"Wait! Wait, you don't have to kill me!" The witch picked herself up from the ground and stood with her handjs raised. "I wasn't trying to hurt anyone! I swear, I swear."

Dean just rolled his eyes - seriously, it was like the bad guys weren't even trying any more. "Lady, you had a demon altar in your bedroom."

"I saw it in a book!" She looked back and forth between him and Sam. "I didn't know it was serious."

Sam sighed. "All those dead cats in your closet looked pretty serious to me."

She shook her head. "Strays. Strays and roadkill, I swear, I made sure of it. If I was really evil and needed to die like you said, would I bother making sure I didn't accidentally hurt anyone's pet? Would I?" Dean glanced over to Sam, who just shrugged. That was more attention to detail than they usually got from witches. "I would never hurt another human being. I cured my neighbor's cancer! She was in hospice and now she's going to her daughter's wedding! I should die for that?" Before Dean could even respond she looked right at him. "You. I could help you, too."

Dean quirked an eyebrow. "Trust me, I don't want any of your help."

"I can, though. I cut your face when I was trying to get away, right? That's going to leave a really nasty scar," she said, and Dean scowled - he'd almost forgotten that. "I can fix that. I can get rid of all your scars."

For all that Dean had come back from Hell with skin as smooth as the day he'd been born, Dean knew he'd done a good job scarring himself right back up. It was just a little bit tempting. "No. I look stupid to you?"

"So you want to go through life with that big scar on your face?"

Dean winced. "Well, no, but..."

"So you do want me to get rid of your scars."

"What? No. I mean, sure, I'd like to get rid of the scars, but..."

"Good. Great, we have a deal." Before Dean could even open his mouth to argue she took a little packet of herbs out of her pocket, emptied it into one hand and blew them on Dean. "And so the pact is sealed."

"Wait! Lady, we didn't make a pact about anything!" Dean said.

Or at least he would have, had he not been much too busy passing out.

Dean came to with Sam shaking his head over him. "Dude. Not your finest moment."

Dean groaned. His head felt like a herd of elephants were tap dancing on his skull. "You get her?"

"Nah. She did some kind of ninja poof thing and got away. You okay?"

"Oh yeah, I'm awesome." Dean pushed himself up to a sitting position. "I really hate witches, Sam."

"Hey, I have to give this one some credit," Sam said, handing Dean back his gun. "She did what she said."

Dean touched one hand to his face and found that the nasty slice across his cheek was indeed gone. "Huh." He accepted Sam's hand up and brushed the dirt off of his jeans. "Maybe we managed to meet the world's only honest witch."

"We've done weirder." He checked his watch. "Might as well go back to the motel, the spell window's over. She'll lay low the rest of the night."

"Yeah, guess so. And we wrecked her creepy alter and her books. Only so much trouble she can cause without those, right?"


After a two hours of horrible dirt roads Dean was so glad to lie down that even the crappy motel beds felt like heaven. He was so mellow he even let Sam grab the remote first, regretting that as Sam flipped by a monster truck rally and what looked like a Dr. Sexy marathon to settle on...Dean didn't even know. Something about penguins. "Dude. Seriously?"

Sam smirked at him and Dean knew he did this kind of thing on purpose. "Hey, you pick the music, I pick the shows."

Dean heaved himself off the bed. "I pick the music because your music sucks." He was curious about whether the witch had gotten rid of all of his scars or just the obvious one she'd caused; he switched on the bathroom light and tugged off his shirt, checking himself out in the cracked mirror hanging on the door. And really, so far so good: the knife wound on his right elbow, the werewolf claw mark under his collarbone, both gone. Then he switched to his left side and hissed in a startled breath. "Aw, shit."

He heard Sam shift on the bed, then a second later saw his head poke in the doorway. "What? Everything okay?"

And Dean didn't really didn't know how to answer that, so he just turned to show Sam the now smooth, unblemished skin on his left shoulder.

Sam's mouth twitched up into a smirk. "Dude. Cas is gonna be pissed."

Dean shot him a withering glance and went back to studying his reflection. He'd never thought of the handprint as a scar. The few times he'd thought of the handprint at all it had been as just a weird-ass souvenir of being pulled from the Pit, a reason to brag to curious girls in bars that yeah babe, that's from when an angel dragged me out of hell. Not that any of them believed that, but it was a cool thing to be able to say.

He must have stared at his reflection longer than he'd realized, because Sam felt compelled to comment,"I've got a Sharpie in my bag if you wanna write his name there."

Sam ducked his head out of the way before Dean could throw something at him. "If I killed you they'd never find the body, you know that," he snapped, which Sam only laughed at. Dean pulled his shirt back on and threw himself back on the bed, pointedly not looking at Sam. He could almost still feel the handprint, like an itch under his skin. He folded his hands behind his head and pretended he was very interested in the TV.

"Hey," Sam said after a few blessed moments of quiet.

"Shut up. I'm watching..." He watched one of the penguins push a pebble towards another one with its beak and sighed. "What the hell is this, Sam?"

"Dude, c'mon." Dean looked over and saw Sam looking at him with that concerned puppy look he was so good at. "Seriously though, was that handprint important? You never talk about it. It wasn't...I don't know, holding your soul in or anything was it?"

"No," Dean snorted. At least he hoped so; Castiel had never brought up the handprint, unless Dean counted the whole "gripped you tight" thing from that first day. "Far as I know it was just a thing. Now it's gone, no big deal." Dean knew how defensive that sounded but for the life of him he had no idea why. Sam quirked an eyebrow at him so Dean knew he'd caught that too, but to Dean's relief he let it go.

Dean was just shy of being lulled to sleep by soothing narration describing penguins diving into the sea when his phone rang. He fumbled it open, so thankful for any diversion he didn't care who was on the line. "This is Dean, speak."

"Oh, good." Dean recognized Castiel right away, there was no mistaking that voice but there was something hazy about the tone that made Dean sit up. "The voice kept saying you were unavailable. I thought I'd broken it."

"Nah, the phone's probably fine, we've just been in the middle of nowhere most of the day." He could hear Castiel's breathing over the line, loud and labored like he'd just run a marathon, and tried to remember if he'd ever heard Cas really out of breath before. "Dude, you okay? You sound like shit."

"I feel...unwell. I think there's something wrong with my vessel."

The words came out slurred and if there had been any drowsiness left in Dean, it was long gone now. He stood and motioned for Sam to turn down the TV. "Wrong how?"

"I...I'm not sure. I'm having trouble maintaining my t-temperature." Dean looked at Sam, who mouthed what's up? at him; Dean shook his head and made a later gesture. "What does that mean, Dean?"

"It means you get your ass over here and we check you out. Starlight motel, room seven." Castiel hung up and Dean snapped his own phone shut, watching Castiel's number blink on the screen.

"Dean? What?"

Dean shook his head. "Beats me. Something's up with Cas. We'll figure it out when he shows up."


Ten minutes passed with no sign and Dean started to get antsy, pacing the narrow path between the beds. He didn't know what they were supposed to do if Castiel couldn't get there; he was in the middle of his God search and could be on the other side of the world, for all they knew. And every time he thought about the timing Dean felt a cold pit in his stomach. Painful experience had taught him there was no such thing as coincidence.

Dean pushed the thought away when the welcome sound of wings finally filled the motel room.

The relief was short lived.

Castiel staggered backward into the wall hard enough to send the sad excuse for hotel art smashing to the floor. He braced one hand against the TV stand and looked over the room, relief clear on his face. "Hello, Dean. Sam," he said, his voice even gruffer than usual. "That was much more difficult that it should have been."

Dean saw his grip tighten on the TV stand and managed to rush over and grab him just as his legs started to buckle. "Sam, grab his other arm, help me hold him up." The second Dean touched him he almost jerked his hand away; Cas felt hot to the touch, like a radiator wearing a trenchcoat. Dean maneuvered in front of him and tipped his chin up to look at his eyes. "Dude," Dean said, pressing one hand against his forehead, "You say, 'I have a fever, Dean' not 'having trouble maintaining my temperature' or whatever it was you were talking about."

"I'll...be more precise in the future." He shivered so hard he almost came off his feet and braced one hand against Dean's shoulder.

"Yeah, you do that." Castiel's face was flushed, his hair matted down to his forehead; Dean shot a nervous look at Sam. "How high do you think it is? 104, 105?"

Sam shook his head. "If we're lucky."

"What're you talking about?" Castiel slurred, shivering again.

"We're just trying to figure out what temperature your brain's cooking at right now." He nodded over to Sam. "Help get this crap off him."

Castiel stiffened when he felt them trying to take off his coat. "Shh, Cas," Dean said. "You feel like you're about to burst into flames. You can't be wearing ten thousand layers when you're running a fever this high." Castiel let Dean take the coat without further protest; Dean sent the suit jacket down to the floor after it and started in on his tie. "How long you been feeling crappy like this?"

Castiel shook his head. "A few hours. It came on very suddenly." Dean glanced back at Sam; he had very bad feeling he knew exactly when it had started.

"Why didn't you call me then, Cas?" Dean said, dropping the tie to the floor and carefully unbuttoning his shirt.

"I did. I told you..."

"Right, right, the voice. We were chasing a witch in the woods, the signal's crap out there." He finished unbuttoning the shirt and left it open. "But, dude, we've been here an hour and a half, why'd you wait 'till now?"

Castiel shook his head. "I lost time."

Dean ran that through his Castiel-to-Normal translator and came up with I passed out. He felt something cold claw at his stomach. "Okay. We're gonna figure this out. You think you can make it to the bed?"

Castiel nodded and managed one step before his legs gave out under him; Dean draped Cas' arm around his neck and he and Sam half-dragged him the rest of the way, dropping him at the foot of the bed. "Dude, you're just getting awesome at passing out in motel rooms."

Even half-dressed and shivering Castiel could still work up a pretty impressive glare. "I'm not finding this nearly as amusing, Dean."

"Sorry. Not trying to be a dick."

"You ever been sick like this before, Cas?" Sam said.

Castiel shook his head. "Never. Not...not susceptible to human illness. I don't understand."

Sam glanced at Dean, one eyebrow raised in a you-gonna-tell-him-or-should-I expression. Dean sighed. "Cas," he said, crouching by the bed, "remember I said we'd tangled with a witch right around the time you started feeling lousy? I think that had something to do with this."

Castiel's brow furrowed. "No witch has the power to hex me in this fashion."

"Yeah, well," Dean said, sending an uneasy glance at Sam, who didn't seem interested in rescuing him at all, "that might be kind of my fault." The furrow deepened and Dean took a deep breath. "Promise you won't be mad, okay?" Dean said, not even sure why. That just made Castiel look even more confused, so Dean just sighed and rolled up his sleeve.

Dean thought it would have been better if Cas had been mad. Dean still had no idea what the handprint meant, but Castiel actually looked hurt when he saw the smooth skin on Dean's shoulder. "Oh," he whispered, propping himself up on one elbow. "I...I wish you hadn't done that."

"I didn't do it on purpose, Cas. The witch did some fast talking before I even knew what was happening."

"Why's it hitting you like this?" Sam said, helping ease Castiel into a more comfortable position on the bed as Dean sat on the edge. "What did letting her get rid of that handprint do?"

Castiel curled back on his side and glanced back and forth between Sam and Dean as if he was looking for a way to avoid answering the question. Then he sighed. "At least I understand what happened now."

"Care to share any of that with the class, Cas?"

Dean felt Castiel look up at him like he wanted to glare but didn't have the energy. "The mark contained a...spark of my Grace. It occurred when I made direct contact with your soul with my true form during your retrieval from Hell." Dean felt like the air had just been sucked out of the room. "By harvesting it the witch has made herself much more powerful."

"More powerful how?"

"Immeasurably. She no longer has need for altars or components for her spells. Not when she has a spark of Grace to substitute." He closed his eyes and huddled on the bed, looking so miserable Dean had to fight the urge to throw a blanket over him.

"Cas," Dean said, "you never did answer why this is hitting you so hard."

Castiel let out a soft, resigned breath. "The spark is a part of me. I can...feel when she uses it," he said, his lips twisting into a scowl. "The corruption. It's attempting to spread."

"Spread? Spread how?"

Sam figured it out first. "It's hitting you like an infection. Like if me or Dean got a cut and it festered."

Castiel nodded. "That would seem to be an-an apt comparison."

Sam nodded. "What do we do?"

"We kill the bitch," Dean snapped. "Right?" He looked back at Castiel. "That'll fix this?"

Castiel nodded. "She would no longer have a claim to it."

"Then let's go. What're we waiting for?" Sam was already packing his guns back into his bag; Dean was about to get up to do the same when he felt Castiel's hand twitch toward him. He looked down and saw Castiel's eyes dart away, the muscle in his jaw twitching. Like he was embarrassed Dean had caught him. Dean brushed Castiel's sweaty hair from his forehead – he hadn't even known Cas could sweat – and sighed. He caught Sam's eye and met him at the door. "Sam, I can't," he said, keeping his voice low and gesturing back towards Castiel.

Sam frowned for a moment. "Dude, obviously. I didn't even think that was a question."

Dean handed Sam his spare gun bag. "Be careful. Sam, find this bitch and gank her fast, you hear me? Don't let her talk."

Sam nodded. "I'll call you when it's done. Although hopefully you'll already know," he said, looking over Dean's shoulder at Castiel.

After Sam left Dean stared at the closed door for a few seconds, wishing with every fiber of his being he could go with him. The idea of Sam going after a witch this powerful – this smart – alone was so wrong Dean felt like throwing up.

But he couldn't be in two places at once. Dean knew that if his head couldn't be one hundred percent in the hunt Sam would be better off on his own; he set his shoulders, pushed his worry for Sam down to the back of his mind and turned to the more immediate problem of the sick angel curled up at the foot of his bed. "Cas?" he said softly, touching his shoulder, and felt Castiel startle. "How're you feeling?"

"Dean?" he murmured, his brow furrowing. "Thought...you'd left."

"Nah." Dean plopped down on the bed behind him, hoping he was giving the impression that this was no big deal and everything would be fine. "Sam can handle one witch. Besides, I'm the one she hexed, probably not a good idea to be around her a second time." Castiel rolled halfway over, just far enough to give Dean the purest look of bullshit Dean had ever seen. He closed his eyes again and curled back up, purposefully turning his back on Dean.

Dean switched on the TV and started flipping through the channels, hoping to drown out the thought that Castiel had every right to be pissed at him because the situation was basically his fault. After a few minutes he saw Cas twitch. "Dean?" he said, the word so slurred it was barely recognizable.

"Right here, Cas." Castiel nodded, the tension in his shoulders easing. "I'm not running out on you." The only response that got was a muttered "mhrrmm" sound; Dean scooted forward on the bed and put one hand on Castiel's shoulder. "Dude, don't fall asleep."

Castiel made an attempt to shake Dean's hand away. "Leave me be."

"Yeah, I'm really not gonna do that." From touching him Dean could tell the fever had inched up a degree or two; he'd sweated through his shirt to the point it was almost transparent. Castiel jerked away, curling back up into a miserable ball and Dean stood, shaking his head.

The motel was way too crappy to have an ice machine but they put an ice bucket in each room anyway, seemingly to rub it it. Dean grabbed it and turned on the tap in the bathroom, waiting for the water to flow as clear and cold as it was going to get. He filled the bucket, picked up a hand towel and took one of the five dollar waters from the minifridge, opened it and forcibly wrapped Castiel's hand around the bottle. "Drink that."

"I don't need it," Castiel said, not bothering to open his eyes.

Dean told himself that if he'd never been sick in his life and was suddenly knocked on his ass he'd be pretty cranky too. "Cas," he said, crouching by the side of the bed, "you're sweating out all your fluids. Even for you this is too much, so drink something. Give your vessel a hand fighting this off." Castiel gave him another baleful glare and Dean stood up, crossing his arms. "I will pour it down your throat, Cas."

Castiel gave up and took one sip, giving the bottle back to Dean with a there, are you happy? expression. Dean put it aside and pressed the wet towel against the side of his neck. Castiel hissed and tried to pull away, and Dean pushed aside the thought that there was no circumstance where he should ever be stronger than Cas. "Dude. Stop fighting and let me help you."

"Why are you trying to make me colder?"

"Cas, look at me." He waited for Castiel's bleary eyes to blink back open. "Take it from someone who's actually been sick before, cold isn't your problem. You feel like the surface of the sun right now, you only think you're cold because your internal thermostat's all fucked up. Okay?" Castiel blinked at him, shivering. "We gotta get your temperature down."

Castiel looked at him for a moment, then nodded, his eyes closing again. He winced when Dean touched him, shivering so hard Dean had to remind himself this was helping. "Cas," he said, wanting to keep him from passing out again. "What was the deal with that handprint? You may as well tell me."

Castiel sighed, letting Dean turn him on his back to wipe down his chest. "The mark was..." He broke off, his teeth chattering too hard to speak for a moment. "It was intended to prove that you were the true Righteous Man, not a...a trick by the demons."

"You could do that with just a handprint?"

He shook his head. "The mark was more complicated than you could see. Any of us could look at it and see you for what you are."

His skin was so hot Dean almost expected the water to steam off of him. "That why you had a piece of your Grace in there? Is that what let them know that?"

Castiel was quiet for a very long time. "Dean, do you know how many souls before yours have been stolen back from condemnation? How many times one of the Host breached the defenses of Hell?" He opened his eyes, staring up at Dean.

Dean shifted on the bed. "Not a lot?"

"None." His eyes were so bright from the fever they were practically glowing. "Before I did it, no angel had ever invaded Hell. It wasn't thought possible to retrieve someone from the Pit."

He was so keyed up he was almost out of breath. "Shh, Cas. Calm down. Getting your heart rate up is just going to make things worse."

"Trying to...explain my actions, Dean," he said, lowering his eyes as if he couldn't look at Dean, which was confusing as hell. He sighed again, like the words were being dragged out of him. "Vanity is not purely human failing. I was...very proud of myself for having survived that trial. I wanted my brothers and sisters to know beyond any doubt who had retrieved the Righteous Man."

Dean turned that over in his mind for a moment. "So...wait a second. Putting the Grace there was like...what, writing your name on my arm?"

Castiel's lips pressed to a thin line. "That's...not an inapt analogy," he said.

"Dude, what the hell?"

"I thought differently then."

"Yeah, I forget sometimes what a dick you used to be." He let out a long breath. "You could've just told me that."

"I was hoping this conversation wouldn't have to happen."

Dean cocked his head, giving Castiel a careful look. It occurred to him suddenly that the flush across his face might not be just from fever, and maybe the reason Cas wouldn't look at him wasn't just because Dean had gotten tricked. Dean wiped away the sweat already beading back up along his forehead. "I'm not mad, Cas. Not really, anyway."

"I was concerned you wouldn't react well. Humans can be...particular about their bodily integrity."

"Yeah, we're crazy like that." Castiel's teeth clacked together as he shivered again, curling back up on his side. "So did the Grace do anything besides shout 'Castiel Was Here' to any of your dick brothers who looked at me?"'

"I didn't intend it, but it provided a weak connection between us."

Dean's eyes narrowed. "What kind of 'connection.'"

Castiel let out the long sigh of the condemned. "When someone touched the mark I knew. I felt it."

Dean's horrified mind flashed back to all of the girls he'd been with since getting out of hell, and how every one of them seemed to love feeling up that handprint. "Dude." Anna especially, she'd kept her hand clamped over the scar almost the whole time... Dean let the thought trail off, remembering what Cas had told him earlier.

"I told you, it was unintended. I was no happier about it than you are now."

"Nah, Cas, that's not what I was thinking about, I'm used to you doing the creepy stalker thing by now. When me and Anna had our...our thing," he said, and he heard Castiel let out a grunt of annoyance, "she had her memories and everything. So did she...?


"Dude, why would...?"

"Because she was bragging. She was angry with me."

"What am I, a piece of meat to you people?"

"She was very...pleased with you, if it softens the blow at all."

Dean knew that it probably meant he was the shallowest man alive, but that did help. That and the clear fact that Castiel would almost have rather set himself on fire than ever have had this conversation. "It's...strange," Castiel murmured. "The absence. Didn't realize...leaning on it to...to compensate for the sigils." His voice was going soft and slurred again; Dean put his hand on Castiel's shoulder, ready to shake him to keep him awake if it came to that. "Can't sense you any more."

Dean squeezed his shoulder. "Use the senses that aren't angel-powered and you'll be fine, Cas. I'm not going anywhere."

"Have you often felt this terrible, Dean?" he said after a few moments of silence.

"Yeah, a few times. Well, maybe not as lousy as you, my brain would be mush if I had fever as high as the one you do, but you catch all kind of crap living out of cars and motels. Caught the flu a bunch of times, pneumonia once. Ghost sickness. God, did that suck."

"Beginning to...understand why humans fear sickness." He shivered like he'd just been pulled out of an icy lake. "May...may I have some more water, Dean?"

Dean silenced the fear suddenly echoing through his mind like a gong. "Yeah, Cas. 'Course you can." Dean held the bottle to his lips, watching as Castiel managed a few swallows before he started to choke. "Easy, buddy, easy," he said, rubbing Castiel's back. Cas clenched one hand in the bedspread, looking frustrated and furious, and it eased Dean's mind a bit that he still had enough energy to work up some angelic wrath. "Sam'll catch the bitch and you can put that stick right back in your ass. Just have to bide our time 'till then."

After a few minutes Castiel picked up his head, squinting at the screen. "What are we watching?"

Dean hadn't even noticed what show he'd stopped on. "Dr. Sexy, MD," he said, grinning as the direness of the situation receded for the one second. "Think it's a marathon, too."

Castiel blinked up at him. "Do you enjoy this show?"

"Yeah," Dean admitted. "Don't tell Sam, but yeah. It's one of those shows that's on all the time, you know? Like those lawyer shows. Always seemed to be on when I couldn't sleep at night and I got sucked into it. It's not bad. The chicks are hot."

Castiel watched the last few minutes of the episode with the serious attention usually given to deciphering the great secrets of the universe. "Should doctors do that in the same room as sleeping patients? It seems unhygienic."

Dean snorted. "It's not a documentary, Cas. Just run with it."

Halfway through the next episode, right before patient of the week confessed her dark secret, Castiel hissed in harsh breath and shook, less like he had a fever and more like he was about to go into convulsions. "Cas? Cas, what's up? She trying something?" Castiel nodded but couldn't speak; when he tried all he could manage was a ragged sob of pain and Dean felt the hair on his arms stand up. That wasn't a sound he ever wanted to hear Castiel make. That was a hell sound. He massaged the back of Castiel's neck, both to try to help him through it and in a futile effort to keep his own fury in check. It was offensive that some nothing witch could do this. Dean joked a lot abut blasphemy but he'd never known it was something he could feel, deep in his bones next to the sigils carved into his ribs.

The attack gradually eased, leaving Castiel limp and wrung out. "That was unpleasant," he murmured, and Dean was sure that had set some world record for understatement.

"If putting that thing back on my arm would end this you know you could, right?"

Castiel twisted around to look at him. "Do you really mean that?" he said, a serious tone to his voice that seemed out of proportion to the actual words.

"Well...yeah. I mean, I didn't want it gone in the first place."

Castiel closed his eyes, his lips twitching up. "It wouldn't...make you feel like piece of meat?"

Dean grinned. "I dunno. That's not always a bad thing." He cocked his head to the side. He knew that look. "You got a plan, don't you."

"It's not...not as easy as it sounds. And it's not the right time."

"But you do have a plan."

Castiel didn't answer, craning his neck back toward the TV in what looked like the most uncomfortable position possible. "Why are those two coupling? I thought they despised each other."

"Yeah, they're showing stuff out of order." He shifted, pulling Castiel all the way over so he could see. Cas' head wound up in his lap and Dean knew this should feel weirder than it did. "You want me to catch you up?"

Castiel nodded. Dean brushed his damp hair off his forehead; Cas sighed at the touch so Dean kept it up, putting the thought that he was essentially petting Castiel out of his mind because at least it seemed to be helping. "Okay, so at the end of last season..."


Watching TV with Cas was like watching with a five-year-old ("Why are they calling this blonde doctor by the brunette's name?" "'Cause they did a mid-season recast. Chick got a movie deal." "Why is
that one making vows to two different women?" "'Cause he's a dick. Wait'll you see the two-parter coming up." "Why does she appear to be laughing and crying at the same time?" "'Cause she's a crap actress. Trust me, this is supposed to be sad."), but anything that kept Castiel awake and lucid felt like a win to Dean. It would almost be nice, Cas lying in his lap like this if he weren't still running so hot Dean was starting to sweat. His temperature kept ticking up and nothing Dean did seemed to stop it; the shivering had turned into a fine, constant trembling, as if his body didn't have the energy for anything more. Castiel had complained that the overhead light hurt his eyes so the only illumination in the room was the flickering light from the TV and the moonlight streaming through the dingy windows.

He wanted Sam to kill the witch and end this. Dean had never been any good at hanging back and and waiting; it felt like an itch under his skin he could never scratch. Sam was in trouble and Cas was in trouble and Dean felt so guilty that he couldn't help either of them his stomach was tied in knots.

Suddenly Castiel's whole body tensed. When Dean looked down his eyes were wide, his chest heaving in uneven gasps. "Sam found her."

"How can you tell?"

"She's...distressed," he said. He hitched in a deep breath and rolled himself off Dean's lap, pushing himself to his hands and knees. "Did you mean it when you said I could mark you again?"

"Yeah, Cas." Dean reached out one hand to steady him as he knelt back on his heels. "Is that the plan?"

"I intend to call back the spark of Grace, yes." He shivered and Dean put his hands on his shoulders to keep him from pitching forward. "Thank you." He gently pushed Dean away and knelt back up straight. "I have to warn you, this will be uncomfortable."

"For you or for me?"

"Yes." He sighed. "I need your knife."

"Dude." He shook his head but went into his bag and handed it over. "Just once can't you come up with a plan that doesn't involve you opening a vein?"

"Direct access to my Grace is necessary. There's Grace in my blood. If you have another solution I'm open to it."

"You just look like you'd keel over from a paper cut."

"We'll find out, won't we." Castiel carved around the heel of his hand and angled his hand downward so blood coated his palm and fingers. "We should start."

Dean tugged off his shirt and knelt opposite him. Castiel let out a long, shaky breath and pressed his bloody hand against Dean's shoulder; Dean shifted his hand over slightly until the positioning felt right. "There. That's where it's supposed to be."

Castiel nodded. "I could alter the mark, if you wish. Make it so it doesn't..."

"No. Just like it was." Castiel's blue eyes blazed up at him, gratitude mixed in with something it sent electricity down Dean's spine to think about. "Don't change a thing."

Cas nodded again, then he started to chant. After a few moments Dean felt the skin on his shoulder start to tingle and had half a second to think that this was going really well.

Castiel gasped. Dean felt his hand start to slip from his shoulder and held it in place. "What's wrong, Cas?"

"She's fighting me." He sounded so outraged Dean would have laughed if the situation hadn't been so serious.

"You can do this. C'mon. You're not gonna let one witch get the better of you, right?"

He hissed in a breath and started again. This time the reaction was more dramatic; Dean saw his eyes start to roll back and cradled his head with his free hand. "Cas. Snap out of it." Castiel blinked at him, his eyes hooded and unfocused. "Fight her back."

"More...skilled than I thought. Waited too long." He sagged against Dean, breathing in wet, ragged gasps.

"Bullshit. You got this." Dean saw his eyes struggling to focus. "C'mon, man. C'mon." He thought about what Castiel had said, that Anna had been bragging. There was more than one way to take that; Dean thought he was right but this really wasn't the time to make sure. He saw Castiel start to go under again and there wasn't any more time to deliberate. Dean kissed him hard, hoping the shock would help him fight.

Dean felt Castiel tense up and for a moment thought he'd guessed wrong. Then Cas opened to the kiss and Dean gasped from the heat of it, like the fever had been magnified by a few thousand. Dean finally pulled back; when he put one hand Cas' neck to steady him he felt his pulse going so fast it scared him.

"Why did you do that?" Castiel whispered.

He stroked his thumb along Cas' jaw. "Looked like you needed it."

"Oh." His blue eyes were wide with wonder. "Why did you stop?"

Dean let out a low chuckle. "Finish this and I'll do it again, I swear."

The determined glint was back in Castiel's eye. Sweat poured down his face as he started chanting again, his voice rough and barely audible, his eyes boring into Dean as if that was the only thing keeping his head above water. The tingling changed to burning, then Cas shuddered. He dug his fingers into Dean's shoulder, his jaw tight, then lunged forward and kissed Dean with a savage intensity, his tongue in Dean's mouth before Dean knew what was happening. After a few seconds that left Dean light-headed he broke the kiss and started chanting soundlessly, his lips moving against Dean's. The burning got worse until Dean felt like his whole body was about to catch fire; he wanted to scream but choked it back. He knew Castiel was feeling just as bad if not worse and he had the hard part. All Dean had to do was hold still, and damned if he was going to mess that up.

He could almost feel it underneath the pain, the hidden sigils being scribed into his flesh that labeled him the Righteous Man, the secret, smaller ones that made up the name Castiel. Dean wondered if his agreeing to do this would change the mark, if when the angels looked at it they would see him letting Cas do this to him. He didn't know why that thought made him as hard as it did.

Castiel whispered two more lines of the incantation and suddenly Dean saw a bright, white light spring to life behind his eyes. The words fell away and Dean felt a stab of panic; angels and glowing usually meant only one thing. Dean kissed him, a gentle, coaxing touch, his hand tight against the back of Castiel's head and Cas's lips just scaldingly hot against his. "Finish this up, Cas," he whispered. "We got better things to do."

Castiel nodded and whispered three more words, the power of them vibrating through Dean's spine. He felt an electric charge shoot from his shoulder and grow to fill his entire body until Dean felt like he was going to split open. Castiel was kissing him again, talking to him in those strange words, his voice somewhere between an order and a plea. Then suddenly the surge focused, becoming a tiny pinprick of pain that burrowed into his arm like a living thing.

Which of course Dean knew it was. When he opened his eyes again Castiel looked a thousand times better, his skin cool under Dean's hands. "Guess it worked, huh?"

Cas nodded. "Yes. The witch has no more power over me."

Dean moved Castiel's hand aside and touched the mark; if he hadn't known better he would have said it had never been removed at all. He traced its edges, fully aware for the first time that he had a piece of Castiel hiding inside him, buried deep in his skin. It was shocking to him how right that felt, the twitchy uneasiness that had been with him since meeting the witch now gone.

And Dean was also aware that Castiel was still half-dressed in his bed, that they'd been kissing like their lives depended on it for the past few minutes and that he was still really, really hard.

Castiel seemed to be having the same thought; he leaned forward and kissed Dean, sucking on Dean's lower lip and Dean had no idea when he'd learned to do that. Castiel's hand reached up, touching the mark and Dean felt that touch rush through him. "Shit," he whispered. "Thought you didn't change anything, Cas, that never happened before."

Dean didn't know angels could leer. "I'd never touched it before," he whispered into Dean's ear. Dean recognized the look of someone drunk on a near miss – after all, he felt the same way. Then Castiel scraped his nails across the mark and Dean forgot how thinking worked at all.

He let Castiel push him down to the bed, eager to see what else that mark could do. He traced his fingers down the contours of Cas' chest, down his ribs and across his stomach and Castiel closed his eyes, his expression rapt. Then he kissed Dean, at first just brushing his lips and deepening into a slow, wet kiss so intense Dean wondered if Castiel had been storing it all up for this one moment. Dean felt Castiel's fingertips trail over his skin, as if he was determined to leave no inch of Dean untouched.

Then Dean's phone rang. Dean groaned and fumbled it open, swallowing the curse on the tip of his tongue when he realized it was Sam. "Everything okay? You get her?"

"Yeah, finally. Don't ever want to do that again."

Castiel's blue eyes stared down at him, and he saw Cas' lips twist up into a mischievous smirk as he deliberately started tracing the handprint. Dean felt his back arch and barely managed to stifle down the moan. "Good, Sammy. Sounds good."

"Hey, did you guys do something on your end? She went from kicking my ass to absolutely no threat in, like a minute."

Castiel was breathing on the mark now and Dean didn't know how he'd made it this long without knowing what that felt like. "Yeah. Cas worked some mojo." Castiel kissed the center of the mark and Dean had to turn his face away so Sam didn't hear the moan.

"...Okay. Well, good. I'm gonna start back..."

"Wait," Dean said, giving Cas a dude, not now look. "You should take a look around. We don't wanna leave any evil stuff lying around, right?"

Sam was quiet for a suspiciously long time. "Um...You think two hours would be enough?"

Just more confirmation to Dean that he had the best brother in the world. "Sounds like a plan. See you later." He ended the call, threw the phone on the floor and looked up at Castiel. "We were in the middle of something, right?"

Dean lay back and let Cas get to work. As Castiel skated his fingers over the handprint Dean shivered, sliding one hand past Castiel's waistband. If this was what being a being a piece of meat bought him, Dean had to call that a pretty good deal.