“So… he just took off?”
The incredulous sound of Sam’s voice made Dean laugh, though it came out sounding bitter and unhappy. “And this surprises you? It’s Cas, Sam.” He was quiet for a moment before sighing and adding tightly, “It’s what he does.”
“But… he fixed you up first,” Sam observed, his voice thoughtful.
Dean could feel his gaze as Sam looked him over again dubiously, clearly searching for any sign of the injuries Dean had told him about, the injuries Cas had inflicted on him in the crypt. Dean guessed it would be kind of hard to believe that it had happened at all, without so much as a trace left on his face or body after Cas had healed him.
“So… whatever mind control crap they had him under, he broke it. Or something did. Right?” Sam concluded, uncertainty in his voice.
Dean shook his head slowly, not taking his eyes off the road in front of them. Sam’s words brought back the vivid memories of what Sam hadn’t seen – Cas’s cold, vacant expression as he’d slammed brutal fists into Dean’s face, thrown him to the ground as easily as if Dean had been a child, with no more concern than if he’d been some random monster, not the friend that had stood by him for the past several years, through Purgatory, through… through everything.
Dean shivered, well aware that Cas could have killed him with a single blow.
In fact, he had no idea, really, why he was even still alive.
He’d looked into Cas’s eyes – and all he’d seen was cold, clear purpose, untouched by any warmth or affection. In that moment, there had been no doubt in Dean’s mind.
Cas had intended to kill him.
“Sam, I’m not even sure he was being controlled,” he admitted wearily. “I just know that’s what he said, but – but then he just took off with the angel tablet, and – he said he had to protect it, but – he said he had to protect it from me, and that doesn’t make any sense. He was acting really cagey even when he stopped pounding my face in, and I don’t know what he’s up to this time any more than I did last time he just took off like this – or the time before that. Probably won’t until it’s too late.”
“Well – maybe he’s got a good reason,” Sam offered, but the words sounded about as doubtful as Dean felt. “It’s Cas. I mean – I’m sure his intentions are good.”
That… wasn’t exactly comforting.
Dean remembered a few years past, Cas standing in Bobby’s darkened living room, insistent that he was doing the right thing, that he was going to save them from the next Apocalypse – mere days before he unleashed hell on earth upon them all instead. He remembered the news reports of the mass murders and other atrocities that had been committed for what Cas had felt at the time to be the “greater good”.
“Yeah,” Dean muttered, his fists clenched around the Impala’s steering wheel, his jaw tight with tension, the cold, heavy ache of dread in his stomach. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
A week passed, with no word from Cas, and no progress on the nature of the second trial – and Dean was starting to get restless.
On the one hand, he knew it was probably for the best; Sam needed time to rest and recover from the effects of the first trial before taking on anything else. Dean tried his best to support Sam’s determination to go through with this and close the gates of Hell, but he was secretly just a little bit relieved that there was currently nothing they could do but wait.
Sam, on the other hand, seemed restless and agitated. He studied feverishly, looking for something outside of the missing demon tablet that might reference the trials, or provide some hint as to how to go about completing the next one – with no success. He was growing irritable and impatient, and when Dean noticed that the bunker’s pantry was getting a little low on supplies, he casually suggested that Sam go with him to do the grocery shopping.
If nothing else, it would at least get Sam out of the bunker for a little while – and it was a short, safe trip that hopefully wouldn’t take too much out of him.
When they walked into Lebanon’s one convenience store to find the clerk slumped over the counter, unconscious, and the handful of shoppers lying in the aisles, still and silent, Dean realized that he shouldn’t have made such an assumption. He glanced over at Sam as he drew his weapon, pleased and relieved to see that Sam already had his own gun out as he warily peered around the corner into the aisle nearest him.
“Dean and Sam Winchester.”
Dean spun around at the sound of the unfamiliar voice, its slightly stilted, overly self-important note revealing its owner as an angel, even before he took in the dark suit and weirdly placid expression that usually went along with that tone. Dean noticed out of the corner of his eye that Sam had turned too, and now both held their guns aimed at the stranger, facing them with calm, quiet expectation.
Unfortunately, Dean knew from long experience just how much good those guns wouldn’t do.
“What did you do to these people?” he demanded anyway. “Fix them and get out of here. We’ve got nothing to say to you.”
“I will fix them, and I will leave this place – but first, I have something to say to you, Dean Winchester,” the angel said, unfazed by Dean’s demands. “My name is Ion, and I have been sent to find you – no easy task, if I may say – because once again, Heaven finds itself in need of your help.”
Dean’s lip curled with the immediate disgust he felt, and he steadied his weapon in his hand. “Yeah, well, we’ve already established I’m nobody’s vessel,” he declared. “And if you’re looking for Cas, we don’t know where he is…”
“Wouldn’t tell you if we did,” Sam clarified, his voice taut and wary.
Dean nodded once in agreement, giving the angel a false smile as he concluded, “So you might as well put these people to rights and get out of here.”
“This is of vastly greater importance than the failed Apocalypse, or a single wayward angel,” Ion insisted, for the first time, a note of impatience creeping into his voice. “Though it does involve Castiel.”
“Of course it does.” Dean nodded grimly. “Well, you see – Ion, is it? Cas is our friend, and while I do owe him a serious kicking of his ass right now, there’s no way in hell we’re turning him over to you. I think we’re done here…”
“If you cannot help, then not only your world, but all worlds will meet their end, at the hands of the friend you protect so fiercely.”
The urgency in Ion’s voice, the barely veiled alarm in his eyes, set a stirring of unease in the pit of Dean’s stomach. It must have shown on his face, a little, because the corner of Ion’s mouth tilted up slightly in an unhappy ghost of a smile.
“I take it this scenario sounds familiar?”
“Shut up,” Dean snapped. Then he closed his eyes, letting out a slow breath before looking at Ion again and relenting slightly. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Castiel is in possession of the angel tablet.”
“And you guys want it. We know.” Sam cut him off, disgust clear in his voice.
“That is not what this is about.” Ion’s voice held a thunderous edge that sent an unwilling shiver down Dean’s spine. “Castiel is going to use the angel tablet to end your world.”
Dean’s world did seem to tilt a little, right then, spinning out of control for a moment, his stomach sinking with the beginnings of a dreadful certainty, even as a single thought echoed through his mind, pleading and desperate.
No, please… please, Cas, not again…
“He’s going to end all the worlds – unless you can stop him.”
“You’re lying,” Dean said, at the same time as Sam demanded, “How?”
Ion’s stance seemed to relax a nearly imperceptible fraction, and he calmed a little as he replied. “Castiel has aligned himself with an angel known as the Keeper of the Gates. She controls all existing and potential doorways to all worlds – Heaven, Hell, Purgatory – and this world.”
“Naomi?” Dean guessed, frowning.
“No. Naomi was attempting to correct Castiel’s path before it could reach this point,” Ion explained, a disapproving note to his voice. “But her connection with Castiel has been broken. We’re not sure how, but we believe the Gatekeeper is responsible.”
“So she’s powerful, this Gatekeeper,” Sam concluded.
“More powerful than any other angel, even archangels.” Ion nodded once, solemnly. “And she has become disillusioned with our Father’s plan, since your interference, and Castiel’s, thwarted it. The planned Apocalypse did not take place, and she now believes that God’s will is for her to bring down the walls between the worlds, and thus bring about a new Apocalypse. All-out warfare between angels, demons, monsters, and man. Those who are left standing will be those God wills to be left standing.” Ion paused, allowing his words to sink in before concluding, “And she has convinced Castiel to aid her in bringing this to pass. He has taken the angel tablet, because the tablet is key to the spell required to open the doors.”
“Why?” Dean shook his head. “Why would Cas do that?”
“Because it’s free will meets destiny,” Sam replied before Ion could speak, his eyes wide and alarmed as they met Dean’s. “It’s a way to reconcile the conflict he’s had all these years. Does God want free will, or destiny, to control what happens to the world? If you go for this Gatekeeper’s reasoning, the answer would be – both.” A nervous swallow was visible in Sam’s voice, quietly horrified. “Dean – it sounds like something Cas would buy.”
“No,” Dean objected, staring at his brother for a long moment before turning back toward Ion. “No – you’re making this up. You just want us to find Cas for you because you can’t. Well, newsflash, dude. He’s not answering us right now, either.”
“And why do you think that is?” Ion snapped. “He knows well that you would try to stop him – and that’s what Heaven is trying to do, too. This is not about punishing Castiel for his rebellion or bringing him back into like mind with his brethren. That is such a negligible matter at this point that it has ceased to bear any significance. We just don’t want him to destroy everything our Father created – and if he succeeds…”
“Why not?” Dean demanded with a harsh laugh. “Why wouldn’t you want that? Sounds to me like the angels would be the ones who’d come out on top. Didn’t think you dicks were too crazy about humanity these days…”
“We have not all drifted so far from our Father’s original plan,” Ion insisted. “We do not all wish to see His most prized creation obliterated from the face of the earth.” He paused, before admitting, more quietly, “In the war that would ensue, humanity would certainly be all but wiped out of existence. And… we would lose large numbers of our own as well.”
“There it is.” Dean gave the angel a cold, knowing smile. “That’s what this is really about – saving your own asses.” He paused, considering, before asking, “What makes you think we can track him down, if you can’t? I told you – Cas isn’t answering our prayers. We ain’t gonna find Cas, even if we wanted to, if he don’t want to be found.”
“We cannot locate Castiel because he is under the Gatekeeper’s protection, and she is supremely powerful, above any abilities we possess. But you – humanity…” Ion shook his head slowly, and there was a note of confusion mingled with grudging reverence in his voice. “… you have always been the pinnacle of God’s creation, above even angels. Therefore, in some things, God has granted you more power than angels.”
“What’s that mean?” Sam demanded, suspicious. “What do you expect us to do?”
“There is a summoning ritual which can bind an angel and bring him to the summoner – and only a human can perform it. It will bring Castiel to you. He will have no power to resist the summons, or to leave until you are satisfied, and free him.”
“Yeah,” Dean scoffed. “He’ll just kick our asses until we do.”
“No, that will not be a problem.” Ion was clearly impatient again, his agitation showing in his voice. “The ritual will not allow it. Study it out for yourself, if you refuse to believe me. Jacob’s Call. You will see. It will work – but not for any angel. Only for you. You don’t have to believe me. If you can constrain him to come to you – perhaps he will tell you his plan. We believe he’s already started the ritual, but he can still stop it. Only he can stop it, if it’s begun. And…” Ion hesitated. “… if anyone can convince him to stop it, it would be you, Dean Winchester.”
Dean swallowed hard, a hot, self-conscious flush flooding his face, and he was suddenly uncomfortable with the focused attention of this stranger angel, as well as his brother, who offered no disagreement with Ion’s assessment.
“How do we know you aren’t just trying to get us to do your dirty work?” Dean asked. “We find Cas, right – just so you dicks can fly in and take him away? Make him drink the Kool-Aid again?”
“Investigate Jacob’s Call for yourself,” Ion repeated. “You will see. But waste no time in doing so. If we are right, and Castiel has already started the process of taking down the walls – we have little time.”
Before Dean could respond, Ion had turned away from him, approaching the clerk slumped over the counter. He placed two fingers to the young man’s head, and immediately the clerk began to stir. Ion didn’t pause before crossing the room to the customers who lay on the floor and raising them back to consciousness as well.
“You might want to leave before they think to ask questions,” he suggested calmly, before vanishing in an instant from their sight.
“Okay, so this Gatekeeper is apparently a real angel, like Ion said – just what it sounds like, keeper of all of the gates. And the Call of Jacob is a real thing, too.”
Dean’s heart sank a little further with Sam’s verdict, and he leaned forward, taking the glass in front of him from the library table and swallowing down half of its contents. Sam didn’t take his eyes from the laptop in front of him, his mouth set in a grim line as he read further, silently.
“A person – has to be a human – can summon a specific angel by name, and that angel can’t leave until the same human performs the counter-ritual to release it. And – it looks like Ion was telling the truth. The Call would block Cas’s connection with Heaven. No angel – not even the Gatekeeper – would be able to find him. Even if one happened to find him – find us – by accident…” Sam paused, drawing in a slow breath and letting it out heavily before going on, “… Cas would be… basically under our power. Bound to us. They couldn’t take him if they wanted to. Not to hurt him, and – not to help him.”
Dean nodded grimly, one finger trailing idly along the rim of his glass. It was upsetting to think that Ion had been telling the truth about both the ritual and the Gatekeeper.
Did that mean that he was telling the truth about Cas, too?
“Oh, here’s what he must have meant when he said Cas kicking our asses wouldn’t be a problem,” Sam continued after a few moments more of perusing the site he was reading from. “An angel bound with Jacob’s Call cannot harm the summoner – can’t really offer any physical resistance to them at all, because anything the angel tries to do to the summoner just goes back on him.” Sam smiled a little, but it was more sad than pleased. “So, we’d be the brick walls this time. He hits us, he knocks himself out.” Sam’s smile faded. “Not to mention the fact that breaking his connection with Heaven basically restrains his angel super-strength, powers, everything. An angel’s grace is fueled by its connection to Heaven, so… yeah. I – I guess it checks out.”
“But that doesn’t mean that Cas is doing this,” Dean pointed out, hating the slight tremor that crept into his too-defensive voice. “That Ion guy could still be lying about that.”
“Yeah, but why?” Sam wondered, shaking his head. “If this won’t help them find him, or get their hands on him…”
“I don’t know,” Dean sighed, staring down at the table and reaching for the half-empty glass in front of him again. “I don’t know about any of this... I mean, if Ion is lying, then what’s Cas thinking? Why’d he just take off again?”
“Well…” Sam considered for a moment before meeting Dean’s eyes, resolution and uncertainty warring in his pensive gaze. “… we can always just ask him.”