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The Game of God

Chapter Text

--Day 151, continued--

Between meeting with each incoming and outgoing team on perimeter duty and tracking their volunteer activities, Castiel requests--and receives--all the available data regarding the new arrivals collected by Ichabod's patrol as well as Chitaqua's. If nothing else, it gives him something to do, since it's probably not advisable for him to be at the patrol line with so many unfamiliar people.

Anyi delivers the reports personally to their headquarters an hour and a half past noon with an exaggerated sigh, dropping in the only other chair in the quiet second-floor room Castiel colonized to keep their reports (and his Ichabod-provided laptop).

"Only came on duty at noon and I'm already exhausted," she says with a sigh as he sorts through the box, stacking the reports--if they can be called thus with no standard formatting and sometimes scribbled on notebook paper--in separate piles for Chitaqua and Ichabod sorted by what may or may not be time (some seem to lack proper headers as well). To his surprise, there are three folders at the bottom filled with neatly printed sheets. "From the attack a few weeks ago," Anyi explains as he skims through them. "Teresa said you wanted them."

"Tell her thank you," he says, setting the empty box on the floor and leaning back against the desk. "What's the status at the entrance point?"

"Ridiculous. I'm getting nostalgic," she answers, sprawling out before pushing the fringe of dust-streaked black hair from her face and muttering a colorful assessment of her life and choices in Cantonese before switching back to English. "Monsters--you fight, survive, get a snack, go to bed. This--all the tedium of anticipating an attack but no payoff of a life and death struggle. Plus, crying babies. Compared to the patrol line right now, the daycare was practically quiet."

"How is Sera today?" Sera was one of the orphaned children of the human infiltrators, and at just over three years old, she's adjusting very well to the abrupt changes in her life. From what Alison told him, she is one of those who will be released to their adoptive parents in the next few weeks.

She smiles at him, face lighting up. "Great. Better than great, actually. Glenn and Serafina are letting me take her home tonight after my shift. I mean, it's not official yet, but the daycare needs the space right now, and Sera's spent a couple of hours there every day for the last week and even helped decorate her new room. If Sera's okay with it, they said no reason to wait."

"Congratulations," he says, returning her smile. "It sounds very exciting."

"She'll be the third kid in my building, so everyone's excited," Anyi says happily. "I left word with Anthi, so there'll definitely be a party tonight." With a sigh, she gets reluctantly to her feet. "I better get back out there. We're starting to get fights among those coming in, and Naresh already has two teams helping us keep everything under control."

"Good luck," he tells her sincerely as she leaves, remembering suddenly he hasn't eaten yet and the mess is a possibility for that. It also, he remembers from what Vera gave him, has excellent coffee. In any case, he should go see what it's like; perhaps it will give him some ideas for the one they're building in Chitaqua.


The new mess is a block east from last night's gambling den, the former bank where new arrivals are beginning to be sent for assistance and potential medical treatment before being claimed by a resident. A good choice, he thinks, looking at the sprawl of a once-elegantly modern two story building that was converted to restaurant on its lower floor, all metal and glass between restored nineteenth-century brickwork. The original town was ideally situated on the highway for the inevitable urban flight from fast-growing Wichita, companies buying up the old downtown to create the fantasy of rural small-town life while a more modern proto-city was being born on the eastern side of town, neighborhoods being built on speculation for the growing upper middle class.

Though the Apocalypse made the economic viability of life lived in urban versus suburban centers with commute irrelevant, the leftover construction equipment from half-finished mid-rise buildings and new row housing proved extremely useful to Tony and the city services crews (after they learned to use it, at least). Their efforts were by general consensus concentrated on larger buildings to promote high-density housing for both mutual self-defense as well as cultural preference. Many of the contractors who were in the country on work visas came from cultures that encouraged multi-generational residences, and Tony, Alison, and Teresa and Manuel came from extremely extended families who lived with or very near each other and had for generations.

Waiting for the trickle of people entering and exiting to slow, he crosses the street, easing by a couple talking on the sidewalk without eliciting their attention, and opening the newly-installed solid wooden doors that replaced the empty metal frames that once held glass. Pausing just inside, he takes in the trestle tables and chairs set up on either side of a wide aisle leading to the door he assumes opens into the kitchen.

Many of the tables are already occupied with the exhausted new arrivals, children held on laps or in carriers at their feet, older ones seated with unnatural quiet by their presumptive families. The general sense of exhaustion and combined fear and relief are unmistakable, but patrol has yet to get any consistency on the reason for their exodus to Ichabod. In some cases, it's deliberate--or deliberate silence--but the rest…he's not sure.

The reports may provide some clue as to what's happening, but the possibility that the military has returned to Kansas and is causing people to flee their homes concerns him. At this late date, subtlety would be impossible, but the annihilation of Houston wasn't subtle in any sense of the word. He finds himself thinking more and more about America's massive nuclear arsenal and the possibility that turning the entire Midwest into a nuclear wasteland may now be on the table.

(In which case, Dean's morbid ponderings on humanity regressing to the Bronze Age would become something on the order of best case scenario. Which he doesn't think Dean would benefit from hearing and just as importantly, Castiel having to listen to Dean speculate gloomily on if they'll all be mutants with a non-standard number of fingers. The sheepapodes were traumatizing enough and Alison was wondering just yesterday if they mated in groups or not. (They decided their sheer horror meant the answer was yes, of course.))

Searching the room (and firmly relegating the mating habits of the mythical sheepapus to the back of his mind), he locates a long set of trestle tables lined end to end at the right side of the room and draped with several tablecloths. On either end are stacks of plates and bowls as well as rows of glasses and cups, bookending an array of containers from large plastic and metal pitchers for drinks to various pots, platters, and baskets filled with food.

The distraction of the other people assures no excess attention is paid to him as he makes his way to the trestle tables and surveys the variety on offer. Most, he suspects from newly-acquired expertise in food preparation as well as observation of the mess, are items that can either be prepared swiftly and easily or that the residents generally keep on hand in sufficient quantities for consumption over several days. Both leavened and unleavened breads abound--brown wheat, challah, sourdough, even a dark rye, and a wide variety of flatbreads that include naan, paratha, chapatti, bazlama, pita, tortillas, and to his surprise, cornbread (he hasn't seen that since he lived south of the Mason-Dixon). Beside them is a selection of jams and jellies, chutneys, various yogurts, cottage cheese (he thinks), and butter as well three slightly battered but fully functional toasters. Several large bowls contain dried fruit, nuts, and sliced vegetables both raw and cooked in various combinations, and exploration of the various pots reveals oatmeal, rice, a vegetable curry, an intriguing green pepper, onion and potato mixture, and several types of beans.

As he replaces the lids to conserve the heat, he thinks wistfully that he should develop a taste for food soon; appreciating it in theory is well and good, but he suspects his culinary efforts will not progress much further without at least some level of enjoyment of the final product.

Midpoint on the left side he finds what he's looking for: four industrial coffee-makers of a size to elicit lust in all who behold them with a selection of coffee cups and mugs of various sizes along with a large electric kettle beside baskets of teabags both commercial and locally-made. Obviously, whoever put this together had their priorities very much in order. Selecting a large mug, he fills it with coffee from the nearest one not labeled 'decaffeinated' (for humanity's ways are strange, sometimes incomprehensible, and on occasion very, very wrong). A little farther down the table is sugar--a great deal of it--and containers of off-white powdered creamer as well as three intriguing metal cylinders labeled 'cream' and 'milk' and something known as 'half-in-half'.

"Depends on if you like the taste of cream," a familiar voice says, and he looks up to see Haruhi grinning at him from the other side of the trestle table, black hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. Setting down another basket of tea--green, he notes, though in small, individual plastic bags that indicate these were grown locally--she gestures to the cylinders. "While all come from the same cow-substance, the taste is different. And completely different from powdered, which has nothing to do with cows no matter what anyone tells you."

"I thought dairy products were rationed," he says, noting the plastic bin of sliced cheese she's placing near the bread. "Unless one qualifies as a child, pregnant woman, injured or recovering from illness, or elderly."

"Did you just quote Lanak?" He nods, feeling daring and adding a small amount of half-and-half. "Sounded familiar. Every adult in town donated their two week entitlement, so we got butter and cheese, too," she says, watching him taste the coffee and make a face. "Rule of thumb: relative to skin color."

"What?"

"Well, you're--kind of pale," she says with a frown, cocking her head. "Probably wouldn't help, unless you really like your coffee super creamy. Derek's coffee is me, late summer after a few weeks in the fields. Delicately golden-brown and kissed by the summer sun."

Castiel looks at her over the rim of his cup, now recognizing the general purpose of such a florid construction. "Did that work?"

"I'm sorry to say that it did," she admits, leaning a hip against the table. "It helped that it was said after a terrible attempt at probably-yakitori and maybe-miso soup, I'm just guessing here. Claudia told me he got the recipes from a library book, which I think was written by aliens or people that hate food or Americans or something. It was so bad, but I ate every bite." He nods encouragingly. "He also spent six weeks previous to this trying to learn Japanese from tapes that Walter found for him to impress me over dinner and sure, that wasn't Japanese--I'm not sure what it was--I grade for effort and that was a lot of effort." Her eyes narrow speculatively. "Fair's fair--Dean? Even Amanda doesn't know, and she knows everything."

"Not everything, but most of it, yes." He adds more half-and-half, tastes again, then milk until the color matches his memory of Dean's always-flawless efforts in coffee preparation and takes a wary drink. There is definitely a difference in the flavor, not unpleasant, but that could also be because he's used to powdered creamer. "Coffee."

Her eyebrows jump. "Coffee?"

"He made me coffee."

Haruhi tilts her head. "Must have been good coffee."

"Very good coffee," he says. "I didn't even realize that it was exactly what I wanted, and yet, upon tasting it, it was as if it were the thing that had been missing from my life and I just didn't know it. Also, he's preternaturally attractive, which I'm sure you've noticed."

"Not something you can miss," she agrees. "I like Derek for his mind and everything, but the package it comes in is--wow. He's growing out his hair, you know, and every time Claudia locks it, just--it does things to me."

He nods sincere agreement, then pauses, focusing on a recalcitrant strand of his own hair impeding his vision for want of a pair of constantly misplaced scissors and finds himself wondering exactly how those scissors keep getting misplaced. Dismissing that for later rumination, he returns his attention to Haruhi. "I'm sorry that your training was suspended. I was looking forward to observing in the mornings while I was here."

She brightens. "Amanda promised us we'd get to watch you and her spar."

"I don't remember agreeing to that when she asked me to observe," he notes, taking another drink.

"Then I probably shouldn't have said that," Haruhi agrees cheerfully. "Pretend you didn't hear it?"

"Why," he asks, fighting back a smile, "do I feel like I'm being manipulated?"

"No idea." At the sound of someone calling her name, she grimaces. "My shift ends in an hour. I can bring lunch to Chitaqua Headquarters, maybe help you out? Be right back," she says at a second, more annoyed call. "I'll explain my reasons, and they're very persuasive."

"All right," he tells her retreating back, taking another drink and just missing being thrown against the table when someone knocks into him.

"Move, would you?" an unpleasant male voice says rudely. "What…"

He tenses, turning to see the unpleasant man--a new arrival, almost grey with fatigue, unshaven, probably exhausted and therefore not at his best--staring at him, the familiar, rapid progression of disbelief, fear, and horror across his round face ending with an expression that leaves no doubt of his next course of action.

Without thinking, Castiel puts down the cup before catching the man's wrist mid-punch, twisting his arm behind back. "That was a terrible idea," he tells him, kicking the back of his knee and sending him to the floor with a grunt of pain. Letting him go, he fights down the flash of anger: long journey, hungry, tired, minor children may have cried the entire endless drive, ran out of gas and they had to walk. "Please don't try that again."

Straightening, he realizes belatedly how loud the mess was, the background threads of voices and clattering dishes and crying children, only in its utter silence. Turning around, he's greeted by a sea of unblinking (human) eyes, electric like the moment before lightning flashes across a clear sky.

Linear time progresses at a (mostly) uniform pace (give or take singularities, spatial anomalies, and dimensional tears in spacetime), a fact he accepted as absolutely true only when an angel and learned as a mortal was one of the biggest lies ever perpetuated on reality. It can speed to the point of losing entire days or slow to an endless, merciless crawl.

It's forever here; long enough for him to find each exit blocked with unmoving bodies, a brick-backed wall on two sides and an inhabited kitchen on the third; long enough to assess the threat in equations with too many variables when there's at least seventy-two able bodied adults in this room and no way to ascertain how many are armed; long enough to taste adrenaline at the endless spike of their fear and his own.

What do they see, he's never asked, never needed to; a monster is reflected back at him on every single face.

Someone shouts, "What the fuck is that thing?"

All at once, the silence shatters: people shouting, tables and chairs skidding across the floor, some overturned in crashes of linoleum and metal, crying and screaming children. A man's angry bellow cuts through it as he overturns a table as he heads toward Castiel, and in his peripheral vision, Castiel marks two figures darting between the tables on approach to his left and one from the right, all fumbling beneath their open coats.

The click of a safety from the floor gives him just enough time to look down the trembling barrel of the man's gun before he pulls the trigger. Castiel hears the gunshot and then nothing but silence.


He told Dean: we are wrath, vengeance, justice--we are our Father's judgment and we carry out His will with neither compassion nor mercy. Violence is essentially what we are, leashed only by our obedience to our Father; without that leash, we are chaos incarnate.

I am a soldier, and we are not sent to walk the world in times of peace.

Castiel was never purposed to offer aid and comfort, bring them reassurance and joyous tidings, give absolution and mercy; he, like his Brethren, were called to earth to administer their Father's justice and that was to kill in His name. They were formed for it from the moment of their creation, their service to humanity focused on the elimination of threats to its existence, including individuals within it; those that contravened the laws of man or his Father's will were their natural prey.

The Host wasn't unleashed to save the world; when they walked the earth, it was to burn it.

He thinks, seeing the grinning faces of people long dead: they hunted me the length of a day that was forever. The insult was insupportable, the ignorance inexplicable; how could they not understand? My purpose is death. What I fear, I neither flee before nor beg for mercy; I kill.

He's never told Dean this fundamental truth: the only thing I regret is that I didn't kill them all before they could fire a single shot that night.


What the fuck is that thing?

From his crouch on the floor, Castiel slowly turns to look at the bullets buried in the wall, rage thundering through him without end, filling his ears, and thinks: if you want a monster, you'll get one.

The shooter screams, high and terrified, when Castiel snaps his wrist, finger jerked from the trigger; setting the safety, he turns in time to slam the first attacker into the floor, leaving him grunting wetly into the stained wood from a broken nose, the second and third unconscious before they slide down the wall; the last groans weakly across a trestle table with a dislocated shoulder, mouth swollen and dripping red.

Ignoring the roar in the background, he returns to the kneeling man who cowers sobbing at his feet, breathing inarticulate pleas for mercy. Thumbing the safety, Castiel looks down at him for a moment before setting the barrel against his forehead.

For they know not what they do; it's baffling, how much faith they place in those words, as if they have only to say them to make them true. An explanation that removes the need for apology; a reason to disclaim responsibility; a defense against lack of repentance; an excuse to feel no regret. Humans do like their loopholes; murder can be excused or ignored provided you know the right words, a spell that makes them truth. The truth, they say, that will set you free, hands dripping invisible blood indistinguishable from those washed clean.

He sweeps the room with a contemptuous glance, its occupants unmoving, hoping only not to draw notice, their lives spared, uncaring it comes at the expense of another. He was hunted the length of a day before the averted eyes of an entire camp, who went armed to their rest that evening behind locked doors, hoping indifference would be mistaken for ignorance, hoping cowardice would be thought practical, hoping that their lives would be spared at the expense of his own. For they knew exactly what they were doing that night; they simply didn't care.

Thing.

This is humanity.

He thinks of the narrow, blood-stained streets where he stepped over bodies while pulling free his blade to thrust into the next, indifferent to the screams of pain and fear, their last breaths spent in imprecations against his kind, supplication to their gods for their help, gasped pleas for succor and comfort and kindness and mercy, howling of injustice as if they could possibly know the meaning of the word. Tiny, insignificant, crawling on the surface of this world like maggots….

"Qafsiel Kaziel, Cassiel, Castiel, Messenger," a light, clear voice says in amusement, and he jerks his gaze to a dark-haired woman in a hunter's loose jacket and jeans, dusty boots crossed at the ankle as she leans back against a table and smiles at him with the same brilliant eyes of a man over two millennia dead. "Son of God, angel of the Lord, Castiel of the Host, courier of the Pantheons, victor of the Siege of Hell--"

"That," he whispers, "was a long time ago."

"--Castiel Gabriel Singer, Castiel of Chitaqua" she continues, laughter rippling through her voice as she pushes off the table, "and owner of 'thing Dean will cover with salt and set on fire in the front yard', by whatever name, with whatever rite, in whatever appearance it is right to invoke thee, I entreat you to grant me a single request."

"I would think Charon would better guard her barge from Elysium's residents."

"Before Charon crossed the Rivers Styx and Acheron for the last time, they passed to Elysium their claim to all that was within their domain; we are their heirs," she answers soberly, a flicker of raw pain crossing her face. A suggestion of dappled light forms around her, a soft brightness growing in the distance. "They set the Barge of the Dead alight on the shores of the world before Lucifer's eyes and laughed when the Rivers refused to allow him passage by our order, our claim upheld. They laughed even as the Misborn offspring of Cynothoglys he released upon her fed until nothing remained."

He swallows down the unexpected dart of pain. "They would do no less. I hope he hears it still."

"He will find it difficult to avoid," she answers with a smile mixed with grief and satisfaction and loss. "Wherever the Five Rivers would flow, so does their laughter within it by our will; so it was, is, and shall be until the end of Time itself." Crossing her arms, she cocks his head. "Forgive me, I interrupted you. 'Tiny, insignificant, crawling on the surface of this world like maggots.…'"

To his shock, Castiel feels a flash of heat burn across his face.

"What would your Brothers say, Castiel of Chitaqua--"

"I have no Brothers," he says bitterly.

"--to know that you think of them thus?" she demands. "That you would be false to them in all ways? With your eyes when you would look upon them and with your body when you would lie with them, with your mouth when you would speak to them and with your actions when you would teach them, with your heart when you--"

"I never lied!" he shouts and hears the unspoken concession too late to deny its truth. "You presume to sit in judgement on me? You tell me, heir of Charon, what I have done to deserve this?"

"I'm not here to judge you," she answers softly. "I'm here to bear you company and offer you comfort in your pain, as you did first for my grandfather, for his mother, and then for me."

All at once, the rage drains away. "What?"

"Did you think I would not know a Messenger when one stooped to manifest before me? My mother was not so lax in my education." She smiles at him with a singular sweetness, she who never knew fear. She walked the Forum Romanum where women were never before welcome like her grandfather before her, guided the minds of two extraordinary men to continue his work and stood before the rostra itself with the masses to scream her support, raised an army under her own name to march on Rome and went to war against the living, breathing penalty of the gods…and was betrayed by a man not fit to so much as speak her name. "My bath grew cold; you warmed it. When I opened my veins, the knife fell from my hand; you caught it before it could touch the floor. My life was my own, no man's to take; I took it myself without regret, but I was alone in my pain. Then you were there; you held my hand, you dried my tears, you told me you knew me, that you had watched me for the length of my life, that I had never been alone. You told me you knew my grandfather and his mother, and you told me I was a worthy heir to their names. How could I not know you?"

She raises a hand and the room is swept with a warm breeze, dispelling the endless cold, the sunlight of Elysium bathing the room in shades of amber and gold, quiet and peace, but even that can't erase what almost happened here.

"Better?" she asks softly.

Nothing can make this better. "I owe you a debt for your intervention. If you hadn't come, I would have--"

"No, you wouldn't have," she interrupts, looking surprised. "Why would you think such a thing?"

"We are the Host unleashed upon the earth," he answers dully. "That is what we are. They are our natural prey."

"You're a thousand people, Castiel of Chitaqua," she answers with a smile, "and you've only just started. The Host is only one of them, and you hold their leash." Before he can answer that, she makes a face. "Now, before I go, would you hear my request?"

From her expression, she's quite serious. "Why not?" Then, because he can't help himself, "What would you ask of us, heir of Charon?"

She hesitates. "How--how does avia? I would know her as you do. Is she well?"

Castiel tries, but the burst of laughter--like many things--denies his will, and her worried expression dissolves into relief. "Yes. Yes, I'd say so."

"I look forward to meeting her," she says, taking a step back, and wiping his eyes, Castiel sees two figures emerge from the distant light. Glancing back, she smiles at the men who formed themselves in her image and made her their lives entire. "I should--"

"One thing we would know, heir of Charon," he interrupts pleasantly, observing the chagrin on her face as he considers the form she chose to take: a hunter. Interesting. "By what right do you walk the earth now? Charon had no such privilege in the living world to bestow on Elysium."

"The murder of Charon must be avenged, and I earned first right to their blood. While the Misborn live, for one sevenday per year I may hunt them on earth." She widens her eyes in a facsimile of respectful awe. Even in life, she was terrible at it and hasn't improved whatsoever since. "Anything else, Castiel of the Host?"

It's an effort not to smile. "And you waste that time here because….?"

"I told you why." She grins at his bewildered expression. "And now I must go, to take my comfort and my rest from those who offer it while I can. There is much to do."

"You take the pleasures of Elysium very seriously." An existence of nothing but pleasure: all that you could want, but nothing you don't know to want, nothing new at all.

"Pleasure has its time and place, but my work must come first," she says, startling him out of wondering uncomfortably when 'eternal pleasure' became synonymous with 'boring'. "The Barge we must build with our own hands anew, the ferrier chosen, the shades prepared. The work is slow, but it progresses apace."

Castiel snaps to attention. "What?"

"We hold the Five Rivers, but he still claims the shores and the Door; his creatures patrol the shores in his name, and we will not have it," she answers, lifting her chin proudly. "It is ours, and we shall take it."

He starts to answer that insanity before pausing, searching her face. "What are you doing, heir of Charon?"

"My work, and it's only begun," she answers. "He asked the question, and through all of space and time, we heard it; our answer is yes. It's not over yet." Her smile widens, fierce. "It hasn't even started."

"Who--"

"And now I go to claim my comfort and rest before I start my work again." She smirks as the two men join her in the dimming light. "You should try it."

Taking a deep breath, Castiel flicks the safety back on and steps away. Holding the man's terror-filled eyes, he releases the magazine onto the floor and clears the chamber before deliberately tightening his fingers, crushing the barrel in a teeth-jarring squeal of bending metal .

"If I wanted to kill you," he says softly, "I wouldn't need a gun to do it. I don't, however, and I would appreciate the same courtesy from you."

He thinks, staring down into that horror: if I could, for the length of a year and a day, I'd give you this: when you close your eyes in search of rest, you won't find it; when you take a mouthful of food or drink of water, the taste will revolt you; when you look upon the sons of men for companionship in your joy and your troubles, you will never find it; and when you offer your companionship in theirs, they will reject it. I forebear to wish that they try to shoot you, however, a mercy that humanity hasn't accorded to me.

Turning, he surveys the room, the humans cowering behind overturned tables and beneath the chairs, whispered fear and muffled sobs, prayers for succor and comfort and mercy, an endless din that grows louder with every moment that passes. Millennia peel away like the skin of an onion, familiar; as it was then, when Castiel of the Host walked through cities with his Brethren, swords unsheathed and soaked in fresh blood in air thick with endless screaming, it is now when he….

Shaking his head clear, he fights the urge to rub at the faint ache in his temples; he needs to leave, now.

"The next human to raise his hand to me will be killed," he says flatly to the watchful eyes. "Feel free to test this, however; I would appreciate the practice."

Starting toward the door, he ignores the scramble of people and objects from his path, opening the door and stepping out of the suffocating fear of the room and into the grey light of day and a quiet street dotted with a few passing people, oblivious.

Looking down, he sees metal twisted out of recognition and realizes he's still holding the spherical remains of the last man's gun.


Amanda looks up with a cheerful smile from the paper spread out on the table before her. "What, no coffee…." Her expression fixes, eyes flickering from his face down to the remains of the gun in his hand and back. "Metal stress ball, that's new. Everything okay?"

"There was an incident at the mess with some very unpleasant members of your species." He drops it on the edge of the table with a dull clang of jagged metal and wood, rubbing impatiently at the throb in his temples that threatens to colonize his entire head. "You all look very much the same, and I had no interest in their names."

Amanda nods and folds her hands on the table, smile unchanged, but he drops his gaze to the meaningless scribbles on the paper in front of her.

"Okay." She reaches for the notebook at the edge of the table as it dawns on him that the scribbles aren't entirely random "Not much going on. Thirty minutes until the next shift change--oh." She rifles through some papers before handing him something. "Wendy of Noak, said you wanted this."

Castiel takes it, frowning for a minute as he scans the spidery handwriting and inexplicably feels himself relaxing. Flipping it over, he nods. "Can you find out what she'd take in trade?"

"For--"

"Everything, if possible," he says, handing it back and trying to think what they have to trade. "I’m not sure what we can use for--"

"I'll talk to her," Amanda says cheerfully, setting it carefully on top of the pile on the far side of the table. "Pretty sure we can afford it, just gonna tell you now."

"Excellent." Reaching out, he slides the paper from her belatedly protective hand, the brush of warm skin against his wrist strangely calming. Ignoring her protest, he squints down at it, trying to resolve it into something that makes sense. "What is this?"

She glares at the paper. "Thing I was--doing. Could you--"

"It looks like…." Uncertain, he turns it sideways, then upside down, but it helps not at all.

"What?" she asks warily.

"An abstract representation of your ennui," he says and is rewarded by Amanda's startled laughter. Taking in the table, he sees his maps stacked nearby, one set carefully to the side and looks at the paper again, appalled by what this might be. "It's very--is this a map of Ichabod? It doesn't have to be: Amanda's Ennui, in the Afternoon, very modern."

She groans. "I was going to offer to help update the maps, so figured I'd better--you know, make a copy of your map and practice first. Haven't drawn anything in…ever, possibly."

No matter how he looks at it, there's no resemblance between this and any map ever made in the entirety of history. "I'm so very sorry."

"It's like the pencil hated me," she says, eyeing the paper resentfully. "No matter what I did, it--did that."

"Your skills are unparalleled when dealing death to monsters, however," he says encouragingly. "I'll do the updates. Where are…" He stares at the table, bare of all writing implements but a substandard number two pencil that doesn't even possess an eraser--at least, not anymore. "Could you send someone to find me more supplies? Paper and whatever drafting implements that can be found." She follows his gaze to the pencil uncertainly. "None of those, however."

"I'll do it," she says, looking relieved as she stretches her hand. "Give me--"

"I need you here," he interrupts reluctantly. "I need you to take my report of the incident to Dean as soon as I'm done with it. He'll doubtless have to explain this--incident--so he should know as soon as possible and preferably before anyone else mentions it to him. He's currently meeting with the council, however, so I suggest taking a book while you wait."

Amanda blinks at him slowly, tilting her head.

"We're guests here," he explains. "I doubt Alison would appreciate interrupting the council meeting for a personal matter."

"Right." Amanda sighs and gets to her feet. "Let me send someone for art supplies first, then I'll--get your report. And a book." Her gaze drops to the metal ball on the edge of the table and abruptly fixes there. "First, though--Cas, preview of coming events: mess, short version?"

"Five individuals took exception to my presence," he recites as she slowly picks up the metal ball with an expression he can't interpret, turning it over in her hands. "There were one hundred and fourteen witnesses not including volunteer staff--"

"Fast-forward to the part where you tell me what your stress ball was before it was a stress ball?" she asks, and he sees she's turned it to observe the remains of the end of the barrel, eyes widening in unmistakable recognition. "Cas, was this a gun?"

"Yes." Before his eyes, she almost drops it. "It's not mine."

"It's not yours… Kamal!" she shouts toward the hallway leading to their kitchen, and unsurprisingly, he appears almost immediately, looking worried; her voice was very adamant. "Where's James' team right now?"

"Upstairs, why? Uh, Nate's still helping Tony--"

"Art supplies," she tells him. "Supply-finding king, that's our James. Kamal, catch this," she says, tossing it at him. "Cas's new stress ball, cool, huh? Three guesses what it used to be. Cas, those five playmates of yours--where are they again?"

"I didn't stay to find out," he admits. "By now, probably the infirmary."

Kamal inexplicably drops the gun-turned-stress-ball, staring down at it. "Are there bullets in there?"

"No, of course not," he answers, looking between them. "That would be irresponsible."

"Where," Amanda says slowly, "are the bullets?"

"On the floor of the mess," he answers, then frowns. "And in the wall as well."

"The wall...." Amanda reaches for the back of the chair and closes her eyes for a long moment. "Really. Kamal, change of plans: where's Alicia?"

"Perimeter duty," he answers, still staring at the gun-stress-ball.

"I got a job for her; she loves to draw. Send James' team out to take over," Amanda says. "I'll be in the back taking Cas's report on this incident…." She stops short, and he sees her fingers tighten on the back of the chair. "Tell me when she gets here so I can brief her." Her eyes flicker to Castiel with an unreadable look. "About art supplies."

"Got it." Kamal hesitates, gingerly picking up the metal ball (does he think it will bite?) and setting it on the table carefully before starting toward the stairs at something not unlike a run.

"So," Amanda says when they're alone, tilting her head toward the back room where patrol's been meeting. "Let's do your report on this personal incident. I want all the details."


He spends the next half-hour after that performing his duties with methodical precision, leaving the two boxes of supplies Amanda acquired (where, he didn't ask) unopened and unexamined in the far corner of the second floor room while he works.

Every time he enters the front room, he finds himself staring at the metal stress ball still sitting on the table, scraping his nerves with the memory of the man who called him a thing. He may be acquiring his first stress headache; mortality is indeed the gift that never stops giving.

He listens to the report of those going on perimeter shift with as much patience as he can despite the fact that all of them seem inexplicably terrible with constructing sentences, fighting the urge to rub his temples.

"That is sufficient," he says shortly, cutting off Tara's faltering explanation of something about an escalating argument that he cares nothing about and keeping his gaze firmly on the blank page of the notebook. "Does anyone have any questions?"

What the fuck is that thing?

"I doubt it," a new voice says from the doorway. "Go forth and be useful. Dismissed."

Dean, of course: Castiel keeps is attention strictly on his notebook--acquired from he doesn't particularly care--until the door closes and he's fairly sure he has no excuse not to look up. "They were supposed to wait to speak to you until the meeting with Ichabod's council was finished."

"Cas, they aren't that stupid," Dean says grimly, starting toward him. "You okay?"

"Don't be insulting," he answers dismissively, and Dean stops short. "Five untrained, hysterical humans barely qualify as a nuisance."

"Yeah, right." Dean licks his lips. "Look--"

…that thing.

"I finished a full report on the incident to supplement the one I gave Amanda, and it's waiting for you at the front desk," he interrupts, ignoring the spike of pain across his temple. Perhaps he's developed a human propensity for migraines: excellent. "I apologize that my actions interrupted the meeting--"

"You didn't," Dean bites out, "do anything wrong."

"Then I sincerely apologize for how much time you'll have to spend today explaining that to the rest of your species; it hasn't worked before, but as they say, try, try again." Dean closes his eyes, mouth thinning, and he wishes he hadn't said that. "I apologize," he says, this time with actual sincerity. "I’m not feeling my best at the moment."

"It's fine," Dean says, and distantly, Castiel hears someone--Joseph--calling Dean's name. "Cas--"

"Joseph is calling you."

"He can wait."

"You shouldn't make him," he says. "I have work to do." After a moment, he makes himself add, "If--for some reason…if it would help, I'll explain my actions to whoever you feel--"

"No." Castiel focuses on the notebook again, trying to swallow around the hard lump in his throat. "You didn't do anything wrong--" Joseph's voice interrupts them, and Dean's expression darkens. "Look--"

"I have work to do, and so do you," he says. "I'll talk to you when I go off-duty."

Dean turns the doorknob but seems disinclined to move. "Cas--"

"I'm fine," he says flatly. "Now go."

He keeps his attention strictly on the notebook until he hears the door close again and when he looks up, the room is empty.

Waiting a few long moments, he goes back into the main room, where Amanda is still inexplicably on desk duty. "I'm going to work on updating the maps," he says. "If there's anything that needs my attention, please come get me."

"Let me take the briefings with the teams," Amanda answers, playing with the same substandard pencil as she turns in her chair to look at him seriously. "Ennui."

His defensive refusal melts as he looks around the empty room and reluctantly admits that's probably true. "Keep me updated."

"Yes, sir, and thank God," she says with a dramatic sigh. "Yell down if you need anything."


Despite the slowly growing headache--or perhaps because of it--Castiel finishes three copies of the revised maps far too quickly, and once completed, his attention wanders back toward the mess, refusing all efforts to capture it (even sheepapodes fail, and he's not entirely sure whether he's grateful or not). Reading the reports--twice--yields no enlightenment whatsoever and he sets them aside before the temptation to set everything on fire becomes too strong. Sketching a random assortment of circles across the width of a blank piece of paper, Castiel tries to clear his mind, but his efforts at meditation have never worked before, and this attempt fails immediately, the hatred and fear on the faces of those men dragging themselves through his mind.

What the fuck is that thing?

They're still alive; he wonders if, like the team leaders, he'll always regret he didn't kill them.

Looking down at a muted snap, Castiel sees the crushed remains of the pencil crumbling onto the table from between his fingers and fights back the flash of anger that seems to exist only to intensify the endless throbbing in his temples. Even the faint sound of voices downstairs seems to echo in his head, and he wonders how many of his current subordinates left their cabins the next dawn assuming he and Vera were dead.

Amanda's bright laughter cuts through the voices, and all at once, he relaxes, reminded of those who didn't; they comforted Vera and cleaned the broken glass from the floor, pried the bullets from the wall and erased the evidence beneath drywall and paint, so that by dawn, the only evidence of that night was confined to memory alone.

Getting abruptly to his feet, he picks up his coat from the corner where he tossed it and frowns at the unexpected heaviness. Reaching inside, he finds an unfamiliar box within one of the inner pockets and after a moment, recognizes it as the candle Wendy gave him. The sense of power is obvious when he removes the lid, and taking it out, he closes his eyes; even unlit, the sense of calm and peace tucked in each curve of smooth wax is unmistakable.

Opening his eyes, he searches the tiny room and then simply clears the desk, letting everything fall to the floor and retrieving a piece of paper and a pencil. He sketches the design from memory, a simple rectangle with a circle at its heart, lines radiating from eight points on the outer circle to touch the inner rectangle's inner lines. Checking the size of the candle against it confirms the overlap, but turning it over, he notes a simpler version carved into the bottom; Wendy knows her craft very well.

Fumbling in his pocket for his lighter, he flicks it on, staring at the flame for a hypnotic moment as burning cities fill his mind, the screams of people millennia dead, pleas for mercy lost beneath righteous anger: when we walk the earth, we burn it alive.

Not since the first time he took a vessel has he felt so alien within the tight confines human skin.

"Calm," he tells the candle firmly, setting the flame to the wick and waiting with fragile composure for it to catch. "Serenity. Peace. Inspiration. I'll take anything at this point, even sheepapodes."

The flame catches at the last word (he tries not to read significance into that), burning several inches above the wax, blue heart edging to white and pink, glints of green and blue and gold sparkling merrily along the tip before it returns to normal size. Taking a deep breath, the effects are immediate, and so is the rich smell of fresh mint.

He makes a mental note to create a standing order with Wendy; that's impressive.

Setting it in the circle, he takes another breath, waiting until he can feel himself settle into his skin with an almost audible click; after so much time learning it, so much time living within it, he won't give up a single thing of it. Feeling calmer, he looks at the pile of paper and finished and unfinished maps on the floor, but his fingers itch for something else.

Before he can think better of it, he opens the door and goes to the head of the stairs, not certain why he doesn't want to go down but willing to indulge it. "Amanda."

She's at the bottom of the stairs immediately, and the worried look she hides almost immediately is soothing as well, though why that's true is also a mystery. "Yeah?"

"I need more paper." He revises that. "Bigger paper."

Amanda cocks her head. "Bigger?"

"I want to draw a larger version of the map," he explains, though he's not entirely sure why. "So I need something--bigger. Perhaps inventory has something."

"Bigger, got it." Amanda nods thoughtfully. "Give me twenty minutes."


To his surprise, it's less than twenty minutes before Amanda returns with a heavy roll of startlingly white paper, and Evelyn and Kyle carrying--

"Is that a table?" he asks blankly as they lean it against the wall, and indeed that is what it is, dining room perhaps, but missing some very important features (all four legs). "Was this--"

"The one you cleaned up on at poker last night? Yep," Amanda answers, setting down the roll and making a production of rubbing her back before jerking her head toward Evelyn and Kyle to leave. "Good job. Now go away."

"What--" he starts, not taking it personally (much) that Evelyn and Kyle both flee at his confirmation and yes, that was definitely fleeing. At least they close the door behind them.

"Come here," she says, kneeling by the table. "Younger sisters," she explains as she removes a pair of scissors and glue from her coat pocket before taking it off and tossing it to the side. "You learn to get creative with art projects."

"Creative."

"Paper," she says, pointing at the roll. "Large surface," she says, indicating the table. "Glue paper to surface until surface is covered, big paper." At his bewildered look, she grins. "Sixth grade, Julie had to turn in a collage of bugs--not kidding--but forgot to tell anyone until the night before and Wal-Mart was sold out of posterboard because it always is. Bought a package of paper, disassembled a few doomed boxes from--a place--add glue and boom: we got giant ass collage base onto which we added bugs that I also got from--a place."

Kneeling beside her, Castiel assumes that isn't the great outdoors in the middle of the night. "Where?"

"Field Museum in Chicago, fine," she huffs, turning the roll on its side and lining it up with the table before unrolling a length slightly bigger than the table's width. "They had way more than they needed; have you seen their basement? Chock full of all my nightmares. Had a room full of the fuckers that--never mind, flashbacks. Anyway, Julie got an A and no one got arrested for felony breaking and entering." Checking the length, she cuts the paper and rolls out a second length to match the first. "Mom would have been so pissed if I had. She taught me, you know. Dad used to say she could walk through walls."

"I didn't know," he says as she cuts the second sheet and reaches himself to unroll the third length. "What was she like?"

"Mom?" Amanda cuts the paper and stacks it neatly on the first two before letting him roll out a fourth length. "Amazing. Taught me everything I know." Pausing, she sits back on her heels and laughs softly. "My first job, she was so proud. And pissed."

"Why?"

"Well, for one," Amanda starts as she cuts the sheet. "She kind of didn't know about it, but to be fair, neither did I. Until it followed me home, that is. That's when things got weird."


After she leaves to see to her duties, Castiel retrieves the pencils (not a terrible selection, but certainly inferior to what he has at home) and sits cross-legged facing the newly-created canvas, wondering what to do with it. A larger map would be useful, but….shaking his head, he goes up on his knees and sketches a reasonably accurate outline of the state of Kansas before adding a lighter representation of the currently-existing road system from memory.

What the fuck is that thing?

Jerking back before he tears the paper with the tip of the pencil, he takes a deep breath, concentrating on the scent of mint and calm. Serenity. Peace. Inspiration.

Inspiration: how did Dean put it? It helps to know why you're doing something. Sometimes, however, he's found it's also effective to simply do it and consider 'why' at a more convenient time. Like when he knows the answer, perhaps.

Recalling the reports from Ichabod and Chitaqua, Castiel mentally puts them in order before starting with the first and filling in the first dot for Waterville in pencil before tracing over the most likely path to the northern feeder road leading into the road to Ichabod in brown. Hesitating, he sits back, skimming through all the reports rapidly and pulling the names of each town before setting them on a mental map and observing the whole. This is going to be complicated and monochrome certainly won't help.

Getting up, he retrieves both boxes of supplies, dumping out markers, crayons, map pencils, and pens in a pile before looking at the map again. Roads in five thousand colors was an exaggeration, but color does help when it comes to visual clarity. Selecting a light blue map pencil, he makes a precise dot by Waterville's location and traces along one side of the brown-line of the road before reaching for his pencil and adding the second non-local town on record to arrive in Ichabod.


He's contemplating white (not easily seen) versus yellow when the sound of raised voices interrupts him, and frowning, he gets to his feet. Opening the door, he starts toward the stairs when Kyle's voice stops him short.

"…just saying, kind of ironic I was called on the carpet for being late--"

"You really want to shut up now," Amanda says.

"--but everyone's fine with Cas's attempted homicide in the mess!" he finishes bitterly.

"It was five on one," Christina says, sounding angry. "And they're alive, so fuck off. More than I can say would happen if five fuckers went after me."

"Civilians, and Cas doesn't work up a sweat for five demons, come on. I'm saying, maybe someone should remind Dean promotions based on his sex life--"

Kyle's voice cuts off abruptly, and Castiel's almost tempted to see for himself what Amanda just did.

"You really don't know when to shut up," Amanda says pleasantly. "Just a reminder: we're in lockdown until otherwise ordered. Anyone--and I do mean anyone--breaches our security, I'll shoot first and ask why later. Kyle, you're at two strikes now; one more, you're out of Chitaqua and good luck finding a new home in any Alliance town."

"You can't--" Kyle's mouth shuts abruptly and Castiel realizes he's halfway down the stairs and can't remember deciding to move at all. The abrupt attention of the (far too numerous) people in the room is too much, and Kyle's expression….

"Amanda," he says, trying not to look too closely at anyone else. "I would speak with you. Now."

"You're all dismissed," Amanda says, eyes lingering on Kyle as he goes out the door before turning to follow him back to the top of the stairs. "Everything okay? More pencils, paper, coffee? I can do that."

"Lockdown."

Leaning back against the bannister, she shrugs. "Alicia's still investigating, so until we get her report, access to the building and forty feet from any door is restricted, that's all."

"You know why--"

"I don't know why five non-residents of Ichabod or the Alliance attacked my commander in the mess," she interrupts in the same calm voice, but the subtle emphasis on 'commander' is unmistakable. "Until then, we assume the enemy is among us and strangely suicidal at that."

"Dean approved this?"

"Dean gave the order before he went back," she answers easily, and he just stops himself from asking if the lockdown also applies to him leaving their headquarters; he wouldn't blame Dean if that were true, but he thinks he'd prefer not to know. "I'm enforcing it." She cocks her head. "I got some updates from the front--or as it's known colloquially, Third Street entrance--so you want me to bring them up now or later?"

He nods jerkily. "Leave them outside the door. I’m--working on something and I'd prefer not to be disturbed."

"Okay," she says with a nod, and Castiel waits for her to disappear down the stairs before returning to the room, shutting the door firmly before taking a deep breath (minty) and….

...is that thing?

Yellow, he decides firmly, taking in the blue and red clusters of dots growing in the north and west, the thin brown-lines of roads edged with steadily darkening color; south Kansas is definitely a yellow.


When he hears the door open, he doesn't bother looking away from the final draft leaning against the opposite wall. All that's left of whatever drove him this endless day is expressed in violent splashes of color and jagged pencil lines criss-crossing the canvas; all he feels now is empty and impossibly tired, with the monotonous throb of a headache that never seems to end.

"I'm busy, as you can't possibly have missed," he says tonelessly. "If you require something, speak to Amanda, and she'll bring it to my attention if it's actually important, which I seriously doubt."

The door closes with a gentle click. "Bad day, honey?" Dean asks mildly. "So, what…." He trails off, and Castiel risks a glance to see him staring at the map, eyes wide before crossing the room to crouch in front of it, head cocked. "Huh."

Castiel swallows, watching Dean trace a finger just above the charcoal lines fanning out from Ichabod in strands ranging from dark grey to almost invisible slate as they stretch across the state, following the complicated tracery of intact roads in shades of brown north through spotted mounds of dark blue that trickle south along the web in ever-decreasing saturation. Dropping his hand, Dean shifts his attention to the red-splotched western border fading to pink before meeting blue in lime green, the yellow of the south darkening until joining red in sharp orange.

"It's not done," he says into the too-long silence, then shakes himself, flexing his hands helplessly against the knotted muscles. "I mean, it's--I was updating our maps and--this--it's nothing--"

"Oh, this is something," Dean interrupts in a curiously hushed voice, following the thickly brown road leading into Ichabod outlined in dozens of dark-grey strokes. "What, though--"

"What are you doing here?" he interrupts, unable to stop himself from reaching up to rub his temples again; he never realized it really does feel like something is pounding inside your skull. "Is the council meeting over?"

Turning on the balls of his feet, Dean looks back at him incredulously before his expression changes. Before he can interpret it, Dean is crouching in front of him with a frown, reaching out to tip his head up. "What's wrong?"

"Headache," he admits, and seeing Dean stiffen, almost smiles. Oddly enough, the pain recedes as well. "I'm making progress in humanity in the exciting field of stress headaches."

"After the day you had, not a surprise." Dean bites his lip, thumb brushing against his cheek. "Always an overachiever. So, ready to go home?"

"I can't go home." Dean's faint smile freezes, green eyes stricken. "Our jeep is greater than twenty-eight vehicles deep in the south parking lot. What--"

He forgets what he meant to say when Dean kisses him, slow and warm. "My mistake, Alison's building," Dean murmurs against his lips before he pulls back, gentle fingers sliding down his temple and brushing the hair from his eyes before tucking it behind his ear. "Maybe get something to eat, how about that?"

For that smile, he would willingly eat beans and sugar covered in raw oatmeal while perfectly clean and sober. "Is it time for dinner…" He stops short at Dean's raised eyebrows, startled by the time. "Oh. Three hours ago."

"Or twenty-one hours from now, whatever. Lost track of time?" Dean smirks, pushing to his feet and extending a hand. "Figured. Come on. Shower and dinner, how's that sound for a plan?"

He hesitates. "I--"

"And notes from the meetings," Dean adds tempting. "Two of those things involve a bed." He cocks his head. "And at least two definitely involve me. Three if you're lucky."

Despite himself, he feels himself smiling; Dean is not subtle at the best of times, but even for him…. "I've had worse offers."

"Atta boy," Dean says, pulling him to his feet, but instead of letting go, the long fingers lace through his with a quick, warm squeeze before tugging him inexorably toward the door, flipping out the light with his free hand on the way out.

Going down the stairs, Dean waves at Lena, currently on duty, but Castiel's distracted by the presence of several boxes as well as the lack of furniture. "What--"

"Later," Dean says as they go out the door and into the street. Castiel fights not to stiffen at the sight of people passing in both directions under the bright glare of the streetlights, marking their locations at a glance before swallowing at his first sight of the patrol line one hundred feet away. The temporary fence is strung with lights to mark its presence, but the bright glare of lights at the entrance point illuminates only the leading edge of the endless people waiting to come inside. Following his gaze, Dean's jaw tightens before he pulls Castiel up the street. "Come on. Let's get out of here."


Getting out of the (very hot) shower, he blinks down at the towel resting on the back of the toilet and folded clothes waiting for him on the seat, topped with a pair of familiar woolen socks. He doesn't remember adding those to their bags before they left.

Dressing quickly due to the chill, he returns to their room to see Dean seated on the bed against the headboard with a stack notebooks beside him as well as the price Castiel must doubtless pay to read them: an entire plate of food. Looking up, Dean grins at him, green eyes appreciative as he engages in the most blatant once-over of Castiel's entire life. Twice.

Closing the door, he tilts his head. "That wasn't subtle."

"Wasn't trying to be," Dean answers, jerking his head to the space beside him. "Vera said that you--"

"You talked to Vera?" Dean's grin widens as he stops half-way to the bed. "About me?"

"--that you were direct," he finishes maliciously. "Just taking her advice."

"She gave you advice?"

"I don't think she meant it to be," Dean concedes, leaning back against the headboard. "But whatever: it worked. Got your attention, didn't it?" He pats the bed beside him. "Sit down and start eating, then we'll check out the notes from the meeting."

It's not as if he can't be appalled (and morbidly curious) while sitting by Dean. Joining him on the bed, he surveys the tray in lieu of thinking about what else Vera would have told him and why.

"Naan," Dean says, pointing to the round shape wrapped in a thin cloth to the side of the plate before starting on the excessively large mounds on what is not, in his experience, a standard-size dinner plate. "Lemon rice, black beans, peas, chickpea something, and the last samosa. Also, the last of the brisket, no sauce left, but whatever, still awesome."

Castiel looks from the plate to Dean incredulously. "I can't eat all this. Joseph couldn’t eat all this and he does it recreationally."

"Again," Dean says patiently, "that's called 'having a snack'. Everyone does it." Handing Castiel a fork, he proceeds to ignore him in favor of searching around the tray and under the notebooks before making a satisfied sound and unearthing a second one. "There we go. I missed dinner, too, so I got enough for us both. Well?"

Castiel looks from Dean's fork hovering in anticipation over a slice of brisket to his equally anticipatory face. "Why did you miss dinner?"

"Waiting for you," he answers as if Castiel is deliberately trying his patience, rolling his eyes before spearing the brisket, folding it over his fork, and stuffing it in his mouth. Chewing enthusiastically, he motions toward the plate urgently, and sighing, Castiel selects a piece of naan and tears it in half before starting on the rice.

Between bites, Dean describes the meeting with Ichabod's council, or rather, trying not to fall asleep from the sheer tedium.

"There's gotta be a circle of Hell where it's all parliamentary procedure, all the time," Dean tells him after watching Castiel finish his half of the chickpea dish (tart and yet also sweet: interesting). "Thirty minutes of nothing but motions, points of order, and tabling shit before we even got to the part about all the people showing up." Shaking his head, he eats the last of the naan. "So that's a couple of hours of my life I'm not getting back. Joe gave me the short version of how it works before the meeting with the Alliance started."

Scraping up the last of the rice, Castiel frowns. "The Alliance met today?"

"Kind of impromptu," Dean says with a shrug, frowning until Castiel obediently finishes the rice. "Volunteers from their patrol'll be here tomorrow to give us all a little breathing room, so that worked out. Also, seventy chickens per town--per day?--or something." His frown deepens. "And cows. I think. Or pigs, maybe."

He considers the amount of his share of the food left on the plate and listening to Dean's version of a verbal report on a meeting (two meetings, one of which may have involved discussion regarding chickens and/or cows (he thinks. Or pigs, maybe)) while eating it at his current speed. Bracing himself, he starts again, faster.

"Vera did great," Dean continues, setting down his fork with a sigh and leaning back against the pillows. "Said she and Joe could handle the rest of the talking after I softened 'em up for them."

Castiel finishes the beans and brisket with the minimal amount of chewing to assure he doesn't choke to death before dropping his fork on the empty plate, picking up the tray to remove to the nearest chair, and returning to see Dean holding out the notebooks with a grin.

"Vera's and Joe's," he says, then makes a face. "Had to swear I'd give them to you the minute I saw you and they'd ask you in the morning."

Taking them, he watches incredulously as Dean slides off the bed and starts toward the door. "Where are you going?"

"I just remembered," he says as he opens the door, "I made coffee. Be right back."


Joseph's handwriting is execrable at the best of times, but it degrades rapidly before he reaches page two, which slows his reading considerably. In addition, he has a strong propensity to write his more questionable (hilarious) observations in Hebrew in equally unreadable script. Using Vera's much clearer notes as reference (and noting how often they wrote notes to each other in the text of each other's notebooks, Vera especially with questions regarding this or that person, and even on occasion the additional pleasure of Dean's mockery of them both), he settles down to enjoy himself. Their reports have always been superlative reading; the raw notes, while not as organized, are even better, and Dean's dry inserts make this superior to even hippofucker for humor (though nothing could approach it for horror).

"Worried Joe's notes would slow you down," Dean says, handing him a cup and climbing on the bed to sit across from him. "Is my timing awesome or what?"

"Poor Alison," he murmurs, imagining her expression as he sips the (perfectly prepared) coffee. "You weren't joking; thirty minutes of their Parliamentarian doing nothing but arguing about parliamentary procedure."

"They have a parliamentarian," Dean marvels, shaking his head as he absently tugs Castiel's feet into his lap. "Joe said he was trying to show off, I don't know."

"He was," Castiel agrees, skimming back up. "So we've agreed to remain here for the duration of the--situation--and assist Ichabod." He flips to the end of the written pages and frowns at the paper trapped in the spiral, as if pages were removed. "Dean, what--"

"I'm gonna need you to make some adjustments to the shift schedule--tomorrow," Dean says firmly, squeezing his ankles in emphasis. "They'll drop off the one for Ichabod and the volunteers from the other towns taking perimeter or entrance shifts in the morning, so no worries, okay?"

He resists the urge to remind Dean that he doesn't worry; it's simply a matter of extremely complicated logistics. The shift schedule for perimeter duty was very carefully designed to assure everyone--voluntarily or not--has a mandatory eight hour period to sleep, a half hour for each of their three required daily meals, and two hours of recreation within each twenty-four hour period. Left to their own devices, Chitaqua's soldiers would do none of those things and be honestly surprised when they collapsed from exhaustion or dehydration patrolling the perimeter or assisting at Volunteer Services.

"Vera and Kamal volunteered to be on call tonight if anything comes up," Dean adds meaningfully before he starts to peel off on of Castiel's socks. He nods and starts to ask again about the pages but loses his train of thought at the feel of the strong thumb rubbing into the tight muscles of his instep. "…Cas, you listening?"

He blinks and sees first Dean's smirk, then him reaching ostentatiously for an anonymous brown bottle of what smells like lotion or oil, adding some to his palm (lotion from the appearance) before returning to Castiel's foot. "Where did you get--"

"Better to ask forgiveness than explain to Alison why I wanted it," Dean says wryly, fingers expertly working the length of his foot. "Anyway, we told the Alliance that we sent for the rest of our people at Chitaqua, but hell if I know if they can get through this shit even if they go off-road. The roads are backed up at least ten miles and that's just a guess. Goddamn hills: when did Kansas get hills anyway?"

"I assume…you're speaking rhetorically," he answers vaguely, making an effort to visualize the lay of the land and finding the right point as Dean's inspired fingers work their way along the side of his foot. "Between four and eight miles. I think."

"Huh?" Dean works a miracle against the ball of his foot, and Castiel's head drops back against the headboard. "Cas?"

"If I remember correctly," he manages as Dean increases his efforts, moving to the base of his toes with long, luxurious points of pressure, "which at this moment is not a guarantee, the land flattens out between four and eight miles down the road from Ichabod. We set--oh." He takes a deep breath and opens his eyes on Dean's bent head, but he doesn't need to see his face to sense the smugness radiating from him. "Set the outer perimeter there on each of the four roads, and clear all vehicles from the roads between Ichabod and there."

Dean pauses, eyebrows raised before he starts to nod. "Get out the trucks--or hey, buses, some of them weren't stuck in parking hell--and bring people in ourselves to the ward line? Take care of the fighting at the patrol line, yeah, and less pressure on the town perimeter. That'll slow down getting 'em in, though."

"It won't," he answers as Dean eases the sock from his other foot and reaches for the lotion. "At least, I don't think so. Right now the entrance point is bottlenecked by the sheer number trying to get in and Ichabod's efforts are divided between controlling them, checking those who enter the wards, and holding a full perimeter around the town to keep people from entering anywhere but the entrance point as well as watch for danger."

Dean spends several long moments thinking while methodically working from Castiel's heel to his instep with incredible results. "Manuel and Alison are already in bed, but--"

"We can't start until morning at the earliest," he interrupts. "Two hours after dawn at the earliest with the current weather conditions: we need clear line of sight to confirm my suppositions. I'll send Alicia's team to do it." He hesitates. "No matter what we find, it must be decided eventually how many people Ichabod can afford to house. It's not a question of willingness, but sheer available space behind Teresa's ward line. Even assuming Tony clears everything yellow-marked and lighter for use, I know the exact square footage available from Syracuse to Third Street and how many can be accommodated both theoretical and actual."

"And then there's food, water, housing, and heating," Dean agrees with a nod at the notebooks. "And sick people and kids, yeah. Gotta admit, started to miss all those points of order on motions about who can do points of order real fast when we got to that at the meeting."

Cas tilts his head. "Technically speaking, our responsibilities are limited to shared defense, which in this case, considering the number of people at Ichabod's patrol line, assistance with that could easily be considered. Not to mention the potential threat that drove them here, if it exists."

"There's that," Dean agrees, and Castiel pauses to enjoy the feel of Dean's hands working out the last of the tension in his foot. "Nate doing shit with city services on the buildings…."

"Perfectly valid," he replies. "People are dangerous when tired and afraid; we're effectively disarming them by assisting in assuring they have places to stay."

"And James and the others volunteering with adhoc Volunteer Services by the new mess to--no idea what they're doing," he says with a frown, finishing with a last stroke before setting Cas's foot in his lap beside the first and leaning his head on one hand. "I should find out and tell 'em--"

"Assisting in preparing and taking food and blankets to those being housed in the buildings is also perfectly valid and they should continue doing it," he answers immediately. "Hungry people riot, leading to violence, rebellion, and civil war, then you discover Rome's Republic is dead and it's just crowned its first Caesar. No one wants that to happen again." He thinks of Gaius Julius Caesar wistfully and his reaction to that. "Caesar Augustus of all names: if there is any suspicion that Caesar Octavianus was compensating for something, I can confirm he very much was."

Dean shuts his eyes, mouth tight, but a strangled sound emerges despite his obvious near-heroic efforts.

"Then again," he says meditatively, "Vipsanius Agrippa and Livia Drusilla certainly had no complaints, so who am I to judge?" Dean nods tightly. "At least it didn't involve sheep."

Dean bursts into laughter, dropping back against the mattress with an audible thump. Smiling, Castiel settles back against the pillows, content to listen and feeling very warm.

After several minutes, Dean pushes himself upright, face flushed and green eyes dancing; Castiel catches his breath.

"Glad to know first Emperor of Rome didn't fuck sheep," Dean says, squeezing his eyes shut with a choked sound on the last word. "So, wanna talk about what happened in the mess today?"

He stiffens, unable to stop himself and he knows Dean sees it. "My report--"

"Your commander read your report and acted on the information, but I can't tell you more since he went off-duty about an hour ago." He cups Castiel's ankles. "Your partner, on the other hand, heard about your shitty day and wants to know if you wanna talk about it." Squeezing gently, he adds, "You don't have to."

He thinks of the last few hours. "I thought…." He swallows, leaning his head back against the headboard. "I thought I was truthful when I told you that I was used to it."

"Don't worry," Dean assures him. "Didn't believe it when you said it."

"I lost my temper."

"Happens when someone goes for a gun to use on you," he agrees. "One hell of a stress ball, by the way." Then, "Cas, I can't read your mind, but right now, I really, really want to."

"I wanted to kill them."

Dean nods. "Pretty normal reaction to someone trying to kill you."

"Not for that," he says dismissively, and Dean's eyebrows jump. "They weren't dangerous, simply annoying."

"They shot at you."

"They called me a thing." Dean stills, green eyes suddenly unreadable, and he looks away. "I've never been that angry before."

After an long moment, Dean says, "That would piss anyone off."

"When you release a rabid dog from its leash," he starts, "be very sure that what you want done requires the actions of a rabid dog. You cannot decide it should instead act as a cat."

"You aren't," Dean bites out, "a rabid dog."

"Only a rabid dog bites simply because it can," he answers. "It needs no reason, all provocation or none is of equal weight; that is its nature. To kill when threatened is reason; to do it because I disliked the words spoken to me is the nature of a rabid dog. All provocation or none is of equal weight; I would have done it simply because I can. Because it's my nature to kill." He meets Dean's eyes. "That would make me a monster, fit only to be hunted and then killed."

"You didn't."

"I didn't." Leaning back against the pillows, he tries to think. "I don't want to be a monster, Dean."

"Not a problem," Dean says, easing Castiel's feet from his lap and shifting to his knees. "You're not a monster. Anything else?"

Mouth dry, he looks upon the shape of his life in all its brilliance, his comfort and his rest. "Say it again."

"You're not," Dean repeats, sliding a hand under each calf and with a quick tug, pulls Castiel halfway down the bed, "a monster."

"I've wiped out entire races of humanity's forbearers by the Host's command," he says as Dean plants a hand by his shoulder, tipping his head back to look up at him. "The Host has wiped this planet bare more than once in my Father's name."

"I bet you were impressive as hell," Dean says with a grin. "Wish I could have seen it. Bloody sword, wings, halo--"

"It's not really a halo."

"But it's not like you're not pretty impressive now," Dean continues, one hand pushing back Castiel's hair from his eyes. "Give you a gun, working range, or laptop, and you're changing the world. Or at least Chitaqua's living conditions and the number of living Croats in a given area: nice work, by the way."

"Why?"

Dean cocks his head. "Why what?"

"What's the difference?" he asks. "As I was then, so am I now. The body I wear is human enough--as least in a general sense, the specifics less so--but what is within it is not."

"What's in there," Dean says maddeningly, "is you, Cas. And not," he adds with a warning look, "a monster. Got it?"

Castiel thinks: what does he see when he looks at me? "Say it again."

Dean blinks slowly; it seems to take him an inordinate amount of time to speak, but patience is a virtue, and Castiel has practice. "Uh--what?" Then, with a visible effort, "You're not a mon--"

"Not that part." Shifting his hips, he sets his heel against Dean's ankle and drags it up the length of his calf with gratifying results, if Dean's expression is any indication. "My name. I would hear you say it."

Dean sucks in a breath, and Castiel idly slides his heel halfway up Dean's thigh before digging into the thick muscle and applying pressure. With a startled sound, Dean catches himself on his elbows, gasping when his cock slides against Castiel's thigh before another shift settles him exactly where he wants him. "Cas, Jesus."

"I'd prefer the former unaccompanied," he breathes, closing his eyes as Dean groans, hips jerking forward involuntarily. "As well as that, yes."

A rough tug on his hair seems to be a request for his attention. Opening his eyes, he looks up at Dean. "Yes?"

"What," he says clearly, disagreeably still now, but Castiel takes consolation in the fact he obviously doesn't want to be, "are you doing?"

"Allowing you to seduce me," he answers, reaching up to cup Dean's face and swallowing when Dean leans into the touch. "Please continue; you're succeeding very well, but then again, I understand I'm easy."

"You," Dean starts, the wide grin at odds with the severe tone of voice, "are that fucking rock that guy kept trying to push up the hill and never made it. Maybe the hill, too, fuck if I know."

"It was a boulder that would roll away every time Sisyphus reached the summit of the hill. Zeus was cheating, as always," Castiel answers distractedly, tangling a hand in Dean's short hair and pulling him closer with a satisfied groan as Dean's full weight settles against him. "Sisyphus was very clever, however," he adds, then sees Dean's smile fade into something else. "What?"

Holding his eyes, Dean shifts minutely, dragging his cock against Castiel's for an endless moment. "That's," he breathes, resting his forehead against Castiel's, "for you. Got it?" He wets his lips. "I want you."

He stills at Dean's voice saying those words, and grinning, Dean kisses him before he can manage a reply or remember what those are.

Lust has no measure, no difference be found in quality or quantity; it simply is, uncontrollable in elicitation and lacking in discernment in who or what may inspire its presence. He's long reconciled himself to the mindlessness of it; the choice of where he takes his pleasure and with whom is and has always been his own. How humans could make a mess of something so simple was baffling; then again, many things human are, and that which could not be understood, if it could not be learned, must be accepted.

The first lesson he learned was the most painful, as true things always are, and the most important, it's value beyond measure. It's fitting that it would inform the rest of his life: I want.

Dean pulls back with a gasp. "Sisyphus. Almost forgot."

"What?"

"You said he was smart," Dean explains, and never again will Castiel think of the Greek mythology without remembering this. "Pushing a rock up a hill and knowing he'll lose it before he gets there, then going back to do it again, forever without end. Why smart?"

He's serious. "The boulder was enchanted, as was the hill," he answers distractedly. "Sisyphus guessed correctly that Zeus gave them judgment, so the boulder would know exactly when and where to roll away on the hill, so he asked them what, in their judgement, he should do."

Dean brushes a kiss against his jaw, tongue flickering to lick against the grain of the beginnings of stubble, before easing back enough for each word to puff against the wet skin. "What did they tell him?"

What did the boulder and the hill tell Sisyphus: yes, of course, why not. "The bounder told him this: in Zeus' absence, enjoy the Fields as you will while I rest and enjoy stillness as is my nature, for I am not meant to constantly roll, and the hill hates us both for we disturb its tranquility and rub its sides raw. To please us all, we will do this; the hill will speak to the land so as to know when Zeus comes and it will tell me. I will warn you to return, so that when he arrives you may push me for his pleasure up the hill and follow me back down before the summit is reached until he goes away again."

Dean licks a line down his throat. "Did that work?"

"Of course it did," he answers dreamily as Dean's mouth skims over the wet skin, stubble scratching in electric sparks, and tips his head back in offer. "Zeus was an idiot; who else would inflict an eternal punishment on a clever man by making the boulder and the hill that would be his punishment as clever as he? All that was needed was reasonable discussion and all was well between them."

He stills at the faint scrape of teeth before Dean bites down just below his jaw, quick and hard, and Castiel knots his fingers in Dean's shirt, rutting up against him encouragingly. Licking the bite luxuriantly, Dean pushes up to grin down at him.

"So," he says huskily, "Sisyphus wants to know what the boulder wants."

"You."

Dean sucks in a breath, eyes darkening, and leans down for another kiss as Castiel pulls up Dean's shirt, breaking only so Castiel can pull it over his head,. Opening his mouth at the rough thrust of Dean's tongue, he tastes the low groan when he lazily slides a hand down his bare back, following the flex and ripple of muscle and glutting himself on the feel of smooth, warm skin.

If lust has no measure, want doesn't lack it: a matter of degrees denoting the shades of difference between passive interest and willingness to expend effort, defined by what he'll do to have it. It's almost mathematical in its precision if not in execution, and if there are things wanted that he can't have, none have risen any higher than vague disappointment, quickly forgotten. At least, not until now.

"Let's," Dean whispers raggedly, tugging at the hem of his shirt, "get this off you."

Obediently (he does know how to be, when sufficient motivation is provided), he stretches his arms above his head, easing his knee higher and draping it over Dean's hip as Dean checks his motion, licking already wet lips glossy as he looks down at him.

"Jesus Christ," he breathes thickly, eyes sliding down his body as if he can't look away.

"You've seen it before," he reminds him, breath catching in his throat as Dean jerks the cotton up and over his head and arms in a single motion. "Or so your complaints regarding when I leave the shower without warning seemed to imply."

"And that was very stupid of me," Dean murmurs absently, bending down and licking a line from the center of his chest to the base of his throat. "Not that it stopped you, and I appreciate it. Except that fucking towel." Dean bites his chin. "I want to see what I missed."

I want. "As you wish." Dean sits back on his heels, reaching for the loose waist of Castiel's sweatpants. "Provided the courtesy is returned, of course."

Swallowing, Dean nods, and he watches through half-closed eyes as Dean starts to pull them and the loose boxer-briefs down, lifting his hips as needed, and tries not to smile as Dean fumbles the cotton before tossing them off the bed. What does Dean see when he looks at him: he doesn't care, provided that Dean always looks at him like this, as if what he sees pleases him beyond measure, tongue wetting his lower lip absently; it's forever here.

It takes two attempts before he can remember how to speak, and another to do so in English. "Reciprocation…would be appreciated."

"Sorry," Dean murmurs, grinning unapologetically when he meets Castiel's eyes before pushing off his heels. "Just enjoying the view."

Almost hesitantly, the long fingers ghosting uncertainly over the elastic clinging to his hips before tugging everything down in a single, too-fast motion that makes him grit his teeth in profound regret (he sympathizes; he's made that mistake as well, sadly more than once). Once they're discarded, Dean gives him a challenging smirk, almost inviting commentary.

Who is he to deny Dean whatever he may desire? "You are--"

"You quote hippofucker, I'm out of here," he lies, but the faint, probably unconscious tension fades entirely, though the flush remains, spreading down to his chest. "What?" He glances down uncertainly, then at Castiel, and belatedly, he realizes he's been silent for a very long time. "Not like you haven't seen it before. While giving me a fucking report and telling me it's okay, almost jerking me off didn't make me less straight. What the hell was that about?"

"It was very stupid of me," he agrees, wondering if he ever looked at Dean before or simply imagined he had. If there has been any alteration to Dean's body since his fever began, he can only assume the healing process has compensated for the single exception of the scarring of his right arm by being of immense benefit to the rest. Dean's habit of running the perimeter of Chitaqua is to be lauded, if the stretch of muscle in his thighs is any indication of its good work, narrow hips and flat stomach--exercise truly works miracles--chest and arms sculpted by an artist to create an impossible ideal who then decided to surpass that with a face without flaw and a mouth worth a war or two in his name.

He drops his gaze to Dean's cock; the artist was also sadistic if he had a lover who must look upon that and be forced to compare. Functionality is the most important criteria, of course, but aesthetics in this case are….satisfactory indeed.

Lust is indiscriminate (and stupid beyond the telling) but it does in this case possess superlative taste. Want, however…it is selective, he knew, but the criteria has changed and perhaps the scale by which degree can be measured. He wanted Dean when he smiled and laughed and argued and scowled his displeasure, miserably sick in his bed, when he'd watch Dean sleep, unwilling to look away for fear the fever would take him away, when he'd count every breath while remembering the eternity that they had stopped. He wants Dean now and the measure can only be defined as 'more', but it has nothing at all to do with whatever quality or lack thereof there may or not be in how he looks; his beauty is beyond compare whatever skin he may wear. He could look at Dean forever and never grow bored.

Dean's reaction to his own reflection in the bathroom soon after the fever was baffling, and even with context, he couldn't reconcile it with what he saw when he looked at him. Nor did his understanding improve in time; once Dean's strength was sufficient for his purposes (he'd be careful, of course), the only barrier to taking him to bed immediately was the presumption of Dean's disinclination in participation.

He thinks: I was very stupid, yes.

I want. Before him is everything, the only thing he wants. "You're not that bad."

Dean's eyes widen, mouth falling open in shock.

"Let's have sex," he adds conscientiously, reproducing Dean's precise inflection from memory. "You were right; my pick-up line could stand considerable improvement."

"You're such an asshole. Hold up," he mutters cryptically, groping to the left before coming up with the bottle of lotion and fumbling it open. "So we're not giving this back."

"I think Alison would appreciate it if we didn't," he agrees, watching the thin lotion pool in Dean's palm before he reaches between them. Bracing himself doesn't help at all; the tentative brush of Dean's fingers is electric. Sucking in a breath, he feels Dean still briefly and has just enough time to wonder if he should begin his prepared discussion on the vagaries of human sexuality in modern times (Kinsey might be a useful reference) when Dean's hand wraps around his cock and he realizes he's grinning as if--he's not sure, but watching Dean jerk him off he is sure will end this far too quickly.

"Later," he breathes when Dean seems content to linger, and now is very good, but it's nothing compared to the stretch of warm flesh against his own, feeling each caught breath and groan. "Come here."

Green eyes nearly black, Dean swallows, frozen for a long moment before hastily wiping the remaining lotion on his own cock and nearly falling before Castiel catches him. They both catch their breaths as Dean's cock slots into place beside his own, sliding slickly together in the tight, hot space between their bodies. Shuddering, Dean drops his head against his shoulder, rocking experimentally and finding it shockingly good. "God, Cas."

"Say it again," he murmurs against the fragile shell of Dean's ear, fingers digging into the strong muscles of Dean's shoulder with every slow thrust.

"God--" He gasps, shuddering, when Castiel drags his nails down the length of his back to the curve of his ass. "Cas."

"Good." Wrapping a leg around Dean's hips, he matches Dean's rhythm, closing his eyes as the sparks of pleasure join into a current, strengthening with each stroke against his cock. Dean's breathing speeds up accordingly, mouth resting against his shoulder before traveling to his neck, lingering against the sensitive skin at the junction of throat and shoulder before sucking a kiss, lingering until Castiel forgets how to breathe, the shock of pain almost as good as the feel of Dean's cock.

Curving his palm to the shape of Dean's ass, he arches against him, the low burning pressure growing at the base of his spine, sparking across his nerves and intensifying wherever they touch. Knotting his fingers in Dean's hair, he pulls him up with a growl, wanting to glimpse the want in the green eyes as much as taste that swollen mouth. Dean gives him both and more, reaching for Castiel's thigh and pulling it up to his waist--perfect--mouth hungry and almost brutal, claiming for itself all within its demesne.

Panting, Dean withdraws only enough for gasped air but no farther, forehead pressed against his own. "Cas," he whispers, twisting his hips and sending a shock through Castiel's body he can feel vibrating in his teeth. "Yeah, gotta--Cas, come on." The hand on his thigh strokes soothing, and distantly, he realizes he's trembling, and the gasps he can hear aren't just Dean's.

Fingers stroke with impossible tenderness through his hair, at odds with roughening thrust of Dean's hips, frantic and control clutched at by a thread. "That's it," Dean whispers brokenly, moaning against his jaw. "Come on, Cas. I got you."

Castiel opens his eyes. "Dean."

It's never the same, no, but it's never been like this; a wire turned too-tightly that doesn't loosen at the final twist but snaps with a crack running the length of his spine, orgasm flooding every nerve in an endless sweep. Arching off the bed, he reflexively locks his leg around Dean, fingers spread between his shoulderblades on sweat-slick skin to keep him where he is, and Dean gasps with a spread of wet heat between them before going boneless against him.

He loses himself in the sheer glut of sensation, wallowing in pure sensory overload, physical tension release and chemical flood intensified by the feel of the man in his arms, dragging it out and out for all of time: amen, indeed.


Eventually, Dean makes a vague effort to move, though from what Castiel can ascertain, he's not sure which muscles to use, and they're equally bewildered if they should want to work.

"Christ," Dean mutters against his neck, then gives up, melting back against him with a sigh. There's no particular motivation for anyone to move; Castiel would be content to remain like this for the rest of his mortal life (if he were still immortal, all of Time would be insufficient, but it would have to do). There's a vague sense of motion before Dean asks, "So--you gonna let me go?"

"No."

Despite that, he lessens the pressure against Dean's back when he pushes against it, but Dean only braces himself on his elbows, looking down at him in drowsy satisfaction. "Not too bad."

"I appreciate your feedback," he answers lazily. "Was the period of time after you fainted too short--"

"I didn't," Dean growls, trying to loom and achieving nothing like it, "faint."

"Then I must compliment your thespian aspirations," he murmurs, unable to help smiling at Dean's inadequate attempt at a glare. "You were very convincing."

"You." Dean doesn't pretend there was supposed to be a sentence attached, leaning down for a kiss with the careless certainty of someone who knows themselves welcome. Dean always kisses him as if there's nothing else worth doing, slow and deep and rich, drowning. He hasn't left their bed without the taste of Dean on his tongue since the first night they shared it, and he has no intention of that ever changing.

Dean's slow stokes across his hip and down his thigh checks as he reaches the knee still locked around his waist. "You're gonna get a cramp if you keep that up."

"I won't," he answers, eyes half-closing at the sensual pleasure of Dean's skin against his own. "Kamal was a strict instructor in yoga and could tell at a glance who wasn't adhering to his regime, so I keep in practice. He never said anything," he adds with a frown. "Yet his judgment could be felt, and no amount of alcohol or drugs seemed to help until I'd completed my routine twice. At which time, it would finally go away."

Dean blinks at him. "How the hell did I miss you doing that?"

"Dawn," he explains with a moue of distaste. "Before the advent of coffee, it was literally the only thing that made mornings less utterly miserable. While you were ill after the fever broke, Kamal and Mira would join me on the porch and do them with me, as Vera said…." He stops, startled; he's never spoken to anyone of this, even the other participants. "She'd open the window, however. So I could listen."

"To her--doing whatever she was doing with me?"

"To you breathe."

Dean leans down for a warm brush of lips. "You know, I never thought about how much that sucked for you. Other than the taking care of me twenty-four/seven part."

"It was a privilege." He's not sure anyone but Vera understood that. He learned everything she would teach him, reading the books she offered and searching his vast memory for all it could tell him of what Dean might need, what would make him more comfortable. Dean's skeptical look, however, isn't a surprise; humans are often like this. Threading his fingers through Dean's hair, he tries to smooth the short strand with indifferent success. "However, I think it was worse for you than for me."

Dean snorts. "Not so sure about that."

"After the fever broke, when Vera went to her rest, I would sit by your bed and there I would stay for the night and listen to you breathe. And through the night, I would stop hearing it and panic….and realize I'd been asleep only when I woke up." Dean makes a face. "Linear time moves at a monotonous rate, I could track its progress--but no matter the quantity, it was always forever. And when I would think--I would think I could not bear it a moment longer--you would open your eyes.

"And there was joy, beyond anything I'd ever known," he whispers. "Forever, what is that, it's nothing, a moment, a drop within infinity--nothing, when I was rewarded with that. Your pain and misery I would spare you, but mine--it is mine, and I would trade none of it for any price, for without it, I would not have that joy." He tilts his head against the mattress, studying Dean's expression (interesting). "You enjoyed none of it, which could only be remedied slowly as your health returned, which took weeks. I, on the other hand, could for a single moment experience sheer, unadulterated exaltation without any effort on my part at least once a day and very often more."

Dean shuts his mouth with an audible click of teeth.

"For reasons that must be obvious, it wasn't something I felt needed to be shared during that dark and difficult time," he adds, wetting his lips and memorizing Dean's expression for a more appropriate time for uncontrolled laughter. "I didn't think you would understand."


He blinks lazily at the wet splat of the washcloth against his stomach; at least it's warm, which was something of a question when Dean went (stalked) out the door. Dean didn't bother with more than a pair of sweatpants (his, Castiel notes in satisfaction) for his hasty trip to the bathroom, preserving just enough modesty not to cause laughter should he be intercepted by Alison (or Teresa, though experience suggests she would at least wait until within the safety of her and Alison's bedroom before indulging herself).

"Thank you, Dean," he says politely, which makes Dean's eyes narrow suspiciously. "I appreciate your consideration."

Ignoring him, Dean crawls onto the bed and straddles his thighs, glaring at him for a long moment before knocking his hand away from the washcloth and taking it himself. Despite his less than even temper at the moment (he doesn't smile, but the effort is enormous), Dean's remarkably gentle, cleaning the away the last traces of recent events without irritating supersensitized skin.

Thorough as well: letting his eyes fall closed, Castiel concentrates on the sensual slide of the wet cloth against his skin, slow and careful, methodical in its journey from his belly to dip between his thighs. Arching into each languorous stroke, he braces a heel against the mattress and stretches lazily, his fingertips brushing the headboard before he relaxes every muscle at once and falls bonelessly into the comfort of the mattress, enjoying the texture of the quilt beneath his back.

(He has, on rare occasions (very stoned, very drunk, and post-coital), admitted the possibility that the benefits of the corporeal form more than compensate for the drawbacks. There's so much to feel, in variety endless, and none of them are ever the same twice.)

With a sigh, he slits his eyes open to see Dean frozen, washcloth in hand and staring at him with glazed eyes. "Hmm?"

"Just." He looks down at the washcloth blankly, like he's forgotten he's holding it, getting up (a pity) to dispose of it before returning to the bed. Reluctantly, Castiel pushes himself up to drag back the covers and sheets with the least amount of movement necessary, pulling his legs up against his chest to slide them between the layers of smooth cotton before twisting on his side to see Dean--still standing by the bed. "Yoga?"

"The health benefits are quantifiable," he explains, tucking an arm under his head and watching Dean join him, tugging the sheet and quilt up around them against the chill of the night. "Why?"

Dean stares at him. "You ever watched yourself?"

"Of course," he answers, pulling the pillow marginally closer. "Exhibitionistic tendencies aside--which were admittedly something of a surprise--humans are a highly visual species, and in this body, so am I. Observation of other people's reactions made me curious. Watching myself holds no particular interest for me, so I assume their pleasure is on par with my enjoyment of watching them."

Dean's startled expression melts into laughter, and lying down, he reaches casually to palm Castiel's hip, tugging him unresistingly closer. "Just saying, give you a washcloth and boom, home pornography."

"You were the one applying it," he answers. "I'll give you a bath one day."

"What?" Dean starts to look alarmed. "Why?"

He raises an eyebrow. "I have no idea what about that scenario could possibly be questionable in either intent or result."

This close, there's no possible way to turn away to hide the hot flush. "Bathe me?"

"Slowly," he agrees, watching the rich color deepen. "Hot water, so you'll relax, then you'll sit very still while I wash you, and only move when I tell you so I can be thorough in my ministrations. And I shall be thorough beyond words to describe."

Dean seems unconvinced as well as very, very red. "Uh."

"Self-consciousness is the result of worrying about how others see you and fearing ridicule," he explains. "That won't be a problem. I'll be the only observer and I like looking at you, and however you move will be at my will and therefore be pleasing to me. There's no possible way you could do anything wrong, so there would be no reason for you to worry. You'll enjoy yourself, and I'll enjoy you." He runs his tongue over his upper lip, considering what oils he currently possesses. "Assuming you can obey me, of course."

The bright color fades, green eyes darkening as the swollen pink lips part for a quick breath.

"I suppose we'll find out," he murmurs with a slow smile and starts laughing when Dean shoves him onto his back, reaching down between them to stroke his half-hard cock. "Excellent timing: I was just about to suggest--"

"Shut up," Dean growls, but he's laughing, too, before groaning again, shoving the blankets away and sitting back on his heels, straddling Castiel's thighs. "Apprehensive, right?"

"Perhaps," he starts as Dean reaches for his cock again, fitting his fingers around it with utterly unnecessary care. "Perhaps I was wrong. About--"

Dean flexes his fingers experimentally before tightening them again at the base, calluses rough in contrast to the smother, hard flesh at the base of the fingers and the heel. The green eyes come up, fixing on Castiel's face as he slowly slides his hand up in a long stroke.

"--that," he finishes huskily.

"Apprehensive, that was the word. Get used to the idea, right? Didn't want to scare me." Punctuated with another long stroke, adding a thumb circling the head curiously. "Right, Cas?"

He nods automatically, already knowing that won't be sufficient. "Right." Then, "I was wrong."

"Maybe you were, maybe you weren't," Dean allows kindly, rewarding him with another stroke, fingers tightening and loosening without rhythm in deliberate tease. "Doesn't matter: future reference, gonna tell you how to deal with it." Letting go, Dean holds his eyes while deliberately licking his palm in long, shiny wet streaks before reaching for Castiel's cock again, and the first wet slide brings him off the bed. "Show you. Or you show me, actually."

Gripping the sheets, Castiel breathes through the endless glide, pressure varying until Dean finds the perfect one. Then--for no reason at all--he stops. "Dean--"

"Got your attention?" Opening his eyes, he sees Dean cruelly letting go and no. "Cas?"

"You have," he grates out, "my undivided attention."

"Good." Licking his hand again, Dean begins to stroke, pressure perfect, testing rhythm and speed. "Like I was saying, you show me." He smiles when Castiel gasps. "Show me exactly what I want. And why…" He leans down, and Castiel watches his pink tongue lick the head of his cock clean in a white noise of hot pleasure. "Why I should want it."

Panting, he nods helplessly.

"So you're gonna show me now," Dean says, licking his lips and stroking steadily. "I'm gonna get you off and watch you while I do it. I can already tell you I like it, but no reason not to be sure. Repetition, it works." The smug grin is unbearably attractive at this moment. "Your--right, feedback would be appreciated."