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God, and His Priests, and His Kings

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The rope cuts sharply into his wrists just as the gag tied around his face does, and the bag around his face smells strongly of old milk for some reason. Why would anyone keep milk in a dirty brown sack? Maybe it's just stored near the jugs of milk. There's a small tear in the corner where light filters in - probably rats. Or maybe its just really old. How long have they been using this bag? Unsanitary, however long. All sorts of disease are probably riding in its gritty seams, right next to his face.

Castiel's been wearing it for too long, he surmises. He doesn't think he's ever more thoroughly examined something in his entire life, and still they ride. His thighs ache, as do his shoulders - with his wrists tied between his back, he's had to keep his thighs locked around the horse so as to not to fall off at any sharp turns, and still they ride. Being blinded in such a manner is highly unfortunate, he decides in a far off, detached sort of way that comes from both exhaustion and resignment. He hopes it never happens to him again.

Abruptly, they come to a stop.

"Off," growls a voice to his left, and then without any warning, Castiel's hauled down and pushed forward. "Walk." And of course he obeys, because at any moment he could be speared from six different directions, so despite his cramped legs and aching shoulders, he walks. Except of course no one's around to guide him and five steps into it, his foot catches on a root, sending him down painfully to one knee as he tries to keep from falling, and a muffled groan escapes him. There's raucous laughter all around him.

I'm a prince! he wants to say, but the gag has kept him from making any sort of noise whatsoever the entire ride. You should be kneeling, all of you. Instead, it's him that's kneeling. He struggles awkwardly to his feet again.

"He's getting impatient," says a different voice. It's deeper, rougher. "Stop making him wait."

"It's not me that's doin' it!" protests the first voice. "This one," a sharp poke in Castiel's back with the end of a sword, "can't seem to walk properly. Used to people carrying him around on a litter, most likely."

I'd be able to walk better if the bag was gone, Castiel thinks.

"Nevermind that, hurry it along. Go, go."

A hand grips Castiel's elbow and then there's ten painful minutes of being hauled this way and that through the twisting forest, bushes getting caught again and again in his cloak just as sharp branches scrape along his tunic. He doesn't think he's ever been handled so roughly in his life, other than on the training field, and he doesn't think he likes it very much. Then finally they come to a second stop and he's pushed forward again.



"My hands are tied." Which is what he would have said if he didn't have a gag tied sharply around his mouth. Instead, what comes out is a sort of muffled nonsense and he jerks his hands up behind his back, gesturing.

There's a curse and then the sound of a dagger being unsheathed before his hands are pulled up painfully and the rope is sawed through. "Up."

Pulling his arms around is more painful than expected and Castiel represses a hiss as he moves his arms back and forth, working out the kinks.

"Sometime this day, Your Grace." Said so sarcastically it could cut a diamond.

Blindly (he knows he could remove the bag now but then they'd probably attack him and he's had enough bruises for one day), he stretches his hands out and then grips a flimsy rope ladder with his black leather gloves. Well, this should be entertaining for all involved. He know without a doubt there are people gathered all around to see Prince Castiel of the Seven Realms blindly climb a rope ladder to God-knows-where; if he falls, they'll probably cheer. He takes in a resigned breath and starts climbing. Worth it, worth it, he chants silently.

And then his head hits the top of something rather hard and for a moment he thinks he's about to fall and probably break his neck and Gabriel will mock him for the rest of eternity - and then his searching hand finds an opening and he somehow manages to pull himself up through a hole onto a rather sturdy wooden - thing.

"You're shorter than I'd heard."

Castiel turns, cocking his head through the rough sack blocking his view, and makes another muffled noise that might have posed as a greeting or a snarky comment in return.

"Take the sack off. Is that anyway to treat the heir to our precious throne?" demands the voice - low and pleasing and impatient, just as they'd said - and then it's ripped off and Castiel stands there, blinking in the blinding light as he waits for his eyes to adjust.

When they do, he realizes he's in some sort of exquisite treehouse - but before he can take in the beautifully detailed woodsmanship or the precision of each plank of wood against each other, his eyes lock on the man he's come to see, lounging on a dark wooden throne like he was made for it. He's dressed all in dark greens and browns, and even relaxing as he is, there is a readiness in his body that states that this is a man used to holding a sword in hand, family to bloodshed.

"Your Grace," he says, and then his eyes land on the cloth still cutting into Castiel's mouth. "Ah. And here I was just wondering if you'd gone mute. Someone take that damn thing off."

It's almost more of a relief to have that gone than the bag and Castiel closes his lips for the first time in almost three hours, running his tongue against his teeth and trying to ignore the dryness of his mouth. "Should I call you Your Grace in return?" he asks.

"Do I look like a king to you?"

"It certainly looks like you're sitting on a throne."

Green eyes glimmer at him with more than a little amusement. "Is that all a king is? Just a man who sits on a fancy chair? Tell me - what exactly is a king to you, Prince Castiel? A man who sends out taxes and troops? Takes advantage of those unable to provide for their family? Do I look like that to you?"

"I know who you are," says Castiel, ignoring the pointed jipes at his family line. He knows what his oldest brother has done since their parents died and the rule fell into his hands eleven years ago. And he also knows what this man here has done. "They call you Robin Hood."

"Robin Hood is a fairy tale for small children," the man returns. He looks sideways and gestures for something and someone tosses him an apple which he considers for a moment before biting into. The sharp crunch of the apple sounds loud to Castiel's ears and he stares as a line of juice runs down the man's chin. "My band of merry men aren't that merry, I can promise you that."

"Steal from the rich, give to the poor. Isn't that what you do?" asks Castiel and then steps forward, challenging. "Dean Winchester?"

Dean takes a bite of his apple and considers him for a moment, chewing methodically before saying, "My men didn't harm you, did they? I'm sure each black hair on your head is worth more than most men make in their entire life."

"It takes more than an empty sack to hurt me, despite what you think." Castiel doesn't fidget, but clasps his hands behind his back and stands with the military precision he's been taught. "And you were wrong, earlier."

"Hmm?" An eyebrow lifts.

"I'm not the heir to the throne - I'm third in line."

"Doesn't mean you're not royalty. Or that you don't benefit from the reign."

Castiel lifts his chin up higher, summoning the look that's been taught to him his entire life - hard, unfeeling, narrowed eyes, flat lips. "If you'd like to stop passing judgement on me before you've heard why I'm here, I'd be grateful."

"You're here because my men brought you here," points out Dean. The King's Men have been fighting Dean's 'merry men' for years now; Lucifer has complained over and over again about 'the lying, thieving pieces of scum our father was too weak to squash out.' It's clear to Castiel now that this Dean is not just a figurehead or someone who sits on his wooden throne and gets fat - no, this is a leader, a warrior, who knows how to fight and knows how to fight well. It might be only Dean's broad sense of humor that is keeping him alive, really. "Tied you up, stuck a sack over your precious royal head of hair and dragged you here kicking and screaming."

Castiel stares at him for a moment longer and then lets a small smile curve his lips. "Is that so?"

He sees it then - the switch, the little light going off in Dean's bright bright green eyes. It's mirrored in the way he sits back against his chair and puts his hand to his face, thoughtfully running his fingers back and forth over his growing scruff. The apple rests loosely in his other hand, forgotten. This is the first time he is seeing Castiel, not as a prisoner or a prince, but someone capable of independent thought, amusement dimming slightly.

It is alarming how much Castiel leans into the look in Dean's eyes. He straightens back up as soon as he realizes what he's doing.

"You let… yourself… get captured?" Each word lingers on Dean's lips as he tries them out. And then he makes a soft noise and remembers his apple, taking another bite. He chews and then swallows and Castiel watches intently the entire time. "Interesting move, for a prince."

Castiel merely smiles. He's not going to give an explanation unless Dean asks for one - and the silence draws out, echoing between them as they study each other wordlessly.

"Odd," Dean finally says.

"It is." He can tell Dean wants to ask but also doesn't want to ask - but Castiel's had practice being silent his entire life, surrounded by older brothers and talkative tutors and pushy training guards and younger sisters and visiting courtiers who love the sound of their own voice far more than they like his. He has held silence in his mouth for years now and a few minutes with the most infamous outlaw the Realm has ever seen is nothing for him.

It is, however, something for Dean. The way he starts to get tense, the way his mouth tightens at the corners. Here is a man not used to waiting for anything he wants, not used to power plays when his word has always been accepted by his men. Everyone is getting restless around them, shifting in their stances as they wait for something to happen - Castiel knows he is making Dean look bad in front of his own men but he stands his ground, silent and waiting. Finally, Dean looks away and breaks down, mouth moving wordlessly for a moment before grudgingly saying, "I suppose the next natural thing to ask is why would someone of your stature allow that to happen?"

Castiel represses a different kind of smile this time, smug. "I knew I'd never be able to find you on my own - so I wandered about in your forest for a while and let your men find me instead. They did not disappoint."

"For what purpose?"

Here it is, the reason Castiel has spent three hours on a horse blinded and gagged and trussed like a turkey - he stands steady and looks Dean straight in the eye and says boldly, "I would like to join your band of men."

The room is deadly quiet and then Dean looks around and calls, "Did you fools hear that? Prince Castiel desires to join us!" He laughs and everyone laughs with him, a roaring laughter all aimed at Castiel. "What an honor!"

He doesn't flinch. Just waits, patiently, for everyone to calm down which happens after a good five minutes of jokes called out at his expense and renewed laughter until finally - finally - Dean holds up a hand and silence falls.

"Would you like to lead us?" Dean asks, leaning forward. "Be the next Robin Hood? Is that it? Can't get the glory of ruling this kingdom so you've come to rule the rebels instead?"

"No," answers Castiel calmly. "I wish nothing more than to be a member. You can put me to work doing anything you want - put me with your lowest rank or watching over newborn babes, I don't care. Though I must say, my child-rearing skills is less than desirable."

"Everything about you is less than desirable!" someone calls and Dean raises his hand again, a wordless reprimand. His eyes are locked on Castiel.

"You want to join," he states.


"Us, you want to join us."

"I can write it down for you, if that'll get the message across any better."

For half a second Dean's lips twitch up in almost a smile, and then it's gone again. "Joining requires -"

"A duel, I know."

"Against whoever I choose."

"Make your pick."

Dean looks at him a moment longer and then scans the room, taking in all the eager men who start shouting out volunteers at him. Castiel's blood is thrumming, his hands clenching and unclenching in preparation of the fight to come, and then Dean's eyes land on him again and he grins. "I pick… me," he says, and then gets to his feet. "Someone find the prince a sword."

There is loud cheering as Dean draws his own longsword, a great glimmering thing that has a word etched into the hilt that Castiel can't read from this angle. A sword is thrust out at him from nowhere and he takes it, studying it for a moment before looking back up and settling into a fighting stance. It's plain, completely unlike what he's used to, but the balance is good and it's sharp enough. It'll have to do.

"First blood," says Dean. "You win, you're in. I win…. Well, I win."

Easy enough translation: Castiel only has to get a nick of blood from Dean, but if Dean even so much as pricks Castiel, he'll go in for the kill. It makes the whole fight very simple; his swordmaster always did say that the one with the most to lose has the best skills.

"Benny," calls Dean without taking his eyes off Castiel. He's settled into his own stance, feet apart, sword out, expression sliding into something eager and amused. "Call it."

"On three," says a gruff looking man from the corner, looking scruffy and rough but also, at a glance, almost kind. Castiel and Dean both lift their swords respectively and keep eye contact. "And, one -"

Dean slashes out.

It catches Castiel off-guard and he tilts backwards, just barely dodging the harsh blow as he darts around Dean. "We were waiting for three!" he says, and brings his sword up to block another swing from Dean. Their swords slide up in a harsh metallic rasp as Dean slides forward, their faces inches apart.

"Outlaw," grins Dean, and then backs away again. Then starts a dance that is unlike anything Castiel's ever been in. Even with Lucifer, Michael, and Gabriel as older brothers and the best swordmasters possible, he's never seen workmanship like this before. It is different, knowing this is a man who will kill him without a second thought, who will slice his throat open as easily as he bit into his apple. He is fast and unrelenting, making complicated moves that Castiel has never been able to do, swinging his sword as though it is just another extension of his arm, a natural movement that cuts through air in a silver flash.

But other than the initial surprise, this is what Castiel was expecting. He's heard rumors of Dean Winchester's skill with a sword and, truth be told, he'd predicted that Dean would be unable to pass up a chance to fight him himself. He'd known this was what he was facing and he still came.

Because Dean may be incomparable with a sword, but Castiel has always been the quickest one in his family. He ducks and dodges, spins and whirls, moves almost in sync with Dean's arm. The sword goes one way and Castiel is just a few inches to the left, untouchable. Their dance moves on, dragging out with neither one gaining, and soon both of them are drenched in sweat and the men watching are starting to get bored.

"Blood, blood!" cries a redheaded girl that's stolen Dean's throne and has her legs thrown over one side. "Come on, Deano!"

"Trip him up, boss!" calls a man with a long brown ponytail. "Kick his royal ass out the treehouse!"

Duck, sweep out a leg, watch with admiration as Dean jumps over and then swings out - fall into a tumble, roll past, spring to his feet, twist upper body with his sword held in both hands, clash - fall apart, repeat cycle.

Castiel's sharply out of breath at this point and they withdrawal from each other for a moment's reprieve, circling each other with predatory eyes, both of them.

"Like playing cat and mouse, do you?" asks Dean, sounding as casual as if they were two friends playing a game of chess together. He barely looks winded. "Here, kitty kitty."

"This kitty's got claws," says Castiel, but it's just a jibe and they both know it. He hasn't been on the offensive once during their entire fight and while he's manage to dodge everything so far, all it takes is one misstep to be a royal shiskabob. It's time for him to go on attack but he can't just swing out - Dean's expecting that. He's got to be sly, if he wants to worm his way into this rebellious group of men.

"I'm going to make you meow for me," declares Dean, and then he lashes out, impossibly fast - too fast, all Castiel does is blink and stumble back and the tip of the sword catches the front of his tunic and tears it wide open with a harsh ripping sound. Everyone cheers but it hadn't touched his skin and he's still alive and suddenly he remembers what Ponytail said earlier.

Out of the treehouse.

He needs to distract Dean first, though.

"How is possible that you ever got to this position?" he taunts. "Can't even touch me - pitiful -"

It's not difficult, with all his usual twisting maneuvers, to bring the square opening right behind him. No, what is difficult is his next move and he waits for the perfect moment - needs just a bit more anger in Dean's movements.

"Maybe you got here by bending over, is that it?"

And there it is - and Castiel grins as Dean moves just as he wanted him to, stabbing forward with beautiful precision. As the blade whistles past him by centimeters, he turns with it and grabs a handful of Dean's sleeve - and heaves. It's his first offensive move and it's enough of a surprise to catch Dean by surprise and pull him forward. He slips his foot in between Dean's and then jerks it out, and with that simple move Dean falls, hitting the edge of the square and then falling feet-first through it. His sword goes clattering against the wood and he scrambles quickly enough to get a hold of the wood, just barely dangling there as Castiel's sword appears in his face.

Dean stares at it, wide-eyed and flustered.

They're both breathing heavily and it's the only sound in the room, with everybody else holding their breath.

"Meow," says Castiel, and then just barely moves his sword forward, lifting the tip a little until it reaches Dean's forehead and then presses it down ever so slowly in an arc until a deep line of blood has welled up. Deep enough to scar, that's all he wants. A memory.

"Called," says Benny from behind him.

Castiel immediately drops his sword and offers a hand down to Dean but he growls out an oath and ignores it, instead swinging him back into the room and reaching fingers up to touch his forehead. They come away bloody. "God damn it," he says.

No one knows what to do. Half the crowd looks ready to attack Castiel themselves and the other half looks almost willing to congratulate them - but absolutely no one wants to get on Dean Winchester's bad side, which Castiel just possibly did.

"Here," offers Benny, holding up a dirty rag, but Dean shoves his arm away with a dark expression.

"Leave us. Move, everyone."

It is a testament to who Dean Winchester truly is that his men obey without question and without grumbling, all of them disappearing almost instantly in ways that Castiel can't even begin to discern. Absolutely none of them leave through the way Castiel came up which is disarming, the way they all seemingly melt through the walls and disappear through previously unseen windows.

"I won," says Castiel after everyone's gone and Dean hasn't said anything. Blood slides down the side of his face, drips into his eyebrow. "I'm a part -"

"What do you want?" snarls Dean, pushing him abruptly, hard. Castiel lets him, stunned. "What could a royal prince possibly want with a bunch of rebels? You want to infiltrate us, is that it? Spy on us?" Another push, harder. Castiel can't speak. "Want to find out our secrets and then tear us apart?" He bends down and comes up with his sword, pointing it directly at Castiel's chest where his heart is located. He knows this from years of anatomy lessons. There has never been a lesson on this, however.

"Not a spy," he says lamely. He'd lowered his defenses once he'd won, thinking he was safe. That was clearly a mistake. "Not a spy," he repeats.

"Then why?" The tip of the sword presses in. "Fucking answer."

"Because it's the right thing to do," says Castiel. He can't think of anything better, to be honest, and he truly believes it.

It's enough to bring Dean up short, and he lowers his sword halfway. "And why is that?"

"My… brother," says Castiel and then looks away. After a moment, he looks back, and withdraws his own handkerchief, miraculously still clean after the long day, and offers it up between them. Brief hesitation and then Dean accepts it and presses it to the cut on his forehead. "It took me a while to see it, but he should not be in power."

Dean just stares at him.

"He's - cruel." Castiel can't continue to look into those brilliant green eyes (greener than anything he's ever seen, greener than the richest fabric he's ever laid eyes on, a green that should be outlawed) and he starts pacing, back and forth. "The courtiers… they let him get away with whatever he wants. They're all his little play toys. All of us are, just existing for his enjoyment, and the people are suffering for it. Half the realm is starving, barely able to afford a loaf of bread, while he sits on his throne and throws feasts for days for no reason. It took me forever to see it. I - was ignorant. I never thought differently. Until."

He can see Dean coming up behind him out of his peripheral vision, staring with a fascination that Castiel knows wouldn't be there if Dean thought he could see him.

"Until what?"

"Someone changed my mind."

"A girl?"

Slight hesitation and then, "A man."

Dean is now close enough that when he laughs, Castiel can feel warm puffs of breath against his neck. "And where's loverboy now?"

Now there is no hesitation, only a dark flatness in his voice when he says, "Dead."

Samandriel had been lowerborn - not a peasant, no, but a knight, and he didn't own any land worth mentioning. He and Castiel had met at a tourney, and Castiel had been immediately entranced by his skill with a bow and arrow. It was as if he wasn't even trying - as if he were just accidentally pulling the arrow back and letting it loose, as though he was always pleasantly surprise when it struck its mark, dead center.

From that one meeting, they'd started off with Samandriel merely teaching Castiel archery, of which he'd been absolutely horrendous. Then they'd started riding together, long rides weaving through the Kingswood and sometimes Samandriel would go hunting, with Castiel watching with a longing and admiration - but not for his archery skills.

It was months before Samandriel started confiding him. Forgoing romantic stories of the Realm and telling the true travels he'd been on - of the starving people begging for food, of the rough tax collectors betraying their own people in hopes to get a few more coppers for themselves. Of the beatings and unrealistic laws and restrictions placed upon people everywhere.

"He died protecting those who couldn't protect themselves, as a true knight should," says Castiel quietly, more to himself than anything else. He turns then and meets curious eyes. "As will I."

"You have no idea what you're asking for," says Dean. It's not said in a condescending tone but rather an almost kind one and that makes it all the worse. Castiel bristles. "People will come looking for you by morning."

"Let them come," he challenges. "I'm not a child, if you haven't noticed. This is my decision to make."

"Is it?" Now slightly mocking and Castiel likes that much better. "Because it seems to me that I'm the one that will wake up with a knife in his back if they ever do find you. Treason sound familiar to you?"

"You're already charged for treason."

"Well how about royal kidnapping? Whatever you might think about your brother, I'm sure he'd be pretty pissed to find out his little princeling has been stolen right from under his nose. He'll take it as a direct threat if anything."

"I won the damn fight," says Castiel through gritted teeth, hands balling into fists at his sides. "I'm staying."

Dean moves closer, just the slightest bit taller than him. "You have no idea what you're getting into, do you? You think you're just going to become some sort of hero the small folk will write songs about? Is that it?"

Castiel stands strong, chin lifted high and nostrils flaring angrily. "You think I'm doing this for glory? If I'd wanted glory, I would have stayed a prince."

Slowly, Dean circles him, eying him up and down. "It will be cold," he warns in a low voice. "It will be brutal at times, rough. You will have to go days without showering sometimes and even longer without combing that pretty hair of yours. Knots, fleas, constant itching, sweat, hunger, an aching tiredness that sticks to your bones even after a full night's rest. Would you be able to handle all of that, Your Highness?"

"You are forgetting that royalty has its confinements too," says Castiel sharply as Dean comes to a stop in front of him again. "Endless tutoring, pointless traditions, rules upon rules upon rules. No one is their own man except maybe the king and even he must stoop to regulations. Being one of your men - there is all that you listed, yes, but there is also riding free wherever you want, there is fighting for what you believe in, there is loving who you want and saying what you want to say, without fear."

"Your problems are a child complaining of a mosquito bite," says Dean. "Come to me when you have spent three weeks without food, when your every thought is of a crumb of bread, and then we'll talk. Go home, Prince; return to your feather bed, chase this dream down with a glass of wine."

And he turns, in clear dismissal.

It evokes in Castiel a rage he didn't know simmered in his skin - it brings out a wolf that he didn't know was lurking within him. How dare he. He - Castiel - he is a prince, he is goddamn royalty, and if Dean doesn't want him -

He runs without thinking and leaps.

The collision is painful, but Castiel doesn't feel it as his body drags Dean's to the floor and without warning they're fighting, not with swords or words this time but with closed fists, rolling around together like children squabbling. Castiel is on top to begin with and he punches hard, ruthlessly slamming his fist against Dean's jaw - and then they flip, scratching at each other, and Dean's straddling him, and hitting him - once, twice, splitting the skin of Castiel's cheek with a ring he didn't notice Dean was wearing.

"Get - off," spits Castiel, hands scrambling for purchase in Dean's clothing.

"Your word doesn't rule here," says Dean, and grips Castiel's tunic and heaves his upper torso up before slamming him back down. His head knocks back painfully against the hardwood floor and for a moment everything spins.

It is intoxicating, he realizes. This denial - this refusal to bend before him, he craves it. He'd found it in Samandriel, so long ago, and now he finds it here again - a ruthless refusal to break before his sovereignty. He loves it.

"I'm not leaving," he manages to get out, and struggles to push Dean off. He's heavier than Castiel realized - (a thrill runs through him; he won't let me up) - and now he's not attacking him any more, just gripping his tunic and glaring down at him. "You might as well accept it."

Dean says, "You'll go," and then he's up and off and leaving Castiel laying disappointed on the floor. "Naive little bitch, that's what you are. Don't think any differently."

"I'm trying here." He pushes himself off the floor, wincing, and stands before him. At that moment, he does feel little - with his mussed hair and torn tunic and bleeding cheek. Feels smaller than ever. "You condemn me if I stay in my castle and you condemn me if I leave it. What do you want from me, exactly?"

"Power," says Dean.

"Take it."

"No - you take it. Born to privilege, born into a world that changes every day. How long have my men been fighting out here?" Dean looks disgusted. "I give short term food to the people your family is starving out - you, on the other hand, God damn you, have the opportunity to change things from the inside and what do you do?" He turns away. "Run away like a filthy coward. I take no cowards."

Is that what he'd done? If so, why had it taken him so long to summon up the courage to leave? To sneak away in the middle of the night and ride until he reached the Sherwood forest and wander around until he got caught? If that was a cowardly move, how difficult would it be to do what Dean was asking? Almost impossible.

He doesn't say this, though. Instead, what he says is, "I'm third in line, remember? I can do nothing there. My place is here."

Dean turns and stares at him. "This man," he says. "That you loved. Would he have wanted you here?"

It's a cutting question, unfair in Castiel's opinion, and he wants it to disappear. Why is everything in his life so much harder than everyone else's? Doesn't fit in with his family, doesn't fit in with the rebels, apparently. Fits in nowhere, an isolated cloud of despair. "I am trying to make a difference," is all he can say.

"Make a difference that fucking lasts," counters Dean.

"You are asking -"

"For you to go back to your family," Dean starts walking towards him, edging closer just as Castiel edges back. "For you to suck it up to the king, or to make alliances with your other siblings, or to challenge your brother to a fucking duel, I don't know." He's crowded Castiel up against a wall now, too intense, and then suddenly he smiles. "You beat me, didn't you? No one's done that in… hell, years."

"What you are asking will take years," says Castiel. He knows what they're talking about is serious - has life-long consequences for everyone, might result in Castiel's death for all he knows - but all he can think about is the amount of space between them and the way Dean's eyes are narrowed in determination and the way his heart is beating in his ears with adrenaline. He should not be feeling this way, not now, not about this person right here. This is - this involves lives - this is -

"Prince Castiel," says Dean, and then kisses him. It's so unexpected - moreso than the bag over his head hours ago and the movement on 'one' instead of 'three' and the punches against his face - and he just stands there for a moment with Dean's lips pressed hotly against his. And then he comes to life, hands moving up to tangle in short hair as he groans into Dean's mouth, opening up for him willingly. Dean presses him back against the wall, harsh and controlling, and Castiel eats it up, drinks it in the strength of Dean's arms and the brutality of his mouth.

And then he's gone again. "When you have done something of note, when you have made a change to the Realm, come find me a second time and we'll finish that."

Castiel's lips are throbbing from Dean's touch and he reaches a hand up, touching them and trying to figure out if that actually happened. "I already told you," he says hoarsely. "I'm not leaving."

Dean reaches up, slowly dragging his fingertips along Castiel's face where it's bruising now. "There is so much potential here," he says, and Castiel barely sees him move before both his hands are gripping his shoulders and slamming his head back against the wall and everything goes black for a while.



When he wakes, he is back where he started, and there is a note on his chest. No doubt, they have already moved base locations since then and even if he could find his way back to their camp, it would be deserted. Everything in him is achingly weary but Castiel gets to his feet anyway and takes his time turning the note over, dreading what it will say.

In simple block letters, it reads:

Start with Arstan. He's one of ours.

The people need you.

- D

Slowly, Castiel starts walking.

He doesn't stop for a very long time.