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(soon enough I'll lie by myself)

Castiel waits until the Winchesters are five hundred miles from Kripke's Hollow before he returns to Dean.

Dean is sitting at a table too small for him, much less his brother, and staring at the computer. His intensity brightens the air around him. Castiel can see in him a man who might lead an army willingly to its end. He is so involved in his research that he is touch-typing. During his period of amnesia, he'd spent most of his days typing reports at his desk, and when his memories returned he had deliberately—one might say, defiantly—gone back to a clumsy four-fingered strategy. But now the desire for information has overwhelmed his reluctance to use his skills.

Castiel wonders if it is appropriate for an angel to know so much about what a human does, and why.

He has manifested in the center of the room, standing not far from the bed nearest Dean. The motel room's décor is less ugly than many he has seen over the past few months, but it is hardly attractive. Castiel does not understand why humans seem content to live in such unharmonious situations. Would it have been that much more difficult to make the colors less clotted, the patterns less twisted?

"Where is your brother, Dean?" he asks.

Dean jumps up, but corrects his grab for his gun before his hand moves more than an inch.

Dean will never give Cain's answer. Castiel has considered whether Dean would be better off if he did so. Apocalypse aside, it is so difficult to imagine Dean without his devotion to Sam that the hypothetical is essentially meaningless. "He's out," Dean growls at last. His eyes dart away from Castiel's scrutiny. He is ashamed: of his brother, of his inability to control his brother, of his inability to choose loyalty to Sam sufficiently to shrug off Castiel's remonstrances.

"Good," Castiel says.

Dean jerks in surprise, his brows rising in a way that reminds Castiel of birds taking flight. He recovers, smoothing his hand nervously over his mouth and reorienting his belligerence. "Anything you've got to say to me—"

Castiel tilts his head. "When will I earn your trust, Dean? Will you require me to Fall?"

Dean struggles in silence for a minute. It is nothing for Castiel to wait, but Dean's face is tight with discomfort. He blinks rapidly and his mouth twitches, half-formed protests discarded before they can be spoken. Even when he tries to close himself off, Dean is so open. His brother considers it a weakness, which is perhaps the primary reason that Castiel does not expect this cycle to end well for Sam. At last, Dean sighs. "You told me how to save Sam from Lilith. I—I appreciate that."

Castiel shifts his weight, coming half a step closer. "Is that all that you feel for me?"

And Dean's earlier shock is a faded echo of his stunned expression now, as if Castiel has knocked his world flat and built it up into a completely new configuration.

Castiel is going to have to do the hard work here. It is not work to which he is accustomed, but he has an idea of what is necessary. "I would like very much to know that you … return my regard."

Dean's mouth opens, but no sound comes out. He is like a statue formed from precious metals; he is like a stag, fierce and hunted, at bay on a hillside. He is something Castiel had never before considered. (Angels do not imagine. Or so Castiel had always assumed, until recently.)

"Does this body repulse you so?" Castiel asks. "You have only touched women since your return, but other than that the variety has been quite extensive."

"Excuse me?" Dean chokes, prodded into a reaction at last, if not a very useful reaction. His hands clench and then release, as if he is too agitated to bear the touch of his own fingers. He takes fast, shallow breaths. His pupils dilate; his irises are as green as young figs.

"I am asking," Castiel says, "if you find me attractive. I would like to know you, Dean." The sense is archaic, but Dean's education is not nearly as limited as he likes to pretend.

True to form, Dean does not miss Castiel's meaning. His eyes darken and he gulps air. "Why—I mean, Anna said you guys don't. Do you?" He finishes with his voice pitched higher than Castiel has heard before.

Once more, Castiel regrets the extent of Anna's involvement. She was not sent for Dean, and yet she cleaved to him, as if drawn by his own rebellions. She stokes Castiel's uncertainties and lingers in Dean's mind. At this moment, he is not sure which is more difficult.

"It is not common," he concedes. "My desire is not rooted in the physical. But I would share with you the pleasures of which God made you capable."

"Cas," Dean says, faintly shocked, "are you saying you want me for my mind?"

Castiel sighs, knowing that Dean will take it as a sign of humor. "If it pleases you to think of it in that way."

But Dean's half-amazed leer drops away as his instinctive flippancy gives way to real thought. Expressions ripple across his face, pleasure and a hint of triumph, followed immediately by pain. "Why would you want—I mean, you saw me. What I did."

In Hell, he means. There was a part of Dean that Castiel was unable to bring out of Hell, a part of him that hangs there at this very moment, and Castiel has never more fully appreciated the limits of his power.

"I saw." Castiel admits it freely, because he has no reason to deny it. "And I saw you suffer for decades. I saw you here, and in your mother's eyes, and in your father's. I have seen you, Dean, and you are a righteous man. You are why I fight."

Dean turns his head, not realizing that at this angle his unshed tears make his eyes gleam more brightly. Castiel imagines how his tears would slip down his cheeks, salt like blood, like the ocean, all the world curled up in each droplet. He can sense the heat of Dean's skin. This is the emotion that drove Adam and Eve to cover their bodies, and Dean has more reason to be ashamed than the first humans did. But he also may be redeemed. Castiel steps closer. Dean trembles but does not move back.

When Castiel kisses him, the contact is not like any other Castiel has had. In Hell, he gripped Dean's soul, and it was intimate yet clinical. Castiel was a surgeon then, cutting through blood and bone. This is almost awkward, dry skin against dry skin. Dean's eyes meet Castiel's for one frozen moment, then snap closed. So close, Castiel can see the freckles across his cheeks, the fine lines at the corners of his eyes, every eyelash. It is almost, Castiel thinks, as God must see the world, each detail crisp and vital.

Dean's mouth opens, still hesitant. He tastes sharp—not bloody, but strong; Castiel thinks of silver knives and the snap of flame.

Dean pushes him back, but curls his fists in Castiel's coat at the same time, so that it is not a rejection. Dean is breathing heavily. For the first time, his face shows the same wonder that Castiel's host expressed when Castiel came to ask for the sacrifice of his body. "Uh. I know I probably seem, you know, pretty wild from an angel's-eye view. But—I never. With a guy." His hesitation now comes not from the depths of his sin, but only from his uncertainty.

Castiel smiles and settles his hands on Dean's shoulders, tilting his head just enough that Dean will be sure of his good humor. "Nor have I," he points out. "Perhaps we can … assist each other."

"Oh, I can help you out, all right," Dean says immediately, his bragadoccio reasserting itself, as comforting to him as his amulet and his father's car. Castiel is grateful for Dean's resilience. And then, when Dean pulls him down to the bed where Dean was not sleeping, Castiel finds that Dean is entirely correct.

****

Afterwards, Dean watches Castiel resume all the layers, including the trenchcoat. Castiel has been long enough in this host now, watching humans go about their lives, that he understands why Dean's mouth quirks up when Castiel shakes out the wrinkles and settles the coat back over his shoulders. Still, the host had the coat when he offered himself to the Lord, and Castiel finds he rather likes Dean's amusement. His form is far from angelic, but it is part of him now.

"So, uh," Dean says, his hands twisting in the sheets. He has managed to cover his nakedness, moving with careful casualness. His desire to hide his own self-consciousness sends a pulse of something elusive through Castiel. "Was that—what you expected?"

Castiel lets his eyes run over Dean's body until Dean squares his shoulders, brings his chin up, and glares back. Dean's defiance—for that is what it is, even if Dean himself could not say what specifically he was defying—is delightful, and Castiel is not certain what it means that even in the midst of a war he can experience delight. "I did not know what to expect," Castiel tells him. "You are quite talented, and your body is most pleasing to touch. But most of all, I wanted—I want—to be close to you."

Dean throws back the mussed sheets and swiftly pulls on his jeans, his eyes never leaving Castiel. He rubs his hand through his hair and sighs. "This isn't gonna get you in trouble, is it? I guess maybe the guy-on-guy thing doesn't really apply to you, but—" Dean stumbles to a halt, the smooth planes of his face flushed, his eyes heavy-lidded.

Castiel has never made many distinctions between humans, but he recognizes beauty when he sees it. Dean's vulnerability invites many things. Alastair responded with torment. Castiel, by contrast, does not wish Dean to suffer because of him.

Castiel shapes his mouth into a slight smile. "I have already risked much for you, Dean. I will risk more."

Dean swallows. He is shaking just a bit. "I don't," he tries, then scrubs angrily at his mouth (Castiel remembers its softness, its heat). "I can't. Cas, I'm—I'm barely holding it together. I don't know what this is."

Castiel steps close enough to take Dean's hands in his own. "It is love, Dean," he says, knowing that Dean can only hear this claim with terror.

Dean turns his head and jerks back, but Castiel refuses to let him go. Dean is embarrassed: Dean will use strangers for sex, he will lie to them as easily as breathing, he will steal and destroy valuable property, and he will kill humans if his own family is threatened, but he is ashamed to think that he has won an angel's heart without reciprocating.

Dean does not understand that Castiel has long experience with unequal love. There is no equivalence with God.

"I can help you," Castiel offers. "If you let me, I will help you." Dean is still tugging in a vain attempt to free his hands; Castiel releases him only long enough to put his hands on Dean's hips and pull him into a closer embrace. Dean's back is hot under Castiel's fingers, sweat-sticky and so utterly unangelic that Castiel is almost distracted from his purpose.

"Help me what?" Dean asks into Castiel's shoulder, his voice shot through with all the helpless anger of watching his brother fade slowly into darkness.

This is not, as Dean would say, fun and games. Castiel cannot afford to indulge himself, no matter how fascinating he might find earthly sensations. "I do not yet know," Castiel tells him. "But together, we can decide. We can save Sam from all those—all those—who would use him in their plans."

Dean breathes in, out. His shoulders shake, weariness and something else. Castiel believes it may be relief, though Dean himself will be unable to admit to any such emotion. "Yeah," he says. "I—that'd be good."

They are kissing. Physical proof of a bargain is a demonic ritual, not an angelic one; a medieval holdover from a time when symbolism was reality. Nonetheless Castiel is pleased that Dean initiated this. Dean needs to be part of something larger than himself. He needs a comrade in arms.

Castiel slides his hands up; to touch Dean's naked back is sexual, but to cup his face between Castiel's palms gives a different message. Invisible, Castiel's wings wrap around them both, veiling Dean from the kind of Sight that doesn't require physical presence. Off with his demon lover, Sam will sense that something has changed, though Castiel thinks he will not understand until Dean himself admits it to him.

Dean pulls back, but Castiel keeps his hands on Dean's cheeks, cradling him as gently as Dean will allow. Dean's skin is warm and stubbled against his palms. His lips are parted, still wet and flushed with kisses. His eyes are dew-bright, as if Castiel brought the sunrise.

"Be of good comfort," Castiel tells him, knowing that his influence over Dean is still so limited that this is hope rather than instruction. "I must go." He does not release Dean.

"Don't stay gone too long," Dean says as Castiel's thumbs trace the smile lines around his mouth, faint but deepening.

"Dean," Castiel says, and pulls Dean forward for one more quick brush of lips, "I am incapable of staying away from you."

When Castiel leaves, Dean has the fingertips of one hand pressed against his mouth. He is smiling softly, as if he does not even know he is doing so.

****

"This would have been easier with a female host," Castiel says to Zachariah in the empty room where he has been summoned.

"Yes, well," Zachariah says, meeting Castiel's eyes easily. "Who knew that Dean Winchester would be so … resistant to guidance? He began such a good soldier."

Castiel does not let his host's face change, but something twists low in what might be his body. He wishes—he wishes Zachariah would not speak of Dean in such a manner. Castiel's reaction does not rise to the level of disobedience, he thinks. Zachariah is his commander, but his is not the Word.

"Castiel," Zachariah says, a question, an order.

"Yes?" he asks his superior. He does not need to use human words of hierarchy. They both know where they stand.

"Would you have done this—would you have taken Dean Winchester in your arms, kissed him with the kisses of your mouth, if you had not been told to do so? If you had free will?" Zachariah's tone is one of idle curiosity. In six thousand years, Castiel has never known anything about Zachariah to be idle.

Castiel closes his eyes, lets himself consider the question. What would it be like, to be free? To take, or refuse, another body, fragile and yielding and so particular in its pleasure, perhaps even in its love. He knows how that clash of limb on limb feels, now. But he does not know how it would feel to choose. To desire to desire, one must already feel desire. Castiel does not understand how Anna, how Lucifer, fell. He is beginning to suspect that there is no fall, just a sudden change of state, Hell as Heaven's afterimage. Blink and the world will be different. But if that is true, then he has a terrible suspicion: he will never see the precipice coming.

When he looks up again, Zachariah's pleasant demeanor has hardened just a bit, a glassy sheen over that welcoming smile. "I do not know how to answer your question," Castiel admits. Free will does not seem to suit humans very well, and indeed he and Zachariah have been hounding Dean to his destiny as if free will were merely an inconvenience. This angelic harrying smacks of hypocrisy, and is another piece of the puzzle Castiel is assembling. The puzzle is called Doubt.

Zachariah snorts, and Castiel reminds himself that even doubt must wait its turn. "I'm very glad to hear you say that," Zachariah says, with as much gentleness as a higher angel may have. "We have lost too many of our own already. You push, Castiel, with your hints, your little games with prophets. Be mindful of how little you know of the greater design."

Castiel bows his head. It occurs to him that Zachariah may truly not understand what has driven so many angels to Fall. Anna was perfectly mindful of her ignorance. If she were here, she would ask: what proof does Zachariah have that he knows more, or that there is more to know?

"Will I be required to … continue, with Dean?" Castiel asks without raising his gaze. The floor between them is dirty and scraped. Worn down, like so much of this world.

He hears the smile in Zachariah's voice. "He will expect it, don't you think?"

Castiel does not think. Dean is not like other humans. If nothing else, forty years in Hell have seen to that. "Am I to initiate? Or to wait?" He turns to one side and sees empty spaces where posters used to hang, peeling paint, brown water stains low on the wall.

The air in the room rustles; Zachariah is shaking out his wings. Dust tickles Castiel's nose, unpleasant. His host would have sneezed, if his host had any involuntary functions remaining. "Do as you think best, as long as you keep his attention. It may come down to seconds. We need all the leverage we can get."

Castiel nods, unnecessarily. Is this pity, this thought that Dean deserves something more true? But of course where there is destiny, desert may be an empty conceit. (Anna seemed to think that Dean was worthy, though what it means to be worthy of the attentions of a fallen angel is not entirely clear to Castiel. Perhaps, if they survive Lilith's assaults, he will consider the matter further.)

Zachariah is gone. Castiel can sense his movement away through the ether, as humans cannot.

Castiel will return to Dean. He will do as he is required to do.

For now.

END

(I can see him crossing his perfection with deception, like the angels do)

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