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Gold Dust Woman

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The Rapture

Dean had stayed in a lot of motel rooms over the years. Bit of an understatement, really. Some he'd camp in for the night. It didn't matter what they looked like then. Any hole in the ground on the side of the road would do. He hadn't gotten lice yet, but he always crossed his fingers before going in. Other rooms he'd have to stay in for months and those he was pickier about. Nice enough for clean towels and maybe a free cup of Folgers in the morning, but not so nice that the owners asked a lot of questions. He'd been in so many that they all blurred together, a wash of faded shag carpet, stylish partitions, and peeling wallpaper.

He remembered a few, though. Kind of like how people remembered where they were when they found out about 9/11. It was never a good memory, always traumatic in some way, and he got the chills whenever the decor was situated just right to remind him... of whatever it was.

He'd remember this room. Just because of how freaky the whole thing felt. And how the silence stretched on. Rarely did he and Sam ever have visitors in one of these places and now it was crowded, with Jimmy Novak on the edge of one bed and his wife and daughter sitting adjacent at a small table.

When Dean couldn't stand the sound of his own leg shaking anymore, he scrubbed a hand down his face and announced that he was going on a food run.

An hour and two cigarettes later, he toed the door open. No one had moved. Who could have guessed? Even Sam hadn't, standing pensively in 'his' corner, arms crossed and enormous brow furrowed.

This was a shitty situation. If he could have given Novak the time with his family that he deserved, Dean would have. But the guy had already gone AWOL and had gotten the girls' asses kicked by messengers from the nether realm.

Full plastic bags rustled in his arms. Maybe it was Mom's influence, but food... oh, food made everything better. Even if he looked like somebody's grandmother trying to dole it out. "Alright, I've got a couple of burgers here, fries, onion rings, pumpkin pie, couple of sodas... Let's at least think on a full stomach."

He gripped the styrofoam trays and passed them around one by one. Jimmy was the first to open his. Amelia shifted uncomfortably in her chair, lips pursed. At her husband's pleading eyes, she unceremoniously flipped open the lid. Claire chewed on a soda straw.

"What's your name?" Dean asked the girl, grunting as he slid a tray her way. He suspected that at least she would talk to him and then this whole silence thing could be over with.

She was blonde, her hair bone-straight. And she looked like she'd just walked out of Sunday school. The pressed collar of a button-down peeked out from under a cardigan. There were stockings on her legs, under a small skirt, and she wore short black heels. That would explain her falling so easily when that black-eyed bastard had close-lined her in the kitchen.

"Claire," she answered, voice light and airy.

"How's the ankle?"

"Better." She gave it a twist. Small fingers snatched up a fry. The movement was so delicate she could have been playing Jenga in there.

"I didn't get anything weird on it," Dean offered when he noticed her reluctance to go anywhere near the tin foil wrapping. "Cheese and ketchup." Same as Sam's order when he was a kid. Figured she could have been just as picky. Dean pointed in his brother's direction. "That one pukes at the smell of onions."

"No, I'm a vegetarian," Claire explained politely and, yeah. That made sense. Her limbs were all scrawny. Thin and lean and the only ounce of fat on her was perky and sweater-clad. Dean hadn't meant to let his eyes linger.

"Just eat it, sweetie." Jimmy nudged tiredly.

"I'm not hungry, Dad."

Huh, Dean thought. That had had a carnivorous bite to it. Maybe Claire wasn't huge on ground beef, but absentee-father was fair game and on the menu. Sucked to be Jimmy.

"I went vegan once, in college." Sam coughed around his burger. "I've got a protein bar you can have when you are."

Dean gave her a wink. "Smart girl. Just means more pie for you."

"Claire, Amelia, could we have a second?" Jimmy asked.

Claire stared on defiantly, but Amelia grabbed her wrist and tugged. "Come on."

There was a silence that followed after the door shut. Jimmy stood, working himself up to something, and Dean expected to hear something along the lines of you told me so, now what? Instead, he got, "Not my daughter, Dean."


"I said not my daughter, you son of a bitch. You don't look at her. You don't talk to her." In his trench coat and at his full height, Jimmy looked like Cas again. And with that threatening, garbled tone, the one the angel used almost exclusively, he was downright menacing. Except Dean knew he was only looking at an accountant. A mad accountant, but an accountant. No otherworldly being in there.

"I've seen how you hunters live. I couldn't see everything, but sometimes I..." Jimmy's fist closed and he let out a sigh. "You get it where you can, when you can. Strip clubs, bars, hook-ups and then it's thanks-for-the-ride. I'm saying not my daughter. Not ever. I don't care what happens to me or Amelia. This is no life for her. Castiel made a promise that THAT girl would be safe-!"

"Woah, woah!" Sam pressed, rounding the bed with his hands up in surrender while Dean still sat dumbfounded, brows raised. "Listen, we're gonna figure out how to keep them safe, however we can. We're still not the enemy here, and Claire's gonna be fine... do you - do you have reason to believe that something might happen? Jimmy? Something bad?"

Damn, Sam was quick on the draw. Always had been. Jimmy had finally cracked. Wide open. Splat. Like an egg. Dean wiped at his mouth with a paper napkin. Someone had to cut him a break, Cas (or the image of Cas) had just called him a man-slut.

"I mean," Jimmy bit out in frustration. Then he sighed. His voice was strangled. "I wasn't his first choice."

"His first choice... for a vessel?" Sam tried.

"It doesn't matter. I just want to hear you say it. No matter what happens, you don't let Claire get involved in this, or with you, or with any of your friends."

"Sure, man. Whatever happens. Right, Sam?" Dean expertly deflected.

"Uh... right." Sam agreed slowly.

But Sam wasn't the one who had a thing for cheerleaders (like the ones he could never get in high school). And with a body like that, Claire had to be one. Jimmy was right. Dean could have hung his head in shame. He ought to be taken out back and neutered. Or just plain shot.

Sam patted the back of the rental car. A short family reunion after two years apart, but it was the right thing to do. And now Jimmy knew it, too. The younger Winchester doubted he'd give them any more trouble in the "sneaking off" department.

That was a good thing. It meant they could get back to doing their job and focusing on where the hell Cas went and why.

Dean, on the other hand... Of course, he couldn't be happy about it. Or even a little relieved, after all the effort it'd taken to get them to this point. Sam spared a glance his way. His brother was lit under the streetlight with his fists shoved in his jean pockets. Scowling.

Dad had always said Dean was a glass-half-empty kind of guy.

Even if the sacrifice and pain of others were for the greater good, Dean couldn't stand it. He wore it on his shoulders until they were heavy with the load of it all. Sam had learned early on that that kind of thinking got hunters killed. But maybe that was why Dean had survived hell, the way he had, coming out semi-normal and all. He could take a personal beating like it was nobody's business.

Sam walked over to him, pulling his coat tighter around him. A crisp night in Illinois. It made him yearn for the Texas weather they'd left behind. "Hey," he breathed.

"Hey," Dean grunted, watching the rental carrying Jimmy's wife and Claire roll on. The backlights were fading fast.

"Good job on not getting clocked earlier."

"Come on, man." Dean grit his teeth, defensive. "I wasn't exactly moving on the target. Okay? Girl's been through enough. I can keep it in my pants. Hey! I can! Had enough dads threatening me with a shotgun before."

"Too bad all he had was Cas' sword or he might have leveled you."

"Yeah, what the hell was that about?"

"He seems pretty worried that Claire might be next in line for the whole angelic body snatch."

"That's stupid." At Sam's look, Dean doubled down. "Cas wouldn't do that. Ever. I know the guy, alright? Better than you do. So trust me on this. And besides, Jimmy's still up and kicking."

"For now. Until another demon tries to pry his head open to see what makes him tick."

"Which is why he's with us. We keep him alive until Cas gets back."

"We don't exactly have the best track record at the moment. And Anna did say that Cas seriously pissed off some people upstairs. If Jimmy does know something-"

"Would you stop? You're giving me the willies, making me think of Cas in some-" Dean's hands moved to cup at his chest, then he shrugged. "Guess that would make him less of an eyesore."

"Sure, Dean."

"I'm just saying."

"Don't. Father of the Bride's on your six."

Dean turned his head and there was Jimmy, stalking toward them with his head hung low, eyes to the ground. That first time around, he'd thought he was giving himself up to some divine cause. A servant of God. No better title in the world. He'd had no idea what he was getting into or what he was leaving behind. Now, he... he knew alright. Where he was going, there would be no houses lined up a neat little row, no freshly mowed grass, no white picket fences. Just a whole lot of Pink Floyd and kaleidoscope colors.

Dean's stomach sank for the guy.

Castiel had put many an angel in prison for their crimes - sometimes personally. But never had he thought he'd end up there himself. And never had he thought it'd be so painful. Not in the usual nerve-burning way, either, but in a cold, empty way. It felt much like sitting on concrete for hours, though logic told him he was probably drifting in a black hole somewhere along the Milky Way.

Their choice in a cellmate for him was rather unfortunate, though it did tell him just how badly he'd- no... just how important... He hadn't decided yet if what he'd tried to do was such a bad thing. He didn't want to believe his brothers were capable of such horror.

Dean's voice echoed in his head: this didn't have to happen, not if they stopped it.

"Pardon me for being chatty. I haven't had company in a few centuries."

"I'd prefer the quiet to think before Micheal returns." Castiel cast an annoyed glance at the rotted, mangled form of Gadreel. Such a warped creature... A disgrace. Even now, he was more snake than angel, wriggling on his yellow belly while he shed a second, third, and fourth skin. Castiel shuddered to think of how he'd betrayed Adam and Eve. He could never imagine leading Dean or Sam astray in such a way. He turned his owl-face away from him. "And you are no brother of mine."

"That is untrue." He waited and tried a different approach. "I never knew you had returned from hell. After the first time, I mean. When you were trapped down there."

Castiel's feathers bristled at the mentioning. If he could reach through the bars and strangle the serpent-...

"You survived so many years in the pit... You know the armies of Satan by now just as well as I do, don't you?" Gadreel's eyes rolled in his direction. "Of course you do. That's how you saved the Chosen One when all others failed. It certainly changes one's perspective, doesn't it? On demons... on humanity... on our family. I'd wager that we are more alike than you think."

"I am nothing like you," Castiel insisted through gritted teeth.

"No? You nearly destroyed Eden."

Slowly, the owl-head rotated back around. Castiel looked over his shoulder at Gadreel and wondered... what did he mean by that? And was it confirmation of what he dared not say aloud?

Time moved differently in jail cells. They'd left him there for what felt like years until he was numb and freezing and yearning in a way that he'd never felt in all his time in hell. Gadreel had gone silent, in the end.

Micheal freed him, and then there were conversations amongst the legion. Thousands. So many at once that Castiel could hardly keep them straight.

Don't you remember, Castiel? They're animals. Bloodthirsty, filthy mammals...

This is destiny. This is God's word.

We will save them from themselves.

Just another day on the job, Dean thought as he peered around the cater-cornered edge that was his hiding spot. They were back in that mangled factory. The crime scene, he called it. It was the site of Cas' disappearance, where there had obviously been a struggle. The whole place was nothing but crumbling sheetrock, broken glass, and rhubarb. Tetanus-ridden rhubarb, at that. He minded his hands. Yeah, just a Wednesday.

With a nod from Dean that the coast was clear, Sam advanced.

At the center of it all was Claire, tied to a chair. Her mother sneered over her shoulder at her. Only it wasn't Amelia at all. Just another run-of-the-mill, grunt demon. And Claire, she was handling it well. Better than Jimmy, who had walked through the front door and forgotten their plan: stall, until Dean could think of a better plan. He was crying and begging and all but willing to make a deal for their lives.

Dean couldn't blame him. It was just... jarring, still. It wasn't Jimmy's fault that every time Dean looked at him, he saw Cas. The angel would have come in guns blazing like Rambo or the Terminator. And he would have had a plan of attack with all the details written out for them.

Claire was the smart one. "It's okay, Daddy," she panted to him. "It's okay, it's okay. I'm okay."

"I'm so sorry, baby," he sobbed.

"I know. But it's okay." And then that girl - that sweet, soft little thing - look the demon right in the eye. She made it her bitch. "Because he's talking to me. Castiel."

"Is he now?" the demon said slowly. It leaned down so that Claire could smell all the fire and brimstone on its breath. This one must have been a real chronological lier in life because it expected a trick at every corner. "And just what is he saying to you, sweetheart?"

She leaned back. "I can't hear him if you're talking, too. I just... need a minute."

Sam advanced again.

"A minute," it hissed, pleased. It turned on its heel. "Guess you're chopped liver, Jimbo. What'd you ever do to piss off- no, wait. I bet I know what it is. Angel wants a new haircut. Oooh, boy, do I GET that. As soon as we're done here, I'm dropping this hag down a hole. Seriously, would it have killed you to pay for a decent boob job? ...your daughter's practically jailbait. All supple and lean. And so soft. And you? You're broke down. Wrinkled and gray." The demon frowned for him. "If I had Castiel's kind of stats, I'd want something a little more fashionable, too."

Dean made the whole ten feet to the opposite wall, but his foot caught in the dirt at Jimmy's outburst. Shit. "Shut up, shut up! I'll fucking kill you, you evil son of a bitch!"

"Dad-" Claire begged. She'd seen Dean. Their eyes had met. She knew. If they'd kept that demon ranting just another minute - another minute - he could have gotten to her.

"The way I see it?" The demon grinned and leveled a gun on Jimmy. "We don't even NEED to unspool your brains. This shit's generational! Isn't it?" Jimmy couldn't pretend that it wasn't, even if he wanted to. Two thousands years of them not knowing and the demon's had finally figured it out. "So, we'll kill you both and call it a day! No more Castiel. No more angel general to screw up our plans. Why don't we handle his cute little soldier boys while we're at it, too?"

Strong hands grabbed at Dean and Sam and pulled them from the wreckage. Oh, crap-! They'd forgotten about the freakin' neighbors. Here was the bush in ambush and yet Cas was still nowhere to be seen. Come on, man... You can't leave these people to die like this. Phone a friend if you can't get down here! Because my ass is about to get fried with them!

"Knife up the girl first. I want him to watch."

"HEY-!" Dean shouted, moving to jerk free from the hold, but it was no good. Jimmy was screaming. Sam lifted a newly free hand and strained, but nothing. No juice. Of all the times Dean wished his brother had the juice in him...

"You think you're gonna win this fight?" Claire snapped suddenly. She was flushed, panting, and there was sweat on her brow. Her lips forced a smile. "I know something you don't know."

God, Dean could only imagine how scared she was. The guy who'd given her Halloween candy every year was holding a blade to her throat. It bit into her skin and she winced. Blood dripped down to her collarbone. At the look the boss-demon gave him, he stopped.

There was a pause. Amelia's eyes narrowed and, out of sheer spite - gunfire. Jimmy was down like his body was made out of bricks. Claire screamed. She couldn't help it. She cried, fat tears rolling down her face, taking big snot-filled breaths.

Then it all... stopped. Her face went stony and still. It was as if someone had flipped the off switch. Her arm broke through the ropes and lifted to burn the demon out of Amelia's skull, burned it down to nothingness so that not even hell would take it back. The distraction was enough for Dean and Sam to break free and fists went flying.

Push. Shove. Uppercut. Dean took a blow to the chin and gave it right back, so hard that the demon spun onto the ground. Then he knifed him. Dean knew the cost but he was no less satisfied by the end result. They'd put this family through hell, literally. The entire night had been one big shit storm.

It wasn't until he got up, breathing hard, that he saw it. Jimmy was dead, his wife was dead, and their daughter stood quietly over the both of them. Dean's stomach dropped between his knees.

Goddamnit, he'd never seen something so heartbreaking in all his life. "...Cas?"

Claire looked at him and yeah, there was something in those steel eyes that told him. Cas was in there and he'd fucked up. Majorly. Dean felt like he might hurl because maybe they were to blame for this, too. Because if Jimmy had never left... But then, Cas' face went all hard. Dean followed his line of sight.

Sam's mouth was covered in blood - demon blood. Oh, not now, Sammy... God, he thought they'd just gotten him clean... Now Cas was leaving.

No, wait- "Cas!"

The angel stopped. Claire seemed taller with the ethereal being in her. Scarier. There was a tiredness about her face now that aged her. It was the same tiredness his Dad wore, that Bobby wore, that just about every guy that age wore. After a battle gone horribly wrong, they were sad, but they'd seen enough bad in the world to expect things to just turn out that way.

Dean wanted to ask what now? When are you gonna hop out and find someone else? Because obviously... obviously, Cas wouldn't ride around in her. Damn, would he-?

This was beyond messed up.

Dean knew he could only handle one thing at a time. Frankly, his brother was more important. Claire wouldn't feel a thing until Cas could find a cousin in a coma somewhere, and of course, he would, so... so.

"What were you gonna tell me?" he asked, desperate to know. To make all of this worth it, somehow.

Castiel was slow to answer. When he opened Claire's mouth, the words came out guttural and angry. "I learned my lesson while I was away, Dean. I serve heaven. I don't serve man. And I certainly don't serve you."

Then Cas left in a swish of a short skirt.

Chapter Text

When The Levee Breaks

There was only so much of Sam's whimpering that Dean could take. His baby brother... damn Ruby. Damn her. His fist clenched at a wailing scream and Bobby's eyes were on him, full of sympathy and pity. It made him sick to the stomach.

Sam begged for the pain to go away. All Dean could think was that that sound had come from the same kid he'd tucked into bed every night. It was never their bed, technically. It was never in their home. But he'd done it. He'd turned off the T.V. at nine o'clock, even when he was old enough and sure as hell willing enough to stay up. Catch a little Beavis and Butthead...

They'd tracked and slaughtered everything that hell had to throw at them, including monsters from Reva-freakin'-lations. The apocalypse! And addiction... addiction was what did them in?

Dean pushed off the couch.

"Where are you goin'?" Bobby asked, a little too eager to see him up. The old man wanted Sam out of that basement so he could use him to finish the job. That was never going to happen.

"To get some air," Dean growled back, snatching his coat off the rack.

Outside, he paced the lot. He weaved through Bobby's blockade of mangled junkers. Not one of them would ever see the road again. They barely had any parts left to scrap. Empty, rusting shells of what they'd once been. Dean counted off the bodies in his head. A Lincoln Continental, '62. And that one, a Chevrolet, early '50s. They'd been proud, indestructible, and gas-guzzling in their day and now... look.

He really, really... hated to do this. "Cas!"

Dean waited. He watched the dark horizon, turning where he stood, in case he decided to show up behind him. He always did that. No answer, nothing but a dial tone. Well, not tonight, you slow prick. "CAS! Get your feathered ass down here! I need to talk to you! Now!"

The angel wouldn't give him the time of day anymore - hadn't since Jimmy died. Then he'd gone all cryptic on his ass. I certainly don't serve you. Just what the hell did that mean? He hadn't come by. He hadn't offered help. He hadn't gotten out of Claire. He had a lot of explaining to do and it'd been days. Dean was officially pissed.

He started pacing again, kicking up gravel and sand. "Don't you fucking ignore me. Not now. CASTIEL!" Dean shot the tool shed an accusatory glance. He popped his jaw. "Bird-brained, cowardly, cradle robbing, heartless, son of a BITCH!"

His foot caved in a backlight and then he was movingly wildly, just so he could feel the adrenaline. Cas had been his friend. And Dean hadn't had many of those in his life, not that he was so pathetic and desperate that he couldn't live without one. But it'd been nice, for once, to have someone-... other than Sam... The thought made what he had to say next turn to bile. His throat closed and he croaked. "I need you, man. Where are you?"

And still, nothing. But Dean didn't stop there. He called and he called. He rang the doorbell like a hungry fat kid on Halloween. He used every curse his ex-Marine of a father had ever taught him. He did everything but get to his knees and steeple his hands - no, the "angel" wouldn't get that.

It wasn't until Dean had given up hope that he did appear, under an old street lamp. Sioux Falls had forgotten to turn it off after Bobby bought the land from them. Now, it beamed down onto Castiel, casting dark shadows over his feminine brow and making his blonde hair look a sickly yellow. The button-down that had been tucked into her skirt now peeked out messily. She... he... looked exhausted.

Tough shit. "It's about damn time. I've been screaming myself hoarse for two and a half hours, Cas."

The angel grimaced. He'd been hearing it for two and a half hours. "What do you want?"

His voice was nothing like Claire's. Dean had heard Claire's and now he really, really wished he hadn't. It'd been all soft and girlish. Now it sounded like she had a sore throat. A symptom of the angel-virus. Sorry, no cure.

She was another civilian Dean couldn't save, another kid whose life had been ruined by Satan's cronies - and oh, she'd gone out swinging. And scared. And in pain. She hadn't deserved that. Maybe Cas was next on the list after Ruby. He hadn't decided yet but Dean was pissed enough to put a knife in him. "You can start with what the hell happened in Illinois."

Castiel sighed and stalked forward. "You were there."

"You couldn't have gotten there any faster? Goddamnit, Cas, I defended you!"

"I don't need defending." He turned his head, watching the house as if he could see inside of it with X-ray vision. "Or any more lessons in morality."

"Cut the crap, Cas." Dean's heart was pounding; he could feel it all the way up in his throat. This wasn't his angel. They'd done something to him up there. Twisted him all around so he'd play the part of the loyal general again.

Dean's lower lip trembled. "You were gonna tell me something."

Castiel closed his eyes. "It was nothing of import."

"You got ass-reamed in heaven." He put that big, fat elephant in the room right where it ought to have been. "But it was nothing of import?"

"I'm can't, Dean..." Only he looked like he really, really wanted to. "I'm sorry."

He scrubbed his hand over his face. "And I can't look at you - in her. It's wrong. Do you get that? It's wrong."

"I don't disagree that it is unfortunate."

"God, you're a dick these days."

"Did you call only to reprimand me? Or was there a reason?"

Dean felt like a kid. Cas was giving him the 'you wanna do this now?' look like he was a toddler throwing a fit in a grocery store. He wasn't a kid. He was a grown man who'd just smashed a car window. "Yeah!" Dean jutted angrily and then, dumbly, "no... You've been MIA for weeks, Cas. You couldn't leave a voicemail?"

His arms swung limply at his sides. "I don't know what that is."

"Then a letter, damn it! Let us know what's going on!"

"I have no news to give you. But I have not abandoned you." He stepped forward into his space and Dean stepped back. Cas felt more like an alien to him now than ever. Undeterred, Cas rasped, "You're worried for him."

Dean gave a hollow laugh. "Yeah. You could say that."

"You said you needed me."

Dean licked his lips. "Can he do it, Cas? Can he kill Lilith? End the apocalypse?"

Castiel stared for a long time before he turned his back to him. "He won't have to end it, Dean. We believe that it will be you who will deliver the final blow."

"What do I do?"

He looked over his shoulder. "Now you wait."

Apparently, twenty-four hours was all they'd needed. They beamed him up to this white parlor room that looked like it belonged in a French castle.

"How are you liking the new look?" Zachariah asked, motioning to the angel behind him. He turned and gave Castiel a once over as if to reaffirm his own opinion. His fingers pressed to his lips. "It doesn't read very five-star general to me, but eeeeh... it'll do. And soon we'll all be sipping pina coladas in Cabo anyway, right?"

They'd shoved Cas in some black dress. That was the angel uniform: lawyer black. Only he'd ended up with something sleeveless and v-necked and sort of hip-hugging and just different from the rest of them to piss Dean off. They were pissing Dean off a lot these days.

Zachariah put a hand to Castiel's shoulder and gave him a half-spin. "That is a bikini body if I've ever seen one. Really! I should have gone out and found myself someone with abs not made out of funnel cake." The angel laughed until he realized no one else got the joke. "Like... you, for instance." He gestured politely, weakly to Dean.

But Dean couldn't say a word. Because the last time he'd heard a line like that? It'd been from a demon. Suddenly, everything in that white room looked a little more cheap, felt a little less real. He and Cas stared. They both knew that it didn't matter what Cas was wearing or who had pointed out his perky little rear, Dean wouldn't look twice at it.

He should have known then that every line he'd been fed that night had been bullshit.

Zach offered food. He offered wine. He offered women and celebrities and the seven wonders and Cas, which was... gross. No, he'd answered emphatically. He gave Castiel his leave and he disappeared with a nod.

"What about a meet-n-greet with the cast of Gilligan's Island?" the angel tried again.

Honestly, all of it made Dean feel like a pig being stuffed for the slaughter. Just put an apple in his mouth already.

"You need help with the turkey, ma?" Jimmy pulled himself up out of a La-Z-Boy. Everything smelled like gingerbread and Mom's too-crips sugar cookies and he loved that - he really did. Football was on the TV and his dad snored soundly on the couch. Claire was at his feet. She'd just turned 11. In her hands was the DS she loved to play, a pale pink one, the same color as her nails. She worried her lip over some kind of problem in the game world. He could have smacked her on the back of the head for choosing to live in a screen, but instead, he gave her a pet and smiled.

Lights from the Christmas tree twinkled as he passed into the kitchen.

"Yes, please," his mother grunted, gray hair hanging in her face as she leaned over the oven. "It probably won't be any good this year."

"You always say that," Jimmy answered affectionately. "And it's always great."

She scooted out of the way for him and Jimmy just as the doorbell rang.

"That must be your sister," she fretted. "She's early. I told her not to come until six!"

"It's alright." After balancing the turkey dish on the oven burners, he went to get the door. It was still snowing. He idly noticed that it'd almost buried the reindeer decorations in the front yard. "She probably left early to beat the storm."

It never once crossed his mind that his sister and her children were dead. They'd been T-boned on their way to the elementary school. And his mom, too, she'd fallen on her hip. After a stressful year that'd all but destroyed his already cobbled-together marriage, she'd finally slipped his fingers. Dad had gone quickly. Stroke.

When he opened the door, it was his daughter that stared back at him. "Castiel," he smiled slowly. "You hungry? Mom made enough to feed an army."

The world couldn't end like this.

Dean paced the room. It'd been without its doors since Zachariah had admitted to being the king of all snakes. The angels wanted all the work to stop, he'd said. The angels didn't want to listen to God anymore. The angels wanted a permanent vacation in Eden because someone hadn't invited them the first time! Beach body, Cabo, Porky Pig - well, screw them!

The world couldn't end like this.

Dean just wanted to take it all back. Sam could be an idiot sometimes. He was so like their dad, all unrelentingly obsessed. He didn't care if he turned himself into a monster so long as he got what he wanted, which made Dean want to spit nails. But Bobby was right. As tired as Dean was of chasing a brother who'd made it pretty damn clear from the start that he didn't give a damn about him... he was his Sammy. He gave a damn about him. He couldn't just stop.

He couldn't let his last words to him be - what they'd been...

And the devil sure as hell wasn't about to ride Sam's ass into the middle of this cataclysmic cockfight.

He'd try calling him.

"I'm afraid I can't stay long." Castiel stepped inside at his invitation. Her clothes were dry, untouched by a single snowflake. She didn't shiver. She didn't flush. He would have offered to take her coat, but... She took a moment to look appreciatively around the foyer. Her gaze stopped on an antique nutcracker. "Though, I do love holiday heavens. They are some of my favorites... Would you be willing to speak with me?"

"Sure, Castiel." He snorted before turning to guide her out back. "I'm in better moods these days."

They sat together on a porch swing. A mug of hot cocoa rested in Jimmy's hand and he rocked them with his heels.

"It's beautiful," Castiel finally said.

"Yeah," he sighed.

Her eyes drifted over to him with an understanding. "You and Amelia were separated."

"I had Claire on Christmas Eve. She had her on Christmas."

"You were surrounded by the people you loved."

He shot her another smile. "Still am. Just get to do it for a lot longer now..." After a beat, he asked, "What are you doing in my daughter?"

Her face fell. "I failed you. So utterly and completely, Jimmy Novak. You are owed an apology for the pain that I've caused."

His brows furrowed. There was so much he still didn't understand. "Why didn't you come?"

"I was ordered not to."

"I wonder why that is."

"My superiors had their reasons."

Jimmy rolled his eyes. If he were a betting man, he'd have put big money on one reason: destroy whatever was happening between Dean Winchester and Castiel. Dean wouldn't have anything to do with her once he knew what a heartless monster she was. He wouldn't trust her, not if he knew that she'd take a teenage girl without a second thought. Then they could stop conspiring behind heaven's back, right?


Jimmy wanted to feel some sort of anger. His family had been plopped down in the middle of a war zone when the angel had explicitly promised that they'd be safe. But... he just couldn't get it up anymore. He was at peace, damn it.

"Is the world ending?"

"It seems to be, yes."

"You're not going to let that happen." The angel avoided his eye. "Castiel?"

"It's destiny."

"It's baloney."

"I realize you have a predilection for red meat, but-"

"What's gonna happen to the millions of families like us if this all goes down? Are they all going to die the way we did?"

Her eyes bore into his. He knew that to Castiel he was a Rubix cube that she couldn't solve. "What is so worth saving, Jimmy Novak? All the pain that you were put through in life. Now you have this. Peace. Isn't that better?"

Jimmy sucked in a contemplative breath. He rubbed his jaw and watched from the window as the living room flooded with his nieces and nephews. Castiel turned and watched with him. "You know, it took me thirty-five years to have my perfect moment, Cas. I didn't get many of them. My heaven's kinda small. Like an hour long VHS tape," he laughed. "There are a whole lot of people down there who have it a whole lot worse than I ever did. Some of them haven't had their perfect moment yet." The corner of his lips turned up as he watched his daughter hug his mom tight. "I would never take this away from anybody."

Castiel leaned her elbows into her knees. Her hair fell into her face. "There's nothing I can do. Sam is going to kill Lilith, and the end will be- inevitable... Regardless of right or wrong or motivations-"

"That's quitter talk. We shared a brain, Castiel. I'm pretty sure the general could have an ace up her sleeve if she wanted to have an ace up her sleeve.

"Jimmy!" his mother called. The older man stood and finished off his mug.

"You wanna apologize? Do it for me. Do it for my family." Then he went into the house and left Castiel on the porch in the snow.

"I'm guessing you're not here to help me," Dean spat before a hand slammed down on his mouth.

"Quiet," Castiel hissed back. "We're leaving."

"Seriously, Cas?" Dean thought he might just hurl in relief. Maybe then his heart would slow the hell down. "You're awesome. I've been trying to call, but-"

"You're out of your covered zone. Don't thank me yet, Dean. I'm the one who helped Sam escape."

He opened his mouth but no sound came out. He closed it again. "Why am I friends with you?"

The angel looked over at him with more emotion than he'd ever seen from him before. "Because I'm sorry. And I'd like to make up for it now."

Dean stared down at the offered arm before he took it, hand clamping down firmly. "Good enough for me, man. Let's show Zachariah where he can stick his Armageddon."

Chapter Text

Sympathy For The Devil

What. A. Mess.


The human body had been a flawed design. He only had himself to blame for the nightmare that was his kitchen. Billions of years ago, he'd thought, hey, let's make 'em fleshy. Let's give them lots of soft bits and wet bits and cover it all in a Saran wrap of skin. No one's ever thought of doing that before!

Chuck paced around a toppled-over table, biting the nail on his thumb.

Lucifer had been right: they did pop like water balloons. He hadn't accounted for that, especially not when he'd made that prototype out of sand.

Chunks of Castiel everywhere...

What a surprise his son had turned out to be. "I'm losing my touch," Chuck whispered to himself as he pulled strands of blonde hair free from his shirt sleeve. He held them out in front of him. "Cas, Cas, Cas... you weren't supposed to fold that easily."

Rewrite after rewrite, and yet Dean and his own angel general had gotten out from under him. Flipped the script on him. They tore the damn thing in two! Dean was never supposed to reach Sam in time. He was supposed to say yes while backed into a corner. And then heaven and hell were supposed to have the water balloon fight to end all water balloon fights. He'd scrap the Earth as his first and worst ever draft (A virgin birth? Really?) and start a new, better novel.

Chuck growled on his way to the bathroom. His slippers noisily scuffed the floor.

Dean, saying yes, while backed into a corner... Sam ushing in the age of Lucifer unknowingly... It was the best he could come up with.

His met his tired eyes in the mirror. No, Cas had been right. That ending had sucked. No choice? No great big culmination of their character arcs? He dug his fists into his eyes and groaned.

So what now?

It still had to happen, one way or another. But they had to make that choice on their own. It had to be grandiose. Self-sacrificing! That was their whole thing, wasn't it? It had to be about love, for one another, for their friends and family. It had to be about the greater good.

There was a noise behind him. Chuck turned his head, listening. Another unexpected guest. Now, he was all about letting his characters have free will, but whose story was this anyway? He needed time to think, damn it!

How did they make it back from the airport so fast anyway?

He grabbed the plunger, marched right back out to his living room, and smacked Sam across the face with it. Chuck feigning confusion right after, even though it'd felt so, sooo good. "Sam!"

"Yeah?!" Sam looked at him like his fifth head was showing.

"Hey, Chuck," Dean greet him.

"So, you're okay!" Chuck rounded him, making to sound amazed, which... all things considered...

"Well, my head hurts." Sam rubbed at where he'd struck him. Being a full foot taller than Chuck's own vessel, Sam couldn't be too angry about it.

"No, my last vision-... forget about it. I think I'm being fed the wrong signal these days," Chuck began foreshadowing his latest idea, but then... he stopped. He watched Dean, staring at where he'd last seen his ally, at the mess left behind. His brows were knitted and he rocked from side to side on the heels of his feet. A nervous tick of his.

Cabinet doors had broken off their hinges and blood was smeared over a cereal box. "Where's Cas?" Dean finally said. Like Cas was the only one who couldn't possibly just up and die on him.

"Oh, dude, man... He's gone," Chuck whispered back. "Raphael put his outsides inside and his insides... well, on my wall..."

Castiel had known that that mean son of a bitch was gonna tear him in two for helping Dean. He'd wanted a warrior's death. A good ending. Atonement. If only Chuck had written it, he thought sourly.

In a way, all the changes had been worth it, though, because the little moment that Dean was having...? It was coming together beautifully.

"I'm sorry. He put up a good fight."

Dean licked his lips. "You're sure? Maybe he flew away at the last second or something," he stuttered. "He does that. One second he's there, the next-"

"No." He needed to apply all the right pressure here. Chuck looked up under his curly fringe. "No no no. He exploded. Like a- like a water balloon full of chunky soup. There's some of him there and there... and there. I don't think he left even the bones intact. I was just, washing him- the blood- off my face when you walked in... Keep finding hair."

Dean nodded, pressing his lips together hard. He was doing that manly thing where he tried to forget that he had with a working limbic system. Sam, the one who didn't, helped Chuck with finding a molar by his right ear. Claire's wisdom teeth had yet to grow in, but they sure to be around somewhere.

"Cas, you stupid..." Dean tossed a chair. It'd been a stressful day all around.

"He tried to help us," Sam argued.

"Yeah, exactly," his brother snapped back. "That's why he got yanked up to heaven 'n probed, and why he came back all screwy. That's why Jimmy's dead, why Claire's dead... And why Cas is... gone." He threw up his hands, preferring the word. Gone.

After a breath, he crouched low and scooped up a silver chain off the floor. It'd been Claire's, and he snuck it into his pocket.

"Hey, Chuck?"

"...yeah, Dean?"

"You know what happens to angels when they die?"

"Well, it's - it's kind of like going to sleep. After being wide awake for a couple of thousand millennia, I," he tried to sound comforting, "I hear it's peaceful."

"Peaceful. Huh."

Chuck couldn't stop watching him after that.

Of course, Chuck had intended for a connection between the two. Castiel was the one who raised him from perdition. He'd led this great campaign into hell (not that anyone but the angels knew how insane that was - so many had died trying). He'd been a confidant, a guide, relatable yet so very alien to the Winchesters in so many ways. A perfect foil.

This was... a missed opportunity, Chuck realized.

Zachariah showed up with Mazula and Kafari at his side. He did his whole spiel about the apocalypse not really being his fault, about them being on the same team - synergy, guys! They needed to kill Lucifer before he touched ground or else there would very literally be hell on earth.

Buckle up, kids. Chuck shifted uncomfortably on his feet.

"And I'm just supposed to trust you? After what you did?" Dean shouted. "No way."

Zachariah scooped up Cas' blood onto his fingers. Then he shot the Winchesters a sly look. "You don't really have a leg to stand on anymore, do you?"

"Maybe not. But today's not your day either, dick with wings." Dean pulled the sliding door closed and slammed his hand down onto it. He'd drawn a banishing symbol on it and it worked like a charm, whiting out the room with bright light and screams.

"Learned that from my friend, Cas!" he yelled up at where the angels had disappeared to.

Chuck almost smiled at how clever the two of them had been together.

A missed opportunity.

Well, that could easily be undone.

A castle on a hill of forty-two dogs.

It was Dad's storage unit. Had to be. They'd not visited the place in years, but Dean's stomach turned at thought of those black-eyed freaks putting their gross, sticky fingers on everything. His first sawed-off, Sam's soccer trophies, all the pictured they'd ever taken... They were in that unit. Dean stared from the parking lot. If they'd ever had a place to call home... well.

When they pushed open the door, bodies were strewn - limp and burned - across devil traps.

But Dad hadn't had anything to protect against an angel invasion.

"I'm a vessel," Dean echoed back to Zachariah, pointing a finger to his chest. Just to be sure. Because come on. Really?

"Isn't it fun watching the monkey put the little ball through the little hoop?" He smiled at his bodyguards. "Yes, chucklehead. The vessel. You see, for this to work, it has to be a pair of brothers. Micheal and Lucifer. Cane and Able. Sam and..." his hand waved, "Dean. Let's just say you come from a long line of men who were genetically perfect the job, made readily available for when the time was right. Which is about uuuhh... now, if you don't mind."

Dean racked his brain for a helpful idea. Any idea would have been great, actually. Any at all.

His heart a beat when he realized that they weren't attacking. They were waiting.

"You can't do jack shit, can you?" he asked.

"Excuse me?" Zachariah frowned.

"That's right. You need my consent."

"And it'd be so much easier if you just gave it to us. Good luck with that, though, right, Dean?" He nodded understandingly. Dean suddenly got the feeling that he was going to end up with stage four stomach cancer. "But don't worry - don't worry. I've had some of my best guys looking over Title VI, subsection B, and we found a few loopholes that might work in our favor. This is going to be a cakewalk."

Zachariah snapped his fingers.

Sammy moaned and went down like a bag of bricks. Dean was really sick and tired of that happening. First Bobby, now Sam-? Everyone was playing hardball today. "Hey-!"

"How about now?"

Dean licked his lips, tightened his jaw, and answered stubbornly, ""

Then he got stage four stomach cancer. His knees hit the concrete and he hurled blood. He couldn't see anymore, couldn't think - yeah, his day was going great. "Just... just kill us."

This was worth dying for.

There was a groan, and it hadn't come from him or Sam because suddenly all the pain had stopped. It'd come from Zachariah. When Dean looked up, he was hanging, bent-kneed, from a girl's tight grasp on his collar.

Cas - holy shit...

"All that power," she growled, blonde hair hanging loosely in her face. "And you can't even hit me. You've become a fat, greedy waste, brother."

"But you're- you're-"

"Dead?" she finished for him.

"Raphael," Zachariah stuttered. "He killed you!"

"Yes. And he was lucky to have gotten ahold of me." Her hand moved to his throat and she shoved him to the wall. "If I had known the extent of the sloth, I never would have said yes to such weak-!" A punch. "Petulant!"

Zachariah shoved her. He landed his own punch and then another, a kick to her abdomen. Castiel stumbled back. Like in an old Western, they stood off against each other. Panting. The back of Castiel's hand lifted to wipe the blood from her nose. The angels ordered to protect Zachariah stood still, wide-eyed and afraid. He cursed at them.

"You," she rumbled, "had to send us into hell because you couldn't do it yourself. You let thousands die."

Zachariah's expression turned wild. "How are you back?"

"I think we both know."

A blade slid into her hand.

"That's impossible!" he shouted.

"You think he doesn't know what you're trying to do? You don't think he's angry?" Castiel paced in a circle and Zachariah turned with her. She stopped in front of the two Winchesters. "I would leave these boys alone if I were you."

The panic was clear on his face. The angel - the big one, the head honcho as far as they knew - was actually sweating. He reached out as if to strangle Castiel but she'd lifted the blade, warning him, daring him to come closer. Something happened. Dean and Sam covered their ears as all the metal shelving crashed and fell. What felt like a dragon's tail swept the room and everything was a blur again.

Castiel was the smaller one. Instead of matching him with raw power, she was quick and moved with him. The walls of the unit shook and thunder clapped off. He pushed. She pulled. He toppled over in a fit of rage.

"Micheal would have never sent you if I hadn't told him to!" Zachariah threw something, hard. "I should have left you to rot, you ungrateful, disloyal-" Castiel twisted and slipped under his arm. Her knife came around and lodged into his neck. "Ack-..."

She looked up at the only other angel in the room. The one who'd avoided the fight and the one left alive. "Tell Raphael," Zachariah's body fell from her grasp, "I won't make the same mistake twice."

A flutter of wings and he was gone.

"...Cas?" Dean called out after her, standing slowly. His voice wavered as Sam crawled up behind him. "Is that you?"

She turned on her heel. Dean knew the answer already. The energy behind those steel blue eyes - there was just no mistaking her. "Dean," she breathed in relief.

"Damn, I'm glad to see you." Forgetting himself, he marched forward. He pulled her into a hug. One of those fierce bear hugs he so rarely gave... One arm around her waist and his other hand at the back of her neck. Soft, blonde hair - on her head and not caught up in Chuck's washing machine.

Thank God...

The apocalypse really would have sucked without Cas.

"And I you," she returned. She was stiff as all hell and he was probably popping her human-touch cherry. Her chin jutted into his shoulder. Dean didn't care. He laughed for no goddamn reason at all. "And you, too, Sam," she added politely.

"You really saved our asses." Sam offered a squeeze to her shoulder.

When had Dean started thinking of Cas as a her, anyway? Who cared. That had to happen eventually. He was only human. Gender non-conformity was a no-go for his tiny primate brain. He'd rather change pronouns than be constantly reminded that he, his brother, and Claire were all walking, talking meat suits.

Huh. He still remembered what a pronoun was. Go Mrs. J from English 111-

"OW! What the hell, Cas!" Dean jumped back at the suddenly electric shock. There was a soreness after. Sam groaned beside him. Somehow, Cas' slender hands had climbed up both their stomachs.

"Forgive me, but this is sensible. You both need to be careful from now on."

"What did you...?!" Sam grimaced at her from under his mop of hair.

"I carved Enochian into your ribs. It will keep you hidden, even from me. Which will prove to be problematic... I will need a cellular device." Castiel shrugged in that I haven't seen Earth since Jesus walked on water way.

"Thanks, Cas." Dean rubbed his chest. "Remind me to never have another heart-to-heart with you again. Next time you come back from the dead, we're high fiving."

Her lips curled. "I would hope that the dying," she gave it air quotes, "never happens again. It was quite... uncomfortable."

"Chuck said it'd be peaceful. Knew he was a lyin' son of a bitch."

"Speaking of death..." Sam started, glancing over at where Zachariah laid limp. "Cas. How are you alive? What did you mean... back there?"

"I..." Castiel opened her mouth but closed it again. "I was bluffing. I really don't know."

"What about..." Dean couldn't say her name. He couldn't force it off his tongue.

"Claire Novak is no longer with me. This vessel is... empty. And it is not as it originally was. It was remade from the cellular level, and very recently. I believe you would say it fits like a... forgive me, I forget the idiom."

"Glove," finished Sam.

"Dean, are you aware that you're missing a rib? That is suspect."

"Did you take a souvenir while you were in there redecorating?" He glared.

"No," Cas answered as if she'd been accused of eating the last donut. She stared down his stomach. "It's your Adam's rib."

"My what now?" Dean pressed.

"The same rib God pulled from Adam to create Eve. You could have read the first chapter, Dean."

"What is this, school? I skimmed it. I saw that kinky picture of them with the poison ivy over the junk. I didn't expect there to be a test at the end-"

"Guys?" Sam interrupted. "We gotta go get Bobby."

"Agreed." Castiel took them by the shoulders and, with a gust of wind, they were shot forward. It kind of felt like that carnival ride, the one where you got stuck to the wall.

"Paging Dr. Lizarro to the E.R." A nurse in purple scrubs rushed by.

Bobby was paralyzed and pissed. And he blamed them. And he hated that Cas couldn't just fix him with angel mojo because the healing thing wasn't her gig. She'd put her hands on him and carved into his ribs and he'd punched her and that'd broken a pinky. He could have spit nails at them - and now, now he wasn't talking, at all.


Sam stayed behind to sit with him and try to sort through it.

Dean distracted himself with a burner. He leaned half out of the Impala, showing Cas the screen. Eventually, he'd drive around and find Bobby his favorite meal: fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy. Even if he didn't eat it, at least he'd have it.

"These are your contacts. I put Bobby - when he, you know - and there's me. Sam. Jo, Ellen, and Ash are good friends. If you can't reach us, that's their bar. If you want to put in a new number-"

"I think I can manage." Her palm folded over his before she took the phone. When he looked up, Cas was almost smiling. "I'm not totally helpless."

"No, you learned how to work the wheel just fine."

"Is this similar?" She flipped it up in the air.

"Hey, careful with that. It's fragile. You break it, you bought it..." Dean quietly scratched at the back of his head. "You were pretty badass today."

The almost-smile became a real smile, one brow raised at him. "That's a compliment."

"Yeah, Cas. You came in and ganked them all. Rambo-style."

"I see." She didn't. "Thank you."

"What are you gonna do now?"

"I have no orders... My garrison won't speak to me. I'm wanted for high treason and murder." She rolled a piece of gravel under her heel. "I may visit a temple in Venezuela. There's a shaman there who could have something useful. He'd like to know about all of this, in any case."

Dean tapped the top shell of the phone. "Will you let me know when you get back?"

"You don't hate me."

"What? No, Cas, I don't-... We all make mistakes. Alright, admittedly, you made some pretty damn big ones." Hadn't he already had this conversation earlier with Sam? "But right now, I'm," he coughed into his fist, "I'm pretty damn grateful you're here. I forgive you. We're good."

"We're good... I like that phrase."

Cas offered a hand and they shook on it.

Chapter Text

Free to Be You and Me

Three Months Later

He was somewhere between Clearwater and Humheller when he got the call. Keeping one hand on the wheel, Dean dug into his back pocket, then grunted. "Ye-?"

"I... hello, Dean," Cas answered from the other end.

"Hey, Cas. I'm in Maine. Uh, last sign I passed was Exit 3 to Topeka." Aaand there was that pressure. Like he'd been standing too close to a jet engine. Whenever Cas lifted her wings, or whatever they were, all the air in the tri-state area got sucked up and then - boom. The Impala rocked and she was beside him. Thank God he'd gotten used to that.

He closed the phone and threw it up on the dashboard.

Cas didn't say anything at first. Instead, she looked around, got all fidgety. And weird. She wasn't used to having shotgun privileges.

"You can ask."

"I wasn't going to." Her eyes slid over to him. "I assumed it would make you uncomfortable."

"You always make me uncomfortable, Cas." Dean grinned.

She furrowed her brows and looked hurt - actually hurt - for a second there. If Cas could even feel that kind of pain. "I'm kidding," he offered. His hand found her wild mass of hair and comfortingly petted it down her neck. Honestly, he couldn't help but feel glad that she'd showed up. The silence had been stretching on and on and on, his thoughts on repeat about Sam and the devil and...

They both turned to face the road.

"...That's never my intention. But there are greater concerns than my inability to be human enough for you."

Dean lifted his thumbs from the wheel. "Such as...?"

"The demon you and your fellow hunters encountered. It wasn't War." She watched a barn sink into the distance. "But you were very close. He was a minion of War's. Ancient - by your standards."

"Uh huh."

"I do believe I've located War himself. Though he won't rear his head for a while."

"That's good news!"

"If you wish to see it that way."

"So where is he?"

"Currently? The northern half of Korea."

"Huh." That... made sense. It hadn't occurred to Dean to think of places that made sense. "Not the Middle East?"

Cas gave a shrug. "Something with nuclear physics."

"Oh. That's, uh, that's bad news then. Real bad."


" how long do we have until...?" Dean made a childish noise with his mouth. Kaboom.

Cas just shrugged. "I assume he'll come here in your next presidential election."

"Great." He rolled his eyes. "Because those are always so fun to keep track of." Note to self: make Sam watch the debates - he actually liked that kind of crap. "At least that means we've got a while... So... Hey. Before you fly off - and since we've got a while, and since I'm kind of rusty on the whole flying-solo thing..." Why did he suddenly feel like a teenager asking a girl out? "I'm working a case. You could be the Thelma to my Louise. If you want."

It was Cas' turn to stare. "I don't understand. I've never met them."

"It's a story, Cas. About these two broads, best friends, and they fight anything and everything that comes after them - as a team. And then, at the end, when they're pushed as far as they can go, they jump off a cliff holding hands. They'd rather die together than- you know, it's not all that deep. I'm just asking-"

"If I'd like to come with you."

"Yeah!" he answered gratefully.

She didn't have to mull it over long. "I would... I'll be your Thelma."

"Whatever that means, right?" Dean glanced up into the rearview and caught her smiling.

"Whatever that means." There was a silence that stretched on - comfortably, Dean thought - before she said, "It'd be faster if you'd let me take us."

"Uh uh. Last time you zapped me someplace I didn't poop for a week. We're driving."

Six hours later

Shelville, Wyoming

Population: 5,000

"I don't understand."

"What?" Dean straightened his tie using the Impala's side view mirror. It'd taken him a while to get used to the monkey suit, but now it felt like the best weapon he had. To think that he and Dad had never tried it when a cheap badge opened every door in every Podunk town in America. Sammy had always been the smart one... His fingers carefully combed his hair back.

Cas stood behind him, no more threads out of place than usual. "Your plan. We ought to tell them that there is a dangerous evil afoot and that we need their assistance to slay it. It would make them more forthcoming."

"Except," Dean checked his box of wallets until he found the right one and stuffed it into his pocket, "this isn't the 1500s, Cas. Everyday humans don't do the supernatural anymore. It's all fiction to them. And the world is better off for it. So we lie."

The angel eyed the Taft Memorial Hospital warily. It was squat and old and it sat oddly between a hardware store and a Lion's Club. "You're referring to the paranoia?"

"Sure. You're a witch, no, you're a witch - and then a hundred women end up crispy."

"The discretion of hunters is a practical solution." Cas nodded to herself.

"Practical." Dean snorted. "I don't think anyone's ever called it that before." Before heading in, he checked over her collar and inspected her sleeves.

Inside, there was a tired, graying nurse, leaning over a clipboard and scribbling furiously at it. An overweight secretary stared at her screen and tapped the arms of her chair. Otherwise, the place was perfectly still, save for a news report. Another erupting Volcano. Dean couldn't help but think perfect as he strolled up to the front desk, already wearing a lady-loving smile. "Morning, girls. I'm agent Johnson," he flashed his badge faster than they could read it, "And this is my trainee, Cas. We got a call about a bear attack in a town with no bears?"

"YeeeAH! It happened right by my house!" the secretary answered him. She had clearly gone over all of this before and she clearly had a theory, one that she wasn't shy about. Her voice was accusatory - as if the police really should have done something by now. The 'evil afoot' was all Dean's fault. The nurse shot her an annoyed look. "My neighbor - Englewood - he's got these damn nasty dogs. Bark all day and night. Ravenous! I'm surprised Boe ain't got the rabies. That man should be foamin' at the mouth by now."

Nurse Jay sighed. "From what we can tell, the wound's too big for a dog bite. Yes, even a Rottweiler."

"They can bite ya twice. In different places. And there's more than one dog!"

"I'm sure they'll consider your idea, Shanice."

"Sure will," Dean confirmed. Cross his heart, hope to die. "We'll be up there before tomorrow mornin'."

The nurse lifted a gloved hand and waved. "Come on. Follow me. I'll take you to Mr. Boe Owens."

The room was only a short walk down a hallway. An older man laid in one of those powder blue beds, a heavy flannel blanket at his feet. A bandage the size of Dean's hand was over his neck. Hooked up to a morphine drip, he was out like a doped up light.

"Just for our independent investigation..." Dean twirled a pen he procured from his pocket. "Who and where?"

"Mr. Boe Davis," the nurse said slowly, glancing behind her at him. Sun spots. Whiskery gray beard. Missing a right-hand pinky finger. Not exactly grade-A beef. "He's our fix-it guy. Lives up on the ridge. He was on a fishing trip - he likes to fish, you know, every weekend." She crossed her arms over her chest. "He wandered up to our park ranger with this gash. Gushing blood like you wouldn't believe. Said something attacked him out there. He's lucky whatever it was didn't hit a major artery."

"Could we see the-" Dean pointed to the bandage.

"Sure, sure. We took pictures and everything, too. Great idea that turned out to be. The front page of the National Enquirer." Her fingers went to pull at the tape. At the last second, she glanced over her shoulder at Cas. "She might not wanna look. I had a pretty weak stomach at that age."

Cas gave her a kind look. Her voice was far too old for the body she was in. "I think you'll find I have a very strong stomach."

"Alright... don't say I didn't warn you."

She pulled it back and it looked like a small shark had tried nibbling on the guy and just missed.

"Vampires," Cas leaned over and whispered to Dean.

He laughed at the nurse's expression and rubbed Cas' shoulder. "Isn't she cute? She's the Mulder to my Scully. We like to joke around!"


"Cas," he scolded, then began to explain, "It's not good form to say those kinds of things in front of a victim. Remember your bedside manner."

She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her skirt. "My apologies. I did not mean to be rude to the unconscious man. I do hope that, in time, he will find it in his heart to forgive me."

He dropped the act. "Smartass."

"...Is that a compliment?"


Cas turned her head boredly. "Alright."

"Could we have a second?" Dean asked the nurse, making to look all business until she nodded and disappeared. "Vampire. Are you sure?"

Cas' heels clicked against the tile as she walked over to the bed. She peeled off the bandage completely and tossed it to the side. "Mostly. I think it must be very weak to not land its mark."

"And away from its pack like this?" Dean walked around to the other side.

She shrugged a shoulder. "Is it not customary for their kind to drain an exile before setting them free?"

"You're not wrong, Cas. You're not wrong."

Parson's River

11:32 P.M.

Population: 5 living, 1 dead, 1 being of celestial intent

Dean's ass was frozen to the log. He checked the time on his phone. God, would it kill the vamp to hurry up and come home? Oh. Right. It would. The hunter shivered and pulled his coat tighter. He sent a glare up at the angel, standing beside him in nothing but a schoolgirl outfit. She learned to one hip as if it were any cool night in the summer.

"I know you're not the healing kind of angel, but how about a little heat, Cas?"

She blinked and lit up the campfire in front of them.

"Not like that!" Dean snapped. "He'll see us, stupid! Put it out!"

Cas ignored him and came to sit beside him instead. "You don't think he'll come to investigate?"

...Maybe. They looked enough like two troublemakers. Cas could pose as a scream queen like nobody else, all long blonde hair, soft cheeks, and sex appeal. From a distance, she looked like a wild child, out for a little Friday night rebellion. The type who thought they knew everything and then BAM - teeth in the neck. And Dean, well... he wasn't old enough to look out of place with her yet. From a distance. He wasn't fat and gray yet.

They'd stopped in a clearing. It was obviously the vamp's nest. No one else in their right mind would sleep out in the snow. He had a tattered, blood red tent set up with a mat inside. A duffle bag with odds and ends and occult bobbles galore.

In the horror story playing in Dean's head, Chad had convinced Stacy to screw around with the homeless guy's crap. Come on, it'll be fun! Let's have sex on his bed before he gets back.

"Anyone ever tell you that you're a dead ringer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer?"

"What do you think?"

"You have got to start watching TV. Talking to you is like talking to sheetrock." That was far from the truth; Cas was the only one Dean liked these days. But he was cold and tired and a little bit hangry. "You're prime meat, but I bet angels don't even make decent bait. You probably smell like crosses and holy water. Bet he picked up on your rankness hours ago and split."

She sighed. "Patience is a virtue, Dean."

"My ass is a virtue. And by the time this is over, it'll be preserved in ice."

"All the better. We'll stow it away as a memento of our time together."

Dean mimicked her, making her sound stupid. "-memento of our time together!"

"Quiet." Cas put her hand out to him and stood. "Did you hear that?"

He held his breath and listened. There was a rustling in the trees behind him that made his heart quicken. His hand slid into his jacket for a knife. "I don't hear nothin', baby," he said a little too loudly, sparing a glance over his shoulder and another one up at Cas. "That's what you get for watching all those scary movies. You know there's nothing to be afraid of with me here. I'll kick that guy's ass! Why don't you sit back down next to me?"

Cas gave him a look that rivaled Sam's bitch face. Completely, utterly unimpressed. Nonplussed, even. He grinned, and then Cas moved and spoke in a way that could only be described as "bad high school Shakespeare".

"What if it is the vagrant? Returning to his hovel! We should not have lingered here so! It is most dangerous."

Dean put his head in his hands and tried not to laugh.

It worked well enough. The stray vamp jumped out - looking like a hick and wearing an orange vest, blue jeans, and boots - hoping to catch them by surprise. Instead, he was caught by Cas. She held him by his shoulders and he snapped his teeth at her, just out of reach - once, twice, three times before he realized it wasn't working - and why wasn't it working? She was just a girl. Dean sunk a blood-covered knife into his back - "Eat it, Twilight!" - and that was that.

Damn efficient.

In a better mood now with adrenaline pumping through him, Dean congratulated them while stepping over the vamp's body. "Now that's what I call teamwork. You gotta let me catch 'em sometimes, alright? I don't wanna get all flabby."

"How was my improvisation?"

"You really have to ask? Horrible, Cas."

"Perhaps more TV," she gave it quotes, "Is in order."

"Nah. Forget what I said before. Wouldn't change a thing." He fought to not give her hair another ruffle. "Hey, you wanna go grab a couple of beers? It was your first hunt - human style. We should celebrate."

"I-" She looked off, distracted suddenly. He knew the look. Trouble on angel radio. Dean busied himself with unsheathing his favorite knife from fleshy-parts unknown. "I have to check on something. I'll meet up with you... if I can."

When he turned to answer - maybe set a better time - there was nobody around but him and a twice-baked corpse.

"One hour to last call, folks!"

Dean's heavy-lidded eyes scanned the bar. It was mostly empty. Perfect for what he was after. Neon buzzed at him. Billiard balls smacked against the green velvet of a pool table. His empty glass rolled away from him and he groaned.

He hadn't been this drunk since before hell. And it'd taken the whole cocktail menu to do it then - yeah, Dean ordered cocktails, when there was no one around to say anything. Just because he liked the taste of them, it - it didn't make him any less of a man.

Chicks dug it. Liked that he knew all the names...

Sammy always had his jokes. He could hear the kid now, bitching from somewhere in the back of his mind. Can you even get drunk anymore? Isn't whiskey like water to you now? Ha ha... ha.

They'd planned this hunt together, he and Sam. It was a shame he didn't get to come along because, because Sam loved vampires. They were his favorite.

Okay. Not true, but-

He'd gone so many years missing his brother. Wishing that things had turned out differently. And he finally... he finally got him back, and now... Now he was all alone again. And that was about the only thing that Dean couldn't stand. Shoot him, stab him, rake him across the coals, but don't make him be alone.

...Nope! He needed more vodka!

Dean raised his finger for a refill when a slender, sweet thing slid onto the stool next to him. He turned his head with a trained, automatic smile. Blonde. Tits. He sucked in a breath.


"Oh. Hey! You made it!"

"I made it," she answered, her expression - her eyes - soft. So soft. Dean got the feeling that she was remembering something. Like her own drunken early 30s, which would have been, what... when the Egyptian were carving out giant cat faces? What came before the Egyptians?

Ape people. When they all had fur.

She was thinking about him as a furry neanderthal. That was downright offensive. And not too far off. Dean scratched his stubbly chin.

"You want one?" He offered her a drink. "They're good. And kinda required if you're gonna stay."

"I wouldn't say no to one. It's been quite a while since I've... with a human, in a place like this."

"No shit. I was just... I was just thinking that. When-?"

Cas' face strained, the angel struggling to think back. "His name was Mark. A disciple." She elaborated as if he couldn't possibly have guessed, "There was a tavern in Galilee. I frequented there often. They had the sweetest wines. There was better around, but we were hard-pressed to purchase Roman goods in those days."

"Mark," Dean pressed. His brows lifted. "Mark?" When Cas gave a shrug, he huffed. "You're as old as the freakin' dirt, man."

"Most of it, yes."

Dean glared but found Cas smiling at him - no, smirking. Cas never smiled. She just turned up one corner of her lips.

"Well, this is no Galilee. Probably isn't even the best the midwest can offer."

"You never saw Galilee," Cas muttered.

"Maybe you could take me some time. Never been overseas. Ha- you know I'm scared shitless of planes? And now my best-" He almost called Cas his best friend. "Partner... 's got wings."

"You don't particularly like those, either."

"No, ma'am, I do not."

"But if that's something that you'd enjoy... I suppose..."



"What's up, Cas?" Dean grunted, turning in his seat now toward her. "Something on the radar?"

"No one's given me a radar, but... no," she answered carefully. "All's been quiet."

"Then why are you-?"

The bartender came and left a pair of drinks for them. His was bubblegum pink, hers was a Windex shade of blue. And no ID check for the little lady, thank God for people who minded their own business. Cas' slender hand wrapped around the stem of the glass and Dean marveled at how her manicure had stayed so perfectly preserved. What happened if your nails were janked before an angel took over, anyway-?

The angel took a sip, then coughed and sputtered angrily. "You people," she said, her nose all shriveled up, "Have bastardized the drink."

Dean laughed hard. His lungs hurt, his chest hurt - the good kind of pain. Still shaking, he swapped their glasses. "Along with a whole lot of other things."

"Why must everything be so sweet? How can you taste any flavor at all? Your tongue is not capable of-" And she was sticking her tongue out now - just barely - and grimacing.

"Sugar's addictive as all hell. Wait until you try pie." Slowly, his smile faded. His laugh died. "Hey, Cas?"


"Did you ever have a favorite brother? Up there? Out of all of 'em."


"...Do you ever miss him?"

"Ever? Of course. More than he'd ever know."

Blue jean baby, L.A. lady...

It took a second for Dean's fogged mind to recognize the melody. The bartender had been fiddling with the radio all night and now, finally, something crackled out from its speakers. A quick press of piano keys, that old winding sound... All slow rock sounded the same, but this one - this one was different. This one always played on a long, winding road late at night.

He'd never admit to liking a cocktail, let alone an Elton John song.

And now she's in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand... Was he tapping along?

Screw it.

Dean hauled himself up from the stool. Cas turned her head when he put a hand to her - her arm, her back, her neck. He was all octopus-limbed suddenly and needy. Women had always given him comfort on crappy nights, like this one. They always knew just what he needed. And he didn't mean to put Cas in the same category, but God... He could think of nothing he wanted more. "You ever dance, Cas?"

"I-" She was cut off by the crushing hug he gave her. His face was buried in her neck.

After a while, she got with the program. Realized that he just wanted to stand there and sway. Feel her heat. Not be so alone. She slipped silently off the stool and slid a hand between his shoulders. The other latched onto his arm, over the mark she'd left behind the first time. He'd never felt so warm before.

Hold me closer, tiny dancer...

Count the headlights on the highway. Lay me down in sheets of linen.

God, he missed Sam. It'd only been a month, but it wasn't that kind of face-to-face, hear-your-voice missing. They'd not been a family for years. Dean was homesick, even with all the shit they'd gone through, even if it was never the best - he was more homesick than he'd ever been. It welled up in his throat.

You had a busy day today...

Hold me closer, tiny dancer.

It wasn't until he stumbling back that he realized the music had stopped and everything had gone dark. Where was he-? Oh. Right. His motel room. He fought to sit up from the bed but Cas pushed him back down. "Cas-"

Without a word, she pulled off his boots. She pulled the messy blanket over him. Dean's eyes went all with the sleep now, but he didn't want to close them when - when this was the only time he could remember being tucked in by someone... His resolve crumbled with the sweet embrace of a soft mattress and the mobile-like swinging of her hair. The last thing he could remember was hearing the soft clink of a glass of water being placed on the nightstand.

Women. Always knew what he needed.

Gotta love 'em.

"Goodnight, Dean."

With the hunter snoring safe and sound, she left room 22D. The motel's vacancy sign flickered. It's red 'V' flickered out.

Ballerina, you must have seen her, dancing in the sand.