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lord protector of jon snow's vale ([personal profile] xylodemon) wrote2016-06-25 11:15 am

spn fic: A Reasonable Amount of Trouble [Thursday]

A Reasonable Amount of Trouble


Thursday

Morning happens a little at a time. A door slams. Tires squeal in the parking lot. Dean's phone chimes to tell him it's eight o'clock. Dean grunts but doesn't open his eyes. He doesn't want to move. He swallows thickly. His throat is dry from breathing in the heater all night. He reaches over and slaps at his phone until he finds the snooze button.

What feels like ten seconds later, Dean's phone chimes again. A train horn blares. The plumbing hums behind the walls – someone starting their shower. Dean cracks one eye, just enough to see Cas sitting beside him on the bed. He's fully dressed except for his shoes. The TV is on, the volume down low. A finger of grayish light is wiggling through the gap in the curtains.

Dean hits the snooze button. He brings the phone with him as he rolls over and buries his face in the pillow. It's rough against his cheek, and it reeks of industrial-strength bleach. He wrinkles his nose but settles. Quietly, Cas says, "Dean." He brushes his hand through Dean's hair. Dean huffs out a noise and shifts closer. Cas is so fucking warm.

Just as Dean starts to drift off, his phone chimes again. Groaning, he gropes around in the sheets until he finds it. He kills the alarm and closes his eyes. Cas says, "Dean," again and slides his hand down to the side of Dean's neck. He thumbs Dean's pulse. Then something icy and bright bursts through Dean's chest – something that feels like getting splashed with cold water from the inside.

Dean jerks upright and coughs out, "Jesus Christ. You – not cool, Cas."

"Sorry," Cas says. He doesn't look sorry at all. A smile is tugging at his mouth. "I didn't want to leave while you were sleeping."

"Leave?" Dean asks, rubbing his face. His hand smells as bleachy as the pillow. "Where are you going?"

"Brazil."

"You – what?"

"You gave me the idea." Cas stands and walks over to his shoes. He looks at them; a split-second later, they're on his feet. He turns back to Dean and explains, "Yesterday, you said Uriel might've hidden the Staff before I caught him at that warehouse."

Dean blinks at him. "Okay, yeah. But why Brazil?"

"Uriel rarely came to earth. He disliked the noise and the smell and the –"

"The people?"

"Yes," Cas admits. "Uriel did find humans obnoxious and... primitive." Pausing, he glances at the TV. It winks out with a buzz. "I assumed he hid it at the warehouse because it was expedient. If he took it somewhere else, he would've chosen a location familiar to him. The Jardim Botânico is the only place on earth he visited with any frequency."

"Yeah, all right." It isn't much, but the way things are going, they can't afford to look a gift lead in the mouth. Even if it is kind of thin. Yawning, Dean gets up and walks around the bed. He says, "Sounds good."

Cas asks, "What about you?"

"Ellsworth's meatsuit crashed in Wichita when he wasn't on the road. I'm gonna head down there and poke around a little."

"Would you like me to fly you there?"

Dean shakes his head. "No." It's tempting – catching the Angel Express would save him a three-hour drive – but then he'd be stuck there until Cas finished communing with nature. Scanning the matrix. Whatever. Dean isn't above stealing a car to get back, but that's too big of a risk when Henriksen's so far up his ass. "I'm good."

"I may be gone a few hours," Cas says. He palms Dean's hip, pulling him close. "Be careful."

"'Course," Dean says, leaning in. His morning-breath is at least a misdemeanor – his tongue feels like it needs a shave – so he kisses Cas' jaw instead of his mouth. "Always am."

Cas narrows his eyes. "Pray if you need me."

"Yeah."

Cas zaps out with a burst of wind that flaps at the curtains. Outside, the sky is still a heavy, steely gray. Dean grabs his kit off the nightstand and shuffles into the bathroom. He eyeballs the shower for a second. He doesn't need one – Cas cleaned them up last night – but he could use it. His thighs ache. It's a good ache, but not something he wants to deal with all day. But he doesn't have time. Not if he's going to make it to Wichita by noon.

He settles for brushing his teeth and slapping some water on his face. He runs his wet hands through his hair until it looks like he might've combed it. He leaves his kit on the sink and walks over to his bags. He throws on jeans, an old Zep tee, and a dark red shirt – the sum total of his clean clothes. He brought a few other things, but they all need to be washed. He'll have to hit the laundromat at some point tonight.

He tucks his gun in his jeans and slips the demon shank into its sheath. After trying all his pockets, he slides his angel blade into his sleeve. It's a little awkward – it keeps catching in the fabric and banging the crease of his elbow – but it's the best he can do. He heads outside. The parking lot is nearly empty again; last night's cheaters and tourists have already crawled back to their real lives.

A light mist is veiling the Impala's windshield. Water is dripping off its wing-mirror, plinking into a puddle that's filmed with oil. The rain seems to be holding steady at a drizzle, so Dean walks over to the KwikMart that shares the Sleep-EZ's parking lot. As he's crossing the tarmac, he fires up Waze on his phone and checks the southbound traffic on I-70. It isn't bad. It isn't great, either.

Sam calls just as Dean reaches the KwikMart's door. Dean almost ignores it; calling him back on the road would kill some of those three hours. But Sam might have something – he never calls this early just for shits and giggles. Dean puts the phone to his ear and says, "Morning, Sammy."

"Good morning," Sam says brightly. "Where were you last night?"

That doesn't sound promising. Dean grumbles, "Christ. You asking 'cause you missed me, or 'cause you guys found another freaky body?"

Sam laughs. "No, no body. I called you last night to see how it went with Henriksen, but you didn't pick up."

"Yeah. Sorry about that." Drizzle is catching in Dean's hair. He ducks under the rusty, corrugated awning drooping over the propane cage. "I turned it off when I got to the motel."

"Motel? You –" Sam hesitates like someone is too close to his desk. After a beat or two, he asks, "Did something happen?"

"Just – you know. Staff shit."

"Start with Henriksen. How bad was it?"

"Bad enough."

"Yeah, I figured," Sam says. "Bobby's had his door closed all morning, and he didn't pick up when I called." Dean hears slurping – Sam drinking his coffee – then, "He did text me a picture of his middle finger."

Dean snorts. "Cranky old bastard. Henriksen's probably riding him like a carnival gag." A woman walks by with a can of Red Bull in each hand and an umbrella tucked under her arm. Once she's gone, Dean says, "He threatened me with obstruction. I told him to shove it."

"And after that?"

"After that, I went back to my place. I – some angels tried to roll me."

"Dean," Sam says. He heaves out a sigh. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah. Cas showed up, and he sent 'em packing." Dean toes at the pile of wet cigarette butts next to his feet. "He – my place ain't safe anymore, so we, uh. We grabbed a motel."

"You –" Sam cuts off with a noise. One of the precinct's phones rings to fill the pause. Sam asks, "Together?"

"Uh-huh."

"You – he, um." Sam sighs again. Louder. "Dean, he's an angel."

An old truck rumbles into the parking spot facing the propane cage. Dean turns away from the roar and the exhaust, saying, "Yeah, I noticed."

"And you – isn't he going home once this Staff stuff is all wrapped up?"

Dean grits his teeth a little. "He is. I'm just making hay while the sun shines."

"Dean –"

"Look, Sammy, I got a lot on my docket today. If you just called to give me a hard time, I'm –"

"Actually, I called for a reason," Sam says. He pauses to slurp more coffee in Dean's ear. "Ellsworth's sister finally got back to us."

"Yeah? What'd she say?"

"That she hasn't seen him in years."

Dean huffs. "You believe that?"

"Jody does, yeah." A phone rings on Sam's end again. Dean hears a voice that sounds like Walker. It rises and falls – he must be walking past Sam's desk. Sam says, "The sister married a friend of his right out of high school. About ten years in, it went sour. Ellsworth sided with his buddy when they split. She's only seen him three or four times since."

"Huh." The dog in the truck's front seat starts to bark. Dean plugs his other ear and asks, "Anything on the buddy?"

"Dead end," Sam says. "He team-drove with Ellsworth for a few years after the divorce, but then he got diabetes and KDOT yanked his commercial license. He dropped off the grid after that. The sister figures he's in Vegas; his gambling problem was one of the reasons she gave him the boot."

"Fuck." Dean tips his head back against the propane tank and sighs. Skipping a stop in Hutchinson saves him an hour or two, but he's getting tired of running into brick walls. "Anything on Wichita? I was just about to head down there."

"That's a dead end, too." Sam pauses again. Dean hears papers shuffle on that end of the line. "It's a garage apartment. Ellsworth used it as a flop when he wasn't on the road. He shared it with a pair of roughnecks from a rig down in the Gulf, but they had their schedules worked out so they weren't there at the same time." He gives Dean a second to swallow all of that. Then he says, "Look. I got to get back to work. If I hear anything else, I'll –"

"Yeah, I know. Thanks, Sammy."

Dean hangs up and pockets his phone. He shivers as the wind toys with his collar. The rain has picked up a little in the last few minutes; it's hitting the KwikMart's graffiti-scratched windows at a slant. The murky puddle under the propane cage is starting to ebb toward his feet. He edges away from it and scrubs a hand through his damp hair. He hates not having any leads. He hates not having a next move.

He briefly considers praying to Cas and hitching a ride back to Brazil. If nothing else, it would give him something to do for the next few hours. But Cas is busy with angel stuff; Dean would probably just get in his way. He chews on it for a couple more minutes. Then he decides to drive over to his office and get Kevin packed up. Salted windows will only keep Crowley out so long, and the angels seem to be playing for keeps. The Sleep-EZ has free Wifi. If Kevin needs a quiet place to write, Dean will get him a room.

Coffee first. A caffeine headache is already budding behind his eyes. The KwikMart is stuffy inside, like the crappy weather has kicked the heater into overdrive. The smell of cheap hotdogs and commercial-grade floor cleaner is louder than the fluorescent glare from the lights. He pours himself an extra-large medium roast and grabs a packet of powdered mini-donuts. He hesitates at the rack of burn phones near the register, standing there long enough that the clerk starts giving him the eye. He eventually settles on what's probably the last flip-phone in existence. It's just forty bucks, and he'll only lose about ten minutes of his life teaching Cas how to use it.

"Going on the lam?"

Dean jumps so far out of his skin that he jostles his cup and slops hot coffee over his hand. Hissing under his breath, he shakes it and wipes it on his jeans. Then he turns around before she gets the chance to stick a gun in his back. She's wearing brown today – a dark coat over a darker wrap-around dress. Her hair is tied up with a beige and brown scarf. She looks exhausted. The shadows under her eyes are the color of an old bruise.

"Bela," he says sourly. He takes a pointed glance around the KwikMart. A sign advertising three-for-five taquitos is hanging over her head, and the magazine stand behind her is stocked with softcore porn. "Man, you weren't kidding about slumming it."

"Places like this really are more your speed." She gives him elevator eyes that stop at every floor twice. "I'm surprised to find you out of your coffin this early."

"That's cute," Dean says, rolling his eyes. "What d'you want?"

"Enoch wants to see you."

Dean shakes his head. "Pass." He might be desperate for leads, but Enoch's just a nut – a nut who wants him dead. "He threatened to kill me yesterday."

"He admits he was... hasty the last time you spoke. But he has some information he's willing to share."

"What kind of information?"

"He didn't say." She brushes a stray hair away from her face. "Only that you'd find it useful."

Dean's caffeine headache is starting to put its back into it. He mutters, "Whatever," and turns toward the register. "Gimme his room number. Maybe I'll swing by later."

"I'll take you there."

Dean stares at her. "What makes you think I'd get in a car with you? What makes you think I'd get in a Prius?"

Bela sighs sharply and pulls a hunk of crystal out of her pocket. It fills her entire palm. It doesn't look like much at first, just the same kind of hippie hoo-ha Linda sells in the front of her shop. Then Dean notices that it's pulsing with pale, white light. Before he can take a step back, Bela grabs his arm. She barks out a word – something choppy and harsh. Dean feels a familiar tug under his ribs, and then everything goes black.

+

It's jerkier than flying with Cas – jerky enough that Dean's stomach gives a lurch. He stumbles around like a drunk when his feet hit the ground. His shin bangs into something he can't see. Once his vision comes back, he finds himself standing in a fancy hotel suite. It's the Oread; the windows are set into a naked wall made from ugly, orange-yellow stone. The other walls are the same creamy white as the plush carpet. Dean shakes himself a little. Then he turns in a slow circle so he can get his bearings and sneer at the expensive, art deco furniture.

Bela looks at him curiously. "You've done that before."

"Yeah," Dean says, glancing down at himself. His hands are empty; he must've dropped everything when the lights went out. "Once or twice."

"He said you'd been chumming around with an angel, but I – I didn't believe him."

"Yeah, well. I'm just full of surprises." Dean fumbles his blade out of his sleeve. "Where is he?"

"I'm here, I'm here," Enoch says, walking in from the next room. He's still in yesterday's frumpy cardigan and dirty khakis. His hair is still a rat's nest. At least he wiped the strawberries off his mouth. He frowns at Dean's blade and holds up his hands. "That won't be necessary, Dean. I just want to talk."

Dean just tightens his grip. "All right. Talk."

Enoch smiles at Bela and says, "That'll be all, dear." Bela barely hesitates. Then she turns for the door without a word. Her heels clack against the hardwood cut-away, sharper than gunshots. Once she's gone, Enoch gestures at the boxy, lime-green sofa. He asks Dean, "Care for a drink?"

Dean glances at the decanter on the coffee table. A crystal almost identical to Bela's is waiting beside it, glowing softly. Dean could use a belt – he doesn't give a shit that it's just after nine – but he wouldn't put it past Enoch to try and dose him with something. Sitting, he says, "No thanks. I'm good." He points at the door with his blade. "What've you got on her?"

"Dear, sweet Bela," Enoch says. He sits in one of the overstuffed chairs across from the sofa and sighs sadly. "I'm not blackmailing her, if that's what you're asking. She works for me because I can help her. Her soul is in danger."

It hits Dean all at once. "She made a deal. She made a deal, and she – her bill's coming due."

"Soon. If you listen closely –" Enoch cocks his head to the side "– you can almost hear the hellhounds licking their chops."

Dean doesn't know how old Bela is, but he figures she's still in her twenties. If her ten years are winding down, she must've been young – just a teenager. "What'd she want?"

"One of the old favorites, I'm afraid."

"Money?"

"Indeed," Enoch says, clucking his tongue. "She stood to inherit a great deal if her parents would just get out of the way. Unfortunately for her, they were hale and hearty, so –" He spreads his hands. "She asked a demon to help them shuffle their mortal coils. Now that the bomb is ticking, she regrets being so... overeager."

"And you – you can junk her contract? Keep her outta the hotbox?"

"I have a trick or two up my sleeve." Enoch reaches for the decanter. "Are you sure I can't tempt you? It's five o'clock somewhere."

Dean shakes his head. "No thanks."

Enoch shrugs again and slops about three fingers of scotch into a tumbler. He swirls it around a little before saying, "Enough about Bela. I brought you here to discuss the Staff. What do you know about it?"

"I know what it is," Dean says carefully. "I know what it can do. I know a whole lotta assholes are looking for it."

"Demons, you mean."

"And angels."

"Angels," Enoch says, his mouth twisting. "Vexing creatures, aren't they?"

It's a stab in the dark, but Dean's got nothing to lose. He gives Enoch and eyebrow and says, "You oughta know."

Enoch barks out a surprised laugh. Then he wags a finger and Dean and says, "Clever. You're very clever. But I suppose that's why you're a detective." He pauses to throw back some scotch. "What gave me away?"

"That little Portkey you whipped up," Dean says, nodding at the crystal. "And you sent Bela to fetch me. I figure you're having trouble spying on me with your mojo."

"I am," Enoch admits. He taps his thumb against the rim of his tumbler. "I lost sight of you sometime last night. Hex bag?"

"Something like that."

"Something like Castiel, you mean." When Dean doesn't bother denying it, Enoch asks, "What's your interest in the Staff?"

Dean shrugs. "I'm just trying to keep my head attached to my neck."

"Really. You're not at all interested in helping your savior get home?" Enoch leans back in his chair and gives Dean a smug smile. "Yes, I know all about that. I confess, Castiel is the real reason I brought you here. I want to know how deeply he's entangled you."

"It ain't like that," Dean says. His caffeine headache is beating like a drum. "Cas wanted to keep me out of it. Crowley dragged me in when he tried to kill me."

Enoch huffs out an irritated noise. "Demons. Always going in like a lion when they should act like a lamb." He helps himself to the rest of his scotch. "I sent Crowley to suss you out because I thought a little fear might make you more cooperative. But he overplayed his hand. And you – well. I forgot that you've dealt with demons before."

"Occupational hazard," Dean mutters. He leans forward, laying the angel blade across his knees. "You know, I don't get you two working together on this. I mean, when it's all over, who gets the Staff?"

"We plan to split it."

Dean stares at him. "You're gonna – you can do that?"

"Of course," Enoch says, nodding. "Its strength diminishes with each division, but half is still nothing to sneeze at. You could split it... oh, ten or fifteen times before its power becomes a party trick."

"And then what?" Dean asks. "Hell uses their half to make trouble, and Heaven comes down to save our sorry asses? Heaven uses their half to scare us whenever they think we're outta line?"

Enoch smiles like a knife. "Who said anything about Heaven?"

"You – you want it for yourself," Dean says slowly. Fuck. He should've known. "Why?"

"Because one day, all of this will end," Enoch says. He gestures in a way that's bigger than the inside of his suite. "Lucifer will rise, and Heaven and Hell will fight a mighty battle on earth. Heaven believes they'll win, but I was God's scribe. I know exactly how much of his word was pulled out of his ass." He snorts out a laugh. "Let them fight. With the Staff in my pocket, I'll survive either way."

Dean just breathes for a second. This is so far above his pay-grade that his head is starting to spin. His shin hurts. The drumbeat behind his eyes is getting stronger. He rubs his hand over his face and sits up straight.

He says, "Well, you're wasting your time with me. I don't know where it is."

"But you know where Castiel is."

"I ain't seen him since last night."

Enoch gives Dean a slow, thoughtful once-over. Then a dirty leer crawls across his face. "This morning, I think. I can smell him all over you." He rolls his tumbler between his hands. "He's a curious thing, our Castiel. Been enamored with humanity since the beginning. I don't see the romance, myself. You guys tell fantastic stories, but you're boorish and bad-tempered. Smelly. Limited." He looks at Dean pointedly. "Stupid."

"That so?"

"You've spent your whole life chasing after things that could kill you in the blink of an eye. If that's not stupid... what would you call it?"

Dean puts a shrug in his shoulder. "Someone's gotta do it."

"Indeed," Enoch says, sighing. "You stop at a diner for a bite to eat. But you overhear something strange. So you have to drive across town to check it out. And you have to rush in without knowing what you're up against." He shakes his head sadly. "And when you end up surrounded, you set the building on fire in your haste to save your sorry skin."

Dean hefts his blade. "Angel or not, you keep talking like that and I'm gonna ram this through your throat."

But Enoch just continues, "And then comes Castiel. He's so close to what he's been seeking, but he sees the fire. He hears one of his stupid humans screaming in pain. So he abandons his task – a task he believes he was given by God. He rescues you from certain death, but it costs him everything."

"I didn't ask him to. I never –"

"Then some children go missing. And you have to go investigate. You have to chase that rawhead into a stinking, moldy basement. You manage to slay the dragon, but you electrocute yourself. And when your heart gives out, Castiel flies to your side and heals you. He saves you from your own stupidity again."

"Listen, I –"

"And now – now he's back. And he's wrapped himself around you like a vine. And you have to help him, because you feel like you owe him your life."

"I'm telling you," Dean snaps. There's a knot in his throat the size of a fist. "It ain't like that."

"But it is," Enoch insists. "When rumors put the Staff in Lawrence, he came to you because you're you. And you – well. You let yourself get sucked into this Easter egg hunt because he's him." He gives Dean a smile that's full of teeth. "Drama, intrigue, and romance. I couldn't have written it better myself."

Dean hefts his blade again. Before he can do anything, something slams him back into the couch. Grunting, he tries to move, but he's frozen solid from the neck down. Enoch laughs. He pours himself another finger of scotch and knocks it back in one swallow. Then he stands and walks around the coffee table. He pats Dean on the head like he's petting a dog.

Cas. Cas, I'm in trouble.

"I considered killing you," Enoch says quietly. "But that'll just send Castiel into a rage. If he's angry – truly angry – he might destroy the Staff to spite me, even if it means he never gets back into Heaven." He fists his hand in Dean's hair and yanks Dean's head back, forcing Dean to look him in the eye. "Holding you hostage might convince him to cooperate, but I think... I think it would be easier just to get you on my side."

Pain explodes in Dean's chest, sharp and furious and bright. Endless. It sears through every part of him, slicing down into his stomach and stabbing up into his throat. He chokes out a thick, wet nose. Blood fills his mouth. He can't breathe; tears well in his eyes as an invisible hand squeezes the air out of his lungs.

Cas. Cas, please.

His scar throbs. Everything goes black.

+

"... if you've harmed him in any way, I'll –"

"Relax, Feathers. I only stabilized his wounds. Then I summoned you – which was no easy task, I might add. Not the way you're warded." A huff. "Who are you hiding from, then? The Lord himself?"

"No. Just everyone else."

Dean groans. He can't open his eyes. Everything hurts; he feels like he's been hit by a truck.

A hand touches his face. A voice – no, Cas – Cas says, "Dean, keep still. You're badly injured."

A slow sweep of grace courses through Dean's body. The heat and chill and light feel muted, like Cas is being cautious. Like he's trying to be gentle. It stretches on so long and sweet that Dean starts to shake, overwhelmed by the way it sparks and slides under his skin. From having so much of Cas so close. He turns into Cas' palm and whines out a noise. Cas shushes him, brushing his other hand through Dean's hair.

When Cas finally eases away, Dean tries opening his eyes again. The light in the room is blinding. It takes him a second to figure out where he is – the Oread. Enoch's suite. He's lying on the couch.

He takes a few deep breaths. Before he can try sitting up, Rowena leans over him. She brings a cloud of lilac perfume with her; it smells cold, like flowers left in a mausoleum. She lays a slim hand on Dean's forehead and hums softly. It almost sounds like words – something that could be a spell.

Cas bats her away. "He's fine."

"Just checking your work."

"My work is fine. He's fine."

"Hey," Dean gripes. He has to drag his voice up from the bottom of a well. "Stop talking about me like I ain't here."

"I'm sorry," Cas says quietly. His mouth softens. "Can you move?"

"Yeah, I think so." Dean grips the back of the couch and levers himself up. He runs his tongue over his teeth. Grimacing, he asks, "Why does my mouth taste like an old shoe?"

"That'd be the potion I gave you," Rowena says, pulling her hair over her shoulders. She's wearing purple today – a shade too livid and bright for the dullness of the suite. "I dosed you to stop your internal bleeding. I didn't have my supplies, so I had to work with scraps from around the room."

Dean bristles a little – he hates witchcraft – but he makes himself say, "Thanks." He grabs the scotch off the coffee table and helps himself to a shot straight from the decanter. It goes down as smooth as silk, but it doesn't wash the grit off his tongue. "What happened?"

"You were beaten," Cas says.

"No, that's – I remember that." The air smells burnt, like magic and old smoke. He looks at Rowena and asks, "Why are you here?"

It comes out accusatory, but Rowena barely rolls her eyes. She explains, "Crowley summoned me early this morning. He wanted me to look in on Enoch. I overheard him talking with that woman what's been running errands for him – Bela, I believe? The way he spoke... I thought he might try something like this." She crosses her arms. "We have a deal, Winchester. I won't have you dying before you hold up your end."

"And you just –" Dean waves his hand. "You just busted in like the cops?"

Rowena shrugs. "The ward on the door was simple enough. A novice could've opened it."

Dean treats himself to another shot. It goes down even lighter and smoother than the first. "How'd you get rid of him?"

Rowena points at the floor. A scorched patch of carpet is edging under one side of the coffee table. It almost looks like a pair of sooty feet. She says, "I threw holy oil on him and started conjuring a fire. Seemed the quickest way to get rid of an angel." She shrugs again. "He certainly flapped off in a hurry."

Cas splits an odd look between Rowena and the singed carpet. Then he sits down beside Dean and draws him into a hug. He smells good – ozone and fresh-cut grass. He huffs out a noise against Dean's jaw.

"You need to be more careful."

"Yeah, I'm starting to get that."

Cas huffs again. "I heard you praying. I could feel you, but I couldn't find you."

"Sorry." Dean knows Rowena's watching them, but he – he doesn't care. He palms the side of Cas' neck. "I forgot you can't see me anymore."

Rowena clears her throat. "Well. Now that you lads are sorted, I'd best be off. I wouldn't want Crowley to catch me slumming."

She grabs a long, black shawl off the back of the chair. After shaking it out, she swirls it around her shoulders. Murmuring under her breath, she drags her hands over her hair and face. Her hair fades to a silvery-white, and her face ages about twenty years, lines forming around her mouth and at the corners of her eyes. The spell leaves an aftertaste in the air – something bitter and earthy and dark.

As soon as she's gone, Cas pulls back to look at Dean's face. Frowning, he asks, "Enoch did this to you?"

"Yeah," Dean says, nodding. He sets the decanter on the table so he doesn't buy himself another shot.

"And he – Rowena believes he's an angel?"

"He is."

"Are you sure?"

Slowly, Dean says, "Yeah, I'm sure. He knocked me around with his mojo." He squeezes Cas' knee. "Why? What's wrong?"

Cas' frown deepens. "Dean, I know every angel in Heaven. None are named Enoch."

"He – wait, wait. He said – fuck." Dean snaps his fingers a few times. "He said he was God's scribe."

"No," Cas says. His voice is almost a whisper. "No. That's not possible."

Dean's legs are achy and restless, and post-healing exhausting is starting to tug him down. He stands to get his blood moving again. "He talked about writing. He said he'd seen God's word – whatever that means."

"If Enoch is God's scribe, then his true name is Metatron." Cas leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Lightning flashes through the window behind him. Rain is running down the pane in thin streams. "He's been missing for millennia. Why would he return for the Staff now?"

"He said he wants it for himself."

"That doesn't make sense," Cas insists. A stubborn crease gathers on his forehead. "His place at God's feet was a cherished one. He would be welcomed back in Heaven without question."

"No. I mean, he wants it for himself," Dean clarifies. "He said Heaven and Hell were gearing up for some kind of fight. He wants the Staff as insurance in case Heaven loses. He figures it will help him keep his head above water." When Cas doesn't say anything, Dean presses, "Is that true? Is there some kinda Revelations shit coming down the pike?"

Cas is silent for a long moment. Then, quietly, he says, "There is an apocalypse prophecy, but it – it's centuries away from being fulfilled. And it's unlikely it would unfold the way it's recorded in the Bible."

That's a deeper, darker rabbit-hole than Dean can handle right now. He asks, "Any luck in Brazil?"

"No. What about you?"

"Zilch."

Cas sighs. "I'd hoped you'd find something. Ellsworth is the last solid lead I've had since Pontiac."

"Pontiac," Dean mutters. Something – fuck. He doesn't know. Just something. It's nagging at him like meat between his teeth. "You went to Pontiac chasing a rumor, right?"

"Yes."

"And a demon told you where the Staff was stashed?"

"Yes." Cas gives Dean a curious look. "What –"

Dean waves him off. "The demon. You – tell me about the demon."

After a short pause, Cas says, "The vessel was a young woman, maybe twenty years-old. She was recently possessed – so recent that she's suffered a minimal amount of harm. I intended to exorcise her and heal her when I finished questioning the demon."

"But...?"

"She was rescued," Cas says. Another flash of lightning arcs across the sky. "I'd taken her to a motel. Seven demons swarmed the room. I smote six, but the other managed to break the devil's trap. She –"

"She smoked out," Dean finishes. Something doesn't feel right; demons don't usually play team sports. "The girl – what'd you do with the girl?"

Cas pauses again. Then he says, "I healed her and wiped her memory. After that, I returned her to her place of employment. She served food at a local restaurant."

"It was a diner," Dean says. His pulse is hammering under his skin. "One of those boxcar jobs. It was right off the highway."

"Yes."

It clicks into place all at once. Clicks like a gun going off.

Dean snarls, "Fuck," and clenches his fists. "Fuck." He kicks the coffee table; it tips sideways and crashes to the floor. The tumblers shatter. The crystal wobbles in a circle. The decanter rolls into the chair, glugging scotch onto the carpet. "God fucking damn it!"

"Dean," Cas says quietly. He touches Dean's shoulder, right over the scar. Nudges until Dean turns around. "Dean, what's wrong?"

"We've been had." Dean hurls one of the ugly, art deco lamps across the room, but the sound of smashing glass only makes him grit his teeth. "This was an inside job."

"I don't understand."

Dean scrubs at his hair. "Enoch – or, Metatron. Whatever. After he got here, he started talking about you. How he knew you'd rope me into helping you. And he knew everything about us – about you pulling my ass outta that fire." He can't breathe. He feels like he's being strangled from the inside. "Too much – he knew too much."

A horrible look crawls across Cas' face. "Dean –"

"I should've fucking seen it," Dean shouts. He'd been a wreck afterward – so screwed up about his dad getting burned alive that he couldn't think straight – but still. "I can't believe I didn't see it. Rougarous don't live in packs. And that chick at the diner, she said they chased her out. That's – they would've eaten her."

"You think," Cas starts – slowly, like he can't make himself finish. Like if he doesn't say it, it won't be true. "You think Metatron set us up?"

"I know he did," Dean says. His hands are shaking. "He put the rougarous in that warehouse. He put some kinda ward on the door so they couldn't get out. Then he stuffed a demon into a waitress and had her tell a story my dad couldn't refuse." A hysterical laugh claws into Dean's throat. "The sonofabitch probably set the fire, just so we'd start screaming on cue."

"Why?" Cas asks. He looks lost. Gut-punched. "Just so he could end my search?"

Dean nods. "Yeah. He'd never rest easy with it – not with you still on the job."

"All right," Cas says. He stares out the window for a few seconds before continuing, "If this is true... where is the Staff now?"

Dean barely has to think about it. "Pontiac. It's probably still in Pontiac. I bet it never left that warehouse." He catches his hand in Cas' sleeve. "When they yanked you back upstairs, they told you it'd been moved. You – did you go back?"

Cas shakes his head. "No. I believed them." There's a rough hitch in his voice. "They told me it had been moved, and I believed them."

"'Course you did. You guys are supposed to buy whatever Heaven is selling. Metatron was counting on it."

"Dean," Cas says. He grabs the front of Dean's shirt. "Dean, I'm sorry. Your father –"

"Don't talk like that. This ain't your fault." Dean wants to wrap Cas into a hug. Kiss his jaw. But he shouldn't. Not anymore. An empty ache spreads through his chest as he says, "C'mon. Let's go get your ticket home."

Cas pauses. Then, quietly, he says, "No."

"What–? Why not?"

"If I take the Staff to Heaven now, Metatron and Crowley will kill you. We need to deal with them first."

Dean would rather just rip the band-aid off. Get it over with. But he knows Cas is right, so he makes himself nod. He pats his waistband and hip to check for his weapons. His forty-five and the demon shank are fine, but his angel blade is on the floor. As he stoops to get it, he notices a piece of paper stuck to the bottom of his boot. It has a number written on it – KS: D-3-6-7-4-2.

"What's that?" Cas asks.

"Looks like a license plate," Dean says, shrugging. "I'll run it when we get back to the office."

"Your office isn't safe."

Dean folds the paper and stuffs it into his pocket. "We ain't staying long. I just wanna get Kevin outta there before anymore heavy-hitters show up."

"Fine," Cas says. He takes Dean's hand.

Dean lets himself be pulled in.

+

They land in the front office, right beside Kevin's desk. Kevin isn't there, but his backpack is on his chair, yawning open around his books. Half a pot of coffee is turning to stone on the machine. Kevin's computer is on stand-by. It perks up with a soft chirp when Dean steps away from Cas and bumps the monitor with his elbow.

It's almost eleven. Kevin doesn't really keep to a schedule; he makes snack runs whenever the office is slow, or whenever he has writer's block. Dean tells Cas, "He's probably just grabbing some lunch," and heads into his office. He hopes he isn't lying to himself.

He flips on the overhead light and Alastair's floor lamp. The combined glare stings his eyes so much it makes him blink. That second shot of scotch was a mistake. Between its slow burn and the aftermath of getting healed, all Dean wants to do is curl up and sleep for a month. The rain's constant throb isn't helping things any. Dean sinks into his chair and rubs his hand over his face.

There's a pink post-it stuck to his landline – a note from Kevin that says, "Took your motion to dismiss to the courthouse. You're welcome."

Dean relaxes a little. He unsticks the post-it and folds it in half. He tosses it at the wastebasket, but it catches on the rim and flutters to the floor. It's in good company – a ripped business-reply envelope and two empty ballpoint pens – so Dean leaves it there. He sighs and rubs his face again.

Cas walks in from the front office as Dean is fishing his phone out of his pocket. His tie is crooked and loose. He's carrying two mugs of coffee. He sets one on Dean's desk before grabbing one of the client chairs.

"Thanks," Dean says, clearing his throat.

The coffee is sour and thick from sitting on the burner, but Dean's so desperate that he'd drink mud if it had any caffeine in it. The first sip burns his tongue. It smells like tar and tastes worse. Still, he chokes back as much as he can in one go. Then he thumbs his phone awake and dials Donna's number.

She picks up on the third ring, saying, "Dean-o," in a sunny voice. "I'd ask you how it's hanging, but I think I already know."

Dean digs up a laugh. "The rope ain't around my neck yet. You got a minute?"

"For another weekend warrior? Of course I got a minute." She pops her gum in Dean's ear. "Whatcha need?"

"Kansas license plate. D-3-6-7-4-2."

"A commercial vehicle, huh?" She pauses to peck at her keyboard. A fax machine starts beeping as she says, "Alrighty. Looks like a 2013 Peterbilt 367. It belongs to a – oh. Oh, heck."

Dean pauses as he reaching for his coffee. "Lemme guess. Joseph Gregory Ellsworth."

"Yup."

"Listen, Donna. I don't wanna get you in a fix, but I gotta find this heap. If it turns up anywhere –"

"Oh, I know right where it is." She snaps her gum again. Then she slips into a whisper, saying, "It got repo'ed about a month back. It's sitting on an impound lot in Wichita. A place called Heavy Haulers on Kellogg Drive."

"Thanks," Dean says. He hangs up and looks at Cas. "You get all that?"

"Yes. Heavy Haulers. Kellogg Drive, Wichita." Cas sets his coffee mug on Dean's desk, right beside the out-dated calendar. "If Metatron has been looking for this truck, maybe Ellsworth stole the Staff after all."

"Maybe." Dean's gut is telling him it's in Pontiac. Still, he says, "Wouldn't hurt to check it out."

They both stand. Dean walks around his desk. Before he can start checking his weapons, Cas touches his arm. "No, Dean. I'm going alone."

"No." Dean shakes his head and works his angel blade into his sleeve. "No way."

"This could be a trap."

"'Course it's a trap."

The air rustles like Cas is getting ready to rip it in half. "You could get hurt."

"So could you," Dean points out. He – fuck. He doesn't need to be babysat. Anger burns in his cheeks and jaw. "Stop trying to bench me just 'cause I'm a stupid human."

"No. I dislike putting you in danger," Cas says. He moves his hand up to Dean's shoulder.

Dean shrugs him off with a grunt. "You know what –? Fuck you. I hunted for years without you, and I'm gonna keep hunting after you fly back upstairs. I can watch my own ass."

"Dean," Cas says sharply. Light glints behind his eyes. "Do you have any idea what you mean to me? Any idea at all?"

Dean looks away. "Don't. Not when you ain't gonna be here much longer."

Cas makes a low, rough noise. He grabs the back of Dean's neck and yanks him into a kiss. It's hard and fast and filthy – more teeth than tongue. And then it's over. Cas zaps out with a snap of wind. Leaves Dean holding onto nothing.

"Better get used to it," Dean mutters.

Rain rattles against the windows, brighter than buckshot. The sky is dull and dark and colorless. Dean makes himself breathe; restless anxiety is gnawing at his anger. His gut is churning double-time. He's never been good at waiting, but it's worse when he's stuck sitting out a fight. He hates not being there. Not knowing what's going on. Not being able to help.

He heaves out a sigh and scrubs at his hair. He downs the last of his nasty coffee. Then he finishes the cold mouthful of dregs Cas left behind. After that, he heads into the front office and puts on a fresh pot. He spills grounds all over the table, and he slops enough water everywhere that steam curls up from the burner. He paces the length of Kevin's desk while he waits for it to brew.

He's halfway to wearing a trench in the floor by the time Kevin finally comes back. Kevin pauses in the doorway, holding a brown bag of what smells like burritos. He blinks at Dean for a second before saying, "Sorry. I didn't get you anything. I didn't think you were coming in today."

Dean waves him off. "Don't worry about it. Just get in here."

Brakes squeal out on the street. Kevin asks, "Is everything okay?"

"No. This thing with Cas is getting kinda hot." Dean pulls out his wallet and tosses two c-notes on the desk. "You gotta clear out for a coupla days. If you don't wanna go home, take that –" He points at the money "– and get a room at the Sleep-EZ. Me and Cas are in five, so shoot for something on the other side."

"Good idea," Kevin says. His mouth twitches. "I don't want to hear you two doing it all night."

Dean glares at him. "This ain't a joke. When you get there, salt the windows and draw a devil's trap on the door."

Kevin sobers immediately. Nodding, he says, "Okay, yeah." After a pause, he pokes the burrito bag. "Can I eat first?"

Dean wants to say, "No," but he knows that's just his nerves talking. Five more minutes isn't going to matter. "Yeah. Just make it fast food. We –"

The air splits open behind him, whipping up a wind that blows all the papers off Kevin's desk. He whirls around expecting Cas. Instead, he finds a red-haired woman swaying on her feet. A red-haired angel. Her face is bruised, and she's bleeding from her mouth and throat. Grace is leaking out of her from a dozen places at once.

She wheezes out a wet, raspy noise and sinks to her knees. She sways again. A bundle drops out of her jacket and rolls across the floor. She reaches for it, hunching down onto her elbows. It's too far away.

She grabs at Dean's jeans. "Dean Winchester?"

Dean crouches down beside her. The light pouring out of her makes her shimmer like a mirage. "Yeah, that's me. You – what's your name?"

"Anna," she whispers. "Castiel. Wanted you to have that." She coughs, spattering more blood on her lips. "Safe. Keep it safe."

"Yeah, I will," Dean says, forcing his voice steady. "I'm gonna keep it real safe." She must be from Cas' garrison. One of Cas' friends. I have a sister named Anna, but I haven't seen her in almost a decade. Carefully, he touches her hair. "You – can we help you?"

She coughs again, deep in her chest. More blood bubbles from her mouth. "Can't – can't fly. Heaven. Send me to Heaven." Her eyes flutter closed. "I'll survive if you – Heaven."

"Okay, yeah. We can do that."

Dean shakes the angel blade out of his sleeve. He starts to stand up, but Kevin says, "Got it." His hand is already bleeding. Wincing, he slaps it to the sigil on the wall. Anna blazes out in Dean's face, heat and light and a sharp crest of ozone. He turns away from it, closing his eyes. Once she's gone, he leans over and grabs the bundle.

It's about two feet long. It's wrapped in burlap and tied with twine. A warding symbol is drawn on it – nothing Dean has ever seen before. He worms a finger into a loose fold until he finds paper. Underneath that is a layer of what feels like felt. He digs a little deeper, biting his lip when he finally touches wood. It's unfinished; his fingernail catches a rough edge. It doesn't tingle or spark or hum. He isn't sure how the Staff works – if he needs to think at it to get it going. He's afraid to try. If it suddenly starts raining frogs, Crowley and Metatron will know something's up.

Kevin's eyes widen. "Is that –?"

"I think so, yeah," Dean says, getting to his feet. "It's – fuck. I gotta ditch it. It ain't safe here. Not without Cas."

"Where?"

"I don't know yet." That's a lie, but Dean figures Kevin's better off in the dark. He shrugs into his jacket and hides the Staff underneath it. On his way out the door, he pauses to point at Kevin's desk. "C'mon. Pack your shit and get outta here."

Kevin gives him a salute. "Sure thing, boss."

Out in the hallway, Dean prays. He starts with, Hey, Cas, but stops because he doesn't know if the airwaves are clear. If Metatron is listening in somehow. Or Crowley. His best bet is keeping it vague. Gotta run an errand. Be back in half an hour. Forty-five, tops.

He hesitates when he gets to the parking lot, because – fuck. The Impala is back at the Sleep-EZ. With all the crap that's happened this morning, he'd forgotten about that. He glances at the Continental. A steady stream of water is pouring off its fender. Benny's place is only a couple of blocks away; walking there would be faster than hotwiring an old car on a cold, wet day. Dean zips his jacket closed around the Staff. He hunches his shoulders against the wind and walks up to Sixth.

He heads a block west, passing a nail salon and a donut shop and a payday loan that also rents mailboxes. The light from their neon signs paints the wet sidewalk pink and blue and green. The next building in line is a "massage" parlor that gets raided by the cops about once a month. After that is a hole-in-the-wall that sells fried chicken. The heavy, greasy smell makes a queasy feeling rock through Dean's gut. He shivers. A river of rainwater is rushing in the gutter, deep enough that it's nearly lapping over the curb.

Traffic is almost zero, so Dean jogs across the street against the light. He splashes through a puddle when he gets to the other side, soaking his boots and the bottom of his jeans. The building on the corner is for lease; three kids are sneaking cigarettes in its shadowy entryway, smoke clouding around their heads. Benny's place is right next door. Like most pawn shops, it looks closed despite being open. Rusty accordion gates are drawn across the windows. The "We Buy Gold and Silver" sign is dark; Benny never remembers to turn it on.

The door jangles open. Benny's liquid, Louisiana drawl rolls out to greet Dean at the first display case. "Well. Look what the cat dragged in."

"Morning, Benny," Dean says, taking a quick glance around the shop. A guy is lurking near the rack of used electric guitars. Benny is slouched on a stool behind the jewelry counter, his hands in the pockets of a red and black flannel coat. A fisherman's cap is angled over his eyes. "How's the weather treating you?"

Benny shrugs one shoulder. "I was born on a houseboat. I ain't afraid of getting wet." He scratches his jaw and gives Dean a long, up-and-down-look. A smile rustles his beard. "You buying, selling, or pawning?"

The door jangles again – Guitar Guy letting himself out. Dean waits a couple of beats. Then he leans his elbow on the counter, right beside an old Victrola. He says, "I need a favor."

"C'mon, chief." Benny tsks under his breath. "We've talked about you using me as a safe-deposit box."

"Last time," Dean promises. Like he didn't say that the last time. Or the time before that. Or the time before that. "I'm really in a spot."

After a pause, Benny asks, "Stolen?"

Huffing, Dean shakes his head. "No way." That's how they met; three or four years ago, Dean helped Benny out when the cops accused him of being a fence. "I wouldn't do that to you."

"Yeah, I know," Benny says. He chuckles a little. "I'm just giving you a hard time." He raps his knuckles on the counter – a sharp, uneven drumbeat. "Let's see what you've got."

Dean unzips his jacket and hands Benny the bundle. Benny looks at it for a second. Then he looks up at Dean and raises an eyebrow. He tugs at the twine. Worries the warding symbol with his thumbnail. Hefts it like he's trying to gauge its weight.

Eventually, he mutters, "Whatever floats your boat," and walks into the back room. A minute later, Dean hears the slow creak of a floor safe being opened. It closes again with a clang. As he comes back out, Benny asks, "You want a ticket?"

"Yeah. Just in case."

Benny gives him another eyebrow. "In case of what?"

Dean waves that off and slips the ticket into his wallet. "Thanks, Benny. I appreciate it."

He turns and heads for the front of the shop, winding past all the stuff that's on hock – a vintage tea kettle, a worn pair of ballet shoes, a bunch of electronic junk, a pair of fifties cabinet TVs. Saxophones hang from the wall. A drum kit is collecting dust underneath them. One of its cymbals is cocked against a stack of milk crates full of original vinyls.

As Dean reaches the door, Benny says, "Hey. Just how deep is this hole you've dug yourself?"

Dean glances over his shoulder and forces a smile. "About five and a half feet."

The storm is still holding steady when he gets outside. Rain is tapdancing on the sidewalk. Wind is jerking Benny's accordion gates. The municipal trashcan across from the pawn shop is flooded, welling with soggy garbage – chip bags, newspapers, Starbucks cups, plastic sacks. Dean zips his jacket and flips up his collar. He stuffs his hands in his pockets and hurries back down the street.

Okay, Cas. I'm on my way back.

+

Cas is waiting in the front office when Dean gets back. He looks beat to hell. His trenchcoat is torn, and his shirt and tie are splattered with blood. Dark bruises are blooming on his temple and under his eye. A throttle mark is ringing his throat. It's a nearly perfect imprint of a hand, huge and purplish-red and angry.

Fuck. Their clock is ticking louder every minute, but Dean – he's going to take whatever's left. He's going to take all of it. He'll worry about regretting it later. After Cas is gone.

He grabs Cas' face in both hands and kisses him. He strokes his thumb over Cas' cheek and sucks at Cas' lower lip. He coaxes Cas' mouth open. Slides their tongues together. Swallows the slow, sweet sound Cas makes. He feels like he can't get close enough. He tries anyway, kissing Cas until they're both half-hard and breathless. He chases Cas' mouth when Cas finally leans away and murmurs his name.

"Dean, I'm fine."

"You ain't fine," Dean says. He touches the bruise at Cas' throat with the tips of his fingers.

"I'll heal," Cas insists. His voice is sandpaper-rough, and he has a bloody thumbprint underneath his ear. "Did you get it?"

"Yeah."

Cas breathes out a soft, relieved sigh. "Good. That's good."

"You think –" Dean cuts off with a grimace. He doesn't want to burst Cas' bubble, but his gut won't let Pontiac go. "You think it's the real deal?"

"I – I'm not sure," Cas says slowly. "The warding on it prevented me from sensing anything. I didn't have time to break through it."

Kevin turned off the coffee maker when he left, but he didn't dump the new pot Dean brewed. Dean figures it's still hot enough to drink, so he pulls away from Cas and grabs a cleanish-looking mug off Kevin's desk. As he's pouring, he says, "Well, I ditched it just in case. It's –"

"No," Cas says, shaking his head. "Don't tell me. It's safer if I don't know."

Something warm and heady unfurls under Dean's ribs. The Staff is Cas' ticket home, but he's trusting Dean with it like it's nothing – trusting Dean to hide it, to protect it, to give it up when it's time for him to go. Dean clears his throat. He – Christ. He doesn't know what to do with that.

Cas saves him by saying, "Tell me about Anna."

"She, um. She was pretty banged up," Dean admits. He leans his ass on Kevin's desk, not quite sitting. "We sent her back to Heaven."

"That – that's good. She should survive, then. We heal faster in the presence of God." Cas falls silent for a moment, and a complicated look crosses his face – soft and sad and wistful. "Anna led my garrison. I – she was a friend. When I saw I was outnumbered, I prayed to her."

"And she helped you out."

"She was glorious," Cas says quietly. The bloodstains on his shirt have faded, but his trenchcoat is still torn. The holes are singed around the edges, black and curling. Grace-burnt. "Determined. She – her instinct to protect one of her soldiers outstripped her concern for her own safety." He looks away with a sigh. "I owe her a debt."

The coffee is serviceable; Dean sips it before asking, "Demons?"

Cas nods. "Ten of them. Five were armed with angel blades." His hands clench at his sides. "We smote them."

"Yeah," Dean mutters. Ten demons is nothing to sneeze at, but killing them doesn't solve their real problems. "But Crowley'll know something's up when they don't come home for dinner." He pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. "We gotta get him off the board. Metatron, too."

"Yes, we do."

"I mean –" Dean shrugs and swallows some more coffee. "I guess we could always snuff Crowley the old-fashioned way. Just summon him into a trap and shank him."

"We could try," Cas says, frowning. "But I assume he's forced Rowena to protect him from something like that."

"Yeah." Dean sighs again. He hadn't thought about that, but now that Cas has mentioned it, it's stupidly obvious. Crowley isn't keeping a witch under his thumb for shits and giggles. "And Metatron – I ain't gonna be much help against him. And no offense – I know you can handle yourself – but putting everything on a one-on-one between you two seems like a bad bet."

Cas' mouth thins. "Metatron was never a soldier. In a fair fight, he'd be outmatched. But –"

"But he wouldn't fight fair. He'd have about twelve different tricks up his sleeve."

Cas grunts out an irritated noise. He starts to pace, adding to the same trench Dean was working on earlier. Dean leans back and opens the top drawer of Kevin's desk. He digs around for something to eat – chips, or crackers, or a candy bar. Anything that'll make up for the breakfast Metatron made him skip. All he finds besides paperclips is an empty tin of licorice Altoids and a a couple loose cough drops that are covered in lint.

He goes back to his coffee. It's cool enough now that it's slightly bitter, but he nurses it anyway and tries to think. They need something that'll put Crowley and Metatron on ice. Something that'll put their mojo on ice. Spells are the obvious choice; Dean just doesn't know where to look. His own stash of books is light on demons – it mostly covers how to send them back downstairs – and he's got zip on angels. Zilch. Zero.

Cas stops pacing. He rubs his forehead and grumbles out another noise. Dean gives him a slow once-over. His trenchcoat has finally mended itself, and his bruises have been dialed down to yellowish shadows.

Standing, Dean asks, "How are you for flying? I've got some friends that – I don't know. They maybe can help us. But they're about four hours from here, and we ain't got that kinda time."

A gust of wind batters at the window. Cas asks, "Where?"

"The Letters bunker. It's in Lebanon, Kansas." Dean drains the last of his coffee and sets his mug on the desk. "Locust Street, just south of the county road."

Cas fuzzes out a little. He tips his head to the side; his mouth falls open and his eyes glaze over. A beat passes. And another. Then he blinks himself back into the here and now and shakes his head.

"I can't find it," he says. Wind slams into the window again. "It must be warded. You'll have to lead us."

"Me? You – I can do that?"

"You can. Although you may find it unpleasant."

"Whatever," Dean says, pulling Cas close. Almost everything about the last four days has been unpleasant. "Let's just get it over with."

The air rustles softly. Dean feels a familiar, fluttery pressure against his back, but it isn't the same as before. It's thin and slow and unsteady. Jerky like Cas is trying to force it. His eyes are screwed shut. Sweat is beading on his forehead, and he looks a little white around the mouth. He must be exhausted – more exhausted than he'd wanted to admit.

"Hey, it's all right," Dean says, squeezing Cas' arm. "We can drive. If I lead-foot it, it'll be closer to three hours."

Cas huffs under his breath. Then he grabs Dean's jacket and shirt and tugs them down over Dean's shoulder. He slips his hand under the sleeve of Dean's t-shirt, fitting his palm right over the scar. It throbs faintly. A soft shiver sparks up Dean's spine, just bright enough to make Dean's toes curl.

"This will help," Cas says. He wraps his other arm around Dean's waist. "Now, focus on our destination. Clear everything else out of your mind."

It's different when he's the one behind the wheel – colder and darker and more terrifying. He can feel the restless nothing under his feet. He can feel the curve of the earth. The way it spins. He can feel Cas twisting and folding reality. Shifting them through time and space. The bunker flares like a beacon in his mind, and he turns toward it. Fumbles for it. Reaches out in a way he doesn't really understand.

They crash-land in the bunker's kitchen. Dean glimpses white cabinets and stainless steel shelving as his vision flickers in and out. Hitting the ground is a sudden shock; it takes him a second to get back inside his skin. His gut lurches. Everything tilts to one side without any warning. Then it tilts back just as sharply. Dean grunts and sways into Cas' chest. Since he's already there, he noses at Cas' jaw until Cas turns and brushes their mouths together.

Someone clears their throat – Charlie. She's sitting at the table in Hogwarts pajamas. Her bright red hair is a bird's nest, and a spoonful of cereal is frozen halfway to her mouth.

She says, "Don't mind me. Please continue kissing strange men in my kitchen."

Dean flushes a little. "Sorry. Charlie, this is Cas. He's –"

"He's an angel, right?" When Dean just blinks at her, she grins. "The fancy entrance gave it away, dude. Besides, when you called here asking about angels out of the blue, I figured you'd either found one or were trying to find one." She smirks at him. "Looks like you're dating one. Dating's good, too."

Dean flushes a little more. He inches away from Cas and changes the subject by eyeballing Charlie's pajamas. "It's almost noon, kiddo."

"Eh." Charlie shrugs and spoons some cereal into her mouth. "We don't really keep a schedule around here. Not unless we're hunting."

Dorothy breezes into the kitchen and says, "Don't let her lie to you. We don't really keep a schedule when we're hunting, either." She's wearing an old-school flannel nightgown, the kind with frills at the collar and cuffs. Her dark hair is piled on top of her head; it wobbles as she bends and kisses Charlie's cheek. "Morning, Red." She kisses it again and adds, "That one's from Gilda."

Charlie huffs quietly. "Is she planning on staying in bed all day?"

"For now," Dorothy says, glancing at Cas. "The... angel is making her nervous."

Cas holds up his hands. "Tell the faerie I mean her no harm." His voice seems to echo slightly, like he wants it to carry. Like he wants Gilda to hear it for herself. "Her people have special gifts. I would be honored to meet her."

"An angel," Dorothy says thoughtfully. She gives Cas another long, skeptical look. "I guess that means Heaven's the Real McCoy. I never would've thought." She cocks her head at Dean. "You boys here to play or to work?"

"Work, unfortunately." Dean pauses. He doesn't really know how to explain. And they don't have the time to waste. Instead, he skips straight to the point, saying, "We're up against a demon and an angel. We gotta find some way to trap 'em. Or power 'em down."

"Is the demon a bruiser?" Charlie asks, leaning her elbow on the table. Her wrist is wrapped in a plain bandage. Gilda must've put her foot down about the steel in the splint. "Like, bigger than a devil's trap?"

Dean nods. "Yeah. He wormed outta the last one I locked him in. Took him about ten minutes. And he's got a witch in his pocket. She might've whipped something up that'd block a summoning."

"Huh," Dorothy says, opening the fridge. She stands there for a minute, eating grapes straight from the bag while cold, musty air seeps into the kitchen. Then, chewing, she asks Cas, "Can angels even be trapped?"

After a pause, Cas says, "Yes. Inside a burning ring of holy oil. But this angel poses the same problem as the demon. He's likely warded against a summons. And he would expect us to try something like that."

"That's the other thing," Dean says. His stomach is growling again. "These guys are clever sonsofbitches. We need something outta left field."

Charlie stands and walks her cereal bowl to the sink. "Well, all our angel books are in the library. I left them out because I figured you'd be stopping by sooner or later."

"Thanks, kiddo," Dean says. "You –" His stomach interrupts him. This time, it rumbles so loudly that everyone looks at him. "Sorry."

Dorothy snorts and pulls a carton of Chinese out of the fridge. She spears it with a fork from the dish-rack and hands it over. "Shrimp fried rice."

"Awesome."

Dean digs in as they file into the library. It's as stuck in the thirties as the kitchen – hardwood floors, naked brick walls, stone columns propping up the textured ceiling. Soft, buttery light glows down at them from antique pendant lamps. Bookshelves and filing cabinets are tucked into every sliver of available space. There's a dull hum coming from the next room – something that sounds like old machinery.

The tables are heavy, mahogany things. Charlie waves them to the one in the center of the room. As they grab chairs, she digs into a large stack of books. Most of them look older than dirt. A few look even older than that.

She says, "So, the original Letters peeps weren't convinced angels were actually a thing. Almost everything we've got is theoretical – like, crazy theoretical."

Dean's mouth is full of rice, but he says, "Whatever. We'll take anything you got."

"Well, there's this," Charlie says, passing Cas a book. Leather flakes off the spine as he takes it. "It talks about binding an angel's power to an object."

After giving it a quick scan, Cas shakes his head. "No. This won't work. The author misunderstands how we access our grace, and that flaws the whole spell."

"Okay. There's also this." Charlie flips open another book and pushes it down the table. "It's supposed to force an angel from their human host."

"Interesting," Cas murmurs. He runs his finger down the page. "Mechanically, this could work. But it's –" He sighs. "I'm sorry, but it's not what we need. If we remove him from his vessel, he'll either return to Heaven or take a new one."

"Yeah," Dean says, coughing as rice sticks in his throat. "We need to pin him down, not chase him off."

"All right," Dorothy says slowly. "What about – oh. Hey, Princess."

Gilda is standing in the doorway, her shoulder leaned against the jamb. She's holding a mug shaped like a cat that's gently curling with steam. Dean blinks at her for a second; every other time he's seen her, she's been in full faerie regalia, or something close to it. Now she's wearing faded red sweats and a Lumberjanes shirt he's pretty sure belongs to Charlie. Her hair is hanging over her shoulder in a messy braid.

"Nice duds," he says, smiling. "You finally going native?"

She glances down at herself and shrugs. "Human clothing is ugly, but comfortable." After a pause, she walks over to the table and sets the mug in front of Cas. "You've overexerted yourself, Seraph. The tea will restore your strength."

A soft, grateful look crosses Cas' face. Quietly, he says, "Thank you. Your trust is appreciated."

Gilda nods at him. Then she turns to Dean and says, "My people have a spell I believe would suit your needs. It binds a creature's power completely. Until it's lifted, they would essentially be human."

"Yeah," Dean says quickly. It's about time something went their way. "Yeah, that's – that sounds perfect. Do we cast it on 'em directly?"

"You would cast it on a space. The smaller the better. Anything larger than this –" she gestures around the library "– would diminish its effects. Anyone who enters the space would be bound." She gestures to Cas. "Including your mate."

"Mate" sticks under Dean's ribs a little – enough that he has to clear his throat before saying, "Okay. We, um. We – Crowley's a salesman." He takes a breath and chances a glance at Cas. "And you said Metatron was never a soldier. If everything's... equal, or whatever, I figure we could take 'em in a fight."

Cas nods into his tea. "Yes. We could."

"You gonna be okay with that?" Dean reaches for Cas' hand and laces their fingers together. "With – you know. Having a squeeze put on your mojo for a coupla hours?"

"I won't like it," Cas admits, mostly to his tea. It has a bright, medicinal smell, sharp enough that it itches Dean's nose. "But this is our best option. If they're afraid of dying as humans, it would give us the upper hand."

Gilda perches on the arm of Charlie's chair. "You'll need a someone to cast it. It's beyond a human."

Dean hesitates. He likes Gilda. She's always been cool to him. But he isn't in a hurry to owe a faerie too many favors. "We've got a witch on deck. She – is that enough juice?"

"Depends on the witch."

"Hey," Charlie says, narrowing her eyes. "Why are you mixed up with a witch?"

"Rowena is –" Dean sighs and waves his hand. "She's got a beef with the demon we're after."

"Wait," Dorothy says slowly. She taps her fingers on the table. "Rowena? Fancy Scottish broad with a lot of red hair?" When Dean nods, she snorts and cuts a glance at Charlie. "That's the one who rabbited on us in Duluth. You remember?"

"Oh, yeah." Charlie shoots Dean another glare. Wagging a finger, she says, "You watch yourself with her."

Dean ducks his head a little. "We will. Promise."

Gilda slides to her feet and heads for a bookcase on the other side of the library. Its middle shelf is bowing under the weight of a large, wooden box. It doesn't have a lock or a knob or a handle. It pops open after Gilda touches it and hums something under her breath. She pokes around inside it for a minute or two. Then she comes back with a small scroll tied with string. It looks older than Charlie's books – old enough that Dean's afraid to even touch it. When Gilda puts it in his hand, he almost expects it to crumble to dust.

It doesn't, so he says, "Thanks, Gilda."

"Yes. Thank you." A smile pulls at Cas' mouth. "For both the spell and the tea."

Dean stands and shovels the last of the rice into his mouth. He walks around the table so he can ruffle Charlie's hair and clap Dorothy's shoulder. "I hate to eat your leftovers and run, but we're kinda on the clock here."

"Someone had to eat it," Dorothy says. "I was tired of it stinking up the fridge."

Cas leans over and touches Charlie's arm. A quick flash of blue-white light flashes under his palm. Goose-pimples chase up Charlie's neck; she gasps and squirms in her chair. After flickering for a second, her bandage disappears. She stares at Cas with wide eyes.

"Dude. What was that?"

"I healed your wrist."

Charlie stares at him a little more. Then she cannonballs out of her chair and wraps him in a hug. Cas goes a little stiff, but that just makes Charlie squeeze him tighter.

"You're awesome," she says, tucking her head under his chin. "Thanks."

Cas awkwardly pats her back. "You're welcome."

After giving Cas another squeeze, she rounds on Dean. She sticks her wrist in his face and says, "You know what this means? This means I don't have to skip LARPing next weekend. And that –" she pokes Dean's chest "– that means you have until next Friday to get yourself out of this pickle."

"Charlie –"

"You promised."

"Yeah, all right," Dean says, smiling. "Next Friday." He ruffles her hair again and reaches for Cas. "C'mon. We gotta hit the road."

"Where?"

"A place called Meditations. It's in Lawrence." Dean slides his arm around Cas' waist. "Second Street, near Lincoln."

+

They fly straight into Linda's secret back room. With Cas in the driver's seat, the ride is a lot less bumpy. So is the landing. Dean's vision only swims a little, and his gut barely notices at all. He doesn't have to ground himself too long before stepping away from Cas. He just needs two or three deep breaths.

"You're getting better at that," Cas says.

Dean snorts. "At what? Not puking on your shoes?"

"Yes." Cas glances around the room. It's crammed with hunting supplies from floor to ceiling – knives, guns, ammo, stakes, rosaries, anti-possession charms. Jugs of holy water. Bulk canisters of salt. Eventually, he turns back to Dean and asks, "What's LARPing?"

"Oh," Dean says. He chuckles under his breath. "It's um. It's this funky fantasy role-playing thing. People get dressed up in King Arthur costumes and fight each other with fake swords. It's – it's pretty cool, actually." He pauses to run his fingers over a bronze dagger hanging on the wall. He could use a new one; both of his are notched near the guard. "That's how Charlie met Gilda."

Cas tips his head to the side. "Oh?"

"Yeah. Charlie's really into it. She's like queen of a whole faction." Dean checks the price-tag on the dagger and whistles through his teeth. "A few years ago she was at one of their – I don't know. Tournaments? Conventions? Whatever. People in on the game were dying freaky. This was before she hooked up with Dorothy, so she asked me to come down and help her figure it out. Turned out, some guy had trapped Gilda and was using her to kill anyone who crossed him."

"And you freed her?"

"Yeah. Well, Charlie did most of the work. I was busy getting roughed up by an empty suit of armor." Dean grabs a box of silver bullets. Then he notices that they're on sale and grabs two more. "You guys seemed to hit it off."

Cas' mouth softens. It makes Dean want to kiss it. "She was kind to me."

"'Cause she gave you that tea?"

"It's what the tea meant," Cas says. He tests a slim iron boot-knife against the pad of his thumb, watching as a pinprick of blood wells up and then disappears. Once it fades, he looks at Dean and continues, "Faeries wield power wherever they walk, but it's limited on earth compared to their home. Gilda was further limited because she was underground. By offering me that tea, she offered me the strength to harm her."

"Huh." Dean gives in and kisses the corner of Cas' mouth. Twice. Then he nudges Cas' arm and says, "C'mon. We gotta get this show on the road."

Linda's hunting stock is hidden down a short hallway behind the cash register. The hallway is blocked off from the rest of the shop by an ugly bead curtain that thinks it's part snake. It likes to wrap around Dean's arms and catch in his pockets and collar. He clacks through it sideways because he's learned not to give it too wide of a target. When he turns around, he bumps right into Linda's shotgun.

"Oh. It's you," she says tartly. She doesn't lower the gun.

It's a sawed-off, snipped close to the forend. Dean says, "Yeah, it's me," and bats at what's left of the barrel. It's only loaded with rock-salt, but he doesn't feel like getting pelted in the chest right now. "What gives?"

Linda eyes Cas suspiciously. Her trigger-finger looks itchy. "Is this the angel?"

"You – yeah." Dean glances at Cas – A little help, here? – but Cas' mouth it twitching. Jesus Christ. "Seriously, what gives?"

"Where's Kevin?" Linda counters. Her voice slices the Enya in the air to ribbons. "He tells me you're mixed up with demons again, and then he doesn't call for two days."

"Kevin's fine," Dean says quietly. The shop is empty except for Tracy, a full-time hunter who works for Linda between gigs because she hates hustling pool. She's dusting the tarot card display and hanging on every word. "I put him up in a motel until this all blows over."

Linda stares at him for another second or two. Then she pats his arm and says, "Good. That's good. Come on in." She stows the gun under the cash register and smooths her hair. She's cut it since the last time Dean saw her, short enough that it tapers off at her chin. "You must need something."

Dean winces a little. "What makes you say that?"

"You only visit when you need something." She sighs and flaps a hand at him. "Let's hear it."

"We're casting a spell," Dean says, handing her the scroll. "We need whatever's on here."

Carefully, Linda unrolls the scroll on the counter. She runs a finger down the words as she reads the the ingredients list. She pauses twice and mutters under her breath. When she gets to the bottom, she taps it a few times before looking up.

"I have everything in stock except Makassar ebony."

Dean frowns. "Ebony? Like, black wood?"

"Makassar ebony," Cas says thoughtfully. "It's variegated wood, black and dark brown. Native to Indonesia." He looks at Linda. "How much do we need?"

"A stick will do. About this long." Linda spreads her hands a foot apart. "As straight as possible. It's for the wand."

Cas nods and zaps out.

Linda blinks at the empty space for a split-second. Then she looks at Dean and says, "I suppose the rest of this is going on your tab."

Dean winces again; he's pretty sure he owes her close to a grand. The silver bullets clink as he sets the boxes on the counter. He pulls out his wallet and gives her the last of Crowley's c-notes. "Whatever's left, just put it toward my bill. Is Missouri in?"

"Yes," Linda says, pocketing the money. She edges past Dean on her way to the herb shelf. "Make it quick. She has a reading in fifteen minutes."

Missouri's room is at the back of the shop. Dean walks around a low table displaying crystals and geodes, and another for empty charm bags in every size and color. Behind that is a long row of bulk-bins filled with different kinds of stones. Missouri's doorway is flanked by a pair of bookcases stocked with seven-day candles. Dean hesitates at the bead curtain. It isn't as touchy as the one up front, but Missouri sometimes meditates between clients. Dean interrupted her once, and she yelled at him for twenty minutes.

He pokes his head in first. It isn't like most psychic dens – no incense or brass bowls or velvet drapes. The white-painted walls are bare. A lightly patterned cloth is spread across the table. Two fat, lavender-scented candles are burning in the windowsill.

She's drinking tea and doing a crossword, so Dean eases all the way through the beads and says, "Hey, Missouri."

"Dean Winchester," she says, putting down her pen. "You don't come by for months, and now you show up here with trouble at your back."

"Yep." Dean's guilty as charged. "Sorry."

"I'll just bet." She stands with a sigh and walks over to him. After studying him for a moment, she says, "There's a dark cloud around you. Here." Her hand flutters near Dean's ear. "And something lighter, too – lighter, but just as dangerous. Maybe more dangerous." She huffs out a soft noise. "But you already know that. You want me to tell you if it comes out right."

"Yeah. I – yeah."

She huffs again. "I'm a psychic, boy. I can't predict the future. I just read the energy people carry around."

"I know, I know," Dean says. He sighs and rubs his face. "I'm just – I'm really in over my head, here."

Missouri narrows her eyes and looks at him again. Looks at him long enough that an uncomfortable itch crawls up the back of his neck. Finally, she says, "These forces – they're very sure of themselves. They think they have you all figured out. If I was in the business of giving advice, I'd tell you to play out of their hands."

"You are in the business of giving advice."

"Well, then I guess you'd better listen to me."

Dean nods and says, "Yeah." Then he digs up a smile for her. "Thanks, Missouri."

As he turns to go, Missouri catches his arm. She slides her hand up to his scar and murmurs, "Saved by the grace of God. I told you that after the fire, but you didn't want to hear it."

Dean shrugs slightly. "You never said anything about angels."

"I wasn't sure, then," Missouri admits. She touches the necklace peeking above her collar, a silver chain threaded with protective charms. "I see what I see. Sometimes that's the whole picture; sometimes it's just bits and pieces." Gently, she squeezes Dean's shoulder. "When the time comes, you have to let him go. You know that, right?"

A sour knot rises in Dean's throat. He has to breathe through it before saying, "Yeah. I – I'm gonna."

"He'd stay if you asked him to. I'd just about bet on it." She gives Dean's shoulder another pat. "But he's bigger than this place. Bigger than you. If he stays, it has to be his choice. Otherwise, he'll –"

"I'm – I wasn't gonna ask," Dean says quietly.

Missouri tsks under her breath. "You were thinking about it."

He hasn't been thinking about it. Not really. If Cas was human – then yeah, maybe. But he isn't. He – fuck.

Dean digs up another smile. He says, "Thanks," again and heads back into the shop.

Cas is waiting for him at the cash register. His trenchcoat's belt is twisted where it spans his back. He's picking through the impulse-buys Linda has laid out on the counter in round, wicker baskets – crystal chips, hematite rings, worry stones, tiny brass bells. He's holding a reusable Hy-Vee bag with handles that look ready to snap. A narrow stick is poking out of it. It's bulging on one side around what's probably a bowl.

"We got everything?" Dean asks.

"Yes," Cas says, hefting the bag. The stuff inside rattles softly as it bumps his leg. "Everything but a plan."

Dean scratches the back of his neck. "I wanna stash this junk in my car first." The devil's trap drawn inside the trunk will keep out Crowley and any of his stunt demons. He hopes there's something similar that'll work on angels. "We gotta get Rowena lined up before we do anything."

Cas considers this for a second. "We'll also need a way to find them. Something that isn't a summons."

"Maybe. Maybe not." The shop is still empty, but Linda and Tracy are eavesdropping with everything they've got. Dean moves closer to Cas and lowers his voice. "If what Anna brought me is the real deal, they're gonna come after us sooner or later."

"And if it isn't?"

"Honestly? I figure they're still gonna come after us." Dean taps his fingers on the counter, making the brass bells jingle. "Putting ten demons on Ellsworth's rig was overkill, Staff or no Staff. You were supposed to die in that rat-trap."

A muscle tics in Cas' jaw. "One of my superiors once told me that I've never been good at following directions." The air rustles sharply. He grabs Dean's arm and yanks them out into the cold.

They land a few feet away from the Impala. The Sleep-EZ's parking lot is wrapped inside the eye of the storm. The rain has eased to a light drizzle, but lightning is flashing to the south, close to downtown Lawrence. Fresh clouds are gathering over Midland, purple-gray and rolling low along the horizon. Everything feels heavy. Ready to split open. Dean gives it an hour, maybe an hour and a half.

He pops the Impala's trunk and stows the Hy-Vee bag. He almost ditches the pawn ticket, but Kevin's Cherokee is parked three spaces down and that gives him a better idea. He fishes a slim-jim out of his arsenal and walks over. After a quick glance around, he eases it into the door and hooks it around until he finds the lock rod. It releases with a tired click.

"Dean," Cas says quietly. His hand skims the small of Dean's back. "Why are you breaking into this car?"

"It's Kevin's." The Cherokee is straddling a large puddle; Dean's foot skids on the wet asphalt as he leans across the driver's seat. He opens the glove compartment and tucks the pawn ticket under Kevin's registration. "It ain't really breaking in if you know the guy."

The Cherokee's door swings shut but doesn't catch. Dean finishes the job with his hip and heads back to the Impala. He tosses the slim-jim in his arsenal. Then he digs around until he turns up a piece of chalk. It's barely an inch long, but he figures it's enough to do the trick.

He taps the trunk-lid and asks, "Is there a sigil or something that'll keep angels outta here? Something like a devil's trap?"

"Yes," Cas says, nodding.

"Okay. You –" Dean spots a woman watching them. She's lurking at the mouth of the vending machine alcove. She – fuck. Bela.

Before Dean can say anything, she puts a finger to her lips. She points at his room and shakes her head. Then she takes a step back, moving deeper into the alcove. She gestures for Dean to follow.

"Here," Dean mutters, putting the chalk in Cas' hand. "I – I gotta talk to her real quick."

He checks the parking lot again. It looks clear, so he pockets his keys and walks toward the vending machines. Once Bela's in reach, he grabs her arm and spins her back against the ice hopper. He snaps, "Cute trick you pulled earlier. You come back to finish the job?"

"He told me he wanted to talk," Bela hisses. She tries twisting out of his grasp. "I didn't know he'd get violent."

"And I'm just supposed to believe that?"

"I don't much care what you believe, Winchester." She shifts her weight like she's thinking about kneeing him. "Let me go."

"Not so fast," Dean says. He leans back a little, just enough to get his balls out of the line of fire. "What're you doing here?"

"They're in your room."

A horn honks out on the street. Dean says, "Yeah. I got that much, thanks. Why'd you get kicked outta the clubhouse?"

Bela hesitates for a split-second. "I'm meant to be calling you right now. They told me to scream when you answered. Imply that they're hurting me. If you asked, I was to give you a location on the other side of town."

"Why?" Dean asks, frowning. "Just so they can set up an ambush?"

"Yes," Bela says. The ice hopper rattles and hums against her back. "You'd rush to rescue me. Your office isn't safe, so once you'd realized it was a goose-chase, you'd presumably return here."

"And then what?" Dean drops her arm, but he doesn't move back. Doesn't give her enough space to pull her gun.

"I would be waiting for you, looking roughed up." Bela pauses and pats the pocket of her coat. "That witch Crowley keeps gave me a potion. It's a glamor of some sort – drinking it would make me come over in bruises. I would swoon as you approached, and your sense of chivalry would override your paranoia." Her lip curls slightly. "You'd carry me inside to be healed without checking for a noose first."

It's not the smoothest plan Dean's ever heard. But he's just dumb enough sometimes that it probably would've worked. He asks, "Why're you telling me this? You – oh." He snorts out an empty laugh. "You're worried they ain't gonna help you after all."

"I –" She cuts off with a sigh. "I'm running out of time."

Dean hears footsteps behind him – Cas. He asks Bela, "So, what? Now you want me to fix your mess? You want Cas to fix it?"

"Dean," Cas says quietly.

Dean waves him off. He gives Bela a sneer and continues, "What makes you think we'd help you? You killed your parents just to cash in."

"Yes, I did," Bela says tonelessly. "They were lovely people. And I killed them. And I got rich. I can't be bothered to give a damn."

"You –"

"Dean," Cas says again. He touches Dean's temple. A shot of grace spears through Dean's head like an icepick.

It comes to Dean in flashes – Bela's cold, dark bedroom; her father's bourbon-sour breath; the bruises on Bela's arms and legs; her mother shouting, calling her names. Bela crying on a rain-damp swingset. A white-eyed demon in a kid's meatsuit, offering her the chance to make it stop. It rushes by too fast for Dean to see all of it, but he sees enough. His gut lurches up into his throat. He punches the soda machine a couple of times just to keep himself from puking.

Once he can breathe again, he makes himself look at Bela. She's glaring murder at him, but – yeah. He figures he fucking deserves it. He asks, "Why didn't you say something?"

"No one believed me," she says sharply. "No one ever believed me. I'd no reason to think you'd be the one to start."

Dean figures he deserves that, too. "All right. You – okay." He rubs his hand over his face. "How long've you got?"

After a pause, Bela says, "Six days."

"Okay." That's cutting it close, but Dean's hoping Crowley will end up dead sometime tonight. He grabs his phone and starts pecking out Rowena's number. "I – I gotta make a call. Then we'll – I don't know. We'll work something out."

Turning, he steps deeper into the alcove. He leans his hip against a potted tree that's doubling as an ashtray. A half-empty bottle of 7Up is sitting on the stone bench beside it. The rock-siding climbing the alcove's walls is chipped and dotted with old gum.

Rowena picks up on the fifth ring. She sighs in Dean's ear before saying, "I was napping, Winchester. I do hope you're calling with good news."

"Not exactly," Dean admits. "I'm gonna need your help on this."

"That wasn't part of our deal."

"If you want him dead, you're gonna have to play ball," Dean says. He toes at the base of the stone bench. "Consider it my favor."

Rowena sighs again. Then she says, "Yes, yes. All right. What do you need?"

"I'm at the Sleep-EZ motel," Dean explains. "There's a black '67 Impala in the parking lot. In the trunk, there's some stuff for a spell. You're gonna cast it on room five." A gust of wind whips above the alcove, whistling against its cinder block roof. "Come in once it's set, and we'll get Crowley's leash off you."

"Fine."

Dean hangs up and pockets his phone. He scrubs at his hair as he heads over to Bela and Cas. Bela looks exhausted; she's probably been too hell-spooked to sleep. Cas is standing at the mouth of the alcove, watching the storm press in. His hair is sticking up. The tails of his trenchcoat are dancing in the wind.

"C'mon," Dean says quietly. He runs his hand up Cas' back. "Let's do this."

"Do you even have a plan?" Bela asks.

"Yeah." Dean doesn't have a plan. Not really. Nothing except what Missouri said about playing out of their hands.

Bela's mouth tightens. She huffs under her breath, but she follows Dean and Cas as they walk toward the room. Her heels rattle against the concrete path: clack-clack-clack. Roof gravel is scattered across it. Brownish weeds are growing in the cracks.

Outside the door, Dean tugs Cas aside and palms the back of his neck. He rubs his thumb behind Cas' ear and murmurs, "Hey. Whatever I say in there, you gotta trust me, okay? You – just trust me."

"Of course," Cas says, easy as anything.

The room is dark. A wave of sulfur greets them just past the threshold. An invisible hand wraps around Dean's throat and squeezes until everything goes black.

+

Dean wakes up to a dull, throbbing headache and a faceful of motel carpet. An orange-red glow is pressing at his eyelids, too bright for the only working lamp in the room. His mouth tastes like blood. Nothing hurts except his throat; he probably bit his tongue when he hit the deck. He doesn't move. He keeps his breathing even and slow.

"Let Dean go," Cas says. His voice is above Dean's head. He must be standing – standing and somewhere to Dean's right.

"That's not going to happen," Metatron says. He sounds amused. "You and your... human are in this together."

The floor creaks – Cas shifting his feet. "I'll give you the Staff."

Crowley scoffs. "I've heard that one before, Angel. You offered it up the other night."

"In exchange for taking Dean and his brother to safety," Cas says. The floor creaks again. "Which you did not do."

"And you didn't have the Staff. It seems neither of us were bargaining in good faith."

Carefully, Dean cracks one eye. The carpet is on fire about a foot and half from his face. He tenses on instinct, but then he realizes that it isn't giving off any heat. The flames are roughly knee-high. Instead of spreading, they're guttering in place. There's a smell in the air, something dark and musky and slightly sweet. Something that feels old – myrrh and saffron and oil.

Holy oil. It hooks in Dean's nose and makes him sneeze. He swallows the first one, but the second and third jerk his whole upper body. So much for playing possum until he came up with a real plan.

"Well, well," Crowley says slowly. "Lover-boy has finally decided to join us."

Metatron hums under his breath. "It looks like he could use some help getting up."

Cas says, "Leave him alone," but something invisible and rough grips Dean's arm and yanks him to his knees.

He sways a little once it's gone; the room is swimming in time with the throbbing in his head. He rubs his hand over his face and takes a quick look around. The ring of holy oil is just inside the door. Crowley and Metatron are sliming up the complementary chairs in the center of the room. Bela is sitting on the edge of the bed, her coat in her lap and her legs crossed at the ankle. She glances up long enough to catch Dean's eye and shake her head a fraction.

Dean isn't surprised. She's in so deep that she's got to play along with whoever's got the upper hand. Siding with the losers isn't going to get her out of her deal. She smooths her dress over her knees and taps her fingernails on the nightstand. The clock beside her wrist reads one twenty-one; Dean was napping for about half an hour. He figures Rowena's spell should be coming through any minute. He just needs to buy some time.

He glances at Cas. The firelight is flickering across his face, casting shadows that hone his features into strong, sharp lines. He looks – he looks like an angel. Like a statue in a cemetery. A painting in a church. He's bigger than you. When the time comes, you have to let him go. A hollow ache spreads through Dean's chest. He – fuck.

"The Staff ain't here," he says finally. It's not great as openers go, but quantity is on the menu right now, not quality.

"We know that," Metatron says, huffing. "We took the liberty of searching this dump while you were out."

"Okay." Dean's angel blade is on the floor again – if he survives this, he's making a sheath for the fucking thing – but the demon shank is still at his hip. He rolls his shoulders slightly, just enough to feel his forty-five shift against the small of his back. Missouri hadn't been wrong about them being sure of themselves. "Then what's with the intervention?"

"We want to know where you've hidden it," Metatron says.

"I don't –"

"Spare us the river in Egypt routine," Crowley snaps. His chair creaks as he leans forward and rests his hands on his knees. "Playtime is over, Winchester. Give us the Staff, or I'll start peeling your skin off in strips."

"You don't wanna do that," Dean says, shaking his head. "I'm a bleeder. You'll just ruin your fancy suit."

Crowley shrugs. "I'll admit, I'm not a fan of getting my own hands dirty. But threatening you is the only way to make your other half behave."

"If you hurt him, I won't tell you anything," Cas says.

"We're not talking about hurting. We're talking about killing." Metatron makes a sad noise in the back of his throat. "Human lives. They're so... fleeting." He flutters his fingers. "So fragile."

"Killing me won't do you any good," Dean says. He cocks his head at Cas. "He doesn't know where it is."

"Oh." Metatron sits up and brushes crumbs off his ugly sweater. "That changes things."

Cas doubles over with a scream. Blood starts pouring from his nose and mouth. Dean reaches for him, but his hand slams into an invisible wall. Something wraps around his throat again, squeezing just enough to make him suck in a breath on reflex. Gray spots fuzz at the corners of his eyes.

Metatron gives Dean an expectant look. "You might want to make a decision. Angels heal slower inside a ring. Considerably slower."

"All right, all right. Fix him up and I'll tell you where it is."

"Dean," Cas says thickly. His face is whiter than a sheet. "Dean, don't."

"Fix him, damn it."

The waterfall of blood stops. Cas grates out a noise. He straightens slowly, like everything inside him still hurts. His face is still too white. His hand shakes as he wipes his mouth.

Something like a thumb strokes up the length of Dean's windpipe. Crowley smiles when Dean shudders. Then he asks, "Where?"

"You can't get to it." That earns Dean's throat another squeeze. He wheezes a few times before continuing, "It – it's in a curse box. A human's gotta open it."

"Sounds convenient," Crowley says. An edge of sulfur cuts through the holy oil fogging the room. "Too convenient. You can't be stupid enough to think we'd let you walk out of here."

"I'll fly him there," Metatron offers.

Crowley snorts out a noise. "Absolutely not. Our deal was half and half. If you go alone, you just might decide to flap off with the whole thing."

Metatron spreads his hands. "You can't blame me for trying."

"You –"

"Look," Dean says, getting to his feet. "I got a guy who can bring it to us. Get your stink off me and I'll call him."

Metatron and Crowley exchange a glance. After a short, tight silence, Crowley gives a slight nod. The invisible thumb traces Dean's windpipe once more for good measure. Then the pressure around his throat ripples and fades away.

As soon as it's gone, Metatron gestures at Dean and says, "Go ahead. Call your friend."

"Dean," Cas says quietly.

"Sorry." Trust me. You gotta trust me. "We don't really have a choice."

"You shouldn't be so surprised, Castiel." Metatron heaves out a long sigh. "Humans are greedy. Covetous. Letting the Staff fall into our hands means he doesn't have to give you up."

Dean shakes his head as he dials Kevin's number. "Buddy, you got me all wrong."

Kevin picks up almost immediately. Before Dean can say anything, he asks, "Dean, are you okay?"

"I'm fucking peachy," Dean grumbles. His throat aches. "I need you to do something for me. Come down to my room. Knock three times so I know it's you."

"Yeah, okay," Kevin says – slowly, like he thinks Dean's lost his mind. "I'll be right down."

"And bring a pen and paper. You – in case I gotta draw you a map."

After he hangs up, Dean looks at Cas. The fire has started to dim, but red-gold light is still dancing across Cas' face. Dean just stares at him – at the line of his jaw, the slope of his cheek, the curve of his mouth. His gut twists. He doesn't know what he's going to do when Cas is gone.

Kevin knocks on the door: crack-crack-crack. It's so sudden and gunshot-sharp that Dean jumps a little. He rubs his face and tells himself to get his shit together. Then he frowns at the fire. It's low enough now that it barely reaches his shins. As he hop-steps over it, something skates across the back of his neck.

"Don't try to leave," Crowley warns. "If you stick anything bigger than your nose outside, I'll snap you in half."

Dean opens the door about a foot. He wedges himself in the doorway so Kevin can't see in and Metatron and Crowley can't see out. He leans in close to Kevin's ear and whispers, "There's a pawn ticket in your glove compartment."

"In my –"

"Shut up and listen. Take the ticket to Benny's place and cash it in. If he gives you any trouble, say pirates."

Kevin blinks at him. "Pirates?"

"Yeah," Dean says. Benny used to be one; he'd cruised the Gulf in the dead of night, waiting for rich people to fall asleep so he could climb on their yachts and rob them blind. He went straight after a Coast Guard raid sank his bowrider and nearly drowned his wife. "He's gonna give you that... package from earlier. Bring it here."

"Okay."

Dean catches his eye and winks. "You need a map?"

"Oh, um. Yeah." Kevin hands him a motel pad and pen. "That'd be great."

"Okay." Dean uncaps the pen with his teeth. He scrawls out a note that says, "Call Sam on your way back. Bring Jody and the demon cuffs. No sirens. Just bust in." He shoves it at Kevin and mutters, "Hurry." Then he slams the door in Kevin's face.

When Dean turns around, Metatron smiles at him. He slow-claps a few times and says, "That was a truly mediocre piece of street theater. I might've enjoyed it more if I hadn't heard every word."

Dean makes himself breathe. "What?"

"I'm very interested in the pawn shop. You –"

Metatron cuts off with a sharp, strangled noise. Beside him, Crowley shifts in his chair. Dean's almost afraid to hope at this point, but he looks over at Cas. After a quick pause, Cas nods. His hands clench at his sides. An uncomfortable frown tugs at the corner of his mouth.

Dean whips his forty-five out of his jeans and smiles. "You fellas doing okay?"

"Clever," Crowley spits. A vein is throbbing in his temple. "Very clever."

"I know," Dean says. He smiles wider. "Guess I'm not as stupid as you thought."

Cas takes a hesitant step over what's left of the fire. The second he's on the other side, he grabs Metatron by the collar and punches him in the face. "You set us up!" There's a snarl in his voice, dangerous and dark. He punches Metatron again. And again. "That fire killed Dean's father. Because of you, I was banished from Heaven."

Crowley's chair creaks. Dean snaps, "Sit your ass down," and levels the gun at his head. He keeps it trained there as he walks over and touches Cas' arm. "Cas, c'mon."

"No, Dean." There's a glint in Cas' eyes that has nothing to do with his grace. "He cost both of us too much."

"I know," Dean says. He slides his hand up Cas' shoulder and brushes his fingers through Cas' hair. "I get it. But you gotta chill for a minute."

Cas leans into Dean's hand a little. "You – fine." He looks dispassionately at the blood on his knuckles before cutting Metatron a glare. "For a minute."

Dean starts to say, "Okay," but he gets interrupted by a knock at the door. Keeping Crowley in his sights, he backs away from Cas and barks, "Come in."

After a pause, Rowena slips inside in a dark blue dress and a cloud of red hair. Her lilac perfume just agitates the sulfur-and-oil stench in the room. Crowley grumbles out a noise and tugs on his tie. The look on his face makes Dean want to roll on the floor and laugh until he cries.

"Mother," Crowley says cooly.

Rowena narrows her eyes. "Fergus."

Dean lets them stare at each other for a minute. Then he asks Rowena, "You need help with his leash?"

"No. It came off easy as anything as soon as the spell was cast." She draws her hair over one shoulder and tips her head to the side. "Will you be killing him now?"

"No, sorry. I need him for another fifteen or twenty minutes."

"Pity," Rowena says, sighing. She gives Dean a hex bag the color of a robin's egg. "Crush this three times in your left hand to end the spell." She glances at Crowley one more time. Then she pats Dean's shoulder and says, "It's been a pleasure, Winchester. I do hope I never see you again."

Dean snorts. "Yeah. Same to you."

Once she's gone, Metatron says, "Interesting spell." His lip is swollen, and dark bruises are spreading under his eyes. "I assume it only holds inside this room."

"Something like that, yeah."

"And if I went outside...?"

Dean hefts his gun slightly. "This is good for seven shots. If that doesn't slow you down, I got about four knives on me." He jerks his head toward the door. "Go ahead and try it."

Metatron holds up his hands. "I was just curious."

"What's your plan?" Sweat is beading on Crowley's forehead and cheeks. He's probably trying and failing to smoke out. "We die like rats in a trap? Feathers takes the Staff and flies home to Daddy?"

That is the plan, more or less. But Dean needs a little more time. He grits his teeth so his game-face doesn't slip and points the gun at Cas. "I told you guys. You got me all wrong."

"Dean," Cas says softly. It feels like a knife between the ribs.

"Well, well." Metatron barks out a laugh. "This is an unexpected plot twist. I –" he sighs and wags a finger at Dean "– I really believed you were doing this for love."

Dean puts a lazy shrug in his shoulder. "He's a sweet ride, but I ain't exactly the marrying type. 'Sides, it's not like he was planning on sticking around."

Cas breathes out a noise that Dean feels in the center of his chest.

"I suppose you want money," Crowley says.

"Sounds good." Dean's gut is a giant, furious knot. He grits his teeth again so he can look at Cas without puking. "What've you got?"

"Dean." It hurts twice as much this time. "You know I don't have money."

Dean sighs like he's disappointed. "Sorry, Angelcakes. That means they get the floor." He turns back to Metatron and Crowley. "What about you?"

"I," Crowley starts, but Metatron clears his throat. "We have fifty grand."

"Get it."

Metatron glances over his shoulder. "Bela, would you be so kind?"

Bela sets her coat on the bed. The headboard thunks against the wall as she stands. She walks around to the other side, crouches down, and reaches underneath. A moment later, she comes back with a suitcase. It's a stainless steel job, the kind of thing double agents use to move government secrets. She brings it over to him. Opens it just long enough to give him a glimpse of the cash.

"Put it by the door."

"What now?" Metatron asks. His nose is probably broken; the bruises around his eyes are livid and purple.

"As soon as the Staff gets here, I'm gone."

"What about Castiel?"

Dean forces out another shrug. "I figure he ain't my problem anymore. Kill him, let him go – that's between you guys."

"Why don't you kill him?" Crowley asks.

"I could," Dean says slowly. His heart is hammering in his throat. "But I already got three murders hanging over my head. I don't need one more."

They wait. And they wait. And they wait. A semi blares its horn up on the turnpike. A door slams a couple rooms down. Dean sighs and backs himself against the wall. His collar scratches the tired wood paneling. He doesn't look at Cas. He can't. Before they came in he asked Cas to trust him, but – Christ. He doesn't know.

Another semi blares its horn. The TV turns on in number four; the shrill buzz of a laugh-track slices through the paper-thin walls. Metatron hunches over in his chair. He winces as he prods at his lip and nose. The plumbing rattles behind the walls – someone running a shower. Crowley huffs out a low, irritated noise. A long gust of wind shrieks against the window.

Finally: crack-crack-crack. Dean side-steps the door so he can open it without showing Metatron and Crowley his back.

"Any trouble?" he asks.

"No." Kevin looks windswept and damp. He hands Dean the bundle and asks, "You need anything else?"

Dean nudges the suitcase with his boot. "Take this back to your room. Don't open the door for anyone but me."

"Yeah. Okay."

"Hey." Dean gives Kevin an eyebrow. "Thanks, brother."

Kevin mouths, "Soon." Then he says, "Yeah, bye."

Metatron starts to laugh before the door is even closed. He laughs hard enough that ends up slumped over and wheezing. Whining, "Ow, ow," because it hurts his broken nose. It's an obnoxious sound – high-pitched and raspy. His face flushes bright red underneath his bruises. His shoulders shake so much that he nearly falls out of his chair.

Eventually, he blows out a long breath and blots his wet eyes with his sleeve. Then he says, "You think that is the Staff?"

Dean spins his gun and slams its butt against Crowley's temple. As Crowley slithers to the floor, Dean says, "No. I think that is a decoy. I think you planted it on Ellsworth's rig to lure Cas out. This was all just another set-up."

"You are clever," Metatron says. His voice is a little tight; losing his back-up must be making him nervous. "Very clever."

"Where is it?" Dean demands. "Pontiac? Is it still in Pontiac?"

Metatron barely hesitates before saying, "No. Of course not."

It's such an obvious lie that Dean nearly slaps him on principle. Instead, he tells Cas, "You can kill him now."

Cas closes his eyes. He murmurs something under his breath – something too soft for Dean to hear. Then he slides his blade out of his sleeve and says, "I have a better idea."

He fists a hand in Metatron's hair and yanks, exposing Metatron's throat. He makes a quick, shallow cut right across the center. Metatron screams like he's dying, but the wound doesn't bleed. Bright wisps of blue-white light start wisping out of it. Cas catches it in a glass vial and slips it in the pocket of his trenchcoat.

Dean just stares. "Was that –?"

"His grace, yes. He's human, now." Cas tucks his blade back into his sleeve. "What about Crowley?"

Before Dean can answer him, the door splinters open. Jody charges through and shouts, "Put your hands on your head!"

+

The room is a mess – enough of a mess that Dean's glad he checked in under a fake name. Blood is smeared on Metatron's chair and splattered around his feet. The stain made by Cas bleeding out has soaked into the carpet and dried a rusty, reddish-black. The holy fire has finally died, but it's left a sooty circle just inside the door. A sigil is carved into the wood paneling near the bathroom – something protective, maybe. Or something to block a tracking spell. Cas would probably know what it is, but Dean can't bring himself to look at him yet.

Instead, he asks Sam, "What the hell took you guys so long?"

Wincing, Sam says, "Sorry." Then he bends down to look at Crowley. Crowley's starting to come around; he groans under his breath and kicks like a dog stuck in a bad dream. Sam grabs him under the arms and hauls him back into his chair. "I had to pick up Jody."

Jody rolls her eyes. "Don't put this on me, Winchester. You're the one who wouldn't listen when I told you not to take the turnpike."

Crowley sways a little. Sam steadies him by the shoulder and says, "I didn't know there was going to be an accident."

"In this weather?" Jody asks, snorting. "Of course there was going to be an accident." She taps her pen on her field notebook and gives Metatron a narrow look. "So, this guy used to be an angel, but now he's human?"

"Yes, he's human," Cas says.

"Okay," Jody says dubiously. She taps her field notebook a few more times. "What are we doing with him?"

After a pause, Cas says, "I understand you've been looking for the man who killed Alastair and Ellsworth."

Dean just stares at him. He'd been wondering why Cas de-graced Metatron instead of killing him. Figured maybe he was working some kind of "fate worse than death" angle. But this – Christ. This is perfect. It puts Metatron on ice pretty much permanently. It gets Dean off the hook and saves Cas from scrambling a bunch of brains like an omelet.

"Hey," Metatron whines. It's the first thing he's said since Cas clipped his wings. "That's not fair."

Cas hefts his blade slightly. "It's more than fair, given everything you've done. You could say I'm... letting you off easy."

"Is that so?" Metatron's bruises are gone – Cas must've healed him while Dean was helping Sam cuff Crowley – but his beard is matted with dried blood. So is the collar of his sweater. "What makes you think I'll play along?"

"Because if I kill you now, you'll die as a human." Cas pulls the grace vial from his pocket and holds it an inch from Metatron's nose. "Cooperate, and I'll return this to you after you've served your sentence. Then when I kill you, you'll die as an angel."

Metatron opens his mouth. Closes it. Then he huffs out another pained noise and says, "Fine." The color has drained from his face; he looks like he might puke. "You – fine."

"Okay, pal," Jody says, reaching for her cuffs. "Stand up and put your hands behind your back."

"What d'you think, Sammy?" Dean cocks his head to this side. "I figure Ellsworth owed him money. Something to do with drugs, maybe."

Sam's mouth twitches. "Drugs are good. What about Alastair? Wrong place, wrong time?"

"Yep." Dean shakes his head and sighs. "Unlucky bastard. He saw it go down, and Enoch here didn't want any witnesses."

"Works for me," Jody says. Crowley groans and shifts in his chair; she shoots him an uneasy glance before grabbing Metatron's arm. "I'll take his statement in the car. That'll give you guys some time to, um. To –" she waves her hand "– whatever."

"Bye-bye," Dean tells Metatron. He winks. "See you in twenty-five to life."

Metatron gives Dean the finger, but it loses something because his hands are cuffed and balanced on his ass. Jody grabbing his collar and frog-marching him across the room doesn't help, either. The door opens with a creak. A wave of white noise laps inside as they walk out – the steady drum of the rain mixed with the hum and whir of US 59.

Once they're gone, Sam gestures at Crowley and asks, "How hard did you hit him?"

Dean shrugs. "It was just a love-tap. I don't know why he's still –"

"He's awake," Cas cuts in. His voice is so toneless and dull that Dean wants to kick himself in the ass about five hundred times. "He's been awake for close to ten minutes." He knuckles the side of Crowley's neck, right below the ear. When Crowley just mumbles groggily, he does it again. This time, there's an electric crackle and a quick spark of light.

Crowley jerks away with a hiss. "All right, all right. I'm awake." He lifts his arms and jangles the demon cuffs. "Are these really necessary?"

"Don't ask stupid questions." Cas' hand flexes like he wants to try that cattleprod move again. Then he looks at Dean – fuck, fuck – and asks, "What are you planning to do with him?"

Crowley snorts. "Besides kill me, you mean?"

"Yeah, besides kill you," Dean says. He nudges Sam's side. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Take him to Bobby's? Work him over 'til he spills the details on his crossroads operation, then slit his throat?"

Dean claps Sam's shoulder. "Would you look at that? My brother's a mind-reader." He pulls the demon shank and jabs it close to Crowley's face. "I know killing you'll junk your deals, but Bela's kinda on the clock. You can go ahead and do hers now."

"Sorry." A nasty smile twists Crowley's mouth. "I don't hold Bela's contract."

"You snake," Bela spits. Heat rises in her cheeks; she looks ready to rip his head off with her bare hands. "You said you hold all the contracts."

"I hold the contracts made since I gained control of the crossroads." Crowley straightens his tie, making the demon cuffs jingle and clank. "There was a queen before me. She holds the contracts made during her tenure."

"He could be lying." Dean hopes he's lying. Bela's only got six days left; that doesn't give them a lot of time to start looking somewhere else. He asks Cas, "Is there a way to check? A spell, or a –"

"Yes," Cas says. He doesn't sound happy about it. "If I touch her soul, I can read the claim on it. But it –" he frowns at Bela "– it won't be pleasant."

"Whatever," Bela says, sighing. "Just get it over with."

Cas walks over to the bed and crouches in front of her. After hesitating for a second, he carefully touches the center of her chest. Light flares under his palm, bright enough that Bela winces and closes her eyes. There's a short, tense pause. Then Cas' hand slips inside her to the wrist. She screams like a police siren, long and high and horrible. Tears well in her eyes. She clutches at the bedspread until her knuckles burn white.

A few moments later, Cas pulls away and stands. Shaking his head, he says. "Crowley's telling the truth."

"Told you," Crowley mutters.

"Shut up," Dean says, whipping the demon shank past Crowley's cheek. Crowley yelps; his cuffs rattle like something out of a horror movie. Dean turns to Cas and asks, "Did you get a name?"

Cas nods. "Yes."

"Okay," Dean says slowly. "Okay. If we got a name, we can summon the sonofabitch. We can –"

"Forget it, Winchester." Bela snatches her coat off the bed and stands. Her eyes are red and wet. Her legs wobble slightly as she stalks toward the door. "I'll just handle it myself. I've always had to handle everything myself. No reason this should be any different."

"Hey," Dean starts, but she just slams the door in his face. "Damn it, Bela."

"Dean," Cas says. He reaches for Dean's arm but stops short of touching. Dean wants to kiss him. Would, if he didn't think he'd get punched in the face. "We don't need her to work a summons. Not if we have the demon's name."

"I know, I know. I just – fuck." Dean sighs and scrubs at his hair. Then he hands Sam the demon shank and jerks his head toward the door. "Get this jackass outta here. I'm tired of smelling him."

"Yeah, come on," Sam says, yanking Crowley up by his collar. He crowds in close to Crowley's back and digs the demon shank into his side. "Nice and easy, unless you want to die in the parking lot."

"Your concern for my dignity is touching," Crowley says flatly. After a pause, he sighs. "I'll behave. If my choices are bad or worse, I'd prefer some hunter's grotty basement to this toilet of a motel."

With that, he lets Sam herd him outside. A handful of wind slips past them before Sam closes the door, but the chill just brightens the sulfur-and-oil fug hanging in the air. Once they're gone, Cas grabs Crowley's chair and drags it over to the table. After waving away the blood, he does the same with Metatron's. Then he stands there for a second. He sighs quietly and taps his fingers on the sticky Formica.

Dean just watches him. He can barely breathe around the sick feeling rising in his throat – guilt jumbled with a million dumb, inadequate apologies. He opens his mouth around, "I'm sorry," and "I didn't mean it," and "I was just playing for time, I needed more time." But nothing comes out. His chest aches. His tongue feels too big for his mouth.

Cas sighs again and toward him. Looks at him. His face is tight and tense and hurt. His jaw works like he's about to say something, but then he shivers and whips his head around like a deer caught in the crosshairs. A strange, prickly pressure fills the room. Cas glances at the ceiling. Then he walks over to the sigil on the wall. He stabs his blade into the wood paneling and scores a blazing line through the center of the markings.

A beat passes. And another. Then the air rips open for an angel in a neat gray suit. She comes in like a hurricane; the windows rattle, and the lights flicker. One of the chairs crashes to the floor and skids toward the bathroom.

Dean fumbles for his blade, but Cas says, "Dean, no," and holds out his hand. "Hannah's a friend."

"Castiel," she says urgently. She has brown hair and wide, blue eyes. She must've just left a fight because a half-healed cut is curving across her cheek. "I heard your prayer. What you said seemed impossible, but I – you were correct."

The tension around Cas' mouth eases slightly. "Did you find it?"

Nodding, Hannah reaches into her jacket and pulls out a tired-looking piece of wood. It's – Christ. It's the Staff. Dean doesn't know what he expected, but this thing doesn't look like much. It's about two feet long and a little thicker than a broom handle. It's bent at one end, more of a kink than a real curve.

"It was heavily warded," Hannah explains. She has another faint cut underneath her jaw. "Numerous spells, all of them deadly. And Jofiel was guarding it. He –"

"Jofiel?" Cas asks sharply. "But he's been missing since –" He cuts off with a huff. "Of course. He's been missing nearly as long as the Staff. Is he dead?"

"Castiel, I had no choice." She sounds stricken. "He was rabid. Whoever gave him this task broke his mind utterly."

"Metatron. It was Metatron."

"Metatron? No. That's impossible. He – no."

Cas reaches for her. "I can show you."

After a brief hesitation, Hannah takes Cas' hand. Light flickers between their palms, sudden and bright. It starts out pure white, but it turns an unsettling pinkish-orange once it starts coursing up Hannah's arm. A thread of ozone winds through the air. Hannah looks shocked, then confused, then horrified, then sad. She glances at Dean and pulls away with a gasp.

"Oh. Oh, Castiel. You've been away from Heaven too long." She offers him the Staff. "Take this. Let me bring you home."

Dean makes himself breathe. His hands are shaking. He – fuck. This is it. This is really it.

Goodbye, Cas. You, uh. You take care of yourself.

Cas looks at the Staff for a long moment – long enough that Dean's skin starts to crawl. Anticipation slithers around in his gut. He almost tells Cas to hurry up. Get it over with. Just go. Dean's half off the deep end already; dragging this out is just going to send him straight into a nosedive.

Finally, Cas says, "Our superiors will be glad to have the Staff returned. You will be highly honored."

"Castiel," Hannah murmurs. Confusion twists her mouth. "I – I don't understand."

"I'm staying here."

"What?" Dean blurts. He just blinks at Cas for a second – at his crooked tie and his bird's nest hair and his dumb, perfect face. "No way. You – no."

"Are you certain?" Hannah presses. She spares Dean another glance, pursing her lips in a way that says she finds him lacking in every area. "He's human. Their passions are... fleeting. Fleeting and strange."

"Often, but not always," Cas says. He smiles softly. "It was good to see you, Hannah."

Hannah nods. She says, "Goodbye, Castiel," and zaps out with a burst of wind that knocks over the empty beer bottles on the table.

Dean watches them roll off and clunk to the floor. His pulse is gunning for some kind of speed record. He has to clear his throat a couple of times before his voice is willing to work. "Cas, you – you, um. Is this – you sure about this?"

"Yes," Cas says simply. He frowns a little, like he doesn't understand why Dean is asking. "I've never loved or wanted anything like I love and want you."

That curls into Dean's chest. Tries to put down roots and bloom into something warm and soft. Still, Dean asks, "What about Heaven?" Because – Christ. Dean is an alcoholic PI with a car full of guns and a crappy relationship history. And Cas is an angel. "I mean, you've been trying to get back upstairs for eight years."

Cas just shrugs that away. He takes Dean's hand, stroking Dean's knuckles with his thumb. "I'll miss it. But I wouldn't be happy there. Not without you."

"Last night," Dean says slowly. "Last night, you were still talking about leaving."

"I couldn't let myself hope. Not when the Staff was still missing. Not with Crowley and Metatron hunting us. But I –" Cas pauses. An uncertain look clouds his face. "You're acting like you don't want this."

Dean closes his eyes for a second. He sees Cassie telling him it isn't working out. Lisa asking him to pack up his shit. Robin screaming at him in the Lawrence High School quad because he ditched prom to work a PI gig with his dad. That guy up at Stanford – after nearly twenty years, Dean doesn't remember his name. Just his shitty, school-housing apartment, and how they'd shacked up for the two weeks Dean spent trying to convince Sam to come home. How he'd bolted the minute a bloodless body turned up an hour north in Sausalito.

"I do want this. I want you. I just – I, uh." Dean's face is on fire. He rubs his hand over it and blows out a breath. "I don't know how to do this."

"Neither do I," Cas says. He strokes his thumb over Dean's knuckles again. "We – we can learn how together."

"Okay," Dean decides. He tugs Cas closer and kisses his jaw, his throat. The motel room is still a mess, but Dean figures it can wait until morning. "Let's go home."

+

They land in Dean's bed. Naked.

"Nice move," Dean says, laughing. He nudges Cas onto his back and swings his leg over Cas' hip.

Cas smiles up at him. "I thought you might appreciate it."

Dean huffs out another laugh. Then he sits up on his knees and looks – at the line of Cas' neck, the curve of his shoulders, the dark hair dusting the center of his chest. He skims a hand across Cas' collarbone. Tweaks Cas' nipples until they peak between his fingers, until Cas shifts under him and breathes out a noise. Cas' dick hardens against Dean's ass, so Dean edges back and rubs against it. Cas tips his head back, making his hair scratch against the pillow. His throat bobs around a soft moan.

"Christ, you're perfect," Dean says quietly. "You know that, right?"

The bed creaks as Cas shifts again. "Dean."

Dean's guilt comes creeping back, nagging like a phantom itch between his shoulder blades. "All that shit I said earlier... you gotta know I wasn't – I didn't –"

"Dean," Cas says again. He slides his hands up Dean's thighs and holds them at Dean's hips. "I know you didn't mean it. It was part of your plan." He gives Dean's hips a squeeze. "I never doubted you."

"Yeah. But I – I, um." Dean had needed more time. He'd needed to keep Metatron talking until he got sloppy and gave up the Staff's location. Pretending to flip on Cas had been the obvious way to go. Dean just wishes it had been so – so. "Couldn't've been easy to hear."

"It wasn't," Cas admits. "But it was more difficult to feel your distress."

"You – still? Even with Gilda's spell going?"

"It was very faint." Cas touches Dean's scar, tracing the shape of it with the tips of his fingers. A slow shiver curls around Dean's spine. "You were upset. Disgusted with yourself. At one point you felt physically ill."

Dean gasps out, "Yeah," and shivers again. "Yeah, I did."

Cas slides his other hand up Dean's back. "Dean, kiss me."

Dean leans in, bracing his elbows on either side of Cas' head. He brushes their mouths together a few times, slow and soft. He catches Cas' lower lip between his teeth and tugs slightly. Cas moans into it, low and throaty and gorgeous. He works his hand into Dean's hair and pulls just enough to make Dean's skin prickle with heat. Dean's dick is trapped against Cas' belly, so Dean rubs it there, rolling his hips as he pushes his tongue into Cas' mouth, as he drags a wet kiss down the line of Cas' jaw, as he bites a mark into the hollow of Cas' throat.

Cas pulls Dean closer. He noses at the slope of Dean's cheek and the shell of his ear, and he nips his way between the hinge of Dean's jaw and the corner of his mouth. When he kisses Dean again, it's filthy and wet; he murmurs a noise against Dean's lips, then cradles the back of Dean's neck and sucks Dean's tongue into his mouth. He arches up a little and rubs himself against Dean's ass. He teases Dean's scar again – skimming his thumb over it, then his fingers, then his palm. It sparks a wave of arousal that makes Dean shake; he hides his face in the curve of Cas' neck and whines against Cas' skin.

Once he can breathe again, Dean mumbles, "Fuck, fuck," and pushes himself up. He reaches for the nightstand and digs around in the drawer until he finds his bottle of lube. Just in case, he grabs a condom, too.

The first finger goes in easy. Dean plants his knees on the bed and holds one hand at Cas' hip. He rides the other with slow rolls of his hips. Everything is slick with lube and sweat, and Cas' dick keeps slipping up into Dean's cleft, bumping hard and hot against Dean's knuckles. The second finger is a stretch – enough that a groan catches in the back of Dean's throat – but it just digs at the heat pooling in Dean's gut. Cas is watching him with wide, dark eyes. He rakes his nails up Dean's thighs. Then he wraps a hand around Dean's dick and strokes, smiling when Dean jerks and fucks into it with a moan.

"You should see yourself," Cas says, his voice low and soft. "You're beautiful."

Dean shakes his head slightly; he knows he's red-faced and slack-mouthed and sweaty. A blotchy flush is spreading down the center of his chest. But Cas just keeps staring at him. He thumbs Dean's slit, smearing precome around the head of Dean's dick as he slides his other hand down to Dean's ass. He paints a finger through the lube slicked behind Dean's balls, then brushes it around Dean's rim. Nudges it alongside Dean's fingers – in, in, in.

It's too much. Too good. Dean chokes out, "Cas," and grinds down onto it. His free hand slips off Cas' hip and fists in the sheets.

Cas touches him slowly at first, inching in and out like he's curious. Pushing in and pausing like he just wants to know how Dean feels inside. His eyes are nearly black, and his face is fever-bright. The next time Dean fucks down, Cas twists his wrist a little. He works his finger between Dean's until all three are knotted together. Then he follows Dean's pace – faster and rougher and deeper. Thrusting in and dragging out until Dean is shuddering and clenching around them.

"Okay." Dean gropes for the condom until he finds it hiding in a fold of the sheet. Holding up up, he says, "Okay. How d'you wanna do this?"

Cas squeezes Dean's hip. "I can't catch or transmit disease, and I healed you this morning. It's not necessary – not unless you prefer it."

Dean doesn't know; he's never done it without one. But thinking about it – feeling every inch of Cas inside him, feeling Cas come – has him fumbling with the lube. He squirts too much on his hand, so much that it drips off his fingers when he reaches down to slick Cas' dick. It takes him a second to get lined up; his thighs ache and his knees keep slipping in the sheets. The head of Cas' dick tags against his hole – once, twice. Then it nudges in. And then Cas is pushing in, arching up slightly as Dean sinks down. The bed is squeaking, and Dean's toes are curling, and Cas is filling Dean up.

"Jesus," Dean hisses. He sucks in a breath. And another. Underneath him, Cas is drawn tighter than a bow-string; he's white-knuckling the sheets like he's desperate to move.

Dean strokes himself a few times, teasing his fingers through the new rush of precome beading at the tip of his dick. Then he rolls his hips, easy and slow. A moan rips out of Cas' throat; he tips his head back against the pillow and pants out Dean's name. So Dean does it again. And again and again and again. He leans down, sliding his hands up Cas' chest so he can thumb Cas' nipples. He rocks down and pulls up. Shifts his hips until Cas' dick is skimming over his prostate.

Cas moans again. He wrings his hands at Dean's hips before running one up Dean's side. He pulls Dean down for a kiss that's sloppy and needy and wet. He starts to thrust, finding a rhythm that has him spearing up and in as Dean sinks down. Dean digs his nails into Cas' shoulders and groans out a noise. It's incredible, all of it – the silver glint behind Cas' eyes, the bare heat of Cas' dick, the slow sex-ache burning in Dean's thighs.

Cas draws Dean into another kiss. He wraps his hand around Dean's dick, stroking it as he mouths at Dean's jaw and throat. He bites a mark over Dean's collarbone and another at the curve of Dean's neck. Dean hides a whine in Cas' hair; he's so close to coming he can feel it in the soles of his feet. He ends up squirming between Cas' dick and Cas' hand, unsure of what he wants more – the rough drag of Cas' palm or the deep spark of pleasure from Cas sliding against his prostate.

It builds and builds until he's hanging by a thread. But then on his next thrust, Cas brushes his hand over Dean's scar. Everything under Dean's skin lights up like a fireworks display. He grits out, "Cheater," and comes, his dick pulsing in Cas' fist and his breath shuddering in his throat. Cas kisses his blazing-hot cheek and the sweat-damp hair at his temple. Then he grips Dean by the hips, digging his fingers into Dean's skin as he fucks up and finishes himself off. The lights flicker, and the headboard smacks against the wall. And then Cas is coming. Dean can feel it – Jesus Christ, he can feel it – hot and messy and thick.

Dean slumps against Cas' chest. Presses his face to Cas' neck and breathes Cas in. Cas smells like he always does – ozone and fresh-cut grass – but now it's threaded with clean sweat and off-brand laundry detergent. Rain is pounding against the window. The air in the room is sex-humid, almost solid enough to chew. Cas shifts under Dean and pulls out, leaving Dean feeling slippery-wet and open. When he grumbles about it, Cas kisses the shell of his ear and strokes a hand up and down his back.

"You should sleep," he says quietly.

Dean mumbles, "Yeah," and closes his eyes. "You gonna clean us up?"

"Yes," Cas says, nudging at his shoulder.

Dean starts to sit up, but Cas' dick bumps the inside of his thigh, come-sticky and already hard again. He reaches down and brushes his fingers over it. Skates his palm across the head. Cas bites back a noise that makes Dean smile.

"You ready to go again?"

"Dean."

"I ain't complaining." Dean rolls them, letting Cas' weight pin him to the bed. He digs his heel into Cas' ass and says, "C'mon. Fuck me."

"Dean," Cas says again. His voice is low and dark. He hesitates for a second, but then lines himself up and slides back home.

It's different this time – sharper, more of a razor's edge. The angle isn't perfect; Cas misses Dean's prostate more than he hits it. But when he does hit it – fuck. When he does hit it, Dean feels like he's drowning. Like he's crawling out of his skin. Jolts of too-bright pleasure snap through him, quicker and hotter than lightning. He shivers when they strike. He whines in the back of his throat. He grits out Cas' name and claws desperately at the sheets.

"Fuck," Dean hisses. It's all he's got. "Fuck, fuck."

Cas hums under his breath and thumbs the skin at Dean's hips. "Is it good?"

"Yeah." Dean's never gone for round two so soon after round one; he had no idea it would be like this. It's too much – way, way too much – but it's also good. Impossibly, indescribably good. "Yeah. I – Cas."

Cas hums again and thrusts in hard. Heat is burning underneath his jaw, and his hair is hanging in his eyes. He leans in and presses a kiss to the hollow of Dean's throat. Then he noses at Dean's jaw and asks, "Do you want to come again?"

"I – fuck. Don't think I can."

"Do you want to?"

Dean tries to say, "Yes," but he's so strung-out that it curls into a moan. He buries it in the pillow and nods. The room is still for a moment – all Dean can hear is the punched-out cadence of his own breathing and slick-wet sound of Cas fucking through his own come. Then Cas slides his hand down between Dean's legs and palms Dean's dick. A quick pulse of grace throbs through him, and then his dick his aching and filling and – fuck. Fuck. He squeezes his eyes shut and tries to get some air into his lungs. When he opens them again, Cas is looking down, watching as Dean's dick slips in and out of his fist.

Cas' hips start to stutter. The lights flicker again. Cas comes with a choked-off moan and his free hand digging a bruise into Dean's hip. He strokes Dean's dick – once, twice, three times. He teases his thumb over the head, and Dean shivers. Comes with a weak, grateful noise that's almost a sob.

+

Dean wakes up to his phone ringing. Grunting, he rolls away from Cas and grabs it off the nightstand. The call is from an unknown number with a New York area code. Dean's just sleep-drunk enough that he answers it anyway.

"Yeah?"

"Dean," Bela says urgently. "Dean, I need your help."

"Bela." Dean sits up and rubs at his gritty eyes. The clock says it's four twenty-seven; he was only out a couple of hours. "Don't worry about it. Me and Cas are gonna fix you up. You –"

"No, not that," she cuts in. After a pause, she sighs in his ear. "I'm in a spot of more immediate trouble."

Dean swings his legs over the side of the bed. Grunting again, he rescues his jeans off the floor and gives them a shake. "What kind of trouble?"

"The police kind." Her voice is hollow and dull, like she's calling from somewhere small and closed-in – an elevator, or a narrow hallway. "Apparently, renting a car under a false name amounts to theft out here in the sticks."

Dean says, "Uh-huh," and reaches for a t-shirt. That's some "letter of the law" kind of shit – too hardass for most of the cops in town. Even if she got prissy with them, they'd just tag her with misdemeanor identity fraud and call it a day. "What d'you need? Bail?"

Another pause. "Yes, bail. I gave you everything but my shirt back at the motel."

"How much?"

"Fifteen thousand."

That's too much; the most recent bail schedule has GTA set at ten. "Fifteen? You sure?"

"Yes." She sighs again. It's an impatient sound, like she thinks Dean is just being tight. "Dean, please. I've only a few days left. I'd rather not spend them in a holding cell."

"Yeah, we're on our way." Dean gropes around the side of the bed until he finds his boots. "You at the police station or the sheriff's office?"

"I'm at the District Attorney's office," Bela says. Dean hears a few muffled thumps behind her – close to her, but down the hallway or on the other side of a door. "I asked to see Singer, but he – he wouldn't help me."

Three strikes. Bobby doesn't like Bela, but he wouldn't leave her high and dry. Something tells Dean not to mention it. Instead, he says, "Okay. We'll be right down," and hangs up.

The mattress dips as Cas gets to his feet. He was naked the last time Dean looked; by the time he walks around the bed, he's fully dressed, down to his tie and shoes. He tips his head to the side and says, "You think she was lying." It isn't a question.

"I know she was lying," Dean says. "Her story was all right, but the details didn't add up." His feet want nothing to do with his boots, but he grits his teeth and starts stamping into them. "I just – I'd already told her we'd help her. I don't get why she spun me a fairy tale."

Cas frowns. "She might not have been in a position to tell the truth."

"What? You think someone was squeezing her?"

"It's possible."

Dean chews on that while he finishes lacing up his boots. He knows from experience that Bela's usually better at thinking on her feet. She must've been rattled to give him a story with so many holes in it. Rattled, or in a hurry. "Can't figure who. She's only here 'cause of her deal, so – aw, shit." He slaps his knees and looks up at Cas. "There's someone else after the Staff. Tweedledee and Tweedledum must've had a silent partner."

Cas just stares at him for a second. Then he huffs out an irritated sigh and says, "Of course. Controlling the crossroads has increased Crowley's power, but he's far from the top of Hell's hierarchy." A muscle tics in his jaw. "He couldn't have ordered ten demons to guard Ellsworth's truck. He doesn't have the authority."

"Great," Dean mutters, shrugging back into his red shirt. At some point during today's bullshit it earned itself a hole in its sleeve, but Dean figures this isn't a beauty contest. "Okay. The DA's office is – wait. Maybe I should... drive. Lead. Whatever. I wanna put us in Bobby's office so we don't drop right into something freaky."

Cas points at the dresser and asks, "What about the money?" The stainless steel suitcase is sitting on top of it; Cas must've visited Kevin while Dean was asleep.

"Forget it." Dean shakes his head and wraps his arms around Cas' waist. "I'd bet everything in there she doesn't need it."

Steering the Angel Express is smoother this time around – maybe because it isn't Dean's first rodeo, maybe because Cas isn't half-dead with exhaustion. Either way, Dean feels less like he's throwing himself off a cliff. Less like he's about to get sucked into space. He pictures the ugly, concrete bulwark of the Douglas County seat, then the boring wood and glass interior of Henriksen's outer office, then the upjumped storage closet where Bobby's keeps his filing cabinet and desk. He reaches for it. Sinks his fingers into it. Yanks himself and Cas toward it.

They land to the sound of someone screaming. A cloud of sulfur crowds into Dean's nose before he even opens his eyes. When his vision clears, he finds himself blinking at the topographical map of Lawrence that covers Bobby's back wall. He spins around. Bobby's door has been blown off its hinges. His wheelchair is in the doorway, on its side and empty. One of the wheels is bent.

Glass shatters in the next room. Dean looks at Cas and hisses, "Demon?"

"No," Cas says, shaking his head. "Archdemon. I can feel its corrupt power."

"Damn it." Dean doesn't know why he's surprised; it's been that kind of day. "You think you can take it?"

"Outside a devil's trap?" Cas shakes his head again. "Probably not. But I can try."

Dean doesn't like the sound of that. He holds up his hand and whispers, "Wait, wait." Then he crouch-walks to Bobby's desk and digs around. He comes up empty on the first drawer and emptier on the second, but he strikes gold on the third. Tucked behind a nearly drained bottle of Old Grand-Dad is a dusty and tired-looking thirty-eight special. Dean releases the cylinder, shakes out one of the bullets, and grabs the knife in his boot.

"What are you doing?" Cas asks.

"It's a trick Charlie taught me," Dean says, carving the tip of the bullet in quick, careful strokes. "Devil's trap bullet. Pins a demon in place for awhile."

"For how long?"

"On an archdemon?" Dean grimaces a little. "Probably not long. Might buy us a few minutes."

Another scream pierces the air. Cas says, "Dean, hurry."

Dean says, "I'm trying." Then the knife slips and nicks his thumb and he mutters, "Fuck, fuck," under his breath. "This thing is tiny. Why couldn't Bobby have a fifty caliber piece in his desk?"

More glass shatters. Wood splinters with a sharp, angry crack. Cas says, "Dean," again, but Dean is already standing. He feeds the devil's trap bullet into the thirty-eight's empty slot and lines it up with the barrel.

"All right. Let's go."

The outer office looks like a hurricane blew through it. Half the desks are overturned. Books and folders and papers are scattered all over the floor. Everything is covered in shards of broken glass. Bobby is a few feet from his wheelchair, sprawled out and unconscious. Bela is just behind him, curled against the wall and bleeding from her nose. Someone screams again – Nancy. She's crouched behind her desk and crying. Her phone is off the hook, the receiver hanging off the desk by its corkscrew cord. Henriksen is kneeling in his doorway. Blood is oozing from a cut on his cheek.

The demon is on the other side of the room. Dean recognizes the meatsuit immediately – Lilith. She has Sam backed against the wall and her hand around his throat.

"Where is it?" she demands.

Sam's face is so red it's practically purple. He works his mouth a few times like he's struggling to breathe. He wheezes before saying, "Told you. Don't know. Wasn't – wasn't in on the hunt."

"But your brother was. Your brother and his pet angel. And I can't find them for some reason." She digs her thumb under Sam's jaw hard enough to draw blood. "Where are they?"

"Right here," Dean barks. He levels the gun. "Let him go."

Lilith spares him half a glance over her shoulder. Then she waves her free hand and sends him flying across the room. As he slams into the wall, he sees Cas grab her by the shoulder and tear her away from Sam. Sam collapses with a groan, and Nancy lets out a gasp that breaks into a sob. Before Dean can get up, an invisible fist slams into Dean's jaw. His head knocks against the wall; he closes his eyes for a second so he won't have to watch the room spin.

When he opens them again, he finds Cas and Lilith locked in a mojo standoff. They're standing nose to nose and staring murder at each other. Dean can't see anything, but he can smell it – a sickening ebb and flow of sulfur and ozone. Sweat is beading on Cas' forehead, and Lilith's hands are clenching at her sides. The air feels prickly, ready to rip in half.

"The Staff is in Heaven," Cas grits.

"That's a shame." Lilith sighs like she's disappointed. "I told Sam that I wouldn't hurt anyone if he handed it over. Looks like I get to kill everyone now."

Dean glances around for the gun as Cas says, "No. I won't let you." It's on the other side of the room, about a foot and a half from Henriksen. Dean would have to crawl past Lilith to get it; he doubts he'd make it very far.

Lilith shrieks with laughter. "You? You don't have the juice. Just holding me is taking everything you have."

Henriksen is staring at Lilith and Cas, so Dean waves at Nancy to get her attention. Once he has it, he gestures to Henriksen. Nancy reaches over and touches his arm. On her second try, she snaps him out of his daze. She whispers to him, and Henriksen looks at Dean.

Dean points at the gun, then points at Lilith. After a moment, Henriksen nods. Slowly, he leans over and grabs it. Henriksen hesitates, so Dean points at Lilith again. She's focused on Cas and Henriksen is almost directly behind her; she won't notice him if he doesn't make any sudden moves.

Lilith tells Cas, "It's been a millennia since I killed an angel. I'm going to enjoy bathing in your blood."

Cas narrows his eyes. Whatever he does makes her flinch slightly, but she recovers by her next breath. Henriksen inches closer to her – one step, then another, then another. A shard of glass snaps under his shoe. Lilith curls her hand into a fist. Henriksen doubles over, grunting like he's been gut-punched. He squeezes a shot off before he hits the ground. Clips her right behind the ear.

Lilith jerks in place. Her arms swing uselessly at her sides, but she lets out another laugh. "Clever. Very clever. How long do you think this will hold me?"

Instead of answering, Cas grabs her around the throat. Light flares from his palm and throbs around her face like a heartbeat. Smoke dribbles out of her nose and mouth – not enough. Not nearly enough.

"Sammy," Dean shouts. He wrenched his knee when he fell; standing makes a sharp pain shoot up his leg. "Where's the shank?"

"Bobby's," Sam croaks.

"Fuck." That makes sense – working Crowley over with a regular knife would be like pissing in the wind – but it's not what Dean wants to hear. He mutters, "Fuck," again and tries to walk. He doesn't get very far before he has to lean on a desk.

"Look at you," Lilith sneers. Grace-light is blazing under her chin. "Trying so hard. Too bad you'll burn yourself out before you come anywhere close to killing me."

Cas' blade falls out of his sleeve. It hits the floor with a soft clink and rolls toward the desk behind him. Grunting, Sam lunges for it. He fumbles it on his first try but grabs it on his second. Once he's got it, he heaves himself up and plants it in Lilith's back.

Lilith screams. The blade buzzes and hums like the demon shank. It doesn't kill her, but she slumps a little. Shakes and sucks in a breath. It's enough to give Cas a second wind; he leans into her and tightens his grip on her throat. More smoke puffs out of her nose and mouth.

Pain spears through the center of Dean's scar. He – fuck. His scar. Dean hobbles toward Cas. He tugs his shirt down over his shoulder and shoves up the sleeve of his tee. Sam yanks the blade out of Lilith's back and stabs her again. Dean grabs Cas' free hand and slaps it against his scar.

Cas's palm flares brighter. Lilith screams again, but then a bolt of grace catches in her throat. It surges there for a second before bursting out of her eyes and nose and mouth. A new wave of sulfur swamps the air, strong enough that Dean nearly gags. Cas sucks in a breath and steps away from Lilith. She drops to the floor like a stone, her knees bending and her hair clouding around her face. One of her hands lands beside Dean's foot. Her bright blue fingernail polish is chipped.

Quietly, Nancy asks, "Is she – is she dead?"

Cas nods slightly. His mouth is thin and tight. He sways into Dean's shoulder, so Dean pulls him close before looking at Sam and asking, "How's the old man?"

Sam crouches beside Bobby and puts two fingers to his neck. After a pause, he says, "He's alive."

"Okay." Dean sighs with relief and looks over at Bela. She's blotting her bloody nose with her beige and brown scarf. He's pretty sure he knows the answer, but he still asks, "Was Lilith your huckleberry?"

"Yes."

"Okay. Okay, we –"

"Winchester," Henriksen barks. He's still holding Bobby's gun. "What the hell just happened in here?"

A beat passes. And another. Then Sam gives Dean an eyebrow and asks, "Do you want to tell him? Or do you want me to do it?"

"I got it," Dean mutters.

Thunder rolls overhead, close enough that it rattles the windows. Dean presses a quick kiss to Cas' temple. His leg is still screwed, so it takes him a minute to limp over to Bobby's office. He grabs the bottle of Old Grand-Dad and limps back out. The sulfur stench in the air is hanging around like skunk-spray.

Henriksen looks somewhere between furious and freaked out. Dean can relate. He claps him on the shoulder and says, "C'mon, Victor. It's time we had a chat."


+


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