The feather kept pointing west and they kept following it, veering off highways and once off the road entirely as the tip of the feather dipped and moved and pulled them along. It led them to an empty field in Iowa, the four of them ducking under fences as they trudged across abandoned farmland, the feather glowing brighter the closer they drew to wherever it was leading them. Finally they came to a seemingly unremarkable spot where the feather began to spin above Lisa's palm. "I think this is it."
"Why here?" Dean said, helping Sam set up equipment for the strongest summoning ritual any of them had been able to find. "Why the hell would Cas drag us out to Iowa?"
Lisa remembered that desperate meeting in that terrible bus station. "Maybe he just really likes coming to find you in Iowa."
Dean shook his head. "At least he won't have to take a bus this time. Sam! We ready?"
"As we're going to be," Sam said, wiping his hands on his jeans. "I don't think we're gonna get more than one shot at this."
"Let's make it count, then." He nodded to Sam and the two of them opened identical grimoires, each of them alternating reading. As the spell built in power Lisa felt the energy charge through the air, sending static electricity sparking across her hair. The sky first turned overcast and then dark as the middle of an eclipse, strange colored lightning zigzagging across the clouds. The feather over her hand began spinning faster, until finally by the climax of the ritual it looked like a whirling black blur. Dean said the last word and lightning struck barely feet from them; on pure instinct she moved Ben beside her, as if that was in any way safer, and watched the feather begin to glow again, brighter and brighter until she could barely look at it. The ground began to shake under them, violently enough that Dean went down to one knee and Sam went off his feet entirely.
Then the glow sputtered. The sky cleared and the charge went out of the air; the ground stopped shaking and Lisa watched in horror as the feather stopped floating, drifting back into her palm and resting there like any ordinary feather. "What's going on?" Dean said, panic edging his voice. "Where is he? Why'd it all stop?"
"I don't think it worked," Sam said, swearing under his breath. "Or at least not well enough to crack the Cage, anyway, if that's even where he is."
"So we'll try it again."
"We can't. That ritual's one shot, we both know that."
Dean sat on the ground with his head in his hands, a constant litany of fuck, fuck fuck under his breath. "I knew it. I knew it was too good to be true."
"No." Lisa held the feather in one fist. "No, this is going to work." She grabbed Dean's arm and pulled him over to her, squeezing his hand tight. She held the feather up in front of her eyes; it was already beginning to look ragged around the edges, like it was aging as she watched. "You listen to me," she said, wondering if she was imagining that it felt warmer. "You owe me a kiss. You told me to hold you to that promise and I'm doing that now. You do not get to break that promise now, you understand? We came a long way to find you and we're here waiting. I am holding you to that."
For another few moments nothing happened, the seconds ticking away as they all waited, Lisa squeezing Dean's hand so hard her own ached.
Then the feather began to glow. Very faintly at first, just around the edges, but before long the light began to pulse again, even brighter than before. The feather burned so hot Lisa had to drop it and they all began to back away as the light began to build, growing in mass until it spread across the entire field in a glowing sea so large none of them could see the end of it. Just as they were almost out of space to back away the light collapsed back in on itself with an audible whoosh, like air rushing in to fill a vacuum.
They all rushed forward to see the light coiling in on itself, too bright to look at directly. If Lisa squinted she could just see a human shape lying in the swirling light, more distinct each second, then with a sudden crack like thunder the light sucked in to form a naked man lying face down in the scorched grass. The light continued to swirl around him, forming a dark suit and battered trenchcoat and a ruffled head of dark hair until all that was left arced above him to form enormous, delicate wings that flickered in the air for a few seconds before disappearing.
Dean shook off the shock first and rushed over, everyone else close behind. Castiel was lying so still that until Dean turned him over Lisa wasn't sure if he was even breathing. "Cas!" he said, cradling Castiel's head. "Cas, wake up, man. Come on. Come on, breathe."
As if to obey the command Castiel heaved in an enormous breath, his eyes fluttering. When his eyes finally cracked open Lisa didn't think she'd ever seen a more beautiful thing in her life. "Hello, Dean," he whispered.
Dean pulled him up into a hug so tight it looked painful. "You ever scare me like that again I will kill you myself, I swear to God." Then Dean kissed him right there in the grass like he never planned to do anything else ever again.
She heard Sam make a surprised noise and Lisa grinned at him. "They do that."
"Huh," Sam said. "'Bout time."
"At least you didn't have to get a whole talk about it," Ben said.
Dean finally came up for air and Castiel blinked at him for a few moments, as if he couldn't believe what he was looking at. "Where's Lisa?" he finally said, looking around as he tried to sit up. "I believe I owe her something."
"Right here," she said, kneeling next to him. "Make it good," she teased.
He nodded, studying her face for a moment, then he leaned in for a soft, gentle kiss that had all the promise in the world wrapped in it. When he pulled away he looked between her and Dean. "Can we please go home now?"
"You got it, Cas," Dean said, his voice shaking. "Come on, I gotcha," he said, pulling Castiel to his feet and holding him up when his legs gave out. "We're all gonna go home."
It took almost a week for Castiel to regain the strength for so much as a conversation, but once he felt up to it they all piled into Dean and Ben's favorite burger joint as they tried to figure out what came next. "Raphael can't be allowed to hold Heaven," he said, ignoring Dean stealing his fries. "There are still some angels loyal to me but many who would have fought by my side will see my abdication of leadership as treason. We may have to fight both sides, and many who have no interest in assassinating me have gone into hiding rather than face Raphael. His side is strong and the opposition is scattered."
"So everyone hates us and we're on our own," Dean cut in. "What else is new?"
"This is on a different scale."
"Last time was the Apocalypse. This is like the knock off sequel. Not that impressed."
Castiel just gave him a will you let me finish look. "I just want to make it clear how dangerous this is. Anyone who stands with me will be hunted," he said, glancing around the table.
"Lisa," Dean said, squeezing her hand. "You and Ben want to back out, now's the time. No one's gonna blame you, least of all me."
Ben gave her a begging look Lisa didn't acknowledge as she looked around the room. She knew the smart thing to do would be to back away now, go back to her normal life and put Ben through college and never look back.
Except that she knew down to her bones that if she let Dean and Castiel walk out her front door now she'd never see them again. She'd spend the next however many years waiting for the world to end, not knowing where they were or if either of them were alive. Ben would never forgive her.
And after having Castiel and Dean finally with her together for the first time that night after the miracle in Iowa Lisa didn't ever want to go back to sleeping in an empty bed.. "We're family," she said, the most terrifying words she'd ever said. "We're all in this together now."
"You're not a Hunter and you're going to college."
Castiel looked around the table again, then let out a soft breath. "I have a plan. Or at least the first stage of one, but it's dangerous."
"What else is new?" Dean said, his eyes bright and alive the way Lisa had never seen before. Only he could see jumping into a celestial civil war as a reason for hope, and Lisa supposed it was infectious because she was beginning to feel it, too. He gave her hand a quick squeeze, that reckless Winchester grin on his face as he surveyed the table. "Let's hear the plan. We have a war to finish."