(A/N: This was a total bitch to write. I mean, I just . . . ugh. Didn't ever think it was gonna get done, but I stand corrected. Thank god for Being Human; that was fun to watch as I wrote this.)


The first time Dean met an angel he was battered, bruised, and still bleeding from hunting a particularly vengeful spirit. The sun was just beginning to make itself known as Dean sleepwalked from the car to the door. None of that stopped him from leveling his gun at the stranger in his hotel room before Sam or John, entering the room behind him, had even seen the danger.

"Who the hell are you?" Dean asked. From the corner of his eye Dean could see Sam leveling his own weapon at the man. His younger brother's eyes tracked back to Dean, looking to him for cues, but Dean's gaze never wavered off of the intruder.

"Now, now, is that anyway to treat of friend of your father's?" the stranger asked, eyes shifting from Dean to the doorway. "Really, John, I thought you'd taught your boys better than that."

"Dad," Dean asked, gun never wavering from the center of the strangers chest, "you know this guy?"

"Yeah," John said shortly, finally stepping fully into the room and turning away from the scene to shut the door behind him. "He's the angel Zachariah."

Sam's gun lowered slowly, mouth gaping. "An angel?"

"I don't believe in angels," Dean snorted, gun still steadily aimed at the intruder.

Zachariah looked unimpressed. "Your belief is irrelevant. Here I am."

"Dean," John said, "drop the gun."

Dean clenched his jaw, still not looking away from the so-called angel. "Dad?"
"Just do it, Dean," John ordered gruffly.

Reluctantly Dean lowered the weapon.

"Too bad. I was hoping for a little resistance," Zachariah said.

Dean kept his gun aimed at the floor, years of unquestioning obedience preventing him from acting on the instinct that was insisting he shoot the creature in his hotel room right the fuck now. "Resistance to what?" he asked in a low growl.

"This," Zachariah answered, waving a careless hand in Sam's direction. Dean spun on his heel, spotted the ropes that had appeared out of nowhere to bind his younger brother hand and foot, and spun back around, gun coming up and firing in one swift movement.
Dean's aim was true and the bullet hit the 'angel' right between the eyes.

Zachariah didn't flinch. He looked up at his own forehead, going a little cross eyed with the effort of inspecting the wound. It might have been funny if Dean wasn't too busy being scared out of his mind to appreciate it. Before he could squeeze the trigger again, Zachariah made another dismissive motion with his hand and Dean's gun was gone - the only indication that it had ever existed a ringing in his ears and the scent of gun powder in the air.

Dean looked down at his empty hands then back up at the inhuman thing in the room with them and was only mildly surprised to find that Zachariah's head was whole and unblemished, no trace of blood or wound anywhere on him.

Zachariah clucked his tongue disapprovingly. "Really, such manners. I don't know why I expected any better of you over-evolved apes." And without even a gesture this time, Dean joined his brother on the floor, bound hand and foot.

"Damn it," Dean muttered, cheek pressed to the dirty carpet, "that was my favorite gun." He flipped over onto his back, getting his nose out of the stench of unwashed feet and the filth of god only knew what.

Zachariah's smile was sudden and harsh. "Oh, don't worry, you can have it back when we're gone."

Dean stilled and smiled a predatory smile of his own. "I'm not going anywhere with you, sweetheart. I'm not the take home to Daddy type."
Zachariah smiled at him as if he were a particularly amusing dog. "Good, Gabriel likes them feisty. You might have been enough to keep him happy for awhile."

"Enough, Zachariah," John spoke up finally and Dean craned his neck back to look at his father. He'd almost forgotten that he was still there. "Let the boys go. They won't give you anymore trouble."

John said that last with a pointed look at Dean, who smiled innocently back. "I never cause trouble."

A weary "Dean" from John had Dean nodding reluctantly. John turned back to Zachariah. "We had a deal."

"I see rudeness runs in the family," Zachariah observed, waving a hand again and releasing the bonds on Sam and Dean. "Very well, a deal is a deal after all, and I am a reasonable businessman."

"What's he talking about, Dad?" Sam asked, picking himself up and then offering a hand to Dean.

John met his eyes calmly. "It was the only way, Sam. Twenty five years we've been chasing this thing that killed your mother."

"And we'll chase him twenty-five more if that's what it takes," Dean said immediately, drawing John's attention.

"But we don't have to Dean," John said, eyes bright with some emotion that frightened Dean. "I've found him, and I know how to kill him."
"Yeah?" Dean asked, excitement overriding his misgivings.

"It's a gun, Dean, a colt. The Colt. Back in 1835, when Haley's Comet was overhead, the same night those men died at the Alamo, they say Samuel Colt made a gun. A special gun. He made it for a hunter, a man like us, only on horseback. The story goes, he made thirteen bullets. This hunter, he used the gun a half-dozen times before he disappeared, the gun along with him. They say... they say this gun can kill anything.

"Anything?" Sam asked.

John nodded, turning to Sam. "I shoot him with the Colt, and he can never harm our family or another again."

"That's great, Dad, let's get the son of a bitch," Dean said.

"The angels have the gun?" Sam interrupted, the ice in his voice dousing the fire building in Dean's belly. Abruptly Dean was reminded that there was more going on here than he understood.

"And they're giving it to me," John said, almost defiant.

"The price?" Sam asked, glaring at their father. John's expression blanked, and Dean's heart sped up in response.

"Nothing too important," Zachariah answered, clearly tired of being ignored for the family drama, "just your freedom."

The brothers rounded on the angel. "Excuse me?" Dean said.

"What?" Sam asked at the same time.

"In exchange for the Colt your Father has given you over to the service of the angels." Zachariah tossed the words out casually, as if he wasn't ripping three lives apart with them.

"You?" Dean said faintly, shock numbing him to the full repercussions of what he was hearing. "We've been given over to you?"

"Oh, no, no, no," Zachariah answered, eyeing Dean disdainfully. "I have no intention of soiling myself with you over evolved, self important humans." He sneered the word, the way Dean might sneer at Sam's taste in music. "But I have brothers who might find you amusing." His expression suggested he didn't think much more of those brothers than he did of humans.

"That's Dean," John said. Dean had no idea why that was important, but he didn't like it.

Zachariah shrugged and turned to Sam. "Might find you amusing then." The implication struck Dean like a physical blow to the chest, breaking through the numbness.

"I thought you were supposed to be the good guys," Sam said, disappointment just barely bleeding through the outrage.

"We are our Father's 'guys'," Zachariah said, "we were created to do His will, not to play nursemaid or perch on your shoulders."

"Whatever," Dean said, tired of playing with this guy, and confident with the role he now had to play - Sammy's protector. "You're not taking my brother anywhere."

"Not even if Daddy orders it?" Zachariah taunted.

Dean was proud of himself for not flinching or turning to face their father. "Fuck you," he said.

Zachariah smiled at that.

"Sam," John said behind them, "just go with him for now. There's more going on here than you know. This is safer for everyone - especially you. Once I've killed the demon I'll find another way to keep you safe. You'll be back to arguing with me in no time."

"Stop talking now," Sam said, not turning around and locking one big hand on Dean's bicep to prevent him from turning as well. Not that Dean wanted to face his father at the moment. "You are dead to me. When I get out of this, I'm coming back for my brother. Don't come looking for us, don't talk to us, don't even think our names ever again. You are no longer our father - if you ever were in the first place."

"Take me instead," Dean said suddenly to Zachariah, cutting off any retort John may have been considering.

"Dean, no," Sam said harshly, his grip on Dean's arms tightening hard enough to bruise. Dean shook him off, but otherwise ignored his little brother.

Zachariah laughed in delight. "How noble! Unfortunately, you were not part of the deal. No substitutions or exchanges. I'm afraid it has to be Samuel."

Dean felt Sam sigh in relief. "Then take me too. Think of it as a two-for-one special."

"Dean," John said, low and warning behind him. Dean ignored him as well.

"Don't," Sam said, pleading. "Don't do this. Stay here with Dad. I'll get out, and I'll come back for you. I promise."
Dean smiled at him. "And let you have all the fun? Never."

Zachariah was watching the scene with an air of vague boredom, but at Dean's words he produced a sheet of paper. "Sign here, little martyr, if you're serious. I have better things to do than watch this soap opera unfold."

Dean stepped forward and signed without hesitation while Sam looked on with horrified disbelief. Dean turned back to his family and took a breath to speak - to say what he didn't know - but Zachariah was already speaking.

"This has been far more interesting than expected. Touching, even," Zachariah said, tucking the contract back into wherever he'd pulled it from, "makes me wish for some quality time with my own Father, really. But time's up I'm afraid."

There was a sense of pressure and light and a sound like the wind rushing past, and then Dean and Sam were somewhere else entirely.
Sam and Dean clutched at each other as the world settled back into something solid. When he was sure he was steady on his feet, Dean released his brother. "So this is Heaven," Dean said, voice casual even as he visually swept the area for threats and/or something he might use to do the threatening. "Not how I pictured it."

"You've pictured it?" Sam said asked from behind him where he was pressed back to back with his brother, watching for any threats and protecting his brother's back like always. "What were you imagining?"

Dean shrugged. "Clouds, harps, boring shit. Not the conference room at the Ritz Carlton. Not this." Dean gestured around them.

"That's because this isn't exactly Heaven, handsome." Sam and Dean immediately turned toward the new arrival, a shorter man with brown hair and a wicked smirk that looked like a permanent fixture on his face. "This is more of a holding area. A green room, if you will, a place to keep you until they've figured out what to do with you."

"And who are you?" Sam asked, fists clenching at his sides even as Dean angled forward to put himself between Sam and the new threat.
"I'm Gabriel," the man answered, smile widening. "But you can call me Master."

Dean launched himself at the angel - Gabriel. Sam snatched at him futilely. "Dean," he shouted, panic making his voice high and tight. But his worry was for nothing when Dean crashed into an invisible wall several feet from his target.

Gabriel smirked so hard Dean thought his face might crack. "Angel," he said simply at Dean's glare.

"Wait a minute," Sam said, pulling Dean back to him, "Gabriel? The archangel Gabriel?"

Gabriel's focus switched like a laser to Sam. "A fan! How exciting."

"You heralded the birth of Christ and now you're a common slave owner. How the mighty have fallen," Sam scoffed, elbowing his way in front of Dean.

The smile fell off of Gabriel's face. "Time to go to your new home, Big Foot."
"It's Sam. Sam Winchester," Sam said, chin going up defiantly.
Gabriel shrugged. "Fine, Sammy boy, let's go. Say goodbye to big brother."
Dean jerked back as if slapped, hand reaching out of its own volition to grab at Sam's sleeve.
"What?" Sam asked, stepping back again closer to his brother.

"You didn't think we'd be so stupid as to leave the two of you together, did you?" Gabriel asked. The angel took in what Dean was sure were identical expressions of horror on their faces. "Oh my Dad, you did. How adorable."

Gabriel snapped his fingers and suddenly Sam was standing across the room from Dean behind Gabriel. "Say goodbye boys, Sammy and I have things to see and people to do."

"Don't call me..." Sam said, but Gabriel snapped his fingers again and they were gone.

Dean flipped the fuck out.


"Welcome home, Sammy," Gabriel said, arms spreading wide to encompass their new surroundings.

"Don't call me that," Sam snapped, looking around with a scowl. Everywhere he turned there were plush cushions and fine silks and little crystal bowls filled with every type of candy Sam could imagine - and not a few he'd never seen before.

"Forgive me, Samuel, no offense intended," Gabriel laughed, unaffected by Sam's foul temper.

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, willing away an impending headache. "Sam," he said, "it's just Sam."

"Sam," Gabriel agreed easily, snapping a lollipop into existence with his fingers. Why he didn't just grab some of the already available candy Sam didn't know - showing off he supposed. "What do you think?"

Sam looked around at the ridiculous rich surroundings again. Not bad, not to his tastes, but not bad. "It's not what I expected," Sam admitted finally.

"You were expecting clouds?" Gabriel asked.

Sam shrugged, "Or bars."

Gabriel laughed out loud - a pleasant, joyful sound to Sam's surprise. "In Heaven, most humans see what they expect to see. I wonder if you would have seen bars made of extra strength clouds?"

"Why don't I?" Sam asked, natural curiosity overcoming anger and nerves.

"Maybe we're not in Heaven." Gabriel raised an eyebrow with a smirk.

Sam rolled his eyes, making Gabriel laugh again. "A powerful enough angel can enforce their vision on humans and lesser angels," Gabriel said. Sam would have liked to think that he was showing off again, but it was obvious from his tone of voice that Gabriel was stating a simple fact - he was clearly more than powerful enough to enforce his vision on Sam.

Sam shifted his weight from foot to foot, but didn't say anything. Dean. He had to get back to Dean.

"Where's my brother?" Sam asked. He didn't expect an honest answer, but you never knew if you didn't try.

"Rude, protective guy?" Gabriel shrugged, unconcerned. "I imagine his fine ass was given to some other 'worthy' angel."

Sam didn't like the implications of that. He gritted his teeth to keep from lashing out. "Do you know who?"

"No idea," Gabriel said, biting into his sucker. "Don't know, don't care. Not my problem."

Sam clenched his fists, but stayed back. Even if he thought he could damage the angel - which he didn't - it wouldn't help him find Dean. "What happens now?" he asked.

"Now, I go about my life like always," Gabriel said, "And you obey my every whim."

Sam glared in answer.

"Spoilsport." Gabriel pouted. "Okay, okay, just keep anyone with wings away from me, and I don't really care what you do with your own time."
"Really?" Sam asked, suspicion lacing his voice.

"Really." Gabriel turned and headed for the door. "Oh! One more thing." He stopped and turned on his heel. With a snap of his fingers, Gabriel was standing next to him again. Another snap and Sam's shirt was gone. Before Sam could form a protest Gabriel slapped a hand to Sam's chest - right over his wildly pounding heart.

"What..." Sam began, bewildered. There was a sharp blistering sensation at the point of contact and Sam was hit with a wave of emotion not his own - amusement, lust, and a bone deep sense of loneliness - and then both the emotions and the hand were gone.

"There," Gabriel said, sounding smugly satisfied, "now you're bonded to me. Don't try to escape." And with another snap of his fingers, Gabriel was gone.

When Sam gathered his nerve to look down there was an angry red raised handprint seared over his heart.


"Sam!" Dean shouted, running up to the spot from where his brother had disappeared. There was nothing there - no mark on the floor or spot on the wall - nothing. "Sam! Sammy!" Dean wasted more time than he cared to admit screaming at the walls before he took a deep breath and walked to the nearest corner.

There were no doors or windows, no way in or out that Dean could see, so he methodically paced the perimeter of the room, knocking on sections of the wall and moving furniture. Dean could feel the panic threatening to overwhelm him. He had no idea how long he looked and knocked and walked, but it was long enough to imagine all the ways in which he'd failed Sam.

Finally, desperate and scared out of his mind, Dean started to tear the room apart with his bare hands, screaming himself hoarse with his brother's name.

"Dean Winchester," a voice like gravel called. Dean swung around and found himself standing chest to chest with an angel. The first one that Dean believed was an otherworldly holy creature on sight. Peace and power radiated from the blue eyed man standing before him in an ill fitting suit and trench coat. In other circumstances, Dean might have called him beautiful.

As it was Dean didn't care what he looked like. He twisted both of his hands in the man's lapels and hauled him in. "Where the fuck is my brother you son of a bitch? No, you know what? I don't care. Take me to him or bring him back," Dean growled, "or I swear I will find a way to destroy every single one of you."

The angel looked at him with a mix of curiosity and sympathy, completely unperturbed by Dean's aggression. "The power to restore your brother to you is not mine," he said, "He doesn't belong to me."

"He doesn't belong to anyone," Dean said, shouting the words right into the new dick angels face, "he's a human being, not property."
"Human beings have been treated as property many times in your history," the other man pointed out. "Almost exclusively by other human beings."

"Not by me," Dean said, pushing the stranger away from him roughly. "Not my brother."

"Then why has he sold himself to Heaven?" the angel asked. Dean would have tried decking him on principle but he didn't detect malice in the tone, only curiosity. And there was a good chance it would have been as effective as shooting Zachariah had been.
"He didn't," Dean said, quieter now, tired in body and mind. "I don't know how the fuck this can be binding. I thought it was demons that just reached in to take whatever the hell they wanted."

"We are not allowed to take anything without consent," the angel said with absolute conviction, face scrunched up like Dean was speaking gibberish.

"Yeah, well, I only consented to stay with Sam. That asshole tricked me. And Sam didn't consent at all," Dean said at once, "Now, take me to my brother."

The angel studied him closely for a long time, making Dean feel like he was being searched - or maybe judged - but he seemed to be seriously considering Dean's words, so Dean endured it in silence.

"I see no mark on you," the angel said finally.

Dean had no idea what that meant. "I have no idea what that means," he said.

"It means that Castiel here hasn't claimed you yet," Zachariah said, appearing from nowhere just behind the other angel.

The angel - Castiel, Dean guessed - turned to face Zachariah, ridiculous trench coat billowing with the movement.

"Me?" He asked, and Dean thought he detected surprise in the angel's face.

"Of course, Castiel," Zachariah said, "this human is meant for you."

"I've done nothing to merit such a," Dean didn't miss the hesitation before Castiel chose his next word, "gift. I don't understand."

Zachariah chuckled - a fake sound that made Dean's skin crawl. "Such modesty. You found the very weapon that allowed us to acquire the boys. What else is there to understand? This human belongs to you."

Dean bristled. "Now, wait just one god damned..." Zachariah waved a hand and Dean's voice cut off. Dean raised a hand to his throat, clawing at his neck in search of the problem, but there were no marks that he could feel and no pain for that matter: he simply couldn't force out any sound.

"Zachariah," Castiel said, somehow radiating irritation without changing expression. "That was unnecessary."

"Once you've taken ownership, you may feel free to punish him however you see fit," Zachariah shrugged carelessly.
"I do not wish to own anyone. And Dean says his brother has not consented to this."

Zachariah retrieved a piece of paper from the ether again. "This contract - signed in his own blood - says otherwise." Zachariah held the document out for Dean and Castiel's inspection. "Recognize this?"

Dean did, and he clamped his mouth shut against a silent curse when he saw it. It wasn't like the contract he'd barely glanced out before signing. It was written in a language Dean didn't - hadn't - recognized. Sam hadn't either but their father had said is was a protection rite. One, he'd told Dean, that would protect Sam from the yellow eyed demon who held such a particular interest in him.

Sam had refused at first. He hadn't wanted to sign it until he could translate it for himself. But John had gotten pissed and Dean had asked his brother to 'just sign the damn thing'. Trying to stop a fight, always trying to keep his family from each other's throats these days, always trying to prevent his Sammy from leaving again, and look what it had cost him. He'd sold his brother to the archangel Gabriel just as surely as John had.

Zachariah smiled. "And now the little idiot is blaming himself for something his father did, just as you are blaming yourself for finding the Colt, Castiel," he said with glee. "See, he's perfect for you. Obedient little martyrs, the both of you."

Castiel and Dean glared at him in unison, earning them another grin from the other angel. Angels are dicks. Nothing but loopholes and deceit, Dean thought at them viciously. He suspected they got the gist when Zachariah chuckled out loud and Castiel turned a curious expression his way.

"Of course if you truly don't want him that's your choice." Zachariah made Sam's contract disappear. "I'm sure Michael would love a human tribute. And this one looks just his type too." Now Zachariah's expression turned calculating. "In fact, that's probably what I should have done all along. Michael does burn through them, doesn't he?"

"No," Castiel said. His voice was still calm and level as it had always been, but the command in it was unmistakable. "If he is mine to do as I wish, I wish to set him free myself."

Dean shook his head vehemently in denial while Zachariah sighed as if Castiel was just such a disappointment that he almost couldn't bear it. "I can't allow that, Castiel. Dean's presence here is an unexpected gift from our Father. He has a purpose here even if you lack the imagination to see the potential." Zachariah paused, and the calculating look on his face made Dean shiver despite himself. "No, I should have given him to Michael in the first place. Don't bother your pretty little head with it any longer - we'll just be on our way."

Zachariah reached one hand Dean's direction, but Castiel stepped between them. "I will take him. He was given to me."

Zachariah's attention shifted back to Castiel and he scowled at him. "Now you're just being contrary. You'll never move up the ranks like that, Castiel."

"That is out of my hands, Zachariah. I wish only to serve our Father in any way He will allow."
Dean was beginning to reconsider his position on demons. At least you knew where you stood with them. If asked Dean would say he didn't believe in God. But if He existed Dean didn't like the idea that he was nothing more than a slave owner.

"My Father has been absent for a millennia, Dean," Castiel said, eyes still trained on Zachariah, "I cannot say how he would feel about this situation."

"Is that dissent I detect in your voice, Castiel?" Zachariah mocked. "Don't grow a conscience on me now." Castiel bowed his head in a gesture of subservience that Dean didn't believe for a minute, and Zachariah sighed again. "Fine, he's yours. Be sure you complete the bonding and keep him from annoying me or our brothers any more than he already has."

Between one moment and the next, Zachariah was gone.

Castiel's shoulders drooped briefly before he turned to Dean. "I... " he began, then seemed to think better of it. "Let's go home." He pressed two fingers to Dean's forehead, and there was that disconcerting rush of sound and air again.

Dean stumbled into the new location, landing on his butt on a soft green carpet. He opened his mouth to protest, but of course nothing came out. Ouch, asshole, he thought in Castiel's direction.

"My apologies," Castiel said at once, reaching for Dean's forehead again. Dean tried to duck but the angel was too quick for him.

"Hey," Dean complained. His hand flew up to his throat. "Hey," he repeated, just to be sure he could. Then, refusing to be grateful, he grunted "Warn a guy next time."

Castiel nodded and held out a hand to help Dean up. "My apologies again."

"I don't like people - things - anyone messing around in my head," Dean said, needlessly defensive in the face of Castiel's graciousness. Not wanting inhuman things to mess around in your head was a perfectly normal reaction. Just because angel protocol was a little different there was no reason for them to ignore the wishes of their guests.

Captives.

Slaves.

Whatever.

Dean ignored the offered help and stood up himself.

"I did not... 'mess around in your head'" Castiel said. Dean had to stifle an inappropriate urge to laugh at the stoic angel trying out his slang. "I 'messed around' in your body."

"Yeah, well stay out of my body too," Dean said, stepping back as he said it, just then realizing that they were standing too close for comfort.
Castiel continued to stare at him as if he was simultaneously the most confusing and the most interesting thing he'd ever seen. "If that is what you wish, I shall allow you to heal in the usual human manner in the future."

"Damn right you will," Dean said. "I earned everyone of these bruises and cuts." Dean swept a hand down his body to indicate the many aches and pains he'd acquired over their last hunt, only to discover he didn't actually have any more aches and pains.

A quick check of himself revealed that his missing voice wasn't the only thing Castiel had healed. His inspection revealed only perfect healthy unblemished skin. "What's this? Healing me up so only your marks are on me?"

Castiel blinked at him blankly. "We do not hurt people for no reason, Dean. No harm will come to you here."

Dean went from annoyed to blind rage in the space of a heartbeat. "Yeah? What about taking away my brother? I think that's plenty harmful. You can't just take away someone's family. Family. That word mean anything to you? Cause Sammy's mine and I want him back."

Castiel accepted Dean's tirade with no reaction that Dean could discern. "Do you know the name of the angel who has your brother?"

"What? Why?" Dean asked.

"I cannot reunite you with your brother if I don't know where he may be located."

Dean hated to look a gift horse in the mouth but history had taught him that if you didn't you were just asking to be bitten. "You'd do that? Why?"

"Because you wish it," Castiel said at once, as if the answer were the obvious.

Dean snorted. "I wish we weren't freaking angel slaves, you gonna fix that?"

"You are not my slave, Dean." If Castiel could feel irritation, Dean was certain he was feeling it now judging by the dangerous way his eyes were flashing. "But you heard Zachariah. Heaven has a reason for bringing you here, and it is not my place to question that decision."

Dean shook his head in denial. "I don't want my freedom unless Sammy's comes with it, but I sure as hell can question whomever I like. Take me to whoever's running this freak show." Dean crossed his arms over his chest, gearing up for an argument.

But Castiel only shook his head. "I can not deliver you to Zachariah after I insisted that you be given to me. I fear that he would carry out his threat and give you over to Michael."

"Is that supposed to frightened me?"

Castiel hesitated. "Michael is the second eldest of us all - beautiful and glorious. But he has changed since the Morning Star's fall," Castiel said thoughtfully. Then he leveled his gaze at Dean. "Yes, I think he should frighten you very much."

Dean couldn't suppress a shiver at the absolute conviction in Castiel's voice, and he quickly changed the subject. "Not that this impromptu tour of prisons of the afterlife hasn't been a blast - even though it hasn't - but where the hell - heck - are we now?"

"This is my home," Castiel said.

Dean looked around immediately. The room he was in looked exactly like any hotel room in a million different little towns he'd stopped in over the years.

"You live in an angelic hotel room?"

Castiel looked around the room and frowned. "I pulled the image from your memory. Is it not correct? You can change it if you like."

A closer inspection showed that, sure enough, the room was a perfect match for the one he'd been sharing with Sam and Dad for their last hunt. Dean shook his head. "No, it's great," he answered. Castiel's frown disappeared so Dean guessed he'd never heard of sarcasm. Dean rolled his eyes, but he had bigger concerns. "It'd be better if my brother were in it."

Castiel cocked his head at Dean, brow furrowing. "Did you see who claimed him before I arrived?"

"Yeah, little man with a big mouth."

"That could describe any number of my brothers," Castiel said.

Dean laughed in surprise, although Castiel's straight face meant he was probably serious. "This one called himself the archangel Gabriel."
Castiel's confusion cleared but he looked resigned. "Then I have no idea where he may be located."

"Excuse me?"

"Gabriel does not like visitors. At least not from his brethren. Only a handful of his closest friends know how to contact him." Castiel's head tipped to one side thoughtfully. "I'm surprised he accepted your brother at all."

"I guess that means you're not one of his friends," Dean said.

"No," Castiel answered simply, but something in the hard line of his jaw and the ice in his eyes said there was a story there.

"Great, my brother's being held captive by an antisocial angel." Dean turned around and walked a few paces away from Castiel.

Castiel watched him and then followed behind him until he was back in his personal bubble . "I assure you that he is safe. Gabriel is not the most conventional of my brethren, but he will not harm your brother needlessly."

"Yeah, what if he thinks it's needful?"

Castiel's head cocked to the side, birdlike, and he frowned. "If his soul is half as bright as yours, why would it be needful?"

"You need your angelic vision checked," Dean said. Castiel opened his mouth, his already familiar confused expression in place, and Dean waved him off. "Nothing, I don't know. I'm too tired to think right now." Dean rubbed his forehead, exhaustion overtaking him as he spoke.
"Then you must get some rest," Castiel said at once.

Dean didn't want to rest: he wanted to find his brother. On the other hand, years of hunting had taught him that sometimes you had to take care of yourself in order to do any good for others. And there was nothing Dean could do right now. Obviously he needed to get away from Castiel and find this Gabriel somehow, but the first step was getting Castiel to leave him alone.

"You're right," Dean agreed. "I think I'll get some sleep." He flopped down on the nearest bed and closed his eyes. After a few minutes of silence he reopened them. Castiel was still standing where he had left him, staring at Dean. "You gonna stand there and watch me sleep for eight hours?"

"Yes," Castiel answered.

"You can't do that." Dean glared to emphasize the wrongness of the idea. "It's creepy. I'll never be able to fall asleep like that."

"Oh," Castiel said, looking somehow disappointed. "Then I shall depart for now. Pray for me if you need anything. I'll come at once."

Before Dean could tell Castiel how likely that wasn't, Castiel was gone. Dean closed his eyes again, sure was in no danger of actually falling asleep without his gigantic brother on the other side of the room. But apparently his body's exhaustion and years of sleeping anytime, anywhere, and (sometimes) with anyone served him well and Dean fell asleep almost as soon as he closed his eyes.


After hours of wandering aimlessly around the huge house, Sam finally saw his captor again. "Bedtime, Sasquatch!" Gabriel announced, appearing once again from thin air.

To his great pride, Sam managed not to jump or react in anyway. "Is it?"

"Yep. Wanna join me?" Gabriel waggled his eyebrows in a disturbingly suggestive way.

This time Sam did react, taking a step back and mentally assessing his surroundings for escape and weapon options.

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Relax, big guy, I have no intention of forcing you." His already familiar smirk made a reappearance. "Trust me, I have plenty of willing candidates."

Sam snorted.

Gabriel's grin just grew larger. He snapped his fingers again and Sam found himself standing in a large foyer in front of an ornate door - the first exterior door Sam had seen all day. But escape at that moment was definitely not an option. Even without Gabriel standing next to him, the large room was packed with wall to wall people - men and woman of varying ethnicities and ages.

"What's this?" Sam asked, apprehension making his tone sharper than he'd intended. "More angels?"

Gabriel shifted slightly, putting himself between Sam and the crowd. "Angels, fae, a few minor deities. These are the few, the hopeful, my potential bed warmers for the night." He turned his back on them to face Sam fully. "Unless you've changed your mind?"

"No," Sam said firmly.

Gabriel shrugged. "Your loss." He turned back to the crowd and picked someone - a tall, leggy blond woman - seemingly at random. "You, with me," he told her. She cast a superior look to the now dejected looking crowd and made her way across the room to them. By the time she reached Sam and Gabriel the others had filed out the door.

Gabriel ignored her, turning his attention back to Sam. "There's servant quarters right next to my room." He snapped and a trail of glowing blue lights appeared on the floor, leading up the grand staircase. "Just follow the lights." Without turning his head, he wrapped an arm around his conquest's waist. "Feel free to watch," he said, "I'm quite the showman." And with another snap, Gabriel and his companion were gone.


Sunlight streaming in through the windows woke Dean sometime later. "Sam, shut the damn curtains," Dean muttered, groping for a blanket to pull over his head. His brother didn't answer, not so much as a grunt in protest to being woken up. "Sam," he repeated, louder this time.
Before his brother's name had finished forming a second time it all came back to Dean in a terrible rush - the dick angel, the separation, Castiel.

And Gabriel. Dean's eyes snapped open even as he pushed off the bedclothes. He had to find Gabriel to get his brother back.

Dean climbed out of the bed to inspect the room more closely. There were two doors at opposite ends of the room. One of them led to a small bathroom, cleaner than any hotel bathroom he'd ever seen, and functional. Dean attended to his morning business and then tried the other door.

It revealed an empty parking lot. Dean paused for a moment to wonder at and mourn for his beloved Impala and then stepped outside.
Beyond the hotel there was an entire town for Dean to explore. An entirely empty town. If it was some weird ass representation of Heaven, then Heaven was possibly the eeriest place Dean had ever seen. Buildings stood vacant, parks abandoned and quiet, houses unlocked and unoccupied. The town didn't even feel abandoned - it felt like a stage, a prop waiting for someone to come fill it up. There weren't cars in driveways or clothes hanging in closets when Dean let himself into a few of the houses. It was downright creepy - and Dean had a higher standard than most for the definition of creepy.

Eventually, the light fading fast and with nowhere else to go, Dean returned to his hotel room and collapsed back onto the bed. Ignoring the emptiness in his stomach reminding him of exactly how long it'd been since he'd eaten, Dean fell into a restless sleep.

Dean's next few days passed in a bored blur. He continued to explore the empty town, but less and less as the emptiness wore on his nerves, leaving him feeling increasingly lonely and melancholy when he couldn't afford the distraction. He drank a lot of water from his bathroom sink and spent increasing amounts of time sleeping, dreaming of more and more implausible ways out of the nightmare in which he kept waking.
Castiel never reappeared. A fact for which Dean was initially grateful, but by the third day he wondered if the lack of company was a sophisticated torture. Dean was hungry and bored and hungry and pissed at John and pissed at Sam and did he mention hungry? He took to muttering obscenities against his captor under his breath just to hear something besides the muffled tapping of his boots against the floor as he paced.

On his third day, and three billionth circuit around the room, Dean spun around and literally ran into a brick wall - or rather something that felt like a brick wall. "Ow, damn it," Dean said, arms pinwheeling in an effort to not fall on his ass. Castiel reached out with one hand and steadied him easily.

"You are in need of something." It wasn't a question.

"Yeah, my brother," Dean said.

Castiel nodded. "Yes, but you are also in need of something I can provide," he amended. "You are uncomfortable - in pain."

"Damn right I'm uncomfortable," Dean growled, ignoring the implication that he was hurting. "Going a couple days without food will do that to you. Not to mention sleeping on that torture device you call a bed."

Castiel tipped his head, eyebrows inching together in the universal sign of confusion. "Why have you not envisioned a more comfortable sleeping space then?"

"Envisioned? What is this fantasy island?" Dean asked.

"No, it's Heaven." Castiel's sincerity would have been hilarious if Dean wasn't too hungry and tired to appreciate it. "It's shaped by your perceptions and desires."

"So you're saying the hotel room and the creepy empty town are all figments of my imagination?"

Castiel's head tipped slowly the other direction. "Of a sorts. I chose this setting from your memory. I thought you would be more comfortable in familiar surroundings, but you are free to change what you see."

Dean blinked at the angel. "What do you see?" he asked.

"Heaven," Castiel answered, arms making a sweeping motion to gesture to the space around them.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Right, of course." Experimentally, Dean closed his eyes and tried imagining the Playboy mansion. When he opened them again there wasn't a Bunny in sight. "Didn't work," he said, glaring at the angel before him.

Castiel's shoulders flickered restlessly, but the rest of him remained impassive. "Perhaps you didn't really believe in your vision."

"Great," Dean said, "All it takes is faith and trust."

"Precisely," Castiel agreed.

Dean closed his eyes and tried for something a little less ambitious. When he opened them he double beds in the room had changed to a single huge fluffy king size he'd seen in a display home once. Dean threw himself across the bed with a sigh. "Awesome. So, do I just wish my food into existence too?"

Castiel looked away as if reprimanded. "Forgive me," he said, "it has been a long time since I've walked on Earth. I had forgotten how often humans need food." He stretched a hand out and sandwiches, chips and a jug of water appeared on the room's small table.

Dean sat up. "Nice. Next time maybe some burgers and pie."

Castiel nodded. "As you wish." He looked over his shoulder at the door. "I've also compacted your vision to this dwelling. Beyond the door is now only the rest of Heaven."

Dean glanced from the door to the angel. "It locked?" he asked.

"I've sealed it," Castiel said with a nod. "No one can get through unless I will it. You are safe here."

"Well, thank you so much," Dean said, giving into the temptation to investigate the food his angel master had conjured for him.

"You're welcome," Castiel answered - sarcasm still clearly lost on him. He hesitated. "In the future, I would prefer it if you would ask for help instead of cursing me."

Dean grinned through a mouthful of turkey sandwich. "No promises. Asking for help and being polite are not my strong suits."

To his surprise, Cas smiled back cautiously. "I believe that about you Dean Winchester. But I also believe in the power of change. Please endeavor to do so."

Dean chuckled in surprise. "Right."

"Do you require anything else at this time?" Castiel asked.

"My..."

"Besides your brother?"

Dean thought about it for awhile. "You get cable up here?" he asked with a nod to the blank television.

Castiel glanced in that direction with a look of concentration before nodding. "Yes, I believe the television should be able to tune into your viewing desires."

"Great." Dean used the remote that had appeared on the table to flip it on. "Alright, Raiders of the Lost Ark. This one's a classic."

"Is that supposed to be the Ark of the Covenant?" Castiel asked, squinting at the TV.

"Yeah," Dean said, turning to watch Castiel, "Wait, are you saying you've never seen it?"

Castiel shook his head. "Television did not exist the last time I walked among my Father's creation."

"Dude, that's unnatural. Take a seat, we're gonna marathon Indiana Jones and start your education."


Dean wasn't even aware that he had fallen asleep until the feeling of being watched woke him. Dean jerked awake, flipping over to find the source of his unease.

"Castiel? What're you doing?" Dean asked, stretching lazily. A quick glance at the clock told him he'd gotten a solid eight hours, even if he didn't remember drifting off.

"Waiting for you to wake up," Castiel said.

Dean laughed. "You gotta get a life man."

Instead of answering Cas said, "I brought donuts and coffee. My garrison leader assures me it is a traditional human way to break your fast."
Dean sat up quickly. "Your garrison leader is a genius. And if there's a custard filled in there you're forgiven for the early morning stalker routine," he said, making grabby hands at Cas.

Cas stared at Dean's hands for a moment, puzzling out what Dean wanted. Cas sighed and shook his head before handing over the bag, but Dean thought he saw an amused twinkle in his eye.

"I have matters to attend to this morning," Cas informed him. "Is there anything you are in need of? That I can provide," he added hastily.
Dean, lost in a sugar and caffeine high, waved him away. "I'm good. Just gonna lay here and watch some jailbreak movies. Look for some pointers."

Cas nodded - the joke lost on him - and fluttered off.


Somewhere in the middle of Dean's second viewing of Shawshank Redemption, there was a soft rustling sound and a slight change in air pressure and Castiel appeared before him, blue eyes scowling down into Dean's own. "You're hungry again!" Castiel accused.

Dean eyed Cas silently for a long moment before he shrugged and settled back further into his pillows. "Eh, I could eat. But I can always eat."

"I asked you to call on me when you are in need," Castiel said. And the damn angel actually pouted at him, as if Dean's refusal to be a demanding prisoner was hurting Cas's feelings.

Dean ignored the ridiculous sense of guilt rising in him and folded his arms across his chest. "I only need one thing from you, and you've already said no."

Castiel's shoulders fell dejectedly at that statement, and he sank slowly onto the edge of Dean's bed. Although he held himself unnaturally straight and stiff, Dean couldn't help but think that Cas looked weary and sad. Dean didn't like the look on him.

"Dean, please believe me. I cannot return you to your brother," Cas said.

"Can't? Or won't?" Dean asked.

"I cannot oppose the wishes of Heaven, Dean. I requested permission to reunite you with your brother just this morning and was again offered the chance to pass you on to Michael. Like you are a disobedient dog who needs a firmer hand." Castiel's face twisted in distaste. It made Dean feel perversely better to know how muchthe angel abhorred the idea of giving him away. "I was told that it is safer for everyone if things remain the same as they are now."

"Did you ask why?" Dean asked.

Castiel looked up at him, surprise widening his eyes. "I did not. Angels are not meant to question orders," Castiel said.

Dean sighed and shifted to sit next to the angel, his knee nearly brushing against Castiel's. "Sometime you have to question a stupid order, Castiel. What if the other guy made a mistake?"

Castiel scowled at him. "Angels do not make mistakes."

"Oh yeah? You forget to feed me on purpose then?"

Guilt clouded Castiel's eyes and then understanding cleared them. "Yes, I see your point. I will ask why it is safer to keep you separate. Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding that we can clear up so that you may be reunited with your family."
Dean snorted: Winchester luck didn't really work like that. But he appreciated that Castiel wanted to try so he didn't say anything further. "Ask later. Right now you're getting me a bacon cheeseburger and some key lime pie."

Castiel stood and disappeared, reappearing almost instantly next to the bed. He held up a greasy sack. "As you wish."

Dean grinned and snatched the sack out of his hands. "Smells great, Cas."

"Cas?" Castiel asked, nose wrinkled adorably.

Dean shrugged. "It's a nickname. Castiel's a mouthful."

Cas considered his words for a moment and then nodded. "I believe I like it."

"Awesome. Good for you," Dean said, sitting down and digging into his food. Cas stood above him, watching him eat. Dean held up his burger. "Want some?"

"Angels do not require food."

Dean laughed. "It's not about requirement, Cas. Sometimes it's about enjoying yourself." Cas still looked uncertain. "Come on," Dean cajoled, "at least have some fries and we'll watch some Star Wars."

Cas stared at Dean for a very long time before nodding. "I believe I would enjoy watching movies with you again," he said, sounding surprised for some reason.

Dean shifted again until he was propped against the headboard and patted the space next to him. Cas eyed the bed dubiously for a moment and then settled into the spot stiffly, still clad in his trench coat and jacket. Dean grinned at the sight. "Tomorrow bring a large pizza and a whole pie. We'll split them while you tell me how your visit with Zach's goes."

Castiel nodded and stared into Dean's eyes again with that beautiful unnerving gaze. "Thank you, Dean."

Dean had no idea why Cas was thanking him, so he shrugged. "Original trilogy only tonight - I don't think you're ready for Jar Jar Binks."

Cas nodded again, but didn't look away until Dean broke their staring contest to call up the movies.


There was a large plate of pancakes waiting on the table when Dean woke up the next morning. And although some instinct left him feeling like the room had recently been vacated, there wasn't an angel in sight. Cas was a fast learner.

Dean flipped through the seemingly endless number of stations on the TV for a few hours, but there was nothing on he hadn't already seen. Not surprising, he supposed, if the programming was being pulled from his memory.

He helped himself to some leftovers for lunch and then burned all the calories off with a workout, something he didn't usually need or want, but he was going a little stir crazy with nothing to see or do all day. He found himself looking forward to dinner just as much for Cas's company as for the news he might bring.

When Cas finally showed up he had a pizza, a pie, and a frown.

"What's up, Cas?" Dean asked, taking the steaming pizza box from Cas's grip. He peaked inside the box and scowled. "Is this veggie lovers?"
"I was told that the human body requires fruits and vegetables for a balanced diet," Cas said.

Dean cast a worried look over at the pie. "Yeah, you find Sam already and start taking tips from him?"

Castiel set the pie down - banana crème from the look of it. "No, I have been researching."

Dean rolled his eyes. "A pet manual on the care and feeding of your human? Cause that's kind of insulting."

Castiel loomed over where Dean was sitting. "My garrison leader has once again been most helpful. Perhaps if you'd just tell me what you need I could avoid offending you in the future."

"Yeah, yeah, I promise not to attempt to starve myself. S'not really my style anyway." Dean said, taking a large bite of his pizza. It wasn't too bad really, even rabbit food could be improved with sauce and cheese. Dean pushed the other chair away from the table with one foot. "Sit, pull up a slice."

Castiel did as told. Dean handed him a slice and Cas sniffed it before taking a small bite.

"You like it?" Dean asked, smiling at Cas's thoughtful expression while he chewed.

"It is not unpleasant," Cas said.

Dean snorted. "Get some meat on the next one and you'll see how pleasant it can be."

Cas nodded and took a larger bite. Dean regaled the angel with his favorite pizza toppings as they finished off the rest of the pizza together.

When there was nothing but crust left, Dean finally asked what he'd been avoiding since Cas had shown up looking confused and worried. "So, did you get to talk to dick face?"

Castiel frowned. "Zachariah?"

"Yeah, that's what I said," Dean answered, unapologetic.

"Yes. It was most unhelpful," Cas admitted.

"Tell me."

"I asked, since you were given to me to do as I please." Dean glared at Cas, but the angel ignored him, "if I could not help you or offer protection so that you may be returned to your brother. Zachariah's only response was to laugh and dismiss me."

The pizza that Dean had just eaten sat like a lump of lead in his stomach. He didn't know why he was surprised: he had never thought Cas's little talk would work anyway. "And Sam?"

"I do not know, Dean. Zachariah refused to answer any more questions, and he grew angry. He would be a powerful and dangerous enemy if we push him too hard."

"It's more dangerous to remain in the dark," Dean argued, standing up.

"I do not believe your brother is in any peril, Dean. If Zachariah had wanted him dead he could have killed him outright, not given him to Gabriel. To my knowledge no one knows where Gabriel resides now, making your brother's position and safety more secure than your own."

"What happens to me isn't important! Only Sam matters," Dean yelled, frustrated with Cas's inability to understand this simple basic fact of his life."

"Not to me," Cas answered quietly, catching Dean's gaze with his own. "And I do not believe Sam would be happy to have his freedom at the cost of his brother anymore than you would."

Dean stared back for a long time. Cas's eyes held a determination and sincerity Dean didn't think he could fight. And at any rate, Cas was right. Sam would be pissed if Dean got himself killed.

Dean sat back down and pulled his chair up to the table until his feet bumped Cas's and forced himself to take a deep breath. "So what's the alternative, Cas? How do we figure out Heaven's plans and/or find Gabriel?"

"I have other brothers. I will demand they tell me what they know."

Dean bit his lip in order to keep his smile from turning into full fledged laughter. Cas was just so earnest and determined. It was kind of cute. Dean pulled the pie box closer to himself and grabbed a fork. "You know, we have a saying back home about catching flies with honey."
Cas frowned. "Why would we want to catch flies? How would that help?"

Dean rolled his eyes and scooped up a bite of pie. "It's an expression. It means you can get more information by doing a little sweet talking instead of getting all smite-y on them."

Cas's head tipped. "You wish me to sweet talk Zachariah."

"God no," Dean said with a shudder. "But he can't be the only one who knows what's going on. We should talk to some of your friends. Have them over for dinner or something."

"Angels do not require…"

Dean interrupted, "I told you, it's not about requirement. It's about pleasure - having fun. And more importantly, getting information."

Cas nodded slowly, something thoughtful in his expression. "There are a few of my brothers to whom I could speak."

"Great, invite them over, parade me around like a good little show dog and see if it stirs up any gossip about me or Sam."
Cas scowled. "I do not wish to parade you around like an animal."

"Trust me, it's not my idea of fun either, but if it'll get us what we need." Dean shrugged.

"I believe I can invite my brothers over to meet my friend without degrading you in the process," Cas said.

Dean stopped eating, fork half way to his mouth. "Friend?"

Cas shifted in his seat, a strangely human gesture of discomfort, causing his knee to jostle Dean's leg. Dean didn't move out of his way. "We are friends, are we not?"

The thing was, Dean wasn't so good at friends. His line of work didn't allow the kind of time or openness friendship required. There was family and there was everyone else. But. He thought maybe friend was a good word for what he and Cas were becoming. "Yeah," Dean agreed finally, "we are. Pie?" he offered.

Cas's answering smile was the brightest thing Dean had seen in all of Heaven.

It took a few days of deliberation (Castiel) and food planning (Dean) over their nightly meals but eventually Cas announced that they would have a guest for dinner.

"My brother Uriel will be joining us tomorrow," Castiel announced over fried chicken and salad. Dean had been dismayed when Cas developed a taste for green leafy food, but Cas also thought apple pie was the best pie in the world, so Dean forgave him.

"Yeah? That's awesome, Cas. What's he like?" Dean asked.

"I believe you will like him," Cas answered, experimentally scooping some salad up on the same fork with his pie. Dean wrinkled his nose in disgust. "He is very amusing."

"An angel with a sense of humor?" Dean said. "This'll be fun."

Angel humor apparently loses something in translation. Dean thought to himself the next night as Uriel's stone cold face looked past him to the dinner he and Cas had painstakingly laid out.

Dean had conjured them up a larger table with actual dishes, and Castiel had brought the food exactly to Dean's specifications. Pizza, burgers and, at Cas's insistence, two kinds of salad.

Uriel was looking it all over with an expression that suggested he was smelling something rotten, instead of a medley of the best food ever invented. "What's the meaning of this Castiel?"

Dean looked at Castiel nervously, but Castiel was watching Uriel. "We thought you would like to join us for a traditional human meal."
"Angels do not require human sustenance," Uriel sneered. Dean began to wonder exactly what Cas saw in him. And, more importantly, why he thought Dean would like him.

"I have been told that it's not always about requirement, Uriel. Sometimes it's about pleasure." Uriel turned a blank expression at Castiel. "I have enjoyed it," Cas added.

Uriel looked at him doubtfully before sitting down at the table. Castiel took the seat across from him at the round table at once. Dean hesitated. He and Cas hadn't discussed what his role would be here. He didn't know if he should serve them or excuse himself or…

"Dean, please sit down so we can eat," Cas said, answering Dean's internal struggle. Dean shrugged and took a seat between them, scooting it a little closer to Cas so he could see Uriel better.

"So, Uriel," Dean began, "what do you do for fun?"

"Follow my Father's orders," Uriel answered.

Dean checked Cas's face to see if this was one of Uriel's hilarious jokes, but Cas was nodding as if that was a perfectly normal answer.

"Okay." Dean cleared his throat. "Followed any good ones lately?"

"Yes," Uriel answered shortly.

Dean wracked his brain for another topic of conversation, but Cas cut to the chase. "Uriel," Cas said, "have you heard anything regarding Dean or his brother, Samuel."

Uriel turned his disgusted expression from his slice of pepperoni pizza to Castiel. "Thankfully little. The younger human is an abomination, and the elder is un-evolved. I imagine our superiors find them in need of supervision and guidance."

"Now wait just one damn…" Dean snarled.

Uriel spoke over him. "I am surprised you have not yet initiated the bond," he said to Castiel. "Is Zachariah aware of this transgression?"

Dean didn't know what they were talking about, but he'd been spending enough time with Castiel to know that the contrition in his expression was completely insincere. "I have been very busy, Uriel, but that is no excuse. I will do so at once."

Uriel nodded and stood, "I do not believe I am enjoying this 'meal.' May I be excused, Castiel?"

"Of course, Uriel," Cas answered at once. "I will see you at the garrison."

Uriel nodded and took his leave.

"Well, that was a complete disaster," Dean said, shoving back from the table in disgust. "And you have really horrible taste in friends."

"Uriel is a good angel and has been a good friend to me. He has not walked the Earth in many millennia. I believe his 'people skills' are 'rusty'," Cas said.

Dean laughed, a little bitterly. "That's one was to put it."

"I will chose our next dinner companion more carefully," Cas offered. He stood as if to leave. "Do you have need of anything before I go?"

Suddenly the idea of Cas leaving made Dean feel incredibly lonely. He usually stayed longer, and Dean hated Uriel a little more for cutting their time together short. Dean heard himself saying, "Yeah, I need something."

Cas's head tipped slightly to the left. "What is it?"

Dean thought quickly. There were many things he'd like, but they all boiled down to the same thing. "Something to do, Cas. I'm going out of my mind here I'm so bored."

Cas's head tipped even further. "Bored?"

"Yeah, I got nothing to do all day." And no one to talk to, but Dean didn't say that part out loud.

"I see," Cas said. "What do you usually do to stay busy?"

Dean shrugged. "Clean my guns, sharpen my knives, work on my baby." Cas nodded, but Dean was on a roll now. "Torment my brother, hustle pool, drink myself stupid, hunt."

Castiel considered Dean. "There would be no point in care of weapons or your vehicle up here. They are completely useless in Heaven."

"Hey now," Dean said warningly, "my baby is not useless. She's saved my life more times than I can count, and she's never, ever let me down."

"The only thing in creation that has not," Castiel observed. Dean's head jerked up and he opened his mouth to object, to defend his family. But after a moment he snapped his jaw closed without saying a word. Cas wasn't exactly wrong.

"Perhaps..." Cas began.

Dean jumped on the word eagerly. "Yeah, got something for me to do?"

Cas looked like he was already regretting saying something, but he pressed on, "Would you like to accompany me to the garrison tomorrow?"
Dean frowned. "Angels have jobs?"

Cas was nodding. "In a manner of speaking. All angels have an assignment - a purpose for their creation."
"Yeah? What's yours?"

"I am a warrior of Anael's garrison and the angel of Thursday. Recently I have been retrieving items of value to Heaven."

"Like the Colt," Dean guessed. Cas nodded and his shoulders shifted in a restless motion - the only sign that he was still harboring some guilt about that. Dean didn't blame the guy for his situation. Cas was just doing his job, it wasn't like he set out to screw over the Winchesters.

So Cas was a warrior retriever angel of Thursday. Warrior sounded cool, and retrieving stuff was probably angel-talk for Indiana Jones-style adventure but angel of Thursday? What the hell was that? "Angel of Thursday, huh? What's that entail?"

"I help those who were born on a Thursday or pray for help on a Thursday."

"Isn't that a lot of people?" Dean asked.

"Yes," Cas answered, and Dean decided he really didn't want to know any more about how the whole angel thing worked.

"Okay, so what exactly would I do at your…" Dean tried to remember the word Cas had used, "garrison?"

"Observe," Cas suggested.

It said something about how desperately bored Dean was that he didn't immediately decline with a hearty 'hell no'. "Will Uriel be there?" he asked instead.

"He works under me, yes," Castiel said. "But there will be others there as well: you need not interact with him at all."

A thought - dangerous and appealing - bloomed in Dean's head. "You gonna zap me there with you?"

Cas appeared to think about it for a moment. "No," he said finally, "I believe you would enjoy walking? It's not far, and would give you a chance to see Heaven. I know you have not yet explored beyond our little pocket here."

That fit with Dean's plans very well indeed. "Yeah, okay. Tomorrow can be take your human to work day."

Castiel looked pleased, a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. Dean almost felt bad that he never intended to make it to the garrison.


"Bigfoot! We need to have a little chat."

Sam sighed and veered off the path to his own room to poke his head into Gabriel's instead. Gabriel was stretched out on his king sized bed: he smiled when he saw Sam and patted the spot next to him invitingly.

Sam moved in closer but refused to join the angel on the bed. "What?" he asked, annoyance and suspicion warring for dominance in his head.
Gabriel frowned. "That right there is what we need to discuss Sammy."

"Don't call me that!" Sam barked out, the vehemence and volume of his voice startling even himself.

Gabriel raised one eyebrow, a small smile flitting over his face, but he corrected himself. "Excuse me, Samuel, didn't mean to upset you." He said it so sincerely that he had to be mocking Sam. "But really, you have got to stop moping around this place looking like…"

"Like my father sold me into slavery."

"Exactly," Gabriel said. "People are going to think I'm not keeping you satisfied. It's bad for my reputation. Can't have my slaves walking around all sexually frustrated."

Sam backed up a step before he could help himself. "You said you wouldn't force me."

Gabriel reached out with one hand to shake Sam by the arm and Sam was got an impression of annoyance and affection through his almost forgotten link. "Yes, after one week of watching your sexy body sulk around here, I've decided I must have you." Gabriel laughed. "Please, I believe you've seen the sheer amount of potential conquests I have just begging me to let them ride this train."

Sam snorted. "Yeah, those are some winners there."

"Don't judge them too harshly, Sasquatch, they know a good thing when they see one," Gabriel said with a smirk, settling back on his pillows and gesturing down the length of his body. "Besides, it's not as if I'm going to take them on as my mate. We're just having a bit of fun. You could be having a bit of fun, you know. May as well make the most of things."

"No, thank you," Sam said through gritted teeth, fighting to keep his tone level. Gabriel had kept his word so far, but angering an archangel wouldn't be conducive to getting him or his brother out of this mess.

"Ah well, your loss." Gabriel shrugged. "But you have to at least pretend that I've replaced that stick up your ass with something more fun."
"So sorry my total loss of freedom is making you look bad," Sam said.

"You should be. I don't want the others to think I'm not showing you a good time. My volunteers might dry up and then where would we be?"

"I suppose you'd just have to find 'volunteers' some other way," Sam sneered, not hiding what he thought of Gabriel's so called conquests.

"Sammy - Sam - how can I make you believe that I haven't forced anyone?" Gabriel tapped a finger on the side of his chin thoughtfully. "I know." He snapped and Sam braced himself for all manner of mischief but nothing happened. Gabriel smirked at him knowingly. "I'm going to let you choose who has the great honor of warming my bed each night."

Sam was taken aback. "What?"

"Yes, it's perfect. When the giggling horde shows up tonight, you select someone for me. Use any method you like." Gabriel grinned. "Oh yes, I like this idea a lot. In exchange for helping me I'll grant you one wish - anything you like, except your freedom of course."

Sam set his jaw. "I will not be your flesh merchant, Gabriel."

"That's the point, you won't be. They come to me willingly. They know the score. You'll see. Talk to them, interview them, try to talk them out of it. I don't care. Just send one into me by ten o'clock."

"And if none of them want you?"

Gabriel threw back his head and laughed. "Oh yea of little faith. Fine, if none of them want to come to my bed then I'll make do with my hand and my butt plug same as you."

"Promise?" Sam asked, ignoring Gabriel's speculation about his solo sex life.

"In the name of my dear, absent Father," Gabriel agreed with a wink and a smile.

Sam sighed, regretting this before he even spoke. "Fine. Are we done here?"

"Yes," Gabriel said. "Wait, no! That won't stop you being such a Gloomy Gus."

"Gloomy Gus?"

"Sad Sam? Sorrowful Sam?"

Sam shook his head. "Your point?"

"Your wish. Is there something that will make you smile again? Something to keep you busy and make me look awesome?"

"Do you really care?" Sam asked.

Gabriel grabbed at his heart. "Sam, you wound me! A deal's a deal. And of course I care: your happiness is the most important thing to me.
Sam snorted. "Right."

Serious again, Gabriel asked, "Well? Video games? Cooking classes? A ball gag? What's it gonna take?"

"My brother," Sam answered at once.

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "No can do. And can I just point out that you have an unhealthy obsession with your brother?"

"Then I don't want anything from you. Deal's off."

Gabriel reached out to grab at Sam's arm. "Come on," he cajoled. "I told you. I have no idea where your brother is. Anything else you want."

Sam shook his head but gave it some thought. A wish from an archangel had to be worth something. What could help him find Dean? "Can you find out who has him?"

Gabriel looked pained. "I suppose, but it'd mean talking to my brothers. I hate that."

"You want me to choose your consorts and pretend I'm thrilled with the life of slavery? I want to know who has my brother." Sam crossed his arms and loomed over an unimpressed Gabriel. "And a library," he added, a vague plan starting to form in his head.

Gabriel snapped his fingers again. "Done. Library is next to the kitchen. Just think about what you want and the selections will change to match."

"And Dean?" Sam pressed.

"That'll be trickier," Gabriel said.

"So you can't do it?" Sam asked. He was disappointed but not surprised that Gabriel was reneging already.

"Of course I can do it," Gabriel said, "but it'll take a little finesse. My interest could put him in danger if the wrong person thought hurting him would upset me."

Sam's blood ran cold. "Don't…" he began.

"Don't worry, Big Foot, I am more than capable of being subtle." Sam made a face, and Gabriel grinned. "I just don't usually choose to be. Your brother will be safe. And you'll stop moping?"

Sam nodded. "Deal."

"Good. Now go, all your self righteousness is exhausting me."

Sam nodded and turned to leave. "Oh, and Sam," Gabriel called, "don't worry about picking someone I won't like - they'd never make it into the house if I didn't want them there."

Sam rolled his eyes again. "Goody, I was so worried about pleasing you."

"I wish, Sammy, I wish."

Dean watched carefully as Cas opened the front door, but he couldn't see how Cas was unlocking it. With a mental shrug he decided to just ask. "What's locking it?"

Castiel turned away from the open door, expression bewildered. "It's never been locked."

Dean felt his jaw fall open. He had to force it closed so he could argue, "You said it was sealed."

Cas huffed, irritation creasing his brow. "I believe I have mentioned before that you are not my slave, Dean. No matter the circumstances this is your home now, and you are free to come and go as you please."

"You're not worried I'm gonna get loose and cause trouble or something?" Dean asked before he could stop himself.

Cas blinked once, slow and deliberate. "I trust you, Dean," he said. Then a hint of a smile curved across his lips and he added, "Besides, how much trouble could you get into in Heaven?"

Guilt curdled the breakfast in Dean's stomach. He almost resigned himself to visiting Cas's angel garrison and playing nice the rest of the day. But no matter how much he liked Castiel - and damn it all, Dean really, really did - nothing could distract him from finding Sam. Not even wide blue eyes and slim sexy hips and chapped kissable lips and… It was probably best if Dean left now before he got in any deeper anyhow.
Thirty minutes later, having given Cas the slip with shocking ease, Dean began to see several flaws in his hastily constructed plan. Heaven, to him, looked like a large, busy city. LA or New York or one of those places he usually avoided on his hunts. But as soon as he'd seen it, the obvious plan was to ask someone to point him toward Gabriel - play it off like he was on an errand for Cas. Heck, once he'd retrieved Sam he could easily return to Cas. It wasn't like he was going to walk out of Heaven without a little angelic interference, and Dean trusted Cas.
The thought startled Dean into stopping dead in the middle of the street. "Shit," he said out loud. He didn't trust anybody who wasn't family - which had always been just Dad and Sam and Bobby - but he trusted Cas. More than he could trust his own father in fact. And he apparently chose to show that trust by running away at first opportunity with a half assed plan to find Sam (by asking! of all things) and no escape route.
He needed to get back to Cas and - damn it all again - talk to him and let him help.

Dean made a slow circle where he stood, trying to orientate himself back to Cas's house. Everywhere he looked there were impossibly beautiful angels walking around, most looking like they had sticks up their ass, and not a single one would deign to look at him. Dean was abruptly fed up with the lot of them.

"Hello," he shouted. "Am I freakin' invisible or something? Come on, scary human on the loose - no one wants to investigate?"

"Hello," a cold, inhuman voice answered from behind him. "Are you Castiel's human?"

Dean whirled around, the protest about being his own person on dying on his lips when he saw who was addressing him. The man before him was the most beautiful person Dean had ever seen. He didn't have Cas's mesmerizing eyes and there was an otherworldly distance to him that said his beauty was only skin deep, but he was painfully gorgeous. Power radiated from him, intense and chilling and Dean was nearly speechless in the face of it. "Who are you?" he squeaked out.

The angel studied him as intently as Cas had ever done, making Dean feel exposed and violated, although Cas's attention never had. Finally he smiled, a cruel twist of his perfect lips. "My name is Michael."

Dean nodded dumbly and then immediately shook his head. "Cas's big brother, Michael?"

"Yes," Michael answered shortly, reaching out to tap Dean's forehead.

The trip was different than the time Cas had moved him - stronger and more disorientating. To make matters worse, when Dean's head cleared the first thing he saw was Cas's worried face.

"Dean. Michael. What has happened?"

"I found this human shouting in the middle of Heaven," Michael answered. "He is unclaimed."

Cas stiffened and his face became a perfect mask of calm. Dean felt the tension rising in the room and he moved closer to Cas without consciously deciding to move. "Yes," Cas answered shortly, "he is, for the moment."

"Then perhaps you wouldn't mind giving him over to me." Michael's words were polite, but his voice resonated with command, and Dean couldn't help the fear the coiled around his heart.

But Cas was already shaking his head. "I cannot do that Michael. He was given..."

"There is no reason you cannot give him to me," Michael interrupted, clearly impatient, "You have not even put a partial bond on him, and he is clearly out of control."

"An oversight I mean to correct at once." Cas turned to Dean and there was an apology in his eyes when he put his hand high on Dean's arm. There was pain, but Dean barely felt it under the apology, regret, and panic, panic, panic searing through him.

Dean staggered back under the weight of the emotions he was experiencing - emotions that weren't his. He was feeling pissed, and a little confused - certainly not panic. But the word 'bond' falling again from Michael's lips gave rise to a scary suspicion in Dean's head.
Dean was too distracted to make out the angels' conversation, but a surreptitious check of Castiel's face showed the angel looking nothing more than bored. The feeling of barely contained panic remained though, and Dean pushed against it with a question. Castiel didn't respond, but his eyes cut briefly to Dean's face and something very like reassurance was sent back.

Shit, apparently he was emotionally bonded with a nerd angel. Dean swore he saw Cas's lips twitch at that, even though the tone of his conversation with Michael remained serious. Dean kind of liked the idea of Cas's focus being on him instead of the supreme asshole who'd dragged his ass back, but he scowled at Cas for the intrusion anyway.

Apology came back at him and then his sense of Cas was shut off. Dean poked at where the feeling had been and when he pushed he could still feel Cas there, a warm unresisting spot in his chest, just not as immediate and intense. Dean wandered over closer to the angels. Not because he was lonely without his sense of Cas - that'd be ridiculous, especially after only a few minutes - but because Michael was still staring at him like he was covered in chocolate or something.

"Are you still here? Don't you have other innocent people - angels - whatever to harass?" Dean asked Michael, meeting his stare with one of his own. He refused to be intimidated by Heaven's number one creeper.

"Castiel - control your pet." Michael said with a calm that made Dean want to ruffle him up some.

Dean and Castiel stiffened in unison, but Castiel spoke first. "Dean is not my pet. He has a mind of his own."

Dean had the sudden urge to flip off Michael to prove it, but he contained himself.

"I had hoped the bond would have increased your control over him," Michael said, disappointment and disapproval heavy in his voice.

"Listen here you..." Dean stopped when Cas pushed a short pulse of fear at him.

"I am not as powerful as you, brother," Cas said by way of explanation. "I am simply the angel to whom Dean was given." Dean didn't miss the pulse of pleasure Cas tried to stifle across the bond. "I do not have to control Dean. I know I have his respect," Castiel said. Dean immediately did his best to look respectful of Cas without dropping the disdain he was aiming at the other angel.

Dean didn't know how successful he was. Michael looked doubtful, but he didn't say anything further. He left soon with an ominous sounding, "Should Dean fail to be respectful I will be glad to step in and help."

"Thank you. I will keep that in mind," Cas promised, all but slamming the door in Michael's face.

As soon as they were alone, Cas turned to him. Dean braced himself for some angelic fury over his escape attempt. So he was completely caught off guard when Cas apologized. "I'm sorry, Dean. I have managed to avoid the bond so far, but Michael… I believe he intended to use my oversight to claim you as his own."

"It's okay," Dean said, surprised to realize he meant it. Being able to feel Cas's regret and willingness to close the link put him in a forgiving mood. Not to mention the fact that none of this would have happened if he hadn't betrayed Cas's trust by attempting to escape. "This Michael guy - he really that bad?"

"He has not been the same since the first war when he was forced to cast Lucifer into the pit," Castiel said. "They were very close, but Michael chose duty over love."

"And now he regrets that and takes it out on those weaker than him?" Dean asked.

Castiel's gaze was far away when he shook his head. "I do not know if he regrets making the decision or if he just dreads making it again in the Final Battle. But he does seem to spend a lot of time trying to forget and burning through humans and angels alike in his efforts to do so."

"The - our bonding, does that mean he can't take me?"

Cas refocused on Dean. "It makes it more difficult. It would have to be a… It would have to be completed in order to totally prevent him."
"It's not completed?" Dean asked warily.

Cas shook his head, but didn't elaborate further. Instead he said, "I still need to report to the garrison."

"I'll see you for dinner?" Dean asked, suddenly concerned that Cas would fly away and stay away.

Cas smiled and warmth pooled in Dean's stomach. "Of course, Dean. We have a," Cas hesitated, frowning like he was searching for the word, "standing date." Cas fluttered away, leaving Dean with butterflies in his stomach and a grin on his face.


"I shouldn't have taken off on my own," Dean said as soon as Cas appeared that night. He hadn't thought he would try to explain, but an entire day with nothing but his conscience for company had changed his mind.

Cas said nothing in return, simply stared at him in silence.

Dean sighed. "Sam is… He's my brother. He's my responsibility, and I have to protect him. I have too. I've been looking after Sammy his whole life, and I…" There were a million ways Dean could have ended that sentence - 'I don't know how to do anything else', 'I don't know who I am without him', 'I can't give up on him' - but Dean didn't voice any of them.

Cas hesitated before saying, "If you wanted, I could send you on an extended mission to Earth for me."

"No," Dean said immediately. "Not without Sam."

Cas nodded and offered, "Or I could simply free you, if you want out so badly as to endanger yourself…"

"No," Dean said again. "I just wanted to find Sammy. I didn't… I was gonna come back. I was actually on my way back when…"

Cas stepped forward and put his hands on Dean's shoulders, forcing Dean to meet his eyes. "I understand. You are forgiven."

Even though Dean hadn't meant it as an apology exactly, he smiled in relief. "It's not like I could have gotten far anyway," he said shrugging carefully so as not to dislodge Cas's hands, "I can't exactly hop into the impala drive out of Heaven."

Cas smiled in return, the skin at the corners of his eyes wrinkling in delight. "That is not our usual method of departure, no," he said. "She is safe though," he added apropos of nothing, hands dropping off of Dean's shoulders.

"Who?" Dean asked.

"Your... Baby," Cas frowned as he said the word, as if he was uncertain it was the correct one, "She is safe."

"The impala?" Dean asked, bewildered.

"Robert Singer has been looking after her."

"Bobby," Dean said, relief over a worry he hadn't even acknowledged sweeping over him. "She's with Bobby?"

"Yes," Castiel said. "Rober... Bobby drove her to his dwelling. He checks on her everyday and lets her run a few times a week." Castiel hesitated for a moment. "He seems very fond of her."

Dean nodded absently, turning away to get control of himself. "Yeah, Bobby knows a good car when he sees one."

"I believe he's fond of you as well," Cas said.

"He's not so good at judging people. Shit," Dean said, pressing the palms of his hands against his eyes so hard that he saw black spots.

"Dean, are you alright?" Even with his eyes closed Dean could hear the concern in Cas's voice, and the trickle of the bond that Cas couldn't hold completely close sang with anxiety. "Have I said something wrong?"

"No," Dean said quickly, backing it up with a pulse of reassurance along the bond. "You said exactly the right thing. I just…" miss him Dean thought.

Cas nodded and sent warmth and comfort across the bond for the rest of the meal.


Dean woke up almost a week later in Bobby's guest room and nearly fell off the bed in his haste to get up. In fact had there been witnesses they'd have said there was no 'nearly' involved. But no one was around so Dean's dignity stayed intact.

"Bobby!" Dean yelled, "I don't know what you did, but I could kiss you right now." There was no answer and Dean ran down the stairs in search of his friend. A quick, enthusiastic check of the house turned up nada. There was nothing to indicate the presence of other people at all except the pile of still warm pancakes sitting on the table.

"Sam?" Dean called, dread settling in his stomach at the continued silence. Still nothing. Dean took a deep breath, left the pancakes sitting on the table and did a slower, more thorough investigation.

An hour later he still had nothing. The dogs weren't even running around outside. But in the kitchen, the pancakes were still warm on the table. Dean closed his eyes against the suddenly painful sight of the closest thing to home he'd know since he was four years old. "Cas?" he tried.
A flutter and a whoosh and Dean turned to find Castiel standing his customary two steps inside Dean's personal space. Dean took a step back. "Hello, Dean," Castiel said, sounding pleased with himself.

"What the hell is this, you son of bitch?" Dean growled, all the affection he'd been building toward the angel flying out the window in the face of this cruelty. Dean felt a hot flush of satisfaction when Cas's face fell.

"You don't like it."

"The psychological torture? No, strangely enough, I don't like it."

The room shifted around him, a stomach churning ripple that his mind refused to accept and when it was settled again the less familiar but more welcome sight of the hotel room was back. "I thought you would be pleased," Castiel said, confusion and anxiety bleeding through the bond.

"Pleased? You thought I would enjoy thinking I was free and home again? I thought..." he trailed off, fighting back the itching burning sensation behind his eyes.

"You thought your family had rescued you and your brother," Castiel finished, understanding and regret coloring his voice and the bond.

"Yeah," Dean said, embarrassed by how rough his voice sounded.

"My apologies," Castiel said, "I did not realize. I had no wish to cause you pain."

"I know," Dean said immediately. The bitch of it was that he did know. Even without the bond, Dean knew without question that Castiel wouldn't hurt him deliberately. "I…" He didn't apologize, but Castiel's stiff posture relaxed a fraction and Dean thought maybe Castiel understood the sentiment anyway. "I just... I know you meant well."

Castiel hesitated. "There are ways for you to check on Robert Singer."

"You can take me to see Bobby?" Dean asked, doubt refusing to make room for hope.

"Not right now, not without raising suspicion and risking his safety," Castiel said, squashing that thought before it had a chance to capture Dean's imagination, "but we have ways of watching our Father's creation. I could bring you one to check on Robert. And your father if you wish."

Dean's jaw set in a tight line and he shied away from the thought of John Winchester. "I'd like that, Cas. I'd like that a lot."

Cas disappeared. "Hey," Dean protested, but Cas was back before he could build to a proper rant.

"Here," Cas said, offering him what looked like nothing more than a mirror.

Dean took it, turning it over in his hand before raising an eyebrow Cas's direction. "A magic mirror? Really? I think I've seen this movie."

Cas tipped his head in his patent pending "Dean Winchester exists to confuse me" look. "A mirror is just how your mind perceives it."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it. You and all your stuff is too awesome for my puny human brain to understand. Yadda yadda."

"Your brain is not puny, Dean," Cas said earnestly, "It's just human."

Dean smiled at Castiel's immediate defense of his brain. "So how does this work? Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?"

Dean's smile widened when his reflection stared back at him. "I knew it."

Castiel moved to stand behind him, so close Dean could feel the heat and buzz he'd come to associated with the angel all along his back. Cas tipped the mirror so they could both be seen. "That's cheating," Dean said, "we can't both be the fairest."

Castiel's face in the mirror looked confused, and he ignored Dean. "You should be able to see whomever you wish just be speaking zamran and their true name. Zanran Robert Stephen Singer."

Dean half-expected Disney special effects, the glass swirling or turning to water, but the mirror was simply showing their reflections one moment and Bobby's care worn face the next.

"Oh," Dean breathed, overwhelmed by the unexpected wave of homesickness that crashed over him.
Castiel stepped back. "I will leave you," he said.

Dean nodded, eyes never leaving Bobby's face as the older man picked up his phone. "Thanks, Cas," he said distractedly.

Dean could feel Cas's hesitation through the bond. "I will return at dinner?" he asked, sounding small and uncertain.

Dean nodded again and tore his eyes away briefly. "It's a date," he said with a smile and a wink. He waited for Cas toreturn the smile and disappear before he turned back to the mirror.

Bobby was possibly the most beautiful thing Dean had ever seen. Dean laughed at the though of expressing that sentiment to Bobby. "You're beautiful, Bobby," Dean said out loud.

Just then Bobby scowled, presumably at whatever he was hearing on the phone, but the timing was so perfect that Dean laughed, long and loud until tears were streaming down his face. And out of nowhere he was sobbing, no laughter involved, and he let it go - no one here to hear him anyway. He cried for missing Bobby, and the betrayal of their father, and his missing brother. He cried until his sides ached and his face felt hot and tight with tears. He cried until exhaustion pulled him to sleep.

He dozed fitfully - for how long he didn't know, but when he woke lunch was on the table and the mirror reflected nothing but his own tear stained face. Dean left the mirror on his bed and made a trip to the bathroom to clean his face before helping himself to chicken and potato salad. "Thanks, Cas," he said to the room, although lunch was the only sign that Cas had been there at all.

He sat at the table and picked the mirror up, "Zamran Bobby." Dozens - hundreds of scenes flashed across the surface and Dean corrected himself, "Zamran Robert Stephen Singer." Just like that he was staring back at Bobby's house. Dean had no idea how to the time difference between Heaven and Earth worked, but Bobby was fixing a meal for himself - the light from his window indicating it was probably close to midday, so Dean guessed maybe it was lunch for Bobby in South Dakota as well.

Dean ate mechanically as he watched Bobby go about what looked like a completely ordinary day. Eating, dishes, research, a million phone calls - all of it the most interesting thing Dean had ever seen because it was all human, and Earth, and home. Another hunter showed up, and whatever news he brought caused Bobby's face to turn bright red. Dean found himself wishing he could hear and was only a little surprised when suddenly it was as if someone had turned off the mute button.

"You moron! How could you let yourself get caught again? You think fake IDs grow on trees?"

The other man rolled his eyes. "Yeah, Bobby, I think you have a magical fake ID tree in your back yard and you just charge for them because you're the world's grumpiest old man."

Dean smiled at that. Bobby had never charged him a dime.

Bobby grunted. "I'd be a lot happier if there were less idiots in my life." But he let the other man into the house.
"You'd miss us, Bobby, admit it."

Bobby grunted something noncommittal.

"Hey, Bobby, I'm gonna hit the head," his companion said.

The words suddenly reminded Dean of his own neglected bladder and he set the mirror down, watching as it turned into an ordinary mirror again.

He got up and relieved himself and then picked the mirror up again, a thought occurring to him. "Zamran Samuel Lucas Winchester" The mirror showed only his reflection, and Dean frowned at it.

"I'm afraid you will not be able to see your brother in that mirror," Castiel said.

Dean looked around at Cas. "Because he's not on Earth?" Dean guessed.

"No, because Gabriel values his privacy and has protections in place against it," Cas said. "He is in fact on Earth."

Dean totally ignored the first part of that statement, stunned by the revelation in the second. "Sam's on Earth? Why didn't you tell me that before?"

Castiel tipped his head with a frown. "Is that important?"

"Damn right it's important!" Dean yelled.

"Why?"

Dean waved his arms in irritation. "It's... It means... He could..." Castiel raised an eyebrow at him. Dean folded his arms in front of his chest and quickly dropped them, aware of how defensive it made him look. "It just is."

Castiel nodded as if that made complete sense. "Okay," he said. "Does this mean you would in fact like me to send you back home?"
Dean considered it. On one hand, if Sam was on Earth then Earth was where Dean needed to be. On the other, Cas said Gabriel valued his privacy. If he had protections in place against Heaven finding him, what chance did Dean have alone on Earth. Cas was the one with connections that could help him find Gabriel - and by extension, Sam. His freedom would cut Dean off from Cas at best, and Cas from Heaven at worst. "I don't know," he said finally. "Is there anything else that you haven't told me about where my brother is?" Dean asked.
"I am unaware of what you might consider important," Castiel said.

"Any information about my brother is important."

"Perhaps it would be best if I filled you in over dinner then?"

Dean nodded and Cas began pulling food from the brown paper sack Dean hadn't noticed him holding. Once the table was laid out with cheeseburgers, fries, onion rings, chocolate shakes, and three kinds of pie - kiss up food if ever Dean had seen it - Cas told Dean everything he knew about his wayward older brother.

"Gabriel is fourth eldest of my brothers, and the youngest of the archangels. He was our Father's great herald. We were never close, so I know his deeds mostly from song and story. I heard that during the War he became withdrawn and distant, speaking only to our Father, and once our Father left, Gabriel disappeared as well. For awhile there were rumors that they were together, but then I discovered an unusually powerful trickster who was punishing evil men in unique ways. It turned out to be our lost brother."

"And you convinced him to come back," Dean said around a mouthful of cheeseburger.

Cas carefully selected a fry, chewed it up with precise bites and swallowed before answering. "Not exactly. I felt that he was shirking his responsibilities, and I informed Michael of his whereabouts - despite Gabriel's pleas that I leave him in peace." Castiel wouldn't meet Dean's eyes as he told of his betrayal of his brother. Dean did him the kindness of not commenting on it. "Gabriel has never forgiven me for that. He refuses to live amongst the host again. He only takes on the assignments he wants to take, and never against a brother - no matter how far they've gone astray. I believe you would say that he follows his own rules."

That actually made Dean feel better about Sam being in his dubious care. "It sounds like I'd like him," Dean said, "if he wasn't keeping my brother as a slave."

"I do believe your brother is safer in his care than he might otherwise be." Cas said. "But he was a trickster, don't forget. He punished those he felt deserved it in ways he felt they deserved with little care for collateral damage."

Dean shrugged. "Those he felt deserved it. He sounds better than most the supernatural creatures I've met - including angels."
"You dislike all supernatural creatures," Cas commented.

"Now that's not true. I like some supernatural creatures." Dean grinned meaningfully across the table. Cas's scowl deepened further, and Dean bumped their knees together. "I meant you, bird brain."

"Oh," Cas said, face smoothing into something like happiness again. "I like you as well."

Dean smiled again. "You know, I think a change of scenery might do me good after all." Cas tensed up on the other side of the table, but Dean closed his eyes in concentration. When he opened them again he was sitting at a real table in a real dining room.

Cas looked around in interest. "This place holds no emotional attachment for you," he said - a statement, not a question.

"No, just a model home Sam and I crashed in one week when we needed a place to lay low." Dean shrugged.

"Does this mean you will be staying?" Cas asked, curiosity and hope radiating from him.

"Yeah," Dean said, deciding that his best chance of finding Sam was sticking with Cas. Dean leaned back to peek down the hall. "There's a master suite with a jacuzzi tub upstairs with my name on it."

Cas stood up at once. "I will leave you then. There are matters to which I should be attending."

"There should be an office down the hall if you wanna stay, work from here. And a couple of spare bedrooms," Dean didn't know why he made the offer, only that he liked Cas and liked the idea of him being nearby.

Cas studied him for a moment. "This is my home, Dean. I have always been here, but I would be happy to stay within the area you have claimed for yourself if you wish."

Dean averted his eyes with a shrug and mumbled, "You know, if you want."

"I would like that very much," Cas said. And when Cas offered him another smile, Dean couldn't help but return it.


Sam sighed as the book disappeared from his hands. A glance out the window showed the light was fading fast, meaning it was time for Sam to make his nightly whore selection. Sam didn't hurry to oblige his archangel keeper. He'd spent a lot of time at first interviewing the potentials - trying to determine their motives, trying to talk them out of it, trying to figure out Gabriel's game. But finally he'd had to accept that Gabriel was correct - everyone who walked in the door wanted to sleep with an archangel. They weren't being pressured or forced in any way that Sam could determine.

Sam had considered mind fuckery, but that was shot down the first time Gabriel had touched the brand on Sam's chest. It turned out that bond did more than serve as a Sammy GPS. When they were actually touching it allowed him to read Gabriel's feelings - and vice versa. It was morethan a little disturbing, but it had put to rest Sam's theory about the nightly hordes being brainwashed. They weren't. They just wanted Gabriel.

Badly.

"Saaaaaammmmy," Gabriel's voice boomed out throughout the mansion. He'd delayed too long, lost in his meaningless wonderings.
Sam was suddenly standing in the foyer, wearing purple harem pants, a gold vest and something on his head that Sam strongly suspected was a turban. This was Gabriel's idea of a punishment for making him wait. Considering that Gabriel was for all intents and purposes his master, the punishment could have been worse. Sam thought he could live with a little embarrassment. Especially since the crowd eagerly awaiting their chance to sleep with an archangel could hardly judge him for his taste in clothes.

"Sammy! You're just in time. I was just about to make my own choice."

"Heaven forbid," Sam said without a shred of irony.

"More importantly, I forbid," Gabriel said.

"I wouldn't want you to strain yourself," Sam said.

"Awww, you do care. I knew you'd fall for my charms eventually." Gabriel's grin was so flirtatious that Sam actually heard of few perspectives in the crowd sigh.

"Have you heard anything about my brother?" Sam asked instead of rolling his eyes again.

"Soon, Sammy, soon. I'm meeting with an old friend shortly." Gabriel said it flippantly, but a brush of his shoulder against Sam's sent a wave of sincerity down the bond.

"Let's get on with this: I was reading," Sam said, not enjoying the jealous looks his easy banter with the angel were engendering.
"Fine," Gabriel said, "let me make your choice even easier tonight." Gabriel turned toward the crowd and waved a hand. Half the people disappeared, leaving only the males standing in the foyer.

Sam rolled his eyes and picked a short, skinny, red head. "Him."

Gabriel laughed as if Sam had told the best joke ever. "Well played, Sammy."

"Don't..." Sam began.

"...call you that," Gabriel finished. "Lighten up Sam. Have fun tonight. I know I will."

Another snap and Sam was alone in the foyer, still dressed like a harem boy he noted. He could only hope that his real clothes were folded up safely in his room, though Sam wouldn't put it past Gabriel to leave him like this for awhile. If only Dean could see him now. Sam waited for the familiar pang of longing to wash over him and then headed right back to the library. His best chance of seeing his brother again was to find a loophole to free them both. He could change later. Maybe. The harem pants were surprisingly comfortable.


Dean was half asleep on the couch when a noise like a key turning in the front door put him on alert. It was hours before he expected Cas home. And in the weeks since Dean had changed his living space and basically asked Cas to move in with him, Cas had never once used the front door. Dean had grown accustomed to turning around and finding Castiel just inches behind him, usually with food or a small trinket he thought Dean would find amusing.

Dean got up quickly and scanned the room for anything he could use as a weapon. It would, of course, likely be completely ineffective against anything that had managed to get past Cas's defenses. There was also a chance that the intruder was a friend of Cas's, but Dean had yet to meet a single person in Heaven who wasn't a complete dick. Except Cas of course.

"Cassie," a strange, British accented voice called. "Are you at home? Come out, come out, wherever you are."

Dean grabbed a lamp and risked a look into the hallway. A stranger was poking his head into the room Dean thought of as Castiel's private office. Even Dean never went into that room, and the sight of this asshole blithely violating Cas's privacy spurred Dean into action.
"He's out," Dean said, stepping out of his room to confront the stranger, lamp held aloft.

"Hello," British Dick said, "you must be the new piece of eye candy Castiel's been gushing about all around Heaven." Dean couldn't imagine Cas gushing about anything, but he didn't rise to the obvious bait. "Nice…" British Dick paused to give Dean a very deliberate once-over "…lamp." He waved a hand and the lamp disappeared.

Dean's hand reached instinctively, uselessly for his gun before he forced himself to relax. "I prefer Dean," he said with an easy 'you know you love me' smile.

"Do you?" British Dick asked.

"And you are?" Dean said pointedly.

"I'm Balthazar, darling. I know, I know, you've heard all about me from Cassie. But try not to be overwhelmed, I'm only human after all. Or well, no I'm an angel, but mostly harmless." A feral grin. "When I want to be."

Dean was less than impressed. Cas could quell a room with a stern look. This guy looked like he ought to be having high tea or something. "Never heard of you, but I can try to remember your name long enough to tell Cas you stopped by."

Dean didn't miss the way Balthazar's eyes narrowed at Dean's nickname or the smirk that quickly covered it. "No need to trouble yourself, pretty little concubine. I just wanted to fill Cassie in on some juicy gossip about our dear big brother Gabriel. I'll just let myself in later and tell him myself."

Dean's objections and angry displeasure fled at the sound of Gabriel's name. "Gabriel's here?" he asked, all pretense of disinterest gone.

"Not for long, I imagine. He never was a big fan of Heaven. Tell my darling Cassie that I'll see him soon." This time Balthazar left in typical angel fashion, by disappearing between one breath and the next.

"Over my dead body," Dean growled at nothing, irrationally angry a Balthazar's causal and probably one-sided intimacy with Cas. "Gabriel."
Without stopping to think of the consequences, Dean rushed out the front door and into the streets of Heaven. He had no idea where to start looking for Gabriel, but how difficult could it possibly be to find one archangel of the Lord - even in Heaven.

Very difficult as it turned out. Especially when two hours of wandering found him lost on an only vaguely familiar street, this time drawing all kinds of unwanted attention to himself by being unaccompanied. Apparently word of his earlier run-in with Michael had spread. Which only served to remind Dean that he'd all but promised not to run away again. Not that he was running away this time - he was gathering intel.

Badly.

Dean tried asking a few angels about Gabriel but they all stared at him the way a human might stare at a strange dog. Like he was kind of cute but they were afraid he might bite. It kind of made him want to growl and pee on fire hydrants just on principle.

He was more than ready to go home to wait for Cas, but he was no longer sure he could find his way back without help. Dean turned down another random street, trying to remember if the book shop on the end was the same one he'd passed an hour ago when he finally ran into a familiar face.

Unfortunately that familiar face was "Uriel," he said, struggling to keep his voice neutral for Cas's sake.

Uriel sneered at him before recognition set in. "Aren't you Castiel's pet mud monkey?"

Dean rolled his eyes. He'd never thought he had a particularly hard name to remember. It was only four letters. "Dean," he said.

"What are you doing wandering the streets on your own?" Uriel asked, as if Dean were a small child who'd wandered off from his parents.

"Are you lost?" a new voice asked, and Dean leaned to one side to look beyond Uriel. A petite, pale red headed woman was with him, smiling up at Dean with the first truly friendly expression Dean could ever remember seeing in Heaven. Other than on Cas, of course, but even he'd taken awhile to warm up.

Dean grinned at her, almost unconsciously going into flirtatious mode: he'd always had a bit of a weakness for a pretty face. "Oh, I may have gotten myself a bit turned around." Dean slid around Uriel to talk to the pretty redhead face to face. "Wanna walk me home?" Dean offered his arm.

The redhead smiled wider and took the proffered arm. "I'll see you home safely," she promised.

Dean laughed, delighted by the mischievous glint in her eye. "I'm Dean. I'm…staying with Castiel."

"You may call me Anna," she answered, "And I know."

Dean wanted to flirt some more, ask her exactly what she knew, but Uriel planted a hand on each of them and they landed on a familiar front porch.

The door swung open at once, revealing Cas. His eyes slid over the three of them without showing interest in Dean's position between them, but the bond told a much different story. Worry and disappointment and even a touch of hurt was pouring off of Cas in waves he wasn't even trying to dampen.

Uriel dropped his hands and turned to address Cas. "Brother," he growled, shoulders twitching rhythmically. "I believe this belongs to you." He reached behind him and, with a grip guaranteed to bruise, shook Dean by the back of his neck as though he were a misbehaving dog. That was probably exactly how Uriel saw him, Dean mused.

Cas sighed heavily. "Yes, Uriel, Dean belongs with me. Please release him."

Uriel did and Anna laid a cool hand on the back of Dean's neck, soothing the ache there. Dean leaned into the gentle touch slightly, and then gasped at the force of rage and pain that came through the bond in the split second before it slammed shut. Dean moved away from Anna at once, concern driving him to Cas's side. He tried to push a questioning feeling toward the angel, but the bond remained closed tight.
"You seem unconcerned at your pet's attempt at escape," Uriel accused coldly. "Didn't the bond tell you he was missing?"

No, Dean thought it probably wouldn't have, since he wasn't missing. He wasn't even trying to get away this time. He'd acted rashly and without thought, but he knew he hadn't intended to leave Cas.

"I wasn't escaping!" Dean protested. Three pairs of heavenly eyes turned to him. He crossed his arms over his chest, and then immediately dropped them. He shrugged instead. "I heard there was a trickster-slash-archangel running around. I wanted to get a peek."

Uriel turned to Anna in disgust, but Cas remained looking at Dean for a moment longer. He nodded and his stance relaxed minutely, and Dean knew that Cas understood what had happened - in general if not the specifics. Cas turned back to his brothers.

"As you see, Dean was not missing. He is not confined to our Heaven. I trust Dean," Cas answered. Dean tried to probe the bond, to see if it was true even after the incident with Michael. This time Cas let him in, and Dean swelled with pride at the trust he found there.

"That's a dangerous game, Castiel," Uriel warned. "It could be seen as weakness. You should get rid of him before that weakness is used against you." With that dire sounding warning, Uriel was gone.

Anna who'd been silently watching Dean and Cas the whole time spoke up finally. "I'd be happy to take him if he's proving too much trouble." She smiled, that hint of mischief still very much evident. "You know that I'm fond of humans, and Dean is very… amusing."

Dean grinned and winked at her again. "You're very amusing too."

Something bright and intense flashed across the bond, too quickly for Dean to identify and Dean nearly stumbled under the weight of it. Cas steadied him automatically, his hand falling on his mark and the emotion poured through again before Cas wrenched his hand back off and sealed their connection off tight.

Dean pushed against it with all his might, trying to figure out what was going on with Cas, but Cas did nothing more than send him a stern look.

"That won't be necessary," Cas said, still calm, but slightly breathless. "I have it under control."

Anna's smile widen. "Of course, brother. I shall just have to be entertained from afar then."

"You should join us for dinner sometime," Dean blurted without thinking, still mostly distracted by trying to get past Cas's defenses. They slipped for a moment at his words, hurt stinging Dean across the bond before it cut off again. This time Dean withdrew, confused.

"Dinner?" Anna asked.

"Yeah, you know, food and conversation - usually served up sometime in the evening?" Dean pressed on, ignoring the way Cas had gone quiet and still beside him.

"I'd enjoy that," Anna said.

"Great, show up anytime."

"Castiel?" Anna asked, turning her attention to Dean's right.

"Of course, Anael," Cas answered at once, strangely deferential, "I would be honored."

"Very well. I will see you then," Anna said before disappearing.

Dean turned to Cas, catching his eye. Turmoil stared back at him for an endless moment before Cas said, "I will see if Gabriel is still in Heaven. Dinner is in the kitchen," and disappeared as well.

Dean looked around at the now empty stoop. "Something I said?"


"Honey, I'm home." Despite the words, Gabriel looked as serious as Sam had ever seen him: there wasn't a sweet in sight. "So, I went upstairs to talk to my dear brethren. In person and everything. There was quite a scene, let me tell you."

"You found out something about Dean?" Sam asked, equal parts hopeful and nervous.

"I'm getting there sweet stuff, calm down," Gabriel said, "I made some noise about your brother. Asked around about getting the complete set..."

Sam crossed his arms over his chest and glared down at his tiny captor.

Gabriel smiled a real smile for the first time since getting back. "No need to be jealous big boy, you're all the Winchester I need."

Sam rolled his eyes, but something stupid inside him was warmed and relieved. "You learned something?" he prompted again.

"Not as much as I'd hoped. No less an angel than Zachariah showed up to order me to leave it be if I want to keep the brother I've got," Gabriel sounded amused, as if Zachariah ordering him to do anything at all was faintly hilarious. "Zach's a slimy worm - I could and have smacked him around on more than one occasion, but that wouldn't get us closer to Dean."

All the air seemed to go out of the room and Sam slumped forward. Gabriel stepped in closer as if to catch Sam if he fell. "It's not all bad," Gabriel promised. "He did let slip who has Dean. Castiel. One of my very youngest brothers."

"That's good news?" Sam asked.

"Castiel is very young - a solider. He's loyal and hasn't met an order that he hasn't followed to the letter, but he's not cruel and he has zero interest in sex or so the rumors go - and trust me, Balthazar has tried many times - so Dean is safe on that front. Although he may be in danger of being bored to death by my nerdy little brother."

Sam shook his head. It didn't sound like all the horrors he'd been afraid to imagine, but safe was not the word he'd use. Gabriel seemed to sense it, because suddenly Sam found himself pushed down into his favorite armchair with an archangel in his lap. Sam's arms came up automatically to circle around Gabriel. He immediately felt awkward about it, but Gabriel was beaming at him and satisfaction was pouring out through their bond so Sam left his arms there.

"After Zach swooped down like an overgrown buzzard, Uriel told me that Castiel tried to refuse his slave..." Sam flinched at the word and Gabriel stroked his arm in apology "...but they threatened to give him to Michael. That would be very bad. Your brother probably wouldn't have even survived this long if that had happened, or at least anything that came away from Michael would not be the brother you remember. Castiel stepped up to spare Dean that - so we know he's protecting Dean."

"And if he's ordered to kill my brother or turn him over to Michael? You said he's obedient." Sam pressed.

"Castiel is a good angel - but more than that, he's just good. He is obedient, but he's not mindless - unlike most of my siblings. He doesn't play politics, and he doesn't kiss up. He believes in our dear absent Father wholly. He won't follow an order if he doesn't think Father would approve. And I get the impression he doesn't think Daddy would approve of what Heaven's done to the Winchester brothers. Besides," Gabriel added with a smirk, "Uriel seems to think Castiel is too fond of our little Dean."

"We have to make sure," Sam said, feeling hopeful again.

Gabriel sighed and leaned against Sam's chest. "With Zach's feathers all ruffled, I can't approach Dean or even Castiel directly until things die down or the situation changes. Castiel and I…are not on the best of terms. For now we'll just keep our ears open. I've persuaded Balthazar to renew his suit for Castiel." Sam could heard the mischief in Gabriel's voice when he added, "It didn't take much convincing."
Sam refused to be distracted. "Good. That's good, I guess."

"It is," Gabriel assured him, "We'll have a good idea about how Dean fares - maybe even get a message to him in a week or two. If he's half as smart as you are, he can take care of himself till then." Sam could feel Gabriel's sincerity and hope and a touch of sympathy in him. For the first time Sam tried to push something back through the bond - gratitude.

"In some ways he's even smarter," Sam said, thinking of all the ways his brother had kept them both alive over the years. Then his arms tightened around Gabriel. "Tell him that and I'll put you in a ring of holy oil."

Gabriel pulled back to look around the library thoughtfully. "What kind of things have you been reading Sasquatch?"

"Know thy enemy," Sam answered with a smile.

Gabriel laughed. "And thyself," he retorted before turning serious. "You okay?"

Sam nodded. He was still worried for his brother of course, but he found that he actually trusted Gabriel and his assessment of the situation. "Yeah," he said, arms tightening around Gabriel again, "Thanks."

"Hey kiddo, I keep my promises. And you have been a ray of sunshine as promised." Gabriel frowned. "Except for right now." A snap, and a bottle of chocolate syrup appeared in Gabriel's' hand. "Wanna take me to bed and let me comfort you?"

Although Gabriel was forever making those kind of offers, Sam was finding it harder and harder to refuse. Gabriel was… he was something different and amazing. And easy on the eyes. Every encounter with the archangel, Sam found himself drawn to his quick wit and easy smile. With Gabriel in his lap... hell, he probably couldn't disguise it with the bond anyway - Sam couldn't hide his body's interest in the offer, but he pushed Gabriel away and stood up. "No."

Something like disappointment flickered across Gabriel's face, and Sam had to stop himself from reaching out to touch - to use the bond to see what Gabriel was playing at, but then Gabriel shrugged and dismissed the chocolate sauce with another snap of the fingers. "Your loss. Let's go find me a Sammy substitute for the night then." And Gabriel whisked them away to the once again crowded foyer.


For the first time since Dean's first days in Heaven, Castiel didn't show up for dinner. Dean didn't eat either. He found a pot roast in the kitchen, but he had no appetite. He knew that Cas was upset up with him, and somehow it didn't feel right to eat without Cas.

But Castiel didn't return that night, and Dean fell into a fitful doze on the couch with an empty stomach somewhere around dawn.

Dean dreamed that he was in a tiny boat on the ocean, being tossed about helplessly as a storm raged around him. He screamed for his Dad and for Sam, and he dimly heard Sam calling back to him. But he couldn't see his brother anywhere. He searched the boat frantically for something to give him control over his vessel, but the storm only raged harder, throwing him violently out of the boat. Instinctively he called out for Cas, sending his fear through the bond as waves crashed over his head.

He got Cas's warm, calm presence back almost at once, and a gentle weight landed on his right arm. "Dean," Cas said aloud, "I am here."
Dean's eyes flew open to reveal Cas above him, one hand covering the mark of their bonding. "Cas," Dean gasped, heart pounding wildly in his chest.

"You were dreaming," Cas surmised. "A nightmare."

Dean nodded, although it hadn't been a question. "Yeah." He sat up slowly, careful not to dislodge the comforting weight of Cas's hand. Cas remained where he had been when Dean awoke, kneeling on the floor next to the couch. A check of the time showed that he'd been sleeping for about four hours, and it was way too early for Cas to be home from the garrison. "What are you doing here?" he asked, smiling shakily.

"You called for me," Cas explained, his pleasure pouring over Dean. "You were frightened, and you called for me."

Dean shrugged, dislodging Cas's hand. "It was just a dream, Cas," he said, forcing himself to sound calm.

Cas's eyes were wide and knowing when he answered, "Of course, Dean."

Dean patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "But thanks for coming when I called, Cas."

"Always," Cas promised without hesitation, his eyes boring into Dean's own.

Dean stared back as long as he could manage, and Cas's sincerity was as evident in his eyes as it was through the bond. "Thanks," he repeated, looking away at last.

Dean's stomach chose that moment to remind them both that it had been neglected of late.

"You did not eat," Cas said, "again." Amusement sparkled in Cas's eyes.

"Yeah, wasn't hungry," Dean said dismissively, ignoring his stomach for a change. "Cas, about earlier, you have to know I wasn't running, right? I mean, I did run, but I wasn't running away."

"You have no need to run away when you only have to ask and I'll send you home."

Dean smiled. "Alright then," Dean said, relieved that Cas believed him. The thought of Cas doubting him didn't sit right with him.
Cas hesitated, searching Dean's face for something, before replying. "I admit that I was uncertain of your motives when you did not return for dinner," Cas began. "But after Balthazar fully explained about his visit and his news I understand why you were compelled to go look for Gabriel."

Dean bristled at the mention of British Dick, angry that it might have been his word that got Dean off the hook. "Yeah, that's another winner of a friend you've got there, Cas. He just barged in without knocking, insinuating all kinds of things about you and him..." Dean made a hand gesture any thirteen year old boy would recognize. Cas just started at him blankly. "…and stuff," he finished weakly. Dean watched Cas carefully, hoping for a swift denial that there was any sort of relationship.

"Balthazar has been a good friend for a long time," Cas said, "Although he is sometimes trying, he has proven himself useful on this occasion."
It wasn't an outright denial, but Dean decided the use of the words 'friend' and 'trying' were a good sign. "Do you have any friends who aren't dicks?" he asked, smiling to invite Cas into the joke.

"There is you," Cas answered seriously, earning him another smile from Dean. "And Anael. You seemed fond of her." There was something strange in Cas's voice as he said it - almost fragile - and Dean, not as oblivious as he pretended to be, sensed that something deeper was going on in the statement.

"Yeah, well I obviously have good taste," he said, "I'm fond of you."

Cas's smile was beautiful, but Dean almost missed it in the wave of joy that washed over him. "The feeling is mutual, Dean."
"Uh." Dean looked down to hide his grin and rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed. "You said Brit… Balthazar was useful this time? What did he have to say?"

"Balthazar was able to speak with Gabriel while he was here. In fact, I believe Gabriel specifically sought him out."

Cas didn't get a chance to say anything further as Dean dropped off the couch to his knees on the floor facing Cas. "Sam? Did he hear anything about Sam?" he asked, hands shaking Cas's shoulders in his excitement.

Cas removed Dean's hands from his shoulders and held them in his own. "Your brother is safe - alive and well, and apparently not 'taking any of Gabriel's bollocks' according to Balthazar."

Dean tried to laugh, but it came out more like a sob. "That's my Sammy."

Cas rubbed his thumb across Dean's knuckles in slow soothing circles. "Gabriel told him that Sam asks for you everyday, and he has been researching loopholes in his contract." Dean didn't answer, almost numb with happiness and relief. "They struck a deal."

Dean tensed despite the comfort of Cas's hands still cradling his own. "A deal?"

"It is nothing to be worried about," Cas said. He stood up and used his grip on Dean's hands to pull him to his feet as well. "You still haven't eaten. Let me correct that."

Dean followed Cas into the kitchen. Over waffles and bacon Cas explained what Balthazar had relayed to him.

"So, Gabriel just wants him to pick his nightly fuck?" Dean asked, bewildered. "Why would he want that?"

Cas shrugged, a human gesture he must have picked up from Dean, and said, "It must amuse him. But we can take comfort in the fact that Gabriel seems to like him. He may be willing to put aside our differences in order to help you. Balthazar doesn't know how to contact Gabriel directly, but he expects to see him again soon. He has agreed to take a message, and ask Gabriel to meet us. Father willing, you and your brother should be reunited shortly and returned to John Winchester."

The smile that had been building in Dean fell away abruptly. Dad? Dean knew he wanted - needed - to get Sam back, but beyond that? He wasn't sure anymore. The idea of leaving Heaven and getting back to hunting appealed, but trading life with Cas for life with his father did not. Dean shrugged off his sense of unease and refilled his coffee cup.

"Dean?"

Dean suddenly realized that Cas had been calling him for several minutes while he brooded. "Yeah, Cas?"

"Are you alright?" Cas asked, frowning at Dean like he was a complex puzzle.

Dean grinned. "Of course" Cas looked doubtful. "Hey," Dean said too cheerfully, "can we have ribs for dinner tonight. I know this little place in Texas…"

Cas continued to shoot him appraising looks, but let himself be distracted with tales of Dean's life on the road. When he skipped going into the garrison in favor of telling Dean the story of his first flight Dean didn't mention it, but he left the bond open so Cas would know he appreciated it.

Sometime in the early evening, Dean's lack of sleep caught up with him full force. His yawn interrupted Cas's third attempt at explaining some joke Uriel had taught him. "Sorry Cas," he said through a second yawn. "I'm never gonna get angel humor."

"It's funnier in Enochain," Cas conceded. He stood up, offering his hand to Dean to once again help him up. Dean allowed it, and followed, bemused, when Castiel kept a hold of him, using his grip to drag him down the hall.

"Where are we going Cas?" he asked, amused.

"To bed," Cas answered.

There wasn't even a hint of seduction in Cas's voice, but Dean's stupid heart sped up anyway. His brain helpfully calling up some images he thought he'd banished to his private time with his right hand. But when they got to his room, Cas dropped his hand and simply stood there.
Dean waited, but when it became obvious that Cas was simply waiting for him he looked away. "What's going on, Cas?" Dean asked, embarrassed over the slight whine in his voice.

"You're tired," Cas said, plainly confused by the question. Then he squared his shoulders. "Forgive me, I forgot that you cannot sleep while I'm watching you. I will report to the garrison."

Dean quickly reached out to grab the sleeve of Cas's trench coat. "No!" he said, too loudly, too anxiously. He lowered his voice. "I mean, it's okay. You can stay." Dean shrugged to cover his discomfort.

"You do not wish to be alone," Cas said, nodding.

Dean felt himself flush at the frank assessment of his feelings. "No," Dean agreed. He stepped back and turned around to get ready for bed. He stripped without hesitation or embarrassment down to his boxers before facing Cas again.

Cas was watching him carefully, looking him up and down to capture every aspect of him. There was nothing sexual in his gaze - on the contrary he looked almost reverent - as if everything about Dean was interesting and worth cataloguing. Dean flushed darker under the attention and immediately climbed into bed.

"Goodnight, Cas," he said.

The lights went out - presumably Cas's doing - and Cas answered, "Sleep well, Dean."

Dean fell asleep to the soft sound of Cas breathing, a steady in and out like the beating of wings.


Cas was gone when Dean woke up, and for that he was grateful. He felt awkward enough about his neediness the night before without having to face proof that Cas had spent the whole night hovering over him like the guardian angel he said he wasn't, watching him sleep.
Dean's day was quiet and completely uneventful until Anna joined them for dinner that night.

Dean liked Anna. He really did, but her presence made Castiel go weirdly polite and distant. There was no repeat of that intense bright emotion that had marked their last meeting with Anna and Uriel, but Cas kept him shut out from the bond the whole night.

And the more distant and hyper polite Cas got toward him, the more Dean turned to Anna. At least she knew how to have fun - even if she did like cake better than pie.

"That's crazy talk, woman," Dean told her when she made her shocking announcement. "Are you sick?" Dean moved forward as if to feel her forehead, but Anna laughed and waved him off.

"Cake is a perfectly acceptable dessert choice," Anna insisted through her laughter, producing an array of cupcakes from wherever angels pulled shit from.

"Help me out here, Cas. Cake or pie?" Dean turned to Cas, a pleading smile affixed into place. Cas was scowling, looking just like a thunder cloud had settled over him. Dean even imagined he could smell ozone in the air. "Cas?" Dean asked, pushing gently at the shut bond, "You okay, man?"

Cas jerked as if startled and his shoulders relaxed a fraction. "I'm sorry, Dean," he said, opening the bond for the first time since Anna's arrival. "I was distracted. What did you need?"

Dean grinned at him and leaned in conspiratorially. "A little backup. The redhead over here thinks cake is better than pie."

Cas leaned in as well. "It is not fitting for an angel to question their superior…" he whispered, trailing off leadingly.

"But?" Dean prompted, lowering his voice as well. "Just between us."

"Pie is clearly the superior food," Cas whispered back solemnly.

Dean grinned so hard he thought he might have pulled something. Cas's lips twitched in response, and then he bit his lip as if to quell the motion. Dean had the sudden, crazy urge to lean in the rest of the way, kiss Cas's abused bottom lip and lick his way inside that perfect, tempting mouth.

Dean sat back quickly, shaking his head to rid himself of dangerous ideas. Cas watched him back up, clearly puzzled and sent a question through the bond. This time it was Dean's turn to shut it down, deny Cas access. A brief pulse of hurt and then Cas retreated.

Dean turned back to Anna, desperate for distraction before he did something stupid - like make out with an angel in front of said angel's boss. "Cas is too polite to say so, but he's on my side," Dean told her, full of superiority.

Anna snorted, the inelegant sound a sharp contrast to her appearance. "Of course he is," she said. Then she shoved a chocolate cupcake into Dean's mouth.

Dean sputtered and spit but eventually managed to choke down a bite. "What was that for?"

"You liked it," Anna laughed by way of explanation.

Dean shrugged. "I never said cake was bad - just that pie is far better."

"Maybe you've been eating the wrong kind of cake," Anna suggested.

"Proves my point," Dean retorted, swiping his finger through some cherry filling left over from the dessert Cas had provided for their meal, "no such thing as the wrong kind of pie."

He held up his finger in offering to Anna. A strange expression crossed over her face even as she shook her head, but Dean didn't have time to contemplate it. Another flash of hurt - deep and aching - arched across the bond, leaving Dean breathless with it.

Cas stood up abruptly, bumping the table and knocking fully half of the Anna's cupcakes to the ground. "I..." he said, clearly agitated, "I just remembered I have something - somewhere I'm supposed to be." Dean gaped at Cas; he'd had no idea it was possible to lie that badly. "I will see you tomorrow, Anael. Dean," he said, nodding to them each in turn before he flew away.

Dean turned to Anna, bewildered. "What just happened?"

Anna shook her head, pityingly. "You'd better figure it out quickly, Dean. It's not strictly speaking allowed to play favorites within a garrison, but I love Castiel best and I do not like seeing him in pain."

"Me neither," Dean said defensive and confused.

"I know, but you're hurting him nonetheless," Anna nodded and added, "If you don't fix this I believe Balthazar would be happy to comfort our distressed brother."

With that troubling message, she too flew away.


Anna didn't join them for dinner again for the rest of the week. Unfortunately, Balthazar did. Leaving Dean with no additional clues to what was wrong with Cas and no recourse to fix it. When Dean sent something through the bond - anything, irritation at Balthazar, pleasure at the food, curiosity when Cas was running late the third night in a row - Cas let it through and responded, but he never initiated anymore. The strain was making Dean irritable.

Watching Balthazar fawn all over Cas every single night was making Dean move right past irritable straight into slightly homicidal.
By the fifth night, Dean was sure the force of his grip would snap his fork in half if it wasn't some magical angelic fork. Balthazar was putting on quite the show -constantly touching Cas's chest and laughing uproariously whenever Cas said anything at all - even stupid shit like 'please pass the coleslaw.'

"It wasn't funny, jackass," Dean muttered to himself, knowing full well that both angels could hear him loud and clear.

"Maybe you just don't understand heavenly humor," Balthazar said with a smile that made Dean think words like smarmy and smug.
"It wasn't intended as a joke," Cas said. "But Dean did have trouble understanding Uriel's humor," he added helpfully.

Dean shot him a betrayed look, and left his eyes on Cas even as he answered Balthazar's accusation. "I don't have to understand heavenly humor. I understand Cas."

Affection washed over him from Cas, making them both smile.

"Hmmm," Balthazar hummed. "You have me at a disadvantage. I never get Cassie to myself anymore."

Dean turned a smirk of his own at Balthazar, but it wasn't until Cas pushed a question at him that Dean realized he was sending satisfaction across the bond. Dean shrugged, and gently closed the bond down.

"I'm sorry you are feeling neglected Balthazar," Cas said politely, turning with what Dean fancifully imagined to be great reluctance away from Dean. "Perhaps we can…" he hesitated, glancing at Dean, "…hook up later."

Jealousy, white hot and blinding, filled Dean's senses. He turned to Cas in surprise, no idea why Cas should be experiencing such a feeling. Cas looked back at him with concern and brushed gently at their connection - the connection Dean was still holding closed.

Dean's surprise turned to shock as he realized the jealousy was all his own. He didn't want Cas spending anytime at all with Balthazar, much less hooking up with him. Shit, that attraction he'd been feeling to Cas might have been more significant than he'd first realized. "Over my dead body," he said through gritted teeth. Because he may have no chance at hell with something as pure and good as Cas, but he'd be damned if Balthazar was going to take advantage.

"Now, now," Balthazar clucked, "Who's the slave and who's the master here? Cassie is a big boy, and he can make his own decisions."

Cas brushed concern against Dean again, but Dean shook his head before answering Balthazar. "Cas doesn't know what you're suggesting and doesn't have time for your games. We're supposed to be finding my brother, remember?"

"Yes, yes." Balthazar smiled fondly Cas's direction. "He is still bit of an innocent, isn't he? I can fix that though. Give me an hour: he'll understand what I'm suggesting just fine."

Cas's head moved back and forth as he watched the exchange. "I believe it would be best if you left now, Balthazar."

Balthazar's eyebrows shot up. "Fine," he said, pushing back from the chair. "Come see me sometime tomorrow so we can…" he paused to shot a wicked grin Dean's direction, "…hook up."

Dean thought several unsavory things at Balthazar, but it was Cas who answered. "If Dean feels that strongly about it," Cas said, "I will have to decline."

Something wounded crossed over Balthazar's face over that. Dean might have felt sorry for him if he wasn't too busy internally crowing in victory. Instead he flipped Balthazar off behind Cas's back. "Bu-bye, Balthy," he said sweetly.

"And to you," Balthazar replied, recovering his composure admiringly fast. He turned to Cas again. "I'll let you know what I hear from Gabriel. In the meantime, perhaps you should let Anael take Dean for awhile. He's getting quite uppity."

Cas smiled, but there was no humor in the expression. "I will take that under advisement," he said dryly.

"Hmmm, somehow I doubt it," Balthazar said, fluttering off without waiting for a response.

As soon as they were alone, Dean turned to Cas. "What is with everyone trying to separate us? Worst slavery experience ever. You can't just give someone a gift and then threaten to take it away every few seconds," Dean griped.

"It is odd," Cas agreed. "I have done everything they asked, and you have not posed a threat to Heaven or sought your brother- to the best of their knowledge. The only reason for my brothers to want to take you from me is if somehow they know that I…" Cas stopped abruptly and for the first time ever put physical space between himself and Dean, shoulders shifting in what Dean recognized as nervousness.

Hope swelled in Dean. "That you what, Cas?" he asked, licking his lower lip, intensely aware of Cas's eyes on him as he tracked the movement.
"What?" Cas asked, unconsciously swaying closer to Dean again. Dean smirked, smug with satisfaction at having totally derailed Cas's train of thought with the power of his tongue. Awesome.

"The only reason your brothers would take me from you is if they know that you…what, Cas?" Dean repeated patiently, reaching out to cup his hands around Cas's hips.

The contact seemed to jar Cas out of his stupor. "Nothing," he said, stepping out of Dean's reach. "I have to go."

Before Dean could protest Cas disappeared, leaving Dean alone but with all the confirmation he needed. Cas wanted him. Dean just had to make sure that Cas knew that Dean wanted him too.


Sam watched as the faceless stranger - the tall, buff, long haired stranger - slid wetly in and out of Gabriel's body. Gabriel's eyes closed tight as he thrust himself back faster onto the hard cock. Sam reached his hand past the elastic waistband of the pajama bottoms he'd been wearing when the noises started and need to see had pulled him from his bed and to Gabriel's door.

He licked a palm and gripped himself, stroking in time to the bucking of the body thrusting into Gabriel. He moaned softly when Gabriel shifted, affording him a view of Gabriel's red cock leaking onto the sheets below him.

Gabriel's eyes snapped open at the sound, his gaze finding unerringly Sam's. "Sam," he gasped as their eyes met and he came spectacularly all over his sheets. A few strokes later and Sam found his own release over his hand. His eyes closed and he leaned against the doorframe, shaking through the aftermath.

When he opened his eyes again, Gabriel stood right in front of him - all signs of the other man and their activities gone. Without thinking Sam leaned heavily against the angel, mouths meeting in a fierce kiss.

"Sam. Sammy, why didn't you choose yourself?" Gabriel panted against Sam's mouth, lust and want pouring out of him. "I've been waiting for you."

Sam remembered then why this was a very bad idea. He straightened up and pulled away with some difficulty. "Why haven't you freed me?"

"You're not gonna like the answer," Gabriel warned, leaning toward Sam again, but not quite touching him.

"Try me," Sam insisted.

Gabriel wrapped his arms around Sam's waist and lay his chin on his chest so he could look up into Sam's eyes. "It's for your own good. You're safer with me than out on your own."

"You were right," Sam said, "I don't like it."

"Are you saying you're only trying to seduce me to gain your freedom?" Gabriel's tone was teasing, but hurt poured out of him.
Sam rolled his eyes and pressed a quick, firm kiss to Gabriel's lips. "No."

"Do you trust me?"

"Yes," Sam answered, surprised. He had no idea when Gabriel had made the short list of people he trusted.

A smile - a genuine one, not a smirk - bloomed on Gabriel's face. "Then trust me now."

Sam nodded and then blurted out the other reason he hadn't approached Gabriel. "I don't want to be the fuck of the night."

Gabriel laughed and kissed Sam's chest. "You're my fuck every night. Every time, they're always you. I'd have given them up anytime if you'd just asked."

Sam pulled back again, but this time left his arms around Gabriel. Through the bond Sam could feel passion, hope, and most surprisingly of all - love. "I'm asking," Sam said quietly.

Warmth and joy soaked into Sam from the bond and Gabriel waggled his eyebrows. "Sammy, wanna give up your glamorous slave lifestyle and become an angel's consort?"

"Gabriel, wanna give up your slutty lifestyle and be my mate?" Sam retorted, showing off more of the angelic lore he'd picked up from his library.

Gabriel laughed, clearly impressed, and flew them both to the bed. Somewhere over the course of the night they both found a way to make the other say yes.

***
Since making the welcome discovery that Dean's lust affair with an angel of the Lord was reciprocated, Dean had been trying and failing to get said angel to himself. Either Anna or Balthazar were at dinner every night, and just when Dean thought it couldn't possibly get worse - it did.
They got twice the dinner company when both Anna and Balthazar showed up on their doorstep. It wasn't a quiet dinner - couldn't be with Balthazar trying to steal Cas's attention at every turn, and Anna trying to keep him distracted while directing pointed looks at Dean - and yet, it felt quiet and tense to Dean with Cas shutting him out still and Anna ignoring his attempts at conversation. It was a relief when it was over, even as Dean's mind raced for a way to make Cas - who'd been rushing right out after dinner every night- stay.

"You could try just asking," Anna whispered gently while Balthazar hoarded Cas's attention.

"What?" Dean asked, startled. He hadn't know she could read his mind. "How did you…?"

Anna rolled her eyes. "I don't have to violate your privacy to know there's something on your mind. I'm betting it has something to do with Castiel. You've been shooting him these adorable longing gazes all night. Whatever it is you're thinking or wondering - just ask him."
"I'll keep that in mind," Dean promised wryly.

"Cassie, love, I have another engagement, but need to speak to you first," Balthazar said as he pushed away from the table. "Alone," he added.
Dean growled, but Cas put a hand on his knee before he could protest. "There is no need," Cas said, "Dean can hear whatever you need to say, especially if it involves his brother."

Balthazar glanced briefly at Anna. She was a good friend, but they hadn't filled her in on the whole Sam situation.

"I'll just take these to the kitchen, shall I?" she asked, standing and gathering the dinner dishes. Dean and Cas sent her identical looks of gratitude.

Once she'd gone Balthazar said, "I've had word from Gabriel."

"You spoke to him?" Dean exploded out of his chair and got in Balthazar's face, angry that he'd waited the entire farce of a meal to tell them.

"No," Balthazar said, "He sent me a message that he'd be seeing me soon. He also..." Balthazar pulled an envelope out of the air with a snap.

"...sent this."

He handed the envelope to Cas. Dean quickly went to Cas's side as Cas opened the letter and read it through quickly. His emotions did something interesting and hard to follow across the bond and then he looked back up.

"Anael, Balthazar, I would like to be alone with Dean now," he said. Dean hadn't even noticed Anna returning, and dread bore down on him like a physical weight at the seriousness in Cas's tone. He grabbed the letter from Cas's hands, and Cas let him, but the letter was written in Enochian and the only thing Dean could make out was Castiel's name.

"Of course, Castiel," Anna said, grabbing Balthazar's arm and pulling him close to her. "We will leave you at once." Balthazar started to protest, but Anna gave him a look that could freeze fire and they were gone.

"Cas..." Dean said, fear stealing his voice before he could ask.

Cas immediately set his hand over the mark on Dean's arm, sending comfort and strength. "Sam is fine," he said. "The news is worrisome, but not... But not that."

Dean felt like he could breath again and he moved closer into Cas's heat. "Promise?"

"I would not lie to you," Cas assured him.

"Okay," Dean said, almost lightheaded with relief. "Okay. Then what's up?"

"Gabriel has revealed to me why Heaven was anxious to acquire and keep Sam. He is one of Azael's children," Cas told him gravely.

Dean had no idea what the hell one of Azael's children meant, but he had the feeling it wasn't good. "And that's bad," he said.

"Azael is one of the Fallen," Cas said, pretty much confirming Dean's conclusion. "His mission is to create special children to lead his army and free Lilith by feeding demon blood to infants."

"What?" Dean stepped away from Cas, away from his words. Cas let him go.

"The blood gives the children special powers."

Cas said more after had more to say after that, but Dean didn't hear a word of it. He was thinking about Sam's headaches and dreams and all the stuff he seemed to just know before it happened. He interrupted Cas. "Sam's a demon? He could…" Dean couldn't finish. It couldn't be true, not his little Sammy. His brother had the biggest heart, and he always looked for the good in others. He couldn't be… It just couldn't be true. Somebody had made a mistake.

Cas pulled Dean closer again, putting his hands on Dean's shoulders and forcing him to met Cas's kind eyes. "No. He is still your brother. The one you've raised and taught and loved his whole life. That does not change."

Dean closed his eyes and let Cas's words and feelings calm him down. "Right," he said out loud. "Right."

"He's not a demon," Cas continued. "He is just slightly more than human. Only further ingestion of demon blood would corrupt him fully. However, in Heaven's eyes, the threat is still there."

Dean opened his eyes again. "What can we do?"

Cas released him and looked away. "There are a few ways to remove Sam as a threat. Kill him…"

"Not an option," Dean said harshly.

Cas smiled and met his eyes again briefly. "Obviously. Keeping him under the control of an archangel - in this case, Gabriel - is another alternative. The partial bond that we - and doubtless our brothers - share would keep tabs on Sam and make it difficult for a demon to approach him without alerting Gabriel."

"Difficult, but not impossible," Dean guessed. "Not that I'm not grateful that Heaven choose that option, but is there another?" Dean asked.
"Only one other of which I'm aware," Cas said slowly, "but I am uncertain you will like that option any better."

"Hit me," Dean said, unconsciously spreading his legs, bracing as if for a physical blow.

"A full mating bond with an angel would cleanse the taint from Sam, removing his powers and all that Azael might find desirable," Cas said.
"Mating bond?" Dean asked, heart sinking.

"The complete merging of an angel's grace with, in this case, a human soul. The act would purify the soul, but also permanently bond Sam to the angel."

An idea. A horrible, terrible idea was forming in Dean's head. "It have to be an archangel?" Dean asked hoarsely, feeling nauseous with his choice.

Cas stared at him, eyes narrowing, no doubt troubled by the whirlwind of negative emotions Dean couldn't keep a lid on. "No. Any angel's grace would work."

Dean swallowed rapidly against the bile rising in his throat and forced himself to make another sacrifice in the name of his brother. "Do it. Mate with Sam."

Cas took a step back, eyes widening, and then he advanced on Dean again. A whirl of hurt, rejection, and denial from Cas joined the riot of emotion Dean was sending dancing across the bond until Dean was no longer sure who was feeling what. "What?"

Dean had to close his eyes. "You heard me," he said, unable to repeat the command. "When Balthazar sets up the meet with Sam and Gabriel, you should ma… cleanse Sammy."

Cas gave a noise like a sob, but Dean didn't - couldn't - open his eyes. "I cannot," Cas said.

Dean smiled despite himself. He didn't much want Cas mating with anyone - anyone else - but he loved Sam more than himself, and he trusted Cas with his life; and, more importantly, with his brother. "You have to. You just said it's the only way he can be safe and free."

"No," Cas growled, the sound going right to Dean's groin despite the circumstances. "No, I cannot Dean. It's impossible. We cannot mate without love. Our grace would reject the bond, causing injury to both parties."

Dean didn't like the sound of that. Preventing harm to Sam - and to Castiel - was the whole point. He opened his eyes and forced a shaky smile. "So, we'll give it some time. Sam's smart. Friendly, sympathetic, and a believer to boot. You'll adore him. And he's not hideously ugly." Dean put on his well-worn charming smile, pretending he didn't care as he added, "He's not as awesome as me, of course, but you've got a lot in common. And I'm sure…"

Dean lost his excuses as Cas grabbed his arms hard enough to bruise, forcing Dean to meet his angry eyes. "No, Dean. I will never be capable of mating with Samuel. I am in love with another."

For Dean it was like the whole world stopped for a moment. He nearly forgot to breath. The panic and anger in Cas was fading to something painfully tender, and Cas raised on hand to cup Dean's cheek. Dean leaned into the touch, and asked, "You do?"

Cas nodded. "I have been most confused by this annoying fluttering in my chest, the inexplicable tingling in my limbs, the thoughts of you - both carnal and mundane - that I am unable to banish. It took some quiet meditation, and some embarrassing conversations with Anael, but I have finally identified the feeling." He smiled then and it was like a fire was lit somewhere inside of Dean. "I love you."

Dean sighed deeply, relief and joy spreading through him. "You never said…" he started.

"You have little choice in your current companionship," Cas said, watching his thumb where it was slowly stroking over Dean's lower lip, "I did not want you to feel pressure to belong to me in the ways I have been imagining."

Through the bond, Dean felt that elusive emotion that usually only Anna invoked, and this time he identified it readily. Possession. Dean was surprised at how much he liked it. The feeling in Cas was immediately followed through the bond by shame. Dean liked that even more - that Cas would be ashamed of wanting to own him when he thought Dean hadn't had a choice in offering himself up.

Although Dean thought - knew - he would offer himself freely. In fact, "I do have another choice. You've tried to free me lots of times. I choose this," Dean said, pushing his own desires - both carnal and mundane - through the bond, "Besides," he said with a wicked twist of his lips, "if I wanted another choice, Anna seemed willing."

That had exactly the desired effect when Cas growled like the inhuman thing he was and slammed Dean back against the wall, crowding into his face at once, trapping Dean with his weight. "She can't have you."

"No?" Dean teased with a grin, "Don't I get a say in that?"

Cas growled again, but then - with a different display of strength - pulled back slightly, not totally releasing Dean. "Yes, of course you do."
Dean leaned forward and kissed him softly, just a teasing press of lips and a stroke of his tongue across the seam of Cas's lips before he pulled away. "You're right, she can't have me."

"Mine," Cas whispered, all his wild passion suddenly converted to quiet intimacy. It should have made Dean uncomfortable, having so much devotion and wonder aimed at himself. But all he felt was loved and safe and home. Dean very much wanted the opportunity to get used to it.
He hooked an arm around Cas and switched their positions. He knew he could only move Cas because Cas allowed it, but it still made him feel powerful and primitive. "And Balthazar can't have you," he reminded Cas firmly.

Cas looked genuinely surprised at the idea, which made Dean unreasonably happy, and then smiled at him, almost too raw and tender for Dean's comfort. "Of course not. That would be impossible since I belong to you."

There was really nothing Dean could say to that, so he didn't try. He pressed a kiss, slow and tender to Cas's eager mouth and tried to say what his testosterone filled upbringing wouldn't allow yet.

Cas fitted his hand over the mark on his arm, and Dean knew he felt it anyway. All the words of want and need, longing and fulfillment, and love that he wanted time to learn to vocalize.

"Dean," he said, awe in his voice, pushing everything Dean was sending him back along with more back at Dean.

"Cas," Dean answered, kissing him breathless, "bed. Now." Dean was dimly aware of the pull and flutter as they switched locations and then they were in his room, on his bed, Dean straddling Cas. He pulled back to remove his shirt and then leaned back down to get Cas out of his. A process made nearly impossible by Cas's inability to keep his hands off of Dean's chest. Somehow Dean managed to get Cas hopelessly tangled in his shirt. Dean laughed. "Cas, man, help me out here."

The shirt disappeared as if it'd never been, followed in short order by his pants. "Whoa," Dean said, "slow it down, this part can be fun." Dean's pants disappeared as well.

Cas had the grace to look abashed, making Dean laugh again. "So it's gonna be like that, huh?" Dean gripped Cas through the soft cotton of his boxers.

Cas gasped and bucked into his grip. "Dean." He sounded lost, desperate and wanton. Dean wanted to hear his name fall from Cas's lips like that again and again.

"Shh, I got you." He soothed, unable to stop smiling.

Cas apparently not liking the smugness in Dean's voice, narrowed his eyes and copied Dean's move, gripping Dean's cock through the thin layer of his underwear. Then, presumably just because he could, Dean's underwear were gone and there was nothing separating Cas's warm hand from Dean's eager cock.

"Cas," Dean moaned, arms trembling with the effort of holding himself over Cas.

"Shh," Cas said, "I've got you now."

Dean kissed away the smirk Cas had stole from him and lowered himself fully onto Cas, and the angel hastily moved his hand before it could become trapped between them. "So," he said with forced casualness as Cas got rid of the last remaining layer of clothing between them. "Want to tell me about the ways you've been imagining me belonging to you?"

Later, Dean boneless, eyes closed, and more than halfway to sleep he heard Cas whisper to him. "We'll find another way to free your brother. I swear it."

Dean hummed his approval. He believed Cas without a doubt. Maybe that was the orgasm talking or the bond, but he did. "I know, Cas," he assured him lazily. Then, with no input from his pleasure addled brain, Dean asked, "Are we mated now?"

Dean felt Cas tense briefly and he ran a soothing hand down his back even as he opened his eyes to see what was wrong. Cas relaxed almost at once. "There is more to it than the physical bonding," he said.

Dean yawned and pulled Cas closer. "Yeah, like what?" Dean was distantly aware that he was practically asking Cas to marry him, and quickly at that, but the feelings of love and home that Cas was sending him were so perfectly matched to his own that Dean couldn't feel anything but right about it.

Cas pressed a kiss to his chest, sending a jolt of happiness through them both. "Witnesses, words, and intent. And your mark on me."
Dean like the thought of that - his angel claimed and marked for all of Heaven to see. He wanted to ask more about that, but sleep was dragging him down fast. "Tomorrow," he mumbled sleepily, meaning both his questions and the mating.

Pleasure zinged down the bond. "Tomorrow," Cas agreed. "Sleep now."

Dean swore he'd only been asleep for moments when movement woke him. It was Cas, climbing back into the bed. "Cas?" he asked, trying to blink his eyes awake. "Wassup?"

"Nothing, Dean," Cas answered in a whisper to match Dean's, "go back to sleep."

"Everything okay?" he asked, struggling to sit up.

"It will be." Cas gently pushed him back down with a hand to the center of his chest. Dean got a flash of something unsettled from Cas, but it was overwhelmed almost immediately by something that reminded Dean of his mother's tomato rice soup as Cas kissed him gently. He thought he heard Cas whisper and the press of fingers to his forehead as he drifted off, but he was too far gone to be sure. Dean fell asleep with Cas on his chest and peace in his heart.

He woke up in an unfamiliar hotel room with his father.

"Dad? What did you do? Send me back. I need to go back," Dean shouted, flailing around on the bed as he tried to disentangle himself from the sheets that were securely tucked around him. John stood stock still at the side of his bed, staring.

"Dean?" John asked, voice sounding rougher than Dean remembered. "You're really here?"

"What?" Dean finally managed to free himself from his cocoon and stood up. "Of course I'm really here." Dean rubbed absentmindedly at his chest, where there was a dull ache. John's words sunk in and he sat back on the bed abruptly. "Wait, you didn't do this? Bring me back?"
John shook his head mutely, then suddenly pulled Dean to his feet, gathering his elder son into his arms. The scent of alcohol surrounding him was nearly overwhelming.

Dean allowed the embrace but didn't return it, uncomfortable with the outpouring of emotion from his father while his own feelings were so confused. He still loved his father, of course, but he didn't know if he could forgive him for what he did to Sammy - not while Sam was still missing. But when Dean felt his father's body shake with quiet sobs, he wrapped his own arms around him, holding on tightly until John's body had stilled and his grip loosened.

"Dad, are you okay?" Dean asked, putting aside his own concerns in favor of doing what he did best - looking after his family.
Dean felt John shake his head, and then his father released him. He stepped back but clasped his hands on Dean's shoulders. "Sam's demon marked, since he was a baby."

"I know," Dean said, "Azael, Lilth, lots of evil shit."

John nodded, apparently unsurprised by Dean's newfound knowledge. "I thought this would save him. Give me your mother's killer and a way to kill him, yes, but I was thinking of him too. Or so I thought. I never should have let them take your Sammy. Or you."
Dean nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He understood his father's motives to a point, but it wasn't a choice Dean would have - could have - made himself.

"I tried to make them bring you both back. Told them I didn't want the gun, and I'd protect Sam on my own. Zachariah laughed in my face." John let his hands fall from Dean's shoulders. "I know that I can't ask you to forgive me," he began.

Just like that, Dean knew that he did forgive his father. His motives had been partially selfish, but John's bloodshot eyes and trembling hands told Dean that it hadn't been an easy decision to make or with which to live. He tried to tell his father that, but John stopped him with a shake of his head.

"I just want to know that you boys… I just want to know if my boys are okay."

Dean shrugged. "I haven't found Sam, Dad. I'm sorry, but Cas thinks he's alright."

John gave him a long thoughtful look and nodded. "And you?"

"Yeah, Dad, I'm okay." Dean smiled, remembering how he'd fallen asleep. "In fact, a few hours ago I was downright giddy."

"Cas?" John asked. Dean's head jerked up in surprise. "You mentioned her a few minutes ago. She said Sam was okay, and that seemed good enough for you. Must be someone special."

"He is," Dean said. Dean had never tried to hide any of his conquests from his father, so John already knew he was an equal opportunity lover. "But I think he might be in trouble if you're not the reason I'm here. I gotta get back." Dean closed his eyes and concentrated on that part inside himself where Cas resided.

It was hollow.

Dean shuddered at the emptiness there, but fought back his panic. "Cas," he called out loud. "Come on, Cas, don't do this to me. Where are you?"

Dean pushed at the empty spot in his chest harder, but no answer came. "Cas," he called, opening his eyes and yelling at the ceiling. "Get your feathery ass down here."

After several minutes of Dean prodding the place where the bond used to be and screaming at the walls, John spoke up. "Dean," he said quietly.

The sound of his name made something in Dean's heart snap. "He said he'd always come when I called. He promised."

John nodded like that made perfect sense. "Then maybe he can't. Maybe he's…"

"No," Dean shouted, drowning out whatever horrible conclusion John was about to draw. He couldn't think of Cas hurt. Or worse. Cas had been fine when he'd last seen him, and Dean clung to that. "He can't be… I'd know."

"Zachariah," John said.

Dean turned to him, confused. "Wh…" Zachariah was standing right next to his father. Dean was across the room in the space of a heartbeat, only the memory of a harmless bullet hole in Zach's head keeping him from punching the son of a bitch. "Where is he?" Dean growled.

Zachariah smiled ingratiatingly. "Who? Your rebellious little angel or your demon spawn brother?"

Dean reared back to hit him, uncaring of the angel's immunity, but John beat him to it - slugging Zachariah across the jaw. There was a loud crack and John fell back, clutching his hand to his chest.

"Dad?" Dean asked, concerned.

"Worth it," John grunted through his clenched teeth.

Dean nodded his agreement before turning back to Zachariah. "What did you do to Cas?"

Zachariah's smile slipped and he looked genuinely surprised for a moment before he recovered himself. "I've done nothing with your little pet. I simply came as a courtesy to let you know that the threat of your abomination of a brother has been removed."

Dean leapt forward, wrapping his hands in Zachariah's lapel and growling in his face. "Explain."

Zachariah remained unimpressed, removing Dean without lifting a hand. "He's Gabriel's Intended." At John and Dean's identical blank stares, he explained further with a put upon sigh. "Today he will be mated with Gabriel, cleansing his blood and rendering him useless to Azael." He shot Dean a cruel and knowing smile. "Perhaps that's why you've lost Castiel - no reason to keep you around now that your baby brother has fallen in line. It must have been tiresome keeping you under control for so long. I must say, I didn't think our littlest brother had it in him."

John reached out with his good hand to steady Dean who'd staggered back at the overload of information Zachariah was dumping on them. Sam mated and him left behind like yesterday's garbage now that he wasn't a threat. Dean didn't know if he could stand this latest rejection.

"Where is Sam?" John asked.

Zachariah shrugged. "With Gabriel, I should think, and I don't know or care where Gabriel is or what he does as long as he comes when I…" Zachariah paused for a fraction of a second "When Michael calls. Good day Winchesters. Nice doing business with you."

Zachariah left with a fluttering sound that hit Dean like a kick to the chest. "Cas," he whispered, heart refusing to believe what his head said was true. "You promised. Always. I'm calling now."

He waited quietly for an endless eternity, measuring time by the rapid beating of his heart, and the ragged sound of his breathing. He waited until the both evened out into a semblance of normal, and then he reached out once again toward the hollow spot in his chest. It remained quiet and empty.

He allowed himself a moment to grieve what he'd thought he found. Another moment to feel anger at Cas for making him believe in a happy future and at himself for falling for it. And one last moment to curse Heaven and everything about it.

Then he pushed all the feelings - the joy, the hurt, the anger and the pain - down deep inside of himself and locked them up tight. He took a deep breath and shook off his father's questioning stare.

"I need a phone and my car," he told John.

John looked pained, but he nodded without protest. He handed over his spare cell and the keys to his truck. "Call Bobby - we're close. He can meet you with the impala and return the truck to me here after. He and I need to have a talk anyway." John smiled, a little bittersweet. "And he'll want to see you."

"Yeah, okay," Dean said, already heading to the door. "Thanks." Without a backwards glance, Dean was outside and climbing into the truck. He still had to find Sam, whatever his brother's current situation. It was corny as shit, but Dean thought finding Sam might be the only way he could feel whole again, especially with part of his soul left in Heaven.

The sound of knocking wasn't the most annoying way Sam had ever been woken, but today in particular he decided it ranked in the top ten. He moaned into his pillow before pulling it over his head.

"Morning Sunshine!" Gabriel said with a chuckle and a fond pat on the ass.

"Make it stop," Sam muttered as the pounding on the door continued.

"Anything for you, dear," Gabriel said. Sam considered smacking him for the condescension but Gabriel was already getting out of bed and moving toward the door so he let it go for now.

"Castiel?" Sam could hear Gabriel's disbelief through his pillow and two walls.

Castiel?, the name sounded familiar though Sam's sleep addled mind couldn't immediately identify it. One of Gabriel's conquests? He didn't think so, but Sam dragged himself out of bed and into a pair of sweat pants just in case he needed to dissuade someone from trying to seduce his future mate.

"Do you have any idea what time it is?" Gabriel was asking, sounding more amused than disgruntled. "This is payback for sending Balthazar in the middle of the night, isn't it?"

"Gabriel," a deep gravely voice answered. "I have come to free Samuel Winchester and take him back to his brother."

Suddenly Sam knew exactly where he'd heard that name before, and he rushed into the entry hall. "Dean?" he asked excitedly, sure that this angel's presence meant that Dean had sweet talked both of them out of slavery and into freedom. A few days late in his case of course, but Sam could tease his brother about that after he'd hugged him within an inch of his life.

But Dean was nowhere in sight. "Sammy - Sam," the deep voiced angel - Castiel - corrected himself. "Are you unharmed?"

Sam focused on the man - the angel - before him. The angel that had been given Dean looked like much like the other angels Sam had met, which was to say completely ordinary. Castiel was slim. Shorter than him, but taller than Gabriel - somewhere very close to Dean's height by Sam's estimate. He had a shock of unruly black hair and a trench coat that Sam could practically hear Dean mocking. The only truly extraordinary thing about him was that he had the most remarkable pair of blue eyes Sam had ever seen.

"Samuel, has my brother harmed you?" Castiel repeated, shifting his intense gaze to Gabriel now, growling the question.

Sam was well aware that Gabriel was an angel, an archangel even. It was in his casual arrogance, his unthinking use of power for the smallest task. It was also in the force of his passion when they made love. But he'd never felt the crackle of raw power emanating from him that now radiated from the angel Castiel. If Sam had at first thought he could easily be mistaken for an ordinary man he knew now that he'd never forget the angel's true nature again. Castiel's essence seemed to fill the room with nothing more than the threat in his voice and the intensity of his stare.

"What? No," Samuel protested, wrapping one arm around Gabriel, instinctively looking for support and comfort from his intended mate. Castiel did not miss the gesture if the way his shoulders relaxed minutely was any indication.

Gabriel pulled Sam tighter to his side. "You're a little late baby bro. Sammy here's already a free man."

Castiel looked confused. "It took some time to convince Balthazar to give me your location or I would have been here sooner," he explained, "He was requesting favors I was unwilling to trade."

Gabriel's eyes widen briefly before he settled into his trademark smirk. "Really?" he asked, drawing the word out several syllables more than it warranted. "What kind of favors? Do tell."

"Nothing I was able to give with my grace bound to another," Castiel said dismissively.

That got Sam's attention. He wondered if this little rescue attempt was more than Castiel acting from the goodness of his heart.

Castiel seemed to refocus, his ire rising again as he glared at Gabriel. "I do not believe this is relevant. Balthazar said he was supposed to give me your location at noon when you intended to solve the Sam problem." Castiel said.

"Yep," Gabriel said without explanation. "But now you've ruined Sammy's surprise with your obnoxious wake up call."

Castiel ignored the rebuke. "In what manner were you planning on 'solving' Sam Winchester's problem?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Gabriel said with a smile wicked enough to worry even Sam, who trusted Gabriel completely even though he didn't understand all of the dynamics at play in this little confrontation.

Sam rolled his eyes and held out a hand. "Hi, I'm Sam Winchester, Gabriel's Intended."

And just like that all the remaining righteous anger disappeared from Castiel's countenance, leaving something awkward and uncertain in it's place. "I have greatly misunderstood the situation," he said with something like regret in his voice. Tentatively, Castiel shook the offered hand. "I am Castiel, one of Gabriel's brothers. I am honored to met you Sam: I have heard much about you."

Sam smiled. "Don't believe a word Dean's told you. He's a jerk."

Castiel pulled away quickly and pinned Sam with a disapproving look. "Do not speak of Dean so. He loves you above all else."

Sam blushed, but grinned despite himself. Gabriel sighed. "Don't smite the big lug. He's allowed to make fun of his brother."

"Sorry," Sam apologized, unsure why he should be apologizing to Dean's captor instead of surrounding him in a ring of holy fire, but feeling compelled to stop the accusation in the angel's eyes. "It's a thing with us - inside joke."

"Oh yes," Castiel said, understanding clearing the annoyance from his eyes. The angel hesitated, then said tentatively, as if trying it out for the first time, "Bitch."

Sam blinked in surprise, mind racing over the many implications of Castiel knowing the perfect response.

Castiel shifted his weight from one foot to the other in a strangely human gesture of nerves. "Was that not the correct response?"

"No, it was perfect." Sam said with a smile. "I'm just surprised Dean didn't chime in with it himself. Where is my brother anyway?"

The small smile Castiel had given in response to Sam's own was now completely missing. Something very close to panic crossed his face and he disappeared.

Sam turned a confused look at Gabriel. "What…" but his question was interrupted by the return of Castiel.

Castiel stared at Sam, expressionless for a long moment before, to Sam's shock, he threw himself into Sam's arms. Sam caught him automatically and instinctively gathered him close, squeezing tighter when he heard a quiet broken noise from the angel in his arms.

"Oh, Castiel," Gabriel said gently, stroking his brother's back with one hand. "What have you done?"

"I freed Dean and sent him back to his father."

Sam released Castiel abruptly. "Dad? You returned him to Dad?" Sam was incredulous. "Why would you do that?"

Castiel blinked at Sam. "I was uncertain of my welcome here, or how Gabriel intended to 'solve the Sam problem' and I needed to keep Dean safe while I retrieved you," he said, as if the answer should have been obvious.

"I can't believe Dean agreed to that," Sam said, eyes narrowing Castiel's direction.

Castiel wouldn't meet Sam's accusing gaze when he said, "He didn't. I knew he would insist on coming along - I've already tried to free him many times - so I sent him back while he slept. He was quite wore out after our vigorous copulation last night."

Sam winced a little at the unexpected news about his brother's sex life and searched Castiel's face for any hint that he was joking. "You're kidding, right?"

"No. Is there something humorous about wanting Dean protected?"

"No, but there's something a little funny about treating Dean like a helpless damsel in distress. And thinking Dad - the man who basically sold us into slavery for his own selfish revenge - is the one to keep him safe? That's pretty freakin' hilarious," Sam answered without a trace of humor in his voice.

"To be fair," Gabriel spoke up, "I'm pretty sure your father thought he was protecting you. Dean just got caught in the crossfire."

Sam glared at his Intended, sensing he was missing something important. "Protecting me from what?"

"Azael and the effects of the demon blood," Cas answered.

Sam's attention whipped back to Castiel. "Excuse me?"

Gabriel sighed and Castiel's eyes studied them both thoughtfully. "You haven't told him," Castiel said to Gabriel.

"No," Sam answered for him, "But I think someone had better start explaining."

Gabriel sighed. "Castiel, you'd better come inside. I'm not doing this on my own."

Castiel nodded and once they were comfortably settled around the kitchen table helped his brother explain about Azael, his children, and the three possible ways to protect Sam from them both.

Sam was alternately shocked, disgusted, and ultimately relieved. He thought he understood Castiel's actions better now. "You thought Gabriel was going to kill me," he surmised, "And you rushed over here to rescue me."

Castiel nodded. "Solving the Sam problem sounded ominous." He turned to Gabriel. "I apologize for the assumption."

Gabriel waved that off, and Sam slid his chair closer to Gabriel, addressing him directly. "And you didn't want to tell me this, why?"

"I was going to tell you," Gabriel protested, "Today, in fact, after our brother's showed up right in time to witness our mating."

Sam narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but it was Castiel who answered. "I believe Gabriel did not want you to think he was only offering the mating in order to cleanse you."

Sam shook his head but not because he disagreed. "Idiot," he muttered affectionately. "You forget how helpful my library has been. I know you can't mate for anything less than love." Sam wrapped a hand around Gabriel's neck, pulling his forward until their foreheads touched. "Also, if I recall correctly, I was the one who proposed the mating."

Gabriel rolled his eyes, but Sam didn't miss the way his cheeks pinked with embarrassment. "Yes, you're a genius. Perhaps we should focus on Castiel and his new love 'em and leave 'em act?"

Castiel flushed, though with anger or embarrassment, Sam couldn't be sure. "I meant to return to Dean as soon as I had Sam," Castiel protested, clearly agitated. "Assuming I survived the rescue, of course. I had no idea that it would take so long to convince Balthazar to give me your location early or that Dean would separate from his father so quickly."

"Castiel," Sam started, turning his attention back to the younger angel.

"Cas," Castiel interrupted softly.

"What?" Sam asked.

"Dean calls me Cas," Castiel - Cas - smiled, and Sam could see exactly why his brother had fallen for him. And he knew without a doubt that this angel loved his brother in return.

Sam smiled back. "Cas," he nodded, "has my brother ever once been concerned about his own safety in his history with you?" Sam didn't have to know a thing about Dean's experiences in Heaven to know the answer to that.

Sure enough, Cas was shaking his head. "All he ever asked me for was you. I was trying to give that to him." That sounded like his big brother alright. "And cheeseburgers," Cas added before Sam could respond. "He often asked for cheeseburgers, which I have provided on multiple occasions."

That startled a laugh out of Sam. "Well, your intentions may have been good, but your execution is a little flawed. Dean likes to make his own decisions, and they almost always involve risking his own life to protect those he loves. You'll have to do some serious groveling when we get him back."

Cas sighed. "I do not know how to find him."

Gabriel who had been surprisingly quiet next to Sam finally spoke up. "What do you mean you can't find him? It doesn't take an archangel as awesome as me to find one human."

Sam snorted, and Cas turned his unnerving gaze onto Gabriel. "I carved protection into his ribs."

Sam had no idea what that meant but Gabriel let out a long whistle, clearly impressed. "Good one, bro. I can't believe I never thought of it."

In an echo of their first day together Gabriel slapped a hand onto Sam's chest. Again there was a sharp burning sensation. "Hey," Sam protested, pushing Gabriel away. He pulled up his shirt but couldn't see any new marks. "What was that for?"

"Now only one angel in existence can find you," Gabriel answered, sounding far too satisfied for Sam's comfort.

Rubbing a hand absently over his chest Sam asked, "That's what you did to Dean and now you can't find him?"

Cas was scowling at Sam's chest as if it offended him. "I believed that Dean would remain with John Winchester or go to Robert Singer's home. I did not modify the Enochian on his ribs as Gabriel has done to yours."

"So our best guess is that he's gone looking for me on his own, but you can't find him," Sam summarized.

"I believe so, yes." Castiel looked down at the table, an oddly human gesture of discomfort, before admitting, "He called for me several times while I was searching for you. Perhaps he will do so again."

Sam doubted it, and the look on Cas's face suggested he doubted it too. The fact that Cas hadn't answered and Dean had stopped calling probably meant that he was done reaching out. A lesson Sam had learned the hard way when he walked out to start his own life. But there was no reason to worry Cas with that news: he'd learn soon enough. Instead he said, "Dean's smart. He'll find me and, by extension, you. What's the easiest way to find us?"

"A summoning?" Gabriel suggested, but he looked skeptical, and Cas was shaking his head.

"It would be very difficult to find the correct ritual, and nearly impossible to find your true name. He has mine, but I fear his anger and stubbornness may prevent him from contacting me," Cas said. Sam was impressed that Cas had learned this about his brother so quickly. "The easiest way to contact you would be to pray."

Sam sighed and leaned back in his chair. "You better make yourself at home then. This could take awhile."

Dean closed the door to his latest hotel room and surveyed it dully. Cowboy themed this time. He probably would have even been excited about it if… Well, he didn't get excited about much of anything the past few weeks.

Dean pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked for missed calls. Three from his father, one from Bobby. Dean's thumb hesitated over John's name. He hadn't spoken to him since he'd left to meet Bobby in the impala. He pushed the call back button and listened to it ring.

"Dean?" John answered on the first ring, and Dean wondered where he was and what he was doing to pick up so quickly. He didn't ask.

"Yeah, Dad. I just wanted to check in." Truthfully, Dean didn't know why he'd called. Maybe he was getting lonely. He snorted at himself. Or maybe he was getting soft in the head.

"That's good, son. It's good to hear from you."

Dean closed his eyes and stretched out in the chair. "You too."

There was an awkward silence and then John cleared his throat. "Dean, listen, after you left someone came asking for you."

"Yeah?" Dean really didn't care. He wasn't even sure he remembered where they had been then, other than close enough for Bobby to meet after only a few hours.

"It was an angel, I think. Funny little guy with a trench coat and an intense stare." Dean sat up with a start, heart pounding wildly in his chest. "Called himself Castiel," John said. "Your Cas?" he guessed

Dean couldn't answer, too many questions roiling around in his head and trying to force themselves out his mouth. Castiel. Cas - his Cas - had come looking for him, answered his calls after all. What did that even mean?

"Dean? Are you still there?" John asked, sounding wary and concerned.

Dean had to take a couple of deep breaths before he could answer. "Yeah," he said, voice breaking a little over the word.

"You okay?" John, who never noticed a damn thing about his sons unless it was inconvenient for Dean, heard the waver in his voice.

Dean swallowed hard. "Yeah," he repeated, steadier this time. "What'd the angel want?" Dean couldn't say Cas's name, not to his father, terrified John would hear everything in the way those three letters fell from his lips.

"You," John said, and Dean's heart stepped up to triple time. "He was looking for you, but I didn't know if you wanted to be found. I didn't tell him a damn thing." John paused, but continued when Dean, too afraid of what he might say if he started, didn't answer him. "The thing is, he keeps coming back."

Dean stood up then, too restless to stay still. "What's he asking for?"

"Forgiveness, he says. Says he 'made a grave error' and he wants to fix it. I think he's hoping you'll come back to me." John laughed, but there was no humor it. "I told him there was no chance. You're a stubborn son of a bitch just like your father."

"That's what Sammy always said," Dean agreed, "And he is the brains of this operation."

John laughed again, just a short bark of laughter, but genuine this time. "So he thinks anyway. We all know who really keeps this family together." John went quiet for a moment then turned serious. "Thanks for that, by the way."

Dean's throat constricted. "Dad…" he began.

"Anyway," John said, interrupting what no doubt would have been an embarrassing outpouring of… something, "he told me to tell you to pray. And I'm pretty sure he meant that literally."

He probably did too. "Dad," Dean started again, but he didn't know how to say what he wanted so he settled for, "I gotta go. Case."
"Okay, son." John sounded resigned. "I hope you find what you're looking for."

Dean heard everything that John wasn't saying. "You too," he said before ending the call. Dean's pacing took him to the door and then past it. He had to get away for a little bit, get some fresh air, clear his head of trench coat wearing angels before he got back to the problem of finding his brother. With a fond pat of her hood, Dean bypassed the Impala in favor of walking.

The town he'd stopped in was even smaller than usual, not so much as an all night grocery store or gas station was open. There was a bar he remembered passing on the way into town but Dean turned north, away from the lights and potential company the bar offered.
Dean tried to focus as he walked. He had to find Sam, that's all he could afford to think about right now. Not about long tan trench coats and eyes that bore into him like he was the only thing in existence worth looking at.

Dean stopped when he found himself standing in front of a small white church. Subconsciously he must have headed toward the only source of light in the town other than the bar. Sam would probably have a field day with the symbolism of that, and Dean smiled at the thought.
Dean walked into the church - empty, but he'd suspected as much. In a town like this with no crime to speak of they probably didn't leave it open for active confession or whatever it was that people got up to in big city churches at night, but for lost souls in need of some quiet. Lost souls like him. Dean hadn't properly been to church for way too many years, long before Pastor Jim had passed.

It was quiet. More than quiet, it was peaceful with an air of calm and comfort that reminded Dean of...

"Cas," he whispered into the church. But of course there was no statue or tapestry of a trench coat wearing angel of the Lord anywhere in the chapel.

It was only Wednesday anyway. And Cas had already made it clear how he felt about Dean. Maybe? His conversation with his father had confused everything all over again, and Dean found himself wondering if Bobby had been receiving unexpected visits as well.
Dean pulled his hand away from his arm, where he'd been unconsciously stroking over his mark. He scanned the walls idly, reading the verses hand stitched onto the wall tapestries.

"…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16) caught his eye. But Dean couldn't pray to the angel who had made him feel whole and safe and so, so loved and then tossed him out without so much as a goodbye or a 'kiss my ass'. Even in light of new revelations, Dean didn't think he was ready for that.

But maybe... "Gabriel," Dean said, voice cracking on the word. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Gabriel. This is Dean, uh, Winchester. Sam's brother. I don't know much about you beyond what the Gideons slipped into my hotel rooms over the years, but Ca... But your brother seems to think you're an okay guy."

Dean paused and gathered his thoughts. He felt a little stupid talking to himself in an empty church, but... "If you're there, if you're listening, you better be taking good care of my baby brother. He hates to admit it, but he needs a lot of looking after, especially if even half of Dad's theories are true. And maybe..."

Dean shook his head at his own hesitation. either Gabriel was listening and this was Dean's best shot at finding his brother or Dean was talking to himself with no one to hear him being foolish. Dean pushed on ahead. "And maybe I could visit him sometime? Just see him with my own two eyes and make sure he's not getting any uglier."

Dean waited, expectant despite himself. "Please," he added for good measure, and then, "Amen."

And Dean's ass hit a hard surface as the pew beneath him seemed to disappear. "Oof" he said inelegantly.

"No time like the present, right?" A short, brown haired man Dean would never forget as long as he lived was saying, looming over where Dean had fallen.

"What?" Dean said.

Dean thought he heard Gabriel answer, "For your visit - no time like the present." But his words were mostly lost in the welcome roar of his name.

"Dean!" Sam shouted, folding him into a bear hug so tight that Dean suspected his ribs were in danger of cracking . But no way was he complaining, he gave back as good as he got, squeezing Sam to him impossibly tighter.

"Sammy," Dean said, too happy to have his Sammy back in his arms to be embarrassed by the watery wobble in his voice.

Sam said, "So, you finally got your head out of your ass and realized prayer is the best way to find an angel." He released his brother, but put one hand on Dean's shoulder, eyes roving over him in happy disbelief. "Especially one that's already looking for you."

Gabriel, who had been quiet while the brothers reunited stepped in closer, sliding one arm around Sam's waist. Sam allowed it, to Dean's surprise, but then something in Sam's expression brought forth a memory. The last time Dean had seen him so happy, Dean had been watching him from across the street as he left class with one arm around Jess.

Sam was still prattling on. "I knew you'd call Dad or Bobby sooner or later. What took you so long? Cas has been waiting for a long time. You're not still angry with him are you? Because he loves you. A lot. It's a little disturbing actually. But the thing is that he only did what's what he thought..." Dean was overwhelmed by his brother's painfully earnest babbling and something in his face must have shown it because Sam trailed off. "Dean?"

"I didn't," Dean said. "I didn't pray to Cas. How do you even know him?"

"But?" Sam said, confused and automatically looking to Gabriel for explanation.

"Castiel left this morning to follow a lead on our wayward Winchester. I'm the one who brought Dean here." Gabriel shifted his attention to Dean. "I'm thrilled and beyond flattered that you chose to pray to me, instead of my lovesick little brother, but I have to ask - why me instead of my lovesick little brother?"

Sam looked from the archangel to Dean. "You prayed to Gabriel?"

Dean nodded, trying to play it off with a shrug. "Cas said he lived on Earth and didn't like his brothers much. Sounded like my kind of guy."
Gabriel smiled. "And you thought your brother wouldn't like me," he teased.

Sam rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I was the one obsessing over the in laws," he said, clearly meaning the exact opposite.

Dean took the bait, giving his brother a chance to share his news. "Something you want to tell me Sam?"

Sam turned to his brother, still smiling but nerves replacing the humor in his expression. "Yeah, Dean, there is. Gabriel and I..." He shifted nervously and Gabriel's hand crept up to press over Sam's heart. Sam seemed to gather strength from the gesture. He took a deep breath and tried again. "Gabriel is my mate."

Dean's mind completely blanked out for a moment. Even though he'd already known this, hearing the news from Sam's own lips shocked something in him. A flood of emotion - jealousy, fear, joy - overwhelmed him, and he instinctively pressed against that cold, empty place in his chest that used to be Cas. But then he looked up at Sam's stupidly hopeful face and the possessive, protective hand Gabriel had pressed over Sam's heart and he knew there was only one way he could respond.

"Way to go, Sammy." Sam beamed at him, and enveloped him in another hug. Dean knew he'd said the right thing, even as he reminded himself to give Gabriel a talking to later.

Gabriel nodded and smirked Dean's direction - an acknowledgement and thank you in one and disappeared from the room, giving the brother's some privacy.

"Thank you, Dean." Sam said in his ear, still squeezing him. "I wanted to wait for you, so you could be here for the mating. But Gabriel and Cas thought it would be safer for us all if I was cleansed as soon as possible."

"The cleansing, right," Dean echoed, remembering the other options. He pushed Sam off. "And hey, if you get your rocks off on wings and superpowers who am I to judge?"

Sam laughed. "That'd be pretty hypocritical of you, considering."

Dean pretended he didn't understand. "You critiquing my romantic conquests, Sammy?"

"Well, there have been some winners in the past, " Sam muttered. "And I admit I wouldn't have pegged Castiel as your type. He's a little quiet, a little nerdy, but he obviously loves you."

"He's got a funny way of showing it," Dean growled, breaking his self imposed promise of not talking about it.

Sam sighed. "Dean, he did exactly what you would do in his situation. He tried to sacrifice himself to keep someone he loved - loves - safe and happy."

"Loving and leaving me was supposed to make me happy?" Dean asked, wincing when he realized what he'd just said.

Sam smirked, but refrained from laughing in his big brother's stupid romantic face. "No, he put you somewhere safe and then came to get me. Only by the time Balthazar told him where we were and he figured out I was in no danger, you were missing."

Dean tipped his head, confused. "Come again?"

"Come on," Sam said gesturing deeper in this house. "Let's grab some beers. I'll fill you in."

Gabriel poked his head into the room hours later with a quick, "Castiel's on his way."
Sam nodded his head. "Dean..." he started.

Dean waved him off. "I hear you Sammy."

"Just," Sam sighed, "just remember what I said. He was trying to do right by you - by us both - and he hasn't stopped looking for you since he arrived."

Dean nodded. "I believe you Sam. I just don't know if it'll be enough. I won't until I can feel him again."

Sam smirked. "So you're going to feel him up to see if he's sincere."

"I meant through the bond, smartass. I don't have to touch him for that," Dean muttered. Sam didn't answer, and when Dean looked up his little brother was staring at him. "What?"

"Until we mated, Gabriel and I had to be touching to get anything from each other," Sam explained. He smiled slyly. "That must be some profound bond you two have."

"Sammy," Dean whined, embarrassed.

Sam smirked and said, "Some might even say it's a match made in Heaven."

Dean groaned. "Get out of here, bitch."

"Jerk," Sam answered automatically before turning serious again. "Give him a chance. Whatever happens, this is your home now." Sam stood up and paused at the door. "But you know..."

"It's his too," Dean finished, unprompted.

He nodded. "We'll make it work," Sam promised. Then he smiled, "but it'd be easier if you'd pull your head out of your ass and skipped right to the makeup sex."

Dean threw the first thing that came to hand at him, which turned out to be a bowl of M&Ms.

Sam ducked out the door and the bowl missed, but it made a satisfying crash against the wall as colored candy flew every direction.

"You're cleaning that up," Sam shouted from the hall.

Dean ignored him, clearing the possible landing site by standing in a shadowed corner. And if that gave him a slight tactical advantage of a split second before Cas became aware of him, so be it.

Cas appeared almost directly in the center of the room with a painfully familiar whooshing sound. He was facing away from him, but it amazed Dean how much he could read in the tired slump of Cas's shoulders even before the bond kicked back in from proximity.

The full force of Cas's feelings slammed into him, raw and almost too intense without Cas deliberately filtering them for Dean's sake. Pain - agony - regret, loneliness, and such despair that Dean was halfway across the room to ease it away before he realized he was moving.
He could see the second Cas got hit with his feelings in return - although even he wasn't sure what they were, already confused and unsettled even before they got buried in the onslaught of Cas's pain.

Cas spun around so quickly his trench coat billowed around him as he moved. Dean, who had seconds ago been intent on reaching Cas, paused inches from his goal.

"Hey, Cas," he said quietly, self consciously smiling at the angel.

"Hello, Dean," Cas answered back immediately as if no time at all had passed since the last time he'd said those exact same two words. Fear and longing smacked into Dean so hard that he literally rocked back on his heels with it.

Fuck it he decided and went with his first instinct, pulling Cas against his chest and holding him so tight that no force on Earth or Heaven had a chance of removing Cas from him again.

Cas made a soft, broken noise and Dean could feel Cas's surprise at himself for making it. Then Cas's arms came up to circle Dean's waist and he buried his face in Dean's neck.

They stood there for an unknown eternity while Dean carefully touched each every part of Castiel he could reach without releasing him and soothed each hurt and sorry emotion Cas sent him with as much forgiveness and understanding as he could muster through his still raw feelings of betrayal.

Eventually, Cas lifted his face away just enough to say, "I'm sorry. I did what I thought was best, but I was wrong to make that decision for you."

Dean snorted. "Yeah, don't think I'm not gonna have some words about that later." Cas's face fell but he nodded. Dean rolled his eyes. "I forgive you, okay? You were stupid, and you were wrong, but you're never ever going to do it again."

Cas nodded again. "I do not believe I could survive being separated from you a second time." And the thing of it was? Cas meant it. Dean could see it in his face, feel it in the hollowness he was only just starting to fill with his presence. "I made you a promise the last time we were together."

The mating bond. Dean nodded. "I remember."

"If you'll still have me. I would be honored to be your mate." Cas was radiating worry and hope and love, and Dean couldn't figure out why Cas could possibly doubt him. He wasn't the one who'd left.

He pulled back to cup Cas's face in his hands. "Listen up, Cas, cause this might be the only time you hear it," Dean said, "Out loud," he added, thinking of how little he could or wanted to hide via the bond. "I love you Castiel, and I'm gonna bond your feathery ass to me for life, so you can never ever run away from me again. Okay?"

Cas smiled his ridiculous half smile. "I'm looking forward to it." Love, pure and unconditional, radiated from Cas. Dean took a deep breath and concentrated on pushing the same thing back to him.

Cas gasped and pulled Dean in with a strong hand on the small of his back for a warm welcoming kiss. Dean opened to him without hesitation, drinking him in like he'd been lost in the desert and Cas was water. Which, yeah, that's exactly what if felt like.
Dean was just beginning to think that the couch was about to be christened in a way guaranteed to make Sam bitchface at him when they were interrupted.

"Please understand that I'm very happy for you when I say this," Sam said, standing in the doorway with one arm draped across Gabriel's shoulders, "but, ewww, please stop."

Cas laughed, loud and joyful, the sound making Dean laugh as well, unable to contain his happiness. "Forgive me," he said, not sounding sorry at all. And, Dean noted, not releasing Dean from his arms. Not that Dean was complaining. "I forgot where I was."

"I am pretty distracting," Dean offered.

"Yes, yes," Gabriel said, "Look how happy and in love you are. It's adorable, really, but I'd like to get on with the public portion of the mating ceremony so I can take Sammy back to bed and ravage him."

Dean shuddered and wrinkled his nose. "Too much information, Gabe."

"Says the man who's attempting to dry hump my brother in my living room."

Dean widened his eyes and put on his best impression of innocence. "I was gonna use lube."

Sam's bitchface was epic. "Dean," he whined, making both Dean and Gabriel laugh.

"Dean," Cas said quietly. Dean turned back to him, curious as to why Cas had turned suddenly serious on him. "It's time."

"Time?" Dean knew exactly what Cas was saying but sue him if he wanted to hear the words from the angels own lips, especially after the little abandonment act he'd had to live through.

"To…" Cas's forehead scrunched up in thought, making Dean want to run a soothing had over the wrinkles there. "…'bond my feathery ass to you for life.' And longer," Cas added.

Part of Dean thought maybe that should have sent him screaming for the hills, but he couldn't find it in himself to dread an eternity with Cas. In fact, "Sounds perfect."