And for him this life is made of time and choices
Truthfully, Castiel had been hoping for a better reaction, or at least not an immediate rejection of the truth. Sam hadn't weighed in yet, but he had that look on his face that Castiel had come to know all too well; the younger Winchester would have a lot to say, just as soon as he had sorted out what he wanted to say first. Dean had risen from his seat, mouth locked into an angry scowl as he approached Castiel. “You better start explaining, Cas,” he growled, voice low as he shook his head.
“There's no such thing as angels,” Zoe spat. While Dean had been closing in on Castiel, the girl had gotten off the bed, keeping her back to the wall as she eyed the exits. “You're fucking nuts.” Sam moved, blocking her path to the door. To get to the windows, she would have to get past both Dean and Castiel, and the look on her face made it clear that she knew that. Dean seemed willing to let his need for answers go for the moment, moving to keep Zoe penned in. There was the bathroom, but Castiel knew the window there was too small even for the girl to squirm through. She was trapped, and Castiel could see that she was ready to fight her way out.
She wouldn't stand a chance against any one of them, let alone all three. Castiel's hand rose slowly; he only had to lay a hand on Zoe to render her unconscious again and stop her from running. He had only just found the damn child, he wasn't about to just-
“There are a lot of choices that need to be made. I'd like this kid alive to make some of 'em.”
Of course. For all of Father's ineffable ways, sometimes he actually made things very obvious.
Castiel's hand dropped back to his side. “We won't stop you from leaving.”
“The hell we won't!” Dean grabbed Castiel's shoulder, spinning the angel around to face him. “We just found the damn kid!”
Castiel lifted Dean's hand gently from his shoulder, gesturing for Sam to step away from the door. “This has to be Zoe's decision,” he explained, pulling Dean further away from the girl. “We cannot force her to do anything. If you've taught me anything, it's that.”
Sam, thankfully, did as Castiel asked, though it was with clear reluctance. There was nothing between Zoe and the door. She eyed the three men suspiciously, edging towards the door. Dean made a noise of protest, but Castiel moved between the man and the girl. Zoe ran the last few feet, darting out the door and slamming it behind her. Sam gave the shut door a surprised look, as if he couldn't believe the child had actually left.
“You've gotta be shitting me,” Dean growled. “Dammit, Cas!”
“She's got nowhere to go,” Sam pointed out, grabbing his jacket. “Her mom's been possessed by a demon, Meg's after her, and you just let her walk out? I'm going after her.”
“And then we can fight this fight over and over again,” Castiel pointed out dryly.
“Personally, I'm a little more interested in this whole Bloodline of Michael thing.” Dean folded his arms across his chest, puffing up in that way he often did when he was trying to be intimidating, never mind that it never really worked on Castiel.
“I should think that would be obvious.” Really, it felt like Dean was being dense on purpose. “For all the efforts of the cupids, those of Michael's line has a tendency to throw themselves at impossible situations, and they die young. Maybe Zoe is someone else's daughter, but there are still only three possibilities... well, two. I believe Adam is too young to have possibly fathered the girl.” The look Castiel turned on Dean was pointed. “I think I understand why Father gave me this task,” he added, perking up just a little. For the first time in so long, Castiel's world made sense, and it was a wonderful feeling. Dean could glower and growl all he liked.
“Either way, you just let the kid walk out the door-” Dean stabbed a finger at the door as it swung back open. Zoe slipped inside the motel room, shutting the door behind her but not taking her hand off the handle. Dean faltered, and Sam took a step back.
“My mom's been replaced by a pod person, the gym teacher ate the cheer squad in front of me, and something out there wants me dead,” Zoe grumbled, lips pursed. “Plus, I don't even know how to get home from here... not that that's safe, thanks to Pod Person.” She shrugged, letting go of the handle but staying at the door. “And I want my knife back.”
“This is gonna get us in such deep sh-” Sam stopped himself, glancing towards Zoe, who was sitting cross legged on the bed with a pair of headphones in her ears. The music was turned up loud enough that Sam could just barely hear the crashing drums and wailing vocals whenever he needed to pass close, and she wore an expression of studied indifference. Not that she was fulling Sam one bit; he knew she was watching the three of them closely. “Look, all I'm saying is someone's gonna notice she's missing.”
“She is here of her own free will,” Cas reminded Sam with a touch of smugness. It was all Sam could do to not hit is head against the table.
“She's ten, Cas. Legally, she can't make that decision.”
“Twelve,” Cas corrected, earning him a bitchface from Sam.
“Not the point.” Sam leaned back in his chair, looking to Dean for backup. His brother was staring out the window, a thousand miles away. No help there. “What are we even supposed to do with her now that we've rescued her?”
“We kill Meg.” Dean finally joined in the conversation, something that was almost a smile flashing across his face. “That bitch has been a pain in our asses from day one. So we gank her, exorcise the mom, and save the day.” He turned in his chair, raising his voice so he could be heard over Zoe's music. “Hear that, kid? We're gonna get your mom back.”
Zoe pulled one of the buds out of her ear. “First of all, I have a name, and it's not 'her' or 'kid'. It's Zoe. Second, I don't care what you do to my mom. The Pod Person was an improvement.” The bud was almost back to her ear before she added, “And I still want my knife back.”
Twelve hours in to the drive to Bobby's, and Dean Winchester was ready to stop the car at the next bridge and toss Zoe over the side. When she wasn't glaring sullenly out the window of the Impala (and the kid could Sullen for the Olympics), she was mocking Sam or Dean or Cas (Sam had swiftly become her favorite target once she'd realized that most of what she said went right over Cas' head, and Dean responded by growling threateningly when he bothered to respond at all) or bitching about the music, or whining that she needed to pee. She'd finally given up on trying to get her knife back, dividing the time she had spent on that between her other four hobbies. On any other day, Dean might have been willing to mock back, or try to tease her out of her bad mood, but the truth was, Dean was too pissed off.
It was going to be another two and a half days until they reached Bobby's – maybe longer, thanks to the frequent breaks – and Dean didn't think Zoe was going to live that long.
“I need to pee.”
She's human, I won't kill her, that would be wrong. Those words had become Dean's mantra several miles back. Without a word, Dean pulled to the side of the road. He could feel the weight of Sam's bitchface on him, even without seeing it. “Fine, go.”
“If she needs to go so bad, she can go there.” Dean nodded to the trees that lined the road. “He expected a protest from the back seat, a demand that they go on to the next rest stop. Instead, the back door swung open and slammed shut, and out the window Dean saw Zoe darting into the clump of trees. Sam snickered, and Cas looked confused.
“The next rest stop is only a few miles away, and we need more gas,” the angel commented, leaning over the front seat to point at the fuel tank gauge.
“Dean,” Sam chuckled, “was trying to prove who's in charge.”
“Shaddup, Sammy.” Dean growled. “That ain't normal. What kind of girl pees in the woods?”
“Humans have been peeing in the woods for as long as there have been humans,” Castiel pointed out irritably. “Perhaps you could hold off on your games of dominance until after we get to Bobby's?”
Zoe slipped back into the back seat, watching Dean through the rear view mirror. He'd expected the girl to look smug, but instead she just looked bored. Dean drove on without another word.
Cas was waiting outside the motel room when Dean returned from his bar run. Sam was still there, working the pool table, but Dean was feeling too restless for hustling.
“Shouldn't you be babysitting?”
“Zoe's asleep. I think we need to talk.”
Dean shook his head with a disgruntled sigh. “What's to talk about? We stash the kid at Bobby's, finally end Meg, then send the kid back to her mom. Nothing to it.”
“I don't think it's going to be that simple, Dean.” Cas grimaced. “Assuming Joanne survives the possession-”
Dean held up a hand, mind working frantically to put a face to a name. “Who?”
“Zoe's mother,” the angel filled in helpfully. “Assuming she survives, Meg is just one of many who will be after the girl.” Cas looked past Dean, expression thoughtful. “I cannot leave her unprotected, but I no longer have the resources I once did.” The angel paused like he was gathering his thoughts.
“There a point in there somewhere?” Dean demanded to know, a little ball of dread forming in his gut. He knew what Cas was going to say next, well before he finally spit it out.
“Zoe and I will go our own way in the morning.”
“Fuck that.” Dean closed in on Cas, grabbing him by the lapels of his coat. “We just got you back, I'm not gonna let you run off again!”
Carefully, Cas put his hands on top of Dean's, making him let go. “You object to Zoe's presence, and I won't just leave her and trust that she'll be alright just because we've dealt with the first threat. I am not so naive.” The angel pursed his lips, looking up at the night sky as if he could find the answers he needed there. Hell, maybe he could. “It is my task, and I won't burden you with it.”
“You don't know the first thing about taking care of a kid!”
"Your father raised both you and Sam while traveling and hunting," Cas argued, not yet willing to let go of his plan. “And Zoe is considerably older than you or your brother were at the time. I believe we will manage.”
"That is no way to raise a kid, and you know it," Dean growled. "Hell, Cas, look at me! I'm six different shades of fucked up, and that girl's a big enough mess as it is." He saw Cas's raised eyebrows and the inquisitive tilt of his head and went on, "You think I don't know what I'm seeing when I look at her? The clothes are straight out of the Salvation Army donation bin, she cuts her hair herself, she eats like she's afraid the food's gonna disappear, she's starting to stink because she doesn't trust us enough to take a damn shower, and if she misses her mom at all, she's doing a hell of a job hiding it." Dean combed his fingers through his hair, looking away from Cas. "Taking her on the road is probably the worst thing you could do."
"You seem to have turned out alright."
"Cas, your idea of 'alright' is goddamn scary. You can't do this yourself, so stop talking stupid." Dean sighed again, the weight of all his years of hunting threatening to crush him, and he slung an arm around Cas's shoulders to support himself. “I'm too drunk and too tired for this,” he murmured, fumbling the door knob open. “I don't wanna hear another word about the kid till checkout.” Cas smelled faintly of the drive thru burgers they'd picked up for dinner, and more strongly of ozone and something musty. Not unwashed human – which he should have smelled like, since he never changed his clothes. More like a stuffed bird Dean had gotten a whiff of once.
The motel room, to Dean's surprise, smelled like cheap soap, and was warm and humid the way those kinds of rooms could get after someone ran the shower.
“Oh thank God,” Dean whispered, “it does wash after all.”
Cas snorted, urging Dean towards the bed that didn't have a lump already under the covers.
“So damn tired, Cas,” Dean groaned as the lump in the other bed shifted, sitting down heavily. It felt like the last few days were finally catching up with him as he tugged off his books. He could feel Cas's eyes on him, and he just knew that if he looked up, he'd see the angel's head tilted quizzically to one side. “When Sammy shows up, tell him he gets the chair tonight.”
“Stay in the car!” Dean barked when the Impala halted, struggling to get out. Sam was shaking his head to clear it, muttering about demons repeating their tricks even as he climbed out and staggered towards the trunk. Cas, damn him, looked completely unphased as he got out, the rain just sliding off him as it came down.
“Damn it, what part of 'we want them alive did you not understand, Jerry?”
“They're alive! See, they're even moving.”
“I hope Meg lets me eat your liver while you watch.”
The two demons clamored of the big rig, apparently not the least bit concerned about the two hunters or the angel. Thunder rumbled ominously as the rain pelted down, like the whole universe was determined to make things as hard on Dean as possible.
“We only need the kid and the big one alive, and I bet we don't even need 'em whole. I mean, sure, Meg wants 'em all, but she only needs those two. And really, trying to capture an angel is just borrowing trouble, so lets just kill these fuckers, cut the legs off the big guy, and go.”
A shot rang out in the night, missing Dean as he dug through the trunk only because he wasn't the kind of complete idiot who'd just stand around while people who were trying to kill him yammered away. He already had his shotgun in hand, and he returned fire even as he dodged for cover behind the Impala, whispering apologies for the abuse he car was taking. He couldn't see the demons clearly, with the dark and the rain, but a shotgun didn't need precision. He fired, the gun roaring like the thunder.
“Son of a bitch! I don't care which one that was, I'm setting him on fire!”
Dean could hear Sam firing from wherever he'd gotten to, and he'd lost track of Cas. From where Dean had taken cover, he could see Zoe crouching low in the back seat, a steak knife from the the Biggersons where they'd stopped for dinner that first day clutched in her hands.
That explained why she'd stopped demanding her knife back. “Dammit, am I gonna have to frisk you?”
Zoe raised her middle finger, laying down on the floor of the Impala as Dean fired again. Sam came around to Dean's position, handing him one of the pistols he'd grabbed out of the trunk before they'd had to dive for cover.
“I want one of those!” Zoe poked her head up, glaring at Sam and Dean through the window.
The cab of the big rig exploded in a ball of flames, cutting off the argument as it illuminated the three figures in the waist high corn. The demons were turning towards the explosion while Castiel stood in front of the flaming truck, framed by the shadow of his wings. Even after all the years, all the things Dean had seen in his life, the sight of the shadow of those wings gave him chills. He'd asked Cas about them once, but like always the angel had proved evasive on the subject; his wings could not be perceived by mortal eyes, only the effects of them. Dean had thought they would have shrunk with Cas's loss of power, but the truth was they were as all enveloping as ever, like the storm clouds rolling over the sky and blotting out the stars. In that moment, Castiel was magnificent.
He was also a huge distraction, and one Dean was more than happy to take advantage of. Sam and Dean emptied their pistols in to one of the demons while Castiel split the other one open with his angel sword, slicing through the black smoke as the demon tried to escape it's body.
The thunder rolled as Cas shrank in on himself, suddenly much smaller and more human, the rain plastering his hair to his skull. “Will the car still run?” the angel barked, dashing for the Impala.
“I sure hope so.” Dean looked at the damage done – front driver's side headlight smashed, with some nasty looking damage all around that, and it looked like if he pushed hard he could just make the front bumper fall off. And there was fucking corn stuck in everything. The engine was still running, but... “Oh, my poor baby.”
“We'll fix it when we get to Bobby's.” Sam shook Dean by the shoulder. “We're almost there, but we gotta go!” Neither of them brought up the fact that the demons had been waiting for them, had been expecting them to head for Bobby's and had set a trap for them.
“No shit, Sammy.” Dean climbed back in, pulling back into the road while Sam called Bobby.
“You really are an angel,” Zoe whispered. Dean glanced in the rear view mirror to see Cas slumped against the door, the girl resting her hand on Cas's arm. Cas opened one eye, then closed it again, taking the knife from her and rolling down the window, tossing it out.