Crowley and Castiel were efficient planners and schemers because neither of them had to stop to eat, sleep, wash, or use a lavatory. Sessions of poring over blueprints, contacting people through Crowley's handheld wave transmitter, and scribbling notes on a giant piece of paper someone had fetched from somewhere at some point could therefore go around the clock. They roped in members of the crew whenever possible.

Simon unfortunately got caught up in the plotting more often than anyone else did, since he had successfully gotten River out of the very same institution. It was Kaylee who noticed that he'd been awake and had been questioned to the point of exhaustion for nearly twenty hours. He had bags under his eyes and spoke very softly, drooping forward and then catching himself. "Ai-ya, divine mission or not, you two need to let Simon have a meal and a rest. He's only human." And she practically shoved a bowl of noodles at him.

After Simon stumbled off to his bunk, Castiel fetched River from hers. In his typical way he did this by suddenly appearing about two inches from her face. Fortunately River expected that sort of thing by now.

"I need you to give us more information about that place," he said.

"I told you everything I remember."

"Consciously, yes. I need you to let me read your mind."

She bit her lip. "I'm naked. You seem not to have noticed."

"I am familiar with the spectacle of the female form. Shall we proceed? I realize this is a frightening prospect but it is necessary to our success."

After a moment of consideration she nodded, but first she placed one of his hands over her mouth to keep in her screams.

When he had finished, she collapsed in his arms, tears seeping. He patted her back, rather mechanically, as if he had read in a book somewhere that this was a thing that comforted humans.

"Did you see it?" she asked after a while.

He did not need to ask what she meant. "Yes, I saw it."

"Are you surprised?''

"Not overly, though you have my compassion, such as it is. We should tell the others."

"Let me tell them, please. It's easier now that they've seen you."


Once the plan was more thoroughly sketched out, they had a general meeting. Castiel stood in the corner because there weren't enough chairs for everyone. He didn't mind. Crowley was at the head of the table, Mal to his right, Zoe to his left, Wash beside Zoe and Jayne beside Mal, then Kaylee and Simon across from one another, and River at the foot.

"Broader points first," Crowley began. "We can't let Simon be seen entering the Academy - his face is too well-known, and keeping up a glamour on two people at once will distract me beyond what is safe. River we need. River knows where Zira...A-a-ziraphale...she knows where..."

River said quietly, "I know. I trust you."

Crowley regained his composure. "Thanks, love. And River's a good fighter. Besides, we will be rescuing a fair number of human captives who may need medical attention."

"What if the captives attack us?" Mal asked. "When River was triggered subliminally she couldn't do nothin' but fight."

Castiel spoke up. "I took the preventive measure of changing River's 'safe word' when I was reading her mind, which I admit added to the discomfort of the experience. It is a phrase in Enochian, the angelic language, so holy that if a demon were to attempt to speak it they would burn to ashes. Meanwhile that Russian folk saying that used to work on her should be effective on the other psychic warriors if they are indeed deployed against us."

"Thank you." Crowley resumed, "Most weapons that work on humans will only make demons angry. All those entering the Academy should carry as much water blessed by Castiel as they can without it slowing them down. Except me, of course. It works they way a strong acid would on demons and is also an excellent way of testing whether someone actually is a demon or not. Castiel also needs to burn an anti-possession sigil on every single one of you."

"That sounds kinda painful," Wash muttered.

Castiel appeared beside Jayne. "It is brief. Let me demonstrate."

Jayne squawked when Castiel placed his palm on his chest. When Castiel removed his hand Jayne looked down his own shirt. "I don't see nothin'."

"I put it on your ribs so it cannot be removed. Visible on X-rays, though, so be prepared to lie convincingly."

Kaylee raised her hand. "Just a moment. Mr. Crowley, if you're a demon and demons possess people without permission, not like angels, who are you...wearing?"

Crowley smirked, his eyes flashing yellow for a moment. "I'm the oldest living demon, darling. I was the one sent to tempt Eve. There wasn't anyone suitable to possess back then. This body's bespoke, as it were."

"So's Aziraphale's," River added, drawing invisible circles on the floor with her bare feet.

"Yes. Right. So, we need Kaylee to help us disable doors and alarm systems. Castiel will be assigned to stay with her for her protection. He can destroy demons with just a touch. I need River with me, leading the way. Wash will stay on the ship so that he can bring it closer if we need rescue; though as long as you remain in the atmosphere both Castiel and I will be able to teleport people aboard. Back to weapons. We need shotgun shells full of rock salt - salt purifies. Use those instead of bullets. Explosions work by completely obliterating the body of the possessed individual but we will avoid those if possible so as not to harm those we're trying to rescue. Swords are effective in incapacitating, not always killing."

"I have a question," Zoe said. She'd been holding Wash's hand the whole time. She did that a lot, and no one blamed her.


"Do we have any idea what the demons actually want with Aziraphale?:

River rose to her feet, trembling a little. She looked from person to person with a scalpel-blade gaze. "Just cutting a girl, no matter how bright a shining star she is inside, it makes her just less than what she was. You have to add things in order to make things. You have to mix iron with the carbon to make steel."

The ship began to shudder and the lights flicker. Simon reached for her. "Meimei..."

"It won't damage the ship. She's just a little one. Half-breed stitched-together little angeling, so close yet so far to the sky that should be her home. Don't you see? They've been slicing away at Aziraphale, first angel on Earth-That-Was, to make children of the new Earths to angels - angels they want to lead and force to tear down Heaven."

It hurt to show the shadows of her wings, but a good, freeing hurt, like tearing off a scab. She wondered if one day she could take the mask off fully instead of just giving a peek. Simon understood but would never fully comprehend how much she owed him for finding her when there was any human left at all.