The amphetamines had been a mistake. Bad mistake. Bad.

He should have gone with the vicodin, or the oxy. Hell, the ether. Cas had spent a full week bombed out of his mind on ether once back when the last of his Grace finally dissipated and he remembered it as a glorious experience.

Well, didn't remember it, exactly, but the not remembering had kind of been the point.

But he didn't know what he'd been thinking, popping amphetamines before a fire fight. Not when any other drug would have meant he wouldn't have to feel how much this hurt.

It was a funny thing about Croats: half the time instead of killing you, they just hit you until you stopped moving and wandered off looking for something else to bite and bleed on. Painful experience had established that Cas was still just angel enough that he couldn't catch Croatoan, just as Sam had been just demon enough to have the same advantage. Dean had put that to use, using him as a Croat minesweeper more times that Cas cared to think about. Bad specialty to pick up right when he'd first started being able to have nightmares, but hey, that's why his Father invented mescaline.

So even though a Croat had bitten a chunk out of his shoulder, Cas knew he wasn't turning into one. Still dying, of course, but not turning into a Croat first. Bright side, and all.

He and Risa had been the last ones left. They'd holed up in, ironically, the abandoned medical ward, he and Risa and a handful of grunts whose names Cas had never even learned (he was terrible with names, he hardly ever even learned his girls' names, they came and went so quickly. As an angel he'd just known names, their names and their parents names and their parents names floating on his Grace and he'd never learned the trick of just remembering them as a human.)

The Croats had just been so fast.

Even dead, Risa stared at him. A ridiculously strong Croat had landed a solid shot and crushed her sternum; Cas had already been downed by then and could only watch as she fell beside him, making soft, surprised, choking sounds. He'd fought demons that hadn't stared at him with so much hatred, her eyes a mute accusation that he'd known this would happen.

Which of course he had. He knew Dean. There was no one left in the world who knew Dean better than him and if Dean thought he could lie to Cas well, that was just kind of sad. They'd argued about it once, he and Risa; she'd said Cas would follow Dean off a cliff if Dean ordered it and Cas had broken up laughing (and not just because he'd just taken a hit of nitrous.)

Because it was true. And it wouldn't even be the first time; he'd told her so, all about facing down archangels and being smited into a thin film of gore until she'd backed away slowly.

He stared into her dead eyes. Near the end he'd reached for her hand only to have her jerk away, her face twisting in disgust. It was the very last thing she'd done before her breathing shuddered to a stop.

Cas never thought he could ever feel as alone as the moment he'd realized Heaven was empty. This was worse. This was so much worse.

His ribs were shattered. Just drawing breath felt like someone shoving a knife into his side, each gulp of air was shallower than the last. There was that chunk bitten out of his shoulder and his arm was wrenched and dislocated from trying to fight the thing off. He'd caught a stray bullet from his midsection and he watched in fascination as blood bubbled out of the wound to pool beneath him on the floor. He couldn't feel the wound or anything below it, his legs nothing more than numb meat. Cas gathered that wasn't a good sign.

It seemed so long ago he'd stood in the home of the prophet, facing Raphael and certain death with his head high. Perhaps it had been his Grace that had made him brave then; now, lying in blood and filth, trapped in his broken body, Cas realized with cold shame that he was afraid. "Father, help me," he whispered, an empty prayer he knew would go unanswered. "Please. It hurts."

He didn't want to die. Not like this, slowly drowning in blood, feeling his splintered ribs dig deeper into his lungs with each breath. No one was coming for him. Dean was almost certainly dead. No one else would care. The person other than Dean who'd fought beside him the longest hated him so much she hadn't even been willing to hold his hand.

This was alone.

"Help me," he whispered into the void. "Someone." Darkness pressed him like a cold shroud; it was almost nodding on morphine except morphine was warm. He knew he would never be warm again. The chill seeped deep into his bones and shook him, each spasm shooting agony up and down his broken ribs. He could hear a seductive whisper telling to close his eyes, everything would be all right, just go to sleep. He could almost pretend it was Dean's voice; those were the words Dean used to murmur in his ear back in those early days, when Cas would wake screaming from nightmares about Heaven standing deserted and desolate.

Those words had always been lies. Cas knew that if he closed his eyes he would never open them again. He coughed, pain whiting out his vision. "Please," he said, his voice cracking into a sob.


There was a step at the end of the hall, a heavy, booted step that made hope flare in his chest that it could be Dean. Then the step came towards him and Cas recognized the unsteady stride of an infected. Each moment brought the step closer, louder; Cas prayed he could keep quiet long enough for the Croat to pass him by. He'd seen Croats eat victims still screaming and bloody before - torturous as this slow slide into oblivion was, he didn't want his last moment to be that.

He curled his hands into fists, driving his nails into his palms; he needed to cough again but didn't dare, not with the Croat so close. He tried to hold his breath but that didn't ease the choking sensation of blood in his throat; he could see the Croat now, a dark, lumbering shape at the end of the hall. Sweat rolled down his face as he fought his traitorous body to stay silent but it was no use; a deep, convulsive cough wracked him until he tasted blood. The fit only lasted a few seconds but that was enough - Cas saw the Croat's head turn toward him, its bloodshot, runny eyes locking with his. And then it smiled.

Cas couldn't do damn thing except watch it come. "Help me," he said, his voice so gone he could only mouth the words. The Croat was close enough for him to smell it now. "Not like this. Please."

I said yes. What the are you waiting for?

And now he was hallucinating. Cas closed his eyes, hearing the squelching sound of the Croat stepping on bodies to get to him. He felt a prickling sensation at the back of his mind, a sense of desperation he realized with a start didn't come from himself. The strange voice twinged his memory, something familiar he couldn't focus enough to place. "Who...?"

The Croat picked him up by his shirt and God, Cas hadn't known pain like this existed.

Now. Do it now.

Cas dredged up the last of his strength, focused on that voice and reached. He felt a pulling ache, like exercising a long-disused muscle, then blinding agony shot through his entire body. For an instant he thought Raphael had come back to tear him apart again, for old time's sake.

Then there was nothing but darkness.


He woke (and that was a surprise, waking) on patchy, grass-covered ground and curled up against the overload of sensation. He felt crowded; it took a moment for him to recognize his thoughts weren't the only ones present. Thought you were a goner. He recognized the touch of Claire Novak's soul, older now, warier but the same bright, courageous spark that had said yes to him that desperate day so long ago.

Thank you was all he could manage to send back. He stretched his consciousness; it had been so long since he'd taken a new vessel that he'd forgotten how uncomfortable the settling process could be.

Hey, you're doing me the favor. In case you haven't noticed, the world kind of sucks. He sensed the same kind of relief from Claire's soul as when he'd discovered the joys of human pharmaceuticals, the same escape. It felt odd to be put in the same category as a shot of morphine but really, he had no room to criticize.

He heard steps approaching, two sets of them. Cas laughed, a short, hysterical jag; it would be hilarious if after all that two more Croats just happened to find him. He cracked his eyes open as they reached him, a man and a woman dressed in mismatched military surplus as if they'd just walked in from Camp Chatiqua. He wondered if the whole world had been reduced to variations on Camp Chatiqua. "Claire? Jesus, why'd you run off? Your mom's beside herself."

The woman crouched next to Cas. "You okay, kiddo? We saw some kind of weird light show."

Cas flexed the fingers of his right hand, overwhelmed by deja vu as he accustomed himself to new muscles and tendons. "Yes," he said, after a pause he recognized as lasting too long. "Yes, I'm fine."

The man handed Cas a water bottle. "Here, drink up. You sound hoarse." He glanced over his shoulder. "There's your mom," he said, waving a woman over. "Amelia, we found her. She's okay."

Amelia Novak's face was more careworn than Cas remembered and she carried a sidearm on her hip with an ease that he suspected would have astonished (and saddened, if he were to be honest) his former vessel. He felt a flutter of warning he didn't understand until they locked eyes. "No," she said with a long, shuddering breath, then drew the gun and aimed it at her daughter's head. "You can't have them both."

Panic tore through him; he saw her finger tighten on the trigger and he shut his eyes. Suddenly the world lurched sideways, his stomach climbing into his throat and he found himself stumbling, falling hard to his knees. Which was especially odd, because he hadn't had time to even get to his knees before Amelia had pulled out her gun.

He opened his eyes and saw he was alone on a desolate stretch of dirt road. The skies opened and rain poured down, plastering his now-long hair down to his neck; the sky had been clear just a second before, the stars bright and burning when he'd first opened Claire Novak's eyes and he didn't understand.

It took a long time to realize that he'd flown.

He could feel his wings, stunted and atrophied but there; he searched deep and found something that should have been impossible: a tiny sliver of Grace, small as a sputtering candle. He realized immediately what must have happened: the first time he'd taken Claire as his vessel he'd been bleeding Grace, fresh from Heaven's tortures. He must have left a piece behind when he'd transferred from Claire back to her father; it would explain how she'd been able to hear him and pull him toward her.

Castiel sat in the mud and wept. He'd been so cold for so long he'd forgotten what warmth felt like.

He stayed there until the chill and the rain forced him to move. The tiny spark of Grace wasn't enough to keep him warm and Claire's thin jacket was poor protection; he forced himself to his feet and crossed his arms against the chill. He caught his reflection in one of the puddles and crouched down, studying it; a teenage girl with lank blonde hair dressed in ill-fitting camo stared back, lips pulled down into a frown. She resembled her father strongly in some ways, especially around her eyes, but still, the difference between the reflection and his mental view of himself was startling. He indulged in a moment of mourning; he'd liked that body. It had been his and him in a way he hadn't appreciated until that moment. He felt a sudden pang of guilt that he hadn't taken better care of it. He'd try harder this time.

He knew where he was now; they'd driven this road on the way to asylum. He found himself trudging up the road before even making the conscious decision to do so, but Castiel knew it wasn't like he had any choice in the matter. He had to know.

He had to see.

By the time he finally got to the asylum he was shaking with cold, soaked and muddy and miserable; he'd had to run off the road twice to hide from wandering Croats, his only weapon the small knife Claire carried tucked in her belt which would do jack shit to any Croat, as Dean would put it. He had a hard time tearing his eyes away from the building where his old body would lie and fester and rot until Lucifer finally succeeded in scouring every last human thing from the planet, but the asylum wasn't why he was here. Cast down or no, his elder brother was still an angel. He'd want to fight under the sky.

With that in mind, it didn't take very long at all to find Dean.

It struck Castiel how small Dean looked, lying alone and broken in that courtyard. The battle had been quick and bloodless and futile, just the way Castiel had always warned Dean things would go. Not that Dean ever listened to him.

Dean was cold and stiff, rigor mortis long since set in. His mouth was twisted into a death grimace Castiel had seen far too many times over the past five years, his lips blue and skin a pale, bloodless gray, eyes milky white under half-open lids. None of which stopped Castiel from poking Dean's shoulder, as if that would rouse him. "Get up," he demanded, like a child too young to understand what it was seeing. "Dean, this isn't funny."

He sat on the ground beside Dean and wrapped his skinny arms around his knees, watching Dean from under bangs that kept falling in his eyes. Thunder cracked so loud his ears hurt; the storm had an energy that made his reclaimed shard of Grace want to coil up and hide, as if the Earth itself was trying to throw Lucifer and his abominations off of it. Castiel wished it luck. "What the hell am I supposed to do now?"

Dean didn't respond. Castiel supposed the answer would be go back to the camp and...he didn't even know. Exist. Shoot more poison into his veins until something held him still long enough to tear his throat out. He'd latched onto Dean so tightly and for so long he didn't know how to do anything else.

The thought triggered a memory, a flash of the angelic life he'd spent the last five years pushing chemicals into his system to try to smother away. But now, clear-headed for the first time in he couldn't even guess at how long there was no defense; he remembered flying, the sour stink of Hell clinging to his wings as things reached for him from the very walls while safe under his arm was that weak, shattered excuse for a soul. He remembered Dean clutching him in terror. Please don't drop me. As if he would. As if in that moment he wouldn't have let the combined fiends of Hell tear him to pieces first.

He remembered responding by gripping the fragile little soul so tight he'd left a mark.

He touched Dean's shoulder, tracing the raised scar of the hand print through Dean's clothes. He saw the faint remains of a mark on Dean's neck and recognized the remains of a shoe print, the last of the dirt still staining Dean's skin despite the heavy rain. He wiped it away and felt something roil to life deep inside him, sending welcome heat spreading under his skin. It had been a long, long time since he'd been angel enough to properly feel wrath.

He had marked Dean in that place of pain and fear. He had scarred Dean with his own Grace. Rebelled for him. Died for him. Lucifer could have the rest of the world, Castiel had given up contesting it. That war had been lost long ago.

He could not have Dean Winchester.

He straddled Dean, lined one hand against the mark on Dean's shoulder and pressed his lips to Dean's cold, slack ones. Then he reached deep, deep down, his weak Grace screaming protests the entire way. Castiel ignored it and kept pushing, down through the barriers of reality, past cold and heat and realms of uncomprehending madness.

His fingers brushed against something familiar and he pulled.

The explosion of energy threw him several feet; Castiel curled up in the mud against the agony tearing through him as his overtaxed bit of Grace rebelled and burned and tried to force itself out through his pores.

But the pain was worth it when he heard Dean heave in a deep, gasping breath. Dean groaned, sounding like his vocal cords hadn't received the word that they were alive yet. Castiel pushed himself up to his elbows, almost falling flat on his face halfway through the effort. He crawled towards Dean like a flower turning towards the sun.

He had a moment to wonder if he should pretend, act as if he was just a random girl who'd stumbled over Dean, to try to play at some kind of fresh start. Then Dean looked him in the eye and Castiel knew he hadn't fooled Dean any more than he had Amelia Novak. "Cas?" he whispered, and Castiel felt his heart clench in his chest. It had been years since Dean said his name like that

He pushed himself to his knees, brushing his hair out of his eyes. "Hello, Dean."

He saw Dean swallow hard. "Got yourself some new digs?"

Castiel shrugged. "Some Croats broke my old one, so, y'know. Seemed like the thing."

"Guess you're mojo-ed up again, huh?"

"A bit. For now." He didn't know if this bit of Grace would slip through his fingers just as before. He was trying not to think about going through that horror again.

Dean stared into the sky, his eyes strange and wild. "Led you all into a trap."

"Yeah, kind of noticed. Now can I say that the plan was reckless?"

"Insouciant," Dean said, mispronouncing the word. He rubbed his hands over his face, his whole body shaking.

"Um...Dean?" Castiel said after a long, cold minute. "It's raining really hard."

"I was back in the Pit," he finally said, his voice fragile in a way Castiel had never heard before. "On the Rack."

"Well, yeah," Castiel said, pushing past the horror constricting his stomach. "Led us into a trap and all."

Dean shot him a venomous look. "Why the fuck did you bring me back, then?"

Because I don't know how the fuck to live in a world you're not in. He shrugged. "Everyone's got hobbies."

Dean sucked in a long breath. "You're such a fucking smart ass."

"And I wonder where I learned that from."

Before Castiel could blink Dean was on top of him, shoving him flat on his back. "Fucking smart ass," he muttered again, his voice breaking, then he kissed Castiel so hard he thought he would bruise. He felt Dean's hands fight to get under his clothes and sent out a silent question to the soul deep inside him, a plea, and got back a good-natured Hey, go for it before feeling Claire settle into blissful unawareness.

Then he pressed up against Dean, desperate for the contact. This was what they did, what always happened when a fire fight went bad: Dean got drunk and Cas got high and they bickered and argued until it turned into this, tongues and hands and need. Dean's breath shuddered against his neck. "It was never gonna stop this time," he whispered. "They were never letting me off that rack. I offered, Cas, I broke right away but they laughed, they just kept cutting..."

Castiel tilted his head to kiss him again, coaxing Dean's tongue into his mouth. Of course the demons wouldn't accept the offer, it had only been made in the first place to get Dean to break the Seal. No need for that anymore. No siege needed to get him back. No more destinies. He sucked Dean's tongue and Dean moaned into his mouth, grabbing a fistful of Castiel's hair. He gasped when Dean's other hand slid up under his shirt. "Shit. Dean, cold."

Dean laughed, that stuttering, holy-shit-I'm-alive laugh that was the only kind Castiel ever heard from him anymore. Dean slid his hand down past Castiel's waistband and Castiel felt his back arch up with a sudden jerk. Dean laughed again, tonguing the pulse point in Castiel's neck. "You're not cold," he said, an unmistakable leer in his voice. He started rubbing and Castiel threw his head back, grinding up against Dean's hand.

"This feels different," he whispered, moaning when Dean slid a finger inside.

"I like the new body, Cas. I like it a lot." He undid the buttons on Castiel's pants and slid them down and off, pressing close when he shivered from the cold rain hitting his skin. "Your vessels have good fucking genes."

"Pious living," he gasped out and Dean laughed again, that sound going right to the steady ache building between his legs.

Dean fumbled with his own jeans for a second, then Castiel felt Dean push inside with one quick, hard movement. He swore once and then Dean's lips were back on his, swallowing up the moans as Dean moved inside him, rough, fast strokes. Dean slid his shirt up and reached one hand around his back. "Arch up," Dean whispered and Castiel followed the direction, breathing deep as Dean unhooked Claire's bra with one well-practiced motion. Castiel felt calloused fingers trace the curve of his breast, drawing circles around the hard nipple and this was new, the way that touch sent a shock through his spine. This body was sensitive in different places than his past one and Dean was finding every one of them. Dean shifted and Castiel felt his mouth close on his right breast, teeth nipping and teasing, his tongue so hot against his chilled skin Castiel almost sobbed from the contrast. Dean thrust into him once more and Castiel came apart, muffing the sudden cry against Dean's shoulder. Dean collapsed on top of him a few seconds later and Castiel barely felt it, still shaking from the force of his own orgasm. "Cas," Dean murmured, the word soft and reverent against Castiel's lips. It was the only kind of prayer that meant anything anymore.

Castiel wished he had enough Grace to make this moment last. They'd always been good at this. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do now," Dean whispered.

Castiel shrugged. "Getting out of the rain would probably be a good idea."

Dean sucked on his neck hard enough that he knew he'd have one hell of a bruise in a few hours. "Fucking smart ass. Thought we'd talked about that."

Castiel bit at his lower lip, reluctant to let him get up. He wasn't stupid, nothing had changed. They would get up and the world would still be wrecked, Dean still drowning without Sam and Castiel going down with him.

But maybe they could swim for a little while longer. Maybe that was the best either of them could hope for. Dean pushed himself up to his knees. "You coming, Cas?"

Castiel closed his eyes, remembering the last time Dean had asked him that. It wasn't as if Dean didn't already know the answer. "Of course."