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The Music of the Soul

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Sam lay in bed, his eyes closed, but not sleeping. He hadn’t slept since he’d returned from Hell. Deep down he knew he ought to be worried about that, but somehow he just couldn’t bring himself to care. Instead he lay in bed, replaying his latest hunt in his mind, looking for ways to improve his strategy.

Sam knew whatever had happened to him in Hell had made him a better hunter than ever before; more ruthless, more cunning, more able to anticipate the next move of his prey. The thought that he might now be a better hunter than his father or brother had ever been made him smile a small, bitter smile.

Eventually Sam got bored of the internal review and got up to make himself a coffee and sit in front of the laptop, trawling for anything unusual that might indicate another monster that needed ganking. If Sam had retained any self-awareness he would have realized that his actions over the last year were something akin to an addict itching for their next fix, except instead of drugs Sam’s needs now revolved around violence and sex.

And, true to form, after sating his lust for violence by planning his next kill, the hunter’s mind turned inevitably to Castiel.

Sam remembered the feelings he used to have for Cas, the heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed, deep and desperate longing. He vividly remembered staring at the angel, unable to tear his eyes away, his jealousy of the bond his brother and the angel shared bordering on insanity. He remembered the nights spent awake, tossing and turning as he fantasized about something he knew he could never have, would never deserve.

Yes, Sam had a very clear memory of those feelings…but that’s all it was, a memory. Try as he might, he couldn’t recreate that painful joy inside himself, couldn’t recall why the angel’s happiness had meant so much more to him than his own.

Sam knew he no longer loved Castiel. But, considering the reaction of his body whenever he thought about the angel, he sure as hell still lusted after him.

Sam leaned back in his chair, imagining the angel showing up in a flutter of wings, his piercing blue eyes black with desire as he stalked forward, pinning the hunter to the chair. He pictured reaching up and tearing at Cas’s shirt until buttons flew everywhere and he finally got a glimpse of the skin the angel kept hidden under all those layers. He imagined Cas’s countenance turning from shy desire to unbridled lust as he straddled Sam’s hips, his mouth reaching down to capture Sam’s own.

“Cas,” he whispered, his hand moving without conscious thought towards the suddenly hard bulge in his pants.

“Still got it bad for the feathered pretty boy then?” Crowley asked with a smirk, leaning against the wall by the door. Sam let out an undignified yelp and leapt out of his chair, leveling a look at the King of Hell that could have melted solid steel.

“What the hell do you want?” Sam growled, hastily straightening his clothes.

“Looks like I hit a nerve,” Cowley grinned, pushing off the wall and wandering over to the table, where a bottle of alcohol sat. Crowley picked it up and poured himself a drink, ignoring the hunter as he composed himself.

“Help yourself,” Sam said grouchily, reaching over and grabbing the bottle out of the demon’s hands.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Crowley murmured, taking a tentative sip from the tumbler and wincing. He held the amber liquid up to the light and raised an eyebrow. “What is this? Vinegar? Have you no taste buds, Moose?”

“I’m a bit short on funds,” Sam said sourly. “If you don’t like it, don’t drink it.”

Crowley put the tumbler down gingerly, like it contained nuclear waste instead of alcohol of questionable origin, and turned back to the hunter. “It’s our mutual acquaintance that brings me here, actually,” he said, all trace of amusement gone. “Do you know what’s happening in Heaven, Gigantor?”

“No?” Sam said disinterestedly, defiantly pouring himself a drink and taking a sip. He barely disguised a wince, it really was the worst kind of rot gut, but he wasn’t going to give Crowley the satisfaction of agreeing with him.

“Nobody does,” Crowley said with a grimace. “All we know is, it’s bad. Now, I’ve tried calling Wonderboy, but he clearly doesn’t want to sully his halo'd self by talking to me. But, for you, he would almost certainly show.”

“I doubt that,” Sam muttered, taking another long sip of what he was now pretty sure was metho with a different label.

Crowley watched him take the sip with a mildly disgusted look. “Well, I think he’ll show. And what’s more, I think he’ll tell one of his precious Winchester boys what he won’t tell me.”

“For Dean, he might,” Sam said, the old bitterness raising its head for a brief moment. “They have the ‘profound bond’ after all.”

“I think you’d be surprised,” Crowley muttered, just low enough that Sam knew he hadn’t been meant to hear. Louder Crowley continued “I’m prepared to pay for the information, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

“How much?” Sam asked instantly, and Crowley’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline.

“That’s it?” the demon asked, looking nonplussed. “No questioning my motives? No protests that you won’t spy on your friend for a demon? Just, ‘how much’?”

Sam shrugged. “What can I say, I need the money. Clearly,” he added, waving a hand at the bottle of unidentifiable liquid.

“No agonizing? No moralizing? No guilt?” Crowley persisted, looking at Sam with a calculating look that the hunter didn’t care for at all.

“Would it make you feel more comfortable?” Sam asked with a sigh. “Fine. Oh no, I could never spy on Cas for a demon. That would be wrong.”

Crowley shifted, looking uncertain for the first time Sam had ever seen. His eyes took on the unfocused look that Sam knew well from watching Cas; it was the expression the immortals got when looking beyond a meat suit to the spirit within.

“I’m not a shape-shifter, or a demon, or whatever you’re thinking,” Sam snapped. “I’m just practical. The worst has happened. I’ve been to Hell! What do I have to lose? Now, do you want my help or not?”

Crowley smirked, his mask back in place. “You know how to contact me. We’ll talk payment on delivery.” With that he clicked his fingers and was gone.

“Friggin demons,” Sam muttered, sniffing suspiciously at the drink in his hand before shrugging and taking another sip.


Crowley lounged on his throne, pretending to listen to his sycophants, but his mind was miles away. He knew what was happening in Heaven, had, in fact, played a role in the war himself. He’d gone up to the mortal world as much to check on the rumors about the hunter as to get information about Castiel, and in that respect it had turned out to be a very worthwhile little side trip.

He couldn’t be sure, but he now thought he knew something very interesting about the youngest Winchester. Something very interesting indeed.


Sam had tidied up the motel room, just to give his hands something to do while his mind raced. Something was up in Heaven, and Crowley wanted information. If he could get Castiel to play ball Sam knew he’d have a very strong bargaining chip with the King of Hell, which would be no bad thing. Not that he trusted Crowley, but Sam was sick of living like a rat in a cage. He looked around the tiny motel room, at the water-stained walls, the worn and dirty carpet, the hard and lumpy bed with the faded and stained bedspread. It was one of the worst places he’d ever stayed, and Sam had been to Hell.

After a few more minutes of stalling Sam sighed, stood in the middle of the room, closed his eyes, and began to pray.

“Cas…” Sam prayed, making sure to put exactly the right amount of trembling uncertainty into his prayer. “You know I wouldn’t normally ask, but Cas… I need to see you. Please?” Sam had no real hope that praying would work, when he’d first returned from Hell he’d prayed to the angel almost every day and received only silence in reply. But, if what Crowley had said about Heaven being in turmoil was true, maybe Cas would show. After all, Sam had been a tool in the machinations of Heaven before.

“Cas…” Sam tried again, trying to sound defeated. “Please answer. It’s about the angels…”

Sam didn’t need to look behind him to know that the angel had arrived. The air in the room took on an almost electric feel, and Sam felt his shoulder blades itch as Cas’s piercing eyes bored holes in his back.

“Sam?” Cas asked, his husky voice sending a jolt of pure lust straight down the hunter's spine. Sam gritted his teeth, annoyed by his body's betrayal. He quickly schooled his expression into one of concern, something he’d practiced often enough over the past year that the mask was nearly second nature to him, and turned around.

Cas looked exhausted, or at least as exhausted as a celestial being could look. But it was Cas, so the flood of desire was as sudden as it was inevitable, and Sam felt his mask slipping, felt the inner hunger start to show through. Something dark stirred deep in his chest; it wasn't the brain-melting, body-searing, incomprehensible longing that had dogged his every waking moment from the instant the Boy with the Demon Blood had first met Castiel, the Angel of the Lord, but it was still undeniably powerful.

Remembering Cas’s hesitation in shaking the ‘abomination’s’ hand, Sam felt his eyes narrow. For the first time he allowed himself to openly admire the angel, knowing Cas wouldn’t recognize lust if it came up and slapped him in the face, and gradually felt a calm clarity settle over his thoughts. The primal part of his brain recognized the sensation instantly as the rush of the hunt.

The hunt had no room for fear, no room for guilt or moralizing. And, Sam suddenly realized, without those irksome feelings of remorse and shame holding him back, there was no reason not to act on his lustful thoughts.

No reason at all.

 

Castiel arrived in the motel room already flustered. At the sound of Sam’s voice he’d dropped everything, shocking himself with how fast he’d responded. After all, he was in the middle of a war, and if Raphael realized he was gone the archangel wouldn’t hesitate to initiate a swift and brutal strike. But, suddenly, that didn’t seem as important as finding out the reason for Sam’s call.

Cas had been very careful to stay well away from the brothers for the last year as the war played itself out, mainly because he didn’t trust himself not to involve them again, and after all they had given it would have been too cruel to ask them to give more. But the tone of defeat in Sam’s prayer had awakened a deep need to see his friend again, to look into his eyes and reassure himself that Sam was safe. It was baffling to the angel. When had he started having such human thoughts?

Cas gazed at the familiar figure of his friend, the broad shoulders, the long and lanky form, the disheveled hair, and felt his heart twist in that familiar and inexplicable way that only seemed to happen around the youngest Winchester.

Then Sam turned to look at him, and Cas was immediately struck by a sense of wrongness. The look in Sam’s eyes, he’d seen that in demons, but never in his friend, whose soul was a pure as any he’d ever known. Then Sam’s face smoothed over and Cas wondered if he’d seen anything at all. After all, it had been a year since he’d walked among the humans, he was no longer sure he could read them well, if in fact he’d ever been able to.

“Cas,” Sam said smoothly, “Thanks for coming so fast.”

“What’s wrong, Sam?” Cas asked impatiently. “I’m busy.”

“I… I just wanted to see you, and make sure everything was all right,” Sam said defensively, fidgeting in that strange way humans did when they were embarrassed. “I haven’t seen you all year, and I was getting really worried.”

Cas softened his tone, unexpectedly warmed by his friend's concern. “I’m fine, Sam,” he lied. “Now, I have to go.”

“Wait!” Sam called out, stopping Cas the instant before he disappeared. The angel waited silently while the hunter collected his thoughts. "I was just wondering..." Sam started, then stopped, hesitating. Cas knew he should say something reassuring, encourage his friend to speak his mind, but he'd been gone too long, the human mannerisms he'd worked so hard to master were no longer natural to him. Sam cleared his throat and started again. “I’ve heard rumors… that something really terrible is happening in Heaven. Are you sure you’re ok? Is there... anything I can do?”

Cas smiled slightly at the thought of a mortal fighting in an angel war. He hesitated. What was the harm in telling Sam? He trusted the Winchesters, and Sam had already sacrificed so much, had proven himself beyond any doubt. He deserved to know the truth.

His decision made, Cas told Sam about the civil war in Heaven as succinctly as he could, glad to finally unburden himself. The younger Winchester was shocked, naturally, but Cas was even more shocked when Sam swiftly crossed the room and grabbed him in a rough hug.

“It’s so good to see you, Cas,” Sam said huskily, pulling the angel to him so tightly it was almost painful. "I'm so glad you're ok." Cas wasn’t sure how to respond, so he tentatively put his hands on Sam’s waist, and felt the hunter sigh against his neck, strands of his hair tickling the angel's ear.

“C’mon, Cas, you can do better than that,” Sam murmured, his hands tightening further, his voice holding a rough edge that the angel instinctively mistrusted, without quite knowing why. After a long moment of hesitation Cas tentatively moved his hands around Sam’s back, gingerly returning the hug, surprised by how pleasant the shift of hard muscle felt beneath his hands.

“That’s better,” Sam whispered, and Cas shivered involuntarily as the hunter’s lips brushed his neck, so lightly that Cas was sure it had been an accident. Sam shifted slightly in his embrace, and as he did so Cas saw the half-empty bottle on the table, and realized he could smell alcohol on his friend’s breath. He sighed internally. The tendency of humans to drink themselves into insensibility to avoid their problems had always baffled and alarmed the angel. He pulled back, now certain he knew what was wrong with his friend.

“Get some sleep, Sam,” Cas said gently. “You’ll feel better when the alcohol is out of your system.”

A look of annoyance flashed across Sam’s face, again so fast that Cas wasn’t sure he’d seen it at all. Sam reached out and grabbed his hand, and the angel stared down at the long fingers that now loosely held his. He thought about pulling away, but there was something oddly comforting about holding Sam’s hand, so he stayed where he was.

“I’ll go to bed, if you’ll stay with me?” Sam said with a small smile, his fingers tightening menacingly around Cas's own. Cas looked up, startled, to see Sam staring at him with a predatory look that chilled him to his very core.

Cas knew Sam didn’t remember his time in Hell, but it was now clear that whatever had happened there had changed him. Before Cas was not the boy he remembered, eager to please his brother and the angel, full of uncertainty and compassion, hope and righteousness. Instead a man stood in his place, a hard man, with a bitter twist to his mouth, and an insouciance that instinctively had the hairs on Cas’s neck standing up.

Cas had no real measuring stick to monitor human emotion, for all he knew people dramatically changed personality all the time. But something itched at the back of the angel’s consciousness, an emptiness in Sam’s voice and mannerisms where a bright and unquenchable spirit had once dwelt.

As Sam started to draw the angel close Cas shook his head, suddenly inexplicably frightened, and vanished, a sense of dark foreboding dogging his flight from the room.

 

Sam looked at his empty hand and cursed. He’d been so close, but he’d rushed it, too eager to get the angel into bed to gauge his mood. Sam had thought the angel’s naivety in the ways of the flesh would have made him an easy target, but clearly Cas had sensed something in his manner that had tipped him off to Sam’s less than altruistic intentions.

Sam knew intellectually that his old self would have been horrified to be the one to put that look in Cas’s eyes. But the person he was now was simply frustrated and angry. He knew he'd have to be more careful next time… and there would definitely be a next time.

Sam sat down on the bed and began to coldly calculate his next move, all thought of Crowley long forgotten.


 

The next time Sam called Cas the angel was meeting with others of the celestial host who had united against Raphael. He ignored the call for as long as he could, but eventually Sam’s desperate pleas for assistance got through his defenses and he was at his friend’s side between one breath and the next.

When he arrived it was to find Sam under siege from a host of vampires. Cas dispatched them with brutal efficiency, put his hand on Sam’s shoulder and had them back at the motel room before Sam could even blink.

 

“Thanks, Cas,” Sam said eventually, his head spinning from the sudden change in location.

“Are you hurt?” Cas asked in concern. Sam noticed with amusement that the angel was standing further away from him than was his usual way. If nothing else, at least their earlier interaction had cured the angel of his tendency to invade the Winchester’s personal space.

Sam shook his head. He’d deliberately baited the vampires in order to put himself in enough danger to get Cas’s attention. But he wasn’t suicidal, so he’d been prepared with a way out if Cas hadn’t showed, which after a few minutes of screaming his name Sam hadn’t been so sure he was going to.

Cas nodded, and Sam saw the minute tensing of the shoulders that signified the angel’s imminent departure. He took a deep breath. Time for an academy award winning performance.

“Cas, about the other day… I’m really sorry,” he said, putting on a contrite expression and running a hand through his hair in his old self’s unconscious gesture of embarrassment. He saw Cas start to relax, and smiled inwardly.

“I’m… I’m scared, Cas,” Sam added, putting a slight quaver into his voice. “I think going to Hell had more of an impact on me than I realized.” Sam’s inward smile turned into an inward gloating grin as he saw the look of compassion on Cas’s face, saw the release of tension in his shoulders, and the subtly more open body language that was as much an instinctive reaction of his vessel as it was of Cas himself.

“It’s ok, Sam,” Cas said, stepping closer, “I know it’s been hard for you. But we’ll work something out, I promise.”

Sam held himself still, he wasn’t going to rush things this time and risk the angel pulling his disappearing trick. Sam looked down at the floor, watching through his eyelashes as Cas came closer. His friend reached out to put a comforting hand on his shoulder, and Sam knew then that he’d won.

Then Cas tilted his head slightly to the side, a strange far-away look in his eyes. Sam silently cursed, recognizing the look as the one the angel got when someone was praying to him. And sure enough, with a rustle of wings that somehow managed to sound angry, Cas was gone.

 

“What do you want, Crowley?” Cas growled, appearing before the King of Hell in agitation, glaring at the summoning paraphernalia in front of the demon.

“Hello to you too, Thursday,” Crowley said with a smirk. “I would think you’d be a bit more grateful, considering what was about to happen in that motel room.” He thought for a moment. “Or maybe not, considering…”

“What?” Cas snapped, angry and confused. “Are you spying on me?”

“Yes, kitten,” Crowley purred. “Always. But that’s beside the point. The point being, of course, a certain hunter, who is no longer who he appears to be.”

Cas stared at Crowley, feeling a sudden sinking dread in the pit of his stomach.

“Tell me.”


Cas flew back to Sam's side as soon as he could, aware that if Crowley was right the implications were catastrophic, not only for Cas but also for Dean, and most of all for Sam himself. When he appeared back in the motel room Sam was just pulling on the thin cotton clothes he wore to bed, clearly getting ready to turn in for the night. Cas hadn't planned it that way, but he couldn't have chosen a better moment; the mundanity of the task had lulled Sam into a sense of security, his mind obviously miles away. In that moment of vulnerability Cas could see past the mask Sam had been presenting to the world, and he stared deeply into those empty eyes, trying desperately to find any trace of his friend in their depths.

As he did so the angel suddenly realized how much he’d come to admire the younger Winchester after their disastrous first meeting. And now that Cas knew what to look for he realized that Crowley was right. This was no longer the Sam Cas knew, the Sam who was kind, and loyal, and compassionate. The Sam who had given his soul to save the world. This Sam, this imposter, was a pale shadow, all hard lines and emptiness.

Crowley’s reasoning for Sam’s transformation made a horrifying kind of sense, but it was such an unbearable thought that Cas could hardly bring himself to think about it. It made his stomach, which should have been impervious to nausea, roil and cramp uncomfortably. But now, seeing the lack of something inside his friend, Cas was forced to admit the awful truth to himself.

Facing his friend in that moment Cas was sharply reminded of a time long before he'd met the Winchesters, a time before he had really realized what a human soul was capable of.

 *************************

Before rescuing Dean from Hell, Castiel hadn’t had much cause to interact with the humans. He’d watched over them of course, all the angels had, but he’d rarely spent any time on Earth among them. One of the rare times he had done so was with Balthazar, one of the angels who walked among the humans the most often.

On this particular occasion Castiel and Balthazar had sat on the railing of a ship called the Titanic, watching as it hurtled towards its doom. Cas had found the resulting chaos and confusion difficult to watch, but Balthazar had held him back, not allowing him to interfere in the destiny of the ship or the souls on board. As Cas had continued to squirm, wanting to do something… anything… to help, his brother had finally allowed him to rescue the ship’s cat, who had been rightfully confused at being scooped up and held by an invisible being.

As the last of the lifeboats were lowered from the doomed vessel Cas had watched, uncomprehending, as the remaining men stood on the deck, singing as their unsinkable ship slipped below the waves, taking with it their hopes and dreams, their lives and loves.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;

The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

“Why do they sing?” he had asked eventually.

“They sing to be strong for their families. They sing to show they aren’t afraid, and to bring dignity to their deaths,” Balthazar had replied, scratching the confused ginger tom under the chin absently. “They sing because they are humans with courageous and noble souls.”

Cas had continued his silent vigil, and eventually his brother had sighed, a sound half exasperation, half bleak amusement.

“You don’t understand, do you?” he’d asked.

“No,” Castiel had replied, reluctantly.

“You’ve always been the baby of the family, little brother,” Balthazar had said, no hint of mockery in his tone. “But one day you’ll spend more time with the humans, and you’ll understand. You’ll understand then, Cassie.”

Cas had held the battered tom cat protectively to his chest as the ship sank beneath the waves, taking the brave humans with it, and he hadn’t understood. Not then. Now he did.

 *************************

Looking at Sam in that moment, Cas could see no trace of anything approaching the same humanity in his friend. But he still had to be certain, to decide if the demon’s theory was correct or if they were reading too much into the change in Sam, who could hardly have been expected to come back from Hell unscathed.

Cas knew what he had to do, but he found the idea of torturing Sam in that way utterly repugnant; the touch of an angel to the place where a human’s soul resided was enough to turn most mortals into gibbering madmen. The angel found himself surprised by his reticence, in the normal course of events he wouldn’t have hesitated to use such brutal measures, because the end always justified the means.

Then Sam started to move towards him, and the look in his eyes was enough to steel Cas’s resolve. He had to know. Cas was by Sam's side in a flash, pushing his friend gently, but inexorably, onto the bed, a move that took the hunter completely by surprise. Sam opened his mouth to say something, but Cas was too quick, too strong. Before Sam even got one word out Cas had plunged his hand into his friend, searching for the unmistakable feel of a human soul.

Cas knew the agonized scream that ripped from Sam’s throat would haunt him for the rest of his immortal existence. Grimly he kept going, trying to ignore the thrashing and howling as his friend desperately tried to get him to stop. Eventually he gave up. Crowley had been right, Sam no longer had a soul.

Cas looked down at his friend, at the lines of pain and suffering etched across his face, and felt completely overwhelmed by a wave of unidentifiable emotion. After a second of hesitation he knocked Sam unconscious, both to allow his friend time to rest and recover, and, if he was being completely honest with himself, to stop Sam staring at him with those wild, accusing eyes. That done he quickly left, landing in a park a few blocks away.

After a few minutes of staring blankly into space, trying and failing to block out the memory of Sam’s agonized scream, the angel sank slowly down onto a nearby bench, putting his head in his shaking hands. Feeling a strange sensation he pulled his hands away again, surprised to find them wet with tears.

For the first time in his millennia-long existence, Castiel wept.


 

Cas had ignored every plea, every imprecation, every threat from Sam since their last encounter. Several times Sam had pleaded in such a way as to cause Cas to waver in his resolve, but each time he had managed to hold back. But something was different about this time. Cas stopped in the act of summoning Crowley for a meeting and listened. "Help... Cas... please..." Sam's broken voice begged. Cas reached down the link created by the prayer and saw the hunter lying curled on the ground, heard the ragged gasp of panicked breathing. Blood, there was so much blood!

Cas didn’t hesitate. In seconds he was at the hunter’s side, reaching out to heal him. As he did so Sam rolled out from under his touch, flicking something at Cas, who instinctively flinched back. But the burning match didn’t strike the angel, instead it hit a ring of oil around where Sam had been lying just moments before, beside a pool of something that was clearly blood... but not Sam's blood.

 

Cas stayed kneeling, staring at the fire as it rose up around him. When the angel eventually raised his head to stare at Sam there was a look of such profound betrayal in his eyes that the hunter knew his old self would have fallen instantly to his knees and begged forgiveness. But not anymore.

“What do you want, Sam Winchester?” Cas asked eventually, standing, his hands loose by his sides, his posture relaxed, only the burning pain in his eyes any indication that something was wrong.

“You think you can just show up, torture me, and leave without consequences?” Sam growled, watching in satisfaction as Cas flinched back from the venom in his words. “What did you do to me, Cas? I thought we were friends, but you’re just like your brother.”

Sam saw that barb hit home, and grinned savagely.

“Sam…” Cas started, so quietly that the hunter strained to hear him, “I’m so sorry. I had to know.”

“Know what?” Sam spat, contempt dripping from every syllable.

“Sam…” Cas sighed, looking away in a guilty gesture that sent an ominous chill skittering down the hunter’s spine, "haven't you wondered why you've been... different... since you came back?"

"I'm fine," Sam snapped, defensively. "If by 'different' you mean I've stopped allowing every immortal I meet to either use me or try to kill me, then you're right, I am different. I've been to Hell, Cas, and now I'm back I'm going to damn well enjoy myself! I'm done sacrificing for the greater good. I'm so done."

Sam paced up and down in agitation, feeling Cas's disapproval like a lead weight against his back. All the anger Sam had bottled up since his return suddenly bubbled to the surface, and he hurled words at the angel like they were weapons, sharp and deadly. "What would you know about it, anyway? I haven't seen you for over a year, Cas! I prayed to you when I came back, you know. Every. Damn. Day. You abandoned me, Castiel. No, worse. You forsook me!"

The look on Cas's face should have made Sam feel ashamed of his outburst, but all he felt was grim satisfaction. He stopped pacing and just stared at the angel, his supposed friend, and felt something undefinable between them stretch to breaking point.

Sam wasn't sure how long they stood like that, but eventually Cas seemed to rally, and broke the silence.

"You're right, Sam," Cas said, his normally smooth voice rough with emotion, "I should have been there for you. I'm am Angel, I should have watched over you, protected you, like I was supposed to. I stayed away because I thought it was best for you. I was wrong. And I'm sorry. More sorry than you can ever know."

Sam started to speak, but stopped when Cas held up a commanding hand. The angel took a deep, unnecessary breath, and Sam instinctively steeled himself for bad news.

"I should have realized from the beginning, but I only confirmed it the day I... the day I tortured you. Sam... you don’t have a soul anymore. Your soul… it’s still in Hell.”

“My what is where?!” Sam breathed, taken completely by surprise.

Cas just looked at him, a sadness in his eyes that should have broken Sam’s heart. The fact that Cas’s pain caused Sam no discomfort whatsoever brought home to him the truth of the angel’s words. He no longer had a soul. He no longer had to feel pain, or anguish, or guilt, or any of the other myriad negative emotions that his brother, and his father, and Cas, had all inflicted upon him at one time or another.

Sam felt a small, feral smile tug at his lips, and saw Cas’s eyes widen in response. The angel looked at the ring of holy fire again, and back up at Sam, going completely still, like a rabbit caught in headlights.

“What do you want, Sam?” Cas asked softly, an echo of his earlier question.

“What do I want?” Sam laughed bitterly. “There are so many things I want. And I plan to have every single one of them." He slowly, lasciviously raked his eyes up and down Cas's trench-coat clad form, making sure even someone as naive as the angel couldn't miss his meaning.

Cas stared back at Sam, impassive, cold, and silent, which just aggravated the hunter further.

"You, Cas," Sam growled, "I want you."

“You’re not yourself, Sam,” Cas said at last, his voice as hard and unyielding as granite.

 “Wrong,” Sam said with a bitter laugh. “I’m more myself than I’ve ever been, now that I don’t have to worry about your approval anymore. Or Dean’s. Or anyone’s. I can finally do what I want to do, without a soul holding me back.”

Cas closed his eyes, and Sam was savagely pleased to have finally provoked a reaction from the angel.

“That’s not true,” Cas said in a whisper. “You’re just a collection of base impulses now. There’s no beauty, no joy, nothing human in you.”

Sam stepped across the lowering ring of holy fire. “Nothing human?” he sneered. He grabbed Cas’s hand, and held it to his chest. “My heart is beating. My hands are warm. I’m human.”

“You’re still homo sapiens, yes,” Cas said, wearily, his hand unresponsive in Sam’s. “But you’re not human.”

“Neither are you,” Sam said, taking a step closer, his hand tightening on Cas’s in subtle warning.

“No, I’m not. You’d do well to remember that,” Cas said quietly, and if Sam had still had his soul he would have quailed at the glimpse of the ancient and terrifying being that looked out of Jimmy Novak’s eyes in that moment.

Instead, Sam stepped even closer, and pulled Cas to him, crushing his lips against the angel’s in a brutal kiss. His hands slid slowly, menacingly down Cas's arms, until he reached the angel's long-fingered hands, which he grabbed and placed on his waist, pushing his hips forward as he did so. Cas stayed as still and unresponsive as a statue, his hands sitting passively where Sam had placed them, only the warmth and almost imperceptible tremble under his fingers reassuring the hunter that the being in his arms was actually alive. He reached a hand up behind the angel's neck, holding him still as he tried, unsuccessfully, to open Cas's mouth with his own. Eventually he dropped his hands and stepped back, exasperated.

“Cas…” Sam growled in frustration, raking a hand through his hair.

“Sam,” Cas said, the warning clear in his tone. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to.”

Sam ignored the threat and stepped forward defiantly, grabbing Cas’s trench coat in his hands, pushing it roughly off the angel’s shoulders. As it fell to the ground he reached out to start undoing Cas’s tie, still studiously avoiding the angel’s piercing blue eyes and expressionless face. The hunter shook his head, annoyed with Cas's continued resistance as he finally managed to remove the tie, dropping it to join the coat on the floor. After the smallest second of hesitation Sam finally looked up and met the angel's gaze, feeling a sudden deep, atavistic tremble shake him to his very core; the eyes he gazed into were no longer human.

“Just relax, Cas,” he finally whispered, trailing his fingers down the angel’s cheek. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“No,” Cas said, the alien wariness in his eyes changing to something infinitely sad. “You’re not.”

Sam took that as capitulation and smiled, reaching out to undo the top button of the angel’s shirt. Cas sighed, catching Sam’s hand in his own, using his other hand to reach up and caress the hunter's face. Sam leaned into the touch, triumph apparent in every line of his body, the gleeful smile still on his face as he crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

Cas looked down at the young hunter and sighed again, surprised to notice his hands were shaking violently. He abruptly doubled over, struck by the sudden urge to vomit.       

Swiftly, brutally, he brought his vessel back under control, and bent down to move Sam away from the fire, arranging his limbs into something resembling comfort. Then he sat down beside the shell that had once been his friend, his knees drawn up protectively to his chest, and waited for the holy fire to die down.