Fic: "Wishbone" [NC-17; Dean/Cas]

Sep. 29th, 2011 | 06:09 pm
From:: nanoochka

TITLE: “Wishbone”
AUTHOR: [ profile] nanoochka
PAIRING: Dean/Castiel
WARNINGS: Spanking, slight D/s themes, hurt/comfort
SPOILERS: AU before the end of 7.01
SUMMARY: Castiel seeks redemption after the souls are sent back to Puragory and he is left human. Struggling to understand the true meaning of what it is to atone, he solicits Dean’s help.
DISCLAIMER: Supernatural and all associated characters and content are the property of The CW and Eric Kripke. Infringement intended, but it’s the nice kind of intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: A hundred thousand thanks for the support, guidance and expertise of [ profile] ekbe_vile, [ profile] fossarian and [ profile] mclachlan for helping me turn this story from a quivering mess of rambling insecurity into something not only readable, but that doesn’t make me cringe to look at it. The last few minutes of the S7 premiere just made my mind go here again and again, and though we’ve had ample opportunity to ponder the themes of forgiveness and punishment in the past, it never seemed to define Dean and Castiel’s relationship so much as it did in those final moments. Excerpt and title both lovingly poached from Richard Siken.

“Wishbone” by [ profile] nanoochka

You saved my life he says   I owe you everything.
You don’t, I say, you don’t owe me squat, let’s just get going, let’s just get gone, but he’s
keeps saying  I owe you, says  Your shoes are filling with your own damn blood,
you must want something, just tell me, and it’s yours.
          But I can’t look at him, can hardly speak,
I took the bullet for all the wrong reasons, I’d just as soon kill you myself, I say.

- Richard Siken

        In becoming human, Castiel learns the hard way that he no longer has a purpose.

        Man, angel or god doesn’t matter; he has simply outlived his usefulness, a creature with no name and no function, although he is forced to go on living despite this fact. Powerless, lonely and pitied by those he once considered friends, his mortal days have no structure except for that which he defines himself. As such, Cas spends his time pondering the meaning of atonement; of seeking redemption, making amends. Ever since he released the souls back into Purgatory, since he died and came careening back to life with a frantic gasp and a desperate clutch at Dean’s hand, he has been able to think on little else. The principles around which he once defined his existence—free will and forgiveness—have become a curse, his every choice a condemnations, each apology a leaden weight to bring the people he loves to their knees.

        For that—for so much, really, but it helps to consider one thing at a time—Castiel feels regret, as he has never wanted to be one more burden to place upon Dean’s shoulders, nor anyone else’s. Following his resurrection, Cas wishes, for Dean’s sake, he could have climbed to his feet and walked out of there without requiring help, or better yet remained dead altogether. Death, after all, is only complicated for the living, and Cas doesn’t think anyone would have mourned his passing. The universe’s stubborn refusal to let him die has brought nothing but grief to those around him.

        Sometimes this new reality is so overwhelming that Castiel must stop and catch his breath, brace himself against the nearest wall as the knowledge rolls through him that, in one way or another, his journey is just beginning. All he wants is to lie down and sleep for all eternity. But barely three weeks have gone by since he was installed in one of Bobby’s spare bedrooms to recover and ruminate on his current conditions—human and achingly guilty—and each is an adequate distraction from the other. The rigors of adjusting to this new existence are often enough to put his mind to something other than a constant state of regret, while being emotionally fraught goes a long way to distract him from the more frustrating or unpleasant aspects of mortality. He feels weak all the time, weaker than he ever thought possible. Suicide would be a good option if it didn’t seem so selfish, especially when there are others worse off than he.

        The three of them—Dean, Castiel and Bobby—watch Sam suffer quietly his souvenirs of Hell in the form of hallucinations and night terrors. In that much, he and Castiel are the same: brothers linked by a fragile state of mind and by the yoke they would prefer not to place upon Dean. It would be better, Cas believes, if he could shoulder Sam’s burden so he didn’t have to, though still it wouldn’t atone for what he’s done. An impossible start; but if not that, where else to begin? If only someone could tell him. Sam, kind boy that he is, assures him his transgressions are forgiven; it’s understood Cas wasn’t himself. The subtext, plainly, is that Sam wouldn’t wish Castiel’s guilt on anyone, since he correctly assumes its magnitude, but the sentiment is not very reassuring.

        Particularly since Dean is never around to echo it. Cas is sickened to need Dean’s forgiveness so badly, almost more than he needs absolution from God, but this state of mind is perhaps the one thing still consistent with his old life. Needing Dean’s approval, his acceptance. His love. Not that he would give it, Cas is almost certain, but these days it’s so difficult to understand anything Dean thinks. He manages to hide himself behind the Impala or a bottle most of the time, avoiding Castiel as much as his brother. It’s astounding how the two people who once gave him purpose in life now seem to leave him feeling his most impotent. Most likely he thinks it is his fault, his responsibility to fix these lost and broken souls who once resembled his family, even though he can’t. In truth, the brunt of the responsibility should lie with Castiel, who can do even less.

        He often thinks of breaking the silence and going to Dean just to tell him so, but doesn’t. For the first time ever, Cas doesn’t know how to talk to him. He wanders the scrap yard a great deal and sees Dean working away, obsessively putting the finishing touches on his car; sometimes Dean simply stares into space with a wrench suspended in midair. As if compelled by an invisible force, however, Dean always looks up just as Castiel draws near. When their eyes meet across the distance, Castiel can see it all there, the sadness and the longing and the need echoed on Dean’s face, as surely as Cas can see it in the mirror each morning. Maybe he takes a step forward, an aborted movement in Dean’s direction, and just like that his throat closes up. The chasm between them remains. There’s something that needs settling, though, before they can move on, and Castiel wishes he could be sure what that is. He thinks, somehow, Dean understands; perhaps he’s yet to figure it out, which is why he, too, keeps his distance.

        Once upon a time, it was Castiel’s role to offer guidance and help Dean find peace. But that is no longer his job; he lacks the ability. Castiel has started to require an angel of his own.


        One night, he simply cannot stay away any longer.

        The evening has gone badly for everyone, first when Sam started talking to someone who wasn’t there, followed by vomiting and convulsions and a sleep so deep he might as well have been comatose. Castiel’s chest hurts just looking at him, hurts even more seeing Dean stricken and worried from across the room. He stands, as always, on the periphery, hovering with nervous hands and an anxious flutter to his eyelids that surely looks as ineffectual as it does guilty. After a while, Dean has to leave Cas and Bobby alone to sit with Sam in the panic room, just in case he comes to. Castiel knows Dean can feel his eyes on his back as he hauls himself up the basement stairs, but at first Castiel doesn’t follow, choosing instead to remain close to Sam. The decision doesn’t come easily, but he’s the reason, after all, Sam is in this mess, even though Sam believed in him ‘til the very end.

        Around three in the morning, there having been no change to Sam’s condition, Bobby looks at Cas with a resigned expression, and nods towards the prone figure on the cot. “Don’t think there’s much for it tonight,” he says. “Stay down here if you want, but he’s not wakin’ up anytime soon.”

        By now Cas knows Bobby well enough to understand this is not callousness on the older man’s part, but mere practicality; besides, at this point they have been through this a number of times before, and Sam always seems to prefer to wake up alone, not with three concerned faces peering down at him.

        Bobby turns and begins to make his way upstairs, Castiel following once he’s made sure Sam is properly covered with the blanket, and the glass of water by his bedside is full. They find Dean in the study, head buried in his hands as if to support the weight of his thoughts. He must have been sitting on that couch for hours, and a quiet mention of his name from Bobby is enough to send him jerking forward in surprise, visibly reeling like the sudden movement has given him a head-rush.

        “Yeah?” he answers, voice cracking.

         “I’m headin’ up to bed, son,” says Bobby. “It’s late. Sam’s out for the night and you’d best get some sleep, too. Looks like you could use it.” With that, a gentle hand comes to rest momentarily on Castiel’s shoulder before Bobby trudges up to his bedroom. A short while later, Cas hears the door click shut, leaving him and Dean alone.

        Dean’s eyes flicker over to Castiel, only just noticing him there in the darkness. He glances away as Cas hesitatingly steps forward, and the shuttering of his gaze brings Castiel to a full halt. “You should rest, too,” Dean says gruffly. A dismissal. “Lesson the first: humans don’t do so well burnin’ the candles at both ends.”

        “No, they don’t,” answers Cas, and his deadpan tone makes Dean’s mouth twitch, though he hopes the message is clear that Dean isn’t one to talk. Considering his point taken, Cas lets it go. Tries, in a sudden flush of weakness, to blurt out some small portion of what he’s been holding in for so long. “I’m sorry,” he says in a rush, after a short pause. “About—”

        “Don’t.” Dean’s head snaps up, eyes tired and pleading and more dead than Cas has ever seen them. Just like that, any notion that perhaps Dean’s found peace on his own these past few weeks flies out the window. “I know you feel shitty about what Sam’s going through, I do. But I can’t listen to you apologize again, not about that or anything else, you hear?”

        This isn’t surprising. Castiel nods, advances another couple steps until a filmy patch of moonlight sweeps down his head and shoulders and settles in a diagonal across the faded Metallica logo of his borrowed T-shirt. It was not a gift from Dean, but Sam, poached from a drawer of his older brother’s clothing in one of the spare bedrooms. Cas estimates it must have belonged to a much younger Dean, T-shirts and jeans just small enough to fit his body without looking clownish. Everything is faded or torn in some way, but Cas thinks he can feel Dean’s whole history in every brush of worn-soft fabric, every rip and fray.

        For the first time in what seems like forever, their eyes meet, hard green against beseeching blue. That gaze is a firm reminder that Dean hasn’t been the boy who once fit this clothing in a long, long time. “I wish I could give you more than useless apologies,” he tells Dean. There isn’t even a word for ‘sorry’ in Enochian, considered too useless a sentiment to be included in the language. When an angel missteps, they are either forgiven or slain; it is not for them to offer explanations or regret or to try and sway the Father’s decision.

        Castiel knows that each time he apologizes to Dean, what he really means is, Please don’t forsake me, I’m lost without you. Perhaps he should just come out and say it, since nothing else seems to work or convey the depth of how rudderless he’s felt since Dean first said, “We’re done.” Not even being abandoned by his father left him so empty.

        As if sensing the direction of Castiel’s thoughts, Dean shifts uncomfortably. “You don’t need to do anything,” he says.

        The word ‘bullshit’ seems most appropriate here. “Yes, I do,” Cas argues, surging forward. “Because neither of us can go on this way, and I don’t know what else to do. What you need from me. If you want me to leave…” He trails off, sighs. His shoulders slump. “If there was something I could do to atone, to convince you of how much I regret everything, I would do it. Tell me, and I’ll do it.” Literal to the end, Castiel knows Dean will not take this as hyperbole. If Dean asked him to slit his own throat, Cas would. If Dean told him to walk out the door and not stop until his bones crumbled and his body shrivelled to a husk, Cas would. He would do anything at all. But what Dean wants most—for Castiel to fix his brother, or perhaps turn back time altogether—is the one thing Cas can’t give him.

        Smothering an indecipherable noise, Dean shakes his head and stands. He seems to force himself take a few steps closer as if resisting the urge to shrink away. He still doesn’t look at Cas head-on, however, choosing instead to glance up through his eyelashes in a way that is uncertain and painfully young. “I know you’re sorry, and I don’t want you gone,” he says.

        “You wanted me dead,” Cas points out.

        That strangled sound again. “What I wanted, Cas, was for you to listen to me when I begged you to give up your goddamned crusade. Instead you had to push forward like a freaking child—

        It’s Castiel’s turn to make an affronted noise. He’s come to hate that accusation more than anything else, almost more than being called unloyal or prideful or selfish. He may not know his current purpose, but he is not a child. Not simply because Castiel is older than the Earth itself, has witnessed more than Dean could possibly fathom, he resents the suggestion that as little consideration went into his actions as a youngling who flings sand into its parents’ eyes. He can accept that he was wrong, embraces it, even, but not for a moment does Dean deserve to belittle the overwhelming love and desperation that fuelled Castiel’s decisions, the constant state of doubt and despair that went with it—how much of it was so Dean might go on to live and love another day. Even if it was not with Cas.

        He begins to say, “I am not a—” before he cuts himself short, falling quiet at the sharp, anxious look that sweeps Dean’s features, a silent plea not to continue, to leave well enough alone.

        Castiel hesitates. It occurs to him that, if he must measure his own guilt against the need for Dean’s forgiveness, perhaps Dean, too, must judge Castiel as he would a child, to keep the darker things from shaking loose, to prevent him from condemning Castiel in his own mind. A monster, after all, is not something for which Dean Winchester has sympathy, whereas even a child with darkness in its heart has his enduring compassion.

        However much Castiel has wanted, in the past, to turn the equation on its head—surely Dean’s insistent desire for Castiel’s obedience and humility is the more childish, a fact which Death himself did not hesitate to point out—he thinks such disdain is worth suffering if it helps Dean understand. Moreover, Castiel thinks it might first be necessary to act the child in order to prove himself otherwise. He’s had millennia to adjust to being addressed as such by his brethren, and loves Dean infinitely more than he ever did his brothers or sisters. Needs must, thinks Castiel, and he not a moment ago vowed to do whatever Dean needs.

        So rather than reply, he sidles near, slowly so as not to spook the other man. Then he lifts an uncertain hand to rest against Dean’s chest, next to his heart. Not surprisingly, its pace speeds up, firm and strong through the fabric of his shirt, but Dean doesn’t pull away, lets the warmth bleed out from Castiel’s palm into his own skin.

        It feels so good to touch again.

        He’s had no more from Dean in the past two years than fleeting contact, friendly claps to the shoulder and, once, a brush of their fingers together as if Dean thought to take his hand, only to pull away with an embarrassed look. Despite Castiel’s enduring—and helplessly endless—love, theirs was never a great romance. He has known Dean’s body in pleasure, has let the man possess him like no one else, but knew from the start it could not last. An angel and a human? Impossible. The first time he tasted Dean’s mouth broke his heart; he will carry that moment with him always. Castiel’s fear of his own selfishness prevented him from ever expressing the full extent of his devotion, but he’s always regretted it, privately, just enough for this small contact between them to make his breath sigh out in a ragged whistle, emotions momentarily overcome.

        “Is that how you see me?” he murmurs, coming back to the present. Dean’s head cocks imperceptibly. “A child?”

        Castiel feels the way Dean’s own breathing hitches, a shiver slithering through him so fast it is barely noticeable. His shoulders bow forward in Cas’s direction until their faces draw near. If asked, Castiel couldn’t say why he does it, but he closes the last remaining distance so their foreheads touch. Dean sighs. A hand comes out to brush down the length of Castiel’s arm, curling around his elbow, and Cas thinks of how Dean was after they left the moratorium, hardly able to stop touching him the way an animal must always be close to its offspring. Protective, both reassured and reassuring. After all, Dean at one time had let Castiel possess his body, too.

        “You Fell without knowing what you were gettin’ into,” Dean answers shakily, not really satisfying the question. “All of it was new, and you were counting on me to guide you—that was my responsibility. Because I was the reason you had to learn those lessons in the first place.” He swallows. “I shoulda taught you better, shoulda done something when I felt you going down the wrong path.”

        Done what? Castiel wants to ask. He would have argued, fought, fled—did all those things, in fact, shrouded his activities in such secrecy that he would never have to explain himself to Dean. Rightly so, he knew the man would find fault in his behaviour. Not so unlike a child, after all, his mind unhelpfully supplies, though even a child has the strength of their convictions.

        Still, he hedges, “That isn’t free will, Dean. You did teach me that much.” In his heart, he knows Dean believes every word he says, knows for himself he took to those lessons with the same fervency he once took to singing God’s praises, following His Word. And how quickly Castiel started to question whether a firm hand might not have been the better answer all along, though this he does not say.

        Mulish, Dean snorts. “Free will’s worth shit if you don’t know what you’re doing.” Resisting the urge to tighten his hand around a fistful of Dean’s shirt only barely, Castiel reminds himself to hear Dean out, since he doesn’t appear to be done, drawing back so those glittering, mossy eyes can stare down into his. “What happened when I tried to exercise my free will and say yes to Michael, huh? You beat the ever-loving shit out of me ’cause you knew I was wrong. It was a mistake you prevented me from having to regret later, even if I didn’t know it at the time. And I should have—”

        For a second, something clicks in Castiel’s mind, and as his focus narrows on Dean’s face he sees the exact moment it clicks for Dean, too. The realization of what he’s said, the implication, the truth they’ve been skirting for weeks, however inadvertent. Finally.

        Dean realizes it, too, eyes going slightly wide before he backs away. Anticipating just such a response, this time Castiel does clench his fist around Dean’s T-shirt, preventing him from getting too far. “You want to hurt me like that,” Cas says, not a question. It surprises him not at all that Dean should quantify these exchanges through physicality, in a language of pain and blood; knows, too, this is an aspect of Hell’s legacy Dean has never come to accept about himself. But just because a language is foreign, doesn’t make it wrong. There are certain sentiments that simply can’t be expressed any other way.

        “I don’t,” protests Dean.

        “Is it not how one learns?” Casitel shakes his head. A part of him can’t believe he’s making this argument in reference to himself, but so little of his life these days is as he would have it. “A child cannot discover the danger of fire without being burned. If you’re trying to teach me, Dean, then teach me. Punish me as a child is punished.”

        Mouth twisting, Dean pushes him away, firmly this time. “Now you sound like a line from a bad porno,” he snaps. But although Castiel understands the reference only marginally enough to know Dean is trying to make light of the conversation, as usual, he doesn’t miss how Dean’s hands quiver as he rubs at his jaw, turns himself away to hide his expression from Castiel. And from that alone, Castiel knows he is right.

        He stalks closer, grips Dean’s arm and spins him back around the way Dean frequently used to do, forcing him to look Castiel in the face. Has it really become so hard? It seemed not so long ago they could share a lifetime in a single glance. “Whatever lesson it is I should learn, I want it,” he insists. The certainty he feels is as powerful, as invigorating, as divine righteousness. Cas grabs at Dean’s hands, forces them to ball in his T-shirt like a precursor to a fight or a kiss; that the shirt once belonged to Dean feels apt. In doing so, however, wonders if Dean is the only one who hungers for retribution, this price exacted upon Castiel’s own flesh. “Make me listen as I didn’t listen before; I have to understand.”

        This renewed, distinctly more aggressive proximity wracks a shudder through Dean Cas can feel down to his bones, and he wishes, not for the first time, Dean would just take from him what he truly wants, unload his demands where the words can take shape, find purpose. Punishment or pleasure, thinks Castiel, anything for Dean if it will bring him closure and let them move on. These silences between them must have some finality, rather than stretching on as endless and unknowable as the face of God.

         “What the hell are you playing at here, huh?” he challenges, shoving lightly against Cas’s chest. Breathless and flushed, Dean stares at Castiel with a lack of comprehension too stubborn to be totally honest. They’re of one mind on this, Cas knows, same as they’ve ever been of one mind about anything. That Dean continues to fight is only because he thinks he should, always struggling, pushing back even if he’s forgotten why. “I tell you I don’t want your apologies, so you do this instead? I know those souls must have rattled your brain some, Cas, but this is just—”

        “It’s what? Progress, Dean? Is that what you’re afraid of? That we might actually have to leave this ridiculous song and dance behind and start accepting that neither one of us is going anywhere, for better or worse?” Out of ideas on how to bridge the final gap towards what Castiel is certain they both want, he falls to his knees in front of Dean, looks up with him with his eyes bright and sharply focused. Dean continues to clutch at Castiel’s shirt as though frozen, afraid to move, and Cas covers the other man’s hands with his own, clinging, not-so-subtle desperation finally beginning to show. “If you say I am your responsibility, Dean, take it,” he finds himself begging. “I can’t stand another day of this.”

        Startled by the words, the tiredness is suddenly gone from Dean’s face even if he is still, perhaps, not so alert as to recoil with his usual speed. Recoil he does, however, jostling Castiel back until Cas’s shoulders catch the edge of the sofa. With nowhere to go, his spine bends at an awkward angle over the edge. Letting out a growl of frustration, Dean hauls him up onto the cushions so that Cas sprawls there, temporarily dazed. He’s not quite sure what happens next, especially when Dean swoops in low and brings their faces back close together, panting quietly against Castiel’s mouth.

        “So that’s fucking it?” he whispers, giving Cas a little shake. The tone of his voice sounds more frantic than angry; his eyes blaze but don’t lose their glimmer of fear. “Being guilty makes you uncomfortable, so you wanna force my hand? Make me, what—beat the shame out of you?”

        Such an unexpectedly incisive statement makes Castiel’s breath catch before he can speak. “I want you to beat the forgiveness into me,” he chokes out, cheeks furiously, betrayingly hot. “I need it, please.”

        At first, Dean says nothing more, pausing to consider Cas until something changes in his face, something indecipherable but less fearsome than before. The hand that once clutched at Castiel with anxiety—and before that, anger, passion, friendship, brotherhood—now smoothes over his chest as though trying to calm and reassure, a curious role-reversal Cas can’t say he saw coming.

        “Stop trying to control it, Cas,” Dean says at last, quietly. “You say you wanna atone for the choices you made, the people you hurt, but the how and when and why ain’t your decision. It’s for you to accept and damn well be grateful for the opportunity to have. Atonement’s not about saying sorry and a few half-assed Hail Marys, okay? It’s about bending the fuck over and saying ‘thank you’ for what you deserve.”

        The words—the image they invoke—make Castiel shudder; he can’t help it. Of course Dean notices the tic, and he swallows again in such a way that sends the strong suggestion he isn’t immune to the mental picture, either. He straightens before gripping Cas’s arm to pull him up off the couch. In the space he just vacated, Dean sits. Hesitation screams through him a moment longer, seeming to reach its breaking point before he simply nods to himself and looks up at Castiel with a steady, unflinching gaze, though a surprising softness glitters there.

        “Okay,” is all he says.

        Castiel waffles, suddenly very unsure. “Okay what?”

        Dean licks his lips and braces his hands against his knees. “You want to be punished like a child, then fine. Take off your pants and come here.” Cas has never heard his voice so rough, but before he can hesitate further, really start to show uncertainty at this sudden change in Dean, acquiescence taking a form he doesn’t quite recognize, Dean cuts him off. “Don’t think about it, Cas, just do it.”

        Fighting his own unexpected reticence, Castiel hesitatingly unbuttons his jeans and lowers the zip, all the while feeling painfully conscious of how each breath seems to make his chest rise and fall in a more exaggerated way than before. His hands, he notes with horror, are trembling. Physical shyness is something only ever associated with humans, but since becoming one, inhabiting this form more fully than he ever thought possible, Cas thinks he’s inherited far too many shades of that frightening self-awareness.

        Noticing, Dean reaches out a hand and brushes his fingers against Castiel’s own, twining them together in a perfect echo of that long-ago touch, the one Cas clung to so fiercely. There is less uncertainty about it now, he thinks, because Dean is suddenly not the one who’s scared. Or at least he does a better job of hiding it. A small smile ghosts over his face as he glances up at Cas, settles his fluttering heart with no more than a look, the same one that has passed between them a thousand times.

        “You asked for this,” Dean reminds him, “and you trust me. Right?” Castiel hesitates again, but nods. Pushes the jeans down his hips by a few inches and watches Dean’s throat bob in a swallow. It only makes Cas redden more, because that same flush is suddenly on Dean’s face, too, visibly catching him unprepared. Then hands are there, helping Castiel remove his jeans the rest of the way, and Dean’s saying, tone firm but softly pleading, “Don’t punk out on me now, Cas, for both our sakes.”

        Castiel steps out of his clothing with a shaky sigh. Rarely does he wear shoes or socks around Bobby’s house, and it aids the whole process so effectively he doesn’t have time to consider how quickly he goes from fully clothed to completely exposed to Dean’s view. Rarer still does he don underwear, a fact Dean realizes with a tiny noise of surprise and a quick flutter of eyelashes. Cas has never before felt naked in this way, a term he didn’t fully appreciate until now. He suspects he would feel less insecure if he weren’t still half-dressed, as the T-shirt only reminds him of what he isn’t wearing.

        Dean’s gaze on him like a physical weight. The fact makes Cas shiver with an undeniable thrill, his cock giving a traitorous twitch as its length begins to fill. Impossible not to notice. And Dean does, all right, face going so lax he looks almost drugged with it, eyelids heavy and lips parted. As he reaches out to catch a finger in the hem of Castiel’s shirt, Cas lets his gaze drop to that one point of connection as though Dean has touched his skin. He hasn’t, at all, but Cas can still feel the heat of Dean’s hand, still finds himself unable to breathe, light-headed.

        “Cas,” Dean mumbles around a swallow, colour high in his cheeks and refusing to fade, and his voice, though deeper, is steady enough to snap Castiel’s attention back up to his face. “If we do this, no more trying to control things, okay?”

        Once again Castiel stops himself before he can argue, settling instead upon a jerky nod. Dean has always rejected Cas’s quiet, determined manipulation and need to have his way, to have things right, and that he was calling Cas on it yet again, telling him to stop, made something clench in Castiel’s chest with a palpable ache. It was not so different, in feeling, from the moment he first drew a sigil in his own blood on the wall of the green room, looked into a surprised Zachariah’s eyes and knew he’d just betrayed his entire existence for a human man; free-falling. This seems like such a natural conclusion to the path he started three years ago that Castiel doesn’t know whether to be alarmed or relieved.

        He waits, and just before Cas thinks the pause might shatter him, Dean all at once pulls him off-kilter and onto his lap, manoeuvring him so he’s face-down with his arms braced against the arm of the sofa. With a quiet intake of breath, Dean pushes Castiel’s shirt higher up his back, making Cas want to struggle and tense even as he sighs in anticipation. He knows this is more than how parents punish their children, more than humiliation. Foreign in concept though it may be, it sets his blood pooling in his groin, his whole body seeming to go several degrees hotter.

        Even being able to guess what comes next, he jerks when Dean’s hand comes down against his backside, a light smack that barely registers upon Castiel’s skin. Nonetheless, Cas moans at the quiet shiver of need that rolls through him, arching into it, needing more. Taking this as encouragement, Dean increases the pressure, striking just hard enough that each slap makes Castiel’s nerves buzz like a tiny, electric shock.

        Without warning, the intensity doubles, and with it a realization strong enough to knock a gasp from Cas’s throat. What Dean is doing, what Castiel has begged him to do, is not merely about dominance or even punishment. The idea begins to form that he hasn’t merely asked Dean to take him to the edge, but rather asked for them to go there together, for Dean to lay himself as bare to Castiel as he currently feels bent over the other man’s knees.

        Both Dean and Castiel have inflicted pain and had pain inflicted upon them, but it was never by choice, never an agreement or an exchange, no trust. Here, he cannot feel anything but safe, even having so much for which to atone. They won’t come back from this and return to the regular way of things like Castiel so desperately hoped; each stroke of Dean’s hand upon his flesh pushes them higher, simultaneously closer together and farther away from everything they know. This is Dean creating something with him, breaking them down and building them up new, making Castiel feel as though he is dying and being reborn every time palm meets skin, purifying fire.

        The slaps are stinging now, leaving his skin feeling impossibly hot and tight. Each blow flays him raw as pure, unexpected pleasure wells up to drown out the hurt, and it’s the closest thing to love Cas has ever experienced, greater and more palpable, even, than his God’s love. In this moment, he doesn’t have to question or doubt that Dean feels exactly the same way, because this is his promise: that there is nowhere Castiel can lose himself that Dean won’t follow.

        Pausing to stroke his palm over Castiel’s flesh, Dean rubs the abused area, soothing the burn, until Castiel moans and clutches at the arm of the sofa, curling his spine against Dean’s free hand as it gentles over his shoulder blades. Every breath he takes comes out as a desperate gasp. Cas wants to rub himself against Dean’s thigh where his cock has started to ache in earnest, where he can feel the answering hardness in beneath him. He does, experimentally, and is rewarded with Dean’s quiet hiss of pleasure. But he doesn’t want this to stop, either, wants almost nothing more than the world gone silent and still except for the quick, heavy breaths coming from them both. It makes him painfully aware when Dean stops touching him for just a moment, but not enough that he doesn’t want Dean to keep going.

        Fingers clench harder into the couch arm as Dean begins thrashing him again, forcefully and never waiting long enough for Cas to recover or draw breath before the next slap sends the skin of his backside jumping and screaming with heat. Each touch sears into him like a hot poker, and when Dean hits him more than once in the same spot, Castiel tries to jerk away, only to find himself forced to remain still. There are places that hurt less, like right on the roundest part of his ass, but Dean seems to return again and again to where the skin is most sensitive, near the top of Castiel’s thighs where leg meets the curve of his bottom.

        Castiel is sweating and panting and moaning like a broken animal, but the dampness between his body and Dean’s isn’t his alone, and Dean’s voice quietly echoes each of Cas’s muffled cries. The spanking jostles an erection that seems to polarize every nerve in his body, slaps rocking the stiff flesh until he keens in frustration, feeling his balls rock with each movement. Everything feels blurred, indistinct, and yet sharp enough to cut. Though he can’t fathom asking Dean to stop, he has never felt pushed so close to the brink of something he doesn’t recognize or understand.

        As though he catches a change in Castiel’s breathing, Dean stops again, right at the moment Cas thinks he might shatter. The thought of continuing terrifies him, his skin so alive it’s almost unbearable; there is nothing between him and the experience that might dampen the pain, although every twitch of muscle seems to have just the opposite effect. Only where Dean is concerned has Castiel ever come so close to falling off the map, despite not knowing what lies beyond it. As always, however, if he is going to go to his ruin or shame himself his crying, his begging, his mess of animal sounds, it could only ever be in front of Dean, no one else.

        Well and truly unhinged, scaring even himself, Cas just mewls helplessly, body and mind so far beyond his own comprehension he can do no more than lie there and wait for whatever comes next. The sound draws a quiet groan from deep within Dean’s chest, and Cas feels fingers sweep through his hair, petting, catching in the sweaty strands. A reward, almost, and Castiel is surprised he can still tell the difference.

        “Fuck,” he hears from above him, a sound every bit as broken as the voice in his own head.

        While Cas thinks he might never be able to move from this spot again, he finds himself being pulled around and rearranged to straddle Dean’s thighs this time. The contact of jeans against his screaming flesh makes Castiel flinch and cry out, but then hands are on his face, caressing his tear-streaked cheeks, brushing the wetness away and pulling him back down to earth.

        “It’s alright,” Dean says. In the next breath lips are on his, arms dropping tight around Castiel’s waist to hold them together, not letting go.

        A shudder whose origin is impossible to define wracks them both. Cas has a moment to wonder whether Dean isn’t crying, too, before he can no longer find it in himself to care. All he knows is the stab of Dean’s tongue into his mouth that seems to echo the bone-deep ache spreading through his entire self, pulsing a blood rhythm where his cock becomes trapped between their bodies. He feels those broad palms, still heated through with friction, clutching the fabric of his T-shirt against his spine. Dean moans and bites into the pout of Castiel’s bottom lip, arches his back like he wants to crawl between his ribs and stay there. The way he curls himself over Castiel is more protective and possessive than ever before; finally, Cas begins to see it was never a burden that drove Dean to his knees for him, but simple gravity.

        “Please,” he says once, distinctly, both plea and permission for Dean’s strong, hot hand to wrap around the length of his cock until he bucks and keens in utter senselessness, language receding almost as soon as he has found it again. He has never felt so alive as this in his millions of years of existence, like his joy could swallow the world; Dean’s quiet, answering rumble of, “I got you,” seems to make it expand impossibly larger, a star gone supernova, the flash of an angel’s dying grace.

        His own hands dip from where they’ve been bracing himself against Dean’s shoulders to work at the fastening of his jeans, clumsily undoing the button while Cas tries to still his hips long enough to get the zipper down. Panting into his mouth, Dean gets the message. He releases Cas in order to shove the material past his hips with one hand, and Cas levers himself up for more room before dropping back down. To his great surprise, the searing reminder of what he endured not five minutes ago only turns him on more, painful, beautiful evidence of what they’ve come so far to find.

        Dean’s cock is there to meet his own, slick and ready for Dean to wrap his hand around at the same time. As he gently squeezes and begins to stroke them together, the heat that snaps through Castiel’s body leaves him muttering Dean’s name over and over, fingers clenching in Dean’s hair. Through it all, Dean stares back at him with his mouth slack and gasping, fist pumping them closer and closer to the edge, constricting a little at the top where moisture beads slick and viscous before sliding back down. Deliriously, Castiel has to marvel that, while it was he who brought Dean up from Hell and refashioned his body from nothingness, not even his hands possessed the power to destroy and rebuild in a single instant, not like Dean’s. Meanwhile it feels as though pleasure is being stripped out him, every nerve ending on fire, and Dean promises, “I’m not letting you get away from me again, Cas, you hear me?”

        With that, Dean kisses him again, muscles in his face twitching as edges along the brink. Like he’s guessed at Castiel’s thoughts before he can think them, Dean grabs a handful of the flesh of Castiel’s ass, yelping when the skin feels hot enough to scald. It’s an incredible pain which, at this point, can only shove Castiel past the point of no return. The orgasm punches out of him and his yelp is ineffectively muffled against Dean’s lips. Dean follows him over with a surprised grunt and a bone-deep shudder, continuing to tremble while their cocks spit come over his hand, Castiel’s belly, Dean’s T-shirt. By every indication, Cas passes out with his face jammed into the hollow of Dean’s throat, which is how he comes to a moment later, shivering.

        Happy to ignore Castiel’s boneless sound of protest, Dean tumbles them sideways against the big couch that can somehow accommodate two grown men with ease, or one sleeping Sam Winchester. Every muscle in Castiel’s possession aches with a weariness he never thought possible, not even after going toe-to-toe with an archangel, and the scrape of Dean’s jeans against his ass is like broken glass. There’s no way else for them to fit, however, except lying on their sides. Realizing why back to front might not be the most comfortable, Dean wraps his arms around Castiel and pulls their chests together to prevent Cas from falling off the edge. For a little while, no one says anything.

        Then: “I never wanted you to think I gave up on you.” The words reach Castiel’s ears in a voice quiet than any he’s heard Dean use. There’s a slight shrug of Dean’s broad shoulders before he elaborates. “It seemed simpler to believe you’d been erased than face the reality of being wrong again, you know? Sometimes it’s easier to grieve over someone than hope they’re still there and never be sure.” Castiel does know, though this is not something he’s ever put into practice himself, preferring to chase after ghosts long after he knows they’ve vanished. Dean’s life, on the other hand, has been naught but a procession of loss. “What I wanted dead was the thing wearing your face, not you. I couldn’t see you go on like that, man, I just couldn’t.” Shifting a bit uncomfortably, Dean adds, “I—I’m glad you’re here now. Glad you’re okay.”

        Drawing one of his hands up to touch the curve of Dean’s cheek, Castiel hesitates again, almost as he did upon first approaching Dean in the study. “But it was me. Maybe not the whole time, though none of this ever would have happened if I’d just… walked away.”

        Dean seems to unconsciously push his face into Cas’s hand. “I never taught you to walk away,” he admits.

        “You take too much credit for my faults,” says Cas. “None of my virtues. Or your own, for that matter.”

        A grunt. “Takes one to know one, don’t it?”

        Truly, what does Castiel know of anything anymore? He once again finds himself trembling, albeit for entirely different reasons from before.

        Dean notices. “Hey,” he murmurs, catching Castiel’s chin. It’s such an easy, open gesture that one touch is all it takes to overwhelm Cas utterly, fat teardrops pushing out from behind his eyelids, momentarily blinding him. These, too, are brushed away, not with fingertips, but with Dean’s lips pressing against his lashes. “None of that,” he says sternly.

        Cas chokes out a noise of embarrassment and tries to blink back the tears, has to push his face against the sleeve of his T-shirt to blot them. “Dean,” he whispers. “I don’t know how you can look at me. After all I’ve done. All I’ve cost you when I swore I’d never cause you more pain.”

        When his gaze his forced back front and centre, he finds Dean doing just that—looking at him—gazing back with a hint of fury in his eyes. He pushes up on one elbow so he can stare down at Cas with more effectiveness. “Don’t do that,” he barks, voice harsh for all it never edges above normal volume. “Don’t act like I make choices without thinking them through, okay? Because you being here, not dead or somewhere else? It was my decision as much as yours. Take it at face value.” Biting off a curse, he flops back down against the sofa cushions, rubbing furiously at his eyes like a headache has spontaneously blossomed inside his skill. Dean apologizes just as quickly, even though Cas isn’t in need of one, but from Dean’s grimace he can tell the other man didn’t mean to snap at him. “Sorry. But when you say shit like that, it makes it seem like I ain’t ever cost you anything you could have smote my ass over, when I know for a fact I did. So let’s call a spade a spade, huh? We’ve both had plenty of chances to walk away.”

        Before he even thinks it, Cas knows what he wants to say yet is absurd; but since he can’t think of anything better to say, he comes out with it anyway. “I could never hate you. I’d never not forgive you, not for anything.”

        Dean turns his head to look at him, hard. “What makes you think the same don’t hold true for me?”

        “You said—” His tongue has a mind of its own. But then, Castiel reminds himself, he speaks the truth. Dean had told him they were done forever, turned his back and refused to hear Castiel’s begging.

        “Yeah, well.” The hand is back cupping his cheek, Dean’s thumb dragging roughly over Cas’s mouth like the hunter would rather just silence him and be done with this conversation for good. “I say a lot of things, most of them stupid. One thing I do know, though, is being angry isn’t worth losing you over, not again.” He wavers before adding, “I don’t wanna have to hurt you to keep you here, either. This… this ain’t how I want it to be, okay? There’s got to be a better way to work our shit out than causing more pain, not even if we think we want it.”

        Cas can’t seem to stop crying, streams of moisture running down his face like a dam lowered after a flood. He’s never cried, period. And yet—man, angel, god, no existence could hold meaning without the essential fact that has polarized Castiel’s entire being. “I don’t know the words to express how much love there is for you in my heart,” he says, and Dean’s eyes go a little wide, a little broken, but he doesn’t interrupt. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do with it all, but none of it’s worth anything if I lack your forgiveness. For millions of years I had no purpose without love or mercy; that won’t change just because I’m not an angel anymore.”

        Despite the hard-to-read expression, Dean pulls Cas in for what might be the most tender kiss they’ve ever shared, laying to rest any insecurities he might have had about his admission of love. It doesn’t bother him not to hear it back; Dean’s not one for fancy declarations, never has been, and the way he licks into Castiel’s mouth, reverent, breaks him as much as it would to hear the words, anyway. Cas moans at the feel of a tongue tracing his bottom lip, opens wider to try and take in more, take everything.

        Parting, Dean leaves their foreheads pressed together, tangles his fingers in Castiel’s hair to keep him close. “Sometimes we just gotta learn to live without forgiveness or love,” he murmurs. The words might be a bit harsh, but he doesn’t sound it. “It can’t be forced, and you can’t control it. Either it happens on its own or it doesn’t. Life goes on. At the end of the day, the only kind that matters is the mercy you show yourself.” He shrugs, though Castiel knows Dean is no longer just talking about the abstract, but something with which he’s struggled his whole life. “Come to think of it, it’s not all that different from figuring out what the hell you’re supposed to do next with your life.”

        “And you?” Cas can’t help but ask. “Do you think forgiveness might someday happen for me?”

        He’s missed the point somewhere, he knows, but Dean only gives a gentle roll of his eyes and kisses Castiel’s forehead, arms wrapping around his middle. It is at first awkward until Dean begins to relax, his whole body curving in quiet acceptance of having Cas here in his embrace. As though he understands, at last, how they fit together.

        “I don’t think you need to worry,” he says indulgently. “It may not look like it right now, but you aren’t hurting for love. And you’re not alone.”

        Unable to do more than sigh and bite his lip, Cas forces himself to release the last tenuous thread of restraint he still wants to clutch in his grasp like a totem. Fear still clenches in his gut, this unfamiliar ground very much rocky and uneven beneath his feet, but as he lets himself go, he begins to wonder whether a sense of control has ever protected him as much as he was led to believe. However scary, he gave it over willingly the moment Dean’s hand first struck his flesh, and felt nothing but absolutely safe.

        “I trust you,” he tells Dean, seemingly apropos, but the other man hugs him tighter in understanding, tangling their legs together.

        “Good.” That Dean appears to be falling asleep with Cas beside him adequately echoes the sentiment, a quiet refusal to be concerned with what might happen if Sam or Bobby should walk in and find them lying here. “That’s something. That’s big.”

        Although it’s a while longer before he follows suit, Cas eventually closes his eyes, lets his mind go silent. Sleep comes in its own time, without hurry. Finally, he thinks, he might be starting to learn what it’s all about.


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