Castiel receives the new commands in silence. He does not understand why his orders have changed, but it is not his place to question the will of the Lord God.
"You are the messenger, Castiel; this role should fall to you."
It would be sinful to protest. Gabriel has the right of it, and Castiel does not like to think of Uriel or any other member of the host carrying out this task. It is his right and his responsibility. He owes it to Dean.
"I am obedient to the Lord," he says, making the appropriate obeisance.
He has never seen the face of God, of course. God has not told him personally that these are His wishes. But clearly it must be so, and Castiel accepts his own ignorance and inadequacies. It is enough to serve. It would be abominable arrogance to expect God to explain His plans to His lowly servants.
This is another honour, although unlike the task of freeing a soul from the bonds of Hell, this one feels like an admission of failure. Castiel is conscious of the attention of seraphim and cherubim, of angels and archangels, of thrones, principalities and dominions. He has been singled out again, and he still does not know why God has chosen him, of all the other angels. He has never been amongst the most high. It ruffles his calm, very slightly. Almost, he is troubled.
"Dean Winchester has faith in you. He thinks you are his friend." Uriel's resonant voice expresses the full rich hilarity of Dean's folly. "Now isn't he in for a nasty shock?"
Castiel does not answer, but the words leave him feeling strangely bruised and tender. He bows to Gabriel again. "I must be on my way."
"I wish you swiftness and success." Gabriel has little to do with humans these days. He has none of Uriel's levity. "Praise be to God on high."
It occurs to Castiel, as he makes his way back out of the pure radiance of the assembly, that he has never particularly liked any of them.
He feels the being the Winchesters knew as Anna watching him closely as he departs.
Castiel does not go to carry out the orders directly. This is not disobedience, because there was no specific mention of a timeframe, and naturally he is going to obey the command. Still - he knows that Uriel would disapprove of his procrastination. He knows, really, that they expected him to act at once. But they did not tell him to act at once, so Castiel buys himself a little time to restore his equilibrium.
For no particular reason, he goes and sits quietly on an unremarkable park bench, watching human children play. He finds their heedless energy and their fierce passions oddly touching. The children run and tumble and jump and shout; they are fragile as the blue-shelled eggs in the nest high above his head, small and perfect and excruciatingly mortal, and quite oblivious to the harsh realities of their world. A tiny boy with sleek black hair and skin the colour of burnt sugar is hurtling back and forth on the swing, defying gravity, his small face rapt with the fierce joy of flight. Incapable of conceiving that his grip might falter, that he might be flung helter-skelter into the air, and smashed into the unyielding ground below. Castiel cannot decide whether this is ignorance or innocence, but he pities the child who has a lifetime of disappointments, shocks, disillusionments and agonies great and small stretching out before him in this life. And, quite possibly, in the next.
It is a beautiful Autumn day. Castiel finds all God's climes and seasons beautiful, of course - sunlight and snow and monsoon rains are all benedictions. Even the destructive force of the cyclone, the lightning, the tsunami, all show the hand of God. Change can be painful, but it is necessary for growth. Autumn brings its endings, with lush leaves withering on the bough and tumbling to the ground in a shower of crisp gold and amber and crimson to beautify the grass and fertilize the soil. They may leave the bereft branches bare and stark against the skyline when they fall, but they are still simple, needful deaths. The tree lives on. It is all part of God's scheme.
There is a mild breeze sending the fallen leaves scurrying around, catching some to whirl high up in the air like a flurry of fire-coloured feathers. For a time it seems as though they might fall up instead of down, vanish into the blue, weightless and brilliant and bouyant against the clouds. But it is always an illusion. They always sink back down to the earth once more, to be trodden underfoot, crushed into the mulch, their brave colours leeched away as they transform to something dirty and new and needful. It is the nature of things.
"You are procrastinating." Castiel had not heard Uriel arrive, and that alone speaks volumes about how distracted he has been. He swallows, conscious that he is failing in the spirit, if not the letter, of his instructions. Uriel eyes him narrowly. "You have let the apes corrupt you. You are wasting the Lord's time."
"I was only lost in contemplation of our Father's work," says Castiel, truthfully.
"Kill them," says Uriel, looking at him very hard. "Kill them now, or so help me I'll do the job myself."
"The host appointed me," says Castiel evenly.
"Then get on with it!"
Uriel departs, but his presence has shattered the fragile peace Castiel had built for himself. He is crackling with nervous energy, his mind a mass of unaskable questions. His borrowed heart beats too fast in his chest. What if they have misunderstood the instructions? What if this is a test? What if the Lord is mistaken?
He freezes, then tries frantically to unthink this thought. But it will not retreat.
What if the Lord is wrong?
He closes his eyes. The Lord cannot be wrong. Castiel's shame scalds him. He has delayed too long. Uriel is right; he has let these humans seduce him into sentimentality just as surely as Dean Winchester has let the demon Ruby seduce him into extending her his trust. They are not of the same element. There can be no understanding between humans and angels.
Castiel rises. He does not look at the bench where Dean Winchester once sat and listened to his confession. He does not indulge in hand-wringing or regrets. He wastes no more time. Instead he spreads his wings and hurls himself from this place to the next.
They are sleeping when he finds them. The ugly brown curtains have been pulled shut to keep out the bright light of the afternoon, and the brothers sprawl bonelessly on their respective beds, oblivious to the intruder in their motel room. Small wonder. Castiel knows they have had a scant handful of hours' sleep between them this past week, and their victory last night was a hard fought one. He is surprised either of them had the presence of mind to hang the 'Do not disturb' sign on the door of their dingy little room. Sam's shoes lie at the foot of his bed, but he has crawled under the covers fully dressed. Dean sprawls on top of the covers of his own bed, barefoot, his tattered t-shirt draped haphazardly over a chair. His jeans are encrusted with drying mud. The clawmarks on his naked back are fresh, and it looks like he fell asleep while Sam was tending to them. The Winchester boys always seem to have a fresh supply of bandages and bullets, whatever else they lack.
He should do it now, whilst they sleep. That would be best. Sam's powers are considerable, but he is exhausted and defenceless, and his demon lover is three states away. He should do it now, so he does not have to look into Dean Winchester's eyes and see the reflection of this betrayal.
Instead, Castiel sits down quietly on one of the ugly chairs, ignoring the mysterious stains in the upholstery, and looks long and hard at the two young men he has been sent here to kill.
Sam Winchester still disturbs him. The demon taint permeates his skin and bones and Castiel finds it difficult to look past that constant buzz of wrongness; and yet he knows that the boy is not to blame for his powers or his darkness, and he has watched Sam struggling to make something good out of his curse. It has frustrated and frightened Castiel, because the whole point is that Sam should try to live as a human, that he must not access that power – but he recognizes that Sam Winchester has been trying to do good. And he has heard the boy praying, albeit not lately. Not since he met angels in the flesh.
Uriel despises him. Castiel has begun, reluctantly, to pity him.
His gaze travels slowly, inevitably, over to Dean. The soles of his feet are calloused, and his muddy jeans are in desperate need of washing. The lean curve of his spine flexes gently with each slumbering breath, and a stripe of light from the gap in the curtains slides across his upper body, gilding his hair and skin in the places it alights. Castiel looks at the wings of Dean's shoulderblades and the gentle swell of muscles in his arms, at the bruised knuckles and torn fingernails of the hand that pillows his cheek and of the one clenched tight into the covers, and marvels again at how beautiful the human body is. What a wonder. What a fragile thing.
He can feel the dream from here: blood and screams and pain and shame. Hopelessness. Despair. Castiel does not understand, will never understand, why God sends His humans to suffer so in the pit. The only way the angel can endure this seeming senselessness is to have faith; to believe that there is a reason, that there is a plan. That the Lord's justice is beyond Castiel's comprehension. But the longer he has spent with Dean Winchester, the more Castiel has come to sympathise with Dean's sense of betrayal and anger at the Lord. The more he has come to treasure his moments with this man and the odd blend of suspicion, affection and camaraderie that Dean extends to him. He is touched by Dean's courage and his loyalty to his younger brother almost as much as he is frustrated by Dean's stubbornness.
Dean Winchester took a tire iron to the demon Alastair, the face of his most hideous nightmares and most shameful recollections, while Castiel choked and squirmed on the ground with darkness seeping into his pores, and Uriel left him to his own devices.
Castiel likes Dean. He cannot call him a friend, because angels do not have friends, but Dean Winchester makes Castiel long for the luxury of friendship.
But that is pure self-indulgence, and quite beside the point. Castiel knows the will of God, and it is his honour to carry it out, regardless of how cruel or senseless it might seem. Regardless of how much he would like to flee. Regardless of how much he might personally want to give the Winchesters another chance. It is his duty, and obedience is what defines him. It is the purpose of his existence.
He is just telling himself that again, and steeling himself for the task ahead, when Dean opens his eyes and looks straight at him. Castiel sees Dean's face light up for half a second (despite his puzzled incredulity at having merited a guardian angel of his own, Castiel has felt the tentative blossoming Dean's underlying delight at having been found special. At being chosen. At being saved. Dean Winchester has begun to let down his guard) before the reflexive wariness kicks in.
Not wary enough, thinks Castiel, looking into the green-gold-brown of Dean's dream-blown eyes. The pupils are huge in the dimness of the room, but Castiel can still pick out every shade of early autumn colour in his irises, and can count the lashes that curl gently back onto his skin. He thinks about the little boy soaring back and forth on his swing in the park, and tries to understand how it is possible that by choosing again and again to stand between helpless souls and the forces that would wrench them apart, Dean and his brother have condemned themselves in the eyes of the Lord.
It makes him feel ashamed.
"I warned you what would come," he says helplessly, and Dean is sitting bolt upright in an instant, taking in Castiel's tone. "I said you had to stop it, or we would intervene." Sam is stirring sluggishly at the sound of his voice, but he is bone-tired and beyond, and anyway Castiel's attention is not on him. Electricity sparks from the light fittings and the curtains begin to flutter as Castiel gathers his strength. He sees understanding dawn on Dean's face too late, watches Dean plunge his hand beneath the pillow, pointlessly, to retrieve his precious blade, and Castiel wonders whether perhaps he can obliterate himself along with them.
Dean is standing barefoot between Castiel and Sam now, with the knife clutched uselessly in his fingers and an expression of naked hurt visible beneath his desperate bravado. But he does not look surprised at the betrayal. Castiel can hear the wild beating of Dean's heart and see the flutter of his pulse in the hollow of his throat, measuring out the moments of his life. Sam says something, begins to flail out from under the covers, but neither of them are listening; Castiel realises that Dean Winchester had never really believed himself worth saving, has always thought there must be some kind of mistake, some kind of catch, and it is that as much as Dean's hopeless determination to protect his little brother that finally undoes Castiel. He bows his head.
"I shall hold off the host of heaven for as long as I can," he says softly, feeling his universe begin to rupture at the words. "But make no doubt that very soon they will still come for you." This is utterly futile, he knows. This will buy Dean and his brother only a little more time alive, and it will cost him all that he is, or ever hoped to be. "You need to hide from heaven now in any way you can." He watches Dean's eyes widen in startled understanding.
Sam is on his feet now, standing next to his brother with one arm half-raised before him.
"Move!" snarls Dean, shoving Sam towards their bags, and it speaks volumes of their years together on the road that Sam does move, swiftly and without arguing. Dean is still staring at Castiel. "Is this because of last night?"
Sam stiffens, but continues with quick efficiency to stuff the few objects left unpacked into a bag.
"They all believe that Sam is lost," says Castiel. "And you along with him." He resists the impulse to sieze them both and stuff them into their car. "Go!" he snaps.
"Will you be okay?" asks Dean, and Castiel can see on his face that he knows the answer perfectly well. He wishes he could have had longer to know Dean Winchester. He wishes he had learned how to be a proper friend.
He looks away from urgent eyes the colour of the fall. "Go now," Castiel says, and hurls himself elsewhere.
They find him on the third day, and strip him of his grace.
When he catches the first glimpse of wings darkening the sky, Castiel has the comfort of knowing that he has given the Winchesters a very good head start, and has shrouded their movements effectively from everyone, including himself. He does not have the comfort of knowing whether his actions are righteous or forgivable, but he dares to hope that the Lord will understand and approve, even if the heavenly host cannot.
Stillness swells around him like the ripples of a great stone lobbed into a pool. Birdsong, the rustle of grass, the hum of insects, the tiny sounds of small mammals making their way through the crisp carpet of fallen gold and amber leaves, all are obliterated by a growing silence that falls from the sky, smothering every living thing. The earth begins to tremble underfoot, and the brightness is leeched out of the autumn sun as Uriel finally arrives.
They look at one another for a long moment. Uriel appears too purely incensed for speech, and Castiel does not know what he could possibly say. They both know what he has done, and why. Castiel looks away, and tries to brace himself. He has never felt so vulnerable or alone; he has been close to destruction countless times, but has always known that he was working God's will. Now he can only hope and pray to his silent Father that he has not done something terrible.
“You are abomination,” says Uriel at last, and the force of his anger sends the fallen leaves exploding away from them in all direction. Castiel bows his head. “You sully the dirt you stand upon.”
“Do what you came to do,” says Castiel, and Uriel backhands him so hard he makes a crater where he lands. Castiel is still picking himself gingerly out of the hole and marveling at the taste of this body's blood when Uriel grabs him by his lapels and yanks him close enough to bite or kiss.
“You are nothing,” snarls Uriel. “You are less than nothing. Failure. Apostate.” With each word he delivers another blow, while Castiel tries ineffectively to shield himself and feels himself shattering slowly under the onslaught. His strength is a pale shadow of Uriel's.
“That is enough.” Castiel looks up dazedly at Gabriel's voice. Gabriel has assumed again the human form of the woman Anna, her hair as bright as fallen leaves, as dark as Castiel's blood. “You are exceeding your authority.”
“You're just...” begins Uriel, his voice thick with contempt, but she raises one hand sharply and blue lightning cracks from it like a whip. Uriel reels from the impact.
“You know well what our orders were, and yet you play these games? Do have a care, my brother.”
Uriel bows his head, but his expression is ferocious. Gabriel ignores him, and steps closer to Castiel. He watches her with horrified fascination, like a small beast mesmerised by a snake. She presses one delicate hand to his chest, reaches round with the other to clasp the back of his head, and kisses him chastely on the lips. Blue fire crackles painfully against Castiel's tongue and almost distracts him from the sensation of her fingers sliding right inside his chest and wrapping around his grace. He makes a choked sound of protest, but finds he cannot move. Gabriel's eyes are calm and pitiless as she tears the very stuff of heaven from his soul, leaving him anguished and reeling, and while he gasps in agony she slides into his mind and methodically flays it. She is unmaking him. It is only then that he understands what they intend: they will leave him mortal, prey to the demons on this plane until some ignominious death sends him tumbling down to hell. But they will not risk leaving him in possession of any secrets that might benefit the demons. Gabriel is erasing him inch by inch, and will leave him just a shadow of himself, trapped in this fragile shell. Small. Weak. Human. It is only then, as he feels the memory of heaven being burned out of his mind and his ears grow deaf to the music of the spheres, that Castiel begins to scream.
Consciousness, when it comes, finds him weak and muddy-witted, slumped in a filthy alleyway like a discarded rag doll, his body shorn of its angelic strength and his senses dulled intolerably. Castiel blinks stinging eyes and sees the world for the first time as humans do, with the limited palette afforded by these simple mortal organs. No depth, no history, no echoes of the past; he can only see the surfaces of things, and only then if there is sufficient light. He stares stupidly at the unfamiliar roughness of the wall across from him for a long while, trying to understand what he has become. He feels raw and bruised and sullied, and quite appallingly helpless.
They have made him human, and abandoned him to his fate. He cannot sense the presence of unhallowed souls now, will have no warning until a passerby suddenly turns to him with eyes like ink and a terrible smile. He has become useless, and breakable. A prize. A toy. Castiel wraps his arms around his folded knees and closes his eyes for a very long moment, concentrating on breathing. He thinks about the poisonous chemicals swirling in the air, and realises that now his borrowed flesh will be vulnerable to carcinogens and tetanus and the common cold. It will age, slowly and inevitably, and he will be trapped inside while the muscles grow slack and the reactions slow down and the bones grow thin and brittle. Although, upon reflection, the likelihood of Castiel managing to live to a ripe old age is so slender that it really doesn't merit worrying about.
He wonders about the man whose body he is wearing. The soul that he burned out of its skin with his arrival. He knows the name and some details of his life, but he cannot pass himself off as that man. He is utterly alone, in a world where to be moneyless and friendless can amount very quickly to a death sentence even without the intervention of demons.
As he sits on the dirty pavement trying to pull his wits together and assemble a plan of action, a dark haired woman in precariously high shoes walks past him. Castiel watches her approach with his head cocked to one side slightly; before, he would have known her name, would have felt her heart, been able to recite the full balance of her virtues and transgressions, her secret hopes and shames. Now all he can see is that she is young, that her features are even and pleasant to look upon, and that her feet hurt. She gives him a nervy sidelong glance but something about his expression or his posture makes her relax very slightly. She pauses, bites her lip, scrabbles in her purse and tosses him a folded up scrap of paper and a very quick, tentative smile, then hurries away.
Castiel picks up the piece of paper and unfolds it carefully. It is a five dollar bill. His heart clenches painfully in his chest, and he feels a sudden rush of love for this stranger that shocks him with its intensity. A rush of love for all of these isolated souls struggling to get by in their broken world and reaching out to one another day after day. It is not only Dean Winchester who deserves saving, he sees now. They all do. Castiel clasps the money tightly and does not allow himself to weep. He has been given a chance by virtue of a human's compassion for a stranger – not a gesture made out of unthinking obedience to the Lord, but a gift freely given from one vulnerable soul to another. This is what free will means – not only selfishness, but selflessness too.
Uriel has always been wrong about humankind. They are inexpressibly precious. Castiel is still numb and shocky, but he cannot regret choosing to spare the Winchester brothers, even though it cost him everything he knew and loved.
He stands up awkwardly and brushes at the muck on his coat. Castiel knows that he looks dishevelled and disreputable, and that this may lead to problems. But he has a little money and the memory of kindness to sustain him, and he is not going to lie down and wait for some demon to wander by and find him. He knows how the world works, has been watching people in all manner of circumstances for millennia. He can negotiate this modern world, and he will carve himself a place here.
Castiel is feeling a little less confident in his ability to understand the nuances of human interactions two hours later, when the truck driver giving him a ride pulls over and indicates that sexual favours are in order. He is quite a large man, and not particularly finicky about personal hygiene, and although Castiel is grateful for the ride he has not really warmed to the man. This turn of events puts the seal on his dislike.
“No thank you,” says Castiel, when he understands what is being suggested.
The truck driver, whose name is Jay, looks distinctly unimpressed. “Don't pull that shit on me. You knew what you was getting into, pal.” He reaches for Castiel with one large hand, and Castiel scoots back to the furthest side of the cab. This is undignified and ridiculous.
“I offered to pay you,” says Castiel reasonably. “I have money here with which to reward you for your kindness.”
“Fuck that. C'mon over here, pretty, and stop screwing around. I want to feel that mouth on my cock.”
Castiel darts a glance down at the man's crotch and grimaces slightly at the tell-tale bulge in the denim. He really hadn't given much thought to this sort of thing, and in retrospect he realises that this was unconscionably foolish of him. Humans are always thinking about sex. He knows that.
“No thank you,” he says again, and tries to be as clear as he can. “I do not wish to copulate with you.”
“Yeah?” Jay's affable face grows harder. “Well, maybe I'm not askin' you to, pal. Maybe I'm tellin' you.” Castiel does not much care for the smile that crawls over Jay's face. “You're just a little prick tease, aren't you? But I don't like playing games. I'm going to have to teach you to mind your manners.” He looks rather excited at the prospect, and it is only then that Castiel really understands that this too is something that can be done to him whether he wills it or not. Castiel's strength is only that of a mortal man, and Jay is a larger, heavier and stronger mortal man by far.
“No,” says Castiel again, to himself as much as Jay, and he startles himself with the ferocity of his attack. He breaks Jay's nose before the man realises what's happening, and then punches him hard in the gut, and suddenly the truck is full of the smell of blood and the furious wheezing bellows of the truck driver. Castiel seizes the moment while Jay clutches at his nose, and lets himself out of the truck. He wishes that he could just will himself elsewhere, but now that he has lost his wings he is obliged to settle for more prosaic forms of escape. Castiel runs into the shadow of the trees that edge the highway, stumbling slightly over uneven ground in his office shoes, and hides there, watching and waiting to see what will happen next.
His pulse is faster than normal, and it is not simply a reaction to the burst of speed. Castiel can feel his muscles tensing and adrenaline coursing through his body, readying it for another dash deeper into the trees if Jay shows any signs of pursuit. It is all so thoroughly biological, even Jay's discourteous behaviour is motivated by the clamours of biology. Sometimes he forgets that humans are animals. That he is now an animal. And now that he considers it, he realises that he needs quite urgently to empty his bladder, and in fact has needed to for some time now, but had not recognised the signs. He fumbles slightly with the zipper, takes tentative hold of his penis and points it at a tree. Since he manages not to urinate on his shoes or his trousers, or to catch the delicate skin on the metal teeth as he refastens the fly, he considers the business a success. But it is lowering to realise how much of his time must be taken up with maintaining his body just to keep it going. He will need to drink water soon, and to eat something, and to defecate, and he will need to find somewhere sheltered to sleep. And ablutions would be welcome. Castiel sighs. It all seems needlessly complicated, and the human body seems rather less of a wondrous miracle than he had once supposed.
The truck pulls away and drives off into the distance, but Castiel stays quiet among the trees for quite a while just to be sure it is not a trap. When he is certain that Jay is long gone, he returns to the road and resumes his journey afoot. He realises quite quickly that these shoes are not really the most ideal walking shoes, but he trudges on regardless. He has five dollars in his pocket, and he is going in the right direction to reach Bobby Singer in the fullness of time. Somebody will give him a ride eventually, he is sure.
He is right about that. But he had not for a moment expected it to be Ruby.
Ruby lets the window roll all the way down before she leans across and looks Castiel up and down. Her expression is distinctly wary, but with an edge of incredulous hilarity lifting her brows and twisting her mouth. "Jesus, you fucked Dean."
Castiel has been frowning since the moment he recognised her, but at this exclamation his scowl deepens even further and he crosses his arms in front of his chest. "What?" he says, and that isn't at all what he had intended to say to this creature, but she has startled him and momentarily derailed his busy train of thought. He stops trying to think of ways to kill her, now that he is mortal and unarmed, and simply stares instead. "What are you talking about?"
"You're human," she says, looking at him narrowly. He flinches. "They busted you down to earth, didn't they?" He looks away, pressing his lips together tightly. "Had to be something major. You totally fucked Dean, and now you're on the run." She frowns. "Without him?"
Castiel is baffled and offended in equal measure. "I am not on the run. The host know where I am." He considers again the assertion that he has had some kind of carnal involvement with one of the humans and tries to understand what can possibly have brought her to such a conclusion. "You are not making any sense." His mind skips on to more important matters. "How did you locate me?"
She shakes her head."This, believe it or not, is serendipity. Pure coincidence."
"I do not believe in coincidence," says Castiel. The sun is dipping down towards the horizon, painting the sky with garish streaks of crimson and pink and lavender. It is starting to grow cold. Castiel's feet hurt, and he is thirsty, and his body has been sweating and making his clothes dirty. He would really, really like to get into the warm car and go to sleep. If only it wasn't being driven by a demon.
Ruby's brow wrinkles. "Yeah, me neither," she admits. "Still – I wasn't looking for you. Fuck, the last thing I'd be doing is looking for another fallen angel – you think I've got some kind of a death wish? I've got enough forces pissed at me without aiding and abetting a celestial felon." Castiel is unconvinced. It strikes him as entirely plausible that she intends to hand him over to the highest bidder. She owes him no loyalty. "But you know where they are, right?" He does not trust the sudden spike of urgency in her voice. He does not trust her. "I've not heard from Sam for days. Nothing. I can't sense him out there anywhere. I was starting to think maybe - but then you're here. Human. Something big went down. Spill." Castiel regards her in silence and some of the cocksure mockery leaves her face. "Oh, fuck. They're not dead. They're okay, right? Sam's okay? I thought for sure I'd have heard if - damn you, talk to me!" Her mask slips for a moment, her eyes suddenly black as sin.
"I do not know where they are," he says quite clearly, meeting her tar dark eyes and willing her to see this is the truth. "They are hidden. I cannot help you."
"But he's okay?"
Castiel looks very hard at the thing that has disguised itself as a young woman, and allows himself to consider the possibility that she is sincere. He dismisses it almost instantly. She is a demon.
Still - he has questioned his own orders. He has disobeyed. Surely it should be far less thinkable for an angel to go against his orders than for a demon to wriggle out of obeying hers. And yet that has happened.
Her expression is surprisingly raw, perfectly balanced between fear and agression. Very human. He is relieved to find that he would still have known her instantly for a demon, even without his grace; although he can no longer see her true face through the human shell, it seems that some things linger, and this subtle sense for wrongness is one of them. Perhaps this is something like the way that human psychics perceive the world? He could never take her for anything but one of the Fallen. Still - her expression is disconcertingly human. It reminds him irresistibly of the look on Dean's face as he stood between Castiel and his little brother, and he tries to understand what it is about Sam Winchester that can inspire such loyalty. If loyalty it is, and not merely the appearance of it. After a moment he nods, warily. "As far as I know, Sam Winchester yet lives. But I do not know his whereabouts, and I shall not help you find him." He turns away from the car and resumes his journey, wondering whether she will attack him. He can feel her black eyes boring into his back as he walks away from her. She shouts something, but he cannot make out the words and does not strain to hear them. It occurs to him that cars make excellent weapons, and that human flesh is very frail, and he wonders whether this is going to be his ignominious end.
He flinches slightly when he hears the engine roar to life, but a moment later she pulls up next to him instead of mowing him down from behind. Her eyes look human once more. "You really not on the run from your side?" Castiel glances at her sideways and gives a curt shake of her head. "So they threw you out with a great big target on your back?" Put that way, it does not sound very good. "And I thought my side were the evil bastards." He keeps on walking, and she drives slowly along beside him, watching him thoughtfully. "Oh, get in already," she snaps at last, rolling her eyes. "Just get in. I've got a hex bag in the glove compartment – you can drop off the radar. I'm surprised you've lasted this long."
"You are a demon of the pit," says Castiel, pausing and turning to look at her. He tries to read her intentions in her expression and tries not to think about the blisters forming on his feet, or how thirsty he is. He keeps his arms crossed in front of his chest and glares at her.
"I think the word I'm looking for is 'Duh'. But you're not exactly Mister Moral High Ground right now, are you? Come on. Get in." She waits for a count of five. "Or don't. Your funeral, pal." She turns her attention back to the road, and Castiel sees the possibility of shelter and sleep and a familiar face receding. He has opened the door before he knows it is even his intention to do so, and then he is sitting in the front of her car and carefully pulling on a seat belt. He doesn't meet her eyes. "Thought so," she says, and pulls away from the curb with a screech of rubber.
Castiel drums his fingers on his knees and wonders whether he has just made a truly terrible error of judgment. He is still rather new to the business of exercising free will and making his own decisions.
After a few moments, he casts her a sidelong glance. "Do you have water?" he asks, since he is already in her debt.
She inclines her head to the back of the car in a sharp nod, and he sees a large, mostly full bottle rolling on the seat. "Help yourself, if you don't mind getting demon cooties," she says.
He stretches back, clasps the warm plastic with one hand, and pulls his prize towards him. His parched throat rejoices as he unscrews the little cap and tips back his head. Castiel had never imagined that water could be such a pure, unbridled source of delight, and he marvels at how sensitive this flesh is, how quick to clamour of pain or pleasure. Ruby's mouth twitches as his throat bobs with each deep swallow, but he can weather her mockery. She has had time to accustom herself to this mortal form, and has had, besides, the memories of her human existence to fall back upon. For Castiel, everything is new.
He has the presence of mind, just, to remember not to drink it all. It is a gift, after all, and that would be shockingly discourteous. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and feels a rush of gratitude towards the creature at his side which startles him; just so easily can human feelings be won over. He must be on his guard against making decisions based upon simple sensation. Nevertheless, his suspicion has lost some of its edge, and as he replaces the bottle - now much lightened - on the back seat, he feels an impulse to reach out in return.
"I did not fuck Dean Winchester," he says, carefully, just to be clear. It was like suggesting that he had wanted to eat the man.
Ruby's eyebrows flick up towards her hairline. "Okay then," she says. "Pity. I thought maybe we could form some kind of club. Get a twelve step program going, or something." He stares at her blankly. "Joke," she says, when he continues to look baffled. "Oh boy. You're going to be the life and soul of this party, aren't you?" She looks at him. It is strange to sit in such a small, confined space with another person, breathing their air and sharing their warmth. This car is a lot smaller and rounder than Dean's car. It is also quite startlingly yellow, although not, happily, on the inside. Ruby smells clean, and something else – a faint, spicy, animal aroma that warms him oddly. Castiel suspects that he himself neither looks nor smells particularly good at this point. “So you got a plan?” she asks, after a moment. “Joining the priesthood? Becoming the next American Idol?”
“Yeah, okay, can't really see you getting down with your bad self for Simon Cowell. But – you got a plan?”
He realises, a little belatedly, that Ruby is nervous. She is talking too much, and carrying herself with all this brittle, careless bravado, because she is still, on some level, reflexively scared of him. He supposes he is lucky that she has not reacted to that fear by lashing out. Yet. Meanwhile he turns his attention to her question. It is an excellent one. Does he have a plan? Castiel realises that, yes, he does.
“I shall become a Hunter,” he says.
“Makes sense. You can hang with your boys and save the world, one monster at a time.”
“I shall not see the Winchesters again.”
Her jaw drops, and her cocky composure falls away entirely. “What?”
"I shall not help you find them," says Castiel firmly. "The danger is too great."
Ruby whistles softly between her teeth. "Like, worse than normal? 'Cause, I gotta tell you, having Lilith pissed off and on your tail is no cake walk."
Castiel looks straight at her, and then glances down at his powerless flesh, thinking about his blisters, his thirst, his incipient hunger and the unaccustomed weariness in his bones. Thinking about his undignified encounter with his own Good Samaritan, and with a truck driver who would have been right at home with the poor hosts of Sodom. "I have let myself come to this pass simply to keep them safe," he says softly. "This is no joking matter."
"So they're up shit creek without a paddle or a boat, and you're just planning to leave them to it?
Castiel hadn't thought of it in quite those terms before. He feels a rush of something he realises, after a moment, is indignation, followed quickly by one of helplessness. "What good can I do them like this?" he asks. "And I cannot risk the host of heaven finding them through me."
"It's heaven they've got on their asses this time?" She looks appalled.
He nods. There is a long silence after that. "Okay, if that was meant to reassure me, and make me back off from wanting to find Sam? Probably not your best strategy," says Ruby at last. Her mouth is a small, tight line and she looks older than her body's years. Castiel considers her statement, and is forced to concede that she may have a point.
They drive on through the gathering darkness in tense silence until at some point, and for the first time in all the long centuries of his existence, Castiel falls asleep.
Castiel dreams of light, and flight, and the music of the spheres, and when consciousness finally claims him the sudden sense of wrenching loss leaves him breathless and reeling. He blinks dazedly at Ruby, trying to come to terms afresh with the disorientation of falling, of being bound to a body with bones like lead and flesh that is dying one cell at a time. The memory of the dream dissolves like snowflakes on the tongue, and he feels strangely bereft.
"So, angels snore," says Ruby dryly. "Who knew?"
He does not know how to reply. It is shocking to him that he has so quickly become intimate with this creature, that he has let down his guard so completely and allowed himself to be helpless in her company. "What is this place?" he asks instead, peering out of the window at what seems to be a parking lot. The fat yellow moon is high in the star-sprinkled sky, and light pours out of the windows of the building before them, but beyond it the night is as dark as a demon's eyes.
"Have you eaten?" asks Ruby. Castiel's stomach takes it upon itself to growl in reply, which embarrasses him and surprises a snort of laughter out of her. "I'm going to take that as a no. Me neither. C'mon, champ – got to keep putting fuel into that body you're wearing, or it's not going to last you five minutes."
He is startled by how hungry he feels – if this sensation is hunger, and it seems likely that it is. "I have only five dollars," says Castiel, looking at her uncertainly. "Will that suffice?"
Ruby tilts her head and looks at him with an expression he finds difficult to read. "What did I do to deserve this?" she asks herself. "Seriously, I've never thought of myself as a Sugar Mommy. And I'm not going to make a habit of picking up waifs and strays and feeding them. But – relax. Dinner's my shout. Think of it as a 'Welcome To This Mortal Coil' present. I don't think Hallmark make a card for that, so dinner will have to do."
"You have enough money to feed us both?"
"I do." She eyes him narrowly. "But you probably don't want to know where it came from, so don't ask. We'll both be happier that way."
He considers protesting, but concludes that there is little point – and, besides, he's hungry. So Castiel nods, unfastens the seat belt carefully, and follows her out of the car and into the neon-lit roadhouse.
"I do not know what food I like," he admits, as they crunch through the loose gravel towards the door.
Ruby gives him another of her sidelong looks. "This your first time?" He nods, feeling slightly foolish. Eating is such a common human thing. She grins. " Food is great. It's almost my favourite of the pleasures of the flesh – but then, you're an angel. I'm guessing you're a teetotaller, and you eat something prissy like salad. Maybe fresh fruit, if you're feeling daring. I'm pretty sure they're all out of nectar and ambrosia. Unless it's deep fried." She pushes open the door and he follows her inside. He does not ask what her favourite pleasure of the flesh might be, but he can hazard an educated guess.
The room smells of smoke, stale grease and spilled beer, and the music is rather too loud, but the tables are clean enough and the waitress, despite the shadows under her eyes, has a warm and infectious smile. "Hi there, folks! My name's Estelle. What can I get you today?"
Ruby accepts one of the plastic-coated menus and glancing down at it quickly."I'll have the nachos supreme," she says. "With extra jalapenos."
The waitress looks at Castiel who, inevitably, thinks of Dean. "The double cheeseburger, please," he says. "With fries." He wonders whether they have pie. Dean Winchester, he has observed, is inordinately fond of pie.
"And to drink?"
"Beer," says Castiel gravely, because it is what the Winchesters would drink, and because it is not what Ruby expects of him. He hears her make a muffled choking sound next to him, and feels a little rush of satisfaction.
"Make that two," she says. "And a couple of whisky chasers." She glares a challenge at Castiel, but he just sits up a little taller in his seat and returns her look calmly. Ruby grins in spite of herself.
"Coming right up."
Obviously, Castiel is aware of the perils of alcohol. He has seen countless thousands upon thousands of mortals growing intoxicated through one substance or another over the centuries. He isn't naïve. But what he had never really taken properly into account, while he was primly observing generation after generation falling foul of the grain or the grape, was how pleasant the effects of alcohol actually were at the time. The past couple of hours have been very educational. He has come to realise that the loud, clumsy music with its angry, urgent pulse is really rather stimulating. He has also discovered that food is much more enjoyable than he had expected, with the combinations of sweet, sour, salt and savoury, and of various different textures. Ruby laughs at his face when he accepts a whole mouthful of jalapenos, and at the haste with which he swallows down the rest of his beer to clean the sting from his tastebuds. He is, however, developing a particular fondness for the salty crispness of french fries, and he finds them oddly satisfying to bite in two, the crunchy outside contrasting with the soft, yielding centres. Also, he has concluded that beer is good, and whisky better. (Although he has an inkling that he may revise this opinion in the morning.)
And it is at this point that Ruby introduces him to tequila slammers.
Some time later, with his tongue tingling from the tart tang of lime, and a scattering of salt still clinging to his bottom lip, Castiel leans confidentially up against Ruby. "S'not fair," he tells her, seriously. She nods, but looks a little confused, so Castiel elaborates. "Leaving the humans alone with you lot for millenia. They don't even know you exist!"
"Hey, former human sitting right here," says Ruby, stealing one of his fries and swiping it through the remants of salsa smeared across her plate. "You're preaching to the choir, champ."
"'Zactly," says Castiel, a little frown creasing his forehead as he watches Ruby's hand slide stealthily back towards his fries. "'Zactly. S'not their fault, is the thing. Well, sometimes it is, because some of them know the rules and break them anyway, but there are all these perfectly obedient, charitable, god-fearing...y'know, good people, innocent people, who don't even know they've made a bargain with a demon until they're dragged screaming to the pit."
Ruby nods, and deftly steals another french fry. Castiel, distracted, slaps her hand and looks indignant when she just laughs at him. "And then there are the ones who do it with their eyes wide open," she says, watching him. "Like John Winchester and his son."
Castiel wants to object, but honesty prevents him. "But self-sacrifice," he says, stumbling over his words a little and then carrying gamely on. "It's not...I mean, why do we even have ideas like honour and justice and compassion and love if it's all meaningless? What kind of God lets good people suffer all the torments of the pit when they're just trying to spare someone they love?" He stops short, looking decidedly shocked at his own words.
"I guess that would be the kind of God that you don't work for any more," says Ruby, after a beat. "Sounds like that little jaunt to hell opened your eyes a bit. Or maybe you just got a little too emotionally involved with the Winchester boy? Not that I have room to talk." She takes another slug of her beer, her mouth twisting into a rueful smile. Castiel's shoulders slump. Ruby pats him on the arm. "Chin up," she says, confusingly. Castiel lifts his chin, but it doesn't seem to make him feel any better. "So, speaking of self sacrifice," she continues, waving to the waitress and pointing at their empty bottles. "You want to tell me what brought you down to our level?"
"I disobeyed the Lord," says Castiel bleakly. Ruby steals his last two french fries, but it doesn't raise a flicker of reaction this time. He feels almost sober again.
"Right - that, I'd worked out," she says after a moment. "I'm clever that way. D'you want to maybe give me the Cliff Notes version?" He stares. "What happened?" She does not manage to conceal her frustration, and it strikes Castiel belatedly that this question is the reason that she has been plying him with spirits for the past hour. It doesn't matter.
"The host of heaven all agreed Sam Winchester was lost. He bent those demons to his will and changed the course of fate. He is too strong now for them to control." The waitress arrives and sets down two more bottles of Bud, and Castiel snags his beer automatically and starts picking at the label as he has watched Dean Winchester do. It fills him with a strange sense of loss and bitterness to know that after all of this he will not see Dean again. "It was my task to see them both destroyed, but when I reached their hiding place compassion stayed my hand." He shrugs. "Or folly." He tips his head back and swallows down the beer, one smooth mild gulp after another. He can feel Ruby watching him closely. He looks across the table at her, and reminds himself that she is not to be trusted.
She bites her lip. "I see," she says, and looks away. Castiel wishes he knew how to see into her heart, if heart she has. "And you hid them from the angels?"
"For now," he says. "It cannot last for long, but I have tried to buy them time." He realises then that they may yet both be dead. He has no way to know, now he has lost his grace. The knowledge makes the room feel colder around him. He looks at the smattering of customers still drinking beer or coffee, licking salt from their fingertips or icecream from their spoons, and if he closed his eyes it would be perilously easy to imagine that Dean Winchester and his brother were at one of these tables now, arguing about some case. He has watched them in countless bars and diners just like this, bickering and munching fries and flirting with tired waitresses. He never imagined that he would be in such a place with a demon of the pit, and without them. After a moment he waves the waitress over once again.
"Y'all ready for something else?" the waitress asks, offering up another tired smile.
Castiel nods. "I would like a piece of pie, please," he says carefully, wondering what pie tastes like. He misses Dean Winchester more than he would have imagined possible. "And a double whisky." He meets Ruby's eyes. "Better make that two."
The next time Castiel claws his way back from chaotic dreams of heaven and the pit, he finds himself in an unfamiliar room with a splitting headache, an utterly unexpected erection, and a warm and curvy demon drowsing gently on his chest. After one painful, paralysed moment of sheer incredulity, he recoils so fast and so far that he almost falls right out of the bed. Ruby, sent sprawling on the pillows, cracks her eyes half open and glares at him through the straggling sea-wrack of her hair. In the weak morning light that washes through the pale blue curtains of their dingy motel room she looks beautiful, like a mermaid stranded on some distant shore, and she is one of the most thoroughly terrifying things he has ever seen.
“Calm the fuck down, already,” she says, yawning. “Nothing happened. I'm not that kind of girl.” Belatedly, Castiel takes in the fact that they are both fully dressed, and his heartbeat starts to calm down to something more like its normal rhythm. He can vaguely recall the leer of a man behind a desk as he said that, no, there were no twin rooms, but they had one double left. Perhaps things are not, in fact, as dreadful as he had supposed. “Okay, actually, that's not true: I'm totally that kind of girl,” amends Ruby a moment later, her sooty lashes curving slowly shut once more. She cracks another yawn. “But you, champ, are really not my type. I'd be spitting out feathers for a month.”
Castiel can't quite decide whether to be relieved or offended at this assertion; most of his attention is currently focusing on the truly mortifying way that his body – or at least, one very specific part of his body – is busy ignoring all decorum, taste and common sense right now, and making its presence known. He doesn't even like Ruby, he reminds himself with growing desperation. Although perhaps it was something in his fast-fading dream that has made him so achingly hard, rather than the demon snuggled up against him. He can faintly recall someone, some intimate presence reaching out to him...but already the dream is gone, leaving only the faintest traces of memory to tantalise him. He does not think that it was Ruby in his dream, but it really doesn't seem to make much difference one way or the other. His arousal doesn't seem inclined to calm down any time soon. Tentatively he reaches down and tries to press it away from his stomach, but the contact wrings a startled gasp from his lips and he jerks his hand away again as if burnt. He shoots a glance at Ruby, sure she will be looking right at him with a mocking grin, and is relieved to find her eyes remain closed. Castiel finds that he can still be grateful for small mercies.
Awkwardly he scrambles out of the tangled sheets, adjusts his clothes, picks his way over to the bathroom and locks the door carefully behind him. His reflection in the mirror looks startlingly rakish and debauched, and Castiel feels another rush of guilt at the sight. The man whose form he now inhabits had been a virtuous and god-fearing soul: Castiel very much doubts that he had ever peered into a fly-blown motel mirror and seen himself blinking back through bloodshot eyes, his chin prickly with stubble and his greasy hair sticking out at all angles in blithe defiance of the laws of gravity. He is pathetic. This, Castiel reflects, is clearly the demon's influence. He turns on the faucet and sticks his head into the sink, taking gulp after cool clear gulp of water. They take this so utterly for granted, these privileged people in this thoughtlessly wealthy corner of the world. Limitless supplies of clean water instantly available at the flick of a little bit of metal. Cold water for drinking and hot water for washing available to rich and poor alike so effortlessly that they never even notice it. As ubiquitous as air. Through all the long millennia on earth there has never been so much unthinking luxury as that enjoyed by these people in this land of plenty.
He feels his head begin to clear a little as he begins to rehydrate. There is so very much to be grateful for, he reminds himself. Whether the demon Ruby is to be trusted or not, he still cannot deny that he is grateful for the company; losing the constant sense of his brethren, the sussuration of their bell-bright voices ever in the back of his own mind, has been a shocking shift of perspective.
As has incarnation. True incarnation. Castiel glares down at his unruly body and feels a blush burn his cheeks at the realisation that he knows the best way of dealing with his current - embarrassment. After all, he urgently wants to wash the stink of beer and dirt and sweat from his body and his clothes. Onanism is a sin, of course, but it is pretty small potatoes when compared to the sins he has already committed. Dealing with the troublesome rush of blood to his loins is just another practical task, like brushing his teeth or remembering to eat and drink.
He carefully doesn't think about what a sensory revelation food has proved to be, or about how deliciously liberating he had found intoxication.
As he removes his dirty clothes, Castiel folds each piece up neatly, as he has seen Sam Winchester do, and stacks them atop one another as far from the shower as he can manage. Then, feeling oddly self-conscious and vulnerable without the armour of his clothing, for this is the first time that he has been without it, he steps into the shower and examines the various buttons and dials laid out before him.
The stream of steaming hot water is another revelation. At first Castiel feels awkward and embarrassed at having to rub soap into the naked skin of this borrowed body, and he addresses a wordless apology to the vessel's former owner, wherever in the realm of heaven his departed soul may be. It seems terribly intrusive to be laying hands upon this mortal shell. But as he briskly massages the cheap shower gel into his skin, and feels the sweat and the dirt and the alcohol all wash away, Castiel begins to relax. By the time that he lets his soapy hands slide inevitably back down to clasp his erect penis and his eyes snap shut at the sudden surge of pleasure, he is no longer thinking of this body as anything but his own. He knows how this should work. He has seen humans performing every possible task in every possible way over the centuries, and this particular occupation is almost as popular as breathing. It feels very different to be on the receiving end, of course; extraordinary, how potent the sensations are, how utterly his attention becomes focused on achieving completion, come what may. Although he knows perfectly well that this doesn't matter, that this is just a greedy moment of pleasure, it still demands his whole attention and he cannot concentrate on any of the serious and weighty matters that should be the subject of his thoughts.
Instead all Castiel can think about is learning how to get this right, learning how hard, how fast, what angle, what pressure will wring him with the greatest delight. As he slides his fingers over his heated skin he thinks about the way Dean Winchester touches himself – for Dean, whether he realises it or not, has had no secrets from Castiel. He bites his lip, his mind's eye suddenly full of images of Dean naked and soapy, fingers drifting over his nipples and his belly before they wrap themselves around his cock; certainly he has witnessed this, just as he has witnessed Dean having intercourse with various pretty girls, just as he has witnessed Dean eating breakfast burritos, laying unquiet spirits to rest, killing vampires, playing arcade games, hustling pool, casting worried glances at his brother or writhing in the grip of his nightmares. He has seen Dean Winchester naked countless times, but has never felt a spark of lust. It was never voyeuristic, at the time. Now that he is truly mortal, however, he is getting a crash course in desire, and in retrospect, Castiel finds the memories almost painfully erotic. He closes his eyes and gives himself over to indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, shuddering helplessly as he moves his hands in exact imitation of Dean Winchester's most private moments.
Almost, for just a moment, he can imagine that he is not alone; and when he comes, very soon afterwards, Dean's name is on his lips like a benediction.
His hair is slick and his skin rosy from the shower and from the effects of his brand new favourite pursuit when he emerges from the bathroom with a towel slung around his hips a little later. Ruby sits up in bed, rakes a hand through her tangled hair, and blinks at him sleepily. And then she just blinks.
“Okay, when I said you weren't my type, I may have spoken in haste,” she says slowly, licking her lips. “Really, if I wasn't already up to my neck in disillusioned supernatural prettyboys on the run from heaven and hell, I could find myself tempted.”
“I am not in the business of tempting people,” says Castiel primly. He wonders, though, in the shaky aftermath of his first orgasm, what it would be like to be so lost in rapture with another person. And it occurs to him that he has more than one reason to resent Gabriel. If Castiel had possessed a different vessel, a vessel like Ruby's or Anna's, would that have made Dean Winchester look at him differently? Not that it would have made any difference, of course, since he is only beginning to indulge in thoughts like this now that he is mortal and bound never to see either Winchester boy again. He sighs. “Is there anywhere I can clean my clothes?” he asks Ruby, as she heads for the bathroom.
“This isn't an ad for Levis jeans, champ,” she says, looking him up and down once more. “You're going to look like a jerk standing around in a towel while you wait for your one, pathetic set of clothes to get washed and dried. A hot jerk, but a jerk. Put 'em back on, and we'll pick you up something on the way.”
He frowns at her. “I only have...”
“Five dollars. Jesus. Look, fine, I'll get it – but I'm not planning to deck you out in Armani, here. We're talking strictly Target couture. And then we need to talk about how you're going to start paying your way – I'm guessing credit card scams are a little out of your league, but there's always poker, pool, hustling a street corner...we'll go get pancakes, pick you up some clean clothes and try to come up with some way for you to start pulling your weight. But first, I need a shower. Cleanliness is next to godliness, apparently, and I need all the help in that direction I can get.”
She does not see him blushing as she closes the bathroom door.
It is the ridiculous, insistent little melody of Ruby's cell phone that insinuates itself into Castiel's dream and pulls him back into wakefulness. This time he has not been dreaming of heaven or hell, but rather of driving in the Impala with Dean Winchester through a green and pleasant landscape, and there is a puzzling moment, as he feels the cool glass press against his cheek, the vibration of the engine purring underneath him and the pressure of the seat belt against his chest, when he is not sure what is real and what is imagined.
But Dean's cell phone, he is perfectly certain, would never play 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'.
It had been a nice dream. Peaceful. He tries to hold on to it as he watches Ruby squirm in her seat and dig around in her pocket for the handset. He has always known the presence of his brethren, but their companionship was very different from the connection that he developed with Dean Winchester before he fell. He never imagined that he would envy Sam, but there is a corner of his heart that wishes he could have a friend who would be as loyal, as protective and as ultimately accepting (despite jealousy and hurt and frustration) as Dean is towards his brother. Perhaps Uriel is right to call Dean too possessive of his brother, but Castiel still cannot help envying the intensity of their relationship. He has seen plenty of human families, and he knows that people do not always stand by their siblings, let alone walk willingly into hell to keep them safe. Castiel understands devotion. In truth he is not certain whether he envies Sam the most for being on the receiving end, or Dean the most for having such faith.
Ruby finds the phone and tugs it free. The music gets louder. “You should not answer your cell phone without stopping the car,” Castiel observes helpfully.
She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, thanks for the tip, Rip Van Winkle,” she says, and floors the gas as she thumbs the button on the handset and severs the gaudy ribbon of sound. “This is Ruby.”
Castiel strains to hear the conversation with his inadequate mortal ears, but he cannot make out what the tinny voice is saying. He stretches, conscious of the tug and slide of unfamiliar fabrics against his skin and feeling odd and exposed in the snug fitting jeans and long sleeved t-shirt he has acquired since this morning. He misses the formality and structure of his other garb.
“Yeah...Yeah. Right...Okay.” Ruby's voice is tight and businesslike, with none of the brittle wryness he has grown used to over the past days. “Thanks.” Her face is grim as she thumbs the handset off and gives him a quick, sidelong glane. “So we've got to take a little detour,” she says, evenly. He lifts his eyebrows and she gives a shrug. “Hey, you said you wanted to be a hunter, champ. Here's your big chance.”
“Who was that?” he asks. “What has occurred?”
She does not look at him. “That, my friend, was somebody you do not need to know.” She sticks out her chin. “Plenty of...people...don't want to go courting attention from hunters. Or angels. Even failed ones.” He flinches at that. “There's a – a grapevine, I guess you could call it. A network.”
He cannot tell whether she is lying to him. This may well be the point at which she betrays him to her kind. “You speak with demons on your cell phone?”
She gives a little half-laugh that he doesn't know how to interpret. “That wasn't a demon. But – yeah, sure. Hey, some of us have embraced the twenty first century. It's not my fault if your guys are too tight to spring for Blackberries for Team Angel.”
He looks at her blankly. “Angels have no need of such technological tricks,” he points out. He feels unexpectedly defensive.
“Yeah, whatever. I'm just grateful they haven't worked out how to tap into the GPS system, 'cause then we'd all be fucked. Key point: we've got a job.”
“What is this job?”
“Looks like some bright spark's getting set to raise Asmodeus,” she says. Castiel's eyes widen. “It sure would be useful right about now if we had, you know, some guy around who could send demons back to hell with the power of his mind.” She has not asked him anything about Sam since the bar, but he has not made the mistake of supposing that she has given up. There is no mistaking the bitterness or frustration in her voice.
“Asmodeous?” repeats Castiel, licking his lips. “That is - not good.”
Ruby laughs. “They teach you guys understatement in angel school?”
“This is one of the seals.”
“No shit. Asmodeus, Leviathan, Amon, Belphegor, Mammon, Beelzebub and Lucifer. Maybe not in that order, but we know who's going to be the last one on the list.” She glances over at him. “I guess it's too much to hope that you've got any secret ninja skills you've been keeping quiet about? Any special leftover angel-fu you can bring to the table?”
“They were – thorough,” he says, after a moment, trying not to remember the sensation of having his soul slowly flayed. “I am not what I was.”
“This, I know. But are you any use at all?”
He tries not to be offended. It is a reasonable question. “I retain much of my knowledge of heaven and hell, although nothing that would assist the demons in their battle, should I be captured. And I can fight.”
She pulls a face. “So I suppose you're not much worse than a regular human hunter, really.” He bridles a little at that, and she just looks at him. “Champ, you've got no field experience as a fighter without your celestial mojo. You ever used a gun?”
“I have never needed,” he begins indignantly, and then bows his head. “No. But I can wield a blade, and I know the principles of firearms. I can be of use.”
They drive on in silence for a little while, and then Ruby is visibly struck by a thought. “Oh! And, hey – virgin, right?”
Castiel scowls and reddens and is not at all sure where to look. “Obviously.”
She nods to herself. “Okay, cool. Well, that might come in handy, and it's something a girl couldn't hope for from your average hunter. Bonus. Good job, with the not-fucking-Dean.”
If possible, Castiel feels his blush deepen, even as his jeans become mysteriously tighter. “I wish you would not – this is not seemly,” he says. “Angels do not have such desires.”
Ruby cocks her head. “Yeah, but in case you didn't notice? Your halo's kind of slipped, lately.”
“Nevertheless, you should not make such – unfounded assumptions. My relationship with Dean Winchester was entirely chaste. You lessen both of us by thinking otherwise.”
Ruby snorts. “Chill. I'm just saying that the whole celibacy thing could be helpful, okay? Given that Asmodeus is All About The Carnal Desires, and that they're going to be busting his evil ass out of Hell with a great big orgy, it probably doesn't hurt to have a virgin on the team. It was a compliment.”
Castiel digests that. “Oh,” he says uncertainly.
They drive on in silence for some time, and Castiel's thoughts have turned to contemplation of strategies and mortal fighting techniques when he hears Ruby start to sing quietly under her breath. “Dean and Castiel sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes the fall from grace, then comes battling the hosts of hell and wishing that you'd managed to get your skinny ass laid before the freaking apocalypse.”
“Be quiet,” says Castiel, staring at her.
She laughs. “Dude. You let yourself become mortal for the guy. As romantic gestures go, this definitely beats candy and roses.”
“I went against my orders because I believed they were not righteous,” he says angrily. “I did not rebel because of – because of lust. I am not so petty a creature as that. I did not fall because of selfishness.”
“If you say so.”
Castiel reminds himself that it is not this creature's fault that she sees temptations everywhere. She cannot understand what it means to be a member of the heavenly host, because she has only ever been a human, and then a demon. She has always been subject to the frailties of the flesh.
Ruby wets her lips. “I'm just saying – sex is good. Don't knock it till you've tried it.”
“I do not wish to discuss this matter with you,” says Castiel firmly. He refuses to think about his recent investigations into how his mortal body works, or the startling rush of pleasure that had rocked him to the core.
“Hey, was I right about french fries? And tequila?”
“You are a demon of the pit, and I will not be tempted,” he says.
“Castiel, you've pretty much embraced sloth and gluttony already, and I have to say that's sounding a little bit like wrath to me. What's next on the list?”
“You misrepresent me. Humans need to sleep and eat.”
“And get drunk?”
“It was a mistake. One I shall not repeat.”
“That's what they all say.”
Castiel draws a deep breath and counts to ten, something he has learned from watching the Winchesters arguing. “I see no purpose to this conversation,” he says calmly.
“Suit yourself.” She still sounds amused, but he refuses to let her anger him again. Temperance in all things.
“So where are we going, and when do they intend to raise the demon?” he asks instead.
“LA,” she says crisply, and he is relieved that she has let the matter drop. “We're heading for Hollywood, Angel.”
It is difficult, in retrospect, to pinpoint the precise mistake that has led Castiel to his present fix. Perhaps this moment was always inevitable from the first instant he allowed himself to question the Lord. Perhaps he only doomed himself by beginning to confide in Dean Winchester, and forming too deep an attachment to him. Or perhaps it was the decisive action of defying the heavenly host that shaped his destiny. On the whole, though, Castiel is fairly certain that the real cause of his current difficulties is simple: he let himself be seduced into thinking of the demon Ruby as something like a friend. Even though he knew that she could not be trusted, even though he knew perfectly well what she was – he still let down his defences around her. He still gave her the benefit of the doubt.
And so he has only himself to blame if he now finds himself strapped down to an altar in a half-lit lot in a movie studio, surrounded by candles and silken pillows and swags of tatty red velvet. It looks like the set of a bad pornographic film, because it is, in fact, the set of several hundred bad pornographic films. In the shadows he can see all manner of cheap props and set dressings leaning on one another. It is the perfect location for a ceremony such as this: a building whose very walls are thick with the memories of lust and avarice and shattered dreams.
He is ashamed of himself for letting Ruby lead him to this city like a lamb to the slaughter. He knows better than to trust a demon. Granted, he has been excruciatingly lonely without his brethren, without even the Winchesters, but he is not a child to let himself be so vulnerable. He has existed for millenia without a friend, and yet now that he has begun to understand what friendship is, suddenly he is reaching out for it everywhere. Really, he deserves this fate for being so irredemably stupid.
If only he were not also about to be instrumental in opening one of the sixty six seals...
At least, he comforts himself, he was not snatched from his bed in the motel room. At least he had the self-preservation instincts left to have heard the door close behind Ruby, to have risen and looked through the window and watched her drive away. At least he had realised then, albeit far too late, that she had led him into a trap, and had the presence of mind to pull on his clothes and flee, and to put up a fight when they caught him.
Not far enough, though. Not fast enough. Not enough of a fight.
“I'm sorry – am I boring you?” Alastair's tone is soft and poisonous and it makes Castiel flinch in spite of himself. He has been trying quite hard to pretend that the demon is not here. Now he flinches despite his earnest determination not to allow any of them the satisfaction of seeing his fear, because he is, undeniably, terrified. Granted, as an angel – even a lesser angel – Castiel has always been stronger than the vast majority of beings that walk upon the face of the earth. But even when Castiel had his grace intact, Alastair had been too strong for him. Now – now the knowledge of how much suffering this demon can inflict upon his fragile mortal body makes Castiel's very soul shrink with dread.
He watches as the demon circles him, smiling. “That's better,” Alastair says. “Oh, I'm going to have such fun with you, my friend.”
“I will not help you,” Castiel says rather pointlessly, because he needs to say something.
Alastair laughs. “Oh, you don't need to help, sweeting. It's more fun if you resist.”
Castiel swallows. His mouth is dry, and the restraints that bind his wrists and ankles feel cold against his skin. He shivers. Alastair slides the tip of his serrated knife gently up Castiel's leg, watching his face with his head cocked to one side and a small smile curving his mouth. Castiel can feel the blade through the denim, ghosting up towards his crotch, and he shivers at the thought of all this vulnerable skin. The pressure is too light to cut through the thick fabric, but Castiel knows that this can change at any moment, and now he is a soft thing of muscle and sinew and arteries, of delicate membranes and breakable bones. Now he can be hurt, and more than hurt. And nobody is going to come running to his aid.
The tip of the blade slides up against his fly, circles the button at the top and then slips under the dark fabric of his new shirt. The metal feels icy against his skin, but the pressure is butterfly-gentle, too soft to draw blood. Yet.
Alastair licks his lips. He is breathing too fast, and he is looking at Castiel's body with a focussed intensity as hungry as anything Castiel has ever seen. He carefully pulls the knife away and then pushes up the fabric with his hands and looks thoughtfully at Castiel's flat belly. His eyes dart away, up, down, lingering on Castiel's fingers, on the vulnerable line of his throat and the thin skin of his eyelids. Castiel tries to shrink away, but cannot. “It won't be quick,” says the demon, and his tone is almost loving. “I can make it last and last and last, and for you – oh, I'm going to pull out all the stops. They will speak of this for centuries.” He leans forwards abruptly, and Castiel is conscious of a sudden breath of sulpher in the instant before Alastair drops a chaste little kiss upon his furrowed brow. “It will be glorious," he whispers. “You will be my masterpiece. First the flesh and then the soul. You've seen, of course – you know what's in store.” He licks his lips again, and for a surreal moment Castiel almost thinks the creature is going to take a bite out of him, as if he were an apple. “How long will you last, do you suppose?” His voice is low and intimate. “Dean Winchester endured for thirty years before he finally broke, which is longer than most. But, oh, he gave it up to me so sweetly in the end – really, it was worth the wait. How long do you think you can make it last, my foolish, fallen friend? A century? Longer? Or will you buckle within a week?” He leans in close again, searching Castiel's face earnestly for some sort of clue. “What do you think?”
“I think that you are all talk,” says Castiel, in a moment of positively suicidal bravado that he suspects he has learned from Dean. “You don't need to torture me. That will not get you what you want.”
Alastair brushes Castiel's cheek with the backs of two fingers, and traces the whorling shell of his ear almost curiously. “You mean Asmodeus?” He shrugs. “True, true, that is the reason you're here. What better virgin sacrifice than an angel with his wings torn off? I can still see the bleeding stumps, you know. They're beautiful.” He smiles, an unexpectedly sunny expression. “But after they've finished with you, sweeting – after you've been well and truly broken in, and deflowered in every imaginable way, and once Asmodeus has been freed – why, then you're mine. All mine. And we shall paint the whole town red, my lovely little fallen thing.”
“Oh,” breathes Castiel softly, feeling his heart clench with despair.
“Not your best day ever, is it?” agrees Alastair, cheerfully. “Still, you can always comfort yourself with the knowledge that since you're here we won't be sacrificing that hot little nun we'd originally had in mind. That make you feel better?” It does, slightly, and Alastair sees this in his face. “There you are. Don't say I never do anything for you.” He looks up, and a moment later Castiel hears footsteps. “Ah, lovely – here comes company.”
Company, when it arrives, proves to be several dozen attractive young people wearing far too little clothing and carrying blood-red candles in a variety of suggestive shapes. Castiel watches them, nervously. The way they move strikes him as stiff and unnatural, and he suspects that they are under some kind of enchantment. Or perhaps drugged. Alastair leans close enough to whisper in his ear, his mouth brushing Castiel's earlobe. “Born again Christians, the lot of them – got to love the irony. These fine young specimens of humanity have all taken vows of chastity and promised to wait until marriage. But they've decided that this doesn't include oral sex, or taking up the ass.” He licks Castiel's ear. “They were all so ripe for the plucking, with their hypocricy and their lust and their hatred of others outside their little group...it's a thing of beauty, isn't it?”
Castiel watches them, wide eyed, and wonders whether there is any possibility that Uriel or Gabriel or somebody will come crashing to his rescue. Not for his sake, but to keep the seal closed. Surely they will be watching? But he knows all too well how few the host of heaven are, and how many possible seals there are. They cannot be everywhere. He tries not to let himself hope.
One of the girls begins to chant words in Greek, and a boy begins to chant the same words in Aramaic. Two more begin beating a rhythm out on hand drums, the sounds all blending together into something dangerous and urgent.
“They're singing your song,” says Alastair, gleefully, and he brings his knife down to the hollow of Castiel's throat. For a startled moment Castiel honestly believes he is about to have his throat slit, like Isaac on the mountain, but then Alastair jerks the knife down under the collar of the long sleeved t shirt and slices it down the middle, then pulls the two sides open to expose Castiel's chest. “Later, we'll do that again,” he confides, stepping back. “With your skin.”
Castiel shudders. Around him the various young people set down their candles in a loose circle and then begin to writhe, and to tear away their remaining clothes. He watches as they twine around one another, and even though he is frightened for his life and his soul – and, beyond that, for the world, if Asmodeus walks free – he still cannot deny that they are strikingly beautiful, in their twos and threes, all tangled limbs and eagerness. Desirable, even. There is a strange, heavy scent on the air, something sweet and earthy that comes from the flickering candles, and it makes Castiel feel dizzy. He licks his lips, and tries to focus his eyes, but the room is beginning to spin around him and he is growing lost in the sound and scents and colours. This, he knows intellectually, does not bode well – but somehow the knowledge is at one remove, and he can no longer muster up any sense of terror.
After a little while a small, curvacious redhead wearing nothing but a gold charm bracelet pads towards him with a swing of her hips, and anoints his head and chest with oil that smells like some kind of herbs – cardamom, perhaps? And juniper berries? - then leans down to kiss him. Her pupils are enormous, her eyes glazed, her lips full and moist, and her breasts swing down and then crush against his chest as her mouth finds his. Castiel tries to turn away, but she follows him, her breath coming out in soft little huffs of laughter and her firm nipples trailing across his chest, and in spite of everything he feels himself growing hard, and gasps against her mouth. Her tongue darts between his lips, and then Castiel is lost in the middle of his very first kiss.
A little later he feels other hands upon him, deftly unbuttoning and unzipping and then tugging until his jeans are half way down his legs. He tries to say something, flails uselessly against his restraints, but his words are lost against lips and tongues. He can feel fingernails trailing down his torso, lips on his neck and his collarbone, anonymous teeth tugging at his nipples, and someone's hands – then a mouth – closing over his erection, and he cries out.
And of course this is the moment, with his back arching up off the altar, his dick buried in some boy's throat and half a dozen nubile young women and men busy exploring his exposed skin whilst others are busy fucking on the floor around them, that Ruby comes crashing in through the studio doors to save the day, with Sam and Dean Winchester at her side.
Castiel's impression of the ensuing fight is patchy at best. His head is spinning, and there are still naked people scrambling over him for a while, licking and sucking and biting and scratching and generally driving him completely out of his mind. But then Alastair is there, with a hand buried in his hair and that knife at his throat, and Castiel is trying very hard indeed to focus. “Come one step closer and he dies,” says Alastair. “And then he's mine in hell.” Castiel remains sufficiently in touch with reality to know that this woule be a Very Bad Thing. However, there is still someone's head bobbing away enthusiastically between his thighs, so he is not able to give the knife absolutely all the attention it merits.
“Not gonna happen.” Oh, and that's Dean. That's his friend Dean Winchester, who has come to help him after all. Castiel feels sudden warmth blossoming in his chest.
“Dean, Dean, you know you cannot stop me.” Alastair sounds almost amused. “You might be able to stop us from breaking the seal, but you can't save your little angel friend.”
“Nor you, boy.”
“We'll see about that.” That's Sam, Castiel realises after a moment. That's his friend Dean's little brother Sam, the one he was supposed to kill. The one with the demon blood, and the powers he isn't supposed to use. He squints across at the shapes of these people who must be Dean, and Sam – and Ruby? - but his eyes aren't really working very well right now. All the colours seem wrong, and the edges keep bleeding together.
The knife has gone, and the hand has gone, taking some of his hair with it, and there's a scorching smell, a sulphurous smell, and then the last of the hands and mouths are gone and he is simply lying there half naked, blinking, wondering what will happen next.
“Better.” That's Ruby. He thought she'd betrayed him? Perhaps he was mistaken. “You been working out, Sam? 'Cause that's what I'm talking about – you totally kicked his ass!” She sounds positively delighted, and it strikes Castiel that she has missed Sam very much.
“I've had a steep learning curve lately,” Sam says, whatever that means, but Castiel isn't listening to them any more because somebody is pulling up his jeans and hesitantly tucking him back inside, and then Dean Winchester's face is close enough that he can see it clearly.
Castiel beams. “You came!” It was more than he had dared to hope.
Dean's beautiful green-gold-brown eyes are huge, and he's kind of red in the face and shocked-looking. And then his eyebrows lower and he just looks mad. “I can't leave you alone for five fucking MINUTES,” says Dean gruffly as he starts to unfasten the restraints around Castiel's wrist. “You make a really crappy human, you know that? You're like the dumb blonde in every bad horror movie ever written, who goes running out in the middle of the night to get eaten by the monsters. Why couldn't you just stay put? There was a hex bag in the fucking motel, you idiot. You were safe there.”
“Oh,” says Castiel. He blinks, suddenly penitent.
“Yeah, 'Oh',” snarls Dean. “Turns out Sammy has a whole shitload of new Jedi mindtricks now that he's powered up, and telepathy? Would be one of them. He called Ruby up to tell her we were safe – which I don't approve of, because, hello, fucking DEMON, but when she realised we were in LA too on the same damn case she came hurtling over in that bananamobile of hers, and then the next thing I know is you've gone and got yourself captured to be a fucking virgin sacrifice. For fuck's sake.” Dean is breathing too fast. He finishes unfastening the second set of retraints and pulls Castiel up into a sitting position. For a moment Castiel thinks Dean is going to punch him, and then he thinks maybe he's going to hug him, and then he has no idea what to think. Dean's eyes are shining too much, Castiel thinks, but that might just be an effect of the smoke. “You fell for me,” says Dean hoarsely, after a moment. “For Sam. You – they – seriously, I don't know what the fuck to even do with that. I mean, that's pretty huge, right? You're all – they could have killed you. Alastair is one dangerous son of a bitch.”
“You came,” says Castiel again, and he can't seem to get the smile off his face.
“Of course I fucking came, you idiot,” says Dean roughly.
“Looks like everyone came,” says Ruby, looking pointedly at all the writhing bodies. “Well, with the exception of our resident virgin, if the marked absence of Asmodeus is anything to go by. Good job holding out, champ! Can we maybe go somewhere with not so many naked people? And speaking of naked people – you call this taking care of the new clothes I bought you?”
“Sorry,” says Castiel, looking down at the tattered remnants of his new shirt. He notices, belatedly, that his chest is covered with bite marks.
“I should think so too,” says Ruby, stepping closer as Dean and Sam work on the ankle restraints. She punches his arm. “Dumbass.”
Dean is having some difficulty concentrating on the road, because every few seconds he has to glance over at Castiel. And it's weird having the angel - ex-angel - sitting in Sam's place, but not nearly as weird as it is to see the guy in jeans and half a tattered t-shirt framing a strip of pale skin scattered with hickeys, his pupils full-blown and his lips all red and bitten-looking, swollen from too many kisses. Because that, right there, is so far beyond weird that it's pure Bizarro World. And he's got this stupid, dopey, utterly un-Castiel-like grin on his face, and he's just staring over at Dean with his heart in his eyes like Dean is some kind of superhero, or the Baby Jesus, or the guy who first invented pie, or something. Frankly, it is freaking Dean Winchester the fuck out and then some.
There is no way he could ever deserve to be looked at like that. And particularly not by an angel.
But weird as this undoubtedly is, it still beats thinking about the sight of Castiel sprawling helpless on that stupid altar, with his pants around his knees and all those corn-fed jocks and cheerleaders with their hands and mouths and breasts and dicks and, and freaking baby oil all over the place. There just isn't a word big enough to encompass that level of wrongness. Dean would never have imagined that throwing hot, naked cheerleaders at a guy could be considered a bad thing, but this is Castiel we're talking about, and although he might be guy-shaped (and, yeah, that's been established beyond any shadow of a doubt now, thanks. No Ken-doll style sexlessness going on in Castiel's pants, as they are all now very well aware), he's still a freaking angel. He's still the thing that shattered glass, and made Dean's eardrums ring, and left this handprint burned onto his arm like a mark of possession, like a promise. He's still something strange and pure and inhuman, and it couldn't have felt more shockingly inappropriate if it had been Pastor Jim spreadeagled on the altar. An angel, for fuck's sakes. You had to respect that. Like being a nun or something. Like being a kid.
(But the worst bit, positively the worst bit, is that Castiel all dazed and confused and used-looking, with the marks of strangers' teeth still reddening his skin, was hands down one of the very hottest things that Dean Winchester has ever seen. No question. And Dean still feels absolutely furious with everyone, because Castiel is his angel, damn it, not theirs, and if anyone is going to...but that particular train of thought is quickly derailed. Not going there.)
And this is all Dean's fault.
That's the real killer. Castiel - the most powerful, special, downright magical being he has ever encountered or imagined encountering, the one who found him elbow-deep in someone else's blood and still saved him from the pit - Castiel is only vulnerable and lost and human now because of Dean. Alastair can bind him and use him to try to open a seal because of Dean. Because now Castiel is trapped in his human form. Is human. Is vulnerable.
Dean really needs a drink.
"I dreamed this," says Castiel, waving vaguely around at the Impala. He's still got that stupid little grin on his face, still looks dorky and stoned and horrifyingly breakable.
Dean frowns. "You dreamed this?" he repeats.
Castiel nods a little too energetically, like a kid, and, God, Dean just wants to hug him. He shouldn't be let out on his own, for fuck's sakes. He's so clueless it's almost painful to watch.
"Riding - shotgun?" Castiel's voice rises on an interrogative note, trying out the phrase, and Dean can't help smiling. "Riding in your car like this. It was a nice dream." He yawns hugely, and Jesus, Dean suddenly knows what this is reminding him of. Sammy, when he was a cuddly little brat still small enough to fall asleep on Dean's shoulder. There's never been anyone else who's looked at him with that kind of perfect trust and admiration, like he's the still, stable centre of the crazy whirling world, and it leaves Dean feeling like someone has taken an icecream scoop to his heart. He can't remember the last time Sam looked at him like that.
It's quietly terrifying, because Dean doesn't think he can live up to it. He isn't who Castiel seems to think he is. He's just - Dean.
"Nearly home now, pal" he says. Sammy didn't make a big song and dance about it, but there was no question what was what when he got in Ruby's car, and it's not like Dean can blame him. Consider him a crazy sonofabitch who's playing with fire, yes. But blame him for wanting to get some, after walking into the middle of the best porno ever left unfilmed? Not so much. God knows Dean's still got a raging erection, and if he had some hot girl-shaped person making googoo eyes at him like Sammy did - well. Yeah. Sam's only human. Mostly.
Which leaves Dean babysitting the angel. And actually, that's okay by him, because he kind of never wants to let the guy out of his sight again.
(He'd been afraid Castiel was dead. The look on his face in the motel, when he'd said he'd try to buy them time - Dean recognised that look. He knew what it felt like from the other side. That was the look of a guy who wasn't expecting a happy ending.)
Castiel is still watching him like he's the Second Coming, and Dean can feel his cheeks starting to redden. "I never had a friend before," says Castiel unexpectedly, smiling over at him. And that - God, that just slays him.
"C'mon, that's not true," says Dean, because, no, he's not going to go there. He's not going to think about whether or not he's ever had a friend, a real friend, one who knows all his secrets and will still have his back. That's what family is for. Other people have friends. "What about Uriel?" says Dean. Castiel just looks at him. "Yeah, okay, bad example," Dean admits a heartbeat later. "But you must have had some other, you know, heavenly buddies? There's gotta be some angels who aren't total dicks." He reviews this statement. "Not that you were a total dick, obviously. I just meant - y'know, they don't seem all that, ah, nice. If Uriel's a good example."
"Uriel is a good example," says Castiel glumly.
"Oh." Not a lot one can say to that. "I liked Anna," he offers, after a moment. Castiel pulls a face. "Did you ever - I mean, what happened to her?"
"She is restored," says Castiel. "The Lord forgave her crime, so the Host had to accept her return."
Dean stares. "For real? They let her off?"
"They let her off," agrees Castiel. "I don't know why. It's not the kind of question you can ask."
“Oh.” Dean considers this. “Well, but, hey – isn't that good news? Doesn't that mean they might, you know, you might get parole, or time off for good behaviour, or something?”
Castiel just looks at him with those great big eyes, and Dean feels like he has just kicked a puppy. “No,” he says, and all the sunshine has gone out of his face.
“But she fell because she was bored, basically,” says Dean, after a moment. “You were being – I mean, it was compassion, was what it was. It was mercy. You were being merciful. That's got to get you some points, surely?”
“You do not understand the way they work,” says Castiel. He isn't looking at Dean any more. “They did this. She did this, knowing full well what it meant. She was – very thorough.” There is a little pause, and Castiel frowns out into the darkness. “It hurt,” he says to himself in a small voice, almost a whisper.
Dean swallows, and concentrates on his breathing for a bit, because, really, 'sorry' is just not going to cut it, and he doesn't know what else to say.
“Well, you've got a friend now,” he says at last, a little thickly, and is heartened when Castiel's face lights up.
It isn't the ugliest motel room Dean has ever stayed in, but it's not the nicest either. The paint looks like it might have once called itself magnolia, but over time it has mellowed into the dull yellow-brown of a nicotine stain. The furnishings are a disgustingly cheerful lime green. On balance, Dean awards the place three out of five, because the linen is clean and the bath towels are big and fluffy, but it's not exactly palatial. He kind of wishes it were somewhere a bit nicer, since he's playing host to an angel. Not that said angel is in much condition to notice where he's crashing, to be fair.
Jeans. He still can't get over Castiel wearing jeans. In terms of downright wrongness it's like seeing Martha Stewart dressed as a French Maid. Only – hotter. Considerably hotter.
He did not just think that.
“You want a shower? You've still got that – stuff – on you.” Not that he's been looking, obviously, but Castiel's skin gleams everywhere it's visible, and he can smell the spicy fragrance of the oil they rubbed onto him. Into him. Jesus. It's something sweet and distracting, something like cinnamon or nutmeg. Like pumpkin pie, basically. Which undoubtedly explains why there's a voice in the back of Dean's head that's telling him he'd like to lick something. It's a Pavlovian response to the smell of pie. He rummages in a bag. “I've got a shirt you can – I mean, that one's pretty much trashed.” Understatement. Castiel accepts the offered t-shirt with another of these disconcerting smiles, and his fingers, when they brush against Dean's, feel warm and dry and normal. Human. There is none of the static crackle of electricity, none of the half-heard hum of power reverberating in one's bones that Dean had come to associate with the angel. He's just - a guy.
Dean swallows. This is all kinds of weird. This is – it's kind of like having Sam here, but also very much not. His mouth is dry. In some ways it feels more like bringing a girl back, that mix of intimacy and unfamiliarity. Weird. His gaze drops for a seconds to the jeans, and he very carefully does not think about the sensation of denim and Castiel's bare skin under his shaking fingers as he'd pulled up – as he'd adjusted – yeah, REALLY not going to be thinking about that any time soon. Hopefully ever. But, yes, the evidence is still right there, visibly outlined by the denim. Castiel? Quite emphatically not a girl. Even slightly.
Jesus. He really needs a drink. Or maybe ten.
“I like showers,” announces Castiel sunnily, peeling off his shredded shirt, and then his eyes suddenly widen and he flickers a guilty, hand-in-the-cookie-jar look at Dean and then looks hurriedly away, and Dean is fascinated by the sudden flush that rises in Castiel's cheeks and then spreads across his throat and down to his chest even. What the hell can have provoked – oh. Showers. Right.
Great. Another technicolor visual to add to Dean's fast-growing collection of unthinkable thoughts.
“Okay,” he says quickly. “That's nice. So – shower, and maybe drink some water, and then I'm thinking it's beddy-byes for tired former angels, okay? You've had a pretty busy evening, buddy. Time to catch some zees. Oh – and, hey, there's a spare toothbrush in the wash bag. Help yourself.”
Castiel still isn't looking at him, and his face is scarlet now. Dean does his best to look casual about looking away and walks over to the fridge to get a beer, oh-so-naturally, and not at all giving away that, yes, he has understood that the angel has discovered the joys of happy fun times with shower attachments. When he hears the bathroom door close behind him, his shoulders sag.
“What the hell is wrong with me?” mutters Dean, staring down at his crotch like it has just betrayed him. “There is no way that should be hot.”
So the jeans thing had been weird, but when Castiel emerges from the bathroom with his bedhead all slicked back, looking fresh-faced and clean-scrubbed and innocently rosy, with several hickeys still visible above the collar of one of Dean's favourite shirts, and several more on his thighs leading up into the boxer briefs, Dean's brain officially blows a fuse.
Castiel's smile is quite a lot less stoned-looking than before, and slightly shy. He looks younger like this. “Thanks,” he says, and looks at the beds. “Which one is...?”
“That's Sam's,” says Dean quickly, pointing. “Knock yourelf out. I'll just...” he nods at the bathroom. “Yeah. Right. Sweet dreams, in case, you know.”
“Good night, Dean,” says Castiel, and he's still giving him that frighteningly intense look. That Oh-my-God-you-rock-so-hard look that Dean knows perfectly well he doesn't deserve in the slightest. “And thank you for – everything.”
“Don't mention it.” He doesn't run into the bathroom, exactly, but it's close.
Once there, he sets the shower as cold as it will go and stands underneath it and shivers until all insane and inappropriate thoughts have been thoroughly frozen out of his body. When he tiptoes out of the bathroom some time later, all goosebumps and minty freshness, Castiel is fast asleep. Which is an enormous relief, for reasons Dean doesn't much want to look into right now.
It's only a tiny sound, but it still wakes Dean up at once. A small, stifled, unhappy sound from the other bed, and for a moment he thinks it's Sam having another nightmare, because this has happened so many times – and then he remembers that it isn't Sam after all. It's Castiel.
Dean lies there and stares at the ceiling, and feels really, really bad. And then there's another little noise, just a tiny noise, but it's utterly miserable. And Dean knows plenty about nightmares himself these days – although tonight, for a change, he hasn't been enduring one himself. He chews his bottom lip, and when it happens a third time that decides him. He's still halfway asleep, but he gets out of bed and pads across in the darkness, just like he used to do when Sammy was only a little kid, and could still be cuddled like a teddy bear. Back when it had been a lot easier to offer comfort, and receive it. And it's maybe kind of weird that he doesn't feel more awkward about doing this – because he wouldn't go cuddle Sam out of a nightmare these days, not even after Jessica, because guys don't do that – but the thing is that Castiel isn't a guy, exactly. Not quite. And he's Dean's responsibility.
He slides into the bed behind Castiel and wraps one arm cautiously around him. “Sssh. Sssh, now. It's okay. You're okay,” he says, rubbing soothing little circles against Castiel's warm skin. “I've got you now. You're safe.”
He feels Castiel's shoulders relax against his chest, and then both feels and hears the sigh that shudders through him. For one awful moment he worries that he may have misjudged this entirely, and considers jumping back out of the bed. But then he feels warm, dry fingers reaching for his hand and lacing themselves with his. “Thank you,” says Castiel, with such desperate sincerity that Dean gives him a sudden, bone-crushing hug. “Oh, thank you.”
Dean falls asleep with his face pressed into the nape of Castiel's neck, and the lingering smell of cinnamon in his nostrils.
It isn't that Dean excels at everything. He's got a pretty broad skills base – had to pick up an awful lot of things over the years, learning how to make do and mend, how to do the kind of stuff that moms and dads are supposed to do at the same time as learning how to be a good soldier in his father's private army – but for the most part he's just kind of getting by. He can cook, sew, improvise his way around most kinds of machines, but he's never going to be a great chef, never going to embroider cushion covers for the Impala or build a nuclear reactor. One thing everyone who knows him even slightly well agrees on, though: Dean Winchester has great reflexes. He can aim a gun and squeeze the trigger before his brain has consciously registered which shadow holds the monster. He can turn the Impala on a dime, spot a hot chick in need of assistance at two hundred paces and order the cherry pie before he realises he's just caught its scent wafting fresh from the oven.
So it's probably not all that surprising, given the delicate brush of eyelashes grazing his lips as he sleeps, given the pressure of a dreaming mouth against his collarbone, the intimacy of a firmly muscled leg wedged between his thighs, the gentle weight of drowsy fingers wrapped around his wrist and the scent of cinnamon rising sweet and tempting from warm skin just a few scant inches away, that Dean's already hip-deep in trouble by the time he opens his eyes and looks at the person he's wrapped around. Who is perfectly visible in the morning light that streams through the thin green curtains, and who is very much not someone he generally finds himself plastered to first thing in the morning. And by the time his higher brain functions have kicked in, and words like “guy” and “angel” and “plausible deniability” have started to wander through his mind – well, by that time he's already started kissing Castiel, and gotten kissed back, and by then it's far too late to pretend this isn't exactly what he wants to be doing. Possibly for the rest of his life.
“Fuck,” he gasps eventually, and although he means it more as a general exclamation of astonishment and fervent enthusiasm, from the way Castiel tilts his head and licks his lips, it's being taken more as an offer, or maybe a request.
“Yes,” says Castiel, after a moment, staring right into his eyes with an expression like...like...God, Dean doesn't have any idea what to call that kind of look without sounding like a fucking Valentine's Card. And the angel's not stoned now, and he's right there, with his face serious and thoughtful and his hands wrapped...his legs pressed...Jesus, his dick, for fuck's sakes, right up close and personal and just about as human as it's possible to be. Dean catches his breath a little, because, shit, this is really happening. Really going to happen. And the really terrifying part is that he wants this to happen, wants it for himself more than he's wanted anything for a long while now.
And then he wonders how to ask who, which way – ah, crap. Because, here's the thing: it's not that Dean never notices guys. He does notice guys, sometimes, if they're worth noticing. If they've got something about them. But he likes girls plenty, thank you very much, and his life is already freaky enough without borrowing trouble. And it's not like he's had that many opportunities for privacy and experimentation in his life – and no way in hell he'd volunteer to have Dad or Sammy think that he maybe, know that he – yeah, just no way. So the thing is that he's not actually done this before. In point of fact. With a guy. When it comes right down to it.
Which, considering that he's got a kind of (well deserved!) reputation as a Casanova, and seeing as how he knows for an absolute fact that Castiel's previous experience involves - well, okay, to be fair it involves a drug-fuelled orgy with satanic cheerleaders and half the football team, but the guy's still got this whole pristine, fresh-from-the-box, untouched-by-human-hands thing going on in spades, and, well, all things considered, Dean's inexperience is a bit embarrassing.
Although, of course, Castiel knows everything he's ever done, or thought of doing, in this world or the next. And it doesn't seem to bother him that Dean's not exactly bristling with know-how when it comes to fucking guys, or being fucked by them.
So maybe he should skip the whole freak out and get on with acquiring a little more hands-on experience.
He swallows. “For real?” he asks, his voice little more than a rasp, and then he's embarrassed by how ragged and unsmooth he sounds. But – Angel of the Freaking LORD here. Which, okay, Anna had been too (and that, along with her sweet body and her uncomplicated enthusiasm about sex, had been a big part of her appeal. Her hand on his scar. The thought of unseen wings and of arms strong enough to pull a person out of hell), but he'd started off seeing her as a girl. A human in need of his help. But Castiel – that's something else entirely. This is his angel.
Castiel's mouth gives that little quirk that's as much of a smile as he's been used to seeing on the guy – not like last night, when he was all bright-eyed and beaming like some kind of debauched Stepford Wife. This is his Castiel. Kind of. Without the scare-the-living-shit-out-of you threat of power barely held in check. Without the half-felt waft of wingbeats stirring the hairs on the back of your neck and the clean ozone breath of unspent lightning prickling at your nose. So – not quite the Castiel he's grown to know and – yeah. Whatever. But still his Castiel. Maybe more than ever.
“For real,” says Castiel, looking at him again with that half-smile that isn't exactly shy, but isn't exactly not. And then Castiel's mouth finds his again, and Dean loses track of time in the warm slide and slip and dip and tangle of tongues, with his legs clenched around Castiel's thigh and grinding desperately, and Castiel's hand - the hand that saved him, restored him and marked him with its brand - Castiel's warm, human hand clasping his ass tight enough to bruise, pulling him in even closer.
“You're killing me here,” Dean gasps after a while, and his face almost hurts now from grinning like a fucking idiot, but he just can't seem to stop. He feels lighter than air, joyous, astounded, gleeful; he feels like he's won the fucking lottery and been handed the keys to the kingdom. He feels like he just got busted out of hell and is taking his first breaths of cool, clean, earthly air.
“That was never my intent,” says Castiel gravely, just a trace of a smile in his voice, and Dean stares at him for a heartbeat, and then bites him. And then, without really planning to, Dean's suddenly wrestling the guy in earnest, snorting with laughter but still shoving and straining and pushing harder and meaner and just much less considerate than he would ever dream of being with a girl; competing, measuring strength, trying to pin the guy just to know if he can. Because maybe he can, now – and this is the creature that owned him, the one that forced him to know that it could make him yield, could make him break. Could make him beg. Could send him back to Hell. And now he can maybe pin it down – pin him down – and have him. Take him. Own him. Mark him. It makes something hungry and eager and not very kind uncurl in Dean's belly, and so they roll and scramble and grunt and twist and fall right off the bed and still keep on going, tussling and flexing and straining until at last he pins Castiel's wrists down hard and scissors his legs around the angel's waist and makes him be.
“I want to fuck you,” he pants in Castiel's ear, holding the angel down and feeling him shudder. “Say yes.”
“Yes,” says Castiel at once, watching him darkly through half-lidded eyes and breathing too hard. “Yes. Yes. Please. Now.” And Dean has to close his eyes and take a deep breath to stop himself from coming right then and there.
“I love you,” he mutters into Castiel's shoulder after a moment without really meaning to, the words torn out of him because they're the only thing that can wrap around this feeling, this helpless sense of his heart expanding in his chest, this possessive surge of sheer tenderness that insists on getting tangled up with his nice, straight-forward lust. It's nothing like the feeling he normally associates with sex, neither random hookups nor actual girlfriends. It's a punch to the gut. It undoes him. It's terrifying in its intensity – something with strings attached, something with consequences. Something inescapable and utterly neccesary, like oxygen. Like family. “Oh, God, Jesus, Fuck, I love you. You. I love you!”
“Yes,” gasps Castiel beneath him, and he sounds raw, like something inside him has just cracked right open, and Dean lifts his head and looks at him, really looks at him, and stops pretending that he doesn't understand the look in Castiel's eyes. And then nobody says anything at all for a while, because for a little stretch of time kissing seems more urgent than anything else either of them can think of, including sex.
Before very long, though, Dean's penis makes a determined bid to remind him that he is, in fact, a guy, despite soppy declarations that might seem to indicate otherwise, and that it would like very much to get a little more of the attention it so richly deserves.
“Stay there,” Dean says, almost a growl, and Castiel doesn't make any smart remarks about the floor maybe not being the most comfortable place for a person to lose their virginity, just nods and stays put while Dean drags himself away from all that warm and hard and yielding angelflesh to scrabble in the pocket of a bag where he's fairly sure there should be some lube and some condoms. Hopefully. And evidently God does still love him, hit squad notwithstanding, because, yes, there is lube, and, yes, there are condoms. Dean punches the air just a split second before he realises what a gigantic dork that makes him, but concludes that Castiel already knew he was a gigantic dork, and indeed every other infinitely worse thing about him, and still seems to be sticking around, so what the hell. He turns back to the bed, and sees Castiel lying obediently on the carpet and watching him with this weirdly tender expression, and Dean's heart gives a startled little stutter of joy.
“Get up,” he says, feeling like a total jerk but still glowing with the knowledge that Castiel doesn't seem to give a damn. “Sorry, I didn't mean for you – get up.” He reaches down and takes Castiel's hand and pulls him to his feet, then drops his hands down to Castiel's waist and just holds him there, grinning like a fool. “It's not exactly a four-poster, but I guess you can have an actual bed to lose your virginity in. I'm in a generous mood. Besides, I'm too damn old for carpet burn.”
Castiel nods. “I think the bed would be more comfortable,” he agrees, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiles and slides his fingers experimentally up under Dean's t-shirt. “And fewer clothes.”
“Fuck, yeah,” agrees Dean, because that is definitely the best idea ever, and clearly his angel is a genius. He wrenches his t-shirt over his head with such eagerness that he manages to get tangled in the damn thing, somehow, and then Castiel is laughing, and trying to help him, and then just laughing. Dean works the fabric off his head and gives Castiel a very deadpan look, and Castiel laughs even more.
Dean can't remember ever seeing the guy laugh, and it's this, more than anything else, that really brings it home to him that Castiel really and truly is human now.
“Dean Winchester, I do love you,” says Castiel, still shaking with laughter, and Dean kisses him very hard indeed, then picks him up and throws him onto the bed with a sort of comedy caveman growl, and watches the angel – former angel - sprawl there still laughing, all loose-limbed and boneless.
Well, no, maybe boneless isn't the best description, Dean corrects himself, looking at Castiel's crotch. He gives Castiel a mock-glare. “Nudity. Now.”
“Your wish is my command,” says Castiel, and Dean's about to make some smart-ass remark about Castiel being a genie, and how maybe Dean ought to buy him some of those see-through harem pants and a sparkly bikini top or something, but then Castiel crosses his arms and peels the shirt over his head in one, smooth, sinuous move, revealing bare skin and perky nipples and bite marks from half the football team, and Dean sort of loses the power of speech. And then he's darting forward to help peel off the shorts, and then it's just the two of them on the bed, skin to skin. Mostly. “You're still clad,” points out Castiel disapprovingly, and Dean lets him help get rid of the shorts. “Better,” grants Castiel a moment later, looking at him. And then the smile sort of melts away, and Castiel looks up at him with such an intense, hungry, downright purposeful expression that it takes his breath away. “Fuck me now,” he says with more than a trace of the old imperiousness, and Dean almost swallows his own tongue.
“Yeah,” he agrees thickly. “Hell yeah.” He scrabbles around for the condom, and is about to open it when Castiel's hand closes on his. He looks up.
“I don't want that,” says Castiel, frowning. “I want to feel you. All of you. In me.”
“Guh,” says Dean, all smooth and articulate-like. “It's just...” he runs several possible conversations very quickly through his mind and concludes they are all a waste of time that could be much better spent getting on with the actual sex-having. He knows that he is clean, and he's not exactly worrying about catching angel cooties here. “Yeah, okay. Cool.”
He tears open the little packet of lube and starts to rub himself, and then has to stop and close his eyes and press down quite hard until he isn't in immediate danger of coming in his own hand, because Castiel is watching him, and that's just – really, there should be laws against that. He takes several long, deep breaths and then opens his eyes and turns his attention to anointing Castiel with the warm gloop, slicking it over the cleft of his buttocks and into the tight little hole and watching the way Castiel's belly flexes with each hiss of indrawn breath. Distracted, Dean slides his fingers curiously up the length of Castiel's penis, feeling the weight and the width of it. He lowers his mouth to it and licks a stripe up the underside and then slides the crown as far into his mouth as he can and tries sucking and licking at the same time. Saliva leaks out of the sides of his mouth, and, wow, this is about as different from going down on a girl as it could be, really – but it's kind of fascinating trying to replicate the things he knows he enjoys himself. He's starting to feel a renewed appreciation and respect for all the girls who have ever gone down on him, and he wonders whether he can manage deep throat. Probably not, though, and vomiting on a guy's penis while you're trying to deflower him really would be pretty supremely uncool. So he just sticks to licking, and sucking, and teasing, and generally tries to see how much Castiel can take.
Not very much, as it turns out.
“Now,” says Castiel again, his voice sounding distinctly tattered. “Just – please, do it. Fuck me. I want you to.” And there's an offer you can't refuse. Dean sits back and slides two slick fingers cautiously inside Castiel. “Now,” says Castiel. And Dean bites his lip and tries very hard not to think about abandoning all this preparation and just forcing his way in. Just having him, and letting it hurt. Making him take it. He reminds himself that it's the guy's first time, for fuck's sakes, and...
“Dean, I'm not going to break, and if you don't fuck me right now I may have to punch you in the face,” says Castiel, with convincing sincerity.
What the hell.
“Your wish is my command,” says Dean, and does.
Oh, God, and there aren't words to express just how much he loves the sounds that Castiel makes now, or that anguished, naked expression on his face as he gasps. He's hot and tight and wet and utterly, utterly perfect, and he's still watching Dean through slitted eyes like Dean knows the answer to all the secrets of the universe. “More,” he gasps, after a moment, sounding broken but glad of it.
So Dean kisses him once, fast and messy, then wraps his hand around Castiel's dick and takes him at his word and just goes for it, hard and fast, sloppy and unsubtle, deep, urgent, wild and untender. It's like a race or a fight, like a quickfire conversation, like running for your life, and Dean never ever wants to lose this feeling of being held safe and tight and warm. Of feeling the angel gradually coming apart and shattering underneath him, breath coming in wild gasps and moans as his blunt nails rake Dean's back and his head is flung back on the pillow, bouncing, helpless. Lost. Coming.
Dean jerks him off, feeling the sticky spurts spatter both of them and watching Castiel's blissed-out, agonised face like it's the most important thing in the whole world, and he quickens his thrusts. And he's kind of embarassed at the fact that he's lasting about as long as a fifteen year old here, but at least he's doing better than Castiel. Although, Jesus, Castiel right now has got to be about the most devastatingly gorgeous thing he's ever seen.
“Love you,” Dean gasps, meaning it so much it almost hurts to say it, and then that's it, white out, and for a moment he just hangs there in the whirling silence of his own head and knows nothing, not his name, not his life, not his hopes or fears or a single damn thing – he just is.
A few interminable moments later he collapses on Castiel's sticky chest, panting, and feeling like he's just won something amazing and unlikely. And for a while they just lie like that, until it crosses his mind that he's probably crushing the guy, and that this is not particularly polite, so he rolls over to the side and watches Castiel's face for a while, wondering what the hell is going on in his head.
“Ruby thinks this is why I fell,” says Castiel after some time. And, okay, woah, didn't see that coming. “But in this she is mistaken.” He rolls over onto his side and looks at Dean earnestly, like it matters to him more than anything that Dean understand him.
Dean, who is frankly not at his most intellectual or alert after sex, forces himself to concentrate. “Hang on – Ruby thinks you fell because you had the hots for me?”
“That is correct.”
Dean stares at him. “But you didn't, did you?”
“No!” Castiel looks genuinely distressed. So much for afterglow. “No, Dean. This is – I enjoyed this very much indeed.” He makes it sound like a fucking thank you letter or something, and Dean would be put out if it weren't Castiel talking. It's not like the guy has had lots of chances to polish his pillow talk skills. “This was by far the most enjoyable experience I have had as a human, and I would like to do it again. Often. With you. But – this is not why I fell.”
Dean chews this over, and then grins. “So what you're saying is – you don't just love me for my undeniably fine ass and perky nipples and general status as a total king of hottitude. You love me for my personality. Right?”
Castiel considers this, and his earnest frown gradually gives way to a reluctant smile. “Yes. It was agape, or caritas, before it was eros.”
“I'm going to assume that that means the same thing I said,” says Dean, nodding to himself, and Castiel leans closer and kisses him with a fierceness as unexpected as it is sweet.
“I love you for your self, Dean Winchester. Not for what you can do for me, not for these fleeting pleasures of the flesh, delicious though they be, but because you are full worthy to be loved.”
“Oh,” says Dean, suddenly tongue-tied. “I – well. Okay then.”
“And I am not going to leave,” adds Castiel, for all the world as if he can still read Dean's mind. Dean doesn't trust himself to answer that one, but luckily Castiel does not seem to expect an answer, and is content to simply hold him. And they should undoubtedly clean up and get dressed any minute now, because God knows when Sam will get back, but for the moment Dean really can't bring himself to leave the circle of Castiel's arms.
At the sound of the door opening, a rush of pure, petrified adrenaline has Dean sitting bolt upright in bed looking guiltier than a cop next to an empty donut box. And, hello, nudity, and hello, incriminatingly naked angel blinking sleepily awake at his side and looking like the poster boy for debauchery, and it doesn't even cross Dean's mind to worry that it might be Uriel at the door, or one of Alastair's demonic buddies, because all he can think as he reaches one hand wildly down to yank the sheets up high enough to cover their thighs is “OhGodSammyOhGodSammyOhGodSammy!”
And yes, of course it's Sammy standing on the threshold with the key in one hand, the stupid big fob with the motel's logo on it swinging back and forth as he freezes in place and just stares. It lasts a moment but seems to take at least a year, while Sam's smile slides away into a wordless o and his eyebrows shoot up into his bangs and he just gapes into the room like a cartoon character who's just been hit with a baseball bat. Dean scrabbles around for the words that will distract and camouflage and charm and just plain lie the evidence out from under Sam's nose, but he comes up empty.
A heartbeat later Ruby appears at Sam's shoulder, just to complete Dean's utter mortification, and she makes a choking noise that sounds suspiciously like laughter. “Okay – awkward! I'm guessing you probably aren't ready to join us for brunch just yet, then,” she says, looking from Castiel to Dean and then back again in a way that makes Dean feel like a freaking centrefold, and has him clutching the sheets defensively and trying to tug them higher. “Oh, man, what I wouldn't give for a camera right now.” She glances up at Sam, her mouth twitching, and then grabs him by the beltloop of his jeans and gives a tug. “We'll be in the IHoP on the corner, boys, if you feel like loading up on carbs and coffee before we hit the road.” Her grin widens. “Looks to me like maybe you've burned off a few calories.”
“Shut up!” says Dean, red faced and scowling and cornered, damn it, and quite unable to look away from Sam. Fuck. Busted. Busted. Busted.
“C'mon, Sam,” says Ruby, and this time she hooks an arm around his waist and steers him away, and he's still not said a damn thing, and then the door is closing behind them and Dean is still sitting there, staring at the door with his heart trying to fight its way out of his chest.
“Shit,” he says at last, and then realises belatedly that he's still holding Castiel's hand, has been holding it all this while and squeezing it hard enough to break something, and looks across at Castiel's face to find the angel - his angel – is watching him intently. And the complicated keeps right on coming, damn it.
Dean kind of wants to be mad with Castiel, because this is his goddamn fault, making Dean look like some kind of, like – really, if it hadn't been for the angel being all – it's not like Dean goes around sucking off bikers or dressing up in ladies' underwear or anything, for fuck's sakes! He's not going to be tossing out all his albums and start listening to Judy Garland and talking about musical theatre any time soon! He's a guy! A guy's guy! A hunting, shooting, ass-kicking kind of guy who knows just how to make an engine purr as sweet and smooth as honey, and knows how to make a pretty girl purr even sweeter. He isn't some kind of – or at least – it's not like – oh, crap.
Okay, so, yeah. Maybe it is like that. Kind of.
And either Sam is going to be all Liberal Understanding College Boy about this, which will make Dean want to smack him in the face with a plank of wood, or else he's going to be mocking Dean for the rest of his life. Or else, worst of all, he's not going to say a damn thing, is just going to freak out and get all stiff-necked and weird and embarrassed and, God, ashamed, and, and, and honestly Dean doesn't know how he could stand that.
He hates being seen. Being known. Dean Winchester has made a whole way of life built on hiding who he really is, one way or another, and now – ah, shit. Shit shit shit.
“Are you ashamed of me?” asks Castiel in a clear voice, cutting through Dean's freakout like a bucket of ice water. “Do you regret what we did?”
Oh, and that's – damn. “No,” says Dean firmly, and he realises with some surprise that this is absolutely true. He looks at Castiel's solemn expression, the Spock-quizzical tilt of his head, and smiles in spite of everything; then he pushes himself up and on and over, straddling Castiel's waist and leaning into him, one hand buried in the pillow on either side of the guy's head, and he lowers himself down slowly, looking into Castiel's eyes the whole time, and then does his damnedest to kiss the certainty back into him. “You're the best thing that ever happened to me,” Dean says gruffly a little later, just to be clear – and, damn, he's said that before, but it's always been a line. It's kind of shocking to mean it so sincerely - to mean not just "Let's fuck", but rather "You saved my life. You saved Sam's life. You saw what I had become in Hell and you still pulled me back to earth. You let them rip you out of heaven for me. You're insanely hot, and you look at me like I'm something amazing. You give me hope. I fucking love you." And he's not going to come out and say all that, because, hello, not turning into a chick here, but Dean is just now starting to realise how thoroughly fucked he is, and not just in the obvious way – because this is better, or maybe worse, than being with Cassie. This is someone he just cannot stand lying to, someone he can't bear the idea of disappointing. Someone he needs to keep right here with him just like he needs Sam, like he needed Dad. It is, frankly, scary as hell, and massively inconvenient, and Dean's experiences to date have pretty firmly suggested that for a Winchester guy, falling in love with anybody, really in love with them, is straight from the Bumper Book of Breathtakingly Bad Ideas – but even so, feeling Castiel underneath him and watching that new-minted smile curving his human mouth is filling Dean right up to the brim with pure, astonished delight and a sense of wild optimism like nothing he's felt for far too long. Come what may, he can't regret this. It's just too fucking awesome.
“It makes things awkward for you, though,” says Castiel, looking up at him with that wide-eyed, alien-fresh-from-the-flying-saucer curiosity, and Dean sighs, because he's not wrong.
“Well, I gotta admit that this would've been a bit less complicated if you'd had the common sense to possess a hot little waitress from Hooters, because this” he nods at the two of them with a rueful expression, “...this isn't really something Sam ever needed to know about me. Ever. But, what the hell. We'll deal.” He drops a kiss on the corner of Castiel's mouth. “It's cool.” He traces the shape of Castiel's lower lip with the pad of his thumb, conscious that he's starting to get hard again against Castiel's flat belly, and wondering if there's time to do something about that, and thinking also that they're both pretty gross and in need of a shower. And that Castiel likes showers, and that the shower stall in this place is big enough for two. Huh. “To be honest – I like you like this,” Dean says softly, admitting it to himself as much as to Castiel. “You're just so – the holy tax accountant thing suits you, is all. I'm glad you didn't possess a waitress.”
“I am glad too,” says Castiel, and his smile warms Dean like sunshine after a storm.
Sam is just going to have to damn well suck it up and deal.
Castiel seems sublimely unconcerned, but when they walk into the restaurant Dean is jittery as hell and acutely conscious of the fact that they're together. Surely it must be obvious to all these people busy shovelling forkloads of pancakes down their faces that Dean and Castiel are – that they've just – ah, crap. He feels like he's carrying around a sign that reads: “Actually, kinda gay,” or something. (Maybe he's just gay for angels? But that wouldn't explain Jack Nicholson or Bruce Lee, so maybe not.)
Dean takes a deep breath and forces himself to chill. They can totally pass as normal. He's been walking into diners with Dad or Sam or both his whole life – no reason anyone should imagine that Castiel, in his unangelic jeans and one of Dean's t-shirts, is anything but a friend. A perfectly normal, perfectly heterosexual friend. A guy. He glances at Castiel just to be sure that he hasn't magically turned into RuPaul while Dean wasn't looking, and the sight of him, so small and warm and human, with three or four hickeys dark as rose-petals blooming on the pale skin of his throat, with his damp hair falling into his eyes now that his body doesn't just magically default back to its factory settings of bedhead and unmarked skin and suit and tie – the sheer sweetness of the guy sends an unexpected rush of tenderness shooting through Dean's whole body. And it crosses his mind that life is short, and that the future looks pretty fucking bleak by anybody's standards, and that Castiel is here and now, human and his, and all of a sudden Dean finds himself grabbing the guy by the ears, yanking him close, hooking one hand around the nape of his neck and cupping the back of his skull in place while he kisses the startled face off him in front of all these people. He can feel Castiel's pulse against his own, can feel the bones under his skin and knows precisely how fragile they are, and Dean kisses him and kisses him and kisses him some more just because he can. When they come up for air Castiel is pink-cheeked and flustered and glowing like a freaking lightbulb, and then Dean grabs him by the hand and glares around at everyone in the whole damn world, and then leads Castiel over to Sam's table.
“Morning,” he says calmly, sliding into the empty side of the booth and pulling Castiel along with him. And then he just looks at Ruby and Sam and dares them to comment. Sam looks like he may have just inhaled half a pancake, but Ruby looks almost smug. She waggles her eyebrows at Castiel.
“I so called this,” she says, stabbing a piece of bacon with her fork and raising it to her lips. “French fries. Tequila. Do I know about the fun parts of this mortal coil, or what?”
Castiel, already distinctly pink, blushes even harder. “This is not why I fell,” he says seriously, frowning across the booth.
Ruby shrugs. “Okay. But you've got to admit – it's definitely a perk.”
“Hello? Sitting right here,” protests Dean, momentarily distracted from worrying about Sam. “And I'm not an 'it', or a perk!”
“Oh, I don't know,” says Ruby, dropping her eyes to his chest and wetting her lips. “From what I saw, parts of you are pretty damn perky.” She grins. “But I'll grant that you're not an 'it', Dean.”
There is no time for the witty and withering comeback that Dean is sure he was on the brink of coming up with, because the waitress is suddenly there with a dazzling smile to take their orders.
After she leaves, Dean takes his courage in his hands and looks over at his brother. “So – there something you want to say?” he asks, doing his damnedest to keep his game face in place and not sound like he's begging for anything. And Sam looks at him with that little frown crumpling his brow, like he's trying to puzzle out the answer to the meaning of life or something, and then smiles. And maybe it's not Sam's best ever smile, but it's a smile.
“Nope,” says Sam, glancing from Dean to Castiel and then back. His mouth twitches, and that's a real smile. Okay, it's a bratty You-Got-Caught-Looking-Like-A-Jackass little brother grin, the kind that usually drives Dean insane and makes him start thinking about replacing Sam's toothpaste with hair gel, but it's real, and not disgusted or totally freaked out, and that's plenty to be going on with.
“Cool,” he says, and squeezes Castiel's hand under the table.
Sure, Dean can understand why Sam might want to travel with Ruby in the bananamobile, rather than leave her trailing them alone while he deals with having Dean's new – friend – sitting in the backseat of the Impala like a stray puppy or something. But he doesn't have to like it. Sam's supposed to be in here with him, not in that ridiculous little convertible half a mile back with his possibly evil squeeze. And this is just the thin end of the wedge, he realises, because he's not about to wave Castiel off into the sunset any time soon – and that means that like it or not, he's making their two into a three. Maybe even a four. Which is – wow, really all kinds of weird and wrong. And, sure, they were always a three back when it was the two of them and Dad on the road – but that was a whole different ball game. And, yeah, Dean's always had girls aplenty, but he's never thought about bringing any of them along on the road, not even Cassie. So this, what they're doing now – yeah. It's weird. And it's making him antsy, thinking about Sammy being out of his reach, being left to Ruby's tender mercies. Sure, she's not done anything to hurt him so far, but Dean still doesn't trust her as far as he could throw the Impala.
Mind you, he's not at all sure that Sam trusts her, entirely. But he trusts her a damn sight more than Dean does, and that's a fact.
“I do not trust Ruby,” says Castiel – and, again, that's a little bit too much like the mindreading schtick he had as an angel for Dean's comfort. He shoots a quick look across at Castiel's face and sees his brow furrowing in thought. He has been sitting very quietly at Dean's side as the miles slide by, looking out through the window like some kind of tourist, watching the street signs and the factories, the stationwagons and seven-elevens, watching women pushing strollers and bums sprawling on benches. Dean still doesn't know what the guy makes of mortality, or where this particular announcement came from.
“Well, that makes two of us,” says Dean, grimly.
“She has been unexpectedly generous,” Castiel adds, slowly. “And I confess, I find myself beginning to like her. I would like to trust her, and to believe that it is possible for a soul to claw its own way to redemption. That she can still crave forgiveness, and want to do good for its own sake. That she truly wishes to help you both. But – I cannot forget her nature. I have known too many demons, and they are wily and treacherous to the very core. I am not comfortable with how intimate she has become with your brother Sam.”
“Hey, you're preaching to the choir here! But I gotta give her props – she's not let us down yet.”
“Which is successfully winning your trust.”
Point. “She did save your ass,” says Dean, in spite of himself. And how has he come to be playing literal devil's advocate in this conversation? That's all kinds of wrong, right there.
“She did,” agrees Castiel. He bows his head. “I deeply regret leaving the motel room when I heard her drive away. It was through me that she regained your trust.” He bites his lip, and the expression on his face when he looks up is painful. “I had no intention of ever seeking you out, Dean.”
Which – huh. Dean's not sure how to take that. He feels kind of hurt, actually, or offended. Something. Because he's sitting right here with the guy, he's let his brother find him in bed with a guy, which is pretty damn huge, thank you very much, and right now Sammy is riding along in someone else's car rather than in the Impala where he belongs, all because Dean's been making space in his life for Castiel. And Castiel would have been good with just never even fucking seeing him again? Nice. Real nice.
“I wanted to keep you safe,” says Castiel, staring down at his hands. “And in that I fear I have not succeeded.” He glances up again, and his face reddens. “And, worse, I cannot regret it. I am too selfishly glad to be here with you, Dean Winchester, even though it may increase your peril.”
Oh. Oh. Dean swallows. Okay then. “Me too,” he says awkwardly, without looking at Castiel.
“We still have not spoken about the host of heaven,” says Castiel. Dean glances at him again, and finds his attention snagged by the sight of Castiel's tongue darting out to wet his lips. His mouth, Dean happens to know, still tastes like blueberries and maple syrup. It's a slightly distracting thought, but not quite enough to take his mind off the subject at hand.
“Not a lot to say,” says Dean, shortly, because he's really been enjoying not dwelling on the thought that God Himself is pissed with the Winchesters. It makes him feel crazy and helpless and mad, and there isn't a damn thing that he can do about it – so on the whole, he'd rather stick with denial. Denial works just great, until somebody comes up with an actual plan. Or until the shit truly hits the fan. Whichever comes first.
“I have given this much thought, over the time I have been human,” says Castiel, frowning down at his hands. “I find that in this form the way I think is – different. New possibilities open up. And I have been wondering whether it truly was the will of God.”
Dean blinks, and looks away from the empty road before them. “Come again?”
“He wanted your salvation, Dean. He sent me into hell for a reason. I cannot understand why he would choose now to abandon you. Both of you. And I have wondered whether, perhaps – you know, God does not speak to us directly. He does not show us His face. We – they – have to rely on the word of four angels whom God has found worthy to be his go-betweens. But I have been wondering if it is possible that perhaps – perhaps they may take too much upon themselves.”
“You mean – you think some celestial middle management guys have been making up their own office memos?”
Castiel cocks his head a little, considering this assessment. “I think it might be possible.”
Dean feels an unexpected little stab of hope. “There any way we can find out? Ask for a retrial, or something?”
Castiel frowns. “I think it would be most unwise to seek out any emissaries of heaven at this time.”
Dean pulls a face. “Just 'cause we're topping Heaven's Most Wanted list, you mean?”
“Well. Yes, Dean.”
“Yeah, I guess. But, shit. How can we find out if, you know, the Big Guy is really on our side? Is there someone else we can go to? Some kind of – I don't know, a prophet, or something? Or the Pope? Somebody?”
“I cannot think of anyone,” confesses Castiel, and his shoulders slump a little. “In truth, I am surprised that we are somehow still alive.”
“Thanks for that, Pollyanna.” Castiel looks apologetic, but doesn't volunteer any cheerful comebacks. The atmosphere in the car is becoming decidedly gloomy. Dean swallows. Denial: clearly the way forward. “Since you're kind of new down here, I guess it's time you started to learn a bit more about human culture.” Castiel accepts the change of subject with a nod, but his mouth remains a small, worried line. Dean decides to ignore it. “So we're going to give you a little crash course in the Arts.”
“The Arts?” repeats Castiel, a little dubiously.
Dean slides a tape into the tape deck and cranks it up to eleven, then turns to beam at the angel as the first notes fill the car. “Oh yes, my friend. The Arts.”
The evening sky is a muddy violet smeared with crimson, the setting sun just a sliver of gold brushing the horizon when Dean pulls into the parking lot of a likely looking motel and thumbs Sam's number on his speed dial.
“I'm at a motel on your left called – huh. Camelot, apparently. See you in a minute,” says Dean, keeping his voice soft so as not to wake Castiel. It feels odd as hell not to have Sam here with him, and they're going to have to have a talk about that some time very soon, get things straightened out, because this is definitely not right. He switches off the cell phone and just sits there for a moment, enjoying the quiet and watching Castiel sleep. He looks very young, and very defenseless, and not even a little bit supernatural, and Dean is tempted to lean over and kiss him awake, just because he knows he can. Because Castiel is sitting there with his head slumped onto one shoulder; his hair, innocent of the customary mousse or wax or whatever the hell Castiel's vessel had been using to create that whole cool-and-messy-and-fuckable look when he originally possessed it, is now falling unstylishly over his brow; and his mouth is all soft and sweet and tempting and right there. It's like looking at some fantastic present just waiting to be unwrapped, some warm and complex piece of machinery with no instruction manual enclosed, one that Dean is going to have to learn by touch and taste and trial and error. It makes Dean feel like it's his birthday and Christmas all rolled into one, and he knows he's probably grinning like a dork, but he can't help it. He's got his very own angel to play with, and even if they're all going to hell in a handbasket this is still just all kinds of awesome and unexpected.
They have burned rubber, put as many miles as they could between them and LA. They've all got hex bags about their persons, as well as several scattered in each car. They should be well and truly off the radar, but Dean isn't going to get all cocky about it. He has learned to his cost that whatever can go wrong generally will go wrong. He has no plan yet for saving Sam's bacon, and he's worried that by letting Castiel in he's pushing Sam closer to Ruby – and he's not at all sanguine about that. Not one bit. But he can't stand the thought of pushing Castiel away either.
And speak of the devil – ha – here she comes, in that curvaceous, crayon-bright punchline of a car. Dean hasn't asked how or where she acquired it – he's pretty sure he doesn't want to know. Not that he has any moral highground when it comes to con jobs, or petty acts of larceny, of course. Still.
“Camelot?” calls Sam through the window, as they pull up next to the Impala. “Really?” He's much too big for the car, his long legs all folded up like some kind of dumb origami sculpture, and the sight of his knees almost tucked under his chin makes Dean smirk hugely. It's maybe not going to be so hard to lure him back into the Impala after all.
“Hey, don't blame me – I didn't name the place!” And the smirk is broadening into a grin now, a real grin, because he hasn't seen Sam or spoken to him since they stopped at a Denny's for lunch, for Christ's sakes, which was hours ago. And that's just not natural. “You coming?” He nods towards the little office with the Check In sign on the door and Sam eases himself out of the bananamobile like fifteen clowns tumbling out of a tiny clown car, or something, and stretches his too-long limbs luxuriously in the light of the setting sun.
“Sure,” he says, rolling his shoulders.
Dean eyes Ruby consideringly for a moment and then says: “Can you keep an eye on Cas for me?” Which should be okay. She's had plenty of chances to hurt Castiel, if that was her game plan.
She's out of the car herself now, looking at the two brothers with an expression that's hard to read, but she nods. “He pulling that sleeping beauty trick again? I swear, the guy is part sloth. And he snores.”
This is true, but Dean still bristles protectively for a moment, before realising he's going to sound like a thirteen year old girl if he leaps to the guy's defense. And, hell, he does snore. “Cool. Back in five.”
It feels good, striding across the parking lot with Sam. Normal. He gives his brother a sideways glance just to check they're still cool, no delayed Big Gay Freakout going on, but Sam just looks like Sam. So far, so good.
“So where are we going, Dean?” Sam asks after a moment. He'd asked the same thing that morning, and again at lunch time, and he sounds now like he's running short on patience. Damn.
“Away,” says Dean evasively, not looking at him. “We're just going away for now, okay? Get a bit of distance, regroup, come up with a gameplan.”
Sam's mouth twitches in that slightly pained way that means he's trying hard not to snap. “How's that working out for you?” he says after a moment, tightly.
Dean shrugs. “We're working on it. Castiel's got some ideas.” He glances up at Sam then darts his eyes away again, suddenly self-conscious. And he'd kind of like to say something or do something to apologise for – to explain, somehow, because he knows he's kind of fucked things up here, taken a step across some line he'd never thought about before, by hauling his pet fallen angel into the middle of their lives without so much as a by-your-leave. It does make things weird, and Sam's got a right to be pissy. Dean can see that. But – he doesn't do touchy feely Oprah moments, not if he can possibly help it, and Sam just needs to damn well deal. Castiel's only here because of the two of them, for fuck's sakes – the guy lost everything for them, lost his immortality and his power and his purpose and just everything. You can't just ignore something like that. They can't just leave him to flounder around out there on his own, or let him go off with Ruby.
And, besides, Dean wants to keep him.
He's not sure he likes the look on Sam's face as they walk into the Check In together. It's getting harder and harder to know what's going on in the kid's head these days, and he kind of blames Ruby for that. Dean switches his attention to the person behind the desk; it's a woman, dark haired, early 40s, kinda hot in a saucy schoolmarm way. Dean twinkles at her. “Hi there! We'd like a room?” he says, on autopilot.
“Two rooms,” Sam corrects him, and the smile slips off of Dean's face and is replaced by a blush. Right.
“Yeah, sorry – two rooms,” agrees Dean. “Twins,” he says, “Or, you know. Whatever.” It's only sensible, obviously, but – shit. Dean isn't adjusting real well to this new dynamic, even though it's totally his own fault. He's just not great at sharing Sammy with anyone – and, okay, sure, he'd like a little privacy himself, and he can totally see that Sam would rather shack up with a hot chick than have to play gooseberry with his brother and his brother's new – new, uh, angel – but still.
Sam is his, damn it. And he doesn't trust Ruby.
He accepts the room key and listens to the lady's voice ramble on about check out times and room service and laundromats and all that shit, and really hopes there's a minibar.
They really aren't kidding about the Camelot theme. Their motel room has mock Elizabethan beams made of vinyl and stuck onto the white walls, two spectacularly awful paintings of fantastical castles complete with rainbows and pouting maidens waving from battlements, one print of a knight mooning over some peasant chick with a low-cut bodice, and one sparkly unicorn picture. On velvet. The minibar (hello, bourbon!) is covered with vinyl woodgrain-effect, in a very unsuccessful attempt to resemble some kind of medieval chest, or something. The beds clearly want to be four-posters, and look a bit embarrassed that the fluttery drapes bunched up around them are just nailed into the ceiling, rather than hanging down from actual posts.
Castiel sits down on the edge of one bed and fingers the threadbare curtain curiously. “What is the purpose of this?” he asks. “It would not be an effective protection from insects, nor will it provide any extra warmth.”
Dean ducks his head. This is not, in fact, the most ridiculous décor he's seen, but it's definitely up there in the top twenty. “It's just to douche the place up,” he explains. “Make it look, you know, really fucking lame.”
“Oh,” says Castiel blankly, still frowning. “I see.” He looks up at Dean with those wide eyes and that totally open expression, all fresh-faced and curious, and Dean completely loses his train of thought all of a sudden and has to drop the bags, take two steps forward, grab two handfuls of t-shirt and jerk Castiel's face close enough for a bruising kiss, because – damn. Just – damn.
And you've got to give the guy props, because for someone who's had so little experience of the whole bowmchikabowmbowm side of life, Castiel is a really quick learner. He doesn't hold anything back, and kisses like his life depends on it, like it's the most amazing, most vitally urgent thing he can imagine. Like it's an act of worship or something, like he's trying to climb right inside Dean so he can understand him perfectly at last. And Dean's sitting astride the guy's lap now, with one hand buried in his hair and another gripping his arm hard enough to leave bruises, and he's grinding his hips down, and either that's a hex bag in the angel's pocket or – well, actually, maybe it is a hex bag. But it's definitely not alone. Hello, happy angel parts.
“Shower?” he suggests, biting Castiel's ear, and the way the angel groans into Dean's jaw sounds a lot like the internationally recognised code for 'yes' to Dean Winchester. He grins, and kisses Castiel again. “Cool.”
“I used to watch you in the shower,” gasps Castiel, leaning back against the black and white tiles with soap smeared across his collar bone, water beading his eyelashes like diamonds or tears and trickling down his chest as Dean jerks him off. And that makes Dean pause, sends a fresh shock of startled lust right through Dean and stills his hand for a moment.
Castiel manages to open his eyes again, and they're almost all pupil, lost and dark and drowned-looking. His hand tightens on Dean's waist, and he licks his lips. “I watched everything you did, Dean. Every moment, every thought, every breath.”
And, really, that's pretty creepy, like that Sting song or something, but at the moment it's just making Dean hard. “You were, like, some kind of celestial stalker? A heavenly peeping tom? You watched me jerking off?”
“Yes,” agrees Castiel. “It wasn't – at the time it did not mean anything. It was not licentious, you understand. I watched you eating and sleeping and laying unquiet spirits to rest. I watched everything. I did not have these – hormones, and impulses. I did not understand about – desire. Not then. But now – I remember everything, Dean.” His eyes flutter closed again as Dean renews his attentions to Castiel's warm, hard dick. “I thought about it, about your hands, when I – the first time I – oh!”
And that is so wrong, and yet also so totally fucking hot that Dean thinks his brains may just melt right out of his ears, thinking about Castiel jerking off for the very first time, and thinking about him, Dean Winchester, of all the people on the planet. Not Angelina Jolie, or Brad Pitt, or Paris Hilton or whatever - him. It's like the guy's imprinted on him, like some kind of fluffy little lost chick that's decided he's its mom. Or – well, okay, not so much like that, in fact. At all. But still - his, in a bone-deep way that's actually kind of scary. And is also exactly what Dean wants, and never imagined he would have. His, through and through. Like family, but – not. He quickens the deft movements of his wrist and splays his other hand on Castiel's slick chest, and leans in to kiss him again, all hunger and frantic need.
"You're mine, aren't you?" he says, and bites Castiel's bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. "Always?"
"Yes," gasps Castiel, the word sounding wrung out of him, desperate and breathless and painfully sincere, and then he's coming in Dean's hand.
The drying-off process is a bit haphazard, because there's a lot of kissing involved, and Dean is still hard, and other than trying to make sure they don't slip in a puddle and break their necks en route to the bed he's not really all that worried about getting dry. Mostly he's concentrating on getting Castiel into the bedroom, and getting himself into Castiel. And happily they're both on the same page there, so it doesn't take very long at all before Dean is squeezing lube shakily into his hands and just staring at the way Castiel's leaning up against the wall and looking back at him, with his curving lips still swollen with kisses and his body all relaxed and just, god, so fucking beautiful that Dean can practically still see the wings. Dean bites his bottom lip as he slicks the lube over his heated skin, and tries to decide which of half a dozen smoking hot possibilities he wants to explore right now.
“C'mere,” he says, almost growls, really, and it's thoroughly satisfying to see how quickly Castiel pushes himself up from the wall and crosses towards the bed. And this, he reminds himself, is still the creature that had scared the crap out of him – and although he kind of misses that guy, that amazing alien being with its stormcloud strength and the electric brush of unseen feathers prickling his skin, Dean is rapidly falling for this warm, flexible, sweet-mouthed human version like a ton of bricks. He kisses Castiel again, and arranges him carefully on the bed on all fours, and Castiel lets him. And, yes, sex really is ridiculous and thoroughly undignified, but, damn, the sight of the angel kneeling with his ass up in the air and his forehead resting atop his crossed arms on the pillow, his spine one sweet white curve that Dean just wants to lick – this is the kind of hot that people would pay good money to see, and then some. Dean pushes Castiel's thighs apart and kneels between them, then slides the slick fingers of his right hand down the crease of the perfect ass, and massages the warm lube right on into Castiel's most intimate spot. Oh, and he loves the way Castiel's back arches then, and the little stifled sound he makes against the pillow. Dean keeps on working with his right hand and leans forward, sliding the fingers of his left hand up over Castiel's spine until he grips the nape of his neck and holds him still for a long moment, holds him down. The little rush of power is delicious and wicked, because this is, after all, his angel, and that brand on Dean's arm isn't going away any time soon – but still, here and now, he's in charge. And that is a thrill all of its own.
Then he returns his full attention to Castiel's ass and slides one slick finger inside, marvelling again at how hot and tight it feels in there. Perfect. He keeps at it for a little while, letting his erection slide and rub against the guy's ass while his finger works inside it, enjoying the half-heard gasps from further up the bed, and then he adds another. And another.
And Castiel's hips are shifting and squirming now, bucking against him with increasing urgency. “Dean,” says Castiel at last, brokenly, and oh, hell, yes, Dean's only human. He gets his dick lined up with Castiel's slippery entrance and pushes.
“Fuck!” says Dean, which isn't exactly poetic but should get points for accuracy if nothing else. God. He clutches Castiel's hips for a moment and lets them both adjust, and then Castiel starts to move under him, and, okay, Dean can take a hint. He gets with the program, and goes for it.
And it's not like this is Dean's first time around the block. 'Cause, okay, maybe he's not been with a guy until their friendly neighbourhood angel fell into his lap, but he's done everything it's possible for a person to do with a girl, including this, and other than the hairy legs and the lack of boobs it shouldn't really be all that different. It's just sex. And Dean loves sex, hell yes, he loves it more than pie - but it's normally something he can fall into to lose himself, something joyous and exhilarating and just plain awesome-feeling, but not something meaningful. This feels more like he's finding himself. It shouldn't be turning his brain into jelly this way, shouldn't feel like it's something so amazing and new and important. But it really does. Because it's Castiel writhing and bucking underneath him, Castiel that's letting him in, and this is so much more than he'd expected to be given, to be trusted with, that it's blowing his mind even as it makes every nerve ending in his body light up like a Christmas tree. This is what it's all about, Dean realises, all those dumb movies and cards and bunches of roses and poems and love songs and all that sappy crap. This is what they're trying to express. This shocking, scary, wonderful sensation of knowing someone else through and through, and trusting them, and sticking with them, and seeing them vulnerable and exposed and ridiculous and just loving them so hard that your heart could burst with it. Wanting to keep them safe. It's like this whole time he's been looking at sex in 2D, and somebody's just given him a pair of 3D glasses. He can't believe what he's been missing out on.
“You're mine,” he gasps fiercely, on the very brink of coming. “Always. You're staying right here.”
“Yes,” says Castiel, his voice muffled by the pillow, and that's it, Dean's over the edge and gone, gone, blissed-out and wordless.
And they're curled up in bed, naked and asleep, with Castiel spooning up behind Dean, when Uriel shows up.
It's a dream, of course, just like last time. Unlike last time, though, when Uriel shows up in his subconscious this time around, Dean is sitting in the back of the Impala, straddling Castiel and kissing him like it's an Olympic sport and his very life depends on winning the gold for the good old US of A. Also, there is rather more nudity this time. Which is unfortunate.
“I told you that he liked you,” says Uriel, pouring whole oceans of scorn into his voice. Dean hears the words and registers the speaker, but it is Castiel who reacts the most swiftly. He is rolling over to one side, pushing Dean behind him and kneeling between Dean and Uriel, before Dean has had time to do more than think “huh.”
Dean picks himself up and blinks across at the window through which Uriel is glaring. Uriel hasn't gotten any friendlier with the passage of time, from the looks of things.
“Now this is something that I did not ever need to see,” says Uriel, regarding their nakedness with an expression of pronounced distaste. Castiel glances down, and then an instant later he's fully dressed in the familiar old suit and trench coat, slightly dishevelled, just like he was the first time Dean set eyes on him. Neat trick. Even his hair is back to the artful, just-been-waxed chaos of bedhead that Dean remembers. More to the point, Dean himself is suddenly clad in jeans and a t-shirt, which makes him feel one hell of a lot better right there. Not as good as a gun, maybe, but still a damn sight less vulnerable and undignified than he'd been a few seconds earlier. And then his attention is dragged away from any Emperor's New Clothes style worries, because Castiel is opening the door of the Impala, stepping on out and squaring up to Uriel. Fuck. Okay then. Dean pushes open his own door and sidles around his beloved car, keeping his eyes on Quickdraw McGraw and wondering how the hell they're supposed to play this one.
“Say what you came to say and leave,” says Castiel, and, wow, that's some pure, oldskool do-not-fuck-with-me Castiel right there. Dean can almost hear the thunder beneath his words, can almost taste the warm summer-storm breath of power that he always associated with his angel back before, well, before recent events. It is, it must be said, pretty fucking hot.
Uriel looks at Castiel with an unreadable expression, and then looks away. “You pass the test,” he says.
There is a pause, while Dean tries to make sense of this. Castiel is standing between Dean and Uriel like some kind of human shield, so Dean cannot see the look on his face, but he swears that the guy seems to shrink in on himself at the words.
“The test?” Castiel repeats, as if he has never heard these words before in all the millennia of his existence. “Explain yourself, Uriel.”
Uriel cocks his head to one side, watching Castiel's face. “It's all about free will, my friend. The willing sacrifice. This cycle is as old as time and we depend on it.”
“Can you maybe try speaking English, pal?” demands Dean, but Castiel raises a hand to shush him, without looking back, which is frankly pretty annoying, but Dean decides to let it pass. He's pretty far out of his depth right now, and he knows it.
“I do not understand,” says Castiel slowly, but there's something in his voice that frightens Dean. Something that suggests that perhaps Castiel does understand, or is beginning to, and that the immediate future may not be filled with lollipops and kittens.
“I think you do,” says Uriel, looking at him narrowly. “We walk upon the earth again through willing sacrifices.” He nods over at Dean. “John Winchester and then his son, they opened up the door. But that was not enough.”
Castiel is starting to back away from Uriel now. Dean doesn't think the guy even realises he's moving until he bumps into the Impala. He looks – man, he looks like shit, actually. His face is like chalk, his eyes enormous. This cannot be good news.
“I didn't know,” breathes Castiel, and his voice is barely a whisper, just a lost little wisp of sound that Dean would not have caught at all if he hadn't been staring at the guy, hadn't seen his lips shape the words.
Uriel's smile is not a pleasant one. “A bit above your pay grade, that kind of information.”
Dean waves a hand at the two of them, demanding time out and trying to wrap his head around this. “Just – hang on a minute, buster. You're saying that you guys are only here on earth at all because of my dad? Because of my deal with the crossroads demon?” Dean squeezes his eyes closed and then opens them again, and, no, it's still not become any easier to process.
“Silence your pet, Castiel. I did not come into your dreams to converse with the ape.” Oh yeah, and that's the Uriel that they've come to know and loathe right there: Miss Manners' sweetest student.
“You will treat him with respect!” Dean is startled by the lash in Castiel's voice, and by the renewed strength that visibly surges through his angel. He stands up straight once more and steps forward, sticking his chin out, and, damn, Castiel may have been busted down to the mortal realm, but he still looks pretty fucking dangerous at this moment. “You have just said Dean Winchester bought our passage to this plane. He paid in blood and tears and agony, and you will not insult him.”
Uriel shrugs. “Ever the sentimental fool. Still, I should not complain, since it accords with the Lord's plan.” He makes an elaborate bow in Dean's direction, a mockery of manners. “Yes, Dean. We were not free to walk the dirt until you gave your life. It takes a selfless sacrifice to open up the way.”
Dean's head is spinning. “So, what, you're here to say thank you? To tell us that this whole 'Kill the Winchesters” deal was a big mistake and actually we're all one big happy family?”
“Not quite,” says Uriel. And, oh, crap, Dean really doesn't like that smile. He doesn't like the way that Castiel flinches when Uriel looks at him, not one little bit. “You let us strip the grace from you and hurl you down to earth. It was not out of tedium, or any selfish urge, as Gabriel's fall was. It was compassion laid you low, and fit you for this role.”
“I defied the will of God,” says Castiel. He sounds numb again. His face is frighteningly blank, like he's just been smashed in the head with a rock and hasn't had the sense yet to fall down. Dean is getting a very bad feeling about this.
“And received punishment,” agrees Uriel. “And then we watched each choice you made as you walked on the earth.”
“You what?” interrupts Dean. “What about the hex bags? We were incognito!”
Uriel looks at him like he's a cockroach that has just had the gall to start critiquing someone's housekeeping skills. “Your hex bags do not work. Since Gabriel's return we have learned much from past mistakes.”
“Shit,” says Dean with feeling, because that's the only thing he can think of.
Uriel turns his attention back to Castiel. “And you have passed the test.”
Castiel stares. “Sloth, anger, pride, gluttony, envy, avarice, lust...in truth I do not think there is a sin I have not tasted.”
“You have been made mortal. All of these monkeys sin. Temptation is like oxygen: they cannot live without it.”
Castiel shakes his head slowly. “And yet I passed this test?”
Dean's mouth tightens. He really wants to hit something, or jump into his car, floor the gas and drive like hell, but neither of these options seems particularly viable right now. Damn it. “So what does that mean? He gets a prize? A nice muffin basket? A Porsche? His halo handed back? Free air miles? What?”
“It means he gets to die,” says Uriel, and the words fall into the stillness like pebbles of polished granite dropped into a calm pool. Castiel lowers his head. Dean feels suddenly sick.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” splutters Dean, when he remembers how to speak. “That's his prize? Death is his fucking prize?”
Uriel is not looking at Dean. His eyes are fixed on Castiel and his expression is completely serious. “You know it to be true. Without a heavenly sacrifice we cannot win this war. It must be given freely, not from mindless devotion. It has to be a choice.”
“No fucking way. No way!” Dean says, feeling his heart pounding in his chest like a trapped bird. This cannot be happening. Life cannot be pulling the rug out from under his feet all over again like this, surely. It's like some kind of twisted joke at his expense.
Uriel glances briefly at Dean, then returns his attention to Castiel. “You've got something to lose, a reason to choose life.” He puts a mocking emphasis on the last two words, and his smile is predatory. “That's sweet.” His expression hardens. “Will you condemn the entire world to hell for your pet ape?”
“Now just slow down,” says Dean, raising both hands in a placating gesture. He steps in front of Castiel, forcing Uriel to look at him, and wonders what will happen if he punches the guy in the face. Probably nothing very good. Uriel glares at him, and for a strange moment the shadows around them seem to swell and move and chitter, and the light that pours from Uriel's face is almost blinding. Dean tries very hard indeed not to look cowed or impressed, but the truth is the guy is pretty damn terrifying at the best of times. And this really isn't the best of times. Not that Dean intends to let him know this.
“Your brother dooms us all,” Uriel says, looking straight at Dean. “Make no mistake, Dean Winchester: when Lucifer breaks free, he wears your brother's skin, for Azazel created Sam to be the perfect host.”
“Over my dead body,” snaps Dean.
“In all likelihood, yes,” says Uriel, with a shrug. “There is nothing that you can do to keep your brother safe. In spite of all our efforts we are not winning this war. Our might is held in check. If you would save your brother Sam, Castiel has to die.”
“No, no, no and Hell no!”
“You cannot change the facts of life to suit your selfish whims. Castiel knows the truth. He will not be the first angel to live and die on earth, a willing sacrifice.” He sees Dean's eyes widen, and laughs. “Sometimes you even notice them, and build religions round them. But others live and die unmourned by the ungrateful hordes. It matters not. The sacrifice is vital now; it will renew our strength.” He cocks his head slightly, studying Dean's face. “How selfish are you really, Dean? Stop thinking with your pants.”
“You're twisting it all around,” says Dean, desperately. “You're not – you can't have him. This isn't right.” He searches Uriel's face, trying to find an answer. “Take me. Take me instead.”
This time Uriel's laugh seems to rumble right up from the soles of his feet. It shakes his belly and draws tears from his eyes. “Oh, that old tune again? You really are a one-trick pony, Dean. Do get over yourself. You're no celestial sacrifice, you fool! There is no candidate in all of heaven or earth but him.”
“Then find one!” snaps Dean. “What about you? You too fucking chickenshit to take one for the team, Uriel?”
“I am obedient to the Lord,” says Uriel calmly. “I would have slain you both. Pity is not my flaw.”
Dean stares. “This is so fucked up. Can you even hear yourself? The guy shows mercy, and for this you kick his ass out of heaven and then tell him he's got to commit suicide? And you're supposed to be the good guys? What are you, nuts?”
“Suicide is a sin,” says Uriel. “He will not kill himself. There are demons a-plenty who would gladly take his life.”
For a moment Dean is lost for words. “What the – we just saved him from being a freaking demon sacrifice,” he says at last, furiously. “And you're saying that we should have just let them rape him and carve him up into cat food? That that was all part of God's plan?”
“Certainly not!” Uriel looks offended. “That would have broken one more seal. His sacrifice is potent only if he chooses death, and not as part of some unholy rite to break a seal. Just – death. A painful gift for God.”
“I am here to tell you, you unpleasant son of a bitch, that nobody, I repeat nobody, is going to be offering themselves up as a painful gift for God. Fuck that shit.” Dean is practically shaking with rage.
Uriel's smile is chilling. “Dean Winchester, you are a fool. And you are far too late.”
“Just look around you, Dean. Castiel is long gone.”
Dean spins on his heel, his heart suddenly in his mouth, and oh, oh fuck, fuck, Uriel's right. There's a terrifying empty Castiel-shaped space where Castiel ought to be, and in fact he can't remember when he last heard the guy speak. He's just been assuming that Castiel was still standing at his back all of this time. Dean stares at the empty Impala, and then spins back around, his right hand bunching into a fist without any conscious planning involved, and he's already swinging at Uriel when Uriel darts forward with impossible speed and presses the heel of his hand to Dean's forehead.
“Sleep,” whispers Uriel, and Dean is swept off into oblivion before he can protest.
When Dean finally wakes up, the sun has long since risen, and Castiel is nowhere to be seen.
The last time Castiel sees Dean Winchester, he is sprawling across the bed with threadbare muslin drapes brushing against the warm golden curve of one arm and crisp white sheets tangled around his thighs. He is frowning in his sleep, his face half hidden in the pillows, and Castiel has an almost irresistible urge to reach out one finger and smooth the crease that crumples his brow. He would like very much to run his hands one last time over the firm muscles of Dean's back, feel the sturdy, breakable bones and the gentle drum of a heartbeat thrumming through his skin. He would like to lick the hollow of Dean's collarbone and taste salt. He would like, very much, to kiss Dean Winchester goodbye, and to say that he is sorry to break his promise so soon. He is sorry he cannot stay. But Castiel knows that if he does any of these things, Dean will probably wake up, and then everything will become very much more difficult. His path is clear. He understands the task he has been set, and in some ways it is a relief to have a purpose once again, and an honourable course.
But – he will miss Dean Winchester. Very much.
And he does not want to die. And he knows it won't be quick.
He pulls the door closed behind him with infinite care, and in one tiny, treacherous part of his heart he is almost hoping that Dean will hear him, will wake up and come dashing out to stop him from doing what he has to do. But he has been too efficient, too silent and stealthy, and Dean sleeps on. Castiel swallows hard, and pulls his borrowed shirt a little closer. It smells reassuringly like Dean, and Castiel finds a sudden hitch in his breathing, a sudden squeeze of loss that tightens his chest and makes his head hurt. He takes a deep breath, and then another, and squares his shoulders. Time to go.
“Whatcha doing?” Castiel jumps, and stares around frantically for a moment, expecting – well, heaven only knows what he is expecting. But what he sees, after a moment, is Ruby, perching on the little deck in front of the room she's sharing with Sam, breathing out a long curl of blue smoke and waving at Castiel with a hand that holds a cigarette. She takes in his expression, and the smile falls off her face. “What happened?”
Castiel blinks. This is going to be a turning point, he realises. Either he trusts her, or he does not. She is a demon, and Castiel has known many demons over the centuries. He knows that she is probably playing games with Sam Winchester, probably trying to help Lilith or Lucifer, or someone else again. he knows that he shouldn't trust her.
But he does it anyway. And maybe it's the memory of the dark haired girl in the alley who gave him a five dollar bill she could not easily spare herself, or maybe it's the thought of Dean standing in front of his little brother with a useless knife, or maybe it's just the determination to prove Uriel wrong – truthfully, Castiel doesn't know why he decides to take this leap of faith. But he would rather extend her his trust than his suspicion, would rather give her the benefit of the doubt. He prays that this is not folly, and waves her over to the cars, out of earshot of the Winchesters. “I have to go,” he says, when they reach her yellow car. “Away. I understand what it is I have to do now.”
“Okay. Spill.” Her face, half shadowed, half neon-lit, is serious, her manner brisk.
Castiel draws a deep breath and wills himself to be calm and collected. It nearly works. “Uriel found us,” he says. She jerks upright, suddenly all tension, and he reproaches himself. “In dreams. He came into my dream. And Dean's too, I think - although perhaps that was simply a figment of my imagination.” It is a troubling thought. He has not left a note of explanation, has assumed that Dean will know why he has gone. “Lucifer is winning.”
There is no mistaking the terror on her face there. Either she is sincere, or she is the best actor Castiel has ever seen. He hopes it is not the latter. “Sam,” she says, and her voice sounds raw and scraped.
“Yes. Uriel says that they are losing, that the seals are breaking. And Lucifer will possess Sam Winchester, and walk the earth in his form.”
“No.” She sounds more desperate than hopeful, and Castiel wonders just how long she spent in the pit before she managed to claw her way out.
“No,” agrees Castiel. “Because we are going to stop it. Now. I need your help.”
The warehouse is cold, and Castiel is glad of the trench coat, dirty and dishevelled though it is. The weight is comforting, and almost reminds him of his wings. The darkness is held at bay by flames flickering in the makeshift brazier that Ruby improvised from a rusty barrel. He can't help shivering, though. The rope that binds his wrists is very tight, and his hands are growing numb. In some ways this pose, with his shoulders pulled back and his hands tied behind the pillar, makes him feel even more vulnerable than he did in the studio in LA, because his chest and throat are being offered up and his back is arched, and he is painfully conscious of all the empty space behind him.
He licks dry lips and closes his eyes. Meditation would probably help. He tries to find a quiet place in his soul, tries to sink down into stillness and see the rivers of his veins and the rhythm of his heart as simply small parts of a greater whole. This body is just a shell, just a leaf upon a tree. No need to feel any cringing surge of dread at the prospect of pain, no need to regret the loss of trust or tenderness. This is fated, and right, and righteous. This is an honour, and by dying like this he will save Dean, and Sam, and the dark haired girl with the too-tight shoes, and the brutal truck driver, and the little boy on the swing. He can buy them back a future.
But, oh, it does sting to think of the future that he is giving up himself. Mortality is so sharp and sweet, so drenched with warmth and colour. He knows that he is less than once he was, but it still seems like in some vital ways his experiences, his very senses as an angel were always muffled, always oddly numb. Angels ate of the tree of immortality to be sure, but humans tasted of the tree of knowledge, and the juice is sweet and tart and sticky, the seeds bitter and hot and gritty on the tongue. Now that he is human, now that he is built from bones and blood and meat, a prey to terror and desire, to laughter and appetite and sensation – truly, he understands why Gabriel wanted to remain on earth. He could never have comprehended the seduction of the senses when he was a being of fire and air. He could never have understood selfishness or love.
He gets it now, though. The urge to call out to Ruby, to say he's changed his mind, to turn tail and run back to Dean Winchester and lose himself in joy and lust and cowardice is almost overwhelming.
Almost. But not quite. Because if John and Dean Winchester could sacrifice everything for the ones they loved, then how can Castiel do less? This is his purpose, after all. This is why he was made.
But he still flinches, when he finally hears the footsteps.
He could have asked Ruby to do it. He nearly did, in fact, because he thinks she would have said yes, and he believes that she would have been quick and clean and professional. It would have been a merciful demise. But he likes Ruby, in a puzzled, tentative fashion, and he doesn't want his blood upon her hands. If she is truly trying to find redemption – and he rather thinks she is – then Castiel very much doubts that murdering an angel would help her on her path. What he has asked of her is unpleasant enough, but Ruby is a creature of iron will and sharp edges, and she is a realist. She is no sentimental Winchester, to balk at causing pain. She knows what has to be done, and has balls enough to do it. And so she has tied him here, and gone out into the darkness to find the kind of beings that they need. Not major league demons, not creatures with wit and wisdom to recognise the danger of killing an angel. Petty monsters, rather, with eyes like coal and hearts that hunger for power and for pain. Creatures that will tear him limb from limb for the simple joy of it, and not realise their mistake until it is too late. Since the Devil's Gate opened, there has been no lack of demons such as these walking abroad at night.
He did not ask her to stay, but he rather hopes she will. Now he strains to hear how many sets of feet are fast approaching, and wonders whether one of these people is secretly a friend. It would be nice, he thinks, trembling despite his best intentions, to have one friendly face there with him at the end. A witness.
The footsteps grow closer. Somebody's fingers close over his bound hands and he feels warm breath against his neck. “Hello, angel,” says an unfamiliar voice. A woman, this one. But not Ruby.
“What have we got here?” And a man. Two, then? Or more? They step around to face him, and he finds there are four of them. One woman, three men, their eyes all gleaming like pitch and their expressions far from human. “Aren't you a long way from home, pretty?” This one is inhabiting the body of an older man, somebody's grandfather, tall and white and distinguished-looking. His eyes are framed with laugh lines and his cheeks are plump and rosy, but the smile that curves his mouth now is as cruel as anything Castiel has ever seen. He tries to stand up straight, and to keep his dignity. Reminds himself again that Dean Winchester endured thirty years of agony before he broke, and refuses to let Dean down.
“Oh, man, this is like Christmas,” says one of the others – this one in a body that is barely out of boyhood, with a ragged straggle of wispy mustache brushing his upper lip. “Can I unwrap him? I want to see what's inside.”
“Slugs and snails and puppydogs' tails,” singsongs the woman, with a great, guileless smile that is quite, quite mad. “That's what boys are made of. Angels though...blood and honey and feathers and fire? Sugar and gunpowder? Wriggling sticky things?” She holds up a kitchen knife and Castiel watches it twirl in the shadows, firelight sparking off its carefully honed edge. He shudders. “I want to see.” She looks across at the old man. “Can I see?”
“Not so fast.” The last is an Asian man in a business suit, watching Castiel through glasses. The others all defer to him. Castiel bites his lip, and hopes that Ruby has not made an error of judgment, has not brought back a demon smart enough to have restraint. Or, worse, that she has not betrayed him. Oh, and that would be unbearable, to fail in this attempt, to hand himself over into the demons' care and let them keep him or kill him at their convenience, opening up some seal and sealing the world's fate. Let this one not suspect Castiel's intent.
He swallows hard, and waits. The demon smiles. “We'll cut out all his secrets, love, but no need to make it quick.” His dark eyes dart over Castiel's shoulder and he tilts his head in a question. “Ladies first?”
“Go ahead.” And that's Ruby after all, standing quiet in the shadows. She's got his back. “I like to watch.” Her voice is as cold as an Arctic winter, but her fingers find his shoulderblade and squeeze him through his coat, then drop to hold his hand. Castiel feels a surge of unexpected strength, and stands a little taller.
“Do your worst,” he says quietly, looking at the four demons arrayed before him.
And they do.
It takes Dean's eyes a moment to adjust to the shadows as he flings himself helter-skelter into the warehouse, gun held out before him. And if he'd been professional about this, if he'd had his brain in gear, he'd have grabbed a flashlight from the car and thought about a strategy, rather than just hurling himself breathlessly past that stupid fucking banana-bright convertible and on across the gravel, and then plunging out of the sunlight and into the dark. A moment later Sam is there, and he does have a flashlight, so that's good, but Dean's heart is racing, and he's already thrown up a little in his mouth, and his tongue still stings from the acid nastiness of it. This is like Dad all over again. Like Sammy. Like Mom. And Dean could start to really hate the world and God and all His angels for taking away everything that Dean ever learns to cherish. Every fucking thing. It's not fair. Hell, maybe Lucifer's got the right idea. The world is screwed up beyond belief, and God? God can fuck right off. What has God ever done for Dean Winchester or his family, except mess with their heads and break their hearts?
“Castiel?” His voice is hoarse and deep, with a rasp like broken glass. He's trying to sound like the most badass motherfucker in the history of badass motherfuckers, like somebody who'd make the goddamn Batman piss his pants, but he's afraid he sounds like a scared little kid. “Cas? You in here, man?” The place smells like blood, and roasted pork, and sulpher. Not a happy combination, in Dean's extensive experience. “Cas?” His voice breaks, and he draws a ragged breath and steps deeper into the shadows.
Boxes, and empty palettes, and burger wrappers. The skitter of rats in the darkness. Silence, most ominious of all. Dean's trying to look in every damned direction at once, straining his ears for a clue. And then he rounds a corner and sees Castiel, and for a moment the world stands still.
“Castiel?” But he knows that it's far too late. There's no human body could look like that and still have life left in it; Dean should know. There's far, far too much blood dark and congealed around the body, too many drunken flies wheeling and droning stupidly all around. Dean stares. His eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness, and he can make out far too many details. Somebody has tried to wrap Castiel's naked body up in the tattered trench coat, but with little success. Dean can still see more than enough. He's made those same lacerations on innocent flesh with his own hands; he knows about gauging and flaying and slicing, about shattering bones and stripping away hope, about all the ways to keep a person's body alive as long as possible. He's experienced it all first hand, from both sides.
He could have done this himself. He has done this, and worse. For a long moment Dean cannot even breathe from the horror of it, and the guilt, and he drops his gun like a fucking amateur, and doubles over where he stands.
So it's Sam, not Dean, that sees Ruby coming forward holding a blood-stained knife, and Sam, not Dean, that shoots her in the head.
They don't speak at all, while they're digging the graves. Dean is meanly glad that Ruby's gone, but at the same time he knows that she's saved Sammy, and he cannot bring himself to hate her for that. For killing Castiel, yes, if that's what she did. But there were those four other bodies lying in the shadows, all killed with her demon-killing blade, and so Dean has to worry that maybe she was one of the good guys. Maybe she went chasing after Castiel just like them, and just got there too late. Or maybe she carved his guts out, and laughed while she did it. There's no way of knowing. But – Sam's alive, and the hosts of heaven are, apparently, kicking demon ass. Which should be a good result for Team Winchester, you'd think.
But neither of them speaks.
They are three interminable days older, and nearly two whole states away from where it happened, with no stupid yellow convertible snuggled up to the Impala in the motel parking lot, when Dean next hears the sound of Castiel's wings.
It's raining when it happens, and ever afterwards Dean will find himself having inappropriate responses to thunderstorms.
The motel room looks like the 70s vomited all over it: chunky flower-power wallpaper in yellow and orange and brown and white; green and brown covers on the beds; a dusty television set older than Sam; amoeba-shaped coffee tables in colours that kind of hurt to look at; fluffy cream fake-sheepskin rugs; even an honest-to-god lava lamp in the corner. Dean gives it three out of five, because it's clean, and there's an unexpectedly modern power shower in the bathroom.
Dean is sitting at a formica table the colour of an over-ripe avocado, methodically cleaning his guns. You've got to treat your weapons with respect, Dad always said; the old man might not have always been the perfect father, but he was a damn good hunter, and he knew what he was talking about. Dean finds the familiar ritual oddly comforting. The smell of the grease and the metal always takes him back to his childhood, watching John Winchester lay out his arsenal carefully on whatever clean surface was available and patiently explaining to Dean the name and function of each part of each weapon, one after another. He likes feeling the heft of the guns, likes the sounds that they make as he snaps them open and clasps them closed, each with their own voice, their own quirks, their own characters.
The room is very quiet. Sam's lying on his belly on one of the beds with his feet on the headboard, tapping away at his laptop and occasionally picking at a cooling pepperoni sub swaddled in greaseproof paper. (Dean finished his meal before they even reached the motel, and stole Sam's fries too.) He's still wearing that tight, closed, slightly stricken expression he's had for the past three days, and Dean really wishes he knew the right combination of words or gestures that could unknot the tension in the room and bring his brother back. He's tried to get the kid to snap out of it - and, okay, maybe he's not doing a great job of being the life and soul of the party right now himself, but, damn it, he's doing his best. He's not been moping around like some kind of teenaged girl, or anything, has quickly shut down any attempts Sam has made to be sympathetic. He doesn't need to hug it out, or go on Jerry Springer to share his feelings, or any of that shit. It's not like Sammy losing Jessica. It's not like Dad. (Except for how it really kind of is.) It's not like when Sam was dead, and Dean's whole universe just stopped. So, yes, okay, maybe he's feeling kind of numb and lost and fragile right now, but it'll pass. He's just being a pussy. He'll get over it.
It's kind of embarrassing, really, that he let himself get so caught up in the thing with Castiel. Because Dean knows better, damn it, has always known better. The world doesn't work that way, not for the Winchester men, at least. He feels vaguely stupid for having actually let himself believe that life could be different – that he could maybe have something for himself, something of his own, something other than monsters and duty and living by Dad's rules. Like there might actually be some kind of future for him that wasn't simply a succession of cheap motels with Sammy at his side and the taste of blood in his mouth. Sam is everything he needs, and if he sometimes has let himself imagine something else – with Cassie, or with Lisa and her kid Ben, or with Castiel – well, he knows better.
(It doesn't help that he had to have this stupid, optimistic little epiphany with a guy, either. That was just the frosting on the cupcake of embarrassment. Hello, socially awkward moments! But in the end, that turned out to be the least of the problem.)
Dean's fine. And, more important, so is Sam. And so's the world. Go team.
But – he still misses Castiel. Not that the guy had been human for more than five minutes, but – yeah. Dean misses him. A lot. And he feels guilty as hell, and just plain bad for the guy, with his unexpected sweetness and his fascination with all the small, stupid things about being mortal. He was just getting started, damn it, was making his own crappy lemonade out of the fucking poisoned lemons he'd been handed by the Big Guy Upstairs, and then they took the lemonade away too. If ever anyone got a shitty deal, it was Castiel. Dean misses his curiosity, and his unexpected smile, and the way he looked at Dean like Dean was something amazing and precious. He shouldn't have had to die.
(But, a treacherous voice in the back of his head whispers, at least it wasn't Sam. And now Sam's safe from Lucifer, now Sam's terrifying destiny has been derailed and they can maybe start imagining a future again. And at least Castiel didn't leave it up to Dean to choose, because in spite of the way Castiel made Dean feel, in spite of how much he – yeah, all that – Dean would never have chosen Castiel over Sammy. Couldn't do it. And knowing that makes him hate himself, a little, because Castiel deserved something better.)
The guns are all clean, inside and out, gleaming and oiled and moving smooth and sweet as can be. Dean's a little startled to see that he's finished them all already, and he wonders if he should start honing his knives again too. Wouldn't hurt. He glances over at Sam, still frowning into his computer, and makes another stab at breaking through the ice. “So, you had any luck rustling us up a job yet, Bucko?” he asks, his voice carefully cheerful. Sam blinks at him, guilty as a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar, and Dean gives a big shit-eating grin. “Or are you just googling up pictures of horny Japanese schoolgirls?” It's automatic now, going through the motions of being Dean, making the wisecracks and ogling the waitresses and not giving a damn. He knows that Sam doesn't buy it any more, hasn't done for years, in fact, but he can't seem to stop. And it is who he is. Just – not everything he is. Some stuff is private.
He kind of expects Sam to protest, but he just shakes his head. “I thought maybe I'd found a haunting, but it's looking like a prank.” His voice is flat, and it's killing Dean, but he just doesn't know how to fix it. He still feels like someone's hollowed out his chest, like he's as bright and brittle and empty as a kid's painted Easter egg, and he kind of suspects that's how Sam feels too.
“Well, I guess that just goes to show the good guys are winning,” he says after a moment. “Low level of demonic activity got to mean that the angels are kicking their unclean asses back to Hell, right?” Sam just looks at him, and Dean's mouth feels dry. Ah, fuck. “Could you use a drink? I could use a drink,” he says roughly, and looks around for the cooler with their beer. “Did you bring the beers?'
Sam shakes his head. “Still in the back of the car,” he says, looking back at the laptop.
Dean nods. “I guess I could use the fresh air.” He stands up, raking a hand through his short hair and rolling his shoulders, then looks at Sam. “I'm only going to be two minutes, though, so don't go getting Sam Junior out for some quality time with the Japanese schoolgirls, or anything.”
“Dean!” And that sounds a bit more like Sam, that pissy tone. Nice.
“I'm just saying. Keep it secret, keep it safe.”
He hears Sam snort behind him as he closes the door, and it makes him smile.
The evening sky overhead is the colour of a bruise, thick with dirty stormclouds promising rain. As Dean crosses the parking lot the wind sends thin burger wrappers and discarded cigarette cartons skittering around like rats, and the air is heavy and oppressive and crackling with the static thrum of unspent lightning. There's a construction site next to the motel, and the wind that's tearing the last dead leaves from the trees is starting to whip the heavy tarpaulin like crazy, making a dark, violent sound like a giant's laundry flapping on a line, like the sails of a ghost ship, like a massive pair of invisible wings beating just beyond the scope of human sight.
Jesus. He needs to snap out of this. Sam is okay, and the world is okay, and that's all a person can reasonably ask for, damn it.
He's just reached the Impala when the storm breaks, and a million big fat drops of rain come pounding down out of the sky to drench him. Dean swears and drops his keys, and, wow, hello monsoon! The tarp sounds about ready to tear the building down, and the wind is starting to scream against his ears, and, shit, it's only been seconds but his jacket is already wet through. Fuck this. His fingers have just closed over the warm metal of his car keys when he hears the unmistakable crunch of feet on the gravel behind him and Dean's Spidey senses finally kick in, and then he's pushing himself to his feet and cursing the fact that all his lovely, perfect weapons are presently lined up like good little soldiers on the green formica table where they're no good to man or beast, and he spins around ready to take on whatever ghost or demon or thing that goes bump in the night might be creeping up behind him this time, and then the flood of brightness almost blinds him.
Dean stumbles back, his hands raised in front of his eyes, and his car's suddenly right there to catch him, a sturdy, stable pressure against his shoulders and his ass that promises nothing can be too terrible, but his heartbeat is still racing, and every muscle in his body is taut with anticipation, adrenaline zinging through his veins.
And then the brightness fades, and he finds himself face to face with an impossible figure in a trench coat: God's holy tax accountant, back from the grave. There is a moment there where Dean basically forgets how to speak English, and just stares at Castiel, taking in the bedhead and the old familiar suit, the open collar, the tie, the coat (which is currently, Dean knows for a fact, six feet under with the guy's corpse, damn it, and is torn to shreds and sodden with blood and can't possibly be billowing cleanly out behind...behind...fucking hell) and all the pristine, unbruised, unbroken skin. And there's no danger of ever mistaking this Castiel for human, absolutely none; it's like the light that hits his skin is coming from somewhere else, somewhere cold and clean and pure, somewhere terrible and glorious. And there's something like a heat haze making the world around him look subtly wrong and insubstantial, like the gravel and the cars and the motel are all somehow less permanent and solid, less real than the angel in their midst.
Dean can hear the wings, and they sound big enough to wrap around the whole damn world; hell, he could almost swear he can see the feathers out of the corner of his eye, bright and trembling. And he's taking all this in, he is, but what he's actually looking at the whole time is Castiel's face. His eyes. Dear heaven, his eyes, which are completely focused on Dean with a fierce, possessive elation that just takes his breath away.
“You left,” says Dean, because he has never been very good at trusting people who aren't family. “You left, and they fucking killed you. You died,” says Dean at last, and, shit, his eyes are prickling and his voice sounds like crap, like he's reproaching the guy. He tries again, straightening his back a little. “We found your body. We buried you.” And Castiel is still just looking at him, with the ghost of a smile curving his mouth. Dean's chest feels tight and there's a ringing in his ears, and he's on the brink of something here, like he's about to burst out laughing or start to sob like a little kid or something. It's something huge, like the way his favourite songs build up and up into pure gold, pure awesomeness, carrying him up out of himself and making his heart expand, and he doesn't know how to put this into words, doesn't have any fucking idea.
“I died and then you buried me, but now I am restored,” says Castiel, and he's stepping closer, and Dean notices that the raindrops are actually bouncing away, not daring to touch a hair on the angel's head. He's dry as a bone, crisp and clean and warm, and Dean's hair is dripping dirty rain into his eyes, and the denim of his jacket is waterlogged, his skin slick, and the wind is bitingly cold against him, and Dean Winchester has never felt so fucking amazing in his whole damn life. (Or at least, not while he was fully dressed.)
“Oh,” says Dean, intelligently. “Okay. Good.”
Castiel's smile is dazzling, and it's a damn sight more human than Dean remembers the angel ever looking before he fell. He's very close now, and Dean can smell the familiar breath of ozone and something else, something clean and sweet and fresh, like new-cut grass, but not. “I have looked on the face of God,” says Castiel, watching Dean's eyes. And that – holy – that's – what's a person supposed to say to that, for fuck's sakes?
“Er. Congratulations?” offers Dean, breathlessly, wondering what will happen if he tries to kiss the angel. Because he's definitely an angel again now, crackling with power, a violence like thunder underlying his words; definitely an angel, no question, and that's the kind of thing that probably earns a person a little quality smiting...but he's just so, fuck, he's overwhelming is what he is, and Dean really really wants to pull him close and taste him. Now. Possibly sooner. He licks his lips, and tries quite hard not to do anything stupid. Castiel can crush him like a bug, and now that he's an angel once again it's a pretty safe bet that he's not exactly awash with hormones and naughty thoughts. Damn it. But the way he's looking at Dean, the way he's stepped right up into his personal space – those are some mixed messages right there. “So, I guess this whole death thing got you back in God's good books? That's – uh, that's cool.” He nods stupidly, and licks his lips again, and feels Castiel watching him lick his lips, which – really, this is not doing anything to help send the message to Dean's pants that happy fun times are not on the cards. “You got a promotion?”
“I have been raised far higher than I ever thought to be,” says Castiel slowly, and he's still smiling. “Without you I would not have been a fitting sacrifice.” And he's studying Dean like there's the secret meaning of life written on his skin somewhere, maybe hidden in the shape of his lips or the arch of a nostril, or the precise mix of flecks of green and gold in the colour of his eyes. “I understand so many things that baffled me before, and this is thanks to you. I am not what I was. My time upon the earth has left its marks upon my soul.”
“Well, that's,” begins Dean, hoarsely, and then Castiel's hands are on him and he's being shoved back into the cool metal and glass of his car while the angel's mouth closes over his and the angel's body – which feels warm through the clothes, and human, and, oh, sweet merciful Jesus, hard – cleaves to him like a second skin. It's fierce and wild and demanding, like being kissed by a thunderstorm, like being held by a tornado or a forest fire, something impossible and overwhelming. And Dean just gives himself up to it, yields himself totally, conscious of all the lethal might that's barely held in check, conscious that this being is not human, not really, and knowing that Castiel could break him with a thought, but trusting that he won't.
“You know that you belong to me,” whispers Castiel against the skin of his throat, and Dean shudders helplessly under his hands. “I will not let you go.” This is – Jesus, this is – he doesn't have words.
And pretty soon he also doesn't have clothes, which is a neat trick, and, oh, fuck, hello, naked angel in the rain. Even in the middle of it all, with his braincells spontaneously combusting and his skin feeling like it's actually afire with sensation, Jesus, even in the middle of all this Dean still finds himself snorting with laughter against Castiel's collarbone. “Dude. We are naked in the middle of a parking lot next to the highway, and we're going to do the horizontal tango. Or, well, vertical tango. Or something. Seriously? Discretion really not so much part of your skill set, is it?”
Castiel looks at him with such affection that it makes Dean's toes curl. “I did not take you for a prude,” he says, and kisses Dean hard enough to make him forget his name. “My wings hide us from mortal eyes,” he adds a little later. And to be honest, by that point Dean would be more than happy to do this in the window of Macy's, or live on TV at the start of the Superbowl, because nothing, absolutely nothing has ever felt as shockingly good as this does. Castiel owns him heart, mind, body and soul.
When he pushes open the door of the motel again some time later, Dean's whole body is one, glorious, satisfied, tingling ache. He looks across at Sam, and he knows he's got the world's dopiest smile on his face, and he can't help it. He loves Sam. He loves everybody. Life is, as it turns out, pretty fucking awesome.
Sam looks up and frowns. “Did you make a run to the liquor store?” he asks. “You were gone a long time.”
Dean rubs his wet hair and sits down on the edge of the bed, and, yeah, still smiling like an idiot. “No,” he says.
Sam pulls a face. “You forgot the beer,” he says. “Dean – are you okay?”
Dean nods, and laughs. “Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay. I'm very okay. In fact, the only thing that could make me more okay right now is a warm piece of cherry pie fresh from the oven.”
“Oookaay,” says Sam, closing the laptop and pulling himself into a sitting position. “Seriously, dude. You're worrying me.”
Dean nods, and swallows. “So, good news,” he says, and then sniffs the air and pauses. “Wait a minute, is that...”
And when he turns around, he sees a thoroughly impossible pie sitting amidst his neatly ordered weapons, with steam curling out of the holes in its golden crust.
It's snowing when Sam hears a knock on the door, and assumes that Dean's forgotten his damn keys again. He crosses the room in two swift strides and pulls the door open ready to say something cutting, and then stops short at the sight of a stranger on the threshold.
“Can I help you?” he asks, wondering if she has the wrong room.
She's strikingly pretty, a tall woman about Sam's age or maybe a touch older, and she's got the build of a runner. Very dark skin, beautiful eyes, short hair. She's wearing a long red leather coat over black jeans and a tight cream sweater, and Sam can't help noticing that the overall effect is very good indeed. He smiles tentatively. She looks at him for a long moment with an unreadable expression, and then punches him in the face.
Sam reels back, clutching his nose. “What the, what,” he splutters, and starts to reach for his gun, and then she's standing in front of him with her hands on her hips, glaring.
“So, we have some trust issues,” she says, and it's something about her posture, or maybe her intonation, but he gets it then and stands up straight, feeling a sudden surge of hope.
“Give the boy a gold star,” she says, still glaring.
“You hit me,” he says, because, crap, he thinks his nose might actually be broken here.
“You shot me in the fucking head,” she points out grimly, and he can't argue with that one.
“Sorry,” he says, and, man, he really means it. When Dean had relayed him Castiel's side of the story, Sam had had to go and throw up. He's been hoping she'll come back, been holding on to the thought that it was just a regular gunshot, not a bullet from the colt or any other kind of mojo. Been hoping he'll get another chance.
“Yeah, well, you better be,” she says, and she's still pissed, but, hey, she's here. “And before you ask, no, I'm not joyriding. Coma victim, only one previous owner, and I moved in when she vacated the premises.” She gives him a very level look. “I have the paperwork. Or you could, you know, try trusting me.”
“Okay,” says Sam, carefully. And, shit, his nose is killing him, but he's not an idiot, and he doesn't want to fuck this up. “Okay. I really am sorry.”
“Keep saying it, Sam,” she says, but he can see something like a smile in her eyes.