Shadows of Grace
Author: Lycanthrophile (
Artwork: christinchen
Fandom: Supernatural
Originally Posted: July 3, 2009
Spoilers: Spoilers can be found for all of season four. AU after 4x10 - Heaven and Hell.
Disclaimer: All hail Kripke! Supernatural belong to Warner Bros. Television Production Inc. and Wonderland Sound and Vision. No copyright infringement intended.
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Summary: Castiel’s grace is torn from him to be used in the breaking a seal. With both Heaven and Hell hunting him, he turns to the only man who can protect him.
Word Count: 25,057
Archive: Please inform me.
Notes: Originally written for the 2009 spn_j2_bigbang. Thanks to katbcoll, drovar, and mos_self for awesome betas.
Downloads: PDF File (1.4MB), Artwork (1.2MB) Other goodies are available christinchen’s LiveJournal.

A hand at his throat, squeezing it shut and preventing him from breathing. What little air he could suck into his lungs was tainted by sulfur.

A voice chanting in Enochian, the words harsh and foul. And a growing horror as he recognized the spell being cast.

An overwhelming desperation to get away. But the spell taking hold made it hard to summon the concentration necessary to escape.

A flash of light, blinding his sight into whiteness as searing pain hit. One last instinctive flailing and the feeling of space and time warping around him. Unbearable and unutterable agony coursing through every nerve as something tore out of him.

Blue eyes shot wide open at the memory.

He blinked his eyes shut and then open, trying to focus them. It wasn’t the floor he was staring at, but the ceiling. He was lying spread-eagled on his back on what felt like an area rug covering a portion of hard wood floor. He looked around as he bolted upright from his prone position. He felt a mixture of feral wariness and fear, and then relaxed into his usual impassivity. There was no immediate threat. He had escaped and was alone. For the moment, he was safe. But something felt off. Something was not right. He just wasn’t certain what yet.

Once he could see clearly, he looked around to take closer stock of his surroundings. There was overturned table and chair, books and papers scattered around them. From the unaccustomed soreness in his limbs and chest, it was clear that he had knocked over the furniture and that his arrival hadn’t been with his usual precision.

He rose to his feet. He stumbled forward a few steps, almost tripping and landing hard before he caught himself by grabbing the overturned chair. He straightened up slowly, stunned by an alien sensation of clumsiness. He raised his hands to eyelevel and observed them intensely. Each finger was flexed experimentally. Both wrists were rotated so he could see the back side and then the palm. His hands moved as they should. But something still didn’t feel right.

He looked around in an attempt to get his bearings. He recognized the room. It was one of several warded apartments which were used as meeting points or bolt holes when necessary. Recognition and memories slowly bubbled into his consciousness. That was frightening in and of itself He knew he was supposed to have instantaneous recall of all events. Something was very wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on what--

That was it. These weren’t really his fingers, he remembered. They belonged to his vessel.

With that thought, he knew what was wrong. The horror of it overwhelmed his mind, rooting him to the spot. The memories were now clear in his mind. He remembered what had been done to him. He knew what he had done in an attempt to prevent it, and how he had failed. And he knew what was supposed to happen next, what the orders would be.

He broke out of his panic and hurried to the closest window. He opened it and leaned out to scan the dark, cloudy skies, expecting to see comrades swooping down on him, intent on executing their orders. Although they had been brothers and sisters from the moment of his creation, he could no longer turn to them for assistance. There were only two men he could turn to now.

Hopefully he would make it to them before his former comrades-in-arms found him.

This time they had funds for a motel. Sam had spent many nights stretched out as best as he could in the back seat of the Impala. It was a spacious car, but even it had troubles accommodating his six-foot-four frame. The bed at this no-tell motel was lumpy, the sheets were thin and scratchy, and he wasn’t sure that the carpeting was in style in the seventies when it appeared to have been installed. But that wasn’t the reason he was having problems sleeping. The reason was sitting at the table, rifling obsessively through a newspaper. Sam gave up on sleep for the moment and pushed the thin blanket off his shoulders as he sat up. “Searching for more signs?”

Dean didn’t look at Sam as he answered. “Yup,” he replied in a noncommittal voice. He didn’t look at the beer bottle either as he snagged it off the table and took a long drink, content not to elaborate on his answer.

Sam sat up a little higher. “Finding anything?”

“Nope. Got bupkis.” Dean said and flipped over to the next page. “Nothing that screams out ‘I’m a werewolf, baby, and here I come.’ Not even any man-bites-dog stories.” He turned the next page and scanned it. “Wish tonight was the full moon instead of tomorrow night.”

Sam dropped back onto the mattress. “You’re really disappointed? Normally you’re the one bitching about how we don’t have any time off.”

“Yeah, well, excuse me for growing a work ethic,” Dean grumbled as he tossed the paper down.

“Dean, what’s wrong with you?” Sam asked, sitting up on his elbows. He was annoyed how after every case recently, his brother dropped another little bombshell about his stay in Hell. He was starting to dread these ‘true confession’ moments as they became more and more frequent, worried about the next thing his brother would admit to. “You’re telling me things about when you were in Hell and then refuse to talk any further about them. How can I help you if you won’t let me?”

“Have you ever thought that I don’t want your help, Sam?” Dean snapped. “Talking about the deal I made to get off the rack and how I started to enjoy it isn’t the same as discussing where we’re going to find a tape player to replace that MP3 player you tarted up my car with.”

Now Sam sat fully upright, feet on the floor. “It’s not, Dean. But it’s just like what Dad used to pull. Keeping things to himself that we had a right to know.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed. “This is not like what Dad--”

A loud pounding on the door interrupted their argument. Dean and Sam immediately stood up, eyes trained warily on the door. “Anyone know we’re here?”

“Bobby, but he said he was going to work a job over in Connecticut,” Sam said quietly. He reached under his pillow for his gun while Dean got up to open the door.

Dean drew his own weapon from the back of his jeans and slid to one side of the entrance. “Who is it?”

“Please… let me in.”

Dean and Sam looked at each other in confusion. They had never heard that particular voice sound weary or frightened before. Dean opened the door and quickly pulled the speaker inside. “Castiel?”

The angel presented a far different appearance than the Winchesters were accustomed to. The normally immaculate white shirt was torn and stained with blood and dirt. There were also tears and snags in the trench coat and tie. A nasty bruise had blossomed over his left eye. But what got their attention the most was the angel’s attitude. Castiel’s presence felt diminished. The inner strength and certainty that radiated from him had evaporated; only unsureness and fear remained. “Water, please,” he gasped out in a ragged voice.

Dean helped Castiel to the table. “There’s some holy water in my bag. I don’t know if it’s enough--”

“No,” Castiel said as he dropped into the chair with a heavy thud. “Just something to drink.”

Sam crossed over to the sink and filled a plastic disposable cup with tap water. He placed it in front of the angel. “What happened to you?”

Castiel emptied the cup in one long swallow and then motioned for another. “I… was taken prisoner by demons.”

Dean grabbed the cup and went back to the sink. “You okay?” he asked as he placed it in front of Castiel.

The brothers watched Castiel drink the second cup. He then gripped it tightly and stared at the beads clinging at the side. His next words were mumbled and he wouldn’t look at either of the brothers. “My grace was taken from me.”

“You lost your grace?” Dean echoed and then asked the obvious question. “How?”

“The same way Anna?” Sam asked.

“No,” he said. “Anna chose to fall and cast hers away. Mine was ripped from me through a dark spell.”

“Like that blood magic Anna worked to send you and Uriel off to the other side of the country,” Sam said. “Who would know that kind of spell existed, let alone be powerful enough to pull it off?”

Castiel didn’t have a chance to answer before Dean did. “Alastair.”

The angel nodded in confirmation. “The others will be looking for me.”

“To help you get your grace back,” Dean said. “Tell me that they’re going to help you get your grace back,” he repeated.

Castiel shook his head.

“But, this wasn’t your choice,” Sam said, shocked. “This wasn’t an act of rebellion.”

“It does not matter,” Castiel said. “An angel who is without grace is as an abomination to be put to death. Anna survived as long as she did because we could not locate her soul, but only her grace.”

“But the others know about your vessel,” Dean said. “Great. How long do you think you have before they’re knocking on our door?”

“I don’t know.”

That answer didn’t sit well with Dean. “Are you still tuned into angel radio?”

Castiel nodded. “So far, nothing has been said about me. But when I fail report in, they’ll start searching.”

“Then we still have some time.” Sam picked up his cell phone. “I’m going to contact Ruby. See if she can help us.”

“Sam, I am not sure that is a wise decision,” Castiel said warily.

“Castiel, she helped hide Anna. She isn’t like other demons. She’ll help us.”

“I know you don’t like her because of the whole angel-versus-demon thing,” Dean said. “But right now she’s the only one who knows enough to help. Or at least get you hidden while we figure out where your grace is.”

Castiel took a deep breath. He made one reluctant nod.

Sam picked up his cell phone and stepped outside. That left Dean to tend to the angel. “Now can you tell me what happened?” Dean asked. “How was Alastair able to get the drop on you?”

“It was an ambush, and I walked into it blindly,” Castiel said, shame coloring his voice. “I thought I was the first to arrive to guard the seal. But the demons were already there. They weren’t attempting to break it at all.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Dean said. “He wanted Anna because they could use her to eavesdrop. Why did he let you go?”

“He did not,” Castiel said. “I managed to get away while he was completing his spell. You’ve seen how I’ve been able to show up places by thinking myself there. I put all my power into breaking the spell binding me and managed to escape. I blacked out once I was safe, and when I awoke, my grace was gone.”

Both angel and man stiffened when the door opened. Sam stepped back inside as he put his cell phone in his pocket “Ruby said she’d meet up with us.”

Dean looked at Sam with an arched eyebrow. “How’s she going to know where that is?”

“She just does. I don’t know how she does it.” Sam walked over to the bed and started tossing his things into the bag. “We better get moving before someone spots you.”

“Yeah,” Dean said to the angel slumped at the table. “The sooner we get you some place safe, the sooner we can figure out how to get your grace back.”

Normally they wouldn’t abandon a case and move onto something else, but Castiel’s situation had to take priority. Sam and Dean bundled the angel into the Impala and headed to Bobby’s. It may have not been the most secretive place, but Bobby’s supernatural panic room was about the safest spot they could think to stash Castiel. Demons wouldn’t be able to penetrate the iron and salt encrusted room. It wouldn’t stop angels, but until Ruby showed up, it was the most defensible place they could think of.

Castiel said nothing during the three-hour drive. He followed Dean and Sam through the house and down to the basement without a word. Dean and Sam were silent as well, not sure what to say that would be any comfort.

They had barely stepped into the basement when they heard a car pull up to the house. “That should be Ruby,” Sam said when he recognized the rumble of her Mustang’s engine. “I’ll go check.”

Dean nodded. “Make yourself comfortable,” he said, and gestured Castiel into the iron-clad room.

Still silent, Castiel passed over the threshold. He looked over each corner, not even blinking at Bobby’s poster next to the arcane symbols etched on the walls. He should have sensed the humming power that bound and shielded the room. Instead it was an empty space. When he closed his eyes, it felt like any other enclosed area, which was another reminder of what he had become. He walked over to the bed and sat down.

Dean joined him in the room. He came over to stand near to Castiel, but didn’t sit on the bed. Both heads tilted up when they heard two sets of footsteps and a muffled conversation above them. The talking stopped when the door to the basement opened. Sam and Ruby came down the stairs and walked to the threshold of the panic room.

From the other side of the doorway, Ruby looked Castiel up and down, her head tilted to the side and a neutral expression on her face. Then she started laughing. She leaned over, one arm wrapped around her stomach without any attempt at regaining control. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” she managed to gasp out between laughs. “I heard the rumors, but didn’t believe them.”

Castiel’s fists clenched and he started to stand. Dean blocked him with a hand lightly on his shoulder and shook his head no. Sam just looked peeved. “Are you done, Ruby?”

Ruby drew in a deep breath as she straightened up. She started to speak, but a round of laughter came out. She took another deep breath, and managed to regain some composure, but she couldn’t wipe the grin off of her face. “Thought you might be needing these,” she said and pulled three hex bags out of her pockets. “If I hadn’t have seen it with my own eyes,” she mused as she tossed two over to Dean and handed one to Sam

Dean put one hex bag in his pocket and offered the other to Castiel. “I don’t want anything finding us, Ruby,” he warned.

“Relax, tough guy. Extra crunchy, just like before,” Ruby said. “It’ll be nice to be owed one by an angel,” she snickered. Despite her bravado, there was uneasiness in her eyes as she looked at Castiel. “These things have about a five-yard radius. So keep them on you at all times.”

Castiel looked at the bag with a slight expression of distaste, but tucked it into his coat.

“Any word on why Alastair did it?” Dean asked.

“Other than he’s a sadistic son of a bitch working for Lilith?” Ruby shrugged. “Well, there’s the fact that the sacrifice of an angel is one more seal broken.”

Dean and Sam’s heads whipped in Castiel’s direction. “You knew,” Dean accused.

“I suspected, but I didn’t know for certain,” Castiel answered. “I was able to will myself away just as he spoke the last words of the incantation.” He turned to Ruby. “My brothers have fallen before in battle without seals having been broken.”

“True, but the others hadn’t been severed from their grace,” Ruby said. “They were killed in battle, their grace intact. You, on the other hand, had it ripped out. He infuses your grace into a silver knife and kills you with it. Angel killed by his own grace. Seal broken.”

“Why Castiel?” Sam asked. “From what you’re describing, any angel would have done.”

“Yeah, but what other angel has been hanging around us?” Dean asked. And this was another way for Alastair to mess with him. Another thing for Dean to feel guilty about.

“Exactly,” Castiel said. “I was easiest to lure into a trap.”

“Fixing this sounds simple enough,” Sam said. “Alastair has Castiel’s grace. So let’s go find him and get it back.”

Ruby rolled her eyes. “I thought you learned your lesson last time, Sam. You don’t simply ‘go find’ Alastair unless he wants to be found. And if he does, watch out. Right now, he’s gone to ground, probably taking out on somebody the fact that he messed up.”

“He’ll be looking for Castiel since the sacrifice wasn’t completed,” Dean said. “So eventually, he’ll have to show himself.”

Castiel’s head snapped up. He held up his hand to keep the others from speaking. “My brothers know what’s happened,” he said after a moment.

“Then the clock is ticking,” Ruby said. “We can’t stay holed up here much longer. Both sides know about Bobby’s.”

Sam nodded. “How long do you think we have?”

“The angels will check our safe houses first before coming here” Castiel said. “That will give us a few hours for me to recover.”

“Couple of hours before the demons make it here,” Ruby responded.

“What do you suggest?” Sam asked.

Before Ruby could answer, Castiel spoke. “Do what you normally do. Complete the hunt you were working on when I showed up. Then find another. Keep moving until Alastair tips his hand. Just take me with you.”

Dean and Sam looked at each other. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Dean said, and then looked speculatively at Ruby.

“Oh no!” she snapped. She crossed her arms and glared at the Winchesters. “He can’t stay here, and he can’t stay with me even if he wanted to. You two are the best choice to keep him safe.”

Sam and Dean looked at each other uncertainly and then back at the angel. “You sure you’re okay with this, Castiel?” Sam asked. “You think you can handle hunting?”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “The last thing we need is for you to get killed by a werewolf while we’re trying to keep you from being sliced and diced by your friends and enemies.”

“Dean, I have been fighting demons since the imprisonment of Lucifer,” the angel responded. It wasn’t a prideful boast but a statement of fact. “I am certain I can hold my own on your hunts.”

There was a phrase humans had to describe his confidence in his abilities to hunt, Castiel reflected. “Famous last words,” he believed it was. As he slid down the wall the werewolf had just thrown him against, he was understanding why it was appropriate. His head felt oddly light, it was difficult to breathe, and there was a warm stickiness on his shoulder.

It had seemed straightforward when he walked into the warehouse. The werewolf they were tracking had dragged his prey here and would be easily cornered. Unfortunately, by the time they found the prostitute in the front part of the building, her heart had been torn from her chest. A trail of bloody drops from the werewolf’s claws led them deeper into the cavernous area filled with free-standing shelving units which created a maze of aisles. Silently, Dean gestured for Sam to go down the left aisle and Castiel to follow him down the central one.

Castiel followed, borrowed weapon at the ready. The weight of the gun felt alien in his hand as he silently paced behind Dean. There were other odd sensations in his body too. His heart was pounding; there was a hollowness in his stomach, a dryness of his mouth and throat. He had never felt the sensations of his vessel’s body this intensely before. It was proving to be a distraction he couldn’t afford.

Both stopped when they heard a rattle from the aisle on their right side followed by a snort of heavy breath. Dean held up his hand to signal to Castiel to remain in place. The hunter then cautiously moved forward and silently slipped around the corner. Obediently, Castiel stayed behind, senses alert.

A scrape of claws on the cement behind him was all the warning he got. He turned and dodged as the werewolf swiped at him, but he wasn’t quite fast enough. The long claws cut with ease through the fabric of his coat and clothes to score the flesh beneath. Instinctively, Castiel dropped his gun and raised his hand to touch between the werewolf’s eyes, narrowly avoiding the snapping jaws. He was startled when nothing happened, and the werewolf dug his claws into his wrist. The beast snarled angrily and yanked him off his feet and swung him around to toss him into a pile of boxes against the far wall.

Landing didn’t hurt so much, but stunned him. He lay on top of the crushed cardboard, unable to open his eyes or move out of range of the attack he knew would be coming. Through the haze, he heard Dean curse, and the sound of a gunshot. There was a loud yelp, a crash, and then silence.

His eyes were shut when he heard someone run towards him. “Cas?” Dean asked. The angel felt two fingers touch his neck below his jaw. “Can you hear me?” Castiel’s eyes opened to the sight of Dean’s worried face inches from his own. “Come on. Let’s get you back on your feet,” Dean said as he hauled the angel into a standing position. His voice changed from concerned to angry. “And what the hell do you think you were doing?”

“There is no need for profanity, Dean,” Castiel said. He swayed slightly as he tried to find his balance. “I was merely trying to subdue the werewolf.” He raised his hand to his shoulder and felt something wet and warm. His eyes widened and his lips parted in surprise when he drew his fingers back and saw blood. His knees felt weak and spots appeared in his vision.

“Whoa, easy Cas,” Dean said, the tone of his voice changing from angry to worried. Castiel could hear a second set of footsteps approaching. Dean’s hands shifted from the lapels of his coat to supporting him under his shoulders. “Sam, help me get him outside.”

Castiel felt a second set of hands grab him. The Winchesters supported his weight as they guided him outside and tried to keep him upright as he stumbled along. His mind didn’t clear until he was placed on a bench and his head was lowered between his knees. “What happened?” he asked. “And why am I in such an undignified position?”

“You almost fainted,” Sam explained. “I’ll make sure the werewolf is taken care of.”

When he heard Sam’s footsteps retreat, Castiel lifted his head a little too quickly and felt the same lightheadedness. Dean pushed his head back down. “Stay like that,” he grumbled. “And how did you think you were going to subdue tall, dark, and mangy in there?”

Castiel started to lift his head only to have Dean shove it down again. “I was going to render it unconscious with my touch--”

“The forehead tap of sleepiness? News flash, Castiel,” Dean informed him. “You can’t do that anymore. You can’t send me into the past, send people to dreamland by touching them, or make yourself disappear by thinking about being somewhere else. Until we get your grace back, you’re human as much as you don’t like it. You can’t fight like an angel.”

Castiel slowly raised his head, still feeling weak. “Then what am I supposed to do, Dean? That’s the only way I know how to fight.” He heard a completely foreign tone of frustration creep into his voice. “I wasn’t born into a human body like Anna. I don’t have the knowledge you take for granted.”

“Don’t have knowledge?” Dean gave Castiel another look over, apparently considering something. “What exactly don’t you know?”

“Everything. Why even before the fight I felt dizzy. Why there is this emptiness in my stomach--”

“Wait a second, Cas,” Dean interrupted. “When was the last time you ate?”

Castiel ignored the shortening of his name and blinked at Dean as if he did not understand the question. “Eat? Angels don’t eat. Vessels are sustained by grace.”

“Thought so. Looks like we’ve have a lot to teach you.” There was a concerned expression on Dean’s face. “Sammy!” he yelled, and turned to face the building. “You about done in there?”

Sam reappeared in the entrance carrying a body wrapped in a blanket slung over his shoulder. “Yeah. We just need to find a place to burn this,” he said, and hefted it higher.

“And we need to get something to eat. Cas here isn’t fainting from seeing blood. His blood sugar crashed. Come on,” Dean said, hauling Castiel to his feet. “Let’s get you out of here and get something in your stomach.”

It was a sign of how worried Dean was about Castiel when he hustled the angel into the motel room and let Sam drive off with the werewolf’s corpse in the trunk. “You sit down and stay put,” he said, guiding Castiel over to one of the beds.

The angel sat down heavily and didn’t protest as Dean pulled the coat off his shoulders. The loose tie was undone further and pulled off. The once-white shirt was peeled off carefully. “Doesn’t look like you’ll need stitches,” Dean said. The hunter disappeared into the bathroom and quickly returned with a damp cloth. “Hold this on your shoulder and stay here,” he ordered. Without saying anything more, Dean left the room.

Accustomed to following orders, Castiel intended to be sitting in the same pose when Dean returned. He closed his eyes, only for a moment. They only opened when he felt Dean lightly shake his shoulder. “Cas? You okay?”

Castiel was surprised to find himself flat on his back on the bed. “I don’t know,” he answered as Dean helped him sit up. “I closed my eyes and couldn’t open them. I couldn’t move my arms. It became hard for me to think straight. Before I fell unconscious, I was afraid that I had been cursed by Alastair.”

Dean shook his head, his expression a mix of amusement and relief. “No, you fell asleep. Happens to the best of us.”

Castiel considered it, his lips pursing. “That’s what it feels like? How do you deal with how vulnerable it makes you?”

“You get used to it,” Dean said. He thrust a styrofoam box at the angel. “Here you go. Eat up.”

Castiel smelled something he couldn’t immediately identify wafting through the crack in the lid. He opened it to see a cheeseburger, french fries, and a large wedge of a pickle. “Got you a soda and some pie too,” Dean said. “Go on.” He gestured with a little wave in the direction of the food. “Give it a try.”

Uncertainly, Castiel picked up the burger. After one more uncertain look at Dean, he took a bite. He knew that humans found the sensation of taste pleasurable. But he wasn’t prepared for the combinations of the flavors-- sharpness, tanginess, mellowness, spiciness-- multiple textures blending in unexpected ways. He chewed thoughtfully, swallowed, and then took another bite without hesitating.

Dean looked pleased at Castiel’s reaction. “Good, huh?”

Before he could answer, Sam entered the hotel room. He smelled of smoke, singed fur, and lighter fluid. “Hey Dean, Castiel.” He closed the door and did a double take at the sight of Castiel sitting on the bed with a large hamburger in his hand. “What are you eating?”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist, Sam,” Dean said, and tossed a white paper bag in his direction. “I didn’t let him anywhere near your turkey salad sandwich.”

Now curious, Castiel peeled back the bun, not recognizing the mishmash of colors. “What is in this?”

“Only the best for your first meal, Cas,” Dean announced. “Double hamburger patties, cheddar, swiss, red onion, lettuce, tomato, avocado, a fried egg, and three slices of bacon topped with secret sauce.”

Sam’s eyes almost bugged out of their sockets as Castiel looked down at the burger and then took another bite. “You ordered him the Widowmaker?” He shook his head. “Are you trying to kill him?”

“Dude, I was considerate.” Dean looked wounded. “I didn’t get him the chili cheese fries.”

Sam rolled his eyes as he sat down. “We’ll see if he’s grateful when you give him his first case of indigestion.”

“All part of being human, Cas,” Dean reassured.

Sam shook his head and pulled a similar box out of the bag. Castiel was surprised to see that the sandwich he was holding was much thinner than his. “After I eat, I’m going to go take a shower,” Sam said.

“Don’t be in there too long, Sam,” Dean warned, and then downed a few fries. “There’s a few other things he’ll need to learn how to do. I was thinking you could be in charge of that.”

“Oh no, Dean,” Sam said. “You’re the professor of the humanities. You should have thought about that before ordering that heart attack on a bun.”

Castiel might still possess had the patience of an angel, but he felt an all-too-human irritation rising in his voice. “Would the two of you do me the courtesy of only speaking of me like this when you are not in the range of my hearing?” Castiel asked.

Sam had the decency to look embarrassed. “Sorry, Castiel.”

Dean didn’t look too contrite. “Speaking of hearing, are the others talking about you?”

Castiel frowned as he concentrated. “They are trying to determine where I am. Apparently Alastair has managed to cloak my grace and his presence, so they are uncertain of his location as well.”

“Gone to ground, just like Ruby said,” Dean said. “Thank God for small favors.”

“Do they know where you are?” Sam asked.

Castiel frowned at the flippant use of the Lord’s name in vain, but said nothing about it as he answered Sam’s question. “No. The hex bags seem to be working. They are unable to find any of us.” He put the hamburger down and picked up the foam cup. He stared at the straw as if he expected it to bite him.

A cautious sip revealed the fluid to be almost sickly sweet. The bubbles of gas trapped in it caused an interesting tingling sensation in his mouth. “What is our next move?” Castiel asked, and then took a longer sip.

“Well, finding Alastair seems to be the next logical step,” Sam said. “We’ll look around for any omens or demon sign.

Dean nodded in agreement. “Alastair might be hiding, but I bet some of his flunkies won’t be as careful.”

“You cannot count on that Dean,” Castiel said. “They may fear betraying Alastair more than they fear going back to Hell.” He shifted uncomfortably as pressure built in his chest. He put his hand to it and tapped lightly, mimicking something he had seen other humans do on occasion.

“Something wrong, Castiel?” Sam asked, noticing his discomfort.

The angel opened his mouth to tell Sam that it felt like something was trying to come up his esophagus. But what came out of his mouth was a loud, long burp.

Both brothers recoiled. Their faces wore an almost identical expression of disgust. Dean waved his hand in front of his face. “Dude. At least say ‘excuse me.’”

Falling asleep felt strange and oddly familiar to Castiel at the same time. He was an angel, and divine will normally sustained his vessel. He did not need to eat, he did not need to sleep, and other bodily functions necessary for humans were not required while he possessed the vessel. He could perform those functions if he so chose, when his assignments required people entertaining an angel unaware.

But slipping into unconsciousness made him feel vulnerable in ways he could not explain. He knew what could visit in his dreams. There had been times when he had done the same to impart some needed words of wisdom or warn of an upcoming battle. The hex bags would prevent his location from being known, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t be contacted by someone determined enough to pay him a visit.

“We need to talk, old friend.” At the sound of the familiar voice, Castiel opened his eyes. It was no surprise to find an angel standing in the room, staring at him sprawled on the bed. The fact that the chair that Sam had sat in reading a grimoire was empty as was the bed Dean had claimed by sprawling on, alerted him that this was indeed a dream visitation.

“Uriel,” Castiel greeted his fellow warrior as he sat up. “I have been expecting you to contact me.”

“You haven’t made it easy, Castiel,” the specialist responded. He stood in place, hands folded behind his back. “We didn’t want to consider this possibility. After we received your warning, for a time we sensed your grace but when we couldn’t locate your vessel…”

“My grace?” Castiel stood and took a step forward. “Where is it?”

“Where do you think?” There was a distinctly amused air to Uriel’s tone of voice. “With Alastair. Or it was the last time we could sense it. It’s obviously not with your vessel, so we know you’re hiding from us as well.” His voice hardened. “You’re committing sins, my old friend, ones I never thought you capable of.”

“I have committed no sin, Uriel,” Castiel protested. “I did not choose to fall. My grace was ripped from me against my will by Alastair.”

“And who were the first people you went to for help?” Uriel pointed out. “Anna’s sin was choosing to fall. Yours is fleeing, trying to avoid what you know is your duty. Rebellion is a human reaction. You’re looking more and more like one of them,” he accused. “And I don’t mean just that monkey suit you’re wearing.”

“Which was created in His image. You’re dangerously close to blasphemy,” Castiel warned. Uriel had let his disdain for humanity show more often after Castiel pulled Dean from Perdition. He wasn’t the only angel who felt that way, but he was certainly the most vocal.

But Castiel was no longer Uriel’s superior, and they both knew it. “What are you going to do? Smite me?” Uriel didn’t show any signs of regret as he continued to speak. “You should turn yourself in to me, Castiel. I will not disobey my orders, but I promise you that I will make your end as quick and as painless as possible. We both know that it has to be done.”

“And by killing me, you will prevent the seal from being broken.” Castiel shook his head. “Except that there are five hundred sixty-five other seals that Lilith will move on to.”

“Regardless, it will be one less seal that he will be able to break. And that may be the turning point. You know that while we may win a battle, we are losing the war. Every seal we can maintain is a small victory we can’t afford to let go. And even if there weren’t a seal in the balance, you know His Law. Do not suffer an angel without grace to live.”

“But killing me does not insure that the seal will not be broken,” Castiel argued. “Alastair targeted me because of my connection to Dean Winchester. There is nothing saying that he will not capture another angel and sacrifice him in my place and the seal will be ruptured.”

“That will not happen because he will not be able to entrap another angel the way you were.” Uriel walked over to the window and looked out. “Tell me, Castiel. How did Alastair manage to capture you?”

Castiel stood up straighter, weight shifting to the balls of his feet, a defensive posture. “I had heard rumors that Alastair was preparing a ritual to summon a hellhound to carry Dean back to Hell. And there was no time to wait for reinforcements.”

“No,” Uriel pointed out. “You heard that Dean Winchester was in danger, and you reacted without thinking. You charged to his rescue without waiting for orders, certain that you could overcome whatever Alastair had arrayed against you, despite the fact that he almost exorcized you the last time you met. That is the sin of pride, and you know it.”

“We would not have a second chance to pull Dean from perdition,” Castiel objected. “It was difficult enough to do so the first time. And we both know why it was necessary.”

“And we could have avoided this whole situation by removing the root of the problem. Dean Winchester walks this earth only because of Sam Winchester,” Uriel responded.

“No one is beyond redemption, Uriel,” Castiel said sadly. “That was the first lesson we were taught. Have you been fighting for so long that you have forgotten?”

Uriel turned away from Castiel’s gaze. “You will not be able to hide from us or from Alastair forever, old friend. Pray that you cross paths with me first.” There were no flashes of light or other special effects that humans seemed to feel were necessary to announce an angel’s departure. One moment Uriel was there. And the next, he was gone.

Castiel’s eyes blinked open and he sat up. He was sitting on one bed, and Dean lay snoring on the other one. A motion in the corner caught his attention. Sam’s eyes were no longer focused on the grimoire in his hands, but were looking at him with concern. “Something wrong, Castiel?” he asked quietly.

“I just spoke with Uriel,” Castiel said quietly. “He was trying to convince me to turn myself in.”

“Will you?” Sam asked. “I know you coming to me and Dean for help getting your grace back is considered an act of rebellion. Are you changing your mind?”

Castiel lay back down and stared up at the stucco ceiling. “I don’t know. His arguments are… persuasive.”

“Anna told us that the greatest sin an angel can commit are losing faith and rebelling against God’s will. Dean told me that Anna said that only four angels have seen the face of God. But I can’t believe that He would punish you for something that wasn’t your fault.”

“I did not do what I was supposed to once I knew my grace was gone,” Castiel pointed out. “I am responsible for that.”

“You’re supposed to go to your death without even a thought of saving yourself, even though what happened wasn’t your fault?” Sam shook his head. “I couldn’t worship a god that required that of me.”

Castiel raised his head to look at Sam. It was commented on that though the Winchester boys were exposed to religion as part of their work, only Sam could be considered somewhat religious. “Do you still pray?”

Sam did not look apologetic as he answered. “Not any more. I stopped when I was certain God wasn’t hearing my prayers.”

Castiel’s head tilted in curiosity. “When was that, Sam?”

“I can tell you exactly when,” Sam said, staring him in the eyes. “May third of last year.”

A day after Sam’s birthday. The day after a hellhound dragged Dean’s soul to torment. Castiel thought for a moment before responding. “God does hear all prayers, Sam. Even those He chooses not to answer. Or not answer in the way we would choose.”

“Dean being rescued from Hell is the answer to my prayer?” Sam’s voice grew indignant and louder. “The whole point was that he shouldn’t have been sent there in the first place.”

“Sam, God moves in mysterious ways-”

“By sending people who don’t deserve it to Hell. Don’t give me that crap, Castiel! That’s something spouted by people who don’t want to admit to the possibility that All Mighty God might have made a mistake!”

“Hey!” Both the angel and the man turned to stare at the owner of the third, annoyed voice. Dean glowered at them with a bleary, cranky expression on his face. “I’m trying to get some sleep over here. You two going to argue theology all night? Then take it outside.”

Sam glared at his brother for a long moment. Without looking at Castiel, his gaze shifted back to the book in his hand. He made sure that the sound of the page being turned was easily heard.

Castiel lowered himself to the bed, but he did not close his eyes. Sam’s reaction was all too human - anger of a spoiled child denied something by a parent who was concerned with the bigger picture. Or that was how the angels would view it. But hearing the pain and anger in Sam’s voice, recalling some of the things that he had done following orders, he had to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Sam had a point.

“And why are we here, Dean?” Castiel asked as they pulled up to the bar. Like most of the bars that hunters seemed to favor, this one was set back from the main freeway, the weather-beaten wood of the building was not an artfully applied facade, but an actual wall in need of repair.

Sam also looked skeptically at his brother as they got out of the Impala. “You’re not planning on teaching him about getting drunk?”

“Nope,” Dean said with a knowing grin. “Saving that for the celebration after we get his grace back.” His expression quickly became serious again. “There’s been omens in the area, so I thought we’d check in with an old friend. You remember Joe, Sammy?”

“Think so” Sam said after thinking for a moment. “Didn’t he and Dad hunt down a rugaru?”

“Yeah, that’s him,” Dean said. “He said he’d meet us at this bar. He might have a lead on where Alastair’s hiding.”

Sam looked over at Castiel as they walked towards the entrance. “You still not hearing anything from the other angels?”

“No,” Castiel said with a shake of his head. After Uriel spoke with him, the voices of the others fell silent. “Apparently they learned a lesson after Anna, and are blocking me out.”

“That’s great,” Dean groused. “So much for being able to eavesdrop.” He looked concerned when Castiel hesitated near the door. “Something wrong, Cas?” Dean asked.

“I do not think so.” Something didn’t feel right to him, but he wasn’t certain why. He was sensing some sort of taint, one he felt he should recognize. But he was no longer an angel, and as far as they could tell not psychic. He shouldn’t have been sensing anything at all.

The feeling only got worse as he stepped into the bar. There were a pair of men shooting pool, cowboy and trucker hats pulled low over their faces. A waitress leaned over the bar, talking to a bartender who had his back to them.

Castiel stopped, eyes fixed on the people in front of him. “Dean, Sam--” he warned them.

“Hey, you heard this one?” the bartender said to the waitress as cowboy and trucker, snapping their pool cues, and moved between them and the door. “Two hunters and an angel walk into a bar.” He turned around to look at Dean, Sam, and Castiel, grinning menacingly as blackness filled his eyes. “None of them walked out alive.”

“What did you do with Joe?” Dean asked, in a low voice.

The waitress broke a beer bottle on the counter. The bartender didn’t lose his smirk. “He decided to take a long vacation to a very hot place. Think you spent some time there recently, Dean Winchester.”

“Yeah, well, don’t think I’ll be going back any time soon,” Dean said.

The bartender laughed. “Whose going to stop us? Him?” He nodded at Castiel. “Or you think he’ll be able to pull you out of there again?” He raised his voice to address the other demons as he stepped from behind the bar. “You know the orders. The angel is to be taken alive. As for the Winchesters…” The bartender smiled wider.

All the other demons wore identical grins as they stepped closer to form a loose circle around the hunters. Dean, Sam, and Castiel moved so they were defending each other’s backs. For a few seconds they all stood there, waiting for someone else to make the first move.

It was the trucker demon who lunged Sam with the pool cue while the waitress thrust the shards of glass at Dean’s face. The bartender and cowboy lunged towards Castiel. The angel moved on instinct, breaking free of the grip of the bartender and fading back to avoid a stab by the demon cowboy’s pool cue.

Castiel caught a glimpse of Sam standing with his hand outstretched and trembling with the strain from the use of his powers. Castiel kicked the cowboy in the stomach, and he smelled the stench of sulfur. Before he could register what had just happened, the bartender landed a blow to his stomach that knocked him backwards.

Castiel fell and rolled out of the way as a female shriek pierced the air. He heard a gagging noise and glass shattered near his head. As Castiel pushed to his feet, Dean let out a loud grunt of pain. That was followed by a meaty thwack.

A punch hammered into Castiel’s face, almost knocking him off his feet. He tasted blood and reeled backwards and knocked into Dean. Both men tangled and fell, Castiel landing on the bottom. He heard Dean grunt in pain as he was lifted up and away, and a louder one when Dean crashed into a table.

The bartender smiled grimly down at Castiel, who scrambled backwards, trying to find any weapon. Then Sam’s legs and back cut off his view of the demon. The younger Winchester raised his hand, and the bartender went flying over the bar and crashed into the mirror hanging above it.

Sam breathed heavily as he turned in Castiel’s direction. “You okay, Cas?”

“I think so,” Castiel said as Sam helped him to his feet. His midsection hurt and his right knee felt odd but he could put weight on it. “How is Dean?”

Dean was also upright and walking around the bar when the bartender popped up, brandishing a shard of glass. But Dean was faster and grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him down on the bar to pin him against it. “Going somewhere?” he asked.

The bartender threw his head back and opened wide. Smoke started to boil out of his mouth. “Oh no you don’t!” Sam reached out and made a clenching motion with his hand. Slowly he drew his hand down and pulled the demon back into his host.

The demon coughed, choked, and coughed again. “Just wait until Alastair finds out that you’re hiding under his nose,” the demon cackled, even as he strained against Sam’s ability in an attempt to escape.

“Like we’re going to give you a chance to tell, you son of a bitch,” Dean growled.

The demon only laughed harder. “You think sending me to Hell will stop him from finding out? I’ll tell the first demon I see. And he’ll tell one. And he’ll tell one until word gets back to Alastair!”

Dean and Sam shared a look. “You’re making one assumption,” Dean said as he held up the knife Ruby created. “You think we’re sending you to Hell.” With one smooth, fast movement, he slammed the blade through the bartender’s heart.

The demon’s mouth opened wide in a soundless scream. The smoke inside flickered as it was consumed by the bright light visible through the flesh. Then the body went limp against the bar as the host’s head lolled to one side.

Sam’s tense stance relaxed with a sigh. Reflexively he wiped beneath his nose with the back of his hand and then checked it for blood. Dean pulled the knife out of the body and wiped the blood on the bartender’s shirt.

Castiel stared mutely at the body of the host slumped against the bar. He looked at the other bodies, each bearing a stab to the heart or a cut throat. He had seen the death of demons and angels before, and each had been horrible in their own way. But that was only the death of the vessel, the angel or demon in their purest form had been forced to return to Heaven or Hell. But they had been observed through spiritual eyes, seen more on a metaphysical plane. One moment a being composed of pure light stood by your side or pure darkness railed in front of you. Then they disappeared, the only sign of their passing a mere absence in the space around you. To see the body lying like a discarded heap of clothing, even if it had been borrowed and the rightful occupant had been sent on to what came next for them, was disturbing. It was a reminder of what could happen to him, one that he was not comfortable contemplating.

“Castiel!” Sam’s sharp voice pulled him out of his thoughts. “We gotta get moving,” he said, gesturing towards the door. “More demons will be showing up.”

The angel nodded. He took a deep breath and pushed aside his shock, returning to the warrior persona that he spent so much of his time in. “We should line the doors and windows with salt. They will think that there is something in here we are trying to protect and waste time trying to get inside.”

“Good idea,” Dean nodded in approval. “Glad to see there’s more to you than your vessel’s pretty face.”

And for some reason, that made Castiel feel oddly warm inside.

Once the salt lines were laid, they sped out of the bar before any reinforcements arrived. Dean tried reaching for the driver’s door with his left arm and made a face. He looked over at Castiel, the only one relatively uninjured. “Can you drive?”

“I know how in theory, but I never have,” Castiel responded.

Dean shook his head. “Dude, you are so not driving.”

Sam snatched the keys from Dean. “I can,” he said. “Arm’s not that bad.”

“Just don’t bleed on my baby,” Dean snapped. “Remember what a bitch it was to get the bloodstain out of the seats last time?”

Sam grumbled something inaudible, but pulled off his outer shirt and wrapped it around his right forearm. He tied the sleeves in place using his hand and teeth.

“You shouldn’t have used your abilities, Sam,” Castiel said as he sat down in the back seat.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Sam defended and took his position behind the wheel. “Otherwise that demon would have cut Dean’s throat with that bottle.”

“There were other ways to stop the demon other than using your demonic powers,” Castiel insisted. “Every time you do, there is more debate on whether or not you have crossed a line and should be allowed to live.”

“Uriel said that as long as I was more of a help than a threat, they weren’t going to touch me,” Sam argued.

“Killing four demons without with little effort would be considered a threat by my superiors, Sam,” Castiel responded.

“Not here and not now, you two” Dean snapped as he sat down. He held his arm at an awkward angle, trying not to jostle it. “Save the argument for after one of you takes care of my arm. Just get out of here before Alastair or more of his minions show up.”

“We’ll drive to the third town over and get a motel room,” Sam said while he started the engine. “I’ll show Castiel on how pop your elbow back in. Then you can stitch me up while we figure out our next move.”

“Great,” Dean sighed as Sam pulled onto the road. He looked uncomfortable, from both the pain and the fact that he wasn’t the one in the driver’s seat. “Gonna have to hunt wearing a sling for weeks,” he grumbled.

That would put them all at a disadvantage they couldn’t afford. “May I look at it?” Castiel asked. Dean nodded, gritted his teeth, and twisted towards him with left hand supporting the arm. Castiel leaned in closer to examine Dean’s elbow.

The joint was double its normal size, something easily seen through the layers of clothing. He didn’t fully understand why he felt he needed to reached forward and lightly cradle the injured elbow in his hands. Castiel closed his eyes and concentrated. A familiar warmth rolled from his chest through his arms and radiated out of his palms. He felt the muscle and bone shift. There was a muffled click.

Dean watched it all stunned. “What the hell?” he asked as Castiel pulled his hands away. Gingerly at first, and then faster, Dean pulled off his jacket to look at his elbow. The swelling had disappeared. Cautiously Dean flexed the joint, clearly surprised when it moved smoothly. He extended his arm to place his palm on the seat and gradually resting his weight on it. He lifted and slammed his hand down hard without showing any signs of pain. Dean turned to Castiel with eyes wide in disbelief. “How did you do that?”

Castiel looked equally mystified. “I do not know.”

“Do what?” Sam asked, turning his eyes from the road. Dean waved his healed arm in response. Sam hit the brakes and jerked the car over to the side of the road. “How…”

“Touched by an angel, dude.” Dean looked at Castiel sharply. “I thought you said Alastair took your grace.”

“He did,” Castiel protested. “I don’t know how I did that.”

Sam shook his head. “Maybe you got lucky and popped Dean’s elbow back in.”

“Sam, you’ve had a dislocated elbow before. You know you don’t just pop it back in without a lot of yelling,” Dean countered. “And I’ve never been able to do this,” he flexed through a complete and smooth range of motion, “until two weeks after it’s healed.”

Sam tossed his hand over the back seat and offered Castiel his wounded arm. “Think you can do it again?”

Castiel undid the makeshift bandage and eyed the deep cut uncertainly. He put his hand on Sam’s forearm and closed his eyes. He felt the warm pulse flow through him a second time, but this one did not have the same heat and intensity as the first. After a moment he pulled his hand away. There was a smear of blood on Castiel’s hand and the wound was still there. Now it wasn’t in need of stitches, but looked like something an angry cat would inflict.

“Not healed, but much better, Cas,” Sam said, after he examined the wound.

Dean arched an eyebrow at the angel. “Maybe you’re not as grace-less as we thought.”

“Alastair removed my grace,” Castiel said in a flat tone. His shoulders had slumped and he felt tired. “I should not be able to heal you at all.”

Now it was Sam’s turn to frown and tilt his head thoughtfully. “Maybe Alastair didn’t get it all. You were trying to get away, right? So maybe it got cut or only partially removed.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed. “And you’re in some sort of supernatural shock from the loss. Your grace’s nowhere near the level you’re used to having. So what little you’ve got, you’re not sensing.”

Castiel’s head tilted to one side. “Then why was I not able to heal Sam completely?”

“Could have something to do with the demon blood,” Dean pointed out. “Maybe it’s hindering whatever you did to heal Sam.”

“You look worn out, Cas,” Sam said. “Maybe you aren’t strong enough to heal both of us and you need some time to recharge.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Castiel said. “But how can we determine if this is what happened?”

Sam glanced up into the mirror and pulled back into traffic. “I think I know how,” he said. “But she’s not going to be happy to help.”

The other men looked at Sam in confusion. Dean appeared to catch on to the idea and gave a brief nod. “Yeah, but I bet she will if you let her grope your ass, Grumpy.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “She’ll do that whether I let her or not.”

They pulled up outside of the house. Castiel wasn’t pleased to be there when he realized where they were. “Are you sure that this is a wise idea? The last time we interacted, it did not end well.”

“She can help, Cas,” Dean said as he climbed out of the car. “She’ll be able to tell us what’s going on.”

Castiel still looked uncertain as he followed Sam and Dean as they walked up to the porch. Sam knocked at the door and exchanged a look with Dean. From that look, Castiel guessed that Sam wasn’t sure this was a good idea either, but they needed help. It was too far to go to Missouri Mosley’s, so this was their only option.

The rattle of the lock alerted them to the fact that they were no longer alone. A dark-haired woman opened the door, eyes hidden by a pair of dark glasses. “Hey Pamela,” Dean said.

Pamela Barnes broke into a wide grin. “Hey, Dean. What brings you by?”

“I’m not here alone,” Dean started to explain.

“Of course you’re not,” Pamela interrupted. “Hi there, Grumpy.”

“Uh, hi Pamela,” Sam said as shifted awkwardly in an attempt to get away from the hand that attached itself to his back jeans pocket. “We need your help.”

Pamela smirked. “What are you dragging me into this time? Bring me another angel with amnesia?” she asked with a wide grin. Her smile faded as her head turned toward Castiel, drawn like a magnet to an iron bar. “What is he doing here?” she asked, stiffening. “You don’t have to dim down your glory for my sake, Castiel,” she yelled. She lowered her glasses to reveal her eyes. “You’ve already done enough damage.”

Castiel stared into the prosthetics that replaced Pamela’s eyes. The milky white surface without iris or pupil made her look like a powerful demon such as Lilith or Alastair. But as he looked at them, he felt a different sensation than he would a demon. Not holy wrath or fear.


There had been regret when he had been ordered to terminate Anna. He knew her from the moment of his creation. They were war companions for two thousand years. But Anna rebelled. Pamela also rebelled. But unlike Anna, she did not know the consequences of her rebellion.

“I warned you to look away,” Castiel said, and swallowed. His mouth and throat felt dry, so he had difficulty pushing out the words. It sounded like a weak excuse even to him as he voiced it. “But you commanded me and compelled me to show you my true form. I did not wish this to happen.”

“But it did,” Pamela said. Her hands clenched into fists. “All you had to do was tell me what you were and it would have been over without any harm to me.”

“You had my name,” Castiel said. “That was more than enough for you to have determined who and what I was.”

“Are,” Pamela corrected. “I don’t know why you’re not glowing anywhere near as bright as you were then, but you still are. Planning to burn out my gift for helping Anna like you burnt out my sight for helping Bobby?”

“Wait,” Sam said. “He’s glowing?”

Pamela nodded, her sightless eyes never leaving Castiel.

“Alastair cut out his grace,” Dean said. “Or that’s what we think.”

“Alastair’s a demon?” Pamela asked.

Sam nodded, and then added a ‘yeah’ with an embarrassed tone.

Pamela didn’t comment. She was focused on Castiel. “He didn’t get it all,” she said after a moment studying him. “There’s something blocking it, so I didn’t notice it until he got to the porch. But he’s still glowing. There’s something still in him.” Her expression was angry and bitter. “Now get away from me.”

Castiel nodded and turned to leave. He had tried to apologize, and there was nothing more that he could do.

“Not you, Sam, Dean,” Pamela said as the brothers turned to follow. “Just him.”

Dean grabbed Castiel’s arm. “Wait in the car. We’ll be out in a minute.”

Once Pamela heard the door shut, she gestured the brothers to sit down. “Tell me what you know about what happened.”

“I thought you didn’t want to help him,” Sam said as he took a seat on a black leather couch.

“I really don’t want to,” Pamela confirmed as she sat on a matching chair. “But, demons don’t go around pulling grace from angels just for the thrill of it. Alastair’s up to something. So start talking.”

“He came to us,” Dean said. “He actually knocked on the door instead of blowing it open or just appearing in the room like he normally does.”

“He told us that he had been taken prisoner, Alastair cut out his grace, but he managed to get away.”

Pamela leaned back. “Most likely, he managed to escape just before the spell was completed. Alastair had already extracted most of his grace, but a small part it was still attached. Because Castiel teleported, it either snapped, or it wasn’t severed cleanly. That’s why there’s still some of it in him.”

“You’re sure about that, Pamela?” Sam asked.

“The last thing I saw was his true face before it burned out my eyes,” Pamela said. Her hand gripped the arm of the chair tightly. “Trust me I will never forget what that looks like.” She took a deep breath and unclenched her fist before she continued. “This is a dimmer version, a lightbulb that isn’t getting enough current. I can tell what he is, but it’s clear that something is very wrong. You know why Alastair did this?”

“He was attempting to break one of the seals,” Sam said.

“Killing an angel with his own grace. I should have known,” Pamela said. She leaned back in her chair. “The sacrifice can be performed again during the next new moon.”

“So we’ve got some breathing room,” Dean said. “How can we stop it?”

“Keep him alive,” Pamela suggested with a twist of her lip. “Find Alastair and return Castiel’s grace to him,” Pamela said. She turned in Sam’s direction. “You should know all this already. Why isn’t your demon friend telling you this?”

“Yeah, Sam.” Palmela said. “Where is Ruby hiding anyway?”

“She’s doing research on Castiel’s condition,” Sam said evenly. “And she didn’t think he’d be comfortable with her around.”

“More like she’s not comfortable around Castiel,” Dean grumbled.

“Can’t say that I blame her,” Pamela said.

Because he had been an observer of humanity for the last two thousand years, Castiel assumed that he would understand them. And he did in generalities. But he soon learned that his assumption was incorrect. There was very little in the Winchester’s lives that fit into the generalities as he perceived them.

Such as the time Dean returned to their motel room after dropping Sam off to do research. “C’mon, Cas,” Dean announced. “If you’re going to be stuck being human for a while, you should learn how to act like one.”

“What did you have planned, Dean?” Castiel asked as he looked up from the copy of the Flagello Daemonum he was trying to memorize. He did not bother to correct Dean. Although Pamela confirmed that he was technically still an angel, he was no longer the object of awe and power he had once been. Unable to cow and battle demons with his former skills, he decided to learn new ones.

“While we’re waiting for Sam to get back from the library with the information on that hitchhiker that’s haunting the road out of here, I’m gonna start teaching you what all hunters need to know. Starting with driving.”

Anyone who spent any time around Dean Winchester knew that unless it was a life-and-death situation, only Dean Winchester drove the Impala. Castiel got up and joined Dean at the door. “You’re going teach me to drive your car?” he asked, surprised that Dean would even consider allowing him to sit behind the steering wheel.

“Well, yes and no,” Dean said. “Yes, I am going to teach you how to drive. But not with my car. I don’t let Sammy drive my car,” he clarified. “I am going to teach you how to drive using that.” He pointed across the parking lot to a white subcompact car.

Castiel’s surprise was replaced by disapproval as he eyed the vehicle. “You stole a car to teach me how to drive?”

“No, I stopped by OK Auto Rentals and got a car.” Dean shrugged. He looked faintly embarrassed that it was a rental and not a stolen vehicle. “I figured you wouldn’t be too happy if I went against that ‘thou shalt not steal’ thing. So you up to the challenge?” he asked and tossed the keys in Castiel’s direction

Castiel caught the keys easily in one hand. The car was funded by fraudulent credit cards, and technically would still be considered stealing. However, he was willing to overlook it for the moment. Instead he followed Dean to the car and got in on the driver’s side. Searching his vessel’s memories as well has his observations; he put the key in the car’s ignition and turned it on.

Ten minutes later, Castiel turned to look at Dean. He didn’t think he had ever seen the hunter’s face that particular shade of pale. “Did I do something wrong?” he inquired.

“No,” Dean said. “But let’s try that again. Just try to keep the speedometer under eighty this time.”

Clothing was also something Castiel had a difficulty with. Or rather not clothing itself, but the concept of fashion. “I do not understand,” he said. He was wearing borrowed garments from the brothers - pair of jeans from Dean and a too-large Stanford shirt from Sam. “What is wrong with the clothing I possess?”

“Well, for starters, there’s the giant bloodstain and tears from the chupacabra we tangled with,” Dean said.

“You could use something new,” Sam agreed. “I’m curious. If you’re a warrior, why did you go with the business look?”

Castiel shrugged. It wasn’t something he had given much thought to. “This was what my vessel was wearing when I took possession.”

“And that is the exact problem, Cas,” Dean said. “You’re not making decisions for yourself. Sam, take him shopping and get him something other than the Holy Tax Accountant look,” he said without missing a beat.

“Me?” Sam sputtered. “Why me?”

“What Sammy? I caught you playing dress-up less than a year ago. Have to admit that you’ve got a flair for fashion.”

“I was trying to get that five-year-old girl to talk about the shadow person haunting her closet,” Sam protested.

“Whatever,” Dean said dismissively. “I’m going to get us dinner.”

Once Dean left the room, Sam turned to Castiel. There was a gleam of something in the Winchester’s eyes that didn’t make him feel comfortable. “Cas, you wanna stick with the business look?” Sam grinned when Castiel nodded. “Wait here. I’ll take care of it so Dean doesn’t complain about what you wear.”

About an hour passed. Left to his own devices and no task to accomplish, Castiel wasn’t sure what to do. As an angel, there were always orders to follow - demons to observe, battles to be fought, briefings and debriefings to participate in. Downtime was something he literally hadn’t experienced in millennia. Being alone with his thoughts was disconcerting

It was a relief when Sam returned. “Dean back?” he asked as he stepped through the door and pulled it shut.

“No,” Castiel said, eying several bags Sam carried. “Are those the clothes?”

“Yeah, so get dressed before Dean shows up. No, not those,” he said when Castiel reached for a bag that appeared to contain crisp, white shirts. “Put these on,” he said. He thrust a bag into Castiel’s hand.

Castiel opened the bag. It took a lot to make an angel recoil, but the mix of bright colors and bold patterns did the trick. “You cannot be serious, Sam,” he said, looking at the younger Winchester. “Where did you find this?”

“Second-hand store, Cas,” Sam said in a patient tone. “Look, you want Dean to stop complaining about your wardrobe?”

“Yes,” Castiel said, looking back into the bag uncertainly.

Sam gave him a gentle shove in the direction of the bathroom. “Then trust me.”

He had just finished getting dressed when he heard Dean return, followed by a knock on the closed door. “Dinner’s ready, Cas. Don’t be shy. Come on out and show off your new threads.”

Castiel looked at himself one last time in the mirror, still unsure if Sam’s plan would work. He opened the door and stepped out into the main room.

Sam was watching out of the corner of his eye as he typed away at the laptop. Dean had been opening up cartons of Chinese food. He paused, staring at the outfit Castiel was wearing. Blinked once. Closed his eyes and rubbed them before staring again. Castiel wasn’t certain which got more of Dean’s attention, the red, white, and blue plaid pants or the neon chartreuse green shirt. Dean turned to Sam. “You did this deliberately,” he accused. “No way Castiel would have picked clothes that bad.”

“What, Dean?” Sam asked, yelling a little. “I can’t hear you over Castiel’s clothes.”

Dean blinked and looked back at Castiel. “Did he buy you more Holy Tax Accountant stuff?” Castiel nodded. “Then go change into that.” He turned to Sam. “You do know there will be payback, Sam.”

As Castiel stepped into the bathroom, he heard words that could send fear through the garrison under other circumstances. “Think hard before you start a war with me, Dean.”

The grin should have been a warning. Castiel had rarely observed Dean wearing that particular smirk unless he was up to something that usually signaled the beginning of a Winchester Prank War. But he was paying more attention to the alien emotions that were welling up inside. He was used to observing their effects externally. Experiencing them himself was something he wasn’t sure he’d ever become adjusted to. “Sam still in the shower?” Dean asked as he closed the door to their motel room.

“Yes,” Castiel said. There was a newspaper tucked under Dean’s arm, and a cardboard tray cradling three paper cups covered with plastic lids balanced on one hand. After placing the cups on the table, he turned a chair around and straddled it “Here.” He slid one of the cups across the table towards the angel. “Try this.”

“What is it?” Castiel asked. He lifted the top and peered at the dark liquid.

“Just try it,” Dean insisted.

Castiel gave the hunter an uncertain look as he lifted the cup, but he took a large sip. He was unprepared for the heat and bitterness scorching his mouth, but he managed to choke it down. It was that or spit it out, and he didn’t think that Dean would appreciate a spray of hot liquid. “You drink this voluntarily?” he gasped out, and blew to try to cool his mouth.

“Coffee is the greatest friend a hunter can have,” Dean intoned. He wasn’t even trying to hide his amusement at Castiel’s expression. “Here, put some of this in,” he said, handing Castiel a few creamers and packets of sugar. “At least it’s not one of those girly lattes that Sam likes to swill.”

Castiel opened the creamer and sugar packets and poured them into the cup. And then grabbed four more and added them as well. “Easy, Cas,” Dean said as the coffee turned lighter and lighter. “You don’t want to go into a diabetic coma.”

“It smells better than it tastes,” the angel observed as the coffee turned a light brown color. He lifted the cup to take a second, much more cautious sip. The cream and sugar mellowed out the bitter bite of the coffee. After the initial surprise, the heat did feel welcome sliding down to his stomach.

Dean watched the angel drink. The expression on his face wasn’t the standard impassivity that the angel normally wore when speaking to him, nor the irritation he would expect from Sam after getting one over on him. Castiel looked melancholy, he decided. “Something wrong, Cas? You look like your dog died.”

Castiel looked at Dean from over the rim of the cup. “I have never been in possession of a canine,” he corrected.

“You know what I mean,” Dean said with a roll of his eyes. “Something’s wrong. You’re as bad as Sammy at hiding it.”

Castiel looked at Dean for a moment before saying what was on his mind. “I think I’m finally understanding the human emotion called loneliness,” he said. “I don’t understand how Anna dealt with being human.”

“She didn’t, not at first.” Dean arms folded over the back of the chair before he shrugged. “She scared her folks, saying her human dad wasn’t her father, and that her true father wanted to kill her. Spent a couple of years seeing docs and she figured out how to block the memories and voices. But she got put into an institution the day that you brought me back. Guess Angel Radio was turned up a little too loud and she couldn’t drown it out anymore. Besides, she had a family and friends.”

“She had a human family and human friends,” Castiel corrected. “But, it’s not the same.”

“How’s it different?”

“It’s hard to put in terms you would understand,” Castiel said. He stared down at the beige surface of his cream with coffee, seeking the words. “We always had each other. Even if we were not physically present, we could reach out telepathically. We always knew that we were part of a group who cared about what happened to each other. And we are keenly aware of the loss of one our brothers.”

“Huh.” Dean looked puzzled by that statement. “Anna described you guys as being cold and perfect, like a marble statue. No emotions.”

“That is not true. We feel, but in different ways than humans experience emotions. And sometimes we feel too deeply,” Castiel explained. He took another cautious sip of the coffee. This time he was ready for the bitterness, now mellowed by the sugar and cream. While he didn’t exactly like it, it was something that he could tolerate. “We are warriors. And after centuries of being on the front lines, we can forget what it’s like to be out of the battle and at rest at home.” It had been millennia since he had been in Heaven. He barely remembered it, yet he longed with every fiber of his being to return there. He doubted he would ever be allowed.

Dean shook his head. “That’s not how she described it.”

“Her views were biased by her desire to experience humanity. If it is felt that we are becoming too attached to our charges, we are reassigned. So, many choose not to allow themselves to become attached at all.” Castiel looked at him, feeling that same intensity and curiosity as their first meeting. “What else did Anna tell you about us?”

Dean looked surprised by the question. “You didn’t ask her?”

“Her human body was destroyed She has not been seen since she regained her grace.”

“You said that there was a connection with her,” Dean said. “That you two had a history.”

Castiel could hear a small tinge of jealousy and curiosity in the hunter’s voice. “Not in the way you are thinking. We were fellow warriors and friends. We saved each other’s lives innumerable times over the millennia and comforted each other when our longing to return home was overwhelming.”

“And you were willing to snuff her life out,” Dean pointed out. “Despite her being your BFF back in the day, you would have killed her.”

“I do not know what I would have done.” If he had admitted to uncertainty to another angel, his existence would be put in jeopardy. While he did not feel comfortable telling this to Dean, he did feel safe. “I had my orders. But even before, I was beginning to have doubts. That is probably why Alastair targeted me.”

“Doubts? Anna told me angels weren’t allowed to have doubts.”

“Can one have faith without entertaining doubts? Much as one cannot know what darkness is not having experienced light?” Castiel asked “We are expected not to act on them, but to struggle and overcome them, thus strengthening our faith. We are not to give into them and the temptations they offer, such as Anna did.”

“Temptations? What do humans have that could tempt an angel? Anna named a few but I thought she was the exception rather than the rule.”

“Anna choosing to fall was a rare, but not unheard of, occurrence. Angels are creatures of pure spirit. Our true forms are of such power and glory that humans cannot look upon our face or hear our voice. You remember what happened the first time I attempted to speak to you.”

“Yeah. I also remember what happened to Pamela at the séance. You blinded her.”

“I never wanted to harm her. As I told her, had she averted her eyes, she would have remained unharmed. You had more than enough information to find out who and what I am.”

“But that is not the point I am trying to make. Angels came into creation by being mere extensions of His thoughts. For all our power and your frailty, humans were the ones lovingly fashioned from the dust of the ground in His own image after His likeness.”

“Yeah,” Dean said bitterly. “And look where that’s gotten us.”

This time he was ready.

The phantom hitchhiker, locally known as Mortimer Hughes, showed up to protect his grave the moment they began to dig. But he didn’t target Sam, who was actually holding the shovel. Or Dean, who was carrying the container of gasoline. The spirit instead zeroed in on Castiel, who was only holding the flashlight.

Castiel received little warning-- just a flicker spotted in the corner of his eye. He jumped backwards as the phantom hitchhiker lunged at him. Mortimer’s crooked fingers acted more like claws and sliced through his coat. The crack of a shotgun split the night, and Castiel felt the sting of salt pushing into his skin as Mortimer dissolved with a squeal of pain.

“Dig faster, Sam,” Dean yelled as he slid fresh rounds into the shotgun. Before he could lift the weapon, Mortimer re-materialized with his hands spread, fingers aiming for Dean’s eyes. Before Dean could fire a shot, Castiel tackled the spirit and pinned him to the ground. The two wrestled, kicking, punching and gouging as Dean and Sam dug frantically to expose the grave. “Cas, hang in there!” Dean yelled as the lid was exposed.

Castiel and Mortimer continued to roll on the ground. The ghost ended on top, his fingers wrapped around Castiel’s neck. Castiel’s hand was pushing against Mortimer’s forehead, forcing the spirit up and away. His mouth moved in a quiet, steady whisper in a prayer for the dead to find peace. He heard the sound of splintering wood and splashing of liquid.

Mortimer let out a agonized cry and dove for the open grave. Castiel rolled upright and lunged for his legs and dragged him back. He continued to pray as the phantom hitchhiker let out another pained yell and disappeared in a puff of smoke and flash of heatless flames.

Castiel drew in a deep breath and looked at the grave. Dean and Sam were standing next to it, staring down into the flames. As Dean tucked the matches back into his jacket, Sam walked over to where Castiel sat on the ground. “You okay, Castiel?” he asked and offered his hand.

Castiel took it and hauled himself to his feet. “Some scratches and some bruises. Otherwise I think I am uninjured,” Castiel said.

“What about that?” Dean asked, pointing at Castiel’s chest.

Castiel looked down at the shredded jacket. There were no bloodstains on it, but he could feel something shifting around loosely. He reached into it and pulled out the hex bag that Ruby had given him. There was a large hole torn in the fabric, and some sort of fine dust was trickling out of it.

Before any of them could say anything more, the gate to the cemetery blew open. “Well look who we have here” Uriel said as he walked through the entrance. “You knew this day was coming. Time to face justice, Castiel.”

Castiel took one step back as the brothers moved in front of him to block the specialist. “This isn’t his fault,” Dean argued. “There’s no need to kill him.”

“Uriel, you don’t want to do this,” Sam said.

Uriel did not seem impressed by the warning. “Attempt to use your powers against me, Samuel Winchester, and I won’t hesitate to put you down, orders or no orders.”

Dean didn’t look back at Castiel, but kept his eyes on Uriel as he spoke. “Cas, run.”

Castiel turned and darted into the cemetery. He tried to avoid banging his calves into the upright monuments, but stumbled across some of the flat headstones laying low on the ground. He could hear Uriel walking in that slow, deliberate pace he used on the hunt.

As he ran he tried to think of ways he could to evade Uriel. There were ways to block angels that demons used all the time. Unfortunately Castiel was more familiar with their effects than how to create them.

The whoosh of wings was the only warning that allowed him to pull up short as he rounded a mausoleum. Castiel was face to face Uriel. “Uriel, please,” he asked. He knew that begging for his life would do no good.

There was no hint of sorrow in the specialist’s expression. “I am sorry, Castiel,” he said. “But orders are orders.” Uriel reached out to place his hand on Castiel’s head. Before the angel made contact, Castiel felt himself being jerked backwards. He was blinded by a bright light as Uriel was knocked away from him. The specialist’s form flickered, warped, and then disappeared.

Castiel let out a deep sigh and leaned against the crypt. That had been entirely too close. And even though he was alive, Castiel knew that he had nothing to be relieved about. All that had been bought was a little breathing room before Uriel returned to complete his orders.

“Castiel? You okay?” yelled out Dean’s worried voice. “Where’s Uriel?”

“Uriel’s gone,” he called back. Castiel pushed away from the wall and walked towards the voice.

He hadn’t gone far when he came across Dean. “You’re lucky you didn’t fall and break your leg,” the hunter said as he worked his way through the tombstones. “How did you get him to leave?”

“I didn’t,” Castiel said with a shake of his head. “I thought you did.”

“Not me,” Dean confirmed in an even more concerned voice. “Sam?” he yelled.

Sam’s voice floated towards them from the distance. “Back by the gate, Dean.”

The men picked their way to the main path that lead to the front gate. Sam was leaning against one of the stone posts and holding his wrist tightly. Castiel ran the last few strides to him and took his arm in his hand. He looked hard at the cut on Sam’s wrist before he placed his hand over it. He closed his eyes and tapped into what little grace he still had to heal the cut.

“Sam,” Dean barked in an angry voice. Castiel turned his head to see Dean staring at a spot just behind were Sam was leaning “What did you do?”

“What I had to do to keep Cas safe,” Sam countered, and moved away to reveal what he had been hiding.

Castiel looked aghast at the bloody runes, and then immediately averted his eyes, shifting uneasily. It didn’t appear that it wouldn’t affect him the way it had Uriel, but at the same point, he had an overwhelming desire to get away from it. He had never seen one of these angel repellants in its intact form, one human ally or another had always broken the lines so that he could remain in the vicinity. “Where did you learn this?” he asked.

“Anna drew it when you and Uriel showed up to kill her,” Sam said. “I took a picture of it just in case we ever needed it.”

“And the chant required to direct its power?” Castiel asked.

“Ruby taught me that.” Sam stared defiantly at the pair. “Look, I knew something like this would happen the moment you showed up. I learned the spell so we would be able to protect Cas.”

“With blood magic, Sam. You were the one who said it was dark stuff when Anna performed it.”

“And we know it didn’t permanently hurt either Uriel or Cas.” Sam shifted his gaze to the angel. “Am I right?”

“It sent us to a location hundreds of miles away. And we were not allowed to return while the sigil was intact,” Castiel admitted. “But it did not harm us.”

“Even if Uriel’s in New York now, we don’t have any time to waste,” Dean said. “Let’s get out of here.”

They peeled away from the iron gate and into the night intending to put some distance between them and the cemetery as quickly as possible. They didn’t bother stopping by the motel to pick up their things. All that had been left in the room was the paper research for that specific case just in case they had to ditch and run.

Castiel sat in the back seat and twisted around to watch out the rear windshield. He kept his eyes on the sky, expecting to see his brethren swooping down to exact punishment.

Dean looked into the rearview mirror as Sam pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Anybody following?”

“No,” Castiel said and turned around to face forward. Uriel may not be able to return to resume the hunt, but he would tell others who would pick up the trail and finish what he started. “Will your hex bags be able to hide me as well?”

“We’ll find out,” Sam said, and flipped his phone open. He hit speed dial and the speaker button so they could all listen to the conversation.

The phone only rang once before it was answered. “Sam, what is it?” came Ruby’s voice.

“Um, hi Ruby,” Sam said a bit sheepishly. He knew what her reaction was going to be. “We need had a run in with Uriel and need another hex bag.”

“I’m sorry, we must have a bad connection,” Ruby said. Her displeasure dripped through the cell phone’s tinny speaker. “I thought I heard you say that you need a new hex bag.”

“That a problem, Ruby?” Dean asked.

“Yeah, that’s a problem,” she snapped. “These things take time to make. Especially the ones that are anti-angel strength. I don’t have any extras made up, so I’ve got to gather the ingredients and begin crafting it. It’s gonna take two days for me to make it and then another to get it to you.”

“Great,” Dean said. “So what can we do in the mean time?”

Now there was a hint of amusement in Ruby’s voice. “Keep close to Castiel. Those bags create a sort of bubble zone with it as the center.

“How close, Ruby?” Sam asked, sharing a look with Dean “As in joined at the hip?”

“Not quite that close. Keep Castiel within five yards of someone with a bag. The moment he’s outside of that range, anyone looking for him will sense it. The only question will be who gets to him first.”

“We’ll keep him nearby,” Sam said. “Give me a call when the new bag is ready.” He snapped the phone shut before the demon could protest again.

“I say our next move is to find another town and hole up until Ruby has another bag ready,” Dean said. He pulled off the dirt road leading to the cemetery and onto the main freeway.

“I agree,” Castiel said. “Also, Uriel may not be our only concern. He may have just been able to reach our location before Alastair.”

“Great. We have both angels and demons on our asses,” Dean grumbled. “They might not be able to sense our presence, but that doesn’t matter if they see the car.”

“We can deal with it,” Sam said. “We’ve got plenty of rock salt and holy water. We can put the tape of the exorcism on the speakers. We’ve got the knife.”

Castiel almost heard the unspoken words Sam was thinking. And I can send them back to Hell myself. “And if it’s an angel?” he asked in a quiet voice.

“Then we’ll come up with something,” Dean snapped before Sam could say anything. “Look, I know you’re worried about your former BFFs finding you. We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” he added in the voice he used to calm down victims of a haunting.

And yet, Castiel didn’t feel that way at all.

While they waited for Ruby to finish the new hex bag, Dean decided it was time for some TLC for his baby. He bought the necessary filters and oil to perform her monthly maintenance. One of the side effects of living on the road so much meant that the 3000-mile oil change happened every two weeks instead of every three months.

It was in the middle of one of these oil changes that he received another message. He was on his back under the car on his back to replace the filter when he saw the pant suited legs approach. He recognized who they belonged to and what was happening immediately. He pushed out from under the car in a casual manner. “Here we go again. I’m dreaming, right?” Dean didn’t wait for the angel’s confirming nod before speaking. “We’ve already done this, Uriel. Didn’t work out so well for you then, either. Anna got her grace back.”

“Things are different this time, Dean Winchester,” Uriel said. There was an air around the angel that made the hairs on Dean’s neck stand up. All angels were smug pricks with wings, but Uriel seemed more confident than usual. “This time I’m not holding his grace. Your friend Alastair has it.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed. “He’s no friend of mine.”

“Really?” Uriel asked with a look of feigned surprise. “You two seemed pretty chummy while you were in Hell.”

Dean tensed. Inside he heard a voice that sounded like his father’s scolding him for the fact that he was visibly responding. Uriel was always trying to goad him into reacting just to confirm the angel’s view that humans were inferior. And he had managed to reinforce those beliefs yet again. “Get to the point, Uriel. What do you want?”

“You know why I’m contacting you,” Uriel reminded him. “You know where the problem lies.”

“Yeah, Castiel won’t turn himself in so you can kill him for something that isn’t his fault.”

“That’s only a small part of it,” Uriel said. “The true problem is that Castiel likes you.”

“That’s no surprise,” Dean shrugged. “What’s not to like?”

“No, you don’t understand,” Uriel said. He enunciated carefully as if he were a teacher addressing a slow student. “He’s lowered himself to have feelings for a mere mud monkey.”

Dean snorted to hide the fact that he didn’t quite understand what the angel was getting at. “You jealous that Cas likes hanging out with me more than he did with you, junkless?”

Uriel continued speaking as if Dean hadn’t interrupted him. “You’ve contaminated him. A being of purity and power has been tainted by feelings towards a creature of flesh that is one step away from being a demon.”

Dean blinked, finally comprehending what the specialist was saying. “You mean he…”

There was a smug satisfaction on Uriel’s face at Dean’s realization. “Exactly. Apparently there’s something about your broken bad-boy routine that appeals to rebellious angels. You’ve got yourself a prime opportunity to cut yourself another slice of angel food cake.”

“Yeah, that’s what you think,” Dean said. “Now maybe if he was in a female host,” he mused.

Uriel’s smirk grew wider. “You can lie to yourself as long as you like, but don’t bother trying to lie to me. I know all about your lusts, Dean Winchester. And the reason you keep moving from woman to woman.”

Dean stiffened. There were things that he didn’t admit to himself. Things that he did in Hell, and things he desired while on earth. “So you’ve come here and delivered your message. Castiel wants me, and that’s why he won’t play by your rules. What else do you want?”

“I need you to deliver a message,” Uriel explained. “He will not listen to me, but he may to you. Tell him to turn himself in. The risk of a seal being broken is too great as long as he lives. He will be destroyed, but his death will be merciful, unlike if Alastair gets hold of him”

“What? No threat that if I bring you Castiel, you won’t send me back to Hell?” Dean asked with arched eyebrows. “Or a promise to kill Sam if I don’t become your errand boy?”

Uriel shook his head. And to Dean’s surprise, there was a look of regret on the angel’s face. “I know you don’t believe this, Dean, but I find no pleasure in hunting down my old friend. He and I have been in more battles and saved each other’s lives more times than I care to count. I would much rather be hunting down those demonic stains than one of my brothers. I do comprehend that his situation is different from Anna’s. Her fall from grace was deliberate while his was not. But I have my orders, and despite our friendship, I will not fall for him.” His usual stern expression reappeared on his face. “Tell Castiel what I said. And for all our sakes, convince him to turn himself in.” He reached out and tapped two fingers between Dean’s eyes.

Dean awoke with a start. He looked up from the chair he had folded himself into after losing a round of rock-scissors-paper for the beds. Despite the fact that Sam was sprawled out diagonally across the double bed, he was curled slightly to keep his feet from dangling off the edge.

Castiel was spread across the other bed, sleeping on his stomach. Dean noticed that if it was warm enough, Castiel would sleep shirtless with the sheets hooked around his hips as if the weight of the blankets irritated his nonexistent wings. He wondered if Castiel missed being able to fly. Even though he had never seen an angel in flight, Dean was certain it must be an incredible sight. He could almost picture how the wings would spread out from the shoulder blades, supported by the firm muscles alongside the straight spine. And then they would pull in, the feathers pointing inward to his tapered waist.

Dean closed his eyes and turned his head. He didn’t open his eyes until he was certain that he would not be looking at Castiel. Uriel was right. He did harbor lusts that he would not admit to. He wondered if Sam had any clue that as often as he come on to women, he had also been checking out men. But in that effort to not disappoint the legendary John Winchester in any way, shape, or form, he denied that part of himself so that he could be his father’s perfect little soldier.

But John was dead, Sam wasn’t the same man as the Sam he knew before he went to Hell, and Dean? Well, he was alone now. But did he have to be? With the loss of his grace, Castiel had changed. The warrior mentality was still there, coupled with the knowledge of the ages. But a gentler side had been revealed as well. Dean wondered if that was what angels were like when they were not fighting in their war, if they were as cold as Anna claimed. Could angels love the way humans did?

It made no difference, Dean thought bitterly. Castiel would reclaim his grace and become a prick with wings again. And he would be alone. But as his eyes strayed back to the sleeping angel, Dean wondered if he would.

Dean’s next lesson in hunting for Castiel was care of weapons. A good three-quarters of the armaments carried in the Impala’s trunk were spread before them on the double bed as Dean showed him how to disassemble, clean and reassemble each weapon, while he waxed philosophical on exactly which gun proved a better weapon for blowing which supernatural creature away.

“And that’s why you don’t want to face a wendigo with anything less than a .44 caliber,” Dean said. He snapped the shotgun’s breach back into place and put the weapon down. “Castiel, can I ask you something?”

The use of his proper name rather than the nickname the brothers insisted on humanizing him with caught his attention. He looked up from the barrel of the gun he had been cleaning. “What do you wish to know, Dean?” he asked.

Dean always accused Sam of having puppy dog eyes, but Castiel thought Dean was doing a good imitation of them as the hunter stared at him. “Why were you picked to save me from Hell?”

For a moment, Castiel felt an irrational relief that Dean had not asked why he had been rescued from Hell. Dean was in no position to handle that information at the moment. Castiel put down the gun and rag and turned to face him. “I was assigned to pull you from Perdition and to be the liaison between you and the Host in part due to my personality,” he explained. He felt a ghost of a smile cross his face. “Do you think it would have gone so well if Uriel had been the first angel you met face to face?”

Dean thought about that and smirked. “He probably would have tossed my ass back into the Pit after five minutes.”

“Exactly,” Castiel confirmed. He decided it would be best not to mention that it had been a temptation for him also. “You must realize that you and Sam had been observed from the moment of your births. Your personality and probable reactions were carefully considered before I was chosen.” He stopped for a moment and then continued in a soft voice. “I am certain my superiors are now wishing they had put more consideration into that choice.”

Dean’s head tilted sharply. “What do you mean?”

Castiel started to pick his words carefully. “It was expected that I would bond with you, but not so strongly. There are those who believed that my… affection for you would prove to be a stumbling block.”

“Affection?” Dean asked in confusion. “I thought I was your assignment.”

“You are,” Castiel said. “And by all rights, I should feel the same disdain for you that Uriel does. You have been shown the glory of God’s might, been raised from Perdition by an instrument of His power. Despite this, you are a vain, gluttonous man who will pursue lust and blaspheme without a second’s hesitation or thought of remorse. You have no piety, no reverence for anything holy beyond its use as a weapon. In your pride, you carry guilt that should not be your burden and display it as a badge of honor. And yet… I would not have a thing changed about you.”

“Careful, Cas,” Dean teased to lighten the mood. “You’ll make me think that Uriel was right and that you’ve fallen in love with me.”

Castiel didn’t say anything but stared at Dean with soulful blue eyes.

Dean blinked, stunned. He had thought that Uriel was yanking his chain to get even for Dean calling him as junkless. But Castiel, who had never hesitated to set the record straight, was staring at him and not saying a word. “The whole time?”

Castiel nodded. “You’ve spoken with Uriel.”

It was Dean’s turn to nod. “He came to me in a dream last night. Made the same threat that if we don’t turn you in, he’ll kill Sam and send me back to Hell.”

“But that’s not all he told you,” Castiel guessed. “He told you that I had feelings for you, ones he felt you were not worthy of.”

Dean nodded again.

“I know it’s something that’s not in your nature to return, Dean,” Castiel continued. “Perhaps if my host had been female, things would be different. That was why I was ordered to possess this vessel so that the temptation would be lessened for you.”

“Wait,” Dean said. “You’ve had these feeling for me. You knew that you would never be allowed to act on those feelings. So when you pulled me from the Pit, you just followed your orders.”

“It was more than following orders, Dean.” He gave into the impulse and leaned forward to lightly brushed his lips across Dean’s. They were just as soft as he thought they would be.

He had barely made contact before he was pulling away. “I am sorry, Dean,” Castiel apologized. He stood up and backed away from the bed. “I should not have done that.”

Dean blinked stupidly for a moment, and then stood up and approached. His expression was blank. Dean wasn’t yelling yet. This worried Castiel, who had a suspicion that he was about to as the Winchesters would bluntly put it, to get his ass kicked. When Dean slammed him against the wall, he was certain that he was right. He didn’t expect what happened next.

Dean kissed Castiel and used his body to pin him against the wall. Unlike the chaste kiss a moment before, this was all heat and tongue and the full-press of bodies. And all Castiel could do was pray that Sam wouldn’t return with the new hex bag any time soon. He was so lost in that sensation that he almost missed Dean’s words. “There’s one thing I’ve wanted to do since the first time I saw you.”

Castiel looked at him with hooded blue eyes, lips parted slightly as he breathed. “And what is that, Dean?”

Dean just smiled. He grabbed Castiel’s tie and yanked it off his neck and tossed it across the room.

Castiel was not at all sorry to see it go. “I never understood why some human males feel the compulsion to wear a restrictive and useless piece of cloth around their necks.”

“Less talk, more kissing,” Dean demanded, his hands now working at unbuttoning Castiel’s shirt. “I want to find out if you healed that knife wound, or if I gave you a scar.”

Castiel rolled his shoulders so Dean could easily peel the shirt off. Once he was bare-chested, he resumed kissing Dean. His hands went to the hunter’s shoulders and pushed off the first of the layers he knew the human would be wearing.

Dean shoved away from Castiel. “Too slow,” he said as his head disappeared through the shirt collars. After a moment he reappeared.

For the first time, Castiel paused. Dean’s chest was tan and well muscled. The tattoo warding him against demon possession stood out in stark relief. But that wasn’t what held his attention. Castiel was unable to remove his eyes from the mark on Dean’s shoulder, the handprint he had placed there. Slowly he placed his hand on it, letting his fingers fall into place.

Automatically, Dean flinched. “Cas…”

“I know, Dean,” Castiel said softly. “I know what you did in Hell. I saw firsthand what you were being warped into. And I forgive you.” He leaned in to kiss Dean gently as he felt the hunter tremble. His grip shifted from the brand to slide around Dean’s back, coming to rest just above his waist.

Dean still resisted his touch. He pulled back from the kiss, but didn’t twist out of Castiel’s grip. Dean stared up at Castiel with green eyes filled with longing and unworthiness. “I don’t deserve forgiveness,” he whispered.

“No sinner truly deserves forgiveness, Dean Winchester,” Castiel responded. For the first time, the authority and power of an Angel of the Lord had returned to his voice. His next words were softer and more intimate. “But I offer it to you. Not from the Father, but from me.” And before Dean could protest further, Castiel sealed his words with a kiss.

Dean remained stiff against Castiel for a few seconds before relaxing. Dean’s right hand reached across to rest on Castiel’s and then pulled away from his shoulder. Castiel started to step backwards but Dean halted him by jerking him closer. Slowly Dean ran Castiel’s hands down his chest and sides to rest on his waist.

Castiel pulled Dean closer as the kiss became deeper. One thing that fascinated him was the different textures and sensations that could be produced by the human body. The tingling shock when their tongues touched, the shiver of electricity running down his spine in the wake of Dean’s fingers, the scrape of teeth against the tender flesh of his throat, and the pounding of his heart as his fingers worked at pushing the hard metal button through the hole in the stiff denim fabric of Dean’s jeans.

When he felt Dean’s hand wrap around his wrist, Castiel thought that he had changed his mind. Instead his hand was guided so the flat of his palm rested on the firm muscles of Dean’s hip. A tremor ran through him at the feel of the heat radiating through the thin fabric of Dean’s boxers. But what he was concentrating on the most was the feel of Dean’s lips as they pulled against his own.

The sound of the zipper was harsh in his ears and a surprise as well. He hadn’t realized that it was his own until Dean’s fingers brushed over the growing bulge. He may not have known how to react, but the vessel’s instincts knew. He rocked forward into Dean’s touch, the hand on Dean’s hip sliding down to grip the muscle of his firm ass. His reward was a hard thrust against his hips.

He let out a deep gasp when he felt Dean back away. Cool air against his chest made him shiver as he was half guided, half dragged to the bed. He stumbled the last few steps as his trousers slid down around his ankles.

Dean didn’t say anything as he turned Castiel and pushed him down on the bed. He didn’t say anything either as Dean knelt before him and pulled off his shoes and socks. Spoken words might bring them to their senses, make them realize what they were about to do, and halt them. And the one thing that Castiel did not want was to stop what was about to happen. The loneliness he felt since being cut off from his brothers and sisters had been growing. The only time that loneliness didn’t seem overwhelming was when he was with Dean.

Castiel lifted his hips when Dean’s fingers tangled in the elastic of his briefs. He bit back a moan as cool air hit hot flesh. He gave into the impulse to reach down and stroked Dean’s hair. His fingers slid down to trace the curve of his ear. And when Dean looked up at him, he felt something in his soul shatter.

He was unable to look away when Dean stood up and shoved his jeans and underwear down. He reached out and tentatively stroked along Dean’s length. He gave into another impulse and closed his eyes as he leaned forward and kissed the blunt head. Dean tasted salty and musky and something he couldn’t define that was uniquely Dean. He could feel Dean shiver the further down his lips traveled.

He felt Dean’s hands rest on his shoulders as Dean pulled his hips away. His legs were nudged wider apart and he was pushed to lay flat on the mattress. Castiel’s arms went around Dean’s back as he was covered by the other man, one erection rubbing against the other’s.

Castiel would have been content to remain feeling the pleasure of Dean’s body against his when he felt Dean pull away again. He heard Dean spit, but his eyes didn’t open until he felt the pressure between his legs. He opened his eyes to see Dean standing, his hand reaching between his legs. He felt Dean’s fingers push against him again, and this time he relaxed enough for Dean to work his way inside. He hissed and arched and tried to relax against the foreign sensation of someone working his way inside and then pulling out.

He almost leapt off the bed when Dean repeated the action with a second finger and then hooked them. He felt Dean press against something inside that sent jolts of fresh pleasure arcing through him. Castiel rocked against Dean’s fingers letting out little gasps. This time he knew what to expect when Dean pulled his fingers out. But this time, it wasn’t his finger he pressed against Castiel’s ass.

Castiel rocked against Dean as he slowly worked inside. It was not exactly painful, but he wasn’t completely comfortable as he was stretched. Dean was hard and long and it took several attempts before he was smoothly moving in and out. And then Dean bent down to kiss him.

Castiel kissed him hungrily. He grabbed for one of his knees and pulled his leg toward his chest, allowing Dean a little more room to maneuver. His other hand scratched down Dean’s back to grab his ass and squeeze.

They continued to kiss urgently. Their breath sounded harshly through their noses and they gasped when their mouths broke apart. Their bodies moved in sync, hands stroking and caressing and exploring. The tingles that Castiel had been feeling grew into a current and then a river. When Dean reached between their bodies to tug at his erection, the river became a torrent. Castiel’s hands shifted to Dean’s shoulders to hold onto him as he felt himself drowning in his release. He watched as Dean’s head snapped back and his hips arched forward. As Dean screamed his name, Castiel also called out Dean’s name as his world turned white from ecstasy.

When he opened his eyes again, Dean was still above him and supported his weight on locked elbows. Castiel pulled him down and allowed Dean to curl against his chest as they closed their eye and relaxed. Now that his body’s desires had been sated, his thought process kicked back in. He had just committed yet another sin. In addition to rebellion, he could add lust and fornication to the crimes he was guilty of. But being guilty of one or one hundred would not change the final outcome. Even if he lived a completely virtuous, human life, he would still be put to death on sight. And holding Dean tight against his body, he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Dean woke up several hours later with Castiel pressed against his back; one of Castiel’s hands rested on the shoulder bearing the palm print. He felt warm and safe and loved. But he knew the feeling wouldn’t last. It never lasted for him. Everyone he loved either ended up dead, not believing him, or leaving him. And he wouldn’t let any of those things happen to Castiel.

Dean slowly eased out of Castiel’s embrace and dressed. After he pulled on his jeans, he reached into a pocket and pulled out the hex bag. He stared at it for several minutes as he turned it over in his hand. He looked down at the sleeping angel and knew what he needed to do.

He tucked the bag inside Castiel’s slacks and hooked the waistband over the bed post. With one last look of longing at the sleeping figure, Dean quietly opened the door and walked outside. He ran away from the motel to put as much distance between them as quickly as possible. It wasn’t a question of if someone would come looking for him now that he was back on the grid, so to speak. The only question in Dean’s mind was who would get to him first.

Less than five minutes passed before he had his answer. “Dean Winchester gone noble, sacrificing himself a second time so someone he loves can live,” the demon smirked as he stepped out from an alleyway and into the hunter’s path. “Didn’t you learn your lesson the last time you tried that?”

Even though this host was shorter, had a scruffy beard, and was more muscled, Dean would recognize the swagger in the voice anywhere. “I want to cut a deal, Alastair,” Dean said. “Leave Cas alone and you can do whatever you want to me. Send me back to Hell, put me back on the rack as long as you want, and I’ll take your offer and be your star student again the first time you ask.”

“Let me think about it. No.” Alastair gestured, and Dean was thrown across the street and pinned against the hood of a compact car. “You see, it’s just a matter of time before I get you back downstairs. I can be patient when it’s to my advantage,” he said as he walked over in a slow, deliberate pace. “Wait for just the right moment to twist the knife in someone’s kidney, just like I taught you. I’ll have you to mentor again eventually. But right now you’re more valuable to me alive.”

“Alive isn’t something you’ll be long once Sam finds you, you sick son of a bitch,” Dean gritted as Alastair leaned over him.

“I’m really scared,” Alastair said. “Especially seeing how well he fought me last time. You two scurried away like frightened rats. Not that your pet angel did any better. I almost choked the life out of him, and he didn’t put up that much of a struggle. And that was before I neutered him.”

“Yeah,” Dean said. He strained against the invisible force holding him. “I seem to recall that shortly after I whacked you with an iron pipe, Anna sent your bony ass packing in a blaze of light.”

“Oh yes, the lovely Anna had to come to your rescue. Too bad for you that she’s not around at the moment for a repeat performance. And for the record, it was only the pediatrician she burnt to a crisp.” Alastair’s smirk grew darker. “I’m a lot harder to kill.”

“Which reminds me. Is this what you are looking for?” Alastair held a sharp and sinuously curved knife inches from Dean’s eyes. This kris was different from the ceremonial blades Dean had seen his father use. It had a channel running down the center, covered in crystal. And the crystal radiated just the way the vial Uriel had worn around his neck glowed. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” Alastair tapped the flat of the blade on Dean’s chest. “Essence of an angel, what makes them… holy.” The last word was sneered contemptuously. “Without this, they aren’t that different than you or me. And you know that first hand.”

Dean strained harder against the bonds that still pinned him to the car. “And you think Castiel’ll be stupid enough to let you get your hands on him again?”

Now the flat of the knife slid along his cheek. “I know he will, thanks to you. Just like your brother, he’ll attempt to rescue you. Once I kill him, break the seal, and hand you and Sam over to Lilith, maybe I’ll be allowed to stay in Hell instead of being sent back to this arctic wasteland.” The knife slid down to under Dean’s chin, the point digging into the soft flesh. “Now be a good boy and be quiet,” he said. The knife was pulled away as Alastair grabbed the Dean’s hair. He slammed Dean’s head against the car hood with a loud, metallic clunk. The force of the blow knocked Dean unconscious. “I have a phone call to make.”

Half awake, half asleep, Castiel rolled from his side to his stomach. Chilly air caressed him from the small of his back to the nape of his neck. Eyes still closed, his left arm stretched out and felt only cool, empty mattress next to him. There was no sound of the hunter moving around the room or the sound of the shower from the bathroom. Dean should be here, was floating around in the haze of his half-awake thoughts.

The idea did not alarm him until the door to their motel room opened. Sam entered, trailed by Ruby. “We’ve got the bag, so let’s…” Sam did a double take as Castiel sleepily blinked up at him. The hunter looked from the rumpled bed to the neat one, and then back at Castiel. “Where’s Dean?” Sam barked.

Not fully awake, the only thing Castiel was capable of saying at the moment was “Huh?”

Ruby leaned back out the door to take another look around. “Car’s out front,” she confirmed. “He wouldn’t be so stupid to go out and leave Castiel unprotected.”

Castiel modestly wrapped the sheet around his lower half and climbed out of bed and grabbed his pants. He bent over to pick up something that dropped out of the pocket. “No, he wouldn’t,” he said and held up the hex bag for Sam and Ruby to see.

Sam swore under his breath as Ruby rolled her eyes. “He would be that stupid,” the demon said. “We can assume that Alastair has him,” she added. “No way he’d miss this opportunity.”

“What about Uriel?” Sam asked.

Castiel shook his head. “If it were Uriel, I would already be dead. He would have forced Dean to lead him back here and performed God’s judgment on me.”

“Then it’s Alastair,” Sam said. His eyes narrowed in anger. “So where would he take Dean?”

Before Castiel could answer, Sam’s phone rang. Sam looked down at the display, and flipped it open. He waved his hand to shush Castiel and Ruby as he answered on speakerphone. “Dean? Where are you?”

“It’s not Dean,” the oily smooth voice answered. “But he’s here with me.”

Sam didn’t recognize the voice, which gave him a large clue to who it was. “Alastair,” he growled. “What are you doing calling me?”

“What? Just because I’ve spent millennia in Hell doesn’t mean that I’m not up to date on modern technology,” Alastair said. Sam could hear the smirk in his voice. “You’ve made it really difficult to contact you any of my usual ways, so I’ve had to resort to something more mundane.”

Sam gritted his teeth. “So help me Alastair if you’ve done anything to Dean--”

“Don’t bother with the empty threats, Sam. We both know you don’t have the juice to take me on.” There was a tone of unholy amusement in Alastair’s voice. “As for Dean, he’s fine. We’ve just been talking. Or I have. Your brother doesn’t seem to want to do much talking about the good times we had together in Hell.”

Sam’s eyes narrowed. “What do you want, Alastair?”

“You know what I want,” Alastair said in a smooth, oily voice. “Castiel. Give me the angel, and I’ll release Dean physically unharmed. And allow me to point out that this is quite a generous offer. Ask Ruby. I know the little slut is listening in. Just bring him to me and I’ll let you have your brother.”

“And if I don’t?” Sam asked. He didn’t need to look at Ruby or Castiel for confirmation that Alastair was lying about releasing Dean. That’s what most demons did as far as Sam was concerned. Even Ruby, although he believed that her lies were fewer and farther between. But right now he needed her and was trying to manipulate her as much as she manipulated him.

“Then we have a problem,” Alastair continued in a conversational tone. “No matter. I’m sure I can use a hunter’s blood to break a different seal. And it would have nice to have Dean back in Hell. He was my star pupil - had the most potential of anyone I’ve seen in a long, long time. All that wonderful rage John instilled in him waiting to boil out in one messy stroke of a knife. Your daddy would be so proud. Sometimes I wonder if Azazel made a mistake and chose the wrong one.”

“You hurt him, and I’ll prove to you that Yellow Eyes definitely made the right choice,” Sam growled. “You think Dean was your star student, Alastair? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Alastair managed to convey both amusement and boredom in his response. “What I’ve seen so far hasn’t impressed me.” He became business-like again. “Bring me Castiel before midnight tonight. Ruby will know where.” The phone display then flickered and Sam read the words ‘call ended’.

Both Castiel and Sam looked at Ruby. Castiel’s expression was one of suspicion while Sam’s was more expectant. Ruby stared back evenly. “Alastair will have to prepare a site for the sacrifice. You don’t just kill an angel without making sure the energy will be properly channeled and making sure that other angels won’t interfere. He’ll have to set off some dark magics that he won’t be able to hide. Give me a few hours and I’ll find them.” Her gaze shifted to Castiel and became speculative. “Unless angel radio is back online?”

Castiel shook his head. “I cannot hear them.” Every so often he thought he caught a stray word. But at this moment, there was only dead silence. He was certain that his brothers and sisters knew where Dean was being held, and had orders to keep it from him.

“Of course it can’t be that easy.” Ruby turned away from Sam and Castiel and walked over to the door. “I’ll start looking. Alastair has to have stashed him somewhere nearby. I’ll call you when I find something,” she yelled over her shoulder.

Sam watched Ruby leave before heading to the door also. “Get dressed,” he ordered. “We’ll search too.”

Castiel nodded. Had he been more alert, he could have prevented Dean from leaving. That guilt and Sam unexpectedly discovering about the previous night activities made him speak. “Sam, I am sorry about--”

“Don’t!” Sam snapped as he turned to face the angel. The anger on his face was thinly veiled by his worry. “Just get dressed. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

The door slammed shut and Castiel was left alone in the room.

By the time Sam returned, Castiel had dressed and neatened the bed. Sam didn’t say anything but instead took a seat in the chair by the window. He watched out it with a deep frown on his face while his jaw shifted back and forth. Castiel could practically hear Sam’s teeth grinding together. That frustration was a sensation he shared. Until Ruby returned, there wasn’t anything they could do except wait and feel useless.

Castiel jumped when Sam spoke. “It took me a while to figure out what’s going on between you two.” Sam looked away from the window to stare at Castiel. “You love Dean.”

Castiel, caught off guard by the hostility in Sam’s voice, couldn’t look at Sam as he nodded. It was hard to admit to the words when they came from the mouth of the Antichrist, or because they came from the mouth of Dean’s brother. “Since before Alastair removed my grace.”

“And it’s just you in there, right?” Sam asked. “You’re not going to be exorcised and leave Dean to find out he raped a straight guy who volunteered to be your meat suit?”

Castiel glared at Sam, offended by the very idea. “The man who I took as my vessel prayed for this. He was dying and offered his body for use to atone for a life time of iniquity.” Where the soul went when the Reaper appeared, Castiel was unsure - perhaps to rest in the Fields of the Lord. But the offer had been made, and his orders had been to take possession of the vessel. “Why does this concern you now? You did not bother to ask me if I was alone in this body when I first told you I lost my grace.”

“My brother doesn’t sleep with men,” Sam stated flatly. “He has enough trouble with relationships with women. And even last year, when he was living life to the fullest, he never so much as looked at another guy. So what he did with you, it’s something more for him than his usual love-‘em-and-leave-‘em routine.” Sam’s hands tightened on the arm of the chair. “He’s been through enough. I don’t want to see him broken further than he’s already has been.”

“I don’t intend to,” Castiel said.

Sam looked at him sharply. “Then where do you get off thinking that you can sleep with Dean?” he snapped. “And what about when you get your grace back? Did you think about what happens then?” You know you won’t be allowed to continue. I’ve read the Book of Enoch and the Book of Genesis. I know that sex between humans and angels is forbidden. And we both know that it won’t matter that Dean is male.”

It was something that Castiel knew he had to think about. But instead he reacted in a very human way with an attack of his own to deflect that which he didn’t wish to consider. “Is it the gender of my vessel? Or are you angry that Dean is turning to me for comfort and turning away from you?” he asked.

“Male or female, I don’t think that you’re the one that Dean should be turning to, period. We’re just tools or pawns as far as you angels are concerned.” Sam turned to look Castiel in the eyes. “You haven’t even shown a little gratitude that I saved your ass back in the cemetery.”

“By using black magic, Sam.” Castiel retorted. “This is why there is such a debate among the Host. Holding this knowledge is dangerous enough. Couple it with your powers and many feel that you are a too much of a threat to be allowed to live.”

“I’m the threat? I’ve sent more demons back to Hell in the last six months than Dean, Dad, and I have the last six years. I want nothing more than to stop Lilith from breaking any more seals and send her back to Hell.”

“The problem, Sam, is the means. You’ve ended up hunting people whose motives were for good in the beginning, but were corrupted to evil in the end. With every dark spell you use, every demon you use your ‘gift’ on instead of the exorcising with the sanctified rituals, you slip further down a very dangerous road, one that you will not be allowed to continue to travel much longer. Heaven is just as aware of what you are doing under Ruby’s influence as Hell is.”

“If you’re so aware, why haven’t you or your buddies stepped in and stopped us?”

“Uriel has been begging for the opportunity to do just that since before we revealed ourselves to you. Our orders are not to do so. Apparently the both of you still have a part to play.”

Those words were barely out of Castiel’s mouth when Sam’s phone rang. Sam stood and turned his back on Castiel as he flipped his phone open. “Yeah?”

While Sam spoke, Castiel reflected on what Sam said. Even if he regained his grace, he would not be accepted back into the Host. He would be under the same kill-on-sight order as Anna. Only then it would be easier for him to hide. Except that by Dean Winchester’s side would be the place everyone searching for him would look first. It may not have been the way Sam originally thought, but he and Dean would not be able to remain together.

Castiel pulled away from his thoughts at the sound of a cell phone snapping shut. “That was Ruby,” Sam said as he turned around to face Castiel. “She’s found Alastair in an empty office complex. She said she’s seen signs of angels there also.”

Castiel nodded. “They would be investigating what the demons are up to, trying to determine what seal is in jeopardy, and seek aid.”

Sam looked puzzled by that statement. “Won’t they go in and prevent the seal from being broken?”

“No,” Castiel said with a curt shake of his head. “They would be unable to enter the building.”


Castiel didn’t answer.

Sam let out a long-suffering sigh. When he spoke, the edge in his voice had softened considerably. “I know you don’t trust me because I’m the Antichrist, Castiel. I’m supposed to be responsible for instigating the Apocalypse. But right now, you’re going to have to trust me, because I’m Dean’s brother. And I’m not going to let Alastair do anything to him, with or without your help.” His voice hardened again. “If you don’t give me other options, I’ll be forced to use all the tools I have at my disposal. Including my powers. ”

Castiel closed his eyes, just as he used to when seeking revelation on the will of his Father. Only this time there were no voices of his superiors to tell him what should be done. There was only his voice inside his head. He was alone in this now, and would have to make decisions without the certainty that he was working within God’s Plan. The sheer weight of that responsibility threatened to overwhelm him.

He made a decision and prayed it would prove to be the right one.

Castiel spoke in a hushed tone as if afraid he’d be overheard. “You know there are symbols that have power over demons, such as the Heptagram, or what you call a Devil’s Trap. There are symbols that have similar power over angels. You’ve seen them in action before. Instead of trapping us within, they repel us, or render us unable to cross the threshold on which they are inscribed.”

Sam nodded. “Like what Anna and I drew.”

“Exactly,” Castiel nodded. “Just like a demon is unable to walk out of an intact trap, we are not able to touch them to break them.”

“But a demon would be able to,” Sam mused. He picked up his cell phone. “I think I have an idea.”

The office building had been built sometime in the mid-eighties. And from the condition of the For Lease sign on the easement in front of the parking lot, it had been unrented for some time. “This is the place,” Sam said as they got out of the car.

Castiel nodded. There was something in the building’s aura that he could sense without being able to see the symbols that would bar angels from entering. From outward appearances, the building looked to be another victim of the first dot com bust. The lawn and trees had minimal care, the building hadn’t acquired any graffiti, and there weren’t any broken windows. But the place radiated a sinister darkness that was at odds with the facade.

Sam walked up to the front door and pushed lightly. It swung easily on its hinges. Sam looked back at Castiel and then stepped inside. Castiel walked up and hesitated for a moment. He could feel a resistance he could almost pat with a hand. The sound of flapping wings encouraged him to quickly go inside.

The lobby was dark. Marks on the rug indicated where a desk once stood. A single security door led deeper into the building. Sam and Castiel cautiously opened it to reveal the main office area. The large room was dark and empty, the cubicles once filling it long gone. Several doors were at the far end of the room, and light leaked underneath one of the jambs. Carefully Sam cracked the door ajar to look inside. Sam opened it just far enough to slip inside and gestured for Castiel to follow.

Unlike the office area they had been in, this was a garage or storage area. Instead of a light gray carpet, this floor was a smooth, darker gray cement. Black candles flickered on a low altar built out of crates draped with a black silk cloth. Between the bowls of herbs and blood rested a kris with a line of glowing crystal following the curves of the blade.

“So nice of you to join us. Here to rescue Dean?” Alastair stepped out of the shadows beside the altar. “Or maybe you’re looking for this?” He picked up the knife and stroked along the flat of the blade. The demon grinned as Castiel flinched.

“Where’s Dean?” Sam asked, hands balled into fists.

“He’s around,” Alastair said. He touched the tip of the knife to one finger, rotating the blade between his hands. “I wanted to be sure you brought the angel like I asked. People have a hard time obeying orders these days. Isn’t that right, Castiel?”

The corners of Castiel’s mouth tightened slightly, but he didn’t give any further visible reaction. “Where is Dean?”

The demon lifted his hand as a signal. “That’s the problem with you angels. No originality,” Alastair sneered and two other demons joined them as they half-led, half-dragged Dean’s stumbling form.

Dean lifted his head to look at Sam and Castiel. Although he had been beaten and was clearly in pain, Castiel was relieved that the hunter appeared to be supporting his own weight. Dried blood divided his split lip and one eye was puffy with a dark bruise beneath it. “Took you guys long enough to show up,” he said.

“Hmm. Looks like Dean won’t have your back this time,” Alastair mused. “Do you really think the two of you will be able to defeat me?”

Sam smiled while Castiel maintained his usual equanimity. Both pulled out their hex bags and lighters. Simultaneously they flicked the lighters on and set the bags aflame. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” Alastair laughed. “I already know where you are. And so do the angels,” he said. “This building is warded against their entry.”

“Of course they know we’re here. They probably watched us enter. This wasn’t to signal them.” Sam’s grin grew even darker. “An angel may not be able to touch the ward on the front door barring them, but another demon can.”

The hex bags sputtered blue flames as they dropped to the ground. Half a second later, the doors blew open. Castiel wasn’t surprised to see Uriel walk through the entrance. He was surprised to see another angel striding beside him. This vessel was slightly shorter than Castiel and looked to be barely out of his teens. Intelligent green eyes, offset by dark hair and lightly tanned skin, slid over Castiel and then focused on Alastair. Ruby sidled in behind them. She stuck close to the walls in an attempt to escape the notice of the angels.

“Zachariel,” Alastair grimaced. The demons holding Dean let go, and the injured hunter staggered back. Three more black-eyed figures stepped in behind the Alastair. “I’d tell you that there’s no need to lead Castiel off to judgment and we’ll make sure he’s properly punished for you, but after what happened with Anna, I know I’d be wasting my breath.”

Uriel’s anticipatory grin was a little too eager. “Then let’s not bother.” The angels and demons charged which left Castiel, Sam, and Dean in the middle.

Castiel had to concentrate on the demon intent on throttling him, but as he punched and kicked, he caught glimpses of what was going on. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dean, who either had recovered or had been playing up his injuries, slice a demon across throat with Ruby’s special knife. Sam, not appearing to use his powers, was trading blows with another. Ruby was holding her own against a demon almost twice her size. Uriel had one pinned to the ground, hand on his forehead, chanting. Zachariel ripped the demon he was grappling with away and threw him across the room.

Castiel turned and found himself face to face with Alastair. “You know, this isn’t how I wanted to do this,” the demon said conversationally as he struck out with the kris. Castiel jumped back as he felt a the blade slice across his chest, easily passing through his clothes. “I was supposed to do this the proper way - you in front of a dark altar anointed by virgin’s blood and illuminated with black candles, me wearing ceremonial robes and chanting something ominous in Latin.” Castiel ducked another swipe, this one a few millimeters from his throat. “Fortunately, the robes and chanting are optional.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Castiel saw a dark, metallic blur heading towards Alastair’s head. The demon blocked the iron pipe with his hand. He pushed it away and shook his head sadly. “Dean, Dean, Dean… did you really think I would fall for that a second time?” With a neat, economical movement, he twisted toward the hunter and thrust the knife forward into Dean’s chest. “We’ll resume our lessons as soon as I get back down there. Until then, you can keep the rack warm,” he whispered as he pulled the knife free.

Castiel caught Dean as he staggered back and dropped to his knees under their weight. He pushed a hand against the knife wound to try to stop the bleeding. He heard someone scream Dean’s name, and then the demon that Sam was fighting flew across the room.

Castiel cradled Dean as he watched Sam stretch his hand towards Alastair. Sam grimaced from the strain and made a clenching motion. Alastair grunted in pain and unwillingly opened his hand. The kris dropped to the floor with a loud clatter. “You’re stronger,” he taunted, “but you still don’t have the juice to take me out.”

“But I do,” Uriel said. He stepped closer to the demon. He was about to place his hand on Alastair’s head when it snapped back, eyes pure white. Jaws stretched wider than humanly possible as black smoke billowed out. An angry wail filled the air as the smoke escaped through a broken window. Alastair’s host dropped to the ground in a heap of limbs.

“Cas,” a voice weakly choked. Castiel looked down at Dean. He was pale and his breath came in sharp gasps between his words. “Go. Get it.”

Castiel’s gaze shifted to the kris that Alastair had dropped. He could feel his grace radiating from the knife. It was so close, and yet so far away. He could grab the knife and regain his angelic powers and go into hiding. He would still be hunted, but the playing field would be leveled. He could find Anna and the two of them could continue the battle for the seals on their own terms. Perhaps even find a way to be with Dean while avoiding his death sentence.

But he couldn’t heal Dean and reach the kris before Zachariel did. Dean was losing a lot of blood and might not make it to a hospital. He could die in Sam’s arms, and with him would die any hopes of averting the Apocalypse. He had broken the first seal and set the dominoes falling, and he was the only one who would prevent the breaking of the sixty-sixth.

This thought flashed through his mind in the space of a heartbeat. But his decision was made even more quickly on the heels of another thought.

He loved Dean.

Castiel pressed his hand harder against Dean’s heart and concentrated. He felt the warm wave well up in his chest and roll down his arm and into Dean. The hunter in his arms let out a choked gasp and sat up as Castiel slumped wearily. “You’re an idiot,” Dean said in a tender voice meant only for him.

Zachariel walked over to the knife. Calmly, he picked it up and placed it in his jacket. He then turned his attention to the trio as Dean helped Castiel to his feet. “Castiel,” he said in a cold, clear voice. “Stand forth and receive your judgment.”

Sam looked back at Castiel questioningly as he wiped the trickle of blood from his nostril.

Castiel shook his head no. There was nowhere to run now, nowhere he could hide. If Sam used his powers against the angels, they would not hesitate to kill him, and he would not allow Dean to go through that.

Castiel brushed his fingers over Dean’s shoulder in a silent goodbye. Stepping around Sam, he walked to the spot in front of his former comrades and knelt, head bowed in submission, eyes fixed on Zachariel’s feet. Only two thoughts competed in his mind. He hoped Uriel would keep his earlier promise and make his end as painless as possible. And he wished that Dean did not have to witness this.

Castiel could no longer see Zachariel’s shadow colored wings, but he heard them flutter to their fullest as he pronounced his doom. His superior stood before the kneeling angel and he laid a hand on Castiel’s head. He pronounced sentence in a diamond-hard voice. “Castiel, you have been deemed guilty of the sin of rebellion for fleeing when your grace was torn from you. Your punishment is to dwell among humanity as you now are, neither fully man, nor fully angel. The grace torn from you will be held in my custody. What little that is still inside you will remain in your possession.”

“Now wait a minute--” Dean began.

Uriel interrupted Dean. But his objection was of a completely different nature. “He will be allowed to live?” he asked indignantly.

Zachariel’s vessel may have been half an inch shorter than the specialist’s, but there was no doubt as to who was in charge. “The Law states ‘Do not suffer an angel without grace to live.’ And though Alastair ripped the majority of it from Castiel, there are shreds of it still within him. Enough that he will never be fully human, but not enough to allow him to remain among the Heavenly Host. God has decreed he is to be exiled.” He fixed Uriel with a steely glance as he withdrew his hand. “Are you questioning God’s judgment, Uriel?”

Uriel stared at him hard for a moment, and then his eyes dropped. “No sir,” he grimaced.

“Then return to your garrison, warrior,” he dismissed. “Your work here is done.”

Uriel shot one more glare at the trio and then disappeared with the sound of a single flap of large wings.

“Good riddance,” muttered Dean under his breath.

“I do not understand,” Castiel said. He didn’t dare lift his eyes from the floor to look at his superior. “Why this mercy?”

Zachariel’s voice remained stern. “What makes you think this is mercy?”

Castiel’s head remained bowed as though Zachariel’s hand remained on it. Although judgment had been passed, he was still waiting for the death blow. “It is more than I would have been allowed to show Anna,” he said, now daring to look up at him.

Castiel could hear the flutter as Zachariel’s wings folded and his body relaxed. “You ran from judgment, hid from justice, and succumbed to sins of the flesh. But you have not stopped fighting the good fight. You still seek the protection of the seals. You have remained steadfast in your duty, even if it is not in the manner originally ordered. For that reason alone, you have been spared.”

“So this is it,” Sam said. “You’re just going to abandon him here with us? You know better than anyone Alastair and other demons won’t stop attacking him just because he’s not an angel any longer.”

“Then it will fall to you to keep him safe,” Zachariel said. “And I don’t doubt that you will see to it.” As he looked over at Dean, his expression softened a little bit. “And he may not find it as lonely as he thinks it will be.”

“So it’s just forgive and forget?” Dean asked.

“It will not be forgotten. Just as all the Fallen are recalled,” Zachariel said with a shake of his head. “No sinner truly deserves forgiveness, Dean Winchester.” His words and tone echoed Castiel’s earlier statement. His focus turned back to Castiel. “But I offer it to you.”

Castiel looked up, lips parted to say something. But before their eyes could meet, Zachariel was gone. He looked at Dean, Sam, and Ruby as he rose to his feet. The four of them were the only souls in the room.

It had been three weeks since Zachariel had informed Castiel of God’s judgment. It surprised him how easily he slipped into the routine of the Winchester’s’ life. There was still the occasional tension between him and Sam regarding the use of his powers or the fact that he now shared Dean’s bed, but for the moment a tenuous peace existed between the two of them.

He was still learning the extent of his powers. He was more than human and less than angel. Strong enough to protect himself, but a mere shade of his former glory. Occasionally he heard voices of the others in the distance. And it was always a debate around the question of if he had been shown mercy, or had been made an example of. It was a question he would also like to know the answer to.

There were other questions he had about what he was now, ones that he wasn’t eager to find the answers to right away. Was he still immortal? Or would he start to age and die? One meant that he would eventually lose Dean and continue on until the unmaking of this plane of existence. The other would raise a question of where the reaper who greeted him would guide him for the next stage of his being - Heaven, Hell, or Somewhere Else. And over it all echoed Zachariel’s words to him. Who said that this is mercy?

Those were the thoughts that troubled him late at night. Castiel sat up in the bed while Dean slept next to him. He wasn’t used to dreaming still, let alone the odd state of sleep itself. He would wake up, unable to return to sleep, and puzzle over the images. He wondered if they were really the subconscious processing events or if he was being shown visions of the future, of what could be or what would be.

A touch starting on his lower back and smoothing up his spine stirred him out of his reverie. “Something wrong, Cas?” Dean asked softly, not wanting to disturb Sam asleep on the other bed. “Still keyed up after hunting down that wendigo?”

“No, Dean.” Castiel closed his eyes. “It was that dream again,” he said with a heavy sigh. “I thought I could feel my grace brush by my fingertips. But when I reached for it, it wasn’t there.” There were no words to explain the ache for the loss of something that had defined his being for millennia, but the pain clearly echoed in his voice.

Dean didn’t say anything as he sat up and placed an arm around Castiel’s shoulders, just like the other times Castiel had told him of the sensation. It always occurred when he was in the hazy area between alertness and sleep. The hex bags didn’t seem to help. Nor had any other spell Sam, Ruby, or Bobby tried. They weren’t certain it was a true dream, or if someone was making sure that, unlike Anna, Castiel never forgot what he had once been.

What was clear was that Castiel still felt the loss keenly, even if he rarely spoke of it. And one question had lurked in Dean’s mind, but he did not choose to voice it before. Now, the time felt right. “You ever think you made a mistake not turning yourself in?” Dean asked quietly.

Castiel turned to look him up and down. It was a question he often had asked himself in the last few weeks as well. It tumbled about in his mind as he sought an answer. And now he stared at Dean with eyes that were still every bit as soulful. He knew what the answer was. “I don’t think I truly lost my grace, Dean. I traded one kind for another.” He leaned over and kissed the hunter softly. He did not resist as Dean pulled him down to the bed.

And in the end, he believed the trade was worth it.

The End