A pornography DVD: all that remains of his brother’s vast existence.
Dean presses it into his hands with a muttered apology and then steps away quickly. Giving condolences has never been Dean’s strong suit, perhaps because he is owed so many, himself. The life mapped out for him since the beginning of time has never been fair, and Castiel wants to offer his own apologies for that. Wants to tell Dean that he would lift Heaven’s burden from his shoulders if he could, but can’t seem to tear his gaze from the case blazoned with Casa Erotica 13, let alone find his voice.
His nasolacrimal canal grows hot until it burns.
He vaguely feels the hand that gently grips his shoulder in a wordless gesture of comfort, and by the time he looks up to acknowledge it Dean is already gone. He’s glad; as much as he prefers Dean’s company to anyone else’s, Dean will never understand this pain. For every time Sam has been lost he’s found a way back. Dean has never lost a brother, not in a way that matters. Castiel has suffered countless losses but from this he will never recover.
Gabriel. Gavri’el, Jibrail, The Word, The Strength, The Trumpet. There are countless names in countless tongues for him, but none more true than Brother. Castiel had not known Gabriel the way he knew those in his garrison but he’d loved him fiercely, for he was the bringer of laughter and good tidings, and embraced even those in the lowest ranks as equals. Castiel would linger at various gateways in hopes of catching a glimpse of him upon his returns from the mortal realm, quiet, hidden. He remembers the day Gabriel stepped through and greeted his mighty legion with a joyful, “He is born. The Shard of Him Who Is Called I Am has been born under my star. Gloria!”
His beautiful brother, wings as drifted snow and eyes as flame, with a voice that reached into the shadowed corners at the end of the universe. Loved and revered by all. There had been none more glorious, not even Mikael. Not even Lucifer.
The day Gabriel died – No. No, left. He left. He remembers the ripple of shock and horror – the first time he’d ever felt pain -- that broke over the Host like a scream upon word of Gabriel’s disappearance. He is dead! He is perished! Our beloved is snuffed out!, cried over and over for centuries, never relenting, never ceasing to remind Heaven that its brightest was gone. Unnecessary torment rendered endless by those who claimed to love them all.
Castiel had been inconsolable, but never truly believed that Gabriel, The Strength, would not return, and so would still wait at every open portal, only pulled from his vigil on orders to retrieve a human man from Hell. Castiel had meant to return, to continue waiting, but then the human man became Dean in whom he found a home with no empty gateways.
It wasn’t until he first heard the rumblings of a trickster called Loki through horror stories and survivor’s tales whispered in the dark did he begin to wonder; it took being trapped in a world where Fernando was cheating on Luisa with Marlana, who was pregnant with Rodrigo’s baby, and a serial killer was causing issues in the small town for him to truly know.
The Strength of God, standing defiant in an inescapable trap in an abandoned warehouse, had returned. Perhaps not to fight, perhaps not to help, but still alive and well. As Dean railed against Gabriel’s perceived cowardice, his unwillingness to do as Castiel had done and pick up the sword against Heaven, Castiel had stayed his tongue, basking in the sheer rapture of knowing his brother was not snuffed out, a joy that he had never known. Not even having Dean’s smile focused on him could be of equal measure. The casual “Hey, bro” had only been confirmation – icing on the cake, as Dean says.
After sharing one, last relieved glance with Gabriel, Castiel followed Dean out, then went surging with renewed vigor to find his Father. If Gabriel were still safe, were still alive and thriving, then surely God must still be present somewhere. Weeks upon weeks of searching interspersed with time spent with Dean and Sam (and a few hunts for Gabriel, who was once again hidden), all of it seemingly important, all of it for a greater purpose, and then he felt the brush of his brother’s Grace once more. Gabriel had returned.
And then Dean called.
Castiel turns the DVD case over in his hands and reads the back, finding no mention of the Kingdom’s brightest in the description of salacious acts meant to titillate the basest senses. There is nothing except what is imprinted on the delicate underside of the disc, the last message of Gavri’el embedded in the full spectrum of the polycarbonate layer. The Word reduced to bumps.
Something patters on the case and he startles, tilting it to catch the light. Liquid. It slides down, the bead thinning out before it brushes against the skin of his thumb. His eyes are hot, his vision blurs, and his nasolacrimal canal feels like the burn of holy fire.
He opens his mouth and what escapes sounds like… death. Dead.
He is dead. He is perished. Our beloved is snuffed out.
It trips from his trembling lips until it fades into the barest of whispers, but does not ease him. How can he continue now, be expected to fight, to perhaps one day make the long journey back to Heaven and bring with him the announcement that the Strength of God is no more?
He hears Dean call out to him over the sound of his own weeping, hears Sam holding him back, and mourns for the brother who will never enter the gate to greet him.
Dean, you were right. This is me, standing up.
“Gloria, Gabriel, Gavri’el, Jabrail. Brother.” He will not falter. He will not fail. He will not forget.
They will all be the Strength of God now.