It won't be enough. He knows this. He knows this because it never is, but he tries anyway. He's like a madman with a light switch. Flicking it over and over-

on
off
on
off
on

-thinking this time, this time, it will be different.

Hard to the left until the pipes scream. Count to three.

There's a rhythm to it; scream, steam, sting. He waits for erasure. His skin burns and his vision whites out, just for a second. One breath in through clenched teeth and it's over.

That's it. That's all he gets. One short, blissful sting of nothing and then he's back.

Just a second. One second.

"One second," he mumbles toward the ceiling, water running into his mouth, his eyes, "just give me one more second."

He needs more. He won't get it. But God, he needs it.

Really, he thinks what he needs is to suffer in a way equal to the suffering he's caused, but he's so limited.

There's not much he can do that won't leave a mark, and he knows that marks lead to questions. To angry, tense conversations. Calloused fingers pulling at his shirtsleeves and demanding to know why, demanding he make promises he knows he can't keep.

Marks lead to shaking quiet voices in the other room and dark shadows under haunted green eyes, and he doesn't want to put those shadows there. Not again. Not again.

"I promise," he'd lied, and hated himself.

He lets the water run hot, scalding hot, and gets a second. One second. It's not enough. It's never enough. But it's all he can do, it doesn't leave a mark, and that's the part that counts.

There can never be a mark. If there's a mark the shadows will come back. He can't be responsible for those shadows. Not again.

He wishes he could just leave. He can't. Every time he tries he ends up right back where he had been before, forced into staying by something (someone?) something. He doesn't know. He doesn't want to know. He presumes it's God and hates him for it, for letting him have his Grace, for letting him feel it coiled inside like a waiting spring but not allowing him to use it for himself. It's inaccessible to him. All that power and it can't be used. Not to heal, not to hide, not to leave. Only for them. Only for him. Only for Dean.

He never wanted to hate his Father but he's been left with no choice. Funny, considering choice is what lead him here. Fitting.

We all become our fathers, he thinks, isn't that the phrase?

He wants to leave. He wants to leave because he doesn't want to leave. He shouldn't be allowed to be here. He doesn't deserve to be here. But he's stuck, and so long as he's stuck, he has to do what he can. He has to keep it secret. Has to make sure those shadows don't come back.

He has to pretend.

More than once he has wondered if perhaps being forced to be here is his true punishment; to be on the edge of happiness. To be so close to what he always wanted, to have it, to have the life he always wanted but to have each moment of it tainted with guilt and self-loathing.

To be forced to fake happiness when it should be real.

To live in fear of those shadows. He can't cause those shadows. Not again.

Not again.

He breathes deep and digs his nails into the grout between shower tiles, drags his fingers down.

He breathes deep.

An old wound opens up on the tip of his left index finger, smearing red into the cracks. It's a rough graze, practically invisible, and he knows it wont be seen. He drags it back up. A red smear. He breathes deep.

It hurts, but it doesn't hurt enough. Of course it doesn't. It never does.

A knock.

Two.

Three in rapid succession.

"Cas? You doin' alright in there?"

He presses his forehead against the tile. He breathes deep and hates himself. He's a blood clot, and the voice outside is an otherwise healthy body. He wants to cut himself out before he destroys it. He can't. The body wont let him.

He breathes deep.

"Nearly done."

"We need to check out."

Hard to the right. The steam pulls up to the ceiling like a curtain.

Shaking fingers leave red marks on a white motel towel. When the steam clears the mirror on the door taunts him, and he refuses to look.

If he looks now he'll lose control. He knows this, because that's how it happened before. Looking.

It was there, in that other place, the place he wishes he still was. Purgatory. Out of nowhere a river had sprung, gleaming bright and clear, and he'd looked. He'd seen.

His wings were practically bald.

Fleshy grey nubs, hanging limp and scrawny like a starved parrots, thin skin stretched over brittle bone. Ratty black feathers sticking out at odd angles. He'd never seen wings so hideous, but they still bore signs of their past beauty. Those few remaining feathers, ragged as they were, reminded him. They whispered, this is what you were, and, this is what you've become.

They taunted him.

He'd stared at his filthy reflection and learned how to hate himself. With hands soaked in blood he'd ripped the last pinions out himself, and he'd laughed. A twisted, hollow sound that cut through the trees as the agony coursed through his being.

The Leviathan had stopped hunting him, then.

It seemed that it wasn't any fun to rip an angel to shreds when it had no fight left, when it just sat there and smiled, when it begged for it.

He'd been left alone to rot, and he supposed at the time that was fitting. His body would decay like his heart had. Like his righteousness had.

Thinking back now, he thinks he started to rot a long time ago. The moment he came into contact with the demon. That day, that day, that foul day. The demon was the spoiled apple and it didn't take long for the taint to transfer.

Sometimes the memory of sulfur is too much and he feels bile rising in his throat.

The mirror says, look, and he grips the towel. Red dots. More red dots.

He breathes deep.

He might not have any feathers left to pull out, but he does have bright eyes and smooth skin that would be far, far too easy to destroy. He knows exactly how he would do it and he knows he wouldn't be able to stop until those calloused hands dragged him from the bathroom screaming.

So he won't look. Not again. Not again.

No shadows, not again, never again.

It's a cruel twist of God's will that makes it impossible for him to punish himself without punishing him, too. The one who matters more. The owner of that voice on the other side of the door.

So can't do it, he can't look. If he looks, he'll slip. And if he slips, he'll hurt him.

He can't hurt him again. Those shadows will come back.

Not again, never again.

Fingers slip on shirt buttons, pull on borrowed jeans. This is his life now. Put on the uniform, hide the scars, keep up appearances. Do the job. Hunt. Help. Don't let him know, never let him know. Be happy, be happy, pretend to be happy.

He feels sick to his bones.

These aren't your bones, he thinks to himself. These were never your bones.

When he thinks of his vessel he wonders if the rot started sooner.

The demon had just helped him along, because he'd been rotten years ago. Perhaps that is when it started. When he ruined the life of a good-hearted man, destroyed the family of an innocent child, and thought it fair. Thought it for the greater good.

He thinks of his vessel and hates himself.

You are not worthy of these bones.

Inside, the marrow rots. He's certain of it.

How long until the rest follows.

Another knock.

"Cas?"

He checks his hands, sucks the smear of blood from his fingertip. Smooths his shirt and forces his face into a mask of contentment. Pretend to be happy. Don't let him know. Be happy, be happy, pretend to be happy.

When he pulls the door open, Dean is waiting on the other side to shove his clothes into a bag.

"You look better, Cas."

Dean smiles, wide and honest, and Castiel hates it.

He hates it because he wants it. He wants it so much but he knows he doesn't deserve that smile. He doesn't deserve the hand that squeezes his shoulder as he sits down to pull on his shoes. He doesn't deserve the way it lingers, telling him he's home, telling him he's safe.

He doesn't deserve to feel so safe.

He doesn't deserve the love that rolls off of Dean in waves and wraps around him as if his wings were still whole, but it's there, it's there, and he'll take it.

But only because Dean deserves to give it. Only for Dean. Only for Dean.

He looks at the clear green eyes and there are no shadows. He looks at the clear green eyes and he smiles.

"I feel better," he lies, and he hates himself.