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Wildfire

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Darling please take my hand
Please get up, rise to stand
I can’t be the one to sing your song
Cause I believe it’s not your fault
Don’t be scared you are my rock
Nothing’s gonna hold you down for long

Sometimes we break so beautiful
And you know you’re not the only one
I breathe you in so sweet and powerful
Like a wildfire burning up inside my lungs
I’m burning up

In good time, you’ll come to know
When you release, when you let go
You can find yourself where you belong
You’re not a curse, you’re not too much
You are needed here, you are enough
And nothing’s gonna hold you down for long

Sometimes we break so beautiful
And you know you’re not the only one
I breathe you in so sweet and powerful
Like a wildfire burning up inside my lungs

I’m burning up

Darling please, don’t give up
Drop your hate and sing for love
And let me be the one who sings along

Sometimes we break so beautiful
And you know you’re not the only one
I breathe you in so sweet and powerful
Like a wildfire burning up inside my lungs

~ Wildfire (SYML)

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Author’s Note: The gorgeous art for this story was created by @thefriendlypigeon for our #DCBB2019 team up!

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Wetting a washcloth at the motel room sink, Dean scrubbed monster muck off his army surplus jacket before cleaning his knife. Looking up at the mirror, he startled and almost stabbed the feathered idiot who had popped into the locked room behind him without a sound – standing still, staring, and far too close.

“God,” he hissed, wilting a moment in relief that it wasn’t a threat to life and limb before hitting the side of the sink in irritation. “Don’t do that.”

Fighting what goes bump in the night was never relaxing but the motel rooms after the kill were lower on the list of danger zones – usually.

Castiel remained still and watching but then the renewed silence was broken by that low, rough voice speaking in a soft, almost reverent, tone.

“Hello, Dean.”

Turning to face the angel, Dean stopped and tried not to twitch. Cas was mere inches from him, doing that freaky wondering stare thing he did.

Dean fought the urge to retreat as the memory of Castiel spinning him and tossing his back against a wall in that hell of a Heaven trap invaded his thoughts.

Hand over his mouth so he couldn’t cry out, the angel had held the demon-killing blade near his face. A few moments of sheer terror had turned his guts into a pit of writhing snakes. Forced into stillness, he’d finally registered the wordless intense expression that clearly said ‘Do you trust me?’ and it had taken a lot to nod yes. Cas had banished Zachariah and let Dean out of the trap to confront Sam and stop the apocalypse. It had made Cas a renegade against Heaven, got him exploded by the power of an Archangel. In return, Dean had failed to stop that apocalypse. Just another failure in a long line of them – but this one had doomed the whole world.

He sucked in a breath and shoved all of that down. It was the only way he knew to function; that, and trading intense emotion for glib sarcasm, taunts, jokes, arrogance, or a stiff air of indifference. Sometimes it even came out as a mix-and-match combo.

“Cas … we’ve talked about this. Personal space?”

“My apologies,” Castiel offered, back to being weirdly polite.

Dean’s heart rate took a while to slow after Castiel stepped back. Never had any use for an angel on my shoulder and I might not ever get used to having one in my face, either – angry or not. Staring like he does, it’s … uncomfortable. His mind automatically wrote over the word ‘overwhelming’, unable to admit to that, even to himself.

Picking up his jacket, Dean walked off closer to the bed to get some distance.

“How’d you find me? I thought I was flying below the angel radar.”

He rubbed at his ribs reflexively through his t-shirt, still weirded out by the thought of Castiel carving on them in Enochian sigils. Although, he had to admit that the warding was a huge help in avoiding the angels who were douchebags – which was nearly all of them.

“You are,” Cas replied as he studied the room with one bed and one gear bag. “Bobby told me where you were. Where’s Sam?”

Pain pinged and echoed through him at the mention of his brother’s name. Without looking back at him, Dean put on a green button down shirt over his gray t-shirt and left it open.

“Me and Sam are taking separate vacations for a while. So. You find God yet? More importantly, can I have my damn necklace back, please?”

“No, I haven’t found Him. That’s why I’m here. I need your help.”

“With what? God hunt? Not interested.” Giving each sleeve of the shirt a roll or two to bare his forearms, he glanced back up.

“It’s not God. It’s someone else.”

“Who?”

“It’s an Archangel. The one who killed me.”

“‘Scuse me?” Baffled, Dean watched Cas approach again. He managed to stop a foot away this time.

“His name is Raphael.”

And that triggered the joke-to-hide-the-freak-out response. “You were wasted by a teenage mutant ninja angel?”

“I’ve heard whispers that he’s walking the earth. This is a rare opportunity.”

“For what – revenge?”

“Information.”

Heading back to the sink, he groused to Cas, “So, what, you think if you find this dude, he’s just gonna spill God’s address?”

Dean cleaned off the blade of the Muela Podenquero hunting knife he’d used to behead a vampire that night. Restlessness as well as experience drove him to pack up even though he hadn’t yet decided whether to stay another night or leave.

‘Be ready,’ his dad’s voice admonished from the deep dark well of memories jumbled in his head. John Winchester’s orders were seldom repeated – they stuck the first time. ‘Stow your shit or lose it when we have to run out quick.’

Castiel’s voice chased away the old ghost. “Yes. Because we are gonna trap him and interrogate him.”

Amazed at the insanity of the idea, Dean faced him. “You’re serious about this.”

Cas turned. “Yes.”

He dropped the washcloth and carried the knife with him to return to Cas. “So, what, I’m Thelma and you’re Louise and we’re just going to hold hands and sail off this cliff together?”

When Cas just stared at him in confusion, he huffed out a breath and walked around him to sheath the knife and tuck it in his gear bag.

“Give me one good reason why I should do this.”

“Because you’re Michael’s vessel and no angel will dare harm you.” He had stepped closer again – he always did.

Staring back into that earnest face, Dean couldn’t help but feel out of his depth. Damn angels. I barely get the wrapper torn off them, and the one who yanked me out of Hell wants me to poke an Archangel with a stick. “Oh, so I’m your bullet shield.”

With one step, they were almost as close as when Castiel had appeared. “I need your help – because you are … the only one … who’ll help me. Please.”

He looks like me, stuck under Zachariah’s boot. Twice. Dean took in the quiet urgent need of the plea. Cas ditched those assholes, gave up Heaven, died for it – then he came back somehow and killed other angels to save Sam and me from a pissed off Zachariah – who was breaking Sam and tossing stomach cancer on me like he was stomping a bug. We were fucked. I would have been gift-wrapped to be the Archangel Michael’s ass puppet and maybe Sam would be dead. Any thoughts of Zachariah filled him with rage and terror at once. We were helpless – until Cas drove that sick lying bastard off like a frightened dog.

Stifling a shudder, Dean squared his shoulders as he faced the celestial being he had to call … a friend. Thoughts of sleep were already gone. He wanted to drive away – anywhere – yet the passenger side of the Impala would still be as empty as the road ahead and the horrors behind. Castiel had a mission, another chance to escape from the horrors that he kept running right back into.

I owe him a lot. Fuck it. “All right, fine. Where is he?”

“Maine,” Cas said with enthusiasm, lifting two fingers up toward Dean’s forehead to teleport them there in an instant. “Let’s go.”

Leaning back out of range fast, he stared at Cas wide-eyed. “Whoa, whoa!”

Cas quickly withdrew his hand, worry furrowing his brow. “What?”

Dean frowned at him. “Last time you zapped me someplace, I didn’t poop for a week. We’re driving.”

***

From Greeley, Pennsylvania to Cas’s chosen destination of Waterville, Maine was a ten and a half hour drive, avoiding highways – for the poor schmucks that didn’t drive a ’67 Impala. As he pulled on his jacket and began to load up Baby, he was a little surprised his shotgun occupant didn’t fuss about taking more than an instant to get there. He didn’t even ask about the route.

Dean took PA-434 north to a series of back roads and state roads, before heading east on NY-2, VT-9, and onward.

Castiel’s silence instantly unnerved him and his thoughts started doing a 180 spin through the more disturbing memories he had of the angel.

Not so long ago in a hospital, Cas had given him a dressing down up close and personal. He’d halted Dean’s scoffing about the God hunt with a passionate list of exactly how he had fallen to help them and instantly won Dean’s shocked silent agreement to the plan. It was a speech almost as stiff and full of quiet anger as his dad had ever managed – in front of Sam and Bobby, to boot.

It had left him feeling unsettled, as many moments between them did. Moments like waking to see Castiel’s silhouette in Bobby’s dark kitchen after fighting the Witnesses. He had bitched about no heavenly help until he’d angered the angel enough to break that patient calm. That night, Cas had threatened him.

The words ghosted in, pronounced by that low rough voice. ‘You think the armies of Heaven should just follow you around? There's a bigger picture here. You should show me some respect. I dragged you out of Hell. I can throw you back in.’

It still had the power to make him shudder.

Fuck, why torture myself? I’d just met him three days before that, pre-trench bonding – hell, I stabbed him when we first met. I went too far, but it wasn’t saying I’d kick his ass that pissed him off – it was the assumption that he was my personal guardian angel, like Mom used to tell me about when I was a kid. Threatening to ‘stop’ Sam working with Ruby if I didn’t – spooktastic, sure – but he was right about the shit Sam was into and he didn’t have to warn me, he could’ve just smited him. He’s changed a lot.

Dean slowly let out a held breath and relaxed his death grip on the steering wheel. Since he couldn’t hit a bottle to chase them away, he retreated from the dark memories by focusing on the music he was playing. Every song was a classic ... and Sammy had been tired of most of them. At least to Cas, all the songs were new – but his odd companion remained quiet, unresponsive, and expressionless, almost as if only the vessel was sitting there at all.

Used to Sam, he kept expecting Castiel to fall asleep against the door as Baby ate the miles. The angel apparently wasn’t kidding about not sleeping and he still sat ram-rod straight on the seat, barely leaning back. It made Dean’s back ache just looking at that stiff posture.

Trying to guess what could be the cause of it all, he asked, “Want me to turn the music down?”

“No.”

Someday he might get used to the angel’s clipped, often literal, and alien way of almost communicating. For now, he had no idea what this particular ‘no’ actually meant.

By the time NH-9 and US-202 brought them to Concord, New Hampshire, they had cut through half the night and broken a record number of speed limits.

Craving company enough to try again, he took another stab at a limping conversation.

“This is John Mellencamp – formerly known as Cougar. Rain on the Scarecrow, love this song.”

“How can a man be a cougar, formerly or otherwise?”

Smirking, and delighted for the chance to get a joke in, Dean couldn’t resist. “Women are cougars – some of them ... not men.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m pulling your leg.”

“You were not.”

“Wow.” He took a deep breath and let it out on a sigh. “We gotta work on your grasp of slang, man – and your non-existent slouch, hell, try to relax a little. Unclench. Enjoy the road. Baby’s purring, we got a warm summer night, and the weather’s fine.”

Cas attempted to take his advice by leaning back a fraction. “This is something you care about – so I will learn to like it.”

Dean pasted a smile on as Bad Company’s song Movin’ On started up. “Stick with me, Cas – you might learn to like being alive.”

The angel’s head turned and those strange dark blue eyes studied him. Now and then he caught glimpses of light in them, little sparks that were gone before he could tell himself he hadn’t seen them. Immobile and silent, Cas didn’t answer.

He’d be vicious at poker – if he never talked.

“You like it?” Cas abruptly asked, as if just then realizing Dean might expect a response of some kind.

“Beats the alternative,” he groused with a frown.

Popping out the tape, he fished one-handed for a different one in the ragged white Steve Madden shoebox on the bench seat between them. Not really caring which he grabbed, he shoved it in without looking. The moment Don McLean’s American Pie began, his smile was back.

“Next truck stop with a diner, we’re getting pie – and more coffee. We’ll hit ME-104 in no time.”

***

In Maine by morning, Dean rolled the window down and nudged Castiel to do the same. He was grateful to still feel that little lift as the sunrise turned the gray world into the brilliant colors of summer on either side of the endless blacktop.

Wildflowers grew everywhere, their fleeting scents mixing with the road and the rich smell of Baby’s leather warming in the sun. The car was almost like a healing talisman, the rumbling purr of the powerful engine soothing his battered and shredded soul.

“You’re … happier now, why?”

“I don’t know – great to be going somewhere, fighting the good fight.” Good to have another person in the car with me, maybe even ... someone I can trust?

Dean breathed deep, savoring being back topside. His body had that low buzz of too much caffeine and too little sleep but even that felt good.

They stopped for a quick breakfast outside of Augusta, at a little roadside store called Annie’s Variety in Sidney, Maine. Sam would have mocked his choice of an all meat breakfast pizza, but the angel didn’t say a word.

“Sure you don’t want anything? Doesn’t your uh, vessel – need to eat, ever?” Dean asked, before stuffing his face.

“It isn’t necessary.”

Castiel was looking around their little table in the small country grocery store and eatery. He was probably doing that because he’d been told staring at him all the time made Dean nuts.

Eating fast (Sam would have called it ‘bolting your food’), Dean grabbed supplies for the car, the battered old green Coleman cooler, and the road snacks bag. Finally, he gassed up Baby.

Cas followed him about like a confused loyal puppy for some strange reason, looking out of place in the long beige trench coat over a dark blue suit and loose blue tie.

When Dean noticed the third person in the parking lot giving them an odd look that morphed into an amused smile, he frowned and hurried the angel into the car.

The ride to Waterville, Maine wouldn’t take long. They spent it largely silent, after he gave up on finding anything to talk about.

Cas was probably there when the first fish grew legs – what the hell do I have to say to someone like that? Weirdly, it reminded him of why he avoided hooking up with women you could still call a ‘girl’. Nothing in common and a crap ton of annoying clingy habits. A grown woman, my type anyway, wants to get some and get gone, same as me.

Glancing over, he was distracted by the angel’s profile and the strong hands resting flat on his thighs. A half-hearted plan to rib Cas about his type, whatever it was, died in a mysteriously dry mouth.

He’s older than dirt – literally – and only here to get help with Archangel wrangling. Don’t be a needy bitch just because the silence got loud.

Fingers tapping the wheel in time with Free’s All Right Now, he decided to ignore it when the angel began watching him again. He almost twitched when Cas spoke.

“We should stop somewhere, for your suit.”

“Monkey suit mission, huh? You got it. That also means we need to snap a picture of you and find a copier store ... or something – in the wilds of Podunk, USA.”

“Why?”

“For your fake badge ID. I can alter one of Sam’s old ones – in the trunk. Welcome to the glamorous life of a hunter.”

***

Dean parked the Impala on the street outside of the Waterville Sheriff’s Department and they climbed out. The suit felt as constrictive as ever but this had always been one of his favorite parts of hunting besides the kill – having people look at him with respect ... and having women look him up and down.

Pulling his thoughts back on task, he asked, “We’re here why?”

“A deputy sheriff laid eyes on the Archangel.”

“And he still has eyes? All right, what’s the plan?”

“We … tell the officer that he witnessed an angel of the Lord. Then the officer will tell us where the angel is.”

“Are you serious? You’re gonna walk in there and tell him the truth?”

“Why not?”

“Because … we’re humans.”

Dean pulled out the new fake ID he’d made and tucked it in a breast pocket inside Cas’s coat.

Amused at the constantly disheveled look of the angel’s clothes, he started fixing him, like he used to do to Sam when they were younger. Fastening the top button of the white dress shirt, he adjusted and tightened the blue tie.

“And when humans want something really, really bad,” he continued, “we lie.”

Cas gave him a perplexed look. “Why?”

Dean went stiff with mock poise, straight-faced. “Because … that’s how you become President.”

He turned and strode off, leaving Cas to follow in his wake. They entered the building and Dean found their target.

“Deputy Framingham?” When the man turned, Dean held up his FBI ID. “Hi. Alonzo Mosely, FBI. This is my partner, Eddie Moscone.” Castiel just stood there, so he prompted, “Also FBI.”

It was a long weird moment for everyone waiting for the angel to catch up. He finally pulled out his FBI ID and showed it to the deputy – upside down. Covering his surprise like a pro, Dean reached over and snatched it, righted it, and gave it back to Cas, who stared at it in fascination. Walt Framingham didn’t look amused.

“He’s, uh … he’s new. Mind if we ask you a few questions?”

“Yeah, sure – talk here, though.” He gestured to his left ear before he turned to lead them into his office. “Hearing’s all blown to hell in this one.” He pointed to the right ear.

“That happen recently?” Dean asked as they followed him in.

“Yeah – the gas station thing. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.” Dean cleared his throat as they sat in chairs in front of the desk. “Do you mind just, uh, running us through what happened?”

It was one of those moments when Dean missed Sam, with a game face as honed as his. As the deputy told them about what he thought was a thirty to forty person full-scale riot at the Pump and Go on Route 4, Cas kept being honest – and nearly blew their cover. If the officer hadn’t been deaf in one ear, he might not have been able to pave bullshit right over Cas talking about demons and angels ‘skirmishing all over the globe’.

Dean sailed in to the rescue more than once. “Demons, you know – drink, adultery. We all have our demons, Walt. Right?”

Framingham looked from one man to the other, baffled and unsure if he was missing something. “I guess.”

“Anyway… What happened next?”

“Freaking explosion, that’s what. They said it was one of those underground gas tanks, but, uh, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Wasn’t your usual fireball. It was, um…”

“Pure white,” Cas stated with calm certainty.

“Yeah.” The deputy paused a moment, haunted by what he’d seen. “Gas station was leveled. Everyone was ... it was just horrible. Then I see this one guy, kneeling there, real focused-like. Not a damn scratch on him.”

“You know him?”

“Donnie Finneman – mechanic there.”

“And let me guess, he just, uh … vanished into thin air?”

Framingham gave him the same odd look he’d given Cas earlier. “Uh, no, Kolchak. He’s down at Saint Pete’s.”

Castiel turned to Dean, expectant and eager. “Saint Pete’s.”

“Thank you,” he replied, shooting Framingham a long-suffering look.

***

The best thing about hospitals was pretty nurses and St. Peter’s was no exception. Dean didn’t try to get her number, but a beautiful redhead told them what room Donnie Finneman was in. There was a window along the hallway and they looked in to see their quarry.

Dean automatically observed and noted all the details he could out of habit from working cases.

A young black man slouched forward in a wheelchair that had been pulled up near the far wall to let him see out of the exterior window. At first glance, Dean noticed that he was handsome and probably near his own height. A mechanic, the deputy had said. He shuddered as it became obvious that the man was catatonic. His stomach dropped and he felt vaguely sick.

“I take it that’s not Raphael anymore.”

“Just an empty vessel.”

Donnie Finneman the mechanic probably hadn’t been that different from him, for a guy with a normal life.

Dean swallowed, trying to hide the dread that was creeping up his spine. Donnie isn’t home anymore. His life’s probably over. “So, this is what I’m looking at when Michael jumps my bones?”

“No, not at all,” Cas replied in that casual just-the-facts tone. “Michael is much more powerful. It’ll be far worse for you.”

Sickened and barely able to hide it, Dean looked away.

***

To avoid getting any bystanders hurt just in case, Castiel had found an abandoned house in Waterville instead of holing up in a motel. It had a few pieces of furniture and brick-a-brack left over from looters and local teenage shenanigans, and sported a worn and damaged interior – much like Dean, himself.

Dean stifled a yawn and went off with his gear bag farther inside the house to ditch the suit. Grateful to be in comfortable clothes again, he was rolling his shirt sleeves up a few turns when he almost stumbled on the way back to the angel.

“Sleep a while, you’re exhausted,” Castiel said, as if some buried parental instinct left over from his vessel was making the suggestion.

The angel had gestured at a torn and dusty couch beyond the old kitchen. Dean felt sure it was the scene of those teenage shenanigans and nonchalantly brought in a blanket from the car when he put up his suit and fetched the cooler.

“What are you going to do?” he asked as he spread out the blanket.

“I’ll watch over you.”

Dean pulled out his M1911A1 Colt pistol and showed off the engraved nickel-plated slide and ivory grips to the angel before lying stretched out on the couch. He tucked it under the blanket in easy reach and patted the bulge it made for emphasis.

“Don’t really need a babysitter but suit yourself. Not sure I can sleep ... need a couple hours.”

His eyes flew open wide when Cas moved in swiftly and touched fingertips to his forehead. He would have protested, but the touch spread warmth through him and plunged him into sleep in an instant.

***

The sun had moved when he woke hours later in a dilapidated and empty house. For a few unsettling moments, he didn’t remember why he was there.

No nightmares... Cas. Damn.

Stretching and popping his back as he rose, he holstered his pistol and glanced around. The quiet was loud.

No point in looking, he flew off somewhere. Weird way to watch over me – guess he took me at my word. Down as hard as I was though, not sure I’d have heard the Devil coming through the floor.

With nothing better to do, he headed into the kitchen to his gear bag left on a dusty counter. Fishing out his dad’s hunting journal, he sat on one of the chairs at a rickety table under the wide window.

A few pages of narrow hotel stationery were stuck in the journal. Sam’s neat cursive filled them front and back on the topic of angels. It wasn’t much. He rolled his eyes again at all the hippy-dippy spirit guide crap Sam had sifted through.

I’m tempted ask Cas to fact check this. Since most of his frat brothers are assholes, knowing how to deal with them could help a lot.

Shrugging, he settled in to study what turned out to be notes on seraphim – and nothing about Archangels.

Extra loyal to God, huh? Well, that tracks – but our pet seraph is a hell of a lot more handy than glowing skirts waving pom poms for God all day. Speaking of ... man, I feel ... better – a lot better. What was in that angel nap mojo?

He almost spoke aloud – to Sam. Frowning, he glared at his brother’s handwriting until the words blurred.

Going solo was his idea but you didn’t even fight him on it, dickhead.

The quiet became a low buzzing in his ears and he swore under his breath when he closed the journal and put it down. Keys appeared in his hand before he consciously made the choice to go out.

Food run, that’s all – nothing to see here.

He wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone, but he couldn’t relax until he was surrounded by a local burger joint. He hesitated when asked if he wanted it to go. The temptation to sit at a table and listen to other people talk had to be shoved away. Castiel could be back at any time and he couldn’t track him. The angel was counting on him. It was enough.

Ignoring the empty house while he ate was easy – food was an awesome distraction. When it was gone, he wadded the trash in the paper sack and made two points tossing it into the web-filled sink. The Coke with melting ice was slurped through the straw just to make noise.

As the sun set and the nearest streetlight no longer cut it, he fetched a pair of camp lanterns from the car and set one of them on a wooden chair in a corner of the living room and the other on the table. He could move them around as needed.

Too keyed up to nap anymore. Sighing, he picked up the journal and got back to Sam’s angel notes, pacing a restless line from the couch to the kitchen table as he read. The Care and Feeding of your Seraph...

***

A familiar soft fluttering sound barely broke the silence as he paced back into the kitchen; few people would have heard it at all. Swallowing back any visible relief, he set the open journal down on the table before turning to see Castiel. He hadn’t even disturbed the dust motes in the air when he reappeared.

The angel was holding a dark ceramic jug that looked like a reject from a Ten Commandments prop room.

“Where have you been?”

“Jerusalem.”

“Oh. How was it?” Dean asked with a shot of airy pleasant sarcasm. It was wasted on Cas.

“Arid.”

Glancing at the jug as Cas set it on the table, he asked, “What is that?”

“It’s oil. It’s very special and very rare.” Cas sat down on the other chair. He looked tired, which was impossible.

Impending doom can do that to a guy. This whole mess is ridiculous. Gesturing to the probably ancient jug, he quipped, “Okay, are we gonna … trap Raphael with a nice vinaigrette?”

“No.”

“So this ritual of yours, when’s it got to go down?”

“Sunrise.”

The simple one word answers were going to drive him to drink. Dean just couldn’t figure him out.

“Tell me something – you keep saying we’re gonna trap this guy, but isn’t that kind of like trapping a hurricane with a butterfly net?”

“No, it’s harder.”

Great, three words. “Do we have any chance of surviving this?”

“You do.”

“So odds are you’re a dead man tomorrow.”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

Dean didn’t want to think about surviving just because he was supposed to be some celestial douchebag’s vessel – a state he wouldn’t call ‘surviving’ anyway. He couldn’t think about Castiel dying – again – at all. He had to move and paced beyond the angel’s chair, trying to swallow the growing frustration.

Cas is our … my … best ace up the sleeve in the good fight yet. He easily recognized the expression the angel wore, staring off into space – determined to go through with it, refusing to give up or leave off. Son of a bitch. “Well.” He smacked his thigh and went with it. “Last night on earth. What, uh … what are your plans?”

“I just thought I’d sit here quietly.”

Looking around them, Dean was surprised. “Dude. Come on. Anything? Hmm? Booze, women?”

Dean watched in surprise as Castiel glanced at him and away. He acted almost furtive and looked downright uncomfortable.

No fucking way. “You have been with a woman before, right? Or an angel, at least?”

Castiel rubbed the back of his neck. His earlier calm acceptance of his fate had disappeared in a cloud of … embarrassment. He wouldn’t look at him now.

Dean moved in behind Cas’s shoulder, hands on thighs to lean in. “You mean to tell me you’ve never been up there doing a little cloud-seeding?”

“Look, I’ve never had occasion, okay?”

Defensive and embarrassed. We have a winner. The Care and Feeding of… “All right.” This was something he knew how to fix. Dean grabbed his jacket and began hauling it on. “Let me tell you something. There are two things I know for certain. One, Bert and Ernie are gay. Two, you are not gonna die a virgin. Not on my watch.” He closed his dad’s journal, ready for the new mission. “Let’s go.”

Walking out with keys in hand as Cas stared after him, Dean went to the car. The angel followed eventually – once again the lost puppy in his wake.

It’s so weird to watch him switch between calm and quiet … and whatever this is. His vessel isn’t a virgin; Jimmy Novak has a daughter. I can’t believe he’s actually coming along without a fuss.

***

The fuss, Dean found out later, was merely delayed.

He had spotted the brothel on the outskirts before they drove into town. Even in the misty light of dawn they couldn’t hide one of those establishments from him. He prided himself on not needing their services, but his dedication to the study and practice of debauchery had led him to having more than a few drinks with prostitutes over the years – especially whenever he got the chance to shepherd another disciple into the mysteries of liquor and ladies.

Never thought it would be an angelic disciple.

They sat together at one of the small table booths in the lounge and bar area with pilsner glasses of beer. A few men were there and the women were all gorgeous and barely dressed. Castiel was trying hard to not even glance at any of them.

He looks … terrified. What … the hell? He’s calm about an Archangel stepping on his neck but a few women in lace teddies scare him half to death?

Taking a drink, he scanned the room again. Cas was an obvious mark – blood in the water to these sleek sharks. Sooner or later, one would catch him; with that face, they wouldn’t be able to resist.

The effort to not see the women was a rough job since they were in every direction. He watched Cas’s Adam’s apple bob in a hard swallow, the bright blue eyes wide.

Dean exhaled sharply. “Hey. Relax.”

“This is a den of iniquity. I should not be here.”

“Dude, you full-on rebelled against heaven. Iniquity is one of the perks.”

On the heels of that pithy attempt to bolster his friend’s nerves, a young blonde woman dressed like a human angel in a tiny amount of white silk and lace noticed Castiel and it was on.

“Showtime,” he told Cas in a quick undertone and took a drink of his beer.

“Hi. What’s your name?” she asked, bright and eager with a sweet shark smile. Her hands settled on her hips to show off her figure.

The actual angel was going to need some prompting, if not a boot in his ass. He was trying not to look at her, as if he were afraid he would explode if he so much as dared. Luckily, no prostitute of even passing experience was going to let a client’s terror stop her.

When he finally did look at her, he froze as if he’d forgotten his name. It stretched a smirk over Dean’s lips.

“Cas.” Dean tossed the name out there, startling the angel. “His name is Cas. What’s your name?”

“Chastity.”

Surprised and amused, Dean repeated, “Chastity.”

“Mm’hmm,” she practically purred.

“Wow,” he responded, and grinned at his friend. “Is that kismet or what, buddy? Huh?”

Cas gulped down his beer as he paled, wiping his mouth with his hand. It wasn’t hard to imagine the knots he was tying in his vessel’s stomach.

As relentless as the girl was patient, Dean prodded again. “Well,” he told them both, “he likes you, and you like him, so … dayenu.” He drank his beer again, waiting for Cas to hit the gas instead of the brakes.

Chastity was the only one who took his hint and reached out to gently tug Castiel up by the hand. “Mmm. Come on, baby.”

Dean jumped up to follow and caught Cas before she escaped with him into the back corridor full of little private rooms. Chastity let him go and waited patiently at the dividing curtain. She was a pro among pros, then – aware that Dean was the only one of the two who knew what he was doing at all.

“Oh, hey, listen.” He got in close to play coach and held out a wad of folded cash to his friend. “Take this. If she asks for a credit card, no. Now, just stick to the basics, okay? Do not order off the menu. Go get her, tiger.”

Cas didn’t move a muscle, not to speak or take the money. Besides glancing about like a deer in headlights, he was frozen with fear. When he stared back at Dean, the expression was almost imploring for help.

“Don’t make me push you,” Dean threatened, trying to be firm and understanding at once, keeping in mind that Cas could always teleport out if he really freaked.

A fast shift of something crossed the angel’s face – bravado? Trying to avoid Dean’s disappointment? It was unreadable for the few seconds it was there. In the next breath, he moved all at once, taking the money and turning away to follow Chastity, who took him by the hand again with a reassuring smile. They disappeared from view.

Moments later, another woman came out through the same curtain and headed for the bar. She was a shapely and gloriously endowed blonde in a bit of pink-lined black – much more his type. Like a hound on a rabbit, he followed. They sat at the bar and he bought her a glass of wine. Since the ladies and the owner would be happier the more drinks they sold, he got himself a fresh beer.

No clue how long Captain Curious will be, may as well have good company. They clinked their glasses together. “Well. Cheers to you,” he said and chuckled as she smiled. I almost envy Cas – but this is for him. No time to hit the bars and find my own for free. I’m supposed to survive his insane scheme, anyhow.

Dean had barely taken a drink when a woman screamed in the distance, down the curtained-off hallway. The second he realized it had to be Chastity, his heart sank even as he whirled on the barstool. Everyone in the lounge was staring.

Without a word to his companion, he rushed off to investigate, batting the curtain aside. The back corridor was narrow with doors lining the interior side. Heads were poking out with some couples standing in doorways to see what was going on.

Chastity launched out of a door, shaky for a moment on her heels, as she yelled back at Castiel.

“Get out of my face! Leave me alone! Bastard! Screw you, jerk!” She tossed some sort of plastic bottle at Cas as he emerged.

He looked disheveled – more than usual – with his tie loose, a few shirt buttons undone, and the coat hanging off one shoulder. He batted the bottle away from his face as she turned. She hadn’t taken anything off, either. The mission was apparently a bust.

“I’ll kill you!” Chastity shrieked. Storming past Dean, she turned her wrath on him. “Screw you too! God! Oh! Jerk!”

As she disappeared, no doubt to get bouncers, Dean hurried up to the bemused Cas. “What the hell did you do?”

“I don’t know. I just looked at her in the eyes and told her it wasn’t her fault that her father Gene ran off. It was because he hated his job at the post office.”

Dean winced. “Oh, no, man.” The situation could be serious in a minute but laughter was quickly trying to overtake his concern.

“What?”

“This whole industry runs on absent fathers. It’s – it’s the natural order,” he tried to explain, but they were about to be out of time. The ridiculous situation made him chuckle.

Two bouncers – big, mean, and all business – came through the curtain and headed right for them.

“We should go. Come on.” He steered Castiel around, through the corridor, and down some stairs to a door at the back, chuckling the whole way.

As he suspected, the bouncers didn’t bother to follow the moment he slammed the door to the alley. He clapped his hands once in pure glee but he couldn’t immediately tell his friend the escapade was over because he was abruptly caught and near-doubled over by another fit of laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Cas asked, mystified as always by human behavior. He was already checking out the alley like a warrior on guard duty, too.

Default, reset. Dean tried to collect himself. “Oh, nothing. Whew.” He slapped a hand on Cas’s shoulder and then put an arm around his neck.

Cas finally smiled then, as if enjoying his reaction – or the friendly touch. They walked off to the Impala and Dean slapped his hand on Cas’s shoulder once more before they parted to go to the car doors. The angel was still smiling.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed that hard. Oh, It’s been more than a long time. Years.” For a moment, the good feeling and release of laughter held.

As he realized what he had said and the reasons behind it, his amusement vanished as the horrors and loss rushed back in. They got into the car and Dean tried to swallow it all down when he started the engine.

Can’t change it, can’t live with it – or without it… It, him – Sam. The mess he couldn’t face wouldn’t budge when he gave it a good solid shove.

Cas fell silent, his mood turning dark – perhaps lost in his own tangled thoughts, since he’d been so uncharacteristically rattled.

Hell, he seems like a mirror half the time, reflecting my emotions back at me – except for that weird fear of naked women.

They drove back to the abandoned house they were squatting in without another word.

Pulling up to park, Dean turned off the headlights and the car and sat quietly without moving to get out. Simply pocketing the keys was an act that seemed to take forever as his thoughts grew chaotic.

Fears for tomorrow made him want to run to his habitual escapes – booze, fights, and women. He was too jaded a campaigner to still be half-hard from staring at exposed breasts, but if he had time…

Cas doesn’t have much time, if things go sideways. The angel hadn’t moved, staring ahead at the dark house. I can’t protect him, can I? The eternal struggle. What the hell can I do for an angel?

Dean turned his head to study Cas’s profile. His friend hadn’t even thought to pull his coat back up or button his shirt.

How does he manage to seem so … helpless … when I know how powerful he can be? And he’s still a virgin – on my watch.

With a heavy sigh, he opened the door and got out. Cas followed the way he usually did, as if copying him in order to learn how to appear more human.

But that doesn’t wash – most of the time he isn’t too fussed about being a robotic literal truth-or-bust weirdo around people ... or around me. Well, whatever – he clearly needs more coaching. Picking up saying ‘gonna’ because he hears me do it isn’t exactly progress. Grabbing a couple of beers from the cooler as the angel closed the door, he asked, “Want one?”

“No.”

Putting one bottle back with a sigh, he dropped the lid and went over to flop on the couch. The room was dim but the lantern on the chair in the corner was giving its all.

“Get over here. Sit.”

The angel sat. Dean flicked the cap off to the side of the couch, drank, and studied him.

“Up against this souped-up little bitch tomorrow, you should tell him off, toss an insult or two. You’ve heard me do it. It’s … satisfying. Even if you get your ass kicked – and I’ll try to lend a fist or whatever – it helps later, nursing bruises, to know you went down with style. Pick something I’ve said, try it out.”

“I will – but don’t use fists. He won’t kill you but he can hurt you.”

“Oh, I’m aware – you’re the only angel I like for a reason.”

“Dean…” Cas warned with worry in his voice. “You habitually punch things you don’t like.”

The memory of how anger had inspired him to punch Cas’s jaw in Zachariah’s trap room bloomed with the pain he hadn’t forgotten. The angel’s face had been as hard as punching a concrete wall – an Archangel would logically be worse.

“Yeah, I got it. It’s a deal. I’ll keep my hands to myself. I’m way more annoying via talking, anyway.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Cas responded dryly.

Dean huffed at that and then smirked. Setting the bottle on the floor, he started to put Cas’s clothes to rights until his fingertips touched skin and the angel lifted his head to stare into his eyes.

He froze. Something in that deep immortal blue made his stomach twist with a burst of nerves. The wondering fascination is back … and this time it brought a friend. What the hell is he thinking?

Cas reached up and brushed fingers along his collarbone under the layered jacket and shirts, as if mirroring Dean’s touch on him.

Launching a bad joke to shoot down some of the newborn butterflies in his guts, he winked at the angel and asked, “Are you gonna tell me my dad leaving wasn’t my fault?” Halfway through, the words and his voice faltered, falling into a whisper.

“No. Although it was not. Why are you afraid?”

“You first. Okay, iniquity, whatever point that makes – but naked women aren’t a terror. What were you afraid would happen? She was willing, trust me, into you all the way. I’d wager you’re a damn sight better looking than what they usually have to pick from in this burg. Also, they like the money. So what gives?”

“Turning something intimate that God made to create life and joy into a hollow transaction – fornication. It was vice, a sin.”

“Dude, I fornicate all the time. Is this going to be a ‘lust is one of the Seven Deadly Sins’ lecture?”

“Lust concerns more than just the venereal act. One can lust for wine.”

Dean leaned away from his touch and left the angel’s shirt alone. “Or hunter’s helper? Yeah, I get it.” He retrieved his beer and chugged it down just to be ornery. So I’m a messy screw-up to him, too – another dirty sinner – not really a shock. I just thought… Fuck. Doesn’t matter. Nothing ever does. Good to know where I stand.

In a flash, anger took hold and he threw the empty bottle at the far wall where it shattered. Castiel didn’t even flinch and it didn’t make him feel any better.

“Lust with a touch of wrath – I’m a picnic, huh? So if I’m just a wadded up ball of sins, why do you pop in to check on me or whatever?”

“You do what you must to survive and fight. The women you copulate with, they desire you for their own pleasure, to share joy – not to debase themselves … or you. Even Anna.”

“You know about me and her? So your lackey Uriel is a tattletale, huh? She wasn’t an angel at the time. Human rules apply.”

Cas frowned, either not understanding or trying not to lose his grasp on the topic – it was hard to say. Then the angel cleared that up.

“I knew the same way he did, I sensed it from you. There was nothing wrong in that act, Dean. Sex is not a sin, nor is anger or money. Seeking to indulge in them obsessively, regardless of how you or others are harmed in the process … that is the sin.”

“Okay… So, Chastity?”

“Being in that place did not bring her joy. She blamed her child self for things no child can control and that formed her psyche around damage she didn’t deserve to bear. To be with her in that state – I couldn’t. It would have been selfish to seek pleasures of the flesh in a way that diminished her – the sin of lust.”

“They choose that line of work and I told you, they like the money. It’s not my personal choice of how to get some – add pride to my list of sins, I don’t need to pay for it – but it still counts as consent.”

“She may choose it freely and receives payment she wants but consider another viewpoint. A person being dehumanized into an object – a receptacle to be used, like a cup – for the gratification of another, without mutual passion or caring, erodes human dignity and worth. Chastity, and her name is Bailey … doesn’t love herself. She believes she doesn’t deserve any better.”

“So you tried to fix it, to help her.”

“Yes. But somehow … it seemed to be … the wrong thing?”

Amazed at him, Dean shook his head. “Good luck trying to figure out people. Hell, it’s even tougher with women.”

“Why are you afraid, Dean?”

His thoughts jumped over most of the answer and rushed on to the part he could actually say.

“I’m not wild about you maybe dying again. We have to figure out a way to do it, a trick or something – to screw this guy over and get what you need. Make him your bitch. I can’t lose you, Cas. You’re the ultimate wingman – literally.”

“Then we will try to do that.”

“Good. Got that settled. My usual ‘last night on Earth plan’ wouldn’t work so well just now, anyhow.”

“Why not?”

“Uh-heh – I ain’t saying you’re not cute, for a dude, but you’re still not a woman.”

“I am also not a ‘dude’.”

“Right. Noted. So there’s always booze. I got a bottle of the good stuff in my bag – nothing fancy, but it’s more fun than beer.”

Dean nearly jumped away from the couch to go fetch the whiskey bottle. When he returned already drinking from it, he sat a little farther away before offering it to Cas. He watched the angel take a drink, staring at the stubble that crept from jaw to throat as it moved when he swallowed.

That is weirdly… An unwanted spark fired in his body and settled below the belt. Wait, what? What the fuck? He felt his face grow hot and hated it. “Damn, it’s odd to see you do normal human stuff,” he muttered, trying to cover that bullshit half-formed thought.

As he took the bottle back, their fingers touched. The angel’s skin was warm; it set off more sparks.

“Dean. What do you want?”

Oh, crap. “I think getting drunk sounds like an awesome plan.”

“I don’t think I can.”

“Not allowed or not able?”

“Able?”

“Ever? I mean, at all?”

“I don’t know. It would take more than that, I suspect.”

“Wow. I assume it sucks being an angel. No booze, no loose women – that’s my Hell, man.”

The words tilted in his mind and fell into an abyss, but it wasn’t the black of darkness. It was burning – stone, flesh … souls.

Dean drank – a lot. He often touched the handprint that was burned into his shoulder to chase those horrors away but with Cas sitting right there, it felt … weird. Everything felt weird. He didn’t know if he was about scream or break down and shame himself by crying.

He remembered watching a pile of brittle autumn leaves that were set on fire before the wind blew them apart. Did that happen? Did I light that fire? The memory was shrouded in guilt, shame, and the sound of a baby crying. Sammy? No, that can’t be real. I wouldn’t... Yet he felt like that pile of burning leaves flying out of control.

On the fringes of the memory, some powerful person or thing that had towered over his head was enraged. He had been so afraid.

Bury that shit. Push it the fuck down. Cas is watching. He grasped the first straw in the whirlwind that he could catch. “You ever read Nietzsche? Sam would spout that stuff now and then.”

Castiel sat up straighter like a damn school teacher. “‘He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.’”

“That’s the one. What a prick.”

“He was generally exceedingly polite and quiet, even witty when engaged in light conversation – mostly with strangers, as he traveled often. He wasn’t fond of alcohol or drinkers, however.”

Of course, he met the guy. “That settles it – I’m sticking with ‘prick’.” Chugging whiskey until the bottle was half empty, Dean snorted. “Whenever I look down there, a few of the uglier bastards always look back. Fuck it.” He started on the other half of the booze but Cas covered his hand and stopped him.

“You don’t need that to escape it and you know it won’t work. All it will do is hurt your head in the morning.”

“Duty first, huh? Fine.” He let Cas take it to set it on the floor. The empty half was doing its job well enough already.

“Tell me,” Castiel prompted, his voice low and gentle.

A lame cover question of what the angel meant was washed away by a flood of feelings and fears he didn’t want but couldn’t stop. Being so unused to kindness, a mere moment of it could be a bad trigger.

Sammy never understood – this is why I shut him down so often for trying to offer any comfort. When the levee breaks.

He tried to take a deep breath to steady his nerves but it didn’t help one bit – not with a patient angel watching him.

“I’m a little freaked out, man. Scared, okay? These damn angels like Zachariah… The hits keep coming, they never stop. And maybe I wasn’t strong enough to make Sam listen about not trusting Ruby. Maybe I wasn’t letting him help enough, trying to protect him, so he turned to … that.” His hands fisted tight on his thighs as he turned more to face Cas. “I couldn’t hold out, I failed. I failed Sammy just like I failed in Hell. It’s all on me. I’m … cursed.”

“No, you are not cursed. You are chosen.”

“Choose someone else. I’m just … a broken tool.”

Castiel rose and for an awful moment, Dean was terrified he would leave him there.

Everyone leaves…

He tried to choke it all down and failed at that, too. He closed his eyes but opened them again when the angel sat back down, closer. His warm hands covered Dean’s trembling fists.

“I’ve seen you survive much more. Nothing holds you down for long.”

“Why do you need me? For anything? I don’t care about those harp-playing bastards, they can bite me – but why you?”

“You always figure it out, whatever hunt or challenge you face. I didn’t know how to find Raphael here, in this place. People rarely talk to me, they just stare half the time. It is hard to be here, to be corporeal.” Cas frowned in thought. “To be so … small, limited.”

Hanging his head, Dean scoffed on a released breath. “I haven’t seen you limited by much.”

“Yes, you have – before this vessel, I couldn’t even speak to you.”

“So what, in your true form, you’d make Sam look like a member of the Lollipop Guild?” The joke felt hollow.

“I am over a thousand feet tall.”

“Wow.” Dean looked up at him. “You’re the damn Chrysler Building.”

He stared down again at the bare skin revealed by Cas’s open shirt. Touching the angel there had affected him in ways he didn’t want to think about.

“Six wings, right – they look like fire? I have notes. But when you first appeared, in this vessel, they were one feathery set, like an afterimage ... and black.”

“You were shown a shadow; I did not wish to harm you again. If you could safely see, I would gladly show you.”

“And angels aren’t any gender, like you said. That’s why I like to whip out the ‘junkless’ insult. You should try that one on the ninja turtle.” Geez, now the babbling.

Dean started to free himself from Cas’s hands but stopped like a deer in headlights at the angel’s reply.

“A long time ago, my vessel was a woman. None of that matters.” Cas had let him go. Dean hadn’t even noticed.

“Buddy, if that was true –” He stopped short and went still as one dislodged hand brushed his thigh. He abruptly wanted the touch – any touch – just for … something he pathetically couldn’t name in his own head.

Clearly trying to comfort, Cas touched his knee and it felt like his warmth was infecting Dean. He let his head droop in confusion and shame as his body betrayed him.

The angel leaned in closer. “Dean…”

Soft and low, the whisper made Dean gasp. His bewildered mind tried to reject the need he felt, and as his cock hardened, he choked on his next shuddering breath.

“Talk to me,” Cas entreated. “Please.”

“You’re stealing all my lines now?” But I never did ask him to talk to me, did I? I didn’t know what to say.

“You are safe here.”

“Safe – until they find me again. You made Zachariah tuck tail and run but he nearly had me. He made Sam’s lungs disappear! I would have said anything, even said yes to Michael, to make him stop. I know I’m stupid,” he said, and rushed to cut off Cas’s protest. “I’m not that stupid – coercion is not consent. Either that winged bastard didn’t get the memo or angels needing consent is just a bad joke, because it didn’t seem to matter. They want to use me like ... a damn cup. Explain that one.”

“They are wrong – about many things. The loss of God has left them without purpose and having no souls, no concept of free will, it has perverted their intended nature. Not all of us are like that.”

“If they box me up and give me to Michael, that’s it, man – game over. I’ll be a drooling … thing.”

“It won’t come to that. I won’t let it and you can resist, you’re strong – stronger than you know.”

“If Raphael kills you again, you won’t be here to stop him from gift wrapping me.”

“We’re going to work out a trick, to trap him.” Cas set a hand on Dean’s shoulder, fingertips brushing the side of his neck. “I have fought and won many wars throughout the course of time. This is merely another battle to win.”

“I hope so,” Dean muttered. “You can’t hunt for God if that asshole blows you up – again.” Cas lifted his other hand and cupped the side of his face, but Dean couldn’t look at him. “I feel so … trapped. Like I’m back down there, like I’m…”

Dean wanted to be angry that he was trembling, angry that he wanted something he couldn’t – shouldn’t – want. It wouldn’t form. Every time he tried, the fear and shame ate it. Drawing in a shaking breath, he grasped another straw in the wind.

“Before … did you want to have … ‘pleasures of the flesh’?”

“It seemed important to you.”

“That’s … not really an answer.”

“Yes it is. You fight and face so much evil – just a human – yet you never quit, even when you fail. I wanted to please you.”

“You’ve helped a lot – sending Zachariah packing, and what you put on our ribs, the angel radar jammer.”

Dean thought about the x-ray image he’d gotten while visiting Bobby in the hospital – the strange sigils carved into his ribs and sternum.

An impulse struck him and he just did it before he could chicken out. Castiel sat back and watched, a question and concern on his face, as Dean struggled out of all his sleeves – jacket, shirt, and t-shirt. He draped them in a wad over the back of the wide couch. Picking up the angel’s wrist, he moved the hand and set it over one side of his ribs.

“What does it say?”

Castiel pressed his abruptly warming hand more firmly against the skin and began to whisper in Enochian. “Adoian – Abrang, Amge Dphan T Adre…”

Dean let the words wash over him. Whatever Cas was doing, it was like a drug. When the litany of strange phrases stopped, he asked, “I meant … the meaning, in English?”

The angel hesitated only for a moment. Fingertips traced like fire over the flesh covering the carved bones, as if he were reading braille. It made Dean’s body shiver – good shivers.

Castiel’s voice was hushed, softer – the words intoned like a prayer. “‘This face and body I, angel of fire, recreated anew in glory from the Pit. This beautiful form, full of stars, exemplar of man, beloved work of God. Any who dare harm him, smited shalt thou be, beast.’” He took a breath. “Then this,” he touched Dean again, “is my … signature. ‘Castiel, angel of the Lord.’”

Dean couldn’t speak for a moment as his mind just blanked. He lifted his hands to grip the trench coat and drew the angel in close. Cas’s hands slid on his flesh, one of them stroking his back. Dean swallowed hard.

“I’m full of stars?”

“All matter is formed from stardust.”

“Cas, shut up. Share some joy with me.”

“You are still afraid, conflicted. Why?”

“Let me worry about why. I made a promise and I’m keeping it.”

SPNcouchart

He glanced down at the angel’s lips as they parted because looking into the blue eyes was almost painful. Shoving down every concern or hesitation, he pressed his lips to them. It was probably the most awkward kiss of his life.

Cas froze and Dean almost pulled away, worried he didn’t want this. Then the angel tried to kiss him back and clearly didn’t know how. The hands at his back stroked down and the warmth increased, chasing away a shudder from the cold in the room.

Dean opened his mouth and when Cas copied him, he showed him how to kiss him. He wanted to get the coat off at least, but he couldn’t think that far ahead as they explored each other, hesitating and then giving in, over and over.

Strains of a familiar Asia song echoed somewhere in Dean’s head. A look from you and I would fall from grace… Yet it didn’t feel like falling; it felt like rising … and the warmth was turning into heat. His head was spinning. Telling me what your heart meant, the heat of the moment shone in your eyes…

He broke the kiss, startling Cas, because he needed to have the guts to look in those eyes. In an instant, he was lost there as shame and need clattered through his soul like frightened dark birds – with black wings. The blue was lit from inside, that bright ethereal glow he had seen only a few times, just flashes of it. He realized with a shock that it could see right through him – see all the dirt, the disgusting things he had done.

“Don’t,” he muttered, and started to push against him.

Cas only held him closer and he couldn’t fight that strength. Their foreheads touched. “You are not unclean,” he whispered, “not tainted. Your spirit is not broken.”

“Cracks let the light in, huh?” Dean asked, bitterness in his cracking voice.

“The Japanese call it kintsugi, ‘golden repair’. They fill the cracks of something they love with gold and silver, and make it precious. My power to heal is diminished, but … allow me to heal what I can of this pain … please.”

“I’d just … debase you.”

“No – only I could do that.”

“Won’t it drain you? You need all your strength –”

“I am not this vessel. You know that. I am vast.”

Heated fingers lifted his jaw. When he dared to look up, the light was shuttered and only the crystal deep blues of the vessel – like a sheer veil – hid the essence of the seraph behind them.

“Dean… I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I would give my life, my place in creation, everything – to protect you.”

“You already did,” he whispered, ashamed of that, too. I wasn’t worth it.

“Let me help you while I can. Share this with me. Share joy with me.”

Overwhelmed and drowning, Dean plucked at the askew coat. “Get rid of this.”

He gasped when it was all simply gone, even the wadded shirts and jacket – shoes, pants, watch, everything. All he had left was his ring and bracelet.

The angel wore nothing but his vessel. In that moment, he couldn’t care that Cas had misunderstood him or worry about where he had zapped their clothing.

Reaching out, enthralled, his fingertips brushed over that perfect skin in the exact spot he had stabbed with the demon-killing blade when the unknown new threat had first appeared in this vessel. There was no scar. Touching him made Dean’s body ache with desire even while his fingers trembled. An aura of both power and purity radiated outward from this being sitting patiently in front of him, waiting to give him everything – trusting him.

Not worthy, his damaged spirit whispered, twitching his fingers back. He couldn’t drag this ethereal being down into the filth with him.

Then the fear leaked back in, cloying and writhing like black smoke. He was exposed – naked and afraid. Every horror possible with fire, blades, and chains had been done to him until part of the torture became the relentless monotonous trauma. The hooks would snag in his bloody flesh. Then a shining blade, dripping with red, was taken from his meat and set in his hand. It was warm.

A scraping scream closed his throat, aching to be set loose.

“No,” the angel’s rough low voice breathed the word against his ear and the horrid memories were shattered.

The room seemed to change, as if a mist had surrounded them. Then Dean realized it was light – diffused and tamped down … being controlled. A low buzzing sound came with it, starting to vibrate in his bones.

Another fearful memory bloomed in his mind: the gas station, the hotel – the light and noise that had destroyed them had come close to driving him mad or killing him. The creature touching him had done that – simply by being what he was.

“Dean,” the voice called him back. “I won’t harm you. I will let no other harm you. Be at peace.”

The words caught him in a spell or trance and he went limp against the angel. He was moved back, laid down on his right side, and Castiel slotted himself behind him against the back of the couch, holding him close. The angel’s skin was still warm but Dean felt cold. Fingertips traced his ribs again as he tried to breathe, to cope – unable to shove this down deep where he could ignore it.

“If consent and desire matter so much to you,” Dean muttered, “what about Jimmy Novak?”

“I told you, he prayed for this and consented … twice. He wants to serve God.”

“How does – how does this serve God?”

“Soothing your pain, helping you face the trials ahead?”

“It always comes back. No matter what I do. The nightmares, feeling … like a husk, a corpse – dragging a filthy soul around. I hurt people, Cas, you don’t know…”

Dean flinched when a warm hand pressed over the handprint burned into the skin of his left deltoid. It wasn’t the one that had made the mark – that one was on his hair.

“I do, I saw – I lifted you from that wicked trap.” Cas leaned down and kissed the print when he removed his hand. “It was designed to break – many things. Yet if you were not what you are, the world would be very different now.” The fingers brushed over his ribs again.

“Yeah? What am I?”

“A righteous man.”

A crazed laugh erupted from him. “Like hell I am.” Dean pushed at the fingers but he couldn’t move them.

“Allow me to help you … please.”

Can I trust? I don’t know what he wants to do.

Swallowing tears, rage, and fear, Dean touched the arm that held him. It was male, Jimmy Novak – but it was also Castiel, a being beyond human conception.

Without him, I’d still be there, in Hell … forever. He whispered simply, “Yes.”

The air instantly began to change around them and Dean abruptly smelled wildflowers, like the fields of them they had driven by when they arrived in Maine. Then the angel’s fingers moved, stroking down his body, and the flowers caught fire. The fire filled him, choked him – until he realized he could breathe it in and out. It scorched fear, soothed rage, and dried tears – from his stained soul to his straining flesh.

As the strange heat burned him without pain, the warm fingers closed around his cock. Startled, Dean tensed before a first hesitant thrust, driven by the need for touch as if manipulated by strings. Dropping his hand to the angel’s, he squeezed that grip to tighten it. He didn’t consciously show him how to stroke; it felt more like his body left his brain behind to tend to what it needed.

Time blurred as he sank into the cloud of sensation. It alchemized his pain into sheer rapture and he never felt a release, only the building of pleasure that simply continued. Behind him, the angel’s vessel was hard, pressing against his body. Just as mindlessly wanting as it seemed to be, he struggled for more.

“Dean,” the rough whisper intoned behind his ear, “what do you need?”

“I promised,” he gasped the response.

“You didn’t promise yourself. It’s all right.”

“No, I need … something. You’re the only one who sees anything good in me. I need you … closer.” Turning his head to look back over his marked shoulder into the softly glowing blue light of celestial eyes, his voice turned weak. “Don’t ask me why. Please…”

Leaning in, Cas hushed him with his mouth and the soft kisses slowly leeched the looming panic away. Moving his head, he trailed kisses across Dean’s face.

“Let me up … okay?” Wordlessly, the angel released him from his hold and Dean sat up. His head spun a little when he rose to stand and he gritted his teeth. Bad enough to be parading around like this, let alone staggering like a damn baby deer.

Castiel watched him but he tried to ignore it as he walked to the kitchen counter and dug into his gear bag. In a drawstring cloth purple pouch, formerly an old Chivas Regal bag next to the shower kit, he fished out a small bottle of lube and the battered foil of his last condom. Just touching them made his stomach twist as an unwanted memory was pulled up from the depths.

He’d been a lean teenager, crossing a truck stop parking lot in the shifting dark. Beyond the edge of the lights, his dad’s car, now his, was in a back corner. Sammy was asleep in the backseat and Dean had been told to hurry up.

The men’s room was disgusting and he’d stopped at the first urinal to keep his distance from a large man with sweat staining the underarms of his t-shirt. The memory was shattered in places. He couldn’t recall how the man had gotten behind him but the shove forward was painfully clear – so were the hands on his back, the stinking breath at his ear, and something stiff and horrid that was being pressed against his ass – barely covered by the sliding loose belt and waistband of his jeans.

‘Sight for sore dick, pretty boy, damn. I gotta pay or what? Yeah, you look like a little fag, huh? Don’t care if you ain’t. Shit, yeah – gonna be worth it.’

Dean had no idea how he had moved so fast – hunting monsters with his dad for a while already probably helped. He yanked the little knife he kept clipped inside the waistband of his opened jeans and stabbed it into a meaty thigh. The roar had filled his head as he whirled and maybe he’d stopped breathing until he landed a kick at a knee when the bastard stumbled backward. He didn’t stay to watch him fall; he had just run out of there, jeans still open, dick barely shoved back in, and a knife dripping blood clenched in his fist.

The window was still down on the passenger side and his dad was frowning as he startled up from a doze. Maybe he hadn’t seen the knife. Dean had stashed it in a jacket pocket and zipped up his jeans, fastening the belt. The moments before they drove away had been surreal. He could hear the man screaming and cursing in the distance but his dad didn’t say a word. The look that passed between them had sealed his mouth shut from saying a damn thing about it. He had rolled the window up and leaned his head against the glass, still trembling and feeling sick, until he had passed out.

“Dean?” Cas’s soft voice behind him called out, hauling him back to the present.

He turned and met those glowing eyes before wincing and dropping his gaze. He made it across the room without sinking into the floor and handed the items to the angel. “We’re gonna need that,” he muttered. Without explaining anything else, he tried to lie on his stomach, intending to hide his face – and his shame – in folded arms.

With an effortless strength that didn’t seem possible, Cas stopped the move and turned him around. Shifting to settle on his other side, smooth back against the back of the couch, he lifted Dean’s ass over one hip. The rest of the hunter ended up half on Cas and half on the couch, his head on the arm of it.

Cas used one arm to lift Dean’s leg and the other to support his head. When Dean stopped tensing, Cas moved his arm over the raised leg to reach across their bodies and set his right hand over the burned handprint. It fitted over it perfectly and somehow calmed Dean’s building fear, despite his uneasiness at being on his back with this body on display.

Dean slid one arm around the angel’s neck, feeling the other hand on his hair. That arm was pinned under his tense shoulders but he knew and slowly accepted that no part of this being was trapped under him at all – only the vessel was, and it was stronger than he would ever be with Castiel inside it.

“You have nothing to hide and nothing to fear for this night.”

He could feel it, the head of the cock against his asscheek. Cold reality hit Dean like someone turned off the sun.

“I’ve never done this – and neither have you.” His face flushed. “A few daring women with adventurous fingers, maybe, and a lot of lube. A lot, got it?”

“Yes. Do you wish to tell me –”

“I don’t,” he interrupted. Did he see that awful memory? Can he? “I’m fine, I’m good. Women and fingers, yeah? It’s got to be the same.”

“Did you like what they did?” The tiny snap of the lube bottle opening sounded loud over the rushing noise in his ears.

Dean closed his eyes tight. He almost couldn’t say it. “Yes.”

He stiffened and sucked in a breath when Cas released his shoulder. After shifting a little, that hand was abruptly sliding down and between his asscheeks, right to his hole. The lube was slick, silky more than sticky. Without much pause, one thick finger breached and entered him. It felt weird more than it hurt, until it became two fingers.

Still toying with the option for panic as Castiel tried to figure things out, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to cope with careful lengthy explorations. “Can’t you just, I don’t know, magic it ready to go?”

When heat bloomed there, inside, on the heels of his muttered outburst, he locked his jaw and held back a cry behind gritted teeth. He had felt things move, stretch. Weird didn’t cover it.

“I cannot hurt you, now … and I will not.” The words were spoken like a benediction. “Do you understand?”

“Damn literal ... fuck,” he muttered, grinding out the words with a hiss of breath. Before Cas could ask again, he shook his head to clear it. It didn’t work. “Yes. I was sort of spitballing, but … never mind. I … trust you.”

“If this is what you want, we can share it together. Forget the lies the world has told you. Mutual passion is not lust – when both have equal interest in giving and receiving pleasure. These forms we hold, they are mere shells to house what we really are.”

Dean made himself glance down the length of his body as Cas took the hard cock of his vessel in one hand and held it ready. Needing to look away from it fast, he stared at Cas who was maybe staring back into his soul. All crowding thoughts of common sense, fear, and shame were instantly driven out of his head by the soft expression on the angel’s face. He drew in a deep breath and let it out slow to help calm himself.

“How you look at me,” he whispered. “You make me think I could be … clean again.”

“I burned my hand into your flesh, my name into your bones – to save, to protect. You are a paragon. Will you share joy with me?”

Dean’s fingers touched the lower rib that Cas had shown him bore that name. His eyes closed again. “Yes.” His fingers traced over the rib. “Castiel…”

He felt the tentative slicked push, so much thicker than fingers. The soft light around them grew brighter, the low buzz more constant. He drew in a deep breath and it was full of the angel’s power, that sweet floral wildfire. As the push intensified, so did the heat. Holding his breath, it took a few moments to fully understand that his body had been opened to let Cas inside – without pain. The heat swept back over him, in him, and all around as the angel of fire wrapped him in his arms.

It wasn’t what it might have been with someone else, he understood that, but that didn’t matter – he wouldn’t have done this with anyone but Castiel. He had no experience to draw from beyond doing the same to a woman and he knew Cas had none, either – but even as he tried to follow the thought, it was vaporized in a heat that was turning into an intense pleasure.

Cas was gripping his shoulder over the handprint again and as the first hesitant thrusts of his hips became more easy and assured, the angel’s other hand moved Dean’s head closer to his and their lips touched. Opening to kiss him whenever Cas wanted it was abruptly the simplest thing in the world; it was also driving him to distraction until he finally dropped his hand lower and curled it around his cock. Skipping a beat in Cas’s rhythm, he squeezed and stroked himself in counterpoint to it.

He was careful not to touch the angel too much, beyond the press of their bodies and limbs on the old couch. Unable to deal with the reality of what they were doing below the waist, he simply stopped thinking entirely and let his body and his angel take the wheel.

Dean arched his back with a moan that he tried and failed to catch in his teeth. His arm around Cas’s neck tensed and then he was stroking and gripping insane muscles on the back and across the taut shoulders – anywhere he could reach as the angel moved. Through them, he could feel the motion of the hips and abdomen, core muscles and thighs, used to thrust – to thrust inside him.

Feeling lush lips on his jaw, he turned his head for another kiss and the scrape of stubble was a shock – but it only made him harder. Trying to stay quiet was impossible after that, so he gave his heavy breaths and small groans to Cas, who seemed intent on drinking them like a man dying of thirst.

Letting the burned handprint go, Cas held Dean’s leg lower at a more comfortable angle, but he barely noticed. The angel-induced sleep before was a mere whisper of the gifts in this and he gulped breaths greedily, letting his lungs fill with the fire of a seraphim’s power.

Dean cried out when he came but the dizzying pleasure didn’t stop as Cas thrust deeper. The sensation of being spitted, feeling too full, was somehow being alchemized into another wave of pleasure. He didn’t care about the glistening slick on his stomach and fingers and smeared it upward to touch his carved ribs again as they heaved with labored breaths.

Their next kiss lost contact and Cas’s hand covered Dean’s throat. Dean strained to lift his head and kissed the side of the angel’s face, heedless now of the prickling feel of it.

He’d been waiting to see human signs of fatigue in someone who wasn’t human. The moment he realized Cas could do this as long as he wanted to and he couldn’t physically stop him, something in his bruised soul let go and Dean’s coiled tension melted in the angel’s hold. That surrender shifted his body on an upward thrust and the pleasure nearly blinded him. Toes curling, back arching sharply, he gasped aloud.

The hand on Dean’s hair gave his head a gentle push. Castiel’s voice was a wreck when he could finally speak. “Hide your face in me, Dean – close your eyes.”

Dean let himself be guided as Cas held his head, his cheek resting on his own shoulder and tucked against the angel’s bristled throat.

He saw a flash of light bloom full of red and orange colors inside tightly closed eyelids. Cas’s power seemed to protect his hearing, even though the droning buzz rattled the glass in the windows all around the house. Through it all, over his head, he heard the angel cry out.

Hips thrusting faster one moment and then shoving in tight and holding there, Cas gripped Dean’s hip to keep him still. The groan that was pulled from the angel’s lips nestled in Dean’s chest and hid from him there, maybe behind his thudding heart. He had to remember to breathe.

Cas was breathing hard before he started to control and slow it. He began to press light gentle kisses on Dean’s face, like the touch of butterfly wings. The soft laugh that whispered over his neck as Cas ducked his face to hide it there was the sound of pure joy.

The hand on his hip moved, sliding up through the pearly mess to cover over Dean’s now sticky hand. Their fingers laced over ribs that worked like a desperate bellows.

They both slowly fell still and time faded away as if it didn’t want to disturb them.

Warm lips kissed his forehead and Dean half woke out of a stupor he was reluctant to come back from. Wary of the light, he moved his head when the red glow faded and opened his eyes to see the celestial blue of the angel’s shining eyes staring down at him.

When Cas moved to kiss his mouth, Dean sank into it and savored the sensations going through him. He winced a little as Cas broke the kiss and withdrew from his body – that connection broken.

“Did that hurt you?”

“No,” Dean murmured, and then added, “It’s just…”

“I understand.”

Taking in a ragged breath of the angelic light that was already fading, Dean whispered, “I … don’t think you can.”

He twitched in surprise when the lantern in the corner went out, plunging them into darkness, but he didn’t ask or comment – he knew Cas had somehow turned it off.

Shifting them both to their sides, Cas’s fingers stroked his abdomen, but the feeling was of human touch only. “Sleep.”

Dean tensed in his arms. “You don’t sleep.”

“You need it. Don’t worry, I’ll stay.”

He wanted to protest but he was asleep before he could.

***

It was still dark outside when he woke, but there were likely only a couple hours left before dawn. As promised, Castiel was lying close behind him and he could feel the angel watching him. They were still nude and he expected to be cold, but apparently Cas wouldn’t allow that.

Dean shifted and rolled to face him. He thought he might have trouble meeting those eyes, but he didn’t. The glow was gone and normal blue, dark navy in the dim room, looked back at him over a gentle smile.

There were a thousand things to say but not one of those brittle words would form on his tongue. He reached for the first safe ones he found.

“Do my clothes – and yours – still exist?” he asked, pillowing his head on his arm. He must have slid down off the arm of the couch in his sleep, unless Cas moved him.

“On the kitchen table, by the oil.”

Dean frowned as the impending insane Archangel trapping plan (which needed improving) slid back into his memory. “Cas…”

“It’s all right, Dean. I have to do this. I have to know what Raphael knows.”

Unable to answer, he nodded.

“We have a little time yet, if you wish more sleep.”

Dean watched that face, calm and serene – open and warm. It was already done, wasn’t it? They had done that.

We forgot the condom, too – wherever it went – but that’s on me, he wouldn’t think of it – probably didn’t even know what it was. I guess it doesn’t matter with a ... seraph. Castiel’s cries of pleasure and that deep groan of release echoed in his head. Damn. I did that.

Without allowing himself to hesitate or bail, he leaned in and kissed the angel’s lips. It should have been strange to do that after the rest was over, but it only made his loneliness retreat, as if Cas’s power could chase it away.

“Rest,” Castiel whispered against his lips. “I am with you.”

***

Dean woke knowing sunrise was close – he could feel it in the tension across the angel’s smooth and powerful chest. When Cas moved the arm that had remained around him as he slept, Dean struggled to sit up. His stomach executed a slow Olympic corkscrew of a dive as he waited to feel discomfort or pain – but nothing happened. The dried cum all over him was another issue entirely.

“Now I have to regret the choice of mission HQ,” he said, partly to cover the mild shock of seeing a naked and not a bit junkless angel stand up next to him. His hands laced as casually as they could into a protective roof over his own junk.

His only benchmark was porn but he knew he was looking at a cut above average in athletic – and gifted – toned male. He nearly swallowed his tongue when that very male body stood in front of him and he jerked his head up to look only at the angel’s sculpted and stubble-defined face. He could have sworn a wisp of humor was hidden under that calm expression.

“Regrets of mission … what?”

“HQ, headquarters, wreck of abandoned house instead of no-tell motel with a working shower.”

“We have no time for lengthy ablutions.”

“Sorry, what?”

“May I put you back together as you were – quickly?”

“Oh – uh… Can it include the shower I don’t have or have time for?”

The tiniest smile twitched up one corner of those abruptly mischievous lips. “If you like.”

Dean wasn’t sure what to expect. He held his breath, closed his eyes, and waited to feel weird – but nothing did. When he dared to look, he saw Castiel back in his suit, boots, tie and trench coat.

For one really strange moment, it looked like the angel had lost something. Besides his virginity?

Feeling cloth touching him, Dean startled and shot to his feet. His hands moved in a quick pat-down over jeans, shirts, jacket – even the pistol was hidden where it belonged under the longer buttoned shirt. One hand snuck under his t-shirt and found a stomach perfectly clean of dried mess. He pulled it back out and stared at his fingers. Checking the back door was out of the question, with or without a witness.

“Ready?”

Dean shook his head in disbelief and then nodded to the angel. “Uh, yeah.” He started to gather things but then stopped. “Can you whisk everything back in the car, too?”

“Consider it whisked.”

“Wait –” Dean went into the kitchen to grab his dad’s journal. “Leave the cooler. I just had an idea. The fancy oil is the trap, right?”

“Yes. We need to do this at the hospital and time is running out if you insist on driving there. The idea is to trap his vessel.”

“Humor me.” He fetched the lantern from the chair in the corner and set it on the stairs. “It’ll only take a minute. Call it insurance in case things go sideways.”

Their eyes met and seeing his determination, Cas nodded. “I trust your instincts. You have a minute.”

***

In the Impala on the way back to the hospital, Dean drummed his fingers nervously on the steering wheel. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything and Cas, with ancient jug of Judean holy oil on his lap, didn’t speak a word. When they arrived, the sun was just rising.

“Game on,” he muttered as he locked Baby and followed the angel in.

St. Peter’s Hospital hadn’t changed except for more people roaming the halls. Dean let Castiel into Donnie Finneman’s room, but doctors and nurses were everywhere, so he kept a lookout outside the door for a moment.

Another pretty nurse, this one a pixie blonde, passed by and gave him a shy-flirty smile. He returned a smile out of pure habit but stayed on task, making sure no one else was paying attention before he followed Castiel in.

As he shut the door, he felt a twinge of confused butterflies in his gut over that simple brief exchange.

The last person I bedded – well, couched – was a man. An angel in a man suit, whatever. Damn, this is weird; but Cas acts all zen like nothing is different? He needs to share that secret with me.

Closing the hallway window blinds as a last precaution, he watched as Cas rolled Donnie’s wheelchair to the center of the tile floor, away from the sparse furniture and hospital bed.

Castiel picked up the jug from a table and began to pour the oil in a circle around the catatonic and drooling patient; he explained the basics as he did it.

“When the oil burns, no angel can touch or pass through the flames – or he dies.”

He’s just focused on the mission. I can do that. “Okay, so we trap him in a steel cage of holy fire – but, uh, one question. How the hell do we get him here?”

“There’s – well, almost an open phone line…” He finished with the oil and set the jug aside before facing Dean. “Between a vessel and his angel.” Approaching Donnie, he added, “One just has to know how to dial.”

Leaning down to the vessel’s ear, he started to chant in Enochian.

“Raagyosl, E Vyn Nonkyf Aspt Poamal De Zyld.” With almost a Winchester-worthy flourish, he finished in English with a taunt. “I’m here, Raphael. Come and get me, you little bastard.”

Castiel left the oil circle and turned to face Dean. The full weight of the mission was clearly back on his shoulders again – a mission that could still kill him.

Dean’s stomach was abruptly sour with worry for him. He opened his mouth and defensive sarcasm came out. “Just out of curiosity, what is the average customer wait time to speak to an Archangel?”

“Be ready,” Cas warned grimly as he lit a match and dropped it on the line of oil. It burst into a ring of flame, burning bright but low.

Donnie the vessel didn’t react. After a miniature eternity of waiting with his stomach in knots, Dean realized that Raphael wasn’t reacting through his vessel, either.

***

The clock resolutely ticked over to noon. Hunger had eaten most of Dean’s leftover butterflies.

“For a stakeout, there are usually snacks.”

Cas shot him a deadpan look.

“What? I skipped breakfast, and we’ve been on hold forever.”

“Your concept of eternity is erroneous.”

Castiel had the patience of Job. He had been standing at attention for hours, ready for anything, until Dean made himself at home on the foot of the hospital bed. It appeared to be some sort of signal to the angel that he could lean against the wall between bed and wheelchair.

On the one hand, waiting was murder; on the other, Dean had never had such an opportunity to watch Cas when he wasn’t popping in and out or they weren’t all fighting for their lives.

It was hard to keep out the memory of how he had looked that morning. Jimmy Novak clearly had a gym membership. And a wife – I’m betting a happy wife ... pre-Cas.

A vague distaste at messing with a married person came and went fast.

Give me a break. Novak screwed up his marriage shacking up with a seraph, nothing to do with me. Besides, it was one time, not to be repeated. And I wasn’t ... coping well with crap prior. Circumstances, damn it.

It was harder to shove away the memory of the pleasure his body had been drowned in, regardless of how or where, and the warm affection in the angel’s every touch.

If he were a chick, you’d keep that phone number and make excuses to visit that town again. Maybe drive all night to get there.

Dean shifted nervously on the crappy mattress. His brain needed a distraction.

“Don’t nurses check on this guy?”

“I’ve been redirecting them. They believe they have.”

“Handy. Where were you when I had to pretend to care about school?”

Cas almost sighed – almost. It was close. “I had hoped he would respond by now.”

Straightening up, Dean sighed for him. “I may need to scavenge for food.”

“Go do that, I’ll watch.”

“You sure?” When Cas nodded, Dean hopped down from the bed. “Pop me back if anything happens. Pooping is overrated.”

The cafeteria had a decent Italian sub and coffee. He grabbed fast and returned to the bed to eat, bringing a coffee for Cas, too. When it went unnoticed on the wheeled table, he ended up drinking it cold after more hours of waiting. The room had a bathroom, lucky him, but terrible anticipation had long ago melted into restless boredom.

This craptastic situation gives me way too much time to think. Thinking bad.

“I must remain vigilant,” Cas said into the silence, as if he could read Dean’s impatience in how he morosely plucked at a loose thread on his jacket.

Dean had tried not talking because he usually had to contend with Sam and talking meant topics about feelings. His brain kept looping back to the night and the couch, too, so – talking bad; until he saw the angel’s disheartened expression. Raphael was a no-show.

“You are vigilance’s very soul. Uh, even without one.” Then he snorted in annoyance. “Maybe that’s why angels are such dicks – no soul, no conscience, and no empathy.” Cas turned his head to stare back at him and Dean felt his face flush. He cleared his throat. “Doesn’t explain you, though.”

“I’m pleased to be seen as an exception.”

Dean shook his head and then grinned at him, surprised out of his own personal mini-crisis. “Is that authentic snark? I like it. Looks good on you.”

Cas looked away, chin down, to stare at the ring of fire; it was nothing Johnny Cash would have sung about.

“You’re either a good influence or a bad one,” the angel said, his shoulders slumping a fraction.

“Flip a coin.”

Cas glanced up, the blue eyes piercing as they focused on him. A small frown drew his brows together. “Last night, you claimed the sin of pride. I don’t think you are guilty of that, either.”

“I thought we had to pay attention to the ninja turtle shell.”

“If you don’t go to places like that, why was it where you took me?”

“Oh, yeah – let’s chat about brothels while we wait for an Archangel to hand us our asses. What could go wrong?” When the stare didn’t waiver, he gave up. “Um ... you need game to pick up women in bars – technically, it’s even more important than looks. You’ve got zero game.”

“I’m quite certain that doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t mean literally pick them up. They don’t like that.”

Cas frowned a little deeper. “What is ‘game’ in the context you’re using?”

Dean dusted off the old explanation he’d given Sam and took a shot that an angel might grasp it, too. Sammy eventually had, so why not?

“Game means the different ways you can get a woman to want to have sex with you. Being funny, flirting, going for a sexy mystique, cheesy but fun lines, whatever works. Sam does the soulful puppy eyes thing and cares about their feelings. You figure that out as you go – what works for you. I didn’t have time to teach you all that, you are usually awkward as hell, and ... for a brothel, you need nothing but cash.”

“You called it pride – the fact that you don’t need to pay.”

“I smell another Seven Deadlies lecture. Lay it on me.” With a wink, he added, “The lecture.”

“The type of pride that rises to that level of sin is more akin to hubris. Being pleased that you have the appeal and ... game ... to attract a mate is not hubris. It tears no one else down.”

“So why didn’t they say, ‘Hubris goeth before a fall’?”

“I don’t know. Human language is rather confusing.”

“Huh.” Dean scrubbed at his face with one hand. “So you don’t think I’m dabbling with lust or pride?”

“Strictly speaking, no. I see no sloth, envy, or greed in you either. Perhaps a minor touch of gluttony, yet that only harms yourself.”

“Wrath,” Dean muttered, staring at his boots as that one word ate all the humor in him.

“Perhaps a bit more than a touch.”

“Yeah. Well ... I’d rather be angry than weak.” Dean sighed when Cas didn’t respond. “Throw me a bone, huh? Why ask me about this crap?”

“You shouldn’t claim sins you have not committed.”

“Oh, like the ones I did commit aren’t already enough to damn me? Not seeing the silver lining, here – or the point.”

***

Cas remained quiet, watching the fire as more excruciating hours passed. Just in case the silent treatment was his fault, Dean tried on various apologies in his head but none of them fit and he couldn’t dig even one of them out, anyhow.

He stood up and paced for a while, unable to sit quietly and watch the wretched vessel drool.

What had his life been like? Religious freak, I guess – but was he into music or maybe sports? He had to of loved cars. If we’d met, I probably would have liked the guy … as long as the religion crap wasn’t laid on too thick. Did he have a girlfriend? A family? Fuck. That winged bastard lied to you, I bet. Figures they’re the type that breaks their toys.

Finally leaning against the hospital bed, his fingers toyed with the skull beads of his bracelet. Now and then, he glanced up and studied Cas, thinking about everything they had been through together and the unimaginable loss his friend had suffered to help him.

Why does he keep helping? Why bother with us ... or me. He could still feel the rush of sickening helpless fear when Zachariah had assaulted them with lethal agonizing destruction. It felt far too much like waking up in Hell under Alastair’s white-eyed gaze. The demon and the angel had worn the same face – consumed with a hunger to create pain.

Across the room, Castiel waited – crestfallen and alone. His expression managed to be calm yet anxious all at once. The face was beautiful. Jimmy Novak was handsome but with a seraph in that body, he became so much more – and it had nothing to do with the earthly notion of beauty.

I don’t have the words to describe it. Anna was a human, no angelic grace in her. Cas has the juice, never mind that his healing talent took a hit after he rebelled. Even outraged, he can appear frightening but still majestic, powerful. There’s a – purity – to both his rage and his kindness. He isn’t ... cruel. Maybe, if he thinks I’m worth it... Maybe I should stop fighting that and let him help without looking for why.

He dropped his gaze to the floor as one hand gripped his wrist over the skulls bracelet and squeezed until it hurt.

I’ll try to work on that, I guess.

By the time the angel spoke again, the abrupt sound made Dean startle.

“I hear nothing on angel radio.”

“Station break?”

“No. They’re talking – but not about Raphael. Sunset is close.”

“So it’s a wash?”

“It would seem so.”

With a sigh, knowing Cas couldn’t touch it, he commandered Donnie’s pitcher of melted ice water and used it to douse the holy fire. It didn’t even leave a mark on the tiles.

“Un-Hoodoo the nurses so the guy doesn’t starve to death.”

“Already done. We need to leave before any of them come in.”

Trying not to seem too eager to escape, Dean left the empty plastic pitcher on the floor and handed Cas his ancient jug.

Following the angel out, he gave the ruined young man a last reluctant glance.

“This sucks,” he muttered to him. “Sorry the bastard got you.”

Dean didn’t feel safe until he got back inside his car – even with Cas walking beside him.

***

Pulling up to the wilted house after nightfall, Dean fought down the riot of thoughts and emotions that plagued him the moment he saw it. Cas was watching him with concern, so he went for a bluff.

“Well, that’s a day I’ll never get back.”

He parked the Impala several feet in front of the rusty washer and dryer set that someone had dragged out of the house. He’d left the pair of camp lanterns on, one in the kitchen and one on the stairs, and they were shining dimly through the windows. The distant streetlight was the only other light source, but it didn’t help much beyond the kitchen.

“Sorry, Cas,” he added, and then tried to toss some thin encouragement over his shoulder as he got out. “I guess we can try something else.”

He went up the overgrown walkway first and opened the door of the house to go in, but Cas stopped him in the tiny foyer with a warning in his voice.

“Dean. Wait.”

Electricity crackled with a bright blue and white light. Dean stared in shock and then winced with hunched shoulders at the sight of the vessel that had been Donnie the mechanic. He had appeared in the open space of the derelict kitchen, rising up as if standing from a wheelchair that wasn’t there.

Lightning – wings, somehow – filled the room around him. It was as beautiful as it was terrifying. When the Archangel lifted his head, the expression was wide-eyed with a predatory hunger that made Dean’s guts clench. In that moment, Donnie ceased to exist as Raphael’s power shattered the lanterns, every lightbulb left in the place, and the streetlights outside.

When the lightning wings disappeared, the room was plunged into a gray dingy dark lit only by random distant lightning strikes around the house and the weak watery light of the moon.

“Castiel.” The voice was hollow and yet resonant, regal and powerful. It was pure menace wrapped in silk.

“Raphael.” Cas spoke to him like an equal, but it was plain they were not.

Zachariah was Cas’s superior, but… This being made every angel Dean had seen seem weak. He swallowed hard. It doesn’t matter what happens, I’m going to help Cas anyway I can and maybe … maybe…

Castiel walked closer and Dean followed. He wouldn’t let his friend face this creature alone and he intended to fight with the most effective weapon he had.

Beating Cas to it, he taunted, “I mean, I thought you were supposed to be impressive.” He gestured at the dark house. “All you do is black out the room?”

“And … the Eastern Seaboard,” the Archangel intoned.

Lightning flashed outside and oppressive thunder rolled over the flimsy building. Dean glanced at the kitchen windows, instantly aware that the storm sweeping in over the town was Raphael’s power.

“It is a testament to my unending mercy that I do not smite you here and now.”

The boast and seeing Cas swallow hard kicked Dean’s defensive snark into high gear in an instant.

“Or maybe you’re full of crap. Maybe you’re afraid God will bring Cas back to life again and smite you and your candy-ass skirt. By the way – hi, I’m Dean.”

“I know who you are. And now, thanks to him, I know where you are.”

“You won’t kill him,” Castiel declared, defiant. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“But I will take him to Michael.”

“Well, that ... sounds terrifying. It does.” Dean went to the cooler left in front of the old living room fireplace and faked nonchalance as he grabbed a bottle of beer. “But, uh, I hate to tell you … I’m not going anywhere with you.” He opened it with a twist to the cap and turned his back on the Archangel to take a drink.

“Surely you remember Zachariah giving you stomach cancer?”

Nausea and fear tugged at him at the mere mention of that pain and terror. He pushed it all down and with an arrogant swagger, turned and faced the celestial monster.

“Yeah, that was – that was hilarious.”

“Yes, well,” Raphael baited him, “he doesn’t have anything close to my … imagination.”

“Oh, yeah?”

He watched the Archangel come slowly closer to him. The wide-eyed hungry focus of a lethal predator had slid back over the regal face – a mask of glorious malice. Exchanging a nervous glance with Cas and fighting a sensible human instinct to run, Dean spoke again.

“I bet you didn’t imagine one thing.”

“What?”

“We knew you were coming, you stupid son of a bitch.”

Castiel clicked open and sparked the zippo lighter, dropping it down to the floor to ignite the holy oil they’d poured that morning – just at the edge of the kitchen.

The ring of holy fire flared up and burned in a high circle around Raphael. He looked down, displeased, as it rose up – and then glared at Dean.

“Don’t look at me, it was his idea.”

Cas looked spooked and shot a worried glance at Dean. Then he got down to business. “Where is He?”

“God?” The voice turned into a measured and languid indulgent mockery of a taunt. “Didn’t you hear? He’s dead, Castiel. Dead. But there’s no other explanation. He’s gone for good.”

“You’re lying.”

“Am I? Do you remember the twentieth century? Think the twenty-first is going any better? You think God would have let any of that happen if He were alive?”

“Oh yeah?” Dean interjected. “Well then who invented the Chinese basket trick?”

“Careful. That’s my Father you’re talking about, boy.”

There it is – the flaw in the armor. Big Bad’s got Daddy issues. “Yeah, who would be so proud to know His sons started the frigging apocalypse.”

Barely suppressed rage rippled through that majestic voice. “Who ran off and disappeared. Who left no instructions and a world to run.”

“Daddy ran away and disappeared. He didn’t happen to work for the post office, did He?”

Castiel looked at him with a shocked blend of alarm and worry.

“This is funny to you?” The Archangel’s tone twisted, laden with yearning and despair. “You’re living in a godless universe.”

Dean didn’t miss the stricken expression on Cas’s face. All that he had lost was bearing down on him. They couldn’t stop – if they pushed, the brute might slip up and say something useful.

“And? What, you and the other kids just decided to throw an apocalypse while He’s gone?”

“We’re tired. We just want it to be over. We just want ... paradise.” He looked at Castiel when he said that word.

Cas met that gaze and for a moment it was clear they had once shared that stark hope – a hope now out of reach and growing cold, lost. Castiel’s eyes shone with unshed tears.

It sparked that touch of wrath that lived in the dark inside Dean. He looked at the storm beating against the glass and back to the monster that had created it. “So, what – God dies and makes you the boss, and you think you can do whatever you want?”

An abrupt rush of air rose around the trapped being. It bore the sweet, pungent sharp scent of ozone. It was infused with an unearthly rage Dean could feel on his skin as the hairs prickled up on his arms.

“Yes,” Raphael pronounced, the rage cresting. “And whatever we want, we get!”

The windows burst in, wind and rain whipping shattered glass around them through the broken and jagged window frames. The gale force of the freezing storm soaked Dean and Castiel instantly as they tried to duck and covered their heads with their arms.

Straightening, desperate and angry, Castiel called out over the wrath of the storm, “If God is dead, why have I returned? Who brought me back?”

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe Lucifer raised you?”

“No.” Cas spit out the word.

“Think about it,” Raphael taunted, feeding on Castiel’s anguish. “He needs all the rebellious angels he can find. You know it adds up.”

Castiel stared at Raphael, their eyes locked now in anger. Disgust suffused the angel’s expression as he began to turn away and glanced at Dean. “Let’s go.” He turned his back on the trapped Archangel.

“Castiel, I’m warning you.”

Turning around to face him again, Castiel waited, unafraid.

“Do not leave me here. I will find you.”

“Maybe one day. But today, you’re my little bitch.”

Shock and pride warred over Dean’s face. He turned to follow, glancing back once. “What he said.” The storm raged harder and the Archangel glared. Fear rushed through him, inspiring him to follow his rebellious angel.

Pelted by freezing rain coming down in sheets and afraid of being struck by literal lightning, Dean ran to his car. They got in fast and slammed the doors. He nearly dropped the keys when he dug them out, and then backed up to fishtail on the street with a screech as they escaped.

“Damn it!”

“What?” Castiel asked with alarm, sounding tarnished and tired.

“We left my cooler.” He shot Cas an entreating look. “It was my dad’s. Could you…?” With a single nod from the angel, Dean looked quickly at the backseat where it was abruptly sitting. “Awesome,” he said, most of the word stuttered by chattering teeth.

They were sopping wet and at least one of them was shaking with cold so bad it was hard to think of the leather seat they could be damaging. There was almost as much water inside the car as outside.

His hand shook as he cranked up the heater. The hot air blew, rattling the little plastic Lego bricks he’d shoved into the vents as a kid. The sound was soothing.

“You’re cold,” Cas muttered.

Before Dean could make a sarcastic joke about stating the obvious, he and Castiel, and the car’s interior, were dry.

I’ll never get used to that, but – I’ll take it. He slumped a bit behind the wheel with a relieved sigh. “Thanks.” He left the heat on a while, though – just to hear that comforting rattle as they drove out of Waterville, Maine.

Dean caught US-2 W outside of Norridgewock, just to get farther away from the Eastern Seaboard. He aimed for Gorham, New Hampshire, where he and Sam had hunted a shapeshifter years before, simply to have a goal to reach. The way he drove, it would take two hours.

If it’s still raining when we get there, I think I’ll keep driving.

***

Baby broke out of the storm before they reached New Hampshire, but the quiet that replaced the noise was almost worse. Dean turned off the windshield wipers and resisted the temptation to put the radio on or shove a cassette in. It wasn’t a good time for that while his friend looked so devastated and lost.

Glancing over at the silent angel, Dean asked, “Hey, man, you okay?”

Castiel didn’t respond, staring forward. The million-mile stare was painfully familiar.

“Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that this little crusade of yours is nuts, but … I do know a little something about missing fathers.”

“What do you mean?” Cas asked, his voice low and quiet.

“I mean there were times when I was looking for my dad when … all logic said that he was dead. But I knew, in my heart … that he was still alive. Who cares what some ninja turtle says, Cas, what do you believe?”

“I believe He’s out there.”

“Good. Then go find Him.”

Castiel turned his head to look at him. “What about you?”

“What about me? I don’t know. Honestly? I’m good. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but I am. I’m … I’m really good.”

They both stared through the windshield again, until Cas whispered, “Even without your brother?”

“Especially without my brother. I mean, I spent so much time worrying about the son of a bitch. I mean, I’ve had more fun with you in the past twenty-four hours than I’ve had with Sam in years. And you’re not that much fun.”

Dean glanced over at Cas and met his gaze before they both watched the road again.

“It’s funny. You know, I’ve been so chained to my family. But now that I’m alone … hell, I’m happy.”

Dean turned his head, trying to paste a smile on, just for Cas – but the shotgun seat was empty. The false smile faded as the abyss inside swept in to wipe it away.

***

Dean drove on to Gorham, New Hampshire alone. He tried to ignore watery eyes, telling himself he was just exhausted. When he swerved a little on the blacktop, he finally admitted defeat.

At a spot where US-2 and NH-16 joined forces briefly to become Gorham’s Main Street, he pulled over at a restaurant called Saladino’s Italian Market. As good as that and the Liquor and Wine Outlet across the road sounded, they were both closed hours ago. Driving around to the back by a shed built around a dumpster, he parked the Impala where he could look out over the Androscoggin River and still spot anyone coming from the road.

“Well, Baby, we’ve bunked down in worse spots. I just need a little sleep.”

Try as he might, sleep wouldn’t cooperate – being drained and worn out didn’t seem to matter at all.

“Damn it.”

He stretched out over the seat back to fish for a beer bottle in the cooler and downed half of it in one desperate pull a second after opening it. The Margiekugel white label with its red circle was worn and peeling on the edges. He picked at it with blunt nails before leaning back to drink again.

The world around the car wasn’t quiet between a river and a road, but the sounds were all normal and non-threatening and being in Baby had always felt like home.

“It’s just you, me, and the pride of Wisconsin,” he told her.

Two more beers later, the cooler was empty and he was staring at the river with his thoughts going in circles. He should have been hungry, but his appetite had abandoned him, too.

Off to the east, a long peal of distant thunder rolled across the sky and he startled out of his morose stupor. Turning on the seat, he scanned the night behind him to see thick and heavy storm clouds building, heading his way.

It’s a summer storm, it’s not … him.

He watched it move in closer fast until he realized his whole body had gone stiff with tension. He’d felt that way before – tied down to a chair waiting for a bullet to strike. The only reason he had survived that was because Sam had gotten there just in time – but Sam was gone.

“Crap. Screw this. That asshole can’t track me, and thanks to Cas, I still have half a bottle of whiskey – ought to do the trick. I just need a bed to fall on to sleep it off where nobody will bother me.”

Dean got out to prove to himself he wasn’t afraid of the storm. He borrowed the dumpster to toss bottles and trash, and then started the car up. Driving off farther into Gorham, he pulled into the first motel he came to.

“Top Notch Inn. Huh. Not so much but hey – any port in a freak storm.”

He barely remembered the old clerk, paid cash to speed things up, and asked for a room at the end of the horseshoe of a structure around the back. It was a solitary queen bed when he got inside, a fact that he tried to ignore. With Baby locked up right outside and gear bag dragged in, he shut the world out and put on the chain lock. With a twist of the bolt lock, an unsettling quiet filled in the empty stale air around him.

Leaning against the door, he waited until the patter and hiss of rain came. Lightning, still farther off, struck a dull flash through a gap in the curtains as thunder swept up behind it. Dropping the gear bag and room key on a small table, he went to the window and peered out at the Impala as the rain pelted over the roof in a growing downpour.

It’ll wash the road dust off her and move on in a few hours.

He pulled one of the curtains in closer, narrowing the gap, before staring out at another lightning strike. Dread danced down his spine until anger stopped it cold.

Don’t be an idiot. He touched his t-shirt over his ribs. It’s just an ordinary storm, maybe leftover from that mess back east. I hope the bastard rots in that dirty kitchen. With a disgusted snort, he rolled his eyes and left the window. Yeah, right. I’ve never been that lucky.

The shower he made himself have before the hunter’s helper came out actually helped; the water was just south of scalding and lots of it. The bed wasn’t too bad when he finally crawled into it wearing a white t-shirt and the only pair of lounge pants he currently owned. A fleeting idea of sleeping nude, since he was alone, came and went with a wry chuckle.

I’ll probably be staring at the ceiling all night or jumping up to check on Baby at every noise; no point in doing that with the danglies out.

Lying back on a pillow, he turned his head to stare at the half empty bottle he’d put on the night stand next to his pistol. Memories of how it got that way wouldn’t let his brain even slow down, but he didn’t reach out for it. Fingers strayed under the t-shirt to touch his ribs again as if that was just something they planned on adding to the odd quirks routine.

Remembering every line of the translation to his surprise, he got stuck on the angel’s name more than the flowery Old Testament threat/compliment. Stroking over that last rib of etched sigils, he took a deep breath and let it out as a long sigh.

The room wasn’t dark enough for a serious try at sleeping. He’d left the gap in the curtains to be able to check on his car without moving them – just in case. Motel room walls were rarely enough to stop a determined shooter if they knew where you were standing. The security light on the corner of the building had seemed like a good idea at the time, to deter any bored teen car thief hooligans, but now the room was full of misty light and half-hearted shadows.

Dean was about to grab the other pillow to pull it over his head but then he paused, thinking about the light that had filled the room when Castiel had…

Yeah, keep it up asshole – you’re gonna start mooning like a chick at this rate – or worse, end up bothering Cas on his God hunt. So super important – for fuck’s sake. He gritted his teeth. Now not going for the bottle is a challenge – can’t admit defeat or some shit? Son of a bitch.

When the uglier memories and fears surfaced again to torture him, he almost picked up the bottle anyway but Cas’s words about knowing it wouldn’t help stopped him.

Silence surrounded the bed, buzzing softly through the shadows around it. Outside, the rain still fell, but it had died down as the thunder moved away farther west.

Castiel wouldn’t leave his thoughts, part talisman against the horrors and part new confusion.

I told him I was happy alone, so he went. His fingers pressed against the angel’s name, hard enough to bruise the skin. I didn’t want him to.

The drive into Maine had been better with someone there. Sam was gone but Cas, even as quiet and odd as he had behaved, had been there. Forcing his hands up, he pressed them over his face.

Stop it … fucking stop it!

The softest sound inside the room made him gasp and hold a breath, and then he dropped his hands and wrapped one around the grip of the pistol.

Scanning the shadows, his guts lurching into a knot, he froze when his gaze picked out the darker shape in one corner of the room. The fingers began to shake on the weapon when he saw a glint of twin blue lights flash a heartbeat before the shape stepped forward with the familiar rustle of the long coat.

“Cas…”

The clutch of terror took a long time to fade. He released the gun and sat up, watching as the angel approached.

Castiel stood at the edge of the bed in easy reach and held out one hand. Dean pulled his legs in, took that hand in his without trying to question why and with a tug, invited him to sit in front of him.

“How did you find me?”

“I followed your route and found the car. And … you were calling out to me.”

“Wasn’t a prayer,” he muttered, head hanging.

“Wasn’t it?” Cas asked, his low voice softer, soothing.

Dean couldn’t answer. He meant to let go but his fingers twined with the angel’s instead. Slowly the truth crept in and he realized what the misting light and low buzzing had been all along.

“You didn’t come here just now.”

“No. I wouldn’t have shown myself, but you seemed to need…”

The knots in Dean’s stomach didn’t relax even as the tension across his shoulders did. “I can’t sleep, not hungry, not … anything.”

“Being alone is not always good.”

Dean nodded and the tension slid back in with the fear of breaking down again. It was exhausting, slowly dulling his senses. The feeling that his strength and will were breaking again haunted him; it was an insidious whisper of weakness and failure that strung nerves tight and made words clot in his throat.

His voice broke on the only word he found. “Stay.” Swallowing hard, his fingers twitched in Cas’s gentle hold. Desperate, he tried again. “I know you can’t, for long – but I can’t do this – not yet, not now, after what we just royally pissed off.”

“I will stay as long as I am able; then we must both go and do what we can – on our own chosen paths.”

“Yeah, okay.” He leaned in when Cas set a hand on the back of his neck and pulled him down until their foreheads touched. He wanted to say thank you somehow but those words got stuck again. They often did. “I just need sleep, and then I can – it’s not easy to relax without…”

“I know.”

“When the thunderstorm came in so fast, I actually thought it was –” He almost said the Archangel’s name but Cas touched his jaw and stopped him.

“You’re safe once you’re out of their sight. I … never left. I followed the car here. I had to be sure you got out of his range safely.”

“Beginner’s lie, huh? Uh, you could’ve done that in the car. I was going a little crazy, I think. It’s been a weird night. That asshole looked at me like he knew he’d just have to pick me out of his teeth later – and destroying me would have been a minor inconvenience. But still, toss some rain at me and I fall to pieces?”

The smile Cas gave him when he met that bright gaze was … fond. “Few mortal beings have defied an Archangel and lived – few immortals have, either. You handled it well.”

“Yeah?” He slowly started to relax, as if just having someone with him that he could trust was a sedative. No, it’s like food – or air. “If his storm had damaged that holy fire ring, I might not have handled it at all. I mean, I’m worried an Archangel got into my room so I grab a gun? Great plan.”

Dean pulled their linked hands up from the bed, setting his wrist on his knee over the blanket.

“Don’t sit there like a nightlight, huh? Ditch the coat and shoes and nap out with me?” Letting the warm hand go, he moved back and slid over to make room, pulling the blanket and sheet back.

“I don’t sleep, remember?”

Cas stood and stripped off the coat, crossing the room to drape it over Dean’s jacket on the back of a chair. After a moment of hesitation, the dark navy suit jacket and blue striped tie were left there, too. He leaned over to pull off brown leather boots.

Dean just watched him as the soft expression on the angel’s face warmed the chill from his bones. Before he returned, Dean found his voice, barely. “The belt,” he muttered, feeling his face flush. He looked away but heard it clink and slide.

In the white dress shirt and suit pants, looking even more out of place in socks with no tie or coat, Cas came back to him. The queen bed was not really big enough for both of them but Dean didn’t care as his angel lay down at his side. He turned to Dean and lifted a hand near his face.

Expecting the touch of fingertips to his forehead that would drop him deeply into sleep, Dean’s breath caught when the hand touched his cheek. Strong fingers slipped under the jawline and pressed slightly there. Following the unspoken question in darkening blue eyes, Dean allowed the touch to draw him in. The thumb on his chin made him lower his head and it felt strangely good, to let Cas move him however he wished to.

Soft but slightly chapped lips pressed to his forehead, but as their bodies were brought closer, Dean’s heart rate tripped and yanked into his throat, thudding faster.

He reached out and pressed a hand to Cas’s shirt. The top button was already undone as it usually was. Without pausing to think, he brought in both hands and unfastened the next one. Two more buttons later, he could touch skin and he did before he thought to stop, ducking his head low to avoid whatever reaction he was getting.

Those warm fingers gently tugged his chin up and he was stunned to see the same open expression and soft smile from their previous morning after – not judgement or stiff tolerance. Dean lifted his hand to cup the side of that beautiful face, made himself stroke over the dark bristle on the jaw and throat. He opened his mouth to ask a question but then Cas answered it with a kiss.

Seeking out more contact, limping through a fractured instinct that was accustomed to women, he found and pressed a nipple under the pad of his thumb. It hardened fast as he rubbed it and the sound of the angel gasping as he broke the kiss dropped straight to Dean’s balls.

The breaths against his cheek were struggling to slow, to calm. He was in a fight to get his wits back, himself. “Sleep can wait,” he whispered.

Shifting his hand, he got two fingers on either side of that nipple and pinned it before stroking them up and down, giving it random easy pressure as he went. He caught the next gasp with his mouth and kissed him deep and strong, a little roughly. Backing off as an afterthought, he stared into the blue eyes and watched the pupils blow wide.

“Cas,” he began to ask, “do you want…?”

The angel moved one arm around to his back and pulled his body in as easily as if he were a rag doll, to press against him from chest to knee. His breathless answer was barely a word. “Yes.”

Dean’s hand swooped right to the angel’s ass and squeezed. It was as round and firm under the suit pants as it had looked without them and having a handful of it fired his blood faster than he was ready for.

In my defense, he’s got a better ass than some women I’ve seen. Damn.

He couldn’t ignore what else Cas had either, since it was hard and pressing right next to his, trapped under clothes. His stomach somersaulted with nerves one second and then the next, hungry for touch, he thrust once to grind their twin erections together – and that felt even better.

Holy shit.

“Should I?” Cas asked Dean, two fingers plucking gently at his t-shirt.

Shaking his head no with a bemused smile growing on his face, he captured the wrist and kissed the fingertips.

“No instant fixes, I want to do this … right – as much as I know how, anyway. You asked me the first time, so it’s my turn. What do you want? If it’s the same as before … that’s okay. I trust you and I … I’d let you.”

The unbidden thought slithered through his brain that Castiel was strong enough to force him and it shouldn’t have been as hot an idea as it abruptly was – as long as he had a way out if he needed it.

Yikes, pump the brakes there, hazards ahead – before you hydroplane on the crazy.

“I want … to know what Anna had, the way you were, with her.”

Cas actually looked wistful and a mild shock struck through Dean. Swallowing a lump in his throat, he didn’t dare ask about that, so it was clearly joke-to-the-rescue time.

“Different manual, new equipment, but okay – if you don’t mind me being the boss a little.”

He sat up and stripped his t-shirt off, tossing it to the floor. When Cas began undoing another shirt button, Dean put a hand over his for a second to stop him.

“Those are mine.” He rose up on one hand and yanked the lounge pants off his ass, sliding them down his legs. He had to fish for them to toss them over the shirt.

Leaning over the angel to push him onto his back, he got the rest of the shirt buttons undone one-handed without fumbling at it – impressive, since his fingers had decided to tremble. Pulling it open, he watched Cas rise up slightly to help him take it off. Wadding it in one hand with no care about wrinkles, he pitched it over onto his clothes. As an afterthought, he took his watch off and set it on the nightstand beside him. His pistol was now beyond the angel on the other nightstand and out of reach. Dean chuckled at the habitually cautious thought.

“What is it?”

“Nothing, I just don’t usually put my bed partner closer to my weapon than I am.” He huffed out a breath and grinned at a shirtless Castiel. “You’re a better weapon anyhow, so – not a problem.”

Dean placed a hand over Cas’s ribs as he settled on a hip beside him. Leaning on an elbow, he hesitated a moment before letting the other hand touch the angel’s hair. He was slowly sliding into flirt and seduce gears out of pure habit – and grateful to let that smooth out the rough edges of this crazy hookup.

“You know, it was in the backseat of Baby – before. Still raining, though. Maybe save that for next time.” His brain caught up with his mouth too late and he frowned. “Not to assume you’re my angelic booty call or anything. Crap. Sorry.”

Castiel smiled slightly, took his wrist, and moved the hand back over the nipple. “Next time … maybe.”

Surprised into another grin, Dean laughed a little. “I didn’t teach you to be a tease.”

“I don’t know what you mean half the time when you speak, but I … like sharing joy with you.”

Dean couldn’t respond to that with words, so he used his mouth in better ways. Kissing lips, jaw, throat, and then moving down to lap and suckle at the neglected nipple he wasn’t rubbing, he got as far as licking over a rib before he remembered he wasn’t quite up to going lower – with his mouth, at least.

It would probably be weird to play with his chest much? Nipples are nipples, clearly, but he doesn’t have breasts. He can’t really tell me what he likes if all he’s done is what we’ve done together. I do know what I like.

Sitting up again, he got both hands on the suit pants and started to open them. He found white boxers underneath and couldn’t help a smirk.

Hesitant about stripping him, he looked up to take in the surprisingly solid yet athletic muscular body, impressed to see perfectly defined external oblique muscles.

“Missed those before,” he muttered, “too busy trying not to stare – at anything. Where’d you get them?” he teased with a smile.

Cas seemed unsure about what he meant until Dean got up the nerve to touch, fingertips running down the ribs to a hip where the muscle defined the hipbone.

“He runs,” came the too simple and disturbing reply. “Goes to a ... gym, and he does something called yoga. Or, he did, before.”

He. Jimmy Novak. The poor schmuck Cas is riding around in – just like Donnie Finneman. Shit. Dean let his head hang a bit. “Now and then, Cas … God, this is so … strange.”

“If you wish to stop, it’s all right –”

“No,” he gulped out in protest.

Dean fought to get his shit together, shoving away a hundred slivers of memory where his dad’s few hunter friends and other tough guys had told him that a real man follows through, that he always wants it – and if he doesn’t, he’s weak … or worse.

I bet this situation is what they’d call worse. They damn sure never pictured me with a man either, let alone an angel wearing one – so this crap is way off the map. Then a random thought helped him settle and calm. Bobby never said bullshit like that. He’s got as rough a time showing feelings as the rest of us, but he never acted like that.

Scrubbing his face with one hand, he was all too aware how close the other hand was to the vessel’s cock, trapped under white cotton, hard with the angel’s desire – not Novak’s. Dean’s body was strung tight with the same desire, which not too long ago, he would have called lust.

Until an angel of the Lord, who signed my fucking ribs, told me it was just ‘sharing joy’. What the hell am I doing? He almost retreated only to find out that he couldn’t – because he didn’t actually want to. Wow, am I ever a head case.

Trying to ignore the fact that his fingers had started to shake again, he moved his hand away from the groin and set it on abs that were surprisingly ripped. Cas was watching him with a concerned expression. Sweeping his gaze over the body the angel wore, Dean realized slowly that he truly did like what he was seeing.

Still hot for him, too. Fuck it. “No, not stopping. Never mind, sorry, it’s nothing. I’m … used to women, that’s all. New territory. I’m fine.”

“If I could change that for you, I would.”

Dean glanced up and froze at the light that he could see shimmering behind those eyes. He couldn’t have named the expression on the angel’s calm face if he’d had a year to guess.

Castiel settled a little to relax, not appearing to be a nervous mess at all. That immortal patience was back, more than Dean had ever had while in bed with warm and willing.

“Vessels like this, my true vessel, the bloodline – these people are very rare. To achieve this as female, Jimmy Novak’s daughter would have to grow up to womanhood and –”

“No way, not going there.”

“Or have a daughter of her own,” Cas continued, unruffled. “Yet she may have a son, so perhaps he would have a daughter. By that time –”

“I might be dead anyway, because hunter and apocalypse; that puts a now or never spin on things, huh?”

“Dean, I’m sorry. I understand. You’re conflicted because of what the other angels want of you. I, in this vessel, am a difficult reminder of that.”

“Cas, no – I mean, yeah, it’s weird as hell, okay? But that’s not your fault.”

“It isn’t yours, either.”

“Yeah, well, I’m really not sure how I tripped and fell into being hot for an angel with dude parts.”

“I know exactly how I fell.”

The quiet words, spoken in an almost vulnerable tone, pierced Dean’s lame attempt to avoid the problem with humor.

“You wanted to stop the apocalypse –”

“I did, yes. And I wanted to help you. I couldn’t … abandon you – not again. I spoke too harshly to you in the hospital, before, with Sam and Bobby.”

“No, everything you said about what you gave up was true – and we did fail to stop it. We’re just men – stumbling around, breaking damn seals at every turn. We were lied to. So were you.”

“Before you, since before there were humans, I only followed orders and never questioned them. I made my choice – my first choice – to defy Heaven with open eyes. You taught me that, taught me how to see. You are not just a man, not merely some random mortal. I chose the world, the innocents that live in it – and you.”

“Cas, I … I’m not worth … being cast out of Heaven.”

“It’s done. All we have now is each other and the mission – to save as many as we can.”

Dean shook his head helplessly. He flattened his palm on Cas’s stomach because he had to touch the angel, to make him real.

“You helped me and your reward is a world lost to apocalyptic chaos, which you get to be an outcast for, on the shit list of Archangels and all the hosts of Heaven – essentially your family. Oh, but we can have a roll in the sheets? You deserve better than this ... mess.”

“Is it so ingrained to be – ashamed of this?”

“I ... no. I mean you actually – cosmically – deserve better.”

“Help me understand. Here and now, with me – as I am. Why do you hesitate?”

“It’s just … a bit of a surprise to want it. I had no idea, but I clearly do. I don’t even know if it’s a guys thing or a you thing, but I know it rang my bell, okay? I’m a simple man and I like my vices; I guess I just need to learn to roll with a few of the weirder turn-ons.”

“It isn’t a vice –”

Dean held up a hand and cut him off. “You can lecture me about not capitalizing them, but any preacher marking notches along the Bible Belt still calls my pastimes vices. Besides, it’s more fun to be a little naughty.”

“And the vessel?”

“Yeah that whole ... thing, it’s ... hard to avoid thinking about it. I doubt if Novak signed on for this. Am I basically using him to have you?”

“Most of the time now, he is... You could call it being asleep.”

“See, that’s a crime in most states – hopefully all of them.”

“Dean.” Cas reached up to set a hand over his ribcage. It made his body shiver with need. “I can’t fully explain how it is between an angel and a vessel, when true consent is given and care is taken. I can talk to him, within. If he asks anything of me, I hear it. He was ... not prepared for how it would be at first.”

“I remember, vividly. He said it was like being chained to a comet.”

“I don’t have the words for how I perceive your world or humans. It stands to reason humans would have a limited scope for understanding celestial existence.”

“Hey, at least you don’t call people kindergarten insults, like your old pals.” Dean stopped touching him. “Well ... I guess none of us can get what we want. Mick Jagger was right. Jimmy Novak just wanted to go back to his family. He consented the second time to spare his daughter.”

“That is true. I regret deeply the sundering of his family – but we are striving to save the world they live in. He knows that. If he were ever to withdraw his consent, I would release him. He has not.”

“I wish I had never met him, the real him. It makes everything...”

“Harder to bear, I know.”

Castiel sat up but didn’t touch him. It took Dean a while sitting under that stare before he could lift his head up and meet it. The lips had parted slightly and the expression was an unusual mix of passion and … serenity.

Maybe I’m not just some dirty lower lifeform to him. I can’t stop; I don’t want to. I want him to help me feel clean again.

Dean leaned in and pressed his mouth to those lips. The kiss, like an iron brand of restrained passion, seared his soul.

Forgive me, he entreated the man lost inside Cas. I can’t save you – I can’t even save myself. “Castiel,” he half-breathed the name against the soft lips. It felt like an invocation.

Their hands lifted to touch and stroke each other, to grip and hold. The material of the suit pants slid against Dean’s thigh and he needed them gone. He wanted this man – being – this angel, and he didn’t want to question why. He broke their desperate kiss and fought to stop touching him long enough to be able to have more.

“Lift up a little,” he directed, and watched as Cas did it with hands pressed to the bed and core muscles shifting to raise that ass up. Dean almost forgot to pull the pants and boxers away from it, staring at the thick cock that had escaped them. He didn’t care that he completely missed the growing pile of clothing when he tossed them away.

Using a gentle push to get the angel to lie down on his back again, Dean felt his mouth go dry at the sense of the otherworldly strength that was put under his command. Callouses on his hands were rough on the smooth taut skin, but it was that quiet stare of fascination in the blue eyes that made him duck his head to kiss the lush mouth again.

Stroking over the chest and down, he sent a hand exploring lower. Considering how the angel had gripped his cock the first time without much pause or question, he figured he could do the same, but running fingertips down the whole way appeared to have similar good results as with a woman.

Thighs, thick and muscular from running, were another surprise long hidden by suit and trench coat. Because he could and the reaction was so strong, he gripped and stroked them until he was almost kneading the muscles. It made the rest of the angel twitch and hiss out a breath, and made the cock thicker, too.

When he got there, the angle was odd but that wasn’t the strangest thing: he wasn’t holding his own dick. Shifting a little to get it more familiar, he gave it a light squeeze – and nearly had a breathless seraph in his lap.

Lingering nerves sparked a smile to hide them, even as the angel’s responsiveness soothed them away. “Keeping it vanilla here, but I guess that was good.”

Confusion and hunger fought on Castiel’s face. “Vanilla?”

Dean chuckled and jacked him loosely. It was kind of awesome to watch an angel melt in his hand. “Don’t worry about the slang, just relax and enjoy the ... uh, joy.”

His own dick was protesting being ignored but he went right on ignoring it. Making a bed partner feel good was a skill he was proud of, especially since he had to figure out new partners nearly every time. He was used to testing the waters, reading reactions. When and why they relaxed or tensed, watching expressions range from ‘not quite’ to ‘oh yes’ were all clues and he could read them so fast that they rarely got through the sack session without looking at him like he was the second coming of sex incarnate. It had become a rush he craved almost as much as getting laid in general.

Pretending he was jacking himself didn’t work for long, though. Fighting the urge to retreat, he made a choice and dove all in. He rolled forward on his hip more, pressing his cock against Castiel’s leg for a little delicious friction, and got a stronger grip on him. Thumbing slight pressure over the slit on the head because he knew it felt good, he grinned when it started to slick and drip. With a circling motion, he rubbed it into skin that was flushing hot.

Being taller than Cas is clearly a great advantage in bed. I can reach everything. You’re doomed, you poor bastard.

He stretched up to accept the angel’s breathless kiss and then nosed him to turn his head and bare his throat. Latching on with a hungry mouth, he set out to mark the perfect skin. Juggling a hand job with one hell of a hickey while allowing himself to thrust a little against that leg was easy for his skills – and it was a lot more fun than he’d anticipated. Cas’s mouth was open and the angel was caught up in all of it, gasping and strung tight in Dean’s hold.

Kissing the bruise he was making, he whispered over the sensitive skin, “I’m going to make you come while I work on leaving this mark on your throat.” Licking it, he chuckled at the moan it won him. “Don’t heal it, either – I want to see it in the morning, see what I did to you. Just like I look at the handprint you marked me with.”

“Dean,” Cas spoke the name on a groan.

With a flip of his hand’s grip and a new angle on the squeeze he was stroking him with, he tore that name into a garbled mess on those gasping lips. He stopped thrusting against him and just pressed in, roughly jacking and squeezing as he sucked the bruise into a deep blue-purple.

This time, he watched the light – part of the angel, more than the vessel ever would be – as it began to infuse with the air in the room, chasing away the night and the cold.

“I can hold it back,” Cas whispered, fear in his broken words.

“Don’t, short of blinding me – I want it. I thought it would choke me, but … it felt good.”

He breathed the misty light in as it warmed him inside and out. The angel was making small cries of pure pleasure and Dean knew he was close. It wasn’t all that different and he didn’t want to let the strangeness stop him anymore.

This is Castiel; that’s all that matters.

Thumbing the full slit again, he felt it surge and blow. He let cum coat his fingers as he bit Cas’s throat a second after it started. The angel arched his back and cried out. Dean shut his eyes fast as the light flashed far too bright. Gold and red stars burst briefly in the dark behind eyelids shut tight. Until the body in his arms started to relax again, he kept his eyes closed.

“Dean…” The whisper, the near-reverence – that was the hit Dean’s ego craved.

Kissing the glorious bruise he’d made, Dean cautiously opened his eyes. The glow was still there but muted and … almost content.

“Literal afterglow,” he muttered. When the angel met his gaze, Dean smiled down at him. “Don’t move. I’ll get a washcloth.”

He managed to get most of the mess off his hand and onto his angel after releasing his grip. Hesitating only a moment, he tossed the blanket and sheet out of his way and got up, blushing a little as Cas watched him stride nude and erect to the little bathroom.

Enough trysts with women more experienced – and far classier – than him had taught him how to spoil a lover. Maybe he didn’t always bother, since many of the bartenders and waitresses he bedded seemed to think it was weird, but if she was over forty, they were nearly always impressed. If he wanted to inspire them for more rounds, it was also a good way to start. He didn’t try to question why he was doing it for Cas.

After rinsing off his hand, he wet a washcloth with hot water at the white pedestal sink, wrung it out, and snatched a fresh towel as well.

On awkward auto-pilot, he cleaned the angel’s skin without meeting his eyes.

“Nearly blinded you,” Cas whispered.

Glancing up briefly, he saw the worry pulling that serene face into a slight frown. “Nah, I’m fine.”

“I must learn to control myself better.”

Dean got up again and dragged the chair not draped with coats over to the foot of the bed. It would make a decent towel rack in a pinch. He got back into bed and settled on his side, head propped by a hand and elbow.

“Careful is good, but I think I like you out of control a little, too.”

The worried frown smoothed. “You seem more at ease.”

“I’ve decided it’s probably a you thing – which I can handle.”

Cas lifted a hand to palm the side of his face and coaxed him down for a kiss. When he broke it, he whispered against Dean’s lips, “You are still in need. I want to give you this body for your pleasure.”

Balking a little at the odd language, Dean made himself smile. “I’ve only done that to women a few times. I don’t think I sucked at it. Let me get the stuff from my gear bag.”

“Whatever you used for them, I don’t need such things.”

Hesitation and worry crept in. “Uh, I… I don’t know what you do need, then.” He watched, speechless, as the angel turned away from him to lie on his stomach.

Cas took his wrist and led Dean’s hand to touch fingers to the tight muscle between his asscheeks. He covered that hand with his and the strange warmth passed through him to do its work. The feeling of that raw power entering his flesh and bones made his stomach clench. He had figured out that, like the light, it could harm or help.

“No fear,” the angel whispered, and the blue eyes flashed for a moment over his shoulder.

Unable to answer that, Dean swallowed and got his hand back. “Humor me, huh? I want to do this right.” Rising to rummage in his gear bag, he palmed the lube and hesitated over the lack of condoms. Fuck. My last one is probably stuffed between grimy old couch cushions back in Maine…

SPNbedart

Turning to look at Castiel, he sucked in a sharp breath. A seraph lying nude, prone on a white sheet with blankets barely covering thick thighs, was staring back at him.

The beautiful face was resting on an arm over the pillow. He had lifted his feet up, like one of those alluring women in a museum painting, caught between relaxing and seducing. Yet the resemblance to any human ended when their eyes met.

A piercing celestial glow lurked in the deep blue eyes and the quiet patient need Dean saw there made him forget to breathe. The shadows on the wall over the broad back, created by the pale lamp and the fading glow from within, looked like the sweep of sleek dark wings.

Dean almost choked when his body demanded air. Staying at any distance was abruptly unbearable. As he approached, Cas rose slightly to lean on his forearms before returning to perfect inhuman stillness – waiting. Dean had thought he had no idea how to appreciate the body of a man, but this one was getting under his skin in ways he didn’t know how to process – so he simply made the decision to roll with it.

He put the lube bottle down on the bed. Grabbing the other pillow, he patted a hip to give a bit of direction. “Need to put this under you.” Feeling awkward but determined to make it good, he helped him place it and then tried to shift the angel’s legs open before Cas got the idea and moved them.

The hot touch trick – that’s what he did to me on the couch, so it wouldn’t hurt. Some sex prep offshoot of the healing power? Damn it, figure it out. You know it works – can’t hurt him now.

Covering over him between those legs before he lost his nerve, Dean tapped into his limited experience and gripped his rigid cock; it didn’t seem to care at all that the vessel wasn’t a woman.

As he shifted, the plastic bottle rolled against his free hand. Dean released himself immediately and shook his head. Okay, magic angel Hoodoo, but I’ll be damned – again – if I’m gonna just shove in like some jackass.

Dean set his mouth on Castiel’s shoulder in a kiss and then nipped the bunched trapezius muscle between shoulder and neck. Reading the response as the angel pushed up into it slightly and drew in a sharp breath, Dean got teeth into it and bit him with a pressure that increased slowly. He licked and kissed the marks of the bite before turning his attention to the angel’s spine and shoulder blades.

Not asking any more questions about how the vessel got so fit, he fell into caressing and kissing his back, finding toned and defined muscles there, too. One hand went down, fingers tracing the spine before getting another handful of what really was a downright perfect ass.

“Damn,” he murmured, giving it an appreciative stroke and squeeze.

He didn’t run into many women who wanted this, but he knew he liked doing it – and now he had to admit he’d liked it done to him. Cas moved under him in many small ways, all clues that he was doing things right.

Fishing for the lube, he snapped it open and slicked his fingers. When he touched one to that ring of muscle, the tip slipped in with no resistance at all. “Wow. I guess … I really don’t need to open you, but I want to do this…”

Quietly, as if fearful of startling him, Cas spoke. “I don’t understand what you mean? It is ready for you.”

His hand retreated as if burned at the odd reminder that he was groping a vessel. Stifling a sigh, Dean tried again and moved lubed fingers back between the gloriously round and firm asscheeks. “You are,” he corrected, keeping his tone calm. “You are ready for me,” he added, the words crumbling into a heated whisper.

Returning to what he wanted quite badly, he bit his lower lip when one finger and then two slipped inside so easy it made his cock start to ache as it dripped with pre-cum.

Resurrected by God. The thought leaked in and banged around in his head for a minute as what that probably meant became clear. It’s a new body – untouched by anyone, even the Mrs. Dean began to shiver a little with thwarted hunger. Touched only by God. Inhuman. Sacred – pure.

Without another moment of hesitation, he lowered himself until his feet kicked all the bedclothes to the floor. Smiling at the sight of Cas’s socks, he stripped them off, too. All the way down, his mouth was on the angel. Lapping his tongue down the spine, he didn’t even pause at the arch of the tailbone.

Fingers moving in and out, he got his tongue right in there, too – without a qualm. Trying to remember every single thing those sweet brave souls had done when women had fingered him, he went on a single-minded hunt for the angel’s prostate until two crooked fingers finally found and rubbed at it through the soft, hot skin inside.

Castiel writhed under him, pinned down by one palm on his lower back. Another twitch lifted that hand and Dean realized pinning the angel was pure fantasy and careful really was a good idea.

“Easy,” he whispered up at him. “Get carried away and you could send me flying.”

Cas went still with obvious effort. “What is that – what you’re doing?”

“Just a little trick I picked up from the ladies. Feels good, huh?”

“Yes … it’s making it … hard again.”

“Help me out here. It’s making you hard. Can the ‘it’ talk, okay?” Cas didn’t respond and with any luck that was due to Dean’s new skill. I can’t wait much longer or I’m going lose it. He stopped doing everything at once and pulled his fingers free to move up and over him on splayed knees.

Seizing the lube, he smeared his cock with it, upper lip twitching with the odd feel of it on bare flesh.

One hand spread that ass and the other fisted around his cock shaft. He drew in a hasty breath and it turned into a gasp when he lowered his body and pressed smoothly inside of his angel.

“Tighten down, inside,” he muttered. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I need…” At first, he wasn’t sure Cas understood, but when he pushed a little deeper, it was tight enough to almost hurt his dick instead, and it took him a moment to have the guts to thrust. “Cas … oh, God…” He pressed his weight down over him just to steal a kiss as the angel turned his head to see him.

Castiel had a smile of wonder on his face that twitched into concern as their fledgling rhythm faltered a few times. Dean couldn’t stop an answering smile as they both realized that once didn’t make them skilled. They slowly sorted it out, how to move, how to make them both enjoy it.

Trying to be careful because he always had, Dean still instantly knew he was in trouble. He could control it, make it last longer, but giving it up, walking away – just the thought swept his warm and sweating skin with a chill of loss.

Don’t think about it. Don’t think…

Cas moved his knees to push his pelvis higher and the new angle made them both shudder. Dean gripped his hips and thrust a little harder.

“Let it be what you want,” Cas encouraged him, rough voice shredded. “Give me what you want to give.”

The words set fire to his caution and care. Trusting that he couldn’t hurt him, he used his strength and skill to drive in deep, feeling a little afraid of the runaway train the heat of their desire was turning them both into.

With anyone else, he would have flattened them into the mattress, but he couldn’t even shift the angel. He also couldn’t easily kiss him this way.

Dean pulled back and out, loving the outcry of loss he tore from Castiel’s lips. Forgetting himself, he tried to move him and got nowhere. “On your back,” he told him. “I need … more of you, all of you.”

Watching, stunned, Dean nearly forgot to move with him as that beautiful body turned and the angel rolled to his back, opening his legs for him. He shoved the pillow under the hips again with some help and almost fell onto him. Dean flushed at the near-whine that escaped his lips as he tried to hurry. He couldn’t think until he thrust inside Castiel again, more roughly than he meant to.

“Oh, shit, sorry –” He tried to grope for the lube bottle but couldn’t find it.

The blue eyes flared bright and the white light surged. “I want that, Dean – do that…”

To escape the threat of the light, he dropped down and kissed him with closed eyes, thrusting harder. Breathing rough but deeply between desperate kisses, he felt the angel under and locked around him and inside him – throat and lungs – all at once. The heat and sweet drifting scent of flowers rose with the light around them. It was too strange to cope with but at the same time, it felt … euphoric.

Rising up again, he placed his hands on those shoulders, swallowing hard at the feeling of raw power and strength in them.

Castiel was touching and stroking his body, his arms and chest – anything he could reach. When Dean winced in the light, trying to watch the angel arch and hiss in pleasure, he was shocked to see it all begin to fade, gathering into the vessel. Castiel’s eyes glowed with it for only a moment. After it receded, only the man who was an angel remained.

“Cas,” he gasped out, surprised by the tears that were abruptly filling his eyes. He didn’t understand them – at first. They wet his eyelashes and he couldn’t move to shake them away as the truth seeped in.

The empty loss inside him could not be filled; it was an abyss. The light had seduced and lured him away from the edge, even as it showed him by its purity how broken and used he felt. The angel as a man was just … a man – inspiring nothing but pure passion.

“Feel the joy we are creating,” Cas whispered. “Show me what this can be.”

Desperate to feel it, to let it hold the darkness inside him at bay, Dean kissed him deeply until passion slowly muted everything else. The angel lifted his head as Dean bowed his and those soft lips gently kissed his closed eyelids, as if he wanted to taste the unshed tears.

Cas shifted under him slightly and his body clenched down on the cock buried and thrusting slow and steady inside of him. Dean bit his bottom lip and pushed through it, his mind scraped clean by the pleasure it tore out of him.

Needing comfort as much as pleasure, he ducked his head to one side and pressed his face against Cas’s throat. Hands came up to hold his head and stroke his hair and it felt like the key to all of the tension in his evaporating resistance until mind and body were quiet and focused, every part of him muted and open to give all that he had.

Fingertips ran down Dean’s spine, chasing the heat they created straight to his groin. He began to move faster, loving the feeling of the angel’s ass tightening around him once, and then again. He pushed harder, deeper, and sucked in a sharp breath when skin slapped against skin.

Pulling back until he nearly slipped out was enough to break his control, but then the push back in, all the way in until their bodies smacked together again, nearly blinded him. Cas twitched and moved, undulating as if trying to pull him even deeper.

“Oh God, Cas. I can’t…”

Those lips were close to his ear, the heavy breaths sparking a shudder all through him. “Yes … again,” Cas gasped the words out. “Dean … you break so beautifully. Break into me, give it all to me,” he urged him, the tone of the rough voice dropping lower. It pulsed in Dean’s veins, spreading like heat through his body and straight to his soul.

Sense left him entirely. “You’re mine,” he ground the words into the flushed skin and stubble of Cas’s throat.

He pulled his cock free and let it rub on the skin at the edge of the stretched hole, fiercely aware it was hard enough to need no help stabbing back in – fast and in an almost brutal shove.

“Fuck,” he nearly hissed. “Mine.” He did it again, letting thick pre-cum smear around that hot stretched skin, loving the almost-whimper from that beautiful mouth.

Something slick touched his body before he felt Cas’s stiff and leaking cock as it was trapped between them when he leaned down to kiss that open mouth. He rose to seize it instantly and pulled a cry from the angel’s throat that he greedily swallowed in another kiss.

Inspired to destroy him in the sweetest way he could, he teased that hole as he stroked and squeezed the angel’s thick cock.

“Kiss me,” he told him, but when Cas lifted up to reach, he leaned away slightly as a smile of delicious evil tugged at one corner of his mouth.

“Dean … please,” Cas actually begged, tense and trembling in his hold.

It did things to Dean he couldn’t even name or understand. He nearly lost it. Scrambling for control, he let the little smile open into a smear of a wicked smirk across his face.

“Please? Please what?” he asked, voice turning husky with his own hunger. Thank God I’ve watched a shit ton of filthy porn. He watched Cas’s eyes shut tight, mouth still locked open. “You want to come or you want my cock back inside you? Maybe you want to come when I shove back in? I might not give you a choice on that.”

His hand squeezed and pumped, driving the angel so hard that Dean was in danger of coming on the bed instead, just from watching him writhe and twist under the onslaught of it all.

Castiel’s eyes flew open and the deep dilated blue flared with light so intense it cast a glow over the rest of his face. The alien scent of flowers surrounded them again and Dean almost caved, a curl of fear rippling through his guts that maybe he’d gone too far.

“You’re not,” Cas tried to speak and stopped. He dragged in a shaking breath and tried again. “Not the only one, soon to break…”

Confusion and worry threatened but Dean pushed it away. Every sense he possessed was already telling him it was good; it was desire strung tight and wanting, turning into a beautiful desperation.

I’m doing that to him. Holy shit. He wants it. Sucking in a deep breath, he began to deliberately shift and circle his hips to drag the hot head of his cock sloppily around that needy hole. His fist around the angel hadn’t stopped. “I’m not the only one? Are you about to break for me, Castiel? I’m about to make you.”

The light was doused a moment in a slow blink. Then it began to seep into the room as the angel stared up at him, surrounding them in a thickening haze. Disjointed memories of church altars covered with Easter flowers and roses were slowly obliterated as it filled his senses and his lungs.

Dean’s taunting tease of a smile was melted by it, morphing into a soft expression he might not have recognized in a mirror. He studied Cas, every little twitch and labored breath, until the exact moment the cock in his fist became more swollen, thicker. Before it could even start that first pulse, Dean angled his aching dick and shoved it deep inside, not stopping until his hips hit Cas’s ass with a smack.

The angel threw his head back, the light shifting as he did it, and his entire body convulsed as he came. A sharp cry was pushed out of his throat that was almost a scream. The strength in those thick-fingered hands was frightening as the angel clutched at his shoulders, but Dean felt the pressure check and stop before it could cause pain.

He was dragged down hard on top of Cas by that grip but he didn’t care about anything beyond driving into him, thrusting fast and relentlessly deep with a staccato rhythm of pure heat. The bunched sheet, wet with sweat, was strangled in his fists. Thick thighs closed around him, framing him without restricting his thrusts. It felt like a greedy embrace and only spurred him on.

Dean groaned and when he began to lose control, he couldn’t breathe at all. Tearing through him like something soft and violent at once, his orgasm hit and he came as he shoved himself hard against the angel’s body and held tight there. He could feel every shock of it, the muscles rippling around his cock, as trapped breath rushed out and he almost choked just trying to breathe.

He turned his head and laid it down on his angel’s chest, his body rising and falling slightly with the deep desperate breaths that worked both of their lungs. Exhaustion swept over him and every muscle he’d been holding tight with tense control relaxed at once.

It took a while before any other body part registered in his overstimulated brain at all. His knees and hands had a bit of sheet burn going on and his muscles were buzzing with the release of tension. The light was growing dim and he abruptly noticed that it became weaker before the alluring scent of flowers began to fade.

Fields of flowers, set on fire – I could drown in it, let it burn away my sins. I … want to. I wish it could. Yet something dark and damned pulled him away from it, threatening to push his soft afterglow of receding pleasure under a growing pall of whispers. I shouldn’t be allowed to touch you…

He frowned in distraction and rising distress, closing his eyes. Then he felt warm fingers at his temples and the whirlwind simply ceased.

“Be with me,” the angel whispered, “be only with me.”

Castiel ran his palms over Dean’s skin, every touch sparking soothing pleasure and a feeling of such peace that it drove the darkness back, forced it to flee and hide deep within that abyss that had fractured his soul.

“Look at me, Dean,” the low voice whispered.

Opening his eyes slowly, he lifted his head and felt the kindness in the angel’s expression almost break him all over again.

“Take this time with me and be at peace.”

He wanted that, he tried to reach for it, yet the intense confidence of sex and control was crumbling already.

“I suck at peace,” he muttered, dropping his gaze. “I’ll let you up.” He shifted to move but Cas embraced him and he stopped trying to resist before the reality of not being able to could make the curling roil growing in his gut even worse. “Or not,” he whispered.

Not one scrap of lame joke came to his rescue. Between one heartbeat and the next, he simply let go and tried to sink into the comfort being offered – before it was gone.

Because it will be; he won’t stay. Dean Winchester doesn’t rate a safety net – never did.

“What are you thinking?” Cas asked, his low voice soft and maybe even wistful.

Those thighs he might now be addicted to relaxed to rest over the top of Dean’s folded legs – probably just as capable of holding him in place. The thought of it threaded through him with a strange tendril or two of want. Yet it wasn’t enough to stop the habitual urge to get some distance when things were done.

“Thinking about being sticky,” he tried to grouse. “Sooner or later, my back and legs are going to need to bend the other way for a bit.”

Dean moved his arms to cross them over the angel’s chest, feeling his hold release enough to allow it. Since jokes had deserted him, he tried a sexy smirk instead.

“Unless you’re not ready to call it a night – give me a recharge break and I’ll be up for more.”

“You’re quite beyond exhaustion,” Cas responded, still almost using a whisper. “But that’s not what you are thinking about.”

“Reading my mind?”

“No. I would not if I could. You’ve suffered enough violations at the hands of my brethren.” Releasing Dean, he lifted his arms and crossed them under his head.

When Dean shifted to pull free of his body, nudging until the muscular legs bracketing him opened wider, the angel didn’t move more than that as he watched him in expectant silence.

“Oh, wow. Been a while, to tell the truth,” he muttered as he forced his body to rearrange itself.

He considered sitting up or even standing to get some distance but he couldn’t make himself stop touching Cas for long. As Cas composed his legs more comfortably too, Dean was drawn in closer like a battered moth to his flame.

“Can I set my man card aside for a bit and curl up without snarky comments?” The angel only looked confused, so he went for it and cuddled up, sighing in relief when an arm circled around him. “Angels can make a decent pillow – who knew?”

“Sleep, you need it.” Before Dean could protest, he added the reassurance he wanted. “I will stay until tomorrow; then you will need to leave this place.”

Shifting closer and working on steadying an abrupt tremor in his voice, Dean muttered, “You better mean that; we’re out of holy oil – don’t make me stab you to keep you in this bed.” He glanced up to catch the slight smile before closing his eyes.

Castiel brushed fingertips through his hair and as simply as that, sleep descended.

***

Dean woke warm and refreshed, lying mostly on his angel. The only other choice for two grown men in a queen bed was for one of them to fall off onto the floor. The blankets were back, somehow, and a slight lift and turn of his head proved that the soft light in the room was from the unwelcome morning sunshine slipping through the gap in the curtains.

Glancing up, he saw piercing blue eyes watching over him. Castiel didn’t look anything short of beautiful. With a sigh, he settled again.

“I don’t want to get up yet,” he muttered against the angel’s chest. “Do I reek like a yak? You don’t – you never do.” Dean smiled lazily and mused, “You smell like wildflowers, Easter lilies … and roses – maybe even honey. Weird. Is it just me or do you know that?”

“I had not noticed. Do you wish me to clean you?”

Startled into a chuckle, Dean looked up at him again in time to catch the slight teasing smile. “What a mouth on you – I’m shocked.”

“You are nothing of the sort – and you knew what I meant.”

“I’d rather shower for real – preferably with company – but if it means staying right here longer, I’m game.” Tossing him a wink, he tried not to grin. “Go for it.”

Maybe he imagined it, but when it happened, it felt more like being caressed than it had the first time. The sensation woke up the rest of him. He tried to ignore it. If this was about to be over, there were things to be sorted out.

Some of the ‘shared joy’ got a bit out of bounds and I’m not sure how to cope with all of this in general. Trench bonding can really spin the gears.

He pushed aside the idea that it could mean anything deeper. Stretching without rising, he almost purred when the angel began to lightly stroke his back.

“Sure you don’t want to ride shotgun a while and learn the trade? I decapitate, you smite?”

“Perhaps Sam will be back,” Cas offered, as if trying to console him. “He needs you as much as you need him.”

Dean sighed. “He needs demon blood rehab. Sammy’s out, maybe for good – other hunters are picking up his slack. I told him I can’t … trust him. And he knows why because he can’t even trust himself.”

“So you plan to just remain alone? What about Bobby?”

With a stifled huff, Dean dragged his now sparkling clean carcass off the warm seraph and sat up. Cas copied him, looking annoyingly concerned. Feeling self-conscious, Dean grabbed some sheet and pulled it over his lap. After a moment of Cas not reacting to his raised eyebrows, he covered his lap, too.

“Bobby’s in a wheelchair, remember? We could make that work – but he won’t. If you miss them, pop in on them. Somebody has to keep at the family business, here. Fair warning though, if you still can’t heal him, Bobby wouldn’t be a cheerful guy to sit around and play backgammon with.”

“You humans can be so stubborn and unreasonable.”

“Yep. So as families go, you should feel right at home.” Say it. He won’t figure it out. Cover your bases. “Cas…”

The angel touched his jaw and then gently stroked a thumb over his lips. “Tell me,” he repeated in that soft tone that seemed to hold the power to make Dean spill his guts.

“We need to keep this … between us. I don’t want it to change … things.”

“Don’t tell Sam?”

“Sam, Bobby – nobody.” He closed his eyes a moment to avoid however the angel might react. “I’m not – I mean…”

“Dean.”

Opening his eyes, he saw that the serene expression hadn’t changed. “What?”

“This is for us – for right now. You needed this comfort. I did not know … that I did.”

“Okay. Same page, good. Maybe, though – it doesn’t have to be just right now. I practically live in Baby and you have a cell phone these days. Or am I way off base here and in dire need to shut up?”

Cas didn’t answer at first, opting to stare at him in fascination again.

Growing nervous, Dean tried to push past it before it could shut him down. “I bunk in the backseat whenever I don’t get to a motel – or if funds are sketchy. Open invitation, it can mean whatever –”

Cas leaned in and kissed him, mercifully cutting short the embarrassing babbling. Dean sank into it, forgetting his own name for a few minutes of fleeting bliss. When it stopped and Cas went back to staring, studying his face, Dean lowered his head to escape it. He didn’t have the guts to look up again until Cas touched his ribs, running his fingertips over them.

“Was that a yes to prospective car sex? You did say you wanted that.” Pulling down a fresh mask like a pro, he winked and gave him his best sexy suggestive smile.

The angel’s next words derailed him utterly. “Exemplar of man.”

“Topic dodging ... got it.” Dean frowned as hopeful nerves dropped into the lurking quicksand of anxiety. “What does that mean – to you?”

“The ideal model of mankind.”

“Hardly. I bet you say that to all the Archangel vessels.”

“Being a vessel is not why I lifted you out of the pit.”

“It’s a good bet that fact is why you got the order to do it. You said God commanded it. God is missing. So who gave the command? Michael? You said ‘we’ have work for me – the others lied to you so they could start the apocalypse with your – what, uncle maybe – turning me into his custom meat suit to fight Lucifer wearing Sam. So technically, since we’re not doing that, you raised me up for nothing.”

“Not for nothing. You perceive so many things as rejection. You can’t define or articulate core needs, so you wall them away and try to live without those vital things.” Cas touched a palm to Dean’s cheek. “I feel … captivated by you.”

“If you rickroll me, I’ll never forgive you.”

“I … don’t understand.”

“It’s a song, a joke – a lame one. Never mind.”

“Dean – you are beautiful; not just in body, everything about you draws me to you.”

Making himself disengage, Dean moved back to lean away from him against a slanting mashed pillow. “What changed you so much? I know I was out of line, expecting you to ‘perch on my shoulder’ as you put it once. You had a bigger picture and you were pissed at me for taking you for granted – which I sort of was.”

“I wasn’t truly angry.”

“Dude, you threatened to toss me back into Hell if I didn’t show you some respect. It was impressive – my dad would’ve been proud. Trust me, I know ‘quiet mad’ when I see it.”

Cas almost looked ill. “That was before. You were what changed me, I told you. I regret speaking to you that way, making you afraid. I was relieved you survived the attack of the Witnesses.”

Letting out a sigh, Dean gave him a lopsided smile. “You had your own battle going on, right? I don’t react well to authority figures – not since Dad’s been gone. Some of the asinine egotistic lip I’ve given you, I’m surprised you never knocked me on my ass. If this – whatever this is – is gonna have a round two, if that’s what you’re trying to tell me you want … then putting up with each other’s bullshit is going to be a part of it.”

“I accept that,” Cas responded, with a little nod.

Dean sat up, honestly surprised. “Seriously? Okay. Well … hell, I can figure out how to cope later.” He tossed the blankets and top sheet away from them and took a moment to appreciate the angel’s body before he got his tongue back on it – among other things.

Leaning in, he tilted his head and gave that soft mouth a deep and urgent kiss. Cas responded with equal passion and the heat of it became a greedy burn that spread through Dean’s body.

“Where’d the stupid lube end up?” He frowned for a moment and then forgot about it.

One hand pressed against Cas’s chest and began a slow stroking exploration downward – until his wrist was caught and stopped in a gentle yet powerful grip.

“Mmm…?” Dean had to drag his brain back up into his skull.

The angel spoke quiet words against his lips, brushing them so lightly that Dean shivered with want.

“It is morning. We need to leave this place.” Cas released him and rose to stand. The moment he turned back to face Dean and held out his hand, the angel was clothed again. “Take my hand,” he whispered.

A chill swept through Dean as fear snuffed desire so swiftly, it seemed like he had imagined it. He had felt safe, protected. Because of the sigils on his bones, the others couldn’t find him. Castiel could stop the nightmares, keep the loneliness at bay.

Self-loathing slid in on dark whispers. You’re doing it again – expecting too much. Chasing Zachariah off once doesn’t mean he can beat the Archangels. You knew this was coming … you knew it. You have to walk away and pretend the empty road is all you ever needed.

When Dean did reach out to clasp that offered hand, it felt like the last hope of a drowning man.

Cas pulled him up to his feet, wrapping him in his hunting clothes without a sound before embracing him, close and warm. Dean clung to him, ashamed of needing it – unable to deny the need.

“Dean … you must understand this. You are hidden from them – I am not. If I am with you, if I stay, they can find me and then they will find you. It isn’t safe. I may have already lingered too long.”

Lifting his forehead from Cas’s shoulder, he swallowed hard. He had to stop, fix it – smooth it over, deal, cope. ‘Stow your shit or lose it,’ his dad’s gruff voice spoke to a pair of frightened brave boys in his memory. It had been an order too often repeated with barely-concealed rage, grief, and whiskey on his breath. I love you, Dad, but my God – I didn’t want to become you.

His stunned and reeling mind struggled to register and comprehend what Cas had said. Being with the angel was putting him in danger. Finally meeting those crystal blue eyes, something in that now familiar open and soft expression broke Dean utterly. He bowed his head.

“I don’t know if I can do this, hunt – live – alone. What right do I have to even be here? So many good people, good friends, have been slaughtered along the way. I did … vile things – and that choice broke the first seal. Sam broke the last one, but if I hadn’t … he wouldn’t have had to…” He looked up at the angel with tears blurring his sight. “It’s my fault, my curse, maybe. I shouldn’t be here. If I could take their place, Jo … Ellen … and Bobby may never walk again. I did that, all of it.”

“You have fallen; you will fall again – that is the nature of humans. Yet you rise each time you fall. So rise now, stand and be what you were born to be.”

“Cas, what if I can’t? I feel so … empty, lost. You’re strong, even without all of your powers. I’m … not.”

Their foreheads touched as Cas drew him in closer with one hand behind Dean’s neck as his body slumped against his angel.

“Remember that I fell too … for you. I know you are afraid – so am I. Breaking the first seal … that was not your fault; you didn’t understand what would happen. You were just a tattered soul trying to survive. You were dead, damned – and still fighting. Don’t you see how astonishing that is? I raised you up but I can’t join you on your journey; only now and then to help you will I appear, and I want to do that, always. You have led me to this, the ability to see beyond the purpose I was created for, to defy unjust edicts. You’ve shown me that we do have work to do – you and I, and any who will fight beside us. We will help the innocents and defy those that wish to destroy them out of some empty duty, base cruelty … or sickening apathy. Can you understand that you broke and then remade me? Not with what you see as your weakness – but with your strength of will.”

“I’m broken myself, so how can I help anyone else?”

“Dean, you must put aside the lies that human guilt is telling you. You are not a curse, you save others all the time. I told you – nothing holds you down for long. This will pass and you will find a way.”

For one moment, he melted against Castiel, allowing himself that comfort. When he let go and the angel moved to kiss him, he sank into it, sharing one last sliver of that warm and healing fire. Then they broke apart and with a shared nod, turned away.

Cas waited as he gathered his things. Dean felt so relieved for that small mercy, he couldn’t speak. When he finally found the lube bottle, he shoved it into its purple cloth bag as if it had wronged him.

The angel walked across the room and set a hand on the doorknob. Dean watched him, feeling numb. Black gear bag in hand, he stopped at the table and reached out for the metal key attached to a green plastic keychain with raised white letters giving the motel name, information, and the room number. His thumb ran over the number on the cool plastic once before putting it down again to leave it there.

Can’t face the front desk. I paid cash last night, let the maid drop it off.

He couldn’t look at Cas. He went still, staring at the angel’s boots. When they moved, he followed. Finally, the door opening, they left the small room behind.

Outside, morning sunlight had faded to a dull yellow as another dark wedge of storm clouds approached in the distance – coming from the east. With a shudder, he stopped staring at it and walked to his car.

Dean loaded his gear bag next to the empty cooler with a strange sense of loss. It was all sliding away. He closed the driver’s side back door and faced the being that was once again a seraph, distant and calm – not a soft and intimate form made of fire and flesh that he could hold in his arms and bury his wounded soul in.

I can’t do this again, call him away from what he needs to do. ‘Seraph’ is Hebrew, it literally means ‘burning one’. They’re one of the highest orders of angels. I’m just a … mud monkey, to borrow that asshole Uriel’s favorite term.

He swallowed hard, squeezing the sharp edges of the car keys in his fist.

“What will you do now?” he asked, trying to smile and failing. “Since you’re not giving me my amulet back, I’m guessing ‘God hunt, reprise’.”

“I will continue my search, yes.”

Dean took a step closer. “I wish you’d stay longer, I know what you said about the risk, but – maybe I could help you. It’s … a jungle out there, right? You barely understand people – I do.”

Castiel stepped back farther away from him. “I’ve watched the world for a long time, Dean.”

Echoing in his head, Cas’s low rough voice stripped away every other thought: ‘…before there were humans…’

He tried to ground himself, tried to breathe as the incomprehensibly vast stretch of time between them stripped away any hope he could ever have of claiming a place at this being’s side. He wanted to fall to his knees under the weight of it. He had no idea how he remained on his feet.

“What will you do?” Cas asked softly, breaking his own spell.

Utterly at a loss, Dean turned to the Impala to avoid watching him go. Baby’s smooth black metal was warm under his hands and the road went on forever. He didn’t know if Castiel stayed to hear his answer. He didn’t want to know. “Well … like Bob Seger said – I guess … I’ll turn the page.”

He never heard the flutter of wings but when the breeze picked up and blew little dust devils around his boots, he liked to think it was Castiel saying goodbye.

US-2 W took him out of Gorham, New Hampshire and he followed it on autopilot without looking back even once at the little motel.

***

In Lancaster, he stopped for gas and supplies. Food, whiskey, ice, beer – a couple six-packs of El Sol this time around – and with a snarl on his lips, he grabbed a box of condoms. The grocery clerk of the tiny country store was a slender young man who looked like he’d never seen a rubber in the wild. Just to fuck with him, Dean snatched up a copy of Busty Asian Beauties and tore off its brown modesty wrapper before slapping it down on the counter under the guy’s nose. He managed not to glare at the wide-eyed shock but his trademark smirk refused to join in on the joke.

Back in his car and ready to go, one clipped and distracted call to Bobby gave him something to aim at: a possible ghoul infestation in the Mount Hope Cemetery at Rochester, New York. He got off the call as fast as he could without making Bobby suspicious. Dropping the phone in the box with the tapes, he seized the steering wheel in whitening knuckles.

Keep heading west and south, sounds good to me. Next up, Vermont.

He left US-2 just to be safe and hit US-3 S. The route became a blur on either side of worn blacktop as the signs changed from VT to NY. Soon enough, NY-22A S became County Road 23 as he pushed onward through upstate New York.

Fishing for a fresh tape, he glanced at the box on the seat beside him and picked up Metallica’s Reload just to get Seger’s lonely Turn the Page out of his head. The song that began to play was Low Man’s Lyric. He almost popped it out, but then the words sank deep like a hook into his soul.

My eyes seek reality
My fingers seek my veins
There’s a dog at your back step
He must come in from the rain
I fall ’cause I let go
The net below has rot away
So my eyes seek reality
And my fingers seek my veins

The trash fire is warm
But nowhere safe from the storm
And I can’t bear to see
What I’ve let me be
So wicked and worn
So as I write to you
Of what is done and to do
Maybe you’ll understand
And won’t cry for this man
’Cause low man is due
Please forgive me

My eyes seek reality
My fingers feel for faith
Touch clean with a dirty hand
I touched the clean to the waste

So low the sky is all I see
All I want from you is: forgive me
So you bring this poor dog in from the rain
Though he just wants right back out again

And I cry to the alleyway
Confess all to the rain
But I lie, lie straight to the mirror
The one I’ve broken to match my face

The trash fire is warm
But nowhere safe from the storm
And I can’t bear to see
What I’ve let me be
So wicked and worn
So as I write to you, yeah
Of what is done and to do, yeah
Maybe you’ll understand
And won’t cry for this man
’Cause low man is due
Please forgive me
Please forgive me

So low the sky is all I see
All I want from you is: forgive me
So you bring this poor dog in from the rain
Though he just wants right back out again

Gripping the wheel tight until his hands hurt, he finally cursed under his breath and popped the tape out. A spin or two of the radio knob worked its magic and turned static into an endless stream of oldies but goodies, as random as the roads his Baby was riding down.

Popping open the small triangular vent window to get some air, he glanced in the rearview mirror to see the last of the dark storm clouds rolling away to the north.

Hills and woods surrounded the aged road, empty and silent. He rolled down his window, took a deep breath of the gentle wind that filled the car, and gave topside every chance to seduce him into being glad to be alive.

The radio station he’d found remained steady but he had stopped paying the music any attention. It couldn’t soothe the tangle in his head. He tried to relax, yet he felt hollow in the wake of everything that had happened. His skin still felt the touch of the angel’s power, the comfort of his pure fire, but that would fade – like a dream he’d maybe only imagined.

Does it even matter? If he stays away to keep me safe… Right. Like I’m ever ‘safe’ for long. Hunters rarely get old. Got nothing to show for it, no way to know if it even mattered to him. I’m a blink next to eternity – here and gone.

Shifting on the bench seat, he frowned as something dug into his hip. His jeans pockets had been empty when Cas magicked them onto him; the wallet was in his jacket dropped on the seat like a mere heap of leather in Sam’s old shotgun spot.

Watching the road, he dug fingers into the pocket and froze at the feel of a metal key attached to hard plastic. He yanked it out, glanced at the dark green with raised white letters, and then gripped it in a fist. The key and keychain were warm – warmer than he was.

It was on the table, I left it there. I didn’t imagine that. Heart abruptly thudding all the way up to his throat, he slowed down as he looked around the car.

The road dropped down as he emerged out of the hills and lush farmland opened up on both sides. It was like entering another world. The breeze picked up, blowing gently around him through the open window.

Dean held poised on his tongue the beautiful name of his angel, but he didn’t say it – tried not to even think it. The metal key and plastic keychain grew warmer in his fist. Opening the fingers a little, he stroked the pad of his thumb over the raised numbers.

Summer had the countryside in a loose grip of green and a kaleidoscope splash of wildflowers. As the sun rose higher, it filled the warming air with their sweet scent.

 

FINI.