Castiel's face is blank. He looks just as he did the moment Dean first laid eyes on him; an angel pulling the strings in a human body, able to move vocal chords and look though borrowed eyes but unsure, really, how to manipulate them fully. How to make it look real, convincing. But back then, Castiel had studied humanity, every second a watch-and-adjust tic, though he always stood too stiff and stared too long But now, as Dean's takes in the angel's face, piece by piece (nose, lashes, lips, eyes jaw), he sees nothing. The spark, the life beneath the vessel has smoothed out, a placid lake to be stared into without any consciousness of its own. Singularity has slipped away from Castiel, a fact he seems oblivious to as he raises Jimmy's piano-player hands and lowers them slowly, imitating the bow he asks them for, the loyalty and groveling and skin-shredding rapture this new god craves.
It's strange, the gaze that flows calmly over him, a shallow flit so unlike the other Castiel's deep dark searches, a careless sort of motion that shows just how insignificant the three mortals in the room truly are. It's quiet; Castiel's threats have just tumbled into the air between them and they're still absorbing into broken skin, lapping at the cuts still dribbling lazy blood. Dean takes inventory of his wounds, the aches in his legs and the shooting electric grind working its way down the veins in his forearm. He is tired. He is tired enough to lay down on the stinking, body-part strewn cement and never, ever get up. Fighting is all he's ever known, and its price came with a carving knife that's worked silently for years. It's only now he sees he's more concave than anything, bone carved sharp so all it can do is hurt, tear and rip and break. He could turn his head a fraction, stare at the shocked pull of Sam and Bobby's faces, the narrowed eyes and thin lips, but then the god's attention would veer toward them too. They still have themselves, have rebellion perched on their jaws, locked between teeth. Enough to keep them going where he has run dry.
It's not a decision; it's instinct.
"Hey," he directs toward the god, voice guttural. It's been chipped away at, herded back into his throat by the weight of things he's refusing to feel right now, the hopelessness that would leave him blind and deaf in the face of such a total defeat. "False prophet."
The god's eyes roam back to his form, taking in the various injuries.
"Yeah, that's right. I don't know about these suckers, but I will never bow to you. Never." He stretches his lips back, tries for a smile but ends with a grimace, though it doesn't matter. The god can see into his heart, mind, soul. He knows Dean's telling the truth, and though he should probably rise beyond the realm of petty human stubbornness, something holds him. Dean understands the layers of power the god now houses, the black rot of corruption as it sinks beneath the skin. This god is just a monster in disguise, a power-seeker that wants everything he can't have. And he can't have Dean. Or he won't long enough for the ones who matter to get away, to get safe and regroup.
"So, I'm sorry, but I won't be professing any love. Kind of the wrong type of porno, Cas, if you know what I mean." Breathe, smile, smirk. Pretend that the sentiment he's spewing is true, that he can flick away the shroud settling around his heart, the one that clutches tight as his lips wrap themselves around the word 'love.' But it doesn't matter. Because even if he falters, wavers around the truth just a little bit, he's already got his reaction. The god tilts his head, puppy-dog style, and before Dean can blink or breathe in to prepare his next insult, the scenery changes. The room the god has moved them into is large, furnished with overstuffed couches and chairs. Comfort is wrapped around every object, the used paperback books studding the bookshelf, the tawny gold of the old wood coffee table. But a prison, Dean knows, is a prison, even if it's made to look like someone who has a grandfather's study.
"Dean." the god says, pressing close enough for his non-breath, lacking any scent at all, to brush across his lips, "This is a game you will lose." Nothing there, a shark behind starlight-cast eyes, irises with a depth the being behind them no longer has. Dean clenches his hands, sticky with flaking blood, leather jacket adjusting quietly with each movement.
"Who said I was trying to win in the first place?" If he licked his lips now, he'd catch the corner of the god's mouth, would taste dry skin and salt and the remnants of Cas, maybe. The idea races across his tongue, an urge that won't make it past his steel wall willpower.
"Your will," the god smiles, a quiet little pull of the mouth, a rarity when he was an angel and unsettling as snow in August, "means nothing to me."
And then Dean's angle changes as his knees slide fluidly to the ground. His arms stretch out in front of his head. He's in the deepest of bows, forehead flat against the floor. He can't move, can't stray from this position. The god's control is absolute.
It's my will that's pissing you off. It's my will you want, Mr. All Powerful. And it's what you'll never get.
"We'll see," the god says.
The god is patient.
Dean is alone in the room for longer than he knows. There is nothing to tell time. There is no marker of any passage at all, save for the circular motion of his thoughts, the please don't hurt Sammy, the dark scratching 'what ifs' that ask, rather nastily, if the god might have remembered him if he'd tried to support him. Somehow. If he'd done what his body had been telling him to do every time the former angel stepped too close, lingered where he shouldn't have.
So Dean sleeps and dreams and wakes and wonders because that's all there is to do; the room is windowless and the door evaporates every time he gets within a foot of the thing. Breaking isn't an option, though going stir-crazy is starting to look unavoidable. Things don't make sense here. He doesn't get thirsty or hungry, his hair and nails and beard don't grow. He is the same, preserved. But for how long? Is this what Sam suffered through all those Tuesdays?
He starts marking the walls. They're neat, even little rows. They go on. Maybe forever.
When the god shows up again, it's with grim pleasure plastered across a smarmy face at the shudder that runs through Dean. Surprise and seclusion put him on the edge of a knife, a thin line to walk and the god wastes no time pushing him off.
"What's wrong, Dean?" A bitten lip, furrowed brow. "You seem a little jumpy."
"Alistair," he breathes, a slip he doesn't even mean, but the light it sparks in the god is enough to have him swallowing hard. Fear, he doesn't mind showing. The god has seen his anger, his sadness, every fucking emotion Dean has back when he was Cas. Nothing's new except the chill those pale eyes give him now.
"Not quite," the god waves a hand and Dean is vaulted back to the wall, straps slithering out to anchor his arms and legs, to hold him still, weightless.
"But I know his tricks, Dean." A glint under the light, shiny in the god's hand. The knife is wickedly sharp, and it's gripped easily. Comfortably.
"You gonna cut me?" Dean asks, an aborted laugh huffing from his nose. "Never had that before."
"You don't have to repeat the experience," the god whispers, an earnest expression pulling his eyebrows tight. It's a good imitation, an approximation. Like the thing can actually feel. "All you have to do is love me, Dean. Give in to me. Pledge yourself to me."
He can't say it. He shakes his head and presses his lips tight, the image of human Castiel asleep in his backseat, mouth open, vulnerable. He wonders what it would be like to touch that man's cheek, to look into those eyes and see the reflection of himself.
The first drag of the knife is deep. Dean is red and black, streaks of charred embers curling inside, hell brought back as he's cut open, blood hot and gushing.
"Give in to me, Dean. I will make you whole again. I will make you better."
There's blood coming from his mouth but consciousness is concrete and not going anywhere. The breath is forced out of him, a gasping cry, jagged and shrill. His hair, his teeth—the pain settles everywhere, velvet and smooth, coating his nerve endings like a downpour clinging to clothes, heavy enough to drown in. The tears at the corner of his eyes slip free, more reflex than emotion, though that comes next because there's a roar in his ears that isn't natural, that isn't right because the god is doing it, is surrounding him with the sounds of screams that he'd coaxed out with the tip of his own knife, bone-deep and careful, an artist with a paintbrush made to render agony in long, harsh strokes. He spits the blood building behind his teeth. It lands on the god's perfectly pressed shirt and earns him another jab, this time to the stomach, setting the acid there free.
"Don't you see?" Fingers under his chin, lifting. He avoids the god's eyes. "You can stop all this."
He snaps, and Dean finds himself heaped on the floor, limbs akimbo.
"Shall we try again, then?"
Dean is too dizzy to acknowledge the words. He is spinning inside himself, unprotected by the blackness behind his eyes. The pace picks up, sending him on a roller coaster of ups and downs that turn his stomach, leaving bile hot in his throat.
"What are you doing?" The god asks, suddenly, the barest hint of unease back burning in his voice. Dean slits his eyes open, trying to focus double vision that turns the god into smears of tan white and black.
"What are you doing?" It asks again, a glare twisting its lips. "How are you doing this?"
Ignore him, Dean.
The voice, one of vague familiarity, sounds in his head, a steady hand in the middle of a rocking ocean. If he could move, he would jerk at the new presence, the new invasion in his body, his mind.
It's alright, Dean. Just breathe. And hold on to me.
Something white builds behind his eyes, an aurora of resplendence unmatched by any sunrise he's ever seen. It rises, flooding him until he thinks he might be burning, but with light, with love he doesn't understand.
I have one question for you, Dean.
Who are you? It's a trick. It has to be, the god's ice-cold illusions blinding him, tricking him. This can't be real, but oh, he wishes it was because his life has never been touched by something so pure. It's powerful, the god.
You know who I am, Dean Winchester. But that's not important now.
He imagines the voice in his head licking its lips, wetting them for the pause that comes next, the beginning of an avalanche question that will pull him in a million different directions.
Is Castiel worth saving, Dean?
It's a trigger, a gunshot moment of images and possibilities that wind him tight and choke the answer that tries to come out instantaneously, a 'yes,' that is a reflection of matched gazes and need he's never admitted, feelings he won't make contact with because he is dirty and wrong and so, so human and Castiel, the angel Castiel used to be is not. So he stops for a moment, a dead pause that allows him to weigh his heart, the organ that's barely pumping blood through his body anymore and finds that it's been filled with moments, some awkward, some painful, some hysterical. And each and every one has Cas in it. He's been marked, a signature scrawled in muscle. He doesn't belong to anyone, but if he did, it would be to one person, one man. And that's all there is.
The Castiel I knew, the Castiel...before...is. I meant what I said. I would have died so he could keep going.
And that's what you'll do now.
Slipping out of his body is easy enough. He's done it before. A twist, a jolt and he's free from humanity's confines, a spirit standing just a few feet away from the god.
What's one more soul? He whispers to the god, taking one step, then two, closer. Take me.
The god doesn't need to be told twice. He opens himself wide, arms splayed, welcoming Dean, ready to add to his countless collection. Dean moves past the god's surface like wind filtering through trees. He's surrounded, buffered by the power that presses in on all sides, asking to take him in, to absorb him and make him theirs, to become a part of the god like countless others have, monsters, demons, angels. Collateral damage. All of them. But Dean just shrugs them off, rising over their reaching hands, the grasp they would try to trap him in.
There is no place to start, so he just begins.
I remember, he tells the god. I remember you. When you came down to hell, I couldn't take my eyes off you, couldn't trust that you were who you said. But I remember. You took me, Castiel. You took me and rebuilt me and there's nothing between us, nothing to separate us because you held my soul, Castiel. You rebuilt me and breathed life back into me. I never told you, did I? I never told you I know that your grace feels like the ocean running over my toes. I never told you that I felt you, that every time you came close I took a step back because I didn't deserve you. I didn't want to taint you. But it doesn't matter anymore. Nothing does because you're gone.
His words are an earthquake, wherever they are. The god's mind shakes around him, but he doesn't notice because all he can do is feel.Every moment he's shared with the angel, every word left unsaid, every touch he should have let happen. He's said his piece, but there's one last thing that needs to be expressed. Words, though. They're just syllables, language that doesn't quite reach what he needs to express. So he lets the feeling filter through him instead, lets himself be buoyed by the word he's never let slip past still lips.
It fills him and moves past him, reaching out for every part of the god, who is strangely still around him. He imagines lips meeting and moving, a physical outlet to the urge he's pushed away for too long.
I love you.
And when he can't take it anymore, when he's threatened by the reverberation of his own feelings, he hears a reed-thin voice that calls out in desperation.
Castiel remembers his birth. The moment he flickered into being, pulled into existence by invisible hands, the streaks of stars, black-hole need for love and light gathered and focused until he came out the other side. The fact that he was filled with his Father's grace is the only evidence he has of the being humans call God. His brothers and sisters, nebulous bodies of light and heat and home drifted over him, like humans running their hands through one another's hair. Castiel was born into eternity, the rise of voices brimming into a crescendo of devotion and trust.
No one is special because they are all the same, cut of cloth that is uniform and grey as a rainy morning. Maybe that's why they were abandoned, why his Father chose the humans over the angels, the too-perfect children left to go insane after His departure, madness and the hunger for power descending to fill the hole He left. Castiel had orders. He followed them and they cost him everything—his home, his family. But he gained something, too. Something new, something he hadn't felt since the settling of his grace, the fingerprint like gunpowder his Father left on him.
Faith. Hope. Humanity. Love.
Now, though. Now he is surrounded by the echoes of the supernatural, hunger and desire rooted in the darkest of places, high-pitched wails calling out for more, a taste of blood or flesh or magic. Just more, now now now. He's sucked their lives down like whiskey, taking the kick with a lifted chin, forgetting about the burn as he was filled, completed, elevated. He let it take him, let it weave its easy web and was folded under its spell, cast aside into a sleepy sort of peace he hadn't felt in millennia. It's an infinity of nothing, but he's too tired to care, stretched too thin to do anything but relax into the lull, the upswing of a hammock as it cradles weight he doesn't really have. He is the stuff of planets and cold space funneled into a clipped-wing vessel, but here it doesn't matter so much. Here is nowhere.
Nothing matters until it does. Castiel's wake-up call is brutal, a sudden and jarring realization of what, exactly, is happening. He sees the Righteous man as he was in hell, bright like the North star in an abyss of agony and blindness, the shining impression of a body, a soul still lingering in human form. Castiel thinks he's dreaming, even though he's only done it once, a confusing barrage of images and sounds he'd slipped into during his stint as a mortal. But there's no other explanation, no way for a human soul to have made its way into his body. He houses only the passed-on supernatural, the remnants of things that go bump in the night. A ripple runs through him, anticipation and licked lips, saliva collecting behind teeth as the monsters decide in a single voice, that they want this soul. They want to rip and tear and bite until it's nothing but dust and bone fragments on the ground.
No, Castiel wants to say, and in the distance a part of the Righteous man burns brighter, a searing halo cast from his shoulder; the angel's hand burns. No, he tries, but his mouth is sewn shut, useless. His lake of calm has been disturbed, ripples fanning out, his unrest bubbling to the surface.
Dean! he's calling, the name passing through him like electricity from a sparking wire. It's old and familiar and it stills before it can pass over lips he can't feel. He's held hostage, just like the souls he'd trapped. Absorbed. No, can't hurt him, can't do this.
But his body has other ideas, closing in on the Righteous man, on Dean, like the moon slipping in front of the sun during a solar eclipse. His light is fading and Castiel shudders as the screams wash over him, twisted calls of monsters and his human mixed, bleeding into one. He can only watch as the sun goes down on the human trapped in his body, as the soul slips under the surface and falls away entirely, absorbed.
One last moment, Castiel begs, please Father, give him another chance. I'd give anything.
But all that comes back to the former angel is a gurgling rumble that increases until it's all he can hear; one unnecessary heartbeat, then two, and he's washed away into the blackness as well.
Whose son are you now?
It's a voice and a touch and a presence he recognizes without ever having met it before. It's full, throaty, fills him like hot mead on a cold day, had he ever needed to be warmed. He's broken a cardinal rule by caring, by wanting and needing. He was an angel. Now he's a god of fire and ash, and it was all so he could keep the world from ending, from letting the bad guys burn it to the ground around him (around Dean).
You are not the creation I wove all those years ago, Castiel.
I—Castiel's words come slowly, carefully under the strain of the proximity he has to a being he's only heard about before this. I tried to find you. I didn't want this, Father.
Neither did I, child. I took regrettable steps. I forgot myself.
Would you give it up, Castiel? Would you forget the allure of the gods for him?
Castiel doesn't have to ask who his Father speaks of. There is only one to him, one being, one soul, one gaze that roots his grace and ties him in knots. He's not sure when he slipped, when he left angelic stoicism behind, but now that he's entrenched, there's no going back.
In the distance, there are words. A voice trilling in and out over a staticky horizon, one that professes truths too deep to talk about, too buried to admit but they're being transmitted just the same, weaving around the angel's heart and with each syllable he gets lighter, like he's leaving the solidity of his body behind.
Is he worth it?
Yes. Always yes.
There's no warning for the agony that comes with his answer, the ripping-tearing-breaking of a purge that should have happened after he killed Rafael. He's been carrying the souls around for too long; they've dug in, begun feasting on the parts of him he let fall by the wayside; empathy, caring, common sense. All of them are putrid, festering, a grace-deep sting that lets up only when the last soul slips past his teeth like a trickle of bile, destroyed by his father without a second thought.
Dean comes in clearer now; I remember, he's saying. His human speaks without vocal chords, presses emotion where thought falls short. He's curling fear and love and disappointment around every memory they have together. He's terrified of the new Castiel, the god who feels nothing.
Dean? Castiel's moving, stumbling through the confines of his own mind now because somewhere Dean is there and he's afraid, and the angel has to get it right this time.
I'm here, he assures, spreading out as far as he can, reaching for the summer-heat pulse of the Righteous man. The human is like an itch under his skin—there, but just out of reach. Castiel circles around himself, frantic now.
You rebuilt me and breathed life back into me. Call.
And I would do it again in a second. Even if it cost my own life. Response.
I never told you that I felt you.
I knew. I felt you too. Closer, now. Lighter, warmer—he's swimming up through stormy waters that would hold him down if he let them. But determination drives him where strength begins to wane. There is no going back, only reaching forward. And he breaks through, fueled by the charge of excitement and craving held in Dean's voice, the human need to touch and connect on a physical level.
Hold on, he tells the Righteous man as he surfaces, slipping back into the controls of his vessel, the familiar too-tight sensation that's like coming home. He is restored, himself again, though with something, someone extra. He houses Dean within himself, the soul flush against his grace and burrowing closer, deeper with every beat of his vessel's heart. Castiel gasps, stomach dropping to the soles of his feet as his grace shifts and flutters within him, drawing the soul close, playfully circling around it, cupping it like water sifted through hands.
Castiel opens his eyes to find a room, a comfortable torture chamber. Blood on the walls, on the floor pooling around Dean's body. His human is broken and sightless though his eyes are open. Lips gasp for breath that doesn't come, skin cracked with dried blood. And all of it was done by his own hand. He sinks to the floor, knees hitting heavy, hands drifting out to touch the cold, coagulating blood. He streaks skin red, war-paint lines across his cheeks as he covers his face, hiding from the brutality he inflicted without thought, without regret. He'd been greedy for the Righteous man's soul, the need for just a little more. His shame, his sorrow is hot, pooling in his stomach like acid.
Cas, he hears. It's ok. Don't—You can't blame yourself for this.
Dean. He's too broken to call out more than a name, too ashamed to try and explain.
Don't you think, Cas, that I understand what you did? That I'd get it better than anyone else?
Hell flashes before the angel's eyes, black blood and shining knives and the white of the Righteous man's eyes and teeth. He scuttles forward, taking Dean's doll-limp body into his arms, clutching it close so his heart beats into the other man's still chest. He feels his wings slipping out before he realizes he's letting them; they spread and curve, hiding he and Dean from the outside world, though they're safe from it anyway in Castiel's version of limbo.
"Come back to me," he whispers, taking a breath before pressing his lips to a cold, still mouth. He draws himself out from the inside, the hope and sadness, the light dizzy ache that is love and fear of its loss. He bathes himself in the fount of love Dean pressed close to him earlier, thinks of the ache in his throat and heart and uses it, pushes it into the mortal body that is busy rebuilding, knitting tissue and sending renewed blood through whole veins. And then his human is perfect again, not a scratch on him, save the mark seared into skin, the outline of his own hand as they ascended from hell together.
Time to go back.
Dean is branches in the wind as he moves up Castiel's arm, then down his fingers; a delicate sway, soft rustling and hair blowing. A pang of loss comes over the angel when the human's soul departs, but it doesn't last. Dean moves in his arms a moment later, gasping and sitting up so they meet chest to chest, arms wrapping around his shoulders, though the human pauses, looking just over Castiel's head.
"What—Cas—are those your wings?"
Fingers trail through what looks like soft down in this manifestation, the feathers closest to his shoulder blades.
"Yes," he answers simply, tilting his head back as he's stroked and caressed, pulled apart in the softest of ways. Light touches skate across his cheeks and jaw, fingers tracing tears backward, coming away pink. He watches Dean lick his fingers, tasting the angel's grief, hot and human.
"I've never seen you cry before."
"I never had a good enough reason to."
Dean smiles, but it's a grim little thing, lips stretched tight. And then, because neither of them know quite how to say what they're feeling, he ducks his head and presses skin to skin, a red flush of heat asking to be shared, closeness that's forgiveness and regret, lust and relief all tangled together, sharp and messy. Eventually, they'll get back to the real world. They'll find Sam and Bobby and explain what happened, with some censoring. But for now, Dean will work his hands through his angel's wings and hair, will moan Castiel's name and forget about time and space and war and monsters. Castiel will open his mouth and let Dean explore his world, his body and his grace. And they'll fall together, breathless, back down to Earth, where both belong, now.