Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Somewhere inside, in a place beyond facts and evidence and rooted in what humans would call a gut feeling, Castiel knows Dean is going to do it well before he does. He sees it all play out before his eyes like a Greek tragedy and he knows the ending. Romeo and Juliet die in the end – he knows where it’s all leading. It is not for nothing that he’s been watching Dean since the boy was a fetus, growing inside his doomed mother. Castiel knows Dean. Knows his patterns and his tendencies and whether he’ll go left or right when given the choice of either. The moment the Whore surfaces, Castiel knows she will bring death and destruction and he knows it will push Dean off the edge and, as soon as they’ve disposed of her, that Dean will take the first opportunity to run from Sam – to run to Michael. To Dean, Sam has always represented everything that is worth fighting for. He is going to turn his back on that because circumstance will convince him saving one life is not worth sacrificing billions. Castiel knows it is going to happen. He just doesn’t do anything to stop it. Maybe because, right up until the end, he’s still hoping against hope to be mistaken.
Everything is going wrong. Castiel did not know what to expect when he rebelled – the idea of doing so had never once crossed his mind until Dean Winchester put it there – but he didn’t expect this. He was laughably foolish. He believed in Dean; he believed that together they could stop the Apocalypse. Castiel’s fatal mistake, he now knows, was allowing himself to care for Dean. To become fond of him; protective of him. He did not know what was in store for Dean when he was assigned to watch over him. And then he spent thirty years watching, observing him from the shadows, getting to know him and learning to care for him and when the plan was finally laid before him, Castiel couldn’t allow it to be carried out. He couldn’t let his brothers use Dean as a pawn on their chessboard, important only until he’d served his purpose and then expendable. It wasn’t right. Dean is gallant and brave and good, and he doesn’t deserve the fate that has been bestowed upon him. So Castiel chose Dean and Free Will. It’s a choice he would make again, but with every passing day that fact just illustrates how foolish they all are.
Castiel will stay with Dean and Sam until the end, because he made his choice. More and more, however, he’s beginning to realize they really have no hope.
All his life, Dean has rarely spoken of giving up. He’s thought about it. He thinks about it a lot. But he doesn’t say it out loud. And he certainly doesn’t say it to Sam. There are so many things Dean doesn’t say to Sam. So when he does, when he tells Sam he doesn’t care about what’s happening in Blue Earth, that’s when Castiel first senses it’s coming. Dean is getting closer to saying yes, to becoming Michael’s vessel and watching as the world is destroyed with his own hands. It’s the one thing Castiel was sure Dean would never do. When humans experience problems that have no answers, they drink alcohol. It seems to help them, if only temporarily, and Castiel is willing to try anything at this point.
It makes the world around him fuzzy and something buzzes underneath his vessel’s skin but it doesn’t make Castiel feel any better. The world is still ending. The fact that it’s blurry in his vision now doesn’t change that. Sam calls the cellular phone they gave him and leaves a message that scratches uncomfortably in Castiel’s head. There are times when he doesn’t like Sam Winchester. Other times he does, but maybe that’s because Dean does.
“I got your message,” Castiel tells him, holding onto the cabinet to steady himself. “It was long, your message. I find the sound of your voice … grating.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Sam asks. “Are you … drunk?”
“No!” Castiel cries angrily, taking a few steps forward and stumbling. He knows instantly that Sam doesn’t believe him. “Yes.”
“What the hell happened to you?”
It’s too much work suddenly to keep his head up so Castiel lets it fall against the metal railing. “I found a liquor store.”
“And I drank it! Why’d you call me?”
He stumbles again and Sam catches him. “Hey, easy. Are you okay?”
Castiel gestures for Sam to lean in closer, and when Sam does, he tells him, “Don’t ask stupid questions. Tell me what you need.”
“There’ve been these demon attacks, massive, right on the edge of town and we can’t figure out why they’re –”
“Any sign of angels?” Castiel asks, sitting down on the bed.
“Sort of, they’ve been speaking to this prophet.”
Castiel frowns. As far as he knows, Chuck Shirley is still alive. “Who?”
“She’s not a prophet.”
“I’m pretty sure she is. Visions, headaches, the whole package.”
“The names of all the prophets, they’re seared into my brain,” Castiel says, annoyed at having to explain. Sometimes humans have trouble keeping up. “Leah Gideon is not one of them.”
“Then what is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay. So … no ideas?”
“Well I guess we should figure it out, shouldn’t we?” Castiel snaps. “Do you have a Bible?”
“Uh …” Sam goes to the night stand between the beds and opens the drawer. “Yeah. Here. You think there’s something in there?”
Castiel takes the book and opens it. “If she’s related to the Apocalypse.”
“So, all that Bible stuff, like Adam and Eve and everything, it’s all real?”
“Not all of it.” Castiel flips to the right chapter and begins scanning the verses. People are frustratingly stupid about this book. They tend to believe the parts that were meant as allegory and ignore that which is true. “There was no flood. All the animals together in one boat is ridiculous. They would have eaten each other and Noah.”
“But the end-of-the-world stuff is?”
“The Book of Revelation is hypothetically factual, yes. It outlines what will happen if the Apocalypse is ever triggered.” Castiel finds the page he was looking for and reads it quickly; Sam asks another question but Castiel doesn’t quite hear it. “I think I know what she is.”
Sam sits beside him and Castiel points to the page. “The Whore of Babylon?”
“Okay. Tell me you know how to kill her.”
“Of course I do. Where is Dean?”
Sam sighs. “I don’t know. I guess we should go find him.”
“Is he alright?”
Sam stands up and ignores the question. He walks to the door, and over his shoulder, calls, “You coming?”
They don’t find him. In the morning, Dean returns with blood on his hands he says isn’t his own, and it only confirms what Castiel had already figured out. It’s her, and she will destroy this town and as many others as she can unless they stop her. There is hopelessness in Dean as Castiel tells them about her and how to kill her. Dean has dealt with hardship every day of his life on this Earth and forty years of it in Hell and he has never looked the way he does now. He has never looked as it continuing to fight is a less appealing option than lying down and allowing the world to be turned to ash.
The alcohol wears off by the next night, leaving Castiel weak and shaky and with such a pounding in his head it hurts to keep his eyes open. He sits on a bench and rubs his forehead while Dean packs things into the trunk of the car. It didn’t take the pain away, and Castiel is no closer to understanding why drinking is ever considered a viable solution to anything. Dean tosses him a bottle of painkillers, and Castiel catches it but the rattling sound of it just makes his head hurt even more.
“How many should I take?”
“You? You should probably just down the whole bottle.”
“Don’t mention it. Hey, I’ve been there. Big expert on deadbeat dads, so. Yeah, I get it. I know how you feel.”
Castiel hadn’t considered that. Their situations are not identical, and yet they are. In a way, it’s true. Like God, John meant to be a good father, but let other things get in his way. “How do you manage it?”
“On a good day you get to kill a whore,” Dean says, and it takes Castiel a moment to realize he’s joking.
“You know it won’t help anything, don’t you?” he says, unable to be blasé about the situation like Dean is.
Dean takes a deep breath and walks over to sit next to him on the bench. “It’ll save this town.”
“That isn’t what I meant. She only comes when the Apocalypse is already in progress. She has nothing to do with whether or not it happens.”
“I know what you meant. So, yeah, I guess I know that. We gank this bitch and it’s still Independence Day.”
Castiel is confused. “I thought Independence Day was in July.”
“It’s …” Dean shakes his head. “Never mind. Doesn’t matter, right? We can’t just take off and let her drag these people into the pit. So we take care of her, and then we go back to figuring out how to stop it.”
“Do you want to stop it?”
Dean doesn’t answer, but Castiel can tell the question angers him. He can tell quite a lot about Dean by just sitting next to him. Increasingly, Castiel is worried. Dean would balk to ever learn exactly how much Castiel knows about him, about what he does with Sam when they think no one is watching, so certain details he keeps to himself. Dean still needs to trust him, after all, and while much of human behavior is still foreign to Castiel he has been observing them long enough to have picked up some of the rules.
“D’you still think we can?” Dean asks eventually.
“I don’t know,” Castiel replies. It the truth and it isn’t the answer Dean is looking for.
By the time the Whore is dead, Sam knows it too. He knows what his brother is thinking, just like Castiel does. Castiel sees it all coming as if in slow motion and even still he doesn’t lift a finger to stop it. Neither does Sam. The two of them, in the minutes right before Dean takes off, are exactly the same. He feels connected to Sam, for the first time, because they are, as the saying goes, in the same boat. Tiptoeing around it, watching Dean out of the corners of their eyes, waiting for the moment he breaks while at the same time praying he won’t. They are suspended, trapped by what could happen if they speak up and terrified of what will happen if they don’t. Balanced precariously on the edge of a cliff, with their desperation to have faith in Dean all that’s keeping them from falling.
When he leaves the room, he goes with a lie about clean bandages and Castiel knows in his gut Dean isn’t going to come back. Sam chases after his brother but it’s already too late, and Castiel closes his eyes and curses himself for once again falling in line behind the wrong person. He’s beginning to think they’ve all been condemned from the start. He rebelled against Heaven because he chose to believe in Dean, and now it seems as if neither choice was the right one.
Perhaps Dean is wrong. Perhaps Free Will doesn’t exist after all.
Sam comes back inside and slams the door behind himself so hard the room shakes. “Fuck,” he mutters, and then repeats the curse louder, running his hands through his hair.
“What’s going on?” the Preacher asks. They don’t answer him.
“He’s going to Michael, isn’t he?”
Sam presses his lips together and nods.
“I knew he was going to do that.”
“So did I.”
“Why didn’t you stop him?”
Sam glances at him, halfway between pensive and accusing. “Why didn’t you?”
“Because I’d hoped he was going to prove me wrong.”
“Yeah.” Sam sighs like he’s exhausted. He collapses down into a chair and leans forward, his elbows on his knees and his face cradled in his hands. “Me too.”
“Are you going to go after him? Stop him?”
Sam looks up; looks at Castiel with tired, sad eyes, but then he nods again. “He’d go after me.”
“Yes, he would,” Castiel agrees.
“There’s no way I’m lettin’ him say yes.”
“You’re with me on this, right?”
Castiel’s insides still feel like they’ve been doused in holy fire but he grits his teeth and manages to smile, because he can tell Sam needs it. He wishes the words didn’t taste like a lie when he answers, “Of course.”