A/N: I'm glad part one resonated with as many readers as it seemed to. One of the joys of fandom is connecting with other fans who can share and consider your point of view. Bear in mind that I don't see either boy as perfect and that I think they're both trying hard in their own ways, but the fact is, they're pretty much too deep in their own issues to really know how to grasp one another. Be warned, this is designed to fit in canon, so there is no happy ending right now.


PART TWO

Castiel walked.

It was a long walk, yes, but this body was new to him. New and powerful in ways he had not comprehended. The physical strength alone was something foreign to him, and he could feel the resolve of will that had allowed him to break but not fall apart.

And the blood.

That was the hardest part to grasp. The blood throbbing through those veins, a part of him, yet not. It had the potential to be encompassing, to control. It sought destruction and power.

Lesser men would have fallen in its presence.

Lesser men had.

And while Sam Winchester used the power in his veins, it did not yet define him. There was a risk for that, yes, always a risk. But it was blood. Even if it could touch the soul, there was a more powerful blood still that could wash it clean.

But Sam Winchester did not believe he could be saved.

Castiel knew that was the greatest lie, the most damaging seduction of all. The belief in one's own damnation left the soul devoid of hope prematurely. Grace was made for sinners.

That was Azazel's legacy. Not that he bled in the mouths of his innocent victims, but that he seduced them with its power. That he trapped them within their own minds and let each victim devour his or herself.

Sam had stood against that. He had rallied, fought, and won.

Surely, Lilith did not just make the deal to secure Dean Winchester, as enticing as that was. Surely, she knew that if power alone, if survival at its very core could not tempt Sam Winchester, then the threat of failure would.

Uriel was wrong. This one did not deserve damnation. Not yet. Not when he still could be saved. Not when all his intentions were still good. Misguided, broken, but good.

Not damnation. Salvation. Grace. Hope.

How long had it been since this soul had had true hope? Since he'd been able to see that something better was possible? How many times could that hope be squashed before there was no hope for its return?

Because Castiel could feel the jagged scars of broken hope. At Sam losing his dreams of safety. At losing his girlfriend. At losing his father. At losing his hopes of innocence. At losing his brother.

Failure was more dangerous than any demonic curse could ever be. And even with his brother back, Sam saw monsters win. He saw demons save lives. He saw angels destroy.

And he saw his brother fall apart.

Failure.

This soul needed restoration.

This soul needed peace.

Yet, God had sent Castiel to save Dean Winchester. God had sent him to stop Lilith. This soul was not his charge.

And yet...Sam was the essence of humanity. He was the essence of Dean. Perhaps saving one always meant saving the other.

But the evil. Could he deny the evil? Was it worth it if Sam turned anyway? Was it even fair to Sam himself to allow him to continue living with this temptation flowing through his blood? Sam had already compromised so much, more than Castiel had previously realized. The lines Sam was crossing--it was a dangerous game.

And still, Castiel could see a six-month-old baby in his crib. A mother, ten years before his birth. And a lifetime of fear, and failure no soul should carry.

By all rights, Sam Winchester deserved Hell. For his blood. For his choices. It was a fair punishment.

But that was the beauty of grace, Castiel supposed. It made life not fair, in the best possible ways. What sinner deserved redemption? Through grace--all of them.

As the road stretched before him, the relentless sun pounding down on this body, Castiel wondered if he would trade his own immortality for this. If he could throw it all away, like Anna had and Lucifer before her. If this pain was worth such disobedience.

But the love Sam carried. Warped and jaded and jagged, thrived ever still, and Castiel did not doubt God's wisdom in keeping this from him. Because it was as paralyzing as it was empowering.

The love pushed him to this. The love could save him.

Castiel just hoped he wasn't too late.

-o-

It was hours later before he reached the motel room. Sam's body, as fit and lean as it was, would have been exhausted by the trek, but Castiel barely felt the beads of perspiration pooling in the armpits of Sam's t-shirt. The large feet were still bare, and upon reflection, Castiel realized that he had likely damaged them on the long journey.

But he could not regret it. Some journeys, no matter how perilous, had to be made by foot. Sam, even as sequestered as he was within his own mind, would surely appreciate that.

It was time they both needed. To think. To figure this out. Uriel would be angry when he returned. He would question this choice even more, perhaps even threaten a bout of defiance that would not be unprecedented. Seals were breaking, and even compassion could not trump that fact.

Which was why that walk was more important. Because Castiel needed to know exactly what to say and to understand exactly why this choice, as controversial as it would be, would be worth it in the end.

There were other matters to attend to, first. This body was not his for the keeping, and yet returning it would not be an easy process. He would need help. Sam would not be capable of taking care of himself for some time, Castiel feared, and there was only one person that Sam trusted enough with that kind of charge. Dean needed to keep watch over his brother, physically and spiritually. Now, more than ever.

He saw the dark, sleek body of the car and hoped that help would be forthcoming. For all their sakes.

Sam had no key on him, but Castiel did not need a key. A nod of his head and the motel room door swung open, and Castiel stepped inside.

He was greeted with the sound of a gun cocking.

Dean Winchester was standing, shotgun prime and pointed at Sam's chest.

Recognition dawned on Dean's features, and surprise gave way to anger. "What the hell, Sam? Where have you been?"

He could feel Sam's essence bristling, almost unconsciously trying to defend himself, even while realizing the futility of it. It was an odd sensation, powerful and overwhelming. These brothers had been here before.

Dean was steaming. He chucked the shotgun on the bed and ran a hand through his hair in a huff. "I tell you I'm going to watch your sorry ass, and what? You sneak out of the bathroom? How the hell did you even get out? There aren't any windows in there," Dean said, clearly stewing, as he paced restlessly across the room.

The older brother turned eyes of betrayal and distrust toward Sam. "Is that one of the latest freaky power things you can do? Walk through walls? Teleport? Is that what Ruby's been teaching you in your little early morning sessions? And here I was just hoping little Sammy was getting kinky with the phone sex."

Castiel cocked his head. There was concern and fear, laden beneath the anger. This was not how he had expected Dean to react. Not given Sam's devotion to his brother.

But it made sense. Love was pushing Sam to new depths of betrayal. It was pushing Dean to new heights of fear and anger. Such powerful emotions, so easy to underestimate and so easy to misinterpret. Where there were two brothers fighting, there was truly two brothers more afraid than ever of losing the one thing left that mattered to them.

"You're that pissed about the doughnut?" Dean snapped. "You've been petty and selfish before, but this is just plain stupid. After all I've been through, after all the things I've done to keep you safe, you're going to disappear out of the bathroom just because you felt like it?"

"Dean--" Castiel tried to say.

Dean's face hardened and he shook his head. "I can't wait to hear your excuse," he said. "What were you doing? Off with Ruby? Exorcising a demon, maybe? Handling something you think I'm too afraid to do? Or maybe too weak? If you think you can pull this crap with me, you've got another think coming. Demon psychic mojo or not, I can still kick your ass, and you know it."

"Dean--" Castiel tried again.

But Dean didn't hear him. Wouldn't hear him. He shook his head again and continued to pace the far wall. "It's not enough that angels tell you to stop. It's not enough that I tell you to stop. It's not enough that I have to go to Hell to keep you from using this crap, but now you're lying to me about everything. You're lying and you're sneaking out and I swear to God, Sammy, if I have to tie you up and keep you in the trunk I will, because I haven't saved your ass for the last twenty-five years to have you go throw it away like this."

"You are afraid," Castiel said, decisively.

Dean stopped and looked at him, nose scrunched. "What the hell are you talking about? And why aren't you dressed? Where did you go? You're not even wearing shoes. What was so damned important this time?"

Castiel looked down, taking in the bloody mess that was Sam's feet. He looked back up at Dean, who was looking at him with more than a little bit of impatience. "Sam did not leave of his own accord."

Dean looked incredulous. "Sam did not leave of his own accord?" he asked. "Is this the next level of demonology that Ruby's teaching you? Keep getting rid of all ties to your human side by referring to yourself in the third person?"

Castiel shook his head. "No, you misunderstand," he said. "Sam is here, with me. But Sam did not leave of his own accord, nor did he choose to return on his own either."

Nervousness was ghosting over Dean's face, and he eyed the shotgun furtively. "Sammy, cut it out. Now. Or I swear, I will blow you full of rock salt just on principle."

"Dean," Castiel tried again. "Listen to me. Sam is in here, with me."

"With who?"

Castiel inclined his head, an amused smile playing on his lips. "You do not recognize the one who pulled you from your torment?"

Dean's eyes widened. "Cas?"

"Yes."

Dean was looking at him, half shocked, half terrified. "How do I know you're not lying to me?"

Castiel inclined his head. "Surely your soul recognizes the one who pulled you from the depths of Hell."

Dean hesitated, his skepticism fading marginally. "What happened to the holy tax accountant?"

"His body is with Uriel, resting."

"Resting?"

"Until I am ready to return to it."

Dean licked his lips, brow furrowing. "So, this stint in Sam, it's, uh--temporary?"

"And very unexpected."

Dean shook his head, as if to get his bearings. "I think you're leaving some important parts out of the story here."

Humans had the strangest expressions.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Like, what the hell were you doing with Sam in the first place?"

It was an expected question, Castiel supposed, though one he had not fully wanted to answer. His reasons were good and justified, but it did not make it any easier. Especially not now, not knowing the depth of Sam Winchester's despair as he did. "We believed Sam had some vital information in regards to Lilith's location."

"Aren't you angels supposed to be on top of that kind of stuff?"

"Of course," Castiel said. "Why else would we ask Sam for her location?"

"Yeah, but that's what I mean," Dean said. "Why do you need Sam at all? You're angels. You dragged me out of Hell. What could Sam possibly know that you don't?"

"Angels are...powerful," Castiel explained with a shrug. "But they are not omniscient. Nor are they omnipotent. I was not the first to attempt rescuing from Hell. I was merely the first to succeed."

That news settled over Dean's face with a shock and disbelief. The hunter swallowed them back painfully. "That still doesn't explain why my brother is riding shotgun in his own body."

"Sam has...connections."

Dean didn't need anything more than that to put the pieces together. "Ruby," he muttered. "That bitch is more trouble than she's worth."

"Her role is undetermined as of yet," Castiel admitted. "However, she is a viable player in this fight and her tracking of Lilith is at a level we cannot imitate."

"And why's that?"

"Each knows its own," Castiel said. "Demons know demons. They are interconnected, just as angels are. I'm surprised you cannot still sense them yourself."

Dean bristled, stiffening and tilting his head back defensively. "So, talk to Ruby then."

"Even if we could trust her intention, she is a demon," Castiel said. "She is as hard to track as Lilith."

"And yet you always know just where we are," Dean shot. "What's up with that?"

Castiel could not help but smile. "Humans occupy a different tier of existence," he explained. "One angels have a great deal of power over."

Dean seemed to accept that, but he did not look happy. He scowled, sighing and he paced a few more steps before looking back at him. "So was Sam any more honest with you than he is with me?"

"He would say nothing," Castiel admitted.

Dean pursed his lips. "Figures," he said. "He's been an annoying prick ever since I got out of the pit."

The soul within him ached. It did not dispute it, but the pain was palpable, even as far back as Castiel had sequestered Sam.

Dean eyed him closely. "You've got that same freaky secretive look Sam does," he said. "It must be a default setting for him."

There was much anger in Dean as well. Anger and rage that Castiel had recognized in the depths of Hell. He did not like to see it on his charge. Not when Dean was needed for the fight ahead. "Why are you so angry with your brother?" Castiel asked.

Scoffing, Dean just stared at him. "You're kidding, right?"

"The deal you made was for his life, was it not?"

Dean shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah--"

"Then I assume you valued his life."

"Of course--"

"And yet you are so quick to discredit him now?" It wasn't an accusation, but a question. The nature of love, its power and its manifestations, were hard to grasp.

Dean's face hardened and he looked vaguely stricken. "The Sam you're in right now--that's not the Sam I died for. I don't know what the Hell happened to him, but that Sam? May be gone forever. And the one in his place? Is all lies and arrogance. He lied to me right when I got back, did you know that? First words out of his mouth almost. Lied about Ruby. Lied about his super special powers. He doesn't care what I tell him. He doesn't care what God wants him to do. He's all about Sam. And all the things I did trust him with? The truth about Hell? He threw it back at me. Called me weak. Told me I was holding him back."

It was as honest as anything else Castiel had heard. Dean Winchester was many things, but a liar was not among them. His faults were numerous, but Castiel had always appreciated that much about this man.

And yet, it did not parse. To feel the love and need within Sam. The regret, the sorrow, the desperation. It did not make some of Sam's choices right, but it also did not warrant Uriel's wrath. Nor did it merit the loss of compassion from the one who he loved most.

The one Castiel had saved.

"What?" Dean asked. "Trying to make sense of the crap in his head? I wouldn't recommend it. Might screw with your almighty angel goodness."

"You are quick to judge," Castiel said finally.

"Quick? I've been watching Sam make the same mistakes ever since I got back. Hell, before I got back."

"Quite possibly," Castiel said. "And I have been watching you make the same ones for just as long."

Dean froze, his face trembling with uncertainty. "What?"

"How many times have I told you, Dean Winchester, that you have been chosen? That you have a mission?"

Dean's brow furrowed. "A couple."

"And how many times have you defied me?" he asked.

Dean looked defensive. "You told me it was a test."

"And I did not tell you if you passed it or not."

Dean's mouth closed. "So, a guy's not allowed to question."

"Of course," Castiel said. "And human weakness often leads to foolish decisions."

"Even in my greatest screws-up, I haven't done what Sam's doing. He's using demon powers. Cas, he's hardly even acting human anymore."

"Dean," Castiel said, and his voice was soft and to the point. "Must I remind you where I found you?"

Dean stopped, paling.

"Need I remind you of your own inhumanity?"

"It's different," Dean said. "I was in Hell, I didn't have a choice, I didn't--"

"You misunderstand, Dean," Castiel continued. "My hope is not to condemn you. That is not why I saved you."

Dean's position remained stiff and guarded. "Then what is the point?"

"Just that you remember your own faults before you judge others. All sin is equal in the eyes of the Lord."

Dean swallowed hard. "So, you're okay with Sam then? With his powers? What about all the crap you said before, about me stopping him or you doing it?"

"He walks a dangerous road," Castiel said. "And I am not certain he knows how to stop himself."

"That's my point--he needs to be stopped."

"And anger and resentment is the way to accomplish that?"

"I don't know what else to do with him," Dean admitted. "I've tried--"

"Have you?" Castiel asked. "Do not forget that I know Sam better than you do now. I know his every thought and his every fear. I know every emotion and every memory. I know what he does what he does and I know just how perilous his journey is. More than that, I know how much he loves you. And how much he needs you."

It was clearly not easy for Dean to hear, and his face was tight, trying to hide the emotion that threatened to split it. He shook his head. "He told me I was weak," Dean said in a rush. "That I'm holding him back. He doesn't deserve my compassion. Hell, he doesn't deserve any more chances with me at all."

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor," Castiel said, with a shake of his head. "But the sick."

"Is it so hard for you supernatural types to speak in plain English?" Dean shot back, his attempt at humor as clear a plea for a merciful end to this conversation clear.

It didn't seem quite right. There was more Castiel wished to say, more Castiel wished to help these two understand. He wanted Sam to stop lying, to cease his activities with Ruby. He wanted Dean to stop dwelling on his own fears and hurts and recognize that the person who needed to be saved the most was standing right in front of him.

But what of Castiel's mission? What of the free will of human beings? He had interfered too much, he feared, taking this body. He still had his own work to do and the bigger picture was still in play. He had the information he needed from Sam Winchester's tormented brain and there was no time to fix his relationship with his brother.

He sighed. "Time is short," he said. "I must go."

"With or without Sam?"

"Without," Castiel said. "I must return to my former host."

"You still never said why you took Sam to begin with."

Castiel raised one of Sam's eyebrows. "You remembered to ask?"

Dean looked moderately chagrined.

"Uriel is somewhat...overzealous in his interrogation tactics," Castiel said.

There was a flash of concern on Dean's face, and Castiel could not help but think that maybe all was not lost between these two after all. "Wait, what--"

Castiel smiled. "I have other issues I must attend to," he said. Then he paused. "You must be warned, this incident may be hard on Sam."

"Hard how?"

"The true essence of an angel is powerful."

Dean raised his eyebrows. "I seem to remember windows blown out and a noise so loud I was nearly deaf."

"To be possessed by an angel, can sometimes leave the host...affected."

"Affected?" Dean asked. "Affected how?"

"If I did not soften the memory, I have no doubt Sam's sanity would suffer."

Dean's eyes widened. "So, you saved my little brother's life only to make him cuckoo for Coco Puffs?"

"What are Coco Puffs?"

Dean shook his head. "So, you're telling me Sam's going to be crazy?"

Castiel blinked, trying to shake his head clear. Being around humans was so distracting. "No," he said. "At least I hope that is not the case. I have pushed Sam's mind as far back as I can to shield him from this experience. I will, of course, return his body to its whole state as I leave. Yet the experience will still be spiritually exhausting. I suspect he will sleep for quite some time. Perhaps even days, while his soul tries to come to sense with what has happened to him."

"But, he'll be okay, right?"

Castiel sighed a bit. "I cannot guarantee it, but I think he will."

"You think?"

"After several days' rest, I think he should awake with full control of his faculties."

"And what will he remember?"

"That is not clear," Castiel said. "Angels have not often walked among humans. Our hosts are taken selectively, often with far more preparation than Sam had. But he believes and he was willing, two factors which will bode well for him. Still, it will perhaps be a blessing if he does not remember."

Dean looked a little lost. "So, what? I'm just supposed to sit here with my brother and hope he's okay?"

"Do you have other business you need to attend to?" Castiel asked.

Emotions flitted over Dean's eyes. He licked his lips. "No," he said. "I guess I don't."

Castiel straightened, rallying his essence within Sam's body. He looked purposefully at Dean. "Close your eyes," he said. "For your own sake."

Dean stared a moment longer, swallowing evenly, before he shut his eyes.

Closing Sam's eyes as well, Castiel summoned himself. With a gentle touch to urge Sam's spirit deeper within, he brought himself to his full power, pulling into himself and then, with a collected moment, he burst forth. He escaped the room, only briefly seeing as Dean ducked to cover himself from the force of it. As Sam's body fell away, slumped to the floor, he escaped through the ceiling and rose to the sky.

-o-

Jess always hogged the blankets. She never meant to--or, at least, so she said--but Sam would always dream of being cold and exposed, frigid and vulnerable, before waking up to the dark ceiling of his apartment and finding himself devoid of blankets, which Jess had collected and cocooned around herself.

They joked about it, and Sam always pretended to be upset, always threatened that she'd wake up and find him as a block of ice--which was funny, it was, until she was a ball of fire.

But cold, that sudden sense of a chill, washing over him, surprising him, pulling him out of the dark, safe haven of his own mind.

This was like that, only worse.

This was like that, only more.

It was like the time Dean had thrown him in the motel room pool to teach him how to swim in typical big brother fashion. The water had been brisk and dirty and Sam's system had panicked, his body thrashing, before he found the surface and realized he could float.

It was like a sucker punch, like the one Dean had thrown after the confrontation about Dad, or the two when Dean found out about the powers. Hard, to the point, bitter and painful. Like the one after he'd been possessed.

Possessed.

He'd been possessed. Meg, no, not Meg. But...

Castiel?

The knowledge of it was as terrifying as it was reassuring, and the fact that he'd been possessed came right before the stark realization that it was over.

It wasn't the possession that was bad. No, he remembered that. The light. The warmth. Knowing that it was okay, that he was okay, that it was going to be okay. For the first time since Dean had died, since his dad had died, since Jess had died, since his dad had kicked him out, since he found out that his entire life was based on a lie.

Redemption and rest. Hush.

The greatest peace he'd ever known.

Gone.

And he saw just how pathetic he was. How wrong he was. How he had ever hoped to appeal to that That he thought he might earn it.

Sam was dirty and evil and wrong in comparison, so wrong that it hurt.

So alone that he wanted to cry.

The glory of God was not his to strive for. It never was. Never would be.

He needed to end this. He needed to end himself. He just needed it to stop, to get the blood out, to make Ruby go away, to make the powers just stop, just stop, just stop.

But he couldn't. He couldn't do anything. He was paralyzed and he was broken and he was nothing and he missed the light as much as he feared it.

Oh, God, he thought, and he wasn't sure if it was a prayer or a curse, and he let the darkness take him once again.

-o-

Dean wasn't sure how much more he could take.

From Sam disappearing on him, to having Castiel bring him back. The idea of Sam and Cas together was a little mind-boggling as it was, but then to see Cas wearing Sam? All sorts of weird.

But weird didn't help the fact that Sam was lying sprawled out on the floor right in front of him or that the walls of the motel room were still shaking with Castiel's freakin' dramatic exit.

Then again, maybe the walls weren't shaking. Maybe he was shaking because he thought he'd lost Sam, because Castiel had just laid some heavy crap on his shoulders...again.

Looking at Sam, prone on the floor, features slack with unconsciousness, it was hard to stay resolved. It was hard to stay mad. It was hard not to see some of the innocence and purity that made Sam Sam.

How long had it been? Since he really looked at Sam? Since he'd seen his brother as, well, his brother? Not his powers, not his lies, not Ruby, not even the words he'd said under the siren's spell. But just Sam. The Sam who had tried so hard to save him. The Sam who had lost Jessica. The Sam who had fretted over his powers, who had tried to do the right thing even to the point where it got him stabbed in the back.

The Sam he'd watched grow up. The Sam he'd held in his arms and watched die.

The Sam he'd gone to Hell for.

Hell. As if he could ever forget Hell.

But maybe that was the problem. He couldn't forget Hell. And sometimes it was hard to imagine anyone suffering as much as he had down there.

He'd asked about Ruby. He'd asked about his powers. But...he'd been so sure that Sam had done something, that Sam had gone and made some idiotic mistake that it hadn't been gentle. It had been more of an accusation.

He'd died for Sam. He just didn't want Sam to waste it, that was all. He didn't want to see Sam throw his life away.

But compassion? Maybe not so much. At least, not at first. Not until Sam broke down on him.

It was just so hard. When all he could think about was Hell and his time there. And how stupid Sam was for lying. And to hear his brother thrash him like that? Weak? Boo-hoo?

Dean didn't deserve to be saved. Castiel had saved him anyway. Dean wasn't sure why yet, and he wasn't sure he would be thrilled to find out, but he had another chance. That meant something. Knowing that made all the difference in the world.

Sam had never responded to hard line stances. He'd never done well with orders or aggressions. Their dad's penchant for it had pushed Sam to Stanford.

Dean still wanted to help Sam. He wanted to save him, he did.

So, compassion. Realizing that Sam's lies and sins--well, they were bad, but maybe, just maybe, they didn't tell the whole story.

Hell, if Dean could have a second shot, maybe Sam could, too.

But he had been pulled out of Hell by an angel. If Sam didn't have an angel to do the job, then what did the kid have looking over his shoulder?

Dean sighed. Himself. All that left was himself. He'd been taking care of Sam his entire life. Maybe, in the last six months, he hadn't done such a bang-up job after all.

Still, if Sam was using his powers. If he was hanging out with Ruby again--then Sam needed to stop. Now. Dean might understand the mistake once, maybe twice. But now? After everything? It was too dangerous. And how would he help Sam if he didn't want to help himself?

How could he even look at Sam the same? Knowing Sam had given into the powers that the Yellow Eyed Demon had cursed him with?

It is not the healthy who need a doctor.

Dean grimaced. Sam needed a whole lot more than a doctor.

First things first, though: he had to get Sam off the floor. Once he managed to lug his bigger, taller brother onto a bed, then maybe he could worry about saving Sam's soul.

Sam was heavy, his body awkward and limp, which was eerily familiar to Dean.

With a grunt, he dumped Sam's body onto the bed and sat back on his own, sighing. Not familiar. Not at all.

Because this was a motel room. Hokey and cheap as hell, but not some backwater cabin in South Dakota. And Sam's body was whole, down to the bloodied soles of his bare feet, which, Dean could already see, were healed.

And Sam's color was rich and vibrant. He could still feel the heat of Sam's skin.

This was totally different.

Sam had been dead.

So long ago, that sometimes it seemed like a different life. Sometimes, like most things before Hell, he forgot about it. It seemed to pale, to be less important.

But that wasn't less important. That was the whole point. That was why they were here.

Wasn't it? Why Dean made the deal? Why he'd gone to Hell? Why he'd been pulled out with this so-called work to do?

Why Sam was lying to him--why Cas was whisking his kid brother off and bringing him back with ambiguous suggestions to have compassion?

It was related. There was no question, really, about when any of this began. Dean went to a crossroads and sold his soul, and sold his brother out, too, in the process.

He cursed under his breath, dropping his head and running a hand through his hair.

Sam's actions weren't so mysterious. After all, Dean had planned on lying to Sam about everything. He'd never intended to tell Sam about the deal. It had been a naive hope, and Sam had seen through it, just like Dean could see through every lie that Sam tried to throw at him.

He'd demanded compassion from Sam then.

Maybe he owed it to Sam now.

But compassion only went so far. It didn't change the fact that Sam needed to come clean about things. Now. Dean would give him a chance, offer the olive branch, but if Sam didn't take it, then that wasn't Dean's fault.

With a sigh, he stood up, moving his brother slightly, trying to get the long limbs in some kind of comfortable position. If Sam was out too long, of course, he'd have to figure out how to make him drink, at least, and he'd have to roll the kid from side to side.

Because that was his job. It still came back to that. Save Sam. Save him.

He had to focus on that, because the second part still held true. Save him or kill him.

And pissed as he was, he wasn't ready to kill Sam. Yet.

He hoped he never was.

With another sigh, he went to the bathroom to wet a wash cloth and begin cleaning the blood from his little brother's feet.

-o-

It was time to wake up.

He wasn't sure why he knew that, but it was the only thing he was certain of. He'd been sleeping too long, forever maybe, and it was safe sleep, needed sleep, but he couldn't do it any longer. It was like waking up for his 7:30 Rhetoric class freshman year. Or being rolled out of bed by his father the day of a move to a new town. Necessary evils.

It came gently, though, this awareness. Like fluttering leaves on an autumn day, a hazy and wayward descent, wafted where the wind may take it, but still leading to the inevitable conclusion of down.

And Sam opened his eyes.

He was in the motel room. It was just like he remembered. Stiff mattress, bad nautical-theme decorations. Dean was lounging on the next bed, remote on his chest, lazily picking through a bag of M&M's.

Normal. Very normal. So, why did it feel so...off?

He blinked, trying to gauge what was really going on. Maybe this was a dream. Maybe he'd had a dream. Maybe he was forgetting something, something...important...

Dean cast a nonchalant glance his way, then did a spit-take worthy of a Doublemint Gum commercial. "Sam," he said, sitting up abruptly and swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. "You're awake."

There was surprise to that. Like Dean hadn't expected it.

Which didn't make sense. And why was it sunny out? "What happened?" Sam asked, and his voice felt weak, his throat dry. He furrowed his brow and tried to sit, but a wave of vertigo kept him unduly flat.

"Just...take it easy," Dean said, and he was reaching for something. A moment later, he produced a bottle of water and held it out to Sam. "You've been out of it for a while."

Sam pushed himself up again slower this time, Dean helping with an arm behind his back. He leaned heavily against the headboard, before taking the water bottle. "A while?"

Dean smirked. "Apparently being touched by an angel is harder for you than it was for me."

"What?" Sam asked, because that didn't make sense. An angel? Touched? What was going on?

Dean's smirk faded and he licked his lips. "So, uh," he said. "What do you remember?"

Sam fingered the water bottle and tried to think. There was sleeping and his bed and...the doughnuts. Dean had eaten three doughnuts. "Breakfast," he said. "You had breakfast."

Dean's face darkened with what looked like chagrin. "Figures that would be what you remember."

"Dean, what happened?"

With a sigh, Dean sat back on his bed. "Cas said this might happen."

"Cas?"

"Apparently Cas took you for a little ride," Dean said. "Literally."

Sam just stared.

Dean made a face and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "Cas wanted to ask you some questions about Ruby and Lilith. Location and stuff."

Sam searched his memory, looking for a clue, for something. It was blank, clear and empty, with only the vaguest sensation of pain. "That still doesn't explain what happened."

Dean sighed again. "Uriel seems to kind of suck at interrogation."

"Interrogation?"

Chewing his lip, Dean looked uncertain and tentative. "Cas didn't want your ass to get smote, so he jumped inside of you to protect you."

It was said so plainly, thrown out there like it was so normal, that for a second, it didn't register. That he'd been interrogated by angels. And then possessed?

The interrogation was hard enough to swallow. The fact that he'd been deemed enough of a threat to take against his will. He'd known on some level the angels would never see him as an ally, Uriel had made that clear enough, but the feeling of being their enemy--it hurt more than Sam had anticipated.

He felt light headed and dizzy, his stomach churning hollowly for a moment. The world sort of dimmed, and he became vaguely aware that Dean was steadying him, keeping him upright.

Sam blinked, trying to bring his focus back. An interrogation by the angels. It was too out there to be a lie. It had to be true. Sam knew it was.

And, what did they learn? What had Sam said? Did they know about what he and Ruby were planning? What they were doing? Sam didn't want anyone to know that, not Dean, not the angels, not anyone. He had to do it; it was the only way to save Dean. All the lies, all the deception--he didn't know another way to make it end.

He'd been damned all along. So why did hearing it keep hurting? The interrogation, if he were honest, was no less than he deserved. He'd just been hoping to fly under the radar long enough to finish this thing before the angels took care of him once and for all.

Which they could have done. They had every chance. So, why was he still here? "Cas possessed me?" he asked, his mind reeling to comprehend.

"Showed up wearing you like a cheap suit."

The interrogation, he got. Hell, he would understand waking up in the great beyond, readying for his eternity of torment.

But why had Castiel possessed him? Why save his life? "Why?"

Dean sat up straight, shrugging. He fidgeted, looking at his hands. "Maybe he didn't think you deserved to die." The statement was soft, but sincere.

But Sam did deserve to die. No one knew it better than he did himself. For the things he'd done, the compromises he'd made. The blood alone.

Dean was looking at him, cautious and thoughtful. "Cas didn't say what kind of information you might know," he said. "I know you're lying to me. You've been lying for weeks now. Don't you think it's about time you came clean?"

Sam's eyes flashed at him, and, for a horrifying second, he thought Dean knew.

"What are you doing with Ruby? Why is Uriel itching to wipe you off the face of the planet?"

The question hurt. Not that Dean asked it, but because of the inevitability of its answer. Because he had demon blood and nothing changed that. His evil was innate to him and his soul had been tarnished all along.

More than that, the places he was headed, his destiny, was so far removed from Dean's that Sam feared it was only a matter of time before their paths diverged irrevocably. Dean was chosen by angels, and it didn't matter that they were sure what their intentions were, it didn't matter if the angels weren't what Sam had expected, it was about redemption. A redemption Dean had earned for his inherent goodness.

A redemption that Sam had been craving all his life and would never get.

"Sam, come on," Dean said, and there was a hint of pleading in his voice, maybe something more.

It was the first time Dean had asked. He'd demanded and accused and played little games with Sam's mind. He'd sulked and used Sam's words against him and Sam hadn't had the heart to be more than vaguely annoyed about it all.

But asked--Dean hadn't asked. Not until now.

Maybe Dean deserved to know.

Maybe Dean didn't.

Maybe Sam was a selfish bastard.

"I'm tired of it, Sam," Dean said, and the words just sounded defeated and weary, not accusing or angry. "I'm tired of wondering if you're going to go ultra-freak on me without any warning, if one day I'm going to wake up and just find you gone, of trying to figure out if you really believe I'm holding you back."

"Dean, I told you, with the siren--"

Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that you didn't mean it," he said. "So, tell me, why are you still sneaking around with Ruby? Why are angels trying to pump you for information? If Cas wasn't so damn sympathetic, you'd be nothing more than dust right now. Don't you see? They didn't kill you. So this isn't too far gone yet. Will you finally just talk to me?"

It was righteous anger, Sam recognized. And hard to resist--not just the guilt, but the wanting to tell him. Wanting Dean to be able to share his burden, to make it easier. To make them brothers again. But he and Dean were meant for different things. He didn't want to make Dean complicit, not in this.

It was one of those moments, which were more common than Sam would have admitted, when Sam thought Dean should have left him for dead in Cold Oak and spared them all this grief.

He braced himself. "I told you about tracking Lilith."

"Yeah, so why do I get the sense that that's not the whole story?" The tone of accusation was back, sneaking in with a healthy dose of exasperation.

He didn't blame Dean. He couldn't blame Dean.

He just couldn't tell Dean, either. The hatred of angels he could tolerate. The ire of demons he could almost enjoy. But he wasn't ready for Dean to see him for who he was.

Dean exhaled, loud, and he stood, shaking his head. "I don't know how to do this," he said. "What did I do to you to deserve this? I've only wanted to keep you safe, and this is how you treat me?"

It was why he couldn't be mad at Dean, no matter what his subconscious tried to tell him. It was why he could forgive the punches, forgive the digs against him, forgive anything. His brother had loved him once. Sam didn't deserve to be loved now, so what was one more lie? One more omission? One more sin?

But he missed it. He missed Dean's gentle joking and he missed his brother's cautious prodding. He missed knowing that there was nothing he could do to turn Dean against him.

But Dean had said it himself. The Sam that Dean had known, the Sam he had died for, was gone. It was just a matter of time before they stopped living in denial and accepted it.

Dean was looking at him, eyes narrowed. "How the hell will you ever get past this crap if you don't admit to it? Do you want to get wiped out? I mean, is that part of your grand master plan that you plot with your little demonic friend?"

"You wouldn't understand," Sam answered, because it was easier than telling Dean how right he was. Sam didn't see himself surviving the endgame--he wouldn't be doing this when he was old, because Sam figured he wouldn't even be alive that long. And he already knew where his tainted soul was bound. He would not drag Dean down with him.

His brother's face puckered. "Whatever," he said. "At least I tried. I'm going to go grab lunch. We leave by tonight."

Dean was out the door before Sam had a chance to think of anything to stop him.

He sighed, looking down at himself. His body felt weird--different. Newer. Renewed, maybe. It vaguely tingled, a soft buzz, and Sam wondered what it meant.

What any of it meant. Why Dean had been allowed to die, just to be brought back. Why every choice Sam made brought him one step closer to Hell. Why an angel of the Lord would ever save his life.

Dean was worth it. Sam never was.

Castiel's violation wasn't as severe as Meg's had been, but the aftermath hurt just the same. Maybe worse. Because feeling alive, feeling good, made it harder to remember that he was already screwed.

Sinking back down, he stared at the ceiling and wished he could close his eyes and make it all go away.

-o-

It was mere seconds, maybe less, though the passage of time was a strange thing to him. Surreal more than concrete, meaningful yet not. It was one of the hardest parts of life among mortals. Knowing how long things would take, understanding the importance of capturing a moment. He was used to infinite spaces and unending possibility. Earth was so limiting in that regard.

So precious.

There was no hesitation coming back, no soft approach or gentle coaching. This body was knowing, not aware but willing.

It was still a jolt, however, a coming to being and a loss of essence all at once. Fitting into a mortal form was as empowering as it was limiting, but Castiel knew there was no other way.

He settled in, filling in the familiar grooves.

He opened his eyes.

He was back in the cabin where they had taken Sam. He was on the floor, sprawled where he'd left the body in the first place.

"Took you long enough." Uriel's deep voice penetrated his awareness.

Sitting up, he saw the other angel sitting on a chair, head bowed and eyes closed. Standing, Castiel rolled this head on the neck and tried to feel at home again. "Has He answered?" he asked.

Uriel huffed a laugh and did not open his eyes. "You say that like He hasn't already given us His command."

"Should a soldier not hear from his general?"

Uriel opened his eyes, turning his head with a pointed stare. "You forget, then," he said. "That prayer does not change God."

"But changes him who prays," Castiel finished. "You mock them and loathe them, yet you quote them still?"

Uriel shrugged. "That revelation is not from man," he said. "Some are just provided with enough grace to make such revelations. Acts of greatness matter."

"Yet you will show them none?"

"Grace is not mine to offer," Uriel replied. "My purpose is to win the war. As is yours. Or have you forgotten that, as well?"

Castiel drew his lips together. "I have not."

"So, these flights of fancy you have with these humans," Uriel said. "Are part of our orders?"

"Our orders are not to judge," Castiel said. "Them or each other."

"No, but our orders are to exact judgment," Uriel pointed out. "Why did you save Sam Winchester?"

"He did not need to die."

"He did not deserve to live."

"Killing him would not help our cause."

"He wouldn't talk," Uriel said. Then he paused, cocked his head. "But you know, don't you? You were in his head. You know his secrets better than he does."

"That was not why I possessed him."

"But it is a nice side effect," Uriel prodded.

"His secrets are of no use to us."

"Perhaps we should discuss them together. He knows where the demon called Ruby is, doesn't he? Maybe a lead on Lilith?"

"It is not our knowledge to use."

"Have you forgotten this is a war?" Uriel exclaimed. "Have you forgotten how many of our brothers have died for this fight? Will die because you protect a meager human? A tainted one at that?"

"This war is about these humans," Castiel said. "And mankind has been tainted since the First Fall and yet God still lines the streets of Heaven with the sinners you might be so quick to smite."

Uriel looked vaguely amused. "We are not made for compassion," he said.

Castiel felt the flow of blood beneath this skin, the beating of this heart. The throb of life, of being. "Perhaps we should be."

Raising his eyebrows, Uriel leaned back. "You question your Maker?"

Castiel swallowed and tried to calm his mind, tried to erase the feelings of emptiness and despair that so defined Sam Winchester. A man who had fought for so much to fall so hard--it was impossible to see such injustice and not question. Hard to see Dean Winchester break in Hell. Hard to see two brothers who loved each other be forced at such odds by the cruelties of a fate they could have never predicted. "No," he said, but his voice sounded hoarse and something ached deep within him.

"So, you're not going to tell me?"

"There is nothing to tell," Castiel replied.

Uriel eyed him, cold and calculating. "Lying is close to insubordination," he said. "A punishable offense."

Castiel did not back down. Could not back down. Not for Sam Winchester. Not for Dean Winchester. Not for the world of people who deserved second chances. Because if Uriel knew, if Sam Winchester's secrets were exposed, Castiel would not be able to save him. Sam needed time, Dean needed time to reach him, and this was the least Castiel could offer. "

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength," Castiel said. "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

"You liken us to them?"

Castiel's gaze did not waver. "Well," he said, and he thought of this host and this body. He thought of Dean's face when he was pulled from Hell. He thought of Sam's fear while Castiel resided in his body. "We could certainly do worse."

end