Dean spends exactly fifteen minutes in the shower. For about half of that, he just stands hunched under the spray so it can beat against the knots in his shoulders and back. It doesn't really help. After he gets out, he spends another four minutes throwing on a fresh set of clothes. His feet still hate him, but he figures a clean pair of socks is a decent apology for putting his boots on again. The smell of coffee laps at the space under his bedroom door. He needs a shave, but it's already eight-fifty-four. He can practically hear Sam tapping his foot.
"All right," he says, walking into the kitchen. His hair is still damp. "What happened? You and Bobby called me like nine times."
Sam chews his lip. Then he sets his coffee aside and pulls his phone out of his pocket. After poking at it for a moment, he holds it up and asks, "Jody sent me these right before I called you. You know him?"
Dean squints at the phone, tilting Sam's wrist to get an angle without so much glare. It's a picture of a bald and bulky black guy in his late fifties. He's stiff as a board and dressed in a navy blue or black suit. White shirt, no tie. He's lying on a pile of garbage – slats from a broken pallet mixed with plastic bags and cigarette packs and soda cans. He's been stabbed in the chest once, straight through the sternum.
"Never seen him before," Dean says, shaking his head. "Where'd he turn up?"
"An abandoned warehouse a few blocks from the Bel-Aire. Some squatters found him this afternoon."
"Anything on him?"
"No ID. No wallet, no cash, no cards."
Dean looks at the guy again. He could've been robbed, but suits don't lurk around warehouse districts unless they're buying drugs, and suits who buy drugs don't usually make it into their late fifties. They cark out at their shiny mortgage loan desks at forty. Dean zooms the picture to get a better look at the stab wound. It's diamond-shaped and about the size of a broom handle. The hole in the guy's shirt is black around the edges, almost like it's burned. But the lighting is poor; it could just be dried blood.
"I don't get it. What's this gotta do with our demon problem?"
"He –" Sam cuts off with a frown. Then he swipes to the next picture and says, "Check this out."
It's a longer shot; whoever took it was standing at the guy's feet instead of zeroed in on his chest. Mud is spattered on his slacks. One of his legs is bent at an angle that makes Dean grit his teeth. Two ashy-black shadows are curving away from his body. One is unfurled across the garbage and onto concrete floor. The other is stretching up the corrugated wall at the guy's shoulder. They look like wings.
"What the fuck?" Dean asks.
Sam starts to say something, but Castiel picks that moment to blip into the living room. After a split-second of shock, Sam blurts out, "Who the hell are you?" and reaches for his gun.
Dean grabs his arm. "Sam, don't. It's – this is Castiel. The angel."
"What?" Sam looks at Castiel, then looks at Dean, then looks back at Castiel. The linoleum grouses under his feet. "You –"
"Hello," Castiel rumbles. He offers Sam his hand – stiffly, like he isn't sure he's doing it right. "You must be Dean's brother."
"Yeah. I – Sam. Sam Winchester."
They shake like two middle-schoolers meeting at a church social. Sam's face is a car crash between stunned and excited, like he's freaked out about meeting a real live angel but also itching to ask Castiel a bunch of nerdy questions about heaven. Dean grabs a coffee mug out of his dish rack so they won't catch him rolling his eyes. He figures if they don't see it, it's a victimless crime. He fills his mug, fits the coffee pot back into the machine, and settles against the counter again.
He notices a wad of red cloth clutched in Castiel's other hand. He points at it with his coffee and asks, "What's that?"
"A hex bag," Castiel says, crushing it in his fist. It flames out with a swirl of sparks and a sharp, acrid smell, something like raw peppermint and singed hair. "I found it behind one of the pictures in your waiting room. Crowley must've hidden it before he spoke with you. It kept me from –" he stops himself. After a short pause, he huffs and starts over, saying, "He –"
Sam cuts him off again. "Who's Crowley?"
"Some bag of dicks demon," Dean explains, tapping his thumb on the rim of his mug. It's black and covered in cartoon magnifying glasses. Bobby gave it to him a couple of Christmases ago. "He came by the office earlier and roughed me up a little." Sam grumbles under his breath, but Dean waves him off before he can dive into one of his lectures on being careful. He says, "Show Castiel the dead guy."
Sam hesitates; the lecture is probably still in his mouth. Once he swallows it, he nods and says, "Yeah, okay," and hands Castiel his phone.
Castiel stares at the picture for a long time. He sighs. A strange, sad look crosses his face.
Dean is pretty sure he knows the answer, but he needs to be sure. Quietly, he asks. "You know him?"
"Yes. He – his name was Uriel."
Dean drinks his coffee while he waits for the other shoe to drop. It's a pinch weaker than what he usually brews for himself, but it tastes good after all the mud he's had all day. Castiel's shoulders hunch a little, but he doesn't say anything. And he doesn't say anything. And he doesn't say anything. A car honks its horn down on the street. The bathroom sink drips: plink-plink-plink. The hex bag's ghost itches Dean's nose.
Eventually, he clears his throat and asks, "An angel?"
"What –?" Sam shows his teeth like he doesn't really want to know the answer. "What can kill an angel?"
"Another angel, obviously."
Dean whips his head around so fast something pops in his neck. Crowley is standing in the doorway, his shoulder leaned against the jamb. Behind him, the hallway's yellow-white morgue glare flickers and hums. He's dressed in the same black suit and black tie he wore earlier. His hands are stuffed in the pockets of his coat. Carefully, Dean sets his coffee mug on the counter and eases the demon shank out of his belt.
Sam ducks his mouth close to Dean's ear and whispers, "Demon?"
"This is cozy," Crowley says, glancing around the loft. He lingers on the scuffed floors and the second-hand couch. He taps his fingers on the thrift-store table beside the door. "Mind if I join you?"
The clock on the microwave insists it's only nine-seventeen. Dean says, "You're early."
"No time like the present." Crowley starts to step inside but stops short. He toes at the braided rug. When it folds over and flashes its bright orange devil's trap, he scoffs and walks around it. The door slams closed behind him, hard enough to upset the walls. After straightening his tie, he looks at Dean and says, "You lied to me, Buttercup. When I asked you where our feathered friend was, you said you didn't know."
A sleek, silver blade slides out of Castiel's sleeve. He puts himself in front of Dean and says, "Crowley, if you hurt him again I swear I'll –"
"Relax, Angel," Crowley says, holding up his hands. He moves to one of the chairs and rests his elbow on the back. "I'm not here to hurt anyone. This whole Staff thing is getting a bit hot. I think it's time we sit down and talk it over like civilized people so we don't have to keep killing each other like barbarians."
Dean drops his arm and holds the demon shank against his thigh. "Yeah, all right. Talk."
"Wait," Sam says, glancing at Dean. "What's the staff?"
Crowley studies Sam for a moment. Then he looks at Dean and asks, "Who's the moose?"
Crowley hums thoughtfully. Then he wags a finger at Sam and says, "Sam, isn't it? I heard you cashed in and joined the boys in blue."
Sam crosses his arms. "Yeah, I did. But I still remember my Latin."
Sighing, Crowley mutters, "Everyone is so touchy today. The staff, Sam, is the Staff of Moses. A heavenly weapon capable of blighting crops and killing firstborn sons. It's been misplaced. The angels want it back, for obvious reasons. My side just wants it... also for obvious reasons." He thins his mouth and turns to Castiel. "Where is it?"
Castiel lifts his blade slightly and says, "I don't know."
Crowley sighs again. "You both keep telling me that, but for some reason I don't believe it. You –" he points at Castiel "– you've been searching for it for years. And you –" he points at Dean "– one of the demons involved in this Easter egg hunt was working for you." Pausing, he cocks his head to the side. "Right now, this charming little hovel of yours is being watched."
"What?" Dean asks. He glances at the kitchen window, even though it opens to the narrow pedestrian alley between his building and the tattoo shop. Nightfall and the rain have dulled the adjacent bricks to a heavy brown. "A woman in a tan coat? Ugly scarf? Uglier car?"
Crowley nods. "She's parked at the market across the street."
"Who is she?" Castiel demands, his hand flexing around the grip of his blade. He takes a step toward Crowley, but Dean catches his arm. Instead of shrugging Dean off, he settles a fraction before asking, "Who does she work for?"
"I don't know who she is, but I do have suspicions about her employer."
Dean glances out the window again. He nearly expects to find the chick sitting on his fire escape. To see the outline of her floppy hat in the shadows behind the glass. But there's nothing out there – just a spider-plant Dean forgets to water and an old patio chair his dad had used when he'd wanted to smoke without Sam complaining about it stinking up the loft. The sodium light in the alley casts a pale yellow glow along the window's horizon. The rain is back on the clock, pattering against everything with a sound like buckshot.
Dean asks, "Who?"
"The collector I mentioned earlier."
"The religious nut?"
"Yes," Crowley says. He slides his elbow off the back of the chair and brushes a piece of lint off his shoulder. "I told you, he was frantic when Castiel stole it."
"I didn't steal it," Castiel insists. Dean's hand is still fisted in Castiel's sleeve; he feels a jolt of furious tension chase itself up Castiel's arm. "Ellsworth had it. I don't know if he stole it himself or if he obtained it from someone else. But he had it. That's why I came here."
"All right, fine. Let's say Ellsworth stole it." Crowley waves his hand lazily. "You have it now."
"No, I don't."
Crowley huffs out an incredulous noise. "Do you really expect me to believe that?" His voice is suddenly edged like a knife, and an angry flush is seething up from his beard. Dean moves the demon shank to his hip. Beside him, Sam shifts his weight, like he's gearing up for a fight. "Between parties interested in the staff and the police, Ellsworth's flop has been searched twenty times. The Staff isn't there. You have it. You took it after you killed Ellsworth."
Castiel shakes his head. "I didn't kill Ellsworth. He was –"
"What?" Dean asks sharply. A new headache is starting to throb in his temples. A muscle tics in Castiel's jaw, but he doesn't say anything. Dean tugs his sleeve until he turns around. "You told me you did."
Crowley clucks his tongue. "Really, Angel? Telling lies to your only friend?" Turning to Dean, he continues, "Castiel didn't kill Ellsworth because Ellsworth was already dead. Uriel killed him. When Castiel got to the Bel-Aire, he caught Uriel sacking Ellsworth's room, and – well." An ugly smile pulls at the corner of his mouth. "Like I said, it takes an angel to kill one."
"Damn it, Castiel. You –"
"Uriel wanted the Staff for himself. He was –"
"So you killed him?" Dean snaps. He's still holding Castiel's sleeve; he can't make himself let go. "Just so you could take it upstairs yourself and get right with God?"
"No. That's not –" Castiel cuts off like a record scratch and looks upward. His eyes widen as something begins whispering around the room. Something so furious and cold it makes Dean shiver. The windows start to rattle. Castiel grabs Dean and Sam by the fronts of their shirts and hurls them out of the kitchen. "Get out! Get out right now!"
Dean stumbles and crashes to his knees and pitches shoulder-first into the couch. Wincing, he rolls over. Sam grips his arm and pulls him up, but before he gets to his feet, two blinding pillars of light scream down through the ceiling. Castiel takes a step back. He looks over his shoulder. Looks at Dean. His eyes spark silver and a second blade drops out of his other sleeve. He looks at Dean again. Then he spins the blade in his hand and tosses it at Crowley.
"Get them out of here alive and I'll give you the Staff."
"Deal," Crowley barks. He waves the couch out of his way and darts a glance at the door. As it flies open, he points the blade at Dean and Sam. "Come on, kids. Let's go."
Dean doesn't move. He – fuck. He can't. A hollow ache is digging under his ribs. "No. I ain't leaving him here."
"It won't do any good," Crowley insists. The walls are shaking, hard enough that plaster dust is raining down from the ceiling. The light above Crowley's head explodes. He waves again; something like a hand bruises into Dean's arm and yanks him a few steps back. "You can't help him. So help yourself. Help your brother."
Dean touches Sam's wrist and jerks his head toward the door. "Go on. Go."
"No. No way."
A silver-white gust of wind shrieks past Dean ear. The door slams shut, and Crowley snarls, "Great. Now none of us are getting out of here."
The pillars of light blaze brighter for a second. Then they burn out with a deafening electric ripple, leaving two guys behind in their wakes. Two angels. One is tall and pale and thin, hook-nosed in an Ichabod Crane kind of way; the other is shorter with dark hair and dark eyes. They look like tax attorneys, but they're also wholly inhuman in a way that makes Dean's skin crawl. The air around them shimmers like a heat-mirage. The lines of their bodies are too sharp, too precise. Dean thinks he could cut himself just by touching them. Terror hammers in his chest.
"Jonah. Efram." Castiel's voice is full of broken glass and razor-wire. "Why are you here?"
"You know why," the taller one – Jonah – says. "We've come for the Staff."
Castiel hefts his blade slightly. "I don't have it."
"Castiel," Efram says, his mouth thinning. "Lying will not save you."
"I don't have it."
The angels exchange a glance. They seem a little less alien now. Dean doesn't know if they've dialed back the theatrics or if he's finally wrapped his head around what he's seeing. Fear-sweat is beading on his forehead. Sam's elbow is digging into his side. Dean sucks in a breath. A thin thread of sulfur is weaving through the ozone-bite in the air.
Jonah makes an irritated sound and says, "You either have the Staff or know of its location. We will take you to Heaven for questioning. If you come quietly, we will not harm your companions. Even –" his lip curls "– the demon."
Castiel looks at Dean. Then he rushes at Jonah, swinging his blade.
"Bugger," Crowley hisses, his eyes flashing red.
He starts to ditch his meatsuit. The smoke pouring out of his mouth is a bloody maroon instead of black. Efram zaps out of the kitchen and zaps back in near the door. He catches the smoke in his hand as Crowley's body begins sagging to the floor and shoves it back in. Crowley comes back to himself with a gasp. His eyes burn red again, and Efram wraps his other hand around his throat.
Castiel grunts in pain. Blood is staining the corner of his mouth. Jonah punches him in the jaw. Punches him again. Castiel rears back, then rights himself and lunges in. Their blades clang with a sound like bells. They circle each other, putting Dean at Jonah's back. Castiel clocks him square in the gut. He jerks back with a groan, then straightens. When he cocks his arm back for another punch, Dean runs at him and grabs him around the neck.
Snarling, Castiel jabs with his blade. Jonah twists away; the blow slices up his arm. Blue-white light streams from the tear in his jacket. He wrenches Dean off his back with a handful of Dean's collar and sends Dean flying across the room. Dean slams into the fridge, knocking his head hard enough that he bites his lip. His vision swims as he stumbles to his feet.
Sam shouts as Dean is wiping the blood from his mouth. He sinks his fist into Efram's kidney and cracks his elbow against the back of Efram's head. Efram flings him away with a gesture, then turns back to Crowley. His hand is still around Crowley's throat. Crowley's face is purple, and reddish smoke is wisping from his nose and mouth. He swings his blade. It grazes Efram's side, catching in his jacket before clattering to the floor.
Castiel's blade clanks against Jonah's again. And again. Jonah fists his hand in Castiel's tie and yanks him close. His next blade-jab is aimed at Castiel's neck, but Castiel sweeps his feet away and they both crash to the floor. Castiel crushes his hand around Jonah's jaw. He bashes Jonah's head against the floor once. Twice. Jonah plants a foot and flips them and Castiel smashes into the stove. His blade skitters away and rolls into Dean's feet.
Dean picks it up, his head swimming again as he bends down. It's lighter than it looks and balanced oddly, but it's all Dean's got. He squeezes his hand around the grip and charges at Jonah as Jonah reaches Castiel and starts dragging him to his feet. He shoves Jonah around with a handful of his jacket and stabs at Jonah's chest. His dizziness makes him swing to wide; the blade sinks into the meat of Jonah's shoulder. A gout of light follows the blade when Dean pulls back.
Jonah clips him in the side of the head. Ears ringing, Dean stumbles back a couple of steps. Someone screams. It's a woman's voice; Jody's standing in the doorway with her gun out. Sam shouts her name. Efram punches Sam in the chest, then knocks Jody back against the door jamb. Jonah clips Dean again. Over Jonah's shoulder, Dean sees Castiel drawing something on the kitchen floor in blood. Dean punches Jonah in the jaw. It feels like he's bashing his fist into a concrete slab.
Dean slams into the fridge again. He hits the floor right next to Castiel. The scar on his shoulder is throbbing harder than his head. When he looks up, Jonah is standing over him. Blood is dripping from his nose and light is still seeping from the hole in his shoulder. He bends and catches Dean around the throat. Castiel grates out Dean's name. Then he grabs Dean's sleeve and slaps his bloody hand to the thing he drew on the floor.
The angels flicker out with a blazing wash of light and a strange shift in the air, enough reverse pressure that Dean's ears pop. The throb in his shoulder starts to dull. Castiel tugs Dean up until he's sitting against the fridge. It hums tiredly against his back. Castiel shifts closer, then cups Dean's jaw in his hand. Dean gasps as the same bright, white-hot feeling from earlier courses through his body. His hand curls around Castiel's wrist, heat and light pulsing against his thumb as it brushes Castiel's palm. Castiel rests his forehead against Dean's for a moment, then sighs and gets to his feet.
"Sam," Jody says. Her voice is shaky but there's still plenty of steel in it. "What the hell is going on?"
Dean grabs the counter beside the fridge and heaves himself up. The loft is a wreck. Glancing around, he asks, "Where's Crowley?"
"He skipped out as soon as the angels –" Sam cuts off and looks at Castiel. "What happened to the angels?"
Castiel still has blood on his hand. He frowns at it for a second before saying, "I sent them back to heaven."
"Angels–? What–?" Jody fists her hand in Sam's sleeve. Blood is smeared down her neck and under her jaw. "Sam –"
"Sammy," Dean says, walking toward them. "You wanna give her the talk or you want me to do it?"
Sam tells Dean, "No, I got it." Then he turns to Jody and says, "I can explain. I just, um." Wincing, he touches his nose. It's swollen enough to be broken. "Just give me a minute."
Castiel edges past Dean and reaches for Sam's face. Sam's eyes widen. Before he can duck away, Castiel's fingers brush across his forehead. Light flares from Castiel's palm, and Sam shivers and grits his teeth. He whines out a noise that sounds like a dying transmission. Once the light fades, he sucks in a breath and shakes his head like he's got water in his ear.
His nose looks normal again. After poking at it a few times, he smiles at Castiel and says, "Thanks."
Castiel looks at Jody, but she takes a step back and puts her hand on her holster. "You just stay right there, buddy."
"He ain't gonna hurt you," Dean says.
Jody splits a long, narrow look between Castiel and Dean. Instead of sticking around for his full share of it, Dean heads into the kitchen. He needs a drink. As he's grabbing his bottle of Maker's Mark from the cabinet above the fridge, Jody says, "Look, it's just a bump. I'm going to let Sam explain first. If what he says doesn't sound too crazy, then... maybe."
"Yeah, okay," Sam says, running his hand through his hair. "I'm going to make some coffee. Then I'll tell you all about it."
Jody gives him an eyebrow. "Really, Winchester? Coffee? I think this is a whiskey conversation."
"Here," Dean says, passing her the bottle. "Just save me a coupla shots."
The loft looks like a tornado ripped through the middle of it. The bookcases flanking Sam's old room are overturned, one tipped sideways against the wall and the other lying face down on the floor. The braided rug is lipped over the bottom of the dead one, still flashing its bright orange devil's trap. The chairs are scattered around the room; one is bleeding stuffing from a diagonal slash scoring the seat. The thrift-store table is in pieces. What's left of it is piled beside the door. The splintered wood is jumbled with the stuff that had sat on it – a picture of his mom, the box holding his dad's service medals, a brass key-bowl he'd never used.
After staring at the mess for about five minutes, Dean decides it can wait until morning. Maybe not even tomorrow morning – just a morning. Somehow, the coffee table weathered the storm – Chinese food and pale ale included – so Dean pushes the couch back where it belongs and flops down at one end. He takes his boots off, puts his feet up, and turns on his laptop. Once the laptop stops pretending it can't find the building's wi-fi, he downloads a blank pleading template from a DIY law website.
The TV also weathered the storm; it had been hunkered down in the far corner of the room. M*A*S*H is still playing because it's a few minutes after ten and M*A*S*H plays from eight to midnight in pretty much every time zone in America. Now it's the episode about Margaret asking for a transfer to another unit. The volume is less than a buzz, so Dean doesn't bother trying to find the remote. He eats cold Kung Pao chicken with one hand and pecks at his motion to dismiss with the other. A few lines in, Castiel sits beside him. He's down to his dress shirt and slacks, and he's drinking coffee from a white mug with cat faces on it. Dean has no idea where it came from, unless it got mixed in with his crap when he moved out of Lisa's place.
Castiel doesn't say anything. He just sips his coffee and watches M*A*S*H: the Silent Movie and gives off heat like a weird furnace. Everything else in the loft is colder than ice. Dean can hear the building's old heater humming, and he can smell it cooking all the dust Jonah and Efram stirred up, but it's barely making a dent in the chill. He inches closer to Castiel because that's faster and easier than getting up and grabbing a blanket. Fatigue is swamping him; he bleats out a pair of yawns. He manages to hide the first one behind his fist, but the second one yanks at his jaw like a fishhook and leaves him a little wet-eyed.
"You should sleep," Castiel says quietly.
Dean rubs his face and nods. "In a minute. I gotta do this court crap. And I –" he glances at Sam's old room "– I wanna see how that pans out. I'm kinda worried she's gonna murder him."
"I doubt that. She seems fond of him." Castiel shifts slightly. His thigh brushes Dean's. After a pause, he tips his head to the side and adds, "She's angry because he never told her. She thinks he doesn't trust her."
"It ain't that," Dean says, leaning back against the cushions. The couch whines like it's had the hard day. "It's just – you know. Most people –" He shrugs and frowns at his laptop.
"Most people don't want to know."
Dean nods again and hides another yawn. Sometimes, a guy gets attacked by a vamp and he ends up hitting the road with a machete. Sometimes. Usually, he just tries to forget it ever happened. He tells himself it had all been a bad joke or a bad dream or a bad trip. He swears he's never drinking that much tequila again. Whatever it takes – as long as he doesn't have to face the fact that a monster climbed through his bedroom window one night.
Castiel hums and sips his coffee. He's cradling the mug in both hands like a toddler using a big-boy cup for the first time. His hair is all over the place. He shifts again, pressing his thigh against Dean's from hip to knee. The slow, steady warmth coming off him makes Dean want to curl up and go to sleep for a week. He tries to focus on his motion to dismiss, but his eyes are so tired that the laptop's glare feels like an icepick to the temple. Instead, he sinks deeper into the couch and watches Castiel.
Eventually, he asks, "Does that stuff even do anything for you? The caffeine, I mean."
"No," Castiel says, taking another sip. It shows off more of his throat than Dean should be looking at. "I just like the taste."
"Huh." That's a weird thought – an angel doing something for just the hell of it. Dean nudges him and points at the Chinese food. "You want some of this? There's a ton of it, and Princess Sam won't eat it after it gets cold."
Castiel briefly considers the spread on the coffee table. Then he sets his mug down and takes the carton Dean is holding. He fishes out a chunk of chicken with his fingers. After chewing thoughtfully, he says, "All I taste is molecules." He wrinkles his nose a little. Then he licks the sauce from his fingers and continues, "I taste the chicken, but also the corn the chicken ate and the water it drank. And I taste those things down to their atoms."
He almost sounds disappointed. He also has sauce at the corner of his mouth. Dean clears his throat and says, "It's, uh – it's better when it's hot."
Castiel hums again and wraps both hands around the carton. His palms flare blue-white for a split-second. When he passes it back, the chicken is steaming. The smell of peanuts and garlic stings Dean's nose.
"How do you do that? When you –" Dean waves his hand around. "What is that?"
"My grace. It's the power and light granted to me by God. It's what makes me an angel."
Dean doesn't know what to say to that. Because – yeah. Angel. The guy might be barefoot and fuck-haired and drinking coffee out of a cat mug, but he's still from heaven. And Dean's using him as a hot-water bottle. He's practically sitting in Castiel's lap just because he's cold. He sighs at himself under his breath. Then he props the laptop on the arm of the couch so he can scoot over and give Castiel some space. So he can give himself some space.
Right as he starts to move, Sam's door creaks open. Sam comes out first, looking exhausted and kind of white around the mouth. Jody must've put him through the wringer. He blinks at Dean and Castiel; they're still sitting too close and Castiel's arm is stretched across the back of the couch. Before Sam's eyebrows can make a comment, Jody squeezes into the room. Sam's giant shoulders are hogging the whole doorway, so she huffs and elbows him in the side. Then she narrows her eyes at Dean.
Crossing her arms, she says, "Really, Winchester? Monsters? And you never told me?"
"You wouldn't've believed me." Dean sets his laptop on the coffee table. He's only fooling himself about getting any work done tonight. "No one does. Not 'til they see it."
She opens her mouth. Closes it. Opens it again and sighs. "So... Alastair and Ellsworth?"
"And that story you told me about picking up a guy at the bar?"
Castiel makes a very quiet noise. Heat burns under Dean's jaw as he admits, "That was a dodge. I was down in Oklahoma killing some ghouls." Her eyes widen slightly. Dean gives her half a smile and says, "You picked a hell of a night to invite yourself over, Mills. Lemme guess... you wanted to ask me about a dead guy in a warehouse."
"Yes. Sam said he's an angel, but I –"
"Sam is correct," Castiel says. His voice is brittle around the edges. "Uriel's death is regrettable, but it was necessary."
Jody gives him a look that's at least two parts disbelief. Then she gets her detective face on and frowns like she wants the rest of the story. Castiel doesn't say anything. He just grabs his mug, drains it, and blips himself into the kitchen. Jody cranes her neck a little and watches him refill his mug. The rain pounds against the window behind him. The fire escape rattles and groans with the wind.
Before the silence really starts making Dean itch, Sam jerks his head toward the door and says, "We should get going. We've got to be in bright and early."
"I'll accompany you," Castiel says. In an eyeblink, he's standing at the door and wearing his shoes. "I want to make sure Crowley isn't waiting downstairs."
As Sam and Castiel file out, Jody turns back to Dean and says, "There's a warrant coming through for your office. Either tomorrow or the next day. So if you've got anything hinky down there, you better stash it at Singer's tonight."
"Okay," Dean says. His office is clean, and Bobby's place is too obvious anyway. If he needs to dump his hunting stuff, he's got a lock up over the Missouri line in a fake name. "Thanks, Jody."
Once they're gone, Dean makes himself get off the couch. He's old enough now that falling asleep there would mean hobbling around like a geezer in the morning. His heartburn is down to about two alarms, so he shovels the last of the Kung Pao chicken into his mouth without really bothering to chew it. Then he gathers up the other cartons and puts them in the fridge. The kitchen isn't quite as wrecked as the living area, but the copper-tang of old blood is lurking in the air like cheap cologne. Castiel's art project is still smeared on the floor. Dean sidesteps it as he texts Kevin to say the office is all clear.
Donna calls right after he hits send. He picks up and says, "Hey, Donna."
"Deano," she says brightly. She must still be at the office; the white noise behind her is all hushed voices and keyboard clacks. "I was kind of surprised to hear from you. Word is you're on the wrong side of the law these days."
"You know me. I'm always in a reasonable amount of trouble."
Donna laughs heartily. "Well, that's the truth. I don't know much, but what I have heard sounds pretty bonzo. Weekend job go sideways, did it?"
"Something like that." The spoonful of coffee Castiel left in the pot is starting to burn. Dean switches off the machine and leans back against the counter. "You dig up anything on that car?"
"You betcha. I – oh, I had it here a second ago." She pauses; Dean hears papers shuffling on the other end of the line. Then she says, "You ready to write? I'd email it to you, but I'm thinking this conversation never happened."
"Hang on." Dean digs around in the drawer at his hip until he turns up an old receipt and the dry-erase marker for the fridge board he never uses. "Okay. Shoot."
"Alrighty. It's a 2014 Prius. Magnetic grey metallic. Kansas license plate 3-7-3-J-W-L. It was rented from the Avis on Twenty-Third by a Mina Harker out of Twilight, Pennsylvania. Her ID went through clean, but we both know that doesn't mean anything these days."
"Yeah," Dean says, snorting under his breath. "When did she roll into town?"
"She picked up the car Friday afternoon. It's due back at the end of the week." Donna pauses again. Then she sighs and says, "Does this have anything to do with the sticky spot you're in?"
"Maybe," Dean says. His jaw twitches as he swallows a yawn. "Thanks, Donna. I appreciate it."
"Any time, Deano."
Dean hangs up and studies the receipt. The name Mina Harker is ringing a few bells, but those bells aren't playing a song he knows well enough to sing. His laptop is asleep, so he pulls Google up on his phone. A quick search tells him Twilight, Pennsylvania is a township in the southwest corner of the state. Dean will eat one of his boots if "Mina Harker" has ever been there. No one has ever been there. Its population is a bare handful over two hundred. Its Wikipedia entry has a picture of two horses grazing at its main intersection.
Sighing, Dean folds the receipt into his wallet and shuffles into the bathroom to piss and brush his teeth. His reflection looks rough. Castiel's mojo got rid of the scrapes and bruises, but his skin is waxy and the bags under his eyes could fill up a hotel luggage cart. He still needs a shave. He slaps some water on his face like that will do anything about it. Then he heads into his bedroom so he can pretend to sleep for a couple hours.
Dean's door has been shut for the better part of two days, so his room is stuffy as hell. The musty chug of the heater itches his nose and nags the back of his throat. He glances outside, but the rain is coming down hard and the wind has forced it into a slant. Cracking the window enough to bring in some air will make a puddle the size of Lake Michigan in under an hour. Sighing, he strips down to his t-shirt and boxer-briefs and tosses his clothes in the direction of laundry pile. When he turns around, Castiel is perched on the foot of the bed like statue.
Dean only jumps about halfway out of his skin. He hisses, "Jesus Christ," and scrubs a hand through his hair. His heart is going to give out if this kind of shit keeps up. "I'm getting you a fucking bell." He takes a few deep breaths. Once his pulse is somewhat back to normal, he asks, "Jody let you heal her?"
"Cool," Dean says, glancing at his laundry pile. He feels like he should put on some pants, but his only pair of pajamas is buried so deep he'd need an archaeologist to find it. And there's zero chance they don't stink like dirty clothes. "And Crowley?"
"I didn't see him," Castiel replies. He's barefoot again. "Nor did I see the woman he claimed was watching your office."
"Huh." Dean isn't surprised. Anyone with half a brain would've hightailed it as soon as the fireworks started, whatever they're getting paid. He sits beside Castiel and rubs his tired eyes. "What about those angels? You think they're coming back tonight?"
Castiel pauses. Then he shakes his head and says, "No. Right now they're being punished for returning without the Staff."
"Really? I mean, it's not like you gave 'em a choice."
"Heaven deals in absolutes," Castiel says tonelessly. "Jonah and Efram were ordered to retrieve the Staff. They didn't. Their superiors won't care why."
"Wow." Dean whistles through his teeth. "Heaven sounds like a nightmare. You really wanna go back there?"
Castiel looks at Dean for a moment. Then he looks away and says, "I – yes. Angels belong in Heaven."
That's not exactly a dark horse answer, but it still lands like a slap to the face. Stung, Dean shifts a little and mutters, "Okay, yeah. So where's the Staff?"
A horrible looks twists Castiel's face. He stands. The air rustles around him like he's about to zap out. After a short, tight silence, he grates out a furious noise and demands, "How many times must I tell you that I don't know? You said you trust me, but you –"
"Hey, an hour ago you told Crowley you'd give it to him!"
Castiel glares at him for another moment. Then his body slumps like his anger is bleeding out all at once. Softly, he says, "I wanted you out of danger." He lifts his hand. He stops short of touching Dean's face, but Dean nearly leans into it anyway. His heart hammers in his chest. He closes his eyes as Castiel says, "He wouldn't have helped you without an incentive, and the Staff is the only thing he cares about."
Dean takes a breath. And another. He's not stupid; he recognizes the warm ache blooming under his ribs. But he can't – fuck. He just can't. He stands with a sigh and walks over to the dresser. Walks away from Castiel. He digs his nails into the chipped wood until he feels a bit more grounded.
Finally, he asks, "What about Uriel? You think he had it?"
"I don't know," Castiel says. He paces the sliver of space at the foot of Dean's bed. "He insisted he didn't, but I – I'm not sure I believe that."
Dean rests his elbow on the dresser and rubs his face. "What happened?"
Castiel hesitates. The air stirs again. A sound like feathers whispers against everything in the room. Before it really settles, Castiel says, "Crowley's guess was nearly correct. I made the appointment with Ellsworth. When I arrived, I found him dead. Uriel was searching his room. We argued, and he flew away from me. I eventually located him at the warehouse. We argued again, and I –" He cuts off with a sigh.
"And you killed him," Dean finishes slowly. Turning away, Castiel nods. Dean drums his fingers on the dresser and frowns at his back. The pieces don't fit right. When Castiel doesn't say anything else, he asks, "Why? I know you think this thing is your ticket back upstairs or whatever, but you coulda – I don't know. Taken it up there together."
Rain lashes against the bedroom's tiny window. Lightning flashes behind the clouds, briefly washing the sky purple and white. Dean counts in his head; he gets to six-one-thousand before thunder booms in the distance. A car alarm starts blaring. Dean yawns into his hand and blinks at the ceiling while Castiel paces in front of his bed. He needs to sleep, but he's not sure he can. He's not sure of anything right now.
Gravely, Castiel says, "Uriel didn't want to take the Staff to Heaven. He wanted to give it to Hell."
"What –?" Dean sputters out a noise. "That's – what?"
"Uriel believed the earth had become godless," Castiel explains. His voice is like a funeral dirge. "He wanted to give the Staff to Hell so it could create plagues and blights. So it could create chaos. Then the angels could come down and perform miracles. Restore order." He gestures in a way that's bigger than the four walls of Dean's room. "He believed we could restore humanity's faith."
"By giving Hell the juice to make frog rains and blood rivers?" Dean scoffs and shakes his head. "That's nuts."
"Yes, it is. And exceedingly dangerous. But when I told him that, he just –" Castiel shrugs and sits on the bed. "He laughed at me. He said I'd been down here too long. He said I wouldn't understand."
Dean walks over to him. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Castiel's shoulders hunch slightly. After another tight, horrible silence, he says, "I was ashamed. Uriel was one of my brethren, but he was also – he was a friend, if such a thing is possible among angels. We fought together for millennia. He rarely came to earth, but in recent years he found this garden he liked. The Jardim Botânico, in Brazil. He would go there to seek revelation. We –" his voice hitches "– we prayed there together many times."
Another silence. Dean knows what he's supposed to fill it with – "It wasn't your fault." Or "You didn't have a choice." Or "He was dangerous." All of that's true, but it's also the kind of Hallmark crap that makes Dean want to punch a wall. He doesn't think hearing it has ever made anyone feel better. So he keeps his mouth shut. He just stands there and breathes Castiel in.
Castiel's head dips a little. Dean reaches out and pats his shoulder. Squeezes. Eventually, Castiel sighs out a quiet "I'm okay" noise. Then he shifts sideways like he's making room for Dean to sit down. Dean's hand ends up at the back of his neck. His hair is soft and thick, and Dean's fingers curl into it before he really realizes what he's doing. His thumb brushes the hollow behind Castiel's ear, and Castiel rumbles out a lower, darker noise.
He palms Dean's hip. His thumb teases under the hem of Dean's t-shirt. After a moment, he pulls Dean closer and leans in, resting his forehead against Dean's chest. He murmurs something Dean can't hear, and his other hand skims up the back of Dean's thigh. Dean bites the inside of his cheek. A slow shiver twists around his spine.
His fingers are still carding through Castiel's hair, but he clears his throat and says, "We ain't doing this."
"Do you –?" Dean clears his throat again. "Have you – have you even, uh."
"No. I've never wanted it before."
That only makes Dean jumpier. A thread of panic weaves through the heat gathering in his gut. This is a dumb idea – and Dean would know; he's had plenty of dumb ideas over the years – but his fingers are still stroking through Castiel's hair. A fever-bright flush is burning in Castiel's cheeks. He's holding both of Dean's hips now. His breath is fanning through Dean's t-shirt and tickling Dean's skin. Dumb idea. But when Castiel tugs lightly, Dean slides to his knees and runs his hands up Castiel's thighs.
They look at each other for a minute. Castiel's eyes are wide and dark, and his lips are parted, just enough for Dean to see the slick hint of his tongue. He cups Castiel's jaw in his hand. Rubs his thumb at the corner of Castiel's mouth. Castiel turns into it, letting it drag across his lip. Letting his teeth brush the pad of Dean's thumb. Dean shivers again. Then he pulls Castiel in and kisses him.
It's soft at first. Soft and a little awkward. Castiel freezes for a split-second; he bunches Dean's t-shirt in his hand, and a surprised sound shudders in his throat. Dean leans back to give him some space, but he follows, almost chasing Dean's mouth. He curves his hand around the back of Dean's neck and breathes out against Dean's jaw. When they kiss again, he relaxes into it. Opens up for it. He hums Dean's name and flicks his tongue along Dean's lower lip. His foot brushes Dean's thigh.
Dean kisses Castiel's mouth and the point of Castiel's chin. He drags another kiss down the stubble-rough line of Castiel's jaw, and he lets his teeth graze the spot just below Castiel's ear. He sucks a mark there because it makes Castiel pant and tug at his hair. The mark starts to fade as soon as Dean pulls away, but Castiel's eyes flutter closed. He tips his head back like he wants Dean to do it again. Dean bites kisses down the side of his neck. Sucks another mark at the dip of Castiel's throat.
"Dean," Castiel says, his voice an urgent thrum. "Dean."
"Yeah, yeah." Dean doesn't know what he's agreeing to. Doesn't care. He fumbles with the buttons of Castiel's shirt and says, "C'mon. Get this off."
Castiel lets Dean shrug the shirt over his shoulders, but once it's pooled around his elbows, the air shifts and it disappears out of Dean's hands. Dean blinks and huffs out a quiet laugh, but Castiel just wraps his arms around Dean's neck and draws him in for another kiss. Dean thumbs Castiel's nipples and palms the curve of Castiel's ribs. The trail of hair arrowing away from his navel is soft and sparse. Dean scratches his nails through it before pulling open his belt and popping the button on his slacks.
Castiel freezes again. Dean backs off a little, sliding his hands down to Castiel's knees, but when he looks at Castiel's face, Castiel's eyes are nearly black. The flush heating his cheeks has spread down to his jaw, and his tongue is waiting on the well of his lip. He murmurs, "Dean," and reaches for Dean's face. His fingers skim down Dean's jaw and trail across Dean's lips. They pause there, so Dean opens up and wets the tips of them with his tongue. Then he sucks them in – first two, then three. He sits back on his heels and takes them in as far as he can, curling his tongue around them until his mouth and chin are slick with spit. Until Castiel is fucking them into his mouth.
He brushes his other hand through Dean's hair, pausing at the back of Dean's neck before palming the curve of Dean's shoulder. He rasps out a moan that digs straight underneath Dean's skin. Dean nips at the pads of Castiel's fingers and knuckles Castiel's dick through the front of his slacks. It's a soft touch, barely a tease, but Castiel moans again and his hips snap off the bed. Dean grabs the waist of Castiel's slacks and tugs. The bed creaks. Then the air rustles and Dean's hands are sliding over skin.
Castiel's dick is as gorgeous as the rest of him. Dean runs his fingers over it, making Castiel's hips snap off the bed again. He rubs his thumb through the precome beading at the head. Then he leans in, nudging Castiel's legs apart with his shoulders. His knees are probably going to file for divorce tomorrow, but he doesn't give a shit. He kisses the inside of Castiel's thigh. Bites a little. Then he noses into the crease of Castiel's hip and kisses him again. His dick is a hot streak against Dean's cheek. He plants another kiss at the base of it. He mouths up the length, swirling his tongue around the head before sucking it in.
"Oh," Castiel says quietly. His thighs are already shaking. "Oh. Dean, you – oh."
Dean draws up and sinks back down. Lets Castiel fill his mouth and push against his tongue. Castiel shivers and knots both hands in Dean's hair. His heel bumps the small of Dean's back. Dean wraps his hand around the base of Castiel's dick, stroking up to meet his mouth as he sucks in and in and in. Heat is coiled in Dean's gut like a snake; he's harder than a rock from the salt-taste of Castiel's skin and the way Castiel keeps breathing his name. He rubs himself through his boxer-briefs. An electric jolt of want sparks through him, and he chokes out a noise that makes Castiel gasp and tug his hair.
The bed creaks again. Castiel slides a hand down to Dean's jaw and rubs his thumb over Dean's cheek. Dean turns his head a little so Castiel can feel the shape of himself. So he can feel Dean swallow him down. Castiel moans and thrusts into Dean's mouth. His fingers twist in Dean's hair. The lamp on the nightstand flickers when he comes. Dean sucks him through it, soft and easy and slow. Doesn't pull back until Castiel's thigh muscles start to jump. Then he tucks his hot face into the crease of Castiel's hip and shoves his hand into his boxer-briefs.
"Fuck," he hisses. He's so close he can feel it waiting at the base of his spine. "Cas – Jesus Christ."
Castiel hauls him up and kisses his sticky mouth. Licks inside with a sound so filthy it makes Dean shudder and clutch at his arms. He nips Dean's lips. Then the air rips in half. In an eyeblink, Dean is naked and flat on his back in the middle of the bed. Castiel leans down and kisses Dean again. He curls his hand around Dean's dick, and Dean squirms underneath him, fucking up into it. His back arches. Heat rushes under his skin.
Castiel rolls them over, urging Dean to straddle his waist by hooking a hand under Dean's thigh. He gets his other hand back on Dean's dick and strokes him hard and fast. Dean rocks his hips and moans Castiel's name. Castiel palms his ass and nudges him closer – close enough that he's going to come all over Castiel's chest. Just thinking about it tugs at the tension in his gut. His mouth drops open and he sucks in a breath. Castiel's hand slides up his arm. His fingers brush the scar on Dean's shoulder and Dean whines behind his teeth and comes and comes and comes.
Shaking, he slumps against Castiel's chest. His pulse is pounding in his throat. Castiel runs a hand down his heaving back and noses at his temple like he isn't dripping sweat. His other hand is still touching Dean's scar, and for some reason it has Dean jittering with aftershocks. It's almost too much, but he can't make himself move away. He just lies there and shivers and mouths at the curve of Castiel's shoulder until Castiel shifts them onto their sides and cleans them up with a lazy gesture.
"You should sleep."
Dean's eyes are already closed. His lips bump Castiel's throat as he asks, "What 'bout you?"
"I'll watch over you," Castiel says, wrapping an arm around his waist.