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A Winter's Tale

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I'm an endless sucker for human-Castiel, and always wished the show had shown more of his experiences when he was human in S9. This fic retells that part of S9 from Cas's point of view. Basically it covers the events of I'm No Angel (S09/03, aka "Cas gets kicked out of the bunker") through Holy Terror (S09/09, aka "Cas gets captured and tortured"), but from Cas's POV. Just FYI the fic will diverge from canon midway through Holy Terror (in this version, Cas did not steal anybody's grace and stayed human) and then moves on to Christmas. For the purposes of the fic I've placed the events of early season 9 as taking place in mid summer through early winter, with Holy Terror occurring just after Thanksgiving. We begin several weeks after Holy Terror. Gadreel is gone, Sam is pissed, poor Kevin is dead... and where oh where is Castiel?

Oh and, it's the first day of winter, just four days before Christmas.


Dean's phone began buzzing on the dash just when he was merging the Impala into morning traffic, trying to get onto the highway heading east out of Rapid City. The sun hadn't even risen yet; it was eight in the morning, but the sun rose pretty late at this time of year in South Dakota, and it wasn't all that easy to merge into rush hour traffic in the dim twilight. Dean glanced over at Sam, half-wondering if he'd offer to help with the phone, but Sam was slouched against the passenger door with his eyes closed, well on his way into a nap. Wasn't gonna be much help.

Probably didn't want to help anyway.

Dean managed to merge successfully and scooped the phone off the dash, glancing at the screen. "Unknown caller", said the phone's glowing screen.

He frowned. Unknown callers were rare. They'd just wrapped up a hunt— a simple enough ghost case, made difficult only by the sheer awkwardness of trying to work with Sam at all. At any rate, the hunt was done and Dean hadn't been expecting any further calls on that case. Was this call about something new? Not many people had this particular number.

Dean hit "Answer Call" and said, "Yeah, who is this?"

"May I please speak to Dean Winchester?" said a female voice.

"Who is this?" Dean repeated. (Cell Phone Rule #1 was to figure out who was calling before he confirmed his real name to somebody unknown.)

"I'm calling from Eastern Regional Hospital in Spokane, Washington. Is this Dean Winchester?"

A hospital. Hm. Another case, maybe? Something funny going on in the morgue?

"Yeah, what's up?" Dean said.

"May I ask if you know a Steve Smith?"

Dean hesitated. He didn't know the name, but Cell Phone Rule #2 was to always pretend you recognized any name, whenever someone random was asking. It might be some fellow hunter in need of an alibi or a backstory.

"Steve Smith" was a new one though. Steve Smith...

Oh. Wait.

Steve.

Dean had heard that name not that long ago, actually. A couple months ago.

At a certain Gas-n-Sip in Idaho.

And, "Smith", their most generic last-name alias.

Cas. Had to be Cas.

Dean sighed. Cas must be trying to work another case on his own. Just like he'd been trying at that biker-massacre scene at the Wyoming bar a few weeks back. Dean had tried to get him to settle down and go back to his thrilling new Gas-n-Sip life; could Cas have tried to branch out into hunting again? Dean had sent him packing so quick that there hadn't really been time to talk to him about how it important it was for Cas to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. (Well, it was Gadreel who had pretty much sent Cas packing, really. Dean hadn't had a whole lot of choice.)

Belatedly Dean realized that he hadn't gotten around to checking on Cas since. Things had been pretty busy.

What with Gadreel killing Kevin and all.

"Sir, did you hear me? Do you know a Steve Smith?"

"Uh... yeah," Dean said. "Steve. Smith. Yeah, I know a Steve Smith."

Sam opened his eyes and looked over at Dean; he was awake after all. Dean mouthed "Cas," at him, and Sam sat up a little as the voice went on, "Steve was admitted to our hospital last night. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to tell us anybody to contact, but we've just located his last employer, and his employer says you're listed in his paperwork as his only emergency contact. May I ask, do you know if Steve has any family that we could notify? It's urgent."

 


 

Dean took the very next exit, whipped the Impala under an interchange, and spun around onto the next on-ramp. In two minutes flat they were heading back west. It would be a long drive to Spokane, though— over twelve hours. They wouldn't get in till late at night.

The nurse hadn't been willing to give much information over the phone; only that Cas was "very ill" and that it was "urgent." Dean didn't care to think too hard about what that might mean. He just drove as fast as he could, remembering the last time he'd seen Cas, in that Wyoming bar several weeks ago when Cas had turned up so unexpectedly in his snappy new FBI duds. Dean had meant to check up later; he really had. But with the Gadreel nightmare that had unfolded right after that, and the awful loss of Kevin, it had slipped his mind.

Dean drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, irritated with himself. Should've called to check on Cas, he thought. I was too messed up after Kevin to think about it.

Kevin's loss was still impossibly awful and always would be, but it had been several weeks and the initial shock had begun to wear off. Gadreel had been booted out just a few days after (with Crowley's help), and Sam actually seemed mostly healed, though he was still royally pissed at Dean. Things had settled down to a sad, but relatively manageable, steady state.

Dean really should have gotten around to calling Cas at some point.

He stared now at the long straight road ahead that cut through the South Dakota hills. Sam was ominously silent.

Truth is, thought Dean, I didn't want to call him. Didn't want to bug him. Didn't want to drag him into all this.

All right... Didn't want to confess how bad I'd screwed up.

Because, if Dean had called Cas, Dean would've had to tell Cas what had been going on with Gadreel all along. Dean would've had to explain just exactly how badly Dean had messed up. And how Cas had been booted out as a result. And how Kevin had paid the final price for Dean's mistake.

 


 

It had been incredibly awkward saying goodbye to Castiel at the bunker, back at the end of summer. Cas had been very quiet as Dean had seen him off at the front door. He hadn't said a word when Dean had handed him that pathetic little travel bag— all that Dean had been able to come up with to send him off. It was just a crappy old leather shoulderbag that had been lying around the bunker. Everything about it was crappy. Crappy cracked, stained leather; crappy broken buckle; crappy busted strap that Dean had tried to tie back together with a shoelace. But it was the only bag Dean could find to give to him.

Everything Dean had put inside it seemed crappy too: a crappy eighty-two bucks in cash (all Dean had had on him at the time), a crappy fistful of spare change (dug out in a hurry from the Impala's change tray), and one of Dean's crappy spare cell phones and its charger. And, maybe crappiest of all, two sticks of beef jerky and a friggin' pack of saltines. It was all there'd been in the kitchen.

Dean had cringed when Cas had opened the bag and looked inside.

Then Cas had just looked back up at Dean, and given him one of those long searching stares.

"Sorry," Dean had said at last, his voice rough. "It's all I got."

Cas had replied, "It's okay, Dean. I understand." But the look on his face had made very clear: It wasn't okay, and he didn't understand.

Cas had given him one last silent look, and then he'd just turned and walked away, down the long driveway to the road, into the grey chilly morning. Without even a goodbye.

"I'll call and check in," Dean had said then, watching him trudge away. Cas was already a dozen yards away. He just kept walking.

Dean had never been sure if he'd even heard.

 


 

Dean spent the first part of the drive to Spokane— and the middle part, and the last part— reliving that moment, and the Gas-n-Sip day too, and the Wyoming bar. And kicking himself around mentally about all of it.

Sam did his part, too; he also spent the first part of the drive (and the middle part, and the last part) kicking Dean around. Sam didn't even say anything for the first hour, and he didn't have to. By this point he could kick Dean around pretty well just by sitting there in stoic silence next to him, doing his thing of radiating silent guilt-rays at Dean.

They both knew the story. Dean had truly fucked up no matter how you looked at it.

But I was trying to save my brother's life, Dean kept thinking. Is that so bad?

Dean drove on in silence, both hands on the wheel, staring out at the bleak December landscape rushing by. Bare-limbed black branches slid past, outlined against dark grey clouds. Here and there the trees gave way to wide empty fields of frozen dirt and dead wheat stubble, frosted with the first snows of the year. First day of winter, Dean remembered. Four days till Christmas.

Sam about hated Dean's guts by now and had shown no signs of forgiving him. Kevin was dead. Cas was "very ill" and in intensive care.

It didn't feel very Christmasy.

 


 

After an hour of silence Sam finally said, "I cannot believe you didn't even check on him."

"I know," Dean said.

"And I don't even mean just in the last couple weeks. I mean, in the last six months. What the fuck. I mean, what the actual fuck, Dean."

"I know. I was going to, I just— You were so messed up, and I was so worried Gadreel was gonna find out if I talked to Cas, and that he might just bail and let you die. And Cas had my number, he did, he could've called. And Sam, he was actually doing okay! He had a job, he was figuring things out, he was getting by. Right up till Wyoming, at least. He looked good then, didn't he?"

Sam gave a grudging nod.

Dean added, "I was thinking to just stay out of his hair and stop bringing him trouble, to be honest."

Sam gave a irritated-sounding little huff and looked out the side window. He started fiddling with the window-crank handle with one hand, spinning its little round metal knob around and around. Dean knew that routine: the irritated huff, the staring silently out the window, the fiddling with the knob; it all meant "Sam's Still Pissed."

Dean tried again, saying, "Look, he'll probably be fine. So he's sick, but, he's tough, you know how he is. He'll be okay. The dude's got nine lives at least, courtesy of the Big Kahuna himself as far as I can tell, and he's only used up three or four. I'll even bet the reason he didn't tell the hospital to contact us right away is because he wanted to stay independent, you know? But we'll take care of him. We'll get him outta there and take him back to the bunker where he can rest up, and we'll give him a nice Christmas, even. All the pumpkin pie he can eat. Presents and everything. Everything'll be fine."

Sam didn't say anything for a while.

Ten minutes later: "I can't understand why you didn't at least call him, Dean."

It was going to be a long drive.

 


 

"Ah yes, you're the emergency contact for Steve Smith? The one we called this morning?

"Yeah," said Dean. He was already looking over the nurse's shoulder at the ICU bays to try to see where Cas was, but he couldn't see anything past all the little white curtains. "How is he? What happened?"

"He was brought in late last night, about twenty-four hours ago," said the nurse, shuffling through the files at the nurses' station and plucking out a medical chart labeled "STEVE SMITH". She seemed in no hurry to lead them to Cas, and instead started flipping through the chart, saying, "He was found lying by a storefront just a few blocks away. Unfortunately it seems people had been assuming he was homeless and just sleeping there, and were just walking past him, but thank goodness a security guard thought to actually take a look at him and realized he was sick. He has pneumonia; we've been wondering if he might have been trying to get here. By the time the guard found him he'd gotten hypothermia as well. In addition he seems to have already had a number of previous injuries from some kind of accident a couple weeks earlier."

"Previous injuries?" said Dean. "What do you mean?"

"He has a lot of lacerations and bruises on his chest and face," said the nurse, glancing up at them. "He even has quite a few stitches. I mean, he had the stitches already, before he was brought in here. All a couple weeks old. It looked like possibly a car crash. But the odd thing is that the lacerations actually look like they might have been caused by knives. Do you have any idea what happened to him?"

"No idea," Sam said after a slightly-too-long pause, shaking his head.

Dean shrugged, trying to keep his face blank.

Angels. Angel-blade wounds. Angels had found Cas again. And either it had been a hell of a fight, or he'd been straight-up tortured. (Again.) And if the wounds were "a couple weeks old," it had probably happened right after Dean had sent Cas away from that Wyoming bar.

"No idea how he could have ended up like that all on his own," said Sam, shooting a fierce scowl at Dean. Dean looked at the floor.

"Well, fortunately most of those wounds were healing," the nurse said, glancing back down at the chart. "Though slowly. And they can't have been helping his general state of health. I'm afraid he's very ill at this point. Ah! This was the sheet I was looking for." She looked up from the chart, pen poised to jot down some details. "Before I take you to see him, I need to ask what your relationship is with Steve. Both of you. How well do you know him? And just by the way—" She raised an eyebrow significantly, and said, "Just so you know, if you're not family, I'm afraid there's a limit on how much I can tell you about his condition, and also it would mean you can't stay with him after eight o'clock." She glanced at the clock on the wall. Dean followed her gaze; it was past eleven p.m.

The nurse said again, "So how do you know him?"

"He's family," said Dean. "See, he's our... uh..." He hesitated.

The nurse waited.

"Cousin," said Sam, just as Dean said "Brother."

The nurse blinked, and Dean said, "A cousin who's also a brother. You see, our mom's sister... well, it's complicated. One of those family-secret things, you know? Took some getting used to. Anyway, where is he?"

The nurse was starting to look a little skeptical, but she muttered, "Family. Right." She jotted a note in the chart and looked back up. "Let me be frank. We haven't been able to locate anybody else who knows him. He's in critical condition. He was unconscious when he was found, and he hasn't regained consciousness since. His condition's very poor right now. Are you sure you don't know of any... other family? Anybody who should know? It's urgent. If there's anybody else who is close to him, we need to let them know right away."

"Ah. There's... nobody else," Dean said, swallowing. "Pretty sure about that. Um, he'll be okay, won't he?"

She gave him a carefully blank look. "He's getting the best of care. The doctor will speak with you soon."

That didn't sound good at all.

Dean's voice had dried up, and Sam had to step in and say, "Can we see him now?"

"As you are, um, immediate family, yes, you can stay as long as you wish. Particularly since there seems to be nobody else." She clapped the chart shut and stuck it back on the shelf. "Be aware, though, he's unlikely to wake. Also, he's on a ventilator; he wasn't breathing well on his own. If he does wake, he'll be unable to speak."

At last she led them to one of the little bays and pushed the curtain aside.

 


 

Cas was barely recognizable.

He'd been swathed in blankets and heating pads, but he was so thin he barely even seemed to make a bump in the blankets. Tubes and wires were everywhere. There were a couple of big corrugated blue plastic tubes draped over the side of the bed and hooked into another tube that right went down his throat, there were more tubes and wires attached to his chest, there were IV's in both arms and a clip-thing on one finger, and there was a whole bank of machines lined up by the head of the bed, including a big bulky breathing machine. The breathing machine was making a repeating click-psshhh noise, every three seconds or so.

Cas's eyes were closed. His face was lined and worn; he seemed years older than when Dean had last seen him. He had bruises on his face, just as the nurse had said; a dramatic mottling of purple and green and yellow that stretched across both cheeks and his nose, with a few more bruises scattered on his forehead and chin. The bruises looked like they'd aged a good couple weeks, long enough to reach the extra-colorful stage. Underneath all the bruises was an icy pallor; even his lips looked a little blue. A crooked gash above his left eye had been stitched neatly. His usual rough stubble was looking rougher than usual, with maybe a week's worth of growth or so. His hair'd gotten a little long too; it was hanging back messily from his face now, stringy and tangled and dull with illness, and looked like it hadn't been washed in some days.

It seemed strange to see Castiel looking so ill-kempt. He looked even worse than he had in Purgatory.

Dean remembered, suddenly, how crisp and clean and happy Cas had looked at the Wyoming bar just three weeks ago. And how he'd smiled when he'd first caught sight of Dean and Sam.

Dean turned away abruptly and walked over to a chair that was way in the corner of the room, by Cas's feet. He plunked himself down in the chair, shuffled his feet a little, and stared at his hands.

Sam, though, seemed unfazed; he walked right up to the bed, reached right out through all the tubes and wires, and patted Cas on one hand. "Hey Cas," he said. "How you doin? It's me, Sam. Dean's here too. We came to see how you are."

The only reply was the rhythmic click-psshhh of the breathing machine.

Sam pulled another chair right up to Cas's side, glanced over at Dean with a bit of an exasperated look, and turned back to Cas. "Hey, Cas, so, looks like you got pretty beat up, huh? You'll be all right now though. Dean and I, we're gonna stay here with you. You'll be okay. You just hang in there..."

Sam rattled on. Dean sat on his plastic chair in the corner and watched. Even from here he could see Cas's chest rising periodically, in time with the click-psshhh as the breathing machine pushed air into Cas's weakened lungs. It was the only sign of motion in his entire body.

Dean had to bite his lip to keep from pointing out to Sam that there was clearly no point in trying to talk to Cas. It was obvious Cas wasn't going to hear anything Sam said.

The doctor came in a minute later, interrupting Sam's one-sided conversation to tell them quite a few discouraging things. Apparently Cas had the flu, which (Dean thought) seemed like it shouldn't have been so bad, but "on top of his weakened state due to his other injuries" it had hit him the wrong way and he'd ended up with a serious case of pneumonia. And then the hypothermia apparently had not been a good finishing touch. The doctor rattled off phrases like "poor physical condition" and "struggling to breathe" and "miracle he made it this far" and "doesn't have much strength left" and "the next twenty-four hours will be critical." And finally the usual "don't give up hope."

All the usual bullshit, thought Dean, remembering Bobby's last hours.

After the doctor left, Sam and Dean settled back in their spots, Dean in the creaky plastic chair in the corner, Sam in the other chair right by Cas. Sam looked at Cas for a minute and then said, his voice low, "He shouldn't have been alone like this."

"I know."

"I mean, pneumonia? All these years of fighting demons and demi-gods and archangels, and pneumonia is what finally gets him? He probably didn't even know to get in out of the cold." Sam looked over at Dean with a rather stern-looking scowl. "We should have been checking in on him."

Here they went again. "I know," said Dean.

"You should've found some way to keep in touch, Dean. And you should've told me way sooner than this week that you'd sent him off on his own like that in Wyoming. You should've told me the second I got Gadreel out. Cas right in the middle of all those angels, half of which want to kill him, with no grace and no powers and no nothing? He must've been a sitting duck. He had to deal with all that on his own? And now, pneumonia?"

"I know, okay? I know. Look, I told you, Gadreel said— He threatened that—" Dean stopped. They'd been over it a million times already.

Sam gave a sigh and stretched out his legs. To Dean's surprise, he dropped the topic. Maybe Sam had had enough too.

They sat there for a few minutes watching Cas and listening to the click-psshhh's.

"I'll go get some coffee," Sam said at last, hoisting himself out of his chair. "Hey, you know, we should probably get a motel room. I'll take first shift— I can sit with him tonight, you can sleep. You've been driving all day. If he changes I'll give you a call."

"Nah," said Dean. "I'll take first shift. You go sleep."

Sam looked over at him. "You just drove twelve hours straight, Dean. You're wiped out."

"I'll take first shift," said Dean.

Sam gazed at him a moment longer, his face unreadable, and then just said, "Okay." He rolled his shoulders, rubbing his neck with a grimace. "Won't complain too hard. Could use a moment in an actual bed. There's that hotel you spotted right across the street; I'll try there. But you gotta call the second anything changes." He looked back at Cas. A flicker of real worry showed on Sam's face as he added, "I seriously mean that, Dean, don't you dare not call, if... Like, you gotta call immediately if..."

"I know," said Dean. "I'll call."

Sam looked over at Dean once again, and Dean couldn't even meet his eyes.

Sam said, "I'll go get you some coffee first," and he left.

It was a bit of an olive branch, at least.

Dean sat listening to the click-psshhh's, and the distant sounds outside: nurses and doctors talking, people pushing around equipment, wheelchairs and gurneys rolling by outside.

And Dean looked at Cas.

The thing that made Cas so unrecognizable now, thought Dean, wasn't the bruises or the pallor, but was really just how slack and empty Cas's face seemed. Dean had often thought of Cas as being relatively expressionless, but at this moment he realized that had never been remotely true. Maybe Cas didn't smile much, sure, but he always had an intelligent focus in his expression. Without those bright blue eyes looking around— sometimes solemn and sad, sometimes wide and curious, but always alert— it didn't seem like Castiel.

Was he even in there? Could he have vacated his vessel?

But he had no grace. He couldn't vacate with no grace. He wasn't an angel anymore. He had to still be in there.

Click-psshhh.

Sam came back with two cups of coffee in his hands and a worn leather shoulder bag slung over his shoulder. A bag that looked awfully familiar. He handed one of the cups of coffee to Dean, and then held up the bag, saying, "Cas's."

"What?" said Dean, sitting up a little.

"The nurse seems to have decided to really believe we're family. I think she just can't find anybody else to notify. I may have appealed to her Christmas spirit a bit. Anyway, this is Cas's stuff, or what he had on him anyway, and we're supposed to take it or guard it or whatever." Sam plunked the bag in Dean's lap. Dean set his coffee down on a little shelf nearby, and closed his hands over the bag. Yup. Same bag. More beat up around the edges, with some new-looking dark stains now. Probably dried blood.

Sam touched Dean's shoulder. Dean looked up at him, a little surprised.

Sam said, "Maybe talk to him a little."

"He's in a coma, Sam," said Dean. His voice came out a little thick. "He can't hear a damn thing."

Sam shrugged. "Talk to him anyway. You never know." He tapped Dean's shoulder again, a goodbye tap that felt surprisingly friendly, and took a sip of his coffee. "Okay, I'm outta here. I'll aim to be back at seven am, that good?"

Dean nodded, and Sam turned to Cas one last time, to pat Cas's shoulder too. "Hang in there, Cas," said Sam. "We're rootin' for you. Got Christmas coming up, you can't miss Christmas, so get better, huh? I'll be back in the morning. Dean's gonna stay with you. Dean's right here."

Sam left. And Dean was alone with the click-psshhh's, and with silent, still Castiel.

 


 

The coffee went cold before Dean remembered to drink it.

Eventually Dean made himself shift over to the closer chair, with Cas's bag in his lap.

He finally roused himself enough to say, "Hey, Cas," but couldn't think of anything to say besides that.

A little while later he thought of opening the bag.

It didn't have much. Cas's angel-blade was in there, with a note taped to it that read, "Found in sleeve of jacket - Steve Smith - please put with personal effects." Under that there was a neat little cloth bundle that turned out to be a a clean button-down shirt carefully wrapped around a clean set of underwear, a pair of socks, and a little ziploc bag that held a cheap toothbrush, a tiny travel-size tube of toothpaste, a cheap-looking razor and a travel-size stick of deodorant.

Well, apparently Cas had learned how to travel light as a human. See, he had adapted after all.

Dean wrapped that all back up as well as he could, set it aside on Cas's little rolling bed-table, and looked back in the bag. The clothes had been hiding a blue spiral-ring notebook with a ballpoint pen clipped to the metal spiral. Under that was another little ziploc bag, this one containing two dollar bills, a nickel, three pennies, a car key, and a couple of plastic id cards. Dean fished the id cards out of the ziploc to take a look.

One was just was a clip-on that said, "Hi, I'm STEVE". Dean had seen Cas wearing it a couple months ago, back at the Gas-n-Sip in Idaho.

The other was some kind of more formal Gas-n-Sip employee identification card. It had Cas's photo labeled with the name Steve Smith underneath, along with an employee id number, the address of the store, and a Gas-n-Sip corporate number. This must have been how the hospital had tracked down Cas's boss, the one who'd apparently had Dean's contact information.

Dean studied the photo. On the rare occasions when Cas managed to get out of his habitual squinty frown, he sometimes landed on an open, innocent look that was simultaneously hopelessly goofy and yet also completely endearing. He had that look in this photo: his eyebrows lifted high, his big blue eyes so wide and bright and shining that it seemed he'd just seen the whole wide world for the very first time. There was a barely detectable almost-smile tugging slightly at the corners of his mouth.

It was about as happy as Dean had ever seen him look.

Must've been when he first landed the job, thought Dean.

Dean put the two id's back in the ziploc bag, put the ziploc by the little bundle of clothing, and then picked up the blue notebook. It was a cheap spiral-bound composition book with lined paper, the kind kids took notes in for school. It had the ruffled, wrinkled look of a notebook that had been carried around for a while and written in pretty often. He flipped it open. The first page read, in Cas's elegant handwriting:

 


 

Things to ask Dean when he calls

1. ask if he is ok / Sam ok

2. consider ask if could come back (ask carefully)

3. other:

- why did Dean not want me to talk to Sam? Is Sam mad at me too?

- Any news on Metatron? Angels? Tablet translation?

- How can I help? There must be some way I can still help.

- Remind Dean I can't hear prayers now - if he's been trying to reach me by praying I won't have heard.

- Really need advice on money.

- what is involved in purchase of car

- identification/proof of citizenship for job? Has been needed several times already.

- Could use some advice on forms of self-defense w/o killing people w blade all the time. Don't want to kill

- Cutting hair? Deodorant? I learned teeth-cleaning and hair-cleaning already at shelter but have many more questions. Need to be presentable. Have to fit in

- advice on clothing. More nuances than I realized. Really need to fit in

- guidance on how to find place to sleep if have no money; do not want to jeopardize people at another shelter like the last one. Need to stay on my own, but where to sleep?

- advice on food. How much food necessary / how much hunger normal?

- Is it bad for health if shiver all night, every night. Sept now - temps dropping at night in the park. Is this hazardous or is it just uncomfortable.

- how to control all the fear - will this make Dean think less of me - Do not ask this.

- how to stop bad dreams

 


 

Dean sat and stared at the list, his mouth dry.

Click-psshhh.

 


 

Chapter Text

Dean read the awful list one more time, flipped the notebook closed with a thwack and stood. He put the notebook back in Cas's battered leather bag, setting the notebook carefully very deep down at the bottom. Then he put Cas's ziploc bag of cash and ids on top of the notebook, and the bundle of clothes on top of that, and set the angel-blade on top of that. Once the notebook was safely covered up, Dean buckled the bag closed, set it gently on Cas's little rolling bedside table, pushed the table to the other side of the room against the wall, and then went back and sat by Cas's bed again.

But after that Dean found himself strolling over to the table and almost picking the leather bag up. "Nope," he muttered to himself. "Not mine to read." It had been painful enough to read anyway; and it seemed it might have been somewhat private, too, maybe? So Dean made himself turn around and go back to Cas's chair.

But now he was far too restless to sit. Instead he stood, arms crossed over his chest, and looked once more at Cas's bruised face, and Cas's closed eyes; and he watched Cas's chest rise and fall slowly with each click-psshhh of the breathing machine.

Finally Dean ran both hands through his hair, spun on his heel and left the ICU bay in search of some food. Though he really wasn't very hungry.

Dean knew, from far too many late-night hospital vigils like this, that every hospital always had a twenty-four hour cafeteria somewhere. (Usually somewhere on the complete opposite side of the building, in the most inconvenient place possible). He wandered back to the lobby, found some signs pointing to the "cafe," and followed the signs down a long empty linoleum-tiled hallway that led, sure enough, clear to the other side of the building. He passed department after department — Laboratory, CT Scan, Radiography, Chemotherapy, Internal Medicine. But he didn't notice much of what he was passing, for there was a phrase running through his mind over and over:

Things to ask Dean when he calls.

Things to ask Dean when he calls.

Things to ask Dean when he calls.

"When" he calls, thought Dean. Not "if." When.

The whole long hallway smelled faintly of that inevitable hospital smell - a mix of bleach, alcohol swabs and betadine. And maybe a faint tinge of the stale breaths of the sick and the dying. The smell brought back far-too-vivid memories: of Dad dying, of Bobby paralyzed, of Bobby dying, of Lisa nearly dying, of Sammy nearly dying. Dean had sat by hospital bed after hospital bed, far too many times, over his life. Keeping vigil. Waiting. Hoping.

Praying, even.

Praying to Castiel, usually.

Cas had always helped when he could. And even when he couldn't help, he'd come anyway, or he'd called. Maybe he'd been a little brusque sometimes, a little blunt, in his Castiel way; but whenever Dean had really needed him, Cas had always tried to help.

By the time Dean got to the cafeteria, what little appetite he'd had left was entirely gone. The cafeteria was a small one, with just a stack of burgers and fries sitting under heat lamps, and some yogurt cups, pre-made salads, and sandwiches stacked in a cooler. A scattering of the usual late-night hospital crowd was hanging out at the little tables nearby: a couple of worried-looking family members staring glumly at a plate of uneaten french fries; a table of surprisingly chipper hospital staff in blue scrubs chatting with a pair of EMTs who were scarfing down some burgers on a late-night break; and one ambulatory patient dragging an IV pole around.

Dean didn't really notice any of them.

Things to ask Dean when he calls....

Dean got a cup of coffee and headed back to the ICU.

When he got back to Cas's ICU bay, he sat in the chair by Cas's side again, holding his new cup of coffee, and he looked at Cas for a while.

"You wrote out a whole list, huh, Cas," said Dean at last.

Cas, of course, didn't answer.

Click-psshhh.

"A whole list for whenever I would finally get my sorry ass around to calling you, huh. A whole goddamn list."

Thinking a moment more, Dean added, "You must've bought the whole book just to write that list, didn't you? That's why it's on the first page, right?"

Once again the scene from a few months back replayed in Dean's mind: Saying goodbye at the bunker door. The chilly, silent dawn. The early-morning fog twining through the trees; Cas trudging away with his head down. And Dean saying — uselessly, pointlessly, too little, too late— "I'll call and check in."

The new cup of coffee had gone cold. Dean sighed, and stood to pour the cold coffee down a tiny sink in the corner of the room, chucking the empty cup in the trash. When he made the way back to his chair he had to pass the corner with the rolling bedside table, and somehow he stopped and unbuckled the bag, and then somehow his hands were taking out the angel-blade and the bundle of clothes and the ziploc bag and uncovering the blue book, and then he was sitting down by Cas's side with the blue spiral-bound notebook in his hand.

He scowled at the battered blue cover for a while.

He glanced again at Cas. Silent. Still. Obviously not able to tell Dean much of anything anymore. But clearly there was stuff Cas had wanted to say.

Things to ask Dean when he calls...

"All right, Cas," Dean said, as he flipped the book open. "What else you got to ask me? Cause I'm listening now, I promise."

That sounded pretty lame. Of course Cas couldn't hear him anyway, but just the same Dean winced at how lame it sounded. So he added, "Sorry it wasn't sooner."

That sounded even lamer. 

Click-psshhh.

Dean drew a breath, and turned to the second page.

 


 

The second page said "REXFORD, IDAHO," in big neat letters at the top of the page, and the entire rest of the page was a beautifully detailed hand-drawn map of a smallish town. There was a huge block in the center of town that Cas had labeled "The University" and which dominated the map. Rexford's university was a conservative religious school, Dean knew; and it seemed to be Rexford's primary reason for existing, for there wasn't much else to the town. Cas had drawn in almost all of Rexford's small grid of streets, even including the set of shops along little Route 20, and the tiny municipal airport, and even so the whole map still fit on one page. Dozens of locations had been carefully noted on the map, often with little notes by each one: a bus station with a tiny list of bus fares to other Idaho cities (including, Dean noticed with a pang, the fare back to Kansas); the town library, with a list of the days and hours it was open; a laundromat (a big star by this one, along with "$1.25/load not including drying, soap is $0.75"), a YMCA (a big star here, with a note of "SHOWERS $1.00"); a pizza place with the note "Closes 11pm, sometimes gives away unsold slices"; and a grocery store with notes about when they threw away rotten food in the dumpsters and when the dumpsters were emptied.

Several parks had been sketched into the map too, each one with a note about "Safe To Sleep" or "Not Safe To Sleep" and little diagrams of places that Cas had apparently tested out for sleeping. 

Cas had written a few paragraphs on the facing page:

Need to locate safe, warm, dry place to sleep . University student tells me there is no homeless shelter; need to find housing somewhere. (Could hitchhike to larger city with homeless shelter but don't want to risk other people like before. Better to stay in small town on own? Fewer people at risk, & less risk of discovery?) So - Motel? Apartment?

Need food at least every other day . Dumpster food not always edible without a place to cook it. No ability to cook. Can find edible fruit and cheese though sometimes, but no place to keep it. Rats get it if left overnight. Pizza store is fairly reliable source of average of approx 2 unsold slices every 2 days. Note: Pants are getting loose. Need to remember to monitor how much weight my vessel is losing per wk. May need food every day instead of every other day? **Remember to ask Dean about this.

Need to keep the cellular phone charged , else Dean won't be able to call. Can charge it in library.

 


 

Dean slowly turned the page and found that the next several sheets of paper were crammed with dozens and dozens of notes, all of which seemed to involve addresses and phone numbers and sets of confusing abbreviations in Cas's neat handwriting. Dean studied the first set of notes, which read:

35 Morgan Dr, 208-555-7972, $300/mo 1 br, "spacious" and has closet, "first last deposit" - ? - "utilities" approx $60/mo - ? They sounded nice on the phone so I walked a mile over there, but when I showed up, they said room is taken already.

It was a search for housing, Dean realized, flipping through a few pages. Addresses and phone numbers corresponding to cheap apartment listings that Cas must've found in some local paper; there were also some notes in someone else's handwriting (the librarian, Dean deduced) about how to use Craigslist to find more listings. There were notes on rental prices, leases, utilities, furnishings, move-in dates. Cas had looked into motels, too; every motel in town was listed on one page, with the daily, weekly and monthly rates for every one.

It looked like it had been a long and difficult search.

It looked like he hadn't succeeded, either. For after all the pages of the housing search was another hand-drawn map, this one a careful diagram of one of the parks. There was a clump of three bushes and a tree drawn in one area, starred and labeled, "Best so far, under these 3 bushes, hidden, not many rats, ground stays dry." And some notes with ideas of how to build a rain shelter out of garbage bags and cardboard.

"College town, Cas," Dean muttered. "Damn. College town in the middle of September. Right after all the students rented all the rooms. Damn... I could've told you to try a different town..."

Dean's voice trailed away.

He finally finished, his voice gruff, "Could've told you that housing is awful in small college towns, after the semester starts. Could've told you, if I'd ever called. But I didn't friggin' call, did I?"

 


 

The next page had longer paragraphs. Cas had started writing out longer thoughts, and he'd added a date as well:

Thursday, twelfth day of September. I realized I need to organize my thoughts and Thursday of course is an auspicious day for me.

Housing has proven to be very difficult. The cheapest rooms are all in shared houses that are full of students. But it always seems that the room is "already taken" when I arrive. I have slowly realized that they don't want me. Something in my appearance, perhaps, or something in my behavior that is not standard. I've been aware of this issue before, the fact that I don't fully know the native culture; but before it didn't actually matter much. But now it matters.

It may also be my vessel's age. The students in the rental houses seem very young. One student asked when I was born and without thinking I said "The pre-Cambrian" and they thought it was a funny joke. They did not offer me the room though.

There are some apartments available that are not shared with students, but cheapest I can find is $1800/mo for "first last and deposit" then $600 per month thereafter. This is absolutely out of the question. How do people afford this?

In addition to the ridiculous expense, the apartments require proof of income and a "credit check" and a "social security number" and also references. I do not have any of these. (Could Dean or Sam be willing to be a "reference"? - Probably not.) Did Jimmy Novak used to have one of these "security numbers"? What does that mean? I don't have any of his old identification; he did not have his wallet the final time I took possession. Without formal papers it is surprisingly difficult to make headway. I need to ask Dean about how he obtains those fake identification papers that he always seems to have.

Cheapest motel is: $35/day. How do Dean and Sam keep paying for these? Where do they get their plastic cards and money?

I have: $32.90.

 


 

Dean frowned at the description of the students' reactions, and flipped back through several pages of the apartment and room-rental listings again. This time he noticed there were quite a lot of notes about Cas having walked a long way to look at a room for rent, only to be turned down, or to find that the room was mysteriously "taken" suddenly.

Dean thought about that, and looked again at Cas's bruised face.

It seemed such a trusted face; a beloved face, really. A face Dean knew intimately; the face of a friend who had fought by his side for years and saved his life countless times. More than a friend; part of his family. But to a bunch of eighteen-year-old Idaho college kids, what must Cas have seemed like? Presumably Cas hadn't been so bruised when he'd been looking for housing; but what would college kids have thought of Cas, if he'd come knocking at the door asking to see a room for rent?

Just some weird middle-aged guy, probably. A slightly-weird middle-aged guy all on his own. And probably Cas had looked obviously homeless. Rundown and dirty, probably, by that point, after a few weeks on his own living in the park. And knowing Castiel, he probably would have told the college students, with that characteristic candor of his, that he was living under some bushes in a park and had no job and no income and no references.

Just some loser, they'd have thought.

"You fucking morons," Dean muttered, to the imaginary Idaho college kids in his mind. "You're going to a friggin' religious university to serve God, and you went and turned an angel of the Lord out on the goddamn street."

"Not that I did any better," Dean whispered to himself a second later. He sighed once more, and turned to the next page.

 


 

Thursday, the nineteenth day of September. It's a week later. I still haven't found housing and even though I'm sleeping in the park now, I'm rapidly running out of money because I keep having to spend a little bit almost every day for food.

Things to ask Dean when he calls:

1. Is he ok / Sam ok

2. could I come back?

- it has occurred to me that Dean only asked me to leave once I'd lost all my powers.  Neither Dean nor Sam has ever asked me to leave before.  So perhaps they only want me around when I am useful.

- Might help if I promise only to eat very little and not take up any space?  Maybe I used too much of the hot water, or ate too much food?

- must convince Dean I can still be useful, and will not use much water or food.

3. Other.   If #2 is still no:

- all questions from previous list, and these new ones:

- MONEY, how best to earn more, any advice? I have tried not to spend any more money since last week but I had to buy food several times (cheapest I could find was those frozen burritos. Which I let thaw and then just eat cold). I am now down to:  $17.54.  I have started asking for jobs but people say the "job market" is bad, though I haven't yet done a truly rigorous search. Also it seems that students have already taken all the jobs, several weeks ago when the school year started.

- HOUSING: what does "first last and deposit" mean, is it always that much, what does the "credit check" involve and why do I have to pay $25 for it for every single apartment; what is the "security number" and how could I get one; do I really need "utilities" (I really don't mind if there is no heat or water, I just want a room out of the rain), what do people do when they do not have enough money for all this? What would Dean recommend I do?

- PAPERS: How to get an identification without a birth certificate or ability to drive. Room-rental people all require identification for the "credit check", library requires "proof of residence", and even the woman at the assistance center that I was directed to yesterday told me I must have "proof of citizenship" to qualify for free food vouchers.

- really need some advice about the bad dreams. Also: how to tell bad dream from reality (when wake up, how do you know for sure you've woken up?) Also: is there a way to stop specific dream topics (how can I stop dreaming about flying; the dreams themselves are not bad, but when I awaken and realize that my wings are truly gone and I can no longer fly, it becomes very difficult to get up and start the day). Is there any way to stop certain dream topics from occurring?

 


 

Monday, the twenty-third day of September.

I have been to the library today and I discovered something that has shaken me. I thought if I write it out perhaps it will settle in my mind.

I have been observing and visiting humans for hundreds of thousands of years, on all the continents. Here in North America I have visited several vessels in the last 12,000 years and always humans were hunter-gatherers. There was abundant game on land, abundant fish in the rivers, abundant food crops in fall. Chestnut trees especially would drop enormous bumper crops of edible chestnuts every fall. Wild game like Eskimo curlew and passenger pigeon filled the skies on fall migration. Passenger pigeons were especially easy to catch. Fall was always an excellent time to catch game and harvest the wild crops and put up food for winter. I knew Sam and Dean never foraged or hunted for their food but I had assumed they just chose not to. So, I have been very hungry recently and my funds have been dwindling due to having to buy a little food each day, but I wasn't too worried because I have been waiting for the passenger pigeon migration, thinking I could catch some easily in the roosting trees like in the days of old, and cook them over a fire, and smoke some of the meat for later, as the people I've visited here in the past used to do. But it is well into September now and the passenger pigeons have not appeared. I thought the migration must just be delayed for some reason. This is actually the first time in recent years that I've been on Earth continuously through the fall (last fall I was still in Purgatory, the fall before fighting the war in Heaven, and so on) and so it's the first time I realized the passenger pigeon migration was not occurring. Then too I could not find any chestnut trees; last I knew they were the dominant hardwood tree species in North America, and the one that produced the greatest edible crop every fall - often the chestnuts would be a foot thick on the ground - so I've been puzzled as to where the chestnut trees are.

Today I asked in the library where were the nearest chestnut trees, and was truly shocked to discover that the chestnut tree, and the passenger pigeon and also the Eskimo curlew, and the sage grouse and desert rabbit, and even the salmon that used to migrate up the rivers, are all extinct or nearly so.

The passenger pigeon is entirely extinct.

I cannot understand how this happened so rapidly. Of course species go extinct from time to time, and I've seen it happen many times. But so many, so rapidly? Just a few centuries ago, just an eyeblink really, the passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird on the entire planet. And they were always one of the reliable sources of free food for the poor, since no expensive gear was needed to catch them. You could simply catch them by hand at their roosting trees on migration.

I was so dismayed and saddened to find that they are gone that I had to go outside and sit on the library steps for a while to take it in.

They were such spectacular flyers, too; so fast and so lovely. "Blue lightning," we called them. Many times I flew with them on their migration just for the joy of it, just to see that river of slate-blue birds darkening the sky.

Now finally I understand why the skies seem so empty.

It is a great sorrow to me.

And a great practical problem. The chestnut trees are also gone, and almost every other source of free food is gone as well. It seems the poor can no longer find and gather their own food. Apparently there are still people who hunt the larger game, the deer and elk and pronghorn, but Audrey the librarian tells me people need quite expensive guns to do this (snares and pit traps are not allowed), and one must also pay for "hunting licenses", and one must own a car and travel well outside of cities to certain places; in other words to hunt one must have money.

Humans no longer forage and hunt. This has taken some time for me to comprehend, for humans have been foragers and hunters since the dawn of the species. I knew that agriculture had taken over much of the landscape, and I had noted the great size of the cities, but I had not fully comprehended the magnitude of the change. Nor had I realized that the wild fowls and fishes, and even the wild food crops, have been stripped from the earth almost entirely.

Food is now something one must buy. But where does that leave the poor who have no money?

My entire strategy must change now.

 


 

Wednesday, twenty-fifth day of September. Have really gotten quite worried since the discovery of the passenger pigeon tragedy. I have had to buy more food and my funds are now down to $8.53 remaining of the money Dean gave me, and I still have not found housing that I can afford. I should not have spend so much on the bus ticket away from Kansas. Did not need to go so far. I should not have bought food so often. Should not have bought this book, or the pen.

$8.53

I find that the garrison training for calming oneself and ridding one's mind of fear does not work nearly as well when one is human. I think those techniques must require grace. I used to be able to simply command myself to become calm; and at once I was calm. It simply isn't working any more. It isn't working at all.

Must find a different way to control this fear. I wish I could talk to Dean about how he and Sam manage this sort of feeling, this confusion and bewilderment and sense of hopelessness.

$8.53. $8.53. $8.53.

Possible courses of action:

1. I considered begging and even tried it briefly, though I felt very uneasy about whether I deserve any human charity. The point quickly became moot anyway because a town policeman came and told me that begging is forbidden.

2. Steal? - No. NO. Do not want to steal. Nor lie, nor cheat. I want to be good; if I am to be human I want to obey humanity's ethical codes.

3. Call Dean? To ask for help, or for more money, perhaps? Or advice, at least?

But if I wish to demonstrate that I am useful, calling him for help, or asking for money, would be counterproductive.

Also: in addition to the not-being-useful problem, it has occurred to me that Dean has likely lost all respect for me in a deeper sense.

Years ago actually. He has always treated me in a joking manner from the beginning, of course; which some humans of his type do for emotional defense, and as he seemed to need all the emotional defense he could muster, I never commented on it. Though sometimes I have thought of telling him that his brand of dismissive joking does not actually go unnoticed; but, it didn't matter really; it becomes irrelevant when one is thousands of times older and has visited hundreds of other human cultures whose customs all seem, to be frank, equally silly. (His "personal space" lectures are a classic example; I know full well that every human culture has a different code of minimum-distance, eye contact, postural orientation and so forth; and yet once you've visited 100 different cultures that all have 100 different rules about this, it all starts to seem rather pointless and becomes just another pesky little detail of trivial importance.)

But, in the past year there has been something beyond his customary joking; something more than a jab about my ignorance of this or that unimportant little detail of 21st century North American culture. There has been, in Dean's speech recently, and his actions, something closer to disdain, or scorn. Perhaps a lingering distrust. I think that since the war in Heaven Dean has progressively lost faith in me, and respect for me. Rightfully so I think, for my errors were egregious. I have tried and failed to atone; and now I find I can no longer brush off his joking remarks as I used to. The jokes are more pointed now, the scorn in his speech more pronounced, and it bothers me now. I still do not comment, but always I notice and always it is a source of some pain.

All of which is to say: If I am to stand any chance of earning Dean's respect once more, or Sam's for that matter, it is really not going to help if I call for help at times like this and demonstrate only too clearly to them what a failure I am.

I won't call Dean. I'll wait till he calls me, as he said he would, and then perhaps I can just casually raise some of my questions, as if I've only just thought of them. As if it's not a big deal.

Though I suppose if I have some 30 questions or more lined up, he will likely realize that I'm not doing very well on my own. I'll have to assess his mood when he calls and then proceed. Maybe 2 or 3 questions at a time? Maybe I can pick the most important ones when the time comes. When he calls.

$8.53.

It's very late now, near midnight; it's getting hard to write because my hands are shivering so I will need to stop soon. I haven't managed to come up with any kind of plan and I still feel this draining sensation of fear and worry, but, I'm going to see if I can get any sleep. I've found that if I roll up in 2 or 3 plastic trash bags (I found some clean unused ones) and put cardboard between my vessel and the ground and put the leather bag under my head, I can sometimes get some sleep. I found some more cardboard today and constructed a sort of shelter that is hidden in my three bushes. Maybe if the dreams aren't too bad tonight, I can get a little sleep and can come up with some kind of plan tomorrow.

 


 

Thursday, the twenty-sixth day of September. It has just occurred to me that if I am no longer an angel at all, I am no longer the angel-of-Thursday either. Maybe Thursday is no longer a good day for me. A very disorienting thought.

This occurred to me because the day did not start well. I did not get much sleep after all— I had a long strange dream in which I was sinking into a muddy bog of some sort and the water level was rising. Sam and Dean came walking by and they waved and even said hello, but when I asked them to help me, or even just to throw me a rope, they walked away. Dean even was carrying a rope, and the water came up to my neck and I was begging him to throw me the end of the rope, but he just shook his head and they both just walked away chatting about some case. The sensation of despair, upon realizing they were walking away, was overwhelming. I woke and it was raining and my cardboard had gotten wet, and I was drenched and extremely cold and shaking and confused, and it took some time to understand that it had only been a dream.

I managed to make my way to the bus station to get out of the rain, and eventually stopped shaking, though I'm still somewhat damp. At least I had this notebook well-wrapped in a plastic bag, and thankfully the phone too.

I don't think Dean would just walk away like that if I were actually drowning.

Or would he?

I am very tired and very hungry this morning. Over the last week I've learned a lot more about the dumpster and trash pickup schedules, and I can usually find some food in the grocery store and restaurant dumpsters. But it's never very much and I still can't store any (it definitely attracts the rats and though I know they are just hungry too, for some reason is deeply disturbing when they run over my face in the night). It's only late September but I am very cold every night, and always hungry and I know I'm losing energy.  I'm so groggy in the mornings that it's getting hard even to think. I know the cold will only get worse.

I know this is not sustainable. I need a plan. A strategy.

I need to think of this as a war, and every day as a battle; which means I need an overall strategy and I need a focused tactical approach for each day.

I need a mission.

I'll take stock first:

HAVE: shirt, sweater, pants, belt, underwear, two socks, two shoes, the leather bag that Dean gave me, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste (almost empty), a razor (though I'm out of soap and haven't been able to shave in a few days), this book and the pen and another bigger plastic bag, 3 garbage bags (wet), several pieces of cardboard (probably ruined now), and $8.53 in cash.

IMMEDIATE VESSEL NEEDS: Need food every day. Water every day. Warmer and drier place to sleep, or at least, some warm bedding or warmer clothing to sleep in. Some kind of rain shelter.

LESS IMMEDIATE VESSEL NEEDS: Indoor housing that is truly protected from rain and wind. More vessel-maintenance supplies - need more soap/shampoo, some place to bathe more regularly, need a towel, already need more toothpaste, might need comb for hair, I think I need one of those clipper devices for fingernails and toenails, and I wonder if deodorant is expected (Sam and Dean always use it but I'm unsure if it is universally used or just a family quirk). Also laundry soap, and quarters for the laundromat and something to wear while I wash my primary set of clothes. Stock of food, place to store it; and it would be really helpful to have some kind of fire or stove so that I could have warm food sometimes. Also: additional clothing - need full change of clothes, multiple underwear, much warmer socks, much warmer coat, much warmer pants, hat, scarf, gloves.

Suppose I get all those things taken care of. Then what? What is the mission?

MISSION: Reverse all my mistakes and fix everything in Heaven and on Earth.

SPECIFIC GOALS of this mission: Recover my grace if any remains, dethrone Metatron, open the gates of Heaven, rescue the fallen angels; in the process, hopefully earn Dean's respect and friendship back (if possible) and also Sam's too (if possible).

STRATEGY to accomplish these goals. Earn money to cover immediate needs (continue sleeping in park in meantime); then cover less immediate needs; then the vessel will be taken care of and healthy; then get sufficient funds to purchase a car; then I will be healthy and mobile and can return to Dean and Sam, then demonstrate usefulness, see if they might be able to help me recover my grace. And after that I can tackle the goals one at a time.

TACTICAL APPROACH FOR THIS WEEK: I need to earn money. To earn money I will find a job, like a human would.

So tomorrow I will start looking much more rigorously for a job.

I feel a little calmer now.

 


 

The next four pages were filled with columns of names, addresses, tiny maps, copies of classified ads, and then a huge list of what Dean finally realized were names of small businesses. Dozens and dozens of businesses. Restaurants, motels, barbershops, movie theaters, grocery stores, pet shops, coffeehouses, fast food places, cell phone stores, car dealerships, bookstores, shoe stores, hardware stores, and on. They were all listed in long neat columns, in an apparently random order that didn't make any sense till Dean noticed the addresses; Cas had been making his way through the town street by street, stopping in at every single business in the order he came to them. And for every business Cas had made a note about whether they had any jobs.

Friday, the twenty-seventh day of September

1. Little Red Hen bar - Job for "skilled bartender only."

2. Subway sandwich shop - No jobs.

3. Starbucks coffee shop - No jobs.

4. Burger King restaurant - No jobs.

5. Aquarium fish store - No jobs. The fish were absolutely lovely though.

6. International House of Pancakes - Does have a job but it turns out the application form requires proof of citizenship that I do not have, so I couldn't even apply. I did wonder what makes a house of pancakes international, or why one would built a house out of pancakes in the first place. I don't think the pancakes would stand up well to rain.

7. Gas n Sip - Job available but requires experience with cash register and "customer service" experience. I said I could learn quickly but they said they absolutely require past experience. This was disappointing.

8. Bookstore - No jobs.

9. Futon store - At first the staff would not talk to me. Then the manager said I "smelled bad" and told me to leave because I was "filthy" and they'd "never let someone that stank so bad near the futons," so I left.

It has become impossible to continue at my task. I had been planning to continue on to the next place, the Greek restaurant, but now I am sitting on a curb on a side street trying to decide what to do. Has taken a surprising amount of time to stop feeling so shaken about being judged as "filthy," and to come up with any sort of corrective action.

I know it's customary in this culture to take showers daily but it's very difficult to do so when living in the park. The showers at the YMCA cost $1.00 each so I've been rationing them and it's been a week. Also I need soap - after all I was drenched last night but apparently I'm still filthy anyway. Cold water is not enough. Also some of the stink is probably coming from my clothes, but I no longer can afford the $1.25 to wash my clothes, nor the $0.75 to buy the soap to wash them, nor do I have any other clothes to change into.

Such customs of cleanliness and odor used to be just one of those insignificant cultural details. I've been in many cultures that don't bathe at all, and in several that bathe with olive oil or in salt water, and one that bathed in stale urine (in the Arctic; it was the best way they had to get the rancid whale-blubber off their skin). And there were cultures that coated their skin in deer fat to keep mosquitoes off, or that layered perfumes on top of the body odor. All possible approaches. Every culture has some peculiar variant. But as an angel, one can simply think the vessel clean. To be confronted with such a vivid reminder that not only am I not an angel anymore, but I am also apparently substandard even as a human, caused the strangest sensation. After all the cultures I have seen, this should not have bothered me one whit, yet, when the futon store manager said to me that I smelled bad and was filthy and must leave, the oddest thing happened: it actually became a little hard to breathe, and extraordinarily difficult to hold my head up, as I left the futon store. My eyes seemed to be burning as well and I found I wanted to sit very still for a while, somewhere out of view of anybody, so I searched out this spot on a side street where I can sit for a moment.

It took me a while to recognize that this is shame; this is what shame feels like as a human. It feels truly horrible.

I really wish I could call Dean and ask what to do. I've been sitting here holding the phone and looking at his number.

But he'd probably just laugh. Body-related questions are one of those things that he laughs at.

Anyway I've already decided that I shouldn't call Dean for help. Not if I want to convince him that I'm worthy of any respect, and that I can be truly useful. Besides, he said he would call. I know he'll call. He said he would. I'll wait till then.

I've thought a little more. I've been thinking over Dean and Sam's usual routine for self-cleansing, and the things they do when they've gotten dirty after a fight. I think I need to invest in: a shower at the YMCA, one of those deodorant stick-like things, some soap, and a 2nd shirt. I still have the $8.53. It's frightening to part with even a penny of it, but I think I have to.

 


 

It's later. I have been to the drugstore and bought 1 small travel-size deodorant for $1.29, $1.00 for a tiny bar of soap, then went to the thrift store by the university and I found 1 shirt that I think looks fairly good for $3.25. The shirt seemed a huge expense but I need one that looks truly acceptable. There are so many different types of shirts and I wanted to ask for advice but was very nervous to approach anybody closely in case I stank too badly, so in the end I looked for the kind of shirt that Sam and Dean usually wear, the fuzzy kind with the right-angles and squares all over. People generally respect Sam and Dean so maybe this is a good kind of shirt. I couldn't find exactly the right kind though, but I think I found one that is not bad; it isn't fuzzy but it has the right-angles. But $3.25 seems so much! I spent a long time looking at all the other shirts but I think this is the only one that is decent and has all its buttons and that I can afford and that seems to fit. I hope it is okay.

Then I went to the YMCA and had a shower ($1.00) and shaved and put on the deodorant and changed into the new shirt. I still have no towel but it isn't too bad using paper towels. I washed my underwear too and tried to dry it with the dryer thing on the wall, which took a long time and the underwear is still somewhat damp so I am a bit chilly, but I think I'm clean now.

I feel better. Seem to be able to hold my head up again.

$8.53 - $1.29 deodorant - $1.00 soap - $3.25 shirt - $1.00 shower = $1.99 left. I really hope the pizza store has some unsold slices tonight. I am not going to be able to buy any food any more, and the grocery store doesn't throw out food today.

It's getting late in the afternoon now but stores are still open for another two hours, so am going to get back to my task now. Focus on the mission:

9. Futon store -

I tried to go back into the futon store but I couldn't make myself walk inside. Strange.

10. Greek restaurant - No jobs. And the food smelled so good and my stomach wouldn't stop growling. An old Greek man behind the counter was scowling at me and I was certain he was going to say that I am still filthy and still stink and that I needed to leave, so I started to back away, but instead he bundled something up and came around the counter and gave it to me. He was still scowling but maybe it's just his customary expression, for it was a free piece of something amazing that turns out to be called "baklava." It was incredibly good. I think it might be the best thing I've ever eaten. I was very grateful.

I have a little more energy now.

11. Shoe store - No jobs

12. Bank - No jobs

13. College movie theater - No jobs. But I noticed something though. They show modern movies during the early evening, but at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays they show old movies cheaply for the students — and, next Friday they are showing a "Steve McQueen" movie called "The Great Escape". I remember this title; Dean has mentioned it. He thinks it's a "classic" and he said once that I really ought to see it. It costs $2.50 though. But what I noticed is, for $2.50 you can actually stay for as long as three hours, for they let you in as early as 11pm (I asked) and the movie ends at 2am. It's warm inside and I got a glimpse of the theater and the seats are padded and look so comfortable. Immediately a new goal sprang to mind, which is: if next week I have gotten a job and have $2.50, I could go see Dean's movie and have 3 hours in a comfortable soft chair in the warmth.

14. Computer store - No jobs, and I realized instantly I don't know anything about computers anyway.

15. Hardware store - No jobs. Same problem, I don't know anything useful.

16. The pizza place. It turns out they recognized me! The student at the counter is the same one who gave me a free slice the last two Saturdays and he remembered me. He greeted me with a smile and I had a very strange reaction to the smile; to be honest I almost started to cry. I'm not sure why. Anyway, the pizza store employee's name is Bryce, and he is a college student who is studying engineering, and he asked my name and I said "Steve" (from Dean's midnight movie) and he says they do have a job for a delivery person. I thought at once that it must be like that other movie I saw once on the TV, so I asked if it was the sort of job that involves spanking babysitters and he seemed to think I'd said a hilarious joke (it turns out he's seen the same movie). He laughed quite a bit. But he also seemed to think I'd told the joke on purpose. I am never going to understand this culture. Anyway, the job is actually just to deliver pizza for people to eat, with no kissing or spanking involved. But after all that, it turned out the job requires a driver's license and a car so in the end it was just another disappointment. Bryce was kind though and he said he would try to hold a pizza slice for me tomorrow night if I come back at 11pm (he does the closing shift again tomorrow).  He smiled again when I left and he said "Take it easy, Steve." It's the sort of thing that Dean and Sam used to say, and once again I nearly started to cry. I seem to be experiencing ridiculously exaggerated emotional reactions to very small things - is this normal or could I be getting sick, perhaps?

17. Hair cutting store. No jobs and also the hair-cutter women in the store laughed at me. Apparently hair cutting requires training and a certification, but also I think I transgressed some gender-role boundary because then I noticed everybody in the haircutting store was female. Need to remember I'm in a male vessel; need to pay more attention to these things.

18. Hiking store. No jobs. I could not stop looking at the sleeping bags. They look so warm! They are very expensive though. Even the cheapest is over a hundred dollars.

19. Vietnamese soup store. No jobs and they only hire family. They said, "Will your family not help you?" and I was taken aback, thinking first "the angels do not really feel like my family any more" and then thinking "Sam and Dean are my family now, they've said so" and then remembering "Well, not really, not any more, apparently," all 3 thoughts coming in quick succession and once again my eyes were stinging suddenly. Strange how this keeps happening. I had to leave.

20. Furniture store. No jobs.

21. University Inn. No jobs. Owner told me frankly "why would I hire a middle-aged man with no job experience and who's apparently an illegal immigrant, when there's a hundred students right outside all with id's and all with more experience?" He did not say this in a cruel way; I think he was trying to be helpful. But I left feeling shaken once more.

That was the last store on this street. It was a discouraging note to end on. I managed to make myself clean but I cannot make my vessel younger. And do I have to lie about my background? Pretend I have job experience?

But I'm so tired of lying. I don't want to have to lie. Or cheat, or steal, or kill, or hurt anybody. If I have to be human, I want to live an honest life.

I'm so hungry. I'm going to have to go look in the trash bins outside the little restaurants. I wonder if I can wait to eat until the pizza slice tomorrow night.

 


 

Same Friday. I have gotten back to the park. It's not raining anymore and I found some new cardboard to change out for the wrecked wet cardboard. I changed back into my dirtier shirt to sleep in and wrapped the new one (it's still clean I think) in a bag and I will wear the clean one for another round of job-hunting tomorrow. I can't afford another shower, but maybe I can at least do a little cleaning up tomorrow morning, in a store restroom somewhere. Also I forgot to charge my phone today and it went dead. I'm worried I might miss Dean's call. I'll charge it tomorrow morning at the library and maybe I can use the library restroom to clean up and re-apply the deodorant.

Despite the cold it can be beautiful. There's a perfect quarter-moon hanging in the sky (just enough light to write by), stars sprinkled around, stars I used to fly among; and the screech-owl that lives in this park is calling from right above me. It's beautiful, actually, but, somehow the moon and stars look very sad. Silver clouds started drifting by and it became even more beautiful, but oddly, the more beautiful it becomes, the sadder it seems. Even the owl sounds sad.

Things to ask Dean when he calls:

1. is he ok / Sam ok

2. could I please come back

Ways I can be useful. I've been thinking about this all week and I've come up with these things:

- combat skills.

- Knowledge of all human history up to 33 AD? - This is probably not useful.

- Knowledge of all evolutionary history as well - Also not useful.

- Enochian and related runes/sigils/arcane knowledge. - Is this useful? Unsure

- 100's other languages. No, NOT USEFUL, most no longer spoken.

- geography of entire planet, astral navigation. NOT USEFUL. D/S use those telephone maps

- friendship? Is this useful? No... probably not...  No, it's not, I think. Else Dean would not have asked me to leave.

- maybe I could be useful washing things? I have a better feel now for how much  soap is needed and how to rinse soap out. Maybe I could wash dishes, or clothes. Or I could even wash Dean's car.

This list seems very short.

3. other:

- all previous questions.

- The dreams are getting worse. I had the drowning dream again last night although it wasn't raining. Managed to get back to sleep afterwards only to dream of that horrifying, paralyzing sensation of the moment I lost my grace and how it felt as my wings were ripped away. Are my wings really gone, I wonder? Or could they still be there, but just so numb I can't feel them?

- Getting desperate about food. Really getting worried and the hunger is getting difficult to manage. I know it's weakening my vessel. I wonder if there is any other way to get free food that Dean or Sam might know about.

- Is it normal to feel my eyes pricking with tears so often? It's happened five times just today. Is this some kind of disease?

- When is it okay to lie. After today I fear I am going to need to lie about my background to get a job, and this disturbs me. I wanted to be a good human and not lie or cheat or steal, but I am starting to feel very discouraged. People seem to be skeptical about my vessel's age in combination with my lack of relevant experience and lack of the driver's license and lack of proof of citizenship and lack of an address. Some have asked if I was in prison, or if I have mental health problems, or if I am an "illegal alien." I fear I am going to have to lie but I don't want to. I know that Dean and Sam both lie frequently. They must have found some way to balance the lying, and the types of lies, with their own internal sense of justice and rightness. I really would like to discuss this with Dean: When is it okay to lie? And more generally - How does one stay good, when living in a world in which good people starve?

Or am I simply not "good" at all? Am I being punished? Do I deserve this?

Maybe I do.

 


 

Dean had to take another break from reading. This time he didn't stand, and didn't leave, and didn't close the book. Instead he set the book on Cas's blanketed legs, and pulled his chair a little closer to the bed and, finally, reached out to take Cas's hand.

"Cas," Dean began, and stalled instantly.

There were too many things to say.

Not that Cas would hear anything anyway, of course.

Dean sat a few moments in silence, one hand on Cas's.

Finally he said, "Okay, Cas, for one thing, just to start, that dream. You must know I would never let you drown like that, right?"

Then he thought, But that's exactly what I did.

Dean fell silent.

Cas's hand seemed a little cold, so Dean put his other hand around it too, rubbing Cas's fingers lightly and trying to warm them up. Then he folded Cas's hand tightly between both his own, and sat there for a long time in silence, holding Cas's hand.

Click-psshhh.

 


A/N -

Much of Castiel's journal is based on a period in my life when I was searching for housing frequently, while pretty broke, and living in foreign countries a lot, almost always alone. Long story short, it ain't easy.  There are so many cultural details that trip you up, and so many bewildering logistical hurdles. When (years later) I started watching Supernatural, as soon as Castiel showed up in S4 it occurred to me that there are a lot of details of American culture today that would probably seem bizarre to an angel who's likely dealt primarily with hunter-gatherer cultures for millennia. Misha Collins played this beautifully, imho; Cas's alien nature, his status as a foreigner and an outsider. The show writers have since (imho) lost hold of that aspect of the angels (I have this little theory that none of the staff writers have ever been stranded in a foreign country...). So I always wanted to explore that theme more deeply for Castiel: what would it really be like, to be a millennia-old creature plunked down suddenly in 21st-century America? Even if you knew the language, there would be so many details and nuances that would be utterly confusing. Even as a 21st-century human myself I found it awfully difficult to be stranded in a foreign city on my own.

I also wanted to consider what it would be like for Cas to feel more "human" now - especially, I really like the idea that human emotions would hit him more strongly when he doesn't have his grace anymore. Fear, worry, loneliness... in this fic, all of those hit him harder than they did when he was an angel. For example - that moment in the fic when Cas nearly breaks into tears simply when Bryce-the-pizza-guy recognizes him and smiles at him, is based on similar moments that happened to me several times. If you are completely on your own in a strange country for a long time, you can become so desperately starved of companionship and support that even the very tiniest gesture of recognition, the smallest gesture of goodwill and friendship, seems absolutely momentous. I wanted to consider how those emotions might feel to Cas in his newly vulnerable state - the shame in the futon store, the rush of gratitude for Bryce's smile, the grief over the loss of Sam and Dean's friendship (for it is grief, that Cas is feeling, though he doesn't recognize that yet).

And I've thought many times that if I were an angel who had last been here 2000 years ago, the first thing I'd notice would be the lack of passenger pigeons! (And chestnut trees, and everything else we've lost.)

Poor Cas. It's a rough, long road he was facing, all on his own, and even the emotions he's feeling are unfamiliar and confusing.

To give Dean a bit of a break, he really had no idea how difficult this would be for Cas. Dean -- like the show writers, I think -- has never truly been stranded on his own in a strange country. (He's never even been out of the USA as far as I can tell.) And truly didn't grasp how hard it would be for Cas.

Next chapter sometime next Fri-Sat-Sun. Due to ongoing chaos at my job I can't say for sure which day, since I don't know my work schedule yet, but it'll be up sometime next weekend.

If you are liking this please let me know! And thank you for reading my story. :)

Chapter Text

 

Cas's hand wouldn't warm up. This at last gave Dean something to think about— something other, that is, than the mental image of Cas sleeping alone outside in the September rain, shuddering with cold and wracked with hunger. And suffering through nightmares.

Nightmares about me, thought Dean.

Nightmares about me abandoning him.

After all he's been through, he was having friggin' nightmares about ME.

Focus, Dean chided himself. Cas's hand is cold. Do something about it.

Dean dragged himself out of the chair, and walked over to the nurses' station to ask about whether Cas was too cold. Two nurses came over right away. They were gratifyingly conscientious, checking Cas's temperature and vital signs carefully and adjusting all his blankets. They handed the notebook back to Dean (it had been sitting on Cas's legs) while they tucked the blanket edges around Cas's feet and covered up his shoulders a little more. Dean stood off to the side while they worked, clutching the notebook and feeling pretty useless.

The nurses then got into a complex discussion about whether they should still be trying to warm Cas up from his hypothermia or whether the major problem now was to make sure his pneumonia-related fever didn't take off. Apparently Cas actually was running a fever, at least in his "body core"; but somehow his "extremities" still hadn't fully warmed up from last night's hypothermia.

"So he needs more blankets AND he needs less blankets?" said Dean, half-heartedly quoting a line from one of his favorite comedies. Joking always made things more bearable, right?

Sam would've got the joke (it was from Walk Hard, a perennial favorite), but the nurses didn't. And Cas didn't, of course.

Cas would never get that joke anyway in a million years, thought Dean. Even if he were awake. Cas would've only frowned at Dean, probably with one of those confused-Castiel squints. And probably he'd have just added Dean's mystifying comment to his private mental list of the million or so confusing things he encountered every day -- all the other jokes Dean had never bothered to explain, and all the other details of twenty-first century life that Dean had never bothered to help him out with.

The joking impulse had died completely. Dean drifted over to the plastic chair in the corner and sat down there, watching the nurses as they fussed over Cas and got his hands and feet a little better bundled up. They then gave Dean a little pep talk; apparently Cas was "hanging in there" and "still fighting." Whatever that meant.

"Remember he's had a full day of antibiotics now," said one of the nurses. "We think he's got bacterial pneumonia, actually, not the viral kind, even though the flu started with a virus. That happens sometimes, you know — start with a flu, then get so weakened that the pneumonia bacteria somehow get in there and get a foothold. His immune system must have been pretty beaten down, though, for that to happen— was he under a lot of stress or something? Not getting a lot of sleep, maybe? Maybe he wasn't eating enough?"

Dean gave her a tiny nod, not trusting himself to speak, and the nurse said, "I suspected as much. You normally only see flu patients getting bacterial pneumonia like this if they're already immunocompromised or if they've been under a ton of stress. Anyway, the good news is, with the bacterial sort of pneumonia, sometimes you see improvement in just a day or two of the right antibiotic. What would be a really good sign is if he can start breathing on his own again, soon, today hopefully, because... well, it's not a good sign when... Well, anyway, don't give up hope."

The usual bullshit, thought Dean, but he nodded quietly. The other nurse gave him a little smile, tugged at Dean's hand to get him to stand up, steered him back over to the chair by Cas's side, plunked him down again, and finally they both left.

The room was quiet and empty again.

Click-psshhh.

Dean glanced down at the blue book that was still clutched in his hand. He ruffled through the pages gently. It was clear now that though it might have started as a list of things to tell Dean, it had evolved into something else entirely. Something personal; something private.

Something very private.

I better not read any more of it, thought Dean, closing the notebook again.

But then he thought:

Am I stopping reading because I'm respecting Cas's privacy, or just because it's too friggin' painful to face up to what I did to him?

And what if there's something in there that helps me pull him out of this coma?

There could be something in the book about why Cas had gotten sick. Or, just maybe, some way to help him out of it.

Dean wavered for another twenty minutes. He went and got another cup of coffee, and once again it went cold, and eventually he poured it down the sink like he had the other two. Finally he sat by Cas's side again, pulling the chair as close to the bed as he could get it. He checked the time. Four a.m.

Cas's hand and arm had been tucked under the blanket by the nurses. So Dean slid his own hand under the edge of the blanket, till he got hold of Cas's hand again.

Cas's hand still seemed a little cold.

"Hey, Cas," Dean said, glancing at Cas's face. "It's me again, Dean. Listen, I'm gonna sit here with you a while longer. I'm holding your hand... hey, um, can you feel my hand at all? How about, could you squeeze back if you can feel me?"

It seemed worth a shot. Dean waited a moment, just in case.

Click-psshhh. Cas's chest rose and fell. There was no other motion. His hand was limp in Dean's grasp.

"Okay, well... " Dean swallowed. "I'll just sit here with you, and... I'm gonna read the rest of your book, Cas. I'm sorry, I know it's private, but, I need to know what happened. If you don't want me to read it, well, maybe you can... wake up and tell me that?"

Dean paused for a moment again.

Click-psshhh.

"Or you can just add it to the list of things to beat me up about," said Dean with a sigh. "Which I know is a pretty friggin' long list at this point."

Click-psshhh.

Dean propped the notebook on the edge of Cas's bed with his free hand, opened it, found the spot where he'd stopped reading before— Cas's long, fruitless search for a job, on the last Friday of September — and turned the page.

This time he kept hold of Cas's hand as he read.


The next several days of job-hunting had been just as unsuccessful as the first. On Saturday Cas had trudged all the way up and down route 20, stopping at all the gas stations and motels along the way. He'd had no luck there. On Sunday the stores had been closed and he'd had to spend most of the day scrounging for food in dumpsters. The next Monday he'd worked his way down the decrepit stores downtown, a bit further away from the university. On Tuesday he'd actually trudged all the way out to the airport to inquire about jobs there. (Five miles out of town. One-way. On foot. Cas hadn't been able to afford the $1.25 for the bus.) On Wednesday he'd even walked out to a few of the little outlying farms.

Dean read every entry. Every store. Every place Cas had walked. Every day. Every long, tiring, discouraging, hungry, day, and every cold night.

Cas's inability to get warm was a recurring theme. The days weren't bad, but nights in early October in Idaho could be pretty frigid. Cas was soon making little entries each morning about how the night had gone. As Dean read each of these entries, each entry detailing how many times Cas had woken up shivering, whether or not he'd had to stand up and stumble around the park at three in the morning to get the circulation going to his feet, and how he'd kept drifting back to the thrift store just to look at the jackets and hats and scarves that he couldn't afford, Dean was soon holding Cas's hand even tighter. And pausing his reading now and then to doublecheck that Cas's blanket was still well-tucked around his feet and legs.

 


 

Friday, the fourth day of October. I don't think I can sleep through the night any more. I always wake up at two or three shivering too much to get back to sleep. But I made a discovery today while asking at the university library about jobs. Unfortunately it turns out students have priority for all the library jobs. But while there, I noticed two or three students napping over their books. I realized I might be able to nap there too! Of course I don't look the same age as a college student, but I saw, here and there, an older person as well— more like the age of my vessel. Perhaps an instructor or some sort of scholar. I tried it just now, spreading an assortment of books around myself at one of the little desk-cubbies and putting my head down on an open book. It's not very comfortable, but it's warm, and soon I did doze off, and got maybe one hour of sleep. I feel much better now.

Maybe I can do this every afternoon. I can sleep in the park till about two in the morning when the cold wakes me up; then I can walk in circles around the park, or walk up and down route 20, till the sun rises. At eight o'clock the library opens and I believe I could come in at mid-morning and sleep for an hour or two. I'll have to be discreet and I'll have to be very careful about staying clean and looking like I belong here, but I'm hopeful. It's so wonderfully warm in here.

 


 

The next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Cas methodically worked his way through the university campus, one department after another, asking for jobs. But students had taken all the jobs already. And all the usual obstacles arose: No experience. No id. No proof of citizenship. No references. No work history.

Still he kept looking. He scrounged food from dumpsters. Twice he got into a student dining hall before being detected by staff security; once he stumbled across a motherlode of free cookies at a physics department's seminar; and increasingly he turned to Bryce, at the pizza place, for free pizza slices late at night. But it was never quite enough food, and still he could find no job. Though at least now he could snatch short naps in the university library now and then.

 


 

Thursday the tenth day of October.

I don't think I'm the angel of Thursday any more.

Because, today was a Thursday but I had an awful setback. The librarian here woke me and asked for identification and looked quite skeptical about whether I belong here. I said I'm a linguist, and that I didn't have my identification with me (this was what I'd decided on earlier as my "cover story", as Dean and Sam would put it; and it's largely true, after all). She looked quite skeptical and picked up one of my books. I had a random assortment of books around me that had been left out on a table, and the one she picked up was actually in Greek (I hadn't even noticed) and she pointed to a sentence and asked me to translate it. I was still a little groggy and foolishly I translated it into Enochian (since that's the direction I tend to translate things, in my head. I still translate English into Enochian, mentally). So I translated it into Enochian, and from the look on her face I realized my error, so I panicked a little and translated the passage into English and then into Hebrew, then into Turkish, then into ancient Aramaic, then Khazar and had started on Scythian when she asked me to stop. She was laughing and she said I did indeed sound like a linguist.

But then she said there is no linguistics department at this school, and that none of those languages are taught here.

I should have noticed. I thought I just hadn't found that department yet. And when I could not produce any university identification she said I would definitely have to leave.

It was a blow.

She was kind about it though; she apologized and said it's a new rule. Something to do with "school shootings." They can't let people with no identification use the libraries anymore.

So I had to leave. I was planning on continuing my job search at the university but I admit I just went straight back to the park and sat there for a long time.

It's discouraging to find that the few skills I even still have aren't useful at all.

I don't know what to do.

The sun's just set. I'm just sitting here looking at the moon and listening to the owl. I should be coming up with a plan but I can't seem to think of anything.

 

zsomeone resized

["A Winter's Tale" by zsomeone]


 

Friday the eleventh day of October.

I couldn't sleep at all last night. Too cold. It went below freezing for the first time. I was afraid my hands and toes would freeze.

I'm going to have to call Dean for help.

I'll see if I can get through one more night.

 


 

Saturday the twelfth day of October - I'm watching a three-season sleeping bag.

I was walking all night last night, to stay warm, and I had to keep walking at dawn (I just couldn't get warm even after the sun came up) but at sunrise, to my surprise I ran across some people putting an assemblage of items on the grass in front of their house. It turned out they were setting up something called a "yard sale", a sale in their yard of things they don't want any more. The items are all used and it's quite an odd assortment, musical recordings and chipped mugs and so forth, but they seem very cheap, and, among all the paperback books and other things, there is A SLEEPING BAG. It's old and has a rip that's been somewhat messily sewn up, and is somewhat dirty, but certainly no dirtier than I already am.

Unfortunately they've priced it at five dollars. But I asked them if they would consider accepting $1.99. It's all that I have; it's the very last of the money Dean gave me. They warned me it is "just a three-season bag, not a winter bag", which is a bit worrisome but is still certainly better than nothing at all; and they said they would consider lowering the price to $1.99 if it hasn't sold by the end of the day.

So I'm waiting across the street watching the three-season sleeping bag.

 


 

12:35pm. A girl is looking at the sleeping bag.

She's picked it up. She's asking the price.

AH, she's put it back down!

She's left! She didn't buy it.

 


 

2:45pm. A young man is looking at the sleeping bag.

He's asked about the price too.

He's carrying it around. This is looking quite bad.

He's looking at a small collapsible tent too.

Now he's looking back and forth between the bag and the tent.

He's put the sleeping bag back down! He's picked up the tent.

He bought the tent but not the bag! Such a relief.

 


 

4pm - I GOT IT - the man of the house came over and said they would accept the $1.99 since I've been waiting here all day. I'm holding it now on my lap! I've got this notebook propped on top of it.

I own a sleeping bag.

I feel so much warmer even just holding it on my lap. I'm completely out of money now but I feel so encouraged.

It's blue. I like the color; it's almost the same shade of blue as the tie I used to have. It's shaped rather like a cocoon. It comes with its own little blue bag and squishes up to fit inside.

 


 

It's the next day. Sunday the thirteenth day of October. I SLEPT THROUGH THE WHOLE NIGHT. The sleeping bag is incredible! Apparently fall is one of the three seasons that it is designed for.

Truth be told it's still not entirely warm— it dipped below freezing again last night and so it did get chilly, and there was frost on the outside of the bag when I awoke. But the difference is astonishing. I didn't have to worry about my hands freezing. I feel so much better today.

This also means I won't have to call Dean yet. He won't have to find out how poorly I've done. (Not yet, anyway.) Maybe I do still have a chance of finding a job on my own before winter really closes in. And accomplishing my goals. Or some of them, at least. I've realized maybe I can't accomplish the bigger ones, maybe not this year anyway. But if I could even just find my grace again. Or if I could even just join the Winchesters again; if I could be of some use—

Maybe I should re-evaluate the mission. And the goals and strategy.

MISSION: Reverse some of my mistakes? At least some?

SPECIFIC GOALS: Recover my grace if any remains, earn Dean's respect and friendship back (if possible) and also Sam's too (if possible).

STRATEGY to accomplish these goals. Still need to earn money to cover immediate needs (continue sleeping in park in meantime, with three-season sleeping bag); then find housing. I doubt now that I'll be able to purchase a car; now that I know more about prices of things, I fear it's a choice between housing and a car, and it's apparent that I need housing more, at least for the winter. But once I find housing maybe then I can contact Dean and Sam and convince them that I'm still useful.

TACTICAL APPROACH FOR THIS WEEK: I absolutely must get a job. But I haven't made any progress at all at this task, though I've been at it for weeks now. Also I'm beginning to worry that the cleanliness issue will resurface. I've been sponging my vessel off in the town library bathroom. That library's too small to sleep in (it's a very tiny library and isn't open very often and has no cubicles like the university library, just some wooden chairs), but it is open for at least a few hours each day and I found I could use the bathroom to clean up quickly. I found I could shave there too, and I've washed the new shirt in the bathroom sink twice,. But I'm worried I need a real shower. And worried my pants may be too dirty. This may start affecting my job prospects again.

But the bigger issue is this continual problem of lack of job experience, and references, and an address, and identification. Not being human, basically.

Am I going to have to lie?

 


 

It's late on Tuesday the fifteenth day of October. Two days since last entry.

I have been through the entire town all over again and still have had no luck with a job but something very encouraging just happened. Today was another long day of not finding any work. But I stopped in at the pizza place at closing time. Bryce was there again and tonight he had saved 3 slices for me! One slice had pepperoni slices on top, one had pieces of pineapple and pieces of bacon intermixed, and one had mushrooms. They were all just fantastic. Bryce said I could sit inside in the warmth to eat them, while he closed up the shop, which was more wonderful still. I was still eating the 3rd slice when the shop was all closed up, so I tried to hurry, so that he could go home, but he told me to take my time.

Then he asked how my job search was going and what places I had looked at. I told him of the difficulties I've had and showed him my list in this book, the list of places I've looked for jobs. I tried to grab it back when I realized he might read the details of the futon store incident and the parts about where I'm sleeping (I've finally realized that people become quite leery of me if they detect I am sleeping outside.) But he'd already noticed the first several entries from Friday and one of the very first was the store that had required "cash register experience," the Gas-n-Sip.

Bryce then said, "Come around the counter," and he showed me how to operate the cash register! And the credit card machine too!

I think I could manage it. There's quite a lot of finicky details, things that have to be done in a precise order, and things about "bar codes" and "refunds" and different types of cards, and other complications. But he said it's not too difficult to learn if one is careful.

I thanked him and he said, "I just hate to see someone dropping weight like you are when you're trying so hard. You're not even dressed for the cold." This was somewhat embarrassing but I was very grateful nonetheless.

 


 

I GOT A JOB. I got a job! I've been hired for a job! It's Thursday the seventeenth day of October and apparently Thursday is still a good day for me, for I HAVE GOTTEN A JOB.

The job is as a "Sales Associate!" The rate of pay is $7.25 per hour. It's at the Gas n Sip store. What happened was, I went back to re-inquire at all the places that involve cash registers, because now, thanks to Bryce, I am able to say, truthfully, that I have "cash register experience" (though I'll admit I didn't say how much). It became clear that the Gas-n-Sip store manager, whose name is Nora, is actually rather desperate. When I came in this morning she looked quite tired and the store seemed disorganized and the bathroom badly needed cleaning. Apparently some of her student employees have quit due to problems with class schedules, and she is having difficulty getting students to cover the early shift in particular because most of them have morning classes, and she has a small child and can't always come to the store. She looked very frazzled. The moment I said I had "cash register experience" she had me fill out a job application.

I'm afraid I had to lie on several parts of the job application. But she doesn't seem to have checked any of it, for she called my cell phone later today, and offered me the job.

It's the first time anybody has called me on this cellular phone, actually. Since Dean hasn't called yet.

She wants me to work morning shifts, and some afternoons, for thirty hours every week! $7.25 per hour x 30 hours = $217.50 in just a single week! Over two hundred dollars! It seems such a huge amount. In four weeks that will add up to $870!

That's almost enough for a motel room. Like the ones Sam and Dean stay in. The cheapest one in town would be $960/month. 

I start immediately, tomorrow morning at six a.m. Nora warned me I won't be paid till the Saturday after next, so I'll still have to sleep in the park for nearly two weeks more, but by the end of October I will have some money! And I'll be able to say, truthfully, to people renting rooms, that I have a job and a source of income. I may be able to get a room for November first. Or, just maybe, perhaps I could find a motel room I could afford. Motel rooms come with furniture and have a real bed.

Thank goodness the cell phone Dean gave me has a little alarm clock built-in, so I'll be able to be on time. Though I'm a little worried about how to clean myself up so early. I'm still quite concerned that my pants have gotten dirty (fortunately they're dark-colored, but still) - I have only the 1 pair of pants. So, I'm in the town library now and I just handwashed the pants in the bathroom sink and wrung them out as best I could, and now I'm standing on the heating vent, while my phone charges. The librarian Audrey is looking at me a little oddly—I fear it's obvious that my pants are wet, but I'm fairly confident that I don't smell, and I'm hoping she'll let me stand here for another couple hours till they get a little drier.

While I wait for the pants to dry, I've got a lot of new things I'm concerned about that I would like to ask Dean when he calls:

Things to ask when Dean calls.

1. ask if he ok / Sam ok

2. could I come back. I can offer:

- combat skills

- Enochian

- wash things. Wash clothes, wash dishes, wash Dean's car

3. other:

- Need to ask D/S if they can tell me anything about: how the gasoline machines work, how the drink and food machines work, many questions about cash transactions, how stores operate in general.

- Also I believe I will need to pay even more attention to acting more human. Apparently this job requires "people skills" — Nora asked about this specifically— and I know I'm still poor at this, though I've been trying to learn. I never was able to leave the garrison much in recent millennia, really. Balthazar kept sneaking down to Earth; I never did, for I had to stay on duty. I should have gone with him. Anyway I know I am missing many nuances of the culture and I know I still don't understand many of the modern idioms and gestures.

- The lying. It is bothering me that I had to lie about my qualifications. I did not actually lie verbally, but I must confess I phrased things in a deliberately misleading way, such that Nora was given the impression that I have worked at a pizza store for many years and have had jobs before that. And then of course I put a great deal of false information on the job application.

Does Dean need to know about this.

One of the worst things I ever did was

 


 

It's a little later. Pants still drying. Had to stop and think for a while.

One of the worst things I ever did was

 


 

It's remarkably hard even just to write about it, even now, all this time later.

One of the worst things I ever did was lie to Dean and Sam, during the war with Raphael. I lied to them repeatedly. And Sam was badly hurt, when I took his mental wall down. It was all part of a desperate strategy, of course, to try to win the war, and at the time I truly thought it was what I had to do; but I believe that to be the core of Dean's loss of faith in me. I still remember the look on his face when he discovered I had lied to him. He had trusted me, till that moment.

I remember that look on his face so vividly.

I dread to think of Dean's reaction should he discover that I have lied again. And Sam, these days, apparently does not even wish to speak to me again.

Dean lies frequently, of course, and so does Sam; but I dearly want not to lie. Wanted to be a good human. Also Dean and Sam's lies are mild. Also they do not need to redeem themselves as I do.

But now I have had to lie. I lied in 8 places on the job application: name (I put Steve Smith), the "social security number" (I put one that I remembered from seeing another person's application in another store), citizenship, work history, address, skills, references, education (I put the local university). Is this 8 lies or 1? So, my questions for Dean are:

How severe a sin have I committed with these 8 lies? (or 1)

- As a human, how does one atone for sins like 8 lies? (or 1).

- Could Dean forgive me for these 8 new lies? (or 1).

- Might he, or Sam, ever forgive me for what happened in the past, as well? Could this ever be possible? Is there anything I could ever do to repair our friendship? Or has it been irreparably broken?

 


 

This was another of those points where Dean had to pause, and set the book down, and spend a while just trying to warm up Cas's hand.

"Forgave you long ago, you idiot," muttered Dean at last. "You fucked up, yeah. Pretty badly. But you were trying to save the world, did you forget that part? And it was, like, your first time ever doing anything on your own. Very first step out on your own and you end up having to lead the armies of Heaven?" Dean had to sigh. "Dammit, Cas. Do you ever give yourself a break?"

After a moment he added, "And, Cas... You've paid the price like ten times over by now."

 


 

There were twelve full pages next of Gas-n-Sip details. First was a set of astonishingly lovely hand-drawn diagrams of every machine Cas had had to learn how to operate. Each illustration was a magnificently detailed pencil sketch that wouldn't have been out of place, Dean thought, in an art studio. The cash register, the credit card machine, the gas pump register inside, the outside gas pump controls, the slushee machine, the hot-dog heater, the coffee machines, the walk-in refrigerator, the coolers... everything was meticulously illustrated, complete with delicate countershading and stippling.

There was a floor plan of the whole store, and diagrams of what went where on every shelf. There were detailed protocols for every aspect of running the store: procedures for opening and closing, for ordering supplies, for restocking shelves, for preparing food (lots of notes here on food safety: "Nora says it's unsafe to eat moldy food? Really? Check with Dean"), for taking inventory, for cleaning the floor and washing the windows, for handling cash. Right down to an astonishingly detailed list of exactly how to clean the bathroom.

On one page Cas had mapped out a hand-drawn calendar with the rest of October and all of November, all the days of the weeks neatly laid out in a precise grid, with all his work shifts penciled in. Along with the amount of money he calculated he would earn each day.

But he hadn't accounted for taxes, Dean noticed.

Cas had apparently been studying the Gas-n-Sip television as well. One whole page was covered with out-of-context quotes from tv shows. (Dean gave a little huff of laughter to see "the sheriff is back in town" scribbled in one corner, along with a careful note about the source - turned out Cas had picked up the "back in town" phrase from an old Bonanza rerun.) He'd noted down pieces of ad jingles, cliched phrases from soap operas, and even notes on gestures ("thumbs-up sign = goodwill? Spotted on the television in 3 different shows. Think I saw D/S do this a few times? Ask them about this one.").

And after one week of work, on the following Thursday, Cas had realized he might be able to afford housing.

 


 

Thursday the twenty-fourth day of October.

I found a motel room I can afford!

I can't move in yet but it's all arranged. It's at the Mountaineer Inn on the outskirts of route 20. It'll be a several mile walk but it'll be a room of my own. I found that they offer a much discounted rate if I guarantee that I will stay for a minimum of a month. Then it comes to $800 per month! They were even willing to show me one of the rooms, and I picked out one. It's just like the ones Sam and Dean stay in. It has its very own shower with hot water and there's even a little kitchen with a microwave, and one of those tiny little refrigerators with the miniature alcohol bottles that Dean likes, and even a little stove. It's got an incredibly gigantic bed. The bed has 4 pillows and 2 blankets and a bedspread and there's an additional blanket in the closet, and in the bathroom there are six white towels (2 big ones, and 2 medium ones and 2 small square ones), and they're all very clean and white, and also a brand-new bar of soap and a vial of shampoo, and the whole room is heated and it has curtains on the windows. There's a sofa and a little table and chair. There's a television too.

Maybe I can show it to Sam and Dean if they come to visit someday.

That reminds me. I've learned so many new things! I think I could be more useful now. I should be prepared to describe how much I've learned:

Things to ask if Dean calls.

1. is he ok / Sam ok

2. could I come back

Skills now include:

- combat skills

- wash dishes

- Enochian

- Can afford my own motel room. 6 towels, 3 blankets, 4 pillows. I would be happy to share the towels and blankets and pillows if they need any. I would be more than happy.

- wash bathrooms, floors, counters, dishes, clothes, Dean's car

- change light bulbs

- I can do inventories. Inventory of ammunition, Men of Letters library?

- Can operate cash machine, various food machines (not sure if useful, or not?)

- Can prepare hot dogs, nachos, frozen burritos and blue drinks.

- I know how to make coffee now.

- Many other Sales Associate skills! Some of this must be useful. I hope.

- Know code for overriding Gas-n-Sip gas price setting. Could set it to 0.01.  But I don't want to steal.

- I have many people's credit card numbers now... No.  Don't want to steal.

3. other:

- verify that I am understanding the thumbs-up sign correctly

- what does it mean when one person holds one hand up at approximately shoulder height and another person slaps it with their own hand. I've seen this several times now on the television at the Gas-n-Sip, and today I witnessed it once in person. It seems like perhaps a very short ritual battle? Except that both people seemed friendly to each other. Is this a gesture of friendship? Would the same people also spank each other, as that pizza man did to the babysitter in that movie? It seems similar — both cases are slaps, correct?  I have the feeling that I'm missing some nuances here.

- what does it mean when one person says to another "I'll get this round" at a bar. Also saw this on the television. I think this means the person is offering to pay for more beer for other people? Is this also a gesture of friendship? Would a person that did the ritual slap-battle also do the thumbs-up and the "I'll get this round"? (NOTE: Try to assess if it would be appropriate if I did any of these things with Dean or Sam. Could I buy bottles of beer for them someday, maybe?)

Would like to disentangle gestures of friendship from those that are not friendship; also need to identify those that are appropriate for the same sex vs opposite sex.

- advice on how to dry out a sleeping bag when you get back to the park at night after working all day and discover your sleeping bag has been rained on and the garbage bag that you'd put it in had a hole in it near the top and it's been sitting in a bag of cold water all day. If you sleep in a damp sleeping bag, how bad is that for one's health?

- Moldy food? Nora has given me strict rules about not serving "moldy or expired" food to customers. She says this is unsafe. But all the food that I eat myself is in this category. Is this truly unsafe? Specifically: how far past expiration date can one drink dairy products? OK to eat cheese that has mold on it? I've been scraping the mold off - is this ok? How about meat that has become green and smells foul?

- Why has there been such a delay in Dean calling? Is everything okay? I realized today it's been two months since I last saw him. But the only person who's called my phone has been Nora.

 


 

Saturday the twenty-sixth day of October.

I'm not going to be able to move into the motel room.

At last I have been paid, but it turns out it is much less than I had calculated due to "federal and state taxes and social security withholdings". I didn't realize this. Nora had to explain it. She seemed puzzled that I didn't know about it; I had to struggle to hide my dismay, since it became apparent that this is standard. Also it turns out the money comes in the form of a paycheck and the only place I can find to change the check into cash demands quite a high fee for what seems a small service.

My rate of pay is decreased over a third by these factors.

I didn't anticipate this in my calculations. I spent the afternoon in the library redoing my calculations. No matter how I work the numbers it appears I can't afford the motel room.

I'm going to have to keep sleeping outside in the park.

I'm trying to adjust to this idea. This was such a difficult realization. It has felt almost like a physical blow. I've been sitting here in the library just looking at the numbers and trying to accept that I will not be able to afford a room in November. November begins next week. The affordable rate for the motel was a special monthly rate. The daily rate is much higher. I could, I suppose, stay there on very cold nights? - But after looking at my calculations I will need to save all my money just to afford a room for December.

I'll have at least another month in the park. I am very fond of my blue three-season sleeping bag - it seems like a friend now - and it has made a huge difference, but it's only a three-season bag and the fourth season, winter, is approaching rapidly. Once again I have been waking up in the early mornings shivering.

It feels almost as if the winter is a predator that is stalking me. Every time I find a way to be a little warmer (the cardboard, the garbage bags, the sleeping bag), the nights get colder still and it always seems I end up just as cold as before. It's disheartening.

Also it's terribly unpleasant when it rains even despite the garbage bag roof that I arranged in the big bush. The sensation of exhaustion after a rainy cold night is quite overwhelming and I have been making mistakes at work, if it's the morning after a very cold night. The till was short $32 yesterday and I know this was why. Nora was upset. The $32 will come out of my pay.

I CAN'T lose this job. I've GOT to find a better place to sleep so that I can focus more at work.

 


 

At the bottom of this entry, Cas had a drawn a little sketch that Dean could not decipher at first. A row of little shapes. Four blobs, and three big rectangles, and then a set of six smaller rectangles and squares.

Finally Dean realized it was a drawing of four pillows, and three blankets, and six towels of different sizes. All lined up next to each other.

 


 

Monday the twenty-eighth day of October. I've had an idea.

I woke up this morning at 3 a.m. extremely cold with my hands and feet numb. Usually when that happens I walk around the park. I was doing so and was on my 4th lap around the park, wearing the sleeping bag across my shoulders, when it occurred to me I could simply go to the Gas-n-Sip a few hours early! And rest inside! Nora has been letting me open the store all by myself — nobody will know if I go in a little early!

I did so - I'm there now - got here at 4 a.m. - and I managed to get a few hours of sleep in the stockroom before 6 a.m. when I opened.

And then I had a revelation:  I can sleep in the stockroom at the Gas-n-Sip for the entire night! (well, from midnight to about 5:30 a.m., anyway). Nora won't know! It will be much warmer there. It's always kept above fifty degrees Fahrenheit at night.

I just have to be careful that Tyler and Cory, who work evening shifts, don't see me. Tyler always closes at 11:30pm promptly; Cory, on his evenings, sometimes closes a few minutes early. They both are gone by approximately midnight. I'll wait behind the dumpster in the back lot till I'm sure I've seen them leave, and then I'll enter and sneak into the stockroom and sleep there. I should be able to get five-and-a-half hours of sleep at least! I think I can hide the sleeping bag behind the tool locker.

 


 

It's late Monday, the twenty-eighth day of October. Or early Tuesday, I suppose. I've done it. I'm in the stockroom. It's just past midnight. I'm going to spend all night here.

It's so incredibly warm here! It must be at least fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

It's amazing to be warm. It's incredible what a difference it makes.

It's not quite as nice as the motel room would have been, of course. I admit I still keep thinking about that motel room. But this will be fine. It's fifty-five degrees and I have my three-season sleeping bag. Also there's plenty of food in the dumpster (the moldy cheese and so on, that Nora discards), plus the pizza slices sometimes and the university cookies (it turns out that the physics department has cookies every Tuesday afternoon). I'm being diligent about not stealing any of the food from the Gas n Sip itself, but once the food is in the dumpster I decided I can take it. I have some cheese right now that is hardly moldy at all. So I'm fine for food.

I have a new plan. I think if I save all my money for all of November, I will be able to afford a rental room on December 1st. Not a nice motel room like Sam and Dean use, and it won't have the towels and pillows or any furniture, but I think I could find one of those student rental rooms that are in a shared house. Some students leave in December and apparently some rooms come available, and this time I'll be able to say, truthfully, that I have a job and some income. And I think I'll be able to fit in a little better, if I practice the things like the thumbs-up and the ritual slap battle and all the new phrases I'm learning.

It won't be as nice as Sam and Dean's motel rooms. But it'll be my own.

 


 

Wednesday the thirtieth day of October. It's late, just before midnight, and I'm settling down in the stockroom again for the night. This is my second night here. I still can't get over how warm it is. Also I found I can wash myself fairly well in the bathroom.

 


 

Still Wed. night. I'm still awake. It's extremely quiet and dark here. Much more quiet and dark than the park. I can't see the stars or moon anymore. It's peaceful but also very solitary. I don't miss the rats or the rain or the cold, but I find I do miss the owl, and the jays that used to come hopping around my bushes in the morning.

It's funny, I used to like to watch the jays flit around in the mornings. Even though it's always a little difficult watching how easily they fly.

I thought about calling Dean, to tell him I'm out of the cold now, but did not. I'd rather wait till I've got a room of my own on December 1st. Then I can show him my room, if he ever comes to visit.

 


 

Thursday the thirty-first day of October.

Today is a Thursday and it should be a good day for me. But today is also the holiday known as Halloween, or Samhain as it's also called.

This is only my 2nd Halloween on Earth. They did not used to celebrate this particular holiday in the old days. And I missed most Halloweens of the last six years - last year I was in Purgatory, the year before I was still in that hospital, the year before in Heaven, and so on. The only other Halloween I've really witnessed firsthand was the one just after I pulled Dean out of Hell, back when the sixty-six seals were being broken.

So of course all day today I've been remembering that Halloween. Cory asked for the night off and I've been working the night shift, and students have been coming in all evening with strange outfits. Some dressed as monsters, some as demons.

Two were dressed as angels. Both female. They had useless little fake wings made of wire and fake feathers and glitter. I thought the fake wings were absurd. Then I realized they were better than the wings I have now, which is, of course, no wings at all.

I recall Dean's expression when I showed him the shadows of my wings, shortly before that Halloween.

I remember flying him out of Hell. Funny now to think that I was selected for that task because I was considered the best combat flyer. I'm ashamed to say I was a little proud — that I was the best flyer, that I was the one selected to fly the Righteous Man out of Hell. I admit my flight capabilities used to be a point of pride.

I loved it so. Flying.

Pointless to think of it now. I won't ever fly again. Like the passenger pigeon, I'm

 


 

It's later. Nearly midnight. Must stop this. Must stop thinking about wings. I'll go to sleep now.

 


 

It's one in the morning. Still can't sleep.

That Halloween was also the very first time I met Sam. I remember, very clearly, the room I met them in; it was a motel room, of course, with purple walls (there was a hex-bag hidden in the wall), and a green couch. I was wearing Jimmy's coat and the blue tie. Both of which are long lost now.

I was reluctant to shake Sam's hand. He noticed, too. Now that I understand better what that gesture means, I feel bad to remember it.

Those were some of the last days before I rebelled. I still trusted in the justness of Heaven, back then; in the rightness of my orders. I obeyed and I followed my orders. I still believed that God was with us. Yet the very next day I sat in the park and told Dean I was having doubts. Uncertain as to what was right and what was wrong. I don't think he's ever realized what a risky admission that was. It was blasphemy, for an angel; it was an unforgivable admission. I had told that to no other soul in all of creation; not my fellow soldiers, not my superiors, not my friends, nobody. And there I was saying it to a human.

I was an angel. I had my grace, and my wings. I could still fly. But I had doubts.

In those days Dean still was somewhat in awe of me, I believe. That didn't last long.

 


 

Still can't sleep. It's nearly dawn.

Things to ask if Dean calls:

1. is he ok / Sam ok

 

2.

 

3.

 

Dean is not ever going to call.

 

I've known it for some time.

 

Why do I keep making these lists?

 


 

Finally fell asleep and I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking through the snow looking for shelter. There was a howling blizzard. Somebody was stalking me; and finally I saw there were skeleton-wolves all around me, with red eyes, getting closer. I ran a long way through snowy woods, just ahead of them, and then at last I saw windows up ahead glowing with golden light. It was the bunker. When I looked in a window I could see Sam and Dean. They were wearing the fuzzy shirts; they looked well. They looked comfortable and warm. There was a large amount of food spread out around them. Huge amounts of food— cheese that had no mold, lots of pizza with all sorts of toppings— and also stacks of white towels, and blankets, and piles and piles of pillows, all just heaped around on the floor. Sam was reading something on his little computer and Dean was drinking one of the drinks that he likes, and they were laughing about something.

In the dream I knew that I had to get into the bunker to safety. I raised my hand to break the window. But I realized, if I broke the window I'd let the cold and the snow in. And I'd let the wolves in.

Dean looked up at the window. It seemed he looked right at me. But then he turned away. At first I thought he'd turned away on purpose. But then I realized he'd only seen his own reflection; he'd never truly seen me at all.

In the dream I turned and walked away, toward the woods. All the wolves were waiting for me at the edge of the trees. Dozens and dozens of them.

Then I woke.

It's still surprising to me how human emotions affect my vessel physically. It still takes me by surprise, to find my heart racing or my muscles trembling; or, my eyes stinging and my lungs seizing, so that my vision has blurred and it's difficult to breathe. It's still confusing when these things happen; I'm still not used to it. And it takes so much longer to get back under control when one's body is reacting so unpredictably.

This time, I'm not even sure which of the emotions was causing all the physical reactions. I never did get back to sleep. It's five a.m. now; I've opened the store early.

Everything's fine. I've got a warm place to sleep and I have a job and a three-season sleeping bag, and I've got some cheese and a cup of hot coffee, and after another month maybe I can rent a room. Everything's fine. I'm fine.

 


 

Dean hadn't been able to read very fast— he kept having to take breaks and close the book for a while and then open it up again— and when he finally glanced at his phone to check the time, he found it was already six in the morning. Sam would be showing back up soon.

He closed the book and set it, once again, on Cas's legs, and then he set one hand on Cas's head, hoping to wake him a little, and held Cas's hand with his other hand. He leaned close to Cas's head and spoke straight into Cas's ear, hoping against hope that, somehow, Cas might hear him.

"Cas. You listen to me," said Dean. He heard his own voice come out in a gruff growl, and he thought, I sound angry.

I AM angry, Dean realized. But not at Cas. Not at Cas at all.

He forced himself to take a couple breaths, and then said to Cas, in a softer voice, "You listen up. You're gonna get better, you hear me? You're gonna wake up and you're gonna start breathing on your own today, and you're gonna beat this thing. This pneumonia and everything. You're getting antibiotics, so you're gonna be fine, you hear me? But you gotta fight, Cas. I know you can fight. You're a hell of a fighter; you've always been a fighter; and I know you've fought so hard for months now, but you gotta keep fighting just a little longer, you listening? You've gotta fight a couple more days, okay? Till you beat this thing."

Dean took another breath. He squeezed Cas's hand, and stroked Cas's hair, and went on:

"You gotta fight, Cas. You can't give up. You got that? You gotta start breathing on your own. You have to. Cause— cause, look, Cas, I need you to fight, and, Cas, my god, you had it so right, maybe I never really saw you— maybe I never did. Cas... I lost Kevin and I've about lost Sam and if I lose you— if I lose you too— if I lose you like this— after dumping you into that freezing cold hell— if I lose you like this, I am not gonna be able— I am not going to be able to— to, um—"

Dean closed his eyes, thinking, But it's not about me.

"You gotta fight, Cas, you gotta wake up. You gotta get better and then I'll take you back to the bunker, and, Cas, I'll buy a thousand white towels for you, I swear, and all the blankets you want, and a million pillows and the best cheese ever, and a bed a mile wide, and... and Sam deserves to get to see you too, you know, he didn't even know I sent you away, Cas, all that stuff you were thinking about how Sam didn't want to see you is total bullshit, he didn't even know... and... look, you gotta wake up just long enough for me to tell you how sorry I am, okay? Please, will you just give me that much time? Will you wake up and just let me tell you how friggin' sorry I am? Wake up, Cas. Start breathing on your own. Wake up. Please."

Click-psshhh.


A/N -

Next up: November. And November, remember, was when Dean finally got around to visiting the Gas-n-Sip.

One thing I feel I should clarify: I said in the A/N last chapter that I'd had a period of life on my own, but I didn't mean to imply I was ever quite as bad off as Cas was in this fic. I've had years alone, yes; I've roughed it, I've lived in tents in extreme cold for months on end; and I've been jobless and broke. But fortunately those 3 situations didn't all happen at the same time! And though I've had to turn to friends & family for housing occasionally, they always came through for me and so I've never been truly out on the street. And I always had hope for the future. So it all just felt like crazy adventures at the time - scary sometimes, but it always worked out in the end. Just wanted to clarify that because I don't mean to be giving the impression that I was worse off than I actually was.

That hope-for-the-future, that knowledge that family and friends are there for you if things get REALLY bad... that is what Cas is most missing. I've found you can put up with a lot as long as you still have some hope, and as long as you still know that you have true friends who will take you in if you need. Just knowing that a safety net is even there at all is so huge.

BTW - huge thanks to zsomeone for the fabulous piece of Cas sitting by the tree under the stars. With the owl!

If you are liking this story please let me know! I love to hear from you. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Cas never did respond, of course.

Dean checked his watch. Just a little after six a.m. He had about an hour till Sam showed up.

He gave Cas one more gentle pat on the head and rearranged a little bit, taking hold of Cas's hand again, and then he turned the page.

November.

Dean realized he was gritting his teeth a little. He knew what was coming, after all. He knew exactly what was coming.

November was when Dean had found Cas at the Gas-n-Sip.

 


 

Friday the first day of November.

Today is All Hallow's Day. The day when hallowed saints, and sometimes we angels too, used to walk upon the face of the earth to drive away the demons who cavorted on the previous night, Hallow's Evening ("Halloween," now).

Well, here I am walking upon the earth, like it or not. And not just for one day. And I didn't really do anything about driving the demons away last night.

I had the afternoon off today and I finally managed to convert my paycheck into cash, at a financial establishment along route 20. After all the taxes and fees I now have $189.25. Maybe not as much as I had hoped; not enough for housing, true; but it seems a huge amount nonetheless. It's immensely reassuring to feel it in my pocket. And though I still can't afford a room, maybe I do have some more options now.

While walking back from route 20 I spent a long time thinking about what to do.

I can do this on my own. I don't need Dean's help. I don't. It's perfectly okay that he isn't going to call.

It's perfectly fine.

He's busy anyway. He's undoubtedly got many things he needs to do. He's always busy. He's always got lots of difficulties and complications in his life. (A ridiculous amount, actually. I worry about him a good deal, in fact.) That's probably why he hasn't called, actually, now that I've had a night to consider things. It would have been nice to talk with him, certainly, and it would have been good to hear how Sam and he are, but it's really perfectly fine if I don't hear from him.

It's completely fine. I can do this on my own.

I should perhaps think about something else now.

I can go to the town library to get most of my remaining questions answered. Audrey at the library, and Bryce as well, have been most helpful. Everything's working out very well in my job; Nora is teaching me most of the details that I need to know and I've managed to pick up additional things on my own. For example, I've even managed to learn to prepare food, something I've never even attempted before. I'm really doing fine now. So it's really quite okay if I don't hear from Dean, or if Sam doesn't want to talk to me either. It would have be nice to hear from them, but really it's okay.

It's absolutely fine.

I'm going to think about something else now. It's afternoon now and I'm sitting on a bench in the park near my old bushes. My next step should be to plan out what to do with my $189.25. I'm so tempted to go sleep in the motel room, just for one night, but I'm trying to remind myself that that would provide only temporary comfort, and at the substantial cost of possibly not being able to afford a room at all in December. So I'm trying to resist. I have decided though that it's time to invest in some of the Less Immediate Vessel Needs, particularly extra clothing. I rather wish I had somebody to ask for advice. One reason I never changed the wardrobe I acquired from Jimmy is that human clothing can have a great deal of complex social nuances that are not obvious at all to an outsider. I knew only that Jimmy's outfit was what he wore to work, what he wore to meet strangers when he wanted to appear respectable and convincing, so I never changed it.

I wonder if Dean or Sam would have any advice about clothing? 

 


 

I finally managed to make some decisions on my own, and I've purchased an extravagant assortment of items. Some are for cleanliness but actually most are simply for insulation! It's really quite absurd that these humans, which are of course tropical primates, have for some reason decided to live all the way up to the Arctic despite having no feathers at all and not even any fur to speak of. Anyway, I've purchased:

- Two more underwears. Pack of 2 for $10.59. Now I have four. I can wash one every evening, let it dry above the Gas-n-Sip heating vent overnight, and always have 3 that are clean.

- Two more socks (a matched pair). I nearly made a mistake here - there were some lovely ones with flowers on them but then I realized that I was in the women's section. So I looked for ones with flowers in the men's section, but all were just black or grey or white. I now realize I've never seen Sam or Dean wear anything with flowers. Some gender-role difference, I suppose? I(t doesn't seem quite fair to the men; can't they enjoy flowers too?( Anyway, I decided to invest in two very thick wool socks at the immense cost of $17.49 for the pair. So expensive! I spent a long time pondering it, picking them up and putting them down and picking them up again. But even though I'm sleeping indoors, I do have to walk around still in the evenings before midnight, and I can't risk frostbite. So I decided to get them. My most expensive purchase! I'm wearing them now and they do feel wonderful.

- At the drugstore I got: another small stick of deodorant ($1.69), another toothpaste ($1.99), a new razor ($1.99), and small travel-sized pouch of laundry soap for clothing ($1.59).

- Then from the thrift store I got: One pair of pants ($13.50), one sweater with purple and grey stripes ($6) - I was a little worried about this choice but the girl at the counter assured me that stripes are appropriate - and also a white shirt for work ($4.50), a thick scarf ($5), a hat ($8), and a pair of gloves ($7). 

- Then I went to the YMCA and had a shower. $1.00. It felt quite wonderful.

All in all I spent eighty dollars and thirty-four cents! Quite a lot of money! And I still don't have a warm coat. But I'm delighted with the scarf and hat and gloves. I'm sitting on the park bench again, wearing everything all at once. It's a little hard to write with the gloves on but it's so nice to feel warmer. I'll be so much better insulated now for walking around in the evenings. And I still have $107.91. I absolutely must save $100 toward housing next month, but I decided maybe I can spend the other $7.91 on something pleasant. I feel determined to have a better evening than I had last night. But what should I do?

 


 

I've decided.

The movie theater. Tonight is a Friday! I'll go to the movie theater for the midnight show, for $2.50. I missed "The Great Escape" last week, but tonight they're showing something else called "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure".

That will leave me $5.41 and I already know what I can buy with $5.41: 2 slices of pizza at the pizza place, and a slice of baklava at the Greek restaurant. I'll be able to buy my own food! I won't be able to do this every night, not if I'm also saving for a room, but I'm quite taken with the idea of doing it just this once. I'll have forty-three cents left over and I'm planning to put it in Bryce's tip jar.

 


 

That was a very confusing movie. Time travel doesn't work at all like that. And that wasn't Socrates at all. I strongly suspect that the movie-makers did not actually travel through time to do the filming. It's a bit annoying that they would cut corners like that.

It was delightful experience nevertheless, though. First off it felt so good to be able to pay for my own pieces of pizza for once (and my own baklava, later). Bryce noticed my new clothes and said my sweater looks "rocking" (is that good? I should check with Dean when h

 


 

I've really got to get out of that habit of mind. Anyway I told Bryce about the Gas-n-Sip job and thanked him again about the cash register training, and he seemed genuinely pleased on my behalf. And he smiled about the forty-three cents! It felt so nice to be able to give him something back, after all the slices of pizza and all the help.

And then I went to purchase the baklava (the Greek man was quite nice too - he almost smiled) and then to see the movie. The padded seats are astonishingly comfortable! They're the most comfortable chairs I've sat in since— well, ever, actually. They're so well padded it's almost like sitting on pillows, and they tip a little backwards, and even have a little holder for food. I put the baklava in the little holder and ate it in little bites while I watched the movie. It was absolutely luxurious.

I wonder if the people in the theater realized they were sitting in more comfortable chairs than even the pharoahs of Egypt or the kings of ancient Minoa ever sat in. (I know; I saw their thrones.)

And the movie was so BIG! I've always been fond of the television shows but I've never realized how much more dramatic movie theaters are. The entire room darkens completely, and the screen is immense, and the sound seems to come from all around. One can hear all sorts of other people nearby, eating popcorn and laughing at the jokes and even cheering at the end. It's quite an experience. It was definitely worth $2.50. Even though I didn't understand most of the jokes.

I know I won't always be able to splurge like this, but it was a good day. I've purchased clothing I needed, and bought my own pizza and baklava and gave Bryce forty-three cents and he said my sweater was "rocking" (still must check on that) and saw a movie, all on my own. Perhaps it was a good day because it was All Hallow's Day? Supposedly today is the day of those who have experienced beatific vision, which is to say, those who have attained direct personal communication with God. But I've actually never experienced that myself. Which is odd considering how many eons I spent flying around the Throne of God participating in the triple invocation of holiness, one of the major duties of seraphs of my tier, and a task I've spent much time at. It actually gets quite dull to sing the holiness invocations for so long like that. Come to think of it, this may be blasphemy but it was actually much more enjoyable to go to the movie theater and see Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure for $2.50.

Anyway, today was a good day. The best day in a long time. This proves, I think, that it's really ok that Dean won't be calling. It's all right.

Yet during the movie I kept thinking of him and Sam just the same. The movie was about two close friends, nearly brothers really, on a long journey through time and space, so inevitably I thought of them repeatedly. And also I know I was not understanding a lot of the jokes and I felt sure that Dean could have explained them.

If he'd been here, I mean.

 


 

Saturday the ninth day of November.

It's a week later. Today I got my second paycheck! This was my first "full pay period" and this one was bigger - over three hundred dollars! After the conversion to cash it came to $322.09, which is truly astonishing. I am setting $300 aside and with the remainder I purchased another two of the thick wool socks (I realized I need a pair to wear while the other pair is being washed). And also a small towel at the thrift store. And also I decided to spend $1 every single week for a shower. NOW I believe I have covered all the vessel needs.

Everything is still going fine. I'm warmer now with the extra clothing. Still sleeping in the stockroom. I wash my underwear and socks in the bathroom every other night and dry them overnight by the room heater. I work all morning, and some afternoons, and I spend my extra hours sitting in the bookstore reading. Or going to the seminars - and this week I made a huge breakthrough regarding seminar cookies. It turns out there are frequently cookies at the university, but scattered in different buildings on different days. One has to track them down. It's like a quest. The new development is, the physics students told me that the biology department also has free cookies, on Wednesdays, at the biology seminars; and then the biology students told me about the psychology department cookies on Thursdays, and then the psychology students told me about the history department cookies on Fridays. That's free cookies four days a week. Though, sometimes there's just tea, or sometimes students have eaten all the cookies already, and then it's an awful disappointment. Also, some of the professors are starting to look at me a little suspiciously (it turns out they notice if you put too many cookies in your pockets), so I'm trying to keep to just 4 cookies per seminar, and I'm making sure I actually attend the seminars. Though both the history and the physics department seminars had errors this week (about the translations of the Aztec glyphs and functioning of gravity inside black holes, respectively) so I spoke up with a few suggestions. I'm not entirely sure that they understood what I meant.

My diet now is 4 cookies almost every afternoon, supplemented with the food the Gas-n-Sip throws out - primarily the occasional unsold hot dogs, and any nachos that accidentally got burned. (During my first week it was a tremendous temptation to burn nachos on purpose, but it turns out they can catch on fire quite dramatically so I think maybe I won't try that again.) And the usual assortment of cheese and moldy bread and whatnot from the supermarket dumpster. I've almost got enough to eat now, pretty reliably. In addition I've decided that every 2 weeks I can spend another $5.49 every Friday for a piece of pizza, a piece of baklava and the Friday midnight movie.

So everything's completely fine now, really. Everything's fine.

Everything's really going fine.

Everything's fine.

 


 

It's later. Everything's not fine. I'm still not getting enough sleep. I keep dreaming about flying, and I'm still having the dream of the wolves, and the drowning dream too, and others that are even more disturbing. I can never get back to sleep, and every morning I feel so very tired. Also I feel increasingly unenthusiastic about eating more moldy cheese or old hot dogs. Even the cookies are getting a little tiresome. I keep wondering how Sam and Dean are, and I keep wondering if I could ever get my grace back. Also the stockroom floor is very hard. I keep thinking about that motel room with the 4 pillows and the towels and blankets.

I'm confused about why all these things are bothering me. The vessel needs are all taken care of. I should be completely fine.

Perhaps it is not quite enough just to satisfy one's vessel needs.

In fact an odd new sensation has arisen. As day after day goes by, and night after night in this dark quiet little stockroom, a sensation of solitude has arisen that can become quite oppressive. An emptiness. In the middle of the night it becomes especially powerful. It seems it becomes almost a feeling of grief, perhaps, or of loss. It's very peculiar; solitude never felt this way as an angel. Sometimes when I am awake a long time, I can almost feel it pressing on me, like a heavy weight.

This solitude feeling has gotten progressively worse since I realized Dean is not going to call.

 


 

Sunday the tenth day of November. The dreams kept me awake most of the night and at last I had an idea: I wonder if any of the birds at the park would like to share one of my cookies today?

 


 

 

Found the birds. The jays. But they were skeptical and didn't want to come close. I left a cookie for them anyway. It's actually my last cookie - I was supposed to have it for breakfast, but I crumbled it up and put the pieces around the bushes for them. I hope they find it. It would be nice to feel useful, to somebody, if even in a very small way.

 


 

Tuesday the twelfth day of November.

Something has happened.

I'm writing this during a lull in the morning shift. I just saw a story in the newspaper today; four people have died mysteriously, all locally, in or near Rexford. "Pink substance" at the scene.

I've read the article a dozen times over. This has all the earmarks of something bad. It's not natural; I feel certain. Something's wrong. Something's come to this town.

I ought to investigate this myself.


It's a little later. I find I'm a little ambivalent about the idea of trying to investigate on my own. I have none of the equipment and little of the training for non-angelic combat that Dean and Sam have. I have no guns, no ammunition; I have no partner for backup. I do still have some hand-to-hand combat skills of course, but, I have to confess, it's actually quite unsettling to know that I have no smiting capability at all anymore, and no other powers, and no wings either.

I'm even rather worried about missing shifts at work. (What if I missed a shift and lost my job?)

I do have my blade still, but I feel surprisingly uneasy about this.

I wonder if Dean and Sam might be interested.


I think I should call Dean and let him know about the potential case.


I've decided. I'm going to call Dean. I'll call him now. Now's my mid-morning break; Nora's here to cover for me; it's a good time.


My morning break's almost over. Haven't quite called him yet. I'll call him later.


Now it's my lunch break. I'll call him now. I've got the phone out.


Break's ending. I'll call him later.


 

I finally called him. I don't know why I didn't call him when I actually would have had time to talk; somehow I couldn't, and then I had to call him while I was in the middle of work. Then for some reason it was instantly irritating to hear his voice, which I really didn't anticipate at all, and it distracted me and I made a mistake with the blue drink machine. It took a half hour to clean it up afterwards.

But I did manage to tell him of the case, and then I ended the call immediately. I did not tell him where I am or where I work or where I sleep. Dean and Sam will take care of the case and I will not see them.

I didn't ask any of my questions.

And then things got even more confusing. First Nora found my sleeping bag and toothpaste and toothbrush. This was very alarming; I'd forgotten to hide them as I usually do, because I'd been so distracted about calling Dean. I told her I'd just left the sleeping bag there temporarily but I'm very worried now that Nora might figure out that I've been sleeping here. If I lose this place to sleep, I'll really be in trouble.

Thank goodness she seemed to accept my explanation, but then matters became much more confused immediately, because next Nora seemed to be asking me to join her in some sort of romantic social activity, a "date" if I have the terminology right. I hope I'm understanding it correctly. She said she "didn't want to take advantage of you as my employee" and "didn't want to jeopardize our working relationship" and "it's hard to meet a really great guy" and "tomorrow's my night off and I know it's your night off too and I was wondering if there was any chance you're free tomorrow night?" Am I interpreting this correctly? That's a request for a date, isn't it? I believe so. I don't know. I hope so. Dean would know, but— Anyway. I'll assume it's a date.

I hope she isn't planning to kill me like April was. I'd better keep my blade close by.

 


 

It's evening now. Well, the next morning actually. I've had some difficulty falling asleep. It almost seems I can feel that Dean is closer; am I imagining this? It seems I can feel his presence, just slightly. It's so peculiar to know he and Sam are probably very close to this town, but that I won't even see them.

And of course then I had the worst sort of flying dream.

The dream of flying Dean out of Hell. I've had it off and on, and more frequently since Halloween.

This time was especially vivid. In the dream, I had my wings spread wide, and I had all my old speed and strength and agility. My feathers were fresh-molted; every feather perfect, the flight feathers at their absolute longest, every feather-tip still sharp, my speed at its absolute fastest. And, in the dream, I was in the midst of the great aerial battle to escape from Hell. My fellow angels were falling all around me, wounded and killed; the battle was desperate; the thousand bolts of hellfire were searing the air on all sides; and, of course, Dean was fighting me wildly. This all unfolded as it actually happened. Yet despite everything, despite my brothers dying, despite the battle, the hellfire, despite Dean's fighting — even at the point when he struggled so hard that he threw me off balance and that one awful bolt hit me and I felt my flight feathers begin to burn—

Even despite all of that, it was exhilarating.

So exhilarating. To fly again.

And with Dean's soul safe in my arms. Battered and torn and so terribly wounded, but safe in my arms.

When that hellfire hit my wings, I saw the Gate of Hell close before me and realized I was nearly there. I was almost out. I knew at that point that I would get Dean out. Even though my wings were burning. I wasn't sure I would survive myself, but I knew my feathers would at least last long enough to get him past the Gate. I called to Balthazar to be ready to take him, if my wings failed; but in the end only my outer feathers burned, and though it was painful and I was pretty slow on the final leg of the journey, I did manage to get Dean all the way back to Earth by myself.

By the end Balthazar was begging me to let him help me, but I wanted to see it through.

This time the dream followed my memory exactly. Sometimes it doesn't; sometimes Dean struggles free of my grip, or sometimes I have to pass him to Balthazar and I fall alone, or sometimes I feel my wings burn to ash while I'm still carrying him and we fall together. This time though it followed my memory exactly and I got him all the way back, and reassembled his body, and brought him to life once more.

When I awoke, I was gripped by an intense desire to spread my wings and shake them out, let the power and the light stream through them, and fly away somewhere. I looked around the stockroom and I thought "This room is too small to spread my wings fully— I'll have to step outside." I actually stood up and had even opened the back door before I remembered.

I'm back inside now with the sleeping bag wrapped around me. There's no point trying to sleep now. It seems extremely quiet in this room. And extremely dark, so I have turned the light on to write for a little bit.

Dean and Sam are likely in this town even now, perhaps at one of the motels along route 20, but I won't see them. I'll just work at my job here and try to be a good Sales Associate.

I should think about something else. That solitude feeling has come over me again. It's not a good sensation.

I wonder how the little screech-owl is doing.

Tomorrow morning maybe I'll go bring another cookie to the jays. Maybe they'll accept it from me this time.

 


 

Thursday the fourteenth day of November.

Dean found me yesterday

 


  

It's later. A lot happened yesterday and I can't seem to think of how to summarize it or even what to think. I'm starting here on a fresh page.

Dean found me yesterday. I'd been so careful not to tell him where I was. I should have realized that he might find me. It startled me greatly. I was selling someone a lottery ticket and practicing the thumbs-up sign and suddenly there he was.

For some reason he'd come alone. He says Sam has stayed in Kansas. He didn't say why.

He did not understand why I am working here. He thought I am working in a menial occupation that is beneath me. This concept had never occurred to me till that very moment, and at once it made me angry. Surprisingly so. Once again, just like last night, I wished so much that I had my wings back - simply so that I could have flown away.

I tried to explain how complex the job is and how much there is to do, that I am a Sales Associate now, how much responsibility I have for the whole store, how difficult it has been, all of it; but he didn't seem to understand. He wasn't even interested.

All along he had that slightly mocking tone. He thinks I don't notice; but I do. I always have. It never mattered much to me before. Before, it was of little import.

But now it matters. I'm not even sure why.

Eventually he did convince me to come to the scene of the latest death. There's been a fifth. A girl at the high school.

As soon as I saw the scene I knew it was a Rit Zien. Dean deduced that I was frightened; I was quite ashamed by that, and I wanted to help him. But as I was sitting there thinking about it, and realizing anew that I cannot smite and cannot fly and have no real powers and no guns, as I was right in the middle of all those thoughts, Dean spoke again and said he'd take care of it on his own.

I was further ashamed.

And the shame didn't end there, for later it turned out Nora was not asking me on a date after all. This was after Dean had even had to give me a whole set of instructions that I didn't understand at all (why would Nora "lie" about "going Dutch?" Do women become Dutch suddenly and then lie about it?) - and in the end it was all pointless anyway because it turns out I misunderstood the entire situation. Nora was only asking me to take care of her baby. I'm still trying to figure out how I misunderstood her. I've looked back at what she said and I'm quite baffled. But I really should know by now that I'll never understand this culture; or, humans at all, really. And furthermore, I also should know by now that nobody would be thinking of me as a romantic partner anyway. Only April has ever acted interested in me in such a way, and that was only because she was planning to kill me. It appears I make just as bad a human as I did an angel.

It doesn't really matter. Nora didn't even realize I'd misunderstood, and the baby certainly didn't care, and I found I didn't actually care much myself. I was only going on the date at all because it seemed part of the role I must learn to play here. And I suppose it doesn't matter that Dean witnessed my confusion about it. I can't fall any farther in Dean's regard anyway.

Actually I quite liked the baby. Her name is Tanya. I could talk to her. It's the first time I have been able to talk to anyone freely in a long time.

But then Tanya got sick while in my care and I could not heal her.

I could not heal her.

And worse still: the Rit Zien, whose name was Ephraim, tracked me down at Nora's house, so Tanya was put at risk too. That was bad enough, but also it turns out he came for me. For me specifically. He told me so. He said he could hear my pain from miles away. I believe this is why he came to the town in the first place, and that means the five other people in this town who died, likely died because of me. Five more to add to a long list.

Ephraim was trying to put me down as one would a crippled dog. His kind were created to end unbearable agony swiftly. I tried to tell him that I want to live, but it seemed he knew I was lying.

Should I have even tried to stop him? I'm still unsure.

Dean had to help me in the end; as I feared, I was not strong enough to fight Ephraim on my own. Ephraim is dead now, but my wrist was damaged in the fight. After all that I still had this idea in my head to try to conceal from Dean where I'm sleeping, so I asked Dean to take me to a hospital and leave me there while he went to deal with Ephraim's body, which he'd put in the trunk of his car. I think he burned it somewhere; he didn't return till hours later, near dawn. By then the hospital staff had concluded that I have a "hairline fracture" and damaged tendons in my wrist, and they were fitting me with an arm brace. It was sunrise by the time I got out of the emergency room, and indeed I was able to hide from Dean the fact that I still don't have a home. At dawn I simply told him to drive me "to work."

But I now realize it was completely pointless to even bother trying to hide where I am sleeping. Yesterday Dean was scoffing at my job, which was infuriating but at least implied that he thinks I'm capable of something more. Just a single day later, just this morning, Dean had concluded that I should stay here and work as a Sales Associate after all.

He'd already given up on me. In one day. In a single day.

He did say I'm "adapting". Whatever that means. 

I think he was trying to be kind.

I cannot seem to get my last image of Dean out of my mind. As he was about to leave, I leaned to the car window to say goodbye and as I looked at him there, sitting in the driver's seat of his black car, ready to head off, all at once I was overwhelmed with the desire to tell him everything. To confess how difficult it's been, how cold and hungry I've been, how hard I've worked, what a struggle everything is; even the little things like how hard the floor of the stockroom is, how much I wish I had even 1 pillow, how sick I am of burned nachos and dried-out old hot dogs, how empty and dark and quiet the stockroom is at night; that awful solitude feeling that keeps haunting me. And all the bigger things too, how desperately I miss my wings, how stunningly bewildering it is to not be an angel anymore. How dearly I wish I could undo all my mistakes and set things right. All the hundred things I wanted to say to him all came running through my mind at once.

Yet most of all, above everything else, I wanted to ask him to take me with him. Back to Kansas. The sentence was all framed in my mind. But I could not speak.

He waved goodbye; I turned away; he drove off; and that was that.

I doubt he'll return.

And Sam never came at all. Dean came alone. Dean said Sam was busy; but I know that Sam doesn't stay behind on hunts. I can only think that Sam didn't even want to see me. Not even just to say hello.

Dean said he was "proud" of me. It's funny; he's so certain that he's a good liar, but I can tell when he's lying.

 


 

It's the next day, Friday the fifteenth day of November. Today's the day I'd been planning to go see another movie but I'm worried about money. I had told Dean I could afford to buy the pain medication for my wrist injury - he offered to purchase it but I really wanted to seem, and be, self-sufficient, so I said I would buy it myself later. That was a mistake. It turns out it's quite expensive if one has no "health plan". It would be forty-five dollars and then I might not be able to afford a room for December. I wish I'd taken Dean up on the offer.

So I didn't do the movie, or the pizza or baklava. Instead I went to the university to get a couple of cookies. Then, this was foolish but, I found myself going immediately to the park to give both the cookies to the birds -  which wasn't what I'd planned at all, but they have started coming toward me to pick up the crumbs. So that made me feel a little bit better at least. Then I just sat in the park till late at night, to listen to the little owl, and then came back here.

I wish I had a pillow to prop my arm on. It hurts when I just let it rest on the floor. I've put it on a stack of paper towels but it's aching so strongly, and the throbbing is keeping me awake. I've put some ice on it. I wish the pain would stop. I wish all the pain would stop.

 


 

Same night. Still can't sleep. Maybe I could get to sleep if I write down what I could not say?

Things I wish I had said to Dean:

1. are you ok / is Sam ok. It strikes me now, looking back, that though he spoke about Kevin somewhat, he was reluctant to speak about Sam. It strikes me, actually, as I look back on everything, that there may be something wrong. He had that shuttered look that he gets sometimes. Brusque, cool, a little withdrawn. That look has never been a good sign and often it means he's hiding something.

2. Why didn't you ever call?

3. Do you still consider me to be "family?" I suspect not. But I would like to know.

Do you still consider me a "friend" at least?

Maybe someday I could buy you, and Sam, a bottle of beer? I'd like to do that, if it were okay.

 


 

Saturday the sixteenth day of November.

Hand still hurting quite a bit. It's better if I walk around (the walking distracts me) so I went to the park to give some cookies to the birds again. I was going to give them two and save two for myself for dinner but they were waiting for me this time and they'd brought some friends, some additional birds; and I ended up giving them all four of today's cookies.

 


 

Sunday the seventeenth day of November.

This is ridiculous. I keep giving all my cookies to the birds. I've got to stop this. I don't have any food left.

But they seemed so happy to see me.

 


 

Monday the eighteenth day of November. I'm at the pharmacy. I've decided to buy the pain medication after all. Then I saw they had sleeping medication too, "over the counter" whatever that means, and suddenly I asked for that as well. I've had such trouble sleeping.

I'm very annoyed with myself. It's a huge amount of money and also I've been giving away all my cookies and I have nothing to eat but half a plate of burned nachos now. But it'll be so good to get some sleep.

Dean forgot to take the FBI badge. The one that has my picture that he loaned me for the Rit Zien case. I found it in the side pocket of my bag just now while at the pharmacy.

 


 

Thursday the twenty-first day of November. I keep looking at the FBI badge. It seems like a sign. Dean doesn't usually forget that sort of thing. I keep looking at it and I could not stop thinking of the way Dean was looking at me when he left, and the way he was advising me to be just a Sales Associate, and the way his voice sounded when he said "You're scared."

I keep thinking about everything I've been through, back millennia; that I was a seraph of the Lord, that I flew out of Hell with my wings aflame, that I once led the armies of Heaven.

 


 

I've come to a major decision. I think that Dean leaving the FBI badge with me is a sign. I must re-enter the battle. I must return to my mission and my goals. I AM "a part of this", to use one of the phrases from the television. It was MY grace that was used to bar Heaven. I can't turn aside.

I WILL prove that I can be useful. I will. I must. And I've realized what I have to do: I will learn to be a hunter. That's why Dean forgot the badge - so that I would still have it! The FBI badge has to be a sign. It has to mean SOMETHING. Doesn't it? If it could just mean something, if there were ANY purpose at all to ANY of this, any point to any of it, if there is something I can grasp hold of that will make all this worthwhile - why Dean would kick me out, why I have lost my two friends, all the struggle, all the solitude - it must mean something. Mustn't it?

I can't accept that it's all for nothing.

So I have a new goal: I will learn to be a hunter. Maybe I'll cross paths with Sam and Dean again, too, someday - and if I do, I will buy them each a bottle of beer, as a gesture of friendship. (Even if not family, I would so like it if they would be willing to still be friends, of some sort.) I'll be a hunter and I'll buy them each a beer and I'll learn to contribute something. Even if it's small.

And this means I need a car. With the money I've saved up. Not a room at all - a CAR. A car is the first requirement. I have no wings; I MUST have mobility if I'm to be any kind of hunter at all. And I'll have to learn to drive.

I'll need one of those black suits as well. "FBI threads" as Sam put it once.

This will take all my money. I won't be able to get housing at all. I've got to do it though.

 


  

Things to ask Dean if I should meet him while on a hunt.

1. is he really ok / Sam ok. Progressively more worried about this the more I think about it.

2. I'm NOT useless.

- combat skills (surely I'm not completely useless here? Even with no powers?), wash dishes/clean (can't this be useful?), Enochian (wouldn't this help?)

- Sales Associate skills. Can prepare nachos, etc.

- Also soon I'll have my own car and FBI threads and I will know how to drive.

3. other:

I know I'll never get to ask Dean these questions but somehow it's helpful to write them out anyway.

I have so many questions about cars. There are so many types. New vehicles turn out to be impossibly expensive. There are many used ones though that are much cheaper. There are complications of licensing and paperwork. I know Dean could have helped with all this but I suppose I can just pick out a vehicle on my own. Demetrios, the Greek man who gave me the baklava, has told me that his elderly father can no longer drive and that he has an old car that may be for sale cheap. He's going to inquire.

The solitude feeling at night is getting worse. But if I take two of the sleeping pills + 2 of the pain ones then I can get through a night. I wonder if this is advisable. The label on the side of the pain medication bottle says "do not combine with other medications" but there doesn't seem to be any other way to get to sleep.

 


 

Thursday the twenty-seventh day of November. I became aware yesterday that today is a holiday. Thanksgiving. I've heard of it but haven't been down on Earth for one before. Apparently it's an autumn harvest festival involving eating a meal with family.

It did not seem to concern me so I ignored it. The store is closed though and Nora gave me the day off. I planned to continue the car shopping but didn't realize that virtually the entire town would be closed. The library is closed, and the bookstore and the other places I usually spend my days off, and even the people with used cars for sale were annoyed when I tried to call their phones.

The university has had no seminars this week and I've had no cookies to eat this week so I've been hungrier than usual. Nora shut down some of the food-making due to the holiday so there are no nachos or hot dogs available either. But there were some stale hot dog buns, so I took those to the park and fed the birds. The jays all came, and today there were some chickadees too.

I think I had enough hot dog bun crumbs for everybody. (Though I forgot to save a bun for myself.)

It was snowing lightly today; the first real sign of winter. But even so there were a few little groups of people strolling around the park. All in family groups, nobody alone. I overheard some bits of their conversations, as I sat on the bench watching the jays eat the last of the crumbs, and it seemed all the people had all either just finished their big family meal together, or were just about to start it. Overhearing all this, I decided I would treat myself to 1 frozen burrito for dinner tonight, as a special treat. I can purchase one at the Gas-n-Sip once I return there for the night. It'll cost 99 cents but I do have money saved up. I'm uncertain how much the car will cost, but it seems like I could allow 1 burrito for a special meal.

At sunset it grew cold and all the birds began to fly away to their night-time roosts, as they do. I knew it was time to return to the store, and the dark stockroom, and time to spread my sleeping bag out on the floor. Yet as I watched the last group of birds fly away the solitude feeling became almost unbearable, like an aching in my throat, and bringing with it such a feeling of desolation. I had to struggle to remember why it's even worthwhile to get in out of the cold. It took some concentration even just to remember my new plan.

I wondered where Dean and Sam are.

It grew very cold. Every place in town was closed, so I returned to the Gas-n-Sip. I'm normally not there so early and I wasn't sure what to do with myself for so many hours. Of course the Gas n Sip's closed too, so it was very quiet. Eventually I put the television on for entertainment. First it was just the sport that has the two helmeted armies that attack each other on a field of green grass, which brought back some uncomfortable battlefield memories. Thankfully, soon that finished and then there was a series of shows about families. All the advertisements involved families eating meals together or giving each other gifts for Christmas.

None of this seems relevant to me so I have turned it off.

It is very quiet now. I have been planning to eat the burrito, but now that I've heated it, I find the solitude feeling has become very much worse and, oddly, my hunger seems to have gone away too. I'll wrap up the burrito and save it for tomorrow.

Now I only want to lie down in the dark and sleep.

It has come to me just now, as I write this down, that this solitude sensation must be what humans call "loneliness". Of course I've heard the term many times before but, though suddenly it seems quite obvious, I hadn't recognized the sensation till right now. I've been feeling this for months but hadn't identified what it was. I never felt this as an angel; I was never really alone, as an angel.

3 sleeping pills tonight I think. It's only eight o'clock but I think I'll take them now.

I hope Sam and Dean are having a nice meal somewhere.

 


 

Dean flipped the book shut and sat for a long time staring at Cas's hand, which was still wrapped tight in his own.

Dean didn't say anything.

He'd run out of stuff to say. Cas couldn't hear him now anyway. It was too late. It was simply too late. Dean knew that now.

Far too little, and far too late.

 

Chapter Text

There was nothing to say, really.

There was really nothing to do but keep hold of Cas's hand, and keep reading.

I gotta at least read the rest, thought Dean, staring at Cas's hand. I gotta read the whole story.

I owe him that much.

Dean turned the page.


Sunday, the first day of December.

I've done it.

I bought a car.

I got my 3rd paycheck. It brought my savings to an astonishing $667.58, and after some difficult negotiating I managed to come to an agreement with Demetrios on a price of $500 for his father's old car. Apparently he considers this a scandalously low offer (though it seems outrageously high to me) - but Demetrios's wife whispered to me at one point, over baklava and coffee, that it's a very old car and has "some quirks" and needs new tires. So I stuck to my offer. Then today Demetrios said he has had no other offers, and that he and his wife like the idea of giving it to me, so he has accepted my offer!

I'm sitting in it right now! I managed to get it back here to the Gas n Sip's parking lot. There seem to be some details about traffic lights and signs and road customs that I should probably learn about. And a few things about steering and braking. Also there's quite a lot of levers and buttons. It's not as intuitive as flying. But I think I can learn; Audrey at the library has pointed me to some information about driving regulations. Demetrios told me I need to get new "plates" for it— I take it he meant the numbers that are bolted to the front and back of the car— and a new "registration," but of course I can't do any of that sort of thing. So I've left Demetrios's father's numbers on it for now. I'm going to have to be extremely cautious about not attracting attention. I'm planning to spend all afternoon reading the driving regulations and memorizing the owner's manual, and then all evening I'll practice steering it around, in the parking lots at the university.

It's a gold colored car. It's called a "Continental,", which I take to mean that it is suited for long drives across the continent; that should be good for a hunter's car. It's quieter than Dean's car, and it doesn't seem to go very fast, but it runs, and the seats are very comfortable, and the heater works. It's bigger than Dean's; it's wide enough that I think I could sleep in the back seat if I need to. And there's a lot of room in the trunk for bodies and weapons.

I don't know what Dean would think of it. He'd undoubtedly have some kind of opinion.

For some reason I suspect he wouldn't like it.

But I like it. I think the gold is pretty. It's warm. It's comfortable. And it's mine, and I got it by myself.

 


 

NOTE: Must remember to steer with my hands and NOT my tail— surprisingly hard to break that reflex from flying. Must remember I'm not in my true form and this vessel doesn't have a tail. Twisting my rear end around in the seat does not help make the car turn. Must use the steering wheel.

 


 

Monday, the second day of December.

Finally got the steering sorted out, I think.

And I've been shopping.

Every store is suddenly very different. They're all full of conifer trees now, and conifer branches everywhere, twisted into circles and hung on the doors, and little electric lights everywhere. It's all Christmas decorations, it turns out. Even though Christmas is weeks away. I haven't been on Earth for Christmas before. It's remarkable how they seem to still using the pagan rituals from thousands of years ago; I remember some of these customs from the time of Stonehenge. It seems though that the origin of the customs has been forgotten. It's all really a pagan solstice ritual, of course, but somehow it's drifted 4 days later than the actual solstice and been blended with Heavenly symbology related to the birth of Christ (who was not actually born in December at all, if I recall correctly).

But it once was all a ritual about surviving the winter. The conifer trees were worshiped because they alone, of all the wintry world, were somehow still alive. Somehow still green in the midst of all the snow, still displaying a promise of the greenery of spring. The lights on the trees were real candles once, lit in a plea to call the sun back from its mysterious retreat - an attempt to coax it to return and lengthen the days once more. At its heart, the whole event was a ceremony about trying to survive the dark and the cold of winter, and trying to have hope that spring would come again.

Many of the trees in the stores have an angel at the top. Always with its wings spread wide. A symbol of that hope, perhaps? A hope that spring will come again?

It spoke to me deeply. I kept looking at the little angels on the tops of the conifer trees and I thought, I've fallen off the tree. I want to get back on the tree.

I WILL get back on the tree. I WILL survive this winter. The sun WILL come back; for me, and for everyone; somehow, someday.

And one day perhaps I'll be an angel again? Someone worthy of being placed on the very top of the Christmas tree.  Or, if not an angel, at least someone of some usefulness. Maybe only at the bottom of the tree, I suppose, realistically.  But, to be on the tree at all, to be a part of it, is worth struggling for.

I've got the gold-colored car. I've still got some money. I'm going to be a hunter. I've got a chance now.

With all that in mind, I made three additional investments.

First, I managed to find a dark suit at the thrift store for $35. It's in good condition, it fits well, and I think it will be suitable as FBI threads.

And while at the thrift store I saw something else: A tan-colored coat.

Very like the one I used to have. The one of Jimmy's, I mean.

The tan coat was $18 and I bought it too. It isn't exactly the same style as Jimmy's; it's a little bit shorter. But I need a coat anyway (well, actually, I need a warmer coat, but I couldn't afford one). And my angel blade fits well in the sleeve, and for some reason it's quite appealing to reassemble something like the outfit that I had before. The one I had when I first met Dean and Sam. Dark suit, tan coat. I even have a white shirt again too, the one I bought last month for my job.

So the third thing I looked for was a tie. The thrift store had one with blue stripes for $8 but I didn't want stripes, I wanted a tie that was blue all over, like the old one; so I kept looking and eventually found a blue-all-over tie at another store for $28. I almost got it... but $28 is a lot, and I don't have much money left, and then I remembered something and I went to the pizza store to talk to Bryce.

I asked Bryce his advice about whether $20 would be enough to buy three bottles of beer at a bar, for myself and two friends. He said $20 should be enough to buy "a round of brewskies for your buddies." He also confirmed that this gesture of buying "a round" is a gesture of friendship.

So after thinking about it I've decided not to buy the $28 blue-all-over tie and instead to get the $8 blue-stripes tie and set aside the other $20 in case I should see Sam and Dean again. I've put a $20 bill in the glove compartment of the gold-colored car to keep it safe.

And now I have a gold-colored car and FBI threads, and a tan coat and a blue-striped tie and FBI badge, and $20 to buy a round of brewskies, and I've taught myself how to drive the car. I'll have to sleep in the stockroom for as least another month, but it seems worth it.

 


 

Tuesday the third day of December. There has been a massacre in a town in Wyoming. I've read all the news reports I could find, online at the library's computers, and I believe this to be the work of angels.

I just purchased the car two days ago. And the FBI threads and the tan coat and blue-striped tie just yesterday. And today, a case; and it's only a four-hour drive away! Wyoming is the very next state over! It shares a border with Idaho.

It seems like a sign.

Maybe I can get back on the tree after all?

I can do this. I know I'm new at driving, but I've watched Dean often as he drove, and I've already memorized all the regulations, and I think I can navigate there safely if I go slowly. I still have $89.58 (not counting the $20 in the glove compartment). I think that's enough for gas there and back, if I'm cautious and don't spend much money. I can bring enough moldy cheese and burned nachos and seminar cookies to last me for a few days. I can bring my sleeping bag and sleep in the back seat of my gold-colored car. My sore wrist has been better (now that I have the pain medication) and I think I can get by without the wrist brace.

I realize this likely means I won't be able to afford a room in January OR February. In fact, if I really start working cases, it's occurring to me that likely I'll never be able to afford a room. Or a bed at all. Certainly not four pillows. Maybe I will always have to sleep on the stockroom floor.

But I'm increasingly certain now that it's more important to try to be a hunter and do something useful than to have a bed with four pillows.

 


 

It's still Tuesday. My shift just ended. I just asked Nora for tomorrow and Thursday off. I told her it was a "family emergency," which is certainly true. She was reluctant, for it's very short notice, but it turns out Cory can switch his schedule around to cover my shifts, and I promised Nora over and over that I'll definitely be back to cover Cory's shifts on the weekend. Nora said yes!

So I'm in my gold-colored car now and I've got my sleeping bag, and a bag of burned nachos and cookies, and Nora even gave me a new hot dog (w/bun) and two bottles of water! I'm going to leave right away. I'll stop by the park first and crumble up the bun for the birds, and then I'll start the drive to Wyoming, and sleep in the back seat once I get there. Wednesday and Thursday I can "work the case," and on Thursday night I'll drive back.

The whole world seems bigger suddenly. The sky seems bluer, the sun brighter. I know I'm on the right path. I can feel it.

 


 

Sunday the eighth day of December.

It's five days later.

I'm in a hospital in Wyoming, waiting for my wounds to be stitched up.

Interesting to look at the last several entries and see how badly I misjudged.

I did find the crime scene, and it was indeed the work of angels. I was pleased, actually, to find that I was able to pass successfully as an FBI agent. It seemed it was all working, for once; the car, the FBI threads, the badge, the FBI phrases I've learned watching Dean and Sam work other cases; even the turns of phrase I've learned recently from the television were coming in handy. It seemed at last it was all coming together. When I arrived, the policemen actually seemed to accept me. AND, I was immediately able to detect some clues.

And then Sam and Dean turned up. Working the very same case! I'd wondered if they'd might appear (I'd even told the policemen to expect them) but hadn't been sure.

For a moment I felt a sense of such rightness. It felt so good to be together with them again; and so very good to have been on the scene before they were, to be able to contribute, to be in a different role now. To be greeting Dean while wearing the FBI threads and blue-striped tie, instead of the Gas n Sip vest that he so disliked.

And Sam came too! He even smiled at me.

I even began to have hopes of inquiring about the bunker. (I was thinking, maybe if I said I could find my own food; maybe if I pointed out that I now have my own car?)

Yet Dean seemed uneasy to see me. More than uneasy; he seemed very uncomfortable, almost upset, that I'm trying to work a case.

This was disturbing but I hoped maybe he was just startled to see me, and I tried to set it aside.

Later that evening we reconvened at a bar together. The moment I parked the gold-colored car I realized I might have the opportunity to purchase beers for both of them, so I got the $20 bill from the glove compartment just in case. Sure enough Sam soon offered to "get us another round" and thanks to Bryce I knew what a "round" is, so I said "it's on me", which I am fairly certain is the right phrase, and went to buy the beers myself. I've never done it before but I'd watched other patrons and had observed what they do: the sequence is, you go up to the bar and wave one hand at the bartender until he notices you; then you tell him what you want, he gives you the drinks, then you pay, Bryce said to leave 1 dollar per beer as a tip, and then you carry the beers away. In other countries the sequence can be very different— when and who to pay, how to order, etc. It's one of those little social scripts that's far less intuitive to an outsider than the locals realize. It's the kind of detail I used to ignore. But now I wanted to get it right.  I tried it and it all went like clockwork.

I was very happy for 2 minutes. Standing at the bar, catching the bartender's eye, ordering a round of beer for Sam and Dean and myself, paying for it all myself, carrying it back to them. I've been looking forward to that moment for a long time.

I wish I could wipe everything from my mind that happened after. I'd like to just stay in that 2 minutes.

Once I got back to the table with the beers Sam left immediately.

He said he had to "get something from the car" but he never returned.

He didn't say goodbye.

I didn't fully realize at first why Sam had left. But then Dean, who was looking even more uncomfortable at this point, said we couldn't work together and that I should leave at once.

There was nothing this time about "sorry I asked you to leave" or "I'm proud of you" or any of that. He was much more blunt this time. He said, they have to "keep their distance" from me, he said "we can't work together" and then he told me I should leave at once, before Sam came back.

For a moment I couldn't seem to take it in. I thought I'd heard him wrong. I wondered for a moment if I was in one of the bad dreams.

But it wasn't a dream. Finally I nodded and left. I set my beer down and left. Only once I got outside did I finally realize that Sam didn't drink any of his beer; instead he actually walked away. Dean drank none of his beer either. (I didn't even get to drink any myself, but that hardly matters.)

At last I understood: They'd both refused my offering of friendship.

They must have been trying to give me a very clear signal so that I wouldn't misunderstand this time.

Looking back on it all, I now feel a little bad that I put them both in that position. It must have felt awkward for them. Poor Sam had to actually leave and Dean looked so very uncomfortable. Increasingly I feel bad about that. I wonder how long they have felt that way.

I wish I could apologize for not understanding sooner.

I got in my car and moved it to the other side of town, in the hope I wouldn't run into Dean or Sam again, and set out the sleeping bag in the back seat.

I kept coming to the conclusion that there was nothing to do but to head back to Idaho.

I never did get any sleep that night.

The next day I tried to start driving back to Idaho. But as I was heading out of town I passed a little motel, and then I found myself pulling into the motel parking lot. I just couldn't leave, I couldn't just go back to Idaho, I couldn't, not after coming so far. Then I booked a room, which I had sworn I wouldn't do (it costs so much). And more foolish still, once in the room I didn't even take advantage of any of the amenities that I'd looked forward to for so long! I forgot to enjoy the pillows or the towels or the heat or the shower, or any of it, and instead I reached out to my other family. My old family. I sent out a prayer to all the angels, using every method of prayer I could think of, begging for help.

This wasn't something I had planned on at all but I suppose I was desperate.

I don't care to linger on the events of the next several days but I suppose I should set them down here just for completeness. One angel did answer my prayer— Muriel was her name— but she tried to abandon me as soon as she realized who I was. I begged her to help me. Mere moments later we were both captured by other angels, and held and tortured. We were held for two days in shackles. The first day was beatings. On the second day Muriel was killed before my eyes, solely for the crime of being found in my company. Then more torture, this time with blades. It began to get very bad and finally I thought "I just want this to end. All of it" and I asked for a quick death. But then there was an unanticipated development: my torturer turned to be of uncertain mind about his own future, and I managed to convince him to free me. I had a brief moment, even, of thinking of taking his grace, and killing him; but I was sick at the thought of yet another angel dying because of me. So together we fought our way out.

At the very end of the battle he was killed. So he died anyway.

I got away.

It took another day to find my way back to a town, and back to my car, and here I am at the hospital to get the lacerations stitched up. I've been sitting here a long time, thinking.

The FBI threads and white shirt and the blue-striped tie were sliced to ribbons and coated with blood. They're ruined.

My FBI badge was sliced in half by one of the blades as well. I've been sitting here in the emergency room looking at the pieces, wondering if it might be possible to tape it back together, but it's no use.


Still in the hospital. A few minutes ago I finally roused myself enough to give Dean a call, very briefly, just to tell him Ezekiel is dead - something I learned while under torture. I know now he doesn't want to work together, but nonetheless I thought I should pass on just that 1 piece of information. I tried not to talk to him very long.

The phone battery died right after that call, and it occurred to me I don't actually need to charge it again, so I've left it dead.


I've put the pieces of the FBI badge in the trash.


The doctors say I can go now. 126 stitches; 8 lacerations; one on my face, a couple on my arms, most on my chest. My wrist is pretty sore too, but I didn't bother mentioning that.

I'll drive back to Idaho tomorrow, and apologize to Nora for missing four days of shifts. I can earn up more money, and sleep on the stockroom floor. I can save up and try to get a room in January.

I should sell my gold-colored car. Then I'd have a better chance of finding a room in January.


No. I can't bear the thought of selling it.


Tuesday the tenth day of December

I lost my job, and I

 

 


It's a little later. I've been sitting here in the car till I could compose myself enough to keep writing.

I came back to the Gas n Sip this morning. It was supposed to be my shift today, but Nora was training a new employee. She apologized but said she had to hire somebody else when I didn't show up for work. She seemed very sorry. She said she tried to call me (and of course my phone's been dead for several days now), and then she went to the address I had given her on the job application and found it was a false one, and then tried to call the references I'd given for previous employers— she was still just trying to get in touch with me— and she found those was false too. Then she checked other things— the SSN, the education— and found it was all lies.

She asked me outright if there was anything at all that was true. I told her the emergency contact information is true (I had put down Dean's name, and his real phone number), and my own phone number is true, but had to admit nothing else was. She had already consulted with "corporate" and they've told her she must fire me.

So I finally paid the price for the 8 lies.

After all that, she still apologized for firing me. I think she felt bad when she saw the stitches and bruises. She said "corporate" had been very firm. It was a sad farewell; she even began to cry, and I felt (and still feel) very bad that I lied to her and put her in such an awful position.

I still had a little bit of money due to me, from days I worked the week before last, and she has paid me that. So I've still got a little bit of money.

But no job.

 


 

Wednesday the eleventh day of December.

I slept in the car overnight. It was terrifyingly cold. I ended up having to run the car almost all night, off and on, for warmth.

I should take stock.

HAVE: shirt, sweater, pants, belt, 3 underwears, 6 socks, 2 shoes, hat, scarf, gloves, tan coat. The leather bag Dean gave me. Toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste (almost empty), deodorant (almost used up), razor. This book and the pen. Blue three-season sleeping bag. Gas-n-Sip name badge and id card. Cell phone (dead) and the charger. Gold-colored car (needs gas). $70.37 in cash.

IMMEDIATE VESSEL NEEDS: Need food every day. Need water every day. Need much warmer place to sleep. Need much warmer clothing.

MISSION:

 

 

GOALS:

 

 

 


 

Thursday the twelfth day of December.

It snowed last night.

Had to run the car again. It's nearly out of gas now.

Even with my sleeping bag, and even staying inside the car, it's so cold. Also it's hard to get comfortable with all the bruises and stitches.

Started to look for a job. No luck. Every store says they've already hired their "holiday help".

I got as far the bookstore and then saw the little angel on top of their Christmas tree, and I remembered that during the torture they taunted me, calling me "Top-of-the-Christmas-tree Castiel, the dupe." They knew I'm nothing but an idiot and a fool. An angel no more. No grace, no wings, and certainly nobody's choice for top of a Christmas tree. Or anywhere on a Christmas tree.

All the customers were buying presents for their families and friends.

I gave up on the job search. Went to the grocery store dumpster to look for food. It's a lot harder when the dumpster's full of snow, but I found a loaf of bread that is only 1/3 moldy.

Then I went and shared the bread with the birds, which was stupid of me. Had to buy some food.

Sleeping pills all gone. Pain medication almost gone.

$58.50 left.

 


 

Can't sleep. I've been lying here thinking: When exactly was it that Dean and Sam decided they no longer wanted to work with me?

Was it years ago, and I was just too blind to notice?

After the lying? Certainly that was the beginning of the end.

After Purgatory? But Dean seemed to have been trying to bring me back.

After the crypt? Certainly Dean has reason to distrust me. I broke his arm, I caused him tremendous pain, I fled with the tablet.

I wonder if it would have been any different if I'd explained why; what Naomi really did to me (I've never told him); what I feared she might have done (I became very worried that I might hurt Dean again); what the tablet was saying.

Or was it when I lost my grace and showed what a useless fool I am?

All of the above, I suppose. I see now that I destroyed our friendship long ago; I just never could accept that it was beyond repair.

Odd how I still wish I could have shown him my gold-colored car.

 


 

Friday the 13th. It's snowing. I have to get somewhere warmer. I started looking for a job again but there is nothing, and it's unbelievably cold, even inside the sleeping bag in the car. I'm shivering all night and all day now. I can't get enough to eat.  I still have a little bit of money from my last Gas n Sip pay, $45.77 actually, but I'm scared to spend it — I know I'll need it for gas just to run the car at night to keep from freezing.

So tonight I went to the pizza store hoping for free pizza. Bryce was worried about my bruises and cuts; I told him it was nothing. Then I was ashamed to tell him I'd been fired and he started to ring up two pizza slices for me to buy, and I realized I'd have to tell him that I couldn't afford to buy my own pizza anymore and that I'd actually been hoping he might have some leftover slices for free. But I couldn't say anything, and just watched him ring it up, two big slices, and he said "Three-ninety-eight" and still I couldn't say anything. He said, "Earth to Steve, three-ninety-eight," and I said "I lost my job" and out of nowhere I started to cry. Then I couldn't stop! I couldn't stop at all. It was frightening, and also I felt terrifically embarrassed. Bryce was incredibly kind and even insisted I take an entire pizza, a whole pizza in a box, and he wanted me to stay and talk, but I left as quick as I could.

Now I'm ashamed to go back there. Friday the thirteenth indeed.

I've already devoured the entire pizza. Sat in the bus station and ate the whole thing. I couldn't even make myself save the crusts for the birds. Hopefully that'll hold me for a few days.

But I have to get somewhere warmer. I know it's foolish but I'm going to pay $2.50 to see the midnight movie, just to get out of this cold.

 


 

The midnight movie was called "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone". It was about 3 friends. One is very lonely and his family is cruel to him, but then he meets the other 2. The 3 friends help each other and they have enormous meals in a huge dining room together and they work on cases together. I walked out halfway through.  I sat in the lobby and fell asleep on a bench there. Eventually they asked me to leave.

$43.27 left. I'm so angry at myself for spending $2.50 and then leaving early.

 


 

Sun 15 Dec. There are no jobs. If I am to survive at all I need to leave this town and drive somewhere that's not freezing, and I need to do this immediately. I have to get out of the snow zone to have any chance at all. But I'm almost out of money for gas. I believe my best chance is to go straight west to the Pacific Ocean; it's only a day's drive, and the coast is always warmer and it rains there instead of snowing. I've filled the tank as much as I could. It took almost all my money. I saved $5.00 for emergencies; all the rest I spent on gas. I am heading out as soon as the sun rises.

 


 

Mon 16th. Only got as far as Spokane when the car ran so low on gas that I knew I should stop while I was still in a town. Spokane is on the wrong side of the Cascade mountains; I have not yet reached the warmer side of the mountains, the western side by the Pacific Ocean, and I know $5 of gas won't even get me to the mountains.

I'm still in the snow zone; it's below freezing here. But I have to stop here.

 


 

Tues 17th. I've been looking for work all day. No luck.

I kept coughing today. I don't know why. Maybe it's the cold air. Maybe because I'm so dirty? I wish I could take a shower. I haven't had one in over a week.

Bought some food. A big bowl of soup, which came with free saltine crackers so I took an enormous amount of the crackers. It made me laugh to realize I've ended up with crackers just like the ones Dean gave me in the beginning.

Somehow I didn't have much appetite though. I ate half the soup and two crackers, and brought the rest back to the car to eat later. I've parked the car in a little side street near a public library, and there are some birds here! So I ended up feeding some of the crackers to the local birds. Mostly sparrows this time. I know I should have eaten the crackers myself, but it's so very nice to see the sparrows hopping around.

$2.08 left. Two dollar bills, a nickel and three pennies.

 


 

Wed 18th. Something's wrong. The coughing is much worse and today it's tremendously difficult to walk even a short distance. I tried to look for work again but I couldn't walk as far as usual and I had to spend a long time resting. Barely got back to the library to drink some water. I tried to eat the soup but then threw up in a snowbank outside. I fed the rest of my crackers to the birds; I can't eat them anyway.

 


 

Thurs 19th. I think I'm sick. Is this influenza perhaps? I can't stop shivering. That's the sign of a fever, I know. Coughs hurt a lot now. Chest hurts. Head hurts. Nauseous. Everything hurts. So cold.

So much for the angel of Thursday.

Couldn't go anywhere today. Couldn't look for work at all. Only could walk very slowly to the library bathroom and back.

Tried to drink a little water at the library but even just water seems nauseating.

Exhausted.

Too tired to sit up & watch birds. Can still hear them though if I keep window open a little.

 


 

20th. Cough so painful. Like knives. Can't even stand now. Shivering all the time. Can't eat, can't drink. Hard to write.

Clear sky today. Going to be cold tonight.


Just realized that whoever finds this car is going to throw all contents in the trash, including this book. Nobody's ever going to read any of this. I always knew that. Why was I even writing it?

Felt like talking to a friend.

Was this all just a letter to Dean?

Pretty pointless in that case.


Sun's setting. Getting very cold. Decided to call D/S. Not sure whether to beg for help or just say goodbye.


Forgot my phone is dead. So stupid.


Going to try go charge phone to call Dean. Night now. Not sure can get anywhere. Might not succeed.

One last small journey.


Things I'd tell Dean if I could:

Hope you/S ok

Wish I could have helped you. Wish I could have come back to Kansas and been useful to you & S.

Think I understand now.

Sorry for everything. Always your friend.


 

The rest of the pages were blank.

 



 

 

Author's Note-

I rewatched Holy Terror several times in preparation for this chapter, and for the first time I realized Dean and Sam never drink the beers that Cas bought for them. The very second Cas comes back with those 3 "brewskies", all excited about having bought beers for his friends for the first ever time, Sam literally walks away, Dean kicks Cas out again, and neither Dean nor Sam take a swallow of the new beers. (Dean takes 1 swallow that seems to be from the previous beer. Sam just up and leaves instantly).  Given that Cas was very new to human customs like buying beers for friends, viewed from his perspective this could have been a pretty heartwrenching moment. (dammit, Dean!)

And now a small change in plans: The rest of this fic will be broken into smaller chapters than originally planned, so that it can be posted in pieces that will synchronize with real dates. That is, the next part of the fic takes place on December 22, and will be posted on December 22; and so on.  The story will unfold in real time! (That was today's brilliant idea. Apologies to any readers in Australia or Japan - you're gonna get ahead of the fic, sorry!) Next up: Dean's reaction to everything you've just read. 

edit: to clarify - yes, it'll still end on Christmas - the fic will have four more short chapters, posting on Dec 22, 23, 24 and 25. Wrapping up on Christmas Day!

Chapter Text

Dean had been feeling pretty much like shit for about eight hours straight now, ever since he'd first opened the book. And it had only gotten worse with each page he read. But the last line was the worst. He read it again:

Sorry for everything. Always your friend.

—and Dean shoved the book aside, took Cas's hand in both of his, and put his head right down on the bed, his forehead pressed to the back of Cas's hand.

Dean felt tears leaking from the corners of his eyes, and didn't care. It didn't matter anyway. Too little, too late.

He stayed there for a few moments; it seemed impossible to lift his head, or to open his eyes and face the world, or do anything at all, really. So Dean stayed where he was, face down against the bedspread, pressing Cas's hand to his forehead.

A memory came to mind of the times Cas had touched Dean's head before — not like this, not with his limp hand pressed to Dean's head while Cas himself lay motionless in a hospital bed, but simply Cas touching Dean on his own, on purpose. Many times, actually, Cas had done that. Always a light touch; usually on the side of Dean's face, to heal him. Or sometimes he'd done that extra-delicate touch with two fingers touched gently to Dean's forehead, maybe to give Dean some kind of vision.

Or a hand resting on Dean's shoulder, sometimes, to fly him away.

Dean found himself pushing his face down a bit into the bedspread, pushing his forehead down a little more firmly against the back of Cas's hand, and realized he was hoping (illogically) that Cas's hand would move. That the hand would lift, of Cas's own volition; lift, and turn, and rest on Dean's hair with that soft touch once again; that Cas would somehow ease Dean's pain as he had so often in the past. Or maybe he'd give Dean a vision, like old times; a vision of... something. Anything. Even if it was just a vision of Cas being furious at him. I'll take it, thought Dean. If he's angry, I'll take it. I'll take anything.

But Cas's hand was limp and still.

Always your friend, Cas had written.

"I don't deserve that, Cas," Dean muttered, finally raising his head. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and looked over at Cas's bruised face. "I don't deserve your friendship— didn't you ever notice that?"

Click-psshhh.

Dean drew a slow, deep breath. There was one last thing he could try. He closed his eyes again, clutching Cas's hand tight once more.

"Cas. Castiel. Castiel, I'm praying to you, can you hear me? I know you couldn't hear me before, back when you first, um, lost your grace, but we were a thousand miles apart then. I was wondering, maybe you can still hear me a little bit if I'm right close to you?"

It was definitely a long shot, but it seemed worth a try. Cas had mentioned once, in his journal, that he seemed to "feel something" when Dean had gotten close, back when Dean had visited Idaho. Maybe they still had some kind of faint connection?

"Castiel?" Dean repeated. "You got your ears on? Can you hear me? Castiel, you gotta wake up. Christmas is three days away, dude. You gotta give me a chance to give you a real Christmas. Wake up. Start breathing. Open your eyes."

He waited.

Click-psshhh.

Dean had to resist a sudden urge to punch the breathing machine.

 


 

"Hey," said Sam, nudging the doorway curtain aside. Dean's back was to the door and he jumped, dropping Cas's hand and dragging a sleeve quickly over his eyes. Sam diplomatically turned his back and spent an unnecessarily long moment hanging up his coat on a hook on the wall.

While Sam's back was turned, Dean wiped his face again — and took the opportunity to shove Cas's book back into the leather bag on the rolling table.

Sam didn't seem to notice that Dean had stuffed something into the leather bag. When he turned around he just said "You look like shit." He was carrying a white paper bag, which he set on the rolling table at Cas's feet. Sam delicately extracted two covered cups of coffee from the bag and held one out to Dean.

Dean, still sitting in his chair, took it numbly. Sam's forehead creased in concern as he looked at Cas, his eyes flicking briefly over the heart rate monitor and the breathing machine. "How is he?"

"Same," said Dean. His voice came out a little scratchy. Sam's eyes tracked over Dean's face for a moment; Dean looked away, feigning a sudden interest in the breathing machine.

"Has he moved?" said Sam. He took a step around to Cas's other side and peered down at him, touching Cas's hand gently. "Has he woken or anything? At all?"

"Nope," said Dean. He added, trying to focus on the medical symptoms, "He's got a fever now, too... um... a fever from the pneumonia, I mean. But, um, his hands are still cold from last night."

"So... he needs more blankets and he needs less blankets?" said Sam. He sounded about as half-hearted about the old Walk Hard joke as Dean had earlier.

Dean couldn't even summon up a smile.

Sam sighed and said, "Sorry. Just trying to... Never mind." He popped open the little plastic lid on his coffee and took a sip, and then shoved his other hand back in the paper bag on the table, pulling out a muffin. He held it out to Dean across Cas's legs, saying, "Brought this for you from the hotel breakfast."

Dean shook his head. "Not hungry."

Sam gave him another close look, still holding out the muffin; Dean looked away.

Without further comment, Sam set the muffin on the little table. He then tossed a hotel keycard at Dean, who nearly fumbled the catch, almost spilling his own coffee. The keycard landed in his lap. Sam said, "Room 301, hotel across the street. Go get some sleep; I'll sit with him and I'll call you if anything comes up."

"Nah, I'll stay a little longer."

"You look like absolute shit, Dean. Go get some sleep."

They got into a little argument about it. Sam finally won after he drafted the assistance of an unlucky ICU nurse who happened to be walking by outside. She sided with Sam right away, even launching on a little speech (clearly well-rehearsed) about how "family members need to be rested too".

"Okay, okay," said Dean at last. "Okay. I'll go get some shuteye. I'll come back in the afternoon. All right?" The nurse nodded, gave Dean an disconcertingly sympathetic pat on the shoulder, and faded away.

"So, um," said Sam, "What were you putting in Cas's bag?"

Damn. He had spotted Dean shoving the journal back into the leather bag. But the thought of having to tell Sam about the journal made Dean's stomach drop. What if Sam read it?

What if Sam found out just how badly Dean had let Cas down?

What if Sam found out that Dean had promised to call, and never had?

What if Sam found out that Cas thought Sam had abandoned him too? Just because Dean had been too much of an idiot to tell Cas the truth about Gadreel?

"It's nothing," said Dean, waving his coffee cup aimlessly toward the leather bag. "It's just... He's just got some clothes and stuff. A car key, um, a couple bucks." $2.08 to be exact. Two dollar bills, one nickel, three pennies. Not that Cas was having to count every penny or anything. "It's nothing. I pulled it all out just to check it out, but, um, nothing useful."

But there was a flicker of doubt in Sam's eyes now, and Dean realized, I can't hide this from Sam. I can't hide anything from him. Not now.

Not anything. Not now. Not ever. Not after Gadreel.

"Cas had a notebook too," confessed Dean, flipping open the old leather bag to reveal a corner of the blue book. "I was reading it. To see if there might be anything useful."

"So... was there anything useful?" asked Sam, an edge of doubt still in his voice.

"Not really," said Dean, shaking his head, flipping the bag closed again.

Sam looked at him a moment longer, his face impassive, but he finally nodded. He turned to the corner and started to drag the little plastic chair closer, apparently setting up for his stay.

He wasn't going to dig. He wasn't going to ask questions. Sam wouldn't find out about the journal. Dean could probably even take the whole bag away, journal included, and Sam wouldn't pry.

Sam set the chair closer to the bed and said, "So how about if you come back sometime before dinner, like five-ish, and—"

"It's his journal," broke in Dean. He stood, set his untouched coffee down, flipped the bag open again and pulled the blue notebook all the way out of the bag. He waved it at Sam, who was still standing on the other side of Cas's bed, and said, "It's his journal. I didn't realize what it was, and I started reading it and then I just couldn't stop. I've been reading it all night, and... " Dean looked down at the book in his hands. "So, um, Cas had an pretty bad time on his own, Sam. So, um, he, um, he had a fucking awful time actually. He was broke, and freezing, and miserable and lonely and friggin' starving. He couldn't find a job for, like, weeks, cause he had no friggin' id or references or job history or any of that crap, but I didn't know, Sam, I didn't know. I should've realized... but he never told me, and... I just didn't think about that, Sammy, I've never really been on my own like that, I always knew how to fix cars and stuff, I always could get a job if I needed, and Dad always had us fixed up with the fake ids and credit cards anyway, since we were kids, and taught us how to hustle pool and all that — it just didn't occur to me that Cas didn't know how to do any of that, that he would have that much trouble just getting by. He was so goddam confused... and he was trying so hard. So fucking hard. All by himself, all on his own, and just, just, starving and, and, he was freezing, Sam, he didn't have anywhere to stay, he was on the street —"

"Dean—" said Sam quietly, looking at him from the other side of Cas's bed.

"Every damn month was a different kind of awful, Sam," said Dean. He ruffled the book open. It fell open halfway through, to the November section, and Dean said, "Like, just for example, Thanksgiving. So it turns out Cas spent Thanksgiving sleeping on the floor of a crappy little stockroom in a crappy little Gas n Sip and all he had was a ninety-nine cent burrito and that was his Thanksgiving meal, Sam—"

"Dean."

"— and the burrito was gonna be a special treat. A ninety-nine cent burrito was gonna be a goddam friggin' special Thanksgiving meal for him, like, a big fucking splurge. A ninety-nine cent burrito warmed up with a microwave all alone in friggin' Gas-n-Sip all by himself. He was working at the Gas-n-Sip, I knew that, but, he was sleeping in the stockroom, and I didn't know that— I did visit him that one time, but he hid that from me! He hid that he had nowhere to sleep so that I wouldn't think less of him. He was homeless, Sam, and he hid it so that I wouldn't think less of him. And he was still homeless on Thanksgiving and I didn't even give him a goddam call and he warmed up the fucking burrito and then he got so lonely he couldn't even eat the damn thing and he had to drug himself to sleep with a fistful of sleeping pills and go to sleep on a concrete floor in the stockroom at fifty-five degrees without even a goddam pillow. That was his first fucking Thanksgiving on Earth, Sammy. And you know what he says at the end?"

Sam had stopped trying to say anything. He was just gazing at Dean.

"He says, he says—" Dean fumbled for the right page and read from it. "He says: I hope Sam and Dean are having a nice meal somewhere."

He looked up at Sam, who was looking right back at him, his face solemn.

"AND THEN. And then, my god, in Wyoming—" said Dean, flipping ahead in the journal. "He'd saved his last friggin' money in the world to buy us a beer, it was going to be this big gesture of friendship, and he finally gets the chance, in that bar, remember, and he buys us the beers and I instantly asked him to leave. I didn't even notice the beers! Neither of us drank the beers...." Dean's voice was faltering. "Sam, he thought it meant we'd rejected his friendship. And, and, Sammy, I fucked up so bad, I need to tell you something: Cas also thought you were angry with him." Sam blinked at that, and Dean had to force himself to go on. "'Cause I kept telling him you didn't want to talk to him. 'Cause of Gadreel, and... I just... I didn't think about how... It didn't occur to me what he would think, that of course he would think that meant you were pissed at him, that you didn't even want to hang out with him.... I didn't even think about that. And because I sent him away, he got caught and tortured and lost his job and lost everything all over again. And then he got sick...."

Dean trailed off.

There was a long, dead silence. Sam's expression was very grim now.

Click-psshhh.

"And he kept thinking I was gonna call," Dean said, struggling to talk now, "He had all these little lists of stuff to ask me." Dean's throat finally closed up totally. He had to pause for a couple of ragged breaths, and he found he couldn't look at Sam any more, and couldn't even look at Cas either; now he only seemed able to look at the blue book. Dean traced one hand over its battered cover for the space of a few uneven breaths.

When his breathing finally steadied again, Dean said, "It was the last thing I said to him, when I kicked him out. I said 'I'll call and check in.' I didn't even know if he'd heard me. I should've called, but with Gadreel and everything, I just... didn't. I just fucking didn't. He needed my help, Sam, he needed my help, and I could've helped him, and I didn't. I had his phone number all along and I never even called him. I fucked him over so bad. I fucked you over so bad too, Sammy, and I fucked Kevin over too, and I fucked Cas over, and you got so messed up, and Kevin's fucking dead, and now Cas...."

Dean fell silent.

Sam was still just looking at Dean. Dean's eyes dropped to Cas's bruised face.

Click-psshhh.

Dean had learned, during the night, that there were three long seconds between each click-psshhh. Exactly three.

Click-psshhh.

Click-psshhh.

Sam reached out across Castiel's bed, right across Cas's legs, and took hold of the blue book, pulling it gently out of Dean's grasp. Dean closed his eyes as he let Sam take it.

When Dean opened his eyes again, Sam had flipped the cover open and was looking at the first page. Dean let out a long sigh as he watched Sam's eyes track slowly down the page. Sam's face tightened a little, but he said nothing.

Things to ask Dean when he calls.

After a long moment Sam closed the book, turned to the little rolling table and slid the book back into Cas's bag. Then he picked up the muffin, hefting it in his hand thoughtfully. He turned back to Dean.

"You really should eat something," Sam said, holding the muffin out once more.

Dean looked at the muffin. It was perfectly ordinary, decent-looking blueberry muffin, but the thought of eating it made the bile rise in Dean's throat.

Dean said at last, "If I try to eat it I'm gonna be sick."

"Yeah," said Sam, searching Dean's face for a moment. "Yeah, you kinda got that look. Okay." He stuffed the muffin back in the white paper bag, folded the top closed and handed the bag to Dean. Sam said, "Keep it for later. Look. Go back to the hotel and get some sleep. You were driving all day and you've been up all night and you've had a lot to take in. Leave the book here and get some sleep; Cas is gonna need you here later, right? So you can make it up to him, right? So go rest up."

Click-psshhh.

Dean said slowly, "I'm not gonna be able to make this up to him."

Click-psshhh.

Sam replied, his voice measured, "Have a little faith in him."

"I'm not gonna be able to make it up to you either," Dean said.

Click-psshhh.

Sam took a slow breath and repeated, almost thoughtfully, "Have a little faith."

Dean gave him a sharp look, wondering if Sam was being sarcastic. But he didn't look sarcastic. In fact, Sam didn't even look that angry.

Strangely, Sam didn't look angry at all. For the first time in quite a while.

Instead he just looked sad.

Dean nodded. He cleared his throat and said, "You'll call if anything..."

"I'll call."

Dean backed off a step, and another step, watching Sam as he sat down by Cas's side. Sam didn't look up at Dean again, and finally Dean turned and took his coat off the coat-hooks, and walked past the white curtains at the doorway.

He paused just outside the curtains for a moment, his coat in his hands, and he heard Sam start talking to Cas.

Sam said, "Hey Cas. So, you gotta wake up today. You're kinda scaring Dean a bit. Actually you're kinda scaring me too." A sigh, and then Sam added, "Dean says you didn't have that great a Thanksgiving. It'd be really nice if we could give you a better Christmas. So you gotta wake up. And Cas... "

A pause.

"I was never angry with you at all. I was worried about you, in fact. All I knew was, you kept leaving, and I didn't know why. I would really like to tell you that when you're awake, so... wake up?"

Click-psshhh.

Dean made himself walk away.

 


 

Dean walked down the long hall, through the lobby, and out the big bay doors at the hospital entrance, into the frigid early-morning cold. He paused there and blinked against a gust of wind, looking around as he tried to get his bearings. It was about eight in the morning but it was still pretty dim; the sun had only just risen.

December 22nd, Dean remembered. The second day of winter.

Dawn seemed to mean only that the thick clouds overhead had lightened to a deep charcoal grey rather than pitch black. A light snow was drifting down, snowflakes whirling around loosely in a biting wind.

Dean finally spotted the hotel a couple blocks to the right, and started plodding toward it. He soon realized he'd forgotten to zip up his coat. Gusts of wintry air kept sneaking past the open edges, and Dean tried to clutch the coat closed with one hand, but he'd also forgotten to put on his gloves, and soon his bare hand was aching with cold too. Yet the thought of pausing and getting himself organized enough to put his gloves on, or deal with the coat zipper, seemed impossibly difficult. Dean just trudged on, putting his head down and hunching his shoulders, clutching the coat half-closed as best he could and feeling the icy wind raking right down to his skin.

He thought, as he walked, This must be what it was like for CasWalking through the cold, night before last, with friggin' pneumonia. Trying to get to the hospital.

No, not trying to get to the hospital, Dean remembered. He wasn't trying to get to the hospital. He was just trying to find somewhere to charge up the phone.

So he could call me.

Dean hustled across the street and down the two blocks, got to the hotel and scuttled inside. The warmth inside hit him like a physical wave. The lobby seemed an oasis of luxury, full of overstuffed sofas and thick carpeting. Christmas decorations were everywhere; glinting little white icicle-lights hanging from all the walls, fir branches on every possible surface, and bright-red Christmas poinsettias on the little side tables by the sofas. A tall, handsome Christmas tree was standing in one corner, festooned with big red bows and glittery gold ornaments. There was an angel at the top. It had two fluffy white wings arced out behind its shoulders, and a perky little golden halo was wired above its head.

Dean paused in mid-stride, looking at the angel for a long moment.

Then he turned on his heel and walked past the elevators till he found the stairs. Dean was usually an elevator guy, but today he trudged up to the third floor by foot.

He finally got into room 301, where he flicked the light on and looked around.

There were six pillows on each bed, it turned out; six. Four normal-size ones and two puffy little decorative ones. On each bed. For a total of twelve pillows in the room overall. Dean flipped the bedspread corners up, and found that each bed had two blankets. There were two extra blankets in the closet as well. The bathroom had a big towel rack mounted on the wall, holding a heaping stack of neatly folded white towels. Dean counted them: four big soft bath towels, four tidily folded hand towels and two pristine little white washcloths. Plus a bath mat. A little tray by the sink held an array of free soap, shampoo, conditioner, and hand lotion, the four bottles tidily arranged in a crescent. A tiny coffeemaker stood ready with an assortment of free coffee and tea, along with two neatly wrapped little glasses and two sturdy coffee mugs. There was a minifridge with dozens of mini-bottles of booze, and cans of soda and bottles of water, and there was a room service menu lying on a little desk by the wall. The room was warm and cozy; there were curtains on the windows, and there was a big tv, and a comfy sofa and a table and chair.

Dean stood in the middle of the room looking around, wondering how he'd never noticed how luxurious a simple hotel room could be.

Sam had already colonized one bed, and his duffel was opened up on a nearby chair. He'd apparently brought Dean's duffel up too; it was sitting on the foot of the other bed. That bed was untouched, its six pillows all plumped up, ready and waiting.

Dean kicked off his shoes, shucked off his jacket and sat on the bed. I'd really love a nice long hot shower, he thought. And I'm dying for a drink.

He didn't take the shower, and he didn't have the drink. Instead he set the alarm for four p.m., turned down the heat, and took all six pillows off his bed, piling them reverently on the sofa one at a time. Then he crawled under the covers with all his clothes still on, in the chilly room in the dark.

With no pillows.

He started praying again while he lay there. It was useless, he knew. But what else was there to try?

He lay there praying to Castiel, over and over. It felt like it was going nowhere. But he kept praying.

He prayed so long, and he was so exhausted, that something happened that had never happened before: Dean fell asleep while right in the middle of a prayer to Castiel.

The prayer flowed, and changed, the thoughts of Castiel swirling around in Dean's mind, fragmenting, blowing away into sleep, and the prayer became a dream.

 


 

"Castiel... Castiel, you got your ears on?—" Dean was still saying, when he realized he wasn't in a motel bed anymore. He was lying on stony ground.

He snapped his eyes open, startled, and found himself lying on his back in some vast open landscape, looking up at the sky. High overhead, bolts of crimson fire were shooting dramatically through dark clouds. There were small winged figures darting around up there. Some had great feathered wings that glittered in shades of white, gold, and silver; others seemed to have black or red bat-like wings. The sounds of distant battle drifted down from high above.

Not far away an immense stone gate soared up into the sky. It seemed a mile high.

Everything looked a little misty, though. The figures in the sky were a little blurry; the great stone gate seemed faded and fuzzy. Like images from an old-time movie that had aged to sepia tones.

A thrashing noise nearby caught Dean's attention. He sat up and looked around, and discovered he was on the stony shore of a huge muddy swamp. Something was flailing around out there in the muddy water, only about ten yards away. The sprays of muddy water made it hard to see at first, but it was something with wings; smoking, muddy wings.

It paused in its thrashing.

It was Castiel.

It was Castiel, and Cas had wings. Huge wings. They were splayed out in the mud to both sides, and they were a mess of burned feathers, ash and blood. Parts of the wings were actually smoking. Dean couldn't even tell what color the feathers had been originally; everything seemed smeared with mud and ash and blood.

"Cas? Cas!" Dean called, scrambling to his feet and trying to run over to him. But two steps into the swamp, Dean started to sink rapidly down into the mud himself; it seemed to be clinging and pulling at his feet, like some kind of malevolent icy-cold quicksand. In moments he was hip-deep and sinking fast, and Dean had to scramble back, clawing his way on all fours back to the shore. He lurched back up to his feet and yelled "CAS!" again.

Cas didn't seem to hear him; he was just thrashing his wings again now, sending big sprays of black water in all directions. It didn't seem to be helping him get anywhere, but it soon became clear that he was trying to struggle through the mud and water to another shape that was sinking into the swamp, about five yards from Cas and fifteen or so from Dean. It was a body, a human body, and with a jolt Dean recognized his own face. It was another Dean, burned and bloody and sinking.

As Dean watched, baffled, the other Dean sank into the swamp and disappeared. Cas gave a choked cry, his burned wings flailing once again against the mud and water.

Dean glanced overhead at the misty aerial battle and finally he understood. It's his flying-out-of-Hell nightmare, Dean thought. This is the version where "we both fall together."

Though... the whole dream seemed to be fading. A dark fog was slowly covering the sky, and the light was growing dim. Even as Dean watched, puzzled, the aerial battle disappeared from view, swallowed up in dimness. The distant sounds of battle faded away to silence. A prickle of fear ran down Dean's spine, and turned back to Cas, yelling "CASTIEL!" He bellowed it as loud as he could. "CASTIEL! IT'S ME, DEAN! CAS, LOOK AT ME!"

At last Cas looked over at Dean.

Cas's eyes were dull and glazed, and he stared at Dean blankly. But the moment he looked at Dean, Dean felt a weight on his shoulder. He glanced down and was startled to find that he now had a thick coil of rope slung over one shoulder.

Rope. I've got a coil of rope, Dean thought. Oh right. That other dream. The drowning dream. II'm in Cas's dream, somehow. And it's like a pick-your-own-nightmare adventure. 

Dean pulled the rope off his shoulder and uncoiled it rapidly, yelling, "Cas! I've got a rope! I'll throw you one end, hang on!"

"I... dropped... you," said Cas slowly. His eyes drifted back over to where the Dean-body had disappeared into the swamp.

A tendril of black fog floated by him, and Dean looked around to discover that the dark fog was sliding closer still. The great gate had already disappeared, and soon the black fog had reached the very edges of the swamp. The whole world seemed to be fading away.

"I dropped you," said Cas again, his voice raspy and slow.

"No, you didn't! Grab the rope," Dean called to him, holding up the rope to show it to him. He quickly made a knot in the end for Cas to hang on to, and tossed the knotted end toward him, yelling, "Grab the rope!" Cas stared at him dully, no glint of understanding in his face. When the rope-end came sailing toward him, he only flinched. The knot thwacked into the muddy water right by his hand.

Cas didn't pick up the rope. And he was sinking now, slowly but surely, his wings quivering as the muddy water began to close over them. Dean risked another quick glance around; the whole swampy world was dissolving around them. All that was left now was the tiny patch of muddy water that Cas was sinking into, and a little bit of stony shore, and Dean. Everything around was a smoky darkness.

That didn't seem good. 

"CAS!" yelled Dean. "Wake UP, dammit! Grab the rope!" A spark of inspiration hit him, and Dean said, "Cas, you're family, you are, you're my family. Grab the rope!"

"I... can... fight," muttered Cas, his eyes focusing at last on Dean's face, one hand twitching toward the rope-end. "I can... fight..."

"Yes!" Dean yelled, "Fight! Grab on! I'll pull you out! I'll take you home! I'll get you outta here! But I need you to wake up, Cas, please! Grab on!"

Slowly Cas moved his hand out, and he took hold of the rope-end. Dean thought, He'll never be able to hold on. But somehow Cas got his other hand on the rope too, and somehow he held on to the knot, and he kept holding on, while Dean slowly, carefully dragged him across the mud and through the cold water and to shore. Soon Dean got a hand on him, and he pulled Cas up onto the stony shore. The dark fog was closing in now on all sides; all Dean could see now was a patch of stony shore a few yards wide. He held Cas close, saying to him, "Castiel. Wake up. I need you to wake up. Please." The black fog rolled closer still and Dean gathered Cas up in his arms as best he could, bloody burnt wings and all, holding him tight, as the world shrank to nothing around them.

 


 

Dean jerked awake in the chilly motel room. The phone was ringing on the bedside table. Dean snatched it up.

"He sort of woke a little," said Sam. "Not fully but he's breathing better and they're taking him off the breathing thing. But they chased me out and they're not letting us in for a while while they do stuff to him. Do you want to get some more sleep, or—"

"Be right over."

 


 

"Would you stop pacing, Dean," said Sam, for about the tenth time.

It was three in the afternoon. Dean had come running over an hour earlier, only to find Sam sitting with his laptop in the little waiting room that he'd been banished to. Dean had told him the whole dream story, and Sam was now doing a little research online, on the hospital's wi-fi, trying to find out it were possible to do dream-communication with a fallen angel if you fell asleep praying to them from just two blocks away. (Dean felt no need at all to do any research on this point; the answer seemed clear.)

"Well, if you did wake up him, then, good going, Dean," said Sam at last, looking up from the laptop. "However you did it, that's huge."

Dean kept pacing. He still didn't feel very optimistic. Maybe Cas was breathing, but the ICU staff was saying that he still wasn't fully awake, and apparently he was also having "serious prolonged coughing" now, which didn't sound good at all. And he'd looked so damn awful in that dream. He hadn't even seemed to notice that Dean had pulled him out of the swamp.

"Everything was fading all around him," Dean said, stopping his pacing at last to turn to Sam. "That seems like a bad sign, doesn't it? There was this, like, black fog eating up everything. All around us. Like his whole mental world was crumbling. That can't be good, right?"

"I don't have a clue," said Sam, closing the laptop with a sigh, and stuffing it back in his bag. "But at least he's breathing on his own."

"I just keep thinking it's too little too late," said Dean, and he started walking back toward the other end of the room.

"Would you stop pacing, Dean," said Sam, for the eleventh time.

 


 

"Smith family?" said one of the doctors, poking her head in the room. Dean spun to face her and Sam rose to his feet. She walked over to them and said, "Steve's off the ventilator. We've upgraded his condition from critical to serious. That's good news in general, but I do need to warn you, serious still means quite serious. He's running quite a high fever now, and now that he's breathing on his own he's developed a very nasty cough. Pneumonia coughs can be very painful and can sometimes even break ribs or cause fainting, so we've spent most of the last hour trying to get the coughing under control and getting some pain medication into him. He's finally stopped coughing, but he's very weak. Also his fever still hasn't broken; we're really hoping it'll break soon, since that would be a sign that the antibiotics are working. So, basically, he's a little better, but I must warn you that he's still not out of the woods."

"Can we see him?" asked Sam.

She nodded. "He probably won't be very coherent. And you mustn't tire him out; that's very important. He's quite weak. Don't try to make him talk. Whatever you want to say to him, please keep it short. And if he falls asleep. don't try to wake him and keep your voices low; he needs all the rest he can get. Understood?"

Dean and Sam nodded, and she led them back to the ICU.

 


 

The click-psshhh had stopped.

The silence seemed miraculous. The breathing machine had been disconnected and rolled over into the far corner, its big blue tubes wrapped around its top end, quiet at last. Cas was curled on his side now. He still seemed covered with quite a lot of other tubes— IV tubes, ECG leads, an oxygen tube looped under his nose— but at last he was breathing on his own.

His eyes were closed.

"Cas?" said Dean softly, leaning close and taking one of his hands. Sam grabbed a couple chairs and shoved one under Dean. Dean sank into it, barely noticing, as Sam pulled the other one close and sat down next to Dean.

"Hey, Cas?" said Dean.

Cas's eyes flickered halfway open.

He looked barely awake, as the doctor had warned. He looked rather like he had in the dream, actually, his eyes glazed and dull. Though there was a bright sheen of fever in his eyes too. Dean touched his forehead; it felt hot.

Cas's eyes focused slowly on Dean's.

"Dean..." Cas muttered, in a very soft whisper. His eyes drifted slowly to Sam, and he whispered, "Sam."

"Hey, Cas," said Sam gently, reaching out to pat his other hand. "Take it easy there."

"Don't try to talk," Dean said. "You've been really sick, Cas."

"But you're gonna be okay," added Sam. "Gave us a scare there, but you'll be okay. You just rest."

Dean squeezed his hand. And this time, at last, he felt Cas trying to grip Dean's hand in return.

Cas's grip felt feather-light, as weak as a kitten, and Dean knew the doctor had been right; Cas wasn't out of the woods at all. But Dean felt his heart soar nonetheless, just to see Cas's blue eyes open at last, and to feel his hand, weak as it was, trying to grip Dean's at all.

"Dean—" Cas said, his eyes searching Dean's. "I... can... fight...."

Exactly what he'd said in the dream.

"Of course you can," said Dean, squeezing his hand. "You can fight this, Cas. You'll fight this off and you'll be fine. You just rest and get your strength back."

"I can... fight," repeated Cas, his eyes still on Dean's. "I can... wash...." A series of coughs gripped him suddenly, harsh rasping coughs, and he squeezed his eyes shut, turning his head slightly to try to cough into the pillow.

The coughs finally stopped. Cas opened his eyes again and said, with an effort, "Dish...es."

Dean exchanged a puzzled glance with Sam.

A flicker of worry ran over Cas's face. His hand tightened ever-so-slightly on Dean's and Cas added, "Or... car. Your... car. Can wash... your car...." His voice was getting weaker now, but he managed to choke out, "I know... Enoch.. ian...."


 2. Could I come back.

I can offer:

- Combat skills

- Wash dishes/car

- Enochian


 "Cas, Cas, shh," said Dean, setting one hand on Cas's forehead. "Oh, man, Cas, don't worry, don't worry about that. We're taking you to the bunker. Don't worry. We're taking you back to the bunker no matter what."

Cas gave a short sigh and his eyes slid closed.

Dean added, fumbling over the words, not even sure if Cas was still hearing, "And you are useful, but it doesn't even matter if you are. We'd take you there anyway, even if you weren't. But you are anyway. And you don't have to wash my car! We'll take you back to Kansas— I mean, once the hospital releases you, which I bet'll be pretty soon, and, Cas, I gotta tell you some stuff—"

Sam nudged him and hissed, "Keep it short."

Dean cut off the long explanation that he had been about to launch into and said, "We're taking you back to the bunker. Cause you're family, Cas, you are. You really are."

Cas's hand flinched slightly in Dean's, in a faint approximation of a squeeze.

 


 

Cas didn't move again for some time. Dean sat and watched him, fretting with the desire to wake him up and tell him everything all at once. But Dean knew he had to keep quiet and let Cas rest, so he just sat and kept vigil.

Sam eventually chased him back to the hotel to grab a couple more hours of sleep. This time Dean realized it was maybe a little silly to make himself sleep as uncomfortably as possible (the nurse had been right, Dean did need to be rested if he wanted to be able to help take care of Cas). So this time Dean grudgingly let himself take a hot shower, and he turned the room heat back on too, and managed to get several hours of actual sleep.

He still didn't allow himself a pillow, though.

 


 

Dean came back to the ICU at eight o'clock to relieve Sam.

Sam was sitting in a chair by Cas's side looking at the blue journal. Cas still looked the same, his eyes closed.

Sam sighed and flipped the journal shut when Dean walked in.

"Not sure if I should be looking at this," Sam confessed. He stood and pulled Dean out to the hallway for a quick discussion. Once they got outside Sam stuck the book back in Dean's hands and said, "I probably shouldn't read any more. Partly because I'm not sure Cas would want me to, but partly because I'm getting pissed at you all over again. My god, Dean."

"I know," said Dean with a grimace. "If it helps any, however much you want to beat me up, I'm already beating myself up worse."

Sam's mouth twisted in a little half-smile. "Yeah, I can see that." He glanced back at Cas's room and said, "Dean, the main thing is, we've got to take care of him. Like, if we ever get him out of here, the poor dude seriously deserves some pillows, for one thing."

Dean nodded. "I was thinking, like, six at least." he said.

"Ten," said Sam. "Big fluffy eiderdown pillows. I've got some Christmas ideas, actually."

"Assuming his fever ever breaks and he actually makes it three more days."

"Yeah," agreed Sam with a sigh. "Anyway... he did wake up a couple times. The only thing I've said to him is that I was never mad at him. I think he might've heard me; at least, he seemed to relax a little. Can't really tell though, he's barely even able to open his eyes so it's not like he's that communicative. So, over to you, and I'll go get some a meal and catch some sleep."

Dean nodded. "I'll take the night shift," he offered. 

Sam shook his head. "The nurses and I were talking. They say he's stable now and that you should get an actual night's sleep too. Especially if we're going to be driving back to Kansas any time soon— that's a long haul and we've got to think how to get him there, and we've both got to be able to stay awake for the drive. So anyway, the nurses say you can stay an hour or two, till ten p.m. at the latest, but then you've gotta go sleep."

Dean nodded, and Sam left.

And then Dean stayed all night.

 


 

The nurses caved in the end, setting up a cot for him in the back of Cas's room. Though Dean didn't even want to use the cot; instead he sat by Cas's bed, for hours, holding Cas's hand.

It was only too clear that Cas was still very sick. He was still running a high fever, and spent most of the evening semi-conscious. And, worryingly, he seemed to grow more and more uncomfortable as the night wore on. Soon he was tossing and turning restlessly, his feet shifting around and his hands plucking at the sheets, oblivious to Dean's attempts to calm him.

On the nurse's instructions, Dean began feeding him an ice chip every half hour. Cas took these willingly, not seeming to even recognize that it was Dean who was feeding him. Each time, Dean touched Cas's lips lightly with the ice chip, and Cas opened his mouth slightly to accept it, his eyes remaining closed the whole time. He seemed so fragile that it felt like feeding a baby bird.

Periodically Cas roused a little, his eyes coming partly open. Every time he saw Dean he began muttering some variation of "can fight, wash dishes, know Enochian." Always the same three things; it seemed almost as if it were Cas's version of a prayer to Dean. Cas never seemed to remember that they'd been through all that already, so Dean told him, over and over, every time Cas awoke, "We're taking you to the bunker, Cas. You're our family and we're your friends and everything's all right and I'm taking you home. I'm taking you to the bunker."

Every time, Cas gave a little sigh and closed his eyes again, but Dean could never tell if he'd really understood.

At midnight Cas was suddenly drenched in sweat, and he seemed to go unusually still. His endless fidgeting finally stopped and his breathing slowed noticeably. Dean panicked a little (or a lot, really) and went running for the nurse, who came in and checked Cas over.

"His fever's broken," the nurse told him in a whisper. "He's just sleeping now. And it's time for you to sleep too."

 

Chapter Text

"It's eight a.m., dude."

Dean jerked awake on the little cot. Sam was shaking his shoulder gently, saying, "Wake up. We gotta clear out for a bit. They gotta give Cas some lung x-rays and stuff and they need the cot folded up."

Dean immediately glanced over at Cas. Cas was on his side again— he'd shifted in the night and now was facing Dean— and he still had his eyes closed. Looked like he was still asleep. Some hospital staff were clustered by the curtains chatting softly outside, with a big machine on wheels visible just beyond the curtains.

A bright sunshine was shining through the room's little window. Past dawn, then. Dean still felt groggy with sleep; he'd practically been drooling on the mattress.

He sat up and wiped his mouth. Okay, so he had been drooling on the mattress.

"He okay?" whispered Dean, tottering up off the cot to get a closer look at Cas again.

"Yep," whispered Sam back. "Fever's almost gone - not totally, but, it's only like a hundred or something. But they want to check him all over and do some x-rays and diagnostics and clean him up. They say it'll be a couple hours. We're supposed to be out in five minutes."

Dean peered down at Cas. Cas actually did look a little better. More color in his face, and he looked more like he was in a normal sleep.

"Cas?" Sam said in what seemed a very loud voice, reaching past Dean to touch Cas's hand.

"Don't wake him!" hissed Dean, knocking Sam's hand away.

"The nurse said they're gonna wake him anyway," explained Sam, "In five minutes. And that it was okay if we woke him first to explain that we'll be back later. That is... if he can wake." He turned back to Cas. "Hey, Cas? They're gonna do some tests on you. Dean and I will be back in a couple hours."

Cas's eyes opened.

And this time, for the first time, he actually looked awake for real. Weak and groggy, blinking up at them, but his eyes seemed clear. And he immediately focused on their faces.

"Sam? Dean?" he said, squinting up at them each in turn, as they stood side-by-side by his bed. He glanced briefly around the room in some confusion and then looked back at them. "Is this a... hospital?"

His voice was just a hoarse, faint whisper, nowhere near its normal growl, but it seemed the most beautiful sound Dean had heard in a long time. Cas was awake. Awake and talking. For real.

"Yep, it's a hospital," Sam was saying. "Jeez, Cas, it's good to hear your voice!"

Dean leaned close, patting Cas's hand as he added, "We're taking you back to the bunker soon, Cas. Soon as you're ready to travel." It was the same thing he'd been telling Cas all night, through Cas's feverish delirium, and it still seemed like it was the thing he should clarify first.

"Oh," muttered Cas, blinking up at him. "Oh, really? That's... that's... marvelous. That's... really?... Dean, I... really?" Then he frowned, squinting at Dean. "Wait. Did you... did you tell me that already?"

About a hundred times last night, thought Dean. He said, "A few times. You've been kind of out of it."

Sam put in, "How are you feeling?"

"Tired..." said Cas. His voice was a little slurred, and he wasn't moving much, just barely turning his head slightly to be able to look at them. He also seemed only able to get out about two words at a time. "Very tired... it's... strange... how tired." He took a breath to say something else, and then curled up in a fit of coughing. Dean flinched at the harsh sound, patting him uselessly on the back a few times, and a nurse poked her head past the curtain to check in on them, but the coughing fit was short and soon ended on its own.

After the last cough, Cas drew a wobbly breath and said to Sam and Dean gravely, as if informing them of some unexpected news, "I believe... I may... be sick."

Sam said, with a gentle smile, "We know, Cas."

Dean explained, "You had the flu and then you got pneumonia. You've been really sick, actually. But you're getting better. And soon we'll take you home."

Cas looked back and forth between them, and then said to Dean, in that faint, weak whisper, a few words at at time, "Dean... I think I may... still have... some useful... combat skills, and... I can—"

"You can wash dishes and my car and you know Enochian," interrupted Dean. "I know. Listen to me, Cas. You've got ten million other skills too that you kind of forgot to put on that list, but you don't even need any of that. We're taking you back to the bunker no matter what. Even if you had zero skills, which you don't, we'd be taking you back to the bunker anyway. You understand me?"

Cas looked at him for a long moment, his eyes searching Dean's face.

Then he said, "Could I stay for... several days? Just till... I'm better? I don't... eat much...."

"Oh, jeez, Cas," Dean said, his hands knotting.

"You can eat all you want," said Sam.

Dean said, "We're taking you back for good, is what I meant. Not for just a day or two. You can stay as long as you want. Long after you're better. Forever, if you want."

Cas's forehead creased in puzzlement. He glanced at Sam and then tried to hitch himself a little closer to Dean, and he whispered, "Sam won't... mind?"

"Cas, Cas, I want you there," Sam broke in, "I was never mad at you—"

One of the med staff outside pulled the curtain halfway open and whispered, "Hate to interrupt you, but we've got to come in for the x-rays now."

Sam and Dean nodded at them, and Dean bent over Cas one more time, saying quickly, "There's been a lot of stuff going on that I couldn't tell you about before. I'll fill you in later. For now you just gotta know, it's all over and everything's okay now and we're taking you home." Dean shot another glance at the med staff who were starting to inch into the room, and said, "The doctors and nurses are gonna do some x-rays on you now, and check you out and clean you up, and make sure you're getting better. We'll be back later, okay?" But Cas began to look worried all over again as soon as Dean and Sam took a step back from the bed. He even tried to struggle up. Dean took a step back and pressed him back down—it turned out to be all-too-easy to hold him down with just one hand lightly placed to his chest— and said, "We'll be back. I promise. I swear. We're not leaving you. I promise. We'll talk later today, okay?"

Cas relaxed a little, sinking back against his mattress, and he nodded. Then a nurse firmly shooed them away.

Dean and Sam grabbed their coats and walked out to the hallway, watching the med staff roll the x-ray machine in. A tech soon pushed Cas's little cart out into the hallway, with the leather bag still sitting on it looking fairly vulnerable, so Dean grabbed the bag for safekeeping.

"He woke up!" said Sam. "He actually woke up. He looked good, don't you think?"

"He looked great," agreed Dean. "He looked awesome."

Sam pointed out, "Aside from being unable to even sit up or speak more than two words at a time."

"Well, I mean, he looks awesome for someone at death's door," Dean said. He heaved a sigh. Though it was heartwrenching to see how worried Cas still was about coming back to Kansas, it had been an immense relief just to see him able to focus on Dean's face, and able to talk at all coherently. Dean knew he still was going to have to explain the whole horrible Gadreel story to Cas, and he still had all the apologies stacked up ready to burst out. And he wasn't at all sure Cas would ever truly forgive him— or whether Sam would either, for that matter.

But now Dean really felt some hope.

Dean said, "He looked so much better. He was really delirious all last night, Sam. But the fever broke at midnight."

Sam nodded. "They told me. I got some intel, actually. C'mon, let's head to the cafe."

At the cafe Dean suddenly found himself ravenous. He got a large coffee and two sausage-muffin breakfast sandwiches, inhaling the first in about two bites and slowing down only slightly on the second. Sam chipped away at some yogurt-granola thing, eyeing Dean from across the table as Dean gobbled down the sandwiches.

"Looks like your appetite's back," said Sam drily.

"Holy hell, Sam," Dean burst out, pausing in the middle of the second sandwich. "I know he might never forgive me, but just to have him back at all! Just to know he's probably gonna be okay... I feel about a thousand times better." He took another huge bite.

Sam said, "Well, listen to this then. I got an idea that I think you're gonna like." Dean glanced up at him to find that Sam had a rather bright-eyed look now, and even a little smile; Sam was excited about something. Sam stuck his spoon back in his yogurt and leaned forward to say, "So I got here an hour ago, and since you and Cas were just conked out like a pair of Sleeping Beauties, I've been talking to the doc. She says it was really critical this morning to see if he would be lucid at all, that that would be a major turning point, and I would say that's a big yes now. So here's the deal: it turns out that just three days of IV antibiotics often does the trick, with the kind of pneumonia he has. I guess patients can really improve fast once the antibiotics kick in. I don't want to jinx things or anything, but the doc was kind of hinting that if he looks good today — like, lucid and eating and able to stand a little — he might be releasable tomorrow! He'd still be pretty weak, and he'd still be on antibiotics, but, he might be to the point where we could take care of him ourselves."

Dean looked at him in surprise. Cas, released tomorrow?

Sam added, with a grin, "And today's Christmas Eve-Eve."

It took Dean a moment to realize what he meant. "Christmas Eve-Eve", the eve of Christmas Eve, was their old childhood name for December 23rd. Sam went on, "Which means tomorrow's Christmas Eve. And wouldn't it be cool if we could get him home tomorrow? I mean, for..." 

"... for Christmas Day," Dean finished for him, setting the last of his sandwich down.

"Yeah, exactly!" Sam said. "That was my idea. I know it's a long drive, and I'm not sure Cas'll be up to it, but... maybe we could at least think it over, huh?"

Dean looked at him.

It was actually pretty strange to hear Sam calling anywhere "home." Sam had once sworn the bunker would never feel like home.

But maybe things had changed.

And it was also kind of amazing to hear Sam saying "we" at all, these days. Let alone in phrases like, "we could take care of him ourselves". Was Sam thinking of him and Dean as a family again? Or at least as a team? Even if it was just a temporary truce, just to take care of Cas, it was awfully nice to hear.

Christmas had never actually been Dean's favorite day. It always brought up too many memories of sad Christmases in motel rooms trying to cover Dad's absence. Trying to forget how much he still missed Mom, trying to keep Sam happy somehow. Once they'd both hit adulthood Dean had mostly ignored Christmas, as much as he could. Now and then, though, he did manage to get Sam some crappy gift or put up some half-assed decoration.

But sometimes, though he usually would never admit it, there had been a Christmas or two that had actually turned out pretty sweet.

Sam added, "He had such an awful Thanksgiving. Wouldn't it be cool if we could give him a real Christmas?"

Dean looked at Sam, and thought, Yes, that'd be very cool. And it'd be kind of cool to give you a real Christmas, too. Dean was suddenly gripped by the image of Cas relaxing on the sofa in the tv room, bundled up in a sea of quilts and pillows, and Sam kicked back too in the easy chair next to him. Maybe both of them could watch some doofy Christmas special while Dean plied them both with endless rounds of hot chocolate and Christmas cookies (well, and spiked eggnog, maybe).

"Dean? Are you listening?"

"Yeah, I definitely am," said Dean. "That is brilliant, Sam. We won't have time to do a tree or anything, but still. Just to get him back at all and settled would be awesome. We could set up one of the bedrooms for him."

Sam nodded. "Lined wall-to-wall with pillows and stacks of white towels. But, even if they're willing to let him check out tomorrow...." He gave a little grimace. "It might not work."

Dean looked at him. "Why wouldn't it work?"

"Well, he won't be comfortable in the Impala," Sam said. "Pretty squished actually. All three of us and all our gear? He'd have to sit up the whole way. And it'd be a hell of a long haul. Hard to do it in a single day." He gave a little sigh. "It'd probably wear him out too much. I guess it's really a two-day drive."

"Nah, we could do it in one," said Dean, a mental map of the interstates immediately springing up in his head. Pacific Northwest to Kansas, we've done that before; it was, what, eighteen or nineteen hours maybe? "Long day, yeah, but doable," said Dean, thinking through it out loud. "He could just sleep, and we could set up sort of a nest for him to sleep in, and if we started early, and go into the night—"

"But, problem is, he'd need to lie down," said Sam, "The Impala's pretty cramped in back, you know. But maybe we could rent a bigger car, or something?"

Dean felt a grin spread over his face. Sam didn't notice; he was staring down at his yogurt now, drawing little designs in it with his spoon, saying, "Or we could use one of those big old cars from the bunker. We could go get one and bring it back... " He finally glanced up at Dean. "What? Is that a smile? What are you smiling about?"

"You only read half his journal," said Dean. "Guess what Cas pulled off at the very end of November." Cas's bag was still slung over Dean's shoulder; he flipped it open, pulled out the car key out of the little ziploc bag, and waved it triumphantly at Sam.

"He had a car?" said Sam, blinking at the key. "Where'd he get a car when he was homeless? Oh— did he steal it? Or learn credit card scams?"

"He earned it, Sam," said Dean. "The old-fashioned way, one minimum-wage dollar at a time. He bought the thing fair and square. Apparently Cas developed this, like, moral code or something, about not cheating or stealing."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "Then what's he doing hanging out with lowlifes like us?"

"You got me," said Dean. "Anyway, he managed to pick up some ancient Lincoln Continental for just five hundred bucks. Which means it's probably got a thousand things wrong with it, but it ran well enough to get him here from Idaho—"

"For him to get anything that runs at all, for five hundred bucks, sounds like a pretty genius move," said Sam.

Dean nodded, and said, waving the key again for emphasis, "And you know what Continentals have always been known for, right? What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think, Lincoln Continental?"

"Uh..." said Sam doubtfully. "Pimpmobile?"

Dean snorted. "Well, kind of, but there's something else that really should have come to mind first. I'm ashamed of you Sam, really. Have you forgotten everything I taught you? Didn't I, like, raise you on James Bond cars?"

"Oh!" Sam's eyes lit up. "Goldfinger! The gold bullion car! Of course! That car that the villain loaded up with a million dollars' worth of gold bricks. That was a Continental!"

Dean grinned. "That's the one."

Sam nodded. "I do remember that scene. And then that's the car that was dramatically crushed in the junkyard, in the movie, right? And Bobby and Dad were all, 'it's a sin against nature to crush a perfectly good car like that'."

Sam was smiling now over the memory.

Man, it's good to see him smile, thought Dean.

It felt good to just talk with Sam again about James Bond movies.

And about Bobby. And Dad.

Sam said, with a chuckle, "Remember Bobby and Dad and you got in that argument about whether the car's springs could have held up to the weight that many gold bricks? You had some kind of bet going with them that the springs would've failed. You even looked up the density of gold and calculated the weight of the average gold brick."

"And I won the bet," Dean said, grinning now too. "Springs should've failed. But the point I'm trying to make is, the gold bars all fit! And then at the end of the movie Bond himself is chauffeured in a Continental to the airport to to meet the President. Bond's in the back seat, being chauffeured."

"Ah, right," said Sam, "Just before he parachutes out of the exploding plane with Pussy Galore."

"Yup. Also, then in "Thunderball" Bond's driving a Lincoln Continental around the Bahamas. Hell, Elvis had a Continental! So did Sinatra. Not to mention the pimps, and the reason a Continental makes a good pimpmobile, Sam, is that a pimp and three girls can all fit in the back seat together. The point I'm getting at is—"

Sam finished his sentence, grinning. "—if it can hold a million dollars' worth of gold bricks, and James Bond, and Elvis, and Sinatra, and a pimp with three girls, it can hold Cas."

Dean nodded. "It's a big roomy luxury car. Crappy power and crappy gas mileage, maybe, but that's because Continentals were built to be comfortable and spacious. That was always the entire point of having a Continental. So, Cas could stretch out a little more in his own Continental than in the Impala. We just have to figure out a way to get both cars back."

"One of us drives the Continental with Cas, one drives the Impala," said Sam. "And we stay in touch on the road."

"Yup. Though... if this is gonna work I have to find his car and make sure it's roadworthy." Dean checked his phone. "We've still got an hour and a half to kill, so how about I'll go look for it. It can't be too far away. His journal said he parked it by a library, and it's gotta be a library that's walking distance from here."

"Want me to come?"

Dean shook his head. "One of us should be here just in case. You stay on call here in the hospital, and I'll find his car. And if it needs anything, I'll fix it up. I sure I owe it to him, after all."

 


 

It took just ten minutes to find the library—it was the only library branch for miles around, and also it was just six blocks from the hospital. Has to be the right library, thought Dean, walking slowly along the streets nearby. Though at first he couldn't find the car. A couple inches of snow had fallen overnight, turning all the parked cars into large white lumps, and it was hard to pick out a Continental specifically under all the snow.

Finally, on a side street about a block away, Dean noticed a particularly long-looking heap of snow, a Continental type of length. Dean wiped a thick handful of snow off the front hood. Gold glinted up at him, and Dean grinned. He tried the key; it fit.

He managed to borrow a little snow shovel from a gas station on the next block (the mechanic there turned out to be a pretty decent guy). Dean then shoveled out the Continental's wheels (the tires needed replacing, he noticed) and the front and back ends, and as he wiped armfuls of fresh fluffy snow off the hood, trunk and roof, soon it emerged from its wintry cocoon.

A '78, thought Dean, looking it over. Not bad. Solidly built. Power'll be low, but that's okay. If memory served, the late-seventies Continentals only had about 150 horsepower, to the Impala's impressive 385hp. The Continental had never been a muscle car— as he'd been telling Sam, it had always been designed for comfort and not for speed.

Power'll be crap and it probably can't accelerate for beans, thought Dean, but according to Cas the thing runs. And it's got a ton of room and these old-model Lincolns were built like tanks. With its weight it'll have pretty decent traction, if I just get some good tires on it.

"You didn't do half bad, Cas," Dean muttered to himself.

He cracked the driver's door and looked inside. The ice on the windows turned the interior a ghostly dim grey, but he could make out the famous blue three-season sleeping bag, spread all over the back seat. It looked a little worse for wear and was in definite need of a wash. There was a litter of saltine wrappers strewn around the back seat too, along with some empty water bottles and a big heap of wadded-up paper napkins that Cas must have been using as free Kleenex. Cas's very few spare clothes— extra underwear, a shirt, the dark pants from his ill-fated "FBI threads" and a few socks — all lay strewn around in the footwells in the back. Cas probably hadn't had much energy to keep his few possessions tidy, in those last awful days.

Dean bit his lip at the thought of Cas alone here, with nothing but his saltines and water. Huddling in the sleeping bag.

It was awful to think of how close Cas had come to dying here, all alone in the cold, just two days ago.

But he would've died earlier if he hadn't had this car to sleep in, Dean thought. This car is actually what kept him alive.

Dean got in the front seat and fired it up. It started only after some coaxing. Battery's nearly dead, thought Dean; the car had been sitting for a week in the cold and it was probably an old battery anyway. The fuel gauge was right on E, empty, but it did seem to have a few last drops of gas in the tank. Dean managed to steer the car out of its snowy parking spot and onto the street. Where it skidded a few times. Yep, needs tires, thought Dean, as he inched his way along the street at a snail's pace, gently coaxing the big old car through the few inches of snow. And like I thought, it's got no power. It felt like the zero-to-sixty time would probably be a good leisurely half-hour.

But the car ran. The heater was kicking in, and the car was already getting warm. The seats were, in fact, pretty plush. It was roomy, and solid, and the handling wasn't even that bad.

Sure, it was a boat. But it was a comfy boat.

Dean inched it down the street to the gas station that he'd borrowed the shovel from. He filled the tank, returned the shovel and got a look under the hood. This soon led to a long conversation with the mechanic, who won Dean over totally by turning out to be an Impala fan.

Dean shot a quick text to Sam: Any news? Found the car. Needs a little work though.

Sam replied quickly: They took him away for more tests and then they're moving him out of the ICU. They say at least another hour, maybe two.

There was some further bonding with the mechanic, a guy named Bill, over muscle cars, and soon they were trading car stories, and then Dean found himself saying to Bill, "To tell the truth, my best friend's in the hospital in intensive care and he's really been on hard times lately and this car's all he got. I was hoping to fix it up for him for Christmas." (Dean heard himself saying this and was startled to realize that though it sounded exactly like one of his classic sob-story scams, it was actually 100% true.) Ten minutes later the Continental was in a service bay, and Bill was loaning Dean a set of tools.

Dean gave the Continental a quick oil change and swapped out the battery for a new one while Bill put on a set of new tires. It went fast, and in less than an hour the oil change and battery change were done. Dean asked Bill to do a few longer jobs as well (a tune-up, changing a dicey-looking belt, and giving it a wash-and-detail), and arranged that he'd come back and pick up the car later that afternoon.

Finally Dean cleaned up all the saltine wrappers and napkins and tossed them all in the trash, bundled all of Cas's clothes into a plastic bag, and wedged the sleeping bag back into its little stuff-sack.

Dean stepped back from the car at last, carrying the bag of clothes in one hand with the sleeping bag tucked under his arm. He took a critical look at the car.

The gold's not bad at all, he thought. I bet with a little polish that would really shine.

"See you this afternoon, Goldie," he told the Continental, giving it an affectionate pat on the trunk. "And thanks for taking care of my friend."

There was still a little time left, so Dean touched base with Sam and then headed back to the ICU to pick up the rest of Cas's clothes— the clothes Cas had been wearing when he'd first been admitted. Soon Dean had the whole bundle of clothes, including the trenchcoat (which turned out to have Cas's cell phone in it) along with the striped sweater that Cas had selected so carefully at the Idaho thrift store. Then Dean headed to a laundromat.

To wash all Cas's clothes, and the three-season sleeping bag.

I can wash things too, Cas, Dean thought. I can wash YOUR clothes, and wash YOUR car. Maybe I don't know Enochian, but I can be useful too. I swear. I swear to you.

 


 

By noon Dean and Sam were camped out in Cas's new room— in a regular ward now, instead of intensive care. The tests had all apparently looked good. The doctor had said Cas's lungs were looking clearer, his vital signs stronger, and his bloodwork looked pretty good too, and she'd even said a few encouraging things about possible release times tomorrow morning.

Cas had been asleep ever since Sam and Dean had been allowed into his new room. They'd been sitting with him for a few hours, eating a take-out lunch from the cafe and chatting idly. At first Dean had felt almost fizzy with excitement about having found and fixed up Cas's car, but as the hours ticked by he began to feel more and more worried about what Cas was going to say when they finally got a chance to talk. Dean was slouched back now in one of the chairs, trying to look up Continental specs on his phone but glancing constantly over at Cas.

Sam was sitting next to Dean in another chair, his laptop propped on his knees, pecking away at some shopping site or other. As soon as Dean had told him the Continental was going to be in pretty good shape for a long drive (if, in fact, they got the go-ahead to check Cas out tomorrow) Sam had suddenly shifted gears into some kind of long-dormant Christmas-shopping mode.

"Look what I found!" Sam whispered, spinning the laptop around at Dean. Dean peered over at the laptop. Sam had pulled up a Target Christmas-sale webpage of flannel pajamas, and was pointing to a set of warm-looking men's flannel pj's, covered with... Spiderman pictures.

"Spiderman?" Dean said, a bit dubious.

"Aren't they awesome?" Sam whispered back. "He'd love 'em, wouldn't he? They're flannel! They'd be so warm!"

"Sam, he's not going to have a clue who Spiderman is. Also, he's not five years old."

Sam looked a little crestfallen. "Huh... Yeah, I guess he won't know about Spidey. Damn. Aren't they cool though?" Sam looked at the Spidey pajamas a moment longer, gave a little sigh and clicked through a few more pages. "Look! Dean! BATMAN PJ'S!"

"Sam—"

"Okay, yeah, yeah. Oh hey, how about a elf pj's! An elf, just picture Cas as an elf?" Sam started grinning.

"Sam. He's not five."

"Sure he is. If you count in billions of years," said Sam. Dean glared at him, and Sam leaned over to Dean to whisper even more quietly. "Okay, no elf outfit. But seriously, we gotta get him some stuff. And today's kind of the only day. I've been thinking. How about I take off now, take the Impala, grab some stuff. We'll need some bedding for the car anyway, for him to lie down in."

Dean nodded. He'd been thinking the same thing, about the bedding at least. And Sam was right; they really should get in gear and come up with some kind of Christmas presents for Cas.

"Okay," Dean whispered back. "Decent plan. You do a run now, and how about, you also deal with the bedding issue, and I'll make sure the car's ready. You be back at, like, three pm, then I can maybe go pick up a few things myself. Okay?"

Sam nodded, and started to pack up.

"But Sam," Dean whispered, as Sam was walking out. Sam turned to look at him, and Dean said, "No elf outfit. It would be hilarious, I agree, but, he wants to fit in. It's been bugging him that he doesn't know how to buy guy's clothes. He wants to fit in more."

"Those pesky little details of trivial importance," Sam said— a direct quote from Cas's journal. "No longer quite so trivial, huh?"

"Exactly. So don't confuse him! If you get clothes, make sure it's clothes that'll actually make him look good. Stuff that's, you know, reasonably cool looking. That probably means, no Spidey or Batman pj's, okay? "

Sam nodded reluctantly, and headed out. And Dean thought, with a grin, Don't buy any Spidey or Batman pj's... cause that's what I'm buying for YOU.

 


 

Dean was in the middle of scrolling through some information about Continental timing belts on his phone when a rough whispered "Hello, Dean," made him nearly drop the phone.

"Cas!" said Dean, spinning to look at him. Cas's eyes were open. "You're awake!" said Dean, stuffing his phone into his pocket and scooting his chair closer.

Cas looked around the room, a worried frown coming over his face. "Sam— did Sam leave?"

"Oh, no, it's not that—" Dean said. He patted Cas's hand. "Sam just went to do some errands. I swear he's coming back. We've been taking shifts with you the last couple days. He'll be back pretty soon, actually."

Cas looked back at him. "He said he wasn't... mad at me... but... then... why..." He paused, and said, looking at Dean, "Dean, three weeks ago... you said we couldn't work together..." He seemed to be having to take little breaths between every couple of words, but he soldiered on: "I'm so glad that... you changed your mind... but Dean... I don't understand."

"Cas, listen, um..." Dean hitched the chair as close as he could get it, till he was right up next to Cas's bed.

And then he sat there staring down at the sheets, mute, trying to think how to even tackle it. There was so much to explain. And Cas was still so weak; it obviously was exhausting him even to talk at all. But Dean had to explain the crux of it, to make clear that he had never wanted to send Cas away at all.

"Dean?" Cas said. "Are you okay? Is Sam all right?"


 1. ask if he is ok / Sam ok


 Dean didn't know whether to laugh or cry. 

"Cas," said Dean, forcing himself to look Cas in the eyes. "Something's been going on. Something bad. Ever since that night of the trials actually, that night the angels fell. And I couldn't tell you. It's why I sent you away. I never wanted to send you away. So, um, Cas, basically, I really fucked up."

Cas was starting to look more and more puzzled. Spit it out, Dean ordered himself, and he took a breath and said, "I let an angel named Gadreel possess Sam, without Sam's consent, and—"

He didn't get any farther than that. Cas's eyes had gone wide, and he drew in such a sharp breath that he went into a coughing fit.

A few minutes later Cas was finally breathing evenly again, curled up in a ball on his side now, taking slow, careful, ragged breaths under a nurse's supervision while Dean fidgeted guiltily in the corner. "Do not upset him," the nurse hissed at Dean, once Cas finally was settled again. Dean nodded, and at last the nurse left.

"Did you say Gadreel?" Cas choked out, as soon as Dean got back to his side. "And without Sam's consent?"

"Uh," said Dean. "Yeah."

"How could you do that to Sam?" Cas said. "And, Gadreel? Of all angels? How did that even happen?"

It took a while to explain the awful story. Which sounded even worse now that Dean was telling it from the beginning. Why the hell hadn't he told Cas everything at the time, back when it had all been happening? It was becoming very clear that Cas would have been able to tell right away that "Ezekiel" wasn't acting like himself.

And then Dean had to break the news of Kevin's death. Cas covered his eyes at this, murmuring, "Oh, Dean. Oh no. Not Kevin..."

Dean thought, watching Cas mourn for Kevin, How was I ever thinking that it would make anything better to give his car an oil change? What the hell is wrong with me? This can never be fixed.

"I could have helped," Cas muttered, finally lowering his hands. "Dean, I could have helped, I know I could have—"

"I know that now. I know, I know," Dean whispered hoarsely, crouching close by Cas's bed, his elbows on his knees and his hands knotted together under his chin. "I couldn't see it at the time. I screwed up so bad. And—I—okay, look, another thing I gotta tell you is, I read your journal, night before last, I hope that's okay—" Cas screwed his eyes shut and seemed to curl up into an even tighter ball.

"Oh, hell, Cas," said Dean, feeling nauseated now. "I shouldn't be upsetting you. I should leave. I'll leave— I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'll leave, you just rest—"

"Don't leave," said Cas, opening his eyes and almost grabbing at Dean. "Please don't. It's okay that you read it— I think I wrote it for you actually. I just wasn't expecting it—"

"Cas, I feel so bad, just, so bad what you went through; I didn't know it was that bad! You should never have gone through all that, never! I should have called you but I was all panicked about Sam and Gadreel, just, constantly worried... ah, Cas, it all went so wrong; Gadreel kept threatening to let Sam die, whenever you came near or whenever you showed signs of sticking around. And I've been so friggin' terrified, trying to just grit my teeth and paste on a smile and get through it somehow and pretend it would all be all right, and it turned into this, just, endless nightmare... I'm so sorry, you should never have had to go through all that alone—"

"You weren't okay," murmured Cas, gazing at him now. "You weren't okay. All along... you weren't okay. And Sam wasn't either. I had the feeling... all along... that something was wrong."

"But even so I should never have let you walk away like that. Somehow I thought you'd just, be okay, 'cause you always are; I should've thought of how hard it was gonna be. I should've realized. I should've found some way to help you, I'm so sorry, Cas, I just didn't know... I was just trying to save Sam's life! I was trying to save his life, but... " Dean gave a ragged sigh, shaking his head. "I've never let Sammy down like this, this bad, ever. He was ready to die and I hauled him back and forced him to be possessed... Cas, he's never going to forgive me. I've never seen him this angry at me. Like, ice cold. He's never going to forgive me. And Kevin, Kevin died, Cas, Kevin died, and it's my fault that Kevin died, it's my fault, he died, he trusted me and he died, and I just have to live with that somehow and I don't know how. I keep seeing him lying there... And now I find out you were going through friggin' hell out there and I didn't even know, dammit, Cas, I'm just so friggin' sorry, I'm just so sorry. And I know I can never make it up to you— I have been a fucking terrible friend to you, Cas—"

At that point Dean learned what Cas had meant, in the journal, by "out of nowhere I started crying. And I couldn't stop."

Dean was not a crier, of course. Not at all. He could only even remember crying at all a very few times in his life. But the terror of Sam nearly dying, the long nightmare of Gadreel, the horror of Kevin's hideous death, the guilt about Cas's suffering... All the misery of the last several months came crashing down on Dean all at once, and Dean had to hide his face in both hands.

"I'm such a sucky friend," Dean managed to gasp, his face buried in his hands. "I don't know why you kept thinking I was any kind of a friend worth staying in touch with at all. Ah, goddammit...I'm not supposed to stress you... you're supposed to be resting... I just want you to get better..."

He felt a feather-light touch on his shoulder.

"Bow..." Cas said. "... your head."

"Wh-what?" said Dean, looking at him.

"Bow your head," repeated Cas. "Close your eyes. Bow your head."

Dean was too confused to think of questioning him. He wiped his face on his sleeve and then did as Cas said, closing his eyes and letting his head drop down, almost all the way down to the edge of Cas's bed, his breath still uneven.

A moment later he felt both of Cas's hands settle on his head, one resting on Dean's forehead and the other on the nape of his neck.

Cas started whispering something. A hoarse low whisper, barely audible.

Enochian.

Dean said, "What are you doing?" He opened his eyes for a moment and looked sideways at Cas. Cas was curled on his side, facing Dean so that he could get both hands on Dean's head, and his eyes had been closed too. Cas opened his eyes and shot Dean a brief glance.

"It's a ritual," whispered Cas. "Close your eyes. Don't interrupt."

"What ritual?"

"Absolution," whispered Cas.

Dean blinked at him.

"Wait— forgiveness? Wait, Cas, no, I don't deserve that, I don't!" Dean tried to lift his head out of Cas's grasp, but Cas held on with surprising strength.

"I'm the one who... decides that," said Cas, narrowing his eyes.

"But, an Enochian absolution ritual, Cas, really? I don't..." Dean's voice faltered, and he had to finish in a whisper. "I don't deserve it," he confessed to Castiel, and in that moment, all Dean's sins seemed to crowd around him. The abandonment of Castiel, Kevin's death, the betrayal of Sam's trust. And more than that, too. Everything he'd failed at. Everybody he'd hurt. Going back years. All the lies, all the stupid decisions. All the people who'd died, all who'd been wounded. Bobby, Lisa, Ben, Jo, Ellen, all of them, and more too.

All the way back to Hell.

"I don't deserve it," whispered Dean. "Cas, I don't. The things I did, you don't even know... not just abandoning you, other stuff too..." He'd never really told Cas about Hell. "Like... years ago...."

Cas whispered back, "Dean. I know every one of your sins. I know everything you did in Hell."

Dean flinched, twisting his head out from under Cas's hands to look at him. Cas was gazing right at him, with that blue-eyed stare.

Cas repeated, his voice suddenly much stronger, "I know everything you did in Hell. I know all your sins. I always have. I flew you out of Hell, and that means I held your soul, and that means I became your guardian, at that moment. Ever since, I've been your guardian angel. I never made that clear to you because I wasn't sure you'd like it. And that means I know you. And Dean, I've made even worse mistakes, you know I have. So... please let me just do this ritual. It probably doesn't mean anything, because I'm not an angel anymore, but..." He sighed, a wistful look coming over his face. "It's always been a ritual that seraphs have the right to perform. Seraphs have that right, that ability: to decide who's worthy of forgiveness. Essentially it's a way of saying the angel knows all the sins and has seen the entire soul of that person and still has faith in the human anyway. Faith that the person is a good person. Which I do, Dean; I have that faith."

Dean stared at him.

"I have faith in you," Cas said. "I know you, and I have faith in you. And, though I know I'm not an angel anymore, though it's probably pointless, I'd like to say the ritual anyway. If you don't mind?"

Dean looked into Cas's eyes. I'm not an angel anymore, Cas had just said.

Yet Dean felt certain he was looking at an angel. 

Maybe there were no wings. Maybe no halo. Maybe there was no grace, no power.

But there lay someone whose greatest desire had been to follow the word of God; and when that had failed, he'd devoted himself to trying to save the world, and humanity, over and over again. Sure, there'd been a lot of mistakes; harsh lessons learned, lives lost. But even after all that had backfired, Cas had devoted himself to trying to fix Heaven, trying to reverse all his mistakes.There lay someone who'd seen the whole vast sweep of human history; who'd held Dean's very soul in his hands, and remembered everything he'd seen, everything he'd learned, for all those long millennia. There lay someone who, when he'd had nothing left at all, had just wanted to be useful to his friends, and had fed his last crumbs of food to the sparrows. There lay someone who, at the very end, when he'd thought all his efforts had failed, when he'd thought all was lost and knew he was dying alone, had held to one last thought:

Always your friend.

Dean was looking at an angel, and he knew it.

"Bow your head," said Castiel. "Close... your eyes." His speech had obviously tired him out, and his voice was once again weak and whispery. But he still had that determined glint in his eye.

Dean nodded, and bowed his head, and closed his eyes.

Cas's hands settled on Dean's head again, and Cas began to chant once more, starting over from the beginning. Dean sat very still, feeling Cas's hands on his head, listening to that familiar rough whisper.

It didn't seem to be a magic spell. Nothing that dramatic. There was no whooshing feeling of forgiveness, no sudden sense of elation, no Heavenly white light or anything. It was just Cas chanting something, and Dean sitting there listening. Dean listened to his friend's voice, and felt the warmth of Cas's hands on Dean's head, and Dean thought, An angel's forgiving me.

My angel.

My angel is forgiving me.

Deep in Dean's chest, something relaxed.

 


 

Cas's voice got even weaker during the chant; Cas had talked far too much, Dean knew, and he resolved to make sure that Cas shut up and went back to sleep after this. Cas paused at one point, and Dean somehow knew, from a faint sound at the door, a change in the air of the room, and a shift in Cas's hands, that Sam had hesitantly poked his head in the door, seen that something important was going on, and that Sam had gotten an "It's okay, but give us a moment," glance from Cas, and had retreated.

Finally Cas stopped talking. "That's all," he said. "I'm done. Thank you, Dean."

Dean slowly lifted his head. It took a few moments to be able to meet Cas's eyes.

Cas was just looking at him calmly. He looked very tired now, but there was only peace in his eyes.

"But... I hurt you," whispered Dean.

"I've hurt you... too. In... the past," said Cas, his voice pretty faint now. He'd had to revert to just saying a few words at a time. "And you... forgave me."

"But," said Dean. "Don't I have to, like, do penance or something? Make my errors right?"

"That's up... to you," Cas whispered. "But in my eyes... and the eyes of Heaven, perhaps... you are free of blame."

Dean shook his head. "I still gotta make things right with Sam somehow."

"That's... for you... to figure out... with him," said Cas, nodding. "But I believe, you won't... make the same mistakes again now... right?"

"No, I'll make all-new mistakes," said Dean, and suddenly he was laughing. Cas even managed a faint smile.

"That's what I do," whispered Cas. "New mistakes... every time. More... variety that way."

"No wonder you understand me so well," said Dean, wiping his eyes. "Cas, I gotta say something. I don't think I really deserve your friendship."

"I don't deserve... yours either," said Cas. "So we're even."

Dean laughed again. But Cas's eyelids were fluttering now, so Dean told him, "Close your eyes, Cas. Just rest." And he sat there by Cas's side, watching Cas as he slid into sleep.

 


 

 

A/N -  Yes, the Continental is the car that carried the gold bullion in Goldfinger! The car-crushing scene was actually pretty famous. (a different year of Continental than what Cas has, but still recognizably a similar model). And yes, I even looked up the horsepower and everything, and found out about Elvis and Sinatra having Continentals too. Cas got a way classier car than we have been told. I don't know why the writers didn't use all this stuff - Dean should have been all over it!

PS - In some kind of cosmic curse, as soon as I wrote the bit about Dean changing the battery, the battery on my own car died. It's sitting dead on the street right now. So tonight and tomorrow may be dealt with getting my car towed and having to do my shopping on foot with no car, so I might not have as much writing time as I thought! But I'll still get something up tomorrow, even if it's short. Wish me luck.

Thanks to all for your wonderful comments. Sorry I haven't replied - I'm racing to get the fic done, racing like you wouldn't believe - but your comments really keep me going! I'll send you loads of replies to all your comments after the last chapter posts. Merry Christmas Eve-Eve!

Chapter Text

A/N - Happy Christmas Eve, everybody! (Or whatever holiday you celebrate.) Here's your Christmas-Eve present. It may be a bit rough - please forgive me if there's an unusual number of typos as I'm having to post this in a hurry, due to car problems yesterday and today. (I just got the car back, but spent a long while dealing with it and I'm running late on pie-making and so on).


At five in the morning on Christmas Eve, Dean got into the gold Continental, which was now in the chilly hospital parking lot, and fired her up. Sam was already in the hospital, making sure Cas got dressed and down to the lobby; Dean was supposed to meet them at the hospital's front doors with the Continental (or "Goldie," as he kept calling her now).

Five a.m. was a painful early start. But it would be a long drive. The good news was that by yesterday evening, Cas had met all the doctor's criteria for release. He'd been lucid every time he'd woken. He'd eaten—not much, but he'd managed to get down some soup and pudding, and he'd kept it down. He'd even sat up for a little while in the evening— just long enough to watch half of "Frosty the Snowman" on the hospital room's little tv before he passed out asleep again, but apparently that was long enough to count as "patient can sit upright on own." (He came half-awake later muttering, "What happened? Did he melt?") He'd even managed to stand and shuffle the ten feet to the bathroom— though Dean and Sam had to support him on either side, and even with their help Cas had to stop and rest about every five steps.

He still was running a mild fever and obviously was very fatigued, and he still was dogged by a stubborn cough, but it was clear that he was on the mend. So Cas's doctor had okayed a release; and then the hospital staff had turned out to be surprisingly helpful about arranging a very-early-morning departure. Turned out they understood the desire to bring a patient home for Christmas.

Though the doctor then had subjected Dean and Sam to a long, detailed lecture about how Cas was still sick, and how he would still need a lot of care, and how important it would be to keep him warm and comfortable, and hydrated and fed, on the long drive. Sam and Dean had to swear over and over that they'd take good care of him before the doc had finally okayed the release.

It was still pitch dark, and very cold. Dean maneuvered "Goldie" out of the parking lot and up to the main front bay doors. The car felt good; the new tires were gripping well, and the engine was purring much better. Dean had also just checked the tire pressure, oil level and a few other things while Sam had done some last-minute fiddling with the interior arrangements, setting up some final touches on Cas's "angel nest," as Sam kept calling it.

Dean pulled up exactly in front of the bay doors. Cas and Sam weren't in sight yet in the glassed-in lobby, but Dean kept the motor running anyway, so that the car would be toasty warm for Cas. He twisted around to look into the back seat, checking the "angel nest".

An hour ago Sam had had the bright idea of filling up the footwells with Dean's and his own duffels, using them as packing material to level the footwells with the seat. Then he'd spread a couple of soft fleece blankets (one of his new purchases from the local Target) all the way across the seat and duffels. This had converted the back seat into a sort of extra-wide bed, so that Cas would be able sprawl any which way without having to worry about falling off the seat. Two new pillows were now leaning against one of the doors, also courtesy of Sam's Target shopping trip, and several more fleece blankets were flipped up over the front seat, ready to be deployed once Cas lay down. Cas's blue sleeping bag, freshly cleaned, was heaped up next to Dean, ready to be used as a top layer if necessary. (A little bag of Cas's extra clothes, now freshly laundered and folded, was also sitting in the front seat.)

Dean looked over a small set of items that were wedged between the duffels— things Sam and Dean had thought Cas might want during the drive. Bottles of water, a thermos of soup, a little supply of crackers, some fruit (the doctor had suggested some grapes and a banana), stacks of Kleenex and a little trash bag. Dean had added a sleep mask and earplugs, bought from the hospital pharmacy, in case Cas needed extra peace and quiet; and Sam had donated his ipod too, in case Cas might want to listen to any music. (Sam had even spent a good chunk of last night loading the ipod with stuff he thought Cas might like—classical music, folk songs, and some hopelessly foofy indie stuff. Dean had snuck on a few classic-rock hits at the last second.)

Pretty damn good angel-nest, thought Dean, looking it over. He patted his pocket, making sure he had all of Cas's meds as well: the precious antibiotics, along with codeine for the chest pain, cough meds, and sleeping meds. Though Dean was determined to only let Cas take the recommended dose. No triple doses, he thought to himself. No drugging yourself to sleep. Well, not unless a doctor says so.

Everything looked ready.

Dean shot Sam a quick text ("I'm out front. Goldie's ready."). He left the car running to keep it warm, and headed into the lobby.

A few minutes later Sam and Cas came into view, Sam pushing Cas in a wheelchair down the long hallway toward the lobby. Hospital regs required Cas to exit the front door safely in a wheelchair, which was probably for the best given that he probably couldn't have made it the fifteen feet to the car on his own.

Sam was wearing a brand-new, totally ridiculous, red-and-white Santa hat—another score from his Target shopping trip, which seemed to have gone a little out of control. (Most of the Impala, and half the Continental's trunk, were stuffed with Target bags. Though Dean had contributed his fair share of shopping bags himself, after a little outing yesterday evening.)

Cas, for his part, was now dressed in a brand-new set of plaid flannel pajamas. And a warm polarfleece jacket on top. Sam had also fitted Cas out with a pair of hospital slippers over Cas's own wool socks, and Cas's scarf and hat (all now freshly cleaned).

Cas looked pretty good.

He looked great, in fact. Most of all, he looked alive. And awake and alert.

Dean stood there watching Sam wheel Cas closer. Sam was bending over the wheelchair handles, saying something to Cas with a smile; Cas was craning his head to look up at Sam, nodding about whatever Sam was saying. Cas's hands kept drifting unconsciously over the new flannel pj's and the soft polarfleece.

Dean got a little choked up, watching them come closer.

"How you doin', Cas?" Dean said, when they finally got up to him.

"Sam just gave me the most wonderful presents," Cas informed him, gesturing down at his pajamas. "Look. Pajamas. The fuzzy kind with the right angles and stripes. They're soft. And warm. And, look, this fuzzy jacket too. It's extremely warm. And so comfortable!" Polarfleece had been Sam's solution for a jacket that would be both warm enough, if Cas needed to totter around outside, but also soft and comfortable enough for Cas to sleep in for most of the drive.

"The pj's look awesome, Cas," said Dean. "And the jacket's great."

"I believe it qualifies as rockin'," said Cas. "Uh... I think."

"It is rockin'," agreed Dean. "Nice job, Sammy. So, Cas, I got kind of a present for you too." Cas looked at him, and Dean said, "You know how we told you we'd be driving you back in the Impala?"

Cas nodded.

"Well, the plan's changed a little," said Dean. "I didn't want to promise anything till I got it all sorted out and made sure everything was roadworthy. But take a look." He pointed outside through the plate glass lobby windows, to where the Continental sat idling.

The car was absolutely gleaming. Its gold finish shimmered dramatically in the hospital's well-lit entrance bay. Bill had done a great job with the detail yesterday, and Dean had given it another wipe-down just half an hour ago.

Cas stared at the Continental for a moment, and then turned to Dean, his eyes searching Dean's face. "Is that... my car?"

"It is your car," said Dean with a grin.

Cas looked back at the car for a long moment and then tore his eyes away to look at Dean again. "You found my car? Are we bringing my car back to Kansas? I thought— I thought I'd have to leave it here. I didn't think it would work out. I didn't want to bother you with it—"

"No way would we abandon your car, Cas," said Dean. "You and me are gonna ride in it, actually. It's got more room for you. Sam'll drive the Impala, and you and me in Goldie here. I'll be your chauffeur and you can camp in the back seat. And, um, I fixed it up a little. Yesterday. Me and a mechanic I found." Cas was staring at Dean now, and Dean started to feel a little self-conscious.

Dean said, ticking the things off on his fingers, "Let's see. It's had an oil change, tuneup, new battery, new tires, new timing belt, full tank of gas, new antifreeze. And it's all freshly washed and vacuumed, inside and out. I cleaned up the saltine wrappers and everything. And, um... Come on and out and see." Dean had been trying to minimize how long Cas had to be out in the frigid air, but it was time to take him out. He held the door open, and Sam pushed the wheelchair out and up to the car.

Cas gripped his scarf tighter around his neck, shrinking a little against the cold, but he couldn't take his eyes off the car. "It looks beautiful," he said. "It's so shiny."

"That's what a wash and detail will do," said Dean, grinning. "Course, it'll get a little dirtied up again today during the drive, but I'll give it another wash once we get it back to Kansas." Dean opened the driver's door and pointed to the sleeping bag. "Also I washed your sleeping bag. It's all fluffy and clean now. And your clothes, they're here in this bag. All clean."

He looked back at Cas, just in time to see Cas lurch up out of the wheelchair to his feet. Sam jumped to grab his arm.

Cas tottered over to the car and rested one hand on the shining roof, Sam close by his side.

"Dean," said Cas, turning to look at him. "You washed my car? And my clothes?"

"Washed your clothes and cleaned your car, yep," said Dean, nodding. "I... uh... wanted to be useful. Um, Merry Christmas."

Cas suddenly had that puppy-eyes look. As if he were about to tear up.

Though in a good way.

"You don't have to be useful, Dean," Cas said, his voice low.

"I don't have to, but I wanted to," said Dean. "You know the feeling?"

Cas just looked at him for a long moment. Then he nodded slowly. He looked back at the car, tracing his hand along the shining gold roof, and a smile crept over his face.

"I think he likes your present, Dean," said Sam.

"I do," said Cas. "I'm so grateful, Dean... I'll admit I've gotten rather attached to this vehicle. It looks so very beautiful. Thank you. Thank you so much." He glanced back at Dean. "Do you like it? The car?"

"I think it's pretty damn rockin'," said Dean.

"So do I," said Cas, a real smile on his face now.

"And check out the inside!" said Sam, opening the passenger door. "You can lie down in the back. If you want to sit up in front for a while, of course you can do that too, it's your car, but, I set up sort of a nest for you to lie down in."

"An angel-nest," said Dean.

Sam was pointing into the back seat. "You won't be able to totally stretch out your legs, of course, but it ought to be pretty comfortable."

Cas peered inside, said, "Oh," and he crawled straight inside and flopped right down, face down into the two pillows.

"You like it?" asked Sam, leaning inside.

"Yes" Cas mumbled into a pillow, still face-down. After a moment he managed to turn onto his side, Dean helped him get his shoes off, and Sam shook out the blankets over him and pointed out all the water and food. Then Dean fluffed out the blue sleeping bag on top of him. He did have to fold his long legs up somewhat, but he fit pretty well.

Then Sam and Dean stood back at the door and looked in at him.

Cas was gazing up at them now from a big poofy pile of pillows, blankets and sleeping bag. All that was really visible of him was his face, framed against the new white pillows with the blue sleeping bag puffed out around his chin.

"That's a hell of an angel-nest," Dean said to Sam.

"Complete with angel," said Sam. "Cas, you comfortable?"

Cas nodded.

"Warm enough?" added Dean.

Cas nodded again. "Dean. Sam. I need to thank you."

"Just relax and enjoy the ride, tiger. It's your car, after all," Dean said, grinning down at him. He closed Cas's door carefully, conferred one last time with Sam.

Fifteen minutes later the Impala and the Continental— Baby and Goldie— were gliding onto I-90. East, toward the paling sky. Toward the new day.


It was a hell of a long drive.

They made good time, though. They zoomed through the eastern Washington desert first, zipped through the foothills and forests of Idaho (they were too far from Rexford to drop by for Cas to see his old haunts, but seeing the "WELCOME TO IDAHO" sign reminded Dean that he needed to ship a case of beer or two, or ten maybe, to Bryce the pizza guy.).

Cas dropped off to sleep almost immediately; Dean kept checking on him in the rearview mirror, and set an alarm on his phone to buzz when Cas needed to take his next antibiotic pill.

All was going well.

They got to the mountain passes in Montana in good time. Goldie slowed down substantially on the steeper sections. Dean had expected this; Goldie's forte was clearly not going to be surging up the rugged Rocky Mountains at top speed. Sam, in the Impala up ahead, slowed too to keep pace with then, and soon both cars were puttering along at a sedate 50mph. Which was fine.

Though Dean did flinch a little bit to see smaller cars start zipping past the Impala.

It was when a ten-year-old Geo Metro went flying past the Impala that Dean really flinched. And then he got an idea.

He flashed his lights to signal Sam to pull over at the next opportunity, and soon they'd come to a stop in a chain-up area, where a bunch of big semis were lined up with the drivers chaining up the big tires for the mountain roads. Dean hopped out of the car for a quick conference with Sam.

Two minutes later Dean got back in the Continental and pulled back out on I-90. Cas spoke up sleepily from the back. "Why did we stop?" He coughed a little, and pushed himself up to sit up and look around a bit. "Where are we? Where's Sam going?" For the black Impala was leaping ahead now, its power unleashed, bounding up the Rocky Mountains like a... Well, like an impala, actually, thought Dean with a grin. In moments it was out of sight.

"Oh, Sam's just going on ahead," said Dean. "That car's faster on mountains. I told Sam not to wait for us; that way, he can get to Kansas a bit before us and maybe get some dinner ready for us or something."

Or something.

"Oh, that's nice of him," said Cas. "That's very nice of him."

Dean had to suppress a grin. Sam was going to try to make up as much time as he could, not just on the mountains but on the plains as well, and Dean was going to deliberately dawdle a bit. But there was no need to explain that to Cas. Not yet, not till Sam texted Dean about whether he'd managed to make up enough time to implement Dean's secret plan.


It was a beautiful drive. Sometimes the Montana passes could be pretty dicey in winter, but today they'd been lucky with the weather; the snowstorm that had passed through yesterday had only dropped a few inches, the snowplows had sprung into action, and road conditions were perfect now. I-90 was dry as a bone. The mountain vistas, though, were spectacularly snowy. The sky was crystal blue, the sun bright, the dark trees and snowy world beautiful. Cas even sat up a little again and looked out when Dean started remarking about how beautiful it was.

Dean had to chuckle when he took the Continental over the Continental Divide, the invisible line at the pinnacle of the Rockies that divided the watersheds of the Pacific and the Atlantic. I-90 actually crossed the Continental Divide no less than three times, as it looped its way through the mountains, and on the third time Dean finally parked and took a picture of the Continental exactly straddling the Continental Divide. Cas woke up again when the car stopped, and rolled down his window to tell Dean, "But this watershed division is constantly moving, Dean. Just another million years or two and it'll be in an entirely different place."

"But right now it's here," Dean told him. "Smile, Cas! You're on top of the mountains in your gold car!"

Cas actually smiled. And Dean snapped the picture.

Soon Cas had collapsed back down onto his pillows and was fast asleep again. He only seemed to have enough energy to look out for about ten minutes at a stretch. He repeated the pattern all day: snoozing for an hour or two and then sitting up and looking around for a few minutes, maybe saying something to Dean, and then instantly dropping off again. Dean coaxed him to have some water and food whenever he woke. He did have bad coughing fits a few times. Twice it got bad enough that Dean pulled over to thump him on the back. And when they stopped for the first bathroom break, Cas got so worn out after just ten steps out of the car that he tried to sit right down in a snowbank, only a third of the way to the bathroom, muttering, "Need a break. Just a sec." But he made it (with Dean half-dragging him there and back).

"Sorry," Cas said, gasping, once Dean got him back to the car. "Sorry. I'm... still so... tired."

"We'll scatter chairs all over the bunker," Dean told him. "So you don't have to take more the five steps before sitting down.

"That'd be good," said Cas, and two seconds later he was asleep again.


By late evening Cas perked up a little and spent an entire twenty minutes at a stretch sitting up and looking around.

And he started to ask Dean questions.

Some were about Sam and Dean's recent hunts. And Metatron, and the angels, and Crowley.

But soon Cas had slid into a whole different category of questions.

"Dean... why don't men's clothes come with flower options? Stripes seem to be common, but not flowers. Is there some reason for that?"

"Dean... Do you remember that I saw a movie called Harry Potter And The Sorceror's Stone? Have you seen it? I keep wondering how it ends."

"Dean... What would you advise I do about the plates on this car? They still belong to Demetrios's father."

"Dean... How do people generally find housing if they are new in a town? I feel like I must not have gone about it the right way."

All the questions he'd had stored up. For so many months.

The odd thing was that Cas had actually figured out the answers to almost everything already on his own. He, in fact, had learned more about apartment leases in the last few months than Dean had ever known; his theory about the flowers had been the correct one; he'd already pretty much figured out what "rockin' meant.

Sure, there were a few questions Dean actually could help with— the car plates, for one thing. But for most of the questions, it seemed Cas already knew the answer, and just wanted to hear Dean's opinion too. Or, perhaps, just wanted to hear Dean talk a little bit, to keep Cas company.

So Dean talked.

Dean told Cas everything he could think of. Housing, food, clothes, cars, jobs. Dean described every house he'd stayed in; his most and least favorite motel rooms of all time; he described how he and Sam got by financially (something he'd never really described to Cas before), with their odd combination of pool hustles and poker, credit card scams, the occasional lucky find of dragon-gold or whatnot, and, rarely, an odd job or two.

Time after time, Dean had only just gotten rolling on some random topic or other, when he glanced in the mirror and discovered Cas had already fallen asleep again. Dean grinned to himself.

Never thought the sound of my voice droning on about car registrations would make a good lullaby for anyone, he thought.

Maybe it lets him feel like he's not sleeping in the car all alone again.

So Dean kept talking.


It was very late, nearly midnight, when they finally pulled up at the bunker.

Cas was asleep (as usual) when Dean pulled Goldie into the garage next to the Impala. Sam was waiting for them with a big grin.

"Wake up, Cas," Dean said, leaning over the seat to shake him on the shoulder. "We're there." Cas sat up slowly, yawning. Sam popped open the door and said, "Welcome home, Cas."

Cas looked at him and blinked. A curiously somber expression came over his face.

Sam offered him a hand, and Cas sat up and scooched over to the edge of the car seat. He set his stockinged feet down on the ground. For a long moment he just sat there, on the edge of the seat, looking down at his feet; the wool socks that he'd bought in Idaho, against the bunker garage's floor. He looked up at Sam, and then around at the bunker.

"You okay?" said Dean, coming around the car.

"I've pictured this so many times," said Cas, looking around the garage again. "Coming back. Coming to this garage and then walking down these stairs. Sam... Dean... Thank you for bringing me back here. Thank you. I really mean that."

"It's good to have you back, Cas," said Sam, patting him on the shoulder.

Dean was getting choked up again.

Cas twisted around, still sitting on the edge of the seat, and began to fiddle with the sleeping bag. Dean didn't understand what he was doing first, till Cas turned around with the entire blue sleeping bag bundled up in his arms.

"I was thinking," said Cas, his eyes just visible over a huge mound of puffy blue sleeping bag, "maybe I could sleep in one of the cots in one of those extra rooms? I can use my three-season bag here. Oh and... also. Would it be all right if I used one of these pillows?"

Dean and Sam exchanged a look.

Dean said to Cas, "Your choice, Cas. You could have any room. You can use that pillow. And I can definitely see how you'd be attached to that three-season bag."

"We've been through a lot together," Cas said, nodding.

"And I'm not going to ask what you mean by that," said Dean with a laugh. "But Sam and I have another option for you. I had an idea earlier, and Sam zipped back here to do more than just dinner. We had kind of a secret plan for you."

"I got in over an hour ago," said Sam. "To do some stuff for you. Wanna come see?"

Cas looked confused, but he nodded. They convinced him to put the sleeping bag down temporarily, and and then Dean and Sam guided him down the hallway.

He could only go very slowly, and he still seemed to need to sit down and rest about every twenty feet. Sam even went and grabbed a chair and started carrying it along with them. Across the garage they went, down the steps, into the bunker, through the kitchen. Down the hall to the bedrooms. Sam opened a door.

"This is your room, Cas," Sam said. "If you want it, that is."

Cas shuffled inside.

The whole room was glittering with Christmas lights. There were fir branches scattered everywhere, and poinsettias. Flowers, thought Dean, grinning. Flowers for Cas. Sam found some. Fantastic.

And there was a huge bed, neatly made. Completely covered with pillows.

Dean counted the pillows. Looked like Sam had gone for twelve in the end. They were heaped all over the bed— big square pillows, puffy down ones, a few little decorative ones. In all colors of pillowcases - some blue, some striped. And some with flowers. Just visible under all the pillows was a heap of extra blankets, neatly folded at the foot of the bed.

And there was an entire friggin' bookshelf full of towels. All of them new and puffy and white. Sam had even wheeled in a little tv.

Cas stopped dead in the doorway.

Hesitantly he drifted inside. He looked at the pillows. He looked at the towels, and the blankets.

"Fantastic, Sammy," Dean whispered to Sam, as Cas tottered over to the bed, picking up the pillows one at a time to look at them. Sam whispered back, "The rest of the stuff is in the library. For tomorrow. And the thing. I got the thing."

"You got the thing?"

"I got the thing. Just need an hour tomorrow morning to—"

They didn't have time to whisper anything else, for a second later Cas had staggered back over to them and was giving a huge long hug to Sam, and then one to Dean too.

"Thank you," he whispered hoarsely.

"I wanted to do more," said Sam. "I got some more stuff for you but I didn't have time to put it all up. Dean bought all the towels yesterday when he was out picking up your car, and I got the pillows— the whole Impala was full of towels and pillows, actually— and then I picked up the Christmas lights on the way here. The TV's that extra one from the back— I thought you could have it in here while you're recovering."

"The idea is, it's your very own motel room!" Dean said, grinning. "For as long as you like! Do you like it?"

"Thank you," Cas said again, his eyes shining with real tears now. He turned to look at the room again. "Thank you both. Thank you. Thank you."

"Merry Christmas, Cas," said Sam.

"Merry Christmas, Cas," said Dean, "And welcome home."

 


 

A/N - One more chapter tomorrow - Christmas Day! (And "the thing.")

Chapter Text

"There's a gap."

"What are you talking about? It looks awesome."

"There's totally a gap, Dean."

"I don't see any gap."

"That's cause you're up on the ladder. You're not seeing it from the right angle. There's, like, ten million lights all on one side and none at all over here. It's like a black hole of no lights. Right here. Look from over here."

"Okay, wait a sec, let me get down—"

Dean clambered down from the ladder by the Christmas tree and walked around to where Sam was standing by the library table. Sam had a roll of wrapping paper in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. He was supposed to be on wrapping duty, but he was frowning at the tree.

The tree was, of course, "the thing" they'd been whispering to each other about last night. Dean stood back by Sam and took another look at it, hands on his hips.

Sam had somehow managed to pick up an eight-foot blue spruce last night, at the same store in North Platte where he'd grabbed all the Christmas lights. Sam had then made it the rest of the way home with the tree tied on the Impala roof, apparently with no problems. (Though he'd made a rather offhand comment this morning about "You know, your car really handles a lot differently in wind when there's a tree on the roof.") Last night, Sam had just hid the tree behind one of the other cars in the garage. Dean had gotten up an hour ago and dragged it down to the library all by himself. It was standing now in the nook that usually held the telescope; from here it was visible from the kitchen, the library, and also the tv room.

"See?" said Sam, gesturing with the scissors. "There's a gap."

Dean peered at the tree. Maybe Sammy was right. Maybe there was a tiny gap in the lights on one side.

"It's not a very big gap," Dean said. "It's, like, an inch or two."

"It's a gigantic black hole of no lights the size of the Milky Way Galaxy."

Dean snorted. "It's not that bad. I bet he's not even going to notice."

"Well, I'm going to notice. It's Cas's first Christmas tree and he just got home and he's been miserable and he's still sick and he deserves a good tree." Sam frowned, and added, "I guess there's a gap because there's not really a good branch there. It's a little uneven, huh? I wish I could have had more time to pick out a better tree, but this was pretty much all they had left. Also I was in such a hurry to get back here to fix up his room."

Dean clapped him on the shoulder. "Have you learned nothing from A Charlie Brown Christmas? You did totally awesome getting a tree at all at the last second like that, and it's a PERFECT tree and he's gonna love it. Also, it's not his very first Christmas tree, y'know. He probably saw a zillion of them back in Stonehenge."

Sam said, a worried frown still on his face. "It's his first tree with us. You know what I mean."

Dean grinned. "I do. And it's your first tree in donkey's years too. I'll rearrange the lights. No gap allowed for my baby brother. Or for my angel either. Hey, though—" He checked his watch. Ten a.m. "I should check on Cas. I want to be sure he's not, like, crawling a mile along the hallway floor to the bathroom on his own or anything. Be back in a sec. Can you get on with wrapping the presents?"

Sam nodded with a smile.

Dean glanced over his shoulder as he left the room. The tree actually looked pretty good. Maybe it wasn't perfectly symmetrical, sure; but the telescope nook framed it beautifully, it was glittering with what seemed like hundreds of little lights (maybe a little unevenly distributed, but whatever), and Dean was about half-done with the tinsel and ornaments.

It actually looked pretty good.

It looks totally awesome, in fact, Dean thought.

Hope Cas likes the tree-topper.


Dean tiptoed into Cas's room. As he'd expected, Cas was still snoozing away. Dean could just make out Cas's face in the faint glow of a few strings of red Christmas lights were still softly illuminating the edges of the room. (Dean had turned off most of the others last night, to try to make sure Cas got some real sleep.)

Cas had had a bad coughing fit in the middle of the night— Dean had heard, and had gotten some cough syrup into him, and then had sat up with him till Cas had dropped asleep again. Clearly he'd thrashed around a bit in his sleep since, probably with a few more coughs. He was splayed out on his stomach now, limbs stretched everywhere, one arm wrapped around a pillow, his head turned to the side and his dark hair wildly mussed. The other pillows, blankets and the inevitable blue sleeping bag were scattered around him in total disarray, and he'd somehow gotten the sheets tangled around his legs. But he looked deeply asleep at last, his breathing slow and even.

Dean picked up a couple of fallen pillows from the floor and looked at them a moment, tracing a hand over their fresh new pillowcases. 

Sam did such a great job with the room, Dean thought. This has sure got to be better than anywhere else Cas has slept recently. He set the pillows quietly on the little desk, thinking of the other places Cas had been sleeping recently:

The back seat of the Continental. Pretty comfy yesterday, maybe, but not so comfy in the weeks before.

The ICU room in the hospital, of course. Where Cas had been feeling pretty awful.

The concrete stockroom floor of the Gas-n-Sip.

And the park, of course. The park, on the cold hard ground, under the three bushes, under a rain shelter made of garbage bags and cardboard.

"Better now, Cas, huh?" Dean whispered, turning back to him.

Cas didn't stir. Probably the deepest sleep he's had in months, Dean thought.

Though Cas's sheets looked a little too tangled. A little uncomfortable, maybe.

I need to rearrange the angel-nest, Dean thought at last, and he gently lifted the blanket and sleeping bag off of Cas, and unwound the sheet from Cas's feet. He shook out the sheet and spread it out lightly over Cas, and then spread the blanket out over him too, and the sleeping bag too.

Cas never even moved. Dean grinned and tiptoed back out.


Cas didn't wake till noon.

He was still pretty wobbly. He was obviously still tired, and as soon as he woke he began coughing a lot. Dean made him take some more cough meds right off the bat (and, of course, the antibiotics). But Cas soon announced he wanted to try to get out of bed, and it turned out he was able to walk a whole twenty paces on his own now. Dean showed him to the shower, handing him a few of his fluffy new towels and a second pair of pj's that Sam had got for him.

Cas emerged twenty minutes later with his hair damp and his fresh pj's on, saying, "I feel so clean." He ran a hand through his wet hair. "So incredibly clean. I'd forgotten how wonderful the water pressure is here."

Dean grinned at him. "And we're not even going to charge you a dollar."

Cas coughed a few times and put out a hand to lean against the wall. He looked up at Dean. "Though it's more tiring than I'd expected to just to stand long enough to take a shower. Dean, I'm afraid I may have to lie down again."

"Here, come on in to the library then," Dean said, taking him by one arm. "You can flop out on the sofa in the tv nook and watch some tv. Can you get that far?"

"I think so," Cas said, nodding, and Dean helped him wobble down the hall toward the library. Toward the tree.

Cas stopped dead when he saw the tree.

Sam was crouching by the bottom wearing his Santa hat, stuffing a few last presents underneath.

"Merry Christmas, Cas!" said Sam, straightening up.

"You have a... Christmas tree?" Cas said, blinking at it, as Dean steered him over to a library chair to sit him down.

"This is part two of your surprise," Dean explained.

"Part 1 was your room," Sam said. "Part 2's the tree."

"We thought you should have a real Christmas tree for once," said Dean. "You know, since's it's a symbol of spring, and surviving the winter solstice, and the sun coming back, and hope and all that. Seemed kind of appropriate, don't you think? I had the whole idea in Montana that since Sam had the faster car, maybe he could dash ahead and get a tree set up AND your room set up too. Thought it was a pretty brilliant idea."

"Very brilliant of you to have an idea that involves me doing all the work," said Sam.

"Yes, that was part of the brilliance," agreed Dean, nodding. "Though, gimme some credit here, I did fix up Cas's car, and did the longer drive, and, I dragged that tree all the way down here myself this morning and got the thing upright too."

Cas was still silent, gazing at the tree.

And, especially, staring at the top.

Where there was a picture of Castiel.

Dean had printed it out just an hour ago. It was the photo he'd taken yesterday morning: Cas in the gold Continental, looking out of the window all wrapped up in his scarf and hat, on top of the Montana mountains in the morning sun. Dean had cut out the part of the photo that showed Cas and the car, trimming away the rest of the landscape. He'd glued a little strip of gold tinsel around the edge, taped the whole thing to a piece of cardboard and fastened it to the top of the tree.

"But, Dean," Cas said, turning to look at him. "I'm not an angel. I shouldn't be on top of your tree."

Dean pulled up a chair next to Cas's, and sat down next to him. He looked Cas right in the eyes.

"You are an angel," Dean said.

"I meant, a real angel," Cas said.

"You are a real angel," Dean said. "Right now. You're a real angel right now. You're my angel. And you're Sam's angel too, you know. You're our angel. You always will be. I chose that picture on purpose. I have pictures of other angels, you know. I could have used one of those. I have other pictures of you, too— pictures from back when you had your grace. But I chose that picture. Of you as you are now."

"We were thinking the gold car is kind of like your wings now," said Sam, gesturing up at the photo. "And that wool hat is like your halo."

"But... I don't have any powers," said Cas.

"You're still you," said Sam. "You still have all your knowledge. All your history."

"And you're still the kind of guy who would share his last crumbs with a bunch of birds, even when he was starving," said Dean. "You're an angel maybe even more now before. And you're the one we want on top of our tree."

Cas had one hand over his mouth now, still gazing up at the tree. His eyes were looking a little glittery again, just like last night when he'd seen his room.

"Thank you, Dean," he said softly. "Sam. Both of you. Thank you."

Dean said, "C'mon, Sam, drag that sofa closer for a moment so Cas can sprawl out. Time for presents!"


Sam was thrilled with his Spidey and Batman pj's. (Dean had just felt lucky that Target actually carried them in extra-tall.) Dean had found a dvd of "Goldfinger" for Sam, too, while on his last-second run through the local Target in Spokane, which he'd done just after picking Cas's car. Maybe it wasn't a ton of presents, maybe not super creative. But hey, not bad for a last second trip while Cas was still in the hospital, he thought. And Sam did seem to be genuinely smiling over those pj's. And the dvd, too.

Dean hadn't been sure if Sam would get him anything— and wouldn't have minded in the slightest if he hadn't. Christmas gift-giving had never really been a huge family tradition, and just have Sam willing to talk to him at all again seemed like quite a gift all by itself.

But there was actually something for Dean, from Sam, tucked under the tree. A little envelope. Dean opened it, Sam and Cas watching, up to find a folded page tucked inside. He unfolded it: it was an order confirmation from Amazon, about an order that Sam had put in just yesterday, for a full technical manual for a 1978 Lincoln Continental. The kind of manual that mechanic's shops had, that had all the repair specs.

Sam explained, "Figured you might be doing regular maintenance on that car now. Thought it might come in handy."

"It will," said Dean. "Aw, Sam. I was just thinking yesterday that I needed to track down a copy of this. It's the only thing I actually need."

"I know," said Sam. "I knew you were thinking about it."

Damn, he knows me well, thought Dean.

Dean looked at him.

"Sam—" Dean began, not even sure what he wanted to say.

"I know," said Sam again.

And Dean relaxed.

"You also need to put this on," said Sam, handing him one more gift. Dean ripped it open; a puffy red-and-white Santa hat, to match Sam's. Dean snorted, and allowed Sam to shove it on his head, Cas frowning at them both curiously.

But almost all the presents, of course, were for Cas. All sorts of warm clothes, for one thing: more flannel pajamas, some slippers, a plush terry bathrobe, new winter socks, a pair of winter boots, a couple of classy looking sweaters (Sam actually avoided the elf stuff! thought Dean), and an elf hat (Or not, thought Dean). Cas put the elf hat on immediately— he seemed to have gained enough fashion sense by now to understand that it was just a funny outfit. And, indeed, he looked ridiculously cute, just as Sam had predicted. Sam took a picture on his phone of Dean and Cas together, Dean in his Santa hat and Cas in his elf one. Sam kept laughing over the photo later, and even Cas cracked a smile when he saw it.

And then Dean handed Cas a bigger, bulkier package. This had been Dean's major purchase, that afternoon when he'd gone dashing around Spokane for the last-minute shopping.

Cas ripped off the wrapping paper and paused when his hands hit dark, smooth cloth.

Slowly he lifted it up and shook it out; a classy dark suitjacket. Underneath it, a matching pair of pants. And a blue silk tie. Solid blue.

"FBI threads," Cas breathed, still holding up the suitjacket. He lowered it slowly, and then picked up the tie and fingered it a moment. Then he looking first at Dean, and then at Sam, studying their faces. Dean saw the question in his eyes, and said, "Open this one next," handing him a small flat package.

Cas set the jacket down and ripped off the wrapping paper in about half a second (he'd turned out to be a member of the take-no-prisoners school of unwrapping). He let out a long sigh as he turned it over in his hands.

Slowly he flipped it open.

"An FBI badge," he said. "With my photo."

"I need to get to a Kinko's to get it laminated," Sam said. Dean explained, "Sam threw the badge together this morning while I was putting up the tree— just printed it out and he says it's not totally finished. But as soon as you're well, Cas, you're coming with us. On hunts, I mean."

"But... are you sure?" Cas asked, looking up at Dean, and then at Sam, and then back at Dean. "Are you both sure?"

"Are we sure?" Dean repeated. He glanced over at Sam. "Sam, are we sure? Are we sure we want someone working with us who knows the name of just about every angel and demon out there, and every Leviathan, and every alpha, and knows all of Heavenly history, and all of human history too?"

"You mean, like, someone who knows all the old pagan rituals that relate to a lot of the monsters that we hunt?" Sam said, "And a million sigils and is fluent in a couple hundred languages and can probably translate that whole section in the library of books in the old languages that I haven't been able to read?"

"Yeah, and is fluent in Enochian too, and can recognize a Rit Zien in like two seconds, and cupids and weapons of Heaven and who knows how many other things—"

"—and is amazing at hand-to-hand combat?" added Sam.

"Yeah, and is kickass with a knife, and can handle a shotgun too, and knows how to drive. And has his own car. What do you think, Sam?"

"Yeah, I'm sure," said Sam.

"I'm sure too," said Dean, turning back to Cas, who was looking at him now with a wide smile. Possibly the biggest smile Dean had ever seen on his face, actually. Dean said, "Just to be clear, you don't have to come on hunts with us, Cas. Or translate stuff in the library. Or wash dishes for that matter. Or anything. You can just live here. But if you want to come along with us, if you'd like that, we'd love to have you."

"I'd like that," said Cas softly. "I'd like that very much." He studied the FBI badge a moment longer and then set it on the suitjacket. "But, Dean. Sam." He looked back at Dean, a trace of worry in his eyes now. "You've both given me so many wonderful gifts, but I have nothing for either of you."

Dean chuckled. "You've been kind of busy, Cas."

"Busy nearly dying and all," added Sam.

"Yes, I suppose so," said Cas, "But I would like to give you both something. I still have two dollars and eight cents, and it's just occurred to me that I could still afford two burritos. Would either of you like a burrito? Though... I won't be able to get them for a couple days."

"I would love a burrito, Cas," said Sam.

"Me too," said Dean. "It'll be the best burrito ever."

"I'll still have ten cents left over," said Cas. "So you could each have a nickel too. A burrito and a nickel, okay?"

"Best Christmas present ever," said Dean. "Seriously, Cas. It is." And I'll keep that nickel forever, he thought.


By evening they'd gotten to the lolling-around-and-watching-tv stage. Part of Cas's set of presents had involved a few DVD's Dean thought he should watch: Harry Potter for sure (Dean had got the first three movies), "The Great Escape" (this was the original midnight movie that Cas had missed seeing, but that had given him his "Steve" alias name), the rest of "Frosty the Snowman", and "Thunderball" to go along with Sam's "Goldfinger". And a few other Bond movies as well. Spanning all the Bonds. It was important, Dean thought, for Cas to get a thorough introduction to Bond if he was going to be driving a Bond car.

Goldfinger was a big hit. Before they started the first Harry Potter movie Dean went to start up some frozen pizza (this was actually Cas's top choice for a meal— he seemed to have developed some fond emotional attachments to pizza, these days. Dean had already promised him that he'd help Cas get back in touch with Bryce). Dean ended up lingering in the kitchen for a moment to fix a little hot chocolate for everybody. And some spiked eggnog too.

On his way back with the booze, eggnog and hot chocolate, Dean paused by the tree. From here he could see the other long wing of the library. The wing where Kevin had died.

He looked over toward the spot where it had happened.

Some mistakes couldn't be undone.

But the worst part of the weight had eased. Dean knew now that he had tried his best. He'd always tried his best all along. He'd made awful mistakes, yes; but he'd tried. And at least he wouldn't make those same mistakes again.

It seemed he could still feel Cas's hands on his head. Cas had truly forgiven him. Despite all Cas's awful suffering, he'd forgiven Dean completely. Even now, two days later, Dean felt an unaccustomed lightness. Like maybe he could let go of the past, at least a little, and just focus on trying to do the best he could in the future.

He and Sam still needed to talk, he knew. But somehow Dean felt now, for the first time in a long time, like maybe things were going to be all right.

Dean took a long breath, and he turned back toward the tree and the tv room, where Sam and Cas were. Cas was stretched out on the couch, swaddled in a couple of fleece blankets with two pillows propped under his head and the ridiculous elf hat still on his head. He had his feet tucked up to make room for Dean to sit, and he was listening intently to Sam, who was kicked back in the easy chair a couple feet away. Sam was waving his hands around in the air to demonstrate some elaborate point of Hogwarts Quidditch strategy.

It was almost exactly the setup that Dean had once envisioned. Dean stood there for a moment looking at them.

My angel, and my brother, thought Dean.

Both alive. Both back home.

Dean just stood and listened to them for a moment.

Cas was saying, "But why bother having such a complex strategy for a team sport if two other players elsewhere are playing an entirely different game that can end anything at any time?"

"Well, Cas," Sam said, "You see, the point of Quidditch, I think, is that the individual matters, that it's not just a team sport but also an individual battle also. That there's a way a single dedicated individual can make a difference all on his own. And the flip side is, the team doesn't give up either. Even though you know things could end at at any time through something that's not in your control, you still try your best with your buddies anyway. For example, in the second movie—"

Dean grinned to himself. My brother and my angel. Back home with me.

"You are both such hopeless nerds," Dean said, walking forward into the bright little room. "Now who wants hot chocolate?"

 


 

A/N - MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!

edit: This is the formal end of A Winter's Tale - everybody happy and warm and safe back at the bunker, and Cas all set up with thousands of pillows now. Out of the cold at last! :) But - for those Destiel fans who like to interpret this entire fic as pre-Destiel, I also ended up writing an optional epilogue chapter called "A Close Shave" that takes the Cas/Dean friendship into very explicit Destiel. It takes place on New Year's Eve and it's here if you want to take a look.

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYBODY! Hope you all had a great holiday, wherever you are and whatever midwinter holidays you like to celebrate. (or midsummer, for those of you down south!). Here's my usual "Materials and Methods" section, for anybody interested in where the idea came from, etc.


THE IDEA - for a long time I've been wanting to tell Cas's story of what it was like for him being on his own as a human. I've long thought the show glossed over this far too easily. The glimpses we get of him in early S9 show him bounding past obstacles that normally are extremely difficult to get past if you're broke and on your own. First he's homeless - okay, fine, that makes sense. Then he's kicked out of the bunker. OH NO, I thought, this is catastrophic - he has no cash and no job and no knowledge of how to get either! What will he doooo? But then the next time we see him, he suddenly has a job! Wait, how did he get that job? (In the middle of the worst recession in the US in 70 years? When there would have been probably 50 applicants for that Gas-n-Sip job, every one of them with more experience than Cas had? He had no job experience, skills, references, qualifications... and what did he do about that W-2 form and the proof of citizenship?) Next time we see him (Holy Terror), he has a car! A nice-looking suit! Enough money for a motel room and a round of beer! And the very next time after that (Road Trip) he's got a trenchcoat again too. I kept thinking, "Whoa, how did he do all that when he only had a minimum-wage job? It must have taken all his money! How did he even learn to drive?" I knew there was a story there that hadn't been told.

POVERTY. I became convinced, watching S9, that most of the show writers must never have gone through real poverty. I don't want to oversell my own experiences here - I've never had anywhere near as bad an experience as Cas has in this fic, and I've never been truly homeless (meaning: when I've been homeless it was by choice, it was only for short stints of a month or two at a time, and I had my car to sleep in. I didn't "feel" homeless.) But I've known elements of Cas's experience - what it's like to sleep outside in bitter cold for a few months, what it's like to have to struggle just to keep yourself clean, what it's like to struggle to find a job, to lust after a pillow, to count EVERY penny. And, also, what it's like to try to navigate a bewildering foreign culture on your own (see below). So I know it's not as easy as it was shown in the show. I decided to explore the worst-case scenario: one in which Cas had real trouble finding a job, winter is closing in, and he's in a town with very little social support for the poor - all of which seemed pretty likely for a small college town in fall in Idaho, where the writers had already placed him.

CAS AS A FOREIGNER - The show writers tend to interpret Cas as a nerd, but I think of him as essentially a foreigner. In my view, the so-called "nerd" traits that he demonstrated early on in S4-S5 make most sense if they are interpreted as simply the traits of an "alien" - of someone who's simply not from here. That's how Misha played him, back then, and that's what makes most sense given that angels haven't been down here for 2000 years. Yet in later seasons the show writers seem to have decided that angels and demons should (somehow, mysteriously) be able to seamlessly integrate into 21st century American culture - that they would just instantly know things like how credit cards work, how to drive cars, that they'd know modern slang and recent movies, that they'd intuitively know American body language/personal-space/etc, and so on - and that Cas's traits, established in earlier seasons, must now mean he's a nerd.

This doesn't make any sense at all to me (like: how on Earth did Balthazar know about the Titantic movie?) And I totally, completely, 100%, reject the interpretation of Cas as a bumbling nerd, and I always will. In my view Cas is a FOREIGNER.

To explain. An angel who hasn't been here for 2000 years, who is plunked down in the USA, is essentially in the position of a foreigner living in a strange culture. So, I've spent much of my life traveling and have twice had experiences of living for long stints of time in a foreign country, once as a child and once as an adult. Much of Cas's confusion is based specifically on 3 years I spent alone in Brazil as an adult. As John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, "it's the little things" that get you. All kinds of weird details like the confusing paperwork you need for a job, how the local banks work, how to order a beer (I got one comment complaining that Cas was "childish" for not knowing how to order a beer. ASK ME ABOUT ORDERING A BEER IN RIO, JUST ASK ME, it is so confusing!). Not to mention the bewildering subtleties of navigating personal relationships - different cultural codes of dress, body language, hand gestures, eye contact, expectations between the sexes... And then there's all the idioms, references to pop culture, in-jokes you don't now. It's neverending. It takes literally YEARS to figure this stuff out. If you're truly on your own and you have nobody to talk to about it, it's bewildering. Every day is exhausting; every errand seems to take an entire week because there's so many false starts and unfamiliar rules and customs you don't know; and the loneliness can be absolutely overwhelming. (I absolutely adore Brazil now, ended up with many friends, and feel at home there now, almost more so than I do in the US. But it was a rough start.)

So, in sum, I wanted to try to highlight that sense of "stranger in a strange land."

A PARTICULARLY BAD PLACE AND TIME - Cas wouldn't have such a hard time if he hadn't happened to have started his whole human-journey in a northern state just as winter was closing in. And in a small college town with a fully-saturated job market and with no homeless shelters. I didn't even have to go out of my way to place him in such a bad situation: the show did! The show placed Castiel in Rexford, Idaho, in fall - and Idaho has some damn cold winters. There is actually no "Rexford" in Idaho but it's widely assumed to be a reference to Rexburg, Idaho, which is indeed a small college town that doesn't have much in the way of support for the homeless. This is almost the worst place and season they could have picked for him. Poor Cas.

YES, THE BAR MOVED FROM COLORADO TO WYOMING - Sharp readers may have noticed that I originally placed the Holy Terror bar scene in Colorado but later it was suddenly Wyoming. This is because the show writers placed that episode in "Caribou, Wyoming." There is no Caribou in Wyoming but there is one in Colorado, hence my mixup. Sorry! Since Forgotten also starts in Wyoming, once I realized the mixup I decided to go with Wyoming.

CAS STAYS HUMAN - The big moment of canon-divergence in this fic was that Cas didn't steal Theo's grace. The grace-stealing always seemed a little out-of-left-field to me, since we'd never had any canon before about grace being "stealable" in that way. It was a clumsily done introduction to new canon, imho. It also seemed a bit OOC to me, since Cas had seemed to be trying hard to rectify his past errors, and seemed very upset about angels dying; given all that, it just seemed unlike him to up and kill an angel so readily. I'll accept he'd do it as a last resort, but, thing is, Theo was already on his side! It seemed quite possible to me, as I watched that episode, that Cas might be able to simply convince Theo to help Cas fight his way out, and that Cas maybe didn't need to actually kill Theo. For all those reasons I decided to explore a plotline where Cas did not steal that grace from Theo.

CAS ENDS UP SICK - Okay, so this plot element was just because I love sick-Castiel plotlines and I adore hurt/comfort! It was also a good way to set up a situation such that Dean would read Cas's entire journal while sitting right next to Cas, but with Cas so comatose that there was no opportunity for conversation.

THE ONCE-AND-FUTURE FORGOTTEN PREQUEL - This fic was originally conceived as the prequel to Forgotten. However, I found as I started writing that it would work better if Dean could read Cas's journal right away. But in Forgotten/Flight almost two years have passed and Dean still hasn't found that journal! Also the prequel was originally going to feature Cas finding Claire too (and also Daphne - remember her?), but then Claire turned up in the show and I thought I should wait and see where her canon story is going to go. So I decided to split this off into being its own little fic, have Dean and Sam find him right away. Then it occurred to me that I could make it a Christmas fic with real-time updates! I just couldn't resist.

However, even though Winter's Tale is now officially an independent fic, it still shares many plot elements and emotional themes with Forgotten/Flight. There are common themes like: heavy emphasis on Cas angst, Cas suffering as a human, Cas being certain Dean and Sam don't want him around, Dean feeling guilty, Team-Free-Will bonds in general. And since both fics (Winter's Tale and Forgotten/Flight) sprang from the same emotional starting place, the "comfort" endings of the fics followed similar paths as well. There's shared elements in both fics of Dean getting fixated on watching Cas breathe/sleep, taking Cas home to the bunker, giving him a nice room of his own, Dean wanting to give Cas pillows (the pillow motif was already present in Forgotten, because that fic already had the hidden-prequel-idea that Cas had been desperately craving pillows after sleeping in the park in Idaho). Plus other details too. I do think of Winter's Tale as being in the next-door universe to Forgotten, and my headcanon for Forgotten is that this is basically what happened to Cas before the minotaur found him. (With a few differences regarding Cas ending up in Minnesota with a stolen grace.)

DEAN GUILT - Poor Dean. Though a lot of this fic involved watching poor bby Cas suffer, there was an equal component of Dean suffering as well. It really was rough on him having to face what he'd really done when he'd abandoned Cas. I thought it would be Cas-like, too, if Dean's big "I'm guilty and I suck" speech got interrupted by Cas INSTANTLY and completely forgiving him. Cas could have been bitter, and could have let Dean stew; but it seemed Cas-like, and angel-like (Cas's brand of "good-angel" that is), for Cas to offer forgiveness instead. Ever since Cas first said "You don't believe you deserve to be saved" to Dean, way back when they met, it's been clear that Cas knows how guilty Dean feels, and I thought it would be fitting for Cas to finally offer Dean some angelic absolution.

AND SAM TOO - Yes, Sam is important, and yes, Sam also cares about Cas a friend! Even in my Destiel fics I keep Sam involved. A large part of this fic, too, was that trying to take care of Cas became the mechanism that brought Sam and Dean back together. Sam watches Dean's suffering, and it gives Sam some perspective about how bad Dean really feels about all his mistakes. Of course, being Winchesters they never manage to actually talk about this, but Sam starts softening throughout the fic, offering little olive-branches here and there. At the end their big forgiveness discussion boils down to just: "Sam..." "I know." But for Winchesters that's a big-deal in-depth emotional discussion, right? :)

BRYCE - Yes, Cas will go back and see Bryce and thank him someday, don't you worry! And also he's gonna give Nora a call and assure her that he's ok. There've been a couple requests for an epilogue of some sort about this. I'll put it in my possibles list but I've still got the Flight epilogues to do first.

THANKS SO MUCH for all your kind comments, and I'm sorry I fell behind on replying. It was all I could do to get the fic done; I was really working all out on it. I even got up two hours early on Christmas morning just to do the final edit on the last chapter! But it was worth it, and I'm really glad you enjoyed it. (and I'm amazed any of you even had the time to read anything over the holidays.) It was so fun to get to share my holiday fic with you, and take you all with me on my journey from the hurt to the comfort. My goal was to go from the angstiest angst that ever angsted, to fluffier fluff than a bowl full of baby chickadees. How sweet the fluff, after all the pain, right?

So - Merry Christmas, happy solstice, and happy new year, everybody! Thank you so much for all your kindness and support.


 

Edit: This is what a baby chickadee looks like, if you're curious.

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Just a little announcement: I've written an optional epilogue to A Winter's Tale that you can read or not, as you wish. It is not formally part of A Winter's Tale but is just for those Destiel fans who were craving some more Destiel-ness. It's highly smutty Destiel and is titled "A Close Shave", and it's here if you're in the mood for some New Year's Destiel smut. Happy new year everybody!