Sunlight shone through dense dark green leaves of the canopy above, branches overlapping each other, and thick, lush grass rose off the ground to cradle the lone figure's bare feet. His vessel's black shoes were tied together by their laces and hanging from a low branch of a nearby deciduous tree. The fallen angel danced to a tune no one else could hear, swaying and spinning slowly, smiling to himself as he flitted across the clearing on light feet. His oversized tan trenchcoat swirled around his legs, the hems of his slacks brushing against the tops of his feet. The grass was cool under his soles, still wet with morning dew.
A soft flutter of wings caught his attention, and his twisted Grace pulsed with anticipation, the peaceful moment that had been his now gone. The fallen angel's feet stopped their carefree movement. His arms went back down to his sides. The air was thick with silence, even the creatures of the forest holding their breath at the arrival of the newcomer. Someone that Castiel had hoped to not see again. Ever, really. A weary breath puffed past his lips, eyes closing for the barest second.
"Hello, Castiel," the Viceroy of Heaven said.
The fallen angel looked at him at last. His eldest brother had squeezed himself into a middle aged fireman with dark hair and blue eyes, speckled stubble lining his jaw. The heat of his holy Grace could not be hidden even with the meatsuit as a buffer. Not for an Archangel. The purity of it made Castiel force down a wince. Such was his curse that he could not look upon his own brother without feeling an ache. The old feeling of anger pounded dully in the background of his mind for just a moment.
Castiel tilted his head up to look Michael in the eyes, his own expression neutral. His wings, black as the night sky void of stars and moonlight, shimmered as he flashed them behind his back in the customary gesture of deference to an angel of higher rank. Fallen he might be, but he wasn't impolite. Etiquette was something that had been hammered into Castiel's very being, since the beginning of his existence. His eldest brother dipped his own pearlesque wings in acknowledgement.
"Michael," Castiel allowed curtly.
"You look dreadful, brother," Michael commented.
"Something you knew already," Castiel replied. He resisted the faint lingerings of an urge to cover his black wings up; the dark color had never been accepted in Heaven. It was shameful. He was better than that now. He instead crossed his arms over his chest and pursed his lips. "What are you doing here, Michael?"
"As you are aware of, I am certain, the Apocalypse is approaching, and Lucifer will be set free from his Cage to do battle with me," Michael said.
"Yes," Castiel responded. "I may reside in Hell now, but I do not live under a rock, brother."
"Well, then you must know that we need someone to bring the Righteous Man back from Hell once he has broken the First Seal," Michael said.
The fallen angel frowned at him slightly.
"I do not understand what that has to do with me," Castiel replied.
"I would like you to be the one to retrieve the Righteous Man for us," Michael explained.
Castiel stared at him in disbelief.
"Why? Why would I ever do that for you? And why me?" he demanded. "You have plenty of other goody two shoes soldiers to do whatever the heck you want. Why would you want me, a Fallen, to perform such a task?"
"You have always been among the best of our Garrisons, Castiel. You excel in whatever you set your mind to. I do not wish to lose time or angels to the retrieval of the Righteous Man when they could be doing other tasks in preparation. This is a good compromise for the both of us," Michael said.
"...perhaps, but again, why would I do it?" Castiel asked. "I can see what you get, but I don't see what reason I have to help you. I am a Knight. My allegiance is to Hell, not Heaven."
"Lucifer," Michael said. Castiel felt his Grace flare at the mention of their brother.
"What about him?" he asked.
"Lucifer can only be freed with the help of the Righteous Man and the Boy With the Demon Blood. Do you not want our brother to be free?" Michael said.
The fallen angel ground his teeth together and released a faint sigh.
"Yes. I will bring the Righteous Man back," Castiel replied after a moment. He glared at Michael, who appeared unfazed. "Not for you. Not for Heaven. For the one you locked up."
Michael nodded, the vessel's lips quirking up in a slight smile. Triumphant.
"That is all I ask, brother," he said.
Castiel strode up the walkway to the Rack, the tormented screams of the human souls ringing around him in a near deafening cacophony. He latched his fingers on the Master Torturer's bicep and hauled it out of the way. Alastair snarled at him, eyes flashing milk white. Castiel flared his wings high behind his back. He flipped his blade into his palm with a flick of his wrist. The demon back away from him warily, eyes narrowed.
"It is time. I have need of your apprentice," Castiel said.
Alastair tightened its grip on the soul, digging its claws into the soul's shoulders with a growl.
"I am not done with him," the demon hissed. "Dean, my Dean still has so much to learn. Come back in another decade."
"No bargaining," Castiel replied.
The fallen angel advanced on the demon, blade extended from his arm. Alastair released the soul at last and moved before Castiel could stab him. The soul, stupidly bright and warm, writhed on the ground like it was in pain. It was so pretty that it made his Grace ache just to look at it, but in a nicer way than his Heavenly brothers' ever did these days. Castiel reached down to scoop it up, and it latched onto him like a limpet, squealing in the way souls spoke beside his ear.
He teleported back out of Hell with a flurry of beating wings, landing in the precise location that the soul's body was buried. Castiel pet the soul, and it squealed again, curling around his hand and chest. It was kind of cute. He felt himself smile and attempted to pull it away from him. It clung to him tightly, refusing to let go for some reason. Castiel sighed. He did enjoy the way it felt against his Grace, but he couldn't exactly keep it with him all the time. It had things it had to be alive, in an actual body, to do. He clamped his hand down hard on its arm and ripped it off his Grace.
Oh. He hadn't meant to do that. A burning red mark in the shape of his hand was seared onto it where he had gripped the soul. Maybe... Michael wouldn't notice? Castiel focused on repairing the body of the Righteous Man, undoing all of the decay and rot of the previous months. The fallen angel pressed the soul inside and settled it back inside its body. Castiel placed his bare palm on the man's chest, and he exhaled. The human gasped as stale and musty air flooded his lungs. He coughed, throat dry and disused. Castiel smiled down at him and disappeared from the pine box.
"Dean Winchester is saved."