Here is what the angels knew about Castiel:

He was neither the least nor the greatest of God's servants. He was intelligent, and brave, and devoted, but then so were all of the host; he was an angel about whom nothing was ever reported except "There is nothing to report." Though no one, of course, dared to express doubt in him being chosen for this task, everyone did wonder.

Here is what Castiel's Father knew about him:

There was something to Castiel that the angels would call recklessness or rebellion, and humans would call initiative. He was obedient, always; but never unthinkingly. Most angels accept their fates placidly, but he pursued his intensely. When his garrison was ordered to learn five sigils, he learned ten, because they interested him; and when they learned a new way of fighting he learned it but didn't work to perfect it like most of his brethren.

Castiel didn't know it, but there was something very human about him.

The order comes down to rescue Dean Winchester, and the angels hasten to obey. They do not lay siege to hell once a year or once a century, but this is not the first time and it won't be the last.

Soon after the fighting commences, Castiel finds himself alone at the back of the lines; he is not needed until the perimeter is breached, and so he waits, and prays.

As he waits, there is a still, small voice at the back of his mind. Because he is devoted, he immediately does as it commands. None of his kin notice him departing for an uncontested part of the border; once he arrives, he settles on something like ground and waits for more orders. When they arrive he blinks a little, and tilts his head. There is no one sigil that does what he needs to do; but Castiel is intelligent, and he has always been interested in this topic. A single economical motion sets his arms bleeding, and he coats his wingtips in the blood. Letting the wings droop to touch the surface, he turns, and the pinions leave short clean curves on the not-ground.

(There is a knack to wing sigils; an angel's wings are built for power rather than flexibility, and many of the host never quite master the way of bending one's whole body to make a precise mark with the tip of a feather, or the trick to re-dampening them with blood without allowing a discontinuity of line. With a certainty that precludes arrogance, Castiel knows that he is very good at this task.)

When he finishes the sigil, he feels its effect wash over him and he twitches. Go, the order rings at the back of his mind; Go now! It is no longer either still or small. Because Castiel is brave, he draws himself together with a little shake like a warhorse that has heard the trumpet call to attack, and launches himself into the Pit alone.

Dean Winchester has been in Hell for seventeen years (six thousand, three hundred and forty one days; one hundred and fifty-two thousand, one hundred and eighty four hours) when he is brought out of contemplation of his own slowly mending flesh by a smell like burning hair. Not exactly an unusual odor in his current home; Hell is like an encyclopedia of how different things smell when burnt. But this one is not quite the same as anything he has experienced in the last decade or so, and he is still human enough and curious enough to peel open his eyes.

It is light, which isn't a surprise; hellfire is only dark when you didn't want it to be. But this light is different, soft and cool blue-white. By carefully blinking the blood out of his eyes and squinting, he is finally able to make out the source of the smell...scorching feathers. He is surrounded by an irregular curving arch of feathered wings, and when he painfully tilts his head he sees the owner of the wings.

The...the whatever it is looks about as much like a man as the Impala looks like Barbie's jeep, but it has a face and a body and eyes that meet his with something his weary brain isn't equal to interpreting. He shudders at the impact of that bright face, but stills as a cool hand gently wraps around his shoulder. If he were any farther gone that grasp would have burnt him, just like the first sight of that face would have chased away consciousness; but Hell hasn't taken him yet, and as it is the touch makes him feel almost okay.

"Dean Winchester," the visitor says, as calmly as though he had taken the next stool over at a bar.

He clears his throat a little. "Come here often?" he asks, because he might as well be brain-dead if he's going to give up being a smart ass.

"No," the other says simply. "We must leave."

Dean grunts at that, because even if part of him says holy shit I think that's an angel the rest of him is fairly sure that it's a trick or a trap or a cruel game. Alastair loves raising hopes just enough to grind them into the dirt again. But when the maybe-angel breaks open the manacles on his wrists and helps him sit up, he notices that the bright face is tight and the body is trembling faintly with anxiety. Apart from certain instances involving outside influence or attractive females, Dean is generally a good judge of character: between one breath and the next, he knows that his rescuer is genuine. "Sure," he manages, and grits his teeth as the spikes pinning his feet to the table are pulled out. "You got an idea how to manage that?"

The probably-angel nods, and gathers Dean into his arms in a way that would be embarrassing if they weren't in Hell. Those slowly darkening wings are briefly drawn tight around them, then with a lurch of more than physical motion they take off.

Apparently he looses consciousness, because he finds himself coming to again in a place that is enough not like a physical place to make his head hurt, but enough distant from his previous location that he doesn't give a shit. The, okay, yeah, it's an angel, is crouching by his side, tension in every line of his body and his flung-back wings. "You okay?"

"I violated the chain of command," the angel says. "It was our task to rescue you, but they are unhappy with my methods."

Dean opens his mouth to say something, something caustic or thankful or both, but his rescuer instead places two fingers on his forehead.

Dean falls.

...and wakes with a gasp that is nearly a shriek inside a pine box. "Shit," he chokes, and fumbles for his lighter; before he has a chance to really panic, the lid above him creaks open. There is sunlight, weak but paralyzingly welcome, and Dean blinks against it. He has a brief moment to hope that it is Sam who opened the coffin before he realizes that it's someone he's never seen in his life, a fair-skinned man with dark hair and a liberal coating of grime, dressed like a debauched accountant.

He doesn't have much chance to contemplate the guy since it has hit him that he's in his own grave, and with a snarl Dean claws his way out of the hole; the man who opened his coffin doesn't move to help, but crouches near the edge with an intensely interested expression on his face.

Well, the dude can stare all he wants. Dean is alive and on Earth and feeling pretty damn good right now.

Dean drags himself to his feet and gets some distance from the ugly hole in the ground. The other guy gets up too, with an unwieldy efficiency that makes all of Dean's abused hunter instincts sit up and take wary note.

"Who-" He coughs, and spits muddy water in the direction of his grave. "Who are you?"

The man keeps staring at him, apparently unfazed by any of this. "I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition."

"Well, that sounds dirty." It actually sounds pretty impressive, especially considering that a line like that should sound ridiculous and awkward. "But, you know, thanks. Dude, do angels have names, 'cause that would make this a little easier."

"I am Castiel."

Dean nods firmly, and files that name under 'people who are worth a shit' because, hell, the guy just dragged him out of the pit, and he can be as weird and awkward as he likes as long as Dean can remember the sight of a friggin' angel pulling him out of there. "Hey." He was probably supposed to say something impressive. 'Ill-met by moonlight'. 'Hail'. Whatever. "You look different."

Castiel frowns faintly. "I feel different."

Dean waits for an elaboration on that, tilting his face back to enjoy the sun; after a couple of minutes it seems there is none forthcoming, so he cracks his lids and peers at the angel, who is examining his shoes like they contain the mysteries of the universe. "And how exactly are you feeling different?" he prods helpfully, like trying to get a tipsy Sam to remember where he left keys.

"In...every way. Except in the ways that I should." He looks up from his inspection of his own feet to fix puzzled eyes on Dean's face. "I am no longer an angel. But I am not human either. I would think that I had fallen, but I never denounced my Father. And this body is odd." Castiel rolled the shoulders of said body experimentally. "It looks like that of my chosen vessel, but it is not he. There is no other consciousness, and it is still"

"Uh-huh." Dean tries and utterly fails to think of some useful reply to this speech. "Okay. Well, is this, uh, amnesia-and-strange-body thing-" he makes a face to hear those words coming out of his own mouth; "-is that something that happens when angels fall?"

"I do not know." Hey, an emotion other than confusion; the guy actually sounds annoyed. "Fallen angels do not usually return to Heaven and report on their experiences."

"Okay, easy, Clarence." Dean scrubs a hand through his hair, sending down a shower of dirt, and turns slowly on his heel to inspect the area. He'd already noticed that they were in a clearing, empty except for the grave and a really rough cross (gee, thanks for the touching tombstone inscription there, Sammy), but now he really focuses on the surrounding area. This may have been a clearing to start with, but now it is widened by a circle of flattened trees. "Woah. Did you do this?"

"Not to my knowledge." Castiel shrugs, gently. "I awoke here two days ago to find it like this. I set to dig your coffin free so that when you arrived you could get out."

"Two days? What, you've just been hanging out here all this time?" Dean frowns at a new thought, and looks around the clearing for a shovel. "How'd you dig me out anyway?"

"Hanging?" He tilts his head to one side, confused look back in full force. "No, I was sitting. And I dug you out with my hands." He holds them out in demonstration.

"Hey, woah!" Dean takes two long strides towards the angel (muscles intact, pain-free...God, it's good to be back) and inspects the hands. They're as dirty as the rest of the guy's outfit, but they're also streaked with dried blood around the nails and knuckles. "Dude, you can't let dirt stay on broken skin like this, those of us with physical bodies get infections from this kind of crap." It's a good thing they're in the middle of nowhere and Dean is the manliest man out there, because he's holding another dude's hands and mother-henning. "We'll get that cleaned out when we find civilization. And I don't know about you, but I am really fucking thirsty."

"I don't know about me either." Castiel lets his hands fall slack at his sides like he doesn't know what else to do with them, although his eyes never leave Dean's. "I've never been thirsty before."

Poor bastard looks like someone kicked his puppy. Then again-he had just stormed Hell single-handed, been kicked out of Heaven, and had his first acts as a human be to perform manual labor and sit around alone for two days. Guy's got a right to be a little depressed. "Well, never know until you've tried it, right?" Dean slings a companionable arm around his shoulders and nudges him in a likely-looking direction. "Come on, Cas. Let's get going. I don't suppose you know where we are?"

"Forty-nine degrees fifteen minutes North, one hundred twenty-three degrees six minutes West."

"Well, that makes things real clear."

Apparently Castiel's useless location translates loosely to 'the middle of nowhere'. The first sign of humanity they see is something that could be called a convenience store if its location wasn't so fucking inconvenient. Its parking lot, a sad circle of gravel, features a pay phone and a car that went straight to 'old' without ever passing 'cool'. God knows why that's there, there's no sign of life for miles. Philosophical objections aside, that place has sustenance and hell if Dean isn't gonna take advantage.

The door is locked, which is easy enough to circumvent; just as he's balling his jacket around his arm to break the glass he recalls that his silent companion is more or less an angel. "Uh." Dean clears his throat and slants a sheepish glance at Cas. "I don't suppose you have a set of lock picks on you?"

Castiel frowns. "I'm not even sure why I have clothes."

"OH-kay. Let's not look that particular gift horse in the mouth, huh?" Why not; he's already been to Hell, what worse punishment can they concoct? With efficient motions, Dean breaks, enters, and heads straight for the cooler.

Oooooh yes. Screw beer, water is the best thing ever invented.

Dean works his way through two bottles before realizing that he's the only one drinking. Dropping the second plastic bottle to join the other, he snags a third and offers it to Castiel, who has been watching with the same focus that has met everything else so far. Probably a blasphemous thought, but it's actually pretty damn endearing. "You may not be sure, but it's a good guess that you're thirsty. Never know 'til you try, right?" Cas takes the water and scrutinizes it, and a thought hits Dean. "Oh...unless you can't? Sorry about the, uh, stealing. Pretty sure that's a Commandment."

Castiel looks at him sideways and smiles-actually honest-to-God smiles. "David and his men ate the temple's consecrated bread, and the Father didn't judge them. Life is more important than property." With that, he unscrews the cap and takes a cautious sip.

Judging by his expression and the speed with which the rest follows, the angel actually was thirsty. Very thirsty.

Shopping spree by way of looting is something the Winchesters do on occasion, when the need is dire enough that even Sammy's bitchface is insufficient deterrent; Dean heads straight for the portable and the calorie-dense before making his way toward the register. He very nearly grabs a skin mag, but decides that that would probably be pushing it. Instead, aware of his quiet shadow, he shakes out a newspaper and zeros in on the date; unless this store's paper is really outrageously behind the times, he's only been in Hell for a month. "What the hell," he breathes, then winces a little; it's probably time to get a new expression of disbelief.

"Time runs differently down there." Dean jumps when Cas' voice sounds directly in his ear.

"Jesu- I mean, Hel...oh, fuck. Please, Castiel. Personal space." The angel doesn't move except to tilt his head, and Dean goes a little cross-eyed glaring at him. "My personal space. You're in it." Slow confused blink. "...So please back off."

"Oh. My apologies."

"No, it's..." Dean sighs, jamming the paper back in the pile with a lack of organization that would make Sam squirm. "I'm just a little jumpy. And I don't know about angels, but most humans prefer a bit more space between them and most others."

"Space is different for angels. We're usually multi-dimensional wavelengths of celestial intent. The form in which you first saw me was the most physical I had been for centuries." He broke eye-contact, looking down at his hands and flexing them slowly. "This is...something else entirely. I hope it is not permanent."

"Yeah, about that..." Dean shakes off his own black mood enough to grip Castiel's shoulder with a steadying hand. Guy's got to learn what kind of contact humans use somehow. "You still got no idea what happened?"

Castiel looks back up and shrugs. Maybe it's practice, but that one looked almost natural. "The last thing I remember is being chastised by my garrison commander. His anger was disproportionate to my offense. I abandoned my post and took another route into Hell, but it was effective. Their methods might have taken weeks or months; given the time differential, you might have been in there for relative decades more."

Dean shudders at that, a convulsive jerk that he feels he is, frankly, entitled to. "Count me in the 'glad you went AWOL' camp. Maybe they thought you were going to the dark side? Rebelling is like, the top of the To-Not-Do list for angels, right?"

"But I did not rebel. I was acting according to orders from our Father." All of Castiel's expressions so far have been sincere, but this one takes the cake. "Revelation is a personal thing, but they would have been able to tell that I was not lying."

"Huh." Which implies that they did know, which implies that they were pissed for some other reason. Given that Cas' walkabout resulted in a newly-resurrected Dean Winchester, the natural, and unsettling, conclusion is that they wanted him to still be in Hell.

Shit yes, he can make with the deductive reasoning. But this particular conclusion is not something he particularly cares to dwell on, so Dean turns his back on the paper stand decisively and does Castiel the courtesy of matching his sincerity. "I'm sorry you're stuck here, Cas. You saved my life, and it's a damn shame that you got your ass reamed for it."

"I am not sorry." Castiel straightens to his full height, and while it's nothing on Sam and a few inches shy of Dean's, he still manages to look pretty impressive. "I am carrying out my Father's will."

That sounds kind of ominous. Don't angels carrying out the big guy's will usually end up smiting towns and feeding some poor bastard to a whale? "Um, do you mind sharing what that is?"

Castiel's eyes bore into his, the lights flicker, and in a flare of wind there is something like the shadow of wings on the wall. "I am to keep you safe."

"Ah. Awesome." He'd like to protest that he can take care of himself, but given where he was before he woke up six feet down... "My own personal guardian angel."

So far, in his first day of having a personal angelic bodyguard, it has done him exactly squat. When Bobby greets him with a rousing hunter's welcome of attempted re-homicide, the little angel that could stands at the threshold and observes with the same unreadable interest with which he regarded breaking and entering.

Minutes later, as Bobby regains his gruff attitude and Dean shakes holy water out of his eyes, Cas takes a single polite step inside. Bobby had seen him to start with, of course, but trusted his wards and the devil's trap while he dealt with the more immediately pressing abomination of nature. Now the old hunter watches him with matching intensity and puts a shotgun to his shoulder.

Castiel, naturally, treats this as an acceptable form of greeting and nods politely.

"Ah, Bobby, Castiel. Cas, Robert Singer." Dean snags a flask of holy water and offers it. "You need to prove that you're human."

Castiel frowns as he takes the flask. "But I'm not human, Dean."

Bobby, reasonably, tenses up at this announcement and Dean rolls his eyes. "Maybe, but you're not a demon or a shapeshifter or a revenant. Just humor me, huh?" The angel tilts his head, apparently confused by the concept of 'humoring', but tosses back the water with economy. When Dean throws him the silver knife, he plucks it neatly out of the air and sets it to his forearm without hesitation.

The knife cuts without trouble, and Bobby relaxes-Dean, however, scowls as he plucks the knife away, because the stupid cherub sliced much more deeply than necessary, and perfectly normal-looking blood begins to spatter Bobby's floor. "Cas! Okay, lesson twenty about being human; you prick us, we bleed, and the blood works better on the inside."

Castiel glowers right back, about to make some kind of rebuttal that is perfectly logical in angel-land and utter bullshit on Earth, when Bobby regains their attention. "As fascinating at this is, you want maybe to explain what the hell is going on?"

It's a fair request; they settle at the kitchen table with three glasses of whiskey and a sewing kit, and Dean does his level best to explain as he stitches up Cas' arm. His account is considerably weakened by the fact that he's still not entirely sure what happened, and Cas chimes in with the occasional elaboration. They are, almost universally, very factual and not at all helpful. Dean considers enumerating the ways in which road-tripping with a newly mortal angel is like wrangling a five-year-old who finds everything from crayons to diner food incredibly fascinating, but he decides that would be a little too petty.

"-so then I called you, because I thought you would be less likely to completely freak out than Sam." Dean tapes off the bandage and begins cleaning up after himself. "Seeing as how you tried to stab me, I'm thinking that was a smart choice. Do you think if you told him that I'm me, he would listen?"

"No." No elaboration, no colorful adjectives; this is serious shit, and Dean stops repacking the med kit to look at Bobby sharply. He continues: "I don't know what you thought would happen when you went to hell, boy, but it fucked your brother up but good. I'm not saying I don't understand your reasons, but it was damned selfish, Dean."

He feels a chill lock down his spine, and it's the worst he's felt since Cas opened the lid of his coffin. "Where is he, Bobby?"

"Where isn't he?" Bobby tries to pour another glass from the long-empty bottle, and looks at it in disgust. "He's in Alabama salting a whole graveyard full of wannabe poltergeists. He's in Kansas torching a harpy. He's in Montana dealing with a bunch of redcaps. Only state he hasn't been in is a stable state of mind. I call him, all the damn time, but I only got a reply once when I had a particularly nasty case of demon-raising nearby."

"Shit." Dean thinks about it a moment more; can see it, Sam's face thin and his body worn and his stupid overlong hair in desperate need of a good wash. "Ah, fuck, Sammy," he groans, and jams the heels of his hands into his eyes. There's a faint rustle of motion next to him as Castiel leans in his chair, just enough to breach his personal space bubble. When he drops his hands to look at the angel, Cas is giving him a look that is pretty much like all his other 'I don't quite get humans' looks, but somehow it makes Dean feel just a little bit better.

"Yeah, well, fortunately for you I know what I'm doing. I've been saving a story to get him here until I thought it was really necessary. This seems necessary." Bobby shoves back his chair and stumps off for one of the phones; that's a bit vague for Bobby, but Dean doesn't feel up to much in the way of poking the bear right now. While he's gone Dean finishes squaring away the med kit and scrutinizes his angel. Castiel may say he isn't sorry for his present state, but his hands are resting loosely on the table, palms up and fingers loosely's probably a mistake to try and interpret an angel's body language by human standards, even if the angel in question is mostly human at the moment, but Dean can't help but think he looks pretty morose.

"You doin' okay?" he asks gruffly, and Cas blinks as he raises his eyes, looking dazed.

"Of course," he says, and Dean is almost proud because that right there is what the Earthlings call a white lie. Before he can continue, though, Bobby returns. He wouldn't have thought it possible, but the old hunter actually looks more grim than he did before.

"He should be here around noon tomorrow."

"Okay." He almost says 'awesome' but there's little about this that is. "Thanks, Bobby." Bobby grunts something that probably contains 'you're welcome' and definitely contains 'idjit', and Dean sighs as he pulls himself to his feet. "Come on, Cas. You can take first crack at the shower if you don't use all the hot water."

There's an argument that would be more impressive if they both weren't dead on their feet, but Dean has the home turf advantage and soon heads back downstairs with the water running faintly behind him. He limps into the kitchen and pulls a beer out of the fridge, grumbling inaudibly about stubborn divine beings. Stubborn muddy divine beings. He almost makes it to the table before he is stopped by the look on Bobby's face. It's an expression that's half fond, half exasperated, and it always makes Dean feel about ten years old. "What?" he says defensively.

"I've known a lot of hunters with martyr complexes, boy, but never met anyone who needs to be needed like you do." Dean bristles, but Bobby waves off his indignation with a roll of his eyes. "Come on, Dean. Don't try and tell me you wouldn't be worse off if you didn't have that boy to fuss over."

Dean opens his mouth to do just that, but somehow what comes out is, "Castiel is probably millennia old, he isn't a boy."

Bobby smirks in the satisfied way of the guy who won the argument before it started, and Dean drinks his beer and tries very hard not to sulk.

Dean perks up at the sound of the Impala's engine as Sam pulls in right on time. He was going to go out any way, but Bobby firmly prods him to the door just in case. "I ain't having you two idjits make a mess in here," he says firmly, and Dean doesn't even make a smart remark about its current state of cleanliness because Sammy.

He opens the door with a shit-eating grin as Sam makes his way up the front steps; the smile dims a little as he takes in how truly awful his baby brother looks, but he'll take what he can get. "Hey, Sam," he says, and his brother's head snaps up.

He attacks him, of course, and Dean exercises the better part of valor as Bobby talks him down. As his giant form quivers tensely from the end of the porch, he licks his lips and looks up from under his brows. "Dean?"

Dean kind of wants to cry at the tone in his voice, the blank unholy despair of it; instead, because Sam doesn't need him to cry, he smiles. "Hey Sammy. You look like crap. I, on the other hand, look fantastic."

Sam's lip trembles as his eyes well up, and Bobby lets go so he can cross the short distance and wrap himself around Dean like really heavy saran wrap. If Dean gets a little weepy himself, well, he's in good company.

Speaking of which. When they finally pull apart Sam notices Castiel standing in the doorway observing the scene, and his forehead creases. He's not embarrassed to be caught hugging, but he's definitely unsure. "Dean?"

"Oh, hey. Castiel, you know about my brother. Sam, get this; Castiel is an angel."

His brother blinks. "He's a what now?"

Castiel and, of all people, Bobby try and explain as they move the party into the kitchen. Neither of them does very well, and Dean waves for silence as they move through the living room. (Sammy sticks tight to his heels when doorways prevent them from standing shoulder-to-shoulder.) "Way I figure it, they took a human-shaped container and poured the angel in. Not everything fit, but it's still all angel in there."

"...That is fairly accurate," Cas admits, and Dean preens a little before rolling his eyes at Sam's gape-mouthed stare.

"You don't have to look so surprised, Sammy. I can be smart on occasion."

"What's the occasion?" he attempts.

Dean's just about ready to resume bickering as normal, but between one breath and the next, with a sound like birds taking off from a telephone wire there is a fifth person in the kitchen with them.

The man feels big in a way that has nothing to do with size, massive in the way that Azazel had felt-like too much being shoved into too small a vessel. "Hello, Castiel," he says coolly, and Cas goes flying into the counter.

"Hey!" Dean puts himself between the two angels, 'cause he's pretty sure this guy is an angel, without much hope of it doing any good; but the new guy stops and gives him a truly unsettling smile.

"Dean Winchester," he rumbles, as Sam and Bobby cautiously move to flank him. "You should not exist."

"Well, many women have assured me that I'm too good to be true," he agrees, then tenses as the angel ignores him to slowly turn to look at Sam.

"The boy with demon blood. An abomination," he says.

Sammy looks gutted, because he's a girl like that, and Dean's about to damn the torpedoes and take a run at the guy when Castiel takes his elbow and stills him. Then his guardian angel interposes himself before the other. "Uriel," he greets.

"You should not have disobeyed, Castiel."

Cas smiles at him politely. "I'm not done yet," he replies, and slams the palm of his hand into Uriel's forehead; the big guy freezes at the blow, and when Cas draws his hand away he leaves behind a print in blood from the symbol he's carved into his hand with one of Bobby's knives. "I bound him to his vessel," he says before they can ask; a quick pat-down of his attacker results in a long knife too bright to be silver.

"Cover your eyes," he says grimly; Sam obeys because it's an angel, Dean because it's Castiel, and Bobby because he's not stupid. The resultant flash of light glows red through Dean's eyelids, and then there is only the distinctive thud of a dead body When they open their eyes, the angel-ex-angel-is sprawled in the middle of the floor, and a sooty outline of wings splashes up the walls of the kitchen.

"...Is that it?" Sam asks, because he's an idiot who doesn't know not make a jinx like that. Sure enough, Cas frowns at him.

"No." He weaves past them on his way to the living room. "I need ink."

"What, some special kind of ink?" Sam follows him, massive dork brain already turning over possibilities.

"Preferably a Sharpie."

Bobby goes to dig around a desk, and Dean pats a bewildered Sam on the shoulder. "He has a thing for felt-tip markers."

"They are efficient," Cas agrees, and accepts the one that Bobby holds out. He faces Dean with a look that brooks no argument and orders, "Remove your shirt."

"Buy me dinner first," Dean replies automatically, but takes off his shirt anyway. Castiel turns him and closes his left hand over Dean's shoulder.

"Observe the symbols carefully." Sam does so, of course, as the angel draws a series of small, precise figures down Dean's spine. When he's reached the small of his back, he re-opens the cuts on his hand and paints a stripe of blood from nape to waistband. Dean yelps at the series of sharp pains that results.

"What was that?"

"I have etched protective symbols into your vertebrae."

"Oh, awesome. Could have warned me." Cas ignores his bitching and repeats the process with Sam. As he does so, he continues in a lecturing tone:

"What you call magic exists in two forms. There is that which results from calling on a power or principality, divine or demonic; and that which is based on will, rituals that have been performed so often during your history that the Earth assists in effecting a result according to the pattern." He finishes with Sam, then removes his own shirt and offers the bloodied marker and his back to Sam. "I am hoping that one or both will help here."

Dean's brother copies the art project onto Castiel's back, frowny face in full view as he painstakingly draws the symbols. When he's done, he clears his throat. "Do I need to use my blood, or-oh, sorry, mine probably wouldn't work. The demon-" he stops as Cas turns and offers his still-bleeding palm. Sam takes it, cautiously, and the angel enfolds the giant paw in both of his hands and gives it a single, solemn shake.

"I'm pleased to meet you, by the way," he says simply, and turns back around, leaving the younger Winchester with a bloody hand and a look on his face that makes Dean have to clear his throat like the giant sap that he is.

Whatever kind of magic it is, it apparently works, and the symbols and the blood disappear into Cas' skin the same as they did on Sam's. Bobby clears his throat pointedly as they put their shirts back on. "You need to graffiti me up?"

"You are of peripheral concern to my brothers," Cas says, which is a little bit insulting and a lot bit reassuring. "The wards on your home will provide enough of an effect." He then stops in the middle of pulling his left arm through his sleeve; his face is tight in a way that reminds them of Uriel when he was trapped in his vessel, and Dean tenses up.


Castiel blinks, and shakes himself, and pulls his arm through the sleeve. "I apologize, Dean, but I appear to have fucked up my stitches."

"Dean!" Sam yelps. "You taught the angel how to swear?" He has more to say, a shrilly building rant that has little to do with the swearing and a lot to do with long-festering worry, as Castiel tries to explain the moral difference between taking the Lord's name in vain and invective involving copulation or excrement, and Bobby calls them all idiots and breaks into the liquor cabinet.

Dean leans on the back of the couch, the pain in his back already fading, and laughs.