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It was Always You

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Sam's fingers flashed across his keyboard before several windows popped up on his laptop. "Shouldn't Cas be on his way?" he asked without turning around, his brow slightly creased as he skimmed the articles.

Dean shuffled his duffel bag aside on his bed and checked the inventory. "Yeah, that was the last message he'd left—" he turned around to face his brother, "over a week ago."

Sam paused and glanced over his shoulder. "Have you tried calling him? That doesn't seem so… Cas-like. You know, usually when he says he's on his way, he'll just… show up."

"You don't think I've tried?" Dean's voice was sharp and gruff with annoyance. "Besides, Cas said he had some stuff to do first. Didn't say how long it'd take, just that he'd be here when it was over." Dean sank back onto the bed and began to dig around for a clean shirt.

"Dean, even though Castiel's an angel, do you think he'd take that long? What if something happened?"

"C'mon, this is Cas we're talkin' 'bout."

"Still, I'm starting to get worried," Sam said, looking to his brother with sweeping brows.

Dean sighed and picked up his cell phone. "All right, I'll try again," he held the dialing phone next to his ear, "and I'll let him know how much you've missed him spooning you." He winked.

Sam simply sighed.

After a few rings, the call went to Castiel's voicemail.

"Hello." A long pause followed. "Dean, is this the part where I say my name?" Beep.

"Hey, Cas, it's Dean. Again. How are things holding up on your end? I know you said you needed some personal time to yourself, but mother hen here wants you back home."

"Hey!"

Dean smiled at his brother. "Anyway, if you're done with whatever you're doing—maybe a blonde or brunette with four inch stilettos—we're at Motel 9, room 420." Dean cleared his throat as he turned away from Sam. "And Sam misses the curve of your spine and your breath on his neck," he rambled off quickly before ending the call.

"Dude! Not cool!" Sam yelled at an amused Dean.

"C'mon, Sammy, we all know you were thinking it," he said through laughter with a wink, only to sputter when a magazine was tossed at him. His stint of self amusement ended abruptly when a knock came at the door.

Sam and Dean exchanged looks.

"You call for delivery?" Dean asked, his expression suddenly serious.

"No. You?" Sam looked like he was ready to leap out of his chair.

"No," Dean replied, cocking the gun he had slipped out from the duffel bag. He lowered his arm, concealing the weapon with his thigh as Sam went to answer the door. Dean gave Sam a nod as he looked at him over his shoulder.

Sam let out a soft breath before pulling the door open. Though he was used to seeing decapitated heads, dismembered limbs, guts and bloodshed, he hadn't expected to see something that was so unusually… normal.

A woman with a mess of long, dark waves of hair stood at their door, clothes dishevelled and dirty.

"Can I… help you…?" Sam asked with hesitation, his hand still gripping the door.

The woman's eyes wandered up to meet his gaze and her startling blue eyes shone with recognition. "Hello, Sam."

Sam's grip tightened, just as his eyebrows scrunched together. "How do you know my—"

She didn't bother to hear him finish his sentence as her gaze wandered past him into the open doorway, craning to see the familiar figure that sat hunched on the bed. When their eyes met, the edges of her lips turned up in the slightest, not that that was even noticeable.

"Hello, Dean."

In that moment, Dean's eyes widened, and as soon as his name left her lips, he knew, without a doubt, who she was. "Cas…?" He slowly rose to his feet.

Sam snapped around to look at his brother before turning back to the mysterious woman who stood just outside their door. "Cas… Castiel…?"

"Yes, Sam," Castiel finally broke her gaze from the older Winchester and peered up at the towering man before her. "May I come inside?"

Chapter Text

Sam blinked before common sense settled in. “Oh, yeah, of course,” he said with a nod. He backed up and swung the door open, allowing Castiel to pass, and as he was closing it behind her, he turned to look at his brother and mouthed the words: ‘What the fuck?!’ his eyes wide with a discernible crease between his arched brows.

Dean shared his brother’s bewilderment but kept on his gameface. “Cas, what happened?” His eyes swept over her. “How did you…”

Castiel glanced around her new environment as Dean tried to form his question, her pace slow. “I was ambushed,” she said simply, her eyes finally settling on Dean’s familiar frown. Unlike the deep resonant voice of her male form, her current vessel sounded feminine, befitting for the frame of her size and soft features. She sat on the bed across from Dean before resuming. “I was in Oregon.”

Like I had mentioned, I needed some personal time to myself. What I had failed to mention, was that I was responding to a call on Angel Radio.

Castiel stood at the edge of an abandoned truck stop as he searched the skyline of trees. To his right, a gold Toyota Corolla was parked haphazardly, cradling two pumping lanes. He took a step forward before pausing at the sound of a rumbling freight truck imminently approaching. It screeched to a stop nearby.

The engine was killed and a man lowered the window to wave at him. “Hi, there!” he yelled out; he squinted despite wearing a hat, evident that it failed to shade him from the sun’s glare.

“Hello,” Castiel responded.

“You don’t happen to know where the next truck stop is, do you? I was hoping to fuel up here, but the map I have is a little outdated,” he said with a laugh. “Don’t trust those new forms of GPS, you know? Big Brother watching you at every move.”

“I’m sorry, I’m afraid the next stop isn’t for several miles. It might require another half hour drive, at the least.” Castiel noticed a small boy next to the man who peered at him curiously. He appeared to be four or five.

“Dagnabbit, I knew I shoulda fuelled up on our last stop!” The trucker slapped his hand across the wheel with a sigh. “Good thing we’ve got a few bottles of water here to keep us hydrated, and a couple of hoses to keep us dry,” he said, laughing at his own joke. “Ain’t that right, son?” The boy next to him joined in his laughter and nodded, high-fiving the presumed father. “You having car trouble there, buddy?” The man turned back to Castiel and eyed his vehicle. “Do you need a ride somewhere?”

“No, it’s fine, thank you.”

“You sure, pal?” The man arched a brow and scratched at his temple before adjusting his cap.

Castiel looked to the sky with terse brows. “Yes. You should leave. Now.”

The man cleared his throat. “All right, then,” he muttered as he started the engine, “suit yourself.” Barely pulling around the pumps, the wheels squealed to another stop, causing the lumbering truck to lurch forward before falling back on its thick tires. “Jesus Christ, man!” the trucker yelled. “The hell did you come from!” Castiel turned to see a man standing in front of the truck’s path. “You wanna get yourself killed!?”

“Tabbris.” Castiel's eyes widened ever so slightly before he approached him. “It was you.” He stood not five feet from him, his brows stitched together above his intense eyes.

“Castiel.” Bright teeth peeked between the crack of Tabbris’ smile. It was an expression that suited his vessel—a man who was in his twenties—but it made him appear boyish, even through the facial hair. “I was hoping someone would respond. I’d tried before, but to no avail. To think you were the first one to finally appear.” He chuckled.

“What did you mean by ‘finding salvation’? Heaven is in ruins and God is nowhere to be found.” Castiel’s narrowed gaze was fixed on him.

“Exactly. Which is more the reason—”

Two loud and prolonged honks interrupted them. The two turned to look.

“Hey! You guys mind getting out of my way? Take your little chitchat somewhere else!” the trucker yelled as he hung halfway out his window.

“Sorry,” Castiel responded loudly over the rumbling engine. He shifted several feet to the side.

Tabbris strode towards him with a soft chuckle and a small shake of his head. “You always had a weakness for humans.”

“You were saying?” Castiel ignored his remark, his voice just as loud as the truck finally thundered past.

“Like you said, Castiel, Heaven is in ruins, and God is absent. There are only a handful of us remaining, and without a Creator, how will we flourish? We’re a dying breed. But, oddly enough, we’re not the only ones affected by all this mess, are we? Even Hell’s throne stands cold.”

Castiel lowered his eyes in thought, knowing this all to be true. “Yes.”

“Angels and demons alike have formed factions, some even allying together. But, what are they fighting for?” Tabbris took a step closer towards Castiel, causing him to peer up at him. “Salvation, brother, salvation.”

Castiel lowered his eyes as the words sunk in; he listened to the truck come to a break before it would turn onto the road. He peered up at Tabbris again. “…How?” Castiel finally asked.

Tabbris’ smile finally broke out into a wide grin, his teeth sparkling against his olive complexion. “We are not alone, Castiel. Things that are beyond our comprehension—of God, gods, deities; beings that possess those powers or more—are here to offer their guidance.”

“Anything that could possess a power as great as that would be an archangel, and that would be unlikely.” Two were dead—Gabriel and Raphael—the latter killed by Castiel’s own hands. Lucifer was MIA, but he could have very easily been dead without them knowing. And Michael, he’d presumably been driven to insanity, trapped in the Cage. It was unlikely he would ever resurface and be the shining leader he once was.

“Not an angel. Nor demon. We don’t have a name for them in this world—because they’re not of this world.”

“I… I don’t follow.” Castiel canted his head with narrowed eyes.

“They’ve slipped through a rift from another world, an entirely different plane of existence. They’ve seen what has become of this world and they’re offering their services to salvage what remains. We can be saved, brother. They need strong angels, like you, to help build a greater Heaven than what we have—what we’ve ever had. Join me, Castiel,” he offered his hand to him, “together we can bask in the glory of our Saviours.”

Castiel raised his gaze from his brother’s hand and met his eyes. “What if I don’t?”

“It would be an unfortunate loss for us, and a deeply remorseful regret for you.”

“I think I’ll pass. Remorse for something as abstract as that seems doubtful.”

Tabbris chuckled softly as he swept his grey tweed blazer back and tucked a hand into a trouser pocket. “No, Castiel, it will be devastatingly regretful.”

As if on cue, there was a scream. Castiel snapped his head to where the truck remained stationary, only to witness the driver being dragged out by a couple of men while a few others stood idle.

“Help!” the man yelled before he was punched in the gut. He moaned and lay on his side momentarily till he was surrounded, hidden from the angel’s view as he yelped and groaned from unseen attacks.

Castiel’s eyes were round and blazing as he turned back to his brother. “Tabbris, you’d go so far as to use the life of an innocent bystander for blackmail?”

Tabbris smiled and raked his fingers through his dark locks, only to have them drape down by his youthful face again. “It’s only ‘regretful’ now; it hasn’t reached ‘devastating’, yet.”

Castiel didn’t waste another second, stalking over towards the gang as he dropped his arm where his hidden angel blade fell from his sleeve and into his awaiting grasp.

“It’s not too late to change your mind, Castiel!” Tabbris called after him.

As Castiel neared, he realised he was dealing with something more.

He reared up behind the closest man and clamped a firm hand on the back of his skull. Like a knee-jerk reaction, the man arched backwards as a yellow glow began to shine through his blackened eyes and agape mouth. The light only grew stronger before it illuminated his entire face, and his once tense form grew limp, finally to collapse to his knees before crumpling to the ground. The others drew away from the trucker and turned to face Castiel; a few of them bore the same obsidian eyes.

There was a swift movement at Castiel’s side, but in one fluid motion, the angel blocked with a raised arm and buried his blade into the chest of a fellow angel. A glowing light emanated from his fallen brother like it had the demon’s before flickering out.

“God, save me from this devil…!” the man sputtered as he was raised by the front of his shirt; blood coated his teeth and dripped down his chin.

“Angel, actually,” she corrected him with a slight undertone and a roll of her eyes. “And I’ll drop Him the memo.”

Castiel was gripped from behind before he could launch forward, his arms pinned down. He sent the assailant soaring with a shrug and proceeded when he was lunged at from the side, a blow managing to connect with his jaw and another to his ribs. As soon as he had lost his momentum, another joined at the assault, blasting a dark force from behind to leave the angel bowled face down on the pavement just a few feet from the human. The angel blade remained in Castiel’s grip despite that as he dug it into the ground to anchor himself upright.

“Help!” the man pleaded as he looked towards Castiel, the desperation in his eyes to match.

“Daddy!” the boy screamed as a demon lurched through the open driver’s door and snatched at him.

“Danny!”

The female angel weaved her fingers through the man’s hair and yanked back, eliciting a yelp. “Will you join us, Castiel?”

“Never,” his voice rumbled low, his eyes angled like daggers. He sprang forward towards them but halted at the sight of a familiar face. Her dark hair was worn differently, and her outfit appeared out of place to him, but she had the same blue eyes, not unlike his own.

That moment had only been a couple of short seconds, but that was all it took for things to move quickly downhill.

“Daddy!” the little boy cried as he was being wrangled off by the demon.

Castiel heard a loud snap, forcing him back to the present. He flicked his eyes from the boy to see the man’s body discarded in a heap and his neck warped. Gritting his teeth, the muscle along Castiel’s jawline flexed, and he directed his steely eyes at the culpable angel.

“Was that enough incentive?” she asked with a wry smile.

Castiel heaved in a breath, his shoulders quaking as he stood in his spot.

“I take that as a no?” She extended her arm to the side, allowing her angel blade to drop into her hand just like Castiel had before her. An angel and demon flanked her sides while the boy remained crying in his captor’s arms, a relatively untouchable distance from the impending fight.

Castiel let out a grunt and dashed forward. His blade sliced through the air as he danced around the three; metal clashed against metal, periodically punctuating their snarls and exerted grunts. A quick step and a jab later left him faced with two. He may have still been outnumbered, but he was strong enough to defeat the average demon and angel. However, they were not typical. Whatever Tabbris had alluded to in his wordy speech, was capable of strengthening them so much so that left Castiel drained.

The female angel hissed as Castiel managed to raze his blade across her hand, causing her to snap back. Though, this small feat was incomparable to the damage they had managed to inflict on him.

Castiel wiped at the cut on his lower lip, leaving the hem of his sleeve tinged in red. His temple had taken a hard blow where a large gash openly wept, the blood threatening to blind one of his eyes. But, the most damage lay where it wasn’t obvious. He had sustained a few broken ribs and was sure an organ had ruptured, cause for the intense pain in his abdomen.

He spat the blood out that had pooled in his mouth. “Let the boy go; you don’t have to do this.” Castiel wavered on his feet as he squared himself.

The other blond crony projected forward at the injured angel. After Castiel had deflected some of his attacks, he was finally clipped in the cheekbone that sent him reeling to the ground. The smirking blond towered over him as he watched him roll to his side. When he had shuffled close enough, Castiel snapped his blade out and lashed at his achilles heel. He roared and dropped to his knees before Castiel delivered a finishing strike to the back.

The remaining angel licked her lips nervously and took a retreating step from Castiel as he staggered to his feet, his eyes set on her. From behind her, a quick exchange was done with the boy, being passed off into the arms of the blue eyed brunette, and allowing the demon to join the other angel. Castiel exhaled sharply as he warily eyed the newcomer.

“It doesn’t have to end this way, you know,” Tabbris said from behind him.

Castiel glanced at him from over his shoulder and shuffled back, leaving him enough distance to keep them all in his line of sight. The pain in him was getting to be more intense; he could barely stand on his feet. Four remained and he knew that was a fight he would lose. His eyes darted from each one of them to his surroundings. He’d need a distraction, something to at least get him out of that situation alive.

“Need I remind you,” Castiel remained hunched over as he clutched at his abdomen, “I was God’s Chosen.” He rose slowly to his full height, an essense of bluish white light radiating around him and piercing through the orbs of his eyes and palms of his hands. The standing four stared in awe at his form, witnessing the shadow of his tattered wings unfolding behind him. It hadn’t been enough time for the angel to manifest enough of his power, considering how little of his grace remained, but when he was at his limit, he launched a glowing ball of light in the midst of the closest three.

He shot forward without waiting for the results, cringing against the agonising pain as he grabbed hold of the female who was keeping the boy. She raised her face to him after she had shielded it from the damaging light, revealing she hadn’t been affected. Her eyes were wide.

“You’re coming with me,” Castiel grunted.

They scurried across as the ball’s light slowly dissipated, leaving the demon and two angels doubled over and moaning.

Castiel slumped into the driver seat of his Corolla. “Get in,” he ordered her. She immediately ducked in with the boy in tow and slammed the door shut. Castiel rolled his eyes at her as he started the ignition. “Put on your seatbelt.” He slammed on the accelerator before he heard a click.

Tabbris and his remaining crew had recovered by then, and their eyes were set on his car.

Castiel skidded past them as they dashed towards him, demon and angel adding a poor jump attempt when all they had succeeded in was a dull thud and roll off the hood. He passed the freight truck and yanked the wheel hard as he turned, causing the tires to squeal before he peeled out onto the open road.

The little boy continued to cry as he sat restrained on the woman’s lap.

“Where did you find your vessel?” Castiel kept his eyes on the road as he drove. By then, he could only open his left eye partway because of the swelling of his darkly bruised cheek.

“What? This meat suit? Craigslist,” she said with a shrug.

Castiel narrowed his eyes at her and tapped his angel blade against the dashboard. “Try again.”

Her wide blue eyes darted to the weapon before they flicked to black. They returned to normal when she met his gaze and she quickly ran her tongue over her dry lips. “It was in the back alley of an LA nightclub. I took it off the hands of another demon; i-it was already used when I got to it, I swear!”

“I know,” Castiel tucked the blade next to him by the door and gripped the wheel with both hands, “I was the first she had willingly permitted since the turn of the century.”

She laughed. “You squatted in this thing? Y2K must have been a crazy year for you.”

“No, it was 1901.”

She laughed again and stared at him; his expression remained stony and unchanging. “Damn, you’re serious.” She chuckled. “I thought this old girl was put through a bit of wear and tear, but she has been around. Talk about a dirty birdy.”

Castiel said nothing. He didn’t understand himself what had happened since he had left her body over a century ago.

“Don’t think of trying anything funny,” Castiel suddenly warned her.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Castiel kept his eyes forward. “Open the glove compartment.”

She hesitated for a moment but hastened when he darted her a look. A few things rattled forward, including a pair of handcuffs that slipped to the edge. She pulled them out.

“Put them on.”

She drew a breath as her fingers brushed over the demon binding sigils.

“Put them on!” Castiel repeated. He coughed and swallowed the blood that came up.

She snapped the cuffs on with reluctance. “You can’t keep me here. Y-you don’t need to go this far; I said I wasn’t going to do anything!”

“Your word means little for a demon,” he glanced to her, “and you know it.”

She shut her mouth.

“Daddy! I want my daddy!” the boy cried.

Castiel glanced at him from the corner of his eye, trying to juggle his focus between the boy, his pain and the road, and the sassy demon.

“I’m sorry, he’s gone.”

The boy wailed louder. “I want my daddy!

“What a charmer. You must be great at parties.” The demon snorted.

Castiel glanced at her before settling his gaze uncomfortably at the sobbing boy. He said nothing and peered out his side window to see buildings looming in the distance. “Once we reach the city, we’ll find a police station for you. They’ll know what to do from there.”

“No!”

“But… there isn’t anything else I can do. It would be in your best interest.”

The boy keeled forward and sobbed harder. “I want my daddy, I want my daddy!” he chanted.

“Do something,” Castiel said, his voice taking on the tone of a soft whine as he glanced to the demon.

She braced her arm along the edge of the window and laced her fingers together. “Not my problem,” she said with nonchalance, gazing at the scenery that whizzed by.

With a soft sigh, Castiel slowed to a stop, keeping the engine running. He grimaced as he adjusted in his seat to face the boy. “Do you like… pie?”

The boy’s sobbing lessened and he nodded.

“We’ll find a diner first and get you a slice. With… ice cream,” he added.

“À la mode,” the demon whispered, still looking out the window.

The boy slowly raised his head and peered at the bleeding angel, his face red and puffy and stained with snot and tears. “P-pwomise…?” He sniffled and raked his sleeve across his face.

“…Yes. I promise.”

The demon rolled her eyes.

The boy clambered forward and hugged him, causing the angel to grunt softly at the pain. Castiel patted him on the back with hesitation.

“Will fings be the same? Like befowr?” The boy had his head resting on Castiel’s chest and his hands just gripping the tops of his shoulders.

“I… I’m sorry, it won’t; things don’t work out that way.”

“Can’t you come wiff me? It’ll make fings bettewr.”

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“Join us, Castiel.”

The angel’s eyes widened.

The boy raised his head and stared him in the eyes. “We’re only growing in numbers.” His voice was warped with only a trace of the child in the undertone. “In time, we’ll have eclipsed humankind, demon, and angel. Passively accept and surrender your servitude. In exchange for your loyalty, you’ll be awarded with insurmountable power you could only dream of, joining the ranks of a god.”

Castiel’s brows were terse. “I’ve already had the unfortunate pleasure of experiencing that on more than one occasion, and each time has been hell for me. I guess Tabbris and the others forgot to mention that when you were scouting for angels.”

The boy let out a frustrated cry and balled his fists to his thighs like he was having a tantrum; Castiel flinched out of surprise.

“You will! You will because I say so!” The boy in his voice rose over the warped hiss. He flopped forward onto Castiel again, but instead of an embrace, his short arm pumped quickly from view at the angel’s gut.

Castiel’s mouth dropped open and his face scrunched up in pain.

The demon glanced over at him and laughed. “Yeah, I forgot to mention, the daddy-son duo was a decoy.”

Castiel pushed him off to see him clutching a bloodied Swiss army knife. Lowering his gaze, he gingerly touched where the blood seeped from the fresh wounds on his stomach. Castiel glared at him and pushed him back into the lap of the laughing demon.

The boy scrambled upright but was launched back into the meat suited demon as Castiel slammed on the gas. This only caused the demon to laugh harder.

“Open the door,” Castiel ordered, looking to her.

“What—?” Her smile slowly faded and her eyes widened as the angel held his blade towards her neck.

“Do it!” he grunted.

“All right, all right!” She fumbled with the door, only to realise that it was still locked. With a flip of the safety lock, she had it cranked open in no time.

Castiel covered the boy’s face and held him at bay as he flailed his arms and knife at him. With a forceful shoved, he sent the boy backwards and out of the moving vehicle as the demon lay pressed against her seat in stunned silence.

After a brief pause filled with just the sound of the engine, the demon turned towards the open door to follow in pursuit, but gagged when the seatbelt held her in place.

“Shut the door,” Castiel commanded.

She grabbed the handle and slammed the door shut without complaint.

Castiel tossed a pair of keys into her lap. “Take the cuffs off.” He coughed again; this time it sounded congested as it persisted.

“Gee, all right Christian Grey,” she muttered, quick to uncuff herself and dropping the cuffs to the carfloor. “Whoa! Easy there!” She braced herself as Castiel swerved through his hacking. “Now what?”

The coughing managed to ease up as Castiel swallowed and wiped the blood from his mouth. “Get the hell out of my car.” The intimidation of his gaze still bore through the blood on his brow and swollen eye.

“Don’t have to tell me twice.” She raised her head skyward as a black and cloudy vortex funnelled out of her mouth. It condensed on the roof till it found its way to the air conditioning vents and seeped out, rolling past outside the passenger window as the car sped up.

Castiel glanced to the collapsed body of his former vessel, a crease of apprehension on his brow. He was right to worry, because now that the demon had vacated her body, the effects of her previous injuries began to manifest in front of him. He pressed the accelerator to the floor, zooming past the welcome sign as he drove into the city. Finally, he swerved into a quiet back alley and parked his Corolla.

Castiel took a moment to lie back in his seat and breathe, his palm clutched against his fresh wounds. With a grunt and a grimace, he sat up and slowly unbuckled his seat belt and got out, leaving the door open. He had only managed to stagger partway around the front of the car when he stumbled, bracing himself against the hood. Sliding forward, a bloody handprint streaked across the gold paint till he reached the passenger door and yanked it open.

He fell to the floor by her legs and peered up at her. Anchoring himself on his elbow, he reached forward with his palm and pressed it to her forehead to assess her injuries. There was no harm to her major organs, only some flesh wounds and skin abrasions. He lowered his arm in another coughing fit. These were things the angel could easily heal, but he was at the limits of his grace; he was risking whether he could succeed in healing her body before making the jump into her vessel—or die trying. He had no other option.

With his fingers pointed, he touched her forehead. Soft yellow lights glowed on the areas where she had been injured before extinguishing, leaving her skin unmarred. Castiel’s hand dropped and his head lolled to the side, both of his vessels no longer moving or breathing.

After a long minute, an illuminated bluish mist began to seep from the crevice of his mouth like a gaseous waterfall; it quickly picked up speed, causing him to arch upwards till it had been completely ejected. His body fell to his side, draping his upper half inside the car while the brilliant light hovered in the air above them. Then, it redirected itself towards the woman. Her mouth slowly widened to accommodate the force of the angelic essence, her back arching and chest rising. She grew limp again when the last of it entered her and her head cradled to a stop by her shoulder. It seemed to take a few seconds for the angel to find his bearings, but when he did, his female vessel jolted up with a gasp and her eyes snapped open to reveal the same bluish essence.

Heaving, Castiel looked around her before her eyes returned to her normal blue. She glanced down to see her former vessel and Jimmy Novak's body. Quickly unbuckling her seatbelt, she reached down and pulled him up into the car with some effort as he flopped over onto the passenger seat. Castiel stepped over him as she exited the car, tucking his legs in before heaving him upright into the seat and strapping him in. Blood stained her hands and clothes, but it was only looking worse for Jimmy—or the shell of Jimmy.

She dashed back to the driver seat and slid in. The sounds of her actions were quick and decisive, almost bleeding into each other: the door slamming, the whizzing and clicking seat belt, the revving engine, and the squealing tires. Castiel drove quickly in hopes of finding a hospital. She found one within ten minutes and ploughed forward before yanking the passenger door open and snapping the vessel’s seatbelt off.

“Hello! Hello! ” she yelled at one of the idling ambulance attendants who was smoking outside. “I need your assistance! Quickly!”

The man stared at her with mild annoyance before he straightened up with surprise. Castiel rolled the body out and dumped him on the pavement before peeling out again.

“Hey—hey!”

She glanced at her rearview mirror to see him quick to discard his cigarette as he dashed forward and called for assistance. A gurney was rolled out and Jimmy was being lifted into it. She could barely make out what was happening with the distance she put between them, but it looked like he was being rushed inside.

Castiel tore her gaze away from the mirror and kept it on the road in front of her. She needed to find Dean and Sam, now.

My cell phone battery was low. I noticed I had received a message from you, Dean, during my encounter.

Castiel held her cell to her ear as she drove.

“Hey, Cas, got your message. We’re heading to Casper, Wyoming. Probably be arriving in a couple days. We’ll see you there.”

Castiel heard a beep and looked down at her screen. The battery life was down to two percent. She went to her recent calls menu and pressed on one of the many ‘Dean’ IDs that filled up her screen. She brought the phone back to her ear but only heard a strange toned beep. ‘Call failed,’ it read, the signal bar falling flat. She tried again and waited when she heard nothing. Finally, it began to ring, but it was cut short. Castiel waited in silence with creased brows. She look at her phone again to see that it had gone black. With a sigh, she dumped her dead phone onto the passenger seat and drove on.

“It’s been eight days since your message, Cas. You didn’t think to try and call us again? Charge your phone? Find a payphone? You could have told us what you were planning to do instead of going all Kill Bill on ‘em.” Dean’s voice took on a harsh edge and his frown matched.

“Uh, what he means to say, Cas, with everything that was going on with you, we could have come and helped,” Sam offered as interpreter.

“I’m sorry, Dean. At the time, there was really little to go on with Tabbris’ message. I needed to find out for myself if it was worth investigating. You and Sam were already working on a case; I didn’t want to bother you if it had turned out your help wasn’t needed.”

“Well, it turns out you did,” he said, taking a step towards her, his expression fixed in a frown. “You almost died, Cas,” his brows turned up at that and the look in his eyes looked pained, “and I wasn’t there.” He lowered his eyes and looked away.

“He’s right, Castiel,” Sam walked forward and stood by the end of the bed, “we should have been there. If you think there’s any possible hint of something worth mentioning, let us know and we’ll find time to work on it together.” He gave her a reassuring nod.

“Thank you, Sam,” she said.

Just then, Sam’s cell phone rang. “It’s the sheriff's department,” he said to Dean before answering. “Hello, Agent Graham here.” He walked away from the pair as he concentrated on the person on the other line.

Dean stepped forward and crouched down in front of Castiel, the scowl replaced with worry. “Are you all right?” His green eyes held steady as he stared into her blue eyes. They were different but the same, he thought. “You took a while to get back to us. Did Tabbris-douche follow you?” His brows tensed when he mentioned him.

“I’m fine, Dean,” she reassured him. “I don’t think that he did. I was in jail for a couple of those days.”

“What?” His eyes widened with surprise. “For what?”

“I’d been napping on the side of the road in my car for two days. Apparently, someone called the police on account of it looking suspicious.”

“For napping?”

“I was really tired, Dean.”

Dean hung his head as a smile cracked across his lips and wrinkles crinkled at the corners of his eyes. He started to laugh.

“It’s not funny, Dean. The conditions in the cell were horrible. I was sharing a cramped space with ten other women. With no privacy.”

Dean raised his head and looked at her with amusement.

“I was let go with no probable cause and without bail. Then, I had to go to a towing compound to retrieve my vehicle.”

“Was it worth it?” He looked surprised. “Why not steal another? What was the model?”

“It’s a Toyota Corolla, but that’s beside the point. I’d left my angel blade there.” Dean nodded at that. “It took me just over a day to get to Casper with a few minor stops, and a couple days to locate which motel you were staying at. I spotted your vehicle in the parking lot and asked the desk clerk for your room number.”

“And he told you?” He arched his brow.

“I told him I was pregnant with your child and that I’d found out about your romantic trysts you’d secretly been having at motels. I made it pretty compelling with how I looked and how erratic I behaved.”

Dean widened his eyes. He didn’t know what to say at the story Castiel had managed to weave about herself, them, and him and Sam. His gaze lowered to her clothes, noting that the dark patches on her shirt and pants weren’t some factory print but dried blood. And there was a lot of it.

His mouth opened and he drew a breath. He reached out and touched the embedded brownish red area on her sleeve. “Is your other vessel… is he gone?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know, Dean. In the meantime, I’ll need to wait until my grace is fully ‘recharged’ in this vessel before I even try to attempt to return to it.”

Dean peered up at her in silence.

“Dean, we gotta go.” Sam walked forward and looked to his brother. “There was another body found with the same MO outside a college campus.”

Dean lowered his eyes and sighed softly. “Yeah, Sammy.” He turned to him and finally stood. “All right. Let’s suit up.”

In a minute flat, the Winchesters were dressed and presentable in their suits and ties.

“You stay here and get cleaned up while we check this out, Cas,” Sam said.

Dean rummaged through his duffel bag before returning to her with a burner phone. “Call me if you need anything,” he handed her the phone, “and I mean it this time.”

“All right, Dean, Sam.” Castiel looked up at the blond before shifting her gaze to the long haired brunette.

She watched from the bed as the door closed behind them.

Chapter Text

Dean and Sam could see the crime scene before they'd found a spot to park the Impala. Yellow tape had sectioned off the perimeter of the lawn outside one of the buildings, but it didn't stop students from gawking and staring in horror.

The brothers pushed through the crowd before stepping past the tape and flashing their badges at one of the deputies. They eyed a man in the near distance dressed in a black uniform and a matching ten gallon hat who waved them over.

"Sheriff Schultz," Sam said.

"Agent Graham, Agent Lecter," the sheriff replied with a curt nod, his hands flexed on his hips. He led them towards the body. "Victim was Sarah McPheeter, a sophomore at this local college. Her body was discovered by a jogger sometime in the early morning. Like the last homicide, there are two lacerations to the lower back. The kidneys were removed and dumped several yards from the body." He looked up and nodded where a forensic officer was taking pictures of the discarded organs.

"When was the last time Sarah was seen?" Dean asked, peering over the sprawled out body.

"Her roommate said she'd overheard her making a call to her boyfriend confirming to meet up. That was around 8 PM last night. At around 10 PM, she had been woken up by the sound of Sarah returning to their shared room, crying. She didn't see her but heard her enter and leave within a few minutes."

"Has the boyfriend been called in for questioning?" Sam asked.

"We have yet to get ahold of him, but he remains to be our prime suspect."

"We'll need the list of the witnesses and potential suspects," Sam noted.

"I'll have one of my men get that for you."

"Excuse me, Sheriff." One of the deputies came forward and indicated that he was needed.

"Excuse me, agents. We'll keep in touch." With a nod, Schultz walked off with the deputy.

"What do you think? More than a date gone wrong?" Dean tilted his head as he examined the ground around the body.

"Could be. This is the third one—"

"Which makes it a serial killer." Dean raised his eyes to his brother. "No traces of sulphur, no readings on the EMF, no fur or claw marks, or glowing goop. Sorry to break it to you, Sammy, but what it looks like here is a botched job at kidney harvesting."

"No, Dean," Sam was adamant, "not when all three victims had their kidneys removed just to be left behind? Sarah was outside, for crying out loud. Think about it."

Dean sighed. He knew he was right, but there was little evidence of anything supernatural about those string of murders. If that were the case, he'd leave it to the local authorities so he could devote his time to more important things. "Yeah, all right, we'll take a closer look."

Dean made his way to the forensic officer as he was finishing up. "Hey, when will the body be brought to the coroner's for examination?" His gruff voice caught the man by surprise, causing him to fumble his camera. Dean flashed him his fake FBI badge to validate his line of questioning.

The officer eyed it momentarily before glancing up at him. "Probably within the hour. As for the autopsy, that may take him a few more, give or take."

"Have him give us a call when he's done." Dean handed him his card.

The deputy from before returned to the brothers as they were turning to leave. "Agent Graham? The list of the contacts."

"Thank you, deputy," Sam said with a nod, taking the paper from him.

"So, first thing's first. We check out Sarah's roommate's story. See if she knows anything about the boyfriend," Dean said.

Sam glanced down at the list as they walked. "Chrissy Marguinez."

Sam knocked at the door and waited as he heard someone shuffling from inside.

The door opened. "I appreciate you guys checking up on me, but could you leave me—oh." A young woman with brown curls and horn rimmed glasses stopped when she finally looked up to see she wasn't speaking to her fellow dorm mates.

The boys flashed her their badges.

"Chrissy Marguinez?" Sam began.

"Uh, yeah." Her eyes trailed between the badges and she nervously pushed her glasses back with a knuckle.

"I'm FBI Agent Graham, this is Agent Lecter. We have some questions about your roommate, Sarah McPheeter. May we come in?"

She nodded and let them pass before shutting the door behind them.

"I'm not sure what you want to know," she said quickly. "I've already talked to the sheriff and deputy."

"Do you know if Sarah had any enemies? Received any threats?" Sam asked.

She shook her head. "No, Sarah was great. She was so nice; everyone loved her."

"And the boyfriend," Dean finally spoke, "what's he like? He a student here?"

She sighed. "No, he's not. And honestly, I've only met him a couple of times. Sarah adored the guy. She always talked about him; never had anything negative to say. She made it sound like they were in the world's most perfect relationship."

Dean didn't flinch. "Yeah. What's he like?" he repeated.

Chrissy hugged herself. "He seemed like a nice guy, but he kinda came off as a bit of a tool to me. He'd tell the worst jokes and think he was hilarious. He'd be the only one to laugh at them—well, him and Sarah." She lowered her eyes and her voice grew quiet.

"We just have a few more questions," Sam assured her. "At around 10 PM, you heard Sarah crying when she came back from seeing him?"

"Yeah," she sniffled, "she'd been looking forward to that night for a while. She said that Marc had something important he wanted to tell her." Sam offered her the tissue box that sat on the desk nearby. "Thanks," she said, pulling one out and running it under her eyes.

"Did you happen to see anything when she came back?" Dean continued. "Did she say anything to you before leaving again?"

Chrissy blew her nose. "No." Her voice was nasally sounding, and she shook her head. "I'd pulled an all-nighter the day before; I was asleep when she got back, but she woke me up. I only heard her texting."

"How long has Sarah and Marc been dating?" Sam asked.

"A few months. Three or four, I think? Not long."

"Did Sarah have any problems in her relationship?"

"No, not that I know of," she said, shaking her head. "But if there were, I wouldn't be surprised."

Dean scrunched his eyes and blinked. "What do you mean?"

Chrissy sighed. "The first time I met Marc was at a party. When Sarah left the room, he struck up a conversation with me. I'm just saying, it felt… a little… weird. Like he was coming onto me." She shrugged. "I thought it was probably just me and never mentioned it to her."

"Thank you, Chrissy, you've been a great help," Sam said.

"Yeah." She sniffled.

The brothers turned and headed towards the door.

"He should be the next one we contact," Sam said to Dean.

"Yeah, if we can get ahold of him." Dean turned his cell phone towards him, showing him that he had already dialled Marc's number and that his call had been answered. A quiet, discernible voice on the line announced that his voicemail was full before the call was promptly disconnected.

"He works at a Gas-N-Sip about twenty minutes from here."

Sam and Dean paused and turned back to glance at the roommate.

"She'd always get a pack of strawberry Twizzlers and a coffee when she wanted to do some late night studying. That's how they met."

"Thanks, Chrissy," Sam said again.

They walked out of the dorm with a new plan.

"We'll need to get Sarah's phone to see who she was texting." Dean peered out at the gas station as he parked his car.

Sam unbuckled his seatbelt and nodded. "I'll check with evidence."

They slammed the doors behind them.

As they pushed past the entrance, a small bell chimed above their heads. A man with a scruffy beard sat behind the cash register, seeming to be distracted by something below the counter as he laughed.

"Marc Vandeberg?" Sam said as they approached.

"Yeah?" he replied with a chuckle, his focus fixed downward.

"FBI," Dean announced firmly, finally causing the clerk to snap his head up.

Marc placed his cell phone onto the counter where he'd hidden it from view watching goat videos—Dean did not look impressed. "What… seems to be the trouble, officers?" His back straightened and he fidgeted in his seat as he darted a glance between the two suited men and their badges.

"Agents," Dean corrected him, the tension on his brow making him even more intimidating; he tucked his badge back into his inner pocket.

"We're here about your girlfriend, Sarah McPheeter," Sam began.

Marc stood abruptly. "Whoa," his eyes were wide as he gestured defensively with his palms forward, "she told me she was a sophomore in college, all right? I had no idea—"

"I'mma stop you right there, Casanova," Dean interrupted.

"Sarah was found murdered this morning," Sam continued.

Marc plopped back down on his chair, stunned. "But… I just saw her last night…"

"We believe it happened sometime after you two met. We'd like to know what happened when you were together leading up to when you last saw her."

"We… went out and had dinner at an Italian place—Gio's. It was where we had our first date. I ordered the penne pasta with Italian sausage—"

"We don't need to know if you decided to share the appetizer or not, just tell us what you did after dinner," Dean interrupted a little impatiently.

"Sorry, I'm just… having a hard time processing this."

"It's okay, take your time," Sam said gently.

With a nod, Marc continued. "We came back to my place after Gio's, turned on some music, had some wine, then had sex."

"And then what happened?" Dean scrunched his eyes up slightly and blinked.

"We had sex again. First on the couch, then we moved to the bedroom. She likes this thing where—"

"Again with the details, man!" Dean looked at him incredulously. Sam resorted to lowering his eyes as he allowed his brother to be the one to voice their thoughts. "What happened after the sex? Did she leave?"

"Uh, yeah, she left."

"What time was that?"

"At around 9:40?"

"That leaves her enough time to return to her dorm, when Chrissy heard her come in," Sam said a little quietly to Dean. "Marc," Sam turned to the boyfriend, "according to Sarah's roommate, she was crying. Do you know what may have been the cause of that?"

"Oh, I broke up with her."

The brothers both raised their brows at him.

"I'd been meaning to tell her that I was seeing someone else. She was really excited to see me that night, like I was going to propose or something," he said, laughing to himself.

Dean and Sam exchanged looks.

"You took her out where you had your first date, brought her home and had sex, then broke up with her?!" Dean reiterated, his voice rising with rage. He looked right about to smack the guy.

"Well… yeah. I thought it'd be a nice way to send her off, with a good memory and some break-up sex." He looked to Dean with a nervous smile and a small laugh.

Dean put his hands on his hips and turned around. "Unbelievable!"

"Uh, unfortunately, given the situation, this would put your other girlfriend as a suspect and give her motive. We would need to know her whereabouts from the time Sarah left," Sam explained.

"Oh, no, Marissa has an airtight alibi!" Marc exclaimed; Sam quirked a brow. "She was with me. She came over within five minutes of Sarah leaving. She stayed the night. My roommate can vouch for me. He came home, like, ten minutes after her."

"He saw her?" Sam asked.

"No, he heard us having sex."

Dean turned around with bulging eyes.

Sam darted a glance to his brother before turning back to Marc. "One last thing: did you and Sarah text at all after she left?"

"No, she just called me an asshole and slammed the door real hard. That almost dropped my framed portrait of the Wyoming Cavalry. Talk about showing a little respect, am I right?"

"Okay, we're done here," Sam said quickly, taking a brisk step in front of his brother who looked like he was about to pounce. "Thank you for your time." Sam firmly guided Dean out by the shoulder.

Only when they had walked past the door did Dean break his gaze from the clerk and whip around. "What an asshole!" He beelined to his car and climbed in.

"Dean, he might be an asshole, but from the looks of it, he wasn't the one who killed Sarah." Sam followed suit and slammed the door behind him.

Dean sighed and turned on the ignition. "So where does that leave us? An unsolved murder that looks less like a monster that goes bump in the night? Not counting Marc Can't-keep-his-dick-in-his-pants."

Sam shared his sigh. "Yeah. Not exactly what I was expecting. But we still have the autopsy and Sarah's phone. We might not have much to work off now, but I'm sure we've missed something."

"I hope you're right, Sammy. Otherwise, we've got our work cut out for us." A slight tension touched at Dean's features.

Sam stared out at the road in front of him as he listened to the engine and the backdrop of Dean's classic rock. "In the meantime, we can head back to the motel. I'll get ahold of the previous victims' families and friends, see if there are any similarities to Sarah's current case." He paused. "Are things all right with you?" He glanced to his brother.

"Why wouldn't they be?"

"Um," Sam cleared his throat before approaching the subject, "all things considered, we still have an issue waiting for us."

"What?" Dean looked back at him.

Sam widened his eyes and raised his brows. "Dude." He waited.

"What, you mean Cas?"

Sam sighed. "Yes, I mean Cas."

Dean kept his eyes on the road. "Cas is fine. All he needs is a little R and R so he can get his mojo back. After we track down his old suit, he'll do a reverse Freaky Friday and things will go back to normal." Dean seemed surprisingly level headed about this, but in actuality, he wasn't. Not knowing whether Castiel's male vessel had even survived the ambush had him worried and anxious, especially with the amount of blood the angel had lost. Their current case was the only thing that he had been looking forward to as a means of distraction, but from the looks of it, it didn't seem so promising.

Sam nodded from next to him. "Yeah." He peered at his brother from the corner of his eye but said nothing else.

They spotted Castiel's gold Corolla as they pulled into the motel parking lot. It appeared a little dusty with a couple of dings on the hood, but it seemed to have held up with what the angel had relayed to them.

"I could go for some coffee." Dean sighed as he inserted the key into their room door.

Sam glanced down at his watch. "Should I go for a coffee run? Grab a couple of sandwiches while I'm at it?"

Dean turned the knob and pushed through. "Make it burgers and throw in a pie; it's been a long day—"

Both Dean and Sam abruptly stopped in their tracks and stared wide eyed in shock at the sight that greeted them.

"Hello, Dean. Sam." Castiel stood naked by the open bathroom.

They were quick to whip around to face the door they'd just shut as their faces burned scarlet.

"Cas! What the hell are you doing standing there butt naked!? Put some clothes on, man!" Dean retorted, his face growing more red through his yelling.

"I was dirty and took a shower. The clothes I was in are ruined, and there's a distinct odour emanating off of them. Should I put them back on?"

Sam focused on the ceiling. "Uh, no, you don't need to wear those, Cas. Do you mind putting on a towel, at least? Don't worry, we'll figure something out."

"All right, Sam," she said with a nod.

The boys fidgeted and waited as they heard some shuffling.

"Is it… is it okay for us to turn around now?" Sam asked.

"Yes."

Sam darted a few side glances at his brother before turning around with strong hesitation. Dean followed suit, but his gaze roamed the scope of the room before falling to his subtly swathed friend. He held his focus with a furrowed brow, but his darkening cheeks deceived him.

"Dean," Sam turned to his brother, "lend him some of your clothes for now."

"What?" Dean didn't look too pleased.

"Dean." Sam continued to stare at him.

"Fine," Dean replied with reluctance. Of course it made sense. Even though the two of them were taller than her, Sam towered over Castiel's female form by almost a foot. Dean's clothes would obviously be the more reasonable fit by default.

Castiel waited as Dean rummaged through his duffel bag for something clean; he casted a few aside after he took a whiff of them.

"Were you waiting… all this time?" Sam asked, trying to get around the naked part of the situation.

"No, I had a nap earlier. It's only been about forty minutes, but it was starting to get a little cold."

Sam lowered his head a bit and pursed his lips.

"Okay," Dean walked forward, armed with a bundle of clothes, "Dean couture by yours truly." He handed them to Castiel with a sigh.

"Thank you, Dean." She stared up at him, her gaze just as penetrating as her male vessel's.

Dean blinked rapidly and averted his eyes as he felt a warmth surface on his face again.

With Dean's heap of clothes in tow, Castiel shut the bathroom door behind her out of respect for the embarrassed brothers.

Dean let out a long sigh and rubbed at his face.

"It's only temporary," Sam said to his brother.

Dean raised his head and looked at him. "'Temporary'? How long will that be?" he asked. It wasn't just the issue about the clothes, and they both knew it. He sighed again and shook his head. "He'll need some new clothes that'll actually fit."

Some heavy metal guitar riffs interrupted their thoughts. Dean pulled out his cell phone. "Agent Lecter." He glanced at Sam. "We'll be there."

Sam raised his brows expectantly.

"That was the coroner's office. He's done the autopsy and wants us to come by."

"Uh, Dean…" Castiel opened the door to the bathroom and shuffled out. Dean had assembled an outfit he'd worn several times—a grey crew neck T-shirt paired with a red and grey plaid shirt and blue jeans. Though, the outcome wasn't as flattering on Castiel; it looked like she'd been shrunken in the dryer. Castiel shuffled forward as the pant legs dragged on the floor, only to stop momentarily to hike them up at the waist through the flopped over sleeves that were hiding her hands.

Dean watched her struggle before cracking out a chuckle.

"Dean," Sam said.

"Hmm?" Dean turned to look at him.

"The autopsy."

The sound of a loud thump caused them to turn back to where Castiel had previously been standing. They lowered their gaze to find her on her side.

"I'm okay," she said, pushing herself up.

"Cas is a walking disaster; he can't go out like this let alone walk across the room," Dean reasoned. He held out a closed fist towards Sam. "Someone has to take him shopping."

Sam grimaced slightly. "Really?" He let out a sigh and shook his head before holding his own fist out.

After three shakes in the air, the odds were in favour for the younger Winchester who hadn't even bothered to unclench his hand.

"Son of a bitch!" Dean scowled.

"I don't even know why you bother trying," Sam mumbled.

Dean glared at him.

"Anyway," Sam cleared his throat, "I'll head to the coroner's. I'll call you if I find anything," he said, already heading to the door.

"Hey! Don't think you're taking Baby!"

Sam stopped and turned around.

"Take Cas' car." Dean looked to her. "Cas, keys."

"They're by my clothes on the bed."

With a sigh, Sam trudged back in and picked up the keys. He lifted them up in the air to show them that he had them in his possession. "Okay, have fun, guys." He offered his brother a smug smile before quickly shutting the door.

Dean let out a sigh and turned to look back at Castiel. She was flicking her overgrown sleeved arm in the air. After several attempts, she finally managed to get her hand through the open cuff.

Dean pulled his Impala into a large parking lot. He had traded in his FBI ensemble for a casual one—a green military jacket, a denim shirt over a black crew neck T-shirt, and a pair of trusty blue jeans. He glanced over to Castiel who sat in the passenger seat, looking a little more well managed since he'd helped her roll up her sleeves and pant legs. At least she could get around without falling on her face for now.

"Okay, Cas," Dean pointed out her window, directing her gaze at the mall's large brick facade, "we go in, get you some new threads, and walk back out unscathed. Thirty minutes, tops."

Castiel turned to look at him. "I'm just looking to find a dress shirt and pants, tie, and coat. Why would you think it'll take that long?" She pushed open the door and climbed out, leaving Dean to silently roll his eyes in the car.

When they walked past the mall's automatic doors, Castiel paused to look around the bustling store fronts. People strolled by helter-skelter; there was a hum of voices in the atmosphere with pitches of children shrieking and crying, mothers yelling, and sharp, bubbly laughter of teenage girls. Music flitted in and out nearby, something that was nearly drowned out by the white noise of human voices but hadn't been completely lost by evidence of the thumping bass.

"What is this?" Castiel asked, her brows turning up into a frown.

"It's called a mall. I know, it's a friggin' nightmare," Dean said from behind her. "C'mon." He ushered her into a clothing department store.

Once they'd entered, sounds from the mall seemed to have disappeared, and some contemporary easy listening had replaced it.

"Have at it, Cas." Dean nudged her forward.

Castiel glanced back at him as she blindly walked ahead and bumped into someone.

"Oh, hello there!" A woman in her mid forties greeted her with enthusiasm and a wide lipstick smile over whitened teeth.

"My apologies," Castiel replied, taking a small step back.

"Oh no, that's all right, honey." She smoothed a hand over her beige dress suit. "Welcome to Monica's. Are you looking for anything in particular?"

Castiel glanced over her shoulder at Dean.

"Remember: stick to the plan!" he whispered loudly.

Castiel turned back to the overly friendly saleswoman. "Yes, in fact, I am."

Her smile brightened even more. "Good! My name's Cathy. Allow me to give you a hand and show you around." She glanced down over Castiel's form and her smile muddled into a slight frown, the tone of her voice proving to express slight judgement and disapproval. "What is it… that you're looking for?" She walked with Castiel in tow.

"I'd like a white dress shirt, a pair of dress pants, and a tie, please. Also, do you happen to have any trench coats?"

The saleswoman looked at Castiel for a moment before letting out a laugh. "Oh, honey, we've got more than just that. Don't worry, you're in good hands."

Dean caught the end of their conversation before the sound of Cathy's clacking low heels were out of earshot. He let out a sigh. "Well, looks like I'll be here for a while."

Just as the Winchester had dreaded, Castiel had been swept away to do Cathy's bidding. Thirty minutes came and passed without a trace of the angel returning, leaving Dean to wander the little kiosks out in the mall and getting himself a soft pretzel and coffee. Returning to his post after inhaling his snack, Dean checked his watch to see that it had been over an hour since they'd arrived at the mall. He sighed and glanced around, hunching forward with his elbows on a cleared shelving unit.

"This is why I don't shop with girls," he mumbled. He pulled out his phone to check to see if he'd missed any calls or messages from Sam—zilch. Dean pocketed his cell and imagined his brother nose deep over the carved up corpse—he couldn't have been more envious of him.

With one elbow propped up on the shelf, Dean cradled his head in his palm and gazed out into the store with boredom. He heard the low clacking heels before he recognised Cathy's enthusiastic saleswoman laugh.

"Oh, there he is!" she said with a wide smile, like Dean had purposefully been hiding from them.

Dean offered a forced smile and a glib chuckle in acknowledgement.

"Come on, honey, show your man what you've got on."

"Dean. His name is Dean," came Castiel's disembodied voice.

"All right, show your Dean what you've got on. Don't be shy now," the woman goaded gently.

Perking up a bit with curiosity, Dean quirked a brow.

After a couple of seconds, Castiel finally stepped out from behind the wall of clothes racks, revealing the yellow floral print sundress that draped above her knees. Not only had Cathy succeeded in outfitting Castiel in a form fitting and tasteful number, but she had also managed to tame the angel's raven locks into a partial updo that complimented her soft features and shape of her face; the natural makeup—that Cathy had forced rather than convinced onto the reluctant angel—also helped to draw even more attention to her bright blue eyes, making them glitter like crystals. The tan loafers that Castiel had kept on from the former tenant of her vessel were also replaced with brown leather sandals that were secured to her feet with a simple strappy design, winding up to a single strip and clasp around the ankles.

Dean's eyes grew wide and his elbow slid forward till it slipped out completely from beneath him. Luckily, he had the shelf to save him from falling from a greater height, but he was quick to push himself back up with just as much embarrassment.

"Is this… okay…?" Castiel asked him with terse brows. She peered down at her dress and scrunched the fabric of the skirt in her hand, thinking it felt odd, like it was lacking stiffness and weight.

Dean's gaze slowly trailed over her. "It's… uh…"

Cathy laughed. "Well, it seems to me he's lost the ability to form words; that's always a sure sign that it's a winner," she said to Castiel with a wink.

Castiel looked to Dean for approval. "Is it?"

Dean averted his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh—ahem—yeah. Sure, what she said."

"Come on, honey, let's get you on over to the checkout with the rest of your things." Cathy led the way with a little wave of her hand.

A little confused by what she had meant, Dean slowly trailed behind the two women. But, everything became clear when they reached the checkout counter.

"Um, really, all of this is unnecessary." Castiel raised her hand in objection as the cashier began to ring through various dresses, blouses, and underwear.

Dean raised an arched brow at a couple of items in particular. "Is that a push-up bra?" With a pointed finger, he lifted the black and beige lace bra by the strap for closer examination. "Huh." He looked to Castiel. "What are you going to do with that?"

Awkward as she was with human interaction, Castiel truly didn't have a response for him; she honestly didn't see a point in wearing one herself.

Cathy snatched the dangling lingerie from Dean and handed it to the cashier. "Honey, you'll be thanking me for that later," she said to him with a wink.

"Dean, I truly had no intentions of picking any of these; it wasn't my choice. I'll be happy—satisfied— …I'll make do with what I already have on."

Dean peered at the few things left to be scanned as the cashier packed the bags with tissue paper. "No, you'll need some spares." He turned back to her. "We don't exactly know how long you'll be sticking around," he said, his wry smile hiding the doleful twinkle in his eye.

"Oh, so it was an unexpected trip. Didn't have time to pack, honey?" Cathy asked, butting in. "Decided to get away with your man, huh?" Dean opened his mouth in vain but wasn't able to come up with an explanation with their current situation.

Castiel thought it would be best to agree to the woman's speculation and answered in all seriousness. "Yes, it was unduly unexpected."

Dean snapped his head at her.

"I thought so." Cathy chuckled and wagged a finger. She whipped her head round towards the cashier and spoke in a more serious tone, "Make sure to add my name to this commission." Like a chameleon, she faced them again with a cheerful smile. "How will you be paying? Cash or credit?"

The cash register dinged; the total amounted in the hundreds.

Dean slipped his wallet out from his back pocket and pulled out one of his many credit cards with a sigh. "Credit."

"Thank you for shopping at Monica's! Have a wonderful day, you two!" Cathy cheerfully called after them as they walked out.

Balancing the several bags between his hands, Dean trudged ahead across the parking lot while Castiel sauntered behind him with one. She rummaged through the borrowed clothes that were placed in it.

They were halfway past the lot when Dean's cell rang.

The hunter wrestled to keep the handles from slipping as he swiped his phone out of his pocket. "Sam," he said, cradling it against his shoulder, "got anything?"

"Yeah," Sam slid into the driver seat of Castiel's stolen car with some manila folders in hand, "it's a small thing, but it's big." He shut the door.

"Sam, I don't have time for riddles." Dean was getting weary and annoyed; things weren't going the way he had planned that day.

Sam sighed. "I'll explain when I see you. You grab lunch?"

"Barely; I'm starving."

"Meet you at the diner?"

"Yeah, see you then."

Sam ended the call before glancing next to him with a heavy sigh. The passenger seat was stained with large patches of Castiel's blood, more than what the angel had bothered to mention. With furrowed brows, Sam tossed the folders onto the seat and forced his eyes away as he started the car.

Dean shoved his phone back into his pocket. "We're meeting Sam at a diner—" He glanced over his shoulder and realised Castiel was absent. Stopping to turn around, he saw the angel lagging behind with her angel blade in hand. "Cas, what are you doing?"

She approached him slowly, her attention divided between her blade and dress. "This dress gives me little room to hide my angel blade."

"Don't wave that thing around in broad daylight!" He lowered his voice and took a step closer towards her as people walked around them. "You look like you're about to mug someone!"

Castiel's brows turned upwards into a frown. "I'd have hidden this into the sleeve of my trench coat if Cathy had supplied me with one like I had suggested." She sighed. "Perhaps I could…" Castiel raised the silver instrument and attempted to tuck it down her front.

Dean's eyes bulged at her before he was quick to offer a nod and chuckle to passersby who gave her the odd stare.

"Hmm… no," Castiel gave up and withdrew the blade, "this brassier proves to be difficult."

Dean glanced down with a chuckle and a quirk of his head. "Don't I know it." His self amusement flipped gears at Castiel's next uninhibited display. "Cas!"

Castiel had hitched up her dress and was attempting to bring the blade between her thighs. "If I had a belt of some sort to hold it here…"

Someone whistled. Dean turned around to see who was the culprit.

"Maybe you could strip for me, baby!" another man called out. Dean spun again.

The sound of a grocery cart crashing and a car alarm going off followed shortly after. Dean glanced up to see a man standing idle in the middle of the lot, several feet from where the cart had careened off of someone's minivan.

Over Castiel's right shoulder, a young woman was tugging on the arm of her boyfriend who had slowed down to grin at the exposed backside of the angel's lacy underwear. After a punch to his arm, he followed as she tugged him forward, but not without her glaring in Castiel's direction.

To the left, a young family was putting their groceries into their car, but even the father stole glances over his shoulder as he helped his young child into the backseat. His wife eventually caught on and barked at him to get in, causing him to tuck tail and scurry round into the vehicle.

Numerous whistles and catcalls ensued.

"Cas, stop that!" Dean finally dumped the bags and grabbed hold of her hands, causing her to drop her skirt. "You're causing a scene!" His cheeks were burning, but not because he was furious at her.

Castiel stared up at him, her voice and gaze firm, "I need to conceal my angel blade, Dean. It has to be on my person at all times."

Dean sighed and shucked off his jacket and handed it to her. "Here, wear this for now."

Castiel slid her arms into the sleeves and raised it over her form. Like the clothes she had worn earlier that day, it was too large for her—the sleeves were baggy and hung past her hands, and the areas that were meant to hug the shoulders drooped down her arms. The jacket itself was almost the same length of her sundress.

"Thank you, Dean," Castiel said, tucking the blade into the sleeve. "This will do."

"Now, c'mon," he grabbed the bags off the ground and continued to his car, "all I've had all day was a pretzel and a coffee; I'm hangry."

Sam entered the diner and looked around, spotting his brother seated in a booth across from Castiel—he assumed, since he only caught sight of the back of her head. He walked forward.

"Hey." He stood by the tableside, causing Dean to glance up from the menu, then turned to Castiel. He paused, his brows rising minutely. "You… look nice, Cas."

"Thank you, Sam," she replied.

Sam glanced between them. "Sorrydidn'tmeantobreakupyourdate," he mumbled and coughed, swiftly taking a seat next to the angel as he set the folders down in front of him. He cleared his throat as he opened and studied the menu.

Castiel scrunched up her face. "What was that?"

Dean shot Sam an annoyed look. "It was nothing. He's just being a bitch."

Sam kept his eyes glued to the menu but couldn't help but smirk. "Jerk." After a moment to gather himself, he cleared his throat again and raised his eyes to his brother. "Been waiting long?" He turned and waved over one of the waitresses.

Through his sigh, Dean's expression was still filled with annoyance. "A couple minutes. We just got here, too."

"Hi, there." The waitress arrived with a pot of coffee and a pleasant smile. "Coffee?"

"Please and thanks." Sam nodded up at her.

She poured him a cup. "Are you all ready to order?"

"Yeah," Dean replied, glancing back down at the burger section; the waitress set down the pot and pulled out her notepad and pen."I'll get the bacon, cheese stuffed burger and a bottle of El Sol." He shut the menu and handed it to her. "Thanks."

Sam quickly skimmed the salads. "And I'll have… the grilled chicken with arugula and quinoa salad, please."

She jotted it down. "Anything to drink?"

"Ice water is fine. With a wedge of lemon," he added, handing her his menu.

"And for you, miss?" The waitress turned to Castiel who hadn't bothered to open her menu.

"I'll have what he's having," she said, pointing across to Dean.

"Another grilled chicken arugu—"

"No," Castiel stopped her from scribbling, "I want the burger."

"Oh," the waitress arched her brow slightly, "are you sure? It's pretty big and greasy and can get pretty messy when you eat it."

"Sounds like I picked the right one," Dean commented with a smile.

"Yes. Please," Castiel replied, unwavering.

The waitress nodded and collected her menu, though didn't seem so pleased with the angel's choice. "All right, two bacon, cheese stuffed burgers; two El Sols; and a grilled chicken arugula quinoa salad with ice water and lemon." She smiled at them as she took her pot and left their tableside.

"'The hell is 'quinoa'?" Dean asked, scrunching up his face.

Sam glanced up at him as he sipped his black coffee. "It's a grain. It's highly nutritious and contains all of the essential amino acids."

Dean continued to just stare at him.

"It was domesticated by the Andean people four thousand years ago. The Incas regarded it to be sacred," Castiel commented.

The Winchesters glanced to her.

"Yeah," Sam sat up a little straighter as he turned back to his brother, "what he said."

"They worshipped a grain because they'd never had a cheeseburger before," Dean said pointedly.

Sam merely sighed and shook his head. "Anyway, I got the case files of the other two victims. Look at this." He opened the two folders to pictures of the eviscerated kidneys.

Dean peered down at them and blinked. "What am I looking at here, other than their misplaced organs?"

Sam pointed at one end of the kidneys. "Look here."

"Those bite marks?" Dean's brows drew together sharply.

"Yeah. But more importantly, what was specifically bitten off—"

Dean glanced up at his brother and waited.

"The adrenal glands."

"The adrenal glands?" Dean gave him a quizzical look.

"Yeah, they're glands that produce hormones, like adrenaline and the steroid hormones aldosterone and cortisol."

"And?"

"It's site specific. Whatever it was that killed these three women, knew exactly what it was going after." Sam spread the pictures over to another set, showing the clean cut incisions on the women's lower backs.

"Here are your drinks." The waitress swung over abruptly, causing Sam to promptly shield the graphic images with his arm as he gave her a smile and nod. "Two El Sols, and an ice water with a lemon wedge," she said as she set them down.

Sam cleared his throat. "Thanks." He waited for her to leave before he could continue. "These incisions were made by something extremely sharp, like a scalpel. Whoever or whatever that did this, has experience; the kidneys were unmarked."

"Other than getting chomped on."

"Exactly; the skillset of a surgeon. But get this—the bite marks aren't human. The coroner likened them to a canine."

"Huh." Dean raised his brows and took a swig of his beer.

"So, you were right, Dean—no sulphur and EMF readings, fur or claw marks, no glowing goop."

"And we got ourselves a case," Dean said with a nod. Dean angled his head and drew his brows together as he examined some of the coroner's notes. "'The Die-alysist'?" he read outloud, spotting those words scrawled on the margin in quotations.

"Uh, yeah," Sam sighed, "because their MO is killing them by kidney removal." Sam looked serious and not entirely humoured.

"Oh." Dean hung his head and started to laugh. "Ah, man, that's a good one." With a shake of his head, he took another swig of his beer; Sam stared at him, unimpressed. "'I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti'," Dean continued in his best Hannibal impersonation, followed by a quick sucking sound with his lower lip.

"Was that supposed to be funny?" Sam was unamused.

"He's referencing 'Silence of the Lambs'," Castiel explained to him.

"Yeah, I know, Cas."

"Hey! Cas gets it! Put one here." Dean extended his fist towards her and waited.

With a bit of hesitation, Castiel brought her own fist to his in a fist bump.

Sam shook his head. "I can't believe you guys."

"Come on, it was a perfectly good setup."

"Whatever, Doctor Lecter," Sam said softly with a sigh.

"You mean Agent—" Dean paused before quirking his brows. "I did not see the irony coming when I chose these names."

"Here you are," the waitress said, returning with their food.

"Thank you." Sam swiftly shut the folders and slid them to the side before she put down his plate.

"Let me know if you need anything else. Enjoy." She walked off.

"Yes, finally! I'm starving!" Dean growled. He shook the ketchup bottle and squirted some on his plate of fries and burger, then offered it to Castiel. "Cas?"

Castiel took the bottle and copied him.

Dean held the burger almost ceremoniously in front of him as he admired it. Before he took a bite, he glanced at his brother. "How's the quinoa?" He smirked.

Sam chewed a bit and swallowed. "Delicious." His expression was unflinching.

A moan and audibly loud chewing drew the boys' attention to Castiel. They both raised their brows as they witnessed her devouring her burger.

"You… sure are hungry, Cas," Sam commented. Dean watched almost hypnotically, his mouth slightly agape.

"Mm, yes. I haven't had any proper nourishment since I arrived two days ago," she managed to say between bites. She paused to take a swig of her beer, then burped. Dean smiled wryly at that.

"You eat now?" Sam raised his brows.

Castiel had already consumed a third of her burger when Dean had yet to take one bite. She slowed down as she thought about her answer. "Since the ambush and my diminished grace, I've noticed the toll to be much greater on my physical body than I'd expected." She paused.

Dean finally took a bite of his burger.

"I've been rendered… powerless as I wait for my grace to heal," she said simply.

"Are you saying you're basically human?" Dean asked with his mouth full.

"…Yes." She lowered her eyes and took another bite. "Until I've regained my grace, I'll require sustenance like anyone else to survive—as well as perform all other human faculties."

The brothers looked at each other.

"Shouldn't this have been something you should've told us to begin with, Cas?" Dean turned to her, the stern brow returning to his expression.

"It didn't come up at the time." She focused on her food.

"Hey, relax," Sam said to Dean. "What's important is that he's telling us now."

"I'm not angry," Dean sighed, "I'm worried. I want you safe, Cas. What's your business is ours. You're family."

Castiel paused from her chewing and looked to him. "I understand, Dean," she said with a nod.

They resumed their eating.

"Oh, I got Sarah's phone from evidence," Sam began. He swallowed and took a sip of water before resuming. "The person she was texting was called 'Ryan'." He pulled a pink cell phone out from his inner pocket and unlocked it to the said texts before passing it to Dean.

Dean glanced down and skimmed them. "Hmph. She asked to meet up with him that night." He peered up at his brother.

"Yeah. From the looks of it, he knew about Sarah and Marc's relationship."

Dean chuckled. "She cheated on a cheater."

"We don't know that for sure."

"Wouldn't blame her if she did." Dean took a swig of his beer.

"If you go back in their history, they haven't been texting for that long. Just in the past month or so."

"At around the time these murders started. Did you call him?"

"I did." Sam sighed. "The number's disconnected. I think he was using a burner phone."

"We need to find out who this 'Ryan' is," Dean pushed the phone back towards Sam, "see how he ties in with Sarah and the two previous vics."

Sam nodded and slipped it back into his pocket.

They paused to hear Castiel moan and glanced to her. She sat back in her seat, her plate practically cleared save for a few cooling fries and smears of ketchup. She burped as she placed her hands to her belly. "I feel like I'm about to burst." She frowned.

"Learn to pace yourself, then you'll join us in the big leagues," Dean said with a wink before taking a swig of his beer.

Castiel moaned again and turned to Sam. "Excuse me, Sam, I need to use the restroom."

"Sure, Cas." Sam slid out of the booth and let her pass before resuming his spot. He watched her stumble out as she found the washroom sign and disappeared. "Dean," he looked back to his brother, "there's something else." He sighed.

"What?" Dean continued to chew.

"It's Cas. The seats in his car were covered in his blood. A lot of it." Sam was serious.

Dean's chewing slowed. "Are we talkin' 'Friday the 13th' or 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' bloody?"

"Uh, does it make a difference? They both had chainsaws."

"Just answer the question, Sam!"

"Uh, I dunno. Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Sam sighed.

"Jesus Christ, Cas," Dean said softly.

"Do you think—"

"Don't say it, Sammy."

"But Dean—"

"I don't want to hear it. I want you to hack the hospitals in Oregon, see if they have a matching description of Cas and his injuries. He's not dead, Sam."

"No, he isn't, Dean. But his vessel might be."

Dean stared at him hard in silence. "Just do it."

Sam nodded. "Okay."

Castiel returned to their table looking just as miserable. "I forgot I was lacking a penis when I was about to urinate. I realise now the convenience of one." She slid back into her spot with a sigh.

Dean chuckled. "They definitely have their perks."

Sam glanced to his brother, surprised by how easy it was for him to mask his concern from just a mere second ago. "Should I get the bill?"

"What? We haven't even had dessert yet," Dean exclaimed.

"Could you get that to-go? I feel like I need to lie down." Castiel was reclined back in her seat.

Dean pursed his lips. "Fine. Let me see what's on the menu and we'll go."

"Thank you, Dean," Castiel said with closed eyes.

They returned to their motel armed with Castiel's new wardrobe and Dean's takeaway wedge of pie.

"What did you do?" Sam asked from beside his brother as he helped to unload the car. "I thought you were just going to get him a couple of outfits."

"Hey, don't blame me; I didn't do the picking. It was Cathy the saleslady, okay?" Dean replied with annoyance.

After they set her things aside, Sam dressed down to his usual plaid and jeans and started to browse his laptop for information of similar monster attacks. Dean sat lounged back in his bed with the pie in his lap as he studied the case files, while Castiel had fulfilled her previous statement and lay motionless on the other bed.

A few hours passed before Castiel woke up to find darkened skies out the window and yellow incandescent lighting illuminating the room. She pulled herself up and ventured into the bathroom, much to her chagrin, then sauntered back into the room to see Dean alone.

Dean glanced up at her and smiled. "'Morning, Sleeping Beauty. Finally awake from your food coma?"

"Where's Sam?" she asked, her voice a little hoarse from sleep. She shuffled over to join him at the table.

"He went to get some food."

"More food?" Castiel looked sick.

"You've been out for a while; it's dinner time for us."

Castiel sighed. "Have you found anything that resembles the killings?"

Dean rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands and let out an exerted breath. "There's a lot to go through. None that are kidney specific, so far."

"You look tired, Dean. You need a break."

"Yeah, don't I know it."

"Let me take over. You can rest up with Sam for now."

Dean grinned and turned the laptop around towards her. "Thanks, Cas." He stood and stretched before walking over to the bed and slumping down.

Castiel frowned as she pulled the laptop closer. Her dislike of computers was just as strong, but since they weren't at the bunker, tapping into the library remotely was the only alternative. She brushed her finger over the square touchpad and watched as the arrow flew across the screen, causing her to reassess the speed of her movement.

"So," Dean glanced over at her as he turned on the old boxed television that sat across at the ends of the beds, "where were you in Oregon?"

Castiel focused hard on her finger strokes and the little digital arrow on the monitor. "Just outside of Portland at the time of the ambush."

Dean flipped through the channels, periodically glancing between the television and the hard-at-work angel. "But you entered Portland afterwards."

"Yes." Her brows were drawn together. She glanced down at the touchpad as she finally tapped down on it, finding that she had succeeded in going to the linked article. As she glanced up, her expression dropped to disappointment when it wasn't the one she had intended to go to.

"Which hospital was it that you dropped off your old suit at?"

Castiel paused and looked at Dean. "I… don't know. I didn't look at the sign."

Dean nodded and turned back to the television. "Okay. Just need to know where we should pick it up when you've recovered. I'm getting Sam to track it down, though. Don't worry." He lounged back and finally settled on something.

Castiel nodded, letting her gaze trail as she turned back to the monitor. "Thank you."

The sounds from the television filled their silence.

After Sam had returned with food—that Castiel had politely declined—the boys ate in bed as they watched a movie they had strong views about, evidence by their bickering and staunch positioning of their takes of the characters and plot.

"His parents knew who he was in the end. They figured it out—he had the same name, and they saw how he started to resemble that mystery kid as he grew up," Dean stated with conviction.

"Actually, yeah, I kinda agree on that. Their knowing smiles when they're watching him find that truck, it seemed a little too telling," Sam said in agreement.

"Finally, something we agree on." Dean scrunched up the aluminum from his burrito and stood, dusting off any invisible crumbs off his shirt. "Got anything?" he asked Castiel as he passed by to get some water.

She sighed and glanced at him. "Not by any means, though this may be plausible, at the least. Rakshakas, from hinduism, are demonic man-eaters. They possess black magic, are cunning and deceitful, and have long, poisonous, talon-like nails."

"Hmm, could have used those to slice them open," Dean commented.

"No, there wasn't any poison indicated in the autopsies," Sam said, getting up to throw out his trash. He placed his plate in the sink and headed to the coffee machine where there was some of the dark liquid left over. "I'm going to make another pot."

"If it's a monster posing as some dude called 'Ryan', he'd have to be a shapeshifter," Dean suggested, taking a seat across from Castiel.

"There are certain types of rakshakas. Belu are shapeshifters, but not much information is given on them, other than how to differentiate the malevolent from the benevolent ones—straight fangs versus curved ones." Castiel looked a little disappointed.

"Well, one thing's for certain," Sam let out a sigh and poured himself a fresh cup of coffee, "it's going to be a long night." Balancing his steaming mug in hand, he walked across the room to his bed and opened up his laptop.

The hours into the night were quiet, save for dedicated tapping of keys, exasperated sighs, and occasional refilling of caffeinated beverages. And even though Sam was the one who had implied he'd put in his do diligence of research, he was the first one to pass out, despite the number of joes he had chugged down. But, that was like saying how caffeine had an effect on a Winchester like alcohol did.

With the nap that Castiel had taken, she took over Sam's laptop and persevered.

By 2 AM, Dean's eyelids were getting heavy, and he found himself repeatedly reading the same line. He snapped his laptop shut and set it on the nightstand. "I'm calling it a night," he said a little quietly, glancing over to where Castiel was hunched over at the table. He let out a long sigh and peeled himself out of his denim shirt, followed by unbuckling his belt and pulling off his jeans.

"Goodnight, Dean." Dean heard Castiel say as he crawled under the covers and adjusted his pillow.

"'Night," he replied with closed eyes, facing his snoring brother.

For a hunter, sleep was a precious commodity. When there was a small window to rest, sleep would come hard and fast. But, because a hunter would always have to be vigilant of possible demonic intrusion, the slightest sound or movement would have them reaching for their weapon of choice. It hadn't even been ten minutes when Dean felt a shift in weight next to him on his mattress. His eyes snapped open to darkness. In a split second, he felt for the hard handle of his bowie knife underneath his pillow, unsheathed it, and had the blade scratching the throat of the body that he was pinning down with his forearm.

It moaned, but it sounded feminine. He had to admit, it was kind of sexy. But it wasn't from someone he recognised.

"Dean…" she managed to say between breaths.

Dean's eyes widened and he leaned back. With his eyes adjusting to the darkness, and the little light that peeked through the drapes on the window, he realised that it was Castiel underneath him.

"Fuck, Cas!" he growled, trying his best to suppress the amount of surprise and anger in that outburst from waking his slumbering log of a brother; he quickly released her and snatched for the hidden sheath. "Don't do that!" He snapped the buckle back around the handle and laid it by his laptop. "What the hell are you doing in my bed?" he said hotly.

Castiel had since managed to push herself upright. A hand was wrung around her neck where the blade had previously been. "I… I'm tired, Dean. I need to rest," she said quietly and rationally. "There isn't any room left on Sam's bed."

Dean glanced over his shoulder to see his brother sprawled facedown like a starfish across the mattress with all four gangly limbs dangling over the sides. With a sigh, Dean turned back to her. "Yeah, okay, I see your point. You can sleep here tonight. Just make sure to stay on your side of the bed."

"Okay. Thank you, Dean," she said with a nod.

Dean paused. "Hey, did I hurt you?"

"I… don't know," she replied honestly.

"Shit!" he hissed. He turned and snapped on the bedside lamp. This is why he didn't have people sneaking into his bed at night. If he found out he had hurt her…. "Cas, let me see," he said, his voice a little gentler.

Castiel swallowed and looked at him, slowly allowing the hunter's calloused hand to guide her own away from her neck.

Dean tilted her head back slightly, letting his thumb run down the length of her throat. He was mad at himself. He could have used better restraint. She wasn't even attacking him, so he should have used less pressure. "You're all right," he said with a sigh, relieved, but not by much. He kept his hand idle at her neck as his fingers stroked her throat, his thoughts turning to how soft her skin felt.

"Dean?"

"Hmm? Uh—" Dean snatched his hands away and felt himself blush, "yeah, right." He offered an awkward smile and laugh, hoping that would distract her from his strange behaviour.

"I feel a bit of compression on my chest." She rubbed at the exposed skin above her camisole. "Is it bruised?" She lowered her hand and turned to him.

The Winchester's eyes dropped, then lowered even more. He had been too worried earlier about his friend's well-being to notice what she was wearing—a lilac camisole and matching shorts that barely touched her thighs. The material had a shiny sheen to it, and as he recalled, he had felt something slippery and silky brushing his arm when he had her pinned beneath him. "'That silk?" He bit his lip, not intentionally meaning to voice that out loud.

Castiel blinked and glanced down at her nightwear. "Satin." She raised her head and looked back at him. "Cathy said this is what I need to wear for bed."

"Yeah, Cathy," Dean said with a sigh. But he wasn't upset by her suggestion.

"Dean? Is it?" Castiel looked at him inquisitively.

Dean wiped a hand over his lower face. "Is it what?"

"Bruised. Is my chest bruised?"

Dean cursed at himself at how easily distracted he had gotten. He cleared his throat and moved in for a closer look. There was some redness where he had forcibly held her down. He frowned. "Nothing's showing yet, but it might turn into one. Want me to get you some ice?"

"No, I'd like to rest. Thank you, though." She reclined back into the mattress.

Dean couldn't help but watch her. How the folds of the material shifted, causing the dark and light sheen to adjust to the shape of her body. He swallowed.

"Would you like me to turn off the light?" She had paused as she rested on her hip.

"Uh, yeah." Dean quickly hunkered down on his side and threw the blanket up and over his shoulder, faced away.

With the light finally out, Castiel slid down on her side and slipped the shared sheet over her form. "Goodnight, Dean," she repeated, turning to face the other way.

Dean's eyes were wide as he stared at the darkness in front of him. He may have been dead tired before, but now he was wide awake.

Chapter Text

Dean had always been one to rise early, even before the onset of puberty. It was a militant habit that had been drilled into him, something he did without complaint, on the job or not. That day, he had more reason than doing it out of routine. Sharing the bed with the gender swapped Castiel had left him without a wink of sleep and wandering thoughts he didn't want to entertain. He decided he would remedy that by taking a nice cold shower.

Other than shocking him from sleep deprivation, his body eventually adjusted, and his initial gasping returned to an even keel. Though one persistent and nagging thought wouldn't leave him alone: he hadn't been in bed with a woman for a long time. Considering all the world saving they'd been doing for the past few months, raising Jack, and rescuing and relocating a bunch of their alternate friends from an apocalyptic world, it was easy for him to forget to put a little time aside for himself. He honestly hadn't even watched any porn then, which was as much a shock to him as it would be for anyone else. When that case was over, he promised himself he'd devote an entire evening to catch up on his favourite bookmarked page, Busty Asians.

Dean exited the bathroom to see both Sam and Castiel awake.

"You're up early," Sam commented as he walked towards him, yawning. "Even before the alarm."

"You know that saying 'the early bird'… yadda, yadda."

"'Catches the early worm'?" Sam suggested with a quirked brow.

"Yeah. That. Except more hunter-y and with monster ganking."

Sam only raised his brows minutely at his brother's sudden interest and enthusiasm for that case. He stepped past him and paused at the bathroom door. "Cas, you want to go first?"

Castiel was sitting up in bed with her knees drawn to her chest and the blanket draped around her shoulders. "No, it's all right. You can go ahead, Sam."

"Okay." Sam nodded and headed in, shutting the door behind him.

Dean warily glanced at the angel, being reminded of the state of confusion he'd been agonising over the past few hours. With a small sigh, he trudged over to the kitchenette and brought the stray cups on the counter into the sink. He let the water run for a bit before he started scrubbing at the dirty dishes.

"Good mooorning, Casper! It's gonna be a scorcher today!"

Castiel's brows drew together as she glanced at the alarm clock. "I think this clock radio may be possessed," the blanket slipped down to her lap as she reached over towards the radio, feeling for the appropriate button to silence it, "I turned it off ten minutes ago."

Dean turned around as he dried off his hands with a towel. "You hit snooze. Here." He came forward and tapped on a smaller inconspicuous button.

"We're reaching record highs today this spring. Can we say 'hello summer?'—"

"This one shuts it off," he explained.

"I see." Castiel took note of it and sat back on the bed.

Dean's eyes grew round, noticing the bruising that had inevitably formed on his friend's chest. He lowered his gaze with terse brows and abruptly headed to the freezer.

"Dean?" Castiel blinked, startled at the sudden change in his mood.

Dean stuffed some ice into a towel and returned with it to Castiel. "Here," he said, offering it to her, "it's the least I can do for…." His eyes trailed to the side, his expression sullen.

Castiel held the cold bundle in her hands as she watched him. "Thank you, Dean," she began. "I should have warned you—"

"Hey, no, don't give me that," he was quick to interrupt. "Don't make excuses for me. I hurt you. And I'm sorry." He locked eyes with her, his gaze steady and serious this time.

"Dean—"

The sound of the shower turning on and Sam yelping broke their moment.

Castiel glanced at the bathroom door but didn't question it.

"You should ice it before it starts melting."

"Right." She clasped the clinking bundle to her chest and let out a shaky breath.

"Hold it there for a few minutes," Dean instructed. He got up and returned to the kitchenette. "Want coffee?" He dumped some grounds into the filter and shoved the basket into the coffee machine.

"Are we having breakfast?" After skipping dinner, she felt particularly ravenous that morning.

Dean turned around and leaned back against the counter as he waited for the coffee to fill the pot. "Yeah, sure, we could go for breakfast."

"I've never had a proper one before." As a human man, breakfast either consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold cereal, or frozen burritos cooked in a microwave.

"Didn't have much of the human experience the last time 'round, did you?" Dean poured himself a cup of coffee as soon as it was done.

"No. Considering the situation I had been in, I never had the opportunity to revel in the more enjoyable aspects of human life. Still, there were a few things that led me to see why life on earth can be the cause of so much envy."

"Really? What's that?" Dean blew at the steam before taking a sip.

"Free will. Tasting and actually enjoying the food you eat. And sex."

Dean choked on his coffee and ended up having some spill over his cup. He continued to cough as he wagged the moisture off his hand, then cleared his throat. "Huh, you know, sex isn't exclusive to humankind." He turned around to wipe the bit of coffee that had stained the cuff of his sleeve. "Angels do the nasty, too," he said over his shoulder with a grin.

"Yes, I suppose that's true…" Castiel replied with a slight frown.

"Tell you what," Dean poured another cup and came to her with it, exchanging it for her melting bundle of ice, "now that you've got your wings clipped, if you make a bucket list, we'll see how much of it we can get done."

Castiel blew at the steam and took a sip of the bitter brew. She made a face.

"You'd need to be quick, though. Don't think you're gonna be sticking around long as a mud dweller." He gave her a wink before he moved back to the sink and dumped the ice.

Castiel peered at him with a smile, admiring his optimism, though when she turned to set her mug down on the nightstand, her expression waned. Did she have faith that she would return to her original body? She honestly felt that it was a bleak outcome. Knowing that she could potentially be staying in her current female form was something she couldn't quite bring to tell her friends. She didn't know how they would react. What Dean would think. That was something she had decided to keep to herself till the time would come she would be forced to share.

As soon as the bathroom door opened, Castiel reached into the bag next to the bed for Dean's plaid shirt and pulled it on, quick to conceal her bruise. She got up and rummaged through the other bags for an outfit.

Sam walked out with his hair wet and a towel wrung around his neck. His gaze immediately fixed on the coffee pot and he made a beeline towards it.

"Excuse me, Sam," Castiel said as she quickly walked past him. She slipped into the bathroom with her bundle of clothes and shut the door behind her.

Sam didn't make a sound till he'd guzzled down half a cup of the black liquid gold. He let out a sigh and looked to his brother. "'The hell, Dean."

Dean perked up and glanced back at him. "What?"

"You let the water run cold before I jumped in."

Dean paused. It was actually to calm the other, more excitable parts of his body, but it dawned on him that with all the pranking he'd done on his brother in the past, it was the perfect excuse, rather than have him explain his… awkward situation.

Dean grinned at him in old habit. "Woke you right up, didn't it, Sammy?"

Sam huffed. "Don't be such a jerk, Dean! What if it had been Cas that had gone first?"

Dean paused with his coffee to his lips. "Then I guess the joke's on him," he said with a shrug, followed by an indulgent sip.

Sam rolled his eyes and joined his brother as he sank back against the counter and drank his coffee.

"We're gonna grab breakfast," Dean said.

"We still need to interview the other victims' families—"

"Eh, it's early, we've got time," Dean interjected, waving it off.

"Yeah," Sam nodded with a sigh, "okay."

"I was thinking that old '50s diner we passed a couple days back."

"Diner food is still diner food." Sam cradled his half empty cup in one hand and mopped at his hair with the other.

"Well, I'm a whole-package kinda guy; I'm there for the ambiance, too, okay?"

"Says the guy who bought fried dumplings in a back alley at night."

"Hey, there was an air of mystery there. And you know that food trucks have some of the best food."

Sam chuckled and shook his head. "Not according to how you were moaning on the toilet for the rest of that night."

Dean gave him a look. "On a more serious note," he let out a low breath, "Cas doesn't know which hospital he went to, only that it was in Portland."

Sam nodded. "At least we've narrowed it down to one city. That'll save me a lot of time," he said with a sigh.

"I know you've got a lot riding on you, Sam, with this case and all, but try to do it quick."

"Of course," Sam said with a nod, "this is Cas we're talkin' 'bout."

The brothers grew quiet when they heard the bathroom door open.

Castiel stepped out donning another new ensemble. This time, the length of her skirt had grown, but it was far from being conservative. As Cathy put it, it was 'cute, flirty, and versatile'. Castiel felt out of place wearing such lightweight clothes, especially when it seemed like she was baring her lower extremities more often than not, but with the way her tangerine skirt fluttered at her calves reminded her of her trench coat, which was a little less unnerving. Though, the Winchesters' stares were not helping. At least Sam wasn't gaping at her for the bruise. That was covered with the black lace of her sleeveless daisy blouse.

"Um, Sam, I hope you don't mind me using your comb," she began.

Sam's heightened brows lowered and his lips drew into a line. "Oh. You used my comb," he said more in a statement than an expression of surprise.

Dean took a look at his face and started to laugh. "It'd have been so much worse if you'd gotten yourself a brush, wouldn't it, Sammy?" Dean smacked him on the side of the arm.

"And Dean, I used your toothbrush," Castiel continued.

Dean froze and slowly peered at her.

A creeping smile cracked out on Sam's lips. "Huh." He turned to look at his brother.

"You… you used my toothbrush?!" Dean's eyes bulged.

"I… I don't have one," Castiel tried to explain.

Dean stumbled forward and leaned against the table with braced arms, his head lowered between his shoulders. "He… he used my toothbrush," he repeated in disbelief.

"Ha," Sam smirked, patting Dean on the back of his shoulder, "I'm glad mine was just a comb," he said by his ear.

Dean's directed glare at his brother only broadened Sam's grin.

"Wait," Dean slowly raised his head to look at Castiel, "did you use it last night, too?"

Castiel blinked and returned his gaze in silence. "Well, I, uh—"

"Oh, God!" Dean stared at her in horror. "I used it!"

Sam chortled despite Dean's genuine disgust. "Dean," he managed to say after some effort, "it's not like you haven't swapped spit with hundreds of other women. Just think of it like that."

"It's not the same!" Dean said vehemently. "Okay, there's some tongue wrestling involved, but the only thing I'm sharing with another chick is her bodily fluids—"

"Yeah, that's definitely a nicer way of putting it."

"—I'm not sharing the gingivitis and plaque on her teeth." Dean looked back at Castiel accusingly.

"I… I'm sorry, Dean," she said, her brows swooping together. She lowered her head and looked down, feeling immense regret.

"Jesus, calm down, Dean!" Sam snorted, unable to help himself. "Look at how sorry Cas is. He already feels bad enough without your yelling." Sam finally pulled himself together, feeling sympathetic for his celestial friend.

Dean looked at Castiel and took a breath to calm himself. "Okay, I get that you're stranded in a human Wonderland without a welcome package, but you gotta let me know before you start taking things and using them. Some things you just don't share, Cas," he said sternly.

Castiel nodded. "I… understand."

Dean sighed again. "All right, we're heading to the store to get some things before breakfast. Toothbrush, hairbrush—anything else?"

Castiel's frown deepened in thought. "No, I don't believe so."

"Dean," Sam's voice was lowered, "what about—" he glanced to Castiel briefly before continuing, his voice even quieter as he came closer, "feminine hygiene."

"What?" Dean stared at his brother quizzically.

"Now that Castiel's a human… woman," Sam made a jerking motion with his head at her, causing the angel to speculate, "he—she—" he sighed, "'she' might need, you know… tampons for uh—ahem—stuff."

Castiel narrowed her eyes and followed their quiet banter.

Dean paused, his terse brows replaced with round eyes. He turned to him. "Did he say he was on his period?" he said, his voice matching his brother's in volume.

"Dean, I'm not on my period," Castiel interrupted.

The brothers paused to look at her in surprise.

"I didn't regain my superior hearing abilities, but I can read lips," she explained.

"Oh." Dean chuckled awkwardly while Sam just looked awkward. "Well, when the time comes…"

"When the time comes, I'll do what's necessary," Castiel replied without flinching. She found it a bit odd how the Winchesters suddenly acted so bizarrely at mention of such a human function.

"Uh, yeah, right," Sam agreed, his gaze shifting from the floor to her and back down.

"Yep," Dean quipped with a curt nod. He spun on his spot to retrieve his keys before heading to the door and walking out, leaving the two to follow in his footsteps.

They stopped at a convenience store to pick up Castiel's supplies. Dean idled the adult magazine section for a minute before going to pay, dropping the toothbrush and hairbrush on the counter, in addition to a personal item.

From behind, Sam raised his brows. "Condoms?"

"You never know when passion strikes, Sammy," he said, perusing the items by the checkout. He tossed in a pack of pepperoni sticks."You gotta carry protection with you at all times," Dean said, giving the sales clerk a wink as he rang in the items.

"Huh." The clerk raised his brows as he looked at the questionable things.

Dean blinked, realising what he might have been thinking. He looked at him with slight annoyance.

"So, uh, will that be all?" the clerk asked.

"Now that you ask, got any lube? You know, for all the wild and kinky sex I'm having. Gotta make sure everyone's having an enjoyable ride."

The clerk's gaze flicked to Sam.

It took a second for Sam to pick up on it before his eyes widened. He darted a glance to his brother, then awkwardly turned around.

"Uh, yeah. They should be right next to the condoms."

"Thanks. Musta missed it." Dean smiled and left, returning shortly with said item.

As he was paying, Castiel joined them. Dean's jacket also made a reappearance on her shoulders, albeit being a poor substitute for her trench coat.

"Where did you wander off to, Alice?" Dean turned to glance at her.

"I was reading the instructions on how to insert a tampon."

All three men paused to look at her. The receipt finished printing and the cash drawer sprang open, knocking into the clerk's arm.

"The directions seem simple and straightforward enough," Castiel added. She glanced around them before looking to the bag on the counter. "Are those my items?"

Dean cleared his throat. "Yeah."

Castiel walked forward and retrieved it. "Thank you, Dean." She turned and started to lead the way out. "Can we head to breakfast, now? I could eat a buffalo."

The boys followed.

"I think you mean 'horse'," Sam corrected her.

"But a buffalo is larger than a horse." A melody chimed above her head as she stepped out.

"Ah, wait, Cas! You have some of my things!" Dean hastened to say.

"Uh, your receipt—" The clerk raised the slip in his hand as the door closed behind them.

Like the previous night, Castiel watched Dean before placing her own order. His seemed to fit the description from one of the many shows she'd seen of breakfast, so it was an easy decision for her to make to duplicate his. As for Sam, it may have been because of Dean's influence and ridicule of his healthier options, but his choices didn't appeal to her so much.

When their food arrived, her mouth watered. She had almost started eating before seeing what the older Winchester would do next.

Dean poured syrup over his pancakes and raked his fork over the nub of butter, mixing the two together till it had properly melted.

"Of course, the syrup," Castiel said a little quietly.

Dean perked up and glanced at her, offering the little pot of amber liquid. She took it eagerly and drenched the fluffy flat cakes, then cut out a wedge to eat. She closed her eyes and let out a long sigh as she chewed.

"This…" was all she said.

"I take that you like pancakes," Dean said, taking a sip of coffee.

"Immensely," she replied, half sighing between chews.

"Try some of the bacon now." Dean smiled as he ate his food.

Castiel stabbed at one of the crispy strips and took a bite out of it. "Mm!" she moaned, looking next to her at Dean.

"I know! The sweetness from the syrup mixing with the salty bacon makes it so friggin' good!" Dean said in all seriousness.

"Mm hmm!" Castiel nodded with fervor, her mouth full as she continued to chew.

Sam sighed from across the table with his cup of coffee in hand. He ate his egg whites in silence as he tapped at his laptop. With a wedge of his brown toast hanging out of his mouth, his typing grew more aggressive with his focus.

"Sam, is it necessary to work on the case so early? You should eat first," Castiel said, peering over at him.

Sam glanced up at Castiel before looking over at Dean. "Mm," he managed to mumble at her with raised brows and a nod. He returned to his screen like he hadn't had his concentration broken.

"Let him work," Dean said. "It's important." He drained his coffee and waved at one of the waitresses for a refill. "Can I borrow a pen?" he asked her as she was filling his mug.

She held her pen up. "Make sure you return this, you hear." With a flirtatious glint in her eye, she handed it to him.

"'Course, I always do." Dean smiled wryly and winked, leaving the waitress giggling as she walked off.

Castiel took a sip of her coffee and made a face. "I don't think I enjoy coffee so much."

"That's because you're drinking it black. You might like it better with creamer and sugar." Dean opened a couple of the little creamer cups and poured the white liquid into Castiel's coffee, followed by some sugar he got from the caddy from the side of the table.

Castiel watched as he stirred, the once black liquid void transforming into hazel.

Dean tapped the spoon on the edge of the cup before taking it to his mouth. "Try it now," he said after he withdrew it clean.

Castiel turned the handle towards her before gripping it steady and raising it to her lips. She took a shallow sip. "Oh." Her eyes widened and she drank more deeply on the second take.

"Better?" Dean asked, his own cup raised.

"Much," Castiel replied with a smile. Dean edged his cup towards her, and taking the hint, Castiel clinked her own against his. She resumed her breakfast in silence with bliss filled bites when she noticed Dean scribbling something down on a napkin. She darted a few curious glances before looking away as she continued to eat and drink.

"Done," Dean announced.

Castiel peered over to see him sliding the napkin towards her.

It read: 'Cas's Mud Dwelling Bucket List in Wonderland (AKA Things to do Before Kicking it as a Human)'.

Castiel glanced back up at him.

"Just to get you started on things," Dean said. He put the pen down by the napkin for her to use.

Castiel's brows drew together slightly as she glanced down at the items. It perplexed her that in her current state, she would actually have the opportunity to do the things that humans did for leisure. The thought of that was almost overwhelming—it was just that she didn't know what she wanted to do.

Sam hummed and cleared his throat from across the table; his brows were stitched together and his eyes were still glued to his laptop. He dusted off his fingers once he'd finished off his toast, then blindly stabbed at the slabs of back bacon and eggs on his plate before shovelling them into his mouth.

Castiel looked across at Sam with an appreciative smile, glad to have him draw her back to the present. "I'll have to think of something to add later," she said, folding the napkin in half with a small pat. She took a sip of her coffee. "I'm very much enjoying this experience this time."

"You've already had your feet wet. The second time should be like getting back on your bike," Dean commented, scraping up some scrambled eggs onto his fork.

"Yes and no. There are some noticeable differences as a woman."

"Hmm." Dean raised his brows and cocked his head slightly.

"Having company is nice." Castiel directed her smile at Dean. "Having you guide me by my side alleviates most of the tension."

"I would have done it the first time 'round, too, if it wasn't for Gadreel's angel blocking."

"I don't blame you for that. He had his own agenda, and you needed to protect Sam by any means necessary. Sam's lucky to have you as his brother."

"Thanks, Cas." Dean grinned wryly at her, grateful for the acknowledgement.

"Mmph!" Sam grunted emphatically, adding a display of an equally gratuitous fist pump.

"Got something there?" Dean asked, eyeing him warily.

"Uh, yeah," Sam peered at his brother, "I found him," he said before looking to Castiel.

Castiel's grip tightened on her cup and her brows tensed minutely.

"You found Cas' body?" Dean's expression brightened. Turning to her, he grinned widely with the excitement of a boy. "You hear that, Cas? We found you."

Castiel looked to him but said nothing.

"I'm ninety-five percent sure that it's him. A John Doe in his early forties was admitted nine days ago at Sacred Heart General Hospital," Sam added.

"I gotta hand it to you, Sam, when I asked you to work quick, you went beyond expectations."

"Yeah, thanks, Dean," Sam sighed, "but that was only the good news."

"What's the bad?" Dean's expression grew serious.

"The bad news is, he's been admitted to the ICU. Uh, stab wounds to his right abdomen, three broken ribs, a fractured orbital bone… a collapsed lung," Sam sighed, "and a ruptured spleen that had to be removed." Sam glanced up from his screen to Dean, then to Castiel; Castiel's eyes were downcast as she listened. "He's in a coma right now."

Dean turned to look at Castiel, a frown etched deep on his face. "Cas."

"It is what it is, Dean," she said, her gaze fixed on her coffee. "There isn't anything that I or either of you can do now but wait." She finally looked up at him before turning to Sam. Their expressions were grim, but they knew that what she said was true. With all the information they had found, the likelihood of her staying permanently in her female vessel was high. She wondered if they were also thinking that. It would save her time from saying it out loud, she thought.

Castiel finished the last scraps of food on her plate and downed the rest of her coffee. "Excuse me," she said, standing, "this coffee goes right through me." She left the table to leave the boys to finish their breakfast in silence.

Sam shut his laptop and took a sip of his cold coffee. "I can't help but feel so helpless," he finally said. "We literally can't do anything except wait for Castiel's grace to heal. And who knows how long that'll take."

Dean set down his empty cup. "You're looking at this the wrong way. He's surrounded by doctors around the clock with medical care out the yin yang. Not to mention all the hot nurses giving him sponge baths."

Sam sighed.

"If you ask me, he couldn't be in a safer place."

"Yeah, I guess. I see your point," Sam said with a sigh.

"The important thing is, he's alive." Dean grabbed the pen off the table and shuffled out of the booth to pay at the register.

Sam took a moment for things to seep in. That wasn't something that would endanger the livelihood of the entire planet, but it did affect one of the most important persons to him on it. He gathered his laptop and finished his coffee before slipping out. Castiel returned just as he stood. "Dean's just paying now," he said.

"Looks like he's done," Castiel commented, looking out in that general direction. She slipped her folded napkin into her skirt pocket as Sam turned to look.

Dean was backing out of the door as he indicated at them with a small nod and raise of his brows.

Sam sighed. "Uh, yeah."

They followed him out to the car where he sat waiting with the engine humming.

"Took you long enough," Dean said as they slammed the doors behind them.

"You didn't really give us much warning, Dean," Sam was quick to reply as he hastened to strap his seatbelt on.

Dean didn't appear to be in any rush as he rummaged through his glove compartment. He took out one cassette tape and held it up briefly before chucking it back into the messy pile, then pulled out another. "Relax, Sammy, I wasn't gonna leave without you. Ah ha." He settled on a tape and pushed it into his player. He held his finger down on the fast forward button and intermittently hit play to see which song it fell on. "Huh, nope. A little more. Ah."

"Uh, what are you doing, Dean?" Sam finally had to ask as Dean hit play.

Dean began to pull the car out. "Trying to instill a little hope in you." He glanced into the rearview mirror at Castiel's reflection. "The both of you." When the drums played, Dean thumped along to the beat on the steering wheel. But as soon as the singing started, he turned to Sam emphatically as he began to lip sync to the lyrics:

"'The days grow shorter and the nights are getting long
Feels like we're running out of time
Every day it seems much harder tellin' right from wrong
You got to read between the lines'."

Dean pointed with two extended fingers at his eyes, then drew them towards Sam. Sam had his brows upturned as he watched his brother, his expression clearly doubtful.

Dean directed his gaze into the rearview mirror at Castiel this time as he banged his head to the rhythm:

"'Don't get discouraged, don't be afraid, we can
Make it through another day
Make it worth the price we pay…'."

Castiel peered back into the reflection of his gaze, her own unwavering and unreadable.

"Take it away, Sammy!" Dean declared, jabbing a finger in the air towards Sam.

Sam merely blinked at his brother, unamused.

"C'mon, Sammy! You're letting all the good parts go!"

Sam sighed. "'Keep up your spirit, keep up your faith…'" he mumbled.

"'Baby!'" Dean grunted.

"'I am counting on you'," Sam sang with a little more clarity.

"You got it, Sam!" Dean encouraged.

"'You know what you've got to do…'" Sam continued, turning to look at his brother.

"Everybody!" Dean chimed.

"'Fight the good fight every moment!'" the Winchester brothers bellowed. Dean thrashed his head as he pumped his fist in the air.

"C'mon, Cas!" Dean darted her a glance.

"'Every minute every day!'" This time it was Sam who turned around as he sang the line. "Come on, Cas," he said with a small nod, a glimmer of his puppy dog eyes making an appearance.

Castiel sighed and rolled her eyes. "'Fight the good fight every moment…'"

"Yes!" Dean said triumphantly, a smile directed in the rearview mirror.

"'It's your only way…'" the three droned on, the brothers expressing the most enthusiasm led by Dean, and Castiel showing an almost reluctance.

While Dean was just as pumped during the guitar interlude, Castiel watched him from the backseat and sighed.

The brothers returned to the motel to change into their uniforms.

"Can I come with you this time?" Castiel asked.

"You got a suit?" Dean fixed the collar on his jacket.

Castiel looked crestfallen. "No."

"Sorry, Cas, don't think you'd make a convincing agent when you're dressed like you're out on a day trip."

Castiel let out an exerted sigh. "Cathy will be the bane of my human existence."

Dean chuckled.

"We'll keep you posted. You can look up the new information on the monster as we relay it to you," Sam suggested.

Castiel sighed. "Sounds delightful." The longer she spent around the Winchesters, the more her sense of sarcasm was honed.

"Hang in there, buddy. We'll probably be done by noon. In the meantime, you can catch up on some daytime soaps or something. Binge watch some Netflix," Dean said.

"There is just so much 'Ellen' and 'Days of Our Lives' one can take. Porn would be a more welcome option."

"I couldn't agree more," Dean said with a grin.

"Dean, what's the password to your laptop?"

Dean paused. "You are not going to use my laptop to watch porn, got that?"

Castiel sighed. "I wasn't going to use it for that. I thought I'd take the opportunity to catch up on 'Orange is the New Black'. I'm behind an entire season."

Dean's brows turned up as he looked at her.

"It's a good show, Dean," Sam said in the angel's defense.

"Yeah, whatever," he said as he handed Castiel his computer.

"Dean, your password," she repeated.

Dean pursed his lips and came forward. With his voice lowered, he muttered by her ear: "Baby69."

"Is that with a capital B and numerals?" Castiel asked, stopping him in mid stride as he turned away.

Dean sighed with his back to him. "Yes, Cas." He continued on his way when he was stopped again.

"All one word?"

"Yes, Cas." Dean brought his palm to his face and rubbed at his forehead.

Castiel sat herself at the table and opened the laptop. "Baby… sixty… nine…" she said slowly as she typed it out.

"Cas, don't say it out loud!" Dean spun around and looked at her incredulously.

Sam glanced at his brother from the door. "Not like that was a secret or anything."

Dean turned to look at him. "I'm friggin' changing my password when I get back," he huffed as he walked out.

"I wouldn't even touch that thing if you paid me," Sam said, shutting the door behind him.

The brothers worked backwards, finding themselves on the doorstep of the second victim.

A well dressed man in his forties answered the door.

"Good morning. Noah Radwanski?" Sam asked.

"Yes? Can I help you…?" He peered at them cautiously.

They flashed their badges.

"I'm Agent Graham, this is my partner Agent Lecter," Sam said. "We have a few questions about your wife. May we come in?"

The man let out a sigh and nodded, opening the door for them to come through.

"Sorry if we've caught you at a bad time. This shouldn't take long," Sam continued.

"It's not a problem. I work from home; I'm not in a rush to leave," Noah said, leading them forward.

Dean peered around at the large interior, noting the immaculate white marble flooring and sparkling crystal chandelier that hung above them.

He stifled a yawn as they entered the living room where a leather sectional surrounded a glass coffee table.

"Please," Noah gestured, offering them a seat. "Would you like anything to drink?"

"No, thank you," Sam replied as he seated himself.

Noah sat down in an armchair across from them. "What would you agents like to know?" he asked with a small sigh.

"Did your wife act differently around the time she was murdered?" Dean asked.

Noah froze, the features on his face hardening slightly. "No. Avery… was still the same old Avery. Carefree and outspoken. Even to the last minute."

"Do you know if she was having any trouble with anyone? Did she meet anyone new recently? Or get involved with someone else's problems?" Sam asked.

Noah shook his head slightly. "Not that I was aware of. She didn't work. She met a lot of people on her time out; what she did on her own was her own business. If the answer were yes to any of those questions, she didn't care to share any of that with me."

"On the day she was found, where were you?" Dean asked.

Noah sighed. "This old question again. Don't you guys share notes with the local police here?"

"Please. It would help us to hear your side of the story," Sam explained.

"Like I told the police: I was away on a business trip meeting a client. You can check my passport and the cameras at the airport for confirmation. I can even supply you with my client's number if you'd like further validation."

"We'll look into that if we need more information," Sam said. "How long were you gone for?"

"Two days. I had left a day before… Avery was found, and I was called the day after. I didn't know what had happened until I checked my messages near the end of that day. That's when I returned home." Noah's gaze lowered as he peered vacantly at the coffee table.

"Do you still have her cell phone?" Dean asked.

Noah glanced up at him, his eyes glassy. "Yes." He wiped at his eyes.

"We'll need to see that."

Noah nodded. "Sure." He stood and left the room.

Dean waited till he didn't hear the echo of his footsteps. "He's hiding something." He yawned.

"He might be. Or he could be just a grieving widow," Sam said with a sigh.

"Jesus Christ, did you see how polished the floors are?" Dean raised his foot as he peered at the dark hardwood. "I can practically see my reflection in it."

"Dean." Sam sighed.

"She was a bored housewife and he left her home alone? This sounds a little more like 'Strangers on a Train'," Dean said, turning to his brother.

"What do you mean?"

"True, he could have boarded the plane for that business trip, but we don't know his extracurricular activities. He could have had a little something on the side and had something arranged so he could get rid of the main."

"Dean, we're trying to figure out any patterns with why these attacks were made on these women; we're not trying to pin their spouses with infidelities."

"Couldn't that be a pattern?" Dean suggested. "With all the weird shit we've seen in our lives, that's hardly a blip in our weird radar."

"Well, I…" Sam sighed and nodded, "I guess that could be true. Anything is possible," he said, finally agreeing.

Noah returned. "Here you are," he said, handing Sam his late wife's cell phone.

"Thank you," Sam replied with a nod.

"It's locked, though," Noah said, sitting back down.

"That shouldn't be a problem." Sam stood. "Excuse me, I'll be right back."

He left with the phone in hand to the Impala. Sliding into the passenger seat, he opened his laptop and connected a USB wire to the cell phone before running some hacking software. The phone was unlocked within a few seconds and he was able to access her files, history, and messages. But it was the last text that jumped out at him. He disconnected her phone and shut his laptop as he hastened to return to the house.

Meanwhile, Dean was left alone with the widowed man. He avoided making small talk and instead asked to look around the home. It was the kitchen area that he took the most interest in, recognising the part of the island and flooring where he'd seen pictures of Avery's dead body. Now, like every other inch of the space there, the tiles and sideboards were scrubbed clean. Dean found it a bit eerie that the husband was still making his espressos where she had lain sprawled, with her kidneys not five feet from where he was pouring his sugar and cream.

Dean checked the windows then the side door, noting that it opened with ease.

"Was there any damage to your windows or locks?" Dean asked the husband.

"No." The man shook his head. His phone rang. "Excuse me, I need to take this." He answered the call and walked out.

Sam entered the kitchen within a few seconds after.

"There wasn't any forced entry," Dean said. "Even in the pictures, there wasn't any noticeable signs of struggle. Either someone she knew had access to the place, or she invited someone over."

"Yeah," Sam sighed, "she texted 'Ryan'."

Dean's brows rose. "The missing link."

"And that's not all. Look." Sam moved forward and showed Dean the texts.

Dean glimpsed at them before looking at his brother, his brows furrowing.

They found the husband in his office as Dean knocked on the open door.

The man swivelled around to face them, noting their dour expressions. "I'm going to have to call you back," he said to the person on the line. He set down his phone.

"You left a pretty important detail out, Mr. Radwanski," Dean began. "How long did your wife know about you wanting a divorce?"

Noah let out a long sigh and he rubbed at his forehead. "A couple days."

"Right before you left for your trip?" Dean's brow arched sharply.

"I'm not proud of it," he said with a heavy sigh. "No one else knew about it except for my lawyer."

Dean and Sam glanced at each other.

Noah peered up at them. "He said it wouldn't look good for me if this was known about us, so I didn't bother to disclose that."

"This isn't the army where you 'don't ask, don't tell'," Dean said heatedly, "you're withholding information from us that may be vital to this case. Don't you want her murder solved?"

Glancing at his brother, Sam held Dean's shoulder and silently shook his head.

The hardness returned to the husband's face. "How dare you. How dare you insinuate that I wouldn't care about her enough to have her killer caught. We were going through a divorce, but I still cared about her deeply."

"We apologise. Agent Lecter was out of line," Sam looked at Dean with raised brows before turning back to the widow, "but this information could prove to helping us solve your ex-wife's murder."

Noah nodded and rubbed at his face. "We were still married; she didn't sign the papers. They were in my drawer when I got back. She didn't want the divorce… I did."

"Was there another woman?" Dean was quick to ask, causing his brother to frown and dart him a side glance.

"No." Noah lowered his gaze to his desk for a moment. "I… I'm gay," he said, raising his eyes to them.

This was another turn of events that the Winchesters did not see coming. Both expressed surprise—Sam's was more subdued, but Dean couldn't help but blink with rounded eyes.

"Even when I'd given her the divorce papers, she didn't know the real reason why. I couldn't bring myself to tell her the truth just yet. She also thought there was another woman—"

"There was a man instead?" Dean asked.

"No. I wasn't seeing anyone else. I wasn't being true to her, but more importantly, I wasn't being true to myself. I was tired of hiding who I really was—the real, authentic me." He sighed and shook his head. "I have a close relationship with her family. Learning about the divorce would destroy them. I'd prefer it if this information was kept private."

Sam glanced over at Dean. "I would suggest that you find time to tell them yourself in the near future," he said, turning to the widow. "It would be a lot worse if they learned about it from outside sources."

Noah merely nodded and rubbed at his forehead again.

"Did you and your wife know a Ryan?" Dean asked.

"I… no, I don't think so," the husband replied. "Is that person involved with Avery's murder?"

"We don't know yet, but we're looking into it," Sam replied. "Thank you for your time."

"Another burner phone that's been disconnected," Sam said as they walked to the car.

"Hmm, no surprise there," Dean replied through a yawn. "I'd bet Reagan Mott texted 'Ryan' right before she got Ginsu knifed in the back."

They got into the Impala and began to head out to their next destination.

"Okay, so we know that these women are texting Ryan right before their deaths, but what's the cause?" Sam pondered out loud.

"He's probably tired of being their rebound," Dean stated.

Sam sighed. "Dean, there's gotta be something more than just that. He most likely has some sway over them if they trust him enough to text him over anyone else." Sam paused. "They're asking to see him after a big break-up."

"Yeah, that's right, Sammy. And we hunt big, scary monsters."

"Dean," Sam sighed, "I was trying to make a point there."

Dean smiled as he kept his eyes on the road.

"What if… what if he was targeting these women—specifically women in relationships—to befriend, later to kill and eat after future break-ups?"

"Huh," Dean raised his brows, "seems a little far fetched—"

"After you said that a possible pattern could be infidelity."

"Let me finish," Dean said with a raised hand. "I was going to say, yeah, it seems far fetched, but it's possible. Everything that we've seen—so far—has resulted in the chick getting dumped."

"I guess the third time's the charm," Sam said with a sigh.

Castiel had been binge watching Netflix for a few hours only to notice the time when her stomach growled. She paused the show to see that it was a little past noon and frowned. Despite Dean's promise that he and Sam would be returning around then, she wasn't going to hold her breath. She was used to the Winchesters working long hours and losing track of time, but she knew it was all for a worthy cause. Saving lives was infinitely more important than returning to an idle, powerless, and hungry angel, just to keep her company.

With a sigh, Castiel stood and crossed the room to Dean's duffle bag, hoping to scrounge up any cash he might have stuffed away. She found a stick of Doublemint gum, half a roll of Rolaids, a 2400 Court Motel pen, a tooth—which she assumed was human—and one dollar and thirty-five cents in change. Her brows furrowed as she sighed again. She hoped Sam was at least carrying some extra money. And he was—but not by much. Three single one dollar bills, to be exact. It made sense since the Winchesters relied so much on their fraudulent credit cards, considering they didn't make any income, and were essentially committed felons.

Armed with the four dollars and thirty-five cents, her concealed angel blade, and the burner phone Dean had supplied her—in case Sam called for her to look up information, which he thankfully, hadn't done so yet—Castiel stepped out of the motel room to find something within her meager budget.

She walked by foot, recalling the convenience store nearby when she had found the motel searching for Dean and Sam. Two minutes into her walk, she was flapping her open jacket under the searing sun. A minute later she was sweating. She'd never experienced something so uncomfortable and sweltering before, let alone in such a short amount of time, but she finally resorted to removing the jacket and draping it over her arm. She instantly felt better, but then something else happened that was also a first for her.

A passing car honked, and the man behind the rolled down window whistled.

Castiel slowed and watched the man pass, his toothy smirk at her a little too smug, and his leering gaze a little too focused, especially when he was heading towards an intersection. Luckily, he managed to stop in time when the lights turned red.

Castiel narrowed her eyes as she pondered this, her head angling ever so slightly. Clearly those noises were directed at her. When she was in the mall parking lot, she could somewhat recall hearing some whistling and rousing remarks, but she was too distracted then; it had all been background noise to her, nothing she thought that had to do with her directly. Did her exposed arms invoke such a primal behaviour from men that they had the urgency to express it in some vocal form or another, comprehensible or not? She'd heard Dean making little quips and expressions when he'd seen attractive women, but he hadn't done so in an unsolicited manner. He was more… approachable. Permissible, she thought. But it was certain that Castiel still had a lot of things to learn about humans.

She finally entered the convenience store, relieved to be out of the heat and to be greeted by a gentle gust of cool conditioned air. Locating the cooler section, she studied what packaged foods looked palatable for consumption and less than four dollars. A sandwich was feasible, but then her eye caught sight of the bright freezer box with the large pictures of frozen novelty treats. She peered down into the window as her fingers relaxed on the glass. It felt good. The thought of something cold appealed to her at that moment—but not the prices. She wasn't going to be completely satisfied with just ice cream, but her overheated body would. She sighed, being reminded of the struggles and plights she had faced the first time she was human. She walked away and picked up the sandwich.

As she approached the counter, she noticed the glistening hot dogs turning under the heat lamp. Two for $2.50, or $1.69 each. They looked plump and darker than they should have been intended. She wondered how long they'd been turning on those greasy rollers, but the price was affordable, a lot cheaper than her healthy Sam sandwich.

One Dean hot dog and icy pop later, Castiel was exiting the automatic doors as she had a taste of her frozen treat. She smiled as she walked under the baking sun, savouring the melting sweet layers that both cooled her core and quenched her growing thirst.

She really was enjoying herself a lot more this time around. For once, there wasn't a looming apocalypse staring them in the face, and her friends were all safe and in a state that actually resembled happiness. And that made her happy. Caught up in her thoughts, she almost hadn't caught the half whispered comments the two guys that passed her made.

"Look at how she's smiling with her lips around that popsicle."

"'Bet that's how she looks like when she goes down on dick." The second man laughed.

She stopped and glanced over her shoulder with furrowed brows. She didn't know how to react. She had nothing witty or salty to say in response; she wasn't as seasoned like Dean and Sam. Simply, she wasn't human enough to know. Hadn't been a woman long enough to know.

With a forced sigh, Castiel continued on her way back to the motel, but with less repose.

"Ryan makes another appearance," Dean said, climbing behind the wheel.

"And that makes for the third break-up," Sam added, buckling his seat belt. "This confirms that there's a clear pattern with all three women: they get befriended by Ryan beforehand, get dumped by their spouses, text him to come over, then become victims. It just can't be coincidence for a 'Ryan' to be at the scene each time. He's got to be the one behind these women's murders and half-eaten kidneys."

"Hmm, he's pretty specific about who's on his menu," Dean said, driving forward.

Sam paused. "Dean, you're right!"

"Yeah, I usually am." Dean sniffed.

"Ryan's vetting out specific women—newly brokenhearted women. What type of monster has a developed preference of eating certain people?"

Dean's brows furrowed as he kept his eyes on the road. "Don't leave me hanging here, Sammy. Unless you're telling me it's an okami, it still don't make sense."

"No, that's exactly it! An okami!" Sam faced his brother, the sudden revelation giving him a renewed energy and focus.

Dean glanced over at Sam. "Okami don't just nibble on the kidney glands like they're starving models; they eat the entire body."

Sam sighed. "See, that's the thing. Maybe because of that detail, we've been looking at this the wrong way. Maybe some okami have developed a… a specific palate in addition to their preference of human. There has to be some record of it in the archives somewhere."

Dean yawned. "All right. Finally sounds like we're making some headway here."

"Yeah," Sam said with a sigh. He glanced over at Dean. "You've been yawning all day. Didn't get enough sleep?"

Dean straightened in his seat as an image of Castiel in her sleepwear flashed in his mind. He cleared his throat and readjusted his grip on the wheel. "It got hot."

"Yeah, with the sudden heat spike overnight and you having to share a bed with Cas. I forgot that he needs to sleep now. We should make some arrangements, take shifts or something. Want me to share the bed with him tonight?"

"Let's not make any hasty decisions about that right now," Dean was quick to say. "Just wait till the time comes."

"Uh, okay?" Sam said with a quirked brow. "Wait, did something happen between you two?" he asked, glancing over at Dean.

"What? No!"

"You just made it sound like something might have happened—"

"Nothing happened, got that!"

"All right, all right." Sam glanced at his brother warily.

"Just out of respect for our friend Cas," Dean turned to his brother with annoyance before focusing back on the road, "it'd be better that we give him his own bed."

"What? Because he's a woman right now?"

"Exactly that."

"He's still Cas—"

Dean turned to Sam. "Don't tell me that when you look at him now, you still see that awkward and scruffy trench coat wearing nerd."

"I mean, in essence, he is—"

"Even when we walked in on him in his birthday suit?"

"I, uh… yeah," Sam nodded and cast his gaze down. "Yeah."

"Exactly." Dean focused back on the road.

"We'll give him his own bed." Sam nodded, finally in agreement.

Castiel finished her popsicle before she entered the motel parking lot. She tucked the wooden stick in the bag that held her foil wrapped hot dog.

"Well, look at you," a man said from behind her, "all dolled up."

Castiel stopped and rolled her eyes. "Frankly, I'm getting really tired of this—" she said, turning around. Her eyes grew round and her voice caught in her throat. "…Tabbris."

"Hello, Castiel." He smiled. "I agree; I'm getting a little weary, myself," he said, taking a step towards her.

Castiel froze. She held Dean's jacket closer and felt for her angel blade through the fabric.

"Though, I must say, this look really suits you." Tabbris passed a sweeping glance over her. "Better than that old thing you had on before. Much better than how that two-bit demon wore it," he added with a flippant wave of his hand. "Say, wasn't this your first vessel? Why'd you ever decide to change? You're much easier on the eyes, now, brother. Or should I say 'sister'?" He chuckled softly.

Castiel clutched the sleeve of her jacket. "You followed me?"

"From the way things were left, I thought we could sort things out, meet at a middle ground. What do you say? I'm sure there's some wiggle room, hmm?"

"You're more persistent than a pushy saleswoman but with nothing to sell."

The twinkle from Tabbris' eye faded and his lips drew into a line. "I thought it'd be different with you, considering the things that you've seen. You would have had your own army to command, Castiel!"

"Thanks, but no thanks; I've already got a crew. It's called 'Team Free Will'."

Tabbris let out a low hiss below his breath. "When push comes to shove," he raised his hand and snapped his fingers, "I somehow always have the misfortune of using the latter."

Castiel darted a glance to her left and right and spied two familiar figures coming from the shadows.

"All you have to say is 'yes' and we'll drop this in an instant."

Tabbris' angel and demon cronies loomed closer.

"Why don't you shove it up your butthole, you douche nozzle." Castiel's gaze was unflinching.

Tabbris clenched his jaw. "Use any means necessary until he submits."

The demon's eyes flicked black and he grinned. "With pleasure."

The angel dropped her blade into her hand and trailed her stony gaze over Castiel's new form. "Wouldn't say he's much of a challenge, now."

Castiel lowered the sleeve of her jacket, allowing her blade to fall freely. With a swift kick, her shoe connected with the hilt, causing the blade to shoot up in front of her. She snatched at it in midair and was quick to swivel it in her hand. She held the edge out, her stance guarded and ready for attack.

The three squared off with each other, each watching to see who would make the first move.

Castiel's blue eyes swung between the angel and demon like a pendulum. When they remained stationary, she made the decision to set things in motion by casting Dean's jacket and her uneaten hot dog towards them.

The demon swatted them aside as Castiel dashed off in the other direction.

She needed a little time. Dean and Sam were bound to be on their way, but she couldn't solely rely on them. She had to get to the holy oil she'd seen stashed away in Dean's duffle bag.

She glanced over her shoulder to see the demon hot on her heels.

He swung at her.

Castiel ducked forward. With that sudden movement, her momentum was thrown off, allowing the angel to reach her to deliver the first blow.

Castiel blocked, causing their blades to clang and reverberate like tuning forks when they collided. Metal scraped against metal as she wrestled with the strength of her opponent. It was a battle she was losing, her shaking arms giving way as their weapons drew closer to her body. With a decisive move, Castiel finally broke the connection and jumped back. But she was far from being in the clear.

What little distance she had made from the angel, she lost with the demon. He pounced at her after her brief seconds of struggle and successfully clipped her on the side of the head. Castiel staggered on her feet as a sharp ringing filled her ears. When she finally raised her head, she was greeted by the smirking demon and a backhand across the face. She stumbled as she tried to recentre herself, only to be struck again on the other side. Then again. And again. The demon smiled gleefully at the handiwork he had made of Castiel's swollen and split lip.

Castiel finally crumpled to the ground with a low moan, her angel blade nearly slipping from her grasp. The demon hoisted her limp body up from behind as her head lolled around, trying to make sense of her environment. When she realised the position she was in, her eyes grew wide and she jolted upright, but only yielded an amused chuckle from behind her.

She gritted her teeth as she struggled in the demon's hold, her arms being held down in place. Finally taking a moment to breathe, she grew still and quickly switched gears. Instead of working against him, she moved in towards his form, allowing her a little more wiggle room for her elbow. Castiel inclined her head before snapping it back into the demon's face, this time hearing a bone-crunching pop and a snarl; his grip loosened just enough that she could raise her arm. Swivelling her angel blade towards her, Castiel extended her elbow as high as it would go before driving it down into the body behind her. The demon howled and his hold finally fell free from Castiel as he collapsed to the ground.

With the back of her hand, Castiel gingerly wiped the blood at the corner of her lip and winced.

"And then there were two," said the other angel.

Castiel exhaled sharply before turning to her. She knelt down and yanked her blade out from the demon's abdomen before standing, her eyes all the while fixed on her former kin. "So, when Tabbris says 'jump', you jump?" She grimaced through the pain. "Inviting unknown entities to command our world, and believing there won't be any repercussions, is like walking blind into ongoing traffic."

The angel scoffed. "Oh, 'course you'd say that. We're all in this damned mess because of you!"

Castiel lowered her eyes for a split second before glancing back up at her.

"Tabbris saved me. After The Fall, it was a miracle that I had even survived; my wings were barely intact. Months led to years, suffering at the hands of God's precious humans. Being used and beatenLet me tell you, Castiel, all they do is lie, consume, and reap the benefits of others to better themselves." Her eyes were hard, the knuckles on her blade clenched white. "When the day came that Tabbris found me and restored my grace and powers, I returned the pain and misery to them tenfold." She laughed bitterly. "So, if he wants me to 'jump', I'll jump."

Castiel's brows furrowed as she watched her. How was she to judge when she'd done things far worse? "I'm sorry, Pamyel," Castiel said. "Life in this world can be challenging, and yes, some people are misguided, but not all are like that." Dean wasn't like that. Sam and Mary and Jody, they were all good people.

Pamyel scoffed. She shook her head and pointed her blade at Castiel. "You've been around them for too long. I should put you out of your misery. It would be an act of mercy." She lunged forward as Castiel sidestepped out of the way, her blade just skimming the ends of her hair.

Castiel stood away at a healthy distance, mirroring Pamyel's steps as she circled her. "Being on Earth amongst them has taught me more about humanity than what I could ever be told. I've learned that people are terribly flawed, make more mistakes more often than not, and act on their emotions."

"So, you agree. Then why are you still resisting?"

"Yes, they're flawed, some even beyond screwed up, but they learn from their misgivings and grow. They forgive. They act out of compassion. And at their bleakest moments, they still try." Castiel's brows creased together. "I love them, and you better believe they're damned worth fighting for."

Pamyel laughed. "Are you declaring you'd die for them?"

"Yes." Castiel stared her in the eye. "I have before, and I would again."

"Lucky me, I'm the one to send you to your grave this time." Pamyel moved towards her again, this time slicing into Castiel's exposed shoulder.

Castiel let out a cry and instinctively clutched at her wound as she shuffled back. She didn't have time to tend to it when the next second she had her blade raised, deflecting Pamyel's follow through. Blood dripped down Castiel's arm as it lay limp and useless at her side. Being human and powerless had already set her back at a disadvantage, but fighting one-handed would only ensure her opponent a quicker defeat. She didn't know when Sam and Dean would be back, but she refused to give up. If she didn't survive that battle before their return, they'd at least know she'd died fighting.

Castiel was getting winded; the muscles in her arms burned and ached. She wasn't used to this. As a soldier of the Lord, she could fight for days on end without fatigue. Now, she could barely last two minutes. This ultimately led to Pamyel slashing at her abdomen. Castiel moaned and hunched forward as she clutched at her side; blood oozed from between her fingers.

Without a moment to regroup, Castiel felt Pamyel's fingers curl around her throat, ceasing her panting.

"You've grown so weak. What happened to 'God's Chosen'?" Pamyel said, drawing her face closer. "Now look at the state you're in." Her gaze roamed Castiel's form. "Human."

Castiel stared up at her with bleary eyes. With her blade raised, she made a feeble attempt at striking her, but Pamyel caught her wrist before she had even moved.

"Ah, ah," Pamyel said in a disapproving tone. She took hold of Castiel's blade and tossed it to the side. It slid several feet away from them before resting at Tabbris' feet.

With blood stained fingers, Castiel tried to pry Pamyel off her neck.

"You're suffering a great deal, aren't you? I could make it stop. Would you like that?" Pamyel inched her blade closer towards Castiel's face.

"That's enough, Pamyel," Tabbris said, causing her to pause midair. He stepped up to her side. "I want him docile, not dead."

Pamyel stared hard at Castiel, her fingers still curled around her neck and her blade still pointed at her face. After a couple of long seconds, she finally dropped her hold and lowered her arm.

Castiel slumped down in a heap, gasping and coughing as she clutched at her throat. She hadn't even noticed that Pamyel had moved aside, leaving Tabbris in her place.

"Oh, Castiel," Tabbris said with a sigh, "what am I to do with you?" He crouched down in front of her and clasped his hands together. "Ooh, that doesn't look so good." He glanced at the growing red at her midsection. "Seems like Pamyel was playing a little too hard to your liking, hmm? I'm not sure you'll be around here much longer if you don't get that nasty little cut looked at soon."

Castiel's breathing was ragged. Clutching her side, she dug her heels into the ground and slowly pushed herself away from him.

Tabbris laughed. "Stubborn, are we?" He stood and laced his fingers behind his back, taking his time as he closed the gap between them again.

Castiel had broken out into a cold sweat, but she was shivering. Having lost so much blood muddled her senses—her vision darkening and her hearing muffled. She blinked slowly and looked up to see Tabbris' darkened figure in front of her before his smiling visage seeped back into her vision.

He snapped his fingers in her face. "Are you still following me, Castiel?"

She continued to weeze, but she held eye contact with him.

"So, if this continues at this rate, you'll be dead, in, let's say… five minutes. Humans need blood, and you've left a lot of that lying about." He glanced behind them to see a trail of red on the ground where she'd dragged herself. He turned back around and faced her. "And I certainly don't want you dead; the whole point was to get you on my side. Now," he raised his hand, "now that you're not whipping that pointy toy around and throwing a fit, we can have a proper conversation. You'll listen to reason—after."

Castiel was helpless to do anything else but watch Tabbris place his fingers to her head. But it wasn't what she had expected. He had healed her.

She blinked. Her pain had vanished and her breathing wasn't laboured anymore; clarity had returned to her mind. Castiel lowered her eyes as she tried to rationalise his actions.

"Better?" Tabbris asked.

Castiel's brows scrunched together as she raised her gaze to him. "Why?"

"Help him up, Pamyel." A smile played on Tabbris' lips. "And trust me, you're going to need it."

Coming forward, Pamyel hoisted Castiel up by the arm with less grace. Castiel opened her mouth in protest, only to be assaulted by a wave of dizziness. She moaned softly as she closed her eyes and leaned into the angel's dependable grip.

"A bit of a headrush there?" Tabbris asked.

Castiel opened her lids almost mechanically and stared at him like she'd been drugged.

"Well, I may have healed your wounds, but I didn't bother so much about replacing the volume of blood you'd lost. I need to keep you complacent till I'm sure you've chosen the right path." He took a step forward and stood in front of her. "So, I'm going to give you one last chance to pick your destiny: will you join us in building a new Heaven? Or no?"

Castiel took a few shallow breaths before speaking: "Bite me." She kept her steely gaze on Tabbris as she witnessed his little smirk wipe clean off his face.

He leaned in towards her. "I'm being charitable, Castiel; I'm practically giving you a lifeline and you're throwing it away!" he hissed heatedly.

Castiel swallowed. She knew it; this was the end for her. It didn't matter how many times she'd already died. Each moment before she drew her last breath, she was faced with the things she regretted that she'd never said. Done. Because with death, heaven wasn't waiting for her, she was leaving it behind.

"But no worries," Tabbris said after a calming breath, "you'll still play in our favour."

Castiel looked to him in confusion.

Tabbris pulled away only to pause, the sound of a ringing cell phone having punctuated his intense and foreboding speech.

All three listened as it continued, the expression on Tabbris' face growing more annoyed, and Pamyel keeping a stern brow despite feeling awkward. Castiel looked down and it finally dawned on her. Reaching into the pocket of her skirt, she pulled out the burner phone and frantically flipped it open.

"Cas, Sam's complaining about the amount of greasy diner food we've been eating all our lives," Dean said, turning to Sam as he emphasised those last four words. Dean held the steering wheel with one hand and his convenience store pepperoni stick in the other. He took a bite of it. "He wants to try something more family friendly—"

"Dean!" Castiel's cry filled the space of the Impala before a snap was heard. Then silence.

"Cas?" Dean knew he'd already lost connection, but he couldn't help but call out to her. "Cas!"

Tabbris clutched the burner phone and wagged it in Castiel's face. "That was deceitful of you."

Castiel slouched forward and moaned when Pamyel twisted her arm from behind.

"'Dean.' He's that Winchester of yours, right?" Tabbris smiled, but it was anything but friendly. "We'll deal with him later." He clenched his fist, breaking the burner phone into bits and pieces as it fell scattered at his feet.

Castiel's eyes widened before she struggled against the angel's vice grip. "Please," she breathed heavily, "don't. Don't hurt him."

Tabbris let out a chuckle as he withdrew from her slowly. "Now, where were we?" He closed his eyes momentarily as he began to chant something softly.

It wasn't Enochian or Latin, or any recognisable human language, but Castiel did recognise it to be a summoning spell.

Spying a glimmer not far from them, she felt a pull then a crackle of static in the air as a form began to take shape and solidify. It was spectre-like with dried, dusty skin and hollowed cheeks. Its emaciated appearance was only amplified by the large and sunken sockets where a pair of sickly greyish yellow eyeballs lay nestled, its irises clouded over in pale blue. Deep wrinkles radiated from around its shrivelled mouth, a line with non-existent lips that remained silent and just as commanding. Where its nose should have been lay a crevice, making it appear even more ghoulish. The summoned entity was covered in a hooded shroud, the length of it falling in tatters and strips that just draped the ground as it hovered in midair, the lower half of its extremities seeming to be missing.

Castiel didn't know what to make of it. She had never seen anything of its kind before nor heard of anything that had remotely resembled it.

Tabbris uttered a string of choice words and the entity hovered forward towards Castiel before planting its hand over her face.

Castiel's mouth was muffled against its parchment skin; she breathed heavily, smelling earth, dust, and rot. Her eyes grew wide as she stared deep into the blue hazed ones of her executioner, unemotional and lifeless. With another command from Tabbris, the shrouded entity curled its spider-like fingers over Castiel's face and head, securing her tight.

 

Chapter Text

With the pepperoni stick now abandoned by his feet, Dean gripped the wheel with both hands. “Sam!” Dean’s eyes were front and hyper focused. “You got him?”

Sam had snapped open his laptop as soon as Castiel's call had been cut off. His fingers clattered across the keyboard.

“Sam!”

“Dean, wait!” Sam replied with just as much urgency. “If the GPS on the burner hasn’t been destroyed yet—there he is!” he shouted, a sigh of relief soon to follow.

“Where?”

“He’s at the motel,” Sam said, turning to glance at his brother. When he looked back at his screen, the little blinking dot that indicated Castiel’s location had vanished. “We need to hurry, Dean,” Sam said, worry inevitably seeping into his tone.

Dean pushed the pedal to the floor, causing the engine to roar and the Impala to zoom forward. He was about two minutes away, but he'd make it in one.

Cars honked at him as he ran a couple of red lights. He didn't care. All Dean could think about was getting to Castiel before it was too late.

The wheels squealed as he made a hard left, leaving the rear of the Impala to drift sideways and burnt rubber on the road.

“Where are you, Cas?” he whispered, searching the deserted motel parking lot.

Turning in, his eyes nearly bulged at the sight in the distance. It was Castiel—he recognised her bright orange skirt instantly—but some creature, straight out of a Stephen King novel, was attached to her face.

The muscles on Dean’s lower jaw flexed as he gritted his teeth and he tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He ploughed forward with no signs of stopping, the roar of the engine growing imminently louder as they approached the four in the distance. The two idle spectators turned towards him and he spotted the angel blade in the woman’s hand. Then it clicked—they were angels. He suspected they were already siding with the hovering scarecrow, but learning who they were landed them on his bad list—and he was beyond pissed.

Sam hadn’t loosened his hold on the grab handle as he glanced over at his enraged brother. “Dean?”

Dean was unresponsive.

Sam turned back as the two angels remained fixed in their spots, almost daring them in a game of chicken. He knew this would not end well.

By the time the Impala was within ten feet of them, the angels realised the position they were in, but it was too late. They had barely moved an inch when the bumper slammed into their legs, knocking them down hard onto the hood of the car. The creature, however, remained stationary in its place, seeming to dematerialise where the car phased through it.

Sam whipped around to stare at it as they sped by. “Uh, that didn’t help, Dean.”

The angels braced themselves fairly well against the speeding vehicle, and Dean likened them to a couple of splattered flies stuck on a windshield. After a brief moment to collect himself, the male angel managed to raise his head and peered at the older Winchester with a look of curiosity. Dean locked eyes with him, only to be met with an amused smirk. Though the angel's smugness didn't last long. Dean slammed on the brakes and sent the two flying. They landed some several feet away in a messy heap.

“Grab the shotgun, Sam,” Dean instructed, climbing out of the car like he was on a mission.

Sam finally unlatched himself from the handle. “Already on it,” he replied, pushing open the door.

They swung around to the trunk within a few strides and had it popped open in a second. Dean tucked his finger in the corner of the floor and yanked up the cover of the hidden compartment. He knew what he wanted. He grabbed the small glass jug—inconspicuous, if nothing more than something to fill a microbrew—then rounded back along the side of the Impala. Meanwhile, Sam snatched the shotgun and headed in the other direction, pumping the gun to ready the first round. His target was on something else.

The male angel had pulled himself up by the time that Dean returned. He dusted out the length of his pant legs as he peered back at a pair of steely green eyes. “Dean Winchester?” He finally righted himself as he began to do the same to the sleeves of his arms. He paused and frowned when he noticed a stain and small tear, though didn't seem to be at all fazed at the sound of a shotgun firing. The female angel behind him, on the other hand, snapped her head round at the intrusive noise.

Dean didn't flinch. He stood a small ways from his vehicle, armed with his jug as he kept his eyes on the fashion concerned angel. “You must be the carry-on size douche, Tabbris.”

Another shot was fired.

“Dean!” Sam called out, but Dean was too pissed off to focus on anything else.

Tabbris raked his hair back as he peered at Dean, the annoyance burning embers in his eyes. “Ah. So, Castiel’s mentioned me.” He smiled. It was cautioning danger. “Did he tell you about how well I treated him? Did he even have the words?” He let out a soft chuckle.

“Dean!”

Dean’s grip on the handle tightened. “You fucker!” Without another word, Dean tossed it towards them. It smashed on the ground on contact, and a ring of fire soon encircled the angels. “Yeah, that’s right; holy fire, bitches. Now, why don’t you shut your piehole and suck on those fumes for a bit.”

Sam huffed and glanced over his shoulder at his brother. “Dean!”

“What!” Dean finally yelled back.

“We’ve got a situation here!” Sam pumped the shotgun as he held it steady and pointed at the hovering figure.

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“This… whatever it is—it’s not budging!”

“Blast it again!” Dean stalked over with clear brotherly annoyance.

Sam let out an exasperated sigh and did as he was told. The sound ricocheted off the walls of the parking lot, but all the salt round seemed to do was fly through the apparition.

“It doesn’t seem to be working!” Sam pumped the shotgun again, dropping the empty shell at his feet. He fired another round, his efforts proving ineffective.

In one fluid motion, Dean slipped the gun out from behind his waistband and had it aimed at the thing in front of him. “Sammy!” he called out in warning as he cocked the gun, causing the younger Winchester to take a step back. He fired twice. This had no effect on it whatsoever, leaving Dean to lower his hand slowly as he stared helplessly at his friend. “Salt and silver don’t work on it,” he said quietly, speaking more to himself.

Tabbris chuckled. “Nor would anything else for that matter.”

Dean’s moment of weakness receded when his anger enveloped him again. Trekking back to the caged angels, he spotted Castiel’s discarded angel blade on the ground and snatched it up. He held it tight at his side as he stood in front of Tabbris. “Oh, yeah? Well you better tell us what will or I swear, I’ll drag your ass through this fire and stick you with this blade myself!” Dean wasn’t bluffing.

The angel from behind took a step closer towards Tabbris and voiced her concern. “Tabbris, it isn’t worth our lives for one angel.”

“If you were smart, you’d listen to what she’s saying,” Dean said.

Tabbris held his gaze with him before finally speaking. “It follows orders.”

“Then what are you waiting for? Call off the Crypt Keeper!”

The angel looked across to where the creature and Castiel stood before muttering some low incantations.

“Dean!” Sam called out.

Sam watched from nearby as the apparition uncurled its fingers from Castiel’s face, then very slowly, hovered back. She collapsed as soon as she was released, but Sam moved in time and caught her before she hit the ground. “Cas! Cas!” Sam shook her slightly.

She moaned, her eyes barely opening as she peered up at him. “Sam…” she said hoarsely.

He nodded. “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be okay.”

She closed her eyes and leaned back against him.

Just like how it had appeared, there was a crackle in the air and an unusual fluctuation in atmospheric pressure. This caused Sam to look up as he witnessed the space around the apparition to seemingly contour and bend into it. Dimming like a light being turned low, it began to fade, and with a strange suction sound, it snapped out of existence. Things returned to normal.

“Sam!” Dean called out. “He all right?”

“Yeah!” Sam nodded, peering back down at her. “I’ve got him!”

Dean decided it was finally safe enough to leave his post and check on his friend.

“Dean Winchester,” Tabbris began with a smile, “I have a proposition for you.”

Dean paused and turned to him as he gave him a once over. “Sorry, you’re not my type,” he said before proceeding on his way.

“How does it sound,” Tabbris continued, “if you could be part of building a better world? A new Heaven?”

Dean rolled his eyes. However, this quickly turned into a frown at the sight of Castiel in his brother's arms. He clenched his teeth as his blood heated with anger again. “We're leaving. Get him in the car.”

Sam nodded and carried her to the backseat.

Dean was quick, wasting no time as he entered their room and shoving his things into his duffel bags. Sam followed him within a couple of minutes and did the same.

When Dean finished, he returned to the car and dumped his things in the trunk. He caught a glimpse of Castiel in the backseat, limp and motionless, before coming around and opening the door.

“Cas, you all right?” he asked a little quietly.

She stirred and opened her eyes, then sluggishly shifted upright. “I'm okay, Dean,” she said, turning to look at him, though the pallor of her skin may have suggested otherwise. She blinked slowly.

“Are you hurt?” Dean’s brows furrowed.

“No,” she paused briefly, “Tabbris healed me.”

That was something Dean did not expect. He blinked quizzically before continuing. “Didn’t he want you dead?”

“Something close to that, but not entirely.” Castiel sighed softly. “He was forcing his hand, whether I agreed to join him or not.”

“And the creature?”

“That I’m unsure of. The incantations Tabbris used to control it aren’t native to Earth.”

“As in planet Earth? Are you saying that that thing’s not from around here?”

“Possibly. It’s not at all unlikely.” Castiel grew quiet and peered down in thought, recalling Tabbris’ words from their first encounter.

The sound of the trunk slamming shut punctuated their silence before Sam rounded around to join his brother.

“Dean, we better go.” He paused to glance to Castiel, his brows softly drawing together in worry.

Castiel spoke before Sam could voice his concern. “I’m okay, Sam,” she said, though he looked anything but convinced. “We better leave before the local authorities arrive,” she suggested. Being around the Winchesters for so long, and learning to be a hunter at their hand, taught her a few things when it involved the law.

Dean clapped a reassuring hand on his younger brother’s shoulder as Sam swept his gaze between him and Castiel. Sam finally nodded and headed to the passenger’s side, allowing Dean to close the door.

“I’m sorry,” Castiel said, watching the brothers slide into their usual spots.

Dean glanced at her from the rearview mirror as he began to pull the car out. “What are you sorry for?”

“Trouble followed me here.” She watched Tabbris and Pamyel from her window as they drove past. “I should have been more prepared. If I had gotten those masking sigils tattooed like before, they wouldn’t have found me.”

“Hey, this isn’t your fault, got that? Getting inked might put them off your trail for a while, but if they really want to find you, they’ll find a way,” Dean said sternly.

“He’s right, Cas,” Sam said, glancing over his shoulder. “And it’s better that we’re here, rather than you having to face them alone like before.”

“He shouldn’t have had to if he’d have told us to go with him in the first place.”

Castiel lowered her eyes.

“Dean.” Sam shot his brother a look before sighing and shaking his head, then turned to face his friend. “We can get your sigils done now before we check in at a new motel.”

“Yes, that’s definitely something that takes priority,” Castiel said, glancing back up at Sam, “but I need to go somewhere first.”

Several minutes had passed since Castiel had been waiting in the backseat of the Impala, being half hidden by a tree that badly needed pruning. A shadow casted over her face causing her to glance up, but she was relieved to see that it was just the brothers.

“Here,” Dean said as he rummaged through a brown paper bag, “freshly squeezed O neg, no pulp.” He pulled out a blood bag while Sam shrugged off his lab coat.

“Thank you, Dean.” She offered him a weak smile as he set up a makeshift IV hook on the grab handle.

Sam hunched in next to his brother and pulled some things out from the lab coat pockets. “I thought you might need these,” he said, offering Castiel a couple of cookies and a small bottle of orange juice.

Castiel’s eyes lit up instantly and she beamed. “Thank you, Sam.”

Dean watched sullenly at their exchange.

After Castiel eagerly tore into the packaging, she bit into the cookie like she was being timed. A blissful sigh inevitably followed. “I haven’t had proper sustenance since breakfast,” she said between a mouthful of crumbs.

Dean turned to his brother, aghast and bordering on a pout. “Did you get me one?”

Sam raised his brows. “Uh, no. Sorry, Dean, I only got those for Cas; he lost a lot of blood and I was afraid he had low blood sugar. He hasn’t even eaten since morning.”

Dean’s lips parted slightly before closing and extending outward into an actual pout. He turned back to check the tubing on his set-up. “Didn’t even bother to get me one,” he muttered under his breath, his brows terse in a frown. “I need your arm, Cas,” he said clearly.

She watched as Dean fastened some tubing around her upper arm while she broke into her second cookie. He tapped at her forearm to locate a vein, then swabbed the area with alcohol. It felt cool but not unpleasant.

“This’ll pinch a bit,” Dean said before pressing the needle into her skin.

Castiel remained still, save for her loud chewing. Dean glanced at her briefly before focusing back on securing the needle with some medical tape when the loud and persistent crunching stopped.

“Dean,” Castiel began, causing the elder Winchester to look up, “do you want it?”

Dean looked at the half eaten cookie she dangled in front of his face. “No,” he sighed, “it’s fine.”

Castiel frowned. “I know you want my cookie, Dean. You’ve been eyeing it all this time.”

“I said it’s fine, Cas.”

Sam glanced between the squabbling pair with quirked brows.

“Dean, I’m offering; it’s right in front of you. Take it,” Castiel persisted.

“And I said that I’m fine,” Dean huffed.

“I know you want it and I want you to have it.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter if I want it or not!” Dean retorted. “Just… just eat it, Cas. You need it more than I do, anyway. We don’t want you passing out on us. Gotta keep your blood sugar up. Ain’t that right, Sam?” He glanced behind him at his brother.

Sam caught himself in the middle of an exasperated eyeroll and partial muttering under his breath. “Uh, yeah, right. SO,” he said on an exerted exhale, “we ready?”

“Yeah,” Dean stood and stretched his legs, “you’re all good to go,” he said with a nod at Castiel. With one last check on the blood bag, he climbed behind the wheel.

Like before, Castiel had to explain where the placement of her tattoo would be. The tattoo artist had initially refused her at first glance—a bandaged and bruised forearm where the needle had previously been; the paleness of her complexion, even though it had significantly improved; the questionable state of her attire—but after some persistence and persuasion of some greenery, the former-angel-now-turned-human-woman had once again had the unique markings inked onto the left side of her ribs.

Now, she was sitting upright in one of the beds of their new motel room, feeling more rejuvenated after emptying the second blood bag. Her skin wasn’t as sickly white, and her lips had returned to a human shade of pink, but she didn’t look completely healthy just yet. She was hungry and needed nourishment.

Sam pushed through the door and Castiel darted her eyes at him with an alertness. With the reflexes of a cat, she pushed herself off the headboard at the smell of the takeout he was carrying. “I got—”

“Chinese,” Castiel finished for him, springing forward and practically clawing the large bag out of his hand. She plopped herself down at the kitchenette table and tore into the first container, not caring what contents were held within it.

“Hey,” Dean took a seat to her left, “I think you dropped this.” He placed her angel blade on the tabletop with care like how he handled his own guns and knives.

Her chewing slowed and she gingerly swept her fingertips across the cold metal hilt. “Thank you, Dean. With everything that was going on, I’d forgotten about—”

“Don’t sweat it. But the only time I want to be picking up after you is if I have to yank this out of an angel, got that?”

Castiel smiled.

“Now, quit hogging the orange chicken,” he said, gesturing with his hand. Castiel slid the container over, moving her focus onto something else she could sink her teeth into as she emptied the rest of the takeout bag.

Sam set down a cold six pack on the table as he joined them. “Any luck?”

Dean helped himself to one of the bottles and cracked it open. “Nada.” He took a swig.

“Sam, are you sure it’s an okami?” Castiel asked. “Even with the extensive knowledge the Men of Letters have managed to accrue over the years, we have yet to come across any information about this specific type.”

“I know,” Sam sighed, “I know it seems like a long shot, but… but it’s the most likely thing out of any of the other monsters we’ve dealt with. Otherwise… otherwise, we have nothing.”

“We’ll get that son of a bitch. Whether it’s an okami or not,” Dean said with certainty. “Just keep your eyes peeled.”

The hours bled into each other as the hunters spent the rest of the night poring over text and documents, only for them to come up short of nothing. They decided they’d call it in early at the stroke of midnight so they could continue early the next day. As Dean had suggested, he and Sam ended up sharing a bed, leaving Castiel with her own, despite her uncertainty with their arrangement. It was obvious that it would be cramped with two grown men sharing a twin mattress, but Dean had been adamant:

“Just as long as there are no drop kicks, blanket hogging, and boners.”

“Likewise,” Sam had said, echoing Dean’s sentiments.

It didn’t take long for Sam to pass out, falling into a deep slumber within two minutes flat. Dean lay in bed listening to the familiar patterns of his brother sleeping next to him, which eventually led to his soft snoring. Castiel was a little harder to detect, but after some time, he suspected she had also drifted off when all he could hear was her even breathing. Knowing that they were all safe gave him comfort, and soon he eventually welcomed death’s cousin, too.

But, it had been brief, disrupted by the sound of a low moan. Dean snapped his eyes open to see the shape of Castiel’s dark figure in bed, tossing underneath the thin covers.

He raised his head. “Cas?” His voice was just above a whisper. She was dreaming, that much was clear, but Dean wasn’t sure if angels could dream till now. He laid his head back down and watched her squirm, her murmuring unintelligible and guttural.

“Please… no more…”

Dean’s eyes widened as he made out the words.

“Have mercy… please… stop….” Her body jolted, her pleas ebbing down to soft whimpering and laboured breathing. Castiel sat up and shucked the clinging blanket off of her form, wet from her sweat. She paused for a second, her fingers clenched in the entangled sheet she’d just cast aside, her poise folding forward like a wilting flower. Then like a voluntary jolt, she got up and went to the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

Dean could tell she was upset, so he'd wait until she got out to ask if she was all right. In the meantime, he'd rest his eyes. His lack of sleep was finally winning and he desperately needed his four hours that night.

Things were quiet. When he opened his eyes, Dean was greeted by the first signs of daylight seeping through the closed curtains. He peered across him to see Castiel's bed empty. Scrunching his brows, he noted the time on the alarm clock to be 5:51 and the bathroom door still closed. Adding to his confusion, the sheets on Castiel's bed were cool to the touch, meaning she hadn't returned to bed. None of her belongings appeared to be out of place either, unless Castiel had decided to leave with nothing but her satin camisole and barely-there shorts.

Dean knocked on the bathroom door. “Hey, Cas, you in there?” It had been almost five hours since he had last seen her disappear inside. “Cas?” He tested the knob to find it locked. “Cas!” he said louder, worry settling in when she didn't respond. “I'm coming in!” If she was in the shower or on the crapper, he didn't care. He'd given her ample warning and she hadn't bothered to acknowledge him.

With one swift kick with his bare foot, he had the door swinging open and bits of the frame spitting across the tiled floor.

Daylight barely lit the bathroom, but it was bright enough inside so accidents could be avoided. Dean didn't need to look far in that small space to see the dark form slumped down in the tub. “Cas—” Worry had been knocked out of him with fear, its icy grip choking off the tail end of his voice and a shakiness trying to worm its way into his throat. He forced himself to breathe, to calm his nerves despite how unsettling and still the figure made him feel.

He yanked the shower curtain aside and knelt down next to the bathtub. “Cas,” he repeated.

Castiel was sitting up, her back pressed against the side of the cold metal, feet anchored and knees slightly drawn like she was ready to spring upright at a moment's notice. Clenched tight in both of her hands was her angel blade, barely resting atop of her lap, the edge grazing the fabric of her nightwear and skin with each shallow breath she took. Her eyes were vacant, focusing on nothing in front of her; she was there, but she wasn't present.

“Cas!” Dean took command of his voice this time, desperate to get his friend to respond. He reached out and touched her shoulder and Castiel reacted, but not in any way he had wanted or anticipated. With a cry, she jerked her arm towards him, the blade in her grasp pointed and greedy to dig into flesh. Dean snapped his hand back and clamped a firm hold around her wrist, holding her at bay as she struggled to push forward. “Cas!” He gasped as he stared back into the wild blue eyes of his friend, feral and afraid. Not seeming to see or hear him, she let out another cry as she attempted to strike him again with her free hand, only this time, Dean was more prepared, managing to apprehend her a second time. “Cas, it’s me, Dean!” He could feel her struggling against him in his hold and it made him all the more want to shake her, to shake away that unfamiliar look she was giving him.

Her erratic breathing had barely slowed, but with her gaze fixed to his, the wildness in her eyes lessened and a spark of her former self returned. “Dean…?” No longer fighting him, her voice sounded wobbly and uncertain at first, like he had just peeled away a mask to reveal himself to her. Through her distress, an expression of relief and recognition passed over her features and her eyes began to well with tears. She glanced to their hands, her eyes widening as she realised what she had almost done and dropped her blade. Her shoulders tensed and her face crumpled, tears chasing each other down her smooth cheeks. “Dean…” she said, her voice strained and thick with remorse. She choked on a moan, her shoulders quaking as she sobbed. “Dean… Dean, DeanDean!”

“Cas,” Dean held her close to his chest as she folded forward, grasping at him like he was going to leave at any given moment, “what the hell did they do to you?”

“Dean…” Castiel sucked in a shaky breath.

“I swear, I’ll find that Tabbris son of a bitch, and everyone else on his goddamn crew and kill them!” It was a promise Dean was determined to keep.