Author's Note If you spot any typos or confusing parts or bad punctuation or missing words, no matter how minor, please do let me know. I like to fix them. And if you have questions or comments or any kind of feedback on the story, yes, I love to read that too. :) Thanks for stopping by to read!


(provided for ease of navigation, Chapter 1 starts just after this list)

1. Hark, the Herald Angels - Christmas 1990
2. A Priest Forever - Pastor Jim moves on
3. A Widening Gyre - In Iraq, Ruth has a bad day
4. Dreams of Angels - Michael and Raphael confer about Castiel; Michael finds a vessel
5. So Long to Devotion - Michael gives performance evaluations
6. Crossroads - Dean and Sam go on a road trip
7. Looking for the Answer - Ruth meets the Winchesters
8. Angelicide 101 - Ruth and Sam in a hotel
9. Things Fall Apart - Sam and Dean go to Blue Earth and find demons*
10. The Falcon Cannot Hear - Chuck takes Castiel to Possum Trot Liquor store
11. Down the Line - Bobby figures things out
12. Still a Chance - The Mother and the Son in Heaven's garden
13. Blood Lines - Ruth learns the truth then sees Dean kill Zachariah
14. Cut the Cord - Michael strips Castiel of his grace (and his clothes)
15. Clear Your Heart - Dean enjoys pie then speaks his mind.
16. Resurrection - Gabriel and Kali at Elysium Fields
17. Return - Castiel has a score to settle
18. Author, Angel, Demon - Ruth finds teh Winchester Gospels, and Crowley kisses Castiel
and more to come...

*The chapter with Dean in Blue Earth has been posted as its own story: "Blue Earth, Red Sky."

Chapter 1: Hark, the Herald Angels

December 1990: St. Peter's Church in Blue Earth, Minnesota

Dean checked the church for unguarded exits then leaned forward and tapped the Archangel Gabriel on the shoulder. "Come on," Dean whispered, under cover of the music from the choir. "Let's get out of here."

The dark head in the pew in front of Dean moved slightly from side to side, cautiously looking around, then nodded just a little, looking straight ahead.

This was their chance to escape.

Dean stood and stretched, keeping it casual, then the two of them went down the aisle, beneath windows of stained glass and past the statue of St. Peter in the corner. "We have to go to the bathroom," Dean announced to the woman guarding the church door. She was new and she didn't know him, so she let them go out without any warnings or arguments.

As the door swung shut behind them, the sound of the dress rehearsal for the annual Christmas pageant faded, and two boys shared triumphant grins. "I am so glad to get out," Nate said. "Gabriel doesn't do anything after the beginning, and there's like an hour to go."

"Yeah," Dean agreed. And he really couldn't stand to watch that part with the mom and the baby and the dad all together on the stage again. "You can ditch the halo here," Dean told the younger boy. "And the wings and the gown."

Nate took off the tinsel circle and the cardboard wings then set them on a chair. He peeled the gown off over his head and left that, too. "Where now?" he asked.

"Bathroom first," Dean said, because he kind of did have to go, and also because Dad said it was always a good idea to piss before you set out on adventure. "Then the basement. No windows. It's totally dark."

"Cool," Nate said with a grin.

In the bathroom, Dean practiced making yellow zigzags on the wall of the urinal, and Nate made a wobbly kind of circle. "Are your folks going to be here for the pageant tomorrow night?" Nate asked as they shook and tucked in and zipped up.

"My mom's dead," Dean said flatly, like he'd explained a thousand times before. Then, to stop any questions or worse, sympathy, he added quickly, "My dad's supposed to be back in time." Dean knew that didn't mean Dad would be back in time. He might not even get back in time for Christmas. Sometimes hunting trips took longer than planned.

Dean turned on the water in the sink to wash his hands. "Pastor Jim said the pageant's being taped, so we can watch the video later even if Dad doesn't make it."

Nate was making the soap bubbles go squish between his fingers. "Why do you call him Pastor Jim instead of Father Jim?"

Dean had answered this question before, too, but it was way easier than questions about his mom. "'Cause when we met him a couple of years ago, my little brother Sammy wouldn't call him Father anything, since he wasn't our real dad," Dean explained. "So he said we could call him Pastor Jim instead." Dean opened the bathroom door and checked for observers. The coast was clear, so he led the way to the stairs. Nate followed along behind.

"This is just the church hall," Nate said as they entered the dim and echoing room. Tables and chairs were stacked along one wall, and two rows of pillars held up the roof above. "Where we have cookies and doughnuts on Sundays after Mass."

"The basement is below this," Dean explained as they crossed the room. He opened a door, revealing stairs. With just Dean's flashlight, the boys ventured into the darkness below. There wasn't much, really, just a boiler room and some halls and storage spaces and another set of stairs going up, except for a pair of wooden doors that looked interesting but were locked. Still, once Dean turned off the flashlight so it was really completely dark, he and Nate had fun feeling their way around in the dark and running into spider webs and sometimes each other.

In one of the storage rooms, Dean turned his flashlight on again and spotted a pile of short copper pipes. "Let's make dart guns!" he said, and they flipped on the lights and found some wire and an old first-aid kit. "We wrap cotton wadding around the end of a thin stick then blow really hard to have it come out the end of the tube … Smack!" He rummaged through the kit and came out with some cotton balls and thin swabby things. "Perfect! See, pencils are kind of heavy," Dean explained. "But you can shave them down with your knife. Or cut twigs from a tree. A package of shish-kabob skewers from the grocery store works great! Already sharpened."

"I don't have a knife," Nate said sadly. "My mom says I'm too young."

Dean had heard of this bizarre attitude in other parents before. "Join Cub Scouts," Dean told him. "A knife is part of the uniform."

Nate nodded thoughtfully. "What about my sister? We're twins, so Ruth's the same age as me."

"She can join Girl Scouts. Brownies get knives, too," Dean told him. They went back to trying to tie the cotton ball on the end of his stick with some wire.

"If you don't have cotton," Dean continued, carefully fluffing out the cotton ball just so, "you can use thistle down or cat tail or any fluffy shredded stuff. For a pipe you can use bamboo or river cane or any tube. Cardboard tubes don't work very long, though; they get all wet from your breath." He shot the dart with an explosive puff of air, and it lodged in the back of an old chair. Dean grinned triumphantly, and Nate looked properly awed. "What you really need to do, though," Dean confided, "is dip the tip in poison."

"Wow," Nate breathed.

"Cleaning supplies can be pretty nasty stuff," Dean said, getting up to search again.

"Indeed they can," said Mr. Lukas, the church janitor, from the doorway, and Dean and Nate froze where they were. "Nate, they're singing Joy to the World upstairs."

Nate gulped. "That's the last song! I have to be there for the bows!" He took off at a run, leaving Dean alone in the basement with Mr. Lukas, who was missing his usual smile.

"We didn't break anything," Dean said immediately. "We were just playing."

Mr. Lukas raised one eyebrow. "Playing with poison dart guns?"

"Well, yeah." Dean didn't see the point of wasting time playing useless games. Games were to teach you how to hunt.

Mr. Lukas nodded slowly, then took Dean by the shoulder and steered him out of the room. "You can clean up later, kiddo," he said. "Right now we're going to go upstairs and applaud."

Dean trudged upstairs, Mr. Lukas right behind. Dean clapped half-heartedly but whistled and yelled "Sam the Lamb" really loud when all the sheep took a bow. His little brother glared at him from under floppy ears, and his teacher Mrs. Hoehn shook her head and squinched her lips all tight. Dean grinned and waved.

The next night at the pageant, Dean was planning on clapping for real, because it was his brother up there and you supported your family, no matter what. Especially since their dad wasn't there. Dean would clap for Nate, too.

When Nate, being Gabriel, started telling "Mary" about the baby Jesus, the two men in suits and ties sitting in the pew in front of Dean looked at each other with their eyebrows raised. "That is not how it happened," said the dark one with the red tie.

"That is the story they have," the other man said. He had a blue tie and short brown hair.

"A story from the Archangel Gabriel," Mr. Red-tie said, and he gave a little sniff. When it came to the part where the angels were talking to the shepherds, both Mr. Red-tie and Mr. Blue-tie made little snorting noises, just like Mrs. Hoehn did whenever she disapproved of something Dean had said or done. Dean heard that noise a lot.

So when the pageant was over Dean clapped extra loud, because those men didn't clap at all and the pageant had turned out good. Sammy was cute, the girl playing Mary hadn't dropped baby Jesus on his head, and Nate had done all his lines right, no matter what Mr. Red-Tie said.

On the way downstairs, Dean twanged Suzie Dorland's halo. She twisted round as far as her cardboard wings would allow to scowl at him, just like she scowled at him during Mrs. Hoehn's fifth-grade math class. Suzie's hair was pretty red curls, and she had a sprinkling of freckles across her nose.

Dean smiled at her happily, his hand raised to twang her halo again.

"Dean Winchester," came the voice of the evil teacher Mrs. Hoehn from directly behind him, "you stop that this instant."

Dean put his hands in his pockets and put on his innocent face then continued down the stairs. There were lots of cookies in the church hall, and he was helping Sammy reach a brownie when Nate showed up, wearing his regular clothes.

"Hey, Dean, can we show my sister the dark rooms in the basement?" Nate asked. The girl who'd played Mary was standing next to him, a cookie in each hand. Her long brown hair was now done up in pigtails, one higher than the other, instead of loose down her back like it had been for the pageant. She'd gotten rid of her gown and blue veil. Dean didn't remember her name.

Dean looked around and didn't see Mr. Lukas anywhere. "Sure," Dean said, and he led the three younger kids across the room. But the doors to the stairs were locked, so the four of them had nowhere fun to go. "Catch me!" Dean challenged, and he took off running. Sam and Nate and his sister followed, and a couple of other kids joined in, weaving between the obstacles of grownups' legs and the tables and chairs.

It was a great game until Mr. Blue-tie grabbed Sammy by the arm. "Slow down, young man," he said with a smile. Sammy was nodding and saying "yessir," but the man didn't let go, even though he had to crouch a little since Sammy was so short.

Dean came right over, and Nate and his sister came, too. "We were just playing, Mister," Dean said, taking Sammy's other arm and putting on his earnest-and-remorseful face.

Mr. Red-tie came over, and he had no smile at all. "Where's your father?"

"He's not here tonight," Dean said, not letting go of his brother. Before they could ask about his mother, Dean added, "We're staying with Father Murphy." That name usually cut them some slack, but these two men didn't seem to care. They just stayed quiet and kept looking down at them, worse than teachers did.

"We'll be good," Sammy promised, looking up at Mr. Blue-tie. Nate and his sister nodded, their eyes wide and innocent. Dean couldn't pull off that look anymore; he was too old, but he looked respectful and serious and nodded, which usually worked.

"I'm sure you will," the man said, and he smiled at each of them, one by one. "All four of you." With his free hand he reached out to Nate's sister and tugged gently on one of her pigtails. She scowled at him and backed away.

"This is pointless, Zachariah," Mr. Red-tie said, sounding bored. "We should go."

Mr. Blue-tie let go of Sammy and straightened up. He smiled one more time. "Go play now," he said, making little shooing motions with his hands.

They backed away but didn't play anymore. "I don't like them," Nate's sister said as they walked away.

"Me, either," Sammy agreed.

"They were talking during the pageant," Dean informed the others. "They said we did it wrong."

"But I thought I did my lines right," Nate protested, looking worried. "Mr. Lukas helped me practice all afternoon since I messed up yesterday."

"You did it perfect," his sister told him fiercely. "That man is wrong." Nate smiled, happy again. Then their mother called for them, and Nate and his sister had to go home.

Dean got Sammy a drink of apple cider, and they sat in the corner with their horde of cookies. Dean kept an eye out for Mr. Blue-tie and Mr. Red-tie but didn't see them anywhere. They'd probably already gone home. Dean kept an eye out for Dad, too, like he'd been doing all night, but Dad didn't make it, and it was Pastor Jim who took them back to the rectory.

Late that night, Dad called on the phone. Sammy was already asleep. Dean was supposed to be, but he'd come down the stairs when the phone rang, and Pastor Jim let him talk on the phone. "I'll almost done, Dean," Dad said. "I'll be there soon."

"For Christmas?" Dean asked, trying to be cool and not sound too eager, because he knew Dad had important work to do. But it would still be great to have a family Christmas here at Pastor Jim's. There was a tree and lights and presents and everything.

Finally, Dad said, "I hope so." He sounded really tired. "Take care of Sammy, ok?"

Dad always said that. Dean twisted the phone cord around his hand. "Ok."

"And mind Pastor Jim."

"Yes, sir."

"I'll see you soon, Dean," Dad promised.

Dean swallowed hard and nodded, until he remembered Dad couldn't see that. "See you soon. Good night." As he handed the phone back to Pastor Jim, Dean thought he heard Dad saying something, but Dean didn't like long goodbyes. He turned and ran back upstairs and went to bed. Sammy was still sleeping.

Dean stared into the darkness until he fell asleep.

Dad wasn't there the next night either, or for Christmas Eve, but he was there on Christmas morning, wearing a Santa hat and a goofy grin, sitting on the floor near the tree. Dean and Sammy tackled him from halfway across the room, and Dad tickled them unmercifully until they all ended up in a heap.

He'd brought them presents, which Sammy and Dean promptly ripped open. They stopped playing only when Pastor Jim called them to eat pancakes and sausage for breakfast, and then they played again. It started snowing later that afternoon: beautiful white flakes you could catch on your tongue.

"It's a great Christmas, isn't it, Dean?" Sammy asked, as they lay on their backs in the snow and looked up at the sky.

"Yup, Sammy, it is," Dean agreed. It would have been the perfect Christmas, if only Mom was with them. But then they wouldn't be here. They would be in a real house with their own tree and their own yard. Maybe even a dog.

Dean and Sammy swished their arms and legs back and forth again, making angels in the snow.

After dinner (which had chocolate cream pie and apple pie for dessert), they watched the video of the pageant. Pastor Jim sat and smoked his pipe in his favorite lean-back chair. Sammy and Dean sat on the couch on either side of Dad, with his arm heavy and warm across their shoulders.

So Dean didn't mind watching the pageant again. He still thought the three kings wearing bathrobes and paper crowns looked stupid, but the palm trees and the stable looked cool, Pastor Jim sang Ave Maria really nice, and Sammy was cute. He had been one of the few little white sheep (the big sheep were gray), and he'd worn black mittens and black socks for hooves. His nose had been painted black, and the tips of his floppy ears were black, too. The teachers had pronounced him "adorable." One had even called him "lamby-kins."

Dean just called his little brother "Sam the Lamb" over and over and over again, until Sammy hit him. Pretty hard, too. The kid was getting stronger every day. Dean smiled at the thought.

"Dean helped Mr. Lukas build the scenery," Pastor Jim told Dad. "He says Dean's got a real knack for working with tools."

"That's my boy," Dad said, sounding pleased and proud, and rubbed his hand through Dean's hair.

"Aw, Dad," Dean said, smoothing down his hair, but feeling pleased and proud inside.

They watched the Grinch stealing Christmas and had another piece of pie. Then it was time to get ready for bed. Dad read them a story and tucked them in then turned off the light. "They have Christmas in heaven, right, Dad?" Sammy asked.

Dad stopped, half in and half out of their room. Dean couldn't see his face, because Dad looked like a cardboard cutout, all black in front but with the hall light glowing behind him and making tips of his hair silvery. "I'm sure they do, Sammy."

Sammy nodded then looked up at the ceiling and called, "Merry Christmas, Mommy!"

Dean squeezed his eyes shut really fast, but the tears were still there. Sammy had been only a baby when Mom had died; he didn't even remember her, but Dean did. Not very well, and not as much as he wanted to, but he remembered her enough to miss her. A lot. Dean rubbed his face on his pillow, glad that it was dark.

Then Dad came back in and pulled open the curtains so that they could see the stars. "Look for her out the window, Sammy," Dad said, "not up at the ceiling, ok? 'Cause that's where heaven is, and that's where your mom is. In the stars."

Dad looked up and called, "Merry Christmas, Mary!" which sounded funny with the two Mary-words in it, but that was Mom's name, just like Mary the Mother of God that Pastor Jim prayed to every day.

Then Dad gave them another hug and a kiss goodnight. "Your mom would be real proud of you boys," Dad told them from the doorway. "And so am I."

Some more tears came, but Dean didn't mind them so much now. "Merry Christmas, Mommy," Dean whispered silently. He stared at the stars and the lowering moon until he drifted off to sleep.

They left the next morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise. Mr. Lukas smiled and waved goodbye as they drove away, a shovel in his other hand. The snow angels in the yard had frozen overnight, and they glittered in the early morning sun, empty and beautiful.

As the Winchesters' car passed the high school on the way out of town, two figures sitting on a park bench watched it go by. They wore no coats in the freezing air. One wore a red tie. The other wore blue. Behind them rose a tall statue of a green man with leaves instead of hair. A scarlet ribbon had been tied around his neck, with one end hanging down almost to his hand, like a trickle of blood.

"So those are the two chosen vessels," the figure with the red tie said, staring after the car. His voice was heavy with disbelief. "Obnoxious little mud monkeys." He sighed. "And soon they will grow up to be big obnoxious mud monkeys."

"Not soon, enough, Uriel," his companion answered. "Not soon enough."

"You speak truth, Zachariah," Uriel replied. They had waited centuries for the end to begin. They stood as one then began to walk between the trees. They left no footprints in the snow. Uriel paused to look at the green statue, and his lips twisted in disgust. "They make sacrifice here to this false idol."

Zachariah nodded, for what else could that black cage between the statue's feet be for? "A fertility ritual?" he suggested. "Offerings to the corn god for rain or some such."

"Blasphemers," Uriel muttered, and they moved on. "I see the twins have been properly prepared."

"Yes, a 'cupid' attended their baptism and took care of it then."

"Whose vessels are they?" Uriel asked next.

"That revelation has not been granted to me," Zachariah said, the words as formal and stiff as the expression on his face. "I'm sure they have a part to play." He smiled, for Heaven preferred its servants to be cheerful and content at all times. "As do we all."

"As do we all," Uriel dutifully echoed, and he too smiled, content with his allotted place and task, as Heaven required them to be.

"I do know one thing," Zachariah said, and his smile was truly cheerful now. "That was the best Christmas that Sam and Dean and their father will ever have."

Next: Pastor Jim moves on