Title: That Old Illusion of Free Will
Chapter: One
Summary: AU: Out of spite, Lucifer destroyed the angelic vessel lines one by one, save a lone vessel: Jimmy Novak. Castiel seeks to fix the problem, only to find that someone is way ahead of him. Ellen copes with knowing Jo is alive but is unable to search for her.
Rating: T
Disclaimer: 'Supernatural' was created by Eric Kripke. No disrespect is intended.
Notes: Just a piece I've been toying with. As usual, be patient for new chapters. I'll have them up as soon as I can.

To discover herself alive, when she knew she'd died, was the one thing that managed to freak Jo Harvelle out nearly to the point of no return.

She woke with a long gasp, rolling and pushing herself off of the soft mattress she was lying on, not registering it as a mattress until she was on the floor looking up at the side of the bed. Jo laid still, heart beating fast, listening for anyone in the building with her. She appeared to be alone or if someone was there, he was being quiet. Cautiously, she sat up, peering across the bed. She was in a fairly plain bedroom, with soothing light green walls and the bare minimum of furniture. Bed slightly bigger than a twin, a dresser, nightstand and straight back chair. It was a nice room, appealing.

Her clothes were those same ones she'd been wearing, only there were no bloodstains, no slashes from the claws of the hellhound that had ripped into her, and no indication she'd done any sort of physical activity. Jo ran her hands down her shirt, then her legs, drawing her knees up, tears prickling her eyes as she realized she could feel her legs, move them. She wiggled her toes in her boots. In the end, she hadn't even been able to do that. The terrible loss of feeling rolling up her body from her legs remained with her. She'd been so weak that day in Carthage, her blood, her life, spilling from her.

How am I alive? Not possible, not possible….

But it was possible. Dean and Sam had proven that. They'd proven more things she'd thought impossible to be possible than anyone else she'd known. She couldn't understand how Dean and Sam could have ever been so casual and calm about it.

A noise came into clarity. It was her own voice, denying her resurrection from death in a crooning muttering. Sucking in a breath, Jo covered her mouth with her hands until her lips stopped moving. She swallowed and got to her knees, wondering if her legs would accept her full weight, bracing herself against the edge of the bed. They did, but she staggered for long minutes when she tried to walk, bumping into walls and furniture.

The apartment was empty of anyone save herself. Her two bags were in the living room, set on the floor by the open arch into the kitchen. Dropping to her knees beside them, she opened the biggest one. It had her hunting kit in it and should have been blown to bits like she'd been.

She did the drills on herself, frightened that she'd been altered and that she wasn't herself. Holy water, salt, every trick she knew confirmed that she was human and if she wasn't alive, she was certainly in a place where slicing her palm open hurt.

She hissed at that cut, then bandaged it up and checked her other bag. Her license, money, and other belongings were there. However, she found items that hadn't been there before. A bank card with her name on it in an envelope with a checkbook, also with her name. The amount wasn't huge, but it was enough for essentials. According to the papers with it, the account had been opened weeks earlier, with several small direct deposits as the source of funds. The register had her neat handwriting on it, though Jo knew she hadn't opened it. There was a set of keys that she discovered fit the lock on the front door and a rent agreement, signed in her hand. The date was the day after they'd gone to Carthage.

Taking out her phone, Jo opened it. The date was the same as on the rent agreement.

She'd died yesterday.

Jo re-read the papers, went through them one by one. Every paper she found was signed by her.

If I'm alive, she thought, maybe mom, Dean, Sam, and Cas are as well. She scrolled down her list of contacts, trying them one after the other. Each number she dialed produced the screeching 'number cannot be completed as dialed' message. No matter how she dialed, Jo got the same result. Even Bobby's number was out of order. How was that possible? What were the odds that every number in her phone was out of order?

She sat at the small kitchen table and sighed. What now? What action did she take? She couldn't think how to proceed, crossing her arms and staring at the table top and feeling at loose ends. Had Dean felt this way when he'd raised up? Time passed, the clock on the wall ticking the seconds away.

Her stomach growled. Jo turned her attention to the fridge and cabinets, thinking it was probably too much to ask that there was food available. Getting up, she stepped to the fridge and yanked open the door. Her mouth opened in surprise. It was fully stocked with all of those foods she ate when she had a choice in the matter. A carton of skim milk, several containers of yogurt with toppings attached to the lids, bakery muffins in a box, her favorite beer on the bottom shelf. Each shelf revealed foods she preferred.

The freezer held tv dinners, toaster pastries, quick 'for two' bagged meals, and frozen fruit bars that were like candy to her. The pantry was likewise stocked. Cereal, flavored rice and noodles, soups…. She had anything and everything to make any meal she chose.

Jo chose toaster pastries and milk. Might as well live it up to celebrate being alive, right?

As she ate, she thought up a plan of action. She'd head out, explore wherever she'd ended up and attempt to contact the outside from another location.

During the months that passed, she explored the town she'd woken in, her days an endless series of hours that passed by with little to set one apart from the next. She was trapped in that town, unable to leave, unable to contact the world outside. It was like something from a nightmare, only she couldn't find any way that she was being hurt except that inability to leave or contact anyone outside of town. Her bank account never dipped very low, though it wasn't like she needed much money to begin with. She always had food, clothing, a place to live.

She occupied herself with trying to put together files and catching up on all of the movies and television she'd missed since she'd left home. It was a boring existence and more than lonely despite the few people she became friends with.

Still, Jo thought she was in a sort of hell until the smartass angel showed up, appearing every bit as startled to be alive as she'd been. He, too, was trapped, but at least he seemed to have some sort of instructions.

I'm dead, Gabriel thought. Well, that sucks. At least I went out trying to help.

He opened his eyes, curious about this death thing and why it strangely felt no different from living. He was on a floor, with a suspicious blond standing over him and approximately ten seconds before she prodded him rather ungently in the hip with the toe of her boot. She had a rather large gun pointed at him. The scene was similar to one of his favorite fantasies except she was wearing far too many clothes.

"Hey, wake up. Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my apartment?"

"I'm Gabriel and I woke up here. Who are you?" Even as he asked, he was scanning her mind for information, discovering everything about her that he thought he needed to know, including her affiliation with the Winchesters.

Great. Any friend of theirs was bound to be a pain in the ass.

"I'm Jo -"

"Harvelle," he finished for her. "I retract the question." Gabriel sat, ignoring her alarmed expression. "Those hellhounds are a bitch aren't they?"

"How did you -"

There was no sense in beating around the bush, was there? "I'm an angel," he told her, glancing around the room. "An archangel if you want to be technical."


"You want proof?"

Her expression indicated such, her gaze challenging. "Proof would be greatly appreciated at this point."

He leaned back on his hands. "What would give you the proof you want?"

Gabriel sat through the tests she wanted and when he'd proved to her satisfaction that he was indeed an angel, he got up from the floor. "When I died, Dean and Sam were fine, you know. They were well on their way to having a shot at fixing things." If they'd found his video, that was.

"When did you die?"

It was a good question. When did he die? Gabriel thought about it. Time didn't really mean the same thing for him as it did humans, so he endeavored to be somewhat specific for her. "Spring 2010."

"2010." She hugged herself. "Why are you here with me?" Jo shrugged, a limp movement, as though she was tired. "For that matter, why am I alive?"

He studied her a moment, doing a little digging in her head. She was tired, sick of waiting for something she knew was going to happen, while not knowing what that something was. She was tired of being unable to leave this location, frightened that she'd be stuck here the rest of her life…alone. Gabriel blinked. It was the loneliness that was bothering her the most, he saw. While she'd been on her own before, she'd always had that illusion that she had people to call on. After all, the numbers had been there. She could have called Dean and Sam, her mother, Bobby, and a few others. Now, that net was gone. Jo was really alone here and she wanted most desperately to know why she'd been snatched from Death and dropped here. "Let me take a peek outside, see if I can find some answers for both of us."

Gabriel quickly discovered that he was bound to the town. None of his usual tricks worked to escape and he grudgingly admitted to himself that whoever had done this to him was far more powerful than he was. He was in the middle of exploring the boundaries when a familiar and long-missed voice filled his mind.


"Father," he asked, relieved and surprised to hear his voice after such a long time had passed. He touched down in a park and looked around, hoping to see God with him and nearly weeping from hearing his voice.

I've a job for you, a task you must complete.

"Of course. What is it?" It had been so long since he'd had an official task handed down to him by God himself that he felt a thrill of being asked slip through him.

Protect Jo Harvelle and this town and don't leave her until you're told to. It'll be months of duty, Gabriel. You've no one to call on for aid, but then you've done well on your own, haven't you?

"I…." How could he explain?

No explanations are needed. I understand why you left. Now, I ask you to wait. There are matters that must still play out. Do your job and when the time is closer, I'll have more instructions for you.

The voice was gone, Gabriel returning to Jo, telling her that he didn't know why she was alive, only that he was to keep her that way. He settled in for the long haul, hoping she wasn't as stubborn and opinionated as he already knew her to be.

In Castiel's returning tour of heaven, he noticed that the boundaries between the individual human heavens had broken down when the angels abandoned their posts. People were sliding into other people's heavens. He watched humans searching for others, friends, relatives, and saw their joy when they found those they searched for. There were connections reformed and new ones made as humans spilled free.


He studied the mess heaven had become. Panic, confusion…. He'd hoped to have a few minutes to go back down to earth and check on Dean, but putting any semblance of even basic order into place was going to be a gargantuan task. And that was only the bare basics. He suspected there were going to be countless other things that needed his attention.

I need to delegate, he thought. I need to separate the obedient from the disobedient and learn who I can trust. There have to be some who remained faithful.

With a breath to brace himself, he waded into the chaos.

Ellen Harvelle woke up with a headache that was nearly blinding. She felt like she'd been thrown through a brick wall, then run over by several large semis. All in all, she felt as dead as she thought she was.

She opened her eyes, surprised to find herself in a hospital bed. What she could see of the room was austere and plain, a typical hospital decorating job. To her right was a window with the drapes closed. To her left was a curtain that separated her from the other section of the room. Behind the curtain, she could hear a rustling of someone moving. High up on the wall, the tv played, volume low. A news story was running, the anchor talking in excited tones about how several massive storm cells had simply vanished as though they'd never been there at all.

"What the hell," she muttered, moving an arm enough to realize she had iv lines in both arms. Her arms looked withered, muscle tone slack. Ellen looked down her body, suddenly noticing how small she looked under the covers. She almost smiled. She hadn't been this tiny in years, since before she'd had Jo. The obvious loss of weight brought on the question: how long had she been here?

And where was here?

The last thing she remembered was pressing the button to blow up the store.

"Jo," she tried to call out, even though she knew Jo couldn't be on the other side of that curtain. Jo was dead. Her precious daughter had died in her arms. Tears flooded her eyes and she blinked, dislodging them so that they ran down her face in sloppy lines she couldn't raise her hands to wipe away.

"No, Ellen, I'm sorry." A man came around that curtain. He was slender, with dark hair and a beard. His eyes were kind. "Jo's not here." He set a chair beside the bed and sat, hands taking her left one, his fingers stroking the back. As he did that, she began to feel a little better, stronger even, which was ridiculous.

"Who are you?" Her voice sounded as withered and faded as she felt.

His smile was gentle. "A friend."

"Got a name?"


"And it is…?" Her voice didn't seem like her voice.

That smile widened. "I love that about you, Ellen. So determined." He sighed, the smile fading. "I'm sorry I couldn't keep you and Jo together, but sometimes, we have to be separated from those we love most to finish becoming who we're meant to be."

"Jo's dead. She can't be anything." That much Ellen definitely remembered, Jo's body slumping against her as she died.

"No, Ellen, Jo's alive, just like you are. I've put her in a safe place for the time being."

"I don't believe you. I want to see her." She was feeling sleepy now, fighting to keep her eyes open and very afraid that she wouldn't wake up again if she did sleep.

"Eventually, but for now, my child, I want you to rest. Your body will heal, and when you're strong once more and the time is right, you'll see her again."

Ellen slipped into sleep.

"What do you mean they're all dead?" Castiel stared at the group of angels gathered before him, but a few out of the thousands panicking. He could hear the continuing chaos around them. Rioting in heaven. Who ever would have thought?

The one who'd given him the news glanced at the others and repeated it. "The regular vessel lines are obliterated. Lucifer…he wiped them out."

The dread that pronouncement brought about made his knees weak. He knew one of the archangel lines lived - Dean -, and perhaps Gabriel and Raphael's lines remained, but all of the other lines gone was a disaster. "All of them?" Please, no, he thought. For Jimmy's sake let Amelia and Claire be alive.

"Yes. The vessels, the children of those vessels, mates and potential mates. He killed them all."

He squeezed his hands into fists, so tight that his nails dug into the flesh of his palms. "Amelia and Claire Novak?"

Another glance was exchanged and in that glance was his answer. Cas didn't need to hear the words that followed. "Among the first he found…directly after Death rose up."

His lips parted. After Death. That meant Lucifer had gone after them after Castiel had refused to join him. It was a spiteful gesture, mean for the sake of being mean, the bully on the playground breaking another child's treasured possession for fun. Not that Amelia and Claire were possessions. Still. It was…mean. Castiel released the restrain he kept on Jimmy, easing him into wakefulness. I'm sorry Jimmy. Amelia and Claire are dead. They have been for a long time now. I'm sorry. I didn't know.

"He was…aided by the guard you placed upon them."

A pained gasp left him and he squeezed his eyes shut for a few moments. He kept saying he was sorry over and over, the words not conveying the fullness of how he felt about it. He hoped Jimmy knew his sorrow. Jimmy had taken Cas back in, pleaded for that, to save Claire from vessel duty, sacrificing himself for her. Now, she was gone. Jimmy, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I thought I left them well-protected. I promised you and - Opening his eyes, he asked, "Has he been disciplined?"

The angel…Morael? Was that his name?…took a step back, looking rather nervous the longer he was the one speaking for the group. "He was one of the ones you killed when Michael took his vessel."

Castiel looked from angel to angel, thinking back, trying to remember who had been there. It remained a blur. He'd been concentrating on doing the job he'd committed himself for, not identifying the angels present with specific names. He nodded, relaying the information to Jimmy and covering him back over so he could grieve in peace.

Okay, so the lines were gone. Surely some angels remained vesseled. Perhaps the vessels could procreate together? Would that work? His thoughts ran at full tilt to process what had occurred and attempt to find a resolution that would be satisfactory.

"How many of us remain vesseled?"

"Well…." The speaker, whose name continued to elude Castiel, moved back another step, prompting Cas to follow. If the angel were human, he would have been sweating profusely.

"You're awfully nervous for such a simple question. How many?"


"And?" He waited for a list of names, feeling the strange human sensation of his stomach dropping inside him that indicated his dread was rising. Interesting. He seemed to be feeling not only emotion, but physical sensation to a higher degree than he had before. Was it a side effect of his new power level? It was…disconcerting. Even more so than when he'd fully realized he'd become human.

"Only you."

Studying them all, he saw fear in their demeanor. "Why?"

"In paradise, there'd be no need of vessels. We left them."

"You abandoned them, like cast off dirty rags." He enunciated each word with care, brows raising.

"Michael was supposed to win, Castiel, not be pulled into prison with Lucifer. We thought…." He drew himself up straight. Shame brimmed in that gaze and he nodded, taking responsibility for that action, his gaze dropping from Castiel's. "We abandoned them. Yes."

Castiel almost used some of Dean's favorite swear words, but held them back at the last second. "Do you realize what you've done? You've left us with one way to communicate with humans. Me. Like I don't have enough here to do already? I must include messenger duties as well?"

They all appeared ashamed of themselves.

Now he had to figure this out, one more task added to his ever growing list. How was he supposed to put heaven in order and play messenger to humanity at the same time? "You have your assignments already. Leave me. Report when you've done your jobs."

Management was different from soldiering he'd discovered. The stress alone was terrible. He felt like a juggler, trying to keep hundreds of balls in the air, balls that increased in number the longer he tossed them. It was all out of control. He couldn't do it by himself. Why had he thought he could even do this task himself? What had possessed him -


"What," he snapped, turning and immediately apologizing. Joshua stood waiting. "You've left the garden."

"Not for long, I assure you. Do you truly believe the situation to be hopeless?"

"There's more to do than I'd anticipated," he admitted.

"You were given the opportunity to learn the skills you need now. Draw upon that knowledge. Surely you learned more from Dean Winchester than a few colorful metaphors and the taste of the liquor humans consume?"

He crossed his arms. "I don't see how my experiences with the Winchesters can help me with the vessel issue. Managing the others, perhaps. That? I don't -"

"The vessel 'issue' as you call it, is not your concern."

His laugh was short and hard. "Who else is going to care?"

Joshua sighed and shook his head. "Can't see the forest for the trees, can you, child?"

It was a novel experience being called a child, but Joshua certainly had the ability to make him feel like one. Castiel sucked in a sharp breath.

"God cares, Castiel. Who did you think? Who else can fix that if it needs fixing? The vessel lines are special and no angel, no matter what his level of power, is going to make it all better. Now, you'd better listen, because I won't give you this message twice. Are your ears open?"

"Yes," he bit out between clenched teeth.

"Search heaven for Jimmy Novak's family. The child and her mother did not separate when they arrived. You'll find them together. You'll speak with them, offer to take them back down to earth for a natural lifespan." He elaborated, telling Castiel things he hadn't been aware of and more instructions should Jimmy's family choose to remain in heaven. He was to go to the secured location Joshua named, with or without Amelia and Claire, and leave Jimmy there.

"I need my vessel," he protested, reluctant to leave Jimmy anywhere. After all, look at what had happened the last time he'd had to leave him. He didn't want anything to happen to Jimmy. Maybe it was a bit selfish to some extent. It was how he felt.

Joshua stared at him. "Not here you don't. He'll be safe there and if you need him, he'll be available. Do you understand, Castiel?"

He wanted to continue protesting, but nodded instead. "Yes."

"Good. Mind you don't interfere. Vessel lines are a delicate matter and Jimmy Novak is very special because he is the last of the lines. He's to be treated well. You'll reiterate what I've told you to the angel presently guarding the location. Make sure he understands the seriousness of the situation. Stress it, Castiel, or you'll have to stand over him."

"I will." He hoped Amelia and Claire would agree to return. It'd be difficult for Jimmy to start anew and humans were notoriously unpredictable because of their free will. Cas knew very well what free will could accomplish. He'd learned well from Dean and Sam. While he thought Jimmy would do what was necessary, mostly because he knew what was at stake, Castiel wondered about the woman waiting. She was a contingency plan in the event Amelia and Claire refused. Did she know her potential status? Was she even aware of angels and vessels, or was she like Amelia had been?

He supposed he'd find out when he took Jimmy down there.

It was with some trepidation that Ellen dialed Bobby Singer's number. He had to think she was dead. As the phone rang on and on, she started to wonder if perhaps he was dead. But no, he finally answered, and Ellen thought his voice had never sounded so good before.

"Somebody better be dying', because I haven't slept in days."

Her lower lip trembled and Ellen forced herself to drawl, "Now there's the love I was hoping to hear. Would not-dead when I should be wake your tired ass up?"

There was silence before a cautious, "Ellen?"

"Hey Bobby."

"Dean said…. Where are you?"

"Sioux City, Iowa, with no idea how I got here. I'm in a hospital and according to a very nice nurse, I've been in a coma. Came in a few months ago all beat up and mostly dead."

"How are you alive?"

"Beats me. Look, I didn't plan on calling, but…. No one else is answering their phones. The doctors want me to stay and, hell, you know how much I just love hospitals. Get me out of here, Bobby."

"I'll be there as soon as I can."

She hung up and set the phone aside, already feeling exhaustion crawl over her. Her doctor had warned her that her recovery would be slow. She was going to have to learn how to walk again, a thing that was going to be difficult. If he thought she was discouraged, he had another thing coming. A Harvelle didn't give up easily. At least that seemed to be the only thing she was going to have to relearn. She was able to feed herself and was already gaining some strength in her arms.

It was her legs that were giving her trouble. They didn't want to cooperate. It seemed a little thing to decide she was going to get up and walk, yet she couldn't. She'd tried once and fallen heavily to the floor, ripping out an iv line in the process. Thankfully, her nurses seemed to understand.

Ellen laid her head back, staring at the ceiling. The man who'd told her Jo was alive had visited her several more times over the past couple weeks, each visit leaving her feeling stronger. He always spoke in a low, calm voice, called her child, and assured her that all would eventually work out. Who was he? Was he an angel or was he much more? The idea that he was more scared her. If he was more, it meant she'd been saved from death for a purpose of some kind. It meant that Jo had a purpose and right now, after having seen the purpose heaven had had for Dean and Sam, that scared the tar out of her.

Closing her eyes, Ellen slept.

Amelia Novak was a stubborn woman. Castiel had known this already from Jimmy's memories of her. However, he'd been unaware of just how stubborn the woman could be. He thought he was explaining everything in a manner she'd fully understand and yet she refused to return to life on earth, choosing to remain in heaven. He'd been over it again and again with her, refusing to leave without her consent, though it was looking like he'd never get it.

"A full life, Amelia," he coaxed. "A life to replace the one taken from you."

She shook her head, her smile a little sad. "You know you look like Jimmy, sound like Jimmy, but when you look at me like that, it's not the same. Jimmy could give me that pleading stare and I'd cave. Maybe it took awhile, but I would give in. You're not him, Castiel. Whatever tricks you took from my husband's memories won't work on me because I know you're not him."

"The lines are gone. We need vessels. We need you to have more children and for Claire to return as well."

"So maybe you angels can leave humanity in peace for once," was her reply, said in a reasonable tone. "Have you considered that option?"

"You could mother a new line."

She laughed, a bitter laugh. "Look in Jimmy's memories to when Claire was born. Take a long look. There was a reason we only had one child."

He was surprised by what he found. She'd thought she couldn't have children. Every doctor she'd seen had told her that, but Claire had been her miracle girl, the baby she'd never thought she'd have - an accident even. Amelia hadn't been trying to get pregnant and had been shocked to first discover herself in that state, then actually carry to term. "You were healed long enough to have her. You would be healed once more."

"I can't go through that again." She stretched out a hand, touching his arm. "I'm sorry, but I can't. It wasn't an easy pregnancy or birth. There were complications. Maybe if it had been easy, I'd consider it, but I never forgot the pain of it, Castiel."

"Jimmy needs you." It was a dirty trick to try that tactic, but he was down to dirty tricks now.

Amelia studied him a long moment, curiosity in her gaze. "Jimmy will be fine without us. He's made of far sterner stuff than you give him credit for. Surely you know him by now, Castiel? You know how strong he is. My husband is a survivor. You drop him down there and he'll take what's there and make it his through hard work and determination."

Was she not understanding what that meant? "He'll have a new life, a new family, Amelia. That means -"

"I know what it means, but I'm dead. Let me rest." Her hand clasped his, squeezed it. "Jimmy and I once had the whole 'if I died tomorrow would you remarry' conversation. I don't want him to not live because I'm not there. I want him to have a life, Castiel, to be happy. He has a lot to offer a woman. Whoever she is, she'll be very lucky to have him."

"Your vows -"

"Were until death parted us. I'm dead. We're parted. I want to rest." Amelia turned her head, nodded in Claire's direction. "You can ask Claire if she'd like to return."

Even if Claire returned, they still needed more potential vessels.

The result was the same. Jimmy's family was happy where they were. They were content to remain and wait for him to someday join them. Claire gave him a few words for Jimmy, as did Amelia, and then Castiel left them.

Plan A was a bust. He had to go with Plan B now, the one he suspected had always truly been Plan A.

Castiel closed his eyes and let himself slip from heaven and to that appointed meeting place.

The phone call wasn't in the middle of the night. Calls like that should be. Bobby had lived through too many resurrection calls as it was, but this one…. Ellen. Geez, it was Ellen this time. He packed a bag and headed out. Once he reached the hospital, it was easy to find her and he closed the door to her room, glad she didn't have a roommate. They needed privacy for this.

Her eyes widened. "Jesus, Bobby, you're out of the chair!"

"It's a long story. I'll tell you about it later." Telling her would be hearing Dean and Sam's words on the subject all over again and he'd like to avoid that as long as possible.

He did the drill, all the while thinking how terribly thin Ellen looked. He was used to her strong on all fronts and seeing her this way drove home even more just how much things had changed. She could barely sit up by herself, her muscles slack from not using them. Just trying to sit up wore her out.

She was going to need physical therapy to regain her strength and while the doctor stressed she needed counseling for the trauma that had put her in the hospital, Bobby said they'd look into that at home. He and Ellen let them think he was her husband, having spent the past year searching for her. They wove a story of her having been abducted, which garnered sympathy and gave them plenty of time alone together, the staff wishing to give them privacy. It was easier to lie.

It hurt to see strong, determined Ellen laid low and in a wheelchair. He'd hoped to never see one of those again, yet he was glad now he had the experience with one under his belt. He'd be able to help her with it, to understand the full gamut of emotions she'd inevitably feel as the days went by and she needed the chair. She was going to feel everything from self-pity and despair to determination and anger. Some days, she was going to be so low she'd want to go to sleep and not wake up and others…. Well, Bobby knew the process. It wasn't going to be quick or easy to get her back on her feet and at optimum condition.

They couldn't leave that day. As much as both of them wanted it that way, Ellen still needed care before they'd release her, so Bobby checked into a motel, put his hunts on hold, and waited for Ellen to be released. He was her friend and when a friend called for help, he couldn't say no, not when she was in this state.

Who else did Ellen have left in this world anyway? Her family and Bill's were both gone and so was Jo. All she had were him and Dean and Lord knew Dean wasn't accessible these days, which meant that really, Bobby was all she had.

He settled in for weeks of waiting.

In the midst of the heat of the angel Castiel, Jimmy Novak woke. It wasn't a full waking state, but rather a twilight, semi-waking state. He recalled the day Castiel had become human. The heat of Cas had slipped away until Jimmy had been left in cold darkness, unable to communicate. He'd been fully blind, fully deaf to everything. His existence had been bleak until suddenly, the heat had flared back into place.

His existence with the new and improved Castiel was different from before. In this new arrangement, he seemed to wake further when Castiel let him, enough to notice that time was passing. He could see the changes around them, from heaven to the earth.

Sighing, he waited for whatever reason Castiel had allowed him to begin surfacing, thinking about the biggest change.

Amelia and Claire were gone. They'd died at Lucifer's hand. Privately, Castiel had admitted he thought Lucifer had killed them because he'd known how it would affect Cas and Jimmy both when they found out. It had been a spiteful action because Cas had refused to join him. Maybe Castiel was right. Did it matter? They were still dead. Jimmy'd grieved for them since he'd found out and set himself upon the path of healing. They were gone and, according to Castiel now, neither wished to return to earth. Jimmy was going to have a new life without them, a life to replace what had been taken from him.

Just thinking about a life without Amelia and Claire filled him with anxiety. He missed them, wanted them back, wanted something familiar when he knew there'd be nothing familiar when he eventually woke. He wasn't going home because he couldn't go home. That life was gone completely.

He wondered just what that new life Cas promised him would entail. Cas hadn't elaborated. Jimmy'd had enough experience with angels to know that whatever it was, it wasn't going to be only compensation for what he'd lost, but a job itself in the grand scheme of things. Their arrangements were always two-fold. It could be maddening, but that was simply how it was.

Jimmy floated along inside himself as he waited for something to be revealed.

There were two surprises waiting for Castiel in that location he'd been given.

The angel guarding both the location and the potential vessel mate was Gabriel.

The potential mate? Jo Harvelle.

Both were supposed to be dead. Castiel thought he shouldn't be surprised by their resurrection. It seemed to be happening all over the place these days.

He stood just inside the doorway to the bar and in the seconds it took to process the information, he noticed the location itself was different in a way he couldn't pinpoint immediately. It wasn't one of Gabriel's constructs, but it wasn't normal either. Castiel blinked and looked at Jo.

She was at the bar by herself, having a drink. There was a line of glasses on the bar in front of her that reminded him of the evening Ellen had tried to get him drunk. He watched Jo toss back a shot and motion for another to be poured before returning his attention to Gabriel.

The archangel was at a table watching Jo. "Well it's about time you got here. Do you have any idea how long I've been waiting? With her? I've been sitting here like two years, Castiel."

An exaggeration. It hadn't been two years. It had only been a year since Jo's death, less since Gabriel's own demise and perhaps a few months beyond that. It was maybe a year and a half. "You were dead." He knew Gabriel had died. It had been Sam who'd told him, his voice gentle, considerate.

"So were you. And Jimmy and Jo. Dean. Sam. Anyone I'm forgetting? It should have been a regular Greek tragedy down here, but…. Resurrection is a big club these days. I'm surprised there's no secret handshake." He tapped his fingers on the table top. "Wanna make one up? We could teach it to the others, use it every time we run into each other. All the kids who haven't resurrected will be jealous -"

"He brought you back."

"Way to state the obvious. He brought you back. Why not me, too? Don't forget her." He jerked a thumb in her direction. "He brought her back seconds after she moved upstairs, just set her down here without a mark on her."


Sighing, Gabriel scratched his temple with one finger. "She asks that question a lot. If I have to hear it one more time…. She's a pain in the ass, Castiel. Would you want her up there? When I got here, she'd already tested her boundaries and done everything she could to break them. She put together files, tried to reach the outside -"

"Boundaries?" He frowned. Nothing had been said to him about boundaries. "She can't leave?"

"Would it really have been a good idea to have her running around, distracting Dean and Sam?"

"Dean continues to feel guilt over her death, Gabriel. Her and Ellen both."

"He'll deal with it in the tried and true Winchester way. And no, she can't leave. Not yet. This place is safe, a fresh start. She needs that just as much as Jimmy does."

Castiel watched Jo again. She swung one foot, the fingers of her left hand tapping on the bar slightly off-beat with the music that was playing. "You've been guarding her, not the location."

"I've been guarding both."

"Did Joshua give you your assignment?"

Gabriel sat back in his chair, sobering a fraction. "No. I received instructions from God himself not long after I woke here. I didn't see him, but I knew he was there. I heard his voice."

God himself? He was talking to Joshua and Gabriel both? Cas felt a pang of jealousy. "He talked to you?"

Gabriel snorted. "It's not the first time. He used to talk to me all the time before he left." He made a dismissive gesture with one hand. "I was a messenger."

Castiel nodded and told Gabriel everything Joshua had told him.

"I knew most of that," he replied. "Is Jimmy aware of the situation?"

He was supposed to leave Jimmy here, with Gabriel and Jo. There was the understanding between them that when Castiel needed to be on earth and interact with humans, Jimmy would acquiesce to be his vessel again. Not for extended periods, but rather for short ones. Jimmy was to have a new start, an entire new life to replace the one ripped from him. "He is. He's mourned and is mostly ready to pick up a life, yet is uncertain what to expect."

"Leave him with me. I'll make sure everything goes according to plan."

"Gabriel…be kind to him. He lost everything."

"Don't worry so much, Castiel. We'll have Jo knocked-up and popping out some vessel babies in no time." Lacing his fingers together, Gabriel stretched his arms out, knuckles cracking in the process.

He hoped that didn't mean what he thought it meant, choosing to ignore that last comment and stepping to the bar to speak to Jo a moment. Cas had a feeling she wasn't going to simply accept the plan that was being put into place for her and Jimmy.

For that matter, he thought Jimmy might have a few objections.