Time travel was never an easy process but Castiel was reasonably certain it wasn't supposed to hurt this much. He knew as soon as he touched ground he'd miscalculated - again- and he tasted blood at the back of his throat, his legs buckling. It had taken a distressingly long time to regain his strength after the first time and each subsequent attempt to get back to Dean and Sam only served to strain his vessel further. And he didn't have Dean to drag him off to a safe, warm motel to recover.

By the time someone finally found him lying face down in the snow Castiel barely had the strength to murmur his gratitude. His rescuer was dressed as a pastor and hauled Castiel up without question; when the man introduced himself simply as "Jim" Castiel wondered if Jims and Jimmys were more likely than other humans to be devout or if he'd just been fortunate enough to have met an unrepresentative sample.

The next time Castiel came to he found himself being tucked into bed in what he suspected was the pastor's own room. A mug of tea was pressed into his hands; Castiel noticed him making sure to touch his skin with a silver ring on his hand as he did so, and when Castiel took a sip he could taste the holy water. Apparently now satisfied Castiel wasn't one of the more common varieties of monster, the pastor leaned back. "How on Earth did you wind up out there in the woods? There weren't even tracks."

"I...was lost." It was as true an explanation as any.

The man gave him a look - a hunter'slook - but seemed to accept that the true story was something Castiel couldn't say rather than wouldn't. Probably the fact that Castiel didn't have the energy to move from the bed if the house caught fire helped that along. "Well, friend, whatever troubles brought you here you're welcome to spend the night. I'm watching my friend's boys but they won't be a bother, they're already in bed."

888

Castiel felt the tug of a familiar soul pull him back to consciousness and opened his eyes to find a suspicious pair of green ones staring back. "Are you gonna die?"

Despite how miserable he felt Castiel answered, "No, I don't believe so."

The boy looked to be perhaps five and was holding chubby, squirming baby against his hip. He quirked an eyebrow. "You kinda looklike you're gonna die."

Direct as ever."Hello, Dean."

Dean's eyes narrowed. "How'd you know my name?"

"The pastor told me," he said, and Castiel knew grown-up Dean would be proud at how easily that slipped out. "And he said you two were supposed to be asleep."

"Sammy's fussy," Dean said, scooting into a rocking chair next to the bed and plopping a startled-looking Sam onto his lap. "Pastor Jim's gotta do the service in the morning and I don't want Sam waking him up." He scowled. "That sleeping like a baby thing must mean 'wake up every two hours and be a huge pain.'"

All the same, Castiel couldn't miss how carefully Dean held his brother. "You take very good care of him."

Dean beamed, puffing up at the praise. "It's my job." He bounced Sam on his lap until the baby laughed. "You got a brother?"

Castiel nodded. "Many."

The suspicion came back. "Then how come Pastor Jim's taking care of you, instead of them?"

"Because we're not getting along at the moment."

Dean gave him an uncomprehending look, like Castiel was speaking gibberish. "But they're your brothers."

Castiel took a breath, trying to find the right words. "I did something I wasn't supposed to and they're very angry with me."

"That's dumb. Sam does bad stuff all the time."

Castiel was spared from having to explain degrees of severity by a wracking, painful coughing fit. "Mister? Mister, you okay?" he heard Dean say as if from very far away, his voice laced with panic. He tried to nod but couldn't; he tasted blood again and tried to use sheer force of will to make his vessel to obey him. "I'm gonna get Pastor Jim."

Castiel shook his head. "Don't wake him," he gasped out, finally marshaling enough breath to speak. "It's all right." The pastor was a good man and Castiel knew he would insist on taking him to the hospital, something Dean had always led him to believe was to be avoided at all costs.

"But I wanna help!"

He focused on Dean's voice to ride out the surge of pain wrapping around his chest. "You're helping very much, Dean." Another spasm shook him and he closed his eyes; he felt Dean's small hand wrap around his and squeeze. Gradually the pain and tightness in his chest receded and he could breathe again. "It's all right," he reassured Dean.

Dean's voice was very small. "You're bleeding."

Castiel touched his fingers to his lips and grimaced when they came back bloody. He wiped the blood away on some tissues from the bedside. "I just need to rest." He leaned his head back against the pillow and looked at Dean. "I'm sorry you were frightened."

"I'm not scared," Dean insisted.

Castiel felt his lips quirk up. "My mistake." He squeezed Dean's hand. "Thank you. You were very kind."

Dean's gaze dropped. "My mommy held my hand when I was sick," he said softly. "Chicken pox is gross." Castiel could count on one hand the number of time he'd heard Dean speak of Mary; he treated her memory like an heirloom too precious and fragile to expose to air. "She made soup too, but I don't know how to do that."

"That's all right. I don't require soup." Dean gave him a look like that was crazy talk, who didn't want soup? "Shh," Castiel said, nodding towards him. "I believe Sam's falling asleep."

Dean glanced down and saw Sam nodding off against his chest. "Dumb baby," he said, with unmistakable fondness. "Maybe he'll stay asleep for once."

"Perhaps he has nightmares."

Dean rolled his eyes. "He's a baby." Castiel suspected that if infants could have nightmares there were few who would have more cause than Sam Winchester. Dean adjusted Sam on his lap, cooing softly at him to help him drop off to sleep. "D'ya miss your brothers?" he said, not looking up.

Castiel swallowed hard. "Very much."

Dean nodded, then was quiet for a long time. "I miss my mom," he said, very softly, almost like a confession. "I dream about her sometimes."

"Are they good dreams?"

Dean hugged Sam close for a moment. "Sometimes."

"You won't have bad dreams tonight. You or Sam. I promise you that."

Dean shrugged that off, a no-big-deal gesture that was both familiar and much too old for him. "I'm gonna put Sammy back in bed, okay?"

Castiel nodded. "Good night, Dean."

"'Night. You, um...you're not gonna die, right?"

He nodded again, feeling his lips quirk again. "I won't die before morning. I promise." And of course another wave of pain chose that moment to rush through him; he closed his eyes and tried to breathe against the pain, willing himself not to cough up more blood all over the pastor's pleasant room. When he opened his eyes again he saw Dean still in the chair, eyes wide again. "Go back to bed, Dean."

"Um..." He glanced down at his still peacefully sleeping brother. "Y'know, Sam'll probably wake back up if I walk around with him," he said, looking as if he thought Castiel was just waiting for the chance to up and die as soon as Dean left the room. "It's probably better if we stay here a little bit."

Castiel wondered if all humans learned to dissemble so early or if Dean was merely talented. "Of course. Whatever you think is best."

Dean dozed off himself a few minutes later, Sam still snuggled on his lap. Castiel watched over them until daybreak as his strength slowly returned, ready to reach out a hand if one of them tumbled off the rocking chair in their sleep. When Sam's nascent dreams became yellow-eyed shadows and foul, copper tastes and Dean's more well-formed nightmares filled with flames and smoke and screams Castiel turned them aside, soothing their thoughts and only allowing peaceful, happy memories through.

Dean and Sam woke in the morning to the soft sound of wings, comforted and content.