Claire was nearly finished making the line of salt around the room when Wilson showed up. "House, what have you been…oh God. Guns. How did you two get in here with guns?"

"We're not going to hurt you," Sam said quickly.

"We got zapped here by him," Dean said, waving at Crowley.

House motioned at his friend to join him. "I'll give the best explanation I can."

"Why don't I handle that?" Crowley suggested, sidling up to Wilson and ushering him to House's corner.

Meanwhile, Castiel adjusted his overcoat and said softly, "Jimmy, these aren't ideal conditions, but I think it best."

Claire put the salt back in her bag and joined her father's side, taking his hand. "Thank you, Castiel. I know it's hard."

"You do owe me," Jimmy murmured.

Castiel put a hand on either side of Jimmy's face. "As you wish." The room filled with light.

When it was possible to see again, Castiel was crumpled on the floor. Dean rushed to him. "Cas!"

"He'll be all right," said another voice from the doorway.

Wilson threw up his hands. "Do we just not have security anymore?"

Sam recognized the diminutive scruffiness that was Chuck Shurley, shutting the door behind himself as he entered. (It was House who observed Crowley's self-confidence dissolving and his getting to his feet and swaying like a kid who's forgotten his line in the school play.) "Chuck, Chuck, you've got to get out of here! There isn't really time to explain, but God's coming!"

Chuck, however, seemed more apologetic than alarmed, and wore a neat button-up white shirt and blue jeans without any stains rather than his usual disheveled clothes. "Ohhh…awkward. Guess you guys didn't get the memo."

"I'm sorry if I…well, I wasn't sure how much you wanted me to…you know what, I could just be on my way…" Crowley slammed against an invisible barrier in a manner that would have been comical had everyone not been so much on edge.

"Salt," Claire pointed out.

"No, no, stay. I want to talk to all of you here, even if like with Gregory it's more about a word of encouragement. I've decided to be more hands-on again. The sabbatical wasn't a total wash but the angels still did a far worse job than I was expecting."

Dean paused in his fussing over Castiel to look up, angry. "He better not be saying what I think he's saying, Sammy."

Sam folded his arms. "Are you saying that you're God?"

"No," Chuck replied, looking up to meet the younger Winchester's eyes. "I'm saying I always was God. Like Anna/Annael – whom I've brought back and is helping fix Heaven up again, by the way – I just didn't always know it."

"You're not joking," Dean said.

"I have to turn off a lot of my power in order to walk among you without turning you to a crisp, and it's a lot easier to do in the shape I wore for all these years, but yes."

Castiel stirred. "Don't you dare…punch my father…in the face…"

"Cas!" Dean helped his guardian angel sit up. "How do you feel?"

"Better than I expected. Father…"

Jimmy interrupted, "Um, excuse me, sorry, just a sec, but I have a very important question…"

"Will you bring Mom back?" Claire finished.

"She's in Heaven, and it isn't generally a good idea to yank a human from Heaven. I'm sorry. You do have your father back, though, Claire, and nothing will separate you until you are ready and you have both been repaid properly. One day you will understand."

Her eyes welling up, Claire nodded, and the Novaks clung to one another.

"What, you're just going to take that?" Dean growled. "After all the crap you've been put through? After what all of us – 'cept maybe the docs in the corner – have been put through?"

Sam said, "Dean, careful."

"I don't care about being careful! We've done so much! Lost so much! How dare you just waltz in here after everything that's happened and act like everything's fine now?"

"I'm not usually this relaxed about such blatant resentment, but the last time I talked to the kid," (here all the humans in the room did a double take) "He said I should try being more empathetic, and I learned some things while being just Chuck. I believe there's a song about wayward sons…" He shuffled awkwardly, for a moment once again the hack writer and reluctant prophet the Winchesters and Castiel had come to consider a friend.

"I suggest, Dean, that you get back into your Impala, which you will find parked just outside this hospital, with Sam by your side, as it should always be. And with Jimmy and Claire in the back seat. I can't undo their having been vessels, and they will be safest with you and learning how to hunt. Go to Bobby's house, explain the situation to Bobby. Castiel will follow after you once we've had a private talk that's been long overdue."

Castiel's face was unreadable, but his eyes were very bright. "Yes, Father."

"Just so you know, Gabriel's back in Heaven but Balthazar will be grounded, stuck on Earth like you are for the time being until you've learned some things yourself. Balthazar is probably going to want to hit you fairly hard once you run into him."

At this, Castiel nearly smiled. "I will prepare myself for the eventuality."

"Crowley, there has to a Hell for Heaven to have meaning. You've done decently as the ruler. I don't see why it shouldn't continue, for a while at least. If you get sick of it then drop me a line and we'll see if we can redistribute power without massacres and apocalypses for a change." He scrubbed a gap in the salt line with his foot. "You can go now. I've learned to take reconciliation slow."

Crowley mouthed a thank you and promptly skedaddled.

"Doctors, the damage to your hospital will be repaired, and all memory of these events will be gone from everyone except for you two if you choose to remember. We'll chat for a bit first so you can make an informed decision." Chuck snapped his fingers and –