String Theory

String One

On a warm day with a soft breeze at midday, an angel kills his brother in the circle of an old grove while the threat of purgatory pulls at his shoulders from above.

String Two

His earliest memory is of the sand between his toes.

He recalls the taste of salt on his tongue, sharp as the rocks at his shores, and the way the cold wind stung, even through his layers; the sound of waves crashing against lines drawn by water and the crunching of the pebbles as the tide drew them out, one by one, one on top of the other. He remembers waking up to these sensations with no idea of anything but feeling.

He had been young then, just as the people making home, unaware of much beyond the stirring of society and the hollowness of his bones as he explored the ocean's edge, drawing plans in the sand and delighting in the way the foam swept them away. He remembers running through forests and the smell of rich, overturned soil entrenched in his hands from hours of digging for raw turnips. He remembers standing on tiptoe to reach for the branches heavy with fruit and just not quite being able to reach, splinters in his heels from eventually giving up and climbing to retrieve the spoils, and the first pair of boots he made from tanned leather to keep his feet free of bark and poison ivy.

He remembers a lot of things. Nature things. People things. And he remembers them all as he stands on the beach and watches as a ship lands on his sand for the first time.

Heavy rain runs the small craft ashore, bringing with it a waterlogged brunette, teeth chattering loud enough to hear from behind the trees. He looks younger; slighter, but not by much, face still round with boyhood beneath the shadow of tangled, mud flecked wings. He is similar. Another. He struggles to bring his ship into shallow waters, the bow caught against the rocks, but despite the downpour, he pushes against the wind, determined as the Earth could ever make one.

Hidden behind pieces of driftwood that smell of brine, he watches the stranger with curiosity, impressed by his ability to combat the waves. His clothes are different than his own, stitched less and tied more, loops of rough rope knotted up spindly legs to keep his boots up. Odd, but very much the same. Not quite an invader, but not quite a visitor either, the alluring pull of the unknown draws him out from hiding and they face each other in the surf.

The stranger looks at him.

He looks at the stranger.


His feathers are black.

He takes Black Feather to his home above the cliffs and offers without words a fire to dry beside and skins to warm his hands with. Curiosity fills the blue eyes of the stranger, blue like the ocean he appeared from, and he wonders if perhaps Black Feather was born of the water and sea, from depths where the sun could not reach to bake his wings into the same soft gold of his own. Or maybe it is he who is created differently, made from sand and rock and heavy things that cannot move like waves. On the horizon, the wind is blowing grave clouds their way, bringing wind and rain that will beat his shores and rein the others into their homes with fear of the clapping thunder and cold.

"Beaches," Black Feather says and reaches his small fingers to touch the wings so different from his own. "You are of land. Stone." His hands move and touch the light strands of long, curly hair that frame his face. "Wheat. You are touched by sun?"

Stone. He likes how it sounds when Black Feather says it. His voice is deeper. "Yes. I am Stone."

"Stone. I am…" Black Feather's arms retreat. His eyes cast downward, confused, and his salt water words cease in the unknown of newly minted speech. His wings draw in close to his arms, holding, comforting, long pinions not unlike the woven wool Stone hides beneath during the storms.

"You are of sea?" He offers quietly. The fire flickers and Black Feather is looking at him from behind his knees.

"I do not know."

Stone nods. "You are of sea." His ankles creak when he pushes with his feet and sits beside Black Feather, prying apart his wings with a gentle hand and brushing away raindrops from his shoulders. "Traveling waves meet the shore. That is why you are here."

Black Feather tilts his head slightly and turns to face Stone. He lifts an open palm. "Sea."

Stone nods and presses his own hand against Black Feather's. "Land."

Sea covers Stone with black warmth as they sleep and they leave together at the first morning light.

String Three

In 2053, Earth scientists place a new set of coordinates in their telescopes and discover, in the distant sky, almost out of their sight, an irregular galaxy, the result of two separate spiral galaxies smashing into each other. They find the two objects have been in a state of collision for millions of years and show no slowing of combination.

Images are processed of a vaguely winged shape, glowing brilliantly with hydrogen through thick swaths of dust and debris, long tails curling in every direction, interacting and melding together at a pace too slow to observe with the naked eye.

It is nick-named The Angel's Embrace and filed accordingly.

String Four

If there are three things Cas knows about his life, it is that jazz, liquor, and Balthazar are going to be what ends it. He knows this as well as he knows the taste of scotch and as well as he knows the wail of a trumpet and as well as he knows the smooth side of Balthazar's hands. It's frustrating, sweaty, sour, and Cas has had enough pussyfooting around the issue to last him to his last breath.

Maybe pussyfooting isn't a good word for what they are doing. Cockhanding, maybe.

Regardless, he is going to end it, at the same place it began so many months ago; Sal's is, at a glance, an ice-cream parlor that shares space with a tire shop on a non-descript corner in down-town San Diego, but houses a distillery in the basement as well as a low stage and seating for fifty. Every Tuesday and Saturday evening, Sal himself opens up a pair of secret doors for a secret gang of men and women who happen to hold a very secret membership, a membership that Cas only has because Balthazar supplies Sal with the supplies that keep his rye cold and plentiful.

Not coincidentally, Tuesday and Saturday evenings are also the evenings that Cas winds up drunk on gin and jazz and drags Balthazar into the streets for a less than discreet roll in the backseat of the smarmy French bastard's new Ford. They drink, they dance, they screw, and then they both go home and never call in the morning. It's been going on for too long and there has been too many close calls with the cops lately and so Cas decides that he is definitely going to cut it off and find himself a new speakeasy to get his drink at.

Except it's Saturday and he's sitting at the bar in the basement of Sal's Parlor with a glass of whisky in one hand and the sleeve of Balthazar's new suit in the other. It's a fine gray, lightly striped, and it's criminal how well the matching vest fits to his chest and waist. It's expensive, no doubt, just like everything else he owns, and he makes no effort of hiding that fact when questioned about the new digs. As they sit, he runs lazy fingers up and down the small of Cas's back, sipping his drink, and keeps an open tab with the bartender, offering to buy as much as Cas will take.

"As much as I enjoy having you finger at my arms, darling, I think your energy might be better directed at a more engaging activity." He slides from his stool and smoothes his vest down, extending a hand to Cas. "Let's dance, shall we?"

Maybe it's the liquor, maybe it's the suit, maybe it's his own fault, but some primal, knuckle-dragging, idiot side of himself agrees and Cas slips into step with Balthazar in time to a rolling chord of piano keys, and allows himself to be swept into the throws of the dancing crowd, past light reflecting off of beads and past slick, oiled hair, right into Balthazar's hold.

Cas has never been one for The Charleston and he doesn't have the patience to figure out how to dance The Baltimore with a partner, but there isn't a man alive who can dance quickstep like Balthazar can, and he makes a show of spinning Cas on his heels and pulling him into step with him. From the stage, the piano speeds up and is joined by the trilling of two clarinets. Balthazar clamps a hand on his hip and laces their free fingers together, gloveless, and sways so far over that Cas ponders how his hat doesn't fall off, snapping upright and ringing Cas to his front, crowding his chest and backing him up. His breath falls against Balthazar's cheek and he knows his dance partner can feel it by the way he smiles into Cas's neck. Sweat clings to his shirt cuffs and Cas spins again, ankles kicking out and sliding to the side. A trumpet blares and Balthazar twirls him back in, back to front this time, and flicks a wet stripe up the shell of Cas's ear before once again twisting away.

Cas spins on his heel and grabs the lapels of Balthazar's stupid suit, hauling him forward, stopping just shy of crashing their lips together, instead letting that little bit of space hang heavy and obvious in the inch that keeps them separated. He spends a moment just looking at him, chest heaving, panting audibly, hands clenched into the fabric of that damned vest. Balthazar has just the littlest bit of sweat clinging to his upper lip and Cas is overwhelmed with the compulsion to remove it. He cranes his neck forward.

At precisely that moment, a bang screams from the piano and the no-longer-secret door is ripped from its hinges, boots, breaking glass, and shrieks filling the bar. A flash of blue and they are yanked away from each other.

Cas and Balthazar spend the night in a jail cell.

Cas still laughs when Balthazar kisses the back of his neck and promises a better dance next Tuesday.

String Five

Balthazar fills Castiel's hospital room with flowers.

Ever since the first day they had to put him here, he has filled Castiel's room with flowers.

"They make my nose itch," Castiel tells him, watching from his position in bed as Balthazar arranges a new vase in the corner of the room, clearing away old bouquets that are losing their luster. "You don't need to bring so many." He reaches out a long, white hand and waits. "Being here is enough."

Balthazar smiles to himself and turns. White skin against white sheets—Castiel looks like a ghost, wraith-like and too thin beneath blankets from their home. Strange that his eyes should still be so bright and his hair so dark when the rest of him is so visibly translucent and bruised. Balthazar takes his seat beside him and takes Castiel's hand into his own, gently curling his fingers in and kissing the exposed ridges of his knuckles. "For every flower, a meaning," he says, quiet and not quite willing to move his lips away from the coolness of Castiel's fingers. "I enjoy bringing them."

Castiel motions for Balthazar to help him sit up. "What have you brought today?"

"Geranium." He pulls the vase closer to allow Castiel to touch the thin, red flowers. "Bloody hard to get my hands on, but only the best." He kisses Castiel's hand again. "They are an appreciation flower. Friendship, specifically."

A soft huff of laughter from Castiel. "Friendship?"

"Of the purest kind." He places the vase back on the bedside table. "For my oldest and dearest friend."

Castiel watches birds from the window in his room. He hurts today, deep in his bones, and Balthazar eases him upright to smooth comforting circles into his back and shoulders, out of time to the crooning of the two bickering blue jays outside, pausing now and then to place snow-flake gentle kisses to the back of his neck. The birds hop along the branches, sometimes clear over to the windowsill, and Castiel misses his room on the lower floors of the hospital, with the windows that opened all the way.

When sitting up becomes too much, Balthazar lies him back down and runs his thumbs up and down Castiel's legs, paying special attention to his knees, and recites for him the latest news from their house; the cats are restless without him there and his garden needs some tending to, a chore that he suggests Castiel take care of as soon as he comes home, which he absolutely will. Just a few more weeks of treatment and he can get back on top of those blasted vegetables he loves so much. The thought helps his heart unclench, just a little.

Balthazar brought him sprigs from a pear tree today.


Castiel can no longer bathe himself. He hates the sterile hands of his nurses and goes red with anger the first time they (gently) request he allow them to assist. He feels sweaty and greasy and he wants to be clean, but not with their help.

A day later, he hasn't the strength to feed himself either, and he leans into Balthazar's chest, begging him to stay—to save the notion that he still has his dignity.

Balthazar brings him soups and breads from home and helps him eat without sympathetic commentary, and in the evenings, he fills the bath with warm water and surrounds the tub with statice sinuata, easing Cas back and holding him up with one arm, carefully tending to the rest of him with the other.

"Never be afraid to ask for help," he whispers into Castiel's ear, eyes closed and exhaling into strands of wet hair. "I will always be here. No matter what you ask, I will be here."

Castiel grips a handful of the flowers and leans back, kissing Balthazar with as much energy as his fading body will allow.


Balthazar is at work when he gets a call from the hospital. Castiel has an infection.

Balthazar isn't sure he's ever driven his car so fast and is not even sorry that he's double parked as he takes the stairs, two at a time, to Castiel's floor, finding him pale and sweaty and buried in covers. He shakes, chilled, but so warm, and through cloudy eyes, reaches for Balthazar as soon as he's through the door.

"Cas…" he whispers and toes off his shoes. He vows to post a note of leave at the office first thing in the morning—he never should have left in the first place. Hospital bills don't pay themselves, but this is too much. He slides into bed beside him, ignoring the damp sheets and the sharp angle Castiel's bones have taken, and wraps himself around Castiel's waist. He draws him against his chest, solid, and holds him, whispering to him as his teeth chatter, kissing his temples and apologizing over the rattling breaths that Castiel keeps taking.

"Balthazar," Castiel pants and his fingers curl into the fabric of his shirt. "I'm not-"

"Don't," Balthazar hisses. "Just don't. Not yet."

Silence swallows the room and Castiel nods after a moment. Balthazar doesn't move until morning, even then only leaving the room long enough to call in a favor. A bow of fragrant cedar is delivered by noon and he places it near Castiel's pillow.


The fever never goes away.

Castiel is confined to his bed except for the now very rare occasions when Balthazar is allowed to carry him to the bathroom for a full bath.

Castiel doesn't say much—he is placed on oxygen and pain killers that make him drowsy and boneless—but when he does speak, it is often of how hot he feels. He requests tiny sips of water and for the blankets to be pulled back, just a bit, and lies on his back with his head tilted sideways as Balthazar feeds him ice chips and gently strokes his scalp.

He sleeps more than he is awake, but it seems that the dark hours between three and five AM are when he is at his strongest. In these hours, he requests that Balthazar read to him and listens, drifting, blinking slowly and occasionally tightening his grip on Balthazar's hand to let him know that he is still awake.

When he is able to sleep on his side, he asks that Balthazar sleep with him. He lies with his head on his chest, allowing himself to be lulled by the slow up and down motions of his breath, thankful for the silence and comfort, even if the heat is sometimes too much to bear.

The short time they get for baths remain a holy privacy for them both—a chance to be flesh-to-flesh, a chance to be close without the eyes of staff ever close by. Castiel's body has long forgone the strength to form an erection, unable to afford the blood redistribution without a panic, but still, Balthazar slides a hand between his legs and touches him like nothing is wrong, gentle and slow, whispering to him while Castiel buries his face in the dark place between Balthazar's neck and shoulder, just breathing and feeling skin against his thin limbs. He cannot return the favor; this is not a mutual worship of the body, but the gesture is grounding and humanizing and Balthazar never asks for anything in return.

One night, while Balthazar sleeps, Castiel calls a nurse and requests and telephone. It takes several calls to different florists until he finds what he is looking for.

In the morning, Balthazar finds a vase filled with several kinds of milkvetch by his wallet and keys. Alongside it, a yellow post-it note with Castiel's shaky penmanship:

Your presence eases my pains.

Balthazar vows never to leave the room again.

Castiel is given three more days at best and Balthazar fills his room with primroses.

"Please," he whispers, Castiel's hand clasped in his own. "Please, dove, I can't do this without you."

Castiel dies on a Thursday.

He's barely lucid, so far into the beyond already, but he clings to the last fibers of a body failed, taking in breaths that break into pieces while Balthazar holds him and strokes his hair and murmurs that it's okay, he doesn't have to stay, he can go when he needs to. Balthazar kisses his eyelids and his lips and his hands and every part of him that he can still feel, and places morning glory, mudwort, oak leaves, and olive branches around his bed, gestures encouraging peace and tranquility when it is needed most.

He wishes so deeply to express his gratitude, fondness, and attachment to Balthazar. He wishes he still had the breath to form the words of devotion. He wishes he could still give thanks for his mere being, his love, and a thousand other things, but all he manages is to turn his head, pull away his oxygen mask, and smile while Balthazar scrubs a hand through his own hair and tries, failing, to smile back.

A nurse pulls the sheet back less than a minute later and Balthazar is left, alone, to pay his final respects.

There is nothing left to say.

When Balthazar returns home, he leaves his knowledge of flowers at the hospital.

He has vegetables to tend to, now.

String Six

"Class, we have a new student today."

Castiel looks up from his cursive practice to the front of the class. Next to his teacher, a new boy is shifting from one foot to the other, grinning around two missing front teeth, and swinging a Star Wars lunchbox back and forth with one hand. It's the box that has Han Solo and Chewie firing their blasters. Castiel is instantly jealous.

"This is Balthazar. His family just moved here from London, so please make sure to make him feel welcome. Say hello, class."

"Hello, Balthazar!"

Satisfied, she ushers Balthazar to the empty seat beside Castiel. "This is Castiel. He's going to be your class buddy until you get settled." She nods at Castiel. "Make sure to show him around and help him get caught up with his class work, okay?"

"Yes, miss."

She places a cursive sheet in front of Balthazar and returns to her post at the front of the room.

Balthazar is more than eager to introduce himself and he sticks a hand out for Castiel to shake. "Hello, Cassie! I'm Balthazar."

"You talk funny," Castiel shakes his hand. "Is London a nice place?"

Balthazar ignores the question and grabs Castiel's paper away from him, holding it up and inspecting it. "Wow, Cassie, your cursive is really good."

"Thank yo-"

"When do we eat lunch?"

"Around noo-"

"Do you want to eat with me?"

"Well, okay, bu-"

"What do you have for lunch?"

"A cheese sandwich, but I'm not supposed to tr-"

"I'll trade you sandwiches, okay? I have peanut butter and I don't like it one bit."

"Um, okay."

Balthazar grins and hands Castiel his paper back. "Good!" He sits back and starts on his own paper. "I'm glad we're friends, Cassie!"

Castiel blinks and waits for his brain to catch up to their conversation. He returns the smile. "Me too."

String Seven

Balthazar's first assignment as a guardian angel is not a conventional one.

"This is absolutely absurd," he crows and throws the assignment at Michael's feet. "Did Gabriel put you up to this? He must have."

Michael sighs and carefully picks up each of the scattered tasks. "No, he did not. These are orders from straight up top. The Righteous Man is still yet a child and is in need of comfort. And the source of that comfort is in danger. All you need to do is get it to the boy, unharmed, and then you'll receive a new assignment."

Balthazar scrapes his palms down face but leaves nonetheless. The sooner he can get this over with, the better. He materializes on Earth, one city over from where he knows The Righteous Child is living, in the parking lot of an animal shelter. He huffs a breath. This is ridiculous.

The chime above the door rings as he enters and he is greeted by a volunteer who is far too enthusiastic to be working in such a depressing place. She leads him into the back room where kennels are lined against the wall, and leaves him to make his selection.

Not that he needs to peruse the cast. He knows just who he is looking for.

"Well then, fuzzball," he grouses and sits down in front of the cage of a black kitten. "It's your lucky day, I suppose." He flicks his index finger and unlocks the kennel, scooping up the docile little creature and wrapping it up in the inner pocket of his vessel's jacket. The kitten yawns, apparently unaware that it's being cat-napped, and blinks up at Balthazar with watery, blue eyes.



That's sort of cute.

He zaps himself out of the shelter, but does not go straight to the Winchester home. Instead, he touches down in a sunny field a few states over and gently coaxes the kitten out of his coat. It doesn't go very far—it seems plenty content to remain curled up against him.

Balthazar sighs and strokes a finger down the kitten's soft head.

"Don't tell Michael, all right?"

String Eight

He's been across three time zones, on a plane for more hours than he cares to recount, and doing business with sleazy executives for the past three days. He's tired, wrung out, and Balthazar is, by some hand of miracle, in the same city as he is on a six hour lay-over between New York and Hong-Kong, matching up with Castiel's own five hour stop. Castiel barely has the presence of mind to pay the taxi driver as he fumbles out of the cab and into the hotel lobby and he hopes that the wad of bills he tossed at the man was enough to cover a decent tip just until he sees a flash of blonde hair disappearing into the elevators.

"Wait!" He calls, grappling with his briefcase. "Hold the lift!" He shakes fatigue out of his eyes and hurries through the lobby, praying that the doors stay open.

Don't make me wait, he thinks, angrier than he ought to be. You bastard, it's been weeks, don't make me wait.

He doesn't. Balthazar keeps the elevator door open just long enough for Castiel to throw himself inside, roughly shoving the other man against the wall after hitting the button for the twenty-third floor. He rips at the knot of his own tie and bites at Balthazar's neck.

"You unbelievable ass," he hisses. "You were supposed to be home last Sunday."

"I know, pet, I know." Balthazar shucks his brown suit jacket off and flings it to the floor. The bell in the lift dings as they pass the tenth floor. "The merger took longer than expected and they just wouldn't let me leave." He cranes his neck and releases a shuddering breath, his own hands ripping at the buttons of Castiel's dress shirt. "Oooh, but I have missed you." His fingers press and pinch, dragging across sore muscles and day old sweat. "So very, very much."

The elevator stops on their floor and Balthazar pushes Castiel backwards into the hall, attaching himself to his mouth. He really needs to brush his teeth, both of them do, but airlines haven't provided toothpaste to coach passengers in years and this is the first they've been out of the air in hours. The stagnant air from the cabin has nothing on the air that hangs around Castiel—he smells like hotel soap and the orange vitamin C tablets he insists will save him from swine flu and every other awful plague a frequent flier can hack up. He licks at Castiel's lips, chapped, and yanks his shirt all the way off. In a distant part of his brain, he's aware he left his jacket in the elevator; oh well, he has another.

Castiel hits the door and hoists himself up before Balthazar can even get the door open, wrapping stiff legs around his waist, gripping his hair, and grinding down on him, hard already just by touching. Balthazar fumbles with his keycard. He doesn't want to break the contact (or drop Castiel) but it's hard as hell to find the coordination to swipe his key when all of the blood in his brain has drained out south and he has a timer running on how long he can deal with it. The door gives, finally, blissfully, with a click and they stumble inside, biting and licking, panting and growling, all the way to the bed where Castiel falls backwards in an ungraceful arc of messy hair and scuffed dress shoes. He's out of his clothes faster than Balthazar can process, a cufflink bouncing against the bedside table, and then he's naked except for his glasses and black socks, lifting his hips and moaning for it like he's never had it at all.

"Fuck, Cas, we need to start booking lay-overs together more often." He pauses, halfway out of his underwear. "Lay-over. Get it?"

"Your puns are awful, get over here. I have a plane to catch in four hours." He's already slicking himself up, fucking down on two fingers while he waits. "I can't be late for this flight. I'm meeting with a Toyota CEO."

Balthazar damn near falls on top of him, latching himself to his collarbone. "Don't talk business,for the love of God, please." He grinds down, making Castiel jolt beneath him. "Nothing turns me off like synergy does."

Castiel's abdomen tenses. He winds his legs around Balthazar's waist and draws him in, arching his back and relaxing himself against the slow burn, allowing just a brief moment of calm to adjust, breathing hot and damp against Balthazar's scalp. "You need a haircut," he huffs, gradually pulling his hips back and forth. "It's getting—nngh—curly."

"I need a haircut, you need to pay the credit card bill, and that damned parrot of ours needs a new muzzle." He exhales like the breath has been punched out of him when Castiel clenches and slams up against him. "Nothing new, love."

Balthazar rolls his hips, connecting their bodies once again, sending a shock of heat straight to his groin. Castiel fists his hands in the sheets (stiff, itchy hotel sheets) and groans out what he chooses to interpret as his name, somewhere between the cursing and heavy breathing. A red flush spreads down Castiel's neck and chest, red like their car, which is need of an oil change, and his eyes blink open, wide and glassy, grimacing.

"I forgot to claim my baggage at the airport," he grunts. "I was in such a hurry—"

"You can get it later."

Castiel fists his own cock and squeezes, already losing the rhythm they've built up. It's been weeks since they last shared a bed, or have even seen each other outside of their nightly Skype calls, and with the pressure building in his belly, Balthazar knows Cas isn't the only one struggling to make it last. His free hand comes up to cup the back of Balthazar's neck and he pulls him down, kissing him fiercely, bucking, cursing, and panting, glasses knocked crooked and sweat beading his hairline, gritting out his name and coming into his palm.

The heat in Balthazar's body contracts, almost painfully, to a single point and he follows suit a moment later with a shudder the wracks him boneless, dropping him on top of Castiel in a sticky wreck. They lay for a second or two, just catching their breath, but the clock is still ticking down and they need to leave time for a shower and suit ironing before they vacate the room. Castiel glances at the bedside clock.

"I need to be at the airport by six."

Balthazar nods. "Seven for me."

They look at each other.

There's still time for at least two more rounds if they make the shower a quick one.

String Nine

They sit in a café at the end of the city to wait out traffic. Balthazar orders a plate of something he can barely pronounce while Castiel contents himself with a cup of black coffee. Castiel has been watching over his shoulder for a few months now, but Balthazar still can't seem to convince him that food is one of the many perks that comes along with guarding a human.

"This place has amazing fish," Balthazar tells him. "The harbor is right nearby. It's very fresh."

Castiel watches him blow over a forkful of creamed potatoes. "Is that so?"

"You bet." His lips come together. He exhales. "Quite good."

Castiel sips his coffee; peers over the rim of his mug, through puffs of damp steam, lower lip vanishing for just a moment to catch an escaped drop. It's been months since things have been calm enough for Balthazar to observe him like this. To be able to quietly enjoy his meal, without threat, as Castiel's dark eyelashes get lost in the shine of fluorescent lights against his reflection in the window and his tongue dips out to sooth the winter-cold pink of his mouth.

Balthazar ponders if Castiel might taste like where he is from— like his environment. Heaven isn't a physical place, from what he understands, but there must be something there to create a distinct flavor. Seas or forests or something of the like. Salt seems likely, if only because they encounter it so often on their hunts.

Again, his tongue darts out, an adopted habit. Maybe not salt. That would be too obvious. Coffee and burgers seem too easy as well, which leaves only one thing, really.

"How is it?"

Balthazar blinks. "What?"

"Your meal," Castiel nods at him. "Is it pleasing?"

"Oh. Yes, very good." He places his fork on his plate and slides it across the table with two fingers.

Castiel's eyebrows lift in suspicion, but he takes a careful, small bite of the potatoes. He nods, apparently approving. "That is satisfactory."

Balthazar watches the rain hit the window and spends the rest of the meal wondering what wind tastes like.

String Ten

On a warm day with a soft breeze at midday, an angel kills his brother in the circle of an old grove, eliminating the threat of purgatory altogether.