Castiel kneels on a verdant lawn under a clear blue sky. The sun is pleasantly warm on his skin; the fresh air is scented deliciously with cooked meat and hints of smoke; the voices of many people chatter and laugh, unintelligible but benevolent, at some near distance.
There is a small girl beside him. Her leg is pressed to his, her short foot aligned with his much longer one on the neatly-trimmed grass. This puts her off-balance, and she grips his shoulder with both her small hands to remain upright. "Hurry, Daddy," she urges him excitedly. "We have to line up for the race!"
It's not Castiel's heart that swells with affection for her, though he perceives the emotion; nor is it his voice that answers her with fond indulgence, though he feels the motions of speech: "Hold your horses, Bug. They won't start without us." Castiel holds a strip of blue cloth. He watches his hands loop it around both their ankles and tie it there, tethering his body firmly but loosely to the girl's. She will stumble when they try to walk like this, he knows--and running will be a ridiculous impossibility--but he will catch her and hold her up. He won't allow her to come to harm.
Castiel does not think, Ames, you'd better be ready with the camera, though he knows the thought as it occurs.
The man who is not Castiel stands, and Lucifer is before him, watching with derision. Watching Castiel; looking directly at him. "This isn't yours," he chides, referring to the day, the girl, the cloth, the actions--the memory of them all--and he raises his hand.
Panic flares through Castiel. He reaches out to stop his brother. "No--"
Lucifer snaps his fingers.
Water seethes around him, murky and cold. Castiel thrashes to the surface and pulls himself up, out, away; pulls himself, gasping and shaking, onto the worn wooden planks of a long, empty dock.
Should it be empty? He hadn't expected it to be--but no. It's right that it's empty. He deserves to be alone here.
He realises, then, that he's not alone: there are footsteps thudding across the planks, and a voice calling out, high and anxious. Daphne's voice. It's Daphne pelting down the length of the dock toward him, stuttering to a stop and falling to her knees behind him. "Oh my God," she says, and Castiel wants, with a wave of revulsion, to tell her she's wrong. "Let me help you," she says, and that's not right, either, because there is no help for him. "Let me see," she says, and he tries to curl in on himself but her hand is on his shoulder, pulling him gently over onto his back.
Daphne looks upon him, and she is Balthazar as well, and Rachel, and Anna, and they all see him for what he truly is. And Daphne's face contorts in horror and her eyes are consumed by flames and she collapses next to him, screaming and screaming and screaming.
Castiel must heal her. He must fix what he has done. He doesn't know how, he doesn't even know if he can, but he must, he must, so he lays his hands upon her writhing body and holds on despite her screaming, which doesn't stop. He holds on desperately. He holds on.
The wall collapses, sturdy bricks and mortar dissolving to dust at his feet. It's easy to make it fall, to clear his way; so easy, after the immense difficulty of every preceding action. Castiel is relieved, then disquieted. He peers into the darkness on the other side of the rubble.
There are two figures there. One is stretched upon a fearsome rack, and twitches in the small, spastic way of a body in too much agony to move, but too insensate to remain wholly still. The other stands beside the rack, bent industriously over his companion, the metal glint of something sharp and cruel in his hand. Both are naked. Both are slick with blood.
Both are familiar.
Dean looks up from his work on Sam, and he is beautiful and hideous and enraged. "You think you get to have this?" he snarls, accusing. "Just barge in wherever you want, and take whatever you want, and screw the consequences?" Sam whimpers in distress; Dean turns back to him immediately, curls over him protectively. Possessively. "It's okay, Sammy," he croons, "I got you," and the strong muscles of his shoulder and arm work smoothly under his glistening, gore-soaked skin as, with an expression of abject despair, he thrusts his knife deep into Sam's flesh.
Castiel watches them in their shared moment of pain. He is still on his side of where the wall used to be. He wants to move, to cross the broken boundary. He wants to join them, to be with them as they are with each other. He watches them together and is transfixed with want.
There is rubble spilled close to the rack. Without letting go of the knife stuck into his brother, Dean leans down and picks up a broken piece of brick, holds it out like an offering to Castiel. "Put it back up," he pleads, no longer furious in anything but shame. "Put it back up!"
The brick is smeared with the blood coating Dean's palm. The wall cannot be rebuilt--Castiel has no intention of rebuilding it--but he reaches out, aching to touch.
It's because he succumbed to sleep at all--he slept for weeks in the institution, weeks, with only the briefest periods of silent, confused wakefulness to interrupt his violent, confused dreaming--that Castiel now feels so restless.
He had slept toward the end of the Apocalypse, but at the time he had been largely depleted of grace and all but human. When he recovered his memories and took on Sam's burden, he was fully angelic; sleep should not have been the necessity his body--or perhaps his mind, or perhaps both--seemed to believe it was. Certainly not in such an excessive amount.
He feels a vague urgency now to make up for his torpor and all its associated displeasures. He visits a butterfly conservatory in Ontario, then a towering, butterfly-flocked tree deep in the Amazon; he examines a multicoloured reef studded with nudibranchs in the Red Sea, then dries off at the arid opening of the Siq onto the façade of Al Khazneh in Jordan. He busies himself constantly with attentive observation of the multitudinous wonders of Creation.
And then, without thinking overmuch, he returns to a rustic, lichen-fuzzed cabin in Montana.
"I like this place," he announces upon his arrival, folding his wings into the shadows of the cabin's low, overgrown porch. "It's restful, the local fungi are decaying the wood of this structure at an admirable pace, and there are both bee and bat colonies in the immediate vicinity." He looks out fondly into the forest's leafy twilight, then turns to Dean, who is sitting on the rough-hewn bench along the wall. "You're hurt," he realises; Dean's mouth is swollen, newly bruised, with a barely-closed cut splitting his lower lip. All of Castiel's recent delights are gutted by dismay.
There are three empty beer bottles at Dean's feet, and a fourth still partly full in his hand. The alcohol doesn't seem to have had any great impact on him: he looks squarely up at Castiel with lines of weary tension around his eyes. "Just got knocked around a little at Alpha-vamp mansion, that's all."
An Alpha: another of the required Fallen listed by the Word. Castiel takes an anxious step closer. "But he gave you his blood to kill Leviathan?"
"Good." Castiel smiles, relieved. "That's very good." Then, disliking the blemish of Dean's wound, he reaches out and presses his fingers to Dean's forehead, healing it.
Dean startles under his touch, growling a curse as he jerks away. "Dammit, Cas--!"
Castiel stiffens in alarm, bewildered by the choler of Dean's denial. "What's wrong?"
Dean pins him with a glare, the gleam of his eyes hard and flat in the dusk's dim light. "When you fuck off to smell the pretty flowers while Sam and I face down an Alpha and a Leviathan and a bunch of their goons alone, you can't just show up after the fact and make it better with your magic fingers, okay?"
"But--" Dean's clear contempt sends something clawed and frantic scrabbling inside him. "Why not? It's better for you to be uninjured, and I'll do the same for Sam, happily, if necessary--"
"Because that's not enough, Cas!" Castiel flinches, and his gaze darts away: to a spider spinning its web in the shadowy eaves; to a curved crack in the pane of the dusty window to his left; to the whiteness of his shoes on the dirty floorboards. After a moment, Dean sighs and repeats, tiredly, "It's not enough."
Castiel is suddenly less certain of his affection for this place, despite its bees and bats and wood decay. His shame is an ungainly thing. "It's all I can do."
"Yeah, right. You got the pacifism gig." Dean chuckles humourlessly, takes and swallows a mouthful of beer. "I'm real happy for you."
The lie is blatant and cutting. Castiel's fingers twist fretfully into the folds of his coat. "I know I can't make you happy, Dean," he says quietly, and Dean's hands go still where he's peeling the label from his bottle. "I regret that, but I am reconciled to it."
Dean sits very still. "Seems like you're reconciled to a lot of shit these days," he says evenly, not looking at Castiel, and Castiel stands snared by disbelief, his thoughts stuttering. Dean can't possibly think--he doesn't mean--he can't want--
--he can't; after everything, everything Castiel has done, he shouldn't--
--it's Castiel who wants, despite himself. Despite that everything he's achieved has only ever proved him undeserving. Castiel wants, and he knows he should not have, and the slightest insinuation that he could rakes him through with contradictory desires.
Conflict within himself is worse than conflict among others, far uglier and much more dangerous. Castiel retreats from it, forbids it, and is reconciled.
"I wasn't smelling flowers, actually," he says, and then the words just tumble from him: "There were flowers present, of course, many of them, particularly where the butterflies were--and the reef was amply populated by sea vegetation, although I suppose not flowers as such--there were none at Petra, obviously--"
"So you want to go see some flowers now," Dean interrupts, and slumps back against the wall. His disappointment is a weight that Castiel shies from; he thinks instead of flowers and bees and the firm, rational miracles of honey and fruit, and smiles his enthusiasm. Resigned, Dean waves him off. "Do what you gotta do, man."