Title: in your frail gesture are things which enclose me
Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Rating: Mature
Written For: The Dean/Castiel Big Bang LJ community for the 2011 big bang.
Disclaimer:The SPN characters do not belong to me and this was not written for profit. The title of this work comes from a poem by e.e. cummings.

Art accompanies this fic, done by stormseye LJ. PLEASE NOTE: the art has above the waist nudity, so it might be NSFW. If you'd like, check it out here: http:[SLASH][SLASH]stormseye[DOT]livejournal[DOT]com[SLASH]51180[DOT]html


A Fine Tremor was published on May 25th by an independent publishing company based in Los Angeles. It did very, very well.

Many critics regarded it a new classic, and the author - the mysterious C. Augustine, a man no one had heard of before - was often praised as a genius. The prose was sparse, but haunting, and the narrator was a shattered, cerebral mess. There was another camp, however, who hated it and said it was pretentious drivel, or too sentimental, or too cynical, or Augustine's presence in the novel was too strong. Opinions were mostly polarized: people tended to either hate it or love it.

But whether the talk was positive or negative, there was a lot of talk. The novel was of a decent length, just passing four hundred pages, and featured a post-Apocolyptic midwestern America. It followed two brothers traveling around the wasteland: a doctor and a former soldier. They weren't the most sympathetic characters - the years after the upheaval had been difficult and it left indelible scars, made them hard, their skin tough. But they were loyal to a fault, dependent on each other to a point where it had become unhealthy. The narrator was faceless, nameless - the only information given about him was in how he told the story of meeting the brothers, and eventually dying with them.

It was nothing really ground-breaking, and it featured a few well used tropes, but most readers who had enjoyed it agreed on one thing: it felt sincere.

: : :

The librarian on call was young, about twenty-seven, with blonde hair she kept in soft curls around her face. Her name was Helen. Normally she was very attentive to her work; her husband was still in school, doing an unpaid internship, so apart from their savings the bulk of the fiscal responsibility fell to her. So she firmly toed the line. But this book... Marion had recommended it, and since they both liked Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut Helen had decided to give it a chance. And she couldn't put it down.

"Excuse me," a warm baritone voice said. Someone rapped gently on the counter with a big-knuckled hand and Helen snapped the book down on the take-out menu she'd been using as a bookmark. "Um... I'd like to borrow these books?"

"Right, sorry." She smiled. The man was tall - really tall, she noted - with floppy hair and an expressive, friendly face. She nudged her book away with an elbow and pulled the stack of books he'd set on the counter closer. "Do you have a library card?"

He nodded and pulled his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans. "What were you reading?" he asked as he handed it to her. "You looked really absorbed in it."

"Oh, well." She sighed, rolling her eyes a little at getting caught. "I was. It's..." She gave him a quick smile as she handed his card back. "It's really good." She pushed the book forward so he could take a look at the cover. "A Fine Tremor," she said. "Just came out not too long ago. I've been hearing a lot of great things about it, so." She shrugged. "Decided to try it."

"Hmm." The man - Sam, his card had said - nodded and picked up the book. "I've never heard of the author," he said, flipping it over. "C. Augustine." He looked up at Helen. "What else has he written?"

"No idea," she said. "Nobody's ever heard of him; I think this is his first novel." She looked at him speculatively for a moment. The books he'd gotten were on spirits and local history - something she really didn't need to delve deeper into, because everyone had their weird hobbies - so she couldn't really get a read on his tastes. But. "We have a copy," she said, pointing toward the new releases. "At least we should have one left; I don't think it's been checked out yet. Since you seem interested," she said.

"Yeah, okay." Sam grinned. "Let me grab it."

He came back a few seconds later with the book in hand. "Great," Helen said. She scanned it and stuck the printed receipt between two pages. "I hope you enjoy it. Your books are due back in two weeks."

: : :

"This book is amazing," Sam said. He opened it up again, flipping idly through the pages. "You have to read it, Dean."

"Hmm." Dean glanced over at the cover, then shook his head. "Sorry, Sammy; doesn't really look like my type of thing."

"No, it's so good." Sam tapped the cover. "And this... There's this one guy, right? Dean, he could practically be you."

"Oh, really?" Dean grinned, looking smug and marginally more interested, but that didn't last and he shrugged the book away when Sam tried to pass it to him.

"What's got something just like Dean?" Bobby asked, poking his head around the doorframe between the living room and the kitchen. "Who'd want another son of a bitch like that, anyway?"

"That hurts, Bobby," Dean said, flipping through an old car magazine. "Really hurts."

"It's this book I just finished," Sam said, holding it up so Bobby could see. "A Fine Tremor."

Bobby's eyes narrowed as he leaned in closer to see the book. "By C. Augustine," he said. His lips tightened and he let out a breath through his nose. "Well that's real nice."

"You want to read it?" Sam asked.

"Mmm, no," Bobby said, shaking his head slowly. "No, doesn't really sound like my type of thing."

"Aww come on, Bobby, I haven't even told you about it yet."

Bobby waved Sam's interest away, scrunching his nose. "Yeah, I'll, uh. I'll get a synopsis later."

"Just ignore him, Bobby," Dean said. "He's been bugging me about it for days."

Sam shot Dean a quick, dirty look. Lately Dean had been unwilling to try anything but the few age old pastimes he knew he enjoyed. It was hunt, eat, sleep, interspersed with bickering, working on the Impala, and porn.

They spent a good chunk of their time at Bobby's - living there in all but official invitation; and though Bobby groused about them being underfoot, he never did anything more than complain. He did occasionally get tired of them, or they'd have a salt-and-burn to take care of, and for awhile they'd go off, but they always found their way back. The loss of another ally had been keenly felt, and neither Sam nor Dean were ready to lose the only family they had left.

Sam didn't know what had happened to Cas. He'd been teetering between remorse and fear when Sam called him down; and they'd done the ritual, and the souls had been released, but after that... Bobby'd said he just walked out.

Dean hadn't handled it well. He'd been willing to help Cas, a band-aid stuck on the bond between them. But as soon as they'd sucked the souls out, something had changed. Because the souls weren't all that had come. Castiel's Grace had come out, as well.

Castiel's whole body had seemed to burn. He back arched and he screamed: a high, inhuman sound, like the screeching of a mangled bird. It hurt. God, it hurt, even just to hear it, and Sam and Dean clapped hands over their ears. Sam turned his head, the light bright enough to hurt as it was pulled out of Cas, but Dean never looked away.

Shadows, broad and dark, unfolded from his back; thick, black, incorporeal wings, shimmering in the brightness. Castiel's eyes widened and he clutched at his shoulders with clawed hands.

"No," he said, frantic. "No!" He screamed again and threw his head back, the shadows of his wings beginning to move, shaking, moving up to the speed of a hummingbird's. Then they lit up, glowing electric orange, sizzling and crackling like the end of a cigarette until they burnt up and the only shadows left were blunt stumps were the wings used to be. The light dissipated and they could see Castiel clearly. His eyes had rolled back into his head and he sank to his knees, hands convulsively clenching. His mouth opened, and a foggy white smoke came out, before curling in the air and disappearing. Then he collapsed. It hadn't taken a genius to figure out what had happened.

Dean went over, calling his name. He knelt down, hand on Cas' shoulder, trying to shake him awake. But Cas didn't move. He was unconscious, breathing softly. He looked wrecked; whatever had happened had hurt him badly. His clothes were probably ruined, dirty and torn. Even the trenchcoat looked a little beat up. Sam wondered if there were two neat tears at the shoulders, where his wings had burst throught. "Cas," Dean said again. "Cas. You have to wake up. You..." He looked up at Sam, his brow furrowed, mouth open but unable to speak.

Sam put a hand on his shoulder. "Dean, I think he's... He's breathing, right? That's got to be a good sign."

"Except angels don't need to breathe."

Yeah, except for that. Sam knew Dean - and Cas - wouldn't want his pity, but a wave of sympathy he couldn't control flooded through him. "I don't think he's an angel anymore."

Dean stood up, letting his hand trail down Cas' arm as he did. "So he's human." His voice was flat, and as soon as he noticed Sam glance his way his face went blank.

"Yeah," Bobby said, stepping up behind them. "Looks like he's human."

And of course while they were all there gawking at him, Cas had woken up. His eyes found Dean's first and for a long moment they just held, but then Dean looked away and made some stupid excuse to leave. And Sam could see why he'd done it - his angel was gone, his angel had fallen, and right when there might be hope for reconciliation something this big had happened.

Cas reached after him, silently, and though Sam knew Dean hadn't meant it like that, it was clear Cas thought he'd been denied. Then he'd thrown up and passed out again. Bobby had sent Sam in after Dean, waiting until Cas woke up.

Sam didn't know how to react to him. He was grateful Cas had fixed him as the last act with his god-powers and maybe he should be angry for breaking the wall in the first place - some distant part of him was, just a little - but there was no use dwelling on it. And Cas was human. Cas was dirty and messy and human, just like the rest of them. He didn't know what to say, didn't know if he should be distant or comforting - if Cas would want support, or would want to face the first realization of his new state of being alone.

Even without really reacting, though, Cas was obviously wary around him. Bobby sent him up to shower and dress and Sam waited outside the door, wanting to try to talk to him. But he couldn't, not after what he'd just seen happen to Cas, and not when Cas looked at him like that. So he'd just sent him back to Bobby.

And then Cas had gone.

Without saying a word to either brother, Cas had just left.

"Where is he?" Dean had asked. "Where's Cas?"

"Gone," Bobby said. He stuck one hand in his front pocket, leaning up against the doorframe. "I figured we all needed some space so I was going to give him to some old friends of mine for awhile, let us all cool off for awhile." At Dean's angry look, Bobby shrugged. "If he wanted. I wasn't kicking him out. Of course I'd love another person in my house." He rolled his eyes. "So yeah, Dean, before you get your panties in a twist, I told him he could stay here. But he didn't want to - he decided to leave."

"Without saying a word to anyone? He's just gone." Dean looked down and huffed.

Bobby cocked his head and shrugged again. "Can't imagine he'd feel too welcome after you tried to talk Death into killing him. Can't imagine he's feeling too good about himself, either."

"So he's just running away?"

"No, Dean - I mean..." Sam could understand why Cas had done it, but like Dean he wished he hadn't. "Maybe he'll come back. He must know that we'll take him. Right?"

Nobody answered him.

When Sam had returned A Fine Tremor to the library a few days before, he was disappointed to find that Augustine hadn't published anything else. He'd been looking him up on his laptop for well over an hour one afternoon when Dean asked "What are you doing?"

"Nothing," Sam said. "Just... looking something up."

"What?"

He scowled. "Don't you have something better to be doing?"

"Not really," Dean said, flashing a grin.

"That book, you remember?" Sam hunched down closer to the screen. "Just wanted to see what else he'd done."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Sam." He rolled off the couch and walked over to where Sam was sitting, his laptop in his lap. Dean leaned on the back of the chair, tapping Sam on the shoulder with the knuckle of a finger. "Are you still going ga-ga over this guy?"

Sam shot Dean an annoyed look. "He's a good writer," he said dismissively, hunching his shoulders in a poor attempt to keep the website on the screen away from Dean.

Dean leaned closer and pushed the screen back a little so there was less glare. Sam's annoyance really only fueled him. "So. What all has he written?"

The next look Sam shot his brother had considerably more venom, but Dean just smiled back at him. Sam sighed. "Not much," he said, hoping Dean would get the hint and leave. He did not; he just leaned in a little closer. Sam's shoulders tightened. "A Fine Tremor was his first novel. Before that..." Sam opened a new tab on his web browser and typed 'C. Augustine' into the search bar. Most of the hits came from book reviews, a few interviews: mostly posts on the novel. Sam scrolled down a little and clicked a link. "He wrote a few short stories first," he said. "Only published online. Apparently he used to be a junkie or something. But got himself into rehab and used writing as a... I don't know, a sort of therapy. The whole center did it - they publish it on a website so all the friends and family of the people there can see they're making progress."

Dean snorted and Sam gave him a half-scandalized look. "Sorry," Dean said, "but I've never really bought that whole tortured artist thing."

Sam just shrugged. "His early work is good, no matter why or how he wrote it. But I don't like it as much as I like his book. That's where he does the best, I think - the longer stuff."

"So anything come after this amazing first novel?"

Sam shook his head. "No, it's pretty new. Just published in May. He hasn't published anything else since. In an interview I read - the first one he did, I think - he talked about his writing. Sounded like he wasn't expecting his book to ever be this popular. It was supposed to be some... some journey or something, some kind of self-discovery."

"Sounds like bullshit to me," Dean said.

"Sure, Dean. Of course it is." Sam gave his brother a narrow look. "But that's what he said. Sounded like something bad happened to him - something really traumatic. He's doing another interview soon - this one on TV, his first live one."

"And let me guess," Dean said. "You're looking forward to it?"

Sam didn't look at him. "Yes."

: : :

The Winchesters had been gone for about two weeks. Bobby had given them a hunt a few states over, and for awhile they'd been busy with that. It was nice to see Dean busy, Sam thought - he didn't need time to dwell. It was pretty typical, and after they'd taken care of it they'd headed back to Bobby's.

It had become a home, and even if they were still only officially guests, Bobby had stopped even pretending to drop hints about them leaving. As soon as they'd set their bags down and settled down to a late lunch, Bobby had come in carrying two packages wrapped in smooth red paper. "Here," he said gruffly, thrusting the two packages into Sam's hands. Their names had been written on the paper in thick black lines. "Don't say I never gave you anything."

"Thanks, Bobby," Sam said. He was a little surprised by the gift, but grateful. He handed Dean's package to him - and Dean scoffed but took it - and then started to unwrap his own. "A... book," he guessed as he tore off the paper. "Oh. A Fine Tremor." He didn't really need a copy, but it was nice of Bobby to think of him. "Um, thanks, Bobby."

"Yeah," Dean said, rolling his eyes. "Thanks."

Bobby sighed, exasperated. "Open the covers," he said.

Sam obeyed. "To... Sam," he said, eyes going wide. "I am glad you enjoyed the novel. It was a labor of love to write, and to know it is being read and appreciated means the world. Yours sincerely, C. Augustine. Bobby is this really... Did you actually get me a signed copy?"

Bobby nodded, looking half sheepish at Sam's obvious delight. "Yeah," he said. "Knew how much you liked the book and I'd heard that... some friends of mine knew the author." He shrugged, though it was clear he was pleased Sam liked it. "Thought I might as well. You two ain't exactly been cheery lately; thought you could use something to help with that."

"And you're sure it was him? I know sometimes they sell fakes and -"

"No," Bobby said, shaking his head. "It's his signature. Sent from the publisher. Like I said – some friends of mine, some other hunters I met a good while back, put in a good word with this Augustine guy. And he was... Happy. To hear that he had such a big fan."

"Well thank you. No, really." Sam grinned, closing the book and looking up at Bobby. "Thank you." He cleared his throat and looked at Dean, who had left his copy of the book sitting in the pile of paper it had been wrapped in.

"Oh. Yeah," Dean said, nodded quickly. He hadn't really been paying attention to what Sam had been saying and it was clear the gift didn't mean nearly as much to him. "Thanks. Great, uh. Great job, Bobby."

Bobby rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I can tell you're grateful."

He left them to themselves, then, mumbling something about needing to take care of something and heading outside.

"What did yours say, Dean?"

Dean sighed. "What are you, five? If you're so interested, read it yourself."

Sam held out his hand, but Dean just gave him a wan smile. "Nevermind," he said, grumbling. "If you're going to be that childish about it." Dean just shrugged, and Sam grabbed his computer, still grinning about his gift. It had been unexpected, to say the least, but very welcomed.

He didn't understand why Dean wouldn't read the novel. Regardless of what he might claim, Dean was as much of a dork as Sam was - just a different kind. He might not do research or like academia in the same way Sam did, but he loved Star Trek, and Vonnegut, and no matter how much he tried to argue, his obsession with cowboys was a fetish. He had the biggest boner for Clint Eastwood Sam had ever heard of. And reading wasn't even exclusive to dorks; the publishing industry was huge, there were books of every genre published everyday.

And Sam knew Dean well enough to know what he'd like. When he'd told Dean there was a character that could practically be him, he wasn't kidding. It was like Augustine knew Dean - because even if there were pretty stark differences mixed in, too, it was the little things that really got to Sam. The guy - Michael Ferris - even had some of the same mannerisms as Dean. And the themes, too: fierce devotion, brotherly love, moving past stoic acceptance to trying to take control of one's own fate. It wasn't a healing experience for Sam, and the characters in the book were living in the aftermath of an apocalypse instead of stopping one, but it was eerie how much Sam could relate what happened in the narrative to their own lives.

Dean, though, instead of listening to Sam's analysis of the book, just mocked him for liking it so much. It wasn't mean, and Dean only did it because Sam had come awfully close to gushing, but it was frustrating, especially when all Sam wanted to do was enjoy it.

It was also, he realized, because he'd been subtly pushing Dean maybe a little more than he should lately. Because regardless of what Dean thought, Sam knew better. His repression just wasn't healthy. They hadn't even said Castiel's name in he couldn't remember how long. Sam had thought their relationship was a little weird, but he hadn't realized before how much Dean had cared about Cas. Now Cas, yeah, it was pretty clear Dean hung the moon for him, but Sam hadn't realized it might be more than one-sided. They were both so emotionally constipated, though, and without knowing where Cas was - he'd asked Bobby not long after Cas had left, and when he'd gotten in touch with his contacts they'd said Cas wasn't with them anymore - there wasn't really anything he could do.

"Sam." Dean sighed and put his feet up on the arm of the sofa, one arm resting on his stomach and the other cradled under his head. "We're really going to watch this."

"Stop whining, Dean," Sam said, pushing Dean's feet off the couch and taking a seat beside him. He handed Dean a beer - as payment, though Dean was hardly appreciative - and then turned on the TV.

"There's going to be somebody else on the show, too, right?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "I don't know, Dean - I guess. They always have some sort of guest line up." Dean shrugged and enjoyed his drink. It was the first live appearance the author had ever made. He was very private - he kept his first initial only, no one - apart from those who knew him personally - even knew his real name.

"And now," the host of the show said, "we're going to introduce to you tonight - in his very first TV interview - the author of the new best-seller A Fine Tremor. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. C. Augustine."

There was the expected round of applause - and then the camera cut to a slim man in jeans and boots walking toward the stage. Only the back of him was visible. He had dark, messy hair, and he wore a dark blue blazer. As soon as it showed his face as he shook the host's hand, Sam sputtered. "Holy shit," he said, leaning forward. "Dean." He punched his brother's arm. "Dean - do you see that? D'you see him? It's..."

"Yeah," Dean said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. His voice was heavy and his eyes were fixed on the screen. "I see him."

Sam shook his head in disbelief, moving his legs restlessly as he looked from Dean to the TV. "I can't believe it," he said. "It's Cas."

: : :

Dean was there, when the souls from Purgatory left his body. Dean was there, disappointed and resigned, looking at Castiel's body on the ground, something hard in his eyes. Something desperate.

That was the first clear memory Castiel had after he had been emptied. He knew what he had done - those people he had helped, those people he had killed. He could remember how the Winchesters enlisted Death himself to try to kill him.

He had been dying. His grace was slowly burning up, and anything that had made up his consciousness, that had made him Castiel and no one else, was slowly starting to get consumed.

When he woke up - because that seems the most applicable thing, that whatever state he was in was over, and his mind cleared and he became aware again - he was laying on his back on the ground, the Winchesters and Bobby Singer standing around him. Everything was foggy at first, shapes and colors blurry, voices indistinguishable from one another. Cas opened his eyes to a harsh, bright world and tried to focus.

"I think he's waking up," Sam said. Cas tried to look at him but his neck was stiff and it hurt to move. Everything hurt. He knew something was wrong, then, because pain was something he was usually far removed from. But now it was bright and clear, bursting at the edges of his consciousness. Something was very wrong - but he did not know what.

"Yeah," Dean said, his voice neutral. "He's awake." Nobody would look at him, and everything was silent. Cas struggled, but after a moment managed to sit up. He met Dean's eyes. And for a moment everything was okay; maybe Dean didn't forgive him, but he was looking at him, seeing him, green eyes burning as they held Castiel's. But then they dimmed and Dean's expression hardened, and he looked away. "I'm going inside for a beer," he said, sounding as though it were any other afternoon. Whatever test he'd just put Castiel through, Cas had failed.

Cas tried to reach after Dean but his arms were weak. Tried to call out but his throat was raw. Everything welled up inside him, pain and confusion, and a bone-weary ache. His stomach clenched and with a heave, he vomited. He saw spots before his eyes, and then blacked out.

It was probably the shock, Bobby told him a few minutes later, as he carried him into the house. Dean was nowhere to be seen and Sam hovered on the periphery, there if he was needed, but unwilling to be an active participant.

"Shock?" Cas asked, his voice like heavy tires on asphalt. "What... What happened?"

Bobby and Sam exchanged a look and Cas had the harrowing feeling that was the only answer he was ever going to get. "You don't remember?"

He shook his head as Bobby helped him into a chair. "Not... exactly. No."

Bobby sighed. "Well." He scratched the back of his head, his mouth twisting up in thought. "I don't really have much to say about all that, but. Your body's probably in shock because." He looked down at the floor. "Because you're human now."

It felt like the floor dropped out from under him. "What?" It should shock him, really. There should be panic and fear and a clawing sort of feeling - but there's nothing. Just emptiness. His body was so sore - his body - and he felt totally, completely alone. There was no panic. There was only a dull, heavy ache, right in the pit of his stomach. "Human," he echoed.

Bobby sounded a little unsure and he traded another glance with Sam. "Yeah, you're human." He coughed. "Now why don't we get you into the shower. You got some of your own sick in your hair."

The next thing he knew he was being taken into a bathroom. Bobby told him he'd bring in some clothes and then shut the door. And Cas was alone.

He felt different.

That seemed inadequate. Different: that couldn't even begin to encompass something so huge, something that had literally changed his entire perception of the world, his entire being. Just trying to put it in comprehensible terms made his head ache and his body pull tight with the weight of his loss.

It almost overwhelmed him. When everything was spinning and so out of control and his knees buckled. He fell to the floor gasping for breath, the room spinning into a kaleidoscopic blur of hazy shapes and dull color.

It took a moment for him to reorient himself. He stood up, slowly, gripping white-knuckled to the counter to regain his balance. He looked up, caught sight of himself in the mirror. Bobby was right; he needed a shower.

His clothes were torn and bloody, in such a bad state they were practically unwearable. The tie was fine, if a bit dirty, and so were his shoes, but everything else wasn't worth salvaging. He sighed, rubbing two fingers against the pain blossoming in his temple. He toed off the shoes, then pulled off both socks. He shook the trenchcoat off his shoulders, and let it fall to the floor. The suit jacket came next, then the pants. He pulled at the tie until it was loose enough to go over his head, and that followed, landing in a long, blue stripe across his socks. The shirt was dirty, stiff with sweat and grime, and he didn't bother unbuttoning it, opting instead to grab both sides of the collar and pull it apart. The buttons fell onto the floor, skittering a little, as they landed in a shower on the floor. Cas threw the shirt away and then stepped out of the white briefs he'd been wearing.

His body wasn't in much better shape than the clothes. There was an irony, there, he thought. Because although he knew that he body had once belonged to a man, he had never thought of it as more than a vessel - a suit, clothing for an angel in its own way. He had been dissociated from it; his consciousness and his body were not connected, he had previously had to force himself further down to truly experience the sensations of being fully corporeal. But now, the body was his. Instead of that distant feeling of controlling it from a great height, it didn't feel like he was controlling anything at all. He was his body. There was no longer a distinction between Castiel and his vessel - the two were connected. If something happened to his body - if it was destroyed - that meant he would be destroyed, too. He was now nothing more than a man.

He didn't know how to be a man.

Runny tears fell down his cheeks, and Castiel took a deep breath, wiping his face with the back of his hand. It was something of a relief that he didn't have to tell the body to breathe. His lungs kept moving, his heart kept beating, everything was working in perfect sync without having to spare a thought for it. It should be marvelous; his Father's greatest creation. Castiel felt nothing but bitterness and resentment towards his new form.

The body hadn't been able to handle all the souls from Purgatory, though. There was a patch of skin on his neck, and one on each cheek, rough and peeling, that was just the start of the deterioration. His body temperature had risen several degrees, too. He was hot - hot and itchy.

He took a step back from the counter, feeling a little more in control. He looked in the mirror. He was healthy, he supposed, though maybe about a decade from middle age. Handsome, he thought, or at least reasonably so, though Castiel wasn't sure what the human standard of beauty really was. Cas' standard of beauty had, for years now, been Dean. He rubbed the tips of his fingers across his cheeks and the bridge of his nose, imagining freckles spreading out from each touch like they had when he had reformed Dean. He knew everything about the human body, but making it - or re-making it - was far different from living in it.

The other hand scratched his tummy, moving in an arc from his navel to his pelvis.

Nausea rose up again and Cas' throat clenched. He shut his eyes, so tight it made his head ache. But when he opened them, he was still there, still human. Nothing had changed.

He stepped over into the the shower and turned the water on.

Cas stood under the water for a long time, one arm braced on the wall, staring down at his feet.

The numbness, the shock, was starting to dissipate, and all the feelings that he'd been holding down started rushing up like tides in a storm. He felt everything, and it over-whelmed him. And it was such a new, human feeling to be so overwhelmed, to be trapped, like a prisoner, in a body that was now his. Sometime between turning the water on and washing his face, it had suddenly become clear that he had stolen Jimmy Novak's body. And his body was so much of who he was, or who he had been; Castiel felt guilt, felt that even with Jimmy's consent, he had no right to do what he had done. Angels had not known guilt like humans. Angels had not cared about humans - not really, not as individual things. They were humanity, they were like an ocean overrunning the earth. And he was one of them. Cas felt a roiling in his stomach and he vomited for the second time since he'd stepped in the shower. It was disgusting, watching the water ripple into his sick, as the gooey mixture whirled down the drain. He felt his stomach clench again and he shut his eyes, wiping a wet dribble from the side of his mouth.

He just wanted to be okay, he wanted everything to be okay. And he wanted, so badly, he wanted, desperately - and he had never wanted anything so desperately when he was an angel, this sense of so much wanting was new - to be forgiven. Everything in his body lit up when he thought of Dean, and he was flooded with so much new emotion his knees trembled.

He was angry and sad and guilty and tired and weak and uncomfortable and warm and frustrated and there was that heavy, empty sense of wanting and everything swirled into focus, honed to a sharp point around Dean.

Humanity was messy and Cas wished again that he could go back to the way things were before. Before everything had fallen apart, before he had decided to take matters into his own hands, before he had become a terrible approximation of a God.

But thinking was exhausting, so he let his forehead rest on his arm, and he watched the water drip down to the floor.

When the water had gone cold he turned it off and stepped out. That was unpleasant - being wet made him chilly and he grabbed the towel folded on the toilet and rubbed off. He wasn't dry, but he was getting there, so he wrapped it around his waist. Bobby was waiting for him when he walked out of the bathroom. Bobby's face was unreadable, and his body was relaxed but on alert. Cas did not know what to say to him. An apology was probably required, but he was not sure he could ever give apology enough. What had happened was too big for words, however much he meant them.

"Here," Bobby said, handing Cas a large bunch of cloth. "Some clothes you can have. Put 'em on and then come to the kitchen. We got a few things that need working out."

Cas nodded, taking the shirt and jeans. "Thank you," he said, quietly. He looked down at the shirt and it hit him suddenly where he'd seen it before. "And... thank Dean, as well, for me," he said, his face tightening up. He didn't mean to let his emotions spill out, but everything was too strong and he was too full of feeling and too tired to fight. "This is his, isn't it?" He let the jeans fall and held the shirt up, hands clenched in the sleeves. It was bittersweet, to have one of Dean's possessions in his hands, something so close to the man himself. Cas wanted to stop - he didn't know what he wanted: death or sleep or darkness or something, but he just wanted to stop feeling. He had no idea he could ever be so tired. He crumpled the shirt up in his hands and held it tight against his face, breathing in the familiar smell. Bobby just nodded and stepped out. The door sounded too loud as it shut, echoing in the quiet room.

The cloth was worn and soft and on one hand it was a nice feeling against his skin, but on the other Castiel felt even more trapped, even more pinned it, and he decided then that he much preferred being naked. After he dressed, he opened the door, hoping to go find Bobby.

But Sam was there, either waiting for him - or standing guard. His eyes went wide when he saw Castiel and he cleared his throat. "Bobby is... You should go talk to Bobby," he said. Cas couldn't tell if he was angry or indifferent. So he just nodded and didn't speak, walking quickly past Sam.

"Have some hunter friends up in Montana," Bobby said, once Castiel found him in his kitchen. "Don't know what you're planning to do now that you're mortal, but... They'll give you a place to stay, maybe set you up with a job or something. If you want. I ain't saying you can't stay here, mind, but you. Thought you could use some space. Dean's not the easiest man to deal with when he's feeling settled, so having him all..."

Cas nodded. "Thank you," he said, before Bobby could continue. "Where are they? Can I have the address?"

Bobby cocked his head, looking at Cas scornfully. "It ain't like you can drive, so what - you think you're going to walk there?"

It was that or be trapped in a car for however long the journey took with one of the three of them, so yes, Cas thought, he would rather walk. "Yes," he said.

Bobby shook his head, but didn't try to change his mind. "Here," he said, scribbling something down on a scrap of paper. "It's ain't exactly an easy trip on foot, though."

Cas had no idea how to respond. "Okay," he said, though that felt a little flat. He put the paper in the right pocket of his borrowed jeans. He looked at Bobby for a long, silent moment. He closed his eyes and imagined it was someone else in front of him. "Goodbye."

As far as dramatic exits went, Cas' left something to be desired. It was quiet, and he felt not so much like he was leaving, but that he was being pushed out, the door slamming behind him.

"You don't have to go, you know," Sam said.

"I do," Castiel said. He wanted to stay, but his body wasn't built for hunting. He had no money, nothing to offer. "You have... You have done much for me, Sam Winchester. You and Dean. But I think I need to do something for myself. Just for awhile."

"Okay, if. If that's what you want." Sam probably meant it, he thought, but he and Bobby had never been close and Dean... After everything that had happened, he was not sure what Dean wanted. But he did not believe Dean would be as eager to invite him back into their lives as Sam was. They stood awkwardly for a moment before Sam stepped closer, his arms going loosely around Cas in a quick hug. Cas stiffened as Sam's hand patted the space between his shoulder blades, but it felt warm and good and instinctively his arms closed around Sam, too, his face pressed into his shoulder. "Oh, um. Hey," Sam said, awkwardly stroking his back. Sam was warm and solid and Cas let himself be comforted. "It'll be okay, man. It's gonna be okay."

He tried not to dwell on it, but that was the last time he would probably ever see the Winchesters, and that left a gnawing feeling that made him feel sick again.

He had been walking for about four hours when a car pulled up beside him.

The passenger side window slowly came down. "Hey."

Cas started. "Chuck? Is that you?"

Chuck smiled, a little sheepishly. He looked tired, bags under red eyes. "Yeah. Hey, I uh, just stopped at Bobby's. Heard the story. Get in, I'll give you a ride."

Cas licked his lips, looking into the interior of the car with trepidation. "Are you fit to be behind the wheel? You're not intoxicated?"

Quickly, Chuck shook his head, offering another smile. "Nope. Completely sober."

He reached back, his body in a long, awkward line with one foot on the brake pedal and one arm in the backseat. "And look," he said, "I got this from Bobby."

He held up Jimmy Novak's trenchcoat.

Cas blinked. "That was never mine."

"You're going to Montana, man," Chuck said. "It snows there like year round. You need a coat." He held it out to Cas again, but when he didn't take it Chuck set it in his lap and sighed heavily. "Okay, but. Come on, at least let me give you a ride. Please?"

He looked plaintively at Cas for another half a moment while Cas weighed his options. At least Chuck was someone he could trust - or at least probably trust. And while Castiel was not eager to get into a car - another claustrophobic space - he had to admit his feet were starting to hurt, and the twinge he'd felt in one knee had turned into a sharp, steady ache. He opened the door and got in the car.

Chuck seemed pleased. He checked for other cars and then pulled back into his lane. He set the trenchcoat in Cas' lap, and that time, he didn't argue.

"You know Montana has the highest suicide rate in the country? I mean, technically Las Vegas does, for a single city, but as far as states go – "

Cas took a long, deep breath. "What are you doing here, Chuck?"

"Oh, um." He laughed nervously. "I just... Was travelling near here. And with everything that's happened... You know, it's one of those things. Kind of hard to talk about?"

That was fine. Castiel didn't much feel like talking about his situation, either.

They drove for a long time. Cas wasn't sure how long, he'd fallen asleep after about an hour of driving and didn't wake up until Chuck was shaking his shoulder, telling him they'd arrived. Cas got out of the car, and shut the door. Chuck tried to yell, to get his attention to tell him that he'd forgotten the trenchcoat, but he didn't care. So Chuck waved and shouted out a hoarse goodbye, but Cas didn't return it. The house they'd stopped at was a decent size, made of wood and nestled against a sparse grove of trees next to a small lake. It was dark, probably early evening. Cas could hear Chuck's car starting again, turning around to go back down the long driveway. He wiped his hands on the jeans he was wearing and walked to the door. It opened as soon as he'd knocked.

A petite blonde woman beamed up at him. "Hello," she said, "what can I do for you?" He felt something wet on his arm - probably holy water, they were hunters - but he hadn't seen where it had come from.

"I was... sent here," he said. "By Bobby Singer?"

"Oh! Yeah, yeah, he gave us all the details a little earlier. Come on in, then," she said, opening the door a little wider. Castiel followed her inside.

A large man wearing jeans and a flannel shirt was waiting for them. "Daisy," he said, "you make sure he's not - "

"Oh, he's fine," she said, waving off the man's concern. She turned to face Cas and the man rolled his eyes behind her. Cas had a strong suspicion he'd be subjected to a few more tests to make sure he was telling the truth. "Now." She gave him another big smile. "You must be Castiel," she said, extending one hand towards him. She was smiling, looking sincere, and though feeling too weary to deal with any real interaction, Castiel took her hand.

"Yes." He shook it soundly and then let it go, standing awkward and stiff in front of her. "I'm Castiel."

She stared for a moment, then blinked, then seemed to accept whatever it was about him she'd been studying. "Well it's great to meet you," she said, "I'm Daisy." She smiled again, showing her top row of teeth. The two front teeth stuck out just a little, just enough to be noticeable, and it made her look younger than the laugh lines on her face would indicate. The man behind her nodded as well and she looked over her shoulder at him fondly, putting one hand on his forearm as she met his eyes. "And this is my husband Marcus. We're the McLeods. Guessing Singer told you about us, huh?"

"Just that..." He cleared his throat. He hadn't really waited around for any details. He just wanted to get some rest, and when humans wanted something, they lied. "That's right," he said. "I don't want to... impose, though," he said, a little put off by the woman's friendliness. "I just... Bobby said you could help me get on my feet. I'm currently." He sighed and his mouth twitched into a frown. Bobby probably hadn't gone for full disclosure, so how was he supposed to explain his situation and be met with anything other than disbelief? "I'm going through a difficult time," he said, choosing his words carefully. "And I only need a place to stay until I decide where I want to go. And I can find gainful employment."

"So... you're not a hunter?" she asked, her brows knitting together. She and her husband exchanged a look. "Bobby told us you'd been hunting with him."

Cas rubbed his temple. "Once, maybe. But that's not the life I want," he said. "I'm not a hunter."

The two exchanged another look, but didn't say anything else about it. "All right then," Daisy said with a smile. Smiling seemed to be her default expression - and it suited her. If nothing else, she at least helped put him a little more at ease. And, as exhausted as he was, that was something he was grateful for. "We got a spare room cleaned out for you," she explained, gesturing off to a hallway. "You can put your bags down, settle in, make take a rest." The appeal of that must have shown on Cas' face, because her expression was suddenly twinged with sympathy. "We'll call you when supper's ready." She rubbed her hands together, grinning even more broadly. "You're lucky tonight, Castiel," she said, "Marcus is grilling steaks and we've got potatoes and fresh beans from the garden, and I was even going to make a pineapple upside down cake for dessert."

"That's very generous," he said, politely. All he really wanted to do, though, was lie down. "Thank you."

"No problem at all," Daisy said, her hands on her hips. "Now follow me."

: : :

Castiel met Alyssa Munroe in a dive bar in Los Angeles, where she was drinking a fruity cocktail and not wearing shoes.

He hadn't stayed with the McLeods long. They'd been kind - too kind, he privately thought - and had never made him feel anything but welcome. But Castiel was restless; he felt no better with them than he had with Bobby and the Winchesters. Daisy had tried to convince him to stay, but he had to leave.

It was whim that led him to Los Angeles - the city of angels. He'd spent the first two nights in a cheap, crappy motel, but he had about six dollars left and no desire to spend them on anything other than something to put in his belly.

There wasn't much to say for the place he'd wandered into. The lights were dim, yellow globes hanging on rusted chains from the ceiling. And everything was wooden, a bit grimy, with photos of drunk, happy patrons stuck with pins into the walls, and plastic, glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling.

Cas took a seat at the bar and ordered a Jack and coke. He'd only been there about fifteen minutes when a woman walked up to him. "Hello," she said, pushing a lock of long, dark hair behind her ear. She smiled. "Is this seat taken?" And that was how he met Alyssa.

She was far gone when she met Castiel, an addict with no job, her infant son living with her ex-husband in another part of the city. But she was charming, and kind, and even if there were times she was close to madness she still had a sparkling brilliance that shone through when he was least expecting it. She'd been in academics once, a physicist working from a university Cas had never heard of. When he'd said he had to leave his motel and she'd offered him a place to stay, it might not have been his best decision but it hadn't taken much for him to agree. She had an apartment that she'd bought out, and she wanted someone to take care of - Cas was more than happy to oblige.

She had a lot of money, whether from a trust fund, or good investments, or savings Cas didn't know, but he did know that she was generous, and she took most of what she wanted without paying anyway.

"Lyssa, you have to stop doing this," he said, watching as she fiddled with the make-up she'd taken from a little pharmacy down the block. He'd been trying to keep track of everything she'd shoplifted, but after Alyssa found out what he was doing she stopped being so open about her day-to-day activities. She ignored him and Cas sighed, scratching his jawline where stubble was starting to grow. He hated shaving, but the hair itched so much when it started growing in that he usually wound up doing it anyway. It had become habit to reach up to his cheek to feel it, like sandpaper, growing in a rough patch on his skin. "All right, then," he said, sitting down beside her and pulling a plastic zip bag out from under the couch. He unsealed it and took out one of his composition books and a pen. "What did you take this time?"

"Eyeliner and three lipsticks," she said, uncapping one of the tubes. She turned it so the stick came up and Cas could see it. It was a deep, rosy pink. "Pretty, right?"

He nodded and jotted down what she'd taken. "Very."

"I'm glad you like it," she said. "It's for you." She got on her knees and scooted the foot or so across the carpet to where he was seated, leaned up against the couch. "Pucker up."

Castiel put his pen down and looked at her; Alyssa smiled as she smeared the lipstick across his mouth. It was gummy, almost heavy on his lips, and he could taste it where it ran into the soft pink inside of his mouth. "Perfect," she said. "You look perfect." Castiel grabbed her shoulder and held on, while she petted his hair, grabbing a few errant strands with the thin tips of her fingers. "And that's good, because we're having company over tonight."

Alyssa wasn't particularly discerning when it came to the people she let in their home, and while when they'd first met Cas had been far more wary of her, he realized it might have actually done her some good if she had been wary of him. At about nine o'clock that night her friend Aaron showed up with seven other people, most of whom Cas had never even met. Over the next hour more trickled in until almost every space in their apartment was full of warm, moving bodies.

"It's crowded in here," Alyssa said as they all sat around on the floor together. She put her arms around herself and shivered happily. She tucked her legs behind her, the soft cotton dress she wore spreading out over her bony knees. "I love it." A large number of them were smoking, which Cas hated, because it made the entire apartment smell. Alyssa had several ceramic ashtrays she'd accumulated, but someone always forgot to use it, and after everyone left there was ash, ground into the carpet by all the pairs of feet going by. He took another long gulp of his beer, hoping that soon he wouldn't be able to notice.

"You always have the best parties, Al," a woman said, wrapping her arm around Alyssa's shoulders. "I wish we could stay here forever." Her long hair, longer than Alyssa's, fell around them in soft waves, and Cas' fingers itched to touch it. Her fingers were long and delicate, adorned with several small silver rings, and she kept touching the pale curve of Alyssa's shoulder, scraping it gently with her nails.

"Me, too," someone else murmured. It was a maudlin and pretentious sentiment and Castiel rolled his eyes. "Hey," the guy said, looking annoyed, "what's wrong with you?"

"He's heartbroken," Alyssa explained. She stood up, pushing herself up with a hand on the shoulder beside her, walking around the circle to squeeze in beside him. She wrapped both hands around his bicep. It was warm and calming and she leaned against him, nuzzling him with the tip of her nose. Cas hadn't told her about his past, not more than a stray detail here and there, but he'd said enough that she gathered there had been some sort of falling out. "His one true love left him and he wandered halfway across the country just to miserable with us here."

"You know what you should do?" one guy suggested. His name was Ray. He had eyes that shone black and nails that he cut into points. "Get her name tattooed on your ass. I did that for Stella and we're getting married next month."

"Is it that Jimmy guy you talk about when you're drunk?" a woman asked. She laughed, leaning over into the person next to her. Cas felt all his breath leave his body; he didn't know her, he didn't even know her name, and she was spouting off something so personal, so intimate - something she knew nothing about. His hand tightened around the neck off the bottle. "He's practically in pieces," she said, voice caught between sympathy and amusement. "Crying out that he's sorry, that he didn't mean to ruin a family, that he'd never understood. Jimmy," she said, her voice sharp and thin in mock sorrow. "Jimmy!"

Other voices took up the call and the circle began to chant - Jimmy, Jimmy! - in a cruel, out of rhythm chorus.

Everyone was laughing, but Cas shut his eyes tight and blocked out the noise. Hearing was his least favorite sense. Everything was external - and in the darkness, when he couldn't see, he felt like he was floating in a vast ocean of noise. There was no worship. There was no song. "Come on," Alyssa said urgently, grabbing his beer and tugging him up. "Let's go out to the balcony." Cas opened his eyes and let himself be pulled up, her fingers slipping in between his. "We'll be right back, everyone."

He followed her out to the little balcony off their apartment; she slid the door closed and he sat down in one of the broken green and pink lawn chairs they'd put out there. It was a cool night, and Cas was already feeling better than he had inside. He felt so pent in around all those people. Alyssa loved crowds and noise and chaos, but Castiel much preferred peace.

Alyssa smoothed out her skirt around her ankles with one delicate hand. "Here's your drink."

"Thanks," he said, taking the bottle from her.

"Are you going to be all right?" she asked. "Should I tell everyone to leave?"

He took another drink before he answered. "I'm fine," he said. "Just tired."

"You're lying."

Cas laughed bitterly. "I'm all right, Lyssa, I promise. Or... at least I will be." He swirled the contents of his drink around the bottom of the bottle, watching as it splashed against the glass. "Maybe after another drink."

"I crushed up some pills and put them in your beer before I gave it to you. Please don't be mad," she said. "You were still upset with me about earlier, and I just wanted you to have a good time."

"I'm not angry," he said, standing up. He folded one arm across the old metal railing and looked out. The view was of a dark, dirty part of the city, and he could see the dumpster behind there apartment building, a pile of full bags beside it. "And I already knew." He looked over. "I saw you do it."

He didn't remember much of what happened after that. He and Alyssa and one of her guests ended up back out on the balcony naked, and afterwards the only thing that was clear was pale skin, Alyssa's long, dark hair, and a pair of unfamiliar green eyes. He must have passed out, he realized later, because the next thing he remembered was Alyssa dragging him back inside. "Everyone's gone; time to get some sleep. Come on, Cas, help me." He felt too disoriented to walk, so he tried to crawl. Alyssa guided him with one hand on his back and they made it to the floor by the couch, and he sank down, turning over onto his back.

"You're going to be okay," Alyssa said, petting his face with the tips of her fingers. "It's all going to be okay. I promise, baby. I promise."

Cas nodded feebly, the room blinking in and out as he struggled to remain conscious. He couldn't stand; his limbs were numb, far away, like they'd been pulled off at the joints and floated beside him, disconnected from his body. He grunted as Alyssa pulled his head into her lap. She'd changed clothes, wearing the dress she'd had on the day before, stained with the coffee they'd spilled that morning, and it smelled like sweat and smoke. He coughed.

"You're beautiful," she said, her voice soft like she was talking to a child. "And I'll always be here to take care of you. My angel. My own angel."

"No," he tried to say, pushing off her. "No." That wasn't right, she couldn't say things like that. He'd lost that, he was new, he was human. He struggled, but his strength was gone and any movement was ineffectual. "I'm not," he said, turning his face and pressing it into her thigh. It muffled his voice and Alyssa stroked one hand through his hair.

She kept talking, but his head was swimming and the sounds stopped making sense.

He let her push him onto his side, and stick a pillow under his head. She wrapped him gently in a blanket, or a robe - something plush and soft and smelling faintly of rosemary. "You'll be all right. You'll be all right."

That was the last day for a long time that he was all right. He'd pretended - he'd been pretending since he left Bobby Singer's house, and he finally realized there just wasn't a point anymore. He was not going to be okay. While cleaning the kitchen one day, he found a bottle half full of pills one of Alyssa's friends had left there, and when she promised that they could get more if he ever wanted them, that they could make him feel anything, feel better, he thought what the hell. It could hardly make things worse than they were already.

The days started to blur together after that, a kaleidoscope stream of warm, heavy numbness. There were a few patches of sobriety. Whenever he could, or at least whenever he was lucid enough to remember he wanted to go, he took one of his composition books and headed to the library.

It was one dreary Thursday when the habit began. He hadn't really meant to wander there - but it had been a difficult night.

Castiel had called Claire Novak.

It hadn't been his intention originally; he'd wanted, somehow, to make it up to Jimmy, but there wasn't anything he could think to do. He was ashamed; he didn't want to talk to the wife and child of the man whose body he had stolen. But his tongue had been plied with a little liquor, and Alyssa had taken him to the library to use the computer. He hadn't been able to resist looking them up. Amelia had died. The obituary he found listed it as an accident, but he had a sinking feeling that was only a cover for whatever had really happened. But Claire was still alive. And she had a profile on a networking site with her cell phone number. So he'd called.

"Hello?" she'd answered, her voice even and for what he could tell cheerful.

Castiel swallowed nervously and pulled the coat he wore closer around his body. He'd been walking around for nearly an hour, buzzed and miserable in the rain. When he'd spotted a pay phone he'd remembered the phone number he'd written down on the fleshy part of his palm. It was smudged and fading, but the ink was still visible.

"Is this... Claire Novak?"

"Who is this?" she'd asked instantly, her voice tight and higher. "Who is this?"

"I'm... I didn't want to call, but. There's something I need to... to talk to you about."

"How did you get this number?" she asked, sounding close to tears. "Why are you calling me? Is this..." He realized, too late, that in a body identical to his father's the voice would be nearly the same as well. His voice was still much rougher than Jimmy's had been, but it had to sound similar. When Claire continued, her voice was small and frightened - and filled with so much pain. "My father is dead," she said. "My father is dead. This is the angel, isn't it?" He heard her take a deep, shuddering breath. "Castiel." She spat his name out as though it were acid.

He held the phone receiver so tight his fingers felt numb. "Yes," he said. "This is Castiel."

"Why are you calling me?" she asked. "What do you want? What more can you do?"

"I'm sorry," he said, his voice raw.

"Don't apologize," Claire snapped. "I don't want to hear it, I... Just don't. Don't."

He swallowed again and his eyes stung. "Your father isn't with me. Not anymore. When we were fighting, he..." He cut off, his head aching. How could he find a sensitive way to tell her he'd gotten her father exploded? "We were killed. His body was destroyed and we." The words stuck in his throat and he licked his lips, trying to ease an explanation out. "We died. But our Father still had work for me and I was remade. But Jimmy Novak's soul did not come back with the body." He didn't know what had happened to Jimmy's soul; he hoped it was in heaven, he thought Jimmy deserved heaven, but he didn't know for certain.

Claire was silent for a long time. "What happened to him?"

Cas tried to keep his voice even. "He's in heaven now, Claire. He's fine."

After he'd made the call he'd just kept walking. He hadn't wanted to go home, and he didn't have the money to go anywhere else. So he wandered into the same building Alyssa had taken him to earlier. He found a table, pulled a book from the nearest shelf, and sat down to read. The book he picked up turned out to be a guide to anatomy and figure drawing. He spent hours poring over the drawings in the book. It had been a long time since he had thought of the human body as beautiful, but suddenly he could see that it had grace as well as utility.

He still hated being human, but he became determined to understand how the body worked. He systematically pulled all the books he could find on the subject

The next trip he made, he got a library card. Alyssa had helped him get a driver's license. It was official - they'd gone down to the DMV and applied. He didn't have a social security number - but he knew someone who could fix that.

"Cas, are you drunk?"

Cas shook his head, aggravated. "That's... No, I'm high, but I fail to see how that's important. Can you help me or not?"

"So you. You just call out of the blue, after all this time, and you want me to fix you up, no questions asked?" Bobby paused. "Where are you? Marcus and Daisy said you turned tail pretty quick from their place, said they hadn't heard from you since."

"I'm in LA. I never meant to worry them - I'm fine."

"Yeah, getting high and calling me desperate for some false records. Sure sounds like it's fine."

Cas huffed. "I only need a driver's license," he said. "A real one. It's for a library card."

"A library card. Boy, do you even have food? What the hell are your priorities here? What do you need a library card for?"

"For a library."

"Damn it, Cas, I know that. But - "

"Will you help me? That's all I want to know."

Bobby sighed, and for moment he said nothing. "Yeah," he said. "I can help."

He just wanted to understand. So he researched. All the things he learned, he copied down into his notebooks in meticulous detail. He memorized the bones, he knew all the major arteries, he could explain how the eye worked. It had quickly shifted from hobby to mission, and it took barely half a step more before it launched squarely into obsession.

The respiratory system had just come up on his list, and he'd spend most of the day - a rainy, dreary day - in a library carrel making notes. He was feeling productive and a bit self-satisfied. That was good, as it was one of the only things he had going for him. He hadn't eaten in a day and a half because Lyssa had forgotten to get food, and she was the one with all the money. He hadn't gotten high since the night before, either, which was bothering him, too. So he headed home with a certain eagerness, hoping that at the very least Alyssa had done something besides sleep while he'd been gone.

She had done something, but it wasn't anywhere close to what he'd expected.

"Bronson," she said, holding a toddler in her arms. "Say hello to Cas." She gently moved his hand in a wave. "Cas, this is my son, Bronson." She kissed the boy's forehead. "He's going to be living with us for awhile."

Cas shut the door, and took a long, deep breath to steady himself. "Lyssa," he said slowly, "I thought your son was living with your ex-husband."

"He was," she said, "but I picked him up from daycare today."

"You mean you kidnapped him."

"No," she said, planting a few more kisses on the boy's temple. "I would never do that! You can't kidnap someone who belongs to you, can you my beautiful boy? No." She kissed him again. "No."

"Did you talk to his father?"

"I'm going to call him soon, I just wanted a little time with my baby first."

That was obviously a lie. Cas' head was aching and as much as he liked Alyssa and appreciated all she'd done for him, he had no desire to be an accessory to kidnapping. "You need to give him back. His father's going to come looking for him soon."

"I drew you a bath," she said, ignoring him, rocking Bronson gently in her arms. "Why don't you go relax and then we can all have supper. Okay?"

Cas didn't answer. He put his notebook away and laid his coat over the arm of the couch. There was a prescription bottle sitting on the bar in the kitchen, and he grabbed it before heading into the bedroom. He didn't see either Lyssa or her son for the rest of the night.

Every day Bronson was with them, Cas tried to get Lyssa to call her ex-husband, call someone who could help her take care of the boy. But she wouldn't listen, giving flimsier and flimsier excuses for why she hadn't been able to call.

"I'm a good mother," she said, watching him play with a stuffed elephant on the living room floor. They didn't have a television set and unless she was sleeping, Lyssa spent most of her day watching the boy like he was the most riveting thing she'd ever seen. "I feed him and bathe him, and he has a roof over his head."

"What happens if you need a fix and I'm not here to watch him?" Cas asked.

"It won't happen."

He sighed. "What if he gets sick? Will you take him to the doctor?"

Lyssa ruffled Bronson's hair fondly. "I'll just kiss it all better."

"Lyssa..."

"I don't want to hear it, Cas," she said, her voice getting shrill. It was only about the fourth time he'd ever heard her sound serious, and the first time he'd ever heard her sound angry. "I'm a good mother! He needs to be with his mother. Come here, baby; let's go to bed. Come to Momma."

Bronson looked up from his toy and got unsteadily to his feet, walking towards Lyssa's open arms.

"It's time for bed," she said, her voice soothing, coated with affection and what Cas thought might be sobriety. With Lyssa, it was always hard to tell; she might have still been unwilling to let him go back to his father, but she'd actually sounded much more reasonable than she normally did. She stroked the boy's head tenderly, and he yawned, blinking up at her, his mouth pushing out in a pout that pronounced the baby fat in his cheeks. "We're going to tuck you in and you're going to have the sweetest dreams, little one." She kissed his forehead and took his hands in hers. His hands were so small, even in Lyssa's, and she held them as delicately as if they were little birds.

He still wasn't speaking - he hadn't said a word in the week he'd been with them. Lyssa said he was fine, that he'd never spoken and it was his choice if he ever wanted to, but Cas wasn't sure that was the whole truth. Alyssa and her ex-husband Jeremy got along well enough the few times he'd seen or heard them together, but when it came to their son there was something huge bubbling under the surface of every argument. They never talked about it, though, and Cas knew better than to ask.

"But first we have to pray. We always have to say our bedtime prayers." She kissed Bronson's hands, one after the other. Lyssa didn't believe in God - at least not that Cas could tell - but she seemed fixated on making sure her son did. Or maybe that was something his father had instilled, that Lyssa just insisted on continuing, in some contrary, perverse way. She got down from the couch and knelt in front of him. "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name."

Cas closed his eyes, blocking out the sound of Lyssa's voice. The pain of loss hadn't dimmed, not really, it had only been drowned out. He missed so much of his old life. He missed the sound of his brothers, of the comfort that had come from prayer. He missed his wings. He missed everything. As Alyssa continued he mouthed along, silently, out of rhythm but unconcerned. His cheeks were wet with tears.

A little over a week later, their little family fell apart.

"Cassssss." She hissed his name, pushing hard at his shoulder as she scrambled up from her place beside him. "Get up," she said, her voice a hoarse whisper. "Someone's here. They're here."

Cas groaned, eyes blinking open in the dark. Lyssa padded away from him, going to get Bronson from the other room. He'd warned her - he'd told her it was wrong, that they couldn't keep a child, that they shouldn't keep a child, but Lyssa had not cared. She hadn't listened. She never listened.

There was a loud knock at the door and Cas pushed himself up onto his elbows. "Lyssa!" he called, "Lyssa, answer the door. Give Bronson back to his father."

"I'm his mother," Lyssa said, poking her head around the door frame. Her voice was sharp and soft, and her face was twisted in displeasure. "I'm his mother," she said again, "and I love him." She disappeared for a moment before poking her head out again, a softer expression on her face. "You get the door," she said.

She darted back into the bedroom and Cas groaned again. He threw off the blanket, standing up slowly and stretching, like his limbs unfolding. He wasn't wearing anything, he realized, and quickly felt around for something to put on. His hand reached fabric and he grabbed a long gray skirt of Lyssa's, made of jersey fabric. He stepped into it and yanked it up to just below his hip bones.

There was another knock, more insistent, and Cas reluctantly went to answer. There was a man - Jeremy, Cas assumed - of about thirty years, accompanied by a man in a suit and a briefcase.

Cas gave them a wry, unhappy smile. "You must be here for Lyssa."

"Yes," the shorter man said urgently, taking a step into the doorway. "Where is she? She has my son, and - "

The other man stopped him with an arm across the chest. "Jeremy," he said, his voice stern and cautionary. "Don't." He cleared his throat and pulled out something to show to Cas. "We are - "

"I don't care," he said, scratching his head. He stepped aside and opened the door wider, inviting them inside. "Come in. Lyssa's a terrible mother, and Bronson would probably be better off with you." He kicked the blankets he'd been using off towards the wall and sat down on the couch.

Jeremy got Bronson back, and it was that situation that made Castiel realize he had a real problem. If he let a child – someone who had so little control over his own life, and Castiel knew what it was to have no control – get in that situation, with a mother addicted to God only knows what, in a dirty rundown apartment that only had food every few days, then there was something very, very wrong.

He called the McLeods and explained what happened. They in turn, got in contact with Bobby. Alyssa didn't w ant Cas to leave, but she respected his autonomy enough to let him make his own decisions. Cas was surprised by her easy acceptance, and even more surprised when she offered him the money to pay for rehab. He'd begged her to come with him, to get clean too, but Alyssa said she was already too far gone.

"I'm going to miss you, Cas," she said, putting one small, soft hand on his cheek. "You'll write, won't you? When you can?"

He held her wrist tight in one hand. Her eyes were red from crying. "I promise," he said. "And when I'm out, I'll find you. I promise. I'll help you get clean, and we'll get Bronson and we'll have our own family. Okay, Lyssa? I promise. I promise."

She never answered, her body wracked with sobs. Cas pulled her in for a tight embrace, taking one last, long smell of the warm scent of her hair. "I love you," he whispered. And then he let her go, and walked out the door.

That was the last time he saw Alyssa. It was the last time they ever spoke. Two months later a mutual friend told Cas that the apartment had been sold. The next day Alyssa was found dead.

Her death was ruled a suicide.

Castiel had never expected rehab to be fun, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it was much more harrowing than he'd thought it would be.

He kept telling himself that it was worth it, that when he was done, when he was clean, he would be grateful for the help they'd given him. That he would be proud of himself. But until that time, all he could think was how much he missed the life of numbness he'd gotten so used to.

There were two bright spots, however, two things that he could look forward to. After he'd called him about the library card, Bobby had taken a little more interest in him, had gotten his address from Daisy, and they'd started talking. Bobby had even said he might come out to LA to visit once Cas got out.

Cas didn't believe him, not really, but when he thought about his letters – how desperate and dark and broken he must have sounded – he wasn't at all surprised that Bobby was willing to offer whatever reassurances he could.

The other bright point was the writing.

Cas had written before, it had always been something that, even if he never did it seriously, appealed to him. But most of that had been repetition, just writing down the facts about the body that he'd filled notebook after notebook with. But at the center it was used as a form of therapy, a way to help get all the feelings out onto a page.

Letting bad feelings build up, one counselor had said, was toxic. It was better to let them out. Castiel wasn't sure he agreed, but he was definitely much happier when he was writing than he was at any other time.

He finished several short stories that the center published on their website. A lot of the other patients had family members reading, watching as their skills progressed, parallel to their healing. Alyssa was dead and Cas hadn't told Bobby. He didn't have anyone.

But he kept writing anyway, and that was how the very beginnings of "A Fine Tremor" began.

He was released not long after he'd finished the fifth chapter.

: : :

The process of writing the novel had been good for him. He'd found a publisher and though he wasn't expecting any great success, it was gratifying to know that someone out there might read what he'd written.

It wasn't long after the novel had been published that he ran into Chuck in a coffee shop.

"Oh! Cas," he said, waving from his seat at a small, wood-topped table in the back. Cas picked up his drink and went over to say hello.

"Chuck. It's been awhile. How are you?"

"Hey, man, sit down," he said, gesturing to the other seat. Cas pulled it out and sat down. "I've been... good. You know? Pretty good. What about you?"

Cas pursed his lips. "Well. Now, actually, I'm writing. I just had a book published."

"A book, huh? Wow. Yeah, that's. That's good," Chuck said, nodding. He scratched at his jaw, rubbing his knuckles against the stubble growing there. "Writing can be... can be good for you." The sentiment fell a little flat, but Cas hadn't really been expecting anything profound. "It's a good feeling, though, huh? When you've created something? You try to help your characters but they just... run off. Make their own decisions. And you just have to sit there and let them do their thing." He moved his arm in a grandiose wave, looking at Cas expectantly, almost like he was hoping for a nod or a smile, something to show assent.

But Cas just took another sip and frowned. "In most things I've read," he said, "and my own experience, it actually takes a great deal of planning to make a plot move. Rarely do the characters just take on a life of their own - you need to direct them, and keep them in character, and - "

"Okay!" Chuck said quickly, slumping down in his seat and frowning. "I never said it was a perfect metaphor."

Cas just smiled a little. "Of course."

"So, uh..." Chuck looked at him curiously. "You heard from the Winchesters at all lately?"

"No." Cas looked down at the table, drumming gently with the blunt edges of his nails. "I haven't. I haven't talked to them at all since you picked me up that day and gave me a ride to Montana."

: : :

"Holy shit," Sam said again. "It's Cas."

"Would you shut the hell up already?" Dean snapped. "We can see it's him. Now you've been squealing over this goddamn interview for a whole fucking week, so you're going to sit down, shut your cakehole, and watch it."

Dean was obviously - painfully - on edge, and Sam didn't want to make it worse by drawing any more attention to the cause. "Okay," he said. "Okay. I'm shutting up to watch it."

"Good," Dean shot back."

Sam gave him a quick look, but managed to hold his tongue. Wherever he'd been and whatever he'd been doing, Cas looked good. He didn't have the perpetual five o'clock shadow he'd had while the body had still been Jimmy Novak's, and outside of the trenchcoat and suit, in regular clothes, he looked like a normal, everyday guy. It was weird to think that the man who'd come on stage to talk about his new book had once been an angel. Even weirder, Sam thought, he had once been their friend.

The show's host, Mark Traeger, was a smarmy, full-of-personality type, and he didn't waste any time with Cas. "So, Mr. Augustine," he said, leaning a little closer over his desk.

Cas nodded, shifting in his seat a little, hands folded in his lap. "Yes?"

"What's the C. stand for?" Traeger held up a copy of the book. "Augustine, C. Augustine," he read. "What, is the initial supposed to make you more mysterious? Bet it helped sell a few copies, huh?"

"I have a very unusual first name," he explained. "My publisher agreed that using just the initial would help standardize the name, as well as keep me a little more anonymous."

"So what is your first name?" Traeger asked. "It can't be that weird right?"

Cas smiled a little. "It's Castiel."

"Castiel," he repeated. "Castiel? You're kidding. You're not actually serious, right?"

"No, that's my name," Cas repeated. "Castiel, angel of Thursday. But you can call me - actually, I insist you call me Cas."

"Well all right," he said, "Cas Augustine. Ladies and gentlemen, let's give him another round!"

The audience responded eagerly, and Cas ducked his head gracefully - though Sam suspected the modesty was feigned.

"Now, okay, we got your name. But why'd you want to hide it? Keep you a little more anonymous, you said. Now why would you want that? Your book's one of the most popular titles out this year, you could have been capitalizing on that!"

Cas smiled a little dryly. "That was never something I wanted. Did you read the dedication?"

By the look on the host's face, that was definitely something he'd been hoping would come up. Dean shot a questioning look over at Sam, but Sam just rolled his eyes. "You should have read it," he muttered. Dean elbowed him hard in the side.

"The dedication, huh? There's been a lot of speculation about that, you know. People are saying the book wasn't just dedicated to whoever it is, it was written to them, too. Like the dedication was some sort of love letter."

"No," Cas said, "nothing like that. I did have someone in mind, you weren't wrong about that. I did something once," he said, "something that I thought I had to do. Something that I now regret. And even though I thought that what I was doing was for the best, I... hurt someone. Someone I cared about very much. I needed - well, I want - forgiveness. And that's why I wrote this. That's what the dedication means."

"That's about you, Dean," Sam said, "just in case that wasn't clear."

"Shut the fuck up, Sam," Dean spat.

"Any chance this mystery person read it? Maybe there's a chance you'll be forgiven."

Cas shook his head. "Oh, I doubt it. They don't read much."

Dean stood up and switched the television off, slamming down the power button.

"What was that, Dean?" Sam asked. "I was still watching, Jesus."

"Well I'm done," Dean said. "I've seen enough of this. I'm not watching any more of this. And where... Where's your damn book?" He dug around in the bag Sam had brought, sitting beside the couch, until he'd found Sam's copy and held it up. "And this?" He looked at it venomously. "This apology or whatever the fuck it is? I'm done with it, too."

He threw the book down and started storming off.

"Dean!" Sam called, "What are you doing?"

"I'm going out for awhile," Dean growled back. "Bye."

Sam sank back down into the couch and sighed.

Dean came back about an hour or so later, but it didn't look like his mood had improved much. "What the hell crawled up your butt and died?" Bobby asked, wiping out the inside of a cup with an old dishrag.

"Nothing," Dean said dismissively.

"Dean." Sam got up and walked over to him.

"What?" Bobby asked again. "Is there something I'm missing here?"

"Yeah," Dean said, his mouth curled down in anger. "You know that damn book Sammy likes so much? Well guess who's the author." He glared at Sam, like it was somehow his fault Dean hadn't known. "It's Cas! It's fucking Castiel."

Bobby blinked. "Oh." He walked back to the sink. "I was wondering if one of you idjits was ever going to work it out."

"What?" Dean looked even angrier than he did a moment before.

Sam cleared his throat. "Bobby, do you mean you knew? You knew that Cas wrote this. That he was... he was C. Augustine?"

"Well hell, Sam," Bobby said. "Yeah, I knew. The people he'd stayed with, right after he left here, they called me, told me about the drugs. Not like we've ever been close, and I can't say my mind was too burdened with throwing him out, but." He shrugged. "He wrote me a couple of letters while he was in rehab, and sounded like what he'd done had been eating at him bad. I replied after a while, and we sort of worked up to a correspondence. He said he'd been writing, and I don't know, I guess he was proud or something. He told me about the novel. When I told him how much you loved his book, I think it meant a lot to him. He was the one who wanted to send you the signed copies." He shot a look at Dean. "Both of you. Figured it wasn't any skin off my back if that's what he wanted to do, so."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Sam asked.

"He asked me not to. Said he wanted a clean slate, and he didn't want to barge into your lives again if you weren't interested in having him." He looked pointedly at Dean. "And I didn't think you were."

For about a week after that, Dean was sullen and angry. He didn't say much, and Sam and Bobby silently agreed to just stay out of his way. Sam kept nudging him, subtly, again, to read Cas' book by leaving it out, but if Dean realized what he was doing he never responded. He acted like he didn't even notice.

But he clearly wasn't okay. And it clearly had to do with Cas.

"Dean, I, uh. I have something for you."

"What do you want, Sam?"

Sam cleared his throat, and pulled two tickets out of his back pocket. "I, uh, got you tickets."

Dean snorted. "For what?"

"It's for the Lorraine Malcolms show." His eyes widened significantly and he held out the ticket.

One eyebrow raised. "Am I supposed to be impressed?"

"She's a talk show host," Sam explained.

"And?"

Sam gave him a nervous smile. "Cas is going to be the guest for the show that day."

Dean's face hardened. "You can take that ticket and shove it up your ass. I'm not going. I don't care about Cas or his damn book, and I sure as hell don't want to go hear him talk about it."

"Have you even read it?" Sam asked.

"No," Dean said deliberately. "And I'm not going to."

"Oh come on, Dean, I know you miss him. I miss him."

"Then you go see him."

"Dean."

Dean raised his chin up stubbornly. "What, Sam?"

"Come on. You know it's not the same. I mean, yeah, he's my friend, he's like family, but he's your..." Sam made a vague gesture with his hand.

Dean stood up, feet squared, posture defensive. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"

"Well." Sam's mouth twisted up and an odd expression settled on his face. "You and I, Dean, we're..." His eyes fell from Dean's and his neck flushed red. "We're soulmates." Dean snorted, about to say something about that chick-flick feelings crap, but Sam stopped him. "No, wait. I don't mean... I don't mean it's romantic, or." He shook his head. "But I'm serious. We are. We're brothers. Born to each other. We were always meant to be together - and I know it sounds stupid, but-but it's true. But you and Cas, man." Sam grinned, teasing. "You chose each other."

"That's a load of bull," Dean said, eyes narrowed.

"No, I'm... Come on, Dean, I'm serious. He rebelled against heaven for you - not because he had to, because he wanted to. And that... that doesn't make our bond any less. You're allowed to love more than one person."

"What the hell are you talking about, Sam? Love? I don't love Cas."

"Really, Dean?" Sam crossed his arms. "So he's like family - but not family you love. You love me, right?" Dean scowled. "You love Bobby? So what - Cas is just that weird cousin at the family reunion no one wants to talk to but feels obligated to invite?"

"No, that's - "

"Dean, don't be so damn stubborn. It's because he's not like family, not like me and Bobby. You're so defensive because you know Cas is different. I'm not... I'm not trying to get you to talk about it, okay? I don't really need to know, but. Maybe you should consider the idea that... what you feel for Cas isn't platonic."

Dean's jaw set and he stared Sam down. Sam relented first, rolling his eyes and looking up to the ceiling before looking back to Dean. That was enough for Dean, who sank back down onto the couch, pulling the laptop on the coffee table over closer to him. "Don't think so, Sam," he said, keeping his voice deliberately light. "If you want to have some feelings you need to sort out that's your problem, but I don't." He looked up at Sam, eyes hard. "I don't."

Sam sighed. "Whatever you say, Dean." He set the ticket on the coffee table, making sure to do it slowly, where Dean could see. "Whatever you say."

: : :

Castiel died.

When he took in the souls from Purgatory he stopped existing; he became, in essence, something new. That, to Dean, was the easiest way to think about it, because to consider that new being the same as Castiel was too much. Castiel disappeared. Castiel stopped. Castiel had not betrayed them, Castiel had not destroyed himself in a mad search for power, because Castiel - Dean's Castiel - was gone.

It hadn't taken much for Sam to convince him to make the trip to New York to see Cas on the damn talk show. He'd whined and complained about it, yeah, because he had to, but deep down as soon as Sam had told him he'd made plans for Dean to go, Dean knew he was going to do it. It had hurt him more than he thought it would when he'd heard that Cas had been an addict. He'd never been able to get the broken shell Cas had been from the horrific vision of 2014. He knew, practically, that that future would never happen. They'd stopped it, they'd won. But it was telling that once Cas became human he went for the same vices Dean had once seen him addicted to. And as much as a part of him wanted to say Cas deserved it, Dean knew he didn't. He was glad, really, that Castiel had managed to get to rehab.

Dean wanted to hate him. A part of him did hate Cas, but another warring part of him was damn grateful. Cas had fixed Sam, and no matter how angry he'd been at Cas - how angry he still was - he would always be grateful for that.

He hadn't meant to pack A Fine Tremor, but somehow it had wound up in his duffel bag. Thanks, no doubt, to Sam. And as much as he wanted to be the stubborn asshole he knew he was, he couldn't help but feel a little curious.

The trip took several days, and even though he liked being somewhat settled down, there had been times when Dean missed being on the road. So he decided he might as well take his time and enjoy it, because like hell was he ever going to get on a damn plane and fly there. He'd found a decent motel and had checked in for the night, and before he went to sleep he opened the book where he'd left off from the night before. After another few chapters he realized: it's about him.

It hit Dean with all the force of a punch to the face. He knew it, or at least he'd been reasonably sure of it, considering the interviews and the dedication - not to mention Sam's not so subtle hints about the main character. But actually reading it, sitting down and digesting the words and seeing how goddamn similar it was to what they'd gone through, to the people Dean loved - it was unnerving. Cas might have written it for himself, as healing, as some sort of salve, as a release - but it was about Dean.

He picked up the dust jacket from where he'd tossed it to the floor, and stuck it between the pages. He was done for the night. Seeing himself through the lens of Cas' interpretation - layered under the narrator's interpretation - wasn't completely accurate, but it was close enough that it made him very uncomfortable. He'd always been aware that Cas saw him as something bigger, someone worth something, but to see it written out starkly, unapologetically, on the page in the form of this character - this soldier at the end of the world - cut him deeper than he had expected.

He had no idea what he was expecting to get out of the trip. He wasn't planning on forgiving Cas, ever, but he'd started to look forward more and more to the idea of seeing Cas.

Dean woke up early the next morning. The bed had been lumpy and he wasn't at his best, but he'd slept period, so he wasn't feeling terrible, either. He stuffed Cas' book into his bag and got a quick shower. All he wanted to do was get breakfast and get back on the road. It wasn't a vacation, whatever Sam might have hinted at; Dean didn't need a vacation. He had his shit together and whatever Sam thought this little trip was supposed to resolve, well. Dean knew that was bull.

Thinking about why he was taking the trip wasn't going to be productive anyway so he just didn't do it. Sam had bought him the damn ticket, and if he hadn't gone he would have had to deal with Sam's understanding faces when he didn't understand shit, and then Dean would have been aggravated and that would have made Bobby aggravated and he would have found a case for them and kicked their asses out for awhile. So it was just easier to concede - easier just to go.

Dean tapped his fingers against the steering wheel as he pulled out of the motel's parking lot. There was a truck stop not far that boasted the best ham and eggs plate in the whole state, so he headed in that direction, humming along with the song blaring through the speakers. Out of impulse, right when he was getting in the car, he'd taken Cas' book out of his bag. It was laying on the passenger seat, just out of arm's reach.

The place where the show was being taped was small and clean. The other audience members were mostly women, he noticed, and he stuck out in his leather jacket and scowl like a sore thumb. Cas' book had been good. It had been damn good, and Dean wondered how many of the other people there had read it. How many other people had felt as connected to it as he had. None of them, he couldn't help but think, because none of the rest of them had been in the damn book.

It made him itch, knowing he'd been a big part of the inspiration for the book. And, he realized suddenly with a dark, sinking feeling, the more people read it, the more people had access to a lot of pretty personal things. Cas had cut his relationship with Sam open and laid it bare. And yeah, Dean knew they were co-dependent because who the fuck wouldn't be after what they'd gone through? But it wasn't something he wanted to lay open for the world.

They were all herded into their seats by a few security personnel. The room had an excited energy, but Dean didn't know why. He'd never heard of the woman who hosted the show, though apparently she'd gotten pretty popular. Then again, he didn't have much time for - or interest in - TV other than Doctor Sexy, so it wasn't a big surprise he was out of the loop.

Lorraine Malcolms was a petite woman in a neatly tailored suit, who came close to gushing when she walked out onto the set. The way she spoke was intelligent, so the over-emotionality was probably an act, but Dean's first impression of her was simpering bitch.

The interview went pretty well. And despite his self-avowed no fucking interest in it, Dean found himself paying attention. And Cas was well-spoken and interesting and he fidgeted like an actual person, like a human, like a weak, beautiful actual human person and Dean wanted to punch something because they had just let Cas go, just let a former angel out into the world to navigate it all on his own. Was it really any surprise he almost hadn't been able to handle it?

Lorraine Malcolms fired through a short battery of questions, conversational and efficient at the same time. Soon Cas' turn would be over. There was, to Dean's dismay, an opportunity for the audience to ask Cas some questions. He looked so damn professional sitting there, his legs crossed and his face wearing a contented look. And that was strange, because through all the time Dean had known him his default expression had been deadpan - unemotional.

The first question came from a woman who looked to be in her thirties. She stood up and accepted the microphone from the man who'd walked into the audience. "Hello," she said. Dean was in the back so he didn't get a good look at her face, but she seemed a little nervous. "I loved your book, and one of the things I was impressed with most was the level of detail... and I mean, accurate detail, regarding the human body. Did you ever train as a nurse or doctor - that is, did it come out of personal experience? And if not, did you have to do a great deal of research? How did you go about that?"

Cas licked his lips. "Well." He laughed a little, disparagingly. "One of the things... Well, first I'll say no. I had no previous training." Except, Dean thought, in rebuilding one very specific human; he had plenty of experience there. "But it was something that interested me. I did a huge amount of research," he said. "I have notebook after notebook filled with details I thought were fascinating or that I wanted to use. I just... it became something of an obsession. To understand how the human body worked: like this perfect, biological machine. And, of course, after the first draft of my manuscript was finished, it was checked over for accuracy by someone who knew." The woman smiled and thanked him, and sat back down.

"All right," Lorraine said, looking at Cas. She clapped her hands together. "A few more questions. Does anyone have anything they'd like to ask Mr. Augustine?"

Dean fidgeted as a smattering of hands went up. His stayed in his lap. Lorraine gestured to one young woman and the large man with the microphone went over to her.

"What's your question?" Lorraine asked.

All Dean could see was the back of her head - sleek black hair pulled tight in a neat, bouncing ponytail. "Well, I was wondering. Do you have any future projects planned? You've said this was a labor of love, so. Well, does that mean writing is something you only do under stress, or will you keep going even if you don't hit any more rough patches? Is the story in A Fine Tremor fully told, or are we going to see those characters again?"

Cas took a moment to consider. "Writing suits me," he said. "I think this was written because... because I had a specific story to tell. I needed to get that specific story out - to heal. I've done that. But I'm sure I still have something to tell. I can't say whether I'll ever revisit the world or the characters of A Fine Tremor, but I'm certainly far from done."

The girl thanked him and handed the microphone back. This was his last chance. Dean knew if he wanted to say something he had to do it then. Maybe he could find Cas afterwards, or he could find out how to contact him from Bobby. But he had something to say right then - something, he thought, to prove. Nothing with Cas had ever been simple, and after two years of no contact, the complications had only grown.

Because really, how many other people could he possibly be talking about? How many other people had gone through what he had with Cas? How many others had Cas betrayed? How many other people had slowly driven Cas away? And the bigger question was how the fuck Dean was supposed to respond to that.

"All right," Lorraine said. "Final question. Who'd like to... " She looked around at the people with their hands up, scanning for the next audience member to participate. "You," she said, pointing towards someone to Dean's left. The man with the microphone went over to her. "If this book was a labor of love," the girl asked, "for someone... did that person ever read it? Did they ever forgive you? The book's very popular and you've done interviews before. There's a really good chance they know you're sorry."

Cas seemed a little surprised by the question - because it really wasn't any of that girl's damn business - but it only took a moment for him to regain his composure. "I don't know," he said. "I'd like to think they've at least heard of the book, and maybe even know I'm the one who wrote it, but." He shrugged his shoulders. Dean fidgeted in his seat. Of course he knew Cas had written the fucking book. He'd sent him a copy, hadn't he? "I really couldn't say." Dean could tell him. He could grab that damn microphone and tell him right the fuck now. "If I... If I had to guess, though, I'd say no. He never forgave me."

"Maybe that's because he never got the chance." Dean had acted mostly on impulse, bolting up out of his seat to say something. As soon as he'd stopped talking, though, he realized everyone was staring at him.

Even Lorraine was silent, looking wide-eyed out at the man standing in the back row, his hands shoved in his pockets. Castiel went rigid, gripping the arm of his chair and pitching himself forward, so his body was poised on the edge of the seat, tense and looking ready to bolt off.

"Um, excuse me, sir?" Lorraine said, lifting one arm and gesturing towards him. "We're... in the middle of an interview, and if you have something to say to Mr. Augustine, then - "

"Yeah," Dean said loudly, keeping his eyes on her and away from Cas. "I have something to say. A... question. Sure."

"It's fine," Castiel said suddenly. He took a breath and the set of his shoulders eased back into cautious diffidence. He held out an arm in front of her, as though to stop her from going to shoo the man off. "No, if. If he has something to say." He looked up with hooded eyes and swallowed.

"I just think it's a little rich," Dean continued. "Going on about how all you wanted was forgiveness." He looked down, blinking, his face set. "When you never even asked for it."

The consensus of the studio seemed to be to wait and see what happened, because no one was making a move to stop him, and the audience collectively seemed to be shifting gaze from him to Castiel and back again, waiting for the climax.

"I was never given the chance," Castiel said, and his voice shook like a thin wire, balanced between disbelief and bitterness. "I... had to go," he said, looking down evasively. "It was made very clear to me I needed to go."

"You still should have tried."

"Should I?" He looked up again, angrier and harder. "When I was nothing but a nuisance? That I, despite my best efforts, despite giving everything I had - and wishing for more to give - was no longer welcome, no longer a part of the family?"

"Family forgives," he said. "Family always forgives. You don't just... get kicked out because you do something stupid." He knew that wasn't always true, because it had been Sam, and Cas knew that Sam meant more than anything. He looked over his shoulder, toward the exit door, and tiredly rubbed the line of his jaw with a hand. "Maybe... Maybe you were right to go. Maybe everyone just needed a chance to cool down. But that doesn't mean you couldn't come back. You should have come back. This guy you want to forgive you? Dude, he sounds like an ass. But it also sounds like you were family to him, that you did mean something to him. And family... family sticks together. Family forgives. And maybe they get torn apart and maybe they scream and yell and hurt each other, but that doesn't mean that's always going to last. That doesn't mean the anger won't go away."

"What I did was untenable - "

"But damn it, you fixed it."

"And I was not the only guilty party," Cas continued. "I was hurt. I had disappointed the one person I cared about above everything else. I'd already... disappointed m-my father, and." He clenched his fists, rising out of his chair. "I was ashamed! I was alone, confused, abandoned. Did you expect me to come running back? Are you honestly telling me I would have been welcomed?"

"Well you should have tried! Damn it, Cas, you should have tried. You should have..." Dean sighed, a hot gust of air through his nostrils. "There would have been... I mean, we could have..." He licked his lips and tried to start again, realizing he was quickly losing the illusion of this special person being someone else. "Family - "

"Family?" Cas said. He had moved past disbelief to anger. "Do you realize what I know of family? My family fought each other. We weren't allowed to think for ourselves - we were ruled over with an iron fist. And you think what I needed was family?" He shook his head. "No. No, family does not mean the same thing to me." His face was wrecked and his shoulders slumped down; Dean had no idea what he was supposed to say - how he was even supposed to feel. "I am not asking for forgiveness. After what I did... How could I begin to deserve it? But I would like it to be acknowledged that I am not the only one at fault."

That stung more than he probably realized. He'd told Cas he was family and then he hadn't even treated him like it. He had been hurt that Cas hadn't been perfect, that he hadn't been the angel on the pedestal he'd wanted him to be. But fuck it all, Cas was the one who had done that to Sam - Dean was not placing blame anywhere else. Even if Cas was the one who'd gotten him from hell, even if Cas had later fixed him. "Okay," Dean said, taking a deep, steadying breath. "Look, you've been avoiding the problem, don't deny that. And maybe for awhile... he was glad of that; maybe he was so angry he didn't even want to look at you. But." He shifted, and looked up, his expression almost pained, like he couldn't quite believe what he was about to say. "But maybe it wasn't just about being betrayed. Maybe he was angry that you thought you couldn't trust him. Maybe he was angry that you went behind his back, that you got so caught up in the bigger picture you couldn't see the smaller one. And. Maybe he's angry at himself, too. For not being there when you needed him. For calling you down when he needed a favor. Maybe he feels responsible, and believe me - I don't think this guy does guilt well. Maybe, yeah, he wanted someone to blame. He blamed you. But it's more complicated than that, and this guy? Hell. He doesn't exactly do complicated."

The silence after that was heavy, drawn-out like a spool of thread unraveling. Cas licked dry lips, blinking as he cast his eyes to the floor.

"You were like a brother to me, Cas."

"That's never what I wanted!" Cas said, his voice bitter. But the sharp anger had given way to something subtler - something deep, and sad. "A brother? You already have a brother. You don't need another brother. I don't need a brother. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe I did all of what I did for you. Because you mean more to me than anyone else."

"You can't just say shit like that, Cas, you - "

"I can't? Dean. Are you really that blind?" He paused a moment, his eyes flitting madly about the room, looking for something, anything, to help calm him. "Aside from your emotional repression, and your martyr complex, and the fact that you think you don't deserve anything good... Aside from all of that, I am here - right now - telling you that... You are a good man - "

"A righteous man?" Dean interrupted.

Cas ignored him. "That's just the truth, Dean. And whether you ever forgive me or not, that is how I feel." He sighed. "That is how I will always feel."

The argument would have been awkward enough if they'd been alone, but in front of an entire audience, on a show that was being filmed for national television - it hit Dean with a sudden wave of something not unlike nausea that the studio was the last place they needed to be having that conversation. He swallowed and looked around. There were a number of people gaping and something akin to panic was threading its way up his system. He wanted to leave. Immediately.

"I've got to get out of here," he said quickly, shaking his head.

"Dean, wait, what are you - "

"Sorry, Cas," he said. "I just can't handle this." He ignored the stares and the whispers and started towards the exit; Cas called out again, a few anonymous members of the audience starting to echo him.

He'd barely made it out of the studio by the time Castiel caught up with him. "Dean, please," he said, breathing heavily. "This is... I know this hadn't been a touching reunion, but." He met Dean's eyes. "Please," he said. "Don't go yet."

"I shouldn't have come here," Dean said. "It was a mistake."

"Maybe. I can't say I'm not surprised." He looked at Dean for a long moment. There was too much unsaid between them and Cas was so changed. Dean wasn't sure they could talk to each other at all. "I have dinner reservations soon," he said. "Come with me?"

Dean fidgeted. "What, you think going into some fancy-ass restaurant where you need reservations is going to make this easier for me?"

"Point taken. But - are you hungry? Let me get you something and we can... try to talk. I'm sure there's someplace around here you'd like."

There were a lot of reasons - good reasons, Dean thought - to reject him, but Dean had been the one to make the trip. Aside from the copies of his book he'd sent to Bobby, Cas had never sought them out. And he was probably stubborn enough that he never would. It was Dean who'd made the trip, who'd bothered speaking out. If he'd kept silent, Cas never would have even known he was there.

"Yeah," Dean said, "fine - whatever. A burger sounds good right now, anyway."

Cas called somebody quickly - and it baffled Dean a little that Cas would know people - and got a recommendation for some diner close by, and then hailed a cab for them. Dean just stayed quiet and watched Cas handle himself. It was still unnerving to see him so self-assured. He was human - so entirely human, so completely human and it made Dean's throat go dry, a hard lump that he couldn't swallow.

There might be some truth in Sam's theory, he realized. Dean wasn't ever really prone to reflection, or even any great self awareness, but he knew himself well enough to know when he was attracted to someone, and if even if that had gotten muddled in a lot of other feelings with Cas, it was still definitely there.

The diner Cas had taken them to was a small place: a little dirty, maybe, the kind of place with a crowd of regulars. A thin, red-haired waitress greeted them as they walked in and found a booth. Dean slid in across from Cas, keeping his eyes on the table top between them.

"Can I get you anything to drink, boys?" the waitress asked, coming over to them. She was pretty, Dean noticed, small waist and big breasts, her hair braided in two rows across the top of her head.

"Coffee?" Cas asked. "With sugar, please."

"Yeah, uh." Dean cleared his throat. "Just a coke for me."

"Sure thing," she said. "I'll get it right to you."

"I don't expect anything from you, Dean," Cas said, watching the waitress as she walked off. He might have been checking her out, Dean noticed - he couldn't tell if his eyes were on her ass or not.

"What do you mean?"

Cas sighed and looked back to Dean. He was clean-shaven, which was weird, but other than that he looked the same. Same dark, messy hair, sticking up in a soft point. Same blue eyes, too. Same nose, same ears, same jaw, same soft, chapped mouth. "I mean exactly what I said, Dean. I don't expect anything from you. I think, from my book, you..." He paused and licked his lips. "You may have gotten the wrong idea."

"Oh. Okay." Dean snorted. "And what exactly would the right idea be? That you didn't write a book about me?"

Cas scowled at him, laying one arm across the table.

The waitress - Marietta, her name tag read - brought them their drinks then, keeping Cas from saying whatever he'd been about to say. "Anything to eat tonight?" she asked.

"Bacon cheeseburger for me," Dean said. "With fries."

"Sure," she said, nodding. "And you?"

"Just... a BLT? And a glass of water, too, please."

"Sounds good. I'll get your orders in and the food'll be out soon." She smiled again and walked off.

"I know that you were part of my inspiration," Cas said, which Dean thought was putting it way too lightly, "but I wouldn't say it was about you."

"No, of course not. Just about a guy who's exactly like me. You know when Sam read it, that was the first thing he told me."

Worry and irritation crossed Cas' face before he seemed to finally settle on embarrassment. "You weren't... It wasn't supposed to be an exact representation. And I didn't think the book would become popular; I never planned on you actually reading it. I may have taken liberties that I wouldn't have otherwise."

"Well I did read it," Dean said. The diner was only about half full, and a quiet buzz of conversation drifted around them. Cas swallowed and looked down at the table. He pulled a napkin from the metal container against the wall; the corners of other napkins followed, and they stuck out. Cas pushed them back in with one finger. He wiped at a stain on the table, but it didn't come up. Dean sighed. "It was good," he said. His voice sounded too loud in his ears and he cleared his throat. "I never really thought of you as a creative guy - angels, you know. Not exactly known for imagination." He shifted and his foot accidentally hit Cas'. He drew his leg back quickly. "But it was good. It was really good."

"Thank you," Cas said, folding his napkin into quarters instead of just crumpling it into a ball. "I'm... proud of it. It was good for me, I think."

"Yeah."

Marietta brought their food then, and Dean was grateful not to have to fill the awkward silence. He bit into the burger, watching Cas out of the corner of his eye. It was still fucking weird to see Cas do normal human shit like eating - one of the things that had always both appealed to Dean and made him most wary was Cas' otherwordliness. And now that was all but gone. It was unnerving to see him so changed. Because he was different, he was so changed. But not as much as he'd been expecting. Dean had half expected to be greeted with a completely unrecognizable person - but no, it was still Cas. It was new Cas, a human Cas, yeah, but still Castiel. Dean had suspected for a long time that even for an angel, Castiel was weird, and the way Cas was behaving now just confirmed that for him.

Cas finished quickly. He'd pulled the tomatoes off his sandwich and eaten them separately; Dean watched as he sucked the juice off a finger. "Is your burger good?"

He took another bite and swallowed before answering. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, really good."

"Good."

And they were back to square one.

There was one thing they hadn't even touched on yet - one thing that Dean wanted to know but really really didn't want to talk about. Which was why Cas had written the book about him. The book was pretty non sexual and even though Dean thought it was pretty sentimental, completely devoid of romance. But there was a physical awareness the narrator had. And it wasn't weird, it didn't cross a line into unusual, but it was very pronounced. And, Dean thought, very homoerotic. Which, yeah. He could understand why, getting a brand new body he didn't have to share, Cas would be interested in the physical. But what he didn't understand - what he told himself he didn't understand, because what Sam had said coupled with the fact that it was Cas, and for Dean that was a category all its own, just under Sam's - was why it was focused specifically on the one guy.

Had Cas ever been that aware of him? Because it was obvious the narrator was Cas. And it was equally as obvious that even if there wasn't any sexual attraction between the narrator and the Dean-clone, there was keen, focused interest.

"So, uh."

Cas sipped his coffee, looking at Dean over the rim of his mug. He swallowed. "Yes?"

And damn him for seeming so calm. How could he be calm. Dean was fucking nervous, he could admit it. And he didn't want to talk anymore about the book, especially because the only scene he could think of to mention was one where the narrator and the two brothers first met, which had the elder brother shirtless, a hole in his chest from a fight they'd just finished - and the narrator helping bandage him, hands across warm, sweat-slick skin. Even though the description was pretty detached and clinical, there was a lot of it. The younger brother was described more in terms of personality: his thoughts and feelings were explored (it was likely he was supposed to be the main character, actually, as the narrator spent more time trying to get in his head), and he had more dialog. The other brother, though, was described almost purely in terms of action. How he looked, how he moved: the curl of his arm, the strength of his legs, the shape of his mouth.

The book, though, was a safer topic than the only other thing he could think of to talk about - the thing that had been eating away at him. Why Cas had left.

"So the book," Dean said. "How long'd it take you to write it?"

Cas seemed pleased by the interest and the conversation got much less tense. He was much more animated, and obviously proud. They talked for another hour or so, at least. Cas ordered another coffee, and Dean ordered each a piece of pie. It got to the point, though, that the only thing left to talk about was what neither wanted to.

"Are you ready to go?" Cas asked.

"Yeah," Dean said. "We can go."

Cas paid and they left the diner. Neither had bothered saying what they'd do after they left and they stood on the sidewalk for a minute, staring towards the other side of the street.

"Got any big plans for tonight?" Dean asked. He had a skin mag and two beers he'd picked up waiting in his hotel room, and he was looking forward to the release after all the tension of seeing Cas. "Any writer parties or some fancy artist shit to get to?"

He'd half expected him to ditch him then, but Cas just shook his head. "No, I don't have any plans. After dinner I had intended to go back to my hotel and spend the evening alone."

"Oh that sounds... nice."

Cas snorted. "No, it's boring, I know it. I often find interviews draining, so I wanted the time to rest. But." He turned to look at Dean, his head cocked. "Then you showed up."

"Right. Sorry about that."

"There's no need to apologize," Cas said. "I had... I am glad to see you again. Very glad, to be honest." He pressed his lips together thoughtfully and blinked a few times. Dean wondered what it was he wasn't willing to say.

"Yeah, no, I can." Dean laughed roughly. "I can understand. I never... Never thought I'd see you again, to be honest. When you... Me and Sam stayed at Bobby's, you know, and. We didn't know where you'd gone and it didn't look like you were coming back, so - "

"When I woke up," Cas said slowly, "you looked at me like..." He took in a deep breath through his nose, combing one hand through his hair. "I did not think you wanted me to come back."

"I didn't even want you to leave, you asshole."

"Oh." Dean wasn't looking at him, so the hand on his arm surprised him. "I am sorry, Dean. I didn't know. I think I... assumed too much. I only wanted to make amends."

"Bobby thought we all could use some space, yeah, but." Dean looked down at Cas' hand. It was gentle - friendly. He'd always had hands that looked strong - capable. Long fingers with short nails. They looked graceful, actually, which Dean thought was a little weird for a dude, but they weren't small. Definitely not delicate. Cas flexed his fingers and it was enough pressure for Dean to feel it. "You could have come back," he said quietly.

"I didn't know."

"Right."

A small group of people passed by them, knocking into Cas. He bumped into Dean and then immediately stepped back; he'd been careful - like obviously, noticeably careful - to maintain an appropriate distance between them. His hand had dropped, too.

"Look, man," Dean said, clapping him on the shoulder. Cas' eyes darted to his arm. "It's okay. I mean..." It wasn't really okay, because there was still so much between them that had to be resolved, and Dean thought maybe he shouldn't have touched Cas, because even though that was what friends did, they weren't even really friends any more, they were just two people with a lot of baggage, and that sounded a damn sight more like they'd been in a relationship than Dean was comfortable with. Cas' shoulder was warm, though, and whatever fabric he was wearing was soft and nice to touch.

"You mean what?" Cas asked.

"I don't..." Dean cleared his throat and his hand moved so that it was cupping Cas' shoulder instead of just resting there. "You fixed Sam," he said. "We think he's going to be okay now."

"I'm glad."

Dean let go of him. "I'm not going to thank you."

"Good. You shouldn't. It was my responsibility, anyway." He took a step closer.
Dean's mouth went dry. "Y'know, A Fine Tremor is... Your book is really gay. The narrator had a total fucking hard on for that Michael guy."

"That is... what some critics have theorized." Castiel wet his lips with his tongue.

"I bet." Cas' lips were probably still wet. Dean licked his own as he thought about it, and Cas' eyes caught the movement. "He was obsessed with him. He even noticed his freckles."

Cas frowned. He looked a little petulant. "Lots of people have freckles." Which wasn't quite the non sequitur Dean wanted to believe it was.

"It wasn't like... You were different, you know."

"What do you mean?"

"You were different. From Bobby. From Sam. I'd never really had a... a friend before, but you were. You were my best friend. I tried the normal relationship thing. That doesn't work for me, though; I just can't do it. There was something missing."

"Of course there was. You were a hunter, Dean. You had a huge, vital part of your life that you had to keep separate - that would strain any relationship." He looked down at his feet, then back up to Dean. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because," he said. He looked at Cas, his face open - wrecked, confused. "You were always different."

The silence was suddenly tense. "I told you before," Cas said quietly. "I don't expect anything from you."

"Yeah, yeah, I get that. That you don't expect anything. I'm glad, don't get me wrong. But... Isn't there anything that you might expect - that you'd want if... if you thought it was okay to want it?"

"Of course there is. You," he said. "If I could have it, I'd want you in my life again. Somehow. As a friend, an acquaintance. Whatever you thought I deserved, I would take."

"So you... want to be my friend."

Cas shook his head and laughed. It made him seem more real, suddenly - more attainable. "No," he said. And there it was, one of them had finally said something, had finally admitted there was something bigger there. Dean traced the line of his jaw with his eyes, and Cas moved closer, voice deeper and eyes dark. "I don't want to be your friend."

: : :

In the grand scheme of things, Dean knew that more than anything else, sex would probably complicate their relationship. So it was probably a bad idea and, if they had any designs of repairing their relationship, a really irresponsible decision.

Cas was staring at him, almost like he used to; it unnerved Dean how just the time, just a negligible amount of time, as a human could make him look so much older than all the millenia as an angel had.

"Cas." Dean's hand wrapped around his wrist and he flexed his fingers, nails scraping softly against his skin. He climbed up on the bed, knees on either side of Cas' legs. Dean radiated something – nervousness, arousal, Cas couldn't tell – and it hung thick between them like a fog. But there was something so good about it, something electric as Dean's body hovered warm above his. Cas looked up, met Dean's eye. He shook his wrist and Dean let go. Cas lifted his hips and pushed down his jeans. That was a strong enough hint and Dean got the message, helping Cas pull his legs out and throwing the pants to the floor. Cas hadn't bothered with underwear that morning, something Dean apparently noticed, because he was staring intently as Cas' cock.

And then he swallowed.

Cas put one hand on the back of Dean's neck, stroking the skin under his ear with a thumb. "Take your clothes off," he said. "Now."

That was apparently motivation enough because Dean leaned up and after a moment of fumbling had his own jeans and boxers on the floor, too. But that was all he did, leaning over Cas, still and quiet, breathing hard. On the one hand, Cas appreciated the hesitation; this was a moment he wanted to savor. All Cas wanted was Dean. Unadulterated, unchanged Dean. Cas looked very pointedly at Dean's mouth, licking his own lips, trying for a response. That did something for Dean, because he swallowed again, eyes moving across Cas' face. He leaned down, and Cas could feel his breath. It was a new, intimate moment, sharing the air between their mouths, warm and moist, and it made Cas raw with anticipation. They were both naked, and maybe that should have been the moment they connected, but feeling Dean so close to him, sharing that breath, made things finally slot into place. Cas leaned up further and breathed against the scar on Dean's shoulder, nosing at the rough skin.

"Cas," Dean said in a quiet breath, his hands finally finding skin as they skimmed across Cas' sides. He kissed the handprint and Dean shuddered. "Okay," Dean said. "Okay. Stop with the teasing already and just fucking kiss me."

Dean held Cas' arms down, his hands tight as manacles on the wrists. He bit at Cas' skin, mouth working hungrily at the dip below his neck, hips pressing down as Cas' body shifted beneath his.

"Dean."

He grinned against the pale skin as Cas squirmed. "Oh, you like that?" he whispered, letting his breath run hot across Cas' neck. He rolled his hips and ran his nose along the bone and let his tongue trace whorls of warm, wet nonsense symbols wherever his mouth touched.

Cas fought against his hold, and Dean let one of his arms go. Cas' hand grappled mindlessly toward him, skimming over his neck and threading up into his hair. "Dean," he said again, his voice harder, more insistent. He tugged at Dean's hair and Dean's breath caught, pressing his body into Cas'. "Look at me."

"Oh, yeah," Dean said. He grinned. "I'm lookin'."

"No." Cas yanked harder, trying to pull Dean up from his chest. "Look at me."

Dean followed the lead of Cas' arm, raising his head. But he didn't meet Cas' eyes.

"Look at me," Cas said again. He braced himself on his other elbow and levered his torso up. He stared at Dean, intently, like he'd always done, but Dean couldn't return the look. He moved up a little, kissing a line down Cas' jaw. "I see you Cas," he said quietly, his voice a soft rumble. "I'm right here." He let his tongue drag roughly across Cas' cheek, ignoring the grunt of disapproval. His hand ran down Cas ribs, rubbing the pad of his thumb across the dip of his navel.

Cas turned his head, his nose at the edge of Dean's hairline. "Dean," he breathed, and Dean stilled. "I want you to look at me," he said. "Look at me."

Dean's face fell and he buried his head in Cas' shoulder.

"If you don't want this – "

"No," Dean interrupted, looking up at Cas. "No, that's not it at all. I do want this, Cas, of course I want this." He licked his lips and his eyes softened as he smiled. "I've wanted you for, uh." He laughed. "For a lot longer than I ever wanted to admit I did."

"You know I feel the same, right?" Cas carded one hand through Dean's hair, letting his fingers rub circles into Dean's scalp.

"Yeah, I know." He grinned. "You're a lot more obvious than I ever was."

Cas frowned. "But there's something wrong. If you want this, if this is fine, then why are you – "

"It's weird, okay?" Dean let go of Cas and sat up, sighing. Cas scooted away from him and sat up, too, folding his legs and leaning in towards Dean. "I mean. You were an angel, and that's fucking weird enough as it is. And then you were God – I mean seriously, Cas, you thought you were fucking God – and yeah, you lost all that juice, but things between us? After that, man, they were bad. They were really bad."

"I know," Cas said honestly, scooting in a little closer to Dean. He put one hand flat on Dean's back, running along the length of Dean's spine. "I thought you would hate me. That we would never see each other again."

"Hey." Dean leaned down to look at Cas' eyes and grabbed the jut of Cas' chin with one hand. "Look at me, man." Cas slowly blinked open his eyes, kissing Dean's finger as it ran softly over his lips. Dean laughed. "I'm terrible with feelings. Ask Sam. Hell, ask anyone."

"I'm well aware of that, Dean. You really make no secret of it."

Dean chuckled. "Yeah, right." He let go of Cas' chin and sat up. He ran his hands nervously up and down his thighs, fingers stretching out and flexing with nervousness. "That's true, but um." He cleared his throat. "You know, man, for awhile I thought the same thing. I mean, after you'd gotten all juiced up and then left us to do… well, whatever the fuck it is crazy, newly-born false Gods do, I hated you man. I mean, I think I might have hated me more. I drove you away, Cas. No matter how much I try to tell myself I didn't, no matter how much Sam tells me that things would have played out the same way no matter what happened, I can't help but." He looked up at the ceiling, running a hand through his hair. "I can't help but think that it was my fault. We've worked with Crowley before, and. And I tried, a hundred times, a thousand times, to work out what could have driven you to do that, and. And you know the only thing I can come up with? That you were desperate. That you were alone. That you didn't see any other choice. And if I'd just… If I'd just been willing to listen – "

"Dean."

The deep sound made Dean look up, and Cas caught him off guard with a quick, thorough kiss on his mouth. "Don't blame yourself," he said. "It was my choice. My fault. Do you remember what you said?"

Dean had moved closer, his mouth only an inch away from Cas'. They could play the blame game all night – or hell, for the rest of their lives, but Dean had already said as much as he could handle saying at one time, and he was ready to get back to the good part. He hadn't forgotten they were naked, and he was getting very eager to focus on that instead. "What?" he asked, his breath hitting Cas' face. Their eyes were shutting. "What did I say, Cas?"

"You tried, Dean," Cas whispered. "You said we could fix it."

Dean laughed. "And you were the one who said it wasn't broken."

"It isn't funny, Dean," Cas said. "I think, by that point…" He sighed. "By that point I was already too far gone."

"Yeah, but I – "

"Dean."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, Cas, what?"

Cas looked at him. "I think that's enough talking for now. Don't you?"

Dean's face broke into a grin and he reached for Cas eagerly, hungrily – liked he'd been waiting all his life for that moment of contact. "Yeah," he said. "Let's fuck."

Sex was something very easy for Dean to understand, and if it came down to sex or talking, it wasn't exactly a difficult choice. He'd thought it would be weird - and yeah, it was different, maybe the feelings were strange. He'd always liked it when the girl got aggressive - when she was the one calling the shots, the one in control. But with a man he'd been afraid that would go too far, that his control would be snatched away completely. Fucking somebody was a lot different than being fucked.

But with Castiel, it didn't seem so much of a desire as it did a yeah, this is going to happen.

There was wet, hot chaos - which was good, that was great, but Cas was letting Dean take the reigns. He was only pushing as hard as Dean was, only taking just what Dean was giving. Which... wasn't bad - God, it wasn't bad - but it wasn't what Dean wanted. He trusted Cas, he wanted to show that, he wanted Cas to do something, intense and hard, to show that he'd missed Dean, to show that he'd been hurting and scarred and fucked up, because yeah, humanity was great, Dean would take humanity every fucking time over being a celestial dickwad, but... Those were his feelings, not Cas'. Cas had been part of a much better club. Cas had been invincible, and now he seemed so frail. Dean wanted the old Cas back, the Cas he'd had on his pedestal.

Dean grabbed Cas' hair as he kissed him, pulling, hard enough to hurt. Cas grunted, but Dean didn't let go. So he yanked away, but Dean pulled him back, grabbing his arm.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

Dean ignored the question. He shoved Cas, and in perfect rhythm Cas shoved him back. Dean grabbed him and pulled him down, and they were grappling, the moment broken in favor of play-violence. Dean was probably stronger, and he knew that, but he was pushing Cas, holding back just enough so that with enough force Cas could overpower him. Cas sat and pushed Dean away from him, his mouth a dark smear on his face.

"Stop it," Cas said, finally getting angry. Dean didn't respond, and they kept at it until finally Cas had had enough and flipped him over, straddling him, holding him down.

He pressed Dean's head down into the pillow, his body heavy on top of Dean's.

Dean opened his mouth and choked down a couple of quick breaths. Castiel held down his arms. He pushed up, ineffectually, and Cas pressed him down harder, a knee bracketed on either side of his ass. Dean grunted. "You want to let up a little, man?"

"Are you going to start fighting me again?" Cas asked, half-wary and half-curious, because even to him it had to obvious Dean hadn't been seriously trying to beat him. He realized, suddenly, the strain it was probably putting on Dean, and he sat up onto his heels. "I'm not hurting you, am I?"

Dean lifted his head up a little and laughed. "Dude, that's... that's kind of the point."

"What?" Cas asked sharply. "That's... Oh." He sank slowly down again, until Dean could feel the heat of Cas' body against his. He touched Dean gently, almost absently, his hands moving along Dean's spine. And then, slowly, he put more pressure and his touch became more sure. He leaned over and clamped his hands hard on Dean's shoulders. The handprint burned where Cas touched it and Dean hissed.

Cas' palm rolled across it and he leaned down further until his mouth was by Dean's ear. "Am I hurting you?" he asked.

Dean swallowed. "It's fine," he said, his voice hoarse.

Cas grabbed his wrists and pulled until his arms were lying with elbows locked, straight against his body. "Then be quiet."

And that did things to Dean that made his hips shift and sweat break out on his neck. Cas kissed the skin beneath his ear, sucking for a moment, the edges of his teeth pressing down into the skin .

Dean wriggled a little, trying to get his arms free.

"Don't move," Cas said, fingers digging into Dean's arms. Dean's breath caught and he felt his chest tighten. He stilled completely, his body rigid. Cas kissed his shoulder with a warm, open mouth. He shifted and kissed Dean again, the tip of his tongue blunt and wet against Dean's skin, his lips moving in a wet line down towards his waist. His hands released Dean's arms, but they stayed unmoving by his sides. He scooted lower. His hands moved to Dean's thighs. Dean tried to turn his head to try to look at Cas, but as soon as he did Cas' nails bit into his skin.

"I said don't move," Cas repeated. Dean snapped his head back, his eyes closing.

"Pushy bastard," Dean said. Cas bit him hard on the ass. "Damn it, Cas," he said, trying hard not to fidget. "What the hell are you doing?" Cas didn't answer, just kissed where he had bitten, massaging little circles into Dean's thigh with his fingertips.

Dean let out a loud breath through his nose. One of Cas' hands moved against the inside of his leg, pushing with gentle, insistent pressure. Dean spread his legs and Cas settled between them. "I'm going to turn you over now," he said. He pushed Dean over, their legs tangling together. Cas touched Dean's side, then his chest, his fingers moving in brushstrokes, painting syllables in invisible ink over the broad canvas of Dean's torso. Dean held his breath, his head leaned back into the pillow; it felt raw and real in the thick, exposed curve of his neck. He opened his eyes, looking at the bed's plain, wooden headboard. Cas wasn't doing anything but touching him and goddamn it was driving him crazy.

And Cas said something then he couldn't understand, either too low or in another of the crazy languages Cas still seemed to know, and Dean didn't have to wait any longer because Cas pushed his thighs down into the bed, blunt nails digging in stinging half-crescents and then Cas' mouth was on his cock.

Fuck, Dean thought in repeating, syncopated circles, because he wasn't really articulate in the best of times and when Cas did that with his tongue, a long slow drag, it was all he could do to think at all. He let out a deep, involuntary moan - or the start, because Cas dug his fingers harder into Dean's thighs and took him further down his throat and Dean choked back the sound.

God he wanted to touch Cas, he wanted skin on skin, to run his fingers through Cas' hair, to push into that fucking beautiful mouth - but he didn't, he stayed still, flexing his fingers so hard they hurt. Cas told him to stay still - Cas instructed, he obeyed. And God Cas was so in control of the situation it was nerve-wracking and beautiful, because as much as Dean hated having control taken away, in this situation it was hot - it was good, it was intimate and new and erotic. Usually he'd seen giving a blow job as more submissive - it had always been about getting the pleasure, but suddenly with Cas it was really about being given that pleasure, because he was completely at Cas' mercy.

It felt so goddamn good he thought he might scream. He wasn't usually a noisy guy, but being told he couldn't make a sound had a tight moan pushing hard at the back of his throat. Cas sucked harder suddenly, and Dean let out a low whine.

"Not yet," Cas said, raising his head up. Dean took a chance and glanced down at him. Cas didn't smile, didn't give him any teasing look - he just fucking stared at him, like he always had, and something in Dean squeezed up tight and he thought that if he actually started to cry he'd have to just fucking kill himself.

And goddamn that smug, beautiful fucker if he expected Dean to ask for permission.

But Cas didn't say anything else, he just kissed Dean gently on the crest of his hip, then stuck his cock so far down his throat Dean was afraid he'd hit his fucking lungs.

And things only coiled tighter from there, until it got so tense and so bright that Dean's whole world fell down to a point, centered on Cas. A second of something like agony later and then he was done and he came, voice going hoarse with a long, unbroken moan. Dean felt his whole body sigh, and all the residual adrenaline was flushed out. He leant up to look at Cas, his breathing still heavy.

Cas looked almost as out of breath, a spatter of come on his face. Dean grinned, and Cas' eyes narrowed. He climbed up the bed, and Dean could feel the whole length of their bodies pressed together. Dean reached out to wipe off Cas' cheek, but as soon as his hand touched Cas caught his mouth, hard, and mashed their lips together, his tongue hot and wet and brutal as it slides it beside Dean's.

His hips rocked gently, pressing his cock into the cradle of Dean's pelvis. He cupped the back of Dean's head with one hand, tugging roughly on his hair. Cas threw himself into the kiss like there was nothing else on earth worth his attention - with tongue and teeth, fucking Dean's mouth in short, sloppy strokes. Dean could feel his own come still on Cas' face, smeared across his cheek. His whole body was thrumming, filled with the warm flush of afterglow.

He groaned and Cas grabbed his throat, a light, constant pressure, and Dean swallowed against the hand. Cas moved down and kissed his neck, biting hard enough to hurt, and Dean's stomach jumped, his skin too hot.

"I want you to fuck me," Dean said, Cas' hand still on his throat. He raised his hips up, pressed against Cas' and Cas' breath stuttered. Dean took a deep breath and exhaled against the side of his head, hair moving softly with the air. "I want you," he said, "and don't you dare try to fucking argue."

Cas grabbed Dean's hands and raised his arms above his head, pinning his wrists down so his fingers hit against the headboard. He kissed him and it was a slow burn - deeper, more intense. "Yes," Cas said, his mouth still against Dean's. "I want you," he echoed, pushing hard. His voice nearly broke as he said it. "I want you."

He moved Dean's hands closer together and held them down with one hand. He moved the other hand down Dean's face, pulling down his bottom lip with one finger. Dean twisted his tongue and licked it, running the tip of his tongue along the cuticle.

"Don't move," Cas said, kissing Dean's jaw. He let go of his wrists and Dean flexed his fingers but didn't move. Cas scooted over to the edge of the bed and reached down to a plain brown suitcase. Dean arched his back, digging his heels further into the mattress.

Cas leaned back up and ran one hand up the bottom of Dean's foot. Dean bit his lip hard and Cas said "You are beautiful" - or something else that was equally fucking stupid, Dean didn't care, because the next moment his finger, cold and wet, was pushing inside him.

And shit-fuck Dean hadn't really been expecting that, and Cas' other hand was between his legs, on his balls, and he still kept his hands where they were, and his legs were straight, knees almost locked, and then Cas did something with his tongue and Dean crushed his lip between his teeth and lost all his focus.

"Get on your stomach," Cas said, and Dean thought Yes, God, yes, and turned over, the tips of his toes hanging off the edge of the bed. Cas kissed the small of his back and the space between his shoulder blades, and he ran his nails up the back of Dean's thighs.

And then Dean was pretty sure that was Cas' cock and it hurt and Cas was holding onto his hips like he had fucking talons for hands, and then he was moving so hard Dean moved with him, and then Dean was pretty sure it was awesome as something flooded him in quick, hot bursts.

Cas was moaning above him, the most shameless fucking creature he'd ever heard. Dean's face was pressed into the pillow, his mouth open - he could feel a thin puddle of drool between his cheek and the pillowcase. But he was only aware of it every other moment, because in between Cas was inside him - that whole hot weight of him inside him - and all Dean could do was wait out white-hot pleasure burning behind his eyeballs.

"Dean," Cas said, and his voice was hard and reverent. "Dean."

Dean thrust back against him and Cas made the most tortured, beautiful sound, halfway between crying and something that Dean knew meant it had been really really fucking good. Cas leaned over Dean for a minute, just breathing, then with a groan, pulled out and collapsed on the bed beside him.

"Shit, Cas," Dean said, rolling over onto his back. Cas dragged himself languidly onto Dean's chest, rubbing a palm over his nipples. "I'm not going to be able to walk for a fucking week."

Cas' hand bent into a fist and his eyes squeezed shut. "It's not fair that's so good," he said, and there was something in his voice Dean couldn't place. "This never feels transcendent, or... or right. It's so physical." The way he said the word made it sound dirty.

Dean rubbed Cas' arm in what he hoped was a soothing way. He didn't say anything and Cas just sighed. Cas shifted, propping himself up on one elbow, looking at Dean. He touched Dean's face, and Dean watched as his eyes closed, muscles tight in an expression that looked too much like pain. It felt profound, like it meant something more, and Dean moved Cas' hand and kissed the tips of his fingers. "But," he said, "it's me."

Dean didn't think he was all that special, and to say humanity was worth it seemed laughably inadequate, but he wanted to give Cas something.

Anything.

"It's you," Cas said, kissing his eyelids. Dean held his breath as Cas' mouth ghosted across the bridge of his nose.

And Dean didn't ask if it was worth it, but Cas fell asleep beside him, arm slung across him, and Dean kissed his shoulder and let Cas hold him until he fell asleep, too.

: : :

Castiel woke up the next morning in bed alone. He stretched out, his limbs starfished across the mattress, his head cradled in the dip between the two sets of pillows.

"You're awake."

He looked up to see Dean sitting in the big leather chair against the wall, wearing nothing but a white towel with the hotel's name embroidered on it. He stood up, gathering the towel in a fist to hold it on his waist, and moved over to sit on the foot of the bed. "Yes," Castiel said, "I'm awake. Were you watching me sleep?"

"No," Dean said, his voice defensive. "Not for very long, anyway."

Castiel grunted and sat up.

Dean cleared his throat, standing up quickly and taking a step backwards. "So, uh."
"Yes?"

"Are you... Are you staying here for awhile? Because I got to tell you, man. Sam misses you. If you've got time, you should come back with me, visit him. Bobby, too. And, uh. You've got to get your trenchcoat. After you left, Chuck brought it back."

"And you kept it?" Castiel asked. "You kept that filthy, old trenchcoat all this time?"

Dean rolled his shoulders, looking uncomfortable as he picked up his clothes. "What, you wanted us to throw it out?" He zipped up his pants and grabbed his shirt where he'd thrown it on the chair.

"For me, at least it's... a painful reminder." And it was Jimmy's - did no one realize that it had never really belonged to Cas?

"So what," Dean said, tugging his shirt on over his head. He slipped his arms through the sleeves and tugged the hem down towards his waist. "You saying you don't want it?"

"No, you're right," Cas said. He kicked the blanket off his legs and stood up, stretching his arms over his head. Dean glanced over, an expression both embarrassed and appreciative in the corners of his eyes. Cas' mouth twitched. "I should come get it. It's mine, isn't it? I shouldn't have left it behind."

"Sweet," Dean said, putting his wallet in his back pocket and looking away from Cas. "You want to grab a shower, then? We can grab food and get on the road."

Cas wanted to kiss him, maybe, or drag him back into bad and run the pads of his fingers over all the dips and scars and the warm places of Dean's body. But he didn't, he just grabbed the towel from where Dean had dropped it on the floor and walked into the bathroom.

"Hey Cas," Dean called, rapping once on the door. "I'm going to head down to the Impala, okay? Come find me when you check out. I'll be waiting."


Final Notes: Thanks very much for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story. Unfortunately, some of the formatting has gotten a little wonky, so some words that are supposed to be in italics just... aren't. I am hoping to go through and fix it, but there's a lot to check through, so. No telling when that could happen. If you'd like to check it out in the original LJ entry, that would be: http:[SLASH][SLASH]an-ardent-rain[DOT]livejournal[DOT]com[SLASH]237029[DOT]html. Feedback would of course be very, very appreciated. Thanks again for reading!