Dean raised an eyebrow at Sam as he took his place on the opposite side of the circle, trying not to fidget as Castiel finished doing...whatever it was they were doing out here, Dean still wasn't all that clear on what the hell was going on. Sam just gave him an equally clueless shrug in response, careful to keep the long sword Castiel had pushed into his hands angled away from him. Cas showing up at 3AM in their motel room holding a sword and an enormous book – Cas had called it a grimoire, which Dean absolutely refused to do – under one arm had been his first clue the rest of the night was going to be the extra special Winchester brand of exciting.

His patience finally gave out. "Cas, you mind telling us what the hell we're doing out here?" he said, staring up into the sky.

"I'm tired of searching with no direction." He finished drawing the design in the dirt, stepping back to examine it, then shook his head, struck it out and started over again.

Dean didn't think that really counted as an answer. "Care to go into a little more detail?"

Whatever he was trying to make finally seemed to satisfy him and he stepped back, picking the book back up from the ground. "I found this ritual when I was in Babylon," he said, cradling the book in crook of his arm as he tried to find the right page. "I wasn't sure I would be able to find all of the components in time." He looked up at the stars, shifting himself over a few feet within the circle as if he could read blueprints written up there. "After tonight the opportunity won't come again for another three millenia." He put the book back on the ground and rolled his shoulders, like a boxer preparing for a title bout.

"Dean's right, what are we trying to do out here?" Sam said as Castiel reached out to take back the sword. He sounded curious, not impatient like Dean but at least he was asking the question.

Castiel held up the sword, letting the moonlight catch it. "No one has the power to summon God, but this ritual will point the way." He said a few words in Enochian and the sword hovered in the air before him. "This is Raphael's sword," he said, pride glinting in his eyes. "It took me a very long time and a great deal of luck to locate it."

"Shit, Cas, if you've got that let's go after him."

"Not his personal sword," Castiel clarified, giving Dean a sideways look. "That he guards much more closely. Unfortunately." He crouched back down again to pick up the book, holding it in both hands. "But it is one of his battle swords, one he wielded in a number of conflicts. It has been in the presence of God."

That seemed to be all the explanation they were going to get. He took a deep breath and started chanting, the low, harsh sounds blending into each other. Dean felt the wind pick up, ripping at his jacket and billowing out Cas' coat; across the circle he saw Sam throw one arm up over his face, then his eyes going wide. "Dean, look!"

Dean couldn't have missed it; the sword rocked back and forth like the arm of a pendulum, faint lines of electricity reaching to it from the book in Castiel's hands. "Cas? This supposed to be happening?"

Castiel didn't answer, completely absorbed in the spell. Dean kept his eyes locked on the sword; it was glowing now, pulsing with light like it had a heartbeat. For the briefest of moments Dean thought he heard a voice, a whisper that coiled around the base of Dean's spine. He thought he'd imagined it but Castiel paused too, looking up at the sword with his head tilted to the side in that way he had. Dean could see his eyes were still glazed over from the ritual as he stared at the sword, his brows drawing slowly together, his lips still moving as if he were chanting with no sound. When Dean saw a quick flash of panic in his eyes, something he'd never seen on Cas' face before, he didn't think; he stepped forward into the circle and grabbed Castiel's arm. "Cas! Snap out of it."

When things started to go really bad it happened so quickly Dean couldn't process it; before he could take another breath a bolt of lightning shot from the sword and hit Castiel right in the chest. Castiel pushed him back just before it hit, knocking him off his feet; Dean could only watch as the book fell from his hands as he lifted up, floating in the air next to the sword with electricity sparking over his body and his wide eyes glowing with light. Dean felt like it lasted forever before the light show stopped like someone had flipped a switch, leaving the air smelling like ozone. The sword buried itself in the dirt halfway up to the hilt and Castiel crumpled to the ground, eyes closed and body limp. Dean held his breath, waiting for those black wings to start burning themselves into the grass. When after a few seconds nothing happened, just Cas lying there still, Dean felt his heartbeat start back up and he staggered his way over. "Cas!" he said, turning him over; he looked up and saw Sam pick the sword out of the ground and make his way over and waved at him to stay back. No reason for both of them to get caught up if something new and strange happened.

Dean let out a relieved breath when all that did happen was Castiel finally opening his eyes, blinking at Dean like he couldn't quite place him for a few seconds. "Cas? You okay?"

"Yes." He closed his eyes again for a few seconds before letting out a breath. "That was unexpected."

"You're telling me." He helped Castiel up, stepping back to stay ready to catch him if he fell. "Guess that didn't go how you'd hoped."

"Unexpected isn't always a bad thing."

Something about Castiel's tone was sent off warning bells for Dean but he kept quiet. Cas should be disappointed not...whatever this was. He glanced over at Sam, inclining his head toward Cas ever so slightly. Keep an eye on this, Sam.Sam nodded back, picking up the book and putting the sword over his shoulder. "We should go back to the motel," Dean said. "Regroup."

"The motel. Yes. That sounds like a good idea."

He said "motel" like he wasn't quite sure what the word meant. Dean locked eyes with Sam one more time as they headed back to the car; when they reached it he slid into the backseat next to Cas without a word, Sam taking his place behind the wheel.

Dean didn't really start panicking until they pulled out and Cas didn't think to ask why Dean had done that.

888

Sam kept an eye on Dean and Castiel in his rearview the entire way back to the motel – although back was the wrong word, he drove right past the place they'd stayed the night before and went another twenty miles down the highway, pulling into a decrepit little place Sam knew from experience was rarely full and whose operators didn't ask any questions. Most importantly, it was in the middle of nowhere, and if there was something strange happening here that was exactly what they needed. Castiel was silent the entire trip, looking out the window with an oddly animated expression, like everything he looked at was so very interesting. It was creepy. And he could tell Dean was thinking along the same lines; Sam saw him fingering his gun, although if this was a worst case scenario Sam didn't know what that would even do.

Once they booked the room Sam grabbed the key and got there first, taking the few second head start to lay down a salt line at the front door. Dean gave him an approving nod and stepped over without breaking the line. They both turned to watch Castiel enter the room; Sam felt the tension coil in his stomach and it took all of his willpower to keep his hands from clenching into fists. But then Castiel stepped over the line without even breaking his stride and Sam dropped down to one of the beds, relief taking his legs out for that first second. He wasn't sure he was up to exorcising an angel this early in the morning.

Sam got to enjoy the relief for about five seconds. Castiel walked over to the desk and shrugged out of his trenchcoat, tossing it casually over the chair; Sam glanced over to catch Dean's mouth hanging open before he managed to hide his shock. He looked back at Sam, a clear as day The hell?expression on his face, and Sam wished he knew.

Dean cleared his throat, a be on your guard signal if Sam had ever heard one. "So Cas," he said, and Sam was amazed at how calm he managed to sound, "what's the plan now?"

Castiel shrugged, one arm thrown over the back of the chair as he slouched back. "I'm not sure," he said, drumming his fingers on the desk. "I suppose I'll get back to some things I've neglected." He got up and Sam hoped the alarm he felt didn't show on his face.

Dean seemed to be feeling the same way. "You heading out already?"

"I don't like wasting time," he answered. He brushed his hands down his suit, then headed toward the door.

"Hey, Cas," Sam said, stopping him just as his hand touched the knob. "You forgot your coat."

"So I did." As he reached back to put the coat back on he looked between Sam and Dean. "And I...don't usually do that. Do I." A smiled crawled over his face and that, thatwas creepy. Sam never wanted to see Castiel smile again. "It's always the little things, isn't it?"

Sam saw that Dean already had his gun up. "What the hell are you?"

Castiel – or whatever this was – just rolled his eyes. "Don't embarrass yourself. You're not on my list."

"Where's Cas? What did you do to him?"

The thing chuckled. "What did I do to him? I didn't set up that little trap." He turned the chair around and straddled it, putting himself less than a foot away from the barrel of Dean's gun. "But you didn't either, did you? So tell me," he said, leaning in even closer, "why isRaphael trying to kill your little angel?" Sam felt the visceral, stomach-twisting memory of standing in a writer's blood-spattered living room overtake him for a second and could tell Dean was right back there with him.

"Don't know what you're talking about."

"You're not nearly the liar you think you are." He let out an exaggerated sigh, like an actor in a play. "He tried to protect you. Was quite panicked about it, actually. It's unusual for one of them to get so...attached." He laughed to himself again, and Sam thought this thing could knock that off any time. "I wonder if Raphael even appreciates the irony."

"Where's Cas?" Dean said again, pressing the gun against Castiel's head even though they all knew that had to be useless.

"Relax," it said, as calmly as if he and Dean were talking over coffee. "He's still in here. It's making things a little cramped," he said, rolling his shoulders almost the same way Cas had at the ritual site. "But I have no intention of being Raphael's attack dog. Especially when the bastard didn't even have the courtesy to ask me himself." He stood up, stretching his arms. "Now. It seems I've been trapped in a sword for a few thousand years and there are a few things I need to get back to."

Dean stood with him, the gun still up and Sam followed suit. "You're not going anywhere."

The thing's eyes turned black and Sam felt himself flinch, his mind racing to come up with a thought that wasn't Wait, no, that's not possible. "It wasn't a request." He raised one hand and Sam saw a sigil burn to life on his palm, barely a second before a wave of energy knocked him down to the floor. Sam's vision stopped swimming just in time for him to look up and see the shadow of Castiel's wings against the motel. Dean had told him about seeing those wings back in the warehouse but Sam realized he hadn't actually believed him until then. "I like this body," he said, that disturbing smile back on his face. "Very definite upsides." Then Sam heard the sound of those enormous wings rustling through the air and before he could blink Castiel was gone.

888

Dean picked himself from the floor, his head ringing. "Sam? You okay?" He heard a groan in response, which at least was better than silence; he leaned against the bed and tried to figure out what the hell they were supposed to do now. He shook his head and reached for his dropped gun, then pushed himself up from the floor.

Dean?

Dean froze. He could see Sam getting up, and it was clear he hadn't heard anything. So either Dean was going crazy, or... "Cas?" he said out loud. "That you?"

He could actually feel relief radiating out from Castiel, like sinking into a warm bath. Oh, good. I wasn't sure you'd be able to hear.

"Where the hell are...?" Dean sank back to the floor, his head in his hands. "You're in my head, aren't you."

I'm taking refuge in your subconscious, yes. Or at least some of me is.

"...Why?"

Now that he knew the voice was coming from inside his head he could feel Castiel in there, almost like those pictures you had to look at just the right way to see the illusion. Because if the conscious part of me is here I don't have to feel it.

That sounded about as bad as it got. "What are we dealing with here?"

I have my suspicions. If I'm right he'll reveal himself again shortly.

Sam was looking at him like he'd gone crazy and Dean really couldn't blame him. "What's the plan, Cas?"

Do one of you still have the sword?

"Yeah. Yeah, Sam has it."

There was that feeling of relief again. Good. You'll need that to defeat him. You'll have to surprise him or he'll elude you.

"Surprise him so we can do what with the sword?"

Cas being cagey about things was never a good sign, so Dean wasn't at all surprised when Castiel said You need to put the sword through my heart.

888

"I love this hotel." Melissa twirled around in the cavernous room, then plopped down on the bed. The heart-shaped bed. She was on her honeymoon in a room with a heart-shaped bed. This was absolutely worth every second of dancing in four inch heels she'd done at the reception. "Bobby?" she called out as she draped herself across the bed for maximum effect. "When are you going to come in here and get me out of this dress?"

Seeing him lounge in the door way holding a bottle of champagne in each hand his tie already undone was easily the best moment of her life. "I was trying to decide which of these to start on first."

She jumped up and pulled him down to the bed, giving him just enough to time put the bottles on the bedside table. "Later. Much, much later." She'd just started unbuttoning his suit jacket when she looked over his shoulder and saw someone standing in the doorway. She screamed, scrambling further back on the bed, and when he turned around and saw Bobby grabbed one of the bottles to use as a weapon.

"Who are you?" he said, brandishing it toward the stranger.

The man was average height, good-looking with piercing blue eyes and messy dark hair and wearing a dark suit and a rumpled trenchcoat, like the salesmen she rented cars to everyday. It was the smile on his face that froze her blood, though. Like the smile a man might have when he was about to sit down to a really great meal. "Ah," he said, looking around the room. "It's good to get back to work."

Melissa could only watch as the man raised one hand, a strange symbol glowing on his palm like it had been drawn there in fire.

888

Dean stumbled out of the bridal suite and stood outside sucking down blessedly fresh air for a few long seconds. Normally he was good at keeping his game face on at crime scenes but not today. And anyway, he'd lasted longer in there than any of the actual cops, so he still felt like he'd come out ahead. When he saw Sam break off from talking to one of the detectives to head inside for a look of his own Dean grabbed his arm to stop him. "Don't, Sam. It's...it's badin there. And this is me saying that." He saw Sam take his words to heart and back up; it took a few more seconds for him to be sure his stomach really wasn't going to climb out of his throat and make a run for it, but he was finally able to straighten up and look something close to professional.

"Dude, you have...um, stuff in your hair," Sam said, reaching up to brush the whatever it was out.

"Not helping." Dean scanned the scene, taking in the shell-shocked cops and hotel workers; little flyover towns usually didn't have the infrastructure to handle the really messy jobs and this was no different. All it had taken was he and Sam showing up and saying the magical letters "FBI" and everyone had been more than happy to give them full access, as much as he was regretting that now. "You get anything from the cops?"

"Once the one stopped crying, yeah. There's a pretty gruesome surveillance video, the hotel let us all go inside and watch."

"It's worse in living color, Sam, take my word for it." He shook his head, clearing the last of the horror show out, at least to the point he was ever going to; he scanned the crowd and made out the bride wrapped in a blanket and sitting on the back hatch of an ambulance, flanked by EMTs. "What about the chick? You think it's worth talking to her?"

Sam shook his head. "She's in complete shock. It'll be a day or two before she'll be able to sit through that."

"Can't say I blame her." He fought down another second of rising nausea. "We sure it's our guy?"

"No doubt about it. He's clear as day on the security cameras."

"What the hell is this, Sam? What tears the guy apart like that and stops there? Chick's dress isn't even ripped."

"Hell if I know. Cas have any ideas?"

Dean shook his head. He could always feel Castiel there, like an itch buried deep in his skull, but the strength of the presence came and went and he hadn't heard him talk since they'd gotten to this town. "How about it, Cas? Any of this look familiar?"

I can't see, I can only hear. It was weird to be able to feel someone grumble. Did I hear you say the man was killed but the woman unharmed?

"That's about right."

And they were recently married?

"Yeah. Yeah, earlier today. They're on their honeymoon. Well, were, anyway."

Then I was correct in my suspicions.

"Care to share them with the class, Cas?"

"Dean, let's compare notes back at the motel," Sam cut in, and Dean looked up to see one of the cops new on the scene starting to give them funny looks.

"Yeah. Yeah, probably a good plan."

888

The day didn't get any better once they were back safe the motel. The creature has had many names over the centuries, Castiel said, Dean relaying the information back to Sam. But the name it calls itself is Asmodeus.

That rang a few bells for Dean, but not as much as Sam; he saw Sam's eyes go wide and it was hard to listen to him and Cas at the same time, but Dean didn't need to be able to hear him to make out him saying "Oh, shit."

"What's with this demon, Cas? Why's he doing this?"

It's not a demon. It's older than that. It's older than me. Older than Lucifer.

"Better and better. It sure made your eyes go black like a demon's."

That's because Asmodeus is the one who taught Lucifer how to make them.

Sam shook his head at that and turned on his computer, going to their usual sites and pulling up any lore he could find. "There's a lot here on the guy but it's scattered. What's the right angle?"

Asmodeus appears in the part of your Bible called the Book of Tobit. You may need to consult books belonging to older sects, the book is often excised from newer traditions. Ironically it's one of the more accurate chronicles in the Scripture.

Sam nodded, putting the King James back in the bag and pulling out the older Catholic Bible Bobby had loaned them. "Found it," he said, settling back to read.

"Why don't you give me the Cliff Notes on this one, Cas? Sum it up for me," Dean said, realizing quickly that Castiel probably didn't know what Cliff Notes were.

The tale related in Tobit describes Asmodeus' persecution of the husbands of Sarah. Seven times he abducted and slaughtered her bridegrooms before the marriages could be consummated.

"I'm guessing some of that's been sanitized, considering what I walked into in that motel room."

It's possible, Castiel allowed. It's written this went on long enough that Sarah prayed for death, and my Father answered her pleas by sending Raphael to accompany the prophet Tobias on a quest to Media, where she lived. Once there Raphael was able to bind Asmodeus, then Tobias married Sarah and the two of them disappear from the Scripture. There's more to the story but those are the relevant parts to the story at hand.

"Hard to see Raphael doing all that, I'm gonna be honest."

He could feel the sadness from Castiel, like a layer of ice under his skin. He was very different then. Many things were. Raphael was once renowned as a healer, and for his gentleness.

"Yeah, well he got over that pretty fast."

Our Father's disappearance affected us all differently.

"Yeah, my heart bleeds for him. So if Asmodeus isn't a demon what is he?"

Evil.

"Yeah, I got that."

You misunderstand. Asmodeus is...the shadow of creation. Good cannot exist in a vacuum, evil must exist to contrast it or the concept has no meaning. Imagine if Evil as a concept gained sentience and will of its own. Then you would have Asmodeus. Or at least that's what we've always told ourselves. Asmodeus was the first being to find Lucifer in the Cage. Lucifer named him and in return he taught Lucifer the method to make demons so he would have company in his exile.

"Great. That sounds great, so how do we kill it."

Even Raphael could only bind him. And I've already told you what you need to do.

Dean clenched his jaw so hard he knew it would ache in the morning. "That is not an option, Cas."

The irritation and annoyance coming from Castiel felt like a wave of little pinpricks, thousands of them. We can't afford to be sentimental, Dean.

Dean could hear what Castiel wasn't saying much more clearly than what he did. "Dude. This isn't your fault."

It's actually directly my fault. I was so eager to do the ritual that I didn't stop to think about whether things were coming too easily.

Dean sighed. "I really don't think you would have guessed that Raphael would set this thing up to be released even if you had thought about it. You got tricked. It happens. Doesn't mean you have to die over it." He'd felt that awareness of Cas in his head dip throughout the conversation, like trying to talk to someone over a bad connection. "You okay?"

It took a few minutes for Castiel to answer. You're not my vessel. This is very difficult.

The voice was barely a whisper and for the first time Dean started wonder what they were going to do if they couldn't track Asmodeus down. "We'll get you connected back up soon enough, Cas," he said, pushing that aside. "Just hold tight."

Before Castiel could say anything in response Dean felt heat rush through him, like he'd swallowed a lit match and it kept smoldering all the way down. The last time he'd felt like this they'd gotten word of a massacre in a bridal suite. "Cas? Something up?"

It took a long time for Castiel to answer, longer than the first time this happened and when he did manage to speak his voice was dazed and small. He's moving, Cas finally managed to say. Acting again. He...Dean...

"Shh, Cas, ride it out." It felt like trying to keep someone from being dragged under by a riptide. "Just like before." He motioned to Sam that something was up but Sam was ahead of him, already switching on the police scanner and the TV in addition to refreshing his sites. "Thought you said you were in my head so you wouldn't haveto feel this."

don't have to feel it as much.

Dean felt bad for even bringing it up. Neither had the chance to say anything else before he heard Sam breathe, "Oh, shit." He turned up the volume on the TV and Dean saw a live breaking report on the local news channel, with a reporter just freakingout. "...again, chaos here at here at the mayoral wedding where according to initial reports seven people are dead, reportedly including the entire groom's party including the mayor, someone just walked in and murdered everyone." Then she broke down sobbing. "This is Clarice Stevens, style reporter for KNTV." Some producer took pity and cut her off then, switching to shaky cell phone video that clearly showed Asmodeus throwing open the chapel doors, that sick smile sitting on his stolen face. Then the video cut out, replaced by a graphic content black screen over the audio and frankly, that was bad enough.

"Sam, what town is this from?"

He was already throwing his things into his bag. "Two towns west, barely twenty minutes away. Let's go."

888

Dean picked his way around the cramped apartment, unhappy with how used he was already getting used to being knee deep in this kind of carnage. "I'm getting tired of being too late to catch this guy, Sam."

"We can't stake out every wedding in the country. And this doesn't even fit the pattern, I don't know what's going on."

"I hear you." He turned his flashlight on a framed, blood-spattered picture on the nightstand of the guy currently in pieces all over the bedroom, a young guy in hipster glasses with his arm linked through the arm of another guy wearing one of those porkpie hats Dean didn't get. "What's the deal here, Sam? The other ones were all weddings and receptions and honeymoons. This poor son of a bitch wasn't getting married any time soon. Not in this state, anyway."

"I don't know. The lore we're working from says he kills before the marriage can be consummated, but on the last one they were half-way through the honeymoon. That didn't fit either."

"Maybe someone's clued him in that most people aren't waiting until the wedding night anymore."

Dean? What did I miss?

"Welcome back, Cas." Castiel could feel it when Asmodeus used his body on his little projects and he'd gone from being a little uncomfortable to being knocked on his metaphorical ass, and it was taking him longer and longer to bounce back each time. "How're you doing?"

That's not relevant right now. What did I miss? Dean gave him the bullet points of what they were up to their elbows in now and he could almost feel his confusion. That doesn't make any sense.

"And now you're caught up."

He and Sam had just thrown their gear back in the trunk of the car when Castiel spoke again. Perhaps...I think we may have been looking at this the wrong way.

"Wrong way how?" Dean said, relaying everything to Sam.

We've been focusing on the wedding aspect. I think we've mistaken his focus.

"I thought his whole thing was killing dudes right after their weddings?"

No. His pattern was killing Sarah's husbands. Perhaps he's merely trying to finish what he started.

"Trying to get the one that got away? But what's his name, Tobias, he's been dead for a long time now."

Sam was the one who put it together. "So he's going after the descendents." He looked over at Dean for confirmation that made sense. "Tobias' male descendents. Maybe catching them at the wedding is more of a perk than the goal, you know? That's why he took out that whole groom's party, they were all brothers."

"But none of the rest of these guys were related. Different races, the whole thing."

Sam shrugged. "Tobias lived over, what, three thousand years ago? You rack up a lot of descendents in that amount of time. Look how much of the population's supposed to be related to Ghengis Khan, or to Charlemagne, and that's a lot less history to work with."

"It's the closest thing we've had to a lead since this started. Let's see if it gets us anywhere."

888

It turned out coming up with the theory was easier than putting it into practice, especially since they were working with a common ancestor with no last name and who most authorities seemed to think was a myth anyway. Sam finally worked up a program hacking into some of the genealogy sites to try to find a common ancestor between the victims and work backward to try to give them a pool of potential targets to work from but he didn't look all that optimistic. "Okay, so this is running but it's gonna take a while to spit out any results. Assuming I don't get locked out of the databases I'm using, because this is all really illegal. More than our usual stuff, even."

Dean drummed his fingers on the bed; sitting around watching a status bar grow was very close to his idea of hell and he'd seen the real thing. "Hey, Cas," he said, and not at all because he got nervous when Castiel went quiet for too long. "You in there?"

Where else would I be?

He sounded so bad Dean didn't even have the heart to tease him. "You said Asmodeus wasn't a demon, right? Can he still be trapped?"

I...perhaps. Dean could feel the possibility waking him up just a little bit more. Salt and iron works because demons are technically spirits. The traps are specific to them. If their efficacy has something to do with their making, they may work on him.

It was better than nothing. "In that book of yours. Is there something we can use to summon him?"

...Yes. But I wouldn't try it twice.

"If we trap him the right way we won't have to. Sam, you have to babysit that or can you jump in on this?"

"Don't you even think of leaving me here."

Dean grinned, the first time he'd done that since that first ill-fated ritual. "Then grab that book and let's go."

888

Dean really didn't believe the ritual would work until Asmodeus was standing there before them. "Well. That was rude."

"Did you really think we'd just let you go around killing people and not do anything about it?"

"I don't see what it has to do with you."

"Then you have no idea what you're dealing with."

"No? Let me try to guess, then. Your soul's been cut into so many pieces even you can feel how they'll never fit together again," he said, looking at Dean. "And you," he said, turning to Sam, "are my old friend's best suit. How am I doing so far?"

Dean wanted more than anything to find a way to kill this thing. Fortunately, Sam chose that moment to speak up. "Why are you killing these people? None of these guys have anything to do with you."

"I made a promise and I intend to keep it."

"Oh please," Dean said. "You wanted a piece of ass, killed everyone who got close to it and now you're holding a grudge."

Asmodeus turned to Dean and he realized that while the trap was holding in his own power it did nothing to hold back the angelic strength he'd stolen from Castiel; his eyes went black again and Dean felt the wind whoosh as invisible wings cut through the air, their shadows spreading over the ground. "You will never speak to me like that again," he said, lightning flashing across the sky.

Castiel lurched inside his head, worse than he ever had during any of the murders. What is he doing?

"We're good, Cas," Dean whispered, not breaking eye contact with Asmodeus.

"You shouldn't lie to the poor thing," Asmodeus said, his voice pitched very low. "But about your slander. Is that the story your prophet told? I imagine he would want to paint himself in the best light, self-aggrandizing egotist that he was. You remind me very much of him, it's why this situation amused me so much in the beginning." He tilted his head to the side, so much like the way Cas did that Dean wondered if he was intentionally imitating him. "What if I told you there was another version of that story?"

"The one we have has a girl praying to die because you kept killing her husbands."

"Ah, but in my version she was saying that prayer long before there were any husbands, only their nightmarish possibility. It's a story about a frightened child who knows she was to be sold like a stray cow to a man she'd never met and could not refuse, one who would condemn her to a lifetime of humiliating violations and an early, bloody death in childbed, the fate she'd seen take her sisters before her. I can't imagine how your prophet would leave that out." He walked up to the border of the trap, standing less than a foot from Dean. "It's the story of a child who finally stopped praying to a God who despised her and begged for help from the shadows instead. And then one day, that shadow answered." The weather calmed, the flash of inhuman rage settling into something calm and cold. "And yes, if that shadow was prevented from keeping its promise through an archangel's trickery then it will reach out and strangle every last vestige of Tobias' bloodline until the debt is settled. It seems only fair." He stepped back into the center of the trap. "Now stop wasting my time and release me."

"Hell, no. You're gonna stay right there until we figure out a way to make things permanent."

"I don't think you understand the position you're in." He pressed one hand to his chest and slowly drew it back, a thin line of light following with it. Dean had to cover his eyes when he held his hand flat in front of him, that impossibly bright light cupped in his palm. "Open your eyes," he said, and when Dean blinked them open he saw Asmodeus wave his other hand over the light until it dimmed.

Dean felt Castiel let out a low, whimpering moan, a faint wave of pain rushing through him.

"They're pretty, aren't they," Asmodeus said, looking at the ball of light in his hand. "Like little stars."

"Leave him alone."

"And now you're making threats." He pursed his lips as he examined the light. "It's hard to see what they really look like when they're compressed like this. This could be an arm, an eye, anything really." He smiled at Dean. "Let's pretend it's a wing, shall we?

Asmodeus began to very, very slowly close his fingers over the light and Castiel screamed. Dean felt himself stagger forward a step, barely managing to stay on his feet. Dean? What's happening? I can't... The words dissolved into another scream and Dean clenched his jaw, watching that light disappear into Asmodeus' clenched fist. Dean?he whimpered, so faintly Dean could hardly hear him. He felt another wave of pain rush through him and focused everything he had on pushing Cas as far back into his mind as he could, down into the deepest memory he could find. Anything he could think of to get Cas away from this.

Dean could do nothing but watch as the last of that light extinguished. Asmodeus opened his hand, showing Dean his empty palm. "Now release me."

"Fuck, no."

Asmodeus sighed. "Let me properly explain myself." He stepped back up to the border of the trap. "I've been expending not inconsiderable effort and discomfort keeping this Castiel of yours alive because I have no reason to see him dead and every reason to enjoy frustrating Raphael. If you change that I swear to you that I will crush the life out of him as easily as I snuffed that flicker of Grace until all that's left is the sliver hiding in your head. I will have the joy of watching you regret your actions as you feel even that speck wither and die until all that's left is the empty hole in your mind like the ache of a phantom limb. And every moment until the end he will scream." He turned his eyes back to Castiel's blue. "Remember how much stock I put into keeping promises. Now, tell me your choice. Dean."

Dean locked eyes with Sam and nodded; Sam broke the trap and dismissed the ritual at the same time, the release of energy visible in the air.

"Very good." He imitated Castiel's head tilt again. "If it helps at all, I doubt Tobias would have been able to put aside his pride that way. Who knows how history would have changed if he'd been more like you."

He disappeared with a rustle of Castiel's wings and Dean sank into a crouch on the ground, shaking like he hadn't since his return from hell. When Sam rushed over to him he didn't even have enough energy to look up. "Jesus, Dean, what was that? I couldn't hear, what did he say?"

Dean just shook his head. "Hostage negotiation, and I didn't win." He forced himself back to his feet. "Let's regroup. We need a better plan."

888

All Dean wanted to do when they got back to the motel was sleep for a thousand years. It took a few minutes to realize that maybe wasn't the worst idea he'd ever had. "Hey, Sam, I'm gonna grab some shuteye. That was rough on Cas and I wanna make sure he's still rattling around in my head somewhere."

"Yeah? How're you gonna find him?"

Dean shrugged. "He finds me in dreams. How hard can it be?"

"Well, he knows what he's doing, for one thing."

"Look, Sam, I got nothin' here. If all I do for the next few hours is watch that computer screen I'm gonna go nuts. The least I can do is try to see if he's okay."

Sam sat himself back on the bed, his computer in his lap. "Sorry, man. Obviously, yeah, make sure he's okay." He saw Sam open up another tab, one of the lore sites they'd picked dry already. "You know we might not be able to get him out of this, Dean."

"Don't you start, too."

"Should've known he'd have let you know that already. I'm just saying, Dean, I've been possessed. I know what it's like to have something walking around with your face killing people and not be able to do anything about it. I still dream about it. Believe me, if you and Bobby hadn't been able to exorcise Meg out I definitely would have been good with you killing me to stop her."

"I'll never be good with killing you, Sam," Dean sighed. "And I'm not good with letting Cas die either. We fixed you, we'll fix this." Dean stretched out on the bed. "Wake me up if a miracle plan drops in our laps, okay?" Dean closed his eyes, focusing on Castiel and trying to find the path through his mind he'd pushed him down.

When he opened his eyes again he found himself standing in front of his old house in Lawrence. "Don't know what I'm doing, my ass." He walked his way around the house until he finally found Castiel curled on his side in the backyard, under the tire swing he only got to use once. "You look comfortable."

Cas let out a annoyed little grunt, like Dean had woken him up. "It's quiet here," he said, shifting over onto his back. "Your mind is noisy."

"Kind of a mess, too," he said. "Wanted to make sure you were okay. There's plenty of places in my head I wouldn't want to get stuck in."

"Your mind holds no fear for me." He rolled himself half over, like he'd considered trying to stand and gave up half way. "How long did the attack last?"

"Not long. A minute, maybe."

"It felt like years." His eyes were already drifting closed again. "How did you know to hide me in your memories?"

"Didn't know anything, Cas. I just wanted you away from that thing."

"I hadn't realized that memory of the night with the brothel was so pleasant for you. I was there for a short time before you pushed me further."

Oh, Jesus.Dean hoped Castiel hadn't gotten the grand tour; his handful of happy memories included things a lot racier than getting kicked out of a brothel. "Yeah, that was a cool night."

"What did you regret?"

"Hmm?"

"You regretted something from that night. I could taste it."

Dean shook his head, crouching down and slinging one of Castiel's arms over his shoulder to haul him up. "I regret a lot of things, Cas. Not important now. C'mon, let's get you inside." While Cas-in-his-head looked fine when Dean picked him up he felt like he weighed nothing, like he was skin and bones. Dean tried to put that out of his mind as they went into the house, that this was only a piece of Cas here. "Why's this where you wound up?"

"You tried to put me somewhere safe. In your mind nothing bad can happen here."

"Lots of bad stuff happened here, Cas."

"You prefer not to remember it that way."

"Guess you have a point there." He got a firmer grip as they started up the stairs. "I'll lay you down in my mom's room, my old one won't exactly be big enough anymore." Or at least that was the plan; when he got to the room at the end of the hallway and opened the door, his name still carved into the frame, all he saw was a hazy nothing. "The hell?"

Castiel picked his head up. "You must not remember this room very well anymore."

Dean rolled his eyes and dragged him back down the hallway. "I hate this stuff. My life used to be normal, y'know. Relatively, anyway. " He got back to his old room and kicked open the door. "It's gonna be cramped in there, I'm warning you now."

But when he saw the room everything looked...actually still pretty Dean-sized. "Okay, now what's going on?"

Castiel curled back up on his side when Dean dropped him on the bed. "You remember it being bigger than it really was."

Dean sighed, lying down next to him for a lack of any idea of what else to do. "You got an answer for everything."

"I feel so terrible," Castiel said after a few moments, like even he was surprised at how awful this was.

"Yeah, you look like crap, too." Dean tried to keep his tone casual but Cas really did look bad, circles so dark under his eyes they looked like bruises and as pale as Dean had ever seen anyone still breathing. Castiel shivered and Dean threw the blanket over him, wrapping him up in it. "Sam's working on stuff, Cas. We'll figure this out."

"I've already told you what we have to do."

"I'm not interested in Raphael getting his way, especially if I have to do his dirty work for him. If he wanted you dead he should have done the job himself."

"I've wondered why he hasn't. Perhaps he thinks he isn't permitted to act directly, considering he's done it once before and I was resurrected."

"Or he's a jackass who likes to play games."

Castiel shrugged. "That is the other possibility."

Even with the bed dream-sized it still really wasn't big enough for two people; Cas manged to wind up lying on his arm and Dean didn't have the heart to tell him to move. "Asmodeus did a lot of ranting back there, you catch any of it?"

"Some, yes."

"That true, what he said? About Sarah and Tobias and why he was doing this?"

Castiel shrugged again. "It could be. The prophets are human, after all. The book was correct according to Tobias' perspective, but that doesn't mean his was the only one."

"I thought you said Asmodeus was evil. I mean, captial-E evil."

"Even evil beings can perform benevolent acts if they have a reason to. Evil doesn't mean immune to pity, especially if it can be combined with self-interest. It may amuse Asmodeus to believe himself an honorable being, or he may have come to enjoy having an appreciative audience. Performing an act that benefits another doesn't change the core of what he is."

"I don't know about that. Sounds to me like he really could have fallen in love with that chick."

"Nothing created by my father is immune to love, Dean. Their relative goodness or evil has nothing to do with it."

"I guess. Feels like it changes things."

"He'll continue to kill, whatever his motives."

"Got me there." He stared up at the star decals on his ceiling. "Don't believe I remember all this so well."

"I'm sorry I asked for your help with the ritual. I should have made sure it was safe."

Dean just shrugged. "Like I told you before, there's really no way you could have seen this one coming. And I get it, man, I do. When I was looking for my Dad there wasn't anything I wouldn't have tried if I thought it would work, got myself in trouble more than once that way. And if I hadn't been there you wouldn't be in my head and this would all suck that much more for you."

Castiel was quiet long enough that Dean thought he'd fallen asleep, or whatever it was that mental fragments of angels trapped in the memory of someone's childhood bedroom did. "Thank you."

That made Dean's chest feel tight and weird and Dean didn't like it at all. Like Castiel was doing some angelic account settling. "Besides, it was my idea to trap him and you got messed up from it. We're more than even." He didn't want to think about the nightmares he was going to have from that, ones where Asmodeus really did crush the life out of him for kicks and Dean couldn't do anything but listen to Cas scream like he was back in front of a rack in hell, knowing it was his fault. "It true what he said?" Dean asked, forcibly pushing that aside.

"Hrm?"

"If he...you know, did what he said he'd do, would the piece of you in here really stick around?"

Castiel's brow furrowed. "It's possible. The way a head still has awareness for a short time after decapitation."

"Jesus. I always thought that was an old wives' tale."

"Two minutes, if the wound is staunched properly."

"Why do you even know that?"

"Human history's gone through some very dark periods."

"Still not something I needed to know." He wrapped the blanket more securely around him before laying back. "I'm not gonna kill you, Cas."

"I never said you had to kill me. I said you had to stab me."

"Through the heart with an archangel's sword. That sure as hell sounds like it would kill you."

"I'm not so sure. It will undo the ritual and Asmodeus will be sucked back into the sword and trapped again."

Dean waited a few seconds before realizing Castiel had no intention of finishing that thought. "And?"

Cas sighed, like he'd really hoped Dean would let it drop there. "With the both of us in the same vessel my Grace is tangled with him. I'll be trapped in the sword, too."

Some day Dean knew he was going to have to sit Castiel down and explain all the ways his perception of reality didn't match the rest of the universe's. "Dude, you realize that's actually worse than you dying, right?"

"I didn't say it wouldn't be, just that you wouldn't be killing me."

Dean couldn't believe he had the nerve to sound snippy. "Can you fight it?"

"Asmodeus is a creature so powerful Raphael could only defeat him through trickery. I don't know what hope I would have."

"Try anyway."

Castiel opened his eyes for the first time; they were bloodshot and glassy but made Dean a little sick to see hope there. "You'll end this, then?"

"Yeah. Me or Sam, anyway. As long as you promise you'll fight it."

Castiel actually smiled at that, or his version of one, anyway. "If it means you'll do it." He shook then, hard, his eyes squeezing shut.

"Jerkass doing his thing again?" Castiel nodded, one hand clenching in the sheets. "Go back to sleep. It won't suck as much."

He didn't know if Cas agreed with that plan or if he was just passing out, but in less than a minute Castiel was out cold. Dean hadn't realized until then how much work Cas was putting into hiding how bad this was; every few seconds his whole body would spasm, his head tossing like Asmodeus was reaching through space to shake him. When his hand twitched again Dean took it without thinking, just wanting to steady him and he latched onto Dean like a drowning man grabbing a rescue line. Like when Dean had dragged him in here his hand felt like skin wrapped around bare bones, like he was starving to death right next to Dean. "You're not allowed to die until we get you laid, Cas. Thought we'd made that deal."

Thinking of that night, the last time Raphael had decided to screw with their lives, gave Dean an idea. Probably not a good idea but something he'd thought about on and off since that night.

And either way, he hadn't let Cas go off by himself to war then. Like hell he was going to let him do it now.

888

The program finally finished running and Sam felt his heart sink. He'd known there could be a lot of theoretical descendents they'd have to look out for, but this list was endless and he knew there were a lot of variables missing. He leaned his head against the headboard and tried to think of some way to deliver this bad news to Dean.

"You two are going to be very busy boys." Sam opened his eyes and saw Meg sitting on the desk across from him; he had his gun up and out before he could even draw a breath. Meg only raised both hands in mock surrender. "Easy, cowboy. I come in peace."

"After what you did to Jo and Ellen what makes you think we want anything to do with you?"

Meg rolled her eyes, hopping off the desk. "Fine, fine. Think of this as a peace offering, then." When Sam still didn't lower his gun she shook her head and turned his computer around. "Really? This is your plan?"

Sam finally put the gun down, knowing it wouldn't do much good anyway. "What do you want?"

"I heard you have a pest control problem. I'm just here to lend a hand."

It was always hard to tell when Meg was lying; Sam was happy to always assume when her lips were moving but he knew that would be underestimating her. "Why? I thought Lucifer and Asmodeus went way back."

"It's nothing personal," she said, sitting on the edge of the bed. "If he'd gotten out after the Apocalypse there'd be a happy reunion but the last thing we need is another wild card. You and your band of merry men is enough."

They really didn't have much of a choice. "Assuming I even believe you, what makes you think you'll have any better luck?"

"Because I know what you idiots are doing wrong." Sam didn't respond, refusing to take her bait, and she visibly sagged with disappointment, projecting Fine, be that way. "You're focusing on Tobias and his million billion descendents. What you shoulddoing is going to the source."

And everything clicked into place. "Sarah." She gave him an exaggerated nod, like he was a very stupid dog who'd finally managed to do a trick. "So we summon her spirit. Have her tell him to call this off."

"Oh, sweetie, if only it was that easy." She walked over to the midi fridge and took out one of the little vodka bottles, downing it in one swallow. "Not bad. Anyway, Sammy boy, we can't just summon her spirit. What do you think happens to little girls who make deals with monsters?"

The disappointment hit Sam like a punch to the chest. "They go to Hell. Okay. Even if she's a demon we can still do a summoning."

"Even for demons, that's a long time. There's not going to be a lot of soul left." She took two more bottles out of the fridge, Sam was convinced purely to drive up their bill. "I'll ask around. I'm older than I look, I'm tight with some of the really old timers. If there's anything left, I'll see if we can scrape it back together, and if not maybe we can throw something together that'll fool our buddy long enough."

"What do you get out of it?"

"I don't need to tell you that. It should be enough to know that just this once beauty really will kill the beast." She ran her finger down the list of names on Sam's computer, stopping at a name on page three. "That'll be the next one. We'll spring the trap there."

"How do you know?"

"Woman's intuition. Now wake up sleeping beauty and meet me there."

The address was two hours away; he shook Dean awake, wondering how much detail to go into. "Hey. We might have something, we need to get back on the road."

"Yeah? What?"

Sam just shook his head. "I'll tell you on the way."

888

Dean squeezed the steering wheel so tight his hands ached. "Meg, Sam? Really?"

"You have a better plan? Because I'm all for a better plan."

And that was the worst part, Dean didn't. "You have the sword?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, it's in the trunk." He turned and looked at Dean, his eyes narrowed, and Dean wished Sam wasn't always too smart for his own good. "Wait, am I doing it?"

"I can't. I won't even be there."

"Why?"

He gave Sam the short version of what Cas had told him in the dream. "He can't fight it by himself and no way I'm letting him get trapped in that sword. Not three thousand years with that thing."

"What if he can't fight it off?"

"Then life'll get really interesting."

Sam let him drive the last few miles in silence. "You realize this means I can rip on you forever for sleeping through the battle, right?"

"Shut up."

"Make me."

"Bitch."

"Jerk."

Sam grinned at him and for one second it was almost like the old days, when there was nothing more important on their shoulders than whether they had enough gas to get to the town for the next hunt. "I'm glad you're taking point with this one, Sam. No one I'd trust more."

And with that gooey mess out of the way, Dean stepped on the gas before Sam could even start thinking about continuing the moment.

888

Sam paced back and forth in front of the chapel with the sword hidden in a bag, feeling like the entire town was about to come out and demand what he was doing there. The chapel was a private one out in the country, at least, and no one had raised the alarm yet.

After what felt like the one thousandth pass Sam ran right into Meg suddenly standing behind him. "Where the hell were you?"

"Hell, actually. We set? Because the groom's about to show up any second." Since Sam knew the real groom was already inside there was only one thing she could mean. Instead of answering he took out the sword, letting her see it so she could tell it was the real thing. "Ooh. Pretty." Then she poked him in the forehead hard enough that he staggered back a step. "There, now as long as you don't move he won't see you until the right time." She closed her eyes and the air shimmered around her, the illusion making her younger and altering her features, giving her prominent cheekbones and fuller lips. It darkened her skin and lengthened her hair, changing her blouse and jeans to a dress and a scarf over her hair. "There. This would fool her own mother."

There wasn't any time to respond; Sam heard the sound of Castiel's wings and held his breath as that thing wearing him touched down in front of the chapel. He got far enough to put one hand on the door latch and Sam had the thought that Meg had played them, that the two of them had set them all up.

"Asmodeus."

He turned at the sound of her voice and froze, his expression lit up with delight. "Sarah? Is that really...?"

"Hey, baby." Her lips didn't match her words and Sam realized the illusion was translating. "It's me."

He closed the distance between them in the blink of an eye, Castiel's wings cutting through the air. "I was delayed a while but I'm keeping the promise I made."

"I saw. You're making a mess of them, too."

"That's the way you liked best."

"Very true."

Sam felt weirdly like he was intruding on something. Asmodeus' expression turned sad as he reached to tip up Meg's glamored chin. "Was it so terrible?"

Meg shrugged her shoulders, her lips curling up into a mockery of a smile. "Everything I thought it would be. And the other shadows weren't as nice as you."

"Well, I can make them pay for it now."

"You don't have to. You understand? I release you from your promise, babe. You don't have to anymore."

His own chin tipped up, pure hate shining from his eyes. "But I still want to."

She smiled at that, a real one this time, then she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. "I hope I get to see that someday."

The illusion shimmered away and Sam knew this was his chance; the instant she disappeared he lunged forward with the sword, burying it up to the hilt in the monster's chest. Asmodeus staggered back, an almost resigned c'mon, really? expression on his face. He dropped to one knee, that electricity from the ritual already sparking from his eyes as he looked to where Meg was standing. "I'm sorry, baby," she said, and Sam didn't know why she was still playing along. "It's not the right time."

He only nodded. Sam couldn't get why he didn't even look angry. "Until it is, then." He collapsed to the ground, lightning running up and down the length of the sword. Then everything was still.

888

Castiel was recovered enough to be sitting up on the bed when Dean showed back up in the room. "What are you doing here?"

"Brace yourself, Cas. It's about to go down."

And even faster than Dean had realized; Castiel barely had time to stand before he staggered forward, one hand pressed to his chest. His eyes went wide when he saw the dark red blood spreading across the front of his shirt. "Oh. That's what you meant."

He dropped to his knees and Dean rushed forward, grabbing him by his coat; he was already fading, turning see-through, but he felt solid enough when Dean touched him. "You said you'd fight, Cas."

Castiel shook his head, his eyes wide as he tried to catch his breath. "Trying."

"Try harder." Dean picked him up by his lapels and pushed him against the wall. "Focus on me. You hear me? Don't think of anything except for me."

Castiel couldn't even answer anymore, his lips moving with no sound. Dean grabbed big fistfuls of Castiel's coat. "You go anywhere I'm going with you, Cas. You can't fight it, fine, but I'm going too." Castiel's eyes went wider, and Dean was glad to see he looked seriously pissed off. "So what's it gonna be?"

Cas' legs went out and Dean held him up. "Cas. Remember that night before we went to fight Raphael? After we got kicked out of the brothel and I showed you how drinking games worked?" Cas nodded, so transparent he was barely more than an outline. He reached for Dean, his almost invisible hand clutching onto Dean's arm. Dean could feel a force pulling at him now too, like stiff wind pulling at his clothes. "You were gonna ask me something, right? Right before I passed out, because I finally got you drunk enough and then in the morning you wouldn't say?" Castiel nodded, almost looking like he wished Asmodeus would take him into a magic sword rather than answer. Dean's own hands were transparent now and there just wasn't any more time to mess around."Tell me if I figured it out." Then Dean kissed him up against the wall, getting an even better grip on the coat so Castiel couldn't slip out of his grasp. This wasn't how he thought this would go – if he was going to be honest, he'd known things were moving this way for a while before that night but he hoped they'd find a better moment – but when Cas opened his mouth to the kiss and pressed against him Dean knew this was how he thought it would feel. When he opened his eyes Cas was just a little bit more solid. Holy shit, this is working. "Promised you wouldn't die a virgin and that son of a bitch is not going to be better at keeping promises than I am."

This time Castiel kissed him, his hands resting on Dean's waist like he didn't know what he was supposed to do with them. "You fight, Cas. You hear me?" He pressed Castiel against the wall, letting Cas' arms circle around his waist.

He wasn't sure how much time passed before he felt Castiel sag against him. "I think the danger is past."

"You wanna stop?"

Dean thought that if there was any possible upside to all of this happening it was knowing he could get Castiel to look at him like that. "No."

888

Sam didn't realize he'd lost track of the sword until he caught Meg wiping the blood from the blade. "Give that back."

"Are your brother and Clarence still having filthy virgin sex? That's what I call endurance."

"They're not..." Sam shut up when he realized that was probably why they'd disappeared as soon as they'd both woken up. "Never getting that image out of my head."

"And I'm not giving it back. Think of it as a finder's fee."

"Yeah, no," Sam said, reaching back for the sword.

Meg whirled the sword around like an expert, aiming the point at Sam's throat. "Did I sound like I was kidding?" When Sam tried to disarm her she eluded his grip and pressed the point into his throat just deep enough to draw blood. "Touch it again. Just try it and I swear tattoo or not I will jump back into your giant carcass and jump you off a bridge. Do you understand?"

Sam put his hands, up backing away. "Fine, fine."

"That's right, hands off. Ugh, you got your blood on it now, too," she said, cleaning it off again.

"Why do you want it so much?"

"It's pretty. It'll look good in my collection."

Usually Meg was better at lying. "Why did you keep playing along even after he knew he'd been tricked?"

"I don't need to tell you that."

Sam watched her holding the sword like it was made of crystal, something she wouldn't even let touch the ground. "How old are you, Meg?"

She looked up at him then, a faint smile on her face he thought might almost be real. "Could be an old timer myself. Might not. None of your business either way."

"Cas said the ritual to let him out again couldn't be done for another three thousand years."

She balanced the sword on her shoulder. "Then in three thousand years if this world's still spinning we're going to have a very fun day."