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The Beast I Rode Upon

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Potestas inferna, me confirma.

“Fuck,” Castiel says under his breath. He shouldn’t curse—still finds it abhorrent—but becoming more human means learning how to adapt. It is humanity’s greatest trait, and it means that all his conversations with Dean, all his time with him, shifts him a little more toward him, makes him pick up a few more of Dean’s bad habits.

And, really, the word is fitting. Castiel feels the incantation running through his vessel’s bones. It shakes his Grace from the walls of Jimmy’s body, tears him strip by strip—little ribbons of light and Heaven—from Jimmy’s flesh. Castiel struggles to cling to Jimmy, the threads of his Grace digging deeper into Jimmy’s mind, into his heart, into his organs and into Jimmy’s soul

I’ll be back, Castiel says. He’s losing this fight. He’s slipping away, and a chasm grows between his Grace and Jimmy’s soul.

Jimmy’s soul darkens.

I’ll never be free, will I? Jimmy says. Castiel feels a twinge of what may be regret run through him. Even his Grace is becoming more human.

You chose this, Castiel says. The words aren’t meant to chastise Jimmy—they’re a reminder of their promise, their covenant, and for a second, Castiel’s grace flashes with a dozen colors. He is all the colors of the rainbow, even those beyond the visible spectrum of light, and Jimmy yields, if only for a moment. This is an honor. You serve God.

A god that you doubt, Jimmy says.

Potestas inferma, me confirma!

Castiel’s Grace bellows. He cannot be sent back to Heaven—cannot have this journey interrupted yet again. He claws at Jimmy and summons the rest of his willpower. The world shakes around him, or maybe it’s simply that he’s shaking. He compresses himself—focuses on the fabric of time—fumbles blindly, pinches two points together—

Potestas inferma, me confirma!

Castiel explodes out of Jimmy, but he manages to gather himself and face that pinch in the space-time continuum, to relax his being and let himself be sucked into that sliver of space between the two points.

The last thing Castiel sees on this side is Jimmy’s body crumpling to the ground.

Castiel glances around. The air is hot, humid; the earth is crowded with large plants in a vast array of colors. He does not recognize any of them, and the creatures hissing and crouching before him are not human.

They are large. Some of them have feathers, but others do not and show only a scaly expanse of skin. They writhe and roar. Castiel tries not to speak.

He needs to find a vessel, and fast. There is only so much he can do in this form, and, left unchecked, he will leave a wake of inadvertent destruction behind him—unbound angels are not meant to touch the earth, not for the amount of time that he’ll need to regather his strength for the trip back.

Castiel touches a swirl of himself down to the ground. Grasses blossom at his touch. The Earth is young, or, at least, younger than the time he came from. This is the longest journey that he will have to make, and he isn’t sure whether he can do it. Sending Dean fifty years back in time was already a challenge. Sending himself sixty-five million years forward...

Castiel pauses and composes himself.

This is not the time to panic. First things first: a vessel.

Castiel thins himself out, allows those wavelengths to be longer, slower. He spreads himself, a net of light and Grace that fans over the surface over the Earth, touches and brushes against every creature. He needs something strong—something that can withstand the force that is him, something that can bear encapsulating an entire world within the walls of its flesh.

The creatures shrink away and cringe.

Castiel redoubles his efforts, extends himself further. Dinosaurs scatter and fall away from his brightness, but there has to be one—there is always one—

He stops. A pteranodon stands before his light, her wings folded, her head cocked to one side. She reaches a claw out and prods at the brightness before her. Castiel shines in her eyes, and she opens her beak and bends, as if to scoop him in.

Animals are, curiously, harder and yet easier to subdue than humans. Animals are freer, unbound by the societal restrictions and all the hesitations that humans impose on themselves, and so are less likely than to concede to a lofty notion like fate, more likely to follow their own whims. And yet, they are easier to train—toss them a few morsels of food, give them shelter, and they are loyal to you, return again and again.

Humans, he supposes, also do the same. They are still animals, after all.

Castiel knows the tongues of all sentient beings. Knows how to speak to them, knows how they think. Consent is a trickier issue here; most animals—save for dolphins and bonobos, and maybe elephants and a few species of parrots—do not have the mental capacity required to form a concept of consent, to understand the full extent of what they are agreeing to.

But it’s worth trying.

Hello, Castiel says, pulsing his light out toward her. The pteranodon steps closer.

Hello, she murmurs back.

I need your help.

I need food. Do you have food?

Castiel frowns. Before, he would have used whatever tricks necessary to get this creature to consent, but now—morality. Ethics. Human constructs, human considerations; speaking to this pteranodon is like speaking to a young child, and part of him squirms, tells him that this isn’t right. That the pteranodon won’t really understand, and that it’s wrong to take advantage of an animal like this.

But. There is no other option.

I have food. But you must allow me to possess your body. So I can take you to it.

It’s not really a lie. Vessels don’t need to feed, don’t need to sleep when they’re possessed, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t eat. It will be easy enough to hold up his end and grab something for the pteranodon.

Okay.

The pteranodon spreads her wings and opens her beak. Castiel pulls himself into a single concentrated beam—kicks into the air and then pours down into her, like a waterfall, like a deluge. A vicious wind blows around them, knocking trees back, uprooting bushes and grass.

Castiel looks up. He gives his arms an experimental flex—watches as the webbing spreads to the point where it’s almost membrane-thin, watches as his claws glint in the light of the setting sun. This body is different than Jimmy’s—bigger, heavier, stronger, tougher.

And—he is not restricted to walking. Walking is abominably slow. With this vessel, he can at least fly. He sheaths his own wings, which are sparking with light and sound, and flaps his vessel’s wings—reptilian, thick, tangible.

He rises, slowly, laboriously, but there’s a joy in it. A circle extends in a twenty-foot radius around him, all traces of greenery flattened.

He is alone.

Neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon.

The rules of this world are much simpler than the rules of the Winchesters’ world, because there is only one rule: survive. Fundamentally, survive is the same thing that governs the humans’ world, but there, it’s much more fine-grained, wrapped up layers and layers of other rules. For humans, then, it is not so much survive as it is survive politely.

And politeness is overrated.

The sun rises, marking the third day. He blinks and basks in his Father’s light, stretches out all his muscles. He is roosting in the branches of a tall tree; from here, he can see for miles. A beast with two horns and a giant, bony frill around its neck nudges through the grass and nips at the ground; smaller lizards dart past it as they run away from an enormous dinosaur, its thighs massive, its arms tiny and useless: a balance of extremes.

A breeze rustles through the leaves. It’s cold in the shade, but the beams of sunlight warm him up, as if his Father is telling him to rise, to awaken, to be strong.

And Castiel will find Him—it is not a wish, but a promise.

He takes flight. Three days of rest have been enough: today, he will return to his rightful timeline, sixty-five million years in the future. He swoops through the trees and focuses himself, lets the whoosh of air streaming past his wings calm him.

He slowly becomes aware of a faint whistling noise. Every other noise has faded away. His vessel reacts as if this is hard-wired, an animalistic response to impending disaster: his heart beats faster, and his body trembles with an urge to go, go, leave and get away, fly as far as he can.

He looks up.

An asteroid, bright and flaming, burning orange against the blue sky, hurtles toward the Earth.

Castiel gives in to his vessel. Instinct, reactions, are difficult to suppress, even for him. His wings carry him through the trees with desperate speed, and he finds it difficult to concentrate through the blind panic flowing through his veins. He is strong enough—can pinch through time, carry himself forward.

He closes his eyes and feels out again for two folds of space and time, pulls them together.

Except—

Space and time are wrong here. There’s something that surges through the space around him, something that bends and twists time, makes every second just the tiniest bit longer, makes every minute shorter, wraps and unwraps hours. The fabric is thin here, torn, broken.

He opens his eyes.

A giant rift runs through the space before him, blue and glittering. He doesn’t have time to stop. He plunges straight in, and a scream tears past his throat.

Castiel slams into the ground and sends chips of concrete flying. The impact leaves him bleeding, bruised, but the wounds heal over quickly.

He’s in a warehouse of some sort. It’s dark, and there’s nothing around him that identifies where he is. He’s not sure what time he’s in, or what country.

He stands and flaps his wings, kicks into flight. At the very least, he knows that he’s in more or less the right era, but the journey through pure, unadulterated space-time—that pull, uncontrolled and wild, so unlike his own version of time-travel—has left him disoriented, and it is all he can do to swoop around in the air to clear his mind and gather his thoughts.

The door to the warehouse slams open.

Castiel glances down. A man in a well-tailored suit stands silhouetted in the frame. He steps forward, and the door swings shut behind him. This man looks fearful, his eyes wide, his breaths coming out short and shallow, but his shoulders are squared, his hands balled into fists. He’s determined.

Castiel flutters down to the ground and folds his wings. He opens his beak.

“Where am I?” he says, but the words come out as squawks and screeches. The man winces and takes a step back.

“Don’t... don’t kill me,” the man says. He raises his arms before him, as if willing Castiel to stay calm.

Castiel narrows his eyes. “Angels are not bound to the orders of humans.”

But it’s evident that the man doesn’t understand his squawks. Castiel lets out a sigh. Communication with humans is hard enough; for all the inconveniences and slowness of their bodies, when he is in Jimmy, he can at least communicate in the same tongue. He can attempt to speak English now, but the pteranodon’s larynx isn’t equipped for language: it’s not in the right position, isn’t descended like that of humans, and her tongue is too short to make the right sounds, the base too tightly bound. It’s nothing more than a tool to aid her when she eats.

“I, erm...” the man says, then pats down his pockets. His eyes light up. “I have some chocolate. Dark chocolate. Here boy.”

Castiel wants to shoot off a retort—he will not be addressed as “boy”—but he stops himself.

Chocolate.

Dean had slipped him a piece of chocolate once. Castiel had reminded Dean that he did not eat, did not need to eat, but Dean had insisted, waving the square in Castiel’s face until Castiel had finally snatched it from Dean’s hand. He had unwrapped the foil and placed the square on his tongue, keeping his face calm as usual, proving a point: He does not eat, and he does not like chocolate; it is yet another marker of Dean’s hedonistic lifestyle that Castiel disapproves of—

Oh.

Oh.

Dean had waggled his eyebrows at Castiel, but Castiel had played it cool. Wouldn’t let Dean see that he’d won, and after that, they’d been so mired in their plans to avert the Apocalypse and Castiel had been too busy searching for God to have any more chocolate.

But now...

Castiel steps forward. The man waves a bar—a whole bar—at him, then tosses it on the floor before Castiel. He dives for it, tears away the foil with his beak, and swallows squares of the delicious chocolate.

He is tempted to blaspheme and think that he has found Heaven.

“Good boy,” the man murmurs. Castiel lets it slide. He finishes up the last pieces of chocolate, savors the last lingering taste of richness on his tongue.

“Right, so. There’s someone I have to show you to. You stay here—can you do that? I’ll be back with more chocolate.”

Castiel hesitates. He should go back and find Jimmy—should return to Dean’s side—and he has things he must do, tasks he must complete—

“I’ll be back with a bar twice as big.”

Castiel decides that it won’t hurt to stay a little while longer.