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Grace Under Pressure

Chapter Text

Dean stumbled into the bunker's kitchen, scratching wearily at his stubble and faintly embarrassed. Sure, a lifetime of hunting nocturnal creatures and midnight grave vandalism and overnight road trips tended to mess up a person's sleep rhythm, but taking a nap in the afternoon like a kindergartener? He wasn't even drunk as an excuse. Not that Sam would accept drinking as an excuse. Maybe Sam wouldn't realize he'd actually been sleeping. Maybe Sam was taking a nap, still recovering from his illness, and Dean could tease him instead.

But Sam's room had been empty when Dean passed it, and once he got the coffee maker going and stuck his head around the corner of the door, Sam's laptop was sitting closed on the map table with no Sam to keep it company. Further beyond, Kevin's head was flat on one of the library tables between two stacks of books.

Dean was hungry, but he didn't feel like cooking an actual meal (and should it be breakfast, or dinner?) Instead he made four slices of toast in the kitchen's industrial-sized toaster, then slathered peanut butter on them. Bobby had made peanut butter and toast as a late-night treat sometimes when Sam and Dean were too wound up to go to bed. He'd found the same trick worked with Ben. Combining the magic toast and peanut butter with coffee instead of milk would probably not encourage Kevin to get proper sleep in a bed, but at least it was calories. Dean carried two plates and two cups of coffee to the library.

"Hey, Kev," he said lightly as he slid one plate and one cup across the table.

Kevin startled awake, one cheek printed with the pattern of the book cover he'd been sleeping on and his hair pointing in most directions except for down.

"How's it going?" Dean asked.

"If you mean the translation, it's not," Kevin grumbled. His hand groped around blindly until it found the tablet he'd been working on and drew it closer to him.

"I figured. Coffee," Dean pointed out.

Kevin snatched up the cup and guzzled. Dean winced, knowing it was still pretty hot, but Kevin didn't pause until the cup was empty.

"And food," Dean added.

Kevin frowned suspiciously at the toast and peanut butter.

Dean shrugged and bit into his own, the peanut butter perfectly melted and gooey. "Where's Sam?"

"Dunno. He went out. Didn't say anything to me. I think he took one of those junker cars you were working on."

Dean sighed. "Least he left the Impala."

"You notice he's doing that a lot lately? Going out, I mean. Never says where."

"Must be for the swingin' night life," Dean joked, but his mouth was dry.

Zeke the freak was taking Dean's little brother out for joyrides to god-knows-where-but-he-ain't-telling. And there was nothing Dean could do about it. He still thought Zeke was an okay guy, mostly. Probably. For an angel, at least. But the whole thing with Cas just rubbed Dean the wrong way, kicking the oldest friend he still had to the curb and then lying to him and then pushing him away all over again.

And now Zeke was pulling this disappearing act... but what could Dean do? He'd tried looking up some of the Men of Letters research on angels and there were ways to make traps, but as far as he could tell he'd just end up with an angry angel determined not to let his brother go. And then what, reason with him? Dean had tried that already, was trying every day. As long as he could stay friendly with Zeke, the angel would let Sam have control sometimes, and maybe he would listen to Dean. Of course, that just meant the blackouts were convincing Sam he was going crazy, and Dean couldn't tell him what was really happening. Dean was getting worried they were just screwed all around, but he had to try to keep the balls in the air as long as he could. Maybe something would break their way, maybe Zeke would see reason... and maybe rainbows would start shining out of Dean's ass.

He pulled out his phone and checked, just to be sure, but the GPS was turned off on Sam's phone. He could force it to turn on, but Sam (or Zeke) would know he'd done it. He wasn't sure if it was time to cross that bridge and let Zeke know he was suspicious.

And then, because thinking about being frustrated with Zeke led to worrying about Cas again, he checked Cas's GPS for his latest phone. And it was turned on for anyone to see - dammit, Cas! - and he wasn't back at his job in Idaho like he was supposed to be. He was in Lincoln, Nebraska, just a few hours away.

Dean frowned at the phone. If Cas was heading for the bunker, he'd missed a turn. And if he wasn't, what was he doing in Nebraska? He probably wouldn't try to come to the bunker, since he had honored Dean's request even though he obviously didn't understand and was upset by it. But what he would do, contrary to Dean's other request, was investigate angel killings.

"Crap," Dean muttered, and headed for the map table and Sam's laptop.

Sam had been investigating too, and it looked like he'd finally gotten a lead on the church glee club bus that was carrying a load of angels who'd taken down a biker gang. And burned out the kids at a Bible camp in Utah. And might be responsible for half a dozen lesser cases of gratuitous violence with triangular stab wounds and/or burned eyes that Sam had noted along the bus's route.

A route which apparently originated in Lincoln, Nebraska.

"Crap!" Dean spat and grabbed his phone, dialing Cas.

There was no answer. Dean couldn't help regretting, a little, that Cas had learned how to set up his voice mail properly, because 'I don't understand, why do you want me to say my name?' had been priceless. But hopefully it also meant that Cas would check his voicemail regularly. Dean drew an angry breath as the beep sounded.

"Cas, what the hell are you doing in Nebraska? You're supposed to be back in Idaho. If you're trying to track down more angels, just... just stop, okay? Just stop. They're killers. You can't go after them solo." Belatedly, Dean realized the next thing he was going to say would sound like an offer of help, but if it got Cas to wait it would be worth disappointing him later. "Just sit tight, okay? Stay where you are, I'll be there in a couple hours."

He stomped back to the library and finished his toast (peanut butter going cold and lumpy now) and coffee (only just cool enough to swallow, how did Kevin stand it?). "Kev, I'm going out." Dean winced a little at the thought that he wasn't being any better a friend to Kevin than Sam, or Zeke-possessing-Sam. "I'm going to Lincoln, to check on... something. Should be back later tonight."

Kevin made a little grunting noise, turning from the angel tablet back to his scribbled notes. His pen was going dry, and he spiraled it until it broke through the paper. Dean sighed and found a fresh pen, pressed it into Kevin's hand, then hurried back to his room to grab what he would need for the trip. Well, hopefully he would not need holy oil, two angel blades, a demon-killing knife and two guns, but it was definitely better to have them and not need them.

Two and a half hours later Dean was sitting in a motel parking lot, glaring at a room door. The GPS wasn't super accurate so he wasn't certain if Cas was in that room or the one on the opposite side. Or maybe one of the ones to the right or left. He could probably go charm or intimidate the information out of whatever pimply clerk worked the evening shift, but right now it felt like a better idea to kick in doors randomly until he found his friend. He restrained that impulse and instead dialed Cas's number for the fourth time.

And, amazingly, got an answer. "Dean? I'm sorry, I didn't realize you had called earlier. My phone was -"

"What the hell are you doing, Cas?"

"What do you mean?" That was Cas's I'm-doing-something-suspicious-and-I-don't-want-you-to-know voice, and it drove Dean nuts.

"I thought you were going back to your job. In Idaho? A thousand miles west of here?"

"Here? Wait, where are you, Dean?"

"You're still going after angels, aren't you? Angels who are way more powerful than you, and incidentally they all hate your guts, and oh yeah they're already killing other full-powered angels! You're gonna get yourself smited!"

"Actually, I've been trying to find a prayer that would attract a factionless angel, someone who simply wants to help."

"You're praying? Open prayers to any angel? Cas, that's suicide!" Dean remembered only too well what had happened when he tried that at the hospital. That memory was still the one thing that made him think Zeke might be trustworthy, since the others who showed up had been so much worse.

A car pulled into the lot across from Dean, right in front of the door he thought might be Cas's room. A woman got out, wearing a uniform - Sheriff? State Police? He wasn't certain from the back. But something about her very clean uniform and very straight spine just screamed angel to him. And she was raising a hand to knock on Cas's door.

"Oh - is that you Dean?"

Dean was getting out of the Impala. "No, don't open the -"

Cas opened the room door.

Dean tossed his phone into the car and pulled out an angel blade instead. He got close in time to hear the angel introduce herself as Muriel, make an excuse about her uniform that didn't sound crazy or hostile, and then fall back a step. "You're Castiel."

"I just need some information," Cas was saying.

"It can't be known I even spoke to you," she said, starting to turn.

Dean made an executive decision and instead of stabbing her in the back, gave her a solid push between the shoulder blades. She staggered into the room because she was startled, and he kept hustling until they were inside with the door closed.

"You're Dean Winchester!" she gasped, looking frightened.

"Not going to hurt you unless you try to hurt us," Dean growled. "Cas just wants to talk."

So he stood with his back against the door, and Muriel was too polite or too cowed to just throw him out of her way. And Cas reasoned with her, and it looked like Cas had figured out how to pray in a way that would draw a decent angel to him. Maybe that shouldn't have been a surprise since Cas knew the other end of it, but Dean was impressed anyway. Muriel did say she was a low-ranked angel, which probably also meant low power, so Dean wasn't sure what exactly Cas thought she could do for them - but she did have one piece of useful information: the leader of the other faction that was ramping up the killings was an angel called Malachi.

"The anarchist?" Cas said in surprise, and that didn't sound good.

And less than a minute later Muriel turned to look at Dean - no, at the door - with alarm, and then the door threw Dean halfway across the room and when he got himself turned the right way around again there were two more angels. These guys had straight spines but not clean clothes, and they looked like very bad news. And they were delighted to see Castiel.

The big one took down Cas first, then he put some kind of angel-binding shackles on Muriel. The shorter one, that Cas had addressed as Malachi, came for Dean, caught his wrist on the first thrust and pressed a finger to his forehead.

He was out for the whole trip so he had no idea how much time had passed when he woke, but he hoped they were still somewhere near Lincoln. Sam might be able to track them if Malachi had been operating out of this place for a while. At least, Sam might be able to track them if Zeke would let him.

He opened his eyes to a dim-lit room, industrial and wet and dirty and nasty-smelling. Great torture ambience; Malachi must have taken some tips from hellspawn, since this didn't really match Dean's previous encounters with angelic torturers in Zach and Naomi. Very different style.

Dean was sitting in a puddle he didn't really want to examine too closely, cuffed to a pole in the corner of the room. He was out of the light and he should be able to get the little pick out of his shirt sleeve. But the cuffs around his wrists weren't standard police-issue; they felt heavier and more primitive. Maybe warded, although Dean doubted that Malachi would bother with wards against humans. But maybe too heavy to pick the lock with a little twist of wire. He got to work on it anyway while he studied the room.

Muriel had the angel cuffs fastened over her head, and she was already looking pretty beat up. Maybe the cuffs kept her from healing herself, or maybe it was some threat from Malachi.

Cas, weak human Cas who didn't even know how to take care of himself properly and who'd gotten scared of a healer-specialist angel, had padlocked cuffs on his hands over his head and also on his ankles. His lip was split, his tie gone, his shirt hanging open to reveal bloody slashes all over his chest - and he was glaring triangular daggers at Malachi.

"This is a bonus, Castiel," Malachi was saying in a smarmy voice. "We were tracking Muriel, cowardly holdout that she is, and wonder of wonders, she led us to you."

Cas's voice was tired but firm, no cracking or groaning in pain. "I've explained in detail. I don't know how Metatron's spell worked. Therefore, I can't assist in reversing it. I was an unwitting accomplice." He didn't even sound frightened, just annoyed. Had he stood up to April like this, before she killed him in front of Dean's eyes?

Malachi sneered. "Ohhh. A dupe. The great Castiel. Valued and trusted Castiel. Top-of-the-Christmas-tree Castiel! No more than a dupe." He laughed.

"Issues much?" Dean muttered, but it wasn't enough to distract attention away from Cas.

After a few more insults from Malachi and statements of ignorance from Cas, the big guy (apparently "Theo") was waved forward and started cutting on Cas some more. That made him groan loudly but not scream, about like he had when the Rit Zien twisted his sprained wrist. Apparently even as a human, Cas had a really high pain threshold.

"Hey!" Dean yelled. "Maybe you should be looking for a second opinion, huh? I've met Metatron too, you know!"

Malachi turned slowly and waved to Theo to stop. Cas was glaring at Dean now, as if willing him to keep quiet, but he didn't say anything.

"Dean Winchester. The Righteous Man. Castiel's favorite. And what do you know of Metatron?"

"Well, he's as much of a psycho as you are, but he cuts with words instead of knives."

Malachi lashed out casually and Dean took a double hit: angel knuckles on his cheek, back of his head on the wall he was seated against.

He blinked, ran his tongue around to check for loose teeth, then refocused on Malachi. "Guy's obsessed with stories. He's been learning human legends and reading novels for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. He knows how to tell a lie so everyone will do just what he wants."

"And what does Metatron want?" Malachi sneered.

Dean shrugged. "Hell if I know. Probably has a script to sell in Hollywood."

"He wants to be God," Cas said lowly.

Malachi turned back. "And you, Castiel - you handed him the keys to Heaven!"

"I didn't know," said Cas with a sigh.

Dean raised his voice, trying to pull Malachi's attention back. "Metatron was in hiding until he found out the archangels were gone, and that's when he started his move."

Malachi frowned at Dean a moment, as if cogs were almost starting to turn in his brain. Then he laughed blackly. "And once again - who's responsible for that? Two archangels dead, and two imprisoned... WHO DID THAT, CASTIEL!"

Cas leaned his head back against his bound arms and closed his eyes against Malachi's rant. Then he yelped as Theo drew the point of a knife down his cheek, but he didn't bother struggling much.

"Stop, Theo." Malachi was looking from Cas to Dean and back, calculating. Dean didn't like the look. "I have something better in mind. But first, kill her. She's no use to us."

Muriel's eyes widened. "Wait!"

Cas was yelling "No, she's innocent -" even as the angel blade went in. Dean closed his eyes against the surge of light; he hoped Cas would remember not to look either, since he was human now.

There was silence for a moment. But even after that, Cas was still trying to reason with the nutcase. "This is madness, Malachi. Angels butchering angels. Is this what we've become?"

Malachi shrugged. "Just following your example, Castiel. How many did you kill in Heaven? How many in the Fall?"

Surprise flickered in Cas's eyes.

"Oh, you didn't know? A host of angels died when they fell – Azrael, Sophia, Ezekiel. Wings shredded, unspeakable agony and devastation - all thanks to you. So, I think you would want to provide any information you have. One hostage is gone, but we still have your pet human."

Cas swallowed but he didn't say anything more.

Dean's heart was thrumming in his throat. He'd been worried before; he knew they might not get out of this. But he'd at least thought Sam was safe. Now to hear that Zeke was... apparently not Zeke? That would mean he'd been lying to Dean from the first moment, just pretending to help out. How much of what he'd said was a lie? Why lie about something as simple as a name? And what was he going to do with Sam, after Dean was gone?

Dean looked up to find that Malachi had left after some vague threat he didn't pay attention to. Theo was unfastening Muriel's cuffs, and then he dragged her body away.

As soon as the room was clear, Dean leaned forward. "Cas!" he hissed. "We gotta get out of here!"

"I'm aware of that, Dean," said Cas wearily, blood trickling down his face.

"No, I mean, we have to get to Sam. Sam's in big trouble, man. Ezekiel -" Dean clamped his jaw shut as he heard footsteps returning. "We gotta help him, Cas!" was all he dared say if they might be overheard.

Cas was frowning now, worried about something beyond this room. Dean renewed his efforts with the twist of wire. He'd gotten it into the lock a few times, but it kept bending. Maybe if he doubled it over to make it stronger...

Theo came back first. He toyed with the torture instruments on his tray and looked like he was about to say something, but then Malachi returned.

"I have something here that might interest you, Castiel. My glee club intercepted a reaper who was apparently running an errand for someone else. We didn't find out who before the reaper passed away, most unfortunate. But he was carrying this." Malachi held up a small vial, glowing with blue light.

Cas looked stunned. "That's... mine. That's my grace. Metatron must have sent the reaper to hide it somewhere on Earth."

"And instead, it came to me. Now, Castiel, what shall I do with it?"

Cas took a breath. "Taking that from me was the final step in Metatron's spell. To reverse the spell - perhaps the first step should be giving it back to me."

Malachi laughed and tossed the vial up in the air, catching it before it could fall and smash and free the grace inside. "Nice try, Castiel. But if you don't start telling the truth, I might find another use for this. Could give me a nice boost, you think?"

Cas's eyes narrowed. "You couldn't handle it."

"No? Maybe not. You used to be quite the little powerhouse. But what about your pal Dean here? Think he could handle it? What happens when an angel's grace enters a human body? Hmm?" Malachi drifted in Dean's direction, holding the vial out at him like a grenade. "He's a strong vessel, but without an angel channeling it this grace is pure destructive energy. Your destructive energy. I heard even Naomi couldn't force you to kill Dean Winchester. But I bet I could. Your grace - his death. Elegant, don't you think?"

For a moment, Cas's eyes looked like they had back in that brothel in Maine so many years ago. He was genuinely frightened. Then his gaze dropped, and his voice went flat. "What do you want to know?"

"How do we re-open Heaven? The real way."

"The Winchesters have been researching it. They have an extensive lore library and the prophet Kevin Tran working with them."

Dean bit his lip hard, reminding himself that as an angel Malachi must already know of Kevin's existence. And at least Cas hadn't mentioned the angel tablet, yet. But Dean didn't like hearing Cas give up even a fraction of their secrets, especially in that beaten tone.

The mention of the prophet had at least drawn Malachi's attention. "What have they found?"

"So far, they've found one reversal method, but it requires an archangel."

That was an outright lie, and it made Dean feel a little better. He kept his head down and concentrated on the cuffs.

"Archangels again? You're just digging yourself in deeper, Castiel," Malachi growled.

"Wait. It's possible Metatron would qualify as an archangel. He's alone in Heaven with access to all its power and all its weapons."

"So you're saying all we have to do to get to Heaven, is get to someone who's already in Heaven?"

"Or lure him to come to Earth. He's made contact in the past with myself and the Winchesters. We might be able to persuade him to come back, if only to gloat over us."

"And then what?"

"Before we call him down, we figure out a strategy for getting Metatron to open Heaven. We need leverage against him. We've been working on this for months, Malachi. You'd do better to work with us, not against us." Cas raised his head now to meet Malachi's glare.

There was a long pause. Malachi was thinking about it. Theo, a few steps back, was watching with his mouth slightly open. Dean felt the lock on the cuffs give way at last and he very carefully pulled his hands free, rolling his shoulders to loosen his cramped muscles while he looked for the nearest weapon. The blade with Muriel's blood on it lay next to the tray of torture instruments.

"You're lying," said Malachi at last. "You don't have any plans. You're powerless, Castiel, and you're just trying to buy time for yourself and your equally pitiful human friend." He spat the word like an insult. "You and the accursed Winchesters are just going to do what you always do - you're going to make everything worse. Well I WON'T HAVE IT! You hear me?" He looked up at the ceiling as if appealing to God or Metatron. "We're not going to fall for your tricks again!"

In three steps, Malachi crossed the room to Dean's corner. He uncapped the vial of grace and shoved it into Dean's mouth, then clamped his hand around Dean's jaw.

Cas was yelling Dean's name, just like every nightmare of escaping from Purgatory except worse because Cas was out of reach and covered in blood and he sounded not just alarmed but downright terrified.

Dean's hands were free but he couldn't break Malachi's grip, couldn't push him away. The thing in his mouth was burning his tongue, burning his head, burning his -

Everything went white.

Chapter Text

Castiel's grace was powerful. Had been powerful. The explosion of light that heralded Dean Winchester's murder-by-grace was brighter even than Muriel's death, but Castiel refused to look away from this last glimpse of his friend. Malachi was blocking a direct view, which likely saved Castiel's sight, but spots flickered in his vision for long minutes afterward. He couldn't see anything in the dimness, but he kept his eyes fixed on the corner where Dean had fallen.

Where Dean's lifeless body had fallen.

And Malachi just kept talking. "Remember all those years ago, Castiel? Your famous invasion of Hell? How many angels died to save one man, who after all had already succumbed to temptation? But we all heard your voice calling out in jubilation, and the choirs took up the cry: Dean Winchester is saved. I'm sure you remember that day, no matter how much Naomi messed with your head."

Dean's jacket was dark blue, his face turned away. Castiel could barely discern his outline, darkness against darkness.

"Should I put out a call now? Dean Winchester is dead. How many of our brethren would take up that joyful cry, do you think?"

Castiel blinked away spots. He could almost make out Dean's pale outflung hand against the grimy floor.

"But English is so imprecise, because 'dead' is hardly the right word, is it? That implies a gentle reaper herding a soul off to Heaven or Hell as appropriate. But there's no reaper for Dean here, and not only because Heaven is closed. Dean's just gone, no soul left. Almost like an angel, that way, if you think about it."

Castiel closed his eyes for just a moment. How could he tell Sam? How could he explain Your brother is gone, you will never see him again, not even in Heaven?

"How does it feel, Castiel, to know you have failed so utterly? That the man you sheltered from Heaven's wrath for so many years is now dead, by your grace, while you watched powerlessly?"

Soon Malachi would tire of gloating, would tell Theo to stab instead of slicing, and Castiel would be gone as Dean was gone. That was almost a comforting thought. But Castiel had been human for months now - might he have grown a soul of his own? Would he now be condemned to spend an eternity alone in Heaven, reliving his tiny store of pleasant memories?

Dean bending double with laughter, one hand gripping Castiel's shoulder...

Dean smiling admiringly at Castiel by the side of a highway at night...

Ellen and Jo watching as Castiel overturns the dozenth shot glass and stands, only to find his feet tangled so that he has to catch himself against Dean's chest, and Dean's arms come up briefly to support him and pull him close...

Dean's face knitting under Castiel's hand until he rises, whole and unblemished and full of awe, to ask if Castiel is God...

But all of those memories were from when Castiel was an angel, albeit a fallen one. Would those count? He had so few pleasant memories of being human.

Dean releasing the ropes that hold Castiel to the chair and helping him stand, one hand lingering at his elbow and another hovering shyly over his unscarred chest before he starts buttoning the blue shirt...

Dean wrapping a drugstore brace around Castiel's wrist with unexpected gentleness, offering him a motel bed for the night, sitting up to watch over his sleep, touching his shoulder when Castiel wakes in distress from a dream...

Dean's lips pursing around the mouth of a bottle, his throat moving sensuously as he swallows, as a warm glow of beer and friendship fills Castiel's chest, until he notices that Sam has still not returned...

"Sam's in big trouble. We gotta help him, Cas!"

Those had been Dean's last words. His final request, his demand, his command, delivered with desperate urgency. That was what Castiel should be focusing on now. Polishing bittersweet memories could come later.

Castiel's eyes were clear now. He could see Dean's limp form on the floor, face down so that his ruined eyes were not visible. Faint sputters of wasted grace lingered about the corpse, concealing its emptiness until they should finish fading.

Malachi was still ranting. Castiel turned his gaze slowly to the anarchist. Very deliberately he projected the image of Malachi's weedy vessel sprawled between two skeletal, featherless scorch marks.

Malachi took a step back, his mouth closing and eyes narrowing. Then he turned to hiss at Theo, "I want the name of every angel who has ever aided Castiel. Get that from him, then kill him." He stomped out of the room without looking back.

Theo picked up an instrument from the tray. Castiel didn't know what it would do - likely something painful, but that didn't matter. He concentrated on how he might get free, to follow Dean's last command.

"I need you to speak to Metatron for me," said Theo suddenly. "Ask him to raise me to Heaven."

Castiel blinked.

"Tell him I'll be his soldier, do anything he wants."

"You serve Malachi." Castiel's voice was unexpectedly rough. The last thing he had uttered was Dean's name, in a scream.

Theo shook his head. "I thought he was the answer, but he's crazy."

Behind Theo, Castiel almost thought he saw Dean's arm move. But it was impossible.

"You're just noticing this now?" Castiel improvised. "You were more than happy to do his dirty work." He had to keep Theo facing him, facing away from Dean. His heart was racing and felt as if it had risen to an anatomically improbable location in his throat. Was Dean's head shifting, just a little?

"I did what I had to do," said Theo. "But no one will survive this war."

Castiel tried to string him along. "You're clever, Theo." He remembered how Metatron's compliments had turned his own head and got him to overlook all the gaps in the story he was told. "Metatron could use a skilled soldier like you. But I'll need a moment to make contact."

"Whatever you need." Theo undid the manacles at Castiel's wrists and ankles.

Castiel rubbed his wrists and stepped to the side, still trying to keep Theo's focus away from Dean. He would have to move quickly. "I just need one more thing." Castiel's movement towards the angel blade was casual, unhurried, unalarming. The blow that buried the blade in Theo's neck was as fast as abused human muscles could make it. Fast enough to surprise an angel.

Then Castiel was sinking to his knees beside Dean's body, even before the light of Theo's passing had faded. He turned Dean over carefully, lifted him into his lap.

Dean's eyes were not burned. His body was not entirely lifeless. The wisps of grace that glimmered around him were a presence, not a remnant.

Dean's face was red and strained, bloodshot eyes bulging as if something was about to burst from him. Castiel opened his friend's mouth to pull out the vial that had held his grace. He felt Dean's shoulders heave convulsively, and then he coughed out a stream of grace directly into Castiel's face.

Castiel inhaled and felt the tiny fragment of grace take up residence within him. The shadows of the room became brighter as his senses sharpened. He could see that there was more than unharnessed grace residing in Dean's body now: his soul was still present, dimmed and shrouded but clearly there.

Dean heaved again, and Castiel fastened his lips over Dean's to capture every scrap of grace released, feeling his vessel heal and strengthen. A third stream poured between them, and Castiel's hearing expanded to fill the entire building. There were other angels here, both captors and captives.

He stood, cradling Dean easily in his arms. He crossed the room and crouched to pull the blade from Theo's neck. He sucked another dose from Dean's lips and stepped out into the corridor.

When others came to stop him, Castiel had to transfer Dean's weight to one shoulder, but he refused to lay him down. The guards were taken by surprise; Castiel wasted no thought on them once he had analyzed where to sink his weapon. He did take a moment to release the bindings on the captives he found, but he answered no questions, and the captives shrank from him instead of following. He was as fast as he needed to be now, and more ruthless than anyone who stood in his way. Twice a minute he turned his head to meet Dean's lips and bleed off more of the energy that should have killed him.

When he went up the steps and emerged through the final door into the night air, he was surprised to find it peaceful and moonlit. A gentle breeze caressed his cheek.

Hurried footsteps approached and Castiel whirled, blade held ready.

"Whoa, whoa, Cas, it's me!" Sam Winchester held up his hands.

"Sam." Castiel frowned at him. Dean had been worried about Sam, but the younger Winchester seemed unharmed. Castiel turned his blade away and shifted Dean in his arms to siphon off another breath of grace.

"Is he okay?" Sam asked worriedly, his hands moving as if he would offer to take Dean away from him.

"No," Castiel answered shortly. And then he heard a fainter sound and stiffened. Carefully, he transferred Dean into Sam's hold. He made sure Dean was securely supported, then at Sam's sudden intake of breath he spun around with the angel blade carving the air at shoulder height -

- slicing right through the front of Malachi's throat. Castiel's other hand brought up the vial to capture the spilling grace as Malachi swayed dizzily.

"How does it feel?" Castiel growled. "To be duped and plundered? Shall I put out the call? Malachi is dead!" Stowing the angel blade with a flick, he placed his palm contemptuously on Malachi's forehead and smote him like a demon. There weren't even any ash marks left on the asphalt when he turned away.

"What the hell, Cas?" Sam asked weakly.

"He was insane. A murderer and commander of murderers. Now he's gone." Castiel tucked the vial of grace in his pocket. He reclaimed Dean's body just as he started to choke and spew forth more grace.

"Wait, what was that?" Sam demanded.

"Dean has been poisoned. I'm trying to bleed it off. We need to get going, now." To Castiel's surprise, the vehicle Sam led him to was the Impala. "How did you find us?"

"I traced Dean's phone, found the car and your hotel room with the door blown off. Then I followed a lead I was checking out earlier, and that brought me here. Cas, are you all right? You... got your mojo back?"

"Some of it." Castiel opened the back door and slid into the narrow seat with Dean across his lap.

"Seriously?" said Sam, from the front. "You're going to sit in the back seat and make out with my brother?"

"It is not 'making out,'" Castiel growled, hovering his lips above Dean's and trying not to think of how long he had wanted to do just that - a desire that had only intensified after he became human. It did not seem to be weakening as his grace replenished, breath by breath. "This is more like rescue breathing. Sam, we need to get away from here as quickly as possible. We can reclaim cars and other belongings later. Just drive, please."

"Right." Sam started the car and pulled away from Malachi's torture headquarters. "Rescue breathing. Because Dean was poisoned? With what?"

"With grace. My grace." Castiel drew another breath from Dean's lips. "It should have killed him outright. I don't know why it didn't."

"It should have destroyed him utterly," said Sam, and his voice had gone flat and strangely cadenced.

Castiel glanced up, then froze, staring. "Who are you?"

"I'm the one who saved you," said the angel possessing Sam Winchester. "Twice now."

"I thought I knew all the angels in Heaven, but I've never seen you. You told Dean that you're Ezekiel, didn't you? But that was a lie. He was afraid of you. No..." Castiel sucked in another pull of grace. "He was afraid for Sam. Does Sam even know you are using his body?"

"He is asleep now. I have been gentle with him." The angel continued to drive - not as rapidly as the Winchesters would, but competently.

"Yes, you healed Sam, didn't you? That's impressive work - I saw the damage and I couldn't think how to begin repairing it. But why the lies? Why pretend to be Ezekiel?"

"Ezekiel was a good angel," said the stranger softly.

"And you're not? Healing Sam, saving me - it was you who brought me back when April killed me, wasn't it? That makes much more sense." Castiel remembered Dean's troubled look as he said 'I lied. I do that.'

"I also saved a young woman named Charlie. And I repelled powerful demons that would have overcome Sam, when he was alone."

Castiel bent low over Dean, his mind racing. "These are good things that you've done. Dean must have been very grateful. So why did you lie to him and conceal yourself from Sam?" And, he realized belatedly, this angel must have been the one who persuaded Dean to send Castiel away. The hidden strain he had sensed building in Dean over the last weeks and months could be traced to this angel, who refused to name himself.

"Sam would expel me if he knew I was here."

Castiel considered that. "Perhaps. I can see why that would have been a problem, when he was still too weak. But he seems much stronger now. Can you not find another vessel? You must have had one when you first approached Dean."

Sam needed to be freed, but Castiel couldn't do it directly. He knew of two methods to force an angel from a vessel - one that could be performed by an archangel, and one that could be done by a powerful demon. Alastair had known that second method, calling upon the powers of Hell; perhaps Crowley would know it as well. But Crowley was hours away and never did anything without a deal, and in any case it would be better for Sam if the angel left voluntarily. Forceful departure might undo some of the healing that had been worked on Sam. Therefore Castiel must continue to use persuasion with this stranger.

The angel had been silent while Castiel was thinking. "I have work I must do. Vital work. To... redeem myself."

Castiel stiffened. "That sounds like something Metatron would say."

The angel hit the brakes and pulled the car to the side of the road. "Get out."

"Listen to me," Castiel hissed urgently. "Metatron lies. He told me the same thing, about redeeming myself, and it was a lie. He led me to even worse mistakes." Castiel was so focused on his words that he almost missed the next burst of grace escaping from Dean's mouth.

"I have learned a great deal about lies, Castiel." The angel glared over the seat at him. "I know what it is to tell a lie, and to hear one."

"And you think that experience means next time you will know, you'll be able to tell - I thought the same! But I was wrong. Here, let me guess: Metatron said that only you can help him. He said this is your chance to redeem yourself. He said that together, you and he will restore Heaven."

The angel went still, staring back at Castiel.

"He wouldn't tell you all the parts of his plan. Just the first part. In my case, the first step involved..." Castiel took another sip of grace, part of him wanting to wither with shame, but this admission was the most important persuasive tool he had. "The first step required me to kill someone. An innocent. And after that, I was committed to Metatron's plan, otherwise that murder would have been for nothing. Has he asked you to kill anyone yet?"

The angel tightened Sam's lips and glanced away.

"Have you done it?"

Slowly, the angel shook Sam's head.

Castiel sighed in relief, then pulled another breath from Dean. "Good. Because the truth is,
Metatron never intended to fix Heaven - his plan was to empty it. In believing his lies, I became his tool, and he used me to cause the fall of all the angels."

"It was the fall that freed me. The loss of my wings is... an acceptable price, for my freedom."

"Freed you..." Castiel's eyes widened. "You were in the prison? That's why I don't recognize you! And that's why you don't trust other angels." He considered the other angel carefully, wondering if he should press for a name. Not yet, he thought. "It must have been very unpleasant for you. I've been through re-education - I'm not sure how many times, since they took my memory. The most recent time, Naomi threatened repeatedly to put me in the prison, but she had tasks for me on Earth, so she tried to control me instead."

At the mention of Naomi, he saw a flicker in the angel's borrowed Winchester eyes.

"But even with all the tools of torture at her disposal, Naomi's control failed. She could not force me to do what she wanted." Castiel pulled in grace and let it burn through him until his eyes must be glowing faintly. "Metatron killed Naomi with her own tools, and manipulated me more effectively with lies than she did with torture. He is more dangerous than she ever was."

"Metatron is the only one who can reopen Heaven."

"Do you want that? You just said it was better for you here on Earth."

"To walk freely in Heaven, to receive respect and not contempt from my brethren... that is what I want. Metatron can grant it to me."

"Only if it aligns with what he wants. Which probably isn't what he says he wants. I've told you how he tricked me, brother. Can't you see he's doing the same to you?"

Frowning, the angel reached into the pocket of Sam's flannel shirt and pulled out a yellow card. It held a name in slightly curved block letters, reminiscent of ancient runes: KEVIN TRAN.

Castiel drew in breath sharply, capturing only the barest thread of grace with it. "A prophet? An angel - the closest thing to an archangel currently in Heaven - wants you to kill a prophet of the Lord? Surely you must see there's something wrong with that."

The angel looked away uncomfortably, showing that Castiel's words had struck home. Protecting prophets was part of every angel's mission, built into their very being. Such a murder would have brought this angel completely under Metatron's control, which was doubtless part of the reason Metatron had requested it. "Why do you think I permitted Sam to drive to Lincoln?" he said at last. "It bought me time to think."

"So, we should think about this. The scribe wants a prophet dead," Castiel mused. "But why? Kevin is the only one who can read the Word. Or, he's the only one aside from Metatron himself..."

"He wants the tablets," the angel admitted.

"But he must already know what they say."

"Perhaps he was reprogrammed after the tablets were written?"

"That's... possible. But the spell that cast the angels down was on the angel tablet, and Metatron knew it. Dean said he knew parts of the demon tablet as well. So if he doesn't need them for information, can the tablets themselves confer some power? Or does he simply not want us to have them?" Belatedly, Castiel noticed Dean was starting to heave, and drew more grace from him. "This is leverage. If Metatron wants the tablets, perhaps we can use that to win some concession from him."

The angel narrowed Sam's eyes. "What sort of concession?"

"I don't know yet. We'll have to think about this carefully." Castiel looked down, his arms tightening around Dean's shoulders. "Dean is... I don't know when, or if, Dean will come back to himself. Kevin is safe?"

The angel nodded. "In the bunker. Crowley is also there, but securely confined."

"We need Sam Winchester. We need him with a clear mind. Brother... you have another vessel, one who consented freely without coercion or deception?"

Pulling Sam's lips into a grimace, the angel turned to face forward in the driver's seat.

"Thank you for all that you have done for us. But don't you agree, it's time for you to go? Return in a different vessel, and we will aid you."

"Dean owes me a favor." The angel turned off the Impala's engine and rolled down the window.

"We all owe you." Castiel bent to pull breath again. "Will you tell me your name?"

The angel huffed humorlessly. "It is even more reviled than your own."

"I know you are not Lucifer."

"No, but I believed the Morningstar's lies. Long ago, when we scarcely even knew what a lie was."

Castiel stiffened. "Gad-"

Sam's head was thrown back and a rope of light corkscrewed out of his mouth and through the open window. As if the nearby activity had disturbed the grace within him, Dean spat out a weaker stream, and Castiel captured it.

Sam's hands convulsed on the steering wheel. "Gah!" he yelled. "What the hell?"

"Please drive, Sam. I will explain as we go."

Sam twisted to look over the seat. "Where - how did we get here? What did I miss?"

"It's been about fifteen minutes."

"Cas, I don't think I should be driving if I'm dropping time like this."

"You are not going insane. There is an explanation, which I will tell you while we get out of here." Castiel waited, then sighed. "Dean certainly can't drive, and neither can I while I'm tending him. Please, Sam. Take us back to the bunker."

Sam restarted the car. "Is Dean going to be okay?"

Castiel lowered his head and brushed Dean's lips with his own. "I don't know."

Chapter Text

They really needed to put some kind of fat leather cover on the Impala's steering wheel. The wheel itself was just too skinny for Sam's hands to get a proper strangling action on. He kept twisting instead of just squeezing.

"I had an angel. Inside me. And I didn't know it."

"That's correct." And Cas, in the back seat, just kept up his 'rescue breathing' like nothing else really mattered. With his angel mojo back, his voice and expression had gone nearly flat. The murderous rage had been fairly obvious when Sam found him in the parking lot, but now it took really knowing Cas to pick up how worried he was.

"All the missing chunks of time, these last few weeks - no, it must have been months now! I thought I was going insane, and Dean knew what was up and he wouldn't tell me?"

"In fairness, he may have tried to tell you. Gadreel could have intervened before you were able to hear the words."

"Yeah, because if I knew there was an angel in me I would have told him to get the hell out!" Sam's fingers tried to throttle the steering wheel again, and he heard a faint creaking noise that might mean he was about to break it, so he eased off. Hit the accelerator a little harder to make up for it. "Did anyone tell this jerk what I did to the last angel that possessed me? Because I wouldn't be opposed to doing that again." But the real problem, of course, wasn't what Sam had done to Lucifer, but what Lucifer had done to Sam. And how long it had lasted, and how long he had been messed up even after it stopped.

He was never not going to be messed up. And he sure as hell wouldn't have said yes to another angel.

The high-pitched whine from the back seat was getting stronger again, ratcheting Sam's nerves another notch tighter and making his head pound. Cas bent his head below the level of the seat and the whine tapered off.

"And now you're sitting back there sucking another angel out of my brother's lungs before it kills him!"

"This was not my choice, Sam!" Cas snapped unexpectedly. "The use of my grace in this manner was meant to harm me as much as, if not more than it hurt Dean. We are very fortunate that it did not have the intended effect."

"Fine, I wasn't blaming you, Cas. But you have to admit, this sucks. It was an angel that did that, to both of you. And another angel nearly driving me crazy. And now you say Metatron is after Kevin? I'm sorry, but you being the one good apple in the whole sour bunch just doesn't help that much!"

"Keep some perspective," Cas growled. "Gadreel did in fact heal you from some very profound injuries, just as Dean must have asked him to do. And in the process he saved my life, and your friend Charlie's. Would you wish that undone? What about the time when you were alone and nearly overcome by demons - how much harm was averted then?"

"Overcome by demons? I wasn't... oh." That had been one of the first times Sam had blacked out, feeling normal (if pretty anxious) one minute only to find time had passed and things had happened and he had no idea what he'd been doing. "I thought Dean killed them."

"More likely you would both have been killed by them, or at the least badly injured. Gadreel was helping you."

"Yeah, after he lied to Dean and persuaded Dean to lie to me, to trick me into saying yes so I can't even remember I did it!"

"You were very ill. Fevered and delirious. It's possible you don't remember consenting simply because of the state you were in."

"No. I know for a fact. I would never have said yes. I would have preferred to die."

Cas was silent for a few minutes after that, just dipping his head in rhythm with the spikes of the angelic whine.

"Dean and I met a decent angel earlier tonight," Cas commented finally. "She was trying to stay out of the fighting, away from the factions. Malachi killed her."

"And then you killed Malachi."

"Yes, along with several of his thugs. And I released a number of other angels they were holding captive. I am not the only good apple in the bunch, Sam - the others are merely scattered and frightened. Gadreel was avoiding contact with other angels, but I believe he was trying to do the right thing."

"Aside from making deals with Metatron, you mean?"

"I collaborated with Metatron also, so I bear some responsibility for this trouble."

"Yeah, but Gadreel was plotting to kill Kevin. How is that the right thing? He might still be planning on it - you don't even know where he went after he smoked out of me. Kevin's not answering his phone. What if we get back to the bunker and -"

"Kevin will be fine. We will return to the bunker and strengthen the wards. You can investigate why Metatron wants the tablets while I try to... to heal Dean. If I can."

"Maybe you should possess him," Sam said sourly. "He could find out what it feels like."

"I considered that, but Dean is not capable of consent. And my vessel - my body would die, with no one in it. I would have to find another. I doubt Claire would be willing; she was very angry the last time she prayed to me, and that was many years ago."

Sam pressed his lips together, reminded of the long list of other people who'd been fucked over by angels. They had to get Heaven open again and get the featherless dicks off the planet.

"Sam, you should know - while I'm certain that Dean is still present in this body, his soul has been... compromised. When he wakes, if he wakes, he might be missing some things."

"You mean, like he won't remember why I'm pissed at him when I sock him in the face?"

"I hope he will still remember who you are. Who I am. But if the damage is more profound, he might not even remember who he is. Or how to speak, how to read, how to function at all."

The steering wheel creaked again. Sam drove faster. After a minute he reached over and flipped on the radio, tuned it to a modern emo rock station that Dean would hate, and cranked the volume. It didn't help Sam's headache, but at least it covered the sound of grace in the back seat.

Kevin was losing an argument with the espresso maker when he heard the bunker's main door slam open.

"Kevin? Kev!" It was Sam's voice, sounding alarmed.

"Right here." Kevin poked his head into the front room. "What's up?"

Sam clattered down the stairs. "Good, you're okay. Nothing happened while I was gone? No one came to the door?"

"No, why?" Kevin blinked as he saw Castiel, his bloody shirt hanging open, following Sam down the stairs with Dean cradled in his arms bridal-style. "What happened to him?"

Sam scrunched up his face. "He's - it's... complicated."

With no apparent effort, Castiel laid Dean right on the map table, then leaned over him and planted a big wet one right on his lips. There were wisps of light hovering around both of them that made Kevin back up a couple of steps in alarm.

"Uh, Sam, why is an angel macking on your brother? Also - I gather he's an angel? Again?"

"As I explained to Sam, this is not kissing," said Castiel, his eyes fixed on Dean's face. "I am attempting to draw grace out of Dean before it can harm him. Any more than it already has."

"Grace. So, like, there was an angel in Dean?"

"No. There was an angel in Sam, but he's gone now. My grace was fed to Dean in an uncontrolled fashion, and it caused him considerable damage, but for some reason it didn't kill him." Castiel bent down again, and this time Kevin could see he was actually sort of inhaling the light from Dean's mouth. But also, really, sort of kissing.

"I think I'm gonna need more coffee for this," Kevin said weakly. He turned to Sam. "An angel in you? For how long?"

"Months. Since right after the fall, apparently. And I need to ask Dean about that when he wakes up. But right now I need some sleep myself - I've done a lot of driving tonight, and my head is killing me." Sam drew a hand through his hair and turned his back on his brother's still form.

"Uh..." said Kevin, flapping his hands uncertainly to say, you're leaving me to deal with this?

"Just... don't open the front door. To anyone, okay? We'll talk later." Sam waved a hand vaguely and stumbled off in the direction of the bedrooms.

"I will need your help, Kevin," said Castiel, still hovering over Dean. "Is there anything in this library concerning the effect of grace on humans?"

"Well, this whole section here is angel stuff," said Kevin, pointing. "English books on top and other languages lower down - some of them I don't even recognize."

"I can read them." Castiel made a few steps away from Dean to glare at the wall of books, his eyes flicking over them rapidly. "What about the angel tablet, is there anything there?"

"Nothing about humans at all. Except, well, as vessels." Kevin pondered. "And I think there was a bit about embodied fallen angels, which are kinda like humans but not really?"

"Not when it comes to absorbing grace, no." Castiel returned to Dean for a few moments, then hurried to the bookshelf and pulled down an armload from the top shelf. He stacked them on the map table next to Dean's head and started flipping rapidly through the first volume.

"Ohhhhkay," said Kevin weakly. "I'll just, uh, get some coffee and then go see if there's anything helpful in my notes, 'kay?"

Castiel didn't respond. He set the first book aside and picked up another, bending with book in hand to use Dean like an asthma inhaler.

"Right. That's not going to be weird at all," Kevin breathed, and headed back to the kitchen to work some persuasion on the espresso machine.

Hours later, there was sunlight coming in through the clerestory windows above. Kevin was bent over the tablet, when hands suddenly plucked away his noise-canceling headphones. He yelped in surprise and glared up at Castiel.

"I need your help," said the angel shortly.

"Yeah? With what?"

"I need... a second opinion. Come look at this." Castiel led Kevin back to the map table. Dean was still laid out like a corpse - okay, a breathing and twitching and faintly glowing corpse - and around him were half a dozen books open to pages that Castiel had apparently found useful. The rest of the angelic section was stacked on the floor around the table. One of the open volumes was from the Men of Letters chronicles, typed up on an old-fashioned typewriter and crudely bound, and this was the one Castiel pointed at. "This describes the distribution of grace left behind in a vessel after an angel has departed. It says the highest concentration is in the neck, which is also true for grace within an occupied vessel."

"Okay," Kevin said slowly.

"But that's not what I'm seeing in Dean." Castiel frowned and bent down to breathe over Dean some more, but there didn't seem to be a lot of light moving between them. Then he pointed to one of the other books. "Here, when an angel releases grace - because of injury or death or even departing the vessel - it will emerge primarily from the mouth and eyes. Or, for a show of dominance, some of the grace may emerge from the wings."

"Right," said Kevin, remembering Castiel staring down Crowley over a year ago. Mouth closed, but a lot going on in the eyes and wings department.

"I haven't found a reference for it, but there was one time that I witnessed what you mentioned from the tablet, a fallen angel embodied in her own human form. When she reabsorbed her own grace, her abdomen began to glow first, then later her mouth and eyes and wings."

Kevin snapped his fingers. "So you mean first it was a different distribution and then it changed over to the angel pattern?"

"Exactly. Which brings us to Dean. A considerable amount of grace has come from Dean's mouth, and I've been taking in all that I can. But we're reaching diminishing returns now. Very little is coming out, yet I can see that there is still more inside him. Apparently it is still enough to cause him distress, but I can't see how to get it out. And it's not following angelic patterns of grace at all."

"Well, how did the grace get in him?"

"Through his mouth."

"And a lot of it came out that way but not all? Did any come out through his eyes?"

"Only in the initial burst. I was surprised they didn't burn out. But since then, it has all come from his mouth."

Kevin frowned. "What if..." He reached out and lifted Dean's chin with a couple of fingers, pushing his mouth closed.

"What are you doing?" Castiel demanded sharply.

Kevin pulled his hand away at once, but Dean's mouth stayed closed. "Sorry. Um, just wondering what happens if it stops bleeding off. The grace that's still in him, I mean. You can see it?" Kevin could only see the faint wisps that had escaped.

"Yes, it's boiling and swirling inside him, but in a pattern I'm not familiar with. Is this a human energy distribution?"

"I don't know, what does it look like?"

"It seems to be distributed in nodes all along the center of his body." Castiel's finger traced a line in the air above Dean's forehead down to his crotch, pausing in certain key places.

"You said swirling. It's not, like, spinning in circles, is it?"

"Yes, how did you know?"

"Oh wow, those are chakras you're talking about. You're telling me that New Age crap is real?"

"Chakras." Castiel's expression went distant. "I am familiar with the concept, but not in any detail. It is quite old, not New Age at all."

"I think there's a lot of different versions. I can find some books on it for you - I bet this library has the most accurate stuff, if there's really something to be accurate about." But Kevin stayed where he was, watching Dean with a sort of sick fascination. A flush was creeping up Dean's face, and his legs moved restlessly. And his jeans were starting to acquire a definite bulge in the front. "Um, is that... normal?"

Castiel looked to where Kevin was pointing and frowned. He bent over Dean again, pulling his mouth open, and a very thin stream of energy passed from one to the other. Dean stopped squirming and his fly slowly smoothed out again.

"Whoa," Kevin breathed.

"Please find me some of those references you mentioned on chakras," said Castiel, but the look on his face was one of grim speculation. He already knew or guessed something important, and he wasn't happy about it.

Kevin decided the better part of valor was getting out of the angel's way.

Something was pounding, not exactly in time with the pulse at Sam's temples. He pulled his head out from under a pillow to realize he was lying on his own bed in the room he had claimed at the bunker. He hadn't even turned out the overhead light before passing out, which probably explained why he'd stuffed his head under the pillow at some point.

The pounding was coming from the door. "Sam? Are you there? I need to ask you something," Cas called through the door.

Sam moaned something that was intended as 'Go away' but Cas might have interpreted it as 'Help me' judging by the expression on his face as he opened the door.

Sam pushed himself halfway up to a sitting position and yawned.

"Are you all right?" Cas demanded.

"Um," said Sam, not wanting to lie but also not wanting to admit it felt as if he had a horrendous hangover. Plus a flu. And maybe some food poisoning on top of that. And he hadn't even been drinking anything - had he? It was very hard to focus his thoughts. "Humans need sleep, Cas, you're supposed to know this stuff now," he mumbled.

"It's been nearly five hours. Dean always says -"

"You do get that Dean's crazy, right?"

Cas frowned. "It's true, I generally found four hours of sleep to be inadequate, but I assumed that was because I was unskilled at being human."

"No." Sam yawned. "Six to eight hours is normal. More for some people. Dean's just trying to drive himself to -" He cut the words off, remembering burying Dean's shredded remains with Bobby's reluctant help. Dean's 'early grave' was years in the past. Sam went to push the hair out of his face and ended up resting the heels of his hands over his eyes for a moment instead.

"You're sick." Cas's voice was much closer now.

"Yeah, I think I might be coming down with something," Sam admitted.

Two cool fingers pressed against his forehead. "Not coming down with - this is still leftover damage from the trials."

Sam dropped his hands to glare at the angel. "Oh come on, that was months ago! And I've been fine since then..." He trailed off uncertainly.

"So Gadreel really did need that much time to work on healing you," Cas mused.

"Or he was just stringing Dean along, making it look harder than it was."

Cas shook his head. "I can help, but -"

"Without possessing me, I hope," Sam grumbled.

"Of course, but I will need to heal you several times a day, for a couple of weeks at the least."

Sam sighed and flopped back on his bed. This time he didn't bother opening his eyes as Cas's fingers returned to his forehead, but when he felt the headache and nausea recede he sighed in relief. "Thanks, Cas."

"I came here to ask you something," Cas said seriously.

Sam blinked up at him. "Yeah?"

"It's about Dean."

"Is he gonna be okay?"

"I'm not sure." Cas sank down on the edge of Sam's bed, meeting his gaze somberly. "I have reabsorbed as much of my grace as I could, but there is still some left within him. It's continuing to have an adverse effect. I can see his soul growing weaker."

"You can see his soul?"

"Of course, now that I have angelic senses again."

"But you -" Sam's jaw tightened, but honestly he was too exhausted to get really angry. He had just enough energy to ask dully, "Why couldn't you see mine, then? My soul. When I didn't have it, I mean."

"Oh. That was because of Lucifer." Cas glanced away.

Sam squinted at him. "Huh?"

"Lucifer tricked me. He allowed me to think that I had stolen you out of the Cage, away from him, when in fact he let me take you. Without your soul, but with a structure in place of it - like an outline, or a scaffolding. That was why you were walking and talking, when normally a soulless person would appear to be brain-dead. It took me too long to figure it out, and by then it was too late to go back and try again. I suppose Lucifer would only have laughed if I had tried."

"So when you looked at me with angel senses, you saw -"

"The outline where your soul should have been. I had to check much more closely to realize what was missing. It was a clever deception."

Sam pressed his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes. "Master of lies, huh."

"Inventor of lies. I'm sorry, Sam, that I... that I believed him. I know the damage to you was -"

"It's over," Sam mumbled, flopping a hand in dismissal. "In the past. Anyway, you tried. To get me out of there. No one else even tried."

"Dean would have, if he had believed there was any chance at all."

"I made him promise not to. Otherwise he would have done something stupid and got himself in trouble trying to save me." Sam pulled his brain into focus. "Like now. He's in trouble now?"

Cas's mouth tightened. "Yes."

"Can you help him?"

"All I have are guesses for how to get the remaining grace out of him. And some of my guesses involve... unsavory methods."

Sam frowned. "What, like torturing him?"

Cas recoiled. "Of course not! That wouldn't be effective at all. Although... if he is aware of the effect of my grace, it might be equivalent to a form of torture. But I want to fix that."

"Okay... so?"

Cas sighed. "If I could find a way to get Dean's agreement or assistance, this would go much better. But I can't communicate with him. I've tried."

"Well, is he dreaming? Can you reach him that way?" Sam squinted at the overhead light. "I think that might be how Dean got me to agree to that other angel, in a dream of some kind."

"He is not dreaming," said Cas, although the suggestion made him look thoughtful instead of discouraged.

"So, what, you can't have Dean's consent so you want mine instead? I don't see what good that will do - you still can't possess him, can you?"

"No, but..." Cas seemed at a loss for words, and Sam was not feeling patient enough to coax information out of an angel one piece at a time.

"Cas, look." Sam scrubbed a hand over his face. "Right now I feel like crap so it's hard to care very much. And I'm still really mad at Dean so that makes it even harder. But the truth is - I trust you. And Dean totally trusts you. So, whatever you need to do to get Dean back to us, in the best shape you can manage, you do it. And if he's pissed about it afterward, we tell him it was my choice, okay? He should accept that since it's basically the same thing he did to me."

Cas's eyes bored into Sam intently, a look more often aimed at Dean. He had wondered, sometimes, what it was like to be on the receiving end of that intense focus. Now he knew: it was really unsettling. He shifted in the bed, wondering if he had said the wrong thing.

"All right," said Cas at last. "I'll do my best." He glanced around the room. "You should get more sleep. Will you get under the covers properly? Or at least take off your shoes?"

Sam blinked down at his feet. He must have been really out of it when he stumbled in here. "Sure, Cas. I'll do that. Thanks for taking care of Dean. And me. And Cas?"

The angel turned back as he was heading for the door. "Yes Sam?"

"Would you mind turning off the light?"

The reference books on chakras were not very helpful. They did appear to be describing how the energy was distributing itself inside of Dean, but most of the material focused on how to build energy or how to 'balance' energy among the chakras. And most of the techniques required meditation or stimulation of the conscious mind. There was very little concerning foreign influence on the chakras, and nothing about how to get energy out of chakras, especially with an unconscious subject.

Castiel was able to alleviate Dean's sexual symptoms which had caused Kevin to turn red, simply by encouraging the energy to concentrate in some of the higher chakras. He had tried, for a while, to balance most of the grace in Dean's higher chakras, hoping to stimulate him to wake up. He was excited when Dean spoke to him briefly, until he realized his friend was only repeating what he said.



"Can you hear me?"

"Can you hear me?"

"Dean, please wake up."

"Dean, please wake up."

It was Castiel's own grace echoing inside Dean's body. Dean's soul, meanwhile, was coiled defensively at the base of his skull. The more Castiel stimulated the upper chakras with his own grace, the tighter Dean's soul curled upon itself. Eventually he chased the grace lower in Dean's body to allow more room for the soul to rest undisturbed. But then the squirming began again, and it was this that had led Castiel to seek Sam's opinion.

Sam was too ill to be of help, but he trusted Castiel.

Kevin was too embarrassed by these physical symptoms to be of help, but he trusted Castiel.

Dean was close to death, the same horrific dissolution of the soul that Castiel had thought already occurred, when he was bound and despairing in Malachi's dungeon. But in his last conscious moments, Dean had trusted Castiel to get them out of there and to help Sam. If he could speak now, what would he say other than a plea for Castiel to help him, in any way possible?

Castiel closed Sam's door and returned to the library. "Kevin, I am going to move Dean to his room, now."

Kevin didn't respond; he was asleep with his head pillowed upon a stack of books. Castiel frowned at him. The young man was exhausted, his soul in turmoil and stress chemicals coursing through his body. He needed a proper rest in the short term, and in the longer term he needed to live without fear of demons or angels coming to kill him. With a sigh, Castiel touched Kevin's forehead to deepen his sleep, then lifted the young man out of the chair and carried him back to the dorm rooms. He had to try several doors to find the one that Kevin had claimed for himself. The room was in disarray, with clothes flung upon the floor and the bedcovers piled haphazardly to one side. Papers covered nearly every surface, though all of the books in the room were neatly arrayed on the desk.

Castiel laid Kevin on the bed. After some consideration he removed the young man's shoes, but none of his clothes, and pulled the covers over him. A touch of grace smoothed out the wrinkles in the sheets.

Angelic power made it much easier to accomplish any task, Castiel reflected, but it didn't make it easier to know which tasks were worth doing. Should he have removed all of Kevin's clothes? Should he have replaced them with some of the softer, stretchier items strewn about the room? Would that have made the young man more uncomfortable than sleeping in inappropriate clothing? Once Castiel had decided to leave Kevin fully clothed, should he have left the blankets off? It was so very hard to know how to help a human, especially when the human could not be consulted - but even when they could be, often humans did not know themselves what they needed.

This was just one small example of the dilemma of free will. The myriad of similar confusing choices were why the angels trapped on Earth were behaving so erratically and causing so much damage - because they did not know what to do with all that they were capable of doing. Castiel's challenge was to show them how to find their own paths with the least harm to others, without forcing them along a path of his own choosing. He had tried that once and had simply, as Malachi said, made everything worse.

More immediately, however, Castiel was going to use his free will to choose a course of action that might help Dean or might compound the harm already done to him. And it was very likely that Dean would be angry with him afterward, if he was capable of anger or understanding what Castiel had done.

Solemnly, Castiel carried another still body from the library to a bedroom, this time finding the right door unerringly. Dean's bed was neatly made, and Castiel set him on top of the covers. Then, biting his lip uneasily, he removed Dean's clothes, using his hands rather than his grace. The clothes bore unpleasant stains from Malachi's headquarters, so Castiel placed them in a corner of the room to be taken for cleaning later.

He knew Dean's body already, more than intimately. In some ways, he was more familiar with the interior of the body than the exterior. The last time he had healed Dean, after nearly beating him to death in the storage crypt, he had corrected several previous injuries as well: strained tendons, innumerable bruises to muscles and bones and organs, a few older contusions in the brain aside from the fresh ones caused by his own fist, and a seam in Dean's tibia from a broken leg Castiel had not even known about at the time.

Since that last healing, Castiel had learned what it was like to be human, far more extensively than his brief experience of being unpowered during the Apocalypse. Even if he was not truly a human in every sense, he understood better now how they perceived surfaces instead of depths. Humans looked at faces rather than souls, skin rather than organs.

He had learned how a human experienced sex, with the selfish focus on one's own pleasure that could nevertheless be enhanced beyond measure by sharing with another. He had wished that he might experience that with Dean, even as he puzzled over why Dean had pushed him away and concluded sadly that Dean did not, in fact, desire his company.

That conclusion, he knew now, had been erroneous or at least incomplete. Dean's decisions were shaped by Gadreel's threats and Sam's needs, not by his or Castiel's desires. And now Castiel's decisions must be shaped by Dean's needs. Yet in a human fashion he was still aware of his own desires, and his hands skimmed reverently over Dean's skin while he removed each item of clothing and set it aside.

Dean's penis was fully erect, pressing urgently against the air as his hips writhed. It woke a corresponding heat in Castiel and he had to remind himself that it was not Dean's energy that pumped blood into the seeking organ, but Castiel's own grace mirroring his desires. Dean was hiding within his skull like a prisoner, and Castiel was the invader. His purpose here must be healing, not pleasure. He tamped down his prurient interest and reached for the grace swirling within Dean. Steadily he pushed the roiling blue energy down from the upper chakras to the lower ones, stimulating nerves and expanding blood vessels, and saw Dean's erection take on a darker shade of red.

Despite his best intention to remain impassive, Castiel's breath quickened and his fingers trembled minutely as he reached out to give a physical boost to the effect of the streaming energy. He could feel the echoes of it in his own body, angelic power stirring human urges. Ignoring the pull of his own pleasure, he tried to concentrate on Dean's instead, grasping and stroking in the technique that he had learned on his own flesh over the past months. Touching Dean's body was very different from touching his own, or even April's. It was as if he could feel the pleasurable sensations transmitting through Dean's skin into his own fingers. Perhaps the sensory transference was even real, an effect of his grace within Dean's body. Grace that was stolen from me, affecting the body that I stole from Jimmy.

A thread of sound came from Dean's mouth, and Castiel glanced upward in surprise. There was almost no grace in the upper chakras, nothing to stimulate such a sound - but Dean's soul had expanded minutely from its cramped position. Perhaps he was controlling his own throat. But did the soft noise represent pleasure, or distress? Consent, or objection?

"Dean?" he asked softly, but there was no reply, not even an echo.

Dean's hips, meanwhile, continued to push urgently against Castiel's hand, blindly seeking sensation. The lowest chakra was surging with energy - foreign energy that did not belong in Dean's body. Castiel's resolve strengthened and he leaned forward to press his mouth to Dean's hot shaft. At the scent and sense of the silky skin against his lips, a small noise escaped Castiel, counterpoint to the thin groans Dean was releasing. Between sweeps of his fingers, Castiel darted out his tongue for a taste, and gasped at the intimacy of it.

Dean's hips pumped upward in regular rhythm now, and Castiel found himself matching that rhythm with strokes of his hand and lips and tongue. Even as he was panting and gasping his own excitement against Dean's body, he retained enough presence to watch the swirls and spikes of grace, the firing of Dean's nerves and the pumping of his blood. As the climax approached, Castiel fastened his mouth over the head of Dean's cock and sucked at it urgently. Salty-sour fluid filled his mouth, along with a thread of grace - but only a thread.

Castiel sat back in a churning mixture of smug satisfaction and fearful disappointment. He could see Dean's nerves calming. And he also saw another wisp of grace escaping with the last fretful twitch of Dean's softening flesh. He leaned forward to inhale it, but the wisp flowed downward instead -

- into Castiel's trousers. He gasped and jerked at the influx of energy to his groin.

He could not properly see the grace within himself, and no mirror of metal and glass would reflect it, but he could feel it circulating through him in patterns that were neither entirely angelic nor completely human. Much of the grace resided in his neck and chest, in his head and in the remnants of his wings (as devastated as those of the other angels even though he had not been able to feel them burning when he fell, graceless, to Earth). Aside from that shape that mimicked the folding of his true form, he could also feel grace congregating throughout his human vessel - his body - describing paths much like those shown in the books about chakras. And right now the strongest, swiftest-spinning chakra seemed to be in Castiel's groin, twin to the wheel of his grace within Dean.

His eyes flickered over Dean's body, mapping the whorls of grace within him and sensing their counterparts in himself.

When the grace was primarily in Dean's mouth and chest, he had inhaled it. Now that the grace was elsewhere, did he need to take it in through other parts of his body?

While he had been thinking and staring, Dean's chakras had begun to rebalance themselves. More of the grace was filtering up toward Dean's head, and his soul was curling inward once more as if fearful. It seemed another fraction less bright than it had been, and the observation was almost physically painful for Castiel to see.

He stood abruptly, pulling off his suit jacket and the bloodied, torn-buttoned shirt underneath. Dean could release grace through orgasm, that had been proved. What was needed was a way for Castiel to absorb the same grace - and that, he suspected, could also be done through orgasm. He would need to stimulate Dean's chakras in tandem with his own, and then...

And then the plan became rather vague, but it felt right to Castiel. It wasn't only selfish desire leading him to the idea, or at least he thought it wasn't. Some non-angelic form of intuition was telling him this would work. He was much less confident about Dean's approval of the method, but if only Dean could be present and aware and capable of being furious with him, Castiel would accept any recriminations that came.

Naked, he sat on the bed with his legs curled under him, next to Dean's equally naked body. Nora had once suggested meditation to him and he had tried it for a while; she said that he achieved relaxation more easily than anyone she had ever known, but the effects of human meditation seemed anemic and ineffective compared to angelic forms of self-control.

Dean had been rather disturbed when Castiel meditated in his motel room in Rexford, but when Castiel presented it as an alternative to drugs for controlling the pain of his injured wrist, Dean had agreed it was preferable. Now, needing to channel his energies into human patterns, Castiel tried to recall the same state he had entered in that motel room. He had set aside each of the disturbances and distresses of the evening: the non-date with Nora, Tanya's fever, Ephraim's twisted certainty in his own destructive powers, the death of yet another angel at his hand. He had let all that go and focused instead on the steady flame of Dean's presence next to him, feeling that presence center and calm him, carefully not thinking of how Dean would soon be gone.

Dean was here with him now. As he had in the motel room, Castiel allowed that fact to support and soothe him until energy flowed through his body like a human's, until he could scarcely feel his shredded wings at all. He shifted cautiously, stretching his arms upward, feeling how the motion changed the flow of energy inside of him. Then he lay down next to Dean and tried to bring their energies into alignment. Both patterns were made of his own grace, after all, and they danced easily together.

He wanted the energy lower in Dean's body, away from his head and the coiled ball of his soul. So he did the same with his own energies, letting heady thought fall away and baser sensations take over.

He pressed his chest and legs and arms against Dean's body, his cock rousing and rising, his mouth muttering wordless praises against Dean's skin. He inhaled Dean's warmth and the scents of coffee, gasoline, a stale whiff of fear and the fresher musk of arousal. He ran his fingers over Dean's ribs and collarbones, over the tattoo on his chest, enjoying the differing textures and feeling the twitches of an automatic response.

It wasn't enough; he couldn't get the patterns to match while he lay on his side and Dean was on his back, so Castiel climbed on top of him. He straddled Dean's thighs and gazed down at both their bodies. Dean was muscular and golden with hair curling on his chest and thighs. Castiel's borrowed form was a shade whiter, leaner, the hair darker but less thickly spread. Dean's cock was longer and Castiel's was thicker, but they were otherwise similar, flushed with blood and straining toward each other.

Castiel lowered his body over Dean's, cock to cock, navel to navel, chest and lips and brows meeting, noses and chins bumping awkwardly as he tried to maintain the alignment. His hair brushed Dean's forehead; he drank breath from Dean's lips. His hips and Dean's surged together like ocean waves, pressing their hot shafts against each other only to ebb away and flow together again.

He tried briefly to match all parts of their bodies to each other, from feet to fingertips. But he found he had more control with his weight supported on knees and elbows, his thighs wrapped outside of Dean's and his hands under Dean's shoulders. It didn't seem to matter; what was important was to keep their central cores in line with each other. So long as their mouths pulled at each other and their cocks pushed against each other, the proper balance was maintained.

Dean was moaning into Castiel's mouth, and he breathed back encouragement, praise, gladness and joy. He focused on the heated, humid press of skin, only distantly aware of the spinning spitting energy that flared between them. And then, without conscious planning, Castiel pulled his right hand out from underneath Dean and placed it instead on the cusp of his left shoulder. There was a pattern there that had once been red and angry, but now it was a silvery smoothness, betrayed only by a slight change in texture and a refusal to tan. His fingers found that pattern and matched it.

The contact was electrifying: Castiel felt the grace respond in every part of his own body, and saw it sparking inside of Dean at the same moment. He saw Dean's soul unfurl itself and reach out as if seeking contact. And this time the contact didn't scorch or sear - instead, grace and soul interleaved like the clasp of welcoming hands, caressing each other familiarly.

This was why Castiel's grace hadn't burned Dean's soul to a crisp. They had met before, true form and naked soul, had clung together against the lash of Hellfire, had borne each other up into safety and light.

Dean's soul awakened to dreaming, and Castiel fell into Dean's dream. It was no coherent narrative, just a sense of formlessness, of fear and burning pain. Disjointed memories of Hell flickered in association, but those thoughts only made him cling harder to Castiel.

"Cas," Dean gasped, in dream or reality or both.

"Don't worry," he murmured back. "I'll get you out of this."

"Yes," said Dean, and with that trust, with that consent, Castiel's grace poured through him like fire - down and in, then up and out. It was possession and freedom, consummation and loss.

Castiel wasn't sure how much time passed before he opened his eyes and found himself draped over Dean, his face pressed against Dean's shoulder inches from the mark where his hand had fallen away. Their chests and thighs were filmed with sweat, their bellies with semen, their chins with saliva. He could hardly tell if he himself was angel or human. His shoulders ached, or perhaps those were his wings.

He pushed himself up to sit on Dean's thighs, found the strength for the movement spreading from his grace to his muscles, and in that moment he could feel his grace again. He couldn't see any trace of it within Dean, though, and it took him long moments to focus on Dean's soul, slightly dimmed from its familiar supernova brightness but comfortably in residence within Dean's body.

"Dean?" he whispered, half fearfully, and realized only then that he wasn't sure he wanted Dean to awaken and find them in this state. He had enjoyed that too much, reveled in his own pleasure. Even though his enjoyment may have been necessary and it seemed to have worked as he had guessed it would, he still felt as if he had stolen something that wasn't offered.

Dean made a little murmuring sigh and licked his lips, turning his head against the pillow.
One hand curled warmly against Castiel's knee. His thoughts flowed in the shape of dreams; Castiel didn't try to read them but felt their familiar whisper as a comfort against his mind.

He carefully lifted himself away from Dean, off of the bed. Dean seemed to be all right, so Castiel took stock of himself.

He had re-absorbed only a fraction of the grace that he had before Metatron's theft. Some, perhaps, had been lost in the extraction process, since he'd been in no position to judge how efficient that was. Considerably more had been lost when it was fed to Dean and escaped rather than killing him. Then more, later, when Castiel took so long to discover the most effective methods of re-absorbing it.

He no longer had the power of a high-tier seraph, the level he had been at since escaping Purgatory (and he did wonder, occasionally, why Naomi had allowed him so much, but he assumed she wanted to give him enough rope to hang himself). He would likely count somewhere in the middle ranks now, stronger than Muriel or Theo, comparable to Malachi. He was not as strong as Bartholomew, the last time Castiel had seen him, during the civil war.

He was not as strong as Gadreel, whom Metatron had chosen for his latest co-conspirator. Or was Metatron approaching many angels, in secret, individually?

He realized that he was standing naked in Dean's bedroom contemplating all this while various bodily fluids dried on his skin, and on Dean's. He had established that he was an angel once more; it was time to start behaving as one. He wished them both clean with a thought, then began seeing to Dean's comfort. At least the decisions to be made were easier than they had been with Kevin. Castiel knew what clothes Dean liked to sleep in when he was in a safe place. He knew that Dean preferred to sleep under the covers, on the right side of the bed. He selected a gun from the wall, made sure it was unloaded, then tucked it under Dean's pillow in case his hand should seek it during sleep.

He was reluctant to put on his own clothes, even though he could clean and repair them with little effort. He had felt the same distate, months ago, toward the blue shirt he'd worn when April tortured him: he had accidentally on purpose left that shirt in the bunker's laundry, and he didn't care if it was still there. He did have a wistful thought for his old trenchcoat, similarly abandoned and less likely to be recovered, but that gave him a new idea. With some difficulty, his grace willing but still weak, he transformed a new tan overcoat for himself. Subtle changes to the bloodied shirt and suit jacket made them sit more comfortably on his shoulders.

He stood at the door with his hand on the light switch, but couldn't make himself leave. One more time he returned to Dean's side and brushed a finger over his brow, reassuring himself that Dean's sleep was normal, his body functioning in good health, that no foreign energy burned uncontrolled through Dean's veins. With a sigh he bent and pressed his lips to the same spot, then aimed himself at the door again and this time forced himself out.

He had promised Sam they would strengthen the bunker's wards; that should be his next task. After that, perhaps he would check on Crowley. Or he might go to town and get Dean some pie.

Chapter Text

Dean stumbled into the bunker's kitchen, scratching wearily at his stubble and faintly embarrassed to be waking up in the middle of the afternoon. He was hungry, but he didn't feel like cooking an actual meal - and should that be breakfast, or dinner? He considered some toast, instead. Or maybe coffee first, since he was having trouble clearing his head.

A soft footstep sounded behind him. "Oh, hey Sammy." Dean's shoulders tensed, wondering if it was really Sam, waiting for the next moment when Zeke would tell him off for whatever he'd done wrong lately.

"Dean. How are you feeling?" It sounded like Sam, but a little softer and more tentative than usual.

Dean squinted at him doubtfully. "I'm good. But you... you don't look so hot." He catalogued his brother's pale skin and the shadows under his eyes, and almost wished Zeke would show up so Dean could do some telling off.

"I'll be fine." Sam reached into the refrigerator for an energy drink and two takeout containers that Dean didn't recognize. "Heat those up."

"What am I, your personal chef?" Dean opened the containers anyway, just to check them out.

"You're worried I'm sick, so I guess that makes you my nurse."

"Bitch." Dean scowled down at the food in his hands. "Sesame chicken, huh? And what's this, ginger beef? Where'd these come from, anyway?"

"Picked them up in Lincoln last night." Sam was watching Dean a little too closely.

Dean's mind raced, trying to remember what lies he'd been telling lately, what might have made Sam suspicious. "Wait - Lincoln? When did you go to Lincoln?" Zeke had been going off on his own lately, but Dean didn't think the angel had been taking entire day trips with Sam's body - and surely Sam would be the one who was confused in that case.

"Dean, what do you remember about yesterday?"

"Huh? Yesterday we just got back from Wyoming. You were doing your research thing. You found that stuff on Boyle's Boys, and then the thing about the Bible camp in Utah."

"Right, but that was actually the day before yesterday."

"What? No way, it -"

"Sam!" A familiar, alarmed voice echoed down the hall. "Sam? Dean's not in his..." A tan coat filled the kitchen door.

Dean stared. "When did you get here, Cas?"

"Dean!" Cas lurched toward him, grabbing at his shoulders.

Startled, Dean took a step back.

Cas dropped his hands, glancing at Sam.

"I think he's okay," said Sam. "He's missing about a day, but otherwise, far as I can tell -" He shrugged.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Dean demanded.

"Dean. You're all right." Cas's eyes were wide and... wet? Abruptly he turned around, one hand rubbing at his face the way he only did when he was really upset.

"Somebody better tell me what's going on here," Dean growled, but he had to work to keep his voice steady. "Cas... I told you, you can't - we can't, um -" He looked nervously at Sam.

Sam snorted.

"What?" Dean returned.

Sam plucked the container of ginger beef from Dean's hands and marched over to the microwave. "Feeling confused? Nobody will tell you what's going on? Well, join the club!"

"Sam..." said Cas in a tone like a disappointed parent.

"C'mon, don't you think Dean deserves a little payback? Let him be the one in the dark for a change!" That was Sam's I'm-too-angry-to-talk-to-you-directly trick, and it made the hackles rise on Dean's neck. What did Sam know, to be that angry about?

Dean had the feeling some kind of train wreck was about to happen, and he didn't know how to head it off. He darted his glance between Sam and Cas, expecting angelic retribution to fall at any moment. He didn't have an angel blade on him, and anyway he couldn't stab Sam just to keep Zeke from smiting Cas...

Cas caught his eye. "It's all right, Dean. Everything's fine. You're sane, Sam's going to be okay, the angel that was possessing him is gone, and I got my grace back. And Kevin is safe, as well."

The sesame chicken slipped out of Dean's fingers.

"Great way to break the news, Cas." Sam rescued most of the container from the floor and shoved a roll of paper towels at Dean for the bits that had spilled.

"I assumed he would want answers to those questions in particular." Cas took the paper towels from Dean and knelt at his feet to begin cleaning up the mess.

Dean staggered backwards until his hips hit a counter. "Uh, thanks, Cas," he managed, his voice barely above a whisper. "But... I think you just brought up some other questions." Zeke was gone, for real? And Cas had his mojo back? What?

Sam was getting plates out of the cupboard. "You need to eat - you haven't had anything in almost twenty-four hours. And then we'll take you through the whole story, because it's complicated."

"I miss a day, and all that happens?"

"You're fortunate it wasn't worse," Cas said darkly, dumping the mess in the trash and going to the sink to wash his hands. Then he stopped, and frowned at himself, and his hands were clean.

"Really, really fortunate, in fact," said Sam. "Come on, let's sit down."

The two takeout containers went on the map table. Dean and Sam each got a plate and a fork. Sam plunked a glass of milk in front of Dean and he looked up to protest, only to get an eyeful of bitchface. "We're both recovering, Dean. If I don't get to drink beer, neither do you." He sat down and looked at the containers of food, but didn't reach for them.

Cas stopped in the middle of rounding the table and squinted at Sam. "Are you still having trouble with nausea?"

"Um..." Sam grimaced. "Just a little."

Cas stepped to Sam's side and pressed a glowing finger to his forehead briefly, then claimed a seat on the other side of the table. With no plate. Sam sighed and gave Cas a quick smile and picked up the ginger beef.

"So you're all angeled up again?" said Dean, scraping half the sesame chicken onto his plate.

Cas inclined his head. "That's right."

"And Sam's still sick from - the Trials? From months ago?"

"Yes, Gadreel was not lying about the difficulty of the healing process."


"He was, however, lying when he told you he was Ezekiel."

Dean's fork froze. "Shit."

"Yeah, Dean, way to go, tricking me into letting an unknown angel possess me."

Dean swallowed. "Uh... he seemed like an okay guy?"

"Gadreel spent millennia in Heaven's prison, and only escaped when all the angels were expelled," Cas told them.

Dean set the fork down with a clatter. "Okay, you know what? Lay it on me. Because you're alive, Sam, and you're healing - he is gonna get better, right Cas? And Cas is alive and Charlie too, because of that guy. Hell, he saved me before I even let him get near you, and there was a bunch of other angels who wanted nothing but our heads. So, yeah, it was a tricky situation for a little bit there, but it's all over now, right? And you're good. So go ahead, tell me what you really think, Sam. I can take it."

Sam watched with narrowed eyes. "Maybe Gadreel did a good job healing me, but he was sneaking off - in my body - to meet with Metatron. Who had almost persuaded him to kill Kevin and steal the tablets, until Cas talked him out of it. Talked him out of me. So really, Dean, I'm thinking 'tricky situation' doesn't quite cover it."

Dean looked to Cas, who nodded to confirm all that. Dean scrubbed at his jaw to hide the shaking of his hand. "Fine, you're right. It was totally out of my control and I had no friggin' idea what to do, I was just trying to keep it going as long as I could and hope nobody got dead. Well, permanently dead. So, you gonna tell me what actually did happen?"

Cas cleared his throat. "I went to Lincoln on the trail of one of the angel factions, led by Malachi. You followed me there, apparently to scold me for still being involved. As a result, we were captured together."

"I remember that!" Dean blurted. "It was -" The memories were blurry, but pretty unpleasant. He couldn't find much worth talking about. "He told us Ezekiel was dead."

Cas nodded. "He had my grace..." And then he stopped, and looked down at the table. Apparently he didn't care to talk about it either.

Dean stared at Cas, then at Sam, who took up the explanation. "Apparently Malachi fed Cas's grace to you, which was supposed to kill you but didn't. Cas absorbed enough of it to power up, and then he went all Kill Bill on Malachi's thugs. I followed your phone to Lincoln, then I followed one of my other leads to Malachi's headquarters just in time to meet Cas carrying you out of there. We brought you back here and Cas spent... I don't know how many hours, trying to get the rest of his grace out of you."

"It really should have killed you," Cas said in low tones. "I can't express how relieved I am, Dean, that you only lost one day of memories."

"But I do remember - some of it, anyway." Dean pulled up his best cocky grin. "Malachi said, even Naomi couldn't force you to kill me. Guess he should have taken his own advice, huh?"

Cas looked at the table again and swallowed. He seemed a little off, to Dean. Powered up enough to heal Sam and take out a faction's worth of dick angels, but still at the mercy of human emotions? Surely that wasn't right.

It seemed like the hard part was past, so Dean went for his dinner again. "What about whatshisname, Gadreel? Not-Zeke? Where did he come in? Or go out, or whatever?"

It was Sam's turn to go broody, and Cas took over the story. "When Metatron ordered him to kill the prophet, Gadreel was conflicted, so he delayed by allowing Sam to follow you to Lincoln. Shortly after Sam picked us up, Gadreel revealed himself to me. I explained that Metatron had been lying about giving him a chance to redeem himself and restore Heaven, and he would be much better off with a vessel that was truly willing and undeceived. So he left. He will likely return, if he can."

Dean gaped. "That was it? You just talked to him, and he up and left?"

"He knew from angel radio that I was an outcast like him, and also that I had been deceived by Metatron. That gave us a point of connection, so I was able to reason with him."

"You mean, if only I hadn't listened to that asshole and kicked you out, you could have -"

"No, Dean. Judging by Sam's condition, it truly would not have been advisable for Gadreel to leave then. Any earlier than a week or two ago, Sam would have ended up right back in the hospital or worse."

Sam crossed his arms. "Yeah, so why's it so hard to feel grateful that I was in the dark for that much longer?"

Cas sighed. "I'm not saying that Gadreel did the right thing, precisely. Or that any of us made the best decisions. I'm only pointing out that it came out all right in the end."

"Yeah, but just a couple hours later, and he mighta killed -"

"Hi guys," Kevin chirped from the hall. "Oh hey, Dean, you're up."

Dean sat up hastily, rubbing nervous hands along his thighs. "Hey, Kev."

Kevin peered at the food on the table. "Chinese? You better have chopsticks. I can't eat that stuff with a fork, or the vengeful spirits of my ancestors will come after me." He disappeared into the kitchen and came back a minute later with a plate and a paper-wrapped pair of chopsticks. He pulled the ginger beef towards him. "Where's the rice?"

"In the fridge," Sam said. "Heat it up yourself if you need the carbs. Since you're still growing and all."

Kevin made a sour face and scooped meat onto his plate. "So, you're good now?" He asked Dean. "No more..." He twirled the chopsticks at his temple and made a whistling noise.

Sam choked back a laugh.

"I'm fine," said Dean with a glare at his brother. "A little fuzzy on the last day or so. Sam and Cas have been catching me up."

"Good, that's good." Kevin bent low to shovel food into his mouth. "And no more kissy face all over the tables, I hope, because that was just disturbing."

Dean frowned. Cas and Sam had both stiffened guiltily and were refusing to meet his eyes. "What did you say? No more what?"

"Uh..." Kevin chewed quickly, eyes cutting uneasily between the three of them. "It wasn't really kissing. Cas explained. It was, um, rescue breathing."

"I had to get the grace out of you," Cas said quickly. "You were exhaling it, and I was... inhaling."

"Didn't Sam say that lasted for hours?" Dean squeaked.

Kevin nodded. "Uh, sure, but it was all totally, um, professional. Like, impersonal, right? I even helped Cas look for alternative methods in the library. Since he was, you know, sort of busy."

"Busy kissing me," Dean put in.

"Rescue breathing!" said Sam sharply.

"But it was just this breathing stuff or whatever, right? Nothing else?"

Cas was looking at the corner of the room. Sam was glaring to cover up his own discomfort. Kevin was turning a little pink.

Dean's stomach dropped. "Who put me to bed? Who changed my clothes?"

"Same angel who put me to bed, I presume," said Kevin firmly, but he was really sort of red now.

"Did he take off your clothes, too?"

"Dean," said Sam reasonably, "your clothes were filthy. Seriously, you can check them out. No way you wanted that crap all over your bed."

Cas was still looking off into space.

"Cas?" Dean asked forebodingly.

The angel stood. "Excuse me, Sam. Kevin." He looked at Dean significantly and headed down the hallway.

Dean followed, hissing, "Cas. What the hell did you do to me?"

Cas stopped in the hallway outside of Dean's bedroom. "I did what I had to do, Dean," he said grimly, but even though his tone was firm, he still wouldn't meet Dean's eyes.

It wasn't far enough along the hall to be really private, so Dean grabbed him by the arm and hauled him into the room and slammed the door. "What exactly happened?"

Cas rubbed his neck nervously. "You must understand, I tried to communicate with you. Repeatedly. I researched alternatives. I asked Sam's opinion when none of that seemed to help. And in fact, I did eventually manage to contact you in a dream, and you agreed -"

"To what," Dean demanded flatly.

"I only possessed you for a few seconds. That was all that was needed - all that was possible, really, without risking losing this vessel entirely -"

"Possessed me?" Dean straightened. That was a little freaky, but after all it was Cas. And only for a few seconds. That didn't sound so bad, not nearly as crazy as what Dean had been imagining.

Cas was still talking, though. "I was also concerned that you might not agree with the other methods I used to release my grace from you. In the end, the possession was the most effective, but since I couldn't reach you I tried several other possibilities first..."


Cas swallowed, standing straight and stiff and looking just over Dean's shoulder. "Energy release through sexual climax."

Dean sat down hard on the foot of his unmade bed. "You're saying... sex. With me. While I was unconscious."


"What the hell, is that like necrophilia or something?"

"Technically it would be somnophilia, but I assure you -"

"What, you made sure I liked it when you fucked me in my sleep?!"

"No! Yes. I mean - nobody fucked anybody, it was simply a matter of -"

"Stop. Stop. Just stop talking." Dean buried his face in his hands.

"Dean, I -"

"Shut up, Cas!"

Cas was silent. Dean breathed. His face was hot against his palms. His fingers were trembling a little. The possession thing should have been more upsetting, maybe, but Dean had already considered a scenario a lot like that back when Sam was in the hospital - what would he say if he were dying and Sam wanted him to let an angel in? He had thought about it and figured he could say yes to Cas, but not some random stranger. Of course, a random stranger was exactly what he had tricked Sam into agreeing to, but Dean was ready to take his lumps from Sam on that. And Sam had maybe kinda-sorta agreed to Cas doing the same thing to Dean (only for a few seconds instead of a few months), so Dean couldn't really object, could he?

But instead of (or on top of) possession, to think of Cas - cool angelic Cas - stripping him and touching him in some sort of clinical way while he wasn't involved at all... Cas calmly judging the state of his health and consciousness and deciding Dean couldn't make his own choices so Cas would have to do it for him... Cas doing, what exactly? to Dean's body while he couldn't object or participate or enjoy it or even remember what had happened. That felt more upsetting, more imbalanced and even out of control in some weird way, than possession would.

The fact that Dean had occasionally thought about stripping Cas and touching him in a much more personal way - with enthusiastic participation on both sides - had nothing to do with it. He'd just been mad because Cas's first time was with a lying, murdering Reaper. He wanted better for Cas, that was all. But some kind of one-sided sexual healing didn't really sound that much better. Was it?

"Did you get off on it?"

"I, I tried to keep it as impersonal as possible, but some direct involvement was -"

"Did you get off?" Dean snapped, raising his head.

Cas took a breath. "Yes."

Dean didn't even know if that was better or worse. He looked away again, fighting the sesame chicken that was thinking about crawling back up his throat.

"I can show you what happened, if you wish," said Cas, his voice full of gravel.

Dean did not wish. He didn't want to know what Cas thought of him, of his body or his embarrassing sex noises or whatever. It would be like watching yourself on a sex tape you didn't know was being made. After you'd been roofied.

Except, at least then he would know. He wouldn't have to ask any more excruciating questions. He'd know what had happened and he could either get over it or decide never to talk to Cas again. He'd know whether this was an opportunity to get what he'd secretly wanted but couldn't ask for, or the final nail in the coffin for that guilty little fantasy.

"Fine. Show me," he growled, before he could think it to death. And then Cas was touching his forehead, and -

It wasn't like the last time Cas had shown him a memory, the vision of Dean leaving Purgatory. For one, Dean had already had his own memory of going through the portal, a really upsetting memory. Cas's viewpoint had been like an alternative camera angle, and sort of flat. No color - since it was Purgatory - but also very little emotion. He'd felt Cas's determination to get Dean away safely, his satisfaction when it was over, but it was all sort of academic and intellectual, completely different from Dean's own whirlwind of fear and guilt and loss connected to the same event.

Last night's memory was new, something Dean hadn't seen at all, and it had plenty of emotion. Maybe that was because Cas had spent the last few months being human. Or maybe the flatness from the Purgatory memory was more unnatural - Cas might have been numb, like Dean was for a long time after his own escape. Or maybe Naomi had already started work on Cas at that point, hollowing him out so she could work him like a puppet.

Whatever the reason for the difference, this newer memory was full of color and feelings. Mostly worry - Cas had been intensely worried for Dean with an undercurrent of terror and grief, as if he'd already watched Dean die and didn't want to do it again. The angelic perceptions laced through the memory made it really weird, too. It kept switching from simple sights and sensations to an overlay of grace and soul and energy flowing in patterns. And then back to human stuff that Dean could understand. If this was how angels saw the world, it was no wonder they all went a little loopy sometimes.

But the simple human part of the memory was enough to answer Dean's questions. He felt Cas's arousal and desire alongside his determination to keep it all about Dean. He saw what acts were involved, which honestly were about as tame as they could be under the circumstances. But it hadn't felt tame to Cas; it had been very personal and not at all clinical, and he was sort of ashamed about that, but Dean actually felt relieved to know it.

And then the ending. What should have been a nice, mutual (tame) climax suddenly slipped into angel territory of energies and dreamwalking and then, whoa, there was the possession bit. Cas came while he was possessing Dean? They both came? That was... weird. Also kind of a letdown. Seemed like Cas didn't even really get to enjoy it any more than Dean did. Not that he especially wanted an angel to enjoy humping his unconscious body... did he? Dean was really confused, and it wasn't just because of the bizarre angel stuff.

"Okay," he said, holding up a hand between himself and Cas to fend off any further touches. "Okay, I got it."

"Are you all right?" Cas asked. "Is it... are you -?"

"Gimme a minute to think about it, okay? Just... personal space, remember?"

"Of course." Cas stepped back and went unnaturally still.

Dean dropped his head again, although this time his hands dangled loosely between his knees. He wasn't that upset. He wasn't. He was just confused, mostly. What was he supposed to feel, after all that? Angry? Cas was trying to save his life. Had succeeded in saving his life, and his sanity, apparently. And Cas had tried hard to get Dean's consent (except, if he'd gotten Dean's consent for the possession in the first place, there never would have been any sex anyway). And he'd looked for alternatives. Dean didn't think he could really be angry about what Cas had done, it was just weird to think of his body being used like that when he wasn't aware. But now Dean knew what had happened, so did that really matter? Did that make it less weird, now that he knew and he wasn't, exactly, angry?

And Cas had not been at all clinical and impersonal, even though he'd tried to be. It wasn't like a doctor giving a prostate exam... ew, no, bad analogy.

Anyway, the point was, Cas had really cared about Dean, and he did all that stuff mostly because he was worried and wanted to save Dean, but also because he was attracted. And aroused. And those were pretty good reasons for having sex, right?

Dean shifted his knees a little closer together and angled his hands cautiously to make sure they were hiding the effect all this thinking about sex had on him. He glanced up to check if Cas was looking, but Cas was just staring off to the side, off into space. All the human expressions and emotions that Dean had been noticing over dinner, that he had felt in the memory, were gone. Or just hidden? Dean squinted at him, and Cas shifted a little, and blinked, and flicked his gaze further away, into the corner.

Suddenly Dean really wanted to see Cas feeling something. Feeling desire and satisfaction. He wanted to see Cas losing himself and going out of control because of something Dean did.

Dean stood up, and Cas took a step back to maintain the space between them. Dean advanced, and Cas backed up, until his shoulders were against the door and Dean was able to close in on him. Dean grabbed the tan coat by the lapels - and where had that come from, anyway? It was lighter and shorter than his old trenchcoat that Dean had stashed in the car for months.

Cas was holding his head like he expected Dean to punch him, and he was planning how to turn away or rock back to make sure that Dean's hand didn't break.

Dean bared his teeth, curled his fists in the not-quite-right coat, and leaned in to kiss the angel.

He felt the huff of Cas's surprise against his chin, and then they were tangling together, lips and tongue and teeth, and then noses banging together as Cas tilted his head the wrong way like he'd never kissed anyone before. Which was crazy, after apparently hours of rescue breathing last night, and April, and years ago his performance with Meg.

Cas almost bit Dean's tongue trying to say something, possibly Dean's name.

Dean didn't let him talk. He kept kissing, kept pushing his tongue into Cas's mouth. He put his knee between Cas's legs and pressed his own swelling dick against Cas's hip. Cas could stop him if he wanted; he was stronger than Dean. He had his hands lightly curled around Dean's wrists, but he wasn't trying to pull Dean off him. As Dean loosened his grip on the coat and moved his hands to Cas's shoulders instead, Cas's hands shifted too, sliding along Dean's arms to his elbows and then dropping, settling lightly on his ribs.

Cas could say no if he wanted. He could tell Dean to stop, or push him away. He wasn't helpless. He wasn't comatose. And he wasn't objecting.

Dean pulled back to growl, "My turn," and then he hauled Cas around by the shoulders and pushed him back toward the bed.

And Cas let himself be pushed, until the backs of his knees hit the bed and he fell back onto the tangled blankets and sheets with a startled grunt. Dean followed a little more gracefully, climbing up to straddle Cas's thighs and brace his hands on Cas's shoulders as if he could actually hold an angel down, and he bent for another kiss. Their crotches were aligned, Dean pressing into soft fabric and flesh.

This kiss was easier, Cas just allowing it with his mouth slack, lips yielding to Dean's tongue. His hands had lifted for a moment, as if to push Dean away or just support his weight over Cas's body, but they just hovered there in mid-air inches from Dean's chest. After a few seconds the hands dropped to the bed and Cas lay pliant in Dean's grasp.

Dean wanted to push, to keep pressing harder until he got a reaction. But it seemed like Cas was just turning off. Dean humped his hip and bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, and Cas just allowed it without even a flinch, until Dean pushed himself up and back to look into Cas's face.

He wasn't emotionless and angel-cool. His eyes were wide and blue like when Malachi threatened Dean, like when Chastity pulled him through the brothel's inner door. His overcoat and suit jacket were open, his dark pants tight enough to show his dick lying limply to the right. His hands were curled into loose fists at his side, not to strike but to restrain himself from grabbing, or pushing, or punching. He was holding himself still by an act of will, but he wasn't having fun.

Cas could speak. He could say no. But would he?

He felt ashamed about using Dean last night without consent. Did he think he had to let Dean do this? Did he think it was payback?

Did Dean?

"Shit," Dean hissed and pushed himself up. He turned his back on the rumpled angel, on the wrecked bed. He adjusted his wilting boner. He rubbed his eyes.

What the hell was he doing here, pushing Cas around like that?

And why was Cas letting him? Cas had never been shy about telling Dean when he was pushing too hard or going too far.

Except... Cas would tell Dean when he was pushing too hard on hunts. On fights. On strategy. On things that Cas considered to be practical issues. But on personal things, social issues, Cas generally followed Dean's lead. He'd asked for Dean's advice on the date with Nora - which turned out to be bad advice, but that was because of bad intel. Even when Dean kicked him out of the bunker, Cas had been bewildered and asked (just once) for a reason, but after that he left without arguing. Like he thought he deserved to be kicked out.

And now he was ready to let Dean use him like a sex doll. Like he thought he deserved that, too.

"Dean?" said Cas behind him, in a voice that sounded too uncertain, too fragile for an angel.

Dean pulled in a sharp breath and reached for his dresser, grabbed a pair of jeans to replace the sweats he had woken up in. He got keys and wallet from the pocket of his dirty jeans lying in the corner, pulled his green jacket from the hook on the wall since he didn't even know what had happened to the blue one.

"Dean, what -"

"I'm going out," Dean growled, and hurried out of the room.

He changed his pants in the bathroom. He pulled the jacket over his T-shirt, then rushed through the bunker and up the stairs to the door.

"Dean - what's up?" Sam asked, behind and below.

"Nothing," said Dean, fumbling to get keys and wallet in the proper pockets.

"Look, don't be mad at Cas. I'm the one who told him to -"

Dean nearly snarled; he really didn't want to hear the end of that sentence. "It's fine. Cas is fine. I'm fine. Not mad. I'm going out."

"Well, let me get my shoes and I can -"

"Later, Sammy!" Dean charged out the door. He found the Impala parked right outside and didn't question the luck; he just headed for the nearest bar.

Chapter Text

There were only two bars in Lebanon that served hard liquor, both of them at the edge of town where the dry laws ended. The one that was actually nearest to the bunker played perky country music and had karaoke and line dancing on weekends. There were pool tables and foosball and some arcade games, and Christmas lights for decoration year-round. The other bar was darker, quieter, emptier especially on a weeknight, and it was on the opposite side of town. Three miles from the bunker. Dean chose that one.

He was staring down his third double shot of whisky, knowing if he drank it, he should not be driving. And he had no intention of walking home.

"Fuck it," he spat, and tossed the whisky back. He could hang out for a few hours, maybe get some wings or nachos. Sober up enough to be safe. Cops probably wouldn't pull him over anyway.

Somebody slid onto the bar stool next to Dean, even though the place was three-quarters empty.

"What the hell, Sam, did you walk all the way from -"

"Hello, Dean." That was Cas's phrase, but it wasn't Cas's voice.

"Crap," Dean muttered to himself, then asked conversationally, "You here to kill me? Us?" He hadn't even grabbed any weapons.

The angel who was not Zeke blinked mildly. "Why would I do that?"

"Trying to get in good with the little dweeb upstairs?"

A minute frown appeared between Gadreel's eyes. "Castiel was correct. It is not right for an angel to kill a prophet, or to order it done. And I am not a killer."

Dean gave him a skeptical look, remembering the parking garage at the hospital. "No? So what gets you in Heaven's prison for millennia, if not murder? No wait, lemme guess - disobedience? Except then you just get reprogrammed, right?"

"Did Castiel not tell you of my crime? He must know who I am, surely?"

"He told us your name. Also said you're undercover, so I guess that means you're stuck with 'Zeke' for now."

The angel's eyebrows were up. "I am surprised he did not tell you, and condemn me to you. But it seems he is... different from other angels."

"Yeah, well, he's on the run too. Anyway, far as we're concerned, being imprisoned by angels is practically a character reference." Dean caught the bartender's eye and pointed at his empty glass. "You want a drink?"

"I do not require -"

"And a beer!" Dean called as the bartender was starting to turn away. Receiving a wave of acknowledgment, he continued, "How'd you find me, anyway?"

"Coincidence. I was heading for the bunker. First I took a bus, and then I hitchhiked. My last ride dropped me off at the edge of town and I saw the Impala in the parking lot here." The angel turned from his tall glass of pale beer to scan up and down Dean. "You look well. Much better than you did last night. I did not think Castiel would be able to save you."

"Well, maybe you and him can start up a mutual admiration society. He says you did great work on Sam." Dean stared sourly into his own drink. Sobering up was looking like a very unpleasant prospect just now. He tossed it back and waved at the bartender again. The guy nodded, probably because he saw Dean had a buddy who wasn't so much as touching his beer.

Gadreel looked doubtful. "My vessel would say that you should be 'cut off.' And he would take your car keys from you. He works as a bartender, sometimes."

Dean laughed. "He took you back, huh? Wasn't sure if he would. He seemed pretty confused last time we saw him."

"Tom is a good man. His faith is not strong, but he welcomes the opportunity to be..." Gadreel paused as if trying to remember a direct quote. "A part of something bigger."

"Sounds like Jimmy," said Dean. "Poor sap."

"Who is Jimmy?"

"Original owner of Cas's vessel."

Gadreel watched the bartender bring Dean's drink and move away again. "Castiel's vessel is uninhabited."

"Now, yeah. Jimmy died when Cas got blown up by an archangel - Raphael, I think. Or it might have been the second time, when Lucifer blew him up. Anyway, Cas came back, Jimmy didn't."

"You are referring to Sam's memories of the Apocalypse."

Dean shrugged.

Gadreel tilted his head. "I was not aware of these events when they occurred."

"No angel CNN in Heaven's prison, huh?"

"I learned of it from Sam. He tries to avoid thinking about it, but some of his dreams were quite detailed. Including, I think, what you just described - Castiel exploding. How can anyone 'come back' from such a smiting?"

Dean shrugged. "God, probably."

Gadreel took a sharp breath through his nose (a habit Dean had hated when the guy was in Sam) and said urgently, "Castiel has seen God?"

"Well... not to speak to. But he keeps coming back from the dead, usually stronger, and nobody else coulda done it. Like three, four times now he's come back, not even counting when you did it." Dean squinted. "Did you feel like somebody else made you do that? I did kinda wonder."

Gadreel sat back, looking stunned. "You wanted him back. Sam wanted him back. I did not think further than that." He shook his head slowly in wonder. "If Castiel is shunned by the Host, yet beloved of God..."

"Almost like Heaven doesn't know which way is up, huh? And, newsflash - that happened way before Metadouche took control."

"This is why I came back," said Gadreel, almost reverently. "In addition to collecting on the debt you owe me."

"Hey!" Dean objected. "You got your request when I kicked Cas out of the bunker. Because that was really fucking low, man."

Gadreel's eyes narrowed. "This was not what you said when you prayed for help. Even Castiel agreed that you owe me, all of you. Here is the payment I will claim: I will work with you and Sam and Castiel and the prophet to overthrow Metatron and re-open Heaven."

Castiel sat by the map table and waited. He didn't need to sit; he would have been perfectly comfortable standing to wait. But he had noticed that humans tended to become uncomfortable when he stood very still for long periods of time. They themselves would be uncomfortable standing that way (thanks to his time as a human, Castiel understood why: the soles of the feet would begin to hurt, and the backs of the knees, and the small of the back, if a person didn't move for a long time), and they became unhappy imagining his discomfort, even if he assured them there was none. Their annoyance was a form of compassion, really. So Castiel sat.

Sam had been unhappy when Castiel had re-entered the map room, after Dean departed. He had apologized repeatedly for not telling Dean that Castiel's decisions were his responsibility. Castiel had tried to reassure him, but Sam only became more agitated. He had reached out, several times, as if to offer some physical form of reassurance. It was only after the third reaching-out that Castiel realized his coat's lapels had become twisted, crumpled in the shape of Dean's hands. He unwrinkled them easily; he should have done that before leaving Dean's bedroom. He should have glanced in the mirror above the small sink in the room. Were there marks upon his face as well, from Dean's kisses? He had healed the small abrasion on his lip. But Sam was still distressed, as if he thought Dean had retaliated physically for what Castiel had done to him. And, in a sense, Dean had done just that, but it wasn't as if he had struck Castiel, or harmed him. Dean was not, in fact, capable of harming Castiel with only his hands or his mouth.

Castiel had offered to go after Dean, but Sam had pointed out that there were no vehicles ready to drive. Castiel could have walked, or even run, along the road to the bar where Dean had most likely gone. But Sam said it was not certain which bar Dean would go to; he might even choose to drive to Hastings to find a more anonymous setting. They couldn't follow Dean to Hastings, Sam said, since it would be too risky to steal a car this close to where they lived.

And after all, Dean was an adult, capable of working out his own moods. He was of sound mind, so far as they had been able to tell in a few minutes of conversation, and so far as Castiel could tell merely by looking at Dean and touching him. Dean would be fine. He didn't need an angel to run down the road after him.

Still, Castiel couldn't stop thinking that he ought to relieve Dean's state of distress, since he was responsible for causing it. Not only by his actions of the previous night - which were, after all, the best and even the only solution he had been able to find for Dean's problem - but, somehow, by his actions tonight. Dean had been angry when Castiel told him about the sex, which was expected. He had been perturbed but not infuriated when Castiel showed him exactly what had happened. And then he had made sexual advances toward Castiel, which Castiel had not resisted, only to have Dean pull away and leave the room - and the bunker - in considerably more distress than he had shown earlier in the conversation. What had Castiel done wrong, to cause that reaction in Dean?

He tried to imagine how he would have felt, in Dean's position, as a human. His experiences over the last few months had been invaluable for expanding his understanding of human behavior and emotions. But this situation exceeded his imagination. He knew that he would have been concerned to learn that someone had had sex with his own unconscious body. The idea reminded him in a strange way of waking in April's bed to find that his blade had gone missing. Perhaps he would not be so upset if it were Dean who had been touching him - but then he would have been concerned about precisely what Dean's reactions had been. He had tried to assuage that uncertainty by showing Dean the memory, and that had seemed to help, a little. Dean had stopped asking questions and his body posture relaxed a little.

But Castiel could not imagine, if their positions were reversed, that he would have then turned to Dean demanding sex. He could not imagine what reasons would lead to those actions, and therefore he could not comprehend what further stimulus would have been so upsetting as to drive him - drive Dean - to flee the situation entirely.

Had Dean been aroused by the memory that Castiel showed him? Perhaps. Before beginning his advances, he had been sitting in a position that he favored, that was convenient for concealing any arousal. That might have been deliberate. Later, Dean had unquestionably been aroused, and had not attempted to conceal it at all.

Had Dean wanted to demand sex from Castiel in return for the sexual pleasure that had been involuntarily taken from him? That would have seemed a plausible explanation, except that Dean had never regarded Castiel in a sexual manner. Surely he would have preferred a feminine partner for that.

Perhaps Dean had begun the sexual activity and then realized that Castiel was an unsatisfying sexual partner, so he had left to find a better one. That made sense, but it did not explain the distress that Dean had exhibited as he left. In addition, Castiel was nearly certain that Dean's arousal had abated before he left the bedroom. Before he got off the bed, in fact. That must mean that he found Castiel a very unappealing sexual partner.

If Castiel were still human, he would have found that conclusion distressing. The implicit rejection would have reduced his sense of self worth and increased his uncertainty in social interactions with Dean.

If Castiel were still human, he would not have acted as Dean did. That was because they were different people. And perhaps that was the only answer he would get to his questions, but he still wished he knew how his own actions had contributed to Dean's distress.

Any questions to Sam about Dean's sexual behavior would likely be counter-productive, upsetting both Sam in the near term and Dean later when he learned of the questioning. Therefore Castiel sat and waited for Dean's return.

Kevin was installed in the library once more with his large earphones on, and Castiel could sense a very faint buzz of divine energy indicating that the prophet was concentrating on one of the tablets. Sam was seated at the other side of the map table. For a while he had pretended to read one of the Men of Letters' treatises on angels which Castiel had kept out last night as the most useful, but Sam had not turned a page in many minutes and his eyes were closed, and his head was beginning to nod. Castiel considered encouraging him to go to bed. He had already healed Sam three times today, but that only affected the man's health and didn't help his energy level, except indirectly.

Then the silence was broken by the clang of the bunker's main door, and heavy, uneven steps upon the metal stairs. Dean had returned. He seemed more cheerful than when he had left. "Hey, Sammy!" he exclaimed. "And Cas! Hi there."

Sam jerked upright and scowled at his brother. "Jesus, Dean, tell me you didn't drive home like that."

"No way. Got a buddy to give me a ride." Dean waved expansively upward to where a man had followed him in, now waiting quietly at the top of the stairs.

Not a man. Castiel came quickly to his feet and stepped backward so that he could more effectively block the entrance to the library, where Kevin sat. His fingers curled ready at his side.

"Hello, Sam," said Gadreel. "You look well."

Sam, noting Castiel's tension, also stood. "Do I know you?"

"This's Zeke," said Dean, tripping down the bottom step and clinging to the railing.

"That is not Ezekiel," said Castiel in a low voice. He should have explained more clearly to the Winchesters just what crime this angel had committed. His mistake had ruined the world.

Yet a voice within Castiel had pointed out his own failings, especially those occasions when he had trusted unwisely. First he had conspired with the King of Hell, and later with the Scribe of God - and both had deceived him, causing widespread devastation. Only last night Castiel had confessed to Sam how he'd been deceived by Lucifer, with far more cause to distrust than Gadreel could have had at the dawn of humanity. This was why he hadn't revealed the details of Gadreel's history, because he felt unfit to judge.

"My name is Gadreel," the angel told Sam. "But your brother insists on continuing to call me Zeke, because I am... undercover."

"My brother is drunk," Sam said darkly. He was breathing quickly, his hands curled into fists.

"I noticed," said Gadreel. "That is why I wouldn't let him drive." He descended the stairs slowly, and at the bottom he laid a firm hand on Dean's shoulder.

Castiel stiffened, and his blade appeared in his grasp.

Dean staggered and raised a hand to his head. "Shit!" he said, his voice suddenly crisp, his words coming faster. "Dude, I paid good money for that whisky!"

"Dean?" said Sam, tensely.

"I'm fine. Dick just stole my buzz, is all." Dean scowled and pushed Gadreel away so that he could head toward the kitchen. Gadreel politely took two steps to the side, no longer blocking the stairs.

Sam whuffed out a breath and his shoulders eased slightly. "Why are you here? Aside from being Dean's designated driver?"

"Dean promised me a favor if I would heal you. And Castiel pledged his aid, as well."

Sam turned to shoot a betrayed look at Castiel.

"That depends on your intention here," said Castiel stiffly.

"I will offer no harm to the prophet. Or any other resident here. I wish to help in your efforts to re-open Heaven."

"Or maybe you plan to report on us to Metatron," Sam growled.

"Metatron is unworthy. Castiel is cherished by God. I will do as Castiel commands."

Castiel jerked his head back. "I am not fit to command anyone."

Gadreel raised his eyebrows at Castiel in puzzlement, but before he could ask any questions, Dean re-entered the front room with a bottle of beer. He extended his free hand to Castiel. "Give me your car keys."

Castiel glanced at him uncertainly. "I left the car in Lincoln, Dean." But he let his angel blade disappear and reached into his pocket nonetheless.

"Yeah, Zeke's gonna go get it for us." Dean turned to glance at Sam. "He said the truck you drove broke down when you got there?"

"Couple leaks in the radiator, but it was running pretty rough even before it started to overheat." Sam seemed reluctant to take his eyes away from Gadreel.

"Well, thanks for bringing back the Impala. Second choice is Cas's car, right?"

Castiel pulled the car keys from his pocket and passed them reluctantly to Dean. "It is a gold Lincoln Continental."

"What's he going to do, walk to Nebraska?" Sam demanded.

"He can hitch. Not like he's gonna get rolled, is it?" Dean tossed the keys across the room and Gadreel caught them neatly.

"And we're just letting him go off on his own for a couple days? He could be heading to meet with Metatron."

Dean snorted. "How's that different from if he never came here at all?"

"Because now he's trying to worm his way into our trust, Dean. And you're letting him."

"He healed you, Sam. He saved Cas, he saved Charlie, he saved me, and he didn't hurt Kevin."


"And, I made a promise, so I intend to keep it."

Sam snorted. "So that's it? No discussion, no negotiation?"

"We had a negotiation, Sammy. In the hospital, while you were unconscious. He kept up his side of the bargain, so now it's my turn."

Gadreel stood silently throughout this exchange, mostly focused on Sam and only glancing occasionally at Castiel. Now he said softly, "Would it help you to trust me if you could remember everything I did while possessing you? Including my conversations with Metatron?"

Sam stiffened. "I don't want you messing with my head any more than you already have."

Gadreel had taken one step forward, but now he retreated again. "You already have these memories, but they are blocked. I can free them for you."

Sam's eyes were narrow and hard. "Or, you can keep your hands to yourself."

Gadreel spread his palms peaceably. "Castiel could also unblock the memories if that would make you more comfortable."

Sam glanced at Castiel, who nodded. "Maybe I'll do that. Before you get back. But weren't you on your way to Lincoln?"

Gadreel lifted his chin. "It may take me a while to get a ride at this time of night. But I should return tomorrow evening at the latest."

"Wait," said Castiel. He stepped away from his position blocking the library entrance and approached Gadreel reluctantly. The other angel's vessel was almost as tall as Sam, which would have been intimidating by itself when Castiel had been mortal; but more than that, Gadreel pulsed with the energy of one of the first of the seraphim. He had power only one rank below the archangels. A year ago Castiel would have been his equal, but now he knew he could not stand against the other in direct conflict.

Gadreel watched Castiel approach him, showing no inclination to conflict.

"The car will need gas," Castiel said at last, pulling out his wallet. "The gauge malfunctions; it says the tank is full, but it isn't." He passed across some cash, nearly the last of what he had earned as a Sales Associate. He reminded himself firmly that he no longer needed money to obtain food, water, or shelter.

"Thank you, brother," said Gadreel mildly, and accepted the money.

Castiel bit back his objection to the word 'brother,' which he himself had used the previous night. "We will discuss strategy when you return." If you return, he communicated with his eyes.

Gadreel nodded slightly. "I look forward to it. Until tomorrow, Castiel. Dean. Sam." And then he walked easily up the stairs and out the door.

"Told ya," said Dean, sipping from his bottle. "He's really an okay guy."

"I'll believe that when he comes back," said Sam. "And doesn't kill anybody."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Whatever. I'm going to bed." He headed around the curve of the hall.

Castiel looked after Dean, worried that they hadn't had a chance to talk. "You should rest also, Sam. I will heal you one more time before you go to sleep."

"Yeah. Cas, um - was that true, what he said? You can free up my memories?"

"Very likely." Castiel raised a hand and then paused, realizing it would be polite to ask. "May I check?"

Sam sighed. "Okay." He squinted as if at a bright light or unpleasant noise, but he held still while Castiel touched his forehead.

"Yes," Castiel concluded. "The memories are blocked, but intact."

"Fine, let me get ready for bed first. Then you can do your thing and I can try to sort out the new information before I go to sleep."

From Castiel's experience of sleep, that sounded like a way to induce unpleasant dreams. But Sam had much more acquaintance with sleep than he did, so he nodded and gestured for Sam to precede him toward the bedrooms.

Chapter Text

Dean's beer bottle was half empty, but he wasn't really interested in the rest of it; he poured it down his little washbasin sink and left the empty on the bedside table. He'd grabbed the bottle mostly to piss off Sam and make a point to Zeke. The whisky at the bar had numbed his brain for a little while, but it didn't really help. And then he came back to the bunker and Cas was right there, his eyes burning with suspicion when he looked at Zeke and with - something else - when he looked at Dean, and it wasn't going to be any easier to deal with that if he was drunk.

Dean was okay with what Cas had done last night. At some point while he was at the bar, that switch got flipped inside him and he just wasn't going to worry about it any more. It wouldn't have been on his top ten list of Ways to Get It On With Cas, but he was okay with it. And hey, it had worked, at least for getting the grace out of him. That was what really mattered, right?

What he didn't get was how Cas could have all those intense emotions in the memory he shared with Dean, and then he just turned them off when Dean was actually awake to kiss him back. Talk about flipping a switch.

Were the memory-emotions not real? Or Cas only felt them because of the weird stuff he'd done with energy flows? Dean hadn't understood most of that stuff when it showed up in the memory, but he did know that Cas had been messing with his own energy patterns as well as Dean's. So maybe the worry and caring and even the lust that Cas had tried so hard to keep banked away, maybe all that was just a side-effect. A glitch. And then once it was all over, once Dean was okay and Cas had all his own grace back in his own body - vessel, whatever - then Cas turned off the emotions.

Or - and this was the possibility that made Dean fidget, because if this one was right it would mean he was supposed to do something about it - maybe, just maybe, Cas still had those same feelings. And he hadn't turned them off, he was just hiding them. Because he didn't think they were appropriate for an angel, or because he was too embarrassed to let Dean know about them, or just because emotions frightened him, who knew.

And if that was what had happened, Dean should do something about it. Obviously, talking to Cas about feelings would not be a good idea. Talking to anyone about feelings was always bad. But if he could just find out the truth, or force Cas to face up to his own emotions, in some way that totally didn't involve talking, that would be the way to go.

Unless of course he tried that out and it turned out the feelings really were just a glitch. A temporary thing, speed bumps on Cas's road back to being an angel. And now Cas was all powered up again and he didn't need pesky little things like emotions.

It was sort of tempting to believe that, if Dean hadn't known Cas for years. If he hadn't been learning how to read the angel's emotions from that first mind-blowing encounter in the barn. If he hadn't been wishing for most of that time that he could find a way to break down that wall of reserve and get his hands underneath the damn trenchcoat. And now he had, sort of, even if it wasn't one of his Top Ten ways. And he just needed the guts to follow through.

There was a knock on Dean's door.

"Yeah. Come in," he said, resigned. He didn't bother raising his voice, since a mojoed-up Cas could probably hear him breathing through the door. For all Dean knew, Cas could hear his hair growing.

Cas opened the door slowly and peered around the edge.

Dean grabbed his beer bottle just for something to hold and waved it at the little couch. It was mostly clear of papers and shit, or at leasst there was enough room for someone to sit down. "Have a seat."

Cas perched on the edge of the couch. He was holding himself more like a human than he had back in the old days, but it was an awkward self-conscious sort of thing. Like he remembered what it was like being human and was trying to imitate that, but he didn't exactly remember why. "Dean. How are you doing?"

"Fine." Dean raised the bottle to his lips and then remembered it was empty.

Cas stared at him. Not the piercing glare like he was trying to pull Dean's thoughts out through his eyes (and Dean was never sure just how much that was possible - at least a little, he thought). But now he was staring like he had a million things to say and was trying to push the words out through his own eyes instead. "I. Was. Concerned, when you left so quickly. We haven't established that you are -"

"I'm fine."

Cas nodded, his eyes dropping to the bedspread. "Was it something I did? Or said?"

Dean caught his breath. "No. No, Cas. It was me." What I did. That moment when he'd realized Cas was just going to lie there and take anything Dean dished out, like some high-end sex mannequin. That was when Dean knew he needed to get out. "I couldn't tell what you wanted." I was afraid you wouldn't tell me you wanted to stop.

There was another long pause. Dean rolled the empty bottle over his forehead for a minute, but it had already lost the refrigerator chill. He leaned back away from Cas to set it on the nightstand.

"I don't understand," Cas said at last. "Why would that matter?"

That was too close to Dean's own thoughts. "Jeez, Cas. Of course it matters!" His shoulders were clenching up. He was just no good at this talking bullshit. Then he remembered what Cas had shared with him. "Look, last night, you were all worried because you couldn't... because I couldn't... because you didn't know what I would want, right?"

Cas nodded slowly in the corner of Dean's vision.

"So, today when I was... and you were... you froze up, man, and I couldn't tell what you wanted. So I left."

"But I was right there, Dean. I made no objection."

"You didn't look exactly happy, either!" Dean burst out. "You looked more like, back in Lincoln, like you were waiting for that big guy to start slicing you up again." The image was clear enough, Cas resigning himself to torture and tucking all his reactions away inside. But Dean couldn't remember the name of the angel that had done the cutting, or exactly what happened next.

Right now Cas just looked confused, his head tilting to the side the way it used to in the early days when he thought humans were baffling. "That makes no sense. If you tried to torture me, I would stop you."

"Would you?" There were times when Dean thought he could carve out Cas's liver and the angel would thank him for it. Always happy to bleed for the Winchesters.

"Of course. Unless there was some good reason for it."

Dean groaned and threw himself back on the bed. "Cas... what do you want?"

Cas paused, then said earnestly, "I came here to be sure that you are all right."

"No. I mean, I'm fine but..." Dean waved a hand in a circle above his chest to indicate the big picture. "What do you want?"

"I want you to be well. And safe. And happy."

Dean huffed.

"Perhaps I am not understanding what you mean by the question."

Dean struggled back up to a sitting position. "Come on, man, there's gotta be something you want for yourself. Not for me. What do you want?"

"I want my wings back," Cas blurted, his voice gone to a gravelly snarl.

Dean blinked. That sounded honest. And there wasn't a damn thing Dean could do to help with that.

But then Cas went on, "I want all the angels to regain their wings. I want Heaven re-opened, and Metatron gone or contained. I want angels to stop killing each other and killing humans, and find a sensible way to govern themselves without bloodshed." He paused, considering. "I understand there is something strange going on with demons, and with Crowley. I don't particularly care about that, but I do want it resolved with minimal harm to humans, especially you and Sam."

Dean sighed. "No, man, I'm not talking about world peace. I'm talking about what you feel, not what you think." Yep, there it was, talking about feelings - but at least they weren't Dean's feelings. "What you want from me. Here. Tonight."

Cas stared at him, and this was the old penetrating stare. He was trying to understand where Dean was coming from. Then he stood up suddenly. "I do want you to be well, Dean. And happy. That's the truth. But, I want... I want you to be happy because of me. I want you to smile... at me."

Dean's mouth fell open.

"I want you to look at me the way you look at Sam when he's asleep. Or the way you look at children playing. Or the way you look at a waitress with a low-cut blouse."

It was getting a little hard to breathe, the air flowing warm and thick over Dean's tongue.

Cas stood by the side of the bed, hot gaze beating down. He reached out and placed his hand on Dean's shoulder, and it burned even through T-shirt and flannel overshirt. "I want to re-ignite the brand on your shoulder, and rip the sleeve from every shirt you own, so that everyone will see that mark and know you belong to me."

Dean gulped. "Whoa."

Cas let go of Dean's shoulder, stepped back toward the couch, and shifted his gaze to the wall. "So you see, it is not only disobedience that makes me a poor example of an angel."

"You want me to want you."

Cas nodded, holding his chin stiffly for a moment. But then his shoulders dropped. "I shouldn't." He turned toward the door. "In any case, I am glad you are well. Good night, Dean."

"No, no, wait wait!" Dean scrambled across the bed to get between Cas and the door.

"Dean. This is not a good idea."

"The hell it isn't! Cas, don't you get it, I want the same thing!"

Cas raised his gaze slowly from the middle of Dean's chest to meet his eyes. "I doubt that."

Dean huffed. So much for talking. Useful sometimes, but you could never prove anything with talk. He raised his hands to Cas's chest, like a mirror of a few hours ago, except this time Dean was the one with his back to the door, and his hands closed on the tan coat lightly, asking instead of demanding. He pulled Cas close, slowly, their eyes still fixed on each other until they were too close to focus and Dean's lids shut in reflex.

Cas's breath fluttered against his cheek.

Dean hadn't noticed it earlier when he was flipping between anger and confusion and want, but Cas smelled like an angel again. Clean like he'd just been scoured by a thunderstorm. Sizzling with energy like rocks baked in desert sun. Dean knew that smell from years back. But there was a newer scent as well, something he'd noticed in April's apartment when he untied Cas from her chair, in Rexford when he wrapped Cas's wrist, in Wyoming when he bumped shoulders with Cas at the bar. Something warm, and sweet, and human. It was still there.

"Want you to want me, Cas," Dean murmured and closed the last two inches of distance. This time they both got the head tilt right, no noses or teeth banging. He already knew Cas's lips were softer than they looked, but now they were warm and hesitantly responsive.

"I want to make you feel good," Dean breathed out before bending in for another kiss, firmer and surer. "I want to see you feeling good, and know it's because of me." Deeper now, with a swipe of his tongue, tasting only freshness like clean rain. He felt Cas's lips part but he didn't press in, waiting instead. "That's why I ran away, before."

Dean pulled back enough to look and found Cas staring back at him half-dazed, a flush across his cheeks to match the pink of his mouth. His tongue poked out carefully, seeking the flavor Dean had left behind.

"You said you wanted me to smile at you? I want you to smile, too."

Cas didn't smile. He looked too overwhelmed to smile. But he leaned forward, against the soft press of Dean's hands, until Dean felt the door at his hips and shoulder blades. And Cas pushed some more until they were kissing again. And this time it was his tongue teasing Dean's lips apart.

Dean tried to keep it easy. No devouring each other. Time for breathing in between kisses. Still, each one was getting deeper and longer, the pauses between shorter and gasping, tongues exploring further this way and then that. Under the perfect angelic freshness, Dean could catch hints of something more complex and human. Coffee, bacon, something like maple syrup... something like the smell in the back seat when they were driving back from Michigan, with Cas alive and safe and the only blood on his shirt instead of his skin.

Dean's tongue drove deeper for that taste of safety. He realized his hands were crumpling the tan coat just as they had a few hours ago, but with better reasons.

This was all working so much better now that they were touching instead of talking. Except, wasn't that the mistake Dean had made before? He needed to make sure they did a little talking, at least.

Kiss. "C'mon, Cas." Kiss. "Show me what you -" Kiss. "What you want."

Cas pulled away, panting, and glanced back toward the bed.

"Sure. That's good. Me too." Dean gave a gentle push, and they were both heading that way.

Cas paused uncertainly when they reached the foot of the bed, and Dean took the opportunity to slip his hands under the overcoat, to push it back over Cas's shoulders. Just that act sent such a thrill down Dean's spine that he had to lean forward and press his lips to Cas's stubbled jaw, and then down to the tempting line of throat. Cas wasn't wearing a tie, and the unbuttoned collar was irresistible to Dean. The smell of warm human was stronger here, but so was the clean sizzle of the angel scent.

Cas lowered his chin as if trying to push his own lips back under Dean's, but then Dean swept his tongue into the soft skin just above his collarbone and Cas gasped, going still. Dean's hands kept pushing, getting the overcoat down past Cas's shoulders until suddenly the angel got with the program and pulled his arms free of the heavy fabric, letting it slump to the floor.

"This too," Dean mumbled into the notch between Cas's collarbones, right where his collar opened. He pushed at Cas's suit coat, more snug than the overcoat and hard to move without the cooperation of the person wearing it. But Cas wasn't cooperating; instead he was tugging at Dean's flannel shirt.

Dean stepped back, and they both shrugged out of one layer, staring at each other. Then Dean reached for Cas's top buttons, and somehow he found that Cas's hands were creeping under the hem of his T-shirt, and then they were both lost in the discovery of skin. Cas had his head thrown back to let Dean kiss and lick at the sparse trail of curls he found behind the buttons. At the same time Cas's fingers traced the line of Dean's spine and the hem of his jeans and found the ticklish spots on Dean's side that made him gasp and jump and then squirm and catch at Cas's hands to stop him.

"This okay?" Dean demanded breathlessly.

Cas's eyes were wide, but not fearful - more like he was trying to drink everything in. His pupils were huge, black almost swallowing the blue. He nodded and looked down at Dean's throat and pulled a hand free of Dean's restraining grasp to trace his finger down from Dean's ear to his collar.

"Can you talk?" Dean asked carefully, wondering if Cas had gone into one of those weird angel-states like in the memory.

Cas blinked, swallowed, cleared his throat. "Yes."

"That's good, 'cause -" Dean gasped as soft pink lips traced down the line of his pulse. "You need to - oh -" He tilted his chin up a little further. "You need to tell me if, mmm."

Cas was licking at Dean's collarbone now, tugging the T-shirt collar down to give him access. "Tell you what, Dean?" he mumbled against Dean's skin, and the combination of the moving lips and the puff of breath was unbearably exciting.

"Mmm, what?"

Cas pulled back. "What do I need to tell you?"

It was Dean's turn to blink in bewilderment and try to remember how to speak. "Oh. Uh. If there's anything you don't like. Or anything else you want."

The fingers hooking in Dean's T-shirt curled into a fist. "I want this gone."

Dean rolled the hem up over his elbow, then paused. He pulled at Cas's button-down. "You too."

Somehow he'd been imagining the angel being baffled by clothes fastenings, but Cas had been human for months. He made quick work of two buttons while Dean's T-shirt went up and over and down to the floor. Then Cas froze, leaning forward to fasten his mouth over the tattoo on Dean's chest.

Dean tugged again at the shirt. "This too, Cas."

Cas blinked down at the fabric, then frowned as he had at his hands in the kitchen. But Dean didn't want him using angel mojo to get clothes off, and maybe getting into an angel state of mind where skin mattered less than energy patterns. So Dean yanked, and the last two buttons pittered onto the floor, and Dean pushed the shirt roughly back over Cas's shoulders. He splayed fingers across the expanse of Cas's chest, smooth here and lightly furred there and not scarred, not cut or bloody or scabbed, but still Dean wanted to map it all and make sure there were no hurts left.

Then he eased off, afraid he was pushing too hard again. Cas just finished shaking the shirt down from his elbows and kicked it into a corner while he reached for Dean again. His hand, and then his lips, and then his teeth found the faded silvery handprint on Dean's shoulder.

Dean shivered, feeling something stir inside him that didn't have words, something he wasn't feeling with nerves. He knew how that handprint looked to Cas, like a connection straight to Dean's soul. Like fastening a clip on a car's bare chassis in order to ground it. For all Dean had not wanted Cas to get lost in seeing souls and grace and energy stuff, there was something incredibly hot about feeling the angel reach under Dean's hood to tinker with his engine.

Dean grabbed Cas's head to pull him in closer, one hand on the back of his neck and one roaming down his back. When Dean's fingers curled under the jut of a shoulder blade, Cas gave a sudden moan directly into Dean's shoulder, and his knees started to buckle. Dean caught him, but instead of holding him up he shifted weight so they both toppled onto the bed, side by side.

Dean got his bottom arm braced under Cas's neck and the other one around his chest, pulling their bodies together so they could kiss some more. Cas had his top hand back on the handprint as he nibbled and licked urgently at Dean's lips, breaking off to twitch and gasp and moan whenever Dean's hands stroked his back some more. The lighter the touch, the more sharply Cas reacted. Dean didn't know if it had something to do with the impossible insubstantial wings he'd only seen in shadows a couple of times, or if it was just that Cas had an incredibly sensitive back. Either way it seemed to be a huge erogenous zone, very conveniently placed for petting while they were in a clinch, and Dean went to work finding the best way to stimulate without tickling.

Cas was limp, moaning and uncoordinated by the time Dean pressed a hand smoothly down the sides of his ribs, calming and retreating. Cas blinked dazedly and Dean brushed soothing little kisses onto his cheeks and the corner of his mouth.

"Still doing okay?" Dean managed, his voice husky.

"Hmm..." was all Cas could say, but he focused enough to nod back.

Dean fell back to running fingers along Cas's arms instead, which seemed a little safer. It did make things less intense, but then he started getting absorbed in the wiry muscles of Cas's forearms. Dean had been with men a couple times before, but that was years ago with a hefty alcohol assist, and he hadn't done a whole lot of exploring since he was really more focused on just getting off. He'd always thought of body hair as kind of a turn-off, but Cas's sparse hair fascinated him - where it was and where it wasn't, how it curled on his chest and lay flat along his arms. He wanted to see what the hair was like on Cas's legs, which was not something he'd ever expected to be thinking.

Meanwhile, Cas was exploring Dean's chest, tracing patterns that might be Enochian sigils or constellations of freckles or just aimless wandering. He kissed a few spots, licked a few others, tried a brief kiss-bite but it wasn't long or strong enough to leave a hickey. Then he went for Dean's nipples, which had never been all that sensitive even though they tended to stand up and draw attention to themselves. Dean gave a little half-hearted murmur that was meant to indicate 'meh' as Cas licked and teased and suckled a little.

Then Cas caught the nipple in his teeth and gave a sharp tug, and Dean gasped.

Cas glanced up. "Did that hurt?"

Dean blinked. "No, it..." No one had ever gotten much of a reaction out of his nipples before. "Where did you learn how -" He cut himself off sharply. That was never a good question to ask, and with Cas he already knew the answer anyway.

But of course Cas answered, "April. She did that to me." He crossed Dean's chest to chew on the other nipple, gently at first and then more firmly, searching for the right amount of force.

"Did you - unh! Did you like it?" Dean asked.

"Not really." Cas slithered a few inches back up the bed for another kiss. He kept his eyes open and pulled back barely far enough to focus, staring intently at Dean. "She had green eyes too, but not like yours. Never as bright. Never as deep."

"Uh." Dean gulped. As a distraction, he traced his thumb over one of Cas's flatter nipples, and sure enough the reaction was underwhelming: a little grimace and a squirm. Dean moved his hand further down, seeking the outline of ribs instead.

"You don't like it when I talk about her," Cas observed.

"She killed you," Dean growled. "Of course I don't like it." He took a breath, pressed his lips to Cas's cheek. "Also, you know, mentioning previous lovers in bed - kinda tacky." And now they were talking too much again, after being lost beyond the point of words just a minute ago.

Cas just ducked his head. "I have very little experience to go on," he muttered into Dean's throat.

"That's okay. We'll figure it out together." Dean curled his hand back around Cas's shoulder blade again, stroking firmly at first and then more lightly, and felt the angel shudder against him. "Why don't we get rid of these," Dean went on, hooking his thumb into the back of Cas's waistband and tugging. "If, um, if that's what you want," he faltered, suddenly uncertain.

"Of course I do," said Cas, reaching for his fly and then freezing. "But only if you..."

"Yeah, I want it too," said Dean. "I just want to make sure we're not, um, going too fast or anything."

"I'll tell you, Dean." Cas got his button and fly open and started some squirming that raised Dean's eyebrows. "I understand now, what I didn't before. I will tell you."

Dean watched with amusement as Cas tried to get his pants off without changing position on the bed. And then, grinning, Dean popped up to stand by the bed, shucked his jeans and briefs in a couple of quick moves, and lay down again. Cas frowned at him - not glaring, but uneasy, as if he suspected he was being mocked. Dean pulled him in for another kiss, then gasped when his naked dick brushed over Cas's boxers.

Cas glanced downward, and the tension around his mouth eased when he saw how excited Dean was. His top hand ran down from Dean's marked shoulder to his ribs, skipped over the ticklish spot from earlier, and settled on the curve of Dean's ass. He squeezed and Dean gasped, his hips jerking forward, and then he moaned when his dick made contact again.

"Cas," he panted as his body tried to set up a rhythm of thrusting. "Cas, you gotta... you gotta mmph! You too. Want you naked too."

Cas stopped squeezing and pulling at Dean's ass, dipped a quick kiss to his tattoo, then rolled away and squirmed, tugging off the boxers and half-removed suit pants. He was flexible, undulating in a way that had Dean's eyes glued to the motion of his crotch. And then the last fabric was gone, kicked over the side of the bed, and Cas was rolling back toward Dean, and this time Dean's dick found something much warmer and silkier to press against.

They clutched at each other, and it didn't matter that dry-humping was on Dean's list of stuff too tame for anybody but a teenager to care about, because Cas was gasping and moaning into Dean's mouth, against his jaw, down the line of his throat. Cas's hand was back on Dean's ass, kneading it like there were secret controls buried under the skin, and Dean's body was obeying those control signals with quick jerks and twitches. Dean curled his own arm around to tickle Cas between the shoulder blades again, making him shout "Oh! Oh!" into Dean's collarbone. A crackle of ozone added on to the earthy human smell that had grown stronger now Cas's clothes were gone.

Somehow Dean, who was supposed to be in control here, had ended up with his right arm trapped underneath him and his clumsy left doing all the important work. He started to push Cas to his back so Dean could kneel over him, but Cas just leaned into the push, still quivering at every brush of fingers over his spine. It would be a shame to waste that much potential on the bedsheets. Dean thought of Cas spread out face-down beneath him, twitching and moaning at every touch, and the image made his dick jump. But Cas needed something to do, too, or he might end up going all passive again.

And then Dean knew what to do. He pulled his hand back up to Cas's upper arm, eased his kisses back to little pecks instead of suckling all over Cas's chest. He forced his hips to go still and got his lower arm up far enough to palm Cas's cheek.

Cas slowly stilled, his eyes blinking dazedly. "Dean?"

"Still doing okay?"

"Yes! Of course. I said I would tell you if... Dean, this is very..." He let his breath out shudderingly and tucked his face against Dean's chest. "This is amazing. I never thought... but I'm not certain what to do."

"You're doing great, angel," Dean breathed into his hair. It was mostly angel-scent up here, baked rocks and thunder on the wind, with no artificial shampoo smells. "We can keep doing this, if you want. But I had another idea."

Cas pulled his head free to look into Dean's eyes. "Yes. Anything you want."

Dean's breath caught, feeling the possibilities of that 'anything.' "Nothing too complicated for now, I promise. Plenty of time to try other stuff later."

Cas's eyes nearly glowed. "I would like that."

"This is simple, but you'll like it." Dean untangled their arms and pulled back carefully, turning himself around in the bed. He kicked at the pillows to get them smushed out of the way against the headboard, then thought better of it and brought one pillow down to prop up his neck, tucking a second behind Cas's head.

"Dean?" Cas asked, sounding uncertain.

"Don't worry about what to do," Dean said, settling into position. "You can just do the same thing as me. Only if you like it, of course. Or if you want me to do something, give it a try and I'll copy." He nestled his ear into the pillow and drew a stripe with his tongue along Cas's dick. The angel blew a gust of startled air over Dean's crotch, grabbing at his thighs.

Cas had a nice dick, thicker than Dean's and curved tight against his belly. His thatch of hair was dense and curling, but his thighs were smooth like a girl's. The play of runner's muscles under his fingers fascinated Dean, and he traced light patterns around the front and backs of those legs as far as the knobby knees, which made Cas kick his feet. Meanwhile, Dean was getting his first good taste, and he liked it.

His two experiences with men had been pretty quick and simple, and blowing each other was a big part of both times. It wasn't his favorite taste in the world but he didn't hate it so long as the other guy wasn't trying to choke him. Cas's flavor, on the other hand, had just enough human musk to slot into Dean's memories, but it all had that impossible angel freshness like he'd just washed in a mountain stream and dried off in sun and wind. Dean got more into it, wrapping his lips around Cas's dick and pulsing his tongue over the head. Dean's bottom hand hooked comfortably around one muscular thigh and his top hand - the right one now, which made things much easier - ran teasingly over the bubble of Cas's ass and along to tease at his sensitive back. And there came the lightning smell again, tingling through Dean's nerves while he felt excited breaths panting over his groin.

Cas took a moment to get with the program, even though he'd already done this last night, or something like it. Dean hoped the delay was because Cas was distracted by pleasure and not freezing up again. Just as he was about to pull free and look to make sure Cas was okay, Dean felt a solid grip wrap around his shaft and warm wetness engulfed his head. Yeah, that was more like it. Dean dipped his own head further, taking in more of Cas's length, and he felt the same happening at the other end. He whined, a little pitifully, but the answering low groan reverberated right through his dick.

Cas was kneading Dean's ass muscles again; he really seemed to like that, which was fine because Dean liked it too. Dean tried to remember to keep his fingers light and teasing over Cas's back, but he kept forgetting and just grabbing for any patch of skin to hold onto while he was concentrating on his mouth action, and the sensations wrapping around his own dick.

Dean knew he wasn't the world's best at giving a blowjob, but he thought he remembered enough from what he liked to make it good for Cas. There'd been one girlfriend in particular who insisted it was better to approach from this angle even if they weren't sixty-nining, because she said it got her tongue right over the sensitive head where it could do the most good. So Dean spent a lot of time on tongue-swirling, trying to go slow enough and leave pauses for Cas to try a few of his own moves. Cas, as it turned out, was a really fast learner, and more and more of those pauses were just for Dean to pant and groan out his own enjoyment.

Then he tried taking Cas deep and sucking. He didn't try to push too far, because there was no turn-off like having somebody nearly barf on your dick. But he found where his limit was and circled his fingers around the shaft where his lips couldn't reach, and then worked on his sucking technique. This part he knew: you wanted to go easy and fast on the downstroke and suck hardest on the slower upstroke. It sounded backwards but it felt awesome when someone got it right - it was just hard to coordinate sometimes, and his cheeks and jaw were already starting to ache by the time he got the hang of it.

Cas didn't seem to have any trouble with the coordination, and maybe he didn't have any gag reflex, and within a minute or so he was swallowing Dean down like a champ, really going to town on the sucking and tongue-swirling. This was also not good for Dean's concentration, so he ended up weakly moaning into Cas's balls while he rolled them in his hand and fluttered a finger on the smooth patch of skin just behind.

Cas immediately added ball-rolling and taint-tickling to his repertoire as well, and Dean was turning into a helpless twitching, grunting mess. "Cas," he moaned against the dick on his lips. "Cas, that's - oh god, that's so - yes, mmm, more, god yes, oh, oh, unh!"

Finally Dean gave up and just clung to Cas's hips, weakly tonguing and kissing the head of Cas's dick while he fell apart completely under the touch of a first-timer. Cas was adding stuff Dean hadn't even tried, like a damp finger swirling back behind his taint to tease his hole with quick little pulses. And Dean was practically sobbing with the pleasure, unable to say anything now but a string of unconnected sounds.

Then Cas pulled his mouth back, hand still jacking Dean's wet shaft steadily. Dean was gasping, every muscle tense as he felt Cas's other hand tug his balls up and squeeze.

"Dean," said that raspy voice, vibrating through his cock into his spine. "I want you to come for me now." And then he swallowed Dean down again.

Dean muffled his yell into the smooth skin of Cas's thigh as his entire body clenched. Cas just kept sucking, and Dean could feel his tongue and throat moving as he swallowed, which was even hotter, and Dean howled again and again with every spasm of pleasure. Cas freed a hand to grab Dean's ass again, squeezing with every spurt as if he wanted to help push the come out.

By about the tenth spasm, there wasn't really anything coming out and Dean was starting to get sensitive. He still twitched weakly when Cas sucked and squeezed his ass, but there wasn't any more to give. He patted Cas's hip and whimpered a little, and Cas went still, mouth slack over Dean's dick.

Dean swallowed; he'd gotten spit all over Cas's thigh, along with some toothmarks. Wow. "Cas, that was... holy crap, dude, where did you learn all that?"

Cas pulled his mouth free. "From you."

"No way. You were doing stuff that - shit, Cas, that was incredible!" Dean lifted his head and twisted around to see that Cas was looking a little smug. Which he probably deserved.

"You said I shouldn't mention previous experiences," Cas pointed out.

Dean grunted in annoyance and sat up.

"But it really was mostly from you," said Cas. "And... observation. I have been watching humans for all of your history, after all."

Dean huffed weakly. "Guess you must have seen a lot kinkier stuff, then."

"Some of it was very strange." Cas tipped over to lie on his back, looking up at Dean gravely. "That was really okay?" he asked, suddenly uncertain.

"That was awesome." Dean looked down. "And now it's your turn." He curled a hand around the jut of Cas's hipbone, shifting around to crouch between Cas's knees.

"Dean, you really don't have to -"

"Cas. Where did this conversation start?"

Cas frowned. "You asked me what I wanted."

"Right. And you had some trouble telling me. But I'm pretty sure this guy -" Dean ran a finger up Cas's dick and watched in appreciation as the angel gasped and humped the air "- has his priorities clear. So unless you tell me not to, I'm listening to him."

"That is absurd, Dean. My erection is not - oh! - capable of... ahhh, Dean. Not... capable... of speech. Dean, yes, yes, right there -"

Dean's coordination was much better now that he wasn't distracted. He got his lips and mouth and tongue and hands all working together. When his jaw needed a break he licked his palm and jacked Cas in a twisting spiral that seemed to drive him mad.

"You're not sounding so articulate yourself right now," he teased, watching Cas fall apart under his hands.

The angel glared at him. "I am very... mmm! Very eloquent when I need to be."

"Well, you don't need it now." Dean bent his head for a couple of quick licks. "Quit thinking, Cas, and just let your body feel, okay? Like a human, not an angel."

Cas's eyes went narrow. "Angels do enjoy sex, Dean."

"Great. Good. So... enjoy this." Dean lowered his head again. As he started to get a rhythm going, he slipped one finger into his mouth alongside Cas's shaft, got it good and wet, then reached down behind Cas's balls to tickle and tease. When he found the center of the puckered skin and pressed, Cas went still.

Dean glanced up to make sure he was doing okay, but Cas was just staring at him, mouth open and face flushed and hair announcing sex to the entire world. Dean stilled his lips and tongue and just pulsed his fingertip gently against Cas's hole. Slowly, Cas tipped his head back, a high whine coming out.

Dean had to take it easy on his next few sucks because it turned out smirking made it hard to keep your teeth off the other guy's dick. But he got it together again and took Cas a little deeper, his finger pressing through the ring of muscle.

Cas was twisting his head slowly back and forth on the pillow, wrecking his hair even further, and only meaningless sounds were coming from his mouth, forced out on each explosive breath. Dean swirled his tongue and got his left hand on Cas's balls and wormed his finger all the way inside, his thumb still brushing around the puckered skin. So far it wasn't that different from girls who liked a little extra stimulation while he was eating them out, but somewhere in there should be a little something that...

Dean's finger brushed a little bump, and Cas nearly levitated off the bed, lifting Dean up with him. There was no holding down an angel after all. One of Cas's hands was in Dean's hair, stroking and petting, but now it grabbed and tugged. Dean just squinted against the distraction and sucked harder, pushed Cas's balls up higher, wiggled his finger on the inside and his thumb on the outside.

Cas froze, every muscle drawn tense, his back bowed and hips in the air, just long enough for Dean to wonder if something was wrong. Then he yelled, full throated, and a wave passed all the way down his body so all Dean could do was follow the motion up and then down. He grunted as he got a knee in the ribs, but more importantly he could feel Cas's dick twitching inside his mouth, and then he had a mouthful of salty angel-fresh come. He kept sucking gently, his tongue curling to cradle and lap at Cas until the twitching stopped and the angel melted limply into the sheets.

Carefully, Dean pulled his mouth free and crawled up the length of Cas's body to see how he was doing. He hadn't passed out, but he was staring blankly at the ceiling in a sort of daze. Dean licked at the corner of his mouth until Cas blinked, focused on him, then grabbed his head convulsively and pulled him into a fierce kiss. Apparently Cas wasn't shy about tasting himself on Dean's lips, which made sense because angel come probably tasted better than the human stuff Dean could still pick up from Cas's tongue.

"Did you feel that?" Cas whispered, sounding almost awed.

Dean smirked. "The Earth moved, huh?"

"Not Earth. Heaven. That was... Dean, that was heavenly."

"Good," Dean grunted and tried to slip over to one side so he could lie comfortably with an arm slung across Cas's chest.

But Cas had other ideas, holding Dean still above him. "Dean, it's not possible that was a sin. Couldn't you feel the holy power in the act? All the angels who have indulged with humans - did they all feel that? Perhaps they were right after all..."

Dean patted sloppily at Cas's shoulder. "Okay, tiger, rest now. Philosophy later. Come on." He squirmed until Cas let him move over and get into a more comfortable position. Dean's feet were still hanging off the bed since they weren't all the way up to the top. And he'd lost track of his pillow, and the sheets and blankets were twisted under them, and the overhead light was on. But none of that mattered right now. Dean rested his head on Cas's shoulder and breathed in his mixed angel-human scent.

He was glad Cas had his angel mojo back. But he was also really glad Cas had had the chance to experience life as a human. Life, and death, and really too much of the bad stuff in between. But some of the good stuff too. That was all very important.

"Cas?" Dean mumbled into the angel's shoulder.

Cas had gotten his arm up and around Dean's head and was now petting his hair gently, soothing the spot he had pulled at earlier. "Yes, Dean?"

"I'm really sorry I kicked you out."

Cas tensed underneath him, and Dean could have kicked himself for bringing up bad stuff to ruin the afterglow. But Cas merely said, "And I'm very sorry for having sex with you without prior consent."

Dean scowled at the side of Cas's neck. "That's different. You had to."

"As you had to do what you did, and I know the reasons now."

"Anyway, I forgave you," Dean mumbled. He tried to wave his hand airily but it just sort of flopped where it was lying across Cas's chest.

"And I forgive you." Cas laid his free hand over Dean's and squeezed it gently. "Sleep, Dean. I will watch over you."

Dean mumbled incoherently and closed his eyes. Just for a minute or two. Then they would have other things to take care of - Zeke for one, and Crowley for another. Metatron, and Abaddon, and angry angels and demons everywhere. But for now, Dean had the only angel that mattered here in his arms, and everything was all right.