The knife scores a shallow cut down his side, bypassing the meager protection of his vessel's clothing. It's not a serious wound but the way the knife twists at the very end makes his body jerk up, forcing the jagged points of the wire binding him upright to the rack into his wrists. The shape of the rack itself is binding, cold steel combined with wood from a thousand gallows and twisted into a shape of obscene power, one that dulls his angelic senses while leaving his more human ones still acute. If anything Castiel thinks the rack is enhancing them; he can feel the edge of the blade slicing through each layer of skin, each severed blood vessel and muscle and tendon. The knife comes again, flaying another patch of flesh from his ribs to expose bone to the cold air. He's never known what it was to be cold before being bound in this place.

He forces his eyes open, the sigils painted over the walls burning them until they adjust. He can hear the voices of his brothers and sisters in the back of his mind, muffled by the sigils into white noise that's its own kind of pain but he can't reach out to them, can't make them hear no matter now hard he prays. As the rest of the room comes into focus he can make out Alastair leaning against the far wall, a smile on his face that broadens as Castiel catches his eye.

Castiel tears his gaze away from the leering demon and studies the slowly growing pool of blood on the floor, but then his head is yanked upwards by his hair and he's forced to meet Dean Winchester's eyes. "Thought I said I wanted your attention, Cas," he says, his lips inches from Castiel's ear, close enough for him to feel Dean's breath. The mocking edge Dean puts on his name twists inside him like a snake; the first time Dean shortened his name that way Castiel had taken it as a sign of friendship despite all that early tension between them, had even begun to enjoy how much warmth Dean could infuse into that small syllable. Now he spits it at Castiel like one more weapon.

Still holding him by his hair Dean plunges the knife just under the line of his ribs and Castiel can't swallow back the moan. Dean's still looking into his eyes as he twists the knife in a slow circle; his vision is going blurry and white around the edges but he can't stop looking in Dean's eyes, the look in them as hard and sharp as the knife in his hands.

Castiel knows he put that look there. He put it there when he put the knife back in Dean's hands, when he abused the fragile trust they'd built and asked Dean to sin. He thought he'd been so clever. He hadn't thought about what the consequences might be if his plan failed.

He doesn't have the breath to speak but he tries to shake his head, to tell Dean he doesn't have to do this.

It doesn't work. It never works. Dean twists the knife again, driving it in even deeper and Castiel chokes on another moan as his body bucks against the rack. A tear streaks hot down his cheek and Dean wipes it away with almost insulting gentleness. Then Dean slashes the knife across his stomach the way Castiel had once seem him disembowel a piece of game; he feels the blood rush out in a hot, sickening gout, the pain enough to make him seize on the rack, struggling against bonds he know he can't break. Dean steps close to him, getting covered in gore himself, his lips parted less like a smile and more like he's trying to feed on the broken, ugly sounds Castiel can't stop himself from making.

It takes so long for the darkness to come that Castiel begins to fear it never will, that every second from now on will be this. The first few times times he passed out were terrifying but now Castiel welcomes it. He knows it's the only respite he'll be granted.

Dean forces Castiel to look into his eyes until the very last second.

888

They haven't made him scream yet. He takes pride in that, actually, that they haven't broken him down to that even though he knows it's inevitable they will. All of the other little boundaries he'd set for himself have crumbled into nothing like walls made of sand; he used to be cold and impassive when he saw the knife but now he can't hide the rush of fear up his spine at the flash of the blade. In fact he'd once resolved to never make any sound, to not give them the satisfaction but that broke by the end of the first day, when Dean had stabbed the knife into his lung and left it there, stepping back to watch as his chest filled with blood until he choked on it. It took only four days for them to make him cry.

But so far he's managed not to scream and he can see how that frustrates them, the way Dean's jaw goes tight when Alastair mocks him for it. He knows it's only a matter of time until he breaks but he has so few reasons to feel pride now.

He drifts back to consciousness at the sound of metal scraping against the floor. He doesn't recognize the contraption, a bag of clear liquid with a needle tipped tube extending from it all mounted on a metal pole, although he thinks he saw something like it when he sat vigil over Dean in the hospital that night. "You know what an IV is, Cas?" Dean says as he trusses Castiel's arm more firmly to the rack and rolls up his sleeve.

Castiel suspects that question is rhetorical but shakes his head anyway. He lets out a little gasp when Dean slides the needle into the vein in his forearm, more from surprise than from pain.

The way Dean is smiling at him now frightens him more than the blade ever has. "Let's educate you, then."

At first he feels nothing and can't begin to understand what Dean might mean. It isn't until he feels fire crawl through his veins that he realizes what the liquid in the bag must be.

There is a method to making the opposite of holy water; the process is time consuming and involves several blasphemies Castiel is incapable of speaking aloud. The only other time he'd encountered the substance was in Hell, where a few drops had been enough to scar his Grace.

And now the foul water is running through his veins. The inferno engulfs him in seconds and that first scream rips out of him before he can even try to keep it back. For a while he can still see Dean watch him as the agony unhinges him; he realizes, like it's happening to someone else far away, that he's sobbing for Dean to help him.

Even that limited awareness doesn't last. Before long he's conscious of nothing but the pain and the fire and his own voice screaming.

888

Castiel had thought little of it when Alastair escaped – he'd barely given himself time to recover from almost being exorcized from his vessel before confronting Uriel and he could never have imagined how terribly that would go. There had just been so much to do after that betrayal was uncovered and the problem of recapturing Alastair had been deemed a low priority.

Then Dean disappeared. Castiel could still feel the dread that had rushed through him when Sam had summoned him with that news, demanding what he knew. He should have known this would happen. Of course Alastair would never leave Dean alone, he should have known that.

He searched for three weeks, hiding his thoughts from Heaven. Every second was plagued with the horror of what might be happening to Dean, his mind reaching back to the tortured thing he'd found in Hell. The demon was doing something to hide Dean from him; it should have been nothing for him to find Dean's soul, barely more than a thought, but when he tried he felt only a dark, malevolent energy.

He hadn't been fast enough to save Dean from Alastair then but he would be now. This time he would succeed in saving Dean Winchester.

Castiel finally found Dean in a warehouse, alone with Alastair with a body between them. He'd been too slow again.

But he could repair the mistake. "Dean. Come with me."

"Oh, I don't know," Alastair answered for him, in that foul sing-song voice of his. "We've been getting along so well."

The implication there made Castiel nauseous for the first time in his life. "Dean. Please. Come with me."

Dean shook his head then, and Castiel saw for the first time the blood dripping from his hand. "You shouldn't have come after me, Cas," he said, then he pressed his palm against the mutilated body on the floor. For the first time it occurred to Castiel that perhaps Alastair had let him find them.

There wasn't time to think of anything else before the flash of light took him.

888

By the time his senses return the room is dark and still. Dean is still human and forces himself to sleep every so often; Castiel doesn't know why Alastair never steps forward to pick up the slack but all he ever does is watch and comment and, on those days Castiel knows are going to be very bad, make suggestions. He still feels the cursed water scorching his veins but the effect is fading without Dean there to feed a new supply into the device. Perhaps they've run through their stores already.

Or, as he knows is more likely, they're conserving what they have to make it last.

He doesn't have the strength to hold himself up and lets his legs buckle, all his weight hanging from his arms. The stress pulls his shoulders out of joint but it's a minor discomfort compared to the fire still racing through him and at any rate, it would heal. It always does.

"It looks like you would have been better off joining me after all, brother."

Castiel forces his eyes open and sees Uriel standing before him, that familiar, insolent grin on his face. He knows it's a delusion but he welcomes the company. "You set these events in motion," he whispers. Just forcing the words past his lips takes so much effort he almost passes out.

"Having Winchester interrogate Alastair wasn't my plan, I assure you."

Apparently he can't even imagine Uriel feeling remorse. "Why did you let me do it? You knew..." A wave of pain leaves him speechless and gasping for a few long moments. "You knew the true killer. Why allow the farce?"

Uriel only sighs. "I'd hoped Winchester would get himself killed," he says, as if that's the most obvious thing in the world. "If you hadn't decided to flog yourself by listening in he would have."

"You murdered seven of us."

"I spared more."

Castiel wonders how many of the garrison Uriel had recruited to Lucifer's side before the end. "If I hadn't discovered you had tampered with the trap how long would you have lied?"

For a moment his expression softens and Castiel can again see the brother who fought by his side in so many battles. "Perhaps you were one of the ones I'd hoped to spare."

The delusion is fading, growing indistinct and insubstantial. "Take me with you," he begs, hearing the raw desperation in his voice and not caring.

"I'm sorry brother. You had your chance."

The fire is fading and the cold of the room is seeping back into his bones. "How long until I see you again?"

"I'm sorry again, Castiel." Uriel's smile is both cruel and sorrowful. "I suspect not for a very long time."

888

They have him crucified today. They don't always – and how they have it arranged doesn't match the classical definition of the word, but he knows humans have come to define crucifixion as nails through the palms rather than the historical reality – and Castiel can never guess when the mood to commit that extra little bit of blasphemy will over take them. They'd soaked the nails in the cursed water before nailing him to the rack and the convulsions and burning from that have only just begun to pass, signaling to Castiel that he should prepare himself for whatever new torment they'll think of to come next.

He's alone with Dean, which isn't so unusual; Alastair frequently leaves them alone to attend to...actually, Castiel realizes he doesn't want to contemplate what could be more compelling to a demon than watching an angel be taken apart before his eyes. The knife stabbing into his ribs takes away his ability for coherent thought anyway; he spits blood onto the floor and looks up, confused as to why Dean's stopped there. It isn't like him.

Dean stands still for a few seconds, his head cocked to the side like a dog trying to place a sound, then a pure look of relief crosses his face. Before Castiel can understand what's happening Dean steps forward and kisses him on the lips, standing so close Castiel can feel him shaking. He tries to jerk his head away but he has nowhere to go. "What...?" he whispers, his voice cracking. "I don't..."

Dean pulls back, stroking his thumb along Castiel's cheekbone. "You okay, Cas?"

The question is so ludicrous Castiel has no idea how he's supposed to respond to it. Fortunately Dean doesn't force an answer from him. "Why the fuckdid you come after me?"

"I..." I wanted to save you."I thought he was hurting you." His voice is unrecognizable to his own ears, small and broken.

Dean shakes his head. "I'm not gonna say none of that happened but Cas, man, I was stringing him along. I had to, once he grabbed me he said if I didn't go along with him he would keep coming after me, he would go after Sam. I couldn't let that happen." He feels Dean's forehead press against his. "I swear to God, when you showed up in that warehouse I thought my heart was gonna stop."

Castiel isn't sure if he's really hearing this or if he's hallucinating again. "But...no. That can't...it was an ambush. The place had been prepared."

"Alastair knew you were coming, not me. He had me set up that ritual but didn't tell me what it was for, just that I'd know to set it off when the time came. If I hadn't gone along it would've proved I'd been lying to him the whole time." He wipes the blood from Castiel's lips, the touch so gentle he can't reconcile how those same hands could have nailed him to the rack only a few hours earlier. "I've wanted to tell you a thousand times but this is the first time he's let me off the leash long enough to do it."

Castiel shakes his head. "No, he...he often leaves us alone..."

"That doesn't mean he's not listening," Dean says, tapping one finger against his own temple. "He usually has ways of keeping tabs, making sure I'm being a busy boy. This is the first time I've felt that slip." He strokes one hand down the bloody ruin he's already made today of Castiel's clothes. "I know I've..." His voice breaks and he can't finish the sentence, can't look Castiel in the eye. "If I went soft on you he'd know and I'd be right back on the rack myself and Cas, if that happens I'll crack like an egg, we both know that. I thought that if..." He looks up at Castiel then. "He'd not gonna touch you, Cas. Over my dead body."

The understanding of what Dean's saying is slow in coming but when it finally happens Castiel feels himself shake. "You've kept him away from me."

"Yeah. Kinda called dibs. Figured that if it was me doing it, at least..."

Dean lets the words trail away but Castiel's only barely hearing them; he can't believe how badly he'd misjudged Dean and the shame of that is worse than any wound. He doesn't realize he's crying until he feels Dean wipe the tears away. "Hey. Cas, knock that off, please. I feel bad enough."

"I'm sorry." He doesn't know if he can say that enough times. "I doubted...I really thought..."

"Shh," Dean says, kissing him again. "That's actually a good thing. If I fooled you I've probably got him fooled, too." He lets out a long breath. "I'm gonna get us out of this, Cas, I swear it, but it's gonna take time. I know it's a lot to ask..."

Castiel nods before Dean even finishes the sentence. "I can bear it."

Dean closes one hand over Castiel's; it hurts but he swallows back the whimper. "Besides, it's not like I can really hurt you, right? Not permanent, nothing fatal, right?"

Castiel shakes his head slowly, seeing the sense in that. "No. Not with that blade." Of course if one of them should be sacrificed this way it should be him instead of Dean. Had he been given the choice he would have put himself on the rack of his own free will. "I understand now."

"Good." He leans back in close, cradling Castiel's head before kissing him again. "You know I would never hurt you, Cas."

Castiel nods, feeling warmth flood through him as Dean smiles. Then Dean cocks his head to the side again and the smile fades; before either of them can say another word the hardness settles back over Dean's features, that look Castiel now knows is a mask, and he buries the knife up to the hilt in Castiel's throat.

888

Not long afterward they fail to bind him properly at night. It takes him some to scrape together the awareness to realize what's happened, then several long moments to slip his way past the bonds, the barbed wire shredding his arms as he drops to the floor. He doesn't have the strength to stand and lays there curled up for a while, the adrenaline rush of having escape so close dulling the pain for a few blessed moments. He stretches his wings and is moments from leaving the the horrible room to his memory when he realizes that of course he can't leave alone. He reaches out with his Grace for Dean but can't find him, whether because of the sigils on the walls or Alastair's machinations he can't tell. He doesn't know where Alastair takes Dean at night.

For a moment he tells himself he can go to Sam and together they can rescue Dean. Sam is clever. They could some up with something.

The shame of even entertaining the thought is overwhelming. It had taken him three weeks to find Dean initially and he'd only succeeded because Alastair wanted to trap him. He can picture all too easily the scene in the morning if he really does flee, Dean and Alastair discovering him gone and Dean being bound to the rack in his stead. Alastair might even believe Dean had let him go and Castiel can only imagine how the demon would punish him. He remembers listening to Dean scream during the long siege and knows that if he leaves now he would be condemning Dean to that again – worse this time, because there would be betrayal added to it now, Dean wondering why Castiel would abandon him to this. He'd told Dean he could bear this, had felt remorse shake Dean as he'd confessed.

So Castiel stays huddled on the floor beneath the rack, feeling his bones setting and flesh knitting together. He thinks about trying to tie himself back up but he doesn't have the strength to stand so instead he just waits, watching as slanting morning light begins streaming through the single dingy window.

He picks up his head when he hears footsteps approaching; they're too heavy to be Alastair's and he tends to just appear, anyway. He's relieved Dean's alone; that means Dean can rebind him and Alastair need never be the wiser.

Dean stops short when he sees Castiel on the floor. "Shit. Shit, Cas, what happened?"

"You forgot to bind me."

Dean picks him up from the floor and stands him back against the rack. "Can't believe you didn't just take off."

Castiel shakes his head, desperate to make sure Dean knows he would never do that. "You said you would find a way." Sudden doubt shakes him – perhaps Dean hadleft him free intentionally. Perhaps he'd misunderstood the plan. "Did I do the right thing?"

Dean laughs as he kisses him, the sensation of Dean's tongue against his an unexpected and euphoric pleasure. "You were perfect, Cas." There's an odd kind of pride in Dean's expression but Castiel doesn't examine it too closely, content to wrap Dean's praise around him like a cloak. He barely feels it when Dean nails his hands back to the rack.

888

It isn't always so terrible. There are rare, scattered days where Alastair gives Dean his liberty and while there's always pain – the bindings themselves hurt, like thousands of needles sticking into his Grace – those days are almost peaceful, Dean only cutting him a couple of times for show and then just holding him as he shakes, Dean letting him cry against his shoulder and never judging him for the weakness. In those stolen moments Dean whispers his plans into his ear, what he's working on to bring down Alastair. The plans are always thwarted but Castiel doesn't blame Dean; Alastair is one of the most powerful demons he's ever encountered, one too strong to be exorcized. Dean has to be careful.

Castiel knows he also has to be careful. He was tempted once to abandon Dean and he can't allow that to happen again. The sigils on the wall keep him from contacting Heaven but they could fail one day the way his bindings did and if that ever happened Castiel doesn't know if he could resist the urge to call for help. He wants to believe his siblings will see that Dean is caught too but he can't be sure. He'd been fooled by Dean's ruse and he'd touched Dean's soul. He can't be sure they'll understand.

They may well take him back to Heaven and not even let him explain. If they do that, if they take him and leave Dean here, even for a short time, Castiel knows there's no guarantee he'll be found again. Not until it really is too late to save him.

He closes his eyes and focuses on the connection of his Grace to Heaven, taking a deep breath before severing it. It feels like how he imagines it would feel to tear off his hand.

Afterward the silence is overwhelming. He's never known what it was like to be alone before, not when he's always had thousands of brothers and sisters a thought away.

But he's keeping Dean safe. Castiel clings to that with all of the remaining strength he has.

888

One day Castiel comes to more quickly than Dean and Alastair expects and he sees them conferring about something toward the back of the room, Alastair's hand on Dean's shoulder like a proud parent. He pretends to still be unconscious as he watches them; he reads lips tolerably well and spots Alastair nod back toward him and catches the words when he realizes.

Castiel stands there frozen as the conversation wraps up, a cold bead of sweat sliding down his neck. Alastair leaves and Dean saunters over to him, tossing the knife from hand to hand. This time when Dean cuts into him there's nothing to temper the pain; he watches Dean's face the entire time, suspicion turning every thought sour and poisonous.

It isn't safe to confront Dean until days later, during one of those rare moments of liberty. He's almost glad; it's taken him that long just to build up his courage. "What did he mean?" he whispers, forcing himself to make eye contact.

"What did who mean?"

"I saw you." He hears the hysteria in his voice but he's been panicking for too many days to hide it now. "I saw the two of you talking, when I realize what?"

Dean takes a step back, looking as hurt as if Castiel had slapped him. Remorse immediately coils inside him like a snake. "Cas, we talked about this."

"Tell me. Tell me what he meant."

Instead Dean cradles his head, brushing his hair back from his forehead. "Cas, I'll say anything if it'll keep Alastair happy, you gotta know that."

"I...I thought that you..." He can't finish the sentence; now that he's voicing his suspicion out loud it sounds ridiculous, like the most baseless paranoia and Dean still looks so hurt.

"If you're starting to doubt me I'll cut you loose right now." He reaches up to start undoing the bindings. "I'd rather be on the rack myself than have you think I'm screwing with you..."

"No!" He's sorry he ever said anything. "No, don't do that."

Dean pulls his hand back and nods, stroking his thumb down Castiel's cheek. He can't believe that Dean's already forgiven him. "I need you to trust me," he says. "If you can't do that, I get it, believe me, 'cause God knows I wouldn't be able to do it in your shoes. But I need to know that you know I have your back. I need that, Cas."

Castiel nods.

"You can do that?" Dean asks, wide eyes searching Castiel's face. "No matter what you see, no matter what you hear, I need to know that you trust me."

Castiel nods again. "I trust you," he whispers. He realizes with a sudden lurch, one that would have been horrifying a few months ago but now feels perfectly normal, that he's never had this much perfect faith in anything.

"Good," Dean says, kissing him gently. "Just remember, Cas. I would never hurt you."

888

In the beginning Castiel was careful to maintain his clothing, taking pleasure in that small defiance, but as the days drag on he can't spare the energy and his clothes slowly reduce down to tattered rags. He knows he should feel shame at being exposed like this in front of a demon but he doesn't have energy for that either.

Sometimes Dean trails his fingertips down the bare skin of Castiel's stomach when he knows Alastair isn't watching, the touch a secret between them. Once, on an afternoon when they're free of the demon's surveillance that goes further, Dean's hands stroking down his body, Dean's mouth hot and wet and needy against his. "Wanted to do this a long time, Cas," Dean whispers, his eyes bright with lust. Castiel doesn't quite understand what Dean means until he feels Dean lifts his hips up and tear what remains of his clothes out of the way. Seconds later he feels Dean slide inside him, one rough movement that makes Castiel gasp. "This okay, Cas?"

Castiel nods. He's the one who put Dean back on this path, if his body can give Dean some pleasure he's welcome to take what he wants.

It's worth it to see Dean smile like that. He feels Dean lick away some of the blood trailing down his neck and over his collarbone, feels Dean's nails dig into his hips as he pushes himself even deeper inside. "You're so beautiful," Dean breathes, running his thumb along Castiel's parted lips. "Used to dream about this." He thrusts hard and Castiel moans, throwing his head back against the rack. He feels Dean shiver when he makes that sound and Dean's hand slides down his body. "Angels aren't supposed to let humans do this, are they," Dean whispers, scraping his teeth along Castiel's neck.

"No." It's blasphemy in fact, but Castiel can't remember the last time he had the luxury to care about blasphemy.

Dean smiles again. "Good."

888

Castiel opens his eyes to see Alastair inches from him. He tries to jerk back but he's nailed today, there's nowhere to go and Alastair presses one hand over his mouth to silence him. "Shh," the demon purrs, giving him a long, appraising up and down look.

Dean isn't there. He's never been left alone with Alastair, not once and it takes seconds for the panic to take hold. He pulls away from Alastair's grasp, ignoring the pain radiating down from his hands. "Where's Dean? What did you do to him?"

"Look at that loyalty," Alastair says, scraping one nail down Castiel's cheek. "Do you know you're the first bet I've ever lost?" He leans in close, his breath foul with sulfur. "Not that I mind, I do reward creativity." He wraps one hand around Castiel's throat, his smile crawling across his face. "Dean's told me so much about you. I just had to have a taste." Then Alastair kisses Castiel, a rough, violent kiss, Alastair's tongue in his mouth until he starts to gag. He feels Alastair bite his lower lip hard enough to draw blood as he pulls back. "That isvery nice."

Castiel manages to cry out once before Alastair muffles any further screams. "Now, now. We don't want Dean to hear. Think how guilty he'll be." His hands slide over Castiel's hips and this, thisis blasphemy but Castiel's bound too tightly to resist and Alastair's always been too strong for him. "You shouldn't fight so hard," Alastair leers, picking him up the way Dean does. "Dean loves it when I do this."

The pain he's expecting doesn't come; he feels something pull Alastair away and he falls, the pain radiating down his arms taking away his senses for a few seconds. When his vision clears he sees Dean facing off against Alastair, a livid bruise on his face from where Alastair must have hit him. "Thought we had a deal," Dean says, wiping a drop of blood from his lip.

"Oh, I hardly cut him. I didn't think I had to be completely hands off. You shouldn't be so selfish." Finally the tension breaks as Alastair lets out a long, exaggerated sigh. "Fine. I won't touch your toys." Castiel doesn't understand the look that passes between them, something unguarded and foreign and secretive, but he doesn't care because Alastair finally leaves them alone.

Dean is at his side in seconds, wiping the tears from his face. "You okay? He hurt you?"

Castiel can't even answer, he's shaking so hard. Dean wraps his arms around him and Castiel presses his face against the curve of his neck. "You shouldn't have stopped him," he whispers, the horror of what the consequences might be for Dean driving the bile into his throat. "He'll suspect you now."

"Let me worry about that," Dean says, raking his hands through Castiel's hair. "I promised I wouldn't let him touch you."

That someone could care about him so much is stunning. "I love you," he whispers, the emotion of that shaking through him. He's loved his Father and loved his siblings but he's never suspected he could love anyone with the enormity of what he feels now. "I love you."

"I know you do, Cas," Dean says, kissing his forehead. "We have to start back up."

Castiel nods, baring his throat to Dean. The first touch of the knife feels like a caress.

888

He doesn't know where Alastair found the ritual. The obscene words pull him from unconsciousness like a clawed hand; the litany is a mixture of Latin and Enochian and Castiel writhes as his Grace feels like it's being pulled out through his pores.

And in a way it is. Castiel screams as the ritual reaches the climax, his Grace drifting around him like a glowing fog until it solidifies under the demon's words, attaching to his shoulders and stretching across the rack to form a pair of enormous wings. The forced manifestation leaves him drained and he sags back against the rack, trying to force back tears. Just having the wings exposed to the air like this is unendurable, like needles being shoved into all of his joints.

He thinks he passes out for a while. When he comes to again he and Dean are alone, Dean stroking his thumb along his hairline to bring him back around.

And he's holding a handsaw.

Castiel's not surprised to see that – there's only one reason Alastair would force his wings to manifest – but his courage fails him anyway. "No. No, please don't."

Dean pulls back far enough to look Castiel in the eye. "Why, Cas? What's different now? Will they grow back?"

"Yes, but...but it will take a long time." And it will hurt; he's had a wing sheared off once before, long ago in a sky battle over a Phoenician city that no longer exists. It took almost fifty years to recover and the pain was constant the entire time. Losing a wing is the worst wound an angel can take without the injury being fatal and there were times during his recovery that Castiel had desperately wished it wasn't true that only an angel can kill an angel. At least then the pain would stop. "I don't want you to, Dean. Please."

"Alastair's been after me to do this for a while Cas, I keep putting him off but I'm running out of excuses. I just..." He reaches up to run one hand along the edge of his wing; he keeps his touch gentle but it still hurts and Castiel has to smother back his moan. Dean jerks his hand back, the look in his eyes stricken. "I don't want to do this," he whispers. He presses his his forehead against Castiel's temple. "I love you so much, Cas. I'm not gonna do anything you don't want me to, I'll put him off some more. I'll come up with something..."

When he steps away Castiel can see the fading bruise from the last confrontation with Alastair. "No," he says, the word slipping out before he even realizes it. "Do it."

"Cas, I..."

Castiel shakes his head. If Dean argues with him he'll lose his nerve. "You've defied Alastair once already, he'll want to know why if you do it again. I can bear it."

The gratitude on Dean's face is like looking at the sun. "You're awesome, Cas. You know that, right?"

Then Dean picks up the saw. He's shaking so hard the feathers rattle like dry leaves as Dean steadies him; at first Castiel thinks he'll go through the joint but Dean sets the blade against the thick bone near where the right wing attaches to his shoulders. He takes a deep breath as he adjusts his grip, nodding once at Castiel before he starts.

The moment the teeth of the saw cut into his flesh Castiel screams. The pain spirals through his body and he feels himself arch off the rack, hardly feeling the bindings cutting into his arms. He tries to brace for each stroke and each time he fails; there's no growing accustomed to this pain, each burst is as keen and fresh and raw as the one before and all Castiel can do against it is scream.

When Dean first cracks the bone Castiel feels something deep inside him crack wide open too. "No," he whimpers, trying to breathe through the pain. It's like a giant hand holding him underwater. "Stop. Please stop, Dean, I changed my mind."

Of course Dean can't stop, he's gone too far and Castiel hates himself for being weak enough to hurt him this way. He can't stop, though, neither the screaming or the begging, not until Dean's through the bone and the wing comes apart in his hands like so much dead meat.

Dean's covered in blood and gore and flecks of bone as he wraps his arms around Castiel. "You were perfect, Cas," Dean whispers into his ear; he's close enough that Castiel can feel how hard he is but doesn't have the breath or the reason to question it.

The last thing he feels before the darkness takes him is Dean's lips pressed against his.

888

When he sees Anna standing in front of him he assumes he's hallucinating again – right up until she reaches up to undo his bonds. When he cringes away she assumes it's from pain and steps back. "It's me. You know me, Castiel."

He still can't believe his eyes. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to help. I'm going to get you out of here."

He flinches back again when she reaches back for him. "Don't touch me."

"It's going to hurt at first but I promise..."

"No."

She backs away, her hands raised in a clear effort to placate him. "Okay. Okay, whatever you want."

"How did you get here? It's warded, no one can..." The words fall away into a strangled moan as the throbbing from his wing overwhelms him for a moment.

"Please, Castiel. Just because I taught you everything you know about wards doesn't mean I taught you everything I know."

It is true that Anna was one of the most accomplished commanders in the garrison. "Please leave. Go, if Alastair finds you..."

"I'm not worried about Alastair, I'm worried about you. You have no idea how long I've been looking for you. Castiel, everyone thinks you're dead. You're cut off from Heaven..."

"I cut myself off," he murmurs. He would like very much to pass out again.

"What? Why would you do that?"

That question being asked by someone who Fell is such an absurdity Castiel almost laughs. "The temptation was too great. I had to." He shivers when she touches his cheek. "Go, before you're seen."

"I'm not leaving without you."

"I won't leave Dean here."

Something guarded drifts into her expression. "Dean's lost, Castiel. Maybe he always was."

Castiel shakes his head. "No. No, you don't understand." He hears the hysteria in his voice again and ignores it, all he wants now is to make her understand. "It's a farce. Dean's playing Alastair until he finds a way to kill him. Dean has him fooled."

Anna only stares at him for one long second. "You really believe that."

"It's the truth."

"It's not. If Dean wanted to escape Alastair he had hundreds of chances, he doesn't want to escape."

Castiel shakes his head again. "He's not at liberty. Alastair's always listening. If he escaped Alastair would only find him again."

"That isn't..." She sighs, not bothering to finish the rest of the sentence. ""We'll talk about this when I have you down from there."

"I had the chance to escape once before and chose to stay. I won't leave now."

She forces him to meet her eyes. "Castiel, listen to me. You are not thinking clearly. Come with me and heal." She lets out another frustrated breath when he flinches away again. "You used to be so good at following my orders."

"Not all of us abandon our duties as easily as you, sister." The sudden flash of anger disappears as quickly as it came. "It is true. Dean's protected me. He's saved me from Alastair at great risk to himself. I can't abandon him here."

"Youare the only one in danger here."

"Dean's safe as long as I stay. I'm his proof to Alastair that he's turned."

"I don't care what he's made you believe and I'm not giving you a choice."

"Don't touch me." The vehemence in his voice makes her take a step back. "I forgave you for Falling but I won't for this. If you take me somewhere I'll escape at the first opportunity. I will crawl back here from Heaven and chain myself back to the rack if I have to."

"Castiel, listen to yourself. Look at yourself, look what he did..." She reaches for the broken stump of his wing but knows better than to touch it.

"He did nothing without my permission." The fight has long since drained out of him. "I love him," he whispers. "I love him so much. I can't leave. I would be putting him back on the rack myself." He needs a few moments to catch his breath. "Anna, if you've ever loved me at all leave now. Forget you found me. Trust that I know what I'm doing and forget all about this place."

"You can't expect me to stand aside while you're being hurt like this."

Castiel frowns at that. "Dean would never hurt me." He doesn't understand why that makes her eyes well with tears. "Promise me, sister. I placed him back on this path, I need to see him through it."

She kisses his cheek. "I do love you. I'm not giving up on you."

They both hear footsteps approaching and Castiel feels panic twist inside him like a corkscrew. "Go. Please." When he hears the sounds of her wings a traitorous part of his mind is begging don't leave me.

He doesn't voice the thought. It's better for both of them if she leaves.

Of course he tells Dean everything. When he's through Dean kisses him so hard it hurts. "I did the right thing?"

"You probably saved my life, Cas, you know that?"

Dean's praise is always enough to make him stop feeling the pain, even for just a few seconds.

The next time he opens his eyes he realizes he's been moved; the sigils on the walls are the same but the room itself is different. He hopes he was able to convince Anna not to come back for him or she's going to be gravely disappointed.

When all this is over Castiel knows she'll understand.

888

One week later Dean takes the second wing. Castiel gives him permission then, too.

888

He no longer remembers what it feels like to be without pain. He thinks it must be similar to how it feels when Dean's lips brush against his forehead, the way Dean's hand rests against his hip. Sometimes he asks Dean how much longer he thinks it will be but all Dean will say is, "I'm working on it, Cas. You just gotta hold out a while longer."

"Be careful."

"Cas, I'm always careful."

Dean often leaves him unbound at night now. It's a sign of how much faith Dean has in him, that he knows there's no danger.

Very soon now Alastair will make a mistake and then Dean will have his chance. This will all be over. Castiel knows he just has to hold up his end of the bargain. Every new day they manage to fool Alastair that Dean is still his puppet is a private victory between the two of them. Castiel knows better.

He knows Dean would never hurt him.