Chapter 1: Chapter One
As he entered the apartment―quietly, so quietly―Kevin Ryan couldn't help but feel like he was sneaking into his own home.
His mother had always told him he had an honest face. Which was a polite way in her terms of saying that he sucked at lying. He'd learned early on that nine times out of ten he was better off not even trying. Which wasn't to say he was entirely hopeless. He had a good devious mind, he just needed an accomplice to distract from the anxiety that inevitably shone through―"like a deer in traffic" one ex had told him. Growing up, that role had normally fallen to one sister or the other. In high school, his best friend Matthew Sullivan had displayed a dazzling talent as a decoy.
In his time with the NYPD, Kevin had had a number of partners, each with varying degrees of suitability to the job they were unwittingly taking on with the assignment. While a few of them had been spectacular, though, none had ever come close to Javier Esposito.
Javier always projected this tough, no-nonsense exterior that even Kevin had taken a few months to see through. It contrasted well with his own dorky and unassuming image. When Kevin ventured a falsehood, no matter how ridiculous, Javier could manage a marvelous deadpan; a face that eloquently read "I'm buying this, why won't you?" With sufficient preparation, the combination was nearly bulletproof, and those talents had been sorely missed in the undertaking Kevin had made earlier that day.
Of course, if Javier had been available for the job, Kevin wouldn't have been stealing case files from the station in the first place.
Kevin locked the door behind him, waiting several moments before his subconscious caught up to what his rational mind understood about the supreme unlikelihood that his activities had been noticed, let alone that he had been followed. Regardless, he'd rested his forehead against the door, breathing slowly, and feeling a little foolish at the racing pace of his heart.
Once that had settled Kevin forced himself, slowly, deliberately through the task of shucking off his jacket, of loosening his tie. He draped both over the back of a chair at the kitchen table, setting the folder down on the table in front of it. He took out a beer, opened it, and tilted back a long swallow before he allowed himself to sit down and start paging through the file.
Kate would be so pissed at him if she ever found out. The last thing she wanted was to lose another member of her team. Kevin had already been warned to stay away from it four times, with the threat of suspension should a fifth incident occur. He knew that if Gates ever learned about this, it would almost certainly mean the end of his career. Really, he had tried. It hadn't been easy, but he had tried. And after a while he thought he had been handling things just fine...
But now the case was threatening to turn cold. That had turned out to be his breaking point. Now, he wasn't handling it at all. At least, not the way Beckett or Gates or Jenny wanted to see him handling it. There just was no way he was going to let Javier's disappearance get put away in some box to collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.
No way in Hell.
Three months ago, Kevin had showed up at Javier's to watch a game. They'd made plans earlier in the week, and he had called just minutes before to say he was coming. When he had knocked on the door, though, there had been no answer. Thinking Javier was just occupied with something, Kevin had opened the door with his spare key.
The file in front of him stated that the apartment had born signs of a struggle―a painful understatement if Kevin ever heard one. The place had been a complete wreck. Practically every piece of furniture had been knocked over, thrown against the walls, or smashed entirely. Items had been flung off of shelves, picture frames knocked from the walls. Every window, every piece of glass in the apartment, was broken, and the TV almost looked like it had exploded. Scent stuck firm in memory, and as he read the description, Kevin could remember vividly the smell of ozone that had hit him when he'd opened the door...
And then, of course, there had been the body.
There was still no luck in identifying the young Asian woman whose corpse had been discovered, spread out on Javier's floor. The ME's report listed probable COD as the single stab-wound to the chest where a long, thin blade had pierced the heart cleanly. Odd scorch marks had been present on the floor beneath her, though CSU had never determined what might have caused the fire. Not chemical, they were sure.
Looking at the photographs, Kevin was distantly relieved that it was more than just a trick of his memory the way those burn marks resembled wings...
Since the door had still been locked when "the witness" arrived, one possibility listed was that whoever was responsible might have broken the windows to gain entrance. While it was an improvement on the popular theory―that Javier had locked up on his way out―Kevin frowned at that. The detectives working the case had apparently missed how the traces of glass on the fire escape and sidewalk suggested that the windows had broken outward.
Despite his misgivings about that lapse in deduction, Kevin was glad to see the processing of the scene had been thorough. Most of the prints they had found made sense: Javier's, his, Lanie's, Jenny's from the rare times she'd visited. Other people his partner knew and that could be explained...
Only a single set of prints had stood out.
Those prints belonged to a James Novak, who had been reported missing three years before in Pontiac, Illinois. The detectives covering the murder (because it was a murder investigation, not a missing persons, and Javier was still a person of interest, to Kevin's frustration) had talked to the man's wife. Unfortunately, she maintained that she hadn't seen her husband since she first reported him missing.
With no new leads on Javier, Novak, or their Jane Doe, the investigation appeared to have reached a dead end.
It was past two a.m. when Kevin pushed the file away, rubbing his eyes tiredly. He had read it through in its entirety four times. He barely managed to talk himself out of a fifth. So far, there wasn't much he could think of that he might accomplish that the detectives assigned to the case hadn't already done. It didn't matter. He'd do whatever he had to, no matter how small, pursue any possibility no matter how remote.
The only thing he wouldn't do was give up. Not while Javier might still be alive.
Kevin booked a flight to Chicago the next morning. Reading the report, the one thing he was convinced of was that he had to talk to Mrs. Novak himself, and it had to be face to face.
Kevin felt guilty about ditching Kate, running off and leaving her with only the writer as backup. He would have given advanced warning, but he knew she would have just tried to talk him out of it.
It had been disheartening to learn that not everyone had the same faith that he did in his partner's innocence. Not that he really thought Kate believed Javier was guilty, but so far she had done the diplomatic thing and hadn't come out to say she felt he was innocent, either. Between Montgomery and Mike Royce, Kevin thought he understood a little, and tried hard not to resent it. Hearing the same from Lanie, however, had been a lot harder to forgive. Only a week and a half before his theft from the file room, Kevin and Lanie had gotten into an argument about it. It had escalated quickly into shouting, finally ending with his accusation that if she honestly believed Javier could murder someone, then she shouldn't have fucked him.
He didn't think he'd ever forget the shocked look on Castle's face as the writer had helped Kate drag him out of autopsy.
Kevin knew that kind of behavior wasn't like him, but he felt like he was deconstructing. He had already put off the wedding. Indefinitely. He loved Jenny, but he just couldn't focus on something that trivial when he didn't even know what had happened to his best friend. She understood that much, he was sure, but once the third month since the disappearance had begun to slide past, she had started to bring it up again. Those conversations always turned strained, and most of the time Kevin tried to avoid them entirely.
And it wasn't until the plane was getting ready to take off, flight attendants instructing passengers to shut off their phones, that Kevin realized that he'd forgotten to tell Jenny that he was leaving.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
When he got off the plane in Chicago there were six voice-mails waiting in his inbox. Two had been from Kate, the first asking where he was, the second asking what the hell he was thinking. He thought she might have tracked his purchases and seen the ticket on his statement. He wondered if they'd discovered the missing files yet―Beckett had to know him well enough that she would check. One was from Castle. The writer sounded worried, confirming both Beckett's anger and her concern, though he had also told Kevin to call if there was any way for him to help.
The other three were from Jenny.
Thinking back, Kevin could remember the early days of their relationship where they were constantly calling each other―joined at the ear, as Javier used to joke. She always wanted him to call, to know how he was doing, to hear about the most inane details of his day. Back then, he couldn't say that he'd minded. He missed those days, though at the same time he didn't. Lately it was hard enough for him to handle conversation with her face to face. Her concern and her frustration.
Lately, Kevin kept his phone turned off more often than he didn't, and so her first message hadn't sounded all that worried, though still not without its concern. The second message, just a couple hours later was a little more urgent. By the third―just minutes, actually, before he had disembarked―that concern was starting to edge over into anger. She had called Beckett by that point, asking after him, and clearly been told some of whatever Kate had learned. The message was long, though her voice was high with outrage and worry―and possibly tears―all making her a little hard to understand.
He answered back with a text, telling her that he was alright, that she shouldn't worry. That he was just tying up a loose end that the investigators on Javier's case hadn't looked into, and that he'd be home as soon as he was finished. He knew that was a shitty, cowardly way to handle it, but he knew that if he called her that conversation would stretch out. It would go places he didn't want it to go―couldn't afford for it to go, not yet.
He switched his phone back off, determined to worry about it later.
Amelia Novak had taken her daughter out of Pontiac and relocated to Chicago almost two years after her husband's disappearance. Though it hadn't been remarked upon in the case file, Kevin thought that detail was odd.
It didn't make sense for the woman to uproot her family while her husband was still missing―not if she believed there was a chance he was still alive. Kevin knew there was something he wasn't seeing. During the flight, Kevin had conceived of several possibilities. That Mrs. Novak was still in contact with her husband, able to pass word to him where she and her daughter could be found. That Mrs. Novak didn't want her husband to find her. That she had been threatened by whoever was responsible for the disappearance and hadn't felt safe in Pontiac. Any theory he looked at, Kevin was certain that Mrs. Novak had information―possibly crucial information―regarding her husband's disappearance the authorities lacked.
Information that, if it held even the slightest connection to Javier's case, Kevin needed to know.
Getting her to talk to him hadn't been easy. Amelia Novak seemed unusually wary of him from the moment she answered her door. Kevin had expected resistance, but what he hadn't anticipated was outright fear—not just suspicion, but a carefully guarded, vigilant terror. She did an admirable job of hiding it, trying to appear both cooperative and hospitable, but Kevin couldn't fail to notice how she seemed braced for some kind of threat even as he drank the water she had offered him.
And he wouldn't have thought she could have grown more tense, but as he shared the details of his partner's disappearance, it seemed her anxieties only wound themselves tighter.
Under most circumstances, Kevin would never have shared this information with anyone outside of the investigation. And, of course, the investigation wasn't even his. But the circumstances weren't normal at all. Yet while he was breaking rules that could easily have gotten him suspended—at best—Kevin found it increasingly difficult to care. And it was possible that the woman picked up on some of his desperation, as she soon dismissed her daughter so they could talk in private.
Amelia Novak finally confided in him about her husband's religious delusions. About mysterious voices and angels, and his belief that he'd been chosen for some purpose. While some of this was known—James Novak had briefly sought help just prior to his disappearance—as she spoke, Kevin couldn't help but recall the burns that had scarred the floor of Javier's apartment.
Amelia's accounts all seemed fairly straight forward, but Kevin had the distinct impression she was holding something back. He made a note of it, prepared to return again later, but as Kevin left her home a voice stopped him in his tracks.
"You need to look for Castiel."
Turning around, Kevin found Amelia's daughter, Claire. Though she was perhaps as old as fourteen, she looked him over with a gaze that was sharply intent, and seemed strangely at odds with her age. Disarmed by it, it took Kevin a moment to process her words. She seemed very certain.
"Castiel's the one who took my father away from us," she told him, her voice sad but also possessing a faint tone of bitter anger. It was vaguely alarming. "Maybe he took your friend, too."
Dry-mouthed at the thought of a lead, Kevin's mind raced with possibilities. Yet, though he wanted desperately to pounce on the detail, he forced him to think about it rationally.
"Your mother never mentioned him," Kevin said cautiously, because for all his desperation, questioning to a minor behind her mother's back was a line he was still hesitant to cross.
"There are things my mom tries not to think about. She hopes she'll forget," Claire said, and there was a chilling look in her eyes, strange and dark, as she concluded. "But they aren't things I'll ever be able to forget."
Kevin wasn't sure just how that answered his concern on the subject, only that it did, and while he felt something about the situation still wasn't right, he tried to push that awareness from his mind.
"Claire..." Kevin asked slowly, wetting his lips, "Can you tell me how to find Castiel?"
And Claire's lips moved in an odd, faint smile that failed to meet her eyes.
"You pray," she answered him.
"Pray?" Kevin asked, confused, a buzz of unease rising in his mind.
"He's an angel," Claire said, simply, "he can hear it when you pray."
Though she inflected the word with resentment the way Kevin had heard some people spit the word cop.
And remembering Amelia's words about her husband's delusions, Kevin suddenly doubted that Claire was a reliable source of information. But...he was desperate. Rather than questioning her statement, he tried another tact.
"Claire," he asked, "is there any other way for me to find Castiel?"
Claire's mouth pursed, as if she saw through his question, but just as he had chosen not to challenge what she had said, she seemed to choose not to call him on it.
"He has these two friends who helped us, once." Claire said reluctantly, after a long silence. "I think they gave my mom their number."
And Kevin felt some of the creeping unease itching in the back of his mind begin to retreat.
Kevin gave Claire his card, and she promised to call him back with the number as soon as she could find it. He couldn't help but hearing that as, she would call when she could search without her mother's notice. And his conscience twinged faintly at the thought of her going behind her mother's back for him...but those pangs faded quickly.
This was for Javier.
Kevin called Castle from the hotel phone while he was waiting. The circumstances surrounding his partner's disappearance had begun to take on a definite occult vibe, and suddenly the writer was the best source Kevin had at his disposal. Kevin asked him to find anything he could on the name "Castiel", whether it came from whatever tarot-readers and scholars he talked to for his novels, or was connected to some of the weirder crimes the writer found so fascinating.
While Castle was more than happy to lend what help he could, in the end he turned up little. According to lore, "Castiel" was the name of the angel of Thursdays—an amusingly trivial sounding title, which Kevin could tell the writer wanted to joke about, though the seriousness of the conversation meant that he wouldn't.
Sensing Kevin's disappointment, Castle had promised he would keep looking.
After he hung up the phone, Kevin sat on the edge of the bed, his face buried in his hands. Frustration was a brutal pressure squeezing his chest. Ever since Javier had gone missing, Kevin had struggled helplessly against the feeling that if he just started looking on his own he would find...something. That he simply needed to be given that chance. Kate had tried to help him—she had lived with that feeling herself ever since her mother's murder, and knew it like an old friend. Yet for all her understanding, he hadn't managed quell that feeling. And now...
Now he had gone looking. Now he had his lead—even if it was so strange he didn't know what he really had.
Lying back on the bed, Kevin stared at the ceiling. He let his mind drift with the few details he had, hoping against hope to form some connection. He thought about angels and religious paranoia. Painfully, he thought about the past cases of cult-based crimes he had heard of, and imagined Javier winding up in the midst of something like that. And he thought about Castiel, and Claire's Novak's words returned to him.
He can hear it when you pray.
He closed his eyes with a snort. Right now, the only thing Kevin felt was worth praying for was that Claire would give him that number soon, and that it would finally yield the lead which would bring him to his partner.
Still, Kevin thought with bitter amusement, he would let himself believe Javier had been kidnapped by angels long before he could believe him guilty of murder.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
When Claire called him late the next morning, she managed to give Kevin not one phone number, but three.
Two were dead ends, belonging to a pair of disposable cells whose contract, registered under the name Malachai Constant, had long since lapsed. The third was an unlisted land-line. It took him half a day, but he was eventually able to find an address—though only with the help of local PD, with whom he was somewhat less than honest.
The address belonged to a man named Robert Singer.
Kevin's debate with himself was hard-fought, but it was also short-lived. The drive from Chicago to South Dakota would have taken at least ten hours, which was easily ten hours more than Kevin thought he could stand to wait. The flight he booked to Sioux Falls, on the other hand, would cut his travel time to almost nothing, though it—like his last flight, his hotel, the rental car, and the second rental car he would need when he got there—meant dipping even further into his and Jenny's wedding funds. Kevin consoled himself with the fact that he could apologize to his fiance later.
Time was a luxury Javier might not have.
Singer ran a scrapyard way out in the sticks. As it came into view, Kevin briefly considered that coming alone might have been a mistake. The place was surrounded by a high chain-link fence, and towering stacks of junked cars completely obscured it from the road. It looked like something out of an old slasher movie, the kind of place bad things happened that nobody heard about, and broken-down newlyweds disappeared, never to be seen again. Truth be told, Javier probably would have kicked his ass if he even joked about going into a place like that without back up.
As he pulled slowly up the drive, Kevin promised himself that, once he got his partner back, Javier would be more than welcome to do just that.
He was nervous as he made his way up the steps. The peeling pain and trespassing signs only served to support the earlier B-movie vibe, but even without freaking himself out Kevin was painfully aware of how easily the encounter could turn hostile. He hadn't contacted Singer to tell him he was coming, of course—if the man was involved, the last thing Kevin wanted was to tip him off. The cursory look he'd given Singer's record before leaving Chicago listed a number of bizarre encounters with law enforcement. Encounters that, in light of the strange lead he was chasing, had set off all the wrong kind of alarm bells in his head. If Javier's disappearance really was linked to cult activity, there was no telling who else or how many might be involved. Better to try and catch Singer off guard with a few early questions, before he had a chance to contact any accomplices. Kevin could decide how to proceed from there.
Of course, the scrapyard was large enough, and well enough concealed that there really was no guarantee the older man was actually alone out here. Singer could have been sitting on some sort of crazy underground bunker, and no one would ever be the wiser.
The man who answered Kevin's cautious knock was in his late fifties or early sixties, heavy-set and solid, with a short, grizzled beard. With his flannels and stained jeans, the man wouldn't have looked out of place at any truck stop, garage or dive Kevin had ever seen. Still, there was a sharpness to his eyes which Kevin noticed almost instantly that would have set him apart almost anywhere. Those same eyes gave Kevin an appraising once-over that left him feeling like he'd already given too much away. At the very least, from the path of the man's gaze, he was aware that Kevin was armed.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Singer. I'm Detective Kevin Ryan," he said, showing his badge very quickly as he made the introduction, "I was hoping to ask you a few questions about a Missing Persons case I'm working on."
Though he had no authority out here, it wasn't precisely a lie. Kevin wasn't sure why, but that felt important. Still, though his eyes narrowed with suspicion, the man seemed rather unimpressed.
"You think I wouldn't notice that badge was NYPD?" Singer asked testily, "You're way the hell out of your jurisdiction, and we're done talkin'."
The foot Kevin shoved through the closing door probably wasn't the smartest move he'd ever made. For one, it was incredibly painful, and its presence in the doorway didn't exactly convince Singer to change his mind. Gritting his teeth as the door threatened to crush his foot, Kevin's mind grasped desperately for some other means to grab Singer's attention.
"Castiel," Kevin bit out.
And Singer did let up on the door, though his stare had turned hard and wary. The name had apparently done its job, and for better or worse Kevin had the man's attention. Taking another breath, Kevin took the chance he was given and forward.
"I'm trying to find Castiel," Kevin clarified, watching Singer's reaction carefully. "I think he might know something about my partner's disappearance. I need to find him."
And because he was watching so carefully, Kevin managed to see something that almost looked like pity briefly cross Singer's face. Looking him over a second time, the man let out a huff of breath before taking a step back from the door. It seemed like an odd sort of invitation, and Kevin let himself take it, following the man inside.
The interior of the house was as shabby and cluttered the outside, though there was a good deal more must than rust. Even in the entryway, books were stacked upon every available surface, overflowing into free-standing piles against the wall. The air smelled heavily of mildew and dust, smoke and herbs, and engine grease. Worth noting were the shotgun tucked quietly into an umbrella stand, and a bright-bladed knife shining dangerously from amongst the clutter on a small table. Yet it was neither of these with which Kevin found himself being confronted, as he was brought up short when Mr. Singer held out a small metal flask.
"Drink." Singer commanded firmly.
Touched with a stab of apprehension, Kevin eyed it warily.
"Look, I can't—"
"Don't try to bullshit me," Singer interrupted testily. "You ain't exactly on duty. Drink, or we don't talk."
Abandoning his protest, Kevin accepted the flask, taking a hesitant swallow. He was surprised when he tasted only water. Singer watched him closely, and after a few seconds slid past he took back the flask with a nod, seeming satisfied.
"Come with me."
Kevin followed Singer into a crowded, poorly lit study. In most places the peeling wallpaper was barely visible, obscured by shelves of books or maps or faded clippings. A moth-eaten brown couch sagged beneath a grimy bay window, and a large, battered desk sat before the empty fireplace. As Kevin's visual search cataloged the room, his eyes were drawn to the ceiling, and he found himself staring wide-eyed at the sight which greeted him. Dark, sharp lines inscribed on the aged plaster, running in intricate patterns to form a large circle. At least ten feet wide, it was interwoven with strange symbols and glyphs and it looked—
It really, really looked like something out of a freaking horror movie.
His uneasy reaction drew a faint snort out of the older man, pulling Kevin's attention back. Singer swung a chair away from a roll-top desk near the doorway, shoving it in front of the larger one. Shaking off his surprise, Kevin interpreted his nod as instruction and took the seat. Singer took a chair on the opposite side of the desk, somehow managing not to disturb any of the items arranged precariously on its surface.
"Now just what got you pointed my way?" Singer asked, cutting straight to the chase.
Kevin was quickly coming to realize that might just be the best way of dealing with the man overall.
"I got your number from Amelia Novak," Kevin began, "I used that to track you down."
Singer let out a grunt which sounded half-skeptical, but mostly just annoyed.
"And she just gave it to you?" Singer asked, plainly finding the notion unlikely.
"Her daughter gave it to me," Kevin admitted unhappily, "I know it wasn't the best move, but I was desperate."
Singer frowned, turning the fact over as though on its own it were something significant. Looking back on the encounter, Kevin felt it was entirely possible. Claire's whole manner during their interaction had felt strangely off. It was more than likely that Mr. Singer knew things about the girl and her family that Kevin did not. After a long moment of consideration, Singer looked at him again. And while his manner was still palpably guarded and calculating, it was somehow more inviting. Whatever decision Singer had been weighing in his mind since opening the door, Kevin felt for sure he had made it.
"Alright," he said, "Tell me about your missing friend."
As Kevin recounted the details surrounding Javier's disappearance, Singer took it in with ease, and Kevin couldn't shake an odd feeling of recognition. The man seemed to have little difficulty sorting the kind of information he was being given, a facility with handling evidence that was clearly practiced. Whatever else Singer was, it was painfully obvious that the mind collating the facts belonged to a detective.
It was when Kevin mentioned James Novak, and the fingerprints found at the scene that Singer began to pay particular attention, and the description of the body and the strange burns seemed to cement his interest. And when Kevin passed him a photograph of his partner—desperately, hopefully—his heart clenched as he noted Singer's darkening frown. The older man shook his head faintly as he placed the photograph on the table, reaching down to open a drawer in the desk beside him. He drew out a pair of short drinking glasses and a bottle of bourbon, blowing the dust out of both before he screwed off the cap to pour. Singer took a short swallow before he reached over to tap the photograph with his finger.
"I do know Castiel," Singer told him slowly, "and I've had a few of his Brothers pass through. I've seen your friend, and I can tell you what he's been up to, but you're not going to like it."
And just hearing it—that Javier was alive—was nearly enough to squeeze the breath from his lungs completely. With that thought echoing through his brain, it was difficult to even begin to think of anything else. It took Kevin a few tries to find the words to confirm it.
"He's alive? God is he— Is he okay?"
Singer didn't answer right away, thinking over his words as he moved the other glass in front of Kevin silently.
"Right now, I assume you're under the impression you're dealin' with some kind of evangelical cult," Singer ventured carefully, "Religious crazies that kidnapped your partner and left an awful mess behind when they did. Am I right?"
Though it was hardly a question, Kevin did manage a slight nod to confirm it was what he had come to believe—one which the older man met with unsurprised resignation.
"Well I want you to try and get that thought out of your head," Singer said, looking him in the eye. "I know you had to have broken a lot of rules to get this far, and something tells me you don't care if it'll help you find your partner. I respect that, so I'm going to give you the truth, and you can do with it whatever you will."
He punctuated the statement with a drink that drained the rest of his glass, tilting the bottle to refill it. He looked Kevin over once again.
"What do you know about angels?" Singer asked.
The question didn't surprise Kevin, even with its overwhelming seriousness. His conversation with Claire had prepared him, at the very least, to deal with people who took the topic very seriously indeed. But the fact was that he still had little to no information on the subject that was even close to useful. With Singer, Kevin thought it might just be best to admit that he was out of his depth.
"You mean like harps and halos?" Kevin asked, his flippancy a little nervous as he reached for the glass in front of him. "For surviving twelve years of Catholic school, apparently not much."
Singer's amused snort wasn't without sympathy.
"Well take whatever Hallmark card ideas you might have and throw 'em out." Singer said pointedly, in a tone that allowed no argument. "Angels—real angels—are insanely powerful, hard-assed warriors of God. And most of 'em don't hold a very high opinion of humans."
"There are exceptions," Singer amended after another swallow, "Castiel is one of them, and right now he and his Brothers are engaged in something of a civil war."
He paused, searching Kevin's face as though waiting for him to object. As long as Singer was talking, Kevin saw no reason to, though he felt under the circumstances some interaction might provide further encouragement.
"You're talking about the Apocalypse," Kevin observed, not going so far as to ascribe to Singer's beliefs, but feeling secure in his interpretation of them. He was surprised when the man shook his head.
"No, though that was the original idea," Singer told him. "Heaven and Hell had been gearing up for centuries for the final confrontation between Lucifer and the Archangel Michael, winner take all, and afterward it would have been Hell or Heaven on Earth. The angels were pretty confident they'd come out on top, but whichever way it went, the fight itself would have been be a disaster for the human race."
"No," said Singer softly, shaking his head as if even he had difficulty believing it, "The real problem is that all of that was supposed to have gone down over a year ago."
And Kevin couldn't hold back a short laugh at the idea. Singer didn't seem phased by his skepticism, however, so Kevin felt little need to disguise it.
"You're saying the world was supposed to end, only it didn't?" Kevin asked. "How?"
"Well I could tell you that long-ass story," Singer offered irritably, though he seemed less offended than merely annoyed, "Or I could skip it in favor of the part that concerns your friend. Which is it?"
Aware of how desperately everything hinged on the information Singer had to offer, Kevin fell silent, abandoning his brief digression a faint nod.
"Anyway," Singer continued, "Some of the angels were content that the resolution—or lack of—was the will of God, but there were others that felt things ought to have stuck to His original Plan. And the leader of those angels, Raphael, has been running a campaign to try and restart the doomsday clock toward our destruction, while Castiel is fighting to stop that from happening. But Raphael is older and stronger, and he's got more of Heaven and its Host on his side."
As Singer spoke, Kevin listened carefully, trying to understand. It was hard for him to do so without his rational mind attempting to write it off as insanity or the product of drink. While the latter was certainly possible, it all felt too coherent for that explanation to be likely. Kevin was hesitant to simply label him as crazy. Yet for all his indifference to Kevin's opinion, it was obvious that Singer's story was something he truly believed. There was a growing sense that his investigation had stumbled on a very bizarre new world. A comprehension of those who inhabited it and their mythology could prove crucial to finding his partner. Kevin tried to hold himself to that reasoning, and keep his disbelief respectfully silent...
Though his attempts to reason out how Javier fit into all this yielded only helpless confusion and despair.
"Cas needed help." Singer continued, the odd, familiar diminutive—for an angel, of all things—further cementing Kevin's difficulty categorizing this as some sort of religious mania.
"Now, according to him—and there's material in Enoch to support it, though he'd tell you it's an imperfect human account of events—millenia ago, God sent a group of angels to Earth called the Irin, or Watchers. God chose them because they were among his strongest soldiers, and because they loved humanity as He did, and He charged them with keeping an eye on us.
"Only some of them got a little too close," Singer said, with a definite, if odd, note of humor, "Some taught humans secrets our primitive little selves weren't supposed to know. Others took human wives, and a few of those wives bore children called nephilim.
"The way Cas tells it, the nephilim had human souls, but they also carried their fathers' connection to Heaven, and the combination made them dangerous. Supposedly, a single nephilim could defeat the entire host of Heaven with a thought, and there was fear that if they banded together, they might managed to challenge God himself. So while these nephilim were still infants, God sent the Flood to destroy them and the civilizations the angels had influenced. And as punishment, the Irin had their grace—their connection to Heaven—taken from them. They were exiled to Earth, scattered across history to be reborn in human form."
Singer paused, eyes searching Kevin's face for a moment, gauging his reaction, possibly deciding whether or not to go on. There was a painful sympathy in that gaze—or perhaps pity—and even without understanding why, seeing it left Kevin chilled.
"For the past four months," Singer continued quietly, almost softly, "Cas has been hunting down as many of the fallen Irin as he can, restoring their grace and recruiting them to his cause."
The older man finished his drink, looking down at the photograph once again.
"Now I don't expect you to believe me, so there's not a lot more I can give you...except a name."
He slid the photograph back across the table, tapping it one more time, and while Kevin could smell the alcohol on Singer's breath, the man's eyes were clear, and sane, and very, very sober.
"When I met your friend," Singer told him, "he was calling himself Chazaqiel."
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
Kevin left the salvage yard around three o'clock, but he couldn't quite manage the drive back into town. Not immediately. He had to pull over to the side of the road for a moment, to stop and try to regain his bearings.
After Mr. Singer had dropped his bomb about Javier—about just how deeply his partner had been sucked in—Kevin hadn't been able to get much more out of him that was useful. Singer didn't know any sure way of getting in touch with Castiel or his "brothers", and their comings and goings were difficult to predict. The most the man could offer him was to pass along a message to his partner if he saw him again. Kevin had given Singer his number, asking him to call if he did, because as long as there was even a chance that Javier might pass through again Kevin wasn't going anywhere.
Singer had given his promise that he would do both. Kevin had thanked him. In spite of the obvious schism between what they each believed was reality, it seemed they had an understanding, and Kevin had to be content with that.
By the roadside, Kevin shut his eyes tight and tried to gain some measure of control over the thoughts tumbling frantically in his head. Now that he knew Javier was alive he had hope, yet at the same time Kevin was more worried about him than ever. Trying to resolve what he'd just learned with his understanding of his partner felt almost impossible. In the past, Javier had needled him mercilessly over his chronically lapsing Catholicism, though it wasn't that his partner had been an atheist, by any means. Javier had faith, after his own fashion, but he'd never had much patience for religion. It just made it that much harder for Kevin to imagine how his partner could have gotten caught up in—whatever the hell this really was.
There was always the possibility that the real situation wasn't anywhere close to what either Kevin or Singer thought it was. Or even if it was a case of the kind of bizarre religious zealotry Kevin feared it was, there was still the chance that Javier's reasons for becoming involved were wholly separate, perfectly rational, and entirely his own. Yet while Kevin left his mind optimistically open to other interpretations, the possibility that Javier had truly given in to some insane religious delusion was still one that Kevin had to be prepared to accept...
And regardless of Javier's motives and mind, there was still his possible involvement in the death of the woman found in his apartment to consider.
Kevin came down on that thought hard, crushing it before it was more than just the whisper of suggestion. No. As turned around as he was, the one thing that Kevin still knew for certain was that Javier Esposito was not a murderer. Nothing—in Heaven or on Earth—would change that fact, and Kevin had come way too far to start doubting it now.
When he finally pulled back onto the road, Kevin felt like he was operating in a haze. What little rest he'd managed to grab while waiting on Claire's call in Chicago had been short and fitful, and he couldn't even remember what he last ate. He was already running on fumes, both physically and mentally, and with his interview with Singer behind him, Kevin felt like he was on the edge of collapse. It had taken him a few hours to finally begin to wrap his head around the things the older man had told him, and actually integrating them into any sort of rational conclusion was still a far-off goal...
But Kevin was finally ready to admit that, if he continued to go on as he had been, pretty soon he would have nothing left.
The sun had nearly sunk past the horizon by the time he made it back to his motel, intent on refueling himself in all ways it was possible. Having committed himself to momentary strategic retreat, the thought of sleep beckoned to him cruelly, but there were still other considerations that had to come first.
"He's alive, Kate," was how he opened the call, dialed before he even got out of the car. Kevin felt beat to hell and back, and everything else could wait, but Kate at least deserved to know what he'd found.
"You need to come home, Kevin," Kate said almost immediately, pleading with him, however firmly. "Please. Jenny's been worried sick about you. "
"Did you even hear me? Javier's alive, and I don't know what the crap is going on, but he's in trouble and he needs my help."
Because he hardly knew up from down right now—his logical mind still desperately sorting, still at war with everything his instincts were telling him about Robert Singer—but he still held on firmly to those simple facts. If Javier was alive, then Kevin could find him, and when he did he would do anything possible to bring his partner back.
"Don't, Kate...please don't," Kevin interrupted her, not even bothering to keep out of his tone that he was begging. "Don't ask me to come home. Not right now. We can't just give up on him, and I'm not going to walk away. I can't, not when I'm this close..."
Over the line, Kevin heard her take a slow breath, he could imagine the sympathy in her expression. She understood better than anyone did, he knew. It couldn't have been easy for her to ask, because he was sure she'd imagined what she might have done if their places were exchanged. Whether she could have resisted the temptation or gone off chasing her own ghosts.
"I haven't given up on him, Kevin," she said, "But if you've found some new evidence, you need to turn it over to someone else. What you're doing isn't healthy."
"Do you think I don't know that?" Kevin asked, letting out a weak laugh. "I mean...hell, Becks, I think I passed over into crazy a long time ago."
Because he was more than aware that it wasn't. He knew he was obsessed, was capable of recognizing that much, but at the moment it was difficult for him to care. Though he did regret the worry he was putting her through—her, and Jenny, and everyone he knew—and maybe she was even right. But Kevin had made up his mind the moment he'd boarded that plane to Chicago.
He wouldn't be turned away now.
Kevin never got the chance to hear what she had to say in reply to that, though. He had only just stepped through the door into his room and turned on the lights when he found himself shoved up against the wall. Hot bands of pressure closed around his chest and throat, and the pain dropped the phone from his hands. He struggled, helpless in his panic when couldn't tell exactly what it was he struggled against—for all appearances, there was nothing.
Disoriented and fighting for breath, it took him a while to notice that he wasn't alone. There were three people standing in front of him, two rough-looking men and a dark-haired young woman in her twenties. The men stood behind her, and both were smirking in a way that told Kevin nothing good. The woman was examining him thoughtfully, mouth stretched with a sweet smile.
Somehow, he found it in himself to like that even less.
"Singer's house is locked up tighter than a virgin's knees," the woman said as she walked up to him, tilting her head speculatively, "He let you in, though. I want to know why."
Stepping into his space, she reached up to run her fingers through his hair as she leaned in with a smirk.
"If he let you in once, he might be willing to do it again," she said, "And I want to be there if he does."
Something about her, about all three of them, had made Kevin's skin crawl instinctively, but this close she smelled of carrion, and ash, and sulfur. She stroked his scalp gently. The gesture was alarmingly proprietary, and Kevin found himself uselessly fighting the unseen bonds that held him to try and escape her touch. Though all it earned him was a soft laugh, and she leaned in, dragging her tongue across his cheek.
"Mm," she purred with a smirk, amused with his disgust. "You're a good boy, Kevin, I can tell. Catholic?"
She favored him with a bright smile.
"Catholics always taste like guilt. I bet it gets tiresome being so good all the time. Might take me a few hours to break you..."
"Who are you?" Kevin asked, finally finding the strength through his confusion to bring his panicked thoughts together.
Another question begged in the back of his mind, but right now he was too afraid of the answer.
"Oh, darlin'," she offered sweetly, "names don't really matter when I'm just going to take yours."
And, as she looked him over appraisingly, Kevin's thoughts turned traitorously frantic again as between one blink and the next her eyes changed to an unnatural, bottomless pitch black.
"Not my preferred fashion," she said, lifting a finger to sweep a lock of hair back from his forehead. Frozen in his shock, Kevin could only stare. "Might take a little tailoring, but I've made exceptions before."
Her grip tightened painfully around a handful of his hair as she yanked him toward her.
"We're going to have a lot of fun together."
Kevin's heart was hammering in his chest with a fear that was beyond categorization. There was no logic that could meet this, reason could not fight it, and it left him feeling utterly helpless. Yet, though it was unendingly frightening, that helplessness turned out to be his salvation. As logic and reason fled, what it left behind was the memory of that first, raw hint at something else, so subtle he hadn't even known it was there. That glimpse of the real pain and bitter resentment in Claire Novak's very serious, very not-innocent eyes as she had first advised him to seek an angel for guidance.
He's an angel, she had said, he can hear it when you pray.
And the thought that next passed through his mind wasn't a prayer, exactly. It was practically formless, terrified and desperate, and consisted of only a single word... Please. But it must have been enough—or close enough—because it was very quickly answered.
One of the men standing watch stiffened suddenly as white-hot light began to pour out of his eyes and mouth, face contorting with agony as he was lit up from the inside. The room was flooded with the smell of ozone, and the air itself felt charged. Then the man sagged, dropping bonelessly to the floor. The woman and her remaining companion both turned to see, and Kevin's eyes widened at the sight of the man who had suddenly appeared behind them.
Javier ducked under the swing of the second man as he lunged, and he used the man's momentum to spin his opponent around in front of him, locking a hand around his throat. And, just like with the first, the man's eyes and mouth lit up with a brilliance that made Kevin's eyes water, and he too collapsed to the floor. Javier's face was nearly expressionless as he turned to face Kevin and the woman, and as Javier stepped forward, she took a step backward.
"Not even worth it," she said, shaking her head.
Then she tipped her head back, and her mouth opened wide. A torrent of blackness—like smoke, like oil, like a swarm of flies, only thicker and impossibly more noisome—burst fourth from her throat. It swarmed across the ceiling, roiling angrily like a storm before it dissipated, and when it did she too fell to the floor, lifeless. And finally, the invisible force that had held Kevin in place vanished, and the weight of all his fear, all his shock and exhaustion dropped him to his knees.
It took him several seconds to pull himself together, to wrestle some control over his breathing and the shaking of his limbs. Once he had, once he finally managed to look up, he had half expected Javier to be gone as well.
When Kevin finally looked Javier still stood there, watching him quietly with the same expressionless face he had worn during the short-lived battle. For several moments Kevin could only stare back in disbelief—for no greater reason than simple fact that it was Javier, that his partner was there, standing in front of him. In a very distant corner of his mind, Kevin was relieved to see that his partner looked...well. But he also noticed that Javier was wearing the same clothes Kevin remembered seeing at work the day his partner had disappeared, and for a moment he wondered if what he was seeing was even real. And Javier seemed content to merely stare at him, eyes devoid of anything to suggest his partner even saw him—eyes which almost seemed to look through him, as if he wasn't there at all.
And of course Kevin broke first. Anything else would have been like dropping a glass and expecting the floor to shatter.
Kevin hated the way his voice shook as he spoke his partner's name. Still on his knees, Kevin had to press his hands into fists against his chest to stop himself from reaching out. From touching him, if only to prove that he was real. Because Kevin didn't think he could handle it if this were a dream.
His partner's mouth lifted with a slight smirk, though it didn't meet his eyes. Kevin thought they seemed empty in a way that felt even less human than the black ones that had been devouring him before.
"Close enough," was his answer.
Kevin swallowed against the dread that stirred queasily his stomach.
"Chazaqiel," Kevin said, the name bitter and alien on his tongue.
And when the other—the angel—inclined his head, the subtle acknowledgment left Kevin chilled. And though not a single day had passed over the past three months in which Kevin hadn't dreamed about seeing his partner again, he had to look away. Because the understanding was slowly dawning on him that he wasn't seeing him now...
That it really wasn't Javier standing in front of him. Not anymore.
"You shouldn't be here," Chazaqiel said.
And though nearly emotionless, his voice was almost the same—almost Javier's—and the nearness was painful enough that Kevin's eyes stung with frustrated tears.
"Yeah," Kevin managed dully, the word followed by a faint, helpless laugh. "Yeah, you're probably right."
Kevin didn't want to look back, but when no response came, the silence was so complete that he could have been alone. When he dragged his eyes back, Chazaqiel still looked down on him with a stillness that was impossible for Kevin to classify. Patient, expectant perhaps, as if waiting for something, though it could as easily have been amusement or boredom for all he knew. But whatever it was, the attention was beginning to fray Kevin's nerves.
"So it's true," he said finally, more to fill the void of silence with something human than for any other reason, "Everything Singer said about war in Heaven and angels trying to restart the Apocalypse. About..."
An analogy begged inanely at the edge of his mind, and he let out a dazed snort.
"About divine police forced to turn in gun and badge. All that was true."
Though from the way Singer had described it, the way he described angels and the manner of the one that stood in front of him, Kevin was beginning to suspect a truer metaphor would have been to call them zookeepers.
"Go home, Kevin," Chazaqiel told him.
Though clearly unmoved by Kevin's poor joke, his voice was soft. It was Kevin's first confirmation that the angel even knew him, and it hurt enough that the tears he had somehow managed to hold back finally escaped his control. A heavy weight hung on his heart, like loss, yet as hopeless as it all felt, Kevin refused to let himself feel defeated. He had come this far. Too far. His faith—his faith in Javier—was being tested, and he would not falter.
"No," he said, his voice firm despite the shudder the breath that had preceded it. He shook his head.
"No," Kevin said again, and finally he found the strength to stand. He forced himself to look the angel in the eye, not even knowing if it was safe, but far beyond caring.
"I think the wheels are about as off as they're going to get," the angel warned, clearly knowing what Kevin intended.
And it clearly was a warning, though one Kevin consciously, dangerously, stubbornly chose to ignore.
"I'm your partner," Kevin insisted flatly.
For the first time something like emotion decided to cross the angel's features. His expression darkened noticeably, and when he spoke there was a definite edge to his voice. Angry, yet if it had truly been Javier Kevin might have thought he heard something pleading in it as well.
"Exactly what part of this is your tiny primate brain not understanding?" Chazaqiel asked him. "We are engaged in a war against enemies intent on scraping human civilization off of Heaven's collective shoe. I don't have time for you now. There is nothing you can do. Go back to New York. Go back to Jenny. Forget me. Let them pack up the case, get married and move on with your life."
It stung, it stung so deeply that for a moment Kevin couldn't even breathe, but Kevin would be damned—literally, for all he cared—before he let himself crumple again.
"How can I even think about getting married when—"
When he might never see Javier again?
"When the world might just end?" He finally managed, though it was funny how equal those two fears felt at that moment.
Chazaqiel was quiet a moment, and when he spoke he didn't answer the question Kevin asked, but the one he'd thought.
"Maybe you'll see me again, maybe you won't," he said, pausing briefly, as if considering. When he spoke again, his voice had turned soft, "I've got a joker up my sleeve, Kev, but it's going to have to wait."
And maybe it was hearing the angel use the word me as if he actually were Javier, maybe it was the strange analogy and the promise it seemed to hold, or the familiar use of Kevin's name, or perhaps it was simply that his expression, while pitying, at least showed that something was there. Kevin wasn't entirely sure what he was thinking when he did it, but for a moment it was almost enough for him to believe it really was Javier standing there, and before he realized it he'd reached out to grab Chazaqiel's arm. The limb was as unyielding as the arm of a statue, the expression the angel returned infuriatingly unreadable, and Kevin would almost certainly never know what he was thinking when he used that immovable leverage to pull himself closer.
Kevin thought he surprised them both with the kiss—though he was even more surprised when he felt the angel respond. But while his lips were warm and soft, the kiss itself was cold and utterly vacant. It felt achingly like a tease. Tears threatened again, and Kevin heard himself whisper another prayer against the angel's lips.
Please don't leave. Please give him back.
And then there was a rushing sound that obliterated everything. Suddenly the angel was gone. Just as suddenly what little strength Kevin still had chose to abandon him. His legs went out from underneath him and he pitched backward, and it was only when he fell sitting onto something soft that he realized his surroundings had changed. Not content with merely leaving him behind where he might still pursue things further, it seemed Chazaqiel had decided take the choice out of Kevin's hands entirely...
In less than a heartbeat, Kevin had been returned to New York, and to the familiar, empty sanctity of his own apartment.
Chapter 5: Epilogue
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It was nearly two full days before anyone knew that Kevin was back in New York.
For the most part, that was because practically anyone who mattered already knew that he had run off with station property and taken a flying leap into obsession— Though the fact that his cell phone had been left behind on the floor of a ratty motel room in South Dakota certainly hadn't helped. He had wondered idly, once or twice, whether the angel had seen fit to clean up the mess he had left behind. If not, Kevin was likely to suffer the natural consequences once someone discovered three bodies left in the motel room booked under his name. Not that it would have been difficult to establish an alibi, not when he'd been transported across the country faster than was humanly possible, but to Kevin it felt like such a distant, hypothetical, and ultimately meaningless concern.
The darkness was full of monsters. The world could end at any moment. Javier was gone.
Nothing he had once worried about seemed to matter as much as it once had in the face of those three facts. For the first two days—and the next two that followed them—Kevin hadn't bothered to leave his apartment, had hardly had the will to leave his couch where the angel had left him.
Jenny had been the first to learn that he was back, of course. On the second day, she'd opened his apartment with her key in order to— He really never found out, actually. Not that it mattered. The first thing that she had asked him was where he had been. What had happened. Over the past three months, there had been numerous times that he had been forced to deflect, dismiss, or redirect the questions she asked him. For the first time in their relationship, Kevin had seriously considered lying to her face. Given his options—silence, deception, or a truth that defied sanity—it had seemed by far the easiest choice he could make.
In the end, he had taken the middle road, and simply told her that he couldn't tell her. Admitting that, if he did, she would never believe him. She hadn't taken it well. In the end, it had finally devolved into that argument that Kevin had honestly always known was coming, but had never found the courage to face.
Though it hadn't been courage that got him through it so much as a lingering, disconnected terror that left him numb to almost anything else.
Jenny had left him in tears, and Kate had called his home phone less than an hour later. Her questions had been basically the same, though she worded them far more carefully. When he gave her more or less the same answer he'd given Jenny, Kate had accepted it much better, though Kevin knew well enough that she would never truly give up asking, not until she was satisfied. Her last words had been about the situation with Gates. The sooner he went in to plead his case, the better off he would be. He had already been placed on administrative leave, pending investigation of his conduct. At this point, he would be lucky to get off with a lengthy suspension—Gates could easily have his badge, if she wanted it—though Kate had gently suggested that he make a plea for medical leave.
No one was saying that he was crazy—not yet—but no one could argue that he had been in his right mind when he took off, either.
He got other calls over the course of the next week. A couple from Jenny, none of which went anywhere good, a handful from his mother who had started hearing things and begun to worry. A few from others at the station—many of which he'd failed to answer or simply hung up on in favor the gnawing, empty silence.
It was the very first day of his second week back that Castle finally showed up at Kevin's door. The writer arrived with Chinese and a bottle of scotch, and for the first time in their acquaintance he didn't ask any questions. He just talked. Castle talked, and let himself keep talking about whatever intriguing, amusing, or pointless thing happened to cross his mind. Oddly, Kevin found himself more than willing to let him. While it couldn't drown out his grief, his confusion, or the fears that continued to haunt him, it did manage to push them away from the forefront of his mind, at least for a little while.
Between the very welcome distraction and the soft, warm distortion of the liquor, Kevin felt closer to sane than he had in more than a month. And it occurred to him, in a way that was strangely comforting, that at least amongst everything else he'd learned, he had found the answers to all of his most important questions. He knew why his partner had left, and while he didn't know the details of the destruction his leaving had left behind, it was no longer so difficult for him to imagine. While he still didn't know exactly who the dead woman was, he had a solid theory about what she was, and what the reason behind her death had been.
Most importantly, he knew that Javier was alive, and while it was impossible for him to know with any certainty what Chazaqiel's intentions were, instinct—or perhaps something else entirely—was telling him that there was still hope. That there was still the chance that, someday, Kevin would get his partner back.
With those realizations came a strange, unexpected feeling of peace.
Kevin didn't know if he made some kind of noise, or if there had been some other outward indication of the shift his thoughts had taken, but after a while he realized Castle's voice had gone silent. Turning to look at him, Kevin saw the writer's eyes watching him with their usual curiosity, natural and undemanding. The quiet stretched out between them for a few moments before Castle frowned thoughtfully.
"Beckett told me what you said," the writer told him, neutrally, "Or, you know, what you didn't say."
Turning his attention back to the carton in his hand, he shrugged as if it truly didn't matter.
"Just saying...I have a very open mind."
And maybe it was the alcohol, just a little, but mostly Kevin thought it was the simple fact that it wasn't a question which finally moved him ask one of his own.
"What do you know about angels?"
Author's Note: Yes, there is more to the series, but like the other Quis Custodiet story, this one ends abruptly here. I have other stories planned in this 'verse, but I don't know when I'm going to get around to completing the full story.