The heat is like a blast furnace. Dean's skin is starting to blister. The back of his throat is scorched and raw. The roof groans overhead. The whole building shakes. A rafter shears off with a crack like lightning, crashing down near Dean's feet. Sparks catch in his hair and clothes. Ash billows in his face.
Everything is smoke. Dean crouches down, sucking in air with his face pressed to the dirty concrete. His lungs burn. His lips are bleeding. His dad shouts, but the thunder-roar of the fire drowns out the words. The roof groans again. Dean crawls forward a little. Gray spots shimmer at the edge of his vision, blurring the orange-red glare of the fire.
The air shifts beside his ear. Flutters. The searing heat ebbs slightly. A hand grips his shoulder. Someone whispers. Tugs him. He can't move. Sirens are blaring. The hand on his shoulder tightens. Tugs him again. His legs feel like lead. His nose and mouth are clogged with ash. He can't breathe.
Something slides over him. Soft. Soft. He hears a rustle. Something pulses and churns against his back. He feels a pull at the base of his spine. The screaming heat melts away. Everything is dark. A hand touches his face. Fingers brush through his hair. Something –
Dean wakes up curled against Castiel's chest. His bedroom is gray with stormy morning light. Castiel's arm is wrapped around his waist. Their legs are tangled, and Dean's head is tucked under Castiel's chin. The dream clings to him with claws like knives; he can almost taste and smell the ash. He breathes into Castiel's throat for a minute before leaning back and looking at Castiel's face.
"It was you, wasn't it?" Dean asks. His voice is thinner than a thread. "You – you pulled me outta that fire."
Castiel pauses for a beat. Then he nods and says, "Yes."
"So, uh." Dean clears his throat once. Twice. He can't stop shaking. "You were just in the neighborhood, or what?"
"Yes," Castiel says again. He slides his hand to the small of Dean's back and holds it there. "I went to Pontiac to find the Staff. I spent several days searching for it. Questioning people." His mouth brushes Dean's temple. "I probably arrived a full week before you and your father."
Dean closes his eyes. "Yeah. We, um. We'd only been in town a few hours." He takes a breath. And another. Then he continues, "We got in kinda late, so we figured we'd grab dinner and a motel and get started in the morning. But at the diner, Dad overheard a waitress talking about her date the night before. She said they busted into an empty warehouse to drink and got chased out by something with maggots for a face. Dad wanted to check it out, so we, uh. We – we."
"I interrogated a demon that night. She told me the Staff was being kept at a warehouse on the outskirts of town." Castiel runs his hand up Dean's back, palming the stretch between his shoulders and pulling him closer. "I flew there and found the adjacent building on fire. I heard screaming, and I – I forgot about the Staff. I went in."
"My dad... was he–? Did you –?"
"I found your father first, but he was beyond my reach. His soul had already ascended." Castiel kisses Dean's temple again. After a moment, he adds, "He died instantly. A fallen rafter struck him in the head and split his skull. He didn't suffer in the fire."
Dean hides a noise in the curve of Castiel's shoulder. They shouldn't be cuddling like this. Not if Castiel's fucking off to Heaven after they find the Staff. Not when Dean's already close to losing his head. But he hasn't talked about his dad's death in years – not since he called Sam and Bobby from Pontiac and told them what happened. The obituary Sam typed up said John Winchester died in a car accident and was cremated, and that's the story Dean sticks to when people ask. They usually don't.
Castiel skims his fingers over Dean's scar. Something flutters under Dean's ribs. He asks, "Is that – is that from you pulling me out?"
Castiel touches it again, fitting his hand into the shape of it. Then he says, "Yes. I was nearly too late. Your soul was leaving your body. Drawing it back – I expended a great deal of my grace at once. That much raw celestial power often leaves an imprint behind."
Dean shivers a little. Celestial power. Jesus fucking Christ. "Does it –? Is it, um."
"The night before last, when you were up at the Bel-Aire, it started burning. Like burning. Almost knocked me on my ass."
Castiel hums quietly and noses his way up Dean's jaw. When he gets to Dean's mouth, he kisses him soft and slow and sweet. He brings his hand up to the side of Dean's neck and strokes his thumb behind Dean's ear. He smells angel-bright and sleep-warm. His hair is a wreck. He has a pillow crease on his cheek, a thin pink line that runs from the corner of his eye to the dip of his chin.
When he pulls back to mouth at Dean's throat, Dean asks, "You don't think that's weird?"
"No," Castiel replies, the word taking shape against Dean's skin. "Like I said, it's an imprint of my grace. And I was in considerable distress during my fight with Alastair. He nearly forced me from my vessel." His teeth graze the cord of Dean's neck. "I can sense when you're distressed, as well."
"What?" Dean asks. His dick is perking up, and Castiel's hip is just asking to be rubbed against, but Dean makes himself lean back before his bigger brain shuts off entirely. "You can feel it when I'm –?" he trails off and waves his hand.
"That's why I checked your office for hex bags last night. Crowley almost killed you. I should've sensed it."
They listen to the rain compete with the bathroom sink for a few seconds. Then Castiel frowns and says, "I don't know if I can explain it. It's a sensation within my grace that I can't describe in human terms. A certain restlessness. Also heat and pressure and urgency. But none of that really comes close." He slides his hand down to the center of Dean's chest. "I've felt it several times since the fire. Once, I felt it so strongly and for such a length of time that I flew to you, although I doubt you remember it. You were asleep when I healed you."
Dean stares at him. He starts to ask, "When?" but then the answer hits him like a two-by-four to the back of the head. It's the only thing in his life besides the scar he's never been able to explain. "When I had that heart attack."
Dean rubs his face with a shaky hand. He and Sam had been hunting that rawhead for weeks. It had killed three children and kidnapped two more. Dean hadn't cared about anything but finding the sonofabitch and frying it like a chicken dinner. He doesn't remember much about being electrocuted. Just the corpse-stench of the rawhead's lair, and the brackish water seeping into the ass of his jeans as he slip-slid across the floor. The way his juiced-up taser had jumped in his hand before the lights went out in his head.
He woke up in a hospital two days later, weak and exhausted and unable to breathe. A doctor with a dull, patient voice had told him that there was nothing they could do. That the jolt had blown his ticker and that it was only a matter of time before it gave out for good. Sam had been frantic; he'd called every crackpot, soothsayer, and palm reader in their dad's weekend telephone book. Then he'd taken Dean to some faith healer preaching out of a tent in the boondocks of Nebraska.
The guy had said a prayer and put his clammy hand on Dean's forehead. Dean hadn't felt anything then, but the next night he'd dreamed of a blinding white light. He'd been in perfect health in the morning. After that, Sam had started talking like God might actually be a real thing. Dean had just told himself the doctor must've been wrong.
A door opens and closes downstairs – Kevin coming into work. Dean's got about an hour before he stomps upstairs and knocks. He looks at Castiel and asks, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Castiel hesitates. An uncomfortable look flits across his face. Then he says, "At first, I didn't see the point. You didn't know angels existed, and I – I assumed I'd never see you again after I killed Alastair and Ellsworth. And then –" he sighs. "I never wanted to involve you in this. It's too dangerous. I didn't want you to feel obligated to help me just because I saved your life once."
"Twice," Castiel agrees. He cradles Dean's jaw and presses his thumb to Dean's mouth. "I know humans can be... strange about that sort of thing. You don't owe me. Angels possess so much power. I helped you because I could."
Dean doesn't know what to say to that, so he cups his hand around the back of Castiel's neck and draws him in for a kiss. He nips at the swell of Castiel's lower lip. Sucks it a little. Then he pushes his hand into Castiel's hair and licks into his mouth. If this had been a dumb idea last night then it's an extra dumb idea right now, but Castiel is warm and naked and gorgeous. His fingers are brushing over Dean's scar again, and he's making soft, pleased noises right into Dean's mouth.
He worms his other arm out from under the pillow and wraps it around Dean's back. His nails bite into Dean's skin as he pulls Dean closer. The blanket is tangled between their feet. Dean kicks it out of the way and runs his hand down to the back Castiel's thigh. He palms the space just above Castiel's knee and tugs, urging Castiel's leg over his. His dick nudges into the crease of Castiel's hip, and he rubs it there, digging his fingers into Castiel's thigh and panting against Castiel's jaw. Castiel's dick is riding against Dean's belly, hard and already wet at the head. He drags a slow kiss up the side of Dean's neck and breathes out Dean's name like a prayer.
The headboard rattles against the wall. Dean's phone buzzes on the nightstand. Dean sucks a mark into the skin below Castiel's ear and shifts until Castiel's dick is lined up with his. They rock together, greedy and rhythmless and gasping. Castiel kisses Dean's temple and Dean's cheek. He slides another kiss down Dean's jaw, all stubble and wet heat. His fingers twist in Dean's hair. His tongue curls over the shell of Dean's ear.
Dean licks his palm a couple of times and wraps his hand around their dicks. The crush of their bodies makes the angle awkward and tight, but he can't stop rolling his hips long enough to give himself more space. He doesn't want more space. He wants Castiel as close as he can get him. He wants to spread Castiel out and tongue him loose and push inside him. He wants to pin Castiel to the bed and finger himself open in Castiel's lap and slowly sink down on Castiel's dick. He wants – fuck. He just wants.
Castiel rasps out a moan against Dean's throat. Dean murmurs, "Cas," and tightens his hand, twisting his wrist as much as he can and stroking them faster. Heat blooms in Dean's scar from the inside. He comes with a low, desperate noise, fisting his other hand in the sheet. Castiel follows him a heartbeat later. His back curves and his eyes glint silver. The lamp on the nightstand is off, but the bulb still gutters behind the paper-thin shade like a candle. Once he catches his breath, he kisses Dean's slack mouth.
Dean's phone buzzes again. It's already four minutes after nine. He lets himself kiss Castiel one more time. Then he sighs and climbs out of bed.
Sharing a shower is more pretend-house than Dean's willing to play with a guy who's leaving for another plane of existence in a couple of days, so he shuffles into the bathroom alone. The building's old pipes thump and clank when he turns on the water. As predicted, his knees have filed a complaint demanding half his assets and full custody of his feet. He spends about ten minutes rinsing off and trying not to think about the way Castiel looks when he comes. Then he cranks up the heat until it makes him wince. He balances his ass on the narrow tile lip meant for shampoo bottles and hopes the spray will beat the arthritis out of his knees.
He comes out of the bathroom in a towel because he figures Castiel doesn't count as company anymore. He isn't expecting to find Castiel drinking coffee in the kitchen with Kevin. The warm smell cuts through the hint of stale blood still lingering in the air. Castiel is using the cat mug again, and Kevin is using Dean's magnifying glass mug. A third mug is sitting on the counter. It's comic-book green and says, "Coffee First, Then Speak," in a white, jittery font. It was also a Christmas present from Bobby. Dean's pretty sure he subscribes to one those mail-order catalogs that sells useless tchotchkes to grandmothers.
When the linoleum whines under Dean's wet feet, Castiel looks up and smiles. He pours coffee into the extra mug and passes it over as Kevin says, "Okay. So what you're telling me is, the flood myth from the Bible and the flood myth from the Epic of Gilgamesh really are the same story."
Castiel shakes his head. "No. I said there was only one flood."
"I don't get you," Kevin says, leaning back against the counter.
"The stories refer to the same event. They're just told from different perspectives." After a pause, Castiel adds, "Noah wasn't the only person God warned about the flood. He also warned Utnapishtim and Deucalion. Manu, Bergelmir – there were a few others, but I don't remember their names."
"Are you serious?" Kevin asks. When Castiel just sips his coffee, Kevin frowns at Dean and points at Castiel with his mug. "Is he serious?"
Brakes squeal down on the street. Dean shrugs. He's making a puddle on the floor. "I guess."
"God." Kevin blinks up at the ceiling for a few seconds. "You can't tell me this kind of shit when I can't use it. I can't exactly put an angel of the lord told me in my sources."
"The angel Ezekiel wrote a true account of the flood that reconciled the different versions, but I doubt a copy has survived on earth. The Abba Garima monastery in Ethiopia might have one, or the Al-Zahiriyah library in Damascus." Castiel tips his head to the side and taps his thumb on the rim of his mug. "Ezekiel's original manuscript still exists in heaven, but it's not in a form humans can see or touch."
"I'm going to cry," Kevin says, rubbing his hand over his face. "I'm going to fucking cry."
Castiel drains his coffee mug and sets it on the counter. Then he turns to Dean and lightly touches his hip. He says, "Last night, Jody mentioned the police coming here today."
"What?" Dean shakes himself a little; his brain is still stuck in low gear. Once it shifts, he mutters, "Fuck. That's right. I – I don't know. Depends if the warrant goes through. Could be tomorrow."
"Sam would call, wouldn't he?" Kevin asks.
Dean scrubs at his hair. "Yeah, but they're keeping him outta the loop. He ain't gonna know 'til they're already on their way." The police don't really have anything on him yet. Chances are, the warrant will only cover the office. But he isn't feeling lucky. "Christ. Now I gotta move all my crap."
He sighs and scrubs his hair again. This time, it nearly costs him his towel. He'd wanted to do some digging at the Eldridge today, but hauling all his hunting shit out of the loft is going to take him all day. His closest lockup is forty minutes away when it isn't pouring rain, and he's got at least six carloads of stuff. Five, if he leaves some of the less freakier books behind. Renting a van would be quicker, but it would also look suspicious as hell.
"I can relocate it for you," Castiel offers.
"You sure? It's a lot of stuff."
"That isn't an issue," Castiel says, shrugging slightly. "Nor is distance."
Castiel touches Dean's hip again and heads into Sam's old room. As soon as he's gone, Kevin clears his throat like a pack-a-day smoker. Twice. Dean rolls his eyes and tightens the towel around his waist. He should put on some jeans. He's tired of people hassling him while he's practically naked.
Before he can escape, Kevin crosses his arms and asks, "So, what's for breakfast?"
Dean snorts. "I regret teaching you how to pick a lock."
"Hey, your boyfriend let me in."
"He's not my boyfriend."
Kevin gives Dean a very slow eyebrow. After letting it mock Dean for a few seconds, he says, "Really? Because you usually throw the tourists out before you hit the shower."
"I swear to God, if you don't shut up I'm gonna fire you."
"No, you won't," Kevin says brightly. "You're scared of my mother."
Dean can't really argue with that. And he knows Kevin's only up here because he's still freaked out about the text Dean sent him last night. He doesn't want to be in the office alone when there are demons running around. Dean sighs and chugs a good third of his coffee. As he's grabbing the pot to top himself off, he asks, "Did Cas tell you what happened?"
Kevin blinks. Heat prickles under Dean's jaw as soon as he realizes what he said. He's only called Castiel that a couple of times, and – yeah. They'd been in bed. Kevin's mouth twitches like he's going to let something fly, but then he swallows it and says, "Yeah. Well, kind of. I mean, he just –" he taps his temple "– he just kind of dumped it in my head. Which was weird." He chews his lip for a second. "You think that Crowley guy is coming back?"
"Nah," Dean says, shaking his head. "Our last meeting didn't really pan out the way he wanted. He almost got snuffed. And the Staff ain't here. He knows that by now, even if he still thinks Castiel's got it stashed somewhere."
"If you say so."
"You – hang on." Dean pokes around the kitchen drawers until he turns up a box of sidewalk chalk. The last stick is an obnoxious, toxic-waste shade of yellow, but he figures Kevin can deal. He tosses it over and says, "Just in case, draw a devil's trap on your side of the door. And salt the windows. Or – just go home. I don't really need you today. It's not like I can take a real case with all this angel bullshit going on."
"I can't write my thesis at home. One of my neighbors plays Guitar Hero like eighteen hours a day." Kevin rattles the box of chalk. Then he tucks it in his pocket and asks, "Where are you going to be?"
"Crowley's been staying at the Eldridge," Dean says. His stomach is growling; he pins his hip against the counter so his towel won't fall off while he puts some bread in the toaster. "The house dick over there is an old friend of my dad's. I'm gonna go talk to him, see if Crowley had any visitors, or if he stashed anything freaky in the hotel safe."
Castiel comes out of Sam's old room and asks, "Are you sure that's wise?" He's carrying a box bristling with guns and knives; they clink softly as he moves. "Crowley is dangerous."
"He's holed up somewhere else by now," Dean says, glancing at the toaster. It smells like crumbs are burning at the bottom of the slots. "I searched him when I had him trapped. He saw me looking at his keycard. 'Sides, I don't think he'd try anything funny in a lobby full of people."
Castiel makes a skeptical noise in the back of his throat. Then he nods at the box and asks, "Where should I take these?"
"Oh, uh. What – like the address?"
"StorageMart. Wornall Road, Kansas City. Unit twenty-four."
Castiel cocks his head to the side. A strange, middle-distance look creases his face. The air hums a little. After a moment, his eyes refocus. He must've been plugging himself into the matrix, because he says, "I found it. I'll return shortly," and then disappears with a quiet flutter.
Kevin just stares at the empty space. He looks like someone dumped ice down the front of his pants. Snorting, Dean says, "Yeah, that takes some getting used to." The toaster pops. Dean grabs both slices in one hand and hitches up his towel with the other. "Will you get outta here already?"
"Okay, okay. I'm gone. If a demon eats me, tell my mother I loved her."
There's only a tiny sliver of butter in the fridge, and both jars of jam are at least a year old. Maybe more. Colonies of greenish fuzz are growing on the glass. He chucks them in the trash and eats the toast dry. It's stale enough that it tastes like cardboard. Chewing it is a chore. He looks out the kitchen window as he's choking it down, chasing each bite with a mouthful of coffee. The rain has slipped into a half-hearted drizzle, but the sky is still heavy and colorless. The clouds seem to press down on the roof of the tattoo shop.
Once he's finished, he shakes the crumbs on his towel into the sink and heads into his bedroom. He considers the stuff in his closet for a minute. Eventually, he grabs the dark gray suit he wears when he's playing federal agent on monster gigs. It's a little tight across his shoulders, but he doesn't want to show up to the Eldridge looking too blue-collar. Martin won't give a shit, but the other lobby jockeys might remember a guy in ripped jeans and dirty boots.
Castiel sweeps into the room while Dean is fighting with his tie. The papers on Dean's dresser flutter to the floor. Dean threads the tail of his tie into the loop and coaxes it through. As he's smoothing out the knot, he asks, "You coming with me?"
"I should," Castiel grumbles. His trenchcoat is dry, but he smells like cold wind and wet weather. "I'm not convinced visiting Crowley's hotel is safe. But I need to search the warehouse where I fought Uriel."
"You think he ditched the Staff there?"
"He might have. I didn't have the chance to look the other night. I was in a rush to meet Alastair."
Castiel's collar is the perfect frame for the hollow of his throat. Dean wants to put his mouth there, so he does. He kisses it once. Twice. Then he noses at Castiel's jaw and says, "Be careful. That place is probably still crawling with cops."
"You be careful," Castiel counters. He palms the side of Dean's neck. "Crowley's a demon. A hotel full of people won't stop him from hurting you if he feels cornered."
"I'm telling you, he ain't gonna be there."
"If he is, I want you to call for me. We can fight him together."
Dean's face flushes. He looks away for a second and scratches the back of his neck. Then he clears his throat and asks, "How? You get yourself a phone while you were out?"
A smile tugs the corner of Castiel's mouth. "You can pray to me."
"What –? Pray –?" Dean doesn't think he's ever prayed in his life. He never saw the point. Even now – now that he knows Heaven is real – he's not convinced anyone would be listening. "How? Just –"
"Just think of me by name. I'll hear you."
Dean shuts his eyes. Okay, Castiel. He feels like an idiot. So – like this? Testing? Testing one-two-three?
"Yes, like that. And I don't mind you calling me Cas." His voice is threaded with something soft. "I – I like it."
"Yeah, okay. I – yeah." Christ, Dean's face is on fire. And it's almost ten o'clock; he needs to get moving. "I, um. I left my car at Biggerson's last night. Can I get a lift?"
"Of course," Cas says, pulling him close.
The Eldridge is a looming hunk of historic brickwork on the corner of Massachusetts and Seventh. The rain has rusted the building a dark brown and turned the neatly manicured lawn into a Louisiana swamp. The parking is valet, so Dean grabs a street spot and feeds the meter all the quarters in the Impala's ashtray. He hoofs it back up to the hotel hoping that the weather won't start having a tantrum while he's still halfway there. The puddles patching the sidewalk are flecked with grass and streaked with dirt. Dean comes in through the side because that door isn't manned. Doormen have memories like elephants, and they gossip more than bellhops.
Inside, the air tinkles with canned piano music. Dean's shoes squeak on the marble floor, and the sound echoes off the textured ceiling like a fork scraping an empty plate. The lobby is dotted with pairs of overstuffed couches staring at each other across patterned rugs. The closest set is already occupied; two men are reading newspapers at opposite ends of one couch, and a woman is clacking away on a laptop in the middle of the other. The set behind that has been commandeered by a family of six, including their luggage, two strollers, and a Pomeranian in a Moses basket. They're giving off an "airport shuttle purgatory" vibe.
Martin has an office in one of the Employee Only areas that's basically a storage closet with a desk crammed in one corner and a safe cemented to the floor. It's hotter than hell because it's right next to the laundry room. Dean doesn't want to ask for him at reception, but he probably won't have to. Martin usually cruises the lobby every twenty or thirty minutes to get some fresh air and to make it look like he's earning his paycheck. On paper, Martin is head of security, but the guards are outsourced rent-a-cops. Martin really just checks the crap in the safe three times a day and hassles people he thinks are loitering.
The bar is open. Dean decides to grab a table by the door and order something that'll keep his mouth busy while he waits. The only other early drinker is a woman facing the floor-to-ceiling windows and toying with a Bloody Mary the size of a vase. Dean checks the lobby for Martin one more time. As he's turning back toward the bar, his phone buzzes in his pocket. It's Kevin. Dean ducks behind one of the tacky Greek columns and sticks a finger in his other ear to mute the piano music.
"Well," Kevin says slowly. His voice could shear through a concrete slab. "The police are here. They got their warrant."
Dean huffs out a breath. "Christ." A guy with a briefcase and a Bluetooth walks by; once he's gone, Dean asks, "Is Jody there?"
"Okay." Jody won't let it get out of hand. Dean just hopes they're not authorized to search the loft. His hunting crap is in Kansas City and Cas got rid of the blood on the kitchen floor, but his living room still looks like the aftermath of a Top Notch bout. "Upstairs too or just the office?"
"Just –" Kevin cuts off. In the pause, Dean hears muffled voices and a few dull, heavy thumps. "Just the office."
"Okay," Dean says again. The only embarrassing thing downstairs is the bottle of Devil's Cut in his desk, but Dean isn't the first PI to drink on the clock and he won't be the last. "It's all right. Just let 'em do their thing. Don't argue with 'em – not unless they try to take your school stuff. That's personal. If they start rattling you, get Aaron on the horn."
After sighing in his ear, Kevin says, "Yeah," and hangs up.
Dean pockets his phone and heads into the bar. The floor is carpet, which saves him from listening to his shoes. When the bartender looks up, Dean gives him part of a smile and says, "Hey, there. Lemme get a whiskey. Neat."
"Do you have a preference, sir?"
"Whatever bottle's closest."
He puts his back to the bar while he waits. Aside from a few booths, the tables are black-painted high-tops ringed by the kind of chairs that need to be scaled with climbing equipment. The windows open to Seventh and provide a stunning view of the valet kiosk. Dean glances at the woman; she's typing out a text. Then he glances at her again, because – yeah. Her hair is darker than it was the last time he saw her. It's also longer. Out of the high ponytail, it would hit the middle of her back. Her sleek, beige pantsuit is hugging her body, so her gun is probably in her purse.
Dean lays some cash on the bar, grabs his whiskey, and helps himself to the chair on her left.
"That seat's taken," she snaps. She doesn't bother looking up.
"That's no way to talk to a friend, Bela."
That gets her attention. Her eyes widen slightly, but she has her game face on by her next breath. She says, "Winchester," in a tart voice and sneers at his glass. "A bit early for that, don't you think?"
Dean snorts. "You gonna tell me that's straight tomato juice?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I asked for Belvedere and I told him not to stint." Bela leans back in her chair and stirs her drink with its celery stalk. "That's a reasonably decent suit. Will you be pleading guilty or no contest?"
"You're hilarious," Dean says. He knocks back a mouthful of whiskey and lets his glass thunk down on the table. "What are you doing here? This place is at least two stars below your regular vacation digs."
"I had a taste for something rustic," she says airily. After a beat, her smile slips. She taps her dark pink nails on the table and asks, "What do you want?"
"Oh, I don't know," Dean says, giving her a lazy shrug. "I thought we could catch up. Talk about the good old days."
"I wasn't aware we'd had any good old days."
"How about that time you shot me?"
Bela sighs like she's disappointed. "That was years ago. And it was just a flesh wound. A big, strong man like you needn't be such a baby about it."
"And you stole my lottery tickets. After you shot me."
"Compensation for unpaid wages." Bela's phone buzzes. She glances at it, turns it face down, and pushes it away. "Losing that rabbit's foot cost me an absurd amount of money. Besides, I paid you nearly as much as those tickets were worth that time you were lucky enough to save my life."
Dean treats himself to another finger of whiskey. He fucking needs it. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and says, "Okay, fun's over. What the hell are you doing here?"
"I already told you," she complains, brushing a loose strand of hair away from her face. "New York was feeling claustrophobic. I thought I'd visit the provinces and see how the other half lives." She wrinkles her nose. "Mostly in double-wides, it seems."
"Well, we can't all fleece rich old ladies by pretending to be a cat medium."
That one rolls off her like water. Instead of firing something else across his bow, she checks her watch and says, "Listen, Winchester. This has been delightful, but I'm meeting someone in a few minutes, so –" She waves a hand at him. "Shoo."
"Not a chance."
"Will one hundred dollars get rid of you?" she asks. When Dean doesn't say anything, she sighs and winds up for another pitch. "How does two hundred sound? Three?" Dean shakes his head; she narrows her eyes and reaches for her purse. "I'd shoot you again but I'd hate to get blood in my drink."
Dean just stares at her. She'd probably let him pump her for at least a grand; that's pocket change compared to what she's getting paid. And she's used to dealing with people who can be bought. Turning, Dean catches the bartender's eye and gestures for another drink. Bela's phone buzzes again. She sips her Bloody Mary. The look on her face says she'd like him better if he was a sticky smear on the floor. Not that that's anything new.
Finally, she huffs and asks, "Shall I call security?"
Dean leans his elbow on the table and smiles. He says, "Go ahead. Try it." Lowering his voice, he adds, "This joint's house detective is an old friend of the family. He might just drop an eight-ball down your blouse and walk you outta here in handcuffs."
"It would never stick."
The bartender comes back with the whiskey as Dean says, "You're right. It wouldn't." Dean hands him some more cash and gives him a few seconds to leave before continuing, "But it would get you outta my hair for twenty-four hours. Maybe even forty-eight. And I could always tell 'em about that Prius you rented in a fake name."
Bela's hand tightens on her purse. Quietly, she says, "I have fifteen thousand on me right now. I'll give you all of it if you finish that kerosene you're drinking and walk out the door without looking back."
Dean chews his lip like he's thinking about it. Then he says, "Huh. Crowley must be shelling it out through the nose if you've got that much paper to burn."
"I'm not working for Crowley."
"So... what? You followed me all over town last night just for kicks?" Dean rolls his glass between his palms while he waits for her to answer. When she doesn't, he says, "A word of professional advice, from someone who does this shit for a living – hang back a little. You were so far up my ass I could smell your perfume."
That one rolls off her too. She smooths her lapel and insists, "I'm not working for Crowley."
"If you ain't working for Crowley, then you're working for the other guy. The religious nut." Dean lets that one simmer for a bit, but it doesn't boil over the way he wants. Bela just nurses her Bloody Mary and watches him over the rim of her glass. So he asks, "What's his name?"
She hesitates. Something Dean can't read flickers across her face. Her phone buzzes again as she says, "He calls himself Enoch. He's paying me to recover a stolen relic."
Dean lets "relic" slide for now – potato, potahto. He asks, "Did he tell you it was stolen by a demon?" Bela doesn't even blink; either she already knew or she's doing a damn good job of playing it cool. He swallows some more whiskey. Then he says, "Look, I know we ain't friends, and I know you can handle yourself. But trust me here: this is way outta your league."
"Your concern is touching, but I'm afraid I have to see this one through to the end."
"Why? You –" Dean cuts off and looks at her. Really looks at her. Her back is straight and her shoulders are set and every hair on her head is perfect. But her mouth is tight. She's white-knuckling her drink. The shadows under her eyes are so dark her makeup can't keep up with them. "You ain't in this for the money. This Enoch guy is squeezing you." She doesn't deny it, so he presses, "What's his deal?"
"Forget it," she says, shaking her head.
Dean grabs his drink but only brings it halfway to his mouth. His stomach doesn't want it. Not when there's nothing to cushion it but stale toast. He swirls the whiskey around and says, "If you tell me what his game is, I might be able to help you."
"You can't. No one can." Her voice is brittle around the edges. "You said this was out of my league, but you honestly have no idea."
"I have to go," she says, standing. She slips her phone into her purse and tucks it under her arm. "If he sees me with you, I'm dead. Quite literally."
"If you change your mind, you know where to find me."
"Yes. Any number of places with Coors Light on tap and sawdust on the floor."
She cuts behind him and heads for the bar's street exit. He'd been wrong about her gun. It's putting a wrinkle in her suit at the dip of her back. It's very small, probably a short-nosed twenty-two. A burst of city noise darts inside around her when she opens the door – car engines, footsteps, a bike bell, tired brakes. As it fades out, Dean grits his teeth through the dregs of his shot. He feels like he's doing a puzzle in the dark. The pieces are all there but he can't see the picture.
He doesn't know much about Bela. Just that she's a con artist. A thief who specializes in cursed and occult objects. And she's killed someone. That vengeful spirit up in Sea Pines had only dragged himself off his ghost ship for people who'd caused a death in their family, and she'd admitted to it when Dean and Sam had pointed that out. There's plenty there for a shakedown. Dean just can't figure out why Enoch would bother. Why he'd "hire" a human to duke it out with a bunch of demons.
That hexed rabbit foot they tangled with had granted unstoppable good luck to anyone who owned it and fatal bad luck to anyone who lost it. And it'd had a way of getting lost. "Absurd" amount of money or not, Bela had burned the thing quick enough once Dean had tricked her into touching it. She's the kind of rich that can take a little squeezing, and she's obviously not in a hurry to die. She wouldn't be wrapped up in something this heavy unless Enoch was laying it on thick. Whatever he's got, it's better than a few stolen talking boards. It might even be better than a murder.
"Another whiskey, sir?"
"No thanks," Dean says, holding up his hand. He stands and straightens his tie. "I gotta get some work done today."
The lobby's piano music is waiting for Dean at the door. So is the marble floor. As he's squeaking his way into the sitting area, he spots Martin's bald head and Sears suit coming out of the hotel's full-service restaurant. It's too late for breakfast and too early for lunch; he's probably just making his rounds. Dean catches his eye and waves him over. Martin nods and starts walking across the lobby, but he stops in front of the woman on her laptop. They talk for a minute. Then Martin points at the door. She closes her laptop and reaches for her bag. She gives Martin's back the finger after he turns around.
Once he's close enough, Dean asks, "College kids milking your WiFi again?"
"Every damn day," Martin mutters. He sticks out his hand. "Haven't seen you in awhile. You're looking good."
"So are you," Dean says. It's a lie; Martin looks like every other PI in the back nine of his career. He's worn thin and yellow around the eyes. His shoulders are hunched, and his nose is spiderwebbed with broken blood vessels. "You got a minute?"
"For one of John Winchester's kids? Always." He jerks his long chin toward reception. "You wanna grab a seat in my office?"
Dean shakes his head; the heat in there will put those two shots of whiskey on a slow boil. "I just got a coupla questions about a guest. Thomas Brighton. He spent the weekend in 206."
"Yeah," Martin says slowly. "Short guy in a black suit. Sounded British."
"Not on your end," Dean says. He leans his shoulder against the column behind him. "A guy came in yesterday wanting me to dig into a bad business deal, but it sounded fishy. I'm just looking at all the angles. Brighton still around?"
"Checked out this morning," Martin replies, scratching at his jaw. "He might be onto your guy – when he signed into the safe he said he'd be here about a week."
"What'd he drop?"
Dean's phone buzzes in his pocket. He ignores it and asks, "Traveler's checks?"
Dean whistles through his teeth. "Must be nice."
"Tell me about it," Martin says, shaking his head. "This place barely pays me enough to cover all the Wild Turkey I need to get through the day."
"I hear that." Dean's phone buzzes again. "Brighton have any visitors?"
Martin pauses for a second. Then he nods and says, "He did, yeah. Sunday afternoon. It was an older guy in a Nutty Professor sweater. Curly hair, kinda scruffy. I remember him 'cause one of the desk girls called me down. She thought he was a vagrant."
"Huh," Dean says. He should've asked Bela what Enoch looked like. "They go up to Brighton's room?"
"No. They had lunch at the restaurant. After –" Martin cuts off as the Pomeranian starts barking. When it just keeps at it, he shrugs and continues, "After that, Brighton went upstairs alone. His buddy asked about shuttle service to the Oread. The vans are for guests, so one of the girls called him a taxi."
"Huh." The Oread is Lawrence's other three-star. It's not much to go on, but it'll give Dean a place to start. His phone buzzes again. He grabs it from his pocket and tells Martin, "Thanks. I gotta get this; the office has been nuts since Alastair died."
Martin claps him on the shoulder. "I heard about that. Tough break."
"Yeah," Dean mutters. "It's been rough."
Dean waits to check his phone until he's back at the car. The rain is still on hold, but the air feels heavier than lead, like the sky is ready to crack open again any at minute. Fresh clouds are gathering over North Lawrence, purple-gray and hanging low over the horizon. Dean steps off the curb too close to the gutter and splashes dingy water up the back of his leg. Cursing, he jaywalks diagonally across Massachusetts Street. A woman in a yellow raincoat walks a poodle past the Impala as he's unlocking the door. She has an unopened umbrella cradled in her arm like a shotgun.
His phone informs him that he has two text messages and two voicemails. The first text is from Sam and it's about thirty minutes old; Dean had been so focused on yanking Bela's chain that he hadn't heard it buzz. It says, "warrant. sorry." The second text is from Kevin and says, "fuzz gone. bring lunch." The missed calls are from Bobby's office number, so Dean doesn't bother listening to the voicemails. He knows they're both just Bobby barking, "pick up, damn it," and slamming the receiver down hard enough to pop Dean's eardrum.
A red piece of paper has been wedged under the Impala's passenger-side wiper. The last forty-eight hours have been weird enough that Dean opens it expecting a cryptic note from Crowley, but it's just a flyer advertising a bake sale for the Spanish Club at Lawrence High School. Dean folds it up and shoves it behind the spare tire of the Jeep parked in front of him. It immediately catches the wind and nosedives onto the damp sidewalk. Dean leaves it there. He climbs into the Impala, fires it up, and twirls the radio until he finds the Creedence version of Midnight Special.
He dials Bobby's office. The phone rings like it's irritated. After three, Bobby wrestles the receiver to his ear and grouses, "Douglas County, this is Singer."
"You looking for me?" Dean asks.
Bobby heaves out a sigh so loud Dean can practically feel it. "'Course I'm looking for you. I spend half my life looking for you. And I spend the other half getting your ass out of a sling. Where've you been all morning?"
"Doing weekend shit," Dean says, leaning back in his seat. The wet patch on his pants sticks to his calf. "Sam fill you in on everything?"
"Uh-huh. And it all sounds more cuckoo than a clock." Bobby sighs again. Louder. Dean hopes he remembered to take his blood pressure pills. "Only you could end up neck deep in something like this. You or your brother."
"Yeah, I know." Across the street, a woman with a stack of bake sale flyers is making her way down the row of cars facing south. Dean loosens his tie a little and says, "You wanna hear about the cherry on this sundae?"
"Bela Talbot's in town."
"Good for her," Bobby says. Dean hears slurping on that end of the line – Bobby chugging his coffee – then, "You think she's here for the treasure hunt?"
"She said she was."
"You talked to her?" Bobby huffs out a noise. "She didn't shoot you again, did she?"
"Nope. And she only threatened to once. I think she's finally warming up to me."
Bobby pauses for a few seconds. The usual office racket rushes in to fill the silence – voices, keyboards, ringing telephones. A fax machine beeps. Bobby says, "Well, I got some more good news. Just lemme know when you're ready."
"Christ," Dean grumbles. Midnight Special ends; he turns the volume down as a car commercial starts. "All right. Hit me."
"Henriksen wants to see you."
Dean grunts and rubs his eyes. That's the last thing he needs right now. "He say when?"
"At your earliest convenience."
"So... today." Dean could maybe drag it out until tomorrow. Anything later than that will just make Henriksen double-down on his bastard routine. "He in now?"
"Yeah, but Nancy was saying something about him having court, so he's prob'ly skipping out in a minute." Someone asks Bobby a question; he says, "Okay, hang on," with his hand over the receiver. Then he tells Dean, "Swing by about three. If he turns up before that, I'll call you."
"All right," Dean says. His whiskey breakfast is sitting in his gut like a stone. "Thanks, Bobby."
Bobby grumbles, "Uh-huh," and hangs up.
A van trundles by. It's one of the bone-white Econoline jobs that the Eldridge uses to ferry its guests around town. The passengers are hazy shadows behind the tinted windows. Dean's meter still has forty-five minutes on it. That's a load and a half at the coin-op laundromat on Thirty-First, but Dean doesn't have time to sit around and cry about it. He wants to get to the Oread before people start mobbing into its restaurant for lunch. Dean eases the Impala's nose past the Jeep's rear bumper. He flips a u-turn that's tighter than a glove and drives the mile and a half down to Indiana Street and Twelfth.
From the outside, the Eldridge looks like the kind of bank Dillinger used to rob back in the thirties. The Oread is about a hundred years newer; it looks like a guy who'd never seen a castle before tried to build one with his eyes closed. Its parking is also valet, so Dean grabs another street spot and stuffs change into a brand new meter. It takes him a minute because all he has left are nickels and dimes. A pair of joggers come up as Dean is walking around to the Impala's rear. He lets them pass before popping the trunk and lifting the false bottom that hides his weapons.
The demon shank is already sheathed at Dean's hip. Just in case, he slides Cas' spare angel blade into his suit's inside pocket. He hesitates over his forty-five. After chewing his lip for a second, he swaps it for a black thirty-two that's smaller and slimmer and less noticeable. He doesn't like it as well, but getting grilled by the Oread's house dick for packing is a scene he doesn't need. The old guy, Travis, had been just like Martin – a PI buddy of John's who'd taken a hotel gig after aging out of street work. About a year ago, he got replaced by an ex-Marine named Cole; he's young and uptight and the kind of asshole who'd ask to see Dean's license just because he can.
Dean hesitates again as he's closing the trunk. He digs behind his stock of shotgun shells and salt canisters until he finds an old, beat-up Bible. He sticks it under his arm and pockets his keys. Rain starts pattering on the sidewalk as he's heading up the block, but it's thin and light, like the storm is just rolling over to hit the snooze button on its alarm. The flags on the Oread's upper balcony flap with the wind. Dean straightens his tie. He cuts across the soggy lawn and slips inside through the coffee shop.
He's greeted by more canned piano music. It's louder and jazzier than the stuff that had been playing over at the Eldridge. The lobby's stone ceiling arches down into pillars that kiss the red and brown carpet, making it feel like cave. A handful of artsy, copper pendant lamps glow above Dean's head without really giving off any light. Dean spots Cole's dishwater-brown crew-cut over at reception. He's is showing the lobby his back and waving his hand as he talks into a courtesy phone. The woman standing beside him is on the other courtesy phone. The look on her face says she's trying to get an ETA from a taxi company. Turning on his heel, Dean joins a knot of people making their way toward the restaurant.
It's a few minutes after eleven, so the breakfast crowd has mostly cleared out. A pair of busboys are gathering up what's left of the continental buffet. Dean takes a quick glance around. Two businessmen are hashing out a contract; their laptops and briefcases are spread out over a table meant for six. By the window, three women are chatting over bucket-sized mimosas. Across from them, another woman is frowning at a crossword puzzle. An older guy in a frumpy sweater is holed up in a corner booth with a strawberry waffle and a book.
Dean gives him a once-over. His curly hair is a wild, unbrushed mop and his scraggly beard is more gray than brown. His sweater looks like washing it wouldn't save it; it needs to be taken out back and shot. Not the safest bet, but Dean has rolled the dice for less. He grabs a two-top just across the aisle. He doesn't like having his back to the door, but he sits facing the booth so the guy will see him if he ever looks up from his book. Before his ass is really in the chair, a server appears out of nowhere and hands him a menu.
"Just a coffee for now," Dean says. Her smile slips as she calculates twenty percent on two-fifty, so he adds, "I'm meeting someone. He should be here in a few minutes."
Dean opens the Bible while he waits. It's a Gideon job he lifted from a fleabag motel a few years ago; he'd been trying to dig up information on a possible demon possession by posing as a priest. The pages are so thin that the words on one side are blurred by the words on the next. A good fifty or sixty toward the end are stuck together with gun oil. It smells like the inside of the Impala's trunk – grease and butane and salt. Dean pulls out his phone and Googles Moses staff plagues. The first hit tells him to check out Exodus – chapter seven, verse fourteen.
It's a King James Version, which means it's barely in English. Verse fourteen is all right, but verse fifteen says, "Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river's brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand." After that, Dean just skims it for the highlights. Moses turns the river into blood. He makes it rain frogs. Then he covers everything in gnats and flies.
The server comes back with Dean's coffee just as the livestock in Egypt start dying. She sets a tiny pitcher of milk beside it, but Dean drinks it black. Compared to the diner mud he lives on, it tastes too clean. He sips it slowly, glancing at the guy over the rim of his mug. His nose is still in his book, and he has strawberries on his chin because he isn't watching where he's putting his fork. Dean flips to the next page. Everyone in Egypt breaks out in boils. A freak hailstorm beats the shit out of their crops.
Locusts begin swarming in, but then a shadow cuts across the page. Dean looks up and finds the guy hovering at the edge of the table. His sweater is buttoned wrong. Dean hadn't heard him get up. After a pause, the guy says, "I don't want to interrupt, but I always notice when someone is reading my favorite book."
Yahtzee. Smiling, Dean asks, "The Bible's your favorite book?"
"I love a good story, and the Bible has some of the best – love, sex, violence, murder, plagues, intrigue, betrayal. It's all there." The guy takes a breath and offers Dean his hand. "Sorry. I lose my manners when I get excited. My name is Enoch."
"Dean," Enoch repeats thoughtfully. "That's an interesting name. A good name. It's Hebrew for law. You – do you mind if I join you?"
"Please," Dean says, pointing at the other chair. "Do you want some coffee?"
Enoch waves that off as he sits. "No, thank you. I've already had enough to float a barge, and once you reach fifty, too much gives you the jitters." He leans his elbows on the table, making it wobble slightly. "So, tell me, Dean. Are you a believer?"
"I think so," Dean says. He closes the Bible and taps his fingers on the cover. "I didn't grow up with it. My dad – he didn't have a lot of time for God. But I, um." He chews his lip for a second. "Something happened to me a coupla years ago, and – I don't know."
Enoch cocks his head to the side like a bird. "A religious experience?"
"I guess, yeah. I had this – I had a heart attack. Some kinda... whatever they call it. Defect."
"Yeah, congenital. The doctors said my heart was shot. That it'd give out in a few months, maybe a year. My brother –" Dean cuts off with a sigh. He chews his lip a little more. He lets his voice hitch when he continues, "We don't have a lot of family left, so my brother didn't wanna take it lying down. He dragged me to about twenty more doctors, but – you know. They all said the same thing." He sighs again. "After that, he took me to see this guy. A faith healer. I wasn't buying what he was selling when I went in, but I walked outta there in perfect health."
"A miracle," Enoch says solemnly. "Healed by the laying on of hands." He straightens and scratches his strawberry-stained beard. "What an incredible story. Too bad you left out the best part."
Dean puts a blank look on his face. "What part?"
"The real reason your heart stopped. It was either a monster attack or your own stupidity. Possibly both." Enoch shows Dean a mouthful of crooked teeth. "I know who you are, Dean Winchester. I know what you are. And I know why you're here."
"You got me all wrong," Dean says, leaning back in his chair. He slides his hand into his lap so it's closer to his gun. "I'm just here for the coffee."
"You want the object," Enoch insists. Dean opens his mouth to deny it, but Enoch just narrows his eyes and continues, "I know you were at the Eldridge. I know you had a drink with Bela Talbot. I know you asked Martin Creaser questions about my associate, Thomas Brighton. I've been waiting for you." He pauses. A smug smile tugs at his mouth. "I told you, I love a good story. I've read hundreds of detective novels. Thousands. Hammett, Chandler, MacDonald – all the classics. It wasn't hard to figure out your next move."
"I also know what you're thinking right now," Enoch cuts in. "You're thinking, That's impossible. Martin wouldn't have sold me out. The truth is, he called me the minute you left the Eldridge."
"No way," Dean says. The restaurant is slowly filling up. His stomach is tying itself into a knot. "He wouldn't've."
"A year ago? Maybe not. But the Eldridge has started cutting his pay every quarter." Enoch heaves out a sad, dramatic sigh. "They keep telling him it's because the economy is bad, but they really want him to retire. They want to replace him with someone fresher. Someone like the young man who works here."
Dean scoffs under his breath. "You got Cole on your dime, too?"
"No," Enoch says, shaking his head. "I hired Martin because I don't trust Brighton. I needed someone to keep an eye on him, and Bela can't be everywhere at once."
The hostess seats two women at the next table. Dean gives them a second to get zeroed in on their menus. Then he lowers his voice and says, "You're throwing a lot of money around."
Enoch shrugs. "I have my resources. Money isn't an issue. The object is the only thing I care about."
"It ain't what you think."
"You're wrong," Enoch says, rapping his knuckles on the table. "It's everything. I intend to get it, and I'll kill anyone who interferes."
Dean pauses and swallows some coffee. It's lukewarm. Slightly sour from standing. Dean's stomach fires off a warning flare, but he ignores it and drains his mug. The hostess swings by again; she seats a guy on a date with his laptop at the table on Dean's other side. Enoch huffs out a noise. He has waffle crumbs on his sweater, and he's watching Dean like he's studying a chessboard. It's making Dean itch.
Quietly, he asks, "You know Brighton's a demon, right?"
Enoch doesn't miss a beat. "Of course. That's why I don't trust him."
The server comes over with the coffee pot. She double-takes at Enoch. Then she says, "Mister Acher, you haven't finished your waffle. Would you like your plate moved over here?"
"No, Olivia. I'm afraid my friend is leaving."
"Yeah, sorry," Dean says, standing. He might as well take the out; this conversation isn't getting him anywhere. "The guy I'm meeting – we got our wires crossed. Turns out he's up at the Eldridge."
Her smiles slips again. "I'll get your check."
"Don't worry about that," Enoch says. He smiles. "Just put it on my bill."
Dean pulls into McDonald's on his way back to the office. He usually goes inside – there's less chance of getting shorted a burger that way – but the rain has finally started to wake up a little. It's falling just hard enough to make the Impala's wipers work for a living. Dean swings into the drive-thru behind an elderly Corolla that's belching out exhaust. He orders two Big Macs, twenty Chicken McNuggets, and four apple pies. Kashmir comes on the radio. He hums along under his breath while he waits for a kid with quarter-sized holes in his ears to bag up his food and hand over his drinks.
The drive back to his side of Lawrence is slow. An accident between a gardening jalopy and a new Mustang has Sixth down to one lane going west. Oil-slicks shimmer on the wet asphalt. The row of brake lights in front of him burns everything a fiery red. A pair of cops in clear plastic raincoats are laying out a line of emergency flares. The pinkish smoke catches the wind and spreads over everything like a fog. Dean turns up the radio. He loosens his tie. He rides his brakes and stuffs fries into his mouth and tries to make some sense out of his chat with Enoch.
The guy hadn't even blinked when Dean brought up Crowley being a demon. Dean doesn't think he was covering – he'd already known. But he'd used Crowley's fake name. And he hadn't seemed scared. Most people don't even believe demons exist, but the ones who know the truth normally run screaming at the thought of being anywhere near one. Enoch had shrugged it off like it was nothing. Like Crowley is just another thing his money can buy.
Either he's flat-out crazy, or he's got a holy knick-knack in his hoard that he thinks will protect him from hell. Or he doesn't really believe in the Bible's sulfur and brimstone shtick. Crowley had called Enoch a religious nut, but Enoch had stopped talking about God the second Dean dropped his choirboy front. He had talked about money. He might think the Staff is a piece of the True Cross, but Dean's pretty sure the fire under his ass is more about greed than faith.
The street parking in front of the office is full again. Dean squeezes the Impala into the last spot in the lot, right between the dumpster and Kevin's ancient Cherokee. He shoves another handful of fries in his mouth so he can listen to the end of Saturday Night Special. One of the tattooists is lurking in the alley; he's smoking a cigarette and using a newspaper as an umbrella. The rain beats down like a drum. When the song ends, Dean grabs the food and climbs out of the car. He almost loses the drinks as he wrestles with the building's back door.
A few steps down the hallway, he stops. Lilith Alastair is standing outside the office door. She reaches for the handle. Pulls back. Reaches for it again. She shakes herself a little. Then she huffs out a noise and faces Dean. She's wearing black jeans and a black sweater, and her ice-blonde hair is swept into a neat bun. An angry flush is spreading across her cheeks. Her boots make hollow sounds on the tile floor as she walks toward him.
"Winchester," she says coldly. The light above her head flickers. "You've been avoiding my calls."
Dean's guilty as charged, so he doesn't bother denying it. He says, "Yeah, sorry. I haven't been in the office much."
Lilith glares at him like she'd pay cash to spit on his grave. Then she crosses her arms and asks, "What happened to my husband?"
Dean swallows a sigh. He's always hated this part of weekend stuff. Standing over a corpse with a family who wants to know why. Not having an answer they'd believe or even understand. Tiredly, he says, "I don't know. Talk to the police."
"The police." Lilith scoffs. "I've talked to the police several times, but they don't know anything. They don't know who killed him. They're not even sure how he died."
It's only been two days – and murder investigations can take weeks, months, sometimes years – but the twist to her mouth suggests telling her that is going to land in the rough. Instead, Dean asks, "What makes you think I do?"
"You must know something. You're the one who sent him to that hooker motel in the middle of the night."
"Hey, I didn't send him anywhere," Dean says. He nearly loses the drinks again. "Alastair was freelance. I paid him a wage, but he chose his own gigs. And he worked them alone unless he bumped into something that needed another pair of eyes."
The light flickers again. She asks, "Who hired him?"
"I couldn't tell you," Dean says, shrugging. "I was on the phone when the guy came in. I didn't hear much, but it sounded like maybe his wife had run out on him. I figure he wanted Alastair to track her down."
"What did he look like?"
"Why? You gonna bring him in yourself?"
Lilith's mouth twists again. "Just tell me."
"I don't know. He was just a guy." Dean's clutching the McDonald's bags in one hand; his fingers are starting to cramp. "Late thirties, maybe early forties. Dark hair. He – I told you, I was on the phone. I wasn't paying attention."
"Don't you write these things down?"
The office telephone rings. After a beat or two, Kevin's voice burrs through the wall. Dean frowns at Lilith. He's almost tempted to tell her the truth. To let her chew on that instead of his ass. But his shoes are pinching him and the sodas are sweating on his suit. His gut is trying to turn those fries he ate into heartburn. The hallway's morgue-yellow fluorescent hum is making him itch.
Sighing, he says, "It was Alastair's case. Paperwork was on him. And if he made a file on this guy, it ain't here anymore. Cops cleaned out his desk this morning."
"He was your partner," Lilith says, unfolding her arms. Her hands clench into fists. "Shouldn't you be looking into it? Or are you too busy covering your tracks?"
Christ. Not her too. "I didn't kill your husband."
"No. You just let him go off and get killed."
"Look," Dean snaps. "This ain't the safest job in the world. And I told Alastair that when he signed on. You know what he said to me? He said that sounded great. He said he was tired of being a lawyer." Dean bites back an empty laugh. "He said most days at the firm felt like a week in hell."
A knife-sharp noise catches in Lilith's throat. Brushing past him, she says, "I will drag you there myself if I find out you had something to do with this."
"Promise?" Dean asks.
She doesn't look back. Only some of her gardenia perfume follows her out. The rest of it's too busy crowding into Dean's nose. He sneezes. One of the McDonald's bags starts to rip, so he turns to the door and fumbles with the knob. When he walks in the office, Kevin jumps a little and grabs one of his books. The tips of his ears are red from all the hard work they were doing eavesdropping.
"Thanks for rescuing me," Dean says.
Kevin shrugs. "You've got a gun. I figured you could take her."
"Whatever." Dean sets the bags on Kevin's desk and starts dividing up the food. The fries are gummy and cold. "She come in and rattle you?"
"Nope," Kevin says, shaking his head. He closes the book he wasn't reading and puts it with the rest of the pile. "I didn't know she was here until she –" he cocks his head toward the wall "– you know."
Dean gives his heartburn a couple of Chicken McNuggets to play with. Chewing, he asks, "How'd the search and seizure go?"
Kevin just stares at Dean for a second, dead-eyed. Then he says, "It was peachy. My favorite part was Roy and Walt pawing through my notes like they can even read."
"Hey. I told you not to let 'em hassle you."
Kevin shrugs again. Then he snorts out a laugh and says, "Actually, it was kind of funny. Half this stuff is in Cuneiform, and it freaked Walt the fuck out. He kept asking me if it was witchcraft."
"You should've offered to do a trick for him." Dean puts another Chicken McNugget in his mouth and glances at the door. Kevin's devil's trap is just below the frosted window; it's about the size of a basketball, if basketballs were shaped like eggs. Dean points at it with his Coke and says, "I bet that didn't help."
"Nope," Kevin says, reaching for his drink. "How'd it go with you?"
Dean picks at what's left of his fries. He doesn't really have a bead on Enoch yet. And Martin stooling on him still feels like a bruise. Martin served with Dean's dad in Vietnam; Dean's known him a long time. Trusted him a long time. Dean chases the fries with some Coke and says, "Waste of an hour. Crowley's long gone." He rattles the ice in his cup. "Cas been in?"
"Yeah. He popped in – like, you know, popped in – right after the cops left. Scared the crap out of me."
"What'd he want?"
"He showed me how to draw this." Kevin holds up a piece of paper. It's the same sigil Cas painted on Dean's kitchen floor last night; the blood has dried a dark brown. "If any other angels show up I'm supposed to stab myself in the finger and touch it. Because that's totally normal."
"Yeah. After that he just –" Kevin makes a pfffft sound and waves his hand.
"Huh." Fucking angels. Dean grabs a Big Mac and two of the apple pies and nods at his office. "I'm gonna get some work done. Holler if you need me."
Dean's office is a little stuffy, so he leaves the door open about a foot. His chair greets him with a groan. He yanks off his tie and drops it on the desk. Then he shrugs out of his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, and starts on his Big Mac. While he eats, he checks everything out. Alastair's desk has been cleared, including the clock and the picture of Lilith. The filing cabinet's empty drawers are hanging open slightly, and handfuls of papers are scattered on the floor. Dean had expected the place to be wrecked. Turned on its head like something out of a cop show. Jody must've kept Roy and Walt on a tight leash.
Hey, Cas. You, um. You got your ears on? Christ, he hopes Cas can't hear him chewing. Kevin said you stopped by earlier. I just wanted to tell you I'm back at the office, if, uh. You know.
Dean bumps his mouse with his elbow as he reaches for his Coke. His computer wakes up, so he spends a minute looking at his email. He deletes some spam; after that, he only has two real messages. The first is from Roberts the Third and politely reminds him that Maggie Stark's divorce can't proceed until the invasion of privacy suit is settled. The second is from Lee Chambers, who wants help identifying a funky bite mark. The picture he attached takes a couple of seconds to load. It's nothing Dean's ever seen before – too blunt for a vampire, too narrow and sharp for a werewolf. He forwards it to Charlie.
He starts another prayer, but before he gets past, Hey, Cas, Kevin yelps out a noise. Then he says, "Dean, you might want to see this."
"Yeah, okay." Dean shoves the last of the Big Mac into his mouth and heads out of his office. When he gets to Kevin's desk, Kevin angles his computer monitor so Dean can see it. Dean squints at the glare and asks, "What am I looking at?"
"A Journal-World article about a robbery at the Starlite. It just popped up on their breaking news twitter."
Dean tilts the monitor back so he can read it without going blind. "The Starlite?"
"Yep," Kevin says. He toys with the straw in his Coke. "Do you think this is about Cas?"
The article doesn't mention a room number, but it does include a picture – a long distance shot of a bunch of cops crowded around an open door on the ground floor. Dean says, "It's gotta be. Either him or the Staff." He scans the article again, reading the high points to himself. "Discovered by housekeeping shortly after eleven... the room was completely ransacked... all the furniture destroyed... sections of the walls appear burned, but when asked about arson the police had no comment."
Kevin asks, "Are you sure it's legit? I mean – you know."
It's a fair question. The Journal-World isn't exactly a rag, but it also isn't above exaggerating to sell copy. Dean scrolls back up until he finds the byline: Cassandra Robinson. Dean sighs under his breath and says, "It's legit. Cassie's on the level."
"You know her?"
"Yeah," Dean says gruffly.
"Oh." Kevin's mouth twitches. "You know her."
"Yeah," Dean says again. He only dated Cassie for a few weeks. They'd both still been kids – barely into their twenties – but Dean had really liked her. Probably could've loved her. But he fucked it up before it had a chance go to go anywhere. "Years ago. I – I ain't talking about this."
Kevin shrugs and adjusts his monitor. He puts some fries into his mouth and grabs one of his books. Dean paces in front of his desk and thinks about all the shit he touched while he and Cas were at the Starlite. The doorknob. The table and the chairs. The toilet seat. Maybe the nightstand. His fingerprints are all over the place. The sheets probably haven't been changed, so his hair is in the bed. And Cas – fuck.
"Hey, Cas," Dean says out loud. Kevin looks at him like he's nuts, but he just gives Kevin the finger and keeps talking. Praying. Whatever. "Your motel room got tossed this morning. Someone's gunning for you, so. um. Keep your eyes open, all right? Lemme know if you're okay."
Kevin stares at him for a second. Then he says, "You're worried about him."
"Yeah. I – yeah."
"He's an angel."
"Yeah." Dean shrugs. An uneasy feeling settles in his gut. "Doesn't mean he can't get hurt."
Around two o'clock, it starts pouring. Rain smashes against the windows like it wants to break the glass and come inside for a drink. The fire escape ladder whines and shakes with the wind. Thunder rolls overhead, so hard and loud and close that it upsets the walls. The lights flicker and hum. Dean nurses a cup of tar-thick French Roast and pecks his way through his motion to dismiss. He saves after every sentence he types in case the power stops finally stops fighting for its life.
It's been about an hour and a half since he prayed to Cas about the robbery at the Starlite. Maybe an hour and forty-five. Dean chokes down a mouthful of coffee and tells himself Cas is okay. Cas is an angel, for fuck's sake. And Dean's seen him fight. He knows Cas can hold his own. He just – Christ. He hates that this prayer business is a one-way street. He hates it enough that he briefly considers heading to the Kwik-Mart down the block and buying Cas a burn phone. But the rain is coming down so fast that he'd have to swim there. And it's not like Cas would get a lot of use out of it; he's going back to Heaven in a couple of days.
Dean doesn't want to think about that. It makes something sour knot in the back of his throat. He washes it down with another mouthful of coffee and tells himself he's an idiot. Cassie wasn't the first relationship he pissed all over, but when he moved his junk back into the loft eight months ago, he'd promised himself Lisa would be the last. He can't believe he's let Cas turn him inside-out like this. They guy has only been around for two days.
After reading it over, Dean decides the motion to dismiss is decent. In the conclusion, he adds a "respectful request" for Don Stark to cover his counsel fees and court costs. He doubts the counsel fees will fly with the judge – he's representing himself, so he's pretty much asking for be paid for his own time – but he might luck out with the court costs. If he does, it'll get him out of the two hundred dollars it takes to put something on the docket. Dean saves it again and sends it to the printer. The printer makes a sound like it's dying. Then it beeps to tell Dean it's out of paper.
He doesn't have any in his desk, so he cancels the job and sends it to Kevin's printer. It's older than Dean's but less of a beast; it fires up without complaining about it first. It also gets to work right away. It's already spitting out the fourth page by the time Dean shuffles out of his office.
Kevin has his nose in a book. He keeps it there as he asks, "What's that?"
"That Stark thing."
"Oh, thank God," Kevin says. He stops reading long enough to scribble something on his notes. "Moneybags Roberts has called like three times."
Dean snorts. Legally, he has thirty days to respond. Roberts just wants the Starks out of his hair. Not that Dean blames him. "Well, if he calls again, tell him I filed it. I'm gonna meet with Henriksen later. I'll drop it off while I'm there."
Kevin's mouth opens like he's working on a smartass comment about Henriksen ripping Dean a new one. Before he settles on something, Dean hears footsteps in the hallway and holds up his hand. The footsteps pause outside the door. A shadow moves behind the frosted glass. Dean reaches for the demon shank because it's been that kind of day. The doorknob rattles. Then the door creaks open and Cas walks in looking windswept and irritated. His tie is crooked. Despite what he just told himself, Dean wants to kiss the pinched, unhappy line of his mouth.
"Hey." Kevin gives Cas a long once-over. "Why are you using the door like a person?"
Cas replies, "I was checking the building for hex bags." Then he looks at Dean and asks, "Are you all right?"
"Me? Yeah. What about you? Did you get my, um." Dean can't make himself say prayer in front of Kevin. "Did you hear me?"
"Yes, I heard you," Cas says. His mouth softens slightly. "I just came from the Starlite."
"You – now? It's gotta be lousy with cops."
"It was." Cas cocks his head to the side. "The rain dampened their enthusiasm."
"That's –" Dean points at the window. Water is sheeting down the pane. "That's you?"
"Some of it. I can't change the weather entirely, but I can alter its current pattern to some degree."
"Holy crap. That's pretty cool." And terrifying. And kind of hot. Dean shakes himself a little before asking, "So nobody saw you?"
"No," Cas says. He touches Dean's shoulder, fitting his palm right over the scar. Then he slides his hand down Dean's arm. Their knuckles bump. Dean hooks their fingers together without really thinking about it. By the time his brain catches up enough to put some heat in his cheeks, Cas is continuing, "Just in case, I visited it on a different plane of existence. One humans can't perceive."
"Right. Yeah." Dean blinks at the ceiling for a second. He's been staring monsters in the face since he was four years old, but he still can't wrap his head around half the things Cas' says. Another plane of existence, Jesus fucking Christ. "C'mon." He nods at his office. "I'm gonna need a drink for this."
He cups his free hand around Cas' elbow and tugs a little. He takes a step toward his office as he does it, but instead of going anywhere, he hip-checks Kevin's desk and jostles into Cas' chest. Cas palms his waist to steady him. It puts them close enough for a kiss. Close enough for Cas to murmur, "Dean," against Dean's jaw. Close enough for Kevin to clear his throat.
"Don't mind me," he says airily. His eyes are locked on his monitor. "I'm just trying to get a master's degree here."
"Okay, okay," Dean says. More heat flushes his cheeks, but he huffs out a laugh. He lets go of Cas' hand and takes another step back. "We're going."
They file into the office. Cas peels off his trenchcoat, tosses it over the back of the client chair, and sits. Dean grabs the office bottle and splashes some Devil's Cut in the bottom of his empty coffee mug. He puts the bottle back in the drawer afterward – floating too much bourbon on top of that Big Mac will have him praying to the porcelain god later. His legs are restless from the two hours he spent sitting on his ass and playing lawyer, so he walks around his desk and parks it beside the page-a-day calendar he never remembers to update. It still thinks it's the end of November.
He swirls the bourbon around and asks, "Any luck with the Staff?"
"No," Cas says, shaking his head. "I searched the warehouse and several surrounding buildings down to their atoms. It wasn't there, and sensed no trace of it."
"So it never was."
Cas shakes his head again. "No."
Dean had figured as much, but that doesn't stop him from sighing about it. He says, "Great. This thing is still in the wind."
"Ellsworth is the key to finding it," Cas says. He rubs his forehead like a human with a headache. "He's the last person who actually possessed it."
"Yeah," Dean agrees. His Devil's Cut tastes faintly of coffee. "But it wasn't in his room when you tossed it. Either Ellsworth stashed it somewhere, or Uriel grabbed it after he killed him and dumped it before you caught up with him at that warehouse."
"Or it was taken from Ellsworth," Cas says. He sounds tired. "I suspect Hell has put a bounty on its recovery."
"Wonderful." Dean rolls his eyes. "A demon free-for-all. You got any more good news?"
Cas huffs out a noise. The office is getting dark, so Dean walks over to Alastair's desk and flips on the floor lamp lurking against the wall. It doesn't help much, but Dean's always been told it's the thought that counts. The rain is still going strong; the sky is a dull, heavy gray. On his way back to Cas, Dean notices a jagged, red scratch on Cas' neck. It starts behind his ear and slices straight down before disappearing under his collar. Cas stiffens slightly when Dean thumbs the skin just below it. Then he sighs and leans into Dean's hand.
Dean asks, "What happened?"
Cas hesitates. His mouth thins as he says, "I was ambushed when I arrived at the warehouse."
"Just one." Cas sighs again. "His name was Theo. He thought I had the Staff."
Dean makes himself stop touching Cas' neck. Leaning back against his desk, he asks, "Did he want it for heaven, or was he in on Uriel's faith through hell plan?"
"I don't know," Cas says. His knee bumps Dean's leg. "He attacked me as soon as I landed. I didn't get the chance to ask."
"Christ." Dean knocks back the last of his Devil's Cut and sets his mug on his desk. "How bad was it?"
"That ain't what I asked."
"Dean," Cas says quietly. He reaches for Dean's hand and threads their fingers together. His thumb brushes the inside of Dean's wrist. "I was never in danger. Theo wasn't a soldier. He was outmatched before I pulled my blade."
"I – yeah, okay," Dean mutters. He knows Cas is telling the truth; his scar would've hurt if there had been any real trouble. That doesn't mean he likes it. His stomach isn't thrilled about it either. It's trying to tie itself into a knot. "You kill him?"
"Yes," Cas says sadly. "I killed him and disposed of his body. After that, I searched the other buildings for the Staff. Then I heard your prayer about the Starlite and went there."
"You think that was angels too?"
"I know it was. I sensed their grace." Cas rubs the scratch on his neck with his free hand; it's already faded to pink. "I don't know who – that requires a spell I didn't have the time or ingredients to perform. But that damage was done by angels."
"You wanna go back?" Dean asks. All his spell stuff is in Kansas City, but Cas could fly them there in a heartbeat. Or they could drop by Meditations. Linda keeps just about every kind of herb, leaf, root, stone, and dirt in stock. "If you –"
"No. It would be pointless." A grumble catches in Cas' throat. "The police think a robbery occurred there, and we – I cleansed it of our presence to spare you further legal troubles. The only grace it would detect now is mine."
Dean scrubs his hair. The beginning of a headache is sparking at the base of his skull. He says, "I guess it doesn't matter. I mean, whoever they are, they're after the Staff."
"I'm sure they are," Cas says. His thumb brushes the inside of Dean's wrist again. "But I – that's not what this was about. They could've searched the room without destroying it. This was a show of force."
"So... what? They just wanna remind you that everyone's gunning for you?" Dean blows out a breath. "Assholes."
Cas shrugs. "If they come for us, we'll deal with it." He says us like it's easy. Like it means something. Like he isn't flying out of Dean's life in a couple of days. Dean starts to pull his hand away, but Cas squeezes it and asks, "Tell me about Crowley. Was he at his hotel?"
"No," Dean says, clearing his throat. "Sonofabitch skipped out this morning. Wasn't a total waste, though. I found out who was tailing me the other night."
"Human." Dean's phone buzzes. It's probably Bobby telling him that Henriksen's back in the office. "Her name's Bela. Bela Talbot."
"A human," Cas says thoughtfully. A frown pulls at his mouth. "And you know her?"
"Uh. Kinda. She – I know her, but we ain't exactly friends."
"Is she a hunter?"
Dean scoffs. "No. But she knows her way around the territory." The office phone rings. It sounds impatient; it's either Bobby or Roberts the Third. Dean lets Kevin answer it before continuing, "She swore up and down she was shadowing Crowley, but –" He shrugs. "I don't know. Something ain't right."
"Why would she –" Cas cuts off so fast his mouth snaps shut. He tips his head to the side, and his eyes blank out. A beat passes. And another. And another. Then he blinks himself back to earth. Dropping Dean's hand, he stands and says, "I have to go."
"Not here, but nearby." Cas glances at his trenchcoat; a split-second later, he's wearing it. His blade slides out of his sleeve. "You need to leave. Send Kevin home and –"
"Fuck that." Dean grabs his suit jacket and fumbles for the other blade. "I'm going with you."
"No," Cas says sharply.
"You think I can't handle myself?"
"I think they won't hesitate to kill you to get to me. And I think if you – Dean." Cas' throat bobs as he swallows. "Dean, please."
"Okay." Dean's heart is pounding like a jackhammer. "Okay. You, uh. You –"
"I'll be careful."
The air starts to rustle. Before Cas can zap out, Dean loops his hand in his tie and drags him in for a kiss. It's wet and fast and a little bit dirty, and Cas sighs into it just long enough to nip at Dean's lip. Then he disappears with a curl of wind that leaves Dean cold.
The phone rings again. Before answering it, Kevin calls out, "Just so you know: if you don't close the door, I can see you being gross."
Dean has Kevin drop him off at the Starlite. He figures he should get Alastair's car out of there before the police notice it's loitering. Or before the Starlite's manager sobers up long enough to connect it to the "robbed" room. Dean doesn't see any cops hanging around, but number eight's door is asterisked with crime scene tape. In the flare from the sodium lights, it looks greenish-gray instead of yellow. One of the strips has torn loose; the wind has flipped it back and tangled it up with the shrub dying under the window.
The Continental is unlocked, but the keys aren't in the glove compartment or the center console. Either Cas has them, or he started it with his mojo when he left the Bel-Aire. Dean sighs. There's probably a word for a guy who drives a hotwired car to a meeting with the DA. And whatever it is, he's pretty sure it isn't polite. After a quick glance around, he climbs into the driver's seat and fumbles with the wires under the steering column. The engine coughs like a smoker a few times before turning over. Once it's warmed up a little, Dean swings out of the Starlite's parking lot and heads for the other side of town.
The Continental's shocks are shot, and its brakes are touchier than the Impala's. It smells like a Hawaiian Breeze air freshener died under one of its seats. Thankfully, the trip to the DA's office doesn't take very long. The rain has just about returned to its regular schedule, but the downpour Cas whipped up earlier has scared everyone else off the road. Dean fiddles with the radio until he finds the classic rock station. It's doing a three-for; he turns it up for a Zeppelin set and leans on the gas. When the Zeppelin set ends, he leaves it up and pretends he isn't singing along with Bachman-Turner Overdrive. He drums his hands on the wheel. He hits Rhode Island Street and Eleventh in the middle of You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet.
Dean parks on the street. The courthouse's lot is always crawling with cops, and the Continental hasn't been registered since 2013. The only spot big enough for a land yacht is three blocks down Eleventh. After squeezing into it, Dean reaches under the steering column and kills the engine. He stashes his weapons in the glove compartment. The car dips and groans as he gets out. He shivers; the rain is steady enough to be irritating and the wind won't stop flapping the collar of his coat. He rubs his hands together as he sloshes his way back up to the county seat. His teeth are chattering by the time he gets inside.
This close to five, the place is practically a graveyard. A handful of people are standing in line at the assessor's window. A couple more are waiting to file court paperwork. Dean walks right past them because his motion to dismiss is still in Kevin's printer. He'd been in such a hurry to get out of his office that he forgot to grab it. He cuts across to the hallway that leads to Henriksen's neck of the woods. It's emptier than the main building. The only person still manning their post is his overworked paralegal. She's rubbing her forehead with both hands when Dean approaches her desk.
He grins at her and says, "Hey, Nancy. Is your boss in?"
"He almost gave up on you." Nancy glances at the clock and lifts an eyebrow at him. Then she smiles and says, "He went down to the cafeteria to get a sandwich before it closes. You can wait inside."
"There should be coffee in there. Please have some." She sighs under her breath. "He's already had enough today."
Henriksen's office is functional and plain. The chairs belong in a hospital waiting room and the desk is straight from an Office Depot catalog. It's looked exactly the same since Henriksen took over for the previous DA ten years ago. Zachariah Adler had been a blowhard with seriously expensive taste. He'd decked the place out in antique furniture and fancy rugs. Framed paintings had hung on the wall. The county had paid for most of it, which is why he got the boot and how Henriksen landed the job. That, and Henriksen's a hell of a lawyer. Not that Dean would ever admit that out loud. He'd rather stab himself in the face.
There is coffee. And it's fresh; the machine is still bubbling softly. Dean's already had enough today too, but he could use the help thawing out. His fingers are still kind of numb. After peeling off his wet coat, he pours himself a cup and takes a seat in front of Henriksen's desk. The window behind it opens toward South Park. Lights flare in the sky. Dean rubs the scar on his shoulder and tells himself it's just lightning, even though it's a little too perfect. A little too blue-white.
Hey, Cas. I just, um. You – take care of yourself out there, okay?
The coffee machine hisses. The sky lights up again, farther to the east. Dean knows Cas can't answer him, but that doesn't ease the anxious, jittery feeling that's crawling into his chest. He lets it hammer at him for another minute. He rubs his scar again. Then he pulls out his phone and calls Sam.
Sam picks up on the third ring. Tiredly, he says, "Hey. How'd it go with Henriksen?"
"I just got to his office. I haven't talked to him yet."
"What about Castiel?"
"He's having a pow-wow with some of his, um – you know. Brothers." Dean tucks the phone against his ear so he can wrap both hands around his coffee cup. "You still at the precinct?"
"Yeah. They've got me on a cold case to keep me busy."
Sam heaves out a sigh. "Frozen."
"That sucks." Dean's been hired to look into a few cold cases over the years; working them had felt like banging his head against a brick wall. All the evidence was gone. The witnesses didn't remember anything. The suspects had used the downtime to come up with better lies. "You at your desk right now?"
"Yeah, I am. What's up?"
Dean tugs at his tie. He's pretty sure it's trying to strangle him. "You got anything on Ellsworth's meatsuit?"
"Why? Do you have a hunch?"
"Maybe. Kinda." It isn't a whole hunch. It isn't even half of one. It's just an inkling. An itch behind Dean's teeth. "I don't know yet."
Papers shuffle on Sam's end of the line. He mutters to himself for a second before saying, "Okay. Joseph Gregory Ellsworth. Forty-six. Divorced, no kids. Commercial driver's license with an address in Wichita. We don't know who he was driving for yet."
"Anything on the ex?"
"He was married twice. His first wife remarried and moved to Canada about ten years ago." Sam pauses – Dean hears keyboard clacks – then, "His second wife died in a car accident early last year."
Dean sighs. They were long gone before this demon crap started. "You said he's got a commercial license?"
"Yeah. Class A. Cleared for double and triple trailers."
"I don't remember seeing a rig at the Bel-Aire."
"There wasn't one." After another pause, Sam lowers his voice and adds, "Jody and I think he got possessed on the road. Or between loads."
"Yeah. Probably." Dean sighs again. He's not sure what he's looking for, but this isn't it. "This guy got any next of kin?"
"A cell phone search turned up a sister in Hutchinson. She hasn't returned our calls."
Dean hears footsteps outside the door. He says, "I gotta go. Text me that Wichita address," and hangs up.
Henriksen comes in as Dean is pocketing his phone. He's carrying what smells like a meatball hero; it's wrapped in yellow paper that's already starting to spot with grease. He stops halfway to his desk and gives Dean a long, hard look that lingers on the cup of coffee in his hands. Then he sets the sandwich down and stares at Dean a little more. Rain patters against the window. The coffee pot murmurs. Dean bites the inside of his cheek so he won't tell Henriksen a picture would last longer.
Eventually, Henriksen crosses his arms and asks, "Comfy?"
Dean shrugs. "Sure."
Henriksen sits. He makes a point of checking his watch. "You certainly took your sweet-ass time getting here."
"Sounds like you're in a hurry to get home." Henriksen lives at work. He's got more ex-wives than that guy from NCIS and a condo in west Lawrence he only uses to shower and sleep. Dean cocks his head to the side and asks, "You got some episodes of Iron Chef burning a hole in your DVR?"
Henriksen smiles like a knife. "That's funny. But you aren't in a position to get cute right now."
"You charging me with something?"
"Do I have to to keep your ass in that chair?"
Dean stalls behind his coffee. Henriksen's poker-face could clean out an entire casino; Dean has no clue if he's bluffing or not. If he isn't – fuck. Aaron could wiggle Dean out of anything Henriksen cooks up, but he'd have to get Dean in front of a judge first. And Lawrence doesn't bother with night court, so that wouldn't be until eight or nine in the morning. Dean can't risk a sleepover in a holding cell – not with the Staff out there and Cas' family showing up to start fights.
"Nah, I'll play nice," Dean says. He rests his coffee cup on his knee. "Just outta curiosity: you got a charge you think would actually stick?"
Henriksen sits on that for a second. Then he swallows his smirk and says, "I figure I'll start out slow. See how obstructions looks on you. If I like it, then I'll work my way up to something really sexy."
"Sexy like murder?"
"You said it first."
Dean shakes his head. "Obstruction's bullshit and you know it. I didn't interfere with your warrant." He shows Henriksen some teeth. "Hell, I wasn't even there when it was served."
"No, you weren't," Henriksen admits. He leans back in his chair. "But you want to hear something funny?"
"Roy and Walt took six boxes of files out of your place, but we haven't found anything on the guy who hired Alastair to sit on the Bel-Air the night he died."
"Nothing funny about it." A blue-white light streaks across the sky, and Dean swallows some coffee so Henriksen won't catch him looking worried. He puts a shrug in his shoulders and says, "Alastair probably hadn't made one yet. He'd only had the gig a coupla hours."
Henriksen clucks his tongue. "Come on, Winchester. Alastair was a lawyer for fifteen years. Don't try and tell me he wrote all his notes on the backs of receipts and bar napkins like you."
"Alastair was a lawyer," Dean points out. "Was. Half the reason he ditched that job was 'cause he was tired of shoveling paperwork all day."
"Uh-huh." Henriksen quirks an eyebrow. "And what about the other half?"
Dean shrugs again. "No idea. Mid-life crisis, maybe? I guess working for me was less hassle than buying a Corvette."
Henriksen studies him for a second. A thick piece of lint is caught in the collar of his suit. It's a court suit – well-cut and a shade of navy just darker than the blue in his striped tie. His chair squeaks as he shifts. He taps two fingers on the desk like a ticking clock. Dean's coffee is almost empty, so he gets up and buys himself a refill. He turns back toward Henriksen and holds up the pot. After a pause, Henriksen gives him about a third of a nod. Dean decides to take that as a yes and fills another cup.
The sky blazes again. Dean sets the coffee on the desk and sits back down. He says, "Look. I know you don't like me, but that ain't gonna get you anywhere. It's been a long time since I cried 'cause a cop didn't like me."
"I'm not a cop."
"Yeah, well, it's been even longer since I cried 'cause a lawyer didn't like me."
Henriksen shrugs. "You're right, Winchester. I don't like you. I don't like PIs. Most of them are cheap-ass blackmailers. The few who aren't crooked just get in the way of real law enforcement." He scoffs under his breath. "The last thing I need is a bunch of academy washouts running around playing policeman like this is some kind of game."
"Huh," Dean says slowly. "How about when real law enforcement's got it all wrong?"
Henriksen blinks at him. Then a dubious look crawls across his face. "You think that's why you're in here?"
"Wouldn't surprise me," Dean says. He drums his fingers on his coffee cup. "I think you've been waiting for me to step in something since I walked outta your office that day."
"Something your buddy Singer can't bury, you mean?"
Dean leaves that one where it lands; picking it up isn't worth the trouble. Instead, he continues, "I also think you've got nothing on this case. Zilch. Talking to me makes it look like you ain't just sitting on your thumbs."
Henriksen snorts out a rusty laugh. "Look, I won't lie to you: I was madder than hell when you busted in here and said I had the wrong guy. I didn't appreciate you trying to tell me how to do my job. But you know what? You were right. Resnick didn't rob that bank." Reaching for his coffee, he adds, "And in case you forgot, I used what you gave me to nail his manager to the wall."
Dean pinches the bridge of his nose. The headache he's been nursing for the last two hours is starting to throb like it means business. "Okay, okay, stop flirting. Just tell me what you want."
"I want Alastair's client." Henriksen's chair squeaks again. He leans his elbow on the desk and asks, "What's his name?"
"I don't know," Dean says, shaking his head. He pauses; if he has to do this song and dance again, it's safer if he sticks with the story he gave Lilith. "I was on the phone when he came in."
"Convenient. Who were you talking to?"
Henriksen's mouth twists. "Also convenient. You do you know we can check that, right?"
"Yeah, you can," Dean agrees. "But that'll take another warrant. I'm thinking phone records to snoop on a privileged conversation are gonna be a hard sell."
"Depends on the judge." Henriksen sips his coffee. As he sets the cup down, he asks, "Can you give me a description?"
"Dark hair. About my age, maybe a little older."
"That's all you got for me? Come on. I thought you said you were going to play nice."
"I didn't really look at the guy," Dean says, shrugging. "I was –"
"You were on the phone, right." Henriksen huffs under his breath. Then he leans back in his chair and says, "There's a rumor going around that Alastair was skimming off the top."
Dean isn't supposed to know about that; he hesitates before admitting, "He could've been."
"But you don't think he was."
"No. He – this town's small enough that it would've got back to me eventually, and he would've known that."
"Let's say he was. And –" Henriksen waves his hand "– let's say it did. Then what?"
"Well, I wouldn't've killed him," Dean snaps. "I would've fired him, and then I would've sued him. I – how does icing him get me my money back?"
Henriksen's mouth twists again. "I don't think it was about the money. Not really. I think it was about pride."
"Yeah. Your little PI set-up is a family business. You worked with your dad until he died, and you worked with your brother until he walked out." Henriksen gives Dean another razor-sharp smile. "I think Alastair ripping you off from Sam's desk hit a nerve."
Dean downs some coffee to douse the irritation burning in his gut. "Why didn't I just shoot him?"
"Because you know better," Henriksen says, steepling his fingers. "You've been around the block. You know how ballistics work. And you know guns never really disappear. They either come back to life as street pieces, or they hang out on the bottom of the river until you think you're in the clear."
"If that's your theory –?" Dean shakes his head and whistles through his teeth. "It's not bad for lawyer work, but it's got a coupla holes in it."
"Yeah. It doesn't square with me wasting the other guy. And it doesn't explain why you keep scratching in the dirt for Alastair's client."
Henriksen narrows his eyes. "Tell me how this rates for lawyer work: I think Joseph Ellsworth was Alastair's client. I think you hired him to lure Alastair to the Bel-Aire so you could kill him there."
"Okay. Why the Bel-Aire? Why not our office?"
Henriksen considers this for a second. "You didn't want anything too close to home. And you didn't want to bother with dumping a body." He raps his knuckles on the desk. "The Bulge is twenty-five minutes away, but the coroner figures Alastair went down between nine and ten. That leaves you plenty of time to go fishing."
"And what's Ellsworth's buy-in?"
Henriksen rubs his fingers with his thumb. "Money. Ellsworth had cashflow problems from sticking all his paychecks in his arm. His house was in foreclosure. He'd missed three payments on his rig."
"Huh," Dean says slowly. That explains why Ellsworth's ride hadn't been at the motel. "And then what –? I decided killing him was cheaper than paying him off?"
"Something like that."
"All right." Dean stands. If Henriksen was serious about that obstruction charge, he would've pulled the trigger already. "I think we're done here."
Henriksen arches an eyebrow. "Are we?"
"Yep." Dean drains his coffee and sets the cup on Henriksen's desk. "If you wanna talk to me again, put it through Bass, not Bobby."
"And call your stenographer. I want it on record when I tell you to stick it where the sun don't shine."
The parking in front of Dean's office is empty, but tomorrow is Thursday and the street sweeper does his block of Sixth on Thursdays between eight and ten. The last thing the Continental needs is a ticket, so Dean pulls around back. The only cars in the lot are the Impala and the dentist's minivan. The minivan is leaking a greenish snake of antifreeze onto the wet asphalt. After three tries, Dean gets the Continental lined up alongside the dumpster. It's just enough of a boat that its nose kisses the building before its tires bump the parking block.
He kills the engine and grabs his weapons from the glove compartment. The Continental's stale Hawaiian Breeze smell gets stronger as he leans over – strong enough that he wrinkles his nose. He can practically taste it. If he reached under the seat, he'd probably find a cardboard pineapple rotting into the dusty carpet.
He doesn't bother. Instead, he climbs out of the car and into the weather. A slight wind is irritating the drizzle. The sky has been calm since he left Henriksen's office. He doesn't know if that's good or bad. Uncertainty slithers around in his gut as he walks over to the Impala and pops the trunk.
His arsenal is a mess. He usually straightens it out after a hunt, but he'd left Bartlesville in a hurry and he hasn't had time to take a piss since. Knives are shoved in every compartment. A handful of shotgun shells have rattled out of their box. The rustiest of his three salt canisters is spitting salt through a hole in its side. Sighing, he pulls the thirty-two out of his waistband and swaps it for his forty-five. He slides the demon shank into his belt. He isn't sure what to do with the angel blade; he doesn't have a sheath for it, and it's a little too bulky for his inside pocket.
A chill sweeps up the back of his neck before he can decide. He makes himself take a breath. No sudden moves. There are two of them; their shadows are rough patches on the brick wall, tinged brown by the parking lot's buzzing sodium light. Something is scratching inside the dumpster – a raccoon, maybe. Or a possum. Dean shuts the Impala's trunk and pockets his keys. He eases the angel blade into his sleeve, balancing the the tip on the pad of his middle finger. It feels weirdly dull, like he'd need both hands to put it through a piece of paper.
He turns to face them – a blonde woman in her thirties who looks ready to spit nails and a shorter, younger, dark-haired man. His expression is as blank as they come. They're both dressed in drab suits. They aren't bothering with a light show, but Dean doesn't need a formal introduction. He knows they're angels. The air around them is practically humming. A knife-sharp thread of ozone is curling around the stench coming off the dumpster.
Hey, Cas. If you ain't too busy, I'm outside my office and I, uh – I got company. Your kind of company.
The wind tugs at Dean's coat. He says, "Sorry, guys. Office is closed for the night."
"Dean Winchester," the woman sneers. Her voice could cut marble without leaving a mark. "We've come for the Staff of Moses."
Dean's tempted to tell her to get in line. Instead, he shrugs and says, "It ain't here. Sorry you hopped down off your clouds for nothing."
She takes a step toward him and spits out, "Liar."
"Hester," the man says, holding up his hand. Hester bristles slightly; the sodium light flickers. Then she subsides with a soft huff. The man turns his attention back to Dean. "Where is Castiel?"
"Not here," Dean replies. The angel blade bumps the inside of his wrist. He's got no chance – not against two of them. Cas, please. "What d'you dicks want with him?"
"Castiel defied Heaven," Hester says acidly. "He located the Staff but failed to return it. He has killed angels."
Dean shakes his head. "Listen, sister. You got it all wrong. He doesn't have your fucking Staff. He's looking for it so he can take it back upstairs. And he iced those angels in self-defense."
Anger contorts Hester's face. She opens her mouth, but the man is faster. He says, "In defending himself, he further defied Heaven. It was his duty to return for questioning when commanded."
Dean snorts. "Questioning. That's a nice word you guys got for torture." He shifts his weight a little. Attacking them is suicide, but if they come at him he wants to be ready. "Look, I don't know what Theo said to him, but Uriel was –"
The air rips open – a quick flutter beside Dean's shoulder. Cas says, "Dean, it's all right." His hand brushes the small of Dean's back.
Hester's mouth thins. "Castiel."
"Hello, Hester," Cas says. "Hello, Inias." There's something off about his voice. When Jonah and Efram zapped into the loft, he'd sounded like he was chewing on barbed wire. Now he just sounds tired. Or resigned. Maybe sad. "We should talk."
Hester starts to speak, but Inias holds up his hand again. His expression is reasonable for something that's carved from stone. He probably thinks he's the good cop. He says, "There is nothing to discuss, Castiel. You will return to Heaven and answer for your disobedience."
A train horn blares in the distance. After a tight pause, Cas nods and says, "Fine. Let Dean go and I will... come quietly."
"What? No way." Dean grabs Cas' sleeve. "I ain't leaving you with these dicks."
Hester narrows her eyes. They glint silver as she asks, "Do you presume to interfere? You? A human?"
Cas steps in front of Dean. "Leave him alone. He means no offense." Dean huffs – he absolutely means offense – but Cas just continues, "I saved his life once. You know how humans can be. He believes he owes me a debt."
"Saving his life was your ruin," Hester snaps. The sodium light flickers again. "The moment you laid a hand on him, you were lost."
"Dean," Cas murmurs. Leaning back slightly, he turns his head until his breath puffs against Dean's jaw. It's warmer than the wind. "Go."
"No," Inias says, easing an angel blade from his jacket. "Dean Winchester will accompany us to Heaven. Your concern for his safety could prove useful when you are questioned."
Cas pauses again. Then he sighs and says, "Inias, please. I don't want to fight you."
Inias starts to reply, but Hester cuts him off by snarling under her breath and lunging for Cas. Dean doesn't see her pull her blade – one moment her hand is empty; in the next, a silver streak is jabbing toward Cas' throat. He takes a step back so Cas has room to work and fumbles for his blade. It catches in his sleeve and thumps against the ball of his thumb. Before he really gets it in his hand, something cold and bright slams into his chest, knocking into him with enough force that he reels back against the Impala's trunk.
Gravel crunches under Dean's shuffling feet. Just as he finds his balance, the same weird, chilly light slams into Dean again. He hits the ground, landing hard on his elbow and hip. Pain flares in his leg as he scrambles to his knees and heaves himself to his feet. His blade has rolled under of the Impala's rear tires. He kicks at it until it jerks free and skids across the asphalt. He pauses as he crouches for it, looking for an opening. His heart feels like it's hammering against a scar.
Cas blocks a blow from Inias; he catches Inias by the wrist and wrenches his arm down. He shoves Inias away with a grunt, then turns sideways to dodge Hester's swinging blade. It misses him by an inch. She charges at him. Instead of stabbing her, he punches her in the sternum. The sound of bone cracking whips around the parking lot like a gunshot.
"Dean," Cas hisses. He has blood at the corner of his mouth. "Go."
And – no. No way. Dean's not leaving him. He's not letting Cas get dragged back to Heaven. Not if it's just to save his sorry ass. Terror is clawing at his gut, but he tightens his grip on his blade and takes a run at Inias, jabbing up and in as he shoulders into Inias' chest. Inias hurls Dean away with half a gesture, but Dean's blade connects with Inias' arm. Inias grates out a noise. Grace-light winks at Dean through a hole in his sleeve as he reaches down and punches Dean in the jaw.
It feels like getting smacked with a lead pipe. Dean's head whips back. His vision swims. Before he can blink it clear, something knocks him onto his back. He sprawls into a puddle, gasping as icy-cold water seeps into his slacks. He gropes around for his blade, but a sudden, searing pain explodes in his chest, something that stabs up underneath his ribs and squeezes like a fist. It must still be Inias; Hester has Cas around the throat.
"You're a disgrace," Hester spits, smashing her fist into Cas' cheek. "You have fallen in every way imaginable."
She punches Cas again. And again. The third time, her knuckles come away bloody. Cas doesn't move a muscle. He doesn't speak. Anger flushes Hester face, a dark fever-burn that crawls between her jaw and her hairline. She rears back for another blow, but Inias reaches for her and says, "Hester, enough."
"He is corrupt, Inias," Hester insists. She clenches her fist but doesn't swing. Her other hand is clawed in Cas' collar. "He's practically human."
"Yes, he is. But our superiors want him alive."
Inias turns as he says it, and Dean spots a short, red-haired woman standing right behind him. He tries to wave her away – the last thing this shitshow needs is a witness, or another victim – but whatever Inias did to him has made him clumsy and slow. His chest aches. His scar is throbbing. His legs weigh a hundred pounds, and a pins-and-needles feeling is chasing up and down his arms.
Ginger tucks something into Inias' collar and says, "Impetus bestiarum."
Inias' face twists. He hunches over and growls.
"Dele malum hoc."
Growling again, Inias spins and rams his blade into Hester's back. Her eyes flash. She flares out with a scream and a crest of blue-white light that crackles and throbs. The Impala's windows rattle. A solid wave of heat Dean like the swelter from a blast furnace. His next few breaths burn his lungs and taste like lightning. The ozone in the air is thick enough to chew.
Gray sparks cloud Dean's vision for a beat or two. He rubs his eyes with the back of his wrist because his hands are gritty and wet from crawling around on the ground. When he can see again, he finds Cas standing over Hester's body. Her right wing is lost in the shadows on the asphalt. Her left is curving toward the parking spots facing the dentist's office. Sooty streaks crisscross the painted lines. Her hand is resting on Cas' foot – palm up, fingers curled. The drizzle is slowly washing the blood from her knuckles.
Cas looks up at Ginger. He slides his blade out of his sleeve and asks, "Who are you?"
Ginger raises her eyebrows. "You know, you could thank me. I just saved your life."
"You killed her."
"Someone had to."
Dean plants his hand on the Impala's trunk and pushes himself to his feet. His legs feel like water, so he braces his hip against the car as he eases his forty-five out of his slacks. The magazine is nearly full. Regular bullets won't kill a witch, but Dean figures they'll still hurt like hell going in.
He lines her up and snaps, "He asked you a question, lady."
"My name is Rowena," she says. Beside her, Inias whines softly – a restless, animal noise. "I have a proposition for you."
"All right." Dean doesn't lower his gun. "Lay it on me."
Rowena scoffs. "Out here? This weather's no good for my old bones." She spares Hester's corpse a dispassionate glance. "I'll just wait inside while you tidy this up."
Dean grits his teeth as he sinks into his chair. He's pretty sure he bruised a rib during the fight. Once the spike of pain passes, he opens his desk's top drawer and grabs the nine-millimeter hidden under a stack of take-out menus. It's loaded with hollow-points filled with witch-killing poison – aconite, mistletoe, chicken feet, ground malachite. Dean's never had the chance to test them out, but Charlie swears they'll drop a witch like a stone. He lays the gun on the desk and gives Rowena a once-over.
She's a tiny thing, just two or three inches over five feet. She looks somewhere in her thirties, but the smart money is on her being a lot older – witches usually are. Her long, curly hair is pulled over her shoulders in twin waterfalls. Out in the parking lot it had seemed a deep auburn; in decent light it's coppery and bright. She's wearing a cocktail dress, a green lace-over-satin number that's clearly expensive. Too expensive for a dusty pit-stop like Lawrence.
A car coughs to life out on the street. Inias lumbers in from the front office, carrying a mug Rowena asked him to fill at the water cooler. She coos, "Thank you, dear," as he hands it over; he perks up slightly at the praise. Rowena cradles the mug in between her palms and murmurs something under her breath. A moment later, the water starts to steam. She sets the mug on Dean's desk and pulls a small packet from her silver purse.
"Hex bag?" Dean asks. He inches his hand closer to the gun. The safety isn't on; he could probably get a shot off before she throws it in his face.
"It's just tea," Rowena replies airly. "I find talking shop goes best over a good, strong cuppa."
Cas stops pacing and stands behind Dean. He grips the back of Dean's chair with boths hands, hard enough to make it creak. His knuckles graze Dean's shirt as he says, "Release Inias."
Rowena slips the teabag into the mug. She toys with the string for a few moments before saying, "Sorry, no. I don't think I will." A thick Scottish accent plucks at each word. "Having a pet angel might come in handy before the night's out."
Inias makes a noise – something halfway between Rowena's name and a growl. The whites of his eyes are both yellow and bloodshot, and his sweaty face is a sickly, ashy gray. His hands are twitching. He keeps clenching and unclenching his fists.
Dean asks, "What'd you do to him?"
"It's an attack dog spell – one of my own designs. I find it dead useful when I'm in a tight spot."
"It compels him to protect me. Sadly, it's a right strain on the body. Most humans die within a day." Rowena glances up at Inias. Then she narrows her eyes at Dean and says, "Angels are tougher to kill; I suppose he could hang on a full week."
"So this is blackmail?" Dean asks, sliding his angel blade into his lap. It would be faster and easier to kill Inias and call Rowena's bluff. But Dean doesn't think Cas would be game. "You're just gonna leave him like that if we don't buy what you're selling?"
"Hardly. Inias is protection. I assume that –" Rowena frowns at the gun "– isn't loaded with sweets."
Dean shows her some teeth. "Hardly."
"If you refuse my offer, I can find someone else. But I intend to leave here with my skin." Rowena glances at Inias again, giving him a smile that makes him snuffle and preen. "I'll release him once I'm free and clear."
"What makes you think I'd even be interested?" Dean asks.
"Please," Rowena says, rolling her eyes. "Spare me your shining armor. I know what you do for a living. I wouldn't be the worst thing you’ve ever made a deal with. Not by half."
"I'm a hunter."
"I was talking about your other line of work."
That one stings a little, but it isn't worth going to the mat. Dean's never taken a job that didn't smell right, and he's ducked a few that felt dirty once he was in them up to his elbows. Most PIs won't. His dad had worked every case that walked through the door. Money had been tight after Mary died, and John had figured integrity didn't pay the bills. He'd figured it didn't kill monsters, either.
"Listen, Winnie. You –"
"What do you want?" Cas asks. He drums his fingers on the back of Dean's chair.
"I believe you know the demon Crowley?" Rowena asks. Behind her, Inias whines. A sharp, animal smell is scratching at the air – a mix of wood-rot and wet fur. "He calls himself the King of the Crossroads."
"Yeah," Dean grumbles. "We – yeah. We know him. What's he to you?"
Rowena pauses behind a sip of tea. Then she says, "Crowley's my son. I want you to kill him."
Dean blinks at her. "He... what?"
"I know, I know. I scarcely look old enough to be a grown demon's mother." A smug smile tugs at Rowena's mouth. "What can I say? Good genes."
"Witchcraft doesn't hurt."
"It does have its perks."
"I don't understand," Cas says, moving to stand beside Dean's desk. The black eye Hester gave him has started to fade, but he still has a purplish knot on his jaw. Blood is smeared on his chin and lower lip. "Demon or not – why would you want your son dead?"
"Because he's a despicable little toad," Rowena says. Anger flushes her face, burning brightest in her cheeks. "Controlling the crossroads has made him insufferable. He's so full of himself his eyes ought to be brown. He – because of this."
She tips her head back and points to her necklace – three or four strips of leather braided tightly around her throat. Dean hadn't noticed it before; she's wearing it up high, and her hair hides the sides of her neck. It's cheap and ugly and rough. It doesn't fit with a dress that probably cost a couple grand.
Cas frowns. "Is that a binding?"
"A partial one, yes." Someone walks past the window – wet footsteps and a shadow that peeks above the café curtain. Rowena sighs into her tea. "I'm free to do as I please, unless His Highness needs me."
"And then – well, I can't refuse him, can I?" She huffs out a shrill, irritated noise. "If he summons me, I have to drop what I'm doing and hop to! If he asks me to cast a spell, I can't tell him to piss off!" Her hand shakes slightly as she brushes lint off her sleeve. "Three years now, he's had me under his thumb. It's been a nightmare."
Dean's cranky rib twinges. Wincing a little, he says, "Lemme guess... he's got it fixed so you can't ice him yourself."
"Yes," Rowena says tartly. Her cheeks redden again. "He – it shields him from direct harm."
Dean sighs and rubs his hand over his face. Witches have never been his favorite, and he's never met one that didn't tell lies out of both sides of their mouth. He has no idea if Rowena's sob story is true – even if it is, it isn't exactly breaking his heart. But leaving a ringer in Crowley's pocket is just asking for trouble.
He glances at Cas. "What d'you think?"
"I'm not sure." Cas studies Rowena for a few seconds. Then he walks around Dean's desk. Inias watches him warily, growling low in the back of his throat. It gets louder and more menacing the closer Cas moves. Cas holds up his hands and murmurs, "Inias, please," but Inias just bares his teeth. He shifts his weight like he's getting ready to pounce.
Rowena pats his arm. "It's all right, dear."
Inias looks at Rowena and barks out a short, frustrated noise. He bares his teeth again.
"Calce, Inias," Rowena says gently. "Calce."
Inias whines and edges back. Once he settles, Cas crouches beside Rowena's chair. The blood staining his mouth is almost gone. He brushes her hair to the side and carefully touches the necklace. Light flares from his fingertips; it's barely a spark compared to the kind of fireworks Dean's seen in the last couple of days, but it's enough to make Rowena shiver. Cas murmurs under his breath – something that sounds like a spell. He touches the necklace again. Then he shakes his head and stands.
"I can't remove it. It's keyed to Crowley specifically."
"So she's stuck with it until he kicks?"
"Or until his power is severely dampened."
"Dampened," Dean repeats slowly. He drums his fingers on his desk. "Devil's trap?"
Cas considers this for a moment. Then he shakes his head again and says, "Severely dampened. A devil's trap wouldn't be strong enough. We'd need a Key of Solomon."
"Great," Dean mutters. A Key of Solomon has to be carved into wood – preferably elder or palo santo – and it has to be exactly to scale. Otherwise, it's just an ugly picture of a scorpion. "Well, killing that ashy bastard was on my to-do list anyway."
Rowena smiles at him. "Is that so?"
Dean's rib twinges again. "Yeah, but it's pretty far down there. I mean, it's nearly at the bottom. If you want me to bump it up the line, you gotta put something on the table."
"What do you want?"
"That's not –" Dean cuts off, frowning. "I'm asking what you've got."
"I'm a witch, Winchester. I can get you anything – money, power, longevity, love." Rowena smooths a hand through her hair, readjusting it to cover the necklace. "If you kill Crowley, I'll cast one spell for you. Any spell. No questions, no conditions."
Dean gives her an eyebrow. "No conditions?"
"Save my own safety."
Dean nods at Cas. "There's two of us. Seems like there should be two spells."
"You're only killing one demon," Rowena counters. She drains her tea and sets the mug on Dean's desk. "Besides, I don't think Feathers needs me to give him eternal life."
"God already beat you to it," Cas says flatly.
Dean snorts. "Yeah, I think I'm gonna pass on the Fountain of Youth for right now. We'll call it a favor." He slides a pen and notepad across the desk. "Write your number down. I'll let you know when Crowley's out of the picture."
Rowena opens her purse and pulls out a business card. It's pearl-white with embossed, silver lettering – a single "R" above a Chicago phone number. She drops it on top of the notepad and says, "It's been a pleasure, Winchester," with zero sincerity.
As she stands, Dean asks, "What've you done for Crowley recently?"
Rowena barely hesitates. "Just yesterday, he had me make some hex bags. He wanted to hide a room from angelic sight."
"Anything before that?"
"Yes. About a month ago, he asked me to locate a celestial weapon. Some kind of stick."
Rowena shakes her head. "No. Tracking objects can be tricky, even for someone with my strength. It's here –"
"Here?" Cas cuts in. His voice is sharper than glass. "Here in Lawrence?"
"No. Here on earth. That's as close as I could get. Wherever this thing is, whoever has it – it's heavily warded. Very heavily warded." Rowena turns toward the door, adding, "I've never seen anything like it."
"Hey," Dean snaps, reaching for the gun. "Inias."
"Yes, yes. All right." Rowena lifts her hand, aiming her palm at Inias' chest. "Desiste." With her free hand, she reaches behind her and opens the door. She takes a quick step back. "Adlevo onus tuum."
Inias shivers from head to toe. His eyes roll up in his head and he collapses to the floor. Cas just watches him lie there for a few seconds. Then he pricks his finger with a thumbtack and paints an angel-banishing sigil on Dean's desk. It's lopsided and about the size of a grapefruit. The blood glints darkly in the yellow glare of Alastair's floor lamp.
Slowly, Inias leans up on his elbows. He blinks a few times. Then he coughs out a two-pack-a-day noise and mumbles, "Castiel?"
"Hello, brother," Cas says tonelessly. His finger has already healed; he pricks himself again and touches the sigil. "Goodbye." As Inias is blazing out, he looks over at Dean and asks, "Are you sure that was wise? Letting Rowena go?"
Dean shrugs. "Probably not. But we don't really have a way to hold her. And we've got enough on our plate without adding a babysitting gig." A barb of ozone hooks his nose. He rubs it and asks, "You didn't wanna talk to him?"
"No," Cas says, shaking his head. That doesn't make sense – at this rate, they need all the information they can get – but Cas continues before Dean can push it. "We shouldn't stay here. It isn't safe."
"Right, yeah. We can grab a motel. Just lemme throw some stuff into a bag."
Dean had forgotten about his rib, but it reminds him who's boss when he tries to stand. Pain flares in his side, so searing and sudden that he hunches over the desk and groans. It knocks the air out of him; he sucks in a few ragged breaths before opening his eyes. He clenches his hands into fists and thumps them on the desk.
Cas hand skims across the small of his back. "You're hurt."
Dean starts to say, "Yeah," but it jerks into a yelp as a sweep of grace pulses through him. It's hot and cold and bright; Dean shivers and sucks in a breath. A long wave of goose-pimples ripples down both his arms. Cas strokes his hand up Dean's back as it ebbs away. He palms the scar on Dean's shoulder and turns Dean around.
Dean kisses the corner of his mouth, right where all the blood had been earlier. "Yeah. Thanks."
Cas smiles. Then he flattens his other hand on Dean's chest and says, "I'm sorry."
Another sweep of grace, but this one hurts. Jesus Christ, it hurts. It feels like getting stabbed with a hundred icicles. The pain thrums through Dean's chest, constant and needle-sharp; he grates out Cas' name and claws at Cas' wrist. He tries to squirm away, but Cas pulls him closer and kisses his temple. His breath puffs against Dean's skin.
"I'm sorry," he says again.
It fades as quickly as it came, but it leaves Dean winded and weak. His legs feel watery, and he has to cough a few times before he can speak. "What – what the hell was that?"
"I carved a sigil into your ribs – something similar to my tattoo. It hides you from angelic sight."
"Mine too. I'll still hear your prayers, but you'll have to tell me where you are." Cas kisses his temple again. And again. "Come on. We really shouldn't stay here."
"Yeah, okay. Gimme ten minutes."
The Sleep-EZ is a narrow horseshoe of twelve rooms curved tightly around a shabby office and a tiny, kidney-shaped pool. It's crouched on the west side of US 59 – north of the turnpike, past the last stretch of highway still considered Second Street – and it's close enough to the river that a stale, boiled-water smell hangs over it in the summer. It was built in the seventies and it shows; the flat roof is scattered with white gravel and chipped rock-siding lurks underneath the windows. The parking lot is nearly empty when Dean pulls in. It's a little after eight; ships don't start passing in the night around here until sometime after ten.
He asks for a king. He usually puts motels on a dummy credit card so he can forget about the bill, but running that scam four miles from his office feels too close to home. Instead, he pays with one of the c-notes he lifted from Crowley. He needs the change; the pizza and beer waiting in the car ate the last of his twenties. He writes the name and address from his fake ID on the check-in card. He fills in the Impala's real license plate number, but he smudges the ink with his thumb as he hands it over.
Room five doesn't have much going for it aside from a short walk to the vending machines. Wood paneling covers three of the four walls from floor to ceiling, and it's discolored with age and warped where it's cut to frame the heating vents. Gold shag carpet seethes across the floor. If someone bothered to vacuum it, it might match the gold curtains and the gold and brown bedspread. Dean tosses his bags on a table that wobbles under the weight. Its speckled Formica top makes sticky sounds when the pizza box touches it.
Cas heads straight for the bed. He zaps his clothes off piece by piece on the way; by the time he gets there, he's down to his slacks and his white shirt. He grabs the remote and points it at the TV. After crackling for a second, it pops on to local news. Dean starts on a slice of pizza as he strips out of his damp, dirty suit. He's still chewing when he climbs into the shower. The tiles look a little dingy, and the gold-flecked door has a long, spidery crack. The water comes out of the shower-head fast and hot.
Dean walks back out wearing clean boxer-briefs and scrubbing his wet hair with a towel. Cas is still on the bed. He has Dean's bathroom kit in his lap and he's browsing the motel's handful of channels with a tired, irritated look on his face. He pauses on HBO long enough to blink at last Sunday's Game of Thrones. Then he flips back to the local news and lays the remote on the bed. He unzips Dean's bathroom kit and pokes at the stuff inside.
"You looking for something?" Dean asks.
"No," Cas says. He pulls his hand out of the kit and frowns at what he's holding – tweezers, nail clippers, a disposable razor, a stick of Old Spice deodorant. "I'm just curious. This vessel maintains itself; I've never given much thought to human grooming."
"You've never taken a shower?"
"I've never needed one."
Dean shakes his head. "Dude, try it sometime. You won't regret it."
"Maybe." Cas fiddles with the razor for a few seconds – releasing the cartridge, refitting it on the handle, releasing it, refitting it again. He barely glances up as he asks, "How was your meeting with the police?"
"Not good," Dean admits, grimacing. He grabs a beer and kills the neck in a couple of swallows. The six-pack never made it into the fridge; the bottle is sweaty from sitting out. "I know you said you're gonna take care of it, but –"
"Dean, I will."
"Hey, I believe you." Dean gives his hair a final scrub and lobs the towel toward the bathroom. "I'm just – I'm kinda running outta time here."
"What would you need done? Clearing you completely... what would it take?"
Dean pauses to work on his beer. Then he says, "Well, uh. We gotta get rid of the bodies. And all the paperwork. And you'd have to Windex some brains. Not just Henriksen's. All the cops at the scene, and the guys who tossed my office, and the judge that signed the warrant. The coroner, too."
"Disposing of the bodies isn't a problem."
"What about the other stuff?"
Cas gives the tweezers a few clicks. Then he drops them back into the kit and sighs. "Finding the documents would be easiest if I froze time while we searched, but altering existence is incredibly taxing. So is modifying memories on a large scale. I'd be weakened for several hours afterward, and I –" He sighs again. "I can't risk it."
"Yeah, I guess not. Not if your family's gonna keep dropping in."
It's the wrong thing to say; Cas' face slams shut faster than a hurricane door. He shifts on the bed, making the headboard snap against the wall. Dean opens his mouth. Closes it. Then he washes down his foot with a couple of pulls from his beer. A slow chill is seeping into the room, pushing in through the gap under the door. Dean walks over to the window unit and flips on the heater. After a clunk and a whine, it starts moving the stale cigarette smell around.
On his way over to the bed, Dean rescues the pizza box and snags a spare beer. The headboard smacks the wall again as he sits down across from Cas. The TV's volume is down low – low enough that it's just a dull, crawling buzz. It's still showing the local news; Dean works his way through two more slices of pizza while watching live coverage of a car chase in Topeka. Cas toys with the nail clippers – unfolding the tiny file, testing its point against the tip of his finger, running its rough edge along the pad of his thumb.
Eventually, Dean clears his throat and asks, "You okay?"
Cas just gives Dean half a shrug. He gathers up the stuff spread out on the bed and starts packing it into the kit. He pauses at the deodorant, turning it over to read the label on the back.
Dean tugs it out of his hand and tucks it away. "Hey. Talk to me."
"I – I don't know where to start."
"From the top." Dean nudges the pizza box out of his lap so he can roll on his side and face Cas. He pops a piece of crust into his mouth and wipes his greasy fingers on the bedspread. Chewing, he says, "You left my office 'cause your spidey-sense went off. Angels, right?"
"Hester and Inias?"
Cas shakes his head. "No. Different angels. They – Daniel and Adina."
"All right." Dean leans back enough to grab his beer. After a drink, he says, "Rough fight? You were gone a coupla hours."
"I was chasing them." Cas zips the kit closed and sets it on the nightstand. It jostles the boxy, old-school telephone, making it chirp softly. "They evaded me several times before I finally caught them."
Out in the parking lot, a horn honks three or four times – quick and impatient, like the driver is waiting for someone. Dean asks, "Why'd they run? I mean, when we bump into these guys, they're always gunning for you."
"They were hoping to find you." Cas tips his head back and sighs at the ceiling. "They thought holding you would force me to cooperate."
"Right, yeah." A hot, uncomfortable feeling squirms under Dean's ribs. "You kill 'em?"
Quietly, Cas says, "Only Daniel. I managed to disarm and corner Adina; I offered to return her to Heaven if she'd talk to me."
"What'd she tell you?"
"Nothing I didn't already suspect." Cas sighs again. He sounds tired – so fucking tired. "Heaven has followed Hell's lead by putting a bounty on the Staff. Glory and exaltation to any angel who finds it. And they don't care how it's found."
"Great," Dean mutters. A demon free-for-all was bad enough; having angels all over the place is going to turn things into a shitshow. "That why you didn't talk to Inias?"
"Yes. I didn't see the point. He would've been here on the same... directive."
Directive. Jesus Christ. Dean rubs his face and asks, "So... what was up with those two? I mean, no offense, but you weren't exactly shooting to kill out there." Cas bristles slightly; Dean reaches out and slides his hand down Cas' arm. "Were they – I don't know. Like Uriel? Friends of yours?"
Cas hesitates for a moment. Then he nods and says, "Yes. Hester and Inias – we were in the same garrison. We lived together and fought together." He looks away. "We sang together."
"You guys sing? Like – like what? Hymns?"
Cas almost smiles. "Not the hymns known on earth, but yes. The idea is the same. We praise God. We thank him for creation. For granting us his grace."
"Sounds like a blast." That makes Cas huff, so Dean strokes his wrist and the back of his hand. He says, "You miss it." It isn't a question.
"I – yes. Yes, I miss it."
That uncomfortable feeling is back. It's burning and thick and trying to claw its way into Dean's throat. He breathes through it and says, "Well, maybe this ain't all bad. If Heaven ain't asking about who or how or why, if you find it first, you'll get back into the clubhouse. And that – that's what you want, right?"
Cas hesitates again. "Yes. I – I should go back. If I –" He cuts off at looks at Dean. Really looks. After a long, terrible moment, he says, "You want me to stay." It isn't a question, either.
Denial is easiest – easiest and safest. Probably kindest. Dean's chest is aching, but he makes himself shrug and say, "I ain't a long-haul kinda guy. I just take what comes. We've had a fun coupla days. I figure we can swing a couple more before you head back upstairs."
Dean just waves him off. The knife is already in; talking about it won't make it hurt any less. He sets his beer on the nightstand and kicks the pizza box to the floor. He gives Cas a smile. Then he grabs the front of Cas' shirt and says, "C'mere."
He should keep it easy and playful, maybe let it get a little rough. He should catch Cas' jaw in his hand and dig his thumb in right at the hinge. He should nip Cas' lips a few times before pushing his tongue into Cas' mouth. But Cas breathes out a low noise as Dean leans in, and he skims his fingers across Dean's cheek. His eyes slide closed. He murmurs Dean's name, and Dean freezes, leaving them forehead to forehead and nose to nose.
Cas tips his head slightly, and their mouths brush, soft. He pulls Dean closer and threads his fingers into Dean's hair. Their mouths touch again. And again and again and again. Slow kisses that drag Dean under like a riptide. His blood rushes in his ears. Cas palms the side of Dean's neck and strokes his thumb under Dean's jaw. Dean turns into it, his lips bumping the heel of Cas' hand, the inside of Cas' wrist. He tugs at Cas' shirt. A beat later they're naked. Dean huffs out a laugh against Cas' chin.
He tips Cas back into the pillows and shifts on top of him. His dick catches in the crease of Cas' hip, and he rubs it there, moaning as heat wraps around his spine. He slides his hands under Cas' back. The bedspread is sandpaper-rough against his knuckles and Cas' skin is warm against his palms. He noses at Cas' jaw, at the side of Cas' neck, but when he finds Cas' throat he doesn't bite like he should. He kisses a mark there, just lips and tongue. He knows it won't last, but it looks good there in the few seconds before it fades.
Dean kisses another mark into the curve of Cas' shoulder, and another at the flare of Cas' collarbone. He follows the sweep of it with his mouth – down, down, down. Cas arches up, hooking his leg around Dean's hip. He murmurs Dean's name again. Dean kisses Cas' nipple, then sucks it into his mouth. He works at it until it peaks under his tongue, until Cas grabs at the bedspread and twists his fingers in Dean's hair. His dick is digging into Dean's belly, hard and damp at the tip. Dean wraps his hand around it. Strokes Cas slow.
He should push his fingers into Cas' mouth and tell him to make them wet. He should open Cas up quick. Get in, get off. Fist Cas' dick as he thrusts. Instead, he brings his hands down to Cas' hips and holds them there. He thumbs Cas' skin. The mark he left on Cas' throat is gone, but a slow flush is burning in his cheeks and jaw. His eyes are dark. He looks – fuck.
"Turn over," Dean says.
Cas has a handful of freckles on his back – one low on his nape, one at the top of his shoulder, two more on his shoulder blade, another at the dip of his spine. Dean touches them with his fingers, with his mouth. He kisses another mark at the back of Cas' neck, rubbing himself against the swell of Cas' ass as he sucks at Cas' skin, then nosing at the red-bright bruise as it fades. Cas curves into it, turning his face into the pillows and gasping out a noise. His foot bumps Dean's shin, toes curling. Dean runs his hands down Cas' sides. Palms the span of Cas' ribs. Feels Cas breathe as he mouths his way down, down, down.
He pauses at Cas' tailbone, laying a slow kiss there. Then another, and another. He nips at Cas' skin and skims his fingers into Cas' cleft. Cas stills. He leans up on his elbows and looks at Dean over his shoulder.
"Let me," Dean says quietly. He shouldn't – it's too close, too intimate – but it's been a long time since he's wanted to. Since he's even had the chance. Bar hook-ups aren't worth the risk. "Let me."
"Dean," Cas says again. He drops his head. Rolls his hips a little, like he's rubbing himself against the bed. "You – yes."
Dean teases Cas with his fingers again. Then he spreads Cas open and leans in. He gives Cas the flat of his tongue – long strokes that start low and slick up over his hole. The first pass makes Cas shiver; the second makes him clutch at the bedspread. On the third, Cas chokes out a moan. It's incendiary – desperate and raw, torn out of his throat. He arches back, pushing himself against Dean's mouth. Dean slides his hands down Cas' thighs and nudges, urging Cas to bend his knees and open himself up.
The headboard thunks against the wall. Dean licks Cas slow and easy, dragging his tongue up and up until everything is wet, until spit is running down his chin. Heat pools deep in his gut. The bedspread feels like a rasp, but Dean grinds against it anyway, too wound up to care. He rolls his hips. Shudders. Pants out thin, desperate noises against Cas' skin.
Cas reaches back, his fingers slipping through Dean's hair. He's loosened up a little, so Dean gives him the tip of his tongue, fucking it in and in and in. He works his arms under Cas' thighs, sliding one hand up Cas' side and wrapping the other around Cas' dick. Cas moans again – a shapeless thing that curls up at the end like it started out as Dean's name. He jerks his hips, rocking between Dean's mouth and Dean's fist.
It only takes a few strokes. The lamp on the nightstand flickers. The window rattles with something that isn't the wind. Cas' dick pulses in Dean's hand, and then he's shaking, coming. He buries his face in the pillow and heaves out a breath. The lamp flickers again, guttering in and out with a quiet buzz.
Dean leans up and looks. Cas' skin is stubble-pink, and his hole – fuck. Dean rubs his thumb over it, barely dipping inside. He wants in there – badly – but his lube is in his bag, and he's already pretty close. Slowly, he crawls up Cas' body. He presses a kiss to the back of Cas' neck, then hides another one behind Cas' ear. Then he slicks his dick with Cas' come and tucks himself between Cas' thighs.
The first thrust rips a moan out of him. Arousal jolts through him like lightning, so fast and hot and sharp that it leaves him feeling sucker-punched. He ends up hunched over Cas' back, gasping, his elbows digging into Cas' sides and his hands fisted in the ugly bedspread. Cas is gorgeous underneath him, his hair sweat-damp at the back of his neck and his spine a long curve. Dean thrusts again and again and again, everything tight and hot, all slow pressure and come-slick skin.
He drops his forehead to the warm stretch between Cas' shoulder blades. Looks down and watches himself fuck Cas' thighs. His legs shake. He breathes out against Cas' skin. He hadn't lied when he told Cas he takes what comes – that's pretty much been the story of his life. When Cas goes back to Heaven, he'll deal with it. He'll head out to the bar and have a drink. He'll pick someone up and take them back to a shit motel. But it won't be like this. It won't feel like something's arcing inside his chest, like the electric-bright spark from a live wire.
Cas shifts underneath him, grinding down against the bed. A soft noise catches in his throat. Dean kisses the back of his neck and asks, "You hard again?" It should be impossible – would be if Cas was human.
Cas nods into the pillow. "Yes. I – Dean."
Leaning back, Dean urges Cas to sit up on his knees. He shuffles them closer to the wall – close enough for Cas to plant his hands on the headboard. Dean spoons himself against Cas' back and works his dick under Cas' ass. Back between his perfect thighs. The angle is different, not quite as tight, but Dean's been dancing on the edge for what feels like hours. He kisses the curve of Cas' shoulder. He gets his hand around Cas' dick and rolls his hips.
The lamp's lightbulb shatters, plunging them into near darkness. The window rattles again, and Cas comes with a shudder and a moan. He grips the headboard so hard that the tired wood cracks. He pants, "Dean, Dean," in a voice like thunder and the tension in Dean's gut finally snaps. He digs his nails into Cas' hip. Comes hard and fast all over Cas' thighs.
He tucks his sweaty face against Cas' shoulder and closes his eyes. His legs are still shaking. Cas is the only thing holding him up.