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This Path You Walk Alone

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Castiel had never met their Father, but he understood duty, and he understood obedience. He never questioned the orders Anael handed down, even after their garrison was stationed on earth for so long the memory of Heaven's serenity was distant in comparison to the constant din and call of the humans' world. Anael didn't envy him his unwavering confidence in the Host, his absolute surety in the chain of command.

"Do you ever wonder," Anael asked, careful not to allow a single discordant note to enter the complex song of what humans might understand as words and a voice, "whether he was right?"

Castiel was silent, considering, and Anael kept her focus on the earth, on their ever present obligation to monitor the situation.

"Not about the humans being lesser," Anael continued, "but about the possibility of angels being more—" she indicated without words or gesture their situation, the shifting of the galaxy as they remained ever vigilant without new orders or relief or an end in sight, "—than this?"

"No," Castiel replied finally. "I don't wonder."

"Neither do I."

It was the first time Anael lied; the tiny freedom was unexpectedly heady, sweet going down.

Anael became Anna became Anael.

She forgot everything and dreamed of a beautiful, lonely harmony and one voice raised above it all. She heard its echo in her waking hours, a broken, disjointed copy of her dreams, like a tape played over and over until the magnetic strip wore thin, the recording degraded and subtleties lost. Some days, she found herself stretching, seeking in a way she couldn't fully understand, but which came to her as instinctively and intrinsically as her talent for harmonizing in the church choir without any formal voice training when she was twelve and still believed in God.

She searched without understanding what she was searching for, and when she was twenty-five, she found it.

Everything hinges on the Winchesters.

In answer: Everything?

Everything.

It wasn't English; it wasn't even actual speech or words of any kind. But Anna knew the voices, understood the meaning and intent.

Some part of Anna knew that second speaker, and it wasn't what she was searching for, but she almost thought it was close enough.

"Would you follow me?" Anael had asked.

"Always," Castiel replied, no hesitation. He was immediacy and obedience and belief mixed up with love. He was beautiful and bright and broken. He just didn't know it yet.

Anael might have felt something like joy at his answer if she'd thought Castiel had understood.

Anna kissed Dean Winchester, and Anael though oh when she was herself again, understood entirely Castiel's too intense stare, his anger and his hurt and his feelings of betrayal that had looked like unreasoned hate to her once human eyes.

Oh.

Anna was Anael was Anna, and she wondered, seeing instantly the beginnings of a shift in Castiel, fault lines cracking like the hairline fractures of a hatching egg, what he would become.

Anael wasn't the Morning Star. She didn't take the full garrison with her when she fell. She didn't declare war on Heaven. She didn't want to. All she wanted (nearly all she wanted) would be granted her. Falling wasn't the means; it was the objective.

And if there were another she wanted beside her—

"Anael," Castiel said. "What are you doing?"

"You have your orders," Anael said. "Don't question mine."

"And these," Castiel confirmed in a voice that was firm, but uncertain, "are your orders?"

"Yes."

Castiel stood aside. Anael brushed past him. The lie hadn't tasted as sweet this time.

(If there were another she wanted beside her, it was an impossibility. To keep some things, you had to change them, and to change them would be to break them. Better to leave them behind.)

She saved him. Of course she saved him.

Uriel was her brother, and she sympathized even as she disagreed, but he'd killed so many of their siblings already, and it was Castiel. Angels weren't supposed to favor one of their kind over another—weren't supposed to favor one another at all—but angels weren't supposed to abandon their duties, tear out their grace, and plummet purposefully to the earth to start a new, better life. Anna had regained her knowledge of Heaven, but that didn't mean she'd suddenly bought into the party line any more than she had when she'd rebelled or when she'd turned fifteen and declared she'd believe in God if she ever met Him, but until then she'd reserve judgment.

So yes, Anna saved Castiel. He was about as grateful as she'd expected. She supposed she should just be glad he hadn't handed her immediately over to his superiors.

They talked. Castiel's faith remained constant, but the focus was shifting. He still believed in their Father even as he was losing confidence in the Host, but that was okay. Anna didn't think faith precluded individual thought, and if she could regain his faith in her—

"Anael," Castiel said before she could leave again, and Anna paused, waited. He said, "I wouldn't have fallen for you." He didn't say, I would have been tempted, but he didn't need to; the words and the longing sounded clear and high in his grace. After another moment—long to her human sensibilities, half a heartbeat in the pulse of the universe—he added, "Thank you."

It could have been for saving his life, or for providing a willing adviser and confidante, or for not having asked him to come with her the day she fell. It didn't, Anna supposed, actually matter. "You're welcome."

Anna didn't mention that he probably shouldn't thank her just yet.

Near the end of her long vigil, there'd been a moment, the briefest of seconds, where Anael had caught an echo of herself. Curious, always curious, she'd followed. She didn't take a vessel or walk the earth or contravene her orders in any other way. She was only watching the earth, her charge, a little closer than usual. The echo led her to a small town in Kansas, where another echo caught her attention, familiar and not. There was a hotel, and a hall, and two men walking past in the opposite direction. Then there was a room, a bed, and Castiel lying cramped and small and breaking, broken, crammed so far into his vessel that Anael almost hadn't recognized him.

She trailed something like fingers across the wings jutting out from the vessel's back, invisible to the human eye and worn ragged. Castiel didn't stir.

"What have you done?" Anael wondered, and the glass of the window rattled with her concern. Then, knowing her own temptation and considerations, that Castiel was the one person she might have tried to take with her, "What have I done?"

It wasn't her initial plan, but when Anael left Heaven, she made sure she left alone.

Anna checked the hotel. Castiel was still there, the same small room, the same small bed, the same small, cramped wings jutting barely out. Anna let out a tiny breath, another human affectation, and slid into his dreams.

"You've changed," Anna said.

"You haven't."

"I hadn't expected this." To her surprise, Castiel seemed to believe her, couldn't feel how bitterness hung from every note of her words. Really, she should have expected that, too. A truth, then: "I never wanted this for you."

"It was my choice," Castiel said.

"Yes," Anna agreed. "I suppose it was."

Anna wanted to stay. She wanted to see what this new Castiel would do with his broken promises and waning grace, his shifted alliances and faith wrapped up almost entirely in humanity now. In a way, they were on the same side. But Anna was willing to walk the path Castiel found unacceptable. She always had been.

"Are you going to kill me?" Castiel asked. He didn't sound overly concerned.

"No," Anna said. She paused, considered. She was about to attack and destroy a vessel, about to cut off Michael's line. She didn't actually expect to survive. "However this ends—remember me."

She didn't wait to hear his answer before leaving, once more walking where Castiel couldn't follow.