Title: Where My Steps Take Me, There You Are
Authors: Vesper (Regina) and Dama De Honor
Warnings: (skip) physical abuse is hinted at, but not shown; religious themes
Category: Drama, Romance, Alternate Universe
Characters: Castiel/Mary Campbell Winchester, Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, John Winchester
Summary: Cas Donovan was on his way home when he encountered two young men, thereby changing his life. 10,060 words.
Archival: If you wish to archive, please link to my website. Please keep all my headers intact.
Notes: We again did not keep track of who wrote what, except for a few parts. Roughly, the first half goes to Lyl and the second half to me. The original idea, which was mine, had a less abusive John, a powered Dean, and the YED was supposed to have shown up, and no Cas/Mary romance. It was Lyl who suggested changing it to a completely normal AU. I think I came up with this, hoping she would write it, but instead here I am, having written it for her. :) Also, this is written very much in the style of Christian romance, so if that's not your drink of choice, that's understandable.

Castiel Donovan was on his way home. He hated bus stations, but his fear of flying really limited the choices of travel. Bus stations always smelled like diesel, burnt plastic, over-cooked food, and loneliness. So many people passing through and everybody was a non-entity.

He looked at the clock on the wall again. Five minutes past three a.m. He bowed his head, shook it, and sighed. Two hours until his bus arrived. He rubbed his eyes, shutting out the fluorescent lights for a moment.

He took his one suitcase, opting to place it into a locker. He'd seen an alcove with a coin-operated horse, and a couple of arcade games. Maybe he could waste the time there. First, though, a side-trip to the men's room was in order.

He came out a few minutes later, pushing the door open with his elbow. He swallowed and kept holding his breath until he was well away.

There was a boy playing one of the games when he approached the alcove. Tall, wearing a leather coat, about two sizes too big. He wasn't doing all that bad at the game; in fact, he was racking up the points like he'd been playing it for ages.

"Wow, you're good."

The boy stepped away, leaving the controls.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to distract you."

He didn't look at Cas, just glanced at him, and then away. "Yeah, that's okay. You want to play?"

"Yeah, thanks."

The boy walked away. Cas turned to the game, but it didn't keep his attention. He turned around to scan the room. It wasn't that he wanted to pry, but it was bothering him.

He spotted the boy standing on the other side of the room, looking down at another boy in one of the avocado green plastic chairs. He couldn't see the other boy's face, since his back was to him, but not so with the one in the leather jacket.

There was definitely something wrong. He didn't know what it was, but he wasn't about to stand around and do nothing, even if he ended up looking like a creep.

He left the game, walking around the rows of connected seats. As he came closer, he could see the one in the leather jacket was older, maybe by three, no, four years, at the most. The youngest had a fringe of hair that flopped down into his eyes and covered the tips of his ears. Their features weren't that similar, except for their eyes, the same shape, obviously related. Brothers?

He said, voice tentative, "Hi, I'm Cas Donovan. I... don't want to seem weird, but can I help you?"

"We don't need any help." The eldest spoke, his tone just shy of defiant.

The younger boy stood up. He took the sleeve of the first boy, as he was turning away, saying, "Dean?"

"No, Sam, I'm not gonna beg."

Cas said, "Are you guys stuck here? To where are you headed?"

Sam said, "We're trying to get home, Mr. Donovan."


Dean turned around, and Sam let go of his sleeve. "We ran out of money," he said, and this time his tone went beyond defiant into belligerent, as if it were Cas's fault. "We're just trying to get home to our mom."

He didn't know what to say to that, only that he knew he should maybe call the police, report this to someone... but... everything told him that it'd come as a major betrayal to these two. 'God... what should I do?' he prayed.

He could buy them the tickets, but how would he ever know if they got back safe? He could turn them over to the police, but the situation might be more complicated than the law would know how to handle. He finally decided.

"Tell you what.... If I buy you tickets, would you mind me tagging along?" Oh, he really didn't want to do this. He was tired. His eyes were gritty just thinking about how tired. But it wasn't like he had a wife and kids waiting at home. Just a desk, and the irritating buzz of fluorescent lights, his little accountant's cubicle.

The boys exchanged a glance; the youngest nodded and the oldest shrugged. He turned back to Cas. "All right, mister," he said, coolly, "just don't think I'm a pushover 'cause I'm accepting a complete stranger's help."

Cas shook his head. "Don't think I'm a pushover just 'cause I'm taking a couple of strange kids' word for it."

The boy's gaze fluttered away, and Sam hid a smirk by ducking his head.

Dean made sure Cas stayed in the seat behind his and Sam's. Cas noted it, but he didn't mind. He would've questioned any other man who wanted to sit by a couple of minors, just because he'd just bought them a ticket home.

He reached up to fiddle with the vent above his seat. The stream of air from the tiny nozzle was pitiful and did nothing to counteract the staleness of the coach, the smell of old sweat that permeated the cloth-covered seats. The kids slept, but Cas couldn't. What if they decided to ditch him? It'd be fine for him. He could find his way home, but them? He'd always have that on his conscience.

Finally, the bus stopped, taking a break at a diner. Everyone shuffled out to stretch their bodies, and Cas started for the restaurant, but the kids hung back. He shuffled back to them, hands in his pockets, and shoulders hunched against the wind. It was nippy out. "You're not going to eat?"

Dean looked away; Sam shrugged. So they didn't even have money for food? "Come on," he said, "I'll get you something."

"We can't--" Dean began.

"Don't worry about it. I'll have your mom pay me back." He wouldn't, but that wasn't the point.

They followed him, and the woman who took their order smiled at what she perceived to be a family. It made him feel like he was lying, but what could he do? Blurt out, "They're not my kids!" to the whole restaurant? He was so out of his depth.

When they sat down, with their food, the silence got to him, and Cas asked, "Do you mind if I asked what happened?"

Sam pretended to concentrate on his burger, but Dean rolled his eyes away in annoyance. "It's none of your beeswax, man."

"Right...." A few minutes passed, and Cas ate, as he knew these stops were always on the short side of long enough.

Sam said, "Our dad--"

"Sammy!" Dean elbowed his little brother, and Cas watched, partly amused, partly disturbed. "Hush up."

Sam glared at Dean, and Dean glared back. The younger boy sighed deeply and looked away. He put his half-eaten burger down and nibbled on his fries.

The bus driver announced that they should start getting ready, and Dean shuffled his little brother out of the seat and ahead of him. Cas got up and followed, and back in the bus, he was surprised, when, after he took the window-seat, Dean sat next to him.

"What about Sam?"

"He's fine."

It took Cas the whole time the passengers were piling back onto the bus to realize that Dean wanted to talk. It didn't make it any easier to say what was on his mind, however, apart from just leaping in. "You ran away from something, didn't you?" Less of a question, more of a statement, an opening, Cas hoped, to loosen Dean's tongue.

Dean looked out the window, as he spoke. "Our dad, like Sammy said. He-- he was getting scarier and scarier. He used to be fine.... Me and Sam thought it was weird when he came by after the divorce and told us we were going on a road trip, that Mom had already okayed it, but we knew it was better to just go with it than... disobey."

"So he kidnapped you two?"

Dean glared at him, so Cas backed down, with a quick apology, "Sorry, I didn't mean--"

"Maybe he did," Dean spat out, like it was a bad taste that had been lingering, "But we didn't think that until he started lyin' to us. We kept moving from motel to motel, from state to state, and he'd always have some excuse on the tip of his tongue.

"Then he started talking about demons and crap, about the way the world is so messed up and nobody but him knows. He... hit me a few times. I... I'd have been fine, on my own," Dean glanced at him, like he was seeking some sort of warped approval, "but I figured it was only a matter of time before he hurt Sammy. So I started planning. I skipped school and found work wherever I could.

"I thought it was enough to get us to Mom's, but... the money ran out." He ducked his head, looking ashamed.

Because he'd run out of money? Because his dad was abusive and unhinged? "Dean... there's no shame in that. You did the right thing, son."

"You're not my father," Dean said, cold enough to freeze any more words Cas might have had. He gave Cas a long, hard look, then got up and went to sit next to Sam again.

Cas sighed and turned to stare out the window. He figured this was the kid's way of thanking him. That was something, anyway. He unconsciously reached up, touching the chain around his neck, under his collar.

When Mary answered the door, she stared for a long time then burst into tears. She stepped forward, and reached for her youngest, wrapping him up tight and crying. Dean looked on, some strange mixture of emotions making his face blank and his green eyes too large.

The blonde woman turned to Dean after she'd gotten hold of herself somewhat and reached to embrace him, but he flinched back slightly. She looked wounded, but said, softly, "Oh, Dean... baby..." and brought him close, anyway.

He didn't hug her back, and Cas grimaced. That father--could he even be considered such?--had really done a number on the eldest. When the woman finally turned to Cas, she asked, "I'm sorry. I just... I'm a little overwhelmed. How did you find them?"

"Actually, I--I wasn't looking," Cas answered, almost tripping over the words, confused by how it seemed she'd been... expecting him? It didn't help that she was a beautiful woman, how the same eyes he'd already seen on her children's faces, were looking at him with such gratitude. Talk about your odd situations.

"He helped pay for our bus tickets," Sammy said, and hugged his mom around her waist again. She stroked his hair, absently--big, teary smile directed at Cas, undeservedly.

"Please, come in... Mister...? I'm sorry. I'm Mary Campbell. What's your name?"

She held out her hand, removing her left hand from around Dean in the process. He looked relieved, and Cas knew she'd done it purposely to give him some space.

"Cas Donovan." 'Traveling salesman...' flitted through his mind, and he hoped his smile didn't look too fake.

His hand was sweaty, and he blushed when she took it. Sammy didn't fail to notice, Cas realized, and his gaze slid to Dean's, anxious to know if he'd noticed as well. Dean, however, was too busy not being caught glaring at Cas to notice, as was obvious to Cas when he pointedly turned away.

"Well-- " He cleared his throat. "I'd better be going, ma'am. The taxi will only wait so long."

"It's 'Mary,' and I insist you come in and rest instead. You look like death warmed over." She looked at each of her boys, tears brimming again. "It's the least I can do."

She acted like he'd saved their lives or something. Definitely not something he was used to, and it made him feel itchy, overly aware. "It was your oldest's ingenuity that got them this far, ma'am."

Mary wouldn't accept his humble refusal. "Come in. Please."

When Cas looked at Dean again, he noticed he'd stopped glaring, and was looking intrigued instead. He was a sharp one, Cas thought. It was a split-second decision, and made against his better judgment. He nodded. "All right. It'd be my pleasure."

Mary had to wait until Sam and Dean were tucked away in bed, asleep... or at least pretending to be asleep, before she could ask Donovan what he knew that Dean was obviously not going to tell her.

Last time she'd seen her son, he'd been fifteen, with a face just beginning to clear of acne. Now he was sixteen, clear-faced, a complete stranger... but she still knew him--a mother's instinct went far enough to know that he was hiding something, and that it was because he was afraid it'd hurt her.

She wasn't sure if she should confront him, so she asked Donovan instead, as she puttered around in the kitchen, wiping down counters, stacking dishes, "Did Dean tell you anything? Like where John had them?"

Cas, seated at the kitchen table, hesitated. His deep-set blue eyes were averted for a moment too long. "He said that they were moving a lot. That their father was... starting to go downhill. Maybe... the rest might be better for Dean to tell you himself."

His voice was gentle, kind even. She told him, "Please, I need to know from you."

"You should ask him," Cas repeated, and she respected him all the more for it. She nodded, accepting it.

Sighing, she murmured, "I feel like I don't know him anymore. And Sammy, he's practically all grown up. I barely recognize them."

"But you love them just as much."

She swallowed back tears, and nodded. "What about you? Do you have children?"

"No... no, I was, am, too busy. Accounting, it's exciting stuff." He gave a self-deprecating smile, crooked and attractive, all at once. She found herself caught by it, and turned away, moving an over-turned glass into the sink.

She chuckled. "It's never too late."

"I think... maybe it is for me," he said, "I've put it off too long, and it'd be like desperation itself to start looking now." That sounded sad. She frowned, just a little.

"Maybe not," she said, "You never know 'til you try."

She opened the refrigerator, looking for something to drink.

He grinned. "What about you? Once burned, twice shy?"

She pulled out a pitcher of iced tea, and shut the door with a bump of her hip.

"How do you know I'm not dating?" she retorted, good-naturedly.

"Did your husband hit you?" It seemed to fly out of his mouth against his will because right after he said it, a sort of "whoops" look formed on his face, mouth open in a small "o."

Mary froze, for a second, before she put the pitcher down. She leaned against the counter, back to it.

"No, he didn't," she answered, voice low. "He--he drank. It wasn't anything big, but... then he lost his job at the shop--he was a mechanic. He'd been drinking, and got into a fight with a customer. I just kept thinking, 'What if he loses his temper with Sammy or Dean one day? What then?' I didn't want it to reach that point, so I filed for a divorce."

She turned around again, opening a cabinet over-head, and pulled out two glasses. She filled them, and then put the pitcher back in the fridge. She let it shut by itself this time, and took the glasses to the kitchen table, setting one in front of Cas.

She took a thoughtful sip, before she said, "You're welcome to stay here for the night."

Cas tried to protest, but she held a hand up, saying, "It's the least I can do. Besides, you look dead on your feet."

The guest room was small, with barely enough room for the full-sized bed in it. Cas squeezed in, turning sideways to edge into the space on the right side of the bed. It was covered with a quilt that looked like it'd been sewn by hand and been washed a few hundred times.

He sat down on the edge, sighed, and then flopped back. He stared at the popcorn ceiling for a long time, before he realized that he was practically asleep with his eyes open.

What in the world was he doing here? His hand came up to his throat, clutching the small crucifix pendant he wore, as he often did when he was feeling at a loss.

A verse from the Bible popped into his head, with no real reason why. Maybe it was some lost remnant of Sunday School. He whispered it to himself, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord."

He went to sleep, his last thought being, 'Well, Lord, if that's what it is.'

He slept, and soundly, but in the early morning, something woke him. He wasn't sure what it'd been, and went out into the hall, where he saw Mary come rushing from the back of the house, where he assumed the master bedroom was. She was in a white night-gown, dressing gown over it, her hair down over her shoulders, looking soft and mussed, but it still caught his breath.

"What is it?"

She glanced at him, her features made sharp by worry, "Voices, in the living room."

He was right behind her, as they came into the living room. In the foyer hall, a tall man with dark hair was speaking quietly to Dean. Dean was in a t-shirt, and even in the dim hall-light, Castiel could see the old, green and yellow bruises on his arms.

"John?" Mary said, "How did you get inside? What's going on?"

He looked across to her, dark eyes darker under a scowl. "I came to get the boys."

Mary took Dean's arms and maneuvered him back, placing herself in front of him. John's eyes found Cas, standing off to the side behind Dean. Cas took Dean's arm to draw him further back into the house, ignoring the way he glared and yanked his arm away.

"Who is that?" John asked.

"Never mind Cas," Mary said, and Cas couldn't help but admire the steel there. "What are you doing here in the dead of morning? Did you even knock?"

"Of course I knocked. Dean answered the door."

She frowned at him, but it was true that the boys' room was closer to the main door. "John, you should come back later. We can discuss this then."

"I'm taking them with me, Mary, whether you like it or not. This is beyond you and me now, and who has custody of them. It's much bigger than any of that."

"I... I just need you to leave. Can you do that?" Her voice went quieter, trying to pacify. It didn't work.

John grabbed Mary's arm, and Cas's gut-reaction spurred him forward, and he shoved the taller man backward.

"Stay out of this," John warned.

Castiel retorted, "I honestly don't care what's going on inside your head. If you dare try to hurt this family again, in any way, I'm involving the police."

Mary was tugging on his sleeve. He let her, feeling annoyed and warmed by the touch at the same time. She was right. He was being an idiot, but he couldn't help it. Sure, John was an ex-mechanic, bigger and taller than him, and a lot more dangerous, but this was where he was now, this was where God had put him, and he wasn't just going to step out of the way and let things take their course. Had David been sent to the Israelite camp just to see how big and bad Goliath was, only to go home and tend sheep again? No, he'd seen that no one else was lifting a finger to fight, so he'd started with words--'Why isn't anyone putting this jerk in his place?'

And when it'd come time to fight the giant, he hadn't just walked to meet his fate. He'd run.

John scoffed. And then without preamble, threw a punch. The fist connected with Cas's jaw, and the only reason he didn't fall was because Mary caught him.

Cas recovered fairly quickly, although he was seeing a smattering of stars. His vision cleared, and he realized John was storming into the house, uninvited. So Castiel did the right thing, even though he knew it was also the stupid thing. 'God, give me strength, because this may not even be my battle, let alone yours.'

He tackled John, and before he figured out it wasn't going to go his way, they were rolling around on the floor.

"John, stop! Stop it!" Mary was crying out.

But to get in the way of this now would have gotten her injured. All she and Dean could do was stand back and watch.

Somehow, Cas managed to roll on top, throw a punch, then get up and grab for the lamp on the stand beside the couch. He was turning back to hit it over the guy's head, hoping to end it there and call the cops, when John drew a gun from beneath his jacket.

"No, John--" Mary screamed, but the gun went off.

Castiel moved. He didn't know why he was moving, or which way would be best because it probably wasn't humanly possible to dodge this bullet, anyway. But somehow, somehow, it missed. He slammed the lamp against John's skull, and thick-headed as he was, the man was out.

With a heavy sigh, Castiel dropped the lamp, took the gun out of John's hand and stood. He wavered, but Mary was there, holding him up. Dean still stood aloof, but another voice joined them, "Dean, Mom! What's--" Sammy.

"Don't come in--" Cas began then caught himself. This wasn't his family. It wasn't his place, no matter how much he'd chosen to involve himself up 'til now.

Sam stared at everyone, until Dean finally met him and pulled him back toward the boys' bedroom. "Don't look, Sam. It's Dad, but he's okay..." Their voices faded.

Mary started patting him over, running her hands over his arm and his chest. "You're a mess... I could have sworn the gun went off... where's the blood?"

Castiel looked down at his right arm, where he'd thought the bullet should, by all rights, have been. It wasn't there. Not even a graze.

He looked around for a hole in the wall, and found it. The trajectory.... Mary was leaning down beside him, at his shoulder. He worked the bullet out of the wall. He held it out to her, and looked back toward the place he'd been kneeling. It should have hit him.

Her hand was warm over his, where it had crept down as she'd knelt down beside him. He looked down at it and then back up at her. She was looking at him, like she couldn't believe what her eyes what were telling her. He knew it, too, and couldn't help but send an acknowledgment heavenward.

'God, I'm not even going to question. Just, thank you.'

Mary made the phone call to the police. Cas stood in the doorway watching her, every now and then looking away to Dean. He stood away from him, leaning against the wall, a sullen set to his mouth, arms crossed.

Mary spoke in a soft voice, and Cas only listened enough to tell she was holding tightly to her emotions, tears threatening, but under control. Cas looked back at her when he heard the phone clatter against the hook.

She tried again, got it on the hook, but didn't let go of it for a long moment. Finally, she drew a long breath and squared her shoulders. She looked up, at Cas, and swallowed.

"Thank you," she said.

He nodded, unable to speak. She walked toward him and he stood aside to let her pass. She rested a hand on his shoulder for a second before walking past and going to Dean.

He straightened up when he saw her and opened his mouth, but she beat him to it. Her voice was gentle, but there was also a firmness to it that Cas could tell came from years of parenting.

"Why did you let him in, Dean?"

He didn't answer, just looked down.

"Dean. Talk to me. Why did you let him in?"

He shook his head and started to walk away.


"I didn't, Mom. I didn't." He turned around, and even Cas could tell he was struggling not to cry either. One arm came away from his body, and dropped back, a futile gesture. "He just..." He stopped and stood there, looking away.

Mary let out a breath, before crossing to him and touching him on the cheek. "Let it go, Dean. He's your father. I understand."

Dean drew a shuddering breath and leaned in, and Mary closed the distance, holding him close. She murmured reassurances to him, her head bent over his. Cas turned away, only to see Sammy watching him, standing behind Mary and Dean. His eyes were large, but he didn't seem to want to join his mother. They looked at each other, only to be interrupted by the doorbell.

Dean sprang away from Mary, swiping his arm across his face. Mary reached out to him, but realized the moment had passed.

She wiped at her face as well, and went to answer the door.

Talking to the police took a long time, or at least it seemed so. At one point they asked when John had come to the door and Cas had glanced at his watch. It was only an hour since he'd been woken.

Mary insisted that the boys be talked to last, which they were fine with, but this meant that, near the end of it all, as they took John out to the car and shut him in, that Cas ended up on the front porch with Dean.

John had gone without resisting. It was as if something had broken in him. The last thing he said was to Mary, as the officer cuffed him. "I'm sorry," he said.

"Me, too," she'd answered.

"Why do you do that," said Dean, bringing Cas out of his thoughts. He looked down, and realized he'd been worrying at his chain again.

"Habit." He dropped his hand.

The car drove away, and Dean started to go back inside. Cas stopped him by saying, "I was just trying to protect you and your mom. Maybe, maybe your father can get the help he needs now."

Dean, still looking away, said, "And what if he's right?"

"About what?"

Dean turned around, a minuscule shrug lifting his shoulder. "About the... about the demons and stuff."

"Oh. I don't... I'm not qualified to answer that. But, can I show you something?"

Dean shrugged again, pressing his lips together.

Cas reached up, twisting the gold chain that held his pendant around to the clasp. He unfastened it and held it out to Dean. "This represents what I believe in. I know it doesn't make sense, and people think I'm crazy, but it's what helps me."

Dean reached out, examining the gold crucifix. It wasn't anything fancy, Cas knew. Dean dropped it, and Cas withdrew it, fastening it around his neck and tucking it in. He said, "I know there are things in this world we don't know how to understand. Maybe your father's demons are internal. Maybe they are external. I don't know. I don't think we're supposed to know."

Dean said, jutting his chin out, "So what are you? Catholic?"

Cas smiled, used to this kind of challenging reaction. "Episcopal, actually."


"What I was trying to say was I don't have the answers." He still didn't feel like he'd made himself clear, or been coherent at all, but... he'd done his best, trying to communicate his concern.

Dean nodded. "I got it. Thank you, Mr. Donovan."

"Call me Cas."

"What's that short for anyway?"

"Don't laugh, okay? Castiel."

Dean smiled, and he turned and ducked his head a little. "That's weird," was his only comment.

"I know. But I'm stuck with it. My parents didn't give me something, you know, less unusual, for a middle name, or any other name, for that matter. Sometimes I get junk mail for Castle Donovan. Makes me feel like royalty."

Dean laughed.

Cas chuckled to himself, but for a different reason, and looked up and away for a second, embarrassed. "I'm over-sharing, aren't I?"

"A little." Dean gravely nodded, but still with a smile on his lips, and then said, "I'm going inside. Need to find something to eat."

"All right."

Mary turned when she heard Dean shuffle into the kitchen. She put the plate of sliced onion, tomato, and cheese down on the counter and said, "Sandwiches, if you want to make your own."

"Thanks, Mom."

He sat down at the table, but didn't pull anything to himself to start making it yet, pushing himself and the chair askew from the table, so he could look at her better.

She asked, "Where's Cas?"

"On the porch."

"Eat up," she said and grabbed the plate from the counter, putting it in front of him. Dean stared down at it for a second and then looked back up.

"Are you all right, Mom?"

She nodded, but she could feel her mouth wobbling just a tiny amount, which she quickly suppressed. "I have to be," she said.

There was silence for a moment as they just looked at each other. His eyes narrowed, as if he was trying to get a read on what she was thinking. She just smiled at him, in reassurance, eventually, and placed her hand flat on his head. He batted it away and took some bread from the bag.

Mary said, "I'll call your brother and Cas."

At the door, Mary stopped, looking out. Cas was on one of the plastic white chairs she and John had bought when the boys were littler, when she'd watch them play on the lawn. He was bent forward, elbows on his knees, hands under his chin, eyes open, but lost in thought. It almost looked as though he were praying.

This was, she considered, the first moment she'd seen him not talking, not doing, just being, and it was then she noticed how dark the circles were under his eyes, how weary he looked. She wondered if she appeared the same, what Sam and Dean were seeing when they looked at her.

She must have made a noise, because at that moment he turned and looked at her. She rocked back on her heels a little, and her hand came up to the door jamb, embarrassed to have been caught staring. She said, "Lunch is ready, if you'd like some; just sandwich fixings."

She turned away, about to head back in, but his voice called her back, "Mary."

He sounded reluctant. She chewed on her bottom lip, before she turned back.


"I think... I think it's time for me to leave."

That was what she'd been afraid he'd been about to say, but she was still shocked enough to say, "What?"

He looked down, at hands he'd laced together, and she drew a sharp breath, before she said, "Of course you need to. When, do you think?"

He looked back up to her, and she leaned against the side of the door, trying to draw strength from... something, anything solid. He stood up, saying, "I... I don't know, but I need to get back home, before the work week starts."

She nodded, pressing her lips together, and blinking fast. She held onto the thoughts that were churning in her head, cursing at herself for caring so much and knowing, knowing that he was still a stranger to her, for all that he'd done for her and her children. It was strange, to fall so fast, after so long.

"Let's talk about it later," she said, forcing lightness on her face. A look came over his face that she didn't miss, but she didn't acknowledge--a look of dawning puzzlement. "I'm grateful you've stayed this long. Maybe... " she shook her head, to signify a 'nevermind' and said, "Come inside and eat."

She could feel him at her back as he followed her. It was comforting, and uncomfortable, all at the same time. At some point, she promised herself, she was going to sit down and have a good cry. But, not where anyone could see. Never that.

Dean passed Castiel as he ventured inside. He was holding a can of soda, and he nodded at Cas as he headed back to his room. Cas nodded back, and went on through to the kitchen, where he found Sam sitting at the table.

He seemed to be absorbed in his own thoughts, as he munched on chips, pretty much avoiding the actual sandwich. He only glanced up at Cas, before grabbing another chip.

Cas felt rather awkward, and decided not to take the seat at the head of the rectangular table. Instead, he sat across from Sam. He was grateful that Mary was at the sink, washing dishes.

But as he made himself a sandwich and settled in to eat, she turned and smiled at them and said, "I'll be doing laundry if anyone needs me." She gripped Sammy's shoulder on the way past, behind his chair, and he looked up at her, face open, and with a happy smile. Cas figured her leaving him alone with Sammy meant Mary trusted him, but he honestly felt that he would have been happier with her being protective and suspicious in this case. He felt... unsupported, like the bottom had dropped out of his oh, so normal, life. What did she want?

He stared down at his plate, trying not to let any of his thoughts show. Cas wasn't looking, himself, but he could see Sam's gaze on him in his peripheral vision. "Mr. Donovan? Cas?"

"Yes, Sammy?" He finally met his eyes.

"Do you..." Sammy grimaced. "Do you travel a lot?" Cas got the sense that Sam had tried to ask another question and backed down.

He smiled. "Sometimes, on special assignments. Running into you guys," he added, "must have been in the right place at the right time."

Sammy's lips twitched, a worried tic; he ducked his head. His brown, unruly hair fell over his eyes. He didn't look up again, as he spoke, this time. His fingers picked idly at the crust on his sandwich. "My dad... yelled a lot. Dean always told me to go outside when he started yelling. But I could still hear through the door."

Castiel itched to say something into the silence that followed, but he waited, instead. The boy obviously had something on his mind that he was trying to get out. If Cas said anything now, he could very well cause Sam to shrink back into his shell.

"I think he... hit Dean. But Dean never told me when I tried to ask." Again, there was a long pause. Cas held his breath, then made himself breathe again, hiding his frown behind a hand. But after that, he barely moved, not even a twitch.

The bread crust on Sammy's sandwich was completely torn off now. Sam's big, hazel eyes--blue at the moment--met Cas's for a split second, but darted away the next. "I love my dad... But I love Dean too. Why did my dad hit Dean and not me? Didn't he care about me enough? I feel... really guilty... whenever I think like that." He frowned and shook his head, almost like he was mentally scolding himself.

"And I know it doesn't make sense. And I know Dean was just looking after me, trying to protect me. But I wish I was strong like that, too." He let out a little sigh, stared hard at his plate, at his hand.

Cas realized Sam was a lot more intelligent than your average twelve-year-old. And that was a good thing because he'd managed to vocalize the things that he was feeling, all the confusion and hurt, and even the anger, although he didn't see that he was angry, himself. But Cas had enough experience to realize that was harder to talk about. Being helpless to help someone, wanting to take their place, wanting to be that strong, not knowing why love sometimes felt like a sin.

He removed his hand from his mouth, tried to keep his face and his tone neutral, un-condemning. "It's okay to feel like this, Sam," he said, "It's not wrong."

"But I shouldn't be--" Sam began, voice rising slightly. He lowered it, looking up through his lashes at Cas. His lower lip was trembling. Tears were on the edges of his eyes and seeping between his lower eyelashes, but he didn't let them fall.

"I should hate my dad. I should be grateful to Dean... for what he did."

Cas shook his head. "But that isn't what you feel, is it? Don't think about it like it's a sin. You're not bad, Sam. You were never meant to have to live through that. But you did, and you are strong." He couldn't think of the right words. It all sounded like he was just trying to make him feel better, and Sam would see that. He was that smart. He struggled for a moment and then went on, "When I was three, my parents died in a car crash. After that, I went into the foster care system."

Sammy looked surprised, eyes wide, mouth open. He must have realized because he pursed his lips, suddenly and lowered his chin, maybe embarrassed over staring.

Cas went on, "I got attached to people, and then I'd be sent on to another home. Then the next time, I couldn't say I cared because I was afraid of it happening again. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to stand on my own. But, I was always lonely.

"People couldn't get close to me. I wouldn't let them in."

Sam's eyes met his again, at those words, and he thought maybe he was on the right track.

"And when bad things happened to me, I didn't want to talk about that either. If it wasn't for my caseworker, I'd have stayed in a lot of bad places.

"I was angry at everyone because I thought no one understood me, and everyone was just out to get the best thing for themselves. When they didn't want me anymore, then they'd just send me off to the next person. But I was supposed to feel grateful, right? I had a place to live, food, a place to sleep. I wanted to be a good kid. I really did."

Sam spoke up, "But it hurt...."

"Yeah, it did."

They looked at each other, and somehow, Cas thought that Sam had gotten it. That it was okay to feel the way he did, to feel at all. He smiled at him, lop-sided, and Sammy smiled back.

"Sammy," a voice said, gently from the entrance to the kitchen-dining area. Cas and Sam looked up toward Mary, in surprise. Had she been there the whole time, supervising? Maybe she'd known Sam had something on his mind, something that he'd never say to her. Was that possible? Did she trust Cas that much, already?

Warmth crept up the back of his neck, making him uncomfortable.

"Do you have any laundry?"

"Maybe in my backpack," Sam said, and got up eagerly. "I'll go get it." He ran out of the room.

Cas fidgeted with his glass of water, swiping an aimless line through the condensation with his thumb. He didn't look at Mary as he said, "You heard all that, didn't you?"

He heard her sigh, and looked up, to see her eyes filled with tears, but she sniffed and blinked, and they seemed to disappear. She said, "Are you always this open?"

He shook his head, mute.

She visibly swallowed and swiped her hand over her mouth. "I... uh. Thank you, Cas." She turned around and walked away, but he didn't follow. He didn't think he was supposed to.

It came as no surprise to Cas that Mary spent the rest of the day in a flurry of cleaning, and after that... moment... he didn't press the matter of his leaving. He had the feeling they'd kick him out if they tired of his presence.

He wandered into the living room to find Sam sprawled on the couch, a book held over his head, and his legs bent over the arm. Cas hadn't seen Dean at all since the conversation on the porch and his curiosity got the better of him. He sat down on a fat chair, where he could see the top of Sam's head directly across from him.

"Where's Dean?" he asked.

Sam lowered his book to look at him, but he raised it again before he answered, "In his room, listening to music."


Mary passed through, laundry basket full of folded clothes balanced on her hip, but paused to smile, and said, "You can watch the TV. Sam won't mind--he's used to concentrating with other things going on."

"Thanks," Cas said.

Sam reached up over to the back of the couch, rummaged around and came up with a black remote control, which he handed to Cas. He took it, even though he had no intention of watching anything. Most shows were not to his liking--too much darkness of the human race on display.

It didn't take long before Sam noticed that Cas had done nothing with the remote. He rested his book on his chest, which Cas could now see was The Silver Chair. Sam looked at Cas, his perspective such that Cas probably looked upside-down to him.

"It's okay," he said.

Cas shook his head. "Nah," he said, "it's all right." He pointed at the book. "I love those books," he said.

Sam's face lit up with a grin. He said, "I've always liked Eustace and Jill more than the other guys."

"They fought a lot, from what I can remember."

"Yeah." Sam nodded. "Hey," he said, "would you mind reading it to me?"

"Uh... " Cas said. Not very eloquent, but he couldn't be in the face of such a surprising request.

"Mom reads to me, but she's busy right now, and you're not doing anything...." Sam trailed off and looked at him with pleading eyes.

"I... sure."

Sam sat up and handed the book to Cas, pointing out where he should start.

Cas cleared his throat and started reading, "'It was now drawing near to that time of the day on which their hopes of escape depended... '."

Sam went back to his position on the couch, and listened intently.

It took a long time before Cas lost his self-consciousness and his reading smoothed out. By the time he'd reached the end of the chapter, he'd gotten so lost in the story, in reading it well, that he didn't notice when Dean stopped at the entrance to the living room. Cas looked up as he reached the end, the wickedest cliffhanger in the book, to the best of his recollection, only to find that Sam had gone to sleep and Dean was staring at him, a slight scowl on his face.

Cas carefully put the book down, and just as carefully said, "He must have been very tired."

Dean said, "Mom's reading always puts him to sleep, too." He sounded resentful, but Cas couldn't tell why, though he could make his guesses. That was it. Staying in this house, with this family--this broken family--was not how it should be. He was just clinging, and, he thought Mary was, too, to something--he couldn't even begin to guess what. He couldn't impose any longer.

He said, "I'll be leaving soon."

Dean only looked at him, and, contrary to what Cas had been expecting, his frown cut deeper into his face.

"I don't think Mom wants you to go so soon."

"How do you know that?"

"I just know."

He couldn't begin to understand that. He shook his head, and pitched his voice urgent and low. "You, and your family, Dean, you need time to heal. I'm in the way."

Dean shook his head.

"Mom doesn't see it like that, even if you're right."

Cas set his mouth in a tight line, and breathed through his nose, quietly, one, two, three. Then he shook his head, a slight smile touching the corner of his mouth. He stood up.

"You and your mom are stubborn."

"Yeah, we are." Dean's stare defied him to argue with it. Cas didn't dare. Instead, he shot back with a statement just as bald, "I'll be going, tomorrow."

Dean nodded. "All right," he said.

Mary poured coffee into her cup, as Cas entered the kitchen. He headed straight to the phone and started dialing a number from a card he'd pulled from his pocket. "What are you doing?" she asked.

He paused, looking up from the card, before he'd pressed the button to connect to the line.

Dean came into the kitchen, and stood in the doorway, back against the jamb. Mary glanced at him, a side-long, wide-eyed look. "Did you do something?"

"I need tickets back home," Cas said, and then drew a breath. "I'm leaving tomorrow. I'm calling Greyhound."

Mary stood frozen, as Cas turned away from her, and dialed. After a moment, she put her coffee down, and looking at Dean, she said, "If you need me, I'll be outside, in front."

"Mom," he said.

She said, "Think about what you want for dinner, will you, Dean?"

She walked past him, down the hallway, and out through the living room, pausing just for a second when she saw that Sam was asleep. She bit her lip, but kept moving, out the front door, to sit on the chair out there. She sat there, looking out, and then swore, not a horrible word, but still one she didn't allow herself to say often. She jumped when she heard Dean come out, and stand there. He said, "I didn't do anything, Mom."

"I know. I'm sorry I said that."

"You really don't want him to go."

"But he has to."

"I wish," Dean said, and stopped.

Mary echoed, "I wish... " She stood, and came close to him, and laid her head on his shoulder. "I wish things were different. I wish you and Sam hadn't been gone for a year. I wish... "

Dean brought his hands up to her shoulders and pushed her gently apart from him, to look into her face. "It's okay, Mom. It'll be okay."

This felt wrong. Cas paced in his room--the guest room--it was not his, by any stretch of the imagination. He'd felt sure this was the correct choice of action, but there was still something off, and he couldn't figure it out.

He stopped pacing, because, honestly, the room wasn't big enough for it. He dropped down on the edge of the bed, spread out his hands in front of him, palms up, like a silent supplication.

"I don't know what I'm supposed to do," he murmured. "What are you trying to tell me to do?" He closed his eyes, but nothing came. No reassurance, no still small voice.

The hardest choices, he'd found, didn't come with those. The ones that required leaps of faith, took just that, stepping out, not knowing if he would fall, or the support would be there.

He wanted to stay, but everything was telling him he needed to go. Even though, even though he felt this burden of responsibility, of needing to know how they would be, whether he was there or not. But that was it, what he kept coming up against--was he welcome? Did they want him here?

He had no answers. He sighed, and lay back on the bed. Staring at the ceiling might be a good choice, just to zone out for a little while. Besides, maybe Sam had the right idea. Things always seemed clearer after sleep, and he was tired.

When Cas awoke, his eyes felt like scratchy wool. He was surprised that no one had woken him and ventured out of his room to find it was already suppertime.

Mary nodded at him when he came into the kitchen, and handed him a glass of cold water. He took it from her with a grateful smile. She said, "Groggy head?"

He nodded, and took a gulp of the water.

She said, "Naps--a necessary evil," but the smile on her face seemed a little forced. She turned away from him, busying about, setting the table.

Sam seemed to have come out the better for his nap, to judge from the way he kept talking. Cas took another long drink of his water, as he listened, and watched. Every other sentence from Sam was met with Dean rolling his eyes at his brother.

Sam asked, after they'd all settled down to eat, "Can we play a game after supper?"

Mary replied, "And what do you want to play?"

Sam shrugged. Dean said, "What about Uno, Sammy?"

The Campbells played Uno like it was a war, Cas discovered--an incredibly fast and overwhelming war with two decks, no mercy, a lot of laughter, some melodramatic and gloating, some startled and genuine. They didn't keep points, not that it mattered.

Three hours later, Cas had only won one game, to Dean's two, and Sam's three. Mary was a mess of hopeless giggles, and breathless apologies for the giggles, saying that late nights always did that to her. Cas couldn't help the grin on his face at that. She'd played out a long time ago, along with Sam. Cas was contemplating just throwing his hand down in defeat, because Dean was down to his last card, except for the fact that he had a Wild Draw Four and a Wild, and that would just be a complete waste of a perfect hand, unless he chose the wrong color. He put down the Wild, because he was crazy and not the least bit vindictive, yes, and chose blue.

Dean drew a card for his turn, and Cas laid his Draw Four down with a wide grin. Dean threw his cards at him, and Cas ducked, hands in front of his face, laughing. Mary burst out with a shocked, "Dean!" but her smile indicated she wasn't that angry.

Dean apologized anyway and started gathering up the cards again. Mary said, "I think that's enough for the night. You boys need to go to bed. Mr. Donovan will be leaving, tomorrow, and he needs his rest."

Cas doubted there would be much rest for him.

Cas bunched up the pillow under his head, and rolled over once more. No, it wasn't any use. Sleep wasn't going to come, for whatever reason, the nap, the worry churning his thoughts into chaos, the knowledge that this was it, he was making the wrong choice, even as he knew it was still right.

He sat up, and rubbed at his eyes with his fingers. Maybe a drink of water would help.

Mary was sitting at the kitchen table, the only light coming from above the stove. She looked up at him.

"Couldn't sleep either?"

He shook his head.

She stood up and went to the sink, finding his glass that he'd used earlier and filled it for him, even though he started to protest.

"No, it's okay. Here." She handed it to him and sat back down at the table. "So, what do you do when you can't sleep?" she asked.

He pulled out a chair and sat down across from her. "Pray, most of the time."

"Oh? Are you, what do they call it? A believer?" Her tone was a little arch, but Cas was used to hearing that. It was a term a lot kinder than some he'd heard.

"You could say that," he answered, simply.

"I used to go to church. Used to pray. I believed in angels, until Sam and Dean were taken away."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault. I.... It's a miracle you found them."

He didn't know how to answer that, not with her looking at him like he was her personal savior, so he just shook his head and looked down.

She said, "I thought... I thought maybe you were from the detective agency I'd hired, at first. But you were just there at the right time, like you told Sam. How did they look, when you found them?"

"Lost," he said. And then, because he couldn't hold on to the thought any longer, and he needed to know, he asked, "How long did John have them?"

"A year." She looked him in the eyes and he drew a sharp breath. "I know," she said and looked away. "I hope he rots in hell."

He reached out, covered her hand with his own. "No," he said, "don't say that. Don't ever say that about anybody. Nobody deserves that wished on them. God takes care of things like that, not us."

She stared down at his hand, and he jerked it away, aware that he'd probably crossed some sort of line. He pushed away from the table.

"I should go to bed." He stood up and started out of the room, but she caught up with him at the door to the hallway, saying, "Cas, I know I already said thank you, but I wanted--" He turned to look at her, just as she reached up to give him a kiss on the cheek and their lips met--just a brush of skin, but the moment froze them both, eyes wide.

It was less than a second before he backed away from her, but it seemed like much longer, and he immediately stammered, "I--I--that's not what you meant to hap--" and he couldn't get any more words out, because she was kissing him again, like she meant it, like she didn't want him to go, lips warm and inviting against his. Something clicked into place, and he got it, understood what he'd been missing, so he kissed her back, gathered her in his arms, and held her close.

She separated from him, eventually, and laid her head on his chest for a moment, before she looked back up at him, and said, "Don't go."

And he couldn't help it, he gave a gentle huff of laughter, full of joy that he finally understood what everything up until now had been trying to say to him. A tiny crease appeared between her eyes, and she started to draw back, but he didn't let her go.

"I have to," he answered, "but I'll come back." He smiled at her, with a grin that increased the more he looked at her.

"You'd better," she said, and her smile made him feel like he was coming home after a long absence.

They were waiting for him, seated, when he arrived inside the bus terminal and still, after all the times he'd made this trip, all the times he'd seen them there, he still felt the leap of joy deep inside that this family was one he belonged to, one that had adopted him, too, if not yet in name, definitely in spirit. They stood as they saw him, and he waved, and pulled on the handle of his roll-away.

He met them in the middle, and set his roll-away on its legs. He said, "You've filled out some more, Dean." Dean smiled and flexed a bicep.

Sam shoved at Dean, saying, "Stop showing off." Dean flicked at his forehead with his middle finger and thumb. Mary said, "Knock it off, both of you."

Cas asked, "How's it feel to be a whole year older, Sam?"

Sam shrugged, "Not that different."

Mary said, "Come on, let's get out of here."

Cas nodded. "Agreed." He pulled up on the handle again and started to lead the way, stopping when Mary laid a hand on his sleeve.

"It's so good to see you." He smiled at her and leaned forward to give her a quick kiss, despite knowing it would earn them both jeers from the boys, and sure enough Dean whistled and Sam made a gagging sound, and then said, "Can we just show him the surprise already, Mom?"

"What surprise?" Cas asked, looking at them in turn. It didn't escape his notice that there was a slight blush on Mary's face.

"A picnic," Dean said, his tone dry, just as Mary said, "Nothing big."

Cas said, surprised, "It's not as if I live in a different state--not anymore, at least."

Mary said, in a tone of voice that stood for no argument, "We missed you, and we're making the most of the time you're here, before you're off to whatever place they send you next."

She laced her arm through his, and smiled at him. "Let's go. We brought your car, but I'm driving."

"Whatever you say."

The blanket swept up, obscuring Mary's face, and then back down. Sam grabbed at the end of it, trying to help, and Cas smiled. "Do you need any help?" he asked, as he put the cooler down beside a bench under a large oak tree. Mary lowered her arms, the blanket falling again, in a twist. She shook her head.

"No, I think we have it. Right, Sam?"

"Right, Mom."

"All right," Cas said and sank down onto the bench, nudging the cooler aside, as Dean came up beside him. He sat down alongside, leaning back against the tree trunk.

"You're staring, Cas," Dean said, after a moment, his voice amused.

"I can't help it," Cas answered, and he really couldn't. Mary looked absolutely beautiful, hair back in a french braid, eyes bright. She had a way of stealing his breath, like nobody else.

"So... " Dean trailed off, and Cas looked over at him, noting the expectant look on Dean's face.

"So..." Cas mimicked him, not understanding what Dean was trying to prompt him about.

"So, when--" Dean started, and that was enough for Cas to get what he was after. Talk about choosing the most inappropriate place to bring that up, with Mary right there. Cas raised a hand and waved it in a 'stop right there' motion, and Dean stopped, suddenly looking a tiny bit chagrined.

"Sorry," Dean said, but his lips tightened into a suppressed smile. Cas shot him an exasperated look.

"There," Mary said, and turned in a full circle, looking around. "Uh-oh."

Cas said, "What is it?"

"I left the utensils back at the car. Would you get them?"


Sam said, "I'm coming with."

"All right, Sammy," Cas said, and clapped him on the shoulder as Sam caught up with him, and then ran on ahead.

"Can't catch me!" he called back.

Cas shook his head and then ran after him.

"I wanna see it."

Cas shut the trunk lid and said, "What's that, Sam?"

"I want to see it."

"Oh." Cas glanced over his shoulder, but felt sure that Mary was too far away to see anything, so he reached into his pants pocket, after he placed the cardboard box of plastic utensils on the trunk, and pulled out the white box he'd stashed there.

He opened it so Sam could get a look and then shut it again, putting it away, suddenly self-conscious. "Think she'll like it?"

"It's smaller than I expected."

"Well, it's what I can afford."

Sam nodded. "Yeah, she will." He took the cardboard box off the car and said, "Going back now."

"Okay. I need a moment."

Sam smiled at him and ran off. Cas leaned against the car, giving in to the wave of nervousness that washed over him. Today, he was going to do this today.

He reached into his pocket, feeling the box, knowing what it contained. A ring. A ring with a tiny diamond. This was formalization, that's all, he told himself. It didn't stop him from being nervous.

He straightened up.

He was ready. The boys had his back, and he could only step forward. Mary would be there.


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