Sam and Dean confront a fallen Castiel, and Dean deals with those pesky little things called "feelings".
"I swear, if you even think the word 'Midol' I will end you."
White Valley Motel,
St. Charles, Minnesota
Sunday 30 May 2010
It was two o'clock in the morning before they finally pulled off the road. In an effort to get as far from the law and Detroit as possible, they had driven the rest of the day, stopping only once for food despite the gnawing in Sam's stomach. Different metabolism or not, he and Dean wanted to be far from Sinai Grace as they could manage in one go.
Castiel hadn't seemed to mind, but whether that was because he wasn't quite able to notice his own hunger yet or because he was still working the drugs out of his system, Sam wasn't sure. The former angel had complained of cold within the first few miles of the drive. Now, though, he was now wrapped up not only in Jimmy Novak's trench coat but also the heaviest of Sam's hoodies which Dean had dutifully dug out of the trunk.
Sam supposed that when you had spent your entire existence as some kind of holy column of celestial light and power, it took a while to get used to being stuck in a body that sometimes needed help to retain warmth.
There hadn't been much of a chance to question Castiel before the former angel passed out in the backseat, and so the only sound in the Charger was the steady rush of heat from the vents. Dean hadn't even made a move to turn on the radio. Although Sam could tell his brother was in a better mood since busting Castiel out of the hospital, he also knew that Dean was restless. He kept sending furtive glances at the ex-angel in the backseat.
Sam understood to an extent. He might not have been as anxious about Castiel as Dean, but he was just as interested in hearing the full story of what had happened; particularly the part relating to how Sam had been brought back to earth, while Adam was still down in the Pit with two pissed off archangels.
He hoped there was at least a good reason for it and that it hadn't just been angelic oversight. Castiel may have understood humans a little better since his last brief stint, but he had spent millennia as an angelic strategist. To him, perhaps Adam was just collateral damage, whereas Sam was seen as an inalienable part of Dean.
It was a true, albeit not particularly comforting notion, and Sam really hoped that wasn't the case; but at least he could understand that logic.
'It still sucks, though,' he thought as they pulled into the tree-lined parking lot of a motel advertising 24-hour check in. The rest stop was on the way to Sioux Falls, their current destination; that decision had been made when they realized Bobby was still not picking up their calls. Although Sam knew it was entirely possible that the older hunter was just ignoring their efforts at communication to protect them, his own gut instincts made him agree readily with Dean's suggestion to check in.
'And guilt,' he reminded himself. Whatever their problems, Bobby's soul was still compromised. Now that they had Castiel, maybe they would be able to come up with a plan to get that soul back. 'Not that a depowered angel is much use against the self-proclaimed King of Hell, but he might have some ideas.'
Dean had wanted to drive all the way through the night until they reached the salvage yard, but Sam had enough presence of mind to argue against that idea.
"There're probably hunters watching the roads in and out of Sioux Falls," he had argued. "I bet they've got eyes on state highways, too. I doubt they'd care if we were just passing through, but two women and a scruffy looking guy show up to Bobby's place? Anyone who's heard anything about us or Cas would at least check into it."
Dean had mulled it over, and then nodded reluctantly. "Okay. We'll stop for the night and plan our next move in the morning."
Sam knew the easy acceptance was more for Castiel's benefit than for theirs, but he didn't mind that. As far as he was concerned, now that Castiel was human, the guy deserved to sleep on a mattress that didn't have manacles or the consistency of concrete.
While Dean waited in the car with Castiel, Sam headed to office to see to their lodgings.
"Two queens," he said out of habit to the balding, overweight guy manning the front desk, and then amended, "Actually, if you have three doubles, that'd be better."
The guy shrugged, not bothering with any of the idle chit-chat daytime staff would have tried. Sam paid with J. Jett's credit card and then headed back to the car, indicating to Dean to pass the first half-dozen, single storey structures and park at the far end of the circular lot.
Upon following his brother and Castiel into the room, Sam was relieved to see that the motel's conditions were a lot better than the last few dives he and Dean had stayed in; the wallpaper was white and sparsely decorated with fifties-style motorcycle prints, and it lacked the stale, cigarette-sodden scent he had come to associate with motel rooms. A small television and mini-fridge were piled on top of a cheap bureau, and in the corner of the room there was a round faux-wood table and chairs.
Dean helped Castiel toward one of the beds, gingerly lowering him down like he was made of glass. The ex-angel actually seemed to sag a little as Dean pulled away from him to reach for his duffel bag, and Sam winced in sympathy at the sight. Castiel still looked somewhat shell-shocked.
Dean tossed Sam a tin of salt to line the window and door ledges. While Sam worked, he heard the snikt sound of Dean's switchblade and the accompanying sharp scent of blood that suggested Dean was getting ready to paint some protective sigils. Not for the first time, Sam wished there was a better way of shielding themselves than opening a vein or three. He also hoped they would be far away from the motel by the next day, because explaining to the owner why the walls were covered in blood was not how he wanted to spend his morning.
"You should not be doing that," Castiel spoke up, the familiar gravelly tone making Sam jump in surprise when it broke the silence. "Whether the Apocalypse is over or not, your blood is too valuable. Let me –"
"Not gonna happen," Dean cut him off. While Sam started outlining a Devil's Trap beneath the windows and door in chalk, Dean's reflection in the television was pointing a bloodied finger at the former angel. "Your real boy body is probably so out of whack right now, you'd end up knocking yourself out for another two weeks if you lost any more blood."
Sam glanced up, noting how Castiel seemed torn between arguing the point and glowering at Dean; in the end, his lingering exhaustion made the decision for him, because he simply inclined his head and bit out a slightly sullen, "Check for listening spells."
The directive was perfunctory at best; ever since Sam found out about Crowley's special coins he had scoured whatever small surface where such a thing could conceivably be hidden. They humored Castiel, either way.
As soon as they were satisfied that the room was as secure as a random highway motel could be, Sam sat himself back onto one of the other unoccupied beds and allowed some of the tension he had been holding since New York City drain out of him. Rolling his shoulder, he peered at Castiel, trying to figure out how best to approach the situation in a direct, yet still sympathetic manner.
Dean, as usual, had no such scruples.
"Okay, man, before we do anything else, you've got to clue us in on some stuff," he declared, grabbing one of the chairs and swinging it around to straddle it. "Starting with what the hell you did. 'Cause we were under the impression that the Cage was a forever kind of thing. But seeing as Sam's…here…I'm gonna go out on a limb and say someone's been holding back intel."
"Not that I'm not grateful," Sam reiterated hastily, earning an annoyed yet apologetic glance from Dean and a thoughtful frown from Castiel, "but I think we're all long past accepting anything at face-value."
"Meaning: is whatever you did going to come back to bite us in the ass?" Dean pressed, ignoring Sam's unimpressed glare.
Sam was used to Dean being a jerk when he was worried about something or someone; he had lived it every day of his first nineteen years of life, and then when they reunited it had just picked right back up again. To someone not used to that reaction, he might come off as unnecessarily harsh – to an angel who had very little experience with human emotion, it might seem like a personal attack. Close relationship or not, from the brief flicker of hurt that flashed across Castiel's face, he was taking it personal. Gone was the expression of angelic aloofness, and Sam had a feeling they probably wouldn't be seeing it as much in the future.
"Not that I am aware of," Castiel answered stiffly, wrapping his coat tighter around himself. It was so odd on top of Sam's bulky hoody, a huge contrast from the way they were used to seeing him. "If Sam is here, it means the exchange worked. The only –"
"'Exchange'?"Dean repeated, eyes narrowed in suspicion. His voice had that unnatural calmness too it that Sam knew he was coming to a conclusion he didn't like. "So, you did make a deal."
"Not in the traditional sense, but yes."
"If there was a Crossroads Demon involved, I'm gonna say that's pretty traditional."
"Crossroads Demons are bound by sacred law to fulfill their deals to the letter," Castiel replied, stiff defensiveness in his tone.
"And let me guess – your grace was the collateral," Dean bit out, becoming redder and redder with anger.
Sam was tempted to step in before his brother had some kind of aneurysm, but Castiel seemed to have recovered from his discomfiture with Dean's mood, and he met Dean's furious gaze head-on, his chin jutted out slightly.
"It was the only way," the former angel asserted neutrally. "Had there been another option, I would gladly have taken it."
"No one asked you – do you realize how - ?" Dean was standing now, apparently incapable of forming a coherent sentence.
This time, Sam took the opportunity to cut him off, drawing Castiel's attention. "I thought there wasn't an option to begin with."
"I did not know about it before," Castiel told him quietly, almost apologetic. "It was not until I was resurrected at Stull and my grace transformed that I discovered that there was a…loophole."
"What loophole?" Sam prompted.
Castiel looked away, a wrinkle in his brow and perplexed curve in his mouth that suggested he wasn't sure how to put his words. When Dean made an impatient noise and Sam elbowed him, Castiel finally nodded to himself and spoke.
"As angry as my Father was with Lucifer when he rebelled, He was not without hope of reconciliation," Castiel began to explain. "Even as He created the Cage, He hoped it would only be temporary. The Seals He ordained were never the actual way He wanted it to be opened."
"Are you saying all of Heaven and Hell got together to sneak in the Apocalypse through the back door?" Dean demanded.
"Yes. They did not know that the way into Lucifer's Cage was so much simpler – or rather, the majority of them didn't. Those that knew would never have pursued that avenue," he sighed, and offered yet another contrite face. "Had I known at the time, I would have told you. Even if it was more impossible than Sam's plan to entrap Lucifer."
"But you managed to do it, in the end," Sam pointed out, shivering at the mention of his time with the Devil.
"Only after I was…upgraded," Castiel said, hesitating on the final word like he wasn't sure it was the right one.
"Which brings us back to my first question – what did you do?" Dean ground out.
"The way to open the Cage is with the grace of an archangel," Castiel said. "If an archangel voluntarily gave up their grace, it would become a key."
Dean made a strangled noise of understanding, and Sam considered this before exhaling a curse.
"That…makes sense, sort of. I can't see Michael or Raphael ever ponying up their grace to let their brother out of Hell. Even Gabriel never gave up his when he was down here, right?"
"No," Castiel agreed, a shadow passing over his face at the mention of Gabriel. Whether they had known each other or not, it still sucked to lose a brother. Adam's fate prayed on Sam's mind every moment of every day, especially since his memories of Hell returned. It must be a hundred times worse if you had never felt grief before the way Castiel was now. "Not only would they be discouraged by their resentment of Lucifer, but sacrificing one's grace is the equivalent of a death sentence."
"Isn't it the same as Falling?" Sam wanted to know.
"Not exactly. If I had Fallen, I would have expelled my grace from me and with it my memories and self. I would have forgotten everything for the promise of a mortal life."
"So you're saying…?"
"I would have lived out a human life and then ceased to exist. Many of the Fallen believe it to be a worthy sacrifice, but for the most powerful of our brethren, it would have been too much to bear."
He trailed off with a shrug, while both Sam and Dean took a moment to process this information. Before Sam was able to move past both the disbelief that there had been another way to open the Cage and the amazement that Castiel had actually done something so huge for him, Dean was on his feet and glaring down at the angel.
"Are you telling me you could have died?" Dean demanded, eyes flashing.
"I should have," Castiel agreed. "It continues to perplex me as to why I did not cease to be the minute my grace was transformed."
"That's…that's not the point!" Dean spluttered, pacing back and forth in an angry circle. "It was my responsibility to find a way, man, not yours! You could have offed yourself without it working – and then I'd have to deal with Sam being in a hole and – and you being dead."
Dean's words were harsh and critical, and even Sam winced in sympathy because it almost sounded as though he was calling Castiel out for doing the one thing he had desperately wanted anyhow but had never voiced. Clearly Castiel was better versed in Dean than he was in human behaviour, though, because after a second of perplexed staring, a glimmer of comprehension flickered through his eyes.
"Ah," he said, nodding to himself. "I understand now. You are angry because you were worried, and because you are a Winchester, you are lashing out at me to cover up that anxiety. I will bear you no ill for this."
Sam couldn't help the snort of amusement, both at Castiel's words and at the interesting shade of red his brother was turning. He couldn't help adding fuel to that fire, remarking, "Yeah, Dean, you don't have the monopoly on self-sacrifice. Family trait, remember? And at this point, I think it might be contagious."
"What did I say about you and Cas not getting to play together anymore?" Dean snapped accusingly. "There's no teaming up, graceless angel or not."
"If I may ask," Castiel interrupted, clearly not bothered by Dean's hissy fit, "how is it you both knew I was without my grace in the first place?"
"You mean other than the fact you were in a psych ward and didn't smite the crap out of the doctors keeping you there?" Sam asked. He nodded over at his brother. "Dean can tell you that."
"Tell me what?" Castiel asked, attempting to meet Dean's gaze.
Still fuming, Dean continued to glower for a full ten seconds before grunting in annoyance and shrugging out of his jacket and over-shirt, before pushing up the sleeve of his t-shirt up over his shoulder.
"Notice anything missing?" he grumbled, the tone the petulant one Sam recognized as Dean's 'you may got me beat there, but I don't have to like it' tone. "The last two times you died that didn't happen. What's so special about this – hey! What are you doing?!"
Dean's growling complaint turned into a strange kind of yelp as Castiel suddenly moved, getting up off the bed and surging forward faster than his lethargy might have suggested him capable of. He was right up into Dean's personal space, and before Dean could jerk away, he had rested his hand against the spot where his handprint had once rested.
To Sam's surprise, Dean didn't begin to swear or berate Castiel about violating his personal bubble the way he usually would; instead, he went quiet, his entire body completely tense and watchful, as though he was surprised but not threatened. As Sam and Dean watched, Castiel closed his eyes and concentrated, eyebrows knit together.
There was a long minute of uncomfortable silence, before the former angel shook his head and opened his eyes. "It is no use. Whatever shred of sensitivity I once had is completely gone."
"So you don't know why it's missing?" Sam prompted, because apparently Dean was too busy staring at the place where Castiel was holding his arm like he was desperately trying to understand something.
"In an ordinary case, I would say it had healed – the physical mark would have done that anyhow, in time," Castiel mused. "The spiritual mark…It is rare for an angel's grace to touch the soul of a human that is not their vessel. That mark would have endured. Possibly indefinitely."
"And you can't tell if it's still there," Sam realized.
Castiel nodded shortly. "The place where my grace touched Dean's soul in Hell created a permanent spiritual…brand. One which any being with a shred of psychic ability would pick up, even in your new forms." His voice became tight. "Had I retained even a spark of my grace I would have been able to see it. Unfortunately, I no longer possess even that."
Sam's expression of sympathy was cut off by Dean, who finally coughed uncomfortably. "Uh, Cas? The hand?"
Castiel's fingers were still wrapped gently but firmly around Dean's deltoid. Sam would have laughed at the uncomfortable expression on Dean's face if the situation hadn't been so serious.
The former angel blinked, as if remembering himself, and with an odd reluctance, let go of Dean. He took a small step backward, examining his fingers. The distance didn't seem to be enough for Dean, who casually widened it further by leaning back against the cheap wallpaper.
"Moving on – whatever happened, Dean knew there was something wrong with you before we even knew you were gone," Sam explained. "If what you said was true, how did you survive? Because, I'm here, so obviously whatever you did worked. So – not that I want you dead or anything – but how are you still…you know?"
"I have some theories, each as unlikely as the last."
"Aggie said she thought your grace and Dean's soul bonded," Sam suggested, ignoring the stink-eye Dean gave him, whether at the mention of Aggie or a notion as ridiculous sounding as a grace-soul bond.
"Oh. Right, we never…she's the pagan goddess that made us look like this," Sam said, gesturing to his and Dean's feminine forms. Dean was scowling again.
"You never did explain how it is you came by these new bodies," Castiel pulled a face. He actually looked at Dean like he was insulted or something. "I assume there was some necessity behind it?"
"Well, let's see – demons still hate us, there are hunters pissed off because of the Apocalypse we accidentally started, and your ninja turtle brother is a dick," Dean listed brusquely.
"Raphael," Sam added helpfully.
Castiel looked slightly alarmed. "He is free?"
"Yup. And mad as hell that we stopped the Apocalypse. He wants to restart the damn thing," Dean grumbled.
"And you were AWOL at the time, so we couldn't…the short version of the story is that we needed to disappear without actually disappearing," Sam finished. "Bobby called in a favor and here we are. Sort of."
"And this…pagan…suggested a soul bond?" Castiel inquired.
"Yeah, she kind of implied that when your grace touched Dean's soul, they were kind of, uh, coloured by one another," Sam agreed, ignoring Dean's eye twitching at all the soul-talk. "Like, you had a piece of Dean's soul in your grace and he had a piece of your grace in his soul."
"That is a possibility. And it would have been an infinitesimal piece, as I never paid it any attention," Castiel mused. "That might explain how I survived. It is possible that when my grace left this body, the part of Dean's soul which had become part of it was left behind. It may have acted as a kernel for my own soul to develop."
This theory was met with awkward silence.
"Huh. Strong soul," Sam commented in a would-be offhand way.
"Dean's soul is one of the brightest I have ever seen," Castiel agreed.
"Dean is standing right here and wishes you two would stop gossiping about my damn soul," Dean grumped. "So that's your other survival theory?"
"It is possible that when my grace faded the first time, I became so human that a soul of my own was born," Castiel answered. He paused, considered, and then added, "I believe the reality is likely a little bit of both. My own fledgling soul was too weak to animate this body. When my grace was transformed into the key – and when the part of it which had bonded to Dean's ripped through me – I suppose it was enough of a shock to reanimate this body."
It was another explanation that elicited a tense silence, and Sam couldn't help but be slightly amazed by it. Dean, in contrast, seemed more than freaked out. He adopted the look that Sam usually interpreted as his 'too much damn information' face, and exhaled wearily. "So, who was on the receiving end of this deal of yours, anyway?"
Castiel shook his head. "It is not relevant."
"The fuck it's not!"
"If the deal had not achieved the desired effects, I might agree with you – however, as that is not the case, there is no reason for you to seek out the demon I dealt with. It will not change matters."
"Well, if it's not going to change anything, just give us the name –"
Both Dean and Castiel faced Sam; the latter's face was carefully blank, but the more Sam thought about it, the more sense it made. "He's King of the Crossroads deal, right? Cas wouldn't go to any small-fry demon to begin with, and anyone higher than Crowley would be more likely to gank him than deal with him." Dean looked ready to explode again, so Sam hurriedly finished his thought. "Besides, if what Crowley said about there being demons in Hell that didn't want Lucifer out, he'd need some kind of…firepower to keep himself above the rest of them."
Not the best thing to say.
"You trusted Crowley?" Dean demanded, rounding on Castiel again.
"It was the only option."
Dean gave the impression of wanting to reply, but noticed Sam’s expression and made an obvious change in tactics.
"Fucking great!" he complained. "Not only does that son of a bitch have Bobby's soul, now he's running around with archangel grace. Awesome. Add that to the ever-growing list of shit we need to find.
"No," Castiel said, his tone sharp. He was eyeballing Dean with an expression of such ferocious intensity that even Dean paused. "My grace is forfeit – despite the fact that I somehow survived separation from it, I will not allow you to seek out Crowley for it."
"Why the hell not?"
"For the same reason you refused to let Sam save you when you made your deal for his life," Castiel answered tonelessly.
"He's afraid it would invalidate the deal," Sam realized, quiet.
Logic like that, even Dean couldn't argue with, although from the furious way his jaw snapped closed and his eyes narrowed, Sam knew that given time, his brother would try to find a way to do just that. It was moments like this that he was sure that if Dean had had a normal upbringing, it would have been him that decided to go into law, not Sam.
Deciding that it was best to distract him from whatever argument he was coming up with right now, Sam decided to change the subject.
Sam interjected quietly, "Questions aside – are you doing okay? I'm sure this is a huge adjustment for you."
"I am…fine," Castiel answered evasively. Sam and Dean exchanged unconvinced glances.
"You're anything but 'fine'," Sam told him. "When was the last time you ate?"
"Months ago. Raw ground beef," Castiel answered without hesitation. "It is not something I wish to re-experience."
"Uh, no, generally we like our meat cooked," Sam said with a wince. "They didn't feed you at the hospital?"
"The sustenance I was provided with in the hospital did not agree with this body's digestive system," Castiel replied matter-of-factly. "Besides, I do not consider that to be the current problem. If I am recalling the signs correctly, I believe I need to relieve myself."
The revelation was such a stark difference from the last hour's tone and so bluntly put in such a Castiel kind of way that Sam couldn't help letting out a startled guffaw. Even Dean's lip twitched like he wanted to crack a smile.
Instead, he asked in a gruffly petulant voice, "Sure you can handle that on your own?"
"I am not incompetent, Dean, I still retain a few of Jimmy's memories," Castiel replied as he headed toward the ensuite bathroom; Sam couldn't help grinning at the audible annoyance in his answer.
This time, Dean did smile.
"Okay, fine, but if you have trouble, we can always find you a Cheerio to aim at," Dean called after him. "It's how we taught Sammy."
"Dean!" Sam protested, feeling heat flood his cheeks as the bathroom door shut. "Could you be a bit more mature about this? The guy's been human for less than two weeks. Maybe give him time to adjust before you start mocking him and telling him stuff no one needs to know?"
"Sam, I've been forced into a chick's body for a week and a half – no one gave me any compassion," Dean retorted, unimpressed. "Share the misery, I say."
"Right, because you're all about the sharing," Sam rolled his eyes, and then studied his brother. Dean was glaring at the door through which Castiel had disappeared, obviously not yet satisfied with the way the conversation was going.
Sam sighed inwardly, knowing they weren't going to get any further tonight if Dean kept interrupting Castiel to berate him about his latest martyr stunt. It had occurred to him a few times since rescuing Castiel that there was something lurking unsaid between the two of them, more than their usual unresolved issues. Whatever it was, Sam was too tired to play therapist for the two most emotionally stunted people he had ever met.
"I'm going to head out for a bit," Sam said, already starting for the door. "Saw a 24-hour diner down the road, and I'm starving."
"You're going out now?" Dean demanded, leaving off his glaring contest with the cheap motel door to raise an eyebrow at Sam. "That's convenient."
Sam ignored him. "I know it's hard, but can you try not to be an asshole to the guy that busted me out of Hell? It's not exactly the best way to say 'thank you'."
Dean's eyes widened incrementally in a manner akin to panic. "You don't think I'm pissed at him for bringing you back, do you?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "No, I don't. But I also know that you're giving him the same raking over the coals that you'd be giving me if I had pulled what he did. Which is fine. I get it. You were worried and possibly experienced feelings, but it's over now. We have bigger things to worry about, like trying to save Adam. So while I'm out, resolve your shit with Cas, so we can get started on that. Because seriously, dude, reliving what happened to me and Adam down there is not getting any easier the longer this takes."
Dean's jaw clenched at the reminder about Adam, and while Sam felt a little guilty at using their suffering younger brother as a cue to get Dean's mind back in the game, he also knew it was the best tactic.
He gave a jerky nod.
"We'll talk options when I get back," Sam finished and headed through the doorway.
"You'd better bring back some pie," he heard Dean grumble as the door fell shut.
'Shoulda made sure he had a pair of brass knuckles or pepper spray on him,' Dean thought a few minutes later, thinking about how Sam's less than intimidating current form might incite some unwanted attention. The highway community they had pulled into didn't seem like it would be very troublesome, but you could never tell. Even when Dean and Sam were in their true bodies, there was always the possibility of some stupid hick starting trouble.
The automatic surge of over-protectiveness that always emerged when it came to Sam flitted away, and Dean felt his stomach – already knotted up with anger and frustration – clench up again in discomfort. For whatever reason, he was now supremely conscious of the fact that without his brother around, he and Cas were going to be alone together. It would be the first time since the angel bailed on him during the drive home from Stull, and Dean remembered that last conversation all too well.
"God gives you a brand new, shiny set of wings and suddenly you're his bitch again."
Not exactly his finest moment, and he could only use grief over Sam as justification for so long. By the time he had pulled into Lisa's driveway, he had come to the conclusion that he had been unnecessarily hard on Cas – especially in light of everything the angel had done to him since rebelling against Heaven. After Sam's return and the realization of Cas’s involvement in it, that modicum of regret over a few harsh words had blossomed into full-blown guilt.
'Like I need any more of that in my life,' Dean thought sourly.
He dearly wanted to blame the new girl-brain for the fact he'd been thinking about the latest conundrum nonstop, but he was pretty sure that even if he had been in his own bones, he would have felt guilty about inadvertently goading Cas into pulling so dangerous a stunt. This wasn't like the few hours before Lucifer rose when he had been mad enough and desperate enough to try to convince Cas to do the right thing; it was him bitching about his own problems and Cas putting his own life on the line to make it better.
Once again, Dean found himself contemplating just how to say 'thank you' for something that should never have worked but which he was grateful for all the same.
As Cas returned from the bathroom, ruffled and unimpressed with yet another new requirement that being human forced upon him, Dean was still struggling to come up with the words.
Cas, unaware of Dean's dilemma, cast a sweeping glance around the room and then asked, "Where is Sam?"
"He went to get food. I thought he had a huge appetite when he was a Sasquatch. It's been even worse since he actually became a girl," Dean said with a shrug. "It's a metabolism thing."
"I suppose that is understandable," Cas said calmly, as though it was an everyday occurrence to talk about someone's spontaneous genderswitch.
Dean snorted. "You're taking this whole us-being-turned-into-chicks thing really well."
"I am an angel – or, I was," Cas told him earnestly, naked pain flitting across his face too quickly for him to be able to hide it. Rather than remark on it, Dean waited for him to continue. "As a spiritual being, I was always more aware of the metaphysical state of my Father's creatures before I knew their physical forms. I may now be mortal, but it seems that proclivity remains." He attempted to smile at Dean. "You are you, regardless of the body you wear. If I had not been so disoriented when you came to rescue me, I would have noticed it sooner."
Dean shifted uncomfortably, finding a very odd element of comfort in that statement. When he peeked up, Cas was watching him with his usual look of intense scrutiny
"I got something on my face?" Dean groused.
"You made a promise to Sam," Cas told him seriously. "I could not let you undermine your word and put yourself in danger yet again."
Apparently Cas wasn't as unaware of Dean's thoughts as he had imagined.
"Underm – how did you – ?"
"He told me of it, before he went to Lucifer. He asked me to watch out for you and make sure you kept your promise. I knew you wouldn't be able to, because I know you and I know how much Sam means to you."
Dean clenched his fists, knowing that Cas was right and resenting the hell out of it all the while.
"Fine, I wouldn't have been able to do it," he grunted, glaring at Cas. "But that doesn't mean you should have pulled that shit without even knowing if it was going to work."
Cas blinked. "I may not be well-versed in irony as of yet, but considering how you have lived your life…"
"We are so not talking about me right now," Dean snapped. "Weren't you Mr. Angelic Strategist up there? Exactly what part of handing over your grace to Crowley on the off chance that he could get Sam out of Hell was strategic?"
"There was no other way that I knew of," Cas replied.
"Nuh-uh – I call bullshit on that one, Cas," Dean shot back. "There's always another way. And that way includes friggen' talking to people before you go off and do something nuts without even knowing if it's going to work."
Cas tilted his head to one side, eyes searching. "You are displeased not because of what I did, then…but because I did not come to you with the plan?"
"Yes – no – ugh, this is so messed up," Dean groaned, scrubbing a hand down his face and then pointing at Cas. "Let's get one thing straight – I'm real glad you got Sam back. After all the crap Sam and I put you through last year…Just, thanks, okay?" He didn't allow Cas to protest about being under Heaven's orders at the time, because as far as he was concerned, those other winged dicks had had zilch to do with his resurrection. "But Sam's my responsibility – and if you knew a way to get him out, you shoulda told me. We could have figured it out together and maybe your grace would still be…you know, your grace."
Cas was still watching him with that uncanny amount of understanding that usually no one but Sam ever managed. Dean forced himself to remain still under that gaze and ignore the return of the butterflies in his stomach.
Finally, Cas nodded slowly. "I apologize if I made you worry. Given your history, I did not think you would care how it was accomplished, so long as Sam was safe."
And yeah, that right there hurt; the fact that Cas thought he was so low on the list of Dean's priorities after everything they had been through was a misconception Dean intended to rectify once and for all. "Dude – first of all, there's no worrying going on. Stop making me sound like someone's mother. Second of all, you're an idiot."
Cas looked like he was about to protest.
"No, listen – next to Sam and Bobby, you are the closest thing I have to family. You're like a brother to me. In fact – and I feel crummy saying this, but it doesn't make it less true – you're more family to me than Adam is right now. So damn right I'm going to wig out when you do something as stupid as dealing with the same douchebag Crossroads Demon that already screwed us over at least twice."
Cas’s eyes widened, and Dean was treated to the unfamiliar sight of color flooding his cheeks. "I…thank you, Dean. I…did not know…"
"Yeah, well, don't go spreading that shit around," Dean muttered, crossing his arms and looking away. "I've got a reputation to maintain."
"I will endeavor to keep it to myself," Cas promised solemnly.
There was a beat.
"I assume you and Sam are planning to go after Adam." It wasn't a question, and Dean had a moment's appreciation of the fact that Cas, at least, understood the mysterious workings of the Winchester mind.
"Well, yeah, considering you didn't happen to bring him back up too," Dean allowed. And okay, he sounded a little bit like he was bitching, but he'd never been good at segueing into subtle questions. Along with the gene for ridiculous floppy hair, that particular talent went to Sam.
"I tried, but Crowley would have none of it," Cas said ruefully. "It was either Sam or Adam. Given the circumstance, I believed you would be more concerned with Sam's return than Adam's."
Dean shifted uncomfortably at that, because Cas was right. "So you're not going to talk us out of it?"
"I did warn Crowley that you would be less than pleased at the turn of events," Cas answered. "I know better than most exactly what lengths you will go to for your family." He tilted his head again, a question in his eyes. "I understand that I am of little use to you now without my grace, but if you are amenable…"
He trailed off, unasked question hanging between them.
"You still know a shit ton more than Sam and I do about the mysteries of the universe," Dean stated immediately. He smirked. "What, didja think we were just going to toss you on the sidelines?"
This time, Cas was the one to crack a small smile and Dean felt warmth in his stomach. It had been too long since he had seen Cas with one of those, and it surprised him just how much comfort he drew from it. It occurred to him right then that if certain circumstances had been different, Cas might have ended up dead and he would never get the chance to see that particular expression again.
That thought bothered him more than it should have, Dean realized as Cas strode forward hesitantly and thrust his hand out in front of him. He raised an eyebrow. "Uh…Cas?"
"This is the appropriate gesture, is it not?" Cas asked uncertainly, his hand wavering slightly as doubt crossed his eyes.
"Uh, yeah, no, that's right," Dean rambled, for some reason feeling awkward and stupid placing his hand within Cas’s. He intended to shake it in a quick, businesslike gesture, but as Cas’s hand tightened around his, he paused. Cas, too, stared down at their joined hands, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Cas’s hand – which had once belonged to a guy who sold ad time to AM radio – was soft and possessed of a surprisingly strong grip. It was a stark contrast to Dean's work-roughened one, which even Aggie's transformative powers hadn't softened.
The entire gesture itself felt wrong, somehow; almost inadequate. The fact that he thought so was even more wrong, as it was usually Sam who dealt with the touchy-feely crap and had a tendency to emote uncontrollably.
As though bidden by his thoughts, Sam – who had both the best and worst timing in history – barged back into the room without knocking.
"Dean, we've got to – whoa, am I interrupting something?" he asked, stopping in his tracks and eying Dean and Cas's still clasped hands.
"No, we're good," Dean said, pulling away abruptly and backing up a few more feet. Cas did the same, slowly sitting back onto the bed he had claimed before. Dean cleared his throat, shot Sam a 'don't say a word' glare and asked, "What's up?"
Sam gave himself the minutest of headshakes and then said, "I was barely out of the parking lot when I got the call. Bobby's in trouble."
"What? Why?" Dean demanded, awkwardness forgotten as worry surged up to take its place. "How do you know?"
"I just got a phone call from Jody Mills."
"The sheriff in Sioux Falls? The one whose son I…the one whose son rose from the dead?"
"Why's she calling you?"
"I guess Bobby gave her our number in case something happened. She's been in contact with him since Death visited. Apparently, Bobby hasn't been answering her phone calls and when she went over there, his place was destroyed," Sam explained grimly. "Huge Mack truck destroyed the whole front wall. She's been keeping people off the property, but no sign of him anywhere."
"He must truly trust this woman to compromise your location," Cas remarked idly, once again back in stoic-angel mode.
"Shit," Dean growled. He glanced around the room. "Well, it's a good thing we didn't really unpack anything. Let's head out."
He started back toward the window, ready to erase the salt-line, when Cas spoke again. "Exactly what is it you can do about his disappearance at this juncture?"
"We can do our damnedest to find out what happened to him," Dean retorted darkly.
"It's not safe for you to do so at this time, if what you said about Raphael and your other pursuers is true."
"Screw that, Cas, he's family – he could be dead! And I'm betting it would be our fault."
"It is unlikely that he is dead," Cas reasoned. "Any enemies of yours would have wanted to leave a message if that were the case. Most likely, he would have been taken either to be tortured for information –"
" – thanks for that, Cas –"
" – in which case he would be kept alive as long as possible," Cas finished. "But it might be another explanation."
"That's not good either."
"It depends on the angel. There was one which I spoke to before the events of Stull who might have taken my sudden disappearance as a reason to…check in…on Bobby."
"Well who was it? We can summon his ass down here and find out!"
"No. I am not sure that is the case, and on the off chance I am wrong I will not jeopardize what you have sacrificed to disappear just to gain information," Cas maintained. "It is best to stay as far from angelic attention as possible. Spend your efforts trying to free Adam."
Sam's head jerked up, questioningly. "Is there even a way to do that?"
"Once I would have said no, but considering the things I have seen you both accomplish, I believe there must be," Cas answered. When he next spoke, he was addressing Dean. "I understand that it goes against every bit of your resolve to leave Bobby right now, but going after him right now would be a mistake."
"What the hell do you suggest we do? Sit around with our thumbs up our asses?!" Cas cocked his head to one side, deliberating his own thumb, and Dean rolled his eyes. "Figure of speech, Cas."
"Ah. I see," he said, although he clearly didn't. He glanced back at Dean, and then at Sam. "I assume you have the materials for a summoning spell?"
"Yeah, of course," Sam said.
"Then I require those," Cas said decisively. "As well as your absence. I will discern Bobby's whereabouts, while you both concern yourselves with Adam."