The angel was not simple, on the inside.
While the human slept, the watcher nuzzled up around the angel, close and curious, and brushed against the aching parts of his mind. The angel flinched, and stared; but he let him do it.
There was a clamour in the watcher, telling him to delve forward, push inwards, to scourge and to forgive and to mend, to do things he had no words for. The angel was chaos on the inside, tangled associations and bright shards of feeling too harsh and beautiful to look at. Ends that didn’t match up, and gaps where things had been torn away. He was beautiful on the inside, but he was terrifying too.
Sliding over the outside and feeling the quiver of the angel’s thoughts and feelings, that was one thing: they had done that to each other since the first. But this was different. This was the angel’s mind and heart and all the parts of his body except the physical opening up, wary and willing, to let the watcher in. It was the slide of warmth against the frost-burnt patches inside of him, against the poison-rotting spots of regret.
It was... intimacy.
And the watcher did not have the skills for it.
Power he had, and he could wield it easy and strong as anything. But this wasn’t that: this took care. He felt himself clumsy and dangerous, too large inside the angel’s cracked-diamond fragility. And the angel was resisting him - wanting the touch, wanting to be entered and held by something greater than himself and to give himself up, but wriggling uncomfortably against it. Not quite trusting. And there was pain.
He withdrew. The angel, in the throat of his vessel of flesh, made a soft noise that felt like regret.
The watcher reached out, with his carefully engineered hands, to touch the skin that covered the sound. Then he touched the angel’s face, because he was sorry for the pain, and for that little noise.
The angel didn’t pull away, but stayed there, pressed up close. Still open, still inviting. Hopeful, oddly. As if pain wasn’t something that he wished to avoid.
But the watcher was greater and stronger than the angel, and older. Even if the angel wanted to be hurt, the watcher didn’t want to hurt him. And the angel was brother, and that word meant something different applied to the angel than to the human. It meant that the angel was the watcher’s responsibility, and that where he was damaged, he was to be fixed.
It meant, somehow, that the watcher had not done right by him. Maybe ever.
He didn’t press forward again. And when the angel’s fingers brushed his cheek, turning their faces together, and touched his mouth insistent and tentative to the side of the watcher’s mouth, there was nothing else to be done but to nudge his cheek and turn away.
The angel sighed, breath prickling against the illusion of skin, and let him go.
It was only in pulling back that the watcher felt the difference.
Those frail tendrils that he had seen - those broken lonely trails of the angel’s heart - they were not quite as they had been. Now there they were, just a few of them, tangled with his own. Anchor to anchor. Thin as hope, and thick as blood.
Because the watcher had them too. He had never seen them - never looked at himself to see - but they were there. He was the same kind of creature as the angel. He had been alone as well.
At the next camp - or the next night, as the human named it - the angel slept too.
“Cas. You with me?”
“I am always with you.”
“... Sure, dude. So. Gabriel.”
The watcher stirred, and turned his attention inward, away from the vast chasms of iron that fell away into the darkness around them and towards the small glow of the fire that the human had built, and the angel had lit. The angel was lying on his back, looking at the blank dark vault of the sky. Beside him, the human was propped up on one elbow, and there was a set to his face that looked like he was ready for a fight.
“When we get out of here,” the human said, and the watcher watched the way he used his eyes to insist on the weight of his words. “Cos that’s gonna happen, Cas. How do we take him with?”
There were many thoughts unsaid in the tiniest flickers of the muscles around both mouths, both sets of eyes; in the way the angel looked at the human, then looked at the sky.
“Dean,” he murmured, and the watcher felt the warm ache tug at the heartstrings that joined him to the angel. “You are incapable of not challenging the impossible.”
“Hey. Hey. You look at me, Cas. We’re getting out of here,” and the watcher felt a sting of pride that he could recognise the tone of the deanhuman’s voice: ferocity, and stubbornness. “The three of us, and Sammy on the other side, we’ll figure something out. And nobody gets left behind. Not him, not you. So you can wipe that look the hell off your face, capisce?”
This time the angel looked at him: at the fingers digging into the layers of cloth at his shoulder, at the brightness in his eyes, at the soul behind them that was clinging doggedly to determination like a spar in an empty ocean.
“Yes, he said at last, and there was wonder creeping over his heart. “I... capisce.”
The human blinked, squeezed his shoulder, and nodded. “Well. Good,” he muttered, and shot a fierce glance over at the watcher, where he perched in the darkness beyond the firelight. “Good.”
Now Purgatory was nothing but vast knotted ropes, thick as the human was tall, slung out from nowhere to nowhere over a vast indigo abyss.
Some were frayed almost through. Some were broken, and their damaged ends hung still in midair, reaching out towards their counterparts but never touching. Impassable. Impossible.
It made the watcher shudder, as Purgatory’s landscapes never had before. It felt too real.
The human looked out over the dark gulf, along the hoary strands of the rope where he and the angel stood, and squared his shoulders.
“What d’you think happens if we fall?”
The angel reached out, to curl his fingers around the man’s belt. “The raven,” he murmured. “What draws it to that man? And why does he ask those questions when he knows how it will answer him?”
The human’s mind flinched away.
Ropes. Severed ropes, and lost dangling ends, and tendrils reaching out like damaged vines to lock around a counterpart.
It wasn’t only the angel.
There were many broken and bruised threads of the angel’s heart that reached out towards the human, the watcher had seen that from the beginning. What he hadn’t seen, until he had known how to look more closely at the human’s soul - until he thought of it - was that there were as many in the human reaching back towards the angel. They yearned towards each other, tired and fierce and brutal; but every one of those threads managed to miss every single one reaching back.
To human eyes, the watcher was barely there, except when he put in the effort to make himself solid. Most of the angel was invisible to the human as well, all but what was packed into the vessel, and every day there were moments when the human looked at even the vessel as if he couldn’t quite find it. As if he was too stubborn to admit that he couldn’t see the angel there.
To the human, with his limited senses, the watcher and the angel must look like shades. Insubstantial. Impermanent as Purgatory’s landscapes.
“What raven, Cas?” said the human, and he reached back to lay careful fingertips around the angel’s wrist.
Asking for a way to follow the angel’s thoughts as they fled. That was new.
The angel’s lips parted a little around a soundless word, dry and pale, and he looked at the human’s hand with a wrinkle in his forehead.
“It is a famous poem, Dean,” he replied. “It’s only a bird, imitating sounds that it’s learnt, but to the human it is a messenger from beyond.”
Something about the word rang through the depths of the watcher, resonated in that hidden, forgotten sense of “I.”
A messenger, repeating only what it had learnt.
“Uh-huh.” The dean breathed out, slowly. “This is the ‘nevermore’ dude, isn’t it?”
Maybe they were all shadows.
Well. If they were, the watcher had been a shadow for a long time, and screw that. It didn’t mean he couldn’t be - couldn’t look after his people. Inside as well as outside.
“Wasn’t there something about some dead chick the dude was in love with?” The human glared at the length of the rope, then squinted at the angel. There was a confusion in his mind, and a determination, as if he wanted to make sense of those two things at once. “And the raven was her ghost, or something?”
The watcher scattered, shook himself free of the corporeal, and prodded at the rough illusory hemp of the rope.
“I don’t know. All it did was sit there and give him the same answer every time. It was the human that drove himself into falling.” The angel cocked his head and stared at the path of the rope laid out before them. “Perhaps he didn’t have enough reason to keep going.”
The watcher flashed him a hint of protectiveness, a hint of laughter, and slid into the rope. It burned bright with his energy, a long flare arcing out across the darkness, then subsided into a warm glow. He hummed, pleased at its malleability, and set about fixing it: smoothing all the frayed and uneven bits, mending the gaps, and smoothing it out into a steady road for their feet.
A personal promise.
“... Gabriel just turned himself into a rope, didn’t he.”
“Angels, man. Five years in and you still make less sense than a chocolate toilet seat.”
The angel said nothing; but his mind, just for a moment, was warm and comfortable.
The human scuffed at the hemp with the toe of his boot. “So we just gotta trust you and we’ll be fine, huh, buddy? That it?”
The watcher tickled the sole of his foot, and the human spat a startled curse and hopped on one foot and glared at the rope.
He didn’t feel angry, though. There was a ripple of amusement on the surface, and underneath there was... something else.
Beyond the human’s sight, and maybe beyond the angel’s notice, some small part of each of them brushed against the other. Dry grass touching in the wind.
They walked. The rope held steady. They didn’t fall.
What good was a messenger who didn’t know how to deliver a message?
If the watcher meant to look after them it wasn’t enough to be powerful. He had to learn to communicate with them: to read them, and to be read in return. The hurt was inside them, and he was outside, and he was too clumsy to reach inside in the way he was best at, so he had to learn to do it their way. The language of faces, and touches, and voice. Especially when it came to the human.
But there were so many muscles in the face, and they could be moved in so many different ways. The angel had only to focus on the watcher to see the general tenor of his thoughts and feelings, but the human needed to see them written in the eyes and mouth and skin. And the angel used his vessel’s face too, even when the human wasn’t watching him. Facial expressions were important. The human and the angel could make each other laugh or smile, and sometimes it only took an exchange of glances for the tense lines of their minds and fears ease into something softer, with nothing more than the shift of a few facial muscles.
At the same time, the strands of themselves that reached out towards each other would brush, just a little. Once the watcher would have thought that it was that incorporeal reassurance that eased their minds. Now he thought that perhaps it was the other way around, that it was the communication of eyes and face, of thoughts shared that way, that brought their souls close enough to touch.
Something was being shared there, something the watcher couldn’t access.
Also, there was the niggling fact that whenever the watcher made himself corporeal and didn’t bother with eyes and mouth and nose, or when he put them there but forgot to use them, the human tried to avoid looking at him.
So he tried it too. When they lay down that ‘night’, in the lazy time between walking and the human falling asleep, the deanhuman and the angel talked. Not about anything in particular - there was mention of a human called Edgar Allen Poe, and then of a story about Death dressed in red, and something about a plague - but it was all background noise compared to the shy touches of their souls, and the tentative softness of the muscles in their faces.
The watcher stretched out beside the angel where he lay and studied the way the muscles lay under the skin, the shape of the teeth in the mouth. The angel made no attempt to brush away the exploratory curl of energy. He only lay there with his eyes on Dean and his knuckles resting lightly against the watcher’s stomach, while the watcher carefully remodelled the inner workings of his own head to follow the same rules.
When the angel said words that made the human shake his head and chuckle, rusty and surprised, the watcher looked at the crinkle in the corners of the human’s eyes and the way his mouth split open to flash his teeth, and he made the same expression in return.
It had an effect. The human stopped laughing, and stared. Then he let out a little bark of amusement.
“Hey, Fawkes. What’s with the creepy face-twist?”
The watcher rolled its eyes. That was simple enough, and seemed like an appropriate response to that tone of voice.
The human’s eyes went narrower, and the muscles around his mouth relaxed into something curious. “Cas, is he – hey. Gabriel. Dude. You understanding us here?”
When they said that word it meant they were speaking to him, and wanted his response. He hunched up his shoulders, and let them fall. A gesture that both of them used often, when they didn’t have words to answer with.
Dean broke into a grin. “Awesome. Baby steps, buddy. Soon we’ll have you on solids and not messing your diaper like a big boy.”
Teasing intent behind it. He was being teased. That meant - something, probably something good.
The watcher drew on Dean’s vocabulary of body language for responding to teasing, because it was more extensive than the angel’s: narrowed his eyes right back, and flipped the human off. Beside him, he felt the angel’s ribs vibrating, and the deep, unmistakeable rumble of a chuckle.
“... Cas, what, are you actually sleeping?”
The angel opened one eye, and used it to glower.
“It refreshes me. And it is safe, with Gabriel here.”
The surfaces of the human’s thoughts, already fuzzy-soft with sleepiness, went warm and bemused. “Dude. Your hair is sticking up all over the place. You look like a grumpy kitten. C’mere, man.”
The angel blinked at the human as his hair got patted back into place. The slide of fingers through hair caused a pleasant series of tingling sensations, which the watcher could feel faintly across the ties between them. Perhaps he should make the effort to build and maintain an entire body, with all the nerve endings and hair follicles and strange little reactions of a human’s. The angel seemed to enjoy it.
Realisation and embarrassment flared suddenly across the human’s mind, chasing away some of the clouds of sleep. He made a sound like a cough in his throat; the petting stopped; he glanced down at his body and the angel’s and eased himself a little further away.
The angel mostly felt puzzled. The watcher carefully catalogued the movements of their faces.
“Uh. Yeah, Gabriel. Cas. Look.” The dean sat up. “This whole Purgatory amnesia thing. You said this place feeds on the memories. So this isn’t like Sam’s wall where it’s just memories locked away somewhere, right? They’re actually gone?”
The angel rolled over onto his back to blink up at the human. His hair looked ruffled and soft, and the watcher felt the strange urge to stroke it in his own turn. “I believe so.”
“Okay,” said the human, excitement rippling under the surface, carefully battened down. “Then why are his memories coming back?”
The angel’s forehead furrowed into thought, and the watcher delighted in the feel of it, the tug of the muscle and the race of the mind behind it. Correlation.
“He is learning, Dean. I don’t know if -”
“Hey, Gabriel,” the human interrupted, tipped his face up towards the watcher and pointed at the angel. “What’s his name?”
“Castiel,” replied the watcher, because he still wasn’t quite sure what a name was for, but Castiel was the word that meant all of the angel.
“Castiel.” The human turned his face back towards the angel and grinned, broad mouth and white teeth and triumph in his eyes. “I never call you that. And he called you his brother, before.”
The watcher felt the human’s delight flash through him as well. Communication. The human had asked him to speak, and he had, and it had been right.
He dropped down to the ground and grinned his own grin, made a noise that he liked that felt like satisfaction and sounded like a rumble in the ground below his feet. The angel sat up, and the expression on his face swelled the watcher’s emotion into smugness.
“Gabriel,” he said, all seriousness. Then his hand was spreading warm and firm over the watcher’s cheek, and the angel was looking at him hard, searching him with eyes human and more than human. “What did Lucifer say to you?”
Eyes, grey eyes, old and too bright and sad and wrong. A sharp white flare of pain in his chest, swelling out to burn through the whole of his body. Wings, wings burning, grace streaming out to scatter wild, betrayal. War, war, beloved tearing at beloved, on and on until love turned grey and bitter. At the end of all things, after all the weight that should have been there, all the love - betrayal.
Don’t make me do this, brother.
Scattering. Nothingness. Un-becoming. Un-being.
He jerked back, scrambled away from the angel with ungainly limbs that weren’t really his. There was fire rippling under his skin, and he was blurring at the edges, losing his solidity, losing his determination and his discoveries and -
“Whoa, whoa,” and there were hands on his shoulders, warm and firm and real and alarmed. “Way to go, Cas. Stick to the easy stuff, why don’t you?”
The angel’s essence buzzed against his own, anxious and repentant. The touch of him was too determined and too clumsy to feel anything like that other one, the phantom one, the one that - that wasn’t real, because it was a memory. A memory.
“I was aiming for a powerful memory,” the angel said, and the tone of his voice matched the touch of his mind, the careful steadying tug of him through the bond.
“Well, full marks with the Pensieve there.”
“... I understood that reference.”
“Yeah? Hey. Kudos, man.”
Warmth - a tentative tenderness, reaching out from one to the other, expecting on each side to be repulsed. The watcher clung to it, even if it wasn’t for him: let them steady him between them, let the human’s hands squeeze his shoulders and tip his chin up so the human could see his face.
“Hey. Plasma boy.” There was a little tug at the corner of the human’s mouth. It felt like anxiety, but it looked like amusement. “You remember that frat boy, the first time we met? Crawford Hall? The slow-dancing alien? ‘Cos I gotta say, dude, I’m gonna be seriously disappointed in you if you’ve wiped that out. That was awesome. And the alligator in the sewer?”
Images, thoughts, impressions. A silver face, and a beam of light (Beam me up, Scotty) and a stammering, indignant, befuddled bully. A magazine with lurid impossible stories in it that tickled his fancy. Wearing a woman’s body and smiling slow and promising at a man in a comfortable office after dark. Dean’s face, younger, bickering. Wrestling, squabbling, loving strong and sure and unbreakable before he learned what it meant to lose it.
“And if you’ve forgotten about Doctor Sexy I don’t think we can be friends, man. Swanning down the hospital corridor like you owned the place - hah, guess you did - in that coat, and - tennis shoes? Really? Everyone knows it’s the cowboy boots that make Doctor Sexy sexy. Still got that in there?”
The human Dean, a few years older than the last memory, delight and bemusement and knowing it was a trap but loving it anyway, staring around him at what the watcher had made. And - and a Sam. There, there was the heart of all that brotherly tenderness hidden away in this human. Samhuman - Sam, yes, Sam, brother, centre in the rage of this Dean’s mind. Both humans, turning around and around in place in the corridor, one face annoyed, the other - fastening on Gabriel’s, meeting his eyes, mouth falling open, just one delicious moment of bashfulness that nobody else got to see.
He felt the corners of his own mouth twitch into a smirk. The human’s face did the same - a response! - and the watcher slid the tips of his fingers over the wrinkles at the corner of his eyes.
“All your own sets, your own actors. And that one was for me, because you’d been a fucking creeper and worked out I was into that, but that procedural cop show... man, that’s not my guilty secret, that one was for -”
Dean’s eyes gleamed. “That’s my boy.”
Dean made a point of talking to him, after that.
It was all about the memories, at first. Little prompts, teasing out recollections that they shared. He mentioned chainsaws in a lecture theatre, and Kali, and the Incredible Hulk smashing through doorways, and the flickers of expressions and memories over his mouth and eyes and the twist of his hands were as rich and varied as the blurred, colourful fresco that he was revealing slowly in the watcher’s mind. Sometimes the watcher forgot to think about the words at all, or the thoughts that came with them (tiny thoughts with no context as often as not, just the curve of ancient colour revealed under the prod of the archaeologist’s soft brush, and what was an archaeologist?), because he was too absorbed in watching the human’s thoughts ripple across his mind and his face. And his voice was intriguing too, the dark wry curl of it when you stopped listening to the words and just heard the sound: molasses-slow and molasses-rich.
So many words - sparse and skimming at first, a little trickle of a spring to whet his appetite, drawing him out; and then a brook, smooth and continuous and lush. Not just “that one time with the Japanese game show” after a while, but snatches, here and there, of Dean’s side of the story. Thoughts and reactions and narration and “you shoulda seen Sam’s face - we needed the laugh by then” and “dude, seriously, not that I’m complaining but that’s not what it feels like in real life, taking a bullet”. Not just prompting a response: Dean giving something of himself in return.
Only that couldn’t last long. They had less than half a day of shared memories, at least so far as Dean knew (and the watcher knew better, felt glimpses of Dean and Sam at other times, in other places, when they hadn’t known he’d been watching). So the watcher began to prompt him.
He named a town in Nebraska, where a bad storm had pinned the Deanhuman down for a few days not long after the showdown with War, and the human chuckled and glanced slyly at the angel and launched into a detailed incomprehensible account of just why the angel was useless at poker.
“Zachariah?” he said, as they walked, and got a complicated ferocious diatribe about dicks with wings and middle-management in which he understood about one sentiment in twenty, but which sometimes made the angel turn his head away and smile a bit.
“Balthazar,” he tried, after that, because he had glimpses of memories of him, here and there - one moment when he’d been called away from watching the Winchesters at Carthage by a snide little brother who wouldn’t admit to being angry because he wouldn’t admit that he cared, but who had demanded of the watcher... things that he couldn’t remember. And he remembered thinking that surely, if anything could draw Balthazar out, it would be Castiel’s plight, Castiel’s investment, Castiel’s distress.
He didn’t remember whether it had or not, in the end; but the angel’s mind froze into panic at the name, and the human’s face went suspicious and sad and he stared at the angel and the angel would not meet his eyes, so the watcher asked after no more angels.
“Stairway to Heaven,” he tried another time, skipping off a glimpsed memory of Sam and Dean in the car, relaxed briefly, even with everything simmering between them. That worked better: that launched Dean into happy, easy hours of words about classic rock, music, life, spanning four decades of musical history and the lives of its creators, about their world and their life and little snippets of cases when the Winchesters had used their names. The watcher experimented with sound waves, tugged at the air until it reproduced the noises the watcher remembered that made up the song, and Dean’s mind lit up. He was beautiful talking like that, all passion and ease, eyes crinkling at the edges and hands reaching out to touch, to share; and after that, the watcher set out to make his soul shine like that again.
He raked through the memories that he had (and sought out more) to discover things that Dean might love, with the casual comfortable enthusiasm of the everyday. Foods, and books, and movies, and all of them were the door to a rich chamber of other topics. Sometimes Dean would reminisce (introducing Sam to Star Wars as a kid), sometimes he’d lecture (pie was a fine art, apparently), sometimes he’d retell stories. One epic legend about small imaginary creatures and journeys and allegorical evil jewellery took two whole days to retell.
Now it wasn’t just personal experiences that the watcher was remembering: now it was concepts and thoughts. Slaughterhouse Five prompted the event of the Dresden bombings, but also nation, and war, and hope, and authorship. Beowulf, and the human idea of monsters and the fear of the dark, dragons, drunkenness, the rich glint of finely worked gold, and (for some reason) Angelina Jolie with a snake’s body. The idea of courage, and of irritation; of things lost behind the couch cushion; of email, and of the way city streets can act as wind tunnels, girls topless on beaches, and what an orphan is.
The watcher used his voice, sometimes, to respond. His responses were simple - just a few words, noun-adjective, noun-verb, verb-interrogative - because words were simple but sentences were complicated things, and so were thoughts, and he couldn’t seem to make them meet. The Dean didn’t seem to mind, though: the watcher watched him, and grinned, and threw back his clumsy delighted responses, and the human grinned back and said more.
Castiel just listened, with his eyes on the ground; but he smiled more now, quiet and soft. And sometimes, on some subjects, he joined in.
The watcher was walking now, instead of hovering above them and letting them have their illusions of movement. Now he trod the ground beneath his feet, pushed it back and himself forward with the springy levers of muscle and tendon and bone and flesh. He felt the grit of dust between his toes, and the bite of frost or hot sand, and the jagged edges of rock. It was still illusion, of course, but now he was using it. All in the mind, but his mind was real. And for the first time it felt like movement.
Once, they sat on a silver lake with no shore in sight, on a coracle of wrought iron. The watcher twisted the world just enough to add a pair of paddles to it, and together they crept over the still, thick surface.
“Jesse Turner,” he said, when the silence became heavy. He didn’t have the words to show what he meant by it, though - that he’d seen that, all of it - and all he could do was try to push into the words all the flash of impressions that came with them. Bitter, twisting worry - dust-dry despair by then, almost - at the sight of his little brother, of this angel, prepared to make choices like that. Indignation that he should have to make choices at all, he who was never made for them - dread at what he might become. And he shaped with his hands and with an illusion of light the tiny mannikin that the cambion had made of the angel, and couldn’t remember the words. “Castiel. Small man, stopped.”
From Dean he got a cheerful “you were watching that, huh? Creeper,” and a grim account of how the world had screwed one kid over; but it wasn’t really the human that held his attention.
The angel was very quiet. He sat there in the prow of the boat, with his head down and his hands between his knees. He was tangling his hands together, slow and dragging, thoughts sliding and knotting over each other like his fingers, rubbing raw against each other. Guilt. Recriminations. Doubts. Regrets. The weight of choosing wrong, of never knowing the what-ifs of the path you didn’t take, of not knowing whether the choice was the right one or not, of choice itself.
What was it?
There was something there, something in the angel’s mind, in what the angel needed, nibbling just beyond the watcher’s comprehension.
The angel was not created to make his own choices: that was simple fact. The watcher knew it because he could feel it on him, and he knew it because he could remember knowing it, remember looking at him in the cambion’s house and thinking it. Memory, and observation, both agreeing. So far, so good.
But where to proceed from there?
If the angel was not to make his own choices, who was meant to make them for him?
There was a weight behind that question, something looming dark and heavy at the back of his knowledge.
Something, someone, someone the watcher had known once, someone who was the centre of all, the origin of all, the purpose of all. Someone from whom the watcher’s thoughts shied away, because the tangle of memories and feelings there was bright and hot and deadly as the sun.
But that wasn’t the answer. That... that being, that origin, that was not where the angel should take his orders. The ideas of the angel and the Being weren’t directly linked in the watcher’s mind. There was something else in between, interpreting, deciding, ordering, taking the weight of responsibility and consequence. Something - someone - some ones -
Leaders. Brothers. Beloved. War, war, war, silver darkened with blood.
There was a reason the angel belonged to the watcher, in a way that the human did not. There was a reason the guilt he remembered was personal, a shame, a failing on his own part as well as the angel’s. A responsibility abandoned. A consequence falling into the hands and onto the heads of others. Crushing them.
Somehow, somehow, the watcher was meant to command. The angel was his, to own and to order and to absolve. The angel’s mind, thoughts, actions, everything, all should be his. He should reach out and take, wipe out the pain and the fractures and every thought that wasn’t clean and unambiguous and innocent as the lily before it opened, but...
Was, and had been. Is, and will be. Too many moments, too many selves, overlapping, overwhelming.
He remembered Jesse Turner’s living room; and he remembered, later on, taking the angel and locking him away in - in something, some imaginary place where he would be kept from intervening, while he kept the Dean and the Samhuman in his power. He had deliberately taken away the angel’s ability to act on his choices. He had deliberately not taken away his ability to choose.
He remembered that him, the was. And he didn’t remember (but he remembered remembering) the had been, remembered hovering over the cambion’s house and comparing himself then to what he’d been even earlier: commander, warlord, older brother, possessor. The one who was meant to take on all the burden of choice. And there was an is, a now, and... that was three selves and they were all in his head at once, and hell, who thought memory was a good idea when it screwed with you like this? How did anyone stand having all these different moments in their head at once?
The had been differed from the was. It stood to reason that the was differed from the is. And each of them had chosen differently.
And the angel, too - he differed. And he chose. For himself.
Even if he sometimes chose wrong.
Neither of them could turn the clock back. Then wasn’t now, and couldn’t be again.
But the human used thens, sometimes, as a safe haven. A rest.
The angel’s hands dragged against each other on and on, skin sliding rough over skin, over the phantom of blood.
The watcher reached out and laid his hand over the angel’s.
The angel looked up, eyes wide and lost, and his forehead crumpled.
The watcher dug his fingers hard into the crooked tangle of flesh and bone in his grip, burrowing between the pads and knuckles, holding them fast. Still.
Annoyance curled across the angel’s mind, the smoke of it clouding over something deeper and vaster and all-engulfing. The angel scowled at the watcher, and tried to tug his hands free.
Freedom is a length of rope...
Was that a memory too? It had a different flavour to the others, lost and acrid, with the bewilderment of fractured illusions.
He shortened the rope, wound himself in to wrap around the angel’s mind, firm and binding, pinning the thoughts and the guilt down until they couldn’t even twitch.
The angel made a noise in his throat, breath punching its way out of lungs that didn’t need it. His body was rigid, knuckles pushing dents into the watcher’s palm as his muscles and mind strained irritably against the hold.
Safe, the watcher thought at the angel. Stop. Rest.
The sound of the human’s voice faltered and stopped, and all the fight left the angel’s body in a rush, sliding away like water under the watcher’s touch until the angel was soft and exhausted against him. Trusting.
The hands fell open and easy into the angel’s lap, and the watcher took his away to brush his fingers carefully over the top of the angel’s spine. The human sometimes touched him here - not delicately, but with his whole hand, warm and a bit rough - but the angel wasn’t right for roughness just now. He felt... raw, like skin that had been dirty for far too long and had just been scrubbed vigorously clean, and somehow the watcher didn’t want to touch him too hard.
The angel’s eyes were still open, still wide, still a bright clear blue fixed on the watcher’s face with something like wonder, and all the quiet energy of him hung softly in the air around them like clear silver filaments. Not tangling and agitated, or heavy and resigned, just for one moment. Resting.
He was beautiful.
Awe. That was what this feeling had been called, once.
“What was - he okay?”
The watcher ignored the human, because the angel was stirring under his fingertips, drawing himself back together. Taking possession of himself again, but everything about him still hummed with relaxation, and relief. Just for now.
“Yes,” said the angel, in a voice that scraped his throat. Then again, more clearly and wondering, “Yes.”
A thrill of triumph shot silver-bright through the watcher. He had done this - he, with his mind and his hands, with his threadbare tangle of memory. He had managed to reach out, and make something work. If he could give the angel just a moment here and there of not having to hold onto everything himself, of not having to be his own master...
“Awesome,” he said to the human, and grinned.
The human snorted, and his eyes sparkled into something so rich the watcher wanted to reach out and touch. “Sure. You’re awesome.”