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Safehouse II

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It is always dark outside, so that the house inside is always lit with light that seems to creep from the corners like fog. Firelight, mostly. Shadowy and flickering. And this is only his second visit, but Castiel already finds himself settling into it as into a warm bath, as if his borrowed muscles are relaxing from associated memory alone. As if it takes nothing more than a little dim lighting to remind them. Or perhaps it’s only fatigue. After all, he has been taxing himself to previously unexplored limits lately. Physically, he is fully healed from his recent ordeal. But on a spiritual level, he is weakened. In need of time to crawl away and lick his wounds in safety like an injured prey animal, and that is exactly what Crowley is offering. A den, a bolthole. His safe house. Time.

The door swings open, even as Castiel raises his fist to knock on it. Crowley stands aside to let him enter, leaning against the heavy door in an attitude that seems every bit as weary as Castiel feels. "Hello, Feathers." He sounds tired, too, the usual smirking lilt of his voice strained. "What an unexpected pleasure."
"Is it?" Castiel frowns, and wonders if it is his presence that is unexpected, or Crowley's pleasure at it. "This is the time we agreed on."
Crowley's reply is quiet. "Didn't expect you to come." It's the same, this familiar hallway, unchanged in the past six years, yet it's somehow different too. The charge of magic enveloping the place feels subtly different. Subdued. Crowley stands clear as Castiel passes him, doesn't attempt to touch him in greeting, but Castiel can feel Crowley's gaze upon him.
"We had an agreement," he says, as if the words make everything clear. Crowley should understand the concept, Castiel thinks. "I'm not sure why you wanted me here, but... it was the least I could do after your assistance." Not that the Winchesters had agreed with that sentiment.
Crowley nods, tilting his chin up and sucking his cheeks in, as if considering. Then he gestures follow; the smallest inclination of his head.

Castiel walks behind him through the hallways of the house, their footsteps ticking on the hardwood floors like the pendulum of an old fashioned clock. He trusts that Crowley will make apparent whatever he wants, whatever price he has put on saving Castiel's life. Around them, the house seems to breathe. To exhale and settle in its bones as if turning over in sleep. "How did this place come into your possession, Crowley?" Castiel asks. "It's old. Older than you, I believe." And yet, it's woven through with Crowley's power. Castiel can taste it on his skin, hear it quaking in the air.
"It's my father's house." It's difficult to read his tone, especially when Castiel can't see his face, can barely follow his neat black-clad back as it all but disappears into shadow.
"I see." Castiel is curious. Curiosity has always been one of his flaws. But he knows better than to push at such a potentially delicate issue with such a dangerous creature as Crowley. Still, he has the feeling that Crowley does not bring many guests here, and feels... intrigued, that an exception has been made for him of all people.
"See, this is why I keep you around, choirboy." He catches a flash of Crowley's teasing smile, as he pushes open another crooked wooden door, onto another fire-lit room. He holds the door open for Castiel to enter: a kitchen, stone-flagged, less modernised than the other rooms Castiel has seen. "Anyone else would be whipping out the clipboard and asking how my relationship is with mummy."
"I somehow doubt that's why you've brought me here." And Castiel knows he is hardly an ideal example of healthy family relationships. He casts his eyes around the room. Settles on Crowley's face. Crowley is watching him, as if Castiel is a puzzle he'd very much like to solve. "Why have you brought me here, Crowley?"
"How long have we been..." Crowley pauses, just for a beat, "acquainted, Castiel?" Castiel opens his mouth, but Crowley doesn't pause to allow an answer. "And in all that time, through all those marvellous, wacky adventures, have you learned nothing? I know I have. The longer you hang around Dumb and Dumber, the more likely you are to meet a sticky end, and I don't mean the fun kind." He stills. Looks at Castiel almost expectantly.
Castiel takes a moment to try to parse this. He realises he's holding himself too still, unnaturally still. It's the sort of thing that makes humans uneasy, makes Dean uneasy. He forces himself to blink. To breathe a few times. "You are... worried? About me?" The thought seems a strange one.
Turning away, Crowley snorts a laugh. He's busying himself with something in the fireplace Castiel can't quite see. "You're a powerful ally. As are those two liabilities you've attached yourself to. I don't wish to lose... that."
"I see." Castiel supposes he can follow this logic. It fits with what they know of Crowley; his mercenary nature. "So I'm here in my capacity as ally."
"Like I told you last time you were here." Crowley's voice is soft. "I protect my investments." When he turns back, he's holding out a mug: thick earthenware; steaming. "I thought a cup of tea might be a good place to start."
"Tea." Castiel eyes the offered mug dubiously. He's fairly sure Dean would tell him he's being an idiot; that Crowley is not to be trusted.
His hesitation doesn't go unnoticed. Crowley sighs. "Up to you, of course. I'm afraid it's not quite rural diner coffee with four white sugars."
Against his better judgement, Castiel takes the cup from Crowley's hand. It is warm in the cradle of his palm. Hot, really. Possibly it would hurt to hold it, if Castiel let it hurt him. It smells herbal; pungent. He takes a cautious sip. "Atta boy." Crowley is watching him, avidly. He's heard humans mention how showing a stranger around their home town is almost like experiencing it for the first time again: he wonders, briefly, if that is Crowley's game. If he's merely an amusement. A distraction. All things considered, that seems benign enough. "Or should I say 'boy'." He meets Crowley's eyes curiously as the demon cocks his head.
"What do you mean?" The tea is... interesting. Castiel likes the fragrant heat of it, the way it seems to warm the vessel from the inside. It's less bitter than the burnt coffee he's grown used to. Sweeter. He takes another, slightly more generous mouthful.
Crowley shrugs. Stirs the second mug he's prepared and takes a mouthful. "I mean, I don't wish to assume." He gestures vaguely in Castiel's direction, not breaking eye contact as he takes a seat at the heavy oak table that dominates the room. He pats the bench next to him. "That pretty vessel aside, I can't pretend to know if wavelengths of light have a gender."
Castiel eyes Crowley with open suspicion, but goes to sit beside him anyway. He can feel the warmth from Crowley's vessel, and he can feel Crowley's power, the essence of him, where it bleeds out at the vessel's edges in ways no human could comprehend. This close together they are merging at the boundaries, he and Crowley. Exchanging atoms, particles of themselves intermingling very slightly. Tasting each other. "We don't," Castiel says, although he does not expect Crowley to understand.
Another nod. Crowley's brows rise slightly. He blows gently across the mug clasped in his vessel's hands: around them the atmosphere fluctuates, heat and the buzzing ebb of magic. "Duly noted. Any particular reason you've never said?"
"Because it doesn't matter. This vessel is male, so that is how the humans perceive me. It makes no difference."
"Of course. How the humans perceive you is far more important." Where the suggestion of their limits meets, Crowley's essence undulates, the barest heated lick against Castiel's emanating energy: he cannot imagine that it is accidental.
"They cannot comprehend what I really am. It unsettles them to be reminded that this vessel is only borrowed." Castiel takes great pains to cause as little unease as possible. It is draining, at times. But he is learning - how to move and speak, how to hold himself.
"It doesn't unsettle me." Crowley leans an elbow against the table, rests his chin in his upturned palm: so comfortably human despite his words. "They take such pains to teach you their habits, while they assure you it's your own choice. Take a break, darling: it's why you're here."
"Is it?" Castiel still isn't entirely sure why he's here. He's not sure he understands. "Why should you care about this?"
He's forgetting to blink again, but Crowley holds his gaze. It's a longer-than-human pause before he answers. "A Prince of Hell almost killed you with one of the most powerful weapons that exists-" Crowley bites his lower lip "-existed. It should never have happened. We both need... time. And we're certainly not going to be allowed it in Kansas."
For some reason, the word "both" sticks in Castiel's mind. Catches, echoes. Crowley needs this too, he realises. Whatever this is. Castiel nods. "All right," he says. "Time is something I can give you." At least for now. He's sure the Winchesters will find a way to contact him when he's needed.
Another gracious nod. It's quiet here. None of the howling winds of Castiel's memory. Stiller, yet not entirely calm. The fire snaps and flares in the huge iron range, all around them the timber creaks and sighs of the house settling. The distant resonating lullaby of a ticking clock. "How's your tea?"
"Sweet," Castiel replies without thinking. He takes another sip. Feels the heat of Crowley's gaze on his mouth.
"Do you like it?" Crowley asks, quietly.
"I..." Castiel's mind is blank. What does Crowley expect him to say? "I'm not sure I understand the question."
"The tea." Crowley takes another sip of his own. The firelight dances in his eyes. "Are you enjoying it?"
Castiel takes another mouthful. Feels the heat of the liquid on the softness of the inside of his mouth, lets himself feel the flavour of it flooding his tongue, molecules interacting, the vessel's chemical responses. He swallows, holding eye contact with Crowley all the while. "Yes," he says, finally, and is confused by the way his voice tremors, is barely a whisper in his throat.
"Good," Crowley says, with just the hint of a smile.
Time, Crowley had said, and space. These intangible things - so taken for granted outside of the suffocating bell jar of earth - feel almost possible here. They don't speak. Finish their tea in silence, Crowley's eyes always on him in a way so discouraged by the human company Castiel has been keeping that it starts to feel almost... comforting. Finally, Crowley stands, slipping from behind the table and stretching, arms above his head. He places his empty mug in the big stone sink and crosses to the door. "There's a bath drawn, if you fancy it. You know where the bathroom is. Or feel free to explore, or, you know... just sit there. Whatever it is you angelic types do to relax. If you want me, I'll be in the library - I trust you remember where that is, too."

Castiel spends a day and a half in the bath. He likes it, he decides. He enjoys it, the heat on his skin, the sleek satiny wetness, the steam hanging in the air like incense. Physical sensation is often tricky for him to process – after so many centuries spent without this kind of corporeal form, it still seems new and foreign, despite his recent familiarity with humanity. But he likes this. He likes it. He feels himself swell, inside the vessel, feels himself occupy it in a way he’s usually hesitant to. To take up space, to exist. It’s heady. He spends the long hours simply experiencing it. When he emerges from the bathroom, finally, steam rushes from the open door into the corridor outside like a ghost, and Castiel follows it. Nude. Still dripping.
When he enters the library, Crowley looks up from his book, and stares at him, unflinching and unapologetic and appreciative. The time since they shared a pot of tea in the kitchen feels trifling: a second, a century. "Good morning, sunshine."
"Is it morning?" Castiel's voice is slipping back into its default monotone, here with no humans to hear it and frown at the eeriness of that lack of inflection. It's cooler, here. He misses the warmth, lets his skin prickle with goose-bumps.
Crowley's smile reaches his eyes. Perhaps a touch less sly than usual: although Castiel isn't the greatest judge of these things, he knows this creature better than he knows most. "It's morning somewhere." He moves his feet from the couch, as if inviting Castiel to sit. But he doesn't prompt. His suit is gone, replaced with the same quilted silk robe he wore all those years ago. Matching pyjama pants. Slippers on his bare feet. Castiel tilts his head. "What's your pleasure, angel? Food? Drink? Sleep?" He indicates the shelves lining the walls with a gesture of his head. "Something to read?"
Pleasure. It has to be a deliberate choice of words - everything Crowley does or says is deliberate. Castiel sends a sliver of power through the house's magic. It works its way out through the wards without damaging them, a little scalpel-sharp needle of concentration that disperses when it reaches the atmosphere. Softly, the sound of rain hitting the curtained window. Castiel likes water, he has decided. Satisfied, he turns to the nearest book shelf. "I will read, if I may."
Crowley's smile widens. He surely felt the shiver of Castiel's grace. "You may do whatever you want to." Crowley's eyes follow him. He can feel it as sure as a touch, chasing the droplets of water that are still dripping from his hair and shivering down his naked back.
Castiel takes a book from the shelf. It's old, well worn. Its spine is soft, the cover faded. He opens it and goes to sit on the floor without thinking. It's too easy to do that here. To slip into familiar habits and patterns, to act on instinct.
But Crowley says nothing. Doesn't correct, or even pass comment. Castiel hears him shift, the worn leather of the Chesterfield creaking softly. The patter of the rain, the flutter of the fire, lulls him. Another soft sounds joins the mix, a quiet scratching.
Time passes. A few minutes, perhaps. Or maybe hours. Castiel lets his awareness drift. Crowley's presence anchors him to this room, this plane, but otherwise Castiel drifts, only coming back to himself when that muted scratching finally ceases. He glances at Crowley. "Have I disturbed you?" No words. Just a shake of his head. Crowley rearranges himself again, drawing his feet up beside him. He turns the book he's holding to display a pencil sketch. Castiel's vessel in profile. Castiel frowns. The drawing is well executed. A fair likeness. He stares at it, and finds himself raising a hand to his own face. Touching his cheek, feeling the shape of it. The stubble on the skin. "This vessel appeals to you?" he ventures. Artistically, if nothing else. Would Crowley have chosen this vessel, under different circumstances? Taken it for his own?
Crowley lounges against the arm of the couch. Regards him steadily. "You should know the answer to that by now." He exhales. A sigh. "The contents appeal more. Does it upset you, me watching you?"
"Why would it upset me?" Castiel still can't take his eyes off the sketch. This is how he's seen, he knows. As if this body, that he has inhabited for a mere handful of years, is his true self. It's an unsettling feeling. Like vertigo. And all of a sudden he wants Crowley to see him, to see him as he really is, to see the being known as Castiel the way it was created. To draw it, perhaps, if such a thing were possible. To draw it with the same tenderness he had drawn these limbs and hair, these cheekbones and lips, the soft plane of stomach and the line of his neck. Is Crowley even capable of feeling this strange affection for something skinless, something shapeless and colourless, something without weight or dimension?
"I don't suppose it would," Crowley answers, softly. He raises a hand, and for a moment Castiel thinks he's going to touch Castiel's vessel, but instead Crowley rubs at the back of his own vessel's neck, fidgets and settles himself again. "It's not as if I can truly see you. Not clearly, at least."
"Would you like to see me?"
Crowley's expression wavers strangely, subtle as a candle flame, his eyes growing somehow brighter. Wetter. "Yes. Although I doubt I would survive you intact." He does reach out, then, just one finger, the back of it stroking almost warily across one cheekbone of Castiel's vessel. "I see flickers. A suggestion of the whole. I feel you, like a presence in a dark room."
Castiel shifts forward enough to clamp a hand tight over Crowley's eyes and leans in close to him, his mouth against the softness of Crowley's cheek for the barest moment before he releases himself - not all of himself, no, Crowley is quite correct when he says that would not be survivable for a demon. But more of him than the suggestion Crowley usually observes. Something hotter, fiercer. Something pure and boundless, something big. Castiel doesn't even know why he does it. Only that Crowley had seemed so genuinely interested in the angel inside the vessel, and that Castiel is only now appreciating how rare that sentiment is. It's over in seconds. Castiel waits a beat before removing his hand from Crowley's eyes, just to be sure.
He's seen that expression before, but rarely. When he was human, destitute on the streets, the escapist bliss in the eyes of addicts and the truly insane. On Crowley, like them, it is brief, before it crumples into pain. Crowley's eyes are round, shocked, his mouth open, all human pretence of breathing forgotten. A tear wells and rolls down one cheek, until he seems to remember himself and wipes it hurriedly away. "Well. Aren't you full of surprises? Bravo, darling." His voice, always husky, sounds quite ruined. "You appear to have rendered me speechless."
"I've hurt you." Castiel touches the wetness at Crowley's eye. Examines the dampness now on the tip of his finger with dismay. "Forgive me. I shouldn't have done it." He encourages Crowley to lie back on the sofa, and is surprised when he goes readily with Castiel's urging.
"You're forgiven. Do it again?" It's definitely a request rather than an order: the tremor is clear in Crowley's voice, but it could be fear or pain or awe or any colour of that confusing, riotous spectrum of mortal emotions the demon seems to still have full run of.
Castiel wants to smile, and so he does. "I don't think that would be wise," he says, but he's still touching Crowley. One hand still on his shoulder, one hand on his cheek. Castiel strokes it absently, and Crowley's eyes half close and he leans into the touch like a spoilt cat. "I don't want to hurt you."
"I like it when you hurt me." His roughened voice is dreamy, just for a moment, before his eyes bat open again as if he's just realised what he's said. "Cas..." The hand he lays across Castiel's hand on his shoulder is just as big and warm as Castiel remembers. "I've changed. We both have. We're not the same creatures we were, back then."
I like it when you hurt me. Castiel can't get those words out of his mind. Demons have a strange relationship with pain, he knows. "I suppose you're right. We have changed." Does that mean that Crowley no longer wants from him what he once wanted? No longer feels the same... fondness, he once seemed to feel?
"We've been through a lot. Together." Crowley's eyes on him are piercing, questioning. His words sound careful.
"Too much." Castiel's gaze drops to the floor. "I should apologise. This latest incident... I've caused you too much trouble."
"Which incident in particular? Lucifer using me as a stress-ball, or me saving your life?" The words are cutting, but Crowley's tone sounds almost teasing now. The hand on top of Castiel's vessel's hand has not moved.
"Yes," Castiel murmurs in response. "Both. All of it. I bring you little but trouble." He's truthfully not sure why Crowley keeps showing up to help him.
"I'm quite astonished to hear you admit it. To me." His thumb moves, almost imperceptibly across the back of Castiel's hand. Almost stroking.
"Sam says that it's important to be honest with someone you... someone you're friends with." In context it had actually been himself and Dean that Sam had been talking about, entreating Castiel to share his plans more fully with them in future. Still, the principle seemed to apply.
"Tch." The click of Crowley's tongue is accompanied by a little sharp motion of his head, slight but so unexpected that it makes Castiel startle slightly. "Sam says. They're teaching you all of their habits, angel. Making you like them." He pauses, his eyes searching again. "Are we friends, Cas? Should I be honest with you, lay all my cards face-up?"
Castiel looks up at Crowley, into his eyes. Windows of the soul. When Castiel sends a little shiver of himself outwards he can watch the demon inside this aesthetically pleasing face flare in response, grow red and hot behind the eye's soft lenses. Castiel shivers as if in ecstasy. "I know better than to believe you would ever be fully honest with me."
The demon behind his eyes seethes and twists: Crowley's human voice is soft. "Now I think you're really trying to hurt me, my love."
Castiel feels as if he's just swallowed something bitter. A sensation which would have been unfamiliar to him a few scant years ago. "I'm not. I never am. But I seem to keep doing it nonetheless."
"Shhh." Crowley's hand closes around his, the other raising to pet his still-damp hair awkwardly, as if he's not sure what to do with his hands. "This isn't why- I didn't ask you here because I think you owe me ... Believe me, if I'd... done it, to clock up a favour from you or yours, I'd have made you sign on the dotted line first. Cas, why did you come here?"
The answer is astonishingly simple. Castiel doesn't have to think before replying. "Because you asked me to."
Outside a spat of rain shivers against the windows, the wind rising, taking its own direction. Crowley's expression softens, so slightly. "Come here. Lie with me. No funny business, scout's honour."
Lie with. The Biblical connotations cannot be lost on Crowley, and yet he makes good on his promise of no "funny business" as Castiel hesitantly stretches out beside him. The couch is wide, sagging soft. Castiel can feel the warmth of Crowley's body. The spiritual heat of the demon licking at the vessel's edges like fire. "Like this?"
"Like this." Crowley's mouth is soft against his hair. His arms wrap around Castiel's shoulders, pull him against the body behind him - Castiel is suddenly reminded that his vessel is naked - but the way in which Crowley is touching him is not lewd. "Do you know how often you get a chance to do this in Hell, angel?" It's obviously a rhetorical question, as he continues before Castiel has chance to answer. "There's luxury there, if you know where to look. Opulence and excess and sensuality. But there's nothing..." He sighs. A tired sound, like he can't bring himself to say whatever word was on his tongue.
It's strange to imagine this Crowley in Hell. The Crowley who feeds him tea and lets him take days-long baths. "Are you unhappy?" Castiel finally says. He's not sure how he can help, either way.
Crowley lets out a quiet chuckle. "Not sure I have a basis for comparison there, darling. I'm a demon. Our default emotion is dissatisfaction. Envy. Hunger. But I've done alright for myself: four centuries, the throne of Hell, I'm not dead yet." His voice drops, like he's whispering a secret. "I'm lonely, Cas."
Castiel closes the vessel's eyes, and opens a few of his real ones. Eyes which can see far more than any human's. He can perceive Crowley's loneliness, his longing. Instinctively, the part of Castiel that is still pure light and love and compassion reaches out, tries clumsily to fold itself around the little wisp of demon curled up at his back.
Strong arms close tighter around his corporeal vessel, holding it in a firm embrace. On the very edge of his perception is a strange sound. Low and grating, inaudible to any natural ear, an ugly, beautiful noise: the demon is purring softly.
"You know that angels were not designed to be lonely," Castiel explains. "In Heaven there are no boundaries between my kind, and we exist in a state of constant communion."
"Sounds cosy." Castiel feels Crowley's vessel, warm against the whole length of his own, rub its cheek against his vessel's hair. The slow warm exhale of its breath. One palm smooths, soothing, up and down Castiel's vessel's arm. The demon presses tight, as if trying to break through, onto this plane, to merge with Castiel's essence like another angel.
"It wasn't something I ever considered, until it was gone." Even the memory of it is difficult. Even now, after so long to get used to it. Castiel presses back into Crowley's embrace. The vessel shivers - it startles him. "I mean to say that I can empathise."
"Are you saying that you're lonely, too, angel?" A different purr, that familiar voice next to his ear. The bone-deep grating of the demon silenced.
"I- suppose I am, yes." Castiel can't help shuddering at the graze of Crowley's mouth on his ear. He's never responded to physical touch so readily, never arched into it, never bared his neck like this to another creature. Crowley has always been able to make him feel.
" I am alone," he murmurs it, melodious, a breath away from singing. "You are alone... Let's be alone together." Fingers graze the back of Castiel's neck, wind into his hair, separating the drying strands hypnotically. "Mmm... It loses a little in translation."
"Is that why you wanted me here?" It's a strange thought. Crowley seems like the sort of creature to surround himself with endless companions. Castiel wriggles around inelegantly, until he is facing Crowley. Pressed tight against him. Able to see the expression on his face.
"I like having you around." Crowley pulls back, just a little; studies Castiel's face like he's planning another portrait. Or perhaps trying to catch another glimpse of the angel inside the vessel. "So inhuman, but so human. I... recognise it." His lips are soft against Castiel's. It's starting he thinks, but then Crowley pulls away again: no seduction, just one strange, sweet kiss.

"I don't know how to behave around you," Castiel confesses. His lips are almost touching Crowley's still, they're so close. "I don't know how to give you what you want."
"Angels." Crowley's sly golden eyes catch the light, his breath warm. "Always looking to serve something." His hands smooth, up and down the back of Castiel's vessel, thrilling its chilling skin to gooseflesh. "If you so dearly want to give me what I want, then do what you want for a change."
"What I want." Castiel feels this must be a trick question. He tries to work out what Crowley expects him to say, what he's supposed to want.
"Is it really that alien a concept, pet? Start small. How do you feel? Are you comfortable? Cold?"
"I don't require a human temperature range. I can maintain this vessel's integrity regardless of temperature." Surely Crowley must know this.
Crowley pulls him closer, rests his chin on the shoulder of Castiel's vessel, and sighs. "Alright, Data. Look at it this way: I don't need to eat or drink or sleep or shower either, but I still do it. It's pleasant. Fills the time when I'm not working, or learning. Do you remember when I gave you strawberries?"
Castiel swallows. It is an entirely unnecessary physical response. It fascinates him, that Crowley can so easily bring about these reactions in him. This abandonment of self-control. "I do." Castiel remembers their sweetness. Remembers eating them from Crowley's fingers.
"So? You suppress your appetites. You didn't need to eat, but you enjoyed it." Those same fingers trace patterns on Castiel's skin. Crowley's voice lowers. "You... seemed to enjoy it."
Castiel can't look away, not even for a microsecond, can't blink. "I did." The lush flavour of them, the wetness, the way their taste had clung to Crowley's skin. "I'm not immune to pleasure. Merely inexperienced at it."
He hears Crowley swallow, louder than normal. Perhaps it's merely how close their vessels are pressed. "I can direct you, if it's what you want. But I'd rather you find your own way. Make your own choices. I was... single-minded, back then, angel. And as I said- we're both very different creatures now."
Castiel feels overwhelmed by this. He has been learning to make his own choices for years now, but his experience tends to tell him that when people (Dean Winchester) tell him they want him to make his own choices, they really mean that he should choose the things they want him to choose. It is confusing. Stressful. It feels like a test where he's not allowed to know any of the questions. "I don't think I'm very good at finding my own way."
"Then you need practice." Crowley's hands on his vessel are grounding, comforting. "Practice makes us better at everything, kitten. Sit up."

 "Yes, Crowley." Castiel does as he's told. He feels guilty for taking as much comfort as he does in simple instructions, in orders, for all that he's known for his rebellious nature.
Crowley rolls his eyes, but his expression seems fond rather than exasperated. He smooths Castiel's hair back from his forehead. "As much as I'd enjoy having you wander my halls starkers for the duration of your stay, I think we should get you dressed. Nod for yes, shake for no." Castiel nods, and throws in a little sarcastic roll of his eyes for free. He's not embarrassed by nudity, either his own or that of others, but he is used to the social conventions which dictate that he must wear clothing."Follow me."


The house is big, fashioned of seemingly endless little corridors, winding and wood-panelled. Dark and labyrinthine as Hell, but there the similarity ends. Crowley seems to know it by heart, or perhaps demons can also see in the dark. His footsteps seem measured and deliberate, silenced by the slippers he's wearing. He turns often, as if to check Castiel is still following, and his gaze lingers, conspicuously above waist-level.
They stop by the door to a room that is not the bathroom, where Castiel left his usual clothes. But Castiel finds it best to assume that Crowley knows what he's doing, on principle. "In here?"
A nod. Crowley holds the door open, motions for him to enter first, into another dimly lit room, hung with tapestries and flanked by huge wardrobes - still intricate dark wood, but of a later appearance than the house. Castiel squints at the hangings on one wall. Susanna and the Elders, the silks still bright despite its age. "Cas." When he turns, Crowley is holding open one heavy wardrobe door.
"Are these your clothes?" There's a strange symbolism to that thought, although Castiel isn't sure the clothes will fit him. He supposes the magic required to alter them would not be beyond either of them. He has a feeling Dean would have Things To Say about it if he returns dressed like Crowley.
"Technically, yes." Crowley is browsing through them, running his hands over things on hangers, in suit bags, wrapped in friable tissue paper on the shelves. "At one point or another, for one vessel or another." There's a scent of lavender, herbs, aged and dusty. He turns, his nose wrinkling as he smiles, holding out an armful of lilac silk chiffon, twinkling with tiny glass beads. "1922. Good year, that. Not sure it'd fit you, though."
"Oh." Castiel can't help taking a step closer, abortively reaching out as if to touch. He's not even sure what it is, but it's beautiful. The most delicate colour. And it looks like it would be so very soft.
Crowley cocks his head, his eyes keen. Taking one of Castiel's hands, he pushes a bunched handful of the dress into his fingers. "Do you like it?"

"I..." It's wispy. Barely there. It feels how Crowley feels, beneath the skin he wears. Smoky. Soft, so very soft, and Castiel decides right then and there that he likes soft. Soft colour, soft light, soft tactile sensation. The softness of warm water on his bare skin. This feels like water. Like it would spill over him, pour down his back, pool around his ankles. "Yes. It's... I like it." He's frustrated with language. With how it always seems to fail him, is never enough.
"The colour?" Castiel nods. Crowley is running his fingers across the beading on the garment, causing the diaphanous stuff of the skirt to brush against Castiel's thighs. It's distracting. "The sparkles?"
"Yes. They remind me of Balthazar." Before his vessel, when Castiel first knew him. The way that light would shimmer through him playfully, the way it would sing.
Crowley huffs a soft laugh. "He really must have been fabulous." His eyes in the floor length mirror watch intently as he holds it up against Castiel's body, thumbs caressing Castiel's waist perhaps by accident. "Definitely too small. A pity. Let's see what else is in the dressing-up box."
It feels like smoke on Castiel's skin, and he leans into the sensation even as Crowley whisks it away. "He was unique," he says, wistfully, not sure if Crowley hears or cares.
"Your brother? I thought all angels were taught to be the same?" The words sound like they're intended to be teasing, if not mocking, but Crowley's voice remains gentle.
"We are. Clearly for some of us, our teaching was not effective."
"You know I do love a rebel." Crowley holds another garment against him; another dress, or possibly a robe, rose pink satin, not quite as fluid as the lilac, not as embellished. He presses his lips together, gives a tiny shake of his head. "Do you miss him?" He asks, as he digs more armfuls of fabric from the recesses of the wardrobe. He looks unusually intent on his task. Content.
Castiel makes a soft noise of loss that might be for the pink satin or might be for his lost brother. "Yes, I miss him," he says. "Whether or not I have a right to."
Crowley doesn't reply. But those eyes have always been expressive, and the glance they flash at Castiel now seems to repeat we've been through so much. We're different creatures now. "Ah. Bless the '90s," Crowley murmurs. He holds out another garment, huge and shapeless-looking after the tiny, bias-cut dresses. It's a pullover, a smoky shade of lavender grey, woven through with a subtle silver fleck. Loose knitted from fluffy, candyfloss yarn. "What do you think?"
Castiel takes the garment from Crowley's hands. It's soft. He squeezes it gently. "It seems like it would be warm," Castiel says, wistfully, thinking of the bath. He tries to imagine Crowley wearing this. Perhaps in some other body.

"You liked the chiffon better?" Crowley tilts his head to one side, regarding him gravely as if finding something that Castiel might enjoy clothing his vessel in is the most important task he's ever undertaken. He takes a step backwards, but his eyes don't leave Castiel's face. "Of course, you're welcome to have a rummage. Or..." His gaze wanders, oh so briefly. "Continue to indulge those naturist tendencies, if that's your honest preference."
"No, I..." How to put it into words? That nobody has ever bothered to try to find out what Castiel would like to wear. That even Castiel has never thought of dressing the vessel in anything but what it came in, or the closest approximation he could manage. "I like this," he says, feeling inexplicably shy. As if admitting to liking anything is the surest way to get it taken away from him.
Crowley's lips quirk, in the smallest of smiles. "Try it on, then."
Castiel is clumsy when he pulls the cloud-soft garment over his head. He's had time to get used to these little human acts - dressing and undressing, bathing, combing his hair and brushing his teeth. He's had practice, isn't so new to it all as he once was. But Crowley's intense scrutiny makes him self-conscious. Sure he's getting some basic thing wrong. He hugs the fabric against his skin. Looks to Crowley before thinking about the mirror. Wanting... approval? He's not sure.
Crowley watches, silently, arms crossed over his broad chest and one thumb rubbing absently against his lower lip. "Very nice, pet. Brings out your eyes." It doesn't sound like Crowley is mocking him, like he's done anything wrong. "How does it feel?"
Castiel tells himself that it's not a trick question. "It feels... soft." He pets it. "It's nice." Like the tea. Warm and enveloping. He looks down at it. The colour is also soft, barely there. The way clouds can tinge very faintly lavender just before sunset. It's very decidedly not a colour he has ever seen on either of the Winchesters.
"I'm glad." Crowley leans against the open wardrobe door, glances in, then his eyes are back on Castiel like he can't help himself. His crossed arms tighten, body language Castiel is not used to seeing on the King of Hell. "Anything else catch your eye, now you're not about to catch your death? It's gets fierce draughty in this old place; perhaps we should stoke up the fire."
"This is fine for now. Thank you." Castiel can't stop touching himself in the soft wool sweater, feeling the stitches of it, how thick and lofty they are.
Crowley pulls a gracious face, and indicates the door. That Castiel should go first: Castiel is not so lacking in awareness to think that Crowley will not be watching him - his vessel - from behind as they leave this room. He turns at the landing, towards the staircase, but a light touch to the small of his back stays him. Crowley wordlessly guides him, further down the hushing arteries of the house. To a red heart of a room.

It's dark, candlelit, wood-panelled like the rest, with rare-looking art insufficiently illuminated on every wall. Castiel would like to look closer, but something else draws his attention. A grand bed dominates the room. Four ornate carved posts, thick as tree trunks, red damask dripping. The curtains are pulled back with tasselled ties, but the size of it, the shape - for some reason, Castiel is reminded of a tomb. "This is your bed," Castiel says. It isn't a question. This room feels like it could be inside Crowley himself, some secret space in what remains of his soul, it is so full of him.
"It is." Crowley walks around the perimeter of it, hidden, revealed, hidden by the draperies. "I'd say that this is where the magic happens, but, well- I'd be lying. I save all that business for hotel rooms." He fixes Castiel with his gaze, across the expanse of damask no-mans-land. "I don't bring anyone here."
Anyone except you. The words hang unspoken over the bed. Castiel runs a hand over the bed sheets - they are sleek as air. They feel like Castiel's wings. "Do you want us to have sexual intercourse in this bed, Crowley?" he asks. There is no judgement in his voice. He is merely curious, wants to know why he's been brought to this room, what is expected of him.
"I'm rather hesitant to tell you what I want, angel." His voice sounds different, but Castiel can't quite place it. Less playful than his default tone, maybe. "Because I think if I tell you, you'll give it to me." He places one knee on the bed: it dips, just a little. He tilts his head. "Last time you were here, I seduced you. I know you were willing, but I still led you. You have my word: this time I won't do a thing that you don't initiate yourself." His eyes narrow, lazy and enticing. "Regardless of what I want."
Castiel frowns. His gaze slips down Crowley's body like a touch, lingering at his throat, then his chest. It expands and falls as if Crowley is taking a breath. "You will tell me if I do something you don't want, though. You will tell me to stop if necessary."
Crowley's laugh sounds a little breathless. "Cross my heart, darling." He pulls his other leg up beside him, kneeling and then rolling over to lie on the bed. Elegantly toeing his slippers off, over the side. "You have my word that I never do anything that I don't choose to. It's a skill I'm quite eager to teach you."
"I'm sure that's not all you could teach me," Castiel says, emboldened by the way Crowley is stretching out, leaving himself vulnerable under Castiel. The way his aura has mellowed from its usual blaze into something more like embers. "I'm not going to touch you," Castiel says, just to be sure there are no false expectations.
"Cas, you flirt." He chuckles, softly. If he's disappointed, frustrated, he's hiding it well. One hand strokes the counterpane softly. His head turned to the side on the deep pillows, watching, eyes sleepy, almost closed beneath their fringe of long lashes.
Castiel climbs up onto the bed. Sits there on his knees, staring down at Crowley. "You're exquisite," he says. It's not really intended as a compliment. But it's more than a statement of fact. Castiel isn't sure he's supposed to find any demon so captivating, but there's a poetry to Crowley, a beauty in the darkness, the ugliness of the tarnished, twisted thing his soul has become. Castiel is enthralled by it, held prisoner. Crowley is not to be admired as humans or angels are admired - he is beautiful in the way that dangerous, impossible, wicked things can sometimes be. Not beautiful despite it, the beauty is all bound up in the appalling, the hellish. It can't be separated. It hurts Castiel to even look at Crowley with his true eyes. Does it hurt Crowley too? Castiel tries it, now, and something in him flinches even as something else, something deeper, seeks to draw closer to the demon on the bed.
Crowley - his vessel - makes a surprised little suffocating sound, at Castiel's exploration. Mortally involuntary, Castiel supposes, in a way only a creature so familiar with being flesh-bound can be. His question answered, then. When Castiel draws back, though, Crowley reaches out a hand- pauses, as if remembering not to touch. His voice is soaked in desire. "I bet you say that to all the hideous abominations."
Castiel cocks his head to one side. "Is that what you are?"
It's not possible, he knows, for the eyes of Crowley's vessel to see more than a hint of his true nature. But it feels like they can. The demon looks captivated in turn: what a disaster they are, attracting and repelling like magnets. "There's no shortage of volunteers just dying to get their jollies on with this yummy vessel of mine." Crowley sounds almost wistful. "But they don't see me, Cas. Nobody looks at me without turning away."
If Castiel were breathing, he would pause it for a moment in surprise at the force of the empathy he feels. "I have felt the same," he confesses instead. He looks at Crowley again, really looks at him. Hears Crowley gasp again at the force of it. "I see you. I want to see you." Castiel likes Crowley's vessel, in the same way that he likes the clothes it wears. They show the wearer off well. But what fascinates Crowley most is the demon beneath. "I want to see you as you really are," he says, and the room feels very quiet suddenly. Like a lit candle suddenly extinguished. "Not the smoke. I want to see your body."
"What's left of it?" Crowley says, softly. Castiel had expected another quip, maybe, but not that. "You've seen Hell, angel. You saw your Winchester, you put him back together. You don't need to see another millennia's-worth of that." The beautiful eyes of his vessel regard Castiel. Expectantly.
Castiel lets a lick of grace kiss Crowley's mouth. It's more intimate than the press of mouth to mouth that humans favour. "Do you think I would find you ugly?" he asks. "Does it offend your vanity?"
On some inhuman frequency he feels the demon groan like tearing metal. Crowley's vessel wets its lips with a quick, pink tongue. Its eyes are closed. "Both of the above." He hesitates. "It isn't... it isn't a form for this plane. Do you understand?"

"I understand. But I still want it." Castiel wants it like burning. He feels on fire with wanting. "You said you wanted me to work out what I want." He lies down on the bed beside Crowley, their vessels side by side. "I want this."
"And they call me the cruel one." He sounds wistful, still, and oddly awed. "Look at me then, Angel of The Lord."

The arcane mechanics of time and plane are natural as existence to Castiel in Heaven. Everything is at once, a single, infinite moment of all things. It's more complicated to process, vessel-bound, on earth; feels like threads of him are split off, separated where once they were braided. His true eyes see something distant, indistinct. Hell. It's a sensation, of finite, devouring cold, black and empty. The first thing that strikes him about the creature standing there with an attitude of stiff dignity is how tiny. It was clearly human once. Shattered and then reassembled with less care for accuracy than black, spiteful humour. Skin and flesh is mostly gone; what remains is blackened, dried up over thorny spurs of protruding bone. A blasphemy of a pathetic little pile of scraps. Even Castiel's vessel is big compared to this. His true self dwarfs it utterly, overwhelms it. Castiel wants to pick Crowley up and hold him cradled. To surround him. A buffer of divine tenderness between him and the agonies of Hell. It has never been more tempting to see Crowley as a victim - but Castiel knows that is not how he would want to be treated. That one of Crowley's most vital qualities is his agency - his mastery of his own fate. "Exquisite," Castiel says, and his voice is something in between his true and human voices. An echo of his true voice.
"Remember this face." The voice of Crowley's vessel jerks him back, almost painfully, to the earthly plane. Crowley's human eyes are full, brimming with unshed tears. He blinks, angrily, voice hoarse and ringing with the metallic grate of the demon, as if he can't help but imitate Castiel's mingling. "This face." His eyes plead.
Castiel surges forward and kisses Crowley again - vessel to vessel this time, but also further, deeper, he kisses him in ways no human could understand. They're clinging to each other, for all Castiel's insistence that he wouldn't touch. He can feel Crowley's tears on his borrowed skin, Crowley's fingers wound in his hair, almost uncomfortably tight, as if Castiel's vessel is a lifesaver in a shipwreck. The fleeting glints of the demon that Castiel is more familiar with - red, insubstantial - wind into his grace: the demon and its vessel pant with pain, but it won't let go.
Castiel should stop, he's hurting Crowley, hurting himself going this deep. But he knows he's kissing that hurt creature inside him, the creature that is Crowley, and he can't stop. Can only hold him close, cradle him in his arms, mouth hot against his mouth.

The noises he's making are indescribable by any human words, inaudible to mortal ears. Remember this face - the eyes of Crowley's vessel are closed, brows drawn with effort and emotion and glorious agony, but all Castiel can see is the pained expression on Crowley's true face, the challenge in his bloody eyes, as if daring Castiel to laugh at him, to try to hurt him more than he's already been hurt. No longer anything resembling human. The kiss ends, but their foreheads are still touching; their breath still mingling. Castiel can't lie, can't tell Crowley he'll forget. "Thank you," he says instead. "For showing me."
"Was it what you wanted?" The words ghost against Castiel's lips. And Crowley had said he wouldn't touch, but one hand still rests gently at Castiel's waist, thumb stroking repetitively against the soft knit of his borrowed sweater. His tone is strange. Somehow grateful and accusing all at once: maybe the mortal and demon parts of him speaking in chorus, "you didn't turn away."
How could Crowley have thought he would? "Of course. Your true form is fascinating. Just as this one is." Castiel touches Crowley's face, the vessel's face, as if feeling with his fingertips the difference between them.
"Fascinating. Huh." He leans into the touch. Warm and sleek and whole. Castiel feels rather than hears the spike of bitterness. Fear. "And that's absolutely not your holy pity talking?"
Pity is the furthest thing from Castiel's mind. "Here. See for yourself." A little push sends a wave of his curiosity, his desire and rapture, his tender protectiveness and genuine admiration, rippling from his mind to Crowley's. It's a... different experience to do this with a demon instead of a human. There's more resistance when he pushes, and every thought and feeling comes back to him tinged with smoke. But it works.
Crowley casts him a look like he just wants to eat him up. "If you want to go rooting around in there, petal, be prepared for what you might see." He edges back, his head cradled in one hand. The movement, logically, suggests he wants to be further away from Castiel, but Castiel knows now by instinct that he's moving back because he wants to move closer.
He catches Crowley by the v if his collar and pulls him in again, touching lips to lips almost chastely this time, then putting his mouth to Crowley's ear. "I want to be inside you," he says, the words hot and quiet.
Crowley turns his head. Chases Castiel's lips with his mouth, exhaling a little moan that's almost a whine. "Cas... Anything you want. Go as deep as you want."
Castiel makes an inhuman sound as he puts the palm of his hand to Crowley's forehead and forces his way in further. Sinks in, through the red quicksand of him. It's like drowning. He lets his grace flare in a way that would be pure pleasure to a human. To a demon the pleasure will be muddled with the hurt of contact between them, their basic natures repellent to each other. He touches something inside Crowley, some place shivery and secret, then withdraws. Gives Crowley a moment to recover. Gives himself a moment. "Don't want to hurt you," he mumbles, human speech clumsily tripping over itself on his tongue. A little shake of Crowley's head against the plush pillows. His hand finds Castiel's hand. Pulls it to him, between his legs: Castiel can feel through the layers of quilted silk, Crowley's vessel hard and straining. Fingers twine with Castiel's, bring his hand up to Crowley's mouth to brush a trembling kiss across his knuckles.
Castiel keeps hold of Crowley's hand. Lets the next intrusion begin there - from his vessel to Crowley's, his essence to Crowley's. A surreal sort of penetration. Allows it to quiver along the arm, the shoulder, spreading out in tendrils that burrow through his chest, work their way down to the heart of him. Or what passes for it. Crowley seems to throw up barriers instinctively, like a beaten child who flinches whenever an adult raises a hand. Castiel pauses each time, and after a moment Crowley retreats, lets him through. Castiel radiates approval, warmth. Lust, greed. He wants more, wants to burn Crowley up from the inside. An immolation of pleasure. Crowley's vessel bows, lifting gracefully from the bed, his mouth dropping open, eyes wide and glittering. Castiel can feel him, inside. Guttering wildly with the effort of accommodating such grace. Holding close onto the sweetness that burns him, the soft sucking swirl of smoke like a hot red mouth. "I've got you," Castiel murmurs, and for a moment the words seem to come from both of their mouths. "You're alright, you're safe." He holds Crowley gently in his grace as he once again withdraws; does it slowly, so the shock of being empty again doesn't harm him. Crowley's smoke clings to him like it won't let him go. Castiel shudders in his vessel at the burn of it, the ache. He's amazed at how much of him Crowley can take at once. This feels more like what he understands of sex than any human, physical act he's ever taken part in.
"More..." Crowley's human voice sounds quite ruined now, an exhausted whisper. His vessel could be sleeping, relaxed and pliant, passive on the bed. But his essence is greedy. Insatiable. "Change me... Make me still feel it when you've gone."
"I'm frightened I won't be able to stop," Castiel admits, frankly, between the softest kisses touched to Crowley's cheeks, his forehead. "I could damage you."
"Taking damage is my forte." Crowley laughs, low. His eyes follow Castiel's lips, from beneath sleepy half-lowered lashes, like he wants to kiss him back but hasn't the mortal energy to move. "Angel, fill me up. Make me scream."
Castiel hesitates. He's seen Crowley now, really seen him. Knows how small he is, just a little bloody scrap of a thing held together by pride and defiance. And Castiel is so big, so powerful... But he also knows that Crowley is strong. Able to withstand a lot. Too much, at times. Castiel wants to be tender with him, but his grace sears even as he tries to slide inside Crowley gently this time, so very gently, easing into him, letting him get used to the strangeness of it, the intrusion. Castiel fills him. Stretches him, touches depths he's fairly sure no one has ever known. Dimly, he's aware that Crowley is trembling, resonating with a sound like one long, low struck chord: the demon is keening, a noise far more sweet than Castiel has heard from him before. His lips move, silently, as if he's trying to voice something in a language Castiel will understand, but he quickly gives up. Melts into Castiel's essence, accepting every ray of it, illuminating, stretching wide and displaying every secret part of him with searing holy fire.
Castiel has never had anyone give themselves up for him so sweetly. So entirely. Crowley is so full that Castiel is sure he'll leave him gaping when they finally separate. He finds himself murmuring endearments at him in long-dead languages. Holds himself there at the deepest point, where Crowley's thoughts and feelings move like water around him. Precious, Castiel calls him. Beloved.

It is difficult to part. Difficult emotionally and metaphysically, the strands of them woven so intricately now, they are suffused with one another. Crowley's vessel lets out a dry sob as Castiel slips free. Both of them, frayed at the edges. But Crowley's handsome human face is full of an expression Castiel has never seen on it before; slack and glowing, brimming with joy. "I can still feel you," he whispers. "You left... echoes. New scars."
Castiel touches Crowley's face with infinite gentleness. "That's what you wanted," he says. It's not a question. He has felt Crowley's wants, now. His hidden desires. "To be changed by it."
Crowley turns his head, every gesture drowsy, washed out. He kisses Castiel's palm: and Castiel knows it's in lieu of thank you. "Don't leave yet? Sleep with me. Or... stay while I sleep."
"If you like." Crowley's hair is soft as a ghost when Castiel runs his fingers through it. The image of Crowley's true form swims in and out of focus in his mind's eye as he watches the vessel settle on the soft bed linen. Castiel has never felt less human, but there's a new peace that comes with it - an acceptance. The house gathers close around them. "I'll watch over you." Crowley doesn't answer in words, but his mouth is curved in a gentle smile that stays in place even as the habitual breathing of his vessel slows, regulates. The demon inside quietens to a thrumming almost-silence. It's a peace far stranger yet no less profound than anything Castiel has experienced in Heaven.

He's able to hold himself stiller than any human as he watches Crowley. Even a statue's molecules will expand and contract with heat and cold, will rust or warp by slow millimetres over time. But Castiel's stillness is perfect. Without flaw. Even the air around him seems suspended, as if it dare not disturb him. Occasionally he touches Crowley's dreams; sweetens them and Crowley murmurs in his sleep, his vessel frowning slightly, lips moving. In the demon's resting mind Castiel can see only shape and colour, muted and slowly shifting, the blues and pinks and golds of a winter sunset. When, finally - Castiel has lost track of the time, hours or days - he wakes again, the gold is all there in the eyes that focus hazily on Castiel's face. Crowley's smile is pure. "Hello, angel," he says.
"Hello, demon," Castiel replies solemnly. "Are you well rested?"
"Slept like the dead." His voice is regaining some of its usual sardonic purr, but when he shifts to stretch Castiel does not miss the shudder that wracks his vessel.
"Easy," he says, reaching out hesitantly to touch Crowley's arm. "What I did to you... It will take some time for you to recover." In the meantime he'll be sensitive. A little weak. A little sore, perhaps. Castiel feels guilty that he caused such injury, and guiltier still that he can't bring himself to regret it. The look Crowley shoots him is hard to gauge. Amused, perhaps, or a little disbelieving. Maybe he finds Castiel's concern patronising, after so many centuries in Hell. "I know you can look after yourself," Castiel hastens to add.
Crowley is still staring at him. He fidgets against the pillows, the bedding, indulgent and luxuriating as any human. His smile tilts, one corner of his mouth lifting. "I certainly can. Nobody's ever been much interested in taking on that task but me. Before."
Castiel smiles. "Isn't it hard work?" His gaze flickers to Crowley's mouth. Then back to his eyes, golden and watchful. "Aren't you tired of it?"
"In Hell..." The words are careful. Considered. "You get tired; you get sloppy. You get sloppy, let down your guard even for a second, someone is there to snuff you out." He sneaks out one arm: moving it just the few inches across the counterpane so that he can trail the back of one finger across the inside of Castiel's wrist looks as if it takes a huge concentration of effort. His voice is gritty sweet. "Nobody has ever really touched me before, Cas. Not like that.”
Castiel nods. "I've never - never touched anyone like that." Never felt anything like that. It's dangerous. He can already feel himself wanting it again, and the worst part is that he doesn't know if Crowley would stop him. Crowley needs to rest, what they did together last night was grossly irresponsible. But Castiel can't ignore that some part of him feels that Crowley is his, now. Owned by him. Treasured.
"Well, aren't we just too precious?" That gravel purr is mocking, but Castiel realises with a jolt that he can see through it. Crowley can't hide anything from him now, in plain sight or otherwise. He wonders if Crowley knew, that letting Castiel in would shatter his defences against him forever: no future opportunity for subterfuge or slyness. Castiel suspects that he knew very well.
"You can let your guard down with me, Crowley," he tells him. "I'll keep you safe." He says it sincerely, though he's the one who owes his life to the other's recent actions. Would he be able to protect Crowley? Certainly here, he decides. This place is so very well warded.
Crowley's fingertips continue to stroke, with such tenderness of touch, against his wrist. "I let my guard down for nobody, love." It's such a barefaced lie, in such contrast to the emotion that Castiel can read as clear as an aura now, that Castiel has to check himself from reacting.
"I've seen right down to the bones of you," Castiel reminds him. He has to hold back a shiver at the memory.
Crowley lets out a soft little growl. It sounds like warning, or like fresh arousal. "Your dirty talk is advancing in leaps and bounds, sweetheart."
Castiel frowns. "Does that arouse you?" Remembering the night before, Castiel reaches down and cups gently at Crowley's crotch, testing for the arousal that his pretty vessel can't seem to help displaying.
Crowley groans, long and helpless. His eyes flash, but his genitals, like the rest of his vessel, remain relaxed, soft.
Cas cocks his head to one side and regards Crowley, unblinking. He's so very responsive when touched here. Even now. Castiel squeezes very gently, and lets him go.
"I promise, darling, the spirit is very willing..." Crowley manages a suggestively raised eyebrow, but even that small gesture seems to take effort. The implication hangs but the flesh is weak.
And Crowley's flesh is fascinating. Castiel wants to touch him. Physically, with his vessel’s hands, wants to explore Crowley's body without the confusion of sex getting in the way. "I want to touch you," he confesses. "Not... not like before." The sort of touching that burned Crowley's very essence. That opened him, laid him bare. "Like this." He places an open palm on Crowley's chest.
"I believe I'm at your mercy." Crowley's voice radiates it: there's nothing he'd rather be. Castiel has more than enough mercy for a creature like Crowley. He lets his hand move on Crowley's chest, over the quilted fabric, up to his neck. Exerting no pressure, he cups a hand around Crowley's throat. Feels him swallow. It should be an aggressive touch. He wonders if Crowley considers it so. Castiel feels only protective, inquisitive. "Anything you want, angel." Crowley murmurs. Encouraging. Reassuring. His gaze is intense, as if trying to read a reaction in Castiel's inert face pleases him as much as Castiel's hand on his vessel.
Castiel takes him at his word, running his hands back down the body, feeling the softness of his belly, testing the grip of his hips, feeling the sleepy weight of his penis and testicles. "May I remove your clothing?"
"Be still, my black heart." Crowley's tongue flicks out, just the tip. Wets the delicate bow of his top lip. "Yes. Undress me. I want to be close to you."
Castiel wills the clothes away, and so they go, fading from Crowley's body under the force of his desire for them to be gone. Crowley stirs. Stretches. Unabashed, all sleepy indulgence. Castiel feels greed at the sight of him. Feels as he felt when looking at the pretty clothes Crowley showed him the previous night. "What drew you to this vessel?"
A raised eyebrow, as if Crowley can't believe Castiel is asking that question when the evidence lies bare before him. Crowley's lips quirk in a little smile. "Sales. You have to present the appropriate image. Mature enough to command respect, but not so much people think you're past it. Handsome enough to charm, but not so showy you can't disappear into a crowd. Cultured enough to impress, but enough of an Everyman that you don't alienate the clients. I found the perfect meatsuit and you should know by now that I take care of what I value."
Castiel strokes it, the vessel. Those curves and lines, the warm flesh, softly furred with body hair. He learns the shape of it with his own vessel's hands. Two sets of borrowed skin between them, keeping them safe from each other. "Did you try many others?" Castiel wonders if he would have chosen differently if he'd known how wedded he would become to Jimmy Novak's form. "Were you ever tempted to take a female vessel permanently?"
"Plenty." Those sly catlike eyes follow his hands, body magnetised to his touch: Castiel can sense him, yearning. "I appreciate variety, but..." His limbs are clearly still heavy, sapped of strength yet retaining the demon's particular kind of louche grace as he moves to accommodate Castiel's exploration. "What can I say? Old habits die hard. I wanted to be twice the man I was in life. And I don't just mean in the trouser department. How about you, angel?" One hand rests casually against Castiel's thigh, as if Crowley can't stand for them to not be touching for too long. "Would you have chosen differently?"
Castiel is quiet a long time. It is a complicated question to answer. He has grown used to this body, fond of it, he is grateful and appreciative of all it has given him and allowed him to do. But it is not him. "No," he replies eventually. "It would make no difference. And this is how they know me, now." He doesn't have to say who he means.
"Sucks to be them." Crowley says, quietly. He catches Castiel's eye. Holds his gaze. Far too long for human comfort. He licks his lips. "Not that it's not a delightful vessel. You know my feelings about that. I just pity them they'll never see you." Demons: so complicated. The lingering pull of him plays a confusing symphony of emotion in Castiel's awareness, so noisy it could almost be human: smugness, triumph, pettiness, desire, possessiveness. And, yes, a thread of pity. Awe. Gratitude. Love.
He reaches out - Crowley's eyes flutter closed and he touches their thin lids with his fingertips. "I want you to see me. I don't know why." Castiel is still so new to wanting. Crowley is experienced with it, practiced, Castiel knows, he has been desiring things and subsequently making them his for centuries.
Including Castiel? The pull of Crowley's desire is seductive.  Crowley keeps his eyes closed, turns his head, blind, nosing at Castiel's hand, kissing its fingertips. "Show me, darling... Just a little more? I promise I'll keep my eyes shut."
Castiel wants to give in to him. It's dangerous, how much he wants it. It's like gravity, it feels inevitable - that he will always give Crowley exactly what he wants. "You're still weak from what I did to you last night." Still aching. Castiel can feel it.
"Mmm." He nuzzles Castiel's hand. Castiel feels it: a lazy burst of lust that knocks him almost breathless. "But you'll take care of me." It's utter, transparent manipulation. "Just another little peek, sweetheart. You've seen mine..."
Castiel can't help but shudder under the heat of Crowley's desire. "This isn't taking care of you. It's hurting you." It's as if pain is the only sentiment he understands. Castiel wonders if he was as masochistic before Hell as he is now, after it. He's seen Crowley now, and he looks like the merest touch would be agony - let alone the blinding brightness of an angel.
"You say potato..." Crowley exhales, a long shuddering sigh. His eyes bat open, pupils dilated in the dim light. He wants - Castiel can feel it, a restless, amorphous hunger that clings to Castiel now like a kiss, a hunger that he knows Crowley will not voice. He knows that he's going to give in to it. He tries his best to shield Crowley from the worst of it, keeps his fingertips on those precious eyelids, throws up every barrier he's able to while letting Crowley have a taste of what he wants, letting him see.

This time he's prepared. It's smoother, sweeter, not the shock of Castiel's first revelation. Crowley breathes in, chest rising, face blissful and slack as an addict's. Beautiful. He's chiming with it, his true eyes wide and adoring. Like Castiel, he will not look away.
Nobody else can give him this. The thought is fierce, possesive. Nobody but Castiel has seen this look on Crowley's face, this adoration. Castiel nuzzles the sweat-damp space behind Crowley's ear, his lips on the vessel's skin. Everything that he is, sings mine.
He knows that Crowley feels it too, chiming in every thread where they didn't quite manage to separate, the pure heady heat of grace that must be close to burning this creature's true vision out. Crowley's skin is feverish, his vessel motionless again as if he's not quite there. Retreated into himself to gaze on what no demon should.
It's an effort for Castiel to wrench himself away, fold himself back inside the vessel. So tempting to continue giving Crowley what he wants and shouldn't have, to go further than he should, to overwhelm him. Castiel has discovered he enjoys Crowley dazed and weak, overcome. He knows Crowley can sense it. Possibly he's playing up to it when he moans feebly, eyelids fluttering as Castiel finally releases him.
"Terrible glory." The words insinuate themselves into Castiel's mind: are they really so bound, in this moment? The demon's vessel is quiet, still, pulse fluttering rapid at his throat. Eyes rapt and glassy, spent once again. "I won't break." A whisper, in his human voice: Castiel isn't sure if Crowley says it to Castiel or himself.

"No," Castiel agrees. "You won't. I won't let you." He kisses Crowley sweetly, slowly, trades breath back and forth. Crowley's hands grasp at him weakly. Be still, Castiel instructs without words, his mouth never leaving Crowley's. He strokes a hand up and down Crowley's bare flank. Soothing him, settling him. For a moment he resists. There is always that moment, with Crowley, stubborn creature that he is. Then his hands curl loosely at his sides and he melts into it, his vessel's only movement the rhythmic poetry of lips. Castiel had never fully understood the point of kissing before this. Crowley's lips are soft and Castiel can taste him, the wine-and-smoke of him. "I need to leave," Castiel murmurs. "If I stay I'll keep hurting you."
The demon beneath him starts at that. A little jerk, then he quickly collects himself, but not before Castiel has felt it: the clutching sting of panic, the strength of his clinging hard to believe after what he's just been exposed to. Crowley can't hide from him now. Maybe he won't be able to ever again. Above the churning depths, Crowley's surface is placid. "Don't leave on my account, pet. Leave if you want to."
Castiel can't help himself, he growls. "Of course I don't want to. Can't you feel it?" He touches his lips to Crowley's bare shoulder. Then, on impulse, he bites him. Long, lingering, he works his teeth against the muscle of Crowley's shoulder. He wants to bruise him. To leave some evidence of what he's done. It's such an animal instinct, he's hardly aware of where it comes from.
The noise of the demon's panic fades to quiet in the wake of Castiel's teeth. Like an exhaled sigh. His aura changes. Simmers. His vessel purrs. "I can certainly feel something."
Interesting that this is what it takes to calm Crowley down, to reassure him. What a very damaged creature he is. Castiel mouths at the mark his teeth have left and Crowley rumbles a low groan. Little punches of frustration break the rolls of pleasure, of calm. Crowley's vessel is becoming aroused - Castiel can taste it, so different to the metaphysical intimacy they have shared - but is too exhausted to act or react.
"Be still," Castiel instructs, and the words are quiet against Crowley's skin. "You're too weak for this." Still he doesn't move away, as he knows he should. Doesn't remove his mouth from Crowley's skin. Instead he drags his lips across to the hollow of Crowley's throat, and kisses it. Drags his mouth up, below the jut of Crowley's chin. Crowley's facial hair scratches at him lightly. Castiel tastes it.
"But so very amenable." Crowley moans, softly. Tilts his chin up, offering his throat. His vessel strains against the bonds of exhaustion. "Cas... you're killing me."
Castiel smiles. He knows Crowley can feel it. He bites softly at Crowley's jaw line. "Would you like me to stop?" He lowers his lips to Crowley's chest, where the vessel's heart would be beating.

"Don't you dare." His essence shimmers beneath that soft skin, worn thin and oversensitised. The vessel reacts, struggling, spent but still yearning. Each little hair shivering to attention at the touch of Castiel's lips.
"Then do as I say and be still." Castiel finds himself relishing the chance to explore Crowley's physical form without the pressure of sexual expectation. Crowley may be willing, little eddies of lust washing from him like sea currents, but he's far too drained to physically respond. It feels like an indulgence. Castiel touches soft kisses to Crowley's belly, runs a flat tongue up his chest to taste the skin. Beneath, he can feel the damage he caused, the places where Crowley is raw and freshly scarred. Castiel bathes them in light and Crowley sighs. Stretches, as much as he's able, easing the soreness of clenched muscle. Submitting willingly, obediently now to Castiel's careful touch. This feels rare. And rare things are precious. Normally Crowley is ten steps ahead; planning and analysing, working everything to his best advantage. But not now. Castiel nuzzles at his soft genitals. They're heavy, sleepy. Barely twitching as he mouths at them, learns the shape of them with his lips, feather-light. He eases Crowley's thighs apart for easier access, lies between them. When he hums in satisfaction, the vibration of it stirs Crowley's flesh.
Crowley exhales a long breath. It sounds like relief. Perhaps he too tires of expectation. His voice sounds rapt. Mesmerised. "I like you touching me."
Castiel glows with pleasure. Sucks at the fragile skin of Crowley's inner thigh. "Then say thank you," he says, roughly, with no idea if Crowley will obey him or not. Angels are creatures of obedience, made to give and receive orders. Demons are chaos. A law unto themselves.
The particular demon laid out below him - the king of demons, no less - gives a quiet chuckle. A warm sound. His head lolls, trying to look. "Thank you, Castiel." he says. "You are truly opening my eyes to all kinds of new possibilities." Castiel looks up at him from between the demon's spread legs. His lips feel sensitive, almost raw from the constant touch of Crowley's skin. He is so unused to physical contact. Allowing himself to really feel it means allowing it to affect him, to redden his mouth, abrade the delicate cells of his lips. Their eyes lock. Crowley's gaze is so warm, Castiel feels drowsy with the heat of it. It feels... honest. Affectionate. "I'm not used to this." Crowley says, and for a moment, Castiel forgets that Crowley can't read his thoughts - no matter how much their feelings are currently entangled - and it feels almost like communing with another angel. Almost. But this creature is not an angel and his whispered confession nothing more than coincidence. "Nobody touches me. Nobody even touches my vessel like this."
It is obvious, even to Castiel, that Crowley is a creature that thrives on touch. Like a spoilt house cat, he loves to be stroked and petted and fussed. No matter how much he may claw and scratch. "I'm sorry," Castiel responds, matching Crowley's honesty as best he can.
"Darling. You have your face between my thighs, you're the last one who needs to apologise." When Castiel glances up, Crowley is biting his lower lip. Hesitant. "I mean to say... Usually, well - it's not always rough. But it's always sex." His expressive mouth quirks into a smile. "On reflection, perhaps that may be my fault. But this is... Nice."
Castiel isn't sure where the boundary is between sex and not sex; how to define it. If he lifts Crowley's legs a little, like this, and spreads them wider, and buries his face in the warm space behind his testicles - is that sexual? Is this sex, now that he's setting his teeth to the most intimate places on Crowley's vessel? He's answered with a gasp, a quiet choking noise. Crowley's hips lift, slight and involuntary, his penis twitching, fat in the crease of his thigh. He's incapable, right now, of maintaining an erection, but he's thick, still, swollen with wanting. The desire pours off him, fresh thwarted waves of it. His fingers claw ineffectually at the red damask of the bed. But he doesn't ask.

Castiel lays his cheek against Crowley's hip, breathing for a moment, inhaling him. He strokes Crowley's penis gently, idly, fascinated by it, by the way Crowley flinches as if the stimulation is too much. "Does this hurt you?"
"Not exactly." comes the murmured reply. "It aches." Fingers wind through his hair, stroking with no strength of force behind them. "I feel full of you, but the vessel is a separate part of me."
Castiel hums thoughtfully. "You feel different than the last time we... were intimate." A few years are no time at all to an angel. But the last few have been especially turbulent. "I suppose we both do." He strokes his thumb over the rise and dip of Crowley's waist and hip. "You feel... more melancholy."
"I've lost a lot." Castiel twists a little to look up at him and Crowley's gaze is grave. "I've changed. I think you know how that feels."
"I do." On a whim, Castiel takes Crowley's cock into his mouth. Holds it there, hot and heavy on his tongue. It would feel very different if Crowley was fully erect, he thinks. It's nice like this. Gentle. He thinks perhaps if they ever do this again he will keep Crowley soft like this, use a little power to keep him from hardening.
The muscles in Crowley's belly twitch. Tighten beneath the supple curve of fat. Crowley seethes, panting softly. "You certainly do." His fists tighten again in the fine weave of the bedcover. "Enjoying yourself, pet?"
Castiel releases Crowley from his mouth. He's shiny wet with Castiel's saliva. He strokes his fingers through the wetness, fascinated. "I could do this for centuries," he says, quite sincerely.
Crowley huffs a little laugh. He looks perfectly fascinated in turn. "I'll clear my diary." One hand cradles Castiel's cheek, thumb stroking the sandpaper scratch of stubble, tracing his lower lip. You wouldn't survive it, Castiel thinks. And then reminds himself that Crowley survived the agonies of hell for longer. That he thrived, emerged stronger. It's an abomination, this thing between them, a blasphemy, but Castiel doesn't want to give it up. Wants to hoard it, keep it safe, wants to treasure it in secret. A private thing, kept back from the world. Like his wings. "I would, you know. Now. For you." Crowley says quietly. He's regaining some composure, a little strength, again. Resilient. His thumb traces the curve of Castiel's cheekbone, one eyebrow. The sweep of his hairline and the elegant arch of his neck. As if Crowley would like to learn him in turn.
Castiel moves up the extravagent bed again, until they're once more face to face. "We both have other commitments."
"Pfff." Crowley gives a dismissive snort, but his eyes says that he knows only too well. One hand, big and warm, rests heavy at the nape of Castiel's neck, toying with the edge of his sweater. He's staring again, at Castiel's mouth. "Stay. One more night?"
"It's tempting." More than it should be. Castiel has never experienced intimacy like this. For the first time since his initial fall from grace, he feels less alone.
"C'mon, tiger..." Crowley leans in. Mouths clumsily, irresistibly at Castiel's shoulder, where the wide neck of his sweater has slipped down. "You can bring us some supper. Explore the kitchen. Feed me whatever you fancy."
"You may regret that suggestion. Food isn't my strong point." It should concern him more, how unable he has become to say no to Crowley. "One more night," he relents. "And then I must go."
"One more night." Crowley agrees. His lips whisper against the curve of Castiel's ear: he shivers. Feels Crowley smile, then wince as he manages to roll stiffly onto his side. His tone is carefully, pointlessly casual. "Do you think you might visit me here again? One day?"
And Castiel can't help but answer, "Yes," right away, because he has not yet learned Crowley's skill of dissembling. "If I'm welcome."
"My doors are always open to you, sweetheart." Crowley smiles, his charming, predatory smile back in place.