A teenage girl stands and grumbles to herself, ignoring the long brown hair blowing into her face in favor of glaring sullenly at the trio of men standing several yards away. She leaned against the glossy black Impala, though not entirely by choice, even if it was a pretty sweet car. No, she was there because one hand was chained to the front passenger door handle by the handcuffs the scruffy guy in the Henley and jacket had slapped onto her after manhandling her against the side of the car when she'd tried to bolt earlier.


Of course, they were discussing her, and it pissed her off. They'd gotten in her way while she'd been tracking down the monster that killed her parents, and now they acted like somehow she was the one that had screwed up. Worse, like she somehow lacked the right to get her revenge. Who the hell did they think they were, anyway?


Then again, she realized, maybe she was about to find out. The three men seemed to come to some sort of agreement and turned almost as one to approach her. The tallest – freakishly tall, in her opinion – offered her a friendly smile, which really only made her distrust him even more than she already did. The one who'd trapped her here while they went off to decide her fate, or whatever they thought they were doing, just stared at her steadily as he stalked toward her. He, at least, had the good grace to not bother with pretending to be friendly. The third and shortest of the trio – but wow, short was a relative term, since he was still probably a good six or eight inches taller than she was – was as serious as the dick who'd handcuffed her, but there was a different quality to his solemnity, and she wasn't sure what to make of him at all.


She scowled at them as they stop before her, arranging themselves in a semi-circle around her with the one she was labeling 'dick' in her mind in the center, and the other two almost protectively off to each side of him. Which, really, only ends up making her feel even more trapped than she already is. Her eyes dart from man to man, sizing them up. Without a weapon, since the dick had seen fit to relieve her of her machete and the ancient pistol that had belonged to her father, she realized immediately that she was probably no match for any one of these guys individually, let alone all three at once. Well, except the one who looked more like he belonged in an office, with his rumpled suit and tie and silly-looking jacket, than bumming around with a couple of guys who were clearly full-time hunters.


“You realize you could have gotten yourself killed, kid,” asked the dick guy without preamble, his voice just as gruff as his manner. The girl shrugged, refusing to meet his eyes. Some days, she honestly wasn't really sure she cared if she managed to get killed. Revenge against the thing that took her parents away was all that really mattered. If she died before that happened? Well, at least she'd tried, and gone down fighting. The dick guy started to take a step closer to her, only to be stopped by the dorky officer worker guy's hand on his arm. The touch seemed light, yet it was enough to keep the dick in place. That he could stop the jerk with a single touch, despite dick's greater size, made her hesitate and reevaluate the guy in the suit and silly coat.


The tall one's eyes flicked between his companions, then he offered the girl another friendly smile. God, he reminded her of her school counselor, something that she was worlds away from these days. She rolled her eyes at him, but listened when he spoke just the same. “Look, my brother's a moron. Ignore him.” This earned the giant a glare from the dick, apparently the brother he spoke of. “We just, well, you don't really seem to know what you're doing. It's a good guess you didn't grow up in the life, and trying to learn on your own is... Well, it is a good way to get yourself killed.”


“So what? It's my life. You have no right to hold me like a damn prisoner,” she bit out at him, already tired of the pity party. She was rewarded by a sigh and sorrowful puppy eyes from the giant. “Just let me go. We can each go our own way and never see each other again? Good? Good.” To ram her point home, she started jerking her wrist where it was still tethered to the car's door handle.


“Hey, you better not scratch Baby, you little shit,” ground out the shorter of the two brothers, his hands fisting at his sides. But, once again, it seemed like it was the hand of the suited guy still resting lightly on his arm that kept him from reaching out to strangle her or something like that.


“Dean,” came the gravelly voice of the one who'd remained silent up until now. Just that one word, and the man – Dean, apparently – turned and stalked away, muttering to himself. His giant of a brother hesitated a moment, his eyes meeting the calm one of the bunch. Whatever he saw there must have satisfied him, because he nodded once and turned to go after his brother. She looked back to the remaining man, faintly shocked by the intensity of his blue-eyed, squinted up gaze.


“They mean well,” that deep voice said calmly, just the slightest hint of fondness lacing it. She shrugged again, though she had more trouble dredging up the same levels of animosity toward this man as she felt toward the other two. “What Dean was trying to get to was that we'd like to help you. If... Well, if you'd let us?” The skin around his eyes crinkled slightly as he offered her the faintest of smiles.


She found his attempts at being friendly were less irritating than the taller guy's had been, despite the slight feeling of awkwardness he seemed to give off. Something about him just screamed 'socially awkward' at her, which was probably why he managed to slip right in under the walls she'd held up against the world for so long. He reminded her, just the tiniest bit, of her younger sister, gone for several years now in a car accident. “Piper,” she found herself blurting out suddenly.


The man tilted his head at her in confusion, then his smile widened into one of genuine friendliness as he seemed to suddenly understand both that she was offering her name, and that she was even maybe agreeing – in her own way – to hear him out. “My name's Castiel,” he said, warmth suffusing his deep voice.


“That's...even weirder than my name,” Piper said, unable to help the corners of her lips curving just slightly upward. “Your parents ex-hippies, too?”


A soft chuckle was her first answer. He grew serious, though, before he spoke again. “No, I don't think my Father would be considered a...'hippy'.” To her amusement, she could swear to actually hearing the air quotes when he spoke. “I'm an angel,” he said simply, stunning her. Monsters like the vampire that killed her parents, well, those she could accept now. But a freaking angel? As though he could imagine what was going through her mind, his lip quirked in a not-quite repressed flash of amusement.


She considered him for several moments, moments in which he remained silent, seemingly understanding her need to just stop and think. “Okay,” he finally said, the word coming out with a rush of breath she hadn't even realized she'd been holding. “So, despite my abiding love of being atheist, if I go with this whole angel thing for now... What the hell is an angel doing with a couple of hunters? And trying to help out some damn kid?” Her green eyes narrowed at him as she spoke, hints of suspicion rising up again. Suspicion, primarily, that some angel would even consider her worth helping, with all the terrible things she'd had to do to survive since her parents had been killed and to track down the thing that killed them.


“We help people, Piper. The Winchesters,” he glanced back to where the brothers were standing several yards away, watching them, having seemed to have decided it might be best to let the angel handle the situation for the moment, “that's what they do. And I...help, where I can,” the angel admitted, turning his intense blue eyes back to hers, making her feel like he was looking into her instead of just at her. “Especially when it comes to people like you. People who need help, who...have had lives ruined by the supernatural, and need a place to be safe again,” he said to her gently. Again, it seemed almost like he knew what she was thinking. Shit, could angels read minds or something? He studied her quietly for a moment, before adding, “...and you do deserve to have that.”


His words affected her deeply, even though she didn't want them to. She was just so damn tired of running and hiding and fighting and...tired of everything, really. She sagged against the door of the Impala, all the fight going out of her all at once. Before she realized it, the angel was at her side, reaching out to support her with gentle-but-firm hands in case she outright collapsed.


Immediately following Castiel coming to support her side, she realized the brothers were there, too, a matching look of relief on their faces. The angel met their eyes each in turn, then nodded wordlessly to whatever question had been left unspoken between them. Dean pulled a key from the pocket of his pants and with sure hands quickly unlocked the band of metal chaining her to the car, finally releasing her. While she still didn't entirely trust him, she tried to offer him a halfhearted smile of gratitude as she rubbed at her wrist.


“So, uh,” the taller brother started, “if Cas didn't tell you, I'm Sam. And this,” he nodded to his shorter brother, “is Dean.” Dean said nothing, but nodded absently in acknowledgment, his attention taken more by squatting down to examine the paint around the door handle for scratches. Despite herself, she smirked at this, even as she turned her attention back to the angel. Well, if he really was an angel. She still wasn't sure she believed that. It meant...far too much to her, as an avowed atheist.


She wrapped her arms around herself, leaning back against the car again as Dean rose to his feet, though she was still marginally supported by Castiel's hand resting solicitously on her elbow. “I'm, uh...Piper,” she offered belatedly, her attention darting between the trio. “What happens now?” She couldn't help the uncertainty that threaded through her voice, nor the faint quaver in it as she asked the question.


Both brothers glanced at each other in another of those almost creepy wordless communication moments. Then, as one, they looked pointedly at Castiel, clearly letting him make whatever decision needed to be made regarding her. The angel seemed to take this as a matter of course, and turned his attention back to her. “That's up to you. You're free to go, if that's really what you want,” he said, then hesitated to let that sink in for her. And she found herself believing him. If she said the word, she trusted that he would let her go on her way unmolested further, even if the other two disagreed.


“Or,” he said, once he'd seen that she realized the full import of his words, “you can come with me.” He offered her a faint smile, something that seemed to her to be strangely hopeful for the fact that he was making her an offer instead of wanting something from her. “We have friends who have a safe place for people like you. I'd...really like it if you'd be willing to give it a try.”


She realized then that he was wanting something from her after all. But what he wanted, she found herself willing to give. She was just...so tired. “Okay,” she said simply, nodding slowly. Castiel's smile widened, and she suddenly felt as though she'd seen a ray of sunshine after an eternity of storm clouds. She couldn't help but return that smile, absently noting that the brothers shared a satisfied look, as though the outcome was entirely expected. She found, though, that she really didn't care right then. For the first time since her parents had been killed, she was content to let adults – or would that be adults and an angel – take care of things for awhile.


=-=-=-=-=-=-=


It had been a long ride from the small town just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico to the...well, wherever the hell they were now. All Piper really knew was somewhere in Kansas, way into Kansas. Almost eleven hours of driving straight through, minus a brief stop for gas and a crap meal at a crap truck stop – which she refused to admit was the first hot meal she'd had in months, at least that didn't come from the microwave of a Gas n' Sip somewhere or other. But the way the angel – and seriously, a freaking angel, what the hell – had turned those weirdly intense blue eyes on her with a soulful look, she had a feeling he'd known anyway.


She was honestly surprised that this huge gold-colored boat he was driving could even make it so far without more stops for gas. It had to be such an incredible gas hog. But maybe angels didn't worry about mundane things like fuel efficiency. Unbidden, the image of the angel puzzling over ways to conserve fuel and worrying over the price of gas popped up into her mind, and Piper couldn't help the little giggle that escaped.


Feeling a flush of embarrassment spread over her cheeks, she slid her eyes over to Castiel to find him glancing between the road and her, his eyes squinted up in what had to be his best 'humans confuse me' look, she decided. Unable to stop it, a fresh round of giggles held her helpless for several minutes. It wasn't even really all that funny. Probably just stress and exhaustion – despite a nice long nap on the first half of the trip – and just the whole weirdness of the situation. Monsters were one thing, but angels? Apparently even Piper had a line, and road tripping toward some freaky sanctuary or whatever with an angel crossed it.


Are you alright?” The question was asked with what seemed to her a surprising amount of concern and sympathy lacing Castiel's gravelly voice. She really would have thought an angel would be...not so close to human, or something.


She shrugged, then decided to actually answer him – speaking for the first time at all since leaving Albuquerque – since he was driving and probably wouldn't even catch the slight motion. “I'm okay, I guess,” Piper said, intending to end it there. But she found words starting to spill forth as though a dam had broken. There was just something about this guy – angel, whatever – that felt safe.


It's just...y'know, a year ago I was looking forward to junior prom and preSATs and homecoming. Monsters were something from horror movies. Angels...were something I left behind when my parents stopped going to church.” Again, her eyes slid over to study him, waiting briefly to see if he gave any reaction to her mention of church; granted, he hadn't seemed to mind when she said she was an atheist when he sprung his 'I'm an angel' thing on her, but she still just wasn't sure if she was due some Heavenly wrath or something for it.


Castiel remained silent, seeming to understand – better than she did, apparently – her need to just...talk. Hell, she imagined he didn't even have a clue what she was talking about anyway, but she was grateful, deep down, that he let her talk anyway. “Then my dad vanished, just never came home from the late shift at the plant one day,” she continued, her voice softening with the memory of that time of terror and helplessness. “Three days of just...waiting, not knowing. And then Mom decided to go out to the plant, even though the cops had already been out to talk to people. I made her take me with her. I..should have begged her to just not go.”


She had to stop there, scowling at the tears building in her eyes. With quick, angry motions, she swiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt. When she looked up from that, she found those stupid soulful blue puppy eyes looking over at her with sympathy. The only thing that kept her from snapping at him was the sense that it was purely sympathy and not pity. “It isn't your fault, Piper. You couldn't have changed what happened.” And, really, how could a voice so rough manage to sound so damn soft and supportive, anyway?


Yeah, well, it doesn't feel that way,” Piper murmured, turning her head to look out the window so she didn't have to meet those uncomfortably understanding eyes anymore. “It was a whole...pack of vamps. Whatever you call 'em when they group up. Acted like some sick Brady bunch, saying they were a family.” Her hands clenched up on her lap as she spoke, though she didn't even notice, not even when her nails began to bite into the skin of her palms. “They, uh, they were hunting again the night Mom and I went out to Dad's plant. They...caught us in the parking lot, back where the visitors had to park. It was always dark back there. Dad used to bitch they needed more lights...”


She trailed off, suddenly no longer wanting to talk about it at all. Castiel remained silent, though she was just sure he had been listening in that intent way he seemed to have, like he was taking in not only everything you said, but everything you left unsaid, as well. She was grateful for his silence. She noted, absently since she wasn't really paying much attention to the scenery passing by, a sign announcing that they were approaching a town. 'Lebanon, Kansas – 10 mi.' Piper closed her eyes, wondering how much further they had to go. And, somewhere between that thought and the next, she was asleep.


=-=-=-=-=-=-=


Piper was pulled from sleep by a hand resting gently on her shoulder, just barely nudging her. She jerked away from the touch, reaching for the pistol she only belatedly remembered that Dean had taken away from her, and had only been willing to pass off to Castiel instead of giving it back to her when she'd been escorted to the angel's huge gold car. “Well, shit.”


She slid her eyes over to where Castiel was watching her, his lips quirked with amusement, as though he was all-too-familiar with watching someone wake up reaching for a weapon. Then again, considering the company he kept, he just might be, she realized. “My apologies, Piper. We're here.” That quirk of his lips bloomed into a small but genuine smile, and she found herself returning it. “I'd give you back your gun, but that has to be approved first. I hope you understand.”


The smile faded from her face, and she glanced away from him. She knew that arguing it would be pointless, but it still hurt. It wasn't just any weapon; the pistol was old and appeared to be in poor shape, though it was lovingly cared for, but it had belonged to her father, and to his before him. It was one of few things she had left of her life before it collapsed. “Yeah, sure, whatever,” she mumbled, jerking on the handle to open the car door and climbing out just to avoid having to face the angel.


“Piper,” came his rough voice over the roof of the car. Gritting her teeth, she looked over the car to him, knowing her sudden anger at him was uncalled for, but not really caring. “You will get it back. And I can promise it will be safe until then.” She narrowed her eyes at him, unsure whether she should believe him or not. He seemed to understand her silence for what it was, and, in a gentle voice, added, “I give you my word.”


That brought her up short. She stared at him, then gave a short, sharp nod. “Alright. I'm gonna hold you to that, angel boy.” She smirked at him, and was relieved to see his lip quirk at her once more. His amusement going a long way to making her think that maybe she could do this thing afterall. He gestured toward the rough-looking building, then silently led the way. She hefted her duffle up out of the car and followed along after the angel, nervousness warring with hope. But she thought, all she could do was cling to that recently rediscovered sense of hope, and wait to see what her future held now.