"You should come to the barbeque."

Dean dragged his mind out of the book of spells written in Middle French that he'd left at home. He was translating it himself because Cas was bogged down in a Sanskrit parchment, and it was a real bitch of a job when his only French consisted of 'voulez-vous couchez avec moi.'

"Dean!"

"Sorry, what?" he said, because Sid had obviously been speaking to him.

"I said, 'you should come to the barbeque'." Sid smiled. "All of you."

"All of me?" Dean asked

This time Sid laughed out loud. "Yeah, man," he laughed. "Your whole family unit. Ben, too. There'll be plenty of kids his age running around. Nancy's side of the family breeds like rabbits."

Dean held up his hand. "Wait. Your wife's name is Nancy?" A nod. "Sid and Nancy?" Dean asked again and got a chuckled confirmation. "How did I not know this?"

"My real name's Steve," the guy said with another smile. "I was the new kid in high school. Nancy was a bit of a rebel, but still, small town. Everyone knew her. So when we hooked up, it didn't take long for the other kids to start calling me 'Sid' to her Nancy."

"And it stuck."

"It sure did. But then, so did she so I've never regretted it."

Dean stared at the guy: regular looking, nice, normal; been with the same girl since high school, so ten years, maybe more; lived in Indiana all their lives, or maybe that was just Nancy. Had they got married and bought a house right after graduating? Probably. Probably still lived there, too.

It was like being surrounded by aliens.

"So are you going to come to the barbeque? Celebrate the summer solstice, or near enough."

"Isn't that a little pagan?" Dean had to ask.

"Any excuse to 'fire up the barbie', he said with an atrociously bad Australian accent. "It's a brand new one, too. Flamemaster 2000. 1200 BTUs, with a flush-mounted side burner and a rotisserie. We'll be throwing a whole chicken on that to try it out. And there'll be steaks, of course, and some of Nancy's grilled vegetables. Which even I think are okay. Nancy makes this sauce…"

Sid's hands were waving as he tried to describe how awesome it was. His enthusiasm was… Dean could remember feeling that way about food. It seemed like a long time ago.

"Nancy's sister is bringing her potato salad—totally to die for," he assured Dean. "José is bringing enchiladas. They're made with goat, but don't let that put you off. Little bites of heaven." Sid kissed his fingers.

It didn't look like Sid was going to shut up about it until Dean agreed. And he would agree, because this was part of what Sam had wanted for him.

"Okay, alright," he said with a small smile—the best he could do with the memory fresh in his head. "I'll talk to the others, and let you know tomorrow. Okay?"

Sid's answering smile was a lot less forced. "Okay. You won't regret it."

Yes, he would, he thought cynically. Some way, somehow, he probably would regret it, but Dean just smiled and let Sid ramble on.

'Is this apple pie enough for ya, little brother?'

.o0o.

"So we've been invited to a barbeque on Saturday," Dean announced at dinner.

"All of us?" Lisa asked.

"I thought a barbeque was a device for cooking food outdoors?"

Ben didn't say anything.

"Yes, all of us. Ben included," Dean answered Lisa. Ben scrunched his nose but kept eating.

"A barbeque is also when people get together to enjoy the food that's cooked on one of those devices," Lisa explained to Castiel. "Who invited us?"

"This guy, Sid—Steve, actually," Dean said. "From work. And his wife Nancy, I suppose."

"Oh yeah, I know them," Lisa said. "Nancy is Paul's cousin, second cousin. Something like that. We went to school together."

"He seems to think that we're all, you know," Dean waved his fork in a circle. "Together. In a relationship."

"Are we not?" Castiel asked with a small frown. "This house is too small to live separate lives, plus we have int–"

Lisa cut him off. "It's nobody's business what we do in our house, and speculation like that is both rude and hurtful."

Ben fumbled his fork and brought their attention to him. His face was down, and he'd hunched his shoulders as if he were trying to hide.

"Ben?" Lisa asked. "What is it?"

"Nuthin'."

Nothing? Dean didn't think so. "The stories that're going around at work; are they going around school, too?"

One shoulder lifted and fell. "Maybe."

That meant definitely. "How bad is it?" Did he need to go in there—or rather, did Lisa need to go in there and talk to the staff. Because of course Dean didn't have any standing at the school.

"Just a couple kids being stupid."

"Trash talking you, or your mom?" Dean asked.

"That makes a difference?" Castiel asked.

"No, it doesn't," Lisa answered firmly the same time Dean said, "Yeah, it does."

Lisa glared at him. He met her stare. Not challenging, but not backing down either.

Finally she huffed. "It shouldn't make a difference, but Ben's more likely to take a swing at them if they're insulting me."

"'Honor thy father and thy mother'," Castiel commented. He was the only one still eating. "It does not generally include fisticuffs."

"It shouldn't include it now," Lisa pointed out. "Ben is not allowed to use violence except to defend himself–"

"Or others."

She nodded, allowed Dean's amendment. "–when in immediate danger. Bullies and name-callers, aren't usually immediate dangers." Dean was going to comment on that but Lisa raised her finger. "Just hush," she said.

"Hush?" He couldn't help smiling.

She gave an exaggerated sniff and turned deliberately to Ben. "Tell me everything: what was said, who said it, how you responded—everything."

She was using her 'mom' voice, and even Dean knew better than to disobey. Cas never recognized it, but Lisa didn't use it on him, so it didn't matter. What mattered was that Ben recognized it, so Ben told her everything.

It had started with a couple girls in his class talking, supposedly to each other, but making sure to talk loud enough for everyone around them—especially Ben—to hear. The girls gossiped, repeating stuff they'd heard, and speculating on the rest. That led to a couple of the older guys making comments about Lisa's looks, and her so-called morals—"so called" because she taught yoga and everybody knew "new age chicks were easy".

"I did what you told me," Ben defended himself. "I played it down: I agreed with them then I asked what their point was; trying to put it all back on them, you know? But they just got nasty and really crude." Ben's face turned red and Dean could imagine the kind of comments a couple ignorant boys would make.

"But then Ian came up, Ian Kane the quarterback, and he heard what they were saying. He laughed and said that any hetero guy with a heartbeat would want to 'tap that'—meaning you—but he said it in a nice way as if it would be, like, a treat," Ben added as it that helped. "And then he called them virgin nerds and everybody started laughing at them instead, so they took off."

Dean tried to keep his shoulders still and his laughter silent, but it was really, really hard.

"They haven't bothered me since." Ben continued. "But Brooklyn and Lindsey and a couple of the others are saying how you're a sinner and you'll be going to hell." His voice rose and his breathing sped up in distress. "They think it's kind of a joke but it's not! I know what Dean looks like after he's been thinking about it, and Hell's not something to joke about, is it?"

That stopped Dean's silent laughter.

Ben's eyes were huge when they looked at his mother. "I don't want you to go to Hell, Mom. You won't, right?"

Lisa shifted her chair so that it was next to her son's and she hugged him close and made those soothing noises that parents everywhere used to calm down children in distress.

Dean tried not to feel envious of Lisa's son, but all of a sudden he could feel Hell's fire licking over his skin. Ever since that dick in Arkansas the memories had been closer to the surface.

He didn't want that image in his head—of Lisa in Hell, on a rack, because of him.

"Of course I'm not going to Hell," Lisa said confidently. "One, I don't believe in it; and two, like you said, I'm not doing anything to deserve it."

"They said their pastor said that you were. I mean, he didn't mention you by name or anything, but they knew who he was talking about."

Lisa glanced at Castiel, who was still calmly eating his very small bites. "You know, we have an expert on that stuff living with us."

Ben looked over at Castiel, too, and the former angel finally stopped chewing.

"Yes?" he said.

"Are those kids right?" Lisa asked. "Will I go to Hell for sharing a bed with you and Dean?"

"From what I remember, Father was utterly indifferent to most sexual practices." He paused ruminatively. "Though He didn't approve of intercourse with animals."

"But isn't it in the Bible?" Ben asked.

"There are many variations of conjugal structures in the Bible, depending on who wrote the passage and what the circumstances were." Castiel looked at Ben. "What did I tell you about the historical texts?"

"That they were written by people who… Who had their own ideas that… that added bias to what they wrote down?"

Castiel nodded. "Exactly."

"So, Mom's not going to Hell? Even though you guys are all having sex now?"

Dean and Lisa froze.

Cas casually speared his next bit of food. "I think it highly unlikely."

"Okay, well. That's, um, good to know… I guess." Lisa stammered in embarrassment. "Thank you for that, Castiel."

"You're welcome," the former angel replied solemnly.

Lisa cleared her throat and picked up her fork. "When and where for the barbeque, and does Sid want us to bring anything?" she asked brightly, and the topic of Hell slid away.

"Uh, Saturday at his house, I guess," Dean responded and received an exasperated huff in response. "I'll ask him tomorrow," he assured her. "We're all going?"

"Of course," Castiel answered. "It would impolite not to attend."

Dean sat back in his chair and tried to ignore the tightening in his stomach. It looked like they were going to a party.

.o0o.

"There is something I would ask of you."

"You are… doing laundry." Rachel's voice barely shifted, but Castiel heard it.

"You recognize it?" He folded Ben's jeans to cover his surprise, even as he looked at his Sister and maybe-friend.

"Yes." She frowned lightly, looking around the basement laundry area. "The smell… It is memorable." She stood erect and tidy in her plain, dark suit.

"Laundry detergent and dryer sheets," he replied. "Very pungent."

"Indeed." Her brow cleared and she turned back to face him. Castiel wondered once again who her vessel had been. What had the woman hoped to gain by saying yes?

"I doubt you asked me here to discuss clothing maintenance."

"No, I did not." He put the speculation out of his mind, because this was it. If he opened his mouth he would reveal a vulnerability. If Rachel was untrustworthy, or if she later turned on him, it would endanger not only him, but at least two innocent lives.

He leaned over the laundry table and gripped the corners. There was no point to his worry, he reassured himself. Since Dean had proven less proficient at searching for information than his brother, this was his best option.

With a deep breath, he pushed away from the table. He turned to face his former-companion, needing to read the smallest of changes in her expression.

"I have a request to make of you," he said.

Rachel somehow stood even straighter. "Of course. You need only ask."

"It is a personal request," he said. "Unrelated to the Garrison or the situation with the archangels."

"Anything, Castiel."

She wasn't lying.

"I would like to know the whereabouts of Amelia and Claire Novak."

Rachel frowned, a small expression that she quickly cleared. "Amelia and Claire Novak," she repeated.

"They are, or perhaps were, my vessel's immediate family. For obvious reasons, I did not keep in contact with them."

"The woman was possessed by a demon," Rachel clarified.

"Yes. They were to be hostages to ensure my cooperation." Castiel took another breath. "Can you confirm that they are, indeed, still alive?"

Pause. Rachel's gaze became unfocused and blank. "They live. Did you wish us to bring them to you?" she asked earnestly.

"No," Castiel instructed hastily. "That won't be necessary. However, an address would be most helpful."

She gave a small bow which was just a bend of the neck. "I will see to it."

"Thank you," he said sincerely.

Her loyalty, and that of the other angels, was a source of never-ending wonder. When he'd had his Grace, they had not trusted him so much. Then, he'd been one of many: named, but unimportant in the vast assemblage of angels. Now, when he was the least powerful he'd ever been, he had the most power he'd ever experienced.

Was it ironic, or merely sad?

.o0o.

Saturday arrived with greater rapidity than was logically possible. After all, seconds ticked over at the same preset rate, minutes went by, hours changed, and days passed all in their measured cadences. But Saturday still arrived too soon.

He was going to be among people.

Normal humans, with normal lives, and normal hopes and dreams.

He'd grown accustomed to meeting people at the grocery store, and he thought they'd grown accustomed to him. However, it had been a slow process started nearly a month ago when he'd taken over the household management. Dean and Lisa had applied for a credit card—a legitimate credit card—that Castiel used to purchase groceries. It was paid out of an account Lisa had made them open once Dean was working steadily.

He'd signed the papers as Castiel Novych, a young man with Russian ancestry.

And yes, Bobby had chosen the name for its resemblance to Novak.

The scenery passed; a seemingly random mixture of housing and countryside.

Dean cleared his throat. "Cas? I, um. I know you're relying on me to find Jimmy's family, but, I dunno, man. She's really covered her tracks. So, I'm kinda wondering if I could maybe get Bobby involved, or one of his contacts," Dean continued. "Somebody with a few more resources."

He'd forgotten to inform them that he'd asked Rachel to find Jimmy's family.

"I have asked Rachel to locate Claire and Amelia."

"What!" Dean says angrily. "Why'd you do that?"

"Because her resources are greater than ours, and time sets fewer limitations on an angel."

"What does that mean?" Ben asked.

Castiel turned to look at his young friend. "When not in their vessels, angels exist outside of most means of human measurement."

"That's really cool and all," Dean interrupted, "but I thought we'd agreed to keep the angels attention away from Jimmy's family."

"I made it a personal favor from Rachel," Castiel answered, keeping his voice calm even though Dean was treating him as a small child. "I believe she is trustworthy."

"Oh, sure. None of the other angels will decide to follow her, or take the Novaks hostage?" Dean said snidely. "I mean, you've been teaching them to think for themselves and everything."

"Teaching freedom of thought to angels is a bit like explaining poetry to fish," Castiel replied dryly. It made Lisa snort. Dean started to argue but Castiel kept talking. "They're soldiers, Dean. They weren't built for freedom, and so I believe that Rachel will adhere to the conditions of my request, which include not putting Claire or her mother in danger—from anything."

Dean opened his mouth, probably to lecture him further, but Lisa placed a hand on his arm. "Why hasn't she already found them?" she asked. "It can't be that difficult for her, right?"

"I told her that it wasn't of any great import, "Castiel explained. "She has many other functions–" she was coordinating the opposition to the Michael and Raphael in Heaven, for one. "But she will investigate eventually."

"So much for angels' time being infinite," Ben muttered.

Castiel looked down at Ben. It was a remarkably apt comment. If Claire and Amelia were still alive and themselves, then surely it shouldn't have taken Rachel two days to locate them, even given Heaven's upheaval.

Perhaps the angels had found them, and decided they had a use for them.

Although not rare, vessels didn't fall out of the sky like rain. A proven vessel, such as Claire, would be even more desirable. And it wouldn't matter that she was still a child. It hadn't mattered to Castiel.

It would explain why Dean had had no luck in locating them, and why Rachel had not returned with any news.

Castiel's heart started to race and he felt a cold sweat break out over his body. He easily recognized the sensation as an extreme fear response. He initiated one of Lisa's body management techniques to rebalance his chemical levels. He was getting much better at it; it was only a couple seconds between response and control.

"You think they might have had something to do with Jimmy's family dropping off the face of the planet?" Dean asked. Dean knew him too well.

"It is a possibility I hadn't considered," Castiel admitted once he had settled his pulse.

"I'm sure they're fine," Lisa said soothingly but which somehow failed to soothe. "Rachel wouldn't keep that from you."

Castiel smiled at her, grateful for her concern, even as he tried not to think of all the ways he may have endangered Jimmy's family. He looked out the window at the passing scenery.

There wasn't enough distance between their house in Noblesville and the Sid's home in Carmel, so they arrived well before Castiel was ready to face anyone.

.o0o.

She could do this. She could.

It was no different from one of those awful fund-raising sessions the college put on.

Not that they were called that. 'Appreciation Dinners' is what they were labeled, but what the dean wanted was money: money for improvements, money for scholarships, money to lobby for an upgrade to a degree-granting institution, which would allow them to charge more tuition so they could upgrade, expand, etc., etc.

She thought of the report she'd assembled—with the meticulous charts and statistical analyses that Bobby had helped her set up—to prove that the college's physical therapy program was fine just the way it was. Castiel had double-checked her figures, and both Dean and Ben had said it looked impressive. It had impressed her two co-instructors into helping, and another five from other departments were now going to do the same thing. Plus, there were a couple more she'd talked to who might, with prodding, put something together. Hopefully, it would be enough to derail President Fuller's proposal.

They passed a two-story house with a balloon-decorated fence, and a sign that said "BBQ in BACK". Trucks took up all the space on the curb, so Dean had to go around the corner to find a parking spot. The engine grumbled as it shut down, but nobody opened their door.

She looked at him. "Are you ready for this?"

Dean grunted. "Are you?"

"I'm not," Ben piped up from the back. "I'd like to go home."

"We're not going home," Lisa said. "We're going to get out of this car as a family, and we're going to face those people in there as a family." Dean gave her a strange look but didn't argue, so Lisa took it as agreement.

When she stepped out of the car, Ben was looking at her hopefully, which confused her. Castiel was wearing his 'slightly confused but dealing with it' look that was his default expression in most situations. Dean just looked determined as he opened the trunk and let Castiel pull the salad out of the cooler.

They huddled together for a brief moment before she led the way past a back to the house with the balloons. At that point, she let Dean take the lead because he was the one who'd been invited. They were just tag-alongs.

They followed the path around the corner, two-story house on one side, and a high "good-neighbors" fence on the other. There was no sun, but bushes grew up and over the path. It was a dark and claustrophobic, and Lisa couldn't breathe.

She couldn't do this.

"There are a fair number of humans in the back area," Castiel said calmly. "But there are not any zombies, vampires, werewolves, or ghouls. In other words, there is nothing that will try to eat us."

"What about witches? If there are any witches there, we're turning around and going home right now." Dean was only half joking.

Lisa gave a shocked laugh even as her chest loosened. "Do you rate all your parties by how many monsters will be there?" Dean gave her a 'duh!' look.

Castiel had a far-away look. "No witches, angels, or demons. No altars or circles of power. Just a sauce that's a little heavy on the cumin."

Lisa couldn't stop a childish giggle from escaping.

"Wait." Dean held up his hand and they all had to stop. There wasn't enough room on the path to go around him. "You can sense that there aren't any nasties out there," he asked Castiel.

"Yes."

"Does that mean you're getting some of your mojo back?"

"I don't believe so," Castiel replied. "Rather that I have… an inherited sensitivity to the supernatural. It is not nearly as precise as when I had my Grace."

"So if there were a demon in the crowd?"

"I would detect its presence, but not be able to tell you which human it was possessing."

"Could you, you know–" Dean slapped a palm to his head "–eject the demon from its host?"

"No."

Dean grunted and Lisa could sense the hunter in him filing that information away for possible future use.

"Guys, this is neither the time nor the place to be discussing Castiel's powers." She poked Dean and got him moving again, but he wasn't finished.

"So, if there was a demon here, would you call 'Angel 911'?"

"Would that be advisable?" Castiel asked innocently as they rounded the back corner and walked into a sunny backyard.

"Dean! My man! You came!"

"Hey, Sid," Dean answered. "I said we would."

Oh god… They'd arrived. Her stomach tightened back up.

"Neither zombies, vampires, werewolves, nor ghouls," Castiel murmured from behind her. It gave her courage enough to walk out into the sun.

Dean shook hands with a nice-looking man with sandy colored hair and sandy colored skin, who was dressed in tans and greens, which said he shopped at an outdoors-y store and liked to think of himself as a rugged type. However, the creases from being ironed argued against it.

Dean looked at her and pulled her forward. "Sid, this is Lisa Braeden."

Surprisingly, she actually half-remembered him from high school.

"Your guardian angel!" Sid said.

Lisa froze. "I'm not an angel."

Sid waved it away. "From what I hear, you're close enough. It's great to finally meet you."

He stuck out his hand and Lisa took it automatically. "Actually, we met in high school. Shared English class, I think."

"Wow!" he laughed. "I didn't think you'd remember."

"Oh well," she shrugged. "Kind of hard to forget you and Nancy."

He laughed some more. He'd been the same way in school, she remembered, always a smile and a laugh no matter what the situation. Even having his car stolen in the eleventh grade had only resulted in a rueful head shake and a statement of disbelief that anyone would want his old junker.

"This is Castiel," Dean waved the former angel over.

"It's nice to finally meet you!" Sid stuck out his hand.

Castiel looked at it before lifting his hand from the bowl of salad he carried. "The pleasure is mine."

"That salad looks great!" Sid turned to Lisa. "Did you make it?"

"I made it," Castiel announced with a frown. "Preparing and serving food is one of my responsibilities."

Sid's jaw dropped.

"Castiel's a great cook," Ben said belligerently.

Lisa gripped his shoulders and pulled him in front of her, warning him with a squeeze not to say another word. "This is my son, Ben."

Sid's smile returned—a little wobbly, but real. "Hi, Ben. I've heard a lot about you, too."

"Hi," Ben returned.

"So come on," Sid said with a wave of his hand. "Let me introduce you around."

"Where should I deposit the salad?" Castiel asked.

Sid blinked. "I'll show you. Yeah, because that must be heavy."

He turned, searched the crowd. "José!" he shouted. "Dean's here." José wasn't the only one who came over. A couple of guys from Dean's crew came with him and pressed beers on them while Sid took Castiel into the house.

Lisa smiled when she was introduced and tried to impress their names and faces into her memory, but they all said stuff like "so you're Lisa" and "I've heard about you." It left her wondering what exactly they'd heard.

Then Nancy came up and exclaimed about "how long it's been" and "how good you look" and "can you believe it's been ten years?"

She dragged Lisa over to say hello to a couple other people she used to know: Jeannie and George, Dave and Debbie, Kris, Wendy and Maria—a blur of names and faces. She smiled until her cheeks hurt.

Ben followed her, of course, which meant he had to be introduced, and of course, he hated it. All the comments on how "handsome" he was, how much he "looked like his mother"… Nancy finally took pity on him and offered to take him to the Wii where the other kids were having some kind of bowling tournament.

"Mom?" He looked at her, silently asking permission.

She didn't want to let him go. He was solidity and familiarity, and protection from the worst of the gossiping.

Dean laughed from the other side of the yard. It wasn't his true laugh, but his 'I know I'm supposed to be amused' laugh. It made Lisa feel better, knowing that Dean wasn't comfortable either. Made her think that maybe everybody here was pretending to a certain extent, not just her.

She patted Ben's shoulder. "Go have fun, honey."

Then Lisa turned back to these people she'd once almost-knew and asked a couple of them what they were doing now. That should burn a couple hours.

.o0o.

"So were you a friend of Dean's first, or Lisa's?" their host asked as he led the way into the kitchen.

Castiel knew that humans were often curious about beginnings. As if being able to slot events into a mental timeline made them more understandable. He knew this. He didn't understand it.

"I was introduced to Dean first, but we were not friends. That happened later," Castiel answered. "My friendship with Lisa and Ben is a recent development."

"'A recent development'?" Steve echoed. "You're saying Dean introduced you."

"Yes."

"Was this before or after you moved in?"

Did it matter? Castiel wondered, since it would not affect this man in any way.

"I'm sorry!" Steve said with a laugh. "My wife says I'm unforgivably nosy."

Castiel said nothing as his only truthful option was to agree. Instead he concerned himself with making room for his salad in the already crowded refrigerator.

"So what is it you do?"

It was another intrusive question after he'd apologized for the previous one. Castiel decided that, like many humans, his host rarely listened to what he was saying.

"I look after the home," Castiel replied.

"You mean…"

"Cooking, cleaning, managing the finances, and maintaining the yard, yes."

Steve's laugh was a touch hesitant. "That's very, um, metro of you.

'Metro' was either a large urban center or the subway in Paris, France…

Since, the comment made no sense, Castiel kept his response neutral. "I find it satisfying."

Steve managed to keep quiet for nearly three paces. "So do you have any other interests? I mean, do you play the stock market or have a dot com company?"

This was where he was to use the cover story they'd prepared. "I am the chief operating officer for a large cloud-based organization."

"Oh really?" Steve looked back at him. "What does your company do?"

"We specialize in security."

"Cool! What's the name? Maybe I've heard of it."

"We do not advertise," Castiel responded repressively. "Our clients come strictly from personal referrals."

"So no mall cops, huh?" Steve teased awkwardly.

"Our specialty is more in the area of global security."

Steve opened his mouth—probably to ask another intrusive question—so Castiel asked one of his own. "Why do you allow yourself to be called 'Sid' when that is not your name?"

"What? Dean didn't tell you?" Steve asked in surprise. He then recounted (in great detail) the tale of how he and his wife formed their relationship. Castiel listened politely, nodding when it seemed appropriate, but mostly just let the man ramble.

'Deflection' Lisa had called it; to be used when he no longer desired to continue in the current topic of conversation. And it worked.

Maybe he was finally 'getting the hang' of being human.

.o0o.

"So that's Lisa," José said. "Qué belleza."

Hector, on José's other side, gave a low whistle and, unsurprisingly, grabbed his crotch while muttering a Spanish equivalent of 'I'd hit that'.

Dean ignored Hector and watched her go, one hand on Ben's shoulder, gently guiding and protecting. "Yeah, that's her."

"She got a sister?" José asked and Dean snorted. José's mama must have called again, asking about when she was going to get some grandchildren out of him. She called at least once a week, and José always reacted the same way.

"She's got one," Dean said. "But she's married to your boss."

"Hijo de puta," José cursed good-naturedly. "'Cuz that is one fine looking woman."

"No wonder you're willing to share," Hector said, voice just a little ugly. "I thought you were a typical American fresa, unable to fight for your chula–"

Dean clenched his jaw. "Dude," he warned.

Hector continued anyway. "But now, I think it's because you're not enough man for her."

Dean's anger rose up his spine like freight train. Party or not, crowd or not, he wanted to pound Hector's face into the ground.

The crew surrounding them took a step back.

Before he could do it, José threw an arm over his shoulder. "Hector's right, man. A woman like that? She'd use you up and spit out the husk. Me, too," he admitted with a sad shake of his head.

"I could keep her satisfied," Hector leered.

The small group laughed and jeered at the brag, mocking Hector's supposed prowess unmercifully. It helped Dean back away from the edge, but Dean knew he couldn't let it slide. With the others in the crew, a comment like that would've been teasing. With Hector, it was a warning, a declaration of intent. Unfortunately, he couldn't start a fight at Sid's barbeque, either.

Dean took a breath and steadied himself. "I'll say this once." He lifted a finger. "Lisa is a lady, and is to be treated with respect. And I will personally twist the penis off any guy who forgets that." There were whistles and cheers from the crew, but Hector was unimpressed.

"I'm going to find Castiel. He's not so good with strangers," Dean said. He walked past Hector and very casually nailed him in the kidneys.

"Oh, man! Are you okay?" Dean said loudly. Dean steadied Hector as he bent over. He laid a solicitous hand on Hector's neck. And squeezed. "Listen to me, you little shit," he whispered. "All it takes to get away with murder is a well-dug grave. And believe me, I'm a very good gravedigger."

He stood up. "I think maybe he's had too much to drink," Dean said to José. "Maybe he should go home."

José gave him a nervous look, but took Hector from Dean. "Maybe it would be a good idea."

Dean smiled. "I'm sure of it.

Dean knew Hector wouldn't be down long.

They'd warded the house against supernatural threats. Maybe it was time to prepare for more mundane ones.

.o0o.

There were forty-two people here: twenty-eight adults, four teenagers, and ten children. Twenty-three were males, nineteen were females—a statistic which didn't match the proportional average of North America.

Castiel had spoken to thirty-one of them.

They were, for the most part, average: average intelligence, average curiosity, average education and experience. Most had been born in or near Indianapolis. They had gone to school here. They had married, divorced, or been widowed here. Most would probably die here.

Ten of them would experience a violent sexual assault. Only six of them would report it, and most of those would be the female victims, not the men. Only one male would step forward and admit he'd been raped.

Ten of them would be the victims of a robbery. Nine would report it.

Sixteen would develop some form of cancer.

Twenty-three would get married, although most would live in a long-term partnership with someone at some point in their lives. Only one couple would stay together for fifty years.

Fifty years…

To an angel, it was an eye blink.

It was now the rest of his life.

The air fluttered. "Castiel."

"Rachel, you should not be here." Castiel continued to look at Lorne and Marie, sitting snug and happy beside each other. He had survived cancer. She had survived rape. She knew about the cancer. She had never told him about the rape, which had happened in high school before they'd met.

"Hey," Sid protested. "Where'd you…"

Rachel ignored him. "It is important."

Castiel forced his heart rate to remain steady. Human adrenal response was most annoying. He turned to look at his host. "Rachel is an associate of mine. I beg your indulgence."

"Yeah sure, but where the hell did she come from?" Sid's voice was puzzled.

"She has… elite ninja skills." A couple places down on the bench, Dean snorted beer out his nose.

"Excuse me," Castiel said even as he moved away with the angel. Rachel had the good sense not to speak of the matter until they were standing at the front of the house.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Unconfirmed reports suggest that Michael and Raphael have found Lucifer's cage."

"I see." The food he had eaten seemed to be crawling up his esophagus. He swallowed it back down.

"The same sources indicate that they have not yet devised a method for opening it. Most of the angels who support them are engaged in that task." She lifted her chin. "You were correct: it was a matter of 'when' not 'if'."

He nodded, accepting the acknowledgement. "Have we made any progress on our own task?"

"There have been some encouraging possibilities, but more research is needed."

"Of course," Castiel agreed. "Is there anything else?" News of Claire, perhaps…

But Rachel shook her head. She left as abruptly as she'd arrived. Only the sound of wings betrayed that she had been here.

Castiel looked up at the sky where the clouds were very white against the blue. There was traffic, but it was distant. The noise from overflying airplanes had been muted but steady all afternoon. Humans, living their lives.

Fifty years should be long enough for him to accept what he'd lost.

He returned to the amiable crowd in Sid's backyard. He neither saw nor heard the angels' return.

"You did not tell him?"

"There is nothing to tell." Rachel responded.

"You are uncertain of his reaction." Elemiah said.

"I am uncertain that it is possible," she replied. "Until the theory is verified, there is no benefit in telling him of our plans."

Elemiah's lips quirked gently up. "He has already proven more resilient than any of our superiors thought possible."

"This is different," she said before departing.

The other angel's smile grew. "They always say that."

Not even the wilted balloons fluttered as he left.


MULTI-LAYERED SALAD

Base:

1 head iceberg lettuce (or mixed greens)
1 cup sliced celery
6 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1 cup peas (garden fresh or cooked)
½ cup bell pepper, chopped
8 green onions, sliced
1 can water chestnuts, sliced
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Use a large, CLEAR bowl as this allows the layers to be seen. Tear lettuce into bite sized pieces and fill bottom of bowl. Add ingredients in order listed.

Topping:

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
2 tbsp sugar
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Combine mayonnaise, sour cream and sugar. Spread over top of salad, making sure to cover everything right up to the sides of the dish. Sprinkle cheese and bacon on top of salad. Completely cover the salad—NO HOLES. This seals it so the lettuce will remain crisp and the water chestnuts won't turn brown. Cover and refrigerate overnight then sit back and enjoy it the next day!

NOTE: Although it isn't as pretty, it's easier to serve if you use a 9x11 dish and cut into sections. Also, this makes a lot of salad. Unless you're a fiend for the greens, save it for when you have a large group.