A/N - 2nd and last chapter. This fic could have been many more chapters but for personal reasons I needed it to be short & sweet.

Cas flinched so violently he nearly dropped the burger. Dean's voice. Dean. It was Dean, walking right up through the park, on Cas's left side. Cas fumbled the burger back into its wrapper and looked up at him, heart suddenly thumping.

Dean looked just the same. Eerily the same, actually. Same jeans and boots and belt, same type of flannel shirt and jacket. Same familiar face, which struck Castiel as so hauntingly familiar, so devastatingly familiar, that it felt like he was being confronted with an apparition: a vision from the past, a hallucination, a visitation from a dream. Cas sat transfixed, gazing up at Dean as he drew closer.

There was an almost-shy smile on Dean's face. His shoulders were a little hunched, his hands jammed in his jacket pockets; the posture looked odd for him, as if he were feeling a little unsure of himself (which seemed distinctly un-Dean-like). As the fountain light changed color from green to yellow, Cas realized that Dean wasn't looking entirely well. There was a rough stubble on his chin that looked several days old, and his eyes seemed tired, a little haunted, with dark shadows underneath. There was a half-healed scrape down his right cheek and a matching bruise under his eye. Some kind of hunting injury, no doubt. Cas felt a sharp pang to realize that Dean had apparently been in danger while Cas had been unable to help. And as Dean took two last shuffling steps closer, Cas realized he was limping slightly, too.

The old impulse swept over him to heal Dean's injuries, and Cas had actually started to reach his hand out, stretching one hand up toward Dean with two fingers raised, before he remembered, I can't heal him. I have no powers. I'm not an angel anymore.

Cas withdrew his hand as if he'd been stung, folding his fingers into a tight fist. Embarrassed, he looked back down at the burger, refolding the wrapper more carefully around it and tucking it back in its bag before he felt steady enough to say anything.

"You're injured," Cas stated, glancing warily back up at Dean.

Dean was looking down at him with quite a solemn look now, from about two yards away, both hands still in his pockets. He didn't mention the aborted healing attempt, but just said, "Yeah... uh... me and Sam had a bit of a rough hunt. Thought we'd take a week or two off."

"Sam's okay?" said Cas, suddenly worried that Sam might need some healing too.

"Oh, yeah, yeah, he's fine, he's in Idaho," said Dean, nodding toward the north, as if Idaho were just over the horizon. "Came here on my own."

Cas looked back down at the burger again and began rolling the top of the burger bag closed, curling it over and over into a little roll while he stared down at it with his jaw set. "Dean, I can't heal you," he said at last. He had to almost choke the words out.


"I can't heal you," Cas repeated. "I don't have any powers. None at all. I can't even heal a bruise. I can't do anything. I have no powers. You know that." The words were coming out too fast. It had gotten far too difficult to look at Dean, so Cas kept his eyes on the burger bag, now unrolling its crumpled top and then refolding it into a neat overlapping series of folds. "I can't heal you. If that's why you came, then I'm afraid you came for nothing."

"Oh," said Dean. Cas still felt unable to look up at him, irrationally certain that Dean would somehow be able to read Cas's current state of defilement just by the look in Cas's eyes, so Cas kept his eyes down. But out of the corner of his eye Cas saw Dean's feet shifting. One of Dean's hands pulled out of his pocket and went up out of view (probably to rub his jaw); the hand dropped again, the fingers fidgeting at Dean's belt loops, and then the hand went back into his pocket. The feet shuffled again. Dean's nervous, Cas realized, faintly surprised at the thought.

Dean said, "No, that's... not... um. That's not why I came. I just came to see how you are."

Well. That was unexpected.

And somewhat unbelievable.

"How did you find me?" said Cas, unwillingly curious.

"Sam and I tracked down that text you sent." The feet shuffled again. "That just got us to the neighborhood, though, of course. We found the shelter you stayed at but they said you left. Sam's working other angles — he thought you might've gone back to Idaho, where you were working before, so he went to search there — but I wanted to stay here and check around some more in case you were still nearby. Been poking around all week. Then just came across you here." Dean cleared his throat. "So. Uh."

He paused. A car honked in the distance; a plane droned overhead.

Dean said, "So, how you been?"

"I'm fine," Cas lied. The thought occurred to him that Dean wouldn't have put so much trouble into finding him (or, any trouble, really) if he didn't need help with something. "Then what's wrong?"


"If you didn't want me to heal you, what do you need help with? What's wrong?"

"Oh, no... nothing, nothing's wrong," said Dean, sounding slightly hurt. "Just thought I'd check up. Wondered how you were." Cas risked a quick glance up to find that Dean had put on one of his extra-charming smiles. He was still standing a little hunched, both hands still jammed in his pockets, but he was looking at Cas with one of those smiles. It almost seemed the genuine kind of smile, the non-mocking kind.

Cas made himself look away.

"I told you I'm fine," said Cas again.

A moment of silence ticked by, the only sound the burbling water of the fountain.

"So..." Dean ventured, "whatcha been up to? Not working your way up the corporate ladder after all? The Gas-n-Sip ladder?"

Cas shook his head. "I lost that job the day after you left."

That seemed to rattle Dean. "What? I thought you left on your own. I mean, I just assumed that... that you... were doing good? That you decided to move on?"

Cas shook his head. "No. Nora fired me. My boss. She..." He exhaled, the sad scene coming to him all over again. Nora had been torn about it — that much had been obvious. She was not a bad person, not at all. Cas still felt that she might even have become a friend, if things had gone differently. But that evening had terrified her.

"She was frightened," Cas explained. "I think she thought I was mixed up in some kind of organized crime. And I got her baby involved. I think that's what made it so difficult for her, that her baby got involved. She was scared for Tanya — her baby. I let a Rit Zien into her house, Dean, I killed him in her home, and spattered the room with his blood. And Tanya was right there; Tanya was in danger. Not to mention Tanya got sick."

"Oh..." said Dean, slowly. "Right..."

"Also I let a strange man in and let him give medicine to Tanya without checking with Nora," Cas pointed out. "I mean, Tanya was fine, but I think it was the principle of the thing."

"You let a strange man in?" said Dean.

Cas glanced up, and almost laughed at Dean's befuddled look. "That would be you, Dean."

Dean looked troubled. "Uh... damn. Cas. I... I didn't know."

"You didn't ask," said Cas, unable to stop himself. "You didn't call."

There was a dead silence for a moment.

"I thought..." began Dean. "I thought you'd have called if you needed anything." He hesitated a moment and added, "I thought I'd brought you trouble. I thought you wanted out of the life. Didn't you?"

Cas said nothing, unsure how to answer. He had wanted out of the life.

Dean added, slowly, "I thought I should stay away."

An awkward pause drifted by, and then Dean said, his voice faltering a little, "So... do you... have another job?"

How do I hide this? thought Cas, now rolling the burger-bag up into the tightest possible bundle around the half-eaten burger. He set it next to him on the bench, thinking, What do I say? Can I hide how defiled I am? Can I hide what I have become?

He finally said to Dean, "It turns out it's difficult to find employment right now. I don't really have any skills."

"You've got skills," said Dean. "You've got a lot of skills."

Cas snorted. "None that matter now. None that matter here. Sure, I could... " He looked up at the sky. "I could name all the stars in the sky, yes. I can command an army, I can conspire with the King of Hell. I could plot a path to Neptune with my eyes closed even now. But..." He looked around the park, and at the street nearby; at a bus rumbling by, at the row of little restaurants on the other side of the street, at the people walking past chatting.

"None of that matters here," Castiel said.

Dean was quiet.

Cas added, with a sigh, "I've had to focus just on staying alive, to be honest. I was thinking tonight about what to do next... I... I still have my blade..." He gestured at his jacket sleeve. "It's been useful once or twice. I was trying to think of what to do next, now that I have a little money. Winter's almost here. I think I need a jacket next. But after that, I don't know..." At this point Cas realized he had no idea where he was going with this, or why he was even trying to tell Dean anything. He fell silent.

Dean looked around the park. "So you have a job around here then?"

Cas nodded reluctantly.

"Doing what?"

Damn. Why had Dean insisted on asking about Cas's job again? In fact, it was the third time he'd asked about Cas's job. Cas looked at Dean once more, this time letting his eyes linger on Dean's face, and now he spotted what he hadn't before: a grim look in Dean's eyes. Something half-angry, something half-sad. A look of worry, and of loss.

"You working tonight?" Dean asked. "Or just, uh... " He paused. He had not moved closer; he was still standing two yards away, and now he made a wide gesture with his hand that included the bar. And the reeds.

He had just gestured at Cas's path through the reeds.

Dean finally finished his sentence with "... or, you just hang out here? With a friend, with friends or something?" Now he was looking at the willow tree.

He'd seen. Last night. Cas had done those two blow jobs, both of them out here under the tree, in the reeds. Dean must have seen.

Once Cas wouldn't have cared at all. Once he would have just said, blunt and unafraid, "Oh, him, he wasn't a friend, he was just paying me thirty dollars for fellatio." And once he wouldn't have minded in the least if Dean had laughed about it.

Cas was abruptly tired of the whole charade. "You saw," Cas said.

"Yeah," said Dean, looking acutely uncomfortable now. He did laugh, then, but it was not his usual laugh. It was an awkward laugh, short and forced. "So, you, uh, you, uh, you made some friends, huh? Settled in, huh. Enjoying yourself?"

"Not particularly," said Cas, "but I thought it might be useful experience."

Another strange little laugh. "Gonna put it on your resume? Blowing guys in the park?" Ah, there it was; there was that familiar crass harsh commentary, the kind that Dean was so good at. The mockery surely would be coming next.

"I just wanted to learn a little about how to... How... " Cas said, fumbling over his words, wanting to explain. "I've seen so many things, you know, but haven't done nearly any of them." Now Dean was looking confused, and Cas tried to explain. "I'm at a disadvantage, Dean," he said patiently. "All other humans have had years of experience at this. But I've been flung into this all of a sudden. People see my vessel's age and think I'm experienced at human interactions, but I'm not. I'm really not. Not that kind of interactions, at least. I wanted to learn a little about how to ... be human. How to attract a partner, I suppose? You laughed at me earlier, too, about Nora, my boss, remember, when I made that mistake and thought it was a date, and I didn't want to make those sorts of mistakes again. So, I wanted to see if I could get some practice, at, at... attracting a partner, I suppose." Cas heard himself rattling on with some surprise, and stopped short.

Dean gave a strange little huff of a laugh. He muttered, "You don't need practice at that." He took two stiff, jerky steps closer, and sat on the bench to Cas's left, a safe two feet of space between them. He leaned over with his arms on his knees, knees spread, fingers laced as if he were cradling something fragile in his hands. "Cas," Dean began, but then he paused, clearly gearing himself up for something. Some kind of speech.

Cas knew what was coming. Dean was going to lecture him again, and it was going to be very painful again, and in the end Dean would leave again, and Cas would still be alone.

It would be really, really good to accelerate this whole conversation, thought Cas, and he said, "If you've come to laugh at me again, just have your laugh and leave." Dean actually flinched at that, shifting uneasily on the bench. His head turned a little away. Cas heard him give a sharp little exhale, almost as if he'd been punched.

The anger drained out of Castiel as quickly as it had arrived.

It's not Dean's fault. It was never his fault. You imagined something that was never there.

"What do you want, Dean?" Cas said, suddenly feeling absolutely exhausted. "Why are you here?"

"I've been watching you," said Dean, totally unexpectedly.

Cas looked at him. "What?"

"Been watching you all day," said Dean, his head down now, gazing fixedly at his boots as he dug one heel into the loose gravel by the bench. "Sorry, I should've said. And... ah... yesterday too. Sorry, I... I really meant to say hello right away but... " He shifted his feet some more, scraping the gravel around with one boot heel and then the other. He scratched his cheek, and rubbed his nose, and looked off at the fountain. He finally went on, "Been looking for weeks. I've been looking for you for weeks. Been meaning to call but... Well, when I finally tried, your phone was deactivated. I was... kinda worried. I got kinda worried. I got pretty worried about that. So was Sam. We went looking for you. We went back to Idaho, and... well, finally Sam got that text but then you wouldn't answer his, I was all over him to send a bunch more texts and we sent a whole bunch, I sent some too, but you didn't answer a one of them and then the phone company said your phone had been turned off again." Dean glanced over at him and added, "It's still off, isn't it?"

Cas nodded silently, staring at him, and Dean went on, turning his gaze back to his feet. "We got a fix on what cell tower you must've been near when you sent the one text. The tower has a two-mile radius. So I've been working the whole area. Sam thought you must've left the area so he's chasing some other ideas, up in Idaho like I said, but I wanted to stay here a little longer here and make sure. There's only about ten zillion bars and motels and restaurants and shit in the two-mile radius, and I've been checking them all. Then last night—" Dean pointed to the Red House, across the street. "I went in there, just to get a drink, just to relax a bit, cause I've been everywhere in this damn city looking for you, and I just needed a... a break... and suddenly there you were. I couldn't believe it. But then..."

Dean was staring straight at his feet as he said all this, his shoulders hunched, still leaning on his elbows with his hands clasped together. Cas listened to it all silently, unable to take his eyes from Dean's achingly familiar profile. The colored lights of the fountain were lighting up the side of Dean's face now — blue... green... yellow. The scrape on Dean's cheek stood out vividly as Dean said, "I saw you were with a guy."

He paused. Orange... red... purple. "Last night," Dean went on. "I saw you were with a guy. So, I, um, I really gotta apologize, I, uh, I watched for a while; I watched for a while and it looked pretty damn sure that you were a couple. I even followed you over here, and... well, I thought you were a couple. So I... didn't say hello. I left. I'm sorry, I really wasn't meaning to pry, I just wanted to say hello, and... anyway, I left, but, I came back later, like three hours later. I just didn't want to let you get away without at least talking to you, at least to say hi." He took a breath. "But then you were with another guy. A different guy..." He gave a rough little laugh and stopped.

There was silence for several moments. Red... purple... blue... the purple and blue made Dean's whole face looked bruised.

"Then I thought, oh, he's having fun," said Dean, his voice very stiff and stilted. "I thought, he's finally getting to have a good time, good for him, good for him, I should leave him alone, I should let him do his thing. I should just go. But then..." Dean hesitated.

Cas looked away. He knew what Dean was about to say:

But then he paid you.

In a way, it was a relief to know that he didn't have to bother trying to hide it.

Dean cleared his throat. His voice already had been rough, but now it went rougher as he said, very quietly, still staring intently at his feet. "I left right away. But Cas, are you, um, are you... um... are you turning tricks? I mean, for money?" Dean at last dragged his eyes up to Cas's. "I mean, are you blowing guys for money?"

It was one of those completely unnecessary questions. Dean had always had a habit of wasting breath on questions like that. Cas gazed at Dean, at how tense and unhappy he looked, sitting on the bench a few feet away. Dean's posture looked a little familiar, and at last Cas remembered a day long ago when they had both been sitting in very similar positions, on another bench — a pair of benches, actually, with a gap between them.

Dean had been full of bluster that day, distrustful and angry. Cas had listened to all his demands, all his questions, and then had told him, "I have doubts." Castiel had been very startled, back then, to hear those words coming out of his own mouth. I have doubts. To a human. To a human he'd met only a few times before. Dean had not known then, and likely still had little idea now, what an unthinkable admission that was for an angel to say at all, let alone to his human charge:

I have doubts.

It had been the beginning of the end.

And it had all led right here. Here he sat, now, Castiel, once an angel of the Lord, now fallen. Fallen in every conceivable sense. Even after all these years there were still moments when Cas felt amazed all over again, to realize just how unthinkably far he'd fallen, and where he'd ended up. After all the eons of devoted obedience, of unwavering faith. Fallen. Rebelled from Heaven... exiled to Earth, and even to Purgatory... now even stripped of his grace.

And now a prostitute too. It was just the "cherry on top," as Dean would say, wasn't it?

There was something of the divine comedy in all of it, Cas thought, watching the colors cycling on Dean's face. Blue... green... yellow... Dean looked beautiful in all the colors. Even bruised, even sad and frustrated as he seemed to be now, he was beautiful.

The first man, last night, had been a nice guy. But the second had been the sadistic sort. If Dean had stayed longer, to watch Cas accepting the payment, he would have seen the argument that had erupted when the payment had been only ten dollars. And he would have heard what the second man had called Castiel, then, when Cas had protested and tried to ask for the agreed-upon thirty. It had been another barrage of abuse: Worthless. Useless. Filthy. Only good for cleaning shit out of toilets. You liked that, didn't you? You liked being on your knees in the mud? You think you're worth something? You're just a spineless cocksucking dog. Cas could have fought for the money, and he would have won, but he hadn't had the heart for it this time. The man had even snatched his ten dollars back, and had left unharmed, and Cas had just let him go.

"Cas?" Dean said, with an extremely brief glance up at Cas, and Cas realized that he hadn't answered Dean's question about turning tricks for money. Quite some time had slipped by; the fountain had cycled all the way through the rainbow and was starting all over again at blue. Dean had been sitting absolutely still, staring at his shoes.

"Yes, Dean," said Cas, feeling quite calm, at last. "I'm turning tricks for money, yes. Is that why you came, to see how far I would fall?"

Dean said, in a monotone, "You needed money that bad?"

Had Dean not realized how few Castiel's options were? "When I told you I had nothing, I meant it literally," said Cas.

"But you were doing so well," protested Dean, looking up at him. "You had an apartment, you had a job, you—"

"I was sleeping in the back of the store," Cas said.

Dean blinked. "What?" he said. "You were... what?"

"I was sleeping on the floor of the stockroom of the store," said Cas. "I didn't have an apartment. I couldn't afford one."

Dean looked shocked. "I thought you were doing okay?"

"No, I wasn't doing okay," said Cas, unable to keep a tinge of anger out of his voice. "When I told you I had nothing, I meant it, Dean. I didn't have an apartment. I didn't have any clothes. No identification, no contacts, nothing. What I had was a used sleeping-bag and one sweater and one blue vest and a toothbrush in a ziploc bag. That was it. That was everything. You have no idea—" Cas stopped, with a tired sigh. The long-rehearsed speech suddenly didn't seem important, the details didn't really matter, and poor Dean looked so uncomfortable and so miserable that Cas decided to jump to the more recent part of the story.

Cas said, "I couldn't find another job. I looked for weeks. I was tired of sleeping under bridges and on benches... it's really quite uncomfortable and I found I really didn't like being dirty. I wanted to be somewhere that had showers and somewhere to wash my clothes. I found a hostel downtown, where I stay. But I have to pay. I needed money, for food and shelter. I couldn't get a job. I looked. I couldn't. I was hungry, and I was cold. I found I can get twenty dollars for a handjob, or thirty for fellatio, or fifty for—"

"Stop," said Dean, lifting one hand as if to ward off Castiel's words. He had even covered his eyes with his other hand. "Please."

Cas paused. Dean was silent, one palm still raised at Cas, his eyes still covered. He didn't even seem to be breathing.

"I knew you'd laugh," Cas said at last.

"I am not laughing," said Dean. His voice sounded very odd.

After a long moment of silence Cas heard him mutter "Fuck," very quietly, to himself. He finally lowered his hands. "Go on," he said at last.

Cas waited a moment, but Dean said nothing more. "I knew you wouldn't like it," Cas remarked. "Two or three nights a week is enough to make ends meet. I could easily do it more often, but I found I only wanted to do the minimum necessary. At first I mostly did handjobs, but I was still hungry. I get thirty for blowjobs, and then I can afford food."

Dean had sat up a little now but had gone still as a statue, staring blankly at the colored fountain. Cas added, "I tried sodomy too, that's fifty dollars, but it was... It was very painful, actually. And... I was, I couldn't walk well for a few days afterwards, the client was... he was rough, and... well, I couldn't do it again. I didn't want to get beaten again." (Dean actually grimaced at this, closing his eyes tight for a second.) Then Cas found himself saying, "Actually I don't like the blowjobs either. Actually I don't like any of it. Actually I hate it. I really wish I didn't have to do it. It's so hard to get to sleep. Then I wake up in the middle of the night wishing there was something else I could do and wishing I had my wings so I could just fly away, and wishing the sun wasn't going to rise, and wondering how long I'll have to go on like this—" Castiel stopped, confused. He hadn't planned to say any of this; he hadn't even really realized he was thinking it.

Dean turned to him now, moving very slowly, as if hoping not to spook a wild animal. His eyes had gotten a little glittery.

"Sorry for all the details," said Cas. "I must be boring you."

Dean gave a soft little breath of air. A very small laugh? A sigh? It was hard to tell.

"I didn't mind as much, at the beginning," added Cas. "At first the vessel still seemed... like... like it wasn't me. It got worse over time. The vessel feels more like me now, so it's... it's become much harder to do these things with strangers."

They were both silent for a long moment.

Dean said, very softly, "Why didn't you call me?"

Castiel said, just as softly, "I was ashamed," and again there was the rush of surprise at hearing the words come out of his mouth. "I didn't want to have to tell you. I knew you'd find out."

Dean was quiet a long moment. He raised his hand and wiped both eyes, with a long, slow sigh.

"I'm sorry," said Dean, lowering his hand. "I'm so sorry. Cas, I'm so sorry. You should never have had to do this. Any of it. I should never have asked you to leave. I've been worrying about you ever since, but I never thought..." Dean paused, and added, slowly, as if thinking something through, "The thing is, I should've called you. I should've kept tabs on you. I should've been sending you money, or something. I should've helped. I should've, and I didn't."

"Dean, it's okay—" Cas started to say, but Dean interrupted with, "No, it's not. There was some stuff going on, with Sam, I'll tell you later, but — the truth is I fucked up. Never fell for a guy before, and I fucked it up." He stood abruptly. "I fuck up so many things, but this was a bad one. This was one of my worst. I know that."

"Wh-what? What?" said Cas, blinking up at him. "What did you just say?"

"I came here to take you home," said Dean. "I mean, if you want. I don't know if you should forgive me, but... if you want..." He held out one hand toward Cas.

Cas stared at him.

"If you don't want to go with me, I understand," said Dean, still holding his hand out. He said, looking right at Castiel, "But, if you want... come home? I mean... with me?"

Dean's hand was shaking, very slightly, and at that moment Castiel realized that Dean was terrified.

He'd been terrified on this whole journey here; he'd been terrified while searching the city for Castiel, and he was still terrified now. Cas could see it in his eyes, in the stiffness of his shoulders, the tightness around the mouth, and the tension in his jaw, and in that slight tremor in his hand. And in his eyes, too; how large and dark they'd gone. Dean was terrified.

But he was still holding out his hand.

Ah, Cas thought, a deeply hidden flame beginning to burn brighter. And brighter still, till it seemed to be spreading through Cas's whole body, warming him all the way from his toes to the top of his head.

Cas reached out and took Dean's hand. Dean pulled Cas to his feet.

They stood there a moment, still hand in hand, gazing at each other. Cas found himself transfixed watching a subtle change in Dean's expression, as the smallest possible smile flickered onto Dean's face. Not a sarcastic smile, not a bitter smile; just a real smile, this time. Cas could not help but smile back, and then Dean's tiny half-smile blossomed into a wide, almost teary smile. Cas had only ever seen Dean smile so widely once before: when Dean had first met Castiel's eyes back at the Gas-n-Sip.

And then Cas remembered that there was another problem.

"But, Dean," said Castiel, his face falling, "I'm afraid I'm... ruined now. I have... been..." Castiel slowed his speech a little, making sure Dean would understand, forcing himself to state the facts clearly: "I'm defiled. I'm an abomination now. I'm filthy."

"No you're not," Dean said. He set both hands, very gently, on Cas's shoulders. "You're none of those things."

Dean took a tiny step closer then, and another. Very slowly, he eased his way towards Cas, almost gliding in, and as he did so his arms slid around Cas's shoulders. Cas could barely breathe. Dean's embrace felt positively intoxicating, as if a magical band of protection had settled all around Castiel. And yet Cas found himself trembling, almost cringing back, for he was still certain that he was so badly defiled now, such an abomination, that he must be unworthy of such an embrace. He stood stiffly, unsure what to do.

But Dean just shifted even closer, till he had somehow glided so close that his warm chest was pressed right up to Cas's. His head was right next to Cas's now, his arms sliding even farther around Cas's back, and without thinking Cas found his own hands rising too, one arm wrapping around Dean's waist, the other settling up on Dean's shoulderblade. Dean's arms tightened, and Cas clung onto him too, closing his eyes. None of his customers had ever held him like this. None of them. Ever. Even if I'm defiled, I will take this one moment, thought Cas. Even if Dean leaves again, I have this one moment.

Dean's warmth and solidity seemed almost to fill the world. It felt as if Cas had suddenly found a bonfire in the middle of a freezing blizzard; an oasis in the desolate desert; an anchor in the middle of a stormy sea.

Then Dean said into Cas's ear, very clearly, calm and certain, "You're not filthy. You're not defiled and you're not an abomination. You're my angel."

"Not any more," said Cas, shaking his head, emphatic. This, he was certain about. "Not an angel. Just a... fallen one. A ruined one. A... nothing."

"Never ruined. Not nothing," said Dean. He broke the embrace just enough to pull back and look Cas in the eyes. Dean shook his head firmly. "Not you. You could never be nothing."

"Why not?"

"Because you're everything." With that, Dean leaned in again and kissed him.

The little flame that had been spreading through Cas's body seemed to burst into a bonfire. It felt so overwhelming that at first Cas couldn't get quite organized enough to figure out what exactly to do, with his mouth or with his hands (kissing was something that Cas hadn't practiced much). But after a moment of surprised fumbling, suddenly he had Dean's face between both his hands, and then Cas was kissing him back, eager to taste him all at once: his lips, his tongue, his breath, his very soul.

This, this was the taste Castiel had wanted all along. This was the scent he'd wanted, all this time. Cas drank it in. This was the partner he'd been comparing all the others to.

And this was why he hadn't wanted to kiss any of the others.

Castiel kissed Dean some more, and kissed him again, still cradling his head in both hands. Dean had started to smile; Cas could feel the change in the shape of his lips.

A wolf-whistle sounded. "Hey guys, get a room!" called out a not-unfriendly voice. Cas glanced to the side to find that a clump of guys were coming out of the Red House. "Take it to the river!" added another, and the guys laughed. It wasn't unkind laughter, and somehow, impossibly, Castiel started laughing, and then Dean was laughing with him, leaning his forehead against Cas's.

"Sorry," Dean said, pulling back again to look him the eyes. His face looked almost magical from this close. Dean added, quite seriously, "I wasn't going to push you — I don't want to push you."

"It's okay," said Cas. "You're not pushing me." It was more than okay. It was a miracle, and it changed everything. All the agony of the last two months, all the worries and all the fear, seemed to drop away from Cas all at once, like a ill-fitting coat that he could simply shrug off and leave by the side of the road, unimportant.

Dean was still watching him very closely, and Cas dared, then, to lift one hand and run it through Dean's hair. At once Dean hugged him again, closing the little gap between them to let his head fall down on Cas's shoulder, and he let out a heavy sigh, turning his face to Cas's neck.

"I'm sorry," said Dean, his voice muffled into Cas's neck.

"You already said that," pointed out Cas, putting his head down on Dean's shoulder too.

"Well, I'm gonna say it a bunch more times," said Dean.

They leaned on each other for a long moment. Neither spoke.

"You're still an angel, Cas," Dean said at last, into Cas's neck. "You'll always be an angel. To me at least. And you're not defiled. Don't you ever dare think that."

Cas pulled back to look at him, saying, "Well... okay, but... I'm... " He felt unsure how to put it. "I'm messed up," he said at last, knowing this was a phrasing that Dean would understand. Dean nodded, and Cas added, "This experience has been very... odd. It's been confusing."

"We'll take it slow," Dean promised. He lifted one hand to rest it on the side of Cas's face. "As slow as you want. As slow as you need. Besides," he added, with a little grimace, "I'm plenty messed up, too."

Dean stepped back then, dropping his hand to take hold of Cas's. "You need to bring anything?" he asked. "Want to bring your burger?" Cas shook his head. Dean asked, "Got anything at your hostel you want to pick up?" Cas shook his head again, and Dean said, "Then let's go home," and he turned to lead Cas down the street.

It was risky, Castiel knew by now, for two men to walk hand-in-hand in public. It was risky in almost any city — even today, even in this modern era, it was still risky. He was certain that Dean knew this. But Dean pulled Castiel very close by his side, and his fingers laced tightly into Cas's as they walked together. They walked all the way down the block together, away from the Red House Bar & Grill, toward the shining black Impala parked on the next block over.

For the whole long night drive, all the way back to Kansas, Dean kept his hand laced in Cas's. Cas, exhausted, soon found his head nodding, and Dean pulled him closer as he began to doze off. Cas fell asleep with his head on Dean's shoulder, thinking This must be a dream. This can't be real. But when he woke, the sun was rising, Dean was still by his side, and they were home.

A/N -

They actually have a lot still to work out; all that pain can't be completely erased that quickly, can it? But Cas has always been very quick to forgive Dean for even the worst of sins, and so it seemed right to end it here: with Dean at last having found his angel & gotten him home where he belongs, and Castiel at last finally experiencing one pure moment of feeling loved and at peace. Epilogues may follow, but for now I wanted to end it here.

Love to you all.