SPN Fic: Make the Man (Castiel/Dean Smith)
Title: Make the Man
Pairing: Castiel/Dean Smith (Dean/Castiel)
Spoilers: Let’s say to the end of the season to be safe, though the focus is 4x17
Length: ~9,000 words
Summary: He realized he was attempting a level of subterfuge for which he was unprepared. It was one thing to walk among humans. It was quite another to pretend to be one.
Author’s Note: Tremendous thanks to serialkarma, wychwood, bmouse, siriaeve, & ebrooklynw for their patience and effort in helping me revise this story. Some stories take a village; this one took a small city. Thanks, guys!
Make the Man
This was not his assignment. It had not been his idea and he had registered his disapproval. “Noted,” Zachariah had said. “Nevertheless, we will proceed as planned.”
It was not for Castiel to argue. “Then I will go to them now,” he said, because as far as he was concerned, Dean was still his charge.
But, “No,” said Zachariah firmly. “I’ll handle it.”
So for the second time, Castiel found himself having to cede his responsibilities to another. It was not his place, but he still considered it to be a mistake. He knew Dean—which meant he knew best how to deal with him. It was unfortunate that Castiel’s superiors didn’t see the obvious truth to this. Or that they, perhaps, no longer trusted Castiel’s judgment.
His judgment told him that it would be wrong to abandon the Winchesters, abandon Dean, simply because they were currently under Zachariah’s care. Zachariah had told him he was handling it—and had, Castiel knew, personally overseen the selection and the construction of the false memories the brothers had been given—but that didn’t mean Castiel couldn’t check in from time to time. It had not been forbidden.
So on the third night of Dean Winchester’s existence as Dean Smith, Castiel willed himself to his side. Opened his vessel’s eyes and blinked at the smoky interior of the bar he found himself in. There was Dean, looking smaller and more fragile than usual in a sleek, dark-colored suit. He also looked out of place, uncomfortable in his surroundings—eyes darting periodically around the room like he was afraid of encountering someone or something. His nervousness, Castiel observed, made him stick out among all these other men who appeared to be relaxing and enjoying themselves. “Do you have any light beer?” Castiel heard him ask the bartender, who responded with a look that suggested the bartender thought Dean had made a poor attempt to be humorous. Castiel stared at the tips of Dean’s ears as they blushed pink. “Just give me a seltzer water,” he mumbled, and peeled several bills out of a large silver clip.
It was odd: Dean, the real Dean, blended in almost anywhere, made himself at home with almost anyone. Castiel was…disturbed to find him looking so lost and out of place. In some way, it was almost as bad as seeing him beaten and broken in a hospital bed.
No, Castiel did not approve of this plan. But it was too late. There was nothing he could do now, nothing but watch and wait for the thing to reach its natural conclusion.
Except Dean was staring at him.
Their eyes caught and held. Perhaps Dean had sensed him somehow. More likely, he had felt the psychic weight of Castiel’s own stare, had turned while Castiel was lost in thought, and had seen what he took to be a man, a stranger to him, watching his every move. It was a mistake, an error Castiel should not have made, but he found it hard to regret now. Now that he had an excuse to talk to him.
“Do I know you?” Dean’s wariness seemed grounded by a different type of caution than it usually contained. Nevertheless, his eyebrow quirked up in a familiar arch. He looked younger, more boyish in the honey-yellow light, his cheeks shaved smooth.
Castiel was made uncomfortable by outright lies, but was well-versed in the art of half-truths. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You remind me of someone.”
“Oh yeah?” Dean’s mouth twitched. He took a sip of his drink, swallowed seemingly without pleasure. Castiel felt a strange sense of loss at the absence of the man’s usual rapturous reactions to food and drink. He watched as Dean’s tongue slipped out of his mouth and moistened his lips. Castiel measured in heartbeats the time Dean seemed to be thinking. One, two, then a decision. “Can I buy you a drink?”
It would be easier to continue this conversation if he acquiesced. “I’ll have what you’re having,” he tried. To his surprise, a flash of disappointment flickered across Dean’s features. “Actually,” Castiel said quickly, struck suddenly by an inspiration. He asked instead for Dean’s favorite brand of beer.
Dean did not remark on the choice, but simply procured the bottle. When he passed it to Castiel, their fingers brushed with a deliberateness Castiel couldn’t evaluate to his satisfaction. Drops of perspiration slid down the glass and pooled against Castiel’s hand. He took a sip because to do so was customary. He could identify the flavors on his tongue but they meant nothing to him.
He realized he was attempting a level of subterfuge for which he was unprepared. It was one thing to walk among humans. It was quite another to pretend to be one.
What should he do next? What was he hoping to achieve with this meeting? He wanted, he supposed, reassurance that Dean was all right, that Zachariah’s little game was not affecting him too aversely. Such topics were not easily broached, however, especially not when he was unfamiliar to Dean, a stranger. Therefore, he must cease to be a stranger. He would introduce himself.
“My name is Castiel,” he said, and immediately felt foolish as Dean’s mouth screwed up into a puzzled, “Huh?”
“Cas Till,” he repeated as if Dean had simply misheard him. “You may call me Cas,” he added, and then found himself smiling without having to will it: it amused him to retroactively give Dean permission for such a thing.
Dean grinned back at him. “Nice to meet you, Cas. I’m Dean.”
Dean reached out a hand, a starched white cuff sliding out from underneath the jacket’s fine linen sleeve. Castiel pressed his hand to Dean’s in the customary manner and managed not to pull away when he felt the false smoothness of Dean’s palm, the callus only at the joint that held a pen. Alive, he had never actually touched Dean there, but he knew him. He had wed the flesh to the bone. It had been smooth then, too, but it had not stayed that way. For Dean to be Dean, it could not stay that way. Castiel knew that.
Zachariah must know it, too. Castiel did not understand why his superior thought that the secret to making Dean what he must be lay in making him what he was not.
Dean was watching him. Castiel realized he had been holding Dean’s hand too long, and slowly loosened his grip. He could sense Dean evaluating again, weighing variables. That was troubling, too: that Dean, who relied so much on instinct, should be made hesitant.
Finally, Dean took a long sip of his drink and set it down on the bar. “You know, I’m new in town,” he said with a casualness that seemed forced. “I just moved into my new place two days ago. I’d love to get a second opinion on the whole set-up.”
“You’re inviting me to view your place of residence?”
Dean’s face remained resolutely neutral. “That’s right.”
“I would like that,” Castiel said, although he suspected he would not. He already knew that there would be nothing of Dean there. And that, he realized, was what he wanted: some reassurance that the Dean he had saved from the pit, that he had come to know these past months, was not gone completely.
It was still his mission to defend Dean, to set him on his path. This false Dean whom Zachariah had created could never do what was required of him. Therefore, it would not be disobedient to seek to protect his true charge even as he lay buried inside this illusion. Perhaps it was more necessary now than ever.
He followed Dean from the bar. Two men were blocking the entrance, pressed together like they were trying to become one being. Dean’s eyes remained fixed firmly forward as he pushed past them. On the drive back to his apartment, he hardly said a word.
Once they were inside, however—inside a large, almost empty space of glass and chrome—he was nothing but chatter. He walked Castiel around the living room and kitchen, pointing out features and explaining why he had selected them, the advantages and comforts they provided. Castiel could imagine him doing something similar with his car—his real car, the one he had labored over with his own two hands. When Castiel sat in the Impala he could feel Dean’s love for it—ridiculous and human as it was to love an inanimate object, a machine. But this place felt of nothing. Castiel wondered how much time Zachariah had spent selecting it, choosing this cold setting and planting Dean here. He wondered what Zachariah had been thinking when he packed Dean’s closet full of clothes like the ones he was currently wearing: slick businessman’s suits that could never survive being splattered with blood or stained with automotive grease; shirts with tight collars; suspenders that roped Dean in and tied him down. Castiel had never given the clothing humans chose to adorn themselves much thought, but he realized he had let his impressions of Dean become colored by what Dean chose to wear day-to-day, by what those items said about him—or what Dean wanted them to say. Castiel could guess Dean’s reaction to his current surroundings, to those clothes on his back, and he found he shared Dean’s—the true Dean’s—displeasure.
“So,” said the Dean in front of him, coming to a halt beside a silver latte machine, “what do you think?”
“I don’t like those clothes on you,” Castiel said honestly.
It was not an appropriate thing to say, but Dean did not seem to take offense. Instead an expression crossed his face that looked to Castiel like pure relief. It was only there for a second; then Dean was grinning and coming toward him. He reached out and wrapped his hand around the tie Castiel wore.
“I’m pretty sick of these, too,” he said, tugging.
The motion made Castiel want to raise his head. He raised it, and then Dean swooped down, pressing his lips against Castiel’s. Castiel let out a tiny huff of surprise: he needed to think quickly. He had clearly misread the situation—he could see it now, blindingly obvious. Dean thought Castiel had been responding to his advances as a potential sexual partner. That was why he had trusted him, why he had invited him into his apartment, into his life. If Castiel wished to remain here…well. The answer was obvious now, too. He kissed Dean back.
Dean’s mouth opened eagerly under his. This body is a tool, Castiel reminded himself. Dean had seized the back of his neck, was drawing his nails against the short hairs there. This is a function like any other. Dean Winchester had needed a confidant, a friend, and Castiel had found it surprisingly easy to become those things. Dean Smith, apparently, needed a lover. If it meant fulfilling what he saw as his duty, his true duty, Castiel could be that, too.
He let Dean guide him toward the bedroom and nodded when Dean demanded, huskily, “This was why you were watching me, huh? I could tell when I saw you watching me.” Nodded and said, “Yes, Dean,” between breaths that were becoming more like gasps. It wasn’t even fully a lie.
Castiel’s back hit the bed. Dean came down on top of him. He took one of Castiel’s hands and moved it to the knot of silk around his neck. “There. You wanted it gone so badly. Have at it.”
Castiel could feel Dean’s pulse point, the blood racing through his jugular. The band of fabric seemed cruelly constricting. With a vehemence that surprised him, he worked his fingers into the knot and tugged it loose. It was difficult: the presence of Dean’s hands stroking his sides, of Dean touching him, surprisingly distracting. He longed to make the clothes vanish from Dean’s body; he could do it with a thought. Or rather, Castiel the angel could, but Cas Till, the man Dean had trusted and taken to his bed, would have to make do with these awkward, stumbling fingers. Fingers that scrambled to undo buttons and push heavy fabric off Dean’s shoulders. Fingers that couldn’t resist an experimental pluck at the elastic of Dean’s suspenders, that felt the echo of his laughter through his warm skin.
Dean’s chest, when he freed it, was as smooth as it had been when Castiel had first woven the strands of skin together over his ribs. Smoother still: his tattoo was missing, the tattoo that Castiel had carefully left, knowing it to be a mark of protection, of who Dean was. Castiel felt his own chest constrict as he roughly pulled the shirt off Dean’s shoulders: the left consisted of the same soft, untouched flesh as the right. Castiel pressed a hand to the empty skin and then, on impulse, followed with his lips. With even such primitive defenses gone—with his mark, his entire presence in Dean’s life erased—how else could he keep him safe?
The thought distracted him; he was barely aware as Dean drove his fingers deep into Castiel’s hair and pushed him downward until his mouth was even with Dean’s nipple. Just as he had sampled the beer, Castiel did the expected thing and tasted what was put in front of him. The flavor still meant nothing, but Castiel could feel the way Dean shuddered and bucked, and the way Dean cleaved to him when he tried again with more tongue, with a slight scrape of teeth.
He was making noises, he realized: both of them were, groans and pants that seemed to be coming out with no premeditation on either of their parts. Then something that was almost a growl ripped its way out of Dean’s lips and he pushed Castiel back and began tearing at his clothes. “Only fair,” he said, which Castiel really couldn’t argue with.
Castiel lay there while Dean stripped him bare, watching Dean react to what was revealed. Dean looked pleased with what he found, his pupils blown, his hands greedy. Castiel realized, with the first dull stirrings of curiosity, that he barely knew what this form looked like himself. He knew its blood, knew the liquid magic of its veins, but he didn’t know his own (borrowed) belly button until Dean licked it; didn’t know the inside of his thigh until Dean found his way there, until he blessed it with his mouth. He didn’t know his toes until he felt them curl.
It was just sex, Castiel knew. What was sex to an angel? What they were doing could not even lead to procreation. It was an essentially pointless act, one of the many meaningless things with which humans chose to fill their days, their brief lives. Yet still he found himself clutching Dean’s sweaty back, whispering Dean’s name over and over in the dark.
Still he found himself trying to find something of Dean Winchester in those wide, intent eyes, that familiar green gaze that he sought to hold even as he felt his human vessel shake, felt it seize up and come apart like it was dying—even then he tried to hold fast to this connection, this bastardized communion between them, the image burning itself into his mind: Dean drawing a thumb wet with their consummation down the line of Castiel’s cheek and over his swollen lips.
Sometimes Castiel, despite all the careful reserve that should have been second nature—sometimes he got carried away. Perhaps this was why his superiors were becoming concerned…
Castiel jolted back to full consciousness. He had been…sleeping. He could not remember entering the state, merely lying beside Dean, the act completed, and thinking that now, now should be the time to talk to him, to use this hard-won intimacy to its proper purpose. Instead he had fallen asleep. He had not known he could do that.
But it was morning now, light drifting in through the blinds and falling across the bed that was currently empty save for Castiel. He felt a sense of loss: Dean was gone, he had left him. Of course, he had simply gone to work, where Zachariah was now surely watching over him. For what that was worth.
Much more important was the fact that Castiel had not accomplished his objective. He was not convinced that Dean was all right—in fact, it seemed more likely than ever that he was not. The Dean he knew was proud of his conquests; he did not lurk awkwardly in bars, drinking soda water, then sneak lovers home and leave the next morning without a word. It wasn’t right for him to be this way. Castiel couldn’t just wash his hands of it.
He rose naked from between the sheets and was fully dressed before his feet touched the floor. There was only one thing to do. He would have to try again that night.
Not long before Dean was due to get off work, Castiel realized he had forgotten something important about passing as human: customarily, human beings of the type he was pretending to be did not wear the same outfit two days in a row. So as not to arouse suspicion, he would have to change his clothes. This would not be difficult: the items clothing his vessel could become anything he wanted with little more effort than it took to mend holes in the fabric or wash away blood stains. No, the real problem was his lack of knowledge—the vast variety of human sartorial styles confounded him. Better to work from a template, and so, inspired, he went to where Zachariah had hidden the Impala and found Dean’s bag of clothes. Without adjustment, they already almost fit, and it took but another thought to shrink them at the shoulders and hips, make them mold to him like a second skin.
He flew back to Dean Smith’s apartment, doubly pleased: not only would this disguise allay suspicions, it might also, he hoped, serve to remind Dean of who he truly was.
Unfortunately, Dean was not nearly so pleased to see him. “You’re still here?” he asked, stopping at the bottom of the front steps and giving Castiel a look that on his true self would have meant he was reaching for a weapon. “Have you been here all day?”
“I left. Then I came back.” Realizing that this simple statement of fact did not constitute a sufficient explanation for his behavior, Castiel added, “I wanted to see you again.”
“Yeah, the creepy stalker act kind of gave me a clue.”
Dean still did not look happy to see him. Dean frequently did not look happy to see him, but under the parameters of this new relationship between them, he had a choice in the matter. An ordinary man like Cas Till could be rejected.
“I’m sorry,” Castiel said, looking down at Dean’s boots on his vessel’s feet. “I’m not used to…”
He trailed off; Dean was giving him a hard, evaluating look. He shifted his grip on his briefcase and released a long breath. “Yeah, well, there I get you. The bar scene’s not really my thing.” Slowly, he climbed the steps until they were together on the stoop, standing eye to eye.
Dean seemed to be warming to him again. Castiel flipped through his mental scrapbook of typical human interactions, trying to find something that could help reestablish the previously achieved level of intimacy between them. “Perhaps I could make it up to you,” he tried. “Could I take you to dinner?”
“Dinner?” Dean said. There was a dark note underscoring his tone. Castiel had misstepped, though he couldn’t see how.
“We could get burgers?” he tried again.
“I don’t eat meat.” Dean’s face was closed off once more.
“Oh,” said Castiel. He felt an unpleasant sensation in the pit of his vessel’s stomach, an angry hardness. With perfect clarity, he could picture Dean licking the grease off of paper wrappers, lapping up ketchup and melted cheese with his tongue, enjoying one of his few pleasures. Was it really gluttony if it seemed so hard-won?
Something, he wasn’t sure what, must have shown on his face, because Dean’s own expression suddenly shifted. “You know, fuck it. I’ll take a repeat of last night.” A flicker of humor, of something Castiel recognized, crossed Dean’s features. “Since you’re here.”
“I think I could do that,” Castiel admitted.
Indeed, he could. Twice.
He managed not to fall asleep immediately afterward this time. He lay next to Dean feeling loose-limbed and sated, the sense of peace coursing through him tied oddly to the physical. “I think,” he said finally, “that I am coming to understand why hu—why people do this.”
Dean’s chin was pointed toward the ceiling, his eyes wide and staring like he was contemplating the shadows there. “Glad to hear I’m worth the risk.”
“Risk?” They were pressed side to side, but Castiel’s fingers still twitched, as if they had not yet had their fill of the man beside him.
Dean’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “You know. ‘A man in my position…’” He sounded like he was quoting someone or something. Something, no doubt, that Zachariah had put in his head, planted there like a smothering weed.
“Ah. My relationship with my superiors can also be…difficult.”
Dean let out a weary breath, then seemed to pause midway through a sigh as a thought struck him. He rolled, propping himself up on one elbow. His fingers played idly with the sheets where they pooled at Castiel’s hips. “You don’t have to tell me, but…what exactly do you do? Yesterday I would have said CPA, CMA, but today…”
It took Castiel a minute. “You are referring to the discrepancy in my manner of dress,” he settled on.
Dean’s expression suggested that he was confused, but not unpleasantly so. “You’re one big discrepancy, I’m thinking.”
Castiel imagined Zachariah or any of his other brothers seeing him as he was now. He replaced the frisson of fear he felt with a sense of certainty that he was doing his duty as best as he was able. If perhaps in an unorthodox manner.
“You may be right,” he started to admit, but was interrupted by a rumbling noise from the direction of his midsection.
Dean laughed as Castiel stared down at himself, puzzled. “Maybe you shouldn’t have let me talk you out of that burger, huh?” With a sudden burst of speed and determination, he leaned over and gave Castiel a firm kiss. “Come on. I’ll let you buy me a salad.”
He leapt out of bed and Castiel was pleased at the sight of that lean body once again filled with energy and vigor. It pleased him less to watch Dean don the same suit pants Castiel had so recently stripped him of, to pluck his pale blue dress shirt off the floor and carefully redo the buttons. At least he left the tie where it was.
Watching Dean, Castiel slid out of bed and reached for his jeans. He was reminded of a human expression: I’m just like anyone else. I put my pants on one leg at a time. The thought amused him. How ordinary: the buttoning of a fly, the tying of a shoe. Certainly actions with which no angel should have to trifle itself. And yet Castiel found the whole production strangely soothing. Perhaps because it was Dean he was doing it with.
Dean, who was currently staring intently into a mirror, attempting to tame his hair, make it lie flat and even on his head. Another action, perfectly ordinary, but this—this bothered him. He thought Dean was better than this. And that thought was wrong, was something his superiors should be concerned with, that should concern Castiel. Dean was important because of his role in preventing the apocalypse, but he was not inherently more precious than any other human. They were all God’s creatures. Castiel should not allow one human’s likes and dislikes, his arbitrary preferences, to rub off on him or influence his view of creation. Castiel should not prefer one human over another. Over all others.
He knew this. And yet still he found himself saying, “Leave it.”
In the mirror, Dean quirked an eyebrow at him. “It looks better when it lies straight.” A slightly wicked look came into his eyes. “We can mess yours up, though,” he added, turning around and grabbing Castiel by the collar of his (Dean’s—it was still Dean’s) leather coat. He pulled him close; Castiel could feel his breath warm on his neck, smell the heady scent of him, still pungent with sweat and the aftereffects of their coupling. “You can be my bit of rough,” Dean whispered in Castiel’s ear, and for a while Castiel forgot about the mission, about helping Dean remember he was really Dean. For a while he might have even forgotten himself.
Eventually, they did make it out of the apartment, to a neon-lit diner that Castiel picked because it seemed like the kind of place the Winchesters would have chosen. Dean Smith eyed the menu with distaste. When the waitress appeared, he ordered a salad without half of the ingredients it promised to include and another half again on the side. The waitress rolled her eyes, then turned to Castiel. “And you?”
Castiel ordered the double bacon cheeseburger, because that was what Dean—the real Dean—picked 87.6 percent of the time. “With fries, please,” he added. “And a glass of milk. And a piece of cherry pie.”
When the waitress finished scribbling and chuckling to herself and walked away, Castiel turned back to Dean, feeling rather satisfied with himself. Dean was looking at him with an expression of naked horror on his face. “I think I’m going to need to do a cleanse just from sitting with you.”
Castiel wondered if this obsession with cleanses was Zachariah’s none-too-subtle commentary on the state of Dean’s soul. “You’re fine the way you are, Dean.” He stared at the curve of Dean’s mouth. “Very fine,” he found himself adding.
Dean smiled, but only for half a second. “Only because I take care of myself and regularly do cleanses.”
It was pointless to argue. “Seriously, what do you do that you’re able to eat like that?” Dean asked.
Castiel froze with a thousand half-truths perched on his tongue. I’m an angel of the Lord, he thought, and remembered telling Dean—remembered the look on his face. That Dean, the real Dean who had seen the darkest parts of the way the world worked. I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition.
“I’m a hunter,” he said. It sounded almost like truth.
But still Dean’s face screwed up in confusion. “You mean like a headhunter?”
“Ah…” said Castiel, and was promptly saved by the arrival of the food. Dean’s salad looked limp and cheerless under the harsh florescent lights, but the plate the waitress set in front of Castiel smelled amazing. “Perhaps you will at least try a fry?”
“Haha, no thanks.” Dean waved him away with an air of staunch discipline. At least what he was eating was healthy, Castiel supposed, but his meal seemed so pitiful in comparison. What a shame, when there existed such bounty, to turn away from it…
He shouldn’t turn away from it; he couldn’t, now—Dean was watching him out of the corner of his eye, expecting him to eat. Castiel picked up the burger with both hands—he needed both—and lifted it to his lips. Perhaps if Dean saw him enjoying it, he would remember his own enjoyment—he would feel it somehow, down deep, beneath what Zachariah had done. Therefore, Castiel must do his best to mimic sensations of pleasure.
A bite, then: sinking his vessel’s teeth into the soft bun, the crispy bacon, the tender, juicy beef. Melted cheese, grease, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and sauce mingled on his tongue. It was…incredible. Castiel almost dropped the burger, he was so overcome: not only did the interplay of flavors electrify his tastebuds, but after several bites, he began to feel the unpleasant tightness in his vessel’s stomach ease. Perhaps all the food he had tried before had simply been inadequate when compared to this fine establishment’s fare? He needed to evaluate further by eating more of the fries.
He had just scooped four into his mouth when he realized Dean was staring at him. “Man, you are a demon.”
Castiel’s appetite momentarily fled. “What?”
But Dean laughed. “Ordering all that stuff, eating it and making porn noises, tempting me…” Dean reached a hand out across the table, then seemed to catch himself and pulled back. “Who are you?”
Castiel swallowed. “I’m just a man,” he said.
For a dangerous moment, he wished it were true.
“Some guy hit on me in the elevator yesterday,” Dean said.
They were sitting in his living room. Dean had taken a mountain of work home, but his tie was hanging loose around his neck and more and more frequently his gaze was sliding away from his spreadsheets and his foot was slipping under the coffee table to run up Castiel’s calf. There was a fire burning in the fireplace, making the room pleasantly warm. Castiel was barefoot. He was wearing one of Dean’s—the real Dean’s—flannel shirts and a pair of his more threadbare jeans; he felt comfortable and content. The voices of his brothers and sisters were like a song being played on a distant radio: the melody faintly audible but the lyrics all but indistinguishable.
“Oh?” he said. He had taken a book off Dean’s nightstand but he wasn’t reading it. He twisted one of Dean’s rings around on his finger.
“He used your line, actually,” Dean said with a laugh. “Said I looked ‘really familiar.’” Dean Smith was apparently the type of person who made air quotes, but Castiel was willing to overlook that under the circumstances. “I told him to save it for the health club.”
“You weren’t…” Castiel knew he was still largely ignorant of human relationships, and whether because of this or for some other reason, he was reluctant to put this thing that existed between them into words. They’d spent almost every night of the last two weeks together, which Castiel was knowledgeable enough to know constituted “moving very fast.” But still he didn’t, he couldn’t be sure—couldn’t tell exactly where they stood. The closest he’d come to insight was a few nights previous. Dean had been preparing himself, pushing slick fingers inside his body while Castiel watched with a level of fascination that went beyond anything he’d ever known. “You ever felt this before?” Dean had asked huskily as their eyes locked and held, locked and held. “This kind of instant connection?” To which Castiel had found he could only shake his head, shake his head and watch Dean in awe as he lowered himself onto him, as they became joined. He had never. Never.
“Tempted?” Dean said now, finishing Castiel’s question. Then he set his laptop down and beckoned. Castiel got up, bare feet on hard wood. He straddled Dean’s lap like to do so was second nature. He let Dean kiss him like this was what he had been created for: a strong hand on the back of his neck, fingers tangling with the bracelet tied tight around his wrist. Dean looked up at him with his deep green eyes. “I don’t know what this is but I know I like it. Let me have something, let me have one thing that doesn’t involve a five-year plan.” Kissing Castiel fiercely, marking his bottom lip with his teeth: “One thing,” he said, “that we can make up as we go.”
Castiel wanted to give Dean that. The real Dean: an existence where the weight of the world didn’t rest on his shoulders, where the forces of good and evil weren’t fighting over how best to take advantage of him, where he would never have to choose between his brother and the right thing. All of which...described this life, he supposed. Was it, then—was it really so bad?
“I don’t have any plans,” he said. They felt very distant now: what he’d been hoping to achieve, his and Dean’s respective roles in the divine design. It all felt very distant, a melody drifting through an open window.
By the time they made it to the bedroom, he could barely hear it at all.
When he awoke the next morning he was alone. Really alone. It took him a distressingly long time even to realize what had happened. He heard the beep of Dean’s alarm clock, felt the bed shift, heard the shower start up, all in a hazy state of half-consciousness. He awoke a little further when Dean came back to bestow a gentle, newly-minty kiss, but it wasn’t until after Dean had left that Castiel wiped the sleep from his eyes and stretched, fully greeting the day. There was an uncomfortable pressure emanating from below his belly, and so he walked, on autopilot, into the bathroom, where he relieved himself as seemed natural. After, ever-conscientious, he went to the sink to wash his hands, and it wasn’t until then, staring into his eyes in the mirror and seeing only himself stare back, that he understood.
He made a noise, something low and panicked from the back of his throat (his throat). How— How could— The thought wouldn’t fully process. He realized he was gripping the sink tightly with both hands, holding himself up: his legs felt like jelly. Weak and useless.
He gave up on them (or they on him) and sank to his knees on the cold tile floor. His prayers were not answered.
Eventually he had to move. His body hurt (his body hurt). He stood, feeling the stretch and ache of sore muscles. His skin felt impossibly tight, containing what should be uncontainable.
His stomach was growling, announcing its hunger, its endless need. He went into the kitchen: this apartment contained almost no food he considered edible, nothing to sate him. He snatched an apple off the bowl on the kitchen table and bit into it violently. If only Dean had been here to hand it to him. Dean Smith, his downfall—it felt so cheap. Dean Smith wasn’t even a real person. He wasn’t the one Castiel lo—
He sank onto one of the kitchen chairs, all cold metal and sharp angles. Who was to say what was real anymore? Cas Till didn’t exist, but then Castiel the angel no longer existed, either. So where did that leave him? Who was he supposed to be now?
Showering, scrubbing clean the body he had inadvertently claimed (stolen), he felt no closer to an answer. It wasn’t until he had tugged Dean Winchester’s jeans over his hips, layered Dean Winchester’s shirts over his chest, put on Dean Winchester’s bracelet and rings, and was lacing up Dean Winchester’s boots that he started to have an idea.
He called Dean Smith at work from Dean Winchester’s cell phone. “I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to see you tonight.”
Dean took a moment to respond. Castiel realized that he had already broken their hastily-made agreement: there was not supposed to be any kind of expectation that one would be waiting for the other.
“That’s okay,” Dean said finally. “I’ve kind of got a thing that came up.”
Castiel didn’t want to pry, and anyway, if in turn Dean asked him what he would be doing, he would have no good answer.
“Let me ask you a question, though,” Dean continued, the words coming out in a rush. “Do I look…I mean, I don’t seem like the kind of person who’d do something crazy and impulsive, do I?”
Castiel could have—and probably should have—asked himself the same question. “You mean besides your relationship with me?”
Dean’s voice became a hiss. “Christ—not on my work line. Yes, besides that.”
“Sorry,” said Castiel, though he wasn’t. He wanted Zachariah—or maybe the men in charge of Sandover Bridge & Iron, or maybe even John Winchester—to feel his pathetically diminished wrath. He took a deep breath; the phone was sweaty in his hand. “I’m not really sure what you are asking me.”
He heard Dean exhale sharply. “I don’t seem like the kind of guy who’d hallucinate things, who’d see things that weren’t there? Do I?”
Castiel mumbled a prayer under his breath—force of habit. “What was that?” asked Dean.
“I think you see what you’re meant to see,” Castiel said carefully. “Dean—”
“Yeah?” Husky-voiced, the same voice that had been there in the dark as Dean wrapped a hand around him (Yeah? You like that?) and stroked him to completion, that had uttered his stupid little nickname with such transformative conviction. From the very beginning, it had been so easy to make the switch. To where did he turn, to whom did he look? His master’s voice.
Castiel shook himself. Not on the work line.
“Thank you,” he said.
He hung up before Dean could get another word out.
Zachariah had left the keys in the Impala’s ignition, a small angelic glamour the only thing protecting the car from humans with less than scrupulous morals. The illusion failed to work on Castiel simply because he already knew where the car was.
He slid into the driver’s seat and started her up. Dean had left a cassette in the tape deck and as the engine revved, Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” hit Castiel like a freight train. Well, it was the only song he could hear now. By the time he was out on the highway, his fingers were tapping along on the steering wheel.
Then he had to pull over and buy a map. Human means of travel presented some difficulties.
There were, however, also advantages. Such as potato chips.
He drove through the night. Just after sunup, he reached the Singer Salvage Yard.
When Bobby opened the door, he took one look at Castiel and sighed. “Well, I knew it was bound to happen eventually.”
Castiel couldn’t believe he’d been that obvious. “May I ask how?”
Bobby’s expression of weary certainty faltered, to be replaced by one of wariness and confusion. “Wait, this is some kind of bodyswap thing, isn’t it? Dean?”
Castiel shook off a shiver. “I am not Dean. I’m Castiel.” It was still true, dammit. Just…in a different sort of way. “Dean is in trouble. Sam, too,” he added. “I want to help them, and I need your help to do it.” Bobby was still eying him incredulously. Castiel spread his arms wide, showed his empty hands. “Please perform whatever tests you deem necessary to ascertain I am who I say.”
Bobby took a half-step back, clearly reaching for something, his eyes never leaving Castiel. A horrible thought suddenly struck him, a memory of Bobby and Dean unloading their shotguns on him inside that barn, the first time they met face to face. What if— He reached out to snag Bobby’s wrist. He was not nearly fast enough: a second later he was staring down the barrel of a gun.
“I’m sorry!” he said hastily. Bobby’s eyes had narrowed into a glare. “I’m sorry,” Castiel repeated, closing his, opening them again as he let out a deep breath. “Please do not harm this body. It’s the only one I have.”
Castiel’s heart was racing too quickly for him to count the beats, but after a lengthy pause, Bobby lowered the weapon. “This is a story I think I’m gonna have to hear.”
Castiel told him a severely edited version over a plate of bacon and eggs and a glass of orange juice and holy water.
“So you’re telling me,” Bobby said when he had finished, “that Sam and Dean are out there right now with no memory of who they are or what they do? That they’re totally helpless?”
“Yes,” said Castiel. He was sick of talking—sick of always talking. He wanted to do something, make a difference, wrap his own two hands around a problem. Like Dean did.
Bobby smiled. Castiel leaned forward, eager to hear his solution, his proposed course of action. Instead, “Fantastic,” Bobby said. Then his eyes rolled over black.
Before Castiel could react, before he could even feel anything beyond numb shock, he had hit the wall at the opposite end of the room and the numbness was replaced by a sharp knife of pain radiating outward from his skull. He tried to force himself up, but it was difficult—his muscles screaming, his vision blurry. He didn’t understand. This place was so well-warded, Bobby was always so careful—Castiel had trusted him to provide safe haven for Dean. Castiel had trusted him.
“Looks like you should have done some tests to ascertain I was who I appeared to be,” the demon said, twisting Bobby’s face into a nasty gloat. “But you’ve been all about throwing caution to the wind lately, haven’t you? Caution, dignity, your grace…”
With a steadying hand on his ankle, Castiel managed to pull himself into a crouch. The demon was still circling, obviously enjoying itself, taking its time.
“You know, you really do look ridiculous. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’d already killed Dean and stuffed his body in the trunk.” Before Castiel could react, the demon had reached out and snagged the collar of his leather coat. “I mean, what is this?” it said, shaking him. “Some sort of Single White Hunter kind of thing?”
“Your side will lose,” Castiel whispered, managing to keep the tremble out of his voice. “We will defeat you.”
The demon laughed. “Now that sounds more like the angelic party line. But what’s this ‘we,’ boy? You’ve abandoned your brethren. You’ve denied your Father. And for what?” The demon shoved Castiel back against the wall. “Tell me true, ‘Cas’”—turning the nickname into a sneer—“Which do you want? To fuck Dean Winchester, or to be him?”
“Let’s try the second,” Castiel said, and slashed out with the knife he’d pulled from his boot.
The demon hissed in pain as the blade caught it across the stomach. Castiel had to give Sam’s demon credit: she had found—or forged—a powerful weapon. He advanced again and managed a glancing blow off the demon’s arm before he was forced back.
“Careful, wingless,” the demon hissed. “Kill me like that and I’m not the only one who’ll go.” It struck Castiel across the face. “Do you think Dean would ever forgive you?” For a second, the thing’s manner mimicked Bobby’s. “I’m the closest thing to a father he has left.”
Did it really think that Castiel didn’t know that? His stomach was a churning pit of regret and indecision and pure, bodily fear. What were you supposed to do when no choice was entirely correct? How he wished for divine clarity!
Too much, far too much of this was apparently showing on Castiel’s face. The demon chuckled. “You are, without a doubt, the most pathetic attempt at a hunter I have ever seen. It’s not even going to be fun, killing you. You have no instinct, no inspiration. Even as a human, you have no will of your own.”
It hit him again, easily fending off Castiel’s attempt at a block, and knocked him to his knees. The demon grabbed Castiel’s arm and twisted it, pushing his knife hand to the floor with its foot and stomping. Castiel screamed as bones cracked and broke.
“You’re nothing,” the demon pronounced. “Dean will die because of you.”
Castiel felt paralyzed. Perhaps if he tried he could still lift the knife, he could still—still be what Dean needed him to be. But no, he was useless like this, as what he’d become—what he’d allowed himself to become through his willfulness. His superiors were right: he had gotten too close. And now they were all going to burn.
On his knees, Castiel prayed for guidance, for the Word.
He blinked. He was standing in the bedroom of Dean Smith’s apartment. Zachariah stood before him, wearing a human vessel and a smirk.
“You,” Castiel breathed.
“Welcome back.” Zachariah looked him over, appraising, like Castiel’s grace was an antique on an auction block. “That took you a surprisingly long time. I finished with Dean hours ago. He’s back with his brother already, memories intact.” Zachariah chuckled softly. “Well, most of them, anyway.”
Castiel’s vessel was still breathing hard, and it took Castiel a moment to realize that it was his emotional reaction provoking the response; Jimmy was still stirring sleepily, like a man rising after a long nap. “You manipulated me,” he said, his voice low.
Zachariah shrugged. “Dean wasn’t the only one who needed to reexamine his attitude.”
“You manipulated me,” Castiel repeated, dangerously close to wrathful. “I would never have let things go that far.”
Zachariah casually tucked his vessel’s hands into his pockets. “Maybe not that quickly, but it’s a slippery slope you’re on. I trust you recognize that now.”
Castiel felt his vessel’s fists clench—no. He clenched them. He clenched his fists and entertained the satisfying, albeit pointless, fantasy of punching Zachariah in the face. He was angry and humiliated in equal measure. Neither, he knew, were emotions befitting an angel.
“You stacked the deck, Zachariah. You didn’t just erase Dean’s history, you changed the core of who he was. What could possibly be the point of that? Does it not render any lesson you might want to teach false?”
Zachariah tisked at him. “Perhaps I pulled you out too soon. Why do you still question, still doubt? These are human weaknesses, Castiel. Did we not just see where such misplaced loyalties lead?”
But no human created that scenario, you did, Castiel thought. Whatever desire to bow, to repent, that he had felt mere moments ago was gone, along with his desire for certainty. What good were revelations if they were inspired by lies? What good was a single bright truth if it blinded you to all the complexities—the human follies and foibles and shadow-moments, the bits of bravery and affection that continued on, unremarked upon—all the horrible and wonderful things that lay to either side of it? He felt as if all the misgivings, the mistrust, that had built up within him as he’d watched the way his brethren (mis)handled the Winchesters these past months were crashing down on him anew.
“Dean Winchester is not your priority,” Zachariah continued. “He has never been your priority. You seem to have forgotten that none of this is about who Dean is, but about what he will do. He is a tool, our Father’s chosen weapon. The nature of the man is irrelevant. His happiness, outside of how it affects his destiny, is irrelevant.”
Castiel bowed his head. This was not, he realized, an argument he could win. He felt as helpless as he had in the illusion of Bobby Singer’s kitchen, hand crushed beneath a boot heel.
He could still feel Zachariah’s stare. “Perhaps we have asked too much of you. Maybe you should come home for a while, be given some time to…rethink.”
Castiel’s head shot up. “No!” he said, too vehemently. “No,” he added, in a calm tone that had become harder and harder to summon as of late, “my duty is here.”
“Yes,” said Zachariah, “your duty.”
Something in his tone made the word sound mocking, profane. Castiel determinedly did not look toward the bed. He focused his strength, remembered the sin of pride. “Your servant thanks you for his lesson,” he said, speaking every word carefully. “I am newly conscious of my place in the divine plan. I won’t forget again.”
“I hope not.” He heard the ripple in the mortal plane as Zachariah extended his wings. “This was a warning, Castiel. You won’t receive another.”
Castiel swallowed. Perhaps it was too late, and he was already too corrupted, because he couldn’t pretend that he wasn’t afraid. He felt like he was being torn into pieces. If Zachariah’s “lesson” was supposed to make him more certain of his proper role, it had failed. Or succeeded too well: they all felt like roles now, guises he had to put on and take off, like he had this body, Dean’s clothes, the properly penitent position. None of it seemed genuine.
No. No more lying, not even to himself. One thing had.
“Wait,” he said. The air in the room shifted once again as Zachariah reappeared. “Tell me. Just…tell me. How much of it was real?”
“Oh, Castiel.” Zachariah shook his head like a disappointed teacher. “What does it matter?”
Castiel said nothing.
Zachariah gave him one last look. “I have a feeling I’ll be seeing you soon,” he said.
Then he was gone, leaving Castiel alone in an apartment that belonged to no one.
In their room at the Blue Moon Motel, Sam and Dean Winchester were both asleep. Castiel had no need to tiptoe; he moved with absolute silence to the chair where Dean had deposited his duffle bag. Fortunately, it seemed he had been tired when they stopped for the night; he had not had time to investigate and discover what was missing. Or what had been added.
Jimmy Novak’s suit and shoes, his coat and tie, were rolled up at the bottom of the bag. Castiel smoothed out the wrinkles with a thought; with another, he replaced the work shirt and jeans his borrowed body was wearing with the outfit his vessel had chosen for himself. He tucked Dean’s clothes back into the duffle. Dean’s jewelry he took off by hand, untying the bracelet and pulling off the pair of rings one at a time. They clinked together softly as he dropped them into the bag.
“What are you doing?”
Dean was sitting up in bed, clutching a silver knife. Castiel raised a hand, a motion barely visible, but one that served his purpose: they could talk now, as long as they wished, without disturbing Sam.
Castiel really didn’t want to talk, though. Not when all of his lines had already been written for him.
Fortunately, Dean seemed willing to pick up the slack. “And where the hell have you been? Your boss just spent the last three weeks having a grand old time making us run around with our heads up our asses. Were you kicking back and laughing too?”
Castiel let out a breath. He was relieved, he supposed, to find that in one thing, at least, Zachariah had been honest. “No,” he said with a lack of emotion that should have seemed natural. “I was otherwise engaged.”
“Yeah, well, thanks for nothing.” Dean set the knife down on the nightstand. His bare feet looked pale and vulnerable against the dirty motel carpeting. “I’m getting really sick of your side’s bullshit games. You know I’m no fan of the crew downstairs, but at least they’re clear about what they want: death, destruction, pain…with a little more death and destruction thrown in for flavor.”
He looked at Castiel like he was expecting a reaction. Castiel was fresh out. “What do you want me to say?” he asked.
Dean sighed and ran his hand through his hair, then paused, looking down at his fingers like he was just realizing they were bare. “Nothing. Whatever.” He flopped back against the mattress. “Just stop lurking and let me get some sleep. I gotta get up early and eat about forty pounds of pancakes, see if that’ll cleanse all the Corporate Douchebag from my system.”
Even in the darkness, Castiel could see the circles underneath Dean’s eyes. He could hear the faint rumble in his belly, the hunger for all that Zachariah’s lesson had denied him. And where was it written that the righteous man should hunger, that he should ache, that he should go to bed lonely?
Probably in the same place where God or His prophets had put down that Castiel should stand aside, that he should watch and do nothing. The same place that decreed angels to be eternal, and unchanging, and built only to obey.
Even Dean Smith had managed better, in the end.
Castiel opened his mouth. He could feel the words on his tongue, taste them, remember. You’re fine the way you are, Dean.
You’re fine, he thought, staring at him now: a man with stubble on his cheeks and dirt beneath his nails, with bad habits and occasionally bad thoughts, but good instincts and a good heart—all of him together, the sum of him so messy and human and not just fine, no. If Castiel had held the pen, the word he would have written down was glorious. Beautiful.
Castiel had saved Dean Winchester from Hell (if not from what awaited him afterwards), and it had been the best thing—perhaps the only meaningful thing—that he had ever done. The one thing he would do again if he chose.
If I had any choice, he thought, closing his eyes against a sudden sensation of dizziness, as if he were standing at a great height. Dean, if only I…
Dean’s voice, even mired in fatigue, cut through Castiel like a knife. “What? You say something, Cas?”
The room lay silent, as if anticipating an answer. Dean waited expectantly on the bed. Castiel stood perfectly still, apart; his mind roared with the song of his brothers and sisters.
“No,” he said finally, looking down. “I said nothing.”
1. Um…it seems weird to have written a fic this long and not have any notes! Uh, I guess I’ll just say: I have never worked harder revising a fic than I did on this damn thing (with the exception of my Big Bang). My betas are awesome. It bears repeating.