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This is a tag for the SPN episode 5.16, with spoilers up to then. It's a "what if" kind of thing that sends things off in an AUish direction. As for the Joan of Arcadia connection-- This is set about five years after the series finale.

Gen, rated PG-13, ~7700 words. In which Joan plays celestial FedEx girl once again.

This was beta'd by [livejournal.com profile] icelily01 and [livejournal.com profile] mshaffer (Thank you, guys!) und fiddled with afterwards by me. Title borrowed from "Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors" by the Editors.

She didn't look at all like a demon. But then again, half the demons they had wasted didn't look like demons. Only the ones who had set up shop permanently inside some poor bastard's body usually took care in dressing as slutty and/or sleazy as possible.

She didn't look like an angel either, for that matter.

If anything, she looked normal: dark winter coat, a striped shawl wound around her neck, jeans, boots, a hideous woolly hat, and – very recently added – an expression of annoyance. It was kind of reassuring, except that normal people didn't knock on the Winchesters' motel room door. It was unusual enough for Dean to want to sneak a peek first.

"You know I can see you, right?" she said, sizing him up through the crack in the door. "Are you Dean Winchester?"

"And what if I am?" Dean said.

"Then I've got a message for you."

"A message," Dean repeated. "What kind of message?"

"Look, can I come in? I feel a little stupid talking to a closed door. Also, it's kinda cold."

Dean looked her up and down once more and said, "Christo." Better safe than sorry.

"Bless you," she said. "Let's just skip the handshake then, why don't we? I'd hate to catch a cold. All that sniffling and coughing." She gestured vaguely at her own nose and emphasized, "Hate it."

Dean opened the door a little wider. "Who are you?"

"Joan Girardi," she said, as if that explained everything. "Can I come in now?"

"Okay," Dean said slowly and gripped the knife handle a little tighter behind his back. He opened the door and let her walk through. She looked around the motel room curiously and came to a stop next to the lopsided table with the two wobbly chairs. "Not exactly the Ritz, is it?"

"So, what's the message?" Dean asked casually and closed the door behind her, trying to remember where Sam had put the holy water.

"Um, right," she said and looked nervous all of a sudden. She took off the knitted hat and started to fiddle with it. Her long hair did its best to stand in every direction, charged with static electricity. He tried not to pay attention to the floating strands. "This might sound a little crazy," she said. "I mean, he never told me to do anything like this before. He never told me to tell anyone, so this is a definite first for me. On the other hand, if he tells me to tell you, then he must be thinking that you'd be inclined to believe me, right?"

Dean blinked. "Lady, you're not making sense."

"Lady?" She squinted at him, probably trying to decide whether this was worth getting offended over. "Call me Joan," she said then and flopped down into one of the chairs. "I've got a message from God."

"Uh," Dean said. "Right. 'Course you have."

"I know it sounds crazy, but--"

"Are you an angel?"

She stared. "I take it back. Yours sounds way crazier than mine. An angel? I'm not an angel. Are you on crack or something? There's no such thing as--" She fell quiet, looking stunned, and stared off into space for a few seconds. Dean watched her, curious despite himself. "Hey," she continued, "why shouldn't there be? I mean, I haven't ever seen one, but I've seen God, and He trumps angels, right?"

"You've seen God," Dean repeated. He discreetly tucked the knife away behind his belt. This girl wasn't a demon. This girl was plain nuts.

"Yeah. All the time." She waved her hand. "I mean, not as often as I used to, but He's around."

"Used to?" Dean repeated. He was starting to get a bad feeling about this. And what did it say about him that his healthy mistrust had taken this long to clock in fully?

"Back in school I saw him practically every other day, but these days He's not-- Look, could you maybe talk in complete sentences? Like, with more than four words in a row? This conversation seems a little one-sided to me. I don't like it when I'm the only one that talks. It makes that nervous babbling thing I've got going even worse than it usually is."

Well, yeah, Dean could see why she was worried about that. "I think I can manage that," he said.

"Six words," she said, nodding in mock approval. "Impressive."

"And there's more where those came from." He flashed her a fake smile. "My small talk is legend." He crossed his arms and leaned back against the door. "So you talk to God."

She rolled her eyes. "Yes. I told you. I've got a message for you. And for someone named--" She rifled through the pockets of her coat and produced a piece of paper. "Cas-ti-el. Is there really someone who goes by that name? Just that? Is it like 'Cher'? Because I'm not sure He didn't make that one up just to mess with me. He's been acting kinda strange since--"

"Whoa," Dean interrupted, holding up a hand. The alarm bells that had been ringing in his head since the first time she mentioned his (real and given) name were now in full blast. Maybe she was stir-crazy, but she had some pretty good intel. "Back up there a few paces, Joanie. How do you know about Castiel?"

"I don't 'know' anything about Castiel." She made the quotation marks in the air. "I got his name the same way I got yours," she explained, and her tone clearly implied an underlying 'Duh!'. "God told me. He also told me where to find you. How else would I have known where you'd be?"

Dean narrowed his eyes at her. "I can think of a few possibilities. None of them are good."

"Fine," she said, then she smoothed out the paper, checking it again. "Forty years in the space of four months. Does that mean anything to you? I got no idea what it means, but God said to tell you that, if you didn't believe me."

Dean felt his jaw clench. "You could have picked that up anywhere. It's not a state secret."

"A secret?" she asked. "Are you kidding me? It's complete nonsense. I asked my brother, and he's sort of an expert on this space and time stuff. He couldn't make heads or tails of it. Okay, he was blabbing on about relativity and the speed of light and time dila-something or whatever. But the more he's blabbing, the less he actually knows. It's a scientist thing, I guess."

The ticking from the clock on the wall was the only sound for a long minute. Dean stared at her, uncharacteristically undecided, which he didn't like at all. She kept looking earnest, and very much like she wasn't going to try and waste or mind-whammie him with some spell/mind-mojo/cleverly disguised weapon anytime soon. And she undoubtedly knew-- things.

"Look," she finally said, sounding exasperated, "I crossed three state lines to get here. I burnt through half a month's salary in gas. I'm tired, I'm cold, and my hair is a mess. Could you maybe give me a break here? And I wouldn't say no to a pizza or something. I'm really hungry." Her stomach rumbled with perfect timing. She put her forearms on the table and looked up at him expectantly.

Instead of saying, "Seriously, God?" which was still the first thing on his mind, he acted on the second impulse, which seemed more sensible and a lot less likely to make him look extremely slow on the uptake. "I, uh, gotta make a call," he said and fished his cell phone out of his jeans pocket.

* * *

Dean Winchester turned away to talk quietly into his cell phone. The huge knife that was tucked behind his belt was really kind of hard to miss. If Joan ended up dead playing celestial FedEx girl, God wouldn't hear the end of it for the rest of eternity, He could count on that.

The call lasted for about twenty seconds, and then the door to the adjoining bathroom opened and a scruffy-looking guy in a trench coat walked out, a cell phone pressed to his ear.

Joan yelped in surprise. "Where did you come from? Were you in there the whole time?"

Trench Coat Guy studied her. It was a brief motion, but uncomfortably scrutinizing. He closed his cell and slipped it into his pocket. "No," he said simply, then he turned to Dean. "You should have told me you were not alone, Dean."

"Sorry, Cas," Dean said, not sounding it at all. "But I did ask you to--" He made a circling gesture with his finger, whatever the hell that meant. "--in there. That has to count for something."

Castiel didn't look impressed.

"Okay, whatever," Dean said offhandedly. "Joan, this is Castiel. Cas, say hi to Joan."

"Hello, Joan," Castiel said obediently.

"Uh, hi," she managed weakly. She leaned forward to catch a glimpse inside the bathroom. Castiel had left the door open. The room was tiny and there was no window inside. "Seriously, if you weren't hiding in there before, how did you--"

"Joanie here talks to God," Dean said, interrupting her cheerfully. "And apparently the old man has a message for us. Isn't that nice?"

Castiel turned his head to stare at Dean as if he'd just sprouted wings.

"Don't aim that look at me," Dean said. "She's the one with the mental problem."

"Hey, 'she' is sitting right here, and 'she' is not crazy," Joan said and regretted it instantly, when Castiel's stare focused on her again.

"You're not an angel," he said after a moment. It was a statement, not a question.

Joan stared. Maybe she really was the only sane person in the room. "What is it with you guys and angels?"

"Oh, it's kind of our thing," Dean said and smiled humorlessly.

Castiel was still looking at her, his head tilted a little. Joan was getting the lost-puppy vibe from him, and that was more than a bit weird to be found in a grown man wearing a trench coat. She didn't know why the trench coat made things worse, but it did.

"You're not a prophet, either," Castiel said. "A prophet by the name of Joan has never been appointed."

"As far as you know," Dean said, and then, judging by the expression on his face, he regretted bringing up the point. Whatever the point of the point was. He briefly clamped a hand on Castiel's shoulder, then moved to sit down opposite Joan. Actually-- Slouched was a better word for it. He slouched in the chair, his composure a complete opposite to the ramrod-straight stance Castiel hadn't abandoned so far. Castiel didn't even shift on his feet, just stood there, hands hanging at his sides, looking down at her.

"First angels and now prophets? Oo-kay," Joan said. "This is starting to get too whacked out for me."

"Says the girl who talks to God," Dean deadpanned. "What's up with that, anyway?"

With a little frown of concentration, which really was the first vaguely identifiable expression Joan had seen on his face, Castiel said, "It is highly unlikely that a new prophet was named during the time I--"

"Yeah, let's not go into details right now, Cas," Dean interrupted him with a meaningful glance.

Joan got the feeling that there were two different conversations going on here, and she wasn't privileged to participate in both. "Guys, seriously," she said. "Can I just, er-- give you the message and get out of here?" She didn't add, "Because you're kind of creeping me out."

"Okay, then. Let's hear it," Dean said.

"It's a bit embarrassing," Joan said, because it was. Old-Lady-Feeding-Pigeons-In-The-Park-God had insisted she deliver the words in person. No, Joan was not to write a postcard, should she choose to take on this task. Joan had been doing this whole heavenly errand girl thing for a decade, but the I-merely-make-suggestions company line still induced an eye roll in her every single time. "It's a pretty short message. Anticlimactic, I guess, after the 'I've got a message from God' speech. Sorry about that."

"You're one hell of a tease, anyone ever tell you that?" Dean said, leaning forward with his elbows on the table.

"What is the message?" Castiel asked intently.

"Um." She let out what she supposed could be described as a nervous giggle, then took a deep breath. "God said to tell you: Don't give up on me."

There was another moment of almost-silence, longer than before, filled with the tick-tick-ticks of time running by. Joan was starting to harbor fantasies of throwing that damn clock on the floor and introducing her boot to it.

Dean raised an eyebrow. "That's it? 'Don't give up on me'?"

"That's it. Told ya, anticlimactic." She smiled an apologetic smile.

"You can say that again."

Silence stretched.

Castiel was staring at her. Dean was frowning at Castiel. Her eyes darted back and forth between them, waiting for a reaction.

"How do we know you're speaking the truth?" Castiel finally asked.

She pointed a finger at him. "Somehow God knew you'd ask that. Not that I couldn't have guessed it myself. No need to be divine and omniscient to see that one coming. He gave me a couple of code lines. I haven't got the faintest clue what they mean, which was probably the point. Anyway, I already told Dean that thing about time fitting in less time--"

"Forty years in the space of four months," Dean supplied.

Whether it was his subdued tone of voice or the words themselves that immediately made Castiel shift his eyes from her to Dean, Joan didn't know. It didn't much matter to her, anyway, as long as the result was her being free from the crushing weight of Castiel's full attention. The creepiness factor was going up and up here. If God Himself hadn't been the one to send her here, Joan would have worried.

"Yeah. That. The other one is even worse. He spelt it out for me. It's in a different language. I think." She sighed. "Maybe it's gibberish and He just enjoys being unfathomable to an unhealthy degree. Er, not that He actually needs to worry about health and-- Never mind."

She read out the sentence from her notes, carefully pronouncing every word.

Afterward, Dean looked stunned. "Was that--"

"Enochian," Castiel said. He looked-- Stunned wasn't quite the word for it. Like he'd just been hit over the head with a shovel, was more like it.

"You understood that? What does it mean?" Joan asked. Really, she wasn't all that curious-- Oh, who was she kidding? She'd been dying to know since He had dictated the words to her.

Apparently, so was Dean. "Cas?"

Castiel ignored them both. "Have you ever laid eyes on Him?" he asked in a voice that was both quiet and deafening at the same time.

Joan shivered, and not in a good way. "On God? Of course. How else--"

Castiel swiveled around, away from her. Joan could hear him breathe, fast and shallow. She could see that his fists were clenched. Dean was on his feet in an instant, catching Castiel by the arm. "Cas. Don't," Dean said. "Don't take off."

Castiel didn't take off.

"What does He look like?" he asked, voice low.

Dean was glaring at her over his shoulder, like he was daring her to say the wrong thing. Problem was, she had no idea what the right or the wrong thing to say was. She had no idea what was going on here.

"I guess that means we're buying into her story?" Dean asked quietly, but not quietly enough.

"Yes," Castiel replied.

"Care to tell me why? That time-in-Hell thing is no secret. Anyone could have fed her that. And what if she's one of the Jehova's witnesses brigade doing the angels' dirty work for them? It would explain the Enochian. Could be a trap."

Joan was pretty sure she had heard the word 'Hell' somewhere in that little speech. Hell with a capital H, even. And her brain steadfastly refused to connect the words 'angel' and 'dirty' in any way. In conclusion, what?

"To what purpose?" Castiel asked. "Consider the message, Dean."

Dean seemed to take a moment to do as requested, then said, "You have a point there. But come on, Cas. That's not what has you convinced. It's the Enochian message, isn't it? What does it mean?"

"That is between me and my Father," Castiel said. His voice couldn't have been colder if he tried. And wait. Father?

"Okay," Dean said slowly and backed away a little, as if this defensiveness was something to be concerned about. When Castiel turned to face Joan again, Dean was forced to let go of his arm.

"What does He look like?" Castiel asked again. He took one step closer to her.

Joan fought the urge to get out of her seat and shrink back from him. There was something-- a kind of barely contained fierceness surrounding Castiel. He seemed to be taking up a lot more space than he should.

"Um," she said. "Different. Every time. Well, almost every time. He's having fun catching me off-guard, I guess."

"When you say different--" Dean started, inviting her to finish the sentence. Not inviting, exactly. More like demanding.

"I mean like different people. You know. Male, female, young, old, red haired, blonde. What did you think? Different as in burning bushes or golden clouds?"

Dean was scratching his neck, looking vaguely embarrassed. "'Course not."

Joan flashed him a quick grin. "You did," she teased. "Seriously, He's-- kind of normal. Totally lame, even. You should see the jobs He's been doing."

"Jobs," Castiel repeated flatly.

"Well, yeah," she said. "The first time he talked to me, I thought he was a, um, fellow student." No way was she going to say 'cute boy'; that was just wrong on so many levels. "And since then I've seen Him as a small girl, as other students, as a barista, a janitor, mailman, caterer, cop, bus driver, hairdresser – and let me tell you, that is one job He totally sucks at." She turned her eyes heavenward. "Sorry, but it's true. Those ridiculous curls took two months to grow out."

"God is a hairdresser," Dean repeated. He squinted at the floor in concentration, then gave up. "I'm sure there's an awesome joke in there somewhere, but I got nothin'. Damn."

"You're missing the point," Castiel said.

"What point?" she asked, exactly when Dean said, "There's a point?"

"God doesn't care," Castiel stated. "Or have you forgotten?"

The sound of a key turning in the lock interrupted the tense silence that followed. The door opened and a giant of a man walked in, a bag of Chinese takeout dangling from his arm. "Dean, they didn't have any--" he started, then froze in the doorway, staring at the display in front of him.

"Hey, Cas. It's good to see you," he finally greeted and then eyed Joan suspiciously.

"Sam, meet Joan." Dean waved a lazy hand at her. "Joan, this is my brother Sam."

She was still staring at Castiel. "What do you mean, God doesn't care? About what?"

"Nothing. He didn't mean anything by that," Dean answered for him and glared at Castiel.

"What?" Sam set the bag down on the floor. "Who is she, and what's she doing here?" he asked, then added, "No offense," for her benefit.

"Oh, none taken," she said. "I'm just the girl who delivered a message from God. Which apparently isn't much cause for celebration around here."

"Yeah, well, excuse us for not going up in ecstatic flames or whatever," Dean said. "We have what you might call something of a history with Him." He glanced at Castiel, who looked like he was grinding his teeth hard enough to give his dentist a headache.

Joan did her best not to stare stupidly. No more than she already had, that was. A history with God. What the hell was going on here?

"Cas?" Sam said. "What message?"

Castiel cleared his throat. "Apparently we are not to give up on Him."

Sam looked at Castiel, then Dean, then her. He sat down heavily on one of the beds. "You better start at the beginning."

Dean did. Castiel was silent throughout. Joan got rid of her coat and scarf. None of them protested as she helped herself to two spring rolls, the Bami Goreng and a bottle of water. She was kind of starving.

* * *

"Wow," was all Sam could think of to say, but he wasn't really surprised. He wondered if there was anything left that could surprise him these days.

"Yeah," Dean agreed. He had tugged Ruby's knife from his belt and was fiddling with it absentmindedly, throwing and catching it, twirling it around in his hand. Joan was shooting him looks that were starting to border on terrified. Sam snatched the knife away.

"Hey," Dean complained. "I was--"

"--playing with that?" Sam finished with a raised eyebrow.

"No. Training. It's all part of the training," Dean muttered, but didn't try to snatch it back.

Sam shoved the knife back under his pillow, then went to get the laptop. Cas was as convinced as Cas could be that this wasn't a trick, but it couldn't hurt to check up on a few things. He caught Joan's gaze, and it finally occurred to him, the one thing neither of them seemed to have thought of asking. "What did He say? I mean, you say you've been speaking with Him for a decade. What have you been talking about?"

She swallowed some of the spring roll in her mouth and talked around the rest. "He tells me to do things."

"Things," Dean repeated. "Like, 'Isn't that chainsaw shiny? Go buy it,' and 'You never liked your neighbor anyway, maybe you'll like him better in pieces'?"

Joan looked appropriately horrified. "No. Nothing like that. It was small stuff, mostly. Ordinary stuff. Join the debating team. Take advance chem class. Eat salad for a change. Audition for Zombies in Love. Go shop for new shoes-- Okay, that may have been a very loose interpretation of the assignment," she conceded at Dean's doubtful expression. "Sometimes it's big things. Get a job. Get a life. Get over yourself. Tap into your potential. You know, all the things you're just dying to hear when you're a teenager. But lately He's mostly been throwing books at me."

"Excuse me?" Castiel said, sounding offended.

Joan shot him an exasperated look. "Metaphorically, okay? Jeez, does he always take everything so literally?"

"It's one of his special talents," Dean informed her seriously.

"He was throwing books at you?" Sam prompted, because someone had to keep things on track, and why did that always have to be him?

"Uh, yeah. It started out a few months ago with this freaky series of novels. It was, like, a million pages in total, and kind of cheesy, but He made me read them all. If God gives you a reading assignment, what are you to do? Anyway, there are these two brothers, and they're hunting down monsters, like demons and witches-- and, you know, other generic horror kinda stuff. It's not that I don't like horror as a genre. But-- I put the books on display afterwards and they're still on their shelf. I haven't sold a single copy in six months, and that's gotta tell you something about the level of skill and creativity involved."

Sam exchanged a look with Dean. Or rather he tried to, but Dean was already exchanging a look with Castiel. Sam tried not to feel that as the kick in the gut it was. At least Dean looked just as pained as Sam felt.

"But you know what really bugged me?" Joan went on. "One of them went to Hell in the end. The plot was epic. It was never resolved. That was a real downer." She did sound disappointed, and a little annoyed, too. "I thought the author had abandoned the series, but I hear the next book is about to be published, so maybe then I can find out then what happened to Dean."

The Dean in question glowered at her. "Yeah, you hated the books alright," he said. Then his eyes turned suspicious. "Do you know what a slashfan is?"

And yeah, Sam had just been thinking the same thing.

"No," she said, cocking her head. "Should I? Sounds like a dangerous piece of machinery."

"Right." Dean seemed relieved. Sam seconded the sentiment. "That's totally what it is. No need to google it or anything."

"I'm not sure whether this explanation is the right--" Castiel began.

"Yes, you are," Sam interrupted hurriedly.

"Trust us," Dean backed him up. "You are."

Joan scrunched up her nose. "You guys are kind of insane. You know that, right? I mean, you," she pointed at Castiel, "Camping out in a bathroom of all places? What's that all about? And you two. Sharing a crappy motel room and playing with creepy weapons, and don't think I haven't seen all that voodoo crap in your bag over there, and-- Hey, wait--" Her eyes darted between them. "Dean and Sam. Brothers. Motels. Weapons. Voodoo. Total creepiness-- Just like in the books!"

Sam sighed. "Exactly like in the books," he said. If this wasn't their lives, for real, her expression would have been hilarious.

"And our Castiel here is an angel of the Lord," Dean added brightly, and that was just a mean thing to do. Her eyes went even wider.

"Dean," Castiel admonished.

"What? She's been talking to God. What the hell does it matter?" Dean snapped back.

"You--" Joan said faintly. "You're serious?"

"As a heart attack," Dean confirmed, smiling sweetly.

All of a sudden, she looked stricken. Sam hoped she wasn't going to pass out on them. "But, but, Sam was dead, and then brought back to life, and Dean went to Hell. Hell!"

Dean gave her a tight-lipped, humorless smile that was probably mirrored on Sam's face.

"Oh, shit," she said, eyes darting between them. "Forty years in the space of four months? Holy shit."

She was quick on the uptake, Sam had to give her that. "Look," he said. "I know this is a lot to take in. But yes, Chuck-- I mean Carver Edlund-- He's been writing down our lives. It all happened."

She blindly grabbed the water bottle from the table and took a few long gulps. "So I guess now I know why He wanted me to read the Supernatural series." She thought about it some more, then looked at Dean. "Dude, you were full frontal in there!" she told him, before blushing furiously.

Despite everything, Sam laughed out loud. He laughed, and Dean could glare at him all he wanted. But Sam decided he would be better off out of Dean's reach and left him sitting on the bed. He set up shop opposite Joan at the table. The laptop was all fired up and ready by then, google waiting to be put to work. He started with 'Joan Girardi'.

"Full frontal?" Castiel repeated, and Sam started snickering again.

"I'm not explaining that one to you," Dean said.

Joan was brave enough to give it a try. "It means that there was-- That Dean-- Are you really an angel?"

Sam couldn't blame her for getting sidetracked. The first search results popped up, and: huh.

He looked up at Joan and asked, "You're from a place called Arcadia?"

She managed to tear her eyes away from Castiel long enough to answer. "Yes. Why?"

Sam grinned and shook his head.

"What, Sam? Care to share with the class what's so amusing?" Dean was annoyed, like he always was when somebody knew something important that he didn't.

"Don't you get it? She's Joan of Arcadia."

"Interesting," Castiel said. "The similarities to Jeanne d'Arc are peculiar."

"What, like that chick played by Milla Jovovich in that movie? Who said she could-- oh."

"Yeah, oh," Sam mocked.

"And I'm sure she was my great-great-great-grand mother's cousin twice removed or something," Joan cut in. "Look, are you done being awed? I'd really like to wrap this up. I need to open my bookshop again the day after tomorrow."

"Who said anything about being awed?" Dean muttered.

Sam cleared his throat. Again with the keeping-things-on-track. "We still don't know what the message means. Either of you have any theories?"

The bed creaked as Dean pushed off of it and came over to snatch a cold spring roll from the package. He took a bite and said, "You know, I'm starting to think that maybe that Joshua guy was full of shit."

"It's possible that we were misled," Castiel offered.

Dean pointed the remains of his spring roll at him. "Isn't that what I just said?"

Castiel tilted his head at him.

"Whatever," Dean said. "So theoretically, if God was on our side, where does that leave us? He hasn't lifted a finger so far, so what good is His divine support going to do us now?"

"He rescued you from Lucifer. He brought me back to assist you in your fight. There may be a reason for his continuing lack of interference."

Sam almost didn't dare to hope. "You think maybe he cares after all?"

"It's possible," Castiel said.

It was obvious that Castiel was starting to believe it only as he was saying the words. Sam was glad. Really, really glad. Castiel without faith was-- Well, Sam had been afraid for him. And for the rest of the world, because how the hell were they going to stop Lucifer without the angelic third of Team Free Will? He turned back to his internet search to see what else would come up.

"Hang on. Lucifer?" he heard Joan ask, alarmed. "As in the devil?"

"Yes," Castiel answered simply.

"You have no trouble believing in God, do you?" Dean reminded her.

"No, of course not. But--"

Sam felt a little sorry for her and hoped that they wouldn't have broken her brain by the time this was over. And he really hoped they wouldn't have to explain to her just how that Lucifer thing had gone down. He kept scanning Arcadia's news pages until something popped up that had all his alarm bells ringing. "Uh, guys?" he said. Three pairs of eyes turned to him. "It seems like Arcadia has a demon problem."

Three pairs of eyes continued to stare at him.

"What?" Joan finally asked. "What do you mean, a demon--" She trailed off, brows furrowing. "Hunter!" she yelled in triumph, loud enough for Dean to jerk in surprise. "Black eyes! There's been talk that someone saw his eyes go completely black. And everyone thought that was just some crazy person spreading bullshit. Of course! Why didn't I think of that? That's why He made me read the books!"

"Hunter?" Dean asked. "A hunter?"

"What? No," she said. "Ryan Hunter. He's the power hungry asshole who's been taking over Arcadia piece by piece over the last few years."

Dean and Castiel exchanged another one of their looks, this time both including Sam as an afterthought. "Is there anything else you can tell us about him?" Castiel inquired.

"Oh, I could trash talk him for days on end, no problem," she said, sounding surprisingly angry. She even slammed her fist on the table. Dean looked impressed. "He cost my brother his job, twice, and a really good friend of mine his scholarship, and my dad his good reputation, and me-- a whole lot of nerves and countless nights of uninterrupted sleep. And that's only the things that happened to my friends and family. The city, the religious community, you name it, he wreaks havoc everywhere, in the name of the so-called greater good. He's in it for the money and the power, and he's got the mayor in his pocket. Hell, he could be the mayor in five year's time. He's a greedy, manipulative douchebag with an evil secret agenda. Even God hates the guy." Her eyes widened. "Uh. That maybe should have been my first clue."

"God doesn't hate," Castiel chastised.

"Oh, really. Then He, what, strongly dislikes?"

Dean grinned at that, and Sam could tell that he was really warming to Joan. Sam found himself liking her, too. It was the enthusiastic use of Winchester-approved sarcasm, he guessed.

Sam started digging around the internet for more information, took notes and listened to Joan filling in more details. It wasn't really something that should surprise Sam anymore, the way small things could influence the outcome of any situation in huge ways. It seemed to be the story of Joan's life. The Big Man had sure given her some weird assignments, and usually with unexpected results.

"It wasn't so bad," Joan said, running a hand through her hair. "Not always easy to do, and let me tell you, He can be damn persistent sometimes. Even though He never orders, he suggests. But seriously, how can you decline a suggestion that was made by God?"

Dean looked like he was about to point out that he could think a few ways, no problem at all.

"You have been doing God's work," Castiel said, as if that fact had just occurred to him, "for the last ten years of your life."

"Uh." Joan looked down at the table. "I guess. I mean, just very small things, really. No big deal."

"You drove hundreds of miles to deliver a message to a recipient unknown to you," Castiel insisted.

"Uh," she said again. Her forefinger was drawing patterns on the tabletop now. "Yeah. I guess." She was starting to sound seriously embarrassed.

Castiel took a few steps forward and reached out to her, hooking two fingers under her chin. He pulled gently until she had no choice but to meet his eyes. They stayed like that for a long moment, then Castiel said, "You are a good person, Joan Girardi. God chose you for a reason. You mustn't forget that."

Joan swallowed audibly. "Uh. Thanks," she said. She was staring directly into Castiel's eyes, and that was a humbling and exhilarating experience all on its own, Sam knew. Her face relaxed into an expression of awe, at which point the fact must have hit home that it was an angel who was speaking these words to her.

Dean was watching them as well, a rare and unfamiliar tilt to his lips. This had to be hitting close to home for Dean as well, Sam thought. He silenced that tiny, petty part of himself that wanted to hear those words, too. It wasn't something he could expect, or even hope for. Not now. Not as long as the apocalypse was going down, courtesy to Sam's overconfidence in his own knowledge and abilities, and his lack of trust in his brother.

Dean swallowed and blinked quickly a few times before averting his eyes again. And he had the nerve to keep calling Sam the girl in the family.

Finally, Castiel let go of Joan and took a step back. She kept staring at him, looking a little dazed.

At which point Dean cleared his throat and announced that he'd go out to the reception and get another room for Joan.

"It seems likely that God has been hiding out in Arcadia these last few years," Castiel told them, when Joan had trudged out and into her own room to crash for the night. "We might be able to locate Him."

Dean clamped a hand on his shoulder. "I hope so, buddy."

"Yeah," Sam said. "Me, too." Even though he wasn't entirely sure what God would have to say to him, of all people.

In the morning, they were off to Arcadia.

* * *

Never before had Castiel made an appointment for an exorcism in advance. Ryan Hunter was all too eager for a meeting with a reporter to speak about a new project of his. But even knowing what awaited them inside, Castiel had to stay away. The building was warded against angels. Sam and Dean went in, armed with a voice recorder, a camera, holy water, the demon Ruby's knife and all-too familiar words of Latin in the backs of their minds.

Castiel waited with Joan Girardi outside by the car, only a few blocks away from Ryan Hunter's office building.

"Hey, did I even say thank you for doing this? If not, then, really, thank you. I don't know how long it would have taken me to make that connection, if I ever would have, and even then, what could I have done--" she was saying. Castiel had noticed that she was hardly ever quiet, especially when she was nervous.

"Everything will be fine," Castiel said. He had observed Sam saying these words to distressed people, and for the most part they seemed to have a reassuring effect.

Joan crossed her arms and eyed him sideways. "Can you do something angelic? I know you said that you're-- And you haven't lied to me about anything else, but--"

"You find it hard to believe," Castiel said.

"No," Joan answered immediately, then amended, "Yes. I know it's weird. I've seen God. It shouldn't be such a big leap, but it's-- different."

Castiel considered this. "What would you have me do?"

"I don't know. What's your specialty?"

"Other than taking everything too literally?"

Joan squinted at him. "Somehow I don't think you're supposed to have a sense of humor. Are you?"

"No," Castiel admitted.

"So you're a special kind of angel, then."

"I'm an outcast. I rebelled against Heaven."

This shocked her into silence. At least for a brief moment. "You rebelled against God?"

"No," Castiel corrected. "I rebelled against Heaven. I have never seen God. I can only try to hold on to my faith that this is not the plan He had for humanity."

She twirled a strand of hair around her finger, thinking. "So what you're saying is that you rebelled in His name?"

"I-- don't know. I don't know what His intentions are. We were told that He--" Castiel hesitated. He was still reluctant to form the words.

"--doesn't care? Well, you better check your sources on that one," she said and elbowed him in the side. "He cares a lot, or He wouldn't have been around pestering me for the last decade."

They stood in silence for a while, looking up the street that Dean and Sam were supposed to walk down once they had completed the job.

Unsurprisingly, Joan was the one to break the silence. "You've really never seen God?"

"It was a privilege granted only to those of the highest rank," Castiel said. "I was a mere foot soldier."

"Hm," she said. "Not anymore, though."

For some reason her words struck something inside him, inducing a strange kind of warmth that spread from the inside out.

"When you see Him again, would you tell Him--" Castiel began.

Joan silenced him with a raise of her hand, her attention focused on something behind Castiel. "Why don't you tell him yourself?" she said and smiled widely, almost ecstatically, at him. "Turn around."

There was a man on the other side of the street, up high on a crane, working on a street lamp. "Hi Joan," he shouted, not turning away from his task. "Castiel."

After an encouraging little push from Joan, Castiel stepped around the car and crossed the street. He frowned up at the-- man. It really was just a man. "Hello," he said, because it was all he could think of to say.

"You surprised me most of all," the man said and turned to look down.

Castiel met old eyes, eyes darker and deeper than outer space. His breath caught. God. This was his Father. He was face to face with his Father. Castiel had to close his eyes for a moment, waiting out the battle of two conflicting urges: to sink onto his knees in awe in front of the Father, or to stand tall and demand what the hell He had been thinking letting the apocalypse happen, letting His angels stray from the righteous path. He opened his eyes again, still undecided.

The man's lips twisted in a sad smile, and Castiel could see it now. This wasn't all of Him. This was-- an appendage, the hand that worked a puppet. God was not all here.

"It's not in my power to interfere any more than I already have. And it's not my place to do so, either," the man told him. "This is now your world to save."

"No," Castiel said. All the pieces, everything that had already been there, clicked into place. Dean. Dean had been saying this for months. Castiel shook his head. "It's theirs." He glanced at Joan, who was still leaning on the hood of Dean's Impala, at the passers-by on the pavement, the children on the playground on the other side of the street.

His Father nodded once in acknowledgement. "Then they better claim it. They'll need all the help they can get."

"They shall have it," Castiel said. And he was, as Dean would have put it, serious as a heart attack.

The man who was not entirely his Father flashed a quick, fond smile. "Keep changing, Castiel. You're very good at it."

Instead of answering with a simple, 'Thank you', as was obviously warranted, Castiel said, "I couldn't stop myself if I tried." Because a tiny part of him was protesting that he wasn't doing this for God. He hadn't done any of it, wouldn't keep doing any of it, because he was ordered to. It was the right thing to do.

"Hey," he heard Joan shout. "They're back."

"I have to go," Castiel told the man above him.

"Of course." The man tipped his hard hat with a finger and got back to work. "I'll see you again, Castiel," he said over his shoulder. It was a dismissal as much as a farewell.

"Father." Castiel bowed his head slightly and then went to join Joan by the car.

"How did it go?" Joan asked.

"As well as could be expected," Castiel answered, while, in truth, he had not been expecting anything. He hadn't even expected to find his father.

He watched Dean and Sam walk down the street, looking only a little worse for wear. "How many demons did you encounter?" he asked as soon as they were in talking distance.

"Three, aside from Hunter," Sam said. He was breathing heavily, clutching the silver flask in his hand. "Man, I'm out of practice. We're not doing this nearly often enough anymore."

"Nothing like a good old-fashioned exorcism to get you heart racing, right?" Dean said. His eyes met briefly with Sam's, then they both looked the other way. Castiel made the connection to the almost-mention of Sam's supernatural exorcising abilities. He decided not to comment on it.

"So," Joan said. "Is he-- Did you--" She gestured vaguely.

"Yeah," Dean said. "Straight back to Hell on the Demon Express."

"Wow." Joan looked like she still couldn't quite grasp what was happening. "Thanks, guys. That's just-- I can't believe it. Wow."

"Yeah," Dean said with a smirk. "I get that a lot."

Sam elbowed him in the side and said, "Ryan Hunter is his own self again. He's in his office."

"Can't say that I like the guy any better, though," Dean added. "He's still kind of a douche."

"Maybe you should go talk to him," Sam suggested to Joan. "Put things in perspective, before he gets any stupid ideas."

Castiel thought this was an excellent idea, and he said as much.

"If you really think-- Okay," Joan said. "Hey, what's one more heavenly assignment, right?"

Castiel didn't point out that he was in no position to deal out Heaven's assignments. He watched as Dean opened the trunk of the car, and he and Sam started to pack away their equipment.

"So, what are you guys up to next?" Joan asked. "Lucifer?"

"Yep. Gotta run. Back to saving the world," Dean called out and shut the trunk, then added with fake optimism, "Piece of cake."

Joan snorted. "Sure. I bet."

"If any more demons show up--" Sam began.

"I'll know how to handle it," she interrupted. At Sam's raised eyebrow she added, "Kidding. I'll give you a call."

"You do that," Dean said. "Well--" he shifted on his feet, hand on the car door. "Nice meeting you, Joan."

"Likewise," she said and stepped up and hugged him. "You're still one of the weirdest people I ever met. You know that, right?"

"I'm taking that as a compliment," Dean answered, grinning into her hair. "You're not so normal yourself."

Castiel couldn't turn his eyes away. Even with his diminished abilities, he could see. He could see why God had chosen her, this righteous woman. Her soul shone almost as brightly as Dean's. And if they both weren't innocent and pure anymore, then they were as close as they could get. Strong, solid, defined.

Joan gave Sam a hug as well, which he eagerly returned.

Finally, Joan turned to Castiel.

"Do angels hug?" she asked with a tilt to her head.

"I have been trying new things lately," Castiel said.

And that was how he found his arms loosely wrapped around a warm human body that, in turn, had its arms wrapped around him. It was a pleasant experience. He smelt flowers in her hair. "Thank you, Joan Girardi," he whispered. He stepped back to find her looking at him with a smile on her face. "Bye, Castiel," she said.


Castiel turned his head to find that Sam had already slipped into the passenger seat. Dean was looking at him over the hood of the car. "We good to go?"

"Yes, Dean," Castiel said, and he meant it. "We're good to go."

Dean looked at him, eyes narrowed suspiciously. He knew that something had happened. There were going to be questions later.

For once, Castiel was prepared to answer them.

- the end -

Date: 2010-08-27 02:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] whisper2ascream.livejournal.com
Very good! Joan of Arcadia was such a good series and pity it didn't last longer. There's only a few crossovers out there with SPN but they work well together. Poor boys needed hearing some comforting words, and I loved Joan's interactions with them. And Cas meeting with one of God's guises was excellent.

Date: 2010-08-27 06:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Joan of Arcadia was such a good series and pity it didn't last longer
*sighs* Exactly! Especially after the very promising second season cliffhanger. (Er, do you know if anyone has ever written a fic as a continuation/conclusion to the series? I haven't been able to find one so far.)

Date: 2010-08-28 04:10 pm (UTC)
beatrice_otter: Me in red--face not shown (Default)
From: [personal profile] beatrice_otter
I've never seen any JoA fic--could you rec some? Particularly crossovers?

Date: 2010-08-27 03:57 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I love it when these two fandoms collide! They mix so well, especially with Joan being in contact with God and the brothers and Cas looking for Him, and yet there are hardly any fics out there like it. You've managed to capture these characters quite well. <3333

Date: 2010-08-27 06:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you! I'd like to read more JoA/Supernatural, too. You're right, it just works.

Date: 2010-08-27 05:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] labseraph.livejournal.com
I have never watched Joan of Arcadia before but this premise is making me itch to look for it.

I love how fluid the characters interact here and how natural their voices sound.


Thank you for sharing.

Date: 2010-08-27 06:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you so much!

If the premise tickles your interest, you should go for it and watch "Joan of Arcadia". It really is as great as it sounds. It's still one of my all-time favorite series. (Although you should know that it was canceled after two seasons with a semi-cliffhanger. But everything that comes before is totally worth that heartache.)

Date: 2010-08-27 01:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dolimir-k.livejournal.com
Loved this crossover!! Very well done!

Date: 2010-08-27 06:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Date: 2010-08-27 01:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] measri.livejournal.com
Considering the SPN storyline the last two seasons, I think 'Joan of Arcadia' is a perfect crossover opportunity - and I wish there was more fic based on it. This story was wonderful! Everyone was very well written and sounded like themselves. I liked the little Joan-Castiel bonding session at the end and was happy that Cas got to meet his Father, if only for a moment. After 5x16, they all really did need some positive reinforcement that they are doing the right thing and should keep fighting.

Thanks for sharing.

Date: 2010-08-27 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you!

I'd love to read more SPN/JoA crossovers, too. I think it just works in the grand scheme of things in SPN's season five. (Also, I have yet to find a fanfic conclusion to the semi-cliffhanger of season two of JoA. Has anyone ever written that?)

Date: 2010-08-27 09:56 pm (UTC)
liliaeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] liliaeth
and I still want to know what it was that God told Joan to tell Cas...

Love this, I wish there were more JoA/SPN crossovers, the two series fit strangely well together.

Date: 2010-08-28 01:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you!

the two series fit strangely well together
I know! It's weird. There really should be more SPN/JoA fics out there.

Date: 2010-08-28 12:58 am (UTC)
ext_3669: bodie (from the wire) against a cloud texture (Default)
From: [identity profile] attempt-unique.livejournal.com
this is love. i love the scenario, joan's reactions to team free will, your god voice, everything. love love love.

Date: 2010-08-28 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you so much!

Date: 2010-08-28 01:15 am (UTC)
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)
From: [personal profile] cofax7
Awww, I really liked that. So nice to see Joan again, and I love seeing her through Dean and Castiel's eyes.

Date: 2010-08-28 01:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thanks! I'm happy you enjoyed! :-)

Date: 2010-08-28 03:40 am (UTC)
tielan: Wonder Woman (SPN - castiel)
From: [personal profile] tielan
I don't watch SPN, and I haven't seen JoA since, oh, towards the end of S1. But from what I know of both shows, this is a crossover of awesome and I love it very much!

Date: 2010-08-28 01:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Date: 2010-08-28 10:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wynonnwings.livejournal.com
Love this story. Just what my head ache needed, a story where someone else possbily got one.

I miss Joan of Arcadia. :( It was so good, even if I thought the Ryan Hunter Story line was something that should have started sooner (Srry, but I h8ed the finale, it wasn't a good season ending to me), I loved Joan and Grace and Adam and even Freidman. Wish they'd atleast published how it was going to turn out.

"Sam felt a little sorry for her and hoped that they wouldn't have broken her brain by the time this was over."

This made me laugh.

Thnx again for the late night fun.

Date: 2010-09-03 08:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you! I, too, miss Joan of Arcadia a lot, especially because it went out with a semi-cliffhanger. I'd really, really have wanted to know how things would have turned out with that. In my book, JoA is one of the most tragic cases of canceled show in the history of ever.

Date: 2010-08-28 03:59 pm (UTC)
beatrice_otter: Me in red--face not shown (Default)
From: [personal profile] beatrice_otter
This is wonderful! I don't know much SPN, but I love Joan of Arcadia, and I think this is a wonderful view of what Joan's future might hold.

Date: 2010-09-03 08:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unadrift.livejournal.com
Thank you! I'm happy you enjoyed!
I really miss JoA. I wish we'd had more than those two seasons. And it's kind of surprising how well it merges with SPN.
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