Title: It's the Stars that Lie, 7/12
Author: Seperis
Series: Down to Agincourt, Book 2
Codes: Dean/Castiel
Rating: R
Summary: We fight, we lose, everyone dies anyway, I know. However, I don’t see why, if we're going to fight anyway, we shouldn't believe we're going to win.
Author Notes: Thanks to nrrrdygrrrl and obscureraison for beta services, with advice from [livejournal.com profile] lillian13, [profile] scynneh, and [personal profile] norabombay.
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] bratfarrar for the series name and summary from her sonnet Harry Takes the Field.
Spoilers: Seasons 5, 6, and 7

Series Links:
AO3 - Down to Agincourt
Book 1: Map of the World

Story Links:
AO3 - All, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7
DW - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6

--Day 92--

Ana looks startled when she comes in to see Dean already on the couch one and a half hours after dawn, well fed and with enough caffeine and D-amphetamine whatever in his bloodstream to laugh in the face of detox. The taste of hypocrisy on multiple levels is bitter, but pills usually are, and he put extra sugar in the coffee to see if it would help; it did, thanks, Sam.

"You're up early," she says with a smile, pausing uncertainly where the chair isn't and looking immediately to where the chair is today; in front of the window with a terrible view of bare ground with scrubby accent grass and in the near distance, the cabin of Dean Winchester's torture shenanigans. "So--"

"Breakfast accomplished," he assures her with a smug smile, which makes Ana roll his eyes. "Sit down."

He keeps smiling as he watches her go to get the chair, dragging it the other side of the coffee table and sitting down to look at him in polite interest. Cas didn't ever need to tell him she used to be a Marine; one look at the flawless posture, the kind of upper body strength he wouldn't mind having for himself, and brown hair pulled back into the most severe ponytail in the history of ponytails and he got it loud and clear. Not to mention her default when not sitting is 'parade rest', which was definitely a clue.

Cas did, however, need to remind him yesterday morning when they were watching Vera and Jeremy leave that he didn't need to worry about making up a good story about where they were going because no one would ask. Not Alicia in the infirmary who inherited all of Dean's medical records, not Amanda who's taken over the job Spy At Large and team leader, not Vera's team, friends, or the camp at large who watched as well. Not even Joe, and it's not like Joe doesn't know he can ask questions by now, but Dean supposes the habit's hard to break.

"How's your foot?" she asks, glancing down at the brace that replaced the cast two days ago on his ankle.

Vera, after consultation with a very wary Alicia, decided to remove it before she left; it was like being the exhibit in a very back to the earth hospital, Vera falling into lecture mode with Alicia, Cas, and Joe in attendance while sawing off the cast and everyone (including Dean) stared in fascination at the dead zombie foot attached to Dean's leg with an almost physical revulsion (or maybe that's just Dean).

Cleaning it up like it was a real foot, she chanted out what to watch for and the dangers of overuse, then where the Velcro restraints were and smiled at everyone's enthusiastic affirmation they knew exactly how to use them. Because this is his camp, these are his people, and every fucking one of them lives life like Finding Private Ryan and Finding Ryan's Privates are the same goddamn movie. With Velcro bondage, because why the fuck not.

"Good," he says, not looking down; a sock under the brace hides what shouldn't be viewed by any eyes. "Trying to think of an embarrassing story about Cas," he adds. "Vera's been taunting me with the brothel story he told everyone about, and payback is gonna be sweet."

Ana's eyes widen before she breaks into a peal of laughter. "I remember that," she says breathlessly, wiping her eyes as she straightens from what wasn't even generously a slump, because Marines can't do those but pretend they can. "If it helps, not everyone--"

He rolls his eyes. "That doesn't help at all."

"--and we were all high or drunk in honor of surviving training, so not like most remember." She shakes her head fondly. "Time honored graduation gift: weed and a lot of it. Nate wouldn't stop giggling until Zack took him home, and…" She make a face. "You know how that always ends."

He doesn't, but if he's reading Nate-Who-Has-Drywall-Skills right, the word 'repressed' isn't inapplicable and he can guess.

"So Cas thought Dazed and Confused was a documentary, right," he says in resignation, which coaxes another laugh from Ana. "Yeah, I offered Vera a bottle of Eldritch Horror and she still wouldn't tell me what else he told you all that night. Or a single fucking embarrassing story about Cas, by the way."

Ana's eyebrows draw together in confusion. "Eldritch…."

"That shit from Cas's still," he explains casually, watching through half-lidded eyes as Ana goes still. Reaching down, he pulls an anonymous brown bottle from the side of the couch and sets it on the table between them, because creepy sex toy discovery wasn't the only thing on the agenda when he searched the utility closet, just the weirdest. "This."

Ana stares at the bottle then at him, eyes narrowing. "You set me up."

"I did, and this is a one-time offer," Dean answers easily, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "Decide fast, though, because Joe's here at lunch, and he's offered to get a first-born--where, I didn't ask--to trade for another bottle of this. Guess he already finished the other bottle--"

"Joe got a bottle?" Ana asks incredulously, a fire in her eyes not unlike that you might see in the smoldering remains of Joe's exploded kitchen. "Son of a bitch, he didn't share? I'm on his team!"

"And you two had steak and potatoes in Harlin and Joe told me all about it, down to the exact color of the melting butter," Dean counters, just to see her guilty twitch; revenge is indeed sweet. "Can't trust anyone these days, can you? You can walk away now, and we'll never speak of this again."

Ana glares at him and noticeably doesn't get up and walk away. "What do you want?"

"Three embarrassing stories about Cas that you can guarantee not everyone already knows," Dean says in satisfaction. "Implicate Vera in at least one for a get-out-of-report day."

Ana looks dubious. "You can do that?"

"It's my camp," Dean points out, not particularly surprised that doesn't help; this isn't like the Apocalypse or anything, this is Cas and his not entirely comfortable relationship with reports. "He won't notice, yes, I'm that good, you got any more questions or do we have a deal?"

"I'm in," she answers firmly. "Three stories about Cas, one including Vera, and I'll throw in Joe and Amanda for free."

Doing drugs while abusing his power and not a little added blackmail and he's barely finished breakfast: he'd like to see this Dean pull this shit off while still sick, with a bum foot, and kind of high. "What did Amanda do to you?"

"I'll start there," she decides, settling back in her chair with a look that honestly to God would scare him if he were Amanda right now. Thank God he's not. "Two years ago, in training. You tell me if I should be over it yet."

"No fucking way," Dean answers sincerely, thinking of the price of stolen snuggies paid in burning clothes on the front lawn; Amanda's getting off light. He reaches for his coffee cup. "I can't wait."

Dean, in three months of his life: was sick, almost died, is currently living another person's life in another (Apocalyptic of course) world and that wasn't enough, no, but honestly, he can see why the universe thought that when his greatest hits include 'demon in Hell' and 'suburban semi-house boyfriend, with kid' it was time to level this shit up and said shit get real.

A Fallen angel who thought the siege of Hell was 'not enjoyable as you know it' (read: fun, Cas. Divine fun if you need it, but fun) and who punched the fucking bathroom wall just short of breaking through the cabin itself is haunted by the two year old memory of a human with a gun who shot at him.

In a world where you hunted Lucifer, and all the monsters in the closet, under the bed, and lingering behind you are really there and really fucking after you, Vera trained as a hunter but thinks knowing how people worked was the only way she'd survive.

The brothel story--it's funny, no lie, he gets why Cas tells it--came out during unofficial graduation from training night, when Cas was very high, it was very late, and the only ones still awake were Vera, Ana first choice Dean watcher and the first person Joe named without thinking when he wanted his own team, Amanda gossip queen forever, Joe sneaks around against orders at the border, Nate who does drywall on the side, and Kamal who Cas was going to ask to check is translations for hippo porn and he really, really should have thought about that.

He found out that extempore discussion with Jody and Kamal about the tragic lack of places to rollerblade in Chitaqua on the day of the supply run (and equipment debates because gear is important and the wrong kind can kill) began the first time they met in training. Apparently it's gotten better; it used to be debated at the top of their lungs and ended in them fighting it out in what could generously be called sparring if Amanda didn't make them disarm first because why take the risk? Especially when Ana credits that for their almost miraculous improvement in combat skills, which makes him wonder how many demons died for Nike's lack of a social conscience and what that means in the greater scheme of things.

(Cas thought it was funny, Ana told him with the kind of affection you reserve for the crazy older brother who went Goth freshman year of high school and thought Nietzsche was fucking deep, dude, fuck you and smokes way too much weed while muttering about the Man. In the utility closet that day, Dean did indeed find Nietzsche, so.)

After Ana leaves (with a bottle in her hand and a smile on her face), Dean gets up and moves the chair back to the window before sitting down. It's a depressing view, but it's not like he's here for that; he's trying to work out why the chart from Vera removing a bullet dangerously close to Cas's spine (without anesthesia, just a local, holy fucking shit) corresponds to a sprite encounter but no mention of an earlier human sacrifice in Michigan that went Cas-shaped and the thirteenth kid that survived it.

He did, however, find a postscript to a mission five days after Debra's execution for Croatoan in its second stage, where a team leader came back to camp and died, cause of death execution for Croatoan first stage, and that's when he closed the journal. He missed it the first time, didn't think to look for it; this was a mission journal, why would Dean mention it, but also because when Cas told him what went down, he told him why, but Dean didn't have any reason to wonder about the 'how'.

Not until reading that single sentence, a journal that no one but this Dean would ever read, he's got one up on his counterpart; in this very camp are two different worlds, and he only knew about one.

Joe isn't Cas; they have lunch on the coffee table like fucking sane people and not ones that Cas absorbed from Vera and a lot of sitcoms. He waits for Joe to drag the chair over and sit down before saying over his sandwich (something green, something meat, spreading no idea and thank God) before saying casually, "So you almost stabbed yourself to death with a butter knife during training?"

Joe freezes, teeth just touching bread.

"You were restricted from touching anything that could be a weapon for two weeks in training by Cas's order," Dean continues, enthusiastically taking a bite, the lack of flavor improved enormously by the taste of Joe's sheer horror. "So here's my question: how many left feet do you have? Amanda--"

"Amanda?" Joe chokes out, barely getting the sandwich in the vicinity of the place before dropping it with a wet plop and staring at Dean. "All things training are supposed to sacred and we do not speak of it. She swore--"

"Wasn't Amanda," Dean says and leans back with a satisfied smile that says, 'yes, I'm that fucking good' and lets Joe draw his own conclusions. Joe's expression tells him that worked really fucking well. "Steak and potatoes, broccoli and cookies, you thought I forgot about that?

Joe doesn't move. "What did Cas tell you?"

"I think the question is 'what do I want?'," Dean answers, resting an arm along the back of the couch and making himself comfortable. "Ask yourself, Joe: do you feel lucky?"

Joe gapes at him.

"Two stories, embarrassing, involving Cas, that you can personally guarantee most people here don't know," Dean says regretfully; this is fun, but business first. "In return, my silence, and who may or may not have a full bottle of Eldritch Horror in their cabin right now and I know for a fact doesn't plan to share and you didn't hear it from me."

"Done," Joe says immediately.

"You're easy," Dean observes. "Ana held out for a get-out-of-report-day."

He watches in fascination as Joe's expression darkens; he's gonna guess that's what wildlife around here sees when they see him coming. "Leah," he breathes with a lifetime of bitter betrayal. "Ana was on her way to her cabin when I got here."

"You and Leah are tight," Dean assures him. "She'll share, right? I mean, unless she knows about the bottle you didn't share with your team. Which she knows…right about now."

Joe closes his eyes and feeling merciful, Dean reaches to grab the second bottle and hopes to God Cas assumes he's drinking his days away from boredom. Setting it gently in the center of the table, Dean waits for Joe to open his eyes and fix on the bottle.

"Here," Dean says, scooting the bottle until it nudges against Joe's plate. Looking like a man who just found God, Joe reaches for the bottle, then hesitates, looking at Dean suspiciously. "For free. You can walk away."

"You're fucking with me," Joe says, right on schedule, but like Ana, he doesn't walk away. Poker players never leave the table if there's still a chance to win, and Ana and Joe are always at that weekly game.

Joe is smart. Gets around team leaders at the border to get information and suborns one of the team members to do it and sits at a negotiation table with twelve guns ready to be pointed at his head armed with nothing but his voice. And like Vera, when he needed something badly and he was out of other options, he went to Cas to get it. Time to find out why.

"Bread upon the water," Dean says seriously, nudging it again so it rattles temptingly against the plate. "Payback for the brothel story. I need everyone to stay away from the cabin after Chuck gets here until Cas gets home. You gonna help me out?"

Joe starts and then begins to grin. "I get you; I'll pass the order when I leave on the down low. I got a story with Leah's name on it, in case you're curious."

"I am," Dean agrees in satisfaction. "You got anything on Alicia, by the way? No reason."

Joe cocks his head, grin widening. "I might. Not training though; she was before I got here."

"That's fine," he answers easily. "Anytime you're ready."

There are a lot of questions now that he wants to ask, and a lot of them start with 'how'.

Three bullets, he told Cas, but two inches right of the spine is the oldest of them, and that's the first one Vera had to remove herself. The mission record agrees on this much: there was a sprite, there were shots fired, Cas killed the sprite, and everyone came home for the night. It misses entirely Cas came back with a bullet in his spine, which he assumes is because Cas thought was irrelevant while bouncing serenely in a fucking SUV for a few hours back to camp to keep a promise.

Vera's records on Cas are nightmare fuel for anyone who knows what they're reading, and Dean probably knows more now that anyone but Vera, but that bullet is a fucking novel all in itself. For someone who said she hadn't practiced for an entire year before she came to Chitaqua and was a practitioner nurse before, that scar's as clean as someone who'd been treating bullet wounds all their professional lives. He never would have guessed this kind of history on a glance, though, so good thing this time he decided to ask. He doesn't care how much time she spent in the ER, bullet removal wouldn't have been common enough for her to do it this well and not by the fucking spine.

Vera also didn't spend enough time in the ER to restart his heart twice, shooting him up with epinephrine like it was going out of style because admitting brain death was for losers who believed in shit like reality. She wasn't kidding about opening him up, either; when Vera was doing surreptitious medical equipment removal before the official date, there were things he saw in one bag he's pretty sure are OR-specific.

He wishes he could ask if this is where it started; when Cas obediently reported in for treatment and told her there was a bullet, not much bleeding and definitely not actually severing his fucking spine. She didn't say 'are you fucking kidding me' like anyone else; life or death, experience whatever, much like two later cardiac arrests, she had shit to get done and she'd do it.

She was working under three very powerful restrictions when treating Cas for anything and she knew it: she wasn't a doctor, Dean couldn't know it wasn't Darryl doing it, and Darryl the fucker couldn't know at all. She didn't tell him the last one, but she didn't need to; for reasons proved with a bullet to the spine, Darryl refusing treatment that once wasn't the only reason she didn't want Cas in the infirmary for any reason, maybe especially when it comes to anything that might require anesthesia.

Because to Vera, the most important thing for survival is knowing people, their buttons, and how to push them. She said some secrets are meant to be kept, and this was one of them. She might kill Cas by accident, but somehow, his chances were still higher with her than anyone else.

Vera and Joe were the worst students in that class, as it turns out--second and last group Cas trained at Chitaqua--but Amanda drilled Vera and Joe every night so they'd pass evaluation the next day. Joe told him, laughing, about rock dodgeball because Cas unwillingly clean and sober was Cas bored, irritable, and needing entertainment in the worst fucking way and what were they there for but to provide.

Ana and Joe both affectionately called Amanda teacher's pet; Cas expressed affection and approval in your progress with bruises and a lot of them, and Amanda was the blue-blackest of them all. And after that, every night, Amanda dragged Joe and Vera out to the field so they'd feel just as loved. Shared pain is probably a bond that takes a lot to break, and what do you know, it didn't.

Fast forward a few months later, and here's what Vera knew she had to work with:

No one knew she was a former nurse but Cas (and later, Jeremy), so she didn't have infirmary privileges or the experience to know what to do with a fucking bullet two inches from Cas's fucking spine. Someone else did, though; Alicia, an EMT, a member of Erica's team, Darryl's occasional backup before going full time when the fucker died, but she was in Cas's first class, not second (as Joe so helpfully explained), and in this camp paranoia is a way of life, trust has to be earned, and Vera didn't even know her. However, in this case, she knew and trusted someone who did.

Some secrets, Vera told him, are meant to be kept. Some things people don't need to know, because it's dangerous, and the most dangerous thing maybe wasn't just Dean or Darryl, but anyone knowing Cas had a bullet in his back only months after Luke tried to put a bullet in his head. Or maybe--just maybe--the wrong person. Alicia, as it turns out, wasn't one of them; Joe told Vera what no one else knew, that Alicia was his mole on Erica's team, that helped him at the border, and he trusted her, and Vera trusted Joe, so that was all she needed to know.

Joe went to Alicia, and Alicia strolled into Darryl's infirmary, picked out all the things you need to treat a bullet wound, and walked Vera through removing a bullet two inches from Cas's spine with nothing but a local and a lot of desperation. How she handled recovery he figures followed Cas's idea of graduation gifts; weed and a lot of it, no missions for the junkie getting high for a while, no questions to be asked, and the first time in history drug abuse saved lives or at least Cas's ability to walk.

Alicia's also a team leader, one Cas picked himself, which makes sense; nothing quite builds up trust like someone who worked with Vera on your goddamn spine. Some secrets have to be kept, Alicia's name is never mentioned in those records no one knew Vera was making for a patient no one knew she had because no one knew she was a nurse. Because in this camp, paranoia is a way of life.

Getting up, Dean ignore the faint throb of his ankle to drag the chair to where Joe and Ana put it (everyone puts it) and sits down; when he looks around, he revises his original assumption that Amanda and Ana were the only ones who don’t like their backs to either of those two windows or the front door.

Dean's room has blinds (when they got there, he has no idea, but they're there now) and an actual door; these windows don't even have curtains, and the doorway doesn't have anything that could possibly resemble a door. You can see out with some limitations, but from outside, you can't see much, especially important when the sun is in the west and there's no eastern glare in the window with a view of the camp no one likes.

Depositing the dishes in the sink for someone else to handle, Dean settles down for his third visitor of the day; today, he thinks, looking at his foot thoughtfully, his ankle's gonna be way too sore to take a walk.

Chuck, poor oblivious fucker, walks right by him toward the bedroom before stopping in the doorway, frowning with a confused expression and turning around to be met with the full force of Dean's best smile.

"Hey, Chuck," he says pleasantly, one foot up on the coffee table because elevation is good for soreness when it's real. "Sit down. Got a question."

"Dean." Chuck blinks at him and going right for the chair by the window to pull it into position, sweet spot hit on the first try. Sitting down warily, he tries a smile. "So, you ready to--"

"Nah, no walk today, ankle's sore. So I've been thinking about supply runs; remember when you told me how they worked before that first one I went on?"

Chuck frowns. "Yeah?"

"Who went on those, anyway? Back before I got here, I mean. How'd that work?"

"Everyone," he answers, sounding surprised. "I mean, whoever was free. I did the supply lists, gave them to Dean, he sent a couple of teams with whoever was available. Why?"

"Cas never went on them?"

"He didn't leave the camp except for missions with Dean. I mean, most of them. Sometimes Dean didn't think--okay, why are you looking at me like that?"

Dean unlocks his jaw enough to use words. "Because I'm trying to think of a way that this won't end with you telling me that he was actually never allowed to leave the camp unless it was for a mission. Tell me he was just high all the time."

"Well, he was, unless he was prepping for a mission, most of the time anyway," Chuck concedes. "But no, he didn't leave. Dean really didn't…." Belatedly aware of the sound of his own words and what they mean, Chuck trails off. "I said that wrong."

"I really hope this doesn't end with you telling me Dean actually ordered Cas not to leave the camp," Dean tells Chuck calmly and means every goddamn word.

"No, it wasn't like that. I mean--maybe you should ask Cas--"

"I'm asking you, and you're not telling Cas shit about this, got it?" Chuck nods in terror, which is as it should be. "Start over. Dean told Cas not to leave the camp? Why?"

"I don't--I mean, okay, look. Look, if Lucifer found him…."

This isn't happening. "Jesus fucking Christ, don't tell me he thought Cas was gonna join Lucifer?"

"No!" Chuck shrinks into the chair, looking uncomfortably like he wants to cry. "No, it wasn't about that. Last of the Host on earth, okay? Cas is mortal, but he didn't become human, and Lucifer--Cas didn't tell you about the wards?"

What the hell does that have to do with anything? "He told me they keep Lucifer out."

"These wards could keep the Apocalypse out," Chuck says, like Dean should know this already. "He put the last of his Grace in them and then--I don't know, changed it, somehow, I don't get it. It wasn't enough--he really didn't have much left to put in them--but he said he could use that to get more."

"More? From where? There aren't any angels left." As Chuck starts to open his mouth, he wonders for a second what it means that he actually knows the answer to this one. Maybe he's been here too long, but he's not even surprised. "Lucifer. He used Lucifer's Grace in the wards?"

"Cas thought it was funny," Chuck offers. "I mean, poetic justice, right? He said Bobby gave him the idea, but he hadn't been sure it would work or if it would do what he thought it would. So every time Lucifer's on the plane and does anything, we get some of it. If Lucifer knew about it--Cas didn't think he did, but--"

"Lucifer wouldn't be happy."

"Oh, stealing Grace from other angels is…." Chuck makes a face, which Dean assumes means pretty fucking bad. "Besides, Cas was the only one who could do--whatever he did to get it."

Dean wonders idly just how much they'd gotten from Lucifer's temper tantrum. "How'd he set the key, by the way? I mean, I got through them, no problem, and I'm not actually from here."

"Blood, kind of?" Chuck's face scrunches up in thought; if Dean tilts his head, it reminds him a lot of Sam's troll doll collecting phase. "We all kind of stood there while he stared at the wards for a while, drew a sigil with our blood, the blood vanishes, and presto; we're in."

That sounds familiar. "What's the sigil look like?"

"Hold on." Chuck looks around and seeing the reports box, grabs the top notebook (new one, Cas was running out of space again) and flips it open before pulling a pen from behind his ear, because Chuck is like that and starting to draw something. Dean stares at the shape forming on the page for a startled moment, then forgets his elevation needing ankle and leans over to take both from Chuck, flipping the page and drawing it like it's supposed to look. This one, he could draw it in his sleep.

"Yeah," Chuck says in surprise, craning his neck to look at it. "How'd you--"

"That's Cas's true name." He glances at Chuck. "You didn't recognize it?"

"Now I do." Chuck turns the notebook and nods slowly. "Huh. He didn't really tell us anything about it, just said it would help him focus the wards."

"You can summon angel with that," Dean says slowly. "And do a lot of really sketchy shit to them once you do if you know the right rituals." Names have power, he's always known that, but the most powerful is the one that you use to define yourself. There's a reason Rumpelstilskin was required reading when he was a kid, with added Dad-administered quiz. "You're telling me Cas used his true name in the binding?"

Contamination, he thinks. Everything you do leaves traces behind, good or bad. The bad shit is what you know about, because it's what bites you in the ass. The good you don't, because when it works, you don't even know it's there. And human blood is like the fucking nuke when it comes to ritual magic, nothing like it; you can use it to control someone, to kill someone, or maybe just identify someone to be cared for, to be protected, by the last of an angel's Grace that would know his true name inside wards that apparently can hold out against the Apocalypse itself.

"He doesn't have Grace anymore, not in him," Chuck says, like that's even the point. "But I think--I think even in the wards, it still knows him. It's his, just--in there."

"So Dean wouldn't let him leave because of the wards?" Missions but not supply runs due to danger of murder by Lucifer: why… "He thought if he was with Cas, he could keep Cas safe? From Lucifer?"

Chuck makes a face. "Well--"

"Cas," he says blankly, remembering the shower wall, some dead demons in Kansas City, and all the cool card tricks Dean taught him to do, all of which require speed just short of that of light. "He thought--"

"Look, you gotta understand," Chuck interrupts. "Sam's Lucifer's vessel, Cas Fell, and then Bobby died, and while he didn't hate me or anything, Cas was kind of all he had left here and it seriously fucked with him. I'm not saying he handled it well, but--Dean had two goals: kill Lucifer, and not lose the only person on earth he had left until he got the job done. He'd watch Lucifer kill everyone in Chitaqua, and as long as Cas wasn't one of them, it didn't even matter."

Chuck scratches his head, giving Dean a considering look before moving back to his chair, pulling it a couple of inches closer before sitting down. For a second, Dean's suddenly aware of who Chuck is, what he is, a flickering something, like light pushing out just beneath his skin. It's not that he's God, or God's avatar or whatever he was in his world, but that whatever he looks like, however he acts, he's a prophet, and it wasn't random chance that got him the job or that he did it. Dean knows enough now that prophets, the real kind, don't have the kind of life that ends in a bed of old age; suicide might not have been an option, but few of them lived long enough to get serious trying when life would do the job for them. Chuck may be prophecy-free, but until he came here, Dean hadn't realized that didn't change a damn thing except what Chuck could actually see; a prophet was a prophet until the day he died, and that kind of open line to the divine didn't go away even when the radio went silent.

Chuck isn't stupid, but sometimes, Chuck forgets that and Dean figures it's time to remind him. "Dean, what is this about?"

A bullet two inches from Cas's spine, a team leader named Luke who was executed for first stage Croatoan, and maybe the reason Cas never ever lies, no matter how creative he gets doing it. Only Cas would be able to see Croatoan first stage, and he would execute a member of the camp for attempted assassination and tell a lie that this Dean would never think to question or doubt, no matter evidence to the contrary.

"Cas said the team leaders hated him."

"Yeah, the angel thing…" Chuck trails off with a shrug. "It was mutual, trust me. You think you've seen him be a dick? That's just baseline; with them, he put effort into it. I mean, not that I blame him," he admits, something darker in his voice. "Everyone was scared of them. They were--intense, let's put it that way."

"They were pretty close to him, to Dean, right? Really loyal."

"This is where the word 'fanatic' works a lot better," Chuck offers. "Just saying. And yeah, I guess. They were the ones he trusted the most, ran the camp for him."

"And not stupid, right?" Dean continues, ignoring Chuck's wary look. "Come and find their one true crazy leader and it's all bloody promises of revenge and then they notice the unbeliever in their midst that Dean likes best."

Chuck's eyes widen. "Uh…."

"Stop me if you've heard this one before; so Dad has these kids, right, and they're obedient and loyal and all that shit, but for some reason, Dad's favorite is the dick that doesn't give a shit about Dad or anything else and does his own thing. Any of that ring a bell?"

Chuck blinks, licking his lip nervously. "You realize you're comparing Dean to--"

"I'm not done yet. Dean wanted fanatics, that's what he needed to do this, so he went with what he knew would work." So that's what he was missing. "Lucifer's brother, bullshit, that was just the tip of the iceberg: did Dean fucking Winchester thought he could pull this shit off when we're living with how well that worked out for God? Cas should have gotten around to telling him it didn't work with Luke's fucking body!"

"He told you he killed Luke?"

Dean nods. "What you're going to tell me now is why he didn't kill the rest. The ones that couldn't know he had a bullet in his spine that Vera took out under a local because even staring at that, she wouldn't tell Darryl or risk Cas going under anesthesia."

Chuck lets out a slow breath.

"If it was warmer, I might have found out if Cas ever opens the windows; on a guess, the glass is to give warning of shots fired. The doorway doesn't have a door, and Cas's cabin faces the camp wall, not the camp itself, so only people that should be around are the ones coming here and he can see them all. I was surprised Nate knew how to drywall, but Cas wasn't; he'd know, he was called in to hide the bullet holes so well I can't even find them and believe me, I tried.

"So when Luke was executed for Croatoan first stage in front of Dean," he finishes, "Cas would be taken at his word with no evidence of anything else. Five days after Debra died for stage two at the point of Dean's gun, and now you're going to tell me how they're connected so that when Cas needed a bullet out, Vera did it, and when she couped the camp, she got a fuckload of help to make it happen."

Chuck sits back, looking--he's not actually sure what that is, but it's all focused on him. "There are two stories of what happened, the official and the unofficial," he says slowly. "Then there's the truth. The one thing that everyone knows for sure; the reason it happened's still breathing."

Dean really hates fucking games. "Chuck, what the fuck…." Then he remembers what Cas told him happened after Debra died. "Vera was living with Cas when Luke and whoever else was involved shot at him." He was the best of limited options, Cas said. Jesus Christ, talk about an understatement if he's right. "Chuck, what happened when Vera saw Dean shoot Debra?"

"She didn't get off a shot," Chuck answers. "This was early in training and Vera'd barely started on the range. Cas got her down and out of sight--he's not faster than a bullet, but not like you couldn't tell what she was going to do--but Erica saw it, I think. She was the only one of the team leaders there that day."

Liking this Cas would have been hard, you had to work at it--or maybe it wasn't hard at all when you knew it wasn't all there was to him, that there was more.

"The thing is--no way you could know this, but Cas didn't like teaching," Chuck says, startling him. "I mean--it wasn't not liking it, but it was just--something he did like anything Dean told him to do. When Dean told him they needed a second group of recruits, that was the first time Cas said no to Dean. Dean couldn't do it himself, not and everything else."

"So how--"

"Yeah, no idea, but when Cas went to the training field for that group, he said it was for the last time and he meant it," Chuck answers, wrinkling his nose. "First time, Cas evaluated everyone to the ground before he and Dean decided which ones to accept, but this time, he took every one of them after evaluation, and trust me when I say--"

"Joe and Vera sucked."

Chuck snorts, shaking his head. "Jody and James weren't much better. Let's say the only bright points were Amanda, Mark, and Debra." He frowns, looking at Dean for a long minute. "Right, you wouldn't know--Cas took teaching seriously. I mean, he got clean when he agreed to teach that group and stayed clean until he was done with them, which just saying, that's something for Cas. He doesn't make mistakes. Dean never questioned Cas's decisions, not when it came to training, and he helped invent the model. Dean didn't ask why Cas didn't get rid of anyone; he figured Cas knew what he was doing and not like he would be involved this time anyway. Cas was on his own this time."

"Cas was really good at it," Dean confirms, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice. "Of course he was. It's the only thing that he thought made him useful, right? Not like he had anything else to offer."

"It's like you never said anything you regretted," Chuck says finally. "Even if Dean meant it--and he might have, Cas knew exactly how to push every button to set him off--that doesn't mean it was true. Not when he said it, and not when he cooled down enough to admit it. But Cas….he never let him forget it."

"Why should he get to?" Dean retorts. "Cas can't."

"You ever think maybe not everything was Dean's fault?" Chuck shakes his head. "Dean fucked up, but Cas made it a competition, winner loses all or something, who the hell knows. I'm the last one to say Dean didn't make mistakes--and they were legion, okay--but he couldn't do everything. He couldn't save Cas from himself."

"He didn't have to," Dean replies. "All he had to do was give Cas a reason to want to. He got him to Fall for him, but he couldn't manage to give him a reason not to hate living with it?"

"You weren't here," Chuck answers quietly. "You have no right to judge what happened."

"I'm the one who has to live with it," he says, staring at Chuck until he looks away. "Don't tell me I don't get to judge the fuck out of him for every fucked-up choice he made, not when I'm the one who's paying for them. Now tell me what else I'm paying for, Chuck. We'll start with Vera."

Chuck flinches, looking anywhere but at him.

"Give me--just a second, okay?" Chuck takes a breath, a little color returning to his face. "Vera was staying with Cas while he tried to talk her down from going after Dean. I mean, she had zero chance getting to Dean, much less killing him, but she was his student." He hesitates, looking at Dean thoughtfully, then seems to change his mind. "Five days later, Cas performed a public execution in full view of the camp on Luke and said it was for Croatoan, Dean didn't question it, and that was pretty much it."

There's no fucking way this Dean would have fallen for that, but the journal proved he did. "Who were they after, Vera or Cas?"

"Both of them," Chuck answers. "Everyone here was trained by Cas; accuracy wasn't gonna be an issue. Cas is good at watching his back, but with Vera--I think they thought he'd be distracted, and they were good; they only needed a second. Even if they didn't hit him the first time, they knew there was no way they'd miss her, and that'd give them their second chance to get him."

Dean nods tightly.

"Not faster than a bullet, and not faster than a lot of them," Chuck says quietly. "They knew they only had one shot at this and they were gonna make it count."

"Except they missed both of them," Dean answers slowly, feeling like he's almost got this, but not quite. "Either way--they failed, so what the hell did they think Cas would do after shots were fired?"

"They didn't think they'd fail."

Dean almost laughs in sheer disbelief. "You're fucking with me."

"They knew Cas was a Fallen angel and was their instructor in training. After that, they only knew him as the guy who got stoned and hosted orgies to entertain himself and Dean let get away with it, which yeah, pissed them off. They didn't trust him--again, angels, not a great reputation here--but it got weirdly personal when it came to Dean; they hated Cas for that. They'd been in the field for two months by this time, and I guess Cas didn't seem so scary compared to what they were killing every time they left Chitaqua's walls."

"And forgot who taught them how to do it." Chuck nods. "He played the junkie really well."

"Cas works well off a script," Chuck agrees. "They were stupid and started to believe it. Funny thing, though--they actually picked the worst possible time to try. Clean, sober, dealing with Vera, a class of students--"

"--and he knew they were coming," Dean finishes for him, looking at where Chuck's sitting right now: perfect. "Bet the windows were up, just to make it that much more tempting."

Chuck makes another face, which he assumes means he's right. "Then he executed Luke--"

"Only one of them."

"That's all he needed if he made it count," Chuck says. "Nothing changed, not really, Dean never knew a thing, and Cas didn't have to do it again."

"He knew they would come for Vera," Dean says numbly. "Because she wasn't the first unbeliever in Dean fucking Winchester who was supposed to die."

"We had a lot of accidents on patrol," Chuck confirms bleakly. "Bigger question; how many who we thought left actually survived long enough to do it before Vera's class got here? No one knows, but Cas--I think he may have had his suspicions, but after that night he was sure, and he made it his business to find out."

Sitting back, Dean shuts his eyes, thinking of the camp and its leaders--Jesus, its current leaders, the people he'd gotten from Dean's fucking journal, the ones that were trained to take these positions by their predecessors and who learned the risks but maybe never learned the reason. And the reason Cas didn't want to give them extra responsibilities, not then; why back before the fever, he said he could take those extra meetings with the Penn and Sheila and Evan and Chuck.

"That's why he waited a day to do it."

"Like I said, the timing couldn't have been worse," Chuck says. "You know his memory, Dean; he trained everyone who came in and knows everyone who left. They got his full attention that night, and he didn't waste time wondering why. He did the math on attrition and didn't like whatever number he got. Add in that night with Vera, and it was as good as a confession."

Like the math that bothered him when it came to those dead hunters before Dean founded Alpha. "Who was involved that night?"

"The team leaders, that much we know," Chuck answers. "Their teams weren't part of it, but how much they knew is anyone's guess."


"Vera thought so," Chuck confirms. "The rest of the camp….two I'm sure of, they died during the last mission before Kansas City, three I wondered about, the last one was killed when we went for the Colt. Three or four that left were maybes, but I wouldn't bet against them."

"Thirteen, maybe, that you think," Dean says through numb lips. "Any of them could have been in on it. That's why he did it like that, right in the middle of the camp. Why not everyone who took a shot at him that night? Why just Luke?"

"Luke was the ringleader, for one." Chuck licks his lips. "Three guesses on the second, and I'll give you the first two."

"He didn't want Dean to know." Fuck Dean goddamn Winchester. "Son of a bitch."

"Not like the survivors would open their mouths after that," Chuck says wryly. "Luke was all he needed. It wasn't just he'd kill them; it's that he could and Dean would accept whatever Cas told him without question. They got the message loud and clear."

And fuck yourself, Cas told him, with one bullet.

"And live the rest of his life in a camp where anyone could be gunning for him for that." Jesus, two years of that: no wonder Cas was high all the time. That kind of pressure, it was that or snap and go on a goddamn rampage.

Chuck looks surprised. "I think you can safely exclude one group from that."

"Vera's class." That goddamn not-coup on Chitaqua: they had practice working together getting shit done, starting with covering up Luke's death in plain sight. "Does anyone else know why Cas did it besides them?" The bleak look fade, replaced with something a lot like satisfaction. "Cas trusts you."

"Yeah, he does," Chuck answers easily. "Who do you think Cas came to first about his suspicions about the deaths?"


"Me," Chuck confirms. "I said no one knows what really happened that night, so they guessed. I made sure they got it right."

Dean stares at Chuck; the cool brown eyes stare back without apology or regret. "What did you tell them?"

"The last thing Cas told me after he asked me if it had happened before," Chuck answers calmly. "That it'd never happened again."

"You gonna tell Cas about this?" Chuck asks finally, lingering over his third cup of whiskey-laced coffee. Dean's still working on his first, not because he doesn't need it, but because he's gotta keep a clear head.

"He didn't want me to know." Chuck nods, not bothering to offer up an explanation, since it's pretty obvious. "He doesn't want me to be afraid of them, not if I'm gonna be leading them." He doesn't want to believe that Cas would think he might not believe him, but then again, he remembers how surprised Cas looked when Dean agreed with him about the attrition rate on hunters from families with that tradition.

"He wouldn't have risked you--Dean, Cas is paranoid. If he thought anyone was left who was actively a threat, he'd have killed them after I outed you." Chuck winces at Dean's expression. "No deaths, is what I'm saying. The team leaders were the ringleaders, and they died in Kansas City."

"It wasn't just the team leaders, though."

"No way to be sure, no, but I'll tell you this. After that? We had a several people up and leave Chitaqua, and they were on my list of possibilities."

"And if you're wrong?"

Chuck licks his lips before meeting his eyes. "Doesn't matter if I'm wrong. Dean, even if someone thought they'd get Cas and survive it now, everyone knows nothing and no one would save them from you."

He smiles at Chuck. "Good."

Chuck flinches, looking away. "Yeah." Sinking lower in the chair, he clutches the cup to his chest. "Dean, something else--"

"I think I hit my limit on trauma for the day," he interrupts. "Maybe tomorrow?"

"When you do talk to Cas--be careful, okay?" Startled, he looks at Chuck, who's staring into the depths of his cup like it just might confer a wish if he tries hard enough. "Cas doesn't--angel on earth, wearing a body but not human, you know the entire litany. It's true, he's not, and it shows."

"It's bullshit," Dean snaps automatically. "He's himself, and that's a lot more human than a lot of people I've met."

"Yeah, that's why I'm saying it shows," Chuck answers cryptically, taking another hearty drink and wiping his mouth. "Cas is a soldier, he's done worse before breakfast--or the equivalent in the Host--and it didn't stick. He kept it, too, and considering our line of work, it's a hell of an advantage. There's a reason Dean kept Cas in the field no matter what he did, and I'll be honest here, Cas wanted it just as much. Body counts don't worry him, even the ones that look human."

"Dean liked Cas's sociopathic tendencies," Dean answers, taking another drink because why not. "Thanks, Chuck."

"Humans are sociopaths," Chuck corrects him, rousing himself enough for a look of bleary-eyed disapproval. "Angels are angels. You of all people know better than that."

He does, is the thing. "Where are you going with this?"

"Killing doesn't bother Cas," Chuck answers. "But this? This did."

"Killing Luke?"

"No, of course not, that was justice, very Cas; his biggest regret is probably that he couldn't conduct a purge of Chitaqua that day and be done with it." Chuck sounds terrifyingly like he's trying to be reassuring, and much more unsettling, Dean does, in fact, feel reassured. "I can't explain, but this--the entire thing--it got to him. I'm not saying it was the reason for his descent into drug-fueled crazy, but it put some nitrous in the tank. Kicked him up a notch when he was teaching, and floored the accelerator when he was done."

"You don't know anything about engines, do you?" Chuck frowns vaguely before nodding agreement. "It bothered him, but you don't know why?"

"I know Cas maybe better than anyone, which isn't saying a lot, but still. When you talk to Cas--and I can't believe I'm saying this--be careful."

"Because this bothers him, yeah." Dean considers Chuck's a lightweight with whiskey, but drunken logic isn't necessarily wrong. "What do you think I'm gonna do?"

"Throw this entire conversation at him like you're deploying a missile for maximum personal impact," Chuck answers immediately, like it's obvious. "Because you're pissed he didn't tell you himself. How does that work for you, by the way? I can tell you how well it worked for your predecessor."

"I'm not gonna do that." Chuck's drunken skepticism is even more annoying, possibly because it's kind of justified. "I'm not." He does, actually, know how well that works, and he needs more time to think about this. "Tell me about the wards again."

Chuck slow-blinks his incomprehension of English.

"The wards," Dean repeats, setting the cup aside to avoid further temptation. "I need a less traumatic missile. What did you say about Lucifer and the wards?"

Cas stops dead halfway across the living room, and Dean can actually see the moment he registers that Dean's wearing boots. "You are unusually attired for an evening resting inside."

"Just keeping you on your toes," Dean answers, cocking his head. "So. Fresh air."

"Dean, that didn't work the first time, I was indulging you."

"Yeah, faking it works for me. Fresh air, exercise--"

"Exercise?" Cas repeats, as if he's never heard the word before.

"Barely exercise. More like rolling over. Except not in bed, and with my feet. Walking, Cas. I want to take a walk. A nice, slow, fresh air walk. Nothing wrong with that. I do one of those every day. Sometimes two. I missed it today, and it's a nice night so why not?"

"I could carry you," Cas concedes, looking like maybe he almost finds this conversation interesting. "I'm sure that I can procure a camera to immortalize this twice in a lifetime event. The other being when I bring you back."

So they're doing this the hard way. "Why'd you write your true name into the binding for the wards?"

Cas goes still, and hey, looks like he's interested after all. "That question isn't one anyone should know to ask. It also doesn't particularly matter. It was one of many equally effective options."

"Yeah, but you didn't choose one of them. You chose this one."

Cas studies him for several long moments. "Do you have any idea what you're asking? Or even why?"

"No," he admits. "No idea. You do, though. So. I want to take a walk, see the sights, and maybe you show me what exactly it is that makes this camp able to survive the Apocalypse even after your death. Since weirdly enough, I do know Grace won't hang around here after your death. Grace shouldn't hang around, period. Not unless you did something to make sure it would. You taught me that.

"Not in this world," Cas mutters, looking irritated. "Why does it matter? It doesn't have any bearing on--anything, really."

"Except the part where it protects us from the end of the world." Cas just looks back, stubborn. "Look, just show me, okay? Nice walk, get way from these four walls, learn something new…." Okay, he's going for broke. "When I touched them after I got here, I could feel--something, I don't know. What the hell are they, Cas?"

"You did." Cas's eyes unfocus. "That's--I'm not sure what that is, actually."

"Could Dean feel them?"

"No, he couldn't." Cas's eyes flicker toward the door. "A walk would be excellent exercise. I want to see this."

Thirty minutes later, Dean's touched the ward keys ten times and still has no idea what the hell's going on, much less what Cas is getting out of it. The eleventh time, it dawns on him that without some kind of intervention, this doesn't look like it's stopping anytime soon, and he wonders if the wards are getting as frustrated as he is, or if he's just crazy. God, he hopes he's crazy.

Dropping his hand, he crosses his arms, waiting for Cas to notice him, and then realizes how doomed to failure that plan is just on concept. "Okay, Cas? What the hell are we doing?"

"Hmm?" Cas blinks, reluctantly turning his attention to Dean. "If you're tired, you can sit down."

"Thanks," Dean says, hoping he doesn't sound as sincere as he feels as lowers himself onto the ground with a sigh. That talk with Chuck instead of taking a nap is hitting him hard, and Jesus, he's fucking sick of feeling like this. Be patient, he reminds himself bitterly. Like he has a goddamn choice. "Any time you're ready."

"Some humans can feel wards," Cas begins, which he can already tell means this conversation is gonna be weird. "It's not uncommon."

"I don't. I mean, I never did before. Not like this, anyway."

"Like what?" Abandoning the key, Cas sits down across from him in the scraggly grass, curious. "It's intrinsic to me, so I don't know how a human experiences them."

"Before I came here?" He thinks carefully. "A tingle when they came on, maybe, I didn't really pay attention. It was just--background, I guess."

Cas tilts his head. "When did you touch them?"

"A week and change after I got here. It was--different."


"It's not background. It was like--like I was supposed to notice."

Cas's eyes widen, never a good sign. "As if it wants you to notice it?"

"Maybe? Wait, I mean--it's not even alive." Cas's expression isn't reassuring. "It's not alive, Cas. It's--whatever it is."

"It's not alive," Cas agrees, then fucks it all up by adding, "However--"

Jesus Christ, this isn't happening.

"--life is a very general term and subject to interpretation. Plants are alive--"

"Plants don't act excited to see me!" He didn't just say that.

"Oh." Cas starts to smile. "Really?"

"Do I have another fever? Tell me something that makes sense." Dean glances from the wall to Cas a little desperately. "What are they? What the hell did you do?"

Cas's smile vanishes. "You're afraid of them."

"No," Dean lies automatically, because hell yeah, but whatever the fuck it is, Cas made it, and he won't be scared of that. "No, they're weird, that's all. Just, a warning would have been nice."

"I didn't realize it would be necessary." Cas reaches out, touching the wall gently, barely a brush of fingertips. If he wasn't this close, if Dean wasn't looking right at him, he never would have seen the way Cas relaxes, just a little. "They aren't alive," he says, voice soft. "I'm not sure, but--

"It's your Grace in there, right?" Cas head snaps around. "I could--it felt like you. The first time I touched it."

"You shouldn't have been able to sense that." Cas really isn't helping him stay calm about this. "I wasn't aware you had had any contact with them, or I would have been more prepared."

"To tell me you don't know why I can sense them?"

"To be reassuring despite the fact I don't know why you can sense them. I need more time if you want me to be convincing. It's nothing you should worry about," he adds quickly. "It's just a surprise, that's all."

Dean's gonna go with that, mostly because it's not like he's got a lot of choice here. "Why'd you choose your true name for the binding? Was it the contamination thing?"

Cas smiles again, and it's worth it--freaky wards and everything--to get Cas to look at him like that. "Yes. It's part of the reason I thought it would work with you. I'm not an angel anymore, nor do I have Grace, so my true name has very little practical power over me, but it's still my name, and its existence gives it power. In this case, I thought using it might be a way to link to my Grace once it was fully within the wards, since it once they were formed, it wouldn't be mine anymore."

"Contaminate it by binding it to your true name." Dean tries with more confidence than he feels, and is rewarded with another smile.

"That's what I hoped would be accomplished. My ability to manipulate it would be far more limited than when it was within me and still mine, but for what I wanted to do, it would be sufficient."

"And that worked?"

"I don't know," Cas answers slowly. "It wasn't necessary. My Grace still recognizes me. It's still mine, simply--inaccessible, because I shaped it to this purpose. It shouldn't do that, but then again, angels don't generally use the last of their Grace to create wards, so maybe that's perfectly normal and no one ever tried." He looks at Dean speculatively. "What else did Chuck tell you?"

Dean shrugs, non-committal. "That Lucifer's powering them."

Cas smiles slowly, malicious and satisfied all at once. It's a good look for him. "Yes. He does."

"Gabriel would have loved this," Dean tells him, grinning back helplessly. "I mean, he'd be pissed he didn't think of something like this first. Lucifer's powering the wards that protect this camp from him. That's--awesome."

"I had no idea it would even work." The smile widens at Dean's expression. "The wards are based on Bobby's design for the southern camps. It wasn't ideal--we didn't possess some of the necessary components, nor do I have his skill--but with some alterations, it was possible, even if they wouldn't have been as strong or as thorough as the other camps possessed. Before I Fell, I--stored, for lack of a better word--my remaining Grace within the framework of sigils for the wards, but didn't have time to do anything else before the Host summoned me. When I returned and had the leisure to check, it was still safely contained, which meant I had more options than I would have had otherwise.

"Once Bobby's sigils were in place and I was sure they would be stable, I planned to seal my remaining Grace within them and away from me permanently; I couldn't hold it anyway, so it wasn't a hardship. However, there wasn't very much, and I couldn't estimate when it would run out when it was both maintaining the framework of the wards as well as powering them. Then it occurred to me," he adds thoughtfully, "that it didn't actually matter whose Grace was within it. Once it was sealed inside and bound, it was lost to them, and the bindings I used were very, very powerful."

"So you needed more Grace." Cas's practicality comes out at the weirdest times. "Not a lot of that around."

"There was only one candidate," he agrees. "For my purposes, however, Lucifer was the best possible choice. Archangels are very powerful and their Grace is--not infinite, but for all intents and purposes, very close to it. However, the only ways to acquire an angel's Grace is to either kill them in ritual combat or engage in some extremely questionable and time-consuming rituals, which--" He makes a face. "It would be rather inadvisable to try, let's put it that way."

"So you didn't do that…what am I saying, of course you did." Dean sighs, leaning back on one arm. "Why not, right?"

"Obviously I couldn't kill him to get it, so I had to try something slightly less impossible," he answers reasonably. "Research confirmed that the available options were either ridiculous, beyond the capabilities of any but a god with an inexplicable desire to die in the most unusual and protracted manner possible, or in one case, an unorthodox second century proto-environmentalist who had no expectation of surviving very long but who wanted to bring fertility to the Sahara desert."


"If he'd been in Africa, it might have worked. However, as the Ukraine is considered the breadbasket of Europe, we could still consider it a success." Cas sighs wistfully. "Brilliant mind, terrible sense of direction."

"You're kidding." Dean leans forward, startled. "Wait, it worked? How?"

"His goal was specific and the means he used to achieve it followed. It required forcibly summoning an angel and then binding them on this plane. How powerful the binding depended on the strength of the individual who created it, but in this case, that didn't matter, because the point wasn't to hold an angel, but force them to expend Grace to break the binding. And generally, when summoned and taken prisoner, we don't stop to verify the exact amount of Grace required to break the binding."

"Then kill the guy who did it." Suicidal and practical: not a combination you see every day. "And that releases more Grace."

"I can state with certainty that this was a plan that was guaranteed to work without fail," Cas states. "However, while some of the Grace will eventually be absorbed by the earth, it's very slow and--for the purposes of this conversation only--can be said to drift and end up absorbed by anything. To do what this man wanted would require all of it be directed into the earth in a controlled manner--and how he discovered this, I can't imagine--which would cause not only an exponential increase in fertility, but the equivalent of a radical ecological shift in an area roughly the size of the Ukraine to support it." Looking into the middle distance, Cas shakes his head. "Even when the Grace had been entirely consumed, the ecological change assured that the fertility of that area would remain unusually high, barring natural disasters of non-divine origin, of course."

"Like when we found Anna's Grace, the way everything was growing there." Even sealed up, it didn't just affected that tree; an entire garden grew up around it. "So he needed it to go into the earth, or somewhere specific anyway. Which I'm guessing is the part you were interested in."

"How he did it was relatively simple. Four sigils that when combined and inscribed on a suitable conduit would attract Grace, which the conduit would then immediately conduct into the earth in a non-destructive form."

"Like lightning rods," Dean says with a grin and grinning even more when Cas narrows his eyes. "Grace-rods."

"Do you want to hear the rest of this?"

He nods, biting back another grin. "Right. You had your sigils for the wards and a conduit, right? So now all you needed was Grace. So?"

"This is where it became less simple," Cas admits. "Grace is necessary to maintain a vessel's physical form and protect it from harm as well as act as both buffer and filter for human biology and instinct, and consequently, it's in constant use. It not only saturates our vessel, but also--" he tilts his head. "Leaves traces behind. The amount is very small and almost immediately absorbed by Creation, but the more Grace we use, the larger the residuals and the longer it takes for it to be absorbed."

He thinks he sees where this is going. "And Lucifer leaves a lot of that when he's here."

"An archangel doing nothing but existing here would leave a large footprint, but as you know, they have no concept of moderation and a very liberal definition of 'doing nothing'." Dean grimaces sympathetically. "The problem was, the range of the sigils was extremely limited, and the conduit had to be close to the wards themselves. I could make the necessary alterations to extend the range, but whoever created it was likely not actively suicidal, merely extremely committed to dramatically improving grain collected per hectare. There had to be a reason that he and those after him chose to do it this way without alteration. If there had been a successful alteration, it would have been recorded."

"You got infinite knowledge of all time and space, but you think humans--humans--could do it better than you?" Belatedly, Deans' aware that sounds much worse than it did in his head, and he's gotta admit, it didn't sound great there, either. "Let me try that again."

"I'm not offended." Cas says expressionlessly, and Dean has an entire second to try to decide if he can blame this on a sudden fever that vanished inexplicably before he sees the corner of Cas' mouth uptick and remember that right, he's kind of a dick. "Also, I couldn’t actually test my changes, as I didn't have very much Grace and even less time. Is that a more satisfactory explanation?" He's still thinking about that when Cas's eyes flicker to the key sigils again. "So within those limitations, what I had to do was somehow get his Grace here, and it's not as if I could call Lucifer here, take his Grace, and banish him again.

"Then it occurred to me," he adds thoughtfully when Dean's still nodding along, "that actually, I could."

Dean freezes mid-nod. "What?"

"Call him here," Cas says calmly. "And then acquire his Grace." Getting to his feet, he extends a hand to Dean. "Come on. I'll show you how I did it."

Dean thought he saw every goddamn sigil in the camp by now; between his first weeks here and his current daily walk of the camp, he could probably find each one wearing a blindfold. As the cluster of cabins grow steadily more distant behind them, Dean tracks their progress in his memories of the complicated loops and curls that decorate the walls. He knows their shape like he drew them himself, what each means, and he even knows now what they do together, but that's just enough to appreciate that he's got no idea how the hell it works or how Bobby thought of it.

"How did Bobby think of this?" he asks, cursing under his breath as Cas catches his elbow almost before he realizes he's about to trip on the uneven ground. Cas's brutal war against overgrown foliage was thorough, and the rigid schedule assures that they now live in a militia camp with a well-maintained lawn (where there happens to be grass, anyway), but this far from the more populated parts of the camp, the ground hasn't had regular exposure to dozens of feet and two ton vehicles to crush it flat. Which reminds him. "Why were the boundaries set this far out anyway?"

"In answer to your second question, it was a matter of simplicity," Cas admits, face an indistinct pale oval when he glances at Dean. "When we found it, Chitaqua was abandoned, and claiming it in its entirety assured no one else could claim any part of it."

"The wards are based on ownership." At Cas's sidelong glance, he shrugs as casually as he can manage, hoping Cas's night vision won't pick up the smug grin. "You said something about it once."

"Do you need me here at all?" There's a smile in his voice. "Yes, and no. Bobby's original design was based on a claim of ownership to the land instead of delineating the territory with sigils. The advantages are obvious, of course."

So he's being tested, okay. "Sigils can be erased, but ownership can only be broken by either right of conquest or single combat--spoils of war."

"What if the original owner returns here?"

Dean snorts. "Nine tenths of the law is possession, right? For this, anyway. I guess that's where single combat comes in if the claim's disputed?" He wonders if this is how it feels to be Sam, busting out useless-at-first-glance-yet-freakishly-relevant-soon-after stupid magic facts at any given opportunity. Dean can't prove it, but he's really starting to wonder if there's a cause and effect between them learning something stupid and obscure and immediately having a job just stupid and obscure enough to need it. It happens a lot.

"Essentially, yes." Effortlessly, he directs Dean around a pile of rocks and dirt before coming to a stop. Dean tries to work out what makes this part of the wall different from the rest of it and fails. "As to your first question….I was both Bobby's reference source and his assistant, and I know what each sigil means, how they interlock, and why it works. I taught him the principles of two of the languages represented here, and explained dozens of ways that wards have been created and used throughout history." He tilts his head, examining the wall. "Despite that, I have no idea how he thought of doing this from what I told him."

He doesn't sound too unhappy about that; if anything, he seems fascinated, studying the shadowed walls as if he's still floored by its very existence. Then he abruptly steps away from Dean, dropping to a crouch beside the wall. Squinting, Dean squints down at him, aware of a vague sense of motion before a small circle of light illuminates a rock flush against the wall. Moving it away with one hand, he points the penlight at the revealed area and gestures at Dean. "Come here."

Crouching beside him, Dean studies complicated sigil that was hidden behind the rock, aware that Cas is watching him. He starts to reach out then hesitates, glancing at Cas warily, who nods reassurance. "You can touch it. It requires blood to be activated."

Feel more confident, he ghosts a finger over them, left to right; somehow, it's familiar, but body memory confirms he's never drawn it before. Sitting back on his heels, he stares at it for a second, then starts from the right, and gets it. "This isn't just one."


"You got banishing on top of--" He hasn't drawn this, but he's pretty sure he's seen it before, or something like it. "It's gotta be a summoning, but I've never seen it like this."

"You haven't," Cas confirms. "That Lucifer's true name in the context of a summoning."

For some reason--why, he has no idea--he kind of thought Cas meant like, symbolically or something. "Here? You're summoning Lucifer here?"

"I did tell you--"

"Inside the camp?"

"--that I was summoning Lucifer, how was that in any way unclear?"

"I didn't think you meant literally!"

"Why on earth would you think that?" He's gotta give him that one, because look who he's talking to. Dropping neatly onto the ground, Cas points the flashlight at it again, the easier for Dean to stare at it in sheer horrified curiosity. "I did tell you once that if you wished to summon Lucifer--"

"--you had a spell for that." Dean glares at him helplessly. "You're enjoying this."

"I developed a taste for suspense from exposure to prime time drama," Cas agrees. "Did you ever watch House?"

"I thought he couldn't get through the wards."

"When I first did this, the wards didn't yet have that kind of power, so it wouldn't have been a concern even if it was relevant, which it wasn't and still isn't. Technically, he's not being summoned through the wards, because he never actually arrives." Before Dean can work out what that means, Cas shakes his head. "It'll be easier to show you."

Dean watches as Cas puts the flashlight between his teeth, followed by a brief flash of metal, but it's not until Cas reaches out, blood almost obscenely bright against his fingers, that Dean gets it. Sliding his fingers across them, he sits back, and Dean watches in shock as the sigils glow faintly, barely visible in the light from the flashlight, before abruptly going out.

Taking the flashlight out of his mouth, Cas studies it critically. "He's still absent from this plane, it seems."

So that actually happened. "You're summoning him and banishing him at the same time. He can't manifest."

"More that I'm banishing him before I complete the summoning, but generally speaking, yes." Absently, Cas licks the remaining traces of blood from his fingers, and Dean almost loses the thread of the conversation. "Out of time, it wouldn't matter; a summoning and a banishing exist and occur independently of each other. On this plane, existence is subject to linear time, which forces events to occur in sequence. Not only that, linear time is subject to--"

"Cause and effect." He can see it now. "The banishment cancels out the summoning just after it starts, and since you're calling him in linear time, he's got to answer the same way." Except for one part. "Okay, how are you getting his Grace?"

Cas tilts his head, inscrutable except for that goddamn uptick of one corner of his mouth. "Do you know what actually happens when you banish an angel?"

Honest to God, he has no idea what he did to deserve this. "It banishes them from this plane."

"Yes, but the reason for that is that it banishes our Grace, and our true form goes with it, either with or without our vessels. It's actually more complicated than that, but if you accept that, this will make my explanation much shorter." Dean nods in relief at Cas's expectant look. "Summoning calls an angel, but in linear time, manifestation involves following a sequence of events, and technically speaking, their Grace arrives here first. That Grace is then captured by the sigils and conducted into the wards just before he's banished."

"And he never manifests at all." He's getting what Cas meant by going with simple. "How'd you find out about the summon/banish thing?"

Cas suddenly finds the wall really interesting. "You might say I took a more proactive approach and--"

"You'd never done it before." And they're back to crazy. Like he'd thought they'd be anywhere else. "It's never been done before, has it?"

"No." Cas gives him a flickering glance. "Even if there was some other circumstance someone would want to do something like this--I haven't thought of one yet, and I've tried--time is foreign to us except as it affects those subject to it. Angels don't think in terms of--"

"They don't," Dean interrupts, watching Cas's profile. "You do."

"Living on this plane helps," he admits reluctantly. "It seemed so ridiculously obvious that it never occurred to me that it wouldn't work. It wasn't until after it did that I wondered how I'd thought of it at all."

Following Cas's gaze to the wall, Dean realizes there's something missing. "So where're the sigils?"

"Yes, about that." Cas's pause this time doesn't seem to be for the purposes of dramatic timing. "I mentioned the problem with range. The sigils summon Grace, but to do anything with it, they need a conduit for the Grace to take it where it is supposed to go."

"Yeah, that sounds kinda familiar," he agrees in resignation. "Though it's been like, five minutes, so thanks for catching me up. Where's the conduit, Cas?"

"I may have been mistaken about their creator not being actively suicidal." Cas picks up his knife, reopening the cut on his finger, then switches the flashlight off. Following the motion, Dean watches as the sigils begin to glow, brighter without the light pollution of the flashlight, but it's Cas's hand that gets his attention, the pale glow trailing up each finger in a thin, blue-white line, crossing over the knuckles and filling in four shapes on the back of his hand before joining together in a square that flashes weakly before vanishing.

When Cas turns the flashlight back on, Dean thinks now he's got all of it. "You're the conduit."

Flexing his hand, Cas settles it on his knee. "The human body is of Creation--it can be a conduit, but it can't survive exposure to Grace, especially the amount that would be released by a disgruntled angel. Even this body. However--"

"Your true form can." Dean licks his lips, eyes drawn back to Cas's hand. "How'd you get those on there?"

Cas grimaces. "Essentially, a glorified branding iron heated in a fire fueled by holy oil. I know that sounds--"

"Holy shit." Dean's running a thumb over the skin of Cas's hand before he realizes what he's doing and takes a second to give zero fucks about it, finding the narrow lines by memory and tracing them down to the invisible sigils. His memories of the rack can only be described in the context of pain in a human body, but it's a lie to even try; it's different, and he doesn't need to ask exactly what it meant to get that burned into Cas's true form. He's not sure if it's him or Cas responsible for the faint tremble of their hands, and only with an effort can he make himself let go. Looking up, he swallows, not even needing to make it a question. "You did it yourself."


Cas flexes his hand, and Dean wonders how the fuck he could have gotten through it, drawing each sigil with careful precision, tracing the long line of each channel on his skin and calmly burning each one through thin flesh and fragile bone and into his own goddamn true form without flinching. Or if he'd nailed his hand down to be sure he wouldn't, maybe to his own goddamn floor or onto fucking rock to make sure he wouldn't accidentally move. Of course he did it alone, of course he did; he'd never ask anyone to help him and have see that, not if he had any other choice.

"My true form channeled Grace from Heaven since the moment I was brought into existence, and the genetic line of this body was designed to contain it without harm, but there are limits." The pause this time is longer, and Dean's hands clench into fists in his lap as he waits to hear the rest of it. "My connection to Heaven was burned out of me by the Host, as well as the ability to contain Grace, but they couldn't change what's intrinsic to me without killing me, any more than your body could be stripped of its ability to exist on this plane without killing you. They could take away my ability to ever hold Grace again, but they couldn't take away my ability to channel and use it."

He doesn't have anything like context to imagine what that must be like for Cas or even what it means, but he thinks he understands now why Cas says he's not an angel. If the Host came back tomorrow, all apologies for being wrong (Dean snorts in his head at the thought), he couldn't go back, not when he can't get Grace from Heaven, can't even hold it, and without it, his body's the only thing he's got to hold his true form. He isn't just locked up inside it and can't get out; even if it was possible to leave, he can't, because without Grace, it's the only place his true form can exist.

Making an executive decision, Dean breaks the silence with the first thing that he can think to say. "Who else did you tell about how the wards work?" He's pretty sure already he knows the answer.

"Counting you?" Cas makes a production of thinking about it, and like that, whatever that was before's gone. "You. Somehow, I didn't think that anyone would be comfortable summoning and banishing Lucifer from our very walls."

"Yeah, might not have gone over well." He considers the wall, mostly to stop himself from asking why Cas told him. "So all of it comes from summoning Lucifer's for grace-napping? I mean, he has to be on this plane to get his Grace?"

"He has to be on this plane for me to summon him, yes, which is a limitation. To get Grace? Interestingly, not anymore." Cas makes a face, like this is the part that's supposed to be confusing. "Everything he does on this plane leaves residue, but wherever it happens to be, it seems to be--attracted here proportional to the amount of Grace. I'm not sure why exactly, perhaps it's lonely and wants companionship on this plane."

"Right." He's pretty sure that sounded normal. He's crazy, after all.

"I'm joking," Cas says seriously. "It may simply be bored, I don't know. At this point, summoning Lucifer is largely for my own entertainment." He tilts his head to regard the sigils with malicious satisfaction. "He must have guessed by now that I'm doing something other than merely amusing myself, but how I'm doing it--much less why--still seems to elude him."

"How can you be sure?"

"If he knew, he might be able to stop answering the summons." Dean blinks, trying to convey what-the-fuck by expression alone. "Angels don't generally subscribe to the concept of free will, and Lucifer is still an angel. An angel doesn't decide to answer a summons; they simply do it, unless they have reason not to, especially when that summoning is by another Brother." The blue eyes narrow thoughtfully. "I'm not even sure that if he knew, he would be able to stop: at least, not easily. Neither intent or action cause him harm, and while what I'm doing is for the purpose of keeping him out of the camp, he's only harmed if he tries to enter it. There's no way for him--for anyone--to tell that Grace is what protects the camp. Except me. And apparently, you."

He watches Cas's smile widen incrementally as he gazes at those sigils. "That's why you still summon him."

"Using him to strengthen the wards that keep him out really never stops being funny, no."

"Not just that." Startled, Cas meets his eyes, and Dean stops breathing, stops caring if he ever does again. It's not that he ever forgets what Cas is, or that he even wants to, but the memory's like thinking a lit match is like staring at the sun, like a drop of water to an infinite ocean. It's over almost as soon as it starts, and he hears himself finish exhaling, words chasing themselves off his tongue like they'd been there all along. "To remind him. That he may reign in Hell and might one day rule on earth, that he's so powerful even the Host ran away and he could end existence by accident--but he's still just an angel like any other. When he wants a vessel, he has to ask, and when he's surrounded by holy fire, he can't get out, and when he's summoned, he's still gotta obey. And when he's banished, he's gone."

And fuck yourself, Cas doesn't need to say every time.

Cas looks at him for a long moment, then picks up his knife. "Give me your hand."

Dean doesn't hesitate, knuckles brushing against a callused palm as Cas takes his hand, placing the tip of the knife against his index finger, watching the skin part in a line of blood before he even feels the sting.

"You know my true name because I gave it to you freely. Now write it."

Turning to the wall, Dean scans it briefly before sketching the sigil on the cool stone and stepping back, watching blankly as a thin edge of gold, like the sun breaking through an overcast sky, begins to trace the edges of each sinuous curve, blood vanishing beneath it until Cas's true name looks like it was written in pure light.

"That," Cas says, in a voice Dean's never heard him use before, "is new."

It doesn't stop there, though; thin fingers of shimmering light arrow across the wall toward the key sigils, joining with a flare of brightness like a captive star is hidden somewhere behind the pitted stone before racing across the walls, threads of gold that turn each sigil of the wards into a miniature sun spilling sunlight like liquid gold. Turning, Dean follows their progress around the perimeter of the camp as each sigil bursts into light, mouth dry as it rushes back toward them, the last sigil lighting up and the tendril of gold meets the ward keys, completing the circle with a sense of something locking into place before arrowing back to Cas's true name that was written in Dean's own blood.

Stunned, Dean looks down at the worn green t-shirt he'd put on this morning, running pale, bony fingers over fabric whose color wasn't this vibrant in the weak grey light of morning, fingertips brushing the faded blue denim of his jeans, fresh brown dirt ground into the knees, the toes of scuffed black boots peeking out from beneath the frayed-white hem. Around them, grey-brown rocks are scattered between clumps of scraggly, vividly yellow-green grass that dot the rich brown-black earth. Blinking, he turns around; the darkness is pushed effortlessly beyond walls, the camp illuminated in a bowl of light that doesn't need the long absent sun to be bright.

Dean feels the brush of Cas's shoulder against his and manages to clear his throat enough to ask, "Uh, can everyone…."

"I don't think so," he answers slowly. "No one is screaming yet. I think we can safely assume we're the only ones who can see this."

Before he can form a response to that, the light intensifies, swallowing shapes into outlines that melt away until the world's nothing but light, dazzling gold lightening to shimmering white and ribboning into more colors than he thinks he should be able to see. His only point of reference for the real world the solid warmth of Cas's shoulder, his own fingers closing around the familiar shape of Cas's wrist, for some reason, standing in light incarnate.

Don't be afraid.

"I'm not," Dean breathes, feeling the smile spreading across his face as warmth sinks into his bones. He's not afraid at all.

He's not sure how long it lasts, or if it lasts any time at all, but abruptly, it's over. The chill, clammy night closes back around him, the cabins vague, dark shapes in the distance, his night vision unaffected, without even a retinal burn to remind him. Licking his lips, he tries and fails to think of what the hell you're supposed to say after seeing something like that.

"It's less confused now by you," Cas says suddenly, voice unnaturally loud after the shocked silence. "You and Dean were--it could tell something was different. The introduction seems to have explained matters as they stand."

Making an effort, Dean responds, because Cas is his friend and friends do shit like that for each other. "Oh." Then. "Wait. We have the same blood. How would it know--"

"You weren't afraid of them. They like that." A little wistfully, Dean thinks of a time--ten, maybe fifteen minutes ago--where hearing that would be kind of weirdd. "Apparently, it was a refreshing change--" Cas stops short. "Not that they're alive, of course."

"Yeah." Dean's had very enthusiastic sex with people who weren't this alive. Thinking about the first time he came to this world, the wards he didn't even know existed let him through, easy. "So it's not just blood."

Cas is silent, but he's getting the feeling that it's because he's not sure how to answer that. "No," he answers finally. "It knew the difference."

"And the glowing thing…." He has no idea what comes next.

"When I said they could outlast the Apocalypse," Cas interrupts him, sounding surprised, and turning around, Dean stares at the utterly mundane walls, scarred surface, and fights the urge to touch them, search for the invisible lines of light, "that was a severe misjudgment on my part."

Dean just had something not unlike a spiritual experience that involved these wards and a lot of light; if that's not kind of powerful, he's gotta know what the hell Cas is using as his standard. "They're not that strong--"

"They're very strong." Cas tilts his head, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. "I think these could outlast the dissolution of reality itself. Lucifer's temper tantrum, it seems, has effected an upgrade."

He's never taking a walk again. Fresh air can fuck itself if this is the kind of shit breathing it leads to. "So that's why they glowed?"

"Oh, no, they had nothing to do with that. I just noticed, that's all." Stretching absently, he finally turns his attention to Dean.. "I have no idea why they did that. You were the one that touched them," he adds, blue eyes wide and brightly curious. "Dean, how did you make my wards glow?"

"You're such a dick," Dean grinds out as Cas helps him up the porch stairs, hideously aware every time the shoulders under his arm begin to shake. "Don't talk to me."


"You know what? Fuck you."

Reaching out with his free arm, Dean shoves the beads out of their way, hating the way the cheerful wooden tinkling mocks his justifiable rage and promises himself that tomorrow, he's got an appointment with them and the first object he grabs out of Cas's fucking arsenal with an edge.


Feeling Cas's shoulders spasm, Dean thinks longing about exactly where he's gonna put all those goddamn beads when he's done. "What did I just say?"

"I apologize," Cas says without making any kind of effort to pretend he's not having a fucking blast, which yeah, that's an improvement from laughing so hard he fell backwards over a fucking rock--wait, it's not. "I didn't mean--"

"You so did." Fueled by justifiable (and possibly homicidal) rage, Dean jerks them forward, viciously satisfied at the sound of Cas's shoulder slamming into the bedroom door, and jerks away to hobble two steps before making a lunge for the safety of the bed. Panting triumphantly into the shittiest mattress ever invented, he breathes the heady scent of bleach and doesn't even give a shit that tonight, he's sleeping in his boots because now that he's prone, he's not actually sure he can move again. It's been a long fucking day.

"I'm sorry," Cas says with absolutely no awareness how much Dean wants to kill him, dropping down beside him with a tired squeak of springs, like it just can't even bothered to make the usual chalkboard-grating squeal of protest it inflicts on Dean when he makes the mistake of breathing too hard when he sleeps. "I honestly didn't think it wouldn't occur to you that you being the only hope stopping the Apocalypse and that being--well, Grace, specifically my Grace as well as Lucifer's--there wouldn't have been some kind of recognition."

Turning his head, Dean grimaces at the taste of bleach before fixing Cas with a glare that with any kind of luck will kill him.

"It was saying 'hi', that's what you're telling me." Cas nods agreement, like it's the most obvious thing in the entire goddamn world. "You're telling me that all that--" he flops a hand in what fails to be a significant gesture and lets it drop to the mattress with a sad bounce. "The glow, the--the entire fucking camp lit up like night's the new noon and fuck having an actual goddamn sun--that was it saying hi?"

"I told you that it was confused--"


"It was rather dramatic," Cas concedes before rolling onto his side and tucking am arm neatly under his head, looking at him from a distance measurable in inches. Vaguely, Dean wonders when personal space was something he forgot about. "More a glory unto thee, chosen son of man, hope of humanity that will light the world for a thousand years." Cas's eyes flicker away before Dean can get any more than an impression of something as bright as the wards were tonight. "And something something something, thou art blessed, but more or less, yes, it was saying hi. You're going to save the world, which makes you very popular among certain segments of the universe that don't want to die hideously or cease existing entirely. I can see why that would surprise you, by which I mean, I can't."

It takes Dean a couple of tries to answer that, tongue fighting him for every goddamn word as the corners of his mouth curve upward no matter how hard he tries to stop them. "Something is seriously wrong with you, you know that?"

"If you could have seen your face--" Cas stops himself with a physical effort before continuing. "I'm sorry. It likes you." His shrug tries to be way more casual than it really is. "You weren't afraid of it."

"I'm not." Weird, confusing, unexpected, crazy, sure, maybe a little fucked up or okay, a lot, yeah, but he can't be scared of anything that bright; he wouldn't even know where to start. He thinks of the scarred, pitted stone and splintered wood of the walls, and wonders how the hell he could have ever thought that's all there was to see.

"I do understand, however," Cas says, sounding amused. "The first time I manifested for your ancestors--actually, literally yours, strangely enough--they prostrated themselves before me and sobbed hysterically for hours. In the rain."

He imagines Cas's expression--whatever the vessel, he's pretty sure that look belongs to Cas and Cas alone--completely unruffled and as calm as a corpse at his own autopsy just barely covering an angelic freak-out of Biblical proportions. "You didn't make a run for it?"

"If I'd been capable of thinking of that, I would have." Cas looks into the distance with a pensive expression. "Hours, Dean. In linear time. In the rain. It was horrific. There was mud. I almost missed the lack of accusations of fornication with their sheep; at least that would have broken the monotony."

Burying his face in the mattress, Dean laughs so hard he can't breathe; faintly, over the sound of his own hiccuping gasps, he can hear Cas doing the same thing and that just makes him laugh harder.

It's the Stars That Lie, 8/12
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