Helen's hand tightened on Castiel's tight grip and she asked, "Who, Castiel? Who is coming?"
"Z-Zachariah..." he stuttered out. "A-And L-Lilith..."
"Together?" Bobby yelped, and cursed in several languages when Castiel nodded.
Dean frowned. "Who's Zachariah?"
Helen lay Castiel's hand on his stomach and turned to Dean. "An angel. One we thought we could trust. But if he's working with Lilith....."
Dean shook his head. "Crowley and Castiel both hinted that both heaven and hell wanted me in Hell...."
"--to break the first seal and start the Apocalypse," Bobby growled. "And if they're coming.... together....."
"They're coming after Dean," Helen said grimly. "Are you all here? Are you all completely ready to leave?"
They all nodded and Dean gripped Sam's lax wrist.
"We are out of time," Helen said and raced out of the room, with Jo right behind her.
Jaydon ran another scan on Castiel and looked Dean and Bobby and Ellen. "He's definitely human," he said grimly. "O-positive blood, slight damage to his eyes and ears -- correctable -- mild asthma and----" He broke off suddenly.
"And?" Dean asked.
"There is a biogenetic marker that could enable him to be tracked." Jaydon snarled and picked up a hypodermic which he filled with a clear liquid. "This is not going to be fun." He injected Castiel with it.
Moments later, Castiel was only half on the bed. His upper half was hanging off of it as he violently vomited into the basin Jaydon put by the head of the bed. When the bout of illness had passed, Jaydon injected him again and the blue eyes rolled back in his head as he slid into a drugged sleep.
Jaydon took the basin of illness and immolated it. "There," he said with a sigh. "Problem solved."
Dean blinked as a shudder passed through the floor and a low rumble teased at his eardrums. "What's that?" he asked.
"The ship is lifting off," Jaydon said, turning to shoot a humourless smile at him.
"Congratulations, Dean. You are now being Removed."
Dean's eyes went huge. "It's over? I'm free from the Deal?"
"Not yet," Jaydon said. "But it's in progress."
Dean looked up from the book in his lap and broke into a wide smile. "Hey! Look who's up and around!"
Sam smiled as he came into their quarters and sank onto his bed, sitting on the end. "Yeah, I'm finally all recovered. Now there's a mystery to solve."
"Since when do I come in and find you with your nose in a book?"
Dean's shoulders stiffened. "I read!"
"Not normally, no."
"Oh, bull," Dean laughed and raised the book so Sam could see the cover.
Sam laughed as it all suddenly made sense. "Yeah, well, I suppose when it comes to that, you definitely would be devouring a book."
"Especially since we can't access the internet anymore," Dean put in, marking his page and setting the book aside. "You okay?"
Nodding, Sam sighed. "I am. Feeling stronger every hour that goes by. More stamina. My body's accepted the marrow and fully integrated it. My bloodwork is now 100% human."
Dean nodded in satisfaction. "Better than we could have hoped for. Now you just gotta build up your stamina again."
"Which is what's going on." He nodded at the book. "So when do you get started?"
"In the morning. And once that's done---"
"You and I have our turn," Sam finished.
Dean suddenly sobered. "Any word on Cas?"
"He's still asleep," Sam informed him."He's not as completely human as everyone first thought."
That got Dean's attention. "What?"
"There's an energy inside him that humans don't have. Jaydon theorises that it might be an angel's grace -- the thing that gives them their abilities in the first place." Sam smiled. "And Jaydon says that he's definitely got wings."
Dean whistled through his teeth. "So he can fly?"
"They don't know yet. All that's clear is that he has wings." Sam put his hand against the wall. "We've been vibrating since I woke up. Are we moving?"
"We're not only moving, we've taken off," Dean said. "We've been in space for about twelve hours now. We're heading out of the solar system. I asked about an hour ago where we were and Helen told me we were nearly to Mars." He grinned. "And she let me see. Dude -- after we eat something, I have got to take you up there. It's amazing."
Sam made a sound that may or may not have been a scoff -- because he was smiling, it was difficult to say. "I thought you were scared to fly."
"But we're not flying," Dean put in. "We're traveling in space. We can't crash in the middle of a vacuum!"
Not having any argument readily available to that, Sam asked, "So you're okay with this?"
Dean chuckled. "I'm being Removed, Sammy. This is finally happening. And you're with me. And you're all better. So, yeah -- I'm okay."
Sam leaned over and squeezed his arm. "You're gonna start in the morning?"
"Yeah. Gonna start from the back and work our way forward." He tilted his head slightly. "You want to help?"
"Sure. If we're going to do this together, we might as well do it from the start."
"Besides," Dean said, picking up the book again. "If something happens, you might need to know how to fix her. So, c'mere." He slid over, and Sam climbed onto the bed beside him.
Dean opened the manual he'd been studying, and they studied the mechanisms they would begin to install in the Impala. Dean patiently explained where Sam didn't understand, and they passed a pleasant three hours.
In mid-sentence, Dean became aware that Sam's head was resting on his shoulder. "Sam?"
He turned his head and chuckled softly. He closed the manual and eased out of the bed, gently laying Sam flat and pulling the covers off of the other bed, tucking in his sleeping brother.
He'd wake him in a few hours and feed him. Then Dean would introduce him to the new reality they were now living.
The last of the asteroids fell away from the screen and Jupiter swelled larger and larger on the left with every moment. The sight was beautiful. Surreal. Absolutely incredible.
But none of it mattered to Dean. None of it was as beautiful as the look of absolute, childlike wonder on Sam's face. He could no more tear his eyes away from that look on his little brother's face than he could stop his own giddy grin of joy.
This whole ordeal had been worth it. Just for that one moment of Dean seeing his little brother grin in dazed wonder, drunk with delight --- everything to that point had been worth it.
Sam turned toward Dean and opened his mouth, but he was interrupted by the rumble of his stomach. "Hungry?" Dean quipped.
Sam grinned at him. "A little," he chuckled and they headed to their quarters. "Wow, Dean -- you said that was amazing, but I thought it would be like the textbooks showed it -- but all those colours and it's just.... it's beautiful! You didn't tell me the half--"
Dean grinned as they waked down the hallways and he listened to Sam ramble on. "Hey," he said as they were nearly at their quarters.
"What?" Sam asked.
Sam laughed, grinning. "Oh, bite me," he chuckled and they headed into the small room, where they knew food was on the way since they'd all heard Sam's stomach rumble.
As they waited, Dean asked, "So did you find out what's up with Jo? Why she's trailing Helen and Nessa everywhere?"
Sam made a sound midway between a chuckle and a sigh. "She's learning."
Dean blinked, his eyebrows raising. "She's....learning?"
"M-hm. Ellen says she's learning everything she can just in case she decides to hare out on her own again." He let a grin escape. "It's a little different now than just getting into a car and driving into the next town over."
"Slightly!" Dean snickered. "And that's Jo all over, isn't it? Gather as much information as you can, as quickly as you can...."
There was a sudden knock on the door and the brothers chorused, "Yeah?"
"It's me," a welcome voice said. "With food."
"Cas!" Dean laughed as Sam opened the door. "Well, look at you!" he grinned as the former angel walked in, awkwardly balancing three trays.
As Sam took them all from him and carried them to the desk, Castiel looked down at himself. "What is it that I should look at?" he asked. "And why do you persist in shortening my name?"
"That's just Dean being Dean," Sam said. "I'd quit arguing with him about it if I were you -- he'll just keep doing it anyway."
Castiel hummed and moved to sit on Sam's bed. "Very well. That is the last I shall say of it. Now -- what should I be looking at?"
"You look good," Dean said with a thumbs-up. "Really good. How do you feel?"
"Strange," Castiel admitted with a small sigh. "I feel strangely heavy but light at the same time. It is -- bizarre -- to be in different clothing." He turned his hands over, studying the odd sight of the sweatshirt's light blue fabric encasing his arms and soft, faded jeans with a black belt. "And...." he let out another sigh and reached up, pushing the new glasses up further onto his nose. "These are surprisingly heavy."
"Of course they are," Sam said, handing Dean a tray and then placing another across Castiel's lap before taking one for himself and sitting down beside Castiel. "You're not used to them, yet. What about your hearing?"
Castiel shook his head. "I have a ten percent hearing loss in both ears. It's more annoying than anything. Just like having to wear glasses for my eyes to function properly. Annoying." He took a bite of food and his nose wrinkled. "So is having to eat to survive. And sleep -- one-third of my life unconscious?" He shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking."
The brothers shot each other a confused glance, then Dean said, "Wait a second. Back up the truck, here. You chose this? You chose to become human?"
His mouth full of food, Castiel nodded at him. He swallowed and took a swallow of water, then spoke. "Much has happened over the last day or so. I was human a mere handful of hours before I was found by those of my brothers who follow Zachariah. They chose to attempt to make an example of me."
"The beating," Sam said.
"And the damage to my eyes and ears," Castiel said. "They used their true voices and visages to try to cripple me. But I retain enough grace that they could not."
"I don't understand," Dean said, gesturing with his fork. "Why did you do this, Cas?"
Castiel smiled. "So I could come with you."
Sam blinked. "As an angel, you couldn't?"
"Not once you took off. Our Father made the universe, but He put very clear limits upon where we angels can and can not go. There is only one angel that can leave Earth without Father's blessing. So if I were to go with you -- and I so wanted to -- I could no longer be an angel. I didn't Fall from Grace," he quickly added. "I chose another way."
"I thought angels didn't want things," Sam said, confused. "I thought they were made to serve."
"We are," Castiel said. "I do not fully understand what's going on, but I know I wanted this and I chose this path. I chose to be with you."
"That's because you've always been special," a voice full of danger and laughter rang out. Sam shot to his feet, the gun Dean hadn't been aware he'd been packing suddenly in his hand and pointed at the doorway.
The slight man there -- the Trickster -- smirked and spread his hands. "Sammy. I'm disappointed I come all this way and this is the greeting I get?"
Sam's jaw worked and opened, but then something happened that shut him up and sent him to gaping.
Castiel shot to his feet and was across the room in a few steps, gathering the Trickster into his arms and gasping out a word that brought everything to a screeching halt.
The Trickster -- Gabriel -- awkwardly patted Castiel's shoulder. "Way to go, outing me within thirty seconds. You're like a little boy sometimes, you know that?" He pulled back, scanning him up and down. "And look at you." He scoffed. "Little brothers are supposed to be little brothers, not taller than their big brothers!"
Dean couldn't help but chuckle. "I hear that." At Sam's glare, the chuckle turned into a full laugh.
"He can't really help it," Sam blurted out. "His vessel--"
"--is home with his family," Gabriel interrupted. "I used his DNA as a starting point, but this is Castiel. One hundred percent Castiel, ninety percent human and ten percent grace." His smile was warm as he squeezed Castiel's shoulder. "I didn't expect you to grow any more after I dropped you off, though! You were only supposed to age a little more, not grow!"
That was what had seemed "off'' about Castiel, Dean realised. He had seemed young their first few meetings, but he seemed younger still since reappearing as a human. "How young did you take him?"
"Nineteen -- twenty -- something along those lines," Gabriel replied.
Dean nodded. "Sammy here was that age when he left for college -- and when I came to get him when he was 22, he'd grown two inches!"
"Dean," Sam growled, the gun not wavering. "This is the Trickster you're getting chummy with!"
Suddenly serious, Gabriel stepped forward. "I owe you an apology, Sam. I was trying to make you see that letting Dean go to hell was the way things should have been. I wasn't aware of the reasons behind my family's misguided decision to make sure he gets there and even less so of the dealings with the High Family of Hell. Once I found them out, I decided to do everything I could to get you both free."
Something about the way he delivered that sounded familiar to Dean. He frowned and gestured at Gabriel. "I get it now."
All eyes turned to him as Dean put his hand on Sam's outstretched gun hand, lowering it and the gun to Sam's side and tapping his fingers firmly on Sam's wrist. Sam scowled, but obeyed the unspoken signal and made the gun vanish into the same hidden place he'd pulled it out of.
Dean's eyes never moved from Gabriel. "Crowley wasn't just being an overly helpful demon, was he?"
"No," Gabriel admitted. "He wasn't. And it's amazing that you figured it out."
"Dean?" Sam asked, clearly confused.
Dean pointed at Gabriel. "You were either controlling him or wearing him like a cheap suit. Which was it?"
"Neither. I simply made him an offer he couldn't refuse."
"Which was?" Dean and Sam chorused.
Gabriel smirked, but his voice was kind. "I simply told him that if he did this -- went to you and told you the entire, unvarnished truth with no angle to himself except stopping what would ultimately stop his business -- the angels would make sure he was left completely alone to do whatever he wanted for a span of ten years. Provided he dealt in things other than souls for that time period."
Sam goggled. "And he agreed to this?"
"Of course he did." Gabriel's smirk turned into a full smile. "He is a businessman, after all."
Castiel turned to the Winchesters, his eyes alight with joy behind his glasses. "Gabriel is the only angel our Father gifted with the ability to leave Earth without Father's blessing. And then only for specific reasons."
"And to check up on my stubbourn, special little brother qualifies." Gabriel ran a hand over his shoulderblade. "Who was the bastard who damaged you, Castiel?"
"Mariel and Navariel."
Gabriel's eyes narrowed. "Zachariah's loyalest. Blind followers. I'll deal with them. And with Zachariah."
"And Lilith?" Sam asked.
"And Lilith," Gabriel confirmed. "This has been completely out of bounds. Heaven and Hell working together to bring about the Apocalypse -- without our Father's permission -- and torturing an entire family in the meantime? That's wrong."
"That's rich, coming from you," Sam ground out.
"Sammy," Dean hissed.
Gabriel shook his head. "It's okay, Dean. After what I did to him in Broward County, I deserve every inch of his ire. I can only offer my apologies and assure you that I was misguided." He nodded suddenly. "But he's right, too. Looking at it through a Trickster's lens, it does seem a bit hypocritical. Maybe this can put it into some perspective."
He moved deeper into the room and sat down at the small desk. Castiel sat on one of the beds and Dean sat on the other. A gentle tug on his arm, and Sam sank down to sit beside his brother.
Once everyone was settled, Gabriel began. "A Trickster does what he does to teach people a lesson. If they don't learn it and keep bumbling into the same things, they will sometimes end up dead. I never killed anyone outright -- not even Dean in your time loop, Sam," he said when Sam opened his mouth. "Those were illusions in your mind. I was trying to teach you the futility of trying to save Dean from what I thought was his fate. You learned that lesson, and I released you. I followed the Trickster's Code."
"How many Tuesdays did you have, Sammy?" Dean asked, his eyes huge.
"I don't know," Sam admitted. "I lost count after 102."
"Two hundred and eighty-four," Gabriel said. "They stopped being fun after that. So I did the other illusion to try to get it across, and that one worked."
"Other---illusion?" Dean looked at Sam again, watching him seem to shrink into himself, his hands turned up on his thighs and his head bowed so that his hair fell forward, trying to shield his face. "Oh, no, you don't." He brushed the brunet curtain aside and tilted Sam's face up with three gentle fingertips pressed to his chin. "Other. Illusion," he prompted. "What was it?"
Sam licked his lips. "You died," he said his voice hollowed out and ragged. "You died. On Wednesday. You stayed dead. For six damned months. I....I learned I couldn't handle living without you. That I'd been fooling myself at Stanford and Flagstaff and...."
"Those times before," Castiel pointed out, "You were alone in your soul. This time you were not."
Gabriel frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"They share a soul," Castiel said. "Each has a splinter of the other's soul inside them."
Gabriel's eyes went huge and his palm struck the desk. "Hellfire, no wonder you reacted the way you did in Broward County! Now that makes sense! I always wondered why you reacted the way you did since that was your brother and not --- but if you're soulmates.....that makes perfect sense!"
Silence fell for a few moments, then Dean cleared his throat. "Okay, well, then." He spread his hands, careful not to hit Sam as he did. "So what's next?"
"Next?" Gabriel stood and walked over to the bed where Castiel sat. He smiled down at his newly human brother, and received a shy smile in return. Gabriel's amber eyes never left Castiel's bespectacled cobalt ones as he finished, "Next, we have a little bit of work to do."
After Gabriel finished with Castiel, Dean grinned as their new friend removed the glasses he no longer needed and Gabriel wiped his cheeks and neck, removing the damaged tissue that had leaked out when his ears had been healed.
"So tell me," Dean said casually, "Gabriel said that you have always been special. How so?"
"Angels are ministering spirits," Castiel said. "We have been created to help. To do nothing but what we're told. Ever since my creation, though, I've been wanting to know things. To learn things. To.... to experience. And I've been reprimanded by my superiors over and over and over again because of it."
Gabriel sat beside him. "How many times have you been reprimanded?"
Castiel sighed. "Eight thousand, five hundred and ninety-four."
"And how many of those have I told you you've deserved?"
Castiel's slight smile felt as full of warmth as if he'd full-on beamed at Gabriel. "Zero."
"Exactly." Gabriel squeezed his neck. "There is nothing wrong with wanting to experience and to learn. Absolutely nothing."
Sam nodded. "So is that why you wanted to come with us?"
Castiel looked at him. "I have never met a family like you before. You have nothing but each other and yet you have done more for each other than most families who have everything. You have risked everything and lost everything and yet you keep going. So long as you are together, you are content. And now...." He spread his hands. "And now you are moving to live among the stars. I want to be there. I want to live among the stars and watch the humanity that has been Removed out here. I want to learn and I want to grow."
"So that's why you gave up being--"
Castiel interrupted Sam. "But I haven't given anything up. I am exactly where I want to be. I am exactly how I want to be."
Gabriel curled a hand over the back of his neck and smiled warmly at him. Then he looked over at the Winchesters. "I've got a proposition for you."
"Name it," Dean said.
"The B'Shain are going to alter you to function easily on other worlds. I can do it in less time and with less pain. And I'll alter the Impala in the ways necessary as well."
Sam studied him. "What's the catch?"
Gabriel blinked. "Sammy, I'm insulted! Catch?"
"The trick, Trickster," Sam shot back. "What's in it for you?"
"Just this," Gabriel said. "Let me pop in from time to time. After all, Castiel is my little brother and I'd like to keep an eye on him."
Dean and Sam locked eyes and Dean nodded. Sam sighed and looked back at Gabriel. "Fine. But only you."
"Well," Gabriel chuckled. "Since I'm the only one who can..."
"Fair enough," Sam said.
"It's a deal," Dean smiled.
Gabriel returned the smile. He stood and walked over to Dean. He put the palm of his left hand on Dean's forehead and closed his eyes, concentrating.
Then Gabriel snapped the fingers of his right hand.
Dean's eyes went huge as a golden light shot down his body. He found himself gasping deeply as every cell in his body tingled and tickled.
Gabriel removed his palm and asked, "How do you feel?"
"Weird," Dean admitted. "But it's a good weird."
Gabriel smiled and looked at Sam, silently asking permission.
Sam looked steadily back. After a long, tense moment, he nodded.
Gabriel left after altering both little brothers and taking a side trip to the mechanical bay.
Once he was gone, the Winchesters and Castiel went to see Jaydon.
"I don't believe this," Jaydon said after he had scanned all three of them. "I honestly do not believe this!"
"Believe what?" Dean asks.
"You -- all three of you -- have B'Shain longevity markers in your DNA! And you--" He pointed at Castiel. "You suddenly have a bit of Winchester DNA in you!"
"Gabriel?" Dean asked, turning to Sam.
Sam nodded. "Had to be." He looked at the medic. "Jaydon, what are longevity markers?"
Jaydon took a deep breath. "Nessa and I are the only true B'Shain aboard this ship. Helen and Mark started out human and developed the longevity markers. B'Shain have lifespans into thousands of your human years. I am the oldest and Mark is the youngest."
"They're from Earth?" Dean asked.
Nodding, Jaydon said, "Helen had some kind of war fought over her beauty and Mark was present the night the Blessed One was betrayed by a kiss. He's recorded in the human Bible as a young man who ran away naked."
The Winchesters laughed, and Castiel deadpanned, "We will be certain to never let him live that down."
That set Jaydon to laughing, and he added, "I've never gone planetside, but Nessa -- our fourth, the one you've not met yet? She is a scientist fascinated with one particular lake in what I think you call Scotland. Her bio-mechanical sample gatherer keeps getting mistaken for some kind of monster." He grinned at their double-takes, but then he sobered. "And now you three have the B'Shain markers as well. Though why Castiel suddenly has Winchester-specific DNA in him, I can't say."
Mark entered the medical bay at that moment. "Dean? The Impala is done -- I think. I can't get into her -- her entry ports are now touch-activated by a specific DNA marker that I don't have."
Sam and Dean looked at each other and chorused, "Winchester DNA."
A trip to the mechanical bay confirmed it. The Impala now unlocked and started only for someone with Winchester DNA. Dean's skilled eyes could see the solar panels she sported now. A quick check of the engine showed she ran on solar-charged batteries fueled by oxygen instead of gasoline. In the hidden compartment of the trunk was a life-support system and miniature shield generators and weaponry.
There were secondary hidden compartments now for their own weapons, which folded down from each door.
Dean just gaped at her in awe. "She's perfect," he whispered.
Sam grinned over at him. "Gabriel did a good job, huh?"
"Oh, hell, yeah," Dean grinned back.
"Dean." They turned to find a smiling Helen standing there. "News."
"What?" they chorused.
Helen's smile grew. "We have passed through the asteroid belt that surrounds your solar system. Your Removal is complete, Dean."
Sam's eyes widened. "You mean -- he's free?"
Castiel was beaming. "Yes, Sam --- he's free."
Dean sank into a low crouch, head bowed, as he struggled to regain control of his emotions. "It's over," he gasped. "Oh, my G-d, it's really over...."
"In a way," Helen said. "In a way, it's just begun. Come with me, you three -- there's something I need to show you."
She led them to the bridge, and gestured to the main viewscreen, where a red and silver ship hovered in the darkness.
"A B'Shain cruiser," Castiel identified. "I don't recognise the paint job, though."
Helen nodded at it. "That ship is fully supplied. It takes a minimum of two people to operate. It is self-educating -- meaning that it will teach the operators how to run it and fix it. There is tons of room aboard for cargo and a crew of any size." Her smile turned sly as she turned to them. "Or for comfortable occupancy by three large human men and one massive muscle car."
Dean's head swiveled around so fast Sam had an insane image of it rolling off and bouncing down the hall. "........seriously?" he gasped. "Seriously?"
"Seriously," she laughed.
"We dock in twenty minutes," Helen replied. "Go get ready for transfer to your ship. Oh -- and she needs a name."
Dean opened his mouth and Sam cleared his throat. "And we're not calling her 'Enterprise'."
"Dammit." He studied the ship for a long moment, before his lips curled upwards in a fond smile. "The MaryJohn."
Sam squeezed his wrist. "I think they'd like that."
"You okay with it?"
Sam grinned at him. "I like it, too. Let's go get packed up -- we're twenty minutes out from the best adventure of our lives!"
Dean nodded and took two steps away. Then he whirled and hit Sam on the arm. "Last one to the room has to clean the bathroom!" he laughed, breaking into a run.
"Jerk!" Sam yelled as he took off seconds later.
"Bitch!" Dean hollered over his shoulder.
Helen laughed, watching them round the corner and vanish from sight, hollering insults at each other the entire way.
Those boys would be absolutely perfect in their new roles.
They had chosen wisely.
The Seven Systems had been in disarray for a very long time. The fifty worlds that belonged to the Alliance of Seven and the hundred worlds that did not were still very much places of lawlessness and injustice.
Slowly, though, word began to spread that a stabilising force had arrived.
Needed something found? Needed Earth history or lore? Bobby Singer was the place to look -- if you could find him.
Needed a bit of a break? Ellen Harvelle's Roadhouse was the place to be -- if you could find where it was parked that cycle.
Ellen's daughter Jo was rumoured to be with the B'Shain, working hard on Removals and Re-establishments.
But the real story was on the ground.
Space-based people reported catching glimpses of a red-and-silver cruiser in areas where there was usually trouble. They reported things improving -- slowly.
But in the small settlements was where the real rumours spread.
Things were bad. Times were hard. People were suffering. There seemed no respite. No hope.
Sometimes, though, if things had gone too far? A shooting star would cross the night sky, blazing silver and red and bringing thunder in its wake.
A sleek black monster of a transport would drive into the settlement hours or days later. Its throaty rumbling purr was at once both comfort and challenge. Three men -- two brothers by birth, one brother by choice -- would be inside.
And things would change.
The Winchesters had arrived.
And everything was going to be all right.
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