The sunrise was beautiful, reds and golds spreading over the Lawrence City skyline and Dean thought he would trade every second of it for a bottle of aspirin. "Cas, why do you keep dragging me up here?"

"Perhaps in the hope that one day you'll be sober enough to appreciate it."

Dean rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes; the drumming in his head felt like a mariachi band gone rogue. "I am sober. That's kind of the problem."

Castiel didn't look at him but Dean saw his jaw tighten. "Your exploits made the news again." He held his white wings curled loosely around him but Dean saw them twitch as he spoke. He knew the look of Castiel gearing up for a lecture. "I don't understand why you feel the need to comport yourself that way."

"Because Maxim throws the best parties." Castiel sighed and Dean continued, "Look, I was the guest of honor. They gave me a little award and everything." Not that he knew where it was now, but it had been the thought that counted. The thought and the cover models. "I'm allowed to have fun, Cas. We can't all be monks like you." Dean knew he sounded like a petulant teenager but was too hungover to care.

"You don't have to be like me. I would be happy if you would only stop embarrassing yourself whenever someone aims a camera your way."

"You're not my dad, Cas."

"No, I'm your Guide," Castiel snapped. "It's my duty to help you reach your potential."

And here it comes. "Can the speech. I was tired of it the first thousand times I heard it." Castiel stiffened, actually having the nerve to look hurt - Dean suspected Castiel actually liked giving pompous speeches. He just wished the guy would get some new lines, because it was the same story he'd been hearing since the day Castiel had dropped down in the middle of Bobby Singer's scrap yard and blown his life apart. Told him that the reason Dean could do the things he could do was because he wasn't human. Told him that neither of them were human, that they were both last survivors of doomed planets, threw around words like Guide and Champion and Demons and informed Dean that he was now destined to fight a war he still knew practically nothing about. And Castiel wondered why he liked to party.

"What were your plans for today?" Castiel asked, seemingly willing to let things drop for once.

Dean shrugged. "Patrol. The usual. You coming?"

"I thought perhaps we could train," Castiel said, a note of hope in his voice.

Dean shook his head. "Every time we do one of your weird-ass alien zen training sessions I'm wiped out for a week. I can't lay off patrolling that long, last time I did all that arson bullshit happened."

Castiel's lip twisted, like he'd expected that answer but was still disappointed and wanted to make sure Dean knew it. "You're a Champion, Dean. You're the only hope this planet has against the Demons. That should be your priority. Petty crime will always exist." His voice went soft. "It's a great honor, Dean. I don't understand why you keep sidestepping your destiny."

"I'll pick my own destiny, thanks."

"I'm fairly certain that's not how destiny works." He sighed. "You were born to this. As I was born to help you unlock your potential."

Dean rolled his eyes. "That's not why you were born, Cas. That's just the crap they filled your head with. And besides, my potential's pretty damn unlocked. I've practically got more powers than I know how to handle."

"You could be better. You should be better." There was a trace of bitterness there, that how did I get stuck with this duty tone that always made Dean want to shove him right off the roof. "Champions of old had an almost immeasurable number of abilities. Nearly gods. You haven't even scratched the surface."

"I'm happy with what I've got."

"You shouldn't be. I'm not." The wings were curled tight around him, like an angry white shield. "But I can't give you discipline, much as I would like to."

"I've got all the discipline I want."

"You have no idea what you want." Dean glared at him but Castiel didn't back down. "You want to be a comic book hero, with your cape and cowl..."

Dean snorted. "Says the guy who dresses like Captain Accountant."

Castiel blinked, then glanced down at his suit. "I don't understand. This is perfectly normal human attire."

"It's just not the most inspired costume, Cas."

Castiel frowned, and Dean wasn't sure if it was because he knew Dean was trying to change the subject or because Dean was criticizing his fashion sense. "You want to play the hero, and the celebrity, and sometimes even the Champion. You pull yourself in so many directions you have no focus. Until you discover what exactly it is you want you'll always only be a fraction of what you could be."

"Pretty rich coming from a guy who's never wanted anything unless he was told he did."

Castiel was quiet for a long time. "That's very much untrue. I've known what I've wanted since I was very small."

Dean raised one eyebrow. If anything went on in Castiel's head besides bitching at Dean and yammering on about dead planets this was the first he'd heard of it. "So what do you want?"

"It's not relevant to the conversation."

Dean was going to push but something about the tense set of his shoulders warned him. "Fine, keep your secret. But if there is something you want, you should go for it. I'd hoped you'd picked up at least that much from hanging with me."

Castiel closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at Dean with one of his unfathomable thousand-yard stares. "Sometimes what we want is out of our reach." Dean saw him shake the thought away as he rolled his shoulders. "I think I'll stretch my wings for a while. We'll continue this later." And with that he crouched at the edge of the roof and jumped, his wings flaring out and catching the air, carrying him up, up, up.

Dean watched him for a while, wondering how talking to Cas always managed to make him feel so lousy about himself. Then he heard a clatter on the fire escape and grinned, knowing before he looked down he would see a tall, gangly figure leaning over its edge. "If you're fishing for an exclusive you know the drill, Sam."

"I really need the favor, Cap. You're splashed all over the front page of every paper except ours. My editor says that if I don't get one good quote from you I'm going to be sleeping in a box on Main Street."

Almost all superheroes wound up with their own personal reporter if they stuck with it long enough; Dean didn't know who he'd pissed off to wind up with Sam Winchester instead of a trouble-prone, ambitious lady reporter he could rescue and romance, but Sam was a good guy, all in all. He watched Sam push his shaggy hair out of his eyes and smirked. "Dude, you need a haircut."

"They don't pay me enough for haircuts."

"They pay you? That's one hell of a scam you have going." Sam rolled his eyes and accepted Dean's hand up to the roof. "When are you going to see the light and become my personal flack already? I could use a good publicist, the last two quit on me."

"Because you slept with them."

"Only the one. The other one quit because I slept with her sisters. This close to having a triplet fourway, Sam."

"You sure are living the dream," Sam said, shaking his head. He nodded up at Castiel flying above them. "You know church attendance is up 27% since he started doing his thing?"

Dean shook his head. "Whatever you do, please don't tell him that. His head doesn't need to get any bigger. Bad enough you hacks started calling him the Angel as it is."

Sam snorted. "Says the guy who calls himself 'Captain Awesome'."

"Hey that name totally fits."

Sam rolled his eyes again. "Look we needed something to call him. He's your partner and you won't even let us get a quote from him."

Dean fidgeted, uncomfortable with how the conversation had turned. He'd never been able to hammer home to Cas what a snake pit the press corp was, even the good ones like Sam. Letting them at Castiel would be like throwing a puppy into a shark tank; he'd orchestrated his last publicist walking in on that little familial three-way because he knew she's quit, and quitting meant he could enforce the nondisclosure contract he made all of his flunkies sign. She'd been snooping around trying to dig up info on Castiel, planning to sell it to one of the local rags. "I don't like sharing my ink. Thought we had a deal."

Sam sighed. "Yeah, I know. Lay off the Angel, you give me exclusives."

"And you buy me lunch at Tessie's Grill."

Another sigh. "And I buy you lunch."

"Hey, I'm why you're not still copy boy. Be grateful."

"Believe me, if my editor thought you'd go for it he'd move me into your house."

"That would take a whole lot of lunches."

They watched Castiel cut his wings into a sharp turn, looping around with perfect grace. "You gotta admit," Sam said,"Angel kind of fits for him, too."

Dean wouldn't admit it under torture, but he really did get a kick out of watching Castiel fly. Dean was faster but no one would ever call him a graceful. "Yeah, maybe. Just don't let him hear it." Dean tore his gaze away. "C'mon. Bacon double cheeseburger's the special on Tuesdays. You treat, I give you the whole scoop about last night. Well, what I remember, anyway."

888

Patrol was uneventful – a mugger here, a gang scuffle on the east side, no big deal – quiet enough that he let Sam tag along and take notes, then afterward they went to O'Malley's and did some shots to celebrate a good night's work. Probably a few too many shots, actually; he had dim memories of bundling Sam off in a taxi and almost crashing into a single-engine Cessna as he flew home. All of which explained why he found himself coming to face down on his bed still in full costume.

It didn't explain why the first thing he saw when his eyes blinked open was Castiel staring at him through the balcony window like a suit-wearing gargoyle. Dean groaned and fumbled for the window remote (he'd spared no expense on his penthouse.) "Dude. Thought we talked about this."

Castiel tilted his head to the side like a confused bird. "You said that if people saw me watching you sleep rumors would start. I'm not visible to anyone from this angle."

Dean groaned again; the light stabbed his eyes like thousands of tiny needles. He'd lost count of how many times he'd woken up to Castiel watching him and he still hadn't managed to explain to Cas what was so creepy about it. Not well enough to get him to stop, anyway. "Whaddaya want, Cas?"

"It's dawn. I thought you would like to join me."

"I've only been sleeping for like, three hours."

"That's hardly my fault, is it?" And with that Dean heard his wings cut through the air as they carried him up to the roof.

Every cell of Dean's body screamed at him to him to stay in bed and let Castiel's feathery, passive-aggressive ass enjoy his damned sunrise alone, so Dean didn't know what masochistic urge it was that made him drag himself up there. By the time he did the sun was long since up and Dean found Castiel curled up against the roof's ledge, his wings wrapped tight around himself and his lips silently forming words Dean knew were in no language that had ever been spoken on Earth. The roof immediately felt too small; Dean leaned far out over the ledge, trying to give Castiel his space, but all the same he turned his hearing up high enough to hear the whispered prayer, the rise and fall of the words.

"Why does it disturb you so much when I pray, Dean?"

Castiel's soft voice was like a gong to Dean's enhanced hearing. He shook it off, dialing down his hearing before answering. "I just don't get it, that's all."

"Prayer was very important to my people. Before the last war with the demons I had hundreds of brothers and sisters. Perhaps thousands. I don't remember them and I'll never know them, but when I pray to the same God they did I'm connected to them. Even if only for a fleeting moment."

"Praying didn't do them a whole lot of good, did it?" The words slipped out before Dean could stop them and Castiel gave him a startled look. Dean sighed and sat down beside him. "I didn't mean it like that," he said, although really, he knew he did. "Doesn't it feel like you're praying into the void, Cas?"

"That God doesn't answer doesn't mean he's not listening, Dean."

Dean bit back the urge to say, Yes it does, you moron and took a good look at Castiel, noticing for the first time that he didn't look like he'd slept a whole lot either. "Dude, you okay?"

Castiel nodded, his eyes darting towards Dean; Dean saw his wings twitch up, a nervous tic Dean knew meant Cas had news. "I think I've found a demon nest."

Dean felt the hair on his neck rise. Castiel had senses Dean didn't – although Cas assured him Dean could have them and more if he worked at it – and sometimes it seemed like he was attuned to the bastards. It had been a year since the last demon had shown its creepy black-eyed face in Lawrence City and Dean hadn't been looking forward to them coming back. "You sure?"

"It'll require more research, but yes, I think so." He gave Dean a hard, measuring look. "You're not nearly as enthused as I hoped you'd be."

"When am I ever enthused about demons, Cas?"

"Is it because you can't later brag about the battle at a press conference?"

This was an old argument. "That's not even close to fair. Nothing wrong with getting a little credit, but I don't brag about everything I do, you know that. I don't like that I can't tell anyone. Demon hunts mean going off grid and if the cops need me for something, if something's going down in the city I can't be there and I can't tell anyone why."

"The secrecy was on your insistence. I don't see why we don't tell the public they're under attack."

"Yeah, let's tell people there's a race of shape-shifting, planet-destroying aliens hiding right in plain sight. I can't see how that can go wrong at all."

Castiel was giving him that look, the one that said just how disappointed he was in Dean. "Doesn't it bother you that the creatures who destroyed both our worlds are now plotting against this one?" Dean knew his history, how both his and Castiel's home planets were wrecked by the demons and had made a last, desperate counter attack.

It hadn't worked. At least not in any way that mattered as far as Dean was concerned; they'd destroyed the demon's planet but not the beings themselves. The Demons had survived the firestorm by relegating themselves to some kind of half life, an existence of smoke and shadow, wearing the faces of those they'd killed.

Dean and Castiel were all that were left of their respective people now. And Castiel seemed determined to never let Dean forget that for a single second. "You were prophesied to defeat these beings. The first Champion born in generations. It had been hundreds of years since anyone was born with the abilities you possess."

"Didn't do any of them any good, did it."

"It saved me." Castiel's eyes were distant, looking into a past Dean knew he didn't remember. "My people have always guided the Champions. If I hadn't been chosen I would be gone with the rest." He put one hand on Dean's shoulder, overlapping the hand print Dean kept hidden under his clothes. "This is the sign of our connection, Dean. Our alliance in this war. It's holy."

Dean shrugged Cas' hand off his shoulder, ignoring how the lines around his mouth deepened for an instant. "If you're not moved by duty," Castiel continued, his voice hard, "I would expect you to be moved by vengeance against the demons. Your mother was burned by the heat of their leader's yellow eyes. Your father sacrificed himself to them to ensure your safety. I would expect that to provide adequate motivation."

Dean squeezed his eyes shut. He had brief, fractured memories of his real parents, not that he didn't love Bobby and Karen Singer to death. He'd been dreaming about them his entire life, a beautiful blonde woman with sad eyes and a kind smile, a tall, dark-eyed man with deep, rumbling voice. "Shut up about my parents, Cas. Easy for you to talk like that when you don't remember your own."

Dean heard the sharp intake of breath from Castiel and was glad the other man was looking away. "It's true," he said, and Dean could hear the hurt buried under anger. "I wasn't granted those memories, but if I had been I like to think I would honor them better than you do." He sighed, his wings held tight against his back. "I often wish your ship had not malfunctioned..."

"So I would be more like you?" Dean couldn't keep the cruel twist out of his voice and told himself that Cas had started it by bringing up his parents in the first place. "I give thanks every fucking day that I crash-landed in Bobby Singer's yard. I was raised to be a person, not stuck in my robot ship my entire life getting my head filled with bullshit until it decided I was ready."

"I was trained to have the knowledge I would need..."

"You were trained to be another robot, Cas. They may as well have put a wind-up key in your back and you don't even know enough to be pissed off about it."

Castiel's mouth snapped shut. Dean didn't watch as he flew off.

When Castiel was safely out of sight Dean lay back against the roof with his hands over his face. That hadn't been fair and Dean felt the remorse coil in his gut like a spring. Dean knew for a fact that day in Bobby Singer's junkyard was the first time Castiel had ever spoken to an actual person. It wasn't his fault he'd been taught tactics and history but not how to have a conversation. That quick flash of hurt in Cas' eyes followed Dean through the whole day's patrol.

When Dean saw him the next morning he told Cas he was on board with the demon hunt, whatever he needed and watched Castiel's eyes light up with surprise. It was so fucking easy to make him happy that Dean didn't know why he screwed it up so often.

888

The Demons were holed up in an abandoned tenement that couldn't be seen from the outside. He and Castiel crept in an upstairs window, Dean hoping like hell the little bit of magic Cas had done really could keep them hidden long enough to get the drop on them. The air inside was hot and stale; Dean's cowl itched and his hands were already sweating inside his gloves. "We should split up," Castiel whispered, his drawn sword glinting in the dim light. The sword was alien tech, designed to kill demons and anything else it hit. "We'll cover more ground that way."

Dean frowned. "Okay," he finally said. "You find anything, you shout, Cas. You hear me?" Castiel nodded and Dean grabbed his shoulder before he could disappear around the corner. "Remember that I'm the invulnerable one here, okay?" Castiel nodded again, eyes bright with the promise of the hunt to come as he slipped away.

Dean hit pay dirt two more rooms in; as his targets coalesced into dark-eyed shapes around him Dean smiled. He didn't need a sword to kill demons.

One rushed him with a knife and Dean let the blade crunch into an accordion against his chest. He grabbed the demon by her shirt and lifted her over his head one-handed. "Hey, gorgeous. Sorry, don't have the time right now," he said, then threw her into two of her friends. They went down in a tangled heap and Dean opened up with his heat vision, bright red beams of light shooting from his eyes and sending them all up like kindling. He caught the demon trying to sneak up behind him with a hard elbow right to the nose (Dean never got tired of morons trying to sneak up on someone with super hearing), then flew up over it, grabbing it by the hair mid turn and slamming it hard to the floor. He fried that one, too, then faced off against the last one left.

This one he grabbed by the throat before she could smoke away, throwing her hard against the wall. "How many of you bastards are in here?"

The demon just grinned back at him. "You shouldn't have let your pretty friend go off on his own." She leaned forward, like she wanted to whisper in his ear. "Alastair's gonna cut his heart out." Dean hit her full in the face with the heat vision and let what was left drop. He backed up, keeping an eye on the demons in the unlikely event that one was still breathing or whatever it was demons did.

It was too quiet. If demons jumped him he knew they'd probably jumped Cas too, and Dean had never heard Castiel fight without there being a lot of screaming.

He turned up his hearing, feeling his blood freeze when he heard a muffled cry. Dean blinked, activating his X-Ray vision; it took a second of looking but clear across the tenement he saw a room full of dead demons – dead demons and one still standing, its hand clamped tight over Castiel's mouth. Blood trickled down Castiel's face from a cut over his temple; before Dean could blink he saw the demon grab Castiel by one wing and wrenched him down to his knees, Cas' eyes going wide with pain, the sword dropping from his hand.

Dean blinked off the X-Ray and took one step back. He centered himself to where he'd seen that demon standing and launched himself forward, arms held stiff in front as he flew through wall after wall. He burst into the room and had a split second to take in the demon leaning over Castiel, pressing the tip of a long, curved knife against his throat. Dean didn't slow his momentum and slammed into it, sending it flying into the far wall. Dean pulled up short before hitting the wall himself and hovered over Castiel, letting out a long sigh of relief that Cas was already getting up and looking more surprised and angry than hurt.

Unfortunately, the Demon was also moving. It pulled itself to its feet, its milky white eyes examining them both. "Now, that wasn't very friendly," it said in a strange, almost sing-song voice, like Christopher Walken doing a Marlon Brando impression.

"You Alastair?" Dean said, giving Cas a hand getting to his feet.

"It's always lovely to meet a fan," it purred, its eyes darting between them. "But I'm afraid we have to part now. We'll continue this all later." And with that it turned to smoke and escaped.

Dean barely noticed, though, because suddenly the room was full of smoke. Demon after demon manifested around them, 10, 20, more demons than Dean had ever seen in one place. He and Castiel went back to back, watching as the demons kept coming. Dean glanced behind him. "You good for this?"

Castiel indulged in a grim smile, his reclaimed sword gleaming in his hand. "I was born for this."

Dean loved watching Cas fight. Dean fought with all the finesse of a mack truck, and it was damned effective, but Castiel fought with quick, precise, graceful strikes, dodging blows like a dancer. Dean forced himself to focus on his own fight, zeroing in on the demons in front of him; he'd done enough structural damage to the building that he wanted to be sparing with the heat vision. Dean didn't mind so much. There was something to be said about a good, old-fashioned fight.

Dean had just smashed his fist into one demon's face with a nice, satisfying crack when out of the corner of his eye he saw one demon get lucky and stab Castiel through the shoulder; he felt Cas stagger back and put out an arm to steady him. They switched places, Dean giving Castiel a crack at finishing off the ones he'd softened up. Still, as many as they put down (even one-handed Castiel stabbed his first target right through the chest, black blood spraying everywhere) more just kept coming. "We're treading water here," he said. "Duck and cover, I'm gonna open up."

Castiel crouched down, shielding his eyes and Dean cranked his heat vision up full throttle, swiveling around to to catch everything around him in a burning circle of death. After a full minute at that level the power sputtered out and Dean doubled over, trying to catch his breath.

"That was...that was very impressive," he heard Castiel say. He glanced down and saw his partner staring up at him with enough awe that Dean wanted to look away. He was paler than Dean liked to see, one hand pressed to the stab wound in his shoulder.

"You okay, Cas?"

Castiel nodded. "I'll survive."

Dean narrowed his eyes when he saw how shaky Castiel was on his feet but before he could say anything he heard the low, droning sound of metal and wood collapsing. "This place is coming down, Cas, we gotta move."

"There's...there's no windows," Castiel said, leaning against Dean.

The droning got louder, the building shaking itself apart around them. "We're gonna make our own." He grabbed Castiel around the waist. "Hang on, it'll be faster going up." He felt Cas' wings wrap tight around him, then he took a deep breath and flew straight up through level after level of rotten floors. With one solid punch they were through the roof, up and out and landing on the roof of the apartment building next door. Dean crouched by the edge, ready to grab any idiots who got too close while the building finished caving in on itself. When the smoke cleared Dean let out a long, long breath. That could have gone a lot worse.

He heard a pained sound from behind and turned around; Castiel was slumped against the roof stairway entrance, blood still streaming down his suit. Dean walked over and tipped his chin up, looking carefully for signs of shock. "Anything hit you on the way up?" Castiel shook his head and Dean gently moved his hand away to look at the stab wound. He switched over to X-Ray and let out a relived breath

that the Demon's knife had missed bone. A quick burst of heat vision stopped the bleeding and Dean knew Cas was going to be okay by the way he glared at Dean for doing that with no warning. "You're lucky, Cas. That knife caught you right in the meat."

"Yes, I feel very fortunate."

"Baby." Castiel glared at him and Dean grinned; he knew full well a dagger through the shoulder would have most people on the ground screaming. "Move your arm, Cas," Dean said; Castiel grimaced but the range of motion looked about right. "You can move your fingers, you've got feeling everywhere?"

Castiel nodded. "Yes. Yes, that all seems fine."

"I said you were lucky." He walked over to Cas' other side. "I'm gonna take a look at your wing, okay?"

Cas nodded, his lips a thin line. A quick check with the X-Ray confirmed that Alastair hadn't managed to break any of the delicate bones in Castiel's wing. Cas hissed when Dean touched the area where Alastair had grabbed him and Dean backed off. "You okay?"

Castiel nodded, his face white. "The wing pains me more than the shoulder, if I'm to be honest."

"Sensitive, huh?" Castiel nodded; Dean took his gloves off and carefully worked his way down, smoothing the soft feathers out of the way. He knew he'd hit the edge of the bruise when Castiel hitched in a quick breath. "Steady, steady. I just want to see how bad it is." He felt Cas hold himself very still, letting Dean move the feathers aside to better look. Dean winced; Alastair hadn't broken the skin but from what Dean could see the bruise was already going dark and angry, that section of the wing starting to swell. "You should ice this."

"I don't think I have any at home."

Dean sighed. "Of course you don't. I've got ice back at the penthouse, we'll take care of it there." Castiel started to move away when Dean stopped him. "Hey. Let me try something." Cas' brow furrowed and Dean explained, "Remember that cold breath thing we figured out I could do a few months ago?"

The crease between Castiel's brows deepened. "Yes, but I'm not sure I'm following."

"Well, it kind of lingered, right? Might be as good as an ice pack, at least short term." He glanced over at Castiel, meeting his eyes. "You up for giving it a go?"

Cas' expression softened. "I trust you, Dean."

Dean frowned, suddenly feeling put on the spot even though it had been his idea. He stood the feathers up to expose as much bruised skin as possible. "Okay. Just hold still." He blew gently on the injured patch of wing, his breath forming into a crystalline cloud that made Castiel shiver when it touched him.

"Oh," Cas whispered. "That's...that's interesting."

"Let it settle a second." He smoothed down the ruffled feathers and felt the wing quiver under his hands. "Did I hurt you?"

"No," Cas said, shaking his head. "I...I'm not used to them being touched."

"Fair enough." He saw Cas' mouth open, as if he'd been on the verge of saying something before deciding against it. The wing twitched after him as he moved his hand away, the strong pinfeathers brushing against his arm. "You okay to fly?"

Castiel stretched out both wings, wincing slightly, but three strong beats lifted him from the roof. "Yes. I should be able to make it home safely."

Dean saw him sway ever so slightly when he touched back down and made up his mind. "That's dumb, Cas. I'm like, five minutes away, you're clear across town. You heal fast but not that fast, I'm not letting you fly all that way hurt."

Castiel scowled. "I don't need to be coddled."

"Look, all we need is you crash landing through some church. People are gonna think it's the end times."

"Dean..."

"Dude. We're not arguing about this. You're crashing at my place and that's that."

Cas' mouth set into a thin line, then he walked to the edge of the roof and launched himself off. "Try to keep up, then."

Dean shook his head and went after him, noting how Cas' face was a mask of concentration as he flew. "What was with that demon sporting the white eyes, Cas? That Alastair joker."

Castiel took long enough to answer that Dean almost asked again. "I have no idea."

Dean was so startled that he almost flew into a billboard. "What? I thought you knew everything about these jerks."

"Knowledge was lost in the Cataclysm. Apparently this was part of it. I know their leader has yellow eyes but I don't know what other colors might signify." He was silent for a few moments as they flew around a startled flock of pigeons. "My sword didn't work on it," he said, so softly Dean almost missed it.

"Shit." Dean almost couldn't count the reasons that was bad news. "Does that mean it wouldn't work on Yellow Eyes, either?"

"I don't know."

The sight of Castiel at a loss about the one thing he was always so sure about was so disturbing Dean couldn't think of a single thing to say the rest of the flight.

888

Castiel stumbled and fell landing on the roof of Dean's penthouse and it took all of Dean's self-control not to say I told you so. He stood close enough to reach out a hand if Cas needed it but not close enough for Castiel to snap at him for hovering. "You okay?"

Cas answered with one curt nod, fury mingling with embarrassment in his eyes. Dean kept an eye on him as he opened the trick lock on the skylight and flew down, turning the lights on with a snap of his fingers. Unlike most of his colleagues in the masked crime-fighting biz, Dean didn't bother with the hassle of keeping up secret identity. He had a job, he didn't see the point in pretending to be a 9-5 cubicle drone on top of that. He's found that if he just pretended he didn't have a legal name, creating a rocket-to-earth story for the press that was kind of almost true most reporters were willing to play along, and he'd taken steps to hide his legal identity to baffle even the most persistent snoops. After all, Bobby had told him when he'd started all this that if one of the lunatics he made a living pissing off ever showed up at his door there'd be hell to pay and Dean was way more afraid of him than anyone they fought. Everything was under the Captain Awesome name, even his taxes thanks to his very talented accountants.

And being a more or less "public" superhero meant he'd been able to learn all about the magic of endorsements. He had upwards of thirty deals going on at any one time, everything from razors to sports cars to gimmicky fitness equipment (not that he used most of it). All of which meant he could afford his absolutely bitchin' penthouse. "Well, Cas? Whaddaya think?"

Castiel folded his wings as he landed and looked around. "You've not invited me to your home before."

That didn't sound right to Dean. "You sure about that? Pretty sure you had a standing invite."

Dean couldn't interpret Castiel's expression. "I'm sure, Dean. That I certainly would have remembered." He ran one finger along a framed picture of Dean shaking hands with the governor. "I hadn't realized you lived so much like the humans."

"We all can't live in our space ships, Cas," Dean said, pushing his cowl back from his face and pulling off his gloves.

"My ship has what I require," Castiel said. He peered intently at one of the wall panels, jumping back when the section opened and swiveled around to reveal Dean's top of the line entertainment center as he touched it."

"Cool, huh?" Dean said, beaming with pride. "Just like Tony Stark's." He saw Cas' brow furrow, his eyes going blank and sighed. "Of course you don't know who that is." He shook his head, motioning for Castiel to follow. "C'mon. I'll patch you up."

Dean led him into the master bathroom and motioned for him to undo his shirt. As he was bandaging up the stab wound Castiel said, "How do you know to do this?"

Because I have a dumbass partner who acts like he's invulnerable when he's not. "The invulnerably didn't show until I was a teenager. Scraped myself up all the time when I was a kid." He cleaned the cut along Castiel's hairline and the scrapes on his hands from the fall on the roof. "There you go. Pretty sure you'll make it, Cas."

Castiel flexed his hands, wincing at the sting. "Thank you, Dean," he said softly, not looking at him. "I don't like burdening you this way."

Dean quirked an eyebrow. "Dude. Don't be a moron." He led Castiel back into the bedroom. "You'll find stuff you can sleep in over there," Dean said, pointing to one of the drawers. "Probably won't fit you all that great, but it'll do for one night." Cas opened the drawer like he was concerned it would explode. "I'll send your stuff out to get cleaned and fixed up. I know you're picky about your clothes."

"I am not..." He gave up with a sigh. "Thank you, Dean. I do appreciate it."

He ducked back into the bathroom to give Cas a little privacy and to get changed himself. "You decent, Cas?"

"I believe so."

Dean poked his head back out and felt himself pull up short.

Castiel stood with his back to Dean, stripped to the waist with the bottom half of Dean's old silk pajamas riding low on his hips and pooling around his legs. Dean forgot sometimes how toned Cas was under that suit of his, the powerful muscles in his back and shoulders that worked his wings moving under his skin. He turned around, catching Dean staring, and Dean almost thanked Cas' dumb god for making him too socially unaware to think anything of it. "I didn't want to damage your clothing," he said, gesturing at the pajama top spread out on the bed and then in the general direction of his wings.

"Oh. Right, of course." It struck Dean what a good thing it was that Castiel really didn't conceive of how impressive he looked with his wings unfurled that way. "How's the wing feel?"

Castiel stretched them out, their tips almost brushing each wall. "Still sore, but bearable." His gaze dropped for a moment. "I can still feel your breath." He folded his wings back and sat on Dean's bed, his eyes widening slightly as it dipped under his weight.

Dean grinned. "Like it? The mattress is one of those NASA foam things."

Castiel gave it an almost suspicious look, as if he couldn't trust something so comfortable. "Is that as decadent as it sounds?"

Dean chuckled. "Sure as hell was expensive, if that's what you mean. Relax while I make the couch up for you, okay? Live a little."

He stood there with his arms crossed until Castiel lay down on the bed, looking like was about to be tortured. "See? Not so bad, is it?" Dean strolled out of the room chuckling to himself; he arranged the pillow and blankets across his leather couch, then went to his fridge to grab himself a beer. "Hey, Cas, you want a beer too, while I'm up?" There was no answer; Dean took out two anyway. "Cas? You okay in there?"

When there was still no answer Dean frowned and walked back into the bedroom. "Cas? You hear me? I asked if you wanted..." Dean trailed off when he entered the room and saw Castiel stretched out on his stomach, eyes shut and fast asleep. "Cas. Dude. My bed." One wing drooped over the edge of the bed, white feathers brushing the floor; Dean shook his head and lifted it up, arranging it next to him. Castiel sighed in his sleep and curled up on his side, his wings curled over his back. He looked like...Dean chuckled. He looked for all the world like those kittens-with-wings posters every girl in his high school seemed to have had hanging on their walls. "Fine, you win," he said, pulling a blanket up over his shoulders. "Keep the bed."

As Dean was about to leave the room he saw Cas' wings twitch; a moment later Castiel's whole body tensed, his hand clenching the pillow. He whimpered, his eyes moving rapidly under his lids and Dean sat on the edge of the bed. "Shh, shh, Cas," he whispered, brushing one hand down the soft feathers along his wing. "Relax."

"Dean?" he murmured, voice thick with sleep.

"Yeah, it's me Cas. You're dreaming."

"...sword didn't work..." He shivered and Dean could almost see the nightmare, that white-eyed bastard pinning him to the floor, one hand covering his mouth and the other holding a blade to his throat.

"We kicked their asses anyway." He felt the feathers slide between his fingers. "Go back to sleep." He stroked along Castiel's wing until Dean felt him slowly relax, his breathing growing slow and deep. He traced one finger down the scratch on Castiel's throat and let out a long breath. "Too fucking close this time, Cas."

Dean carefully got up and left the room, being sure not to make a sound. He stretched out on the couch, arms folded behind his head, and ran over the battle in his mind. For all the bickering they did, when he and Cas managed to get on the same page it was like... Dean shook his head. It always just felt right. It was almost enough to make Dean believe in destiny and all the other crap Cas was always talking about.

As he closed his eyes, though, Dean couldn't deny that it felt damn good.

And that feeling lasted right up until the next morning when he woke up and turned on the news.

888

Dean's low simmering rage at the crime scene was so consuming he barely heard Castiel land beside him. "Why did you leave this morning with no word? It took me nearly an hour to find you..."

"Take a look, Cas," Dean said, so furious he forgot to use Castiel's superhero name in public, something he'd never slipped on before. "Tell me what you see."

Castiel frowned but examined the sidewalk, his head tilted to the side. "It appears to be a common crime scene..."

"Shut up before I hit you." Castiel's mouth hung open and Dean refused to let himself care. "'Cause I'm gonna tell you what I see." He pointed out the two taped outlines on the sidewalk. "Yesterday while you had me off grid preparing for the hunt some scumbag walked up to his ex-girlfriend's place with a gun. He found the girlfriend, the girlfriend's sister and the girlfriend's kid all sitting on the front stoop. Eating ice cream. Broad fucking daylight." He grabbed Castiel by the arm and turned him, forcing him to look. "Scumbag and the ex got into a fight, then he pulled out the gun and shot the sister in the face," he said, pointing to the outline to the left. He pointed to the second outline. "Then he made his ex get on her knees, right in front of her daughter, and he shot her in the back of the head." He felt his lips twist into a snarl. "After making her say she was sorry." Dean shook the image away. "And then to top everything off he grabbed the kid and took her God knows fucking where." He stepped up to Castiel, an inch away from his face. "I told you, this is what happens in this city when I'm not there. People die."

"That is not fair," Castiel said, to his credit not backing away. "You can't know you would have..."

"I would have been patrolling, damn right I would have stopped it. I would have been listening. Even if I missed the argument and couldn't stop it all, I sure as fuck would have heard that first shot. That woman would still be alive and that little girl would still be safe with her mom."

"The war against the demons is of the utmost importance. This is the security of the planet..."

"Yeah? The planet so much safer now? You really think we did enough yesterday to sacrifice two people, maybe three?" He saw Castiel's eyes dart towards the outlines. "That little girl watched her mother die. Right now she's scared and alone and God only knows what's happening to her. You gonna stand there and tell me this war of yours is more important than her life? You gonna tell her that?"

Castiel's lips pressed to a thin line. "We'll find the child."

"Damn fucking right we will."

888

It was good to have Castiel's scary focus completely on Dean's side for once. One side bonus of Castiel's obsessive demon investigation was that he had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the city's hidden places, even better than Dean's, and to Dean's absolute shock he actually seemed to have a working network of contacts. He disappeared for an hour and came back five solid leads, none of them anything the police had stumbled on.

They hit pay dirt on lead three. Dean thought he was going to pass out when they found that kid tied to a chair, scared but seemingly none the worse for wear. Her kidnapper walked in before they could untie her, drawing his gun in a panic; Dean stepped in front of the girl but Castiel went right for the crook, his sword in hand. Dean felt his heart almost stop when the guy aimed the gun right at Cas' head.

Castiel didn't even seem to notice. Dean didn't have a shot with his heat vision and he didn't dare leave the girl, not when it would be so easy for the guy to change targets. Castiel kept advancing until the gun was barely a foot away, his wings flared out and his sword up like the very epitome of wrath. For a moment Dean could almost believe Cas was the avenging angel he pretended to be.

To Dean's amazement, their target seemed to be having the same thought; Castiel took one more step forward and the guy dropped to his knees, audibly praying. Castiel raised his sword and Dean realized just in time that Cas wasn't going to stop. Dean rushed forwards and grabbed his arm. "No," he whispered, making sure only Cas could hear. "We give him to the cops. We don't kill humans, Cas."

"Why?" Castiel said, the rasp in his voice so low and vicious the crook cringed to the floor. "What makes him so worthy of life?"

"It's not about him," Dean said. "It's about us. We don't kill, that's what makes us different from them."

Castiel sneered. "Many things make us different from them."

Dean shook his head. "Don't you think that kid's seen enough bullshit today?"

That got through. Dean felt Castiel shudder once, then he nodded his head and stalked back to the girl. Dean relieved the perp of his gun and followed; the guy was so cowed Dean didn't even need to threaten him to stay put.

Castiel already had the girl untied by the time Dean got there. "I'm so sorry," Dean heard him whisper, so much emotion in his voice Dean almost felt like he was intruding.

The little girl reached for his wings. "Are you really an angel?" she whispered back, like they were sharing secrets. Castiel nodded and she bit her lip. "Do you know if my mommy's in heaven?"

Dean saw him pause for an instant, then he nodded again. "Yes. I'm sure she is."

The girl wrapped her arms around his neck like she was never going to let him go. He shot Dean a panicked look, like he didn't know what he was supposed to do now. Dean made a hug her back gesture; when Cas awkwardly patted her on the back Dean rolled his eyes and decided it was time to rescue him. "C'mon, hero," he said, taking the kid and letting her wrap herself around him instead. "Let's get her home, huh?"

Back at the police station Dean watched the kid run into her grandmother's arms and felt the warm satisfaction of a job well done. He saw Castiel watching too, but with a very different expression on his face. For one inexplicable instant Dean almost thought it looked like longing. "Dude. You okay?" he asked, making his way over.

Castiel was so lost in thought he startled visibly at Dean's voice. "Yes. I..." He glanced at Dean. "I was afraid she would be alone."

"Nah," Dean said, looking back at the heartwarming scene. "Kid's got plenty of family going for her. It's gonna suck for a long time, but she'll be okay."

Castiel nodded. "I'm glad." He was looking at Dean with almost the same awe as when Dean had killed all those demons. "Is this what you do every day?"

Dean frowned. "You've patrolled with me before."

"I don't believe I've seen one to completion like this."

Dean supposed that was true. Cas did have a habit of flitting off to take care of whatever important thing he was working on. "So? What'd you think?"

Dean couldn't even begin to name the expression in Castiel's eyes. "I had no idea."

Dean clapped him on the shoulder. "That's what I've been telling you all this time." Then he sighed. "Well, wish me luck. Off to face the firing squad." Castiel's brow furrowed and Dean explained, "Time for the press conference. Let's see how many of them are calling for my head."

The furrow deepened. "But you were successful. We recovered the child."

Dean almost laughed. "I know these guys. Something tells me that's not gonna matter."

888

The roar when he opened the floor for questions almost made Dean step back. "Captain, why did it take you almost twenty-four hours to respond to the Commissioner's summons?" demanded the beat writer from the Times, his reedy voice rising over the fray.

"Well, Sheldon," Dean said, watching the reporter's expression sour as snickers broke over the room. His sensitivity over his first name was legendary. "I never actually got the summons. I found about the case from the lovely Sasha Bell's morning newscast. Hey, Sasha," he said, grinning into the cameras, hoping that would defuse some of the tension.

It didn't. "Commissioner Hendrickson is on record as thinking you should be censured. What's your response?"

"Well, I'm on record as saying the Commissioner's a dick. Someone rescued that kid and it wasn't one of his people, was it?"

"Captain, Samantha Brown from the Tribune," said another reporter, standing up and Dean almost groaned. They'd had a...thing and it hadn't ended pretty. "Something similar happened a year ago where no one was able to contact you for thirty six hours. Six months before that, the same. Nine months before that, same story. How do you explain what's clearly become a pattern?"

Dean saw Castiel lurking in the back, sporting the battered trenchcoat he broke out when he needed to hide his wings in public; he didn't know how that made no one recognize Cas, but it always seemed to work. Dean's jaw tightened. "Pretty sure you're reaching."

"Is it true you didn't didn't respond to the summons because you were too inebriated?" called out a voice from the back, a new reporter Dean didn't recognize.

"I ever got that drunk, pretty sure the whole city would know."

"What do you make of the Post's claim that they're about to publish interviews with two Victoria's Secret models claiming you were with them that day?"

"The Post's a rag and they're liars."

"How do respond to accusations that you would have responded faster had the victims been white-"

"That is bullshit, that's how I respond-"

"Where were you for those twenty-four hours, Captain? The public that puts its trust in you has the right to know."

Dean hated the guy from the free weekly. "I was investigating a case," he said, realizing the second the words were out that he'd just thrown a steak to a pack of wolves.

"What case? Captain, is Lawrence City under attack?"

Dean saw Castiel stare at the floor. "The city's safe."

"But do you confirm there's a secret threat?" asked another voice.

"I can't..."

"Is it terrorism?"

Dean couldn't tell the reporters apart anymore. "No. I mean, not like..."

"What was it, Captain?"

Dean swallowed hard. "I can't say."

Another explosion of questions, voices blending and rushing together into one sold wall of noise. Dean felt a bead of sweat roll down his neck and wondered which network had just gotten a close up of it. Just like before, Sheldon's voice was the one that came through loud and clear. "Don't you think the people of this city deserve an explanation?"

Dean narrowed his eyes, staring the man down until he took his seat. "It was important. That's all I can say." He looked to the back of the room and saw that Castiel had left and thought that sounded like a damn good idea. "That's it, no more questions. Press conference is over, look forward to reading all your lies and slander in the morning." Then he jumped off the podium and flew over the mass of them, landing at the back of the crowd without a glance back. Most of them were too busy mobbing the rep from the Commissioner's office to notice.

Most, but not all. "Libel," Dean heard a soft voice say just as he was one step from escaping and turned to see Sam leaning against the wall. "Lies and libel. Slander's spoken."

Dean told himself that heat visioning the guy right now wouldn't be worth having to sit through another press conference about it. "You were quiet."

Sam shrugged. "They seemed to have it covered."

"Yeah, well. Thank for not joining the dogpile."

"Don't thank me yet. You haven't heard what my editor wants me to lead with tomorrow."

"Yeah, well, looks like I'll be dealing with a lot of that shit."

"Hey, Cap," Sam said, grabbing his arm; Dean turned to glare at him but his heart wasn't in it. Sam's puppy dog eyes were always too pitiful to threaten. "For what it's worth, I believe you."

Dean shook his head, a mirthless smile on his face. "Not worth a whole lot right now. But thanks anyway." He shook Sam's hand away and flew out through the open window.

888

Dean found Castiel sitting on his roof as if it was the crack of dawn instead of just approaching dusk. His wings were curled around him, his arms resting on his knees. "Hello, Dean," he said softly, not looking up.

"Cas."

"The humans were very unfair to you."

Dean scowled, sitting down next to him. "How many time do I have to stop telling you to calling people 'the humans?' It makes us sound like lab rats."

"Us," Castiel repeated. "You're not human, Dean. Neither of us are."

"Well, I was raised by them. Raised like them, so yeah, I feel like one most of the time."

"I don't." It was starting to rain, a slow, cold drizzle. "I never have. I've known almost before I could speak that I would always stand apart. That I had a purpose. I thought..." His voice faltered. "I thought you had come to realize that as well."

"I don't want to be apart, Cas."

"But you are. You're not like them, Dean." His lips twisted into a sneer. "No matter how much you wish otherwise."

"I thought I was human – a human with awesome powers, anyway – way longer than I knew otherwise. Where is this shit even coming from? I thought that rescue finally brought you around."

Castiel stared at his hands. "There's more to what you do than I had realized," he allowed. "I see better now how...powerful a distraction it can be."

Dean knew he had a short fuse under the best of times and after the press conference he just didn't have enough left to deal with Castiel and his never ending cosmic war. "All right, I'm gonna try to explain this in words you'll understand," he said. He was too angry to keep the cruel twist out of his voice and when Cas' wings bristled it just encouraged him to keep going. "I'm already fighting a war. And these people you keep calling a distraction, they're the ones I'm fighting for. Not you, not dead planets, but actual living, breathing people. And when push comes to shove, they're who I'm always going to choose. This whole thing, the destiny, all of that? That's your war, not mine. Do you get that, Cas?"

Dean braced himself for the usual lecture on duty and honor but it never came. Castiel never even looked at him. "I won't ask you again," he said, his voice very, very even. He stood up so quickly he almost stumbled. The rain was starting to come down and Dean put out out a hand, about to ask him if he was okay to fly in this when Cas rounded on him with fierce, don't touch me look. Dean pulled back and let him go, telling himself that he didn't care if Cas flew into a skyscraper. Dean didn't even watch him leave.

The remorse set in about an hour later and Dean told himself he'd make it up to Castiel in the morning.

888

And Dean would have – he even got up early, which he told himself Cas sure as hell had better appreciate – but Cas didn't show up. It wasn't the first time Castiel had taken a morning off to sulk after a fight, and in a way, Dean was relieved. Now his eventual apology wouldn't have to be nearly as good.

He didn't show the next morning either, which also wasn't unheard of. Dean didn't see him at all during the day, which was a little strange, but Dean pushed the thought deep, deep down.

It was when the third morning came with no sign that Dean felt the first twinge of real worry. He opened up his hearing; this was the time Castiel usually took out to pray; even though it should have been easy Dean couldn't pick his rasping voice out from the rest of the crowd. Dean felt off-center all day, that faint twinge from the morning growing into a roar as he made his usual rounds. He dialed up the hearing a few more times that day but there was still nothing. Somehow Dean managed to convince himself that was a good sign.

There was a function that night, some charity thing he'd been too distracted to come up with a speech for. Instead of fumbling his way through it, Dean saw an opportunity and deliberately delivered a horrible speech, one that mixed up the charity's cause, roasted the founders (who had only started it as a PR move anyway, so he wasn't overwhelmed with guilt), anything he could think of to force the press to cover it. Anything he could think of that Castiel would bitch at him not to do, he did: drunk in public, almost getting into a fight, all of it. He even walked out of there with the hottest woman in the room on his arm, and if she happened to be married to the biggest, most dick billionaire in the city, well, so much the better.

The next morning, when Dean dragged himself up to the roof at dawn to find no lecture waiting for him, no disappointment, Dean felt a cold stab of fear so intense he didn't even feel his aching head. It had been years his he'd behaved like that in public and when he screwed up that badly he knew Castiel considered it his God-given duty to get on Dean's case about it. That he wasn't there could no longer be chalked up to anger or hurt feelings.

Something was wrong.

888

No matter what his press releases said, it wasn't exactly true that Dean could pick out a single heartbeat from across the city; across a room, sure, but even though his hearing was good nothing was that good.

A voice, though. A voice was a different story. Dean cranked his hearing all the way up and really listened, filtering through the din of the city so nothing would escape him, not the smallest sound. He knew he wasn't going to be listening for prayers now, even his denial didn't go that far; he thought the worst thing would be to hear a moan, to hear Cas in pain (Dean knew there was no other explanation for an absence this long, it had to be that kind of wrong) but only getting silence made him feel like someone had taken a knife to his stomach and hollowed him out. Dean rejected the obvious answer and started to search.

The obvious plan seemed to find out which of the old enemies he and Cas had made over the years were still around and making trouble. He started by paying a visit to old Professor Benton's lab; the mad scientist went in and out jail like it had a revolving door and had been creepily interested in Cas' wings the last time they'd tangled. Dean broke down the door and found the freak in the middle of...Dean really didn't want to think too hard about it, but the flood of relief that it wasn't Castiel strapped down to his table almost took Dean off his feet. Then the frustration came back, quickly chased by guilt; a part of him really had hoped he'd find Cas in that lab, horrible as that would have been. At least he'd be found. Dean smashed up the lab anyway, hoping it would make him feel better.

It didn't.

Dean dropped off Benton at the police station and told them exactly how much personnel would be needed to take that lab apart, because Dean didn't ever want to have to go down there again. Fortunately the sergeant who always flirted with Dean was on duty at the station and she was more than happy to give him a list of all of his old friends who were currently active.

The search took most of the day. All the time he was kicking down doors and ripping roofs off buildings Dean tried to keep the image of Castiel hurt on his own somewhere out of his mind. The possibilities of things that could have gone wrong seemed endless. Hell, once he and Cas had been doing a high sweep over the city, high enough that a hunter had mistaken him for a bird and taken a shot. All of the times Cas had thrown himself into a fight with no regard for his own safety loomed large; Cas fought like he was Dean, invulnerable, but he could bleed and his bones could break. As he worked his way through his hit list without any sign of his partner the knot in his stomach went tighter.

The next day the headlines crowed about how Dean was getting serious about crime, showing pictures of all the crooks Dean had put away. The beat writers were a speculating about Dean's motive, whether he was trying to make up for his bad reputation.

Dean let them wonder. For the first time Dean didn't give a damn what the hell what the press was saying.

888

The next day Dean tried a different tactic. A focused search hadn't worked, so Dean did a sweep. He flew over the city with his X-Rays turned up, doing a super-powered house-by-house search. It wasn't the most ethical thing he could do but Dean didn't have it in him to be concerned about the usual superhero niceties. Whenever he found a blank spot in his vision – a bank vault, for example, and it astonished Dean just how many fallout shelters there were in the city – Dean swooped down to investigate, using any excuse that seemed plausible. He uncovered a good amount of drug stashes and gun caches and other minor lawbreaking but no sign of what he was really looking for. Not even a feather.

888

On day five it finally hit Dean that he'd been looking everywhere but in the most obvious place.

Castiel's ship was carefully hidden just beyond the southern borders of the city, an oblong metal shape half-buried in the woods. The hull was adorned with inscribed sigils that made the eye want to slide over it; even Dean had a hard time looking at it, like he felt a force pulling his face away whenever he tried. Dean slid his hand over the outside, feeling the vibration of the machinery thrum like a living thing. There was no obvious door; Dean circled around, flying over and under until he found himself hovering just under the nose. He hadn't found a hatch and he didn't know enough Enochian to be able to read any of the sigils. Frustration hummed under his skin; he should be able to get into this ship if nonsense Cas was always talking about was true. "C'mon, you hunk of tin," Dean muttered. "Cas says I'm the Champion, you're supposed to do what I say."

He thought about how the people who made this ship thought. They'd branded a hand print onto his shoulder to show that he and Cas were connected; Dean took off one of his gloves and pressed his hand against the warm metal of the hull. He felt a slight tingle, then a panel of the ship shimmered and disappeared. "About time."

The second he got the idea to search Cas' ship Dean was sure he'd hit on right answer. Castiel had gotten in over his head on his own and it would be only natural to go back to his ship to lick his wounds. Maybe something got infected, maybe it was just worse than he had thought, but that was why he'd been scarce. It would explain why Dean hadn't been able to hear him, the ship would block him. Dean could picture how it would go, him finding Cas in bed too sick or still too stubborn to ask for help, and then Dean would yell at him and drag him back home to patch him up.

Dean could picture it so clearly that the disappointment when he entered the ship only to find it empty and cold was crushing. Dim lights blinked on as Dean walked, but Dean didn't need much time at all to know this was another dead end.

Dean was unprepared for the size of the ship. Once inside he realized that most of the ship must be engines; the living area was tiny, smaller than his TV room. There would barely be enough room for Castiel to stretch his wings; Dean toured the tiny space, brushing his fingers across the thin, narrow mattress. He couldn't imagine how Cas could arrange his wings comfortably enough to get any sleep at all. The image of Cas sacked out on his bed like he'd never slept before in his life suddenly filled his mind.

The room was almost neurotically neat, which he'd expected. What he hadn't expected was for how spartan it was, although from how Castiel had reacted to his own home Dean guessed he should have. There was a closet tucked away in a corner, its door panel sliding open at Dean touch to revel a row of identical suits and a spare trenchcoat (which Dean had expected, if he was going to be honest.) There was the bed jutting out from the wall and a molded bench on the opposite side Dean supposed might technically fit the definition of a couch. There was some alien tech in the center of the room that based on its layout and general creepiness Dean guessed was some kind of life support; Dean remembered the surprise in Cas' eyes the first time Dean badgered him to try a burger and fries ("c'mon Cas, pretend you're a person for five minutes"), like he hadn't known what it was like to taste something. Dean wondered with a sick twist to his stomach whether that had been literally true.

Dean picked up a book leaning against the edge of the bench titled Cultures of the World; Dean had given it to him as a last minutes Christmas gift a few years ago as a way to give some much-needed grounding in human things. He'd had almost forgotten about it; Cas had gotten so flustered when Dean had given it to him because he didn't have anything to give back that Dean shied away from giving him anything in subsequent years. Dean regretted that now; the book had been read so many times it had turned fragile, despite the obvious signs of care Cas had taken with it. He'd even had it propped up against the bench as if he'd wanted to be able to see it as soon as he got in. Like it was something of real value, not something Dean had grabbed on impulse from the twenty percent off table. "I gotta buy you nicer things, Cas."

The only thing left was the computer. "Computer" was almost too plain a word for it; the machine took up an entire wall, its screen taller than Dean. He knew in theory there had been one like it in his own ship, but that thing was little more than strange-looking scrap in buried in a South Dakota junkyard. He touched the interface and the screen blinked to life, filling with columns of the complex Enochian script. Because of course it would all be in Enochian. A mean part of Dean's mind wondered if the whole disappearance wasn't a convoluted answer to Dean's question of why he should ever bother to learn it.

All Dean could do was press random panels and hope something interesting came up; one touch on the left side of the screen brought up what looked like an electronic scrapbook, files and files of newspaper clippings and TV interviews and magazine profiles, seemingly everything Dean had ever done. Nothing Cas had done, or at least nothing he'd done on his own, Dean noticed, and he felt the urge to shake Castiel for that because Dean knew full well the guy had down some pretty badass things over the past few years.

The This Is Your Life scrapbook didn't just start with when Cas had met Dean, either; there was his fake birth certificate, old school pictures, stray shots from the local Sioux Falls paper. Even an article about Dean making captain of the football team in high school. Dean tapped his fingers against the console and a video came up, one of he and Bobby goofing around in the scrapyard when Dean was a kid. It took Dean a second to figure out how that could even be possible, but then he remembered that had been before Bobby had moved Dean's ship to the backyard and buried it; from the angle Dean guessed just being close to the ship's hull meant it could record. Castiel had made a comment once that he'd been watching Dean his whole life, and for the first time Dean realized he actually wasn't kidding.

Dean tried to imagine that, Cas watching Dean grow up through stolen videos and scattered pictures, his head filled with the knowledge that his job in life was the mold that kid who sucked at catching fly balls into something that could defeat a race of monsters that had destroyed two planets. Dean generally treated Cas as if he'd sprung fully formed form the ground, but he knew that really wasn't true. Castiel was around Dean's age, give or take. Dean knew he'd must have been a kid at some point and couldn't help picturing that now, little kid Cas watching Dean on this monitor, his knowledge of the world limited to these walls and to the computer telling him histories that amounted to little more than ghost stories. He remembered that quick flash of longing on Castiel's face when he'd seen that little girl with her grandmother and for a moment wondered what it would have been like it Cas had crashed in Bobby Singer's scrapyard too, what Castiel would be like if he'd had someone play catch with him.

Dean pushed the thought away. He had a hard time picturing the Castiel that kind of upbringing would have created and a part of him didn't want to. He liked Castiel the way he was, the awkward strangeness mixed with nobility that made him Cas. Of course that didn't mean that if by some miracle Dean did meet some of Castiel's people Dean wasn't going to punch them in the face for making Cas live like this for so much of his life.

Dean didn't want Cas sleeping here anymore. When Dean found him (it was always when, never if) he wasn't coming back here. He'd crash at Dean's place for a while and then Dean would find him a swank place of his own, one with high enough ceilings he could fly through the rooms and a view that would let him see his precious sunrises without having to leave his bed.

Dean kept making plans to himself as he kept scrolling through screen after screen, trying to find some information that could show the last time Castiel had been there. After all, just because he wasn't here now didn't mean they couldn't have just missed him. With that piece of denial firmly in place Dean was half-way through imaging dragging Cas to that escort service Dean had saved a few months ago and letting him have his pick when he found what he was looking for; even with the Enochian Dean could tell just from the format it was a log- in screen. A second later Dean slammed his fist through the computer's interface panel.

Dean couldn't read Enochian, but he knew the numbers; he could see his name and the time he'd entered the ship up there, down to the second. Below it was Castiel's name and Dean knew he was right that Cas had taken a day to sulk and lick his wounds. But that was the only thing he'd been right about.

No one besides Dean had opened the ship's doors in four days.

888

The sunrise caught Dean by surprise. He happened to be flying over his own neighborhood and crouched down on his roof; he was at that level of tired where time just slipped by like sand through his fingers. He didn't dare sleep. He had to be awake to hear it if Cas managed to escape from wherever he was and called for help. After leaving the ship he'd scoured the woods outside the city, looking for hidden bunkers and anything else out of the ordinary (he still wouldn't let himself think that he was looking for a body, although the thought was beginning to hover around the edges of his mind.)

Dean's head ached from overusing his X-Ray and enhanced hearing; he scowled at the sun, resenting it for rising as if the world wasn't wrong. Dean forced himself to sit there and watch it the way Castiel was always bugging him to do. He remembered the first time Cas had seen a sunrise, that first day at Bobby's scrapyard. He'd been the one caught by surprise that day, trailing off mid-sentence as his face lit up with what Dean could only describe as rapture. "Dude," Dean had said, "it's just a sunrise. Happens everyday."

"I've never seen one before. Not with my own eyes."

Dean knew Castiel wasn't watching this one. Someone had him trapped someplace cold and dark, because it was always someplace cold and dark. Somewhere Cas couldn't feel the sunlight. Every time Dean thought about it he wanted to lift the city off its foundations and shake it until he had an answer.

He heard rattling on the fire escape stairs, the sound stabbing at his enhanced hearing. "Not the time, Sam."

Sam pulled himself up onto the roof. "I really need to talk to you, Cap." Dean glanced at him; Sam looked like he hadn't been doing a whole lot of sleeping either. "Just give me five minutes."

Dean shook his head. "Not doing any interviews right now. Nothing personal, just in the middle of something."

"Cap. Please."

Dean ignored him; he'd wasted enough precious searching time as it was. He was almost at the edge of the roof when he heard Sam let out a long, resigned sigh.

"Dean."

Dean froze. Then he let out a fake, dismissive chuckle. "Thought you guys were done trying to figure out my name. Gotta try harder..."

"Your name is Dean Singer. Your legal one, anyway. You grew up just outside Sioux Falls, South Dakota. You are from another planet, but not the one in your bios."

Dean's mouth was suddenly very dry. "Well, that's pretty..."

"The guy with the wings, his name is Castiel." Dean turned around, his blood turning to ice. He'd always known that there was a chance someone could find out his actual identity; there were birth certificates and yearbook photos and all sorts of things floating out there. It was bound to happen.

There was no reason for anyone to know Castiel's name. Not ever. "He's from another planet, too," Sam continued, "but not the same one as you. You call him your partner in the press but he's really your Guide." Dean felt his hand twitch into a fist. There was something apologetic in Sam's eyes. "You have a hand print burned into your shoulder that you keep hidden."

Dean could barely make his voice form words. "Who are you?"

Sam raised his hands, palms up and conciliatory. "Five minutes. That's all I want."

Dean didn't see that he had a lot of choice. "You got three." Sam sat on the ledge of the roof, looking up at Dean. Dean didn't move. "Clock's ticking. How do you know any of that?"

Sam took a breath, tongue flicking out over his lips. "I'm half-demon," he said, very quietly, and Dean felt the roof sway under his feet. "Or I've got demon blood, at the very least."

"You'd better start explaining real fast."

"It started a few years ago. I was a junior at Stamford." His lips twisted into an ugly sneer. "Or at least that's what thought." He shook the thought away, getting back to business. "I'd just gotten a free ride into law school and we had a party to celebrate. That night, I woke up in my dorm and there was a man standing over my bed. A man with yellow eyes." He looked up and Dean felt like his nightmares were about to walk up and knife him. "'Hey, Sammy,' he said. 'Been looking for you a long time.' Said I was 'one of his kids.'" He sighed, running one hand through his messy hair. "Turned out my whole life was fake. My parents, or at least what I thought were my parents, demon imposters. My friends, same thing. Like I'd just been dropped into an episode of the Twilight Zone."

"Yeah, my heart bleeds, get to the point. How do you know all that about me? About Cas?"

Sam quirked one eyebrow. "Azazel told me."

Dean was starting to wonder why he wasn't opening up with his eye beams. "You signed on with those freaks?"

"Look, I'd just found out my whole life was a lie and this guy was telling me that I was an important part of some big global war. Yes, I had a moment of weakness."

"How much do they know?"

"What I told you. Why do you think I was assigned to follow you around? Did you think it was a coincidence I wound up on your beat?"

Dean had always considered himself a pretty tough scare, but the past week was proving him dead wrong. Sam knew where he lived. Dean couldn't even begin to imagine all of the things must have unconsciously let slip.

Then he realized that no, that couldn't be right. He would have every demon on the planet at his door in that case. Dean took a long, hard look at Sam. "You didn't tell them anything." Sam shook his head and Dean let out a long, long breath. "Why not?"

"He killed my girlfriend." Sam's eyes were cold. "Jess was the only real thing I think I'd ever had. He said it would be motivating."

"Guess he was right."

"You know why they look like the people they kill, right?" Dean shook his head; even Cas didn't exactly know why they did that. "It's because they take their souls. It's what they live on. If I kill him, I..." He trailed off shaking his head. "It's the only way I can help her."

Dean massaged one hand against his throbbing forehead. "Why didn't you just tell me this stuff?"

"I...thought you would kill me with your laser eyes?"

Okay, Dean had to admit that was a decent reason. "So...wait. They set you up with the reporter gig. Why are you still with it?"

Sam shrugged, almost looking embarrassed. "I started to like it. Y'know. Hanging out with heroes, uncovering corruption. Guess it made me feel like I could still do good things."

Dean stared at him in open befuddlement. "You are such a nerd." Then Dean shook his head; he knew this was all important but he couldn't deal with it now. He'd wasted too much time already. "This has been a great heart to heart or whatever," he said, turning away, "but it'll have to wait 'til later. I've got things I need to..."

"I think I can help you find your friend."

Dean felt the world stop spinning. He turned back around slowly, his heart pounding so hard in his chest he couldn't imagine how Sam couldn't see it. Before he could respond Sam continued. "The Angel. Castiel. It's been what, four, five days since he's been spotted?"

"Keeping tabs, huh?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "Look, I am a reporter. Actually a really good one. Something like that, yeah, I notice." His expression changed and Dean knew he couldn't bear up under someone looking at him with that kind of sympathy. "You've been tearing up the city nonstop. The press has been saying that you're trying to make up for that kidnapping but you're really looking for him, aren't you."

Dean had to look away. "You said you could help. How?"

"I think I can, but Cap, you've gotta trust me-"

"How?"

"My blood gives me some powers. Sometimes I have dreams. Visions that come true. Sometimes I dream about people."

Dean leaped on that like a drowning man reaching for shore. "You had a dream about Cas?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I did. And I think I know where they're keeping him but Cap, we've gotta go now. When people show up in my dreams it usually means..."

Dean felt the flare of hope turn to ice. "What?" He grabbed Sam by one arm. "When you dream about someone, what does it mean?"

Sam wouldn't look at him. "It means we have to hurry."

888

There was a trick to seeing a demon nest. It was like looking at one of those hidden picture puzzles, only instead of a sailboat you found a hive of interstellar monsters all ready to kill you and walk around wearing your face. "So why can't you just smoke in there?"

Sam shook his head. "I told you, I'm only half demon, if that. I'm solid."

"Well, isn't that great. You'd better have something up your sleeve other than 1-800-psychic."

Sam's mouth twisted into a sour grin. "I've got a couple of things." He squinted at the empty space, trying to focus the way Dean had told him. "Cap," he said after a long, tense moment, "would you think less of me if I said I was scared out of my mind?"

Dean snorted. "Dude. That just means you're sane." He took a deep breath. On my way, Cas. He kicked in the door and there was no turning back.

The warehouse was better kept than previous nests, making Dean suppose it was still pretty new. It was eerie, walking through a nest this way with no sign of the demons. That had never happened before, usually the things were all too eager to jump out and make themselves known. Dean felt the hair on the back of his neck rise, knowing how the demons could be anywhere, just watching them.

The space hadn't always been a warehouse; Sam pulled to a stop under an ornamental arch, its purpose long since forgotten. "I saw this," he whispered. "In my dream. This was here."

"Well, look what we have here. A happy little family reunion."

Dean felt his heart almost stop. He knew that voice. He'd dreamed that voice. Dean turned around and saw a tall, broad shouldered man like he'd just walked out of his dream – except for his eyes. In his dreams the eyes were always dark, not the bright, sick yellow in from of him. " Your father sacrificed himself to them."

The demon smiled. "Look at you two, working together. It warms the heart." Dean fired off a shot of his heat vision but the demon saw it coming; he smoked away, reappearing across the room. "Now, now, now. That's not very friendly."

"Azazel, right? That's your name?"

He made a tut-tut sound. "Sammy. Giving away family secrets?" The smile went wider. "I know the problem, you don't recognize me. Here." His shape shifted into a pretty blonde coed. "There. That better?"

Dean cast a nervous glance at Sam; he hadn't spoken, hadn't moved, he was just staring at the demon with his hands balled into fists. "Sam," he hissed. "You gonna do something?"

"There's another one here."

As if that was its cue another demon materialized under the arch and Dean sucked in a long breath. White eyes in a very familiar face stared back at him and Alastair smiled, as if he'd seen the recognition. "Why, Dean," he purred, the voice settling under Dean's skin. "I didn't expect to see you so soon." It wasn't the eyes Dean was staring at, though; all he could see was the blood spatter drenching the demon's clothes. Alastair noticed Dean staring and his smile pulled wider. "Oh, how rude of me. I do apologize, I wanted to have a new face for you but it wasn't quite ready-"

Dean opened up with his heat vision and this time he didn't miss. The demon staggered backwards with a satisfying grunt of pain; he didn't drop the way demons normally did but at least Dean knew the bastard could be damaged. He stood up, one arm cradled over the bubbling mess of his chest. "That hurt."

He and Sam went back to back, prompting flashbacks of the doing the same thing with Cas during the last fight. "How many, Sam?"

"Just the two." Dean got a good look at his face and took a startled step back; Sam's eyes had gone full demon black and Dean had a single, horrible moment to think he'd walked into a trap. Then Sam smiled and gestured, sending Azazel flying into the wall. "Dean, go. I'll hold them off. I've been waiting for this." Dean hesitated and Sam grabbed his arm. "You don't have a lot of time," he said, something far too close to pity in his eyes. "I'm sorry, it's always this way. I wish I'd known sooner." Sam took a deep breath and made a beckoning gesture, pulling Alastair toward him and giving Dean a clear shot through the arch. "Go."

Dean took three steps forward, then looked back at Sam, unwilling to leave him alone against two powerful demons. Sam caught his eye and nodded. "Go find him, Dean. Look for a metal door with a silver crescent." The air crackled with power. "I got this."

Dean rushed through the archway without another look back.

888

It wasn't exactly a crescent. Dean traced the shape, the demon workmanship burning him through his gloves. He'd never picked up enough Enochian to be anything close to fluent, but he did recognize some symbols here and there and this crescent shape was one of them.

It meant Pit.

Dean couldn't X-Ray into the room and he was willing to bet everything he owned that it was sound proof, too. It was locked but Dean knew always knew exactly how to handle a locked door: he took a step back, then hit the door with a solid kick strong enough to crunch the metal and swing the door open.

The room inside was pitch black, dark even to Dean's vision. He groped for the wall; his fingers brushed against a panel and bright light flooded the room.

That was when Dean heard a soft cry of pain. Dean touched the panel again and the light dimmed, easily enough for Dean to see by.

In that first moment Dean wished he'd never found the light. Castiel was strung up against the far wall, hanging limp from barbed hooks skewered through his wings. For a moment Dean was rooted to the spot; he realized that while there was a part of him that dreaded the thought he'd never find Cas, God, had he not want to find him like this.

Then Castiel made another small, pained sound and Dean snapped out of it. He flew up to Castiel, wrapping one arm around his waist to take the weight off of his wings. "Cas. Cas, you hear me?" he said, eying the harness hooking him to the wall to figure out the best way to dismantle it. The hooks were connected to a series of gears and counterweights; one wrong move and Castiel's wings would be ripped apart. "Talk to me."

"Dean?" he whispered, his voice so faint even Dean's hearing barely caught it.

"Yeah, buddy, I'm here."

Dean felt him heave in two ragged breaths. "I didn't tell them anything. I didn't. I swear. I didn't, Dean..."

"Of course you didn't," he said, the thought never having occurred to him. "C'mon, Cas. That's the last thing I'd ever have to worry about."

"I prayed. Every...every moment. Wanted to...to see you. Tell you." It was like he couldn't get enough air to force out the words. Dean wanted to tell him to shut up but he was fighting so hard to talk. "Hadn't abandoned my duty."

"Of course you didn't." Up close Dean could see the wings were matted with so much blood they looked like a rusty, red-streaked brown instead of white. His clothes were blood-soaked rags; every time Dean shifted position he gasped like he'd just been stabbed. "Either your god's a dick or you should have been a little more specific with those prayers."

Dean was startled to feel him let out an amused gasp at that. "Perhaps." He shuddered again. "Can...can you please get me down?"

"I'm working on it, Cas, I swear to God. This thing's more complicated than it looks." He finally found the weak spot; one burst of his vision and the whole thing came apart. Castiel fell against him with a sharp sob of pain, the sound muffled against Dean's shoulder. "Sorry, I'm sorry, Cas, I got you, you're okay." The wings were heavy, dead weight and Dean lowered Castiel to the floor as quickly as he could.

"My wings," he whispered, his voice breaking. "They..." A spasm of pain shook him, twisting the words into a low moan.

The room was freezing and Dean did his best to hold Cas up from the cold floor, trying to convince himself that was why Castiel was shivering so hard. He thought Castiel was talking about the hooks Dean hadn't gotten the chance to remove until he turned on the X-Ray and saw.

Every bone in both wings were broken. Dean counted dozens of cracks spiraling through each bone, so many Dean couldn't count them all; he remembered how painful it had been for Castiel when his wing was only bruised and felt his stomach twist into sick knots. "Okay," Dean said, to himself almost as much as Castiel. "We'll get you out of here and you'll be okay."

Dean was a good liar but even he wasn't sure he really believed that. Once he pulled his vision away from the wreck the demons had made of Castiel's wings he saw to his growing horror that the rest of him was in almost the same shape. Cas winced as Dean tried to shift him to a position that would put the least amount of stress on his shattered ribs; Dean could see spreading dark spots he pretended wasn't obvious internal bleeding. Castiel's eyelids fluttered and Dean forced down his panic. "Cas. You gotta stay awake, okay? Look at me, Cas." Castiel's eyes blinked back open. "That's right, buddy. You keep looking at me."

Cas nodded, his jaw tightening as if it took all his concentration. "How...how did you find me?"

"Had a little help." As if on cue the building shook; Dean hoped Sam finished up soon, Cas needed to get out of here now. "Jesus Christ, Cas, you've been gone for days, I've been losing my mind trying to find you."

Castiel's brow furrowed, as if Dean had slipped into another language. "You...looked for me?"

"Dude. Of course I did. What kind of question is that? I've been tearing the city apart."

The sudden confusion in Cas' eyes broke something in Dean. "I thought...always seem to...to resent my presence..."

"They tell you that?" He saw the flash of shame in his friend's eyes and knew he'd guessed right. "Shh, It's okay. Cas, listen to me: I was never going to stop looking for you. You understand? If it took every day for the rest of life, I was gonna find you." A tear slid down Castiel's face and it took everything in Dean not to go and rip out the demons' throats for doing that to his stoic partner. "What the hell possessed you to take them on by yourself?"

Castiel swallowed. "You...you were right. Not your war. Mine. Always was mine."

"Dude," Dean said, shaking his head. He had to keep him awake, keep him talking; every time he turned up his hearing Cas' heartbeat was a little bit fainter. "You pick now to listen to me?"

Castiel's lips actually quirked up. "Never...could tell when you were kidding." He shivered, one hand tangling in Dean's cape. "You were right about my sword. It didn't work." His eyes were wide and sad. "They broke it," he whispered, the words barely audible.

"I'll heat-vision it back together for you," Dean said. "Good as new. Better."

Another broken ghost of a smile. "Not always...that easy to fix things, Dean."

Dean fought down the understanding that they weren't talking about swords anymore. "Yeah, well, here's a tip for the future: if you're in a fight, so am I. That's how the whole crime-fighting partner thing works, Cas."

"Liked being your partner," Castiel said softly, like someone could overhear.

"Seriously? Always got the feeling your were ashamed to be seen with me."

The words were meant as a joke but Castiel's eyes went wide with surprise. "No," he said, fingers digging into Dean's arm. "Never ashamed of...of you. Actions, at times but not you." He squeezed Dean's arm, demanding he pay attention. "Proud of you," he said and Dean had no idea how he was managing to put that much ferocity in his voice. "Proud to be...chosen as your Guide, Dean." His hand reached up to touch the hand print of on Dean's shoulder. "Every moment. You must believe that, Dean"

Dean nodded. He'd agree with anything Castiel said right now.

"Good." The surge of energy had left him visibly weaker; Dean could hear his heart racing, fast and faint as a frightened bird's. "Always proud of you. Need you to know that."

"Cas, don't talk like that."

"When...would be the time?" Castiel's eyes turned serious again. "Perhaps...if I'd been better..."

Dean was putting a stop to that bullshit before it started. He tipped Castiel's chin up, making sure to meet his eyes. "You never did a single thing wrong, Cas. You understand me? All the screw ups, they were on me, not you. I'd be a crap hero without you."

Castiel shook his head. "You don't need me. Haven't... for a long time." His lips twitched. "Other way around, I think...think is the phrase."

Another spasm shook him and Dean held him tighter for the second. "Shh. I got you. You're okay, I got you."

Castiel nodded, another tear winding down his face. "I know."

"Dude, remember," he said, willing the bone-deep fear out of his voice, "I'm the one who's a giant screw-up. You said yourself I don't know half the shit I'm supposed to. I know I'm not what you guys were expecting."

Castiel shook his head again, fond amusement flashing across his face. "Still don't...don't listen when I talk." He met Dean's eyes, shaking from the effort. "You're better. A Champion...should take the time to comfort a frightened child." He sagged back in Dean's arms, exhausted and panting. "You're better," he insisted again.

"Shh. We're both pretty badass, okay?"

"Guides...supposed to be remote. Distant. I tried, I..." He looked up at Dean, almost like he was about to confess a shameful secret. "I liked being your partner," he said again.

"Cas, you still are. We're gonna get you out of here, get you patched up, then we're gonna go right back to beating up the bad guys. You hear me?"

Castiel nodded. "Of course." His eyes were unfocused in a way that scared Dean. "Dean," he whispered. "Do you still want to know...what I wanted?"

Dean didn't. There was only one thing Cas could be about to say. "You don't have to, Cas."

"I do." He took a deep, deep breath, like he was gathering up strength - then he shuddered. "Dean?" he breathed, a strange, panicked light in his eyes.

"I'm here, Cas. I'm right here." In his peripheral vision Dean saw Sam cross through the open door, beat up but in one piece. That was all the thought Dean could spare him at the moment. "I'm right here."

"I...I can't..." He took one shallow, spasmed breath, his hand clutching at Dean's arm.

The grip went slack. In an instant he went from looking at Dean to looking through him, everything that was Cas bleeding away from his eyes. "You stay with me," Dean ordered. "You hear me, you son of a bitch? You stay with me." He heard Castiel's heart beat, soft as a whisper now, once, twice.

Then there was nothing but silence.

"Cas?" Dean whispered, his eyes not making sense of what they were seeing. "C'mon, buddy. You gotta breathe."

"Dean, I'm sorry," he heard Sam say behind him. "I told you, someone shows up in my dreams, it's always..."

He trailed off but it didn't matter because Dean barely heard him. Dean saved people, it was what he did. He couldn't believe he could be too late the one time it mattered the most. He pulled Cas up closer and cradled his head, trying not to look at the tortured ruin of his wings lying limp on the floor. Trying not to remember how'd they'd felt under his hands less than a week before. "You gotta come back, Cas."

He thought about Castiel praying to his strange, silent god while the demons broke him to pieces, how he hadn't prayed for escape but just to see Dean. How that god had then answered him in such a horrible way. "You give him back," Dean demanded, his voice shaking. "You don't get to take him like this."

Dean wiped the tears from Castiel's face. He wondered, with a sudden, certain lurch that he was right, whether this was first time anyone had ever held him. "You stupid son of a bitch, you can't die. Not when you sucked so bad at the living part." Dean kissed him, trying to force life back into body through sheer force of will. His lips were already cool.

It was amazing, how quickly priorities could snap into place. If asked a month ago Dean would have rattled off a list of things he'd wanted, petty things, everything from money to fame to beautiful women. All of that faded into background noise. Dean knew the only thing he would ever want again was for Castiel to breathe.

He felt his hand print scar start to burn and that was what made it real for Dean. The hand print was what linked them, their connection. Now he losing that, too. The burn kept building, the pain increasing until Dean felt like his shoulder was on fire. He opened his eyes; his arm was enveloped in pulsing white light, so bright he had to look away. It cracked like lightning for a moment, then shot across his arm and into Castiel, jerking him out of Dean's arms.

Dean watched as the light played over Cas' wings first, straightening the twisted angles and filling in the empty spots where the demons had pulled out feathers by the fist full, leaving the wings whole and beautiful and so dazzlingly white it almost hurt Dean to look at them. Then the light traveled down the rest of him; Dean turned on the X-Ray and saw it setting and repairing the broken bones, the dark spots of bleeding shrinking to nothing. It even repaired his clothing.

By the time the light finally fizzled out, healing what little remained of the cut along Cas' hairline from the previous battle, Castiel looked like he was only sleeping. There was one long, long moment where Dean wondered if that was all there would be.

Then Castiel's whole body arched as he heaved in a single, enormous breath. Dean was rooted to the spot for a single disbelieving moment, then he rushed forward, reaching Castiel just as his eyes flew open. Castiel sat up and Dean put his hand on his shoulder, as if that was the only way to convince himself this was real. "Cas?" he said cautiously, as if this was a spell the wrong word could break. "You okay?"

Castiel looked up at Dean and then flexed his right hand, staring at it as if he had never seen it before. He unfurled his wings, stretching them to their full length, then looked at Dean with complete awe in his eyes. "You pulled me back from the abyss, Dean."

Dean laughed and pulled Castiel into a massive hug. "You ever scare me like again and I will kill you myself, I swear to God." It took a moment for Cas to return the embrace, his arms wrapping around Dean's neck as if Castiel was trying out something he'd seen in a movie once and wanted to make sure he got it right. Then he squeezed Dean so hard Dean almost couldn't breathe; Castiel's heart was a loud, steady drumbeat to Dean's ears and Dean couldn't imagine ever wanting to hear anything else. After a few minutes Castiel shifted, looking over Dean's shoulder, and Dean suddenly remembered Sam was still there. "Cas, you've met Sam. He's on the team now." He craned his head around to see Sam, delighted to see that he was outright crying. Dean could rip on him just about forever for that. "You kill those two bastards?"

Sam shook his head and a part of Dean was glad. They didn't get off that easy. "Did some damage but they got away. Should be a while before they show up again, though." He wiped at his eyes. "Shit. Shit. I don't believe I just saw that."

"And don't you dare write a word of it."

Sam shook his head. "Promise."

Dean grinned and turned back to Castiel, who was still clinging to him as if he was afraid this would all stop if he and Dean weren't touching. "Cas? Think you were about to say something?"

Castiel laughed and Dean thought that was the perfect sound he'd ever heard. His blue eyes were bright with joy as he leaned close to Dean's ear. "This is what I wanted," he whispered, his low, gravely voice shaking. "I've loved you since before I knew the word."

There was really nothing for Dean to do but kiss him. And then kiss him some more. A lot of lost time to make up for, after all.

888

The sun was just rising as they got up to the warehouse's roof and Dean watched Castiel drink it in. "I didn't think I would get to see another of these."

"Plenty of more where that came from." Sam had slipped away at some point and Dean had some dim recollection of promising an exclusive but he didn't care. Not when Castiel was right next to him, his heart beating. Not with suddenly a future spread out before them. "You ready to go home?"

Castiel nodded, taking a step towards the south when Dean pulled him back and into a long, slow, deep kiss, feeling his breath catch in that first moment. Dean teased out the kiss, relishing the sound of Cas' heart starting to race. "I said," he whispered, keeping Castiel so close their lips were still almost touching, "are you ready to go home?"

Castiel studied him for a moment, head tilted to the side, then broke into the brightest smile Dean had ever seen. He took three deliberate steps to the northern ledge, the direction of Dean's penthouse, then looked back over his shoulder. "Try to keep up," he said, then spread his wings and jumped.

Dean just laughed and followed. The sun was warm and the city under them was quiet, just beginning to wake. Later on there would be patrol and probably another bull session with the press. Wars to fight.

Castiel was still just was still just close enough for Dean to hear his heart beating

Dean turned up the speed. All of that would come later. First he had a race to win.