They were running again, damn it. No rest for the wicked. Dean looked up, seeing the ashen, withdrawn face of his brother over the hood of a stolen car before his little brother hurried up the metal stairs to the car dealer's office and disappeared from sight.
Dean's jaw tightened, slamming the car door shut a little harder than he meant to. Running didn't put that look on Sam's face, oh no. It didn't take a genius to figure out that something was wrong with Gabriel—not when people a state over could see that holy light from his windows. Dean had only seen that from a dead angel, but woe to the one who suggested that to Sam—which was Dean, of course.
They hadn't had a real, full on Winchester brawl in a while now. For a second, Sam looked like he was about to start one.
Dean gave Bobby a thumbs up from across the parking lot. They were raiding a used car dealership a town over. It went against all the rules Dean ever learned, stealing so many cars from one place, but they didn't have much of a choice.
Dean patted the top of a quietly rumbling car, pining for the Impala—who knew where the hell she was.
Dean stepped on the hood of another car, straining to see over the dealership's fences. The cops would show up any time now, they had to hurry the hell up.
Hopping off lightly, he barked out their time limit—mostly just to hear Chuck mutter 'oh God, oh God' under his breath. He should have been the one to stay with his own car, Dean thought, not for the first time. He wasn't the only one cursing Chuck's chivalry at the moment. Becky would have been a natural at this.
Sam walked out of the manager's building, shrugging. He braced his shotgun—still packed with rock salt—against his shoulder and dropped down the flight of stairs.
Chuck met him at the base of the stairs, wringing his hands worriedly. "Did you tell him that we're very, very sorry, and not to call the police?"
Sam made a face, meeting Dean's eyes over Chuck's head. "Guy's got an AK-47. I'm not telling him anything."
As if prompted by this announcement, muffled, angry shouting suddenly came from the inside. Sam itched his head with the barrel of his gun.
Dean grabbed the door of the nearest hotwired car and reached for Chuck's elbow. "Alright, into the car, Chuck."
"Really?" Chuck whined. "It's so wrong."
Dean put his hand on Chuck's head and shoved him into it. "Yeah, thou shalt not steal is awesome right up until you're starving or in trouble." Dean slammed the door behind him, jerking his head to the side.
Frowning, Sam followed him as the noise of a revving car sounded behind them. Tires squealed against broken and cracked asphalt. Jesus Christ, Chuck drove like a twelve year old.
Dean and Sam stopped by the truck Bobby had hotwired. Dean eyed Sam as Bobby stepped out of the cab. Meanwhile, Dean grouched quietly in the privacy of his mind. Whatever Sam said, he had the feeling he wasn't the only sap of a Winchester to feel more than a little fond of an angel.
But Sam had to go a step further, didn't he? Nabbing an archangel like that—they had to have advanced degrees in douchery compared to the average angel, and the average angel was pretty damn douchey.
Then Bobby was in front of them. He looked drained and worried. Dean shot a look at Sam, noticing Sam had nearly the exactly same expression. Chuck had freaked out the entire way there and Becky, Dean remembered, had cried noisily before giving everyone a big hug.
Dean's jaw tightened. Everyone was scared and suffering. Three guesses why. Three guesses whose fault it was.
Bobby's arm hung off the car door. "Let's meet up in Denver in a week."
"Sure," Dean lied, nodding briskly. He wasn't going to Denver.
On his other side, Sam was staring at him. Dean ignored his scrutiny, forcing all of his focus on maintaining a bland expression.
Shit, he was bad. Bobby was staring at him too now, his eyebrows needling together. "We'll take different roads and different highways," he said slowly. "And, for Christ's sake, don't let people see your faces."
"Alrighty, then," Dean said, clapping Bobby's shoulder twice. He immediately turned around, heading for car he worked on. Sam was right on his heels.
"A week, Dean."
Sam looked suspicious. "I'll call you later tonight," he threatened.
Dean smiled benignly. "You have my number."
They all drove off. Dean went last. When the tail end of Sam's car disappeared around the corner, he fished out his cell phone and tossed it in the trash. Then, the next thing he did was go the direction opposite of what everyone previously agreed to take, putting distance between him and Sam.
He took an exit into the next biggest city on the highway.
It didn't take him long to find a Cas worshiper in the college town. After all, he was the idiot in the trench coat.
If these were the type of people Castiel was mobilizing, then Dean was really concerned about the future of his religion.
Dean was standing in the middle of a dorm room, feeling vaguely itchy. A wide eyed girl in hemp stared up at him from where she sat in some uncomfortable contortion on the floor. Her roommate was splashed out over one of the beds, her bangles clicking every time her hanging arm swayed. The only hint of her wakefulness was a flash of blue through drowsy eyelids.
The idiot Dean found in town was standing in the doorway behind Dean, beaming like... well, an idiot. Another guy stood behind him, hanging off the wall. He looked like the cagey sort of guy everyone pegged as the resident troublemaker.
With these prime examples of the faithful, damn straight Dean felt uneasy.
Eyeing them all suspiciously, Dean repeated himself slowly. "I want to talk to…" Dean made a face. "Your God." When they just stared with him, he growled. "Come on, pray to him or whatever. I don't got all day."
"O-okay," Hemp Girl said. She shook out her arms slightly, closing her eyes and lifting her head to the ceiling. Slowly and with great fanfare, she lifted her arms beseechingly.
"Awesome," hissed Trench Coat Boy. Dean glanced back over his shoulder, seeing that he was bouncing on his heels.
Hemp Girl began her prayer solemnly. "Castiel, Castiel. Oh great and powerful God, oh merciful and kind deity-"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Cut to the chase."
The kid shot him the stink eye, but obligingly lowered her arms. "I found Dean Winchester," she finished rather petulantly.
"Isn't lying a sin?" Dean drawled, crossing his arms over his chest.
"A simple miscast of information is a mistake, not a sin." Everyone jerked slightly at the sound of the soft voice that came from the corner, even Dean.
The two guys in the hallway rushed in, jostling Dean as they fought for a better look. The girl on the bed nearly face-planted on the floor with her eagerness to get up. Hemp Girl herself launched to her feet, her eyes shining. Dean gladly took up the back, edging away from the group.
"It is so good to see you in person!"
"You are so much taller in person."
Dean winced at the chorus of voices. If he allowed himself, he would have noticed that Castiel did too.
Castiel lifted both hands. "I thank you," he said somberly, taking a moment to look each of them in the eye. "Those who have faith will always be rewarded." A pronounced frown formed over his face. He glanced at Dean for a moment before leaning toward Hemp Girl. She looked star-struck. "May I ask for a personal favor?"
A blush crashed through the heavy makeup on her face. "Anything."
"Could you-" Here, his eyes darted to the other three. "All of you leave us? Dean and I have much to discuss."
The kids paused. Then, in a flurry of motion, they departed in confusion, bowing, waving, and even kneeling in deference. It seemed like that aspect of Castiel's religion hadn't been resolved yet.
When the door closed with a click, Castiel finally turned his full attention to Dean. Dean stared back at him belligerently. He hadn't really planned this far beyond abstract ideas and now he had no idea what to do. He did have some vague understanding that he shouldn't be alone with Castiel, especially not in the real world right now, but he'd marched right up to his door, didn't he?
It was very surreal. There was a David Bowie poster right behind Castiel's head and there was a pink lava lamp to the left. The right side of the room was belligerently decorated with a Harry Potter theme and Dean thought he'd just stepped on a juice box.
This hardly felt like the horrible, climatic confrontation he'd been dreading since Castiel blew up Raphael.
But it was, so he just had to man up and deal with it already.
He fired first. "It's creepy how friendly you can pretend to be."
Castiel tipped his head slightly to his chest. "I will be the God everyone needs me to be."
"Awesome. Be the God who puts those fucking souls back where they fucking belong."
Castiel shook his head slowly. "I can't do that. They're a part of me now." Dean made a bitter, angry noise and turned his head away. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Castiel close the space between them just a little bit. "You could have prayed yourself. I would have come for you. I have always come for you."
Dean made eye contact, shooting Castiel a venomous glare. "You've violated my mind enough, don't you think?"
"Which are you, huh?" Dean snapped. "Castiel or those multitudes?"
A blank expression warred for control over Castiel's face before curiosity seemed to take hold. "Which do you think I am?" He took one, steady step forward. "Am I Castiel? Or am I the souls?"
"I think you're Cas..." Dean admitted softly. With a harder voice, he bit out, "With a seriously bad dependence on soul power." He peered into Castiel's eyes for a moment, his gaze narrowing. "I think they'd influenced you but... you're still you in there, Cas."
Castiel smiled very faintly, mockingly. "You think?"
Dean blanched at the hissed response, the hint of something other underneath that mild, human range. "Maybe not." Softer, he said, "Maybe I'm just wasting my time."
Castiel shrugged. "Maybe."
Dean shifted uncomfortably, shifting away from the line of girl shoes on the floor. A wrapped lollipop on one of the desks reminded him of something—or, more specifically, someone.
"Where's Gabriel?" he demanded.
Castiel clapped a hand over the post of one of the beds. "He challenged me. I showed him the folly of such an action." He glanced up at Dean, his eyebrows rising slightly. "Gabriel was not the strongest archangel. I do not understand why he thought it was necessary to confront me directly."
Dean couldn't say anything for a moment because he was suddenly remembering his brother staring at the screen of his cell phone, looking lost as each call went to voicemail.
"You killed him?" he whispered, horrified.
Castiel angled his head to the side before shaking it. "No. I did not wish to deprive your brother of yet another lover."
Wincing, Dean closed his eyes as he remembered what Chuck said about enduring. He had to fight down nausea because, fuck, Dean had endured Hell, hadn't he? He backed up a few steps, nearly tripping over a power cord.
"That's kind of you," Dean spat, not meaning a single word.
Castiel, of course, missed it. "I can be kind, Dean."
Dean snorted. "Treating human beings like puppets, evicting them from their homes, jerking them around… that's not kind, Cas."
Castiel moved forward just a little bit more. "What is necessary is rarely kind."
The dorm was a box—a cage—and, sometime in the last few minutes, Castiel had went from being on one side of the room to being quite on the other, and too much into Dean's space. It didn't take a genius to figure out that Castiel was backing him right into the corner. Dean had very little room to move now and he was feeling the tension of it. Sweat slid down on the back of his neck as he tried to remember why he thought this was a good idea in the first place.
Oh, yeah. Sam. And Bobby and Chuck and Becky and a couple billion other people on the planet, because there was no way this—Castiel's new religion—was going to turn out well.
Dean shifted his weight back to the center of his feet. He refused to lean back anymore. This put him uncomfortably close to Castiel as they stood nearly toe to toe now.
"You can feed yourself whatever bullshit you need to sleep at night but, please, keep that away from me," Dean whispered. "I don't need to hear it."
Castiel's eyes moved over his face ponderously. "You are angry. Upset." He paused, his gaze meeting Dean's. "Frightened."
Dean's hands were shaking. He wanted to hate him so freaking much, but all he could do was stare down at his former friend, his teeth slowly grinding together. "You don't know me."
"But I do." Oddly, Castiel averted his eyes. "Not as well as I would like, it seems, as I would not have predicted your choice to return to me." Castiel glanced back up at him and smiled, a small, barely there expression. "Thank you for returning, Dean."
"I wanted to see you," Dean confessed. It was too raw, too close to the truth. He hardened his heart and said more harshly, "I wanted to see if you were really as insane as the TV made you look."
Castiel flinched, turning his eyes away. "Dean."
"Cas. Seriously, Cas?" Castiel started to back up, but Dean grabbed his arm. "What the hell are you doing? What are you trying to be?" He shook the arm in his grip. "We fought together, remember? We fought against things and angels and demons that wanted to do exactly what you're doing now."
Castiel's head shot up and he glared. "I'm rebuilding the world into a better place," he snapped, yanking his arm away. Immediately, Dean felt the distance between the two of them widen impossibly even though Castiel never moved.
"This isn't a rebirth, Cas. This is an apocalypse," Dean insisted anyway, trying to find the right words. "Our world, it isn't perfect, but, damn it, it's ours. What right do you have to change that?"
Contempt—there was no other word for the look Castiel gave him now. "Power gives me the right," he rumbled ominously.
Dean flinched, staring at Castiel in disbelief for a few quiet moments. When no retraction came, he slowly shook his head. "Thanks for the heads up, Raphael." Disappointed, Dean pushed past Castiel. "I'll be going now."
A hand shot out, dragging him back. "No, you won't."
Fingers tightened too hard on Dean's arm, leaving bright spots of pain as well as dragging him down a few inches. Dean found himself practically nose to nose with Castiel and froze that way. Castiel's shaky, unneeded breath skittered over Dean's chin and neck.
"I won't let you." Castiel's eyes were wide and somehow desperate for all the control he insisted he had. "I won, Dean. I won the planet. I won you. There is nothing you can do to stop me." His eyes fluttered several times. His grip tightened even further until Dean, crying out, fell to his knees. "I am your new God." His voice was as cold as the pain was hot. He was leaning over Dean, compensating for their different positions. "I will give you one last chance to declare your loyalty to me."
Dean gritted his teeth, squinting up at him. "Or what?" he said daringly.
Castiel didn't even blink. "Or I'll rebuild a new, better you."
Dean sucked in a breath as a small, selfish bit of him wondered how much Castiel had really liked him in the end if it was really so easy for him to imagine Dean 2.0, the puppet version.
And then it clicked—the horrible position he'd been forced into, Chuck's disjointed hints, Castiel's attempt at conversion. Even Hemp Girl and Trench Coat Boy—the whole hunt for followers in general—made sense in that blinding flash of insight.
It was all about consent in the end, wasn't it? Consent was power. Consent was control. Even Michael and Lucifer were stumped in the end by a lack of it.
For all his assumptions of godliness, Castiel was under the same limitations. Humans were built to exercise free will. Angels were built to accept it.
Dean sat back on his heels—as much as he could, anyway. "I wonder what your meat suit thinks of this."
Castiel blinked. The punishing grip on Dean's arm loosened a bit. "His family will be protected."
"I don't buy that," Dean hissed. The grip loosened even further. "I don't buy that Jimmy Novak would want your kind of protection. That kind of protection? That's not free will, that's slavery."
Castiel gazed at him pensively, his grip barely more than the brush of fingertips now. He was listening. God, since when had the opposite become so... normal?
"It is a better life," Castiel said softly.
Cautiously, Dean stood, horribly relieved when Castiel didn't yank him back down. "It's a fake life. I'd prefer real over fake, anytime." Castiel's hand fell off of Dean's arm entirely. “I can't imagine the guy's much different.”
Dean exhaled slowly, his feet eating up the last bit of space left in the room. There was a wall at his back and a pseudo-god at his front—a former friend, too. Preemptive guilt made him feel sick. Imaginative grief had his mind playing out the probable scenario.
He so knew what was going to happen here. Could he really... could he really do that to Cas?
"Go ahead," Dean goaded, forcing his tone to remain casual. "Ask him. Ask him if he still consents."
"You are wrong," Castiel said softly. More quietly, he muttered, "You are wrong about many things."
He really wanted to be wrong about this too—desperately. But he also wanted to be right because... hell. He just wanted it all to end.
"Not about this," Dean insisted tiredly. "Ask him. Ask him if you're so sure of yourself, God." He hesitated, and then said, "If I'm wrong, I pledge my obedience, my allegiance to you, and only you." And then, because he couldn't quite help himself, he said with a bitter twist of his lips, "Till death do us part."
Frowning, Castiel closed his eyes and asked.
Time ticked by, feeling like an eternity. In reality, only a moment passed.
Castiel's eyes shot open. "No," he breathed. He staggered back, away from Dean. His arms flapped out desperately, looking for something to hold, something to grab.
"You asked," Dean muttered.
Castiel—the vessel—lit up in the brightest light. A high pitched noise started issuing from his skin, his very pores, and something very subtle shifted dangerously around him.
Castiel clearly didn't get the answer he expected—and, without consent, he couldn't stay in Jimmy's body. The light show was Castiel being compelled to leave.
But the souls were there too and they didn't seem willing to take their claws out of the angel who dared to consume them.
Caught between the pulsating anger of Purgatory beasts and one angel's compulsion to leave, Jimmy was the one who suffered the most immediate consequences.
The human fell to his knees. Frothing light bubbled under pale skin. Wide, frightened blue eyes met Dean's. Jimmy tried to say something, but his body was not entirely his own.
Dean's face was wet. "I'm so sorry, Jimmy," he choked out.
And then his world ended in a flash of blinding white.