**Hello, lovies! I kinda popped ahead in the storyline a touch just because it was Christmas and Castiel just had to stick his nose into things. Enjoy. Ho Ho Ho.***
Firefly 'Verse - Christmas Angel 1/1
By: Suz Mc
December 24, 2012
Churches were curious places on Christmas Eve. The hum of children's voices buzzed in the air, little mouths too excited to keep to the adult standard of quiet reverence. Their energy flowed through the space like a warm breeze and brought a smile to his face. The children were the ones who truly understood; the ones not twisted by doctrine and mixed up interpretations forced on them by adults. They could accept pure love for what it was, for what it is.
He made his way quietly through the back halls behind the sanctuary, taking care to keep his steps light against the hard tile flooring. Every now and then his heels would click sharply and the ping would bounce through the empty space. She would be coming around the corner soon, heading toward the prop room set up in an empty Sunday school classroom. The feel of her was unmistakable, a wild thrilling vibe that was familiar. He stopped to wait for her. About seven feet back from the corner should be far enough for the little girl's slide to stop after she rounded the sharp edge to the left and saw him in her path.
His hands needed to be occupied, always disturbed by a curious fidget after the big war. They needed work, action, as if being idle for any period of time would allow the evil they had buried to crack back open and try again. The pockets of his coat were warm and his hands were always cold here. He rubbed the smooth lining between his fingers and waited. The aura of the little girl spread forward around the corner, flooding over him in a rush just seconds before she raced into the corridor, one hand banging hard against the far wall as her slick white ballet slippers skated across the floor. He'd misjudged the distance it would take for her to stop and she crashed against his knees in a blur of snow white gown and gleaming tinsel wired in a circle above her dark curly hair.
"Whoops!" She gasped it out in a rush of air, shoving herself back with two small hands against his knees. "Sorry."
"Are you alright?"
Deep brown eyes looked up at him, washed in surprise and then fear. She took a couple of steps backward as if she wanted to get out of arm's reach while deciding if she should run. The wary, calculating expression was comical and he found himself smiling freely at her as she appraised him carefully. She was learning well, this little warrior.
"Are you one of the daddies?"
"No, I'm just here to see some friends and watch the performance." He took care to stand still so as not to startle her. She would accept him quickly, would soon understand he was no threat. Children could feel truth others could not.
A sweet smile crossed her lips as she decided he was safe and she brought one hand up to the wobbling silver halo constructed to float over her head. "I'm an angel and my halo's broke and I'm 'posed to get Mrs. Cates to fix it."
He slowly bent his knees, crouching before her. "That is a recurring problem with angels. Halos are often askew."
"It looks bad to have a busted halo when you're the main mostest angel." She grabbed at the bent wire, trying to right the silvery circle that was tipping precariously to the side.
Reaching one hand forward, he took hold of the thin wire. "I have some experience with unruly halos. Maybe I can help." She didn't flinch when he pressed the wire between his fingers. He kept the energy to a small burst, just enough to harden the weak material and set the synthetic halo firmly in place. "There. I think that's got it."
"Thanks! What's your name?"
"My name is Castiel and you are Emily Winchester."
"That's a pretty name. Castiel. Castiel." She said it sing song sweet, smiling around the new word. "How do you know my name?"
"I am a friend of your family, of your father and uncle."
All of her doubt was gone and Emily's eyes sparkled back at him. "Did you come to see me?"
Emily grasped her long white gown in both hands, swinging it back and forth with pride. "I was gonna be a dumb sheep because they think the 4K's can't remember stuff, but Susie Mays throwed up this afternoon and I already knowed her part so they said I could be it!"
"That is unfortunate for poor Susie."
"Yeah, but now I get to say the most important part in the whole play."
"And what would that be?"
"I get to tell people," she cleared her throat and threw her arms wide, "FEAR NOT!"
"That is a wonderful thing to tell people."
She leaned forward and frowned, as if educating a rude toddler. "I'm not finished yet."
"Sorry, please continue."
Emily nodded her forgiveness and swung her hands through the air as she talked. "They busted up the long part that one angel said so three of us could say it. Here goes." She settled into a serious expression, concentrating of ever word. "FEAR NOT 'cuz I bring you…you…" Emily hesitating, searching for the words them leaping on them again, "good tidings of great joy…great joy…"
"Which shall be to all people."
"Yeah, that's it! You heard it before!"
"Yes, I've heard it before." Now, he felt it again. The glory of the Lord. The songs that burst forth from him and around him. The great joy. The peace. He had lost it for a time, but felt it fully once again after the great battle was over. Even as confused and jaded as Gabriel had become before the final conflict, he would still find the joy in an innocent repeating his words. She said them with the same conviction, the same clear belief that what she was sharing would save the world, as Gabriel had.
"My daddy's out there with Uncle Sammy. You can sit with them if you want."
Dean's voice was sharp with fear when he came around the corner and saw his daughter talking to a stranger. His steps were hard and loud as he pounded across the distance, recognition not softening his glare.
The little girl had jumped at the sound, her father's alarmed bellow making her step backward from Castiel. Dean was beside her quickly, grabbing her under the arms and pulling her high against his chest. He forced calm over his expression and lowered his voice. "You're supposed to be getting that wonky halo fixed, Cutie Pie."
"Mr. Castiel fixed it good."
"Yeah, Cas fixes things alright." Dean kissed her on the cheek and set her feet back down on the floor. "You better go backstage and get in line."
"Where are you sittin'?"
"Third row in the middle."
Emily took a few skipping steps away from her father, then turned back to fix those dark eyes on the angel. "Thanks for the fix, Mr. Cas." Now she was using the nickname. It sounded right coming out in her friendly, innocent voice.
"You're quite welcome."
Dean watched his daughter round the corner before turning back to face him. There wasn't even the pretense of welcome. Dean's jaw was set tight under his skin and he stood hard and solid in the center of the hallway, poised to block Castiel if he moved to follow Emily. It was confusing. Not at all the greeting the angel had expected.
"You can't have her."
"What do you mean? I don't want—"
Dean put himself nose to nose with the angel, rage and fear coming off of him like a thick sweat. "Whatever you want with her, fucking forget it because you can't have her."
"What makes you think I want Emily, Dean?"
Dean backed away and began prowling a path in front of him. He'd worked up a bluster of anger to cover what was an ice cold fear bleeding out of every pore. "Oh, I don't know, Cas. Maybe it was Anna slipping into Emily's head for a bedtime story when she was in the hospital a few weeks ago. The papers are still running stories about the 'snow angel miracle' outside Lawrence Memorial. Do you guys have any clue how to keep a friggin' low profile?"
"Anna has developed a flare for drama since her reascension."
"I don't give a shit, Cas. You can't have her." Dean settled back in the center of the hall, a formidable barrier against an opponent he knew he couldn't best.
It had been some time since Castiel had dealt with Dean Winchester and he'd forgotten how exhausting it could be to keep pace with the man's confused logic. "Dean, I am no threat to your daughter. Why would you think that I or Anna would want to hurt her?"
"I'm no fool, Cas. I know what my little girl is capable of and I know how your posse feels about that sort of thing. You either want it gone or want to use it, one or the other."
"Emily's has gifts. She is--"
"If you say she's 'chosen' I will rip your goddamn face off. I see how you treat your chosen people and she's off limits!"
A group of teenagers came into the other end of the hallway, shepherding several kindergarten animals toward the sanctuary. Castiel pointed toward an empty room and Dean barreled past him into the room then reached to lock the door behind them.
"Dean, no angel wants to hurt your child. I swear this to you."
"You know what she can do? She can control fire, she can even draw it out of demons and smite them with it, Cas. You can't tell me that hasn't drawn interest upstairs."
"There is a bigger picture here, but you don't have to worry. I'm only here to visit."
"Bigger picture? What fucking bigger picture?"
It was a poor choice of words and Castiel understood it the second they had passed his lips. "Bigger picture" had been a mantra of Zachariah and all the other turncoat angels back in the days of deception. Now, Dean was circling the room with all of those memories trailing him.
"You are making me dizzy. Please sit."
"Then I will." Castiel folded himself down to sit on a hard wooden chair sized for an average six year old. He tried to sit erect against the back of the chair but his legs were too long and made his body bend like a jack knife. "You misunderstand everything, Dean. I only came here to see how you and your family were doing."
It was only a half lie, maybe even only one quarter lie at that.
Dean was towering over him as he sat awkwardly attempting to grip the sides of the too small chair to keep from toppling onto the floor. Giving Dean a dramatic height advantage might defuse his suspicions.
His expression tilted slightly from angry to annoyed. "You look ridiculous. Get up."
"I thought this would make you more comfortable."
"In about one more minute your big ass is going to bust that kid chair into toothpicks. Get up." Dean lifted one hand to rub his temples then scrubbed it down his face. "You expect me to believe you aren't interested in Emily's power. I don't buy it."
Castiel freed himself from the chair. "Of course, I am interested. She is your child, family."
The hard look softened slightly. "You missed us? Is that it?"
He thought about his response, weighing it against other motivations and directives and it tipped in that direction. "Yes, I did and wanted to check up on you."
"What about Emily?"
"What about her?"
"Don't do that, Cas!" Dean had to bend sharply to get low enough to slap his hand on the table. "If she's in someone's sights above or below, you damn sure better tell me."
Now, he could be completely truthful. "No one I am aware of has any ill will toward your child, Dean. You have nothing to fear from Heaven. Her abilities with light and fire are…inconsequential."
Dean's teeth clinched together so tightly the grinding was an audible bite through the air. He had to force in deep breaths to keep calm. "Why are they inconsequential? You sure as hell didn't think they were inconsequential when Sam was using them."
"Different circumstances, Dean." There was giggling in the hall as more children were lining up for the performance, and Castiel caught sight of Emily and several other miniature angels taking their places. "I can assure you that Emily is as precious to us as she is to you. She has gifts, that is certain, but you seem to have that under control. All is well, Dean."
"I swear it. I know no one in Heaven who would want to hurt that little girl, Dean. I am sorry if my appearance has caused you alarm. I am also certain that Anna only wished to comfort Emily in her pain, though her tactics were indelicate." Castiel was about to use his wings to take his leave, but thought better of it with such a crowd of children nearby and reached for the doorknob instead.
"Don't be such a drama queen, Cas." Dean muscled past his shoulder and opened the door. "You're already here. Maybe you can pick up some angel pointers from her or something."
"You would have me stay?" He was following Dean down the hall and into the crowded sanctuary.
"Why not? The sight of you might make Sam cough up a lung and he's been way too level headed these days."
"I will put it back if he does."
"Good God." Dean's eyes rolled upward once then he pointed to where his brother sat in the center of a church pew, adjusting settings on a video camera. "Go sit with Sam. I'll be there in a minute."
Sam was still focused on his camera when Castiel settled in beside him. "Hello, Sam."
For a split second, Castiel heard the sound of Dean laughing while Sam went pale.
"Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful children with us."
A young woman was standing before the crowd as the applause died down, and she continued by instructing the parents to come forward and retrieve the kindergarteners. Emily and the two other angels were grinning and fidgeting in the baptistery that was a couple of feet above the manger scene. She wiggled her fingers at her father, who was moving toward the stage to pick her up.
"Should have sent her up there in a tie and trenchcoat, huh Cas?" Sam had lowered the camera but raised it once more to grab a quick shot of an impatient Emily leaping from the edge of the baptistery into Dean arms, too keyed up to wait for a teenage helper to lower her down.
"Not nearly as ethereal as glittering halos or lace wings."
"I'll grant you that." Sam's eyes stayed fixed on his brother as Dean carried Emily through the crowd. The two of them were talking and laughing, oblivious to the rest of the people around them. It was intense, this love between them. Complete and pure. As perfect as it was intended to be.
Sam was reaching for his coat, but took time to wave at Emily. He kept his voice low and leaned close to Castiel's ear. "She's not bad. I swear she won't use it again. I'll be responsible if she does, just don't take this away from them. Please."
Castiel had learned to be careful in touching humans. Some resisted touch unless they made the contact. Others craved contact and accepted it, communicated with it. He put his hand softly on Sam's shoulder. "Like Emily said, Sam, 'Fear not.' You will know what to do if something must be done."
"Uncle Sammy! Did you see? I 'membered it all! Hey, Mr. Cas! Let's go get pie!" It was half song, half squeal.
Dean was trying to wrangle Emily's hyperactive wiggle into her coat. "Kid, lower the volume a click or two." She was standing on the church pew, lace wings fluttering from side to side as she bounced. Dean made a move to unhook the fasteners holding them in place only to have her jerk away.
"No! I want my wings!"
"The coat won't fit over the wings, kid."
"Don't care!" The little girl danced down in front of Castiel and patted his arm. "They have pie at Jaybird's and it's good. Angels like pie."
"Yes, they do."
Before he could think, before he could react, the child had climbed into his arms. He'd held children before, spiriting them away from danger so quickly that they never knew what had happened, had sat quietly beside lost children until they were found, had even let them rest in his arms moments before their souls left their bodies for Paradise.
But this was different. She looked into his eyes and in that instant of contact, she knew something was different. She'd caught him, knew there was some grand secret there that she'd uncovered. Her hand was warm on his neck where she wrapped it round to hang on and what others could no longer feel in that exhilarated pulse, Castiel felt hum through him.
Power. Flashing. Raging. Blinding. Astounding. Terrifying in its majesty. It didn't matter that Emily had erected monumental barriers around it to protect the fragile life that was all she had left. It didn't matter how desperately Dean Winchester or his brother would fight to keep it tamped down. It was there and even though Emily was forgetting little by little how to access it, the angel could still feel it. He could feel it and knew the source.
He could also feel Dean's heart pounding harder and harder as the seconds ticked by with Emily holding tightly to the collar of his trench coat. The man was fairly screaming, "No no no!" in his mind, broadcasting it with eyes fixed on his child in the hands of a heavenly being who could be gone in an instant.
There was a glint of fear in Emily's eyes, as if rethinking her impulse to jump into a stranger's arms, but it faded quickly when he let his face smile at her and closed one eye in a wink. Castiel put her down on her feet and she went back toward her father.
"Kid, it's eight o'clock on Christmas Eve and I doubt Jaybird's is even open." Once she was within arm's reach of Dean, he had her firmly in his grasp, coat wrapped around her legs and arms banded around her.
"Bet it is! Puuuuhleeeeez?"
The fake groan Dean let out of his throat rattled around them. "Fine. Cut it out with the friggin' puppy dog eyes." It was clear he planned all along to give in, but put on the pretense just to see the "puppy dog eyes" he complained about. It was puzzling until Castiel saw the grin spread over Dean's face. It was lighthearted, something he'd never seen on the man's face.
Castiel watched Dean haul her up over his shoulder and head down the aisle, Emily giggling, halo swaying from side to side, wings flapping freely. He'd gotten what he'd come for. Confirmation. Connection. Hopefully, he'd done no damage. Now he could leave and let it all play out.
Sam's voice broke his train of thought.
"Angels like pie. You said so yourself." Sam zipped up the front of his coat then slapped Castiel's arm lightly. "Come on. You're always welcome."
He should leave. Should just let Sam walk out of the church with his family on his own. He shouldn't be following him down the aisle and out into the parking lot. He should take a sharp turn around the other side of the building and be gone instead of sliding into the familiar leather upholstery of the Impala beside a four year old who smiled up at him and prattled on about how National Pie Day was in January and how cherry was the best kind.
Jaybird's Diner appeared to be one of only a few businesses open on the quiet side street. The others were boarded up but tagged with signs reading "Downtown Revitalization Project." It was a bright place with sparkling clean windows and a gleaming neon sign. Dean eased the car into a space beside the curb just as snow began to fall.
"Yea! Snow and pie!" Emily's nimble fingers had popped the button on her seatbelt and were tugging at the lock on the door. In an instant, she would be out on the sidewalk. Castiel reached one hand forward to grab the back of her costume, but there was no need.
"Beat you to it, smart girl." Sam had made it out of the front seat and to her door in a practiced move. This family had a rhythm, was in sync.
The last customer was paying as they all four made their way inside out of the cold. Castiel had grabbed the child's coat in his hand on his way out of the vehicle. It was pointless since Emily wasn't about to damage the treasured wings by cramming them inside a parka for a ten second trek from the car to the diner. Still, it seemed like the thing to do and the angel pushed it into her father's hands after the door closed behind them.
"Thanks, man." Dean's look was losing its guarded fear-soaked twinge, as he took the pink furry jacket and tucked it under his arm.
"Sorry guys, but I was about to close it down for the night." The man was wiping down the counter with practiced hands. He was tired, but mustered a warm grin as Emily ignored the refusal and jumped up on a stool anyway.
"I was an angel tonight at church and we had sheeps and a Baby Jesus and everything and can we pretty please have pie?!" Both elbows were resting on the counter, holding her chin at a slight angle, reminiscent of Renaissance cherubs with irresistible faces and eyes cast toward Heaven.
"Sorry, Mac." Dean was moving to pick Emily off the stool. "Come on, Emily."
She didn't move, just smiled up at the man behind the counter.
"Now hold on there just a minute." The man put his damp towel away. "What in the world would Baby Jesus think of me if I turned away the little angel he sent me on Christmas Eve?" He tapped Emily lightly on the nose. "Why don't you all have a seat in that booth over there and I'll see what I can round up. Thirty minutes won't make much difference to that empty house that's waiting on me."
Dean reached for Emily's hand, but she was already reaching for Castiel's fingers and leading him toward the booth.
"You can sit by me!"
"If you wish." Castiel slid in beside her as the little girl tucked her knees under her so that she could reach the table comfortably.
As Dean and Sam settled in the seat across from them, Emily looked up at the angel from underneath her glittering halo.
"See why I wanted to keep the wings on?" Pearly white teeth smiled at him as Emily cocked her head sideways, letting him in on her private scam.
It was masterful, the skill this four year old child had with people. She understood the tools at her disposal and they were as magical and mysterious as any ability to thwart demons and fling bolts of fire at the wicked. Size and strength didn't matter when you understood what motivated human beings.
Before he knew what he was doing, he was laughing. Not observing and evaluating his next move in a dangerous game that would take years to play out, but laughing at a tiny, innocent child who had grinned her way into pie on Christmas Eve when closing time was past.
This was Winchester. This was the family he was charged with and he thanked his Father for it, for this moment of laughter. Hundreds of Christmas Eves had come and gone since the first, the first which didn't even fall on this mark on the human calendar and it had been a long time since he'd felt that warmth in his own being. Gabriel igniting the evening sky, so overzealous with his joy that he terrified the simple shepherds he was there to engage. The thrill on the faces of the humans when they truly believed and went forth to share the good news. The Light of the World in the form of an infant, the form of a child.
Dean reached his fist over and Emily clinked her tiny knuckles against his. "Cutie Pie, you make me proud."
The pie came and Mac put a large can of whipped cream in front of Emily's plate and she piled it high on Castiel's slice of cherry pie, showing him how to carefully cut the pieces so that each one had an equal parts pie and cream. He ate, something he didn't normally do, to be part of the group. Dean laid aside his doubt and fear from earlier and talked to Castiel as if he were any other longtime friend who had no clue about their lives since their last meeting years ago.
It was peaceful, human, seductive. Castiel stopped eating so that he wouldn't get too lost in the sensations. It was dangerous and he knew that his role was too important to get lost in this life that was not his own.
"You don't like the pie?" Emily's plate was clean and her fork was poised over the remnants on Castiel's plate.
"I'm full. You may have it." He slid the plate in her direction and the little girl dug in.
"Better hurry up, Em." Sam was sipping on a cup of coffee, one arm slung sideways over the back of the booth. "Got to get into bed so Santa Claus can come down the chimney."
Her look turned suddenly serious. "Are you sure he's coming?"
"Of course he's coming!" Dean leaned forward to run a finger through the leftover whipped cream on her plate. "Why would you think the dude's not gonna' show?"
"What if he can't find me?" Gone was the exuberance of before. It was replaced with a shaky plea for the continuity of a little child's life that had been shredded by a demon in an apartment in Austin, Texas.
Maybe in this moment, he could truly serve his charge and her piece of mind.
"Well, I know St. Nicholas and he most certainly knows where you are." All eyes turned toward Castiel, most importantly the dark eyes of a little girl suddenly relieved and alight with wonder.
"What?" Her mouth was wide open and she grabbed his arm and pulled herself closer.
"St. Nicholas is another name for Santa Claus." Sam chimed in, ever the teacher.
"I know that!" She wasn't being sassy or disrespectful, simply excited to know something others thought she didn't. "St. Nicholas soon would be there. My teacher readed it to us." Emily returned her attention to the angel, so enthralled by his face, by someone who knew the all powerful Santa Claus, that she was inches away. "He got it! Did he say he got it?"
"Uh…" This was the trouble he had often encountered with taking creative license. The details often tangled the good intensions.
Dean bailed him out with a quick hand. "The letter she wrote to tell Santa she was in Lawrence now instead of Austin. He got it, huh?"
"Yes! Absolutely. St Nicholas will know exactly where you are, Emily. You don't have anything to worry about."
"AWESOME!" She kissed him quickly on the cheek then slipped down to her seat again. "We gotta go, Daddy! Right now!" She practically melted under the table and crawled over their feet to get free.
Dean threw a few bills on the table and let a tiny four year old drag him toward the door. "You heard the lady, guys. Let's ride."
They were expecting him to follow, so he did, like all those other times the Winchesters has headed toward the night with him in tow.
"Merry Christmas." Mac was quickly bussing the table behind them, absently whistling to fill the renewed quiet of his diner.
Castiel found himself suddenly in tune with the man as he cleaned, his normal barriers lowered to accomplish the true task of the evening. He turned on his heel and stopped, weighing the wisdom and consequences of interfering. Often, stirring such pots backfired.
But it was Christmas and the man's silent burden was heavy, so the angel decided to throw caution to the wind. In a few steps, he was close enough to speak quietly and still be heard.
"You should make the call."
Mac looked up, still holding an empty plate. "Excuse me?"
"Your son. You should call him. He is also sorry about the angry words and too stubborn to bend."
Before the man could shake off his stunned silence, Castiel was out the door and sliding back into the warmth of the vehicle.
Castiel wasn't sure why he felt compelled to follow Dean up the stairs to Emily's bedroom. It was an odd sight to see Dean Winchester gently lift the little girl from the backseat with such practiced ease that she never stirred from her slumber. Of all the strange and heroic things he had watched this man do in the years they spent together struggling to accomplish the unbelievable, this took the cake.
Emily's head was propped on her father's shoulder, both arms draped limply around his neck. He held her securely with one arm firmly supporting her bottom and one hand resting softly on her hair to keep her head from bouncing as Dean slowly climbed the stairs. The man's head was cocked slightly to the side, simply to feel the closeness of her against his cheek. It was such a small gesture, but one with monumental meaning for the father absorbing every ounce of contact he could get with his child.
It wasn't a chore. It was a pleasure of purity, of clean and honest love. The sight of it made Castiel more determined than ever to see them both survive.
The door to Emily's room was open and her father navigated through the darkened space with a practiced grace. Hands that normally slapped clips into firearms and sliced flesh with brutal enthusiasm unclasped a pair of lace wings and removed a wired halo and caused only enough disturbance to earn a soft sigh from a sleeping child. He let her angel gown serve as a nightgown and eased her under warm covers.
Even in sleep, Emily's body recognized her bed, her space, and she snuggled down between pillows, grabbing what appeared to be a special blanket with one hand.
"See you when the sun comes up, Cutie Pie."
He kissed her forehead. He checked the locks on her windows and the long tube of salt that barred the windowsills. Two powerful warding symbols sparkled in the moonlight in the center of each pane of glass and Dean touched them both, whispering a short Enochian phrase with surprisingly accurate pronunciation.
When Dean turned around to find that he was being watched, he didn't react with the normal annoyance at having his privacy invaded. He joined Castiel in the doorway, then turned back toward Emily and rested his shoulder against the doorframe. For a time, they both remained silent, watching the child sleep in a small knot that barely took up any space at all on the bed.
"You, my friend, are one cool liar." Dean's voice had grown more hoarse over the years, but he was able to keep it low and hushed.
"Excuse me?" Castiel had been fairly confident that his explanations had soothed Dean's fear that angels were out to get his child.
"All that 'I'm Santa's BFF' song and dance." Dean's lips tilted up in a crooked grin. "Pretty damn convincing."
"I didn't say I knew Santa Claus."
"Don't worry. I'm no snitch. I won't tell your boss that you lied like a cheap rug."
"I said I knew St. Nicholas and I do. He is a third century bishop who cared for children in need by tossing coins into their windows. His acts were the origin of your contemporary Santa Claus figure." Castiel relaxed against the opposite side of the doorway. "I do know him and will seek him out when I return home to tell him about Emily and correct my technical misstatement."
Dean shook his head in the dark. "Well I stand corrected. At least you didn't lie about that."
"What is it you think I've lied about this evening, Dean?"
The man remained silent for a few breaths, as if unsure about opening a Pandora's Box he would rather remained closed. Dean seemed to be carefully considering his next move when he turned away from Emily's room and faced Castiel directly.
"I'm not stupid, so don't treat me like I am. You owe me that."
"Alright, I won't." He did owe Dean Winchester something, but it had to be balanced against the safety of them all.
"You wouldn't be here after all this time if you didn't need to check on something. Anna wouldn't have made contact with her either if something wasn't up. What is it? If you're worried about whatever that demon left inside her, don't. She's put it down."
"We don't want to hurt Emily. I swear that to you, Dean."
Dean retreated to his normal frustrated gesture of scrubbing his hand down his face. "Those semantics you bastards use don't get past me, Cas. Substitute 'use' for 'hurt, maybe? Emily has power that could be used, is that it? Somebody upstairs get the bright idea that she could come in handy in a fight? Because if that's it, forget it."
"No one in Heaven, no angel, will harm this child."
"Your guys sure threatened to smite Sam often enough."
"This is different."
"How?" His tone was sharper now and Emily stirred at the sound so Dean pointed toward the stairs. When they reached the bottom, he continued. "You keep saying that, that this is different. Tell me how."
Exposing what he knew, what he hoped he knew to be true, was not possible. Everything must play out naturally or be tainted. Castiel had to offer something to appease Dean's building panic. If he had listened to Anna and not exposed himself by making contact, this could have been avoided, but it was too late for regret.
"Dean, Emily has great power. Some of it violent and destructive—"
"I told you she wouldn't use it again."
"But some of it could have the seeds of grace."
"Stop using angel bullshit and say it straight, Cas. What is it? How could anything good come out of what that bitch demon infected her with?"
"Seeds grown in different light can bloom in different ways, Dean. We simply have to wait and see."
It was as if Castiel had driven a spike between Dean's eyes, the pain forcing him to pinch them shut when he tried to speak again. "I don't want to know what that means, Cas. I don't. I want her to be left alone. I want to know what I can do to keep her safe so she can grow up and have a life and not be of any friggin' cosmic use to anybody. Can't you just do that? Get them to leave her the fuck alone? Don't we deserve that much?"
Sam was at his brother's back now, alternately looking up the stairs toward where Emily was sleeping and directly back into the angel's eyes. "You said no one in Heaven wants to hurt Emily. What about the other side, Cas?"
"If there's a threat, that will be the source, Sam." At least he could give them that much. "And not only from those who want to raise the demon Amora again, but from those who want her to remain caged."
"Son of a bitch." Dean whispered it, almost talking to himself instead of forcing out an angry curse. "I knew I didn't kill her when I threw that charm into her. I knew it."
"No, she was not destroyed, but Emily is safe for now. She must be protected and we will do all we can to detect any threat when the time comes."
"Just who is 'we'?" Sam had left his brother's back and moved to stand beside Castiel. It felt like being pinned down and the angel understood the motive behind the gesture.
"Anna and I. It is our charge."
"So you two are her guardian angels and we just have to sit back and trust you to do your job?" Sam's mistrust of angelic methodology hadn't lost its bite over the years. "We're supposed to turn her safety over to you?"
"Not bloody likely." Now Dean was pacing, wearing a path between the staircase and the front door.
"No, we will not interfere. We cannot, but we can give you as much warning as possible. The rest will be up to you."
"What can we do, Cas?" Dean had stopped, his accusatory tone replaced with the same desperation in every father's heart when faced with a danger to his family. "Tell me what to do and I'll do it."
Castiel began buttoning the front of his coat. "Raise your child to be strong and brave, give her love, teach her compassion. Those will be the weapons and guides she will need."
He tied the belt with a firm jerk. "For the day she must make a choice."
"So that's all you're going to give me, more cryptic bullshit?" Dean shot another worried look up the stairs. "Give me something useful, Cas, or get the hell out."
The angel had reached and surpassed the boundaries he'd agreed to before coming here. The glow from the Christmas tree in the other room caught his attention. The evergreen was alight with hundreds of brightly colored lights, all blinking in a different rhythm. Hours must have gone into stringing a popcorn garland and Emily's hand was evident in various construction paper shapes covered in glitter and crayon. Under the tree lay Santa's bounty in the form of a babydoll, a hot pink tool kit, various paints and coloring books, and a glittery purple bicycle with training wheels and a helmet with "Emily" delicately airbrushed on the side.
Castiel leaned in closely toward Dean and rested a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Tighten the top nut on the left side of the training wheels."
He could feel the breath of Dean's curse as his wings took him out of the room and back home in one smooth motion. The frosty chill of earth was gone in an instant and he no longer felt the awkward, off balance sensation he constantly fought when he was there. Castiel searched until he found her and settled quickly in the grass beside Anna where she had been waiting.
"So?" She didn't look at him, just continued staring off into the stars.
"You were right."
Anna nudged him with her shoulder and smiled broadly. "Like I needed you to tell me that."
"It is very strong, but there is so much power in its way. I'm not certain it's even possible for her to—"
"You have become quite the optimist." He didn't resist when Anna looped her arm through his.
"Light kills the darkness, Castiel, not the other way 'round. Where's your old team spirit?"
He liked the feel of her head on his shoulder, of being a team again with a clear purpose. They had a charge now, a mission without mistrust or the interference of traitors. It was a clean task before them with clear enemies if they could detect them first. The only catch would be that the sword could not be in their hands, no matter how badly they wanted it.
"That only works if the light is very, very careful."
"Merry Christmas, Castiel."
"Merry Christmas, Anna."
**Hope everyone enjoyed my holiday snuggle, angel style. Pretty please with pie on top, let me know what you think. Hope to go back and tell the story of the Winchesters moving into the house in Lawrence. Becoming part of normal life can be an abnormal task, especially when your house isn't really your house. :-) ***