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Days of Future Passed

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Dean staggered, falling to a knee, disoriented and blinking against the bright sunlight. He was still in one piece and outdoors—but somewhere else. Not where he was just a moment ago.

Finding his equilibrium, he managed to stand up, feeling automatically for any weapons he might have. There was his .45 in the back of his jeans. He took a deep breath and looked around—and there was Sam by the side of the road, getting slowly up off his ass.

“Sam? You ok?”

“Yeah…” Sam squinted at him, brushing his jeans off. “You?”

“Yeah.” Dean gave his head a shake to clear the ringing in his ears… the ringing of Chuck’s voice saying…

He did a double take—what had happened to Sam? He looked… it couldn’t be…

“Dude, you… what happened to you?” he babbled, gaping. “You’re like eighteen or something! Are you shitting me?!”

Sam looked down at himself, then up at Dean wide-eyed, his mouth hanging open. “Whoa… you too!”

Dean looked down at his hands and arms, a cold, uneasy feeling curling into his stomach. “Hey… I wrecked this shirt a long time ago…”

Sam loped over to the Impala, parked just behind them—thank God, Dean thought, at least Baby is here, too—and peered at his reflection in the window. Dean walked slowly up, not sure he wanted to see, too.

“Not eighteen—more like twenty-two.” Sam straightened up and turned back to Dean. “Did you hear what Chuck said? He said ‘do it all over again,’ Dean. He said ‘If you think you could have written it better—could have made it all up as you went along—then do it all over again without me.’ Do it all over again…”

Dean felt a tremor run through him. He looked with purpose at their surroundings. Baby was parked on the side of a country road, and just ahead rose an old, iron suspension bridge. Two patrol cars sat at the bridge entrance—the entrance to a crime scene. It all looked vaguely familiar.

“So Chuck really did it? He sent us back in time? Back to… to…”

“This was our first case together. The Woman in White.”

“Are you kidding me?” Dean stared up at his brother, trying hard to comprehend. One moment they’d been standing on a lonely beach in Washington, facing off with God, who was ready to wipe their world—the last one left—off the universal map. It was the 11th hour, the last inning, and Jack’s turn at bat. And now…

Sam’s 22-year-old face was changing by the moment as the gears in his head turned. He started to pace back and forth slowly in front of the drivers’ side door. “So… he sent our bodies back in time to when we first started hunting together… but not our minds. We still have all our memories. I remember everything…”

“What about Jack?” Dean blurted, suddenly realizing the boy hadn’t materialized. The boy who was their last hope to stop Chuck from his mission of destruction.

Sam stopped and looked up, his brows lifting.

Dean spun around, squinting into the woods on the roadside. “Jack!” he hollered. “Jack, you here?!”

“Jack didn’t exist in 2005, Dean,” Sam said flatly.

“Well I know that, but…” he drifted off. Jack didn’t exist… but John did. If it was indeed 2005, then their father was alive and hot on the trail of the yellow-eyed demon. And they were hot on his trail, which was rapidly going cold.

Sam’s lips thinned, and he looked past Dean to the bridge. “Look, those cops are getting ready to leave. We’d better go talk to them.”

 “About what?” Dean managed. “About what year it is and where the fuck we actually are?”

“About the Woman in White, dude,” Sam said gently. “About the kid that was in that car.”

They fished their fake badges out of the Impala and Dean went along with Sam, who did all the talking while the cop squinted at them suspiciously. He tried to look interested, but his head was still spinning in more ways than one and he wasn’t sure if he was going to punch somebody or puke or just run screaming down the road—or maybe all three.

He crawled into the Impala’s passenger seat when they were done, and Sam slowly got in behind the wheel, eyeballing him. “Are you feeling ok…? You want me to drive?”

“I feel like I just lost 15 years of my life! How… how the hell are you functioning? How are you so cool with all this?”

“I’m not,” Sam replied, grim, “but you know how these things work. We gotta play the damn game.” He turned the key, which was thankfully in the ignition, and the engine roared to life. He sighed. “Now where are we going?”

***

Sam turned the car around and managed to get them back to the little town of Jericho, but he didn’t stop talking the entire way. “OK, so, we need to do some thinking here. A lot of thinking. But first we’re gonna need to find that motel where Dad was staying and maybe get his journal, right? Isn’t this the town where we found it?”

“Think so.”

“And didn’t you end up at the police station after we broke into his room?”

“Yeah, and the cops had his journal.”

“Oh, right. So… we go to the police station and ask to see it. Say we’re investigating him and ask if they searched his room.”

“’Cause that’ll work…”

“You got any better ideas? What do you think we should do?”

Dean snorted. “I know what we’re not gonna do. We’re not going back to that bridge tonight to get run down by our own car and I’m not gonna fall fifteen feet into the mud. I’m not getting arrested and you’re not getting molested by a ghost lady and driving Baby through a goddamn house, and…”

“Oh my God!” Sam cried, standing on the brakes and veering onto the shoulder. Dean had to grab the dash to keep from slamming his head off of it. A horn blared as someone swerved around them.

“Gah! What the fuck, Sam?!”

Sam turned wide eyes on him the moment they’d stopped.

“Jessica!”

Sam fumbled his phone out of his pocket—his ancient Palm Treo that looked like it had been run over at least twice—and poked at the tiny buttons with his big, shaking fingers until he found Jessica’s speed-dial number. Dean watched him in silence. He could hear the phone ring three times, then a woman’s voice answer. Sam’s eyes got even wider, and it took him a moment or two to speak. His upper lip broke out in a sweat. “J… Jess… hey…” he finally stammered.

Dean opened the door and hauled himself out to stand on the side of the road and give Sam some privacy. He leaned heavily on the fender, passed a sweaty hand over his face. Do it again. How could he possibly do it all again? How could he watch Sam do it all again? Lose Jessica again, just for starters… He looked up into the November sky, queasy and despairing, until a thought struck him like a thunderbolt from the blue.

If Jessica was still alive, then so was Castiel. 

***

It was all so goddamn strange. Dean stood at the Jericho Gas n’ Sip counter, spending the last of the change he’d found under Baby’s front seat on a beer and a piece of rubbery-looking pizza. His old leather jacket was an alien weight on his shoulders. The headline on the newspaper in front of him read, “President Bush Nominates Judge Samuel A. Alito to Supreme Court.”

Across the street at the Super 8, Sam and Jessica were arguing. Or maybe they were busy making up by now. They had all left Sacramento in an uncomfortable silence, Jessica perched in the front seat between them. Dean couldn’t blame her for being a little freaked out—Sam was acting like he’d had a stroke, after all.

It had been a two-hour ride to go pick her up, during which Sam had not stopped panicking. He called her four times and begged her to stay at the football game until he got back. He told her a half-truth—that their family had gotten mixed up with some shady characters, who had threatened him and included her. They needed to leave to be safe. She came along—grudgingly—but the dam burst about the time they checked into their rooms.

It occurred to Dean that they should have been staking out the couple’s apartment near Stanford, looking for Sam’s possessed buddy or better yet his buddy’s boss, Azazel—but that would have meant using Jessica as bait. He wasn’t about to suggest that… yet. They needed a breather—time to talk, think, strategize. Have a stiff drink, perhaps. Calm the fuck down. Things were happening a bit too fast.

Dean left the gas station and walked toward a small park on the river bank, a block away. He could keep an eye on their motel room from there. The sun was setting behind the trees and the air cool, but pleasant. He shuffled through the grass to a bench facing the empty playground and the quiet street and plopped himself down, elbows on his knees.

He clenched his hands and closed his eyes—just for a moment.

“Cas,” he murmured. “Castiel. You got your ears on, buddy? Are you… are you up there? I sure hope so…” His breath left him—he felt the tears stinging behind his eyelids, a catch in his throat.

Castiel. Just a couple days ago, as they hid from Billie’s rage in the bunker’s dungeon, Cas had told Dean just how much he loved him. With a smile on his face and tears on his cheeks, knowing it meant his fucking doom and Dean’s salvation. The Empty had taken Cas, and Billie, right before Dean’s eyes.

Castiel died saving Dean’s life. Castiel was really in love with him.

He’d barely had time to process any of it.

It hurt too bad.

But now… “Cas, if you’re up there—or down here—I… I just need a sign. I need you to let me know. I mean, maybe… maybe you don’t even know me yet. Maybe… maybe you think I’m a head case right now, but I…”

He wiped his nose on his sleeve and took a moment to absorb that probability. If he and Sam had truly gone back through time, then Castiel was up in Heaven doing angel junk and didn’t know him from a hole in the wall. Which… yeah, that also hurt, but contained the seed of possibility within it. Cas might not know him now, but perhaps he could change that.

“…I just need a sign, man.”

He sighed. Castiel, Angel of the Lord, was a busy guy who might not have time to leave a random nut job a sign. He could do better than that.

“And Sam and I could use your help. We’re hunting a yellow-eyed demon—Azazel. He’s after my brother. He wants to raise some kind of army. He… he wants to kill Sam’s girlfriend and make Sam into some kinda minion. We could really use some protection right now. And we need to know where Azazel and his goons are.”

He lifted his head, studying the motel parking lot again. Fingered the amulet around his neck absently. The street lights flickered on.

“If you could… if you could do me a solid and give us some help right now, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks, Cas.”

He stood slowly, noticing someone sitting in a parked car just up the street. How long had that car been there? This entire time? He’d been distracted; he couldn’t be sure. Watching without watching, he made a few mental notes about the guy in the dark blue Audi while he shoved cold pizza mindlessly into his mouth, then cracked the beer open to wash it down. Hopefully no cops drove by; he didn’t need to be picked up right now for drinking in public.

A few minutes later, Dean knocked at the motel room door, then turned his key in the knob. The door swung open just as Jessica shouted, “I’ll be in the bathroom! Am I allowed to close the damn door?!” The bathroom door slammed regardless.

Dean flinched. “Ooh. I’d ask how it’s going, but…”

Sam flung himself down in a chair, glaring up at Dean wordlessly.

Dean sighed, pitching his wadded-up bag into the can from the doorway and missing. “C’mon outside, we gotta talk.”

His brother sat forward, pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment, shook his head, then finally rose and followed Dean out to stand on the walkway. Dean didn’t miss the fact that he’d tugged the curtain open a little on the way out, the better to keep an eye on the room’s interior.

“So, what kind of car did your buddy Brady drive in college?” Dean asked.

Sam’s nostrils flared, his eyes darting to that crack in the curtains. “I dunno, it was a… a blue Benz maybe or… or maybe it was an Audi. Why?”

“Hmm. California plates?

“Yeah…”

“And as I recall he was kind of a spoiled frat-boy looking guy, right? Pink polo shirt type?”

“Yeah… I guess…” Sam glanced over the assortment of cars in the parking lot, shifting his feet nervously.

“Don’t look around,” Dean said, and Sam’s gaze snapped back to meet his. “There’s a guy sitting in a blue Audi just up the street. He could have eyes on us right now.”

Even in the sickly yellow light of the walkway overhang, Dean could see the color draining from Sam’s face. It was a demon inside Brady who had killed Jessica back in Sacramento, slashing her and burning her alive on the ceiling, with Sam helpless to save her.

“Listen. I know we both need a stiff drink and a shrink at the moment, but we also need a plan. So, if Brady followed us here and that’s him down the block…”

“We need to know, Dean.”

“Let’s just assume. What do we have for demon-killing weapons?”

Sam gestured at the Impala. “You got the keys.”

With no one nearby, they stepped down to pop Baby’s trunk and inventory their arsenal. Dean rummaged through their old collection of gear—no time to get sentimental—looking over silver knives, machetes, shotguns, holy water, a box of salt rounds.

Sam leaned in next to him. “No demon-killing knife, no Colt, no cuffs… but we do have holy water and spray paint for a devil’s trap.”

“We could make some devil’s trap bullets, right?” Dean suggested, digging into his ammo supply. “What do we have for rounds?” He pulled out a box of bullets that would work, then turned to look at his brother. “Have you told her anything? Like, do you need to stick your tongue down her throat to distract her while I rip up the carpet and paint a trap? How is this gonna work?”

“She’s in the bathroom right now. She could be in there for an hour, but if not… heck, we could just do it under the doormat.”

“Ok. Some warding on the door and salt in the windows will help, too. Or…

Sam sighed. “Or what, Dean?”

“Or we could invite him in for a beer, shoot him with a devil’s trap bullet and ask him a few questions about Azazel,” Dean said, slamming the trunk shut again.

“And how would I explain that to Jessica? This was our friend we’re talking about, Dean!”

“You won’t have to ‘splain much when we exorcise his ass right in front of her, now will you?”

Sam closed his eyes and just stood there for a moment, shoulders sagging. Finally he nodded, drew a deep breath. “Ok. Ok, you’re right. We can’t run from this. It’s happening, whether we like it or not. But this time, I’m going to protect Jessica. She’s not going to die because of me.”

“And vice versa,” Dean growled. “Gimme fifteen minutes to make a few bullets out here, then I’ll be in and you can call the bastard. Come up with a story.”

***

The bastard didn’t answer his phone.

Jessica came out of the bathroom with one towel around her torso, her hair piled high and wrapped with another. Droplets of water ran down her bare legs. She bent over to open her duffle bag, and Dean’s pants suddenly got a lot tighter.

“Jesus,” he muttered, leaning back in the chair and looking away. He’d nearly forgotten about these insta-boners. Sam had his back to her, his face screwed up in frustration.

Focus, Dean. “Ok, so Plan B,” Dean said.

“Which is?”

Jessica headed back into the bathroom with her clothes, and Dean leaned close to his brother, wincing at the crotch crunch. “You ain’t gonna like this, but I say we lure him in. We pretend to disappear, leave her alone here just long enough…”

“No.”

“Dude. Listen. I pretend to disappear. I can park around the block and sneak back through the woods. I’ll have eyes on him in two minutes. I’ll be close. You just go to the ice machine and pretend to take a call or something, and I text you when I see his ass coming.”

Sam sat up and ran his hands through his mop of hair, considering. Sweating. “I don’t like it… but it could work.” He sighed. “I guess it has to.”

***

Dean had to hand it to his brother—as freaked out as he was, his acting was still top-notch. Sam entered the room just ahead of him, and as Dean hustled down the walkway, hand on his .45, he could hear Sam’s voice, loud and casual.

“Brady! Hey, man, what the hell are you doing here?

Dean swept into the room seconds later to see Jessica grinning—amazed, of course, to see their friend at the door—and Sam looking only slightly manic, edging in front of her. Dean looked from Brady to Sam, kicking the door closed behind him.

“You know this guy?”

“Well yeah, this… this is my buddy Brady from school. He just happened to be…”

Dean stood up straighter, pretending to tuck his pants in, then drew and fired a round into Brady’s thigh. General mayhem ensued. Jessica screamed, of course, and Sam leapt to silence her while Dean shoved black-eyed Brady into the nearest chair.

Jessica took one look at the pissed-off demon and shrieked again.

“What the hell is this?” Brady growled, unable to move. “What have you done?”

“Never you mind, Junior,” Dean answered. “We’re asking the questions now.”

Without warning the door smashed open, the casing splintering, and two more demons piled into the room. Dean heard Sam holler to Jessica, but he was too busy firing to look back. The first demon—who appeared to be riding the gas station clerk from across the street—went down in a paralyzed heap, but Dean’s gun misfired on the next shot. The second demon smoked out like a little bitch before Sam could get a bead on her—and dove straight into Jessica.

“No!” Sam bellowed, but the Sasquatch seemed to be as paralyzed as the wounded demons when Jessica leapt up and manhandled him, twisting an arm behind his back, yanking his own gun away and holding it to his head.

SonofaBITCH,” Dean spat. Brady started laughing, and it was all Dean could do not to shoot him again. He kept his gun trained on the Jessica demon, and kept his cool.

“Oh, now… you’re not going to shoot this sweet young thing, are you?” Jessica taunted. “Gosh, she’s so in love it’s disgusting. She’s begging me right now not to hurt this big hunk.” The demon ratcheted Sam’s right arm up higher, and Sam’s eyes grew a little wider. “Would be such a shame to lose them both. A real tragedy.”

“OK, just… shut up,” Dean said. “I’m putting the gun down, see?” He reached over and laid his pearl-handled Colt carefully on the bed closest to him and backed up, hands in the air. How the hell were they going to get out of this one?

“Lie down on the floor,” the demon ordered. “Between the beds.”

Dean had a bad feeling in his gut. He got to his knees, staring at his brother, who seemed to have lost his shit. Sam should be pulling one of his monkey-man moves right now, but he was just going along.

“Down!” Jessica yelled, and Dean complied, face first into the ancient shag carpeting that smelled like moldy feet.

Then she shot him.

He couldn’t breathe. He could hear Sam and Brady hollering, the door slamming open again. He rolled over, but pain plunged a dagger between his ribs, and he couldn’t breathe. Not enough air. The room filled for a moment with white hot light, black smoke, then silence.

There was Sam, in his face, and somebody else knelt down between the beds with him. A woman.

“Can’t… can’t breathe,” he gasped. The woman touched his forehead, a familiar tingle washed through him, and the world went still. He drew in a deep breath, then another. Another.

“You’re an angel,” he heard Sam blurt.

The woman moved away and Dean lurched to his feet, unsteady, grasping Sam’s hand. Blood stained the carpet below him, but when he yanked his shirt up, he was whole. He stared at the woman, dumbfounded—a 30-something woman in a cable-knit sweater and skinny jeans. She studied him in return, her face expressionless. He could feel the power coming off her…

“Cas,” he breathed. “Are you… are you Castiel?”

“My name is Bethezriel.”

“But… why are you here? Did Castiel send you?”

“We too are seeking the demon Azazel. Do you know his location?”

“No, just… just answer the damn question! Did Castiel send you? Did he hear me?”

“He received your prayer, and I was dispatched to investigate.”

***

He received your prayer.

What exactly did that mean?

Dean pondered and flipped that over and over in his mind—from the time they slipped out of the motel parking lot (before the police could arrive), to the time around 1:30 am when they woke the night clerk at the Red Lion in Redding.

They were all too strung out to drive anymore. Jessica emptied the last of her waitressing tips into Sam’s hand so he could check them in, while Dean drove down the street to ditch the car behind an auto parts store. Just in case. As much as he loved Baby, she stuck out like a sore thumb.

Closing the car door as quietly as he could, he pocketed the keys and turned his collar to the cold.

He received your prayer.

Cas.

He’d been trying not to overthink it, but the flood of questions kept rising higher behind the dam inside his mind. Cas used to tell him he heard Dean’s thoughts sometimes; they carried like prayers when they focused on the angel. Thoughts like sorry I fucked up Cas please come back now, and please be ok, and goddammit why’d you have to go and do that? and I really miss you buddy.

He tended to overthink and it was hard to stop, and now as he walked the questions began to spill over the top of the floodgate. What did it mean that Cas had heard him and sent someone else to help? Cas was alive, it meant that much. Dean’s heart felt ten sizes bigger just knowing that. But what he didn’t know was whether Castiel was original-edition Angel of the Lord, hanging out with that asshat Uriel and his squadron of winged dicks—or somehow the best friend who had died to save him just days ago. Was it possible that Cas had been pulled from the Empty and tossed back into Heaven, like Sam and Dean had been thrown back through time? With his memories intact?

If the former, it made sense that Cas barely gave a shit about him and sent another flying monkey to bail him out. Not that he wasn’t incredibly grateful for the assist; how had things gone so tits-up so fast? They’d just landed here and he’d nearly gotten dead within a day.

If the latter, though, did that mean Cas was being kept in Heaven somehow against his will? Or… was the angel purposefully avoiding him? He poked at that last thought for a while, pushing at it gently like a loose tooth. After Cas’ confession in the dungeon, maybe he was embarrassed. Maybe he wasn’t ready to face Dean yet. Maybe he thought Dean would reject him or pretend it had never happened, and he’d rather be in the Empty than deal with that. Yeah… that thought hurt. But Dean could relate—having at times gone to great lengths himself to avoid confronting uncomfortable emotions.

Dean wished he knew the truth, though, because that meant the difference between praying, “Hey, Cas, you can’t just toss out an ‘I love you’ and disappear forever—get your ass down here and talk to me!” vs. “Castiel, Angel of the Lord, I beseech you, let’s meet for drinks next Friday, ‘cause I think we’d hit it off.”

When he got back to the room, it was already dark inside, and Sam and Jessica lay curled up together in one of the doubles, apparently out cold. Dean sighed, sitting down to yank his boots off, then fished around in his duffel for some clean briefs—which seemed to elude him. He found his toothbrush and scrubbed it around his mouth for a minute, then simply peeled his jeans off and crawled under the covers. He could see salt glittering on the windowsill. Which would do fuck-all against Azazel.

He stared at the ceiling and tried—carefully, and without sounding insane—to pray inside his mind.

Cas. Castiel. I appreciate you throwing me a line tonight. I owe you one. Well, I really owe you more like 57, but…

I’m glad you can hear me, Cas, ‘cause I could really use a friend right now. We need to find our dad, and we need to find Azazel before he gets to Sammy. We need to kill the bastard all over again. I mean…

Sigh.

If I get a line on Azazel, I’ll let you know, and I’d appreciate if you’d do the same. Like, I hope we can be partners here. Or you know… friends. Or…

Dean’s eyes stung and watered, and he felt a stray tear spill down his temple. “I don’t know how to do this…” he breathed, frustrated. “Cas, I miss you, man. If you… if you miss me at all, then please get down here. I need you here… We need to talk…”  He squeezed his eyes shut, throwing an arm across his face.

If you don’t know me from Adam, then we still need to talk. Shit’s about to go down and you need to know.

Hearing someone stir in the next bed, he rolled over to face the window and pretended to be asleep.

Jessica whispered something to Sam, and he replied inaudibly. Dean could hear the sound of a kiss. Then another.

Goddammit. He should’ve slept in the car.

Sam murmured a quiet protest, but things escalated nonetheless. Dean told himself he should clear his throat, roll back over, say something, put a stop to it. But he didn’t. He just laid there like a pervert and listened as his 38-year-old brother banged his 21-year-old college girlfriend eight feet away. Or maybe vice-versa. They were trying to be quiet, but not very hard; soon he was getting the full porn-o-magic in high-def sound experience. The sighing, moaning, grunting and slappy-squishy seemed to go on and on. Oh, to be young again. Of course, he was, and he now had his own damn boner to contend with.

Long after Jessica had tiptoed back from the bathroom and Sam had started to snore, he and his boner laid there in the dark. He palmed himself absently, but he didn’t really feel horny. He felt… lost and aching. Once upon a time he’d have told himself that he just needed a drink. But what he really needed now was something he couldn’t have.

He thought, ironically, of what Cas had said to him in the dungeon, in those final moments together: “What I want is something I know I can never have.”

What was it, Cas? Dean prayed despite himself. What was it you wanted so bad, that you thought you could never have? Whatever it is, buddy, you can have it. You can have it all. I swear.

***

Sam broke up with Jessica over continental breakfast. Dean nearly missed it—he’d slept in, exhausted, and finally dragged himself out to the lobby/dining room for a cup of stale coffee, just as Jess jumped up and chucked a Styrofoam bowl full of Raisin Bran at his brother’s head.

“I knew it!” Sam yelled, milk dripping from his hair. “You couldn’t let Brady go because you’re in love with him! Why else would he just show up at our room in the middle of nowhere!? You let him know where we were!”

“You’re insane!” she cried. “How could you say that? I can’t believe this! I can’t believe any of this!” Her sweeping gesture seemed to encompass Dean as well. He poured himself the dregs of the coffeepot and gave her an awkward smile as she stormed past, headed for their room.

Sam seemed to deflate, dropping his head into his hands, as Dean walked over and plunked himself into Jessica’s chair. It was still warm. “Had to happen, Edward,” he quipped—not unkindly.

“Fuck you,” Sam groaned.

“I’m sorry, man,” Dean said sincerely. “Sorry about Jess, sorry about Brady.” The angel Bethezriel had zapped Brady and his similarly incapacitated demon buddy somewhere for “interrogation.” Sam had pled that Brady’s life be spared, but the angel, typically, made no promises. As for the demon inside Jess, it had smoked out and been vaporized by the angel in mid-air—a pretty nifty trick, Dean thought.

There were no demons left to report back to Azazel, no bodies to clean up, and nothing but Dean’s bloodstain in the motel room for the cops to find. A pretty tidy wrap-up. Nevertheless, they probably had warrants out now for the firearms discharge. And then there was still the biggest loose end…

Sam looked up, sighing, as Dean took a swig of his bitter coffee. “Goddammit. I can’t leave her alone in there.” He fished around in his pants pocket and produced a Sharpie marker, sliding it across the table to Dean.

“What’s that for?” Dean asked.

Sam yanked his collar open as he stood up, and Dean saw the top of a hastily-drawn anti-possession sigil, about where his tattoo had been.

***

They drove Jessica to the bus station on their way out of town. “I’m glad you’re ok,” she said to Dean as she climbed out of the back seat, shouldering her backpack.

“You, too,” he answered.

She turned and walked away.

“Don’t bother to call me!” Sam yelled out the window, and Jessica flipped him the bird without looking back.

Dean caught Sam’s eye as they drove away. Sam scowled. “What?” he snapped. “Too much?”

“No.” Dean shook his head. “Just about right.”

Maybe they would both sleep tonight, he thought.

***

They decided to leave California without John’s journal. No sense messing with the cops when they were likely to be arrested. “Besides,” Sam said, tapping his temple, “what turned out to actually be useful is all up here.”

The Woman in White could wait.

“Ok then… where to?”

Sam pondered that for a long minute while Dean drove. “So, we’re in agreement that what we need to do right now is look for Dad and kill Azazel?”

“Yeah. Not necessarily in that order.”

“Well either way, what we need now is the Colt.”

Dean snapped his fingers. “That hunter had it—Elkins was his name, right?”

“Right. Daniel Elkins. Colorado. Manning, I think.” Sam pulled out his phone and blinked at it.

“Google Maps ain’t a thing yet, bro,” Dean said, glancing over.

Sam opened the glovebox, tossed his phone in and pulled out their tattered maps.

***

“You okay? About Jess?” Dean looked over at his brother, who’d gone quiet and pensive somewhere around Reno.

Sam fiddled with his pantleg. “Yeah. I guess.”

“You guess?”

“As okay as I can be, given the circumstances.” Sam got the thousand-yard stare, and Dean knew something was forthcoming. “I mean, you were right, Dean—it felt like a damn Twilight movie. I’m old enough to be her dad now… And I found I still cared about her, but it wasn’t the same. Of course it wasn’t. We had no future together. It just… wasn’t happening. Was never gonna happen, maybe. It’s not like it was with…” Sam paused and sighed, “…with Eileen.”

“Yeah. I get it.” Inevitably, Dean thought of his doomed relationship with Lisa. And Eileen—that was a whole other subject. Sam had to be seriously hurting about her disappearance/re-appearance/disappearance, too.

“Wish I didn’t have to end it like that, though. So stupid… Jess deserved the truth.”

“Beats the way it ended the first time, doesn’t it? You saved her life by lettin’ her go, man.”

Sam sighed again. “Let’s hope so.” He fell quiet for another couple minutes, as Dean passed a long line of semi-trucks loaded with logs. “You know… I spent so much time the first time around wishing I hadn’t gone with you, wishing I could have saved her, wishing we’d had a life together. Wishing for a second chance.” He shook his head, snorting. “But some things you just can’t get back.”

***

Dean pulled the Impala off the highway and into a truck stop just over the Utah border. He gave Sam a nudge to wake him up. “Forgot how much you used to sleep, man.”

“Mmph,” Sam grumbled, sitting up straighter. “Didn’t get much last night.”

Dean snorted. “That makes two of us. Listen, I gotta take a leak here and grab something to eat. Probably oughta gas up, too. You coming in?” He wheeled into a parking spot and cut the engine.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m coming.”

Dean got out and pocketed his keys, watching his brother unfold his long legs and stumble out of the car like a newborn deer. “Jesus, you’re skinny,” Dean observed. “Do you even eat?”

“Dude, you know I do,” Sam said. “Cut me a break, I’m probably still growing.”

Dean laughed, and it felt rusty. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d really laughed. Probably watching The Coneheads with Cas and Jack. He didn’t know which was funnier—the movie or their reactions to it.

But that was then.

***

Leaning up against the Impala, taking a break from the road, they unwrapped their sandwiches and Dean finally said what he’d been thinking all afternoon.

“I know one thing I’m gonna get back.”

“Yeah? What?” Sam said through a mouthful of hoagie. “Your memory foam mattress?”

“Cas. I’m gonna get Cas back.”

They’d already talked about what the angel Bethezriel had said. How it meant that Cas was alive in some way. That he was listening. That he knew what was happening. Sam was counting that a win, too.

“How? I mean… do you think he knows us, Dean? Do you think he’s in our same situation and just trapped up there somehow?”

“I dunno, man. But I’m gonna find out, and then… then I’m gonna bring him back.”

Sam bit into his sandwich and chewed thoughtfully, watching the lights of passing traffic out on the dark highway. “So… say he doesn’t know us and we’re complete strangers. You know you had to go to Hell to meet him before, Dean. Him pulling you out—that was your ‘profound bond’ and all. That was your big intro.”

“Not this time. I’m not going to Hell, and neither are you. No more dying, no more demon deals—none of it.”

“I hear you, man. Though you’re not off to such a great start.”

“Yeah, well… I know this much: I asked for his help, and he listened. So I’ll ask again. I’ll talk to him. I’ll warn him about the apocalypse. Maybe he’ll help us kill Azazel. I dunno, maybe… maybe if we get to know each other, work a couple jobs together, he’ll decide we’re ok, and he’ll…” Dean trailed off, feeling stupid, a painful lump stuck in his throat. He pulled his jacket tighter around him against the cold breeze, blinked up at the stars.

Sam looked at him and spoke gently. “Dean… maybe… maybe Cas is like Jessica. Maybe he’s better off without us. I mean… we got him killed, too. Several times.”

Dean felt sucker-punched. He hadn’t thought about it that way. He didn’t WANT to think about it that way.

“Think about it, man,” Sam continued. “He fell from Heaven for us. He made some really bad choices trying to help us, and… and he lost everything. He went through a lot of shit because of us, Dean. A lot of grief and pain. Is that what you want for him?”

“So you think we’re all gonna make the same stupid mistakes all over again?”

“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying angels aren’t so good at free will. They aren’t really cut out for all this. I’m saying… you know… when you care about something, sometimes you gotta let it go…”

“Like you let Jessica go?” Dean sniped, his voice and his temper rising. “You just want some company in your misery, or what?”

“No, Dean. I’m saying Cas is an angel and we’re human and maybe he’d be happier if we didn’t…”

Dean shoved away from the car and flung what remained of his sandwich to the cold, dusty pavement. “What the fuck do YOU know about Cas and what makes him happy?!” he cried, his voice breaking. “You don’t! You have no idea what he said to me back at the bunker when he… when he…” Dean couldn’t even finish his sentence, his throat constricting. He was shaking head to toe with emotion. Sam set his wrapper on the hood and held his hands out, placating.

“Dude, I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…”

“You don’t know what he said…”

“I’m sorry. Tell me.”

Dean choked out a sob, swiping the back of his hand angrily under his nose. “He said I was the best fuckin’ thing since sliced bread. He said I changed him. He said… hell, YOU heard what he said in that barn with mom there when he got stabbed—he said knowing us was the best part of his whole existence! You heard that!”

Sam nodded, acquiescing. “Yeah. Yeah, I heard that.”

“The last thing the fucker said was he loved me, man. He loved me loved me and saying it made him happy. Just… just fucking saying it. Even if he could never have what he wanted, he said. And shit, how can I… what am I supposed to do with that? What did he want?”

Sam just stared.

“The fucking Empty took him and I want him back!” Dean bellowed, not caring who heard. “That’s what I want. And I’m gonna find out what he wants, even if he doesn’t know he wants it yet!” Dean wiped at his eyes, his nose, smeared snots on his leather jacket, plugged a nostril with his thumb and blew his nose in frustration onto the pavement.

“Goddammit,” he croaked, “Get in the fuckin’ car.”

***

Fifteen miles down I-80, Houses of the Holy blasting from the tape deck, Dean was just starting to feel his heart-rate coming down. Sam had wisely clammed up and was just sitting there watching the road, looking constipated. Dean side-eyed him, wondering what he was thinking but afraid to hear it.

Sam’s left eyebrow lifted and he sat up straighter. “Hey…”

They were approaching a lonely exit ramp to nowhere, and a dark, late-model pickup came into view, sitting on the shoulder. In the Impala’s headlights, a petite woman with short blond hair appeared in front of it with her thumb out.

Dean started to slow, but Sam grabbed his arm.

“No—no! Don’t stop!”

“What? Why?”

“Dude that’s… that’s Meg! Go!”

Dean stepped on it, and they blew past the girl doing 80 mph; he could see her jacket whipping in their tailwind out the rearview mirror as she turned to glare at them.

“Seriously? You sure?”

“You saw her! Of course I’m sure.” He wiped a hand down his face. “Dammit, she’s tailing me. Maybe… maybe we should go back and pick her up.”

Dean looked over at his brother and felt himself getting irritated all over again. “What, so she can slit our throats?”

“She doesn’t want to slit our throats. Well, yours maybe, but… you remember. She’s working for Azazel, keeping tabs on me. And once we get the Colt, she’s going to get ugly. Dude, we know where she is now. We can get a jump on her.”

“Ok, so… what’s the play? Pick her up, shoot her and interrogate her? How many demon bullets we got left?”

“She’s Meg, remember? She’ll never break, but we can incapacitate her. Keep her in the damn trunk till we figure something out.”

“OK.” Dean spied a turnaround in the median and spun Baby around to head back west. He watched Sam out of the corner of his eye, as his brother checked the clips in both their guns and counted the devil’s trap bullets.

“Five,” Sam said.

Dean knew they should be extremely cautious. This was a demon with a bad agenda who was more than capable of slitting his throat, given the chance. But it was also Meg, and the last time they saw her, she sacrificed herself to let them escape from Crowley with the Angel Tablet. Then there was the way she took care of Cas while he was off his nut… she and Cas sure had some weird thing going on. The angel had a soft spot for the crazy bitch. That was Meg 2.0.

But this was Meg 1.0, and there was no love lost between them. She was nasty and dangerous. He had to remember that and not let his guard down.

They rolled up again to the spot where the truck was parked, but the girl had disappeared. Dean pulled over nonetheless, and Sam got out cautiously and trotted over to peer into the truck with his flashlight. The driver was slumped over the steering wheel. Sam got back into the car talking to the local 911 dispatcher and shook his head at Dean, looking somber.

Damn.

***

When they dragged ass into Manning, it was nigh 6 am. Logging trucks rumbled up Main Street and flannel-clad men stuffed the vinyl booth seats at Nelly’s, the little diner at the four-corners next to the bank and the pharmacy.

“Coffee,” Dean croaked, and Sam dutifully pulled over.

“Coffee,” he croaked again at the waitress once they were seated. “Black.”

Sam chuckled. “Think you’re gonna like that?”

“Why? You know something I don’t about Nelly’s coffee?”

“You always filled your coffee with milk and sugar back in the day,” Sam said. “Kinda like milk with coffee.”

“Yeah, well… I grew up.” The waitress returned with the pot, and Dean watched her pour, then took a bracing sip of the bitter brew. “You on the other hand—you got a pimple on your chin.”

“What?” Sam grabbed the chrome napkin dispenser and tried to look at his reflection.

“So, listen,” Dean said over his Lumberjack Special, “do we even remember where to find this Elkins guy?”

Sam chewed his egg white sandwich and thought a minute. “Mmm. Not so much. He was pretty far off the beaten track. Better call Bobby.”

Bobby. Holy shit.

“Bobby’s alive,” Dean blurted through a mouthful of egg.

Sam looked up. “Well yeah, I assume so. Don’t you have his number in your phone?”

Dean pulled his old Motorola from his pocket and pushed buttons until he found his contacts. He couldn’t even remember who half these people were. “Here we go,” he said, staring at the number. Of course, there was Bobby’s number, then there was FBI, StatePo, NSA, EPA, DEA… also all Bobby. John must have programmed those numbers in for him, he thought—he was pretty sure he’d never used them before 2005.

He dialed and waited, heart in his throat. At the sound of Bobby’s gruff voice, he utterly forgot what he was going to say.

“C’mon, I ain’t got all day,” Bobby groused, when Dean didn’t speak.

“Uh… Bobby,” Dean said.

“Yer talkin’ to him.”

“It’s… it’s Dean. Winchester,” he added, trying to remember when he’d last seen the old man at this point in time.

“John’s boy.”

“Yeah, that’s me. That’s me.” Dean looked up at Sam’s soft smile and had a sudden surge of déjà vu, followed by a tsunami of emotion.

Goddamn, he loved this cantankerous old fart.

“Well, what’s on yer mind, boy?” Bobby urged, as Dean struggled to control himself. Sam’s smile widened, and he handed Dean a napkin.

Dean managed to put Bobby on speakerphone, so Sam could suffer too.

“Hey, so, uh, we’re wondering if you know of a hunter name of Daniel Elkins. We’re here in Colorado trying to find him. Need an address.”

“Elkins, huh?” Dean could picture Bobby sitting down at his desk and pulling out his raggedy address book. “Let’s see. Elkins… just says ask Rita at the Manning Post Office. Want his phone number?”

Sam wrote the number down on a napkin as Bobby spoke, then he leaned in to the phone. “Bobby, it’s Sam,” he said. “Have you by any chance heard from our dad lately?”

Of course, he hadn’t, and so Dean said something awkward about coming by for a beer soon, and managed to say goodbye and hang up while he could still talk.

Sam wisely kept quiet and tucked into the rest of his breakfast while Dean sniffled and wiped at his eyes for the next ten minutes or so.

“Hard to know if this whole thing is a curse or a blessing, you know?” Sam finally said softly.

Dean looked at the rest of the sausage and egg on his plate, but didn’t feel like eating any longer. “Maybe it’s both, man.”

***

Rita at the post office said that Elkins was on a hunting trip for a week or so, and could she leave a message for Danny? Sam said no, but they had something for him and could they have his address, to which Rita said no, and nobody was surprised. It took Sam and Dean the better part of the morning going up and down lonesome dirt roads at the edges of town to finally find Elkins’ cabin on their own. Then the better part of an hour to break in and carefully ransack the place until they found the Colt tucked under a floorboard in a closet.

“Jackpot!” Dean yelled, pulling it out of its hiding place. “Ohh, darlin’… it’s good to see you again.”

“Hey, alright,” Sam said, coming over. They both admired the magical firearm as Dean turned it over in his hands, swung out the cylinder to reveal the original bullets, ran a finger over the etching on the barrel. Non timebo mala, it read in Latin—I will fear no evil.

“First bullet’s got Azazel’s name on it,” Dean said, handing the gun over to Sam.

“Yeah. Unless we gotta go through Meg first.”

“I won’t blink.”

Dean set the cabin to rights again while Sam wrote Elkins a note, warning him about the vampires that killed him, and telling him to call Bobby if he needed to find his gun.

Hopefully he would find the note before the vamps did.

Sam turned to Dean in the car, as he started the engine. “You know, we could take out those vamps, Dean. I remember where we found them.”

“If they’re there now. I mean, we’re here earlier than we were the first time.”

“One way to find out. I feel like we at least owe Elkins that much.”

Dean agreed, and it was mid-afternoon when they located the old barn where the nest had been, confirmed a couple of sleeping occupants, and set the place on fire. They waited, one near each door, for the vamps to run out. Dean beheaded one man easily, but Sam sliced the other man’s shoulder and the vamp turned and lunged at him, knocking his machete clear and tackling him to the ground.

“Nonononono…” Dean pulled his gun and dashed over, looking for a clean shot as Sam struggled with the vamp in the weeds. Sam got a hand free and then there was a blast, and the vampire jolted and quivered for a moment until Sam shoved him away, dead.

Dean could feel the heat coming from the burning barn now—it was going up fast. He reached down and grabbed Sam’s hand, pulling him to his feet. “You ok?”

Sam held the Colt in his other hand.

“Yeah. Damn it,” Sam said, looking down at the gun. “I didn’t mean to use that.”

Dean sighed, brushed the grass off his brother’s back. “One bullet down. Come on, let’s throw these guys back in the barn and get the hell out of here.”

***

They didn’t even have to discuss why neither one of them had tried to call John yet. Dean assumed his brother felt the same way he did about it—it was just too weird, and of course it had been futile for a while anyway the first time around, cause the bastard hadn’t answered his phone, as Dean recalled. So they put it off.

What the hell would they say to the man, anyway?

Should they hit him with the truth? Hey, Dad, it’s us, but not us? We’ve come from the future because God sent our asses back here for a do-over and he might or might not have destroyed the world? Sorry we got you killed the first time around? Sorry you sold your soul and the Colt for me on my deathbed—let’s don’t do that again?

Or should they try to pretend nothing had changed, while trying not to act like nutcases? Seeing John would be as bad as talking to Bobby again, Dean knew that much.

It was starting to feel important that they find John, however, or at least call and fill him in.

Dean pulled Baby back out onto Route 40, continuing east.

“So do we tell Dad we have the Colt now, or don’t we?” Sam asked, clearly thinking the same thoughts.

“Maybe not,” Dean answered. “I mean, if we actually give it to him, it just puts him in more danger, right?”

“Yeah. If we keep it, maybe it will keep Meg off his tail. Azazel wants it for two reasons, right? A. So we can’t kill him with it, and B. So he can open the Devil’s Gate and raise an army. And let Lilith out of the Pit to be the last seal.”

“Ugh. So we find the bastard and kill him before we find Dad.”

“Unless Dad finds Azazel first. But how’s Dad going to react if we ask him to stand down?”

“He’s going to tell us to go fuck ourselves.”

“Pretty much.”

 ***

Dean groaned, shifting his sore ass in the seat. He really hadn’t missed being on the road so much. “I wish we could go home, man. I need an actual bed. I miss my mattress.”

“I miss my new laptop,” Sam sighed.

“I miss barbecue night.”

Sam snorted. “We only did that like three times.”

“Yeah, well—it was still a tradition. My deluxe bacon cheeseburgers. Jack’s first hot dog…” he trailed off, couldn’t finish.

“Dean, I wonder if Jack… if he’s somehow still there. I mean, in the future time. What if he faced down Chuck and won without us?”

“For all we know, we’re still there,” Dean said, his world tilting a little as he considered that possibility.

“Dead or alive,” Sam agreed. “I mean, it’s mind-bending to think about. Are we in an alternate reality right now, or some kind of a dream, or did Chuck really turn back time? And just for us, or for the whole world? And what if…”

“What if what?”

“What if he killed Jack and destroyed the world? What does that mean for us now? Are we just gonna get to 2020 and fall off some crazy cliff? Or can we really do things differently and save everybody?

“And if it really does matter and we really do have a second chance here,” Sam continued, “are we screwing things up for the future by not repeating all our actions? Not killing the Woman in White and saving her next victims? Or… or Bloody Mary or the Benders?”

Dean couldn’t answer.

“And what about Jack?” Sam said. “I mean, if Jack was truly our only chance against Chuck—if he was key to the future—then that means…”

“Means Lucifer needs to get topside and get laid again.”

“Yeah,” Sam sighed. “And all that entails.”

Dean scowled, unwilling to think about it anymore. “Wish we could fuckin’ go home.”

***

Empty credit cards and emptier pockets meant another night on the road, but Dean was done driving, and Sam agreed they should just pull over somewhere and dig the sleeping bags out of the trunk. They had no firm destination anyway, at this point. So, they tucked Baby up behind an abandoned gas station off a quiet country road and settled down for the night.

Sprawled in the back seat, Sam started to snore pretty quickly, but Dean—despite his exhaustion—lay awake, his mind spinning. He watched the windows fog up, felt grateful for the old down bag as the cold seeped into the Impala. He repacked the duffle under his head, trying to make a better pillow.

Finally, he decided he might just need a walk—and a talk with an old friend.

He slipped out of the sleeping bag, pulled his coat back on and left the car, closing the door as quietly as he could and locking Sam in. The night air felt frosty but bracing, and the light of a quarter moon and stars was enough to navigate by, if he were careful. He walked around the building, hearing a car approach and pass, staying in the shadows until it had gone and protecting his night vision. Its tail lights disappeared, and once again, all he could hear was his own footfalls.

Hunching into his coat for warmth, he walked briskly up the road, crunching in the gravel on the shoulder, and began to speak out loud.

“Hey, Cas. Castiel. Hope you got your ears on, buddy. I just… I just need to talk to somebody and you’ve always been a good listener…”

Dean choked up a little, thinking about what it had felt like to see Cas’ name lighting up his phone. Or maybe just texting a dumb question like, What are the units of measurement on the stove knobs? Remembering what it had felt like to be able to call him and just talk when he needed a friend. Even if Cas didn’t have a clue about a lot of human things, it just helped to talk. Cas always listened.

“Cas, I’m gonna be honest with you,” Dean ventured. “It sounds crazy, but me and Sam, we just got tossed back here from the year 2020, by God himself, ‘cause he’s pissed at us for not playing his games. I know that sounds bad and God is your Father and all, and we thought he was pretty ok, too, until he went rogue and decided to destroy it all and start again. I mean everything he’d ever created. All the Earths, Heaven, Hell. All of it. I guess he liked us for a while—he said we were his favorites—but we wanted to save the world, and we fought him. And you did, too; we did together. Finally, though, he just yossed us back here. Said if you think you can do it so much better, then do it without me. Do it all again. So here we are.

“Man, I don’t… I don’t think I can do it, Cas. I mean I sure as hell ain’t gonna do it again HIS way. The way he wrote it and forced us to do it the first time, like a couple of puppets. I went to Hell, man. Sam, too. Just for trying to do the right thing. We saved the world five times over, it felt like. We fucked up a lot, too, but… that was all part of Chuck’s goddamn story.

“Now, I dunno… I dunno if Chuck—I mean God—is for us or against us. He said do it again without Him—but does that mean he’s gonna try and kick our asses every step of the way? Or just that he’s gonna leave us to our own devices? I can already tell there’s a difference, y’know? I mean—there were times I felt invincible before. I felt like I could take anything the world threw at me. Maybe it was just being young, but… it’s different now. Me and Sam—we’re tired. Strung out. Dude, to tell you the truth, I’m scared shitless. My fucking chest hurts and I can’t sleep, and I… I know Sam’s struggling, too. He’s trying to be strong for me, ‘cause I…

Dean stopped at a silent four-way and leaned against a tree, listening to a lonely train whistle nearby.

“…I really miss you, Cas. I ain’t no superhero. I just… I need my best friend. I need you. You were so good to me, and I… I took that for granted. You pulled me out of Hell, man. You were always there for me, and I… I want you to know I love you. For what it’s worth to you now.”

Dean’s tears felt cold on his cheeks as he gazed up at the stars.

“Maybe you think I’m crazy. I’m probably not making any fucking sense to you. But I just… I need a sign you’re listening and you give a shit. Please. Don’t get me wrong—I was grateful for that last assist. Really grateful. But it wasn’t you, and…”

Headlights approached, appearing suddenly from over the hill behind him, and he tried to slip back into the trees as they passed. But the car slowed to a rapid stop beside him and a woman’s voice called out, “Need a ride?”

He stepped back out onto the shoulder and started to answer, “No, I’m—,” but his voice died in his throat. Meg leaned out of the passenger window, leveling a gun at him. She grinned.

Two more demons piled out of the back seat, making for him. He briefly considered turning tail and running into the woods, but… the demons flanked him, grabbed him by the arms, frisked him and took his gun and a knife, then shoved him into the back of the car.

“The fuck do you want?” he growled, feeling the barrel of a handgun poking into his ribs. The driver spun the car around and headed back down the road—to the abandoned gas station. They cut the lights and rolled in silently, and Dean realized they knew Sam was there.

Meg turned around in the front seat. “You’ve got two things we want in that old heap of junk back there, she said, nodding toward the Impala. “One is that gun, and the other is your brother.”

“So why didn’t you just get them yourself?” Dean said, knowing full well the answer.

“Because you’ve warded that car six ways from Sunday and we can’t get near it. But you can. So let’s go.”

“What gun are you talking about?” Dean said, playing stupid as they yanked him out of the car again.

The two demons flanking him held his arms back, and Meg got up in his face. “The gun you killed that vampire with, back in Manning,” she purred. “That gun leaves a very special signature behind. You’re going to give it to me.”

“Bite me,” Dean snarled.

Meg’s lip curled, and Dean rose to his toes when she grabbed him tightly by the nutsack and squeezed. “Is that what you really want?”

Given that his nads were in jeopardy, Dean didn’t stop to think—he just went a little apeshit. He head-butted Meg and kicked out at the shins of the demon on his left at the same time, wresting away from them, whirling and catching the demon on his right with a haymaker to the temple. Flying fists notwithstanding, he was outnumbered, and they were demons, and within a few seconds he’d been overpowered again. They then took the opportunity to teach him who was boss.

It wasn’t pleasant.

Lying on the ground, he looked up to see Meg’s shining black eyes glowering down at him. “One last time—give us the gun.”

He turned his head to spit out the blood in his mouth. “Like I said, bite me.”

“Ok, then—Plan B, boys.” Meg stepped back and nodded at the demon on her left. “Leroy…”

The guy opened his mouth and black smoke started to pour out, gathering over his head until it formed a swirling cloud, blocking out the stars. Then it dove. Dean started to writhe and choke as the demon tried to force its way into him—up his nose, into his mouth, and for a moment it was impossible to breathe. Then Meg was swearing, and someone kicked him in the ribs. The smoke receded.

“Fucker’s warded, too,” someone else said.

In a fetal position in the dirt, Dean gasped and coughed, grateful for that Sharpie marker, and then they were dragging his ass across the parking lot.

When they reached the Impala, Meg tangled her fingers in his hair and mashed his bloody face against the rear passenger window, banging on the car’s roof with her other hand. Out of his one good eye, he saw Sam bolt upright and do a double take, blinking.

“Sorry,” Dean tried to mouth.

“Get out of the car, now!” Meg bellowed and Sam obeyed, assisted by the two goons who then took his gun and knife as well and led him around to the trunk, hands in the air.

“Give us the Colt and come with us, and your brother lives,” Meg ordered, now holding a knife to Dean’s throat. Dean knew she was lying. She had every reason to kill him, just as the last demon did. Sam had to know, too.

“I’ll give you the Colt and come with you if you let him drive away first,” Sam said, nodding toward Dean.

Meg tightened her grip. “Shut-up and open that damn trunk. Let me see the gun.”

“I have the keys,” Dean croaked.

Meg released him and at gunpoint, Dean shakily opened the trunk, the hidden weapons compartment still closed.

“Ok, Houdini, nice trick but where’s the gun?”

Sam sighed, opening the weapons cache. Grabbing the warded box with the Colt inside, he tossed it hard at Meg—then in one smooth move, yanked and shoved one of the demons beside him into the trunk compartment, relieving the man of his gun as he did so and spinning to shoot the other demon with a devil’s trap bullet.

Dean tried to duck—which felt like the best he could do given his recent beating—but the demon that had driven the car grabbed him by the collar and yanked him to his feet again, using him as a shield.

In their midst, the yellow-eyed demon materialized.

Everyone froze.

“Shit,” Sam breathed.

Azazel looked about him and grinned. “Well, now. All my favorite people in one spot. Almost.” He turned to Meg fondly. “Thank you, sweetheart—I’ll take that.”

Meg handed Azazel the box and he turned to Sam, still smiling his dreadful smile. “And now you’ll open it, Sammy boy—or I’ll tear your brother’s heart out.”

Sam’s nostrils flared, and Dean could see the wheels spinning in his head. The demon’s golden eyes glowed in the darkness.

Behind them came a noise like a snapping blanket, and the demon holding onto Dean erupted in a cloud of light and smoke. Dean spun around gasping, staggered and fell, and just caught the last sight of Azazel and Meg as they vanished completely. The warded box did not go with them—as if in a cartoon, it appeared to hover in the air for a moment before clattering to the pavement.

“Go!” said the woman who had just appeared, and the young man by her side vanished, too. The woman looked down on Dean, and he recognized, once again, the angel Bethezriel.

Sam exhaled sharply. “Hoo. Wow. Thanks,” he said.

“Your timing could’a been better,” Dean blurted.

“Your brother had the upper hand for a time,” the angel said. “But you were shortly to perish again.”

Dean grabbed Sam’s extended hand and stumbled to his feet. “Uh, who… who was that guy? Your angel friend?”

“Ezekiel,” she answered. “Perhaps he will be able to catch up to Azazel.” She looked at Dean with some measure of disapproval. “We might have captured him, had you not been the priority.”

“Me?”

“Yes. Castiel seems to think you may be important.”

Dean’s heart leapt in his chest, but… “So why isn’t he here? Why does he keep sending you?”

The angel walked over to the demon cowering under the devil’s trap in the trunk and smote him nonchalantly. Reaching into the dead man’s pocket and removing his wallet, she turned and handed it to Dean. “Castiel is not currently envesseled. But he wants me to tell you to get a good night’s sleep tonight, and have pleasant dreams.” Then seizing the third, paralyzed demon by the hair, the angel vanished.

***

“They’ll be back,” Sam sighed, pulling the Impala out again onto the dark road. The warded box with the Colt was tucked safely back in the trunk, and they’d managed to recover one knife and their handguns.

“No shit,” Dean slurred through his swelling lips. He pressed a t-shirt to his left eye with one hand and opened the wallet with the other, finding three credit cards and a wad of cash; it looked like about $200. “Let’s find a nice, clean hotel room where I can bleed in peace.”

“You ok?” Sam asked, glancing over at him furtively. “You look pretty rough.”

“My modeling career might be over.”

They drove fifty miles before finding a small motel and breaking into a room when they couldn’t rouse a clerk. The place was old and shabby—with only one Queen bed—but it was clean and had hot water and heat. By that time, Dean’s adrenaline had worn off and he was in a bit of agony. Too much agony to care about sleeping with the Sasquatch. He tossed his duffel into the corner and laid himself down carefully with a groan.

Sam closed the door quietly behind them, and Dean could hear his brother moving about, in and out of the bathroom, rummaging through his bag. His whole face seemed to be pulsing with his heartbeat, and he thought he’d probably cracked a rib or two, given the pain when he breathed deeply.

He felt the mattress dip beside him, then Sam’s voice, gentle. “Hey, c’mon Dean, can you sit up for a few? I’ve got some drugs and some stitches for you.”

“Stitches? Really?”

“I think you need a couple.”

Grunting and groaning, Dean pushed himself up and Sam helped him slide backwards, propping some pillows behind him at the headboard. His brother looked concerned. “Did you take a boot?” he asked, lifting Dean’s shirt up a bit and grimacing.

“Feels like it. Size 11 bruise?”

“Yeah. Here.” Sam lifted a glass of water from the nightstand and handed it to Dean along with three Advil. “Bottoms up.”

Dean swallowed the water with some difficulty, as his lips seemed to be leaking, but he managed, and then tried to sit stoically while his brother poked at his face. “Is it bad?”

“It’s been worse. Can I put a couple stitches over your eye?”

“Yeah. That where all the blood’s coming from?”

“Mostly.”

Dean closed his eyes while Sam worked him over gently with a clean cloth and some alcohol, and put an ice pack in his hand to hold over his eye for a bit. Then the doctoring commenced; Sam’s big fingers were steady, warm and strong, and it occurred to Dean that his brother was not nearly this competent at field medicine fifteen years ago. The stitches finished, Sam helped him lie back down. Dean finally felt himself relaxing, despite the aches and pains. Maybe he could sleep after all.

“I’m sorry, Dean,” Sam said, putting his equipment away.

“Ain’t your fault.”

“Yeah… yeah it is. They want me and you keep getting in the way. You’re not expendable to the angels—but you are to the demons. They would’ve killed you twice over by now if not for Bethez—whatever her name is.”

“If not for Cas.”

Sam sighed, went back into the bathroom.

“Don’t get any weird ideas, man,” Dean called out to him. “We’re not splitting up, and you’re not going with them. Over my d—”

“If you say over my dead body, so help me…” Sam said from the bathroom.

“Maybe it’s time to call Dad. We need to summon the bastard.”

“What? Summon Dad?” Sam came back out, dropped trou and climbed into bed next to Dean. The Deluxe Queen suddenly seemed a lot smaller.

“Summon Azazel, dumbass. Dad did it—he found the ingredients somewhere. Maybe we can get him to work with us. Give us his source.”

“We had all that stuff at the bunker,” Sam sighed.

“Yeah, well… that was then, this is now. Or something like that,” Dean said. He reached to turn out the light, but couldn’t quite bend that way, so Sam reached over him and did it for him.

Dean closed his eyes. Fucking angels. Bethezriel could’ve healed him—but she didn’t. Cas would have.

“I miss Cas,” Dean said into the small space between he and Sam, in the dark.

“Yeah,” Sam said. “I do too.”

Then came the question. “Maybe it’s not my business, but I gotta ask, Dean… did you feel the same way about Cas as he did about you?”

Dean exhaled. How to answer that? Was there anything left to lose?

“I love him. Of course I do. Am I in love with him? I think… I was afraid to be. But maybe I was. I mean… I am.” Dean sighed. “Okay, goddammit, I am. And losing him again, after knowing…” words failed him for a moment, “…losing him again, I realize how much I took him for granted. How many times I fucked up.”

“So now you get one more chance.”

“Yeah, maybe I do. You gonna… you gonna be ok with me going full Rocky Horror Picture Show this time around?”

Sam snickered. “Dude, what does that even mean? You planning on becoming a cross-dressing mad scientist?”

“What? No… Hell, I never saw that movie.”

Sam started outright laughing and Dean snorted a little, but it hurt too much to smile, much less laugh.

“Wait, maybe… maybe RuPaul’s Drag Race is more your style, Dean.”

“Dude, fuck you.”

Sam clearly found himself hilarious. The bed shook like a bowl of pudding.

“Ah, Christ,” Dean said into the darkness. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, but you only live once. Wait, no…” He couldn’t help laughing now too—it felt awesome and horrible all at once.

“Oh, man,” Sam wiped at his eyes, sniffling, “you better stop or you’re gonna bust a stitch. Just… just do you, man. Just be happy. Be a cross-dressing, mad alien scientist if that floats your boat. I’ll visit you in the castle, as long as you don’t… you know… oh, you never saw it.”

“Bro, don’t worry, you’re safe. You’re not my type.”

“You mean ‘cause I’m human?”

Dean elbowed him in the ribs and was grateful Sam didn’t return the gesture.

“G’night, Meatman,” Sam giggled.

“’Night, Bitch.”

***

Dean slept the sleep of the dead once the Advil kicked in, until sometime around dawn, when he woke from an intensely vivid dream.

In the dream, he had died. On that motel room floor, bleeding out into the ugly shag carpet. There was no pain, no fear—it was all good. He found himself in Heaven, walking in a beautiful garden—and when he rounded a bend there was Cas, trench coat and bed hair and all.

Dean was overjoyed. He greeted his friend with open arms, but the angel just looked at him, standoffish.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Castiel said.

That hurt. “It’s me, Cas. It’s Dean. Don’t you remember me?”

“I don’t know you. Yet you say I should. You say we are friends—in a future I cannot see.” Castiel fixed Dean with a steady blue gaze. “Perhaps you are insane. Or perhaps you are trying to trick me. More importantly, if you are speaking the truth, and are being punished by a vengeful God, how do I know you don’t deserve God’s vengeance? Perhaps I should not be helping you.”

That hurt, too. But Dean’s heart felt so full, just seeing the angel standing there. How could he convince his friend of the truth? “Cas, you gotta believe me. We did so much good together. We stopped the apocalypse and saved the world! I know you!”

Do you, boy?”

Castiel’s image started to shimmer—then the angel waved a hand in front of his face, shedding his human visage. The visage that Dean was projecting onto him, he realized.

Now, an enormous creature rose up before him—a luminous being with multiple heads and magnificent wings, covered with glowing, blue eyes. It turned the head of a lion to face him, spread its wings and roared, shaking the very firmament.

Dean stood his ground, stubborn as a mule. “That all you got!?” he hollered back into the wind.

The creature shifted, tilted its head, narrowed all its eyes. “You don’t fear me…”

“Should I? You’re my best friend.” Dean studied Castiel as the seraph studied him, from every angle, it seemed. He felt certain that Castiel was peering into his very soul. He waited, patient and still.

“You are sincere,” the angel finally proclaimed.

Dean felt himself smiling up at his friend, filled with warmth. “And you’re beautiful,” he blurted.

Castiel seemed to glow a little brighter at that. Then he reached out a tendril of energy—of grace—and stroked it over Dean’s face, soft and gentle. Over his face and down his ribcage, and Dean felt so relaxed and happy. Peaceful, finally. He reached out again—and woke up.

Dean lay there for some time afterward, staring at the ceiling, gathering the dream’s memory and the feelings up close and holding them tight. It seemed so real; Cas had been with him. His best friend, Cas. Magnificent, awesome Castiel, Angel of the Lord. Had the angel dream-walked him? He was certain of it. The peace and happiness lingered, and he dozed on and off, hand over his heart, as the grey light grew outside the window.

Until he heard Sam’s voice.

“Holy shit!”

Dean startled awake and reached for his gun, but Sam was leaning over him, staring down with a goofy, gob-smacked look.

“What?” he asked, touching his own face, and suddenly realizing exactly what. He bolted upright, staring into the mirror across from the bed. When he’d gone to sleep, his face had been hamburger—and now he looked perfectly fine. Felt like a million bucks. His ribs didn’t even hurt. He’d been so busy feeling the emotional fallout of his vision this morning, that he hadn’t even noticed the physical results.

“Dude—what happened?” Sam goggled.

 “I saw Cas,” Dean said.

“Cas is here?”

“No, I… he dream-walked me this morning. I saw him. He… he touched me.”

“He healed you from inside your dream?” Sam said, awestruck. “So does that mean… does he know who you are?”

Dean couldn’t help but grin. “He does now.”

***

Dean took the exit at Rte. 24 without thinking and continued east. He could feel Sam’s eyes on him, and finally turned his head. “What?”

“You going to Lebanon?”

He supposed he was. “You got any other ideas?”

Sam was silent. They had tried to call John that morning, but of course he hadn’t answered. He could be anywhere.

Finally, Sam said, “We could take a hunt. Or we could go see Bobby and unload all those old cases on him, if we’re not gonna take them. He can call other hunters. People are gonna die if—”

“Yeah, yeah… I know.”

“Dean… we can’t get into the bunker without the key. Henry Winchester had the key. If we go to Bobby’s house, he might have something we can use to summon Azazel.”

“Grandpa Henry had the key back in the 40s. Unless it got destroyed, somebody’s gotta have the key right now.”

“Maybe, but who? How will we find it?”

“I dunno,” Dean sighed. “We’re gonna need a witch or a fuckin’ psychic or something just to break into our own goddamn house.”

Dean drove to the bunker anyway. It was noontime, and they got out of the car in a cold rain to stand there uselessly in front of the door. Dean leaned his head against the wet, rusty metal and pounded his fist on it. “Fuck.”

Sam’s hand landed on his shoulder. “You could ask Cas,” he suggested.

Dean didn’t answer.

Sam fidgeted, dropped his hand, shuffling his feet in the soggy leaves that blanketed the entryway. “We could be at Bobby’s by suppertime.”

“I ain’t ready for that. Are you?” Dean didn’t wait for Sam’s reply; he just turned and stalked back to the car, his mood blackening by the minute despite the morning’s revelation. Or maybe because of it. It all just felt so wrong, so fucking unfair. Everything was within reach, so close—yet completely out of his grasp.

Sam slid in beside him. “How about some lunch then?”

Dean sighed. “Yeah, OK. At least the diner is still here. God willing, I can still get the Cheeseburger Deluxe.”

The Deluxe was not the same as he remembered, and it wouldn’t stop raining, so they went to the town library, ‘cause Sam’s laptop battery died again. They got kicked out after an hour, but not before Sam pulled up a news story from Blackwater Ridge, Colorado—two dead, two missing in a mysterious animal attack on Lost Creek Trail. Dean wanted to punch the I told you so look right off Sam’s face. They could have stopped the Wendigo. But they didn’t.

“So next up, the drownings in Wisconsin,” Sam said. “Angry ghost. That little kid you dragged out of the water in the nick of time. We gonna have Bobby send somebody, or we gonna go take care of it again ourselves?”

They weren’t having much luck pinpointing demon signs, and being in Lebanon was just depressing, so Dean agreed. “Fine. Fuck it. Wisconsin it is. We’ll go by way of Sioux Falls.”

They filled up the Impala at the town’s only gas station and hopped on 281 North to Red Cloud.

“Marilyn at the diner was kinda hot fifteen years ago,” Sam mused, as they pulled out of town.

“Would you hit that?”

Sam snorted. “I dunno. She’s old enough to be my mom. Would you?”

“Maybe I woulda when I was actually 26,” Dean answered.

“Back when you slept with anyone who looked at you twice?”

“Back when you were toilet-training.”

***

They pulled into Singer Salvage Yard shortly after 8 pm and knocked on Bobby’s door for a good five minutes, making the dog wild, until the man himself opened up—a pistol in one hand and an angry glint in his eye.

“What the hell do you guys want?” he yelled over the barking. “This better be goddamn good—I’m in the middle of Grey’s Anatomy.”

Dean’s mouth just sort of fell open, but Sam stepped up, grinning like an idiot. Which was good, because Dean was having the opposite reaction. Like if he had to talk, he might just cry again. When the hell had he gone so soft?

“Hey, Bobby, it’s us—Sam and Dean Winchester,” Sam said. “We called the other day. Sorry to bother you so late, but we were passing through and thought…”

“John’s boys…” Bobby flicked on the porch light—the better to examine them. Dean pasted a weak smile on. The old man looked up at Sam. “Damn, son, when’d you go all Godzilla? I guess it’s been a few years.” Then he waved them in brusquely, and headed back into the house.

They followed him into the kitchen, and Bobby went to the fridge and grabbed a couple beers, then turned to hand them to Dean. He jerked his head at Sam, who was now kneeling on the floor with the dog. “He is old enough to drink, right?”

Dean snorted, still trying to think of something to say. Something that wasn’t “It’s so great to see you again on this side,” or “Man, I’ve missed you,” or…

Sam rubbed the Rottweiler’s ears. “Hey Rumsfeld,” he murmured. “Good to see you buddy…”

“You know my dog?” Bobby said.

“Oh, uh… Dad told me about your dog,” Sam said, climbing to his feet again, and Bobby crooked an eyebrow but accepted the explanation.

“OK, well, commercial break is about over, so gimme the 30-second pitch. What can I do you for?”

Dean opened his mouth again, but Sam kept talking. “So, we’re on our way to a case in Wisconsin, and looking for a place to crash. We’re a little light on cash.” Sam offered his most appealing puppy dog eyes and sheepish smile. “Oh, and… we’ve also got some leads on a bunch of cases we were hoping to pass along. We’re on the trail of something big right now—and so is our dad.”

Bobby nodded. “Ok, fine. We’ll talk later. For now, just grab a seat here and…” Bobby’s voice trailed off, and Dean turned around from where he’d just fetched the bottle opener from the kitchen drawer.

Bobby crooked an eyebrow, “…. make yerself ta home. Looks like you already are.”

“Thanks, man,” Dean managed, and he and Sam slowly sat down at the kitchen table while Bobby clomped back up the stairs to his room and the TV. Dean passed the bottle opener to Sam, who was pulling a little notebook out of his pocket.

“OK, so… I started a list in the car. Let’s go over it. We’ve got the wendigo in Colorado, vengeful spirits in Wisconsin and Toledo…”

“Oh yeah, Bloody Mary.”

“The demon on that plane…”

“Yeah. No. Not going up there again.”

“That Hook Man ghost in what—Kansas?”

“Iowa maybe.”

Sam groaned, crossing out and correcting. “Ok.”

Sam went on for a while, and Dean listened as best he could and nodded, but it was hard not to look around and think about this place and what it meant to him, and all the good and bad times he’d had here. It had been a home for them for many years—a safe place—whether they were simply crashing for a night, or being locked down for their own good in the panic room downstairs. The old brokeback couch—how many times had he slept on it? How many beers had he drunk at this table? He had a flashback to Cas sitting here, in this very chair, doing shots with Jo and Ellen. Arguing with him over by the window. Standing next to him by the sink, too close, breathing down his neck.

You should show me some respect. I dragged you out of Hell… I can throw you back in.

“What about those weird bug attacks in Oklahoma—when was that, in the spring?” Sam was saying.

“Um… yeah. I think so. That one… I dunno, Sam. We never really solved anything there.”

“It was a curse, right? Something about a Native American tribe and the land under the subdivision. Bobby’s got a good folder on tribes and curses. I’ll go dig it out.”

Sam hopped up and went into the library, rummaging around for a few minutes while Dean reminisced and sipped his beer. Cas had seemed to feel at home here, too. But then… Cas had let the Leviathan out—and the monster had destroyed this place. And Bobby, too.

Bobby came down the hall from the stairs and into the kitchen at exactly the same time Sam came bumbling out of the library, a green folder tucked under his arm. They stopped short when they saw each other.

Bobby’s eyes narrowed.

Sam grinned nervously. “Bobby…. I, uh…”

“Was gonna tell me what you were just doin’ in my library, goin’ through my stuff,” Bobby finished for him. “I know I said to make yerself ta home, but…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a familiar-looking flask, unscrewing the top and taking a swig, then held his other hand out and beckoned for Sam to pass him the folder. As soon as Sam stepped close enough to do so, Bobby splashed him with holy water.

Sam barked out a laugh, shaking his head. “What was that for?”

Bobby set the folder and the flask down and placed his hand on his holster. “For making me feel like somethin’ ain’t right. You gonna tell me what’s really going on here? Or you gonna keep acting cagey? I knew I shouldn’ta left you two down here alone…”

Bobby always was pretty damn perceptive. Dean stood up slowly and made an executive decision.

“Ok,” he said, “we’ll tell you the truth. But you might wanna grab another beer and sit down.”

***

“So, you’re telling me you’re from the future… but you’re back in your younger selves, reliving everything you did fifteen years ago?”

“Well yeah… in a nutshell,” Dean replied, relieved that Bobby might actually believe them. “But we’re not reliving it—we’re redoing it. Trying to do it better. Y’know, work harder, not smarter.”

“Smarter, not harder,” Sam corrected.

“What he said.” Dean took another swig of his beer and watched Bobby trying to process this news. The old man sat back, studying them both for a full minute.

“So, you’re going straight for the Yellow-Eyed Demon, and you’ve got this mysterious Colt…”

“Yup.”

“Lemme see it.”

When Sam returned from the car with the box, they let Bobby open it and pull out the gun. The old hunter handled it gently, reverently, closely examining the engravings on it. He finally set it down with a sigh. “Heard tell of it. Never thought I’d see it with my own eyes.”

“It didn’t kill Lucifer—but damn near everything else,” Dean said.

Bobby looked at them both hard, eyebrows nearly buried in his hat band. “Lucifer… as in the Devil? El Diablo himself?

Sam nodded, shifting uncomfortably.

That whole thing ain’t happening again,” Dean said.

“Huh.” Bobby sat back down slowly, still not taking his eyes off them. “And something did kill Lucifer?”

“Well, I did. Sort of. It was… I was…” Dean sighed, scratching his neck. “Long story.”

Bobby took a long draught off his bottle. “Do I wanna know how I go out?”

“That ain’t happening again, either,” Dean said.

“Oh—so it was on you two?”

“Well… not exactly. Sort of. We were there.”

“Huh,” Bobby said again, and set down his empty bottle with a loud thunk. “Ok then. What do we do now?”

***

Sam got the spare bedroom upstairs because for once, Dean thought to throw paper—and of course the damn Sasquatch threw scissors. No matter. Just having a soft, safe place to spread his tattered sleeping bag felt like a win.

And having Bobby believe them was the biggest win of all.

It didn’t hurt that Sam could name half the books on Bobby’s secret shelf and most of his hotline numbers, and Dean could tell the old man exactly where he kept his best socket set, the details of his old falling-out with Rufus, and what his favorite brand of whiskey was (the one he could rarely afford). Having Bobby back on their side—and a place that seemed like home again—felt monumental.

Dean shucked most of his clothes and slid into his bag on the old couch by the window. It felt so surreal, and he let himself pretend, for a minute, that they were back in the “good old days” of the apocalypse—and Cas might just apparate there in the kitchen to bring him the latest news. The sound of Cas’ wings had always given him a little thrill—and the way the angel appeared out of thin air when he (and only he) called. Not to mention the way the angel looked at him, intense and penetrating, as if Castiel saw something amazing there. As if he wanted to know Dean like nobody else had ever wanted to know him.   

Now Castiel barely knew him at all.

His mind crept back to the night he’d tried to give himself over to Michael. After all their resistance and his courage failed, he’d been ready to let the archangel ride him to the apocalypse. Cas had hunted him down and pummeled him into submission, before dragging him back here and dumping his ass unceremoniously on this very couch. Castiel’s anger and grief had surprised him—and the manhandling had inexplicably turned him on. He could remember the angel up in his face in the alley, pressing close, pinning him to the wall, giving him hell. Despite the beating he was taking (and feeling pretty certain of an imminent smiting), he had popped a chubby.

Maybe it was just because he’d been young, dumb and full of cum. He snickered, remembering Sam squirming and tugging at his jeans in the car earlier that day. “Geez, was it really so random?” he’d whined. “What the hell?

Or maybe it was because he wanted to be that close to Cas. Wanted to feel his hands, his body, his strength, the electric thrumming of his grace up close and really personal.

A wave of lust grabbed hold of Dean and dragged on him like a riptide. Thank the Lord, at least this time he was alone. His 26-year-old dick had needed some attention for a couple days now, but even in the hotel bathroom, Sam had always been just on the other side of the door.

Now he had an entire floor to himself—and he decided to take advantage. He slipped back out of his cocoon, stripped naked, tiptoed into the kitchen for a few drops of cooking oil, fished a dirty t-shirt out of his duffle—then flopped back down on top of his bag. It was always warm in Bobby’s house—and now it was quiet, and he figured nobody was coming back downstairs.

“Oh, fuck yeah,” he breathed, feeling his slick hand wrap around his dripping cock. Had it really gotten this hard back in the day? Holy hell. A couple of strokes, and his toes were curling.

He tried thinking about girls he’d been with at this age. Many hot girls. Girls who had begged him to come all over them. Once upon a time, he could shoot his wad from between their knees and hit them in the face. Sometimes, he’d hit himself in the face. Not something he could do at 42—but he probably could now.

He’d had many hot girls—nay, women—and he tried to think of those women, and ejaculating all over those women, but his mind returned to Cas.

Cas pinning him to the wall in that alley, shoving a thigh between his legs, all up in his face. Cas staring at him from across the room as if he wanted to eat him. Standing close enough so many damn times that Dean could feel the voltage coursing through him. What if, one of those times, Dean had begged for some sugar?

He imagined it now as his hand worked his cock, thighs falling open, a soft moan escaping his lips. Please Cas. I need you. If only he’d asked, perhaps Castiel, Angel of the Lord, would have pressed Dean against the wall and bruised his mouth with kisses, one hand against his chest, the other popping the button right off his Levi’s before sliding into his briefs… Please, Cas. Oh fuck, please…yes…

His orgasm ran him over like a city bus, and when he came down he realized, with some chagrin, that he’d clamped the t-shirt over his mouth to stifle his yell and let his dick explode all over.

With deeper chagrin, he also realized he’d been praying.

***

When Sam shook him awake before dawn, Dean was rather glad he’d cleaned up and not just fallen asleep.

“The hell…?” he grumbled, blinking up at his brother in the dark, groping for his gun.

Sam sat down heavily on the couch next to his knees. “Dude, are you naked?”

No. I got an afghan,” Dean said, making sure Bobby’s crocheted coverlet was tugged over his privates.

Sam sighed. “I had a dream, Dean.”

Dean got his elbows underneath him. “What kinda dream? Like, one of your old visions?”

“Yeah.” Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, clearly upset. “We were with Azazel and Meg and… and I saw them forcing me to choose… whether I wanted to kill Dad or kill you. I killed Dad, Dean…”

Dean sat bolt upright, suddenly much more awake. “No. No, no no. Not happening, man.” He grabbed Sam by the forearm. “You heard Bobby—he can get the stuff in a few days. We can summon Azazel. We have the spell.”

“What if that’s the result of the summoning?!”

“We have the Colt, Sam!”

Sam shook his head, agitated. “You know how things fall apart. Anything could happen. These dreams…”

“You’re stressed, man. You sure it wasn’t just a dream dream?”

Dean’s phone began to ring, and the brothers locked eyes for a moment; Sam reached over and grabbed it off the side table.

It was Meg.

“How did you get this number?” Dean growled, putting her on speakerphone, a cold stone settling in the pit of his stomach.

“From your dear old dad,” Meg answered. “We have him right here with us—and we’re all having such fun. We thought you might like to join the party.”

Dean looked up at Sam, who looked as if he might hurl. He laid a hand on Sam’s shoulder.

“And why would we wanna do that?”

“Well, because if you don’t come—and bring your little friend the Colt and your little brother Sam—this will be the last time you speak to the old man.”

She must have shoved the phone at John, because Dean heard his voice next. “Dean. Sam. Don’t do what she says. You need to—"

“Dad? Dad!”

“Father doesn’t always know best,” Meg purred into the phone. “So I suggest you follow my directions, and we’ll make a deal. Meet my guys at the Martin County Fairgrounds, on Bixby Road off Rte. 90 in Fairmont, Minnesota. Midnight tonight. They’ll tell you where to go from there to find us.”

Meg hung up, and Dean slowly snapped the phone shut, his heart pounding.

“Shit!” Sam stood up and began pacing. “One day. We have one goddamn day to figure this out.”

“We have a whole day, Sam. It’s only, what… a couple hours to Fairmont from here?”

“Need a map,” Sam said, heading out to the car, and Dean took the opportunity to toss off the afghan and hunt through his duffel for some drawers and a clean-ish pair of jeans. He barely had time to yank the undies on before Sam barged back in, switching on Bobby’s desk lamp, spreading out the map and opening his laptop.

“Fairmont, Fairmont…” Sam was saying. “It’s right next to Blue Earth. Why do we know Blue Earth? Oh shit, Pastor Jim… the Whore of Babylon… the Horsemen…”

“The goddamn Jolly Green Giant,” Dean mused, thinking of the statue there.

What?” Sam said, his head whipping up, then realized what Dean meant. He sighed and stood up straight for a minute, hands on his hips. Dean could see the wheels in his head turning. The sky had begun to lighten outside.

Bobby came clomping down the stairs in a blue robe and house slippers, looking bleary-eyed and irritable, sparse hair standing on end. “Hadn’t figured you guys for such early risers,” he griped.

“We just got a call from Meg,” Sam said. “She’s got our dad and she wants us to meet them in Fairmont tonight. And bring the Colt. We don’t have time for the summoning, unless we can get the ingredients today.”

“Shit,” Bobby said, then he and Dean both muttered, “We’re gonna need coffee.”

Dean stood up and gestured to Bobby. “You sit down. I’ll get it.”

“Well,” Bobby said, settling himself at the kitchen table, “at least we know where the hell they are now.”

“Sort of,” Sam replied. “She said they would meet us in Fairmont and give us further instructions from there.”

“Gives ‘em a chance to incapacitate you first,” Bobby mused. “And/or follow you.”

“What we need to do is get one step ahead of ‘em,” Dean piped in as he measured the coffee into the filter. “Go straight to where Dad is. Take them by surprise.”

“Do you know a hunter named Jim Murphy in Blue Earth?” Sam asked Bobby.

“Uhh… rings a bell.”

“Maybe you wanna call him and ask if he’s seen anything. Warn him to leave town for a while.”

Dean turned the coffeemaker on and slipped into bathroom down the hall, while Sam and Bobby discussed Pastor Jim—a family friend and hunter who’d been killed by Meg 15 years ago in her attempt to get to John. He shut the door, pressed his face into the musty towel hanging on the back, closed his eyes and prayed.

“Castiel. Cas. I, uh… I’m sorry about last night. That… well, maybe that was kinda inappropriate, but… listen… I need help again. Azazel’s got Dad and he’s gonna hurt him, and Sam is worried that something nuts is about to go down. This can’t be how we lose Dad again. It can’t…” Dean clenched his fists in the towel. “Please, man. If you know where they’re holding him… can you just give us a clue? Send us Beth… Bethez… whatever her name is, if you have to. We’ll help put Azazel down, but they’ve got leverage now. I need you, Cas. Thanks.”

But two hours went by, and they called at least two dozen hunters, and nobody had seen hide nor hair of John Winchester or the demons on his tail. Nor did a single dick angel show up to volunteer support. They even tried a tracking spell—the same one that Bobby had once used to find Lilith—and it inexplicably failed, the pendulum seeming to wander aimlessly.

“They musta warded against this or something,” Bobby muttered, dropping the pendulum back down on the map.

Then Dean had an idea. “Pamela. Your psychic friend, Pamela Barnes—can she help us find them? She lives close by, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I suppose it’s a possibility,” Bobby said. “Lemme give her a ring.”

***

A half-hour later, they were on Pamela’s doorstep. Of course, Dean was having flashbacks of all the grief they’d caused Pamela every time they’d seen her previously—he looked over at Sam, whose pinched face gave similar thoughts away. But Pamela’s lively energy, glittering eyes and big smile as she greeted them helped assuage his guilt and calm his fears—it was awesome to see her in one piece and on this side again.

Before long they were sitting around her table once more—the same table where they’d sat when Castiel burned her eyes out of her head. Drapes closed, candles lit. Pamela ran her fingers over Dean’s watch, which used to be John’s, and lingered at his wrist.

“Let me make sure I understand now,” Pamela said. “You want me to locate your father, John Winchester, and three demons—Meg, Tom and Azazel. You want to know if John’s ok. You want to survey the scene. You want to know, if possible, where they’ll be at midnight tonight.”

“You got it,” Sam replied.

“No problem,” she said, and Dean couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or if she was just that cocky. “Alright, everybody hold hands.”

Pamela closed her eyes and fell silent for a while, and Dean waited, trying not to hold his breath. Finally, she squeezed his hand and spoke. “John is in a car right now. Like a… Mercury? Maroon. He’s with a man and a woman. They… ugh… fugly faces.”

“Demons,” Sam said. “Is one blond?”

“Yes, petite and blond. Poor girl. Oh, she wants out. The girl wants help.”

“Tell her we’ll try,” Dean said, leaning forward. “Is John ok?”

“He appears physically well. Perhaps bruised. I’m going to ask the girl with the demon inside where they’re going. Maybe she knows.”

“Be careful,” Sam murmured.

Pam went quiet again. “She says they’re going to Blue Earth. To a vacant house next to a cemetery. She… she doesn’t know which one. A street with a tree in its name.

“Will Azazel be there? The yellow-eyed demon? Is he in the car?”

“Not in the car… but he’ll be there. She says to be careful. We will, honey. Hang tight.”

Pamela started to open her eyes, but then stiffened as if she were having a seizure. Her face went completely blank for a moment, mouth falling slack. Dean grabbed her arm, afraid she’d fall out of the chair.

“Hey, whoa…”

Bobby took hold of her other arm. “Pamela?”

The psychic sat up straight again, composed herself as if nothing had happened, and fixed Dean with an intense, eerie gaze. “Hello, Dean Winchester,” she said, her voice an octave lower. “You requested my help.”

Dean blinked, surprised, but then he knew… he just knew by the electric presence in the room… it was Castiel.

“Cas,” he breathed, “it’s you… Dude, you… are you possessing her?”

Pamela looked down at herself, and back up at Dean. “No. She is simply channeling me.”

“Well just… please… don’t hurt her, ok?”

“I have no intention of harming this woman. I want you to tell me where my vessel is located.”

“Your what? You… why?” Dean babbled.

“You wish my help. I can help you much easier on the physical plane if I take a vessel. You know where my ideal vessel is located, do you not? If I’m able to secure the vessel, I can join you tonight in rescuing your father.”

Dean just sat, gaping, his heart threatening to pound its way out of his chest. Would he really see Cas tonight?

Then Sam inserted himself. “No, Dean.”

No, Dean? Dean shook himself out of his trance and glared across the table at Sam. “Whaddaya mean, no?”

“Dude… are you really gonna do this to Jimmy again? To Claire?”

Dean scowled. “I’m not doing anything! Cas chose him before for a reason. The guy prayed for it. Maybe it was meant to be!”

“You know Jimmy had no idea what he was in for! It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“Do we have a choice right now?!” Dean said, his voice rising.

“We always have a choice.”

Dean hated it when Sam might be right, and in this case, he completely loathed it. He closed his eyes—James Novak, Pontiac, Illinois on the tip of his tongue—and took a deep breath. He wanted to choke his brother out. He wanted Cas back. What could be the harm… just for a day?

“Dean, just… can we talk this through first?” Sam pled.

“Somebody want to tell me what the hell’s going on?” Bobby growled. “Who are we talking to?”

Before Dean could answer, Cas spoke again.

“There is another way.”

Dean opened his eyes to be transfixed by that gaze again.

“I sense that you, too, are an able vessel,” Pamela said. “If you would allow me, I could enter you, and accompany your brother to find your father. The demon Azazel would expect you—but not me. If we disguise my identity until the last moment, I could smite the demons and bring some assistance to capture Azazel.”

Everyone was quiet for a moment.

“Okay,” Dean heard himself say.

“Wait—hold on, Dean! Really?!” Sam protested.

“They’re on the lookout for angels after last time,” Dean said to Castiel, ignoring Sam and his extreme bitchface. “Can you get past warding?”

“Angels? He’s talking about actual angels?” Bobby said to Sam.

“If you are in control at the time,” Castiel answered.

“So you… you’re gonna let me be in control sometimes? And you’re gonna leave when I say?”

“If that’s what you wish.”

“Dean—we need to talk,” Sam demanded.

“Dude, it’s gonna be like Michael and Adam,” Dean said, turning to Sam, “or… or you and Gadreel.”

“Huh. And how’d that go in the end? What about the other Michael and you?”

“Hell no, not…” Dean looked back at Pamela/Castiel hard, his eyes pleading, heart thumping. He knew full well just how far south this could go, after the way Michael had ridden him. But this was Cas. “I can trust you, can’t I?” he said to the angel.

“You know me,” Castiel said softly, “do you not?”

“I’ll meet you out back in five minutes,” Dean said.

***

It could have been a lot worse, Dean thought, closing the back gate and strolling down Pamela’s driveway to the Impala, where Bobby, Sam and Pamela stood eyeballing him anxiously.

Of course, it had been a lot worse with Michael. Swallowing the archangel had felt like deep-throating a bolt of lightning.

Cas went down a lot easier than that. Dean had simply stepped off the back porch, closed his eyes and opened his arms. “Go ahead,” he’d said out loud, and next thing he knew he was inhaling a seraph. There was some definite burning and tingling as his body adjusted, and he felt a little hot and cold now—but the most remarkable thing was Castiel’s presence… all around and now inside him.

Michael had held him at arm’s length, kept him distracted, even tormented him for days with a drowning sensation that wouldn’t quit. Had he not been to Hell and back already, he might have lost his damn mind. But Cas inside felt very different. He was warm, calm and familiar, but at the same time… alien. Curious. Intent. It was sort of like having a dog staring at you from the inside.

There was also a sense of power simmering just under the surface. A lot of energy. Like having 500 horses under the hood, or an AR-15 strapped to his chest. Of course, he’d noticed that with Michael, and then some, but he’d been far too terrified to enjoy it. Now it felt sort of… sexy.

He’d lingered a minute or two in the yard with his new hitchhiker, letting himself acclimate. “Ok, Cas,” he murmured. “It’s you and me now. I’m trusting you with my life. Sam’s life and Dad’s too. You ready?”

Of course, came the felt answer, so away he went.

Bobby and Sam were less than amused, and Pamela seemed a bit mortified. They all stared at him like deer in the headlights as he approached, until he held his arms out and grinned. “It’s me, guys. It’s fine.”

Sam scowled, gesturing at him. “And Cas is…”

“In here somewhere.”

“Dean… I can’t be responsible for this,” Pamela said to him, brows furrowed and arms crossed tightly over her attractive chest. “Whatever happens now—”

“Is on me. It’s fine. I’ll be fine.” Dean looked at each of them in turn, and back at Sam. “It’s CAS, man.”

“Famous last words,” Sam grumbled, and got into the car, slamming the door.

Bobby thanked Pamela and pulled some bills out of his wallet, but she waved them away. “Hell, no. Just… just call me when it’s over and you’re all ok,” she said. “I feel like I’m gonna smoke a few dog shits in Purgatory for this one.”

Dean chuckled. “Ain’t how that works, thankfully. But yeah, we’ll call.” Then he remembered. “Oh! We need to know one more thing. Where can we find the key to the bunker? The…the Men of Letters bunker in Lebanon, Kansas.”

“Key to the…” she fingered the chain around her neck. “Do you have a picture of it? I mean the key? Or the bunker?”

“Uh…” Dean thought a moment, then jogged over to the passenger door and opened it. “Sam, can you draw a picture of the bunker key in its box?”

They handed Pamela the sketch, and she promised to have an answer when they called her back.

***

The ancient Chevelle rolled to a stop behind the First Presbyterian Church in Blue Earth at a little past 10 pm, and Bobby cut the engine. “OK,” he said. “Three blocks to Oak Street Cemetery. We walk from here.”

Dean wished they could have brought Baby and her arsenal, but having no idea how many demons might be looking for their asses, he’d agreed it was a better idea to go incognito. He clambered out of the Chevelle’s back seat—no easy feat at any age—and began checking that all his weapons were in place and hidden.

“You sure you want in on this, Bobby?” Sam said for the third time, climbing out. “It’s enough that you gave us a ride.”

“You kidding?” Bobby replied. “I gotta see this show. Now stop asking dumb questions.”

“You sure you want to carry the Colt?” Dean asked his brother.

Sam snorted. “You heard the man—stop asking dumb questions. It’s not like you need it right now anyway.”

Dean heaved a deep sigh and rolled his eyes. Sam had been an asshole ever since they’d left Pamela’s. He started to walk away, but Bobby grabbed his arm in one hand, and Sam’s in the other.

“Listen, you two idjits. Do we need to get anything off our chests before we head into this? I want you on your A games. Stop bickering like the teenagers you look like.”

It was Sam’s turn to sigh. “I’m sorry,” he said, and Dean turned to look at him. “It’s not that I didn’t—don’t—love Cas. You know I do. But he doesn’t love us yet, and I can’t believe you would do this, after everything that’s happened.”

“You’re worried about me.”

“Yeah, dammit, I am.”

“You still freaked out about that dream, too?”

“Well, duh.”

“You see any angels in that dream?”

“No, but…”

“See, that’s the Wild Card! Now that Cas is onboard, the outcome is different.” Dean laid a hand on Sam’s shoulder and gave him a confident smile. “It’s all gonna be good. Dad will be fine, I’ll be fine, Cas will be awesome, and it’s all gonna be over soon. Right?”

“Dean… Cas alone can’t kill Azazel. He’s too powerful…”

“He said he’d bring backup. And you’ve got the Colt. We’ve got this.”

Sam gave him that thin-lipped half-smile that said he had his doubts, but he’d go along.

“Right!” Bobby said. “Now c’mon, we’re not gettin’ any younger. Least I’m not.”

The vacant Victorian next to Oak Street Cemetery rose tall and dark, one window upstairs broken and gaping and the front door chained shut.

They all stood across the street in the shadows, and Dean reported on Castiel’s assessment of the situation. “Cas says there’s two demons on guard. One’s on the back porch and the other in the house. That’s it. John’s in the back bedroom, first floor. So I say we climb the back fence from the cemetery, me and Cas walk in and smite the demons, then Sam comes in and we grab Dad, while Bobby stands guard in the yard. Sound good?” Dean was fairly bouncing on his toes, feeling Cas like a lit fuse under his ass.

“Sounds a little too easy,” Bobby said.

It was a little too easy—at first. The four of them slipped over the back fence, and Dean walked right up to the dude on guard, who was smoking a butt on the porch.

“Hey pal,” he said, “got a light?”

The demon turned to him and its black eyes went wide when Dean’s palm landed on its forehead—and the fireworks started. Dean became a spectator in his own body as Castiel took over the show, and the demon lit up like a Roman candle under his hand.

Awesome! Dean wanted to yell, but he couldn’t, because now he was just along for the ride. His hand grabbed the doorknob and opened the door, and he strode into the dark kitchen just as the other demon—an older woman in a smart pantsuit—came in from the hallway.

“Who the hell are…” she started to say, but Cas silenced her with a good, old-fashioned (yet somewhat lower-key) smiting. A moment later she lay at his feet, smoldering. He bent and dragged the body out of the doorway as if it weighed nothing.

“Are we clear?” Dean heard Sam say behind him, and he struggled against Castiel for a moment to answer.

OK buddy, I’ll take it from here!

Cas withdrew, and Dean wobbled a little on his feet, feeling some vertigo at the transition.

Sam switched on a flashlight and came through the doorway, calling out. “Dad! You here?”

“Back here!” came the answer.

Dean followed his brother into the back bedroom, and the light revealed John Winchester there—tied to a chair and sporting a black eye and a fat lip. Dean had seen him looking worse after a night at the pub.

“Dad. Thank God. Let’s get you out of here,” Sam said, kneeling by his side. Out came the knives, and the brothers cut the zip ties at wrists and ankles and released their father.

“Can you stand up?” Dean said, grabbing him under the elbow. A strange, sharp vibration ran through him—very unpleasant—but he ignored it and pressed on.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good,” John answered. “How the hell did you guys find me?”

“Tell ya later,” Dean said, helping John to his feet. “Let’s blow this haunted house.”

The three made their way back to the living room, and Dean let go of John so his father could follow Sam into the hall. That’s when they grabbed him. Hands came out of the gloom and yanked Dean back into the dark parlor, but not before he’d identified his captors on either side: Meg and her demon “brother,” Tom.

“Sam!” he bellowed, struggling futilely.

He could see John’s silhouette stop in the doorway and slowly turn to him. John took two steps back into the room, revealing his white teeth bared in a smile. Followed by his brilliant yellow eyes.

Dean felt his blood run cold. Sam burst back into the living room and stopped short; his flashlight blinked out, leaving the room washed with just the dimmest glow from the corner streetlamp.

“Well now…” Azazel purred. “Here we are again. Plus one.” He looked from one brother to the other, his grin a mirthless rictus. “You boys don’t follow instructions very well. But no matter… the party’s started regardless. And we’re going to play a game.” He turned to Sam.

“Sammy, my boy… you haven’t been very cooperative. But you’re going to play by my rules this time. Now—give me the Colt, and one of these family members gets to live. Because I’m feeling magnanimous, I’m gonna let you choose which one.”

Dean could hear Sam’s loud breathing, and pictured the set of his jaw and the flare of his nostrils.

He could also feel Cas powering up inside him like a jet on the runway, preparing for imminent takeoff. Cas, buddy, you can’t do this by yourself. Prince of Hell, remember? Where’s your backup? Dean’s whole body vibrated with celestial might—he couldn’t believe the demons on either side couldn’t feel it—but Cas still did not take control. Which was maybe a good thing. Except…

“No,” Sam said, itchy palm hovering over the gun.

No,” Azazel echoed. “You don’t want to choose? Then let me help you make that choice by killing your brother in 5, 4, 3, 2…”

The yellow-eyed demon snapped his fingers, but instead of going down, Dean found himself riding shotgun while Cas blazed up into full-on angelic threat display, wings flung wide and eyes glowing with blue fire. He shrugged off Meg and Tom on either side of him as if they were toddlers, and…

Oh hell, Cas, no! Don’t do it!

What?!” Azazel cried. “Well, there’s a twist!” He lifted a palm, but before he could go full-strength Voldemort on Cas, three more angels materialized behind him, one of them grabbing the demon by the skull. Light blazed from John’s face for a moment, then smoke, then Dean couldn’t see anymore, because he had an angel blade in his hand and turned to shove it through Tom’s sternum.

Sam hollered “Dad—no!” Then Meg dropped on Dean’s other side as a loud shot from Sam’s 9mm echoed through the empty house.

Cas turned back to the other angels, and Dean could see that John was sitting on the floor, stunned, while one of the angels clamped a lid on a big jar held by the other.

“You’ve captured him successfully, then?” Castiel said.

Dean was surprised to see that Cas was talking to none other than the Archangel Gabriel.

Gabriel smiled. “In the bag, as they say. Thanks for the tip, little brother.” He nodded at his two accomplices with the magical amphora full of demon fumes. “Take that upstairs.”

The two angels disappeared and Cas turned away from Gabriel, stepped over Meg, brushed past Sam and John on the floor, and walked straight out the door to the backyard.

Cas, hey, thanks buddy, what—”

Without so much as a you’re welcome, Castiel rushed back up Dean’s gullet like a fifth of Cuervo, leaving the hunter stunned and alone on his knees in the grass.

He looked up to see Bobby bending over him. “You ok, boy? That was a hell of a rodeo.”

Dean lurched to his feet, fighting for balance. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m ok.” In truth he felt numb and cold, with an impending case of the shakes.

Bobby clapped him on the back, nearly knocking him over again. “Saw the whole thing through the window there. Holy smoke—literally! You got the bastard—or I should say they got the bastard. So, was that an archangel?”

They mounted the steps back to the kitchen door; inside the house, Bobby trained his light on John and Sam on the floor, kneeling over Meg—who didn’t look happy. Sam must have shot her with a demon trap bullet, then. Of course. Meg the girl and “Meg” the demon would get to go back home after all.

“I’m going to exorcise her,” Sam was saying. “Move back. You got some protection?”

John was hovering, unsure. “Sam, we don’t know how this is gonna go. Which exorcism are you using? You have a book?”

“I’m good, Dad.” Sam tapped his skull. “It’s right up here.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously?” Meg snarled.

“You been going to Stanford, or Hogwarts?” John quipped.

Bobby tugged Dean aside. “You gonna let him know about the whole Marty McFly thing?”

“Not yet, Bobby. Can you just play along for a bit?”

Bobby sighed. “I’ll do my best.”

“Dean,” Sam said, in his I’m almost at the end of my rope voice, “would you take Dad and Bobby back to the car while I do this, just to be safe?”

***

They dropped Meg Masters—sans demon—off at United Hospital for treatment and gave her the number of a good shrink they’d met who had once been possessed. John refused to get checked out—naturally—so next they swung in to Average Jo’s Bar & Grill to “celebrate,” as John put it.

Beer in hand and seated across from them at the table, John turned his penetrating gaze on Dean and Sam in turn. “So, what the hell happened tonight? I mean demons, angels—how’d you guys pull that off? And what are you doing here, Sam—why aren’t you in school? How the hell did you guys find me?”

Dean cleared his throat and took a big gulp of his brew.

Sam glanced at him, then answered his father. “Dean came to get me—he was worried about you. You’d been gone for days with no word. So, we… we started looking for you.”

“Boys showed up at my place last night, then got a call at the crack o’ dawn from Azazel’s flunkies, trying to get us to agree to a hostage negotiation,” Bobby chimed in. “Just so happens I know a good local psychic—she told us where you’d be.”

“So why…” John wagged his finger back and forth between the boys, “why were they calling you? What did they want with you?”

“They wanted the Colt,” Dean said. Never mind the fact that they also wanted Sam. That was need-to-know.

John’s eyes grew wide. “Wait a minute. I heard him say ‘Give me the Colt.’ Was he talking about THE Colt? As in…”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “That one. It’s in a warded box in the trunk. Unless it’s still down Sam’s crack.”

John slapped a palm on the table. “You’re shittin’ me! How the hell did you two score that?”

“Dad,” Sam said, changing the subject and ignoring what felt to Dean like a belittling slap, “how are you feeling? I mean, you just had a Prince of Hell riding you…”

“I’m fine,” John replied. “Speaking of which—Dean, I’m not even sure what I saw back there. Were you… Were you possessed by an angel? What the hell was that?”

Dean sighed, slouching into his chair. “Yeah, angels are a thing. Who knew?”

“And you just let one possess you?”

Dean scowled. Maybe it was the fact he was exhausted, or the fact that his father had not even bothered to say thank you, or the stress of hiding the truth that they were grown-ass men who’d already saved the world a couple times, or the fact that Cas had just used him and then dropped him like a bride’s nightie, or maybe it was all of the above—but he lost his cool a bit.

“Kinda like you just let Azazel possess you?”

“Hey,” Bobby cut in, uneasy. “Whoa. Are we celebrating or squaring up? This is a win here, guys.”

John ignored him and leaned forward, pointing the end of his beer bottle at Dean. “You don’t want to talk to me like that, boy.”

Things escalated from there until the manager on duty threw them out. They nearly came to fisticuffs, and no one was even drunk.

Bobby finally shoehorned the brothers back into the Chevelle. “You need cab money?” he called to John, leaning out the window.

“No!” John shouted, standing in the middle of the parking lot. “And where the hell’s my Impala?”

“In a fuckin’ ditch, upside-down, with a back seat fulla empties!” Dean bellowed from the back, whereupon Bobby stood on the accelerator and laid a patch out onto Main Street.

A half-mile down the road, the old man started to cackle.

“What’s so funny?” Dean growled, still seeing red.

“Hoo boy… just your dad’s face,” Bobby chuckled, wiping at his eyes. “You guys may be certifiable, but I haven’t had this much fun on a hunt in years.”

Sam barked out a laugh.

Dean failed to see the humor. “Ain’t his fuckin’ Impala,” he snarled. And that’s when he started to wonder if this whole Dad-staying-alive thing was going to be the death of him.

***

Dean sat hunched over his first cup of coffee at Bobby’s kitchen table when Sam burst back in from an early morning run.

“Isn’t it like 30 degrees out?” Dean grumbled at him. “Why’re you so lathered up?”

“Don’t have the stamina I did at 38,” Sam panted.

“That’s because you spent the last four years hitting the books.”

“And the snooze button,” Sam agreed, heading for the shower.

Ten minutes later Sam returned looking disgustingly fresh, poured himself a cup of coffee and plunked down across from Dean, who hadn’t moved. “So that went well last night,” he said casually, taking his first sip.

Dean snorted. “You mean saving Dad’s ass, or the Inquisition afterward?”

“The former,” Sam smirked. “For a few minutes there, I thought we’d saved him just to watch you kill him at the bar.”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t want to…”

Sam sat back in his chair. “Yeah, that comment about the Colt…”

“Which one—the one about how you’re too green to handle a gun like that?”

“Ha! I’d forgotten about that one…” Sam shook his head, chuckling—then turned serious. “Dean, I think we should tell him the truth. That might change his attitude. I mean, I guess if I were him fifteen years ago and we’d just found the Colt and teamed up with a bunch of angels to pull off something like that, I’d have some questions too.”

“Dude, he didn’t even thank us for saving his bacon!” Dean griped.

“I know, but don’t you think—”

“I think he’s not going to believe us.”

“Why not? Bobby did.”

“Bobby’s got an open mind. Dad just… it’s his way or the highway. If he never saw it, it doesn’t exist. You know how he is.”

“Well, we just educated him about angels, didn’t we?” Sam argued. “Maybe time travel’s not such a stretch after that.” Sam took another swig of coffee, wincing. “Gah, that’ll put hair on your chest.”

“Ain’t worked yet,” Dean quipped.

“For you.” Sam set down the mug. “Speaking of angels, what happened with Cas? I mean… how was that, having him…” Sam gestured at his midsection.

Dean sighed and shrugged. As if he hadn’t been thinking about it all night—the way it felt to have Cas under his hood. Comfortable. Warm. Safe. Powerful as hell. Then to have him just disappear without a word of thanks or goodbye. He’d lain there on the couch last night praying—thanking Cas, asking him for a sign, for a whisper, for anything. But he got squat.

Did Cas really just use him and cast him aside like a spent rubber? Was the angel that big of a dick? Or was Dean just being a huge sap and reading too much into it? He got his dad back—did Cas think that was all he wanted?

“I dunno, Sam,” he answered. “It was… it felt like Cas. We were a good team. But soon as the deed was done, he tore off without a word like a goddamn bat outta hell. It was weird.”

“Maybe he thought that’s what you wanted,” Sam said. “Or maybe he had somewhere else to be.”

“Maybe.” Dean stared into the bottom of his coffee mug, contemplating a second cup and his angel’s motivations.

“Or…”

Dean looked up. “Or what?”

“Or maybe he took a peek in your closet,” Sam tapped the side of his head with a finger, “and didn’t like the skeletons.”

***

Dean thought about that comment all morning while they helped Bobby move some stuff around the junkyard, and all afternoon during the six-hour drive to Lake Manitoc, Wisconsin. Bobby had invited them to stay longer, but Dean couldn’t stand sitting around—not while his head was spinning. Plus, the likelihood of his old man showing up at Bobby’s was pretty high, and he didn’t want to be there when it happened. He wasn’t done cooling off and he and Sam hadn’t finished their conversations.

To tell Dad or not to tell him? And where the fuck did Cas go? What would Dad say if they told him? And did Cas actually poke around in his head? How could they deal with Dad if he didn’t believe them? What if Cas wanted nothing to do with him now?

Sam kept side-eyeing Dean as he drove and perseverated, and finally ventured, “So this case, in Lake Manitoc… you remember it only resolved because all the guilty parties died and the lake was draining away.”

Dean sighed, trying to mentally slow down and shift gears. His six cups of coffee that morning weren’t helping. “Yeah… yeah that’s true. We only saved the kid cause the ghost took his grandpa.”

“Right. But what we know is, we’ve got a body in the lake, a buried bike, and a vengeful spirit. What if… what if we pose as treasure hunters and ‘accidentally’ dig up the bike, and then maybe put state game wardens onto the body in the lake? Maybe say we got an anonymous tip. Obviously, we can’t go to the cops—they were involved. And last I checked, we’ve got no scuba equipment.”

“Yeah,” Dean nodded, considering. “Yeah, that could work. Let’s get to town, scope things out. Maybe we’re in time to save the kid’s dad.”

Somewhere west of Rochester, Sam nodded off against the window. Halfway through Metallica’s Master of Puppets in the cassette deck, he woke up yelling.

Dean reached out to him, trying not to sideswipe the car he was passing. “Hey! Hey man, wake up. It’s ok!” He shook Sam’s shoulder and his brother sat up, blinking, then looked at him like he’d seen a ghost.

“What? What is it?” Dean asked, veering back into the right lane.

“Shit. Another… another dream.” Sam swiped some drool from his chin and sat quietly for a minute, just staring.

“A psychic vision, you mean?”

“I think so.” Sam sighed. “I saw you drowning, Dean.”

“What, in Lake Manitoc?”

“Maybe. I dunno. It was… it was sort of fuzzy. I just know you were drowning. It was shitty.”

“Drowning’s kinda shitty,” Dean said, staring at the road. Then he got annoyed. “Goddammit, and why always me? Can I stay alive for one day now? Just one? Without fucking angelic intervention?”

“I’m not gonna let you drown, Dean.”

“No? I’m guessing it ain’t gonna be your choice.” Dean scowled out the window. “Y’know, I’m still trying to answer that question—Chuck may not be on our team anymore, but does that mean he’s batting for the other side? Like, is he out to get us, or do we just suck this much all on our own?”

“We don’t suck. We just saved Dad and captured Azazel, remember?”

“The God Squad did that, as I recall. We were just along for the ride. Isn’t that really how it went?”

They both sighed and fell silent for a while, pondering.

“How do other hunters do it?” Dean said. “Normal hunters without Chuck pulling their puppet strings?”

“Normal hunters burn bones and take down covens. They don’t fight Princes of Hell. And they die all the time.”

***

They rolled into Lake Manitoc an hour after sunset and decided to go straight to the wooded area where the bike was buried, under cover of darkness. As luck would have it, they struck it on the second test hole, and had it unearthed in twenty minutes.

“Explain to me again why we dug this up?” Dean grunted, as he humped the red Schwinn back to the car.

“We need to have a reason to re-open the case,” Sam explained. “The bike was found near the lake, so the body must be nearby, right?”

They wrapped the dirty, rusty bike frame in a tarp, wrestled it into the back seat of the Impala, brushed the grime off their jeans and drove to the Manitoc Diner for a bite to eat.

As luck would also have it, John Winchester was sitting in a booth by the door.

The brothers stopped short in front of him, staring for a moment. John held a hand out, gesturing for them to sit down. They looked at each other, then back at John, then Dean took his jacket off and slowly slid into the seat opposite him, and Sam followed suit.

The waitress came over and took their drink orders, so they didn’t have to talk for a few minutes.

“So,” Dean said as she disappeared back into the kitchen, “Bobby give us up?”

John snorted. “Yeah. Yeah, he did. Told me you were headed out here to tackle a ‘vengeful spirit.’”

Dean noticed he said it as if it were a theory—as if perhaps they weren’t sure yet and hadn’t already been here fifteen years ago. So maybe Bobby hadn’t entirely given them up. Maybe he’d left the rest of the story for them to tell.

Sam fiddled with his bundle of silverware, and Dean looked hard at John. “So you here to babysit, or what?”

“No,” John said, leaning back and stretching an arm across the back of the booth. “I’m here to apologize for being an asshole.”

This was new.

“You guys… you saved my ass and I admit—my pride took a hit. I was embarrassed. Jealous, even, of the way you handled it and the fact that you brought in the A-Team to help.” He looked at them both. “What I should have been was proud. You boys are fine hunters and good partners.”

Dean looked over at Sam and saw his sideways smile. “Thanks, Dad, that means a lot,” Sam said.

Dean managed to nod.

“So… aren’t you going back to school now?” John asked Sam, who began to tell some elaborate lie about his classes being mostly done and he only needed to take one final next week.

While Sam spun his yarn, it occurred to Dean that the Devil’s dominoes might be set up again. They had managed to save Dad and send Azazel with the angels, but now here was Dad again, and Dean (according to Sam’s vision) poised to die. Again. If it happened, would John give up his soul and the Colt again to get him back? Would Sam?

“So, tell me about this case,” John was saying, after they got their beers and the waitress departed again. “Could you use a third?”

“Well, I suppose we…” Sam started.

“No,” Dean interrupted. “No, we got it covered, Dad. It’s gonna be a quick in-and-out. All we have to do is convince the game warden that the kid’s bones are in the lake.”

John wasn’t easily put off, though, and over burgers, he and Sam got into a deep discussion about the finer points of the case, which forced Sam to weave a rather creative web of lies and half-truths.

Dean, feeling increasingly preoccupied by the idea of dying again, was having a hard time following along. Was it actually going to happen? Sam’s last vision didn’t come true, because Cas and his angel buddies showed up. Would Cas save him from drowning? Or was that on Sam? Sam didn’t seem too exercised about it. Dean normally would not be concerned, but things seemed to be going differently without God on their side. It was hard to be so cavalier this time around. And the way Cas had just taken off…

Dean was startled when John got up and put his jacket on. “’Bout time to hit the hay,” John said. “You guys staying somewhere in town?”

“We drove by the Rocky Ridge Motel,” Sam said, crooking a thumb. “We’ll probably head there, huh Dean?”

“Um… yeah, sure. Listen… you guys go ahead and grab a couple rooms. Leave me a key in the wheel well. I’m gonna hit the pub across the street for a couple,” Dean said. ‘Cause no way in hell was he going to be able to fall asleep without being drunk tonight.

Sam scowled at him, but finally sighed and agreed. “OK. We’ll put the bike in the truck.”

***

Dean drank feeling guilty and sorry for himself. Sorry that he couldn’t seem to stay alive more than one day at a time without intervention. Guilty that his old man was alive, and he couldn’t seem to be thankful. Sorry that Castiel didn’t seem to give a shit about him. Guilty for the lousy way he’d treated Cas over the years and all the times he’d taken the angel for granted—like the time he’d sent him away from the Bunker, and the time he’d just let him walk out thinking Dean didn’t care anymore. Fuck, he didn’t deserve Cas. Cas told him how much he loved and admired him and what a fantastic guy he was—but that was then, wasn’t it? Back when Dean had the cojones to stand up to God and the Devil and save the world.

Now, he was just another unlucky schmuck about to be ganked by a fucking ghost.

It wasn’t fair. Or maybe it was. Maybe it was exactly what he deserved.

Dean drank more than he’d intended to. More than he should have, given the limits on their stolen credit cards. And apparently, more than his stomach could handle tonight. Or maybe he’d gotten some bad ground beef in that cheeseburger. In any case, he found himself sliding off his bar stool after an hour and staggering to the restroom, his insides roiling.

The men’s room was empty, thank Chuck, and he slammed into a stall and dropped to his knees in front of the head, in a cold sweat. Puking would feel pretty damn good at this point. He closed his eyes a moment, and when he opened them, there was a kid standing there holding the stall door open.

The kid didn’t look right.

“Gimme my bike,” he demanded, his pale face angry, and then slammed the door.

Dean stared after him, confused, then looked down into the toilet bowl… and passed out.

Next thing he knew, he was standing out in the dark parking lot on wobbly legs, his head all wet and vomit on his shirt. Cas stood in front of him.

He blinked, stupefied. “What the… Cas? Cas? I… I’m fuckin’ drunk. You’re not real. You’re not…” he babbled.

Squinting at him, Cas reached out, touched a finger to Dean’s temple… and sobered him right up.

Then disappeared.

Dean stood there wide-eyed… and alone. He spun around. And around. No Cas. “What?!” he barked. “Cas! Come on, man! Sonofabitch! Where’d you go?”

He retrieved his jacket from the bar—not caring who snickered at the half-soaked lunatic covered in puke—and flung himself into the Impala in a rage. “Dude, you can’t keep doing this to me! You can’t!” he bellowed, smacking the steering wheel for emphasis. He drove back to the motel, berating the angel the whole way. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the saves, man—I do—but you got a lotta nerve just borrowing my meatsuit and then ditching me like the ugly girl at the prom! What the hell was that about? You got even more nerve telling me you LOVE ME and then dying, you stupid sonofabitch! How was I supposed to know? How the hell was I SUPPOSED TO KNOW!”

He pulled up in front of their room, next to John’s pickup. “Now, I’m going into my room and I’m taking a fucking shower, and if I start to drown in the goddamn tub, don’t bother saving my sorry ass if you don’t have two words to say!” he yelled, and slammed out of the car.

He managed to sneak past sleeping Sam to the bathroom, then brush his teeth, shower and towel off without incident. But when he bent to yank his dirty shorts back on, the bathroom lights went out. They didn’t just go out, either—they exploded. Dean startled, tripping on his shorts and nearly falling on his ass. The room was pitch black. He shuffled his way through broken glass to the door, flinging it open, and managed to find somebody’s pants on the bed. Sam’s long-ass jeans, goddamn it, but they would have to do, ‘cause he was going outside to see why the bulbs on the motel walkway were popping one by one, spraying glass against the front window. He couldn’t believe Sam was still asleep.

Slipping out the door, he spotted the angel right away. Castiel stood next to the Impala, glowering at him.

Dean looked him up and down, mouth hanging open. Cas—wearing James Novak once again—had on a soft, grey t-shirt and black sweatpants, his feet bare.

“What’d you do, take Jimmy in his jammies?” Dean blurted, gesturing at the angel.

Castiel strode up to him, grabbed his shoulders and shoved him against the wall. Hard.

“I thought you were the one suffering from madness,” he growled in Dean’s face. “But now that I have seen the truth, I know that it was I.”

“Ha!” Dean managed to bark, despite his bell being rung pretty hard, “So you did pry open my head! I don’t recall giving you permission to…”

“Your soul gave me permission,” Castiel spat. “And the things I saw…”

He shoved away from Dean, his face dark and thunderous, his eyes never leaving Dean’s. “Loving you… loving YOU destroyed me, again and again, yet I persisted until there was nothing left of me or my own kind! Why?

Dean gaped, stunned. He didn’t know what he’d expected to hear, but this wasn’t it.

“What was my reward? Tell me! Ten years of Earthly longing, pain and despair, watching and helping my brethren go extinct, followed by an eternity in The Empty? What did my devotion to you bring, that would make me return to you, over and over? That would make me do terrible things in your name?”

“Cas…”

“And did I even have a choice in the matter? When you said I had free will, I believed you! But in the end, were you wrong? Were we just puppets of God?”

Tears stung Dean’s eyes, and he couldn’t think of one thing to say, except… “I loved you. We were family.”

“Your soul loved me,” Castiel replied tightly. “Your ego held you back because you were afraid.”

“I didn’t know how you felt!” Dean protested lamely. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Castiel tilted his head, staring at Dean incredulously. “How could you not see? I served you in every way that you let me, and some that you didn’t. Did you need a burning bush? To hear the voice of God from Heaven?”

The angel tore his gaze from the man and looked up at the sky, seeing who-knows-what in the firmament. “I should never have allowed myself to get close to you. And I should not be here now.”

“B…but you are,” Dean said. He shivered, shirtless in the cold night air. His anger gone, all that remained was his desperation to reach out to his friend. To get through to him. “You are.”

The angel looked back at him, regarding him thoroughly for a minute or two—until something in his demeanor softened.

“Most of us are in denial,” Castiel said, “but I see now that the rumors in Heaven are indeed true. God has departed. All the angels sense his absence, even if it has not been confirmed for us. All are seeking to fill a void we don’t know how to fill.”

Castiel looked up to Heaven again. “Many angels just want order and guidance. Some desire freedom, some peace and others, power.”

Dean stepped a little closer. “What do you want, Cas?”

Castiel blinked at him a moment, then answered slowly. “I see now that what I want is Love. And I fear it will be my undoing.”

Dean unfolded his arms from across his chest, holding them open. “It doesn’t have to be. We’ve got a second chance, man. We don’t have to make the same mistakes again.” He stepped closer yet. “I’m done lying to myself and I’m done holding back, and I’m done taking you for granted. If what you want is love, man—every kinda love—I… I got it for you.”

Castiel stood his ground. “Angels are warned about the seductiveness of human love—and I can understand why.” His expression grew pained. “Your affection is intoxicating to me. I could feel it when I was inside of you—you were concerned for my safety. You cared about me.”

“I told you! I do care about you. And hell, Sam’s right… I don’t want you to fall. I don’t want you to lose your wings and your power and your whole family. I want you to be happy. But I want you in my life, Cas. Please.”

There was that intense gaze, that hardcore stare into his very soul. Dean met Castiel’s eyes, heart pounding. He could feel the static charge from the angel’s field deep in his chest, buzzing from his scalp to his toes—the way it used to feel.

“What shall we do?” Castiel murmured, his eyes dropping to Dean’s lips. “Tell me…”

“We… um…” Dean’s brain short-circuited for a moment, blood rushing south, and he struggled for words. This was his big opening—he couldn’t blow it. “We go for a ride.” He shoved his hand in his pocket, but only found his boner… these were Sam’s jeans, and his car keys were in his own, inside the room. With his room key.

He fished in the other pocket, but no dice.

Castiel, meanwhile, turned to the Impala and unlocked the door, then started the engine with a snap of his fingers. “Does that help?” he said.

Dean grinned. “Y… yeah. Yeah, that helps.” He opened the door to the back seat and grabbed a dirty flannel off the floor, shoving his arms into it and doing a few buttons, while Castiel climbed into the front. Dean slid behind the wheel and cranked up the heater. “OK, let’s go.”

He backed out of his spot and wheeled the car out of the parking lot and onto Main Street. “Where are we going?” the angel asked.

“I dunno, just… for a drive.” Dean turned to him and smiled. This felt good—so right. He had no idea what was next, but…

“You made love to the angel Anna in the rear seat once,” Castiel mused, frowning out the windshield. “Why did we never do that?”

Dean swooped into the empty parking lot at the town marina and threw the car into park. He turned to Cas, heart in his throat and stomach fluttering. “Is this how it’s gonna be with you in my head? Do you want to rock and roll in the back seat?”

“Yes, I think I’d like to.”

“Then why did you never say so?”

“I don’t know. But I believe I just did.”

***

It was about how he’d imagined it would be, at first. They both slid into the back seat, meeting in the middle, awkward and shy as teenagers. Sort of.

“Shall I remove my clothes now?” Castiel asked.

Dean laughed, giddy with nerves. “Whoa, not… not yet. Let’s uh… take it one step at a time. How ‘bout I kiss you?”

Castiel’s gaze was intense and serious. “I’d like that. At least I think I would.” His eyes dropped to Dean’s mouth again, and Dean turned fully towards him and cupped his cheek in one hand.

He locked eyes with the angel—imagining their deep blue, even if he couldn’t see it in the dark—and felt his heart fling wide open. The swell of warmth in his chest made him smile.

Cas’ lips parted and he made a soft, satisfied sound, lifting a hand to Dean’s ribcage. Had he felt Dean’s little burst of love?

Dean’s smile widened and he leaned in and gave Cas one tender kiss—then another. He’d never kissed a dude before on the mouth; this was different. It was also a little dull—Cas accepted the kiss stiffly, without responding.

“Hey,” Dean said, after kissing him again without reaction, “try and relax, buddy. C’mon, you kiss me now.”

Castiel frowned a little, sliding closer. “I must admit, this is more complicated than it appears.”

“Don’t overthink it, man. Just follow your instincts—your body’s instincts—and do what feels good.”

“Alright,” the angel said, and pressed his mouth against Dean’s rather firmly. Dean hummed and went with it, sliding a hand into Castiel’s hair, tilting his head, catching Castiel’s bottom lip between his own and sucking at it gently. After a few moments practice, they were kissing like Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and Dean had to come up for air.

“Damn, Cas,” he gasped through swollen lips, “you’re a fast learner.”

“You’re an excellent teacher,” Cas purred, and pulled him back in for more tonsil hockey.

The smooching was fun, but of course Dean’s 26-year-old dick had other ideas, and was becoming increasingly vehement about them. He found himself pressing against the angel, clutching at his thigh, sliding a hand up his t-shirt and beginning to fantasize about just how far this would go. How far did Cas want it to go? How far did he want it to go?

The sonofabitch must have been reading his mind again. Cas pulled back and let his soft eyes wander over Dean’s face, his thumb caressing Dean’s cheek and then exploring the texture of his swollen lower lip. Dean groaned, closing his eyes, his dick twitching in Sam’s too-tight jeans.

“Kissing you is so pleasurable,” Cas murmured, “but I’m sensing both our bodies are very much aroused and ready for intercourse now.”

Dean gulped, let out a weak laugh. “You can say that again,” he managed, turning away from Cas to slump back against the seat, trying to relieve some pressure in his crotch.

“Why?”

Dean laughed harder. “Damn, it really is you. I missed you, buddy.”

“Dean.” Castiel said, apparently not in the mood for levity, “What do we do now?”

It was obvious what Cas wanted to do—but truth be told, Dean wasn’t exactly sure he was ready to do it. He ran a hand down his face and risked a glance at Castiel’s lap. The sweatpants didn’t hide the shape and size of the cock straining against the fabric, nor did the darkness conceal the damp spot there. Sonofabitch.

Dean let his hand continue down, ghosted a palm over his own erection and considered letting it loose. Once upon a time he would have, without much of a thought. But this time… he wanted to do things right.

Also, he was a little bit chickenshit. ‘Cause Cas was a dude, and as much as he liked ass play, he’d never had an actual dick up in there (though he’d certainly thought about it). He wanted Cas in a bad way—in that way—but was he ready for the whole nine right here and now? If the dicks came out to play, Chuck only knew where things could end up.

Dean heaved a deep sigh and resolved to do something he’d never done before.

“Well,” he began, “I don’t really want the cops dragging our naked asses out of the car here on Main Street. And Sam’s back in my room. So, seeing as you just met me and it’s been a really crazy day, maybe, uh—maybe we just call it a night.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I mean, y’know, you’re like three hours old in that body,” which has Jimmy still in it, goddammit, and that’s a whole other ball of wax, “and we just met, and I was just dead, so I’m not really on my A-game. And I kinda wanna get to know you again before we… you know.”

Cas looked dubious.

“I think I’m gonna go back to the motel and beat off, in other words, and maybe you should too,” Dean said, trying desperately sound convincing. “And then, y’know, next time we pick up where we left off.”

“By ‘beat off’ do you mean to say masturbate?”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean. You haven’t had time to take that thing for a test drive yet, I’m thinking,” he said, gesturing at Castiel’s loins. “Maybe you wanna get the lead out, see what it can do?”

“I think I know what it can do, Dean. I’ve been around for millennia, watching men and their penises.”

“Well yeah, but… every dick is different, y’know.”

Castiel’s squint returned, accompanied by a frown. “You have had hundreds of sexual encounters with strangers, but when the one you say you love offers sex, you are not interested? You want to go home and masturbate? How do you explain that?”

Dean opened his mouth, then closed it again. Damn. Now that this guy has been inside my head, there will be no lying to him ever again. “Dude… I am interested. Very interested. But… all those strangers didn’t mean anything to me. You do. And I want us to do it right. I want it to feel… I dunno, important.”

He turned himself toward Cas again, laid a hand on the angel’s muscular thigh and looked up at him through his eyelashes. It was a move he usually reserved for chicks. “Gonna be real honest. I’ve dicked around a little, but I’ve never had full-on sex with a guy before, and I’m a little nervous. I want our first time to be good. Real good. Car sex kinda sucks and it messes up the leather, y’know? I wanna do it in a big, comfy bed with a king-sized bottle of lube in a sound-proof room, so I can make a lotta noise. And I’d like a partner who knows his way around a dick. Capisce?”

Cas just stared at him for a moment, blinking, then finally said “Si, capisco. I do understand. Your Italian—it’s poor.”

It was Dean’s turn to look puzzled, but Cas leaned forward and kissed him, laying a hand over Dean’s on his thigh. “We will do it your way then—and I will take your advice and attempt to masturbate. I must admit I enjoyed watching you do it.”

***

When Dean slipped back into their motel room, Sam was just stumbling out of the bathroom in the dark. “Dean,” he grumbled, rubbing his neck, “hey, it’s like 3 am. Where the hell’ve you been? And what’s with the broken glass?”

Dean went to his duffel on the far bed and pulled out a clean t-shirt. “Well, first I got hammered at the bar and drowned in the john,” he said, removing his flannel, “then Cas showed up and light bulbs popped and things, uh… things got a little Brokeback Mountain. If ya know what I mean.”

“Huh.” Sam made it back to his bed, folding himself up and burrowing into the blankets again. Dean waited for it.

“Wait, what?” Sam suddenly comprehended, sitting bolt upright. “Did I just hear you say you drowned in a toilet and Cas appeared to save you and then you… what?

Dean pulled the t-shirt on, then found a new pair of shorts and shucked Sam’s jeans. “Yeah. One minute I was driving the porcelain bus and the next I was face down in it. Saw the dead kid and everything.”

Sam flipped the light on, looking at him in horror. “Dude, can you stay alive for five minutes?”

“Yeah, well… luckily I got friends in high places.” Dean yanked the shorts on, climbed into his bed and sighed, relaxing. The mattress wasn’t bad. He was gonna sleep like a rock. He closed his eyes and grinned lasciviously. “Friends with bennies.”

“OK…” Sam said, in the tone that meant shut-up now, Dean. He turned the light off again and flopped back down. “You can tell me in the morning. Or not.”

***

Next morning, Sam came out of the bathroom with his jeans on and fingered the wet spot still lingering by the front right pocket. “This better not be what I think it is,” he growled.

Dean turned away, grimacing, lacing his boots up. “Naw, I spilled something.”

Sam wasn’t buying it. “Uh-huh. Gross, Dean. Try to act your actual age. And don’t wear my clothes.”

Dean tried not to smile at the memory of last night. He really wasn’t twenty-something anymore, but he’d kinda felt like it with Cas. Castiel had kissed him goodbye in the backseat and winged away, leaving him with a stomach full of butterflies and a bad case of blue balls. Which he had remedied right then and there, thinking about Cas watching him again and wondering if he’d been an idiot to let the angel go when they could’ve found paradise by the dashboard light.

“So,” Sam said, with a hint of snide, “Cas showed up last night to pull your head out of a public toilet, and then you—what—got it on in the men’s room?”

“Yes, and no,” Dean replied, throwing the rest of his things back in his duffel while Sam did the same. “I am a little classier than that. We were in the car. And we didn’t actually… you know. Not that that’s your business.”

“Huh. And how do you think Jimmy felt about whatever it is you actually did?”

Dean turned to his brother and dropped the duffel, bristling. “Why d’you have to be such a fuckin’ killjoy, huh? It’s CAS. He’s BACK,” he yelled.

There was a loud rap at the door, and Dean took two steps and yanked it open. John walked past him into the room. “That who was here in the parking lot with you last night?” John asked. Dean blinked at him a moment. He must have been looking out his window when Cas first showed up.

“That was some crazy shit going on—broken glass all over the walkway. Who—or should I say what—the hell is this Cas?”

“That was Castiel,” Sam answered, pushing past the both of them with his bag over his shoulder. “He’s the angel that possessed Dean so that we could save you.”

“Huh. So now he’s possessing sorry sap number two?”

Dean frowned. That makes me sorry sap number one? “Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “We had some unfinished business.”

“Business with an angel…?”

“Who wants breakfast?” Sam asked, poking his head back in.

***

They managed to avoid the subject for a few hours.

John actually let them take the lead on their own case that morning, and simply stood by listening when the three of them showed up in Sheriff Jake Devins’ office impersonating game wardens. Dean informed Devins that someone had found a bike resembling Peter Sweeney’s buried near the lake and tipped the Warden Service off that it was connected to the 35-year-old cold case of his disappearance. They told Devins that they’d already spoken to Bill Carlton, and that he’d fingered Devins as the killer. They also told him that there were rumors of threats against Devins’ family if he talked, and that his daughter and grandson would be advised to leave town immediately for a time until arrests could be made.

As expected, Devins got pretty agitated. Sam explained that it would go easier on him if he showed them where the body was… so he did. Took them out to Perkins’ Landing and pointed out the spot where they’d tied a cinder block to the body and sunk it.

John called the coordinates in to the actual Warden Service with an anonymous tip.

And that was that.

Dean drove the Impala past the Barr home on the way out of town—and saw Lucas and his father packing suitcases into the car. “Kid’s dad is still alive,” Sam commented. “So maybe we just saved a bunch of people.”

“Yeah. Maybe. Let’s hope.”

“Dean…”

“Yeah?”

“I didn’t tell you but… I had another dream last night.”

Dean glanced at him as he turned a corner, feeling his gut tighten. “How do I die this time?” he asked.

“It wasn’t about you. It was… there was a girl and a guy and like… some giant spider thing. I dunno. It was insane.”

“And you think it was real?”

“Yeah. Pretty sure.”

“Well, how the hell are we gonna figure that one out?”

Sam shrugged. “Guess I’ll have to hit a library and do a search. I don’t have any idea where it’s even happening.”

Dean took a left onto Rte. 22, heading south. “Dad said we should meet him for dinner in Pardeeville. From there it’s less than an hour to Madison and Fitchburg. You remember that case in Fitchburg, right? That witch that was making kids sick?”

Sam nodded. “Yeah, sure. I told Bobby about that one. Dean…”

“Speak, dude.”

“Is this really what we’re gonna do? Just… start living on the road again hunting vampires and werewolves with Dad and…” Sam threw his hands wide, encompassing the whole load of bullshittery.

“You mean till the apocalypse intervenes?” Dean said.

Sam sighed heavily, which just about summed it up.

***

The Caddy Shack in Pardeeville was the home of the famous ½ pound Shack Burger, so Dean ordered that, and so did John, and Sam ordered the Mexi-Plate, which boded ill for air quality in the Impala later on. John got up and made for the head, and Dean took that first satisfying swig of his cold beer, when Sam’s eyes grew wide as dinner plates. Dean turned quickly to see what he was goggling at—and there was Cas, striding toward them between the booths.

Dean stood up, nearly knocking his beer over, heart leaping inside his chest. “Hey! Cas!”

Sam stood too, looking like he was seeing a ghost.

Cas looked at each of them in turn. “Hello, Dean. Sam.”

“Cas,” Sam blurted. “It’s good to see you again… er… I guess to meet you…”

Cas nodded. “Likewise.”

“Hey you, uh… you wanna sit?” Dean sat down and slid over to make room, and Castiel slipped in beside him. Then he turned to Dean, palmed his cheek, and leaned in for a kiss.

As Castiel’s soft mouth retreated, Dean looked up to see John sliding back into the seat next to Sam. They both wore the same looks on their faces, though Sam’s devolved into a small smirk that he then attempted to hide by wrapping his smug lips around his beer. John just kept staring like someone had hit him with a 2x4.

“Dad,” Dean said breezily. “I’d like you to meet Cas.”

“We’ve met,” Castiel said. “When we cast Azazel out of you.”

John exhaled. “Yeah. Thanks for that.”

Cas nodded again. “No thanks are necessary.” He turned back to Dean. “I’m here about the Jorōgumo you and Sam spoke about earlier. The shapeshifting spider of his dream.”

“You heard us talking about that?” Dean said, surprised.

“Only because you thought of me, and hoped I’d help you pinpoint its location,” Cas explained. “So, I shall.”

“What’s a Jorōgumo?” John said.

“The name means ‘whore spider.’” Castiel informed them. It’s a Japanese Yōkai. The spider-creature takes the form of a beautiful woman, luring in handsome young men, then spinning them in its web and consuming them.”

“Kinda like the Arachnes,” Sam said.

“There are similarities,” Castiel agreed. Whereupon he snapped his fingers and produced a copy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the table. You’ll find a story of a desiccated body on page three.”

John snagged the paper and opened it up, and Sam leaned over to read the story, too. Dean could feel Castiel looking at him, and turned to face the angel. His eyes were the color of the shirt he was now wearing—a vivid blue, open at the neck, tucked into black, twill pants. Dean supposed he had shoes on, too, and wondered if these were Jimmy’s clothes, or if Cas had actually gone shopping. He imagined the former. In any case, the angel looked goddamn hot. Beneath the table, Cas’ fingers gently brushed his thigh, and Dean’s dick twitched.

John cleared his throat loudly.

“So how do we kill her?” Sam asked, looking up from the paper.

“A consecrated sword. A mirror will reflect her true appearance, which will distract her.”

The waitress came with their meals. “You want anything, hon?” she asked Castiel.

“No thank you,” he replied. “I don’t eat.”

She quirked an eyebrow, but laughed. “Suit yourself!”

John leaned forward as she walked away. “So, you gonna gin up a consecrated sword for us right here on the table, too?”

Castiel looked nonplussed. “You’ll need to go into the city and obtain a sword and have it blessed.”

“He’s an angel, but he ain’t Criss Angel,” Dean joked. Nobody laughed.

“So, listen,” Sam said, “since we’re so close, Dean and I were talking about taking on a Shtriga case in Fitchburg, too. Dad, you remember that witch that almost got me in Fort Douglas like 15 years ago?

John frowned, dragging his gaze from Castiel. “How could I forget? Are you suggesting she’s back?”

“She never left, apparently,” Dean said. And he probably didn’t mean to take a “tone,” but given that he hated the way his old man was looking at Cas, he probably did. “You never finished that job.”

John dropped his napkin on the table, his ire cranking up a notch. “We gonna do this again?”

“No. No we’re not,” Sam said smoothly. “How about you and I tackle the Jorōgumo, Dad, and Dean and Cas can work on the Shtriga?”

They all considered a moment, chewing their food.

“I like that idea, Dean,” Castiel said into the quiet. “The Jorōgumo likes to feast on virile young men, so you would need to be particularly careful on that case.”

Dean almost choked on his Shack Burger.

“Huh. Guess I won’t have to worry, then,” Sam said, strategically wiping his smug-smirky mouth with his napkin.

“The fuck…” John muttered.

“Sam, you ought to be cautious as well. John needn’t worry, however,” Cas added, without irony. “Perhaps Sam could lure the creature and John could kill it.”

Dean also employed the napkin trick to hide his grin, nudging Cas under the table with his foot, though he knew the angel wouldn’t catch the humor.

“So what’s a Japanese monster doing in Milwaukee?” asked Sam.

“Guess you’ll find out,” Dean replied.

***

Out in the parking lot, Dean stood next to the Impala as Cas slid into the front seat, and Sam pulled his bag out of the back and shouldered the strap.

He gave Dean a wry smile. “How’d I get to be the good son all of a sudden?”

Dean snorted and clapped him on the shoulder. “I owe you one.” He turned and opened the trunk to select a couple of extra weapons for his brother to take, just in case, and when he looked up, his old man was standing there eyeballing him. Sam had walked off toward the truck.

“Seems to me like that angel wants to possess you in more ways than one,” John growled softly, leaning in. “You wanna tell me what the hell’s really going on here?”

Dean knew he should have uttered some version of “We’re together, so fuck off,” but instead he regressed to his 26-year-old self, who was a lot less confrontational and a touch more passive-aggressive.

“I don’t know what you mean, Dad,” he replied, poker-faced.

“He kissed you.”

Dean shrugged. “He’s new at this human thing. Socially awkward.”

“You sure there isn’t something you wanna tell me?” The look on John’s face dared him to come out of the closet and get his ass shoved back in, hard.

“No, sir,” Dean replied.

John looked skeptical. “Huh. Watch yourself.”

“You too, man,” Dean said mildly, and handed his father the guns. John took them and walked away.

Dean slammed the trunk, feeling lower than grave dirt.

***

Riding to Fitchburg with Cas beside him quickly soothed his angst. It just felt so comfortable—so right. But at the same time, so brand new.

Back on the Interstate, he looked over at the angel and grinned. “Virile young men, huh? If it hadn’t been Sam’s idea to split up, I’d think you were trying your damnedest tonight to get me alone.”

Cas blinked at him for a moment, looking uncomfortable. Then the corner of his mouth quirked up. “The situation does seem promising, doesn’t it?”

Dean chuckled. “C’mere.” He reached a hand out and Castiel took it, and he tugged until the angel slid across the gap between them and they sat shoulder-to-shoulder. Dean laid a hand on Cas’ thigh, and gave him another sideways smile.

His phone rang, which happened to be in his jacket pocket in the back seat. Castiel suddenly produced it and handed it to him.

Dean laughed, “Hey, awesome! Thanks,” and flipped the phone open. “Hello?”

“Hey. You idjits forgot to call Pamela, and I just got an earful. Don’t you answer your phones?”

“Uh… Bobby, hey. I guess we’ve been busy.”

“I’ll have to tell her you’re alive. And the good news is that you don’t have to look too hard for that key to your bat cave. She says she thinks it’s under a rock near the damn door.”

“Under a… what? Seriously?”

“That’s what she said. Go figure. Anyhoo, glad you two are still alive. Have you killed your old man yet?”

“No, but the trip ain’t over.”

“Well, hang in there. Call Pam when you find the key. And call me so I can come check the place out.”

“Ok, Bobby. Thanks. Will do.”

Dean hung up and turned to Cas, ebullient. “This really is my lucky day! Sam’s gonna flip.”

“So, you are able to access your bunker? You seem very happy about that.”

“It’s our home, Cas. I mean all our home. Me, Sam, you, Jack… We all lived there together. We were family.”

“I lived there with you…” Cas gazed out the window into the night, seeming to see into the past—or at least the past as seen in Dean’s head. Their future. “It felt peaceful and safe to you. You felt happy there.”

Dean felt a rush of emotion and lifted his arm to slip it around Cas’ shoulder. “Happiest when you were there too, man.” He looked at Cas, who turned to him, and they kissed once, twice.

Cas pulled back. “We should not make love and drive, Dean.”

Dean laughed. “Yeah, that’s next-level stuff. We’ll work up to it.”

The Aloha Inn Motel in Fitchburg looked budget-friendly—that is to say, rundown and cheap—so Dean wheeled in and rented a room with one Queen, because why not? Luckily the room looked relatively clean, if small, and there seemed to be no one on either side. Perfect.

When he got done showering and came out of the bathroom wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, Castiel was toggling back and forth between pay-per-view porn channels.

“Hope you didn’t just put all those on my credit card…” Dean quipped.

“Don’t worry, you won’t need to pay.”

“Sweet. You, uh… you like porn?”

“I am indifferent. But you like it. I know you find it arousing.”

“Yeah, but…” he gently took the remote out of Castiel’s hand, and turned the channel to something less distracting. “I find you arousing, too. And I don’t think any of those movies involve banging dude angels.”

Castiel finally turned to look at him, a little crestfallen. “I was hoping for some ideas… I suppose I don’t know how to seduce you, Dean.”

Dean snorted. “I think that was always your problem. Either that or I was too oblivious.”

“It’s not something angels do.”

Dean sat down on the end of the bed, and Castiel joined him, sitting stiffly and looking slightly worried. It was pretty fucking cute.

“Listen, one step at a time, like I said before. There’s no pressure.” Dean leaned in and kissed him, pulled back and smiled. “It’s early yet. I could use a snack, and we could unwind with a movie, and then let’s see what happens.”

What happened was that Castiel asked so many questions about The Chronicles of Riddick that Dean started kissing him just to shut him up, and somehow, they ended up horizontal and half-dressed on a bedspread full of BBQ potato chip crumbs. Dean sat up and let Cas brush his back and shoulder off, then he turned to the angel and did the same. Sliding to the edge of the bed, he reached for the remote and shut the TV off, plunging the room into near-darkness.

“What do we do now?” Castiel asked.

“We stand up and let me shake off this bedspread.”

Cas stood and Dean peeled the bedspread off, gave it a shake and tossed it over the chair, and then turned the sheets down.

“And now?”

“Now we get into bed. You gonna join me?”

“I would like to. Will we have intercourse?”

“You’re asking a lotta questions again. One step at a time, buddy.”

Dean removed his jeans and socks and slid into the sheets in his boxer briefs. He looked up at Cas, who was still standing there, and held up the end of the sheet in invitation. So, Cas dropped his own trousers and peeled off his own socks—human style—and joined him.

Cas laid his head on the pillow next to Dean’s, and Dean could just see his eyes glistening in the dark. Behind that… was he imagining it, or was there a faint, eerie, blue glow? The pilot light of the angel’s grace.

“Perhaps you are tired,” Castiel said to him. “If you would like to sleep, I will stay and watch over you.”

How many times had Dean pretended to be creeped out by that idea? In truth, he’d been afraid then that if the angel stayed, something untoward might happen. Maybe he’d talk in his sleep or have a wet dream or ask his best friend to join him, in a moment of weakness. But now…

“Not so tired just yet,” Dean murmured, and pulled his angel close. Castiel’s mostly-nude body pressed full-length against his felt amazingly awesome. He slipped a thigh between Castiel’s, slid a hand into the angel’s tousled hair, and they resumed making out.

Dean was praying for some modicum of willpower—of composure—but being 26 again made self-restraint (and his dick) so much harder. And now his dick was pressed against what felt like Castiel’s, with only their thin briefs in between. And Castiel’s tongue was in his mouth, his hands splayed across Dean’s back, powerful arms holding him so close. Dean moaned as Cas kissed across his jaw, then down his neck, and Dean reached to grab a handful of Castiel’s firm ass. He squeezed and pulled and next thing he knew, Cas had rolled him to his back and spread his thighs apart, pinning him to the mattress. He felt one of the angel’s hands clamping around his throat as Cas claimed his mouth again bruisingly hard, and then rolled his pelvis, grinding his cock against Dean’s pubic bone, creating an awesome friction between them.

Dean felt entirely possessed; he could not escape if he wanted to. Cas could take whatever he wanted right now. The combination of abject lust and slight terror this thought inspired was setting him on fire.

Cas broke away, panting. “Dean,” he growled, “I feel so hungry for you. I feel I could eat you alive, I desire you so. What should I do?”

“Fuck, Cas,” he moaned. “Fuck, this feels good. Just… just go with this. Just…” He bucked Cas up off him a bit, sliding a hand between them to pull their cocks out and line them up, and yank their shorts out of the way. “There. There. Not too hard, just… oh, yeah…”

Cas began bumping and grinding anew, and Dean wrapped his legs around him and hung on for dear life, feeling their dicks sliding together, hard and slick. Cas was staring down at him, an expression of something between dark desire and astonishment on his face, and Dean forced himself to look back, to watch until his orgasm snuck up and sucker-punched him so hard he nearly fainted.

After a moment or two of eye-crossing bliss, he caught his breath and realized that the angel had stopped moving, and was gently stroking his face. He opened his eyes, and Castiel smiled down at him.

“You are so beautiful,” Cas murmured, kissing his lips again, “and your ecstasy is altogether exquisite.”

“Mmm, yeah. It was pretty exquisite. Did you come, too?” As he said it, he realized he could still feel Castiel’s hard cock pressing against his belly. The angel was still vibrating with lust. That wouldn’t do. “C’mon,” he urged. “Roll over, dude.”

“I tried to masturbate, Dean, but I couldn’t make myself ejaculate. It was difficult alone. I just…”

“Shhh,” Dean said, as he leaned over the angel now. He kissed Castiel lavishly, feeling the angel’s arms wrap him up again, and realized just what he needed to do. “Lemme make you cum,” he said against Cas’ swollen lips.

“Do you think you can?”

Dean wrapped a hand around Castiel’s cock, slippery with their mingled fluids, and stroked him while they kissed, their tongues tangling and Castiel moaning into his mouth. He knew just what he needed to do to bring the seraph off. At the moment Cas’ pleasure seemed to reach a fever pitch again, Dean broke the kiss and pressed his lips to Cas’ ear. “Love you, angel,” he whispered. “I love you so much, Cas.”

He was glad he’d buried his face in the angel’s neck when Castiel gasped and shivered, and every light bulb in the room shattered.

***

Sometime before dawn Dean awoke, slowly becoming aware of Castiel’s arm around him, of the angel’s body spooned up close behind.

So. Cas had stayed. He had stayed and watched over Dean and held him, and kept the nightmares at bay. Dean sighed happily, slipping his hand over top of Castiel’s where it lay near his stomach, and twining their fingers together.

This moment—it felt like everything. He felt safe, warm and happy. And he had made Castiel happy. The angel hummed and kissed him behind the ear, and his dick twitched and began to plump. His dick was happy, too.

Castiel shifted and Dean felt the angel’s hard-on between his bare ass cheeks. He pressed back a little. Cas pressed forward.

All thoughts of self-control flew out the window.

He simply wanted to complete this moment. He simply wanted. He wanted Cas.

Dean let go of Cas’ hand and reached back to grab the angel’s thigh, keeping their bodies flush as he pulled a knee up, spreading his legs and rolling to his stomach. “Cas,” he murmured. “Cas c’mon. I want you. I need you.”

“Dean…” Cas braced a hand on the bed to steady himself. “What is it you want?”

“Want you inside me. Don’… don’ talk. Just do it. Just fuck me.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes. Please, yes.”

***

The sun rode high in the sky when he woke again with a start, blinking in the morning light. Cas wasn’t in the bed, and Dean’s first thought was I imagined it then…  But when he turned over, legs tangled in the sheets, he saw Castiel standing by the window, fully dressed and gazing out between the curtains.

Dean sighed and stole a moment to just take him in—his broad shoulders, the curve of his luscious ass. He’d had that ass in both hands last night when Cas had pinned him rather fervently to the bed. And then this morning… things had been so different. Cas took him so gently and carefully, which he was grateful for—but he’d finally had to beg for more. And oh, he got it—the pleasure and the pain, wrapped up tight and rocked in the angel’s arms, Cas all around and deep inside him. It had been fucking perfect.

His angel finally turned to look at him, unsmiling.

“You trust me completely,” Castiel said.

Dean propped himself on an elbow, gazing up at his friend—wondering how to get him back into bed. “Course I do,” he replied, without hesitation.

“Perhaps you shouldn’t.”

A chill crept up Dean’s spine. He sat up. Castiel’s face gave away nothing.

“Why not?” Dean asked.

Cas looked away again, cagey. Cagey like he was the year he’d spent running and hiding and spying on the Winchesters, working with Crowley to open Purgatory and…

Dean slid from the bed, walking up to Castiel to stand before him naked and open—nothing to hide. “Cas, why not?” he repeated, his heart in his throat.

Now the angel couldn’t look at him. “If I tell you…”

“Tell me what?” Dean said, his voice rising.

“I had orders,” Castiel said, turning back to the window.

Orders?”

“My orders were to separate you from your family today, Dean. You were to be the Righteous Man, to be raised from Hell, but I told them you will refuse a demon deal. So now it is to be your father. Today your brother will die battling the Jorōgumo, and your father will sell his soul and the Colt to bring him back.”

Dean stood blinking at him for a moment, paralyzed. He couldn’t—didn’t want to—believe his ears.

 “Are you… are you fucking joking?” he finally managed.

“You’ll be protected, Dean…”

“You mean while the monsters kill my family? And the rest of the dick squad watches?!”

Dean turned away, looking frantically around the room for his jeans, his phone. He grabbed the phone off the nightstand and dialed Sam’s number while trying to get his legs into his pants as fast as he could. He dialed once, twice, but got static; looking up, he saw Castiel frowning at him.

“If you warn him…” the angel began.

Dean flung the phone down on the bed, zipped up his pants and strode up to Castiel, shock and fear giving way to rage. He got right up in the angel’s face. “You take me to him,” he demanded. “Take me to my brother. Now!

“Dean, if I do that…”

“Take me to my brother NOW!” Dean bellowed, fists clenching.

“You should also know,” Castiel said, unperturbed, “that Azazel has been set free. It is his destiny to obtain the Colt and open the gates of Hell, freeing Lilith so she can be slain as the last seal. Your father’s resurrection will be the first seal. The apocalypse will begin.”

What!? Over my dead body will that happen again!”

“Please understand, you won’t have to go to Hell, Dean. And your father and brother will live again.”

It was all Dean could do not to punch the angel square in the face, but he remembered how well that had gone the first time. “I swear to fucking Chuck,” he growled through his teeth, shaking with emotion, “if my family dies today to begin your motherfucking apocalypse, I will never forgive you. I will hunt you down myself and fucking shank you with your own fucking blade. Do you hear me, you flying fucking monster?”

Cas just stood his ground, staring at Dean, his face an inscrutable mask.

Dean spun away to gather up his few possessions from the floor and the bathroom, yanking a shirt and socks on, stuffing his duffel and lacing his boots as fast as he could, heart pounding out of his chest.

“I should have known!” he yelled as he dressed. “Sam warned me, but did I listen? No! I was so fucking blind. You’re an angel, I’m a human. You don’t even fucking know me. Of course you’re going to use me and stab me in the back. You did it once before—why wouldn’t you do it again? ‘Cause of course I’m dumb enough to give you another chance. You…”

He whirled around to face Castiel again—but the only trace of the angel was the fluttering of a curtain in the wake of his flight.

***

Heading north on Rte. 18 to pick up I-94 to Milwaukee, Dean tried again to dial Sam, and finally got through. Sam’s voice on the line felt like balm to his soul.

“Sam, don’t talk, just listen,” Dean blurted. “Azazel’s back on the loose and he’s coming for you and Dad. Cas told me there’s some kind of heavenly hit on you—you’re about to get ganked by giant spider woman, and Dad’s gonna sell his soul and the Colt to bring you back and start the fuckin’ apocalypse. You need to stop what you’re doing.”

“What? Dean, slow down…”

“Dude you heard me. Abort the mission, ok? What are you doing right now?”

“We’re staking out her apartment… we located her at a bar last night.”

“Ok, just leave.”

“And go where?”

Dean thought a moment, then realized… “The bunker. It’s warded. We can all meet there and regroup. We can summon Azazel and gank him ourselves this time. We can…”

“We can’t get in, remember?”

“Yes, we can! Pamela said the key is under a rock by the door.”

“What?”

“Dude, you heard me. Just go, and watch your back. Tell Dad. I’ll meet you there.”

Dean had always been good at compartmentalizing—at triaging his life. He worried about one thing at a time, starting with the thing that made the difference between life and death. Once the monster was ganked and the spurting artery was patched, then he could worry about the flesh wound or the broken bone. Lesser injuries would just have to be tolerated for a time.

Now that he’d done what he could to warn his family and come up with a plan, his “lesser” injury arose to demand attention. He didn’t want to think about his goddamn broken heart right now. He didn’t want to feel it. He wanted to shove the last 24 hours in a box and push it under the bed forever. But the pain of Castiel betraying him again would not be denied.

Cas had hurt him before, but this time… this time felt so much more personal. Dean told himself he was just being stupid—of course Castiel had been loyal to Heaven. Why should he expect otherwise? The angel didn’t know him from a hole in the wall.

That brought a fresh eruption of grief—for the angel who did know him and died to save him. That Cas wouldn’t have fucked him and then fucked him over. That Cas was gone, never to return.

“Goddammit, Cas, you sonofabitch. Why’d you have to do me like that?”

Tired of holding back tears for days, Dean let them come.

“What you want is love, huh?” he scoffed, sobbing. “I guess what you really wanted was points upstairs and to get some ass—well you win! You got it all. Congratu-fucking-lations! You took all my secrets and used them to jerk me around, you manipulative, flaming…”

He startled, veering into the breakdown lane, as Castiel appeared again on the seat beside him.

“What the hell…?!”

“You’re weeping,” Castiel observed, and this time, his face looked soft. Troubled.

“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Dean blurted, leaning toward the angel to pop the glove box and grope for a napkin to wipe his snotty face. “Now get out.”

“Please understand,” the angel said, “it was not my wish to deceive you. Nothing I said or did was false. I am feeling… regretful.”

Dean wiped at his eyes, blew his nose, tried to pull his shit together. “Lame apology not accepted,” he finally croaked.

But yet… if Castiel had intended to be deceptive... “Just tell me one thing.” Dean turned to the angel. “Why bother with the confession this morning? Why not just let the whole thing play out? Why not pretend you had nothing to do with it? Hell, I wouldn’t have known any better!”

Castiel looked out the window and sighed—a very human sound. “Because I’m beginning to feel and understand your human perspective. Your love for your family and friends is profound, Dean. I am beginning to understand your need to protect your brother—as I am feeling a need to protect you. I thought at first, I would be helping you by sparing you perdition. But now I am beginning to see that you would rather it were you going to Hell than the people you love.”

“I would rather NOBODY went to Hell.”

“I would rather that as well. Dean…” and Castiel fixed him with that intense stare he knew so well, “these human emotions are very compelling. I treasure your love, and what we did last night was astonishingly precious to me. But I see that I have violated your trust now, and you are angry and sad. Dean, please… I don’t know what to do.”

“Just take me to my brother. Please.” Dean begged. All the fight left him, and he cursed himself for being so soft—but he needed to believe the angel. He had to.

“I am feeling regret about this situation. But if I directly disobey orders…”

“You’re going to fall, Cas.”

“Yes, I may.”

“I said you’re going to fall. Period. You’ve already fucked up by warning me. So just jump, man.” He looked at the angel hard. “You’ve already seen the writing on the wall. You can’t have me and Heaven, too. You tried it before and you saw what happened.”

“You make it sound as if disobedience is a simple choice,” Castiel said with a scowl. “It is not. It is a great and terrible matter.”

“I get that. But here’s the thing.” Dean fixed Castiel in his sights again and took the shot. “Do you love me?”

Cas blinked at him. “If I say that I do—then I am betraying God, who should own my entire devotion.”

“Do you love me, Cas?”

“I’m frightened,” Cas replied.

“That makes two of us. Do you love me?

“I fear that I do.”

Dean sighed, nodding. “Ok then. And do you want to be a member of Team Free Will?”

Castiel considered. “You and I, and Sam, and… others. Working together to protect the world.”

“That’s the ticket.”

The angel lifted his chin, appeared to steel himself. “I’m going to fix what I’ve broken, Dean. I left you at the motel this morning to check on your family myself. Now I will try to deliver them to you safely.”

“Do or do not—there is no try. That’s what…” Dean glanced back at his friend, but he was gone again. “That’s what Yoda said,” he finished with a sigh. Cas wouldn’t take him to Sam—but maybe the angel would bring Sam back to him. He’d just have to trust.

Goddamn angel.

God, I love him.

You be careful!” he hollered at the windshield.

***

It would be almost 11 hours from Milwaukee to Lebanon, Kansas; Dean stopped to study a map, then got himself headed south to pick up I-90. It would take him just over an hour to reach Rockford, Illinois; it wouldn’t take Sam and John much longer from Milwaukee. He called them and arranged to rendezvous there—his mind would rest easier if he could watch their taillights enroute to Kansas.

He popped The Song Remains the Same into the tape deck and tried to not to think for a while; his emotional rollercoaster was giving him a stomachache. Zeppelin worked until he got stuck in construction traffic. He called Sam again, and his brother assured him they were making good time. They would call him when the highways merged and pick an exit to meet at. Fine.

It was stop-and-go, stop-and-go for at least a mile, and Dean’s gut was in a knot by the time traffic flowed again. It definitely helped to move. He sighed as he accelerated again, and soon he’d passed the intersection where 43 and 90 merged. Now he could keep an eye peeled for John’s pickup.

Early afternoon, nowhere near rush hour, and suddenly there were brake lights again. He slowed to a stop. “Sonofabitch, really?” He had to be near the Illinois state line now. He craned his neck, trying to see what the issue was this time. Traffic began to creep forward and soon he could see the South Beloit exit up ahead, beyond the overpass.

Then he saw the reason for the traffic jam: a vehicle lay upside-down off the roadside up ahead, and a few cars had pulled over. Everyone else was rubbernecking. No wonder, he thought as he approached—that’s quite a wreck. The truck looked like a pancake; it must have flipped several times, strewing parts through the grass as it went.

The truck looked like John’s.

Dean’s heart nearly stopped. He knew—he just fucking knew—it was Sam and John. He laid on his horn and muscled his way through two lanes of traffic to pull over, then bailed out of the car without closing the door and sprinted across the ditch. A small clutch of people huddled around someone lying in the weeds a good distance from the truck. Dean stumbled over and pushed a man aside to see.

John lay there on the ground, bloodied but semi-conscious.

“Dad!” he cried, dropping to his knees. “Dad, what the hell happened?”

“I’ve called 911,” a woman behind him said. “An ambulance is coming.”

A blonde woman kneeling next to him was pressing her scarf to a gash on John’s forehead.

“I dunno,” John was mumbling. “I dunno…”

“Sam… Dad, where’s Sam?”

“I dunno…”

“Someone else is still in the truck,” the blonde woman said.

Dean struggled back to his feet and saw another small group of people gathering farther away by the ruined pickup, looking grim.

He broke into a run again, déjà vu overtaking him. It was a terrible accident that nearly killed him the first time, and resulted in John selling his own soul and the Colt to save him. But this time—this time he’d been off bumping uglies with a treacherous angel, and it was Sam who would end up on his deathbed.

Or just dead, he realized, approaching the flattened truck. He felt ill. Unlike John, Sam had not been thrown free…

A man strode purposefully toward him and stopped him in his tracks, and it took him a moment to realize it was Castiel. “Dean. Don’t come closer,” he said. “Tend to your father and watch carefully for demons. Perhaps angels. I will attend to Sam.”

“Cas, but…”

“I will attend your brother. Now go.”

The angel turned back to the wreck and Dean watched him go, his entire body suddenly gone numb. Cas was right—there was nothing he could do here. He watched as the angel shooed the onlookers back, then singlehandedly rolled the truck over and tore the roof and door off. He couldn’t watch what came next. He turned and staggered back to John on shaking legs, hearing the approaching sirens.

If Cas could not help Sam… could he forgive the angel? Could he forgive himself?

The woman with the scarf was still with his father, bending low, speaking softly. John was nodding. Dean fell to his knees again and laid a hand on his dad’s shoulder, but John didn’t look at him. His eyes were fixed on the woman. Despite Dean’s numb desperation and the fact that nothing here was right, he realized in a moment or two that his spidey senses were tingling. Something was definitely wrong. John seemed to be crying, for one thing. And there was a peculiar smell he knew well—what was it again?

Sulfur.

Dean got back in the game, yanking his gun from his waistband with one hand and giving the woman a shove with the other.

“Back off!” he yelled, training the gun on her, hearing people around him gasp and move away. The woman looked up at him slowly, and Dean now saw what her long, blonde hair had been hiding. Yellow eyes.

She smiled at him coldly. “Come now, Dean. You know that’s useless. And in any case, I’m here to help.”

“Help, my ass,” Dean growled. “I said back the fuck away. You can’t have him.”

He grasped his father’s shoulder, giving him a little shake. “Dad, talk to me. Tell me you didn’t make any deals…”

“We need only seal it with a kiss, darling,” the yellow-eyed woman purred. “And you will have your precious brother back.”

An ominous shadow fell over them and Dean scrambled back, looking up—it was Cas, cradling Sam’s limp, bleeding body in his arms. Dean’s mouth dropped open. He could hear shouting nearby—police perhaps?

The woman got to her feet, snarling with rage. “You again! What the hell are you doing? We had a deal!”

“No,” Castiel said. “We did not.”

“Drop the gun!” someone shouted.

“Oh God, Sammy, no…” John moaned.

“Cas…,” Dean pled, “Cas, can’t you…”

“Drop the gun!” someone shouted again, and Dean vaguely realized they were talking to him.

“Dean. I need time. Grab hold of me and your father.”

“What?” Dean’s world had narrowed to the sight of his brother’s ruined body in Castiel’s arms, and he could barely comprehend the chaos around him, much less respond.

“Dean. Grab hold of me and your father!”

“Drop the gun!”

“You’ll regret this, angel! I’ll tear your wings from…”

John grabbed hold of Dean’s ankle, Cas crouched down, and suddenly there was a blaze of bright light, the snap of huge wings unfolding, and Dean felt himself swept up and yanked through space.

Next thing he knew, he was back in the driver’s seat of the Impala, his head spinning. “Drive!” Castiel barked in his right ear, and he obeyed, fingers scrabbling with the keys in the ignition, starting the car. He swerved into traffic without looking, horns blaring behind him.

“Drive safely!” Castiel admonished.

“I can hardly fucking see!” Dean cried.

Castiel’s fingers pressed to the side of his head, and with the icy-hot ping of grace, his vision and vertigo cleared.

Next to Dean in the passenger seat, John groaned loudly. “What the fuck is happening? Holy Christ…”

Castiel’s hand landed on John’s shoulder. “Breathe,” the angel instructed, and John groaned again. “Oh… oh fuck…”

“Dad, you ok?” Dean asked, daring a glance over as he accelerated.

“Holy fucking shit…”

Castiel next slammed his palm onto the ceiling of the car; Dean glanced up and saw a sigil burning itself into the upholstery there.

“That will buy us some time,” the angel said. Sirens began to blare behind them. “As will this.”

Again with the blinding light, and Dean felt as though he were suddenly being sucked through a portal and sifted through a window screen. Then he was driving again, in heavy traffic, passing a sign that said “Davenport, Iowa 10 mi.” He swerved out of the right lane to avoid a slow truck, nearly merging into a little Honda. He could hardly catch his breath.

It was like coming out of hyperdrive into an asteroid storm.

“Shit! Cas!” he cried, panting.

“Breathe,” Cas said again.

“Shit…. Holy crap… Iowa? Couldn’t you just zap us all the way to Lebanon?”

“I need to conserve my power, Dean. And I need your help now. Speak to your brother. Call him back from the reaper. I will do my best to heal him.”

It was a long ride across Iowa—the longest of Dean’s life. He tried his best NOT to look in the rear-view mirror at his brother’s corpse sprawled across the angel’s lap. Castiel’s head stayed bent over his work mile after mile, his hands moving over Sam’s body, pulsing light and, hopefully, life back into him. Now and then, over the traffic sounds and Baby’s rumbling, Dean could hear Cas murmuring in Enochian.

Dean prayed to his brother as hard and long as he could. Silently, in his head, a litany of I love you Sammy I need you Don’t leave me Come back Not like this Tell the Reaper NO Come on bro For fuck’s sake if you leave me here alone with Dad I’m coming up there and get you myself.

Looking over at John, he suspected his father was doing the same. Or maybe he was sleeping, ‘cause getting thrown through a windshield takes a lot out of a guy.

About an hour east of Omaha, Sam let out a loud gasp.

Dean screeched to a halt on the shoulder of I-80 and turned around in his seat. “Sam? Sam, you with us? Say something, man!”

Sam blinked up at him from Castiel’s lap, slowly raised a hand to his face. “Uuungh. For God’s sake, Dean. Do you ever stop talking?”

***

When Baby left the highway for state roads in Lincoln, it was past 10 pm, the roads nearly deserted. Dean glanced in the rearview for the thousandth time since Sam’s resurrection. Sam’s shirt was still dark with blood but his sleeping, 22-year-old face looked baby-soft and clean. Zit-free, even. Next to his brother, Cas slept as well; he’d passed out just west of Omaha. Dean guessed he’d drained his battery temporarily on Sam—which meant only one thing. Heaven had pulled the power cord.

He glanced at John, who was now staring out the windshield blearily at the dark fields of stubble passing by.

“Sam tells me you’ve got a safe house in Lebanon,” John said, feeling Dean’s eyes on him. “Whose is it?”

Dean took a deep breath. He was strung out as hell and starving to death, but still somehow exhilarated. “It’s ours, Dad. And I’m thinking it’s time we told you something.”

***

The bunker entrance rose in front of them, fortress-like in the pitch-black night. They all climbed down into the stairwell, and Dean trained his flashlight on the big, rusty iron door.

“So, this is the Men of Letters bunker,” John said.

“Pamela told Bobby the key is under a rock near the door,” Dean said. John switched a light on, too, and they all looked around. A few scattered rocks lay on the hillside above them, but…

“Hold on,” Sam said. He was training his light on the keystone in the arch over the brickwork around the door. “There’s something up there.”

“I don’t see anything.”

“Lemme get on your shoulders, Dean.”

“So you can fall and bust your head? Jesus, you just woke up from the dead couple hours ago.”

“Shut-up and squat. I’m done dying for today.”

Dean sighed and bent low so Sam could clamber onto him, and in less than a minute he had pulled the key box from its hiding place, embedded cleverly beneath the keystone.

Sam let out a whoop as he ungracefully dismounted, and Dean turned to grin at him as he opened the box and pulled out the key. “We did it,” he laughed, and wrapped his brother in a big bear hug. Dean hugged back and found himself unwilling to let go for a while.

When Dean finally pulled away, tears were streaking down his cheeks. “Shit,” he sniffled, “here I go again.” He looked at Sam, John and Castiel standing in the cold moonlight, and smiled sheepishly. “Feels like we’ve got everything now,” he said. “You know. Almost.”

“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “Almost.” And he opened the door.

Dean took Castiel’s hand and pulled him inside.

***

It might take a little while before the bunker felt just like home again, Dean figured. Everything smelled a little dusty and musty, though the air handler was rumbling away again, moving out the funky smells of fifty years of dust and decay. There was only an ancient ketchup bottle and some dried-out cream to be found in the old fridge, and they didn’t have a decent coffeemaker—just an old percolator, which would do for now when they bought some coffee. There was plenty of whiskey in the liquor cabinet, though. And the hot water was already plentiful in the bathroom and kitchen.

Dean’s awesome record collection would have to be pieced together once again, he realized—though the turntable and headphones were in the library. Where John and Sam were now.

John’s voice echoed down the hall. “This place is amazing! Look at this!”

Dean stopped in front of the door to his bedroom, a clean-ish set of sheets from the linen closet in his arms. “Here it is,” he said to Castiel, standing beside him. “This is my room. You had a room too—couple doors down.”

“What did I use it for?” Cas asked, opening the door for him.

Dean shrugged. “Storage mainly. The Netflix was in Sam’s room, ‘til I built the Dean Cave.”

Castiel frowned, obviously not understanding, but letting it go. Dean flipped the overhead light on and walked in, dropping the sheets on the bed and the duffel from his shoulder.

“Dean?”

“Yeah, bud?”

“Have I earned your love again?”

Dean turned to look at Castiel—his angel. The bad-ass celestial being who raised him from Perdition and gave his life more than once to save him, but who also let Leviathan out of Purgatory and broke the Hell wall in Sam’s head. The most courageous, selfless warrior he’d ever met, who made a great follower but a terrible leader. The dorky best friend who loved to watch Star Trek with him, drank beer just to humor him, listened to all his rambling and made him laugh without meaning to. The one he considered Jack’s true father. The one who once knew him better than he knew himself, and loved him despite his flaws. The one he loved so much it scared the shit out of him.

“You’ve earned my trust again,” he said honestly. “My love is free. You’ve always had that. No matter how bad you fucked up.”

Cas nodded, solemn.

Dean sighed. “Thank you, Cas. For saving Dad, for saving Sam. For saving me. I know… I know you’re probably on Heaven’s shit list now. I wish it didn’t have to be that way.”

He plunked himself down on the side of the bed and beckoned the angel over to sit beside him.

“I have heard my name on Angel Radio, as you call it. My superiors are displeased, to say the least.”

“If you go back, will they… you know… reprogram you?” Dean thought about the time early on when Castiel was torn from Jimmy’s body and taken back to Heaven for some sort of celestial spanking. I don’t serve you, Cas had said to him upon his return. Of course, it didn’t last, but Dean had always wondered what they’d done to the angel upstairs, and if he had suffered on Dean’s account.

“I suppose you could call it that,” Cas said, looking uncomfortable.

Dean reached over and took his hand. “Then stay with me,” he said.

***

The old mattress originally in his room had seen better days, and it was really too soft for two grown men. He and Castiel immediately sank into the middle, squished together. But that wasn’t so bad. He would be warm while they waited for the old radiators to crank up.

He pulled the blankets up to their chins and threw an arm and a leg over Cas, snuggling up, and Cas wrapped an arm around him. He sighed contentedly. What the hell had he been thinking before, not to do this every night?

The small desk lamp cast a ring of light on the ceiling, and another on the desk, and barely illuminated the bare walls and the dusty 1940s furniture with a soft glow. Cas had never looked more handsome, Dean thought, pulling back a bit to study his face. Castiel smiled softly at him, his blue eyes shining with warmth.

Dean lifted a hand to caress that face. Jimmy’s face, dammit. He wished he could stop thinking about that—but Sam was right, for fuck’s sake. Could they really be happy here together when they were fucking up someone else’s life because of it? Did he really want to talk about it tonight, as exhausting as the day had been? He tucked his head back under Castiel’s chin and sighed. It was gonna keep him up if he didn’t.

“Cas, what does Jimmy think about all this? What are we gonna do about him?” Dean murmured.

“Do?”

“You once said one of your biggest regrets was what happened to Jimmy and his family. His daughter, Claire, and… and his wife. Amelia.”

Cas ran a hand through Dean’s hair, silent for a few moments. “You are tired now, Dean,” he finally said. “Perhaps we should discuss it tomorrow.”

“I’m too wired to sleep. Maybe I don’t wanna know but… what does Jimmy think about us being here like this? About what we did yesterday? I mean if it were me…” It suddenly occurred to Dean how he’d feel if it were him, and he wished it hadn’t.

Cas’ fingers on his scalp moved in soothing circles. “Perhaps you’d be surprised to know that Jimmy rather enjoys our physical contact.”

“He does?”

“Yes. Jimmy finds you attractive, Dean. In his daily life, he’d never admit to an attraction to other men—but he does feel it, on occasion. Our sexual intimacy was a new experience for him, and one I believe he’d like to repeat. His desire plays a part in my bodily response to you.”

Dean snorted, amazed at this revelation. It seemed to open a door to new possibilities. “Whaddaya know… So… what if you guys did a sort of time-share with his body? I mean, what if he got to go on shore leave and be with his family for a while, then you could borrow him back? Maybe, uh… maybe he’d like that. Y’know, live out his gay fantasies with me on weekends or something? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and all that.” Not that that wasn’t kinda creepy, but…

“I will speak to him about it,” Castiel promised. “And what would I do while not envesseled?”

“I dunno,” Dean smiled. “Help us get a jump on some jobs? Hang out like the Invisible Man and watch me beat off?”

“Both of those ideas have appeal.”

“Mmm. You know what else has appeal?” Dean said with a yawn.

“What?”

“Sleeping for about 15 hours.”

He felt Castiel kiss the top of his head. “Sleep then, Dean. I’ll watch over you.”

“You gonna stay?”

“Yes. For now, I’ll stay.”

Dean hummed happily, closing his eyes and drifting a bit. Castiel’s fingers ghosted down his arm.

“Love you, Cas,” he mumbled.

“That makes me very happy. I love you, too.”

“D’you think you’ll ever love me again as much as you did… y’know, before?” Dean blurted, surprising himself.

“You mean the way I will in our future?” Cas pulled back a little and Dean felt a finger beneath his chin, lifting his face to meet the angel’s. Castiel bent to kiss his mouth, lips tender and soft, then gave him a look that seemed meant for his soul. “In my timeless existence,” he purred, and Dean could feel the angel’s voice vibrate down to his bones, “I already do.”

***

Finding a ritual to summon Azazel did not take long, given Sam’s familiarity with the library, and the Men of Letters kept a well-stocked apothecary, which included the Oil of Abramelin and dried acacia flowers they would need. There was also a supply of white tablecloths for drawing sigils, black candles and quartz crystals.

Sam lugged it all to one of the library tables and began to set up.

“Dude, are we doing this now?” Dean said, finishing a cup of coffee as he leaned in the doorway. “We’ve only been here, like, 36 hours.”

“No time like the present!” John said with false cheerfulness, hauling in the massive doorstop of a grimoire containing the ritual.

“We’re just laying it all out,” Sam said, “make sure we’ve got everything.”

John heaved the book onto the table. “Whew! I gotta say, if something ain’t here, we probably don’t need it. These old guys knew their stuff. And organized the hell out of it. I’m impressed.”

He dusted his hands off on his pants and looked at his sons. “Gotta say I’m impressed with you two, as well. Still having a little trouble with the time jump thing, cause you… you look like the boys I just left a month ago. But what you’ve got here… what you can do… the men you’ve become… Jesus, it makes me proud.”

Dean nearly did a spit-take, but managed to swallow his mouthful of coffee, only spilling a little of it on the dead-guy robe. He was still amazed with how easily John had accepted their Back to the Future story—now hearing two “I’m proud of you” speeches in a week took the cake.

Sam smiled. “Thanks, Dad.”

Now just one more thing for John to accept, Dean thought, hearing Cas approach behind him. He reached out and pinched Castiel’s ass as the angel passed, carrying the bowl he’d selected and cleaned for the ritual. Without the trench coat to cover it up, Dean was appreciating Castiel’s tight ass more and more these days.

Cas stopped in his tracks and turned to Dean with a frown. “Why did you do that?”

Dean bit back a smile. “’Cause it was walkin’ by and lookin’ good,” he replied. That earned him an eyebrow lift, which made his dick chub a little. Surprising, considering the number of orgasms he’d had last night.

Sam cleared his throat, and Cas made his way to the table with the silver bowl and handed it to him. Sam took it with a wistful little smile and sent a look Dean’s way. Dean smiled back, knowing that Sam—nerdy warlock that he was—was feeling sentimental over how many times they’d used that very bowl, and probably thinking of Rowena, who’d appreciated its workmanship as well and may have used it last. Hell, maybe they’d look the witch up one day, Dean thought. Have her and her son over for dinner.

“Ok, so I’ve got one question,” Sam said, looking everything over. “Is the Sigil of Azazel really the same as the Sigil of Saturn? Or is there some small detail I’m overlooking?”

Everyone began to discuss and books came back out, but Dean wandered back down the hall to find some clean clothes, because ganking a Prince of Hell was best not done in crusty undies. He stopped at the laundry basket sitting in the hall, full of clean-but-wrinkled clothes that no one had folded, and pulled out a pair of briefs. A small piece of paper landed on the floor, and he bent to pick it up and unfold it. Somehow, the writing had survived the wash.

It said, “Eileen, 834-922-7370.”

When he handed it to Sam a half-hour later in the kitchen, his brother stood blinking at it for a minute. “Now… now I remember,” he finally said. “Bobby called me on the drive here, before the accident. I’d asked him earlier if he knew how to find Eileen, and he said he’d put the word out. He found her number.” He looked up at Dean, smiling now. “He gave it to me in the car, and Dad wrote it down. Where’d you find it?”

“Musta fallen out of your jeans in the wash.” The jeans he almost tossed in the incinerator, they were so bloody, but they were Sam’s favorites. So he scrubbed them before he washed them. Then spent two hours scrubbing Baby’s back seat, too.

“I’m gonna call her. First, we’re gonna smoke Azazel, then I’m gonna call her to celebrate.” Sam waved the little slip of paper in the air, and it warmed Dean’s heart to see him grinning ear-to-ear. “It’s gonna be a good day.”

***

“Daemon, esto subjecto voluntati meae!” Sam ended the incantation with a flourish, as John tossed a match into the bowl, setting the contents on fire. Dean stood by with the Colt, Cas with his blade, and they all waited with bated breath.

No demon appeared.

A knocking on the outside door echoed through the war room.

They all looked at each other, blinking. Dean turned to Cas. “Was the warding that good? He has to knock?”

“I don’t understand,” Castiel said, frowning.

Dean jerked his head at Sam, and the two of them mounted the steps to the door, followed by Cas. Dean stood on tiptoe to look out the high peephole, which seemed to have been installed to see Frankenstein. “We need security cameras,” Dean grumbled, unable to spot anything.

Dean held the Colt at the ready, and Sam flung open the door.

The Archangel Gabriel stood there smirking, holding a plastic bag in one hand.

“Boy, you guys did a good job on the warding, but I heard you were a little shy on ingredients.”

Dean scowled, not lowering his gun—though a fat lot of good it would do him against an archangel. “Ingredients for what—cupcakes?”

“For your summoning, knucklehead. How’s it going?” Gabriel strolled in casually; nobody really tried to stop him. He passed by Castiel on his way down the stairs. “You know you’re right, Cas—he is pretty hot for a human,” he said with a head toss at Dean, “but there’s not much going on upstairs, I’m afraid.”

Dean slammed the door and followed Sam back down the steps; they finally caught up with the archangel standing over the bowl of scorched ingredients on the library table. Dean could feel the tension radiating off of Sam, but Cas seemed completely relaxed. Which could be good or very bad. What the hell was happening here? Was Cas about to sell them out again?

“What’s going on?” Sam said, tight-lipped. “Are you here to stop us or to help us?”

“Oh, I’m here to help,” Gabriel said. “When Cas here told me what he was about to do—well, I knew he was either brave or crazy. But given what else he told me… I decided I wanted in.”

Dean threw Castiel a glare. What the hell had he told the archangel? And why would he take that chance?

“Listen,” Gabriel said. “You lot are obviously not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, but I like your style. And I’d like to be on the winning team.”

“So, Cas told you about us? That we stopped the apocalypse and went up against God and got sent back in time?” Sam said, getting straight to the point. “Did he also tell you that you helped us?”

“All of the above,” Gabriel replied. “Shit’s going sideways upstairs right now, guys—and I didn’t know how far sideways until they set Azazel loose again. I gotta say that pissed me off. This whole apocalypse thing makes me itchy. I thought I just wanted it over with—but now that I know what the options are, I don’t want it at all. So yeah—I’m here to help. And you’re gonna need it.”

Castiel approached Dean, laid a hand on his shoulder. “You can trust him, Dean. And you can trust me.”

Dean met his eyes. “Do I have a choice?”

Castiel’s gaze begged him to understand. “We need him,” the angel said softly.

Dean sighed, nodded. Cas was right of course. This could make all the difference.

“What’s in the bag?” John asked, daring to step closer.

“Oh, these?” Gabriel looked at the bag, holding it up. “Fresh acacia flowers. Much more potent than dried.”

“I told you it said fresh,” Castiel said to Dean, “but you wouldn’t let me out to get any.”

“Guessing he kept you busy,” Gabriel said with a lascivious wink. He opened the bag and dumped a handful of the blossoms into the bowl, added the oil again, followed by the various herbs in the recipe, then relit the candles with a snap of his fingers.

“This circus just keeps getting better,” John muttered.

“Glad you think so,” Gabriel said. “So, if you clowns are ready now,” and he stepped back, waving his hand at Sam. “Ringmaster—once again from the top. Take it away.”

 

Epilogue—Nights in White Satin

Dean had seen Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome seventeen times, so he was more interested in groping Cas under the fuzzy throw blanket than he was in the onscreen action. Cas was not easily distracted, however—even by Dean’s hand in his pants.

But Sam was. “Really, guys?” he muttered, making to get up from the recliner.

“Hey, you wanna get us some popcorn?” Dean asked.

Cas snapped to attention. “I’ll make it,” he offered and jumped up, his pants undone. Sam made a choking sound, and the angel looked down at himself and frowned. “Dean…”

Dean shrugged, pausing the movie. “Sorry, buddy. You need to pay more attention.”

Cas zipped his fly with a sigh and off he went.

“He loves using the new popcorn maker,” Dean told Sam. “Says he likes the noise it makes. It’s really fuckin’ cute.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Speaking of noise… listen, Dean, you know I’m ok with whatever you two have going on—however Rocky Horror you wanna be—but do you really have to be so loud about it?”

“We’re loud?” Dean said innocently.

“Dude, the hallway sex last night—you know that’s why Dad left this morning. It was kind of the last straw.”

Dean snorted. “Dad said he left cause he’s a rebel. A loner. Like Pee-wee Herman.”

“True as that may be, you know it’s not why he left. He told me he was coming to terms with the ‘gay angel thing,’ but you—”

“He’s a lot happier off hunting Large Marge by himself, and you know it,” Dean interrupted. “He’ll call if he needs us.”

“You did it on purpose, didn’t you?” Sam said, finally catching on.

Dean smirked. “Don’t tell me you didn’t think Dad was gettin’ a little too comfortable here,” he said. “I love the guy but I don’t wanna live with him. Dude was harshing my mellow.”

“Your mellow…?”

Eileen strolled in, carrying a bowl of popcorn. “I finally finished,” she announced. “We can place the order tonight.”

Sam smiled up at her. “Hey, that’s great. Come sit.” He patted his lap, and she perched on his knee and fed him a popped kernel or two.

“So now that he’s gone, is it gonna be safe to walk the halls again at night?” Sam continued to Dean. “’Cause if I catch you in the kitchen again with your pants down… y’know, mellowing out…”

“Meatman,” Dean mouthed, taunting.

Sam pulled a grimace of disgust. “Dude, you’re nasty. It’s the kitchen.”

Eileen turned to look at Dean, biting back a smirk.

Dean grinned. “You don’t mind, do you Eileen?” he said.

“Mind what, exactly?” Eileen asked. “I walked in late on this conversation.”

Sam eye-rolled again, and Eileen looked back at him, watching his lips. “Mind that Dean and Cas are bonking loudly all over the bunker.”

Eileen chuckled. “I thought I felt the wall shaking last night.”

Castiel appeared in the Dean Cave doorway with a beer for Dean. “Was there an earthquake?” he asked.

Dean leered and winked at him. “You know there was.”

“Ugh,” Sam said. “I’ve had about enough. Is it bedtime?”

“Yeah,” Eileen replied. “Maybe we should go shake some walls.” They stood up, grinning at each other, and Dean watched them leave the room hand in hand.

Cas settled back down beside Dean, handing him the opened bottle. “Sam and Eileen seem to be happy together. She’s been here many nights this past month,” the angel observed.

“Yeah, pretty cool, huh?”

“This morning, I overheard Sam telling her about Jack.”

Dean sighed, took a swig of his brew so he had a moment to think. Jack was a subject he’d been avoiding; there were too many memories and emotions he still couldn’t face just yet. Including the memory of Castiel’s love for the boy. And Sam’s. And the shit he’d said and done to the poor kid, especially after Mary’s death.

And where was Jack now? Had he saved the world—or not?

“There were times it was good having Jack around,” Dean finally replied, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. “And times shit went south. Which wasn’t his fault, I guess—he was the son of Satan. And basically, a toddler with superpowers.” He looked over at Cas, seeing the open curiosity in his face. “You were real good with him, though. A good dad. Sam, too.”

And it hurt a little when Cas said, “That won’t happen again—if we succeed at keeping Lucifer in Hell.”

Dean nodded, and they both fell silent for a moment, considering.

“Speaking of Hell… you really think the Angels are gonna cut another Prince of Hell loose, now that we’ve ganked Azazel?” Dean asked, managing to change the subject a bit.

“It’s entirely possible—Gabriel is trying to find out. It’s also possible that they will find another way to release Lilith, without obtaining the Colt and opening the Devil’s Gate.” Castiel shook his head, lips pursed in disgust. “Angels and demons colluding—I never thought I’d see that day.”

Dean chuckled at the irony, and then an idea struck him. “Hey! So, your good buddy Crowley—” he began, sitting up straighter.

Cas raised an eyebrow. “Your ‘good buddy Crowley,’ it would seem.”

Our good buddy Crowley is just another smarmy crossroads demon right now, but he’s got big aspirations. And he’s never been a fan of Lucifer. If we could get to him and maybe work a deal, he could be our man on the inside.”

Castiel regarded him for a moment or two, not seeming to share his excitement.

“Inside Hell, I mean.”

“I know what you mean.”

“Dude, it’s brilliant,” Dean said. “You’ll see.”

“We’ll discuss it with Sam in the morning,” Castiel said, in a tone Dean’s father used to use with him—before he caved.

Dean smirked. “Fair enough.”

Cas picked up the remote. “Shall we finish the movie?”

“That’s up to you. I’ve got some other ideas though,” Dean said, leaning back on the couch with a sly grin and an eyebrow wiggle.

“What ideas?”

Dean set his beer on a TV tray and got comfy again amongst the sofa cushions, pulling the angel close with an arm around his shoulders. Leaning in, he brushed his lips over Castiel’s jaw; the angel turned and opened up to him, and he settled in for a long, slow, open-mouthed kiss.

“Mmm. I liked that idea,” Castiel murmured as Dean’s lips retreated.

“So, here’s another one,” Dean said, fingering the opening at the top of Cas’ shirt and watching the angel’s lush, wet mouth. “How ‘bout you suck my dick? Y’know, slow and deep, the way we like it. And do that… that thing you do that makes me lose my shit.”

Cas’ eyes grew dark, Jack and Lucifer and Crowley forgotten for the moment. “I’d be delighted to, Dean,” he murmured. “You know I enjoy fellating you.”

“And then… then you can fuck me real good,” Dean added, feeling the angel’s hand slide down his ribcage to his hip, “however you want, ‘cause I’ll be your fuckin’ slave at that point.”

“Alright. Where?”

“In the ass.”

“No, I… I mean yes, but… where would you like the fucking to commence? Or the fellatio, for that matter?”

“In my bed. Our bed. Heck, we’ll let Sam get some sleep tonight,” Dean said.

Castiel smiled wryly and stood up, extending his hand to help Dean off the sofa. “I don’t think sleep will be anyone’s priority tonight.”

***

That night, Dean had a dream. Perhaps it was just a dream, or possibly it was a vision—but in the end, it really didn’t matter.

He was standing in the War Room when Jack came down the stairs, all smiles, radiant as Miss America.

“Dean! I’m so glad I found you!”

“Hey! Jack!” Dean laughed out loud, truly happy to see the boy, and they embraced. “So you’re good? You’re ok? Did you beat Chuck?”

“Chuck is human now. I am… the new Chuck.” Jack smiled beatifically.

“Awesome! That’s… that’s really awesome.”

“I have restored the Earth and all its creatures, and Cas and I are renovating Heaven. I think you’ll really like it.”

“Cas? Cas is in Heaven?” Dean felt a deep sense of relief wash over him. A peace, finally, that he’d been sorely missing. Cas was safe and sound—not languishing in The Empty.

“Yes, I brought him back. And now that I’ve found you, I can bring you back, too. You and Sam. Would you like to come back to the year 2020?”

The question hit him like a 2x4; Dean didn’t know how to answer. Some part of him had always assumed that there was a way back—but neither he nor Sam had spoken in weeks about finding it. Did he even want to go back now?

He thought about Cas, spooning him bare-assed now in his bed. Could he leave this Cas for the one who’d left him? Could he even see that Cas again on Earth?

Jack seemed to read his mind. “You’ll live out the rest of your life on Earth, then join Castiel and me in Heaven,” he said.

“Cas, is he… is he happy up there?

“Yes. He waits for you.”

Dean felt torn in two. How could he possibly choose? But he knew that this world—the past world—still needed him. And this Cas needed him, too. This Cas and that Cas were really the same, but this Cas was warm and present and lying naked in his bed, waiting for him to wake up in the morning. This Cas had just given up everything to be with him, and would see him through, once again, to the end. Whomever’s end it might be.

“Thanks, man,” he told Jack, “but I’m going to stay.”

Jack’s smile didn’t waver. “I thought you might. Sam said the same.”

Then Dean realized… “But wait… if we do things right this time… if we really stop the apocalypse, and Lucifer stays put in the cage… what about you? Will you still be in Heaven? Will you even exist?”

Jack held up a hand. “I’m God. God will always exist.”

And in the weird way of dreams, Jack’s words made sense.

“One last thing,” Dean said. “Tell Cas something for me, please. Tell him I love him. Tell him I can’t wait to be with him again someday. Tell him… tell him he never really left me.”

***

When Dean awoke, Castiel held him tighter, as if he sensed what had transpired in the hunter’s dreams.

“Not goin’ back,” Dean murmured against the angel’s shoulder. “I mean… forward.”

Going back to the past felt like going forward now. It was a blessing after all. They had the chance to fix their mistakes, yes, and Dean now realized that his biggest mistake had been fearing love. Pain was going to come no matter what; enjoying love was the best thing in life.   

 Just feeling it, Cas had said to him the day he died. Just saying it.

Dean felt it, that was for sure.

“I love you,” Castiel said to him quietly.

“Love you more, angel babe,” Dean replied, and there in the darkness, Cas smiled and kissed him.

END