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Every Monster that Sleeps Inside You

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title over an ice cave with lava flowing out



Henry takes her coat, hangs it in the closet with his own before passing back their regalia. If she had any use for kindness, she would call him sweet. Instead, she barely keeps herself from rolling her eyes as Henry prattles on.

He graciously allows her to lead the way upstairs, eager to follow her to the inner temple where dottering fools will subject them to their final examinations and initiation. She’s tested him before-- he really does believe in the Mission and, even more laughably, his marriage vows. Whatever secrets he thinks will be revealed tonight, he will be disappointed.

She smiles at him when he compliments her dress. Actually, he’ll be dead, consumed. The wife and child too, along with everyone else.

The preceptor comes out of the small anteroom at the top of the stairs, somehow managing to look down his nose at her, despite being two inches shorter. “Miss Sands?”

Carefully, she pushes her rage and bloodlust to the side, they will not serve her right now. She’s so close; once she has the key, she can move with impunity. She smooths the skirt of her dress as she stands, smiling politely at the preceptor before following him into the room.

The wards snap into place behind her as soon as the door closes, trapping her in here. Not a devil’s trap-- nothing so common could hold her-- but older, tracing back to the very earliest of humanity. Stiffening, she watches the men in the room with her. They don’t react, either failing to notice or ignoring something as absurd as a case of nerves.

“Miss Sands, if you’ll take your place.” The old man moves through the room, standing across from the door. He waves a hand, and the lights dim as other men light the candles on the floor in front of them.

“Of course,” she says sweetly, taking the petitioner’s position. He has the key on him, tucked in his robes, she can smell the cloves and thyme and sandalwood on him.

Before she leaves this place, that key will be hers.

Ganem is halfway through the first recitation when her impatience overtakes her.

The first man is missing his throat before anyone realizes she’s moved, unable to even scream. The second screams when she plunges her hand into his chest, squeezing his heart to a stop before ripping it out and tossing it over her shoulder.

Ganem starts to stutter out an exorcism, still holding his ridiculous props, pretending that he has any power at all. Drawing on her power-- even in a well warded room, she’s more powerful than they can possibly be prepared for-- she draws a line across his eyes. The flesh sizzles, the stink of burning hair and cartilage covering years of burning wax. The exorcism cuts off with a scream as he falls to his knees.

“Give me the key, Ganem.”

Moaning, he shakes his head.

Before she can pick him up, Henry forces his way through the door behind her, opening the wards.

Her form explodes outward, abandoning her meatsuit and crushing the men into the walls. Her wings, huge and bat-like, flap twice, extinguishing the candles. Only a couple of light bulbs survive in the chandelier, flickering as it sways violently in the breeze.

Ganem twists free of her grip, running towards the door. A twist of her tail trips him.

Henry reaches him before she does. She watches as Ganem presses a wooden box, about the size of his palm, into Henry’s hands, pushing him away. “Go! She must not get it!”

Pushing her bulk towards the door, she jams herself back into Josie Sands’ inert body-- better suited for these narrow passageways-- and chases after Henry.

The door slams shut before she reaches it, reengaging the wards and trapping her. Drawing in a breath, she screams out her frustration, locusts bursting out of the softened wax and covering every surface.

Dimly, she feels a pulse of soul magic, taking her prey out of her reach. Turning, she watches as more locusts alight on the bodies. “That key is mine, Ganem. You never should have trusted Henry with it.”

Ganem laughs harshly, sightless eyes still bleeding as he turns, “It will never be yours. You’re trapped in here.”

Stalking over to him, she crouches and traces a finger along his cheek and jaw. The flesh reddens, crisps, burns behind her touch. “And you’re in here with me.” Holding his jaw firmly, she leans down and kisses him in a mockery of tenderness. His mouth fills with blood and locusts immediately, making him gag and sputter. “Well, lover, however shall we pass the time?”

The locusts rise in a cloud, dry papery legs landing on the walls and the dead men. Low moans rise from the two who aren’t quite dead yet, until they are smothered under the weight of thousands of insects.

“What?” Ganem asks. “What have you done?”

She smiles and watches as the swarm gets to work.

The wards fail in minutes, the sigils carved into the plaster destroyed by millions of barbed legs and voracious mouths. Standing, she drags Ganem to his feet. He’s in shock, choking on his own blood, barely conscious. Extruding the smallest part of her true self, she claws through his memories, dragging out the locations of the other chapters of the Men of Letters before letting him drop.

If she cannot have their treasure house, she will settle for destroying its keepers.

It takes nothing to fly to the other locations and destroy them. Meetings in all the chapter houses, the membership crammed into buildings across the continent.

They all burn.

The angels catch up with her somewhere over an ocean, forcing her to Earth and chaining her. Raphael drags her, still trapped in her meatsuit, into the bowels of Hell, carving her prison from the salt-tears of the treacherous and forcing her inside.

The last thing she sees before they seal the ice over her head is Lucifer watching sadly behind the twisted and thorny bars of his cage.

 


 

 

Dean’s still tying his boots when the closet door flings itself open and a dude in an antique blue suit comes tumbling out. His gun is trained on the guy almost before Sam turns around to see the commotion, snatching his own pistol from the table.

“Who the fuck are you?” Dean barks, jumping to his feet.

There’s something familiar about him, but Dean can’t place him.

Pushing himself to his feet, the man carefully keeps his hands spread and raised, “Which of you is John Winchester?” He peers curiously at both their faces before shaking his head. “I mean you no harm.”

“Sure,” Sam comments. “We’re going to trust someone who appeared out of nowhere.”

The man huffs and drops his hands, resettling his suit jacket and rebuttoning it. “If you’ll please just direct me to John, I’m sure we can straighten all this out.”

Dean chances a glance over at Sam, raising an eyebrow in question. Sam shrugs and tilts his head-- Dean’s call. Trusting Sam to keep his gun up, Dean lowers his own. “Hate to break it to you pal, but John’s been dead for over five years.”

“What?” He does look genuinely staggered at that news at least. “The spell…” he trails off, muttering to himself.

“Yeah, the spell, whatever.” Dean rolls his eyes, watching as Sam tucks his gun into the back of his jeans. “You spend a lot of time leaping between closets?”

Suit glances up. His eyes take in everything Dean’s wearing, the few scattered belongings that haven’t been packed yet-- mostly because they’re crusted in mud from last night’s grave digging and Dean doesn’t want to pack them in with his clean clothes-- and he sighs. “Hunters. Of course. It’s nothing you’ll be able to understand. Just take me to the nearest chapter house. I have to warn them.”

“Right,” Dean drawls. “The nearest chapter house. Of what?”

Sam inches closer out of the corner of his eye, close enough to grab the guy if he makes a run for it.

“The Men of Letters. You must know of them if you knew John.”

Sam shakes his head. “He told us a lot of stories over the years, never mentioned anything about Men of Letters. Now, again. Who the hell are you?”

Sighing, Suit draws himself up and sticks out a hand, “Henry Winchester.”

Numbly, Dean shakes Henry’s hand, “Dean… Winchester.” He’s pretty sure the floor didn’t just open up under him, but…

“I’m sorry, did you say Henry?” Sam breaks Dean’s shock, makes him drop Henry’s hand.

“Yes. And I’m afraid I don’t understand what the hold up is.” He glances at the closet behind him. “Whatever your reasons, we need to go. I don’t know how close she is to following me.”

“Who’s following you?” Sam asks, looking as confused as Dean still feels.

“The last Knight of Hell,” Henry says. “Abaddon.”

Dean meets Sam’s eyes and nods. Snapping into action, they toss the last of their things into bags and haul Henry out the door and into the Impala. They can figure out what’s going on when they’re miles from here.

 


 

 

Hours later, they’re sitting in a small diner off the highway, tables slightly sticky with old grease, staring at the man who claims to be their grandfather over a couple of burgers and a cup of coffee.

“I don’t understand,” Henry says, wrapping his hands around the coffee mug in front of him. “Even if I was gone, the other members of my chapter… They should have taken care of John and Millie.”

“Don’t know what to tell you man, Dad never mentioned any Men of Letters.” Dean huffs, picking at the fries on his plate. “Hell, he barely mentioned you.”

Sam hauls Dad’s journal out of his jacket pocket, elbowing Dean into silence and pushes it at Henry. “Dad didn’t talk about much. But everything is in there.” Jerking his head towards the register, he grabs the check without waiting for Dean to follow him.

“You cannot be believing this shit,” Dean says quietly once they’re a few feet from the table. “Secret societies? Dragons? C’mon, Sam.”

“I don’t know,” Sam hisses back. “But it doesn’t hurt to hear him out. He certainly knows a lot about Dad.”

“So he did his research!”

“All he wants is to find this Men of Letters group, Dean. It won’t hurt us to check it out. What’s the worst that’s going to happen, we waste a day driving to Illinois?”

Dean huffs, but nods. “Fine. But if this blows up, I’m blaming you.”

Sam rolls his eyes.

Henry spends several hours of the drive east absorbed in Dad’s journal, turning pages in a horrified fascination. “I… This isn’t what was supposed to happen. John never should have been a hunter, he was a legacy.”

Sam sighs before twisting in his seat. “We don’t know what happened. Maybe Millie moved before they could contact her, or something else happened.”

“His life sucked enough without adding more bullshit to it,” Dean cuts in. “A stinking war, losing his wife, hunting, only to be killed by the same fucking demon that killed Mom.” He pauses for a moment, “You said the Winchesters were legacies?”

“We’ve been members of the Men of Letters for generations.”

Dean glances over at Sam, “Guess that explains why Heaven was so interested in getting Dad and Mom together.”

“Winchester and Campbell.” Sam snorts and runs a hand through his hair. Of fucking course. “Brains and brawn. Everything the perfect vessel needs.”

They’re silent for a long moment, watching the road in front of them.

Abruptly, Dean spins the car onto the side of the road, throwing up gravel behind them. Throwing the flashers on, he slams the door of the car closed behind him, bending down to snatch a handful of gravel from the shoulder and flinging it into the empty cornfield a few steps away.

“Dean!” Sam jumps out of the car, “What the hell?”

Dean runs a hand through his hair, spiking it up crazily. “They were screwed. They were always going to be screwed. What chance did Mom and Dad even fucking have, with the full weight of Heaven bearing down on them?”

“Maybe…” Sam starts before cutting himself off. “No, you’re right. They never stood a chance. Damn it.” Even after everything, he’s tried to keep his faith in God. But now, staring at yet more proof that they’re just the results of thousands of years worth of plotting and engineering, he feels his faith crack a little more.

Dean sighs beside him, looking over the barren field. “Goddammit. Just… fuck.”

“Yeah.” Sam has no idea what Henry thinks is going on and can’t really bring himself to care. Nudging Dean with his shoulder, he turns back to the car. “C’mon. Let’s get to Normal and get this figured out.”

The rest of the trip goes about as smoothly as it can be expected. Dean brightens up a few times when his phone dings with a text message, but the smile slides right back off his face as soon as he sees who sent it. Sam’d normally try to get his phone away from him to see who keeps texting him but Dean’s sullen enough.

And if it’s Benny, he’d rather not know. Not after that bullshit in Louisiana.

 


 

 

Henry gets them lost twice, trying to get them to his secret headquarters of whatever. Apparently, he didn’t think about the fact that town might have grown in the last fifty years. Dean finally just plugs the address into the GPS on his phone and ignores Henry’s increasingly confused directions.

There’s not much left of the downtown-- the old buildings that are still standing are filled with little mom and pop antique and knick-knack shops, the ones that have been rebuilt are full of chain stores-- but the address Henry gives them is still around. The building looks like any secret society building Dean’s seen over the years-- white washed brick, intricate brick patterns on the second floor.

Henry looks horrified at the neon open sign surrounded by posters for comic book events, local concerts and high school plays. “What… It’s a clever disguise.”

“Sure it is,” Dean drawls. Meeting Sam’s eyes over the top of the car, Dean frowns before nodding towards the door. “Might as well go ask.”

Henry outstrips them both crossing the street, hurrying down the sidewalk only to stop short of pulling the door open. He raps a knuckle on the door beneath a painted-over carving-- a six-pointed star that Dean vaguely recognizes-- and says, “They’re still here. We’ve existed for thousands of years by going into hiding whenever something threatens us.”

“Sure,” Sam says before pulling the door open and ushering them all inside. “We’ll find them.”

Dean very much doubts that, but whatever keeps Henry from freaking out in public. Sam and Henry immediately start towards the back of the store, poking into the old corners. Dean takes a few moments to thumb through a few of the boxes before giving it up. He’s years behind on the few series he read and not going to have a chance to get caught up anytime soon.

The girl sitting at the counter can’t be more than twenty, a stack of textbooks on the stool beside her while she’s bent over a comic. She looks up from the brightly colored pages as he approaches, “Hi, can I help you find anything?”

Glancing around the store, he shakes his head, “Nah. I’m so far behind that I wouldn’t even know where to start. Was wondering if you had a computer I could borrow for a moment?” He jerks his thumb back toward Sam and Henry in the front corner. “My brother and friend were wondering about the history of this place.”

She grins up at him, flipping her book closed and pushing it to the side, “And you tagging along had nothing to do with the books?”

Dean rotates the book so he can read the title-- Saga-- before leaning against the counter. “Eh, they don’t… Guilty pleasure.” He glances towards her before refocusing on the computer she spins towards him. “You know anything about the history of this place?”

She shrugs before ducking out from behind the counter. “Not really. I mean, it’s been a comic book shop for a few years. Mom said it was a porn shop when she was here in the early nineties.” She meanders over towards some of the back catalog, “I think it was a Masonic Temple or something originally. You said you were years behind. What were you reading?”

He glances up from where he’s searching newspaper archives, “Uh… Nothing really intense. Batman, Superman. That Gaiman series.”

“Sandman?”

“Yeah. That’s it.” Dean turns around in time to see Sam slip behind the curtain marked No Entrance-- Employees Only. Henry is nowhere to be seen, must already be back there. “But this was like ten years ago, so I don’t really--”

“Nope,” she cuts him off, coming back to the counter. “You liked the Avengers movie last summer right?”

He taps a finger on the counter, ignoring the flash of pain that comes with the reminder of Benny and Purgatory, and nods.

She frowns, lays down a stack of three books, “Sorry, didn’t mean to bring up anything.” He waves it off and exits his search tab-- it wasn’t telling him anything useful anyway. “Anyway, one collection of the current run of Hawkeye-- the archer guy from Avengers-- and Batwoman.”

“No Batman?” Dean picks up Batwoman and thumbs through it curiously. The art’s better than he remembers it being growing up and… he pauses on a panel, the detective asking Batwoman out in front of a photo of Batwoman’s dead girlfriend. Oh.

She shrugs, “We can pull some out, but honestly, it’s not in a good place to start new right now. The reboot a couple years ago cleaned things up, but--” She cuts herself off and looks up at him. “Give it a shot. If you don’t like it, bring it back, and we’ll trade it for something else.”

Her face changes when she looks up, enough of a warning for Dean to brace himself for Sam’s hand to land on his shoulder. “Find anything interesting?”

“Not about the history of the building,” Dean says, pulling his wallet out of his pocket and nodding. “We’re just passing through, but I’ll trust you,” he says to the girl, passing her a couple of twenties and waving away the bag.

She scribbles something on the receipt and tucks it inside one of the books before passing them over. “Have fun with your architecture search!”

Sam is giggling as they exit the store, trying to come up with something to tease Dean about and failing. Henry is harder, alternating between glaring at Sam and being utterly confused.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dean sighs, tossing his books in the truck of the car before slamming it shut. “You two find anything?”

“No,” Henry says dejectedly. “None of the signs I was taught were there. It must have been abandoned and sold before anyone could leave instructions.”

Dean pulls open the driver’s door and drops into the Impala. “I couldn’t find anything with a quick search, so let’s find the library, see what else we can find.” He tosses his phone onto the dash, waiting impatiently for Sam and Henry to get in.

 


 

 

Staring at the list of names scribbled onto a motel room pad, Sam is grateful that Dean decided to take Henry out to explore the town a little bit. Every single person on the list is dead, many of them on the same night and buried in the same cemetery.

But he has enough information now to start looking for the Men of Letters in other locations, places that Henry didn’t mention. It’s past dinner time when he tosses his pen down on his notepad and leans back in his chair, rubbing at his temples.

Over a hundred fires and explosions, in dozens of cities, in a single night. Dozens killed in the fires and the surrounding areas, all well-educated white men. It’s too many deaths to be easily explained, but weather history is sketchy. There’s no way to know if this was a coordinated demonic attack or something else, although the sheer scale lends credibility to something supernatural.

Looking at the list, Sam pours himself a drink and wishes Bobby was still around. He’d have something about what they’re looking at, some off-hand piece of knowledge, or a scrap of lore that would lock everything into place.

Bobby’d have a way to tell Henry that the entire Men of Letters organization is defunct. Or could tell Sam how to find them again if they aren’t all gone.

Dean and Henry come tumbling in about an hour later, bearing a bag of takeout and a six-pack of beer. Sam’s lost track of how many times he’s refilled his glass, but his notes are still legible at least.

“Sammy, what’s up?” Dean drops the takeout on the table before starting to strip off his jacket.

“It’s Sam,” he snorts, passing the notebook to Dean. “Everything I could find. Names, other branches, burial records…”

Henry looks up sharply from across the table, “Burials? There shouldn’t be need for that.”

Sam abruptly loses all his patience. Time to make Henry face facts. “It’s been nearly fifty years since you disappeared-- which we only have your word on, by the way-- even if nothing happened that night, there would still be graves. People die. More than that, it’s not just the men you reported as being there that night. It’s everyone.”

“Sam?” Dean asks curiously.

“Everything I could find. Newspapers are a bit sketchy because not everything’s been digitized yet, but obits and everything else. Near as I can tell, the Men of Letters were wiped out.”

Henry snatches the notebook out of Dean’s hands, pouring over it. Sam watches him for a few moments before gesturing for Dean to hand over some of the takeout. Beef with Broccoli isn’t his favorite, but at least it has more vegetables than the General Tso’s Dean has in his hands.

Pushing the last container-- sesame chicken-- towards Henry, Sam leans back and taps idly at his computer.

“Here,” Henry points towards one of the names listed as having died in Normal. “Albert Magnus. It’s a code phrase. Maybe there’s something there, like a way to find where any survivors went.”

“Alright,” Sam drawls, barely able to keep from rolling his eyes. “Eat and then we’ll go.”

 


 

 

It’s full dark by the time they find the graves. The cemetery is overgrown and abandoned, and they spend over an hour tripping over fallen headstones and tree branches trying to find the right plot. The Letters’ stones are already tipping over due to frost-heave, the limestone being taken over by lichen and moss.

Albert’s grave is the last one they find, away from the others and buried under bracken thick enough Dean ends up fetching a machete from the car to clear it.

Henry stands to the side while they work, watching with horrified fascination while they uncover the headstone and remove enough of the lichen that they can read it.

“Let me see it,” Henry demands as soon as it’s clear. Pushing his flashlight into Dean’s hand, he crouches to run his fingers over the carvings. After a moment, he recites out, “Thirty-nine fifty; ninety-eight thirty-something.”

“What?”

“That’s what our good friend Albert had to say.” Henry pushes himself to his feet and brushes off his hands. “Coordinates, probably. For what the key unlocks.”

Right. The key-box that Henry had carried with him into the future. “Sure,” Sam says distractedly, trying to plot the location in his head. Somewhere in the midwest, not terribly far north.

“Let’s go then.” Dean snaps one of the flashlights in his hands off, sliding it into his jacket pocket and dragging the bracken back over the grave. “We already checked out of the motel, we can get a few hours drive in while you two eggheads figure out where we’re going.”

 


 

 

Sam’s asleep in the passenger seat when Dean slows to a stop outside an abandoned power plant built into the side of a hill in the middle of nowhere, Kansas. Henry is awake but silent in the backseat, staring at the sun rising over the empty fields. He’s been silent since the last stop for gas, when Dean had snapped at him for dithering too much over his road snack choices.

The building towers over them, hidden from the prairie by the hill it’s built into. There’s a poorly maintained gravel road in front, and a single set of steps down to a reinforced door.

Dean nudges Sam awake. “Whatever is here, it’s big.”

Henry, who appears to have decided that Dean is the stupid one since the stop at the comic book shop, looks at him blandly before gesturing towards the door, “How astute.”

Dean rolls his eyes and slides out of the driver’s seat, making a beeline for the trunk. He pulls out an extra angel blade and checks his gun, waiting for Sam and Henry to follow. “Alright,” he says, slamming the trunk closed and turning his attention to Henry. “Lead on, MacDuff.”

“It’s actually--” Henry cuts himself off once he gets a glimpse of Dean’s face. “You don’t care. Of course.”

“Just unlock the door, Henry.” Dean resists the urge to rub at his temples.

It takes all three of them to pull open the door, even after it’s been unlocked. Decades of decayed leaves and erosion have deposited inches of dirt and mud in the steps, enough that Dean half thinks they might need to grab one of the shovels from the trunk before they manage to drag it open.

“Hold up,” Sam says, a hand on Dean’s arm to keep him from entering. “Let’s give it a few minutes, get some air circulating in there before we go tramping in. Last thing we need is to die from noxious gases or whatever.”

Dean snorts, “As opposed every time you have Mexican?” Tramping up towards the car, he drags his boots through the dry grass to get the worst of the mud off and grabs the flashlights. He’s tempted to grab the shovel too, but like hell he’s going to bother cleaning this place up before they know what’s inside.

Sam allows them to enter the tunnel behind the door after another twenty minutes, fretting the entire time about bad air and toxic levels of nitrogen and King Tut’s tomb. Dean tunes him out after a couple minutes.

Forcing Henry behind him, Dean leads the way down the cinderblock tunnel. It’s not long, just enough to act as a defense if needed.

“Sam,” Dean jerks his thumb towards the door at the inner end of the tunnel. “Count of three?”

Sam nods, grabbing the door handle, and counting down before yanking the door open.

There’s nothing on the other side, other than a railing directly in front of them.

“The air’s not stale,” Dean points out, running a hand along the railing in front of them. “There must be some sort of air exchange or something.”

Sam nods, carefully making his way down the steps and to the ground floor. “Stairs look solid. Henry, any idea what this place is?” He sweeps his flashlight around, the beam glinting off glass and metal along the sides of the room.

“I’d heard rumors, but…” Henry trails off, slowing approaching the handrail and moving his flashlight around. “If this is what I think it is, this is the greatest collection of supernatural lore ever seen. All the Men of Letters files, their research, everything, collected in one place.”

“Awesome. A Batcave.” Dean carefully edges around the staircase towards the other side of the balcony. A pair of leather chairs pushed away from the table, a chess game in progress, and a cup of coffee so old that even the mold inside is dead. “Whoever was here, they left in a hurry.”

“Yeah,” Sam agrees from below, focused on something along the wall.

“Watch out,” Henry calls, before moving a lever. A moment later, there’s a slight hum in the distance and the lights slowly come up.

Looking over the edge, Dean lets out a slow whistle, “It really is a Batcave.”

Henry flips a second switch and closes the circuit box next to the door, before turning to look around. “There should be a directory in the library…” He trails off as he bolts down the staircase, feet clattering on the metal steps and through a doorway at the other end of the room.

The decorations at the top of the walls catches his eye before Dean can follow Henry down the staircase. “Sam, look.”

“Whoa,” Sam says, awed. “That’s… a lot of warding.” He’s silent for a moment before continuing, “I don’t even recognize some of these. Bobby’d have a fit if he could see them.”

Dean smirks as he comes down the stairs. “Closer to copy it all down, figure out what makes it tick, and make sure every hunter had it on their home within days.”

Sam makes a half smile, looking away quickly.

Dean takes his time looking around, checking for booby traps or whatever. He doesn’t find any traps, but he does find the kitchen, several long hallways, and the bathroom. Finding his way back to the library and entrance room takes longer than it should-- he didn’t think he took that many turns, but he’s thoroughly turned around-- but he eventually finds Henry and Sam pouring over bookshelves and manila folders.

Henry slaps a folder down on the table, flipping it open to what looks like a duty log and running a finger down the entries. “Here. William Boyle and Arthur Booth, posted here on January third, 1958. Regular check ins, helped a few trusted hunters over the next several months.” He purses his lips, flips another page. “They received a distress signal from several chapter houses on the night of… August twelfth and... It just stops there.”

“Let me see it,” Sam demands, snatching the notebook from Henry’s side of the table.

“What night was it when you did your thing?” Dean asks quietly, ignoring Sam’s mumbles.

“August twelfth. That’s when the ceremonies for certain degree ascensions are held… Or in February.”

“So it all happened on the same night.” Dean frowns, looking at the piles of books they’ve already pulled from the shelves. “And you never went home.”

Henry stares at him like he’s saying the most obvious thing ever, “The spell is one way. I wouldn’t have used it if there was a different option. I had hoped--” he cuts himself off. “It doesn’t matter. Someone arranged for the burial and carving of the headstones in Normal and probably everywhere else too. Boyle and Booth are the best candidates. We must find them and the rest of the survivors.”

“You realize they’re going to be nearly a hundred years old,” Dean points out.

“Then they will have passed their knowledge to their sons. We survive because we can hide. But with the demon gone, it is time to rebuild.”

Dean doesn’t think it’s going to be that simple, but whatever Henry wants to do. He’s manifestly unsuited to be a hunter, and he can’t be a civilian either. Maybe they can start to rebuild Bobby’s old network with Henry and Kevin acting as dispatch.

“Sure. You find them. I’m gonna grab a shower and a nap before Sam and I get out of your hair, though.”

“You don’t need to leave, Dean. I’m going to. You boys stay here. Familiarize yourself with the information needed for the lower degrees. It’s time you were initiated.”

Dean raises an eyebrow and meets Sam’s eyes. “Okay…”

“That’s settled then.” Henry marches back towards the entrance, clearly expecting them to follow him. “We’ll need to remove the weapons from the car of course, I have--”

“Oh, hell no,” Dean barks out. “You want to go find your old friends from Narnia, sure. But you’re not taking my Baby. Get your own freaking car.”

“I need a way to get around during my search.”

“So we’ll get you your own car, your own set of ID, the works. But that car--” he gestures toward the exit “-- is mine, and you’re not touching her.”

“I’m sorry? John did teach you respect, correct? The oldest person who needs it gets the use of the family car.”

“Are you… You have got to be kidding me,” Dean stares at him, agast. “You walked out on Dad when he was four fucking years old. You know what he taught me? How to drive before I could see over the wheel. How to identify claw marks and which ones needed purification with holy water before the stitches went in. Follow orders and protect Sammy, and figure out a way to make it work if those conflicted with each other.” He inhales sharply, trying to regain the leash on his temper. “Dad taught me a lot, but the only things he ever gave me were a pistol and that car. You’re not taking it.”

“You ungrateful--”

“Henry,” Sam snaps, crossing his arms. “It’s not happening. We’ll find a car you can take later today or tomorrow.”

Henry fixes them both with a cold glare before turning and heading deeper into the hallways and passages. Hopefully, he’ll get lost in this place for a good few hours.

Chapter Text

Henry is gone by morning. Dean doesn’t know how and doesn’t really care. Hiked into town, browbeat Sam into giving him a ride, whatever. Gives Dean more time to figure out what exactly is going on in their new base of operations.

The kitchen isn’t precisely a disaster-- they grew up with worse-- just… old and abandoned. Even the canned food needs to be trashed and the fridge should be nuked from orbit. He finds an old stovetop percolator in one of the cabinets and scrounges up a half-full can of coffee from his duffle. It’s not great-- the coffee is stale and the water tastes like an iron nail-- but it’s enough caffeine to get him going.

Dean abandons the pretense of treating this like just another shitty motel when he starts the third shopping list while dreaming about decorating his room. He loses hours picking and cleaning out rooms for Kevin and Cas, only surfacing when Sam shouts down the hallway that he brought back pizza.

Sam stares at him over the library table. “What have you been doing?”

Running a hand through his hair, Dean pulls it away covered in dust and cobwebs. “Uh... cleaning out a couple of guest rooms. Away from Henry’s room. Figured this was probably safer for Kevin and anyone else who might need a safe house.”

“We are not moving in here,” Sam says firmly, passing a couple slices of pizza Dean’s way. “We’re either hunting or we’re building a life. You can’t have it both ways!”

“What do you want from me, Sam?” Dean sinks lower in his chair, looking around them. “I’m trying to meet you halfway here. You know that Kevin’s not safe where he is. I cut off contact with Benny, Cas is in the wind…” He sighs, picks at the label on his beer. “I thought this was what you wanted. A home base.”

“That’s different, Henry’s--”

“So help me, if the word family comes out of your mouth,” Dean threatens, “I will fucking punch you.”

“Whatever, Dean,” Sam snaps, “That’s always your excuse. Family. It’s just a bit hypocritical if I don’t get to trust someone because of blood ties but you get to trust whoever in the fucking hell you want.”

Dean grits his teeth and looks away. He’s got about a dozen choice words he’d love to use right about now. Instead, he snatches another piece of pizza and disappears back down the hallway. He’s got other shit to do.

His stomach drives him back to the main areas of the Bunker that evening, searching for something quick and easy to eat before he skulks back to his room. Sam’s sitting at one of the tables in the library, laptop pulled up in front of him and a pile of files to the side.

Beckoning Dean over, he pulls up a browser window already pointing at a news report. “You want to hunt? Great. I caught us a case.”

“How?” Dean asks, “There’s no way this place has an internet connection, let alone wi-fi.”

“Maybe one of the kids -- or grandkids -- let themselves in and wired the place up.” Sam shrugs, “I’m not going to question it right now. More important things.”

“Sure,” he says shortly. There’s no way that’s going to come bite them in the ass later. “What’s up?”

“Spontaneous human combustion with a side of Nazis.”

And you have my attention.”

 


 

 

The hunt goes… alright. They manage to save Aaron at any rate, kill some racist dirtbags.

Nazi necromancers. Just when Sam thinks he’s seen everything.

And now he’s stuck in the car again, driving halfway across the country back to the Bunker-- unless they find a hunt, in which case, they’ll go haring off in some other direction and it’ll be weeks before they’re back there. What’s the point of having a home base if they’re never there to enjoy it?

Dean might be willing to forever zigzag across the country, but after his year with Amelia… Sam’s just not feeling it anymore. He wants stability, a chance to maybe stop traveling all the time.

Maybe if they get Bobby’s network back off the ground or something like it, they can cut down on missed hunts, dead hunters... The thought preoccupies Sam for the entire drive from Wilkes-Barre to the Fizzle’s Follies current mooring somewhere in the Lake of the Ozarks. If they can rebuild, connect everyone, use the Men of Letters Bunker as a safehouse and research center…

Henry would throw a fit, but he also thinks hunters are barely worthy to wipe the mud from his shoes.

“So… moving into the Bunker--” Sam starts, turning to face Dean as he accelerates up a hill. “Did you have a plan for that or just…”

Dean glances over at him before returning his eyes to the road. “I’m tired of living out of rat traps, man. It’s safe, it’s centrally located, it has enough lore books to make Bobby’s library cry…”

“What if we brought other hunters in? Used it for how it should have been used from the start-- all that lore, and they did nothing but stare at it. Allow access to it, Bobby’s phone tree, all of it.”

“That’s a lot bigger than I was thinking, but it might work.”

They hash it out over the rest of the drive. They don’t get very far in actual planning, but they’re at least on the same page.

Kevin looks like shit when they get to the houseboat, the particular kind of sick from too much instant ramen and hot dogs and not enough real food. They bundle him into the car, abandoning the houseboat where it’s moored. Garth can find it when he’s done with his current hunt, where ever in the hell that is that took him.

“Do you know where my mom is?”

“Uh…” Sam glances at Dean who shrugs. “Last we heard, she was with you.”

“I kicked her out. She was distracting.”

“Did you try calling her?”

“Yes,” Kevin snaps. “I tried that first. She didn’t answer the phone.”

“We’ll take a look when we stop for the night. We’ll find her.”

 


 

 

There’s an unfamiliar sedan parked in front of the door, dark gray and boring in the way that screams cop. Sam glances over to Dean, shaking his head. “There’s no way they didn’t hear us coming up the drive.”

Lips tight, Dean nods once. “Kevin, stay in the car, keep the motor running. You and that hunk of clay are the most important things in this car. If things go bad, head towards Sioux Falls and talk to the sheriff. She’ll take care of you.”

“Sheriff, Sioux Falls, got it,” Kevin recites, leaning over the front seat. “What about you?”

“Don’t worry about us,” Sam says soothingly. “This might be nothing after all.” Climbing out of the car, Sam resettles his gun in the back of his jeans, watching Dean do the same.

The door is unlocked, fresh prints in the slushy mud and tracking into the tunnel. They slide to opposite sides, moving as silently as possible until they’re at the inner door. Easing it open, Sam slides inside, feeling the air move as Dean follows him.

There’s three men, two sitting in the chairs by the map table, one facing the library while the other watches the stairs, and a third inspects the machinery and dials. They’ve been here for a while-- a pile of plates on the corner of the table, several mugs of coffee-- but there’s nothing to indicate what they’re waiting for.

Sam’s boot catches on the threshold of the door and the two guys in the chairs are on their feet in an instant, pointing guns towards the doorway. Sam doesn’t have a chance to move, dropping his hand to his gun before Dean pushes him out of the way.

“Well, hi fellas,” Dean calls out cockily, standing at the handrail. “You seem to be in our Bunker. Can I help you?”

The older guy, who’d been inspecting the dials, turns around to face them, grinning up at them with a shark’s smile. “I’m glad to see you in one piece. I was worried.”

“Sure. And who are you?” Dean spits out, slowly making his way down the stairs.

Sam stays where he is, watching the other two. He’s certain they won’t shoot without permission from White Hair, but better safe than sorry.

“Ah, yes. Where are my manners?” Extending a hand, he glances up towards Sam as well. “Monroe Styne.”

The name isn’t familiar, but that doesn’t mean much. His accent marks him as from the deep south, not an area they spend a lot of time in. Hunters down that way are strange, insular, hip deep in their own strange and terrible monsters to hunt outside of the swamps much.

“Dean Winchester, my brother Sam.” Dean doesn’t even try to be subtle, looming over Styne and tightly gripping his hand for a few seconds.

Styne doesn’t flinch or react in anyway. Rolling his eyes, Sam slides his pistol back into his jeans and heads down the stairs to greet their guests-- not that they know how in the hell they got in side, but Sam’s got a pretty good guess for that one.

Up close, the muscle are not identical, but look close enough alike that Sam would be willing to bet they’re brothers.

Monroe gestures to them broadly, “My son, Eldon, and nephew, Eli.”

Or not brothers. Interesting. “Nice to meet you,” Sam says, trying to tell which one is which.

“So you boys are the ones who found the Bunker.” Monroe takes a couple steps back, leaning against the console. “Folks have been searching for this place for decades, you know. And a pair of uneducated hunters found it.”

Sam stares coldly at Monroe, “As uninvited guests, I think you can go now.”

“Uninvited? Your grandfather invited, nay directed, us to come fetch the lore books we’ve been searching for. He’s around here somewhere, you can ask him.” Settling back against the console, he stretches his legs out and crosses his ankles, clearly at ease.

Sam meets Dean’s eyes and jerks his head towards the library and the corridors beyond.

Dean’s eyes harden, like he wants to argue, but he takes off in search for Henry.

The Stynes slump back into their chairs as soon as Dean’s out of the room, leaving just Sam and Monroe standing.

 


 

“Again,” the voice orders, light shining through the shelves of an… abandoned warehouse. Yes. That’s where he is. An abandoned warehouse on Earth.

Castiel drops his blade into his hand, flaring his wings to feel for any shift in the air currents. It’s silent, not even rats disturbing the silence that surrounds him. His quarry is here, somewhere, a small rebel that must be brought under Heaven’s control.

Stalking through the aisles, Castiel waits for the attack.

He knows there will be an attack, that the leader will be alone, will prefer a head-on confrontation over an ambush from the side, without knowing how he knows. A small part of him wonders about that but he ignores it. Heaven has always provided him with everything he needs, including information.

The air stirs a split second before the attack, giving him just enough time to turn to meet the rush of the blade with his own.

The man is fast, fast enough to keep up with Castiel and even push him back against the surrounding shelves. The lights glint off their locked knives, highlighting sandy-brown hair in the dim light.

“Stop,” Castiel commands, suddenly desperate to avoid killing this man. He doesn’t even know why, just that this… should not be.

His opponent doesn’t say anything, just grunts, before aiming a kick at Castiel’s knee.

It connects, forcing Castiel to his knees in front of him. “----” he calls out, there should be a name there, he knows that name, “Stop! Please!”

The man reverses his grip on his blade, bringing it towards Castiel’s head hilt first.

A shudder runs through Castiel and he jerks his wing into the physical plane, pushing the knife away. The point twists, tears through the feathers and into the soft surface of the leading edge. Castiel screams as grace leaks through the cut, the wing instinctively batting the human away.

He lands in a slump against a post further up the aisle, the dull thunk of his head against the pole echoing through the space followed by the clatter of his knife to the floor.

Dragging the rebel away from the post, Castiel straddles his hips, hovering over him.

The man’s mouth opens, a breathy moan, then “Cas?”

The word reverberates through his mind, ricocheting off something. He knows this man, knows what he’s capable of, knows… Dean.

“Finish him.”

His hands obey the command, slamming his blade down into the man’s eye socket, pushing through the skull and into the floor.

Shaken, he sits back, watches in a daze as the shelves shimmer out of existence and the lights come up. The room is pure white, yellow pillars scattered throughout, bright the way only Heaven can be. Looking down, he gasps-- Dean’s face stares up at him, angel blade buried up to the hilt-- before raising his head.

Dozens of Dean copies scatter the floor, in a variety of positions, all lifeless, all dead, all killed by him.

Naomi doesn’t bother with dramatics when she makes herself known, simply appearing next to him. “You’re making progress, Castiel, but you’re still hesitating. You’re not ready yet.”

Two angels grab his arms before he can respond, dragging him away.

 


 

 

Dean breaks into a jog as soon as he’s around the corner from the library. Whatever these assholes are doing, he wants them out of the Bunker now. If that means kicking Henry out too, so be it. No great loss there. They can’t risk Kevin’s safety with folks they don’t know.

Pulling out his phone, he taps out a message to Kevin to go to Red Cloud, just north of the state line, and stay there. If he doesn’t hear from them in the next four hours, head to Jody’s.

That done, he resumes his search for Henry. He checks the logical places first-- the room he stayed in last week, the bathroom, even the shooting range-- with no luck. Resigning himself to wandering the corridors, Dean leans against the wall and closes his eyes.

He shouldn’t be able to hear boxes being shuffled around and quiet muttering, but he does. Following the noise down the hallway, he finds Henry flipping through files in a box, muttering to himself about the archives.

Dean clears his throat in the doorway and waits.

Henry sighs. “I told you to wait in the War Room. I’ll bring what I can find as soon as I find it.”

“Yeah, I’m not your buddies,” Dean responds.

Henry sighs again, sticking a finger between two files to mark his place. “Don’t you have something else to do? Something suitably caveman-like?”

“Nope,” Dean pops. “Just finished a hunt, you know, my job, and decided to come back here to grab a shower.”

“Then do so and either leave or begin your studies.”

“What are you looking for?” Dean asks, ignoring Henry’s frustration. “I thought you were looking for other Men of Letters, but instead, you’re here again.”

“The Stynes are part of the organization. Not that I expect you to know what that means.”

“And you believe them? And I thought we trusted too easily.”

“Monroe knows all the passphrases through level ten. He was the only survivor of his chapter, home with his sick wife.”

Dean raises an eyebrow. “That’s convenient.”

“Now having a sick spouse is suspicious?” Henry slams the lid back on the box. “Hunters, always thinking with their guns.” Pushing past Dean, he walks back towards the main living areas.

Dean follows him at a loss for what else to do. Something about the Stynes just isn’t sitting right, and he doesn’t think it’s because he’s never heard of them. He’s never heard of a lot of hunters, but very few of them ever rubbed him the wrong way like this.

“Mr. Styne, thank you for your patience,” Henry says, pulling a book from… somewhere. “Here’s the first of the volumes you were looking for, the Codex.”

Monroe eagerly picks it up, roughly flipping through the pages. Sam winces and meets Dean’s eyes from the other side of the table, disbelief written across his face.

“The other?” Monroe asks, glancing up from the Codex. “Nadya’s Codex is scarcely useful without it.”

“This is hundreds of years old. Be careful, man.” Grabbing the book from Monroe’s hands, Henry sets it back on the table and lays a possessive hand over it. “The archives contain references to the other, but no indication it is in the Men of Letters’ possession.”

“Then we’ll take the Codex and be on our way then. I’m sure you have things to talk about with your associates,” Monroe spits out.

Dean rolls his eyes. “You could try being polite. I thought that was a thing.”

“Same goes for you, Dean,” Henry points out. “Not that it matters. I can’t allow this to leave the Bunker. But I’m sure the boys can make us some coffee while you copy out what you need.” He looks over at Eldon and Eli. “Perhaps find something more… active for the younger ones.”

Dean pulls Sam aside as the Stynes follow Henry into the library, where he presents Monroe with a notepad and pencil. “We need to get them out of here,” he hisses.

“You think they’re a problem?”

“I think Henry is so eager to find other survivors that he’d sell us out to a witch if it got him a location spell that told him where they were.”

“You told Kev to get out of here?”

“Of course. He’ll wait up north for a few hours before moving on.”

Sam shrugs and glances into the library, “We don’t have other options at the moment. They’ll be out of here soon enough.”

“They can’t stay here!”

“We don’t have a choice. Unless you want to go in there, guns blazing.”

Dean grumbles and throws up his hands before heading towards the kitchen. Hopefully, someone brought coffee with them, because there’s not enough in his stash to feed this crowd.

 


 

 

It takes hours of drinking flavorless swill, carefully watching the Stynes copy every page from that mysterious codex, before Sam can finally slam the door behind them.

Henry disappeared hours ago, leaving Sam as the only Winchester capable of acting like a grown up. So he’d drunk shitty coffee and made small talk with Eldon (or Eli? He never did figure out which was which) while Monroe flipped through pages.

Standing in the doorway, he watches them drive off, following the dust cloud west. He slams the door once he can’t see the car anymore and heads back inside. Pulling out his phone, Sam texts Kevin the all clear before he hits the staircase.

Dean’s back in the library, glaring at the debris left behind by a long afternoon of research. Silently, Sam helps him pick up, stacking the mugs and notepads.

“I don’t trust ‘em,” Dean mutters. “They’re too convenient, too smug.”

“We might be stuck with them anyway, unless you have something a lot more solid to go to Henry with.”

Dean shrugs and disappears around the corner.

Sam hides the Codex on one of the shelves in the back corner of the room, behind a stack of encyclopedias and heads back outside to meet Kevin.

Kevin yanks his backpack out of the car as soon as it’s parked, “Red Cloud is a lifeless hellhole full of terrible busybodies.”

“Okay…” Sam drags out. “Everything alright?”

“I’m eighteen, Sam. And I look it! Lady who runs the coffee shop thought I was skipping school, the librarian called the truancy officer!”

“We’ll come up with a better option next time.”

“Yeah, sure.” Kevin glances around the dark landscape. “This place like Hogwarts or something, going to appear out of nowhere? Leap from behind the power station and go ‘boo?’”

“Jesus Christ, we need to get you around people again. It is the power station. C’mon, let’s get you settled.”

Chapter Text

Between being someplace safe, eating real food, and being bullied into something approaching a regular sleep schedule, Kevin perks up and starts acting like a real boy again. To prove it, within a couple of days, he’s found the spell that will close Hell forever.

Three trials, to prove they’re worthy or serious, and then the gates of Hell are closed and no more demons on Earth. Dean can go back to hunting wendigos and Sam can stop hunting entirely. Finally.

First step: killing a hellhound and bathing in its blood. Sam’s not entirely certain how he feels about it, but if they can’t find a hellhound, then his moral qualms about allowing someone to escape their fate don’t matter.

Assuming they deserve it, of course. They just don’t have a way of knowing from the outside which deals were made for the right reasons, or even if they did, forcing someone else to die by hellhound because their morality says they should? That banker a few years back, that they’d followed to Crowley. Terrible human being, revelling in his ridiculous amounts of money while the people he defrauded lost everything, and Sam still can’t convince himself that he deserves to die by hellhound or be saved.

(That’s a lie. He knows precisely what that banker deserves, which is all the more reason to never allow him power of any kind. Killing monsters is one thing, given that power over humans? No good would ever come of that.)

He winces and turns back to the computer in front of him, digging through years of lottery information and news stories, trying to find a needle in a field of haystacks.

Dean deposits an egg sandwich and coffee at his elbow before doing the same to Kevin across from him. “Any luck?”

Sam sighs and shakes his head. “Not unless you’re into cattle mutilations or ghost ships.”

“From ten years ago? Pass.” Dean drops into his own chair at the other table across from Henry. “How about you, Pops?”

“Do not call me that.” Henry glances up from where he’s slowly learning how to use Dean’s laptop. “I don’t understand how this is faster than calling.”

“When I handed you a phone, you demanded ‘Delta four-five-seven’ or whatever the fuck. You figure out who to call, you get a phone to call with.” Leaning back in his chair, Dean toys with his phone for a moment before jumping to his feet. “I’m gonna go try to get ahold of Garth. See if he’s got anything.”

Cracking his neck, Sam watches Dean bolt for the front door before turning back to the screen in front of him. Calling Garth, right. Or skipping out of boring research the first chance he gets.

Kevin stares out the doorway for a few minutes before turning back to whatever he’s working on. Sam hopes working on the tablet some more, but from the sounds of the clicks, Kevin’s probably screwing around on Facebook or Twitter instead.

Sam checks the news while eating-- nothing terribly exciting besides racists fucks continuing to be racist fucks-- before diving back into the search for someone who made a demon deal ten years ago.

Dean stomps down the stairs about thirty minutes later, frowning heavily.

“Garth got anything?” Sam calls, clicking on yet another possible newspaper story with no real hope.

“Wha-- No.” Dean shakes his head and pockets his phone. “Couldn’t get him to answer the phone. Kev, he say anything to you about going on a long hunt?”

“I’ve not heard from him in weeks. Do you think I was eating ramen and hot dogs for my health?” Kevin snarks.

“Point.” Dean inhales and blows it out. “About the same time as your mom took off?”

Kevin shrugs. “I was neck deep in tablet bullshit and she wouldn’t leave me alone. But then she never contacted me. I told you about this when you picked me up!”

“So we’ve got at least two missing people. That’s great.” Slumping into the chair next to Sam, Dean pulls his phone out of his pocket and starts tapping on it. “Plus finding a hellhound.”

“I think I’ve got the hellhound at least.” Sam glances over the story he has pulled up again before flipping the computer around. “Check this out.”

“This is full-on Beverly Hillbillies,” Dean says after reading the article. “Oil where there’s never been oil before? That’s not even creative.”

“Yeah, but it’s also the only possibility I’m comfortable getting involved in.”

“Greed? That doesn’t seem right.”

“I did a quick check of their finances-- the ranch was about to go under. Hard to fault them for taking the option. We’ve done stupider things.”

“True.” Dean slides the laptop back to Sam and pushes himself to his feet. “Give me twenty and we can get on the road. Kev, you okay staying here by yourself?”

Kevin nods before turning back to his laptop and plugging his headphones in. Okay then.

Sam sighs and closes down his laptop before following Dean out of the room.

 


 

They should have expected this to be another chain of deals with the amount of good luck that Ellie and the local newspaper told them about-- in the span of a week, the Cassity’s struck oil, signed a record deal, found love, and got married to a woman much to young for him-- every possible piece of luck they could have, they did. They’re on a thousand acre ranch with way too many targets to protect all of them.

Even with holy fire scalded reading glasses, the hellhound manages to collect on two of the deals before they manage to narrow the victim pool down at all. He should have noticed how twitchy Ellie was earlier, spooking at random noises. Now the ‘hound is coming for her, and they’re behind the eight-ball again, caught in the horse barn.

Sam watches for the hellhound while Dean hustles Ellie into the storeroom behind them. It’s not much protection, but it’s the best they’re going to get on short notice.

Catching the bag of goofer dust that Dean tosses him, Sam slides the door closed, latching it behind Dean so Dean and Ellie are both trapped inside. “I got this! Take care of Ellie!”

“Dammit, Sam! Let me out!” Dean pounds on the door, but Sam ignores him, nearly spills the goofer dust in his hurry to get the line down in front of the door.

Sam catches sight of the ‘hound through the edge of his glasses. Long thin legs silently gallop down the barn at freakish speed. Before Sam can do more than turn so he’s facing it head on, it’s on him, ramming into him and knocking him flat. A narrow muzzle bites at his throat while the claws on the powerful hind legs rip through his jeans.

Sam gets a hand between them, jamming the grip of his pistol into the ‘hound’s mouth and keeping it at arm’s length. Rolling, he slams the head into the cement before pushing it away.

Scrambling to its feet, it backs off for a moment, shaking its head. The red glow of the ‘hound’s eyes flicker rapidly before steadying and focusing on Sam.

Sam rolls to his feet, pulling the demon killing knife from his jacket pocket and circles to the creature’s left, trying to pull it away from the door blocking it from its target. Line of goofer dust or not, the storeroom is just an unused stall with wooden walls. It might resist a hellhound for a few minutes, but not forever.

The ‘hound cocks its head, watching Sam, turning to keep him in sight. Its growls fill the small area, loud and threatening enough to scare the horses that surround them.

Sam strains to hear any sign that another hound is coming over the screaming horses but gets nowhere-- they’re too quiet and stealthy to be heard in a noisy barn.

“Hey, pup,” he says quietly. “How about you ignore Dean and Ellie? I’m an easier prize.” It really does look like a dog, tall and lanky, bred to run down its prey, without the heavy head and chest that he expected. And intelligent, eyes roaming around and past him.

There’s a soft click behind him, barely audible over the horses. Sam barely glances away but the hound springs in that moment of distraction.

The hound latches onto the arm holding the demon knife, twisting in mid-air and throwing Sam off balance. He spins, falling heavily to the ground. The knife flies out of his hand, landing several feet away.

The monster jumps again, landing on Sam’s chest and rakes its claws through his shirt. Sam bites off the scream that wants to erupt along with the blood. He uses one hand to keep it aways from his throat, arm outstretched with his hand on the breastbone. The other hand flails along the ground, searching for the knife.

The dog lunges forward again, snapping at Sam’s face. Sam rears back as best he can, frantically turning his head to find the knife.

There, his fingers brush the tip of the blade, dragging it forward a precious inch until he can pull it into his hand, scattering straw in a circle until he can reach the handle. Grabbing the knife, he pushes the hound back a bit before plunging the blade between two of its ribs.

The hound spasms a couple times, one last snap of its jaws before finally going still.

Grimacing, Sam blows out a breath before pulling the knife out and using it to slit the hellhound’s chest open, drenching himself in its blood. It’s disgusting, reeking of sulphur and old blood, scalding his bare skin.

Heaving it to the side, he wipes his face with his uninjured arm and looks around.

It’s strangely quiet in the aftermath, despite Dean and Ellie’s pounding on the door, the screaming horses, all of it. The blood pounding in his ears drowns out all of it, leaving an empty silence behind.

“I’m fine, Dean,” he calls before carefully pushing himself to his feet. “Just let me--” he breaks off as he staggers towards the door. “Hold on.”

“Sam?” Dean barks when he falls into the wall with a thud.

It takes a moment to figure out why his left hand doesn’t work right, staring at the blood soaked rag that is his jacket sleeve before enough adrenaline burns off for him to actually feel the pain. He manages to flip the lock and push his shoulder into the door, cracking it open.

Ellie takes it from there, sliding the door the rest of the way open. She gasps when she sees him.

Dean roughly pushes her out of the way, wrapping an arm around Sam’s waist to hold him up. “Jesus, Sam. How much of this is yours?”

“More than it should be.” Sam sags, letting Dean take some more of his weight as he wobbles towards the desk and chair. “C’mon. I need to finish the spell.”

“What the fuck, Sam? You think I’m worried about the fucking trial right now? Jesus.”

“Brutus?” A cultured voice calls in the aisle. “What’s taking so long?”

 


 

Shit. Dean all but drops Sam into the desk chair before running out of the storeroom.

“Squirrel,” Crowley greets him, raising an eyebrow. “I’d say I’m missing a dog, but I suspect you know what happened to him.”

“I told you the next time I saw you, I was going to kill you.” Dean glances around, trying to figure out where Sam dropped the damn knife.

Crowley tsks and shakes his head, “You’ve said that several times, and you’ve not done it yet. You’ve barely even tried.”

Dean leans over to scoop up the demon knife from a nasty pile of straw, pushing the hellhound glasses further up his nose and turning to fully face Crowley. “You’ve barely tried…” he trails off, looking at Crowley head on for the first time.

He’s seen the true faces of demons before, on Earth even, but years of other trauma have piled on top of the memory, burying it. This is not a memory, this is not like anything he’s ever seen on Earth before. Ruby or Lilith’s true forms were visible at times, but had a layer of humanity over it, a borrowed skin twisted over their faces.

Crowley… isn’t. Vaguely humanoid, burnt and cracked skin constantly splits open to reveal rotten green meat, maggots crawling over it all. Bony outgrowths bridge from his shoulders to form a crown over his head. Blood red flames chained to the body turn and follow Dean as he moves.

Dean recoils, pushing the glasses off his head. He’s never doing that again.

Crowley notices his hesitation, there’s no way he doesn’t, but he doesn’t say anything, instead looking around for his missing hellhound. Dean stares for a long moment, trying to conflate the vicious walking wound with the person standing in front of him.

“Brutus?” Crowley whistles before meeting Dean’s gaze. “Winchester, where’s my dog?”

“Dead. We-- Sam-- killed it,” Dean says as cockily as he can manage.

“You killed my dog!” Crowley bellows. Between one step and the next, he flickers out and back to the barn, directly in front of Dean, pushing him into the wall.

The shadows in the barn grow deeper, pressing in along with Crowley.

Dean swallows, and pushes himself up to his full height. “It was killing people.”

“Of course it was killing people, that’s what hellhounds do! Did he hurt anyone who wasn’t involved in a deal? No. Did he draw out their deaths? No. You’re meddling.”

“Have you met us?” Dean bares his teeth in a grin. “It’s what we do. How’s your little scheme of torturing angels going? Get anywhere with what Alfie gave you?”

Crowley steps back, reaches down to straighten his jacket. “You have no idea the scale of the things on that tablet. You think destroying the leviathan or creating a bomb to blow away demons are the greatest things on those tablets? No.” Carefully, he walks down the aisle, leaning down to touch something before disappearing.

Dean stares after him for a moment before shaking himself and rushing back towards the storage room.

Sam’s still slumped against the desk where Dean had left him, Ellie crouching next to him with a pile of empty gauze wrappers on the ground next to her.

“He needs stitches and a doctor,” she says, as she finishes wrapping another roll of bandage around Sam’s arm.

Dean snorts, moving next to them. “Sam, buddy, you with us?”

Sam’s eyes open wide, jerking upright. “Dean, I gotta finish!”

“What? No. We’ll find another one, I’ll do it. You can’t even stand up right now.”

“And risk us both? No. Dean, no. Just let me do this.” Sam gingerly reaches into jacket pocket and pulls out the spell, flattening it on the desk. The paper is black around the edges, the blood seeping through the fabric and staining it. “You’re the best damn hunter this world has ever seen, let me be the dumbass running into the fire for a change, alright?”

Dean watches as fresh blood wells up along the edge of a cut, before nodding slowly.

“Thank you,” Sam breathes, before inhaling. The spell is short, only four syllables in Enochian, but it nearly sends Sam to the floor, twisting his body into an unnatural rictus as red-white light outlines the veins in his arms. He drops back as soon as the spell releases him, gasping for air.

Ellie is still watching from next to the desk, her hands resting on the edges of the first aid kit. “Is he…?”

“He’ll be fine.” Dean closes his eyes for a long moment before nodding and reaching into his pocket. “I’m going to get our car. You two stay here, there’s a chance Crowley might come back.”

She nods and Dean sprints for the car. His hands are shaking hard enough that he has trouble getting the keys into the ignition. Dropping the keys into the seat beside him, Dean wraps his hands around the steering wheel and squeezes, knuckles going white and leather creaking before his hands relax.

He just has to keep the panic at bay for a little while longer.

Pulling the car around, he gropes in the backseat, finding a half-full bottle of whiskey. Looking at it, his hand makes an aborted motion to spin the cap off into the dark out of sheer habit.

Instead, he mutters a brief not-prayer to Cas and goes back into the barn.

Sam nearly faints when Dean tries to move his left arm. Looking at him, Dean shakes his head and gives up. There’s too many wounds, and too deep, for him to sew up before Sam goes into shock from his arm. Broken bones are some of the only things they never figured out how to effectively deal with on their own.

Ellie glares at him when he toes the first aid kit back closed. “Hospital now?” she asks.

“I-- we-- can’t…” he trails off, trying to come up with something.

Rolling her eyes, she pushes herself to her feet and pull a spare button up shirt off a hook. “Like you two are the first drifters who don’t need police attention in this town. That hellhound, it got rabies?”

“No?” But they should wash out the deeper cuts with holy water-- who knows what lives in a hellhound’s mouth.

“It’s not a gunshot and it’s not rabies. Doc Nunez will take of it. She’s cool with people, but won’t break the law.” She doesn’t wait for his response, carefully tying the shirt into a sling and easing it around Sam’s neck.

Dean nods and moves to help. Having something to do helps ease the trembling he can still feel, even if it doesn’t show.

Ellie runs ahead to open the car door while he helps Sam limp out. He can feel the warm seep of blood through the bandages under his hand at Sam’s waist, bleeding through.

He tries not to think about it. Doesn’t need the images of Jo bleeding out on the floor of a dusty hardware store, the tearing of his own flesh under teeth and claws. He shudders, carefully laying Sam in the backseat.

Sam moans, pushes himself further into the car under his own power, “Dean, I think I need a doctor,” he says weakly.

“Working on it.”

Nunez works out of a couple of old cargo containers, welded together into an office, next to a rundown house at the intersection of a few different farm roads. The house looks shabby even in the dark, but the bright yellow container next to it pulls all the attention anyway.

The floodlights in the yard show a gravel parking pad between the house and office with an older woman bundled up in a sweatshirt and jeans.

She completely ignores Dean when he climbs out of the car, going straight to the back door and yanking it open. “Oof. He’s a big one. Ellie, help me get him out,” she snaps, tucking her braid into the neck of her sweatshirt. “You, get the door open.”

Dean meekly follows instructions, helping them get Sam inside and settled. He pauses for a moment when she pulls out the bag of saline to run a line.

“Sam doesn’t always deal well with needles.”

“Then he shouldn’t have gotten tangled up with a dog like this,” Nunez says shortly, but she lets Dean hold Sam down when she sticks the needle in and tapes it down. “He’s not lost a lot of blood, but he’s shocky and unconscious. Gotta do something about that.”

Dean takes the scissors out of her hand before she can cut off Sam’s shirt. He can’t… It’s too much like Jo. “I gotta--”

“Whatever, just do it quick and careful-like.” He can feel her glare on his back as he cuts up the centerline of the shirts and then the sleeves, peeling them back around the bite and claw marks.

“Jesus,” she mutters. “This wasn’t a dog. Or a wolf.” She reaches up, touches Sam’s anti-possession tattoo carefully. “You hunters?”

Somehow, Dean’s sure she doesn’t mean deer or elk. “Yeah. Hellhound. Keeping it away from Ellie.”

“Dammit, girl, I knew your mama got better too quick.” Nunez looks up at Dean and nods. “Better make some holy water, kid, we’re going to have a long night.”

Sam regains consciousness around two am, after they’ve already been working on him for a couple hours. They’ve taken care of the worst of it, gotten most of the puncture wounds cleaned out-- turns out hellhounds carry all sorts of nasties in their mouths, watching the holy water boil out sulphur yellow nearly made Dean puke-- and sutured shut, and they’re yanking his arm back into alignment when Sam yells himself awake.

Dean’s on his feet immediately, pushing Sam back against the exam table with an arm across his shoulders. “Sam, relax. I got you.”

Nunez uses his distraction to finish resetting Sam’s arm.

Sam lets out a hoarse bellow, jerking forward against Dean’s hold before relaxing. “Dean?”

Ellie snorts and hands Nunez the splint to hold Sam’s arm in place. “Dean’s here, Sam’s awake, now can we please focus on the Doc and the medical shit she’s doing?”

“Oh. Right.”

They can’t apply a cast to Sam’s arm-- the bite marks need to be able to breathe and there’s a very real fear of infection-- but Doc Nunez has clearly dealt with this sort of thing before. Wrapping a hard plastic brace around Sam’s arm, she covers it in Ace bandages. “Keep it still, don’t be a dumb ass, and for fuck’s sake, see a doctor when you get back to your home base for a real cast.”

Stepping away from the table, she jerks her head at Dean and drags him towards the desk at the front of the container. “Your brother is gonna be fine, but we need to discuss payment.”

Dean holds back the grimace that wants to cross his face and nods, reaching for his wallet. “I’ve got about five hundred in cash and--”

She cuts him off with a wave of her hand. “I’ll be taking your cash, but not all of it. The balance…” She looks out the windows that have been cut into the steel of the container, facing the house. “I have a friend up north, up by Coeur d’Alene. They’re fine, but there’s been some disappearances up that way and they’re starting to get worried.”

“Our sort of thing?” Dean asks sharply.

“I think so,” Nunez grimaces. “Sam shouldn’t be moved much. There’s too much risk of him shifting his wrist, those wounds getting infected.”

“Okay…” Dean draws out.

“Leave him here. Go check out Mac’s thing. You take care of that, and we’ll call it even.”

Dean sighs and pulls a couple hundred bucks and lays it on the counter. “Give me a few hours to get some sleep.”

She nods, busying herself with the coffee pot before turning away.

Which leaves Dean to try to find some back up for this. He’s not entirely sure who will be willing-- there’s a reason he and Sam mostly hunt either with each other or alone-- but he’s gotta try. He can hunt alone, did it for years, but right now… he’s so used to having Sam or Benny at his back that this could go upside down real quick. Pulling out his phone, he leans against the wall and makes a point of not watching where Nunez disappears the cash to.

Thumbing through his contact list, Dean tries not to think too hard about how so many of them are dead. The apocalypse and apocalypse redux took their tolls, plus all the ‘usual’ hunts-go-bad and… yeah. His heart stutters on Bobby’s number, and Benny’s, thumbs right on past Cas, and pauses on Charlie.

He’s not sure how much he trusts her in combat yet-- LARP combat is bullshit-- but she could use the practice if she wants to hunt, even part time.

Dean’s not quite sure what time it is in Michigan, but he’s fairly certain that it’s far too early for his text to get an instantaneous cheerful phone call.

“Hey, Charlie, what’s shakin’?”

“You tell me. You’re not a texter, Dean.”

Dean shakes his head and steps outside. “How serious are you about hunting?”

“It’s four fucking thirty in the fucking morning and that’s why you texted? I thought you’d made progress on the Castiel front or something.”

Dean blinks stupidly at his phone for a couple of seconds before shaking his head. “What? No. Sammy’s hurt and I’ve got a hunt.”

“Is Sam okay or…” Charlie trails off.

“Stitches and a cast. But it just happened last night, so he’s doped up on the good meds. Can you help me out or do I need to find someone else?”

“You don’t have to be a dick. Yeah, I’m in.” There’s a rustling noise on the other end of the phone and some typing, a soft thunk, like she set her phone down. Sure enough, after a couple minutes of typing, she sounds like she’s in a tunnel. “Alright. Ugh, where am I going?”

They spend a few minutes working things out-- her flight into Boise arrives early afternoon and he’ll pick her up before heading north-- before she hurriedly gets off the phone.

The cold outside is almost a relief after the too-warm humid heat of the clinic. Dean leans against the Impala for a few minutes, letting the cold steel absorb some of his anxiety, before pulling his phone out of his pocket.

Cas’s phone goes directly to voicemail. Dean holds in the sigh that wants to escape before the beep. “Hey, man. Just checking in, guess you’re still busy with Heaven stuff or whatever. Don’t--” he closes his eyes and hunches into his jacket more. “Don’t worry about us. We’ve got things under control.” Dean hastily hits the end call button as Ellie emerges from the clinic, heading across the yard towards the house.

Calling out for her to wait, Dean pops the trunk, and digs through some of the spare hex bags they keep on hand. Tossing it to her, he says, “Keep this on you at all times. Hopefully, hellhounds won’t be a problem for much longer, but I don’t know how long it will take.”

She nods tiredly, shoving it in a pocket, “You and Doc figure something out?”

“Yeah. I’ll roll back through to pick up Sam in a couple days.”

They stare awkwardly at each other for a few minutes before she shakes her head and turns back to the house. Dean watches her go before heading back inside the clinic. He’s got a few hours to kill before he needs to head out, better watch over Sam during that time, let Nunez get some sleep.

 


 

She has never been a sound sleeper, half awake throughout the centuries, dreaming through the changes in Hell. The aftershocks are still rumbling, waking her fully, knocking the shallowest ice away from her head. It had been thinning regardless, too many shocks to the firmament to keep her safely contained when Heaven can’t even keep Lucifer contained.

Flexing, more ice splinters away, allows her to breathe freely for the first time in centuries. She’s still trapped, but this… this gives her something she can work with.

The first demon that comes near is scarcely worth the name. Barely off the rack, impossibly young, not remotely sane, it does not deserve her attentions. She coaxes it closer, spinning out tales that an older demon would know better than to believe.

It dies quick, hot blood splashing down to melt the ice further, quenching her thirst. Too young to know anything, its death serves only to bring her closer to escape.

Briefly, she wonders what Lilith is doing, or Alastair, to allow demons so young to wander from the pit. Settling back into her prison, she waits-- for another demon, for freedom, for another quake.

Chapter Text

Doc Nunez’s friend, Mac, lives north of Coeur d’Alene, in one of the tiny towns that line the highway along the National Forest. There’s almost nothing to it-- not quite seven hundred people, a bar, and a couple schools-- but driving down the main drag, Dean’s astonished by how much life is left here. Most of these towns are dying, but this one… isn’t.

Hell, judging by the construction at the north end of town, it’s growing.

“Isn’t this kinda… lively… for a town this size in February?” Charlie asks. “During hunting season, or the summer, sure. There’s plenty of things to do here, but…”

Dean shrugs, slowly driving past the nearly full parking lot of the diner, searching for the veterinary hospital. “It wouldn’t be the first time that a town survives against the odds.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time a town was abusing pagan gods to do it either,” she says darkly.

“Abusing pagan gods…” Dean trails off. “What?”

“That thing with the scarecrow. In Indiana, like seven years ago?”

“Scarecrow in Indiana… the dryad?” Dean whips his head around. “You read the books?”

“And the fanfiction-- well, some of it,” Charlie adds smugly. “Anyway, pretty sure that was a god, Dean. Or vanir, whatever the difference is.”

Dean resists the urge to bang his head on the steering wheel, but only because he’s still driving. “Yeah, that was a dryad. A crazy one, completely off her rocker because of all the blood, but it was a dryad. No idea why Chuck called it a god.”

Charlie frowns, tapping a finger on tablet on the seat between them. “What else did he lie about?”

The idea of going down the list makes Dean shudder. “A lot.” If he thinks about it too long, or too hard, he’s going to end up on a week long bender. “And that’s a three beer minimum conversation. Get me drunk later.”

She nods sharply before pointing up ahead. “There’s the vet clinic.”

Mac is standing outside on the far side of the building, smoking in the lee of the wind. Heavy-set and hiding any hint of a personality behind a set of coveralls, they lift their hand in greeting as Dean parks the car, putting the cigarette out on the sole of their boot. “Howdy, what can I help you with?”

Before Dean can get a word out, Charlie has already taken over. “Howdy! We’re looking for Mac? Doc Nunez from… uh…” Turning to Dean, she looks utterly blank.

“Shoshone,” Dean interjects dryly.

Mac levers away from the building and whistles sharply before extending their hand. “Harper MacKenzie. Call me Mac, please.”

“Sure thing. Dean Winchester and Charlie Bradbury,” Dean introduces them, bracing for the dogs that are sure to follow that whistle. He still inhales sharply when the dogs barrel around the corner towards them, trying to keep the sudden spike of fear off his face.

Charlie might notice, if she’s paying attention, but he’s pretty sure Mac won’t have.

“Once these two are ready to behave, we can head on inside. They were getting restless this afternoon.”

The big dog-- huge and fluffy, big enough to set its paws on Sam’s shoulders-- flops between them, rolling over onto its back to expose its belly. Mac and Charlie drop down to scratch it while the little one-- not even knee high on Dean-- runs around them in circles, barking its head off.

Mac lets it go on for a bit before pushing themself back to their feet. “Alright, Stimpy. Enough already!” The big one rolls back over and gives its entire body a shake before climbing to its feet. It lets out a single low ‘boof’ before padding over to the door and waiting patiently. “Yeah, Ren. You too.”

Dean feels his heartbeat pick up speed, but pushes it aside. This isn’t the time, he can feel things about this later. Much later. When he’s safe in his room at the Bunker, behind all sorts of warding.

Mac and the dogs lead them past the waiting area-- empty-- and into their office at the far end of the building. The office is cluttered, every flat surface covered in paperwork and three different coffee cups balanced on top of the piles. The only clear areas are the dog bed-- where Ren and Stimpy immediately curl up-- and the broken down office chair on the working side of the desk. Even the visitor’s chair has a pile of paperwork on it.

Mac smiles sheepishly when they notice Dean looking around. “It’s lambing season. And some early calves. Organization is falling by the wayside.”

Dean holds up his hands. “Not saying a word. Cows are important-- they give us cheeseburgers.”

Charlie rolls her eyes and carefully shifts the paperwork out of the extra chair in the office so she can take a seat. “Doc Nunez said you had some folks go missing around town?”

Mac waggles a hand in a see-saw motion. “Kinda. Missing, yes. Townies… not so much.” They haul out a worn and hand annotated map and spreads it across the desk. Tapping their finger on a small farm a few miles away, they continue, “I try to check out all my farms at least once before the lambing and calving start, see if I can spot any problems before they become life threatening, that sort of thing. Generally saves me at least one emergency call a year, which is worth it.” They sigh, grasping at one of the old cups of coffee and downing it with a shudder. “The Zubios are-- were-- good folks. Standoffish, but took good care of their animals and were always helping out around town.”

“But?” Dean asks.

“But when I stopped in a few weeks back, there was no one there.”

“No one like they were all in town for the day or…”

“Like someone picked up the whole herd, and the Zubios with ‘em, and moved the entire operation.”

“What about the buildings?” Charlie asks.

“Nothing. Looked like they’d been empty for a few weeks, but no reason why I could see. I tried to get the local cops to look into it, but they didn’t do anything.” Mac shrugs. “I’ve been here for five years and I’m still an outsider. No idea what you two can do, but Doc is good at sending help when I need it.”

Dean grimaces but nods. Pushing himself away from the bookcase where he’s been leaning, he tries very hard to ignore how Ren lifts her head to watch. “We’ll take a look, see what we can find.”

Mac nods and sees them out.

 


 

 

He knows he’s dreaming, and that he’s had this dream before. It doesn’t change how it happens.

The body-warm blood scalds as it smears across his face, dripping to the floor from his still wet hands. He’s sitting cross-legged by the dead demon when Jess-Amelia comes in, sticking his fingers into the stab wounds only to suck the blood off. The iron bursts sweet across his tongue, sulfur a bitter afterthought.

Amelia-Jess stands in the doorway, her long white dress soaking up the blood. She doesn’t say anything, just watches as he gets his fix, addiction finally sated. Lolling his head back, Sam watches the blood crawl upwards to her knees before he blinks.

It’s a flick of his hand to pin her to the wall, drag her to the ceiling. He doesn’t take the final step though, not yet. Alive and screaming, pinned like a bug. Civilians die. The women he loves die. It’s the fate of everyone and everything he touches. But not yet.

Sulfur burns his eyes, turning them black. The blood is black too, in the flames.

He can’t hear Amelia’s screams over the sound of Martin’s heartbeat, struggling against the fist gripping it tight.

Sam is still yelling when he wakes up, flailing an arm out. It bangs against the table, pain spiking like a hot poker through his arm, bringing him the rest of the way into consciousness. He clenches his teeth, trying to silence himself.

Too late. The door opens, a woman a few years older than him still tying her robe as she flips on the light.

Racking his brain, Sam cannot come up with a name for her, or why he’s in her house. “Uh… hi.” His arm, helpfully, starts throbbing in counterpoint to his heartbeat.

“Nice to see you awake.” She bustles over, ignoring his arm-- held tight against his chest-- in favor of checking the other bandages that he’s been ignoring. “Now, you gonna let me take a look at that wing of yours?”

It takes a moment for him to slowly extend it, resting it on the bed between them. She doesn’t touch it, but runs a careful finger along the heavy plastic framework it’s strapped into. “Good. Wiggle your fingers, just a bit.”

It hurts, but Sam bites down on the pain and does what she asks. After a few twitches, she nods and pats his shoulder. “You’re doing just fine, Sam.”

“Great. Where am I?” he asks. “Who are you?”

“How much of last night do you remember?” she responds, busying herself with something on the far side of the bed.

It’s not a bad room, tiny, filled with worn furniture and generic art prints on the walls. Shaking his head, he tries to focus. “Uh. Ellie got attacked by a dog. Some… other stuff... happened and then I guess I blacked out? Where’s Dean?”

“Right.” She nods decisively. “Damn fool girl brought you to me-- Doc Nunez. If he knows what’s good for him, Dean’s sacked out for a few hours of racktime. But he doesn’t seem like the type.”

“I’m surprised he’s not in here, tearing up the place.”

She snorts, pushing away from the bed. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Take the painkillers and I’ll bring back coffee.”

Sam eyes the pills she hands him, but they look like run of the mill Tylenol-3. Swallowing them dry, he grimaces at the bitter taste.

Nunez bustles back in with two cups of coffee. Passing him one, she settles in the wooden chair at the foot of the bed. “Right, you seemed a bit fuzzy on the details, so let’s go over them. We can figure out what to do with you after that.”

By the time she’s done filling in the blanks, it’s past opening time for the clinic. Doc hurries out of the room, cursing up a storm as she sheds her robe and pulls on her day clothes. A pair of cars have already pulled into the parking lot he can see out the window, disgorging two exhausted looking men and a woman who immediately head into the clinic like they own the place.

Sam limps from the guest room into the main room of the house to find his bags. They’re right where Dean would have left them, next to the couch with his backpack on top. If Doc or Ellie went through them, they didn’t get very far.

He can’t do much-- if Doc has wi-fi, he doesn’t know the password and it seems rude to hack it just because he can-- but he can wash the worst of the blood and dust off and then read a book or something. He’s stuck here for at least a couple days apparently.

<< Alive and awake. What’s going on up there?

It takes a few moments for Dean to respond, and when he does, it’s far more fluid than Dean’s normal hunt and peck on his phone.

>> Hi Sam! We’re not sure yet. Ever heard of anything that just… disappears? Here one day, gone the next, and all their cows with them?

>>It’s Charlie, btw. Dean’s driving

>>Dean says I should tell you to put down the book and be careful with your arm.

Sam glares at his phone, hoping it somehow transmits the glare to Dean.

<< Nothing off the top of my head. Dean has Dad’s journal, that’d have a better idea.

When there’s no immediate response, Sam finds the bathroom. Gingerly stripping off his shirts, he realizes just how good that painkiller is. He remembers the fight with the hellhound-- vaguely, if not in detail-- but despite the lingering pain, he’s utterly unprepared. Almost his entire torso is swathed in white bandages, spots of red where he’s bled through, with shallow cuts and bruises peeking out from the edges.

Even staring at them makes them sting, so he leaves the bandages alone and simply wipes down with a ratty washcloth he keeps in his bag. He feels nominally more human after and in a lot more pain.

Pain is good, pain is a warning, but Jesus Tapdancing Christ it should not hurt this much to haphazardly wipe off dirt and grime.

Sucking in a deep breath when he jostles his arm, he curls back up on the guest room bed and reads until he falls back asleep.

 


 

 

Leaving Mac’s office, Dean and Charlie wander down the street to get the scope of town. The diner is full of construction workers-- sounds like a new church is moving to town, and possibly a parish school-- and what seems like half of main street getting their gossip on. Nothing about the Zubios though, or why anyone would up and leave.

The motel, if he can call it that, in Athol is four rooms and the office, run part time by the mechanic across the street. He doesn’t know anything about where the Zubios would have disappeared either when Dean asks.

There’s something though that scratches at the back of Dean’s mind as they drive out to the farm. So far, this all seems like small town politics, a vet not wanting to admit that a source of income is gone, gossip gone missing. But there is something deeply unsettling about the idea that all of them are just… gone.

Athol is small-- someone would have seen something if there was a natural explanation. But then, what had Mac said? They’d been here for five years and was an outsider-- there’s no way anyone’s going to tell him and Charlie anything unless they can find a reason for the FBI to investigate.

Driving out to the Zubio farm, Dean winces as gravel pings off the undercarriage and the Impala nearly gets stuck in the mud for the third time. Between the frost heave throwing up all the gravel and the early spring thaw and mud, it’s clear no one’s done much in the way of maintenance out here in months.

Charlie glances up when he swears, holding up his phone. “Sam’s never heard of anything like this either, but says we should check your dad’s journal, just in case.”

Dean nods, concentrating on the road. “Didn’t think he would have. Not if I haven’t.”

Charlie shrugs and tucks the phone back under his thigh. “It was worth asking. Brains are weird.”

The house and barn look… not abandoned, but like no one’s been home in several weeks. Nothing out of place, but cold and unused-- no tracks through the mud, snow piled up in the shaded areas of the yard.

Dean keeps watch while Charlie practices picking locks on the back door. The inside is the same-- clean, but livably so. Like someone cleaned house before going on vacation. They take their time going through it all, searching for anything that could possibly explain what happened.

There’s just… nothing there. Dean searches all the bedrooms, the living room, everything, but there’s nothing to explain why the family left. There’s all sorts of indications that whoever lived here wasn’t necessarily human, but that’s pretty damn close to meaningless. Lots of things aren’t human, and he’s not enough of a jackass to walk away just because of that. Not when they’ve never hurt anyone near as he can see.

Charlie comes out of one of the bedrooms holding a comb. “This is the only thing I can find that doesn’t belong.” Opening her hand, she displays the ivory teeth, several of which have been snapped off. “And even this… it’s a broken comb, not evidence that they’re dead or whatever.”

Dean shakes his head and follows her.

Sighing, he collapses into one of the kitchen chairs across from Charlie. “I brought you out here for nothing.”

Shrugging, she doodles something in the dust before looking up at him. “Does this sort of thing happen often? Just folks disappearing mysteriously with no explanation?”

“Eh. Sometimes. Most of the time, we don’t get called in if that’s the case though. If this hadn’t been passed on to us, I don’t know that we ever would have caught it.”

Frowning, she looks around the kitchen one more time before pushing away from the table. “Well, we’re here. So let’s get back to the motel and see if I can do my thing and figure out where they went.”

“First round’s on me,” Dean agrees. They lock the door behind them as they leave, just in case someone comes back.

They’re about halfway back to town, passing the nearest neighbors’ driveway when a young man in a truck waves them down.

Slowing, Dean motions for Charlie to roll down the window.

“You all Mac’s out-of-towners?”

Frowning, Dean forces himself to nod. “Yeah, helping out with some things.”

“Good. You can scare off the new church, then the Zubios will come back. I’m gonna need their help come spring.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Charlie breaks in.

The young man shakes his head, “Amona will be able to explain it better. Just… follow me. Unless you need to head back to town?”

Dean meets Charlie’s eyes and raises an eyebrow. She shakes her head slightly, murmuring, “Short of hacking their bank accounts, I’ve got nothing on deck.”

Shrugging, Dean agrees and waves at the guy to lead on. “Any ideas?”

“Not a one.”

Dean parks the Impala alongside the truck, subtly adjusting his gun once he’s out of the car. This feels… suspicious. Or ominous. Or both. No one is this helpful when it comes to a hunt, especially in this town.

The young man waves, awkwardly, once they come around the car, “I’m, uh, Toby. This is Amona’s land, I’m just here helping out this spring.”

The house looks like its about the same age as the Zubio house, roughly a hundred years old and modernized over the years. Dean can see the tip of a satellite dish on the back corner of the house, a modern-looking tractor in the barn behind it.

Toby keeps sneaking glances at them as he leads them around to the back door. Dean brushes it off at first-- he’s clearly not threatening them, so why worry about it-- but watching Toby blush and look away quickly becomes entertaining in its own right.

Pausing at the bottom of the porch stairs, Dean smirks and elbows Charlie, whispering, “Someone’s got a crush.”

She snorts and grins, “Eh, not really my type. You though...” She rocks her head left to right, “Maybe.”

“Sure, your highness.” Dean pushes her up the stairs, steadfastly ignoring anything she might be implying. Now’s not the time.

Stepping into the kitchen is like stepping into another world. The exterior of the house, and even the rooms Dean can see beyond the kitchen, are bright and cheerful, a riot of color to protest the grey outside.

The kitchen… isn’t. Dark wood paneling covers the walls, broken up by ancient off-white appliances, a cracked and yellowed window shade over the window. Dean looks around, cataloging the copper molds hanging on the wall and hand-painted flowers on the sides of the cabinets bracketing the sink.

The woman at the table is ancient, ninety if she’s a day, wrapped in a woolen shawl against the chill and wielding a paring knife on some potatoes. She barely glances up when Toby opens the door in the kitchen, sharply gesturing with her knife. “You two, sit down. Toby, find yourself something useful to do.”

“Of course, Amona.” He bends down to kiss her cheek before stepping back outside.

She watches him go fondly before turning back to Dean and Charlie. Setting down the knife, she looks them up and down intently before asking, “What tipped you off? The bridge?”

Scrambling for a response, Dean stares at her, dumbfounded, for a moment before shaking himself. “Nothing. I owed a favor to a friend of Mac’s.”

“Bridge?” Charlie asks next to him. “Is there a problem with one?”

“I told that busybody to not worry about it. Damnit.” Pushing herself to her feet, she waddles over to the coffee pot on the counter and pulls down two more mugs. In the slightly brighter gloom by the window, she looks younger, enough that Dean can tell she was-- is-- very beautiful. “Well, if he’s brought you in, then I might as well explain, so you can get out of here.”

“Ma’am?” Charlie asks, accepting the cup of coffee pushed towards her.

“Gods, no. Not ma'am, even now.” She wrinkles her nose. “Katerina, please. Or Mrs. Delouart if you’re formal.”

“Toby said you knew what happened with the Zubios?” Dean asks, leaving his coffee untouched.

“Sure, they left.” She turns to look out the window. “Folks do that sometimes. Just pick up sticks and move.”

“But that’s not what happened here,” Charlie says flatly.

Katerina picks up her paring knife and potato, resumes peeling. “Our families moved here at the same time, intermarried, mined silver, raised sheep, then cattle. Over eighty years, we’ve spent in this county. And then, last fall, everything goes to hell.” She shudders through a deep breath. “Lamiak are prey, did you know that, Mr. Winchester?”

Dean blinks rapidly. “How did you--”

“Your car isn’t very subtle, young man.” She roughly cuts a bad spot out of a potato, angrily flinging it into the bowl of peels next to her. “We’re not human enough for the predators to bother with most of the time-- although the more squeeze you put on them, the more danger we’re in-- but some things just want to drive us out or kill us. That terrible new church for one. Damaging our bridge, claiming the land on either side of it.” She shudders, shrugging deeper into her shawl.

“Us?” Dean asks, intelligently.

She rolls her eyes, flipping her braid back over her shoulder. The longer they sit here, the more light there is, shining off that braid, reflecting off the copper. Now that he’s paying attention, Dean can spot the abnormalities in their host.

“Yes, us. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

Charlie lays a hand on his arm before he can respond. “Why don’t you go help Toby while Ms. Delouart and I have a chat?”

Dean frowns, but nods, pushing away from the table. He’s not really comfortable leaving Charlie in here by herself, but Katerina doesn’t really seem like much of a threat.

Grabbing his coffee cup, he walks out to the back porch and stares out at the farm yard. The gray sky melts into the gray-brown fields on the horizon, surrounding him with late winter. He can hear Toby beating on something in the garage. Leaning against the porch rail, Dean plays with his phone. He shoots a text to Sam, checking in, before pulling up the last text conversation with Cas. It hadn’t been anything special, just confirming where Dean was before Cas flew into town but… but it’s the last tangible contact he’s had with his best friend in nearly a month.

He flips the screen off, shoves the phone back in his pocket and marches through the muck back to the Impala. Dwelling on it isn’t going get him anywhere, might as well get some research in now that they’ve got a name.

Pulling Dad and Bobby’s journals from the trunk, Dean sinks into the backseat, flipping through for some clue about what’s happening with this town. Dad’s journal has nothing-- not that he really expected that it would-- but Bobby’s has something. “Lamiak, Basque-- siren types, duck feet. Rufus says generally helpful, will leave town rather than risk confrontation. Also if churches start being built.”

He can’t say that it’s the same creature, but it does seem pretty similar and it fits with the new church in town. The Zubios left town before they got here though, so the confrontation isn’t with him and Charlie. And Katerina was pretty quiet about it too…

He’s still turning the possibilities over in his head when he hears the growling.

Sitting up slowly, he watches paw prints as big as his hand appear in the mud. Invisible. Dropping a hand down, he grabs for the shotgun shoved under the front seat, watching as the prints slowly circle the car.

The demon killing knife is hours away, in Shoshone with Sam, because past-Dean is a fucking moron who thought that Crowley would seek his revenge on Sam. Because Crowley has ever given a shit about Sam beyond the leverage he provides over Dean.

Dean sucks in a breath as the hellhound knocks into the Impala, rocking it. He has no idea where the glasses are-- probably somewhere useful, like the trunk-- so this entire thing is going to be blind luck.

Popping the door open, Dean rolls out, aims for the growling, and empties both barrels of the shotgun into where he thinks the hellhound is. It hits, black blood pouring out of the empty air and into the mud, but not enough.

Dean is flat on his back in the space of a blink, dropping his gun as he falls, struggling to keep the thing from his throat. He gets a good grip on one paw, keeps it off balance as they struggle. The hound still has its back paws free though, rabbit kicking and trying to disembowel him.

“Dean!” Charlie screams from the porch.

Instinctively, Dean rolls towards her, pulling the hound with him, pushing it up so she has a clear shot.

There’s a wet, meaty thwack, and blood splashes down. He rolls them again, pushing the things rear legs apart so they bracket him. Reaching down, Dean scrabbles at his pants leg, trying to pull his boot knife.

Before he can grab it, the hellhound beneath him melts away, dropping him face down in the mud.

Dean flips himself over and scrambles to his knees, watching the mud around him for more pawprints.

Toby comes charging out of the barn, rifle in hand, looking around wildly. Dean’s first instinct is to tell him to get back to the garage, but there doesn’t seem to be much point. No matter how he looks, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the hellhound is still around.

Breathing slowly, Dean pushes himself to his feet, looking around for anything that doesn’t seem right. There’s nothing. Dean’s hand trembles as he pulls the leg of his jeans back into place over his boot. Shoving it deep into his pocket, where no one can see how bad it is, he turns towards Charlie and Katerina on the porch. “We-- I-- need to go. Or there’ll be more of them.”

Toby starts to sputter out questions, but shuts up at a look from Katerina, subsiding with a near silent, “Yes, Amona.”

“Just a sec, Dean,” Charlie calls, ducking back inside before rushing to the car. She has a sheet of paper clutched in her hand, but doesn’t say anything about it when she climbs in. Dean doesn’t know how to ask about it right now, not without being a complete asshole.

He forces himself to breathe deeply and evenly on the drive back to town, splitting his attention between driving and breathing and nothing else. He’s certain Charlie is talking, chattering about something, but he can’t hear her over the blood rushing in his ears.

Pulling into the motel parking lot, Dean stares at the door in front of him, unable to let go of the steering wheel. If he lets go, he’s going to shake apart, going to get Charlie hurt like he got Sam hurt, fail them, failed Cas, fail…

Charlie snaps her fingers in front of him, boops him on the nose. “Dean, c’mon buddy. Let’s at least get out of the car.” She pries his fingers away from the wheel, carefully pulls him out of the car, and walks them both to the room.

The entire time, Dean is aware enough to help, but he can’t seem to do anything voluntarily, just wraps an arm around Charlie’s shoulders and stiffly moves with her into the room.

He loses time after that, in a way he hasn’t done in years. By the time he comes back to himself, the shower is running cold and his skin is pruney. Shivering, Dean flips the shower off and falls backwards against the slope of the tub from his huddle, stretching his legs out. He still feels fuzzy, like he’s not slept in days, but that’s better than before.

Charlie has her laptop hooked into the TV when he emerges, something brightly colored and animated on screen. She glances up from her tablet, pauses her show before patting the bed next to her. “Good, you didn’t drown. I was starting to worry.”

Dean smiles faintly, bypassing the bed so he can--

The salt line has already been laid, double layered with goofer dust between. Looking around the room, every precaution he was going to do is done.

“I called Sam while you were showering. He walked me through it,” Charlie offers, like she isn’t his fucking savior right now.

“Oh.” Dean collapses on the bed next to her, turning his attention to the TV. On screen, an archer sends arrows made of light or something towards the dragon while his friends run away. “What are we watching?”

“You do not get to make fun of me for this,” she says sharply, bringing a hand up to pet his hair. “The old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon from the 80’s.”

Dean frowns, but doesn’t say anything, just relaxes into the bed. He tries to keep his eyes open, but it’s been a very long day.

Chapter Text

Dinner is a generic casserole Doc brings in and splits into tupperware before handing two thirds to the vet techs that follow her in. The techs stare at him curiously, but stay silent while Doc divides things and then they disappear out the back door.

“Sorry about that,” Doc says. “Joe paid in kind again, and there’s more there than any one of us can eat. Wasn’t expectin’ you to be out of bed.”

Sam shakes his head, tapping his phone again to see if there are any new messages from Charlie. “What? I don’t care about eating late. I just… Waiting for the all clear on Dean’s hunt.”

She raises an eyebrow before moving around the table. “Wouldn’t have thought he could get himself in trouble that fast.”

“Dean could start a fight in an empty house. And you sent him out there expecting trouble of one sort or another.” Pushing himself painfully to his feet, Sam moves to the counter and pulls down a couple plates.

They end up discussing hunting over dinner. She’s pretty well versed in the absolute basics-- ghosts and werewolves with a smattering of others-- and well aware of where her limits lie.

“Word gets out that you’ll patch up humans, no questions asked? You start seeing a lot weirder things than migrants with broken bones.” Doc shrugs. “Had a guy pass through, a few years back, four times in the space of a year. The first time, looked like he’d been thrown from something, I didn’t think anything of it, happens all the time around here. The claws that nearly crippled him, the silver spike that came within a hair's breadth of costing him his arm? Those raised questions that needed real answers.”

“So you browbeat him into the truth?”

“Held his precious spike and machete hostage until he gave me something. At that point, I didn’t even care if it was the truth as long as it wasn’t tripping and falling again.”

“For claw marks?”

Doc raises an eyebrow skeptically. “He’s a good kid, and operating without a partner. Believability wasn’t high on his list of priorities.”

“Obviously.” Sam thinks for a moment. “Tall, lanky guy? Kinda looks like a puppet?”

Doc nods.

“Yeah, Garth needs a partner.” He holds up a hand to forestall any argument. “He’s competent, good even, but accident prone. One of these days, he’s gonna get himself killed on accident.”

“As opposed to the other ways of getting yourself killed?”

“Hunting…” Sam sighs. “Suicide by monster isn’t uncommon.”

They lapse back into silence before Sam shakes himself. Taking a deep breath, he launches into rugarous and how to deal with them. It’s a pretty blatant attempt at changing the subject, but Doc lets him get away with it for the rest of the meal.

After dinner, she checks him over and gives him the wi-fi password before disappearing into the back of the house. Sam hunts and pecks his way through an update for Kevin and some research that he’s haphazardly been working on just to kill time.

He’s halfway convinced himself that stealing a car with a broken wrist won’t suck that much when his phone buzzes across the couch cushion.

Sam doesn’t bother checking the display, demanding, “What?”

“Jeez, Sam, relax.”

“Charlie,” he breathes, some of the tension releasing from his shoulders. “Everything okay?”

Sighing, she says quietly, “Sort-of? I mean, we’re in one piece and everything. Which is pretty good if you think about it.”

Sam stays silent, waiting for her to get to the point.

“He’s sacked out right now. It’s not a big deal-- this isn’t our sort of thing.”

“You sound pretty certain.” Glancing at the clock on his laptop, Sam nods. “It’s not that late.”

“Nah, but there’s only one bar. I’d rather go check out this bridge, but…”

“But Dean’s down for the count.”

“And I don’t want to die.”

Sam sighs, awkwardly navigating his browser to pull up a map. There’s no way he can be there before morning, even if he leaves right now. “You need to stay behind those wards anyway. At least until we figure out why you suddenly have a hellhound after you.”

“You did just kill the king’s dog, Sam,” Charlie says dryly. “I can’t imagine why he might have issues with that.”

“But I killed it, not Dean. It makes no sense Crowley would send it after you.” Sam shakes his head. “Hell, for all we know, it was running wild and just took a chance. Pretty sure Crowley doesn’t have as firm of a grip on Hell as he’d like us to believe.”

“Who the fuck knows,” Charlie grunts before focusing. “Anyway, not why I was calling. I’ve thumbed through your dad’s journal, and Bobby’s, and they didn’t really have much on the Lamiak. Any chance you’d be willing to help a girl out? Might as well fill out some details while we’re thinking about them.”

It’s a welcome distraction for both of them. There’s not a whole lot of lore available, and what they find matches what Charlie was told earlier. Eventually, they end up doing more theorizing than actual research, but Sam’ll take what he can get. Anything is better than sitting around, waiting.

 


 

Dean must doze off at some point during the cartoon, smashed up against Charlie, because the next thing he knows, he’s blinking awake just before dawn, yellow-pink parking lot lights shining across his face.

Charlie is asleep next to him, curled around her laptop and a couple old journals.

Rolling away, Dean winces at the headache pounding at his temples. Snagging a tepid bottle of water from the floor, he drains it and staggers towards the bathroom. He looks and feels like hell, but what else is new.

Pulling on a jacket and his boots, he silently lets himself out of the room in search of breakfast. This early in the day, the diner is almost empty, with one waitress and a couple of guys who are probably truckers. Why they stopped here of all places, he has no idea, but they’re not a threat.

“Sit anywhere, hon,” the waitress-- Gloria according to her name tag-- says when the bell rings. “I’ll be right there with some coffee.”

Nodding, Dean sits in the corner where he can keep an eye on the door and glances over the menu. He’s had this exchange a thousand times in hundreds of diners, and the familiarity is as comforting as the pancakes and sausage. And if he turns up the flirting a bit to loosen her tongue, well, that’s familiar too.

“What’s with all the new construction?” he asks, jerking his thumb towards the outskirts of town. “Pretty town like this…”

Gloria’s lips go thin. “Some new church moving to town-- moving their world headquarters.”

“That sounds like it’d be great for the town.”

She snorts. “That’s what the town council said, anyway. But we like our space.”

“So the Zubios leaving town--”

“You know too much for an outsider.” Gloria scowls before relenting.

“Just read the newspaper, ma’m. Seems like they were real pillars of the town.”

“The first of the construction trucks-- one of those giant excavator things-- drove through the Zubio’s land, tore it up something awful, and then took out the main bridge across the river for the farmland.” She snorts, leaning over to refill his coffee. “Should have made them pay to put it all back, of course, but Annika hasn’t been the same since her husband passed.”

Dean nods slowly, drinking his coffee while she bustles off to do other things. His phone buzzes across the table-- Charlie wondering where he is-- while he’s still trying to figure out how everything fits together.

This might be their sort of thing, but only tangentially, in that the folks involved aren’t all human. Toby sure seemed to be, and he’d be willing to bet a good portion of Katerina’s kids are human too.

Charlie drops a stack of notes on the table before grabbing the seat across from him. “S’up, handmaiden?”

“Can’t you promote me or something? Knight? Squire even?”

“If you ever show up again, sure. Until then? Handmaiden it is.” Smiling up at Gloria, Charlie rattles off her order and wraps her hands around her coffee mug. “So, didn’t really have a chance to fill you in on what Katerina told me yesterday.”

Taking a deep breath, Dean mirrors her, pulling his coffee close. “I await your brilliance.”

“Asshole,” Charlie snarks. “Mostly? This really isn’t your sort of thing. Reading between the lines, I got the impression that the new church-- one of those prosperity gospel ones, gives me the heebies-- bribed half the town council into ignoring the zoning laws. General corrupt bullshit and the Zubios got caught in the crossfire.”

“So they picked up sticks?”

“Yep.” She pauses while Gloria drops off her plate and refills their coffee. “We can poke around for another day or so, but really… as much as it’s stupid and unfair, this isn’t the sort of thing we can do anything about.”

Dean raises an eyebrow. “But you know people who can?”

“It’s right up their alley. I just wanted to let you know before I dropped them a line.”

“Drop away,” Dean says. “I want to be out of town before they do anything though.”

“No worries.” Charlie grins, grabbing her phone and typing rapidly. “They’re specialists-- you won’t have to deal with them at all.”

“Awesome.”

 


 

Crowley crushes the message from the kennel keeper-- Priam will survive, but will never hunt again-- and looks around his throne room. The death of one hellhound and the near maiming of another can only have one response.

“I don’t care what you do. But bring me the Winchester’s heads,” he growls. “They have interfered enough.”

Pushing himself to his feet, he watches the court scatter before him, fleeing to whatever ratholes they have. The braver/ stupider ones will emerge and go after the Winchesters.

It’s a win-win. Either the Winchesters die or he loses some of his more… ambitious… followers. He’ll be more secure either way.

 


 

Carefully, Dean hammers the last peg into the cement wall of his room before pulling on it to make sure that it’s stable. That done, he starts hanging weapons. Adjusting the obsidian hatchet from Purgatory so it hangs evenly, Dean steps back and looks around.

He’s pretty sure anyone who ever had a room of their own would be horrified-- Lisa would be, at any rate, and she’s still his standard for ‘normal’-- but it works for him. He’ll never be vulnerable here.

Emerging from his room feels like emerging from a cocoon, able to deal with all the catastrophes surrounding him.

Kevin and Charlie are cooking in the kitchen, something involving potatoes. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, Dean leans against the wall, watching them work.

Charlie deposits a bag of carrots, a knife, and a cutting board in front of him before he’s even halfway through his coffee. “Peel and slice those.”

“Okay…” Dean draws out, turning to grab a bowl from the cabinet. “How thick, your highness?”

Charlie shrugs, makes a so-so motion with her hand. “Quarter inch? Evenly.” Turning back to the stove, she guides Kevin through cooking onions. “I can’t believe your mom didn’t teach you how to cook beyond Easy Mac.”

“And scrambled eggs,” Kevin says indignantly, snatching the spatula back and elbowing her out of the way. “She tried. I just suck at it. I’m awesome at baking.”

“Baking is math,” Dean points out, snagging the trash can. “Of course you’re awesome at it.”

“Chemistry actually,” Kevin snaps. “And just how good were you when you left home?”

Charlie and Dean share a look behind Kevin’s back.

“You want the truth-- which will make you feel bad-- or you want the smug answer?” Charlie asks.

“The truth.”

“If you can make it out of what you can get at a gas station, I probably have,” Dean volunteers. “Sam liked the marshmallow mac and cheese.”

“That’s disgusting.” Charlie stares at him.

“Yeah, it was,” Dean laughs. “That was a good week actually-- Dad left enough money and he came home before anyone at school noticed anything was off.”

Kevin turns around to look at him. “That’s so fucked up.”

Charlie shrugs. “I knew how to do spaghetti, stir fry, and grilled cheese. Everything else is pretty much a variation on those.”

Slicing the carrots, Dean thinks about it for a moment, but nods his agreement.

Kevin sighs and moves the onions around in the skillet. “The plan had me living in the dorms for a couple of years. Being a prophet? Not part of the plan.”

Dean brings the bowl of carrots over, setting them next to the stove. “Plans are worthless anyway.”

Charlie wraps an arm around him, hugging Kevin briefly. “That’s what life is. Or something.”

They stand around, watching dinner cook, before Dean shakes himself and moves back to the table. “Right, time for something lighter. How about those baseball teams?”

They both turn to stare at him in disbelief.

“It’s February,” Kevin says slowly. “Baseball won’t start for a month and a half, at the earliest. Even I know that.”

“Uh… the latest World of Warcraft update? I’m trying here.”

Charlie snorts. “Yeah, the new update. Half my guild isn’t geared for raids yet because they’re either fucking around brawling or spending all their time with pet battles!”

“Tell me about it,” Kevin says, rolling his eyes. “Kyle hasn’t touched his main in like… two months. Too busy being a drunk monk in the auction house.”

“When the hell did you have time to play Warcraft?” Dean asks indignantly. “You’ve been on the run for most of the last year!”

Kevin shrugs. “You make time for things that are important. And I needed to do something that wasn’t fearing for my life.”

“Ughhhh, those fucking monks--” Charlie starts, running off on some tangent about her main getting nerfed hard when the abilities were rebalanced. Dean has no real idea what she’s saying, but she’s excited about it.

Eventually, Sam comes in, attracted by the chatter and the warmth of the kitchen. Conversation shifts from Warcraft specifically to gaming in general, Kevin, Charlie, and Sam nerding about starting a Dungeons and Dragons game when everyone is home and there’s nothing pressing. Relaxing against the wall, Dean lets the noise wash over him.

Until his phone rings, disrupting the flow of conversation. Stepping into the hall, Dean answers his phone, already dreading whatever Henry has to say.

“Good, you’re at the Bunker,” Henry says brusquely. “Listen, the Shreveport annex is missing a few volumes of Hubert’s Classification of Mystical Fish. I need you to bring those to me.”

“Are you kidding me? No.” Blinking, Dean doesn’t wait for Henry to respond. “We just got here after back to back hunts, Sam’s got a broken arm, and I’m not driving twelve hours to bring you some book on fucking fish.”

Henry sputters out something, but Dean hangs up the phone, leaning against a pillar and looking around. Sam’s right. They can do something meaningful with this, even if it means spending weeks scanning and copying everything before pushing it online.

That’ll drive him nuts, but maybe he can get Charlie-- and Kevin, once he’s done translating the trials-- to volunteer.

Re-entering the kitchen, Charlie pushes him into his seat while Sam slides a bowl of-- well, Dean has no idea what this is, but it’s pretty hard to go wrong with potatoes, onions, and hamburger, even if there are green things-- and a beer his way. Settling down to eat, Dean feels most of the remaining tension slip from his shoulders. It’s not his entire family, but most of them are here, and safe if not whole.

Sam pulls him aside after dinner. “What’d Henry want?”

“Some book on mystical fish. Because we’re his errand boys and the Stynes don’t have it.”

“How sure are you it was Henry?”

Dean shrugs. “Arrogant and dismissive and the phone number came up as his.”

Sam frowns and shakes his head. “I don’t know, it might be nothing.”

“But…”

“But I was talking to Kevin this morning, before Charlie kidnapped him. The dials in the war room once we were gone? Kept jumping up and down.”

“Like something was trying to get in?”

“Or there was a massive demon attack that left no sign. We don’t know how sensitive those dials are.”

Dean mirrors Sam’s frown. “We would have noticed.”

Sam shrugs. “I know Henry says the Stynes are part of the Men of Letters, but there was something…”

“That’s not why they were here. You think they might be demons?”

“Maybe? I don’t know. They could just be scumbags. Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve run into that.”

“Awesome.” Dean thinks for a moment and shakes his head. “Alright, let's dig into the membership records and go from there. We’ve got them around here somewhere, right?”

“Uh, yeah. Henry used them to figure out where to go to begin with.”

Dean sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “Ok. Let’s go.” He doubles back to the kitchen, grabbing a beer and a fresh cup of coffee for Sam. He makes a note to increase the amount of coffee he buys when he’s at the store-- he and Sam pretty much live off the stuff anyway, and Kevin and Charlie are making a sizeable dent-- before dropping into a chair and pulling a box towards himself.

 


 

The lights come up as Castiel pulls his sword from the body in front of him. He turns away as Naomi approaches, wiping the blade clean on the hem of his coat.

“Very good, Castiel,” she tells his back. “Quick, emotionless… no hesitation. You have done well.”

Naomi’s voice tears at his ears, her praise grates. Nodding, Castiel steels his face and turns back around, pushing his angel blade back up his sleeve where it will be at the ready. “It is my duty to follow orders at all costs.”

“Yes, it is,” she says coolly, looking over the hundreds copies of Dean that litter the floor. She steps closer, well into his personal sphere. “You know your orders?”

Blinking, he straightens to stand at attention. “Retrieve the demon tablet and prophet from the Winchesters’ control. Locate the angel tablet, return it to Heaven. Tell the Winchesters nothing.”

Naomi looks vaguely dissatisfied, but waves her hand. “Go.”

Castiel nods, spreading his wings and disappearing blindly from the warehouse.

Landing on his knees in the dirt-- somewhere in Madagascar-- Castiel clutches the bare earth like it will bring him some sort of relief. His chest heaves with sobs, all the emotion he could not show to Naomi. He gives himself a couple dozen seconds to feel before locking it back down.

Short of branding his own ribs, there is nowhere on Earth where Naomi cannot find him in moments. And he is not quite ready to sunder his connection with the Host to that extent yet.

Pulling out his phone, Castiel watches as missed calls and voicemails trickle in, interspersed with text messages. None of it tells him anything useful, but it gives him at least the illusion of being productive.

He flies to the Midwest once his phone is updated, landing somewhere outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, pulled there by a faint longing he cannot identify. It disappears almost as soon as he arrives, fading away to combine with the background prayers that permeate the ætheric plane.

Shaking himself, Castiel sends a text to Dean and then, when he doesn’t get an immediate response, calls him. “Hello, Dean.”

“Fuck, Cas, you sure picked a hell of a time to call.” Dean grunts, followed by a rustling noise and a loud clang. “Kinda busy right now.”

“Dean!” Castiel looks up, towards the horizon, catching a glimpse of the full moon behind thickening clouds. “Where are you?”

“Fuck man, uh… tiny farm off 234, outside Trumbull, Nebraska.” There’s another clang and Dean yells something incomprehensible before the sound of a gunshot. “Werewolves,” he repeats.

Flipping the phone closed, Castiel takes flight again. The effort burns-- they were never meant to lift a vessel so often. Three flights in five minutes is more than he’s used his wings in over a year.

As when he rounds the corner of the building, a bullet sears past him and into the back of a very young werewolf. Dean’s attention is already elsewhere, so Castiel drops his sword into his hand and jumps to plunge it into the werewolf’s heart.

There are at least two others, dead and dying in the gravel clearing. Dean tackles a fourth to the ground next to a pickup truck, burying his knife into the monster’s throat. Rolling to his feet, Dean grins maniacally as he places two bullets into the werewolf’s heart.

Huffing, Dean holsters his gun and turns towards Castiel. “Hey, Cas. Nice of you to show up.”

Breathing out, Castiel relaxes minutely before striding towards Dean. This is Dean, the real one. “Are you by yourself? You could have been killed!”

“Yeah, well, you know how it is.” Dean shrugs, bending down to pull his knife from the werewolf’s throat. “Better to hunt alone than with help that’s already hurt.” He blinks rapidly before wiping a hand across his face. The blood on his forehead is somehow even more red in the moonlight as it smears across.

There’s some sort of censure there, but right now, his primary concern is making sure Dean is alright. “And there was no one else to act as back up? This needed to be dealt with immediately?” He reaches out, grabs Dean’s chin and tilts his head towards the sodium yellow light coming from the house.

Dean sputters, tries to yank his head away. “Dude, personal space.”

“Shut up,” Castiel orders, pushing his grace into Dean’s body, healing the lurking concussion and wrenched knee. Dean’s face flushes beneath his touch, warmth flooding his cheeks and into Castiel’s fingertips. “Is there anything else?”

“No. I’m fine. Let go, Jesus.” Dean jerks back as soon as Castiel’s grip loosens. “It’s too cold for this bullshit. Help me take care of the bodies.”

It doesn’t take very long to move the werewolves-- five of them, Castiel missed one earlier-- to the ancient wooden barn, stacking them in the corner where it will burn the hottest, stacking some spare lumber over them, and setting it alight.

Dean is tense and silent, moving mechanically in the cold to ensure their tracks are covered. Castiel helps when he can, but it’s still a few hours of work.

Eventually, Dean falls into the driver’s seat of the Impala, turning the ignition and leaning back in the seat while he waits for it to warm up. “Where you been, Cas? You’ve been gone for over a month.”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Well, that’s just great. Get out of the car,” Dean orders. “I’m too tired to play games. If you can’t tell me, go find someone else.”

Castiel sighs and turns to face Dean. “Dean, I can’t tell you. Or any other Winchester.”

Dean perks up, twisting in the seat. “Kevin?”

Castiel twists his face into an exaggerated grimace. He’s fairly certain Naomi cannot penetrate the warding on the car, but he’d rather not risk it or lie to Dean.

“Not Kevin. Can you give me some more information here? Like where you’ve been for starters.”

“My superiors had… questions… regarding Samandriel’s death.” He’s almost certain Dean doesn’t see the wince. “And wanted to impart new orders.”

Dean is silent for a long time, enough that Castiel suspects he’s dozing off, before he leans forward again. “You’re under orders. At least some of those orders involve Kevin and, I’m guessing, the tablet. And you…”

Castiel misses the rest of what Dean says, his connection to Heaven abruptly burning white hot. “Too close,” he gasps out, struggling to remain in the car.

“Shit,” Dean spits out before transitioning into a nonsense tale about a talking fish who gets lost? Kidnapped? In any case, it works, keeping them well away from what he cannot tell Dean.

Dean shifts the car into gear and starts driving towards town. They drive into a larger city about thirty minutes later, where Dean pulls into a motel parking lot. “I don’t understand, where’s Sam?” Castiel asks.

“With Kevin, someplace safe.” Dean swallows. “I can’t… I can’t put them at risk. You get it?”

Closing his eyes briefly, Castiel nods. “I’m compromised. I understand.”

Dean stares at him hopelessly for a moment before climbing out of the car. “Only until we know what’s going on, alright? I’ve got a friend within a few hours drive. You can tell her and then we’ll figure it out.”

 


 

Dean’s too tired to drive all the way to Sioux Falls after an already long day hunting werewolves, but falling asleep was not the plan. He checked them into the nearest motel with every intention of just showering and maybe figuring out what else Cas can tell him about his orders, not sleeping.

Given how well he’s been sleeping though, it shouldn’t startle him as much as it does when the alarm on his phone goes off, waking him up from a sound sleep. Cas is stretched out next to him, watching TV-- Good Morning, America-- and handing Dean his phone. “Good morning.”

Dean barely suppresses the shiver that runs down his spine. “Mornin’” he grunts out, rolling out of bed so he has a reason to face away from Cas. “Anything interesting in the world?”

“There will be a new pope.”

“Huh? Pope-intine die or somethin’ while we weren’t paying attention?”

Cas looks puzzled, but shakes his head. “Benedict is stepping down. This is actually unprecedented.”

“You’d know better than me.” Dean shrugs and heads towards the shower.

The shower drowns out Cas’s response and gives Dean time to get his head back on straight. Whatever is going on, they don’t need to bring feelings into it.

The drive to Jody’s is tense. Every time they start to relax into each other, Cas stiffens up with a jolt and looks out the window at the passing fields. Whatever his orders are, they’re strict. Even at the height of the Apocalypse, Cas relaxed more than this, would allow himself to enjoy whatever music Dean shoved into the tape player. Now… he’s stiff as a board, rigidly watching the slush and mud.

The drive to Bobby’s junkyard doesn’t require thought at all. Dean does it entirely on auto-pilot, worried about what he’s going to find at the other end.

His chest hurts when they pull into the drive. Jody has done the best she can on their behalf to keep the burned out skeleton safe or from attracting daredevil teenagers going spelunking. But she doesn’t live out here and, despite the fence surrounding the place, plenty of bored teenagers have been tagging the remains. The locks on the outbuildings are still intact though, for all the good they do. The lack of regular maintenance will bring them down too, eventually, faded paint already starting to rust through.

Within a couple years, there won’t be anything here but rust and the occasional buried body.

Cas swallows beside him, looking at the house. “Dean, I--”

“Don’t, Cas,” Dean cuts him off. “You were crazy or dead or whatever. It’s done.” He swallows harshly and shakes his head. “Bobby’s dead and it doesn’t… It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Still.”

“It wasn’t you,” Dean bites out. “It was the leviathan. You were dead.”

“And who let them out?” Cas says bitterly. “Me.”

Jody parks her truck behind them, cutting them off.

She pulls Dean into a hug when they’re out of the cars, forcing him to bend down so she can reach him properly. “We need to have a conversation about telling me when you’re alive, young man. Sam too.”

Dean wrinkles his nose before squeezing her tight and stepping away. “It’s been a rough few months.”

“Obviously.” Looking Cas up and down, Jody raises an eyebrow, “So this is Cas?”

“Uh, right. Cas, this is Jody. You can tell her what you can’t tell me,” Dean says, trying to hide his bitterness and leading the way through the yard.

The exterior of the garage is in worse shape than the inside, but Dean can see the rust starting to eat through in spots, water damage bleeding down the corrugated siding. But the old van bench seats he’d dragged in years ago are still intact, so there’s somewhere to sit out of the late winter wind.

He doesn’t stick around after filling in Jody. Grabbing one of the portable tool kits off a shelf, he heads into the yard to pick up parts for the Impala. He could probably stay, hang out in the background and blatantly eavesdrop, but somehow that feels worse than not hearing it at all.

He’s rearranging the trunk to fit the new parts when Jody and Cas come back outside.

Cas wanders out of earshot in studied nonchalance while Jody beelines to Dean.

Dean blows out a sigh, before lowering the fake bottom to the trunk. “What’s the verdict?”

“You sure know how to pick ‘em, Dean.” She pats her pocket, “Short version, he can tell you nothing and needs to get some sort of tablet to Heaven. Two of them. And a prophet or something. I took notes, I’ll send them to you and Sam when I’m back to the station.”

Dean nods, more focused on Cas than what Jody’s telling him. “There’s nothing else? Did he…” Dean trails off, not sure how to finish.

“You are not asking me if he likes you back.” Jody rolls her eyes, resettles her belt. “I know you boys missed having a mom growing up but come on.”

“What? No.” Dean twists around to face her. “I’m just worried about him, alright? We still don’t know how he got out of Purgatory and then he fucks off to Heaven-- after killing another angel-- for over a month and comes back like this and--”

“Alright, alright.” She holds up a hand to stop the flood of words. “I get it, you’re worried about your friend. But he’s got you in his corner, he’ll be fine.”

Dean sighs noisily.

“That said, if you’re more comfortable with him sticking around up here for a few days, he can stay with me.”

“I don’t… Whatever he wants to do.” Dean starts packing the spare parts again. There’s no right answer, which doesn’t help at all. “He’s a grown ass man or whatever. He doesn’t have to stay with me if he doesn’t want to.”

“I do want to,” Cas says quietly behind him. “But I cannot disobey my orders. They’re already--”

“So stay!” Dean spins around when Cas cuts off, watches his face twist the same way it did in the car earlier. “It’s not that hard.”

“Easy for you to say.”

Too slow, Dean puts it together. “Heaven’s putting the screws to you. They want those things bad.”

Cas nods. “At best, I can focus on the orders that keep me away from you.”

Dean nods, abandoning the trunk to pull open the side door to drag out his duffle bag. He digs through it for a few seconds, pulling out the comic books he’s still not had a chance to read and his journal before zipping it back up.

“Here.” He throws the bag at Cas’s chest, throat tightening.

“Dean, I--”

“Save it. You gotta do what you gotta do. I get it.”

“What would you have me do, Dean?” Cas snaps. “Torture myself and endanger all of you? Brilliant plan when I don’t even know why they want what they want.”

“Dammit, Cas--”

Cas shakes his head and disappears.

Shit.

 


 

Sam’s email pops up a notification at the same time Kevin emerges from wherever he’s been hiding into the library. A couple of weeks with other people have finally put a dent into Kevin’s exhaustion, even if he is still regularly yelling at them to shut up so he can concentrate.

Kevin beelines for the coffee maker Sam had moved into the library last night. Sam shudders at the amount of sugar Kevin pours in before turning away to check the email.

The first few sentences are as chatty as Jody ever gets-- updates on town and her personal life, an update on the ongoing vandalism problem out at Bobby’s-- but then… “Holy shit,” Sam whispers.

“What’s up?” Kevin asks, sliding into the chair next to Sam. “H.H. Holmes come back to life or something?”

“Whoever is running Heaven has lost their freaking mind. They ordered Cas to drag you and the demon and angel tablets up to Heaven.” Sam leans back, envisioning the scene that would cause.

“We don’t have the angel tablet,” Kevin says, hunching in his chair. “And given how hard the demon one is, I don’t want it either.”

Sam waves a hand, eagerly reading over the details Jody was able to extract from Cas. “We’ll take care of it. Cas is going to-- Oh,” he breaks off, reading the last paragraph. “Cas knows he’s a danger to us, so he’s going to search for the angel rock on his own.”

Kevin snorts into his coffee mug, “So that’s going to go over well with Dean.”

“Yeah…” Sam says slowly, glancing at his own research into the history of the Men of Letters and Kevin’s piles of translation notes. “Fuck.”

“I’m pretty close to another trial, I think, if you want a distraction,” Kevin says, draining his coffee and moving to the other side of the table.

“Give me anything you’ve got. We’ll work out the particulars later.”

 


 

One by one, they trickle back in, utterly flummoxed by the flannel wearing nightmares’ disappearance. Not a single one even laid eyes on the muttonheads, let alone accomplished their simple task.

“You mean to tell me that none of you could even find them?” He forces himself to stay in control.

“No, sire. But then, we’re not the older one’s butt buddy.” Patrick slides to the back of the room, trying to blend in with the crowd.

Crowley gestures to his new hellhound, barely out of puppy-hood, and Juliet is off like a shot, jumping from shadow to shadow to weave between the demons that fill the throne room.

In seconds, she has Patrick by a wing nub-- he’s not even old or powerful enough to have proper horns-- and drags him into the open space before the throne.

Standing, Crowley flares his wings, pushing them through the demons on either side, dragging their attention to him and Patrick. Their true forms beat against him, trying to unpin themselves. Crowley ignores their fluttering, intent on Patrick below him.

Juliet growls, deep and commanding, when Patrick attempts to shuffle backwards from under her, digging her hind claws in deeper.

“Release.” Crowley waits for Juliet to climb off before meeting Patrick’s eyes. “Did you have something to say before the court?”

“N-- nothing of import,” he stutters out.

“Very well then.” Crowley drops into a crouch, plunging his hand into Patrick’s chest and squeezing. Patrick gasps, squirming away. “You appear to have forgotten some important things, allow me to remind you.” Dragging his hand through Patrick’s form-- gone smokey in shock or pain-- Crowley grabs hold of what would be his intestines and yanks. “You do what I tell you,” twist, “and you keep your tongue in your head.”

Looking up, Crowley wipes his hand on Patrick’s chest and pushes to his feet, “Now, find me the Winchesters.”

The court scatters, leaving Patrick’s bleeding form at his feet.

 


 

Dean drains his glass and leans back in his chair, pushing away his computer and stacks of files. A week of searching has gotten them absolutely nowhere: nothing on finding an innocent soul, nothing on how to get to Hell, zip, zero, zilch on anything. Dean slops some more whiskey into his glass and drinks that too.

Sam finishes his current page before looking up. “What’s up?”

“I’m giving up, going across town to call up a crossroads demon and seeing if we can get a name that way.”

Sam levels an unimpressed bitchface at him. “Uh-huh. And when the demon doesn’t have any idea? Or Crowley shows up?”

Dean shrugs. “I’ll take the demon knife with me.”

“No. Even if it wasn’t a terrible idea, Cas’ll kill you if you die for this.”

Dean feels his face go stony. “Yeah, well, he’s got his own thing going on. So…”

Sam rolls his eyes and turns back to his book. “We’ll find a different way. One that’s not suicidal.”

“Awesome. Let me know when that way shows up.” Pushing himself to his feet, Dean leaves the library and heads towards the shooting range they’d found in the back areas of the Bunker.

Unfortunately, the path there takes him past the rooms they’d set aside for company. Kevin’s passed out in his room after yet another all nighter. Charlie’s room is empty-- she said she’d be back, just needed to take care of some stuff-- but already starting to show signs of a personality. Only the last room is just as empty now as it was when Dean had set it up-- clean sheets and a towel on the foot of the bed, a robe hanging in the back of the closet, waiting for Cas.

Dean pulls the door firmly shut after double checking that everything is intact and continues down the hall.

After a couple hours of obliterating paper targets, Dean blows off clean up in favor of heading into town and it’s only bar. Staring at the Bunker’s walls isn’t accomplishing anything and it’s too late to find another hunt for tonight. Baby roars under his lead foot, speeding down the county road into Smith Center. He might as well be flying, except he controls Baby, knows her reactions, trusts that she won’t fall out of the sky on him.

The bartender at the local is starting to recognize him by drink if not by name, but that doesn’t mean much. Donnie certainly doesn’t have any problems with him only nursing a couple beers over the course of the evening, isn’t expecting him to be more than he is.

He ignores the old men at the tables in favor of grabbing a seat at the bar. Donnie nods at him, dropping off a whiskey the next time he’s at that end of the bar, but otherwise leaving him alone..

“Did you ever… do something you know is a stupid ass idea, but you couldn’t come up with any better solutions to the problem?” Dean asks when Donnie shows back up after the first whiskey.

Donnie snorts, grabs Dean’s empty glass and slides him a beer. “I think you mean my entire late teens and twenties, man. Couldn’t hack high school, so joined the army. That went--” he pauses, searching for the word, “tits up, so I bounced around for a bit.”

Dean nods. “Had a buddy who did that. He’s saving the world now though.”

“And I’m slinging beer in small town Kansas twenty minutes from where I was born.” Donnie shrugs. “Not that it matters. This something that gonna get you in trouble with the law?”

Dean snorts. “I mean…”

“Right.” Donnie flits down to the other end of the bar, refills a few drinks and checks on the rest. “Call it youthful indiscretions or whatever. But don’t come crying to me when your old lady kicks you to the curb.”

“Oh, don’t really need to worry about that.” Dean looks around the bar, carefully not making eye contact.

“Old man, whatever. The point is, balance the stupid ass decision against the rest of your life. Isn’t much in the way of problems that can’t be solved.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Dean waves it off, taking several gulps of his beer. “It’s just all my responsibility.”

Donnie flips Dean’s coaster over, cutting Dean off, and stares at him. “Go play some pool, man. See if you can beat Jerry over there. Relax. No matter what it is, it’s not all your fault.”

Jerry’s a retired trucker who has spent most of his downtime in bars just like this one and puts up a far better pool game than Dean was expecting. The second game ends up being more an exhibition of skill than an actual competition, with half the patrons-- and Donnie-- watching and commenting.

It’s a good evening, even if Donnie maintains the cut-off so Dean only gets two beers. Here though, he’s only responsible for sinking his next ball, for responding to Jerry’s smack talk. He can just be.

Dean leaves with the rest of the evening crowd, trickling out into the early March cold. Most places, Dean would stick around, hustle some up some cash. But hustling at a bar where he’s a regular isn’t worth it.

The crossroads beckon as he drives through, gravel flying up from the mud as he crosses it. Everything he needs is in the trunk, it would take minutes, at most, to get a demon to show up. Then a leisurely night finding out what he needs--

Dean slams the door on that train of thought, refocusing on the road and hitting the gas a bit harder.

 


 

The demon screeches, nearly sobbing in pain. “He didn’t tell us why, just that he wanted whatever we found!”

Stepping back, Castiel coldly watches the demon he has hanging from the rafters in the abandoned house. “That doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

“He’s got some bitch, fuck if I know her name, locked up. She’s feeding him information about where to look.”

“What are you looking for?” Castiel runs the tip of his blade along the demon’s jaw line. “Crowley wouldn’t put out this much effort if there wasn’t something to get out of it.”

“Crypts,” the demon sobs. “Lucifer’s crypts. The ones we’ve found have all been ransacked, but apparently the bitch is the last of Lucifer’s followers. She knows where all of them are.”

“Where is she?”

“I don’t--” The demon breaks off when the angel blade approaches his face. “Hell North, he calls it. Some old mental hospital. Drags his entire court topside, forces everyone to take meat suits… It’s disgusting. He keeps all his political prisoners there.”

“And it is…” Castiel growls, stepping back slightly.

“Massachusetts, Fall River.”

Castiel pauses, waiting for the demon to say anything else. “Thank you for your assistance.” Raising his palm to the demon’s forehead, he burns it out of existence, letting the dead body sag to the floor.

He pushes his blade back up his sleeve, glancing around the room, before taking flight.

The outside of the hospital was once a grand building, faced with granite and the trappings of high society. The brick expansions-- built off the back of the house and enveloping like giant red wings-- lack the grandiosity, but have been kept up better.

Looking the building over, Castiel scoffs at the warding. Every warding system in the world and Crowley never bothered to keep angels out. Walking around the corner, he finds a seldom used side-door and breaks the lock, battering his way inside.

Rusted beds and wheelchairs litter the corridors as he walks, with rotting sheets and clothing piled into lumps against the walls. Papers rustle underfoot, strewn about by the elements in rooms with broken windows. Fearlessly, Castiel wanders the halls, looking for Crowley’s prisoners.

The basement of the original house, built out of stone and centuries old cement, leaking moisture and smelling strongly of rot and dirt, nearly hides the prisoners and their guards.

Three demons are sitting around a table and playing cards when he finds them. Castiel jerks back around the corner, listening to the demons’ chatter. Swallowing, he closes his eyes briefly-- wishing he had back up--- before walking purposely down the corridor.

The lead demon jerks his head up at the sound of Castiel’s footsteps, looking panicked for a brief moment before streaming out of his vessel and returning to Hell. The other two follow suit as soon as they recognize him, leaving three corpses on the floor of the asylum.

“Crap.” He should have moved faster, should have flown at them.

“What’s going on out there?” a familiar voice asks crankily from the last cell. “Or do you think I can’t hear?”

Breaking the lock-- salt encrusted iron, interesting-- Castiel tosses it over his shoulder and pulls the door open.

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” Meg asks, looking up from where she’s chained to a rusting radiator. She looks terrible-- battered and bruised, open and weeping sores on her wrists, a trickle of dried blood down the side of her face. “Or is the Empire recruiting farm boys now?”

“I… don’t understand that reference.”

“Bullshit, Clarence,” Meg sneers. “Even if Dean-o never made you watch them, Sammy sure as fuck did. I’ve been inside his angsty little head.”

Castiel stares at her blankly before crossing the room and tearing the chains free. “I need to know where Lucifer kept the angel tablet.”

“Is that what’s got the prick in such a lather? Even if I knew, why the fuck would I tell you?”

“Because you don’t want Crowley to get his hands on it anymore than I do.”

“So you’re going to turn it over to the god squad?” She laughs. “I have no idea where the tablet is, that sort of thing was never shared with minions, you know that.”

Castiel nods solemnly. “Can you narrow it down?”

“Try Missouri,” she says after a moment. “Azazel was in a rush the last time he was running errands-- there was more power there than in any of the others.”

Crouching down, he shatters the shackles that keep her chained. “Do you need assistance?”

“I’m good, Clarence.” Tilting her head, Meg looks at him seriously. “You know, we should really move some furniture around one of these days, give the pizza man a workout. It’d be all matter of hot.”

Stunned, Castiel stares at her in silence.

“You do remember the pizza man, right Clarence?”

“Of course I do,” he says brusquely. “It is a good memory.” Helping her to her feet, he tries to heal her a bit while supporting her to the hallway. Once she’s standing on her own, he opens the other cell door, quickly stabbing the demon inside without saying anything.

“Hot,” Meg laughs. “Thanks for the rescue and all, flyboy, but I think it’s time we separate.”

Nodding, Castiel pulls out his phone. “I’m not certain what Sam and Dean are doing, but they’re staying very far from Crowley.”

“If you--” Meg swallows. “Let me know when you find the tablet. There might be other, more useful, things there too.”

“For you or for me?”

“How would I know? Lucifer kept a lot of shit.”

Chapter Text

Sighing over his coffee in the kitchen, Sam keys in another search term, trying to find a hunt that will keep them occupied. Dean stomps by, face set and beelining for the coffee pot. He doesn’t look as bad as Sam half expected, but he’s got the pinched impatient look that he gets when he’s bored.

At this point, hunting with a broken arm is better than staring at another folder of faded print and barely legible margin notes that get them absolutely nowhere.

Sam’s fingers itch to check on Amelia, but he forces himself to ignore it and search for hunts.

There’s a bunch of options-- demons in Denver, probably a ghost in Wichita, something eating folks in southeast Missouri-- within a day’s drive, but his preference is the vampires in Conway Springs. Bloody enough to keep Dean happy, close enough they can get there and back in a day, or faster if Kevin runs into trouble.

Sam turns the laptop towards Dean when he comes back with a bowl of cereal. “So… vampires?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t know anything else about--”

“Doesn’t matter. It’s something that’s not this. Where?”

Sam passes Dean the information he’s gathered so far before heading back to his room to pack.

Four hours later, they’re in Conway Springs and everything is going down the drain. Krissy and her friends are hunting, Vic is allowing-- encouraging-- them to do so, and they’re leaving a mile-wide trail of bodies behind. The next two days are just as bad, running into more vampires, freshly turned ones that just don’t make sense.

None of it makes sense-- until Dean figures out what Vic is doing. It hurts like a bitch to smash his cast across Vic’s face and dive out of the way of Aiden’s shot. But he manages it, doesn’t even feel the bone shift.

It’s not great, watching another set of hunters take shape far too young, but he and Dean were even younger, so maybe Sam doesn’t have any room to protest.

He pulls Josephine aside when all is said and done, makes sure she knows where the Bunker is and has every phone number he can think to give her. It’s flimsy protection, but it’s all they’ll accept.

Dean pulls up next to an old beater near the Bunker entrance. It looks vaguely familiar, but not enough for Sam to place it. A mid-nineties Escort could be anyone’s car, there’s certainly enough of them on roads.

“You know, for a secret hideout, an awful lot of folk who know where this place is,” Dean says wryly, staring out the windshield.

Sam sighs and nods. “Maybe Kevin invited a girl over.”

“Oh yeah, that sounds like our AP Prophet. All the parties, all the time.” Dean raises an eyebrow and makes a point of tucking his pistol into the back of his jeans. “We can only hope it’s something that healthy.”

Sam makes a face before leading the way down the stairs. Whoever’s car it is, they’ve done some work up here, excavating some of the mud that’s collected in the stairwell over the years.

“Kevin?” Sam calls as soon as they’re inside. “What’s going on?”

“Sam! Dean!” an excited voice calls from the kitchen. “Get in here and give me a hug, you lugs.”

“Garth?” Sam rolls his eyes and shoves his pistol further into the back of his pants. Dean motions with their bags and ducks out through the library towards their rooms.

Sucking in a deep breath, Sam blows it out and rounds the corner to the kitchen. “Hey Garth, Kevin. What’s going on?”

“Came to find you! And check on Kevin here, since he wasn’t on the houseboat.”

Right. “Uh… sorry about that. No one’d heard from you in a few weeks.”

“Nah, I get it. Wasn’t my finest moment.” Garth frowns before gesturing towards the table next to Kevin. “Where’s Dean-o?”

“We just go off a hunt. He’ll turn up in a few.” Sam turns so he can lean against the wall and stretch his legs out, accepting the coffee cup Kevin hands him. “Kev, what’d we miss?”

Sam lets Kevin’s ramble about Etruscan and Minoan Linear B wash over him, something about translating into ancient languages being easier than directly into English and… “Wait, what about Cas?”

Kevin rolls his eyes, savagely ripping into the plate of toast that had appeared in front of Sam. “I said, having an angel around would make translating into English easier. Do you know when Cas is going to be back?”

“He’s not,” Dean cuts in flatly from the doorway. “Not anytime soon anyway.”

Kevin must see something in Dean’s face, because he doesn’t push. “Alright, do we have any other friendly angels? Because seriously, this third trial is a bitch.”

“Trial?” Garth asks. “What are you planning? Hell, I don’t even know what Kevin here is translating.”

Sam sighs, meets Dean’s eyes. Dean shrugs and looks away, pulling open the fridge and dragging out a couple beers and one of Kevin’s pops. “We think we can close the Gates of Hell. There’s three trials, we’ve completed one, the second one’s being a pain in the ass, and Kevin’s working on the last,” Sam explains.

Garth raises an eyebrow, “And you all think that’s a… good plan?”

“How is it not?” Dean explodes. “No more demons. That’s like… half of the trouble we’ve been facing for years!”

“I’m just sayin’, Dean. Those are some cosmically big levers to be pulling. You need to be real careful with those or what you let loose might be worse than what you stop.”

“We’re never letting what happened to our family happen again,” Sam hisses. “Nothing that gets through could possibly be worse than Azazel.”

“Okay, guys. Just wanted to make sure you’d thought this through.” Garth holds up his hands, backing down. “That’s an awful big risk though.”

Sam pushes himself to his feet, suddenly feeling the grime from the last few days. “I’m going to go shower.”

 


 

 

“Anyway…” Garth drawls out, watching Sam’s back, “I did come here to check in. Did you know your GPS is untraceable for like, twenty miles outside of here? I got as far as Red Cloud based on descriptions of your car, but geez, man. You’ve completely dropped off the map.”

“And it never occurred to just… drop a dime? Jesus, man. You disappear for weeks and then get on us for going quiet?” Dean demands.

Garth shrugs. “I was trying to take care of all the hunts you haven’t been.”

Dean sighs then nods. “If it was just us, we wouldn’t care. Fuck, man. You left Kevin flapping in the breeze.”

Kevin waggles his hand back and forth. “It’s not like I’m a little kid.”

“Demons don’t give a shit,” Dean points out. “Last thing we need is Crowley getting his hands on you again.” Shaking his head, he stands up and grabs a couple coffee mugs. Splashing burnt coffee into them both, and pulling the creamer from the fridge for Garth, he continues, “Whatever, nothing can get in here. Garth, wanna catch me up on all the gossip?”

Eventually, Garth runs out of words or needs a break or something, so Dean sends him off towards the library with instructions to take photos of anything he needs. Kevin long since wandered off to do whatever, leaving Dean alone in the kitchen.

Alone for the first time in a while.

Breathing out, he tries to relax into the sense of being home, but he can’t. Not with the second trial still hanging over their heads. Too much of everything going on.

Sam finds him staring blankly at the kitchen table, idly doodling on a spare sheet of paper. “Dean?”

“Wha--” Blinking, he shakes his head to clear it. “Yeah. Whatcha need?”

“You get anywhere on figuring out where to find an innocent man?”

“Not unless someone on this list qualifies.” Dean lifts the list and drops it with a thud. “Every hunter that’s died over the last year.”

“Maybe we should call Cas after all. See if he’s got any ideas.”

“No, he’s…” Dean sighs. “I don’t even know. I don’t want him anywhere near Kevin though, not yet.”

“What are we going to do about his orders?”

“You’re doing nothing, you’ve got your plate full already with the trials. I’ll deal with Cas as soon as I figure out how.”

Sam nods, pulling the whiskey out of the cabinet and setting it on the table. “We’ve got a list. Wanna get shitfaced and make poor choices regarding the summoning demons?”

Dean snorts, pours a healthy measure into his mug and shoots it back. “No. I’m doing this sober if we’re doing it at all.”

Sam frowns, tosses back a shot of his own. “Let’s go then.”

There’s a crossroads a few miles up the road, gravel to make digging easier, and with no signs to show where they are. Looking around, Dean doesn’t even see anything that definitively marks them as being in Kansas. Just in case.

The summoning goes without a hitch, a low level crossroads demon landing neatly in their trap.

She starts laughing as soon as she catches sight of them. “Are you boys really this stupid? The King wants your balls and you’re summoning us? Oh, I am going to enjoy this.”

Dean meets Sam’s eyes and shrugs.

“We just want some information. After that, well…” Sam trails off, threat unfinished.

“Oh, sure. Betray everyone and then die. Or be tortured, betray everyone, and then die.” She snorts. “You really need to work on your sales pitch, Sammikins.”

“We just need to know if someone is in Hell. That’s it. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”

The demon crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow. “Not seeing a carrot here. Because, gotta tell you, there’s not a whole lot you can do that’s worse than what Crowley will deal out. Make it worth my while. And gotta tell you, if I’m dying after this? My time is worth a lot.”

“You want a carrot? Alright then. Let’s go.” Dean sighs before stepping into the trap with her.

“As pretty as you are, Dean, you’re not much of a carrot. Now Sam? Or, ooh, that juicy little prophet you’ve got hidden away--”

“Okay, what about something else? Something no one else has ever gotten.”

“That’s a bold claim.” The demon steps forward, running a single nail along Dean’s cheek and jaw. “I know where you’ve been after all, spent my time on the rack just like everyone else.”

“Demonic whores definitely don’t get this. One punch for every truthful answer,” Dean says flatly. “No limit on questions.”

“Dean, no! Are you insane?”

“Got a better idea, Sammy?” Dean cuts Sam’s complaints off. “Love to hear it, but this is our best option.”

“Aww, but I’d rather punch Sam.” She pouts for a moment. “You won’t punch back? For that, I’d give you a lot more than yes or no.”

“Yeah, yeah, you and every other creepy crawly on the planet. Deal or no deal?”

She thinks about it for a moment before nodding. “Deal. At least this way, I get some payback.” Reaching out, she jerks Dean into a kiss, all sulfur and hellfire.

Dean gags as her tongue invades his mouth, plundering every corner. He pushes her away, to the edge of the trap, spitting blood from where she bit his lip. “What the fuck was that?”

“Don’t pretend that was your first kiss, Dean. All of Hell knows what happened to the older Winchester.” She laughs. “It’s held up as a lesson to all the bitty baby demons. The power of a deal.”

Dean flushes angrily before gesturing at Sam. “Get on with it.”

The first punch lands on his cheek, not quite hard enough to shatter it, but the skin splits. The second and third land on his ribs, overlapping hits that are almost guaranteed to crack them.

“That’s three questions,” she says pleasantly. “And three answers.”

Sam stares at her for a moment before double checking the notebook clutched in his hand. “Are any of the following in Hell?” He rattles off a list of names, too quickly for Dean to register them over the pain.

“No,” the demon says. Stretching her neck side to side, she glances at Dean. “And that was fifteen questions. I’m not some damn fairy to be tricked with multi-part questions. Buckle up, buttercup.” She doesn’t give him a chance to brace himself or anything, landing punch after punch, with both hands, just wailing on him. After the first few hits, he loses count, and just tries to keep her from killing him.

She stops after something… significantly more than twelve, but he has no idea how many.

Dean falls to his knees, holding up a hand. “Sam, narrow down the fucking list,” he gasps out.

The demon giggles brightly, taking a step back. “I was hoping I’d get a hit in for every demon you’ve killed. That’s about how many hunters we’ve killed over the last year, you know.”

Sam’s brow furrows as he reads over the list, murmuring the names rapidly, before shaking his head. “Actually, change of plans. Sorry, Dean.” He tosses the notebook behind him. “How do we get to Hell without Crowley knowing?”

The demon’s fist lands on his cheekbone again and this time, Dean definitely feels the bone break, pain shooting deep into his skull. His vision goes blurry then blacks out entirely on that side. Letting out a hoarse scream, he sags, nearly falls over.

He vaguely hears the demon is talking over the ringing in his ears, hopes that Sam is getting what she’s saying because he certainly isn’t.

There’s a flicker of dull orange light in front of him, the demon’s body getting tossed to the side as Sam rushes towards him.

“Dean!”

Dean flinches when Sam’s knees hit the gravel on his bad side, curling away before he can suppress it. He pushes Sam’s hand away. “Tell me you got it,” he gasps out. “Whatever you were trying to get.”

“Yeah, I got it. Better than a name.”

“Alright.” Dean carefully pushes himself more upright, trying to get some pressure off his ribs. “Next time, you’re the carrot.” Carefully, he presses his fingertips his cheekbone, white-hot pain lancing through him when something shifts under the skin. A few teeth shift against his tongue when he prods them with his tongue. Gasping, he nearly screams when he falls forward again, putting pressure on his ribs.

Sam lifts Dean to his feet, leads him to the Impala. “Stay here. Jesus, I knew this was a bad idea.”

“No shit, Sherlock.”

Sam snorts and pulls open the passenger side door and carefully pushes Dean inside. A moment later, Sam’s back with a flashlight in hand, gently tilting Dean’s head so he can get a good look at his face. “Shit.”

Dean would laugh if he could get his breath.

“So bad,” Sam mutters, probably assuming Dean can’t hear him. “What the fuck were you thinking… ” Roughly, Sam pushes Dean further into the car before digging for his phone. “Fuck it, I’m calling Cas.”

Dean must pass out, because the next thing he knows, Cas is standing in the devil’s trap and hurrying towards them. “Sam, Dean.” He pushes Sam out of the way, crouching in front of Dean.

Dean shifts poorly, puts too much pressure on his ribs, as Cas reaches forward to brush his cheek. It’s too much for Dean’s iron control and he’s screaming and gasping and…

Flying through the air.

He lands in a heap, a good fifteen feet from the car. The shock of it snaps his mouth closed, rattles him as he lays breathless, pain whiting out his vision while he tries and fails to scramble to his feet.

Cas stalks towards him, blade flashing in the low light, flipping it. Dean doesn’t have time to cry out before Cas is on him, landing blow after blow, without saying a word.

The last two uncracked ribs break under the onslaught, his other cheekbone, a few more teeth are shattered before Dean can curl into a ball, trying to protect himself. “Cas, stop,” he begs. “Why… what…”

Something shifts in Cas’s eyes, but not enough.

“No, Cas. No!” Dean closes his good eye as another blow lands, dislocating his shoulder the rest of the way. “Cas, stop, please.” He spits out the blood filling his mouth and tries again. “Castiel. Please, I need you--”

Cas stops dead. Dean cracks his eye open in time to see Cas’s angel blade vanish. Flinching back, Dean waits for Cas to finish.

A hand gingerly threads through Dean’s hair before cupping the back of his head. Dean feels the warmth of Cas’s grace sink into him, healing him before Cas takes a step back.

“Dean?” Cas looks around wildly for a moment before shaking his head. He whirls around wildly, grabbing Sam’s shoulder where he’s standing motionless by the car. A faint blue light flows into Sam and then Cas is gone.

Blinking rapidly, Dean falls forward before rolling onto his back. He’s not sure when he starts laughing-- only slightly hysterical-- but Sam’s by his side. Sitting up with a groan, Dean tilts his head back for a moment. “So, we’re never doing that again.”

“Agreed.”

 


 

 

Standing behind Dean in the gun range the next morning, Sam waits for Dean to eject the empty magazine. “You about ready to go?”

Dean jumps, setting his pistol heavily on the ledge in front of him. “Jesus. How long have you been standing there?”

“Just this magazine.” Sam shrugs, stepping up next to Dean. Dean still doesn’t look at him, fidgeting with a spent casing that landed on the ledge. “If you’re about done, we can head out, I’m ready whenever you are.”

“You got something useful out of the demon?” Dean says stiffly, flicks the casing down range. “Yeah, let me get cleaned up.”

Sam watches him go, frowning, before glancing down at the pile of brass underfoot.

Dean tosses him the car keys when they hit the garage, cradling a travel mug in his other hand, “You drive.”

They’re about halfway to Kansas City before Sam asks, “How much sleep did you get?”

Dean shrugs. “Enough. I’m fine, Sam.”

“Right. That’s why I’m driving, you’re clutching that coffee like a lifeline, and you’ve been dozing.” He glances over to glare at Dean. “You’ve not slept while I was driving in years.”

“Leave it, Sam, alright? It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“I know you can handle it, but that’s not why I asked.”

“What more do you want, Sam? To know that yesterday kinda fucked me up? Awesome. It did. Congrats,” Dean says dryly, draining his coffee and wedging the mug between the seat and the door. Reaching over, he turns the radio up before spinning it back down. “Ugh, where are we?”

“There’s a tape deck adapter in the glove compartment,” Sam points out, pulling his phone out of his pocket and finding his playlists.

“I don’t wanna listen to your crap.”

“Then you should either let your stupid rule go or not let me drive. Driver picks the music.”

Dean glares at the radio, like it’s the radio’s fault the only clear station is country, before sighing and digging into the glove compartment. “This is so fucking stupid.”

Sam doesn’t respond, finding the plug and pressing play.

 


 

 

The reaper is leaning against a taxi in North Kansas City when they find him, in an abandoned parking lot by a bowling alley.

“You Ajay?” Sam asks as they approach.

“Hey, I don’t want any trouble.” He pushes himself upright, holding his hands up. “Whatever it was, I had nothing to do with it.”

Sam raises an eyebrow and turns to look at Dean.

Dean looks just as skeptical. “Really, because we hear you’re the guy to talk to about hitching a ride to Hell.”

Ajay chuckles. “Of course. The question is, why would the Winchesters want to go back there? Didn’t get enough of a tour when you were there before?”

“You know who we are,” Sam points out. “So you know we won’t tell you. But you can get us there?”

“There ain’t nobody I can’t get there. Or back. Shit, I’m the one who ferried Bobby Singer south.”

“What? No, we burned his bones,” Dean says. “And the flask. That’s not possible.”

“If you’re on Crowley’s shitlist? There’s no way you fly the friendly skies.”

Sam blows out a breath and lays a hand on Dean’s arm. Punching Ajay will get them nowhere fast. “Fine. How much to coyote two down and three up?”

“You can’t afford it. Not with the price Crowley’s got on your heads. Worth more than my existence.”

Dean growls beside him. “Better come up a price, or Crowley will be the least of your problems.”

“Dean, Dean, Dean,” Ajay tsks. “So trigger happy. I said you can’t afford two down and three up. One down, two up… I’m sure we can come to an arrangement.”

“Awesome, I’m in. Let’s go.”

“Ah, no.”

“I have to go, Dean. Not you,” Sam interjects. “I’m the one who has to complete the trial remember? You need to stay here and distract Crowley somehow.”

“Neither of you are going anywhere,” Ajay says dryly, “Until we’ve come to an arrangement as to my fee.”

Of course. “What’s the price?”

Ajay looks them up and down, carefully enough that Sam can see the dollar signs flashing above their heads, before coming to a decision. “A favor. Transferable on my part, but done by you personally.”

Dean glowers beside Sam in the thin afternoon sunlight. “We’re not killing anyone for you. Or anyone else.”

“Who said anything about killing?” Ajay shudders. “No. A favor is much more valuable.”

Sam shakes his head. “Deal. What do you need?”

“For right now? For large and stompy to go cause trouble elsewhere. Otherwise, gather whatever you want to take with you.”

Dean follows him over to the Impala. “I don’t like this.”

“It doesn’t matter whether or not we like it,” Sam hisses. “Even if we weren’t doing the trials, do you really want to let Bobby languish in Hell-- with Crowley’s personal attention-- because you don’t like the guy doing the lifting? Jesus, Dean, we don’t all rate a fucking angel.”

“I-- That’s not what I was saying!”

Sam raises an eyebrow, double checking his machete and the demon killing knife. Loading a few more knives into a bag, he drags it over his shoulder before closing the trunk. “He’s got no leverage to sell us out and I can take care of myself.” Turning, he meets Ajay in the entrance to the alley. “Let's get this show on the road.”

“You’ll have twenty-four hours.” Ajay waves a hand dismissively. The graffiti in front of them glows and swirls as Ajay drags Sam forward and through the rift. “First stop, Purgatory.”

Sam retches when they touch down, a jolt of disorientation sending him to his knees. It’s almost like being dragged along when Cas takes flight, but much worse.

“The rift to Hell is that way,” Ajay points. “In the center of three boulders. Remember, twenty-four hours. Take longer than that, you’re on your own.”

“Three boulders. That’s what you’re giving me?” Sam gestures around, the regular outcroppings in all configurations.

“Three rocks that look like a pussy,” Ajay shoots back, leaning against a tree and crossing his arms.

Shaking his head, Sam sets a countdown on his watch and heads off in the direction indicated. When he looks back a few minutes later, Ajay is gone.

Something rustles in the undergrowth to either side of him, and he can feel something watching him, but everything stays hidden. Watching, evaluating. What was it that Dean had said? Three-sixty combat most of the time.

He moves as fast as he can, but there’s something deeply unsettling about being stalked through Purgatory, invisible foes following him only a few feet away, but not daring to come into the open. Pausing, he counts five, six shadows that move beyond him, circling him, before fading away into the eternal twilight.

Glancing around, Sam shakes his head and hurries onward. Hours have passed already, and he needs to keep moving.

The outcropping looming above him glows red where two of the rocks meet. He can’t see a third rock from this angle, but this has to be what Ajay was talking about. Climbing the rock face, there’s a valley between the two massive boulders that form the outcropping. A third one, smaller, but bigger than he can comfortably move, balances between them, overhanging the person sized opening between them.

This is where the breeze is coming from, Sam realizes. It’s not wind at all, but Hell vacuuming in anything it can.

Taking a deep breath, Sam shoves his machete back into its sheath and crouches down. Getting back out might be hard-- this is a straight drop-- but he’ll worry about that later.

Sitting on the edge, he briefly hopes for some sort of guidance before pushing off like he was jumping into the pool.

 


 

 

The walls of the alley glow brightly, forcing Dean to slam his eyes shut. When he opens them again, the glow-- and Sam-- are gone. He paces around the alley and then hits up a bar down the street for a while. Twenty-four hours, Ajay said, and meant every second.

He heads back to the car after only a couple of drinks. Ajay’s taxi is where they left it, blocking the entrance to the alley. Nothing has changed over the past couple of hours-- other than full dark falling-- but something is off.

Slowly, cautiously, he pulls his pistol from the back of his jeans. The taxi sits in shadow, only the street lights from halfway down the block and the neon across the street providing any light at all. A deeper shadow hides the driver’s seat, an abandoned piece of pizza on the dash. Sucking in a breath, Dean wrenches open the driver’s door and watches Ajay’s body slump against the wheel.

There’s not enough light to see exactly what happened, but it’s not hard to figure out someone took exception to Ajay’s smuggling.

Dean locks away the part of him that’s trying to panic and retreats to the Impala. He stares at the taxi before pulling his phone out of his pocket.

It takes a long moment before he can force himself to press the call button.

“Didn’t expect to hear from you again,” Benny drawls. “Your brother decide that maybe I’m not so bad after all?”

Dean closes his eyes, runs a hand through his hair. “I need a favor. A big one.”

“Dean, brotha?”

“Think you can get to Kansas City?” Swallowing the panic back, Dean shakes his head. “I owe you a cup of coffee.”

Benny is silent for a long moment, enough that Dean starts to think that the call dropped. “By morning, yeah. You gonna tell me what this is all about?”

“I fucked up.” Dean barks out a laugh. “Nothing much new there, right? Details can wait until that cup of coffee.”

“Alright, brother. I’ll hold you to that.”

Dean collapses forward, holding onto the steering wheel like a lifeline. “Thanks, man.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” Benny says darkly before hanging up.

He knows he looks like crap-- exhausted and reeking of car and fear sweat-- but eating and coffee will help, so he camps out at a nearby Denny’s. The waitress comes around a bit more often after he finishes the burger and stops growling quite so much. He pulls out his journal after he finishes eating, spends some time updating it.

Anything to keep himself occupied

A body slides into the booth across from him around the same time the bar crowds start showing up, steals a couple of fries while waiting on him to look up. “You don’t look too hot, Winchester.”

“Meg,” Dean growls, reaching for the flask in his pocket. Of course she shows up when Sam’s got the demon knife.

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” she sneers. “I come in peace.”

“Right.” Glancing around the moderately busy diner, he slides his hand off the holy water. “Thought Crowley had you under his thumb.”

“Yeah, he did. Real nice job rescuing your allies, by the way. That year of being under Crowley’s knife was just awesome.”

“Bite me.” He pulls his fries away from her, glaring at her extended hand. “We had our own problems.”

“So I’ve heard.” Turning, she stretches her legs out across the bench, leaning against the wall. “What’s the plan, Dean-o? We just hanging out in a diner all night for a reason or?” She looks around. “Where’s Sam?”

“Freeing an innocent soul from Hell.” Dean rolls his eyes. “The rest of it’s none of your business. Why are you here, Meg?”

“Clarence rescued me, looking for something else. Said you’d keep me safe while I got my feet back under me.”

“Oh, he did, did he?” He snorts. “Awesome. Protecting a demon.”

“This ain’t no picnic for me either, douche wheel. My position has gone from cold to absolutely frozen. I need friends, and you’re top dog right now.”

“Hold hands again, keep on skipping towards that cliff?”

“You got a better plan, I’m all ears. But in the meantime, shove it.”

“This is pretty dumb, even for you.” Dean wraps his hands around his cup of coffee, keeping one eye on Meg and the other on the other folks in the diner. “How’d you even find me?”

“Castiel was your boyfriend first. Figured you’d actually talk to each other.”

Dean can’t stop the way his jaw and hands tighten in remembered pain even as he forces his face to be impassive. “‘S not my boyfriend, and no. Not for a while.” Mirroring her, he slides to the wall and leans against it. He wants to close his eyes and get some rest, but there’s too much going on to risk it.

“Freeing an innocent soul from Hell,” Meg ponders. “I wonder what sort of spell requires that.”

“I ain’t gonna tell you. Get out of here. I don’t care what Cas told you, I’m not gonna babysit your ass.” She looks over, all wide-eyed and trembling lips, and it shouldn’t fucking work, except it does. “Goddammit. Fine. Stick around if you want. But let’s get something straight: you screw me? You die.”

Meg rolls her eyes and orders a cup of coffee the next time the waitress comes by, settling in to wait out the night with him. He’s not sure why she does-- it’s not like they’re friends, even after that thing back at Roman, Inc last summer-- but it is nice to have company while waiting for Benny, even if it is silent and sarcastic in turns.

Benny shows up at around four, still wide awake. He doesn’t look great-- worn down and ill fed-- but his face lights up when he sees Dean across the parking lot. Dean meets him halfway in a backslapping hug that brings him more relief than he deserves.

He does brief, carefully edited, introductions before tossing Benny a blood bag and settling against Benny’s truck.

“Not that I don’t appreciate it, but you didn’t drag me here to feed me,” Benny says, breaking the seal on the bag.

“I need a favor, one I’m never gonna be able to repay,” Dean says quietly, watching Meg paint her nails in the streetlights.

“Let’s hear it then.”

Dean lays out all of it. Benny deserves at least that much given what Dean’s asking. “He’s my little brother, man.”

Benny blows out a breath beside him, “Wow, when Dean Winchester asks for a favor, he does not fuck around.”

“I wouldn’t ask all if I could come up with another way.”

“Nah, brother. I get that much.” Benny’s eyes flick towards Meg, “And she can’t help?”

“Even if I could trust her, she’s a demon. To the basement, for sure. Not so sure about Purgatory.” Dean paces around the car a couple of times. “Sending you back, hell, sending you away, last thing I ever wanted. But you’ve got access to the place.”

For the first time, Dean sees a flash of irritation underneath Benny’s normal calm. “Sure. But you’re still asking. Jesus, man, two months ago, Sam was trying to kill me, then you cut off all contact.”

The words hit like a blow-- it would hurt less if Benny punched him. He’s been a shit friend. Steeling himself, he meets Benny’s eyes. “Yeah. I’m still asking.” It’s not fair, or kind, or anything else. It’s a bullshit choice and he knows it.

Benny sighs and turns away for a moment, watching the early shift show up at one of the manufacturing facilities walk around. “Alright.” His eyes are bleak when he turns back around. “Not like I’ve been doing so good topside anyway.”

“Benny...”

“Don’t worry about it, Winchester. You don’t need to hear about my problems. Just need to get my head on straight.”

Dean frowns. “I’ll meet you at the exit point. Then we’ll get that cup of coffee.”

“Sure thing, Chief.”

They walk back to the alley in silence, Meg a trailing shadow behind them until she finds something else to occupy her. Dean didn’t really want her around for this anyway.

Benny jerks him into a kiss once they’re in the back of the alley. Dean goes willingly, crashing them both into the wall. It’s harsh and silent and lasts bare seconds before Benny is pushing him away.

Benny groans quietly, thumping his head against the brick. “Fuck, that was a stupid idea.” Slowly, laboriously, he drops to his knees facing the wall. “Make it clean, brother.”

“I’m sorry,” Dean whispers, pulling his machete out of its sheath.

“Nah,” Benny disagrees. “We knew what this was.” He waits a heartbeat. “C’mon now, do it!”

Dean’s arm jerks across, the machete cleaving through flesh and bone. Benny’s head lands on the concrete with a wet thud and Dean flinches as it rolls, fetching up against a worn out tire.

 


 

 

With a jerk, the orientation changes, so instead of squeezing through a tiny crevice, Sam is climbing upwards. The wind tears at his grip on the rock walls, until he finally just wedges his feet against the walls and shuffles his way upwards towards freedom.

“Holy hell, boy, that’s a hell of a climb,” Bobby puffs once they’re clear of the rocks and safe on the ground.

Sam nods sharply, watching the forest around them. “Guess they don’t want to encourage tourists.” He takes a moment to get his bearings before heading back towards the clearing where they’re supposed to meet Ajay. “Not sure why’d anyone would go to Hell for a vacation, but--” he shrugs.

“Easier access topside,” Bobby points out, taking the machete that Sam hands him. “You said Dean spent a year here? Jesus.”

Sam shrugs. “Said it was twenty-four, seven combat. No rest, no peace…”

“Must have been rough on you too, trying to get him back.”

Sam doesn’t say anything, just keeps walking.

“Sam, you did try to get him back, right?”

“We had an agreement. No searching for each other. So I didn’t.”

“Don’t you tell me about that. I know that agreement. Hell, I taught you that agreement. It’s a non-agreement!” Bobby fumes next to him for a while, muttering quietly to himself.

Sam stays silent, listening for anything hunting them. The creatures stalking them circle around, waiting for a signal he can’t see yet.

Abruptly, the thing to their left lets out a howl, startling Sam and Bobby into a mad dash for safety. Sprinting blindly through the trees, Sam tries to avoid six-inch thorns that have sprouted from no where, pushing them further off course.

Sam skids to a stop when he sees the wolf shape in front of him. It lunges when he gets too close. Sam twists out of the way, brings the knife down to sever its spine. It dies, slumping to the ground.

Spinning around, Sam leaps over a second body to reach Bobby and stand back to back. Another wolf-thing swings down from the trees, jumping at them from the nearest branch. Ducking, Sam lets it go flying over his head before bringing his machete back around to chop at its head.

“What the hell are these things?” Bobby yells over the barks and yelps.

“Dean called ‘em gorilla-wolves--” Sam cuts off as a wolf goes flying over their heads, landing against a tree with a crack before falling limply to the ground.

The other wolves howl, scrambling up and away among the tree limbs.

“That’d be the gorilla part,” Bobby says quietly, turning to face the direction of whatever sent it flying.

Sam nods, watching for anything else that may be approaching.

Benny steps out of the shadows a few seconds later, melting into place like he’d been there the entire time. “Heya, Sam.”

“Benny,” Sam says stiffly. “What are you doing here?”

Benny laughs bitterly. “Saving your hide, what’s it look like?” He stretches his neck, fangs glinting in the light. “Dean sent me. Seems your ride home got himself killed.”

“Vampire,” Bobby hisses beside Sam, changing his grip on his machete and starting towards Benny.

“Bobby, wait!” Sam grabs hold of Bobby’s arm, holding him back. “He’s a buddy of Dean’s.”

“My Dean?” Bobby shakes his head. “A friggin’ vampire? Have you two lost your fucking minds? You’re trusting him?”

“Must be a family trait.” Benny rolls his eyes and gestures. “Any time you’re ready to head towards the exit.” He marches off without another word.

Bobby grabs Sams arm. “You’re not trusting him.”

“Dammit, Bobby. Benny’s the only reason I got Dean back. I don’t like him, but for this? Yeah, I’m trusting him.”

“Next you’re gonna tell me that you’re trusting demons again, or the angels have pulled their heads out of their collective asses.”

Sam’s wince must be more obvious than he thinks, because Bobby hones in on it immediately. “What are they doing?”

“Fuck if I know. It’s all a mess.” Glancing up, he follows Benny, dragging Bobby along with him.

They’ve been hiking for a couple hours-- apparently the exit is further away than Sam thought-- when the forest goes dead silent. Benny pauses for a split second, poised to run, before breathing out, “Demons.”

“What do you mean demons?” Bobby asks crankily.

“I mean, there are demons in Purgatory and I’m guessing they either want you or want out.”

Whoever is following them makes better time, flushing more monsters ahead. They ignore Sam’s little group, but that’s not going to last forever.

They’re almost there when the demons catch up. Sam catches one unawares with the demon killing knife while Bobby spits out an exorcism for the other. It gives them some breathing room anyway, scaring away most of the monsters that have been stalking them.

Staring at the cliff side, blue portal open at the top, Sam closes his eyes. They’re almost there, just gotta finish.

“Alright, Bobby, you remember the spell?” Sam rolls his sleeve up, knife poised over his arm.

“Assuming it works,” Bobby says darkly, glaring at Benny.

Benny ignores him, tightening his grip on his own knife and watching the forest surrounding them.

It goes off without a hitch, Bobby-- or his soul-- pouring into Sam’s arm and sealing itself up. Sam gasps at the feeling, holding his breath against the not-pain. Once Bobby’s settled a bit, Sam flips the knife hilt towards Benny. “Okay, your turn.”

Benny snorts, hefting his knife and flinging it over Sam’s shoulder. The yelp and thud behind him tells Sam all he really needs to know. “No time. The demons are gone, but--”

The other vampires attack before he can finish.

“Sam, go!” Benny bellows just before he’s buried under three vampires.

Scrambling up the hill, Sam can only risk a couple glances back. More and more monsters are converging on Benny at the bottom of the hill, blocking him from view.

The jump into the portal is something of a relief, blue light pulsing with his heart as he moves from one plane of reality to another.

Dean is waiting for him when he lands in a different, calmer, forest, passing Sam a bottle of water before either of them say a word.

“Purgatory, right?” Dean sighs. “You get ‘em?”

“Only Bobby.”

“What? What about--”

Sam shakes his head, “I tried. We got ambushed--” Sam winces when Bobby twists painfully. “I’ll tell you later. Let’s finish.” Slicing into his arm, Sam recites the other half of the spell. Orange and yellow light spills out, reforming into Bobby.

“Friggin’ idjits,” Bobby mutters, looking at them both. “See ya ‘round.” Stepping forward, he dissolves back into smoke and starts streaming upwards. He makes it about twenty feet before starting to pool, like he’s hit a ceiling.

“What the--” Dean starts before he gets cut off.

“Hello, boys.”

Spinning around, Sam glares at Crowley. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Crowley lazily looks up. “Hmm. Bobby Singer. I’d know that soul anywhere.” Meeting Sam’s eyes, he runs his thumb over his fingernails. “The hell I’m doing is my business. And dear Robert is part of it.”

“He doesn’t belong in Hell, you can’t keep him,” Dean insists.

“I can do whatever I want. I’m the King.”

“You can do whatever you want in Hell, Crowley,” A cool voice says from behind them. “Not on Earth, and certainly not with a soul that does not belong to you.”

“Bobby Singer is so far from an untarnished soul, I don’t even know where to start. And that’s before we take into consideration everything he did as a hunter. And the deal he made for the use of his legs. From where I stand, even Hell is too good for him.”

Sam grabs Dean’s arm and pulls him out of the center of the clearing. The woman behind them-- wearing a dark gray pant suit, must be an angel-- flashes something that could be a smile towards them. It doesn’t fit on her face, too sharp.

“Let me see if I’m interpreting this situation correctly. Samuel Winchester freed an innocent soul from Hell, at great personal risk, and you are trying to reclaim that soul?” She flicks a glance upward, towards the red-orange cloud. Immediately, angelic blue starts shooting through it, spreading out.

“You do not want to get involved with these two, Naomi,” Crowley warns. “Before they’re through, everything we’ve worked toward will be destroyed.”

Naomi shrugs elegantly. “I’ll take my chances.”

The blue light that was Bobby flickers and shoots upwards before disappearing.

“Bureaucrat,” Crowley sneers. “You’re outside your weight class.”

“Do not call me that,” Naomi snaps, her eyes starting to glow.

Sam meets Dean’s eyes and they both ease further into the trees and bushes surrounding the clearing.

Crowley takes a step forward, facing off against Naomi more squarely. They stare intently at each other for a few moments before Crowley snaps his fingers and disappears.

Naomi doesn’t sag, although Sam thinks anyone else would have. Instead, she turns to face their hiding place in the trees. “Sam, Dean. We need to talk.”

Dean leans over, whispering, “Finish the trial.” Without waiting for a response, Dean straightens his jacket and slides into the clearing.

Shakily, Sam nods, pulling the spell out of his jacket pocket.

Pain sears through him as he finishes the incantation, knocking him to his knees and nearly face planting in the dirt. Bracing himself with one hand, Sam locks his jaw against the scream trying to erupt.

 


 

Clamping down on his anger and worry, Dean pushes it to the back of his mind. There’s no time for that right now, not when he’s got an angel in front of him powerful enough to make Crowley run.

“Dean,” she inclines her head. “Where’s Sam?”

“He’s busy,” he grinds out, trying to find the trap. There’s always a trap.

“You can trust me, Dean. I mean you no harm.”

Raising an eyebrow, Dean sticks his hands in his pockets. “Right. You have no skin in this game and angels are never dicks.”

Naomi purses her lips. “I grant you have very little cause to trust me. However, we’re working towards the same end here. The tablets, Dean. That’s all I want. They’re too powerful for humanity to have unlimited access.”

“We’ll take our chances, thanks.”

“Dean Winchester, do not be flippant with me. I can sense Castiel’s grace all over you and yet, he has not completed his orders.”

Dean’s hands fall to his sides, hands clenching. “You’re the one handing out orders now?”

“I’m the one bringing order back to Heaven, yes.”

Dean jerks forward two steps and plows his fist into her face. It hurts like a son of a bitch, but the tiny moment of surprise that crosses her face makes it worth it.

“You maggot.” Naomi’s eyes harden and the pleasantness drops like it never existed.

“Heard it all before,” Dean cuts her off. “You want to bring order to Heaven? Go for it. But keep your hands off my fucking family.”

Naomi stares at him for a long moment before flapping off to do whatever.

 

Chapter Text

Her head is completely free, sending whispers and tendrils across Hell. She draws dozens of demons to her over days and weeks, insects circling a light that promises ecstasy and oblivion. Laughing, she laps up their blood, sucking knowledge from their marrow before discarding the remains.

Years pass before a demon worthy of the name approaches. Young enough to be malleable, old enough to be wary crossing the pitted ice. Small, vaguely feline, the demon steps carefully, watching every hole for a long time before investigating any.

A shock ripples through Hell, another quake sending the young demon careening across the ice and into a broken hollow. Abaddon rips a wingtip from the ice with a scream, impaling the demon on a claw, and dragging it back to the mound that traps her shoulders.

The demon freezes in terror for the briefest moment before forcing itself up and off the claw. Falling back to the ice, it shakes itself roughly before trotting onward towards Abaddon. Bold, this one, and reckless.

The demon is silent when it catches sight of Abaddon’s face, a shudder running through it before bowing deeply. “My Queen…”

Finally, a demon who knows respect. Abaddon pushes part of herself towards the demon, enveloping it and pulling it into herself.

Oh, this one is perfect.

 


 

 

Patrick’s screams echo though Crowley’s lab on Earth. He can tell Crowley nothing-- he’s long past sanity even if he knew anything of use-- but reaching in and twisting hasn’t lost its appeal yet.

Crowley does it again, trying to see if he can get the harmonics just… right… The building shakes with the force of the screams, or maybe an earthquake. Not that it matters, the knocking at the door ruins it all.

Juliet growls quietly at the door, looking up from the leg she’s been gnawing on for hours. Rolling his eyes, Crowley wipes his hand on his apron. “Enter.”

Guthrie slides in, sidestepping past Juliet and bowing. “There have been… disturbances, Sire. Sufficient to garner attention.” He shuffles in place, not quite meeting Crowley’s eyes. To his credit, he doesn’t look at Patrick-- still moaning-- either.

“Oh, alright,” Crowley snaps. Grabbing an angel blade off the table, he embeds it into Patrick’s chest, pausing to watch the light show play out in his meatsuit. It’s nowhere near what he’d planned, but Juliet will enjoy the corpse. “Report.”

Guthrie nods. “There are three areas of concern. The first is, more than likely, related to the others, but at this time I cannot say. The others… are best left for you, Sire.”

Crowley waves his hand to get on with it, pouring himself a glass of scotch.

“As you know, we sent several of the… more replaceable demons to survey the areas around the Cage. Only one has reported back and he was chastised-- strongly-- for not completing his task.”

“He didn’t want to go, fucked off, and then reported back thinking no one would notice?”

“Precisely.”

“Treason, dereliction of duty, whatever. Toss him back on the rack, see if Elisabet can do something with him. If nothing else, I could use a new rug.”

“Of course.” Guthrie nods and makes a note. “The Winchesters. We still have very little information on what they’re hoping to accomplish, however, at this point, I believe we can safely assume it is a ritual of some sort.”

Crowley takes another sip of his drink, waiting.

“Anything new will be brought immediately to my, and subsequently, your attention, of course.”

“Until I know what the two nightmares are up to, nothing demonic goes near them. Cancel the bounties on their heads, pull every demon back to Hell. I’m the only one who goes near them.”

“Yes, sir.” Guthrie inhales, glancing down at his notes. “The… quakes, for lack of a better term, appear to be related to what the Winchesters are doing. Most areas of Hell are stable with no damage. Some of the deeper areas though, it is possible they have sustained damage and the surveys have not discovered this.”

Crowley thinks for a moment before shaking his head. “It won’t collapse out from under us. Keep an eye on it.”

“Yes, Sire.” Guthrie bows his way back out of the lab, nearly tripping over Juliet.

Another demon rushes in before Crowley can even turn back to the corpse on his table, squeaking when Juliet snaps at her. “Sire! One of the Winchesters has been found!”

“I was unaware we had lost them,” Crowley drawls.

“Henry,” she blurts out. “The grandfather.”

Crowley raises an eyebrow. “And just how is Henry Winchester alive and well on Earth? He was presumed dead decades ago.”

“Our agent hasn’t been able to discover the exact mechanism, but the witches I consulted with--”

“You did what?” Crowley flings her against the wall, pinning her in place. “Were my orders not completely clear? Everything regarding those flannel nightmares comes to me first!”

She swallows frantically. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Of course, sir.”

“These so called experts of yours-- what did they have to say?”

“Theoretically, such a spell is possible-- it would draw on the power of his soul, and isn’t controllable, however, it’s possible that was a bonus in his case.”

Leaving her pinned in place, Crowley turns his back on her, fetching his tumbler of scotch and thinking through his options. He needs the man under his control-- willingly or not-- before the wonder twins complete their plan. Family has always been their weak spot. “You know where he is?”

“Yes, sir. Do you want me to fetch him?”

“Not immediately,” Crowley decides. “There’s some set dressing I need to do first.”

“Sir?”

“Follow him, make friends with him.” He waves his hand, releasing her. “Report immediately if he has any contact with Sam or Dean. Someone will tell you when you should bring him to me.”

“Make… friends with him?”

“Yes. Get him to trust you. When we’re ready, you’ll have to push him off, but we’ll take care of that when we get there.”

“How?”

“The same way any decent con artist does, I would presume. Do I need to do your job in addition to mine?” He asks dangerously.

She bows quickly, scurrying from the room. Juliet growls and follows her, nipping at her heels.

 


 

 

Sam’s ears are still ringing with the aftermath of the trial when they reach the car. Staggering through the woods, following the poorly marked trail, the only difference between the trail and the parking lot is the low gleam of the Impala in the light of Dean’s flashlight.

Shivering, Sam looks around, trying to get a fix on where they are while Dean digs for the car keys. The metal of the Impala is freezing against his back, but hiking several miles has done him no favors after twenty-four hours in Purgatory and Hell. “Why can’t it open up someplace warm,” he whines, hoping Dean can hear him.

Dean says something, a low drone that Sam almost catches, before the Impala door creaks open.

Twisting around, Sam heads for the passenger seat before freezing. “Demon!” Scrabbling for the demon knife, he backs away from the car, hoping to find a tree to have at his back.

Meg smirks out the back window, saying something he can’t make out in the dim light of the Impala, and raising her hands-- bound in silver handcuffs. Markings decorate both bracelets, not that he can decipher them at the moment, but--

Breathing out, Sam glances over at Dean who mimes putting down the knife, exaggerating his movements like Sam is an idiot. Slowly, Sam does, sliding into the passenger seat and holding it in his lap.

Despite not knowing why the fuck Meg is in their backseat, Sam dozes off quickly, almost before Dean hits the main roads. He fights his way back to consciousness when the Impala jerks to a stop, the driver’s door popping open and Dean jumping out.

“Good morning, sunshine,” Meg says from the backseat.

Sam jumps, twisting around to look at her. “What the fuck are you doing here, Meg? Not enough puppies to torture or whatever?”

She huffs. “Your brother is the one who goes in for torture, Sammy, not me. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, if the occasion calls for it, but I’m long past torturing for the hell of it.”

“That doesn’t tell me--”

“Clarence did me a solid. Then did me another and sent me your way. I was hoping for actual friends, but you idiots are the next best thing.”

“We, uh, thought you were dead,” he stammers, finally getting a good look at her in the parking lot lights. “What’d you do to your hair?” he asks stupidly.

“Did you take idiot pills? I did nothing. Crowley-- I’m gonna burn that limey fuck.” She sighs before turning to look at him. “Anyway, from the rumors I heard, you thought everyone was dead. You hit a dog and stopped. Why?”

“It was… something.”

Dean slides back into the car, the room key dangling from one finger, and effectively ends the conversation.

The room is nothing spectacular-- double beds and boring art on the walls-- but it’s been updated at some point in the last twenty years which puts it a step above some of the places they stay. Sam barely manages to stay awake long enough to shower before crashing back out.

Dean’s phone rings just after dawn, waking them all up. “‘Lo?” Dean’s groping for a pen within moments. “Hold on, they’re where?... Alright, Jody. We’re in Maine, but we’ll get there as soon as we can. Yeah. Can you… Okay, thanks.”

Sam sits up, watching as Dean scrambles to get up. “What’s up?”

“That was Jody,” Dean says unnecessarily. “Had a case come across the wire, thought it was up our alley.”

“And?”

Dean winces. “Five dead bodies in the space of a week. Eyes burnt out, marks on hands and feet, and… insides are slop.”

“Sounds like angel kills. Shit.”

“Pretty much,” Dean huffs. “On the road in thirty.” Before Sam can respond, he’s grabbed his bag and is in the bathroom.

Sam meets Meg’s eyes where she’s sitting at the table, still handcuffed. “Any ideas?”

“Sure, lots. But you’re not gonna like them.” She waggles her fingers before wrapping her hands around a cup of coffee that she got from somewhere. “You know me and angels. I do my damndest to stay far far away.”

“Great.” Sam looks at the closed bathroom door before shaking his head.

 


 

 

The drive should take twenty-five hours. Dean cuts it down to nineteen, barely stopping for gas, never stopping for anything else. He knows…

There’s lots of reasons for angels showing up to wipe out a chunk of a town’s population. Some of them might even be good ones-- He can’t come up with any, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are fewer that explain why the fuck a man matching Cas’s description is a person of interest.

All he can hear is Jody’s voice from this morning, repeating over and over again what she’d caught over the wire.

“Internal burns... dark haired man… trench coat…”

At best, Cas is hunting demons and being uncharacteristically messy. At worst… Robo-Cas is back in the building and killing his way to whatever the juicy prize at the center is.

It’s the second day in a row they roll up to a no name motel at fuck you o’clock in the morning. Sam takes one look at him-- bloodshot eyes, nerves shot-- and climbs out to get them a room.

Dean checks his email while they wait, ignoring Meg in the backseat as thoroughly as he has all day. She’s risking a lot just being near them, he gets that, but he doesn’t know what to do with her. They’d talked on their way to Maine, and he’d gotten some of the story out of her, but not enough to trust her.

Even if she isn’t lying, Cas really did break her out of some demonic holding cell and send her their way, what the hell do they do with her? They don’t need a pet demon and he’s not taking her back to the Bunker.

Sam opens the door to their room with unabashed glee, ushering them in with a suspicious grin. Dean eyeballs the darkness beyond before reaching for the light.

“Oh, my god,” slips out before he can control his mouth.

“You boys sure know how to show a girl a good time.”

Dean winces, but has to agree.

Sam shelled out the money for a decent room this time, two queens and a recliner, even a small kitchenette in the corner. They’d grown up in this sort of place. But the decor…

It looks like those fucking Precious Moments angel things threw up in here. Every inch of the place is covered with the creepy little fuckers, starting with a mural on the far wall that welcomes them to their ‘Heavenly Home’-- because that’s not ominous as fuck-- and ending with a screen made of dozens of the figurines strung on poles. Even the bedspreads get in on the action, pastoral sheep frolicing over rainbows and fucking arks.

Dean wants to salt and burn the entire place just on sheer principle. “No.”

“You picked the place, Dean. Not me,” Sam shoots back, dropping his bag on the bed nearest the door. “Shut up and let me get some sleep.” Sam doesn’t even bother pulling his shoes off, just shrugs his jacket off and falls face first into the pillow. He’s snoring within seconds.

“You have got--” Indignantly, he turns to face Meg, hoping she’s on his side.

She’s already curling up in the recliner, a blanket from the closet pulled over her. “You did pick it, Dean-o. Thought you’d be used to angel cum by now.”

“It’s not… I’m not…” he sputters out before she rolls her eyes.

“You’re not fucking Clarence? Huh. Wouldn’t have called that one last spring.” She snorts, contorting herself so she can kick out the foot rest. “Unless he’s fucking you.” She tilts her head, looking at him closely. “Whatever. Get the lights.”

Blankly, he reaches over and flips the switch, plunging the room into darkness. It takes a very long time to wind down enough to sleep, even when he turns off his phone and simply lies there in the dark. Meg’s comments keep running through his head, overlapping the details from the police report Jody sent and eventually memories of Benny from Purgatory.

When Sam’s alarm goes off in the morning, Dean doesn’t feel like he’s slept at all. He grunts when Sam slaps his foot, burrowing further under the pillow to avoid the morning sun. Dean must doze back off, because the next time Sam wakes him, he’s already got his suit on and a cup of coffee in each hand.

“Wha’ time iz’t?”

“Nearly eight. C’mon, get a move on.”

The room is even worse in daylight. The little fuckers are even in the bathroom, staring up at him from the toilet seat before he pisses and hops in the shower. Dean shudders at all the beady blue eyes watching him before digging through his bag and getting dressed.

Sticking his head back into the room, Dean grabs his coffee and downs half of it before buttoning up his shirt. “Did you have a chance to read over what Jody sent, work out a game plan?”

“Yeah. First stop the morgue, then interviewing survivors.”

Dean winces, finishing his coffee and knotting his tie. Going to the morgue first thing in the morning is never a good time. Pausing in front of the recliner, he looks down at Meg. “You want to come along or hang out here?”

She shrugs, lifting her hands on top of the blanket. “Ward the place, take the handcuffs off, and I swear I’ll just sit here and watch daytime TV.”

Dean glances at Sam to see what he thinks, gets a shrug in return. “Do not make me regret doing this,” he warns, pulling out his keys and unlocking her.

Meg smiles sweetly-- too sweetly-- and nods. “I would never.”

Yep, she’s planning something. “You’re a terrible liar.”

“And you’re letting me loose anyway. I’ve not killed you over the past couple of days, what’s trusting me one more day going to do?”

“Oh yeah, that’s reassuring.”

The morgue is a bust-- the coroner can’t tell them anything they didn’t already know-- and the first couple of interviews are the same.

Wendy Rice constitutes their first real lead, and their first sign that whatever was happening here, it’s over.

“Ann contacted you about your research into the history of the town?” Sam asks quietly, perched on the edge of the couch.

“Her and a couple others. It’s weird, I’ve been working on this for years with no one but my adviser caring and then three people in a week?” Wendy shakes her curler-adorned head. “Made me nervous, so I started insisting that we meet in public.”

“Yeah, that was probably a good idea,” Dean agrees. “Did Ann say what she was looking for at all?”

“An old orchard. The river flooded back at the turn of the century and the entire town moved with it. Unfortunately, all the plat maps from the town’s founding were damaged. Part of my dissertation is using local archaeology to rediscover the original layout.” Wendy launches into a detailed description of what exactly she’s doing that Dean follows exactly none of.

Sam keeps her going, asking nerdy questions while Dean excuses himself to investigate the rest of the house.

Running over everything they know, Dean pours himself a glass of water from the pitcher in Wendy’s fridge before a familiar rustle has him spinning around. “Cas?”

“Dean. What are you doing here?” Cas staggers, falling against the counter. “You shouldn’t…”

“I shouldn’t what? My job? Or did you forget that while you were off beating the shit out of people.”

“Dean, I…” Cas shakes himself, pushing upright. “I need to talk to Wendy. The orchard, it might hide the tablet. I must retrieve it.”

“Hold on a minute!” Dean follows Cas as he marches into the living room. “Cas, will you… Dammit!” He grabs Cas’s shoulder and spins him around. “You’re not going anywhere near civilians until you tell me what the fucking hell is going on!”

“I have to find the orchard,” Cas says bleakly. “And what it hides. I can’t allow anything stand in my way. Not even you.”

Startled, Dean lets go, taking a step backwards. “Will you use your fucking words? Why this orchard?”

I can’t tell you. My orders--” Cas breaks off and pushes past him, past Sam, before stopping in front of Wendy. “My apologies.” He touches Wendy’s forehead with two fingers. A bright light shines for a split second before it goes dark and Wendy slumps in her chair. “She will have a headache when she wakes. See to her comfort.” Cas meets Dean’s eyes for a moment before disappearing.

Dean stares at the blank spot Cas was for a long moment before turning to face Sam. “What the fuck?”

“I don’t know, man. That was weird, even for Cas.”

“No shit.” Dean helps Sam lay Wendy out on the couch, a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin on the coffee table, before they start looking through her research.

“Downey and Bond streets,” Sam says after a few minutes. “It almost has to be there-- the orchard was torn out between floods and then the town moved.”

“Yeah, but what are we looking for? Cas said something about the tablet but that--”

“Call Meg. Whatever this is, she knows more than she’s saying.”

Tossing Sam the keys, he pulls his phone out of his pocket and dials Meg’s number.

It goes to voicemail.

“Sam, drive faster.” Dean hits redial, hoping that Meg just missed the call.

“We’re in town, I can’t just…” Sam glances over before pressing harder on the gas. “She’s not answering.”

The call goes to voicemail again. Dean leaves a blistering message, primarily concerned with her parentage, before hanging up and tossing his phone on the dash. “No, she’s not fucking answering. Fuck!”

The tires kick up gravel as Sam swings the car to a stop in front of the remains of a building. It wasn’t in good shape before… whatever… happened, but now… The thin wooden door hangs from one hinge, the wood shattered near the handle, forced open. The dark room beyond-- Dean can’t tell exactly what it was, maybe a hardware store-- was coated in a thick layer of dust, but someone has utterly destroyed the place, knocking over entire shelves dominoes-style, slinging bins of nails around and scattering them so the footing is uneven.

A path of destruction lead through the building and basement, ending in a giant hole broken through the brickwork. Either everyone’s already been and gone or they’re still in there.

The vault beyond the wall is filled to the brim with anything he can think of. Jars and statues, weapons of dubious use, a few boxes that Dean can’t identify, all of it coated in a thick layer of dust and spider webs.

Someone is fighting inside, steel striking against steel, ringing twice before it cuts off abruptly.

Dean doesn’t bother waiting for Sam, jumping through the hole. He kicks up decades worth of dirt, blinding him, but he ignores it. There’s no time, he has to get to Cas, figure out what the hell is going on.

Rounding the last corner, Dean stumbles to a stop, trying to figure out what he’s looking at.

Cas and Meg are frozen mid-fight like statues, Cas’s angel blade blocking an unfamiliar knife in Meg’s hand. From here, Dean can’t tell who’s winning or losing. Tearing his eyes away, he focuses on the angel standing on the other side of the center altar-looking table.

“Naomi,” Dean hisses. “What are you doing here?”

“Hello, Dean,” Naomi says calmly. “I’m surprised you’re here. Castiel was to keep you very far away after all.” She twitches a finger and Dean watches, horrified, as Cas is forced forward until Meg’s knife is just barely touching him. “I suppose I’ll just have to teach him again.”

“Cas didn’t call us!” Dean steps forward. “It’s not like angel kills are subtle!” He can’t see Cas’s face, can’t tell if he’s awake in there. Hell, right now, he can’t even tell if that knife will do any more harm to Cas than run of the mill steel. “What do you want?”

Sam rushes in behind him, coughing.

Naomi glares at them both before stepping around the altar and grabbing something out of Meg’s off-hand. “The demon has no need of this. Samuel, you really should get that cough looked at.” She shudders delicately. “Would hate to see you fall apart on the finish line.”

Dean twists around to look at Sam, taking his eyes off Naomi for just a moment. It’s just a moment, but that’s all it takes for her to disappear along with the artifact.

Meg’s knife clatters to the floor, sending up sparks from the stone.

Dean rushes forward to support them both as they sag, getting between them so they can’t accidentally stab each other while coming back to their senses. “Cas? Meg? You two alright?”

Cas groans against him, barely audible over Sam’s continued coughing. “Dean? Why are you here?”

Dean snorts. “Saving your ass, looks like. What the hell were you thinking, man? Doing this by yourself.”

“I was thinking that I don’t want you anywhere near Naomi.” Cas cuts himself off, looks around. “Where is she?” He pushes himself to his feet, staggering a little.

“Gone,” Sam chokes out. “Took off with whatever Meg was carrying.”

“And you--” Cas inhales. “We need to go. Now.”

“What’s the rush? What is this place?”

“This is one of Lucifer’s crypts. As soon as word gets out it has been rediscovered--” Cas looks down. “Meg, stop faking.” He kicks her leg, lightly.

“Being dead is looking more and more like a bonus,” Meg snarls, leaning away from Dean. “I can’t believe you fuckers lead Naomi here.” Climbing to her feet, she levels a glare them.

Sam spits something into a tissue that he pulls out of his pocket. Looking around, he shakes his head. “There’s no way we can empty this before the angels get back. Anything we need to make sure they don’t get their hands on?”

“Besides what has already been taken? No. The rest of this is worthless.”

Dean’s not supposed to notice the look between Cas and Meg, he sure, nor the abortive movement Cas makes towards his pocket before he turns towards the entrance.

 


 

 

Sam can’t quit coughing. He knows it’s just the dust, something caught funny, but Naomi’s words are chilling. What if he’s wrong. What if there is something wrong, the ringing and everything else might be permanent.

Kevin hasn’t said anything about side effects but… He might not know. It might not be listed at all-- anything that’s this hard to read isn’t meant for humans to undertake anyway. And Cas hasn’t exactly been around to ask.

Dean constantly checks the mirrors on the way back to the room, making sure Cas and Meg don’t disappear, making sure they’re not being followed. It’s almost comforting. No matter what happens, Dean is still a paranoid bastard after an unexpected run-in.

Sam watches them in the rear view mirror too. Whatever the actual plan was in this town, whatever scheme they cooked up, it went wrong. He barely trusts Meg in front of him, let alone behind him when her plans go south. She might have had a change of heart when it comes to who is ruling Hell, might want no one if she can’t have Lucifer, but he doesn’t trust her. Can’t trust her.

“What the hell, you two?” Sam explodes after about five minutes of silence.

“Sam--” Cas starts before Meg cuts him off.

“Aww, Sammy, are you feeling left out?” She smiles-- slow and sultry, exactly how Ruby used to-- and leans forward enough to run her fingers along his shoulder. “Do you miss it? The plotting, the scheming? The blood and sex?”

“Enough, Meg,” Cas bites out.

Meg falls back into the seat, pouting. “Just let me out when we get to the motel. If you’ve attracted Heaven’s attention, I want no part of this. Hard enough to stay off Crowley’s radar when you’re not shining a spotlight around.”

Sam frowns, glaring out the window. “What are you planning?”

No response, both of them sitting in stony silence as Dean pulls the car into the motel parking lot.

“Okay, that’s it. I’ve had enough of this silent treatment bullshit.” Dean turns the car off and twists around in his seat. “What the fuck are you hiding? Didn’t you learn your lesson after opening Purgatory?”

More silence.

Dean bails out of the car, slamming the door behind him, walking stiffly towards the room. Sam follows him, itching to get out of his suit before Dean drags him halfway across the country in a single day again. Shower again too, if there’s time, get the dust and dirt off of him.

“I don’t…” Dean shakes his head, flings his suit jacket onto the bed before starting to roughly pull his dress shirt off. “Get changed, let’s go.”

 


 

 

In the space of a week, some worthless sacks of pus lost Crowley’s favorite chew toy in their scramble to get back to Hell and then he finds out someone has been killing the demons he set to look for Lucifer’s crypts?

This is unacceptable.

His temper flares when he enters the vault. There’s still plenty of valuable material here, but at least two items are missing, maybe more. He can feel the echoes of them, and the places that are missing their dust.

“Guthrie,” he calls. There’s a split second before Guthrie steps from behind the wall, already bowing. “Who reported this?”

Guthrie checks his ever present notepad before looking up. “One of the younger ones. But she’s proven herself reliable and trustworthy.”

“No connection to Moose or Squirrel?”

“Not that I’m aware of. Anything is, of course, possible, but I doubt it’s more than any other young demon.”

“I want a full report. All of it. Check who she made her original deal with, investigate them too. Everything.” Crowley looks around the room, what’s still present, “I’ll deal with this personally.”

It will take longer, if he moves everything by himself, but he doesn’t trust anyone-- not even Guthrie-- with the locations of his storage facilities.

Chapter Text

The adrenaline is long gone by the time they finish changing, leaving Sam shaky and exhausted. Stumbling out to the car, he drops his bag into the trunk before noticing that Meg’s taken off. “Where’d she go?”

“She doesn’t feel safe here.” Cas rolls his eyes pointedly. “Despite my reassurances, she’s convinced you want to kill her.”

“Of course I want to kill her!” Dean grinds out behind Sam. “She’s a demon, Cas!”

“And you’re a human and I’m an angel. What does that have to do with anything?”

“Are you freaking-- We can’t trust her! Sam, tell him!”

Shaking his head and suppressing a cough, Sam pushes Cas towards the front of the car. “I want a nap. Figure your own shit out.”

Dean nods stiffly, throwing his bag into the trunk and swinging around to the driver’s seat. “Awesome.”

Sam rolls his eyes before climbing in. “You could try being less of a dick.”

“I’m being a-- Are you fucking kidding me?”

Sam leans forward to meet Dean’s gaze in the mirror, “Yeah, you’re being a dick. And you know it too.” Sitting back, he leans against the door and closes his eyes. Let Dean figure out his bullshit on his own. Hopefully, without murdering Cas in the meantime.

“You coming?” Dean calls.

The door creaks open and thuds shut while Cas tries to get comfortable in the front seat. Sam keeps his eyes closed, nothing is worth getting caught up in their pissing match.

They stay silent until they reach the interstate and Sam dozes off.

 


 

 

Dean waits until Sam falls asleep before pushing play on whatever tape he has in the radio, adjusting the volume until it’s loud enough to prevent easy conversation without waking Sam up.

The tail end of Heartbreaker plays before the soft crackle pop of an empty tape. Dean angrily thumps the steering wheel before reaching over to flip the tape. He doesn’t want to talk to Cas, doesn’t want to deal with whatever mess he’s gotten himself mixed up in, doesn’t want any of it.

Cas turns the volume back down as soon as Dean flips the tape, turning it quiet enough that Dean has to hear him. Every time Dean turns the volume up, Cas turns it back down, a silent squabble.

Fine. If Cas wants to talk about this, they’ll talk about it. “I can’t believe you’re making deals with demons again. What the hell, man?”

Cas sighs heavily beside him. “Meg wants the same thing we do: Crowley off the throne. The reasons behind it are unimportant, a disorganized Hell can only help us.”

“You’re trusting a demon, Cas. Meg! She’s not on our side! She’s just looking for a chance to screw us!”

“She had that chance, when I was locked in a mental ward, having taken on Sam’s Hell trauma. She did nothing. What do you think she was waiting for?”

“Well, you just handed her something out of Lucifer’s vault for one. Fuck if I know what, but you ain’t that slick, stud.”

“The Seal is of no use to us on Earth and limited use to her in Hell,” Cas says firmly. “The most valuable thing in that vault was the angel tablet. Which Naomi now has.”

“So how’s that going to come back and bite us in the ass, anyway?”

Cas sighs, settling further into the seat. “It’s a tablet, I have no idea why Naomi is so intent on getting it. Without someone who can read it, it’s a very old paper weight.”

“Kevin,” Dean sighs. “He’s already stuck with us. What’s a few more years? Or, ya know, the rest of his life.”

Cas stares out the window at the passing trees. “There is one other, but no one has seen Metatron in centuries. He, most likely, is dead.”

“Not much can kill an angel.” Dean says slowly. “Why would he be able to read it anyway?”

“Metatron is, was, the Scribe of God,” Cas says simply. “What our Father dictated, Metatron transcribed. He had horrible handwriting.”

“Right…” Dean draws out. “Okay, level with me. If I put you in the same room as Kevin, are you going to be able to fight off your orders or whatever?

Cas doesn’t answer, looking out the window.

“Great. Awesome.” Dean presses the gas pedal a bit harder, as if he can leave all the bullshit behind in small town Missouri. “Glad we talked.”

They’re about halfway home when Dean pulls the car into a truckstop for a break. Sam and Cas follow him slowly into the diner that’s winding up the dinner rush.

“Sit anywhere you’d like, guys. I’ll be with you in a jiff.” The waiter waves them towards a few cleared tables near the kitchen.

Cas slides into the first available booth, his back to the kitchen and watching the gas station.

Sam sits across from him with a yawn and stretches his legs out. “Sorry, Dean. I’ve been stuck in the backseat all day.”

Dean frowns before sitting next to Cas. “You wanted the backseat. How is it my fault you’re cramped?”

“Shut up, jerk.”

Dean sighs, flicks his foot into Sam’s shin. “Bitch.”

The waiter-- Geoff according to his name tag-- bustles over, laying down menus and three glasses of water. “Anything else to drink tonight, fellas? I’ll give you a few minutes to look at the menus.”

Dean pushes the menu away once Geoff is gone-- he knows what he’s going to get-- and plays with his silverware while the other two look them over. “So Naomi and Heaven have the angel tablet...”

Cas rolls his eyes. “I already told you. Without Kevin or someone else who can read it, it’s a complicated rock. Unless you want to shut down Heaven as well, let Naomi have it.”

“That’s great, Cas, but she’s the one giving you orders right now. How can we even know if you actually think that? She wants it, that’s a pretty good indication she shouldn’t have it.”

“You’re right, of course. But splitting our resources is pointless, particularly since, again, Naomi can’t do anything with it.”

“Shutting down Heaven.” Sam leans forward. “We could do that?”

“Presumably, the angel tablet will mirror the demon tablet, and there will be a way. However, shutting down Heaven could have devastating effects.”

“Like?” Dean asks testily. “Gotta say, most of your siblings are dicks. Wouldn’t mind if they disappeared forever.”

“Everyone who dies will be trapped in the Veil.” Cas swallows. “Some of them might filter into Hell, but trapping that many in the Veil…” He trails off.

“Even if only one in ten becomes a ghost,” Sam says slowly, “We’re still talking about thousands, millions of ghosts.”

Dean takes a long drink of his water.

“Precisely. There may come a time when we need to do that. But right now, I feel safer with it in Heaven’s hands. They certainly won’t work against themselves.”

Dean makes a sharp gesture with his hand as Geoff comes back over with a coffee pot in one hand and Sam’s iced tea in the other. “Alright fellas, we’ll start with the B.F.G. over here.” He gestures towards Sam with his order pad, coyly chewing on his pen cap.

‘B.F.G.?’ Cas mouths while Sam rattles off his rabbit food order. Dean pats his leg, he’ll explain later.

Dean orders a cheeseburger and Cas gets an order of onion rings-- his standard order when he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself-- and they wait for Geoff to wander back off.

“BFG, big friendly giant,” Dean says quickly. “You gonna let him down easy, Sammy?”

“He wasn’t flirting,” Sam insists, half twisting around to see where Geoff’s disappeared to. “He was being friendly. Probably to get a better tip.”

“Yeah, the tip of your dick,” Dean snorts. “Bet his phone number is scribbled on the ticket that he slides to you.”

Sam looks thoughtful for a moment before nodding. “Sure. Laundry duty for a week?”

“You’re on ammo duty. Deal.”

Cas looks utterly confused for a moment before shaking his head. “As we were saying, the angel tablet doesn’t matter. We can’t close Heaven, the consequences are well outside of our ability to stop.”

Dean grabs a sugar packet and stirs it into his (burnt) coffee. “So, we’re back to my original question. If you and Kevin are in the same room, are you going to drag him to Heaven?”

He’s probably not supposed to notice the tiny shudder that runs through Cas, or his mouth opening and closing a couple of times while he fights with something. That’s not good. If Cas is having trouble fighting the instruction to not talk about it with them…

Cas takes a deep breath and flexes his shoulders before relaxing. “I can fight my orders. Maybe even break them if I’m prepared. I won’t allow anyone to harm Kevin.” He sucks down some of his water. “Dean, I really am sorry--”

“Stop. Don’t worry about it,” Dean cuts Cas off. “What’s done is done.”

Cas grimaces, but doesn’t say anything else.

Geoff, handily proving Dean’s point, comes back around to check on them. “Okay gentlemen, Hot Stuff. Your meals should be up in just a moment.” He winks at Sam, refilling Dean’s coffee with one hand and their waters with the other. “Anything else you might desire?”

“I… I think we’re okay,” Sam chokes out.

“I bet you’re a lot better than okay,” Geoff says, picking up the pitcher and swaying back towards the kitchen.

Dean waits for him to get out of earshot before he starts to laugh. “It’s like you’ve never flirted before.”

“Not with a guy!” Sam hisses. “Straight, remember?”

Dean waves the statement away. “Gonna be so great to not have to do laundry or deal with Nathan’s moldy ass storage unit. Remember to grab some bronze buckshot this time.”

Sam glares at him for a moment before turning to Cas. “You spent a year with him in Purgatory. Couldn’t you have, I don’t know, beaten the twelve year old out of him? Or gotten Benny to do it?”

Cas stares at him for a moment before cracking a smile. “If you couldn’t, what chance do I have?”

Sam falls over laughing while Dean pushes at Cas’s shoulder. “Asshole.”

Cas’s eyes dance in the light. The urge to disappear into the depths of the Bunker with Cas is sounding pretty good right now, or finding an out of the way corner to see if he can make Cas grin like that for other reasons.

Geoff chooses that moment to bring their food over, depositing it on the tables in front of them before pulling a bottle of ketchup out of his apron pocket. “Okay, cheeseburger for tall and macho, onion rings for tall and trench coat, and a salad for tall and handsome. Need anything else?” he asks, waiting for their responses. “Okay. I’m dying for a cigarette, so I’ll be back after I take care of that. Unless you want to join me?” He raises an eyebrow at Sam who just looks flabbergasted.

Taking pity on Sam, Dean shakes his head. “He doesn’t smoke, man. Sorry.”

“His loss. I could suck on something else too,” Geoff shoots back before disappearing.

“Holy fuck, what the hell?”

“Sam,” Cas says seriously, “I believe that man would like to copulate with you.”

“Yeah, got that. Thanks.” Shaking his head, he pours his salad dressing over the pile of lettuce in front of him. “Don’t we have something else to talk about? Anything else?”

They dissolve into telling Cas about the last couple of weeks, filling him in on the plan to close Hell for good. Cas doesn’t touch his onion rings, but steals a couple of Dean’s fries while they talk. It’s a quiet relaxed meal, which convinces Dean more than anything else that everything is about to go to shit.

While Sam’s paying for their meal-- Geoff handed Sam the check and a slip of paper with his phone number on it, so Dean wins that bet-- Dean’s phone buzzes with a text. Pulling it out of his pocket, Dean is momentarily confused by the sets of numbers until his brain clicks online. Coordinates.

“Sammy, let me see your phone.”

Sam barely pauses, passing Dean his phone before turning back to the register. Typing the first set of coordinates into the GPS app on Sam’s phone, Dean stares at it for a moment, trying to figure out why Blackwater Ridge sounds familiar. He shows it to Cas. “Do you recognize this?”

Cas thinks for a moment. “The wendigo hunt according to the Winchester gospels. Why would someone text you that address though?”

Dean shakes his head, leading the way back out to the car. He needs a map and his journal.

Fifteen minutes later, the list of things he needs has expanded to include a bottle of whiskey, the demon knife, and someone he can kill, probably Crowley. Every set of location is an old hunt and a breaking news alert that someone they saved is dead.

Scribbling down the details from the last one-- Prosperity, Indiana, where Sarah Blake was just found dead in a cheap motel room-- Dean looks up bleakly. “Any ideas?”

Sam pulls his laptop out of his bag and sets it on the trunk, pausing to cough a couple of times, “All found dead in locked rooms. Some choked on their own blood, some torn to shreds…”

“Hellhounds,” Cas breathes out.

“Fuck.” Dean flips through his journal. There’s been hundreds of hunts over the years, how the hell is he supposed to know which ones were important?

His phone rings, the same number that sent the text coming up. “What?” He barks into the phone.

“So you received my text then,” Crowley says smoothly.

“What the fuck do you want, Crowley?”

“I want what every demon wants. A few souls, a nice spot for some torture, some time with my dog.” He pauses. “Except you’ve killed my dog. And invaded my torture spot. You’ve already ruined my day, Dean. You might be a little more polite.”

Sam grabs his phone off the map Dean has spread across the trunk when it buzzes, stepping away. Dean can hear him murmuring something over the sound of Crowley’s chatter.

“I’ll get right on that,” Dean snaps. “Being polite to demons. Always my favorite activity.”

“In this case, it really will be.”

“Dean, Kevin found it,” Sam says quietly, distracting him from whatever Crowley is monologuing about now. “I’m not sure how to do it, but at least we know what.”

Dean nods, gesturing for Sam to tell Cas what they’ve found. He can get caught up on the drive.

“Are you listening to me, Squirrel?”

“Torture, blah blah, death, blah blah, we’ve ruined your day. Can’t even describe how little I care.”

“You really should keep a closer eye on your family,” Crowley says slowly. “I couldn’t believe what a little birdie dropped off for me yesterday.”

Dean’s eyes flick to Cas and Sam, angled towards each other at the front of the car. “My family--” he starts. “Henry. You kidnapped Henry.”

“Kidnapped is such a strong word,” Crowley sneers. “He was so eager to come take a look at my library, he never really stopped to think about anything else.”

“What do you want, Crowley?” Dean grinds out again.

“For you to stop. I can’t send my dogs or demons after you, not when I don’t know what you’re doing. But Henry? Every person you’ve ever saved? You can’t protect them all, Dean. You can’t protect any of them.” Crowley pauses for a long moment while what he’s saying sinks in. “One will die every twelve hours you don’t stand down. Do you understand me?”

Swallowing, Dean nods, “Yeah. I understand you.”

“Let’s see… The lovely Ms. Blake died about eleven hours ago, choking on the breath Sammy stole. I expect your surrender in the next hour,” Crowley says. “That should be sufficient time to call off Moose and the Halo.”

 


 

 

Crowley viciously hits the end call button and slips his phone back into his pocket as Henry reenters the library.

“There are books here, scrolls even, that I didn’t know still existed! How is this not part of the Men of Letters?” Henry asks, petting the binding of the book in his hand.

Crowley pushes him off with some sort of benign explanation, encourages him to go through the library, find anything he wants copies of. “We’ve made a point of hunting down anything we could get our hands on. These books were meant to be used.”

Henry nods. “The way they should be. We research and the trusted hunters destroy.” He stares at the pile of books he has on the end table next to his chair. “It’s so easy to forget that the lore is the hard part.”

Crowley looks at him blankly. The lore is the hard part? Henry might not be as good of a bargaining chip as he thought. He certainly doesn’t have much in common with the boys.

Shaking his head, he pushes the thought aside. Henry is the best leverage he has, and given the flannel wearing morons’ obsession with family, the best he could ask for.

Dean calls him back well within an hour, unconditional surrender in hand. “We give, alright. Don’t… just don’t.”

Crowley steps outside, motioning for Guthrie to keep an eye on Henry while he negotiates with Dean. “I want a contact to that effect. Signed.”

“Fine,” Dean growls. “Where are you? I’ll meet you there.”

“No, that’s not going to happen,” Crowley snorts. “Morgantown, West Virginia. Tomorrow morning. I’ll text you the exact address when we’re closer to the meeting time.”

“I don’t--”

“Not my problem. You can show up and sign the contract or I can resume killing.”

“Fuck you, Crowley.”

“In the morning, darling. And I really don’t think I’m the bottom in this relationship, do you?”

The phone call ends abruptly.

Crowley looks down at his phone and chuckles before sliding it into his pocket. The Winchesters will be wrapped up in getting across the country, Castiel will do whatever he normally does when on the run from Heaven, and Naomi-- that bitch-- won’t have any say in it. Whatever they’re trying to accomplish averted.

Henry is blathering about something when Crowley re-enters the library, boring Guthrie nearly to tears. Guthrie shoots him a grateful look before leaving. Henry doesn’t even notice.

They spend the night that way. Guthrie comes in periodically with updates but otherwise they are undisturbed. It’s the longest Crowley has been out of Hell since he took the throne and his current favorite vacation. He might just need to keep this abandoned mental hospital for his own use. It is certainly more relaxing than being surrounded by fire and brimstone.

 


 

Sam looks down at the file in his hand and the door in front of him. The file says he should find room 7B behind this door, but they’ve been in this room before-- it’s just file storage. Shrugging, he pushes open the door and starts looking for a hidden doorway or trap door. Something they wouldn’t have noticed immediately.

Kevin takes the other side of the room, scanning the shelves for anything useful. “What’s this?”

Turning, Sam looks down at the arc of darker material embedded in the floor that extends beyond the shelf. “Huh.” Nodding at Kevin to take the other side, they pull on the shelves. They move easily, balanced on hinges that allow the shelves to move forward and to the sides without disturbing any of the contents.

“Neat.” Clicking on his flashlight, Kevin shines it into the room beyond the shelves. “We have a dungeon?” Kevin asks, stunned. “I thought this was supposed to be a cure for a demon or something.”

Sam nods slowly, pushing into the hidden room. Inlaid demon trap, subtle sigils on the surrounding walls, chains hanging from hooks and… “Jackpot.” Their missing case report sitting on a chair in the center of the trap.

Kevin darts around him to grab the folder while Sam is still looking around. Flipping it open, he captures a film reel with one hand while scanning the pages, muttering under his breath. After a couple minutes, while Sam’s still inspecting the chains and collar piled next to the chair, Kevin looks up. “This is it. We can do this. Uh… Ritual of purified blood, need… a demon, some sanctified blood, Latin, and time.”

Sam nods, grabbing the handcuffs. “Okay. You start figuring out what’s going on with that. I gotta meet Dean or Crowley will think something is going on. Text me the ingredient list and I’ll make sure someone gets it to you, me, us, wherever we end up doing this.”

“You could just get me my own car. And a PO box. I want out of here, Sam. You promised this was my way out.”

Sam sighs and nods, “I know. As soon as it’s done, we’ll start. I don’t want you to get caught in the crossfire.”

“Pretty sure that’s going to happen regardless,” Kevin says dryly. “Or did you forget that Mom’s been missing for months.”

“Forget? No. Moved searching for her to the back burner since she’s repeatedly proven she can look out after herself? Absolutely.”

“It’s my mom, Sam. How would you feel if your mom went missing?”

Sam looks at him for a moment before pushing past and heading down the hallway. He needs to pack a bag and find Cas to hitch a ride back to the Impala. Dean should already be halfway there, the last thing they need is a random demon spotting Dean alone and spilling the beans to Crowley.

Cas is in the kitchen, making a sandwich, when Sam finds him. He pauses, for just a moment, watching an angel of the Lord stare malevolently at half a jar of cheap peanut butter and grape jelly.

“Is this going to be a thing now? You feeding Dean when we’re staring down the apocalypse?” Sam asks, leaning against the doorway.

Cas looks up, stricken, “I thought… There’s one for you as well. There was no time to find and comfort a pig this time…”

“Whoa, Cas. It’s fine. We’re both pretty bad about remembering to eat when we’re stressed.” Sam snags the pile of sandwiches Cas has prepared. “I think we’ve found what we need though, if you’re ready to go.”

Cas nods, tossing the dirty knife into the sink. “I’ll meet you at the doors in a moment.”

Sam takes a moment to make sure he has everything the Impala doesn’t, and goes over the emergency instructions with Kevin again-- they’ve not changed, but the last thing he wants is for Kevin to get captured by demons again or whatever-- before meeting Cas at the front door. “You ready for this?” he asks.

Cas nods briefly before grabbing Sam’s arm and flying them to wherever Dean is waiting for them.

The car swerves sharply in the pre-dawn light when they land before Dean regains control.

“Dammit, Cas!”

“Stopping would have taken too much time.” Cas looks like he wants to say something else, but doesn’t, laying a hand on both their shoulders before flapping away again.

Dean sighs before looking over at Sam in the passenger seat. “Well, Samantha, did you find something? It sure took you long enough to get here.”

Digging into his jacket pocket, Sam unwraps and hands over a sandwich. “So get this: Ritual of Sanctified Blood. Should work, we think. Kevin’s looking at the actual ritual now, he’s gonna send it to me once he’s got it figured out.”

“Awesome. And the sandwich?”

“You’ve given Cas a complex. If he can’t fight with us, he’s feeding us.”

Dean frowns, chomping down and driving into the sun.

“In other news, we have a dungeon. Fully set up to hold demons and God knows what else.”

“We have a dungeon? What the fuck were the douches of letters doing?”

Sam shrugs, pulling the spelled handcuffs from another pocket. “No idea, but we can use it to our advantage.”

Dean looks over at him before nodding. “Alright. Break it down for me.”

“That’s a stupid plan,” Dean says when Sam’s finished. “Are you sure that’s going to work?”

“No, but what other option do we have?” Sam points out. “Two birds, one stone. Maybe more, since it’ll keep Kevin safer too.”

Dean frowns before nodding. “I still think it’s a stupid plan, but you’re right. And I sure don’t have any better ones.”

Looking around the old junkyard, filled with rusted out junkers and half-fixed cars suitable only for the truly desperate, Dean wonders if Crowley thinks this is going to make this harder. There’s a passing resemblance to Bobby’s place, and the reminder hurts, but not enough to make him stupid.

Time really does heal. Or he’s too busy to give a shit.

Crowley’s waiting for them in the clear area near the office. “Well, it certainly took you two long enough to get here. Couldn’t follow the directions on the map?”

Glancing back towards Sam, Dean starts towards Crowley, “We were in Oklahoma last night, you prick. Sorry we couldn’t just jump here with a snap of our fingers.”

“Just for that, I should change the terms of your surrender.”

“Spare us,” Dean spits out. “You won. Give us Henry and we’ll just be on our way.”

In response, Crowley quirks an eyebrow and reaches into his suit jacket, pulling out a scroll. “In that case, if the younger Mr. Winchester will sign right here…”

“No way,” Dean barks. “Sam’s not signing jack squat without me reading it first.”

“I had no idea you were licensed in contract law.” Crowley smirks and unrolls the paper towards Dean. “As you’d like.”

Dean frowns at him, picks up the end of the contract, and starts reading it from the beginning. He only gets a few inches up the twelve foot long sheet of paper when Crowley jerks it.

“Are you gonna read the entire thing aloud?” Crowley asks scornfully. “You really are completely outclassed.”

Dean inhales sharply but doesn’t rise to the bait. Even if they have no intention of signing this, he’s reading every fucking word, just to waste Crowley’s time. Every time Crowley fusses, he moves even slower, reads a bit louder. Yes, it’s petty, but it’s the sort of petty that Dean has no issues falling into.

He’s a bit more than halfway through when Henry strolls over from where ever Crowley has been stashing him. “Dean? What are you doing here?”

“Saving your ass,” Dean grits out. “I’m busy.”

“With what?” Henry scoffs. “You can’t possibly be reading that contract and making sense of it. Your brother, maybe. But contract law is a bit cerebral for you.”

“Oh, Dean understands more than you give him credit for,” Crowley says. “Ignores the niceties, but how else would he know where to stomp his feet?”

Neck burning, Dean ignores him, ignores Sam’s protests behind him, ignores all of it. He drops the pretense of reading slower than normal and starts just scanning the damn contract. It doesn’t matter.

At least Henry and Sam are providing a useful distraction, their argument keeping Crowley from paying too much attention to Dean while he reads.

“Are you finished yet, Squirrel? Ready to let Jolly Green sign?”

Dean closes his eyes before nodding. “Yeah. Sam?”

Sam pushes past where Henry is still expounding on… something... and pulls a pen from his pocket. “We’re doing this?”

“Of course, you’re doing this,” Crowley scoffs. “It’s the only way to keep dear ol’ granddad alive after all--” He snaps his mouth shut when the one bracelet of the spelled handcuffs click shut around his wrist. “What are you doing?”

Dean lets the contract fall to the ground, kicks it out of the way so he can burn it later. “Taking care of business. And you, you’re business.”

Crowley raises his free hand, “I’ll just snap--”

“No, you won’t. You can’t escape these,” Sam says. “So you’re going to come with us and we’re going to have a nice chat about your future as a demon.”

“Demon?” asks Henry, disbelief written across his face. “Are you insane? Roderick is no more a demon than I am.”

Dean looks at Sam, raising an eyebrow. Sam rolls his eyes and shakes his head. So he doesn’t have any idea either. Great.

“Yeah. Demon. King of Hell, actually,” Sam says dryly.

Crowley starts sputtering something as Dean wraps the other bracelet around his wrist. He’ll shut up eventually, maybe. Or not, it doesn’t matter a bit to Dean. “C’mon, your majesty. Time to go.” He frog marches Crowley back to the Impala where Sam already has the trunk open and the gear stored away.

Dean pushes Crowley into the trunk, waggling his fingers in a mockery of goodbye before slamming the lid closed.

Chapter Text

Kevin is waiting for him when he returns to the Bunker, impatiently tightening the tie to a poorly fitted and out of fashion suit. “Let’s go, Cas,” Kevin orders, fidgeting with the tie again. “The file we found doesn’t include a final report. We need this to work, which means talking to the survivor and you can get us there faster than stealing a car.”

“Very well. Where are we going?”

The flight to St. Louis is short, and Father Simon is more than willing to talk to them when they introduce themselves. He’s less happy to discuss the events of March 1957.

“There’s no point,” he says emphatically. “The Men of Letters are extinct, their knowledge lost. And good riddance!”

“Are you a devout man, Father Simon?” Castiel demands.

“I keep my vows,” he says defensively. “I uphold the values of Christ for my parish.”

“That’s not the same thing as devout,” Kevin points out. “Or even faithful.”

“I…” he shakes his head, looking ashamed. “‘Faith is the evidence of things unseen,’ and I have seen far too much, the worst of it the night Father Thompson attempted to cure that demon.”

Kevin frowns, looking uncomfortable in his suit. “If you know, why aren’t you helping?”

“With what?” Simon snorts. “I’m an old man now. No one needs my help.”

“The literal apocalypse has come and gone, twice, and you think no one needs your help?” Castiel stares at the man, waiting for the very human urge to punch him to pass. “Even now, your knowledge would--” He cuts himself off, shaking his head. “Very well. Tell us about the exorcism you assisted Father Thompson with and we’ll leave you to your flock.”

What Simon tells them verifies what they already know-- purified blood, injections, modified Latin-- and not much else. “Father Thompson’s work is what drew Abaddon to us. If you are completing his work, you must ensure the Knight is locked within Hell.”

“I saw her locked there decades ago,” Castiel says coldly. “And again three years ago when I fetched Sam Winchester from Hell. I see no reason why that should have changed.”

“When you did what?”

Castiel ignores the question, guiding Kevin out of the office in front of him and taking flight as soon as they’re in the vestibule.

Standing in a quiet field of sheep, Kevin doubles over laughing. “You did that on purpose.”

“Absolutely not. Miracles should not be performed before the unworthy.” Castiel looks at him, carefully keeping his face blank. “We are on a schedule after all.” He keeps a straight face for a few seconds later before breaking into a smile. “I find myself sharing Dean’s dislike for the Men of Letters.”

“Yeah.” Kevin says. “I love librarians, but one of the things I like most about them is their activism. Preceptors of knowledge, bullshit. They just want all the stories told their way and in their favor.”

“They are not the first to think that controlling knowledge would make them powerful. And sometimes they are correct”

Kevin wrinkles his nose and shakes his head. “You’d think getting almost entirely wiped out would solve that.”

There is no easy response to that-- humanity has surprised Heaven repeatedly with their inability to learn simple lessons-- so Castiel stretches out his wings, shaking the dust from them. Taking Kevin’s arm, he pauses. “Would you like to go somewhere other than the Bunker? It is the safest place, however I understand it is… confining.”

“I knew you spied on us.” Kevin thinks for a moment before shaking his head. “Stifling or not, I don’t want to risk running into a demon right now. There’s too much at stake.”

Castiel nods, unsurprised by the amount of foresight. “In that case, we should be on our way.”

He is distracted, just for a moment, by a half-realized prayer from Dean, cut off before it even really begins.

Without thought, they are on the edges of Heaven as his instincts take over.

Releasing Kevin for a moment, Castiel flares his wings and drops his blade into his hand. “Kevin, stay--”

“Hello Castiel,” Orphiel says behind him. “Naomi would like to see you.”

Angels seize Castiel’s arms and wings, trying to hold him in place and helpless. At the same time, two others attempt to grab Kevin.

Frantically, Castiel yanks his arm out of Orphiel’s grip, dropping his sword into his hand. Twisting, he ignores the scream of pain from his wings and slashes at the angel holding his left arm. The tip of his blade tears into her, grace spilling out.

She steps back in shock, pressing a limb against the wound with a shout.

“Kevin, run!” Castiel yells down the hallway.

Kevin drops, pushing under the restraining arms, and sprints down the hallway.

More angels appear, circling Castiel. Holding his sword high as a warning, he tries to back himself into a corner, but there are none.

Another angel grabs his wings, dragging the sensitive lower edge forward and out, keeping him from using them as battering rams to force his way out. More angels pile on, pulling Castiel to the ground and pinning him under their weight.

Struggling to free himself, he catches a glimpse of the empty hallway with no Kevin in sight. Orphiel wrenches Castiel’s head up and back and forces him into unconsciousness.

 


 

Blinking, Castiel stares at the white office walls in front of him, trying to figure out where he is. Still in Heaven, he recognizes that much, but he’s never seen this room. He doesn’t think.

“Castiel. With us at last,” Naomi purrs behind him.

He tries to turn around to look, jerking against restraints that lash him to a chair. “What are you doing? Let me go!”

Her shoes rap sharply against the floor, coming closer, but not where he can see her. Sharp nails run through his hair, her touch dry. “Heaven has been on the brink of civil war for the last two years.” The hand tightens, yanking his head back against the headrest.

“Naomi--” he starts before his voice is cut off, Naomi’s grace stilling his vocal cords.

“I have tried, over and over again, to bring you into the fold. But Metatron was right. You will never follow orders.”

Castiel jerks his head in shock, shouting soundlessly.

“Oh, yes. Our other problem has also returned to the Host. So now there is just you.” Naomi falls silent, coming around to face him and moving a tray of tools into position. “No matter how much I twist and bend, you never do what you’re told. Not completely.” The drill whirs into motion as she picks it up. “I suppose I shall just have to go deeper.”

He tries to scream.

 


 

They drop Henry off somewhere in Kentucky. South of Louisville, Dean thinks, too tired to do more than stop in an abandoned parking lot and wait for Henry to climb out. He’ll be back certainly, like a bad penny (and pissed, probably, but that’s not Dean’s problem), but for right now, he’s out of their hair.

Rolling through northern Missouri, Dean glances over at Sam. “Shouldn’t Cas and Kevin have called by now?”

“Maybe it took longer to find the priest than expected. Or…”

“Or I fucked up in trusting Cas and he took the demon tablet and Kevin to that Naomi bitch and he’s off sipping pina coladas on a beach somewhere.”

Sam raises an eyebrow, picks his phone up and fiddles with it. “You really think he sold us out for a Jimmy Buffet song?”

“Something’s gone wrong.”

“Dean, if they don’t show, we’ll improvise. Not like it’d be the first time.”

Grimacing, Dean presses heavier on the accelerator.

Cas yells run and Kevin books it. He doesn’t pay any attention to where he is or where he’s going, opening a door off the corridor at random and slamming it shut behind him.

The transition is a shock, the cold white of the corridors abruptly switching to a warm sunny afternoon. Glancing around, he vaguely recognizes the campus before he catches sight of a young woman rushing towards the Student Union, worn bag bouncing against her back.

“Mom?” Kevin breathes, freezing for a moment before sprinting after her. “Mom! Mom!” he calls, but she ignores him.

Kevin follows her through the building, past dozens of nearly faceless students bearing lunch trays and backpacks to a quiet out of the way study corner on the second floor. A young man is sitting on the floor, a couple of sandwiches balanced on his bag while he uses the end table as a desk, scribbling notes in the margins of a textbook.

Mom drops down beside him when he looks up, his face lighting up when he sees her. Kevin awkwardly looks away as the pair greets each other passionately, kissing like there’s no tomorrow.

Which, if he thinks about it too hard, there isn’t. This memory-vision-whatever is all they have.

“Thanks for bringing lunch, Stephen,” Mom says, digging into her bag and pulling out a couple cans of pop. “Too stressed out for that Calc midterm.”

Dad responds, but Kevin’s too frozen to hear it. Mom said they’d met during college, that they spent a lot of time in the Union, but somehow… he’d never put that together with lunch dates between classes, being young and in love, sneaking kisses.

A hand lands heavily on his shoulder, dragging him away. “C’mon, kid. You can’t stay here.”

Kevin spins around, jumping away. “Who the fuck are you?”

The guy snorts beneath his luchador mask, swirling his cape back. “Not here. Let’s move before the angels get to you.”

“And why the hell should I trust you?”

“Look, kid. I’ve been doing this long enough to know a living soul when I see one. Whatever you’re doing here? You do not want the angels finding you.”

Kevin snorts. “My life for the last year has been avoiding angels. And demons. And everything else.”

Luchador mask looks over sharply from where he’s drawing something on a nearby door. “Hunter?”

“Prophet.” Kevin swallows, looking back at his parents, blissful with their whole lives in front of them. “It sucks.”

“Oh, never had one of those to rescue. Cool. Come with me if you want to live.” Luchador casts open the door, brilliant golden light nearly blinding Kevin. “After you.”

Looking at the guy closely, Kevin shrugs and steps through the portal. Whatever awaits him on the other side can’t be worse than watching his dad’s Heaven.


 

The prison they toss him in is near torturous-- a tiny windowless, airless cell, more of the ubiquitous white walls, light streaming from everywhere and nowhere. No room to stretch his wings, or legs, or any limb at all.

Reaching up, he scratches idly at his temple, dried blood flaking away. Shuddering, he roughly rubs his hands through his hair, trying to get the worst of it out, until the floor in front of him is showered in speckles of blood.

Backing himself into the corner, he crouches and tries to call his grace, tries to force himself out of the cell. When nothing happens, he tries again, and again, his grace refusing to respond beyond the weakest acknowledgement of his will. The effort is dizzying and he presses further into the corner, pressing his head against his knees.

Whoever has imprisoned him leaves him alone-- after all, angels require neither food nor drink-- and short of shouting his crimes at him, there is little point in torturing him.

He almost wishes they would tell him his crimes. He knows he deserves to be here, because he…

Whatever it was, it involved humanity, but that is all his memory will give him.

Castiel sees no one, hears no one. Ages in silence, broken only by whatever noise he himself makes.

He’s humming when the voice floats down the hall, “Peace, brother. Is that what the Host calls music these days?”

It takes him aback for a moment while he concentrates on remembering the song. The artist’s name eludes him, where he heard it, how he knows it. Castiel shrugs before realizing that whoever is in the other cells can’t see him. “Earth, humanity’s. And I am a poor performer.”

The voice ‘hmms’ and chuckles. “You will never learn, Castiel.”

“What?”

“Imprisoned yet again, you still sing their songs, protect them. How is your precious Righteous Man?”

“Again?” Castiel blinks rapidly, searching his memory for what the other angel is talking about. There’s nothing, not even a blank spot to indicate something is missing. Slowly, he looks down at his vessel’s-- his-- hands. They’re unscarred, of course, but he can see the delicate tracery of old wounds in his grace, scars that will never completely heal. Many of them are far newer than he has any recollection of. Gingerly, he looks at the rest of his self, following the scarred paths onto his torso.

“I don’t…”

“Of course, you don’t,” the other angel scoffs. Castiel is certain that he should know the angel’s name, there’s something vitally wrong with the angel’s lack of name, that he knows him so well. “Naomi always does a through wipe.”

Castiel finds himself in the corner again, straining to materialize his blade with no result. “Wipe?”

“Dean Winchester.”

“Who is--” Castiel breaks off, the name clicking in place. Dean. His grace pulses wildly with the name, throbbing with almost-pain. “Dean.” Reaching up, he presses a hand to his chest, over the worst of the scarring, and presses. The pulse eases and with it comes his memory, or at least the important parts-- Dean, Sam, Kevin. “I cannot…”

The first and second restraints on his grace break before he has time to notice them at all. His grace breaks free of the deeply carved paths, overflowing and rushing through his vessel. He screams, almost-pain/pleasure/numbness washing over him, dragging him…

“Ah, yes,” the other angel says quietly. “Naomi did threaten to bind you the last time you were here.”

“What is happening?”

“You know what is happening, Castiel. You’re overthrowing the chains Naomi bound you in.”

Slowly, his grace calms, retreats to the hot wellspring at the center of his being. Gasping, Castiel stays bent over while he assesses what is going on.

Heaven doesn’t need chains if the prisoners are forced to be powerless, with only enough grace to stay alive. But he is free, the bindings caught up in his memory, with Dean. As long as some part of him remembers Dean, they will never be able to hold him captive.

The third seal, the final one, is beyond what he can break on instinct. It will require concentration and time, two things in very short supply. The guards will have heard him, will be here any moment…

Blasting the hinges off the cell door, Castiel squeezes through, ignoring the shouting angel behind him and running.

 


 

The luchador leads Kevin through a bunch of different heavens-- a boat, a couple houses, an abandoned warehouse-- before finally stopping in a rundown bar. The dim lights don’t show much beside the bar and a couple of pool tables over to the side. The luchador drags Kevin over to the bar, pushing him onto one of the stools and dramatically clapping his hands. “Welcome to the Roadhouse.” The lights come up, illuminating the rest of the room.

The added light does the place no favors, but at least now Kevin can see. “Yeah, great. Who are you?”

Dude sighs, pulling the mask off and tossing it onto the bartop. “Ash. I’m dead, you’re not, which brings us to a very interesting question about what exactly is interacting here,” he says in a rush, waving a hand between them. “However, I’d much rather have a beer and not think about it since it gives me a headache.” He leans over the bar top and snags a couple of cans, sliding one down to Kevin.

Politely, Kevin pops the can and takes a swig, nearly gagging at the taste and setting the can down firmly. Ash drinks the same bitter pisswater Dean does. “Great. Wanna tell me what’s going on here?”

“You’re on the run, compadre. Need somewhere to hide while you’re upstairs? This is… Everyone’s got their own heaven, right? This one is mine. You can hang out here while I try to figure out how to get you back to Earth without involving the winged douchenozzles.” Ash disappears through one of the swinging doors at the back of the bar.

Alone, Kevin abandons his beer and wanders over towards the pool table. He’s shit and it’s not his sort of thing, but it beats sitting alone with a beer he’ll never drink when he sees the markings on the edge of the pool table. Small sigils replacing the diamonds, hidden in plain sight.

Looking around, he sees more, cleverly worked into the neon signs and posters, tap handles, even the light fixtures.

Ash pushes back through the door, a computer in his hands, followed by a middle aged woman and a blonde girl younger than Sam. They both look right at home here, moving around Ash without any confusion.

The girl sizes Kevin up before shrugging and moving towards the arcade game in the corner, hammering the side with her fist before taking up position with the fake rifle.

“Kevin, my man. Come meet Ellen and Jo.” Ash waves a hand towards Ellen. “Sam and Dean got them killed too.”

“You said I wasn’t dead,” Kevin points out. He continues to pick out the sigils lining the place, the ones he recognizes almost all of the anti-angel of some variety or another.

Ash shrugs, types something on the keyboard and watches overlapping waves overtake the screen. “Never said it was you that was dead.”

“Don’t worry about it, kid. Dr. Badass over there is talking nonsense,” Ellen has taken up a place behind the bar, sliding Kevin’s beer down to Ash and replacing it with a Coke. “Now fill us in so we can get you back home.”

Slowly, Kevin spills all of it, the tablets and the plan to close down Hell. “We’re supposed to meet Sam and Dean at some church. I don’t know what went wrong-- Cas took off like normal and then we were surrounded by angels.”

Ellen frowns and refills his pop, glancing over at Jo. “You spend more time bouncing around than just about anyone else, you ever heard of anything like that?”

“Mom, I’m jumping between heavens. It’s not like I’m stopping to pick up the local gossip,” Jo shoots back, taking a final shot at the arcade screen before wandering over. “I’m more worried about what’s going on with Cas.”

Ellen snorts. “He was always a strange one. Even back during the Apocalypse.”

Kevin stays silent, lets them work through the problem-- or whatever. He’s still not sure why these people dragged him in here, but it’s better than whatever the angels had planned for him.

Without anything to add, he sketches down the wardings that he can see so he can research them when he gets back to the Bunker. Maybe if he comes back with enough information, he can convince them to go along with the rest of his plan.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Ash says loudly, backing away from his laptop. “Something big just exploded, all over the airwaves.”

“What?” Kevin snaps. “What happened?”

Ash glances at his screen before tapping at the keyboard. “Not ‘Dean Winchester is saved’ level of noise, but not far from it. We’re way over baseline.”

“What does that mean?” Jo asks, pulling a jacket out of nowhere and jerking it on. “Did they find us?”

“I don’t know yet,” Ash bites out. “You know this shit takes time. I’m good, but I’m not magic.”

“Hurry up,” she orders, grabbing Kevin’s arm and jerking him behind the bar. “We don’t have time to get Kev anywhere outside of here, so you better hope those fancy symbols of yours do something.”

Ellen is already behind the bar, pulling open a trapdoor and jumping down. Jo pushes Kevin towards the opening, watching the still empty bar.

The room underneath the bar is strangely warm, and pitch black. Ellen pushes Kevin ahead of her into the darkness, harshly ‘shh’ when he opens his mouth. “Get in there and shut the fuck up, kid.”

She follows him closely along with another pair of footsteps that he thinks belong to Jo. A moment later, the floor section thunks down, cutting off the last of the light.

Kevin breathes as quietly as he can, counting his heartbeat, trying to keep it slow. Panicking will do him no good, will hurt Ellen and Jo and probably Ash who’s done nothing but try to be helpful…

He can feel his breathing speed up as his thoughts spin out of control, made worse by the black grave he’s found himself in. The angels are going to find him and then he’ll be stuck here forever, or worse, taken to the desert to do their fucking translating and he’ll never get out and there won’t even be Game of Thrones or WoW to give him a break and…

The trap door opens, spilling scant light into the hole.

Ellen and Jo don’t move, staying hidden in the shadows until a flannel clad arm pokes through the entrance and waves at them. “We’re clear. Cas is not. We need to go.”

Kevin is the first one to emerge from the hole, blinking in the light before offering Ellen and then Jo a hand up.

Ash pulls them over towards his computer, pointing at some display or another. It’s too technical for Kevin to understand right off the bat, but he gets the important things: The angels are broadcasting that they’ve captured the great rebel and Cas has already been taken for ‘reeducation.’

Jo shudders beside him. “Jesus, he didn’t fuck around, did he?” At Kevin’s questioning glance, she explains, “I… managed to catch a look once. It’s torture and brainwashing at best. Sticking drills into their heads. Gross as all get out.”

Ellen looks at her sharply before turning back to Ash.

“We can’t let them do that to Cas,” Kevin says hesitantly. “He hasn’t done anything to deserve that.”

“So we get him out. And then he can take you back to Earth and we can resume dodging them at every opportunity.”

Ellen frowns and shakes her head. “I’ll warn everyone else, get a backup crew ready to go. Bill’s been whining about the lack of hunting up here anyway.”

“So you’re going to hunt angels instead?”

“You know what this place is, kid? The Matrix,” Ellen says seriously. “All of us in our very own little cell, powering up god knows what. And yeah, we get to do it with our best memories, but there’s still a huge problem with the system.”

“Well, I’m in,” Jo says, rubbing her hands together. “Chance to mess with some angel fucks? Awesome. Too bad we don’t know how to kill them.”

“Angel blades,” Kevin offers. “No idea how to get ahold of them, but…”

“Like Cas’s stiletto?” Jo asks. “I can work with that. The question is if they all carry them or if only certain classes do.”

Kevin shrugs. “No idea. Every angel I’ve seen does, but if they’re going to Earth…”

“They’re all going to be warriors of some variety, yeah.” Jo frowns. “We’ll worry about it later.”

It only takes a few minutes for Ash to disappear and come back in his luchador outfit, tossing Kevin a mask while Jo rolls her eyes. “You know if we do this right, those are just in the way. And if we do it wrong, it won’t matter anyway.”

“If they can’t see my face, they can’t identify me while we’re running away. More than that, they can’t ID him.” Ash jerks his thumb towards Kevin.

Kevin sighs and looks down at the hot pink and white mask in his hands, a silver star extending from the forehead, slowly loosening the lacing in the back. “Is this really necessary?”

“We must hide our faces to keep anyone from following us,” Ash says earnestly, artfully whipping his cape around.

“Alright.” Pulling the mask over his head, Kevin pushes his hair back out of his eyes. “I still think this is stupid, but it’s for Cas.”

Ellen rolls her eyes and heads out the door first, disappearing into the white light between Heavens. Jo waits a bit, adjusts a chalk symbol on the door before pulling it back open and leading the way.


 

 

The other angel falls silent after a couple of minutes. Or maybe Castiel can’t hear him any longer. He should be able to remember the other angel’s name-- they’ve clearly met before, at least once-- but while these hallways are frustratingly familiar, he doesn’t recognize any of it.

He is almost as old as the stars, there should be no part of Heaven capable of confusing him, but that is exactly what is happening. It’s almost like... the knowledge of this area has been deliberately erased.

Shrugging, he starts choosing turns at random, bypassing empty cells and blank hallways, rushing to find anywhere, anything, that would show him the way out.

Hallway after hallway, corridor after corridor all pass as he rebuilds his knowledge of this place, slotting each turn into his memory. The ease with which is is rebuilt confirms that he should recognize this.

A burst of noise behind him makes him whirl around. Instinctively, he tries to drop his sword into his hand only to come up with a palmful of nothing. Cursing under his breath, Castiel stalks towards the noise-- whatever it is, there was no entrance there he could see-- only to come face to face with several humans, two of them wearing ridiculous masks that do nothing to conceal their identities.

“Hello Jo, Kevin,” he says gravely. “And we’ve not met.”

Jo punches the man next to her in the shoulder. “See, Ash? I told you they were pointless.”

“But masks are exciting!”

“There is nothing you can do to hide your identity from an angel. At best, you can obscure it for a few minutes. There are, after all, many many humans.”

“Great,” Kevin says sarcastically. “Can we get out of here now, please?”

“It’ll take a couple seconds.” Ash is already turning back around, scribbling something on the wall next to their entrance, consulting a notebook in his hand. “And it’s gonna be rough.”

Castiel stiffens as two angels appear behind the trio, swords already in hand. They lunge forward at Kevin as Ash completes the sigils. A burst of light forms in the center of the hole, sputtering and wavering around the edges.

Castiel pushes one of the attacking angels past him, further down the corridor. Out of the corner of his eye, he catches Jo flipping a hunting knife out of a sheath on her belt. He loses sight of her as he meets the angel in front of him.

Anahita is fast, faster than he is, but not as experienced. They sweep their blade towards Castiel, catching his sleeve and ripping through the fabric before he can dodge out of the way. Blinking, Castiel steps further into Anahita’s personal space, jerking them off balance and even closer before punching them in angelic equivalent of the kidney.

The light flares momentarily brighter and the sense of Ash and Kevin disappears from his awareness. Anahita swings again, tries to get past Castiel to follow them.

Castiel takes the blow, awkwardly placed and lacking power. Twisting around, he pulls their arm down and throws his weight to the side. They hit the wall with their shoulders, but Anahita does not drop their blade.

“Rebel,” Anahita spits. “Naomi will drill it out of you again. She always does.”

“How many times--” Castiel breaks off when he looks beyond them. The other angel-- Tabris-- has one arm wrapped around Jo’s neck and her blade pointed directly at Jo’s heart. “Let her go,” Castiel orders, tightening his grip on Anahita’s wrist. The limb erupts in frames followed by the rest of their body. Castiel flinches away, but does not let go.

“You do not give the orders here, broken,” Tabris growls.

Jo’s face turns red, unable to breathe. She deliberately catches Castiel’s eye and blinks slowly, nodding as best she can.

Very well.

Shoving forward, Castiel drags his hand along Anahita’s burning flesh, raking his fingers through their true form-- this would never work if they were in a vessel-- catching the butt of their blade in his palm, angling his fingers to force their hand open. The sword falls, and he captures it in his other hand.

He weighs the blade for a fraction of a second before flinging it at Tabris.

Jo throws herself back, dropping down.

The blade doesn’t land true, lodging awkwardly in Tabris’s shoulder. Grace streams from the wound, but it’s barely incapacitating, let alone deadly.

Anahita tackles him from behind, pummeling him with their fists and wings. He tries to beat them off with his wings, only for them to grab the delicate arches and twist.

Castiel screams, losing focus on everything around him.

An angel’s grace burns out in front of him, beyond their exit, dragging him back to the fight.

He jerks again, steeling himself against the pain, and pulls his wings free.

Jo darts towards them, kicking one of the blades into his hand. She’s bleeding, but doesn’t stop moving, parrying a blow from Anahita’s wings with a slice of her blade.

Anahita recoils, jerking back to better protect themself. Grabbing the sword Jo kicked to him, Castiel flips over, shoving it among the flames.

Jo does the same, shielding her face from the explosion of grace.

Castiel is on his feet in an instant, dropping Tabris’s blade before wrapping an arm around Jo. “We need to go.”

Jo nods, staggering out of his hold to the chalk symbols on the wall. She smudges them, blurring them into incomprehensibility. “C’mon then.” Reaching back, she grabs his hand and jumps into the light between Heavens.


 

 

Cas and Kevin aren’t at the church they’d set up as a meeting point either. Staring out across the abandoned fields, Dean tries to call Cas, nearly chucking his phone into the lake when it goes directly to voicemail again. “Where are you, dammit? We can’t wait much longer.” he breaks off when Sam reemerges from the church, looking worse for wear. “Just… get here, man.”

Dean drops his phone into his pocket, jogging over to Sam. “How’d it go?”

Sam shakes his head, tapping his ear, an all too familiar motion from the last few weeks. Whatever is going on with these trials, whatever they’re doing to Sam, it’s getting worse, not better.

Dean repeats the question, dropping his voice to his lowest register. It helps, sometimes, they’ve discovered.

Sam shrugs, shoves his hands in his pockets. “Not sure if it’s gonna count-- no priest, no one listening but God, no absolution-- but confession complete. Not even sure I covered the important things.” He huffs, “Any word from Cas?”

“Direct to voicemail.” Dean sighs, looks at the Impala sitting across from them. “You ready to do this?”

Sam grimaces, but heads towards the car, yanking open the door to pull out a couple cans of spray paint. “Might as well get started with the stage dressing.”


 

 

They hop through dozens of locations, dodging the rightful inhabitants while trying to obscure their trail from any angel following them. Jo may or may not have a plan as she forges onward; if she does, she’s not sharing it with Castiel.

Instead, he’s left to watch the full spectrum of humanity relive their memories-- a shepherd girl with her crook; a young man leaning over a stove, making dinner while his mother watches; a perfect score in an ice skating competition-- happiness and contentment throughout.

“It always reminds me of the Matrix,” Jo whispers in the back of an army tent, studiously ignoring the trio of lovers behind them. “Keeping us all in our own little cell, never touching another person again.”

Castiel shrugs, watching the sigils form under her fingers on the flap. The tent is small, and they cannot move beyond it. “Some do. They will, when they are all dead.” He gestures behind them. “It is not an ideal system. But my father put it into place and we followed his will.”

Jo hrmphs before twitching the back of the tent open again. “Guess I’ll be having a chat with him then too.”

They step through, humid warmth giving way to… “This is Bobby’s house.” Castiel says, staring up at the blue paint, the near corner covered in hubcaps. “How?”

“Joanna Beth, you’re straggling. Hurry up now,” a blonde woman calls from the porch, wiping her hands down her apron. “Ash and Kevin have been here for ages.”

Jo wrinkles her nose. “Karen, how many times…”

“When you’re in trouble, you get full named. I know your mama taught you that.” Jo hurries into the house as Karen pats her on the arm. “We were worried, hon.”

Castiel stays in the yard, looking at the flowers in the front bed. He knows Bobby isn’t in there, knows that whatever is waiting inside won’t be recriminations he deserves, but he can’t force himself to take the step. Can’t make himself enter.

Bobby died knowing Castiel birthed the leviathan into the world. The least he can do now is to not besmirch the memory of his house, not when Karen has opened it to everyone.

“Come inside, Castiel,” Karen orders. “I’m not holding dinner on your guilt complex.”

“I--”

“For chrissake, Cas. I know. Jo and Ellen filled me in ages ago. Well, what they knew at the time. And Ash keeps us all up on the latest angel gossip.” She glares at him from the porch steps. “Bobby may have never wanted kids, but he got his boys, which means you’re mine. And like hell I’m giving you up because you feel guilty.”

“But I got him killed,” he whispers.

Sighing, Karen marches down the steps, grabs his arm, and starts towing him into the house. “And you saved him how many times before that? Those Winchester boys of his? Castiel, you may have unleashed the monster, but it was his own pig-headedness that got him killed.”

“If you’re certain…”

She doesn’t pause, dragging him up the stairs and into the kitchen. He washes his hands at her raised eyebrow before helping to bring the food to the table.

The table takes up most of the kitchen, extending from the wall halfway across. Kevin and Jo are already seated on the far side while Ash finishes setting beer in front of his and Jo’s places, water in front of Kevin, and a glass of wine in front of Karen.

“Cas, what do you want to drink?”

Castiel shakes his head free of the sudden domesticity. “Water is fine. Or beer or coffee.”

Ash rolls his eyes and drops off a glass of water. “Cas, my man. This is Heaven. You can have whatever you want.”

“You can have whatever you want. Angels require neither food nor drink.”

“Requiring, whatever. This is about desire.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Jo waves it away. “You’re very special. Now sit down so we can eat.”

Castiel had experienced-- second-hand-- Karen Singer’s pie before, in a memory shared with him on accident. This is nothing like that. This is buttered rice and chicken baked with apricot jam and is quite possibly the best thing he’s ever eaten, including the hamburgers that Dean makes him try.

The table is silent for a few minutes while they eat until everyone has a good start on their meals.

“Alright,” Jo starts. “It’s not that we’re not happy to see your face, Cas. But I’m guessing you and Kevin were on your way to something important before you took a detour?”

“We were bringing the details of the last trial to Sam and Dean.” Castiel stares down at his plate, not seeing the remnants of his meal. “It’s my fault. I was… distracted.”

“Yeah, because we all thought your orders we broken, not just… shoved aside,” Kevin says. “It was a risk, and now we know. How do we break their hold on you for good?”

“I don’t know!” He pushes away from the table, moving as far from them as he can. “There’s at least one more seal on my grace-- probably related to what happened, but I don’t know. I don’t know how deep they are, if the ones I know about are the only ones, if the next time I see Dean I’m going to plunge a knife into his heart because that’s what Naomi wanted me to do… I don’t know.”

“Cas, buddy, ya gotta calm down.” Ash raises his hands. “We can fix this. And it won’t even take that long. But you’ve gotta trust us.”

“What part of my actions for the last day haven’t said that I trust you?”

Karen quirks an eyebrow in agreement before shrugging. “Good point.”

“After dinner,” Jo suggests, looking slightly green. “Last time I saw that…” She trails off, concentrating on her plate.

Castiel nods in agreement, silent taking his seat and finishing his meal. The others continue to chat around him, pumping Kevin for information about Earth.

Castiel completes the clean up with a twitch of his finger, tired of avoiding the situation. “I just… I want to go home,” he says when everyone looks at him. “The faster we get this over with, the faster I can--” probably not sleep for a week-- and that urge should probably alarm him-- but maybe convince Dean to watch a movie with him? One of the cowboy ones. Or the space opera again, Star something?

Jo looks at him skeptically, but he can’t tell what she’s skeptical of. All of it maybe? Ash and Kevin are talking quietly in the corner, shoving diagrams hastily scribbled on scrap paper back and forth.

Karen silently clears the table before pulling Castiel’s trench coat off his shoulders and hanging it in the closet off the kitchen.

“I don’t understand,” he says quietly.

“I know you don’t. You will some day.”

A psychic would make this easier, Castiel realizes as Ash and Kevin wave him over. Would allow them to actually see what is still locked into place without having to do… whatever it is that they’re planning.

Kevin and Ash draw some more sigils around the chair and Castiel’s mind melts.


 

It takes far longer than it should for Cas to come back once they erase the circle that surrounds him. Kevin stays by his side the entire time, checking and double checking the steps they went through, the sigils…

Ash disappears after a while, following Jo out the backdoor and into the yard, pausing to kiss Karen’s cheek on their way out the door. He doesn’t think they left-- and the regular pop and shatter of beer bottles reinforces that-- but sitting in a stranger’s kitchen with nothing to do is awkward.

Looking over at Karen, sitting in the living room and watching something in the yard, Kevin swallows. “Your husband should be here soon. I think.”

“He won’t, but it’s nice of you to say,” Karen glances his way. “We were never soulmates, just two people who loved each other, very much.”

“Then why--”

“If it wasn’t for Ash, Bobby’d be right there on that couch, snoring through the football game while I bake pies. He still is, if there’s no one else here.” Karen’s face falls and she swallows. “And it breaks my heart, every time.”

Kevin looks away, checking that Cas hasn’t moved, anything to give her some privacy.

They’re silent for a while longer before Cas inhales a gasping breath and leans over the table. Kevin pulls his glass of water towards them, shoving it into Cas’s hand when he stops coughing.

“Cas? Are you alright?”

Cas downs the last of the water, slowly straightening. “It’s gone,” he says, wonderment plain on his face. “The last seal. You did it.”

Kevin shrugs. “You actually did most of it, Ash and I just helped line things up. The hard part was getting you down enough for your subconscious to take over. You really do not like having something controlling you.”

“I…” Cas trails off before shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter. Now that we are rested, we should return to Earth. I’m sure Sam and Dean are worried by now.”

Kevin nods before looking towards Karen in the other room. “I’ll… go say goodbye to Jo and Ash. Ms. Singer looks like she wants a word.”

Ducking outside, Kevin rounds the house, searching for the impromptu firing range. It doesn’t take long to find it, the shattering glass calling him across the yard.

Jo stands back once she sees him, passing him her pistol and gesturing towards the car they’re using as a table. “Go ahead. It’s a useful skill.”

Kevin shakes his head, hands the gun back. “I don’t want that sort of skill. Once this is done, I’m out. For good. College and finding my mom and a career in something useful…”

Ash plinks one last bottle, sending glass flying through the yard, before turning around to look at him. “Kev… Your mom’s dead, man.”

“What? No. That was Dad’s… There’s no way she’s dead. She can’t be.”

“I’m sorry, Kev,” Ash says, hands fidgeting at his sides. “I really thought you knew. If there was a chance…”

Kevin sucks in a breath, holds it for a moment before blowing it out. He can break down later, when they’re back on Earth. “You’ll-- You’ll keep an eye on her? In case something goes wrong?”

Jo’s hand comes up to his shoulder, patting him awkwardly. “Of course.”

“Once she’s had a chance to get settled, I’ll start introducing her around.” Ash shoves his hands in his pockets, leaning back on his heels. “I’m starting to get pretty good collective together.”

“Anyway, Cas is awake so we’re gonna…” Kevin jerks his thumb back towards the house. “Got the world to save or something after all. I’ll see you around.” Turning on his heel, Kevin heads back to the house, keeping his back straight.

Cas doesn’t look like he’s okay when he gets back to the house, standing ramrod straight while he pulls his trench coat over his shoulders. Turning, Cas says goodbye to Karen and then Jo and Ash when they overtake Kevin.

Kevin stays distant, unsure how he feels about accepting Karen’s very mothering goodbye with his own fresh grief. She seems to understand, staying away.

Closing his eyes, Kevin waves briefly before Cas wraps an arm around him and they’re in flight.

Chapter Text

Sam sets the last of his supplies on the old church altar, double checking everything one last time before emerging into the cool spring sunset. The grass and and slowly greening leaves are overwhelmed by rot and ozone-- but he’s pretty sure that’s all him. Dean hasn’t mentioned it anyway, and his sense of smell dying just like his hearing makes a stupid amount of sense.

Dean stands at the lake shore, silhouetted against the lake and trees on the far shore, with his hands shoved in his pockets and shoulders hunched.

“Dean?”

He doesn’t respond, either ignoring Sam or didn’t hear him. It could be either, at this point. Sam knows Dean’s far more worried about Cas and Kevin than he’s pretending. Turning back to the car, he sighs before reaching for a bottle of water.

Something huge splashes down into the lake behind him. Dean shouts and dives into the water.

Dashing back to the shore, Sam tries to get a better look at what’s going on, but can’t see below the brackish water. Wading into the lake, he shivers at the icy chill.

Dean pops up about fifty yards out, one arm latched around someone and struggling to get back to shore. Sam pulls off his jacket and flannel and starts to wade out to them.

“Stay there,” Dean yells when Sam’s little more than waist deep. “I’ve got him.” He staggers slightly, but stands, pulling whoever it is further out of the water.

“Who?”

“Cas!”

Shit. Impatiently, Sam waits until Dean and Cas are only a few arm lengths away before meeting them.

Sam drags Cas’s other arm over his shoulder. “What the hell happened?”

“I don’t know! I was watching the sunset and then Cas was sinking,” Dean snaps. “I’m not even sure he’s alive!”

“I am,” Cas mutters between them, trying to push himself upright. “And I can get myself to shore, thank you.”

Sam lets go, carefully slipping out from under Cas’s arm and taking a few steps away.

Dean’s hand spasms at Cas’s waist, like he thinks about letting go, before it tightens for the last ten feet towards shore. “No, you really can’t.”

“Thank god you’re here,” Sam says, leading the way back to the church porch. “We were starting to get worried, Cas.”

Carefully, Dean deposits Cas on the steps before taking a step back. “What were you thinking, taking off like that?”

“Kevin and I thought you’d like confirmation that the spell to cure demons actually works,” Cas points out dryly. “We spoke to Father Simon before we detoured to Heaven and--”

“Kevin was with you? In Heaven? Where is he now?”

“Back at the Bunker. Safe.” Cas tilts his head, squinting. “Sam, I… what did you do?”

Sam blinks rapidly, just now realizing that the hazy halo surrounding Cas hasn’t dissipated now that they’re in the shade. “The first two trials? You knew this.”

Frowning, Cas beckons him over, placing a hand on his forehead.

Dean frowns deeply too, watching Cas’s face as much as Sam’s. “Well?”

“I’m not sure. Something...” Cas snaps his mouth closed, shaking his head.

“Hey, alright. We’ll muddle through.” Dean rubs Cas’s arm comfortingly, before glancing towards the car. “What did you and Kev find out from the priest?”

“Mostly? That he’s not a very good one.” Cas shrugs, reaching into his pocket for a notepad, frowning when it emerges soaking wet before tossing it onto the stairs beside him with a splat. “What they were attempting drew the attention of the last Knight of Hell.”

“What?” Sam yelps.

Cas raises an eyebrow. “She infiltrated the Men of Letters, and when given the opportunity, killed them all. It’s possible she missed a few-- the Stynes, perhaps a few others, but the vast majority of the membership were killed that night.”

“If the old men couldn’t take her down-- hell, they sent Henry through time rather than risk her getting the Bunker-- we don’t have a fucking chance!” Dean paces back and forth at the base of the stairs, ignoring Cas and Sam’s exhaustion.

“No one is prepared to take on a Knight. The secret to killing them died with Gabriel, and without the full force of Heaven behind us, we have no chance against her. Fortunately,” Cas smiles grimly, “when she last roamed this plain, the full force of Heaven was united in imprisoning her in the deepest reaches of Hell.”

“Dammit, Cas,” Dean says, without heat. “Don’t scare me like that.”

“Does the cure work or not?” Sam asks impatiently. “I don’t trust those handcuffs on Crowley for much longer, it’s already been nearly forty-eight hours.”

“According to the information Father Simons gave us, yes, it will work. The report present in the Bunker was incomplete.” Cas staggers to his feet and towards the Impala. “The main difference is the number of doses-- Thompson started with eight doses over eight hours, however, he determined smaller, more frequent, infusions worked better.”

Sam sighs. “How many, how often?”

“The final trial was thirteen and twice an hour.”

“Great. No way that’s going to go bad at all.”

“Awesome.” Dean rests a heavy hand on his shoulder, squeezing. “We ready to get this show on the road?”

“Yeah,” Sam says quietly, struggling to his feet and leaning heavily against the last post. “Give me a second, I’ll--”

“Do nothing,” Dean says firmly. “Cas and me’ll get Crowley inside. You take a moment to get your feet back under you.”

Sighing, Sam watches as Dean and Cas drag Crowley into the church and secure him to the chair.

Cas double checks the circle and adds a few details before pulling Sam into what was probably once the cloakroom. Carefully, he pours holy water into the palm of his hand and dumps it over Sam’s head. “Samuel William Winchester, you are absolved--”

Cas continues, but Sam can’t hear him over the sudden ringing. Shrugging helplessly when Cas looks at him, Sam gives him a thumbs up. Time to do this.

 


 

“Are you sure about this, Dean?” Sam asks loudly. “I mean, we don’t even know if we need to worry about it-- Crowley’s been in the trunk for days and he’s sure as hell hasn’t gotten any word out since I got started.”

Dean tries not to wince, looking at the bruises already forming on Sam’s arm. The first couple of doses are already at work, trying to soften Crowley up into a squishy human.

“If we had more hands, yeah. I’d much rather stay here, watch over you.” Dean slips a final holy water bullet into his spare clip before tucking it into his jacket pocket. “But we’re short-handed, and I want all these shitheads far away from you.” He’s already checked that Ruby’s knife is sharp, there’s a spare angel blade in his bag along with some other supplies and he’s ready to go as soon as Cas is.

“I don’t think--” Sam breaks off to cough.

“Don’t think what?”

“That anyone from Hell is going to be coming after me. Surely they’ve got better shit to do.”

“Than rescue their boss? I don’t think so.” Even if they do, Dean’s confident they’ll come after him raising a ruckus over yet more torture or whatever.

This is a stupid plan, in a lifetime of stupid plans, but it’s the one they’ve got.

He sends one last text to Jody and Charlie, letting them know what’s going on, another to Kevin so he’s prepared, and tucks his phone away into his bag. He’s done everything he can do to prepare, now it’s up to Sam.

Cas pulls Sam into a hug on the porch before meeting Dean at the Impala.

“Everything set?”

“As far as I can tell. Given what we know, we need to buy him at least five more hours.”

Dean nods in agreement and reaches for his duffle. “Alright then. Let’s kick this in the ass.”

Cas reaches for Dean’s arm and they’re in flight.

This landing goes much smoother than Cas’s flight earlier, smoothly transitioning from southern Nebraska to somewhere north.

“Where are we?” Dean asks, sparing a glance around the surrounding winter-locked prairie. There’s snow on the ground and steel-gray clouds promise more to come. He’s not cold yet, but he will be soon unless they get busy.

“North of Saskatoon,” Cas pauses for a moment. “Canada.”

“Canada. Yeah, sure. Awesome.”

“You wanted to be very far away from Sam while we did this. This is very far away.”

“No shit, Sherlock,” Dean scoffs, dropping the bag to the ground and crouching down to unzip it.

The summoning is a general one, designed to broadcast their position for a short while before shutting down. They’re banking on Hell still having them on the most wanted list but since Crowley was last seen in a meeting with them… it seems like a pretty solid assumption.

It works almost too well, half a dozen demons showing up within moments of lighting the summoning.

It’s Purgatory all over again. Back to back, surrounded by their enemies, they fall into sync, twisting around each other to stab and slice whatever demon is handy. It doesn’t even take too long-- these are not Hell’s best-- before they’re surrounded by six corpses.

Dean takes a few minutes to get his breath back, watching Cas carefully wipe the blood off his blade. Leaning down, he does the same, wiping blood and sweat off before looking around again. “What do you think? Again?”

Cas looks at the remnants of the summoning. “Let’s wait a little longer. If we summon them too quickly, they’ll figure out it’s a trap.”

“Yeah.” Dean squats down beside the duffle, tossing the spare angel blade back in and setting up the second summoning.

 


 

The scrape of the gate draws her attention from slowly dissecting the demon in front of her. More ice breaks away, leaving only the thinnest of rime against her torso. It takes only a flick of her tail to force the rest away before she’s free.

She’s free.

The younger demon-- Bela, the fox that has been assisting her-- stumbles backwards as Abaddon roars out of the depths. It takes only a moment for Bela to flee towards the relative safety of one of the tunnels in the ice.

Abaddon watches her go-- she’ll return-- and takes flight, great wing beats echoing against the cliff face. Her initial tour is short, a bare circle around the Cage. She can hear the howling from inside, Lucifer screaming his eternal frustration.

She pushes it to the back of her mind where she can ruminate on it later. Right now, she is free.

She is fire, she is consumption, she will raze Hell and Earth to the bones before these upstarts will rule instead of Lucifer.

 


 

“Why are you doing this, Moose? It won’t change anything.”

Sam snorts before turning away, back to the altar where he’s set up his kit. “That’s where you’re wrong. It’ll change everything.”

“Will it? You will still be an orphan, running around after everything that goes bump in the night. Your other half will still be a clueless moron.” Crowley snorts.

Sam nods easily. “You’re right,” he agrees. “I’ll still be a hunter. Except for one small thing.”

“And what’s that? You think me being human will make a difference? I sold my soul once, and I’ll do it again.”

“No. There will be no more demons. Every last one of them will be trapped in Hell, no escape.” Sam strides forward, grabbing Crowley’s hair, and slamming the syringe into his neck. “You being human is just a bonus.”

Stepping back, he recites the altered exorcism, watching as it takes effect. Crowley’s head snaps back in his chair, nearly rocking it onto two feet. Sam slams a hand down on the back of the chair, forcing it to stay upright.

Too close. Crowley twists his head to the side, latching his teeth into Sam’s arm and tearing and ripping at the skin.

Sam jerks his arm away, wincing as Crowley’s teeth drag through the skin. “What the fuck, Crowley? Biting? Are you five?”

Crowley says nothing, smirking up at him with a bloodstained smile.

 


 

Crowley continues to grin up at Sam until he leaves the church, pulling his phone from his pocket-- probably to call his slightly more useful half-- and slamming the door behind him.

Hurriedly, he spits the blood into his cupped hand, whispering the incantation and waiting for someone to answer.

Several long moments pass, Crowley anxiously watching the door for Sam’s return, before Hell responds.

The blood bubbles and spits, the demon on the other end barely hiding their insolence.

“I am your King,” Crowley hisses. “Latch on to this spell and come rescue me.”

The connection wavers for few seconds before a different demon, one he recognizes takes over. “Oh, we will definitely be latching on to the spell, and definitely be coming after you, Your Majesty,” Meg says smugly. “But it will be on our schedule, not yours.” She hmms. “I expect we’ll retrieve your corpse.”

“How did you--” Crowley snaps his mouth closed as Sam comes back inside, a bandage tied around his arm.

The connection ends, faint laughter floating from the last of the bubbles.

“What-- Dammit, Crowley.” Sam stomps through the circle, slaps the blood out of Crowley’s hand. “Fuck.”

Crowley closes his eyes and leans back in his chair, mind running through all the possibilities. Meg being in a position of power, however that happened, bodes poorly for all his subordinates. There’s no way any of them would have allowed that if they were still alive.

But why now? He’s been out of Hell for longer than this before…

The sharp prick of another syringe of blood distracts him, the warmth washing over him. The rush is…

The rush is the greatest thing he’s ever felt, slowing time, dampening the pain of the rack…

Sam recites his bits of broken Latin and it stops. Pain flares across his true form, time resumes its normal speed.

Crowley sighs, falling limp against his chains. He watches Sam for a long moment, pacing around the church. “How are Squirrel and Feathers doing? They’re off doing something similarly heroic, giving up their lives to close down Heaven or something, I assume.”

Sam stares at him. “They’re keeping far away from here.”

“Oh, come on, Sam! Give me something here. I’m at your mercy, the least you can do is talk to me.”

“About what, Crowley? About how sick I am of Heaven and Hell dicking us around?”

“What you said in there while begging for forgiveness, for a start,” Crowley cuts him off. “How do I… where do I even start?”

Sam looks at him from outside the circle, disbelief warring with hope across his face. He stays silent before turning back towards the altar where he has his equipment laid out. “You can start with this.”

 


 

The third summoning nets them no demons. Either they’ve gotten a lot smarter-- unlikely-- or there’s something wrong.

Dean pulls his phone out of his pocket, checking for a message from Sam before shaking his head. “Sam’s not done yet. What do you think, location change?”

Cas watches the last of the flames gutter out in the summoning bowl before turning to glare out across the plains. “It shouldn’t matter. If there are any demons loyal to Crowley left in Hell, this should draw them out.”

Dean raises an eyebrow, eyes picking out the dark shapes of the demons’ meatsuits against the frozen ground. “Crowley was maintaining control with fifteen demons? I don’t buy it.”

“I don’t either. We’re missing something.” Cas stands still for a moment before starting to gather the summoning materials.

Narrow fingers slide between his, Cas snagging his free hand and pulling him close. Dean inhales sharply. “Cas, that’s not really--”

They’re in motion before he can finish the sentence, landing somewhere much warmer and much more humid. It’s a shock, the air feels nearly solid after the arid frozen northland.

Dean sneezes repeatedly, gasping for air. He tightens his grip on Cas’s hand when he tries to pull away. “What the fuck?”

Cas wraps an arm around him, holding him upright until his lungs adapt to the abrupt change. “My apologies. The humidity appears to be causing some problems.”

“Yeah, no shit.” Dean breathes heavily for a moment before straightening finally, releasing Cas’s hand and looking around. He can’t tell much-- nearby dark shapes that he thinks are trees, frogs singing, the whine of mosquitoes-- but this seems like a much better place than Canada. “Where were we?”

Cas pulls a flashlight from his pocket, shining it around the tiny clearing, looking for something. “Florida. Everglades.” His hand shoots out, grabbing Dean’s shoulder before he can move more than a step away. “Do not wander off.”

“Alligators?” Dean stops, and looks incredulously at Cas. “At least demons only want to kill me!”

Cas rolls his eyes, pointing his flashlight at the bag. “Warm up and reload. I don’t like how small this clearing is.”

“Then why’d you fly us here?”

“It… looked bigger from above,” Cas says slowly.

Dean frowns but ignores Cas’s evasion for the moment. Whatever else is happening, he’s right. It’ll be much easier to reload when he can feel his fingers.

Quickly, he reloads his gun with more holy water bullets and rubs the blood off the demon killing knife before settling on log-- carefully checked to make sure it is actually a log-- and pulling out the last sandwich from the stash Cas had made.

Cas nods when Dean offers up half, taking a seat on the other side of the log.

They’re silent, eating quickly while listening to the sounds of the forest around them.

Stiffening, Cas holds up a hand and turns off the flashlight in one movement. The noise of the forest around them falls silent until only a few frogs are still chirping. Soon, even they fall silent.

Blinking, Dean waits for his eyes to adjust, hoping that whatever it is will give them enough time.

The shape in the gloom ahead of them looks like a ghost, pale gray and forming out of nothing. But it’s too solid, too real. Without thinking, Dean slips a knife out of his boot and flings it at the shape.

It doesn’t even flinch.

“Castiel, control your pet before we do it for you,” a voice growls from behind them. It sounds familiar, but Dean can’t place it.

Dean starts to spin but Cas stops him with a hand on his shoulder. Flipping the flashlight back on, Cas nods gravely, hands hanging loose at his sides. “Naomi, Orphiel.”

“Castiel,” Naomi says, carelessly plucking the knife from her chest and tossing it to the side. “I am astounded by your resilience. Every time we twist you into shape, you just pop right back out.” She sounds more disappointed than astounded.

“What?” Dean mutters. “Twisting you into shape--”

Cas shakes his head, otherwise ignoring Dean. “I won’t go with you again. You’ll have to kill me.”

“That can be arranged,” the other angel-- Orphiel-- says behind them. “You have disobeyed and rebelled--”

Dean spins around to face him, nearly tripping over the log. “At least he was doing something, you spineless prick.” In the darkness, he can barely see the shape behind them, dark suit and dark skin merging with the woods, with the shirt collar hovering like a ghost.

“Enough,” Naomi commands. “We are not here fight. Or to bring Castiel back to Heaven.”

“Then why are you here?” Cas shoots back.

“The Hellgate is in motion. If this is your doing…” She trails off as Cas stiffens next to him. “You do know something about it.”

Cas is silent beside him, letting Naomi draw her own conclusions.

“Very well. Lucifer’s sword is the sacrifice? That is an acceptable loss, should Lucifer break free in the tremors. Knowing how the resonance works with a tainted sacrifice would be useful.”

“Wait, that’s possible?” Dean blurts out. “I thought we had him locked down.”

“You did. Some doors are not meant to be closed,” Naomi says smugly. “Thousands upon thousands of years of accumulation and debris. Inertia alone will cause massive restructuring.”

Dean meets Cas’s eyes, trying to push down the incipient panic. “Cas?”

“How do you know this? There isn’t any lore about this.”

“Metatron was more than willing to tell us your plans in return for clemency.”

“And he told you what would happen if Hell’s gates were closed,” Dean says slowly. “There are, what, three people in all of Creation who can read those tablets and one of them just showed up one day?” He shakes his head. “And you believe him? I’ve never even met the guy and I don’t trust him any further than I can throw him.”

“He’s telling the truth, Dean,” Naomi says calmly. “I’ve been inside his mind, I’ve seen it.”

“You’ve been inside all our minds,” Cas snaps beside Dean. “That’s the problem. How many times have you scrubbed my memory?”

“Too many times,” Naomi sneers. “I can never fix you for long. You always break again. No matter how many times I had you in my chair, it was never enough.”

Orphiel moves to her side, stepping into the dim light of the flashlight for the first time. Dean blinks for a moment, uncertain that exhaustion isn’t playing tricks on him.

Both angels are gone before he can spit out why he thinks Orphiel looks familiar. “Holy shit, Naomi is such an asshole.” Dean sucks in a breath. “Two: was that angel really riding around in fucking James Earl Jones? What the fuck?”

Cas slowly sinks back down to their log, reaching for the flashlight and turning it off. “I’m sorry I failed you.”

“Whoa, who said anything about failing? I’m fine, you’re fine, everyone’s alive and relatively unhurt…”

“Call Kevin, right now,” Cas orders. “We need more information than Naomi’s half hints.”

“Okay--” Dean drops down to the log, pulling his phone out. He waits while the phone rings and rings before going to voicemail.

Pushing himself to his feet, Dean frowns down at the screen and time-- just after three in the morning-- and hits the call button again. This time, the call goes directly to voicemail. “Something’s wrong.”

“I was afraid of that.” Cas shoots to his feet, grabs Dean’s arm, and suddenly they’re moving again.

 


 

Sam can see Crowley’s lips moving, but he can’t hear anything over the ringing in his ears. He’s not even certain the Latin for the last couple of injections was anything approaching correct. Crowley started sobbing after the last one though, mouthing words that Sam can’t understand.

Turning back to the altar, Sam leans heavily against it, waiting for the room stops spinning again before picking up the syringe. He lost track hours ago, a haze of needles and blood and mumbled Latin.

It takes longer than it should to find his vein-- his eyes won’t focus anymore-- and longer still pull the plunger back, wincing at the pull. Breathing heavily, Sam stumbles away from the altar, dizzy and barely able to put one foot in front of the other. He wants nothing more than for Dean to appear and tuck him into bed like when they were kids.

Crowley looks terrified-- eyes wide, saying something over and over-- as Sam approaches.

It doesn’t feel real when Dean’s arms wrap around him, forcing him to drop the syringe to the floor. Sam fights back, weakly shoving his way free, and landing on his knees.

“Last one,” he mutters, grabbing at the blood, misses, and gets his hands under him. He’ll crawl if he has to, whatever it takes to finish.

Dean says something above him, lost in the ringing. Why did Dean stop him? Dizzily, he reaches for the blood again and loses his balance.

Muddy knees in dress slacks keep him from face planting into the wood floor. A hand pushes Sam’s hair out of his face, lifting him up. Cas.

Cas says something, frowning when Sam doesn’t respond. He gently touches Sam’s forehead with two fingers.

Slowly, Sam sits back so he’s kneeling in front of Cas instead of faceplanted into his lap. The worst effects of the blood loss are taken care of, but his hearing… Shaking his head, Sam says slowly, “I can’t hear you.”

Cas’s frown etches deeper. Reaching up, he pokes Sam’s forehead again. The ringing lets up a bit more, enough that Sam can hear Dean’s shouts from a few feet away.

“Sam.” Cas draws his attention back to him, wrapping his hand around Sam’s arm. “Let it go.”

“What? No. I gotta finish. Need to close the gates.” Sam blinks, starts pushing himself to his feet.

Dean pushes him back down. “No, you don’t, little brother. Change of plan.”

“Let him finish, Dean,” Crowley begs behind them. “I want this over. Finish it, then put a bullet in my head.”

“Shhh, Sam.” Dean follows him down, pulling him close. “Let it go. We’ll finish it later.”

“I don’t feel so good.”

“Yeah, I know. Stay put while Cas and I take care of some shit. Then we’ll get out of here, okay?”

Sam exhaustedly nods.

Clearing his throat roughly, Crowley lifts his still cuffed hands in an awkward wave. “Hello, boys.”

Dean snorts and turns away, emptying the syringe onto the ground. “What do you want, Crowley?”

“Can I ask why? You’ve made it abundantly clear that you despise me, yet…” He trails off, appalled. He sounds so weak.

“Better you live than we risk Luci escaping,” Dean says bluntly. “Gates being closed won’t do a damn thing if he decides to throw another temper tantrum.”

“Oh.” Of course it’s not because Dean suddenly gives a shit about him. They never have before, even though he works his ass off to balance their needs with Hell’s.

There’s a rumble outside, something approaching. Leaning back against his chains, Crowley raises his hands again. “If I’m not mistaken, you’re about to have bigger problems.”

“How do they get bigger than fucking Lucifer--” Dean cuts himself off, looking out the window. “Cas, I thought you said we took care of all the demons that were loyal to Crowley.”

“All the ones that answered the summons. ”

“Then what the fuck is that?” Dean yelps, gesturing out the window.

Crowley crans his head, trying to get a glimpse of what’s coming. Anything that can make Dean Winchester sound like that…

“Apparently these aren’t loyal then!” Dean rushes back over to them, tossing Crowley the keys to his cuffs and picking up Sam. “Shit, shit, shit!”

Crowley raises an eyebrow and hurriedly unlocks the cuffs binding him.

Before he can get any further-- they really went overboard on restraints-- something huge lands outside the church.

There’s a brief moment Crowley thinks it’s the angels, come to fetch their rebellious brother.

The roof of the church is swept away like a sand castle. One moment it’s there, the next, it’s gone, the wreckage smashing to the ground outside. A gout of fire follows, setting the western wall aflame.

A giant almost-lizard head snaps towards them, biting at something Crowley can’t see. Horrified, he frantically pulls at the chains that still bind him. When he looks up again, Cas and Sam are gone.

Dean rushes towards him, trembling fingers snatching the keys out of Crowley’s suddenly numb fingers. “What the fuck did you fucking call?”

“I didn’t,” Crowley snaps. “That’s a thrice damned Knight.” He follows Dean towards the edge of the circle, snatching the gun from the back of Dean’s jeans when he bends over to break the trap. “Whatever you have this loaded with, it won’t be enough.”

“No shit,” Dean snaps. “Can you even shoot that thing?”

Crowley takes aim at one of the demons breaking through the windows. He hits it at the base of its meat suit’s throat, watches it tumble through the window to land in a heap on the floor.

“Of course I can.” He half expects the demon to smoke out, to retreat and return with an undamaged body, but it stays put, dragging itself through the shattered glass.

He doesn’t have any time for more questions-- the shot acted as a signal to the rest of the demons, sending them spilling in through every window, dozens of them. They skirt the trap on the floor, even though it’s broken, herding Crowley and Dean towards the door.

The door breaks ahead of them, the double doors bursting open and shattering against the walls of the church.

Abaddon. Silver silk and red hair overlapping a demonic dragon easily the size of the church, the part animating the meatsuit only a tiny fraction of herself while the rest hunches over the church.

Crowley sucks in a breath, grabs Dean’s arm. “Dean, wait.”

Dean shakes his hand off, dipping into his jacket pocket and pulling out the demon knife before launching himself at her.

Abaddon waves her hand, flinging him to the side and pinning him there. “Not right now, insect. I’m busy.” Slowly, she advances on Crowley, staring at him. “You’re a salesman. Barely a demon. And you dare to claim all of Hell?”

“Love, I’m the reason it still exists at all.” He waits a beat. “If you want Hell, you can have it, and good riddance.”

Glancing at Dean-- still pinned to the wall-- Crowley shrugs and disappears.

 


 

Dean blinks away the tunnel vision that threatens unconsciousness where he’s pinned to the wall. Crowley disappears between blinks, abandoning him to his fate. It’s hard to blame him-- mostly human, facing something straight out of his worst nightmares? Dean’d run too.

Kinda lacking that option himself though. “So you’re the Knight that’s got everyone in a tizzy.”

Unseen forces drag him down the wall-- head first-- and in front of her, leaving him sprawled on the floor. Abaddon tilts her head, eerily similar to Cas, before knotting her hand in his hair. Dragging him up to his knees, she stares at him. “Dean Winchester.”

Dean says nothing, trying to wrench his way free of her grip.

“My lieutenants tell me you’ve caused a lot of trouble over the past few decades, that you’re responsible bringing Hell so low.”

“Did your lieutenants or whatever tell you that we killed everyone?” Dean knocks her hand away-- leaving a few hairs behind-- and launches himself to his feet. “Crowley’s the last one standing. And only because he was occasionally useful.”

He’s bent over, retching, before he even has time to register the punch. The demons behind him snigger audibly as he gasps for breath. Abaddon waits until he’s almost breathing normally before knocking the air out of him again, sending him tumbling back to the ground.

That one cracked a rib, his side screaming with every frantic inhale.

“If we had time…” She starts, running her fingers up the nape of his neck and into his hair. “If we had time, I’d peel off that ‘no demons allowed’ sign and see just what sort of fun we could have.”

Dean shudders. “No means no, bitch.”

“You ever hear a baby scream while you rip out its intestines with your teeth? You will.” The nails on her free hand sharpen, grow into actual claws before his eyes, longer and thicker than anything human. Dean’s eyes cross, trying to follow it as she holds it up before plunging it into his chest over his anti-possession tattoo.

Dean screams as a claw scrapes along his collar bone, scratching the bone before she starts to rip back out. He runs out of air long before she finishes, gasping weakly, held up only by her hand in his hair.

Releasing his hair, Abaddon tosses him to the ground a few feet away, flicking the blood off her claws. Dean risks a quick glance down to his chest-- pain screaming along every nerve-- to see how bad of trouble he’s in. He can’t see everything, and his arm is hanging like she broke his collarbone, but his tattoo looks mostly intact. Probably. Between the remains of his shirt and the blood, he can’t really tell.

The first angel hits the ground inside the church like a meteor, decades of dirt flying up to hide both the angel and Abaddon. More arrive hot on the heels of the first, fanning out to surround her.

Dean loses track of what’s happening after the second flight arrives. The demons along the walls fling themselves into the fight. Flashes of grace and demons sparking out light up the church despite the haze of dust.

Clutching his arm to his chest, Dean nearly sobs when he finally regains his feet before making a dash for the door. No one is focused on him and he has never been more glad to let the heavy weights duke it out on their own.

He can’t reach the doors though, not with dozens of demons and angels battling between him and it. Instead, he takes shelter in the tiny space between the altar and the heavy stone wall-- curling himself in the smallest ball possible, hoping he’ll be overlooked. It’s not his favorite tactic, he’d much rather be in the dust cloud stabbing demons, but without outside assistance, he’s worse than useless right now.

Abruptly, the noise cuts off, the deafening fight dropping to near silence with only the tinkle of glass falling. Pulling his spare knife from his belt, Dean peeks over the altar to see what he missed.

Everyone’s gone. There’s no one left, outside of a few bodies anyway. Three or four that look like they were smited-- demons, he assumes-- and at least that many wing prints burned into the walls and floor. Dean swallows before pushing himself to his feet, trying to blink away the tears that form. Carefully, he makes his way towards the center where the worst of the fighting happened.

There’s nothing there, not even bodies, just the floor burnt to ash and a few more overlapping wing prints. Shakily, he hobbles out to the car, too shocked to even pray.

The phone in his pocket is shattered, flakes of glass slicing open his finger when he tries to unlock it before tossing it aside. It takes Dean a couple minutes of staring blankly at the car to remember that he left it unlocked. He doesn’t even bother to check the spare phone before trying to call Sam.

No answer.

Cas. No answer.

Desperately, he starts dialing every number he can think of. Finally, on the sixth or seventh call, Charlie answers.

“Oh, thank fuck. I’m not dead,” Dean blurts out as soon as the call connects.

“Dean?” Charlie asks slowly. “Are you alright? You don’t sound so good.”

Dean shakes his head to clear it. “I… Sam. Cas took Sam and he was hurt.”

“Sam was hurt or Cas was?” Carefully, she gets him to tell her everything he can. “Alright. I’m searching for them both. Get back to civilization. I’ll have a location for you by then.”

Dean pockets the phone, still dazed. Climbing into the car nearly makes him black out-- that rib is definitely cracked-- and it takes him a long time to get the keys out of his pocket and into the ignition.

Sucking in a breath, he throws Baby into reverse and gets on the road.

Chapter Text

The unsteady beep of Sam’s heart monitor and hiss of the breathing pump act like a lifeline, keeping Dean awake while he pours over Sam’s charts. Dozens of pages, filled with medical jargon, that Dean stares at, the multi-syllable words spelling out Sam’s death. And soon.

He’s been praying for days anyway, with absolutely no luck. Dean doesn’t have any hope for angelic intervention, not anymore, not when Cas dumped Sam in front of the ER three days ago before fucking off to god knows where.

Dean winces as he shuffles the pages back together and onto the clipboard, gingerly hooking it over the foot of the bed with his good arm before leaning back as far as he can. He’s busted up too, just not… life threateningly so. Doctors can’t do anything about a cracked rib or a bruised bone, so he hasn’t said anything. The most care he’s given himself is washing out the puncture wounds from Abaddon’s claws with holy water before snitching some suture kits to patch himself up.

Hell, he doesn’t even have a clean shirt of his own.

He must doze off for a few minutes, because the afternoon nurse wakes him up when he bustles in to check Sam’s vitals.

“Hey George,” Dean sighs, running a hand through his hair. “Any change?”

“You’re in here more than me. You tell me.” George raises an eyebrow, taking in yet another stolen scrub top and days old flannel. “You need to go home, Dean. You can’t do anything if you’re killing yourself here.” He holds up a finger while listening to Sam’s chest, polite smile becoming stiff and plastic.

Dean watches, glancing at the heart monitor. “You know I can’t do that.”

“You can do whatever you want. You won’t.” George updates the charts, frowning. “Honestly, Dean, get some sleep in a real bed, shower, get someone else to stay with him. There’s nothing you can do.”

Dean can’t hold back the snort and winces when his chest protests. “He’s all I got.”

“So you’ve said. Repeatedly. Eventually, the docs are gonna kick you out anyway.” George rolls his eyes before making sure the door’s closed behind them. “Alright then, Macho Man. Shirt off, let me see how bad those wounds are.”

“I’m fine, man. Really.”

“Bullshit. You’ve got your own reasons for wanting to avoid the doctors taking a look at you, and that’s stupid, but allowed. But it’s been at least three days, and you’re still moving like you got stabbed.”

“You’re not wrong,” Dean huffs. “How did you--”

“Because I also pick up shifts in the ER. C’mon. Let me take a look.”

Grimacing, Dean strips off the flannel and scrub top. Every movement irritates the stitches, burning across the surface of his skin. The puncture wounds feel infected, despite the holy water he keeps washing them with. He pushes at the swelling that surrounds them, doing his best to ignore the bruising that covers nearly half his torso.

The snap of a fresh pair of gloves startles him. Dean tilts his head back and clenches his jaw while George inspects the bruising and stitches.

“You did pretty good on the stitches for someone who was stitching on himself.” George grabs some fresh gauze off his cart, taping it over the disaster. “The rest of it’s not great, but I don’t see any signs of infection.” He huffs. “This happened at the same time as whatever happened to Sam? You’d be better off if you got some actual rest.”

Dean shrugs and immediately regrets it. From this close, there’s no way he can hide his reaction from George. He tries to anyway, roughly grabbing the scrub top off the bed and pulling it on, ignoring the clammy sweat that breaks out across his torso. “Awesome. Thanks.”

George steps back, crossing his arms. “What else? Screwed up collarbone. Scrapes and cuts in addition to the nasty, but dealable with OTC pain meds. Not that you look like the sort of guy who would bother.”

In response, Dean digs into his pocket, rattles the bottle of prescription painkillers before shoving them further in. “I can still use my arm, bone’s not broken. Cracked a rib, but you can’t do anything about that one.” He gestures vaguely, hoping George will fill in the blanks.

“You’re sure it’s not broken?” George asks sharply, reaching for his stethoscope.

“I’ve had enough to know the difference.” Dean pushes away his prodding hands. “No strenuous movement, breathe deeply, ice it, and take aspirin as necessary.”

“Yep, that’s right.” George frowns, glancing at the fresh bandage hidden by Dean’s shirt. “What the hell did you get into anyway?”

Dean’s saved from answering by the doctor letting himself into the room. He greets them both before picking up Sam’s chart to read over it. George nods at a couple of instructions before disappearing out the door with his cart, leaving Dean and the doctor to chat.

Dr. Anderson spends another couple of minutes examining Sam before sighing and stripping off his gloves, tucking them into the trash can. “Mr. Stanwyk, I’m afraid it’s time to start discussing options.”

Blinking, Dean stares at him. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that Sam has been in a coma for three days and doesn’t show any signs of recovery. He can’t recover, not from this.” He frowns, glancing at the notes. “Mr. Stanwyk, brain damage is certain and his organs are already failing.”

“So, what? He spends the rest of his life in a coma? How is that better?”

“It’s not,” Anderson says quietly. “Sam is going to die. I’m sorry. Your choice is if he goes fast, without regaining consciousness, or slow.”

“No.” Dean shakes his head and pushes himself painfully to his feet. “That’s not-- You have to do something.”

“We’ve done all we can. The only thing left is prayer.”

“You’re a friggin’ doctor and you’re telling me to pray? Jesus fuck,” Dean scoffs. “Don’t you think I tried that?”

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Stanwyk.”

“Get out of here,” Dean snarls, unable to tear his eyes away from the breathing pump.

Dr. Anderson nods, briefly touching Dean’s shoulder before slipping out the door. “When you’re ready to make a decision, let me know.”

Dean’s never going to be ready to make that decision. His entire life-- “Fuck!” Gasping, he drops back into the chair.

He drags his phone off the tray, thumbing open his contacts and dialing Cas again. Like it has for the past day, it goes directly to voicemail, doesn’t even ring anymore. Maybe his battery’s dead. Or he doesn’t have signal, they probably don’t work in Heaven after all.

Or maybe Cas is dead.

The heart monitor continues to beep a-rhythmically, the spikes and valleys making whatever pattern they want. Determined, he climbs to his feet, taking hold of Sam’s hand briefly. “It’s ok, Sammy. I got this.”

The chapel is on a different wing and floor, near the ER. Small and non-denominational, it’s empty except for a few rows of chairs.

“Cas, Castiel. Sammy’s hurt, pretty bad. I need you. Where are you, man? You gotta give me a sign. Something.” He’s silent for a long moment, waiting for Cas to appear or, hell, for his phone to ring. Something. Anything.

Nothing happens.

“Alright. Fine. Fuck you very much.” He takes a couple of deep breaths before glaring up at the cross. “This goes out to any angel with their ears on. This is Dean Winchester. Sam’s hurt, bad, trying to do your job. First one who gets here and heals him? I’ll owe them a favor. And that ain’t nothing.”

He waits a few moments, but there isn’t any immediate response-- or at least, no one shows up in front of him. Shaking his head, he painfully gets to his feet and pushes out of the room. Fuck them too.


“Here’s your nasty-ass lime jerky,” Sam snaps, tossing the bag through the open window of the Impala and into Dean’s lap. “I can’t believe you’re going to make me ride in a car with that shit.”

Dean smirks from the passenger seat, stretching out. “Payback for that toxic burrito yesterday.”

Sam scoffs, double checking the gas nozzle is put away before climbing into the driver’s seat. “Where we heading? The shifter in St. Cloud or the ōkami in Fargo?”

Dean shrugs. “Or Bobby’s. We’ve not been up there in a while and Baby could use some TLC.”

Sam sighs and flips the headlights on. “Ōkami it is.”

The drive passes in an exhausted haze that Sam barely remembers by the time they park in front of the burnt out ruins of Bobby’s house. It feels like Sam barely closes his eyes for a nap in the backseat before Dean is banging on the window, his arms full of parts.

“Hey, let me in. The door’s locked.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Levering himself up, he unlatches the front door. “Get in here, jerk.”

There’s a brief moment of disorientation before he flops back down on his bed.


Dean takes the long route back to Sam’s room, stopping by the vending machine to grab a cup of (lukewarm, shitty) coffee and wash down a couple more painkillers.

An alarm blares in Sam’s hallway, doctors and nurses urgently shouting instructions to each other.

Breaking into a run, Dean rushes towards Sam’s room in time to see George and another nurse get tossed through the doorway and into the crowd that surrounds it. Dean blinks and pushes through the crush.

“Sam?”

Sam ignores him, ass hanging out of the back of his gown and face turned towards the sun.

Dean squints as the light bulbs above them blow. “What the hell?”

Sam turns around to face him, his posture marine straight. “I have heard your prayer, Dean Winchester.”

Dean blinks rapidly. “Awesome. Can you heal and get out of my brother now?”

“He has consented to this,” the angel says. “I will leave him when my work is done.” He looks past Dean to the doctors and nurses crowding around door. A slow smile spreads across his face before he disappears.

Dean falls to his knees, staring at the bed in shock while the staff pours into the room, desperate to know what happened. He must stammer out something-- believable or not, he has no clue-- because eventually, most of them leave, leaving only Dr. Anderson and George behind.

“When I said to try prayer, I didn’t--” Dr. Anderson breaks off, picking up charts at the foot of the bed before dropping them. “Excuse me, I think I need to reexamine my entire career.”

“Don’t bother,” Dean huffs, slowly climbing off his knees. “It’s not… Upstairs is almost as bad as downstairs, and even less likely to help.”

“Hell is more likely to perform a miracle than Heaven?” George asks skeptically.

“Be desperate enough, be willing to meet their price… Yeah. Crossroads will do just about anything.”

“That’s not possible,” Anderson says, staring at the rumpled and empty bed. “None of this is--”

Dean rolls his eyes, snags his phone charger out of the wall. “My entire life isn’t possible that that standard, Doc. Yet here I am.” He can barely hold back the grimace as the claw marks throb in counterpoint to his rib.

Anderson and George disappear after a few minutes, in search of the appropriate paperwork Dean thinks. He tuned them out after they devolved into shock and awe and disbelief. Yes, the truth is out there, and it mostly wants to eat your face.


In the aftermath of the battle, the flight back to Dean is long and exhausting. Castiel is forced to stop several times to rest, adjusting his flight plan to account for his limitations. The first flight-- from the battleground to somewhere in China-- is the worst, bleeding grace from a wound that should have killed him and a wrenched wing. He’s forced to rest after that, longer than he wants, while listening to Dean’s ever more panicked prayers.

His phone is shattered and ocean soaked in his pocket, broken in the fighting, so he can’t even let Dean know he’s on his way.

Dean’s prayers have descended into mumbled curses and threats by the time Castiel reaches North America, nearly three days after he left.

Eventually, his damaged wing collapses entirely, spilling him out of the æther and onto a small two lane blacktop highway. Dean’s longing wars with Castiel’s own exhaustion before it fades, leaving him with nothing to home in on and no idea where he is.

Castiel manages to get off the road and down the embankment before giving up. He needs rest before he can continue on foot. His wings are too badly damaged to risk flight-- another injury might prove permanent.

Dawn comes slowly, creeping up in the cold air before the sun bounces above the horizon. As soon as it has fully risen, Castiel pushes himself back up the embankment to walk along the road. He doesn’t know where he is, or how to get to Dean, but if he’s moving, he’s accomplishing something.

He walks for hours, rising sun at his back, before he spots a sign that tells him where he is-- Missouri, nearly to the Nebraska border. It’s not great, miles upon miles away from the church where he left Dean, but it’s a start.

A young man in his late teens gives Castiel a ride across the bridge and allows him to borrow his cell phone long enough to call Dean.

“What?” Dean barks, road noise and the radio playing in the background.

“Dean,” he breathes.

“Cas? Thank fuck. Where are you?” The radio in the background is suddenly gone, and the road noise much quieter, like Dean is pulling off the road. “Please tell me you’re close.”

“I… don’t know.” Castiel blinks, catches the city limits sign out of the corner of his eye before his ride turns off the main road and into a bar parking lot. “I’m in Rulo, Nebraska. Off of US-159.”

“You safe?” Dean barrels on before he can respond. “Stay there. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He hangs up before Castiel can respond.

Carefully, he turns the screen off before handing the phone back to the young man. “Thank you for your assistance.”

“You going to be alright? My folks are expecting me home, but I can call--”

“No, I’ll be fine.” He stares at the beat up bar sign in front of them. “My friend is on his way.”

“If you’re sure.”

Castiel forces himself to smile and climbs painfully out of the car. “It’s not a problem.”

The young man frowns, but nods, reversing out of the parking spot and continuing on. Castiel watches him go before turning back to the bar in front of him. It’s as good of a place as any other to wait.


Dean’s phone rings again on the seat next to him as he speeds down the highway. On his way to get Cas. Who’s alive and-- “Hey, Kevin.”

“Any updates for the home team?” Kevin asks dryly. “You’ve been out of contact for three days.”

“Shit.” Dean blinks, runs a hand through his hair. “I-- Hell’s still open, Abaddon might be free, Sam’s possessed by an angel, and I have only the vaguest idea of where Cas is.”

Kevin is silent for a long moment. “Hate to add onto a bad day, but the Bunker’s locked down too. I can’t leave. Just got phone service back about fifteen minutes ago.”

“Of course.” Dean snorts. He does the mental math on how long it’ll take to get back. “I’m like… five hours away. If Cas can fly, faster. Hang in there.”

“Platitudes from a cat poster. Nice, Winchester.”

Dean rolls his eyes, focusing on the road in front of him. “Anything else, Kev?”

“Just… be safe.”

“Yeah, you too.” Dean hangs up and presses a little harder on the gas. The sooner he can pick Cas up the better.

Rulo is tiny, smaller than Lebanon even, and doesn’t have a library or grocery store. Eventually, Dean finds the only bar and thus only place Can can be.

At two o’clock on a Sunday, there’s not a whole lot of business. A couple of old guys with the look of regulars ride stools at the bar while the bartender polishes mugs.

Glancing around, Dean spots a shuffleboard table along the back wall with Cas and another guy-- the cook maybe?-- leaning over one end. Breathing out, Dean waves at the bartender and heads towards them.

Cas is here, Cas is safe.

The cook lines up his last shot and lets it fly. It teeters on the line between scoring areas and they bend over the table to determine scoring. Dean raises an eyebrow when the cook passes Cas a pile of bills and slaps him on the back, saying something.

Cas tries to push the entire bundle back to him, but the cook refuses, saying something that Dean can’t hear. Cas laughs tensely and nods, peeling off a couple and passing them back. He looks up when he’s done, his face lighting up when he sees Dean.

Some of the tension in Dean’s chest relaxes. Cas is fine, maybe a little low on mojo, but he’s not going to die immediately.

Something is going on with him though. Cas is twitchy as all get out, his left arm slightly stiff. Dean wants to drag him into a hug and never let go when Cas finally makes his way over, but refrains.

Not here, not now. Not when the smallest bit of comfort is going to destroy every wall that’s keeping him standing.

Instead, he jerks his head towards the bar. “We need to settle up or anything?”

Cas nods, peeling off at least half the bills, stuffing them into the tip jar, and sliding the rest into his pocket. “Tim spotted me the initial ten on the assumption you could make good on that much at least.”

Dean’s eyes widen. “Shit. Did you--”

Cas sighs, fingering the pocket. “I wouldn’t have taken any of it, but he insisted, especially after it became apparent that I was more than capable.”

“Alright. Let’s go.” All the same, Dean fumbles out his wallet, shoves a twenty into the tip jar on the bar, before guiding Cas out to the car with a hand on his back.

There’s two easy routes back to the Bunker from here: the direct path, that will take them by the church and hospital, and the route that will take them past the pile of burned timber that used to be the Roadhouse. Dean doesn’t even think about it-- he’ll take years old grief over the fresh hell of not knowing where Sam is any day of the week.

Dean pulls over to get gas at the Gas n’ Sip across the street. Cas disappears into the store while Dean gets the pump going and leans against Baby’s trunk, staring at the ruins.

The law hasn’t caught up to reality, apparently. A much abused temporary fence surrounds the building, barely enough to keep even casual trespassers out, let alone teenagers looking for a place to smoke. Otherwise, the rubble looks about the same as it did when the place burned.

Cas comes back out and hands him a cup of coffee before chucking a bag of snacks in through the passenger window. “They’re okay,” he offers, standing next to Dean and listening to the pump tick. “Jo… Jo has honed her skills. She defeated an angel in combat. Ellen is much the same and so, so proud of her daughter.”

Dean nods, choking on years old grief. “Did-- Did Ash find them?”

“And Ms. Singer. I didn’t ask about anyone else.”

Dean nods again, pulling the nozzle out of the car when it stops pumping. “Good to know. Good. To. Know.” He doesn’t say anything else, moving the coffee cup and pulling out a map to confirm what he already knows is the best way to get back to the Bunker.


Hell is in shambles when Crowley returns. Long standing practice has dissolved into anarchy as ancient demons barely remembered emerge from their prisons to retake control. Crowley scoffs as he watches a horde of demons-- old enough to know better-- drag one of the Princes back to install them on the throne of their demesne.

Crowley watches from the shadows as the princes crack down on anything approaching dissent, returning Hell to how it was in their prime. Torture and screaming, no thought or calculation, everyone too busy trying to survive to risk themselves.

He thinks about his goals, watching Hell tear itself apart and rebuild, only to repeat the whole cycle again a few weeks later. He schemes, insufferable buffoons block him. He works around them, only to find his path forward cut off by a random beheading.

All of Hell is in complete chaos and he’s not sure how to win the game a second time.

Or even if he wants to, thanks to Moose’s so-called ‘cure’.

Guthrie is dead, most of the kennels-- a decision he hopes comes back to bite all of them in the ass-- as well, and there is a thriving trade in smuggling demons top side.

It takes weeks more of careful work to get his collections out of Hell before he’s satisfied of their safety.

Looking over the remains of his kingdom, Crowley drops a lit match into a bowl with a virgin’s heart and watches, stone faced, as a thousand demons are vaporized. He disappears before anyone can trace the spell back to him, Juliet following closely behind.


By the time they reach the Bunker, Dean’s painkillers are long gone and he itches. It’s been days since his last proper shower and, even if Cas hasn’t said anything, Dean can feel the dirt and grime on his skin, sweat and hospital stink on top of everything else.

Unlocking the Bunker’s front door with a heavy thunk, Dean’s relieved when the lights in the tunnel are on. Even if the place went into lock down, Kevin’s not been sitting in the dark for most of a week.

“Cas?” Dean pauses when Cas stops abruptly. “Everything okay?” They never did check for angel warding on this place--

Cas blinks and shakes himself, striding confidently down the hall. “It’s not-- Everything’s fine. I’m glad Kevin is safe.” He sounds hesitant though, like something isn’t matching his expectation.

Dean frowns at Cas’s back before following him down. He’s just going to trust that Cas isn’t hiding anything. Or nothing that’ll bite them in the ass.

At least with Cas heading down ahead of him, there’s no one to witness his near whine when the weapons bag bangs into his side. It leaves him breathless and coughing, leaning against the trunk while he waits for the pain to subside.

Carefully, he picks up his other bag and makes his way down the tunnel into the Bunker. There’s a crossbow bolt stuck in the railing at the top of the stairs, but Kevin is nowhere to be seen. Cas stands at the map table below him, looking at the map and tools they’ve still not found homes for.

“Dean,” Cas breathes out, glancing up at him. “Do you know what this place is?”

“Henry called it the supernatural mother-lode, whatever the hell that means.” Dean limps his way down the stairs, dropping his bags at the foot of the table. Shrugging gingerly, he drops down into one of the chairs around the table. “There’s a lot here, and Henry knows more about it than we do. Not that we can trust him not to be an idiot.”

Cas tilts his head. “You’re hurt.”

“Yeah, well, I’m also alive and not a demon’s chew toy.” Dean closes his eyes and reaches up to rub at his shoulder before dropping his arm. “A win is a win.”

A beer is dropped next to his loosely closed hand followed by the rattle of a pill bottle.

“Beer and painkillers,” Kevin says firmly.

Cas drags another chair closer before reaching out to touch Dean’s forehead. Dean inhales sharply, waiting for the warm buzz of Cas’s grace to burn out the pain.

It doesn’t come.

Oh, the pain of the cracked rib fades, and some of the pain from his collarbone, but nothing else. Cas slumps back into his chair as his grace fades.

“Cas?” Dean asks sharply. “What’s wrong?”

“That’s all I can do,” Cas mumbles. He looks away, grabbing the second beer Kevin brought and taking a deep drink. “I’ll need to… recharge… before I can do more.”

Dean leans back in his chair, looking Cas again, putting what he sees in context. Yes, he looks exhausted-- which probably should have been Dean’s first clue-- but he’s also lacking something. “What happened? One moment you were at the church with me and then you and Sam were gone and…”

“I took Sam to safety. Obviously. And then--” Cas breaks off.

“And then?”

Cas looks up, eyes bleak. “And then my garrison was called forth to battle. Abaddon, the last Knight of Hell, escaped her imprisonment and was wreaking havoc.”

“I thought you said--”

“I was wrong.” Cas waits for Dean to swallow a couple of painkillers before continuing. “We-- They forced her back into Hell and sealed the rift she created behind her.” Cas falls silent, playing with the label on his beer bottle.

Dean nods, working through the things Cas didn’t say. A battle, yes, fought to a draw. Abaddon in Hell, but not locked away. The rift she tore… “What did they use to seal her snake hole?”

“The same thing they have always used. The grace of an angel.”

Dean stares at him. “If you just used the last of your grace--” he breaks off, passes Cas the rest of his beer. “I’m not worth that.”

“You’re worth anything I want to pay,” Cas says sharply. “But no. What I used healing you will, eventually, be returned to me. I’m still an angel.”

“You’re not telling me everything,” Dean accuses. “Are you going to spill or do I need to find another freaking book?”

Cas shakes his head, slowly. “It’s a very high privilege, one that hasn’t been awarded in centuries. One that hasn’t been necessary in centuries.” He takes another drink of his beer before glancing around, avoiding Dean and Kevin’s eyes. “The grace has to be willingly sacrificed, excised from an angel’s true form and threaded back into creation to seal the fetid thing.”

“Some honor.” Dean snorts. “Let’s maim you to seal our enemy away. It’ll grow back right?”

Eyes bleak, Cas stares at the map table, fiddling with the label on his beer bottle. “Such a scar is a badge of honor, worn for the rest of the angel’s existence.”

“And how long is that likely to be?”

Cas bites his lip. “It has been a very long time, and no other angel has had--”

“How long, Cas?”

“Years. Decades even.”

“What?” Dean clenches his jaw, feeling the thump of his heart. “Their great reward is for you to die? Jesus.”

“I’m not going to die,” Cas snaps. “Not immediately. Now, I believe we have work to do? Where’s Sam?”

Dean snaps his mouth shut.

Chapter Text

The battle rages for days, destroying a small island off Australia’s coast, angels and demons fighting. He’s unprepared-- centuries have passed since he last saw the outside of his cell, and now, forced to Earth among other angels to fight against a Knight of Hell? He nearly dies in the first skirmish, a demon grabbing his wings and dragging him into the sand.

After that, he’s more careful. Unencumbered by a vessel, he’s more powerful, yes, but he is also more vulnerable to demon attacks. A vessel could protect his wings, make it harder for a demon to harm him.

(There’s also a level of anonymity that comes with a vessel, other angels not immediately knowing who he is, not faltering when they realize who they have trusted…)

As much as he wants a vessel however, he finds it almost impossible to get away from the battle long enough to secure one. He spends three days fighting without a vessel, hiding in the back of his old garrison, before the battle cools enough he can break away to find one. He’s not unusual in that, dozens of angels are in the same situation, unable to woo a vessel into consent before they were needed on the field. They leave in waves, disappearing for hours at a time before returning.

He’s still watching a bartender, trying to avoid notice, when Dean Winchester yells across every band of angelic communication. “This goes out to any angel with their ears on. This is Dean Winchester. Sam’s hurt, bad, trying to do your job. First one who gets here and heals him? I’ll owe them a favor. And that ain’t nothing.”

Dean… Castiel’s charge-friend-lover. Gadreel immediately homes in on the prayer’s location to appear at Sam’s side.

Manipulating Sam’s dreamscape is easy enough, gaining his consent takes a matter of moments. By the time Dean returns to the room, it is done and he is being recalled to the field.

The battle is over by the time he returns, with several flights watching the perimeter while others prepare to return to Heaven. Still more rejoice in their victory, singing hymns of thanksgiving and praise. It is the same aftermath as any other battle with Hell with one key difference.

An angel-- unidentifiable from a distance-- is forced to ground, to stand over the rift torn between Earth and Hell. Other angels land beside them. It is too far to see or hear what is discussed, but every angel watching knows what happens next. There has only ever been one solution to such damage to their Father’s creation.

Gadreel watches the beginning of the Commah Siatris Ondon, watches as the angel’s grace is pulled from their vessel in preparation of being sewn into the very fabric of the earth, before fleeing.

He flies the world-- safely anonymous in his new vessel-- until he is certain that he has not been followed. Hidden on a sandy plain, he inspects Sam for any damage from the battle before healing it and turning towards the inside.

Half-healed grace burns greet him, years old; mental damage-- both physical and psychological-- shows more scarring and trauma; years of grace healed gashes, breaks, and sprains.

Including-- Gadreel hums-- the etching on Samuel’s ribs that hide him from Heaven and Hell. He focuses for a moment, repairing the etchings that broken bones and time had softened and altered.

Secure in his vessel and confident that no one will be able to follow him, he stretches his wings and flies elsewhere.

Staring at the vast waterfall where Eden once stood, he carefully rearranges Sam’s mental landscape, strengthening the links between his soul, mind, and body as best he can, moving with a surety he doesn’t feel. This damage truly calls for the Rit Zien, for all that he does not dare call for assistance.

The falls are built up now, thousands of tourists standing where he once stood, watching the water pound the last remnants of paradise into mud. He retakes his ancient post for a brief instant, the moon and flood lights reflecting off the white of the water.

The Fall was not his responsibility, he was one of several guardians. Eve’s curiosity, Adam’s reluctance, Lucifer’s temptation, Father’s lack of instruction… Yet he took the blame. Never again. He has been imprisoned forever, he will not return.


She rages against the closed tear while her shedim search through Hell to find her other exits, other secrets.

Bela approaches, fearfully, from the direction of the Grove and its ruler. Her fear is sweet, perfuming the sulfur with the metallic tang of utter terror. It is almost as intoxicating as human blood spilled across hot sand.

“I have Abimelech’s response,” she says, holding out a sheaf of parchment.

Abaddon waves it away, watching as the Pit slowly-- too slowly-- re-fashions itself. “His answer?”

“That the forest shall remain as it always has-- neutral in the affairs of Hell,” Bela says. “He holds his territory closely and guards it fiercely. It won’t--” Bela chokes on her voice as Abaddon uses a wing to lift her by the throat.

“It won’t what? Fall to me and recognize me as its ruler?” Abaddon scoffs. “What do I care about kings?”

Wide-eyed, Bela nods, frantically.

“With Alastair dead, find out who owns the Pit,” Abaddon growls, dropping Bela to the ground. “They’re next.”

Bela barely keeps herself from curtsying before darting from the room. Abaddon watches as she flees, thinks about the potential benefits of sending her back to the rack. Bela’s youth and inexperience are a liability. Useful, when she needed information, but now?

The flayed pile of demonic flesh in the corner coughs and laughs harshly, rolling so its face looks across the floor towards Abaddon. “You’re not going to like what she finds,” it says smugly.

Abaddon twitches a claw and watches as locusts pour from the walls to eat their fill. “You will like it even less.” Shifting, she picks up the sturdy ring of brass and iron with delicate hands to examine it further.

What the wretch could have possibly thought it was going to accomplish with a worn down trinket such as this...

Her thumbnail catches on one of the designs carved into the face of the ring. Tilting it into the light, she watches as the sigils re-carve themselves before lighting up briefly. “This was hidden away. Where did you find it?”

“My Lord spoke. I listened.” The pile of locusts slowly grows smaller, reforming into the demon, until she lies sprawled across the floor where Abaddon had tossed her. Her power is easier to see now, without a meat suit to contain it, while she pushes herself up with the claws that take the place of her forelimbs. Sharp pointed tails lash towards Abaddon, straining to attack.

“Your Lord was a fool and a coward, hiding behind his deals.”

“Crowley? No.” The demon falls back, laughing. “I made my choice long ago. Before he was freed and after he was caged again.”

Abaddon raises an eyebrow as she watches the other demon. The locusts have vanished, eaten or dissolved away by her true form. “A loyalist then.”

“A true believer,” she retorts. “Not that there are many of those left.”

Abaddon moves, grabbing the other demon by the throat and pulling her into herself. It is nothing to check her motivations, her loyalties, her very self. Little but hatred remains in the demon, save something like self-preservation and what could pass as affection for… an angel. Not trustworthy, but predictable.

Tilting her head, Abaddon pushes Meg out and away, sending her sprawling back across the floor. The Seal she tosses at her, watching as Meg smoothly changes a claw into a hand-- thumbs are very useful-- and grabs the ring from mid-air.

“What would you have of me, your highness?” Meg bows deeply.

“Find me a way to Earth. Find me Crowley,” Abaddon hisses.


Kevin drags Castiel towards the dials as soon as they return. Castiel had planned on following Dean into the shower, and, hopefully, bed, but Kevin demanded his attention first. In any case, Dean clearly wanted some time alone before they begin to figure out their next steps.

The alarms and instruments are intricate work, completed by master craftsmen, with no clear purpose that Castiel can divine. The labels are clear enough-- Demons, Æther, Warning-- but without more information, there’s no way to determine what qualifies as an alarming reading.

He and Kevin discuss the lockdown until Kevin is glancing at his watch and yawning. Castiel follows him down the hall until he’s standing outside Dean’s door. Kevin lifts his hand in good night before heading further down the hall, around the bend.

Breathing out, Castiel taps the door with his knuckles and waits for Dean to respond. Yet another thing he’s been thoroughly educated in. It really feels like… everything… important came after Dean’s presence in his life.

Pushing the door open, he watches Dean busily clean a shotgun, giant headphones pulled over his ears. “Dean?”

Dean nearly drops the barrel, fumbling it back onto the desk with one hand as he pushes back his headphones. “What’s up?”

Castiel leans against the doorway and looks around the room. “It’s… late. I thought maybe I would…” He trails off, no idea how to say what he wants.

Dean watches him for a moment before looking at the clock by his bed, two in the morning glowing red. “I want to get this done. Not ready to sleep yet.”

Castiel nods, picking up a whetstone and several of the knives before sitting on the small couch. “I’ll help.”

Dean nods, reaching over to unplug the headphones from the record player and turning down the volume before settling back down at the desk. They work companionably through the remainder of the album and a second one. Dean tucks everything back into the duffle he uses to carry them before stretching and staring blankly at the bed.

Castiel is silent as he watches Dean get ready for bed, dropping his flannel over the back of the chair, lining his boots up next to the bed, and changing from jeans into sleep pants. It’s only when he reaches for the bedside lamp that he seems to realize that Castiel is still present. “If you want to stay--”

Forcing a serenity he doesn’t feel, Castiel picks up one of the folders on the desk-- Lamiak Populations in North America-- before making himself comfortable on the loveseat. “I don’t need sleep. But if you’re amenable, I find myself in need of company tonight.”

Dean looks at him for a long moment, before nodding and turning the desk lamp on. “Sure, dude. Just don’t spend all night watching me or whatever.”

“Of course not.”

He expects Dean to fall asleep quickly, if not soundly, but he doesn’t. Instead, he restlessly tosses and turns for a long time before sitting up and throwing his pillow to the ground. “I… don’t even know which angel took him,” Dean whispers in the dim light. “I asked, but he-- they-- just took off like it was nothing. How did he’d even get consent?”

Cas shrugs. “It wouldn’t be hard for any angel to get consent. Angels can enter dreams, manipulate them.”

“Not really the most reassuring thing you’ve ever said,” Dean mutters.

Castiel flips the file closed and turns off the lamp, before toeing off his shoes and making his way to the other side of the bed. “We need more information before we can find Sam. To do that, you need sleep.”

“How the fuck was I that stupid?” Dean mumbles as Castiel settles against the headboard. Leaning over, he drags his pillow back onto the bed, punching it into submission before flopping down. “Just let me get my four hours. We can pick up after that,”

“Having faith isn’t stupid, Dean.” Slowly, Castiel rests a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I couldn’t respond in time.”

Dean huffs and flings an arm over Castiel’s legs. “My fault. Don’t worry about it.”

Castiel frowns in the dark, but Dean’s breathing evens out into sleep before he can respond.


Dean rolls over, away from the drowsy warmth. His collarbone and the claw marks scream back into awareness, catapulting him from sleep. “Jesus fucking Christ on a fucking pogo stick!”

A hand comes the head of the bed, pressing into the muscle. The warmth does as much to soothe the pain as the whisper of grace that follows it. Immediately, Dean’s face flushes as he realizes he’s been cuddling into Cas.

“Dean? Did that help?” Cas asks quietly.

He rolls his shoulder slightly to test it. “Feels better than it did.” Pushing himself out of bed, he grabs his flannel and shrugs it on. Cas is still sitting on the bed, Dean’s phone balanced on his thigh and open to… something.

“I’m gonna--” Dean jerks his thumb towards the rest of the Bunker before fleeing.

Showering gives him enough time to get his head on straight and figure out the game plan for the day.

Kevin shuffles into the kitchen almost as soon as the coffee finishes brewing, pouring himself a cup and dropping his computer at the kitchen table. “What barely legal thing are we doing today?”

Dean pauses in his fridge rummage to look at Kevin. He’s pale and exhausted, carrying around the coffee cup like his life depends on it. Making a snap decision, Dean pulls the eggs from the fridge and bacon and hashbrowns from the freezer. “We’re not doing anything,” he says, depositing breakfast on the counter. “I’m going to make a call, see if I can get someone here to take you out while I see what I can dig up on Sam.”

“I don’t need a--”

Dean cuts him off. “Until I know that you’re safe? Yeah. You do.” Sighing, he turns around to face Kevin, leaning against the counter. “I don’t need another thing to worry about and you need to get out of here before you lose your goddamn mind.”

Kevin looks down at his laptop before looking back up. “Did Cas tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“While you were dicking around, dealing with Hell, my mom died,” Kevin spits out. “I hid in her fucking heaven.”

“Kev…” Dean starts.

“Fuck you, Winchester. You got Mom killed. Take your babysitter and shove it up your ass.” Kevin slams his coffee mug down and darts from the room.

Cas steps aside to let him pass before slowly entering the kitchen. “Is Kevin…”

Dean blows out a breath before turning back to the stove. “No, he’s not. You didn’t tell me his mom died.”

Cas is silent behind him.

“Great. Just great. Anything else? Another apocalypse, maybe? Or more Purgatory bullshit?” Slamming everything back into the fridge, Dean swipes a beer and drops down at the table. “First Sam, now Linda. Anyone else I’ve failed, Cas? Charlie or Henry? Hell, you?”

“You didn’t fail Ms. Tran,” Cas says fiercely. He reaches over Dean’s shoulder to grab the beer and replaces it with a cup of coffee. “Or me, or Sam. We will figure it out. We always do.”

“Last I checked, we couldn’t bring people back from the dead, Cas.”

“So we avenge her death. Take care of Kevin.”

Closing his eyes, Dean takes several deep breaths, waiting for the constant vague panic to recede enough that he can function. “Yeah. Alright.”

He’s not hungry anymore, so he picks up his coffee and Kevin’s computer and heads back to the library where Sam’s computer waits. Most of the news alerts needed to search for Sam are already up and running-- one angel possession is much like another-- so he starts looking for Jane Does that fit Linda’s description.

They failed at protecting her in life, but he can make sure she’s properly laid to rest.


Castiel goes to find Kevin after a while. “They never would have left her if they actually thought she was in danger,” he starts, leaning against the door frame of Kevin’s room. “Or even suspected it.”

“Don’t apologize for them,” Kevin grinds out, shoving some clothes into a backpack. “They knew what they were doing.”

“They had some awareness of the risks, yes.” Castiel shifts awkwardly against the door frame. “However, until we know more, it’s ridiculous to expect Sam and Dean to have foreseen the consequences of Linda being on her own.”

“Fuck you. You don’t get to make me feel guilty about being angry.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I’m… encouraging you to think.”

“I think that my mom’s dead and the gates of Hell-- my way out-- are still open. I’m stuck in this place with the people who got my mom murdered.”

“You are a prophet of the Lord, Kevin, and will be until the moment of your death.”

“Great. Helpful, Cas. Really. I’m stuck with this bullshit until I die. Maybe I should just go do that then.”

“Kevin--”

“Shut up, Cas. You’re just as bad as them. You let her die.”

“No, I didn’t.” Castiel pushes himself to stand straight. “It is unfortunate, and I am deeply sorry and sympathetic. But her death does not lie at our hands. I will assist you in figuring out who caused her death, we all will help you find vengeance if that is a thing you desire, but your blame needs to be pointed towards someone who deserves it.”

“What the fuck does that even mean?” Kevin sinks onto his bed.

“The Bunker is the safest place for you, however angry you may be. I will not allow you to compromise your safety because you are upset.”

“You can’t keep me here.”

“And I won’t. But there is a world of difference between those two things.”

“I’m just gonna be stuck with a babysitter every time I leave the Bunker.”

“Until we can guarantee your safety, yes.”

“Fine. Get out.”

Castiel thinks about saying something else, something soothing, but there’s nothing to say.


The longer he wanders, the more he wonders why he is taking precautions against demons. Despite Castiel’s stories, and the news he received from his brethren, demons are scarcely around every corner. His biggest worry is other angels.

Their voices still resound from Earth, dozens of angels taking their first opportunity for more earthly pleasures in centuries. Naomi-- or whoever is taking the position of First-- will have their work cut out forcing them all back to Heaven.

He crisscrosses the globe, stretching his wings for the first time since humanity gained sentience. Every couple of stops, he diverts a small trickle of grace to heal Sam of some minor hurt-- healing a scar or a burn, straightening a poorly healed break-- until all that remains is the grace burns. His mental trauma is likely permanent, as is the loose fit of his soul to his body, but Gadreel has done his duty and healed him. Anything else will require more grace than he wants to expend.

Now, he just needs to determine the best way to stay hidden from the others.


Sam’s hiking along a two-lane blacktop, when he gets blown off the road by a truck speeding past him. He stumbles over a broken bit of asphalt, tripping and nearly falling.

He gets off the road, standing in the scrub and bushes that line the hill. He doesn’t recognize this, wherever he is. And he has no idea how he got here.

Carefully, he returns to the road and starts walking while he thinks things over. He doesn’t know where he is, but it’s chilly and wet enough he’s glad he has a jacket on over his flannel. He’s… absolutely starving, not that there’s anything to be done about that right now, and, possibly most important, he doesn’t remember anything since the Church.

A four-door rustbucket speeds past him before pulling off the road in a wide spot. The driver flips on their emergency flashers and opens the door, lifting a hand to wave. “Need a ride?”

“Please.” Glancing at the license plate-- Washington state-- Sam hurries toward the car.

The interior of the car is only slightly better than the exterior, but it’s warm and dry. The driver reaches over and tosses a straining backpack into the rear seat, shuffling some empty fast food bags while he does. “Just… push all of that onto the floor. It’s trash.” The kid is young, maybe eighteen, and his accent doesn’t belong here. Louisiana, maybe, or Mississippi. Somewhere warmer.

Sam slides into the passenger seat, crushing the bags under foot his knees almost touching his chest. “Thanks, man.”

“Cy,” the kid offers. “And it’s not a big deal. You’re not the first stranded tourist I’ve rescued.”

“Sure.” The forest on the hillside thickens as they drive, encroaching on the road. “Where are we?”

“Forks, Washington.” Cy looks at him skeptically before focusing on the road. “Public intoxication is still a crime, ya know.”

“Public… I’m not high.” Sam blinks rapidly, slotting things into place. “I just need a ride into town. I’ll figure out how to get home from there.”

Cy says nothing, driving them the rest of the way into town and dropping Sam off in front of a general store.

The entire town is braced for an onslaught, Twilight posters and vampires in almost every store window, bracketed by the same overpriced tourist shit that Sam sees in almost every city. It’s a nightmare.

Stopping into the store gets him a phone charger and directions to a coffee shop where he can charge his phone and get a bite to eat. It’s all given grudgingly, like the only reason he’s even getting this much is because he’s paying cash.

A cup of coffee and veggie plate later, his phone has enough charge to turn on and he’s blasted with missed calls, voicemails, and text messages. Sam fumbles the phone onto silent as soon as the first notification comes through, his phone buzzing and vibrating off the table.

Jesus, how much time is he missing?

Ignoring everything else, Sam calls Dean.

“Sam?” Dean answers.

“Hey, Dean.”

“Thank Christ,” Dean laughs. “Where the hell are you? I’ve been looking all over for you, man.” Dean sounds suspiciously drunk, but Sam doesn’t hear bar sounds. Probably in the Bunker then, mostly safe.

Good.

“No idea where I was,” Sam admits. “I’m in Forks, Washington now.”

“What the hell are you doing there?”

“I don’t know. I was in the church and then I was walking along the highway.”

“The church…” Dean says slowly. “Sammy, that was two weeks ago.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t know, man.” Dean pulls open the Bunker door with his free hand. “One minute, fucking prayer was my best option, the next, you’re all angel’d up and disappearing.”

“And I just let them? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. They must have done something to get you to agree.” Dean shrugs one shoulder. “You don’t remember anything at all?”

“A few flashes,” Sam says, frowning. “Landscapes, mostly. Like we were touring the world. Until I got to Forks.”

Dean scowls at the floor. “Whatever. I’ll look the gift horse in the mouth when it shows up to bite us in the ass.”

“Yeah. We know how that goes.” Sam huffs. “I’m gonna get cleaned up.”

Dean watches Sam duck through the library, heading towards their bedrooms. Breathing out, he lets himself feel the lingering bits of being Abaddon’s chew toy before heading into the kitchen.

Cas is curled around a cup of coffee at the table and reading a file in an exhausted, mostly-human, haze. He doesn’t want to talk about it, and Dean can’t really blame him, but something major went down.

He takes a moment to rest his hand on Cas’s shoulder. Cas’s hand comes up to rest over his, squeezing gently before falling back down to turn the page.

“Find anything interesting?” Dean asks.

“A possession out of Cedar Rapids, during your Great Depression. The demon was captured by a party of hunters and brought to the nearest chapter house for interrogation.”

Dean raises an eyebrow before he starts putting away the groceries. “Okay, and?”

“It was the first reporting in nearly seventy years of any of the Knights,” Cas says flatly, twisting around to watch Dean. “And the first record I can find claiming all the Knights but one were dead.”

“Abaddon?” Dean glances over.

“The last one.” Cas looks up, mouth twisting into a smile. “The demon didn’t know how of course, but I suspect it was archangels.”

“They weren’t bragging about it? Doesn’t seem like their style.”

“It’s not. And even if it was, I don’t know who: Michael would have been focused on preparing for the apocalypse, Gabriel was already in his ‘witness protection’ program.” Cas makes finger quotes before dropping his hands back around his (empty) coffee cup. “I don’t know what Raphael was doing, but presumably watching over a series of prophets. Maybe they took the time to exterminate the Knights-- it would be within their purview.”

“Speaking of prophets, where’s ours?” Dean frowns.

“Charlie texted earlier. They’re on a campus tour of a Baptist school in northeast Kansas City today.”

“Are they serious? Kev’ll be miserable there.”

“Charlie wasn’t happy.” Cas blows out a sigh. “Are you certain this is our best course of action?”

“No, but I don't know what else to do with him. The kid’s pissed and not talking to us-- which I get-- and needs to do something besides stare at books all day. Charlie’s the most normal out of all of us, maybe she’ll be better.” Dean holds back his own sigh, staring bleakly at the fridge.

Cas pulls Dean into a hug. This is new, but the comforting sort. Dean can see where the hugs and bed sharing-- even if Cas doesn’t sleep-- and occasional touches are heading, has been able to see it for years, but for the first time, it’s not terrifying.

They’re sitting side by side at the table by the time Sam comes in, absorbed in old case files-- Cas-- and looking for a new hunt-- Dean.

Sam pauses in the doorway. “There a reason we’re working in here?”

“The coffee pot is in here,” Cas answers, flipping the file closed and reaching for another one. “While the caffeine does very little for me, the scent is stimulating.”

“Uh… sure.” Sam blinks and slides onto one of the seats opposite them, snagging a pile of files to flip through. “Knights of Hell?”

“Knight, singular,” Dean says, reaching over to grab Sam a cup of coffee. “The rest are dead, probably due to archangels, for just short of a century. Looks like we let her loose.” He bites back the rest-- there’s no point in beating themselves up about it now.

“Anything newer? Or non-demonic?”

Dean sighs and passes Sam his notepad. “Pick a direction. We’ve got just about every sort of nasty you can think of, and that’s just what I can ID off a newspaper article. I’m trying to narrow things down a bit.”

Sam’s eyebrows go up as he sees the list. “Wasn’t there an ōkami in Fargo?”

Dean frowns, but flips open the laptop on the table, quickly scanning newspapers before passing the laptop to Sam. “Not that I’m seeing. Where’d you hear that?”

“I thought… never mind. We’ve got enough choice as it is.”

“Yeah, Cas and I do. You stay home and rest.” Dean swallows, pressing his leg against Cas’s for a moment before standing. “Cas and I’ll take care of one, swing back and pick you up when we’re through.”

“Dean, I--”

Dean cuts him off. “You were nearly dead and then disappeared for two weeks. You’re staying here.” Dean claps Cas on the shoulder before leaving the room. “Wheels up in forty-five, Cas.”

“Of course, Dean,” Cas agrees easily, shifting the papers into piles on the empty end of the table. “I’ll be ready.”


Castiel waits until Dean is out of the kitchen before meeting Sam’s eyes. “Since the angel who healed you is unknown, do I have your permission to double check their work?”

Sam shrugs and shifts closer. “Sure, Cas. Knock yourself out.”

Reaching out with his grace, Castiel feels around the edges of Sam’s soul for stress before moving on. There’s something strange about the traces of grace left behind by their mystery angel--

Cas blinks and sags against the table before taking a long drink of the lukewarm coffee in front of him.

Sam looks at him, concern evident. “You okay?”

“I’m fine, Sam. My grace apparently hasn’t recovered as much as I thought.” Which is… worrisome, but not something he needs to concern the Winchesters with. He’s not recovered from the Commah Siatris Ondon and having a large amount of grace lopped off though, maybe it’s that.

“Hey, Cas. C’mon! Have you even moved?” Dean cuts off Castiel’s train of thought.

“Stop being impatient. You said forty-five minutes.” Frowning, Castiel glances at the clock on the wall. “I have--”

“That was an hour ago,” Dean cuts him off. “Sam?”

“I don’t... I guess it just took us that long,” Sam says slowly. “But I’m good, right Cas?”

Castiel fumbles for what he discovered, relief flooding him when he remembers it easily. “Whoever the angel was, they did an admirable job. The burns and other trauma are almost entirely healed.” He smiles, glancing over at Dean. “Another few days and there won’t be any sign at all.”

“Awesome.” Dean claps his hands together. “When we’re back, we’ll find something for all three of us.”

Ten minutes later, they’re in the Impala and heading towards Colorado.


Looking at the list of possible hunts Dean left behind, Sam groans before getting a beer and dragging everything back to the library. The last thing he wants to do is remember mangled corpses while eating dinner.

The list isn’t as bad as it could be, a dozen or so potential cases amid the scratch outs and a list of names. It looks like Dean got other hunters to take care of the time sensitive ones while he looked for Sam

He shoots a text to the hunters he knows, checking in to make sure everything is okay before diving into the other potentials.

Two of the cases he dismisses out of hand. They might be something, they might not, but the three sentence blurbs he can find in the newspaper tell him nothing. Miracles or freak accidents, it’s hard to tell without having more people on the ground.

The others are something that is going to require intervention. Shifters and maybe a nest of vampires, probably a werewolf, and a few ghosts. Possibly a mothman out in North Carolina, but he’s not hurting anything besides some racoons. Nothing out of the ordinary for a national search.

Sam spends a few hours putting files together so they can hit up a bunch of hunts in one trip once Dean and Cas get back.

That done, he resumes Cas’s research into the Knights of Hell and how to kill them.

The next time Sam looks at the clock, it’s almost ten. He’s not tired, although now that he’s paying attention, he thinks he should probably eat something and go to bed.


The Museum of Colorado Prisons isn’t much, a single cell block barely upgraded since it was built in the thirties. A stone’s throw from the still operating prison though, and within the fenced perimeter, the security gives Dean the willies.

Nothing good can come from being this close to a state prison, not with his record.

Cas settles his trench coat on his shoulders before double checking his ID is in the correct pocket. “Are you certain this will work?”

Dean grins absently, still distracted by the walls a few feet away. “Of course it will. Museums love free press.”

Cas looks at the doors dubiously, but doesn’t say anything.

Dean’s not feeling real secure about it either, but what choice do they have? At least the museum holds regular ‘paranormal investigation’ overnights, so a couple more sketchy guys waving around EMF meters won’t raise any alarms.

“You remember where things are?”

“Of course.” Cas rolls his eyes. “Ghostly fires with no ignition point and gunshots with no guns are so common.”

“Asshole,” Dean mutters, slapping Cas’s shoulder. “Well, let’s get our journalist on then, I guess.”

Ponying up the admission fee for both of them, Dean checks out the security as unobtrusively as he can while Cas distracts the clerk looking for a coat room. It’s pretty tight security for a museum-- although, again, there’s a prison next door, so maybe not-- but nothing out of the ordinary.

The first few rooms-- gift shop, the hallway towards the cells/ exhibits, and some staff only areas-- are pretty normal with barely a blip on the EMF (there are a few artifacts Dean wants to burn just in case-- Alferd Packer was well on his way to becoming a wendigo-- but that’s par for the course in any decent museum). The lower level though…

Nothing pops on the EMF and he can’t find anything else ghost-like either, but something definitely haunting the isolation room. The florescent bulbs, already dimmer than the ones upstairs, flicker wildly and the cinder block walls somehow make the room darker, absorbing the bright sunshine that streams in through the window. A streaky mirror attached to the brick above the sink only makes things worse. Looking directly at it, the reflections waver and tilt and there’s something hovering over Dean’s shoulder-- something that can’t be seen with the naked eye-- while he looks around the room.

Backing out rapidly, Dean shudders and heads next door, to the original kitchen for the cell block where Cas is staring at something in the industrial steel, head tilted curiously.

“Can you--” Dean starts, before something moves in the blurred reflection of the sink. “It’s in here too.”

Slowly-- too slowly-- Cas glances at the sink. “I agree.” His face distorts, flesh hanging off his skull, demon red eyes looking at Dean, just long enough for Dean suck in a breath, before he nods. “A creature of some variety, not a ghost.”

The lights dim further as a cloud passes over the sun and Dean has had enough. “Awesome. Let’s get out of here and figure out what we’re dealing with.”

Cas nods distractedly, his eyes darting around the room.

Dean shudders again and grabs Cas’s arm, dragging him out of the building.


“I don’t really think you’d be happy here, Kev,” Charlie points out over the breakfast table. “It’s not a bad school, it’s just…”

“Really flippin’ conservative.” Kevin sighs into his coffee. “But it’s close enough to keep Dean happy.”

“Fuck what he thinks,” Charlie snarls. “This is your life. Yeah, it’d be good if you stayed close enough the Wonder Trio could get to you quickly, but we’ll make it work if you don’t want to.”

Kevin frowns, poking at the crappy continental breakfast put out by the hotel. He’s got the grades to get in here, yeah. But Charlie’s right-- this is a small, private, religious school, and not even remotely the sort of place he would have looked at before everything happened. At the same time, Princeton isn’t even remotely a possibility. “Two more and we’ll call it quits. I’ll go to school online or something.” And face the people who allowed his mom to get killed on a daily basis, somehow without going mental. God, he needs to get out of the Bunker.

“Alright!” Charlie grins at him and pulls her laptop out, connecting to the crappy wi-fi. “Where are we going?”

“The big state schools, Missouri and Kansas. I can disappear into the crowd there.”

“We’ll add K-State too, since it’s on the way back to the Bunker.” Charlie happily types for a few minutes. “Let’s see… Missouri on Monday and both KU and K-State on Tuesday,” Charlie says, looking up. “Which leaves us the weekend to kill. Unless you want to head back to the Bunker now.”

Swallowing, Kevin meets her eyes. “Hell no. Maybe spend some time around here? I know there’s a giant research library in the city.”

“What’s this really about?”

“I want to know what happened to my mom! Dean said he’d--” he breaks off, suddenly aware of everyone watching them. “Something happened, something terrible, and I have no idea what.”

Charlie nods, drinking her orange juice. “Let’s finish up here and we’ll head into Kansas City. See what we can dig up.”

A couple hours later, Kevin is set up at a public terminal at the library with the log-in for the digitized newspaper archives, scanning through the articles day by day. He plugs in his headphones and just starts running through the articles, looking for his mom.

Charlie has the fun job, checking databases and credit cards for any trace of her. Occasionally, he glances over to see crime scene photos in lurid detail splashed across her screen while she checks some detail or another.

Kevin nearly gags at the sight of a young woman brutally hacked to pieces in her bed.

“Yeah, I think that one’s a hunt,” Charlie says quietly, minimizing the window and pulling up her email. “I’m gonna forward it on, let someone else deal with it.”

Nodding, Kevin returns to his screen and starts searching through again. He’s wading through yet another missing persons article when he realizes that he might be able to cut down on the number of possibilities significantly.

<< Hey, Cas. Do you know the names of other potential prophets? Who’ll take over if I die?

He makes it through a couple more articles before his phone buzzes again.

>> Chuck Shurley, Kevin Tran, Donatello Redfield, Antonio Alvarez, Luigi Ponzi, Justin Hunt, Aaron Webber, Maria Rodriguez, Dennis Adams, Krista Andrews, and Sven Karlsson. The others haven’t been born yet.

<< Thanks.

Starting a new search, Kevin starts pulling up their social media profiles that he can find and uses that to find the names of any missing family.

It takes all day, but finally, finally, he can narrow down the search area for Charlie. “Wichita. Check around Wichita.”

“You think?” Charlie shakes her head before pulling up the appropriate databases. “Okay, let’s give it a go…”

They find his mom by dinner time, too late to claim her, but at least he knows where they need go.


“Thank you for your help,” Dean says sincerely as the library volunteer shuffles them out the door so she can lock up for the night. He waves a little before following Cas to the Impala. “What do you think?”

Cas pauses before shrugging out of his suit jacket and tossing it into the back seat. “I think that for a museum that has a history of fires with no origin point, gunfire without any guns, and ghostly rioters, it is remarkably… not haunted.”

“There’s something there,” Dean starts. “In the basement.”

“Old and dark and hungry, yes,” Cas interrupts. “But not the source of what drew us here.”

“Something’s using the supposed haunting to cover its tracks. No one’s going to look too hard at the occasional dead prisoner and having the lair outside the prison walls…” Dean grimaces, pulling open the car door and sliding into the driver’s seat. “What is this thing, the boogeyman?”

Cas hmms beside him. “Maybe.”

“Boogeymen don’t go after adults,” Dean says as he swings the car around. “Kids, sure. Occasionally traumatized teenagers. But adults?”

“And how many victims of the criminal justice system in this country aren’t traumatized?” Cas points out. “It’s a captive feeding pool of people no one cares about. Done intelligently, a population of seven hundred could feed an entire family for years.” He’s silent for a moment before continuing, “I’m actually surprised that more creatures don’t make use of the model.”

“Let’s be happy they don’t,” Dean says. “Investigating prisons sucks, and I’m not as willing to get the crap beat out of me as I used to be.”

“Your justifiable reluctance is mirrored by every hunter, and as a result, anytime there is a hunt inside a prison, it goes unresolved.” Cas’s put some thought into this.

Dean quirks his eyebrows but lets it go. It’s not like Cas is wrong, and he’s had enough arguments with Sam about it for Cas to know that Dean knows.

“Also, that we both reacted so strongly to the lair would indicate this one has adapted to the food supply at hand,” Cas says, slightly calmer. “We are both--”

“Who let you watch Dr. Phil anyway?” Dean bites out. “Any ideas on what type of boogeyman? There’s dozens.”

“Even with my grace depleted, I don’t need much sleep and Dr. Phil is informative,” Cas shoots back. “And no. We need more information.”

“Guess we’re going in with the nerds tonight after all.” Dean sighs and heads back to the motel. They’ve barely got enough time to get changed and find something to eat before they’re due back at the prison for the overnight.

Scarfing down cheap burgers from the Wendy’s next door, they change out of their suits into jeans and t-shirts, layering to hide their weapons.

It doesn’t take much to blend in with the crowd of GhostFacer wannabes milling around the courtyard in front of the museum, waving around video cameras and EMF meters bought off the internet.

A team of three with less tech and suspiciously heavy pockets Dean pegs as civilians who might actually survive long enough to become hunters hovers near the staircase, glancing up nervously. Probably think some rock salt and-- Dean tilts his head as the leader shoves his hand into his pocket, tightening his grip on something-- a pair of brass knuckles will take care of any ghost while the other two find the remains.

(If this place was actually haunted, Dean would put the fear of god into them and get them out of the way. Instead, they can provide a nice distraction while he and Cas take care of the actual threat.)

Another ‘team’ huddles together about fifteen feet away, out of the wind. A pimply high schooler whispers a ghost story to the gathered group, his voice rising as he reaches the conclusion. On cue, the girl beside him-- skinny, wearing all black and a bunch of dime store protection charms-- goes into a near faint before proclaiming that she can feel the presence of a spirit.

Leaning against one of the outbuildings, Dean glances at Cas next to him. “What would you look like to a psychic anyway?” he asks, not bothering to stay quiet. “Assuming our goth-y friend over there is the real deal, of course.”

“Unless she is exceedingly ill-trained, and poorly mannered to boot, she won’t find out,” Cas says, his voice loud enough to carry.

From the way the girl stiffens, she heard him. Dean chuckles as she guides her friends away to get lost in the crowd. “So you’re not going to burn her eyes out then?”

“Not as long as I’m in a vessel, no. But a migraine would be likely.”

Dean watches the groups move and shift, more than a few shivering in the early April breeze as the sun sets behind the mountains. Jerking his eyes away, he glances up at the guard tower at the corner of the courtyard, where the museum grounds share a wall with the prison.

The spotlight in the guard tower lights up just as the sun disappears, starting a slow rotation-- like a light house-- gradually covering all of the museum grounds before moving on.

Dazzled by the light, he almost doesn’t see it-- a shaggy shadow perched on top of the wall, immediately below the guard tower. It’s too dark to see the thing’s face, but there might be a red glint in the general vicinity of the eyes.

“Cas,” he hisses. “Top of the wall, below the guard tower.” He doesn’t dare blink.

Cas freezes next to him, eyes fixed to the same spot. “Dean, that’s--” he breaks off.

“Waiting on its next meal, yeah.” As they watch, the thing drops behind the wall and out of sight. “Shit.”

There’s a loud clamor at the top of the stairs into the museum when the volunteers open the doors, allowing the milling crowd into the building. “Okay, investigators, everything’s set up inside, so we can get started.” The crowd lurches up the stairs, including goth girl, looking spooked.

Dean glances back up to the top of the wall. “What do you think?”

Cas tilts his head and considers for a moment before following the crowd. “I think we need to kill the monster before it hurts anyone else.”

“Yes, thanks for that. Any ideas on how to lure it back here, Sherlock?”

Cas ignores him, striding confidently across the courtyard and up the stairs.

“Awesome,” Dean mutters before following him.


Castiel is beginning to understand why Sam and Dean prefer empty buildings while working. Everywhere he turns, there’s another human complaining about the camera positioning or picture quality. It’s as inane as the Ghostfacers were, possibly more so.

He and Dean quickly establish themselves as experimenters, trying a new form of detection equipment in the area surrounding the kitchen and isolation room downstairs. There’s almost no camera coverage there-- the kids in charge of positioning the cameras were eager to get out-- so as long as they agree to move the cameras as they’re asked, the others leave them alone.

Dean rolls his eyes behind the earnest young man’s back, but accepts the walkie talkie and clips it to his belt.

The area around the lair is even more unnerving than it was during the day. Whispers echo down the hallway, filling his ears with the same lies and disgust as Naomi. He’s constantly checking on Dean, only reluctantly entering the isolation room where the worst of the miasma is coming from.

The room tilts and wavers, the walls bulging and bleeding.

“Cas!” Dean’s hand lands on his shoulder, dragging him out of the room and into the relative safety of the hallway. “Okay?”

Castiel huffs. “Does it matter? We need to take care of this.”

Dean quirks an eyebrow but doesn’t disagree. “Alright. Together then. Should keep the worst of it at bay.”

Castiel pretends not to notice Dean’s flinches in the isolation room, how his eyes constantly slide from the wall to Castiel with a frown. Since he’s doing the same thing, Castiel is certain this is one of those things that is never appropriate to discuss.

The radio squawks, “Eagle two? One of the cameras has slipped out of alignment again.”

“Fuck,” Dean breathes before yanking it off his belt. “Which camera, Nest? Need a lot more info than just ‘one of them.’”

Castiel ignores the rest of the exchange, following Dean out into the hallway so he can get a better grasp on what’s going on. Dean reaches up to push a camera around, aiming it down the hallway and away from where they’re working.

Stepping back, Dean glares at the section of wall between the isolation door and the kitchen. “It’s been a while since I hunted a fucking boogeyman. How much room do these things need?”

“It’s a shapeshifter. Or a variant anyway.” Castiel looks at the wall again before shrugging. “It could easily fit inside the wall or an air vent.”

“Awesome.” Dean grimaces and shuts his eyes as he faces the kitchen. “We know it’s not getting in through the isolation room, so let’s find the entrance point.”

They get faster at ignoring the hallucinations, the skittering of rats behind them or a reflection’s movement in the stainless steel appliances.

Most of the fixtures on the shared wall between the kitchen and isolation room are bolted into place, permanently attached to the brick. Dean mumbles something about it being a sensible precaution in a prison known for its riots, but it slows their search down. They’re less than halfway along the wall when Castiel hears footsteps.

“Dean, stop.” There it is again, boots on a linoleum floor. “There’s someone in the hallway.”

Dean freezes immediately, the box of kitchen utensils he’s holding jangling quietly.

“Crap,” Dean says quietly. He silently shifts the box onto the counter before glancing over at Castiel. “I’ll take care of whoever that is, get them back to the group. You keep searching.”

Sucking in a breath and ignoring the whispers that are rapidly filling the room, Castiel nods. “I can handle it.”

Dean nods before heading out into the hallway, pulling the door mostly closed behind him. Cas keeps half an ear on the conversation in the hall, but mostly focuses on figuring out where the boogeyman’s lair is.

Blowing out a breath, Castiel pulls the freezer away from the wall, only to find a hole behind it, more than large enough for a boogeyman to lair in. He jumps backwards, tripping over a buckle in the cheap tile, and falling away from the hole with a crash.

“Cas!” Dean shouts, dashing in.

“I’m alright,” Castiel says, raising a hand. “Just tripped.”

Dean frowns before glancing behind him. “You’ve never done that before.”

“It’s not a--” Castiel cuts himself off when the young woman in all black slides in through the open door.

“We’re talking about this later,” Dean barks before turning around. “What the hell, lady, you can’t just barge in here.”

The girl is silent, taking in the utter destruction of the kitchen before focusing on the hole in the wall. “Oh god, it’s real.”

“No, really. You can’t be in here.” Dean scowls. “Something about delicate equipment and readings.”

“That’s Joseph’s cameras, out in the hall,” she says absently, still staring at the entrance to lair. “Not in here. No one even likes to admit this place exists.”

“What do you mean?” Dean asks sharply.

“Joseph and Justin, the ones with all the cameras. Everyone knows it’s creepy as fuck down here, so they only set cameras in the hallways-- can’t stand to be in the kitchen or iso room long enough to even set things up. In months of doing these investigations, you two are the only ones who bee-lined down here like you had a mission.”

“What about you?”

“This place isn’t haunted, I know that much. I don’t know what is down here, but it’s not a ghost.”

Castiel looks at her sharply before shaking his head and calling Dean over. “Come take a look at this.”

Dean’s at his side in an instant, grimacing, the girl trailing after him. “You found it.”

The aura of terror and paranoia lifts for a brief moment as Castiel preens under the praise; a breath of badly needed fresh air. Then the fog descends again, along with the hallucinations out of the corner of his eye and pressure on his chest.

Visibly steeling himself, Dean reaches towards the jagged hole in the whitewashed cinder block.

“No!” The girl nearly screams, cowering against the kitchen island. “Don’t touch it.”

Cas squeezes Dean’s shoulder before guiding her to the far side of the kitchen. “We’re professionals. Dean can handle it.”

She ignores him, watching in horrified fascination as Dean gingerly sticks his hand inside, feeling around. She sobs when Dean sticks his arm in further, almost to the elbow, reaching for something.

Dean looks over. “Sweetheart, stop. I’m fine, see? It’s out hunting anyway.”

“What’s your name?” Castiel asks to distract her since she won’t leave the kitchen. He tears a paper towel off the rolls nearby, handing it to her so she can wipe her eyes.

“Stephanie,” she says, splitting her attention between what Dean’s doing at the wall and the narrow window high on the outside wall. “I am, you know. Psychic, kinda. Mark doesn’t get it, thinks I’m making it all up.” She shudders. “But this place…”

“Mark is your…?”

“Boyfriend.” She snorts. “Sometimes. Mostly, he likes to have an audience. Which is why he’s upstairs with the J’s, making a fool of himself.”

“Why stay with him then?” Dean asks gently, still rooting around in the hole. “Even in high school--”

She grins, bright and brittle. “Ghost hunts are fun-- when there’s nothing real to them. And it’s not like I’m a useful kind of psychic. Surprising no one, prisons are depressing.”

Dean yanks his hand out of the wall, banging his knuckles on the edges, and pulls out a handful of brown fur. Stephanie shrieks at the thump, jumping.

“Stay here, okay?” Castiel tells Stephanie, hoping that she’ll listen.

“Sure,” she says shakily.

At least she’s stopped crying.

Dean is poking his prize with a cautious finger, separating the clump of rough brown fibers. “Is this… coconut?” He pauses for a long moment before looking up at Castiel. “Shit. We’re hunting a coco.”


Dean stares down at the handful of fiber, trying to keep his unease hidden from the civilian. Keeping a lid on things is hard enough when he can see movement in every reflective surface, hear the unsteady thump of his heart in counterpoint to everything else.

But hey, at least the walls have stopped bleeding.

A coco. Real boogeymen are rare enough, but a coco… He’s not seen one of those since he was a kid, and that was some weird hybrid between the Spanish coco and the French hand-cruncher. And that was bad enough, with only a kid’s nightmares for it draw on. Now… well, no wonder he’s having a hard time keeping his shit together.

“A coco?” the girl-- Stephanie, he reminds himself-- asks. “What’s that?”

“One of the more potent forms of boogeyman,” Cas answers distractedly. “Best known for being able to transform into a dragon.” Reaching out, he touches Dean’s shoulder again.

Pushing back the urge to drag Cas out of here-- fuck everyone else-- Dean briefly leans into the touch before dropping the hair on the counter, frantically racking his memory. Coco… Spanish, therefore Catholic, therefore-- “Consecrated silver, right, Cas?”

“A cloak of woven laurel and saffron, dipped in mercury, would be preferable, wrapped around it five times.”

“Sure, let me pull that out of my back pocket.” Dean raises an eyebrow. “Besides, that doesn’t work if they’re in dragon form, and when are we ever that lucky?”

“Yes, silver will work. Your sarcasm isn’t necessary or appreciated.”

“You want to wrap a dragon in a cloak of… laurel and saffron? You’re insane,” Stephanie sputters. Pushing herself away from the counter, she starts towards the door. She freezes a split second before the lights go out.

Dean drops into a crouch, palming one of the knives from his waistband with one hand and waving frantically to get Stephanie under cover. The dim light from outside doesn’t illuminate much, just enough to reflect off her jewelry and show her silhouette. “Stephanie,” he hisses. “Move!”

She shakes her head, barely visible in the darkness.

Cas takes a slow step away, putting himself between her and the door. Dean doesn’t think the thing will be coming from that direction, but that’s easier for Cas to cover. The silver of his angel blade nearly glows in the darkness.

The room brightens a little bit, enough for Dean to fix their positions in his mind, before the rotating spotlight from the guard tower moves on, plunging the room back into near darkness.

A shadow creeps across the far window. It’s not very big-- the general size and shape of a rag doll-- and easily overlooked as a dropped toy next to the window if anyone stumbles upon it. A limb reaches up and tilts the window open a few inches before dropping through and onto the counter.

Dean loses sight of it in the deeper shadows beneath the window, catching only the scurry of movement as it jumps from box to box to counter top.

“You’re going to fail them,” a demonic voice whispers. “Cas is nearly human, he can die.” It gets louder, sick glee filling it. “And then he’s one of ours. Dragged to Hell like the fallen scum that he is. You can’t save him. Can’t save Sam either.”

The darkest shadows turn an unsettling greenish-crimson, the color of an infection just before it goes septic, as they bulge towards him.

Stephanie whimpers, still standing motionless in the center of the kitchen, paralyzed with fear.

The coco’s head, large out of proportion with the rest of its body, tilts to the side curiously. It’s red eyes blink twice before it drops down into a crouch.

Dean erupts from the floor, vaulting over the chest freezer to roughly shove Stephanie out of the way. He misjudges the distance in the dark, stumbles and lands heavily against the kitchen island.

The coco growls softly, growing and changing shapes with every sickening pulse of the walls. It jumps the gap between the counter and the island, suddenly the size of a German Shepherd with claws scrabbling on the metal top.

It doesn’t stop. A long, fur covered arm flashes out, trying to drag Stephanie closer, and burying its face in her back and sniffing.

Stephanie breaks, pulling herself free and sprinting for the door. The coco leaps after her, knocking her down and ripping open her back with heavy claws. The spray of blood against the metal is black in the dim light, blurring out the things moving in the reflection.

Cas kicks at it, tries to get it away from Stephanie, but it absorbs the shock somehow, twisting and growing, changing from some sort of monkey-monster into something else. Latching jaws around Cas’s ankle, it pushes up, claws digging further into Stephanie’s back.

Shaking himself, Dean jumps at the coco, jamming his knife into the thing’s side.

The coco doesn’t even notice, flinging Dean into the metal cabinets and continuing to savage Cas’s leg. The knife skitters out of Dean’s hand and under the island. Breathless, Dean rolls over to push himself back to his feet, dragging his machete out of his jacket.

It looks like some disastrous cross between a Komodo dragon and a tiger now, eight feet long and covered in furry scales. It shakes its head, ripping at Cas’s leg before dropping him, and rakes its claws one last time along Stephanie’s legs.

Stephanie screams, a hoarse breathless noise subsiding into a pained gurgle.

Dean motions at the coco with his free hand. “C’mon then. Let’s go.”

The coco shifts its weight, turning to look at Dean.

Cas screams as a claw digs into his chest, subsiding into a distinctive gurgle. Broken rib, at least one. Plus whatever those claws are doing.

Dean throws himself at the coco, machete held like a sword.

The bulk of the thing vanishes in an instant, leaving only the powerful tail behind. It slams into Dean, knocking him sideways and jamming the sharp corner of the island into his spine. His hand spasms with the impact, dropping the machete.

The coco jumps for him, transforming into a beach ball-sized spider, razor sharp legs cutting into him as it bowls him over.

Dean wraps his arms around it, ignoring the cuts, wrestling it away from Cas and Stephanie.

Inches long fangs dig into his shoulder, breaking open the remaining bruises and cuts from Abaddon. The coco is booted away from him like a soccer ball, tearing the fangs from Dean’s shoulder.

Dean screams.

“Get. Off. Him,” Cas pants out, lurching around the corner of the cabinets and falling heavily on his knees. He grabs a leg and yanks it backwards before burying his angel blade into the center.


Breathing heavily, Castiel pushes the coco’s steaming corpse away and crawls to kneel next to Stephanie. It takes far more effort than it should to redirect his guttering grace into her. He can barely heal the most life threatening of her wounds before he sprawls across the floor, exhausted.

He hazily watches Dean yank the radio from his belt, shouting for help from the civilians upstairs before he drifts off.

Awareness slams back into him when he’s lifted by an unfamiliar pair of arms and carefully moved up the stairs and towards the main entrance.

“Dude, the ambulance is here already, let it take your friend,” the human carrying him says lowly.

Dean’s voice is shot through with pain, although Castiel thinks the others probably can’t hear it. “We can’t-- Nothing official. He...”

“Oh.” The arms holding Castiel tighten slightly. “Right. Yeah, bad plan to bring him to the cops’ attention then. We’ll stash you some place out of the way until the cops leave.”

Dean mumbles something and Castiel feels a hand push his hair back from his face.

He loses time again, dragging his eyes open later in a office lit only by a lamp in the corner. “Dean?” He croaks out.

“Cas!” Dean is at his side in an instant, cradling his face in his hands. “Fuck, okay.” A water bottle is fumbled in front of Castiel’s mouth and he obediently takes a sip. “How you feeling?”

Taking another sip of water, Castiel thinks about it before responding, “Like the proverbial dogshit.”

“We can work with that.” Dean chuckles weakly and smiles down at him. “Wanna give me more detail?” He leans back in his chair, wincing.

“You’re hurt,” Castiel says, struggling to sit up. The pain he’s been ignoring spikes, burning its way across his chest.

“Jesus, Cas. Stay down!” Dean keeps his hand on his shoulder, pressing him back onto the couch. “I got off light compared to you.”

“Apparently,” Castiel says, taking inventory. His foot is resting on a box, wrapped in what looks like part of Dean’s overshirt. He can see blood seeping into the fabric, staining the gray material darker. There’s a general stabbing sensation in the vicinity of his ribs and his right arm isn’t moving how he wants it to. “Ribs are the worst, then ankle and wrist.”

Dean hums, comparing the list to whatever list he created while getting them both safe. “Sounds about right.” Sighing, he pulls his phone out and checks the time. “You’ve been out for about an hour, so the cops should be done soon. Then we can get out of here and get you bandaged up right.”

“An hour? I don’t…”

“Yeah, me neither,” Dean agrees harshly. “I’ve never seen you drop like that. And you don’t seem to be healing either.”

“Dean, I’m--”

“You scared the bejesus out of me.” He swallows some of the water, eyes focused somewhere beyond the wall. “You flopped over to Stephanie, healed her, and then dropped like a rock.”

He reaches for his grace again and is frightened by what he finds. “It’s gone,” he whispers. “Almost all of it.”

“Your mojo?” Dean asks sharply.

Castiel nods, the shock of it slowly spreading. Heaven had promised they would leave enough for him to survive, that they would leave him his wings. That he has healed for weeks and could be so gravely injured by a boogeyman of all things…

They lied. They must have.

He stares, dry eyed, at the ceiling, silently hurling invectives towards Heaven. Dean’s hand slides around to rub gentle circles into his shoulder. Castiel wants to take comfort in the gesture, but his heart hurts too much.

Dean’s head whips around a few minutes later, shortly before a short, stocky young man knocks on the doorway. He’s wearing the same tee shirt as the would-be ghost hunters earlier, but Castiel doesn’t remember him as being part of that group.

“Cops are gone, and the EMTs gave us the go ahead to amscray,” he whispers. “Lets get you two out of here before they count heads.” Despite the fact that Castiel is nearly four inches taller than him, the young man bends over and picks him up. “Let’s go.”

“I can walk,” Castiel insists. “You don’t need to carry me.”

“This is faster and I don’t want that leg that far below your heart just yet,” he says. “Your life's gonna suck enough for a while, don’t need you losing a bunch more blood on top of it. And your buddy isn’t in a lot better shape.”

His ribs scream at him with every step, making him gasp. Castiel is panting by the time they get to the ugly Jeep, barely holding onto consciousness.

Dean crawls into the backseat from the driver’s side. “Thanks for the help. And the lift.”

“It’s only a couple of blocks, no worries.”

Castiel stumbles into the motel room under his own power while Dean digs the first aid kit out of the Impala. Stripping and collapsing onto the bed, he remembers too late that he should have a towel under his leg and have it elevated. He can already feel blood renewing its trickle down his calf.


Dean waves off Justin’s offer to help again and watches as he backs out of the parking lot to head home. He just wants to get Cas fixed up enough to get home.

Cas is sprawled face down across the bed, nearly naked, with his head buried between the pillows and his leg bent so his foot and calf are elevated.

Dropping the first aid kit on the table, Dean drags the chair next to the bed and pulls Cas’s leg down. The bleeding has all but stopped, so he bandages it properly, wraps ace bandages around his ankle and wrist and calls it good. Nothing to be done about either of their ribs and the rest is minor enough to be ignored.

“Cas, buddy. Wake up.” Dean pokes Cas awake, handing him a few painkillers. “Take those, get onto your back.”

Grumbling, Cas sits up. “I hate this.”

“Welcome to humanity, pal,” Dean snarks. “I’m gonna shower. Take the friggin’ pills.”

Chapter Text

Sam scratches through the hunt on Dean’s notepad and muffles his yawn. “Yeah, Irv. I’ll keep an ear out. Let me know if you hear anything about Abaddon and Knights of Hell, alright? Or Garth, yeah.” He sets the phone down with a sigh and leans back in his chair.

Right on cue, Charlie bustles in from wherever she’s been working and pulls him into the kitchen. “Your turn to cook, then bed.”

Sam nods his way through another yawn before starting dinner. He’s completely wiped by the time he’s done, but sitting down helps.

“You look like shit,” Kevin says bluntly when they sit down. “What the hell have you been doing?”

“Running phones and research,” he shoots back. “I don’t know, I feel as crappy now as I did during the trials.”

“Great. Glad you’re around to protect me then.”

“This place is warded six ways from Sunday. Nothing can get in here.” Sam looks down at his plate and the two tacos still on it and pushes it away. “I’ll be in my room.”

Charlie calls after him, but he ignores her. Blinking so hard his eyes water, he drags himself down the hall and into his bed. Sleep. Maybe that will help.

When he wakes up, hours later, there’s a plate and water bottle on his nightstand. The red numbers on his alarm clock refuse to focus properly, but he thinks it says something around eight. He ignores the sandwich and water, stumbling down the hall to the bathroom and back.

That helps, or at least his eyes stop blurring as badly. Starving, he scarfs down the sandwich and heads back towards the library and kitchen to get back to work. Struggling through a headache and blurry vision, he makes a pot of coffee and settles back into his research.

By mid-day, he’s back to normal, speed reading through case files from the Men of Letters and acting as FBI supervisor for a few hunters. Charlie and Kevin head out during the afternoon-- Sam’s not entirely certain where to, but they didn’t offer any explanation-- leaving him alone for a few hours. Now that he thinks about, he’s barely seen Kevin at all since he and Charlie got back.

He must fall asleep in the library again, because the next thing he knows, Dean is stumbling down the stairs, weighed down by his and Cas’s bags. Cas follows, slower, limping down the steps.

If this is how Cas looks now-- pale and exhausted, wincing as he works his way down the stairs-- Sam can’t even imagine how bad he looked when that coco got through with them. Dean’s moving carefully too, but not nearly as bad-- some bruises, maybe a sprain.

“Holy shit, guys.” Pushing himself to his feet, Sam rushes over to grab a bag. “You said you were hurt, not half dead.”

Dean looks at him oddly before responding. “When was the last time it took us four days to get out of Dodge? For fuck’s sake.”

“Right, sorry.” Sam holds up his hands defensively. “You’re right.”

Dean snorts and drops the bags on the map table before steering Cas towards the bedrooms. “Let me get him to bed.”

“I’m perfectly capable of walking unaccompanied,” Cas says sourly, lifting his hand in a truncated wave. “Hello, Sam.”

“Hey, Cas.” Even on flat ground, now that Sam’s looking, he can see the slight tremor in Cas’s legs. “You really should get some rest.”

“This is very inconvenient.”

“We do it just to fuck with you.” Dean snorts, resting his hand on Cas’s shoulder before pushing him in the direction of the bedrooms. “C’mon, I want you off that leg before it starts bleeding again.”

Sam detours into the kitchen, piling a few sandwiches onto a plate and snagging a couple beers before following them.

Dean and Cas are standing in the hallway outside Dean’s room, leaning together and speaking quietly. Sam can’t hear anything, but the way they’re bent towards each other tells him everything he really needs to know. Cas slips a hand up to cup the back of Dean’s head before leaning in for a careful kiss.

Finally.

Sam must make some sort of noise, because they don’t exactly spring apart, but they do look at him. “Uh… don’t mind me. I was bringing dinner, but I can…” see himself out, or to bed, or anywhere that’s not here.

Dean lazily reaches for the beer before shepherding them both into his room. Pushing Sam into the chair at his desk, he and Cas split the love seat. “Thanks for dinner, Sammy. Wanna fill us in on what we missed?”

It doesn’t take very long to catch each other up. Even still, Sam is exhausted by the time they’re done and Cas is already starting to doze off in the corner of the loveseat.

Sam picks up the plates and is reaching for the empty beer bottles when Dean snatches them away. “I’ll help. Cas, you good here?”

A soft snore answers him. A corner of Dean’s mouth turns up before he pushes Sam out into the hall.

“Dean, I can get it. I know you’re tired.”

“Yeah, and so are you. It’s cool.” They’re silent for a moment. “I’m worried about him.”

“He’s been nearly human before, Dean. He was out of mojo by the time the apocalypse was over.”

“Yeah, but that wasn’t…” Dean trails off before starting again. “That was a slow decline.”

“As opposed to…” Sam frowns. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“He was one hundred percent when we left, right?” Dean picks at the label on one of the beer bottles. “He was eating by the time we got to Cañon City.”

Sam shrugs. “I don’t think it’s a big deal, Dean. His new normal, it’s gonna take a while for all of us to get used to it. Did he say anything?”

“No,” Dean says. “But he’s pissed at Heaven again, so maybe.”

Sam claps Dean on the shoulder before heading back to the bedrooms. “Trust him. He’ll let you know if it’s something to worry about.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Dean frowns, staying behind in the kitchen.


The bar is dark and filthy, filled with lost causes and the owner wouldn’t know a good scotch if he drowned in it. It’s the last place any demon would look for Crowley.

Or at least, that’s what he thought, before some moron-- who’d been sobbing into his beer all night-- decided to invite a crossroads demon into the place. That’s what he gets for paying more attention to the swill in front of him instead of the other patrons.

The demon that shows up isn’t a crossroads demon, isn’t any sort of demon Crowley recognizes. Stick thin and gangly, it scorches the floorboards with every step, glancing around the bar for… someone. Crowley, probably. It’s certainly not looking for the sucker who tried to make a deal.

Half hidden behind the curve of the bar, Crowley tosses a few bills on the bar and heads toward the back entrance.

“Abaddon never should have believed you were dead,” the demon hisses gutturally, grabbing a hold of him.

Crowley throws its arm off of him, twisting around to push the demon into the bar. He’s distracted pulling his stolen angel blade out of his pocket, and the demon rears back, slamming its head into Crowley’s face.

Pulling back, Crowley pops his nose back into place while the demon stumbles away from him. The bartender comes around the open end of the bar and Crowley has a brief moment of hope that he’ll kick the demon out.

Instead, the bartender drags them to the door and kicks them both out. “I don’t care who started it or when. Get out of here.”

Rolling to his feet, Crowley snaps his fingers to teleport away. He lands in a desolate public park, miles away, and sets himself to rights, brushing the gravel and dust off his suit. If the demon does follow him-- he pauses for a moment and quickly empties his pockets, just to make sure it didn’t slip him a hex bag-- he can hold his own in a fight long enough to kill it.

A branch flies past Crowley’s head. “The Queen would like a word,” the demon croaks, standing a few yards away.

The branch whips around, nearly taking Crowley’s head off before he ducks out of the way.

“Surely we can come up with a better way of handling this,” Crowley starts, trying to keep an eye on the demon. It blends into the dark under the trees and the thing’s true form, unlike any Crowley has ever seen, doesn’t seem to give off any glow at all. Combined with cloudy night, he’s lucky he can see anything at all. “There’s no need to come to blows.”

“No.”

“No deal? Everyone has a price,” Crowley scoffs.

“Not shedim.”

Crowley files the name away. “You’re new. How did you follow me?” Crowley has a suspicion for where the demon came from, what changes were made to its very makeup, but this isn’t the time.

“We have your scent,” the demon, if it can even be called that, snarls.

Another branch-like limb swings at him, forcing him to skip backwards and seek shelter behind one of the oaks. Holding the angel blade in one hand, he jumps away from the tree when it starts to fall, spinning around the trunk to see what exactly the shedim is doing.

It’s eating the tree, strips of bark and wood disappearing with a harsh rasp.

Crowley slices at it with the demon blade, nearly severing its arm at the elbow, blood spurting into the air. The demon shoves back with its good arm, but Crowley disappears before it can get away. He hears something that might be screaming as he goes.

He jumps randomly and wildly before finally stopping in some medium-sized town in podunk Tennessee.

Looking at the thirty year old Toyota pickup, he sighs at the necessity. He can’t keep jumping like this-- every jump shortcuts through Hell-- and keeping a low profile is more important than his pride.

Probably.

Hours later, he no longer has any idea why this appeals to Squirrel at all. Paranoia has him constantly backtracking, heading up and down highways.

Near the Missouri border, he pays a drunken frat boy thirty bucks for a pint of blood-- A- and sour with beer-- before stealing the kid’s phone charger when he passes out. Given the messages popping up on his phone, Crowley is doing all three of the kid’s girlfriends a favor.

Sprawled on lumpy mattress in a two-star hotel, watching a Hallmark special and high on the frat boy’s blood, he gives up. Juliet is there in an instant, pawing at his leg when he doesn’t greet her properly.

“Yes, sweetie. Papa’s had a long day. Watch the door.” Juliet settles against him, watching the door while he pulls his phone out of his pocket. He’ll have to move the things she was guarding, find a new safe location for them. But that day was coming soon anyway.


Dean’s hands are cold when he comes to bed, enough to wake Castiel from the fitful doze he’d fallen into. Resentfully, he allows himself to be tugged upright long enough for Dean strip off his jeans and replace them with borrowed sweatpants before being pushed back down.

Four days later, he scarcely feels better than he did the morning after the coco. His grace is slowly repairing the damage to his body, speeding up the healing process, but not fast enough.

He swallows roughly in the dark. If he can’t help on hunts…

Dean pulls at his shoulder, derailing Castiel’s thoughts. “Turn over,” Dean orders softly in the dark.

Oh. Castiel winces as rolling over puts pressure on his ribs, but once he’s facing Dean, it’s much better, the dull ache easing.

Dean’s hand comes up to cup his jaw before leaning in to gently kiss him. “Sleep first. Then whatever you’re worrying about.”

“If I can’t help on hunts…”

“I’ve never had superpowers.” Dean pauses for a moment before continuing. “I’ll make sure you don’t need them either.”

Castiel frowns in the dark but doesn’t say anything.

The slide into proper sleep takes a while, listening to Dean’s breathing smooth out except for an occasional almost snore.

He feels stronger in the morning. Castiel tries to check how his grace is regrowing while Dean disappears into the bathroom before giving it up as a lost cause.

Angels aren’t meant to constantly lose and regain grace, to be trapped in a vessel on Earth for years. He wouldn’t give this up, wouldn’t give Dean up, but at the same time…

He needs to be useful, not another burden.

Castiel’s meditation is interrupted by Dean tossing a pair of jeans and a shirt towards him from the dresser. “Get a move on. Sam will be back from his run soon if he’s not already.”

Frowning, Castiel picks up the clothes and goes to the bathroom to get cleaned up.


Sam is already reading a newspaper article while wrapped around a coffee cup. Slowly, a hand comes up to rub at his forehead as the other scribbles down something on the notepad at his elbow.

Dean watches for a long moment, trying to gauge how recovered Sam really is. Sometimes, it seems like he’s back to the salad eating gigantor he’s always been, but other times, like right now, it’s clear he’s not. “Headache?” he asks roughly.

“Kinda. I’ll be fine.” Sam shrugs, tossing down the pen. “Starting to wonder if I need reading glasses though.”

Slopping some coffee into a couple of mugs, Dean raises an eyebrow. “Would’ve figured the angel would have taken care of that.”

“It only started in the last couple of weeks.” Sam shakes his head. “Whatever. I found us a case.”

“Awesome.” Dean sniffs the carton of milk in the fridge and shrugs before dropping it on the table. “What’s up?”

Sam lights up, pushing the laptop against the wall and out of the way. “Leavenworth, Kansas--”

“Another fucking prison? Really? I just got back from a prison hunt,” Dean cuts him off. “How about the woods? Or, ooh, a beach resort?”

“Not the prison.” Sam rolls his eyes before continuing, “So get this: One of the churches in town is one hundred percent healthy. Not a single member in the hospital or even a cold. Newspaper is saying its a miracle.”

Frowning, Dean takes a sip of his coffee. “Reaper?”

Shrugging, Sam says, “That’s what I thought too at first, but no one’s been dropping dead at the same time. I dug a little deeper and found what they’re keeping out of the papers.”

“Which is?” Dean asks impatiently.

“An angel did it. At least, according to the reports I could find.”

“I should be the only angel left on Earth,” Cas breaks in, dropping onto the seat across from Dean and stealing his coffee.

Dean loses track of the conversation for a moment, distracted by the sight of Cas in his clothes, hair still damp and curling slightly. Cas smiles at him from across the table before knocking their ankles together.

“Dean.” Sam pokes him with the corner of the notepad. “Focus.”

“Probably the halos, healing folks for no apparent reason. Cas should be the only one left,” Dean recites before stealing back his coffee and taking a long drink. “Anything else?”

“Just how the angel is supposedly doing it,” Sam says. “Apparently, it requires touching their soul.”

“And... you have my full attention. Souls, again?”

“If it’s even an angel. I’m sure my sibling isn’t--” Cas cuts himself off, looking conflicted.

“Awesome.” Dean sighs and rubs his eyes, mentally saying farewell to the break where he and Cas barely got out of bed. It’d been a nice daydream while it lasted. “Let’s check it out.”

By their standards, Leavenworth is practically next door, a straight shot east for a couple hours before jogging south. Sam and Cas spend a good forty-five minutes of the drive marveling at the names of the tiny towns and villages that they pass, a combination of English cities, mispronounced Native American names-- Cas pronounces them correctly, of course, and tells them about the tribes that lived around here-- and the occasional German name that appears out of nowhere.

A working history of the midwest written on highway signs. Dean listens without saying much, reveling in having them both with him and (mostly) healthy.

The church parking lot is nearly empty when they get there, a handful of cars parked around the back entrance with some folks moving in and out. Dean’s not sure if the women are preparing for a meeting or shutting down after a funeral, but either way, there’s enough movement they should be lost in the shuffle.

Sam volunteers to stay outside, watching the exterior for any sign of something weird. “There’s no point in them seeing all three of us.”

Dean nods uneasily. “Keep an ear out though? Last time we tangled with angels…” He trails off, remembering a dark humid forest.

“I’m just not feeling the religious fervor today.” Sam shrugs. “Besides, Reggie asked me to run phones for him this afternoon-- something about trouble with the local badges.”

Dean nods uneasily and tosses Sam the car keys before catching up with Cas.

It’s hard not to enjoy the warm weather while they walk the half block to the church. Dean’s knuckles brush Cas’s as they walk and he almost takes his hand.

The church, when they reach it, still has the front doors unlocked from weekday morning services, easily allowing them inside. Dean casts a wary eye around the foyer, but it’s empty except for a single middle aged man kneeling in front of the votive candles to the right.

Cas wanders towards him while Dean investigates the sanctuary. It’s also nearly empty, an elderly man straightening the pews while a woman patiently waits near the confessional. It pretty much looks like any other church Dean has ever been in-- wooden pews, white walls leading up to a vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows-- but somehow it’s also the most peaceful one.

Not that Dean spends a lot of time in churches that aren’t also the site of murder investigations. Maybe they’re all like this when not covered in blood or demons.

“Can I help you, son?” The old man asks.

“I…” Dean scrambles for a story that makes sense. He doesn’t have to go far, worry about Sam and his see-saw recovery never too far away, plus whatever is going on with Cas. “I needed somewhere to pray. My brother--”

“Ah,” the old man says, sticking out his hand to shake. “Father Keith is who you want to talk to then. I’m Edward.”

“Dean.” He shakes the man’s hand briefly, wondering how this is going to go. “Is the Padre around or…?”

“It’s his turn to take confession, I’m afraid. But he should be done soon.” Edward frowns, glancing around the place. “We’re real hopping right now, as you can see.”

“I can wait.” Dean chuckles and heads towards the back of the church.

Cas hasn’t really moved, standing a few feet away from the votives. Dean almost thinks he looks wistful. “Anything useful?”

“The faith of this congregation is a remarkable thing to behold.” Cas steps closer to the candles, dragging Dean with him, and flicks his fingers slightly. Dean can feel a breath of a breeze slide by them, but only a couple of the candles flicker. The rest burn steadily, barely moving.

“That’s… what is that?” Dean asks.

“Prayers of the faithful.” He definitely looks wistful now, watching the candles burn merrily, resuming their dance with every passing air current. “They believe their prayers will be answered.”

Glancing around, Dean slides his arm around Cas’s waist, pulling him close enough to drop a kiss on his temple. “So we’re in the right place then.”

“Yes, you are, Dean Winchester.”

Whirling around, Dean drops his hand to his gun.

The man behind them is in his thirties, clerical collar stark white against honey brown skin. Other than the collar, he’s dressed pretty informally for a priest, a black button-up shirt paired with dark wash jeans, suit jacket nowhere to be seen.

“Hannah,” Cas breathes next to Dean. “You survived.”

“As did you,” he says. “Many of us…”

“Many of our siblings did not,” Cas agrees. “I’m sorry.”

“If you’ll follow me, please.” Hannah nods gravely. “If you’re here, I assume you want to talk privately?”

He leads them through the hallways of the church to one of the small offices built in the back. Dean takes the opportunity to text Sam that this might take longer than a simple look around before settling into the nearly empty office.

“Why are you here, Castiel?”

“Because someone keeps healing people and word gets around,” Dean cuts in harshly.

“Dean!” Cas starts.

“No, it’s quite alright. Heaven rings with almost as many stories about him as they do you, Castiel.” Hannah glances down at the desk before meeting their eyes. “Yes, I am healing some people of this parish. Not many, and not as fully as I would like, but--” she sighs and taps her fingers against the desk edge.

“But what, sister?” Cas asks quietly.

“Most of the angels who joined the battle are still on Earth. We’re forbidden from returning to Heaven.”

“You’re stuck here?” Dean asks. “How many?”

Hannah shrugs fluidly, “A dozen flights at least, maybe more.”

“So you’re here. Healing people in exchange for...”

“Survival,” she says simply. “My grace suffered in the battle and the congregation here is large enough to need at least two priests. After Keith consented to be my vessel, I couldn’t… I couldn’t let their faith suffer because of my taint.”

Dean swallows, watching Cas out of the corner of his eye.

“Sister, I have a request,” Cas says abruptly. “Exiled as I am--” He breaks off.

Dean wonders for a moment what is supposed to go there. Cas has been on the outs with Heaven most of the time they’ve known each other, what’s so different this time?

Hannah snorts. “We are all exiled, Castiel.”

Cas squirms in the chair next to Dean, twisting his fingers together.

Dean frowns, watching, before he clues in that this is one of those ‘no humans allowed’ things. “While you guys chat, I’m going to go update Sam.” Pushing himself to his feet, he rests his hand on Cas’s shoulder and squeezes tightly. “You know where to find me.”

“Of course, Dean.”

When Dean reaches the foyer, the old guy from before, Edward, has his hands full, trying to carry a laundry basket full of canned goods and get the door at the same time. His face lights up when he sees Dean. “You find the Father alright, son? I saw him heading back here a bit ago.”

“He found us, actually.” Dean pushes the door open and holds it. “The Padre seems like a good man.”

“A little queer,” Edward starts, “Odd, I mean. Was a right twit when he transferred here about six months ago, focused on doing everything by the book. But Father Patrick took him in hand over the past month or so. Even started saying the Mass in Latin again for us old timers.”

“I’m… glad,” Dean says. “You hear things, ya know.” Somehow he ends up carrying the basket, following Edward to his car. A few of the ladies call over greetings, or stop and chat, but Dean waits patiently each time. He’s not in any real hurry-- this isn’t a case, apparently, not really-- and Hannah might not be as big of a dick as the rest of Heaven, so might as well let Cas get the gossip or whatever.


Hidden away within Samuel, only catching the barest glimpses of what’s going is not working as well as he had hoped. He’s hidden, yes, and has slowly carved himself a hiding place in the tortured disaster that Samuel calls a psyche, but he keeps missing vital information.

Slowly surfacing, he absorbs Samuel’s recent memories-- enough to bring him up to speed should Dean contact him-- while looking around. A cellphone lies on the trunk of the car, glinting in the early afternoon sunlight. He thinks that maybe Samuel was using it for something, but they are far far far too close to another angel to stay here.

The church at the end of the block fairly glows with grace. Repairing the humans’ faith, small miracles, Father knows what else. Too close and bolstered by her congregation’s prayers, he cannot risk another angel seeing him.

He shoves his hands in his pockets and walks the other direction. Between resting and the siphoning of Castiel’s grace, he can risk healing a bit more of Samuel’s wounds. The spring sunshine of a park will not assist with that, but it is the farthest thing from the sterile hallways of Heaven or the dim Bunker as he can think of.

Plus, it reminds him of Eden.

Castiel told him once about parks and swing sets and small children playing, one of the times he was hauled before Naomi. He said it brought him joy to watch them so, to know playgrounds are small microcosms of the world.

Gadreel isn’t sure he believes it-- loud, shrieking mud monkeys, screaming about whatever catches their fancy-- but he’s already here. Mud monkeys they might be, they are still descended from his charges.

He watches the children for a long time before he realizes the woman across from him is staring at him intently. When she pulls another woman over, pointing at him surreptitiously, he decides it’s time to move before he draws attention to himself.

He leaves the playground and children behind, passing into the wooded area. It’s cooler under the trees, almost chill, even though the budding leaves are barely breaking the sunshine up.

Between one step and the next, he is surrounded.

“Demons,” he growls, turning to view all five of them.

“Sam Winchester,” the one in front of him purrs. “Not the Winchester we wanted, but you’ll do.”

“What do you want?” Gadreel asks, keeping his blade hidden.

“Nothing. Want the demon that follows.” The demon jerks sharply, spearing a limb towards Gadreel.

He sidesteps, trying to twist out of the way. The arm-spear burns as it rips through his vessel’s arm, barbs digging in and ripping away chunks of flesh.

A second demon takes advantage of the distraction, spearing a second limb into Gadreel’s body, pinning him between them. Gadreel screams, evil and corruption burning the edges of his grace, keeping him from drawing his blade.

The leader laughs. More spears, dragging him back and forth between them all. The circle tightens, weaving around him so he cannot break free without being immediately recaptured.

Frantically, desperately, he looks for a way out that won’t expose him.

There isn’t one.

The demons laugh, rejoicing in their capture of Samuel, using him as bait for a trap for the former king.

Shaking himself, Gadreel inhales sharply before spreading his wings and releasing his grace in an explosive blast.

The three nearest-- including the leader-- disintegrate instantly in the blue-white light. The fourth and fifth rip their spear-like limbs from him attempting to flee. He pounces, ripping a demon apart and stabbing it with his blade.

The demon lights up with flame, turning to ash under his knees. He ignores it, turning to catch the last one just in time for it to slip between shadows and disappear.

Sighing, he returns the ash below to its constituent atoms, effectively hiding that there was anything here at all, before leaning heavily against a tree.


Castiel wait for the door to latch closed before looking at Hannah again. She watches him patiently, waiting for him to spit out what he needs. Try as he might though, he can’t force himself to say his fears aloud.

“Castiel-- When Kabniel severed your grace, they didn’t…”

“They promised me the use of my wings. That is all.”

Hannah winces, as aware as he is of the wide range available with that restriction. “Kabriel is an honorable angel, they wouldn’t--”

“If it was ridding the Host of one who has rebelled and been cast out before? Yes, they would, and be well within their right to do so.” Castiel blinks back the bitter tears threatening to overflow. Another sign that he can never return to Heaven. “I’ve spent so long in this vessel that I can no longer tell the health of my grace.”

“Brother, I…” Hannah trails off, twisting the long fingers of her vessel together, picking at the cuffs of her shirt. “I cannot undo the Commah, it is outside my power, even if I called every soul in this building to me.”

Castiel huffs, looking out the window behind her. “That’s not… Am I trapped here, useless?” His voice is small, hesitant, and he hates it. Hates everything to do with this, hates that no matter what she says, he’s still exiled and can never go home.

“Oh, Castiel.” Hannah leans forward and, for the first time since he rescued Dean, another angel’s wings rub against his, sending sparks through him. He doesn’t remember--

Hannah extends her hand, picking his up from where it lies in his lap. “You are always welcome here if your human abandons you.”

Castiel jerks back in shock. “Dean won’t--”

“Of course,” she agrees easily, tightening her grip on his hand. “You are welcome, nonetheless.”

He can vaguely feel her prodding at his grace before soothing it like an angry cat. “Well?”

“I’m sorry, Castiel. When Kabniel closed the rift… they left you with only this much grace. I don’t think it will ever recover. Your wings are… mostly intact, but you knew that.”

Grimly, he nods. “Thank you, sister. I-- I needed an objective opinion.”

“There are other options,” she says, glancing at the door. “Particularly if Dean trusts you as much as rumor says he does.”

He stares at her blankly for a moment before what she’s saying makes sense. “Souls? You’re using their souls?”

“What other option did I have?” she shoots back. “I was injured in the battle. Keith agreed to allow me the use of his vessel as long as I took care of his parish.”

“And healing them requires grace,” Castiel sighs.

“This is the longest I’ve been on Earth since before Lucifer fell. I am trying to survive. We all are.”

Castiel sits, motionless, in his chair. “I can’t, won’t, take that option. Not unless it’s the only way to save him.” He pauses for a moment. “You’re all using that option? Every angel left on Earth?”

Hannah shrugs before standing and moving around the desk. “Those who have contacted me, yes. We were all injured.”

A knock at the door cuts off anything Castiel might say, followed by a young woman peeking her head in. “Father Keith? The prayer group is waiting.”

“Right, of course Melissa,” Hannah says, retreating into the shell of the priest. “I’ll be right there.” Turning to Castiel, she tilts her head. “Unless there’s anything else?”

He swallows but shakes his head. There’s nothing else she can do for him. Not if she’s resorting to human souls to keep her grace strong. “No, I think… I think you’ve done enough. Thank you.”

Following the pair to the front of the church, Castiel sighs and looks around for Dean.


The demon in front of her screams as she tears its guts out, dropping them in a steaming pile on the floor. Nails made of pure salt hold it against the wall, rivulets of blood and salt running down its arms, across yet more open cuts. The more it struggles, the faster the salt dissolves into its bloodstream.

Standing back, Abaddon watches for a moment, before turning away. As entertaining as this is, it’s merely a distraction. Meg stands near the entrance to her chambers, motionless and patient, waiting for acknowledgement.

“What did you find?”

“The princes are reluctant to bow to your supremacy. They are content to wait for Lucifer to free himself again.”

Abaddon stares at her for a long moment. “They will be destroyed.”

“Of course,” Meg says quietly. “As they deserve. I’ll take care of it personally.”

“No, not you. One of the shedim came back.” she gestures to the shape on the wall behind her. “Crowley survives. Correct that.”

Meg bows, coming back up with a fierce grin. “Yes, my queen.”

 

Chapter Text

Sam’s nowhere to be seen when Dean reaches the car, his phone left behind on the trunk of the Impala. Frowning, Dean thumbs the phone open, paging through the recent calls and text messages for anything might explain where Sam’s gone.

“Hello,” Dean answers automatically when it rings.

“Dean? Rudy. Got a bit of an odd one here that I was hoping to get y’all’s take on.”

“What’s up?” Dean leans against the car. “Unless you’re calling Sam because it’s actually a Sam-thing.”

“Nah. It’s definitely weird, but not in a book-lore sort of way.” Rudy rambles for a couple minutes before Dean cuts him off.

“Rudy, the situation?”

“It looked like a straightforward crossroad deal from the news reports: a sudden run of good luck for the regulars of a bar, but you know how those are, lightning strikes right? By the time you see the stories in the papers, the demon’s gone and, well, those sorry suckers have a date with a hellhound in a few years. Sucks for them, but what can you do?”

Dean makes an impatient noise.

“Anyway, I only stopped in because it was on my way back north from a hunt down in Georgia. Sittin’ there, having a drink, watching for the demon, just in case, ya know? Then some jackhole decides to have another go at summoning the damn thing, and Dean, I swear to all that is holy, what showed up was not a crossroads demon.”

Dean frowns, popping open the car door so he can sit down. “What was it then?”

“That’s why I’m callin’ you. I’ve got no fuckin’ clue and I’ve spent the past few days digging into everything I’ve got. Thing shows up, in a funky looking meatsuit, and immediately goes after some guy who’d been riding a stool all evening. Not the guy who summoned it, mind, different dude entirely.”

“What’d the demon look like?” Dean asks, already going through his mental catalog of things that go bump in the night. He looks up in time to see Cas emerge from the church, shoulders slumped and exhausted despite the bright sunshine.

“Damn near eight foot tall, arms too long for its body. It moved weird too, springy lurches. Burned the floor when it took a step, burned handprint onto the bartop.”

“Jesus.” Dean’s eyes widen. “Yeah, no idea what that is. Never even heard of such a thing outside of a jack, and nothing else about it fits.”

“Yeah,” Rudy sighs. “Me neither. Figured y’all could have a look at your fancy library and see if you found anything. This thing sent a demon running.”

“Another demon?”

“Demon on demon violence. The barstool cowboy who’d been sitting silently two down from me, drinking his whiskey and ignoring all of us.”

“Way to bury the lede there, man.” Dean waves a hand at Cas. “I’ll ask around about the aggro one. The other… I think we’re gonna be seeing a lot of more like that.”

“You’ll pardon me if I’m not exactly excited about sad sack demons hanging out in random bars.”

“Civil war, Rudy. A biggie. And only one side sees any use for humans at all. The other would rather wipe us all out.”

Rudy’s doubt is palpable, but he doesn’t say anything, giving Dean a description of the second demon before hanging up.

Tossing Sam’s phone onto the dash, Dean slouches and leans his head against the seat. Just what he needs, all of Hell chasing after Crowley.

“Where’s Sam?” Cas asks.

“Dunno, disappeared again.” Dean pauses, opening his eyes and looking at Cas. “Did Hannah tell you what you needed?”

Cas leans against the car, crossing his arms and staring across the street. “She’s using souls,” he admits quietly. “To keep her grace intact.”

“Just Hannah or…”

“All of them. Or all of the ones she’s talked to.”

“Isn’t that kinda dangerous?” Dean twists around, planting his feet on the road. “Something about nuclear reactors.”

“Yes.”

“What about you? Is that an option or…”

Cas recoils, disgust written across his face. “Only as a last resort and to preserve your life, with your consent or Sam’s if you’re unable to give it.” He pauses for a long moment before continuing, “We’re supposed to protect humanity. Not use it to save ourselves.”

“Alright,” Dean says simply, pushing himself to his feet and closing the car door. “Let’s go find Sam and dinner. We can figure out if we need to do something then.”


Sam jolts awake when a kid screams. Glancing around the clearing, it occurs to him that this is a weird place to take a nap, but he’s too wired to think about it for long. For the first time in weeks, he feels normal, without the dragging fatigue or tinnitus that’s plagued him since he started the trials.

It doesn’t take long to get back to the church and from there, he spots the Impala with Dean and Cas leaning against it, looking bored and impatient. Sam still doesn’t remember why he wandered off without his phone, but given the quality of his nap, he’ll ask forgiveness.

“Brother!” A voice calls after him as he passes the church. “Are you well?”

Turning, Sam glances at the priest, standing in the church vestibule. “I’m… What?”

“It’s Hannah, Brother,” the priest says, lowering his-- her?-- voice. “Did you come with Castiel? You are welcome here, even if he does not stay.”

“I’m… not an angel,” Sam says slowly. “My name is Sam Winchester, I’m Dean’s brother.” He holds out a suddenly clammy hand to shake, his heart beating out of control. “Cas is the only angel I’ve had contact with in weeks.”

Hannah frowns, ignoring his outstretched hand and grabbing Sam’s arm. “Brother, identify yourself,” she commands before saying a few words in Enochian.

Sam knocks her hand away and steps back.

“Sam!” Dean calls from behind him. “What the hell, man?”

He’s frozen, unable to move away from Hannah, unable to turn. His mouth forces itself open, grinding out, “Gadreel. My name is Gadreel.”

“No, that can’t--” Hannah breaks off, digging her fingers into his shoulder. “How are you free?”

Abruptly, Sam is pushed to the side, unable to control his own body, watching impotently as his hands snap Hannah’s neck. Before he can do more, he tosses himself to the side with all his will, hoping against hope that he can accomplish something.

Extra appendages snap out and the church, street, and Hannah disappear from sight, replaced with wheat fields.

Gadreel seizes control, flaring their wings and sending them somewhere else, somewhere Sam doesn’t recognize.

They spend a long time like that, stealing control of Sam’s body from each other until Gadreel gets the drop on him and locks him away.


“Hannah!” Castiel yells and rushes towards her fallen body, Dean hot on his heels. The other angel, the one in Sam-- how had he missed that?-- flies away before her vessel even hits the ground.

Shouldering Dean out of the way, Castiel drops to his knees, pressing his hand to her forehead, and pushes his grace into Hannah’s vessel, healing him without a thought.

Dean yanks him away before he’s finished. “Cas, stop dammit.”

“I-- Hannah--”

“Is a fucking angel and will be fine, Jesus fuck.” Dean sags back, kneeling on the concrete next to him. “Where did Sam go?”

Proving him right, Hannah opens her eyes, staring at them before pushing herself up. “That was unnecessary, Castiel.”

“It’s too late now,” Castiel says roughly, trying to judge the amount of grace he has left. It’s not much, maybe enough to protect him in flight, but not enough to do anything useful. He can never do anything useful.

Dean climbs to his feet, watching the street around them. “Sam? Anyone want to help with that? Or--”

“Shut up,” Hannah snaps. “Be respectful, Dean.”

“Respectful?” Dean draws out, “You want me to be respectful when my brother just got kidnapped by a fucking angel? How about instead you tell me where the hell they’ve gone and I’ll--”

“Dean, enough,” Castiel cuts him off, wavering as he climbs to his feet. “We know his name and can do a tracking spell. Threats will get us nowhere.”

“In the church, please,” Hannah murmurs. “We don’t need to discuss this in the open.”

Dean grumbles, turning to follow her before pausing, his shoulders drawing up. He wraps an arm around Castiel’s waist, helping him stumble into the church and Hannah’s office. Hannah splits off in the hallways to fetch the ingredients needed presumably.

Although, he also thought Sam no longer had an angel in him. So his observations are clearly suspect.

Allowing Dean to settle him into the office chair, Castiel tries to remember anything that might explain how he missed Gadreel’s presence. The only thing he can think of is how his grace has been unreliable since the battle with Abaddon, levels jumping erratically.

“Has Kevin said anything? About Sam being… not himself?” he asks hesitantly. They’ve not spent a lot of time together, Castiel knows that much, but thought it was circumstantial-- college visits and hunts and research, worrying about whatever is happening in Hell and Abaddon instead of the aftermath of the battle…

Dean thinks for a moment before shaking his head. “Not really. Is that covered in prophet-ness?”

“Every prophet is different. John could tell angels apart, Noah could not. The others--” he cuts himself off. “Given what the Winchester Gospels covered, Chuck almost certainly could see angels and demons’ true forms. It hasn’t come up with Kevin beyond the obvious translation skills.”

Dean stares at him for a second before shaking his head. “One day, you should blow Sammy’s nerdy little brain with that. Once we get him back.”

Hannah lets herself into the office, skirting around Castiel’s chair with a bowl of spell components. “I have everything.”

“Awesome,” Dean says. Gesturing to the covered desk, he asks, “Is any of this important?” An infinitesimal pause, not enough time for anyone to say anything, and he sweeps all the papers to the ground. “Good.”

Hannah sighs mournfully before setting down the bowl in the cleared space. “Castiel, you have a greater connection to the vessel, you should complete the spell.”

“The vessel?” Dean bites out. Castiel watches as his hand tighten around the back of the other chair, knuckles briefly going white. “He has a name. Sam, in case you forgot it.”

“Yes, of course,” Hannah says blandly. “Castiel, if you would please.”

Sighing, Castiel stands and digs the chalk from the bowl before emptying the bowl into Dean’s hands. Drawing the necessary circle and setting up the spell, he reaches for the any link he can find with Sam. There’s nothing there, his bond with Sam has never been profound, mere friendship joining them instead of everything that exists between him and Dean.

The spell flares and dies without result, the map turning to ash with nothing to indicate where Sam or Gadreel are. Slouching, Castiel prods the ash with his finger, waiting for the recriminations.

“He’s no longer on this plane?” Hannah asks gruffly. “How is that possible? Gadreel… He’s been locked up for centuries, millennia, punished for his actions in the Fall. How is he allowed back home while we’re stuck here?” Her voice rises until she’s practically yelling.

Dean looks at the ash that covers the desk before shaking his head. “It’s not that.” Reaching up, he rubs at his ribs. “Cas, those sigils on our ribs from the apocalypse. To hide us from Heaven and Hell or whatever. They’re still around, right? Still doing their thing?”

Castiel thinks for a moment before nodding. “They’re damaged now, you both break ribs often enough--” He breaks off with a sigh. “But Gadreel could have easily fixed them while healing Sam.”

“So they’re not gone, just hidden from us,” Dean finishes. “Or from the spell, whatever. It doesn’t matter, we can’t find them.” He thinks for a moment. “Okay. Hannah? You’re on location. If he shows back up, drop a dime, alright?”

“What are we going to do?” Castiel demands. “I’m practically useless, no grace to speak of.”

“You and I are going to do this the human way,” Dean says smugly. “Gadreel has been in prison forever so he’s going to stick out.”

“How is that not the same thing,” Hannah asks plaintively. “We’re all looking for him.”

“But we’re using two separate methods.” Dean turns to look at her, “And I don’t trust you. You’re not hurting anyone yet, which is the only reason you’re here.”

“Castiel should remain here, with me, among his own kind,” Hannah insists. “Not gallivanting off with you.”

Dean rolls his eyes and walks out the door. Castiel looks over Hannah’s desk to where she’s standing next to the windows. “I’m sorry, Sister. But I can’t.”

Hannah scoffs. “He’s going to fail you. You put too much faith in him.”

“I’ll deal with that when the day comes.”


The blood wears off on the second day, he’s not really paying that much attention. It’s been centuries since Crowley’s felt like this, since he felt anything. Admittedly, what he’s feeling isn’t grand, more misery and guilt and despair than anything else, but it’s something.

Juliet pulls him from the cheap hotel room as he’s coming down, whining as she leads him to the shitty four door sedan and noses him into the driver’s seat.

The further away from Nashville he gets, the more his head clears, until he realizes what’s been subtly wrong since he escaped Hell. Barthamus, that fucking rat--

Snarling, Crowley yanks the car off the road. It’s time for a new plan.


The demons are restless, milling around the throne room and waiting for her to make her appearance. Bela growls when one of the demons, Eligos, approaches the throne, baring her teeth. As tempting as it is to allow him to smack her into a different realm, she is far too useful where she is.

“Enough,” Abaddon commands, surrounding them with her power as she slides into visibility. “I have been here for months, years, and I am disappointed. Lucifer rose and Hell didn’t take advantage? Were you all asleep? Making deals when you should be taking; putting Crowley in charge… What the hell happened to Hell?”

Vapula of Dis stares her down, crossing her limbs contemptuously. “You were trapped, if I have to remind you. The princes dead or avoiding Hell entirely, Lucifer in his cage.” She settles back on her rear limbs, her tongue glistening damply as it wipes over her face.

“Soul deals are actually up,” Barthamus points out helpfully. “Since the apocalypse. Humanity’s invention of a number of technologies has--”

Abaddon wraps a claw around his throat, choking him. “You’re paying instead of taking. Another businessman, no better than Crowley.”

He gurgles before she tosses him against the wall. Bela pounces, tearing into him, ripping chunks from his limbs and swallowing them. Abaddon watches for a moment before flaring her wings to regain the other’s attention.

“I am the new queen,” she declares. “You will give me your allegiance or you will face exile.” Her shedim melt out of the walls, ranging themselves around the demons and filling the room with screeching that almost overpowers the screams of the pits. “My locusts will be following anyone who chooses exile, of course.”

Abimelech, silent in their neutrality, watches for a long moment, tilting their head. They nod in approval before holding out their hand. “The forest is at your command, my queen.”

The others fall in line quickly after that, pledging their fiefdoms to her service. Barthamus is the last, bleeding and oozing from the wounds Bela has inflicted. Abaddon is almost disappointed-- Bela is far easier to force into submission-- but accepts his groveling surrender anyway.

Once Hell is united-- the leader of the Pit is still missing and unknown except Meg’s cryptic hints-- and Earth subjugated, she will have the power to restructure things.

Looking out over the landscape, such as it is, she can already see her power taking effect, changing the very fabric of Hell, turning it away from Crowley’s bureaucratic dystopia and back into what Hell is supposed to be.


“Does Sam seem weird to you lately?” Kevin asks over their now traditional breakfast of mediocre hash browns and rubbery eggs. Half a state away, he can finally be absolutely certain Sam can’t overhear him and the diner is busy enough he’s not worried about anyone else listening in.

“Weird how?” Charlie asks, pushing her biscuit towards him and snagging his bacon. “Because, I gotta say, they’re both weird by normal standards, all the time.”

“Not himself weird, or really, really sick.” Kevin frowns, picking at his eggs. “Since he got back from wherever that angel dropped him off. Most of the time, he seems normal if tired, but sometimes...”

“He checks out, like he’s not paying any attention at all,” Charlie finishes. “Yeah, I noticed that too, decided it was leftover trial damage. You think it’s something else?”

“Maybe. Or maybe he’s not the only one fucked up and I just need to learn how to relax.”

Charlie snorts. “That’s one of the things for you to learn this summer then. Before you start classes.”

“Yeah. In between random demands for spells, staying under the demonic radar, and, oh yeah, I’m still a freaking prophet!”

“Hey!” Charlie says sharply. “You don’t get to take this out on me. I’ll help, but I’m not your punching bag, no matter how rough a go you’ve had of it. Got it?”

Glancing guiltily past her head, he watches the streamers on the fan in the corner twist and curl in the breeze. “Yeah, I got it.”

They’re silent for the rest of their meal. Kevin swallows his apology, wanting to wait until he can actually make it up to her. Not that he’s sure how to do that-- it’s not like being a prophet comes with a paycheck-- but it’s the thought that counts. Maybe cookies.

Charlie knocks her shoulder into his on their way out to the car. “Stop thinking so hard. You’ll give yourself a stroke.”

“Promise?”

Charlie hefts the bag of supplies into the backseat of her bright yellow Gremlin and grins at him, “No. Now get in the car. I want to get to the morgue before the coroner has a chance to wake up.”

Kevin sighs, smoothing down his polo shirt and slacks before dropping into the car. “I still think this is a bad idea. What if the morgue is stocked with demons, what if--”

“What if Crowley spontaneously repents and becomes one of the good guys?” Charlie cuts him off. “Stop catastrophizing.”

Kevin isn’t sure he believes her, but he doesn’t have much of a choice. Charlie is the only one willing to let him out of the Bunker, the one helped find his mom. Given the choice between the Bunker and anything else? Not even a question.

Charlie bops along to some indie girl group while she drives, dancing in her seat and singing along for a few minutes before she glances over and falls silent. Kevin wants to tell her to go ahead, wants to join in, but what they’re doing: picking up his mother’s effects from the morgue ties his tongue. He stares out the window instead, watching the uniformly grey sky pass by overhead.

It feels like it should be raining.

His eyes well up, grief overwhelming the fear and paranoia. He shouldn’t have sent Mom away so he could focus on the damn trials. Should have kept her safe, even if she was annoying the crap out of him, or gotten Garth to set her up with another hunter, or…

Charlie’s hand slides up his arm to rest on his shoulder. “It’s alright, Kev. Let it out.”

Swallowing roughly, he nods against the side window before cracking it to let some fresh air into the car.

Mom’s body is long gone when they get to the Wichita morgue, handed over the University Medical School for research. Kevin has to hold back a sob when the coroner passes along that tidbit-- Mom hated biology, said it was messy and sticky, was overjoyed when he chose chem over bio for his AP courses…

Kevin snaps his focus back to the coroner and Charlie. She passes him a small box, not much larger than a shoebox, labeled with a date and file number.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Tran,” the coroner says kindly. “And I’ve very sorry we were unable to locate you before…” He trails off, clearly not knowing how to finish the sentence.

That’s okay, Kevin can fill in the blanks easily. Sorry they were unable to locate him before they turned his mom into a science experiment, sorry they didn’t find her until she was already dead, sorry they…

Kevin nods blankly, staring at the box, and lets Charlie get whatever other information she needs from the guy.

Ignoring them both, he slowly wanders back to the front, slipping out the glass doors of the nondescript building and stands next to Charlie’s car.

He breaks the sealing tape with his thumbnail, holding his breath and setting the lid aside on the car roof.

There’s not much: a copy of the death certificate and other papers-- he leaves that folder closed, he doesn’t need to see anything in there right now-- and a small plastic bag with her jewelry and other personal effects. Biting back a sob, he drops the bag back into the box and slams the lid back on top.

Charlie comes out a few minutes later, already on the phone, her voice unnaturally high pitched as she busts out the best customer service voice Kevin’s heard in months. “We’re in Wichita now, so we can be in Kansas City in a few hours. Yes, sir. Of course, sir.” Hanging up the phone, she drops it onto the car seat and rolls her eyes. “Pompous douche bag.”

“Is everything--” Kevin starts.

“It’s fine,” she says shortly, shrugging out of her suit jacket and dropping it into the backseat. “Dean of the anatomy department is a giant pile of dicks, but for once, the law is on our side. And it’s not like we’re not used to dealing with dicks.”

“Yeah, but…” He trails off, carefully shifting the box from the roof of the car into the floorboards of the front seat. “Alright.”

They’re most of the way to Kansas City, listening to a weird ass podcast about a town in the desert and their city sponsored poetry week, when Charlie breaks the silence. “You don’t have to do this. You can go back to the Bunker, or hang out elsewhere, while I take care of her.”

“No, I can’t,” Kevin says quietly, watching a field zip by. “I’m her only kid. I have to finish.”

Charlie nods tightly and turns the radio back up.

Hours later, Kevin is driving Charlie’s Gremlin while she follows him in a ‘borrowed’ truck, heading for a quiet area where they can set up the pyre without being disturbed. They end up in what looks like some abandoned farmland to the northwest of the city. Kevin does the best he can to ignore the body bag in the back of the truck while piling the wood and brush together.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers after Charlie pointedly wanders away after they carefully place Mom’s body in the center of the pyre. “I should have called more, should have…” He pauses to wipe the tears from his face. “It doesn’t matter what I should have, does it? You’re dead. And if the past year has taught me anything, revenge won’t do much.”

Charlie stays silent, even after she comes back over, and helps him douse the entire structure with kerosene and hands him a book of matches.

“How…” Kevin coughs on the fumes before turning towards Charlie. “How do you know how to do this?”

Charlie quirks her mouth, her eyes already red-rimmed. “Girl Scouts, actually. And some other research.”

Kevin frowns, staring at the tower before lighting the matches and tossing them in. The pyre goes up in flames in a rush, crackling to life over the lumber and brush. “That’s not much of an answer.”

“You’re not the only one who’s lost both parents.” She closes her eyes and leans back against the truck. “Anyway, Girl Scouts. More than cookies. Does not include funeral pyres, but does include basic campfires and I know how to extrapolate.”

“Oh.” Kevin falls silent, watching as the flames burn higher and brighter.

It takes hours for the flames to die down and the body to burn to ash. By the time it’s done, full night has fallen and the clouds have cleared off, at least for a little while.

Kevin is staring at the sky, waiting for things to be truly over when he sees the first shooting star. It’s quickly followed by another, and then dozens more, streaking orange-white across the sky. At first he thinks it’s a meteor shower, before remembering that the next major shower isn’t for another two weeks, and even if it wasn’t…

Something about these is wrong.

“What the--” Charlie breaks off, looking up from stomping out a few embers that have rolled away from the fire. “Kev?”

Watching them, he can almost-- “The angels,” he whispers. “They’re falling.”

Chapter Text

The first meteor flashes across the sky, followed by dozens, hundreds more. Glancing up at the sky, Dean frowns and quickly takes the next exit off the highway, pulling to the side of the road. “Cas? What’s going on?”

Cas looks grim in the dim light, grabbing Dean’s phone when it rings angrily and hitting accept before Dean’s even gotten the car to a full stop.

Cas barely gets out more than a greeting before Charlie cuts him off, her voice tinny and panicked over the music. Cas quickly pulls the phone from his ear and punches the speaker button.

“-- And Kevin says that they’re angels, but he doesn’t know how he knows that, and honestly, as much as I want to think that just his paranoia getting to him, I--”

“Charlie, breathe,” Dean orders. “We’re seeing it too. Give us a few minutes, okay?” Turning to Cas, he covers the microphone with his thumb. “Is it?”

Cas nods, looking terrified. “But I don’t know why--” Cutting himself off, he rolls down the window to stick his head out.

Dean picks the phone up from where it rests on Cas’s thigh. “Okay Charlie. Cas is doing his thing. Where are you?”

“Uh,” Charlie pauses. “Northwest of Kansas City, uh…” a slightly hysterical giggle. “A bit east of Winchester, actually.”

Dean snorts, typing it into the map function on his phone. “Okay, you’re only like twenty minutes ahead of us. Get to the Bunker. You’ll be safe there.”

Cas pulls his head back inside, his eyes bleak in the overhead light, and grabs the phone from Dean’s suddenly nerveless hand. “Charlie, Kevin is correct. The important thing is that angels must have consent in order to possess you.”

“Yeah,” Charlie says shakily. “I know. Although, I gotta say, my price is pretty low. I--”

“You won’t,” Cas cuts her off, motioning for Dean to get the car into motion again. “Say no, keep Kevin out of their hands. Dean and I will meet you at the Bunker.” He hangs up, cutting off a half-formed word.

Probably for the best.

“More angels?” Dean asks roughly. “What happened?”

“They’re hurt, and confused,” Cas whispers. “Most haven’t been to Earth since humans achieved civilization, they don’t know what happened, why they’ve been forced out…” He drops off, staring out the window.

“Great, a bunch of loose nukes, waiting for some poor soul to say yes.”

“I’m sorry, Dean. If I knew…”

How, Cas? They tossed you out on your ear, you’re not responsible for them.”

“Still, I feel at fault somehow.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not. And we’ve got bigger problems.” Dean presses harder on the gas, easing the Impala up well beyond the speed limit and approaching triple digits. “If you want something to worry about, figure out how we’re going to get my damn brother back.”

The angels keep falling, flashing gold-blue across the sky. A few of them break up, trajectory impossibly changing. Those, Dean guesses, are the ones who are taking the opportunity to fall, ripping out their grace to be born human. Without thinking about it, he counts them, trying to see how much trouble they’ll be in nine months or twenty-some odd years, before giving it up.

Thousands are falling, only a few dozen are cutting out their grace. They have plenty of trouble without worrying about miracle infants next spring.

Cas’s hands twitch in his lap almost constantly, every time an angel disappears over the horizon. Reaching over, Dean grabs his hand and pulls him closer. The flinching doesn’t stop, but Cas’s shoulders leave his ears at least.

“How many?” he asks quietly.

Cas shakes his head. “Too many to count. They’re… screaming, begging for mercy…” He falls silent again for several miles. “All of them.”

Dean squeezes his hand and pushes the gas pedal even harder. He keeps willing his phone to ring, for Sam to call, even as he sprints halfway across the state. Angels can go fuck themselves, he’s got too many other things on his plate.

His phone doesn’t ring, and an unfamiliar car-- not Charlie’s Gremlin-- is parked in front of the Bunker. He has to pump the brakes to avoid hitting it, sending a wave of gravel to ping off the sedan’s paint job. Frowning, Dean barely has time to get out of the car before Charlie and Kevin pulls up next to them, half-blinding Dean in the headlights.

Charlie is out of the car in a flash, flinging herself at Cas. “Dude, are you okay? You’re not affected or…”

“I’m fine, Charlie,” Cas says. “Whatever is happening--”

Dean frowns-- Cas is lying-- before clapping a hand on Kevin’s shoulder and dragging him close. “So if you just got here, who’s car is that?”

Cas tenses, pushing Charlie off gently and dropping his blade into his hand. “No one friendly.”

“If I’d known having a home base was going to involve this much company, I wouldn’t have spent so much time wishing for one,” Dean mutters, pulling his pistol from the back of his jeans.

“Maybe Sam went car shopping and picked himself up a… red Corolla,” Charlie offers hesitantly. “He’s old enough to have his own car.”

“Sam’s been touched by an angel and is god knows where,” Dean says flatly. “It’s not his.”

The door is locked tight and sealed. Dean remembers locking it, but they didn’t seal it. Not on purpose anyway.

The air recyclers-- or whatever they are-- spin back up when he breaks the seal, the emergency lights coming on in an erie repeat of last winter. Except last time, he had Sam at his back, not a falling angel, a teenage prophet, and a half-trained hunter.

It’s not that he doesn’t think Cas and Charlie can take care of themselves-- they can, no question-- it’s that he’s responsible for them. He’s always…

Dean breaks the thought off, now is not the time.

“It’s about time you arrived to let me out,” Henry calls from map room below. “What did your idiot--” he breaks off when he sees Dean glaring down from the balcony. “Where’s Sam?”

“Did he really--” Charlie stage whispers to Cas behind him. Kevin mutters something in response, too quiet for Dean to hear.

Dean ignores them. There’s not much else to do. “Out. Doing stuff.” Like hell he’s going to actually tell the truth.

The others push past him, heading down the stairs. Now that they’re behind the wards, Dean can relax a bit, but he’s still uneasy. Henry showing up at the same time the angels fall and Sam gets kidnapped… it’s too much of a coincidence.

“Kev, Char, you good? Cas?”

Kevin and Charlie are already bent over the æther readings on the main console, pointing at readings and trying to read the graphs from the cabinet below. They raise twin thumbs up before returning to their nerd spiral, ignoring everyone else in the room.

Cas nudges him down the stairs. “I’ll help make coffee.”

Dean hadn’t really planned on making coffee, hadn’t planned on doing anything that Henry might misinterpret as being welcome, but it’s too late now. “Yeah, alright.”

Henry follows them into the kitchen, sitting at the table while Dean replaces the filter and Cas refills the water. “I was expecting you boys to be here when I arrived this afternoon.”

“Yeah, had a hunt over by Kansas City. So we jetted over there to take care of it.”

“And, in the process, caused the ætheric meters to redline?”

“Yep,” Dean says, popping the p. He can feel his eyebrow starting to twitch, the stress headache he’s been fighting since Sam and Gadreel-- “That’s what we did. Made the angels fall, just to fuck with you.”

Shrugging off Cas’s hand where it rests on his shoulder, he reaches for the bottle of rotgut he’d stashed under the table the last time he cleaned and takes a long swig.

Henry starts to sputter and Dean pulls out his phone, taps out another message to Sam. Hopefully, he’ll be able to wrest control back…

“Dean, are you even listening to me?”

“No.” The coffee’s done, so he slops some into two mugs, adds sugar to both, and cream to one, before tucking the whiskey under his arm and grabbing the mugs. “I’ve got other things to worry about than you getting locked inside for a few hours.”

Cas peels off, heading deeper into the Bunker, when they emerge from the kitchen. Dean aches to follow him, but instead heads back into the map room. “Coffee on the table behind you, I’ll be in the library looking up angels.”

“Dean!”

What do you want, Henry? Besides being in my way.”

“Where’s Sam?”

“Gone,” Dean bites out, pulling the first five books off the shelves and dropping them by his chair. “Angel went poof, took Sam along for the ride.”

Henry stares at him for a long moment. “What angel?”

“Don’t you have some mystical fish to get back to?” Dean asks coldly, meeting Henry’s eyes. “Or some dicks down in Shreveport to deal with?”

“The Stynes are--”

“Yeah, I don’t care.” Dean drags the first book over and ignores him.


Hell shakes with every impact, a rolling quake that shakes its very foundations. Destruction rains down, crushing the last of Crowley’s infinite queue into gray muck. Demons stream from whatever rat holes they’ve hidden in, trying to escape.

Abaddon swoops from above, streaming fire at a line of demons, roasting them to ash and dust, before veering up. Dancing between falling chunks of masonry, she helps the quakes along, destroying anything she can, her locusts following in her wake and consuming any survivors.

The chaos is glorious and Abaddon revels in it.

A tall spire, reaching nearly her height, emerges from the ground near Crowley’s dungeons, spearing upwards. Another one, and another. Five in all, great towers formed spontaneously from the destruction and chaos.

She rejoices, sends her locusts to create more destruction, holding her direct follows as the only ones sacrosanct. Everyone else is to be eaten, set aflame, consumed.

The dukes look to her, when the destruction is complete, waiting, for what, Abaddon has no idea.

Meg is still on Earth, tracking Crowley so she can drag him before the throne. She sends Bela out among the other demons, searching out discontent, and fanning those flames against the dukes. Abaddon circles overhead, fanning the chaos.

The freedom of Hell is less than the freedom of Earth, but it is still freedom.


Sighing, Castiel carries yet another pot of coffee from the kitchen into the library to refill Dean’s mug. Charlie and Kevin drifted to their bedrooms hours ago, followed shortly by Henry. Dean is the only one still awake, still searching through texts that will tell him nothing.

“Find anything?” Castiel asks quietly, carefully pushing the bottle of whiskey out of easy reach and refilling the coffee cup.

Dean frowns, distress palpable, and shakes his head. “Not a thing. If that tracking spell doesn’t work, there’s nothing that will work better.”

“I can try--”

“Don’t bother,” Dean snaps. “There’s nothing.”

Castiel sets the coffee pot down with a thunk, pulling Dean’s chair around so he faces him. “You showed faith, and Gadreel took advantage of that. That isn’t on you.”

“So I’m just a dumbass. Thanks,” Dean says sourly.

“Dean…” Castiel starts and trails off. After a moment, he continues, “We’ve both trusted the wrong person before and someone got hurt because of it. You’ve gotten hurt because of it. That doesn’t mean it’s never the right thing to do.”

“It’s Sam, Cas.” Dean shudders, groping blindly across the table for the whiskey. “Never should have let him start the stupid trials.”

“From what I understand, you didn’t really have much choice if you were going to do them at all.”

“I always had a choice. If I wasn’t so fucking useless--”

“You are not--” Helplessly, Castiel watches Dean take several swigs from the bottle before he sets it back down. Stepping firmly into Dean’s space, Castiel grabs the bottle and drains it, dropping the bottle back into Dean’s hands when it’s empty. “Is there another?”

Dean gestures vaguely to the liquor cabinet. “In there, I think. That may--”

“Gin will do,” Castiel cuts him off, pulling open the cabinet doors and perusing the contents. “If we’re going to spend the evening recounting all the ways we’ve failed, I refuse to do it sober.”

Dean stares at him, his eyes bleak before pushing away from the table. He staggers when he stands, aiming towards the kitchen. “We’re going to need a lot more booze then.”

Castiel pushes him back into his chair, dropping the decanter and a couple other bottles onto the table next to Dean. “We have plenty.”

Dean matches him shot for shot. Castiel lets him, telling stories when necessary, trying to get Dean to relax enough that he can drag him to bed.

“Why are you sticking around, man?” Dean asks drunkenly when they’re on their fifth bottle. “You’ve gotta have better shit to do than to take care of my disaster.”

“I really don’t,” Castiel says, reaching out hesitantly to grab Dean’s hand where it rests on the table between them. “There is very rarely anywhere I’d rather be than here.”

“But sometimes…”

“Sometimes you don’t want me around either.”

Dean lurches forward, almost throwing himself into Castiel’s lap. “Even when I say I don’t, do,” he says seriously. “You’re a person. My person. But you can’t ever tell Sam.”

Frowning, Castiel picks Dean up. “I don’t understand, but I promise, I won’t tell Sam.” Wrapping an arm around Dean’s waist, Castiel kisses his temple. “Let’s go to bed.”

“Okay, baby.” Dean reaches up, pats Castiel’s face carefully before frowning. “Are you really here?”

Castiel nods, tightening his hold on Dean before slowly heading towards Dean’s room. The halls weave as they walk down them. Castiel glares down a turn off he doesn’t remember before stumbling down a staircase and into Dean’s room. Maybe he’s more drunk than he thought, if the Bunker is growing new hallways.

Blinking, he pushes Dean towards the bed, pausing to turn on the lamp before flipping the overhead light off.

Dean struggles upright on the bed, rapidly sobering up now that they’re not drinking anymore. He barely looks at Castiel while stripping out of his boots and outer layers. Castiel thinks he catches Dean glancing at him, but the light is too low to know for sure.

The longing pours off Dean, almost enough to drown him, overpowering the panic that fills angel radio, the occasional actual prayer from those who confuse him with Cassiel. Somehow, the only thing Dean wants in this moment… is Castiel.

Kicking off his shoes, Castiel takes the other side of the bed, allowing Dean to drunkenly octopus around him. It won’t last-- the bed is barely big enough for both of them-- but maybe this will do something to ease Dean’s sleep.


Sam’s missing, and it’s his fault. Even days later, the words carve themselves deeper into Dean’s bones with every dead end. Charlie and Kevin won’t come near him anymore, working on their own projects in the relative safety of their own rooms or the far reaches of the Bunker. He’s not seen Henry in days, although Dean’s certain that he hasn’t left.

Books go missing and come back without him seeing them, food appears at his elbow at regular intervals. Dean knows that someone is keeping the place ticking over, but he… he has no idea. His only focus is finding Sam, finding Gadreel, figuring out a way to expel Gadreel without Sam dying…

Everything else fades to the background as unimportant.

Charlie slams his phone onto his book. “It’s been ringing off the damn hook. Answer the stupid thing already.”

Blinking away the faded Latin he’s been staring at for hours, Dean accepts the call just to make it stop ringing. “‘Lo?”

“Finally, squirrel,” Crowley says exasperated. “I’ve been calling for three days. Or do you think I just call to chat?”

“I’m busy,” Dean bites out. “What do you want?”

“To help you with your demon problem. You are still a hunter, yes?”

“I don’t have a demon problem. I have an angel problem.” He drops the phone on the table, fighting with it to end the call.

“I can give you Abaddon,” Crowley yells in a rush. “Assuming you still care about her.”

Dean drops the book back onto the table and picks up the phone, reaching for his coffee-- stone cold again. “She’s locked in Hell. All the angels have been cast out of Heaven, and someone is wearing Sam as a meatsuit. Hell bitch is really low on my priority list.”

“If you think she’s going to be content with Hell for very long, you’re far stupider than I ever thought.”

“And you’re just… offering to help out of the goodness of your heart? No. What’s the catch?”

“Hell’s been quiet, hasn’t it? No demons since Abaddon’s failed incursion. Think there might be a reason behind that?”

Dean closes his eyes, rubbing his temples before shoving his hand through his hair. “Alright. You have my attention.”

“Some things have to be discussed in person. Stop hiding, and I’ll find you.”

Dean sighs, takes another drink of coffee. “There’s a bar in Smith Center, The Milton. I’ll meet you there in a couple hours.”

“Fine,” Crowley bites out. “Don’t be late.”

Dean rolls his eyes and ends the call, staring down at the book in front of him. Next week’s coming attractions, as previewed by the fucking king of Hell. Because this is his life now.

Henry comes in, hair damp, holding Dad’s journal in one hand. “I found this… Did you leave this in my room?”

“Thought it might help you get to know Dad. Since you don’t understand how hunters are made.”

“I…”

“Whatever. I’ve got a meeting, so I’m going to get cleaned up.” Dean slams away from the table, brushing past Henry.

“A meeting? With who? Do they have anything to do with your brother’s disappearance?” Henry grabs Dean’s arm, spinning him around.

“Yeah; the King of Hell; and probably not,” Dean rattles off. “Although he might be the former king of Hell. I’ll make sure to get all the gossip while we’re talking.”

“Are you insane?”

“Probably.” Dean shrugs off Henry’s hand. “But Crowley’s never screwed us before, not when his ass is at risk too.”

“Does Miss Bradbury know about this? Castiel?”

“What’s with the twenty questions?” Dean asks. “You’ve never given a shit about what I do before.”

“That was when Sam was keeping you in check.”

“Right. Forgot.” Dean goes cold, backing away from Henry. “Can’t let the stupid ape get above his station.” Guess Dad’s journal was useless after all.

Marching down the hallway, he can hear Henry start to say something before falling silent.

The silence grows as he showers and shaves, gets dressed. He doesn’t see anyone on his way out, although he hears Charlie and Cas teasing Kevin about something in the kitchen.

He picks through his tapes when he gets to the car. Nothing really feels right until he gets to one of the Mom’s favorites-- one of the few Dad kept. Sgt. Pepper’s it is.

Donnie is already pouring his beer by the time Dean opens the door. “Just the beer?”

“For right now, yeah,” Dean nods towards the pool table. “You mind if I play a couple rounds while I wait for my friend?”

“Yeah, go for it.” Donnie waves him off.

Dean takes his beer and sets up for a game, planning on just blowing off some steam until Crowley shows.

“Where’s your brother?” Georgia asks, leaving her usual stool and grabbing the other cue.

Dean snorts and gestures for her to break. “You just want to watch him bend over the table.”

“I’m an old woman,” she says, taking her shot. “It’s one of the few pleasures in life left to me.”

“You keep saying that, like I don’t see you flirting every chance you get.” Dean shakes his head. “Sam’s, uh… indisposed at the moment.”

“I told you Sam ran off with a girl!” Georgia crows over to Donnie at the bar. “That’s the only reason you two wouldn’t be here.”

“Something like that.” Dean shrugs his acceptance.

Georgia reaches up, pats his cheek. “He’ll be home from his sex-cation soon enough. Then you two can go back to whatever it is that you don’t tell us about.” She grins up at him before stepping back so he can take his shot.

Dean’s pretty sure Georgia used to hustle for a living the same way he still does-- their matches are almost always decided purely on luck when they’re just playing for something to do. Even if she didn’t, she’s far better at running off the occasional group of college assholes than Dean is-- they get out and stay out after getting their asses beat by a woman in her sixties with her gray hair braided into a crown.

They manage two games before Crowley shows up, teasing each other and showing off some trick shots to entertain Donnie and the rest of the regular crowd. Georgia sinks the eight ball on the second game, a complicated shot that bounced off three rails at precise angles before dropping into the pocket directly in front of her. Their audience cheers and laughs and it’s almost enough to make Dean forget about everything that’s going on.

It lasts for a few seconds before he’s distracted by the door slamming open and Crowley blowing in like a storm. Crowley is… the only word for it is rumpled.

“Put his drink on my tab,” Dean calls over to Donnie, handing his cue to some trucker. “Thanks for the game, beautiful.” He smiles at Georgia.

That’s your friend?” She asks scornfully, frowning at Crowley’s back. “Be careful with him. He’s not what he seems.”

Dean raises an eyebrow. Maybe she’s not as much of a civilian as he thought. “I’ll watch my ass.”

Settling in at one of the booths, Dean watches as Georgia glares daggers at Crowley before he brings over another beer for Dean and a-- “What is that?”

Crowley glances at the glass in front of him before looking at Dean. “I am fairly certain you know what a margarita is. I’m not sure your bartender knows however.”

Dean rolls his eyes and takes a drink of his beer. “Wanna tell me what’s going on with you?”

“I lost control of Hell because of you assholes,” Crowley spits. “You owe me. Now, are you going to listen? Because demons are going to be on your asses as soon as Abaddon realizes that it’s only her that’s being kept in Hell. Where’s Samantha?”

“If I knew that, I’d be there, not sitting here talking to you.” Dean swallows again.

“Touchy touchy.” Crowley falls silent, tapping his finger against his glass.

It’s not just that his suit is wrinkled, but it’s dirty in a way Dean’s never seen Crowley get before. Spots of dried mud decorate the sleeves of his jacket, mostly brushed off, but still present. The cuffs of his jacket are worn, and his tie is water spotted. “You’ve been deposed. Because of us?”

“You certainly didn’t help,” Crowley says bitterly. “The King, acting more and more human while the last fucking Knight rips herself free and promises a return to the old ways.” He snorts, taking a long drink of his margarita. “I’m lucky I survived.”

Abaddon. On top of Sam being possessed and the angels falling. Awesome. Dean picks at the label on his beer bottle before looking back up. “Alright. Abaddon. What’s her deal?”

“She was the second knight and the only survivor, powerful in ways you can’t imagine. She’s already overtaken Hell… Once she forces her way back topside?” Crowley blows out a breath. “She’ll make Lilith look like child’s play.”

“You’re talking Lucifer levels.”

“Lucifer wanted humans gone. A petulant child breaking daddy’s toys, but he didn’t want to destroy the whole of creation. Abaddon wants destruction and chaos. Sending it all up in flames would be a bonus.”

Dean jerks his head up, stares at Crowley in disbelief. “That doesn’t sound much different.”

“Uncle Luci had a plan and a prophecy. Ruin those, he pouts and sulks and does terrible things to your brother while in prison, but he’s a non-issue. Abaddon…”

“Just wants to watch the world burn.”

“And be eaten alive by locusts. Just to start.” Crowley looks terrified, which is a first.

Dean stays silent, trying to figure out Crowley’s angle. “What do you want? I can’t take down a Knight of Hell on my own and the Colt’s gone.”

“The Colt’s useless,” Crowley snorts. “There’s only one thing that can kill a Knight. Help me find it.” Crowley finishes his margarita. “Soonest, preferably. Before her foot soldiers catch up with me.”

“Her minions-- tall assholes, limbs too long, scar the floor with their steps?”

“That would be them,” Crowley says slowly. “Have you seen one?”

“Hunter buddy did, last week. Called to see if I knew anything about them when it ran a demon out of his bar.”

Crowley frowns. “He didn’t follow?”

Dean shrugs. “Demon on demon violence isn’t going to get many hunters worked up. Didn’t get Rudy worked up either, just curious.”

“Avoid them. They’re monstrous, even for Hell.”

“Gotcha. About this weapon we can use to kill Abaddon…”

“The First Blade. Specifically, the weapon Cain used to kill Abel. It pops up occasionally in the stories, but nothing solid, and nothing at all since the Knights were all but wiped out.”

Dean sighs and nods, unable to hide his lack of excitement. “Research. Awesome.” He looks over at the bar, where Donnie and Georgia are talking. At least he got a little bit of time to relax before having to dive back in. This sounds like something Sam would enjoy. “I’ll… see what I can find in between searches for Sam. Maybe we’ll luck out and Abaddon will stay nice and contained until the angel crisis is over.”

Crowley doesn’t even respond, just stands and rebuttons his suit jacket before walking out the door.

Dean watches him go before shaking his head and heading back to the bar to close out his tab.


It takes years for the landscape of Hell to fully stabilize after the quakes stop, the dukes rejecting her rule and recreating their own fiefdoms-- towers built strong enough to withstand her rage with barren wasteland between them. They vary according to the duke’s desires, reflecting the intrinsic essence of their fief and their power. Willowy and brutal, they grow, sheltering the demons within from her rage. Even the Pit, masterless though it is, creates a tower-- shorter than the others, squat and ugly, any openings hidden in the deep crevices of the sides. She suspects they’re building tunnels between them to allow commerce and movement, but doesn’t care.

She should have destroyed them all when she had a chance, rather than trust they would honor their oaths. They’re demons after all, lying and oath breaking is what they do.

Abaddon paces around the Cage, listening to Lucifer’s torment. Occasionally, she darts forward, attempting to break the warding before driven back. Her temper grows, destroying more, killing the few demons who venture into the icy depths.

Bela approaches slowly, cautiously, shying away when Abaddon’s temper flares. “What?” Abaddon roars, her voice echoing across the ice.

“Several demons, shedim, have returned. They found a gate to Earth that should allow you passage, my Queen.”

“Should? What good does that do me?” Abaddon growls quietly where she sits, hunched in preparation of another attack on the Cage. Her wings shift restlessly, adjusting to the changing currents.

“A devil’s gate is easier to force open than a new rift,” Bela points out hesitantly. “Thin places, where a certain degree of crossover is expected. Heaven won’t be looking for a new incursion from there.”

Abaddon’s tail lashes angrily before she launches herself into flight. Circling the vast ice field, she watches everything in her domain.

Except it’s not her domain-- the dukes might be terrified vermin, hiding in their holes, but they won’t stay cowards forever. Eventually, their stupidity and pride will overcome their cowardice and then…

Landing lightly, she meets Bela’s eyes and forces her to the ground with a giant claw. “You will take me to this exit. You will not breathe a word of this to anyone else.”

“Of course, my queen,” Bela gasps out under the weight. “I wouldn’t dare.”

Releasing her, Abaddon stands back, watching Bela closely. She’s… bigger, as she shifts back to her true form, blood soaked fur overtaking patchy and burned skin. Her fur ripples with every quick dart from cover to cover, leathery black wings folded tightly against her back until they reach one of the giant chasms opened in a quake.

Abaddon pushes herself off the ledge, dropping until she snaps out her wings and soaring upwards on the draft. Rolling slightly, she watches below to see how Bela gets across, despite being able to smell Earth not terribly far away.

Bela tips her head to the side, watching Abaddon, before shaking herself. Her wings flap loosely against her back. Bouncing lightly to thrust herself upwards, she claws her way into the air, frantically flapping to keep herself aloft before squeaking and diving across the canyon.

Amused by her attempts, Abaddon climbs above her, timing her down stroke for Bela’s upstroke.

Bela’s wings, barely big enough to hold her anyway, collapse under the draft, sending her spiraling into the cliff face below.

Abaddon dives after her, folding her wings back to pick up speed, snapping at Bela’s unprotected back as she passes. Blood erupts, splashing through the air to stain Abaddon’s hide. Wrenching open her wings, Abaddon watches Bela smash into the gray stone before flying out of the canyon and towards the scent of Earth.

The gate is unguarded, a simple cave mouth that blows fresh air where there should be none.

Abaddon sniffs it, grinning in satisfaction at the lack of sulfur that blows through. It smells… not precisely terrible, but definitely of Earth and spring and all the things that she hates.

The area where she emerges is bleak, barely greening with spring. Looking around, she thinks about returning to Hell, coming back with a force large enough to make an impact, but… No. There are other things she needs to do first. She sets her locusts free, watching as they overtake the banks of a small stream before following in their wake as they consume every living thing before her.

 

Chapter Text

Frowning, Gadreel aimlessly wanders the small city, following the crowds of people flooding along the sidewalks, chatting and shopping in the chill afternoon air.

He is starting to wonder if he shouldn’t find some of the other angels, see if he can convince them that he has been wronged. If he can convince a few-- the ones sympathetic to Lucifer’s cause, maybe, but did not fall-- he will have a greater chance to convince others.

“Hey, brother, can you spare some change?” A dirty hand extends a paper cup, a handful of change in the bottom, while the narrow face peers up at him. The weak sunlight nearly obscures the glow of grace and the tattered remnants of their wings in the doorway.

“You’re an angel.” Gadreel stares back, disgusted, before dipping a hand into his pocket and dropping Samuel’s entire wallet into their lap. “Have some respect for your vessel.”

“As are you,” they respond with a snort. “Yet… you are hidden, locked away within a vessel, and I do not recognize you.”

“I have not been among the Host for an eternity.” The headache is pounding now, Sam screaming in dismay. “I would be amazed if you did.”

Their eyes narrow, mouth opening to shout.

Gadreel drops his sword into his hand and stabs them through the heart. “I’m sorry.” Crouching, he slides their eyes shut and rearranges their coats to hide the hole. No one should look twice until hours from now, when he is far from here.


“Are you insane?” Kevin shouts across the library, spinning on his heel to face Henry. “You want to invite some family you barely know to stay here? You said yourself that you hadn’t heard of them until you went looking for the Men of Letters.”

“Eldon Styne is a good man, a pillar of his community. His heirs have as much right to study here as mine do.” Henry leans back in his chair, sipping from the coffee cup at his elbow. Knowing the Winchesters, Kevin is pretty sure that the coffee is half whiskey, but it might be half rum-- they still haven’t replaced what Dean and Cas drank last week.

“Just like Crowley was a good man?” Kevin snaps. “I… This isn’t just your sanctuary,” he tries again. “We have two major projects going on with a third on the horizon. We can’t spare anyone to babysit them.”

“Young man--”

“Oh, fuck you,” Kevin snaps before storming out.

Kevin sighs before kicking his shoes into the corner of the gym he found a few weeks back and stretching. He spares a moment to wish he was wearing his gi before sucking it up and dealing with jeans. Might as well get used to them now-- the way his life is going, he’s going to need this far more than his mom ever thought he would.

Dean waits until he’s finished with his warm up before interrupting. “Wanna talk about it?”

“Is talking about it gonna make it not happen?” Kevin asks snidely.

Dean shrugs and leans against the door frame. “I don’t know. All I got was yelling and running.”

“Henry wants to invite the Stynes to live here and study. He doesn’t have the right to cut them off from their birthright or something.”

“Oh, hell no. That ain’t happening.” Dean pushes himself away from the wall. “I’m not putting you in their cross hairs, not if I can help it.”

Kevin raises an eyebrow, not bothering to hide his skepticism. “You put me on a boat rather than deal with me before. What’s changed?”

“This place?” Dean waves a finger around. “Is safer than any houseboat owned by Garth’s third cousin or whatever. And even if it wasn’t, the Stynes are slimy. Something ain’t right with them.”

“Henry’s not going to stop just because you told him no.”

“Yeah.” Dean snorts. “Pretty sure I could tell him that water is wet and he’d fight me on it.” He pauses, looking around the room before shaking his head. “I’ll find a distraction. You good here?”

Kevin nods slowly, trying to figure out what Dean’s planning.

“Awesome. I’ll get him out your hair for a couple days.”

“I’ll keep an eye out,” Kevin offers. “For anything to help with Sam.”

“Alright,” Dean says, knocking a knuckle against the door frame. “I’m sure there’s a ghost somewhere in a day’s drive at least. I’ll drag Henry to deal with that.”

Kevin watches him disappear down the hallway before turning back to his workout.

An hour later, Dean and Henry stomp past the entrance to his little gym, heading towards the gun range at the end of the hall. Their shouting is drowned out by a handful of gunshots before they stalk back towards the main living areas.

Kevin wipes the sweat from his face before escaping to his room. He needs a shower and then, maybe, a talk with Cas about what his options are.


Dean stares at Henry from across the kitchen island, hands braced. “Henry, dude. We have Kevin fucking Tran, prophet of the fucking Lord living here. I get that you trust the Stynes, that you’re sure that they don’t mean him any harm. But that’s not good enough. Not after the fiasco with Crowley.”

“Yes, your ‘prophet,’” Henry says dryly. “Tell me again why he’s not under the protection of the angels again? In the desert?”

“Because the leviathan ate his angel protectors. Shortly before demons kidnapped him and his mom.” Dean sucks in a breath, trying to stay calm. He’s lost track of how many times he’s explained this, but definition of insanity whatever. “And, in case you missed it, all the angels fell. I don’t care what you need to prove to the other Men of Letters or their bastard offshoots. They’re not coming here.”

“What do you propose?”

For them to fuck off and die, Dean doesn’t say. Reaching behind him, he tosses a Men of Letters case folder on the counter. “Ghost hunt. Nice and easy, will get both of us out of here so we’re not driving Kevin and Charlie nuts.”

Henry flips through the file, pausing over the antique photograph that’s tucked inside, and reading over what’s already written. “This is old. Has there been an uptick in incidents or…”

Dean shrugs. “Battle sites are always haunted. Some years have more activity than others, but one-fifty has tended to get gruesome over the past couple of years.”

“And this woman, you think you can identify her?”

“Let’s find out.”

Henry stays irritable and sullen the entire drive to Cape Girardeau, with one word answers to any question Dean asks. He spends most of it poking at his phone, researching the battle grounds and anyone that pops up as being connected to the battle or ghost.

They’re following the river south from St. Louis before Henry finally puts down his phone and looks out the window. “There’s a ghost in the cemetery. They call it the Tapping Ghost, but the past couple of weeks, it’s accelerated.”

“Sounds like our sort of thing,” Dean points out. “Particularly with the battle anniversary coming up.”

Henry hrmphs, and leans back in the seat. “What started as an invisible hand tapping people on the shoulder if they were foolish enough to enter the cemetery after dark has graduated to violent shaking by a woman in a nightgown.”

Dean raises an eyebrow and leans a bit heavier on the gas. “Great.”

The cemetery is right off the river-- close enough that it’s flooded at least a couple of times since it was founded, which could make finding the correct grave difficult-- and old enough that some of the older practices for founding a graveyard probably hold true as well.

So, they’re probably avoiding a black dog while they’re digging up the wrong grave. Awesome.

Henry is still sulking when they reach the motel, so Dean leaves him there with the laptop and instructions to keep researching while Dean goes in search of more information.

Even after seven years, Mrs. Robinson remembers him and is more than happy to give him Cassie’s new number, especially after he reassures her that the current ghost is much, much, older than Cyrus and has nothing to do with her.

Swallowing, Dean types the number in and hits call before he can overthink it.

The phone rings twice before Cassie answers, “This is Cassie.”

Shit. “Heya, Cassie. It’s Dean. You got a moment?”

There’s a long pause before she responds. “Uh, yeah. Give me a sec.” The surprise in her voice hurts more than he thought it would. The background noise on the other side abruptly drops. “What’s going on?”

He snorts. “I’m in town for a job. Was hoping I could ask you some questions.”

“A job or a job?” She asks. “Does this have anything to do with--”

“No. Your mom is fine, you’re fine. I just need some information about a graveyard.”

She pauses, the background noise picking back up for a brief moment before quieting again. “Honestly, this date is going so badly, you’re doing me a favor.”

“I’m happy to provide any and all excuses you could possibly need. Need a ride?”

“Christ, no. I’ll uh… twenty minutes at the Library, at Main and Independence. You’ll like that one, it’s a hole.”

Dean makes a face, unsure how he feels about that characterization. “If you say so.”

“Just make sure you get a table in the back. Last thing I need is this guy walking by and seeing us.”

Dean leans against the motel brickwork. “This isn’t a date.”

“Damn straight it’s not. See you in a bit.” She hangs up.

Dean frowns at the dark screen before shaking his head and looking up the address.

The bar is some hipster bullshit attempt at a dive, deep red walls and dark woodwork paired with cheap wallpaper printed to look like bookshelves. He grabs a beer from the bar, rolling his eyes at the college kids already halfway to drunk and snagging a two-top in the back.

Cassie, when she finally gets there, looks amazing. There’s no hiding that she’s dressed for a night out, but hopefully that’s common enough to not draw attention. She stops by the bar long enough to grab a beer and then heads his way. “Hey, Dean.”

Dean’s mouth goes dry as she drapes her jacket over the back of her chair. Taking a quick drink of his beer, he croaks, “Hi, Cassie. You look--”

She snorts. “Save the flattery. I look like someone who just walked out on a date with a Libertarian. Because I did. Let’s get this done so I can go home and drown my sorrows in cheaper and better beer.”

“Why’d you even say yes?” Dean ducks at her glare and starts over. “What can you tell me about the ghosts in the Lorimer cemetery?”

“That’s kid stuff. Most of its fake,” she says. “Of course… yeah. Alright. Do you have a specific one you’re looking for?”

“Uh… the tapping ghost. How many are there?”

“Stories have at least three.” Cassie shrugs. “But stories also have a tunnel from the hospital to the cemetery for removal of inconvenient bodies. But shoulder-tapper is the best documented.”

What she can tell him isn’t much more than what Henry found, or what the Men of Letters’ file had from fifty years ago. But it helps to have a local perspective, particularly since Cassie can narrow down the area.

“Where’s your brother anyway?” she asks as they’re finishing their beer. “You’re not hunting alone, are you?”

Dean ignores the pang of guilt-- he should be searching for Sam and dragging him back-- and shakes his head. “My, uh, grandfather, actually. He’s waiting at the motel.”

“Your grandfather? I thought…” She sits back. “Alright, Winchester. Go grab another round. I have questions.”

Dean snorts, checking the time. “It’s late and Henry and I don’t get along that well to begin with. Rain check?”

“Breakfast comes with with additional questions, just warning you.”

“Always the journalist.” Dean sighs before nodding. “I can deal with that. You won’t believe me anyway.”

He walks her back to her car-- he can be a fucking gentleman sometimes, Sammy-- and for a brief moment, when she sways towards him, he thinks she’s going to kiss him. The excuse is already on his tongue before she backs away, digging in her purse for her keys.

“Thanks for the drink, Dean,” Cassie says, pulling him into a hug. “Don’t be such a stranger.”

Dean wraps his arms around her and squeezes. “Next time we’re in this part of the state, I’ll give you a call. Say hi to your mom for me?”

She nods, dropping into her car and backing out of the spot.

Dean lifts his hand in a wave before heading back to the Impala and motel.

“Does going out for a burger generally take you three hours?” Henry snarks as soon as Dean walks through the door. “Or did you find another way to spend your time?”

Dean closes his eyes briefly while shrugging out of his jacket and flannel so he can change into something he doesn’t care about getting muddy. “Met up with a friend who grew up around here, asked her about the cemetery.”

“And?”

“She and her friends only ever heard of this one being active in the southeast corner. Which narrows down the possibilities.” Dean pulls the laptop away from Henry and finds a couple of genealogy sites. “Women who died around the same time as the battle and were buried in that graveyard...” Dean hmms and compares dates. “Two possibilities, only one in that corner, and conveniently, she still has a gravestone.”

“And if they’re wrong? Kids aren’t the most reliable witnesses.”

Dean snorts. “It’s a ghost. No one is a reliable witness. But Cassie is about the most reliable we’re going to find in this town.”

“Cassie, huh.” Henry grabs the laptop and spins it back around, retracing the steps Dean’s already done. “If you wanted to see your girlfriend, you could have just said so.”

“Ex-girlfriend. From ten years ago.”

Henry looks at him skeptically, but doesn’t say anything else.

Dean has no idea how the ‘I’m maybe dating an angel’ conversation will go anyway, so he takes the silence as a win. “Anyway, Ms. Juden is our best bet. Unless you turned up something new?”

Henry shakes his head before checking the clock. “About what time should we--”

“Not before two,” Dean cuts him off. “Damn place is in the center of town, not even two blocks away from the bars. Last thing we need is a cop coming to investigate.” Flopping back onto his bed, he pulls his phone out and absently checks for new texts.

A couple of jokes from Charlie-- she and Kevin have knocked off for the evening and are watching eighties movies-- and a single text from Cas: Northern New York is very boring without you.

<< Upstate NY. Missouri with Henry isn’t boring, but is awkward.

The wait is long enough that Dean almost thinks Cas isn’t going to respond. It’s not like they’d discussed this hunt, or even that it was a possibility.

>> Is everything okay? I can help.

<< Everything’s fine. Just a ghost hunt, nothing special.

>> There’s nothing here. I’ll meet you back at the Bunker.

Dean frowns at the text, Cas’s testiness coming through, but nothing else comes. Reaching over and plugging his phone in, he flips on the TV. There might be a new episode of Dr. Sexy.

Henry wakes him from his light doze a few hours later, slapping his hand on the desk. “It’s time, Dean.”

“Right. Yeah. Give me a moment.” Dean blinks away the grogginess so he can grab their gear.

The graveyard is close enough they could have walked, but Dean doesn’t like being that far away from transport when there’s going to be cops nearby. And there’s definitely going to be cops around. It’s enough to make him wish for the good old days, when boneyards were on the outskirts of town, not in the center.

It’s only once they’re over the fence that Dean hears the low growl of a dog. “Shit. The black dog.”

“And you didn’t think to warn me that this was a possibility?” Henry shoots back.

“Yeah, sure. Henry, there might be a black dog.” Dean whispers harshly, pointing his flashlight around to orient himself. “You draw him off while I deal with Casper.”

“Dean, I--”

“Go!” Dean orders.

Henry takes off, whistling quietly and heading in the opposite direction. Dean watches him go, the ghostly dog flashing between shadows before grabbing his shovel and hurrying down the hill.

The ghost taps him on his shoulder as soon as he’s in the right section of graves. Spinning around, Dean catches a brief glimpse of her-- pale nightgown, dark wavy hair falling over her shoulders-- before she disappears again.

“Shit.” Dean scrambles to find the right grave. Henry wails in the distance over the sound of the black dog barking. He needs to move quick. “Leave me alone, Ellen. I’ve got work to do.”

Finally, he spots the correct marker, splashing his flashlight over it. Three here-- Ellen, William, and George-- and a second marker a few feet away-- James. Dean does the math quickly in his head. Ellen was in her thirties, but William and George were only a few years old.

And all dead within days of one another, only a couple weeks after the battle. That doesn’t bode well for this going smooth.

Dean winces when Henry lets out a particularly loud yell and starts digging quickly.

The temperature, already brisk, drops further. Dean’s breath fogs in the cold. Ellen’s occasional tapping turns into a firm grip. She yanks Dean around by the shoulder, forcing him to look at her.

“You hurt them. You hurt all of them.” The ghost shoves him. “You never go home either.”

Dean trips over a broken headstone and sprawls across the ground, hand spasming around the shovel handle. “I’ve not hurt anyone,” Dean gasps out. “Not today, anyway.”

The ghost flickers before coming back, stronger. “It’s all over you. The longing you won’t give into. Just like my James, you never come home.” She shoves her hand into Dean’s chest, fingers latching behind his ribs and pulling.

Dean screams, dark spots dancing across his vision.

Henry runs in, sliding on the damp grass, swinging his shovel around like a madman. Ellen disappears the moment he makes contact with her.

Gasping, Dean slumps back, reaching up to rub his chest. “Thanks.”

“My pleasure,” Henry says, pushing himself to his feet and offering Dean a hand up. “Shall we get to work?”

Dean takes it, looking around warily for the black dog. “Where’s your friend?”

Henry shrugs, already shoving his shovel into the grass and dirt. “She just needed to be reminded of her duties. They’re not evil, you know. They’re guardians.”

“They’re no more evil than any other dog.” Dean grunts and starts digging. “Doesn’t mean they’re not a pain in the ass.”

“It’s really quite a simple spell to distract them…” Henry starts.

Between the two of them, the shallow grave, and the black dog that keeps running Ellen off, they make pretty quick work of the grave. Bracing himself, Dean reaches down and pries up the rotten wood of the coffin lid.

Dean grabs the flashlight he’d dropped to make sure they’ve found the right coffin. He wouldn’t put it past this one to have three buried on top of each other. Three rounded lumps gleam back up at him, eye sockets filled with mud. “Oh. Mom and both kids. Well, that explains a few things.”

Henry peers over the edge with his flashlight. Across from him, the black dog flickers into sight for a brief moment, lets out an excited bark, and then disappears. Dean can’t see where it goes, but Henry straightens up and watches for a moment before looking back down into the grave. “Hopefully, now that we have the grave dug, this will go easier.”

Dean nods, climbing out to grab the salt and kerosene.

Ellen flickers back into sight in front of him, tossing him aside. Dean lands with a grunt at the base of a nearby tree, breathless.

“You can’t just leave things alone,” she yells. “Always joining the cause, always wanting to be a hero. You’re somewhere else, when you should be home, when you should be protecting your family, when you should be--”

Coughing, Dean raises his hands to ward her off. “I’ve never abandoned anyone.”

“Yes, you have,” she screams harshly. “You never go home.”

Dean’s heart stutters in his chest, and his vision starts to go fuzzy at the edges. A few feet away, Henry struggles to light the matches and all Dean can think is that he’s going to die here, because he doesn’t call Cas often enough.


Castiel is sitting in a park when what remains of his grace burns with Dean’s sudden terror.

He doesn’t even pause, taking flight between one step and the next. He’s at Dean’s side in seconds, just in time to watch the ghost go up in flames. Henry stands over the grave, splitting his attention between the contained fire and something else, something more concerning than Dean’s near death.

“Dean?” Castiel gently rubs Dean’s chest, trying to soothe away the pain. “Are you alright?”

Dean groans and coughs, leaning forward. “Cas? When did you--”

“You were hurt and needed me.” Shoving a hand behind Dean to support him, he forces him to lean back.

Looking around, Castiel finally sees what Henry was watching when the graveyard’s black dog trots over, invisibly, to sit at Dean’s feet.

Henry detours around it when he comes over to settle on Dean’s other side. “Dean, I…”

“You got her.” Dean pauses before looking up at Castiel. “I am okay, right?”

Rolling his eyes, Castiel double-checks the beat of Dean’s heart before nodding. “Your normal rhythm has been restored. Which is just as well, since I can’t heal you.” He nods towards the fire burning merrily a few feet away. “Was that the ghost?”

Dean groans and nods. “Should be. Wasn’t expecting her to blow up like that.”

Henry purses his lips, glancing over his shoulder. “A woman in white. Those are far more rare than the lore would suggest. I’d like to know why she suddenly went rabid after over a century of near peace.”

Castiel glances at Dean, still trying to subtly stretch out the pain from being tossed into a tree. “Off hand, I believe it was probably the being forced out of the veil.”

Dean blows out a breath before shaking his head. “Yeah, we’re not having that discussion here. I need a shower first. And a drink.”

It’s not that easy of course. Castiel steals the shovel away from Dean every time he tries to help refill the grave, forcing him to sit down. “You had a heart attack and I can’t heal you. No.”

Henry watches the interplay in silence, shaking his head when Castiel raises an eyebrow in irritation.

Dean stands for a while before sitting and leaning against a nearby headstone with a hand on his shotgun, watching for something. It takes several minutes for Castiel to realize he’s watching for the black dog.

“The dog is over here,” he says, gesturing to where it’s sitting at attention at the foot of the grave. “It has no interest in hurting anyone.”

“Tell that to my twisted ankle,” Henry says sourly. “It was certainly happy enough to chase me all over.”

“You entered as intruders,” Castiel points out, pausing briefly to stretch his hands. “If you had entered through the gates, there would not have been a problem.”

“All those times I’ve been chased around graveyards, treed, bitten, clawed, and it’s because I was trying to avoid the cops?” Dean asks incredulously. “How the hell did I not know this?”

“Black dogs are traditionally protectors--” Henry starts.

“I meant the entering by the gates, genius.” Dean glances nervously towards the dog, but shifts his hand off the trigger. “I suppose once they figure out we’re hunters…”

“They generally wish to shepherd their charges towards the afterlife as well, yes.” Castiel picks his shovel back up and resumes filling the grave.

Dean claims first shower once they’re back at the motel, grabbing clean clothes and jumping into the bathroom to make it obvious he’s avoiding something.

“So, you and Dean…” Henry says out of nowhere.

That would be it. “Yes?”

“Is this a normal thing between you, or…”

“Do I assist on hunts as often as I can? Yes.”

Henry frowns, staring at John’s journal on the bed beside him before shaking his head. “As long as you treat each other well. I’ve known others--” He cuts himself off. “It doesn’t matter.”

Sitting back on the bed, Castiel watches him, thinking about the TV shows Dean has forced him to watch. “I believe the appropriate response is to thank you for your support.”

Henry nods stiffly, picking up the journal and leafing through it again.

Dean tumbles out of the bathroom a couple minutes later, damp hair spiked up roughly from the towel. “Okay. What’s going on with the veil?” He leans against the bathroom counter, watching Castiel carefully.

“When the angels fell,” he starts. “It caused a chain reaction. Souls enter Heaven faster than Heaven can accept them. It’s complicated and I can explain the metaphysics if you want but--”

“Too many souls, you gotta make space for ‘em, so there’s a pile up.” Dean crosses his arms.

“Essentially, yes. That space-- the individual heavens-- was created by angels.”

“And without angels, all those folks are just, what? Hanging out in the veil?”

“Just like a ghost.” Castiel nods. “Any ghost that already existed will be energized, new ghosts will be formed at a greater rate… We need to get Heaven reopened just for that.”

Dean sighs and nods. “Yeah. There’s not enough hunters as it is. Add even more ghosts and…”

“You’re talking about an apocalypse-level event,” Henry points out. “The angels falling… that’s one of the seals, isn’t it?”

Dean huffs a laugh. “We’re post-apocalypse already. Twice. Seal or not, nothing is going to change regarding the Cage.”

Henry stares at Dean. “That… What?”

“Old news, dealt with, don’t really want to deal with it again.” Dean turns to slop some whiskey into the plastic cups behind him. He hands both Castiel and Henry a cup before looking down and taking a deep breath. “Right. Demon knights and angels and ghosts, oh my.” He shoots back his drink and refills his cup before moving over the bed Castiel is sitting on. “Budge over and lose the coat.”


“Why are you here, Abaddon?” Cain invisibly demands as soon she reaches his property line.

Abaddon glares towards the house, half hidden in the clearing at the bottom of the valley. “It’s time to return to Hell. Pick up your Blade and lead the armies, as you were meant to do.”

The shedim who follow her pace along the property line, trampling the grass and bushes into the dust. The leader snorts, throws his head back before leaning against a tree and casually pushing it over. Soon, they’re all doing it, felling trees and crushing the undergrowth until the line is clear.

“I’m retired,” Cain calls. She can see him now, clad in a billowing white suit with a ridiculous hat and netting over his head. “Retired and staying that way.”

Pushing her hair over her shoulder, Abaddon crouches and sets fire to the fallen trees with a touch. “Didn’t you learn anything from the last time? I’m more powerful than you, with less scruples.”

“Which is why you’re on that side of the ward line and can’t get any closer.” He must be using some trick to project his voice. “We’re not meant to rule, Abaddon.”

Abaddon snorts, watching as her blaze eats away the property line, breaching it and making its way down hill. The shedim fan out behind her as she follows it, consuming and destroying. When she’s only a few feet away, she says, “We have all the time in the world. Lord Lucifer is imprisoned once again, the princes scattered, the dukes in my thrall.”

Cain removes his hat, carefully setting it aside on a table on the porch. “How did you find me?”

“I know you, spent centuries under you,” Abaddon sneers, moving to the foot of the porch steps. “You would never move far from your precious Colette’s bones.”

Cain stares at her coldly and flicks a hand. Her fires are extinguished, the shedim teleported elsewhere.

“Where did you send them?”

“Back to the pit you found them. You should have left them there, some things are too dark even for us.” He sighs, seating himself on the rocker that occupies the corner of the porch while she stalks up the steps. “I discarded the Blade years ago.”

“Return with me. I-- We-- can free Hell from the bureaucracy that has sprung up in our absence, conquer the earth in Lucifer’s name, destroy Heaven…”

“No,” he says simply. “I’m done with all of that.”

Abaddon shifts, the wood of the steps cracking beneath her claws as her tail whips around, breaking several of the porch posts. The fire she breathes out parts around him, blowing past Cain with barely a breeze.

Finally, he moves, jumping over the remains of the porch railing and into the yard. He’s silent, leading her away from his house, but making no other moves.

Abaddon takes an earth shaking step, then another, before rearing up, spreading her wings so they block the sky. Pinpointing Cain, she dives forward, mouth open, flame charring the ground around him.

An invisible wall reflects her flames back, burning her, blinding. She loses track of him in the flames, can barely feel the pressure that darts up her back.

She does feel the sharp pain that lodges into the base of her skull, driving deep, immobilizing her head. She shakes herself, trying to remove the thorn, toss it ahead of her so she can crush it. The pressure stops, but the pain doesn’t.

Abaddon screams, reaching out with a wing to bat Cain away. He can’t kill her, not without the First Blade but…

Cain goes flying, landing in a crouch a few feet away. He jumps again before she can reach him, her claw landing just a fraction of a second too late.

Angrily, she transforms, resuming her human shape and stalks towards him. The knife buried in her neck bounces to the ground, harmless now. She turns towards it, intent on picking it up and flinging it at Cain, but he shouts something and she...

She can’t move, frozen in place. Abaddon screams again, roaring out her frustration to no avail. Without the shedim, she has no chance of beating him back enough to survive.

Cain stands there for a long time, watching her. “There has been enough killing. Return to Hell, rule however you wish. Stay away from me and mine.” He flicks his hand again, and she’s suddenly somewhere else, somewhere very far away from Cain.


The warning spell tied to the candle suddenly flares to life, dragging Crowley’s bleary attention from the empty syringe still sitting at his elbow. Juliet lets out a single low bark at the sudden flare, shying away from the blue-white light.

“Hush, girl,” Crowley mumbles, trying to remember who that candle is linked to. He has several, strewn carelessly across the bedside table. Red. He’d made the associations as obvious as possible… Abaddon. Red is Abaddon.

Shit.

Adrenaline scours through his veins, evaporating the loose emotional high, burning off the human blood in moments. The warning system is set for fifty miles-- if it’s active, she’s close enough to find him.

Gathering the remaining candles into his tattered jacket pocket, Crowley holds Juliet’s collar and teleports them somewhere else. He’s not quite sure where they end up, but it doesn’t matter. They won’t be staying for very long.

It’s mid-afternoon before he stops, standing in the middle of a field, stumbling slightly at the sharp slope. Juliet takes off running as soon as he’s stable, chasing a couple of placid cows before bolting the other way. He lets her run while he watches, trying to figure out what he’s going to do next.

Abaddon is free from Hell. She’s moving too fast, not strengthening her positions enough. He has plans and plots for almost every eventuality, but it’s impossible to plan for insanity and chaos.

Crowley sighs and pulls his phone from a pocket. As much as it’s too early, his only option is to start making the play for Dean.

“Hello?”

Crowley blinks at his phone before shaking his head briefly. “I was calling Squirrel, Feathers. I need to talk to him.”

“He’s driving,” Cas says shortly. “And can’t talk at the moment.”

In the background, Crowley can hear Dean demanding Cas put the phone on speaker and a third voice-- familiar, but not Sam-- arguing that they should just hang up. There’s some weird interference as well, a ghost of some sort.

“It’s urgent, and of world ending importance.”

“What do you want Crowley?” Dean cuts in.

“Abaddon’s head on a spike,” he says immediately, watching Juliet in a gully a few yards away. “Which I need you for.”

“Abaddon, the knight of Hell, Abaddon?” The third voice says. “I thought she was trapped in Hell.”

The voice clicks in Crowley’s memory-- Henry Winchester, the boys’ moronic grandfather. “You could volunteer as well, Henry. Saving the world, it’s supposedly a family business.”

“The knights can only be killed by an Archangel,” Castiel breaks in. “I fail to see how Dean can assist with that.”

“Is that the story they tell in angel Sunday school?” Crowley muses. “Huh.”

“Cut the crap, Crowley. What do you want?”

“We need to talk. Privately. Bring Feathers if you want, but Pops should probably stay home. He’s not very good at remembering who the good guys are.” Crowley hangs up and whistles for Juliet.

Chapter Text

Breakfast with Cassie is tense. Ever the journalist, she spends the entire meal tossing out questions-- the last seven years, where Henry came from, the latest ghost, all of it-- in the middle of the busy diner, filled to the rafters with the post-church crowd. Cas and Henry are awkward, especially Cas, leaving most of the talking to Dean and Cassie, answering questions when asked directly, but otherwise staying silent. And then they stay awkward in the car after.

They’re outside Kansas City before the awkwardness breaks. Even then, it’s not so much that it breaks as much as it’s shattered.

Something barks in the back seat, scaring the bejesus out of Dean. Swerving off the road, heart pounding, he throws open his door, scrambling out of the car. “What the fuck?”

Henry nearly falls out of the backseat while they stare at the faded ghostly image of a dog, tongue lolling out in a doggy grin.

Cas stays put, twisting around to face it before slowly extending a hand. A pink-ish, barely there tongue, licks across the back of his hand before retracting. Cas grins, reaching over to pet her head. “She’s decided to come with us. We need her protection more than the dead do, apparently.”

Dean takes several deep breaths, trying to get his heart rate under control, looking at the ghost. At the fucking black dog. “Cas, man, I--”

The dog barks again, a deep noise rumbling that Dean can feel.

“What the fuck?” Dean sputters, throwing up a hand when it looks like Cas is just going to repeat himself. “No, really. What the fuck? How is she here? We didn’t bring anything of hers with us.”

“Technically,” Henry starts, reaching a tentative hand out to pet the ghost dog. “The spell I used to calm her down in the graveyard could, theoretically, free her from her bones and allow her spirit to roam free.”

“Which explains why there’s a phantom Cujo in my car how?”

“She’s been alone for a very long time,” Cas says quietly. “I told her she could come with us if she wanted.”

“Of course you did,” Dean sighs before glancing over at Cas. The expression on his face… yeah. Cas would feel that too, wouldn’t he? His purpose complete, unable to go home, his only hope a couple of dumbass humans so emotionally constipated they make rocks look healthy. “Fine. But she stays with you and incorporeal when she’s in Baby.”

He barely manages to suppress the shudder when a clammy tongue licks over his hand, but Cas is grinning and Dean can’t say no to that face.

Anything to keep Cas happy. Sighing, Dean climbs back into the car and pulls back onto the highway.

The ride is less awkward after that, Henry and Cas talking about spells to free spirits from their earthly bonds instead of salt and burning. Dean finds himself interested in spite of himself-- digging bodies up is a pain in the ass-- but neither of them will swear that ghosts banished that way won’t come back, so it’s useless for hunting.

Still, it’s a change from hours of silence broken only by Dean singing along with the radio.

Lebanon’s already shut down for the night when they drive through. Dean waves at the gas station, still shining in the darkness, as they pass before turning onto the long farm road that will, eventually, lead them to the Bunker. “Henry, you’re not coming with me to the meet with Crowley. Cas, what do you want to do?”

“I’m concerned that Crowley and I’s mutual dislike might hinder your negotiations.”

Dean raises an eyebrow and snorts. “I tried to turn him human, like, last month. He’s not holding it against me.”

“Because he thinks he can use that to his advantage,” Cas points out. “If you feel guilty or even soften towards him because of it--”

“I’m not an idiot,” Dean says sharply. “I’m not saying we trust him, I’m saying we hear him out.”

Cas frowns, climbing out of the car before leaning through the open window, brow furrowed. “I never said you’re an idiot. Nor implied it. I’m saying be careful.”

Dean frowns for a moment before popping open the door. Henry’s already hurried inside, so Dean pulls Cas close, wrapping his arms around him. “Hey. It’s cool. I’ve got this. You introduce Charlie and Kevin to your new dog, I’ll take care of Crowley.”

Cas relaxes in his arms, hugging him tightly, before kissing him.

They’ve been sharing a bed for months, whenever Cas is human enough to sleep or Dean’s nightmares are bad enough that he can only sleep with someone watching his back, but kissing is still new, still blindsides Dean every time.

He inhales sharply before relaxing into it. Kissing Cas is possibly the best part of his life, even while he’s incredibly aware that if this blows up, if Cas decides he doesn’t want to do this anymore-- Dean cuts the thought off, deepens the kiss, and lets himself enjoy.

“Better?” he asks when Cas ends the kiss.

“Yes.” Cas sighs and glances behind them. “I suppose I should let you go.”

“Come with me,” Dean offers again. “Fill me in on what you found in New York. Or didn’t find. Whatever.”

Cas snorts and shakes his head. “Go talk to Crowley. I need to check in with Hannah and the other angels who fell anyway.”

Dean frowns but lets it go. He stays put, watching Cas enter the Bunker, before pulling his phone out and calling Crowley.

“Where the hell are you?” Crowley asks grumpily. “I’ve been in this dive for hours.”

“Shut up, Crowley,” Dean says, suddenly tired. “I’ll be there in about twenty minutes. Jesus fuck.”

Nine hours in the car is barely a day’s drive by their standards, but Dean’s already exhausted by the time he pulls into the bar’s parking lot. Donnie’s beat up truck is in its normal spot, a fresh oil smear beneath, but Georgia’s Rav4 is missing. There’s a couple other familiar cars and trucks but no one he’s actually friends with. Just as well, he’s too tired to deal with chit chat.

“Heyya, Dean,” Donnie calls, pulling a beer and sliding it across the bar towards a trucker at the far end. “Beer or whiskey tonight?”

“Whiskey, and keep ‘em coming. It’s been a long day.”

Donnie raises an eyebrow, pouring a double and sliding it across to Dean when he reaches the bar. “Just remember, I ain’t driving your ass home.” Dean knocks it back immediately and waits for Donnie to pour him a second before turning around and searching for Crowley.

“Your Brit friend is in the corner,” Donnie says quietly. “Don’t know what he said to Georgia, but she stormed out of here a couple hours ago, pissed as a snake.”

Dean sighs and nods. “Sorry, man. I’ll make it up to you.” He takes a little bit longer to drink this one before tapping the rim of his glass.

“Screw making it up to me. She’ll be back. Make it up to her!” Donnie refills the glass, nudging it towards Dean. “I don’t care how tired you are, go deal with your friend before you come back up here. He’s scaring off folks.”

Dean grimaces, but takes the bowl of pretzels one of the truckers not-so-subtly slides him, heading towards the back booth where Crowley waits impatiently.

“Are you drunk?” Crowley asks as soon as he sits down.

Dean snorts, holds up his glass. “Not yet. Should I be?”

“You shouldn’t be drinking at all. Where’s the angel on your shoulder?”

“Somewhere else.” Dean takes a sip and fixes Crowley with a glare. “Abaddon? Or whatever?”

“How we’re going to beat her,” Crowley says smugly. “Having dear Castiel here would make Heaven’s side of this easier, but we can muddle through.”

“Did you somehow miss that Heaven’s closed for business?” Dean asks, raising an eyebrow. “They’re not going to be good for much of anything anytime soon.”

Crowley rolls his eyes. “Really, Rocky. When was the last time they were actually useful? What have they done for you lately?”

Dean tilts his head in agreement, but doesn’t say anything.

“The Knights of Hell can only be killed using the First Blade. Without it, we have no chance of standing against her.”

Dean shoots back the rest of his whiskey and stares blankly at Crowley. “And you think I know where it is? Hate to break it to you, but I’ve never heard of it.”

“I’ve been tracking it for years. Or was, until a hunter named John Winchester found Abaddon’s protege, tortured her, and then sent her back to Hell.”

“That does sound like Dad.” Dean waves to get Donnie’s attention, gesturing for another round. “So, what, you think Dad knew where it was?”

“I was hoping that maybe he wrote down what the demon told him. Tortured into insanity doesn’t really leave a lot of loyalty behind. So perhaps it made its way into the John Winchester Memorial Library.”

“Dad captured a lot of demons. Some he wrote everything down for, some he didn’t.” Dean sighs, pulls Dad’s journal from his pocket. “When was this?”

Crowley thinks for a moment. “April ‘99.”

Blowing out a breath, Dean thanks Donnie when he drops off a beer and another margarita before flipping the book open. It only takes a few seconds to find the right entry, skimming it quickly. “Yeah, okay. Here it is. Low-level possession case. Says she made her bones working for Abaddon, but nothing else. Kept hold of her for about a day, interrogating her, but she knew nothing about the Yellow Eyed bastard, so he sent her back to Hell.”

“What do those numbers mean?” Crowley leans forward, tapping the margin of the page.

“It’s uh, a locker combination. There might be something about the case in his storage locker or it might be a pile of useless junk. No telling.”

“And the letter? ‘T’? What’s that?”

“Jesus Christ, you’re nosy. Not a clue.”

“You wound me, Winchester. I want to help!”

“I can’t tell you what I don’t know.” Dean reaches up to rub his temples without thinking about it, trying to massage away the incoming headache. “Besides, you want to help like I want another hole in your head.”

“It’s in both our interests to get the bitch off the board as quickly as possible,” Crowley points out. “Chaos incarnate, remember?”

“Yeah, Crowley, I remember. Also remember the beating I took when you ran the last time we went up against her.”

“It’s the past, bygones!”

“It’s really not.” Draining his beer, Dean looks longingly at the bottle of whiskey Donnie has out on the bar. “But you’re right-- we do need to deal with her sooner or later.”

“Let’s go then. Let’s find Daddy’s man-cave.”

“What? You’re not coming with me.” The headache ratchets up another step. “Are you high?”

Fucking Christ, Crowley’s actually having to think about it. “Unless you’re offering, no.”

“How do I know this isn’t a trap?”

Crowley grins as he buttons his suit jacket. “You don’t. That’s what makes it fun.”

“Fucking Hell,” Dean mumbles under his breath before heading over to the bar to pay their tab.


A city sprawls ahead and above him. It’s bright lights climb the hills and cut off abruptly as the shoreline curves around, with only a few lights out on the seaside horizon-- cruise ships, he thinks, from the shape-- the skyline unfamiliar.

Sighing, Sam picks his way along the wet rocks surrounding him, trying to get back to shore from the tip of the sea rocks. Figuring out where the fuck he is can get added to the list of things to work out when he’s no longer in danger of tripping and drowning.

He’s a good twenty feet closer to shore when he spots the body, arm stretched out like a pale worm against the rocks. The closer he gets, the more blood he can smell, even over the rotting seaweed tangled around the rocks.

Blood that smells horrifyingly familiar, a distinct sulfuric tang.

It’s not the first time he’s scented demon blood since the apocalypse, far from it, but it is the first time in years that the blood-lust-addiction part of his brain doesn’t light up like a siren.

And he can’t figure out why. Surely an angel so focused on escaping Heaven that he tricks Sam into consenting, that he hides away for weeks in Sam’s subconscious, surely that angel wouldn’t bother to remove lifelong demon taint and addiction.

“I pray to the angel Castiel, in hopes that he--” he starts to pray, losing his balance and sprawling out on his ass. “Shit. Can you even hear me? Hopefully-- I don’t know where I am, South America maybe, I think the signs are in Portuguese anyway, what I can see. The angel is--” Sam cuts off.

The angel yanks at his consciousness, forcing him back down and out of control of his own body.

Nearly screaming with effort, Sam opens his mouth to try to expel the angel, but can’t get any further. The tidal wave of the angel’s mind flows over him, forcing him back under.


Castiel jerks out of his doze in the library, the prayer still echoing along angel radio. Sam, South America…

He can’t track the prayer back to a specific location, not with the sigils on Sam’s ribs and his own lack of grace, but there has to be something he can do.

Pulling his phone out of his pocket, Castiel pauses when he sees the time. Dean should have been back hours ago. Determinedly pushing it from his mind-- Dean probably got caught up talking with some of the regulars at the bar-- Castiel finds Crowley in his recent calls.

“I’m busy,” Crowley snaps as soon as the phone connects.

Castiel listens closely to the background noise, but doesn’t hear anything that would tell him where Crowley is. “Angel kills in South America, probably Brazil. Do you--”

“I have, or rather had, a few assets in that area, yes,” Crowley fills in. “Thousands of tourists wanting the high life, of course I did. Until the queen bee rose and killed them all.”

“All of them.” Castiel sighs and hangs up. Useless.

Sam’s prayer has faded entirely, leaving only a sense of urgency with no direction. Gadreel has probably taken back over, making it even more pointless to try and locate them. If he has any intelligence at all, he’ll move them someplace completely different.

Still frowning, he heads towards the map room and kitchen in search of… something. Company, perhaps, despite the hour, since Dean hasn’t come back.

Both rooms, and the library, are empty. Of course this is the night where the other inhabitants of the Bunker decide to indulge in healthy sleeping habits. Frowning, Castiel drags Charlie and Kevin’s notes on the meters and dials over so he can read them.

He makes it through one page before throwing them down in frustration. He should be better than this, should be able to hunt down Gadreel, force him out of Sam…

Scribbling out a note, Castiel leaves the Bunker before spreading his wings. Hannah is closest, perhaps she will have a better idea of what Gadreel will be planning next.

The old church in Leavenworth is still ablaze with light, despite the hour. It can’t be for the benefit of Hannah’s human parishioners, but he’s not sure why else the church would still be open.

Walking inside is… a wonder. The pews are filled, dozens sitting in prayer while a choir sings in the loft above him. Castiel pauses in front of the votive candles, wondering if it would be sacrilegious to light one for Sam’s safe return.

Hannah takes his arm before he can make up his mind, pulling him away. “Walk with me, Castiel. You’ll upset the balance if you stay here.”

Castiel nods, following along as they head towards Hannah’s office. “You have… done well, with your flock.”

“There was a need. Our family fell and needed vessels. I offered up the faithful of this church.”

Castiel’s eyes widen. “You did what? Why in our Father’s name--”

Because of our Father, Castiel,” Hannah cuts him off. “They were lost, scared. Most had never been to Earth, had no bloodlines prepared for them. They had to find vessels where they could, hope their faith would be strong enough to support an angel. Our people were dying. I helped them find a way.”

“You killed them. No matter your intentions, you’ve ripped them away from their wives, husbands, children-- How many, Hannah? How many have you killed?”

“No more than you have,” she says darkly.

“I… I can’t. I came here to ask for your help finding Gadreel and-- I can’t.” He turns to exit, pulling the door open. “This is a perversion.”

“I will always choose angels over humans. Maybe it’s time you remembered that lesson.”

Castiel nods jerkily before leaving, pulling the door closed tight behind him and stalking stiffly to the street outside. Leaning against the stone rampart of the stairs, he closes his eyes and tries to regroup. Hannah, if she was ever going to help, clearly isn’t going to now.

Staring blindly down the street, Castiel tries to figure out what he’s going to do next.

A head edges under his hand, pushing up and rubbing against his leg. Blinking, Castiel looks down to see the black dog from the graveyard sitting next to him, looking up at him hopefully.

The dog barks happily, pushing itself into his hand again before flopping at his feet.

Castiel smiles watching it. “Do you want to come with me? I’m afraid it won’t be very exciting. We’re searching for another angel--”

The dog’s ears perk up and she turns to look at the church.

“Not them, unfortunately. A specific one.” The dog still looks attentive, so he shrugs. “Let’s start at the Falls again. We’ll see if we can’t pick up his trail there.”

He takes off again and he can actually feel the dog following in his wake, an odd, almost imperceptible drag that lands a fraction of a second after him, silent and invisible once again.

The land above the falls is still green and fertile, the blessings of God’s touch not quite hidden beneath the scum of human greed that coats the falls themselves. It’s been… literal eons since he last saw the Garden as it was on Earth and even those gates have shifted over the years. The dog keeps pace with him as he searches for angelic grace, any sign that another angel has been here recently.

Finally, he finds the trace he’s been looking for, grace at what was the Northern Gate. It’s not much, and not fresh-- a couple of months old, probably left from when Gadreel had first taken Sam-- but it’s at least a sign that he’s on the right track.

The dog sniffs at it, rolls around in the grass for a moment, then disappears.

Castiel frowns, sagging against a nearby tree. He hadn’t expected the dog to stay with him, but the possibility… It would be nice to have company sometimes, when he can’t be at the Bunker. She’s gotten bored, or called back to her duties, or something. It’s to be expected somewhat. Black dogs are normally tied to a specific location, that she had been able to travel at all…

Sighing, he looks around briefly thinking about starting to walk back towards the trees that block the falls from view. It’s closer to dawn than midnight, but he still wants to be careful about flight in view of humans. A few might already be out, wanting to watch the sunrise.

But he doesn’t want to leave without the dog.

Castiel settles back against the tree and waits.


Kevin glares at Cas’s stupid note, scribbled on a page ripped from his and Charlie’s notes on the readings for the stupid meters. ‘Searching for Sam, back later.’ followed by a complicated symbol that’s probably Castiel’s name. Helpful.

Grumbling, he takes a sip of the stone cold coffee at his elbow before leaning back in his chair. If Dean and Cas can’t be bothered to come home…

“Charlie, how do you feel about upgrading this stupid computer?” Kevin yells over his shoulder into the library. “At least get these stupid things to digital?” He thumps the console in front of him with a grunt.

“We’ll need to figure out where the actual computer is, but yeah. We can look into upgrading.” She leans against the arch into the library.

“Don’t suppose you’ve found a map?”

Charlie chuckles and shakes her head. “No Marauder’s Map for this castle.”

“Is there at least a princess at the end?” Kevin sighs and drains his coffee, grimacing. “Guess I’m going spelunking. Yell if you need me.” This would be so much easier if they could find a set of blueprints, instead of relying on hallways that constantly move.

“If you find a princess, let me know. I’ll fight you for her.”

“No way. I know my classic blunders.” Kevin flips her off, following the bundle of wires out of the monitors and down the hall.

“I’m neither Sicilian nor a land war in Asia!” Charlie calls after him.

The computer, when he finds it, is down one of the corridors they’ve not explored thoroughly, in a small room that either started out life as a storage room or became one after the computer was installed. Most of the space is filled with the computer which, for fuck’s stake, looks like it uses transistors, with a few storage shelves.

At least he’s found the damn thing.

The floor in front of the machine is piled high with hundreds of feet of output tape, short phrases written every few inches, so abbreviated that he can’t tell what they’re saying without a lot more time and energy. Leaving the pile alone, Kevin pokes at the back of the machine. It’s blank metal, industrial gray. There doesn’t even look to be screws to get under the hood, let alone anything actually useful!

Great.

Glancing around, Kevin spots a couple binders on the shelves next to the computer, labels long gone. Pulling them off the shelf, he has to juggle them a bit when they’re heavier than he expected, knocking into a few other odds and ends that share the shelf. Nothing breaks at least, so he won’t have broken glass to deal with when he gets back here.

Dragging the binders back to the library, Kevin drops them with a thud on one of the tables. “Manuals in the library,” he calls. “Come and get ‘em.”

“That was quick,” Charlie says, emerging from the map room. “You found it?”

“Dude, it’s all analog. There’s not even a display. It’s all ticker tape printouts.”

“You’re joking.”

Kevin shakes his head. “A freaking parade in there. Probably only stopped because it ran out of paper.”

“Jesus.”

“Yeah. So I found the manuals and decided that was a thing we would handle first. God knows we’re not going to be able to replace a transistor if one blows while we’re fucking around. Better to know what we’re getting into first.”

Charlie huffs. “You are the only nerd who actually reads the manuals.”

Kevin sticks his tongue out. “I need coffee first. Any idea where you-know-who is?”

Henry said something about exploring when I passed him by the bathrooms this morning. Pretty sure he’s off doing his own thing.” She pauses for a moment. “He’s not that bad, really.”

“He’s not, no. Myopic, maybe. But his friends give me the creeps.” Kevin shudders exaggeratedly, starting yet another pot of coffee.

Charlie shrugs, pulls one of the binders towards her. “Okay, ‘User Manual for IBM/MoL Model Alpha, Volume Two,’ tell me everything you know.”

“And I have… Volume Three.” Kevin can’t stop his forehead from hitting the table and groaning. “Shit. There’s a whole other book in there?”

“It wasn’t on the shelf?” Charlie frowns. “Weird. You’d think they’d keep everything together.”

“It might be buried under the freaking ticker tape. Let’s… get as far as we can, and we’ll check it out later.”

If reading modern manuals is boring, reading these is excruciating. ‘All data transfer, mask, and address operations performed between the central processor and the interface of a device…’ Even trying to read the stupid demon tablet was better than this. That at least only gave him a headache. This is… “Incomprehensible. We’d be better off pressing random buttons and seeing what it does.”

Charlie huffs but doesn’t disagree. “Maybe if we… Yeah. Let’s unearth Volume One and see if that helps.”

A woman is staggering out of the computer room when they round the corner. Charlie pushes him behind her, palming a knife Kevin didn’t even know she had. “Who the hell are you?”

The stranger quirks an eyebrow and holds her hands up. “I’m not here to hurt you. You can put the knife down.”

“Fat chance,” Charlie sneers. “Not until I know who the fuck you are.”

“Alright…” The woman drawls, stepping slowly towards them. “My name is Dorothy Baum, I’m a hunter, working with the Men of Letters?”

“Never heard of you.” Kevin says, easing out from behind Charlie. “And they’ve been gone for over fifty years.”

“What? That can’t be. If they’re gone, and I’m awake, then she must have...”

“Need more words there, Yoda. Can’t tell you jack shit if we don’t know what’s happening.”

“If I’m free, we’re all in terrible danger.”

It takes several cups of coffee, the last one strengthened with a hefty dose of whiskey, before Dorothy pulls herself together enough to actually explain what’s going on. “I captured one of the Wicked Witches of Oz and, after trying everything, was utterly incapable of killing her. I came here to get the eggheads’ help.”

“Oz…” Charlie looks at Dorothy with adoration. “You’re that Dorothy Baum. The one who ran away and escaped to Oz.”

“I stowed away in my father’s luggage while he was packing for a diplomatic mission.”

“Frank Baum… was your father,” Kevin says slowly. “That just… Those books were real?”

“No. They're lies and fabrications, meant to shame the Men of Letters into action.” Dorothy takes a large swig of her coffee, filling it with whiskey. “It was a long time ago. The Witch. What have you done with her?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kevin points out. “There was no witch, hell, there was no you! There was nothing living and breathing in that room except me and some bugs.”

“You know bugs--”

“I don’t care,” Kevin cuts Charlie off.

“I bound our life forces together. If I’m awake, the Witch is awake and we must find her.”

“Kev--” Charlie pushes herself to her feet. “Get the front door locked down. That’s the only exit right?”

“Only one we’ve seen so far.” Kevin dashes for the door, pulling out his phone as he goes. The call goes straight to voicemail-- but that doesn’t really matter, hell, it might be better. “Dean, there’s a witch in the Bunker. We’re locking the doors. Don’t come in until we’ve given you the all clear.” He doesn’t have much faith in that actually working-- Dean will do what he wants-- but warning is good.

It takes a few seconds to lock the Bunker down, pulling the lever he’s pretty sure will lock the external doors without killing the power and air pumps. Spinning around, Kevin calls, “Okay, door is--”

A stooped old woman waits at the bottom of the stairs, with her tangled gray hair falling over a black cloak. She hisses, glaring up at him. Her fingers twist together, like she’s tying knots of some kind, and then green light shoots towards him.

Kevin dodges it, supporting his weight on the rails and swinging his feet out at her, knocking her away from the stairs. “Guys, she’s in here!”

The Witch hisses and spins around, somehow turning into a black cloud as she does, twisting into the air vents.

Dorothy and Charlie scramble into the room, breathless. “Where’d she go?” Dorothy demands.

“Into the, uh, air vents. I kicked her, yelled for you guys and then she disappeared.”

Dorothy sucks in a breath and nods. “She can do that. Teleportation, mind control, I don’t-- We never found a way to kill her. Everything I did just slid right off.”

Charlie has the look of someone frantically trying to recall as much information as she can in a very short amount of time. “What about--”

“Tried soap and water too. Like I said, the bitter ramblings of an old man.”

“No, poppies. Wasn’t that in one of the later books? I could have sworn…”

“I’m pretty sure I saw some essence of poppy in one of the storerooms,” Kevin offers. “Or maybe it was opium. I’m not sure, the entire room was set up for spellwork.”

“That battle was horrible,” Dorothy says with a shudder. “But the Witch… she wasn’t seen for weeks after that. Our spies brought back that she was very ill.”

“And you didn’t think to try it again?” Charlie rolls her eyes, clapping her hands together. “Alright. That’s the plan. Dorothy, Kevin, you two find the poppy juice. I’m going to see what we can dig up for weapons.”

“Try Dean’s room,” Kevin says wryly. “He probably won’t even notice they’re gone.”

They separate, Charlie running down the bedroom corridor while Kevin and Dorothy sprint towards to storage rooms.

“What does she want?” Kevin asks, a little desperately in the silence. “The Witch, I mean. I’ve got a pretty good grasp of what Charlie wants.”

“There is a Key to Oz somewhere, one that will allow her to return to Oz and subjugate everyone to her will.”

“Don’t suppose you know what this key looks like?” Kevin asks, pushing open the door to the lab. “We’re kinda drowning in random things.”

“‘The Great Storehouse of all things magical or mystical,’” Dorothy quotes. “It wasn’t true even when they opened it. No. Ozian bronze, probably?”

“Helpful.” Kevin rolls his eyes and crosses towards the small cabinet in the corner. Searching through it quickly, he finds both liquid essence of poppy and a small jar of opium, half full of yellow-brown resin. “Got it, but not much. Hope Charlie’s got something.”

Dorothy nods, looking out in the hallway. “Let’s go.”

The Witch appears again on their way back to the kitchen, hissing and spinning back into the air vents before Dorothy can do anything. “Fuck. We need to move.”

Kevin stares after Dorothy as she sprints down the hallway before he breaks into a run behind her.

They meet Charlie in the kitchen, where she’s gathered a handful of pistols. “It’s all I could grab. We don’t have much time.”

“It’ll be enough.” Dorothy grabs the essence of poppy from Kevin and dumps it in a bowl, followed by a few bullets. There’s barely enough of the oil to coat all four, let alone enough for a full clip for each of them. “Kevin, can you… I don’t know… figure out how to turn that opium into more of this? Or something similar.”

Kevin nods, quickly filling a coffee mug with water and sticking it in the microwave while Dorothy and Charlie divide up the bullets. He throws a few decent sized chunks of the resin into the cup once the water is boiling, stirring it.

“Henry, what the hell? Get in here,” Charlie yells behind him.

Kevin spins around to look. Henry is advancing oddly, stiffly.

“The Witch has him,” Dorothy says sharply, taking aim. “We can’t let her--”

“No!” Kevin yells. “We can’t kill him.”

Henry lurches forward, throwing Dorothy to the side. “The key. Give me the key,” he demands in a monotone, barely sounding like himself.

Kevin grimaces, stirring frantically. The lumps are almost gone. If he can just get them dissolved, he can…

“Sorry dude, don’t have it,” Charlie shoots back. “You can have a fist sandwich though.” She throws herself into the uppercut, snapping Henry’s head back.

Kevin doesn’t think, tossing the opium soup over Henry. He screams, the liquid sizzling against his skin. There’s a tense second before the unnatural green glow fades away from Henry’s eyes and he slumps to the floor unconscious.

“Well, that’s one way to do it,” Dorothy gasps out from where she’s laying next to the fridges. “Where did he come from?”

“It’s… complicated,” Kevin temporizes. “He actually is a Man of Letters… Look, there’s time travel and Knights of Hell and it’s too long of a story for right now.”

“We can include Henry in your ‘Welcome to the Twenty-First century’ briefing,” Charlie says.

Dorothy pushes herself to her feet and nods. “Is there anyone else here that we need to watch for?”

“Sam, Dean, and Cas are… out.” Kevin temporizes. “And there’s no one else here besides Henry. Let’s go find this witch.”

They stick together this time, moving cautiously through the hallways back to the storage rooms. Charlie thinks she remembers seeing something about a Key to Oz somewhere in room 38C, so they head that way, hoping they can get there before the Witch.

They don’t. The room is a ransacked mess, boxes and files scattered across the floor. Kevin finds a carved wooden box lined with velvet, broken open and tossed aside. “I think I found where it used to be.”

“Crap,” Charlie breathes. “Okay, so she’s got the Key. What else does she need?”

Dorothy curses briefly and shakes her head. “Uh… An exterior door. There’s only two-- Charlie, duck!”

Green lightning flashes by, hitting Kevin square in the chest. He reaches up to touch where it hit him before…

Everything

Goes

Blank.


“You’re sure this is where this hunk of junk is?” Dean sighs as he turns onto an overgrown gravel driveway. The house ahead has seen better days-- the porch is falling off and half-flattened, plus it looks like a brush fire got out of control about twenty yards away from the house-- and he doesn’t see smoke rising from the chimney. “Place looks abandoned.”

“You saw the map same as I did,” Crowley snaps. He looks spooked, glancing around erratically. Crowley’s got his own problems right now, and a raging addiction is one of them.

“Yeah, but I was expecting more Indiana Jones and less Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Dean grimaces as the Impala bounces over a cattle grate. “This is… I don’t even know what this is. I feel like we’re going to get ambushed and dragged into the basement to be Christmas dinner.”

“Someone’s feeling optimistic today.” Crowley frowns at the beehives in the yard, one of them smashed into pieces of white wood. “We’re, probably, not going to die. Well, I’m not. You still might.”

“That’s not reassuring.” Dean rolls his eyes and shifts the car into park. “Excuse me, Mr. Creepy, do you own a super old jawbone? Probably covered in blood? Sure, we’ll sniff this suspicious rag for you.”

“Dean, shut up,” Crowley snaps, his eyes fixed on the hives behind Dean.

Dean spins around. “Who the hell is that?”

“That, you ignorant fucker, is the Father of Murder. Show some goddamn respect.”

“What--”

“Who are you and why are you on my property?” The man demands from a few yards away.

“We need the First Blade. We were directed here,” Crowley practically whispers, all averted eyes and deep respect.

The man-- Cain, Dean guesses-- pulls his hat off. “Who are you?”

“Look, just hand the stupid thing over, we’ll get out of your hair, and we can all get on with our lives.” Dean leans back against the Impala, ignoring the fear sweat that’s starting to bead at the small of his back.

“The Blade isn’t here. You were led to the source of the Blade’s power. Now, who are you?” He asks evenly, but there’s a sudden menace behind it. “One of Abaddon’s minions?”

“The demon Crowley and Dean Winchester,” Crowley cuts in. “Nothing to do with Abaddon.”

“Unless you include wanting to end her.”

Cain raises an eyebrow, nodding towards the house. “We have something to talk about then. Come in.”

Cain gestures them towards the heavy Victorian-style couch in the front room once they’re inside. “Have a seat while I prepare tea.” He closes the sliding door between rooms behind him, leaving them in relative privacy.

“Are you kidding me, Crowley? You wanna play nice with this guy? He already said it’s not here,” Dean hisses.

“So maybe he can tell us where it is. Try being polite instead of your normal neanderthal self.”

Dean makes a face, pushing back to his feet and wandering around the room. There’s not a whole lot to look at-- some intricate stained glass in a bee motif, a Civil War era portrait of a severe woman staring out of the oval frame-- but it kills time without requiring him to make small talk with Crowley of all people.

“Here we go,” Cain announces, balancing a tray with one hand while sliding the door closed behind him. Deftly setting the tray on the low table between the settee and armchair, he pours into three cups before passing them to Dean and Crowley. “There’s honey as well, if you would like.”

Dean rolls his eyes, sitting back and watching as Cain and Crowley doctor their tea. The air of menace from Cain hasn’t let up at all, even though he’s trying very hard to appear harmless.

“Now, you came here for the First Blade,” Cain says, holding his cup steady. “As I said, I don’t have it. And it won’t do you any good against Abaddon anyway.”

“I’m willing to take my chances,” Dean says. “We can find another archangel if need be.”

“You can’t, actually,” Cain points out. “There’s only four, and they’re… indisposed, from what I understand.”

Crowley’s teacup abruptly clatters against his saucer, his hands shaking. “Letting Lucifer out in hopes of rescuing Michael--”

“Yeah, no. I got that much, thanks.”

Cain’s menace explodes into full bloom. “Not that it matters. The archangels didn’t kill the knights. I did.” Cain pauses for a moment, takes a sip of tea. “Only a knight can kill another knight, and only one armed with both the First Blade and the Mark.”

“Yeah, sure,” Dean starts before he hears the grate of tires on gravel. “Expecting company?”

“You were followed,” Cain says simply. “Or perhaps your companion was. Either way, as they’re after you, I’m going to go start dinner.”

“What?” Dean says, moving to the window and twitching aside the curtain. A fourth truck pulls up and another three demons pile out, bringing the total up to eleven or twelve.

The leader-- medium height, heavy set, buzzed hair and tattoos that Dean suspects are racist as hell-- steps forward, standing right on the line between burned ground and unburned. “Cain, we mean you no harm. Send out Crowley and the Winchester and we will leave you in peace.”

Even Dean can hear the unspoken ‘for now’ that follows the proclamation. If Cain’s the only one who can kill Abaddon, he’s gonna be pretty high on her to do list. “Crowley, can you beam us out of here?”

Crowley shakes his head. “They’ve put up some sort of barrier.”

Dean blows out a breath, glaring at the door Cain’s disappeared behind. Pulling Ruby’s knife from his pocket, he glances over at Crowley. “Any offensive weaponry in that suit? Angel blade, anything?”

Crowley raises an eyebrow.

“Right. Ok.” Shucking his jacket, Dean barges into the kitchen, interrupting Cain as he sits at the table peeling potatoes. “Really? You’re just going to--”

“You invited yourself onto my property, Dean. I feel no compulsion to assist you in reaping what you have sown.”

“Of course not.” Dean throws the lock on the back door and starts tugging the old refrigerator in front of the door. He gets it about halfway when he hears the lock click open and a couple of demons push their way into the kitchen.

They’re inside before he can stop them, pushing him back towards the table and spreading out so he can’t cover all of them.

The one on the left-- nearest the door-- steps closer, jabbing a punch towards Dean’s chest. Dean sidesteps it, taking it on his shoulder. It hurts like a bitch, but the demon is now between Dean and his buddy.

Dean buries the knife into the demon’s chest. He takes a fraction of a second to enjoy the light show before pulling the knife out and pushing the dead meatsuit the the side. He glances back at Cain, who’s still sitting at the table, digging spots out of potatoes with a paring knife. “You could help.”

Taking advantage of Dean’s distraction, the other demon tackles him, landing in the narrow space between the table legs and cabinets and knocking the demon knife from his hand. Dean flails, landing a kick in the demon’s midsection, enough to scramble across the floor to the knife.

“I could,” Cain says from above him. “But this is much more entertaining.”

Dean rolls over, launches himself back at the demon. He catches it on the arm, blood flying across the floor, before the demon shakes himself and jumps to his feet. Dean follows, dodging one punch, but catching another in his stomach. His breath punches out of him. “Fuck.”

Breathless, he watches as the door opens far enough to admit another demon before slamming shut again.

The demon in front of him tries to slap the knife out of Dean’s hand. Struggling to draw a breath, Dean tightens his grip and slashes forward with the knife, catching the demon on the arm again.

He jerks back, hissing. Dean presses his momentary advantage and pushes forward, backing the demon into the counter. He grabs the demon’s hair, immobilizing his head so he can cut the demon’s throat.

Jumping over the dead bodies, Dean grabs the collar of the new demon, jerking her off her feet and onto the table, head dangling off the otherside, next to Cain’s elbow.

Cain smirks at them, his arms crossed while he slowly drinks a beer. “There’s the hunter that demons have been talking about,” he says smugly, approvingly.

“Fuck you,” Dean spits, stabbing the demon in the chest and cutting her throat for good measure. He doesn’t even have time to enjoy the light show before Crowley and another demon crash through the sliding door.

The demon lands on top of Crowley, punching wildly. Dean jumps back as the table lurches towards him, bound up with the dead bodies that litter the floor. Dean flings himself at the grappling pair, tackling the demon off Crowley.

He lands wrong, the point of his shoulder popping up into the demon’s breast bone, sending the knife skittering across the floor. Dean curses as his fingertips tingle and threaten to go numb. The demon takes advantage of his distraction, rolling them and whaling on him. One of Dean’s ribs creaks alarmingly as he tries to buck the demon off.

Groping blindly for the knife and trying to fend off the demon with a hand gone numb-- that shoulder is almost certainly dislocated, shit-- Dean hears the squeak of the backdoor opening again. “Keep door closed,” Dean gasps out, meeting Crowley’s eyes. He doesn’t look concerned about this turn of events at all, which they will be discussing… later.

Forcing his hand to work, Dean pushes the demon away by the throat, enough that he can get enough breathing room to actually grab the knife. Flipping it around, he brings it up to stab the demon only for the point to go skittering along a rib.

He catches a glimpse of Crowley’s legs as he saunters over towards the door, avoiding the blood pooling on the floor.

Dean bucks up, throwing the demon off balance and tightening his grip on the knife. Forcing it between the demon’s ribs, the demon immediately flashes orange and topples forward, pinning Dean to the floor. Pushing it to the side, Dean climbs to his feet, his left arm hanging painfully at his side. “Anyone else?” he demands, looking around wildly.

Cain raises an eyebrow. “I’ve seen what you can do. If you want more however…” he gestures towards the door.

“Seen what I can… This was a fucking audition?” Dean bursts out. “What the hell, dude?”

“Yes.” Cain pushes himself to his feet, steps over a dead body, and slides the broken door to the living room open. The living room is a mess-- the coffee table snapped in half, one of the delicate end tables thrown across the room, a couple of dead demons lying on the floor near the door-- but, miraculously, Cain’s teacup still balances, untouched, where he’d set it on the mantle.

“Jesus, dude. There’s better ways of staging an audition if that’s what you wanted.”

“But that would not have been true. This… was. As it is, there are still several demons being kept outside of this house only by my will.” Cain resumes his seat in the armchair, idly stirring his tea, before leaning back. “You want to use the First Blade. That requires the Mark.”

“Says who? What Mark?”

Crowley sighs heavily. “Did the older Winchester teach you nothing?”

“Only someone who bears the Mark can use the First Blade.” Cain gestures pointedly towards the settee. “I can give you the Mark, Dean, if that is what you truly want.”

“Of course that’s what I want,” Dean says. “Unless you want to step up and take care of the problem.”

Cain doesn’t even dignify that with a response. It was a cheap shot anyway. “Very well,” Cain says finally, rolling up his sleeve to expose his forearm. “You should know that the Mark comes with a great burden. Some would call it a great cost.”

“Spare me,” Dean spits, pushing up his sleeve. “Let’s get this over with so I can shish-kabob the bitch.”

Cain’s eyebrows nearly hit his hairline. “Good luck, Dean. You’re going to need it.” Reaching out, he grabs Dean’s forearm. Dean clasps his arm in return.

There’s nothing for a heartbeat, then a creepy red thing emerges from an old burn scar on Cain’s arm, tracing down to the place where their arms touch. Dean stiffens when it spiders its way across, burning up his arm to settle just below his elbow. He stifles a gasp, turning it into a grunt.

“Dean?” Crowley asks cautiously after Cain releases him.

“I’m fine,” he grinds out. “Peachy even. Where’s the damn Blade?”

“I couldn’t destroy the Blade, so I threw it into the deepest ocean.” Cain trails off before shaking his head. “Find the Blade, kill Abaddon. But before you go, make me a promise first.”

“A promise of what?” Dean asks, wary of possible traps.

“When the time comes, and I call you-- and I will call you-- you’ll return and use the Blade on me.”

“Why?”

“For the promise I am about to break.” Cain nods, pushing up his other sleeve. “You gentlemen can see yourselves out, I believe?” He waits for Dean’s shaky nod before he disappears.

A few seconds later, the sounds of fighting can be heard. “Time for us to go,” Crowley says dryly. “We didn’t get you that thing just for you to be killed by a random demon.”

Sucking in a deep breath-- his shoulder still hurts, not to mention the bone deep ache from the fancy show with the Mark-- Dean nods and prepares to sprint to the car.

 

Chapter Text

The black dog catches the scent of Gadreel’s grace and tracks him across a city before it disappears, heading to someplace new. There’s no pattern Castiel can find, and every time Gadreel switches cities, they fall further behind.

Castiel weaves through a narrow alley in the oldest part of Karaj, Dog running ahead of him. A group of children play in the street, kicking a ball between loosely defined teams. Dog barks wildly and the children pause, shivering, before they resume play. One of them though, a boy no more than ten, stares directly at Dog until his friends chide him for not paying attention.

Castiel hesitates before stepping forward. He waits for their game to pause-- or end, he’s not sure which-- before approaching and asking if they’d seen another American recently.

Most of them shake their heads no, intimidated, but one of them, the same one who watched Dog, says he doesn’t know if the man he saw was American, but he wasn’t from Iran.

Castiel nods and passes out a few dollars worth of the local currency in thanks before continuing down the street, trying to plot his next move. Gadreel was here at least, even if they missed him. Confirmation that he’s on the correct trail is almost good enough.

The boy meets him at the next intersection, somehow ahead of Castiel. Frowning, he watches the corner carefully, looking for an ambush. It wouldn’t be the first time asking questions earned the ire of the local criminal element.

Seeing no one paying close attention to pedestrians at the intersection, Castiel stands next to the boy, silently watching the traffic along the road. Several long minutes pass before the boy looks up to meet Castiel’s eyes. The American, he explains, healed Aunty Salma’s bad ankle in exchange for a cup of coffee and the chance to listen to the radio for a while.

The neighborhood is awash in rumors of the angel that visited her, both approving-- Salma’s faith has never been in question-- and disapproving-- mostly from the older neighbors who say that she still shouldn’t have served coffee to a strange man alone. Either way, it’s done and the man is gone.

Castiel listens gravely before nodding and sending the boy back to his friends. Walking along the sidewalk, he can feel eyes on him. Dog slinks back to him, uneasy about something. Castiel nods, subtly petting the dog’s head before taking flight between one step and the next.


The road back to cell reception from Cain’s house is long, full of twists and turns that Dean doesn’t remember from the drive in. As soon as his phone starts buzzing, Crowley snatches it out of his hand, before Dean can even glance at the screen.

“Eyes on the road, I have no interest in dying today.” Crowley thinks for a couple of seconds before typing in a passcode and pulling up Dean’s missed call list. “Well, well. Someone’s been a busy boy.”

“What the fuck, Crowley!” Dean reaches over and tries to retrieve his phone. “Give it back.” The Impala swerves heading into the sharp curve before Dean yanks her back into the correct lane.

“Keep your bloody eyes on the road!” Crowley snaps, dropping the phone into the foot well. “I’m trying to do you a bloody favor before you kill yourself!”

“Well, don’t.” Dean sighs as they roll through another village too small to have even a gas station, let alone a diner. “I’ll take care of it when we stop.”

“And when will that be?”

“Soon,” Dean says, guiding the car around another curve. “Not that you need to be here. You can jet any time you’d like, your highness.”

“I keep an eye on my investments,” Crowley answers cryptically. “We need to discuss what happens next.”

Dean raises an eyebrow. “Well, I can’t search the deepest ocean, or whatever the fuck he said. So, I think what happens next is you do… that.” He waves vaguely out the car window. “Then, once we have the Blade, we hunt down Abaddon and end her. Then we go back to our normal lives of hating each other, hopefully with less world ending events. Sound good? Great.”

Crowley frowns, but says nothing. Dean ignores him, running the math between how much gas is in the tank versus how far they have to go. It’s better than thinking about how easily he let himself be manipulated back at Cain’s.

Finally, a town big enough to have more than a stop sign. Dean blows out a breath and pulls in for gas at the regional chain. Running inside, he grabs a coffee and a slice of pizza for himself before sighing and grabbing a second coffee for Crowley.

Thrusting it through the open window into Crowley face, Dean gets the gas started before leaning against the backdoor. “What was your plan then?”

Crowley’s silent, pouting.

Rolling his eyes, Dean shoots Kevin and Charlie a text to let them know he’s on his way back and expects answers about whatever in the fuck mess they’d gotten into before thumbing down to Cas’s missed calls. They’ve barely had time for text messages the past couple of days, let alone in depth conversations. Even the texts have been laggy and stilted with Cas crisscrossing the globe searching for Gadreel and Sam.

Finally, he taps out a message-- On my way home-- as the pump clicks off. They’re back on the road in less than twenty minutes, Crowley showing no sign of giving up his silent treatment. Rolling his eyes, Dean turns the stereo back up, jamming along with Freddie.

They’ve still got another seven hours in the car. Plenty of time to annoy Crowley into speaking.


Castiel and Dog are resting in the shade of an old pine tree when the other angels descend. They’ve already visited three corners of the Earth and Castiel needs to rest his weary wings before completing the last flight back to the Bunker, back to Dean. Empty handed.

“Bartholomew would have a word, Castiel,” the flight leader informs him, standing far too close for politeness. “You will accompany us.”

Warily, Castiel climbs to his feet, motioning for Dog to stay where she is. “Forgive me, I do not recognize you?”

“You wouldn’t,” the angel says. “The great Castiel would never recognize someone as far below him as I was.”

Perhaps he’s imagining the sarcasm. “As you’re aware, I lost most of my grace during Abaddon’s incursion. Barely enough remains to fly.” He watches them all carefully. “If I’m going with you, I demand at least the barest of courtesies.”

“Hael. My name.”

“Thank you, sister.” Looking around, he weighs his chances and doesn’t like what he finds. There isn’t a way to escape without the flight dragging him back to Bartholomew and whatever tortures he has devised. Leaning over, he pets Dog a few times, whispering, “Go find Dean. Stay with him.”

She takes off with a short bark, racing away. It’s not a perfect solution, but at least she’ll be safe and Dean will know something is wrong.

Frowning and carefully testing his wings, Castiel nods before following the others to Bartholomew’s base.

Bartholomew stages his operations out of a lavish penthouse in southern Florida. Despite the overworked air conditioners, the air inside is sticky, the humidity wreaking havoc on almost every angel he sees. They can keep their vessels from sweating, from visibly reacting to the heat, but not even grace can compensate for the effects of moisture on human hair.

It’s far from the image of Heavenly perfection Bartholomew is trying to present. Castiel grins.

A minion shows Castiel into the office immediately. Somehow, it is even more grotesquely overdone than the rooms outside. Wood paneling made out of endangered trees, gold and silver mantel ornaments. Nothing about it surprises Castiel, but the sheer greed of it…

It’s obscene.

“Castiel!” Bartholomew greets him jubilantly. “My operatives found you!”

“They did,” Castiel says slowly, looking at the others in the room. “May I ask what required this?”

“We’re looking for a way to go home.” Bartholomew taps a pen against the desk he’s leaning against, staring intently at Castiel. “When we were pushed us out of Heaven, the doors were locked behind us.”

“I fail to see how I can help you. You would be better served to find whoever is responsible for the Fall.”

“You can’t help us,” Bartholomew says flatly. “You… you’re barely an angel anymore, running around with the Winchesters like you’re their lapdog. But you know where they’ve stashed the prophet. And him, we need.”

Castiel scoffs. “And you expect me to just… hand Kevin over to you?”

“Dean Winchester handed Naomi the angel tablet months ago. The prophet reads the tablet, all the angels work to reopen Heaven, and then we’re out of this mudpit, away from the monkeys.”

“No.”

“Do you think this is a negotiation, Castiel? You have already brought too much division to Heaven.”

Castiel thinks for a moment before shaking his head. “We always have a choice, Bartholomew. You had a choice when murdering prisoners, when choosing a vessel on Earth, at every step. Our Father is gone and all the angels have fallen. All we have left is choice.”

Bartholomew’s eyes flash dangerously as he pushes himself up. “Join us, Castiel. Bring us the prophet. Or be prepared for what will happen next.”

“Naomi couldn’t force me to bring her Kevin,” Castiel points out calmly. “And you don’t have nearly her skill.” Snorting, he isn’t entirely certain what comes over him. Sheer exhaustion probably, but spending so much time with Dean isn’t helping. “I’ll never join you.”

Bartholomew stares at him uncomprehending. “What?”

Shaking his head, Castiel prepares to take flight. “Kevin Tran is his own man. The demon tablet will stay hidden, and while I cannot force you to do anything with the angel tablet, I suggest leaving it wherever Naomi hid it.” Taking a deep breath, he nods, as respectfully as he can, and leaves.

Several angels try to follow him of course, but his exhaustion works in his favor for once. Dropping out of flight almost immediately, he stumbles along the busy roads, trying to put together an accurate guess for where he is.

His phone rings before he can. “Hello, Dean.”

“Thank fuck. Wanna tell me why Zero just showed up in my backseat?”

“Oh.” Castiel pauses. “I thought… I thought you’d be back at the Bunker already. Your text...”

“I’m about an hour out.”

“My apologies. I…” Castiel sighs, ducking into a narrow alleyway and sliding down the wall. “A group of angels came for me. I asked Dog to find you, so she’d be safe.”

“We’re coming back to that name, just so you know,” Dean says darkly. “Are you alright? Where are you?”

“I turned down their offer. Rather emphatically. I’ll be back to the Bunker as soon as I’m sure they’re not following me.”

“Screw that. Get home as soon as you can. Fuck the angels who think they can get past our warding.”

“It will still take me some time,” Castiel mumbles quietly. “I’m…”

“Are you some place you can hot wire a car? Would that be faster?”

“In the short term, yes. But I’ll will still need to rest.” He can picture the frown spreading across Dean’s face, but can’t come up with anything to make it go away.

“You’re dodging the question. Are you okay?”

“I should be back sometime tomorrow.”

“That doesn’t--” Castiel ends the call, shoving his phone back in his pocket. He’s fine, he’ll be fine, and Dean doesn’t need to worry about him.

As soon as his wings rest, he’ll go back to the Bunker, back to Dean. Rest for another couple of days before resuming the search for Sam. He can make this work, can be useful.


Gadreel violently shoves himself back into control of Sam’s body, pushing Sam deep into his subconscious. He’s no longer attempting to keep it pleasant for him-- the more he tries, the faster Sam regains control. This is not how this was supposed to go.

The weather-beaten building in front of him has hosted at least one demon recently, but Gadreel can’t be bothered to care. If the past several weeks have taught him nothing else, it’s that almost none of the angels he’s encountered recognize him. Avoiding or killing them draws more attention than just going about his business. A demon will certainly not bother him.

Sighing, he trudges inside, out of the rain.

The bartender pours him a beer without being asked, sliding it across the bar towards an empty seat.

Almost all the seats are empty, actually. There’s a woman at the far end nursing a cocktail of some type, glaring at him. Gadreel frowns, not quite sure what he could have done to offend her already, but settles at the stool behind the beer.

“Haven’t seen you in weeks, Sam. What’s been going on?”

Gadreel’s eyes widen in panic and his control slips.


Sam surges up, using every bit of hoarded energy, spite, anger, everything he has to push Gadreel back. “Donnie, call Dean. Tell him funky town. He needs to get here immediately.”

“Sam?” Donnie starts, but he tunes him out. All the Star Wars novels in the world didn’t prepare him for this, for trying to corral an angel without losing control of his own body. Even Lucifer barely prepared him.

“Demon or angel?” Georgia asks, suddenly much closer, laying a hand on his arm. “Which is it?”

“Angel,” Sam gasps out, fighting as Gadreel jerks. “I don’t--”

Georgia bites her lip before nodding. “You keep control of that,” she says. “I’ll keep him here.” She dashes outside.

Sam can hear Donnie frantically babbling on the phone with someone-- hopefully Dean, but he’ll take Charlie or Cas, or hell, Henry, at this point-- as he turns his focus inward.

He’s vaguely aware of Georgia pulling him off his stool and into a chair at one of the tables before he goes back under.


Sam is screaming, struggling with everything he has to stay on top. Gadreel is able to take control of his-- their-- body for moments, seconds, at a time, but never long enough to escape, never long enough to break through the lock downs surrounding them.

Walls snap into place around him, trapping him away from certain parts of Sam’s internal landscape.

Gadreel panics, his grace reacting without control, breaking past the walls, rushing over Sam’s mind like a tsunami, pushing anything that resembles control away, drowning Sam.

Sam’s mind collapses under the weight of Gadreel’s panic, consciousness fleeing ahead of everything. Gadreel steals control of their body, pushing Sam even further to the outskirts while frantically reordering their senses so he’s not being overwhelmed.

When he finally opens his eyes, the old woman is dashing across the room to scribble something on the wall.

“I’m sorry,” Gadreel starts. “But I cannot allow--”

She slices her hand open with a pocket knife, slapping the hand to the sigil next to her.

Gadreel is jerked to the nearest wall, pressed against it by an invisible hand. No matter how hard he pushes, unleashes his grace, anything, he can’t move.

He’s not…

He’s--

“Sorry, Sam,” the woman says, patting his shoulder. “It’s just until Dean gets here.”


The Impala fishtails wildly into the bar’s gravel parking lot, barely missing Georgia’s Jeep as Dean swings into a parking spot.

“Kevin, give me something,” Dean yells into his phone. “A spell, some whacked out combination of components, I don’t care, something.”

“Hold your freaking horses,” Kevin spits out. Dean can hear him frantically flipping pages, Charlie talking in the background. “I’m looking as fast as I can.”

“Look faster!” Dean runs inside, taking stock of the situation. Donnie is sitting, shell shocked, on one of the stools while Georgia is sitting in one of the chairs, with a shotgun leveled at Sam’s back. Sam-- or the angel pretending to be Sam-- is smashed face first against the wall. Blinking wildly, Dean stops dead. “Uh… Hey, Georgia.”

“Evening,” she drawls, lowering the gun and waving slightly. “How ya been?”

“Uh…” Dean pauses, blinks some more, taking in the sigil he can barely see behind Sam’s head and its twin on the opposite wall. “You’re a hunter?”

“Was. Retired, oh, about fifteen years ago. Found a nice out of the way place to call home, quiet. Nothing worth attacking except some cows and corn.” She raises an eyebrow, nods at the phone still in Dean’s hand. “Best figure out how to get your brother back. That trap won’t hold forever.”

“Yeah.” Dean shakes himself slightly, glances over at Donnie-- still shell shocked-- and turns back to his phone. “Please, Kev, tell me you’ve got anything.”

“Sam will need to cast the angel out,” says an unfamiliar voice. “It’s getting through to him that’s hard.”

“How the fuck do you know that?” Dean demands, trying to figure out who the hell is in their Bunker now.

“You’re not the only hunter with Men of Letter relatives,” she snaps. “I paid attention, even when it was nonsense.”

“Here!” Kevin says, reading aloud. “This sigil, when drawn properly, will allow one to speak to the vessel of the occupying angel. It must be…” He trails off, muttering under his breath. “Yeah. This should work. I’m texting it to you now. Draw it on Sam somewhere.”

“Thanks, Kev,” Dean breathes out. “Keep at it, in case this doesn’t work.”

“Whatever,” Kevin says. “I await your command.” The call abruptly ends. A few seconds later, it buzzes again, the picture of the sigils coming through.

Dean frowns at the phone briefly before turning back to Sam. The paint of the trap is already flaking off as Gadreel fights it-- they don’t have much time. Pulling a knife from his belt, Dean hurriedly cuts through the fabric of Sam’s shirt, tugging it away from his arm.

Shoving his knife back in his pocket, Dean grabs a pen and glances over the picture again before scribbling them rapidly down Sam’s arm. Frowning, he skims the paragraph above the image again… blah blah blah… what powers it… blood. Fuck. Dropping the pen, he grabs the knife again, slicing across his palm before slapping the bleeding wound across the sigils on Sam’s arm.

“Georgia, how much longer--”

Sam gasps, arching away from the wall, his screams getting louder.

Dean doesn’t know what’s going on, but they don’t have much time. Slapping a hand over Sam’s mouth, Dean braces himself and shoves Sam back against the wall when he tries to push away. “Harvelle’s, Sam. Listen. Harvelle’s.”

Sam inhales sharply before nodding once as the meaning penetrates-- stop fighting, he’s missing vital information.

“Okay?” Dean waits a breath before barreling on. “You’ve got an angel in you, Sammy. You need to cast him out. Revoke consent.”

Sam’s eyes widen, his breathing growing panicked beneath Dean’s palm.

“Kick it in the ass, Sam. Kick him out.”

Sam shudders, his eyes falling shut. Dean chances a glance at the sigils on Sam’s arm. The blood is already dried and flaking off, the pen starting to fade as well. The spell bought him seconds and Dean isn’t sure it was enough.

The trap symbol flares and dies, burnt out. Dean tenses, pushing Sam firmly to the wall. Swallowing, he glances over his shoulder to look at Donnie and Georgia. “Glove compartment of the ‘pala, there’s an angel blade, looks like silver dagger. Grab it.”

Georgia nods, sliding off her stool and rushing out the door.

A blue-white light explodes out of Sam, pouring past Dean’s palm, out of Sam’s eyes and ears. Dean slams his eyes shut, hoping Donnie has enough sense to do so too.

It feels like it lasts forever, a dying star burning against his eyelids. Dean blinks away the afterimage until he can see again.

Sam’s mouth moves against Dean’s palm, muffled noises barely escaping. His hands, still pressed firmly against the wall, tap repeatedly while his eyes widen.

“Sammy?”

Sam nods, hand still tapping out on the wall.

Dean sags slightly, pulling his hand away from Sam’s mouth so he can breathe. “That you, little brother?”

“Yeah, Dean,” Sam says weakly, coughing. “It’s me.”

Dean releases Sam, turns him around so they can stumble towards the table a few feet away. Donnie finally shakes himself loose from his shock, hurrying over to pull out a chair for Sam to drop into.

Sam hunches in on himself as soon as he’s down, furtively glancing around the bar, looking for something.

Georgia hurries back in, cool as a cucumber, and hands Dean the unneeded angel blade. “So, we all ourselves again?”

“I think so,” Dean answers, watching Sam.

Sam nods, barely glancing up. “Test me anyway?”

“Sam, you’re--”

“We need to be sure, Dean. Absolutely sure. I don’t-- I can’t risk--” Sam fumbles with something under the edge of the table.

“I can get Cas here or Kevin or…”

“Fine,” Sam whispers. “If you won’t do it, I will.” He swipes a knife across his palm and paints the banishment on the table before Dean can do anything. Slamming his hand down, Sam winces… but doesn’t go anywhere. “Thank God,” Sam mutters, sagging back in his chair.

Dean leans back as well, trying to hide the shaking in his hands.

Donnie brings over a couple of whiskeys, dropping them on the table while Georgia follows with two more glasses and the bottle. Pulling out the other chairs, they watch both Winchesters.

“So… anyone want to tell me what the fuck that was?” Donnie starts.

“Uh, do you want--”

Georgia cuts Dean off. “An angel being expelled from its vessel.”

“An angel,” Donnie says flatly, shooting back his whiskey. “Wings, harp, halo?”

“Not sure about the halo, no harps, but yeah, wings,” Dean says tiredly. “Warriors of God, not guardians. Generally, they’re dicks.”

“And?” Donnie presses.

“And what?” Dean sighs again, taking a sip of his drink and watching Sam slowly slide down in his chair. He should be in a bed, not playing twenty questions.

“If you’re going to be smuggling angels into my bar, am I going to have to worry about God next? Should I be stocking better booze?”

“God left the building eons ago. The King of Hell would probably appreciate it if you had better scotch or margarita mix, but he can fucking deal.” Dean shoots back the whiskey in front of him, pushing another glass towards Sam.

“Dean,” Georgia says kindly, touching his shoulder. “Take Sam home. Donnie and I can have a chat.”

Nodding gratefully, Dean drags Sam upright, wrapping an arm around his waist when he stumbles. “You’ve got my number.”

“Go away,” Georgia smiles, waving him off. “I got it.”


The horn blasts and Sam jerks awake, groping for something solid, something real.

Dean’s worried face smooths into something else-- calmer, more sure of himself-- when he glances over at Sam, half out of the car already. “Sorry.”

Sam shakes his head, thumb already finding the familiar scar on his hand. “It’s--” He grimaces, clearing his throat. “It’s fine.” He’s not sure how long he slept-- at least long enough to get back to the Bunker from Smith Center-- but if anything, he feels worse for the nap. “I can help carry stuff.”

“Yeah, no.” Dean shakes his head before Sam finishes offering. “Bed. I got my shit.”

Sam frowns-- he knows that tone, that deflection. Dean’s not telling him something, something big. Too exhausted to worry about it, he lets it go. He can prod Dean into telling him later, when he can chase down the evasions.

 

Chapter Text

When she reappears after her trip to Kansas, Dog smells of stress, lightning and, ever so faintly, of poppy and sandalwood.

Castiel frowns when she beds down beside him under the dubious shelter of a low tree near the beach. The smell is weird, too Ozian to be anywhere near Dean. Sitting up, he pets her until the odd smell is gone.

Watching the sun set across the water, Castiel tries to push his grace towards healing his wings, ignoring the empty ache of his stomach and exhaustion.

Eventually staring at the dark waves transitions to sleep, and Dog shoves her impossibly physical nose in his face shortly before dawn. It takes a moment to drag himself back to wakefulness, patterns of intuition and memory making way for consciousness and the weary drag of reality.

“Are you ready then?” he asks, glancing over at Dog. “This could--” he cuts himself off, frowning.

She barks cheerfully, setting off a chain up and down the beach. The chorus passes through the city, joyfully greeting the new day.

“Let’s go then.” Castiel offers her his hand to sniff-- more as a precaution than out of any real concern-- and tries to stretch his wings. They’re stiff and sore, probably in need of a thorough grooming, but he thinks…

A blink and they’re in the national forest east of Atlanta; a second and they’re somewhere in Tennessee; a third on the outskirts of Tulsa. Castiel takes a break, trying to stretch some of the soreness out before taking flight for the final time.

Today. The final time today.

His landing is rough and still several miles from the Bunker. But it’s closer than Florida.

“Cas?” Dean sounds so hopeful it hurts when he answers the phone. “Are you…”

“I--” Castiel swallows, glancing around the barely greening fields. “I’m afraid I need a ride after all.”

“Okay.” Dean sighs, barely audible over the hiss of the connection. “We can work with that. Do you need me to talk you through hotwiring a car?”

“I’m only about ten miles away,” Cas starts. “I think--”

“Shit, dude. That’s all?” Dean breathes out, relief obvious. “Awesome. Turn your GPS on and we’ll come get you.”

It’s not the reassuring rumble of the Impala a few minutes later, but the tinny putt-putt of Charlie’s Gremlin rolling to a stop beside him. “Hey, stranger,” Charlie calls. “Want a ride?”

“Yes, please.” Politely, he does his best to knock the sand from his slacks and coat, watching it rain down onto the pavement.

“Get in, dude. I don’t care about a little sand. She’s seen worse.”

Gratefully, Castiel folds himself into the car, holding the door until Dog can also climb inside, perching invisibly in the backseat. “How is… everything?”

Charlie grins at him, spinning the car around. “The Bunker is in one piece, we killed a Wicked Witch, Dean’s back, Sam’s angel free, and IMightHaveAGirlfriend.”

Castiel blinks, separating the words out before nodding. “Congratulations are in order then. I imagine she has something to do with the Wicked Witch? And the smell of Oz?”

“Yeah, she… You know what, that story needs beer. Or tequila. It can wait.”

Castiel twists around in the seat to look at her closely, narrowing his eyes. There are touches of something like grace on her soul, bruises almost. “Charlie…”

“I’m fine, Cas. Dean already did the growly ‘I’m disappointed in you’ speech.”

“He couldn’t see what I can.”

Dog leans forward as the car slows to a stop in front of the Bunker, licking a solid stripe up the side of Charlie’s face.

“What the… Is there an invisible dog in my car or something?”

“Black dog,” Castiel says simply, sliding out. “Or, former Black Dog. Now she’s just following me around.”

“Why?” Charlie demands. “Or is it some angel thing I wouldn’t understand.”

“I don’t know.” Castiel reaches down to pet Dog. “She was lonely, I think. And I could see her, of course.”

“Of course,” Charlie echoes faintly. “Well, Hermione always said the Grimm was a load of nonsense. I should have guessed that she would be right. Padfoot can hang out with me.”

Dog bounds ahead of them both, diving into the shadows of the entrance with glee.

“Welcome home, Cas.” Charlie nudges him towards the door with her shoulder.

The weight of the Bunker’s silence is suffocating. What happened? It’s been minutes since he talked to Dean, what could have possibly--

“Cas…” Dean breathes out as he comes around the corner. He drops the plate with a clatter, rushing over and pulling Castiel into his arms.

“Hello, Dean.” He wraps his arms around Dean, holding him until Dean starts to loosen his hold. “How are you?”

Dean huffs, pressing his head into Castiel’s neck for a split second before straightening back up. “Been better, been worse. I might actually like Henry now.”

Castiel sighs, relaxing. If that’s the important part, they can figure the rest out. “Tell me,” he starts, entangling their fingers. “We can figure it out.”


Kevin glances up from his place at Sam’s bedside when Dean raps on the door, setting his novel to the side. “Hey, Cas.”

Dean pushes Cas inside, pulling the door mostly closed behind them. “Any change?” he asks quietly.

“He’s calmed down some, reading helps. I think he just needs time.”

Dean sighs and nods, reaching down to tug the blanket straight. “Cas, what do you think?”

Cas frowns, reaching over to touch Sam’s forehead. Sam flinches away before relaxing into the bed. “How long has he been like this?”

“I don’t… We got back here last night and he seemed fine. He was walking and talking anyway, after we got Gadreel out. Then he--” Dean breaks off to scrub a hand through his hair. “He had a nightmare, loud enough to wake me up at... about three, I guess? But he never woke up.”

Cas nods. “Can you get me some coffee, please? I don’t… This will be unpleasant.”

Kevin pushes past Dean before he can say anything. “I got it.”

“Cas, what’s going on?” Dean manages. “This isn’t like the last time he was a vessel.”

“The last time he was a vessel is why he’s reacting this way.” Cas pulls Kevin’s abandoned chair closer to the bed, sitting in it. “His brain has focused on keeping himself intact, away from whoever might be trying to take over.”

“An extended nightmare?” Dean translates. “Fuck.”

Cas nods. “Lucifer’s possession, and before that, Meg’s, scarred him. Gadreel reopened those wounds.”

“Shit,” Dean breathes out, mind already whirling, trying to find a way to fix this. “I didn’t-- This is all my fault.”

“No, it’s not,” Cas says sharply. “This is Gadreel’s fault. His cowardice, his fear.”

Dean has his doubts-- he’s the one who went looking for help, after all-- but this isn’t the time to have that argument. Not when Sam is still lying there. “So how do we fix it?”

“I need time.” Cas looks down, fidgeting. “If we break the loop, I can draw Sam back out. Or he’ll come out on his own. But with my current level of grace…”

Dean bites his lip, trying not to explode. Time. Cas just needs time. He’s not refusing to do it, he’s just exhausted, needs to sleep. “What about dream root?” He asks, heading for the door. “Instead of using your grace or whatever.”

“I don’t--” the door cuts Cas off as Dean slams it shut behind him.

The spell room is a mess, components scattered across the work table instead of stacked neatly in their cupboards and shelves. “What the… whatever.” He shakes his head and starts roughly slamming ingredients back into place while searching for the dream root.

“Dean, I don’t know that this will work,” Cas says from the doorway. “You’re just as likely to get trapped with him--”

“So you’ll come get me too.” Dean finally spots the dream root and snatches the jar up. Opening it, he takes a deep sniff-- mustard and dust, close enough-- before fishing out one of the sticks. “Or come with me to begin with. I can’t just leave him, Cas.”

“I’m asking for a few hours, Dean. Not even a day. You were willing to wait this long.”

“Because I didn’t know what was wrong. Now I can do something about it.” Dean pushes past Cas and heads towards the kitchen. “Instead of wringing my hands.”

Filling one of the coffee mugs with water, he sticks it in the microwave to boil while he tries to remember what else he needs. Dream root, a bit of Sam’s hair, and a way to pass out quickly. Shouldn’t be too hard, he’s been up since Sam’s first choked off scream, and even before that, it’s not like he’s been sleeping real well.

The microwave beeps and Dean chucks the whole stick into the mug before heading back towards Sam’s bedroom. Roughly grabbing a couple of hairs, he sprinkles them in before claiming the wooden chair next to the bed. “If we’re not back in a couple of hours, come get us.”

Cas glares silently from the doorway, mouth opening before closing with a snap.

“Cheers,” Dean offers before draining half the mug in a single go. Setting it aside, he slouches back in the chair and crosses his arms, waiting to pass out.


“Where’d you go, Sammy?” Lucifer demands, stalking across the room. Sam presses his hands against his mouth, willing himself to stay silent and hidden as Lucifer hunts him down. Another voice, muffled by distance, shouts his name. Jerking his head around, Sam watches for someone to enter the room.

“I can feel you, Sam. Why won’t you come play with me?” Lucifer looks right at the closet where Sam’s hiding, stepping forward. “I remember your favorite game, kid. Do you?”

Watching Lucifer tie an intricate knot in a bone he conjures in mid-air, Sam whimpers.

His head snaps up, staring at the closet where Sam’s hidden. “There you are…” Lucifer purrs, dropping the bone on the floor. “Not so safe now, are you Sammy? Without Adam or Michael to stop me, or Castiel to distract me--”

Something calls Sam’s name again.

Pressing himself into the corner of his closet, Sam concentrates, trying to recognize whoever is calling for him. Eventually, the voice fades away before a low drone starts, rising and falling in a comforting cadence that almost drowns out Lucifer’s shouting.

Slowly, he slides down the wall, watching Lucifer through the gaps in the door.

“Sam?” A different voice says quietly. Whiskey over cigarettes. “What’s going on?”

Silently, Sam shifts to better look through the slats of the closet door. A familiar tan trench coat, overshadowed by… something… standing in the center of the room, glancing around.

“Boo!” Lucifer shouts, startling Cas.

Cas flinches away from Lucifer before throwing a punch. His fist passes through Lucifer like nothing. “Oh, Sam,” he mumbles, barely audible over Lucifer’s screaming of some Ladyheart song. “I’ll be back soon.” Turning away from the closet, he disappears into a shower of sparks.

Settling back into his corner, Sam watches the door, watches Lucifer watch him, and tries to wait it out. Whatever is going on…

A bolt of lightning lands next to Lucifer, crystallizing the air. Startled, Lucifer takes a step back, staring at the glass formed out of nothing before shoving it to the ground. The lightning shatters, sending shards of glass/electricity/blood everywhere.

Yelping, Sam jumps to his feet, swatting the larger pieces out of his skin.

Lucifer rips open the closet door, smirking down at Sam. “Hello, Sam.” Grabbing his shirt, he drags Sam out and pushes him towards the center of the room. “We’re going to have so much fun!”

Backing away, Sam trips over a chunk of glass, sprawling backwards across the floor, hands coming up bloody as he tries to catch himself.

Eerily familiar laughter fills the room, giggling from distant corners that sounds like someone and no one. A lit cigarette appears on a low table a few feet away, butts of others piled together in the center, and ash smeared everywhere, mixed with blood and…

Ripping his eyes away from it, Sam looks around frantically for Lucifer, trying to figure out where he’s disappeared. Can’t see any sign of him aside from the infernal laughter mixed with off-tune humming.

“Sam!” echoes down a corridor Sam hasn’t seen before, safe passage back to somewhere. Scrambling to his feet, Sam dashes down it, searching for Dean or Cas.


Dean’s not sure where he is-- this place kinda looks like the Bunker, but every so often, he’ll turn the corner and Bobby’s spare room will be staring back at him, or the backseat of the Impala.

He’s everywhere and nowhere and can’t find Sam at all.

“Sam!” he bellows, trying, again, to force this place to take him to his brother, to let him move around freely.

And suddenly, Sam’s there, stumbling into Dean’s chest before flinching back.

“Sammy?”

Sam shakes his head, mouthing something that Dean can’t understand, before pushing Dean away and leaning heavily against the wall. “Stop it,” he whispers harshly. “Looking like him isn’t going to help you.”

Frowning, Dean snaps his fingers in Sam’s face, ignoring the instinctual flinch. “Sam. Cut it out. Time to wake up dude.”

“What?”

Taking a deep breath, Dean nods before grabbing Sam’s arm and shaking him. “I’m real. Time to wake up-- this isn’t real, Lucifer is good as dead, and Gadreel is gone.”

Sam blinks at him for several seconds, before focusing on Dean’s face. “Dean?”

“Yeah. I’ve been looking for you for hours, where the hell have you been? Shouldn’t be this easy to get lost in your head.”

Cas suddenly appears at Sam’s shoulder, glaring at them both. “You both need to wake up.”

“What’s going on?” Sam asks blankly, still looking around like he thinks this is a trick. “Why are you in my nightmare?”

“When you expelled Gadreel, you retreated so no one else could take advantage of your weakened state.” Cas huffs, reaching up to hold Sam’s shoulder. “Dean impetuously decided to assist you in waking up.”

“And I did!”

“Three days ago,” Cas snaps before turning back to Sam. “It’s time to wake up, Sam. You are safe, and I know how to ensure you are never possessed again.”

Sam nods, biting his lip. Cas looks real enough, and like he probably knows what he’s talking about. “See you on the flip side then.”


Dean snaps awake, uncomfortably aware that he’s not where he went to sleep and scrambling for a weapon under his pillow.

“Whoa, Dean. Easy.” Charlie lays a hand on his shoulder, pushing him back into the bed.

“Sam?” he asks roughly.

“Cas and Henry are with him. Take a moment, then we’ll go check up on him.”

“I need to know he’s okay.” Dean pushes her hand away and swings his legs off the bed, before pausing. “Wasn’t I--”

“We carried you in here, jackass, because Cas needed to be next to Sam,” Charlie says caustically. “You owe him an apology, b-t-dubs, he’s really fucking pissed.”

Dean’s hand brushes his cheek and it explodes from an almost ignorable dull ache to active pain. “Jesus, what did he do?”

“You couldn’t sleep. Cas punched you.”

“Yeah. I don’t remember him breaking my fucking face.” He prods it carefully, trying to figure out how extensive the damage is.

“Then maybe you’ll remember to actually use some goddamn common sense next time.” Charlie stalks to the door, yanking it open. “Since you’ve been out for three fucking days.”

“Hold up, why am I in trouble?”

“You don’t think there was maybe a different way of handling this? There’s not a one of us, including Sam, that needs you to protect us, Dean. Quit it.” Charlie walks out without saying another word.

Pushing himself to his feet, Dean stumbles down the hallway to Sam’s room, trying to figure out where he screwed up. Cas being pissy, sure. Sam, of course. But he can’t think of anything that deserves this sort of anger from Charlie.

Cas is nowhere to be seen when he reaches Sam’s room. Kevin and Henry have pulled chairs into Sam’s room, the three of them comparing books and not even glancing up when Dean pokes his head in. Sam sounds tired, but not exhausted and certainly not like he needs his big brother to come in and protect him.

Frowning, he walks back towards the main living areas, trying to find Charlie or Cas to tell him what’s going on.

He doesn’t find them, but he does find Dorothy-- or at least, that’s what he thinks her name is, introductions when he got back to the Bunker with Sam were brief-- in the library, reading something on Charlie’s tablet. “Are you mad at me too?” he asks, making another pot of coffee.

“Don’t know you well enough to be mad,” she says lightly. “But you sure have upset Charlie.”

“I don’t even know why!” Dean slops the first cup into a mug. “It’s nothing we haven’t done before.”

“Dean,” Dorothy sets down the tablet and looks at him. “I don’t know you and have no need to curry favor. So believe me when I say this: that was a stupid risk and accomplished nothing.”

“Waking Sam up was nothing? What was I supposed to do? Wait?”

“Yes,” she answers implacably. “The root you used was over fifty years old-- what if it was no longer effective as planned? Or there had been an emergency and we needed you?” Picking up the tablet again, she raises an eyebrow. “You have people depending on you.”

“Make up your minds. Either I need to protect everyone or I don’t,” he snaps, turning on his heel and marching back out of the library. If everyone is mad at him, for protecting Sammy of all things, he’ll just go elsewhere. Let them find him.

Some dim corner of his mind is aware that he’s behaving like a sulky child, but the rest of him is too hurt to think about it. He abandons his coffee cup in his room, exchanging it for a couple of pistols and his gun cleaning kit before heading deeper into the Bunker, towards the gun range.

An hour of near-mindless practice and cleaning later, he’s still not ready to admit that he screwed up-- he didn’t-- but hunger is starting to creep in. Sighing, he runs the cloth over the barrel of his pistol, feeling for anything that catches.

The door behind him opens, hinges creaking, before he finishes. “Hey, Cas. Come to yell at me some more?”

“No,” Cas says, pulling the chair next to him out. “Charlie and the others are just--”

“Pissed, yeah, got that. Thanks.”

“--Worried,” Cas finishes.

“Well, they shouldn’t. I’m fine,” Dean snarks. “Better than fine. I feel great. Probably the most sleep I’ve gotten in months.”

Cas stays silent beside him.

“I don’t need you judging me,” Dean snarls. “It worked, didn’t it? I did what I needed to do.”

Cas watches him, head tilted. “Is everything alright? Something seems… off.”

Dean huffs, setting the pistol down beside him and heading for the door. “I’m hungry. Let’s go hunt down some food.”


Juliet chases after the deer, not entirely oblivious to him, but more interested in hunting than Crowley’s not particularly entertaining tricks. She probably thinks this is beneath his dignity-- as if he has any of that left.

The spell leaves the bowl ringing for a long moment before one of the low level demons manning the general summonings responds. “Uh… Lord Crowley, sir. How can I help you?”

Crowley can hear the unspoken ‘since you’re not dead,’ loud and clear. As if he’s the first demon to fake their own death when faced with a power grab. “Is this secure?”

“Of course, my lord. Communications has been moved to the base of Abimelech’s tower.”

Crowley raises an eyebrow-- apparently Hell has undergone massive restructuring since he left, if Abimelech has a tower instead of his eternal forest-- but continues. “All is well then?”

The demon hesitates, briefly muting the channel before coming back with, “Yes, sir. I mean, the Queen is in a rage, destroying everything outside the towers, and no one knows who rules the Pit, but everything is as well as can be expected.”

He carefully prods the demon into telling him everything, playing to their ego and intelligence and even more carefully not allowing any sign of his growing frustration to pass on to his voice. At last he has everything the demon can tell him and he can end the spell.

Abaddon is distracted, the dukes frightened, and the surviving princes still safely in retirement. If he’s going to make a trip to Hell in search of the First Blade, this is the perfect time to do it.

Whistling for Juliet, he closes his eyes briefly before stepping between Earth and Hell. It only takes a moment to transition, coming out on top of what was his office when he was only King of the Crossroads and is now a barren cliff, pockmarked with holes and pits, leading who knows where.

It was never a particularly beautiful view-- nowhere in Hell is, unless you go for horror movie chic-- but it was better than what it is now. His crossroads, the ones that lead to interesting places, are gone, burned and annihilated under Abaddon’s reign. All that is left is an abandoned mesa without even a road across it.

Crowley grimaces and slowly heads towards the edge, Juliet following him closely.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Once he dislodges Barthamus-- the fucking little toad-- he can reclaim the Crossroads as a foothold and from there, as much of Hell as he wants (if he wants...) once Abaddon is gone.

That distracting bit of thought follows him as he picks his way down the near sheer cliff edge. Regaining the Crossroads would be acceptable, but if he can find a way to manipulate the old inheritance clauses…

Dean Winchester, Knight of Hell, Master of the Pit, consort to the King has a nice ring to it. And the packaging… well, Crowley wouldn’t turn him out of bed for eating crackers.

Quickly, he pushes that train of thought away. Too ambitious for where he is right now, too many steps into the unknown.

He forces himself to think of nothing but the next step in front of him, occasionally checking behind him for Juliet. Meticulously, he crosses the plain, watching for anything moving besides the two of them, especially anything from the skies.

It takes months to hunt down all the hiding places and check them all for any sign of the First Blade. He barely sees other demons at all, only a few and at great distance, scrambling across the surface between the great towers.

Crowley is knee deep in yet another treasure trove, full of near useless trinkets with just enough power to make it worth searching, when the ground trembles outside. He pockets the item he’s inspecting-- the amulet is pointless against another demon, but there any number of collectors on Earth who would love something that predates the modern hand of glory-- and turns to check out the disruption.

Juliet growls quietly, backing into the narrow cave mouth.

“Little pig, little pig, let me in, let me in,” calls a voice from just outside the cave. “Or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.”

Crowley silently pushes Juliet behind him as the demon blocks the exit.

“You’re not going to say anything, Crowley? Not even to refuse me entry?”

“You’re not exactly a shrinking violet,” he points out.

“You, however, are exactly the fat little piggy hiding in a house of straw.”

Crowley looks, incredulously, at the solid walls on either side of him, only slightly further apart than his arms outstretched. “You’re… going to blow down a cave?”

“I don’t have to. I can just chase you out,” the demon snarls. There’s a sharp snap followed by rock grinding against rock, and cracks shoot along the walls past Crowley. “I have been looking forward to this for a long time.”

There’s an ominous pause and then a crash behind him, deep in the cave. It reverberates forward through the stone, shelves collapsing forward, turning the delicate items into dust. Another rock falls, closer this time. She’s not going to give him an option-- eventually it will be emerge or be trapped and crushed.

Crowley waits as long as he can, barely moving forward with each new fall.

“Aren’t you going to come out, Crowley? I’ve got all sorts of ideas for games we can play together.”

That cements it. “Meg, my favorite piece of demon trash.”

“There it is,” she says. He can hear the smirk in her voice. “Shall we start then?”

Juliet rushes out ahead of him, curving away from Meg. Crowley starts after her but stops dead when she yelps and drops to the ground.

Meg pulls another knife from her belt and lets fly at where Crowley is only half hidden by an outcropping of rock. “Going to give up now that I’ve gotten your guard dog?” Meg asks over the clatter of the knife against rock.

Crowley frowns before stepping back around the outcropping to face Meg properly. “What do you want, Meg?”

“A lot of things, but I’ll settle for your head on a spike.” She raises a hand, twisting it slightly. The ring on her finger distracts him for a moment-- he’s seen it before, somewhere-- and then he’s even more distracted by his shattered kneecap.

Collapsing to the ground, he glares up at her. “You’re going to have to get your hands dirty, my dear. Whatever your toy can do, it’s not going to kill me by breaking bones.”

Meg stalks over, threads her fingers into his hair and yanks his head back. “Bones are the least of your worries.”

Crowley goes easily, allows her to pull him to his feet by her grip in his hair. Slumping to one side, he waits for the right moment.

Juliet barks from where she’s lying in the dust a few feet away. Meg jerks, twisting to look at her.

In a single motion, Crowley reaches up to grab her wrist with one hand while the other snatches his angel blade out of his pocket and cuts her hand off.

Meg screams and teleports somewhere very far away.

Crowley forces himself to stand and limps over to Juliet. Somehow, he never expected to be--

Juliet climbs to her feet, barking happily, not a scratch on her.

“What?” Juliet leans into him, nosing at his knee, and whining. “How did-- Did you fake that?” He sounds like a moron, even to himself. Clearly she did, unless she’s healed faster than demonically possible.

He’s not so lucky, but he survived. Right now, any encounter with another demon he survives is a win.

It only takes a moment to retreat to Earth and hole up in a mid-rate hotel in a decently sized city. He spends the first couple of days waiting for his knee to reassemble itself, but after that, he dives into researching possibilities.

(And, perhaps, a few pints of blood, but what can’t be traced back to him scarcely counts.)

Chapter Text

Dean spent three days trying to drag Sam out of his nightmares and back to the real world and Crowley didn’t call.

Cas pronounces Sam clear of all traces of Gadreel-- which seems almost meaningless, but what does Dean know-- and Crowley doesn’t call.

He and Charlie go on a salt and burn that takes four days too long and Crowley doesn’t call.

Cas shouts something about following the angels and figuring out a way to get them back to Heaven before storming out of the Bunker and Crowley doesn’t call. (And Cas doesn’t come back.)

Dean’s entire life devolves into an endless cycle of back to back hunts with Sam and sometimes Charlie-- entirely ghosts-- with the occasional run back to the Bunker for laundry. Charlie and Dorothy take off for Oz and Henry and Kevin pick up the slack in research between helping hunters out. And Crowley doesn’t call.

His dreams, when he can sleep, are increasingly fucked up, anger and violence spilling out and soaking everything in red. After a few weeks, finding the Blade starts to lose its urgency. Abaddon is nowhere to be found and the entire thing with Cain takes on the slightly unreal feel of a fever dream.

Except for the irritated burn scar on his arm that only seems to let up when he burns a ghost. That is distinctly real.

“Dean!” Sam shouts across the motel room. “Jesus. Diner for dinner or take out?” He taps his phone angrily on the desk-- like he’s been trying to get Dean’s attention for a while.

Dean glances at the clock, wondering where the last hour went. “We took care of the ghost, right? Let’s just head home.” It’s not like tuning Sam out is anything new-- they’ve spent most of their lives sharing the same room.

“Dude, what is with you? It’s late and we’ve already paid for the room for another night.” Sam rolls his eyes. “You’ve been distracted as hell for weeks now.”

“Nothing. It’s fine.” Dean shakes his head, dragging his focus back to the here and now. “Hamburgers sound good.”

Sam snorts. “When do you not want a hamburger?”

Dean frowns and lets autopilot take over the well worn argument. They’ve had this discussion hundreds, thousands of times. It doesn’t actually need his attention.

Sam tries again after they sit down at the diner. Poking and prodding to see if Dean will admit whatever is bothering him. “Seriously, dude. What’s going on? You’re downright spacey-- you got caught flat footed by that ghost last night!”

Dean shifts awkwardly, the bruise on his shoulder still blooming. “It’s nothing, Sam.”

“Bullshit. You’ve been off since Gadreel. You’re hiding something. Did I do something when he--”

“No!” Dean barks out. “You did nothing. Everything he did is on him, and me.” Self-consciously, he tugs his sleeve down, double checking that the Mark is covered.

“Dean--” Sam reaches over, tries to grab his sleeve.

Dean jerks away, muttering “Drop it, Sam,” and smiling up at the waitress as she approaches to take their order.

He orders a cheeseburger and onion rings-- the only things he’ll be able to choke down-- and leans back while their waitress flirts with Sam. Looking out the window, he watches the town go about its business, safe from… whatever ghost this was, he doesn’t even remember. That should probably concern him.

Swallowing roughly, he checks his phone, again, for a text or missed call.

“What the hell is going on with you?” Sam demands, snatching Dean’s phone out of his hand and opening it. He scrolls through before glaring at Dean. “There’s nothing here.”

“Thanks, Sherlock. I know,” Dean snaps, grabbing his phone back and shoving it back in his pocket.

“Who are you waiting for? It’s not Cas or me.”

“None of your damn business.”

Sam scowls. “You don’t have any friends, Dean. If it’s not me, Cas, or Kevin, I don’t know who else would be calling you. Certainly no one you’d be this anxious about. You might as well tell me.”

“Uh, no.” Gratefully accepting his plate from their waitress, he avoids Sam’s glare. “Leave it.”

Sam huffs, picking up his fork and jabbing it angrily into his salad. “If this is you hiding something because you think I can’t handle it--”

“It has nothing to do with you, Sam,” Dean bites out. “Eat your salad.” Hunching over his plate, he steadily and silently eats his burger and about half his onion rings.

Their waitress comes back by every few minutes, not at all put off by the oppressive silence at their table, flirting with Sam and eventually prying a grin out of him.

Dean watches them, briefly wishing Cas was here before shaking his head.

She finally notices him when he’s done, pushing the plate away. “Oh, sorry! Did you want any dessert?” Gesturing over her shoulder with her pen, she continues, “We’ve got pie or brownies, or milkshakes, if that’s your thing.”

Dredging up a smile, Dean shakes his head. “I’m good. But you keep my brother occupied, alright?” Sliding out of the booth, he shrugs his jacket back on. “I’m gonna go back to the room. Have fun.”

She grins at him brightly before turning to wink at Sam.

Sitting on the bench outside their room, Dean lets his thumb hover over Cas’s number before switching out of his contacts and pulling up the search function. He and Cas are already crumbling under the weight of everything that’s going on. He doesn’t need to call and add more weight to it. And that’s assuming Cas even picks up-- he hasn’t since he stormed out of the Bunker.

A text from Sam, ‘Don’t wait up.

Dean scoffs and glances down the street to where the neon signs of the diner blink cheerfully in the twilight. Swallowing, he sends back a thumbs up before pulling the search function back up.

“Mark of Cain.”

Most of the results are conspiracy theories-- RFID tags are the mark of the beast!-- or various sects of Christianity trying to convince him of the literal truth of the Bible-- yeah, thanks. Got that memo-- but a few he marks for later before shaking his head and heading inside to grab a beer and the laptop.

There’s better shit for him to be looking for than wasting his time running down conspiracies.

After weeks of silence, the first few searches are automatic: John Does matching Crowley’s description-- none; angel kills-- plenty, but fewer than when they first fell; demonic anything-- what looks like a low level possession in Louisiana. Dean calls Pierce about the demon so he can earn his ‘title’ before settling in further, his leg bouncing against the bench seat.

His phone rings on the bench next to him, startling him before he can get any further. “Hello.”

“Squirrel!”

Finally. Any progress on the First Blade?” Dean holds back the sigh that wants to come out. He knows Crowley will never actually say anything, but hope springs eternal or some such horseshit. “It’s been nearly three weeks!”

“Well… yes. And no. I did find any number of useful--”

“Crowley, if it’s not the First Blade, I don’t care.”

Crowley huffs. “It’s not in Hell.”

“Get to the point, Boris.” Dean rolls his eyes, settling back against the bench and watching the road in front of the motel.

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to search the deepest ocean? Humanity created submarines for a reason! And it’s not like I have legions of demons at my beck and call anymore.”

Irritated, Dean sighs and doesn’t bother to hide it. “So you have no idea where it is, other than ‘not in Hell.’ Which wasn’t even on the list of suspected places anyway.”

“I didn’t say that.” Crowley pauses for effect. “An archaeological team dug it out of a shipwreck thirty years ago.”

“And? Did you get any further than that?” Dead silence. “Yeah. That’s what I thought. Send me what you have. Not like I’m getting anything else done tonight.”

“I thought Halo or Moose would be keeping you company.”

“They’re busy,” Dean bites out. He can hear the smug sarcasm coming off Crowley even without him saying a word. Dean hangs up.

At least now he has something to do with the rest of his evening.


The woman behind the counter babbles something about Saturday night movies when Abaddon walks into the shop before shaking herself. “I’m sorry, what do you need?”

“Information.” Stepping forward, Abaddon drags the clerk half over the counter, pushing part of her true form into her.

She doesn’t know much of any use, but she does remember a young man in here over the winter, asking questions. His companions didn’t make time to talk to her, but…

Abaddon recognizes him from the barn several months ago. Dean Winchester and, in the background, Henry. Lovely.

Pushing the clerk away, Abaddon glances down at her bloody and torn dress. She doesn’t particularly care about the aesthetics of her meatsuit, although she recognizes Josie was a reasonably attractive woman, but this silver dress has more than served its purpose.

Abaddon’s lips curl into a grin. Pushing just a little bit of her power into her voice, she says, “I think we should trade clothes.”

Blankly, the woman nods and starts to strip. Abaddon waits until she’s done, the clothes piled in a crumpled heap on the counter, before she ditches her old dress.

Smoothing her hands down the clever shirt and tight pants, Abaddon smiles again before releasing the locusts living under her skin. They swarm by the thousands, eating-- they strip the clerk to bone in seconds-- before flying out of the store. Abaddon follows slowly, watching as the old Men of Letters chapterhouse goes up in flames behind her.


“Castiel.” Ishim pulls a chair away from the table and sits, glancing around the diner curiously. “I was beginning to wonder if you had survived being severed after all. It’s been months since anyone has seen you.”

“Bartholomew captured me less than a month ago, Ishim. If he did not share that news, that is scarcely my concern.” Picking up his coffee, he watches Ishim over the rim.

“You think our flight would follow that criminal? For shame, Castiel.”

They sit in silence for a few minutes, long enough for a server to drop off a cup of coffee for Ishim and for him to fix it to his liking. “Why did you contact me?”

“Ishim, angels are dissolving into civil war. You have always been a great leader. Step up, calm the infighting. Those who believe in free will must--”

Ishim snorts, chuckling bitterly. “You think I believe in free will, Castiel? Humans are a weakness, one we would be better served to eliminate.”

“So you would do as Lucifer did? Destroy all of humanity?”

“Not all of them.”

Frowning, Castiel stares at Ishim. “You didn’t feel that way once.”

“I cut out my unfortunate attachment to humanity long ago. You should do the same if you wish to survive.”

“What does that mean?”

“The Winchesters? They aren’t your friends, Castiel. They’re mud monkeys who think that because they were important once, they’ll continue to be important. They caused the Fall-- no angel will trust you as long as you’re with them.”

“No, they--” he starts to protest.

“Come now, Castiel. Sam Winchester had something to do with it, messing around with something he couldn’t possibly understand.”

“Sam was in a coma during the initial battle with Abaddon.”

“Dean then. Destroying everything to get his way,” Ishim says scornfully, waving his hand. “In any case, it’s known they are responsible for the Fall.”

“I can assure you, the Winchesters had nothing to do with the Fall.” Castiel bites his lip. “What of Metatron-- has anyone seen him since? Naomi was quite pleased that he turned himself in.”

“Who cares, Castiel? Naomi is dead and anything you claim worthless.” Ishim drains his coffee, pushing away from the table. “Out of respect for our history, I won’t alert the more… militant factions to your whereabouts; however, you should be more careful.”

Swallowing roughly, Castiel nods. “Thank you, Ishim.”

Ishim takes flight before he reaches the door, disappearing in the middle of a crowded diner. Castiel winces and tucks a few bills under his coffee cup and slips out the door, trying his hardest to avoid drawing any additional attention.

He heads down the street, deep in thought and trying to put together what he knows about the Fall and what could have caused it.

With Naomi dead… he grimaces. Naomi being dead explains Bartholomew’s leadership, but not what happened to her or if it’s related to the Fall or Metatron.

Briefly, he wishes he could call Dean and talk this through-- Dean always has much better insights than he does-- but there’s a strange misplaced urgency surrounding Dean lately. He won’t allow Castiel close enough to examine him, but… something is off.


“What?” Dean snaps when his phone rings for the third time in fifteen minutes, not even bothering to look at the caller ID.

“Please tell me you’re not answering the phone like that when a witness calls,” Henry says urgently. “It’s unacceptable, but forgivable when you’re talking to your family. Talking to strangers? To someone relying on you to ease their suffering? Absolutely not.”

Gritting his teeth, Dean reaches up to rub his temples, the headache he’s been fighting returning full force. “When I’ve had three calls in fifteen minutes, I’ll answer however I damn want. What do you want?

“Kevin and I agreed that you would probably be interested in a hunt not from the Civil War.”

“I’m interested in a hunt that’s not yet another freakin’ ghost. Don’t suppose you found a vampire or rogue werewolf or something.”

“Unfortunately, no. The only non-ghost problem we’ve seen has been a troupe of pixies in northern Washington.”

Dean does the math in his head. “How northern are we talking?”

“Nearly to the border, and on the desert side.” Henry pauses. “We asked your friend Garth to take care of it.”

“So why are you calling me? If you don’t have something interesting--”

“I do.”

“Stop dragging it out and just tell me already,” Dean snaps, flipping his notes closed. “What is it-- the ghost of a vampire or something?” Pausing for a moment, he tilts his head. “Actually, that would be pretty cool.”

“I wonder how a vampire could avoid Purgatory long enough to become a ghost…” Henry mutters. Dean can hear a pencil scratching on paper for a few seconds. “To the point, however. A small town in central Indiana has had six flu related deaths in the last few weeks.”

Dean looks out the open window at the late spring greenery visible in the parking lot lights. “In May?”

“Mid to late April, but yes. And, near as we have been able to determine, all of the affected had received their vaccinations.”

Dean grimaces at the reminder. “Get Kevin to figure out what you need to be up to date-- flu isn’t a biggie, but fuck, measles and tetneus at least…”

“Dean.”

“Right. Flu deaths in April, which you’re telling me are not a freaking shtriga or something, but ghosts.”

“Five of the victims are young adults, generally military age, whose homes have been in their families for several generations. The sixth was older, but the same in every other respect.”

Dean sighs. “Send me what you’ve found so far, Sam and I’ll head over in the morning.”

“Not tonight?”

“It’s late, Sam’s out, and I don’t really expect him back until morning.”

There’s an awkward pause while Henry does the math before going, “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“In that case, I’ll leave you to your evening and will forward the information to you.”

Dean swallows, nodding even though Henry can’t see him. “We’ll keep you up to date.”

Henry fumbles his way off the phone, leaving Dean in blessed silence. Starting to reach for the computer, his arm falls limply to the table as he loses motivation. Another ghost hunt in another small town. Another lost chance to see Cas or find the stupid First Blade and actually accomplish something.

The whiskey burns as he drinks it, ignoring that he doesn’t remember grabbing it. Almost a distraction from the ache of the Mark or how badly he wants to just go home and hide away with Cas for a while, away from the ghosts and angels and Hell and--

Snorting, he throws the lock on the door and slouches towards his bed, double checking that both his pistol and knife are hidden underneath his pillow. No matter how badly he wants it, he’ll never be allowed so there’s no point in wishing.


“Bartholomew has the numbers, Castiel. No group can hope to stand against him if he decides that they’re in his way.” Muriel glances fearfully at the door. “I shouldn’t even be talking to you-- Bartholomew, Malachi… most of the factions have declared you anathema. Maybe a few of the smaller ones would accept being associated with you, the ones who still believe in what you tried to teach us, but most of them?” She pauses again, shakes her head. “Even if the rank and file angels had sympathy, the leaders don’t.”

“Hannah--”

Muriel snorts. “Hannah and her band of misfits.”

Castiel sighs heavily. “So no one will stand against him? He’s abusing the trust his vessel placed in him!”

“You say that like he didn’t deliberately pick a man who always used his position to rule over others. Like calls to like.”

Out of nowhere, the background hum of Dean’s longing peaks, stabbing at Castiel before it fades again. He frowns, wanting to reach out to sooth Dean, but he’s miles away and he needs to figure out what to do with the angels before something else goes wrong.

“Castiel?”

“It’s none of your concern.” He shakes his head, settling back into his chair in the tiny motel room. “None of the others have known what caused the Fall. Have you heard anything?”

Muriel looks surprised. “It was Ambriel,” she says quietly. “I think, anyway. We were friends, before the Fall. She was stationed on Earth a few days before. I’m not sure what happened-- she hasn’t contacted me since, but she was searching for something.”

“Something,” Castiel says flatly and taps his finger against the table top. “She didn’t say what?”

“She couldn’t talk about it, orders from Naomi.”

“Aren’t infallible.”

“Maybe, if you’re the Great Castiel,” Muriel points out hotly. “She was in our heads, Castiel. All of them. How do you know she hasn’t changed everything about you? Is Ambriel really Ambriel, or have we all been reprogrammed to think so?” Her voice breaks and she pushes to her feet, staring determinedly out the window. “You have an anchor, a human to show you the ropes, and centuries of experience in rebellion. The rest of us?”

Castiel nods, watching the table in front of him. “You’re right. My apologies.” He pauses before meeting her reflection’s eyes. “Centuries?”

“You have no idea how much she forced you to forget. Egypt and Dean were only the big ones.”

His heart misses a beat before speeding up out of control, racing for no apparent reason while his mind goes blank. “I don’t--”

Muriel must see something in his eyes, because she carefully picks up her jacket and hat from where she had laid them across the TV and backs out of the room. “Don’t contact me again.”

He stares after her until she pulls the door closed, trying to wrap his head around everything and slow his heart rate. He’d known Naomi had messed with his memory, had reset him time and time again, but somehow…

Somehow it’s worse if all of Heaven knew and never told him.

Reaching for his phone, he wants to call Dean, hear his voice and reassurance, but he pauses.

Dean’s hiding something, something big, something casting a shadow on his soul. Castiel isn’t sure he even wants to know what is causing it. Related to Abaddon, obviously, but nothing beyond that. Whatever it is, Castiel hates it.

Biting his lip, he forces himself to breathe deeply and evenly, some calming technique recommended by the early morning exercise shows. Supposedly, it will help with reaching a calm center before heading into the workplace. He doesn’t have a job, but maybe it will help him avoid calling Dean in the middle of the night, just to hear his voice.


The sun is already edging over the horizon when Sam shuffles back into their motel room, rumpled and sheepishly dropping a paper sack-- smelling of bacon and grease-- on the table between the beds. He beelines for the shower without saying a word to Dean, sitting on the bed and watching the news.

Dean grunts, grabbing a breakfast burrito from the bag and taking a deep drink of his coffee to force himself into silence.

Bitching at Sam won’t do a damn thing. They’ve not had even an implicit curfew since Sam started hunting again, as long as they weren’t on the job. Dean could have found him, dragged him back to the room, forced Sam to wake up at the asscrack of dawn so they could get on the road...

“Jesus,” Sam sputters, coming out of the bathroom in only his boxers. “That’s not from the ghost, is it?”

“What?”

“Your arm. I can see the blood from here.”

Glancing down, Dean watches blood well up from scratches surrounding the Mark, slowly trickling down to stain his jeans. He jerks his sleeve down, hiding it from view. “It wasn’t the ghost.”

Sam frowns, his giant forehead knitting together. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Dean snaps, dropping the foil from his burrito-- he has no recollection of eating it-- back into the bag and standing. “Get dressed, the brainiacs found us another case. You can sleep in the car.”

“Sure,” Sam says slowly, dragging his bag towards him and pulling out clean clothes while Dean heads towards the tiny bathroom to wash the blood off. “How are you on laundry? I’m just about out-- wasn’t expecting us to be gone this long.”

“Who cares? It’s all ghosts all the time-- they don’t care if your jeans are muddy.”

“No, but the locals might care if the Fed’s suit has blood on it.” Sam pauses for a long moment before continuing. “I’ll load the car and get us checked out. Get your arm fixed up and we can get on the road.”

Dean grunts again, pushing down the anger and irritation trying to flare up. There’s no reason for him to be this pissed off, he’s not even hungover!

Cleaning the scratches-- blood dried under his nails-- he tries to figure out what’s different about the Mark with limited success. It’s redder, he thinks, and raised to the touch, but it’s irritated right now with the scratching. He just needs to keep it clean and stop scratching it.

Which will be easier said than done, but whatever.

Slapping a piece of duct tape over the worst of the scratches and the Mark, he cleans up his mess and heads out to the car.


The Mark burns and itches-- even under the duct tape-- the entire way to Indiana. He catches Sam watching him as he drives, pretending he’s looking at something else whenever Dean catches his eye.

“You’re gonna have to tell me what’s going on eventually,” Sam points out finally, staring out the windshield.

“Yeah, well, it’s none of your business.”

“You acting like this? Pretty sure it is. Tell me you didn’t make another demon deal.”

“I didn’t make another demon deal,” Dean parrots back, catching himself before he reaches for the Mark again. “Abaddon--”

“What about Abaddon?”

“She’s not a run of the mill demon and stopping her is going to be a pain in the ass.” Dean swallows as the burning intensifies. The Mark does not like him talking about this, great. “The lore says only the First Blade can kill her.”

“Which means you’re an itchy dick, why?” Sam wrinkles his nose. “You didn’t give Cas the clap, did you? Do we need to get to a clinic?”

No! What the fuck, Sam?”

“Then sack up and tell me!”

“Crowley and I found what we thought was a lead on the Blade in Dad’s journal. Ran it down, since I couldn’t do anything to find you and sitting around waiting…”

“Yeah, that’s never your style.”

“Yeah.” Dean sighs, tapping his fingers against the wheel. “So the lead ended up being Cain and then I fought some demons and now I’m bearing his Mark so when Crowley finally finds the Blade, I can use it,” he blurts out in a rush.

Sam is silent, his face completely smooth.

“Say something.”

Sam shakes his head. “I’m trying to figure out if this is another fucking protracted suicide attempt or if you really are this fucking stupid.”

Dean growls, his hand tightening on the steering wheel until the leather squeaks.

“Stupid then. Good to know. Does Cas know that you’re trusting Crowley?”

“He knows about Abaddon,” Dean snaps. “He’s been busy with other shit.”

“So no. I can’t fucking--” Sam cuts himself off, lips thin and looking out the window. “So you got the Mark and Crowley’s searching for the First Blade. Anything else?”

“No.”

They sit in stony silence the rest of the drive into town. Changing into their suits at a gas station a few miles away, they walk into the regional hospital just a little past lunch, still barely speaking to each other.

Splitting up quickly, Sam goes with the doctors to get the sub-typing records while Dean chats with the current patients and gets a list of the deceased next of kin. It’s not perfect-- Dean has precisely zero interest in talking to anyone still sick-- but he does his job. Because someone’s got to and fuck if anyone else is going to show up.

Eric Fraiser is on the mend, responding well to treatment according to his records, and their first real lead.

“We’re trying to understand why your town has been so hard hit this late in the season, Mr. Fraiser,” Dean says, glancing at the IV. “This is way off pattern.”

“You’re telling me,” Eric coughs, following Dean’s look. “I even got my flu jab this year-- boss had the county health office come in so he wouldn’t have to pay for sick time. It must have worked, I’m the only one who got sick.”

“Did you travel anywhere recently, for business or vacation, maybe? Go digging through the family storage shed?”

“No, nothing like that.” He looks up sharply at Dean. “You don’t actually think I picked this shit up from an old box of pictures, do you?”

“I don’t know. But anything might help us out. Did you go through some photos, diaries maybe?”

“My daughter--” he coughs, groans, and reaches for his cup of water. “Ugh, fuck this shit. Anyway. They’re working on a World War One unit in history and she wanted to see the pictures from great-great-grandpa. So we dragged out the photo album Mom put together and looked through it.”

“And it included pictures of him?” Dean asks, not liking the math he’s coming up with. “How soon after did you get sick?”

“A couple hours?” Eric shrugs. “I saw-- hallucinated-- Grandpa Mike in the living room right before I went to bed. I must have already been running a pretty high fever for that to happen, right?”

Dean agrees, trying to look like he knows what he’s talking about. “How did your grandfather die?”

Eric shrugs. “Great-grandma remarried sometime in the mid-Twenties, so must have been pretty soon after he got home from the war, but I don’t know off hand. My sister might know, but I don’t know how it could be relevant?”

“You’d be surprised about what can survive and for how long,” Dean says soothingly. “I think that’s everything I need from you. If I have any other questions, I’ll be back.”

Eric nods, coughing again.

Dean beelines for a hand washing station and scrubs his hands. He’s already had one go round with fucking ghost sickness, he doesn’t need another one.

The library is across the street from the hospital. Dean loses himself in the records, searching out the local deaths from the 1918 epidemic and matching up the deaths, illnesses, and family trees. It’s not quite one to one, but there’s enough overlap to convince him that he’s right.

Grade school project-- everyone’s pulling out the family photo albums at the same time-- plus whatever is going on with the veil… awesome. They’re lucky this isn’t happening world wide.

Armed with a list of graves, Dean shoots Kevin and Henry a text to have them warn other hunters-- before hunting down Sam in the depths of the hospital.

“You find anything?” Sam asks, exhaustion dragging at his shoulders. “Because I’m not sure I did-- six dead patients and no one thought to run sub-type.”

“H1N1,” Dean says. “I’m pretty sure anyway. Not really garden variety flu”

“Wasn’t that the variety Pestilence was using--”

“Yeah, no. No one’s turning into a monster,” Dean reassures him quickly, entering the record room and glancing at the files spread across the table. “Not croatoan. Just swine flu… except I’m pretty sure it’s being transmitted by ghosts.”

“Is that even possible?” Sam pauses, shuffling some files back together. “Although I guess ghost sickness is a thing, so why couldn’t… The Spanish Flu epidemic? Really?”

Dean shrugs. “What’s the ghost apocalypse without some zombie flu?”

Biting his lip, Sam nods. “It fits with the theme lately. I saw the cemetery earlier, don’t suppose you figured out who we’re digging up?”

“Yes and no.” Dean shakes his head, holding up his pile of papers. “Let’s get out of here-- I want out of this suit and some dinner before we start digging graves.”

“I’m sorry, what?” a soft voice says quietly from the doorway. “Digging graves?”

Dean stiffens, looking over at the person in the doorway. Close cropped hair with jeans and a flannel, he can’t tell gender with a glance, but he knows that stance, out of uniform or in. “Of course not, officer. That would be illegal.”

“Considering the CDC doesn’t have jurisdiction over the long dead, yeah. I’d say so.” There’s no gun hanging at their hip, but their hand hovers where it would be.

Dean grits his teeth, trying to keep from reaching for his own pistol where it’s resting at his back.

“Whoa,” Sam jumps in between them, holding his hands up. “No need to get antsy about this.”

“Sure,” the cop agrees, raising an eyebrow. “As soon as I hear why the CDC is investigating run of the mill flu deaths and interviewing my brother without also talking to his doctor. Or wife.”

“Six deaths in April and May isn’t really run of the mill, let alone the ten cases currently upstairs,” Sam points out. “And if you didn’t put it together, most of them are young, healthy adults. There’s a couple outliers, yeah, but for the most part, everyone is thirty five or younger.”

“Georgie was in his fifties--”

“Was he the family genealogist?” Dean cuts in. “It would fit with what we know.”

“No. And neither is Eric.”

“I’m pretty sure I know how Eric got infected, and the others with kids.” Dean gestures towards the door. “Do you think we could discuss this somewhere else? Maybe ditch the monkey suits?”

“Dean--” Sam hisses.

For the first time, the cop relaxes, extending their hand to shake. “Suzanne Fraiser.”

“Eric’s… sister?”

She nods. “Eric said you might want to talk to me, said you were asking some questions about our great-grandparents.”

“Which is related to our boneyard problem.” Dean leads the way out of the tiny records room before turning back to Suzanne. “We should talk, just not here.”

She looks him up and down before nodding. “Leave Jen and the kids alone, and sure.”

“Awesome. We’ll meet you at--”

“Oh, I’m following you back to the motel.”

“We don’t--”

“There’s only one motel in town and you don’t look like the B&B types.” She crosses her arms.

Weirded out, Dean meets Sam’s eyes, practically begging him to be useful, but he just shrugs, gathering up copies of the files and tucking them under his arm. “Lead the way then.”


All of them, every single faction he’s contacted, are abusing the humans left in their care. Some groups are better than others, but none of them…

Castiel bites his lip and wonders why he ever thought something different could happen.

He’s functionally graceless, as fallen as he possibly can be, and still has had more consideration for his vessel than his siblings. He’s invested time and effort into not abusing Jimmy’s trust and faith, and Jimmy has been in Heaven for a long time.

And now, Castiel’s been disowned for it, his own family hunting him.

To make matters worse, he’s trapped here, in a busy city, unable to fly back to the Bunker (to Dean). If another angel should find him…

No matter. If another angel finds him, they find him. He can still protect himself, grace or not. He takes a deep, shuddering breath and pushes it out slowly, leaving the coffee shop that hosted his most recent failed meeting and going in search of shelter for the night.

A slow, miserable, trudge later, he sits on a park bench and wishes for something different. He’s felt Dean off and on all day, starting and ending dozens of prayers without ever fully realizing them. It’s… hard, to feel Dean’s longing, to know he is reaching out, as much as he ever did in Purgatory, but not allowing himself to actually contact Castiel.

The sun slips below the horizon, leaving him in darkness. Castiel shakes his head and drags his phone from his pocket and calls Dean before he can second guess himself.

“Just a second, Cas,” Dean answers, immediately muffling the phone against his shirt, like that will keep Castiel from hearing every word he says. “Gotta take this, Sammy’ll help you figure out what to do.” A few seconds later, he comes back, clearer. “Caught us trying to figure out which graves we need to dig.”

“Another ghost hunt?”

“Seven in a row.” Dean sighs, audibly tired. “I think we get a prize after eight, I’ll have to ask. What’s up?”

Castiel opens his mouth to tell him about his failure with the angels but snaps it shut again, unwilling to admit it with everything so strained between them. “I thought you were looking for something to help with Abaddon.”

“Put Crowley on it,” Dean says shortly. “He’s going to call me when he finds it.”

“And what could possibly be worth trusting Crowley?”

“A way to kill her.” Dean stays silent for a moment. “If I could find another way, I would.”

Castiel swallows, trying to convince himself, again, that Dean can handle himself. “I wish you would tell me what’s going on,” slips out before he can censor himself.

“And I wish everything was sunshine and lollipops, but we don’t get what we want, do we?” Dean snaps. “You’re off doing… something, fuck if I know what, and barely answer the phone when I call.”

“I don’t--” Castiel swallows, the phone creaking in his grip. “I’m contacting the angels, to see if anyone knows what happened. What caused the Fall.”

“Wasting your grace,” Dean snarls. “Instead of helping.”

“As opposed to what, Dean? Sitting in the Bunker, safe but helpless, while you hunt down ghost after ghost and trust Crowley to help you? You won’t tell me how I can help!”

“I don’t do that.”

“You do. You want to wrap me up in cotton wool, safe and helpless, hidden away in the Bunker. You’re suffocating for anyone who can’t get out of your direct supervision--” Castiel snaps his mouth shut, too late. Far, far too late.

“I’m suffocating you, Cas?” Dean asks, his voice dangerously even. “Keeping you from doing whatever dumbass thing you’ve decided to do?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Yes, it is.” Dean huffs bitterly. “Don’t try to lie to me now, not about this.”

“I’m not the angel on your shoulder, Dean, guarding you from all harm. I need to help, be useful.”

“Yeah, no. I got that five years ago when you told me the first time. But thanks for the reminder.”

Castiel sighs, trying to keep a hold on his precarious temper. “If you wish for me to join you, and help with your current hunt, then please, enlighten me as to your location, and I’ll be there by morning.”

“It’s a bullshit ghost hunt, Cas. I don’t need your help. We can handle it.”

“Like you could handle that woman in white in Cape Girardeau?”

“Fuck you.” Dean hangs up.

Castiel stares at the phone in his hands, watches the screen dim and go dark without Dean calling him back. He looks at it for a long time before shoving the phone deep into a coat pocket, standing up, and walking away.

Rest won’t be happening tonight, not after that, he might as well start searching for the next group of angels to contact.

Chapter Text

Sam grins at the cops surrounding them, congratulating each other on their first successful hunt. Basic salt and burn, whatever, they’re happy. They’ve protected their town after all, and no one got hurt.

After a couple rounds of beer, Dean slips away, disappearing down the dim hallway towards the back. Sam watches him go, but doesn’t follow-- he’s been off since his phone call with Cas earlier.

Sheriff Robinson calls an end to the festivities early, pointing out they all have to work tomorrow, ghost flu or not. Sam follows them out and towards the parking lot. Where the Impala is nowhere to be seen.

“You need a ride, kid?” The sheriff asks, rolling to a stop while Sam looks across the lot.

“I’m fine. A walk will probably do me good,” Sam says dismissively. “Motel’s not that far.”

“Alright then. Have a good night.” Slapping the side of his car, Robinson drives away.

Sam watches him go before starting to walk. The fresh air feels good after spending all day in an air conditioned cave and then the evening digging up what felt like half the graveyard.

Sam sucks in a breath as he passes the graveyard and the patrol car sitting next to the entrance, a cop dozing in the driver’s seat. There’s almost no chance the ghosts are still around, but it looks like Robinson had someone watch the place anyway.

Rapping on the window, he waits for the officer to roll it down before he says anything. “Officer Fraiser, how are you this evening?”

She rolls her eyes, eyes flicking back to the quiet cemetery beyond the gate. “The sheriff wanted someone to keep an eye out tonight, just in case there’s another problem.”

“Should be silent.”

“It’s a graveyard. It should always be silent, and yet--”

Sam tilts his head in acknowledgement. “True enough.”

“So why are you here? If there’s not going to be any more problems, I mean.”

“Walking back to the motel.” Sam shrugs. “Saw the car.”

Suzanne bites her lip before gesturing to the other side of the car. “Get in. You can fill me in on this bullshit while we watch.”

He hadn’t really been planning on telling her much more than they already did. Ghosts being real is generally enough to send people screaming the other way. “If you’re sure-- Once you know this stuff, you can’t unknow it, ya know?”

Suzanne sighs and gestures towards the cemetery. “My brother got the Spanish flu from some jerk who died a hundred years ago. Knowledge is power.”

“Alright.” Sam climbs into the other side the squad car. “It’s been a while since I was in the front of a cop car.”

“I promise, I won’t run your prints or names. We probably wouldn’t like what we found anyway.”

“Definitely not.” Sam pauses, thinks for a moment. “I think we’re dead anyway.”

“And yet, here you are!” She gestures grandly before grabbing her coffee cup from the cup holder.

“Here we are, yeah.” He huffs a laugh before falling silent. “Right. Where do you want to start?”

She wants to know everything, taking notes and drinking coffee as he tries to pack a lifetime of hunting into a single conversation. He covers most of the common stuff pretty quickly, leaving him with increasingly outlandish tales of stupid hunts and not much else.

He runs out of stories, or the energy to tell them, at about three, leaving the two of them just staring silently into the night. There’s a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye, moonlight glinting off something as it goes over the low wall that surrounds the graveyard.

Sam swears under his breath, easing the car door open. “Any chance that’s just some kid being an idiot?”

Suzanne looks at him and rolls her eyes. “This late? On a school night?”

Sam raises an eyebrow and shoves his gun into the back of his jeans. The gate, they discovered earlier, is rusted shut, more trouble than it’s worth. As much as he really wants this to be an idiot teenager on a dare, there’s no way they didn’t see the car with its interior lights and computer. Which means it’s probably something far worse.

“Hey, wait up!” Suzanne whispers harshly. “Whatever this is, I want part of it.”

“Don’t shoot it.” Sam’s mind races, trying to figure out what the hell would be poking around a closed cemetery before giving up. There’s too many possibilities.

“If I can’t shoot it, what the fuck should I do?”

“I don’t know what it is yet, give me a moment,” Sam shoots back harshly.

He needs more information. Staying low to the ground, he silently slips over the wall near where their mystery monster went over and slowly scans the area.

Suzanne doesn’t wait, vaulting the wall and taking off towards a crumbling mausoleum on the northern side.

Sam curses and follows. He nearly trips over a fallen headstone hidden in the damp grass and wrenches his knee before scrambling to a stop next to Suzanne where she’s staring, slack jawed, at the entrance.

“What the hell is that?”

A giant pile of bones occupies the doorway, loosely organized into something almost humanoid. It’s got a head and a chest at any rate, and way too many arms and legs. Points of green flame flicker in the thing’s eye sockets, moving ponderously from Suzanne to Sam before letting out a near subsonic rumble.

“Gotta be a construct of some kind,” Sam says, taking a few steps to the side. The monster watches him, ignoring Suzanne. “When I say the word, run back to the car, get Dean here.”

“Fuck no. I’m not leaving you alone with that thing,” she says firmly. “What room are you boys in?” She doesn’t wait for a response before flipping on the radio perched on her shoulder. It’s been silent all night-- a town this small, Sam’s honestly surprised they bother wearing them at all-- and unobtrusive. “This is Fraiser, I’ve got a situation out at St. Matthews. Anyone ready to roll?”

The bone-thing twists around to watch her, tilting its head to one side.

“Just gotta get my boots on, Suze. Give me five,” the radio squawks.

“Pick up our out of town guest, will you, Reggie? Dunno what this thing is, but it’s made out of bone?”

Reggie’s response is lost in the sudden boney clatter of the creature.

An arm-tentacle-thing shoots towards Suzanne, a chain of skeletal arms flopping to the ground and crawling towards her.

Sam jumps forward onto one of the upper arm bones. It snaps like dry wood underneath his weight, but doesn’t quit moving. Rolling from under his feet, the bones fit back together and continue towards Suzanne. Pulling his gun, he takes careful aim at one of the green flames in the skull structure and...

lands flat on his back, a second boney tentacle slithering past him before reversing course to wrap around his legs.

Sam scrambles to find his gun as the thing starts to pull him towards the main bulk of the creature.

Several gun shots pierce the night. The arm holding Sam jerks and loosens a little bit, enough for him to get most of the way free, stretching backwards to reach his gun. Twisting back around, he catches himself on a headstone, bracing himself with his free leg so the monster can’t pull him any closer.

He gets off a few shots, but the construct isn’t affected by them anymore than it is by breaking the bones. Even with backup, he’s not how the fuck they’re going to put this thing down… maybe if they can get to whoever is controlling it, there’s a chance.

Suzanne lets out a short scream as the tentacle holding her jerks. Sam can hear the ‘pop’ of her knee dislocating even over her scream and the dry grate of bone on stone. She goes limp after that, panting wildly around the pain.

“Fuck!” Sam tenses for a moment, fires a final shot at the skull before kicking free of the hand wrapped around his ankle. Scrambling to his feet, he charges blindly towards the mausoleum, dodging the arm that swings back around to trip him up again.

Another arm, one he didn’t even see, whips around, catching him across the chest and sending him flying. His gun jolts out of his hand when it cracks against a headstone on his way down. Shaken and breathless, he lies still for a moment before clambering back to his feet.

The monster has grabbed Suzanne again, is pulling her towards the mausoleum by the leg. “Suzanne, your taser,” Sam gasps out, hoping she can hear him over the noise.

Grimacing, she scrabbles at her belt, unhooking the safety strap. Eyes wide, she looks at the distance between her and the monster before tossing the taser towards Sam.

Running in, he scoops it up. He fires as soon as he’s close enough, watching with astonishment as the probes touch the central pile and… nothing happens.

Sirens are screaming through the night, but they won’t get here in time.

Sam squares his shoulders, sucks in a deep breath, and does the stupidest thing he’s done in a while: he tackles it into the building, away from Suzanne.

He lands bad, on the point of his shoulder, sliding across the stone floor and into the marble walls. He’s not sure if it’s dislocated or not, it just hurts.

The bones rattle as the construct reforms, the flames flickering back to life facing him. Shit.

“What the fuck, dude?” Someone yells. “I’m in the middle of something here! If you ruined my shot--”

Sam tears his eyes away from the bone construct to look at the teenager standing in the corner a few feet away. “You’re a kid. How the-- You know what, I don’t care.” He glances at the pile of debris the kid is shielding. “You want to put the witchcraft away before you kill someone?”

“No.” A sharp boot finds Sam’s ribs. The kid-- he can’t be more than sixteen-- turns back to the lit candles in an alcove. Picking a book back up, he trails a finger down the page before nodding and picking the spell back up.

When he tries to push himself up, Sam’s arm collapses under him. He blinks away the tears, taking a deep breath to brace himself before trying again.

Sirens and flashing lights break up the darkness, shining past the construct and striping the interior red and blue. The construct whips itself back around, focusing on the outside.

The warlock is completely focused on his book, tapping his foot steadily. Sam can’t figure out why until the kid misses the beat and the monster shudders.

Aiming a sucker punch at a kid’s face probably isn’t playing fair, but nothing else about this has been, why start now?

It’s not even a good punch, all things considered, but it distracts him.

The kid drops the book, catching the edge of the bowl and flinging components across the room. Even better, he loses the beat he’s been keeping.

The construct shudders and expands, the spaces between bones growing darker. Yet another arm forms out of nothingness, shooting towards them. It bats the kid to the side, slamming him into the wall.

Hopefully just unconscious, but Sam doesn’t have time to check.

The bone pile shakes, growing explosively and losing cohesiveness. Staggering over to the alcove, Sam kicks over all the candles and spills the remaining bowl. With a final jerk, the bone creature explodes, sending bone shards everywhere.

The sudden silence is startling, stretching for several long moments before the cops and Dean start yelling again.

Sam forces himself to check the kid’s pulse-- still beating. “Can I get some help in here?” Giving up, he slumps back against wall, stretching his legs out.

Another cop-- Reggie, presumably, Sam doesn’t remember-- bustles through, gun held ready before holstering it and dropping to his knees to check on the kid. Pulling the hood of his robe back, Reggie sighs. “Aww, Chad, what dumbass thing did you do now?”

“You know him?”

“It’s a small town. We all know each other.” Reggie reaches up, turns on his radio. “Marla, make sure the EMT’s are prepped for severe head trauma on an adolescent male.” Turning back to Sam, he asks, “How long ago did this happen?”

“A couple minutes? Before the pile of bones exploded.” Sam blinks, trying to concentrate.

“Take a moment. Judging by the blood on your face, you took a knock too,” Reggie points out.

Chad starts to stir, groaning.

“Okay,” Reggie breathes out. “Good. Didn’t want to explain that.”

“Sammy?” Dean calls from the doorway. “You okay?” He doesn’t wait for Sam to respond, hurrying inside to crouch over Sam’s legs in the cramped mausoleum. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“That we shouldn’t let the untrained cops deal with whatever was sneaking into the recently haunted graveyard,” Sam says dryly. “Help me up.”

“Yeah, good call.” Dean extends a hand and levers Sam to his feet with a grunt. “Thanks for the assist, Reggie.”

Reggie grunts, his attention split between Chad and the radio on his shoulder.

Sam slings an arm over Dean’s shoulder and limps out of the building. The cemetery is lit up with floodlights from a couple of cop cars, ambulance lights flashing blue and red a few yards down the road.

The paramedics are loading Suzanne onto a gurney as they pass. She lets out an aborted yell when they strap her leg down.

“We need to make sure Jody and them know about each other before we leave,” Sam says into the silence as they approach the Impala. “The entire force knows and she could use the back up.” The driver’s door is wide open, the entire car parked at a crazy angle.

“Yeah, maybe.” Dean pushes Sam towards the car and heads towards the trunk, popping it open and rummaging around.

Carefully, Sam pulls the passenger door open and nearly falls into the seat. Wincing, he folds himself into the car, trying to keep his knee and ankle as straight as possible. “Can you bring me the painkillers while you’re back there?”

The bottle hits his chest with a rattle a few seconds later, when Dean slams the other car door shut.

“Uh…” Sam starts as Dean throws the car into reverse and turns around to head back to town. “You got something to say?”

Dean’s hands tighten on the wheel, his knuckles flashing white in the floodlights. “Plenty,” he bites out. “Wanna tell me what the fuck that was?”

“A magical construct of some kind. Protecting the kid while he did… something.”

“And you have no idea what.”

“I don’t even understand how he was controlling the damn thing. That kid couldn’t have been out of high school.”

“Awesome. Punching above his weight class.” Dean sighs as he turns into the motel parking lot. “I guess we’re not done here after all.” He frowns distractedly before methodically loosening his grip on the steering wheel and heading back to the motel.


There’s something wrong with the Mark. It’s never felt great but the adrenaline fueled burning that’s been spreading since Reggie started pounding on the door an hour ago is new.

Breathing out, Dean waits until Sam starts the shower before hurriedly stripping off his flannel so he can get a look at it. He hisses when he sees the scar. Bright red and puffy, the burning gets even worse when he looks at it.

He stretches the skin around it with his other hand, trying to see if there’s a split or something that could explain what’s going on.

Nothing.

“What the hell,” he mutters. It takes a moment to dig through his bag, pulling out a tiny, mostly empty, bottle of lotion and emptying it over the scar. The coolness feels awesome, but it doesn’t last. As soon as he rubs it in, the burning sensation returns. And it is definitely burning, not a sudden allergy to their soap or whatever.

He pulls his flannel back on when the shower turns off, resolutely ignoring the Mark and everything around it.

Sam limps out a few minutes later in his boxers, rummaging through his open duffle for a shirt. “Help me with my ankle?”

Dean rolls his eyes before snatching the ace bandage from the pile next to Sam’s bag. “Yeah, sit down already before you fuck it up even worse.”

For better or worse, the ankle Sam shoves towards him is the same leg as the knee that’s swelling rapidly and turning purple.

“What the hell did you do?”

“Got tossed around like a rag doll.” Sam snorts. “Screwed my shoulder too, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be better by morning.”

“God damn.” Dean raises an eyebrow before shaking his head. “Alright. Magical constructs. Pretty freaking hard to do, nearly impossible to destroy without taking out whoever created them?”

“Even then, they don’t always dissipate. A lot depends on the skill of the caster.”

“So what the fuck was a teenager doing with one?”

“I have no idea,” Sam breathes out before collapsing onto the bed. “Tomorrow.” He flops a hand around, reaching for something before giving up. “Fuck it.”

He’s asleep before Dean gets the first aid kit packed up. Sighing, Dean finishes and stretches out on his own bed.

The burning of the Mark intensifies in the silence, spreading down his arm in waves. Dean bites his lip, pushing away the pain and closes his eyes.


Daybreak is accompanied by someone pounding on the door. “Open up,” a cop shouts.

Dean’s eyes fly open, automatically snagging his pistol as he rolls out of bed. Sam is a blur of frantic motion across from him, grabbing the knife under his pillow and pushing himself up.

Dean gives Sam a moment to get set before opening the door a crack. “What the fuck-- Sheriff Robinson?”

The sheriff’s eyes twinkle with barely suppressed laughter. “God, that never gets old. Let me in, I brought breakfast.” He lifts his other hand with a drink carrier and white waxed bag.

Blinking, Dean steps back, sliding his pistol into his waistband, opening the door further to let him in.

“Uh, good morning,” Sam starts. “What can we do for you?”

“God, boys, stop looking like I’m about to run you out of town or arrest you. I’m not here for that.” He pushes the drink carrier at Dean. “Coffee and sandwiches. Sit down and eat something, will ya?”

“Awesome.” Dean shakes himself and takes the bag and coffee, setting them on the table. “I guess you’re here about last night then?”

“You mean why my best officer is on medical leave for at least six weeks and the high school’s star quarterback is probably never going to touch a football again? Yeah, you might say that.” Robinson’s frown deepens as he settles back into the chair at the table. “I thought you boys said this was done.”

“We thought it was.” It comes out a lot testier than Dean wants. He snags one of the coffees and claims the other chair. “What happened last night… wasn’t a ghost. That was something else.”

“There’s something else in my town? Guys, I don’t mean to be rude, but what the hell?”

Sam runs a hand through his hair. “Wait, Chad was the quarterback?”

“Is there something wrong with that?”

“No, no. Just… not the sort of guy who normally uses witchcraft to get what he wants.”

“I don’t have much to do with the high school crowd anymore. They’re not interested in talking to an old man.” Robinson shrugs and drinks his coffee. “But I can see what the guys who get stationed at the school have to say.”

Dean nods. “I don’t know what we’ll find, Sheriff. Hopefully, this will be a one off and grabbing the book will keep anything else from happening.”

“I’ll leave you to your investigation then.” Robinson pushes away from the table and heads towards the door. “Try to warn me if you’re going to put anyone else in danger.”

“We’ll try.” Dean follows him to the door, flipping the lock behind him. Leaning against the door, Dean sighs before looking up at Sam. “What the fuck? This town is weird, man.”

“The better question is why is a jock trying witchcraft get something? It’s not like a demon deal. Witchcraft takes work, and a lot of it, even if you’re using a demon to get the power.”

“Awesome,” Dean says dully. “Lets get started then. Up and at ‘em, nerd boy. Your nemesis is calling.”

“A teenager is hardly a nemesis, even if I’d ever heard of him.”

Dean grins, bright and brittle, and grabs his clothes before ducking into the bathroom.

By the time Dean’s cleaned up and dressed, Sam is already pouring over the kid’s social media profiles. A bunch of it is locked down, but his twitter is public.

Dean takes a few minutes to glance over it before pushing the laptop back towards Sam. “He seems like a pretty normal kid. I’m not seeing anything that would flag him as a risk.”

“Yeah, your idea of normal is fucked. Look at this,” Sam pulls up another window with another twitter account-- another kid on the football team-- and sets them up so they’re side by side. The other kid’s account is filled with teenager shit: selfies, whining about parents and school, bragging about his car. Chad’s though… Aside from the occasional interaction with his team, Chad never mentions football or even school. Every tweet is part of some sprawling role playing game that takes place in real time. Where Chad is apparently the butt of the entire community’s jokes.

“How far back does this go?” Dean asks, scrolling down.

Sam shrugs. “At least five months, probably longer than that.”

“So Mr. Football gets sick of it, decides he’s going to show them all who the most powerful sorcerer is, and somehow ends up with a real spell book?” Dean blows out a breath. “Jesus fuck.”

Sam nods, looking at the computer screen for another long moment before pushing himself to his feet. “Let’s go see if he’s awake and where the hell he got that book. Something about this feels off.”

“Yeah,” Dean agrees.

The hospital staff are happy to direct them to Chad’s room, even though he’s not connected to the flu cases. His room is dark, the lights turned down to help with the migraine Dean’s sure he has, with only the beeping monitors for company.

Knocking on the doorway, Dean sticks his head in. “Chad Meyer? We had some questions about last night.”

“Yeah, dude. I’m here.”

“How are you feeling?” Sam asks, taking the chair near the bed.

Dean stays standing, looking around the bland hospital room for any sign that there’s been someone-- something-- else in here besides the nurses.

Sam takes the brunt of the small talk for a few minutes before finally getting to the reason they’re here. “What were you doing in the graveyard last night, Chad?”

“Are you going to arrest me? I don’t want to go to jail, dude.”

“We’re not part of the local force, so I can’t promise that. But nothing you’ve done is prosecutable at the federal level.”

“Oh, okay. That’s good.” Chad falls silent and closes his eyes. The only way Dean knows he’s still awake is his fingers tightening against the blankets.

“What happened, Chad?”

“I don’t know! I dressed up, trying to get some photos, so maybe folks would leave me alone. Then I’m waking up here--” Chad lifts his arm up helplessly, “And they’re telling me another blow to the head and I might die and that’s my scholarship, bro! If I can’t play, I’m fucked.”

“Hey, kid. Calm down.” Dean holds up a hand before Chad spikes his blood pressure too much. “Everything will work out.”

Chad scoffs. “Right. Because it’s not my way out of here or anything.”

Sam raises an eyebrow. “Town doesn’t seem so bad.”

“If I was who they wanted me to be, yeah.” He sighs, leans his head back against the bed. “Whatever. What else do you need?”

Sam looks like he wants to press, so Dean cuts him off. “When you were staging the photos… what were you doing?”

“I just scanned things first, ya know? To make sure I had everything set up correctly-ish. Then I got my GoPro set up in the corner and started reading things out for real. It wasn’t supposed to actually do anything.”

“Where’d you get the book?”

“Some crappy bookstore downtown. The guy said it was real and the cover looked interesting.”

“I’m sure it did,” Sam says. “Thank you for your time.”

Once they’re back to the car, Dean heads directly towards the graveyard, parking next to the abandoned cop car at the entrance. “I believe his reasons, but we still don’t know how.”

Sam shrugs beside him. “Let’s find that video then. Maybe that will tell us something.”

The gate around the graveyard is destroyed, with a few cursory stripes of police tape across the entrance to keep people out. They duck under it and past the broken gate lying forlornly in the grass near the wall.

Despite the roses blooming along the wall, somehow the entire place manages to look more abandoned and creepy in daylight.

Dean frowns as they follow the overgrown gravel road to the mausoleum. The grass and plants are running wild, but with growth new this spring, not years and years of abandonment. He’d noticed it when they were digging the bodies for the salt and burn, but didn’t think anything of it at the time. “Who’s doing the upkeep?”

“The city?” Sam proposes. “Or maybe there’s a trust.”

“Maybe.”

The building is in better shape than Dean honestly expected, with more police tape cordoning off the door.

Sam undoes a couple of passes before gesturing Dean in. “I’m guessing the cops took the book, but hopefully they didn’t grab the camera.”

It takes a couple minutes to find it, hidden in the gloom above one of the slit windows, but it’s intact.

Dean snaps a few photos of the candles and bowls, not that he thinks it’s going to do them much good-- it’s been pretty well knocked around-- but it’s a start. Especially if Chad really was just following some old book’s instructions.

“Do you want the police station and the book or the camera?” Dean asks when they get back to the car.

“My ankle and knee are just about done. Drop me off at the motel and I’ll take the camera. Bring back food?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean agrees.

The police station is a bust. No one remembers seeing a book or checking it into evidence. It doesn't feel like they’re lying, or they’ve had their memories tampered with, but somehow, no one saw the extremely old, super dangerous, book lying in the middle of the crime scene.

Frustrated, Dean hunts down a list of all the used book stores in town and slowly narrows them down to the one Chad must have gone to.

Adam’s Books is a couple of blocks north of the main drag, in the transition area between business and residential. The painted bricks above the door are peeling, making the sign nearly illegible, while the front windows themselves have been painted over on the inside. It looks long abandoned except for the pile of bestsellers by the door-- all recent, all with cracks in the spine and banged up corners. A piece of cardboard is taped to the door with hours scribbled in faded sharpie-- random days and hours that imply the place should be open now despite the locked door.

Dean knocks impatiently and manages to wait a couple of minutes before shaking his head in disgust. Pulling out his tools, he makes quick work of the lock and lets himself in quietly, hoping there’s no alarm.

Dean closes the door behind him before stepping further inside, moving gingerly among the shelves and waist high stacks. The paths between stacks are narrow, barely wide enough for an adult to fit through-- Sam would be knocking things over left and right-- but the organization is meticulous… as long as no one’s looking for alphabetical. Passing through a doorway, Dean realizes that this place takes up the whole depth of the building, far more space than he thought.

Sighing, he tries to get his bearings and figure out where the creepy old spell books-- probably bound in human skin, because that’s his luck-- will be before spotting a mythology book a few shelves over and closer to the front of the store. Witchcraft and New Age stuff is probably close to there.

When he finally finds them-- with mathematics, in the very back-- he’s shocked to find not just one or two spellbooks, which would be bad enough, but over a dozen. Handbound leather covers over thick parchment and vellum sheets with every color of ink. Whoever this Adam guy is, he’s a player.

Snapping a photo on his phone, Dean sends it to Sam before heading towards the front of the store. The floor creaks behind him as he passes through the doorway and he tries to spin around. His feet are stuck, cemented to the floor.

“Dean Winchester,” a nasally voice says behind him. “I was wondering when you’d show up.”

“Did you have something to do with this? Whoever in the fuck you are?”

The man tsks, sidestepping around Dean to face him. He’s short, right on the edge between heavy set and fat, and wearing a cardigan too heavy for the weather. “So you’re the great Dean Winchester. Gotta say, I was expecting someone with a little more… umph.”

“That’s awesome,” Dean says dryly. “I’m so happy to be living up to your expectations. Why are you selling spell books to teenagers? And giving them the power to pull shit off.”

“Dean, you’re smarter than that. I mean, Sam’s very much the genius between the two of you, but I had to see you in action, didn’t I? And what better way than giving Chad a… push.”

Dean scowls, craning his head around to follow the man as he circles around. “So you set him up? Nice going.” His phone buzzes in his pocket, probably Sam. “Any chance we can hurry this along? Monsters to kill, places to be. You know the drill.”

He comes back to face Dean. “Well, I don’t see what everyone’s so obsessed with, but you must have some qualities worth starting a civil war over.”

Dean flinches when the man raises his hand and disappears with a snap. Blowing out a breath, Dean shuffles his feet, ducking immediately out of the doorway and heading for the door.

Something catches his eye when he pulls the door shut, sigils written on the blacked out glass, black on black and barely visible. He tries to photograph them, but the glare obliterates it every time he tries. Huffing, he tries to memorize the few he doesn’t recognize before heading back to the motel.


Sam groans when his phone buzzes again. He’s barely gotten any work done since Dean dropped him off a few hours ago. Instead of diving into why a teenager can perform spells that only a witch with decades of experience should be able to manage, he’s been walking a succession of hunters through hunts-- Buddy hadn’t even needed help, just someone to back him up in some argument with Asa, which wasn’t even a fun way to kill an hour-- instead of focusing on his own. At least he’d gotten a look at what was on Chad’s GoPro-- nothing they didn’t already know.

And here’s another person wanting his attention…

Grimoires, old ones, in a collection that shouldn’t be in unknown hands. The light is too dim for him to see much, but he texts Dean to grab them anyway.

Frowning, he forwards the photo to Henry and Kevin to see if they can find any reference in Bunker’s records. He shakes his head and goes back to researching magical constructs. The case in front of them first, interesting books later.

Dean stalks in about thirty minutes later, pulling a bottle of whiskey from his bag immediately and taking a couple swings before sitting heavily on the end of the bed.

“Whoa, everything ok?”

“Oh, yeah. Everything’s awesome.” Another swig. “Pretty sure Chad is not our problem here. Or that he ever was.”

“Dude!” Sam pushes away from the table and snatches the bottle out of Dean’s grasp before he can take another drink. “What happened?”

“What would know us on sight, be powerful enough to trap me without any visible sigils, and be a smug shit about it?” Dean sighs and strips off his jacket.

“Too many things to count. Demon, angel, or witch top the list though. Especially if they had all those books at their disposal.”

“Didn’t feel witchy.” Dean grabs the notepad and pen off the bedside table. Scribbling on it, he stretches over to hand it to Sam. “There were sigils on the windows though.”

Sam looks down at the symbols. Most of them he’s seen before, but one--a triangle nestled in a circle with smaller circles on the sides of the triangle-- he only vaguely recognizes. “Any others?”

Dean shrugs. “A mix, but pretty standard. Some Enochian thrown in for flavor.”

Sam nods, still staring at the symbol. “I’ve seen this before. Or pretty close. Where did you find it?”

“At the same bookstore as those grimoires. Which is the same place Chad found his.” Dean grimaces. “Which, by the way, the cops have no recollection of him having.”

“So it disappeared.”

“Apparently,” Dean snorts. “So we need to find that in addition to everything else.”

Sam sighs and nods, reaching over and closing his laptop. “Alright. Give me ten and we can head over.”

Dean nods, laying back and closing his eyes. “Sure thing.”


Dean points out the sigils on the windows, written in permanent marker and just barely visible in the evening sunlight. If the sun was coming from any other direction, Sam’s not sure he’d be able to see them at all. Most of them are standard protection and avoidance symbols-- enough that Sam’s actually surprised anyone can see the place-- and the one Dean had drawn is repeated over and over again, like a signature.

“These are weird.” Frowning, Sam pulls the slip of paper out to compare it while Dean picks the lock again. There’s something missing from the center of the triangle-- a hexagon. Sketching it in, he shakes his head and repockets it. Whatever it is, he’ll remember it sooner or later.

Dean pops the lock and ushers Sam inside. “The very back, through the doorway. Watch your step.”

“What do you--” Sam bangs into a pile of books, nearly sending it toppling to the ground. “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.”

He has to take the longest, most circuitous route just because only about half the aisles will allow him through. Sam spends a lot of time creating a mental catalog of the books he’s seeing, mostly to distract himself from the creeping unease that’s following him. “Are these… Does this guy even realize what he has?”

“Probably,” Dean says shortly. “He pretty interested in gloating and being a smug prick.”

“Because that makes sense.” Sam sniffs quietly, trying to smell out any sulfur that might mean a demon. Nothing besides old books. “Why would anyone with a bone to pick with us--”

“Head up,” Dean cuts him off, gesturing at the doorway. “You see any traps?”

Sam steps closer, pointing his flashlight at the woodwork that surrounds the opening and then the floor. “Looks clear to me.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought before.” Dean scowls before sighing. “Gotta risk it anyway.” Closing his eyes, he jumps through. Motioning Sam to the side, Dean raises an eyebrow before stepping back through. “Whatever was here isn’t happening now. Must have blown it’s load earlier.”

“Angel then, maybe a demon,” Sam says, watching the doorway carefully as Dean rocks back and forth through it. “A witch would have needed groundwork, or at least a hex bag.”

“Angel,” Dean says. “A demon would have killed me. Or tried to.”

“Yeah. Ok, let’s get these books and get out of here. The longer we’re in here, the creepier it gets.”

“A clown isn’t gonna jump out from around the corner, Sam.”

“No… something else.” Sam shudders. “There’s something about this place… C’mon.”

Dean shrugs, stepping through for again and leading the way to the correct bookshelf. Dropping the duffle bag to the ground, he leans back to look at the shelf and then takes a second look, scrambling for his phone. Pulling up the photo from before, he compares them. “There’s another book on the shelf.”

“Just grab them all. We’ll figure it out later.” Sam bounces slightly on his feet, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder. Reaching past Dean, he grabs a spellbook and places it gently into the duffle.

Dean shakes his head and grabs the next one and they alternate until the bag is full. Sam’s left carrying a couple of books that didn’t fit, but given the size of the bag and the number of books, he’s more surprised that it’s only two.

Leaving is a lot less terror-filled than the trip in. Dean’s on edge until the books pass through the doorway without any problems and is downright chipper as he leads the way through the maze of stacks and towards the door.

“Wait,” Sam calls quietly as they pass a stack of thriller paperbacks topped with a couple of Dan Brown novels. It tickles something in his memory from back at Stanford, one of the random General Education credits he took. “Where’s the art history? I think I know where I recognize that sigil.”

“Uh…” Dean thinks for a moment before pointing across the store. “Over there I think. Do you need something?”

Sam thinks for a moment, eyeballing the maze of shelves and stacks between them. “It’s not worth the delay. I’ll find it online. Let’s go.”

“If you say so,” Dean says before shaking himself and resuming the hike back to the front door.

“This seem like it’s taking too long?” Sam asks rhetorically. A distance of only about seventy-five feet should take them a couple of minutes, max. Not… it feels like they’ve been heading to the front of the store for ten minutes. Something…

Paying very close attention, the room stretches when he takes another step forward before snapping back into place. “Definitely angel.”

“With a failed sense of humor,” Dean agrees. “Ideas?”

“Now that we’re aware of it, if it’s not being actively cast, it should break.” Sam pauses for a moment, thinks. “I think.”

“Awesome.” Dean makes a face before hefting the bag and marching blindly towards the front door. He runs smack into the door before turning. “Call it twelve steps. Straight shot.”

Sam sighs, tightening his grip on the books in his arms and closing his eyes. It takes ten steps, not twelve, but Dean stops him from running into the door with a hand on his arm. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

“Fucking angels, man.”

“You’re the one with the experience to know.” Sam grins and pushes through the door, emerging into the mid-evening twilight and heading directly for the car half a block down.

“Wh-- That’s-- Dammit, Sammy!”

Despite the hours they spent in the bookstore, there’s no missed calls to either of them. Dean has a text, but his face tightens when he reads it, so Sam doesn’t press. Instead, he stacks the books in a pile by the bed-- inside a salt circle, just in case-- and starts combing through them.

They spend the evening and well into the night like that, occasionally looking at the photos from the crime scene.

Slamming the last grimoire shut, Sam shoves his hands through his hair and shakes his head. “Chad’s book is still out there. Which we probably should have been assuming from the beginning.”

“Boomerang books have happened before. It was worth a shot.” Dean yawns. “Warn Robinson in the morning then head back to the Bunker?”

“Unless you’ve got a better idea.” Sam shakes his head, stretching and flexing his knee and ankle. “We still don’t know what happened with Chad, but if he was getting a power boost from an angel for some reason…”

“Yeah. No one else is going to be able to pull this shit. And I’m pretty sure Chad learned his lesson.”

“Maybe head back to the hospital tomorrow anyway, make sure it sticks.”

Sam shrugs, more interested in sleep and tylenol than anything else. “You want any help carrying these to the trunk?”

“Nah, I’ve got it. Might call Cas.”

“What’s going on between you two anyway? You were all joined at the hip and now…”

Dean picks up several of the books and doesn’t answer, awkwardly scrabbling at the door to open it rather than ask for help. Which doesn’t really answer the question except for all the ways it does.

 

Chapter Text

Cas’s phone goes straight to voicemail, doesn’t even ring.

That’s fine, not a big deal. His battery is probably dead. Biting his lip, Dean leans against the Impala and glares at his phone. Cas isn’t answering and Crowley isn’t calling and isn’t this just the shit that leaves him standing in an abandoned parking lot at midnight.

“Hey, Dean.” Sam sticks his head out of the room. “One of your alerts just popped up. Some comic bookstore in Normal, Illinois burned.”

Dean nods, raises a hand to acknowledge Sam before sighing and running it through his hair. Another hunt. At least it’s not a ghost.

“Awesome,” Dean breathes out when he gets a look at the story. “So… an old Men of Letters’ chapter house burned. The one Henry took us to back in January.”

“Think it’s related?” Sam sits up, wincing slightly.

“To what’s going on here? No. To the Abaddon problem? Probably,” Dean says. “Is anything ever not?”

Sam tilts his head in agreement before leaning back against the headboard. “Wanna take off now?”

“Nah. I’ll warn Kevin and Henry, but there’s no point in leaving this mess unfinished just to go chasing after another one when we have no idea if it even is anything.” Landing heavily on his bed, Dean stares up at the ceiling in silence until Sam huffs and turns off the light.

He’s still staring when Sam’s irritated huffs transition to sleep and then the quick, harsh gasps of a nightmare. Dean frowns, rolling over to check on him, but doesn’t get up, doesn’t wake Sam up. It’s wordless anyway, a standard issue nightmare.


He must doze off at some point, and sleep hard when he does, because Dean wakes up with Sam slapping at his boot and shoving coffee at him.

“Good morning to you too, bitch.” Dean shoves the coffee away so he can sit up. “Why the hell are you so chipper?”

“Chad texted me, early this morning. The book he was using? Showed up at the hospital overnight.”

“Did you check the others?” Dean asks, already halfway to his feet.

“When I went out to grab breakfast. All present and accounted for.”

“Thank Christ.” Dean holds his hand out for his coffee, taking a sip as soon as its in his hand. “So it boomerangs back to whoever last had possession of it.”

“Yeah.” Sam passes over a breakfast sandwich to go with the coffee. “So we’re down to why.”

“Who cares?” Dean say. “It’s a fucking angel. Half the time, if they have a reason, it makes no sense anyway.”

“No, I don’t think that’s it.” Sam leans back and shakes his head. “Think about it, Dean. Since the angels fell, none of them have been using their power indiscriminately. Most of them are just trying to survive. Even Gadreel--”

“He seemed to be using his power just fine. Bouncing you all over the place. Same with the angels Cas met up with.”

“But he wasn’t performing miracles all over the place. None of them are. Flight doesn’t seem to take that much. Not as much as healing or whatever.” Sam pauses for a moment, takes a drink of his coffee. “Something was worth expending a fair amount of grace to do.”

Dean frowns, shakes his head. “It doesn’t seem right. I wish we’d gotten his name.”

“I think that’s what that symbol is. I just don’t know who it belongs to.”

“Do you want the cops or the kid?” Dean asks, balling up the wrapper from his sandwich and tossing it into the trash.

“Both.” Sam shrugs when Dean raises an eyebrow. “With one of us on foot, it’ll take the same amount of time.”

It doesn’t take very long for Dean to get ready to go-- all he really does is brush his teeth and switch flannels-- and then they’re checked out of the motel and on their way to the hospital.

Sam takes the lead with Chad while Dean slips down the hall.

Suzanne Fraiser looks up with relief when he knocks on the door frame, tossing her pen and Sudoku puzzle down on the table in front of her. “Dean!”

“How ya feeling?”

She shrugs, one hand dropping to tap on her thigh. “Been better. But I’ll get back out there.”

“I know you will.” He hesitates before pulling the visitor’s chair over next to the bed. “Did you see or hear anything weird the other night?”

“Besides the bone monster that shrugged off bullets like water?” She huffs. “Not really. I’m still not sure how Chad got from the fence to the mausoleum that fast.”

“If he’s the team quarterback…”

“Ok, yeah. He’s physically capable of making that sprint. But we weren’t more than a minute behind, maybe two. Nowhere near enough time for him to set things up. Unless that monster was created instantly or something.”

Dean shakes his head, thinking. She’s right-- if Chad had only a minute or two head start, there’s no way he managed to create the construct from scratch. Especially if he’d never used that spell before. And the way Sam described it, it definitely had rudimentary intelligence, not Chad splitting his attention. “Something about this is fishy.”

“Fishy how?” Sam asks from the doorway.

“Timeline doesn’t work.” Dean shrugs and pushes himself to his feet, snagging a sheet of paper and scribbling Jody’s number on it. “If you have any questions about how this sort of thing works on the cop side, Jody can probably help you out. Far better than we can anyway.”

“Right. Dead. I remember.” She chuckles, pushing the paper into the drawer with her personal stuff. “I’m sure I’ll be giving her a call sooner or later. You mind if I share that with Jack? Sheriff Robinson, I mean.”

“Whatever you need to do.” Dean shrugs. “Jody’d probably appreciate another sheriff anyway.”

They see themselves out, Dean leading the way back to the car. “Anything new from Chad?”

“Not really. He swears-- and the GoPro backs him up-- that he was there for at least five minutes before we showed up and interrupted him.” Sam frowns, thinking. “The way the camera was angled though, you can’t see the entrance. So it’s pretty much a dead end.”

“He knows not to be doing this shit anymore. Which is what I’m really concerned about.”

“Yeah.” Sam hefts the grimoire and grins. “I just can’t figure out if this is over or not.”

“We have no leads besides ‘probably an angel’ and the only two who were hurt are gonna live and never touch witchcraft again,” Dean says firmly. “And we have a bunch of new books for you and Kevin to add to the library. So we might as well call it quits.”

They stop one last time at the station, letting Robinson know that, near as they can tell, everything is over. Then they’re back on the road, cruising their way back to the Bunker.


Castiel can barely see in the dark storage room. He knows there’s another angel in here, somewhere, had caught a glimpse when Malachai’s minions had shoved him in here, but nothing since.

He’s not even sure if the other angel is still alive. They’re certainly not moving or speaking, just slumped in the corner of the tiny room.

Hours later, the door grates open, Malachai standing the doorway. “Castiel.”

“What’s the meaning of this, Malachai? You can’t keep us prisoner like this.”

“Castiel, I thought you were all about free will. I can do whatever I want.” He snorts, stepping out of the doorway. “In any case, you both wish to join my army, so…” He shrugs. “Whoever survives is in.”

“What?” Castiel demands.

The other angel in the room jumps to their feet in an instant, dropping their blade into their hand and attacking almost before Castiel can turn around. The angel blade arcs overhead, aiming for Castiel’s chest. He falls backwards, nearly tripping, before he’s able to deflect the angel’s blade away from his chest. It slices into his arm, cutting through his coat and shirt.

The cupid twists their blade, cutting Castiel’s clothing as they pull the blade free. Castiel gasps in pain, but doesn’t drop his own blade, doesn’t step away. The duel will only end with one of their deaths, Malachi had been very clear on that. Attempting to yield, or stepping away from the duel, will accomplish nothing.

Malachi gloats from across the room, watching the duel. “Castiel, Heaven’s rebel, about to be brought down by a cupid.”

“Why are you sacrificing your own followers, Malachi? There’s nothing--” Castiel breaks off, twisting away before the cupid can corner him. He’s been on the defense this entire time, reluctant to take advantage of his opponent’s lack of experience, but slowly, he’s being worn down. And unlike Malachi and the Cupid, his grace wasn’t at normal capacity to begin with. “There’s nothing to be accomplished with this.”

That is where you’re wrong, Castiel.” Malachi steps forward, into the cleared space of the duel. “I win, either way.” He bursts forward, grabbing the cupid and throwing them at Castiel.

Castiel’s blade comes up automatically, stabbing the cupid. He squeezes his eyes shut without thinking about it, turning away from the burst of grace before the cupid slumps to the ground.

Malachi doesn’t, standing relaxed, hands still in his pockets. There’s a single smudge of wing ash across his chest, barely standing out against the dirty gray tee-shirt and jacket.

Castiel winces, looking at the blood from the vessel slowly combining with the ash on the floor. “That was--”

“That was exactly what was needed,” Malachi says smoothly. “Now that you’ve become my soldier, tell me what I can do for you, Castiel.”

“I’m not yours.” Castiel shakes his head, taking a step back. “I came here to see what you knew about the Fall. Not to join your army.”

“When Bartholomew attacks, we will be your only hope. We’re done with the hierarchy-- what has it ever done for us? Bart and his--” Malachi snorts, “--army, they’re the one percenters. More concerned with structure than actually maintaining Heaven.”

“That’s not…”

“You caused the Fall though, didn’t you? You and those mud monkeys of yours. Was closing Hell not enough for you?” Malachai steps closer, forcing Castiel into the corner.

Castiel sucks in a breath before straightening back up. “No one on Earth engineered the Fall, Malachi. If you think that, you’re delusional. Given how badly attempting to close Hell hurt Sam, I would be surprised if a human was capable of doing such a thing.”

Malachi’s eyes flash dangerously. “You’re saying an angel would do this? Cast all of us to Earth, lock the Gates behind us?”

“It was not me, nor the Winchesters.”

“Blah blah.” Malachi cuts him off. “Don’t care.” He grabs Castiel’s jaw, digging fingers in hard enough to bruise.

Malachi’s grace invades his head before Castiel can get free, ripping through his memories and thoughts like paper, tearing backwards in time.

Castiel jerks away from Malachi, his blade falling back into his hand. He digs the point into Malachi’s chest. “Back away, brother. Before I put an end to your pitiful little commune here and now.”

Malachi raises his hands in a very human gesture of surrender and takes several steps backwards. “Where is the angel tablet, Castiel? I didn’t get quite that far back.”

Castiel ignores him, sliding along the walls of the room until he yanks the door open to escape. Malachai watches him, but doesn’t try to stop him, just shoves his hands in his pockets and tilts his head.

Dog leaps up to lick his face as soon as he’s away from the building, cheerfully greeting him. Breathing out some of his tension, Castiel pats her a couple times before testing his wings. Strained, but they’re always strained anymore, he’s flying too fast, too often, with insufficient grace to heal himself.

Sighing, he sets out on foot, trying to save his wings, with Dog pacing at his side. It won’t take much to return to the Bunker, but…

There are too many angels looking for him, convinced that he had something to do with the fall. Better to take his time and avoid drawing attention to himself. Once he reaches the city, he can find a car before driving the rest of the way.

Dog growls softly, about an hour later, when a white SUV swerves off the road ahead of them.

“Well. Fancy meeting you here,” Crowley says with false pleasantness as he climbs out of his car. “You aren’t the sort I was looking for, but you’ll do.”

“Crowley,” Castiel sighs. “What do you want?”

“I’m hurt. Can’t I just give my former business partner a ride?”

“No,” Castiel snaps. Adjusting his coat, he dodges around the car and continues walking, Dog a solid presence by his side.

“You reek of pain, confusion, and fear,” Crowley says from behind him. “If I can feel it, what about the others?”

Dog stops, turning around to growl at Crowley. There’s an answering growl, deeper and harsher from the hellhound at Crowley’s side. Dog pauses for a moment, head cocked-- trying to understand, Castiel thinks-- before darting off into the orchards that surround them.

The hellhound whines, watching Dog disappear into the trees. Crowley sighs and waves his hand. “Go on. Don’t kill anyone.”

The hellhound bounds off with a single bark, loud enough to shake the trees.

Castiel admits defeat and goes back to the SUV, leaning against the side. “I thought you were searching for a way to defeat Abaddon.”

“And I thought you were settling down into wedded bliss with Squirrel.”

“No.” Castiel watches the hounds for a moment, flickering here and there between the trees. It’s play, but that can change very quickly.

“Trouble in paradise already? That didn’t take very long.”

“It’s none of your concern.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Things that make Dean Winchester unhappy tend to die. Since he can’t kill you any more than he could kill Moose, he’ll take it out on anyone else nearby.”

“Such as killing all your minions?”

“Those were already dead, thanks to Abaddon. But yes.”

“Once more, what do you want?”

Crowley shifts beside him, eyes focused on the dogs. “I’m searching for the First Blade.”

“I’m not an archangel, Crowley.”

“Is that the stories they told all the baby angels? It’s amazing they retained power for as long as they did.”

“All the archangels are dead or imprisoned. I--”

“I don’t need them, Castiel,” Crowley sneers. “The Knights were trapped by the archangels, not killed. Cain killed them.”

Castiel twists around to look at him. “What does tha--” He swallows, remembering how strange Dean’s soul had felt while in Sam’s dreamscape, how irritable he’s been, how angry. “Dean didn’t.”

“Of course he did. Barely thought twice about it really, more concerned about wasting Abaddon than what this might do to you. Or himself, if I’m honest.”

“Which you never are without reason.”

“Cain’s retired, wasting his time on beekeeping, which leaves his chosen heir as our best option to remove the bitch from the playing field.”

Castiel closes his eyes. “Cain’s chosen heir. Of course.” Sighing, he pins Crowley with a look. “What is the situation in Hell, these days? You’ve been deposed, but what of the kingdoms?”

Crowley grins, all sharp teeth. “Abaddon has accepted fealty from all the sitting dukes.”

Castiel nods, seeing the barest outline of Crowley’s plan. The sitting dukes whom the firmament of Hell may or may not obey. Titles in Hell, as in Heaven, have always traditionally been transmitted through combat after all. And the winners of those fights have always been the Winchesters. “Only the sitting dukes? That must leave some holes in her court.”

“Yes, although I doubt she realizes the precariousness of her position. Care to discuss our partnership more comfortably, Feathers?” Crowley gestures towards the SUV still idling behind them.

Castiel thinks for a moment before nodding and whistling for Dog. “I’d like to hear your proposal at least.”

The more enclosed area of the car reveals what he had missed outside. He doesn’t say anything-- some things should be kept quiet-- but the scent of human blood is unmistakable. Crowley is more human than demon, even now. He suspects it very well might be permanent.

Crowley opens the rear door open long enough for the hounds to climb into the backseat before he gets into the driver’s seat. He doesn’t say anything before merging into the (non-existent) traffic and driving down the highway. “Is there anything you’d like to get off your chest before we start our new venture?”

“If you betray us again, whatever Abaddon has in mind will pale in comparison.”

“You really have become one of those towering piles of flannel.” Crowley sighs. “Who would I betray you to, Cas? Abaddon, who wants my head on a pike? Or Heaven, who doesn’t care about the goings on in Hell.”

Castiel hums. “We know you, Crowley. Plans within plans.”

“None of which ever included Sam Winchester walking right up to the edge of closing the Gates and not finishing the job,” Crowley snarls. Reaching over, he flips the car stereo on, blasting static with a rapidly fading signal. “For fuck’s sake. Find something to listen to, will you?”

Pressing the seek button, Castiel moves to the next station. Talk radio, Christian, Christian, news… it takes several tries before he lands on a station that is actually playing music. He listens to it for a few measures before changing the station again in disgust.

“You have opinions on music? Beyond the cock rock Dean listens to?”

Castiel huffs, pressing the seek button again. “Of a sort. Jingoistic odes to fascism, I can live without.”

“And…” Crowley pauses, listening to the lyrics, “Leaving your lover at dawn is acceptable?”

“Comparatively, yes.” Castiel shrugs. “It’s not harmful.”

Crowley raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t say anything, pressing harder on the gas.


Apparently, JK Rowling was right about one thing: there are, indeed, some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and killing a Wicked Witch of Oz is one of them.

Henry slides a plate of toast and coffee across the table to Kevin before sitting down across from him. “Where are we today?” he asks, tiredly.

Kevin munches on his toast, looking at the list of research topics for today. “Your choice: phones and the symbol Sam emailed yesterday or re-cataloging storage room forty-two, which should be mostly artifacts.”

“Neither and getting out of here?”

“Sure. But when you’re back, you get the phones.” Kevin sighs and drains his coffee. “I’ll deal with the storage room.”

“Kevin, that’s not--”

“I know it’s not what you meant,” Kevin snaps. “But until we’re certain the tablets are out of play, I’m stuck in this moldy hellhole.” He swallows, guilt flooding over him. He’s being unfair-- none of this is Henry’s fault-- but he’s barely seen sunlight in two weeks. He takes a deep breath and blows it out, looking at Henry. “Sorry.”

“Kid, if that’s the worst you throw at me today, I’ll be lucky. I can’t imagine how stir crazy you must be going.”

Kevin shrugs, finishing his toast. “Gives me lots of time to take care of some pre-reqs for school and the summer reading list.”

Henry looks at him with something like pity in his eyes and Kevin looks away. Charlie said-- promised-- that she’d be back in time for the first week of classes in mid-August. Three more months, and he can lose himself on a campus of nearly thirty-five thousand. He’s not sure what the details of her deal with Sam and Dean are, but he’s ready to be out of here.

“You want anything from the store?” Henry asks after a couple minutes silence. “Might as well take care of that early.”

Kevin waves the question off, draining his coffee. “Vegetables. Fresh ones. Maybe some fruit.”

Henry nods, grabbing the post-it with the list from the fridge and adding to it. “Alright, you know the drill--”

“Better than you do.” Kevin slops more coffee into his mug before heading towards the library. A fun day of dusty books awaits!

Three hours later, the only thing that’s changed is switching stations from Henry’s favored oldies to mid-80’s punk and ska once Henry left. Kevin drops the last two books on symbols from the North American southwest onto the table and sighs. If it’s not in here, he has no idea where they’re going to find that stupid symbol.

Sighing, he settles in to dig through more racist bullshit in search of a slightly less bullshit symbol that looks frustratingly familiar.

Henry comes back a couple hours later-- Kevin’s not entirely certain when he got back to the Bunker, but he shows up in the library with the coffee pot eventually-- and perches in the chair next to Kevin. “Anything new?”

Kevin thumbs through the last couple of pages on the book in front of him before slamming it shut. “No. Not even a fucking hint. It’s all ‘X tribe had Y symbols and we’re assuming it means Z because I’m a fucking white guy who never met anything he couldn’t make about himself!’”

Henry raises an eyebrow. “So… same situation it’s been for the past three days then?”

“Yes,” Kevin grinds out. “The tablets were better than this! At least Metatron--” he stops before whirling around and dashing for the shelf with his notes from translating the demon tablet. Metatron. That’s what he knows that symbol from. “I knew it looked familiar, dammit!” Slamming his notes on the table, Kevin winces when a couple of post-its go flying.

“You know it from the tablet?” Henry gathers up the scattered pieces of paper before looking at the open page.

Kevin snatches his phone from his seat. “Sam, I found it,” he blurts out as soon as the call connects. “The symbol.”

“Hold on, let me put you on speaker.” The background noise of the Impala becomes louder as Sam mumbles something. “Okay, Kev, go ahead.”

“It’s Metatron’s glyph or symbol. Shows up all over the place on the tablets, kinda like a translator or editor’s note.”

“Well, shit,” Dean says. “Didn’t Cas say that Megatron had been in hiding for centuries?”

Kevin shrugs. “Something like that. Missing, presumed dead I think.”

“Instead, he’s running a creepy ass bookstore in Indiana and loaning teenagers more power than they know what to do with.” Dean pauses for a moment before continuing. “Good job, Kev.”

Kevin makes a face at the phone. Dean… what? “Yeah, no problem. See you guys when you get here.”

“Should only be a few hours,” Sam says, the road noise abruptly dying down. “Maybe less if Dean doesn’t let off the gas.”

“Take your time,” Henry says. “We’ll still be here.”

Sam hangs up with his standard lack of closing.

Kevin rolls his eyes, pocketing his phone and looking around at the disaster of the library. “I guess I should do something about this.”

“Actually…” Henry starts. “I ran into some Men of Letters earlier, in Smith Center. They requested our assistance in locating some texts.”

Kevin stares at him blankly for a moment before picking up his coffee cup, resisting the urge to smash it into Henry’s face. “You’re helping the Stynes. Again. Despite them giving all of us the creeps.”

“I’m trading information with them, yes. About Abaddon and what’s going to be required to take care of that situation.” Henry snorts. “Dean’s working with the King of Hell, and you’re worried about the Stynes.”

“Great, just great.” Kevin throws his hands up, flinging coffee behind him. “They are bad news. I don’t know how much clearer we can make that. At least we know Crowley.”

“Give me a reason,” Henry says hotly. “Not just ‘they seem off’ or whatever nonsense.”

Briefly, Kevin entertains the thought of shoving the heavy ceramic mug in his hand up Henry’s ass before sighing and starting to pick up the tablet notes. Piling them on top of each other, he grabs the rest of that shelf-- almost entirely things he and Sam have been working on, nothing formally published-- and marches to drop them in his room.

Henry is greeting Eldon by the time Kevin makes it back to the main areas. “Ah, and did you meet Kevin when you were last here?”

“I do not believe we had the pleasure, no.” Eldon stands and offers Kevin his hand. “The Prophet, correct?” He doesn’t wait for Kevin to respond before turning back to Henry. “Father instructed me to make sure you knew you were always welcome to request our assistance as well.”

“Yes, well,” Henry starts.

Kevin rolls his eyes behind Eldon’s back before disappearing back towards the kitchen. He needs to keep an eye on them for Sam and Dean’s sake, but there’s a limit to what he can stand on an empty stomach.

He’s back to the library in a couple minutes, munching on a PB&J while Henry and Eldon try to out-polite each other while negotiating. Eldon wants a codex, Henry refuses to let it out of the Bunker, blah blah blah, it’s not going anywhere fast.

“Henry, you understand that I cannot leave without that codex. My father--”

“If your father was the level he claimed to be, he would stop pushing,” Henry says sharply. “The Codex is too dangerous to risk it falling into untrained hands. And the Book is better off lost!”

“We will regain them both,” Eldon says harshly. “Even if it’s over the corpses of everyone living here.”

“Out,” Kevin orders, forgetting his plan of hiding in the background. “Get out.”

“There are no archangels to protect you anymore, Prophet. You could die, and Heaven will just call up the next one.”

Kevin scoffs, setting down his plate and pulling the gun hidden under the table. “Get out.” He barely knows how to use it-- he’s been working on it, but it’s slow going-- but from the way Eldon’s eyes widen, he’s apparently a scary mf’er. Awesomesauce. “Take the answer you’ve been given, and leave.”

“Put the gun down, boy,” Eldon growls after a moment. “You’re as vulnerable as anyone else, with a washed up hack as your protector. Do you really think he can protect you? Will protect you, when you’re the reason he’s stuck here instead of out in the field?”

Henry stiffens-- probably about to pretend that Styne isn’t telling the truth-- but Kevin cuts him off. “I said, we’re done here.”

Eldon starts to say something but decides better of it, turning on his heel and heading back out the entrance. Henry follows closely behind him.

Kevin watches them go before collapsing into Henry’s chair, pushing back the plate and gun so he can bury his face in the table. He gives himself two minutes of slightly panicked relief before inhaling when he hears Henry on the steps.

Sitting up, he forces his face into something resembling calm and starts the process of pushing everything else away. “He gone?”

“Yes, I waited until he drove away and then locked the door behind him.” Henry slides into the chair across from him. “I… You’ve all been right, they’ve been lying to me since the beginning. Some of the things you missed--”

Kevin bites his tongue-- I told you so won’t accomplish anything-- and reholsters the pistol under the table before grabbing the plate. “Can you let Sam and Dean know?”

Henry nods, already pulling out his phone.


The man, clad in a slubby sweater and worn pants, reeks of angel grace when he walks into the bar. He looks around approvingly before climbing onto a stool and watching Gadreel while he washes the few glasses left from the late lunch crowd. “It’s like a lazy version of Cheers,” he offers. “No one knows your name, and no one is glad to see you.”

Gadreel twists the rag into the pint glass to dry it. “I have no interest in joining with any of the factions.”

“Ah, yes.” The man crosses his arms, leaning against the counter. “You never were much of a joiner, were you, Gadreel?”

“I’m afraid, brother, that you have the advantage of me.” Gadreel breathes out slowly, bringing his hands below the level of the bar and drawing his blade.

“Yes, well,” the man preens. “We didn’t all achieve your level of notoriety.”

Gadreel blinks several times, hand flexing around the hilt of his blade, trying to figure out who is sitting across from him.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” he says, exasperated. “Metatron. And I can take you home.”