That is when it seems we move in circles day to day, twist the drama of the play to get us by
Zoe stopped at the top of the stairs, looking down into Bobby Singer's basement. “I'm not going into a crazy redneck murder cellar,” she announced loudly, taking a very pronounced step backwards as she turned her head and looked up at Castiel. At the bottom of the stairs, Bobby turned around slowly, gazing first at the girl and then at Dean, who just shrugged.
“Yeah, she's pretty much always like that.”
“This is the safest room in the house,” Sam called. He was already down in the panic room, with fresh linens and Lysol. “Nothing can get you down here.”
Cas laid a hand on Zoe's shoulder, steering her downward. “If we wanted you dead, you would be dead, Zoe. You have nothing to fear from us.”
“Way to be comforting, Cas,” Dean muttered as the stairs creaked under the weight of the girl and the angel.
“Easy for you to say. You're a fucking angel.” Zoe skirted around Dean and Bobby, glancing over her shoulder to the way back out. Dean made a show of getting out of the way, earning him a bemused look from Bobby as Zoe passed. “God, this place is creepy. Is that a chainsaw? Is that a chair with shackles?”
The entire time, Dean watched as Zoe refused to let go of the sleeve of Cas's coat.
On the plus side, Zoe had been pretty quiet since they were run off the road. On the minus, Dean didn't think he'd be able to separate the two with anything short of a hacksaw even when they did get rid of Meg.
“Oh great. It's a crazy old redneck murder cellar man cave.”
“Congratulations, Dean,” Bobby rumbled quietly, “it's another smartass Winchester.”
“That isn't mine,” Dean hissed back, taking the stairs two at a time. Bobby looked to Sam, eyebrows raised, but the younger Winchester could only shrug and shake his head. This was a conversation neither brother wanted to have where the kid would be able to hear.
Cas stepped out of the panic room, leaving Zoe inside, staring in mild horror at the Bo Derek poster on the wall. The angel followed Dean up the steps, with Bobby and Sam coming up after. “Should we be leaving her alone down there?” Sam asked worriedly.
“We gotta talk, and I don't want her involved,” Dean snapped, heading for the kitchen to grab a beer.
“Yeah, I really wanna hear how you got into this mess.” Bobby sat down, mouth twitching as he watched Dean give the way to the basement a dark look.
“I wish I knew what it is you want so badly to talk about.” Cas lingered back from the others, closest to the basement, but his eyes were on Dean.
“How we're gonna gank Meg, for a start.” Dean raised his beer in a little salute before opening it. “Won't that be fun?”
“Sounds like a real hoot,” Bobby commented, tipping his hat back a bit. “Someone wanna explain about the little smartass? Cause I bet there's a damn good story behind why she's camping out in my panic room.”
“Didn't you already tell him all this, Sam?” Dean asked, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Do we really gotta go over this bullshit again?”
“I got the basic idea, but I think it deserves expanding on.” Bobby raised a hand in the universal sign of Gimme a damn beer, and Sam obliged him.
Castiel tilted his head to once side, then grimaced as he shook his head. “I fail to see why you find this so funny. I have been given a mission from my Father-”
“Who has finally deigned to show himself,” Bobby noted dryly, “only to be stupidly vague and run off again, leaving us to clean up the mess. Again.” The old hunter tugged thoughtfully on the brim of his cap. “You idjits figure out what makes this kid so damn special, besides that patented Winchester charm?”
“She's not mine.” Dean finished his beer, tossing the bottle into the trash. “This is just the latest way the universe is dicking us around.”
Cas shook his head slowly with a small noise of resignation; this was shaping up to be a variation of the same argument they'd been having the last few days, when time and privacy had allowed. “You can't deny that she's in danger, and Zoe is the bloodline of the Michaelsword.”
“Cause you've been so honest with us,” Bobby noted caustically, earning the older man a sharp look from Dean.
“Cas is being dicked around like the rest of us,” Dean retorted defensively before going for another beer. He gave Bobby another sharp, searching look, then turned it on Sam. His brother looked away, but Bobby met him glare for glare. Cas turned away, coat rustling.
“I'm going to check on Zoe.”
The angel left the three men alone in the kitchen. Bobby's eyes followed him until he disappeared from sight, expression cool. “We're trusting him,” Bobby noted flatly, “after everything he did.”
“Yup,” Dean agreed with false cheerfulness. Beneath it, even the most brain-dead bastard could have read the dangerous undercurrent lurking there, so Dean dropped the cheerful demeanor quickly. “Cause there ain't one of us at this table with clean hands.”
“I'd rather keep Cas close by anyway,” Sam commented, quickly adding, “Not that I don't trust him, but-”
“Not another word, Sammy,” Dean raised a finger in warning. “It's Cas, and we got him back. Remember that.” He got up, lips pressed into a hard, bloodless line. “You know what we gotta do. I'm gonna get my baby back in shape.”
And then there were two, the screen door slamming behind Dean. Sam leaned back in his chair, rubbing his temples. Bobby shook his head as if wondering how he'd managed to get involved in all this madness. “Alright, you been awful quiet, boy. What do you think?”
“About which part?” Sam groaned, raising a hand to tick points off on his fingers. “Do I think the kid is who Cas says she is? I think he believes it... and yeah, there's a pretty strong resemblance. Do I think Dean's trusting Cas way too easy after everything that happened? Oh yeah. Do I think something seriously weird is going on here? Well, what else is new, and we need to keep an eye on it until we know what it is.” He grimaced at the sound of Dean swearing at the dead demons who'd dented his precious baby. “Do I think we should be going after Meg? Yes, which of course means you and I are going to be doing the actual research until we find something we can point Dean at.”
“I was afraid you were gonna say that,” Bobby sighed.
Dean considered the undamaged headlight in his hand, the metal cool against his palms. Castiel appeared in the garage, saying nothing as he watched Dean. Dean glanced up briefly; better than staring at the damage done to his poor car. “Where's the kid?”
“Asleep.” Castiel hadn't actually been surprised – humans needed sleep, and eventually any of them would give in to the body's demands. The last twenty-four hours had been long and stressful; Sam had actually been dozing on the couch when Castiel had emerged from the basement to inspect Bobby's wards and shore them up. Dean set the headlight aside, surveying the damage done to the Impala. Not as bad as it could have been, but it looked nasty. “I – I don't know what to do, Dean.”
“They'll get over it.” Dean's tone was dismissive. “We've gotten through worse.” He plucked a stalk of corn free from the grill, tossing it onto the pile of stalks already cleared away. A glance at the angel told Dean that he wasn't so sure. “Give it time.”
“Until that time-”
“I say we lock her in the panic room until this is over.” Dean pried another cornstalk free, eying the broken, caved in headlight in front of him.
“A decent enough plan in the short term,” Cas conceded, “but in the long run...”
Dean counted backwards from ten, something Sam had been encouraging him to do whenever he got mad. “You made it pretty clear this was your project, Cas. What do you wanna do?”
“I wanted Zoe trained,” the angel said in a rush. “You and Sam and Bobby, you have the skills and knowledge that let you defeat Lucifer himself. I think – I know those skills need to be passed on.”
Dean dropped the ruined corn into the trash. “No one needs these skills. What the kid needs is a normal life.”
“Zoe is never going to have 'normal', Dean.” Cas stepped between Dean and the Impala. “You've already seen what's happened, and it's not going to change, even when Meg is dead. Denying it won't change anything, and is far more likely to get a lot of people killed, including Zoe.”
Dean's jaw clenched, and he inhaled sharply through his teeth. Counting back from ten wasn't going to help. “Why do you keep saying her name?” It'd been bothering him for days; Cas kept repeating the damn kid's name like Dean was gonna forget or something.
Cas's reply was a simple, placid, “Because you don't.” Then he left, coat rustling not unlike the gentle beat of invisible wings.
Years ago, the first time Dean and Sam had tried to bring a puppy home with them, John had told them not to name it, because it wasn't staying. Dean had taken those words to heart; while Sam had kept trying, kept naming things and bringing them home with him until John took them away again, Dean had learned to keep his distance. The dog, that guy, the hot chick at the bar.... the kid. Names were only used or even remembered when it was useful to remember them.
Don't name it, it's not staying.
There hadn't been much in Dean's life that had stayed with him over the years. Cassie, Lisa, Ben, his mom and dad, Ellen, Jo – all gone now. He still had Sam and Bobby, and Cas wasn't going anywhere if Dean had anything to say about it.
Nobody said anything when Dean flopped down in one of the few clear chairs in Bobby's study late the next evening. There were still bits of corn clinging to his boots. Bobby had a phone cradled between his shoulder and his ear, and Sam was doing a damn good job of pretending to be glued to his laptop. “Any sign of Meg?”
Sam clicked on something, not looking up. “Nothing since the stunt demons tried to turn us into road waffles. Right now, all we can do is keep our eyes and ears open for the usual portents.”
Dean bit down on a growl. “Bobby, you got anywhere we can stash the kid, safe-like? Maybe a bank vault at the bottom of the sea?”
“Idjit,” Bobby muttered softly, his expression not entirely unsympathetic as he cupped a hand over the receiver “I'm working on it-”
“But Cas thinks he has to babysit her, and we can't let him run off on his own with his wings clipped,” Dean supplied glumly. “He wants to train the kid.” There was something gratifying in Sam and Bobby's horrified expressions. Not even another day's exposure to Zoe, stomping about like Cas's obnoxious shadow had been enough to make any of them want to put her through that kind of shit. Sam and Bobby had born the brunt of it; even when Cas had stopped into the garage to do whatever the hell it was he'd spent most of the day doing, the kid had hung back, kicking up gravel and being sulky. “Yeah.” He swung his legs around so they dangled over the side of the chair, earning him a glare and a swat to Dean's booted foot from Bobby. “Gimme a hunt, man. There's gotta be something I can do.”
“You could figure out why the washing machine keeps making that noise,” Bobby suggested. “Or get your kid to give back the knives she keeps filching.”
Sam looked up from his laptop, his expression distant and thoughtful. “Cas may not be completely wrong,” he said slowly, holding up a hand to forestall any protests. “I'm not talking about taking her on Rugarou hunts or anything like that. Parents put their kids in self defense classes all the time, and I'm not ready to bank on something not making a grab at the kid at the worst possible time. We don't have to teach her to hunt exactly... and it'll keep Cas happy,” he added.
“I have a name. How many times do I gotta remind you?” Zoe appeared in view, a half eaten sandwich in her hand. Castiel wasn't hovering nearby for once, though no one doubted that he was nearby. Zoe took a bite of her sandwich, chewing slowly. “What'll make Cas happy?”
“Nothing you need to worry about. Now give back the knives.”
It took two days of thinking and arguing before Dean made the decent to Bobby's basement, not exactly brimming with joy over his purpose, but at least glad to have something to do while he waited for the parts to fix the Impala. He knew Zoe had retreated to the basement after a round of stomping around the house, glaring and muttering.
A little hard work will do something about that attitude. Dean's father had said that during some of Sam's more sulky moments, right before putting him to work on something back breaking and time consuming.
He found Zoe in the Panic Room, standing in front of Bobby's poster and looking at it like it had personally offended her somehow. Dean let out a sharp whistle, drawing Zoe's attention before he tossed the cylinder full of salt to the girl. She caught it awkwardly, nearly dropping it twice before getting a firm grip and shooting Dean a dirty look, to which Dean just smirked. "Welcome to Hunting 101, kid. Lesson One: why salt is your new favorite thing in the whole damn world."
It was Sam’s idea to use tag as a way to train Zoe, and so Dean made sure that it was Sam who had to go out there in the maze of old junkers that cluttered up Bobby’s property the way old books and artifacts cluttered up his home. The two came in late that day, both exhausted, filthy, and beat up. Zoe was covered in large paint hand prints, and Sam sported a split lip and a bitten hand, but no paint beyond a few random blotches, mostly splatter in his own color. The paint had been Castiel's idea, though he didn't really explain why.
“She climbs,” Sam muttered darkly as Zoe retreated to the bathroom to treat her own wounds. “Thought she was gonna break her neck out there. And she's a biter.”
“But she didn’t get you,” Dean noted.
“Only with her teeth.” Sam looked indignant. It was weeks before Zoe was actually able to get a paint hand print on the experienced hunter, her tiny hand wrapping around Sam's ankle before he had the chance to notice her, hidden under one of Bobby's junkers. After the second time using that trick, Sam stopped letting her get that kind of advantage, keeping well away from any spot where a small girl could squeeze in and hide.
In private, Sam pointed out that it was good for Zoe to know where to hide, just in case.
Not long after that, Castiel volunteered to take Sam's place, saying that it was more important that Sam help Bobby in the hunt for omens.
Cas never came in from a round with so much as a splotch of paint, but Zoe was always too tired to bitch about it, so Dean counting it as a blessing.
Castiel drifts through the house, a more substantial ghost than one typically saw. But nothing stirs as he passes through, not the dust in the attic, not Bobby sleeping fitfully in a bedroom that was easily as cluttered as all the other bedrooms that had been turned into storage. The whole house sleeps, even Sam (peacefully in the study) and Dean (restlessly in the living room). Even Zoe sleeps as Castiel passes through, curled up in one corner of the bed.
Castiel's attention is on his work, the wards that cover every corner of the house. It's far easier to protect this place than it was protecting Sam and Dean in those early days when it was them against the whole of creation. Here, there is a threshold, and all the things Bobby has done to protect himself over the years. Even with the spells and protections carved into their ribs, hiding them from the eyes on Heaven, had only been good for letting them pass undetected from a distance. This was meant to be more than just 'Don't Look At Me'; this was supposed to keep anything and everything with dark intention from even being able to get close. But no matter what he does, the very nature of Bobby's work keeps eating away at the protections, like the ocean eating away at the beach. There is only so much Castiel can do.
Castiel doesn't sleep; his nights are spent shoring up the protections.
During Dean's more fitful moments, he lingers by the man's side. They do not last, so he returns to his task until he is drawn back to Dean again.
Dean was giving the Impala one last coat of wax when the girl poked her head around the garage door. The two studied each other before she stepped in, and a quick glance around told Dean that, for once, Cas wasn't shadowing her. Zoe worried her lower lip between her teeth a moment, hands shoved deep in her pockets. "If I ask you something, will you tell me the truth?"
Dean turned the buffer off, eyebrows slowly rising. "Would you trust what I say?"
"You're a lot less likely to blow smoke up my ass than Sam, if that's what you mean." Zoe shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Cas... there's shit he's not telling me."
Dean couldn't repress his rising smirk. "What, you don't think the sun shines outta his ass anymore?" It got him a dirty look from the girl, who soldiered on, ignoring Dean's smirk.
"How does this Bloodline of Michael thing work?"
Dean ran his tongue over his teeth, the words in his head jumbling around, fighting over which ones would get to be said first. "Kinda obvious, isn't it?" he asked, giving a little shrug as he turned to put the buffer away. His baby was gleaming like new under the overhead light, ready to hit the road once again.
"Spell it out for me anyway."
When Dean looked again, he found that Zoe had come almost within arms reach of him, watching him expectantly. "Okay." Dean ran a hand over his face, holding back a grimace. It was like with Ben, when he'd first moved in with the boy and Lisa, wanting to know all about what Dean had been doing. "Angels... angels gotta have a body, if they're gonna run around on Earth, and they're pretty limited on who they can use, especially an angel like Michael. He, uh, he doesn't have many people he could use, and whoever he uses has to agree to it. It's not like with demons, who can just take."
"So y'all are raising me to be Michael's body?" Zoe asked warily. She'd taken a step back from Dean while she spoke.
"Christ, no!" Dean felt a shudder of horror run through him. "Angels are dicks, kid."
"Cas is an angel."
"Well, Cas is different. The last time Michael took a body, he did it by tricking the poor dumb bastard while trying to strong arm the guy he actually wanted into doing the job, and he wanted to end the world over a pissing match with his brother." Dean raked a hand through his hair, crouching down so he was eye to eye with Zoe. "The last thing you wanna do is say yes to Michael. Even if he ever lets you go, he'll leave you a vegetable."
"Is that what happened to Adam?" Zoe folded her arms low across her chest, and she looked... scared. Dean felt like someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over his head. The last time he'd seen Adam, his half brother had been walking away, telling them that if he never heard the name Winchester again in his life, he could die happy. Adam had spent even longer in the Pit than any of them, and while God may have restored him in body and soul, something like that left permanent scars on the mind. Adam would never be the boy he was before the ghouls had eaten him, even if he was doing his best to go back to the life he had before. Bobby had contacts keeping an eye on John Winchester's youngest son, just in case.
"Who told you about Adam?" Dean found himself asking, eyes narrowing slightly. Someone was gonna be getting an earful about telling the kid things she didn't need to know about.
Zoe gave a little half-shrug, blowing a few strands of dark blond hair out of her eyes with a huffed breath. "I'm not deaf. I heard Sam and Bobby talking about him." She looked down at her shoes, then up again. "Is he my father?" Dean shook his head, and instead found himself confronted with the question he'd been dreading since Cas had dragged the girl into his life. Zoe looked everywhere but at Dean for a minute, as if asking the question was as hard for her as answering it would be for Dean. "Is it you?"
When Zoe looked back up again, her face was schooled into careful expressionlessness. "I told you, I heard Sam and Bobby talking about Adam. I know who he is to you." Her eyes were hard as she took another step back, drawing herself up to her full height. Dean stayed where he was, watching Zoe's lip curl in a sneer. "Doesn't matter." Then she was gone, kicking up little puffs of dust from the gravel as she ran.