth, but in Hell. After Dean had been here for months of human time, years upon years of subjective time. After he had broken. So he resisted, when he finally understood that someone had come to take him out. He had believed that he didn't deserve to be saved.

That was why Cas had had to grip him so hard, so hard it burned a mark into Dean's flesh. Dean had resisted him, and tried to stay in Hell.

Why had Castiel not remembered that?

Be still , his angelic voice had pierced even the shrieking racket of Hell, and the frightened, angry human had gone limp in his hands, so that the angel could finish dragging him out, finish rebuilding him, and leave him in his burial box to rebirth himself out of the ground.

Cas had thought he'd never have to see this human being again. He'd fulfilled his orders in the battle of the Apocalypse. He had gone into Hell and come out again.

But then his superiors kept sending him back to check on that human being. And then the poor psychic woman had gotten hurt, when Dean in his turn tried to learn more about who Castiel was.

Now, in this dream retelling, Cas changed what he said. Be calm and hear me, he said instead. In the future you will believe me. This place is not the truth of you. Wake up out of it now.

He put his hand on Dean's shoulder, and gave it a squeeze, just enough to feel in his sleep.

"Dean," he said, and Dean opened his eyes.

He was leaning close, so as to touch Dean's shoulder, but Dean only blinked up at him instead of his typical startled or annoyed reactions. The shadow of his dreams, which were memories, dispersed with a few blinks, and Dean was here, with him, and smiling.

"Hey there," he murmured. Then, raising his eyebrows, "Do I smell food? Did you bring me food?" already sitting up in interest.

"It was made by Sam, Charlie and the internet," Cas said, smiling. "They claim that it's edible. I thought you might also like a beer."

Dean seemed more tickled by the idea of being served in bed with a tray than anything else. He ate the soup and the toast and drank the beer, but when Cas asked him if he wanted any more, he shook his head and lay back in his bed, still looking at Cas with a bemused expression.

"You know," Dean said suddenly, "when we were all talking about - what happens when one of us dies."

Cas tried to answer but Dean grimly went on. "I remember what you said, Cas, you said that you'd go wherever I went. And I said, at least, at least in theory - that to be together in one body, by saying Yes - that could be an answer. A way to live together. But... we were forgetting about this , weren't we? Both of us." He gestured at his arm with something like contempt. "Even if I wanted to, I'm not fit to be a vessel anymore. And we know what I'll become, in the end, don't we? You can't keep that promise, Cas. I would want you to kill me. But by then I don't know if you'd be able to. Whether you could bring yourself to do it or not, I'll be strong and mean and I won't let you."

"It’s a cruel request to make of me," Cas said. "I understand it, and I understand why you ask me. But it's still cruel, Dean."

Dean averted his eyes. "I know it," he muttered. "I'm sorry."

He thought Castiel was calling him cruel, and that wasn't what he thought at all. What was he going to do? Dean couldn't be persuaded by words. Or could he? Suppose there were a way to hold Dean willingly still so that he would listen?

"I haven't even thanked you, yet, for what you've done for me," Cas said, changing the subject. "My wings. Would you like to touch them?"

"What…?" He had Dean's undivided attention, now. He was sitting up, eyes wide, his longing clear to be read on his face. "Are you serious…?"

"I'm usually fairly serious," Cas informed him, and as sometimes happened, was startled by Dean's sudden laughter at something he hadn't known was funny.

But it was clear enough that Dean's answer to the question was yes, he did want to touch them. He looked at Cas in hushed amazement as the angel - oh, so carefully - let them manifest in the planes intersecting with Dean's physical reality. He did it slowly, to keep them from cutting anything apart to make room for themselves - they were very big, fully healed, strong and gleaming.

"See what you've done?" he asked Dean, smiling.

Dean's eyes, wide in wonder, were a sight Castiel would treasure, whatever happened. He seemed to forget everything in this amazement.

"Soft," he said, and his fingertips were gentle enough for a butterfly's wing, even though what he was touching was as strong as the bones of the world. Cas stretched the wing out so that Dean's fingers slid through moving feathers. Dean caught his breath, bit his lip. "They're - You're - " He was struggling to express himself; that in itself was something of a gift. Cas waited patiently.

"I can't tell what color they are," Dean said finally. "Do they have a color? - That sounds like the dumbest question I ever asked."

"It's a perfectly good question. They don't really have one. Your eyes are doing their best with them, but I suppose they're just - shadow colored."

"I like that." Dean stroked the feathers carefully, working somewhat by feel, a little more firmly but always with extreme care. Cas hummed with pleasure and let Dean mesmerize himself worshipfully playing with his manifested wings.

He'd thought that perhaps Dean's interest would turn sexual - had been half hoping so - but that didn't seem to occur to Dean. Dean was reacting to them in a more childlike spirit - wonder mixed with acceptance. That was all right. It was still love and touch, and pleasure for both of them. This level of intimacy was unheard of, even among those angels who had mated with humans in times past.

"Let me tell you a story," he said, softly.

***

Dean hardly heard what Cas was saying to him at first. It wasn't that he wasn't paying attention, it was that his attention was so filled up that he was slow to catch up to it. He held on to those shivery-dark, soft, warm wings and tried to listen.

"This is a story about a story," Cas told him. "A story that wasn't true. That's the first thing you need to know.

"A boy was born, beloved of his parents, but burdened by Fate. Pain and fire struck down his house, and he was given his brother to carry, but also a story. The story was much heavier than the baby.

"The story told to the boy was this: that he wasn't enough. His father told it often, but he heard it in other places. He carried his burdens admirably, but the story never changed.

"Burden after burden was placed upon him. He was made into a soldier, and soldiers kill. He could do what he had to. He could do it well. But still the story didn't change, even when no one was still telling it, he felt its false truth. It was like a spell, wrought over time, like water dripping in a cave, clouding the vision of his heart. He could love others, but not himself."

Dean knew perfectly well what Cas was trying to do, or at least that he was talking about Dean, but he had no idea where he was going with this. He was too comfortable to want to move, his fingers stroking those amazing dark feathers, and Cas' soft voice was soothing in his ears. He could wait till the end of the story and then tell Cas he was wrong. Might as well let him finish, hear him out.

"He was very, very good at loving others. There was never so warm and loyal a heart, never. That's what made him part of the larger story, that burden of Fate. Through living his painful life the boy became a man, the righteous man. He broke in Hell, but why was he there? For love. For love, and for the story: that it was all on him to protect everyone he loved, no matter the cost.

"That's where I came into this story, Dean. I don't know how to refer to myself in the third person. - I found you there, and you resisted me, even in Hell you believed the story that you belonged there. Just the fact that I was there to find you was proof otherwise, you know. But your belief was very strong. It affected others, but not me. I could see you.

"I'm sure you must know that if I had been there, I would not have let you take this on. I would have done anything to prevent it." His fingers were cool on Dean's arm, and Dean jerked back, involuntarily, before settling. Cas was letting him fondle his wings. The least Dean could do was let Cas touch his stupid, disfigured arm, if he wanted to so much.

"Had to," he muttered, because it was true - about the Mark, and about going to Hell both. Never mind all this guff about stories. Some shit had to get done the hard way if it was going to happen at all.

"In the story, yes, he had to," said Cas, sort of agreeing and disagreeing at the same time. His wings were making a soft, distant rustling sound, like wind in the leaves. The way wind in the leaves could sound like an ocean. Dean leaned his face into them and breathed in.

"And so he did, and bravely, though it caused him pain, and pain to those who loved him. But then - the reason he had taken it on was no more. He slew the Knight, and then…? More suffering. More death. Those who loved him were not content to leave him to this, though he struggled and tried to insist that the story was true. They brought him home. But still, for all his pain and sacrifice, he was left with this."

Again, Cas touched the Mark on his arm. Dean stared down at it. There was a soft light filling the room. It made the shadow feathers stand out more crisply in contrast.

"And it was doing him needless harm. The weight, the burden of this story, this Fate, was unjust, unbalanced. But I know another story, Dean. I know another story about this very same man, but how can they both be true? In this story I know, the man - the strong, brave, stubborn man - suffered for understanding, and selflessly cared for his loved ones, exerting himself for their safety and even their pleasure, with no expectations for himself. He gave love without shame. And throughout this story he had that Mark, but because he'd forgotten it, he didn't feel bound by its story. He could do all this, because the story had never been true, and he was always enough. Always."

Dean thought, Oh fuck, now I'm gonna cry. There was a lump in his throat and his eyes were hot. If… If Cas was trying to do some kind of therapy mojo on him, or something, it wasn't… He wasn't… Okay he was crying a little. Cas leaned in and kissed his face. Was he seriously kissing Dean's tears? He snorted. It tickled. It might have been romantic or whatever but it tickled.

"I don't know the end of the story yet," Cas said. "But I know the middle, if that's where we are now. The middle definitely has a part where someone who loves you does something for you, Dean. And not because of orders.

"I hope you won't feel I've been cavalier with your gift to me. I hope you understand that a gift given is the recipient's to do... whatever they see fit. I don't think you'll be pleased with me, somehow, but this is my story: I am doing what needs to be done, for love, for you. For a future that isn't just some cruel promise that has to be kept. For us."

Dean's sleepy comfort had vanished sometime during this last speech. He was now wide awake with alarm.

"Cas, what are you up to?" he demanded.

"This," and Cas leaned in to kiss him, his hand still on Dean's arm -

The room started to turn inside out, but slowly. Gravity seemed to be not quite on, not quite off. Dean tried to shout, but he couldn't breathe.

Something was exploding around him.

Something was writhing inside him.

Something was shoving at Dean's eardrums, a supersonic shriek. Something was burning -

The wings, oh God, Cas' wings were shattering like frozen glass, the feathers turned to dead things, filling the air around them. And at the same time, the burning ache in his arm was intensifying, rushing backwards, hauling at all his blood as it screamed out of him in fire, burning the shattered fragments of angel feathers. Oh God, Cas' wings, his beautiful wings.

The Mark of Cain left him, and Dean hardly even noticed.

"Cas," he cried out in anguish. "No, oh my God baby, no," reaching out as though there was anything whatsoever he could possibly do. "Oh my God why," though he knew why, though Cas had just gone to a lot of trouble to tell him why, Dean just hadn't realized until now that that was what he had been doing.

It had to hurt Cas, there was no way it wasn't agonizingly painful, but goddamnit, he was smiling.

"We're still inside the box," Cas said, his voice raspier than ever. "You and me. Gabriel said he couldn't do anything about the Mark… That meant that I could."

"Cas, your wings," Dean mourned, too distraught to worry about the fact that he was crying like a baby now. "What the fuck, how could you, after all that - you were so happy - "

"I am still happy, Dean," Cas told him. "I'll always know that happiness. And more than this, I have hope. I could do what I wished, with my gift, and that was what I wanted. This. You," Cas' fingers rubbed at Dean's arm, and he looked down at it, seeing his skin without that ugly thing like a burn or a brand. Cas tightened his fingers, and Dean looked back up to his face.

"My wings are as they were before. Thanks to you, I know they're not dead. They're only damaged. They will regrow. Just, more slowly. As it is now… well… perhaps someday, if you want to, if you ever felt ready… we could share them. Again." He laughed a little, self-conscious as anything, and Dean could see his ears turning pink with embarrassment.

The thought of it, which he had offered as a possibility when talking to who he thought was 'Deanael', was no longer the terrifying, rapey insult that being a potential archangel's vessel had always seemed like to Dean. Just because consent was required didn't make it any nicer, he'd thought. It didn't even make it all that less rapey seeming. Just more rulesy, like BDSM. Once they conned you into saying Yes, look the fuck out.

That was long ago and far away, now, though. What Cas was talking about was different from that. And it didn't sound so bad at all. Though… not yet. Not while having two bodies was still such a good thing. They could wait till Dean was pretty old, he knew for a fact he'd be a handsome old guy.

"Someday," he agreed cautiously. "Yeah. I think someday that could be okay."

He looked around, and finally registered the colored lights.

"So, you're not really Sam at all, are you?" he said to the nebula.

No, it said, still sounding amused, but a little more gently than before, maybe. You know what a liar Gabriel is.

"He's really rather surpassed himself lately," grumbled Cas.  

Perhaps. You surprised him more than a little, intruding on his hiding place. And mine. But we seem to have done one another a good turn.

Dean said, "You could have done Cas one more, what the hell, why does it have to be one thing or the other?" gesturing at his now unMarked arm.

There is balance, of course. That's the entire point. I told you the truth, when I told you you two are a set of paired molecules. Castiel understands this instinctively. Don't hold it against him.

Dean groaned. More cosmic crap. What did it have to do with anything? Wasn't it just a sciencey sounding way of saying they were meant for each other?

It's a compromise. And you have to admit that he told a compelling story. This way there's a happy ending… Eventually. And there's one extra gift that you're getting for free. If I don't tell you what it is, you won't even know. Releasing you from the Mark of Cain changed Charlie's fate.

Dean had no idea what this meant. He looked to Cas, but Cas shook his head. "What are you talking about?" when it seemed obvious the nebula was waiting to be prompted to go on.

In the now abandoned timeline, it said, twinkling as much as ever, Sam goes behind your back to Rowena for help in removing the Mark. This requires help from Charlie and ultimately leads to her pointless, violent death.

Dean caught his breath sharply. It was just the sort of thing he had been fearing. He hadn't felt that all this could have been worth what Cas just sacrificed for him. But… Charlie.

Dean felt for Cas' hand and gripped it. In response, Cas leaned against him, and Dean could feel him trembling just slightly. He put his arm around Cas' back. The wings were no longer visible, they and all the fragments and dust had dematerialized while the nebula was talking. But Dean touched his back gently all the same, as though Cas had been burned.

"Okay," he said roughly. "Thanks, I guess. So what now? How do we get out of the box now?"

He figured it was an angel thing, but it said,

The easiest way is with a kiss.

"If that's all right with you, Dean," said Cas, as though he's asked for permission to do anything this whole time. Typical. He's so damn cute that somehow he still gets credit.

"It's okay with me," Dean said, and kissed him.

***

Dean and Cas reappeared in the bunker, next to the cardboard box, kissing like the final act of a movie.

Fortunately, nobody else was there to see it. Dean looked at Cas, and Cas looked at the box, and they put the lid on tight and sealed it away in the vault, but they removed the sign that said "Harmless", because it wasn't.

Then they went to find Sam and Charlie. There was a lot of looking at Dean's arm, poking and pinching Dean's arm, and annoying Dean by talking about his arm, and finally he covered it up with a long sleeve shirt and told people to shut up already about his stupid arm.

But he was smiling, in between complaints. And he was cooking again.

They weren't just talking about his arm, of course. It wasn't just a matter of prying into Dean's business. It was a legitimate question, to wonder what exactly had happened to the Mark of Cain.

But it wasn't on him anymore, anyway, so they could theorize about it just fine without pinching him and what not.

"Oh my God," said Sam, "are you making what I think you're making?"

Dean hunched his shoulders a little. It was still his instinct to be defensive. But he no longer felt like drinking, fighting, prowling, doing reckless, death-daring shit - all the stuff the Mark had found already in him and made so much worse. With that gone, just suddenly, blissfully gone, maybe he did feel like making something special. Like a cake. What was the big deal, he bought the pans ages ago. And they had plenty of eggs.

"He's making an angel food cake," Sam said to Charlie.

"Oh my God," said Charlie, and they giggled at him, like little fucking goblins.

"Well, of course if you don't ever want any," said Dean, "then sure, by all means, go on bugging me about it!" They scattered. Of course they wanted cake.

It wasn't that he didn't like pie anymore, he just thought maybe, yeah. Angel food cake.

Cas couldn't really enjoy food so much, but he could sure as hell appreciate a gesture.

***

Cas had thought it would be difficult to convince Dean not to tell Charlie about her supposed other fate, but Dean had agreed immediately. "She doesn't need to know about that. However that was gonna happen isn't gonna happen now, so... Let her live her life, who knows, maybe she isn't bound by Fate anymore."

Perhaps Castiel looked sad then, because Dean turned to him and said, "You

okay? You aren't… I mean… Does it hurt?"

Dean meant his wings, of course, and Cas assumed he was referring to physical pain. "It only hurt when it happened," he said honestly. "Now they're as they were… I can't really feel anything." He could see that this answer was no comfort to Dean. His expressive face was trying not to be woeful. "I'm fine, Dean. I am very happy. Very," stepping close to kiss him.

Dean held still for a moment, but quickly melted and returned the kiss, his hands on Castiel's hips. Cas didn't know how to express to Dean that he wasn't trying to make the best of things, that to an angel, taking the long view, they were in the process of achieving the happiest ending. They would have time to savor the future. They would experience fully-grown wings again, earned the long and patient way.

Dean would come to see it, eventually, Cas had faith.

"Could we go to your bed now?" he inquired, and Dean turned pleasingly pink.

"I, uh. I got a cake in the oven. If, if we could wait…"

"I don't know if I can wait that long, Dean," Cas said, seriously. Then he laughed at the look on Dean's face. "Yes, I can wait that long. But no longer than that."

"I thought you were gonna say you were gonna start without me."

"Oh," said Cas, "is that an option?"

"Don't you dare!"

They went into the kitchen to wait for the cake to finish baking. They decided to kiss a little, to pass the time.

They were unable to wait for the cake to finish baking.

"There's a timer on it," Dean said. "It's loud. They'll hear it and figure it out. Let's go."

(In fact, Charlie and Sam, still gaming, wouldn't hear the timer alarm for quite some time, not until it was joined by the smoke alarm, and the cake would be so burned as to be inedible. However, Castiel would dutifully eat a piece anyway and claim that he liked it. 'Interestingly crunchy' would then enter the lexicon of ways for the others to tease Dean.)

It wasn't as though Cas didn't know where they were going, but it was pleasant nonetheless to be led there by Dean holding his hand. The truth was that even if they had never done anything more physical, never even kissed, perhaps - only this touch - could even be enough intimacy to keep him truly alive - as he was now - for a very long time. But thanks to All, that wasn't all there was for them.

Dean shut and locked his bedroom door behind them. They looked at one another. Instead of resuming at the level of heat they had achieved a few minutes ago while up against the kitchen counter, Dean was a little gentler now, reaching out to undress Cas.

"I can go back to wearing my usual things after this," Cas offered, awkwardly, as Dean stripped him of his borrowed clothes. He was so used to those things, he scarcely thought of them. They had seemed part of his skin. But they weren't.

Dean said, "If you want. You look kind of cute in my clothes, though. I'm thinking I like this look best, though," grinning, because Cas was naked now, and Dean wasn't. Not yet, anyway.

"I'd like to see it on you," said Cas, unexpectedly making Dean laugh out loud, because what he had said had apparently come out cleverer than he had intended. But it was good enough. Dean was easier to undress while he was laughing.

He could take his time about it. Castiel had that luxury now, to look at Dean and to touch him, reverent on a human level, fingertips to skin. When he'd remade Dean, years before, he had erased many scars, but Dean had many new ones since then. He had not really noticed them when he was wearing Dean's body, not like this. He tried not to linger too long in fascination. Dean wasn't laughing anymore by the time he was naked. He was flushed and heavy lidded and eager, and he led Cas by the hand once more, to the bed.

"I want you inside me," he told Dean. "I want to know what that's like. And not in the body switching sense."

"Yeah, I get it," says Dean, half-laughing again. "Okay."

What Cas had gleaned about human romantic interactions was that it was ideal to directly state your desires, in order to communicate properly with one's partner. Dean seemed to find it funny when he did this, but still complied with most requests just the same.

"What are you looking for?" as Dean rummaged in his desk drawer, swearing under his breath.

"Lube. 'Cause maybe there's some universe where dudes don't need it, but this ain't it. - Ah!" producing a small bottle.

What followed felt miraculous to Castiel. What he'd asked for turned out to be less simple an act than envisioned. He was an angel, he wasn't as delicate as a human - but as even he didn't quite dare to say 'delicate' to Dean's face, he discovered how enjoyable it was to be treated as gently as a human could. Dean's fingers had gone from providing the simple intimacy of hand holding to this deft, slick invasion that brought pleasure in and kept it building there. Really, quite miraculous. There was an angle that, when Dean found it, made his cock leap a little, dripping eagerly with fluid.

Dean paused in his ministrations to dip his head down and taste this. His mouth was hot and his tongue eager and dextrous. It was so much pleasure it was becoming a torment to his senses.

When this started out, Cas was on his back. But after several minutes of moaning and then of begging, Dean judged him ready and was hesitating about what position they should be in. what would be 'easiest on' Cas. Again, it was time to be clear.

"I want you to lie on your back," Cas said, "So I can mount you. Can we do that?"

It seemed that they could.

Dean lay back, looking up at him a little anxiously as he spread lube over his cock. Cas climbed on top of him, looking down, and then reaching down to feel and guide Dean into his body. There was a momentary resistance - Then -

It was perfect. Perfect, because Cas could control enough of it to take some of the pressure off Dean, who would be worrying about hurting him, whether it made sense to worry or not. Instead they could both be free to feel this, as Dean slid inside him, as he stretched to take him in.

And it was perfect, because he could look down over Dean's body, at his face, with his hands free to touch. Gravity could finish the job of their joining, seating Dean's cock fully inside him, hot and throbbing with Dean's heartbeat.

This was different, completely different from possession or anything else, any other form of sharing. This was better than he'd imagined. He could only hope it was half so good for Dean.

"Cas," Dean murmured, gazing up at him. Cas had assumed that his being on top meant that Dean would lie still, but he didn't. He rocked his hips, slowly, spinning up the intensity. And his hands, too, were free to touch. "You're okay? Is it good?"

It seemed so obvious that it was, but it was the same as Dean did with his hands. "It's good," he told Dean. "So good. I want - More."

He didn't have to take any time to explain. Dean knew what he meant even better than he did, Cas found. Dean's hands slid to take a firm grip on Cas' hips - Cas was already learning it was one of Dean's favorite places to touch him - and then Dean wasn't lying still at all, he was thrusting up good and hard and at a steady rhythm like the galloping of horses, like the beating of swift wings.

"Oh," Cas cried out, as much in surprise as pleasure, "oh, Dean, oh, yes - " He had taken on the rhythm, sharing it with Dean, using his legs, riding him hard, and as Dean held him he leaned back into it, finding the angle that Dean's fingers had shown him before. YES, there, when he lifted up just a little as Dean thrust up, yes - oh - yes - there -

Dean closed his eyes. Did that mean he was going to come -

Castiel.

Hear me.

He. Was. Praying.

Dean's mental voice felt almost as breathless as he would sound if he were speaking aloud. He was biting his lip, a little. Looking down, Cas could see this little detail so clearly.

Oh Cas hear me. You've saved me in a million ways not even counting Hell. I'll do anything for you. I don't know about all those other worlds but in this one you're mine. I'm yours. Stay with me, Cas. Love me back. Don't leave me. Please.

Cas would have touched Dean's face, or at least over his heart, if he could have reached. But he was leaned back against Dean's bent knees, crying out with every sweet thrust. "Dean," he wailed.

"Let me see you," whispered Dean, one of his wonderful, powerful hands moving to enfold Cas' throbbing cock, and Cas arched his back and showed the shadow of his wings as he came. He let Dean see him, broken as he really was, but - not dead. His wings moved, even as his physical, human vessel convulsed and spurted his release all over his lover's skin. Cas was able to keep them from sweeping him away when they moved - but it was easy to understand how they had misbehaved for Dean, sending him out of one dimension and into another.

Dean, meanwhile, stared at the shadow, eyes wide, and Cas thought too late that Dean hadn't meant that, he had meant - of course, he had said such a thing before, he had meant the sex part, he had wanted to see him climax, but now - Dean surged forward, wrapping his arms around Castiel, and thrust hard three or four more times before going taut, trembling, moaning against Castiel's neck.

Dean was quiet afterward. Cas worried that he had done the wrong thing, caused Dean harm - but after a few minutes, Dean said softly, "They didn't look as bad as I was imagining."

Cas absorbed this, knowing that it was impossible to avoid comparing them to how they had so recently been. Then he said, stroking Dean's cheek, "I'm not sorry. It was worth it, to me. It was worth it for us." He was mindful that Dean was tired of people touching his formerly Marked arm, but Dean knew well enough what Cas was alluding to.

"I know," Dean said.

They lay together in Dean's bed, intertwined, and it was everything Cas had wanted, imagined. Only it was real. They were lovers, but more than this, Dean was saved.

Then they heard the smoke alarm going off, and the sound of running feet. Cas started to rise from the bed, but Dean pulled him back into his warm embrace. It seemed the sort of thing they should really go and put to rights, and apologize for, but Dean seemed inclined to let the others deal with it.

A minute or so later, Sam pounded on the door.

"That was really irresponsible!" he shouted. "You could've burned the bunker down with your stupid angel food cake!"

"Sorry, Your Majesty," Dean shouted back, "Next time we'll fuck in the kitchen!"

Sam made a noise of disgust impossible to render in any human alphabet and stomped away down the hall.

"We will?" said Cas, still boggling over 'angel food cake'. Dean had actually made one.

"Well, maybe not next time," said Dean, "but I'm sure we'll get around to it." He rolled Cas onto his back and nuzzled meaningfully at his neck. Cas put his arms around Dean's back and sighed in contentment.

They did, of course, get around to it. Sooner rather than later, too.

***

It wasn't like they didn't have enough excitement in their lives, but there always seemed to be a way to find more. Cas seemed to have gotten the idea somewhere that it was good for a relationship to be really blunt about sex, which was both hilarious and helpful (and only once or twice a little ego-bruising, but he always made up for that as quickly as was angelically possible.) Dean had no notion where he got that idea, it seemed like something Cas might have picked up on TV, or reading some crappy waiting-room magazine somewhere. He didn't use the air quotes, but some of the things he said sounded a little bit Dr Phil sometimes.

On the one hand, of course, it was a good thing. Really good. Cas said what he wanted, and the other side of that coin was that Dean could say what he wanted, too. There wasn't any hemming or hawing about wanting something. Cas had made it clear through example that when you wanted to be fucked, you could just ask for it. It wasn't a Thing, except in that it was a Thing You Could Ask For, and it was fine. That was pretty awesome, in Dean's view.

Of course, this kind of thing also meant that when Dean, only really occasionally, happened to call Cas 'Baby' sometimes, in the heat of the moment… Well. That led to a conversation about why Dean would call his car and his lover by the same endearment. It was also the first time Cas said the word 'lover' to him. He had a knack for that - being sweet at the same time as being blunt. It was just how Cas was.

"It's just, I call my car that because it's the nicest thing I can say," Dean tried to explain. "And you talk to it when you're trying to be nice, like hoping she'll start up, like 'come on, Baby…'" He trailed off.

"Yes, you have said that to me," said Cas. "Recently."

"What about your pimpmobile, you liked that car enough to talk to, didn't you? What did you call her?"

"I called it 'Sweetheart'," said Cas. "Yes, I was very fond of it. And it was a 'him'."

Dean suspected Cas was pulling his leg about this, but he didn't challenge it. "I could call you that if you really want me to."

"Suppose I wanted to call you that?"

"Oh ugh, please don't." And then after thinking about it a little more, "Not in front of anybody, anyway. There's a lot of leeway in private. Within reason."

"I could call you 'cowboy'," Cas offered. Now he definitely was playing with Dean, and not just to tease. "In private."

By now, Dean had told Cas more than a little bit about those books he'd read when he was a teenager - the cowboys, the detectives. Cas had been more interested than Dean expected. He'd asked Dean to describe what he remembered - more about how he felt than what the stories were about, but they were somewhat intertwined by now.

All these other worlds, these stories, some of them weren't half bad as ideas. Maybe sometime they could try playing it out. After all, there was probably a world where Cas was a certain TV doctor, and Dean was his difficult patient with a shocking, sexy secret. (The secret: Victoria's.) The thought of Cas' version of Dr Sexy, asking extremely blunt questions, was better than the original for Dean, and replaced him in Dean's fantasies.

He could imagine the worlds he'd seen - some of the worlds he'd seen. They could choose. A world where they were ordinary guys. or not so ordinary, but guys in an ordinary world, with ordinary lives, finding each other somehow, by chance, a fleeting glimpse, recognizing something in a pair of eyes. Something they never knew they'd been missing at all, but they'd been looking for all the time. But they only knew it when they saw it. Or heard it. Or touched it.

Maybe they would meet when they were young, not knowing anything about the world. Maybe when they were old, knowing a little too much. Maybe there was a world where Cas was a musician, an artist, a teller of stories (he was already good at that last one.) And Dean might be his competitor, his teacher, his starry-eyed fanboy. Dean could easily imagine a world where he was a mechanic, or maybe a fireman. Cas could be a teacher. He was that already too. In his own weird way. A world without any supernatural crap in it at all. Or maybe a world with nothing but supernatural crap, and no normal people of any kind. Maybe in that one, Cas was the only human. What would Dean be? Just not an angel, please. Not a creepy dark upside down one, anyway. And also, not a vampire. Not sparkly or any other kind. He'd be something Cas would normally fight, or hunt, or fear. But this one time, everything would be different.

Or the best one, a world where the two of them were those cowboys, the same ones as in the book Dean read, friends that fell in love before they knew what was happening to them - but one of them was secretly an angel. 'Be not afraid' or something like that, he might say when his buddy happened to see his wings one strange night, and maybe he'd be afraid a little , at first, but when the angel cowboy had been around a while, for good and for bad, with secrets and with truth, he and the other cowboy would realize one night that what they had was love, no matter what you wanted to call it. And those two cowboys, after a lot of adventures and hardships, maybe some misunderstandings, in the end, when all was said and done, they just might ride off together someday, into the sunset, and find themselves a happy ending.

"I could live with that."

***

Charlie found her own way to Ev, and after she had been there a few times, told her friends that she'd met someone and was moving there full time. "If anyone ever, ever shows up and asks," she said, "please tell them that the Queen of Moons is a real, actual factual title on Earth, okay? It would really help me out."

More angel food cakes were made, most of them unburned, and were devoured. Sam loved to make fun of Dean for it, but turned out to have a taste for angel food cake himself. All those egg whites. It was healthier than pound cake, at least.

The cardboard box remained where it was, though if they had thought to look inside that particular vault again, they would have found the lid hanging slightly off the box, and a hastily scrawled note attached.

The note was full of nonsense, probably meant to misdirect anyone who read it. It described a lengthy trip someone apparently meant to take, but half of the items on it were scribbled out or illegible in the first place.

One of them said "Write a song". Another one, heavily underlined, just said "Call sister. Apologize."

Whoever had gone to this trouble with the note had done it for nothing, though, because they never opened that vault again. They had enough weird crap in their lives.