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The Myth of Sisyphus

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When they’d figured out that the cure was only temporary—when Dean admitted what the other two had clearly known for a while—Dean hadn’t expected Sam’s response to be so … restrained. Sure, between the two of them Dean was the door-slammer, but he’d expected Sam to at least yell some about how he wasn’t giving up, or maybe even push Dean up against a wall with the effortless strength that only anger or mortal danger released in him.

Instead, Sam just gave him his you’re-an-idiot face, which to be fair was also what Dean had expected, and went back to researching the latest minor haunting they’d taken as a palate cleanser after the previous big vampire engagement.

Eventually Dean realized that he wasn’t getting more without some participation of his own. “So what’s your plan?” he demanded, though he softened his tone by putting a plate of fish and vegetables down next to Sam’s computer, since the kid still wouldn’t eat unless prodded when he was in the middle of a geekout.

Sam didn’t look up from his screen, though he did take the fork and napkin that Dean shoved at him. “You already know the plan.”

Hunh? “Well,” Dean said, “pretend I don’t.”

“Dean, you’ve been through the plan.”

Dean opened his mouth, then took a moment. “You’re gonna wait until I’m a demon again and cure me,” he realized. “Except last time I nearly killed you, and I’m not gonna be any nicer about it next time, now that I know what’s coming.” Sam was probably protecting his delicate sensibilities by telling himself that Dean’s protests hadn’t been real, but Dean had been there, and the pain had been as bad as anything he’d been through topside. Demon or even demonish Dean would not cooperate, and eventually Sam would leave him enough slack to get out.

Sam shrugged and continued eating. And Dean saw his point: Dean didn’t exactly have a better plan in mind, so his protests weren’t relevant.

“We can try it before you die and rise again,” Sam suggested. “We might be able to hold it off that way. Worth a try, anyhow.”

Assuming pre-demon Dean sat still for it, which he was not ready to do.

****

In the event, he didn’t have to sit still for it. He’d finally managed to grab a couple hours of sleep when he was ripped back to awareness by the opening of his bedroom door. Sam and Castiel didn’t wait for permission to enter, even as Dean made himself loosen his grip on his non-First Blade weapon. He swung his feet around to get out of the bed, ready for whatever fresh disaster confronted them.

Instead, Sam jammed a needle in his neck, and he woke up firmly tied to that goddamned chair in the ritual room, surrounded by a presently unneeded demon pentagram and with Cas watching over him like he was at serious risk of breaking free.

“Y’know, I’m not a demon yet,” he said. “You didn’t have to tie me so tight.”

“This way you didn’t have to struggle with the decision to cooperate,” Cas said, responding to Dean’s actual complaint. “Sam and I agreed that this was the safest course.”

Dean would’ve asked, safe for whom, but he was pretty sure there was no good answer to that.

“The ritual cures demons, so we don’t know what effects it will have on you in your present state, but I will monitor you carefully.”

“Thanks,” Dean said, with about 10% actual gratitude. Sam approached, different needle in hand, the contents dark and threatening. “Hey,” he realized. “Most demons aren’t running around in their original bodies. What the fuck was supposed to happen to the person who was possessed after this cure worked?”

Sam gaped at him for a moment, while Cas just looked annoyed. “That is hardly relevant,” he told Dean.

“Relevant to the Men of Letters being dicks,” Dean grumbled. Then they began.

****

On the plus side, the cure did seem to stave off some of the nastier effects of the Mark, specifically the crippling stomach pain and vomiting blood parts, along with helping to tamp down the nonspecific bloodlust. On the minus, it hurt just as badly as the crippling stomach pain and vomiting blood, and the gap between treatments started to shorten. Dean wasn’t a medical expert, but he could do math, and they weren’t a year out from a time when he’d need it every day if things continued on the same path.

And it really hurt. Blood-on-fire-in-his-veins hurt, like the ritual was actually burning the sulfurous taint from his cells. It hurt maybe even more than it had when he was a demon and less anchored in his meatsuit. It hurt so much that he had to remind himself not to thank them when it stopped, the way Alastair had wanted to be thanked. The gratitude at the end wasn’t the worst part—that was definitely the pain—but it wasn’t good either.

After the second time he started to get weird reactions. He didn’t mention them to Sam because that would be whining, but he didn’t like sweating through his clothes and he definitely didn’t like having hives over most of his body.

His pride usually kept him sitting down long enough for them to bind him. But even pride wasn’t enough when the pain got too great. Maybe he broke earlier because he’d already broken so many years ago in Hell; he knew he couldn’t last forever.

“Alastair didn’t hurt me this much,” he told Castiel at one point, his voice raw with screaming and his face wet with tears that he wasn’t bothering to fight.

“Alastair was trying to make you into a demon. We are trying to keep you human.”

“How’s that working out for you?” Dean asked, or thought he did. At a certain point things got fuzzy. Reality rose and fell in waves, like the pain, or braided with the pain, like girls doing double dutch.

Always, Sam’s voice, reciting prayers or soothing Dean or telling Dean that after Gadreel he didn’t get to complain about what Sam put him through. Or apologizing, but he never really meant that last one. Never enough to stop. Dean had to admit, that was the Winchester way.

****

Bleed, rinse, repeat. It was easy to lose track of time like this, locked up and constantly recycling the same treatment, sterilizing the same syringes. It was especially easy to get detached from the passage of the weeks and months without travel and varying motels to distinguish the days from one another: Dean had never woken up in the same room for so much time, even if you counted when he was a baby. Days, weeks, blurring into blood, as the scuffs on the floor around his treatment chair grew darker.

They did manage to hunt sometimes, in between treatments, and Dean was strongly of the view that killing monsters was at least an equally good way to keep the Mark from killing him. Unfortunately, Cas and Sam didn’t see it that way, even if they couldn’t ignore all the supernatural bad guys that popped up. Dean even negotiated Cas into taking the whole group—Dean, Sam, and the Impala—via angel transporter to wherever the monsters were hiding so that they didn’t waste time on the road. The other two didn’t appreciate just how big a concession that was, cutting out all the time he would’ve used to get his head right. Driving had always evened him out, better than drinking: navigating the car was something to do that was useful and that he was good at, without being too demanding. At least Sam had to admit that Dean had been right about the gastrointestinal consequences of Angel Express.

He made it up to his baby with extra detailing and being sure to use her when they needed to gather information in a town, even when they could’ve walked. She was not the kind of girl to let him down.

They came back. They tied Dean down and stuck him.

He tried to get rid of Cas and Sam as soon as possible after it was over, so that he could go try to shower off the pain-sweat. When he was steaming, it was harder to notice the itching, and he did less damage when he gave in and scratched over water-softened skin.

Sam probably thought he was jerking off; he’d given Sam enough reason to think that in years past. Cas seemed to have some idea, but Dean was expert at dodging his concern too by now. They developed a pattern: after his shower, he’d put on his dead guy robe over his swollen-sausage skin and head to the kitchen for some hot chocolate; Cas would pop up and Dean would make him a cup too. They’d sit at the table and Dean would dredge up some terrible 80s movie half-seen on an old TV in a podunk town, and Cas would tell him the full plot out of his Metatron download, along with six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon for every actor involved. Eventually, Dean would be able to go back to his room and try to sleep, and Cas would wash the mugs while Dean shuffled out. Cas probably knew that it was a diversion, but he also probably could tell that the distraction worked, about as well as anything could have.

****

Then there was the time he tried to stand up after they unbound him and instead pitched forward, nearly taking Cas down with him.

Yelling and snippiness—none from him, surprisingly enough—and he was somehow lying on his mattress, the lights dim, with a damp cloth on his forehead. It was sweet, though it did nothing much for the headache or the chills that made him shudder under the mound of blankets Sam must’ve dug up from some storeroom. Someone had set off a grenade in his lower back. The nerves pulsed like headlights going past on a busy highway.

Outside his door, Sam and Cas were talking, not quite comprehensible. Something something multiple transfusions. Sam was not a doctor. Cas couldn’t heal damage done by the Mark. Sam thought that wasn’t relevant.

Eventually, Cas came in and sat down on the edge of the bed. Dean thought about making a personal space joke, but lacked the energy, which was probably a bad sign.

With unusual hesitancy, Cas put his hand on Dean’s shoulder. Not the marked one, but bare skin, and even through the gross sweatiness of it all Dean had to repress a reaction. Cas touched him like he mattered.

The world wavered with the pulse of unreality that was angel power at work—a not-quite-glimpse, just beyond the limits of human vision, at the other side where Cas had six wheeled faces and could use King Kong as an action figure. Dean never had any conscious understanding of that other realm, but he could feel it at work, the definition of unnatural and yet at this point comforting even beyond the release from pain.

Which was a good thing, because there wasn’t an awful lot of release involved this time, though the itching subsided some.

“I’m sorry, Dean,” Cas said. “I should be able to heal the purely physical side effects of the blood injections, but my powers have been … erratic of late, and there may be some interaction with the Mark.”

Dean grimaced, trying to convey that it was no big deal without saying anything that stupid. “Thanks, man,” he said after nothing better occurred to him. “That helped.”

Cas regarded him with narrowed eyes, but didn’t protest. “I’ll tell Sam you’re resting.”

Dean wanted to ask him to stay, to sit on the side of the bed. Dean would even have listened to his old angel memories, a thousand years of flowers and birds and other wonders of creation that Cas could talk about for long enough for evolution to produce another new set. Cas thought that kind of thing bored Dean, and he wasn’t wrong, but Dean wouldn’t have minded listening anyway, if it had kept him there. But it was one thing to admit to himself what he was feeling and what he wanted. It was another thing to say it, especially when Cas wouldn’t understand why it was important.

If he could’ve said more, he would’ve said: sometimes, I used to wonder if you chose Jimmy as a vessel because of his eyes. Those eyes hadn’t been kind, not at first, but they were the blue of a calm lake: a color and a sensation that had never existed in Hell. They were proof I’d been rescued.

Then he’d learned more about angelic possession, and about Jimmy’s family. He’d tried to stop being grateful for anything of Jimmy’s physical being, because of how much it had cost. Even when Cas had been rebuilt from the ground up, he’d tried not to like Cas’s face or his strong hands with their slightly stubby fingers or his solid build, because they weren’t Castiel, not really, not the way Dean was his body. But it was hard to keep that difference in mind, and lately Cas had seemed more human, or closer to it; he’d been stuck in that body for long enough that Dean thought, maybe, it was really a part of him now. Cas could sit outside and feel the weight of the sun on his skin, or feel the burn of alcohol down his throat after a fight, or even the heat of another body if he was standing close enough. He could feel those things like a human did. Probably.

The door stuttered closed when Cas left, a flaw Dean could’ve fixed in half an hour but never would, because he liked to know when anything opened that door.

****

Dean jolted awake from his dream—chased by cats with mouths full of human teeth, way more disturbing than it had any right to be given his actual life experiences. His arm was aching, dull in the bone, his upper thighs felt like they’d been scoured with copper wire, and his skin was on fire. He had to stop moving when he was sitting upright until his head stopped spinning, and then he moved slow getting up, with a hand on a nearby chair when he wobbled.

Feeling about a thousand years old, he shuffled to the bathroom, threw up a mix of bile and blood, and then pissed, which came out red too because it was shaping up to be that kind of day. He washed his face, not up for a full shower. His face was weirdly yellowish in the mirror, a color that even he couldn’t make look good. He’d need another procedure soon, maybe in the next day or so. He wasn’t going to be the one to say it, though.

At last, he felt ready to amble unconcernedly down the hall and join the others in the kitchen. The slight smell of burnt toast in the air suggested that Sam had tried to make breakfast without him. Even sick as a dog, Dean wasn’t going to let that go. He opened the fridge and began pulling out ingredients for omelets.

Sam allowed him to prepare the meal in silence, which was probably humoring him, but Dean would take it. And as bad as he felt, really crispy hashbrowns could still improve his day, so there was that.

“So listen,” Sam said, as Dean finished choking down as much of his own omelet as he was going to be able to. Dean raised an eyebrow. “I get your point about hunting, I do, but Cas and I think it’s too dangerous.” He kept talking, ignoring Dean’s glower and grunt of protest. “Last time, you barely held it together long enough to get the victims to the hospital. If that security guard had put his hand any closer to his gun, it would’ve been a bloodbath. You know it, Dean, and I know you don’t really want to hurt anyone innocent.”

“So I’m just supposed to sit in here and shit out my insides?” Dean asked. Sam went a shade paler and Dean realized he’d disclosed a bit more than he’d wanted to about his physical state.

“No,” Sam said, more committed now. “We agree, it makes sense to give the Mark something to hunt. We just want more control over the situation.”

Cas stepped through the doorway as if summoned by Sam’s ‘we.’ And how much time had the two of them been spending together without him, Dean wondered, glaring at Sam.

“Dean, your brother and I have brought you a vampire to kill,” Cas announced. “It is restrained in one of the dungeon rooms.”

“Wait a second,” Dean said. “You’re telling me you and Sam went out—with you not at full power, by the way—without me, and instead of chopping its head off, you kept it alive and brought a murderous creature into the Bunker, past all our defenses?”

“It sounds worse when you say it,” Cas said.

“No shit it sounds worse.” Dean emphasized his disapproval by standing up from the table, only managing to keep from grabbing the edge for balance with some very serious willpower. “I am not okay with this, but we are not keeping a pet vampire for more than the next two minutes.”

Sam produced a machete from somewhere—Dean had his suspicions about Sam’s use of magic to store weapons that size—and offered it to Dean. Dean took it, but angrily, so Sam would know he’d done wrong.

The Mark was apparently okay with a doped-up victim; he felt the same bloodlust looking at the figure curled up on the dungeon floor, unbreathing and full of dead man’s blood, as he would’ve if the thing had been lunging for him. There was a part of Dean that wanted to give the vamp a fighting chance. But he reminded himself that vampires didn’t give their victims any chance at all, and he swung the blade.

“Did that help?” Sam asked anxiously from behind him.

Dean stalked past him, ostentatiously ignoring him, and went to clean the machete.

Honestly, he wasn’t even sure if it had helped. Killing did seem to slow down the physical deterioration. But every time he sliced another head off, he fed the darkness that was going to consume him anyway. And the physical weakness had the benefit of leaving him less likely to succeed if he broke and went after Sam or Cas.

****

“Dean,” Cas said, and actually blipped across the room rather than hurrying like a person.

“What the fuck?” Dean snapped, but Cas was already reaching for his face. Dean almost snapped his teeth at him like Hannibal Lecter, but he controlled the impulse and Cas’s fingers were cool on Dean’s cheek, sliding on wetness.

“Your eyes and nose,” Cas said. “They’re bleeding.”

Dean brought his own hand up to check. The blood looked ordinary, not corrupted.

“The injection site also,” Cas said, his voice more urgent. “Sit down.” He pushed on Dean’s shoulder, and Dean felt simultaneously angry enough to throw him across the room for daring to touch and so weak that his knees couldn’t hold up against that pressure. He let Cas hang on to his arm, guiding him down. Cas’s other hand stroked along his neck, clinical and intimate at the same time. Cas was frowning, lips paled with concentration. Dean felt the low buzz of angelic healing, like the shaking from having a construction drill nearby. Then it was more like a dentist’s drill, hitting some kind of nerve, and he couldn’t hold back a gasp.

“I’ve repaired the worst of the damage,” Cas said through what sounded like clenched teeth; Dean had his eyes closed as he tried to breathe through the still-spiking pain, like hitting his funny bone except throughout his entire body. “But I’m not sure how long this can go on.”

Dean laughed, a short sharp bark. “It goes on until it doesn’t, Cas. You know that.”

“Dean—”

“You know,” he said, “I used to dream—fantasize, whatever—about a happy ending. For Sam, even for me. What that would look like, me maybe teaching people to hunt until there was nothing more to hunt, Sam working at some fancy job saving whales from billionaires. I don’t think like that any more.”

Cas breathed for a while, a human sound. Dean liked hearing it.

Maybe it was just the pain making him loopy, but he sensed that Cas was going to leave him alone to recover and he wasn’t ready for that. “You know, I think—I think my dad would’ve been a really good dad. If things had been different. And maybe I could’ve—”

Even now, it turned out there were words he couldn’t get out of his mouth, even if he was ready to say them to himself. “Can’t tell Sam,” he said, because Cas could probably figure it out. “He already feels bad enough. ‘s not his fault, but.”

“Yes,” Cas said, with only a thin thread of sarcasm. “Imagine feeling guilty over something he had no choice in.”

Dean rewarded him with a snort and an attempt to raise his middle finger. But that required moving his whole hand, and it turned out that wasn’t happening any time soon, not with his bones feeling like icicles, frozen and breakable with a good kick. Instead, he let his head loll back on his shoulders, braced against Cas’s solid form standing behind him. Cas kept his hand on Dean’s shoulder, not quite squeezing, just there in the silence of the bunker.

Eventually, he could stand again, and he let Cas see him to his room, keeping close enough that Cas would be able to catch him if he fell. He didn’t fall, though. Not this time.

****

They brought him more vampires. Then they tried a few werewolves, which couldn’t be controlled by anything as simple as dead man’s blood.

They were putting themselves in danger to go out and get the monsters and bring them back to a controlled environment. They knew it and he knew it, but they still wouldn’t let Dean come with them. One morning, he woke up and found he’d been spelled inside his own room, presumably to make sure he didn’t follow them on their roundups.

Dean spent half an hour at least running at the door, hoping that his enhanced strength would work, but the spell was strong enough that he bounced off.

Then he got smarter about it and started kicking at the walls. He made it most of the way through before he got zapped again; it turned out that Sam was also aware that there was more than one way out of a room with only one door. And there was nothing above or beneath him but dirt and concrete; even if he did manage to get out that way, they’d be back—or dead—long before he hit free air.

He considered tearing the room to pieces, but it was his own stuff, and anyway there wasn’t a lot in it to really break. Other than the mattress, which he loved, and which was too squishy to give real satisfaction in destroying.

He tried to read, but couldn’t stop imagining some monster or other getting the drop on Sam and Cas. The Mark burned on his arm and its hunger burned in his gut.

Eventually, he had to piss in his trashcan. He imagined dumping it on Sam when they returned.

But Sam had outsmarted him even there: the spell must’ve been on a timer, because it broke with a whiff of ozone around lunchtime. They weren’t back, but Dean could at least get out and get to his computer. His trackers showed that the two of them were about two and a half hours out, heading back. Pretty efficient, he had to admit.

He hadn’t been close to a Mark meltdown when the day started, but he sure as fuck was when it finished.

It was hard to give them both the silent treatment when they returned—Dean’s impulse control had never been all that good—but he knew it would hurt Sam more than any outburst could have. With Cas, he had no clue, but yelling generally didn’t do much good there either. Anyway Sam was clearly the ringleader.

He didn’t speak to Sam for three days, including during the next treatment.

****

When it was finally over, Cas bent to untie Dean’s ankles from the treatment chair. Of course Dean hated having them witness his weakness. Half the time he didn’t believe that it was for his own good, thought that they were trying to control his power. Then when he knew that for the delusion it was, being aware of the tricks the Mark was playing on his mind was almost worse.

Cas tugged hard enough when the second restraint came off that he unbalanced and jostled his shoulder against the inside of Dean’s knee, which made Dean notice how he was crouched between Dean’s outspread legs. “If you wanted to suck my dick you could’ve just asked,” Dean said, not even thinking about it, just saying something to distract himself from the pained shudders wracking him.

Cas looked up. “My desire to suck your dick has nothing to do with this,” he said severely. “Indeed, it seems clear that you’d be more likely to participate as a demon, but I am nonetheless committed to seeing you remain human.”

Silence fell like a blast door. Then Sam cleared his throat and said, “So, I’m gonna get some popcorn, because I’ve been waiting to see this for years. Feel free to wait until I get back to continue.”

Dean kept it together long enough for Sam to clear the doorway, but probably not long enough for him to be out of earshot. “What was that?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Cas said, with the evenness that revealed he too was upset but being angelic about it. He got to his feet and stepped back.

“I mean—” Dean wanted to put his hands around Cas’s neck and squeeze for being deliberately obtuse (he’d been around humans long enough that his failure to engage was plainly dickishness), and not because of the Mark. “Was that just you being you. Or do you really—is that what you want?”

“I don’t want anything you don’t want,” Cas said, still giving back nothing. Dean nearly got up, walked over, and punched him. He imagined every part in the sequence despite the unlikelihood of successful execution.

“This ain’t high school,” he said instead, and hoped Cas appreciated the effort. “Cas. You gotta know, there’s nothing you could do or say—or want—that’d make me not want you as part of this family. And if this is just your terrible, terrible sense of humor, that’s cool. But if you do want that, you need to tell me. ‘Cause it wouldn’t be a one night stand, not for me. It would change us.”

Cas had regained the alien stillness that he’d come into Dean’s life with, staring at Dean like he was a strange and not entirely appealing new monster. But then: “You didn’t just come up with that,” revealing that he’d learned a lot about Dean in the past decade.

“You’re gonna give me grief for having a plan?” Dean asked. “And yeah. I’ve thought about it.” He was turning into an immortal bloodthirsty demon who wanted to kill his brother; denial about his occasional (or semiregular, whatever) fantasies seemed a little trivial. “I’ve fucked up every relationship I’ve ever had, but you know me. You know what you’re getting.” Dean wasn’t dumb enough to think that was a guarantee—people thought they could deal with a lot of shit that ended up wearing them down, and he doubted angels were different that way—but he wasn’t going to be a coward about it.

“This body is male,” Cas said, then before Dean could speak, he continued, “—although of course you know that. I had believed that you had no voluntary history with men.”

That conversation was off-limits, especially during this conversation, so Dean just shook his head. “I don’t care that you have a dick. What I care about is whether you even want, y’know, the sex stuff. You’re always talking about angelic communion and how your true form is the size of Godzilla times Mothra, and then you were married to a girl but without your memories, and it kind of looked like you’d be happy to fuck Meg that one time, but who can ever tell with you?” Dean was aware of how much he was revealing with the level of detail he was recounting, but the werecat was pretty much out of the hex bag on this one. “Even if you’d do it, you gotta know I can’t deal with someone who’s not into it, who’s just doing it for me. It’d be poison. If you don’t want it, I’d rather just be your friend.”

Cas regarded him unblinkingly for what seemed like five minutes. Dean would rather have been back on the Rack—he knew how to deal with that—though he couldn’t get all the way to wanting to be back strapped into that chair again. He waited Cas out, because Cas was worth waiting for.

“I want it,” Cas said, just before Dean might actually have come out of his own skin.

Thank you,” Dean said, because he’d finally gotten a straight answer. Then he realized what that answer was and nearly tripped over the chair he’d forgotten behind him. He ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck, buying time. “I mean, uh. Great. That’s great.” Now if he could only figure out what happened next.

“I don’t think Sam is actually coming back,” Cas said, totally serious. Dean momentarily considered whether he was crazy for wanting to fuck an angel with less understanding of human motivation than the average rosebush. Then again, that was probably part of the attraction.

“I know,” he said, meaning pretty much what Han Solo had meant when he’d said it back. “C’mon, let’s go to bed.”

By the time they’d made it to his room, Dean was painfully aware that he wasn’t going to be able to make good on his assertions about the value of a sex life, not tonight. The space where the Mark had been clawing at his insides was still empty and smarting, and it was growling on his arm, reminding him that it had only been put off for a few more days.

He turned right in front of the door and reached out his hand, resting it on Cas’s shoulder. “Hey,” he said, “I know I was just saying how you had to put out. But right now—”

“Dean,” Cas said, and there were layers behind the sound; Dean couldn’t hear angelic harmonies but he could hear how Cas was fond and aggravated and concerned and—just maybe—more than fond all at once. “I’m intimately familiar with your physical condition.”

“Not that intimately,” Dean said automatically, then felt his skin redden with heat.

Cas’s eyes weren’t cold at all; his mouth was quirked as he stared up at Dean. Slowly, as if trying not to frighten Dean, he raised his own hand, flattening his palm against Dean’s chest (which was not heaving, no matter what anyone might’ve said).

“I would like,” he said, “to kiss you. And then I want to get in your bed and hold you. And I want not to leave.”

Dean sometimes forgot just how brave Cas was. He swallowed. “I want that too.”

****

Dean had thought about how Cas would kiss, obviously. Would it be awkward, would he be bizarrely suave, would he remember from his human life. In the event, they lay down facing each other—after Cas had carefully removed his shoes and his tie, and loosened his collar—and Dean stared at him, paralyzed by the immensity of it. He’d tried to let Lisa in, but as much as he’d come to love her, going to her in the first place had been about Sam’s request. It hadn’t been something he’d chosen for himself.

Nobody would ever believe it, but Cas made the first move, leaning forward until their lips touched. Warm, chapped, no different from a human’s, or a monster’s. Dean closed his eyes. He didn’t need to see Cas to know him.

Dean pushed into it, letting the warmth of Cas’s body soak into him. The angle got awkward, so he tugged Cas by his shoulder, urging him to blanket Dean’s body, heavy and warming against the chills that were threatening to take Dean over. Cas’s mouth was soft and wet, even without much tongue—Dean felt like a kid again, working up to the next step. As if they had all the time in the world.

After a while, they took a break from kissing, a silent mutual agreement as natural as if they’d been hunting. Cas didn’t pull back much, other than to grab an actual blanket and pull it over them both. His arm draped over Dean’s chest and shoulders, and Dean gave into impulse, turning so that Cas was spooning him.

“When I was in Hell,” he said, surprising himself as much as Cas, but he didn’t let himself tighten up and Cas didn’t pull away, “could you see that I was on my way to bein’ a demon?”

Cas thought for a moment. “I could see that your soul was damaged. I could see that the damage you were doing was even then becoming reflected in your own soul.” His breath was warm, puffing past Dean’s ear, comforting even despite the words he was saying. “The human soul is in a constant state of motion, like smoke or like the flames of a fire. Demons don’t change, any more than angels do. When your soul became demonic, you became like a statue. Beautiful in your way, and terrible, and not at all alive. Every time we bring you back from that is a victory. I know it hurts you, and I regret that deeply, but I would do it every day for a hundred years and more to keep you from that—stillness.”

Dean nodded, knowing Cas could feel the movement in his back and shoulders. He wasn’t agreeing, but he got it. He hadn’t lasted twenty-four hours with Sam dead, and that had just been dead (not that he’d understood how much worse it got, at the time), and not too long ago he’d gone and stuffed an angel in Sam, so he knew what it was like to make those decisions.

He turned over, keeping Cas’s arm on him—he was smooth like that—and leaned in for another kiss. This one was deeper, teasing, a promise he couldn’t keep (nothing new there), and when Dean pulled back he was breathing harder and Cas’s eyes were unfocused. “But angels do change,” he said, tipping his head forward so that their foreheads were touching. “You did.”

“I did,” Cas acknowledged. “But I never moved, except that you moved me.”

Dean couldn’t stand not to be kissing him again, so he didn’t hesitate, losing himself in the feel of it. Concentrating on Cas, feeling his full focus in return, saying with his body all the things he could never get out in words. Even with the cramps in his stomach and the itching of his skin counting down until the next explosion, he thought he was happy.

****

Dean looked back from the doorway at Cas, asleep on the bed they’d barely shared. Last night he’d dreamed of killing them both, Cas and then Sam, and he’d woken with a blade in his hand. It hadn’t been the First Blade only because he hadn’t had the First Blade. Next time, he might be able to call it to himself, and it was just as thirsty for angel blood as for a brother’s.

Sam thought that Rowena could help, but Dean didn’t trust the witch, especially not with anything to do with Sam.

Dean had one idea left. It wasn’t a good idea; Death terrified him more than anything in Hell ever had. Every cell in his body screamed when Death was nearby, recognizing that he was the total opposite of everything living—not even an enemy. Dean knew how to deal with enemies; Death was altogether more terrible, a remorseless destroyer whose touch Dean had always known would feel like tenderness.

He wasn’t quite ready to summon Death. Maybe a few days away from the Bunker would give him some other ideas, and distance would mean that if he snapped again it wouldn’t be Cas or Sam that paid the price.

They’d be spitting mad. But he knew from the other side that being the guy doing the torturing wasn’t good either. The constant treatments were grinding them down alongside him, and they weren’t a solution, just a way to drag out the pain.

It was enough to think of Sam, safe in his own bed, and Cas, here with him at the end. He’d gotten more than he’d hoped for. And now it was his job to protect them.

He allowed himself one last look and then slipped out the door (there was in fact a trick to close it silently, one he’d never share). There was a murder/disappearance to investigate—he’d try to handle it himself, and then he’d know whether he needed to take the final step.

He didn’t need to be saved as long as he knew that the people he loved believed he was worth saving.