Title: Looking in the Wrong World
Pairing: Dean Winchester/Castiel
Warning/Spoilers: Triggers: Suicidal Thoughts, Suicide Attempt, Self-Harm, Depression
Word Count: 33,000
Summary: For six months Dean has thought Castiel was killed by the Leviathan, but a little girl with an artistic bent insists Castiel is alive and can be saved. Dean doesn’t know how to save someone without a monster to fight, but Castiel is in need of rescue nonetheless.
Notes: Written for the Supernatural Reverse Big Bang. Art by nanyakanya. You can view the masterpost here.
Thank you to Skidmo for beta.
From Orpheus and Eurydice, A Lyric Sequence by Gregory Orr
“The Entrance to the Underworld”
A common enough mistake:
looking in the wrong place.
It’s not a fissure
in the earth, or crack
in a cliff face
that leads sharply down.
You were looking in the wrong
world. It was inside
you — entrance
to that cavern
deeper than hell,
more dark and lonely.
Didn’t you feel it open
at her first touch?
Bobby got wind of a haunting in Seattle that needed to be taken care of, and since he was still rebuilding his house he called Sam and Dean. “I’m laying floors,” he said. “Floorboards wait for no man.” He handed over what information he had, so Dean and Sam headed west to hunt the ghost of the Mary Margaret Sutherland School for Girls.
Jobs were rarely simple anymore since the thwarted Apocalypse, so something as basic as a haunted school — identify the ghost, or in this case ghosts, find the graves, salt and burn the bones — was a relief, even if they were exhausted afterward. “Motel,” said Sam, and Dean didn’t suggest stopping at a liquor store first.
Proof of two things, Sam was pleased to see: that Dean was taking Sam’s ultimatum about his drinking seriously, and that Dean wasn’t just going through the motions on the job anymore. It had been tough since Castiel died, and it took Sam a long time to figure out exactly what the problem was. Dean had never been able to talk about his emotions much, not until he was good and ready, so Sam tried to read the signs and only bring it up when Dean seemed ready. Most of the time, though, he was wrong.
So he watched the trench coat instead. It was the best emotional barometer for Dean that he had. If it was folded and tucked away in the trunk or in Dean’s duffel bag, Dean was doing okay. If it was crumpled in Dean’s bed or in the front seat, it had been a rough night and would likely be a rougher day. And if Sam didn’t see the coat at all, he figured it was folded tight and stuffed inside Dean’s jacket. On days when Dean needed that kind of comfort, Sam tried to keep them off the job entirely. Those were days for laundry or washing and tuning up the Impala or even driving to catch a Monsters of Rock festival.
Last time he’d seen the coat, it was folded in the duffel bag, so he wasn’t abnormally worried about Dean. And Seattle was gorgeous in the spring — the sun was coming up as they drove to a motel, making Mount Rainer look like something out of a painting against the pink and gold light in the early morning sky. “It might be worth staying a day or two,” Sam said. “We could see if there are any other jobs around. It’s a big city.”
“Not for too long,” Dean said. “The Leviathan know how to find us too easily. But yeah, a day or two might be nice.”
They found a little place in the west side of the city, newly renovated given the strong smell of paint, and they cleaned their wounds and fell into their separate beds. Sam was asleep fast and deep in seconds, and woke abruptly a few hours later when someone drove down the street outside honking like it was the last day of school. “What the hell?” he muttered as he sat up and rubbed his eyes.
“Just some douchebag,” Dean said. “Go back to sleep.”
Sam rubbed his eyes again and looked over at Dean. He’d stripped down to his T-shirt and shorts like he actually intended to sleep, but he was sitting up, legs crossed under the bedding, and tan fabric was bunched in his lap like he was a kid cuddling a blankie.
Bad night, then.
“Did you sleep at all?” Sam said.
“Some. I’m kind of hungry. Do you think they have a Biggersons out here?”
“I saw a sign for one,” Sam said and stumbled into the bathroom to take a leak and splash some water on his face. Cheesecake pancakes and bacon sounded pretty good to him, too, and since he was awake anyway and still had grave dirt under his fingernails, he turned on the shower.
When he was done and cracked open the door to let the steam out, he stopped at the sound of Dean’s voice saying quietly, “I think Sam’s hanging on okay but I’m still worried. If he’s still seeing Lucifer, d’ya think he’d tell me? I don’t think so either. I know he doesn’t want me to worry, but I worry even more when he doesn’t tell me anything.”
Sam stood perfectly still. He could see something through the opened door —just a crumple of tan fabric, and a finger moving slowly and repeatedly over a crease. It reminded him of Jess, oddly enough, of those nights when he couldn’t sleep and she’d play with his hair even though she was barely awake.
“He did good with those ghosts, though. Fuckin’ insane asylums, man, they’re so sad. If you were there you could just wave a finger and send them all on their way, right? Still, you read about what they went through and you still want to make it better somehow, even when they’re coming after you …” Dean’s voice trailed off. Sam held his breath. Dean muttered, “Just really miss you, man,” and turned over.
Sam swallowed, and then eased the door closed again. He threw it open and came out in his jeans, the towel thrown over his shoulder. Dean was still in bed, the trench coat nowhere in sight. “Your turn,” Sam said and zipped open his backpack. “When you’re ready let’s go eat. I’m starved.”
“Obviously,” Dean said. “You’re nothing but skin and bones.” He got out of bed and went into the bathroom.
Sam called through the door, “I’m putting together a laundry bag,” and when Dean didn’t answer except to turn on the water, opened Dean’s bag. The trench coat was stuffed on top. Sam swallowed and took it out, folded it carefully and put it aside so he could get to Dean’s clothes.
Dean had never really prayed until Castiel came along, and it was the best and simplest way to communicate with Cas after he gave up his cell phone. What use did he have, really, of a cell phone in Heaven? It made complete sense, until you realized it also meant he didn’t intend to stay in touch with his human friends. But that was another matter, a heartbreaking one, and Sam couldn’t think about how badly they’d lost Cas without feeling the grief of it all over again.
He didn’t know if he could call it praying now, really. It was just talking to a coat. There was no Castiel to hear him, and not many angels left, as far as they knew.
Sam glanced over his shoulder, expecting to see Lucifer perusing one of their books, but there was nothing to see but their belongings strewn around and print of Mt. Rainer over the mournfully beige wallpaper. Good. Sam took a deep breath and piled Dean’s clothes into their laundry bag.
Dean was much slower in the shower than Sam had been. He felt sluggish and weary most of the time now, which he figured was equal parts detox and exhaustion. Sleep was as elusive as it had ever been, and now there was no whiskey to help ease him into it. The nightmares didn’t stop even when the drinking did, not that the drinking had helped ever, really.
There were just too many faces. Amy and Jo and Ellen and Dad — even their cousin Christian, who’d been a dick but still hadn’t deserved to be possessed by a demon for months — and always Cas, every time, Cas.
The weird part was, as guilty as he felt about Cas, he couldn’t stop missing him, either. The whiskey didn’t help the nightmares but the stupid coat did, holding it and burying his face in it (even though whatever scent Castiel might have left with it was long gone due to blood and water and time — he could imagine the scent was still there, like the clean, cool air at a mountain top) and talking to it.
The first time he felt weird and self-conscious, but he missed Castiel so fucking much and all he had was a fucking coat, the stupid fucking coat that had been bled on and stabbed and shot and torn and always made whole again, even if Castiel never quite got the collar to lay flat. Dean couldn’t imagine Castiel without it or it without Castiel, but that’s what he had, memorial and grave marker and photo album and death mask, all he had left to remember Cas by.
So he held to the coat and talked to Castiel. He didn’t think of it as praying.
Somebody out there did.
Dean wasn’t hungry, not even for cheesecake pancakes, but if Sam wanted pancakes he would get pancakes. Dean figured it was the least he could do, considering Sam hadn’t mentioned seeing Lucifer for a whole week now. Sam rarely mentioned seeing Lucifer at all, but there was a certain flicker in his eyes that Dean knew meant he was seeing things that weren’t there. He hadn’t seen that flicker for days, and was grateful. Finally, something going fucking right, not that he mentioned it to Sam. He was afraid, in a superstitious sort of way, that if he mentioned it Lucifer would pop back in to torment Sam some more.
There was nothing dark in Sam’s eyes right now, only happiness at the clear, bright weather and the peaceful drive through a great city and the prospect of delicious food at the end. For that, Dean would eat plates of cheesecake pancakes and top it off with pie. The sacrifices he made for his brother, God.
The hostess at Biggersons greeted them with a practiced smile and led them to a booth. She handed them the menus, brightly-colored and bound in plastic, but Sam put his aside without bothering to look. “I’d like the cheesecake pancakes,” he said. “The ones that come with raspberry syrup. You still have them, right?”
“Oh, absolutely. They’re a staple. And you, sir?” she said to Dean.
“Just coffee to start, thanks.” He opened the menu. It was printed with big pictures of burgers and omelets and tall glasses of Coke, icy and dotted with condensation. It should have sparked his appetite, but it didn’t. Lately, nothing did. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt honestly hungry — not just in need of nourishment, but craving something, wanting it so badly he could taste it even before he put it in his mouth. He shut the menu and shoved it aside, and ignored the compassionate look Sam gave him in response.
There was a woman and a little red-haired girl having breakfast in the next booth. The girl had watched them walk past, and now said to her mother, “Mommy, I need to draw.”
“We’re eating now, honey. You can draw when we get home.”
“Mommy,” she said urgently, “I need to draw!”
“Okay, honey,” her mother said with a sigh. “Since you need it so badly.” The waitress came to pour coffee, and the girl’s mother said, “Can my daughter have crayons and another children’s menu?”
“Of course,” the waitress said, and left to get them.
Dean leaned back in the booth to drink his coffee and let his attention wander to the other patrons enjoying a late breakfast — more families, mostly, moms and dads with two or three children, a young couple with a baby who blew bubbles on his lips and laughed whenever his mother smiled at him, a few elderly couples who ate in silence, one with their hands clasped over the table top.
The waitress came back with the crayons and menu, and the little girl seized them and began to frantically draw. “Maggie, what do we say?” her mother said, and the girl barely looked up to say, “Thank you,” far more absorbed in her drawing.
Dean looked away, missing Ben — missing that feeling of being a father, of looking after someone, of keeping their innocence safe for another day.
The waitress came with Sam’s pancakes, and said to Dean, “Have you made up your mind, sir?”
“I think I’ll just stick to coffee,” he said, and when Sam got that resigned look back in his eyes Dean scowled at him.
A piece of paper was abruptly shoved into his face from the next booth. The little girl had finished her drawing and it was now in her hand, in his face, while she stared at him with expectant brown eyes.
“Um,” Dean said.
Sam frowned at Dean and then looked over his shoulder. He smiled his big, harmless smile. “Hi, there.”
“You have to save him,” the girl said and waved the paper at Dean.
They both stared at her, dumbfounded, and her mom put an arm around her. “Don’t bother the nice men, Maggie. Finish your breakfast.”
“They have to know,” the girl insisted. “The angels said—”
“Maggie!” Her mother gave them a What can you do? smile.
Dean took the paper. Over the maze and word find and crossword puzzle, the girl had drawn a thick, dark circle in black and purple, and at the center of the circle was a tiny white figure with black hair and blue eyes and a blue, triangle-shaped tie.
Dean swallowed hard. “Where did you — how did you —”
“The angels showed me,” the girl said.
“Maggie, that’s enough,” her mother said. “I’m really sorry. She has such a vivid imagination.”
“It’s okay,” Dean said. “Maggie — your name’s Maggie, right? I’m Dean. This is my brother, Sam.”
“I know,” the girl said impatiently. “And this is Cas.” She leaned over the back of the booth to tap on the paper. “You have to save him.”
Dean and Sam both stared at her. “Sweetheart,” Dean said when he found his voice, “I’m sorry, he’s — he died. He can’t be saved.”
“Yes, he can,” she said, with all the confidence of a child who believes grown-ups can fix everything. “But you have to hurry before the bad place gets him.”
“Maggie,” whispered her mother and the look she gave Dean was frightened and helpless, as if her daughter was fleeing from her grasp. “Please.”
“Save him,” the girl said to Dean. “You can save him.”
“I — I — sweetheart —”
“That’s enough,” her mother decided and dragged Maggie out of the booth. “I’m so sorry,” she said to Dean and Sam, dropped a few bills on the table and hustled her daughter out.
Dean said, “What just happened?” and looked down at the drawing again, at the tiny little figure in the midst of all that dark.
“Do you believe her?” Sam said softly.
“She’s just a kid,” Dean said, and Sam shrugged that off.
“And how would just a kid know about Cas?” He leaned forward. “She mentioned angels.”
“Like we need those dicks interfering in our lives again,” Dean muttered. “Let it go, Sam.”
Sam looked at him with that compassionate expression again. “You don’t feel any hope at all.”
“Sam, come on.” Dean leaned forward too. “God’s not interested, the angels are gone — and they never cared much about us anyway. All they ever wanted was to use us. Why would they want to help us now? Especially with Cas. They turned their backs on him. If he’s —” He stopped, his throat heavy, and cleared it roughly. “If he’s trapped in Hell or Purgatory, why would they tell us? Wouldn’t they want him there? If they’re not the ones who sent him there to begin with.”
Sam took the drawing and studied it. “But we can’t just leave him there, wherever he is.”
“And how would we save him, anyway? We can’t just knock on the door of some supernatural realm and expect them to let us in.” Sam bit his lip and looked at Dean hopefully. Dean said, “Don’t tell me you’re buying this!”
“It’s worth investigating. If he’s not dead and we have a real lead —”
Dean waved the drawing. “A kid’s picture!”
“Chuck wrote pulp fiction. That didn’t make him any less of a prophet.” Dean sighed heavily, and Sam said, “We’ve put our faith in kids’ drawings before. Kids see things. We know that. Maybe this kid has seen something, maybe she was shown something, and we owe it to Cas to at least look into it.” He added, when Dean didn’t speak, “I know you miss him.”
Dean looked out the window, his jaw clenching, You don’t know shit on the tip of his tongue. How could he — how could Sam know what it was like to miss someone who was closer than a brother, sweeter than a savior and warmer than a friend?
He said, “Okay, suppose we did look into it. Where would we start?”
Sam swallowed the last bites of his pancakes. “Maggie.”
“Right,” Dean said, “because two grown men asking about a little girl isn’t totally pedo.”
“It’s not like other angels are going to come if we call.” He drained his coffee cup. “I’m not even sure there are any other angels left.”
“Guess we could try to find her.” Dean sighed. “Guess we need to find a Laundromat, and then track down the prophet.” His fist curled in his lap, and even though having hope always let him down in the end, hope fluttered in his chest nonetheless.
The motel they had checked into had a paved but unpainted parking lot, a drained swimming pool and a tiny playground with two swings and a fort to climb and swing from and slide down. Sam wasn’t at all surprised to see Maggie on the tire swing, going around and around as she tilted back her head. Her mother sat on the slide, a paperback book in her hands but her eyes on Maggie.
Dean parked in front of their room and looked back at the playground. Sam said, “That makes it a lot easier, doesn’t it?” and got out, and Maggie’s mother frowned at the sight of him. “Hey,” he said as he walked to the playground. “Sam. From the restaurant.”
“I remember.” She closed the book. “She insisted we stop here. I guess now I know why.”
Sam leaned against the fort, then stood up again when it creaked under his weight. “I’m glad you did.”
“We’ll see if that lasts. I’m Chelsea.” She was maybe thirty, with Maggie’s big brown eyes and a heart-shaped face, and a look of weariness that said she’d been worrying far too long and didn’t know when it would end. “And you remember Maggie.”
“Hi, Chelsea,” Sam said gently. “Sam Winchester.” He checked for Dean, who was hanging back, that look of not daring to hope still on his face. “And Dean.”
“Hey,” Dean said as he approached.
“You really had a friend who died?” she said, looking up at them. “She was right about that?”
Sam nodded. “His name was Cas.”
“How did he die?”
Dean said, “He was murdered,” and Sam didn’t contradict him. It was closest to the truth.
Chelsea let out a slow, shaking breath. “That’s how it happens,” she said quietly. “She sees things, terrible things, and draws them, and then they come true. Her friends are scared of her now. My friends are scared of her.” She looked up at them again. “Her father died. She saw it before it happened and we told her, no, honey, it was just a bad dream, but then…”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said. “I really am.”
“This is the first time she’s ever said someone could be saved. What does that even mean, if he was murdered? How could he be saved?”
“I don’t know,” Sam said. “Is it okay if we talk to Maggie a little? See, my brother and I, we’ve been researching a book on the supernatural and ever since we started, well — the thing about the supernatural is, when you look for it, you tend to find it.”
“Mommy!” Maggie called and waved to her.
“I see you, honey,” Chelsea called back and waved too. She said to Sam and Dean, “You think it’s supernatural, what’s happening to her.”
“We don’t think it’s natural, anyway.”
“It makes as much sense as anything else,” Chelsea said. She exhaled, her eyes on her daughter. “You can talk to her.”
“Thank you,” Dean said and they went to the other end of the fort. Maggie stopped spinning, her sneakers dragging in the coarse sand, and blinked up at Sam.
“You’re big,” she announced, so he grinned and squatted down so they were closer to eye level.
“Is this better?”
“Yes. Will you give me a piggyback ride?”
“If it’s okay with your mom, sure.”
“Can we ask you about the picture you made?” Dean said, squatting on his heels too.
She pushed herself into a spin again. “The angels said you have to know that Castiel is in trouble but you can save him.”
“How do you know they’re angels, Maggie?” Sam said gently.
“Because they feel like angels.” She reached out her hand to brush Sam’s jacket as she spun past him.
“They feel righteous?” Dean pressed. “Like they are very good?”
She shrugged. “Yes. But not … they feel like you.” She squinted at Dean. “You’re not nice but you’re still good.”
Sam and Dean exchanged looks, and Sam thought, She has our number. Dean’s wry smile said he was thinking the same thing. “And they talk to you?”
“They whisper in my head. Joshua says he doesn’t want to scare me so he’s always quiet.” She spun. “The things he shows me scare me sometimes anyway.”
“Like the dark place our friend is in?” Sam said softly, and she stopped spinning again and looked at him. She pursed her lips and nodded. “I’m sorry,” Sam said. “I’m sorry they show you such scary things. Do you remember the first time they talked to you?”
“I heard someone say my name in the night. It sounded like my grandpa, but Grandpa lives in Portland. When I got up it was Joshua.”
“Joshua,” Sam murmured, remembering a garden and a kindly Black man with devastating news. “Does he talk to you most?”
“Yes,” said Maggie, pigtails bouncing as she nodded.
“And did he tell you why Castiel needs to be saved?”
“He got lost,” Maggie said, “and the dark place wants him. Joshua needs him and doesn’t want the dark place to get him.”
Sam didn’t have to look at Dean to see how much he didn’t like that. He didn’t like it much either. Dean said, “Did he say why he needs Castiel?”
Maggie shrugged. “Because it’s just him and the new angels. Joshua wants to start over. It’s like when the whole family gets together at Christmas. Even if we fight, we still want to be together.”
Dean caught Sam’s eye. “Maggie, can you tell us about the dark place? We have to be able to find him if we’re going to save him.”
“It’s here,” she said simply and climbed down from the tire swing. “Sam, pick me up.”
He picked her up easily and stood. She giggled with glee. “Nice view from up here, isn’t it?”
“I’m on top of the world!” She put her arms around Sam’s neck and said to Dean, “You have to go over the water, to the place with the trees. In the trees lives a man —”
“A bad man?” Dean said.
Maggie shook her head, her eyes big and earnest. “No, a very good man. As good as an angel. He knows where Castiel is but he can’t save him from the dark place. He doesn’t know how.”
“Maggie,” Dean said and scrubbed his hand through his hair. “After we find this man, how do we get into this dark place? How do we get Cas out?”
She leaned down and patted Dean’s hair. “Joshua hasn’t told me yet. Sam, will you give me a piggyback ride now?”
“Sure,” Sam said. He swung her up onto his shoulders and held her legs, and she spread out her arms and laughed with joy as he jogged around the playground.
“Look at me, Mommy!” Maggie shouted. “I’m in the sky!”
“I knew you didn’t like that,” Sam said.
They waited until they were in the Laundromat to talk about the conversation with Maggie, and Dean still didn’t like it — Joshua or vague dark places or good men in trees. “They want him back to be their butt monkey,” he muttered as he moved the batch of jeans from washer to dryer.
“It sounds to me more like Joshua needs help, if all the other angels are gone.”
“So why doesn’t he save Cas?” Dean said and dropped coins into the dryer to start it. “If he wants him back so bad.”
“Maybe he can’t. If there’s new angels like Maggie said, they’re probably just babies.” He frowned. “If angels can be babies.”
Dean leaned his head against the dryer. “This conversation makes less sense the longer it goes on,” he groaned.
“Point one,” said Sam, “we figure out who this good man is and how to get him to help us find Cas. Point two, we figure out how to get to wherever he is, get in, and get him. Point three, we figure out how to get all three of us out. We’ll worry about the rest of it later.”
“How, how, and how?” Dean responded, turning to look at him. “Maggie’s told us everything she knows, we don’t have any more leads than that picture —”
“It’s dark,” Sam said as he got the drawing out of his pocket. “That’s why I don’t think it’s Hell. Hell is more… flamey.”
Dean watched the clothes spin around in the dryer. “And red,” he muttered and rubbed his eyes, trying not to think about screams and flames and blood. Too late. Lost the goddamn game.
“And who would want Castiel?” Sam continued. “Who would find him if he got lost?”
Me, thought Dean. I’d want him. I’d want to find him. “I don’t know — it would depend on what they wanted him for.”
“Well, he’d just been God. Maybe he has some residual power? If it’s someone who wants that power — who wants to channel that power somehow? Who wants Heaven, maybe?” Sam’s eyes widened. “Maybe Castiel’s a hostage.”
“We don’t even know all the monsters that are out there,” said Dean. “We don’t know what would be powerful enough to take him and hold him.”
“Crowley,” Sam said. “And he’d have reason. Cas double-crossed him, and Crowley’s not what you’d call forgiving.” He sat cross-legged on the concrete floor, knee bouncing with excitement as he spoke his thoughts out loud. “So there’s the scenario I’m seeing. The Leviathan take over Jimmy’s body and cast Castiel out, telling you that Castiel is gone. But instead of Castiel dying or whatever happens when angels are destroyed, Crowley captures him and holds him hostage, and waits for God or Joshua or whoever to negotiate for his release. Meantime he — does what demons do.”
Dean watched the clothes and tried not to think about what demons do. “And we’re supposed to save him,” he said. “How do we save him? How do we even find him?”
Sam said softly, “You remember the fairies?”
“Yeah.” Better than he liked.
“The leprechaun said he knew a back door into Hell.”
“I don’t want to ask any favors from a leprechaun.”
Sam said, obviously keeping a straight face only with effort, “Oberon may owe you a little something. You know, for your … service.”
“Shut up,” said Dean and passed a hand over his face.
“I still have that book with the summoning spell — and the release spell, too. We could at least ask.”
Dean took out the drawing again, already fuzzy and fragile at the folds, and looked at the tiny figure of Castiel with his shock of dark hair and oversized tie. He didn’t know if he believed it, really, that Cas was still alive, but Maggie believed it and Sam believed Maggie.
“No,” he said. “No deals. We figure it out from the clues Maggie’s given us. We go over the water to the place with the trees and find the good man. Easy, right?”
“Right,” Sam said, looking like it would be anything but.
It seemed like the entire city was out to enjoy the respite from the famous Seattle rain. The sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians and bicyclists, buskers and men playing three-card Monte. As Sam and Dean walked from a parking lot to the public library, Dean looked at their faces and wondered who was secretly a necromancer, who was an outcast god, who was a witch.
He shook his head at himself. It was like a cop seeing crime in every passing civilian.
They came to a square, where a string quartet played something haunting and familiar. “Is that —?” Dean paused to listen.
“‘Unforgiven,'” Sam with a wry smile.
“Metallica on strings. That’s awesome. We’ve got a few minutes, right?”
They grinned at each other and found a park bench where they could hear the quartet. Dean knew the song by heart, every word, every note, every chord; but he’d never heard it like this, stripped bare and translated into this melancholy, almost magical, piece of music.
A woman joined them on the bench, dark-haired and wrapped in a raincoat. Dean smiled at her out of habit — she was beautiful in an uncommon way, her eyes large, her skin warm and dusky — and then looked at her profile again, trying to place her.
“Kali,” he said softly.
She looked at him with a faint smile. “Dean Winchester.”
“Haven’t seen you in a long time.”
Sam peered around him. “Kali,” he said reverently. “Hello. Do we have you to thank for this?”
“You do,” she said. “I thought it would be simplest to draw you out. I heard you were in town and we need to talk.”
“Oh, boy,” Dean sighed.
“After this song is over,” said Kali. “I like this arrangement too.”
They sat in silence until the quartet was done, and when the musicians were packing up their instruments she went to them and dropped some bills into their instrument cases — large ones, from the pleased looks on the musicians’ faces. “Come on,” she called back to Sam and Dean, so they got up from the bench to follow her out of the square.
“I hear you’re searching for the former god and angel, Castiel,” she said as they walked. Her strides were brisk — Dean didn’t need to shorten his strides at all.
“How’d you hear that?” said Sam, who did have to shorten his strides a little, but he had to for almost everyone.
“I’ve been searching for everything I can learn about restoring angels. There has to be a way. There has to be.”
“You want Gabriel back,” Dean said.
“You need him back. If anyone’s going to defeat the Leviathan, it’s Gabriel. But Castiel’s not gone the same way. Getting him back will be relatively simple.”
“You know where he is?” Dean said, his voice rising with excitement.
“I do,” said Kali. “He’s here in Seattle.”
They stared at her. “Seattle is the dark place the prophet is talking about?” Dean threw out his arms to indicate the bright, crisp spring day. “This?”
Kali huffed a breath. “You boys know nothing about angels, do you? Angels don’t go to Hell when they die, and they don’t go to Purgatory, either. No one knows where they go — maybe they don’t go anywhere, maybe they just end.” She stopped and bit her lip and looked away, her eyes bright. “Castiel’s not dead. He’s lost.”
“That’s what Maggie Halford said,” Sam said. “That he got lost and the bad place wants him. We figured he must be in Hell. Where else could he be?”
Kali looked at him, her eyes thoughtful and keen. “Sometimes a bad place isn’t a location, Sam. It’s within. A darkness in the heart. Castiel is carrying the worst burden an angel can bear — despair. If it overtakes him, you will lose him. We all will. And we’ll lose one of the few remaining weapons we have against the Leviathan.”
Dean felt his entire body sag with disappointment. “Castiel can’t fight the Leviathan. He’s not strong enough. He couldn’t hold them off before.”
“Dean,” Sam said softly, “he was wounded, maybe dying. Of course he couldn’t fight them off. Fully powered, with all the strength of Heaven behind him? Maybe he could.”
“Okay,” Dean said, “one problem at a time. We find Castiel, then what?”
“Then you save him,” Kali said softly. “Or you help him save himself. I have something for you.” She undid the belt of her raincoat and took something out of her inner pocket. It was a white feather tipped with gold, incandescent in the sunlight. “I saw this and I knew an angel was here. An angel that is slowly and painfully falling.” She gave the feather to Dean. “Save him, boys. Save him and save us all.” She turned to go.
“Why do you care?” Dean called after her, and she looked back at him, her face full of pain.
“I’m not just a goddess of destruction, Dean. I’m the mother of everything.” She walked into the crowd.
Dean ran his fingertips over the edge of the feather. “He’s here,” he said softly. “He’s alive and he’s here. Sam —”
“We’ll find him. I promise.” He put his arm briefly around Dean’s shoulders and then they headed back to the square.
Sam and Chelsea had exchanged numbers — he told Chelsea to please, please call if Maggie made any more drawings — and so while Dean went on a burger run, Sam got out his phone and scrolled to her number.
“Hey, Chelsea, it’s Sam,” he said when she answered, and she actually sounded pleased when she said hello. “How are you guys doing?”
“Oh, we’re fine,” said Chelsea. “We’ve watched a princess movie and we had mac and cheese for lunch, and she’s reading right now. How are you?”
“Good, I’m good. We’re still trying to figure out Maggie’s picture.”
Chelsea was quiet a moment. “I don’t know what to think about this, that you believe her. I’m glad you believe her, I think, but if you believe her and it’s true … what does that mean?”
“It means Maggie is very, very special,” Sam said quietly. “Can I ask you kind of a strange question?”
“Why stop now?” she said and he chuckled.
“Can you remember a news story or anything like that in the last six months about a John Doe? A person who’d been found, maybe in the woods, with no name and no background?”
“Oh, let’s see,” Chelsea said. “I don’t read the newspapers much. Oh, wait, I do remember something about that, though, now that you mention it. He was actually found in the Sound. People thought that he’d fallen off one of the ferries. A fishing boat brought him in.”
Sam grimaced — dropped into the ocean again. Poor Cas. “Do you remember when this happened?”
“Last fall, I think. I don’t remember what happened to him, but I’m sure there’s something about him in one of the newspaper archives online.”
“Was he alive?”
“I think so …” She said firmly, “Yes, I remember, he was. He was found alive, and the police were trying to discover his identity, and … I don’t remember what happened next. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Sam said. “Thank you for remembering so much.”
“Oh, God,” Chelsea said, “you think this is your friend, don’t you?”
“He might be. We hope so.”
“Sam,” she said, “is Maggie safe? Should I — I don’t even know what to ask. I got my Bible out this morning and reread the story of Samuel — his mother sent him to a temple when he was a tiny thing — should I do that? Should I send her somewhere to protect her?”
Sam glanced up, and exhaled shakily when he saw Lucifer sitting at the table, flicking through Dean’s latest copy of Busty Asian Beauties. “She’s protected,” he said and got out his pocketknife, hissing as he made a tiny cut in his fingertip. Dean would be pissed if he found out, but how else could he remind himself of which world was the real one? “You don’t need to send her anywhere.” He looked at the table — no Lucifer.
“Okay,” Chelsea said quietly. “Okay. I just don’t know what to do.”
“Keep treating her like a normal girl, as much as you can,” Sam said. He heard a car door slam and looked out the window. “My brother’s back. Call me if you need us, okay? I mean it.”
“I will. Take care, Sam.”
“You too.” He hung up and smiled as Dean came in with bags of burgers and shakes. “I have a lead.”
“Spill.” Dean dumped the bags on the table and sat in the chair that had been occupied by Lucifer mere moments before.
Sam shook his head and exhaled. “Chelsea remembers a John Doe who was found in Puget Sound last fall. She wasn’t sure what happened to him after he was found, but he was found alive.”
Dean grinned around the straw of his milkshake. “All right! Where’s your laptop? There has to be something about it the newspapers.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. I’ll get started after we eat.” It was so good to see Dean happy Sam wished he could take a picture of it. Still, they had to be realistic. He unwrapped his burger. “Dean.”
“Sam,” Dean said around a mouthful of French fries.
“It might be a dead end. Don’t get your hopes up too high.”
Dean swallowed his fries with some milkshake to wash them down. “My hopes are exactly where they ought to be, Sammy. Kali found the feather here in Seattle, right? He’s got to still be in the area. Once he’s back with his friends he’ll be fine.”
“I don’t know, Dean. Despair is pretty serious. What do you do with a depressed angel? A prescription for Prozac and some therapy sessions aren’t going to help.”
Dean bit into his burger, some of the enthusiasm dimming in his eyes. “We’re his family. We’ll fix it.”
“Okay,” Sam said, and hoped Dean’s faith would be enough.
They had been combing through the archives of Seattle’s newspapers for most of the night when Dean said, “Sam, I found him. I think I found him,” and turned the laptop so Sam could see it. Sam pushed his laptop aside and took Dean’s, and read the article. There was no picture, but the events fit what Chelsea had told them and the description sounded like Castiel — a white male in his mid-thirties with blue eyes and dark hair. As Chelsea had said, he was found in the Sound by a fishing boat and taken to a local hospital — not Seattle Mercy General, apparently there wasn’t actually a Seattle Mercy General — while local authorities researched his identity.
Beyond, that, nothing.
“Okay,” he said to Dean. “Tomorrow we suit up and go to the hospital where they treated him and find out where he went. But, Dean —”
“I know, I know. Don’t get my hopes up.” Still, the light was back in his eyes. Sam hoped it would stay.
Sam’s phone rang first thing in the morning. “‘Lo?” he said, rubbing his eyes, disoriented. In the other bed Dean groaned and rolled over, the trench coat twisted around him.
“Sam? It’s Chelsea Halford. I know it’s early —”
“It’s okay.” Sam sat up, alert. “Are you okay?”
“Will you come over, please? Maggie’s drawn another picture. I think you need to see this before you do anything.”
“What’s your address?” Sam pulled over the hotel stationary and jotted down Chelsea’s directions. “We’ll be there as soon as we can.” He hung up and said, “Dean. Wake up.”
“Five more minutes.”
“Maggie’s drawn another picture. Chelsea thinks we need to see it.”
“Mm? What?” Dean pulled the trench coat from around him, giving Sam a look that dared him to mention it, and threw back the bedding. “Did she say what it was?”
“No, just that we should see it.” He unpacked clean clothes from his backpack, washed up and dressed while Dean yawned and stretched, and packed up while Dean splashed some cold water on his face and changed his shirt.
They found the little residential neighborhood easily. It was just starting to stir, people watering lawns and collecting newspapers, and Sam said, “There she is,” without checking the house number against Chelsea’s directions. Maggie was in the driveway, drawing busily with big sticks of colored chalk. She stopped drawing and looked up as the Impala drew to a stop.
“Hi, Dean! Hi, Sam!” She pointed at the drawing. “Look what Joshua told me!”
“Hi, Maggie,” said Sam as he got out of the car, and he and Dean walked up the grass to have a good look at the picture. Like her other drawing, it was childlike and simple, but still the figures were recognizable: himself in plaid, Dean in green, and Castiel —
He frowned at the figure of Castiel, and Dean knelt down. “Maggie, honey?” said Sam as Dean touched the small white lines emanating from Castiel’s back. “Is this Castiel?”
“Yes,” she said and drew another white line. “They’re falling off.”
Dean looked up, his lips parted. “Like Kali said.”
Sam said to Maggie, “Did Joshua tell you why?”
All three of them looked up when the front door slammed. “Oh, thank God,” said Chelsea and came down the front steps. “When I saw this I thought — “
“Yeah,” Sam said. Maggie had drawn him and Dean falling or jumping after Castiel, who was falling into flames as his wings disintegrated. Drawing-Castiel’s hands reached desperately for Dean’s. “I think this means we have to hurry. Dean,” he said when Dean didn’t move.
Dean wiped chalk dust from his fingers. “Yeah.”
Maggie’s lips were trembling and Sam put his hand on her hair a moment. “You okay, Maggie?”
“I don’t want to make you sad, too.”
Dean said, “If we don’t save Cas, he’ll fall into those flames, won’t he? Is that what Joshua told you?”
Maggie looked down and drew another white chalk line.
Sam knelt. “Maggie.” She didn’t look up. “Maggie, honey. It’s okay. You can tell us.”
“He’s so sad,” Maggie whispered. Chelsea stroked Maggie’s hair. “If his wings fall off completely he’ll die.” She touched a red chalk line.
“We have to stop this,” Dean said. “Come on, Sam.” He stood and brushed chalk dust from his hands, and strode down to the car.
“Be careful,” Chelsea said.
“We will,” Sam said and gave them both his most reassuring smile. He hurried after Dean.
It seemed simplest to say they were private detectives working a missing persons case, and that got them to a records nurse, who found the file without much trouble. Yes, a John Doe had been brought in the previous fall. He’d been in good health physically except for the effects of near-drowning, but emotionally and mentally had had a much harder time. “He was traumatized,” the nurse said as he handed Dean the file. “He couldn’t tell us anything about himself — no name, no family, nothing.”
“The usual channels didn’t pan out?” Dean ran his thumb over the edges of the folder, not daring to open it yet, even though he knew there were pictures inside.
“Fingerprint records brought up the name Jimmy Novak of Pontiac, Illinois, but attempts to confirm it went nowhere. No family came forward to claim him.” He watched Dean finger the folder. “Aren’t you going to open that, Mr. Smith?”
“Yeah, of course,” Dean muttered and flipped it open. There were several pictures inside — close-ups of a familiar chest, scarred by an Enochian sigil; narrow hands and feet, bruised throat and shoulders. “How did he get these?” he said, pointing to the photo.
“We think he must have been in a fight before he went into the water. Well? Is he your guy?”
Dean couldn’t speak, and Sam interjected, “It looks like it is. Jimmy Novak. His family has been looking for him. They want him back. Do you know where he is now? Some kind of halfway house, maybe?”
“Actually,” the nurse said, “the ER doctor who treated him kind of took him in. Alex Bonham. I think he’s on duty now if you want me to page him.”
“Yeah, please,” said Sam as Dean continued to frown at the pictures, so the nurse picked up the microphone for the PA.
“Paging Dr. Bonham to the records office. Dr. Bonham to records.” He indicated the chairs against the wall. “You’re welcome to wait.”
“Thanks.” Sam sat, and after a minute Dean sat, too. The nurse went back to his duties and Sam whispered to Dean, “Bonham.”
“At least his first name isn’t John.”
“Maggie said to look for a good man.” Dean shook his head, blank, and Sam said, “It’s Anglicized French. Bon homme. Good man.”
Dean made a slightly impressed noise. “Such a nerd.”
“Jerk,” Sam replied, smiling.
It was ten minutes or more when a flustered-looking doctor came into the records office. He looked like the inspiration for Dr. Sexy — tall, regally handsome, with curly dark hair and liquid brown eyes. All he was missing were red cowboy boots.
“You paged me, Nurse Barnes?”
The nurse gestured to Sam and Dean, who stood. “These are Misters Smith and Smith. They’re private detectives working on a missing persons case and they think our Mr. Novak is their guy.”
“Alex Bonham,” he said and shook their hands in turn. “We’ll go to the cafeteria where we can talk.” He started in the hallway, though: “Why didn’t you come forward when the inquiries were initially made?”
“Miscommunications,” Dean said. “But his family wants his back and we were hired to find him.”
“I understand his wife and daughter have been missing for some time.” He gave them a challenging look.
“We hope to find them, too,” Sam said. “His brother is looking for the whole family.”
“I didn’t know Jimmy had a brother. Coffee?” Dean and Sam both refused, so Alex bought a cup and sat at a table near the big windows that overlooked the hospital’s main parking lot.
“Cards on the table,” Dean said. “Do you know where we can find him?”
Alex sipped his coffee slowly. “I do. He’s a good man, Mr. Smith. Troubled and confused, but also very decent and kind. He’s been my guest for the past six months.”
Guest? thought Dean and glanced at Sam, who apparently was having the same train of thought he was. “And what’s he been doing while he’s been your ‘guest’?”
Alex didn’t rise to the bait — he didn’t even seem to notice any implications. “On his good days he volunteers here. Reading to kids in the children’s ward or to coma patients, mostly. On his bad days …” He had another swig of coffee. “He doesn’t do much of anything.”
“His bad days?” Sam said.
“Jimmy suffers from disassociative disorder,” Alex said. “Some event was traumatizing enough to cause him to withdraw entirely from the rest of his life. He suffers from insomnia, nightmares, depression, delusions … he thinks he’s an angel,” Alex added wryly, “and he thinks he’s done something unforgivable. He’s refused therapy so far but I have managed to get him on antidepressants. Every step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.”
Dean said quietly, “Can I ask you a strange question?”
“Sure,” Alex said.
“Do you often find white feathers around your house?”
“Yes,” Alex said, surprised. “I think Jimmy collects them. Why?”
“Just making sure we’ve got the right guy,” Dean said and tried to smile.
Alex had another sip of coffee, contemplative, then put the mug down. “I’ll talk to him tonight. If he wants to talk to you and go back to his family, I’ll contact you. If he refuses, though, I’m not going to force him. I don’t want to make his condition worse.”
“Of course,” Sam said quietly, giving Dean another look, and Dean handed back the file folder. Sam scribbled their numbers on a napkin and handed it over. “Please call us, even if he doesn’t want to see us. We’d like to see for ourselves that he’s okay.”
“Of course.” Alex took the napkin and folded it into the top pocket of his lap coat. He hesitated. “You’ve seen the pictures of the scars on his chest.”
Dean and Sam glanced at each other. “Yeah,” said Dean. “We’ve seen them.”
“Someone did that to him,” Alex said. “Someone tortured him. I want to know who.”
“We don’t have any information about that,” Sam said quickly. “We’re still piecing together what happened after his disappearance.”
“I’m sure you understand, though, why I don’t want to shock him with your presence.”
“We get it,” said Sam, giving Dean a hard look, and Dean smiled grimly and nodded.
“Well, then, please excuse me. I need to get back.” Alex picked up the file folder and left the cafeteria.
Sam said, as they were walking back to the Impala, “Dr. Bonham’s in love with him.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Being that protective? Taking him in like that? Who knows if Cas returns it but it’s personal for Dr. Bonham.”
Dean looked back at the hospital building. It wasn’t unbelievable that someone might fall for Cas — as weird as he could be, he was still a good guy. “So, what are you saying? You think we ought to leave him here?”
“No,” Sam said. “He’s still in trouble. You heard Dr. Bonham — Cas is depressed. It’s that despair Kali was talking about — that dark place that’s out to get him like Maggie said.”
“So we snap him out of it.”
“Dean,” Sam said. “That’s not the way depression works. You of all people should understand that.”
“I am not depressed,” Dean muttered.
“Then what are you?”
Dean unlocked the car instead of answering. “You coming? I wanna find a phone book.”
“Because I want to find out where Dr. Bonham lives and scope out the place.”
“Dean,” Sam said again, shaking his head.
“What?” Dean demanded. “What, Sam?”
“What if Dr. Bonham’s right? What if seeing us does make it worse?”
“Would Joshua have sent us to save him if that was true? He’s here, Sam. He’s here, in this city, close enough that Dr. Alex is going to talk to him tonight, and all we have to do is find his address and we can see him right now.”
“Look, Dean, I know you miss him —”
“You don’t know shit!” Dean exploded and Sam took a step backwards. “You don’t know what it’s like to miss him like this! You don’t know what it’s like to know I could have prevented this!” He put his hand over his mouth and closed his eyes, overwhelmed by his own need to see Castiel, talk to him, hear his voice. “One word, one fucking word, and all of this would never have happened. I could have prevented this, Sam. Whatever pain he’s in now, I could have helped. I have to help now. I have to.”
“Okay,” Sam soothed him. “Okay. We’ll see if we can find the address. But I still think we should wait to talk to him until Alex has first.” He held out his hand. “Let me drive. You’re in no shape for it right now.”
Dean gave him the keys and got into the passenger seat. He watched the city go by as they drove from the hospital back to the library, and waited in the car with his hand over his eyes as Sam went inside to find a phone book.
He came home after a few minutes. “Got it,” he said and gave Dean his notebook with the address. “It fits with the prophecy, going over the water. He lives on Bainbridge Island, out in the Sound. We have to take a ferry.”
“Okay,” Dean said. He watched out the window as Sam drove them to the docks where they could get on a ferry to the island — and take the Impala, thank God, because he didn’t look forward to walking.
They found empty benches at the top of the ferry where they could watch the city slide into rocky beaches and forests. Dean leaned his elbows on the railing and tried to think of a plan — what he would do, what he would say, when he saw Castiel again. “I’m sorry” didn’t seem to be enough. If he was in that much trouble — if he was so far lost that his wings were literally falling apart — what did it mean?
And how did you save someone from despair?
Sam said quietly, “You remember what Dr. Bonham said about Cas having good days and bad days?”
“He didn’t say Cas was in the hospital today.”
Dean swallowed hard. “Maybe he just didn’t have any volunteering shifts today.”
“Just prepare yourself,” Sam said quietly.
“I’m prepared,” Dean said, and thought, For what?
Dr. Alex Bonham lived in a gated community that required a code to get inside. It wasn’t much of a barrier to Sam and Dean, of course — it was just a matter of parking the Impala out of the way and climbing over the brick wall, and walking through the quiet streets to Alex’s address.
The house was big — all of the houses behind the gate were big — and right on the water, with a private dock and a small garden in the back, and trees lining the front drive. The windows were tall and blackberry brambles climbed up the red brick walls. Dean looked up and down the street — other houses had vines climbing their walls as well, but none were green yet. It was still too early in the year.
There were sounds of kids playing from other houses, but this one had an atmosphere of stillness and desertion. Sam and Dean looked at each other and walked to the back of the house, where there were garden boxes filled with tender bits of green just poking through the soft, moist dirt and more blackberry vines with dark green new leaves.
“What do you want to bet,” Sam whispered, as if afraid to disturb the stillness, “that none of Dr. Bonham’s neighbors’ gardens are blossoming yet?”
“Even a depressed angel can’t stop from making things grow,” Dean said. “Grace is such a strange thing.”
There was the sound of a car pulling into the drive. Sam and Dean looked at each other, and then darted behind the detached garage and the pine trees that grew around it. They leaned around the corner to see Alex step out of his car — a blue BMW, only two years old and well cared-for — and the front door to the house opened, and out came Castiel.
Dean took a step toward him. Sam caught his arm and shook his head, so Dean could only watch — could only drink him in from a distance. Castiel looked like he always had, dark hair ruffled, eyes blue as a summer sky, jaw covered with stubble — and more casual than Dean had ever seen him, wearing jeans and a black button-down shirt, his long feet bare. He looked good — he looked better than good, he looked delicious and treasured and wonderful. As they watched, Alex and Castiel embraced each other simply, like an ordinary man welcoming his lover home, and then went inside the house.
“We should go,” Sam said. “We should let them talk.”
“Not yet,” Dean whispered. They waited, and before long the back door opened to let out Alex and Castiel with plates of food. He caught the words, “Such as a beautiful day, this is a great idea,” as Alex started up the outdoor grill and Castiel sliced vegetables to put on metal skewers, looking at him solemnly as Alex spoke. Dean caught the name Smith, and at that Castiel faintly smiled. Dean inched closer, trying to hear more.
“You know these men?” Alex said.
“They both were very tall, brown hair and green eyes? Handsome young men?”
“I suppose,” said Alex with a slight laugh. “Should I be jealous?”
Castiel looked confused. “I don’t see why that would cause jealousy. They are — were — my friends.”
Alex looked amused. “Of course you don’t. Do you want to see them?”
“I don’t know,” he said, still quietly. “But I must. They’re by the garage.” He pointed without looking up, and Alex looked over at the garage. Dean came out from behind the trees and sheepishly waved, and he and Sam walked across the grass to the deck.
“It’s so spooky when you do that,” Alex said. “I wondered why you thawed four steaks. Gentlemen,” he said and shook their hands. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you didn’t wait.”
“Sorry,” Dean said, but he had eyes only for Castiel. Castiel gazed back at him, expressionless, and then resumed slicing vegetables.
“So you know Jimmy,” Alex prompted.
“We know Castiel,” Dean said and Castiel’s knife slipped. He hissed and frowned at his finger as an enormous drop of blood dropped onto the cutting board with a splat.
“Shit, Jimmy —” Alex took his hand and inspected the cut. “Well, that’s not deep. No stitches. Let me get a bandage.” He looked at Dean as if he wanted to say more — much more — but went into the house.
“Well?” Dean demanded. “Are you Jimmy Novak? Or are you Castiel?”
Castiel watched the blood seep from his finger. “I am Castiel,” he said quietly. “I no longer feel Jimmy within me. I hope wherever he is, he has found peace. I am Castiel, alone.”
“You’re not alone,” Dean said. “You never have to be alone again. Joshua sent us to find you. He wants you to come home.”
Castiel shook his head, sorrow in his eyes. “I am banished from Heaven,” he said softly. “I feel my grace diminishing every day. I have done such things, Dean, things no angel should do —” The back door opened again and Castiel said quickly, “Alex thinks I am merely pretending.”
“Here we go,” Alex said as he sat at the teak picnic table with the Band-Aids and ointment, and Castiel looked away. “Let me see your hand, Jimmy.”
Castiel held out his hand, inhaling slightly as Alex dressed the cut. Sam watched for a moment, brows furrowed, then said, “Jimmy has a brother. Joshua. Joshua’s the one who sent us.”
“How about that? You have a brother,” Alex said to Castiel. “A brother who wants you back.”
“It is not so simple,” Castiel murmured. “Sam, Dean, please. I can’t go home.”
“Jimmy,” Alex said earnestly, “I know you feel guilty about something so terrible you don’t even want to remember it — but surely being around your family would only help you.” He touched Castiel’s cheek and Dean clenched his hands, trying to quell the jealousy that surged within him. Castiel looked away again and after a moment Alex removed his hand. “That name they called you — Castiel —” Castiel raised his eyes to look at Alex. “Is that a nickname or something?”
“It is my name,” Castiel said. “It is my true name. Jimmy Novak is like a coat I wear.” Alex leaned back, and Castiel said softly, “You still do not believe me.”
“Your name is Jimmy Novak,” Alex said. They looked at each other a moment, then Alex pushed himself up from the table. “The coals are ready. Mr. Smith, uh, Mr. Smith, you’re welcome to stay for dinner.”
“Their names are not Smith,” Castiel said, and went on before Dean could protest, “their name is Winchester. And they are not private detectives. They are hunters.”
“Hunters,” Alex repeated, looking from Sam to Dean to Castiel.
“They hunt evil creatures and save people.”
“We’re here to save you,” Dean said to Castiel softly. It was no time to hold back, he supposed. “Joshua’s called a new prophet —”
“Margaret Jane Halford,” Castiel said, inspecting the bandage on his cut finger. “Yes, I know.”
Dean glanced at Sam and said, “Then you know as well that Joshua sent us through her to find you. And save you.”
“Dean, there is nothing to save here,” Castiel said. He picked up a bottle of beer and twisted it open, took a gulp and wiped his lips.
Sam said, taking a bottle himself, “Kali said you’re one of the few remaining weapons to fight the Leviathan.”
At the grill, Alex paused to watch the conversation with wide eyes.
Castiel looked stunned. “Even Kali has taken an interest?”
“It’s her world, too,” said Sam. “She’s trying to find a way to raise Gabriel, but meantime, I guess you’re it.”
“Maggie says — Maggie Halford — she says there’s nothing but new angels and Joshua right now,” said Dean. “Babies and the gardener.”
“And cherubim,” Castiel mused. “They are not much use in a fight.” He shook his head, the beer bottle dangling from his long fingers. “Still, if Joshua believes that I am strong enough, his belief is misplaced. I am not.”
“Yeah, about that.” Dean opened his coat and took out the feather Kali had given him, and laid it on the table.
“Oh, hey,” said Alex, “a feather for your collection.”
Castiel picked it up and turned it in the fading sunlight, his face full of regret. “As I said. My grace is diminishing. This is proof.” He sighed and put the feather down. “When they are completely gone nothing of the angel I was will remain in me. It is for the best.”
Alex came to the table and opened a beer too. “Don’t you want a drink, Mr. Smith? I mean, Mr. Winchester?”
“Just call me Dean,” Dean said. “Um, no. Thanks. I’ve quit.” Castiel tilted his head, eyes on Dean, and Dean smiled uncomfortably. “Water would be great.”
“Be right back,” said Alex, standing, and then added, his hands outspread, “Don’t talk about anything important while I’m gone.” He hurried inside.
In the silence that followed, Castiel picked up the sliced vegetables and slid them onto the skewers — mushrooms and peppers and cherry tomatoes. “Alex has been very kind to me, even though he believes I am half-mad.”
“He likes you a lot,” Sam remarked.
“Yes. I am not sure why.”
“Because you’re awesome,” Dean blurted and Castiel met his eyes a moment, something in his gaze that Dean couldn’t place. “I mean, you’re — you know. And he thinks you’re decent, which you are. And innocent. People react to that, to — to goodness.”
“There is a difference,” Castiel said, “between doing good and not doing evil. I am too weary for either.” He picked up the plate of skewers and went to the grill.
Dean looked at Sam helplessly. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Me neither,” Sam said. He had a pull on his beer, started to say something, and then had another drink.
Once Alex returned — he’d even put a slice of fresh lemon in the water and some sort of herb, making it the classiest glass of water Dean had ever drunk — Dean watched him at the grill with Castiel. Alex was gentle with Castiel, and considerate of him, and Dean realized Sam was right — this Alex character really cared about Castiel, really wanted him to be happy and contented with this life they had together. But Castiel, while he accepted the affectionate touches Alex gave him, gave none of his own, and the smile he gave Alex was distant and polite. He wasn’t happy. Dean had seen him happy.
“Meat’s on,” Alex said finally and brought over the plates.
“It smells amazing,” said Sam. He helped pass the plates around. They each took steaks and skewers of vegetables, and spent the first part of the meal just making yummy noises and complementing the chef.
Finally Alex said, “Jimmy, you don’t have to go back if you don’t want to, of course, but they do miss you. And it might be better to be with your family instead of just me.” He gave a weak smile. “I mean, they know you. They can remember who you are.”
“I know who I am,” Castiel said. “To be frank, I am surprised I have a choice in the matter.”
“Of course you have a choice!” Alex exclaimed. “I’m not going to kick you out.”
Castiel smiled at him. “For which I am grateful. But I am speaking of my brother. That he has not summoned me or sent others after me says he either has no one to send or is honestly giving me a choice.”
“He sent us,” Dean said.
“You could not force me to return. You may recall a time when I was forced.”
“Oh,” Dean said quietly. “Yeah. Angel boot camp.” Castiel met his eyes and Dean didn’t look away as he had another gulp of water.
“If Jimmy’s family is that controlling I’m not sure he should go back,” said Alex. “Not if they forced you into some kind of camp.”
Castiel murmured, “Alex, do try to keep up,” and finally looked away from Dean.
“I’m not going to hand you over to them if I think there’s any chance of them doing that to you again,” Dean said. “But I don’t think that’s it. Maggie’s first words to us were ‘You have to save him.'” He leaned forward, eyes fixed on Castiel. “I want to believe we can.”
“No one can save me,” Castiel whispered. “Not even you, Dean.” He got up from the table and walked down the dock to sit on the edge, his feet dangling over the water and his head in his hands.
Alex and Dean both started to rise, then Alex picked up his plate and Castiel’s. “I’ll start cleaning up, I guess.”
“Let me help,” Sam said quickly and gathered the rest, and tilted his head toward Castiel, his eyes on Dean. Dean nodded and went down to the dock, and dropped heavily at Castiel’s side. They sat in silence for a while, listening to the sounds of the island —water lapping against the dock, shouts from the neighbors’ children, the occasional sound of seabirds.
“I did not expect to see you again,” Castiel said softly.
“We thought you were dead until Maggie Halford started waving pictures in my face.” He took the first drawing out of his jacket pocket and gave it to Castiel. Castiel smiled as he looked at it.
“She is young.”
“She’s about six.”
“A very young prophet.” He sighed and gave the picture back. “And no archangels to guard her.”
“Won’t one of those baby angels grow up to be an archangel?”
They fell silent again.
“We were sent here to save you,” Dean said. “I have to believe there’s a way to do it, but there’s no monster to kill or talisman to destroy or portal to close. There’s just you.”
Castiel lowered his head and swept his toes over the water.
Dean said, “Maggie said the dark place wants you. Kali said it’s a darkness in the heart. I don’t know how to fight that, Cas.”
Castiel put his hand over his eyes, and to Dean’s shock and dismay he made what sounded like a sob. “I want to die,” Castiel gasped out.
Dean sat there awkwardly and watched him weep, and then thought, This is where you screwed up before, idiot, which made it was so simple — he put his arms around Castiel and drew him in and held him tight. Castiel started to draw back, then exhaled deeply, shakily, and buried his damp face in Dean’s shoulder.
The inside of Alex’s house was opulent and immaculate, the kind of place that made Dean feel like he should stand still so that he didn’t break everything. The sofas were deep and plush, the TV sat in its own shrine against one wall and was surrounded by shelves of DVDs, and there were little pieces of sculpture on end tables and lush ferns in the corners — more greenery, Dean suspected, that flourished in Castiel’s presence.
In the kitchen — also so clean and expensive it looked like something out of a magazine — Castiel splashed cold water on his face, his crying jag over, and then leaned against the counter and looked at Dean. Alex and Sam were talking in the living room, Sam’s voice soothing to Alex’s worried tone. Castiel said quietly, “He gave me pills to take, to make me cheerful. They don’t work.”
“Antidepressants,” Dean said. “Yeah, he told me.”
“He thinks he can fix me.” Castiel leaned on the counter, resting his weight on his elbows. “I haven’t the heart to tell him there is no fixing me.”
“That’s what I want to do too, you know,” Dean said just as quietly and leaned on the counter too. “There’s nothing really wrong with you.”
Castiel glanced at him. “Of course not. I only brought a primordial evil into the world because I wasn’t strong enough to fight them. It took the strength of all the archangels to fight them before, Dean, in addition to our Father. The Leviathan will flick us away like insects.”
Dean leaned closer to him. “Kali said you’re the last weapon against the Leviathan.”
His eyes flicked to Dean. “Is that what you want me for? To fight your battles?”
Dean closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Castiel’s shoulder. “No. No, Cas. Look, we discovered a way to slow them down. We can melt them with Borax and cut off their heads, and if we separate the heads from the bodies they’re incapacitated for a while. But we haven’t found a way to kill them permanently or get them back into Purgatory.”
“I don’t know a way either,” Castiel said and straightened up when Alex came into the kitchen.
“Is everything okay?” Alex said and went to Castiel, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right, Jimmy?”
“I am better now.” He paused and glanced at Dean as Alex went to his futuristic coffee maker and put in a little pod of grounds. “Alex, I would like Dean and Sam to stay with us for a while.”
“Oh,” Alex said. “Sure, okay. There’s plenty of room. Is that all right with you, Dean?”
“Sure, that’s great. Thank you.”
Alex’s smile seemed strained, but he simply said, “Excellent. Jimmy, want to help me make up the beds?”
“We can do that,” Dean said but Alex waved him off.
“It’s no trouble.” He and Castiel went upstairs, and Dean went into the living room to Sam.
“We’re staying,” he told Sam and flopped onto the sofa beside him. “Cas wants us to.”
“I thought he’d be angrier with us,” Sam said, moving his legs aside to give Dean room.
“I think he’s too depressed to be much of anything. He’s never been the most demonstrative dude but geez, this is like Castiel in the negative, you know?” He gave Sam the car keys. “How about you check us out of the motel and bring Baby over. I want to talk to Cas some more.”
Sam tucked the keys in his pocket. “What are you planning to do?”
“I don’t know,” Dean said honestly. “Just keep talking to him, I guess.”
“And listen,” said Sam and added when Dean grimaced, “I’m serious. If you want to help him you’ve got to listen, too.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dean said. “We’ll hold hands and listen to Joni Mitchell. I’m going to get the security code for you.” He went upstairs. Alex’s bedroom was easy to spot, with the big double bed and bookcases full of medical texts. There were a few family pictures on the walls — an older couple who had to be his parents, and a hot young woman in a cap and gown that Dean figured was his niece, given that there was another couple roughly Alex’s age in the picture too — and one picture of Alex and Castiel. Castiel was even smiling — with reserve, of course, since it was Castiel, but it was a real smile nonetheless.
Dean followed the sound of voices down the hall, and found Castiel putting pillows into fresh pillowcases while Alex smoothed and folded a coverlet. “Sam’s going to get our stuff from the motel,” Dean said. “Could we have the security code for the gates?”
“Let me write that down for you,” Alex said and went downstairs. Dean leaned against the doorway and watched Castiel as he finished with the pillows and arranged them on the bed.
“This is a nice place,” Dean said quietly.
“Very. I have been comfortable here.” He picked up a small pile of linens and took them to another room. “Help me, Dean?”
“Sure.” He stripped back the bedding and pulled off the sheets. “Alex goes all-out for company, doesn’t he?”
“He is a generous man.” Castiel regarded the fitted sheet, perplexed, and Dean laughed and took it from him.
“Let me. I mastered these when I was living with Lisa.” He spread the sheet over the mattress and worked the corners into the sheet. Castiel sat on the floor with the pillows — cagey Cas, Dean thought, getting out of the hard work. “Hey, Cas,” he began, and Castiel looked up. “I don’t — we don’t — you’re not just a weapon.” Castiel held the pillow in his lap and watched Dean with enormous eyes. Dean inhaled and wondered how he was supposed to listen when Castiel didn’t say anything, and went on, “What Kali said, that’s just how she sees things. She wants Gabriel back but she’ll settle for anyone who’ll stop the Leviathan. But you — the important thing here is you.”
“Is it?” Castiel said softly and put the pillow aside to pick up the second.
“We want you back because we want you back, Cas.” Dean sat on the floor with him.
“Suppose,” Castiel said, “that I get my wish and fall completely. Become human. Will you still want me then, when I’m of no more use than an infant?”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Gonna hold that against me, are you?”
Castiel fussed with the pillow. “Yes,” he decided. “I hold it against you. You … are very good at hurting me.”
Dean looked down at his boots. He opened his mouth but for once couldn’t think of a single word. Finally he nudged Castiel and said, “It just means I like you. If we were kids in elementary school I’d be flicking spitballs at you.”
Castiel stared at him.
“So,” Dean said lamely, “when I called you a baby and stuff, I didn’t mean it… badly.”
Castiel stood to put the pillows on the bed and Dean lay flat on the floor with a groan and put his hands over his eyes. Shit shit shit, why couldn’t Castiel have a profound bond with Sam? Then they could hug and cry and cuddle while they watched Merchant-Ivory flicks and ate Haagen-Dazs.
He removed his hands from his eyes and saw to his horror that Castiel’s shoulders were shaking. “Cas,” he said helplessly and stood up, and put his hand on Castiel’s back.
Castiel wasn’t crying. He was … laughing. He looked at Dean, his eye crinkled at the corners, and said softly, “Spitballs.”
“Nonetheless. Spitballs.” Castiel smoothed the bedspread. “You are so strange sometimes, Dean.”
“I am perfectly normal,” Dean protested. “I’m just —”
“Very much yourself,” Castiel said and sat on the edge of the bed. Dean sat beside him, smiling too, and leaned back on his hands. He nudged Castiel again.
“Forgive me, man?” he said softly.
Castiel leaned back on his hands too. His finger brushed Dean’s. “Yes,” he said. “Friends forgive each other.” He looked at Dean, his eyes soft and affectionate, and Dean licked his lips and wasn’t sure why. “You,” Castiel said, his voice still gentle, “are the first friend I ever had.”
Dean grinned at that. “You know what? Me, too.”
“Then it is good you found me again. We can forgive.”
Dean opened his mouth, not sure if he was going to speak or lean forward and see what happened, when Alex came down the hall and poked his head into the room. “Oh, there you are,” he said and Dean pulled back. “Sam is on his way. He should be back before the last ferry. Is everything all right?”
“Yes,” Castiel said as he straightened up.
“Everything’s great,” said Dean with a sigh. “Thank you again, Dr. Bonham.”
“Alex,” he said with a wave of his hand. “Well. If you need anything I’ll be downstairs at the piano.”
Castiel nodded, and Alex watched them for a moment or two more before he left. Castiel sighed and scrubbed his fingers through his hair. He said, “Alex plays piano to keep his fingers limber. I like to listen.”
“Guess he plays stuff more to your taste than I do.”
“I liked your music,” Castiel protested. “It was very … primal.”
Dean lay back on the bed. “I guess this’ll be my room,” he said softly. “You know, I’ll never be able to, like, play piano for you, to relax with at night.”
Castiel lay back on the bed too and folded his hands on his chest. “That’s what they make CDs for.”
Dean looked at him, smiling, and Castiel smiled quietly back. “Are you okay?” Dean said seriously. “I mean, really okay?”
Castiel looked at the ceiling. “I don’t know. I live day to day. I am … contented right now.”
“That’s good, right? You feel good?”
“I feel …” He exhaled. “I’m glad you’re here. I missed you.” He paused, his thumb absently brushing one of the smooth pearly buttons on his shirt. “Sometimes I missed you so badly I thought I heard your voice.”
Dean stared up at the ceiling too, suddenly shivering. “Yeah?” he said gruffly and cleared his throat. “What’d I say?”
“Little things, mostly. You’d tell me about your day. Or your night, more correctly. Your worries about Sam and your hopes for Bobby. You … you told me about you.”
Dean swallowed hard. “Yeah? Must’ve been weird.”
“No,” Castiel said. “It was … comforting. Though I did not tell Alex. I didn’t want him to give me another pill.”
Dean laughed and looked at Castiel again, and Castiel was looking at him with that softness again, and yeah, the moment was back, and it was weird and wonderful and this time Dean didn’t hesitate. He leaned over and kissed Castiel.
Castiel sighed against him and put a hesitant hand on his hip. It was enough to encourage Dean, though — Castiel had barely touched Alex all evening — and he held Castiel’s face and ran his tongue over Castiel’s closed lips. Castiel pressed back gently, and Dean finally pulled away to whisper, “Dude, open your mouth,” with a soft chuckle. Castiel blushed and nodded, looking at Dean through those impossible lashes — fuck, so thick and dark and long, Dean wanted to kiss them, too — and leaned in again, his lips open.
Oh, that was better. So much better. Dean pulled Castiel on top of him and held him loosely, one hand in his hair and one at the small of his back. The piano music from downstairs was soft and floaty, Castiel smelled like cool air and fresh water, and Dean couldn’t remember the last time he was so happy.
It was three or four songs later when they finally parted. Castiel’s mouth was red and lush, and Dean was looking at his lips instead of his eyes when Castiel said softly, “Dean.”
“More,” Dean said and tried to pull him back, but Castiel planted his hands on the bed and resisted.
“Dean,” he said again, seriously, and Dean sighed and let him go.
“Okay. I’m listening.”
Castiel said slowly, “I do not know yet if I want to return to my old life. I am not certain I trust Joshua, and I still…” He paused, biting his lip gently, and Dean sucked in his own lower lip, wanting to taste him again. “This is not a method to influence my decision.”
“It’s not supposed to be,” Dean said. “I kissed you because I wanted to kiss you and it seemed like you wanted me to kiss you, too.”
Castiel nodded once, serious. “You are correct,” he said softly and Dean smiled and took hold of his face again. “Dean —”
“I’m not trying to influence your decision,” Dean said. “I like making out with you.” He added in a soft growl, “You’ve got a great mouth,” and raised his head to claim it again. Castiel made only a token sound of protest before he wrapped his arms around Dean’s head and kissed him back.
Eventually Castiel pushed Dean off the bed and said, “Leave me alone, I need to think,” so Dean went downstairs to get some water and calm down. Fuck, when was the last time he’d just kissed someone? Not since he was in high school, maybe. And kissing Castiel was awesome, he was such a fast learner and he figured out how to follow Dean’s lead so easily, and his mouth, God. His mouth.
The piano music stopped abruptly and Dean remembered, just as abruptly, that they were in another man’s house, and this man wanted Castiel, and he probably wouldn’t appreciate Dean seducing his partner.
Only they weren’t together, were they? Castiel would be more responsive to Alex if they were. Probably. Though Dean couldn’t imagine Castiel responding to Alex the same way he responded to Dean, even if he felt the same.
Dean got a bottle of water from the fridge — he almost went for a bottle of microbrew, no Coors or Pabst Blue Ribbon in this house, but reminded himself he’d made a promise — and went into the living room. Alex was still at the piano — he leaned on it with one arm while the other hand softly, so softly, picked out a few notes.
“Do you know ‘Freebird’?” Dean said and Alex smiled at him wryly.
“Will you sing?”
“Sure, I know the words.” He lounged on the sofa next to the piano. “What you were playing before, that was really pretty. What was it?”
“Debussey, Chopin, a little Satie. Jimmy’s favorites.”
Dean sipped his water and tried not to feel guilty.
Alex inhaled like he was bracing himself. “Dean, can we talk seriously?”
“Yeah, of course.”
Alex rubbed his neck uncomfortably. Fuck, he was handsome, a beautifully classic profile, dark hair that perfectly framed his square jaw and high cheekbones. He said, “I understand you and Sam are Jimmy’s friends and that you are here to take him home. But I’m worried at how willing you are to feed his delusions that he’s an angel.”
Dean blinked at him. “You … think it’s a delusion?”
“Of course I do,” Alex said. “Even if angels existed, do you think they’d walk among us? Or would turn up naked in the ocean and nearly die of hypothermia?”
Dean smiled to himself at the irony of it all. “Probably not by choice.”
“This is not laughing matter, Dean. Jimmy is a troubled man. A very good and gentle man, very kind — one might even call him pure — but there’s still the matter of his trauma. His wife and daughter disappeared, and then he was quite possibly tortured — it’s like something out of Law & Order.”
“Yeah,” Dean said with another guilty twitch. He didn’t even think about Amelia and Claire most of the time. Though it explained something — Alex thought Castiel was married and straight, and so he’d never made a move. He just loved Castiel without asking for anything in return. Jesus, he was the real angel in the house. Dean had only kept his hands off Castiel all this time because —well, why had he?
Because Castiel was just what Alex said. Pure. And he hadn’t wanted to soil Castiel with his own corruption.
He frowned at his water bottle, and Alex said, “Whatever happened to them caused this, didn’t it? He couldn’t cope with it, he left his life behind and somehow ended up here, and along the way he became convinced he’s an angel.”
“You think he’s schizophrenic?” Dean asked quietly.
“No, that’s an entirely different kind of disorder. I believe he’s suffering from disassociation. After his wife and daughter disappeared he entered a fugue state. That he remembers you is a good sign, but still.” He shook his head. “It must have been going on longer than I thought, if you know about it.”
Dean toyed with the water bottle. He supposed it made sense when viewed from the outside, that Jimmy Novak would be so lost that he’d want to leave his life behind — and a devout man would want to be an angel, powerful and righteous, instead of just a man whose family disappeared.
Except Castiel was real. Dean put his hand on the burn mark on his bicep and ran his fingers over the brand, wondering what Alex would say to that.
“He’s not nuts,” he said finally. “He’s lost and depressed, like you said. But he knows exactly who he is and what’s happened to him, and that’s enough to drive anybody over the edge. The fact that he’s survived and come through it — I don’t know, man, I think he’s stronger than any of us can really understand.”
“I don’t doubt he’s strong,” Alex said. “I just worry he’s not strong enough.” He looked at his watch. “Well, good night. I have to be at the ER at six.”
“Good night,” Dean said, and stayed on the sofa, his head tilted back, contemplatively sipping his water, as he listened to Alex move around upstairs. Finally he shoved himself up and went out to the back yard again, where he could think.
It was dark out, and chilly enough for Dean to roll down his sleeves and button his cuffs. He went down to the end of the dock and sat on the edge, watching moonlight play on the current and the lights come on up and down the shore. Some of the docks were lit with strings of lights, some just with little lamps on the posts that framed their ladders, including Alex’s. Across the water the shoreline was dark with trees.
He stayed there when he heard the Impala purr to a stop in front of the detached garage. Sam came out a few minutes later with a bottle of water too, and sat on the edge of the dock with Dean. “I got a message from Chelsea while I was checking us out of the motel,” he said. “Maggie’s drawn another picture.” He gave it to Dean.
Dean tilted it toward the little light on top of the nearest post. Maggie had drawn Castiel and Sam and Dean, and something dark and rectangular behind them, filled with evil-looking red eyes. “Kids,” Dean muttered and gave it back. “I think I’ve figured out what we have to do.”
“Good. I’m raring to do some research. Is it some kind of angel sickness, maybe? A sort of celestial flu?”
Dean looked out at the water. “Remember the castle on the hill made of forty-two dogs?”
“Mostly I remember Becky,” Sam said.
“Messages get garbled when they cross over, right? Even when they come from angels — we know that from Chuck. What Maggie’s drawn is how she sees it, and she’s a kid. When somebody says ‘he’s in a dark place’ she thinks it literally means being lost in the dark, which is scary enough for a kid. But Castiel isn’t being chased by an evil door full of monsters and he doesn’t need to be rescued from a cave.” He drank some water. “He’s so sad, she said. That’s the real truth. He’s so sad he wants to die. He wants to fall completely and be human so he can die.”
“Dean,” Sam breathed in a quietly shocked sort of way.
Sam stared out at the water too. “So we really do need to save him.”
Dean drank. “I don’t exactly know.” He drank some more. “I kissed him.”
“Oh,” said Sam, and then, “Oh,” in his I’m totally not judging you voice. “Why?”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Have you been kissing guys a lot and I just haven’t noticed? Or is this an entirely new thing?”
“There have been guys,” Dean said. “Not a lot.”
Sam was quiet — then, “What was it like?”
Dean smiled to himself. Awesome. Heaven. What I’ve been dreaming of for years. I want more. “Not bad for an amateur.”
“I would have thought all that kissing he’s been doing with Dr. Bonham would have taught him something.”
“I don’t think he’s been kissing anybody much.”
Sam swung his legs, feet skimming over the water. “I read somewhere once that the secret to happiness is something to believe in, something to do, and someone to love. Something to believe in — his Father? Something to do — protect the Earth, train the new angels. Someone to love …” He cut his eyes to Dean.
“Shut up,” Dean said but couldn’t help smiling.
There was a shout and a crash, and Dean was out of bed like a shot and halfway down the hall before he even remembered he was in an unfamiliar house with a guy who might not like strangers waving guns in his face.
The light was on in Castiel’s room when Dean skidded to a stop in the doorway. Alex held Castiel’s face, and Castiel shook violently, his face pale and soaked with sweat, his eyes wild, his breathing labored and fast with panic. “Jimmy!” Alex said sharply. “Jimmy. You’re here. You’re safe. No monsters. Look at me, Jimmy. Look at me.”
Castiel looked at him finally. “Alex,” he said, “you’re Alex,” and Alex patted his cheeks.
“The bad dreams are back, huh?” he said quietly, and then glanced over his shoulder at Dean — and Sam, who had joined them with a knife in his hand. “You’re okay now,” he murmured and Castiel nodded, shutting his eyes.
Sam came into the bedroom — the knife stuck in his waistband, under his T-shirt — and started to pick up the pieces of broken glass from the lamp Castiel had knocked over. “Does this happen a lot?” he asked Alex.
“Not for a while. A lot in the beginning, though.” He was still holding Castiel, stroking his face and rubbing his back like he’d done this a dozen times before, and Castiel was limp and exhausted in his arms. “He was doing so well.”
“Sorry,” Dean said. He’d fallen asleep aching for Castiel and plotting ways to get him away from Alex’s house — now he wondered if they should even take Castiel away from Alex at all. “We didn’t mean to make things worse.”
“Dean,” Castiel said before Alex could speak. He held out his hand, and Dean crossed the room to take it.
“We gonna break out the bonbons and nail polish now?” he said gruffly and Castiel cracked a smile.
“You have made nothing worse, Dean.”
“Good,” said Dean. He stood there holding Castiel’s hand like a dweeb until Sam said to Alex, “Where can I find a broom and dustpan?”
“Let me show you,” Alex said, standing. “Dean, why don’t you sit with Jimmy?”
“Sure.” Dean moved to Castiel’s side as Alex stood, and when the other two left the bedroom he put an arm around Castiel’s shoulders. There was another feather on the pillow, which Dean picked up and twirled between his fingers. “Nightmares, huh?”
Castiel leaned into him, curling up his legs. “I dislike that about sleeping.”
Dean quietly laughed. “Me too.” He put the feather aside and combed his fingers through Castiel’s hair slowly, then deeper when Castiel made a soft sound and moved closer. “Cas, I’ve been thinkin’ —”
Alex and Sam came back into the bedroom. “Mind the broken glass,” Alex said and knelt to vacuum up the pieces with a DustBuster. Sam gave a questioning look to Dean, and Dean nodded — Everything’s okay, Sam — so he began to sweep up the bigger pieces.
“Stay with me,” Castiel whispered.
“Until you fall asleep, sure,” Dean whispered back.
“No,” Castiel said and sat up to look at him, and Alex shut off the DustBuster. Dean’s ears rang in the sudden silence. “Stay with me tonight, Dean.”
“Okay,” Dean said, and didn’t miss the way Alex’s gaze dropped.
“Well, you’re looked after, then,” Alex said and stood. He brushed off his knees. “Thank you, Sam. I don’t think we have to worry about cut feet.”
“You’re welcome,” Sam said and dumped the dust into a wastepaper basket. He knelt in front of Castiel. “Do you want to talk about the nightmare, Cas?”
“No,” Castiel said and Dean laughed. Castiel glanced at him with another faint smile.
“I guess we should all get back to sleep, then,” Sam said, smiling too, and stood. “Um, good night, guys.”
“Good night,” Dean said, and Castiel echoed, “Good night.”
Alex still stood there, his arms crossed, after Sam left. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” he asked Castiel.
“Yes,” Castiel said. “Dean and I have seen each other through many bad nights.”
“My bad nights, mostly,” Dean said.
“I’m sorry I woke you,” Castiel added. “You have work soon.”
“I know.” He scrubbed his hand through his hair. “I guess I should try to get a little more sleep. Good night.” He gave one more searching look to Castiel and left them.
Dean hesitated, then shut the door and turned off the overhead light, plunging the room into darkness. He found the bed and crawled in beside Castiel, who had moved back under the bedding. “This okay?”
“I am okay now.”
Dean smiled and found Castiel’s shoulder. He slid his arm over Castiel’s chest and held him loosely. “Me too.”
Castiel stroked his arm slowly. “Alex was not pleased I asked for you.”
“He has stayed with me through many nights. Still, I prefer you.”
Dean tightened his arm around Castiel. “So when we go, are you coming with us?”
“I don’t know. You are going to insist I retain what is left of my angelic nature.”
“Yeah,” Dean said, “I’m a pain in the ass that way.” Castiel huffed, and Dean said, “Y’know, at first I thought maybe Dr. Bonham made you … do stuff.”
After a momentary puzzled silence, Castiel quietly laughed. “Oh. You mean sex. No. I am still a virgin.”
“So what does he ask for in exchange for you living here?”
“Nothing. I try to look after him — prepare his meals and keep the house tidy. But he has never asked me for sex. He has kissed me, as you saw,” he added. “But nothing more.”
“Dude,” Dean said, “a lot of times when people kiss you, that means they want to do more. It depends on the signals you give off.”
“Do I give off signals?”
“If you haven’t slept with him, no, you haven’t.”
“I have not slept with him.”
“Yeah, I figured when you said you’re still a virgin
Castiel paused again. “I don’t like kissing him as much as I like kissing you.” Dean looked at Castiel’s profile, perfect in the dark, and they both chuckled. “That was some good kissin’, Cas.” He combed his fingers through Castiel’s hair, marveling that it was so soft and thick, that Castiel’s skin was so warm. “How do I help you?” he whispered. “What do I do?”
Castiel moved to lay his head on Dean’s chest, and Dean’s hand hovered over his head a moment before Dean resumed stroking his hair. “I can’t be helped,” Castiel whispered. “I slaughtered my brothers and sisters. I slew innocents. I unleashed an evil on the world so great no living creature can defeat them. Tell me, Dean, what would you have me do to atone for these sins?”
“I don’t know,” Dean said, “but who says you need to?”
“Everything in me says I need to. I am certain that is why my Father has restored me for a third time — not to protect, not to guide, but to be punished as I deserve.”
“Even I don’t think God’s that much of a dick,” Dean said softly. Castiel’s hair curled around his fingers more the more he played with it. He kind of loved that.
“I had already come to the conclusion that free will is a rope, and God wants us to hang ourselves with it,” Castiel said and Dean looked away.
Castiel moved again, slowly, to lean their foreheads together. “That you have come for me is a wonder and a mercy to me,” he said softly. “That I have been allowed to see you one more time is more than I had hoped for.”
Dean swallowed hard and forced his hands to stay at his sides. “Sam thinks Alex is in love with you. I think he’s right.”
“I know Alex thinks he is, but he is not.” Castiel laid his head on Dean’s chest again.
“He’s taken pretty good care of you without asking for anything in return,” said Dean. “People don’t do that for many reasons except for love.” Castiel sighed and Dean said quietly, hopefully, “Doesn’t that make you feel … special? Cared for?”
“That is very sweet, Dean, thinking that knowing Alex desires me is enough to erase all the wrongs that I’ve done.”
“But it’s not, is it?” Dean said with a sigh. He messed with Castiel’s hair again. “But I’m not talking about desire, Cas. I mean love. Wanting to live with someone, you know, so you can be with them every day, talk to them all the time, make each other happy. Enjoying their company most. Liking them best.”
Castiel said softly, “I know what love feels like. I have felt it, and I have felt its heartbreak, and whatever Alex feels for me is a pale shadow by comparison.”
Dean rubbed his back, not sure of what to say. “Can I see your cut?” Castiel pulled of the Band-Aid and showed him the cut finger — or rather the smooth finger, no sign of injury at all. “That healed fast,” Dean said. “You’ve still got some angelic mojo left. And the way Alex’s garden and plants are growing, that’s got to be from you, too.”
“I am not completely fallen yet.”
“Maggie says when you are, you’ll die.” Castiel looked at him with full, enormous eyes and Dean said, “Cas —”
“Please don’t. You have not done the things I have done. When I am human I will be able to die, and I welcome death with open arms. It will be a blessing, Dean.”
Dean shook his head and closed his eyes. “I can’t believe this is what you want.”
“What I want is to forget. What I must do is remember.” He moved out of Dean’s arms. “I would like to sleep. Is this normal, to be tired after feeling such enormous emotions?”
“Feeling drained? Yeah, it’s normal. It’s weird that you sleep, though.”
“I sleep,” Castiel said. “I also eat and bleed, as you saw.”
“Yeah.” Dean lay there a moment more, then rolled closer to Castiel and put an arm over his waist. Castiel made another one of those small sounds, and then pulled Dean’s arm more tightly around him. “Cas. This is the monster that I have to fight, isn’t it?”
Castiel wove their fingers together and pressed Dean’s palm to his heart.
“I’m not going to lose,” Dean said. “That’s a promise.”
“Dean,” Castiel said, “you realize that if you make me stay alive, if you make me remember my sins and my regrets, it will only increase my suffering.”
“I realize that,” Dean said and rolled onto his back so he could pull Castiel on top of him. “But you know what? Being alive is suffering. It’s getting up every day and fighting until something else gets you, some monster, some bullet, some asshole on his cellphone who doesn’t see the light change — but you don’t give up.” He took Castiel’s face in his hands and kissed him fiercely.
Castiel still smelled like snowy mountain air, and his mouth tasted like water, and his skin was warm as sunshine under Dean’s fingers. Castiel whimpered and grasped Dean’s waist. His thumbs brushed Dean’s chest and when his lips opened Dean couldn’t hold back his groan.
Castiel wrapped his legs around Dean’s hips and combed his hands through Dean’s hair and down his neck. He grasped Dean’s shirt restlessly as if he wanted to tug it off but didn’t dare.
Dean pulled away at last and wiped the saliva from his chin. “No more talk about offing yourself. I’m not going to let you.”
“It’s not your decision,” Castiel whispered, his voice even more gravelly than usual.
Dean stroked Castiel’s chest. Monsters he knew how to hunt and kill. This, he had no idea how to deal with. “Yeah, well,” he said roughly, “you may think I’d be glad to be rid of my nerdy little dude but you’d be wrong.”
Castiel held Dean’s face between his hands and searched his eyes intently, and then kissed him, slowly and with determination. Dean moved his hands to Castiel’s ass — what was making out without a little groping? — but the moment he began to squeeze and knead the taut muscles Castiel backed away, trembling.
“Dean, I know,” he swallowed, “I know you wish to have sex —”
“Signal,” Dean said, grinning, and squeezed Castiel’s ass again.
Castiel nodded impatiently. “I am not ready. That is my signal.”
“Oh,” Dean said and let go of Castiel. “I should —will you be okay if I go?”
Castiel’s eyes flickered with disappointment. “You don’t want to sleep next to me?”
“I probably could, but —” He exhaled shakily.
“Then perhaps it is best that you go.”
“Hey,” Dean said, sitting up, and he kissed Castiel again, just lightly. “I’ll be just down the hall if you need me for anything. Anything at all, Cas. You have another bad dream or you just get cold and anything in between. But I’m just not sure I can keep my hands off you, even in my sleep.”
Castiel nodded and kissed him back, and then moved aside so Dean could get out of bed. As Dean passed him he caught Dean’s hand and pressed a kiss to his palm. Dean bent and kissed the top of his head. “Lie down,” he whispered, and when Castiel obeyed Dean fluffed the bedding and spread it over him. “This,” he said as he smoothed the blankets, “is called getting tucked in. It mostly happens when you’re a kid but sometimes it’s nice when you’re all grown up, too.”
“It is nice,” Castiel murmured. Dean bent and kissed his forehead, and stayed there for a moment, their foreheads touching and Castiel’s hand light on his cheek.
“Good night, Cas,” he said finally and went back to his room, Castiel’s soft, “Good night, Dean,” following him like a caress.
Sunlight hit Dean in the face and he groaned and turned away, reaching for Castiel. Of course there was no Castiel to touch, to draw close and wrap himself around, and that made him groan again, this time with frustration. He was going to follow Castiel’s lead, it would be wrong to do otherwise, but he couldn’t stop himself from wishing Castiel’s lead would take him back to bed sooner instead of later.
He stretched, got up and pulled on something clean, and then went in search of Cas. And coffee. Coffee would also be good.
Thankfully someone — Sam, he supposed — had left a pot of coffee on the warmer of the sleek coffee maker, and even though it smelled like vanilla Dean poured himself a cup and went out to the back porch. Sam was reading on his laptop at the picnic table, a cup of vanilla coffee in his hand. “You seen Cas or Alex?” Dean said and swung his leg over the bench.
“Dr. Bonham is at work and Cas is swimming.” Sam nodded to the dock.
“Cas can swim?”
“He dove in,” said Sam with a shrug. Dean put down his cup and strode down the lawn to the dock, and strained his eyes to see a familiar dark head in the water. It took only a moment to spot him — Castiel swam easily and smoothly through the water, from beyond Alex’s next-door neighbor to Alex’s own dock in minutes, and he stopped and tread water when he saw Dean.
“Good morning,” Castiel said.
“Hey.” Dean sat cross-legged on the planks and sipped his coffee. “You do this every day?”
“Not every day,” Castiel admitted. “Many days. Alex says it’s good for me.”
“He’s probably right. Endorphins or something. I didn’t even know you knew how to swim.”
Castiel said dryly, “I have been dropped twice into the ocean, Dean. How do you think I survived?”
“Okay, okay,” Dean said, holding up his hands in surrender. He watched — ogled, if he was being honest with himself, and ogled blatantly — as Castiel climbed the ladder to the dock and picked up a beach towel to buff himself dry. His body was slim and strong, pale, with dark fine hair leading down his belly and on his legs, and his chest still bore the scars of the Enochian sigil to banish angels. Dean cleared his throat and dragged his gaze from Cas’s body to his face. “What did they make of those, at the hospital?”
“One doctor thought a cult tried to murder me.”
Dean snorted. “I guess that makes more sense than explaining about stopping the Apocalypse.”
“They did not believe me when I told them that. That is why Alex refuses to call me Castiel. He believes I am pretending to be someone I am not.”
“Delusions,” Dean said. “Yeah. We talked about that.” Castiel pulled on a T-shirt, and Dean said, “Do you want some coffee? This has vanilla in it.”
Castiel sat on the dock, cross-legged too. He took the mug from Dean and held it in both hands as he drank. “Sweet,” he murmured and gave the mug back.
“Do you need to go inside? It’s kind of cold out here.”
“I’m all right, Dean.”
It was cold enough that steam was rising from the water, but the morning had a crystalline sort of beauty that made the chill worth enduring. The air was springtime clean, the trees all around were starting to bud, the evergreens were full and smelled of spice, and here he was, drinking really good coffee with his best friend.
I hope I get this moment again in Heaven, Dean thought. He said out loud, “I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to stay, getting to look at this every day.”
“If I were to stay here, Alex would eventually convince me to become his lover,” Castiel said, and Dean looked at him, surprised.
“Do you think he’d —”
“No, he would never force me. But he can be very persuasive.” He sighed and stretched out on the wood. “He has already persuaded me to live with him, to live like a human, to eat and sleep and swim, even to take those pills he believes will help me. I think it is only a matter of time before he persuades me to the rest.”
“If you don’t want to, you don’t have to,” Dean said.
“Even you believed we were lovers.”
“Well,” Dean said uncomfortably, “yeah. But I’ve got a dirty mind.”
Castiel chuckled and folded his arms under his head. “Many people believe all they need is a lover and all their problems will go away. Even the nurses who befriended me think Alex is all I need.”
Dean drank, the sweet coffee suddenly cloying. He said, “And what do you think about it?”
“I think it depends on the lover. And the person. And the problems.” He shifted his body, getting comfortable, and Dean looked away so he wouldn’t watch Castiel’s cock move under the loose swim trunks. “For myself, I don’t think being Alex’s lover will make me want to die any less.”
“Cas,” Dean said.
“What? It is true. One man, no matter how well-intentioned, is not going to erase the things I’ve done.”
Dean looked down at the empty mug. It was plain white ceramic, sturdy and functional. Much like Alex, he thought. Useful but boring. He said, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it does depend on the lover.” He took a breath. “And don’t dismiss sex just because you’ve never had it. It does help sometimes. It can make things better.”
“I can’t imagine how,” Castiel said. “When things have been so dark, so —” He inhaled slowly. “In the hospital I found a scalpel and sliced open my wrists, but they healed before I lost enough blood to die. I took a bottle of sleeping pills but they only made me drowsy. I tried to hang myself but Alex found me, and I was breathing again as soon as he cut me down.” He paused. “He did CPR anyway.”
“Cas,” Dean whispered.
“After that, it became clear to me that I could not die as long as any of my angelic nature remained. So I wait. I hope to fall.” He shrugged simply.
Dean’s mouth worked a moment, trying to form words, trying to find words — what came out was, “Is this about last night?”
Castiel looked at him. “No. Even you believe all I need is an act of physical release and everything will be just fine.” His last words were surprisingly bitter, and Dean reached out to push his fingers into Castiel’s hair, hoping to comfort him. Castiel turned his head toward Dean and closed his eyes, and after a moment Dean put his arm around Castiel’s shoulders and pulled him close. Castiel whispered, “I must admit, there is something pleasant about being close to you.”
“That’s ’cause we’re profoundly bonded,” Dean said. He watched the sunlight play on the waves and stroked Castiel’s hair, and Castiel sighed contentedly in his arms.
The day passed quietly, which was weird. Sam used Alex’s internet to research the Leviathan. Castiel tidied the house and did a few batches of laundry, and baked something delicious-smelling for dinner. It left Dean at loose ends with himself, so he ended up going through every single one of Alex’s DVDs to find something to watch. The collection was heavy on French subtitles and black-and-white classics, but Dean nearly whooped with joy (and a little smugness) when he found the shelf of martial arts movies. Rumble in the Bronx, Legend of Drunken Master, a whole slew of Jet Li — it was the mother lode. He popped in The One and got comfortable on the sofa to watch.
Castiel came out of the kitchen and sat beside Dean. “What is this?”
“It’s awesomeness wrapped in awesome and topped with melted awesome.” Castiel puzzled at him, and Dean said, “Jet Li. Multiverses. Just go with it.”
“I am aware of the concept of multiverses,” Castiel murmured and then laid his head on Dean’s shoulder. Dean looked down at him, surprised, and then smiled and put an arm around him. He’d never cuddled while watching a Jet Li flick but there was a first for everything.
Castiel said, after Dean had disrupted his comfortable position a few times by jumping at some really good stunts, “I have a volunteering shift at the hospital tomorrow. Will you drive me?”
“Sure. Can I hang around for a while, too? I’d love to see you — doing whatever you do. Handing out magazines and candy in a candy-striper uniform?”
“No,” Castiel said, amused. “I read to people, most of the time. Talk to them. Sometimes they ask me to hold the premature babies.”
“The preemies?” Dean looked at him. “Why?”
“Because they need to be held.” Castiel shifted on the couch, pulling up his knees. It made him lean his weight more heavily on Dean, not that Dean minded. “I’m not sure what good I do. Alex thinks it cheers me, but it doesn’t cheer me. All I see is how close they are to being destroyed, and how I brought this upon them.”
“Cas, you gotta stop thinking like that.”
“And how do you suggest I do that? Lie to myself?”
“If that’s what it takes.”
“I cannot.” His head lolled on Dean’s shoulder. “I feel it, Dean. I feel the darkness behind me like a door waiting to be opened, and something dreadful is on the other side. It is waiting for me. Waiting to devour me once more.”
Dean put his arms around Castiel’s shoulders and kissed his hair. “I won’t let it.”
“You don’t understand. The sooner it devours me, the sooner I will be released from this torment.” He put his hands on top of Dean’s, though, and it was easy to believe for a moment that he was okay, he was really okay. “I should leave this place. I should go where there are no other people — the top of the world, or the bottom, or the center of the desert or the jungle. A mountaintop. I should not stay here.”
“If you want to leave,” Dean said, “Sam and I have been making the old cabin home base. It’s out in the woods and it’s quiet and there’s no one around but Bobby for miles. And even he’s not spending much time there anymore.”
“He has a woman,” Castiel said. “That is good.”
Dean watched the movie, not really seeing it. “Sam says the secret to happiness is something to believe in, something to do and someone to love. Bobby’s found that. I’ve never seen him less grumpy.”
“And you, Dean?”
Dean smiled grimly. “Hell, I’ve always got something to do.”
“But nothing to believe in,” Castiel said. “And no one to love.”
“I’ve got a couple people to love,” Dean said. He rested his chin on top of Castiel’s head. “And you know, I think that gives me enough to believe in.”
Castiel kissed his palm and pressed it to his chest. Dean smiled, thinking that watching Jet Li kick ass was the least romantic thing he’d ever done, but it felt romantic and cozy right now anyway. Cas was safe in his arms and not talking about dying or being chased by evil doors —
Dean frowned and arched his hip to get Maggie’s drawings from his back pocket. He unfolded them with one hand looked again at the drawing Sam had brought the night before. It was just like Cas had said, a dark doorway filled with monsters. He shivered and refolded them.
“What is that?” Castiel murmured.
“Oh — the prophecies of Maggie Halford.” Castiel took the papers and looked at them, his expression solemn. “There’s another,” Dean said and got out his cell phone to show Castiel the picture of Maggie’s driveway drawing. “Somebody’s worried about you, Cas.”
Castiel stared at the photo, then back to the drawings, and then at the photo again. “I cannot believe I would be welcomed like the prodigal son,” he whispered. “My heart yearns for it, Dean. It does. I am so homesick.” He looked up at Dean, his eyes brimming, and Dean winced inwardly. Shit, didn’t Castiel realize he was no good at this comforting gig? “I miss them all. Even the ones I killed and the ones who wanted to kill me, I miss them.” A tear slid from his eye and down the side of his nose.
“Cas,” Dean said and wiped it away with his thumb. Castiel closed his eyes and Dean continued gently wiping them away with his fingertips. “Don’t, okay?” he said, the tenderness in his tone surprising even him. “It freaks me out.”
Castiel laughed damply and gave the drawings back, and then leaned against Dean again. “Sorry. Of course, it would never do to freak you out.”
“Damn straight,” Dean said, and as much as he wanted to continue holding Castiel, since it seemed to be working, the side door opened then and Alex came into the living room, looking worn.
“Oh,” he said at the sight of them, and Castiel was up from the sofa in an eyeblink.
“Alex,” he said and embraced him. Alex closed his eyes and sighed, and then kissed his cheek and hugged him back.
“Whatever you’re making for dinner, it smells wonderful.” He let go of Castiel and said to Dean, “I see you found my guilty pleasures.”
“Pleasure should never make you feel guilty,” Dean replied and managed a sincere smile.
Alex laughed. “You’re a wise man, Dean. Excuse me, I want to wash up a little.” He went upstairs and Castiel sighed, his body slumping.
“You put on an act for him,” Dean remarked, as Sam came in from the backyard, his laptop under his arm.
“Yes,” Castiel said mildly. “I don’t want him to worry.”
“But it’s okay if I worry?” Dean said and moved his legs aside as Sam settled onto the couch with him and opened his laptop again. He watched the conversation, though, eyes darting from Dean to Cas.
Castiel smiled. It was gentle, almost teasing. “Yes,” he said simply and went back into the kitchen.
Alex went to bed early again, and after his door was closed Dean went to Sam’s room and sat at the foot of his bed. “I don’t think it’s working.”
“What isn’t?” Sam said. His laptop was open on his knees again.
“Talking to Cas, whatever the hell I’m supposed to be doing. It’s not working. I don’t know what will.”
“How can you tell?”
Dean shook his head slowly. “I don’t know. There’s just something to him … I’ve seen him happy, Sam. Genuinely happy, and it’s just not there anymore. He wants to fall and I don’t know how to stop him.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” said Sam, and when Dean glared at him Sam said, “I mean, Kali said that despair is the worst thing an angel can bear, right? But humans live with regret every day. Maybe he needs that extra layer of humanity to get him through. When he can die, maybe he’ll stop wanting to.”
Dean leaned back, considering that. “But what about the Leviathan? If he’s the last weapon we’ve got, we shouldn’t encourage him to fall.”
“What if he’d rather die than be a weapon?” Sam responded. “God knows we fought it tooth and nail.”
“Yeah,” Dean murmured and scrubbed his hands over his face. “It feels like a choice between saving the world or saving Cas.”
Sam looked at him sympathetically. “We have to save the world, Dean.”
“I know that.” He got out the drawings again. “But we were told we can save him, too. I gotta believe that. I can’t just let him go to Hell. Can you imagine what they’d do to him there?”
“Too well,” Sam said quietly.
Dean patted his foot. “How’s the Satan vision been?”
Sam shrugged. “I’m okay. It helps if I keep busy. I’ve been looking for anything about restoring angels and what connections the Leviathan have to Gabriel. There’s not much to find, but it’s keeping me occupied.”
“Okay.” Dean got off the bed. “Get some sleep, Sammy.”
“I’m gonna keep talking to Cas,” Dean said, and glanced at him over his shoulder when Sam said, “And listening. Don’t forget to listen.”
Castiel wasn’t hard to find — he was down by the dock again, holding his crossed legs as his toes wiggled back and forth. “More swimming?” Dean said.
“No. Just thinking.” He watched as Dean bumped down beside him.
“Cold out here,” Dean remarked.
“It’s going to rain tomorrow. I can taste it in the air.”
Dean smiled at him. “Seriously, aren’t you cold? You’ve given up shoes like a bad habit.”
“I like the freedom of bare feet.”
Dean couldn’t argue with him about that, and leaned against one of the ladder posts and closed his eyes. It was so quiet he could hear the water lapping against the piles under the dock. He said softly, “Sam’s been researching all day to see if there’s a way to help Kali, but he hasn’t been able to find anything.”
“There is no way to restore a dead angel,” Castiel said, “unless a more powerful being decides to bring them back, as my Father did me.”
“If God’s so keen to keep the Earth going, why doesn’t he restore the angels himself?” Dean said, annoyed. Castiel, at least, had been a hands-on God.
Castiel sighed. “Why does he continually bring me back?” he asked quietly. “Why did he allow me to battle Raphael, an archangel? Where is he, when the Leviathan walk the Earth again and Sam is slowly being driven mad?” Dean stared at him, open-mouthed, and Castiel smiled grimly. “Yes, I know. I know when he sees Lucifer. It’s as if his soul flickers, and Lucifer would extinguish it forever.”
“He says he’s fine,” Dean protested weakly.
“Sam is not above lying to prevent you from worrying.”
Dean buried his head in his hands for a moment. “Great. Just great. What do I do to help him?”
“I don’t know,” Castiel said. “Free him from Lucifer’s grasp, I assume.”
“Can you do that?”
Castiel looked out at the water. “No. Not anymore.”
“Yeah, okay,” Dean muttered. He looked out at the water too, and then up at Castiel as he stood and pulled off his shirt — another button-down, this one a dark red. Castiel took off his jeans as well, and Dean said, “Uh, Cas?”
“Swimming,” Castiel said as he stripped off his briefs, and then dove into the water. After a moment he surfaced, and said, “Join me, Dean,” as he tread water.
“What the hell,” Dean said and stood too to strip. He dove in — the water was shockingly cold and Dean froze as his heart stuttered to a stop. Someone grabbed him by the arm and yanked him to the surface, and Dean gasped for air and spat water out of his mouth.
“Breathe,” Castiel said and wrapped an arm around his waist. It was like being enveloped in heat, being that close to him. “I have you.”
“Fuck, it’s cold,” Dean choked out.
“This water comes from the Arctic.” Castiel watched him, his head tilted, and Dean gave him his cockiest grin as his breathing slowed.
“I’m okay now.”
“Hm.” Castiel didn’t let him go yet — he rolled onto his back, holding Dean across the chest, and swam with one arm further out.
“Dude, I’m naked,” Dean whispered, not wanting to disturb the perfect stillness of the night.
“As am I.”
“And I’m not drowning.”
“Trust me,” said Castiel, and Dean closed his eyes and relaxed against him. He could feel Castiel slowly kick under the water against his feet, and one strong arm was enough to keep them afloat. He let his hand drag under the water in a cursory attempt to help, but mostly just let Castiel tug them along.
“It’s better now, isn’t it,” Castiel whispered.
“Yeah.” He didn’t want to open his eyes, he was so lost in the sensations of water and heat and Castiel’s arm around him, the cool breeze kissing his skin and Castiel’s body supporting him, cradling him. He whispered, “You’re strong for such a skinny dude.”
Castiel chuckled. “I know.” He sighed then. “Still, you should not stay in long. This water is very cold.”
Dean swam out of his arms, skin goosepimpling at the sudden cold, and swam to the ladder at Alex’s dock. He hung onto the rung, not climbing out of the water yet. “You look good, you know. In the water.”
Castiel swam to him and hung an arm over Dean’s shoulder. He smelled salty and watery and his skin was so warm compared to the water. Dean pressed his face against Castiel’s neck and put an arm around his waist. “So you swim a lot, huh?”
“I like it,” Castiel said. “It’s like leaving my vessel and being pure energy once again. I am weightless in the water. I am free.”
Dean watched him, the way the moonlight and shadows played over his face, and blurted out, “I don’t want you to die, Cas.”
The water lapped against the dock. From somewhere distant there was a purr of someone’s motorboat engine, and the splash of someone else diving in for a midnight swim. Castiel held onto Dean and said nothing.
Dean pressed his forehead against Castiel’s. “I tried living without you and it sucked. I hated it. It was twisting me up inside, making me — I don’t know. More of a dick than I’m comfortable being. Just being tired and angry and lonely and — I’m not me without you anymore, Cas.”
Castiel kissed Dean gently, and Dean hitched him closer and kissed him back. “I will tell you tomorrow, what I decide,” Castiel said. “Go warm up now, Dean.”
Dean climbed out and climbed into his clothes, shivering. Once inside he took a shower to warm up completely, and checked on Cas before he went to bed.
There was another feather on the nightstand, and Castiel lay with his back to the door. “Good night, Cas,” Dean said quietly but Castiel must have already been asleep because he didn’t respond.
In the morning it was raining and the ferry was crowded. Castiel liked to ride at the top of the ferry, so they found an empty bench near the prow to watch the scenery as they returned to the mainland. Dean burrowed deep into his coat and said, “So this volunteering gig. How’d that happen?”
“After I was found,” said Castiel, “people kept coming to my room to speak with me. Well, to be near me, more accurately. They didn’t always want to talk — they just wanted to be in my presence. Pregnant women, sick children, the dying. Even when the nurses strapped me down after I cut my wrists, people came to my room. So when I was allowed to leave the bed, they thought I could do some good there, since people were already drawn to me.”
“And you agreed?”
“It makes things simpler to accept Alex’s suggestions without argument.”
“Ringing endorsement,” Dean said.
“Alex thinks it cheers me, and while I wouldn’t go that far I have not found it unpleasant. I have watched the passage of many good souls, who faced death with grace and courage.” He paused. “There was no singing. Television led me to believe there would be singing.”
“No, there’s usually not singing,” Dean said softly.
“I have not seen many births,” Castiel said. “There was one woman. Heather was her name. Her boyfriend was out of town when she went into labor and her family is far away, and she asked me to be with her while she gave birth. So I was. It was deeply moving.” He paused, his fingers running over a fold in his jeans. “She wept with joy. I had forgotten what it’s like to feel emotions so deeply they spill over.”
“Like laughing until you cry,” Dean said. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt something that deeply, himself. “Is she okay?”
“Oh, yes. Her boyfriend came home the next day. She and the baby are not alone.”
“That’s good.” Dean stared out at the grey, wet day. “It’s hard to do it on your own.”
“It’s hard to do anything on your own,” Castiel said softly and looked sidelong at Dean. Dean started to smile and touched his knee.
“You’re not alone if you don’t want to be,” he said softly.
“How would you prefer me, Dean?” Castiel said, meeting his eyes, and Dean licked his lips as a dozen scenarios leapt to mind. “Human or angel?”
“Oh,” Dean said and banished all those sexy thoughts as completely as he could. “Angel. We need you to be an angel.”
Castiel exhaled slowly and rose from the bench. “We’re there,” he said. “We should get back in the car.” He walked away. Dean frowned after him before he followed.
“You’re in pediatrics today, Jimmy,” the nurse told them when Castiel checked in, so they took an elevator up to the pediatric ward. Castiel did not look very cheerful in the elevator, but once the doors open and half-dozen ankelbiters leapt on him, crying, “Jimmy’s here, Jimmy’s here!” Castiel lit up with happiness. He knelt to embrace them and listen to them as they told him the stories of what they’d been doing since he last visited, and then told them to get back into bed before they got cold.
“This is my friend Dean,” he told them as he pulled over a chair in the midst of all the beds and wheelchairs, and Dean found a bit of wall to lean against with a few visiting parents.
Castiel took out a slim hardback book from his jacket pocket and turned a few pages. “Now, where were we? Does anyone remember?” The children began to shout about the book and Castiel gestured to them to quiet down. “Not so loud. There are sick people around.”
This brought giggles, and Dean looked at the other parents to see how they reacted. They were smiling too, as if this were as much a treat for them as it was for their children.
It could have been a sad scene, Dean thought: Castiel was surrounded by kids in wheelchairs and bathrobes, some with no hair or scarves around their heads, some with hollow cheeks and sunken eyes, some with broken limbs or bandages around their ribs or even prone in their beds, too weak to sit. But it wasn’t sad — it was peaceful, the kids laughed at the funny parts and shivered and said, “Oo,” at the scary parts, like ordinary kids listening to a story on a rainy morning.
The book, as far as Dean could tell, was about a little girl trying to save her parents with the help of her cat, and Castiel read it beautifully; his voice dropped in the scary parts, making the children lean forward to hear; and changed from a high, sweet voice for the girl to a silkily threatening drawl for the wicked stepmother — no, the Other Mother is what this story called the Big Bad — and even had a bit of a purr for the cat.
As Dean waited near the door of the ward, another parents murmured to him, “You’re a friend of Jimmy’s?”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “We’ve known each other a couple years now.”
“He reads beautifully.”
“Yeah. Always loved books.”
“Mine is Dylan,” the woman said, pointing to a boy in a bathrobe printed with rocket ships and little asteroids with a green Martian peeking out of craters. “He loves it when Jimmy comes. It’s the best part of his week.”
“I bet,” Dean whispered, his throat suddenly tight, and he turned and left the ward. He needed a monster to kill, he thought, he needed something cut and dried, something black and white, something simple. There was nothing simple about this. Why couldn’t they rescue Cas from something he wanted to be rescued from, instead of having to tear him away from people who needed him and liked him, maybe even loved him?
Dean found a waiting room with vending machines and bought a Coke so he could run the cool can over his face. Eventually he heard Castiel softly call his name. He managed to summon up an easy smile as Castiel joined him. “You didn’t stay to listen.”
“I got thirsty. Did you finish it?”
“We finished it.” Castiel sat in the stiff little couch beside him. “Coraline rescued her parents and released the ghost children, and as a result Coraline is a stronger and wiser girl. Order was restored.”
Dean huffed. “Always works out that way in stories. In real life, it’s never that easy.” Castiel watched him, thoughtful, and Dean said, “Are you ready to go?”
“Yes,” Castiel said. “That is all for me today.”
“It’s a long trip for such a short visit.”
“Sometimes they have me do more, but not today.” He got from the couch. “And Nurse Friday said Alex never reported in this morning. She wondered if he’s sick.”
“His car wasn’t in front of the garage,” Dean said. “Maybe he got in a wreck on the way in.”
Castiel shook his head as they walked to the elevator bank. “He would have been brought here if he were injured. It would have been reported. Alex is always where he says he will be.”
Dean had never seen Castiel as anything but the perfect picture of calm, even at his most wrathful, so to see him like this — hand clenched, eyes blinking a little too often — was like seeing other people flail their arms and wail. He put his hand on Castiel’s back. “It’ll be okay. I’m sure it was just a mix-up of some kind. Do you want to go to the ER and see if we can spot him?”
Castiel nodded gratefully, so when they were on the first floor they went to the emergency wing. Several nurses and doctors greeted Castiel as a familiar face — calling him Jimmy, of course — and more than one asked him if Alex was okay.
“He’s not here,” he said to Dean, face full of confusion and worry. “Where is he, Dean?”
Dean put an arm around him again and directed him to the parking garage. “We’ll find him. Where does he go when he’s not on duty?”
“His brother’s house, a coffee shop or cafe, the art museum, the symphony — he wants to take me on vacation. The Mexican Riviera. He says it will do me good, though I don’t see what good it will do me to lie in the sun for a week.”
“Cas,” Dean said, “you’re babbling,” and that scared him more than Alex disappearing without a word. “Hold on, I’ll call Sam. Maybe Alex called a mental health day and came home again.” He got out his cell phone and dialed Sam’s number.
“Yup,” Sam said when he picked up.
“Sam, it’s me. Dr. Bonham never showed up for work today. Did he come back to the house?”
“No,” Sam said. “Everything’s funky town here, Dean.”
Fuck. Their danger code word. “We’ll be there as soon as we can,” Dean said and hung up, and said to Castiel, “Do you have enough mojo to zap us back to the house, Cas? Sam’s in trouble.”
Castiel swallowed and said, “I hope so,” and touched Dean’s forehead.
Dean staggered on Alex’s smooth hardwood floor, disoriented even though the speed-of-thought journey felt as smooth as ever. Castiel slumped against his side, breathing hard and his arm around Dean for support. He said faintly, “Oh, good, we arrived.”
Dean said, “What would have happened if you didn’t have the juice?” and Castiel shook his head.
“It does not bear thinking.” He straightened. They were in the living room, which looked quiet and tidy, as usual, but still he frowned. “They are here. It feels — evil. So evil.” He turned to the kitchen and Dean grabbed his arm.
“We can’t charge in there without knowing what we’re facing, Cas.”
“I know what we are facing,” Castiel said reasonably. “The Leviathan have followed you and all of your weapons are still in the Impala.”
“Shit.” He hadn’t planned for this properly at all. “Where are the cleaning supplies?”
“Laundry room,” Castiel said and took him to a little side room off the kitchen. Dean grabbed bottles and searched their ingredient lists, and pushed a bottle of laundry detergent and another of floor cleaner into Castiel’s arms.
“These. We need these. Take off the caps and be ready to throw the contents on them, okay?” Castiel didn’t move. Dean said, “Look, I thought we’d be safe here but I was wrong, and I’m sorry, but they’ve found us and they’ve got Sam —”
Castiel said softly, “They have taken Alex,” and tightened his arms around the bottles.
“Yeah,” Dean said. “I’m sorry, man. He’s probably dead.” He clasped Castiel’s shoulder. “Come on. One thing at a time, okay?” Castiel nodded, his eyes owlish, and Dean uncapped a bottle of detergent. “Ready?”
“Ready,” Castiel said, raising his chin, and they ran into the kitchen.
There was Sam, tied to a chair and gagged with a dishtowel, while Alex — or rather, a not-Alex — scrolled through the numbers on Sam’s cell phone. “Hello, Dean,” he said, “hello, Castiel. Fancy seeing you here,” and smiled at them both toothily.
Sam’s eyes were huge and he made danger danger signals with his eyebrows. Dean nodded as slightly as he could, and said as he eased closer to the not-Alex, “He’s got Tetris. Careful, it’s addictive.”
“Oh, no, I’m much more interested in the contacts list,” the not-Alex said, barely looking up. “For instance, Margaret Jane Halford. The new prophet. Where could she be..?”
Sam made an enraged sound and the not-Alex laughed. “Of course I know about Maggie. I know everything poor Alex Bonham knew, including the truth about our pal Jimmy, here. Of course, Alex thought it was all craziness and we know it’s the truth, don’t we, boys?” He looked up and studied Castiel. “Still, I can’t say I get what he saw in you. You’re kind of scrawny. I like a fella with a little meat on his bones.” He licked his fingertips. “Alex was delicious.”
Castiel only watched at him, stone-faced.
“Right. And not talkative.” He looked at the phone again. “Oh — hold the phone, here we go, Chelsea Halford. This must be the girl’s mother, right? I do seem to recall hearing Maggie was just a pup. Of course you wouldn’t have her phone number but you’d have her mother’s … looking for a little MILF action, were we, Sam?”
Sam glared daggers at him. The not-Alex laughed. He made a big show of pressing the button to make a call and holding the phone to his ear, and they all heard Chelsea say, “Sam? Is everything all right?”
The not-Alex hissed into the phone, “I am going to eat your daughter’s heart and suck the marrow from her bones,” and hung up, laughing with his enormous, oversized mouth.
All this time, while he taunted Castiel and Sam, Dean had been easing closer and closer to the not-Alex, his bottle of cleanser cradled in his hand. “Yeah,” he said, “prank calls, the height of hilarity,” and swung out his arm so that the cleanser spattered over the kitchen in an arc, catching the not-Alex in the face. Castiel did the same, and when the not-Alex began to scream and bubble something came into Castiel’s eyes like grim satisfaction.
Dean took no more time to catalogue it — he ran to Sam and took out his pocketknife to slice through the rope. He pulled the gag from Sam’s mouth and Sam spat onto the floor. “Ugh!”
“Sorry, Sammy,” Dean said. “I’m sorry. I thought we were safe for a couple days.”
“They’re getting faster,” Sam said. He cast a distasteful glance at the melting Leviathan. “I will never get used to that.”
Castiel stood before the creature with his arms crossed, frowning. “We weaken it with the chemical and then remove its head, yes?”
“Yeah,” Dean said and untied the knots at Sam’s feet. “At least they haven’t figured out the Borax part yet. That’s bought us some time.”
Castiel turned and went out the side door, and Dean shouted after him, “Castiel, we have to go!”
“He’s looking for Alex,” Sam said quietly. “Go easy on him.”
“Will you be okay on your own for a few minutes?” Dean said and Sam nodded grimly and got a butcher knife from the knife block.
“I’ll be just fine.”
“We are so going to talk about how creepy that was later,” Dean said and went after Castiel.
He was in the garage, kneeling beside a spatter of blood and bone. Dean put a hand on his shoulder. “Cas, we have to go. Where there’s one Leviathan there’s sure to be more.”
“He wanted to save me,” Castiel said softly. “I couldn’t even give him that.”
“Plenty of time for guilt trips later, okay? Come on. Before the neighbors notice. We have to get our stuff and you need to zap us back to the hospital, and then —” He had no idea what happened next.
“We have to protect Maggie Halford,” Castiel said. “The Leviathan will follow your trail to her.”
“Shit,” Dean said and ran back to the house. The not-Alex had melted like a waxwork left under a sunlamp, and Sam was sawing the head off with the butcher knife. “Disturbing,” Dean remarked. “Leave it. We’ve got to get to Maggie.”
Sam tossed his cell phone to Dean. “Call them. I’m sure Chelsea’s freaking out right now.”
“I think she’s regretting going to Biggerson’s the other day,” Dean said and called Chelsea’s number. “Chelsea,” he said when she answered, “something’s going down and we’re afraid they’re going to come after you. Are you safe right now? Are you inside your house and is anybody there that shouldn’t be?”
“There’s this woman,” Chelsea said quietly, “but she’s not —” Dean heard, “Let me talk to him,” in the background, and then a new voice said, “Dean Winchester.”
“Kali?” Dean said. “Where’d you come from?”
“I’m trying to help,” Kali said. “And if this girl can help me find Gabriel —”
“I have no idea about Gabriel,” Dean said. “Look. The Leviathan have followed us here. We’ve incapacitated one but it never lasts long unless we take the head, which Sam is working on, but we’re afraid they’re going to come after Maggie next.”
“They will not touch Maggie or her mother while I’m here,” Kali said, and Dean shivered, feeling the power of divinity behind it.
“Okay. Thank you. We’ll be there as soon as we can. Meantime, find anything in the house that has Borax in the ingredient list and lock all the doors and windows.” He hung up and paused for a moment, just to inhale and try to think.
“I need a grocery bag or something,” Sam said, and held up the Leviathan’s severed head.
“There’s fabric ones in the laundry nook. What about the body?”
“There’s the ocean right out back,” Sam said.
“In broad daylight?”
Castiel appeared in the doorway. There were traces of tears on his cheeks but his voice was steady. “I will attend to it. Is Maggie safe?”
“Yeah. Yeah, for now.” Dean added, “Are you okay?” and Castiel glanced at him as he walked past, to the body of the Leviathan.
“No,” Castiel said softly. He reached out and laid his palm lightly on the melted corpse, and at once it crumbled into ash. The head in Sam’s hand did likewise, just dissolved, and Castiel staggered. A feather drifted to the floor from nowhere.
“Whoa!” Dean said as he caught Castiel in his arms. “Wow. Look at what you did, Cas.”
“No more zapping,” Castiel said and took Sam’s hand. “After the hospital, we drive.”
Catiel brought them back to the parking garage, thankfully, because they practically had to carry him to the car and Dean didn’t want to draw anyone’s attention. Not anymore than they already had, anyway, and wouldn’t the cops have a good time solving Alex’s murder with his and Sam’s fingerprints all over the place, along with Castiel’s?
Jimmy’s, he reminded himself, Jimmy’s, and then threw the Impala into gear and peeled out of the parking garage.
“We should have stayed at the motel,” Sam said softly. “He never would have traced us to Dr. Bonham if we had.”
“He still would have, if we’d gone to see Cas every day. All he’d have to do is follow us. And he still would have caught Alex on his own.” He glanced into the rearview mirror to look at Castiel, was slumped low in the back seat as if he could barely hold himself upright. His face was impassive as he gazed out the window. “Hanging on there, Cas?”
“Yes,” Castiel said in a barely audible voice. “Hanging on.”
“We’ll be at the Halfords’ soon,” Dean said as reassuringly as he could, though he didn’t know what was reassuring about it, not if they were going to be under siege.
The little house was a welcome sight, though Dean was sad to see the rain had washed away Maggie’s chalk drawing on the driveway. He’d wanted Cas to see it. The garage door opened as they pulled up and Chelsea gestured for them to drive in, and once they were parked and out of the car Maggie shot out of the door and threw herself at Sam.
“Monsters,” she said miserably and he picked her up.
“I know. We’ll keep you safe from them. We promise.”
Dean opened the passenger door and hauled out Castiel, draping Castiel’s arm over his shoulders and wrapping an arm around his waist. “Maggie, this is Castiel. Cas.”
She slid out of Sam’s arms and went to Castiel, and stared up at him. He wavered on his feet but tried to stay steady, leaning heavily on Dean, and met her gaze. After a moment or two of staring she took his hand. “You’re not saved yet,” she said and tugged him along so they all came into the house.
While Chelsea fussed over Castiel and put him in her own bed to rest, Kali, Sam and Dean gathered around the kitchen table, where Maggie had her crayons and paper and went back to her picture. “Cas dissolved the fu— the critter with a touch,” Dean said once he’d recapped the last few days for Kali. “Maybe you’re right about him being a weapon.”
Kali shook her head slowly. “He’s very weak. That was one Leviathan, already incapacitated and beheaded. He can’t fight off an army at their full power, not like this.”
“What about you?” Sam said. “Can’t you do anything?”
“I can only hold them off,” Kali said. “Destroying them takes more power than I currently have at my disposal. They are very strong.” She was thoughtful a moment, watching Maggie draw, then said, “Maggie, what’s in your picture?”
Maggie moved onto Kali’s lap, bringing the drawing with her. “This is Castiel,” she said, pointing to the figure in the yellow coat, “and this is Dean.” She pointed to the figure in the green shirt. She had also drawn them with their faces mashed together and little hearts in the air above them, and she whispered to Kali, “They’re kissing,” and giggled.
Sam smirked and glanced at Dean, and Dean sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Cas and I are just good friends, Maggie.”
“Kissing friends,” Maggie said. “It’s okay. I have a kissing friend. His name is Braden and he’s got an app-deck-to-my scar he lets me look at.”
Kali looked at Dean speculatively, and Dean said, “Whatever you’re thinking —”
“Tantra is part of my realm,” she pointed out.
“You can’t be serious,” said Sam. “S-E-X magic is powerful sh— stuff. Too powerful for Dean.”
“Hey,” said Dean, stung, “I can handle whatever magic you want to throw at me.”
“I’ll need an object,” said Kali. “Something with meaning to both of you.”
“The necklace,” interjected Maggie. “You wore it and then he wore it.”
“Cas threw it away,” Dean said, and then looked at Sam when he fidgeted.
“I got it out of the garbage can,” Sam confessed in a low voice. “It’s in my backpack.”
“We so need to talk later,” Dean said.
“Maybe not that, then,” Kali said. “Not if it has negative memories attached to it. Do you have something positive — something that connects you?”
Dean looked down at Maggie’s drawing again. In all of them she’d drawn Castiel wearing his trench coat, even though he hadn’t for months — he hadn’t even wanted to wear shoes. Dean said quietly, “Yeah. I’ve got his coat. I’ve been — when I thought he was dead I used to, um, talk to it. And apparently he heard me.”
Sam said, “He heard you.”
“Yes. He said he thought they were dreams. But he heard me and — well, if anything connects us, like really, physically connects us, it’s that coat.”
“Bring it to me,” Kali said.
“Wait,” said Sam, “wait just a minute. You think you can power up Castiel using S-E-X and the trench coat? Enough to face Leviathan? How exactly do you think this is going to happen? And where? The guy’s wiped and we’re guests in Chelsea’s house —”
Chelsea said from the doorway, “Whatever you need to do, do it,” and came to the table.
“Mommy!” said Maggie and climbed up onto the chair to be picked up. Chelsea did and kissed her forehead.
“He’s resting right now. You — you all do whatever you need to do.” She looked at Dean, blushing. “You can use my bedroom. I’ll be with Maggie.”
“Thanks,” Dean said, grateful and shy and weirded out all at once, and went out to the Impala to get the coat from the trunk. “Everybody’s got this sudden interest in my sex life,” he muttered as he unzipped his bag, and he shook out the coat to free the wrinkles. And how was he supposed to do this, anyway, when just two nights ago Castiel had told him he wasn’t ready for sex? “Close your eyes and think of humanity”? Please.
He brought the coat back inside and Kali took it. She gave Dean an amused glance, as if she knew exactly what he had been thinking, and then held the coat to her cheek. “Yes,” she said, “this will do. We’ll need to prepare a ceremony to bless it, and then —”
“I have to talk to Cas about this,” Dean said and escaped the kitchen.
He stopped in the hallway and rubbed his mouth, trying to figure out how to phrase their plan. “I know you’re not ready but we have to protect Maggie” was so heartless. Maybe “close your eyes and think of humanity” was the way to go. Or maybe he should just jump on Cas and hope their attraction was enough.
Dean knocked on the bedroom door with a soft, “Cas?” and let himself in. Castiel lay on the bed, propped up on a few pillows. His eyes were closed, but they opened when Dean sat on the bed with him. “How are you doing?”
“I am tired.”
“I’m sorry.” He sat cross-legged and reached over Castiel to rub his back. “Hey. Um. We’ve been talking, and Kali has this idea that she can help you power up.”
“That is very generous of Kali,” Castiel said politely.
“Yeah, she’s a peach,” Dean said. “The thing is, though, Cas, for her to do it, you and I — well, she’s going to bless the trench coat and then you and I—”
“The trench coat?” Castiel slowly sat up. “You… have my trench coat?”
“When you disappeared in the reservoir it floated to the shore, so I kept it.” Castiel gazed at him, and Dean said, feeling like he was in a confessional, “I didn’t have anything else, Cas. No pictures, no letters, not even some of your old texts since we had to get rid of that phone, not even a grave to visit. Just that old coat.”
“You kept my coat,” Castiel whispered and his eyes were oddly bright. “Dean. You have been speaking to me these past six months, yes? You have held the coat and told me of your days and your doings, and your fears and your hopes. What I thought were dreams, that truly was you.”
Dean pressed his lips together and nodded. “Yeah. It wasn’t just dreams. It was me.”
“You prayed to me,” Castiel said with wonder. “I thought you would never pray to me again. But you did, and I still heard your prayers — and they were prayers, whether you thought of them that way or not. You still prayed to me even when you thought I was dead.” He paused, realization dawning in his face like an epiphany. “You missed me.”
“Yeah. I did.” Dean dropped his gaze again. When he looked up Castiel still gazed at him with something like tenderness, and somehow it hurt worse than the time Castiel beat him up in an alley. “Look. She’s going to bless the trench coat and then we have sex and that’s supposed to power you up — enough to fight, anyway. But we won’t do it if you’re not ready. We’ll find another way.”
Castiel caught the sleeve of Dean’s shirt between his thumb and forefinger. “You’re giving me a choice,” he said quietly.
“I’m Team Free Will, Cas. I’m all about choice.”
“No,” Castiel said with humor in his voice. “Most of the time you insist people agree with you.” Dean laughed despite himself, and Castiel smiled faintly back. They looked at each other, and Castiel moved his hand to Dean’s face and gently drew him closer to give him an achingly sweet kiss, one that made Dean shiver all the way down to his toes and his heart leap. “It will be you and I?” Castiel whispered and stroked Dean’s cheekbone with his thumb.
“Just you and me. And I’ll make it good, Cas, I promise, I’ll make it so good.”
Castiel leaned back against the pillows, regarding him with those eyes, and nodded. “I trust you. Yes. Tell Kali, I say yes.”
Dean kissed his forehead. “Get some sleep. I have the feeling it’s going to be a long night.” He left the bedroom and closed the door behind him, and then went out to the backyard to let the rain fall on his face for a bit. It seemed like the best way to cool down.
Around sunset Sam opened the blinds in the front room to peer outside. It was still raining, and there were two men lingering by Chelsea’s mailbox, staring up at the house. It was like a scene out of Night of the Living Dead, and Sam wished it was something simple like zombies. He knew how to kill zombies.
Dean came back from the garage and paused behind him to look out the window too. “It starts,” he said in a low voice.
“Don’t let the Halfords see yet,” Sam said and closed the blinds again.
Every time he looked out the little group had gotten bigger in twos and threes, until by nightfall they numbered an even dozen at the edge of the lawn, held back by the barrier Kali had erected. This meant there was no leaving the house for supplies or ingredients, but Chelsea had a well-stocked kitchen and Kali said they had everything they needed.
Everything they needed turned out to be herbs and salt, candles and honey, and Maggie’s red and black chalk. Sam perched on the sofa with a shotgun loaded with salt rounds, and smirked at Dean who was already kneeling on the carpet, looking like he was trying hard to stay serious. Dean didn’t even notice, though — his eyes were only for Castiel.
It was only fair, though. Castiel’s eyes were only for Dean, too.
Kali drew a circle on the carpet with the black chalk around Dean and Castiel. She lit the candles, arranged in groups of three, and had poured three piles on small plates and set them on the carpet: one of herbs, one of salt, and one of honey. She knelt before Dean and Castiel to draw intricate knots on their hands with the red chalk, outlined in black.
Castiel said as she drew on his palms, “I am not entirely comfortable with a pagan ceremony,” and Kali raised her eyebrows at him.
“And I am not entirely comfortable with a Judeo-Christian angel, yet here we are,” she said sweetly. “For some things the tradition doesn’t matter — only the outcome.” She looked at him — sympathetically, Sam thought —and began, “If you don’t want this —”
“I want it,” Castiel said, eyes darting everywhere but to meet hers, and beside him Dean flushed, his own hands limp against his thighs to keep from smearing the chalk.
“You’re blushing like a bride,” Sam told Dean.
“Shut up,” Dean replied and glanced at Castiel, who was blushing like a virgin bride on her wedding night, his face serious and scared and a little excited too. Dean whispered, “It’ll be okay,” and brushed their hands together.
“I know,” Castiel said. Their eyes met, and Dean leaned closer to Castiel as Castiel’s lips parted.
“Maggie, time for bed,” said Chelsea and picked her up.
“Mommy, I want to see the magic,” Maggie insisted, struggling to get down from her arms.
“No, dear,” said Chelsea, even when Maggie whined and struggled, and carried her to her room. “Maybe when you learn to drive you’ll be old enough.”
Dean coughed and Sam tried not to laugh, though Kali had no such compunctions — she had to put down the chalk a moment while she laughed. “It’s for the best,” she said when she picked up the chalk again. “Things will get intense later.”
“I kinda feel like we’re getting married,” Dean admitted.
“A human and an angel? Stranger things have happened.”
“There is precedent,” said Castiel. “Look at the Nephilim.”
“I’m not having your giant babies, Cas.”
“No fear of that,” Castiel said placidly.
Kali said, “Well, if you really wanted to—” and they both said, “No!” at once. She smiled and sat back on her heels.
“Next. Open your mouths.” She dipped a fingertip into the salt, herbs and honey one by one, and dabbed each on Dean’s tongue, and then again on Castiel’s, saying, “For to give life flavor; for to give life bitterness; for to give life sweetness.” Once this was done, she picked up the coat, and took both their hands to press their palms to its back.
The house rattled as if there had been an earthquake, just one quick jolt, and the sound of a thunderclap. “Oh!” Kali said, looking up, and Castiel and Dean both gasped. Dean looked stunned and briefly touched his heart.
“What the hell?” Dean said. “What was that?”
Even Kali had a look of wonder. “It means that the bond you share is deeply powerful, yet volatile. You could destroy each other with this. You could destroy worlds. Or you could create such things … are you certain you don’t want a child?”
“Positive,” Dean said, and Castiel nodded, that serious expression back. “Let’s just save the world, or at least save Maggie, and worry about the other stuff later.”
“Very well,” said Kali. “Join hands.” They did so, and she laid the coat over their intertwined fingers. She began to chant in a low voice, words that sounded more ancient and powerful than any mere human language. Her hand clasped theirs over the coat.
And then it was done. Kali fell silent, and there wasn’t a sound in the little house except for the beat of rain against the windows.
Dean looked at Castiel, and Castiel looked back at him and genuinely, happily, smiled. Sam watched it all, muscles coiled as if he would need to leap to someone’s rescue at any moment, and Chelsea clasped her hands together and twisted them between her breasts.
“Um,” Dean said and swallowed hard.
“Signal,” Castiel replied, and Dean stood and tugged him up by the hand.
“We should — can we —”
“Go,” said Kali, “and love each other.”
“Right,” said Dean, “exactly,” and tugged Castiel down the hall to Chelsea’s room.
Dean didn’t know how to describe the feeling that had come through him as Kali chanted. It wasn’t heat, yet it was; it wasn’t lust, yet it was; it wasn’t anything violent or destructive, like he’d been afraid it would be since the jolt; it was like — it was patient and warm and forward-looking, and fearless. Utterly fearless.
The room was perfectly ordinary, sweet-smelling and full of family pictures, but to Dean it seemed almost magical, like the colors were deeper, and the air tasted like rain. He closed the door and leaned against it, and after a moment locked it, too, as Castiel sat on the bed with an expectant look in his eyes.
“I gotta say something.” He wanted to cross the room and climb into Cas, bite into his mouth and rip off his clothes — clothes he was starting to think of as Dr. Alex clothes, since Alex had obviously chosen them for him, but damn, didn’t they make Cas look good? — but instead he just stood there with his fingers digging into his palms, eating up Castiel with his eyes.
“I am listening.”
“I’m not doing this just because we need a weapon. You’re not just a weapon.”
“And I’m not doing this just because I want to get you in the sack.”
“I know.” Bastard sounded amused now.
“You can still change your mind.”
“No,” Castiel said. “I cannot. This is inevitable. Our road has taken many twists and turns but we have always been meant to come here.”
“Yeah? How do you figure?”
“Because you are my love, Dean,” Castiel said simply. “You are my family. You have broken my heart and you have healed it. We have saved each other and fought each other, fought for each other — you are mine, Dean. And I am yours. I am beginning to suspect I have been restored again and again by the force of your will, not that of my Father.”
Dean swallowed hard, watching him.
Castiel looked down at his hand, the chalk drawing already smeared. “Stronger than death. That is what we are.”
Dean knelt on the carpet in front of him. He smelled like mountain air and was warm as sunshine, and the denim under Dean’s fingertips was soft. God, he didn’t want to stop touching Cas, ever. He gazed at Castiel — that lush mouth that he hadn’t kissed enough and those unearthly eyes, so innocent and wise at once, the pulse beating in his throat and the body that was slim and strong and more powerful than anyone could imagine — and said, “I think I get it,” as he kissed him.
“Something to do,” Castiel whispered against Dean’s mouth. “Saving people, hunting monsters. Something to believe in. My family. Someone to love. You.”
“Sounds like perfect happiness to me,” said Dean, and Castiel smiled and kissed him deeper and dirtier than ever before.
Dean gasped as he felt his heart skip a beat. He climbed into Castiel, already panting, still kissing him, and Castiel pushed his hands under Dean’s shirt and traced his ribs with his fingertips, leaving delicious trails of heat behind. Their mouths collided, teeth and tongues meeting, and Dean grabbed at Castiel’s clothes, wanting to yank them off as much as he wanted to hold Castiel close and keep tasting him, keep touching him.
“I love you,” Castiel whispered and licked Dean’s ear. “I love only you.”
“I know, Cas,” Dean groaned. He rolled them over, bringing Castiel with him and pressed his knees to Castiel’s hips. “I’ve wanted you so much.”
He had to have Castiel now. Now. He yanked Castiel’s black button-down shirt open and scraped his slender throat with his teeth, while Castiel shuddered and gasped above him. Dean kissed his way down Castiel’s chest to his nipples, which he sucked hard, making Castiel’s hips buck. Castiel held him by the shoulders and groaned, “Undress me, Dean,” and Dean shoved off his jeans and kissed his thighs.
He felt like everything was falling into place inside him. He couldn’t cure Cas, not really, but he could give him everything he had and hope it was enough. From the way Cas was shivering, the way he was moaning, it felt like more than enough — enough to pull him out of that darkness and give him something to believe in, something to be happy about. He felt like he was sucking all the poison and malignancy out of Castiel with every kiss, wiping away his scars with every kiss.
Love, he thought as he held Castiel’s hips and kissed his stomach. It was love, wasn’t it? If he didn’t love Cas he wouldn’t have gone searching for him, wouldn’t have followed his trail, wouldn’t have insisted that he keep living and keep fighting. If he didn’t love Cas, he wouldn’t have missed him so much — he would have felt sad about the loss of him for a while and then he would have moved on.
But instead he loved Cas. He loved Castiel. He loved Cas, this strange, skinny dude with the oversized eyes and hair that was wild and soft, hands that were big and slender and that touched him so hungrily, mouth that was lush and tempting — he loved Castiel, the solemn, sweet, clueless angel, who’d given him so much, who’d given him everything, who tried and tried and failed and then tried some more —
He whispered, “I love you,” and kissed Castiel desperately, arms wrapped around his head. Castiel groaned into his mouth, trembling, and between frantic kisses he threw off his clothes and Dean’s as well, jeans and shoes and shirts hitting the door opposite with tell-tale thunks. It was a little disappointing, really, he’d wanted to fool around with Castiel a little bit more before they were both naked and got down to business, but on the other hand that meant he could wrap his hand around Castiel’s cock and stroke him, tease his fingers along the heated skin and gently rub the tender crown. Castiel pushed into his hand, making little needy sounds in his throat as he kissed Dean, fingers in Dean’s hair, his body arching and retreating and arching again.
“Dean,” Castiel whispered and Dean looked at him and swallowed hard. Castiel’s face was flushed, his eyes were dark and huge, and with his lips parted he looked like he was begging for more kisses, more touch. Dean touched Castiel’s face and Castiel clasped his hand to his cheek, his eyes closing blissfully. Dean ran his thumb over Castiel’s lips and Castiel sucked it into his mouth, making Dean groan.
He rolled onto his back and pulled Castiel on top of him. Castiel kissed him, elbows planted by Dean’s shoulders, and Dean wrapped his legs around Castiel’s waist.
“Tell me what to do,” Castiel whispered and tugged on Dean’s earlobe with his teeth.
“I want you to fuck me.” He licked Castiel’s cheek. “Or I can fuck you. Whichever, Cas, whatever you want.”
Castiel’s tongue swept over his lips and Dean touched it with his own, making Castiel shake with laughter. “Take me,” he said, still laughing. “That’s what I want.”
“As you wish, sweetheart,” Dean said and slapped his ass. “On your stomach. Gotta get you ready.” Castiel rolled over obediently and cradled his head on his arms, and Dean knelt over him, surprised at how happy he was. He’d imagined that magic sex would be solemn, straight-up missionary position, no laughter — but instead he was happy, so happy, he wanted to laugh and tickle and tease and make Castiel feel so good he never faced any kind of darkness again.
He kissed down Castiel’s spine, getting soft little gasps from Castiel, and held his hips as he licked the small of Castiel’s back. Castiel breathed a soft, low, “Oh,” as Dean parted his ass cheeks and licked into him with a soft tongue. He’d gotten lube and condoms from his bag before the ceremony and they were in his jeans pocket — he’d been very aware of them all through the ceremony — but he preferred to do it like this, at least at first, get Castiel relaxed and wet and open until any tension was drained from his body. It wasn’t too bad from his end, either — the friction of the bedding against his cock as he rocked his hips, the warm flesh surrounding his tongue, the little moans Castiel made — it was just, fuck, so good.
Dean pushed a finger into him, slick alongside his tongue, and Castiel jolted with surprise. “Easy, easy,” Dean whispered and twisted his finger. “It’s okay, sweetheart. Just relax.”
“Yes,” Castiel said and his hands clenched. “It feels —” Dean pressed up inside him and Castiel groaned from deep in his chest. “Dean.”
“There we go,” Dean said and kissed his shoulders. “Do you want me to go on like this?”
“No — yes —” Castiel swallowed hard. “I don’t know — I can’t think —” He groaned again as Dean added another finger, and trembled in Dean’s arms as Dean opened him.
“Stay right there,” Dean said when Castiel seemed sufficiently pliant, his limbs loose, and got off the bed to find his jeans. Castiel had thrown them all the way to the door, but the little bottle of lubricant and condoms were still in his pocket. He climbed back onto the bed and walked on his knees to Castiel. Castiel was still on his stomach, still quietly gasping, and he tensed again as Dean approached him. Dean grasped his hips. “Is this how you want it?” Dean whispered and kissed his neck. “Tell me how you want it.”
Castiel shook his head. “I don’t know — I can’t —”
“Tell me, Cas.”
“Take me like this,” Castiel answered and moved onto his back. He opened his legs and Dean knelt between them. His eyes were huge as he watched Dean rolled on the condom, and he swallowed visibly and tilted back his head as Dean spread lube onto them both.
Dean slid his arms under Castiel’s to grip him by the shoulders. “Ready?”
“Yes,” Castiel gasped, “oh, yes,” and Dean pushed into him, into — fuck — tightness and heat like nothing else, the body of his beloved. He held Castiel tight and looked into his eyes and loved him so much he could feel it in his heart and his mind and his soul.
Dean kissed Castiel wet and deep, his hand on Castiel’s cheek, and Castiel sucked on his tongue and lay his hand over Dean’s. His other hand scratched down Dean’s spine and then grasped Dean’s ass and Dean fucked him, deep and desperate and fast, balls-deep into Castiel until all he could hear was the wet slap of flesh against flesh and Castiel’s rapid breathing and his own grunts of pleasure.
“Wait, stop, stop,” said Castiel, planting his hands on Dean’s chest, and Dean came to a shuddering stop, gasping for breath. “I want —” He kissed Dean and pushed him onto his back, and Dean exhaled as Castiel moved over him to straddle his hips. “I want it like this.”
“Oh, yeah,” Dean said softly and held him by the hips, breathing short and shallow. He groaned aloud as Castiel lowered his body onto Dean’s cock.
“Fuck,” Dean moaned, “fuck, Castiel,” and Castiel made a rough sort of laugh in reply, riding Dean with a clumsy but determined rhythm, his head thrown back and his hand holding Dean’s to his hip. Dean planted his feet flat on the bed and shoved up into him, loving the way it jarred another groan out of Castiel with each thrust.
Castiel’s grip on his hand tightened. The rhythm with which he rode Dean was growing erratic and fast, and Dean knew he was close to coming. Dean wanted him to come, wanted to feel him wet and messy. He licked his hand and wrapped it around Castiel’s cock and gave it a few hard tugs, and Castiel cried out in surprise as come spurted over Dean’s hand. Dean continued stroking him, softer and gentler, until Castiel moved off him and curled over him, panting.
Dean kissed him, his hand cradling Castiel’s cock. “More,” he whispered. “I want more.” Castiel moved off Dean and onto his stomach, and Dean laughed. “Fuck, Cas.” Castiel looked at him, his eyes narrowed, and Dean laughed again as he knelt behind him. “Okay. Point taken.” He held Castiel’s hips and pushed into him again, slow and careful.
God it was good — he groaned just at the sensation and Castiel groaned under him, pushing back his hips as if he wanted Dean deeper. Dean has happy to oblige, deeper, harder, faster, inside and it was good, so good, fuck, he never wanted to stop. He slid his hand up Castiel’s throat and felt his pulse pounding, felt his damp face and parted lips, and pushed his first two fingers into Castiel’s mouth. Castiel moaned and licked them, sucked them, making Dean shudder.
Dean knelt up and pulled Castiel with him, his hand on Castiel’s chest. Castiel dropped his head to Dean’s shoulder and looked at him through half-closed eyes, those beautiful eyes that were like looking into the sky on the best of summer days, and they were so full of adoration and joy that Dean whispered, “I love you,” again and kissed his mouth, kissed his eyebrows and his eyelids and his lips again, and his hips moved fast and Castiel moved with him, his hand on Dean’s face — and he was coming, unable to think or say anything beyond Cas, Cas, Cas.
He collapsed onto Castiel, gulping air and clutching the headboard, and Castiel twisted back and kissed his hair, his own chest heaving. He held Dean’s face, fingertips feather-light and tender. Chalk dust was smeared over his face and chest, over his arms and down his hips. Dean supposed he looked much the same, smeared, marked, claimed.
“That,” Castiel whispered, “was very, very good,” and Dean burst out laughing.
“Good, that’s what a guy likes to hear.” He moved away from Castiel and pulled off the condom, and hoped Chelsea was okay with it in the wastepaper basket as he tossed it in. “You okay, Cas?”
“Yes,” Castiel said softly, his voice a little distant, and Dean turned to look at him.
“You sure? We can cuddle if you want, though I gotta say cuddling’s not —”
“Dean,” Castiel said in that same distant voice, “it worked.”
“It worked,” Dean repeated, confused, and then whispered, “it worked,” as Castiel blinked his clothes back on and climbed off the bed.
There was a moment of quiet, like he was gathering power, and then the house shook again as wing-shaped shadows spread out from Castiel’s back and across the wall. Dean nearly fell to his knees, overcome with awe —God, had he just been inside this amazing, powerful creature? Castiel’s head fell back and white light shone from under his eyelids, and he said, in a voice that was deep and rumbling, “It worked. Dress, Dean.”
Dean scrambled into his clothes. “What can I do?”
Castiel looked at him with eyes that sparked like electricity. “Watch over the Halfords.” He disappeared.
Dean yanked open the door and ran down the hall. Chelsea, Sam and Kali were still in the living room, where the candles still burned and the coat was folded neatly on the floor within the chalk circle. “Where’s Maggie?” Dean said as Sam started up.
“Dean, are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, Cas is powered up, where’s Maggie?”
“Still in her room,” Chelsea said, “sleeping, I hope. What’s wrong?”
“We should all stay together. Her room or here.”
“I’ll get her,” said Chelsea and hurried to Maggie’s room. Dean looked out the window to the front yard, where a line of Leviathan still waited outside the border Kali had set — and between them and the house was Castiel, powerful, beautiful, the shadows of his wings open across the little yard and shimmering in the rain. Lightning flashed overhead and thunder rolled.
Chelsea returned with Maggie in her arms. The girl was whining with exhaustion, and Chelsea whispered, “Sh, honey, go back to sleep,” as she curled up on the sofa again with Maggie in her lap.
“We need laundry detergent,” Dean said. “Or if you’ve got it, plant food. Or cold cream.”
“Cold cream?” Chelsea repeated.
“Something with Borax in it.”
“I think my detergent has some — the laundry room is just off the kitchen.”
Sam said, “I’ll get it,” and run to find it. He came back a few minutes later with a bottle of detergent and unscrewed the cap.
“We hope they won’t come in,” said Dean, “but in case they do, we have to be ready.”
“If they get in,” said Kali, “take Maggie and Chelsea into the circle. It will hold the Leviathan back.”
“Where are you going to be?” Dean asked her.
She smiled, sleek and dangerous. “Where do you think?” She disappeared from the living room and reappeared at Castiel’s side, dressed like an action heroine in black leather, a sword in each hand.
Sam moved to Dean’s side. “One angel,” he said. “One angel against all of them.”
“Cas said that the first time it took all the archangels and the power of God himself to get them all into Purgatory,” said Dean. “At least we’ve got one goddess on our side. That’s something.”
Outside Castiel gave a slight nod, and Kali nodded back. They both braced themselves, Kali’s swords at the ready, Castiel’s hands raised. He made a “bring it” gesture.
“Here we go,” said Sam.
The first of the Leviathan, his rows of sharp and deadly teeth exposed, rushed across the grass. Castiel grabbed the Leviathan by its shoulders and slammed his hand over its jaw. The Leviathan closed its mouth on Castiel’s hand, and Dean shouted, “Cas!” his hand on the glass, when Castiel’s hand burst out of the creature’s head. The Leviathan crumbled into dust under Castiel’s grip, in time for him to grab the next three that rushed at him.
Meantime four more of the creatures circled around Kali, avoiding her swords and snapping their teeth. She smiled and put one of the swords away in its scabbard, then held out her hand, palm up. She made the same “bring it” gesture to them that Castiel had made, and they attacked her. Fast as lightening her sword cut through the air — Snicker-snack, thought Dean — and removed their heads, and Castiel grabbed them and reduced them to dry black dust.
There was a crash from the rear of the house, and Chelsea screamed, “Sam!” as two more Leviathan burst into the house. Sam ran to shield Chelsea and Maggie, and pulled them into the black chalk circle as the Leviathan glanced at each other and smirked.
Dean shouted, “Castiel!” and threw the laundry detergent onto them. They both skidded to a stop and screamed where the liquid hit them, causing their skin to crackle and bubble. Dean shouted, “Castiel, we need you!” and there was a flash of lightning, and there stood Castiel, soaked, his eyes agleam. He grabbed both of the screaming Leviathan and they crumbled under his hands. He gave a brief nod to Dean, and then in another flash was back outside, just in time to destroy the two Leviathan Kali had just beheaded.
As quickly as it had begun, it was over. There was nothing left of the Leviathan but piles of ash, and no sounds but Maggie’s frightened whimpering and the pour of rain.
Kali appeared in the living room again and did an excited little two-step, as if she couldn’t contain herself. “Is that it?” Dean said. “Did we get them all?”
“All that came here,” said Kali.
“You mean there are more of those monsters?” Chealsea said in a terrified, exhausted voice.
“We don’t know how many there are in all,” said Dean. “Maybe a dozen. Maybe a hundred.”
“Or more,” Sam said.
“Oh, God,” Chelsea whispered and held onto Maggie even tighter.
Kali laid a hand on her shoulder. “You are not alone,” she said quietly, and a look passed between them, mother to mother.
Dean said, feeling awkward, “We can stay and help fix — I mean, I’ve done construction, I know how —”
“I’ll call someone in the morning,” Chelsea said. “Maggie should sleep.”
“You both should,” Sam said quietly. She nodded and gave them an uncomfortable smile, and carried Maggie back to her bedroom.
“I think Chelsea wants us out of here,” Dean said to him, and Sam shrugged.
“Can you blame her? Her life’s been turned upside down.”
“She’ll be all right,” said Kali. “Mothers of holy beings never have an easy time, but she’ll be watched over and protected. As for these,” Kali nudged a pile of ashes with her boot, “I know a certain volcano that should keep them from solidifying ever again. Just in case.” She made a gesture and all the piles disappeared.
“Efficient,” Dean remarked. He looked around. “Where’s Castiel?”
“He was with me,” Kali said and looked out the window again, but the yard was empty — even the piles of ash were gone.
Dean touched the glass, leaving a patch of fog with his fingertips. “Dean,” Sam said, “I’m sorry. He must be —”
“It’s okay,” Dean said quickly. “He’s strong, you know? He’s got other stuff to do. It’s okay. Besides, it’s karma, right? Payback for all those times I loved ’em and left ’em.” He caught Kali’s understanding look, and smiled uncomfortably and looked away.
They slept on Chelsea’s couch and living room floor, and meant to leave before Chelsea and Maggie got up. Instead, when Dean woke up two solemn brown eyes were staring at him from over the arm of the couch.
“Maggie,” he said and rubbed his eyes. “Hey. Good mornin’.”
“Joshua says thank you.”
“Oh.” Dean rubbed his eyes again. “So Castiel went home, huh?”
She nodded and climbed onto the sofa with him. “Are you sad now?”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “But not as sad as I was. He’s alive and safe, and that’s more than I knew a week ago.” Maggie leaned back against him and laid her head on his shoulder. She had that kid smell, soap and laundry and sleep, and it made him smile. “Maggie,” he said softly, “I don’t know if I did the right thing.”
“Mommy says when you do the right thing you feel good after.”
She nodded, as thoughtful as a six-year-old could be. “Joshua said,” she inhaled and said carefully, as if someone had helped her memorize it, “making a choice is more important than the choice you make. What does that mean?”
“I’m not sure,” Dean said. “I think … I think it means being free is better than being right.” Maggie nodded, her hair brushing his chin, and he leaned his cheek against her crown. “We’ll keep an eye on you, okay? You’re important, Maggie.”
“Everybody’s important,” Maggie said. She leaned close and whispered, “Do you think Sam will give me another piggyback ride before you leave?”
“I’m sure he will, sweetheart,” he said and grinned at her beaming face.
It was a long drive back to Montana, and the cabin seemed dreary and cramped after the light and space of Alex’s house. Dean hung Castiel’s trench coat on a peg near the door and pinned Maggie’s drawings to one of the cork boards, and scowled at the compassionate, patient way Sam was looking at him. Again.
“Find us a job,” he said and gave Sam his laptop. “I’m going to go earn us some cash.”
“Be careful out there,” Sam said as he opened the computer, and Dean grunted in his direction before he took off.
Hustling pool usually gave him some satisfaction, if it came only from outsmarting someone, but even with a roll of cash in his pocket Dean drove back to the cabin a few days later feeling like he was crawling back in defeat. He supposed the new crop of angels in Heaven would be okay, without Raphael and Michael and the stick up their collective asses, but where did that leave Earth? Kali couldn’t fight the rest of the Leviathan on her own.
He wished he had a way to get in touch with Kali. Maybe her idea of raising Gabriel wasn’t completely whackadoodle, even if it would only solve one problem. Well, maybe two — maybe Gabriel would protect Maggie like archangels were supposed to, though Dean didn’t envy Chelsea with having to put up with him popping up, even if it was to protect of her daughter. Gabriel’s idea of protection was probably less “I smite you with the righteous wrath of God” and more “Let’s turn the bad guys into Gummi bears and make gingerbread houses with them.”
The cabin was quiet and dark when he arrived. Figured Sam went to bed early even when he was alone instead of staying up all hours like a real boy. Dean dumped his bag by the door and turned on a light, and then yelped in a way he would deny for the rest of his life at the sight of Castiel perched on the little bentwood couch.
“Hello, Dean,” Castiel said calmly.
“Hi,” Dean breathed. “Hi.” He took a step towards him but stopped himself. Castiel was a full-blown angel now, not one teetering on the edge of falling. The rules had to be different. “Can I —”
“Of course,” Castiel said. “You are mine and I am yours.” He held out his hands and Dean came to him, crawled onto the couch and held him tight, straddling his thighs and burying his face in Castiel’s neck.
“Oh, God, I missed you,” Dean breathed and kissed his throat.
“I missed you.” Castiel kissed him and stroked his back. “Oh, how I missed you.”
Dean raised his head. “Where have you been? You just disappeared after the fight.”
“I went home. I saw that Alex is at rest, and I spoke with Joshua. He was happy to see that I am well.”
“And are you?” Dean searched his eyes. They weren’t haunted anymore — only calm, only peaceful. You might even call them happy.
Castiel hesitated. “I am better,” he said finally. “I have stopped wanting to fall. That is a step.”
“Yeah,” Dean whispered, still looking into his eyes to treasure that look. “Hey. You remember when Death brought back all those people in Sioux Falls? Including Bobby’s wife?”
“Karen said something I’ve thought about a lot — that as his wife it was her job to give him peace.” He stopped and cleared his throat. “I’ve been thinkin’, and I’ve figured out that’s what I want to do. That’s my job in your life. You know. To give you peace.”
“You are not my wife, Dean,” Castiel said, sounding amused again.
“Damn right I’m not the wife,” Dean muttered.
Castiel pressed his lips to Dean’s mouth in the softest of kisses. “You do give me peace. When I am with you my heart is not so heavy, and the darkness behind me is not so ravenous.”
“Wow,” Dean said. “that’s better than I hoped for. So we don’t even have to have sex —” He laughed at the way Castiel fiercely kissed him. “Okay,” Dean whispered, “you like the sex, too. That’s good. That’s good.”
Castiel kissed him a few times. “I have been thinking about what you said, about why people live together, and it is true. I do enjoy your company most. I do like you best. Even when I thought I had lost you forever I still wanted your approval — your disapproval, even, because then we would still be speaking.” He combed his fingers through Dean’s hair. “We should promise not to close our mouths to each other that way again.”
Dean smiled at his choice of words. “Okay. I promise. You’re worse than Sam, you know, insisting on all this emotional crap.”
“If we are to stay together, I suspect the emotional crap is necessary.” Castiel wove their fingers together and kissed Dean’s hand, and pressed them to his face. “I want to stay with you. I want to fight battles with you. I want to feed you when you’re hungry and give you peace when you need rest, and be the last thing you see when you close your eyes forever.”
Dean shivered and held him closer. “And then what, Cas?”
He felt Castiel smile against his hand. “And then I will see you in Heaven, Dean.”
Dean nodded and sniffed hard. He wasn’t crying. Not one bit. He cleared his throat. “So, when I said it felt like we were getting married, did we — are we married?”
“Do you want to be?”
Dean searched his face again. “I don’t know. It’s not something I ever thought I’d be. I didn’t know being married was an act of will.”
“For you and I it is.”
“Do you want to be?”
Castiel smiled and moved his hands from Dean’s waist to his ass. “Yes.”
“You can still fuck me without being married to me,” Dean said and kissed him. “I’m really okay with that.”
“Yes, I know. Where is your bed?”
Dean smiled too. “Up that ladder. It’s not so much a room as it is a loft but there’s a bed and — oh, okay,” he said when Castiel disappeared from under him and peered at him, mischievous, from over the railing in the little loft.
“I don’t move at the speed of thought, remember?” He climbed up the ladder. Castiel sat on the edge of the lumpy little bed to untie his shoes, and he looked up as Dean joined him. “You didn’t answer my question.” Dean caught hold of the tail of Castiel’s shirt — the black one, still, that brought out his edges and deepened the blue in his eyes. “Are we married or aren’t we?”
Castiel lay back and pulled Dean to him. “If we are, what does it change? If we are not, what does it matter?”
“That’s a terrible answer.”
Castiel smiled. “I’m not going to make up your mind for you. I want you to think whatever you want to think. Kiss me now.”
Dean looked at him askance, and Castiel kept smiling. “You are messing with my head.”
“Kiss me,” Castiel repeated, and Dean did, and as they kissed he thought, Yeah, okay. Yeah.
Sam woke up to the smell of coffee and the sound of voices. He got out of bed and pulled on a T-shirt, and went into the cabin’s little kitchen to see what was going on. Dean, at most, would make toast. His idea of making a hearty breakfast was to pour two bowls of cereal.
The sight that greeted him in the kitchen was not remotely what he expected. Dean — shirtless, too, which was enough to make Sam raise an eyebrow — was making toast, sure, but also eggs, and coffee was percolating in the ancient kettle, and there was a can of peaches at the table, and at the table and watching his every move was Castiel.
Cas took his eyes off Dean enough to see Sam. “Good morning, Sam.”
“Good morning,” Sam said, and Dean grinned and said, “Mornin’! Breakfast is almost on.”
“Cool,” Sam said. “Thanks. Can I help or something?”
“Nope,” Dean said, “it is taken care of.” He and Castiel exchanged a look. Neither of them stopped smiling.
It was weird. Nice, but weird.
Sam sat at the table and unscrewed the lid of the peaches can. “So is this a special occasion? I mean, you usually don’t eat, Cas.”
“It is a special occasion,” Castiel confirmed and smiled at Dean again.
“Very special,” said Dean. “Congratulate us, Sam.”
“Congratulations,” Sam said. “What am I congratulating you for?” They smiled at each other again, in a very sappy, contented, couple-y way, and Sam said, “Oh. Yeah. Wow. Congratulations. That’s good, you guys, that’s really good.”
“Yeah, we kinda think so,” said Dean. “Cas gets most of the eggs. He’s never had my scrambled eggs before.”
“He’s the lucky one,” Sam said and Dean laughed, too happy to even tease back. Castiel smiled like he wasn’t quite sure what the joke was but was too happy to care.
When their plates were full Sam took his outside to sit on the rough-hewn porch steps and watch the woods wake up. It wasn’t weird inside — quite the opposite — but he felt like he was intruding on something private and special instead of his brother and his whatever-Cas-was having breakfast together.
Of course, it couldn’t have been more obviously post-coital if they both had been wearing commemorative T-shirts.
Sam was snickering to himself as he imagined the slogans — Dean, of course, would insist on how only he was strong enough to pop angelic cherry — when the door creaked open and out came Castiel with a cup of coffee. “Dean said you like it with cream,” he said, sitting at Sam’s side, “but I seem to recall you mostly drink it black.”
“If it’s the good stuff I like it black,” Sam said and sniffed the cup. It was not the good stuff. No surprise there — they kept supplies simple and cheap at the cabin. At least the creamer was fresh.
“Are you uncomfortable with this, Sam?” Castiel turned his steady gaze to Sam, and Sam laughed nervously.
“Ah, no?” he said. “I mean, in the last week I’ve not only learned that my brother has had sex with other guys before but is in love with one now, but it just takes some getting used to. Bisexuality is a perfectly — normal — good — orientation —” He stopped again, because Castiel was smiling at his shoes and Sam suspected this meant Castiel was laughing at him. He finished lamely, “It explains a lot about Dean.”
“The overcompensating,” Castiel murmured and Sam barked a laugh.
“Yeah, like that. And you?” He looked at Castiel. “Are you okay with this? I mean, it’s Dean. He’s not exactly Mr. Long-term.”
“I am okay with it.” Castiel leaned his arms on his knees. Sam smiled and looked out at the woods too, and sipped his coffee — and flinched when he saw Lucifer swing down from one of the trees as if he’d been collecting pine cones.
“Shit,” Sam muttered and dabbed his damp shirt.
“You saw him.”
“It’s nothing,” Sam muttered and picked up his fork, meaning to jab it in his hand.
“Sam.” Castiel laid his hand over Sam’s.
“It’s the only thing that makes him go away,” Sam said. “It’s okay.”
“Sam,” Castiel repeated. “I owe you this.”
“If it’ll drain you —”
“We’re family,” Castiel said gently. “Let me help you.”
Sam nodded mutely, and closed his eyes as Castiel laid light, cool fingers on his forehead. There was a jolt — not outdoors, like at the Halfords’ house, but in him and through him, down his spine and up every nerve, until it felt like lightning bolts could shoot out of his fingertips. But mostly it was mental, as if someone had opened a window in his mind and let a cool breeze blow through, clearing out the ashes and smoke.
He gasped and opened his eyes, and looked at Castiel with wonder. “Cas,” he whispered.
“He should leave you alone more now. If he does not, tell me.”
“I will. I will. Thanks.”
Castiel nodded simply and looked out at the woods again.
The door creaked open and Dean said, “Cas, wanna go for a walk? There’s a really nice trail about half a mile up the road.”
A walk? Sam raised his eyebrows at Dean, and Dean grinned back. He had a little knapsack on his back, and Sam would bet his next pool hall winnings that there was nothing but a blanket and lube inside. Water, if Dean were thinking clearly enough. Which was doubtful.
“If we need to go somewhere,” said Castiel, “wouldn’t you prefer to drive?”
“No,” said Dean, smiling sweetly, “in this situation? We walk.” Castiel started to speak again, and Dean said, “Signal, Cas, okay? Signal.”
“Oh,” said Castiel, eyes widening, and he got up hastily. “Signal. Yes. Of course.” He reached out for Dean’s hand. Dean hauled him up and they ran down the steps.
“Don’t wait up!” Dean shouted over his shoulder and then they disappeared into the woods. Sam shook his head, laughing at them, and slowly finished his coffee, wiggling his toes on the warm wood.
When he was finished eating he took his dishes inside, and as he expected Dean had left the majority of the cleanup for him. Well, a guy was allowed some indulgences on his honeymoon. Sam started the water running in the sink to wash up, and as it filled he looked around the cabin.
The coat was still on its peg. He expected that was where it would stay.
“What are you drawing, honey?” Chelsea Halford said to Maggie when she checked on her daughter after breakfast.
“Dean ‘n’ Cas,” Maggie said and gave the paper to her mother. “They’re happy.”
“Well, that’s good,” Chelsea said, smiling at the picture. “This is very pretty.”
Maggie nodded. “Good things happen,” she said. “Can I go out and play?”
“If you put your rain boots and slicker on,” Chelsea said. “And stay in front of the house or in the back yard.”
“Okay, Mommy,” said Maggie and hopped up from her art table to get her boots.
Chelsea took the drawing to the kitchen and stuck it to the refrigerator door with a daisy-shaped magnet. She usually didn’t hang up Maggie’s drawings — they were so frightening and sad, she’d even burned a few — but this one was more like the drawings other children made. Chelsea watched Maggie, in her bright pink rain slicker and flower-covered boots, jump into puddles for a few minutes, and then went back to figuring out their budget for the next month.
Maggie had drawn Dean — spiky brown hair, blue jeans and a green shirt — and the angel Castiel — black hair and yellow coat — sitting on the porch of a log cabin under a starry black sky and a big yellow moon. Both men were smiling, and behind him Castiel’s wings were magnificent and full.