To say that they broke him would be inaccurate. Nothing crashes or shatters in Heaven. There are no chisels or hammers for shaping. It is more like a great, purposeful river that runs and runs and runs—smoothing every stone in its bed down to mud—without ever running dry.
The rehabilitation is designed to put soldiers back in the war, and it's counterproductive to break something you plan to use again. So no: they didn't break him.
They polished him.
They ripped him so quickly from his vessel that he was still trying to gasp for air when the white-cold of home slammed closed around him. He was held down and washed. Drowned. Cleansed. The smell of dirt and decaying human cells was purged from him. Then they left him, exposed and too exhausted to defend himself. His raw and scrubbed eyes were so overwhelmed he thought he was blind. His hands and feet were so numb he thought it must be winter. His bare chest was heaving so hard he thought it was splitting open. He reached for it, to press down against the pounding inside it, and found energy and light. He scraped and grasped, but couldn't find the solid beating. He made a broken noise when he realized that he was reaching for his human heart, and that it was back on earth, and that it wasn't his.
Then the Philosophers came. There were four of them, and they were absolute.
"Castiel," they said in unison. Castiel heard four different names, though each was his. Castiel: level, sturdy, solid up from the foundation of his being. Castiel: transparent, doubtful, seeking things he wasn't even sure existed. Castiel: like a hummingbird, shuffling, asking the one question that could never be answered. Castiel: soft, hardly there at all, with every second changing.
"Castiel," he answered. Because that was his name, and some part of him was afraid of forgetting.
I should say that Philosopher is merely the nearest English word for the four angels who came to him; they were otherwise outside the reach of language.
Except that one was true, and one was soft, and one was gray, and one was sorry.
"Were you going to disobey for Dean Winchester?" asked the one who was true.
If Castiel had ever known how to lie he could not remember the mechanics of it.
"I don't know," he said honestly.
"Do you love him more than God?" asked the gray one, disgusted, skipping over the half-dozen questions that should have come between.
"No!" God was his father. God had no superior.
"Do you love him as you love God?" asked the one that was sorry, gently and without judgment. If Castiel had been given access to his will in that moment, he would have liked sorry the best. Sorry thought there was nothing wrong with loving a man as one loved God.
Castiel was terrified to hear himself answer: "No."
Blind and numb, incapacitated to the point of infancy, Castiel still knew the feeling of the soft Philosopher crouching beside him. It felt like the beautiful stain of oil in water, all muted colors in a swirling, chaotic pattern. Soft was the gentlest, the most understanding, the one with the capacity for commiseration. Castiel hated him. Or he would have, if he'd been free to do so.
Soft whispered, "Do you know why angels don't fall in love, Castiel?" Castiel didn't answer because his answer was obvious. If he knew, he wouldn't have made that mistake. "It isn't forbidden," the soft Philosopher continued. "Do you know why it doesn't happen despite?"
"I do not," he was required to answer. They knew all his answers. He thought they wanted him to speak for his benefit alone. So he could hear it. So he could know his ignorance.
"Because he's a warrior," said sorry to the others. "He hasn't had the opportunity to imagine."
"Then we will help your contemplation," sneered gray.
"This is your scenario, Castiel," said true. "Dean Winchester loves you and he asks you to stay. The world is at peace and Heaven is at peace, so you stay. Your love for each other is tireless."
"We will return when you have found the answer," sorry told him. Then they were gone. Castiel felt the freedom of hisself returned. He curled around himself, against the blindness, against his traitorous senses that told him nothing of his surroundings. He was almost helpless, but his mind whipped and coiled and unrolled. He was angry and frightened.
He had just one name, and it was Castiel. Sometimes pronounced Cas by a few.
Out of spite he wanted to sink into the blank meditation of revelation, to lay forever thinking of nothing. To show them that his rebellion was born of more than simple love for a human. It was also about his disgust with Heaven's corruption, it was about the misuse of independent life. Humans were flawed, but they had will, and so they had rights.They were not tools for an end.
It disappointed him that he had been unable to articulate that to himself on earth. The crux of his discomfort had come to him too late.
But if he did not reflect, he would never leave. And that was unacceptable. So Castiel turned
himself inward, and imagined.
At first he tried his hardest to arrive at once at the answer they required of him. He imagined every single horror that could come of a union between Dean and himself. If Dean were killed, or struck by one of the more horrible human diseases. If Dean were taken and used to exploit Castiel's weaknesses. But nothing he imagined could convince him it wasn't worth the risk. As long as Dean consented. The pain he imagined was somehow beautiful, and the grief was just and pure and dignified. It was not a bad way for love to end.
He tried to keep away from frivolous fantasies. He tried not to concentrate on the creases of Dean's eyes or the sandpaper of his voice. He tried not to imagine how Dean's soul would burn differently in his arms through the skin of his body than it had unhindered in Hell. He pushed the question of Dean's mouth away again and again, telling himself that taste, texture, lust, were irrelevant in this instance. But those thoughts came back. And as time passed he did not come to his answer.
A little at a time, Castiel began to comfort himself with thoughts of Dean. Dean as he was: haunted and hard. Dean as he might be: sad but forgiving. Dean as he could be: laughing and living. Castiel imaged a realistic bond where Dean was, at the very least, his friend. He imagined sitting next to Dean on Bobby's porch, without impending disaster tickling the back of his tongue, the fingers of his vessel splayed on the wood a few inches from Dean's hand. Dean tipping his head back to watch a cloud or an escaping idea, exposing his throat in an unconscious gesture of trust.
Then, dangerously, Castiel slipped into wondering how it would feel to be allowed to stand too close. What expression Dean's face would shape when he told Cas it was okay to touch him with more than just two fingers.
Was it appropriate to bite, if he was careful? Would Dean leave his own marks? How long would he be able to feel it afterwards? He knew that mornings with Dean would smell like warm sheets and coffee. He knew that afternoons would taste like impatience and frustration. He had the details.
He imagined everything. The sweet and bitter emotions and the fights they would have. The harsh words and the uneasy truces. He imagined the freedom of being able to hold on to something like Dean, something so instant and vibrant, without ever being asked to let go.
And in that easy fantasy, in the warmth of that relief, with all the razor colors of his newly learned imagination, Castiel found the answer.
He saw himself—comfortably sunken into the form of his vessel—and Dean, lying together in years like autumn. Dean, with his head in Castiel's lap, old, and wise, and wrinkled. Castiel's hand spread across his breathing chest. Dean's silver hair flying in wisps off the top of his head and his chapped lips smirking. His cloudy eyes looking up at Castiel, still devoted and peacefully in love. Still Dean.
But aching in the body and the chest. Weary behind his eyes, in his mind, and his bones. While Castiel was unchanged because he hadn't broken any rules and so had never fallen.
Castiel traced a soft hand down the side of Dean's face and carefully stroked his fingers through the fine hair. Dean's smirk turned into a wide smile, and then he dropped off to sleep, as he often did.
Castiel kept Dean alive with his hand and his grace. Dean's body was old and broken down; ready to die. If Castiel let go of him, even for an instant, Dean's last second would pass and he would fade away from the world. Away from Cas. So they sat together, taking small comforts. Sometimes, rarely, when Dean had the strength, they would whisper.
Dean slept for days, waking for only fifteen or thirty minutes at a time. Cas waited patiently to see the hint of truegreen behind the cataracts.
He knew Dean was in pain. And if Dean would only ask, Castiel would let him go. He was capable of anything for Dean. If Dean would only express that he wanted it.
Castiel sat and watched the grief in Dean's face when he would remember the brother he'd had once. He saw the horror in Dean's mouth when, after thousands of years, he could not remember Sam's name. When everything of Sam's memory, the gangly limbs and the long hair, the guilt-ridden shoulders, had faded and only the vague sense of loss was left. When even Castiel's stories of Sam, told a hundred times a hundred times, were not enough for Dean's gray mind to hold on to.
Castiel waited for Dean to ask. And Dean never did.
He had his answer. Castiel rolled away from the dream and cried for a while.
The four Philosophers were with him.
"Castiel," they said. Four names.
He was sorry.
"Will you obey?" the true Philosopher asked.
"Yes," answered Castiel. They freed him. He pulled himself together, upright and fierce, positive and loyal. He was a soldier. A fighter. A sword of Heaven.
And Dean Winchester was only a human. A brief gasp of sin and air, a wheel that needed to be moved.
"You will move him," said the soft one.
"He does not move you," laughed the gray one.
The sorry one came close.
"You are righteous, Castiel."
The call came from his superiors; he was needed on earth. He went.
But he didn't keep faith with Heaven. Dean said three things that convinced Castiel he didn't give a shit if the Philosophers were right.
Dean said: "People are real."
"There is a right, and there is a wrong, and you know it."
"You're already dead."
The Philosophers had said angels do not fall in love. As if it was as much a decision as obedience or disobedience was. They had clearly failed in Castiel's rehabilitation, because Dean was angry with him and Castiel was moved.
He pushed Dean up against the wall and silenced him. Dean's frown made the palm of his hand burn. Dean's warmth made the chill fade. Dean's relief made the solution easy.
If he disobeyed now, he would die. And whether Dean loved him or not, Dean would never be ruined, never be convinced to live forever to save a foolish angel from a broken heart.
It was fortuitous and perfect. He was a little bit proud to have found the answer to a problem the Philosophers claimed had no solution. The existence of Castiel, soldier of Heaven, disobedient son of the Lord, was resolved.
Really, it wasn't. You and I know that because we've heard most of the story before. And we know that God is a bit of a bastard with too much panache and a lot of fondness for a-symmetrical stories. And He resurrected the one angel who was totally ready to die for a good cause, and Dean was really happy to see him.
So no one knows how it ends. If Cas and Dean are screwed or not.
Well, God probably knows. But, y'know, fuck that. Because he shouldn't. It's not really any of his business.