Title: Lessons Lacking and Learned
Summary: AU. Castiel has to make a decision regarding his future, while a misunderstanding between Dean and Jo puts him in an awkward position.
Rating: T
Disclaimer: Supernatural was created by Eric Kripke. No disrespect is intended.
Notes: First: Hah! In under the wire of 2009! Whoo-hoo! Happy New Year everyone! Second: Thank you for reading and for your patience the past couple weeks! And many thanks to all who've taken the time to review! I appreciate your comments more than you can know. :-D

Act VI:

"Sam! Wake up!"

He opened one eye, discovered an agitated Dean lurking over him and weighed the options before deciding to open the other eye and find out what had induced this state. With a wide yawn, he rolled over and sat up. "What?"

"Gabriel's here," he hissed as he went to the curtains and peered out between the folds of the two panels.

"Yeah, I knew that. So?" In retrospect, perhaps sleepy nonchalance wasn't the best tone for his reply.

Dean whirled, eyes bugging. "What? You knew that trickster archangel asshole was here and you didn't say anything? What's the matter with you?"

"Dean, it's not a big deal. He's just here to see Cas." He yawned.

"So he says. I don't believe him. He's up to something." Dean's eyes narrowed. "He's always up to something."

"He's not." Sam rubbed his eyes with one hand.

"You know that for a fact?"

Not really, but if he admitted that, what were the chances of Dean letting him go back to sleep anytime soon? Sam needed sleep. He wanted to be refreshed when he saw Sarah again, not yawning with bags under his eyes. "He's not up to anything. The only reason he's hanging around is to see Cas, but since he knows Ellen and Jo anyway, I'm guessing he wanted to see them, too. You know, since they're here."

"You knew he knew them?" One brow slid up. "How long have you had this information and why didn't you share it with me earlier?"

"You were at dinner with Jo. He came up to the table while Ellen and I were having dessert. She greeted him like a long-lost friend. We chatted in an amiable, non-threatening, and casual manner, and when I spoke to him later, he assured me he meant us no harm."

"No harm? Are you nuts, Sammy? He always means us harm."

"Your paranoia is showing through again, Dean."

"Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean Gabriel isn't out to get me."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Whatever. He said he wasn't going to hurt us."

"You believed him? Have you forgotten how many times he made you watch me die? The emotional turmoil he put us both through? And the tv land thing? That was a hoot. You remember that groin hit? The fun never stopped."

There was no way he was getting back to sleep, was there? "I believe him. Dean, he told me we'd never see him again." Raising a knee, he rested one elbow upon it. "Look, why don't you just go to bed and we'll deal with him in the morning if he's still here."

"Do you have any idea what he could do while we're unconscious?"

"The same things he could do while we're conscious. It's not like we can stop him."

His mouth opened for a few seconds, then closed. After a moment, he nodded. "You have a point. He could mess with us while we're asleep or awake."

"And has."

Dean sat down. "So it doesn't matter if I sleep for a few hours or not."

"Not really, no."

Within fifteen minutes, the lights were out. Sam was just about to drift off to sleep, when Dean's voice sounded again.

"You're sure he's not up to anything?"

Sam sighed.

Gabriel was waiting on the bench where he'd delivered Castiel's options. Castiel approached and sat beside him. Gabriel started smirking before Cas had even fully sat.

"Walking, Castiel? Guess that means you've decided. You know, I'd hoped you'd choose the human experience. The sheer number of things you're going to learn before you come home is astounding. Many of us can't wait to hear about it. I'm already familiar with much of what you'll experience, but the others? Very curious."

Across the road, Ellen's door was open. Cas turned his attention away from her and onto Gabriel. "It's an odd punishment. The human experience. It sounds like a reality television program."

Gabriel laughed. "Funny, Castiel. That's funny. Hone that sense of humor. I think you'll do well with it once you learn how to use it."

"Why this? Why the choice? I wouldn't have been given the choice to stay before. I remember being yanked back when I got too close last time."

"While you disobeyed orders regarding Dean and end times, those orders weren't from God. Zachariah and others…. Enough of them. You were right and wrong at the same time. Accept being human and experience it as fully as you can. More of us should have to in order to understand humans and the love God has for them." He shrugged. "And it'll give you a chance to see what happens to them before coming home. To Dean and Sam, I mean. You can interact with them, really dig into what being human is. Extensive studies."

He blinked. Ellen was right. Her understanding of the circumstances -- which he'd not even considered at all -- was correct.

"You'll have good days and bad days. It's normal. Even when I was hiding out, I had good and bad days. Don't worry about it. Since you've turned into something of a scholar, consider this a sociological experiment, if that helps." Gabriel snapped his fingers and stood, signaling the end of their time together. "There you go…Cas. Nice and mostly human." His brows rose. "See you in a lifetime."

When Gabriel was gone he'd have no further contact until it was his time to go home according to his sentence. He felt a desperate need to say something to makeGabriel stay longer, to keep this last link to his brethren somehow open. Castiel felt a sliver of fear for his future on earth, though he'd made this decision with as much information as he'd been able to cram into the time allotted to him.

I'll be alone, he thought. What am I doing? What have I done?

Gabriel shook his head. "You won't be alone," he said, going right to the center of his fear. "You have your human friends." His head turned, one hand indicating Ellen. "They mean more than you think."

He was gone then and the gray dreary dawn felt like an ominous omen until Ellen reached him.

"You're still here." If she was reading his expression right, he was scared shitless. His eyes were wide, breaths audible. In his lap, his hands were clenched into fists, one bunching the fabric of his coat.

Castiel looked up at her and said in a voice less than steady, "My decision was made. I saw no reason to keep him waiting."

"Gabe? He's your brother?"

"Gabriel," he corrected. "He's an archangel, one of the most powerful of angels. Yes, he's one of many brothers."

Ellen nodded. "You still have some powers like he said you would?"

"I'm mostly powerless save a couple remaining, committed to the human experience for approximately eighty years, give or take a few at heaven's discretion." His attention left her, gaze flitting back and forth along the road and buildings behind her, his fear evident also in the tilt of his brow and the clenching of his jaw. "I have remorse at my decision now that it's too late to change my mind. It'll eventually pass. I know it will. I've experienced this…sensation before. It will pass. It will." His deep breath shuddered his body, the words sounding much like an assurance he would repeat to himself over and over as the days went by. "I simply need to settle upon a further course of action and begin it."

"You've anxiety."

A laugh slipped from him, rusty sounding and little more than a gasp. "Anxiety. Yes."

"Then I'll just have to distract you until it passes." Bending, Ellen placed her hands on the bench back and kissed him. Not a sedate peck, but rather one of heated promise, like they'd shared back in the motel room. His response was hesitant at first, then warm as he began to relax. Ellen drew back a fraction. "I can be a pretty good distraction if I set my mind to it and if Jo and Dean's behavior is any indication how things are going on their end, I'm going to have plenty of free time for awhile."

The blue of his eyes was bright, the intense light there undimmed by his new human standing. "Would you be willing to distract me?"

"Say the word, honey."

Confusion glinted in his eyes for a few seconds, but then he blinked and cocked a brow at her. "The word."

Reaching down, she grasped his hands in hers and tugged. "You're a smartass in the making."

He stood. "I'm already smart," he pointed out. "And if I understand the use of the word 'ass' correctly in this case --"


"Yes, Ellen?"

"Don't over think it. It's just a word."

He wanted to be distracted, to accept the diversion she was offering. Cas wanted to forget for a little while what he'd done. Ellen led him back to her room. While he could have taken them there in a single blink, he didn't. There was a sense of anticipation building inside him that he honestly didn't want to rush. Gabriel had said to experience being human as fully as he could. He may as well start immediately.

Ellen turned in the doorway, hands on the frame, her mischievous expression nearly identical to the one Jo had used. "Come on in, Cas. You're not afraid of little ole me, are you?"

"No," he replied, though it strangely came out like a question. Not how he'd intended to say it.

"You sure about that? You look a little nervous." She stepped in the motel room, crooking a finger in a 'come here' gesture. He'd imagined that very look on her face while looking through 'Cosmopolitan'.

With a glance left, right, and behind him, Castiel followed Ellen into her room and closed the door.

Dean needed to actually collect his winnings from Ellen and headed towards her room, certain she'd be awake. After all, it was nearly eleven in the morning. He knocked and waited.

Ellen answered the door in her robe. Not unusual in itself. It was her room after all and so what if she'd slept in? She deserved to sleep in sometimes. "Hey, Ellen. Can I get that money from you? I promised Jo lunch at this place a couple towns over…." The unusual part dawned on Dean when he glanced behind her. His mouth dropped open.

Castiel was sprawled on the bed with a sheet tangled about him, presumably naked beneath it considering the amount of skin showing. He was staring at the ceiling, his mouth open, a shell-shocked expression on his face.

Amusement flickered in Ellen's eyes, but she didn't say anything, instead reaching for the bag on the chair beside the door and rifling through it.

Dean kept glancing from Ellen to Castiel, certain he wasn't seeing what he thought he was seeing.

Cas swallowed so hard it was audible and turned his head. "Dean?"

"Yeah? Hey…Cas." He raised one hand in an acknowledging wave.

"I had no idea," Cas replied in a solemn, yet fervent tone.

Ellen pressed a stack of bills to Dean's chest. "Here you go, sweetie, and a little extra. My treat for you two." She patted his cheek. "Oh, and don't worry about Cas. I'm taking real good care of him." With a final smug smile, Ellen shut the door. Dean remained standing there for a minute, processing what he'd just seen, then grinned and laughed to himself.

"Go Cas."

The human experience didn't have to be misery, Castiel decided, watching Ellen brush out her hair in slow strokes. He leaned back against the headboard, readjusting the sheet across his lap. He understood now what Gabriel had been getting at the previous morning. This punishment didn't have to be bleak. It didn't have to be agony. It didn't actually have to be a punishment. As long as he knew there was an end in sight, he thought he could do it. And as Gabriel pointed out, he wasn't going to be completely helpless. Or alone.

She set the brush aside and climbed on the bed to sit beside him. He put his arm around her, enjoying the feel of her hair brushing his skin. She didn't seem to mind what Dean referred to as his 'casual disregard for the God given right to personal space'.

"I should tell Dean I'm taking a two-week vacation?"

"Yes. Seeing as how he's probably got another three or four days before Jo gives in, I don't think he'll mind. He's going to want to concentrate on Jo and without any of us here, he can do that."

"And Sam is taking two weeks to visit Sarah Blake, the woman he wants to concentrate on." Sam had made a bunch of plans with Sarah and as far as Castiel could tell, he'd yet to tell Dean any of them. But then, Cas had been out of that loop for quite a few hours now so that could have changed….

"Apparently, she's been trying to build on what she learned when Sam and Dean were out her way. If nothing romantic comes of it, she'll be another resource."

"I see." He nodded. Dean and Sam did have extra resources besides Bobby, many of them women he'd noticed. "I'm to meet you in two days in St. Louis."

"Unless you'd like to ride with me and keep me company on the way." Her hand slid across his chest in a slow caress.

"I could take us and you could leave your truck with Jo." Which sounded like a perfectly reasonable travel solution in his opinion, but Ellen was shaking her head as she snuggled closer.

She chuckled. "You really want to experience me thinking someone stole the truck because I don't remember immediately that I left it parked a couple states over? No. Besides, Jo hates driving it. Always has. She wouldn't use it. Trust me, Cas, she'd rather I take it."

He thought about the outing she'd proposed. It certainly sounded like an experience. "Are you sure I'll like the Screaming Eagle?"

Her hand moved down his chest. "It probably doesn't compare to the zipping around you do, but yeah…I think you'll like it. Jo likes us to stop and spend a couple days at the park when we're in the area in season. Roller coasters are a good de-stressor after what we usually deal with." Ellen sat up and turned to face him. "Which reminds me." She adjusted the sheet so that it covered less of him, shifting her shoulders so that the neckline of her robe parted in an enticingly teasing fashion. He couldn't help but look. "We'll need to get you a few casual things. Suits and Six Flags don't mix."

"What do you suggest?" Dean had been trying to get him into different clothes for a long time now. But then, Dean didn't have Ellen's persuasive techniques.

"Jeans, t-shirt," her hand lowered further and Cas swallowed with some difficulty, "maybe running shoes." She shrugged her brows. "I was thinking something in silk for relaxing after a long day. I noticed the perfect thing for you when we were at the store."

Yes, Ellen was very…persuasive.

While she'd said Jo wouldn't want the truck, Ellen decided to make sure, waiting until Dean had gone to his own room before knocking on her daughter's door. Once inside, she noted that the bed still wasn't fixed.

"What's up," Jo asked, opening a tube of mascara and leaning close to the mirror above the low dresser.

She decided not to waste time talking around the matter. "I'm taking off this afternoon."

Jo paused in the act of putting on mascara, gaze meeting Ellen's in the mirror. "Without me?"

"You don't need me here. You and Dean have better things to do than try to sneak kisses when I'm not looking. Or feels. Don't think I didn't see what he did while you were dancing last night."

She turned. "I told him you'd notice. He didn't believe me."

Ellen smiled. "It's a mom thing, Jo. Someday you'll get it." She sat on one chair. "Do you want the truck?"

"Drive that beast? No way. If I need a ride I'll get one."

She studied Jo with a careful eye. Her daughter was fairly glowing with happiness, a thing Ellen hadn't seen in a very long time, and it was due, she knew, to Dean's attention. Jo had always been very willing to let herself fall in love with Dean Winchester. As time had passed and Ellen got to know both the Winchester boys, she found she didn't mind that so much. Both were very dear to her now. "You know, Jo, I never wanted a hunter for you." She hurried on before Jo could misinterpret what she was trying to say. "But I already love Dean like a son --"

Jo held up a hand. "Mom, stop. We just started seeing each other. You're getting a little ahead of us."

She shrugged. "Just in case, is all I mean. He's already family to me no matter what happens between you." Ellen crossed her legs. "Anyway, I'm heading to St. Louis --"

"Taking Cas with you?"

"Why would you think that?" Her attempt at an innocent tone brought a rolling of Jo's eyes before she returned to her mascara.

"Dean told me what he saw."

"What did Dean say he saw?" It was a good sign in her opinion that Dean had shared that with Jo.

Jo's smirk was amused. "You in a robe and Cas wearing nothing but a strip of sheet."

"I like him," she admitted.

"A tiny strip of sheet? I think that goes beyond like, mom. I think there's some greater interest there." Jo finished with her makeup and came to the chair Ellen sat in. "Admit it," she said with a teasing grin. "You're interested in angel boy."

"Do you mind? My interest in him, I mean."

"You've never asked if I minded before."

Ellen stood and put her hands on Jo's shoulders. "Your father was the love of my life. You know that, but…." She sighed. "I do like Cas, Jo. He's a whole different kind of man and I want to get to know him."

"I think he wants to get to know you, too."

"Sweetie, I know he does and I'm asking if you mind."

The humor slid from her face and she thought about the question a minute. "Dad's been gone a long time and I don't think he'd have really wanted you lonely. If you think there's a chance Castiel will make you happy, then I can't mind if you spend time with him. You're my mother. I want you happy."

"I thought you'd say that." Ellen cupped Jo's cheeks with her hands, "I love you, Jo," then enfolded her in a hug.

"Um…mom? You're acting all sappy. Why?"

She released her. "Just saying goodbye to my little girl," she shrugged, "and hello to my grown daughter. Call me in two weeks and we'll see where we all are."

"What do you mean --"

"Cas isn't the only one learning things here." While he'd been thinking things over, Ellen had been doing some thinking on her own. For so long, she'd been determined to save Jo from life and anything bad that could happen, but life happened regardless, didn't it? She'd seen that over and over when the Trickster…Gabriel…had trapped them. If she ever saw him again, he was getting a piece of her mind for all he'd put them through.

Jo wouldn't be able to ever live if Ellen didn't let her go. It hurt to do so. Jo was all she had left of Bill Harvelle, but she had to acknowledge her daughter was grown. "They cut him loose so he could learn about human life. I'm letting you go for the same reason."

Jo's brows rose. "You're cutting the apron strings? So soon? What brought this on?"

"I want you happy and I know that's the one thing you want most from me." Ellen gave her a final quick hug. "You find out if Dean's the man you want, Jo. I'll be there if you need me." She moved to the door. "But not for two weeks. For two weeks, that fine hunk of former angel is all mine."

They were all taking two weeks, by unanimous decision. Two weeks seemed to be the number fixed in all their minds, even Castiel's, which Dean found interesting. Why two weeks? What had determined the number?

He set Ellen's bag in the truck. She was taking an awful long time saying goodbye to Castiel, which firmed up in Dean's mind that the two weren't actually saying goodbye. Well, that and the twinkle in her eye that bordered on salacious whenever she looked at Cas. They were planning on meeting somewhere down the road. He wondered why they wouldn't just say it and go together.

"You come see me," Ellen said in a tone that made it clear it was an order no matter what their plans were.

Cas tugged the new tie she'd bought him loose a fraction. "Yes ma'am."

Dean exchanged a raised brows glance with Jo and Sam.

He seemed uncomfortable, yet at the same time highly pleased with himself.

"I mean it, Cas."

"I know you do, Ellen."

Raising up, she pressed a kiss to his lips, then pushed his hair from his brow, mussing it more than it already was. "Good boy."

When she'd gone, Cas looked at them. "We…have an understanding."

"Oh yeah," Jo said. "We got that part."

"Ellen has an intriguingly complex personality. I look forward to getting to know her better in the future."

"Was that her personality he was staring at, Sam?"

"Actually, Dean, I think it was her --"

"Enough!" Jo laughed. "That's my mom, guys!"

"Ellen Harvelle is…very attractive," Cas interjected.

Dean laughed. "Right." He looked at Sam. "So, Sammy, how are you getting to that meeting with Sarah?"

Sam shrugged. "I thought I'd catch the bus. Or find a nice car to borrow somewhere near."

"You want to take the Impala?" He slid his hands in his pockets.

"And leave you without her for two weeks? Dean, the withdrawal will kill you."

"It's not like Jo and I plan on going anywhere. Most everything here is within walking distance. I think I can handle the withdrawal and if we want to go anywhere we'll borrow a car."

Sam's gaze was curious. "You mean it or are you screwing with me?"

He dug the keys from his pocket. "You bring her back. You don't, you die."


He had a twinge of misgiving as soon as he tossed the keys Sam's way, but swallowed it, looking down at the ground. Dean forced himself into line with his reasoning. It made sense, right? He and Jo wouldn't need the Impala. At all. It was okay for Sam to….

Nope. He couldn't do it.

Dean looked up to tell Sam he couldn't quite relinquish rights to the Impala for two weeks, but Sam was already maneuvering it from it's parking place. "That was fast," he muttered. When had Sam developed Cas's ability to teleport?

"Yeah, he sort of sprinted when you tossed him the keys." Jo's voice was amused. "Guess he was in a hurry."

"Okay. So it's just you, me, and…." He glanced around. Castiel was nowhere to be seen. He'd vanished without saying another word. Typical. "…not Cas."

"He did that disappearing thingy about the time Sam got to the car. My educated guess is that he's now with my mom in the truck."

"How quickly they desert me. Remind me to talk to Cas about a little word called 'goodbye'."

Jo laughed. "You and me, sweetheart. All alone. Whatever will we do with ourselves?"

He studied her. Her hair was doing that sexy flip over one eye and she brushed it back with two fingers. They were truly alone for the first time. No Sam, Ellen, Castiel, or possibility of interruption from anyone. Especially if he turned off his phone -- which he did. He was ready for this. He was.

Maybe there could be a happy future for him after all. He looked forward to finding out.

Stretching out a hand, Dean drew her close, grasping the curve of her waist. "Hey there."

She came willingly, placing her hands on his chest. "Hey."

"You're kind of cute."

"You're not so bad yourself."

They probably looked silly, standing there grinning at each other, but frankly, he didn't care. "What's say we check you out of your room and into mine?"

Her features slipped into a mock astonished expression. "Dean Winchester, are you suggesting we share a room?"

"I'm only thinking of your welfare. Could get lonely in a big room all by yourself. I'm volunteering to ease that loneliness. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make."

"Why, we might see each other naked."

"Are you implying that I may, in fact, have an ulterior motive behind this generous offer?" He slid his hands along her hips.

She nodded. "Oh yeah. I definitely believe there's some ulterior motive involved."

"I'm wounded."

"The truth hurts."

"Patch me up?"

The teasing light disappeared from her eyes, her hands raising to cup his face. "Yes."

Dean did the only thing he could think of to do right then.

He kissed her.

Gabriel watched them make their vacation plans and disperse to that end. He'd been ahead already to see the potential futures for all of them and was pleased by where they'd ended up. It wasn't like he'd pushed Jo and Ellen into the decisions they'd made. He'd simply given them more options over the years then they'd previously had. They'd made the choices, every last one that had led them to him in Washington and then to those various points that had kept them from their deaths.

Time was ever fluid.

He'd looked at the two women and realized they were as fascinating as Dean and Sam. Gabriel had taken it on himself to do an experiment; to see if they'd always make the same decisions that had led to their deaths. They hadn't, the crucial one taking them from harms way.

Okay, taking them to Gabriel's immediate sphere of influence. Still, it was almost the same thing, right? Sure, he'd trapped them, made them both think about their relationship a bit and what really mattered to them the most, but he hadn't hurt them. He'd never put them in real danger. He'd helped them.

He was pleased by the outcome. All of it. Especially for Castiel. It was good for Castiel to experience the human things he was going to experience. And when he finally came home, Gabriel decided he wanted to get to know Castiel better.

Gabriel glanced heavenward, aware that his own time to return for good was nearing. Castiel wasn't the only one facing consequences. The things Gabriel himself had done sometimes weren't what Dean or Sam would call 'nice'. Nice hadn't entered into it. Justice had.

With a sigh, he leaned back against the bench and laid his arms along the back.

Even now, Castiel was trying to decide if he could bear the slow ride to spend more time with Ellen and choosing to do just that. He was already making the sorts of decisions that guaranteed he'd enjoy his human time. While he still had a long way to go, he'd understand much in time.

Even now, Sam was plugging in that iPod and smiling because Dean was trusting him with the Impala. It wasn't seeing Sarah that made him happy, but the knowledge that Dean was making progress in letting him grow-up. Of course it was only happening in degrees, but it was happening.

Even now, Dean was scheming to get around Jo's three date pronouncement, though beneath the scheming was a willingness to go by her wishes. He was looking at her and picturing more. Dean wanted more. Already, he was thinking of a future with her.

Even now, Ellen was planning such a range of experiences for Castiel that he was going to be busy for months. She had plenty of ideas on things he needed to try. Castiel was going to be good for her. Ellen was ready to live for herself again. For years she'd been a wife, mother, business owner. The time had come for Ellen to be her own woman.

As for Jo…. Even now, she was thinking Dean Winchester was worth the wait. She might even waive that three date rule she'd put into effect. She wasn't going to, Gabriel knew, but she was thinking about it. Her mother hadn't raised a girl without self-respect and Dean would respect her or forget her. (Respect her.)

Gabriel glanced up again. It was time to leave. He looked around a final time…and was gone.

The End