[Fic] Thursday's Child (6/?)

Author: WynterEyez

Fandom: Supernatural

Rating: T

Characters/Pairings: Dean Winchester, Castiel, Sam Winchester, Bobby Singer, Balthazar, Jody Mills, Dean/Castiel

Beta: None, though that would've been a damn good idea, don't you think?

Spoilers: AU after 'The Man Who Would Be King,' contains spoilers for 'Let It Bleed.'

Disclaimer: I don't own them, obviously.

Warnings: References to past mpreg (I can't believe I'm doing this…), discussion of the smiting of a Nephil baby

Summary: Castiel brings a surprise home to Dean. It's gooey. And has tentacles.

Chapter Summary: In which there is family bonding over the Impala, Jody Mills learns that even a pervert in the park may be an angel unaware, and Danielle has mad ninja skillz.

A/N: Apologies for the time it's taking between chapters; the holidays and other things have been keeping me busy, and I probably won't manage another chapter any time soon. So I tried to give you a long one to hold you over. Then it got too long, so I hacked off the end and moved it to the next chapter, which kinda interrupts that chapter's flow, but oh, well.

Six - Brothers In Arms

With the terrified, clingy Danielle binding one hand tightly to his chest, and the other wrapped in a white-knuckled grip around the hilt of his angel blade, Castiel can't ignite the holy oil ring. Fortunately, Dean isn't hindered, and while Balthazar's horrified gaze is fixed on the Nephil, Dean's able to toss his lighter onto the oil ring, and the other angel is trapped before he even senses the danger.

"Damn," he sighs, and his shoulders slump. "What happens next? You let your pet monkey fry me so I don't expose your dirty little secret?" The look he gives Castiel is one of wounded betrayal, rather than the killing rage Dean had been anticipating.

Still, Castiel doesn't relax from his defensive posture. "The trap is for our protection. You won't be harmed - if you cooperate."

"I know you're desperate, but this is not a path you want to follow. Nephilim are unpredictable at best; it's just as likely to kill you as Raphael! And even if it does kill Raphael, your life will be forfeit. Did you sire others, or is this the only one? Kill it now, and we may be able to cover it up. No one ever has to know -"

"No one is killing her," Dean sneers, stepping between Balthazar and Castiel.

"Do you have any idea what that abomination is?" Balthazar hisses.

Dean's getting tired of people calling his daughter 'abomination.' "Just hear Cas out," Dean snaps.

Balthazar spreads his hands placatingly. "Consider me a captive audience," he quips.

Dean turns to Cas, wondering if the angel has it in him to once again relive the events leading up to Dani's birth. He sees Castiel visibly brace himself, and feels a surge of pride in his friend when, instead of shrinking in on himself like he had when he'd confronted Dean, Castiel straightens and meets Balthazar's gaze, his posture defiant. Attaboy, Cas… show him you won't be intimidated. You're the victim, not the criminal.

"I bore the Nephil," Castiel says, his voice challenging.

"You…" Balthazar gapes. "As in, you gave birth to it?" Castiel nods slowly. The other angel studies the squirming Nephil, eyes narrowed. "And judging from its soul, the other parent is Winchester, here. Why?" Balthazar demands. "Why risk everything for… that?"

"It was not my choice," Castiel snarls.

"And how?" Balthazar continues, his voice becoming more shrill the more agitated he becomes. Dean doesn't think he's even listening to Castiel. "That shouldn't even be possible! The Nephilim need a living womb to grow; that's why they were only ever born to human mothers."

"Raphael," Castiel spits out. "He's responsible for her creation, and he modeled the pregnancy after an angelic one. He hid her within my Grace as a…" he falters. "Time bomb," he says, glancing at Dean as if to make certain he'd used the right phrase. Dean nods.

Balthazar goes very still. "That's…" He pauses, and it's the first time Dean's ever seen the arrogant angel at a loss for words. "It's evil. Angelic reproduction is a rare gift… and to do this…"

"She is why I summoned you," Castiel says. "I can't return to Heaven, but I can't just abandon our people. I need you to assume command, and continue the war against Raphael."

Balthazar just stares, his face a mask of comical disbelief. "Me? A general?" he sputters. "I'm no leader -"

"You've had much the same experience as I. And you like this planet, and the pleasures it has to offer. You have as much interest as I in stopping the Apocalypse. And…" Castiel falters. "You're the only one I trust completely," Castiel finishes plaintively.

Dean wonders if Castiel is just referring to angels, or he's included on the no-trust list.

"Damn. You know how to make this impossible to refuse, don't you?" Balthazar heaves a put-upon sigh. "All right, I accept - on one condition. I need you as an advisor. Face it; you're one of the few angels who can think for himself, you're our best tactician, and you know how to use our people to the best of their abilities. I want to be able to consult with you."

Castiel turns towards Dean, clearly at a loss. Dean guesses he's conflicted between the need to protect his child and the desire to see this war to its conclusion. Seeing this, Balthazar says, "I'll contact you over the phone, if it makes you feel safer. You still have one, right?"

Dean can't help laughing at the idea of two angels discussing a heavenly war over the phone. Balthazar pins him with a glare. "Laugh all you want, but most of us are too stupid to use a phone, much less tap it or trace it."

"Yes, I still have my phone," Castiel nods. "I will… listen, but I can't promise to be of much help. I have much on my mind at the moment." He looks down at the clingy Danielle. "Balthazar… I have never encountered a Nephil before. You have; I would appreciate anything you can tell me about their powers. Would possession of one be of benefit to Raphael?"

Balthazar considers Danielle carefully before answering. "They share many abilities with their angelic parents, some of which are stronger due to the infusion of a soul with Grace. Against a Host of angels, or even in a fair one-on-one fight, one Nephil probably wouldn't win. However, they're creative thinkers, dirty fighters, and their odd mix of soul and Grace makes them hard for us to sense, giving them a natural ability to hide their presence. A Nephil would be the equivalent of the ultimate angelic ninja assassin."

Castiel listens silently, his grip tightening around Danielle as Balthazar speaks. Dean watches as his daughter, she of the supposedly mad ninja skillz, squeaks and tries to burrow herself under Castiel's shirt. He can't imagine her as one of the monsters that Balthazar is describing, something so vile that God would drown innocent humans just to rid the earth of a few Nephilim.

"Were they all that bad?" Dean asks miserably. Despite Castiel's earlier assurances, Dean's earlier fear that Danielle could grow into something that needs to be hunted resurfaces.

"No. There were many among them who used their abilities to help their human kin by healing the sick and defending the helpless. Unfortunately, there were few of these, and our Father had decided all Nephilim should be put to death. I had to hunt down and destroy men and women of faith, whose only sin was to be born a hybrid. I had to kill children."

"You hunted Nephilim? The Hell, Cas? Why would you let him get this close to Danielle?" Dean whirls on Castiel. Suddenly, deep-frying Balthazar sounds like an excellent idea.

"Because, as a member of the original unit of angels assigned to hunting down Nephilim, part of my job was to capture them for interrogation. Can't get a lot of answers from a corpse, so I learned to control the 'kill' impulse. I'm one of the few angels who can talk to Cassy without smiting him first."

Dean's still pissed that Castiel didn't feel the need to mention this, but lets it go for now.

Balthazar, meanwhile, has been watching Castiel's futile efforts to calm his daughter with an expression of… longing? No, Dean dismisses the thought.

Balthazar catches Dean watching him, and scowls. He pointedly gives Dean the cold shoulder as he says to Castiel, "I've decided, for my first act as general, I'm assigning you a couple of guards."

"No," Castiel growls.

"Castiel," Balthazar begins, his tone wheedling. "I'm doing it for your own good - and for your child's."

"I do not want other angels near Danielle!"

"Now, now, Cassy. There's no need to get your wings all ruffled - makes you look like an indignant goose." He pulls himself straight, his face suddenly serious. "But you put me in charge, and I feel a valuable asset such as yourself should be under guard. And I can't afford to let a Nephil to fall into enemy hands. I'll choose guards that have the most restraint, an they'll remain outside your wards, of course, but they'll be there if you need them."

"Hester was part of the Nephilim hunting unit, yes?" Castiel muses. "Perhaps she'd have the best control over her instincts."

Balthazar grimaces. "Yeeees," he says reluctantly, "but since she's learned to express emotions, she's really embraced wrath." To Dean, he says, "Girl has serious anger management issues. I suppose I could partner her with Inias. The little reprobate's pretty easy-going, and he's such a fanboy of yours, Cassy, that there's no way he'd let Hester hurt you."

"Fanboy?" Castiel repeats blankly.

Balthazar waves it off. "Never mind. Hester and Inias it is, then. Better you deal with them than me."

"What? No way! We don't need more angels hanging around!" Dean objects. "Remember what you said about angels killing Nephilim first and asking questions never?"

"I clearly remember what I said, yes. However, if Raphael is interested in taking Danielle for himself, the added security may be necessary. I accept your decision," Castiel says. He's silent for a long moment, steeling himself for the moment of truth. "I have another task for you. I need you to get a message to Crowley. Tell him our deal is off. I've been… compromised. Another way must be found to defeat Raphael."

"Crowley," Balthazar says slowly. "You mean, King of Hell Crowley?"

"Do you know of another?" Castiel asks.

"You made a deal. With the King of Hell." Balthazar's voice is strained.

"We had a mutual goal; neither of us want to see Lucifer and Michael released and the Apocalypse enacted. It was our intention to open Purgatory and channel the power of the souls to defeat Raphael. I can no longer perform that task, so I am worthless to him."

Balthazar's jaw was clenched, but he managed, "I'm sure he'll be delighted to hear it. Very well… I'm sure we can find some low level demon we can bully into delivering the message and face his wrath. Is that all, or are there any other unsavory bedfellows I need to contact? A pagan god, perhaps?"

"Just Crowley." Castiel attempts to pry Danielle loose from where she's burrowed under his coat. She seems to be stuck fast, though, so he gives up. "Release him, Dean."

As Dean reaches for the water bucket they'd set aside, Balthazar says, "Actually, I'd like to talk to Winchester. Alone."

Castiel glances between them uncertainly. "It'll be okay, Cas," Dean assures him. "He's trapped, yeah? I'll stay behind the wards where it's safe."

"I worry more about you harming him," Castiel says.

Dean smiles grimly. "Glad you have that much confidence in my skills."

Castiel eyes him narrowly. "Give your word that you'll free Balthazar when you are finished," he says finally.

Since Dean can't see any advantage to keeping a furious angel caged at the edge of the property, he says, "I'll put out the holy fire. Promise I won't strike the first blow."

Seemingly satisfied, Castiel departs. He still isn't flying, so they watch in silence as Castiel retreats, turning his back to them but not trusting Balthazar enough to sheath his blade. Once he's rounded a stack of rusted vehicles, Balthazar advances to the edge of the holy fire circle, eyes blazing.

"A demon deal? You let Castiel make a deal with the King of Hell?" Balthazar rages.

"Hey, I didn't let Cas do anything - he makes his own decisions these days," Dean defends.

"He listens to you, though I can't imagine why. You could have talked him out of it!"

"I tried! I didn't even find out about it until a few days ago," Dean snaps. "He consistently lied to me, he manipulated us into doing his dirty work for him, he brought Sam back from Hell soulless and refused to fix it… I had to face the fact that I might have to kill one of the best friends I've ever had…." Dean stops, shocked by his own vehemence. He hadn't intended to let it all out, and to Balthazar, of all people.

Balthazar offers him a small smile that, for once, isn't sarcastic. "Looks like he's disappointed us both. But I'm surprised you still took him in - you humans tend to be a vindictive lot."

"Yeah, well… Danielle kinda changes everything. And it's not like he could go to any of you dicks for help."

"Indeed," is all Balthazar says, eyes fixed on the house, where Castiel and Danielle must surely be by now. There's something sad about that distant gaze.

"Would it have worked?" Dean doesn't want to admit that there may be some merit to Cas' plan, but he has to know.

Balthazar cocks his head as he thinks. "Theoretically," he says slowly. "Assuming Castiel didn't absorb more souls than he can hold, or that he didn't explode the first time he attempts to channel their power, then yes, he could conceivably use the souls to destroy Raphael. But it would change him… we're not meant to wield that much power. If he took that step, it would be the point of no return. I don't think he'd be our Castiel anymore."

That settles it. No fucking way is Castiel going through with this. Bad enough that Cas is already dangerously close to going dark side; it sounds like the souls would be what finally pushed him over the edge. Maybe Raphael had inadvertently done them a favor after all, because the Cas he's been dealing with the past couple of days has been more like the angel he'd befriended than the cold, distant Cas he'd known of late.

Dean hadn't realized until that moment just how much he'd missed having Castiel as his friend.

"Why would he even do that to himself?" Dean asks, running a hand through his hair in frustration. But he already knows the answer; this is war, and sometimes sacrifices have to be made.

Balthazar just gives him a Look. "You really don't know him, do you?" Balthazar snorts derisively. "So I guess that's that. Oh, and Dean? If anything happens to Castiel or his baby on your watch, I'll personally ensure you regret it for all eternity."

"Spent forty years in Hell, man… I doubt there's anything you could do that hasn't already been done to me."

"Ah, but it was an angel that taught demons how to torture," Balthazar says with a grin that's closer to a baring of teeth than a smile. "I can kill you and bring you back over and over again, and when I get tired of that, I can find your soul in whatever afterlife it ends up in, then torture that."

Dean scowls, but he has to admit: he respects Balthazar's fierce loyalty to Castiel. He wonders just how deep their friendship actually goes. He's certainly more loyal than any of the other angels Dean has encountered.

As Dean picks up the water-filled bucket, he says, "Danielle is my daughter, and Cas… well, he's like a brother to me. And I protect family with my life." He pours the water over the holy fire, dousing enough of it that Balthazar can step free. The angel does so, and with a flick of his wrist, puts out the rest of the flames. Dean expects him to vanish, but instead, the angel stands there, arms crossed, studying him thoughtfully.

"I believe you. Still… You can't meet all his needs. Oh, don't look so pissy; I know you're making an effort. The point is, you're not an angel, and this isn't Heaven." His gaze lingers distastefully over the rusted skeletons of long-abandoned vehicles. "There are some things you simply can't do for him, such as adequately meeting his energy requirements. Since I hate to see Castiel suffering like this, I'm going to leave food for him," Balthazar says magnanimously. "Starting tomorrow… say, around six in the morning and six in the evening, I'll leave food here, just beyond the wards."

"Won't that much angel activity attract the wrong sort of attention?" Dean asks uneasily. Bad enough they'll have two angelic sentries hanging about; with two arrivals and departures daily, it increases the likelihood of Raphael's spies figuring out Castiel is here.

"Perhaps. But what good is safety if Castiel dies of malnourishment?" Balthazar points out.

Dean yields. He wishes he could give Castiel everything he needed, but even if Dean were made of money, he doubted he could keep up with the angel's appetite. "Thank you," he says grudgingly.

"And if Hester or Inias give you any trouble, pray for me." Finally, with a rush of wings, Balthazar leaves.

Dean slowly heads back towards the house. He almost expects to see Cas standing in the shadows of one of the stacks of cars, but it seems he'd truly left them alone after all.

He's not ready to go back inside, where he'll just go back to cleaning in an effort to keep himself distracted. Can't have Bobby getting used to a clean house, after all; he might expect Dean to clean every time he and Sam stay over. So he decides he may as well give the Impala a tune-up. It's not due for one, but who knows when he'll have this kind of free time again?

Dean parks the Impala where it's clearly visible through the windows of the living room. He expects Castiel to be out the door as soon as Dean's in sight, but to his surprise, he's left alone with the Impala, and his thoughts.

Damn.

His mind goes immediately to the encounter with Balthazar, which hadn't gone at all how he'd been expecting. He's a little confused about Balthazar's reaction. He'd been expecting the wrath of Heaven, and instead, the other angel had seemed… concerned. Maybe it's a hint of that angelic neo-natal care Castiel hinted he'd've received if the situation had been different, if Danielle had been pure angel, but to Dean, it had felt personal.

And the looks Balthazar had given Castiel, cradling his infant protectively… Dean's pretty sure he wasn't imagining the haunted expression on his face.

What if Castiel and Balthazar had been a bit more than brothers in arms? Balthazar is the only angel Dean's seen Castiel exhibit any positive emotions towards, and Balthazar… well, Balthazar had been a bit too quick to rejoin the civil war he'd been working so hard to avoid, simply because Castiel had asked him to.

While Dean can't imagine the stoic, emotionally stunted Castiel being someone's boyfriend - or girlfriend - he wouldn't put a bit of unrequited feelings past Balthazar.

And suddenly, Dean realizes he's thinking about Castiel's sex life (or, more likely, lack thereof.) Dean really doesn't want to think too hard about Castiel and Balthazar's relationship. And he's not even going to think about this unknown Inias, the Castiel 'fanboy.'

Especially since something about the thought of the two of them being close causes a hot, sick feeling to flare up in Dean, something that feels an awful lot like jealousy.

Because his current train of thought is bringing out a rather uncomfortable side of himself, Dean forces himself to think about something else. So, instead, Dean focuses on the newest member of the Winchester family. It's the first time he's had to really think about Danielle without either Castiel cleaving to him, or his brother badgering him to share his Feelings.

He has a daughter. The concept is just so enormous, so overwhelming, that it's only now starting to sink in. He actually has to grab on to the Impala to stay upright, because suddenly his knees are weak and he feels dizzy.

He has a baby. With Castiel. A hysterical laugh bubbles up, and he slides down the side of the Impala, landing hard on his butt. He wants to be a father, and even still holds on to the hope that Ben really is his, but this is… this is not how he'd imagined it. He'd wanted a child he could raise into a normal life, with a normal family, with maybe the occasional hunt to stave off any cabin fever.

Instead, he's trapped in one place with a clingy, frightened angel who has been more enemy than friend lately, and he's certain that after a couple more days, there will be yelling, and drinking, and taking off in the Impala to have angry sex with the first willing woman he can find. And then there will be guilt, and shame, and more patented Sam Winchester bitchfaces directed at him than he's ever seen in his life.

Okay. Maybe Dean's looking forward to the angry sex, just a little bit, but the rest of it? Terrifying. He doesn't want to be that kind of father, and he certainly doesn't want to abandon Castiel, but what if he can't stop himself? Dean gets cabin fever just from being sick or injured and stuck in a hotel room for a few days; how's he going to manage not being able to leave Bobby's property for any great length of time? (And how the Hell is Bobby going to handle having them there 24/7, anyway?)

It has the makings of a disaster of Apocalyptic proportions.

Or it could be the best thing that has ever happened to him.

He'll never admit it out loud, but he's kinda liked waking up the last couple of mornings beneath Castiel's wing (which is basically the softest, most comfortable feather blanket he's ever slept under) with Danielle's small body pressed against him. And… he's missed having a warm body in bed beside him. So what if that body is all sharp angles and hard, unfeminine lines, and burns with a heat that would be dangerous in a human? He knows it can't last, it never lasts, not for him, but he's going to take comfort in it while he can.

Sam's right, Dean loves having someone to take care of. But Danielle is going to be a bigger challenge than raising his brother, helping Lisa with Ben, or taking care of a shapeshifter baby. She has a death sentence hanging over her, and she can't leave the safety of the wards, and Cas can't handle being left alone. Maybe this will all change in the future but for now, he's sort of stuck.

Taking care of her will be a lifetime commitment, and probably a dangerous one. But Castiel has dropped everything to raise this unexpected child that has condemned him to exile and death, and Dean can do no less. He doesn't want to be like Dad, leaving him and Sammy alone for long periods while he went away on hunts.

Dean wants to be worthy of her. Because she looks at him like he's the most important thing in the world besides Castiel. Because she instinctively loved him before she even knew him. Because she brought Cas, his friend Cas, back to Team Free Will. Because most of the world is going to hate and fear her, and she needs someone to shield her from that.

And, most of all, because she needs a parent that can love her unreservedly, since Castiel believes he's unable to.

Dean calls bullshit on that. Sure, when he'd first met Castiel, he'd had no difficulty believing it when Anna had told him angels were incapable of emotion. But then Cas had chosen to side with them against Heaven, and the longer he'd spent with the Winchesters, the more he'd seen proof that Castiel is capable of a full range of emotions. Dean has no doubt that, in time, Castiel could come to love her. Dean just wishes Cas would come to the realization faster, because Danielle obviously craves his affection.

And yet, Dean knows he shouldn't force Cas to love Danielle. The Nephil had been created by an act of war, not love, and it's a miracle that Castiel hasn't rejected her for that. Dean doesn't think he'd be so compassionate, were their positions reversed. An attachment beats the alternatives.

Besides, after watching Cas with her, seeing how protective his is of her, and how attuned he is to her emotions, Dean thinks that, in time, the angel will learn to love her. But it's something he'll have to realize on his own.

Dean's going to make sure he learns by watching Dean's example.

Dean finally picks himself up off the dirt, gives the dirt on his rear a cursory brush, then gets to work giving the Impala an oil change. He manages not to think about Cas and Dani the whole time.

It's a whole forty-five minutes before Castiel finally joins him, Danielle wrapped like a burrito in his arms in a yellow blanket covered with ducks, and sits on the hood of a junker a few feet away. His hair is still dripping, so he'd probably taken a bath before finding his way out to Dean. He'd also found and donned his trench coat, which is still wrinkled from the other night. The hot water bottle is still belted firmly to his abdomen.

"What did Balthazar have to say?" Castiel asks.

"Basically, that if I do anything to hurt you, he'll kill me. Then he'll find my soul wherever it ends up - Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory - and he'll find a way to make my afterlife eternal torment." Dean shrugs. "Also, he's going to start leaving food for you tomorrow, since we're obviously failing at meeting your needs."

Castiel looks extremely pleased by this. "I have no desire to… 'eat you out of house and home,' as Bobby said. His offering of food is appreciated."

"He's still a dick, but I guess he has some good points. Y'know… he took all this really well, and didn't try to kill you or Dani… Maybe you're wrong about the other angels."

"No," Castiel says flatly. "Balthazar and I have been comrades for longer than humans have walked the Earth. He is likely the only one who would have given me the benefit of the doubt."

Danielle squeaks emphatically. Obviously, it's been too long since attention has been lavished upon her.

Dean peeks into the fold of the blanket and sees three of Danielle's eyes staring out at him. When she sees him, she squeals with delight and begins wriggling in Castiel's arms, trying to free herself enough to grab for Dean. Castiel patiently unwraps the blanket so Danielle is exposed on his lap, and she immediately wiggles her limbs at Dean, a clear invitation to pick her up. After a quick look at Cas for permission, Dean scoops the ecstatic Nephil into his arms. She sits in the crook of his elbow, gazing up at him adoringly. She has a pacifier gripped in her wide mouth, but it's not inhibiting her ability to make happy noises.

Relieved of his burden, Castiel leans back on the windshield of the junker and tips his head skyward, watching a pair of birds wheel overhead. Something in his trench coat pockets thuds against the hood, and Dean hides a grin when he sees Castiel has turned the coat into a diaper bag of sorts. He has a capped bottle in one pocket, along with the package of mint double stuffed Oreos Dean had thought he'd hidden from Castiel. In the opposite pocket, Dean sees the necks of two beer bottles.

Cas is awesome. Dean thinks he'll have to keep him.

Dean positions Danielle on his shoulder, and she immediately wraps several tentacles around his neck and shoulder. "Not too tight, Sweetie," he warns her, and her grip loosens enough so it's not choking him. He suddenly wonders if she can understand him. "How smart is she, Cas? She's a lot more advanced than a human baby her age would be."

Castiel looks a little smug. "I have no reference for comparison, but I believe her intelligence is well beyond that of a human or an angel baby's," he says. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the Oreos. He offers the package to Dean, but Dean's fingers are greasy and he doesn't want to touch the cookies. He does, however, accept the beer that Castiel hands him.

The whole time, Danielle keeps up a litany of coos, burbles, squeaks, and peeps, as if she's trying to contribute to the conversation.

"Hey, is she actually talking?" Dean wonders.

"No… She's just making noises because she's happy."

After the revelation that his daughter is a genius, Dean's a bit disappointed that she isn't that advanced yet. Then again, she's not even two days old, so Dean's expectations are probably unreasonable.

"She listens, though, and is absorbing what you say, even if she doesn't understand yet."

So Dean begins teaching Danielle about engines, because no child of his is going to be ignorant about cars. He points out every part to her, naming them and telling her what each one does. She keeps up a steady stream of chatter, and Dean tells himself that she's repeating everything back in that special language that all babies seem to develop. Some time during the litany, Castiel joins them, giving Dean his full, laser-focus attention, which is not disconcerting at all. This goes on for an hour or so, until Castiel pulls out a handful of cookies and dribbles crumbs on the Impala's engine.

"C'mon, man! Not over the engine!"

"Sorry," the angel says, chagrined. "I'm hungry." He goes back to his seat on the junker.

"Do you really need to eat so much? We've known each other for awhile, and the only time I've ever seen you eat is when you were under Famine's influence." Balthazar had seemed to think it was of grave importance that Castiel be properly fed, and Dean wants to know why.

"Energy," Castiel says through a mouthful of cookies. He takes a moment to finish chewing and swallows the cookies, then continues. "Humans transform food into energy. I am an energy being, one who is continuously losing that energy, that Grace, to feed Danielle. I can't return to Heaven to restore my Grace, and I won't risk touching another human soul to recharge unless absolutely necessary, since in my current condition, it would be like performing delicate surgery with shaky hands. So I use my vessel's ability to transform food into energy, and use that to supplement my Grace. This will have to continue until my Grace is sufficiently recovered, or Danielle no longer relies on me for sustenance. It's an inefficient, unsatisfactory solution, but it's keeping us alive."

Which explains why Cas looks like the poster boy for eating disorders; his body is eating itself to help nurture Danielle. Suddenly, Dean's very grateful for Balthazar's offer to acquire food.

"Speaking of food," Castiel says abruptly, "Danielle is hungry."

Dean glances over. The Nephil has gone quiet, and is sucking more forcefully on the pacifier. Dean detaches her from his neck and hands her over to Cas, who already has the bottle out. He rests her on the blanket across his lap and partially wraps her in its folds. Out of the corner of his eye, Dean watches the way Castiel's fingers linger on Danielle's wings. Yeah… incapable of love. Right. They both watch for several minutes as she guzzles down the formula, oblivious to their scrutiny. It's the first time Dean notices that she shuts most of her eyes while drinking, as though blissed out by the taste. Dean picks up a chamois cloth, intending to rub out a barely-noticeable blemish on the driver's side door.

"I believe she may have saved my life," Castiel says suddenly, looking up from the greedily suckling Nephil.

"Yeah?" Dean tosses the chamois aside and takes a seat next to Cas, guessing that this is something he'll want to hear.

"When we faced Eve. The Mother of All had every reason to hate angels, and I had been aiding in the capture and torture of her children. She'd blocked my powers and left me completely vulnerable. It would have been very easy for her to kill me, but she held back. Eve had a weakness, one that was exploited to trap her and send her to Purgatory - she will not kill a mother with unborn or dependent children. If she had sensed Danielle, then it would explain why she let me live."

Dean remembers how Castiel had been largely ignored by Eve, despite his role in capturing and torturing her children. "Guess you owe her one," Dean smiles at the Nephil, who'd detached herself from the bottle and is now pressed against Castiel, blinking sleepily. Dean suspects she's tending to her other hunger by siphoning Castiel's Grace.

"I have a better understanding of Eve's point of view now," Castiel admits quietly. "What Crowley did - what I did - to Eve's children… it was inexcusable. If anyone were to treat Danielle in that manner…" He shudders.

Dean remembers the gory remains of the Jefferson Starship that Castiel had interrogated, and wonders which one of them is more monstrous.

Fortunately, before he can dwell on that thought and get angry at Castiel all over again, there's the sound of an approaching engine and tires crunching gravel. Castiel stiffens. The house obstructs his view of most of the driveway, so he can't tell if it's friend or foe, but the driver has passed over a devil's trap Dean had painted earlier, so it isn't a demon.

"Dean," Castiel hisses, "someone is here!"

Dean tenses, ready to go on the attack, but then he recognizes the truck pulling up the drive, and the woman behind the wheel.

"Cas, wait, that's just…" By the time Dean turns around, Castiel and Danielle have vanished. "Sherriff Mills," he finishes weakly.

~oOo~

When Bobby had called Sherriff Jody Mills to ask for a favor, she'd expected him to request assistance in covering up another hunt that had run afoul of law enforcement. Her immediate response is to refuse; she'd barely avoided losing her job over helping with the incident involving Rufus Turner, and she doesn't think she'll be so luck a second time around.

But before she can respond, Bobby launches into an impossible story, somewhat garbled due to the fact that he's speaking fast so she can't get a word in edgewise, about Winchester idjits and their clueless pet angels.

The only really meaningful thing she pulls out of this is that they're dealing with a newborn that's somehow the child of Dean Winchester and a non-human mother - who, apparently, looks like a human male - who was caught by surprise and has no idea how to take care of a baby. And Bobby hinted that there may be a need for trauma counseling as well.

She'll ignore the 'angel' part for now - losing her family destroyed what little faith she had left, and she finds it hard to believe an angel would show up now, in Bobby's salvage yard - and decides to focus on the fact that this is a sentient being who needs her help, one that just happens to not be human. She's still new to the whole idea that the supernatural really does exist, but she supposes there are benign creatures as well as vicious ones, and she won't be the kind of person who refuses to help someone because they're different.

So here she is, in Bobby's salvage yard, a sack full of burgers clutched in one hand. She can't help but think of the food as some sort of offering, that if the so-called 'angel' is filled up on burgers, it won't suddenly grow fangs and devour her.

Dean Winchester is standing next to his massive boat of a car, his slightly befuddled expression fixed on a spot off to his left. Then he turns to her and plasters a phony smile across his face. "Hello, Sherriff. Can I help you?" he asks cautiously.

"Bobby contacted me yesterday, calling in a favor. I told him he'd used them up already, but listened to him anyway." She gives him her most disarming, I-know-I'm-a-cop-but-you-can-trust-me smile. Dean's clearly not buying it, judging from the strained smile he offers in return. She can't blame him. After all, she's the sheriff who'd tossed him jail, they barely know each other, and he's helping protect a newborn, which is enough to make any parent mistrustful.

"Bobby's not here. He and my brother are off on business." His peculiar emphasis on the last word implies it's not business of the towing vehicles sort.

Jody decides she doesn't want to know. "Actually, I'm here for the… friend he told me could use my help. The one who's dealing with an unexpected child."

"Right." He glances towards the house, and when Jody follows his gaze, she glimpses a pale face pull back from the window. "He told you Cas ain't human, right?"

"He said it was an angel," she says, rolling her eyes. "I thought at first he was joking. I'm assuming he said that because he thought it would sound more appealing than 'swamp hag' or 'tentacle monster.'"

"Bobby wasn't joking - though you're not too far off with 'tentacle monster'." Dean smiles humorlessly. "Cas really is an angel. Just… don't expect too much. He looks like a scruffy, thirty-something, trench coat-wearing tax accountant after a bender, but there's an angel in there. Somewhere."

"An angel named 'Cas'?" she says dubiously.

"His name's Castiel, actually. But he's never objected to me calling him Cas."

"And he's… possessing a human body?" That doesn't sound right to Jody. Sunday school never mentioned anything like that. All the stories she's heard about possession involved evil entities.

"A male human body, which is why it sounds so weird that he insists he's Danielle's mother." Dean flashes a smile. "Still, better him than me. No way I'm the mommy here."

"Danielle is the baby? The, uh…" There's a word for human-angel hybrids, but Jody hasn't stepped inside a church since she was a teenager and her Biblical knowledge is a little rusty.

"A Nephil. That's what Cas calls her, anyway. Yeah, she's… unique." Dean pauses, and suddenly looks very nervous. "Please, please don't freak out about her looks. Turns out angels are really weird looking, and Dani takes after Cas. She's really adorable, once you get used to the tentacles. And eyeballs. And the slime."

Now Jody's certain Dean's pulling her leg.

"If you don't think you can handle it, then you should probably go now. I… I've said some unflattering things about her, but it's getting hard to listen to others call her 'ugly' or an abomination. She's my baby girl, and I don't want her growing up hearing that."

He sounds so fiercely protective that Jody can't help but smile. And wonder just what the Hell the baby actually looks like, to elicit this kind of response. Whatever it is, she decides that she can handle it. "Dean… I'm willing to do what I can to help them, but… if your angel tells me that my family's deaths were all 'part of God's plan' and that I should just accept it, then I'm leaving."

"Trust me, he won't. He's not like that - not anymore. God disappointed him, too."

There's definitely a story here, but Dean doesn't continue.

Dean leads to the door, but holds up a hand to halt her before she can go inside. "I'll go talk to him and make sure he's not in a smiting mood. This is the first time we've had a stranger around Danielle."

Smiting. Right. Angels do that. Jody wonders if it's too late to change her mind.

After about five minutes, Dean comes back out. "He's really freaked about having someone he doesn't know near Dani, but he understands you're here to help him take better care of her. Just… don't try to touch either of them, don't make any sudden movements, 'cause he's damned fast when he needs to be… Let him get to know you before you really get into things, yeah?"

Basically, handle Castiel like she would any other victim: calmly, carefully, softly and sympathetically. And don't think about how he can strike her down if she makes one wrong move.

"And make sure you show him the food, 'cause I guess Bobby promised you'd bring him some, and he kinda fixated on that." Dean studies her for a moment, probably trying to gauge just how afraid she is. He seems satisfied by what he sees, however, and nods to himself. "If you're ready, then come inside and meet a real, live angel of the Lord," he says acerbically, as if he holds the whole species in contempt.

Jody follows him inside, absently noting that the house is a little cleaner than when she'd last seen it. It still looks like an occult library had barfed all over every available surface, but there's no dust, and it looks like there'd been some attempt to organize the chaos.

They come to a halt in the living room, and Jody, after taking a deep, preparatory breath, steps around Dean and gets her first look at the angel.

In spite of both Dean and Bobby's warnings, Jody still expects something awe-inspiring. Something unnaturally, achingly beautiful; a tall, androgynous, glowing figure with fluffy white wings and robe. Something that she'll hate on sight.

Instead, the man standing protectively in front of the couch, wielding what looks like either a long knife or a short sword, is exactly as Dean described him, down to the rumpled trench coat. With the disheveled hair and wild eyes, he looks more like the drunken pervert in the park than an angel. He doesn't even have wings. Still, he'd actually be rather attractive, Jody thinks, if he didn't look so exhausted and malnourished.

And the thing she glimpses behind him, the thing he's protecting with such ferocity? Dean hadn't been exaggerating about that, either. It couldn't possibly be the baby - could it? But before she can get a good look, the scruff man - the angel - steps between them, somehow filling her entire field of vision.

"Sunday school got a lot of things wrong," Jody says weakly.

"Yes," a rough voice responds. "Your organized religions have gotten much wrong."

Jody had expected a melodic, beautiful voice, arrogant, with an archaic formality. And with a British accent, just because. She doesn't expect him to sound like he gargles gravel every morning.

It's actually kinda sexy. Not that she'll ever let the angel know that.

"Who are you?" he grates. He fixes luminous eyes on her, and she has an almost overpowering urge to flee. She instinctively recognizes this as something awe-inspiring, something to fear.

"Cas, this is Sherriff Jody Mills, the woman Bobby told you about. Sherriff Mills, this is Castiel, angel of the Lord. Don't smite her, Cas, it'd be really inconvenient to have to explain."

Those wide, wild blue eyes study her, seeming to look through her. "I see no taint, angelic or demonic, but I would still feel more comfortable seeing her put through the tests."

Both Bobby and Dean had mentioned something about tests, and while they hadn't gone into detail, Jody could guess what they were for. Monsters could look human, so it made sense that hunters had devised a way to tell them apart.

And with an infant on the premises, they're probably being even more careful. "All right. Hit me."

Castiel looks startled. "The tests won't be that violent," he says. "Though there will be blood-letting."

"Joy," she says resignedly.

The first test is simple enough; she drinks down a glass of holy water, which doesn't taste any different from regular water, a fact Jody finds oddly disappointing. As a child she'd always wondered if the holy water tasted better, but she'd been too afraid to try it for herself.

The second test involves cutting herself with a silver knife. And the knife Dean's holding looks… well-used.

"Have you performed this test on other people?" Jody asks.

"Yeah… sorta a hunter thing. We're a paranoid bunch."

"Then you're not touching me with that knife until I'm sure it's been sterilized." At Dean's shocked look, Jody rolls her eyes. "Haven't you heard of infections or other blood-born diseases caused by using filthy instruments?"

Dean just blinks.

"I can purify the blade," Castiel interjects.

He reaches his hand out and touches the knife, which briefly glows white. Then Dean holds it out and explains that it's silver, and there are several species of supernatural being that can't stand the touch of it. And Dean can't adequately explain why, then, he can't just touch her with silver, rather than cut her with it.

"We've always cut ourselves," Dean says. "It's never harmed us before."

"I've cleansed Dean and Sam of several infections brought on by using dirty instruments," Castiel says. Then he tilts his head thoughtfully, and turns to Dean. "Perhaps you should be more careful for a while; healing such an affliction is currently beyond my capabilities."

Judging from Dean's expression, this is news to him. Then he shakes it off. "Anyway, are you satisfied that she's human?"

Castiel hesitates. "Yes," he says finally, reluctantly. But he remains poised protectively between Jody and the faintly squeaking bundle on the couch behind him. Jody bets it would be easier to move a small mountain than an angelic mother (and oh, yes, it's awkward to think of someone so obviously male in those terms!)

Dean places his hand on Castiel's arm, getting a firm grip while simultaneously shifting the angel to the side, allowing Jody to finally get a look at the real reason she's here. "And this," Dean says with obvious pride, "is Danielle." And he gestures at the thing on the couch, which is every bit as grotesque as her first glimpse of it had revealed

And yet… it's not the most horrifying thing Jody has ever seen. Maybe it's because it's been partially wrapped in a fluffy yellow blanket covered in ducks, gumming the tips of two of its… yes, it really did have tentacles, some of which it was using to cling to a stuffed purple octopus. Or maybe it's the way its wide, guileless eyes - Jody doesn't want to count how many there actually are - are regarding her with a shy curiosity. Everything about it - about her, Jody reminds herself - screams 'harmless baby', and Jody realizes that this won't be as hard as she'd initially feared. A baby is a baby, no matter what it looks like.

Her angelic parent, on the other hand? Is quite possibly the most terrifying being Jody has ever encountered.

Jody smiles crookedly and holds up the greasy bag, hoping the greasy offering is enough to persuade him not to strike her down. "I brought burgers."

~tbc~

Apologies for the increasing length of time between chapters. I've been focusing on my Big Bangs recently, since they all come due in January. And I've spent a lot of time working on the final chapter, whatever number chapter that may be.

The bit about Cas and Eve is a leftover from when I'd originally planned to set this story much earlier in season six, in which Cas is reluctantly persuaded to leave Danielle behind and help with Eve. In the diner scene, she would have told him that she doesn't kill mothers with children who depend on them - and add that he doesn't show such mercy, making him more of a monster than she.