A/N: This chapter is censored. So you guys know the drill. If you are tall enough to ride the ride, check out the full version on Angels With Only One Wing.

Chapter 9: The Silence Remains (Censored)

"I know it's stupid that I come back here in my dreams, but I can't help it. Sometimes I miss it here."

Tabitha turns to lean her back against the railing. She takes the opportunity to overlook the main bullpen that had been on the floor below her office in what seems like another life. And perhaps it was another life she thinks.

Castiel carefully eases forward, his steps almost hesitant until he's standing beside Tabitha, looking down on the bullpen of agents below.

Turning sideways, she eases her weight onto her elbow again as she ponders the angel observing the scene below.

"You miss him."

Tabitha follows Castiel's line of sight, finding his gaze targeted onto her former partner smiling and talking animatedly with a pretty woman. The man who had been a multitudes of formers to her. Friend. Colleague. Partner. Flirt… Lover.

A heavy sadness suddenly swells in her chest, washing over her until even her skin feels warm and taut, her heart painfully squeezed by that desolate feeling as even her breath becomes a shudder. The encompassing sorrow is so swift…so…unexpected…that it takes her a moment to process as she stares unspeaking at Castiel, struggling to regain her composure.

When he's met by silence, Castiel glances up from staring at Casey below, darting a curious look at the woman beside him. Those stormy eyes flit across her emotion-filled brown gaze before darting away, drifting downward again to settle sadly on the previous target of his gaze.

"You still love him," Castiel quietly surmises in a defeated voice.

"You're such an idiot for something so old," she chokes out, voice caught still in her tumultuous emotions but edged with laughter.

Shaking her head ruefully, she reminds him, "We've traveled this road before. Casey was a friend, but I never loved him. Not in the way you mean." To herself, she wonders how she can possibly explain looking at Casey and feeling such sorrow not for him…but the angel beside her.

Once more, she glances down at her former…partner, watching as he sits on the edge of an attractive female analyst's desk. A scene has played out many times in their…history. But she feels no more jealousy now for his blatant flirting than she did when they'd been sleeping together.

His flirting…and her ambivalence towards it had been the normal course of their…relationship. It was how their dalliance had been defined. And even what made it work.

Physically, they'd had a lot of sparks. And personally, they had an easy and unrestrained friendship. But even though they had a professional, personal, and a sexual relationship, the lines of the three never blurred. Didn't intersect. Never crossed.

And though she mourned his death, and regretted her indirect part in causing it, she didn't lament all the positions he'd once filled in her life being marked off as "former." It merely felt like a normal progression to fondly remember in her increasingly abnormal life, she thinks as her gaze falls on him again.

"Then why do you stare so sadly at him?" Castiel wonders, his voice and face mirroring his confusion.

Because I'm not sure how I'll ever survive you slipping from any of the positions you fill in my life and becoming a former…anything, she thinks. Never has she truly mourned any of the multitude of formers in her life—not even truly mourned Cort for all the love in her heart he still claims as her first—but she shudders at the thought of Castiel ever joining that number. Even when she's tried to push him away, her discussion with Gabriel only made her realize how impossible it truly is for her to lose him. But how can she possibly tell Castiel what's in her mind? How can he ever understand such a complicated human emotion when she still struggles with it herself.

Instead of giving voice to the thoughts that race across her mind in a matter of moments, she tells him, "I guess I'm just missing an old life long gone now. As difficult as it could be trying to still help my brothers and other hunters while trying to live in the normal world, there was a lot about it that was simpler. I knew exactly which humans were the bad guys. Even hunting seemed simpler before. Now we're racing against angels to stop the apocalypse. All those times I sat in church, I never expected a day to come when we were fighting angels. How did that happen, Cas?"

He shakes his head, leaning his forearms down onto the railing as he laments, "I find myself wondering the same. How did I come to be fighting my brothers and sisters? Those I've fought in the trenches with for millennia."

Tabitha reaches out to lay a gentle hand on his forearm. "I'm sorry," she consoles. "I can't even imagine fighting against my brothers from opposite sides, but Cas…" she slouches next to him, leaning her head against his shoulder as she continues, "you are on the right side here."

He doesn't speak, but she doesn't take offense to it, nor does she take offense to the way he stands so stiffly as she leans against him. She's known him long enough and well enough now that she's gotten accustomed to the way he so often become stiff and rigid when she first touches him. And as she'd known, he eventually relaxes under her touch, his arm between them turning until he loosely grasps her palm against his.

"What did Gabriel say to you?"

She jumps a little, surprised by his sudden question. She'd told Castiel that she hoped to see him again, but several weeks had passed, causing her to forget the encounter with his brother. Or at least she only thinks of the encounter in passing. Their recent trip to Chuck's little convention—although duped into it by Becky—had carved out a small chunk of their schedule and kept her mind from dwelling too long on their introduction to Gabriel.

"Gabriel?" she repeats, buying herself time to form an answer as she turns to face him. His grip loosens in response, seeming to brace himself physically and emotionally for her to pull away from him.

Tightening her grip in reassurance, she explains, "I think he mostly just wanted to have fun." Realizing that doesn't explain much, she tells him, "He took me to a performance of Carmen and then we raced motorcycles." Shrugging, she finishes with, "We just had fun. Why?"

"Your…demeanor changed drastically after you had spent time with him. I wondered why," he almost sheepishly admits.

"He made me realize a few things," she vaguely answers, leaning sideways against him once more to lay her head on his shoulder.

"Then you forgive me for trying to hurt that…child?"

She snorts in return. "You really don't understand women, do you, Cas?" she chuckles. She helpfully informs him, "When a woman tries to move past an argument like that, don't keep bringing it up or trying to justify what you did. All you're liable to accomplish is pissing her off all over again."

Taking a deep breath, she takes a step back to look up at the angel, still holding his hand between them as she reminds herself that he's not just a guy…he's not even a man. He's an angel. And a generally clueless one at that.

Striving for patience, she tells him, "Cas, I'm never going to condone or agree with what you tried to do. But I do understand your reasons for acting as you did. You thought you were protecting the world and keeping Lucifer from getting his hands on Jesse. I get that. But there's always going to be a part of me that's never going to fully believe that that somehow makes it the right choice."

When he still stares at her with his head tilted to the side, she shakes her head and glances away. "Never mind," she mumbles. "It's something that won't ever be an issue again. Not with how little progress we've been making. Lucifer will win this thing and wipe us all out before something like that happens again. Or the angels will get their Armageddon on."

Her eyes stay fixed on the bullpen below, watching former colleagues and friends still working in the dreamscape below, oblivious to the human and angel above them.

Despite all of her best efforts to remain positive about the situation they're all in, she finds herself becoming disheartened once more. Even though she's convinced herself that her momentary yearnings for a child—and her inexplicable mourning of a miscarriage that didn't even happen—the phantom pangs of those emotions swell within her from time to time. And though she reminds herself that none of her ridiculous yearnings can ever happen with Lucifer still on the loose, she can only feel a sense of melancholy and despondence when she thinks that their battle against the Devil is a losing affair as well.

Still griping Castiel tightly with her right hand, she braces her left on the railing, looking below them as she morosely bemoans, "I just feel like all we're doing lately is losing ground. We've been searching for the Colt for a few months now, and we still can't find it. I just wish we could gain some kind of ground." Sighing, she tells him, "At least we know who last had the Colt now. Sam's stalker fangirl said that some demon named Crowley had it." Becky is never going to be Tabitha's favorite person in the world, but she still gets a kick out of Sam's uncomfortableness whenever the girl pops up. Or as was the case just the week before, when she tricks them into showing up at a ridiculous convention for Chuck's books detailing their lives.

Maybe Sam's uneasiness with Becky wasn't so humorous. Not after dealing with nerdy boys following her around and drooling if she even happened to look their way. She wishes Chuck hadn't seen fit to write her into the story even as little as he had.

"Killing Lucifer is a fool's errand. It's insane," Castiel tells her, not commenting on the information they'd learned from Becky.

Her head whips to stare at the angel, frowning as she reminds him, "Not like we have any better ideas going. We can't leave him out there killing humans and generally wiping out the planet."

"You can't face him, Tabitha," he tells her, tugging on her hand and pulling her closer. Almost uncharacteristically, he raises his other hand, cupping her cheek as he ardently commands, "Stay away from him. Lucifer would only kill you…or worse."

"Why?" she asks, raising her own hand to fold over his, savoring the warmth of his hand against her skin, despite the direness of his words. "What would he want with me? I thought I was supposed to be Azrael's vessel. Why would he want me when I'm supposed to be the vessel of the sister who's trying to stop him?"

"It's…complicated," he finally tells her. "Azrael is as dangerous as Lucifer. Never seek either of them out. Your charms and the sigils on your ribs should hide you. Use them to stay hidden."

Unnerved by his almost desperate plea, she nervously asks, "What do you know about Azrael?"

He shifts nervously as well, pulling the hand from her cheek as he looks away. "Just stay away from her," is all he'll tell her.

Glancing back, he insists, "And stop your foolish plan of looking for the Colt. Or let your brothers continue this insane task. Killing the Devil is a mission in suicide."

Tabitha yanks her right hand out of his grip, annoyed at him refusing to divulge any information about what he seems to know of the angel that has stalked her dreams—though she hasn't seen the angel in a while now.

"You may think what we're trying to do is useless, but we're trying to do something, Cas. At least we now know that some demon named Crowley last had the Colt," she huffs as she paces away a few steps.

Turning, she adds, "You're the one that spent all this time looking for God. And how'd that work out? I'd say pretty useless, too. But other than questioning it when you first brought it up, I haven't said a word against it. I've supported you. Even though you've been gone searching for him for months instead of here helping us with the fallout of Lucifer being on the loose."

She runs a frustrated hand through her hair, shoving the loose waves back from her face as she takes a few deep breaths before more calmly telling the angel, "We need your support in this, Cas. Looking for God isn't working. And more people are dying. We've got to do something! Help us. Help us find the Colt. Or help us find this Crowley."

Castiel's eyes shut against her pleas, looking almost pained before he nods once and opens his eyes. He strides towards her purposefully, cupping her face with both hands, keeping her from looking away as he whispers, "I don't want to lose you."

Something in the way he says it, and the almost desperate darkening of his eyes tells her that his words mean more than just the thought of her perhaps dying. Their separation seems to have been harder on him than she'd imagined.

"I'm human, Cas," she whispers in reminder. "All you and I have is the moment. There can never be the promise of a future."

"No," he whispers in agreement, his thumbs sweeping across her cheek to brush away the tears she hadn't realized were falling. "But the thought of your death fills my chest with a crushing weight I cannot understand. You are not like the angels I've known. You intrigue me and frustrate me beyond what I imagined was possible, and yet there is a kindness in your heart that angels are not capable of. Not even myself. I don't understand what I did to hurt and anger you, but I know I have hurt you. And still you somehow forgive me time and again. Each time you do, I cannot imagine why you forgive me, but I also can't imagine never seeing you again." He sighs deeply. "If you are intent on continuing your plans against Lucifer, I can't see any good outcomes coming from it. I only see death at the end of this…mission of yours."

Tabitha shivers in response, fearing deep in her heart that she can only see the same outcome as well.

"But what other choice do we have?" she reminds him. "We can't just keep waiting for the inevitable. For Lucifer to get what he wants. To kill us all anyway. Better to do something, Cas. I can't just sit back and watch the Apocalypse roll out around me. And maybe…maybe if we can actually stop it…maybe you and I can have a few moments more than just what we've got here and now."

She doesn't allow even herself to foolishly think that there's any real future with the angel. There can't be, and she knows it. Despite what she'd seen when she'd been sent to the future, she knows they will never have that kind of future. Never have one together.

Her hand slips into the pocket of her black slacks, caressing the ring that she always carries with her. Even in her dreams, it seems.

It's both a painful and comforting reminder of what they can't ever have. Painful because she knows it will never come to pass. Yet comforting at the same time, because she can still imagine a future where it almost did. And sometimes in her rare dreams, she lets herself imagine a future where she actually wears his ring instead of always hiding it away.

"You still want my help then in finding the Colt?" he asks.

"Yes."

He nods, stepping back while his hands slip away from her face. Staring down at the floor between them, he clasps his hands behind his back. And once more, he's the stoic angel, the brief glimpses of emotion he sometimes allows her to see locked behind a nearly impenetrable wall once more.

Woodenly, he tells her, "I've heard rumors of this demon, Crowley, still holding the Colt." He looks up, his eyes guarded as he tells her, "I'll help you find him."


Tabitha and Sam lean side by side against the Impala, listening to Dean as he speaks to Castiel on the other end of the line.

"So he just showed up in your dream and told you that he'd heard about some demon having the Colt?'

"Basically," Tabitha confirms, not delving into the truth. All her little brother really needs to know is that the angel is helping them now.

"How's he even find you in your dreams?" Sam continues pressing. "I mean, I thought the whole carving up the ribs thing was supposed to keep us hidden. And then you've got those charms on top of it."

She shrugs. "I don't know," she admits. "I guess it has something to do with me being different. You know, hearing angels."

"So other angels can find you, too?"

She shakes her head. "No. Well, Azrael did a few times." Then she remembers, "although, not since just before Castiel started showing up in my dreams again."

Her face closes off as she realizes that after Castiel carved her ribs, she hadn't seen him in a dream again for months. Only Azrael had been able to find her. And then he'd shown up in New Orleans, having had to ask Bobby for her location to find her. But after that, or perhaps after her trip to the future, he'd been able to enter her dreams again. And she hadn't seen Azrael afterwards.

The light catches on her charm bracelet, causing her eyes to linger on the angel wing charm. She reaches down to run a finger along the curved edge of the wing. As always, it feels slightly warm. That fact alone has never surprised her since they touch her skin, but she grazes the other charms, and in the cool winter air, they feel icy to the touch. So why does the angel wing charm feel warm?

"But I don't get why Castiel can find you and not other angels," Sam says, pulling her from her thoughts.

"I don't know, Sam," she says in exasperation. "He just can. I think it has something to do with him knowing the 'feel' of my dreams or something. I think that's what he said."

"How the hell much time does he spend in your dreams that he knows the feel of them?" Sam suspiciously inquires.

"'Going down?' Right. Okay, Huggy Bear. Just don't lose him," they hear Dean saying behind them, and Tabitha uses the opportunity to turn away from Sam's questions, twisting to watch Dean over the back of the Impala as he paces with the phone to his ear.

"It still seems weird to see him talking on the phone with an angel," she comments.

"Yeah," Sam agrees. "He doesn't seem to understand them, though. He hadn't set up the voicemail the last time we tried calling him."

With a faint smile at Castiel's cluelessness, she tells her brother. "Hopefully he has by now. I told him in my dream that he needed to get it set up. It's not that hard. All he has to do is press one on the phone and follow the automated instructions."

Sam grunts. "He'll still mess it up."

They watch as Dean continues pacing, then hear him say, "That's okay. You did great. We'll take it from here."

He shoves the phone into his pocket, turning to face his siblings. "We've got a location," he explains, an expression of excitement on his face at finally finding a solid lead on the Colt.

"Great, let's go," Sam tells them, his own voice taking on an anticipatory edge.

As Sam climbs into the passenger seat of the Impala, Dean motions across the top of the car for Tabitha to wait.

Leaning down to fold his arms on the roof, Dean asks his sister, "So after all this time looking for the Colt, then us just getting the lead on Crowley from Sam's superfreak, and bam!" —he slaps the back of his hand against his other palm— "suddenly Cas shows up in your dream to tell you he's got a lead on that same thing, and even where the damn demon is?"

Mirroring his body language, she folds her arms on the roof as well. "Yeah. What's the big deal, Dean? He knew we were looking for the Colt, and he found the same lead freaky fangirl gave us. Better yet, he knew where the demon was. I thought that's what we wanted."

"It is," he agrees. "I'm just wondering at the timing. I didn't even realize Cas knew that much about our plans. Or gave a damn about anything but finding God."

"He's an angel," she points out, shrugging as if she is unconcerned. "What are you so paranoid about?"

He huffs in response. "Paranoia's necessary sometimes, Tab. You know that. I'm just curious about Cas suddenly coming to you and saying that he knows where the Colt is right when we get a lead. And then within the hour, he's got the location of the demon pinpointed. Even the place the damn demon is staying. Seems to me that there's something wonky about the whole thing. Either Cas isn't telling us everything about how he knew we were looking for the Colt, and or him finding that demon was too easy."

Narrowing her eyes, Tabitha asks, "If it was easy, why are we going after this demon, Dean? I mean, one demon should be easy enough for Cas to handle himself."

Relaxing slightly, he admits, "Cas said he couldn't get to the demon. His place was covered in Enochian sigils keeping him out."

"Well, there you go," she points out. "Guess it's not so easy after all."

Dean still seems suspicious, but Tabitha gives him her best I've-got-nothing-to-hide smile. The same she'd successfully used every time she'd snuck out as a teenager, and every time she'd assured Dean that she was hanging out with friends and not going somewhere with a boy.

Frowning, Dean turns away to climb into the Impala, no more aware that she was the one that had told Castiel that they were still searching for the Colt than he had been when she'd assured him she was going to a study group instead of going to a drive-in movie with a much older Andy Maddix. But then as now, she figures that there are some things that Dean just doesn't need to know about.


Tabitha saunters to the main gate of the mansion, making certain to sway on her stiletto heels for full effect, knowing that she's garnering the attention of the guards watching the security camera mounted on the high stucco wall. Pressing the intercom button, she pops her hip out a little, sliding one black stiletto forward to show off her bare, and well-tanned leg, exposed up to the hem of her tight sheath dress at mid-thigh. It's almost indecently short—as both her brothers pointed out with red faces—but the shorter the dress, the higher its effectiveness in distraction she's found.

"Hello?" a voice comes across the intercom.

Running her hands down the black sleeveless number, fitted so tightly it's almost a second skin, she almost breathlessly answers, "I—I need some help. My car broke down just down the road a ways, and I just don't know what to do."

There's a pause, no answer immediately coming.

Sighing for effect, Tabitha rolls her shoulders back, leaning forward towards the camera over the intercom as she rubs at her calves, not having to fake the soreness from having to walk down that road in five-inch stiletto heels.

"Maybe one of you could give me a ride back, I'm not sure I can make it so far again in these heels."

There's a muffled sound over the intercom, and Tabitha can almost see in her mind the image of a guard leaning forward over his monitor, staring at her plumped cleavage being displayed in the monitor as she leans forward to rub her calves.

"I'll be right down," she hears the guard answer throatily. Followed by what sounds like a loud swallow.

She turns away to wait, nearly laughing at the predictability of the male species.

Soon, she hears the creaking of the wrought-iron gate, and she turns to eagerly wait for the pair of guards eyeing her the way a wolf might a steak.

"Evenin' darling," the suave looking blonde tells her, gesturing inside the compound in invitation. "Why don't you come inside?"

She leans forward to cross the open gateway, but suddenly feels a chill that wracks her whole body, making her shiver and feel a thin layer of sweat break out across her all at once. But she can't seem to force herself to take a step past the walls into the compound.

Both guards pause to give her suspicious looks.

Knowing she has to play her part, Tabitha sucks in a deep breath, ignoring the way her skin tingles with goose flesh and her body quakes in near pain, forcing one foot forward by sheer force of will.

And with one foot across the plane of the wall, the inexplicable sensation falls away like a veil and she can move forward with ease.

Tabitha allows a few more steps in, eyeing the predatory looks of the two guards. The blonde gives her a hungry and lustful look, but the brunette further back just looks hungry. Looking at her not like she might be a foxy woman, but instead like she might be a tasty fox.

Although used to hunting demons, Tabitha still steps back, a little unnerved by the eager and hungry look in the eyes of the brunette. Nearly shuddering at the way he licks his lips.

"I just needed to make a phone call," she hedges.

The blonde demon advances on her, approaching the opening of the gate with greedy steps. "You don't need to call anyone, baby."

"Maybe I'll just wait by my car," she suggests, backpedaling quickly, drawing him closer to the entrance as both demons now pursue her.

"We're the only help you're ever gonna need," the blonde tells her, his grin widening to display his predatory smile.

Tabitha turns away, but just as she takes a step, feels the demon closest to her clap a tight grip on her shoulder, halting her escape.

"We said get your ass in here," he growls behind her, all attempts at human civility evaporating.

Spinning into his grip, Tabitha knocks his hand away. With her other hand, she slams a hard chop with the side of her open hand against the side and back of his neck, grinning in satisfaction when the demon hits his knees at her unexpected assault.

Before the dark haired brunette can get the jump on her, she sees Sam rush from behind him, slamming Ruby's knife into its neck.

"Sam," she calls, holding out her hand.

Her brother tosses the knife from where he stands over the now dead demon, and she catches it easily, twisting and plunging the knife down into the chest of the blonde demon before he can pick himself up from the pavement.

"Nice," Sam compliments when she tosses the knife back to him.

"You, too." Turning to Dean, she grins. "Told you they'd take the bait."

He stops to look her up and down, readjusting the bags of supplies in his hand, uncomfortably shifting as he clears his throat. "Yeah, well, if you'd leaned down any lower, that dress would have been labeled entrapment to any breathing male. Demon or otherwise."

Shrugging coyly, she admits, "I just wanted to make sure they had good incentive to come open the gate."

Dean tosses one of the bags to her, saying, "Remind me sometime to explain to you that it doesn't take much to get the attention of any living breathing man—probably not even a dead one. You don't need to flaunt that much of your goods to get their attention, long as they got a set of eyes. Hell, most guys are hooked just when a pretty girl smiles. Don't take much to get our interest."

Opening the bag to grab a pair of wire cutters to cut security camera feeds and power lines, Tabitha mutters, "Don't I know it. I've seen how little it takes to get you drooling over a woman. But even you look at what a woman's wearing. The more scantily-clad the better."

Looking up again, she tells her brothers, "Let's get this over with. Maybe there'll still be enough time before this night is over that I can actually wear this dress somewhere that doesn't involve stabbing the guys I'm flirting with. Maybe I'll even get lucky."


Tabitha cuts the power to the house, quickly stalking inside where her brothers are already searching. She only takes a single step onto the smooth wood floors before she steps silently out of her stilettos. It robs her of the height they'd granted her, but the trade-off in silence and maneuverability more than compensate as she tiptoes silently through the house.

Hearing the creaking of footsteps down a hallway to her right, she raises her sawed-off shotgun to her shoulder, at the ready as she eases down the hallway behind her brothers and the demon they're facing as it strolls out of another room into the open space. The sawed-off would seem at odds with an evening dress to most women, but Tabitha can only wish that it was the first time she was sporting the look of eveningwear meets Dirty Harry.

Unfortunately, she can't think of a single time that she's actually worn a dress like this that she hasn't been either playing bait for her brothers and father or for the FBI. No wonder her dating life has always been so stagnant. If a guy did take her out on a date to wine and dine her in a fancy dress, she isn't sure she'd even know what to do with her hands without a weapon of some kind in them and the expectation that she was shooting, staking, or beheading something before the night was over.

Although, when she stops to think back, she had worn a beautiful dress—two actually—when they'd been sucked into TV Land and she'd agreed to that date with Gabriel. And there hadn't even been weapons or blood of any kind involved.

How sad was it that her best date was with the angel-turned-Trickster-wannabe-Hugh-Heffner?

The demon strolling out from another room seems to spot her brothers just as Sam speaks.

"It's 'Crowley,' right?" he causally greets.

The demon waltzes closer, obviously unconcerned by their uninvited house crashing.

"So…the Hardy boys finally found me." Looking up, he catches sight of Tabitha noiselessly approaching and tips his glass to her, adding, "And Nancy Drew, too."

Derisively, he then tacks on, "Took you long enough."

Tabitha shares an uneasy glance with Dean at the comment, suddenly wondering if her brother's paranoia had actually been well founded.

Crowley comes closer, but then stops as he looks down at a rumpled rug on the floor.

When Tabitha glances questioningly at her brothers and sees their baited breath, she is suddenly struck with the urge to slap them both in the back of their heads. It had been their job to set a discreet Devil's Trap. Discreet was obviously something she was going to have to go over with them.

As Crowley crouches to toss a corner of the rug back to expose part of the spray painted trap, she does growl lowly at her brothers, telling them, "Good going, Hardy Boys. At least Nancy Drew would have been smart enough to smooth the rug out when she was done tagging it!"

"Oops," Dean mutters, looking down in slight embarrassment.

Leaving the rug lay partially overturned, Crowley stands and tells them in annoyance, "Do you have any idea how much this rug costs?"

Huffing her own frustration, Tabitha tells him, "Trade you the Hardy Boys for the tagged rug. At least it might still be useful."

Amidst her brothers' mutters, Tabitha suddenly feels arms wrap around her, one strong hand wrenching the shotgun up over her head and dropping it as her arms are twisted behind her back. She'd been so caught up in being perturbed with her brothers' shoddy work that she hadn't even heard the demons approaching behind them.

With her arms secured behind her back, twisting painfully on her shoulders, she looks over to see her brothers likewise detained.

"Shit," she mutters to herself.

"Nice going, Nancy Drew," Dean growls across at her. "You were supposed to clear the rest of the house once you cut the power."

"Oops," she repeats of his earlier mutter, mentally kicking herself for getting distracted from her job and joining them when she'd heard them instead of clearing the house. Though, to give herself credit, she'd expected that they'd clear the house before trying to corner Crowley.

Glancing at Dean again in the trap they've found themselves in, she admits, "Okay, maybe you were right. Maybe finding Crowley was a little too easy."

Crowley ignores the family drama, holding up a revolver that Tabitha could have sworn hadn't been in his hands moments before.

"This is it, right?" he asks them, his eyes on the gun as the Winchesters look it over, each confirming to themselves that it is indeed the Colt. Or at least what was described to Tabitha.

Continuing, Crowley says, "This is what it's all about."

He smiles, and then levels the gun in their direction.

Jutting her chin out, Tabitha waits for him to shoot, thinking to herself that even if she's barefoot, at least she'll get to die all dressed up. Even that little grace was almost more than she'd ever hoped for.

Before she has time to think of anything else, or for any of the silly just-about-to-die clichés like her life flashing before her eyes can happen, a shot rings out, something whistling past her ear as she dazedly registers two more shots resounding over the ringing in her head.

She'd expected to go limp and fall to the floor, instead, the demon behind her goes slack, his gorilla grip on her arms falling away as she hears the muffled thud of him hitting the floor behind her.

Looking over, she sees her brothers wearing identical expressions of shock that she can only assume mirror her own.

In the stunned silence, Crowley tells them, "We need to talk." He pauses, looking pointedly at the crumpled demons as he quips, "Privately."

Without waiting for their response, Crowley turns and walks back into the room Tabitha had seen him exit several minutes before, leaving the Winchesters to trail behind him in stupefaction. Still too stunned to do anything else.

Dean seems to recover first, demanding, "What the hell is this?"

Crowley turns back to them when he reaches an antique desk, gesturing to the Colt as he asks in return, "Do you know how deep I could have buried this thing?" The room is dark, save for a fire lit in the fireplace, the dancing light giving an unsettling ambiance to the already perplexing situation.

The demon sweeps a hand towards them, and Tabitha gives a startled jump when the door they'd just entered slams behind them.

"There's no reason you or anyone should know this even exists at all," Crowley tell them, leaning back on the desk as he faces them. Smiling in a manner that Tabitha can only classify as devilishly, he adds, "Except that I told you."

"You told us?" Sam incredulously repeats.

"Rumors, innuendo…" Crowley confirms. "Sent out on the grapevine."

"Why?" Sam questions. "Why tell us anything?"

Crowley holds the Colt up as if admiring it, and then points it at Dean, looking down the barrel as he tells them, "I want you to take this thing to Lucifer and empty it into his face."

"Uh-huh," Dean grunts, not allowing a gun being aimed at his head to ruffle him. "Okay. And why exactly would you want the Devil dead?" he demands.

Folding her arms over her chest, Tabitha replies, "Obviously, someone has some daddy-issues. Humans rebel against their fathers; apparently demons try to slaughter theirs."

Crowley shoots her an unamused look, lowering and uncocking the Colt as he fires back at her in a snit, "You would know all about daddy-issues, right, luv?" He huffs and turns his attention back to Dean, telling him as he sets the Colt on the desk, "It's called…survival."

Heaving a put-upon sigh, Crowley continues, "But I forgot—you two, at best, are functional morons." His lip curls as he looks at Tabitha and disdainfully adds, "And I can't even fathom what possible use you are."

Her own lip curling in anger, Tabitha rolls her shoulders back, thrusting her chest out as she theatrically fluffs her hair with one hand and gestures to her cleavage with the other. "Little old me?" she questions in a sultry tone. Dropping the smoothness from her voice, she growls, "I'm just the requisite blonde with the perky tits."

Crowley actually pauses to unsubtly peruse said assets, his lips pursing in agreement as he gives an admiring nod.

Anger boiling at the demon so obviously checking out his sister, Dean huffs, "Yeah, you're functioning…morons," stumbling over his flubbed and unimpressive quip. Still stuttering, he continues, "Mor…"

Cringing at his almost unintelligible attempt at an insult, Tabitha mutters to Dean, "Quit while he still thinks you're at least functioning."

"Lucifer isn't a demon, remember?" Crowley continues in the same voice one would use with a five-year-old they were trying to explain physics to, ignoring Dean's attempted insult. "He's an angel—an angel famous for his hatred of humankind. To him, you're just…filthy bags of pus."

Following his unappetizing metaphor, he turns to pick up his glass again. "If that's the way he feels about you…what can he think about us?" he asks, sipping what she assumes is whiskey from the tumbler.

Sam doesn't seem convinced, stating, "But he created you."

"To him, we're just servants. Cannon fodder," Crowley explains. "If Lucifer manages to exterminate humankind…we're next. So…help me. Huh?" he tells them, tipping his tumbler back and forth at his beseeching question.

When the Winchesters only shift uneasily, he continues, "Let's all go back to simpler, better times. Back to…when we could all follow our natures. I'm in sales, damn it." At his last plea, real emotion breaks through, showing Tabitha that he is indeed earnest in his desperation to topple Lucifer.

"So, what do you say?" Crowley continues more sedately, turning to set his tumbler down, retrieving the Colt once more as he says, "What if…I give you this thing…" he holds the Colt butt first towards them, "and you go kill the Devil?"

The siblings share an uneasy look as Crowley eagerly waggles the gun at them.

Painstakingly, Sam reaches out to take the gun, drawling, "Okay."

"Great," Crowley crows in satisfaction, shoving his hands into his pockets as he grins happily.

Carefully, Sam asks, "You wouldn't happen to know where the Devil is, by chance, would you?"

As if searching his memory—and surprising them all with an answer to what they had been sure was a rhetorical question—Crowley thoughtfully answers, "Thursday." He turns to pick up his tumbler again as he continues, "Birdies tell me…he has an appointment in Carthage, Missouri."

"Great," Sam says looking at his siblings in surprise. He glances down at the Colt and mutters, "Thanks."

Then he lifts the gun, pointing it between the demon's eyes as he cocks the hammer and pulls the trigger.

The hammer clicks on an empty chamber as the demon stares at him unsurprised.

Crowley shocks them further by turning back to his desk, conversationally telling them, "Oh, yeah, right. You probably need some more ammunition."

As he starts rummaging, Dean overcomes his shock to question, "Ah, excuse me for asking. But aren't you kind of signing your own death warrant? I mean, what happens to you if we go up against the devil and lose?"

Irritably, but logically, Crowley answers, "Number one—he's gonna wipe us all out anyway. Two—after you leave here, I go on an extended vacation to all points nowhere. And three—" he continues, his voice raising to a menacing shout, "how about you don't miss?! Okay?! Morons!" He stands from the desk, something in his hand as he gestures at Tabitha. "Just have her shake her perky tits under his face to distract him!"

Dean starts to sputter another angry reply when Crowley tosses the object in his hand at him. And while Sam and Tabitha look over his shoulder as he opens a leather pouch with bullets, they hear a faint whoosh. When they look up, the demon is gone.


"Who you got money on?" Jo asks as she takes a swig from her beer, nodding to the table across the way.

Tabitha raises her own beer bottle to her lips, pausing to consider the strange pair facing off at Bobby's small kitchen table.

"Ellen's got more experience," she concedes to Jo, nodding at the other blonde woman's mother. "But something tells me that a few shots aren't going to slow the angel down."

Jo leans back, a brow rising in blatant challenge as she reaches into her jeans and slaps a twenty down on the smaller dinette table the two women are occupying on the other side of the kitchen.

Tabitha grins and reaches into her own pocket, pulling out a hundred and slapping it down while chiding, "Why don't we step it up and make it worth my time?"

Huffing, Jo pulls out another four bills to slap down, turning when Tabitha does to watch the odd pair as they stare each other down.

Ellen picks up one of the lined up shot glasses, expertly downing it and then setting it on the table upside-down as she lays down the gauntlet. "All right, big boy. Let's go."

Castiel pauses to glance at the table in confusion, and then Tabitha hears his voice float across her mind, I don't understand where I'm supposed to go.

Snorting and fighting to keep from bursting with laughter, Tabitha silently answers, Just drink the shots, Cas.

Still stone faced, Castiel reaches out to grab one of the shots, downing it as expertly as Ellen had. But he doesn't stop at one, and continues on to the next, and the next. Until he's downed all five shots in one go.

He shakes almost nervously as he looks up at a startled Ellen, telling her, "I think I'm starting to feel something."

"What!" Jo mutters in dismay.

Standing, Tabitha collects the money from the table, ruffling the younger woman's hair as she passes her, advising, "It takes a lot to slow an angel down, honey. They can go all night." She adjusts the strap of her tank top, and then shoves her winnings into the deep pocket of her cargo pants.

She misses the speculative look Jo shoots her as she passes into the other room, approaching where her brothers are seated with Bobby's cluttered desk situated between them.

As she wanders up, she hears Dean chuckle, "Sam Winchester having trust issues with a demon. Well, better late than never."

Standing behind her much bigger little brother, Tabitha ruffles Sam's hair as she adds, "Oh, you know how it is, Dean. Winchester men have to be screwed over, four…maybe five times before they learn their lesson."

Sam playfully shoves her hand away, fighting a smirk as he tells them, "Yeah, and thank you both again for your continued support."

Tabitha grins as she maneuvers around the desk, moving a pile of books so she can climb up to sit cross-legged at the end of the desk with her brothers on either side of her.

"You're welcome," Dean laughs as the three siblings lean in to tap their bottles together in a cheer.

More seriously, Dean sets a folded up map on the desk as he tells them, "And, you know, trap or no trap, we got a snowball's chance, we got to take it, right?"

"Yeah, I suppose," Sam reluctantly agrees.

"Besides, I'm not sure it is a trap," Dean tells them, pointing to the map. "Check it out. I mean, Carthage is lit up like a Christmas tree with Revelation omens. And look at this. There's been six missing persons reported in town since Sunday," he tells them, spinning several printed pages around for them to look at.

Picking up his beer, he confides, "I think the Devil's there."

"Okay," Sam agrees as Tabitha fights a shiver.

She's managed to put the memory of Lucifer speaking to her from the body of Sam out of her mind, but the fleeting image of that prick's condescending smile swims to the surface again. Seeming so wrong and foreign in the guise of her younger brother.

Seeming to note her discomfort, Dean glances back to Sam and tells him, "Look, when you think about it…you can't come with."

Predictably, Sam huffs in annoyance. "Dean…" he starts to argue.

"Look, I go against Satan and screw the pooch…okay. We've lost a game piece. That, we can take. But if you're there…then we are handing the Devil's vessel right over to him. That's not smart."

"We," Tabitha corrects. "I'm with you on Sam staying away," she tells her older brother, knowing that the two of them both remember all too well that memory of Satan wearing their brother in the future. "But you're not going alone. I'm coming with you."

"No, you're not," he replies, his eyes cutting over to her. "I don't know exactly what happened there in the future, but I warned me very clearly to keep you away from that bitch Azrael, and Lucifer. So you're not going either."

"You can't go alone," she huffs wondering what he'd been told by his future self. "You need backup, and who better to back you up than your own damn sister. We need you, too. It's smarter if we both go."

Jumping in, Sam interjects, "Since when have we ever done anything smart?"

"I'm serious, guys," Dean returns.

"So am I," Sam and Tabitha both reply at once.

Splitting an annoyed look between his two older siblings, Sam continues, "Haven't we leaned a damn thing? If we're gonna do this, we're gonna do it together. All three of us."

He stares hard at both of his protective siblings. Tabitha relents first, sighing and turning to stare at Dean, silently siding with her younger brother as they wait to see Dean's verdict.

He sighs as well, looking away before telling them, "Okay. That's a stupid friggin' idea…"

Dean pauses as they hear increased voices from the kitchen, and they all turn to see what the commotion is. While Dean looks momentarily intrigued by the cheerful sounds, Tabitha frowns at the way Jo is leaning down at the table, her hands braced on the surface as she laughs at something said, her face turning towards Castiel as she grins and flirtatiously chuckles at whatever is going on.

Tabitha can't see the angel's face, only his back, but she knows coy feminine laughter when she hears it, and she knows the real reasons why a woman bats her eyes like that.

When Jo's hand moves to lightly brush across Castiel's on the table, her gaze narrows and her breathing becomes shallow.

Sam turns back from looking into the kitchen as Jo slowly pulls her hand away, laughing as she turns to saunter towards the fridge. Looking at his siblings, Sam tells them, "Boy. Talk about stupid ideas."

"Good god," Dean mutters while his sister simultaneously growls, "That sonofa…"

Clearing his throat, Dean looks at them and adds gruffly, "True, that," as he stands to leave the desk, making a beeline for Jo in the kitchen.

Sam turns perplexed looks first on Dean, and then on Tabitha, who quickly wipes the frown from her face, forcing an unconcerned shrug as she mumbles, "Whatever."

As Dean walks into the kitchen, Tabitha clears her throat and tells Sam, "I think I'm gonna go get some fresh air; that last beer's going to my head."

She leaves before he can respond, but takes the bottle in her hand with her, downing the nearly full beer as she walks out onto the covered side porch of Bobby's house. Standing at the railing, she pulls back her arm, and chucks the empty bottle as far as she can into Bobby's cluttered salvage yard, listening to the satisfying shatter as it connects with some rusted hunk of metal far beyond her eyesight in the darkened lot.

She knows she has no right to the flash of irrational anger she suddenly has towards Jo, or even towards the angel. But it settles over her all the same, aided by the liquid emotional lubrication she's been downing all night. Until a few moments before, she'd only been feeling light, heady, and giddy. Just as she usually does when she's drunk. Anger and bitterness spread over her body and mind though, sinking into her skin and wrapping around her like a cold autumn rain.

Though there's no sound, she can feel Castiel behind her, that familiar presence from the angel crawling up her spine just as it always does, whether in dreams, or in the real world.

"Bobby requests our presence inside," he gruffly tells her.

The old hunter had spent the last hour searching for his old camera and tripod, and trying to remember how to use the timer. She can only assume that he's finally demanding them to take the photo he'd been rumbling about wanting. For whatever reason, the old hunter seems determined to have a picture of the group before they leave.

For a moment, Tabitha doesn't move or say anything to acknowledge Castiel, instead, taking a moment to bolster her emotions, gathering them back from where they threatened to spill over, and shoving them back inside her chest. Once she's certain they're under control and that her face is carefully blank, she turns back to the house, avoiding Castiel's eyes as she starts past him, her attention focused on heeding Bobby's request to keep the old man from his yelling and bellyaching.

Not yet even over the threshold into the house, Castiel's hands suddenly reach out to yank Tabitha close, spinning and shoving her almost painfully against the weathered siding, a hand sliding into her hair to roughly tilt her face upwards.

For a moment, Tabitha can only stare in surprised anticipation as the angel leans over her, some emotion she can't name flashing briefly in his darkened blue depths, the sharp smell of liquor on his breath as he stares at her. Tequila, a tardy part of her mind informs her.

But he doesn't move for the longest time, only his eyes shifting, as if mapping the contours of her face. The heat of his breath is so close that it warms her nose and mouth, causing her to swallow hard, lick her lips, and part her mouth as she bites her lower lip.

His eyes jerk down to watch her mouth, seeming enraptured. Almost in anticipation, his tongue darts out to wet his lips as he stares fixedly at hers.

When he still doesn't move, she wiggles slightly, finding no room to maneuver between the hard siding pressing against her back, and the steely angel wedged against her front.

Her feet shuffle slightly, causing her pelvis to wiggle against him. The angel's right hand suddenly clamps against her hip, holding her still as he leans more securely into her, his body an immovable barrier.

She tries to look away, but his other hand remains fisted in her hair at the nape of her neck, holding her in place.

Though her body is trapped, her hands are free between them and she slides them up to rest against the tight plane of his stomach, her fingers curling against him as she hesitantly asks, "Cas?"

The inches between their faces disappear as Castiel closes the gap, his lips crashing into hers with an almost brutal desperation.

Anger, bitterness, giddiness, and headiness—all manufactured emotions from the liquor flee, replaced by the fevered desperation for more. More of his mouth on hers, more of his taste on her tongue, more of his hands on her body.

Her hips buck against him as she moans into his demanding kiss, groaning in satisfaction at the way his fingers eagerly dig into her hip, holding her still once more as his hips grind with aching slowness against her, her muscles clenching rhythmically at the feel of him rubbing where her body would gladly welcome him. Trying to pull him closer yet, her arms move to his back, sliding up until her hands are anchored to the width of his shoulders.

Castiel's other hand leaves her hair, sliding down to cup her breast through her tank top, massaging in time with his hips. She jerks her head back, gulping greedy gasps of air as the angel moves his lips down to her exposed throat, dragging his teeth across the smooth expanse with brutal and tantalizing slowness.

"Tab! You get your scrawny ass in here!"

Bobby's shout snaps Tabitha back to the present. Her hands unwrap from the angel's back and push lightly on his chest until he's staring down into her eyes once more. The blue depths are darkened to a night sky now, the usually brighter color of his iris bleeding away under the lust-filled look he gives her.

"We have to go, Cas," she whispers, unsure what else to say to him or even what just happened out here on Bobby's porch.

"Tabitha Mary Winchester!" Bobby shouts again, three-naming her and effectively forcing her compliance as only a parent can do.

"We just…we can't," she tells him, regret straining her voice.

The angel suddenly pulls away from her, the array of emotions that had been swimming in his eyes suddenly shut behind some wall, that stoic mask in place again as he wordlessly steps around her and into the house.

After taking a moment to catch her breath and fan her face, Tabitha finally follows, finding Bobby and the others waiting in the living room.

Bobby fiddles with his camera, jerking a thumb towards where everyone else is waiting in the corner, telling Tabitha, "Get your ass in line, girl."

"Why we gotta do this, Bobby?" she asks as she avoids letting her eyes stray in the direction where the angel stands stiffly next to Sam.

There are grumbles of agreement from the others as she moves to the other end of the grouping, frowning when she realizes she either has to stand next to Jo, or go back to stand next to Castiel. She glances across the way, but the angel's face is still tight and drawn, frown firmly in place.

Folding her arms over her chest, she stands a little ways away from Jo, almost annoyed now that Sam and Dean had insisted that the girl and her mother were the only help they could get in going after Lucifer and that they did in fact need whatever help they could get.

Finally done fiddling with the old camera, Bobby pushes his wheelchair back towards the lineup, grumpily telling them all, "I'm gonna need something to remember your sorry asses by."

Ellen laughs as Tabitha pushes away the arm Jo tries to sling over her shoulder.

Still laughing, Ellen ribs, "Always good to have an optimist around."

Jo frowns at Tabitha's sour look, but turns a little more into Dean who seems oblivious to his sister's ire. Tabitha finally drops her hands, shoving them into her pockets as she steps over further to make room for Bobby's wheelchair.

"Bobby's right," Castiel suddenly breaks in, his voice deeper than usual. "Tomorrow we hunt the Devil. This is our last night on earth."

Everyone sobers at the angel's dire comment, looking nervously at each other before, turning back to the ticking camera.

Tabitha twists slightly as Jo rests her hand on Bobby's shoulder, looking past the others to gaze worriedly at Castiel as he stands woodenly at the other end of the lineup.

Before she can turn back to the camera, she hears, For the first time in my existence, I am afraid.

Of what? she silently asks the angel, even as she hears the camera click and sees the bright flash of light from the corner of her eye. But she doesn't look towards the camera, instead, continues looking towards the angel as she awaits his reply.

It doesn't come, and with the picture taken, Castiel silently stalks out of the room.

The rest of the group also silently disbands, each somberly heading to their beds for the night, thoughts on what the next day may bring, and what their chances of success and survival might be.

Tabitha watches as her brothers wordlessly take up their normal positions on the couches, Jo curling up on one of the nearby easy chairs as the three silently close their eyes and wait for sleep. She doesn't see Ellen or Bobby, but assumes they've found beds elsewhere as well.

She knows that she should trudge up the stairs to the room she'd long ago claimed as her own in Bobby's house and get whatever sleep she can to be well rested for the next day. But her feet carry her out to the covered porch where she'd been earlier in the evening, finding Castiel standing at the railing where she'd been standing, looking up at the starlit sky.

Part of her knows that Castiel is probably right in the assessment of it being their last night on earth—she knows they can't kill the Devil without a huge sacrifice—and she knows that one night isn't near long enough for she and the angel to have the discussions they need to have to hash out all of the undercurrents that have been left unchecked between them for months now. So many things had happened. So many things left unsaid.

They haven't really talked since before Lucifer had gotten free. Since before he'd died and come back. Since before she'd left for New Orleans. Since before she'd gone to the future.

It's been a long time since they sat and talked she realizes. She's not even sure when the last time was. She misses that part of their friendship. Simply sitting and talking to the angel about things she can't tell even her brothers.

Their relationship had changed when sex had entered the equation, but then, she shouldn't be surprised about that. Sex always did change things.

Now, instead of talking, they sit in silence. As they so often do of late when she sees him.

It isn't an uncomfortable silence she realizes. On the contrary, there is something about those times they sit in silence that fills her with peace. Even a kind of happiness. An emotion she hasn't been all that familiar with.

Comprehension fills her, for she knows now that the silence isn't something she's willing to give up. Not even for those simple conversations.

There's something about the silence that reaches deeper into her than any banal conversation ever could. Almost as if in the silence, the truth is easier reach. Easier to grasp without the words to twist and muddle the truth.

Castiel stands at the railing, his body ramrod stiff, but the fear he'd silently spoken of is somehow palpable to her senses.

She eases closer, noting that he doesn't react to her approach, likely having sensed her the moment she'd started after him.

But he doesn't turn in her direction as she steps to the railing and then turns her back to it, lifting herself up to sit on the rail beside where the angel keeps a silent vigil.

From her position facing the opposite direction he does, she can turn easily to regard him, watching the tenseness of his features as he stares up at the sky. She wonders to herself if angels look to the sky when they think of Heaven, as a human would do.

Briefly, she considers Heaven and wonders if that's his fear. Fear that something will happen tomorrow and that he won't ever return to his home in Heaven.

No, she decides. He'd told her once that Heaven is where humans go when they die—not truly their home—but that he also didn't know what happened to angels when they died.

He'd died once already and been brought back. And even when he'd been going after Raphael with Dean, while she'd been in New Orleans, he hadn't feared never returning to Heaven. And he'd been certain at the time that he was spending his "last night on earth." He'd come to her in New Orleans for one last night together, but he'd just seemed…resigned to his fate. Not afraid.

So what is his fear this time on his last night on earth?

"I never felt fear before," he suddenly whispers.

She nods, waiting for him to speak.

Silence may speak volumes, but if the angel wants to voice his fears, she'll gladly listen to his words as well.

"Is it so crippling, even for humans?" he asks, suddenly turning his head to look at her.

"Fear?" she confirms.

At his nod, she heaves a sigh. "That's a difficult question to answer, Cas. It depends on what the fear is. What…level of fear, I guess."

She bits her cheek as she tries to explain it better. "Fear is a broad thing. I fear that if I quit smoking I'm just gonna pick up my chocolate habit again and put ten pounds of fat on my ass and thighs, but that's not a crippling fear. It's just a silly, nagging fear." Ruefully, she runs her hand through her hair and tells him, "I sometimes have an irrational fear that one of my brothers—Dean mostly—is going to put itching powder in my hair and it'll all fall out, leaving me bald. But it's silly and I know it's not real."

"This consumes me," Castiel tells her, his voice almost catching in his desperation.

Reaching a hand between them, she softly touches his knuckles resting on the railing, curling her hand over his when he doesn't pull away.

"Some fears are consuming like that," she confides in a hushed whisper. "Sometimes, some emotions run so deep, that they nearly paralyze us. And the ache in our chest builds and builds until it feels like we can't even breathe or move or think."

"Yes," he agrees. "That's what I feel." He turns more fully towards her, standing sideways to the railing, looking almost lost as he asks, "You've felt this?"

At her affirmative nod, he asks, "How do you overcome it?"

"Depends on exactly what the fear is about and what can be done about it." Lowering her voice, she adds, "If this is our last night on earth, there's probably not much we can do about it anyway, so why fear it?"

For a moment, she looks away, emotions swelling in her throat as her vision blurs. But she clears her throat and tries to keep from losing her tenuous control.

It might truly be her last night alive, she realizes. Killing the Devil is nearly an impossible task. And she doesn't want there to be any regrets. She might not be able to say everything to the angel that needs said, but she knows some things can't go unsaid.

"When you died," she begins, her voice trembling from the restrained emotion, "I feared that the hole you left in my heart would never be filled. That it was this empty cavern that would just grow and grow, and if I got too close to it, it might suck me in and swallow me whole, consuming me forever."

She feels Castiel's eyes on her, but she stares down at her hand covering his on the railing, not able to meet his eyes as she finishes what she needs to say. "You mean a lot to me, Cas. More than I can put into words. More than I can even describe. I don't know what exactly you mean to me anymore. I don't know what it is or what I feel. Can't put it into words. I just know that every time I try to push you away or I almost lose you, that it rips open that wound in my heart. The one that I know will swallow me whole some day."

Castiel pulls his hand from beneath hers, and the pain of him pulling away from her threatens to reopen the wound. She tries to curl in on herself, but suddenly, Castiel is there in front of her, his hands on her knees, pushing them open as he kneels on the worn decking, laying his head in her lap as his arms wrap around her waist, pulling her tighter against him as he rubs his face gently against her stomach.

Surprised at his action, she freezes for a moment, and then slowly lowers her hand to the back of his head, gently running her fingers through the dark curls.

As if her movement is some signal, he lifts his head to stare up at her, a lost and desperate look shinning on his face.

"I've lost many brothers and sisters," he tells her. "Each time I have been saddened by it. But never this…this sense of terror just at the thought of their deaths. But the thought that you will die tomorrow in this foolish plan…I…I fear it. I fear that I will fail you, Tabitha," he whispers. "I am supposed to protect you."

She closes her eyes at the brief, stabbing pain as he tells her that what he fears is failing in his duty to protect her, but forces herself to open her eyes and smile gently at him. She reminds herself again that he's not human, and that no matter what she feels for him, he'll never return the same kinds of feelings for her. He might fear her death and the failure of his perceived duty—he might even miss her…maybe even mourn her—but she can't expect him to fear the same kind of emotional wounding that she's already felt at losing him.

Reasonably, she tells him, "I'm mortal, Cas. You can't protect me from death forever. It has to come some day. And if it's tomorrow…so be it. But I'm not going to let the fear of it coming stop me from doing what I need to do to for a chance at stopping Lucifer. We might actually have a real shot at stopping this all tomorrow. Stopping the Apocalypse. Saving this whole planet. I can push past my fear for that."

He looks up at her, and she sees him open his mouth to say more, but lays a finger over his lips to silence him.

She'd been right; she likes the silence better. In the silence, she doesn't have to hear truths she'd rather not. Maybe that's why she likes the silence better. Not because she hears the truths better. But because she hears the truths she wants to hear.

Pushing all thought away, she reaches down to grip his shirtfront, gently tugging him to his feet as she slips from the railing. With his hand in hers, she leads him into Bobby's house, silently creeping past the living room where her brothers and Jo snore softly in sleep, past the downstairs bedroom where Bobby more loudly snores, and up the stairs to her room on the second floor.

Castiel follows her wordlessly, waiting in the bedroom with a curious look as she closes and locks her door. Turning back to the angel in the middle of her room, she crosses her arms over her body, grabbing her top and peeling it over her head.

As she toes off her boots and begins unlacing her cargo pants, she tells him, "You came to me in New Orleans when you thought it was your last night on earth, and this is looking more and more likely to be my last night on earth, so I thought that you could return the favor."

Stepping out of her cargo pants, she pushes the plain white panties down as well, lightly stepping closer to Castiel as she reaches behind her back to unclasp her bra. She lets it too fall away as she stands unashamed beneath his hungry stare.

He swallows once, twice, and three times before he grants a silent nod, his eyes raking across her as she carefully pushes the trench coat over his shoulders.

The angel stands passively under her touch as she peels the layers away, not moving under her ministrations until his chest is bare and she begins to loosen his belt.

His hands catch hers then, darkly whispering, "I don't want this to be the last time I feel the softness and warmth of your skin against me."

The ghost of a smile passes her lips at the almost petulant look in his eyes. "Tough," she breathes. "Not even you might get much say in that. Only tomorrow knows what's going to happen."


"Yo! Tabitha. You up?"

She jerks awake at the loud pounding on her door, frantically pushing up from her bed and the angel she'd been sprawled across when she hears the doorknob rattling under her older brother's hand. The angel stares up at her with an unfathomable look, his eyes clear and bright, reminding her that she had been the only one actually sleeping.

A glance at her window shows it to still be dark outside, but she belatedly recalls that the boys had wanted to get an early start. Carthage wasn't as far of a drive as some of their jobs, but it's still eight hours. And her dry eyes remind her that she's had a half-hour of sleep at best.

Dean bangs loudly on the door a few times when he finds it locked, yelling out again, "Dammit, Tab! Open up. Are you up yet?"

Terrified at the thought of him picking the lock or breaking the door in, Tabitha yanks the top sheet off Castiel, hurriedly wrapping it around herself even as she casts about for the angel's clothes and pitches them towards the direction of her bed. As she tosses his clothes at him, Castiel finally sits up, grabbing the thrown articles as she wildly searches around the room to make sure she's gotten everything.

"Yeah, yeah!" she calls out to her brother. "I'm up. Just give me a sec!"

"What the hell are you doing? Open up," Dean commands.

Silently, Tabitha gestures at Castiel, who stands near the bed tugging his pants on, and she prays that he gets the hint for once and hides.

Dean bellows again, punctuated with what sounds like his boot kicking her door, "Open up!"

One hand fisted in the sheet, Tabitha cracks the door open, peering out at an unhappy frown.

"You just get up?" he mutters, his arm shooting out to push her door further open. He frowns at the bed-sheet she's wearing, but doesn't comment on her attire.

Surprised by his quick action, the door slips out of her hand as he passes her into her room, looking around almost suspiciously.

She holds her breath, but when she glances over his shoulder, she finds the angel gone, and heaves a sigh of relief.

Until she looks down to spot a blue tie on the ground, the end sticking out from the pile of overturned books they'd toppled from her dresser during their vigorous activities.

Before Dean can spot it, she slides closer, stepping on the end and using her toes to jerk it out, and then flinging it behind her and out the open door into the hallway.

"Well, since I'm running late, I think I'll just go grab a shower quick."

Dean turns around, still frowning at her. "Yeah," he grunts. "You look like you could use it. You look like shit. But hurry your ass up. We need to get moving."

Instead of taking offense at his words, she smiles brightly and laughs a little unsteadily. "Yeah…I, uh, I didn't sleep well last night." She jerks a nod to the hallway. "I'll just go shower now."

She steps into the hallway, trying to stay ahead of Dean so she can grab Castiel's blue tie, but it's nowhere in sight when she looks for it.


Sam hands her a travel cup of coffee when she steps into the kitchen a while later.

"Here," he says, thrusting it into her eagerly waiting hands. "Dean said you could use the pick-me-up."

"Yes, please," she enthuses, greedily gulping down the promise of liquid energy to keep her going.

"You moving furniture upstairs or something last night?" Sam suddenly asks. "We heard a lot of loud banging upstairs for a while."

Tabitha suddenly sucks in a breath, her mouthful of coffee inhaling painfully into her lungs.

"Jesus, Tab. You okay?" Sam asks, pounding on her back as she doubles over and struggles to breathe something other than coffee.

"Fine," she chokes, trying to wave him away. Finally standing up, she stutters, "Uh, yeah. Furniture. Right. That's what I was doing." She shoves her hand through her hair and stares down at her travel cup, wiping the spilled coffee off the lid. "I just got sick of the way things looked and was moving furniture and I guess I made more noise than I thought I did."

Looking away, she changes the subject, "So, is everyone else ready to go? We should get on the road."

Sam starts to say something, but stops, shakes his head, and then says, "Yeah, they all stepped outside just a minute ago."

Tabitha can't look her brother in the eye as she grabs the bag she dropped by the stairs, so instead, she hustles out the front door. She finds Dean standing by the Impala, Ellen and Jo by their car, and Bobby watching nearby, a look of longing in his eyes as he watches them load up to leave in the dim porch lights.

She wants to have a proper goodbye with Bobby, but knows that if she really attempts one, that she might break down. And she knows that he won't be able to handle that any better than she can.

So instead, she passes by Bobby, only slowing to drop a kiss on his cheek as she passes, softly telling him, "See you later, Bobby."

He huffs, but doesn't respond, although his expression darkens a little as he watches her go.

"You finally ready, Tab?" Dean asks, his fingers thrumming impatiently on the cold metal of the Impala, scraping at the white crystalline frost patterns the cold air has produced on the roof.

"Yeah," she assures him, but then steals a glance at the other two women, and takes a step in their direction.

"I think I'll ride with the girls," she tells her brothers as they start getting into their station wagon.

Dean raises an eyebrow and starts to object.

"We're all headed to Carthage," she assures him. "And I'm sick of being stuck in a car with two guys all the time. Even if you two are my brothers. I'm looking forward to some girl time."

Jo wraps an arm around Tabitha as she approaches their car, smirking at Dean as she tells him, "Yeah, Dean. It's got to be some kind of cruel and unusual punishment that she's always stuck with the two of you. I'm sure she could use some conversation that doesn't involve grunts."

"Whatever," Dean rolls his eyes.

Tabitha is in the process of tossing her bag into Ellen's station wagon from the driver's side when she hears her brother calling out to the angel. She hasn't seen him since she woke, so she freezes, listening to her brother's voice instead of looking up.

"Where you going, Cas? Chicks in that car, dudes with us."

Ellen chuckles after a moment. "Guess the angel's got better taste than you give him credit for."

When Tabitha can no longer resist looking up, she sees the angel sitting in the backseat of Ellen's car, and quickly stands up, glancing over her shoulder at her brothers. Fortunately, they are already lowering themselves into the Impala, paying no attention to her or the angel.

With a sigh of relief, she turns back to the car, ready to climb in.

But Ellen's knowing gaze over the backdoor between them stops her cold.

"Moving furniture, huh?" she chuckles softly, ensuring that her words are only for Tabitha's ears.

"What-I-uh-yeah…what are you talking about?" she stutters.

Holding back a grin, Ellen informs her, "The walls between Bobby's upstairs bedrooms aren't all that thick." She starts to lower herself into the driver's seat, but then stops to add, "Although I'm sure furniture was moving around last night."


The silence and discomfort had mostly bled from the interior of the car by the time they got away from Sioux Falls. And Tabitha was almost thankful for their journey beginning, even if it was one step closer to the completion of their mission—whatever that ending would be.

Ellen and Jo had shared easy conversation with Tabitha—despite the awkward talk she'd shared with Ellen at Bobby's—but Castiel hadn't said a word since they left. For which Tabitha was actually thankful, too intimidated to talk to him with Ellen's watchful and knowing eyes in the rearview mirror anyway. Over and over, she found herself praying that if Ellen had kept her knowledge from Dean and Sam this long, that it meant she did not intend to tell them. Ever.

If the angel that she'd avoided looking at all day had been uncomfortable with the silence, he didn't show it, mostly staring ahead as they drove. Or occasionally looking out the window on his side of the car. She wasn't certain, but Tabitha thought he seemed a little impatient with their mode of travel, but she figured for an angel used to simply appearing where he wanted to, that traveling by car would seem pretty tedious.

As they got closer to Carthage, both Ellen and Tabitha had fallen silent, their impending destination looming not only on the horizon but also on their thoughts. In her nervousness, only Jo still tried to keep conversation going, and when the two women would no longer engage her, she'd tried including the angel in her chatter. Only to be silently rebuffed with a frown from Castiel.

The town has an eerie feel to it as they drive down the deserted streets. Tabitha can see her brothers holding their cellphones out their windows as they drive, and checks her own, finding it without signal as well.

Dean finds an open section of the street, pulling over and waving for Ellen to pull up alongside him.

"Place seem a little empty to you?" Ellen calls across through Jo's open window.

"We're gonna go check out the PD," Dean replies. "You guys stay here." His eyes cut through the station wagon to where Tabitha leans forward between Ellen and Jo. "Why don't you hop in and help us out, Tab."

She starts to gather her things to follow them, but hesitates, glancing at Castiel from the corner of her eye. He makes no move to leave, and she suddenly finds herself wanting to spend a little more time with him.

Leaning forward again, she tells her brothers, "You guys go ahead. I'll stay here with Ellen, Jo, and Cas. None of us should splinter off alone. This way the numbers stay even."

Dean starts to argue, but Sam taps his shoulder, nodding in agreement with his sister.

"I think she's right, Dean," Sam tells him. "We should all stick close to someone."

"Fine," Dean relents, looking back to Ellen. "You guys stay here—see if you can find anybody." He pauses, and then warns them, "You guys watch out for each other and stick together."

"Okay," Ellen agrees, and then pulls the station wagon to the nearest curb.

Jo's the first to step out, eager after being cooped up on the long ride.

As Tabitha shuts the back door on the driver's side, she can see Jo step back to Castiel's side of the station wagon. Still irritated with him, she raps her knuckles on the window, leaning down to ask him, "You ever heard of a door handle?"

He appears on the sidewalk behind her before she can turn around, telling her in his wooden voice, "Of course I have."

When something appears to catch the angel's attention, Tabitha turns to look in the same direction, her breath catching at the sight.

Ellen seems to catch the angel's worried glances, asking him, "What is it, Cas?"

"This town's not empty," he informs her.

"What are they staring at?" Tabitha whispers, not turning to look across the station wagon between her and the others, still grounded by the strange sight of so many old men in suits standing so still. There's dozens of them gathered in the streets, and numerous more on several of the rooftops. All seem to be turned towards and staring at one building in particular.

She feels Castiel's head whip to stare at her, and finally tears her own eyes away from the sight to look quizzically at the angel.

"You see them all?" he asks her.

"See all what?" Ellen irritably interjects. "What're you two talking about?"

Ignoring her, Tabitha nods to Castiel, and then glances back at the strange gathering. An unsettling, and yet familiar feeling settles over her as she stares.

"Reapers," she whispers with dawning realization. They look nothing like the only reaper she really knows, Tessa, but she'd seen another Reaper that night, too. And more importantly, she now recognizes the dark, oppressive feel of them. These old men look very much like the Reaper she'd seen the demons kill that night trying to break one of the Seals.

"Yes, Reapers," Castiel agrees.

Ellen and Jo exchange startled looks, staring between the angel and the other woman.

"You can see 'em?" Ellen slowly clarifies of Tabitha.

"Yeah. I can see them," she absently whispers. She turns to Castiel again, her mouth opening to ask him another question, but she slams it shut at the almost frightened looks she's receiving from Jo and Ellen.

"'Them?'" Ellen repeats. "As in more than one?"

Castiel answers for Tabitha, but seems just as distracted. "They only gather like this at times of great catastrophe—Chicago Fire, San Francisco Quake…Pompeii."

Without warning, he steps away from the group, still distracted as he tells them, "Excuse me. I need to find out why they're here."

He takes several steps down the street before Tabitha manages to unglue her own feet to follow him. Shifting the shotgun in her grip.

"Now, where do you think you're going?" Ellen suddenly demands. "Your brothers wanted us to stick together."

"I'm not letting Cas wander off on his own," she pauses to inform the dark-haired woman. "I'll stick with him."

Mother and daughter both take a step towards her, Ellen reaching out to catch Tabitha's elbow.

"Cas can take care of himself, I reckon. You ought to stay away from Reapers though. Nothing a mortal can do about 'em," she advises.

Shaking her hand off with gentle care, Tabitha assures her, "I'll be fine. I can see them, too."

With a shaky sigh, Ellen confides, "That's what worries me, girl. Ain't natural being able to see Reapers."

Tabitha glances down the street to where Castiel has wandered. He pauses every so often to peer into the face of this Reaper or that.

"It might not be natural," she agrees, "but I'm still not leaving Castiel alone."

Ellen grabs at her again. "You best start thinking with your head instead of your heart, Tabitha," she tells the younger woman with a loaded look. "You're headed down a path of pain with him. And the mortal heart's gonna be the one that gets the brunt of it."

She swallows bitterly and jerks a nod. But knowing that Ellen's veiled warning is true changes nothing in her heart. If she's likely to die in completing their task today, she's going to do it by the angel's side.

"I know," she whispers, and then turns to jog after Castiel.

When she catches up to him, he still seems distracted, not even turning to look at her, although he does offer a low warning.

"You should have stayed back."

She steps hesitantly around another Reaper as she follows him.

"No one should go off alone now. We need to stick together."

With a probing look, he pauses to stare into her eyes. Then he surprises her by taking her hand in his, pulling her along as he leads them through the Reapers. Somehow, the shotgun grasped in her left hand doesn't feel nearly as reassuring as the warm skin under her right palm.

Lowly she asks him the thought racing through her mind. "I can see them because I'm Azrael's vessel, right?"

His steps falter, but he doesn't turn back to her as he whispers, "Yes."

Hoping to capitalize on him answering her question, she continues her line of thought, "Because she's got some kind of affiliation or something with them, right? So what is it she thinks she can do to stop all this? What can she do that Reapers themselves can't?"

Spinning to face her, his hand tightens painfully around hers. "Don't," he warns in a deep growl. "Don't even consider saying 'yes' to her. The consequences would be catastrophic."

Annoyed, she huffs, "You keep giving vague warnings like that, but what's the real truth? What are you hiding from me, Cas? What will she do that's so bad?"

"It doesn't matter," he mutters before turning away, signaling the end of their conversation.

She itches to press him further, but decides that it can wait until they're done. Besides, she thinks to herself, what does it matter anyway if I die today in trying to kill the Devil?

After a few minutes of following behind, she starts to ask him what he's looking for, but he stops before she can form the question. Looking up into the second story window of one of the buildings. A Reaper stands there, but unlike all the others, this one stares down at them.

Castiel tugs her hand a little closer, her side bumping into his as he whispers, "Trust me."

She nods, knowing that she does without giving it thought. And between blinks, they suddenly appear in a hallway, looking down on where they'd just been standing.

Although she opens her mouth to question him, he silently shakes his head, tugging her along down a darkened hallway.

They step into a dim room that bears the testament of being abandoned for years, holes in the walls. At least where the walls haven't fallen down completely.

As they ease in, Tabitha feels the stirring of something…something powerful. But only for a moment before Castiel shoves her away from him.

In her surprise, she stumbles, falling to the ground and throwing an arm over her eyes as flames leap up in the room. Distantly, she hears the sound of her shotgun skidding across the floor.

Despite her surprise, she registers a voice greet, "Hello, brother."

When her eyes have finally adjusted to the light, she removes her forearm, spotting Castiel standing in the center of a ring of fire. From his frantic look, she can only assume it to be Holy Fire.

Run! Castiel silently shouts across her mind.

But even as she gathers herself to stand, she feels someone crouch over her.

With his back to the flames that are entrapping Castiel, the stranger's face remains in shadow, unseen to her eyes. But she jerks away when the unknown man runs a finger caressingly down her arm with an air of uncomfortable intimacy and familiarity.

"So, the key comes to me," he whispers, more to himself than to her if Tabitha had to guess.

When his hand runs down her arm again to caress her charm bracelet between his fingers, she hears him murmur, "Interesting."

Moving quickly, Tabitha bats the stranger away, twisting on the floor and springing to her feet as she turns to run.

Once more, she's halted, throwing her arm up over her eyes as flames jump up around her.

For several moments, she shields her eyes, and when she can finally open them again, she sees that she too is now stuck inside a circle of flame, with no way to escape other than jumping through the fire.

Strangely, when she looks at Castiel, he seems even more frantic. Fear shining brightly in his eyes as he stares at her from his own circle of fire.

But the stranger from the shadows has stepped away from her, still staying in shadows as he stands in profile to Castiel.

Her angel finally tears his fearful gaze away from her, spinning to follow Tabitha's gaze to land on the stranger in shadows.

Castiel steps closer to his wall of flames, lowly whispering, "Lucifer."

Tabitha gasps at that, pressing a hand over her mouth. They'd come to find Lucifer, but this hadn't been quite what she had in mind. And she wasn't the one that had taken the Colt, so she's powerless before him.

Lucifer steps a little out of shadows, his gaze on Castiel as he greets him.

"So, I take it you're here with the Winchesters." He pauses to throw Tabitha a smile, continuing, "More than just this Winchester anyway."

Unmoving, Castiel insists, "I came alone." He darts a look at Tabitha before adding, "She doesn't matter."

"I beg to differ," Lucifer comments, his hands gripped behind his back in a manner that reminds Tabitha so much of Castiel. The angel-turned-Devil waves a dismissive hand as he goes on, "but we'll come back to that." His chin dips as he compliments with no little admiration, "Loyalty." And then chuckles, "Such a nice quality to see in this day and age. 'Castiel,' right?" he asks.

Castiel doesn't move and doesn't answer.

But Lucifer pays that no attention, still wandering a little closer to Castiel's prison.

"Castiel…I'm told you came here in an automobile."

"Yes," her angel finally answers, seeming to find no harm in replying to the apparently innocuous question.

"What was that like?"

"Um…" Castiel starts, looking around in confusion. "Slow. Confining."

"What a peculiar thing you are."

"What's wrong with your vessel?" Castiel asks, and with Lucifer standing so close to the flames, even Tabitha can see the strange burn marks that mottle his skin, covering his face.

"Yes, um…" Lucifer looks down at his body as he admits, "Nick is wearing a bit thin, I'm afraid. He can't contain me forever, so…"

When he trails off meaningfully, Castiel lunges forward, stopped only by the flames as he threatens, "You—" He pauses at the flames, but tells his brother, "You are not taking Sam Winchester. I won't let you."

"Castiel," Lucifer whispers. "I don't understand why you're fighting me, of all angels."

"You really have to ask."

Looking offended, Lucifer replies, "I rebelled. I was cast out. You rebelled. You were cast out. Almost all of Heaven wants to see me dead. And if they succeed, guess what. You're their new public enemy number one. We're on the same side, like it or not, so…why not just serve your own best interests? Which in this case, just happen to be mine."

Seeing the almost horrified look on Castiel's face at Lucifer's comparison, she jumps to defend him, telling Lucifer, "There's one big difference between you and him. He doesn't want to see humanity wiped off the face of the earth. He cares about humans."

Lucifer leaves Castiel where he stands, coming over to Tabitha. His face has softened in a benevolent smile as he leans in to whisper, "That's where you're wrong. He cares about one human. You." He leans back to smirk at her surprised expression, shrugging as he adds, "Maybe your brothers. But mostly for your sake I think."

Shaking her head, she insists, not looking away from Lucifer, "You're wrong. He cares about more than just us."

Lucifer lets out a laugh that tells her he's amused by her words, but doesn't argue further with her, turning back to Castiel, whose eyes are fixed at his feet.

Softly, he tells Castiel, "I really must thank you for bringing her to me. I've been looking for her for some time now. Had countless demons sent out to do the job as well. Imagine my surprise when it's you that brings her to me at last."

Castiel's eyes jerk up to narrow on his brother, ordering him with the threat of violence in his voice, "Let her go. She has no part in this."

"Oh, but she does," Lucifer laughs, his arms clasped behind his back again as he strolls between the two rings of flame. "She's got as much a part in this as her brothers. Dad made sure of that, didn't he?" he sneers to Castiel.

Turning back to Tabitha, he continues telling her, "You'll go to our sister, just as surely as your brother will come to me. It's destiny. But you'll go to Azzie when I want you to."

Tabitha lunges over the top of the flames, intent on tearing into the angel for threatening her and her younger brother.

Several things happen at once: she can hear Castiel shouting at her to stop, and as her arm crosses the plane of the flames, the fires leaps up, curling around her hand and wrist.

Feeling a searing pain, she pulls back, stumbling to the floor as she cradles her arm to her body, nearly choking on the cry that wants to tear from her throat in answer to the blinding pain coursing through her arm.

Looking down, she expects to see her hand scorched with red blisters from the flames. Instead, she sees the skin mottled with black, as if the skin has died but not yet flaked away to dust.

Looking over, she sees Castiel crouching in his own ring of fire, tears in his eyes as he softly warns her through the dancing flames, "Please, Tabitha, don't attempt to cross over the fire again."

She searches his eyes as she cradles her arm, feeling as though liquid fire is still coursing through her skin, and feeling tears of her own spill onto her cheeks.

Lucifer crouches then, too. Not quite between them, but so he can see them both. His hands dangle carelessly between his knees as he curiously observes her, his head tipped to the side.

"It works better on you than I thought," he comments, holding his hands up to her ring of fire as though warming his fingers at a campfire on a chilly night.

"How?" she whispers in a fearful voice, pain making her voice feel raw.

He smiles and leans closer to confide, "You have Castiel to thank for that." Leaning back, he glances at the other angel to add with relish, "And so do I."

Before she can speak, he continues, looking more thoughtful as he adds, "Of course, I have one of my demons to thank for something else as well."

At her confusion, he waves offhandedly in her direction. "For the splendid idea of marking you. It truly is a stroke of brilliance. I'll have to give a special thanks to that particular demon."

With a shiver, Tabitha scoots back until she can feel the flames licking with uncomfortable heat against her back. And wrapping her good arm around her drawn up knees, she raises her chin to tell him, struggling to keep her voice steady, "You're a little late. Cas already killed her."

Lucifer glances at Castiel and shrugs dispassionately. "Oh well," he blithely intones.

"Your quarrel isn't with her, Lucifer," Castiel tries again to convince his brother, standing to stare down at him. "Let her go. You have no need of her."

Lucifer stands as well, coolly replying, "I've learned my lesson this time. I lost to Michael once. I have no intention of losing again. And Azzie may have stayed out of it last time, but make no mistake, I know she won't again. I need to have her on my side. Which unfortunately means I do need the key…Cas." He slowly draws out Castiel's nickname, glancing meaningfully back to Tabitha where she still sits on the cold concrete.

He turns again to Castiel. "You want her alive, right?" he comments, folding his arms over his chest again as he strolls around Castiel's trap. Without waiting for an answer, he continues, "Well then, you should side with me. Believe me, I have no intention of seeing this human dead, my brother."

Having made a circle around Castiel, he pauses to lean closer to him, whispering just loud enough for Tabitha to hear, "You know Azzie has no such intention. You know exactly what she'll do to her, don't you?"

A wounded look spreads across Tabitha's face, forcing her to rise up to her knees, despite the still coursing pain in her arm as the blackness spreads across her skin and up her forearm.

"Cas?" she whispers, wondering what the Devil is talking about.

Lucifer ignores her soft plea, but Tabitha somehow knows he's all too aware of it.

Almost eagerly, he leans even closer to Castiel, pressing dangerously close to the flames himself.

"Help me, brother," Lucifer entreats. "Join me. I could use someone with your loyalty and courage. And it will ensure that you save her. You know that however many angels Azzie rallies to her side to help protect the girl, there will be twice as many trying to kill her. And they don't even know the half of it. Do they? She'll die from Azzie's plan, or Michael's faction will kill her. I'm the only one that can guarantee her life."

Castiel's eyes cut across to Tabitha again, fear and regret shining brightly. The naked emotion he normally conceals so well shocks her.

Shaking her head, she softly pleas, "No, Cas. You can't."

The light of the flame dances eerily across her angel's face as he locks all emotion away, becoming an impenetrable wall once more as he meets his brother's gaze and tells him, "No. You would kill all humans in the end. All of them. I'll die first."

Lucifer steps back, sighing with a deep sense of regret as he softly agrees, "I suppose you will."

Without looking back, Lucifer ambles indifferently out of the room.

The Devil no longer there for her to purport the façade of strength in front of, Tabitha falls back to the cold cement, moaning in pain as she rocks and cradles her throbbing arm. She can feel fresh tears spill onto her cheeks, but despite her general disuse for tears and crying, she can't seem to control the pain enough to stop them.

From the corner of her eye, she sees Castiel lower himself back to the ground as close as he can to her within the confines of his trap.

In a regretful whisper, he tells her, "I shouldn't have allowed you to follow me here."

Sniffling, she shrugs. "I couldn't let you wander off on your own, Cas. Then you'd be stuck here all alone. At least we're trapped together."

"It is my duty to protect you, and I have failed," he bemoans, actually slamming his fist into the cement beside him.

"It was my choice to come with you," she reminds him, swiping her hand under her nose as she tries again to stem her tears, afraid that she's only adding to the angel's apparent guilt and torment. The distraction of talking helps some, and the pain doesn't consume her mind so strongly.

"I shouldn't have allowed it," he repeats, his eyes falling to the floor.

"Just, shut up, Cas," she sighs. "I made the choice, and we can't take it back now. Just…stop talking about that and talk about something else. Anything else to keep my mind off the pain."

He looks lost for a moment, finally shaking his head and admitting, "I don't know what you want me to say."

She shivers when she hears a fearsome howling and snarling somewhere in the distance. An unearthly sound that strike fear into parts of her heart long since hardened to the most terrifying of creatures and monsters. For the moment, she doesn't even want to guess what could howl so.

Voice breaking as she pulls her thoughts away from the unearthly sounds, she tells him, "Tell me something. Anything. I don't know. Tell me about Jesus. Was he really the son of God? Or just a man?"

Castiel's face softens at her throwing him a lifeline, latching onto the topic as he softly explains, "I was not present in Jerusalem during his life. But he was just a man. His story embellished greatly after his death. But he was a remarkable human, especially given the world at his time. And he accomplished remarkable feats… Perhaps, my father did indeed work through him."

She closes her eyes as she listens to him speak. Talking of Jesus and other humans of that period. Her mind wanders some as his speech changes and he begins weaving tales of apostles, disciples, and prophets in addition.

"Do you know that your Bible only names one female disciple?" Castiel suddenly asks.

Tabitha opens her eyes, broken out of the reverie his voice had brought her.

"I thought all the apostles and disciples in the Bible were men," she comments. Truthfully, she adds, "One of the many problems I have with the gender-biases of the Bible."

The corner of Castiel's mouth ticks up in amusement, but he continues without addressing her comment. "There was one female disciple named in the Bible. Just one. Do you know her name?"

Tabitha shakes her head. She'd enjoyed going to a beautiful Catholic Church when she lived in Virginia, but she hadn't exactly grown up with Bible study nor had the time for it in between her FBI caseload. She'd mostly enjoyed the lovely stained glass and the peaceful solitude she'd felt there.

"Her name was Tabitha," he tells her, smiling slightly at her shocked reaction. "She possessed one true talent: sewing. No unearthly talent. No remarkable talent. But she labored until her death sewing for those in need. For the homeless. And for her selflessness, at her death, Peter came to her and commanded her to rise again. So she did."

"Like Lazarus?" she asks, slightly awed, further forgetting the pain in her arm.

"Yes," he confirms. "In the Bible, she was only one of seven returned to life. And the only adult female that was given that honor."

He continues speaking for hours, telling her stories from other figures in the Bible. The real stories. And as she sits and listens to him, her eyes closed as she imagines the things he tells her, she's able to ignore the pain, forget where they are.

Softly, Tabitha suddenly whispers the fear that's been in the back of her mind for the long hours that they've been trapped.

"Do you think my brothers are okay? Them and the others?"

Castiel hesitates, and she can see him consider what to tell her.

"Please, Cas," she begs. "Tell me the truth."

He finally shakes his head. Almost doubtfully telling her, "We can only hope they are. They are your only hope of escape at the moment."

In despair, she reminds him, "But that's going to take killing Lucifer. And he's still here," she tells him. "I can feel it." She slaps her good hand against the cement in frustration. "Something tells me they're going to have to kill him to get us free, and I'm not even sure how they're going to find him. It's been hours!"

Lucifer strolls back into the room at that moment, smirking as he casually takes a seat on a rickety wooden chair, commenting, "Plotting my demise, are we?"

Glaring at him, she fires back, "Damn well dreaming of it! It's at the top of my Christmas list this year."

He laughs, crossing one leg over the other as he folds his arms and strokes his chin, giving her an admiring look as he compliments, "Good. Glad to see you've got your fire back. I couldn't imagine that the vessel my Azzie was destined for would just sit back and snivel. I figured there had to be some of her fire in there somewhere."

"Bite me!"

Lucifer chuckles, but contents himself with leaning back and watching his trapped captives.

After a few tense and silent minutes, a woman comes jogging in. An air of excitement carries with her.

"Meg," Tabitha growls, pushing up to her knees again as she recognizes the bitch demon.

The demon throws her a sly smile, but turns her attention to Lucifer, telling him, "I got the Winchesters pinned down—well, the rest of them," she laughs with a look at Tabitha. Turning back to Lucifer, she adds, "For now, at least. What should I do with them?"

Tabitha feels her heart leap into her throat. Overjoyed to know now that they are still alive, but terrified at the notion that they are as trapped as she and Castiel are. Neither group able to help the other escape.

Lucifer looks contemplative as he watches Tabitha and Castiel, but he softly commands, "Leave them alone."

Incredulously, Meg questions, "I-I'm sorry, but are you sure? Shouldn't we—"

Cutting her off, Lucifer placates her with, "Trust me, child." He steps closer to her, caressing her face with a loving façade Tabitha doesn't believe for a moment as he explains, "Everything happens for a reason."

Turning from the demon, Lucifer says, "Well, Castiel…you have some time. Time to change your mind."

Castiel glances at his brother before looking away with steely determination.

When Lucifer approaches Tabitha's fiery prison, she briefly hopes that he's merely granting her the same dispassionate farewell.

Then, her heart plummets to her stomach when he waves a hand, the flames around her suddenly extinguishing as he reaches down to yank her to her feet.

A cry of pain escapes before she can stifle it, and Lucifer tenderly touches her face, caressing her just as he had falsely caressed his demon.

"My dear," he croons. "I'd forgotten you'd be in such pain. How unfortunate I didn't think to take care of this earlier," he tells her, trailing a gentle finger down her throbbing arm, despite her efforts to pull away from him.

"Let her go!" Castiel shouts from his trap, standing at the very edge of the flames as he stares at his brother with a promise of retribution.

Lucifer spins Tabitha around in his arms, pressing her back to his chest as he grips her hand, pulling it to the side so Castiel can see the now perfectly unblemished skin.

"See," he tauntingly tells his brother. "I've healed her. Taken away all her pain."

Although she can feel the futility, she still struggles in his grip, trying to twist and turn away from the much stronger angel.

"Let go of me," she insists, ignoring how much her words sound like a plea instead of the demand she'd intended.

He ignores her, telling Castiel, "I've taken away her pain, and now I'm going to make sure you feel it ten-fold, brother."

Lucifer presses her tighter against his chest, his head dipping down to her ear as they stand facing Castiel. One hand is clamped across her clavicle, holding her in place. His free hand slowly snakes up from her hip, carefully slipping up to hover over her heart.

Lips brushing the shell of her ear, he lovingly whispers, "Hold still, dear. This might sting a little."

Pain unlike anything she'd ever imagined swells across her body. Blinding her every thought, feeling, and emotion. Every nerve ending and every cell in her body exploding with a pain that she knows no person has ever experienced and lived through, and that no imagining could ever fathom. It overshadows the earlier pain from the burn to her arm until she can't even recall it. As if it had been nothing but a mere irritant. Like a mosquito bite.

A sliver of her mind recognizes the blood-curdling scream of a woman, one she sadly thinks to herself can only be the dying cry of a wounded beast. Almost dimly, she finally registers that the horrifying sounds are her own screams. And then, she can only pray that it truly is her death cry.

Another voice mixes with her screams, and she at last recognizes the shouts of Castiel. His words intermixed with an enraged English she can't process, and Enochian she can't understand.

A year or a second pass. There's no definitive marking of time in her mind. Only the pain that seems to unending.

Yet, it suddenly does. Disappearing as swiftly as it had coursed through her, leaving her heaving for breath as she pries her eyes open to find she's somehow fallen to her hands and knees, her forehead resting against the cool cement. Her only consolation is that she doesn't feel Lucifer's hands on her.

Castiel's voice finally penetrates her ears. "Tabitha! Tabitha! Speak to me!"

Unable to move, stand, or even speak as he begs, she can only moan, hoping that he takes that as a sign of her answer.

"Really, Castiel?" she hears Lucifer huff in boredom. "She's fine."

She doesn't feel fine, but even such a simple rebuke seems beyond her abilities.

"Stand," Lucifer commands.

Even as Tabitha thinks to wonder whom he's speaking to, she feels her body push up, rising ungracefully to her feet. And real horror sets in at her body's automatic response to the command.

"Cas?" she tremulously whispers, horror stark in her voice as she looks up to face him.

Tears glisten unshed in the light of the fire as he stares at her, a matching look of horror in his apologetic gaze.

Lucifer steps closer, running his finger up her arm, and heralding the memory of Lucifer in Sam's body, running the same loving touch up the arm of her future counterpart.

She shudders at the realization.

"I do have that demon to thank for beginning the process of marking her," he conversationally tells Castiel. "Of course, I can bind her to me more closely than any demon ever could have. But it was a splendid idea."

Her hands shake as she glances down to pull the neck of her shirt away from her chest, transfixed by the heated skin over her heart. In her skin, there appears to be a brand. A circle around a pentagram. And in the center of the five-pointed star, three 6's, intertwined at their bases. If not for the horror filling her heart, she might have found humor in the mark of the Devil bearing such a resemblance to a Devil's Trap.

I've failed you. Forgive me, floats mournfully across her mind, and she looks up to see Castiel's closed eyes.

Lucifer steps around her, impatiently commenting, "Enough of this sappiness. We've got places to be. People to kill. Come."

Her body lurches forward at his single-worded command, following him as obediently as any puppy would her new owner.

She casts one last regretful look at her still trapped angel, whispering a pleading, "Cas."

Though she knows the futility, she prays that Castiel has something up his sleeve. Anything that can help her or stop her from dutifully following the Devil.

But she turns a corner before she can see or hear him respond in any way.


Hours later, she stands with her arms crossed over her chest, fending off the chill on the darkened, old battlefield. Watching the Devil wield a shovel with a strange aplomb.

It's not just the chill that she tries to fend off. Nor the only thing causing her uncontrollable shivers, but she drives the thoughts and sounds from her memory.

"What are you even doing?" she asks, trying to fill the silence.

Still shoveling, he carelessly tosses out, "Oh, nothing much. Just trying to raise Death."

Her mouth falls open, but she slams it shut, deciding not to ask any more questions. Though she wishes it were a joke, she knows his words ring true, recognizing the strange anticipation that had hung in the air around the Reapers. They'd been waiting for something. She just hadn't imagined this.

"So you and Castiel, huh?" Lucifer casually asks, pausing to lean on the handle of his shovel as he lifts his shoulders. "So how'd that happen? I mean, I get the attraction of an angel," he says, gesturing down at himself as if he doesn't look like some kind of outbreak monkey to a zombie apocalypse. "But him? What's the attraction there?"

"Go back to Hell," she growls, refusing to engage with him after she's had no choice but to come, sit, and stay at his every command.

Lucifer frowns a little at her comment, saying, "Tell me."

"Bite me!" she growls, her arms tightening around her torso against the cold and her fear.

He goes back to shoveling, but that frown remains in place, and the confident strikes of his shovel take on an angry undertone.

He mutters something under his breath that she can't quite make out. But she feels an undercurrent of confusion as he digs.

"I don't know why you're so surly with me," he finally tells her. "I'm trying to save your life."

She scoffs in disbelief. "How the hell does enslaving my will save my life?"

Even though she hates watching the Devil work, she refuses to take her eyes off him, hating the chilling sight of the zombie-like townspeople eagerly waiting whatever Lucifer is doing. From the corner of her eyes, she even sees a number of Reapers that bring a chill to her spine.

Pausing again, Lucifer looks over to where Tabitha stands.

"You really don't know. Do you? You really don't understand."

He lets out a laugh that startles her, and then he resumes his shoveling, the eager motion back in his limbs as he gleefully tells her in a singsong voice, "Guess whose little angel's been keeping secrets."

Against better judgment, she asks, "What the hell are you talking about?"

Without missing a stroke with his shovel, he tells her, "Me marking you is what's going to keep you alive. Azzie, too, for that matter. And this whole planet." He lets out a dark chuckle. "Well, not most of the humans of course."

"How?" she demands.

Lucifer pauses again, setting down his shovel as he stalks closer, running a finger down her cheek before Tabitha manages to jerk her head to the side out of his reach.

"Such amazing strength," he whispers, seeming lost in thought.

Snapping out of his contemplation, he continues, "You really don't understand what my sister is. What she was made to do."

He circles around her, sizing her up. When he stops again, he leans in to tell her, "Daddy dearest wanted to make sure that if Michael and I fought again, that there would be a…an off switch. A kill switch."

"What? That's not what she…"

Lucifer folds his arms over his chest, smiling with satisfaction at her confusion. "She didn't tell you either. Didn't tell you how she intends to stop it all. Daddy made sure there was one surefire way to end it all. End everything if Michael and I battled again. And gave that power to our sister. Gave her the power to destroy everything. Every, living, thing. This whole planet. The whole galaxy!" he exclaims, throwing his arms wide.

Mockingly, he tells her, "And you think I'm bad. I just want to get rid of the humans that corrupted my Father's world. She wants to destroy it all. Heaven. Hell. Earth. Wipe the slate completely."

He chuckles at her astonishment. Shaking his head as he tells her, "Of course, like all of us, she's got to have her vessel before she can do any serious damage. And I'm just trying to make sure that when she does find her the key—you—that she doesn't do anything rash."

Ambling back to his shovel, he takes up his work, smugly telling her over his shoulder, "You all call me the Devil and think I'm the big bad here, but I'm not the one that wants to go nuclear in this war."

The following silence is suddenly broken by her younger brother's shout, both the Devil and her looking up as he yells, "Hey!"

Sam marches through the assembled townspeople, cocking his sawed-off shotgun as he faces Lucifer who stands beside his sister on a mound of dirt above the gathering of townspeople.

"You wanted to see me?!" Sam demands.

Lucifer drops the shovel, dusting off his hands as he tells her brother, "Well, Sam, you don't need that gun here." He steps closer to add, "You know I'd never hurt you. Not really."

"What about my sister?" Sam snarls.

Lucifer spares her a glance, looking over his shoulder to where she remains in a motionless stance. He turns back to assure Sam, "I'd never hurt her, either. I only want to protect her. Isn't that right, Tabitha? I have no desire to truly hurt you."

Dean suddenly appears beside the Devil, the Colt in his hand as he questions, "Yeah? Well, I'd hurt you." Cocking the hammer as Lucifer turns his head, he adds, "So suck it."

As Lucifer falls to the ground, Tabitha feels something within her shudder, and with a last push, she manages to stumble down the hill to where Dean stands, staring down in an anticipatory sort of disbelief at Lucifer's body.

She nearly collides with him, never so happy to see her older brother appear from thin air as she is right now.

He grabs her in return, hugging her to his side fiercely as he whispers, "Goddamn, Tab. Thought you and Cas were dead, too."

Before she can answer, a gurgling noise emits from Lucifer, and Dean shoves her behind his back, yelling at her, "Get the hell out of here."

Transfixed, she watches with growing panic as Lucifer takes a shuddering breath and lets out a petulant, "Owww!"

He rises to his feet, facing Dean and rubbing his forehead with the tips of his fingers as he grimaces and asks, pointing at the Colt, "Where did you get that?"

His hand slices through the air then, slamming into Dean and sending him flying into a nearby tree.

Tabitha starts after him, but stops cold when Lucifer snaps at her, "You stay right there."

Then, his attention turns away from her, focusing on Sam as she realizes she'd stopped at his vocal command, not at an undeniable internal need to follow his orders. She can feel the slither of his command in her body, but she finds herself able to slowly step backwards as Lucifer advances on Sam.

"Now…" Lucifer tells her brother, the bullet hole to his forehead disappearing. "Where were we?"

Calmly, he continues, "Don't feel too badly, Sam. There's only five things in all of creation that that gun can't kill, and…I just happen to be one of them. But if you give me a minute, I'm almost done."

When Sam turns and runs to Dean, Tabitha follows suit, turning away from Lucifer as he resumes his digging, tossing shovelful after shovelful of dirt into the deep burning pit.

She reaches Dean before Sam, turning their older brother over and propping his head against her knees as she gently tries to wake him.

She hears Lucifer pause dramatically again to say, "You know…I don't suppose you'd just say 'yes' right here and now? End this whole tiresome discussion? That's crazy, right?"

"It's never going to happen!" Sam shouts, standing to face the Devil again.

Lucifer pauses when he sees Tabitha kneeling beside Dean, frowning at her before dismissing her with, "You can have your sense of freedom for now. I don't have any use for you until Azzie arrives anyway."

He continues digging, saying, "But I wouldn't say 'never,' Sam. I think it will. I think it'll happen soon—within six months. And I think it'll happen…in Detroit."

At Tabitha's gasp, he looks up to knowingly wink.

Angrily, Sam tells him, "You listen to me, you son of a bitch. I'm gonna kill you myself. You understand me? I'm going to rip your heart out!"

"That's good, Sam. You keep fanning that fire in your belly—all that pent-up rage. I'm gonna need it."

Sam finally seems to look around at the zombie-like townspeople, and asks, "What did you do? What did you do to this town?"

"Oh, I was very generous with this town," he replies. "One demon for every able-bodied man."

"And the rest of them?"

Gesturing to another freshly dug pit, he explains, "In there." And then shrugs dispassionately. "I know—it's awful. But…these horsemen are so demanding," he explains, his voice taking on that petulance again. "So it was…women and children first."

Tabitha shudders at the memory of the noises she'd heard. The things she'd known were happening when she could do nothing but try to shut her eyes to block out the sights, unable to keep from hearing the awful sounds of the dying as Lucifer had slaughtered them those hours before.

"I know what you must think of me, Sam," he comments. "The same thing I'm sure your sister does, too. But I have to do this. I have to. You, of all people, should understand."

"Well, what's that supposed to mean?" Sam asks in a voice that breaks, tears in his words.

Lucifer tosses his shovel down with anger. "I was a son. A brother, like you. A younger brother. And I had an older brother who I loved. Idolized, in fact. And an older sister that I adored and who looked out for me. And one day, I went to them and I begged them to stand with me, and Michael…Michael turned on me. Called me a freak. A monster. And then he beat me down. And Azrael? She turned her back on me. She did nothing to help me. To stop our brother. All because I was different. Because I had a mind of my own. Tell me something, Sam. Any of this sound familiar?"

He pauses before adding, "Anyway…you'll have to excuse me. Midnight is calling. And I have a ritual to finish. Don't go anywhere you two," he tells them, turning back to his work. "Not that you could if you would."

Lucifer begins chanting over the pit, and then turns to the waiting townspeople, telling them, "Now, repeat after me. We offer up our lives, blood, souls…"

The people take up the chant as Tabitha feels Dean come to and Sam crouch beside them. She helps Dean struggle to sit. Together, they helplessly watch the townspeople fall one by one.

At their shock, Lucifer turns to them to demand in annoyance, "What?" Then shrugs and says, "They're just demons."

When Lucifer turns back to the pit and raises his hands, they feel the ground shake. Trembling like an earthquake…only deeper…more menacing.

"What do we do?" Sam asks his siblings.

"Hell if I know," Dean answers, casting a glance at their sister.

She shrugs as well, thinking to herself that they are screwed and there's no way out if Lucifer doesn't want them to escape.

Then, like an answer to a prayer, Castiel appears, crouching beside the Winchesters, a finger across his lips to indicate their silence.

Had it really been less than twenty hours before that she'd given him the same gesture and prayed that he understood it so her brother wouldn't find the angel in her bed?

They nod in response to the angel, the boys leaning closer to Castiel's on either side, even as Tabitha wraps grateful arms around his torso, relieved to see him when she'd been convinced they'd never be together again.

She opens her eyes when Dean clears his throat, finding that Castiel has transported them back to the Impala.

Reluctantly, she steps back from her angel, whispering, "I thought we were both goners, Cas."

"What the hell happened?" Dean demands, pulling her away from Castiel to look her over with the worried eyes of a brother. "Are you alright? Why the hell weren't you even trying to run from Lucifer? Why the hell were you just standing there?"

She opens her mouth to respond, but doesn't know where to begin.

Castiel comes to her rescue once more, suggesting to Dean, "Perhaps this is a discussion for another time. I suggest we leave this place."

In unspoken agreement, they all pile into the Impala, Castiel surprising Tabitha as he joins her in the back seat, unobtrusively taking her hand between them and holding it in a desperate grip.

As Dean pulls away, Tabitha belatedly demands, "Wait! What about Jo and Ellen? We have to wait for them."

Neither of her brothers turn to face her, and a heavy silence falls.

Around the sudden lump in her throat, she softly asks, "Guys? Where are Jo and Ellen? Did they leave already?"

Looking out the passenger window, Sam whispers to the night, "They didn't make it."

Carthage slowly disappears behind them as Dean tears down the highway, paying no heed to any posted speed limit signs.

Bone-crushing weariness settles over Tabitha as she leans into Castiel, resting her head on his shoulder as she whispers in a barely audible voice, "This is bad, isn't it? Like, as bad as I can possibly imagine, huh?" Her right hand settles over her heart, fingering the brand she can just feel beneath her shirt as her left hand clings to the angel beside her.

For a moment, Castiel's fingers reach up to sweep across the same spot with his free hand, barely touching the mark before pulling his hand away. His eyes clench tightly shut.

Worse, he silently answers, his hand wrapping painfully around hers.

So much worse.


A/N: Eek! Sorry for the delay again. Time was hard to find. And then I was kinda in a reading mood for a week or so and caught up on a couple of books waiting in my queue. I'm terrible at writing when I'm in a reading mood. And I can't read when I'm in a writing mood. So, sorry. :(

But hopefully the juicy chapter makes up for it.

Please say it does and you don't hate me!

Is that you nodding? You don't hate me? Shew! Thanks! You guys are the best.

And since I'm late in posting, I won't take the time to respond to everyone's reviews like I usually do, and instead just thank you here. Huge thanks for reviewing to: RHatch89, TabKinesis, TheSmartIdiot, m, WhatsGoingOn, Tanjatailor, eiahlaie, Maddie, ZizFox, ebonywarrior85, readitandmeep, monopolyguy, wearwind, Regin, and Guest.

To the anonymous reviewers, thanks again so much for taking the time to review. And if you're on the fence about creating an account, don't be afraid to do it. It's a great way to keep track of your favorites by adding them to a favorite list, or to just follow certain stories or authors so that you can get emails the instant they update. It's very handy, and you don't have to worry about using the account any more than you want to. Like a lot of people I think, I did start out with fanfiction as just a stalker, too, but I was so glad that I finally got an account. It's a great way to talk to people and give feedback to the writers you enjoy.

And to the last anonymous guest that left a review, since I don't have a good way to answer you, I'll just say thanks for the review, and I'm honored that you liked the story well enough to leave your first review. Glad I could pop your cherry, lol. :) And kudos on reading this story multiple times. Haha, I know that's a task since this story is getting kinda long. Also to answer your question, right now I don't have a good posting schedule. Life kicks my butt more often than I'd like, but I was trying to keep to an every other week posting schedule, usually Sunday nights. But I post when I finish writing a chapter and then proofing it. So it depends on what's going on in my life. This has been a longer break between chapters, and I can't guarantee it won't happen again. But thank you all for your patience!

And please continue to leave your marvelous reviews! It's my fuel for writing. As Chuck says, "Writing is hard."