Warning: Mentions of torture and some gore
The screams of Hell were almost commonplace, now. He let them fade into the background and watched as the next soul formed on the rack.
Once Alastair noticed he had become desensitised to all the murderers and rapists on his rack, Alastair sent him the young ones, the well meaning ones. These were the ones who sold their souls, not for personal gain, but to help others, not knowing what it was they gave away. They just wanted their mother’s sickness to heal, their son’s smile to return, their brother to be alive.
People like him. That is, when he was a person.
Now he was an entity of pain.The soul sobbed as she appeared, only about twenty-five. There was no way she could have understood what she did when she was fifteen. She cried out and tried to plead with him, as new arrivals always did. He stared her down, shook his head, then picked up his favorite blade. Alastair handed it to him the day he said ‘yes.’ He always used it first, just as Alastair taught him.
The soul shrieked as he cut her abdomen, begging him to tell her what was going on. Yeah, he also did that when he first arrived.
He had cut the tongues of the first few souls, so he wouldn't have to hear them beg, so he didn't have to hear the questions or the screams. Alastair had not been pleased. He was placed upon a hook for a year, until he agreed not to do that anymore. It had made Alastair smile. Alastair smiling was an awful sight.
He didn’t pay attention to the screams. He couldn’t. He cut into the soul and watched her bleed, her wide, innocent eyes peeled back in terror.
The screams of Hell were almost commonplace, now.
The entity turned around to try another blade, to choose the one with the most malevolent gleam, and stood stock still.
Another of Alastair’s games. It had to be. He must have failed with the girl, going easy on her when she mentioned her young brother, because what he saw before him was in no way meant to be in Hell.
The spectre from his past watched him, wreathed in a gentle blue light. The spectre stared right at the entity, eyes devoid of fear.
Blue wasn’t a colour found in Hell. Usually it was varying shades of blood, as it so often made it into the eyes. There were black shadows or washed out yellow lights to disorient the denizens of Hell. Not blue. Blue was too kind, too soft, and reminded him of the past.
He blinked. The spectre remained, walking towards him with great care, steps slow and steady.
Not real. Not real. Couldn’t be.
He backed away, only stopping when he heard the soul sob behind him. He tried to shield her from view with body. She made quite the sight, with her guts ripped open and spilling on the ground. He had done that to her.
Oh, God he had done that to her. He had done that to so many.
The spectre continued to approach and the entity stretched out his arms, trying to keep what he had done covered. He couldn’t. The blood had seeped into his skin, permanently staining him. He fell to the ground and lowered his face, unable to meet the figure’s eyes.
The spectre dropped in front of him, unusually solid for a hallucination.
No, no, no. He didn't have a name. It was one of the first things Alastair took from him. Alastair stole his name and ripped away all that he once was, taking away the comforting images of his family, their names, their faces.
The spectre said the name again but he wouldn't (couldn't) look up. If he responded he would surely be punished.
A hand touched his face, a gentle touch that didn't belong in Hell. It stirred a deep memory in the entity, almost lost in all the pain. The hand hummed with an unfamiliar power, one that hadn't come into being through destruction.
“Dean.” There it was again. Three times. Surely he'd be caught soon. “We don't have much time. I'm getting you out of here.”
The hand was insistent, making him lift his chin. He looked up and saw the blue, the one he saw in hazy recollections before Alastair cut them out with a knife.
The entity opened his mouth, the words halting. He hadn't used them in so long. “Not. Real.”
The blue deepened with something the entity couldn't name. Hell had taken away the need for words that didn't describe pain.
“I'm so sorry, Dean. I'm sorry I took so long.” The spectre’s voice was deep and the entity found himself leaning towards it as it drowned out the sounds of Hell. “But I'm here now. I'm getting you out of here.”
“No way out,” the entity said. “Don't-- don't deserve--”
The spectre made a sound, then put a hand in the entity's hair, drawing him closer. “Still so bright after so long.” The spectre leaned in, forcing their eyes to meet. “We need you back. Sam needs you.”
Sam. The entity growled, shoving the spectre back as he stood. He felt regret when the spectre fell.
“Don't. Don't! Not allowed-- not allowed to--”
The entity grabbed his head, squeezing it as images flashed through his mind. They were quick, bright bursts, bringing emotion along with the colours.
Too much, too much, too much.
The soul wept silently from her place on the rack, too exhausted for anything else. She still remembered. That's why she could cry.
The spectre stepped behind him, arms encircling the entity. “You don't belong here.”
“I--” he leaned back into the embrace, a familiar comfort.
“Dean,” the spectre said, grasping the entity’s shoulder. “Do you trust me?”
The words escaped his lips before he had time to think but he knew it to be true. The entity tried to twist in the hold, to look out the corner of his eye. There was something there, something important just over his shoulder. He just couldn't quite remember.
He nearly caught it, the thought nagging at his mind, when the light enveloped him. Blue-white and gentle, the entity didn't fight it. He was pulled up, up, up, for ages as the light sang.
All at once, the light disappeared, and he was left gasping for breath in total darkness.
Castiel knew it was an idiotic decision as soon as he made it.
For the first time in his long existence, Castiel prayed. It took time to figure out the right way to do it. He had never been on the other side of the exchange. The silence was frustrating. He wondered how the humans could stand it.
He prayed for a day, then a night, and another day. He said all the prayers he knew, in all the languages he had and, when he ran out, he made some up.
His warding felt hot the longer the prayers went on. Castiel had struck them out with a marker, disrupting their power, but Castiel had done a bit too good of a job on crafting the lines.
Though, at the time, he never thought he would need to seek out the angels.
Eventually his brothers found him. Two angels floated down to the field in Illinois, the grave Castiel lay beside marked with only a cross.
The angels refused to take vessels. They circled around Castiel, their bright light turning the deep dark into day.
“Would you stop singing? There is no stairway to Heaven. Have you been gone so long you've forgotten that?”
Castiel stared at the light, trying to figure out which of his brothers were sent down. The whining decidedly brought Zachariah to mind.
“It's a classic,” Castiel said.
The light flashed rapidly, but otherwise said nothing.
“I think we should kill him where he stands. Look at him. Pathetic.” The other voice was deep and wrathful, a warrior.
“We have our orders,” the first voice said, clearly displeased.
The second voice made a disgusted noise, then both lights circled around Castiel until he was trapped in a ring of white.
“Speak,” they said together, their voices tinged with heavenly power.
It was only a stupid idea if it did not work, right?
That was what Castiel told himself when he was snatched directly from Hell and thrown immediately behind bars. He was still mortal, mostly, so the angels infused him with enough grace that he would not combust the moment he entered Heaven. They would not be able to torture him if they let him fade out of existence.
It worked. Castiel heard it. Everyone with even a little power heard it. Castiel’s plan had worked.
Dean Winchester is saved.
Warning: some more torture
Dean’s skin felt tight and itchy, as if he were stretched out over a drum and someone tried to play the bongos on his ribs. He squinted his eyes against the sun as he drove, wondering if it had always been that bright. He scratched at his arm, dislodging some of the glass embedded in his skin.
Whatever it was that followed him out of Hell must have been bad.
Hell. The longer Dean walked on Earth, the more the memories assaulted him. His mind was blank at first, survival his first and only priority. The grave dirt still coloured his nails. Dean couldn't let himself break. He needed to find out what was going on.
Four months. It had been that long. It had been that short.
All of Sam’s phone numbers no longer existed. Cas’s number went straight to voicemail. Bobby refused to listen, but at least Dean knew he was home.
First stop: South Dakota. What the fuck was Dean even going to say?
After the attack of the holy water and the best goddamned shower of his life, Dean and Bobby hit the road to find Sam. Who Dean found easily because Dean was awesome.
Dean didn't even make fun of Sam about the girl, at least not right away, because there his brother stood, alive and healthy.
Something was different, though Dean couldn't place his finger on exactly what. Sam carried himself with a new confidence, a strength in him Dean never before saw. That shouldn't be a bad thing. The kid had to grow up eventually, but Dean couldn't shake the strange feeling when he listened to Sam talk.
Maybe it wasn't Sam. Maybe it was Dean. When he was alone in the bathroom Dean heard the screams. He could already feel the smoke at his feet, grabbing at his ankles to bring him back down.
Dean didn't know how he made it back. That was the big blank spot in his memory and Dean really wished it was the other way around: forget Hell, remember rescue. At least then he would know what they were up against.
“By the way,” Dean said to Sam as he exited the bathroom, “have you heard from Cas?”
“No,” Sam said, “haven't seen him since…”
“Yeah,” Dean said, rolling up the sleeves of his borrowed shirt, “Bobby said the same thing.”
Castiel had learned a lot during his time on Earth: that fast food was as bad for you as it was delicious, that nothing was more boring than driving through the flat states, and that human knees were weak and fragile.
Most importantly, he learned how to lie.
He used to think he was bad at it but that was before he had to deal with angels again. Angels were so sure of themselves, so certain in their divinity, that they never even questioned their orders. Angels could read thoughts, sure, but if Castiel spoke in a certain way or sent his mind into a new direction, the angels would never notice the falsehoods.
The light hit his back with the bite of a whip, cutting into his skin. His brothers and sisters watched him, their wavelengths a confusing array of colours, as he bled into the whiteness. All of them shook in disgust at Castiel's mortal body, their voices high pitched screams.
The whip stuck again before his brother spoke. “Do you express guilt for you actions?”
“Yes.” For ever killing an innocent on your orders.
Another crack. “Do you repent your sins against you family?”
“Yes.” Sam and Dean deserved none of this. Mercy and Bobby deserve peace.
“Do you understand the cost of disobedience?”
“Yes.” A few thousand dollars worth of tattoos, apparently.
Castiel’s back split open, more blood and tissue than skin. The scant grace the angels gave him fought valiantly to stitch him back together. It was not going to keep him from passing out in a few moments, though that would be preferable to another hit from the whip.
“Phanuel, that is enough. They want him in one piece.” The speaker had a voice humans would describe as feminine, which made Castiel heart rate rise. He did not know why.
Castiel could hardly hear her words over the high pitched chatter of the Host. He had a hard time believing he once missed their voices.
“You could repair him. You have done it before.”
“I do not question my orders. Do you?”
“Very well,” Phanuel said.
Castiel sagged against the pillar when twin golden hued angels untied him and touched his back. Their hands healed Castiel. Not all the way, of course, but enough to keep him in one piece.
They threw him back in his cell not long after. He ached at Heaven’s punishments, beat into him near every day, but it did not matter. Castiel heard it.
They needed him.
Castiel could not sleep in Heaven. He was in a meditative state, brought on by staring at the shimmering white walls and bars in front of him. Heaven had not looked like this when he was an angel, though he could not remember what it was like before. His human mind compensated, creating shapes out of lights and names so it would not crumble trying to make sense out of an immaterial realm.
The white wall was not solid. It swirled in every shade until it blurred into static like Bobby’s old television when it could not find a channel. Perhaps Castiel should stand up and hit the wall to keep it from moving. That’s what Dean did to fix the television.
“Looking a bit tense there, Cassie.”
Blinking a few times, Castiel tried to figure out if the person on the other side of the bars were real or imagined. The man leaned against the wall, one ankle crossed over the other and his hands in his pockets. An angel in a vessel. Castiel had not seen one since he came back. Of course, he had physical form, but he was a special case. Lucky him.
“Have to say, though, you are practically invisible with all those lines on you.” The man walked forward, coming in close to the bars. “They were pretty pissed about that. How'd they even find you?”
“They didn’t. I found them.”
The man smirked. “All for your boy toy, I bet.”
Castiel narrowed his eyes. “There’s a lot more to it than that.”
Pushing back his blond hair, the man chuckled. “Trust me, I know. The Cupids haven't shut up about it since you got here. Have you heard an entire frequently weep ? My head hurt for days.” The man shook his head, eyes sparkling with amusement. “Ugh, such a sentimental bunch.”
Castiel stood up from his seat against the wall and stood across from the newcomer. The man vibrated with power but none of it was directed towards Castiel. Ever since he returned, every angel had made a point of targeting their anger and disgust at Castiel. This man, however, spoke to him as a friend.
Castiel studied the man, taking in his confident swagger and casual manner unbecoming of an angel. “Balthazar?”
Balthazar spread his arms wide, shaking his hands. “Tah-dah! Took you long enough.” His brows knit together. A quick flash appeared behind his eyes, but Castiel could not read before it went away. “You really can’t recognize us now, huh?”
ln the past, Castiel could identify every angel in the host by name or reputation with one look at their true faces. Now, he could not see beyond their outer shells.
“The fact that you can even stand there without, like, poofing from existence is just…” Balthazar trailed off, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Why are you in a vessel?”
“Oh, this old thing?” Balthazar straightened the collar of his jacket, trailing his hand down his chest. “Turns out the brass needed some angels in the outfield.”
“It's a-- you know what? Never mind.” Balthazar smiled, his whole aura warming. “Good to know you haven't changed too much.”
“Get to the point.” Castiel crossed his arms, leaning into the arch of his cell.
“So direct. I like it.” Balthazar cleared his throat and squared his stance. “It's Apocalypse city down below. Seals are breaking. Battles are being fought. It's all very dramatic.”
Castiel dropped his gaze to his feet. He felt it happen, when the first seal released. That was how he knew he was too late. Stuck in a holding cell while he waited for the angels to call him, the only thing Castiel could do was wait.
He still believed he should have done more.
“Myself and some other angels became part of the Earth squad. You know, observe the Earth, protect the innocent, smite all in our way. Fun stuff.” Balthazar sighed, turning his back on Castiel. “There's this place in France. Little cafe outside Lyon, I think it's called. Anyway, there was this girl and she was…” Balthazar flattened his hand against the wall and took a breath before turning around. “So I got called back. Now I'm on guard duty.” He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall as he had when he first appeared.
“You're being punished.”
“You could say that.”
“For admiring creation.”
“I.. guess? I mean, have you ever had a vintage brandy? They have nothing like that up here.”
“There's also coffee.”
“Women. Men. Men and women and those in between.”
Balthazar blew a raspberry. “Strip clubs.”
“Film. Especially the naughty kind.”
“Don't remind me.” Castiel sighed. A smoke would give him something to do with his hands, help take his mind off the ache in his bones.
“Strange creatures, humans,” Balthazar said.
The two stood across from each other, lost in contemplation. Balthazar shift from foot to foot, rubbing at the back of his neck as he mumbled a few indistinct words. He looked comfortable in his borrowed body, more at home in it than he ever did when he unfurled his true form.
“Balthazar,” Castiel said.
The angel's head snapped up, used to answering his commander. He groaned in annoyance when he realized what he did, but didn't look away. Balthazar watched Castiel, waiting for him to continue speaking.
“I need your help."
Yeah, this was dumb.
Bobby and Dean covered the surface of the barn with every protective symbol they could find. They didn't know what they were up against, so they went for everything. Dean insisted Sam stay behind. He'd probably be smart enough to stop them.
“You sure this’ll work?” Bobby said, “I mean, all we got is a feather.”
Pamela Barnes lost her eyes for that feather. They tried to find a name for whatever it was that followed Dean out of the pit. Pamela did her psychic thing, but she could only gasp as she dislodged the feather from her throat. When she removed it, a light burned her from within. She had lost her eyes and she couldn't speak due to the damage in her throat.
“It'll work,” Dean said.
It had to.
Bobby spoke the incantation, the spellfire fizzing away into silence.
“You sure you said it right--” Bobby's icy stare cut Dean’s question short. “Alright, touchy.”
“Alright fine. Is this dramatic enough?” A man appeared in the middle of the barn, a glass of brandy in one hand.
Bobby blasted the newcomer with a shotgun before he'd even fished his sentence. The man brushed the salt off his jacket, clicking his tongue as he stabilized his glass.
“Hey, watch it! I just got this vintage.”
He took a sip of his drink, waving his free hand. Bobby dropped to the floor. Dean turned toward the intruder, but was frozen in his tracks with another lazy wave of the hand.
“I so do not have time for this. Cliff notes: I'm an angel. You, Dean are, like, chosen by God or something. Cas says hey and now I'm gonna give you this.”
The man tapped Dean’s temple. Light flashed, bit otherwise Dean felt nothing change.
“All right, ciao. The actual welcoming party will arrive in about twenty seconds. Do try to act surprised.”
The man disappeared with the wind, just in time for Bobby to stand back up and for the door to crash open.
Angels. A whole shitload of them. All of them telling Dean he needed to save the world. No pressure.
The last case was a nasty one. Poor souls forced out of their restful slumber, in pain and confused, directing their anger at those who failed them. Sam and Dean had immediately passed out in Bobby's living room afterwards, too exhausted to do anything else. Dean made a bed for Sam on the couch. The kid remained completely dead to the world even when Dean shifted him to lay down. Dean took a couple blankets and slept on the floor, unable to muster up enough energy to head upstairs.
Dean opened his eyes. He walked over to the kitchen, socked feet not making a sound on the hard floors. Stopping in the threshold of the kitchen, he looked back at Sam, still conked out on the couch. He stepped into the kitchen, placing his feet with deliberate care.
“I'm dreaming, aren't I?” Dean asked.
“I hope it's a good one,” Cas said.
The last time Dean had seen Cas, he dragged away the body of some poor cop unlucky enough to be close to a demon. It wasn’t a good memory. Dean recalled that, when he tried to say goodbye, Cas looked like he had a thousand eyes and many faces.
“Is this really you?” Dean asked, taking a few steps more into the centre of the kitchen. “Because if it's not I--”
Cas met him in the middle, his hand reaching out to cup Dean’s face. “It’s really me.”
They stood still, the silence surrounding them, as Dean stared into Cas’s eyes. Cas smiled, his thumb tracing the angle of Dean’s cheekbone, and waited. There were dark circles under Cas’s eyes, though that was nothing new, and a scar Dean didn’t remember climbing its way up Cas’s back, peeking out from under his shirt collar. Cas’s clothes were dirty, as if he hadn’t changed them in a long time. Dean thought the grey coloured henley looked familiar, but Dean couldn’t say for sure. It had been a long time.
Dean placed his hand over Cas’s and breathed out. Cas was warm and solid and looked at him with those stupid eyes the same way he did years (no four months, only four months) ago. Grabbing at Cas’s shoulder, Dean pulled him close, the rain and ozone smell he remembered stronger than ever. The smoke seemed to have washed away. Maybe Cas finally quit. He eased into Cas, and they wrapped their arms around each other. Dean closed his eyes and breathed.
For a short moment, the first time in a very, very long time, Dean was calm.
He pulled back, taking Cas’s face between both his hands. He ran his thumb over the swell of Cas’s lips, still as dry as ever, and moved his hands down Cas’s cheeks, rough stubble tickling his palms. Cas stared up at Dean, lips slightly parted, allowing Dean to make the first move. Dean’s hands continued their journey down, linking behind Cas’s neck as Dean leaned forward.
Cas didn’t hesitate, falling into Dean’s kiss eagerly, one hand pressed against Dean’s chest and the other tangled in his hair. Dean never realized how much he needed this, needed to be reminded that touch could be gentle, could be kind, could be soft. He pressed closer, trying hard to say everything he needed without uttering anything at all.
“I fucking miss you, man,” Dean said when they finally broke apart.
“As do I,” Cas said.
In an instant, Cas’s body became a straight line as he whipped his head around to look behind him. He bent his elbows, limbs loose and ready, and placed one foot in front of the other. He grew silent, eyes focused on a fixed point Dean couldn’t see, and listened for a noise that Dean couldn’t hear. When Cas rolled his shoulders, his shirt shifted, letting Dean see the angry red lines on Cas’s back. It reminded Dean of the new scar on his own shoulder; the same kind of burn.
Cas turned back around nearly as quickly, acting as if he never moved at all.
“False alarm,” Cas said.
“Cas, what’s going on?” Dean asked. “Are you alright?”
The only change in Cas’s expression was a slight lowering of his brows. “I am fine, given the circumstances.”
“What does that mean?” Dean stepped closer, placing a hand on Cas’s shoulder. “Where are you?”
Cas’s face fell and he shook his head. “Somewhere you can’t follow.”
“But you’re hurt,” Dean said, tracing a line beside the burn on Cas’s skin.
“No, don’t be sorry. Just let me help you--”
Cas cut him off with a soft kiss. “You already are.”
Dean didn’t have anything to say to that, at least not with any words he knew. Cas stepped back, dropping his hands to his sides, all business.
“You need to listen now, Dean. Please believe me when I say I did not know any of this was going to happen.”
Dean woke with a gasp, sitting up from his makeshift bed with a pounding heart. He twisted around to look into the kitchen. It was empty.
Sam blinked down at him, groggy eyed and messy haired, saying something to him that he couldn’t focus on.
Dean had a hard enough time believing in angels. Now he had to fit the devil in, too.
Ruby was a bundle of attitude wrapped in a leather jacket. She walked, long legs stretched out as if the whole world was her catwalk. She turned her head to look over her shoulder and raised her eyebrows at Sam. Sam needed that confidence in his life. He needed someone who believed in him, didn’t question him, didn’t stare him down with a suspicious look in their eyes.
Ruby was the reason Sam was still alive. She was also the reason Sam snuck out the motel room, leaving Dean to whatever nightmares plagued him that night.
Hell changed Dean, not that Sam could expect anything else. Dean jumped at shadows, hesitated on a decision he would have never questioned before, and drank more than Sam had ever seen. Sam was worried, of course, but he was also a little annoyed, too. God Himself had apparently decided Dean needed to stop the Apocalypse when the guy couldn’t even sleep through the night without a bottle. Sam had spent the summer becoming strong, harnessing his powers for a good cause, and learning to live without his brother. As soon as he came back, it was all about Dean.
That was uncharitable. Sam couldn’t know what Dean had been through. He squashed down his angry thoughts as soon as they made themselves known. That wasn’t like Sam. That wasn’t him. Dean was back. That’s what mattered.
And Sam wasn’t able to do a goddamn thing for him.
Ruby smirked at Sam when they reached the warehouse. She grabbed Sam’s arm, leading him down a dark alleyway. Reaching down her boot, she pulled out a knife, handing it hilt-first to Sam.
Sam took it, his blood already singing in anticipation. He shoved Ruby against the brick wall, yanking her jacket down to expose her shoulder, and cut.
This is what he needed. It made him strong. It make him powerful. It made him ready. Sam had to do this because if Dean tried to take on the Apocalypse, the way he was now, Dean would fail. Dean would die. Sam was not going to let that happen. That was why. It wasn’t the power, or the rush in his veins, or the way his senses sharpened, or how it made him more certain that ever before. He remembered the helplessness he felt when the hellhounds took his brother. He never wanted to be that weak again. It made him strong. That wasn’t why he did it. He did it for the greater good. He did.
Dean found out. About the psychic thing. Not the other thing. Sam felt relieved about that, even with Dean’s outburst of anger. As long as Sam stopped it’d be fine, right? He could stop. It was kind of hard to argue with God. He could stop.
They ended up back at Bobby’s house, Dean even more of a bundle of nerves than usual. Sam wondered what it was that bothered him. Probably Cas. Usually was.
Dean told Sam about the dream. He didn’t even question if it were actually the Castiel they knew. Sam figured Dean would recognize a fake. They doubled down on the research to find Cas, but he hadn’t given them much to go on. Sam bet that was by design. Cas was a smart sort-of-human, at least when he wanted to be. Though, Sam had to admit, it would be nice to have Cas here considering all the relevant knowledge he must have in that big brain of his. He’d definitely join Sam on the ‘keep Dean safe’ train. It would also help get rid of some of the tension in Dean. Dude was pent up and it was driving both of them insane.
Sam really hated that his brain had to go there. Ew.
Cas was also Sam’s friend, though. The guy could have a conversation about string theory and actually be interested the whole time. Sam missed that.
He really should have went back for Cas after everything but Sam had to keep moving forward. His body went on autopilot afterword. By the time he came back to himself, things had long since moved on.
Cas was a grown man. Angel. Former-angel-now-man. He could take care of himself. So why did Sam feel so worried?
“What’s your name, sister?”
The angel on the other side of the bars watched Castiel. She wore her layers of shirts and blazer with the same presence she would a suit of armour. She blinked once with deliberate care, thinking through each part of the motion in minute detail. That was her only response. Her wide eyed stare at Castiel continued, the same stare he endured the moment she appeared. Castiel could feel her study his body, but it was out of innocence and curiosity rather than something lustful. Somehow, it made Castiel feel even more exposed.
Castiel had to let her stare. There was not much privacy in his tiny cell. He stood, leaning close to the bars, and waited. The angel did not move. Castiel guessed the blink happened a few moments ago, though it felt longer. Time did not have much meaning in Heaven. If he let her, Castiel was certain the angel would stay like this until her superiors relieved her from duty. Right then, Castiel had to carry the conversation. He was so great at it, after all.
“Sister. You look like you have questions.”
The angel tilted her head, her brown hair brushing her shoulder. Was Castiel once like this, too? Was he able to stare at someone with no shame, unaware of just how uncomfortable it was for the other person?
“You shouldn’t call me that,” she said, her tone mild. “I’ve been told you are no longer part of the family.”
Castiel dropped his head. It was not a surprise to hear, but it still gave him some remorse. “No, I suppose not.”
The angel took two steps forward, still about a foot away from the bars. “How is it you look like you are here and not here?” She paused, moving her head to the other side. “Is it the lines?”
Castiel ran his finger over the pattern on his arm, lingering on the bright green. “I suppose. They seem to be doing their job.”
“Then why return?”
“That has--” Castiel took a deep breath before continuing-- “a complex answer.”
“The elder Winchester.” The angel spoke with certainty. She wrapped one arm across her body to hold her stomach and looked away from Castiel for the first time. “I think I may understand more than you think.”
“Is that so?”
The angel’s eyes were lost somewhere in the distance and her grip tightened on her body. A rather human gesture. “This vessel. She longs for someone. To see him again. I--” The angel cut herself off, staring at Castiel with the same intensity as before. “I should not be speaking to you.” She turned around, her back to Castiel.
“What’s the harm?”
“I replaced the last angel who became entangled with you.” The angel faced Castiel, her hands returning to her sides. “She didn’t follow her orders. She hasn’t been seen since.”
Heaven did not waste resources. That angel would likely emerge fifty or a hundred or a thousand years from now, not even aware she had disobeyed. Castiel knew that happened to him. Castiel knew it happened more than once. It made him wonder why the angels stuck him in a cell this time, keeping him as the mortal being he had become, rather than forcing him to become the angel he was once. It made him wonder why they did not just kill him.
The decision worked out to his advantage so far. He did not want to die, did not want to be remade into the perfect soldier one again. He wanted to act, to know about the Apococlyse. Locked in his cell, unable to move or see beyond the white walls, Castiel had a lot of time to worry about what would come down the line in the future and what it would mean for his little family down on Earth. To everyone on Earth.
“You were ordered not to speak to me?”
“No. But they did caution me.”
They were quiet for a long while, the angel returning to her vigil. Castiel was about to sit back down when the angel spoke again.
“Being away from him. Does it hurt?”
The words stopped him. She pressed her hands over her heart, her eyes filled with something like sympathy. Castiel never expected to find that in an angel.
“Yes,” he said. “Why do you ask?”
The angel closed her eyes. “These feelings. They’re not meant for me but I…” She shook her head and looked at Castiel, the expression on her face nearly passing for a smile. “Hannah.”
“My name. It’s Hannah.” She raised her arms, using her hands to indicate herself, from shoulder to hip. “This is Caroline.”
“It’s good to meet you both.”
Hannah pursed her lips and looked down at her shoes. “Is it?”
Dean didn’t figure out he was dreaming until he rolled over. Cas smiled at him from the other side of the bed, a welcome sight. He still wore the same clothes and looked even more tired than the last time Dean saw him. Dean reached out, touching Cas to make sure he was real. At least, as real as he could be in a dream. It was truly Cas. Dean knew that, the certainty coming from deep in his soul, but it wasn’t quite as fulfilling as the real thing.
“I don’t suppose you’re ready to tell me where you are?” Dean asked, unable to hide his annoyance.
Cas continued to smile, taking Dean’s hand in his own. “I will not.”
“Because then you’d try to find me.”
Dean sighed. He’d been doing that a lot lately. He pulled Cas closer to find Cas’s warmth. The angry red lines still worked their way over Cas’s shoulders. He kissed the top of one and Cas shuddered.
Dean leaned back, looking Cas in the eye. “I need-- I want you here, man.”
Cas wrapped his arm around Dean, pressing their foreheads together. “For what it’s worth: I would much rather be here.”
“Then why aren’t you?”
Cas didn’t reply, but Dean saw the sadness in his eyes. Dammit. Dean was making things worse. Sometimes Dean thought it was the only thing he was good at.
“Shit. I’m sorry.” Dean kissed Cas’s forehead. “I miss you.”
Cas traced the line of Dean’s lips. “What’s really bothering you?”
Dean laughed a little. Of course Cas could get right to the bottom of it. He always knew what to say to Dean.
“Sam’s psychic thing. It showed up again.” Cas didn’t change expression, but he nodded to encourage Dean to continue. “He ripped a demon out of a person with his fucking mind. And now I got this dickhead angel telling me to stop him. Fucking God is saying this is bad.”
Cas frowned. “I doubt God says much.”
“It’s nothing,” Cas said. “Who’s this angel?”
“Uriel. He is one giant flying bags of dicks, let me tell you.”
Cas chuckled. It made Dean press in closer, wanting to catch the sound with his mouth. “I believe a bag a dicks would be much more agreeable.”
“You know him?”
“He was my second in command.”
“Damn. Sorry to hear that.”
Cas laughed again. Dean smiled, running a hand through Cas’s hair.
“He is a great warrior but not very personable,” Cas said.
“You got that right.”
They grew quiet, smiling at each other. Dean couldn’t remember the last time he felt this peaceful. Cas rubbed Dean’s back and Dean lowered his head to rest on Cas’s chest. Dean lift his leg over Cas’s hip and they became a mass of tangled limbs, occupying the same space. They stayed like that for a while, listening to the sounds of their hearts.
“So,” Dean said, slightly muffled by Cas’s shirt, “you bring any doom news with you this time?”
Cas didn’t answer for a moment and Dean could feel his head tilt. “No. Not this time. I just wanted to see you.”
Dean raised his head to see Cas’s face. The fire in his eyes made Dean quiver. “Yeah?”
Cas grabbed Dean’s chin, bringing him in for a kiss. Dean followed him gladly, letting Cas’s hands wander under his shirt, sending delightful shivers down his skin. Dean tried to return the favour, but Cas grabbed Dean’s hand, placing it over his clothed hip. He didn’t have time to dwell on Cas’s actions, as Cas removed Dean’s shirt. Cas’s warm hands and gentle touches traveled down Dean’s body, the heat pooling in his core, the pressure making itself known.
Stripped down to his underwear, Dean let Cas straddle his hips. The still clothed Cas took both of Dean’s hands and leaned over Dean. Cas stilled and Dean could hear his heart beating, fast and hard. Or maybe it was Dean. Most likely it was both of them, hot and needy in Dean’s dream-bed, even as Cas didn’t move his body.
Cas’s eyes moved. He racked his eyes over every part of Dean, gaze alone igniting fires in Dean as surely as his hands would have. With anyone else, Dean wouldn’t have been able to lay there, exposed under such an intense stare. The trust Dean had with Cas, however, allowed him to wait as Cas drank him in, no matter how much Dean wanted to roll his hips, to make Cas sigh out those beautiful sounds Dean remembered.
Cas leaned over Dean and kissed him softly. He stared into Dean’s eyes and Dean was unable to look away. Cas placed his hand over the scar on Dean’s shoulder, fitting its shape perfectly. His body sang at the touch and Dean started to realize what Cas had done.
“I love you,” Cas said.
Dean choked and he tried to speak as the image above him shimmered and swirled before him.
Dean woke up alone in Bobby’s guest room. He heart pounded so hard against his ribcage Dean could practically see the outline of it against his chest. His body ached with need but Dean had absolutely no desire to take care of it himself. He waited, willing his body to forget the dream.
Cas had said those words before, but this? This sounded like a goodbye. He didn’t even get to stay long enough to process it. Cas had done something. Did Cas save him? Dean couldn’t remember but his scar burned, the pain worse than when he first returned to Earth.
He took a deep breath and it released with a sob. He rubbed his hands over his face, feeling the tears on his cheek.
“Fuck,” he said, the word coming out broken and shaky. He rolled onto his stomach, burying his face into the pillow to muffle the sounds.
Mercy sound surprised. Odd, to surprise a psychic.
“You weren’t expecting me.”
Mercy sighed, the sound static through the phone. “Can’t really get much of anything these days. There is so much going on.”
“Yeah. That sounds about right.”
“Why are you calling me, Sam?”
“I, ah,” Sam paused, fiddling with the page of Bobby’s book he’d been trying to read for the last hour.
He sat at the motel room desk, waiting for Dean to come back with the latest on their case. Sam opted out of joining him, citing research. The last few days left him tired and weak, his limbs heavy and his mind slow. He knew exactly what would fix his problem, what would made him strong and sharp, but he didn’t dare. He skipped over Ruby’s number in his call history and chose someone else. Now he had to come up with something, considering he hadn’t spoken to Mercy in over a year.
“Sam?” Oh. Sam hadn’t finished his sentence. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?”
“Since when do you call me sweetheart?”
“Since now. And you’re deflecting.”
He imagined Mercy on the other end sitting at her kitchen table, trying to look severe but her concern winning out in the end. The image made him smile, just a little, and he realized how much he needed to talk to someone who wasn’t his brother. Or a loving but surly man with the cheapest whiskey he could find in his hand. Or a demon who he really should stop thinking about.
“It’s the end of the world. Like, the Biblical Apocalypse end.”
Mery was silent for a moment, then replied, in a mild manner, “You know? That’s not all that shocking. Are you boys all right?”
Sam wanted to slap himself. Mercy didn’t know anything about the last little while. She didn’t know that Cas was missing, that Dean had gone to Hell, that Sam wasn’t the boy she once knew. Maybe he should have hung up when she answered.
“A lot has happened,” he said.
“I got time.”
Sam remembered what it was like to feel strong, powerful, in control of his own destiny. He remembered how the blood flowed through his veins, making him stand tall, confident, able to save people’s lives. Sam remembered what it felt like and, right now, he wanted to feel that again. He knew he shouldn’t even consider it.
Dean said Sam wouldn’t understand what Hell was like. Sam wasn’t so sure.
The trail for Cas had gone cold. When Sam asked Dean if there was any more information, Dean’s eyes had filled with such a profound pain that Sam had to leave the room. Sam wondered if he looked like that when he lost Jess. It would explain why Dean acted the way he did that time. Sam wasn’t sure he could do the same for Dean.
Sam asked Mercy to help look for Cas. He decided not to tell Dean because if they came up with nothing, Sam didn’t think Dean would survive the loss. Mercy scoured the spirit world, trying to find her way through all the chaos. So far, she had found nothing. Sam tried not to get his hopes up and they agreed to keep trying.
Right now, Sam wanted to feel strong, to feel like they could win this. His finger hovered over the call button.
He snapped the phone shut. No. Not yet. They still had time. Right?
Ruby found him first. She looked even better than the last time Sam saw her, her dark eyes flashing as she told them about the girl. Sure, Ruby had some issues but she never gave Sam any reason to doubt her truth. She spent a long time earning Sam’s trust and he didn’t think she’d try to break it now. They followed her lead, but not without Dean’s loud protesting first.
Which is how Sam ended up telling Dean about that summer, about how Ruby kept him from driving off the metaphorical cliff. Dean was a lot nicer to her after that, though Sam had to wonder how Dean would feel about the detail he left out. Sam didn’t know how he felt about it, either. His blood sang as he thought about it.
Anna was a nice enough girl but the angels were after her. Not even she knew why they wanted her. So of course Sam and Dean had to help her because helping people was what they do.
The demon knew Dean. Dean acted like it never happened, and events moved too quickly for Sam to ask. Sam didn’t forget.
Anna was a fallen angel. Sam started to think only the fallen ones weren’t dicks. They had yet to meet an empowered angel who wasn’t a colossal asshole. The brothers were caught in a battle between demons and angels that they had no hope of winning. Still, they tried. Dean was adamant he could save the girl and Sam would follow him.
Maybe, if they could save Anna, they could, some way, somehow, save Cas.
Too much tension in the barn. It was easier here with his baby, the sight of her shining curves familiar amongst all the insanity. She was one of the few things that hadn’t changed. Dean tried to focus on the book he placed on the Impala’s hood, his last ditch attempt to find something to give them an edge, but the letters swam before his eyes. He rubbed them and he swore he heard someone screaming.
Dean whipped around but it was only Anna, out for some air. She held up remarkably well, considering her whole life shattered apart all around her in a matter of days. She tried to thank him but Dean hadn’t done much. Anna smiled at him, stepping forward, hand on his upper arm.
“I have to tell you something, Dean,” her smile, barely there to start with, faded. “You’re not going to like it.”
That wasn’t anything new. “Okay, what?”
“The angels, before all this happened, were talking and…” She paused, squeezing Dean’s arm. “I know what happened to you in Hell. What you did. But that’s not all.”
Anna didn’t have any judgement in her words but Dean still felt the shame. He tried to hide his face but Anna pushed his chin up with her hand.
“It’s about Cas,” she said and Dean gave her his full attention. “He’s the reason you’re alive.”
Dean chewed his bottom lip, trying his best not to let his emotions block what he needed to hear. “What do you mean?”
“After you, um...” Anna hesitated, taking a step back from Dean, studying him carefully.
“Yeah. After that. Cas went back to Heaven.”
“That doesn't sound good.”
“For him? Definitely not. I don’t think that mattered to him, though. He went back to save you. From what I could piece together, Cas led the siege on Hell to get you out.”
“He did what now?”
“I think the angels infused him with power or something? Anyway, it was his plan and it worked.”
The scar ached on Dean’s shoulder. It hadn’t stopped since Cas touched it in the dream. He rubbed at it through layers of clothing. Anna watched the movement, waiting for Dean’s eyes to return to her. Her eyes shone in the moonlight.
“A few weeks ago, the angels started talking about him again. They had ‘plans’ for him.” Anna shoved her hands in her jacket pockets and looked away. “Knowing angels, I doubt it’s anything good.”
A few weeks ago.The timeline was vague, but the last time Dean saw Cas fit into it. He suspected this, but to hear it out loud, to hear it confirmed. Dean breathed: in through the nose, out through the mouth. He did that a few times before he said, “So he’s getting tortured in Heaven.”
“What a fucking idiot.”
Dean slapped the hood of the Impala, the sting of the impact sending shockwaves up his arms. Breathe: in through the nose, out through the mouth. Yeah, that was totally working. Who even taught him that? Probably Sam.
Anna stood behind him, softly calling his name. He didn’t turn around. If he turned around, she would look at with kindness even though she knew Dean was a piece of shit. Dean didn't deserve kindness. She touched his shoulder, the one with the scar, and Dean jumped with the jolt of power that surged through him. The feeling left almost as soon as it appeared.
Anna narrowed her eyes, her hand hovering in mid air, but didn’t say anything about Dean’s reaction. “Listen. I knew Cas, before we both fell. Even then he was sentimental. I don’t think he’d done it if he didn’t think you were worth it.”
Goddamn motherfucking dumbass. “Do I look worth saving to you?”
“Yes,” Anna said with no hesitation. She smiled, her teeth white. “Cas clearly felt the same.”
“Yeah, well, what does he know?”
“Everything. He would have known about what happened in Hell, Dean.”
Dean looked up. How could she know? How could she know and look at him like that?
How could Cas?
“I--” Dean’s voice broke. The breathing exercise wasn’t working anymore, if it had at all. “I don’t-- I can’t--”
“When you’re ready, there are people here to help you,” Anna said. “You’re not alone.”
“Your last night on Earth and you’re talking to me about this?”
Anna shrugged. “I’d ask you to make out but I have a feeling you’d turn me down.”
Dean huffed out an amused sound. Anna grinned. It wasn’t really that funny but in a situation like this, they had to take the sad excuse for humour or they’d all snap like an overtaxed spring. She entered Dean’s space, wrapping his arms around him. He returned the hug, the smell of rain in her hair.
“Thank you,” Dean said.
“Dean,” Uriel said, “so full of anger and fury.”
“You dicks really need to stay out of my dreams.”
Uriel stalked around Dean in the empty barn. “Really?” he said, his gait like that of a predatory cat. “You did not mind when it was Castiel, or so I have heard.”
Dean swallowed down his worry, his desire for more information. Uriel would pounce on any hint of weakness.
“You’re not my type.”
Uriel laughed. It was nothing human. “I am so surprised.”
“What did you do to Cas?”
“Nothing he did not deserve.” Uriel stopped circling, standing directly in front of Dean. He bared his teeth, sharp. “How he is so enamoured with you, I will never understand.”
Dean narrowed his eyes. Uriel could smite him in a blink of an eye. He made that clear the second they met. He wouldn’t, though. Angels followed their orders. It didn’t make meeting Uriel’s dead eyes any easier.
“Get to the point.”
Uriel’s teeth gleamed.
“I forgive you.”
That’s what Anna said once Dean handed her over to the angels. She faced them with her head held high. The demon party was late and, for a moment, Dean really thought he sent the girl to her death.
The two angels, Uriel and the other guy, the one Dean had seen in the barn, nearly had their hands on her before Dean’s worst nightmare burst through the door. Alastair had a meat suit, of course, but the voice and the eyes were the same. They paralyzed Dean in his tracks. For a moment, he was back on that rack, Alastair’s smooth, silky words crawling over his skin, sharper than any knife.
The blond angel struck Alastair, keeping the demon from attacking Dean. Alastair retaliated, using an incantation similar to the one Cas had used on the angel in the church back in that no-name town. The blond angel choked, his eyes rolling in his head, seeking out Dean.
Dean wasn’t sure why he did it, but he interrupted Alastair’s spell, hitting him on the back. Alastair staggered back and the angel slid towards Dean. He grabbed Dean’s collar and yanked him down, lips against Dean’s ear, his free hand slipping something into Dean’s pocket.
“He’s alive,” the angel whispered, pushing Dean back with enough force to look like an attack.
There wasn’t any time to think. Anna shouted from behind them, the light of her grace escaping the vial formerly around Uriel's neck. Alastair burned in the light and angels disappeared once Anna was gone. She saved their lives. Ruby, Sam, and Dean stared at each other in the empty space, wondering what the fuck they were supposed to do now.
Hannah watched Castiel as he reformed in his cell, her head tilted to the side.
“You don’t look well,” she said.
Castiel wanted to give her a sarcastic reply, but the angels had not returned his tongue yet. He settled for an annoyed glare, though Hannah did not seem affected by it.
“You should never have tried to make contact with him,” Hannah continued, shaking her head. “You must have known they would find out.”
Of course Castiel knew dream walking would be risky. He found the reward to be greater than the risk. He still thought that, even when he spit blood from his mouth, staining the pristine white floors with red. Castiel sat, his back against the wall to hold him upright, and tried to convey his thoughts with a glare. Hannah only stared at him, her bright blue eyes wide and innocent.
Hannah stepped close to they bars, watching Castiel. “You should know,” she started, looking behind her before continuing in a hushed voice, “the ones in charge are on their way.” She moved back, her hands at her sides.
The ones in charge? Who, exactly, was in charge here? Castiel knew it wasn't God. That was why he left. He could not follow a corrupt Heaven, acting in His name though He had not been present in years. Most of the angels still believed He enacted the grand plan. To question their orders was to question Him. The question Him was to be thrown into a cell, bleeding and unable to speak. To question Him was to become a prisoner.
The bars of Castiel's cage rattled in the archway, made of a light which stung Castiel's human eyes. Even Hannah winced when the light flared. Castiel curled into himself, trying to protect his limited body from bursting in response to the power in the room. His blood rushed through his body, faster than a human should be able to take. His heart pounded to try and keep up. His skin prickled with electricity, nerves firing against their will, making his fingers curl and his muscles tense. Every part of his body told him to run. He could not run. He was in a cell. His body became so tightly wound he could not move at all.
A new angel arrived and refused to take a vessel, bouncing around the jail in bursts of fire and shadows. Castiel gripped his hair with both hands, pulling it until his scalp ached, in order to remind himself that he was alive. The angel said something, a loud screech, and Hannah nodded. She took one last look at Castiel, her eyes round with concern no angel should show, especially to someone like him, and flew away.
The new arrival screamed a few more times but Castiel could not understand what it wanted. His fall had stripped from him the ability to understand Heaven’s words. It only made him sick. He rolled to one side, trying not to cover himself in bile.
A second angel appeared, wearing a businessman with a permanent sneer. He looked at Castiel and grinned, his smug face reminiscent of a snake in the garden.
“Michael,” the vesseled angel said, “I thought you wanted to interrogate him first.”
Another scream, then the fire receded and the light became a vaguely human shaped blob on the other side of Castiel's cell.
Castiel gasped, lungs filling with long needed air. He heaved a few breaths and peeled himself off the floor, moving until he was able to sit up. Castiel stared across to the newcomers. The radiance of both angels seared Castiel's eyes but he refused to give them the satisfaction of looking away.
The businessman clicked his tongue. “How disgusting.” His eyes swept over the mess on the cell’s floor. “And you chose this?”
Castiel glowered at the angels, filling his expression with as much fury and anger as he could muster and-- after spending an untold amount of time being stripped piece by piece by Heaven’s ‘specialists’-- he had a lot to spare. The angel in the vessel dragged a toe across the floor until his foot was behind him. Castiel took it as a victory.
The archangel Michael stared at him, his face little more than a blur through the glare of his light. Even as an angel, Castiel would have trouble seeing his face. Castiel did not look away, though his body screamed at him to run. Michael said something Castiel could not hear and the other angel leaned closer to the bars.
“Castiel, Castiel, Castiel,” he said, “you have caused no end of problems for us." Zachariah. Had to be. No other angel could be that annoying. “Do you know how long we’ve been keeping Father’s plan in motion? And you keep screwing that up!” Michael spoke again and Zachariah turned to him and said, “Of course. I will handle it.”
Castiel’s ears popped when Michael left, the empty space he once occupied still shimmering with the remnants of his power. Quite a bit of showmanship considering he had not done much of anything. Castiel had to wonder what was the point.
Zachariah turned back towards Castiel. “Years. I spent years trying to find you. And you just-- come back up on your own.” He grabbed one of the bars, recoiling when the warding burned him.
Castiel smiled despite the pain in his body. There was something quite satisfying about Zachariah's frustration and the fact that he had caused it. At least his years in hiding were not entirely wasted.
“I mean I had to work with a witch. A witch, Castiel!” Zachariah threw his hands in the air, then looked at Castiel expectantly.
Castiel tilted his head, realizing Zachariah expected a response, and narrowed his eyes. This was a great conversation.
“Oh, right,” Zachariah said, lowering his arms, “we took away your voice. Oh, whatever, it's not like I’m going to listen to you.”
Those last words were unnecessarily bitter. Castiel had to wonder why they were so pointed. Also: how was he supposed to be interrogated if he could not speak?
“I really wish I could do away with you--” Zachariah snapped his fingers--”like that. But it seems you have made yourself…” He spat out the next words, dripping with frustration. “...valuable to our Righteous Man.”
He really was going to keep talking. Castiel leaned his head back and watched the light on the ceiling.
“Ragul’s decision to confront you did complicate my life but the grace-- that was a stroke of genius. I knew we saved your grace for a reason.” Zachariah ran a finger over his collarbone, a silver chain barely visible. “A little push here, a couple of visions there, and-- boom-- you were primed for this chat.”
Castiel looked then, really looked. Zachariah did appear as a snake with his bald head and smug face. That self satisfied smile grew ever wider as he watched Castiel piece together what he said.
Castiel had always figured the angels would want him dead for his transgression and, for a while, it sounds like they did. However, angels did not waste resources and Castiel had been a valuable resource, indeed. The witch from Sunset Asylum had returned his memories, the ones he had not destroyed with drugs, but Castiel was never clear on what, exactly, was the point of his time there. It seems the angels had worked with the witch-- that must have gone against every holy fibre of their beings-- to 'prime’ him, as Zachariah put it. And Beverly-- poor desperate Beverly-- had an idea placed in her mind that Castiel could help her and the angels made it so Castiel would find that piece of grace, would need to use it to heal the girl. Castiel would not put it past them to have caused that crash, to have put the sickness in Lacey in order to make Beverly act. Did they use Castiel's grace? Castiel was not as sick the second time, though he had little time to think about it in his need to run. He did not remember if the power was familiar or not, but he remembered how it gave him a moment of wholeness-- of holiness-- when he healed the girl.
He always figured that if he found his own grace he would recognize the song. He had at the tree. Perhaps he really had strayed too far from Heaven's light. It would, however, explain why he rarely slept more than a few hours here and there, why he healed quickly from wounds, how he could feel the corruption in a demon’s soul even without seeing their face.
No. No. He was mortal. He still bleed. He still ate. He still felt. He could no longer see the colours of the souls. He could no longer see God’s plan in the path of flowers. He could not stop his body from craving the touch of the needle, the dulling sensation of a pill. He was not-- He could not--
What was Castiel? Angel or man? Or somewhere in between the lines?
The real question, however, was why. Castiel still did not know that, did not understand why Zachariah told him this. He sat in his cell and stared the angel down, his half-mortal body able to withstand Heaven’s wrath, and tried to figure it out.
“That's right, Castiel,” Zachariah said, raising a hand filled with light. “You are a valuable bargaining chip, our man on the inside.” The light flashed and Castiel fell to the floor. “We will get our 'yes.’ And you-- you will be the one who makes it happen.”
Castiel landed on his back, his eyes wide open as the colours swirled above him. He tried to move but the darkness took him, holding him down, the tendrils squeezing him as they worked up from his feet. He outstretched his hands, pleading for the colours to help him, searching for the one he always knew, but they were no longer there. They never were. Gone. Empty. The darkness took him then. He did not have a mouth to scream.
It kind of looked like a dick, if he squinted a bit. Not that Sam would ever tell Dean he thought that. He'd never let it go. Though, when Sam sent Mercy a photo of the message, if it could be called that, she had said the same thing.
Sam tucked the paper back into Dean’s bag. They had been looking at it on and off for the last few days, even going as far to call Bobby about it. Sam was certain, as soon as this job was done, Dean would drive them to Sioux Falls even though they were days away.
Dean had hope again, or at least something like it. Sam kept his mouth shut. He wasn't going to question Dean suddenly trusting this angel that had no name. He wasn't going to judge because well--
I don't want to be doing this when I'm old.
Ruby grinned and drove to the nearest private room. He let himself fall into her, fall into it.
And it was good.
At what point would Sam finally say he crossed the line?
But he was powerful, he was strong, he could take on anything that would come their way. Dean couldn't fight anymore, not like he used to, and Sam had to fill in that space, he had to be the one to take charge. A part of Dean remained in Hell, Sam knew, and that part kept Dean back, made him hesitate, made him weak.
Sam was strong now.
Dean left the bathroom, a cloud of steam following behind him. The water must have washed away most of the hangover. At least, Dean looked more alive now that he had all day. Dean squinted at Sam, a trait he must have picked up from Cas because, god, that looked so familiar, and a shadow crossed over his face.
They weren't talking about the Siren and, if Sam had his way, they never ever would. God, the Siren even looked like a low budget Cas and neither of them had figured it out until it was too late. Yeah. That's what was bugging them. Not what they said to each other. Sam didn't think that. That wasn't him. That was-- that was--
Sam was strong now.
Sam’s blood pulsed in his ears and he swore it sounded like a laugh. A really, really messed up laugh.
Even Pamela thought Sam was wrong. In the end, he hadn’t been able to save her. Saving people was the whole point of using these powers. Taking control of his destiny, being--
It wasn’t like he didn’t know the powers came with a price. He expected that. As long as he saved the world, it would all work out. That’s why he was going to keep doing it. Once they found Cas, it would be easier to commit to his plan. Cas would give Dean a reason to live, to continue on after all this was through. Sam didn’t know what would happen to him once he finally got to Lilith, finally got her to pay for all that she had done, but he did know that the path he walked was a dangerous one. He wasn’t stupid.
He needed it to be over. He needed his life to mean something. He needed to take hold of his messed up destiny and make it submit to his terms.
Dean rolled over in his sleep, facing Sam who sat at the table, his hands digging into the sheets as he muttered a few clipped words. Clearly Dean was terrified by whatever was in his dreams and Sam couldn’t do a single thing about it, powers or no.
Sam turned back to the paper on the desk. It still kind of looked like a dick and not much else. The books Sam consulted told him nothing and anything he searched on the web only showed him frustration and anger. Last time he spoke to Mercy, she had also come up dry. It was starting to feel hopeless.
The angel from the barn appeared into the seat opposite Sam, sprawling out across the chair like it was his own living room. Though, Sam was pretty sure Heaven didn’t have living rooms. Or maybe they did. Sam wasn’t an expert. Sam sat up straight in his chair, his hand reaching for the knife in his pocket. It wasn’t much of a knife. He figured he could at least cause a mild inconvenience to the angel if he decided to attack. Sam flicked his eyes over to Dean, who seemed much more relaxed in his sleep than he had a moment ago, and stared at the angel, who smirked at him.
“Your little pig sticker won’t do much to me, I’m afraid. But you are welcome to try.” The angel raised his eyebrows, looking Sam up and down. “Could be… interesting.”
“What do you want?”
“Made any progress on that?” He indicated the paper in front of Sam. “‘Cause we are running out of time.”
“It would help if I knew what it was.”
The angel rolled his eyes. “A map, obviously. I assume you got ahold of your psychic friend?”
Sam glared at the angel. Considering how every other angel seemed to exist to make the Winchesters’ lives difficult, Sam really needed more to go on.
“You’re not doing much to incite my trust,” Sam said.
The angel threw up his hands, a glass of brandy suddenly appearing on the table. “The fact that I’m even doing this is--” He cut himself off, taking a drink. “Fine. What?”
“What's your name?”
“Seriously? That matters?” The angel cocked an eyebrow in response to Sam’s stare. “It’s Balthazar.”
“Why are you helping us?”
“Bloody hell. Why are you humans so difficult?”
“Have you met the rest of the angels?”
“Touché.” Balthazar took another drink. “Cassie and I go way back. I mean like, dawn of time back.”
Sam knew he was pushing it. This angel had a different attitude than all the rest but he was still an angel. They didn’t like Sam much.
“And? What do you mean and?”
“There’s got to be more to it than that.”
It was a shot in the dark, but then Balthazar looked away and, for one brief second, his bravado melted away.
“Cassie’s a decent guy and he doesn’t deserve what's happening to him.” Balthazar shrugged and looked out the window. Sam wondered if he could see what was beyond the blinds with his angel vision. “And, well, I’ve gotten somewhat fond of your little planet. Kind of want to keep it intact.” He turned back to Sam, the moment over. “Is that enough for you, inspecter?”
“Almost,” Sam said, looking over to Dean, who smiled in his sleep. “What did you do to my brother?”
Balthazar followed Sam’s line of sight. “I let him sleep.” He dropped his empty glass on the table. “Can we talk about the important things now? My superiors figure out I’m talking to you, I’m done.”
“Alright.” Sam leaned back in his chair, hands folded in his lap. “Let’s talk.”
The angel spoke and Sam listened. It all sounded simple. It wouldn’t be but now there was a chance.
Any plans Sam made that night were put on hold when the angels snatched Dean from the hotel room the next day. Balthazar gave Sam a look before they disappeared. It almost looked like sympathy.
The band of light across Castiel’s ankles and wrists kept him stuck to the raised platform the angels had formed for him. It was red now, the blood from each cut dripping on the floor, turning dark with age. A black spot amongst the light of all creation.
Castiel lost all sense of time. He was there five minutes. He was there five hundred years. He could not tell. Heaven did not adhere to the linear time of the Earth below. Castiel missed the easy predictability of Earth’s days, the arrival of sunset and sunrise, never in doubt that they would occur.
Now, though, Castiel was left in complete silence, the only point of colour in a whitewashed room. The angels had done much to him; he remembered the sound of a drill and a voice telling him to sit still. It only came in flashes, his mind blocking out the worst of the pain. Or, perhaps, the angels had erased some of it, keeping him alive as long as they needed.
What was Castiel? He could not remember. Every time he thought he found an answer, the angels stripped it away, leaving him as a mess of pain and confusion. There was something he had to remember, someone, the reason he was here, but he could not grasp it, could not figure out who or what it was.
It hurt. The blood dripped down to the floor as Castiel tried to remember. He was here for a reason. The angels need him for something, something Castiel feared. They left him the emotion but not the reason why. He stared above him and tried to make sense of it all.
What was Castiel?
He was alone, locked up with his own worst enemy: his mind.
The colours swirled above him, a confused mess of indiscriminate form. There was something about them, something important. But what?
Well, Castiel, you get the honour of being my first and last client!
Castiel turned his head as much as his bounds would let him, but he could not see the speaker. She sounded like she was right in front of him but there was no one there.
I’m going to miss you.
Closing his eyes, he could see her: the woman who etched his skin with warding and art, flowers blooming across her body. He had not seen her since--
Maybe I’ll come by, before you leave.
No. You won’t.
He never did see her again after that. He hoped she was alright, that the failure of her shop did not mean a failure of her life. It had been years since then, the memories murky and dull due to the fact Castiel was only half a person at the time. The rest of him was a drug, blinding him to the reality of his existence.
Why are you here, Castiel?
It was a chorus, many voices saying the same thing. Castiel strained against the bounds, the veins in his forearms more visible as they tightened against his skin. He tried not to think about how many times he did something similar to try and find a place for the needle. The voices asked the question again, and Castiel had no answer.
I think you do.
Did he? Did he really? The girl had said that to him so long ago. He was here, on this damn slab of nothing because… because of…
Well, if it isn’t Grumpy the Dwarf!
He was not short. If only he still had his true form, then he would see.
Nope. You don’t look like a bad guy to me.
Was he not? He was being punished because…
Then what am I supposed to do here?
Slowly, carefully, the green started to move to the forefront of his vision, floating behind his closed eyes. Castiel remembered. He had already been judged. The colour was green, not gold like the angels thought.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Those words cut into him deeper than any instrument the angels could create. It burned into his body, finding its way into whatever he had in his core, the part of him full of empty space, the part meant to have a soul. It hurt. It had hurt so much he lost himself, wandered, died only to be reborn. He had just started to find himself again when--
Hey, Castiel. Nice to meet you.
--he came back. He came back and Castiel did not know how to deal with it. The green watched him, sad and tired, and Castiel felt a pull of longing, separate from his own.
I’m right here-- I’m right here.
Why did he say that? Who was on the other side. It was, it was--
Cas, Cas, hold on. I got you--
There was no one here in this place, just Castiel, left to suffer due to his disobedience. He disobeyed. It was what happened to those like him. He was alone. There was nothing here but empty space.
It has been a pleasure, gentlemen.
I wanted to say that I’m glad I got to know you.
What are you standing there for? Get your ass in here.
The voices would not left him drift away. He wanted to because then it would no longer hurt. If he let himself go then the angels would take him back. They had done it before. The voices continued to sing, full of warmth and a feeling of home, so unlike the cold light of Heaven. He listened. The colours moved as the voices spoke, becoming a line to pull him out of the empty space. The green wrapped around his body, warm and gentle.
Come on, babe, keep those eyes open. I got you.
Dean never told Cas he loved him.
Cas did, many times. Dean remembered one particularly embarrassing moment when they stopped at a diner after a hunt, all three of them still covered in monster goo. He bit into his burger until his cheeks filled up like a chipmunk. Sam made an impressive disgusted noise but Cas--
Cas smiled. That little smile he only gave Dean, his eyes full of light and happiness.
“I love you,” he said, like it was the easiest thing in the world.
Dean choked on his burger. Sam laughed and Dean glared at him as he washed down his food with his drink. Dean locked eyes with Cas, losing himself in that fond look. Cas looked happy. They just spent most of the night up to their eyeballs in monster guts, making no progress on Dean’s remaining time, and Cas looked happy.
“I think he may have short circuited,” Sam said to Cas.
Cas took a sip of his drink and shrugged. “I wanted to make sure he knew.”
Dean stared down at his lap, cheeks hotter than the sun, while his brother made gagging noises. After that, life went on, as normal as a Hell-bound man’s life could be.
It was the first time Cas had casually said that to him. It wasn’t nearly the last. Maybe it was because Cas knew they didn’t have a whole lot of time or maybe he just liked making Dean blush, he didn’t know. All Dean knew is that he couldn’t respond in the same way. It wasn’t like he didn’t know how he felt. Dean knew he felt the same way, he just wasn’t able to get the words out. Cas didn’t seem to mind, smiling at Dean’s dumbfounded look every time he said the words.
He loved Cas. Of course he did. Saying the words out loud, though, made them real.
Whatever divine or hellish forces that followed the Winchesters around could have heard him. Then, they would have taken what Dean loved away.
Turns out, he needn’t have worried. They took those things away anyway. Hell, they had even taken away the brother he didn’t know he had before he met him, and Dean had hated the kid as soon as he heard his name. The kid (Adam, his name was Adam) didn’t even get a chance to prove Dean right. Or wrong.
Dean felt exposed and raw, not because he and Sam had learned their life story was being written by a drunk who lived in a shack, but because Alastair had ripped him open once again. Sure, the demon was dead, but the way Sam had done it made Dean’s stomach churn. There was no way that didn’t have a cost.
In a way, though, Alastair still lived on. He was there, in Dean’s dreams, cooing at the accomplishments of his prized student. No matter how many times Dean reminded himself he was dead, he was there, just under Dean’s skin, waiting to come out.
No, no. Dean wasn’t Alastair. Dean got out before he changed. He was human.
The bottle of whiskey on the bedside table was empty. So was his flask. God. It had been weeks and he could not get the demon out of his head.
Cas raised Dean from Hell. At least that’s what Anna said. Too bad it got Cas killed, or worse.
Dean really should have told Cas when he could. Now, Dean wasn’t entirely sure he was capable of love. The Dean back then hadn’t spent years perfecting the best way to rip out a soul’s still-beating heart, in order to show it to the still-alive victim. Someone capable of love wouldn’t have laughed at their horrified expressions.
Maybe it was best Cas didn’t see Dean again. That way, he would never know his sacrifice, his love, was wasted on someone as horrible as him.
Dean stood up, determined to escape the room and find a bar before his spiral went any deeper. When he grabbed his coat, he nearly jumped out of his skin when Sam’s phone trilled from the nightstand beside the other bed. Huh. Sam must have forgot it when he went to the library. Dean didn’t think much of it when he picked up the phone to answer it. They used to do that all the time, though now Sam had a habit of hiding his calls.
“Holy shit, it worked!” The female voice on the other end was breathless with excitement.
“The map! Don’t you remem--” The voice paused, then continued in a calm tone. “Wait. Dean?”
“Uh, yeah. Care to explain?”
“It’s Mercy. How far are you boys from my house?”
Dean didn’t have enough presence of mind to be angry. He drove. He drove because that was the one thing he knew how to do in the midst of all this insanity. Dean didn’t know what he was going to do. Dean didn’t know what he was going to feel. So, he drove.
Sam glanced over at Dean from the corner of his eye what seemed like every few seconds, but he didn’t say anything. With Mercy’s help from the speakerphone, they explained to Dean what they were doing. The thing is, while their logic made sense, Dean was still bothered by Sam’s decision to, once again, do things behind Dean’s back. Sam did that a lot these days.
Dean floored the accelerator, the Impala racing faster than ever before, understanding Dean’s haste.
Because if what they said was true, then--
The Impala roared.
Mercy’s house looked exactly the same as when they left it, right down to the porch swing and neon sign in the window. Dean stepped out of the Impala, his brother already halfway up the porch steps by the time he managed to open the car door, and froze. There was an invisible line, from the car and into Mercy’s house. If Dean crossed it, things could go wrong.
The last time he was here, he was a different person. He hadn’t made his deal, hadn’t felt the hellfire at his feet. Mercy was a psychic. She would know, as soon as he crossed that line, exactly what Dean did. She always found it easy to read him, even when she tried not to. He didn’t want her in his head then and he certainly didn’t want her in there now.
Sam knocked on the door, searching behind him to find Dean. When Sam saw him still by the car, Sam spared him a puppy dog eyed look before gesturing for Dean to follow. Dean remained still, one hand against the hood of his baby, trying to calm his mind.
Dean was going to go in, of course, because if there was a chance, any chance at all that he--
Mercy opened the door and greeted Sam like an old friend. Well, apparently they were and had spent a few months bonding or whatever. She patted Sam on the back as he moved past her into the house. Mercy stayed behind, leaning on the doorframe as she watched Dean, waiting for him to make a decision.
Well, Dean should probably move before he grew roots and became a tree. Though he’d make a pretty badass tree and channel his inner Groot. Dean took a deep breath and tried to loosen his body but, no, he still felt as rigid as a tree trunk.
Mercy stood in the doorway, watching him as he plodded up the steps to stand before her.
“Uh, hi,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Dean. It’s good to see you,” Mercy said. She jerked her head towards the house. “He’s in his old room.”
Dean pushed past her, avoiding her face. When he got to the bottom of the stairs he felt her eyes on the back of his head. He paused.
“It’s not my place to judge you, Dean,” Mercy said, closing the door. “I think you are doing that well enough yourself.”
Psychics. Psychics who still had a sparkly pink bead curtain, just like before. The whole room remained the same. Dean was not. He made a noncommittal grunt, then walked upstairs without looking behind him once. Mercy’s gaze followed him all the while.
The house was even tinier than Dean recalled but that didn’t make the trip down the hallway any easier. He stopped in front of Cas’s door, wishing he had filled his flask. Dean didn't stop diving long enough for anything but gas and he knew Mercy wouldn’t approve of any alcohol. He wasn’t going to risk being kicked out, not yet. The ajar door cast a streak of light across the old grey carpet and Dean stared at it. Well, he wasn’t getting any younger. He pushed a hand against the door and it swung open.
Despite the time he had spent in Mercy’s house, Dean had never set foot in Cas’s room, never thought to look. He had a feeling Mercy hadn’t touched it since Cas left. Judging by the smell of lemon cleaner and the open window, she had only entered it due to his return. The room was a galaxy, the paintings strewn across the room. It reminded Dean so much of that hotel room, so long ago, that the pang in his heart made him trip over the threshold as he entered the room.
Cas lay on the bed, on his stomach, his deep and even breaths the only sound in the room. The sunlight from the window gently warmed Cas’s bare skin, but also cast a spotlight on the trials he had undertaken. Mercy had warned Dean, but he had to pause and take a breath before he moved further into the room. He knelt beside the bed, his overtaxed joints protesting the quick action, and placed one hand beside Cas’s head, not daring to touch.
Sure, he’d been warned but he wasn’t prepared for this. The sharp smell of antiseptic and what Dean figure was some kind of burn cream became obvious the closer he leaned into Cas. Mercy had dressed most of the wounds, leaving patches of stained white bandages taped to his back. The skin Dean could see was marred by angry red lines cutting through the ink on Cas’s back, giving it the appearance of broken wings.
The strange thing was, despite how bad the wounds appeared, Cas looked peaceful. His eyes were shut and his lips curved into a smile, as if he were having a pleasant dream. Dean ran a hand through Cas’s hair, feeling Cas’s breath on his skin. Cas didn’t react. Dean checked one of the bandages, grimacing at what was underneath before smoothing it back down. Cas didn’t react.
Cas’s didn’t react to anything: not a tug at his arm or a tap on the knee. He lay still and breathed, deep in whatever sleep claimed him. Dean gently pried Cas’s hand from the sheets and took it in his own. He didn’t know what had happened to Cas, what it was that kept him under, but he would stay until he knew that Cas was okay. And after that--
Well, Dean would figure it out when he got there.
“Hey, Cas,” Dean said, his whisper loud in the silent room, “I’m here.”
In the movies, the characters always talked to the coma patients. Apparently, people believed that someone under can hear it when another person talked to them. Dean hoped there was some truth to that.
“Come on, babe,” he said, running his thumb along the back of Cas’s hand, “I need you to open those eyes, okay? I got you.”
Dean leaned his head forward, resting it on the pillow beside Cas.
I got you.
Mercy added yet another tea to her ever expanding repertoire. Sam took the offered mug, even though most of them had so many herbs in them they cancelled each other out to only taste like hot water. Mercy sat across from Sam at the kitchen table, one hand around her own mug, the other holding up her head. She fought to keep her eyes open, her eyes shadowed. Straightening her posture, she blinked at Sam and opened her mouth to say something but no words escaped her before her jaw snapped shut with an audible sound.
“What is it?” Sam asked, keeping his tone as neutral as possible.
She sipped her tea, taking another long look at Sam. “You’re blank.”
Sam had to work to keep the relief off of his face. He worried on the way to her house that she would be able to see how he allowed the corruption in his soul to spread, using it in order to bring some good to the world. He had taken his last dose shortly before leaving the motel, thinking it would give him a needed boost to make it through the long drive, maybe even give him a way to help. It was already starting to wear thin. Ruby hadn’t answered when he called during their three second stop for gas. It made his palms sweat.
“Weren’t you the one who taught me how to shield myself?”
Which was true, not that Sam had kept up with the technique, or was doing it now. That was a little concerning.
“Right. Of course. I just--” Mercy slumped over the table, her head in her hands. “I’m tired.”
“Will you tell me what happened?”
Mercy stilled, staring blankly for a long moment. She put her empty mug on the table and leaned back, her hands folded in her lap. When she spoke, her eyes were unfocused, lost in her own head.
“I did as you said: I carved out the symbol and said the words. It’s still out there, in the backyard. Then I went into this kind of trance and--” Mercy stopped, her brows low over her eyes and her hands played at the hem of her shirt. “I opened my eyes and I was in this place-- like a forest but there were no animals to be heard-- and there were these vines. They were red and blue entwined, the colours you told me to look for, and I followed it. It was like a road. I followed it and--” Mercy stopped again, and didn’t continue.
“And what?” Sam asked, his tone gentle.
“This forest was exactly like the tiny wood behind my parents house. I used to hide there as a kid. They cut it down ages ago to make room for a mall.” Mercy looked up then, meeting Sam’s eyes for a short second before she stared down at the table. “Whenever I ended up, it wasn’t Earth. Anyway, once I walked along the vines for a while, I became aware of this… presence on either side of me. They further I walked, the closer they got.”
Mercy pinched the bridge of her nose and took a long breath. “We reached the end of the forest and we ended up here-- in my house-- not as it is now, but when I first bought it. The lines led to this very kitchen. Back then I didn’t even have a fridge.” She glanced around the room then shook her head. “This room was empty when I entered it and the door slammed closed behind me. I was trapped.” She wrapped her arms around herself, her fear etched onto her face.
“You’re saying something was trying to stop you?”
Sam stood up, took Mercy’s empty mug and refilled it with water, still hot from the kettle. She took it with a grateful nod, savouring the first sip. He gave her a moment to gather herself.
“I wasn’t meant to leave that room,” Mercy said, “but then these two women appeared. A redhead and a brunette. They radiated power, but it wasn’t any demon.”
A redhead. Sam suspected but it couldn’t be. Her vessel would have been destroyed in the blast. “Did they say anything to you?”
Mercy shook her head. “Nothing I could understand. They both grabbed one of my shoulders and shoved me through the door. I was in a room of pure, white light. The redhead appeared beside me and pushed me through the glare. She led me to Cas.”
“How’d you get out?”
“I don’t--” Mercy took a drink, her hands shaking. “I don’t know. I woke up on the lawn with a passed out Cas beside me. The brunette was there and she touched me and then Cas. Then she disappeared. I don’t know what she did but I feel better than I have in years.” She raised one hand, wiggling the fingers. “No pain, not in any of my joints. Ever since I reached fifty, I haven’t had a day where I didn’t ache.”
Sam watched as Mercy lost herself in thought. Most people, Sam figured, would be grateful for such a gift but Mercy looked disturbed. Mercy knew enough about the supernatural to be rightly skeptical. Considering what Sam had told her about Heaven, she was likely confused by the help from those two angels. Hell, Sam was confused.
“I mean,” she continued, “I’m grateful. I did have to haul a grown-ass man up all those steps-- which was super fun, by the way-- but I gotta wonder.” Her cup empty once again, she placed it on the table, leaning on the wood with both elbows. She sought out Sam’s eyes and stared him down. “Sam, did I go to Heaven? Did an angel heal me?”
“It sure sounds like it.”
“Well,” Mercy said. “Ain’t that a trip.”
Anything else she had to say was interrupted by Dean walking into the kitchen. He stopped in his tracks, shocked to see people in the room. Sam tried to catch his brother’s eye, but he refused to look up from his feet. The shadows in the room made Dean look older than his years suggested.
“Oh. Uh, you’re here,” Dean said.
“It is my house,” Mercy said.
“Right. Um, you know what? I’m gonna go out instead.” Dean turned on his heel, all but running out of the room.
“That poor boy,” Mercy said when he left. Sam caught the flash of concern in her face when she faced Sam again.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s bleeding colour,” Mercy said. It seemed like she was going to stop there, until she saw the incomprehension on Sam’s face. “It’s like there’s a wound on his soul and it hasn’t quite healed. He doesn’t want me to look but it’s hard not to hear a scream.”
She said it so mildly but it still sent a chill down Sam’s spine. He always thought of the soul as an abstract thing, but Mercy and even Cas on a few occasions spoke about it like it was real. Maybe it was. If so, Sam had to wonder if Dean's soul could ever heal or if Sam, in embracing his demonic powers, had irrevocably damaged his own. The thought was a disturbing one. Sam looked back at Mercy, who observed him as he thought. She raised an eyebrow.
Every time the psychic looked at Dean, she looked like she wanted to cry. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, to have her honing in on all his darkest feelings (because of course he thought about them around her) so he ran away. Sam was easier to deal with. He could deflect Sam. It was a lot harder to do when he couldn’t hide his heart.
Dean sat in the old diner: a real, proper one with squeaky vinyl seats held together by duct tape. The bar wasn't open yet and, well, it was probably a good idea to try and eat some actual food. He picked at the fries and was about to reach for his coffee cup when the angel appeared on the opposite side of his booth.
They stared each other down. Dean didn't recognize this angel, wearing a woman with brown hair and blue eyes. She watched him without blinking, her otherworldliness obvious in her stiff posture.
“So,” Dean said, once it became clear the angel wasn't going to say anything soon, “what kind of angel are you?”
“What do you mean?” She asked, her eyes wide.
“The kind that threatens me? The kind that whisks me away halfway across the country? Or are you the kind that’s here to spy on us?”
“Oh.” The angel tilted her head, the movement achingly familiar. “I don't think I'm any of those.”
Dean leaned his head back. He was so sick of the angel business. “Then what are you?”
“I am Hannah,” she said, “and you are Dean Winchester.”
“Get in line of you want an autograph.”
“Why would I want that?”
God. It almost hurt to see that look on someone else's face. It wasn't the same thing, though. Sure, she reminded him of a certain someone but no one else could be like him.
“Nevermind. What do you want?”
Hannah reached over the table, grabbing two white packets out of the sugar dish. “I wanted to make sure Castiel made it to your care.”
“Oh? What makes you think he's here?”
The angel raised an eyebrow. “Because,” she said ripping open the sugar packets, “I helped the psychic find him.” She emptied the packets into Dean’s coffee.
“You--” Hannah picked up the spoon and stirred Dean’s coffee. “What are you doing?”
“This is how you prefer it, yes?”
“Well, I mean yeah, but what are you doing?”
Hannah lay out the empty sugar packets side by side, keeping them at the same height in the middle of the table. “Castiel mentioned you like to pretend that your coffee is black. However, he and your brother both know you take two sugars.”
The spoon joined the packets, straight across so the items made a line. “There is not a lot to do when you are guarding a jail with only two prisoners.” She shrugged, the movement unpractised, but she tried. “We talked.”
Dean grabbed the mug and took a sip. It was perfect. “You’re a warden.”
“A former one,” she said.
She paused, chin in hand, and watched Dean. Dean squirmed in his seat. Didn't angels need to blink, too? Cas blinked but he was a bit different.
“Castiel cares a great deal for you,” Hannah continued, “I wanted to see if he made it back to you.”
“I--” Dean looked out the window, his baby shining in the afternoon sun. “How do I know you aren't here to hurt him?”
Hannah leaned back, her posture too straight and too perfect. “I suppose your distrust is not unwarranted.”
“Yeah, well, your angel pals make things difficult.”
“Yes, they do.” Hannah turned away from Dean for the first time since her arrival, facing the window. She touched the glass, tracing her reflection. “This woman, Caroline, she has someone she loves, too. It aches here--” she put a hand over her heart-- “when she thinks about him.” Hannah faced Dean again. “I would like to return her to him sooner rather than later.”
“What are you saying?”
The angel folded her hands in her lap, her stare somewhere far away. “We were meant to protect the humans.” She shook her head. “I don't know when we lost sight of that.”
“So what? You're on Cas’s side now?”
“No. Not exactly.” Hannah grabbed the spoon, sweeping away the empty packets. “I don't believe we belong on Earth. Everything here is so intense. You humans have so many emotions. It is beautiful and should be protected. But it is not for us.” She lowered her eyes to the table, her voice soft. “But what my fellows are doing isn't right. They are taking away your right to choose.”
Dean blinked. This angel was a strange one but he'd take strange allies over wrathful assholes. “What does this have to do with Cas?”
Hannah smiled, the fondness of it causing Dean’s heart to jump. “Castiel is a special case. He made me realize how I feel.” She held an arm across her body, leaning forward. “I need to know he is safe “
Right. Something about her tone made Dean uncomfortable. It was likely that she didn't even understand what she sounded like, or how she felt. There was no malice in her, however. If Cas trusted her, the Dean should give her the benefit of the doubt.
“Good,” she said, returning to her previous stiff stance. “Good. He should be with you.”
Dean couldn't keep the incredulous tone in check. Cas was a goddamn wreck because of him. His back was covered in the evidence of the punishment he received, all because of his decision to save Dean. Cas was hurt because of Dean’s stupid choice to make a deal. He was in a fucking coma because of Dean.
Hannah was silent for a long moment, then her eyes widened. “You think all of this is because of you,” she said.
“He went back because of you, yes, but that was not why he was punished.”
“Castiel caused a lot of trouble in Heaven, long before he met you. His fall was heard by everyone in the Host. The ones in charge couldn't keep it quiet. Even those of us in the lower echelons knew of it.”
“But what about when Anna fell?”
Hannah squinted. “She fell?” Hannah blinked, her confusion gone as fast as it appeared. “I need to return to Heaven soon. I have been away from my post for too long. Please take care of Castiel and..” she paused, lost in thought, “...call on me, if you feel the need.”
“Right,” Dean said, tone neutral as he absorbed her information. Hannah flapped off before he could say anything else.
The mug, still on Dean’s hand, steamed as if it had just been poured. He took a sip. It was the best damn coffee he had in years.
Sam stepped outside after making sure Mercy went to rest, hoping the air would clear his head. He felt both cold and hot, tired and wired, alert and foggy. The phone in his pocket sat like a stone. No calls, no messages. He rubbed his arms to keep himself from checking again.
No matter how many times it happened, Sam still jumped when an angel appeared before him. Balthazar eyed Sam from his place in the driveway, wincing when he looked at the house. He rubbed at his temples, then regarded Sam again. Balthazar's sole movement was the narrowing of his eyes. He said nothing, waiting for Sam to make the first move. Sam stayed on the porch. Yeah, this guy might have helped here and there but he was still an angel and kind of a douche. Sam didn’t know his true intentions.
Balthazar made a disgusted noise then threw up his hands. “Would you come over here? It’s not like I can get any closer.”
“Cas has got this place warded up to the gills. That’s why I wanted him here. Have you not noticed?”
Sam crossed his arms, then took one step down the porch. “What do you want?”
Balthazar opened his mouth, then paused, redirecting what he was going to say. “Are you quite alright?”
Taking another step down, Sam found surprise on Balthazar’s face. That was a bit concerning. Sam pat the leg of his jeans, his phone still silent.
“I’m fine,” Sam said. “Question still stands.”
“Right,” Balthazar said, raising one eyebrow. “Whatever, not my problem.” Balthazar didn’t speak again until Sam stepped on the gravel. “I’m here to make sure your psychic friend and my actual problem have made it back safely from their little adventure.”
Sam’s first reaction was to brush him off, claim that no one was home, but he knew that Balthazar wouldn’t believe him. The angel had gone this far and Sam had to admit he would never have made any progress without Balthazar’s help. It made him wonder what it was, exactly, that made such a prickly angel want to help someone like Castiel.
“They’re here,” Sam said.
“Good,” Balthazar said. He tilted his head, his long held stare making Sam take a step back. “There is something else?”
Sam knew how to patch up bullet holes, fix dislocated limbs, and wrap a bandage around a burn but he had no idea how to treat a Heaven-induced coma. Cas looked alive, in fact he was utterly serene as he lay in bed, but there was no way to tell if he would ever wake up. Maybe an angel would have the answer.
“Cas is in a coma.”
Balthazar put a finger to his lips and emitted a low hum. “Not surprising, considering you took your sweet time on the rescue.” Balthazar reached into the inner pocket of his jacket, unaffected by Sam’s glare. He produced a bottle of a white, glowing substance. “You know what this is?”
The bottle sang softly, a rhythm Sam recognized. “I’ve seen it before.”
“Good,” Balthazar said, tossing Sam the bottle. “Make Cassie take that and he should wake up soon.” He put his hands in his pants pockets, rolling back on his heels, his gaze drifting away from Sam.
“What,” Sam said, not really a question. He was fed up with the drama.
“Hard work getting that grace. You could show a little appreciation.” Balthazar rolled his eyes when Sam didn’t react. “Fine. Heaven’s persuasion can be quite--” Balthazar shuddered-- “ intense at times. We won’t know how far they dug ‘till our boy is back on his feet.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that Cas could be a little off when he wakes up. Or he could not be affected at all.” Balthazar shrugged, using his whole body. “Anyway, I’m off into hiding. Tell Cassie he’s a right bastard when he wakes up.”
Sam ran forward, his hand outstretched. “Hold on--”
Balthazar was already gone by the time Sam moved. He looked down at the vial in his hands, the contents swirling, the power held within it making Sam’s ears ring. Sitting on the porch swing, Sam traced the shape of the bottle, listening to the song held within.
The last time Sam heard this song, he was in a hospital. Castiel hadn’t kept the power then, and Sam wasn’t sure it was his right to give it to him now. However, Sam didn’t know any other way to help him. The only options for Sam was to let Cas sleep his way through the rest of the Apocalypse, maybe to never wake at all, or give him this power and bring him back into the fold.
The Winchesters were low on allies, and Castiel was a valuable one indeed. A former angel must have a lot of knowledge about what they were up against and Sam would feel a hell of a lot better if he knew there was someone else looking out for his brother. Even now, with as weak as Sam felt, he would go after Lilith if given the chance. He wasn’t going to let Dean stop him or come with him. She would pay and Sam wouldn’t lose his brother again. And, well, Sam would like to talk to his friend again, to know that Cas was okay.
Sam flipped the bottle over in his hand, slipping it into his pocket. The light buzzed as he headed back inside Mercy’s house. If Sam had to describe the vibrations they were almost happy. Maybe it knew Sam’s decision before he made it himself. His footfalls echoed as he climbed the stairs in the empty house.
What was the saying? Better to ask forgiveness than permission? Yeah, Sam had been saying that for the last year. Practically his life’s motto.
Sam knelt down next to Cas’s bed. Cas looked exactly the same as he did that morning, sleeping on his stomach with his limbs sprawled out. He hadn’t so much as twitched a finger, Sam would bet. No, he wasn’t going to let Cas stay like this. He couldn’t.
When Sam took the bottle out of his pocket the contents swirled around in a frantic race. Even with the cork in place, Sam could hear the song.
Okay, now or never. Sam lifted Cas’s head, popped the cork, and hoped.
It was quiet here, in the deep dark. Castiel wondered why he had been so afraid of it before.
It was comfortable here, in the deep dark. Castiel did not ache, his head did not buzz, his heart did not hurt.
It was empty here, in the deep dark. Castiel saw nothing but the darkness, a deep black more solid than he had ever known.
He gave himself over to the coolness of the dark, letting his pain melt away into the deep. The darkness took its time as it spread over Castiel’s body, taking him slowly from feet to head, but now he was almost under, almost gone.
Some part of him, the part that was still Castiel-- full of rebellious spirit and holy wrath-- screamed at him, told him to stand up and fight against the call of the deep. It was too hard. It was too hard to fight, too hard to feel that passion, that emotion which clouded him the day he decided to fall to Earth. Castiel was tired. The darkness allowed him to rest.
Castiel remained still as the darkness took him. He watched as it covered his body, separating him from the light, and saw that it was good.
His eyes were open. He knew what was happening-- the small part of him still awake screamed at him to move because this was it, this was it -- but he was content to lay still. Maybe he should have been worried. Maybe he should have fought. It was so much easier to stay in the deep dark, which gave him the peace he was looking for, the rest he so sorely needed. Castiel lay back and let the darkness take him. Used to the empty black that surrounded him, Castiel had to blink when he saw it.
A light. A soft little light floated above him, swirling into view. The bright blue-white light’s beauty brought tears to Castiel’s eyes. He knew this light. He knew this song. He sung it all his life.
The light was not his anymore, as he had given it away. No, he ripped it out, tearing it from his core so he would not be an angel. He stopped following Heaven. He became a mortal, no longer beholden to Heavenly decree. The light moved closer. The song within it grew louder, echoing within that empty space, the place a human would have a soul.
Castiel wanted to rest. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to allow the cool darkness to consume him, take away his pain.
The light would not leave him alone. It swirled, flowing closer with each circle, not allowing Castiel to close his eyes. He did not want the light, not really, as he had cast it aside for a reason. Still, his heart was punctured with a pang of longing.
The blue-white swirled again and this time it was not alone. Behind it there were colours, the many he had seen in his dreams. They flowed out from the blue-white, coming from within, and formed around it, creating a protective line as it moved ever closer to Castiel, still lost in the deep dark.
The orange was there, a dark spot in the middle with a yellow tinge. The pink shone bright and protective. More colours arrived, so radiant and blinding Castiel could not look close as they pulsed with power. All of the colours were there. Castiel strained his eyes to find one, the one that had always been there, the one he always sought out.
The green appeared at that moment, almost shy as it rose over the blue-white. It cascaded down, embedding itself in the blue-white in a protective embrace. Seeing the green once again filled Castiel with yearning. He wanted to see it again, feel that embrace. The green was what kept him fighting all those years ago, kept him alive when he wanted it to end. All of the colours, the green among them, floated closer to Castiel, reminding him that he was leaving too much behind, that he still had work to do, that it was not yet time for him.
For the first time since he found himself in this emptiness, Castiel fought. He still had his body and he put all of his concentration into raising his arm, to reach out and touch the colours. The dark tendrils battled him, trying to tie him down and draw him further and further into the emptiness.
Castiel did not allow the darkness to win. He had come too far to give up now. He could not let himself be taken in the middle of the battle. He had to see this to the end.
And maybe--maybe-- there would be a place for him, in the after.
His hand free, Castiel used it to peel off the dark tendrils, some taking his flesh with it, tearing him, as the emptiness attempted to lay claim on his life, his humanity. The colours were close now, and Castiel ripped off another chunk of darkness from his arm, a red streak running down his bicep, another on his face.
It hurt. He kept fighting and he would always keep fighting. His moment of weakness over, he freed himself enough to stand, the last lingering shadows sliding off his shoulder and disappearing into the empty.
The colours were close now. Castiel raised his hands, reaching out as far as his limbs would stretch and his hands touched green. The colours were a rope, a line, a way out of this darkness. Castiel was pulled up, up, up and--
Castiel opened his eyes, seeing a galaxy of his own making. He was here, on Earth, in a room he had occupied for years.
He rolled his head to the side, his first gulps of oxygen gasping, and stared into the green.
Cas woke up pretty much as soon of Dean showed up, of course he fucking would, and Sam was still the one stuck on babysitting duty. Cas gave them all a hell of a scare when he passed back out all of three seconds after he woke up. However, Cas no longer looked like he was in stasis. Sometimes he rolled over, other times he muttered indistinct words. Sometimes, Cas snored. It made sense that Sam would stay with Cas now, considering Dean ran off as soon as it was clear Cas was in one piece and Mercy had to sleep every once in a while.
Sam didn't sleep, not really. His dreams were back. Dreams of unseen dogs lurking at the edge of his vision, their hot breath and evil snarls making Sam’s skin crawl. He could hear her laugh, high pitched and childish despite the woman’s body she wore, as she stood and watched.
Sic 'em, boys.
And Sam was powerless. He could do nothing, say nothing, hear nothing but the sound of Dean--
Sam wasn't going to let Lilith get away with making him feel like that again. He wasn't powerless. Not anymore. She would pay and then Sam could move on, to the next step or the next life, he didn't know. He just knew he was never going to be powerless again.
That is, if Ruby would fucking call him already.
Cas sat up in the bed, groaning with the effort. He tried to bat Sam’s hands away when Sam helped him but Sam didn't let go until Cas was safely propped against the headboard. Sam’s arms tingled when he stepped back. Cas squinted at Sam, looking exactly like a guy who spent almost a year missing from Earth and days passed out when he finally made it back. That is to say: Cas looked damn confused.
Sam returned to his seat in the desk chair once he made sure Cas wasn't going to pass out on him again. Cas rubbed his eyes then pat down his body as if he were checking if it was still intact. Sam stayed quiet, trying to find any sign that Castiel was 'different’ as warned. Though, Cas was odd as a baseline so Sam may have a hard time figuring it out on a good day.
When Castiel made eye contact with Sam, he blinked, tilted his head, then blinked again.
“Are you alright?” He asked, his voice soft and, if Sam was hearing correctly, concerned.
Sam huffed out a half-hearted laugh to cover the sound of blood rushing through his ears. “You were the one in a coma. Shouldn't I be asking you that?”
“A coma?” Cas looked down at his hands and wiggled the fingers. He shrugged, returning his attention to Sam. “I feel fine.”
God, that was so… Cas . “You got burns all over your back.”
Sam scratched at his arm. His blood screamed at him, wanting him to leave, to seek out what he needed to keep his mind quiet. He didn't know his blood could be loud, but its shouting increased in volume every time Castiel looked at him with round, concerned eyes.
“Are you sure you're alright?” Cas asked again, forcing Sam to refocus his attention.
“Yeah, yeah. I'm fine.” Sam waved his arm, trying to look as casual as possible. “So you need anything? Food? Water?”
Cas stared at Sam for a long moment, lips pursed. He sighed, his narrowed eyes letting Sam know Cas wasn't convinced, but he let the topic go, at least for now.
Cas was awake, occasionally up and talking. That's was good. That was really good.
So of course, as soon as Cas woke up Dean freaked the fuck out and left the house. He found the most dive-st of dive bars, sat down at a table, and ordered four whiskeys. To his surprise, the bartender give them to him all at once. He was pretty sure they weren't supposed to do that. Well, whatever. He hadn't touched a single one in the last hour.
Of course he was happy Cas was alive and well. Hell, he was fucking thrilled. But-- but--
The pit yawned open, its maw full of teeth as it laughed: Alastair's laugh. The same laugh he made as he watched Dean rip into a soul for the first time.
Dean wasn't the same person he was a year ago, he knew that, but Cas didn't. Cas still knew Dean as he once was: wide eyed and still full of the belief he could be a hero. Now that Cas was here, in the flesh and not seen through the hazy filter of a dream, Dean wasn't ready to face him. What if Cas took one look at Dean and could see the rot underneath?
Because Alistair had almost done it, didn't he? Dean had almost become a monster. He was such a good student. Alistair said it himself. Almost, almost, almost--
Dean was almost a demon.
And he didn't want anyone to know that, to look at him a see that. Cas could stare into a guy's soul if he tried hard enough. Dean didn't want him to see.
Ugh! He was being stupid, he knew, because if what Anna said was true then it was Cas who hauled him out of the pit in the first place. He'd know anyway. In the dreams Cas had the same look in his eyes as always, said that he loved Dean. And yet--
His forehead hit the exposed nail on the table when he dropped his face in his arms. He reached out, wrapping a hand around the nearest glass, contemplating whether he needed some liquid courage.
No, no. He didn't want to spend another night on the Impala and, well, maybe he should try that sober thing once in a while. He stood up, dropping a few bills on the table, leaving the glasses untouched.
Dean regretted his decision as soon as he closed the door behind him at Mercy’s house. Since it was late, the house was dark and free of any well meaning Sams popping up in front of him wanting to talk. Though, Sam hadn't done that in a while. Too caught up in his own world these days, Dean figured. He may have spent a lot of time complaining about Sam's need to talk about everything but he had to admit that he missed it, sometimes. Not that he wouldn't scoff in Sam’s face if he tried it now. Dean did have a reputation to keep.
Okay, okay, he delayed enough. Dean took his time walking up the stairs, silent footsteps carrying him towards Cas’s door. He stopped in front of it, his body pointed away, and listened.
Silence. Not a sound, not a peep, not even a cough. Dean lost his nerve. He really, really wished he drank that whiskey. Dean shook his head, grabbing the hairs on the top of his head and pulled them. No, he couldn't make himself go in. He moved on, footfalls as quiet as before, and collapsed in the bed in the closet-sized room Mercy still had set up for him. The springs whined in protest, probably judging Dean for being a coward, too.
The jacket Dean hadn't bothered to take off bunched up around his arms and one of his heavy boots started to come untied, sliding down his foot until it was caught on his toes. Dean didn't care. He lay face down on the bed, eyes still open, and tried not to think.
The first knock was so soft, Dean thought he imagined it. The second knock was louder, more insistent, making Dean twist around and stare at the door.
A third knock.
“Dean,” Cas said, his voice deep and grumpy and exhausted and exasperated-- all of that in one word-- and it was Cas.
A fourth knock. Dean sat up just in time for Cas to open the door. Cas leaned on the doorframe, still bandaged and bruised, wearing a pair a ratty sweatpants and no shirt. His eyes were almost hidden in dark circles, stark against his pale sickly complexion. He only stood upright through shear force of will.
He was fucking beautiful.
“Dean,” Cas said, one hand on the wall as he tried to move into the room. “You're being an idiot.”
“What are you--”
Dean’s question would have to wait because Cas misjudged his step, his disused muscles failing him. Dean shot up from the bed, wrapping his arms around Cas to keep him from hitting the floor. It kind of worked. Cas was still a pretty solid dude. When they grabbed hold of each other, Cas went down, his arms pulling both of them down to the floor.
Dean took the brunt of the fall, but Dean didn't care because Cas was here and Dean was touching him. He wrapped his arms around Cas’s shoulders, Cas’s real, non-dreamlike shoulders made of flesh and bone and blood, and held on for all he was worth. Dean buried his face in Cas’s neck and breathed him in, a little musky from spending a few nights passed out in bed, but he was all Cas, the smell of rain and electricity.
“You're the fucking idiot,” Dean said, trying his damndest to keep his voice steady, “you should still be in bed. You can't even walk!”
“You wouldn't come to see me,” Cas said, his hands at Dean’s hips, “so I took matters into my own hands.”
Dean laughed because he sounded so Cas and Jesus Christ he missed this stupid grumpy bastard. Cas hummed softly, running his hands up and down Dean's back. They stayed like that for a while, down on the dirty carpet of a closet converted to a bedroom, barely even an inch from the doorway. Dean pressed closer to Cas, holding on to him, squeezing tightly to make sure he wasn't going to fade away.
“I'm right here, Dean,” Cas said, loosening Dean’s grip on his back. Oh, oops. Cas was still injured. The deathgrip probably didn't help him. “I'm right here.”
Cas pulled back, trying to catch Dean’s eye but Dean didn't look up. What if he saw, what if Cas looked too close and saw that Dean was--
Cas muttered softly, running a hand through Dean’s hair until Dean finally looked up. Cas smiled at him, placing his thumbs at the corner of Dean’s eyes.
“It's okay,” Cas said and Dean didn't know why until Cas wiped away the wetness on his cheek.
Dammit. Dean hated crying, especially in front of other people: in front of Cas, in front of Sam, in front of everybody. He hated it because it made people worry, made people look at him like Cas was now, with concern and gentleness. Dean didn't want to make Cas worry. He wanted Cas to feel safe, taken care of, but here he was trying to take care of Dean.
“Shit. Sorry,” Dean said, as if that were enough.
“You're allowed to feel things, Dean.”
He said that like he believed it. Dean wasn't so sure. He made an effort to not feel lately, letting himself find emptiness in a bottle. It blotted out the despair but it also made it harder to find any joy, too. Apparently, letting himself stay empty for so long allowed all those fucking feelings pile up behind the wall he built, waiting for for their chance to bust through the the first hint of a crack, all at once.
Like right now.
“Why'd you do it, Cas?” Dean asked, finding it hard to hold back the anger.
For Cas’s credit, he didn't react to Dean’s tone. “Do what?”
“Go back to Heaven. Save me. What were you even--” Dean broke off, his heart slamming against his ribcage.
He hadn't let himself think too hard about it before but he was angry. He was furious at Cas for putting himself in danger, for letting the angels take him, for raiding Hell and flirting with death. And for what? For Dean? Why would he even do that? If he knew what Dean did down there then he must have known that Dean wasn't worth--
“What’s wrong?” Cas asked, interrupting Dean’s rapid downward spiral, if for a moment. He stared at Dean, his eyes boring deep into Dean soul, his head tilted, like he always did when he was trying to figure something out. He paused, both of them silent for a moment, then his gaze softened, the tension draining out of his face to be replaced by understanding. “You don't think you deserved to be saved.”
It was a statement, not a question, of course. Of fucking course Cas would know because sometimes he swore Cas knew Dean better than Dean himself.
“You do,” Cas said, leaning close to Dean. He touched his forehead to Dean's, the breath of his words caressing Dean’s lips. “You do.”
Cas kissed Dean then, soft and careful and so full of love that it made Dean tremble. Dean gasped, then pulled Cas closer because he may not deserve it but he was going to have this, just once if he could, because it made him feel calm, it made him feel safe. It made him feel, a little bit, like a human.
“I love you,” Cas said when they pulled apart.
Dean rest his head on Cas’s shoulder, holding him close. He knew, okay? Of course he knew how he felt but Dean couldn't return to words, not yet, not until he could be sure he wasn't going to fuck this thing up. They stayed still for a long while.
Eventually the effect of sitting on the floor took a toll on the body. Cas groaned, shifting his shoulders in an attempt to stretch. Dean straightened his posture to look Cas in the eye.
“It's almost like you should be in bed recovering.”
Cas squinted at Dean, then groaned as he stretched out an arm. “Only if you come with me.”
Dean blinked then thought about it for a moment. The invitation was appealing but… “Yeah, I'm not doing that with a psychic in the house.”
In an impressive feat, Cas managed to roll his entire upper body with his eyes. “I was just planning on sleeping. I barely made it into this room without falling over. Though--” Cas took a long lingering gaze at Dean’s lips-- “the mind is quite willing.”
“Right,” Dean said, expending a massive amount of effort to not think loudly.
After a long battle to untangle himself from Cas, Dean managed to get both of them standing upright, though Cas did wobble before Dean grabbed him. Cas held Dean’s arm as they shuffled out of the room. Dean had no desire to stay in the bed-closet anymore.
They made it to Cas’s room and Dean led Cas to the bed, setting him down on it in a seated position. Cas reached out, gripping Dean’s wrist with his hand.
“You would be more comfortable if you at least took your coat off,” Cas said.
“Okay,” Dean said, “but I'm gonna need my hand back for that.”
Cas nodded and let go, watching as Dean kicked off his one remaining boot, the other lost on the floor of the other room. Dean stripped down to his t-shirt and jeans. He stopped there. Sure, it wasn’t all that comfortable to sleep in jeans but he’d been doing it for the last few months. Too many nights interrupted by the need to get up and go. Hell, he was lucky to even take off his coat. He did not like the chill air on his exposed skin. He crossed his arms, rubbing his bare skin and wondering if he should have went for long sleeves. Cas reached out his hand and led Dean down onto the bed.
The bed wasn’t made for two grown men, but Cas made it work, draping himself over Dean’s chest after he settled Dean on his back. Cas didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. Cas tucked his head under Dean’s chin, one hand placed over the scar on Dean’s arm, barely visible under the sleeve of his shirt. It fit perfectly.
When Anna had touched the scar, Dean felt a painful, unexpected jolt that exasperated the dull ache that followed him out of Hell. This time, however, the touch was cool and comforting, as if someone applied aloe to a burn. Dean didn’t understand it but, for the first time in a long time, Dean didn’t hurt.
Already fast asleep, Cas flexed his hand on Dean’s arm and, for a split second, Dean thought he saw a bright white glow accompanied by a loud whine. Dean closed his eyes and opened them again. Nothing was there but the paintings of the galaxy that surrounded them. He looked down at Cas, whose deep breaths continued as before.
God, Dean was tired. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes and, to his surprise, saw nothing behind them but black. He heard nothing but Cas’s snores. He lay back and let himself relax. Quiet. He missed that. Good of Cas to bring that back with him.
Dean leaned down and kissed the crown of Cas’s head.
“Love you, too,” Dean whispered into Cas’s hair.
One day he’d be brave enough to say it to Cas’s face
Warning: Sam's dealing with withdrawal
Castiel wondered what it was that possessed humans to build and purchase multi-storey homes. All these stairs were hard on the knees. Hopefully, the stiffness would subside soon. Castiel supposed that was what happened to a body when it spent an untold amount of time in confinement. He did not have to like it, though.
He woke up in the early hours of the morning with aching shoulders and a headache. Castiel took great care to exit the bed without waking Dean and crept down the stairs, clutching the railing the whole way. Luckily, Mercy’s small home let him reach the kitchen before the sun reached the horizon, even at his crawling pace.
His intended goal of finding a glass of water was put on hold when he found Sam, hunched over the kitchen table, phone in hand. Sam never even fluttered his eyelids when Castiel sat across from him, his attention consumed by the sight of the blank screen.
Having experienced the effects enough times in his own life, Castiel recognized them in Sam. The sweat, the sunken eyes, the way Sam’s hands shook as he placed the phone on the table, all pointed towards some type of withdrawal and, Castiel guessed, it was not brought on by choice. Castiel leaned back in his chair, watching as Sam ran his hands through his hair, the greasy strands sticking up as he pushed them back. Sam sighed and looked Castiel in the eye, his raised eyebrows showing he had not noticed Castiel in the minutes he sat there.
There it was again. Just a flash before it went away. Castiel had dismissed it before, rationalizing it as a carryover from his coma-induced dream. A short burst of colour followed Sam’s gaze, something dark and coiled, which forced the breath out of Castiel’s lungs. Castiel loosened his grip against his jeans, wondering what made him ball them into fists, and breathed deeply.
Sam, along with Mercy, had saved Castiel’s life. It was undeniable. Castiel’s gratitude could not be measured with a simple thanks and yet, here he was, fighting against his human body’s autonomic flight-or-fight response when Sam looked at him. Sam. His friend. His brother in all but blood. The young man with a huge heart and a wide smile, the boy who looked at Castiel with tears in his eyes, saying he never wanted to hurt anyone.
Castiel looked at his friend and wanted to run away.
Sam smiled, tired but genuine. “Look at you. Already up and walking around.”
“I recover fast,” Castiel mumbled, trying to recreate the movement that allowed him to see that flash of colour, but he saw nothing but Sam’s tired eyes.
“You always have, huh?”
Castiel made a dismissive sound, still looking for that darkness.
“Seriously, dude. What’s with the staredown?”
“I--” Castiel hesitated. It was just Sam before him. It was. “I never properly thanked you for my life.”
Sam folded his hands in his lap, his eyes drifting away for a split second. “Can’t let you sleep the whole Apocalypse away. Anyway--” Sam shrugged and looked down at his hands-- “you’re family.”
Castiel reached out to touch Sam’s shoulder. He felt fevered, even through the layer of his sweater. “Thank you.”
Sam pulled his shoulder away, a slight flush on his cheeks. “Yeah, well…” He trailed off. When Castiel leaned back Sam stared at him for a long moment. “I have to ask. Why did an angel named Balthazar help me find you?”
Castiel blinked. He never asked Balthazar to do that, just give him an opportunity to speak with the Winchesters. It seemed his old friend was much more sentimental than he acted. Perhaps Castiel was able to keep that old spark of loyalty alive.
“I doubt anyone knows the answer to that question other than Balthazar himself.”
“He said to tell you that you’re a ‘right bastard.’”
Castiel smiled. At least a few things were the same. “Sounds like Balthazar.”
“You have strange friends, Cas.”
Raising an eyebrow at Sam, Castiel said, “Present company included.”
They grew quiet, Sam’s attention wandering back down to his phone, still dark and silent. Sam did not do a good job hiding his disappointment, nor the way he rubbed his palms against his jeans, the sweat on his brow shining as he shifted in his seat.
“Are you sure you are all right?” Castiel asked.
Sam’s snapped to attention, his reassuring smile not reaching anywhere beyond his mouth. “I’m fine. Why do you keep--”
“Sam.” Castiel never raised his voice but the sound of his name spoken so sternly caused Sam to grow still. “You may have successfully hidden your plight this far, but I--”
“Hidden? Hidden what?” Sam’s lip twitched at the corners in what Castiel figured was an attempt at reassurance but it was belied by the high, panicked tone in his voice.
“Your addiction,” Castiel said, watching as his calm words caused Sam to slump in his chair.
“Addiction? It’s not-- I’m not-- I needed it to--” Sam’s growing protects failed in the sight of Castiel’s blank face. Sam put his elbows on the table, his head in his hands. Such a large man made so small with two simple words. “Not even a goddamn day and you already figured it out.”
“Call it years of experience.”
Sam took a deep breath and sat straight in his chair. “Are you going to tell Dean?”
Castiel rubbed the beard that had grown on his chin over the last few days as he watched Sam. “That depends on you. Should I?”
“Dean has enough to worry about.”
“Agreed. Are you well? Are you able to fight if necessary?”
“I… I think so?”
“Very well, then. I choose to remain quiet.”
Sam stared at Castiel, his mouth open. “Really?”
“It seems people are prone to forgetting I am a separate being from your brother.” Castiel shrugged. “I can make my own choices.”
“Oh! No, no, no! I’m not--” Sam jumped out of his seat, hands outstretched. “We’re good.”
“Good. We’ll only have a problem if you start using again.”
“Okay, okay,” Sam said. “I can live with that.” Still standing, Sam looked around the room, as if he were surprised he had moved. He locked eyes with Castiel. “You’re not going to ask me what it was?”
“No. It doesn’t matter because you aren’t using it now, right?”
“Right,” Sam echoed quietly. He took his phone off the table and stuffed it in his pocket. He started to leave the kitchen. “Thanks, Cas.”
“Of course. If you need anything-- anything at all-- don’t be afraid to talk to me.”
“Yeah,” Sam said on his way out the door, the word breathless and dreamy.
Castiel sighed, finally able to obtain that glass of water. He leaned against the sink, holding the cool glass against his forehead and closed his eyes. He hoped he made the right decision regarding Sam. To think such an earnest man could follow the same path as Castiel. Desperate times made people do dangerous things, like turn to drugs or return to Heaven. Losing Dean was a desperate thing, indeed. He would have to keep a close eye on Sam now but that was part of his job as the Winchester’s guardian. He could do that.
Castiel took a sip of water, alleviating the dryness of his mouth.
He pulled back the curtain covering the window over the sink, seeing the sun’s rays break the horizon. The dawn of a new day. He missed seeing those colours.
That darkness in Sam. That worried Castiel. Both that it made him so uneasy and the fact that he could see it at all. What happened to Sam while he was away? What had happened to Castiel?
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Castiel turned around to see Mercy, a copper coin between her fingers. He stared at it.
“I thought that was just a saying,” he said as he took the penny from her hand.
“Yeah, but you make a better face this way,” Mercy said, reaching into the cupboard and taking out two mugs. “I’m making you tea, so you best sit your ass down.”
Well, hard to argue with that. Castiel sat at the table, smiling as he watched Mercy perform her familiar morning dance, the same one he had seen each day for the better part of a year. It was comforting to see that not everything had changed.
Mercy placed the blue porcelain mug in front of Castiel, the same one she bought him the first month he landed in her care. He tried to protest but Mercy dragged him to the checkout. You need something that is yours, she said, and Castiel used that mug ever since. He wrapped his hands around it, the solid weight and smooth feel of the glaze reminding him that he was here, on Earth, surrounded by the material realm of his Father’s creation. Castiel took a breath.
Mercy sat across from him, her own favourite mug-- pink, of course-- in hand. She took a sip, the rim of the cup doing little to hide her growing grin. The lines had deepened at the corners of her eyes but, somehow, Castiel thought she looked younger.
Castiel could not help but to reflect her joy. “What?”
Mercy leaned back, eyes sparkling. “Oh, nothing.” She set down her mug, teeth gleaming. “It’s good to have you in your chair again.”
“Oh? My chair?”
“Yeah, dumbass, yours.”
Castiel smiled. Yes, it truly was nice to be here. This kitchen-- these people-- were more of a home to him than Heaven had ever been.
“I hear I should be thanking you for the rescue,” he said.
“Oh, I only projected myself into Heaven and nearly died-- no big deal at all.”
“Well, in that case…”
Mercy clicked her tongue. “Didn’t I raise you right? You should always use your manners.”
“Thank you,” Castiel said.
And he meant it.
“Hey now! Why so serious? You know I always got your back.”
Castiel nodded, placing his now empty mug on the table The tea tasted fine but Mercy, in all her great wisdom, had decided Castiel needed to cut out caffeine. She always gave him some kind of herbal concoction that tasted like flowers. He knew she was looking out for him but sometimes one needed a dark, bitter brew that warmed to the core. He hoped his stash of instant powder-- terrible, but it did the job-- survived his long absence. Hey, a mostly-human man sometimes needed a little boost in the morning, especially after his stint in Heaven. At least he was not looking for smokes. Yet.
Quiet for far too long, Mercy eyed him from across the table, her mouth a straight line. Her eyes glazed over as she stared.
“What is it?” Castiel asked.
“You’re okay, right? No-- uh-- weirdness?”
Sitting up in his chair, Castiel thought about it. He really thought about it. All his limbs were intact, which he took as a good sign, and even though his body ached and his injuries stung, he was not currently being tortured. Definitely an improvement on the last year.
“I am physically fine,” Castiel said.
Still, he was bothered: by his ability to see that something in Sam, by the way the colours around him seemed brighter, and by the nagging sensation in the back of his head that kept poking at him, telling him he had forgotten something. Something important.
The raised eyebrow told Castiel that Mercy had noticed the omission in his response, but she let it go. “There’s one more thing I want to tell you: I believe you aren’t alone in this fight.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean--” Mercy sighed and shifted in her seat, seeking out the correct words-- “I mean that I would never have found you without help. There were these two women-- or angels that looked like women, whatever-- who helped me find you. I don’t know who they were but…”
“I think you have more allies than you know.”
Allies? He did not expect that, especially not from angels. He wondered what kind of angel would side with him. After all, Castiel was only second to Lucifer in defiance to Heaven and he was sure supporting him would come with a steep price. Still, Balthazar had helped him-- though it was Balthazar-- and he had spoken to a few angels during his imprisonment. Castiel would take all the help he could get, even those who would be sympathetic to a sinner like him.
What was that charming phrase? Beggars can’t be choosers.
Before Castiel could question Mercy further, Dean entered the kitchen. The smile he directed at Castiel lit the room, warming Castiel down to his core.
“Morning, sunshine,” Dean said. Dean grabbed Castiel’s shoulder as he walked by, running his hand gently across the bare skin over Castiel’s shirt collar as he walked past. “You got any coffee in this joint?” He directed his question to Mercy.
Mercy looked up at Dean and failed to suppress her gasp. She blinked a few times before she replied, “I think Cas’s contraband is still on the top shelf of the cupboard.”
Dean snapped his fingers. “Got it.”
If he noticed anything strange about Mercy’s wide-eyed look, Dean never showed it. He grabbed Castiel’s mug from the table, then began his search. Mercy watched him as he moved around the kitchen. When she turned back to Castiel, she muttered a soft noise of astonishment. The only response to Castiel’s lowered brow was a shrug.
Dean pulled a chair to the table to sit right beside Castiel. He handed Castiel the most beautiful cup of coffee he had ever seen. Castiel took a sip, the warmth spreading through his body. It tasted terrible-- the cheap instant power had gone stale over the last year-- but Castiel could already feel it doing its job.
“You’re looking spry this morning, Dean,” Mercy said, her mild tone a contrast to the surprise in her wide eyes.
Dean, just as mildly, replied, “It's a beautiful day.” He ran an affectionate hand through Castiel’s hair.
“Well,” Mercy said, rising from her chair, “It's good to see you in one piece. Healed.” She ignored Dean’s narrowed eyes and took her mug to the sink. “Anyway, I have a real, live client today, so I’ll see you boys later.”
Dean and Castiel sat for a long moment, enjoying the peace of each other’s company. They had even managed to finish their coffee before Sam burst into the room. The five minutes of quiet were nice while they lasted.
Sam, wild haired and breathing hard, held his phone out to Castiel on speaker.
One word, high and terrified, sent shivers down Castiel’s spine. A young girl’s voice, one he recognized instantly and never wanted to hear.
Warning: Demon blood addict Sam for this and the next couple chapters
Of course Dean knew about James Novak but he did make an effort not to think too hard about it. Cas was Cas. That’s what mattered. Unfortunately Cas ‘has a responsibility’ and that was why they left as fast as they could with a still injured Cas and a Sam who clearly wasn’t in peak shape. Yeah, he knew something was up with Sam. He just choose to ignore it. He’d probably regret that one day.
Mercy bid them farewell, rather cheerfully this time. She had a Cheshire cat grin on when she looked between Dean as Cas as they left. Healed. That was the word she used. Dean didn’t fully understand it. He wouldn’t use that word but having Cas back did make things a little better.
It was still the end of the world. There were still angels and demons and monsters, oh my. They were still driving directly into a trap. Same shit, different day.
The Impala raced down the highway with a sleeping Sam in the passenger seat, a dower Cas in the back, and Dean in the pilot's seat, heart beating louder with each passing mile. They were together, at least.
Last time Dean was there, he crawled out of a grave. He hadn’t planned to come back. Still, compared to that trip, this one should be a cinch.
Creepy abandoned warehouse. Bunch of random demons. It was getting old.
“You know this is a trap, right?” Dean asked Cas as soon as the exited the car.
Cas fixed Dean with one of his best angry glares. Good to know the trip upstairs hadn't changed him too much.
A bunch of demons would love to sink their claws into a guy like Cas. He had just come back from Heaven, full of useful knowledge, and was mortal (so very, very, mortal). Having failed to nab Anna, the demons must have turned their attention to Cas. Like hell Dean was going to let them succeed.
So, of course, Cas made that hard for Dean by insisting on rushing headlong into danger. The girl (Claire, Dean, she has a name) would be torn apart by the demons if Cas didn’t go alone. Alone Cas went, still limping from his prior ordeal. Most people would never have noticed the limp, as Cas was doing his best to hide it, but Dean knew him well and hadn't let him out of sight ever since he returned.
Dean wasn’t going to lose him again.
The instant Cas was out of view, Dean’s heart rate rose a few more beats. How much faster could it go before it became a heart attack? Sam’s hand appeared on Dean’s shoulder. Dean didn’t understand why until he looked behind him into Sam’s serious face. Oh. Apparently he moved about a foot without noticing.
Sam led Dean around the back of the warehouse, as was the plan, before Dean could run after Cas like he wanted to and fuck it all up.
It’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. It’ll be fine.
A couple muscle-bound demons grabbed Sam and Dean as soon as they found the back entrance. The Winchesters have a reputation for being ‘clever’ as one demon said when they were caught. Nice to be noticed, but it made Sam’s plan go to shit.
The brothers were led into the warehouse: dirty, dark and diapilated like every other warehouse in the lower forty-eight. A blonde-haired girl sat in a chair, her hands and feet bound, and Castiel stood before her with a demon directly behind him.
Adding the two demons dragging them into the room, there were five in total. Too many.
Cas and Dean did that thing where they stare at each other as if there was no one else in the room. Sam really was happy they were reunited but the middle of a battlefield was so not the time.
So many demons. Demons full of so much blood. Just… there, pumping uselessly through their bodies. The bodies they possessed were likely dead. All that blood, going to waste. They didn’t even need it. Sam needed it. He--
Dean spoke, trying to work his magic to save the girl and the get the guy. Normally Sam would back him up, find a way out of the inevitable fight, but--
Blood. Blood. Blood. Has it always been this loud? The sound of it rushing through his body, filling him with strength, with life. No, not his body. The demons. The sound of it was so loud he could still hear it when they attacked. The pulse of the heart beat drowned out the sound of their punches. The song in their veins continued even as one of the demons wrapped his hands around Sam’s neck.
Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub.
The demon’s heart beat rang out over the din of battle. All that blood, so close to Sam, so easy to just--
Dean yelled from somewhere on the other side of the room. Cas didn’t make a sound. There was something else he was here for, right?
Black spots clouded Sam’s vision. His heart pumped in his ears.
Sam only realized what he’d done when he turned around. He could feel the hot, wet, liquid on his face. All five demon meat suits lay on the floor, the smoke pulled out of them and sent back to Hell. Twin states of horror came from Dean and the girl’s faces. Cas didn’t look horrified. Cas looked sad.
But that didn’t matter.
Sam was strong.
Claire’s life was only turned inside out and upside down at least twice in her short years thanks to Castiel, so of course they were able to buy her a bus ticket to return her to her mother.
A fucking bus ticket.
Castiel understood there were-- what was that phrase Dean used?-- bigger fish to fry. There was the fast approaching biblical apocalypse-- obviously a big fish-- the fact that the demons could not wait to capture Castiel for his angelic knowledge-- a smaller fish, but definitely something he should keep in mind-- and, oh yeah, Sam’s drug of choice being demon blood-- a huge, enormous fish that towered over skyscrapers, that one.
The men dropped Claire off at the bus station. Castiel had a few scant minutes to speak with her as he took her to the correct stop. Claire was so young. She stared back at him, her eyes the same colour as his own.
“I am not your father,” Castiel said.
The girl blinked, then replied in a flat tone, “I know.”
“For what it’s worth: your father cared deeply for you and your mother. He rests in Heaven now. His last act proved his devoted, loving soul.”
The words Castiel spoke were true. Castiel was not so sure he proved worthy of James Novak.
“Right,” Claire said, her face blank.
They reached their destination and Castiel watched as Claire-- still short enough to struggle with the deep first step-- walk to the back of the bus. She sat, hands folded in her lap, and stared forward. Castiel turned his back on her.
Sam complied with the decision to drive to Bobby’s house, full of a dark energy Castiel had never seen in the boy. He sat in the front seat, his head held high and his usual slumped shoulders pulled back. Sam followed Castiel and Dean willingly into the basement.
Castiel looked into the panic room just before they closed the door. That dark, coiled thing stared back at him as a pulse of pain racked through Castiel’s body.
The thing laughed.
They had the best weapon against Lilith and they locked it behind an iron door. Sam tried to reason, to Dean, to Cas, to Bobby, but all of them shook their heads with the same sad look in their eyes.
Hey, Dean! I’m your brother. Don’t you trust me?
Hello, Castiel. I saved your life. Haven’t I shown that I can handle this?
Bobby! Shouldn’t a father let his boy grow up one day?
No matter what Sam said, the sadness overwhelmed their features, the emotion weighing down their shoulders.
Come on guys! There’s no reason to be sad! I’m strong. I can save us.
You just have to let me out.
Dean stood before him. Or, well, one of the Deans. Hell, maybe some of them were real.
Big surprise: the Deans were disappointed in Sam.
Maybe they were right.
Maybe Sam was a monster.
Guys. I can’t--
The blood boiled. The lines and pathways under his skin turning black and sick.
Time was a line, wasn’t it? At least, in Western culture. Time starts at birth and ends at death. A linear, straight line.
But Sam had already died, hadn’t he?
That must have been when it happened, when Sam began to cross his moral line. Or fell off. Whatever.
He already had his life, one destined to end when he was barely twenty-four. This one, the one Dean bought for him, was a new life, a new line placed far away from the previous one. A line placed deep within the darkness. It was granted to him through demon deal, after all. Darkness was to be expected. A demon deal, a dash of yellow-eyed blood and…
Sam’s wrists hurt. Why did his wrists hurt?
Strapped to a slab in the middle of the empty panic room, Sam strained to look at the movement out of the corner of his eye.
Alastair cut into him with a knife.
Everything hurt. His blood. His joints. His limbs. His neurons. His atoms.
This was it. He was done. He stared at the ceiling, watching the fan go around and around.
The footsteps were so soft Sam nearly missed them. He sat up.
His mother smiled at him. Her image was that of a six-months-old’s memory, supplemented by a few faded photographs. Mom was a vision of white, framed by a halo of golden hair, cut to pieces by the shadows created by the fan overhead.
She held him. She smiled at him. She told him he was strong.
She was proud of him.
She was right.
It’s okay guys. I’ve learned my lesson.
Let me out?
He whispered quietly to see if they were near.
Nothing there but the opened iron door.
His jacket on a hook. His phone in his pocket.
Outside now, far away in the darkness.
Light on a keyboard. Dial tone.
The angel flapped away as soon as he heard Cas’s approach. The blond one, not dick Uriel. Apparently Uriel was ‘relieved from duty’ (a phrase followed by a rather pointed grimace) so oddly helpful Bathy took over as Dean’s angelic guide. Which was strange considering he was supposed to be in hiding. Either that didn’t work out for him or he was hiding in plain sight.
Dead Uriel. Huh. Dean wasn’t going to miss him all that much. Maybe not having him in charge would make that vow he swore to the angels easier to weasel out of?
Ha. Yeah right.
“I would ask how you are but I’m sure you would say--” Cas lowered his already gravelly tone down a few more notches-- “‘I’m fine.’” Cas finished his performance with the ever classic head tilt.
“I don’t sound like that!”
Cas raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t,” Dean said, crossing his arms like a petulant child.
Cas’s eyebrow rose a fraction of an inch higher.
“Whatever,” Dean said. “Why are you out here with the car corpses when all the fun is happening inside today?”
The eyebrow lowered and Cas’s face instantly showed concern. Before he could join Dean against one of the scrapyard’s many gutted vehicles (the one Dean had chosen to lean on was a tall truck rusted out to a puke-inducing green-yellow colour) Cas grimaced and stumbled in his step. Dean didn’t have the chance to move to his aid before he righted himself. Cas joined Dean in leaning against the truck, trying to act as if nothing happened.
“Dude,” Dean said. He waited for Cas to look at him before he continued. “Are you okay?”
“I am…” Cas paused. “Still recovering.”
“Come on, man. I’m--”
“Dean. You have greater things to worry about. Besides--” Cas grabbed Dean’s hands, pressed them against rough metal-- “I didn’t come here to talk.” He surged forward and Dean was swept along with him.
Well, okay then. Cas always picked the most romantic places.
They were both aching for the contact. Not exactly a whole lot of alone time in the short time Cas had been back. They had to steal their moments when they could.
Cas spoke volumes with his tongue. His hands wrote poetry over Dean’s body, tracing shapes of devotion and desire into his skin. Dean followed him, losing himself in the rhythm of Cas’s movements. He always did this, let Cas take him over, surrender himself to Cas's control. Before Cas, Dean always had an exit plan, a way to keep himself safe, to keep him away from the ‘feelings’ in the morning. Not so with Cas. Cas traced his body as if he were a precious painting and Dean felt safe. Dean would follow Cas anywhere, even if it meant making out in Bobby’s scrapyard.
Didn’t mean he wasn’t going to give him shit about it.
“Seriously, dude,” Dean said when Cas finally gave him time to breathe, “Here? Now? In front of the baby puke coloured truck?”
Cas lips paused on their journey over Dean’s jaw. “Think of it more as a finely aged chartreuse.” He returned his attention to Dean’s neck.
Dean rolled his head back, a smile on his lips. He slid his hand into Cas’s hair. “Fuck, I missed you.”
“Good,” Cas said. He lowered his hands to Dean’s hips.
“But--” Cas groaned, face still pressed against Dean’s neck, but he waited for Dean to speak. “You’re sure you’re okay? Like, up to this-- so to speak.”
“Absolutely,” Cas purred. “Why?” Cas ran his hands under Dean’s shirt, finding that hollow on Dean’s hip he was so fond of teasing. “Do you want me to stop?”
Cas popped the button on Dean’s jeans. Dean felt Cas’s smile against his skin when he discovered Dean’s rather fast growing situation.
It had been a while, okay?
“Then stop talking.”
Cas dropped to his knees
Castiel left Dean in the yard. Dean said he needed time to think. Castiel knew he meant he did not want to return to a house where he could hear his brother’s pain. Neither did Castiel.
Not that it mattered. Ever since they threw Sam in the panic room, every time Sam screamed, Castiel felt a surge of power. He felt it in his head, through his bones, in his back, and his heart. He did not know why it happened. He did not like what the implications were, for him or Sam.
Castiel avoided Bobby, still glowering over a-- significantly more empty than when he left-- bottle of whiskey, and headed upstairs to clean up. He locked the bathroom door behind him and leaned heavily over the counter. Bobby never bothered to replace the cracked mirror. The line cut his face in half, making his tired face broken and shadowed. Castiel splashed water on his face, then turned around with his back to the mirror.
The next wave hit and Castiel remained standing. He took it as a win. Castiel pulled his shirt over his head but the expected strain on his injuries never occurred. He dropped his shirt to the floor and looked over his shoulder into the mirror. The bandages he replaced on the last day at Mercy's were still stark white. One by one, he peeled the bandages away, revealing nothing beneath them but clean, inked skin. The only indication he had been injured at all were the jagged edges on the lines of his tattooed wings.
Castiel knew he healed quickly. He always had. The medical practitioners at more than one hospital expressed surprise both at the amount of drugs in his system and at how he was able to stand the next day. Castiel figured that some people were built that way and that he was one of them. At least, that was how he rationalized it.
But this? Even Castiel had to stop and wonder how the angry red welts had disappeared almost overnight. Only yesterday, he had to ask for help to put on his shirt because he could not raise his arms high enough. It was strange. He knew that. He did not even have a surge of angel grace to which he could ascribe his recovery. Not one he remembered, anyway.
The last bandage removed, Castiel strained his head to look at the fractured image behind him. Two angry red lines remained, right beside each shoulder blade. The lines did not hurt, though they looked as if they should, and Castiel prodded at one side with his finger. They were scars in perfect parallel lines, exactly where a set a wings could be.
Castiel jumped back from the mirror, crouching into the corner of the small room. A sick joke played by the angels, leaving him a reminder of what he had lost. They had marked him, showing all the world the tainted creature he had become, a constant reminder of all he left behind.
He pressed at the lines again, a strange texture under the skin. He stood up, not daring to look at the two halves of himself in the mirror, and threw his shirt over the image.
There was enough to worry about without Castiel’s burden added to the team’s woes. He stepped into the shower and tried to wash away the pit in his stomach.
Another bottle of whiskey joined the empty one on Bobby’s desk. Castiel tiptoed around the stacks of books and empty bottles as he entered the library. Bobby stared at Castiel the whole time, his eyes narrowed.
“You doing alright there, Cas?” Bobby asked without a hint of a slur.
Castiel crossed his arms, picking at the elbows of his borrowed shirt. It was red and black plaid flannel, taken out of Dean’s bag. Castiel had clothes here at Bobby’s, stored in the bedroom Castiel and Dean had claimed as their own for when they stayed the night, but something about the worn material beneath his fingers made him feel more at home, at place in his own skin.
Of course, as soon as the words left his lips, Sam screamed. Castiel held his ground but Bobby scrutinized Castiel the whole time.
“Uh-huh.” Bobby clicked his tongue and opened the bottom drawer of his desk. He slapped down a carton of cigarettes directly on the pages of the nineteenth-century Bible he was reading, knocking over a smaller stack of lore books. Bobby did not flinch. “Care to join me?”
Castiel followed Bobby outside without a word. They sat on the steps, sharing Bobby's scratched up lighter between them. The first drag was amazing, the second even better. Moonlight glinted off the broken cars as the crickets chirped, glad at the arrival of warm weather. Tonight, Castiel could see the stars in the sky. He watched them shine high above him as the nicotine did its job.
Castiel had to give Bobby credit; he waited until Castiel was halfway through his second cigarette before starting the interrogation.
“So,” Bobby started, innocent enough, “we gonna talk about that thing?”
Even in the darkness, Castiel could make out Bobby's skeptical look. “That thing you're not talking about.”
Castiel flicked away the ash before taking another drag. “I don't know what you mean.”
Sam picked the greatest moment to start up again. Castiel placed his head in his hands and waited for it to pass.
“That,” Bobby said.
Castiel groaned and leaned back, puffing on his cigarette to cover the shake in his hands. “I don't understand what is happening, thus there is nothing to talk about.”
“Nothing to talk about?” Bobby's scowl could have been felt a mile down the road. “You disappear on me for a couple years and there's nothing to talk about?”
The vitriol in Bobby's voice made the already broken windows of the cars below rumble in response. Castiel watched them, almost believing they rolled back from the porch. He wished he could join them.
“I mean--” Bobby continued, louder than he normally spoke. Evidently, the whiskey had an effect after all. “After one of the worst nights of my life-- and I had quite a few, let me tell you-- Sam goes Terminator and you disappear off to God knows where--”
“Heaven. God would know where--”
“Whatever.” Bobby dropped his cigarette butt into the empty beer can left on the railing. “Point is: I might have buried Dean that night but I lost all three of you at once.”
Crickets sounded, the literal kind, while Castiel absorbed Bobby words. That night, Castiel had stayed behind to give the unfortunate policeman a proper burial. By the time Castiel had caught up, it was already after midnight. A silent Sam carried out the mangled body, Bobby behind him emptying his flask in one gulp. After that, they drove until Sam suddenly pulled over. They dug for what seemed like hours and then, well, that was that. Sam drove off with the Impala without another word. Bobby tried to convince Castiel to follow him. He did not. He stayed. He prayed. Time did not have a whole lot of meaning after that.
Bobby lit up another smoke. He closed his eyes as he took a long, langid drag, taking his time as he released the smoke. Castiel stared at the star studded horizon as they sat in silence.
Castiel never thought about it. He lost Dean. The only thing that mattered was getting him back. He never thought about those left behind, never realized they would care. It was too easy to forget, sometimes, that he was not alone. Not anymore.
“Bobby,” Castiel started, “I'm sorr--”
One of these days, he would be able to finish a sentence, though a quiet Sam would likely be a bad sign.
Bobby looked at him with tired eyes. “You really don't know what's going on? It's gotta be something.”
“I know that. I didn't want to burden everyone with yet another problem.”
There was also the fact that he did not want to think about it. When he did, his head started to spin and his mind screamed louder than the man in the basement.
He remembered being in Heaven. He remembered the cell. He remembered Balthazar. He remembered Hannah. He certainly remembered the torture.
He remembered the fear, but not the reason behind it. He remembered pain, but not how it happened. He remembered despair, but not where it came from. He did not remember escaping.
He remembered falling the first time, years ago but he did not--
“Bobby?” Castiel waited for acknowledgment before continuing. “Did I ever tell you why I fell?”
“Can't say you have, at least to me.” Bobby tossed yet another finished cigarette away, then turned his body towards Castiel, face expectant. A few moments of silence passed before Bobby's mouth fell open. “Wait. Hold on. You're saying you don't know?” Castiel nodded, then Bobby asked, “What does that mean?”
A long line of ash sat at the end of Castiel's cigarette. He flicked it away. “It means that the angels have been in my head.”
“Well that don't sound good.”
A fleeting smile passed over Castiel's lips. Leave it to Bobby to be so succinct.
“The troubling thought is what was left behind.”
Memories were erased but not the emotions associated with them. Castiel did not remember what happened before his fall but if he concentrated on the empty space, he felt loss, despair, and a sense of betrayal beyond human words.
It had to be something big. Something important. Something the angels wanted to keep hidden.
However, so much remained. He could still see the mountain girl huddled over her sister as if he sat next to her, healing her in an act of rebellion. The Northern Lights still shimmed in his memory, the colours touching the broken, empty part of him, making him think. His time as a human, his time with Dean, with Sam, his time bonding with Mercy and Bobby and so many other humans, still remained.
Perhaps the angels were interrupted by Mercy and Sam's intervention. Perhaps they wanted him like this: a broken mortal man, who patched himself together with the bonds he had formed and force of will, who resonated with whatever dark thing had taken over Sam.
Heaven did not waste resources. Even one as troublesome as him.
“I think I know what you're getting at,” Bobby said, “and I don't like it.”
Castiel never wanted to hurt anyone. He never did, intentionally or not. He did not want to leave Dean or his little family. He wanted to stay but he would never forgive himself of something happened, something he could prevent. He needed to take precautionary measures.
He reached behind him, feeling the hilt of the blade he always carried around, pulling it out of the waistband of his jeans. “Can I ask you to do something I have no right to expect of you? If something happens if I-- if you notice--” Castiel licked his lips, trying to push the words through his dry throat. “Don't let me hurt the ones I love.”
Bobby stared at the blade, blinking a few times and took a deep breath. He stared a moment more then said, “You just… carry that around in your pants all the time.”
“It's not like I can send it into the cosmos anymore.” Castiel flipped the blade and held the hilt out to Bobby. It was not fair to do this, Castiel knew, but he waited as Bobby stared at the blade, gleaming in the starlight. “You and I both know I could never ask this of Dean.”
Dean's name made Bobby relent. “He'd never survive it.” Bobby took the blade, tucking into the inner pocket of his coat. “You don't come back from that. You don't.”
“Thank you,” Castiel said, “thank you.”
Bobby grunted in response, the lighter shaking as he lit another cigarette. “You sure know how to sober a guy up.”
Not fair. None of it was fair and yet, Castiel felt relieved. Castiel put his head in his hands and listened to the quiet.
Dean arrived as soon as Bobby and Castiel exchanged panicked glances. All three ran downstairs and watched helplessly as Sam suffered.
Dean and Bobby shouted behind Castiel as he descended the basement stairs. None of them knew what to do, so they left Sam to rot in the panic room.
It was a jail cell; the walls bare and the army cot positioned where it was easiest to see through the tiny barred window. Castiel had seen jail cells, both on Earth and in Heaven. He spent far too much time in a few and he hated seeing Sam in one. Before he could think too hard about what was a colossally stupid action, Castiel unlocked the door and pulled it open, the screech of metal on metal covered by the sounds of yet another argument upstairs.
The restraints were the worst part. Castiel watched, hours before, as Dean's hands shook when he wrapped Sam's wrists and ankles, insistent that he do it himself. None of them liked the decision, but they all agreed that letting the demon blood throw Sam around the room was much worse. They did it out of kindness, but the image of a sleeping Sam, feet hanging over the edge of the cot, made Castiel squirm. Half-forgotten memories and shadowed images passed through his mind, leading Castiel to kneel beside Sam.
Sam was quiet now, asleep or something that looked like it, his eyes squeezed shut and the lines in his forehead deep. Castiel pushed back Sam's hair from his forehead. He kept his hand there, the coolness of his palm a contrast to the heat on Sam's skin, and focused.
Castiel sought out the dark part within Sam. Whatever was in his blood reacted to whatever was left behind in Castiel. Castiel hummed, attempting to find harmony with the leftover bits of power from his time in Heaven.
The pieces of grace Castiel found over the years were no accident. He started to figure out, due to the looks cast his way by the born humans around him, that he was a little different. Most people did not heal from a gunshot wound in a few days, or could speak every language, or look at a person in need and know how to help them.
The space within him, the place that once held his grace, was not empty like he thought. He began to realize it the longer he traveled with the Winchesters but it only became clear when he woke up from his Heaven induced coma. He did not like it. However, it became more and more apparent that Castiel had become something a little more than human. He had ignored it for so long, pushed it down with denial and drugs. He could not ignore it any more. The angels had left him like this for a reason, though he did not know what it was, but that did not mean he could not try and use it for good.
He found the correct rhythm to piece together all the scraps and parts of grace and power within him. Some of it was more willing to accede to him than the rest but he managed to pull it all together and it became a glowing, mismatched, multi-coloured ball. He shaped the ball, molding it until it became a long rope, a line, and sought out the darkness in Sam.
Instantly, Castiel’s body fought against him. He expected that, considering how he reacted to Sam’s screams all night. He ignored the discomfort, seeking out that dark, coiled thing he saw in Sam the day he woke up.
Castiel tried to give Sam grace before, partly to protect his own identity, but also to try and fill the empty space he had felt in Sam, recognizing it to be much like his own. Sam was a faithful man, so Castiel figured the grace would help them both. It did not work. He had caused Sam pain and Castiel never did figure out why. Now he suspected the blood had something to do with it. Call it a hunch.
Gritting his teeth, Castiel pressed forward. In between Sam’s synapses, Castiel could detect something but he could not see anything. It was a feeling more than anything else. Castiel used the rope to continue his search.
A split second. A flash. A big, booming sound. A shout from Sam and a crash when Castiel was launched across the room.
It was dark. It was angry. It was demonic. Castiel found it, whatever it was, and it really did not want to be touched.
“Not your finest moment, I’m sure.”
Castiel dusted himself off and stepped out of the panic room, trying to shield Sam’s body from view. He crossed his arms, trying to figure out whether or not he was surprised to see Balthazar standing across from him.
“They-- we-- do not want him healed. You must have suspected that,” the angel said.
“Balthazar.” Castiel tilted his head, working through a multitude of questions.
“Castiel.” Balthazar mirrored the movement. “Your Bobby Singer’s weekend project disturbed a couple of wards you put up. Nothing too serious. I still can’t fly upstairs.”
“Sam told me you went into hiding.”
“Ah, yes.” Balthazar took a step forward, raising a placating hand in response to Castiel’s shift in stance. “Not that well, apparently.”
“I don't understand.”
“Neither do I,” Balthazar said. “I mean, plaid? Flannel? I know you've gone human but still--”
“Balthazar.” Castiel drew himself up to his full height, his chin held high.
“What? I-- I--” Balthazar crumbled, unable to meet Castiel's eye, the curved line of his shoulders making him appear small. “Why are you here, Cas?” Balthazar mumbled to the floor. “You were-- you were supposed to be upstairs painting pictures of you boyfriend or whatever it is you do-- then I could just--”
Balthazar raised his hands and flicked his wrists. The sound of metal clinking against a hard floor made Castiel look behind him. Sam lay on the cot, his hands unbound, and shifted in his sleep. His fingers dug into the mattress and his eyes squeezed tight, but he did not make a sound.
Castiel marched forward, trying to force Balthazar to look up. Even at only a half step away, Castiel failed to make him move.
“What is this?” Castiel's voice was a harsh whisper.
“Restitution.” Balthazar raised his head, but he still would not meet Castiel's eye. “Cassie, please, just go upstairs and forget I was ever here."
Balthazar was serious. Balthazar was never serious. Something, as Bobby would say, ain't right here.
“I still don't understand. Sam told me you helped us, that you--” Finally, Balthazar looked up, the fear in his eyes stopping Castiel mid-sentence. “They found out.”
Many angels experienced Heaven's persuasion, Castiel more than most. It was a fearsome thing indeed. Balthazar plunged his hands into his pockets, his head still hung low. He shuffled back a few paces, the light cast through the step slats cutting Balthazar's body into shadow and light.
Castiel stood his ground. “What about all those things you told me? About film and alcohol and people?”
He heard Balthazar's sigh but could not see it through the shadows. “Well yeah, those things are great. Just not as great as me.”
“France? Lyon? The girl at the cafe?”
A long pause followed Castiel’s inquiry. Castiel thought it would be ignored before Balthazar took one step forward, enough so Castiel could see the real confusion on his face.
“I--” Balthazar blinked. “What?”
“They’ve been in our heads, Balthazar.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Think, Balthazar. Think hard. You can feel it, right? You can feel that hole in the back of your mind where something should be, but it’s just empty.”
Castiel could. He was not sure when he noticed it, just that he always felt a nagging sensation of emptiness when he tried to figure out what was missing in his memories. He questioned it as an angel, managing to bring forth vague recollections of colour and guilt. As a human he ignored it, chalking the sensation up to mortality and drug use. Now, fresh from his latest brush with Heaven’s most holy, he knew that the blank spots in his memory were unnatural, taken away from him for having the audacity to think for himself, for questioning, for exercising free will.
He hated it. He hated those holes, those empty spaces, in his mind. He hated not knowing where he was one thousand years ago, who he watched over as a guardian, what happened to him under the power of a witch in an abandoned asylum.
He was terrified. He was terrified of it happening again, of the angels snatching away the identity he formed during his mortal existence, of forgetting the connection he made with people on Earth, of forgetting Mercy, Sam, Bobby. He was terrified of forgetting he ever loved Dean.
It happened before. It must have. The angels hit Castiel’s reset button and he became the perfect drone one again. He always was a good soldier, an even better strategist.
If it happened again, just how much of Castiel, of Cas, would be left? Would he find his way out, a hundred, a thousand, a million years later, and rebel? Or would he lose himself, all the colours of the world he painted faded out, overtaken by the white light of Heaven?
He did not know.
Balthazar squeezed his eyes shut, the lines beside his vessel’s eyes deeper than ever before. “I-- You--” He shook his head, his head snapping up. When he opened his eyes, the fire of Heaven was behind them. “Castiel, I have given you a chance-- so many chances!-- I’ve helped you and you just--” He raised both his hands, squeezing his fists shut.
The hairs on Castiel’s arms raised in reaction to the power in the room. Balthazar had kept it under the surface, his grace lurking under the skin, making him look more human than any other angel on Earth. Now, however, he brought his power forward, acting as a reminder of what stood before Castiel. Even with the power tempered by the warding in the house and on his skin, Castiel’s body buzzed in response.
Balthazar was still an angel. And, despite all the bit and pieces of grace still held within his core, Castiel was not.
Intimidation. Castiel raised his head high, despite feeling his heart quiver in his ribcage. “Doing this will not stop the Apocalypse.”
“I know,” Balthazar said. He reached out, his palm on Castiel’s shoulder. The electric power in Balthazar's body held Castiel in place. “Being alive in Paradise just sounds so much better then dying on a hill.” He squeezed Castiel’s shoulder, a sad glint in his eyes. “Guess I’m just not as noble as you.”
Castiel stared Balthazar down, not backing down. “You could be.”
“So much faith for a fallen angel,” Balthazar said. “Sorry, old friend. I gotta look after number one, you understand."
Heavy boots sounded from upstairs and mumbled words filtered through the slats. Dean’s voice, quiet and earnest after a long argument with Bobby. An offer of beer most likely. It was his favourite way of apologizing without needing to say the words. Castiel raised his gaze to the ceiling, wondering if Dean stood above him, if he could somehow say goodbye and apologize for disappearing yet again.
“Yes,” Castiel said. “I understand.”
Lowered brows betrayed Baltazar’s confusion at Castiel’s tone, but it did not stop his actions. They disappeared, Sam blinking awake in the room behind them, with nary a feather to mark their departure.
Five minutes. Just five fucking minutes. That’s all Dean asked. But no. The world was too goddamn determined to fling itself off a cliff.
Sam was gone. The bed they left him on empty and the panic room door left locked and sealed. Someone must have helped him out. Bobby rigged the door so only someone on the outside could open it.
Cas was gone. Dean didn’t know when. One moment he was present, the next there wasn’t even a hint that Cas had returned at all. Dean was getting pretty fucking tired of that, how Cas kept leaving, and he couldn’t pretend otherwise.
Dean had a feeling those two instances were connected. He really didn’t like that train of thought.
There was little to go on to find Cas. Dude was back for thirty seconds to (what?) make out with Dean a bit and then--
No. No, no, no. Dean wasn’t going down that hole. There had to be more to it. Something else, some kind of circumstance that would explain why Cas would disappear alongside his demon blood addled brother.
Even with an explanation, it still meant that Cas was hiding something. Again. Bobby off handly mentioned to talk he had with Cas, though he was light on the details. Dean wished Cas would have said something. After the super fun reveal Sam gave them, Dean was done with the people closest to him keeping secrets.
Whatever. Dean had an idea as to how to find Sam, so find him he did. And got into a fight. Dean had known that kid all his life. He knew exactly what words would push Sam out that door forever.
And he said them.
God. Why were all the Winchesters so bad at talking?
As soon as he decided (okay, after a bit of yelling by Bobby) to find Sam again, to try to mend the bridge he blew up with a rocket launcher, he was plucked off the porch and thrown into the beautiful room.
The beautiful room full of white and gold and Zachariah standing across from him with a smug grin on his face.
You walk out that door, don’t you ever come back.
That’s the problem. Spend your whole lives together, it becomes easy to know how to hurt with just a few words.
It means you’re a monster.
Sam sighed, rolling off the bed and onto his feet. He only had one set of clothes. He wished he brought more. His shirt had blood on it.
It didn’t matter now. He walked out that door and wasn’t going to come back. Dean didn’t know him, didn’t make the effort once he returned from Hell. If he just trusted Sam for a moment he would see. He would see that Sam could save them, that Sam could take care of himself, that Sam was strong.
Sam snatched his coat off the hook by the door. He nearly threw it with the aggressive movement. A clattering sound gave Sam pause. He turned his head, scanning the ridiculously clean floors of the hotel Ruby choose. Not a single broken tile anywhere. Better not, considering how much the room cost. Oh well, Sam wasn’t exactly sweating the expenses at this point, with it being the end of the word and all.
A glint from the corner of the room caught Sam’s eye. He walked over, picking up a cold metal keychain off the floor. Sam nearly threw it when he figured out what it was: the keychain Cas gave him at Christmas. Instead, he opened it. The little painting still lay inside, though a line ran through the middle now, the edges wrinkled from a whiskey spill. He looked at the colours inside, the blues and gold still as vivid as the first day, and swallowed away the lump in his throat.
Sam hadn’t thought about Jessica in a while. There was a time he could barely go a few minutes without thinking about her, without going through the long list of reasons he had completely failed her. Strange. Maybe he should feel guilty about that.
He wondered what she would think about Sam’s chosen path. Would she be proud that he worked so hard to take down every single one of the demons, all of those responsible for her death? Or would she stare him down, wearing that disappointed pout she brought out every time Sam told her he wasn’t good enough? One small shake of her head and Sam would do anything to make her smile again.
The keychain snapped shut, the noise echoing around the quiet room with the same finality of a judge’s gavel. It didn’t matter now. Sam was too far down this path to change.
His hand hovered over the waste bin on his way out. At the last second, he shoved the keychain deep into his pocket, trying to forget it was even there. It was cheaply made and didn’t have any real weight to it, but he could feel it sitting there as he walked outside.
Ruby’s yellow car waited for him in the parking lot. She raised an eyebrow when Sam sat in the passenger’s seat. At his nod, she peeled out of the lot, tires squealing. Ruby liked to drive fast. Sam figured going down the highway to Hell might as well be quick.
Try to go through the door, the door disappears. Try to break an angel statue, the statute returns on its proper perch, unbroken. Try to make a phone call, never get through.
The Beautiful Room was stagnant, static, unchanging, and Dean refused to remain there for the rest of the Apocalypse while his family did God knows what. He just had to find a door, that's all.
Zach talked a lot, that's for sure. Did a bunch of grand reveals, told Dean that the angels wanted the seals broken, that they wanted the end of the world. Dean read between the lines. They were the ones who let Sam out of the panic room, which meant...
He looked closer at the statue he broke, its face a proud interpretation of the Bible's angels. Running a finger along the edge, he felt a small fracture, a crack. He grinned. So, he could do some damage after all. He picked up the statue, intending to throw it at the wall but, taken over by a strong sense of protectiveness, he cradled it like it were something precious.
“Awww, did you make a new friend while I was away?” Zachariah popped up in front of Dean, his face asking to be stabbed.
Dean looked down at the statue in his hands. “Where's Cas?”
“Castiel is…” Zachariah clicked his tongue. “Somewhere else.”
Dean turned his back on the angel, placing the statue on the mantle. He took a moment to make sure it was precisely situated before he graced Zachariah with his attention. “And that means?”
“It means he's off the playing board. Alive, if that's what you're concerned about.”
“Why not just kill him?”
Zachariah’s smile twisted into a snarl. “Believe me, nothing would please me more but, alas, you seem rather attached to him. And, well, we want to keep you happy.”
Dean panned his arms wide, encompassing his gold and white prison. “This is happy?”
“Well I did offer you Ginger but it seems you are a one man man now, huh? I'll admit, that one came as a surprise.” Zachariah sauntered to the table, eyes level with the platter of burgers he conjured. He tapped one of the beer bottles beside it. “You must be hungry. Have a bite to eat. Maybe you'd be more agreeable after.” He flew away before Dean could retaliate.
He stood in silence for three heartbeats. Then, calmly and quietly, he hooked his hands under the table. There, he stared down the stack of food. He blinked, once, before reaching deep within himself, far down into the dark and buried part of him, before launching the table across the room.
Burgers flew every which way, ketchup and patties splattering against the perfect white walls. Bottles crashed and shattered, filling the room with the scent of beer. The silver platter slammed against the floor with a clatter that popped Dean's ears, one of it sides flattened due to the impact. The table cracked, the legs bent and splintered against the floor.
Above all the noise and clammer, loudest of them all, was Dean's scream. A primal roar, brought about by anger pain and misery, wretched from his throat. Dean thought, for the moment it took him to realize he heard his own echo, that he could hear someone in Hell being broken on the rack.
Dean heaved heavy, exhausted breaths. He hid his face in hands, a line of sweat forming on his brow. He took a deep breath then another, before looking up at the mess he created.
The table stood before him, perfectly level, a perfectly plated stack of burgers and perfectly unbroken beer bottles sitting atop it.
A pair of blue eyes floated above Castiel. “Uh… sorry?”
The eyes blinked. They must have been attached to something, but Castiel could not differentiate any shapes though the bright white lights.
“I confess,” the voice that must have belonged to the eyes continued, “I am unclear as to how being captured-- again-- allows you to accomplish your goals.”
“Capture was not expected.” Castiel tried to move his head, but his vision swirled in shades of white. “And what goals?”
“To protect the Earth. The preservation of free will.”
“Those...” Castiel squinted. He felt like he was spinning. “Those are my goals.”
“That's what you told me.”
“I--You--” The eyes faded for a moment, then reappeared in a few seconds. Yes. Definitely spinning.
The voice grew quiet. “It's going to be much harder this time.” A sigh. “Betraying Heaven again would be--”
Castiel's vision swam with his head full and pulsating with blood. He tried to move. He could feel his body, he was quite sure he was still in it, but none of his limbs moved.
“Where--” he said, mouth dry, “what--”
The eyes were gone again. He heard a few soft words, then felt a warm touch to the back of his head.
All of Castiel's senses returned at once. Birds chirped and a stream babbled from someone in the distance. Fresh cut grass and fragrant pollen filled Castiel's nose with the urge to sneeze. He had to squint against the glare of sunlight, in full bloom of a peaceful afternoon. When he could open his eyes wider, he was assaulted by bright green grass and multicoloured flowers, the colours too saturated and too intense.
Castiel looked at the ground, expecting to see his feet, but only shadow lay below him. He looked upwards and found the reason for his unresponsive body. From his feet to his chest, Castiel was bound by a faintly glowing rope, the end of which was tied into the branches of a large, old ash tree. Castiel spun slowly in the gentle breeze. The shadows cast by the tree kept him in the dark, not a single ray of sunshine reaching his body.
Another full rotation and Castiel could see the owner of the eyes. Hannah stared at him, her head cocked to the side, hair shining in the sun.
“This is new,” Castiel said. “Where are we?”
Hannah blinked. “Heaven.”
“Right,” Castiel said, straining to look through the haze of sunlight. He knew this place, he just couldn't quite catch the final thought. “Which one?”
Castiel looked into the sky and could make out the outline of a kite, high in the sky. Yes, right. The Eternal Tuesday Afternoon. It was Castiel's prefered Heaven to be alone with his thoughts. He should have figured the angels would have known about his fascination with this place.
“I suppose this means I'm meant to… hang around?”
Castiel's wordplay was lost on Hannah. That one would have received a fantastic groan from both Winchesters.
“A new prison.” Hannah hung her head, her face softening. “I am sorry.”
“Sorry? You have no reason to apolog--”
Hannah was gone. Castiel stared at the empty spot until his rope line forced him to turn around. It was quiet. Very quiet, this Heaven. He remembered that being one of the reasons he chose it. The other being the nature, showcasing the beauty of Creation.
Castiel spun again. Nothing changed. The birds chirped. The brook babbled.
Castiel spun again. The sun remind high in the sky, shining brightly. The shadows remained, neither becoming longer or shorter.
Castiel spun again. Castiel's head filled with blood, his body ached from lack of movement. The man in the park never once turned around, following the same narrow path over and over again.
Castiel spun again.
Castiel spun again.
Castiel spun again.
They had a place. They had a time. They had buckets of blood.
There was a lot of blood in one body. Sam hadn't appreciated that before. That poor women. She cried. She didn't even know why this had to happen. She didn't know anything.
Whatever. Sam was a monster now. Dean had said as much. What was another body on his conscience? A monster didn't let a few screams bother him.
The monster closed the trunk of the car, swallowing down the last of the blood. The monster had a mission, a purpose, and he was going to see it through.
Ruby opened the door for him, her masterpiece pushing his way ahead. The monster didn't miss the gleam of pride and eagerness in her smile. It wasn't important what that meant. Only killing Lilith mattered now.
He tried smashing a few more things. He tried screaming himself hoarse. Hell, he tried to pray (not to any angels, of course). Nothing worked. The Beautiful Room stared back at Dean, laughing at him in its perfect, unchanging state.
“Would you stop? You are the one that swore the oath, remember? I was there.”
Balthazar crossed his arms, ever present drink missing from his hand. The stark lighting in the room cast shadows over his face, hollowing out his eyes.
“I didn't agree to this,” Dean said.
Dean took a step closer. Wait. Maybe it wasn't the lighting. Balthazar's face was tired and drawn. Could angels even look like that?
“Ah yes,” Balthazar said, his head down. “Gotta read those Terms and Conditions first. That's how they get you.”
Dean took another step. “Why are you even here?”
“I…” Baltazar slight hesitation did not go unnoticed. He raised his head and his eyes widened, as if he were shocked to see someone in the room with him. “I don't…” He shook his head. “I don't know.”
Dark circles. No drink. Unable to come up with a snappy comeback. Dean moved closer, waiting for the angel to look him in the eyes. An angel with a very human looking emotion in his eyes.
“What did you do?”
“What?” Balthazar drew back so fast Dean swore he used his wings. “Nothing. Nothing. I'm only here because you wouldn't stop wrecking the place.”
Dean narrowed his eyes. The room was fine. Perfect walls. Perfect structure.
“Right,” Dean said. “Room looks fine to me.”
“You're right. Time for me to depart--”
As Balthazar turned to leave, Dean grabbed the angel by the shoulder to spin him around. It wasn't until he saw the light of power in Balthazar's eyes that he realized how badly that could have gone. The good news was that Balthazar loosened up and waited long enough for Dean to speak.
“I get it. You're a dick,” Dean's mouth said. To his credit, Balthazar only shrugged in agreement. “But you helped us before,” Dean continued. “And it seemed like you were-- well not pro-humanity but at least anti-Apocalypse.”
Baltazar slapped away Dean's hand, a short burst of power tingling up Dean's arm. “I didn't help you,” he snarled. His voice grew soft, like he hadn't meant to say the next words. “I did it for Cas.”
The silence grew loud between them, heavy with the echoing sound of Cas's name. Dean stared Baltazar down, that human emotion still on his face. Dean could place it now.
“Why'd you help him?”
“Because I am a fool, that's what.”
“I don't think that's it.”
“What are you? A therapist? Just be quiet and fulfill your role.”
Dean's heart pounded as Baltazar turned away, an arm across his body. He regretted not asking Cas for more about this guy. Too bad they had to hit the road before Cas had time to really wake up. Not enough time, never enough time.
“That's all you have to say?”
Balthazar straightened his back and held his hands at his side. Dean gasped as electricity sucked the air out of the room. “I do what I must to survive. Fulfill your role and you'll have a seat in paradise. You could have what you want. Peace with Sam. Castiel at your side. A giant pinball machine. Whatever. Just fulfill your role.”
“Which is what exactly? Wait for a bunch of innocent people to die?”
Balthazar snapped his fingers, a glass of brandy appearing in his hand. “Have faith,” he said, lifting a sardonic eyebrow over his glass.
The words hadn't even finished echoing by the time Balthazar flew away. Silence descended upon the room. It still looked the same.
Six steps forward to pick up the kite. Six steps back to launch it in the air. Six slow steps to follow the wind before it fell again.
Everything happened in six.
Six chirps from a bird before another took over. Six different colours within each flower bed. Six turns of the rope before the wind changed direction.
It went on forever. Nothing changed. The sun remained high in the sky, burning bright. The shadows of the tree never moved, keeping Castiel in the dark.
When he heard someone approach him-- seven steps-- Cas was quite sure all the blood rushing into his brain had made him finally snap. He was hallucinating. Had to be.
The newcomer's bright red hair blocked the sun, the stands on the outside glowing like a halo. She stopped directly in front of Castiel, a sad look in her eyes. Her hand was warm against his face. She took it away far too soon. He missed the physical contact, having only felt the wind for the past few--- hours? Months? Years?--- so he tried to follow her hand. Wrapped in the rope, his limbs didn't respond. They had been driven to numbness long ago.
The redhead placed her hands on the tree, searching with purpose. Castiel wanted to call out-- ask her who she was or why she was here-- but his parched throat only allowed for a croak.
The sound made the redhead turn around. “This is what they do to us, to you,” she muttered, as if her words made any sense, “just for being different.” She continued her task, hands sliding over the tree bark. She stopped just underneath a discoloured tree knot and heaved a sigh. “I guess Balthazar wasn't lying.”
Castiel spun again and the newcomer disappeared from view. He tried to twist his neck to see her but he only made his body ache anew.
There was a click--a dissonant single note amongst all the sameness-- and the redhead spoke.
“Cas. We need to talk.”
The monster walked down the hallway, stalking its prey.
Dean had tried everything. Now he was just tired. And hungry. But, when he reached out to grab one of those burgers, a hand gripped him by the shoulder and forced Dean to drop it. He was about to ask they guy what his deal was, but a hand clamped over his mouth and he was pushed back against the wall.
Finally Dean stopped long enough to see his attacker. He blinked. He blinked again but the person before him was still there. Cas stood tall, his hair standing up every which way and his plaid shirt torn and dirty. It was almost as if he dragged himself through a black hole to reach Dean. Cas put a finger against his lips.
It didn't stop Dean from speaking. His cry of “Cas!” was heavily muffled by Cas’s hand.
Cas gave Dean a soft smile before turning grave. He stood silent, looking into Dean's eyes, asking a question.
Do you trust me?
Dean nodded. Cas took his hand away and reached under his shirt to pull out a knife. The demon knife. The one Dean thought he lost. Cas raised his eyebrows, acknowledging Dean's question but unable to answer it, and got to work. Dean stood aside as Cas cut into his hand, smearing a symbol onto the wall in his own blood.
“Castiel. What are you doing?”
Cas never responded to Zachariah's appearance. Dean believed actual steam was about to come out of Zach’s ears with how red his face grew with each passing moment.
“Why do you keep screwing everything up?” Zachariah's rage manifested in fire, red sparks forming at his fingertips. “I had you! I had all of this! I won!”
“Sorry, mate.” A loud wingbeat announced Balthazar's arrival. “Change of plans.” Balthazar pulled at Zachariah's shirt collar and Dean heard something snap. “Hey, Cassie?” For the first time, Cas looked behind him, hand hovering over the finished sigil. “Catch.” A streak of silver flashed across the room.
“No!” Zachariah launched himself across the room.
Cas paid him no mind. He looked to Balthazar, hand still hovering. Balthazar nodded. Cas nodded back and slammed his hand into the sigil.
With a bright flash of light the angels were gone.
“Cas,” Dean started after his ears popped back to normal, “what--”
Cas clutched a handful of Dean's shirt. “Later. Right now we need to help Sam.”
A flash of red hair caught Dean's attention from the corner of his eye but he wasn't able to process it before he was grabbed and thrown out of the room.
Dean didn't know where they landed. They were surrounded by trees, the crickets loud in the dark. A few steps away, Cas leaned against a tree, fascinated by the object in his hand.
“Cas,” Dean said as he approached.
Cas stuffed the object in his pocket before Dean could see it. Cas faced Dean and anything they were going to say was forgotten the instant they reached each other. Cas wrapped his arms around Dean, bringing him close against his body, holding him tight. Dean returned the favour, his hands sliding under Cas's tattered shirt just to feel the warmth of his skin.
“Dean,” Cas whispered into Dean's chest. “I'm sorry.”
Dean loosened his grip enough to place two fingers under Cas's chin. He raised Cas's head. “Don’t be.”
Hands on Cas's shoulders, Dean pushed Cas against the tree, covering his mouth with his own. He held Cas close, tasted him, doing the only thing that made sense in this crazy, messed up world.
An all to short moment later, Cas became serious. “We need to stop Sam.”
Dean stepped back. “Stop him? What do you mean?”
“Lilith is the final seal, Dean.” Cas pulled at his hair. “I swear I didn't know. I didn't know."
Dean stared at Cas, unable to process anything else. The day (or days, who knows how long Dean was in that room) became too much to handle. Apparently his survival response was to become numb.
“How?” Dean asked. “I don't know where he is. Fuck, I don't even know where we are.”
Cas shuffled his feet, leaves crumbling and twigs snapping as he moved. He reached into his pocket, the item Balthazar gave him suspended on a silver sting. The vial on the end of it contained a substance inside of it that swirled and sang. Dean felt like he had seen it before.
“That is…” Dean stared.
“My grace,” Cas said. He jerked the chain upward and caught the vial in his hand, hiding it from view.
“Grace? Wait. You don't mean?”
“The part that makes an angel.” Castiel looked at his hand, eyes dark. “Could make me an angel.”
Dean tied to step closer to Cas but Cas moved back, closing his eyes. “Do you even want that?”
Cas's eyes snapped open, and his jaw dropped. He recovered quickly, his face carefully blank. “That hardly matters.” Cas let go, the chain jingling free, grace bright in the darkness. “My desires against the fate of the world.”
“With this we could do find Sam, maybe stop him. We would never make it on time without it. And the power of an angel would assist you greatly in a fight.”
“Cas.” This time, Dean didn't let Cas move away. “That's not what I asked.”
Cas looked up, his eyes bright and shining in the glare from the vial. “I won't make you choose between me and your brother. I would never make you do that.”
“What are you talking about?”
Cas placed a finger against Dean's temple. “I would do it again-- all of it-- for a chance to be with you.”
“What are you talking about? There's still time.” Dean hadn't fully pieced together what Cas was saying, but the sad smile on Cas's lips filled Dean with a sense of dread.
“Close your eyes,” said Cas.
Dean obeyed. What else could he do? Cas placed a soft, chaste kiss against Dean lips. Then, after three long breaths, Dean heard the sound of glass breaking. The sound should have been quiet, suppressed by the soft forest floor, but Dean heard it loud and clear. Dean jumped.
Castiel watched as the grace swirled around him-- a pitiful amount, really, but it would be enough-- and wanted to scream.
It was necessary, he knew, because they needed to escape the forest. They needed to save Sam. They needed to stop the destruction of the world.
That knowledge did not alleviate his fear.
He remembered ripping out his grace, the way it made him bleed and scream. He knew he would never have done it without good reason, even if he no longer remembered what the reason was.
He did not really want to be an angel, not anymore. Humanity had taught him a lot. It had taken a lot of work to become who he was today. He was content with the person his experiences had changed him into, how it brought him close to the strange little Winchester family, how it allowed him to protect humanity from the shadows, acting as a sort of hunter.
He did not know what reaccepting his grace would do to him. Only humans could feel emotions as strongly as they did. The lows were low, Castiel knew, but the highs, the moments spent with those he loved, made it worth it. Made everything worth it.
He needed to protect those moments. For everyone.
The grace swirled around him, lighting up the night. He swallowed down his fears and beckoned it forward. The grace surged toward him, flowing around his body until the blue-white light surrounded him, blotting out his body. He straightened his posture and took a deep breath, then opened his mouth.
With a scream of joy the grace flowed into his body like strangely coloured water, and Castiel dropped to his knees. The leftover parts and pieces of power within Castiel greeted the new arrival as an old friend and, with a shrill, sharp note, the empty spaces within Castiel were filled.
Castiel stood, slowly and carefully, as his body opened. Lightning stuck and Castiel felt the scars on his back rip open. His wings pushed through the skin, their only physical presence were the shadows cast upon the trees, but their wide, familiar weight caused Castiel to stagger until he found his balance. His shoulders ached as they unfurled, the skin on his back raw. The pain passed in but a moment; the grace flowed over his body, repairing the damage. Castiel released a breath.
This feeling. He knew this feeling. He had chased it all his human life. He had sought it out, using a needle, a pill, a drink, each time failing to capture it.
Now, however, he was not so sure he wanted it.
Castiel opened his eyes.
Just a moment ago, the darkness of night hid the forest from view. With the grace setting within him, Castiel could now see the whole forest. He could see the path of flowers, the movement of the bees earlier in the day, the different shades of green on each leaf. He could see it all.
Castiel could see Dean. Dean stood still in the middle of the forest, his eyes still squeezed shut but the vibration in his body betraying his impatience. It made Castiel smile.
Smile. Huh. Castiel was always told that proper angels did not have emotions. The more time Castiel spent talking to angels, the more Castiel felt that was a lie. Angels could feel emotions just fine. They just never learned how to cope with them.
Castiel stood in front of Dean, placing one hand on his shoulder, the other on his face. Dean opened his eyes and Castiel stared into the green.
Castiel knew where they needed to go now, his angelic knowledge, always there but muted by his human perception, solidifying as he absorbed his grace. Before Dean could finish his sentence, Castiel beat his wings and whisked them both out of the forest.
Warning: It's the end of season four and that means Cas gets blown up. He'll be back in the next chapter.
The question died in Dean's mouth when he realized they were no longer in a forest. He and Cas were now in a house. A shitty house with a floor covered in paper and liquor bottles. A collection of Supernatural novels lay behind the moth eaten couch. Dean stomped on them. The crunch satisfied.
Chuck hung up the phone, staring at them in that scared jackrabbit way of his, telling them that they weren't in this story. But, hey, it's not like the Winchesters ever really stuck to a plan anyway. Screw destiny. Destiny sucks. Terrible concept, even worse name for a stripper.
Cas went straight to the point, marching over to Chuck and demanding answers. Towering over the stuttering Chuck, Cas crackled with electric energy. That was literal. Whatever power Cas absorbed flew around him. Dean couldn't decide if Cas didn't quite have a handle on it yet or if he used it to be intimidating. Likely both.
Saint Mary's Convent. They got their answer. Leave it to the devil to hang out with a bunch of religious chicks.
As soon as Chuck said the name, his whole house began to shake and the room filled with white light. Cas looked up, his eyes fixed at a bright point Dean couldn't focus on.
Well, the arrival of a pissed off archangel meant they were headed in the right “fuck destiny” direction. The bad news was there was no way in Hell, Heaven or Earth that Dean would be able to fight off an archangel.
Cas reached out to Dean, shouting to be heard over the archangel's shrieks. “I'll hold him off! I'll hold them all off! Just stop Sam!”
Dean wanted to ask how the fuck Cas was going to do that, considering he'd only been an angel again for all of five minutes. Dean wasn't stupid. He knew Cas didn't have a chance.
Cas must have known, too. He grabbed Dean by the shoulders, crashing their lips together in what was supposed to be a kiss. Then, before Dean had time to talk Cas out of staying behind, Dean was encased in silence.
Saint Mary's Convent was dark, empty, and Dean was utterly alone.
Empty liquor bottles clattered against the table. The room filled with a bright white light. The archangel screamed his arrival.
Castiel began to regret not keeping his blade. He reached behind him, hand hitting one of the many Supernatural books in the room. Prophecy as a pulp novel. Well, hopefully fictional stories is all they would ever be now. Too bad he would never have a chance to read it.
The room became too loud, too bright, but Castiel still felt the hand on his shoulder. He stared down at that hand-- Chuck’s hand-- for a few precious seconds before glancing up at Chuck’s face.
Castiel was unsure of what he saw there. Chuck’s face was highlighted by the archangel's light, a slight smile on his lips. He nodded, blinked, then looked directly at Castiel without a trace of his earlier fear. In reaction to Castiel’s confused expression, Chuck snatched his hand away, took a few steps back and pressed his lips together. Castiel saw his lips move, but he could not hear anything over the sound of the archangel’s descent.
Castiel grabbed the book and threw it at the archangel. It flew end over end towards the coalescence of light, shirtless models on the front cover-- who looked nothing like the real Sam and Dean-- never breaking their stoic stare. The back cover with a vague approximation of a Woman in White gleamed in the angel's grace. The book never even hit the wall before it disintegrated.
It was the principle of the thing. Castiel smirked at the archangel's angry wail. Hopefully Castiel's last action bought the brothers enough time because as soon as the archangel formed in the material realm, Castiel was done.
Castiel did not feel much when he was ripped apart. Small mercies. The last thing he saw was Raphael's wide and terrible face.
Sam breathed, trying to bring his heart back to normal. Lilith's dead limbs splayed halfway over the altar, her blood dripping down onto the floor. The blood swirled and Sam realized what it meant.
Blood. It was always the blood. Sam was strong. Too bad he became a monster in order to do it. He never wanted this.
Sam broke the final seal. Sam broke the world.
Ruby's 'socially conscious’ body lay not far from Lilith's, a dark mirror of her pose. Stabbed by her own knife. What a way to go.
Dean had returned. After everything Dean had returned. Not that it mattered much. They were both trapped in the convent, Lucifer's light coming up from below.
They held onto each other because, really, what else could they do?
Somehow, they ended up on a plane. Once second, Sam and Dean had resigned themselves to death. The next, they watched as the devil broke free from above as the plane fought to stay aloft.
Wow. If Dean hadn't been afraid of flights before, he certainly would be now. Sam reached for the oxygen mask, starting to understand how Dean felt about flying.
As soon as they made it back on the ground, Dean jacked the first unlocked car he found and drove them to the last place he saw Cas. It wasn't a pretty sight. Chuck's house was a mess, to make an understatement of an understatement, and, well, Cas was there. Kind of. According to Chuck, Cas exploded.
Dean didn't say much, but his eyes kept drifting over the wall smeared in blood. He didn't have to say anything. Both of them were trying not to think about it. It looked like it hurt. Sam hoped it was fast, at least.
And now Sam had yet another body added to the count. His friend. And with Cas, a part of his brother was gone, too.
They kept moving. They had too. The angels were after them. The demons were after them. The humans caught in between didn't even know the end of the world was well and truly on its way.
At least they didn't know it was Sam's fault.
He was dry now, cleaned out of his corruption when he and Dean were put in that plane. That was good.
However, he couldn't help but wonder if that clarity and power would be of use now.
No, he had to stop that though before it gained life. He had to make it up to the world, to Cas, to his brother somehow and that somehow wasn't going to be coming from a demon's neck.
Chuck managed to help them in an unconventional way, which Sam was never going to talk about. Ever. At least now they had an idea of how to begin their fight against the devil: find the sword of an archangel. Michael’s sword.
Too bad the demons got a head start finding the sword, using Bobby's body to spy on Sam and Dean. Sam didn't know how long the demon was there, if Bobby wasn't their Bobby the whole time or not, but he knew he was unable to forget the words that came out of Bobby's mouth. True or not, Sam felt he deserved it.
There was no chance to figure out the truth. They dropped Bobby off at the nearest hospital, his wound dripping blood onto the floor, and Dean rushed out after the demons, dragging Sam along. Sam didn't want to leave Bobby behind, even though they both knew there was no time, because Sam wouldn’t, couldn't, handle yet another body on his conscience.
The last they saw of Bobby was him being dragged by a bunch of scrub clad professionals down the dark halls of the building.
By the time they made it to the storage lockup that was supposed to have the sword, the demons were already dead. So, instead they had to deal with the angels. What an improvement. They were outmatched. Sam fell to his broken knees, Zachariah deriving a perverse pleasuring in torturing him. Sam gasped for a breath he couldn’t take and wondered why the angels hated him so much.
At first, Sam thought the burst of light was a result of oxygen deprivation. The fuzzy outline of Zachariah’s head turned and Sam concluded that the pleased smile he saw on Zachariah's face was a trick of his fading vision.
Sam didn’t know what happened after that. He awoke with a deep gasp which scorched his lungs with much needed oxygen. A burnt out angel vessel lay on the floor across from Sam, his hand wrapped around his own blade buried in his chest. A few more deep, greedy gasps and Sam struggled to his feet alongside his brother. Dean stood with his arms loose and ready, as if he were expecting another fight.
“You two need to be more careful,” Castiel said.
Cas looked a lot different than the last time Sam saw him. He stood before them in a cheap suit, his tie on backwards, and a wrinkled trench coat. Sam recognized the coat, but the one he remembered was old, tattered, and faded. This one looked almost new. The clothes were different, sure, but Cas himself seemed changed, a strange sort of electricity emulating from his body.
“Are you really here?” Dean asked, rooted to the spot.
“I’m really here,” said Cas. The fondness in his eyes when he looked at Dean remained the same.
Dean closed the distance between him and Cas, wrapping his arms around Cas’s shoulders.
“Never do that again,” Dean said, the words muffled by Cas’s coat.
Cas replied, but Sam did his best not to hear it, walking over to the entrance of the storage compartment. Dean and Cas needed some privacy and Sam felt like the odd man out. He busied himself looking through a line of lockers, each one more empty than the last, and tried to keep his thoughts from spinning out of control.
Dean was a vessel for an angel. Not just any angel. Michael. To think, had Sam heard this a year ago he would have thought it to be a blessing. Now, he knew it would only bring more pain.
Sam didn't know where he fit in all this cosmic planning, he only knew the end of the world was his fault. He was the one to bring Lucifer, the fucking devil, into the world. Every part of Sam wanted to fix it, to fight until he had nothing left, but he also knew that last time he tried he walked down a blood soaked path that irrevocably changed him. He didn't know where to go from here.
A ringing phone saved Sam from waiting any longer. He heard Dean say it was a call from the hospital where they left Bobby. He exited the storage locker to take the call, breezing right past Sam. Even though Sam stayed as still as possible, trying his best to merge with the wall, he was still a little hurt when Dean didn't even glance his way.
Sam never heard a single footstep. When he turned around he saw Castiel, standing slightly too close for comfort, as he always did. Cas scanned Sam's face and Sam fought the urge to wipe it with his sleeve or check if something was in his teeth. Castiel stared at Sam, blank eyed, for long enough that Sam readied himself for yet another person to tell him their disappointment.
“Sam,” Cas said, this time with a relieved sigh, the tension in his body visibly leaving him. “It is so good to see you.”
“I--” Sam blinked. “What?”
“You're you again. No more darkness.” Cas put a hand on Sam's shoulder, one of his genuine half-smiles on his face.
“You-- you do know about what I did, right?”
Cas paused, taking a moment to parse out Sam's words. “Oh.” He shrugged. “We've all done things we're not proud of while under the influence.”
“Cas you--” Sam wiped at eyes, then pat Castiel's hand. “You really are something else.”
“Perhaps I understand a little about what you've gone through,” Cas said. He headed towards the door, back to Sam. “We best be going before Dean gets too impatient.”
Sam swallowed down the lump in his throat and cleared his throat. He didn't deserve kindness. He turned to follow Cas. There was a question on his mind, burning him with the need for an answer.
“Hey, Cas?” Sam asked Cas's retreating form. Cas paused directly in front of the door, not turning around. “Were you really dead?”
“What brought you back?”
Castiel walked through the door without a word.
Hospital life did not change Bobby's usual attitude. If anything, he became even more ornery. The doctor told him he would never walk again. Bobby made him run out of the room.
Castiel stood in the corner of Bobby's hospital room, standing still for the first time since he regained his grace. The rest of the team were talking but Castiel focused inward, trying to listen to the song of his body. There was not a lot. He was cut off from the Host, from the power of Heaven, so he would not be performing more miracles for a while.
Resurrection had taken a lot out of him, finding the Winchesters even more. He did not remember how or where he woke up, using his grace to locate the brothers’ souls. Flying was harder than he remembered, but he made it in time.
In time to kill one of his brothers. He had never done that before. Or, at least, he did not remember. It bothered him more than he wanted to admit. He never wanted to hurt anyone.
Castiel hung his head. His last act-- warding the Winchesters from angel view-- finally sent him over the edge. Perhaps he should not have gone for the ribs.
To put it simply: Castiel was tired. Though, now, he did not know if he were capable of sleep.
Bobby was not impressed with Castiel's explanation as to why he could not heal his legs, to say the least. Castiel attributed Bobby's reaction to shock. However, there was some truth to Bobby's words. Castiel was not sure how much use he was without his full power.
“Don't listen to Bobby,” Dean said as they walked into the motel room, chosen due to its proximity to the hospital, “he’s just cranky 'cause the nurses found his flask.”
Dean threw their bags, none of which he let Castiel carry, on the floor and turned on the light. He shook his head at the snake patterned wallpaper but otherwise walked into the room like any other.
Sam stayed at the hospital to 'keep Bobby company,’ but even Castiel knew what he really meant.
“He's not wrong,” Castiel said, “what use am--”
Dean grabbed the lapels of Castiel's coat cutting Castiel off. “Nope. You're not doing that.”
Any other protests were cut off when Dean gripped Castiel's tie. He yanked it, pulling Castiel in for a kiss. Castiel put his hands on Dean's hips, bringing him closer. He leaned in, seeking out Dean's warmth, Dean's skin, Dean's heart. Dean pushed down the shoulders of Castiel's trench coat, laughing at his failed attempts to get it down past his elbows.
“I don't know what's up with the new look,” Dean said, “but it's got way too many layers.”
“You're one to talk,” Castiel said, dropping his coat to the floor. “I've seen you wear two coats before.”
“It was cold!” Dean made quick work at removing Castiel's suit jacket, the tie not far behind. “Besides, I am a gift totally worth unwrapping.”
Castiel's shirt was gone; Dean's mouth hungry for skin. “You're right.”
In one swift movement, Castiel took them from the entrance to the bed. Dean grinned as Castiel removed their remaining clothes. When they were finally stripped bare, they slowed their frantic movements.
Dean ran his hands over the parts of Castiel he could reach, tracing over the new scars and old tattoos. He rolled them both on their sides until they were chest to chest. Dean continued his rediscovery of Castiel's body, his touch lingering on the lines down Castiel's back. He did not speak, but Castiel could see his eyes shining when he pressed their foreheads together.
Castiel returned the favour, his soft, unrushed touch setting on the scar on Dean's shoulder. They stayed like that, neither in a hurry to move on, and breathed.
“Don't do that to me again, okay?” Dean whispered, wrapping a leg over Castiel waist, his hands bringing them closer together.
“Okay,” Castiel breathed out the word, allowing Dean to take him over, gasping in relief when Dean finally-- finally-- started to move his hips.
They took their time, savouring the moment, taking what they needed when they could. They held each other as close as their bodies allowed, pushed and pulled as their bodies demanded, and tasted each other until they gasped for breath.
Castiel whispered Enochian words of love and devotion until he lost himself. The only word he remembered was Dean's name, muttering it over and over until it became an endless prayer. The rhythm of their bodies reached a crescendo and Castiel gave himself to Dean.
They held each other close as their hearts slowed, spent and satisfied. If Castiel had any questions, any worries, about how his angelhood would affect his emotions, he need not worry now. He watched the rise and fall of Dean's chest as he breathed in his sleep and knew that he would do anything to stop the Apocalypse, to never allow the angels to take Dean away from him.
“I ain't cutting you out, boy. Not ever.”
Bobby's words echoed in Sam's head as he exited the hospital. He stayed with Bobby for a while until the man kicked him out. Sure, they had a good life-affirming talk but Bobby was in a particularly cantankerous mood. Not that Sam could blame him.
All Sam knew was that he was so not going to the motel. He walked the dark streets near the hospital. He wandered, laptop bag at his side, his path aimless. The streets were quiet at night. The few pedestrians Sam encountered walked fast, eager to make it home.
A lone coffee shop remained open, the barista eyeing Sam as the door chime announced his entry. She gave Sam a wide customer service smile, which turned genuine when he slipped her a five dollar tip for his simple coffee. He set up his laptop at an empty table, ignoring the only other patron doing the same, and started searching for the devil.
The problem with such a broad search was that there appeared to be an infinite amount of information, especially on a subject like the Bible. Sam had no idea where to start or even how to filter out all the noise.
He was halfway through an article that made a compelling argument that angels were really aliens when the barista slid a bag full of cookies across Sam's table.
“To make up for the fact I need to kick you out in a few minutes,” she said.
“Okay,” Sam said. He started packing up, but the girl did the move away.
“Hey,” she said, waiting for Sam to look up before she continued, her hands smoothing down her apron, “are you okay?”
Sam peeked into the pastry bag, the cookies smothered in bright pink icing. He closed the laptop, allowing him to delay in his answer. He should lie. She was a kind girl, her long blonde hair piled on her head making her look young, though Sam guessed she was college aged. The last thing she needed was any of Sam's problems. All she should worry about was her grades and finding the best party, not talking to the guy who ended the world.
“No,” Sam said, trying to soften the blow of his unexpected answer with a smile.
“I'm sorry,” she said. “I, uh, hoped those helped.” She pointed at the bag in Sam's hand.
Sam tried to smile again, though he didn’t think he was successful. “Yeah. They were, you know, very sweet.” The barista cracked a smile at Sam's words. “What's your name?”
“Well, Abigail,” Sam said, stuffing his laptop onto the bag, “Thank you. I should let you close up.”
Abigail tucked a wayward hair behind her ear. “You know, I'll be out of here in just a few minutes, if you want to keep talking.”
Sam's hands stilled over the garbage can for a moment before he threw out his paper cup. He hadn't even considered that she would think that way.
“Flattering.” Sam knew he spoke too quickly but he kept going anyway. “But no, I don't think I'm what you need. Thanks for cookies. Bye!”
For some reason he thought it was a great idea to wave at her as he left. She blinked rapidly, and he saw her mouth “what the--” before he disappeared around the corner, eager to be out of view.
Wow. He handled that like a champ. The bag crinkled when he opened it, the crumbs of crushed cookies falling into the pavement. He ate one of them, the sugar coating his mouth and the icing sticking to his teeth. They were terrible and the first thing he had eaten in over a day. He finished the whole bag before returning to the hospital, thankful for Abigail.
She reminded him that there was more to the world than his problems, more than his pain, his guilt. People were innocent. There were so many others like her out there, who helped others in need out of the goodness of their hearts. Sam had put those people in danger and Sam was going to need to keep them safe.
Dean and Cas arrived more than a little late to the hospital, but no one said anything. Dean's grin said it all. They stole a couple chairs from the hallway so they could sit near Bobby’s hospital bed. Sam’s contorted body was passed out on the visitor’s couch and Dean didn’t want to wake him yet, though Sam was going to have a massive crick in his neck when he woke up. Better than no sleep at all, Dean figured.
No one said anything. In fact, Bobby didn’t say anything at all. He kept glancing at Cas, as if he were a strange shaped bomb Bobby expected to go off. Cas paid no attention to it, sitting in a chair with his arms wrapped around his lifted leg, chin on his knee. His eyes were open, but unfocused, and Dean knew he was trying to gather his thoughts, trying to make sense of the last few days. Dean didn't blame him. Dean was lost, too.
Bobby kept staring at Cas. It was weird. Dean tried to catch Bobby's eye but he just looked away again, focused on the muted daytime program running television, and chewed his bottom lip.
“So,” Bobby started as soon as Dean opened his mouth to break the silence, “how’s the mojo?”
Three slow blinks later, Cas figured out Bobby’s question was directed at him. He slumped even further down his chair, hiding his face. “Bobby, I told you I cannot heal you. I’m very sorry.”
Bobby’s head jerked back and his mouth dropped open. An awkward moment of tension passed, long enough for Dean to start planning an escape route, before Bobby spoke. “Right. Let’s blame that on the amount of doctor’s poking at me, yeah?” Cas must have nodded or something, not that Dean could see, because Bobby kept talking. “Anyway. Trying to figure out how angel-y you are. If we can, you know, use that.” Bobby clamped his mouth shut, eyes darting back and forth between Cas and Dean.
Sure, Bobby was a cranky old bastard, but Dean could read him well enough. “Aww, you’re worried.”
“Shut up. We gotta know what we can do.”
“That’s so cute!”
Bobby threw up his hands, launching the TV remote across the room. He grumbled under his breath. Cas gave Dean a tiny smile while Bobby was distracted.
The remote clattered to a stop next to Sam, who let out a hilarious snort before jolting awake. He sounded like an ill-tempered horse. Some days he acted like one. After untangling his giant limbs, Sam rubbed his eyes and peered at the room, jumping when he realized three people stared at him.
Saved by the bell. Or cell, in this case. The ringing came from Bobby’s beside table. Everyone stared at it for a few rings while Bobby strained to reach the bottom drawer.
“Don’t mind me,” he said. “I’ll just stand right up and get that.”
Which was enough of a hint for Cas to fish out the phone and hand it to Bobby. Bobby snatched it away and proceed to have a disjointed and confusing conversation. It did, however, provide the Winchesters with their next move. Something was going on in Colorado.
Once they gathered up all the information they could, Bobby kicked Sam and Dean out of his hospital room. Bobby asked Cas to stay behind, so Sam and Dean waited in the car. Sam still wasn’t talking to Dean a whole lot and Dean wasn’t all that interested in hearing about Sam’s guilt. Dean wasn’t sure he ever would. They sat in silence.
Cas showed up a little while later, a thoughtful look on his face. Somehow the Impala became even more quiet with three people in it.
Great. Just great. There really were actual Horsemen of the Apocalypse out there causing havoc and mayhem. Sam thought they were up against demons, enough that their blood looked so very enticing. He may have dried out, but Sam still felt that craving, that need. He would ask Cas about it, if that feeling ever went away, but Sam knew the answer wouldn't be the one he wanted to hear.
The Horseman's power worked on angels, as well. Or at least the semi-celestial being Castiel currently was. Cas had seen demons, too.
Cas had become even more quiet which, for someone like him, was a difficult feat. Sam knew Dean was worried about Cas, though Dean was always worried about Cas, but neither brother did much about it. In the end times, all of them were run down and exhausted. Cas could still work, could still fight, and that was about all they could ask of anyone.
Sam wanted to leave. He wanted nothing more than to leave behind Dean's disappointed looks, the dead bodies, the call of his blood, and live out a peaceful, middling life. He kept thinking about it over and over again on their latest trip to Bobby's house, oscillating between yes and no with each turn of the Impala's wheels.
He hadn't made up his mind by the time they reached the door. Sam figured he'd sleep on it.
The last time they went to Bobby’s, Cas had them disturb some of the warding before he could make it through the door. At first, Cas wasn’t going to do anything, but no one was going to leave Cas outside. Balthazar wasn’t kidding about all the warding Cas put up. Sam had to dig out a ladder to reach one of them hidden underneath an old, dusty chandelier in one of the attic rooms Bobby never used. The house ended up slightly more angel friendly and they tried to make it more friendly for Bobby’s wheelchair as well. Judging by the amount of new holes in the drywall around the corners of the house, Bobby was still learning how to handle the new equipment.
They returned to a new pile of books, a new pile of information, and tried to find anything that could help them. It was overwhelming. Dean managed to bail out of research, because of course he would, citing his need for more ‘hunter’s helper.’ Bobby grunted at him in response, and Dean promised to bring back more rotgut. At Bobby’s approving nod, Dean left without another sound.
Sam never said anything because he and Dean were still figuring out what page they were on and Sam didn’t want to start any unnecessary conflict, especially over something stupid. The person Sam would expect to say anything didn’t react. Cas sat amongst a pile of books, staring down at the same page for what seemed like hours. He didn’t even raise his head when Dean walked past.
The day ended once again without any progress and Sam trudged off to bed wondering if he was helping at all. He wanted to run away, hide away in some dark corner of the world, and live out the rest of his days forgotten, unable to hurt anyone else. At the same time, he knew that this was his mess and the end of the world wasn’t going to stop just because Sam left it.
He tossed and turned all night, the scant amount of sleep he caught leaving him awake with the impression of blonde hair between his fingers, the smell of sweet perfume lingering on his skin, and soft seductive promises whispered in his ear.
Eventually he gave up on finding any rest. He headed for the library, figuring he might as well attempt to be productive while awake. On his way there, Sam found Cas in the kitchen, sitting at the table with art supplies piled on it. It was possible it was the first time Cas moved all day. He still sat among the books when Sam went to bed.
If Cas noticed Sam’s presence, he didn’t make it known. His head bent low over the table, he applied a laser focus as he swirled black paint over his current canvas. He went around and around in a circle and, the closer Sam got to the painting, the more the swirls gave an impression of a black hole.
Sam sat across from Cas, and Cas never looked up. “Shouldn’t you be resting up or something?”
“Angels don’t sleep,” Cas said, brush sweeping across the painting, “but you do.”
“Yeah, well, sometimes it’s not that simple.”
Castiel had no interest in continuing the conversation. The only noise he made was with his paintbrush.
“Cas?” Sam spoke after a few beats. Cas didn’t say anything, but he didn’t stop Sam either. Sam took it as a go-ahead. “You’ve been pretty quiet lately.”
“I am quiet. As people are eager to point out.”
“Fine. But that’s not what I’m saying.”
“Then what are you saying?” Cas spoke to the painting, his voice low, and brought his brush down the centre of the canvas to create an angry line.
“That you’ve been in an entirely different world since-- since you got back.”
Cas threw the brush. It bounced off the canvas and onto the floor. Cas sighed and leaned back in his chair, looking small.
“I’m…” He stilled for a moment, searching for the right word. “Remembering.”
“How much I have forgotten.”
Apparently, the explanation ended there. “I have no idea what that means.”
“Neither do I,” said Cas.
Cas stood. The chair legs dragged across the floor, the noise loud in the silent house. Cas looked down at Sam’s bewildered face and blinked out of existence. Sam shot out of his seat, staring into each corner of the empty room. Castiel wasn’t in the kitchen anymore. Sam whipped around and saw Castiel looming over Bobby’s makeshift bed. The old man snored away his whiskey, not moving a muscle when Castiel lay a hand on his forehead. After a moment of stillness, Castiel shook his head and disappeared again.
Sam heard the wings when Castiel appeared behind him. Sam turned to see Castiel standing next to the sink, his back straight and hands at his sides, eyes impossibly bright.
Cas slumped and the light in his eyes faded. He stared down at the paintbrush, which had rolled under the kitchen table. “Why would He bring me back like this?”
“He?” Sam took a step closer to Cas. Just one. “You mean God?”
“Wait. You think God brought you back?”
“I’ve considered the facts. How else would you explain my resurrection? You and Dean ending up on that plane? How you were purged of the demon blood?”
“Of course I wondered!” Sam raised his voice loud enough for Bobby to let out an annoyed snort before going back to his slumber. He continued, in a lower voice, “I just wouldn’t expect you to bring up God. ”
“I thought you had faith.”
“I do. Or, at least I believe. But you’ve made it pretty clear that you don’t.”
“I don’t?” Cas sounded genuinely surprised. He turned his back on Sam, leaning over the sink. “I… don’t?” Cas stared at the back of his hands, then flipped them over. “That feels true.”
Sam stared at Cas’s back, trying to make sense of his muttered words. Cas’s theory wasn’t wrong. In fact, it was downright plausible considering all the crazy shit the Winchesters have dealt with the last few years. Had anyone other than Cas brought it up, Sam would have taken it into consideration, adding it to the pile of ongoing theories. Dean would have scoffed, but that was Dean, and even he would have to admit that they should look for any allies. Even someone as unreachable as God.
The theory didn’t bother Sam. What bothered Sam was that Cas seemed completely taken aback by Sam's reply. Did Cas completely forget that part of himself? Cas had told Sam, all those years ago in an asylum as a piece of grace floated in between them, that having faith was a good thing, even if he didn’t have any himself.
“I took your memory once,” Cas turned around and leaned against the sink. “Did I ever apologise for that?”
“You did,” Sam said. He moved closer to Cas, only a few steps away now.
“Did I?” Cas tilted his head, his eyes focused on something Sam couldn’t see. “I don’t feel I truly comprehended what a violation that must have been.”
“You gave it back.” Sam was one step away now. “Cas, are you alright?”
Castiel focused on Sam now. The depths of the universe stared at Sam through Castiel’s eyes.
“I…” Castiel gasped and blinked, the universe retreating. “Please excuse me."
Sam blinked and Castiel was gone. He wasn’t in the house this time. Sam checked every room, careful not to wake the sleeping beasts. When Sam returned to the kitchen, he picked up the paintbrush, placing it on the canvas left behind. Black and white, it lacked Cas’s usual use of colour. Sam followed the swirls of paint down, down, down, until all he found was a hole of emptiness, a profound sense of loss.
“Ah, thank you.”
Cas reached for the brush, sitting back at the table like he hadn’t gone missing for the better part of an hour.
“Dude. What the hell?”
Castiel dipped the brush in white paint. “I heard whispers.” He drew a circle around the edge. “I was mistaken. There was nothing there.”
“You-- You can’t just get up and leave like that.”
“If something happened to you-- again -- what the fuck would I tell Dean?”
That made Cas pause. He stilled for a moment but then returned to his work, the brush swirling with white paint now. The whole thing turned a muddled grey.
“I understand,” Castiel said. “I will consult the group as much as possible.”
Sam was dismissed after that, as any further attempt at conversation was ignored. Sam returned to his room, running the conversation over and over in his mind.
That was weird, right? Even by Cas standard that was weird. Sam felt like he only held part of the conversation, the rest of it hidden in Castiel’s head. Sam made a mental note to talk to Bobby about it to see if he was being oversensitive. He didn’t want to make Dean worry any more than he needed.
Sam fell asleep, more out of pure exhaustion than any effort on his part, with the thought on his mind. A lot of things were put on the backburner when he rolled over in bed and saw Jessica looking back at him with Lucifer’s eyes.
Maybe it said a lot about Dean’s mental state that, when Sam stopped Dean in the hallway that morning to say Lucifer told Sam he was his One True Vessel, all Dean could say was “huh.”
Which didn’t impress Sam all that much, who scoffed as he pushed past Dean on his way the shower. Oh well. A guy could only take so many earth-shattering revelations before he became numb to them all.
Dean woke up alone when he didn’t expect it, so he searched for Cas. He found him in the kitchen, art supplies taking over the table, staring down the coffee pot like it had all the answers to their current predicament. Well, caffeine was a great motivator when it was hard to start the day.
Dean watched as Cas grabbed a new bag of coffee out of the cupboard, struggling with the seal. He pulled at the bag a few times then paused, tightened his grip, and ripped it open. Coffee grinds flew everywhere, the two halves of the bag still in Cas’s hands. Cas glared down at the mess like it were a particularly snarky demon.
Dean couldn’t keep his laughter in check. He walked up behind Cas, leaving footprints in his wake, and wrapped his arms around Cas's waist. Cas dropped the remnants of the bag and leaned into Dean, his hands covering Dean’s own.
“I appear to have forgotten my own strength.” Dean buried his face in Cas’s shoulder, shaking with laughter. “Well, I’m glad you find this amusing.”
As his laughter subsided, Dean tightened his grip on Cas. The whole damn world was weird and messed up but he had this, he had Cas, and sometimes he was pretty sure it was all that kept him sane. He kissed Cas’s neck, overwhelmed by the fact that he still had this, he still could hold onto Cas. A Cas who had died not long ago, a Cas that became an angel again just before that, a Cas who was still here, with him.
“I love you.”
Dean didn’t mean to say it, not out loud, but he had been thinking it for a while, now. Cas stilled, allowing the words hang in the air for a moment, giving Dean a chance to take them back. Dean didn’t. They were true. And, after everything they had been through, there was no need to hold back anymore.
Cas reached behind him, tangling a hand in Dean’s hair. He looked over his shoulder and tugged at Dean’s hair so he couldn’t hide his face. Castiel smiled, an eyebrow quirked.
And, fuck, Dean knew he made Cas watch that movie enough times that he could totally make that reference but he was so goddamn sincere that Dean wasn’t entirely sure it was on purpose. Either way, it worked. Dean spun Cas around, draped his arms over his shoulder and smiled wide.
“Come here you giant, goddamned nerd,” Dean said just before leaning in for a kiss.
Dean sort of forgot where they stood. Things could have grown much more interesting if Bobby hadn’t wheeled in behind them.
“What the fuck did you do to my kitchen?
Warning: We're going to be earning that memory loss tag from here on in.
The Winchesters kept fighting because that was what they did. Castiel stayed with them, battling new enemies during their quest to end the Apocalypse. Each passing day, each battle fought, each time they won, Castiel became more and more aware that he was missing something.
They fought a god named Leshii, who took the form of something called a 'Paris Hilton,’ whatever that meant. When she tried to find Castiel's 'idol,’ as she called it, she could not see a physical form. All she felt was Castiel's anger at this idol, whatever it was, and she seemed truly taken aback when she realized that.
Castiel did not know what this idol was supposed to be himself. He wondered if he knew before.
Before. Before Heaven. Before Earth. Before resurrection. The more he tried to think back on his life, the harder the images became to grasp. They were foggy, a muddled grey like his last attempt at painting, and Castiel could not remember what was behind the fog in the first place.
They ran into something called the Antichrist after that. Castiel felt like he should have known about that. At least, Sam was astonished that Castiel never figured out what they were up against. After that case, Castiel noticed that even Dean gave him long, thoughtful looks.
Dean. Castiel felt more whole around Dean. It was easier to find himself again in Dean's eyes, his voice, his body, and Castiel began to suspect Dean's support was what kept him from falling to pieces. Anytime Castiel started to feel himself slip away, he went to Dean and patched himself together.
The difficulty came at night, when the humans lay in their beds, their bodies finally giving in to their exhaustion. It was quiet. When it was quiet, Castiel could no longer distract himself with conversation and busywork. When it was quiet, Castiel had to listen to his thoughts. When it was quiet, Castiel heard the song.
It felt familiar, but Castiel could not hum along, could not attribute the sound to a time or place. It made his head buzz and his fingers ache. His wings twitched in anticipation of flight. The song had grown louder over the past few weeks, the sound becoming clearer each night they stopped to rest. Castiel tried to ignore it, but the crawling sensation under his skin demanded he move, demanded he take action.
Castiel left the motel room with a single beat of his wings, leaving behind the Winchesters who slept off their latest clash, one with a poker playing witch. He went as far as the motel parking lot, the few parked cars glinting in the moonlight. He closed his eyes and focusred on the sound.
He followed it, moving forward in a rapid beat. Each stop brought him closer, each rest allowing him to close in on the source.
Castiel landed in an empty warehouse, the circle of water on the floor showing him the reflection of a man in a trench coat. He had to blink before he realized he looked at himself. Castiel moved about the building, trying to pinpoint the song. It had to be here, Castiel knew, but he could not find the source.
A man appeared before Castiel. The newcomer crossed his arms, staring Castiel down for a long moment. The man radiated power, his song blotting out any words he may have spoken. Castiel studied him. He did not recognize this man yet he felt familiar. Perhaps the Castiel of before could put a name to the power.
The man snapped his fingers and the song stopped.
“Oh, Castiel,” the man said. “What have you done?”
The bright lights beamed down on Castiel where he sat in a folding director’s chair. Castiel presumed this was a backstage area, with it endless rows of lighted mirrors, prop pieces and camera equipment gathered at every corner. However, besides Castiel himself, the area was completely barren of life. Not a single person passed him by, not a single shout echoed down the endless hallway. Nothing and nobody crossed Castiel’s path, so he sat.
At first, Castiel tried one to walk through one of the many doors behind him. Everytime he would exit into the same area, only on the other end of the hall. He tried for hours to make sense of the doors, convinced that opening them in the correct order would give him escape. He was wrong. On his last attempt, a bright light enveloped him from behind, carrying over to the chair he sat in now. He could still stand up and move around, but Castiel now knew there was little reason to do so.
He sat. He sat for what felt like hours, days, years. Occasionally, he heard cheers on the other side of the doors or the sound of applause. There was nothing there but emptiness.
“Are you sitting comfortably?” The man from the warehouse appeared before Castiel, his hands curling around the armrests of Castiel’s chair. “Then we’ll begin.”
The man looked expectant. Castiel opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. “Begin what?”
“Oh, come on!” The man backed away, crossing his arms. “It took ages to pick the right opening line.”
“It was,” Castiel tilted his head, “very good?”
“I guess I can’t expect you to get my genius.” The man put a hand to his chin, eyes glowing as he watched Castiel. “Even pre-swiss cheese brain.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t?” The man walked behind Castiel as he spoke, placing his hands on his shoulders. The resulting shockwave of power made Castiel gasp. “Just how many times have they cut into your brain?”
Castiel’s vision went white as the man’s song took over his body. Images flashed through his mind, mired in shadows, each one fading away before Castiel could grasp them.
He could not see the images, but he could feel them. Feelings of love and awe and wonder flowed through him but they were replaced by fear and sorrow and loss. Castiel could not catch his breath, could not focus on any one thing but he could hear voices whispering around him, the whirr of a drill, and a scream.
The sensations were gone as soon they appeared but they left Castiel breathless, panting as the backstage area reappeared around him. The man’s hands were still on his shoulders. Castiel had no energy left to shrug him off.
“Holy mother of--” the man cut himself off. “How are you still, like, alive?”
Castiel took a deep breath, willing his lungs to work. “To be fair, I’ve already died a few times. I think.”
“You think, huh?” The man walked back to the front of Castiel, his eyes losing their luminescent glow. They faded to brown. They were not unkind. “Do you remember me?”
“Questions, questions, questions, Castiel. You were always so full of questions.”
“I will take that as a yes.”
“Always asking why. Why this, why that.” The man threw up his hands. “You just wouldn’t stop.” The man calmed down, pausing a moment to sigh. “I guess that’s why you are like this now. Though, I do dig the whole bad boy biker look you got going on. Very sexy.”
“Thank you. Make your point.”
The man sat on the table in front of Castiel’s chair, his face reflected in each mirror down the infinite hallway. Each image became a little more distorted, a little less than human.
“At first, I thought you and the Hardy Boys were coming after me,” he said. “Well, I guess they are now, but that’s mostly ‘cause they’re looking for you.”
“If you harm Sam and Dean--”
The man flicked his hand and Castiel was pushed back into his chair. “Relax. They’re fine. I took the opportunity to teach them a little lesson, that’s all.” He traced the outline of his face in the mirror. Down the line, his hand was a claw. “I’m tired, Castiel. Tired of all the fighting. Out of all the angels, I’d figured you’d understand.” He hopped down from his perch, grabbed the chair and spun Castiel to face him head on, nearly toppling him over in the process. “That is, if you could remember.”
He stood, hands at his sides, and rolled his shoulders back. The backstage area stuttered, flickering like a lost channel on a television, and the man glowed. The song resumed, the familiar melody Castiel still could not place. Power continued to build and the room faded into static. The static faded to black.
Castiel floated in the empty space, a witness to the spectacle before him. Gone was the human body of the man. What stood before Castiel was huge, indescribable, and impossible to believe. The angel’s many wings fanned out behind his body, eclipsing the tiny form of Castiel. As the wings peeled back, the angel’s true face shone through, his radiance an awful sight to behold. Castiel’s ragged wings kept him aloft in the dark space, his scant grace dull against the light of an archangel.
Castiel blinked and they were back in the backstage area, as if they never moved at all. The archangel watched Castiel’s reaction, an unreadable look in his eyes.
“They call me Gabriel.”
“And I--” Castiel cleared his throat, his voice too small to be heard. “And I knew you.”
“I can’t believe you forgot your own big brother! Though, it seems you’ve forgotten a lot of things.”
It had started small. There were things he could not remember, like which pocket he put his lighter, or where he left his cellphone. He figured that was a normal, human thing. There were holes in his memory-- like how he knew he was in Egypt over a thousand years ago but he could not remember why-- that were more difficult to ignore.
He had dismissed all of it before. When he was under the thrall of the needle, nothing mattered to him but his next high. After his sobriety stuck, he fought his way through the world as a hunter, keeping humanity safe. He did not worry about himself. It was easy to ignore his memories when he was distracted by his mission.
After he went to Heaven that last time, the holes had become wider, harder to dismiss, and impossible to ignore. He reached into those black holes, trying to find what memories they once held. He fell. He fell for a reason. He knew something. He knew there was no-- there was no-- was no--
Gabriel waited for Castiel to gather his thoughts. He looked content to sit in silence, leaning against the mirror with his legs crossed. His reflections were still.
“How bad is it?” Castiel asked.
Every reflection lowered his head as Gabriel kneeled in front of Castiel. “All those lines on your body,” Gabriel said, touching a finger to Castiel’s forearm. Despite the fact Castiel’s arms were covered by his coat, Gabriel seemed to see the lines. “They aren’t really compatible with what you are now.”
“And what am I now?”
“A walking impossibility? Sorry, bucko, I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that I’m watching you burn out pretty damn fast.”
Castiel put a hand to his heart, as if that could make time go any slower. He could not fade out yet. Not until his work here was done. Not until the Apocalypse ran it course. Not until he knew Sam and Dean were safe.
Gabriel stood, wings spread out behind him, reflected across all the mirrors. “How long? Come on, man. Not enough for what you’re thinking. There’s no way you can fight this Apocalypse. It’s already been written. Let it run its course.”
The lights flickered, then all of them burst in a shower of sparks. Gabriel’s faint glow kept the room from disappearing into darkness.
“Come on, man! It’s destiny. Maybe you’ll even exist long enough to see Paradise.”
Destiny meant the end of the world. Destiny meant the loss of countless innocent lives. Destiny meant Sam had to give in to his darker nature. Destiny meant letting someone else steal Dean’s body, his face, his light.
Castiel was outmatched. He had no idea where he was in a physical sense. He knew it was completely possible he was not anywhere on Earth. Castiel was also weak. What little power he had paled in comparison to an archangel. Any physical confrontation would end in Castiel’s demise. It did not matter.
The chair fell when Castiel stood, the wood splintering when Castiel kicked it aside. He drew himself to his full height and looked Gabriel directly in the eyes.
Castiel bared his teeth. “I don’t believe in destiny.”
The mirrors shattered.
The water came down fast once Dean pulled the fire alarm. Gabriel stood in the dwindling circle of angel fire, watching as the Winchesters walked away. Cas, exhaustion clear in the swoop of his shoulder, lingered in the entryway, looking back at the dangerous archangel. Dean waited by the door, not planning to let Cas out of his sight again.
Cas really had to quit it with the disappearing acts.
“Come on, Castiel,” Gabriel yelled to be heard over the alarms, “do you really think you’re gonna see the end of this Apocalypse at the rate you're going?”
Cas stood in the doorway of the warehouse. Dean couldn’t see his face, but his words were calm and steady. “I can try.”
“Bullshit. You got, what, a week, a month, a year? You can’t win on stubbornness alone!”
“I’ve made my decision,” Casl said. “Perhaps it’s time you stop hiding and make yours.”
Cas left the warehouse without a backwards glance, Dean following close behind.
The Impala remained where Dean had parked it however many days ago. Sam waited beside it, glancing at the backend looking vaguely uncomfortable. Cas blazed past Dean but Dean grabbed him by the arm before he got too far away. He stopped in his tracks and, after a beat, faced Dean.
Dean heard what Gabriel said. He wasn’t going to give Cas a chance to come up with excuses. Dean had given Cas enough time, enough space, to figure himself out.
“I heard what he said, Cas.” Dean’s hand became a tighter circle around Cas’s arm. “What was he talking about?”
At first, Cas didn’t reply. His face went blank, his body limp. He stared at Dean’s hand for a long while.
“I don’t want you to worry,” Cas finally said.
“Yeah?” Dean raised Cas’s chin with his other hand, not letting Cas look away. “Well, bang up job on that.”
“Guys?” Sam’s voice started both of them. “Think you could save the reunion scene until after we’re out of range of the pissed off angel?”
Interrupting little brother had a point. Cas took advantage of Dean’s distraction to pull away. He slipped into the Impala’s back seat without a glance at either brother. Sam raised his eyebrows at Dean. In response, Dean shook his head and raised his hands to the sky. Who knew what was going on in that guy’s head?
“I swear, if Cas doesn't tell me what's going on this time soon,” Dean said. “I'm going to kill him.”
“No you won't,” said Sam, pouring over yet another ancient tome at Bobby's desk. His pen moved smoothly across his notebook.
“No I won't.” Dean dropped down on Bobby's makeshift bed. “But I'm gonna be mad about it.”
Cas and Bobby were outside. Apparently they were smoking buddies now. Dean would have thought angelhood would have made smoking lose its appeal. Then again, Dean wouldn't know. Cas hadn't really said much about his new status. Dean hadn't asked at first, didn’t want to think it would change anything. But now? Now he was worried. Great job, Cas. Operation Not Worry Dean was a complete and utter failure.
The tome closed with a hollow thump and Sam leaned back in his chair. His joints popped when he stretched his arms over his head.
“Anything?” Dean asked.
“The usual,” Sam said. “You know: doom, gloom, end of times.”
“Hey.” Oh shit. Sam was being all soft and earnest and puppy dog eyed. Not a good sign. “What do you think is up with Cas?”
“I don’t know. But ever since he--” Dean choked on the word, not wanting to even think it let alone say it out loud. “--ever since he got back he’s been--”
“Yeah.” Dean rubbed his hands together and stared at his shoes. “And, and Gabriel said some stuff that made it sound like Cas was… that he’s…”
He wasn’t able to finish the sentence, but Sam understood. “I have a theory.” Sam turned his chair to face Dean. “You’re not gonna like it.”
Dean didn’t like Hell. Dean didn’t like being an angel vessel. Dean didn’t like that the fancy burger place outside of Baltimore closed down. Turns out, Dean didn’t like what Sam had to tell him, either.
Sam told him about the night he became suspicious, about how Cas seemed to be unsure of himself. Sam continued to pile up the evidence: how Cas knew nothing about the Apocalypse, about how he didn’t recognize the Antichrist, how he didn’t even remember his own lack of faith. Dean nodded along, unable to deny it, but not wanting to admit it all the same.
“Dean,” Sam spoke softly, knowing that the words would hurt, “I think Cas is losing his memories.”
Dean put his hands in his lap, his fingers bunched up in the demin. He counted to ten, let out a long breath, and hung his head.
“I-- I don’t know if it’s something the angels did or the fact he was brought back to life or something else,” Sam continued. “I think only Cas could know. If he remembers.”
Pursing his lips, Dean stood. He stared into the kitchen, into the corner where the back door sat closed. Bobby and Cas were just beyond there. Bobby must have suspected, too, which was why he had made excuses to talk to Cas alone. Dean turned around and Sam stared at him with watchful, sympathetic eyes, waiting to see if this, finally, would make Dean crack.
“Y’know,” Dean said, “I think, when this is over, we should take a break.”
“Yeah. From hunting. All this--” Dean waved a hand around the room-- “bullshit. It kinda sucks.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “Only kinda?”
“We should pick a beach. A nice one with little umbrella drinks. Then, you, me and Cas-- Hell, even Bobby-- are gonna have a vacation.”
“We’ll bring a bunch of sunscreen for your pasty ass. Then I’ll wingman you a leggy blonde. Or brunette. Whatever you want. And just--”
“What? You don’t think it’s a good idea?”
“I think it’s a great idea.” Sam tapped his pen against the notebook. “I’m a little surprised you’d want me along.”
Dean sat in the chair on the opposite side of the desk. He studied Sam, watched the way the pen tapped faster and louder the longer Dean didn’t speak.
So, yeah. He was pissed at Sam. Still was, to be honest. But Sam was still his damn brother. The same brother who cried when he skinned his knees at six falling off his bike, only able to be consoled after Dean patched him up with Superman bandaids. The same brother who called Dean when he had his first crush, asking for tips for his first date. The same brother who put his hand on Dean’s shoulder and told him it was going to be okay after a particularly difficult hunt while their father got lost in a bar.
Sam had fucked up. Sam would be the first one to say it. He spent every free moment trying to figure out a way to fix it. That effort did not go unnoticed by Dean. And Sam wasn’t the only one to blame for the situation. Dean remembered Alastair's words, chained up and bound as he choked on his own blood: As he breaks, so shall it break. He still heard those words sometimes, during deep, dark nights. They never really left him.
Dean followed the winding path of thoughts until he emerged from them, remembering the most important thing.
“Well, yeah,” Dean said. “You’re my brother.”
Sam looked up and, good lord, he might actually cry. Dean cut off Sam’s reply with a raised hand.
“No chick flick moments, remember?”
“Please.” Sam rolled his eyes. “Your whole life is a chick flick.”
Well, Dean couldn’t exactly deny that. “Whatever, dude.”
They laughed. It felt good to sit with Sam and feel like brothers again, if only for a moment. Too bad life had to get in the way.
“Sam,” Dean said after they settled down. “I can’t lose Cas.”
“I know. We’ll figure something out. We usually do.”
“Okay,” Dean said, even though he knew that whatever was going on wasn’t going to be found in a book. He decided to believe Sam anyway.
“And you,” said Sam, “you figure out what beach we’re going to.”
Dean spoke about the future like it was something he believed in. Sam hoped it came true for him. Sam wasn't sure what he believed in. All he could see was the end of the world brought about by the devil wearing his face. It was good. It was good because Dean needed something to carry him through the trials of the present and good because Sam needed the smallest glimmer of optimism to see him through the darkest days.
Bobby barged through the kitchen doors, Cas nowhere in sight, and leveled Sam with an icy stare until he got out from behind Bobby's desk.
Once settled, Bobby spoke to Dean, who had been preoccupied with picking at his nails until then. “Your angel needs to talk to you.”
Dean slowly returned from whatever world he lost himself in, blinked a few times, then left the house without a word. Sam stole Dean's vacated chair and took his notebook from the desk. He figured he'd stare a few more holes into the pages. Eventually he might even find something useful.
Nothing. Always nothing. Bobby hadn’t bothered to open a book. He stared through to the back door, his face blank.
“How's,” Bobby started, with such a long pause between words Sam thought he decided to stay quiet, “how's your head?”
“Yeah, your head. Everything's, uh, in place and all that?”
Sam gave Bobby his full attention, though Bobby didn't look him in the eye. “Pretty sure, yeah.” Sam ran a hand through his hair and looked over his shoulder. Just a closed door over there, though Bobby seemed very interested in it. “Sober, too, if that interests you.”
“Good,” Bobby said. “At least one of you idjits is put together.” Bobby sighed and brought his attention into the room. “I'm guessing you also know something's up with Cas.”
“Something's usually up with Cas.”
Bobby barked out a single, sharp laugh. “You got that right.”
“But yeah, I know what you mean.” Sam leaned forward in his chair. “How bad is it?”
“Well.” Bobby opened the bottom desk drawer and dug through a massive pile of papers throwing sheets every which way. “He doesn't remember the last three conversations we've had so that's not a good sign.”
“There's no rhyme or reason to it, is there?”
Bobby slapped an item on the desk with a loud metallic clang. Bobby leaned back and Sam saw the angel blade set between two different editions of the Bible, one in modern English and the other in Latin.
“Bobby,” Sam said, “where'd you get that?”
“Cas gave it to me.”
A pit opened in Sam's stomach. “And why would he do that?”
Bobby stared Sam down. “After he got back from Heaven-- the first time-- he asked me to keep an eye on him.”
“Don't know. And at this point, I figure he wouldn't remember what it was anyway.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because,” Bobby started, digging into the other side of his desk, pulling out a half empty fifth of whiskey and a glass from the top drawer, “even with legs I couldn't fight off a dude with angel strength.”
He took a drink straight from the bottle. With his other hand, he grabbed the blade and flipped it end over end, pointing the handle towards Sam.
Sam didn't reach out. “What? And you think I can?”
Bobby set the blade back down. He poured whiskey into the glass and held it out instead. Sam took this offering.
Bobby shrugged and took a long swig from the bottle. “Well, now you know.”
The bottle, now a few chugs away from emptiness, hit the desk with a thump. Bobby grabbed the blade, threw it back in the desk drawer, and slammed it closed. Sam jumped at the sound.
Sam sipped his whiskey. He never much liked the taste of Bobby's bottom shelf choice but, hey, it did the same job as an expensive bottle. Bobby grabbed the Latin Bible, paging through it between mouthfuls of alcohol. It looked like Bobby was done with talking for the day. Possibly the week.
All that conversation did was unsettle Sam, though that might have been the point. However, by sharing this information Bobby told Sam one important thing: Sam was officially the most stable one in their group. If that didn't say something about their current state of affairs, he didn't know what did.
Cas sat on the steps, cigarette hanging out his mouth as per usual. He stared at the night sky, not moving an inch when Dean closed the door behind him with an audible click. Dean took a moment to observe Cas before he left the doorway.
Cas didn't look any different. He hunched around himself, his chin resting in one hand and his other taking the smoke out of his mouth. He still wore Dean's clothes more than his own, though he should be wearing more than a t-shirt. It wasn't summer yet. He still couldn't be bothered to shave often and he still had paint splotches on his jeans. The tattoos still curved around his body, the lines covering his skin, the colours in between inviting a second look. He still hadn't filled all the empty spaces, though Dean knew that was the eventual goal. When Dean asked what would happen if he ran out of skin, Cas grinned and said his next project was to cover Dean.
But he was different. So was Dean. They'd been through a lot the last few years. One could say a Hell of a lot. Okay, that was terrible. Sue him. If he didn't make terrible jokes, he'd have to stop and think about everything. He'd have to think about his broken soul, his time in the pit, his brother's new and interesting addiction, Cas's fun little stint with the angels, and that now he was some kinda semi-angel with a problem he needed to talk about.
Yeah, Dean may have complained about the lack of downtime over the last couple years but at least they didn't have to talk about the stuff he wanted to ignore. Then again, look what happened when he did that with Sam.
Dean joined Cas on the step, placing one hand on Cas's knee. They sat for a long moment, looking at all the stars in the sky and breathed a shared, calm breath. Too bad they had to break it.
“Does that, like, even do anything for you?” Dean asked, making a lazy gesture toward Cas's hand.
Cas took a long drag then let the smoke out, unrushed and careful. “Not really. But it gives me something to do with my hands.”
He doused the cigarette then leaned into Dean and rest his head on Dean's shoulder, eyes closed. They need to talk. That was the whole point of Dean going outside. Yet Dean didn't want to. He wanted to sit here, beside Cas, without saying anything at all. He knew he wasn't going to like whatever there was to say. Ignorance is bliss, or so he heard.
Dean squeezed Cas's knee. “So, buddy. Bobby told me you want to talk to me?”
“Not so much want as it is need.”
“Okay, fine. What do you need to tell me?”
With a deep sigh, Cas detangled himself from Dean. He stood and took the remaining stairs to the ground. He beaconed Dean to follow. They walked through the rows of hollowed out cars, Dean a half-step behind Cas, until they reached the edge of Bobby's property line. Cas stopped in front of the least rusted truck in the final row of cars and climbed onto the hood. Dean sat beside Cas, still unable to figure out what any of this meant. They leaned back and Dean remembered. It was a clear night.
“Do you remember,” Cas began, “the first time you took me stargazing?”
How could he not? He spent far too long convincing himself it wasn't a date. “Yeah.”
“So do I.” Cas stared up at the sky, his eyes locked into the distance as he spoke. “I still do it sometimes. It's nice to have a constant in my life.” Cas smiled and glanced at Dean out of the corner of his eye. “Reminds me of you.”
Not that Dean didn't appreciate the sentiment but he had a hard time ignoring how many things Cas didn't say. “Hey, not that I'm one to judge or anything, but I get the feeling you’re avoiding something.”
Cas made a sound of acknowledgment but didn't speak. He took a few breaths and attempted to talk. His smile held no humour and he ran a hand through his hair.
Cas opened his mouth and let out a frustrated breath. “This is proving to be more difficult to say than I thought.”
Dean rolled onto his side, using his arm to cushion his head. He watched as Cas licked his lips, his eyes glazed over as he continued to look up. Dean gave him a moment to gather himself. Dean reached out and touched Cas's hand. The contact broke whatever trance Cas was under and he was brought back to Earth.
“It's your memories, right?”
Cas rolled his head to the side, his wide eyes reflecting the starlight. “You know?” His voice could barely be heard over the sound of the crickets.
“Sam figured it out. I guess that's what Bobby's been talking to you about. And I gotta admit, man, you've been a little spacy lately. Even for you.” Dean ran his hand over Cas's arm, tracing the familiar ink patterns as he went, using Cas's warmth to keep him steady. “How bad is it?”
“I don't know. I mean, I can't remember what I've forgotten.” The attempt at a joke wasn't a funny one. “But it is enough to concern Bobby. And me.” Cas paused for a long time and Dean didn't know what to say. “I think it best I recuse myself from this situation.”
Dean shot up, the zipper on his jacket scraping against the truck's hood. “Recuse? That doesn't make sense. How can you--”
Cas sat up as well, waiting until Dean settled down enough to look him in the eye. “It’s easier when I'm here, with you.” He reached out, the hand on Dean's shoulder burning hot through the layers of his clothes. “But I can no longer trust myself and I will not keep you from fighting.”
Dean's scar tingled. “Can't trust yourself? What are you talking about?”
“I've been to Heaven twice now and returned both times.” Cas's voice was slow and calm. He lay back down on the truck and continued to speak to the sky. “Heaven doesn't waste their resources. There must be a reason they left me like this.”
Cas raised one hand, tracing the outline of one of the many constellations in the sky. Dean lay back down beside him, pressed close to his side. Their bodies lined up, no empty space between them. It was so quiet now, almost as if even the crickets were too scared to speak aloud.
“Did you figure out the reason?” Dean whispered his question, but his voice seemed to boom in the darkness.
“I don't know,” Cas said. “When I try to focus on what moments I lost, it's like--” Cas took a deep breath-- “it's like those years I spent with a needle in my arm. A haze. So I always thought that was the problem. But now--”
“You think that was by design.”
“That's a pretty elaborate set up if it's true. So why?”
After a long pause, Cas said, “I’m sure the angels see it as a type of punishment. And--” He hesitated before finishing his thought-- “You’re the vessel.”
“Yeah, I'm trying to ignore that.”
Not that Dean was doing a good job. Last night he woke up in complete darkness, alone. It was suffocating. He had to wiggle all his fingers to remind himself that he was in control of his body.
Cas held Dean's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You're you.” He looked at Dean out of the corner of his eye, making sure he could see the sincerity of his words. “I don't remember everything that happened to me in Heaven. Just impressions, really: bits of conversation, some lights, and feelings. But I do remember being afraid--for you-- and I can't lose the feeling that--” He swallowed.
“So, what? The angels go 'cellar door’ and you go Hobgoblin?”
“I… I don't understand that reference.”
The confused face on Cas broke some of the heavy tension between them. It was cute. Cas was still Cas and clearly Dean had to have him brush up on his comic books. Dean rolled onto his side and wrapped an arm around Cas. Breathing in his scent (seemed like he absorbed some of the whiskey smell that emulated from Bobby's house), Dean tried to hold both of them together.
“You're you,” Dean said.
“Am I? What would I be without my memories?”
Dean propped himself up on one arm to see Cas's face. “You.”
“I was a very different person before I fell. Before I met you. What would happen if I forget you?”
The words Cas spoke were calm and even, like he practiced right way to say it for a long time. That was until the last question. There was a hitch in his voice as he whispered out the last few words and he blinked rapidly until he could focus his eyes again. Dean caught all of it because he knew Cas.
He knew Cas. He knew Cas's wide smiles were rare, but well earned, and could light up anyone's day no matter how bad. He knew that Cas's anger was quiet and full of steel and it could make even the bravest person's knees shake. He knew Cas's love was deep and unbridled and anyone granted it had been blessed indeed.
“Cas.” Dean cupped a hand against Cas's cheek, gently moving him until they made eye contact. “You're not going to forget me.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“'Cause I'm not gonna let you. Even if I have to remind you that I love you every day.” Dean could see the change in Cas's face as soon as he said the words. “Yep. Sorry, buddy, but you’re stuck with me for the long haul. You know, if you still like me when I lose all my hair and only have half my teeth.”
If thirty-year-old Deal told twenty-year-old Dean he would say something like that, his younger self would laugh him straight into a time paradox. Amazing what a few years had shown him.
He could see Cas work through about a thousand different emotions in the space of a second. He could see Cas try to say something, probably a lot of somethings, but he was unable to make any noise. Eventually he settled by pulling Dean down on top of him. They kissed, soft and full of promise, neither in any hurry to let go. They lay side by side, hands entwined, on top of the truck's hood and watched the stars.
Tomorrow Dean would be back out again, fighting against insurmountable odds. Tomorrow, Cas would stay behind, trying to hold on to the pieces of himself he had left. Tomorrow would be difficult. But tonight? Tonight they were together.
Sam and Dean left the next day, both of them reluctant to leave without Castiel. He told Sam he was only a prayer away, which seemed to placate Sam enough to leave Bobby's house. Dean, however, grabbed hold of Castiel, his grip a little too tight, his time in the doorway a little too long. Nobody rushed them.
Dean stayed true to his promise from the night before. He whispered, “I love you,’ as he dragged himself through the door.
“I know,” Castiel replied. That, at least, made Dean smile as he turned around, even if it was a sad one.
Having spent too many days with too many people in the house, Bobby did not even move when Castiel announced he would be upstairs. That was fine. Both of them were the type of people to sit silent in a room and consider it spending time together.
Castiel did not know what to do with himself. He had not stopped since the day Dean made his deal. It was strange to be idle. In the past, an idle Castiel made many drug laden mistakes. He sat on the bed he and Dean shared-- though he no longer had much use for it, now that he did not need to sleep and Dean was away-- and stared at the paint splotches on the old desk he claimed as his own.
He abandoned his latest works. He tended to do that but he dug through the piles of art, some on paper, most on canvas, and sought meaning in the brushstrokes of a past Castiel.
Over the next weeks, Castiel continued to find himself in his art. He worked all day and night-- it was easy to be productive without the need for sleep and a looming deadline-- compiling his papers and perfecting his unfinished pieces. His days were only marked by Dean's morning messages, making Castiel smile each time.
He wrote. He wrote on lined paper, under the paintings, and in a notebook everything he could remember. He wrote about Heaven, the angels, any information that a hunter could use. Then, he indulged himself, writing about himself, what he had seen as an angel and what he experienced on Earth.
That way, some way, somehow, he would be remembered, even if it were only through words in a book.
It was not enough. It would never be enough. The closer his writing got to the modern day, the slower his pace became. He did not know the ending. He did not know if he would be able to see it. He did not know if he would remember it.
He closed the makeshift book, pieces of paper sticking out every which way and dog eared pages marking each long pause. Castiel left it on the desk and walked down the stairs, leaving the room for the first time in weeks. Bobby nodded when he noticed Castiel enter the kitchen but otherwise left him alone.
He stepped outside and saw the sunrise, gold and glittering off the empty shells of cars. Castiel walked between the rows, unsure of where his feet would take him.
The phone buzzed in Castiel's pocket. Dean, no doubt. Every morning, every day, Dean sent an I love you. Castiel held on to that. He held it tightly, trying to keep the memories that were most important.
Castiel walked beyond Bobby's property and into the trees. He kept moving and, without thinking about it, flapped his wings.
He blinked and saw Mercy's house under the bright sun. He could not go in, of course. Castiel had made sure the house was protected from creatures like him. The gravel crunched under his feet as he approached the porch. He could feel the warding now, a dull ache under his ribs. He ignored it. He was used to the discomfort, having carried similar warding on his body all the time.
A glint from the corner of his eye caught his attention as he reached the steps. Mercy forgot to close the shed door. Castiel's motorcycle peeked out from inside the shed, her silver lettering reflecting the sun.
He had no idea how she ended up there. Perhaps he did not remember storing her, or Bobby had shipped her before someone tried to buy her for parts. Either way, Castiel was happy to see her. He did not have much need to use her now but he thought about starting her up anyway, to take her out before he forgot how to ride.
The warding prickled under Castiel's skin when he reached the top step. He sat on the porch swing and rocked back and forth. He tapped against his breast pocket of his flannel, looking for a cigarette before remembering he did not have any. Not that it would do him much good, anyway. Nicotine just did not have the same effect when he had his grace.
No one knew where he was. He would need to fix that soon. His phone still sat in his pocket and Dean deserved a response. He would do that soon. For now, however, for now, he watched the silent road and breathed in the fresh air. Mercy's house had always brought him some peace and, right now, he needed to feel it.
Minutes passed-- or maybe hours, Castiel did not know-- before the door opened. Mercy stepped through the threshold, purse in hand, and locked the door behind her. She reached the first step before she turned around. She was still for a long moment.
She did not expect him, not that she should be able to. She was never able to read him. The one time she could, after a long day of meditation, she said all she could see were colours.
“Why are you here?” She looked over to the road and the driveway. “Are Sam and Dean here?”
“Just me, I'm afraid.”
Mercy studied Castiel, then sat beside him on the porch swing. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything's fine.” Castiel folded his hands in his lap and stared at the fingers.
“Castiel.” The edge of metal in her voice made Castiel raise his gaze. “You are not a good liar.” He laughed at that. “And you,” she said, giving him an evaluating stare, “you feel different.”
Oh. Right. Mercy must have noticed his recharged grace's song. Even non-psychic humans could pick up on it, if they were perceptive enough. “I am an ang--” No, that did not feel quite right. “I have my grace back.”
“Oh.” Mercy put her chin on her hand. “I mean, one could argue it was never really gone.”
Castiel glimpsed Mercy's contrite expression before he continued to stare out over the horizon. “And to think, all these years, I thought I was human.”
“You were,” Mercy said, “You are. Probably more than most of us.”
Castiel was not able to reflect Mercy's certainly. He did not feel like he were angel or human. He was something in between those lines. However, he no longer felt he needed to choose one or the other. He was just Castiel, for however long he remembered that name.
“You say I feel different. What do you mean?”
“It's like you're running hot,” Mercy said. “Like you're burning.”
All I know is that I’m watching you burn out pretty damn fast.
Of course he would remember that.
“You're not the first person to tell me that.”
“Oh, really. And how many psychics know you well enough to tell you that?”
“Archangel,” Castiel said. “He has a flair for the dramatic.”
“Oh.” Mercy blinked. “Just what have you been up to lately? It-- It hasn't been that long since I last saw you, has it?”
After that, Castiel told her everything. He told her everything he remembered. He told her everything he could, finding more and more holes in his memory as he spoke. He could not figure out whether he was only noticing the severity now, or if he had always been this way. He did not know who to ask. The longer his explanation took, the more times he stumbled over his words, the deeper the lines on Mercy's face grew.
“Cas, that's,” Mercy licked her lips, “that's heavy.”
“Dean left some movies behind. I may have had a marathon.”
“I don't know which one you mean.”
“Well, I could show you.” Mercy stood and indicated the door. “If you want to come in. You can stay as long as you like.”
The house glowed with the power of the warding. He took stock, trying to remember where he hid the symbols. Mercy went back inside, searching for the symbols Castiel told her to disturb. It was a selfish act, perhaps, to make her home less safe. But he wanted to go inside. He wanted to spend the afternoon in a place he used to call a home.
While Mercy did her work, Castiel took out his phone. He felt the need to call Dean, though talking on the phone always made him feel uncomfortable. As a result, he usually avoided phone calls unless the situation was urgent
Dean knew that about Castiel, so his answering “hello” was tinged with worry.
“Dean. I'm staying with Mercy for now. Please let Bobby know.”
“Oh,” Dean said, static running through the line. “You're fine, though?”
“I think so. I needed a change of view.”
“Sure, I get that. You could have gotten away with a text here, buddy. Why'd you call?”
Castiel walked down the steps and stood in the sun. The grass and trees would turn green soon, infused with new life. Castiel wondered if he would witness it. He closed his eyes and faced the sun, feeling the warmth on his face.
“I wanted to hear your voice.”
He heard Dean sputter for a moment, then he said, “Damn it, I want to make fun of you for being a cheesy nerd but I was thinking the same thing.”
Castiel smiled. “Perhaps we are both the nerd.”
Dean laughed and Castiel realized how much he missed him. “Fine. At least I'm in good company.” Dean's sigh crackled over the phone. “So, what are you gonna do today?”
“Mercy said something about movies? I suppose we'll see.”
“That sounds nice.”
Dean was quiet for a long time, but Castiel could still hear his breathing on the other end. Even without seeing him, Castiel could tell he was holding back something he needed to say.
“What is it?” Castiel asked.
“Nothing, nothing,” Dean said, “we're just following a lead.”
“Do you need anything?”
“No! No, we're fine, Cas.” Dean sighed again. “Focus on yourself, alright? Don't worry about us. We got things handled.”
“I'm sorry I can't be with you.”
“Me too. But seriously, dude, don't feel bad. You gotta take care of you.”
“Only if you do the same.”
“I will. It might be a couple days before we can talk again.”
Castiel chewed his bottom lip. He knew Dean was not telling him everything, that he was shielding Castiel from whatever it was they were chasing. He understood why, but Castiel did not have to like it.
“Okay,” Castiel said, “stay safe.”
“So, because it'll be a bit 'till I can remind you again, I'll tell you now,” Dean said. “I love you.”
No matter how many times Castiel heard it, it still had the same effect as the first time. It gave him a warm, light feeling and allowed him to breathe. The door opened behind him and the uncomfortable ache under his ribs subsided. There was still something there, something clawing at the back of Castiel's mind, but Mercy had done her job well. The warding was down but it was Dean words that really made the difference.
“I know,” Castiel said. “I remember.”
“Good. I'll make sure it stays that way. I gotta go now.”
“Okay. I love you, too.”
They hung up. Castiel stared at the phone for a long moment before placing it back in his pocket. He released a short, soft prayer for the Winchester's safety. Maybe he did not believe. Maybe he did. But he felt better once he said it. He turned around and walked into the house.
“A couple more bodies on the pile now. All the Harvelles, killed by a Winchester. How poetic.”
Dean was in the middle of the motel room. Or at least, he was pretty sure he was there, though Sam was nowhere to be seen and the wallpaper slithered and flashed multiple colours. He reached into his jacket, trying to find a weapon.
“Oh, relax. It's not like I'm really here.” Zachariah stood from the chair. “You're still hidden from us so we've had to resort to some alternative methods.”
“Dreamwalking,” Dean said. “What? Making every waking moment hell just wasn't enough for you guys?”
“I'd give Castiel the credit but, ah,” Zachariah stopped in front of Dean, his voice low and full of menace, “I don't think he'd remember.”
Dean held his ground. He stared Zach in the eyes even when his smug smirk widened. Dean would kill him one day. He let that thought comfort him.
“Drop the tough guy act and let's just...” Zachariah waved his hands and Dean was forcefully dropped into a chair. “...talk, shall we?”
Zachariah strolled over to the other side of the room, the wallpaper red now as it pulsated across the walls, and grabbed a chair for himself. It scraped across the floor as he dragged it behind him. He spent an excessive amount of time setting it in front of Dean. He took even longer to sit down, crossing and uncrossing his legs until he settled down. He sat, still as a statue, smirk still on his lips.
“What.” Dean crossed his arms, leaning as far back from Zachariah as he could.
“I mean, I could sit here and stare for all time that's what you want. But you have about--” Zachariah checked an imaginary watch on his wrist-- “thirty-three minutes before you wake up. So do you want to hear my offer or not?”
Dean scoffed. “And what could you possibly offer me?”
Zachariah grinned and, fuck, Dean hated his face. “I may be aware of Castiel’s condition. I may be the one who caused it. And I may be able to reverse it.”
And there it was. Zach's trump card. His royal flush. But there was no way, no way, it didn't come with a catch.
“Right. All I gotta do is hand over my body.”
“Obviously. I'm not doing this out of the goodness of my heart. I don't even have a heart.”
Dean's head instantly said no. Cas would never want him to do something like that. If he ever found out, Cas would find a way to blame it on himself. Dean wouldn't do that to him. Zachariah had proven to be petty, spiteful, and untrustworthy. There was no way things would happen as swiftly as he implied. There was also the fact that Dean knew saying yes to Michael meant saying yes to the end of the word.
Dean's heart, oh Dean's heart, was a complete and utter dumbass. It beat faster at the words, even from a known liar like Zachariah because, if it were true, Dean wouldn't have to watch Cas fade away. The small, tiny chance that someone could help Cas planted an idea in Dean's head. It was there to stay.
“Uh-huh.” Dean clicked his tongue. “The angels want to help Cas. You know, the guy you all hate?”
“Oh, we don't want to help Castiel . We want to help you. Believe me, this is very frustrating for both of us.”
“How do I know you won't just kill him as soon as you get what you want?”
“You don't!” Zachariah waved his arms over his head, a mocking gesture. “But, I will tell you this: in a few months time your Castiel will soon be an empty shell. He'll forget everything.” Zachariah leaned forward, his last words a harsh whisper. “He'll forget you.”
“And I'm going to believe the guy who constantly lies to me?”
“Come now, why would I lie about this? It's some of my best work. It's-- how do you humans put it?-- hitting two birds in the bush with one stone. I get to punish Castiel for being such an infuriating pain and I get to see you suffer. Win-win!”
“Wow. You're really selling this.” Dean's knuckles turned white when he gripped the chairs armrests, trying to stand up. He was stuck.
“You know,” Zachariah stood with no effort, his face shining as the wallpaper turned yellow, “I think I am. Say hi to Sammy for me!”
Dean opened his eyes. He sat up from the bed, checking to make sure the red and yellow lines on the wallpaper lay still. Sam sat in the chair Zachariah had used not long ago. He looked up from his laptop, concern clear in his eyes. He waited for Dean to speak.
Dean grabbed his phone from the bedside table, typing out a quick message to Cas. It was late. Or early, depending on your perspective, but he knew time didn't mean that much to Cas. Thankfully, Cas replied quickly. A simple 'hello’ filled him with so much relief.
Sam still waited. Dean licked his lips and decided on just how much of that conversation he would share.
Sam was angry. Always. A deep-set all-encompassing rage hid in his core. He knew that. But what the wraith brought out of him, out of his brother, made him actually face it.
They moved on. Not many therapists were equipped to deal with the unique Winchester blend of issues, so they moved on. More fighting, more battles, more horseman. There were demons trying steal his body for the devil and there were angels making Dean's dreams hell. Cas continued to disintegrate, each phone call wearing Dean down more and more.
They moved on. It made Sam angry. Angry that he couldn't do anything. Angry that all this was happening. Angry that God was silent through it all.
But all they could do was move on.
Mercy left on a house call a few towns over. She almost did not take the job until Castiel nudged her out the door. She spent the day before fussing over him, filling the fridge with food he would not eat and putting clean sheets on the bed he would not use. He let her. It was nice to have someone care for him and it seemed to make her feel better when she had something to do. Any attempt they made to fix his head ended in failure, but Mercy knew how to be a good hostess. That she could do.
The house was empty. He wandered through it many times. He turned on the television only to turn it off again a moment later. He worked in a painting for a few moments, unable to make sense of it. He scratched at his head, trying to find the claws that dug into him. He tried to remember what wards would make feel that way, but he could not find them.
Eventually, he gave up on the house and wandered outside, walking around Mercy's property. No neighbours lived close by, so it was just Castiel and the birds. He felt alone, even with his daily messages from Dean.
He circled around to the back porch, the overgrown lawn still too wet to be cut. He had not gone outside much during his time here, electing to stay on the warm, comfortable couch most of his days. However, now that he was here the claws in his mind dug deep. What that meant, Castiel could not say. He walked around the lawn and searched for the place the sensation was strongest.
A few feet from the porch, Castiel found it. Hidden under the lengthy grass, Castiel could make out the outline of a symbol. He could not see all of it. He could not figure out what it was but his grace tingled. It was important.
He sat in what he judged to be the centre of the symbol. The water in the grass seeped into his jeans. If it was not for his grace, Castiel would have found it cold. He crossed his legs, straightened his back and held his hands, palms up, loosely over his knees.
He did not remember the last time he meditated like this, the way Mercy taught him, but he knew it was what he needed to do. The birds' chirps faded away as Castiel emptied his mind. He focused on the symbol beneath him, listened to it hum, and searched its meaning.
Two threads, blue and red, twitched at the edge of his mind. He grabbed them, one in each hand, and brought them together. It did not feel right to keep them separate, so he wrapped them around each other until they were completely entwined. The red and blue flowed into each other, the two parts brought together to make something new. They became a path and Castiel followed it, climbing the red and blue like a rope.
What he found was not tangible, was not something that could exist in the physical realm. He found himself in a word of light. It swirled around him, warm and pleasant, and Castiel could feel a cognitive being within it.
No. Not just one being. Many. They spoke to him, whispers buzzing in his ears, though he could not figure out the words. It was disorienting, but these beings, these minds, were not malicious. In fact, Castiel believed they were pleased to see him.
Castiel did not understand what they said. The lights flew around his hands, which still held the rope, and chattered insistently. He listened to their noises for a while, watched the pattern they made and mimicked the movement by raising his hands.
That elicited a response. A good one, Castiel guessed. The lights came closer, clinging to his clothes and hair, and swirled around his form. He allowed them to cover his body and, after a few false starts, figured out that they wanted him to spin.
So he did. He spun in circles, allowing the blue and red rope to wrap around him. He spun until the rope surrounded him, covering the lights and his body, and the tail of the rope became taught.
After he and the lights were covered, Castiel looked back to the direction from whence he came. There was a black hole amongst all the white brightness around him.
He moved towards the hole, slowly as his legs were tangled in the rope, and the beings shouted happily as he closed the distance. When he finally reached the edge, he looked down. Save for the end of the rope, Castiel could only find blackness.
The lights were insistent. They screamed at Castiel if he tried to back away from the black hole. The problem was, with his hands bound by the rope, the lights were asking him to jump down into the unknown. He hesitated. The lights became more and more agitated.
A sound, like a loud warning horn, came from behind him. Castiel turned his head and watched as the white cracked open, introducing lines of black. As the black overtook the white, they mixed together, leaving grey in between. The lines swirled around him, down, down, down into the black hole.
The lights were scared now. They heard the warning as well, they heard the answering call, and they heard what sounded like footsteps coming after them. Many footsteps. Enough for an army.
They were surrounded. Castiel did not know what was coming, but even he could tell it was bad. He moved to the edge of the hole, the minds surrounding him screeching at him to hurry. He still could not see anything but black.
The white was gone now. All he saw was a muddled grey. It took over the room, filling it from top to bottom. Castiel looked behind him, to see if he could make out the shape of whatever came after them. He could not. When he turned back, he realized that the grey had begun to take over the black hole, the opening growing smaller with each passing moment.
Castiel could not be trapped here, in this place of uncertainty. He intended to hold onto life for as long as he could. With one final deep breath, Castiel took a step.
The sensation was familiar. He hurled through the endless darkness, gaining speed the longer he fell. The rope unraveled as he twisted around and around until he could only hold it with one hand.
He ran out of rope.
The lights stayed with him, floating around him as he hurled towards nothingness. Those lights separated into three different points around him and those separate points began to grow.
The three became humanoid shapes and long wings sprouted behind them. They surrounded Castiel, clasping each others’ hands. Their light became so bright, so brilliant, that Castiel needed to close his eyes.
Castiel's back hit the damp grass, the shock of it making him groan. He rolled onto his side then braced himself on his hands before he could pull himself into a sitting position. He opened his eyes. He was back in Mercy's yard, though it was dark now, but that barely registered when he saw what he brought back with him.
“Well, you sure took your sweet time, didn't you?”
Castiel blinked and stared at the three angels who stood over him.
“Balthazar,” the redheaded one said, “give him a minute.”
The brunette crossed her arms. She was still, inhumanly so. Her bright blue eyes never left Castiel's face.
“Sure,” the one named Baltazar said, “it’s not like we spent the last who knows how long in Heaven's jail or anything.” He continued to argue with the redhead but Castiel could make little sense of it.
The brunette kept staring at him, her eyes wide. There was something in her gaze that did not allow Castiel to look away. She stepped forward and kneeled down before Castiel. Her touch was light, cool fingertips on his temple.
“Balthazar, Anna, hush,” she said, not looking away from Castiel. She waited for the other two to quiet down before she continued, “It's worse than we thought.”
The entire mood changed. All three angels moved closer to him, their mouths turned downward. They watched as Castiel's eyes flitted back and forth between them.
“Do--” Castiel squirmed under the intensity of three angels’ stares. “Do I know you?”
Apparently that was not the correct thing to say. Balthazar's chin dropped to his chest and he turned around, walking away from the group. Anna pursed her lips and turned her head, following Balthazar's movement. Even the one who kneeled before him reacted, a small furrow appearing between her brows.
“Castiel, I'm so sorry,” the brunette said, “I'm so sorry I was complicit in allowing this to happen.”
“You have no reason to apologize,” Castiel said. It came out of his mouth without any thought. It felt true.
“I do,” she said, “you just don't remember.”
Castiel blinked. “I feel like I should apologize.” He tried to smile, in an attempt to lift the dour mood that surrounded him. “I forgot your name.”
“Hannah.” That was almost a smile. Maybe. If he squinted. “It’s good to meet you again.”
Hannah gasped. Castiel was not sure why. Maybe his response did not make sense. It felt like the right thing to say.
“All right. That's enough!” Balthazar stood directly in front of Castiel. Hannah stepped out of the way. “Cassie, stand up.”
Balthazar loomed over Castiel, his feet spread apart and his shoulders square. Castiel stayed on the ground.
“You seem agitated,” Castiel said.
“Yeah. Torture will do that to you. Sue me if I'm a little grumpy.”
“Why would I sue you?”
Odd. That was the right thing to say. Or, at least, one layer of stress seemed to lift off the angels.
Balthazar reached out his hand. “Stand up.” Castiel clasped his hand and rose to his feet. “Thanks for the prison break.” Balthazar gripped Castiel's shoulders and pushed him behind the angels. “All right. We better close the exit.”
The angels created a circle around the symbol. They reached out with their left hands, palms down, and the symbol glowed with white fire. When the action was completed, the only thing left was a scorch mark on the grass. Castiel doubted it could ever be removed.
“Well, well, well, I was wondering who set off the klaxons. I should have known it would be you.”
The three angels turned toward the new voice. Each one made faces of the various stages of surprise. None of them moved.
Castiel stepped forward. Gabriel stood a few feet away, one hand on his chin, the other across his chest. He did not say another word while he watched Castiel but his eyes glowed with a faint hint of his power. The angels behind Castiel still did not move. Gabriel and Castiel both took a step forward, meeting in the middle.
“Oh, Cassie boy.” Gabriel shook his head. “I could fly the original starship Enterprise through that hole in your head and have enough room for the Next Generation.”
People must speak like that to him on purpose. Castiel crossed his arms and did not back down from Gabriel's steady gaze.
“Why are you here?” Castiel asked.
“I told you,” Gabriel said. “Curiosity.”
“Are you,” Anna spoke as she stepped forward, hovering behind Castiel's shoulder when she stopped, “who I think you are?”
Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Right. So, clearly there's a lot of talking to be had. Now, this one--” Gabriel waved a hand at Castiel-- “is still hidden and I can do whatever I want. But you three are giant, walking beacons to this very spot. That is, if you're great like me and know what you're looking for.”
A flash of bright light blinded Castiel. He rubbed at his eyes, blinking away the spots which floated in his vision. When he opened his eyes, he found himself sitting at Mercy's kitchen table, staring across it at the three angels as they took in their new surroundings.
Chair legs scratched across the kitchen floor, hard enough to leave a mark. Mercy would not like that. Gabriel dragged a chair to the table and set it directly beside Castiel. He sat on it backwards, his chin resting in the backrest. He smiled but did not do anything else.
Balthazar snapped his fingers and a glass of alcohol appeared before him. He sipped it, glancing between Gabriel and Castiel over the rim of the glass.
“Not that I don't appreciate a bit of style,” Balthazar said, “but do you think we could get on with things? I got stuff to do.”
Gabriel scoffed. “Like what? Running for your life?”
“You know what? I can respect that.”
Gabriel stood. He placed himself behind Castiel's chair. All the angels watched him.
“I remember,” Castiel said, suddenly aware of the attention his voice gathered, “I remember the last time we spoke. You were not on our side.”
“What? And you think I am now?” Gabriel tapped Castiel on the shoulder, leaving the impression of sparks behind. He paced around the kitchen, forcing the others to turn and twist to follow his movements. “You know, dear old dad was a big fan of stories. Maybe that's rubbed off on me a bit. Maybe I'm trying to decide who is the bigger bully.” Gabriel leaned against the sink, his vessel bright against the old fixtures. “Maybe I'm curious to see how this all turns out.”
“I--” Anna cleared her throat and tried again. “I don't understand what's happening.”
“Oh, right,” Gabriel said. “You've all spent a long time getting poked-- and not the fun way-- so I guess you'd be out of the loop.”
"Thanks for the reminder,” muttered Balthazar into his glass.
Gabriel slapped the countertop, demanding attention. He walked back to the table, each step deliberate, and stopped beside Castiel.
“Well, this one here,” said Gabriel, patting Castiel's head, “thinks he's above the big ol’ plan. I'm curious to see what all this sitting around has to do with that.”
The room fell into an expectant silence. Even Hannah, who watched all the proceedings with a detached academic interest, leaned forward.
“I'm just trying to survive,” Castiel said.
It sounded weak even to his own ears. Gabriel had a point. Castiel had sat around for more than a month now and the Apocalypse was still happening, was still tearing its way across the world. Removing himself seemed to be the best option, the best way to make sure his family stayed safe. But here he was, in Mercy's kitchen, staring at four angels. The Apocalypse had come to him. Castiel did have to admit that it would be hard to survive if there was no world in which to live.
“Wait,” Balthazar said, “you've been sitting around this whole time?”
Gabriel answered for Castiel. “Pretty much.”
“Wow. Some thanks for saving your ass. Glad we went to jail for you.”
“Though,” Gabriel answered again before Castiel could form a response, “he only has about maybe a sixth of his memories. Probably less. Not like he knew you were rotting up there.”
“I can speak,” Castiel said.
“Oh, I know.” Gabriel rubbed his hands together, then settled back into his chair. “Just stirring the pot.”
“Castiel.” Hannah waited until she had his full attention before she continued to speak. “I find it difficult to believe you have done nothing.”
“I've been compiling my remaining memories. Trying to remember.”
“Did you find anything?”
Castiel narrowed his eyes, attempting to find the meaning behind her question. He tried to write down useful information, things the future generations would need to know, but he also painted. He painted the stars and the colours, as always, but he no longer had dreams to guide him. In so many of his paintings, he could only see the edges of green, the middle taken over by a deep, dark pit.
“Only…” Castiel looked around the room, no stars shone through the kitchen window, the sky overcast. There was no need to turn on the lights in a group of angels but Castiel felt lost in the dark. “Black.”
The one word damped an already somber atmosphere. All eyes dropped to the table. Strange, how Castiel could feel so cold, consider he no longer felt the effects of the weather.
Castiel felt Gabriel's stare. He did not acknowledge it, unsure of his purpose. The table sat silent for a long moment.
Anna raised her gaze first. She studied each angel, her face steady and calm. Placing her hands flat on the table, she stood, her head high.
“Are we to sit here? Do nothing?” Anna crossed her arms. “I, for one, do not intend to wait for the end of the world.”
Hannah nodded. She stood. “Agreed. We angels have meddled too much in the affairs of humans. We need to make things right.”
Balthazar flipped his empty glass over on the table. He flicked it with his fingers, the ring of the glass bringing him to everyone's attention.
“What?” He asked. He glanced at Anna, who raised an eyebrow. He glanced at Hannah, who blinked. “Alright. Fine.” He kicked back his chair and stood. “I mean. I've come this far. Might as well go all the way.”
“Well, well,” Gabriel said with a lopsided smirk to Castiel, “looks like you're a bit of an inspiration.” He stood.
Four heads turned toward Castiel. Four expectant faces shone down at him.
Castiel did not understand the point but he stood from his chair, too. “I believe we know my stance already.”
“Alright!” Gabriel grinned. “Now this story is getting interesting.”
Dean didn't know what to say when he knocked on Mercy's door. He knew he was taking a risk stopping here, allowing Sam the chance to catch up. It was obvious he would come here but needed to, needed to see Cas one more time before he found the angels.
The last few weeks had worn Dean down. He seen too much destruction, too much loss, too much death. The last town, corrupted by someone pretending to speak for God, one he knew would do nothing for Earth, had sent him over the edge. He wanted it to end. He wanted to put a stop to the suffering. He wanted to stop watching Cas fade away.
He wanted to rest.
The door opened and Dean still didn't know what to say. He leaned on the doorframe, his head down.
The first thing he noticed was the stain on the floor. There wasn't much of it left but the discolouration on the carpet a few steps from the entrance was obvious if someone knew where to look. Dean knew where to look. Dean knew. Dean remembered. He watched as Cas bled out on that carpet, right on that very spot.
“Dean?” That was Cas's voice, confused but happy, like he had a smile on his face.
Not that Dean could tell. He stared at Cas's boots, the sun shining off the leather. Cas waited in the doorway and didn't say anything else. Slowly, he raised his eyes, Cas's legs still looked damn good in jeans, and his t-shirt showed off his arms. No new tattoos as far as Dean could see, but Cas was wearing a lot of clothes.
Finally, Dean reached Cas's face. He hadn't known what he was going to say, despite the many conversations he had played in his head on the drive here (so, so many), but it turned out that didn't matter. As soon as he locked eyes with Cas, he realized that there wasn't any need to say anything at all.
Dean took the last step forward into the house and collapsed into Cas. He wrapped his arms around Cas's shoulders, holding him tightly. Cas muttered words in Dean's ear, the ones Dean never learned the meaning of but understood. They meant love. They meant devotion. They meant home.
Cas gave Dean lot of time before he asked, “Are you alright?”
Dean laughed because there was no good way to answer that question. He settled for blunt. “No.”
“I suppose that's why you're here.”
“Gold star for figuring that out.”
Dean gave Cas one final squeeze before he let him go. Cas pulled Dean further into the house and closed the door.
“I'm told I'm supposed to offer a drink to my guests,” said Cas. “I think there's still some coffee in the cupboard.”
Cas signaled Dean to follow him to the kitchen. Dean smiled at Cas's attempt to bring some normalcy into their strange circumstances. The kettle whistled as soon as Dean entered the kitchen, much faster than it should have. Cas stirred two steaming mugs then handed one to Dean. They sat at the table, trying to act as if their lives weren't completely insane.
“Mercy around?” asked Dean.
“She's out on a job,” Cas said. “Apparently the Apocalypse is good for business. Not that she's been collecting payment.”
Dean nodded, falling silent. A stroke of luck for him, not having the psychic around. With her abilities, he knew she'd figure out why he was here. Dean watched as the steam rose off his mug. He wrapped his hands around it, the heat of it scalding. He played with the ring on his finger, twisting it around and around, taking it off and putting it back on again.
“Dean.” Cas voice made him jump, but he didn't look up. “Is there something you need to talk about?”
Well, yes, but he couldn't exactly talk to Cas about it, could he? He couldn't tell Cas that he hasn't slept in weeks, as his dreams have now been taken over by Zachariah's face. Each night Zach made the same offer. Each night, Dean wore down more and more. He couldn't tell Cas how he drove away from Sam, how he'd been running from his brother ever since. He couldn't tell Cas that he was finally broken, finally defeated, and the only reason he was here, in this kitchen, was to say goodbye.
“What?” Dean took a sip of coffee, to give him time to form a response. “A guy can't just drop in and say hello?”
“Of course he can,” said Cas. “But I think, if that were the case, you wouldn't look so lost.”
Lost. Cas hit the nail on the head. He came here to say goodbye but, maybe, he also wanted to give Cas a chance to talk him out of things. Not that he was going to be direct about. No way. That'd be healthy.
“I'm lost? Come on, Cas, you're the one who has the memory problems.”
Dean felt one of Cas's best 'quit your bullshit’ glares. Too bad it was wasted on a Dean who refused to look up from his half-empty coffee cup.
“I'm holding on to what's important,” Cas said. “And I've been working on something the last few days. Maybe I can still help.”
Well, that was new information. “Working on something?”
“Nothing concrete. I'm mostly compiling information for now.”
“Oh. You're being careful about it, right? You're not, like--”
Cas reached across the table, gently squeezing one of Dean's restless hands. Cas said his name and Dean followed the line of Cas's arm with his gaze until it led to Cas's face. Cas didn't say anything. He didn't have too. His eyes narrowed as he searched Dean's face, his expression softening as time passed.
“What is bothering you, Dean?”
Draining the last half of his now cold coffee (a good excuse to look away), Dean debated himself about what he should say. He was tired. That much was true. Sleep would help, sure, but what he needed was to let his soul rest. The Apocalypse made sure he couldn't, piling up bodies, causing conflict with his brother, and slowly taking Cas away from him. Cas sat there and wrapped both hands around a still steaming mug of coffee he never once raised to his lips. He was not concerned for himself, but for Dean.
“I’m just t…” Dean set his cup aside and sent his words in an entirely different direction. “Are you really okay with what's happening to you?”
“My choices led me here.”
“That's not an answer.” Dean elaborated after Cas's nonverbal 'I don't understand’ (also known as: the head tilt). “The angels have dug in your brain who knows how many times. You're half-angelfied, which I'm pretty sure you didn't want. You fucking died. Everytime we talk I can feel you slipping away from me. And, and, you're so goddamn calm about the whole thing. I mean, I'm totally supportive of your decision to stay here and look after yourself, really. But, like, I'd expect at least a little anger or something!”
“It seems you are angry enough for the both of us.”
Good thing Dean didn't hold the mug anymore because he probably would have thrown it. “Cas. I need an answer. Are you okay with all of this?”
Cas was still for a very long time, his hands steady around the steaming mug. It was his turn to stare at the table. Dean waited.
He hadn't intended to interrogate Cas but he realized that this, Cas's answer, would be the deciding factor in what he would do once he left this house. Zachariah could have lied. He tended to do that. Still, if there was a chance, any chance at all, Dean could keep Cas from becoming an empty shell, he would have to try.
“Who would be?” Cas's words were quiet. Dean almost missed them.
“Who would be? Do most humans like forgetting where they place things? I haven't seen my blade in months. Or do they enjoy forgetting important parts of their lives? I don't-- I don't remember…” Cas trailed off, his eyes drifting away from the room and into someplace internal, and Dean didn't make him complete the thought. He blinked and his eyes returned to Dean. “The answer is no. I am not 'okay.' However, I do not see how anger or rage would make any difference. There is no cure for what I have. Nothing in the human medical sphere. Nothing in the supernatural sphere. Bobby has tried both. I’m sure I've tried at some point.”
“But, what if--” Dean leaned back in his chair, his hands clasped together in his lap. “What if there was a cure?”
“I know you don't intend it that way, but that is a cruel question.”
“I know. I'm sorry.” Dean should drop this whole conversation right away. He knew that and yet his mouth kept moving. “But if there was some way, would you--?”
All the kitchen lights popped, the glass falling to the floor in a shower of sparks. Cas didn't move, didn't change expression, didn't even blink. Dean shied away from him. He felt like shit for provoking Cas but at least he got a reaction.
“I do not regret the decisions that have led me here. I've met people. I saved lives. I met you.” Cas spoke softly, calmly, but Dean could feel the energy he expended in order to keep his aura of control. “I wouldn't compromise that. But-- but if--” He paused and took a breath, then continued speaking in the same tone. “Of course I would, Dean. Of course I would.” He smiled then, more of a twitch on the side of his mouth, really, but Dean counted it as a smile. “I am rather curious what you look like with no hair.”
Dean laughed. “I should probably invest in a hair piece now.”
Almost a full smile on Cas this time, though it faded as soon as he looked down at his coffee cup. He stared into the black liquid.
Dean stood from his chair. “Guess I should find a broom.”
Cas didn't stop him. He didn't move as Dean cleaned up around him, sweeping away the broken glass. Dean replaced a few light bulbs with the spares he found on top of the fridge. Hopefully that would be enough to keep Mercy from noticing the mess right away. The whole time he worked, Cas still didn't move.
Cas's answer didn't help Dean, not really. Sure, he managed to get Cas to say what he wanted to hear, but those last words echoed around in Dean's head. They both wanted to live, to grow old together, but Dean could not see how to get there. Zachariah had made Dean's options crystal clear: continue to say no and be forced to stay as he is now, in a broken and defeated world, or say yes and end the world's suffering. There were only two lines. Dean wanted something else, something in between that, but there was no way to make it happen. There were two options: Dean or Cas. Not both.
He should have learned his lesson years ago, when he found that crossroads after he lost his brother. He sacrificed himself then and, now, he was readying himself to do it again. After all, it went so well the last time.
But that's the thing, right? It was his fault. He was the one that fucked everything up. This whole thing started with his yes and he could end it with one, too. If he could help Cas in the meantime, he had to give it a try and let something good happen from all of this.
All those innocent people he was worried about were dying anyway. There were fighters out there. Cas always talked about human resilience, at least if he were in a good mood. Sometimes he called it stubborn, usually when Dean pissed him off enough. Either way, humanity would find a way to survive.
Those lives would be on him, though. All those lives were already on him. What difference would be a few billion more?
Just a few billion. Just a brother left behind. Just a father figure left to drown in his whiskey. Just a man, an angel, the person he loved, made whole but left alone.
Hell, maybe even the psychic would miss him.
The broom clattered against the floor. The sound jolted him out of his circular thoughts. Dean glared at it, because it totally did that on purpose, and left it in the corner of the room. That showed it.
Cas stayed in the same spot Dean left him. Dean stood facing him and leaned against the table. He reached out, prying one of Cas's hands off the coffee cup and held it between his own. Cas looked up.
“Hey,” Dean said. “Believe it or not, I didn't come here planning to make you mad.”
“No? But you're so skilled at it.”
“Oh? Right back at you, buddy.”
They smiled at each other, a fragile thing, but it was nice to know Dean wasn't going to leave on a bad note. Dean gave Cas's hand a gentle squeeze before letting go. After, he stood and left the room without another word.
Cas caught up with him by the time he reached the front door.
His name stopped him dead in his tracks. He didn't turn around. He didn't turn around because he knew that Cas would be behind him, looking at him, worried about him. He didn't turn around because he already had spent too long here, giving Sam too much time to catch up to him. He didn't turn around because he'd finally convinced himself to say yes and if he did turn around he would question himself again, again, again.
Cas said his name again, his voice closer now. Dean stayed where he was, a few steps from the door, and clenched his fist. He breathed deeply, let it out, and made a final decision.
He whipped around and grabbed Cas. He didn't give Cas a chance to recover, pulling him close. He kissed him. He took his time, knowing he wouldn't have another chance. When he backed away, he could see Cas's concern, he could see Cas's confusion, he could see Cas's love. Dean ignored all but the last. He smiled.
“I love you,” he said.
He turned on his heel and walked out.
The Impala's steering wheel fit his hands perfectly, as always, his palms fitting into the small groves created from years of wear. Dean liked them. They gave him a sense of permanence, like he had affected something in the world, like there would be something left of him when he was gone.
He drove aimlessly since he'd left Cas behind, staying one step in front of his brother (he hoped), but he had no idea where he was supposed to go. For once, Dean wasn't so glad to be hidden from angels.
“Well, well, well. Have you finally made up your mind?”
The eighteen wheeler laid on the horn when Dean jerked the wheel in reaction to who he saw in the passenger seat. He overcorrected, nearly driving into the ditch before he straightened out.
“Please tell me I'm not sleeping now. ”
“Relax,” Zachariah said. “We aren't going to let you drive off the road now that we're finally here. Everything is under control.”
Was Zachariah driving his car right now? Wow, Dean did not like that idea.
“You know how this goes. Same deal as before.” Zachariah turned his body towards Dean, one arm flung across the bench seat, his fingers brushing Dean's shoulder. Dean's skin crawled. “But somehow, I feel your answer will be a little different this time.”
The accelerator pressed itself. Dean let go of the steering wheel and the Impala drove straight and true. Dean turned his head and looked into the eyes of a Zachariah who knew he had won.
“What do you mean 'wherever he is?’ We know exactly where he went!” Sam slammed his hands on Bobby's desk but Bobby didn't look too impressed.
“Okay, fine,” Bobby said. “They why aren't you halfway to Cas already?”
“Because!” Sam stood up, and snatched his phone out of his pocket. “I'm hoping Dean'll get there, realize he's a total dumbass, come to his senses and we can forget all this bullshit about saying yes!”
“Really?” Bobby added more whisky to his glass. “And you think that'll happen?”
Bobby raised his glass to his lips. “Idjits.” He stared right at Sam and drained his glass.
Sam glared at Bobby, who readied his next drink, and turned toward the kitchen. He checked his phone. Nothing new on it, of course, but he shot off yet another futile text to Dean. Sam put his phone to his ear and called Cas.
It rang. It rang and rang and rang. Not really a surprise. Cas had a habit of forgetting his phone or leaving it silenced. Sam wished now wasn't one of those times.
He walked out of the house, stomping down the steps without any real purpose but hoping the air would clear his head. He tried Cas again. Still nothing. Right. Cool. No problem at all.
The phone flew out of his hand of its own accord, really. Sam was due for an upgrade anyway.
Sam stopped for one second. Then two. Then three. He went all the way to ten. Okay. Breathe. Breathe and think.
He knew Dean's farewell tour would lead him to Cas, the problem was that Sam didn't know when. Whatever Dean and Cas talked about when they did meet would be the deciding factor on Dean's final decision. If anyone could talk Dean out of his stupidity, it'd be Cas. Dean ignored any attempt by Sam or Bobby to contact him. Cas, on the other hand, had a way of making Dean slow down and listen.
Which is why Sam needed to talk to Cas, let him know what's going on. Phones didn't work but--
Cas was only a prayer away.
Sam hadn't prayed in more than a year. He'd given up on it. It seemed wrong for the devil's vessel to do something like that and he knew God didn't give a shit. Still, he put his hands together and closed his eyes.
“Hey, Cas. I-- uh-- I don't know if I'm doing this right but, if you can hear this, we need your help. Dean needs your help.” Sam raised his head. He looked at the sky, the sun hidden behind the clouds. “It's time to get back in the game.”
Sam circled in place, searching. A thousand broken cars but not much else. He headed back to Bobby's house. It was a long shot.
He reached the bottom step when he heard the wing beat. In his peripheral vision, Sam saw Cas leaning heavily against the nearest vehicle. He recovered by the time Sam reached him but, upon closer observation, Sam could see a slight tremor in his otherwise steady stance.
“Sam,” Castiel said, “are you well?”
“You better come inside.”
Bobby hardly looked up from the bottle in his hands when Sam returned to the library. He did, however, take notice when Sam squeezed himself behind the desk digging into the bottom drawer.
“Cas,” Bobby said.
“I noticed you've learned how to say goodbye from your human.”
Sam slammed the drawer shut, saving Cas from needing to respond, a smooth cylinder secure in his hand. He gave Castiel the rundown about Dean. Cas crossed his arms as Sam spoke, and squinted at the wall. Bobby appeared absorbed in the book on his desk, but he never once flipped the page.
“I see,” Cas said after Sam finished his explanation. “He did come see me.”
“When?” Sam asked.
That shouldn't have been such a difficult question but Castiel put a hand to his chin, thinking for a long time. “Recently.”
Sam hoped for a better answer but he knew Cas gave the best he could with how his mind worked. Even Sam noticed the way Cas pursed his lips when he answered, the way he shook his head when he spoke. Cas didn't need anyone to make him feel worse. He was doing a good enough job himself.
“Okay,” Sam said. “Did he give any hint about where he would go next?”
Cas's pause was even longer this time. “No. But he--” Cas dropped his hands to his side, his back straight as he directly addressed Sam. “He wanted to know, given there was a way to heal my condition, if I would take the cure. I said yes.”
Bobby gave up pretending not to pay attention. “You gotta be fucking kidding.” Bobby groaned when Cas shook his head. “That goddamn idjit is gonna try to bargain with a bunch of angels.”
Silence took over the room. Bobby's scowl deeped and Castiel rolled his shoulders forward and folded his arms, turning in on himself.
Of course. Of fucking course Dean would be that dumb. Of course. Didn't Dean learn anything from the last time he sacrificed himself?
Where was the big brother Sam knew? The big brother, who made all those grand speeches about free will, who gave Sam a reason to keep fighting his destiny when he wanted to give up, had to still be somewhere in Dean. He had to be and Sam wasn't going to let him fade away. They needed to find Dean and talk to him. That way, they could still find that Dean, the one who spoke about the future with his family with hope in his eyes, and bring him back to the surface.
"Is this--" Castiel broke the spell, his words quiet. He cleared his throat before continuing. "Is this my fault?"
Bobby glanced at Sam out of the corner of his eye and clamped his mouth shut. Wow. Helpful. Sam put the object into the back of his jeans, careful not to stab himself. He stood in front of Cas, not touching him, and waited for him to look up.
"No," Sam said.
It was all he needed to say because it was true. Cas just needed to hear someone say it. He reached into his pocket and brought out the object he took from Bobby's desk. Flipping it over in his hand, he held out the handle of the angel blade to Castiel.
"This is--" Cas didn't uncross his arms but he stared down at the blade with a furrow in his brow. "It's been here this whole time?"
"You gave it to me," Bobby said very helpfully from his desk.
"You're not going to hurt us," Sam said. "I don't think you ever could. So, like I said, it's time to get back in the game."
"I'm still broken. I'm still losing myself more each day. I--"
"You still got angel mojo," Bobby said.
"You're still Cas," Sam added.
He pushed the blade out a little further, leaving it only an inch from Cas's hand. Slowly, agonizingly so, Castiel unfurled his body, his hands returning to his side. He raised his head and stared into Sam's eyes. Sam saw the universe.
Castiel took the blade and vanished
Angel radio made his head throb but Castiel tuned into it, knowing he needed to endure. Each channel was loud and frantic, all of the Host called upon to find Dean Winchester. There were instructions on how to find him. Apparently, Zachariah had decided to involve the more fringe elements of human religion in his plan. The organization the angels were to look out for sounded like what Bobby would not-so-charitably call a 'doomsday cult.' The higher echelons must have been desperate. Still, it must have worked because the whole channel was abuzz with activity, all of them reacting to the news that the fabled vessel was in his way. Thankfully, they still had not found Dean.
The angels were looking for the Impala. That proved that they did not know Dean. Castiel knew Dean. The first thing he would do is park the baby somewhere safe. Then, he would put distance between him and the Impala because Dean protected her almost as much as he protected everything else. Possibly more.
No, it was pointless to look for his car. Dean must have already chosen where to spend his last free day. Castiel had a feeling it would be in a bar.
Castiel quieted the angel chatter and honed in to open prayer. The force of a million voices threatened to knock him over, but he persevered. There was one voice that rang over the din and Castiel hurled through the sky to find it, knowing he needed to find it first.
"You pray too loud."
The man fell to the ground, a stack of pamphlets falling to the floor like mottled feathers. He was only asleep. He was an odd one but he was still an innocent.
Dean stared at Castiel, his eyes wide, and opened his mouth. Castiel did not give him the chance to speak. He seized hold of Dean's collar and flew them away from the area, away from any angels. They ended up in an alleyway, the walls covered in a nauseating swirl of yellow, red, and green graffiti. Castiel did not stop until he pressed Dean against the wall, both hands tightly wrapped in Dean's clothes. He was not letting him leave this time.
"This," Castiel growled, his face not even a breath away from Dean, "this is what you're going to do?"
Dean did not reply. He looked down, refusing to meet Castiel's eyes. Castiel leaned in closer, his hands clenched in the fabric of Dean's shirt.
"You're giving up?" Castiel continued, his words growing faster and more frantic as he spoke. "What happened to free will? Innocent lives? Refusing destiny? What have we been fighting for all this time? How? How can you give up now?"
Dean looked up then, at the hitch in Castiel's voice. He raised his hands, placing them over Castiel's to touch his skin. He never tried to loosen the hold.
"I'm tired Cas," he said. "I'm just tired."
Castiel let go of Dean, the fabric remaining bunched together at his shoulders. He brought a hand to Dean's face, hoping to somehow wipe off that defeated look in his eyes. When that did not work, he wrapped Dean in his arms and held him, not saying a word. Dean never returned the hug, his hands clenched into fists at his side. It did not deter Castiel.
He pulled back far enough to see Dean's face. "I can't let you do this. I can't watch someone else walk around with you face."
"If I don't do this," Dean said, "you'll be an empty shell."
Castiel paused, attempting to figure out why Dean would make that comment. Admittedly, Castiel had not given too much thought to what would happen once his final memory left him. Or at least, he did not remember doing so. Either way, he did not want too.
He no longer thought about his vessel as something separate from himself. It was his body. He made it his own, had felt pain, felt pleasure, felt love, had made it into a work of art. He was uncomfortable with the idea of his body walking around without his mind within it.
Would that happen, one his mind escaped him? Would his family have to watch? If so, would he still be Castiel or would he become someone else?
The questions made his bones cold. It did not change anything, however, because what would happen to Dean, to the world, would be so much worse.
"That doesn't matter," said Castiel, "doing this will end you, end the world as we know it."
Dean shook his head. "Maybe we should."
"You don't really mean that."
"I don't?" Dean scoffed. "No. I do. I really do."
"Dean. What happened to you?"
"There's no such thing as destiny. You taught me that."
"Yeah, well, your first problem was taking lessons from me. I ain't no role model."
Hearing Dean speak like that made Castiel's heart pound, made him want to scream. He squeezed at Dean's right shoulder, the scar hot through his clothes. Castiel could feel the heat work it way up his own arm, creating an invisible line between them. He felt it and, for a brief, fleeting moment, Castiel's mind was clear.
"No, that's not true," Castiel said.
"I've made my decision. I'm saying--"
Castiel slapped at hand over Dean's mouth to keep him from uttering the final word. "No. You're not. I've fought against this for too long. Longer than you know. It's not ending here."
Dean might have said something, Castiel was not sure. Castiel wrapped his arms around Dean body, making him stay there next to him. His wings beat and they were gone. Any angels who would investigate this place later would not find a single shred of evidence they were ever there.
Castiel returned after a few hours, a flurry of papers announcing his arrival in the middle of the library. He held Dean, who had one arm slung over Castiel's shoulders and his eyes closed. Sam had no words to describe the relief he felt.
"What--" Sam started to ask.
"He's asleep. He was--" Cas threw Dean onto the bed, rather unceremoniously. "--speaking nonsense."
Castiel adjusted Dean's body into a more comfortable position but he glared while he did it.
"Uh, okay. Should we lock him down or something?"
"Do as you wish." Castiel turned away from Dean, heading towards the exit.
"Whoa! Where are you going?"
Cas stopped in the entryway, his head tilted, his face lowered in concentration. Whatever Castiel heard, Sam's human ears were too weak to pick it up.
"I have work to do."
And, once again, Castiel flew away. Sam would have really loved a follow up on that but he didn't get a chance to speak before Castiel left. Dean let out a loud snore, disrupting the quiet house, and Sam nearly lost the notebook which lay in his lap. He stared at Dean and wondered what he would do.
Whatever angel power Castiel used on Dean was effective. Dean woke up hours after Cas left, groggy and confused. He tried to rub at his face but when he moved his right hand it rattled the chain on the handcuffs confining him to bed.
"Really?" Dean shook his hand at Sam, making as much notice as possible. "Is this necessary?"
Sam shrugged, leaning back in the chair he put behind Bobby's desk. "I don't know. Are you still set on being a dumbass?"
Dean grumbled under his breath and crossed his arms as best he could with the handcuffs. He leaned his head back on the pillow and stared at the wall.
So, sulking it was. Sam returned to his research. Pretty soon, Sam was going to run out of books. Still not much in there about ending the Apocalypse but he wasn't going to give up. Unlike some people.
Not one to sit still for long, Dean broke his silent state rather fast. "Where's Bobby?"
"Ran out of whiskey. Found some in a bar."
"Sounds like Bobby."
Sam waited but the next question didn't leave Dean's lips. Dean's eyes darted around the room like a nervous rabbit and Sam knew exactly why. He let Dean stew for a while before he answered the unspoken question.
"Cas isn't here."
Dean blinked then leaned back into the bed. "Of course not," he muttered into his lap. He looked up, speaking directly to Sam when he continued, "Remind me not to piss him off. He might knock me out again."
"Oh, I'm sure you deserved it."
Dean mumbled a curse that sounded a lot like an insult directed toward Sam. Oh well. Sam wasn't the one handcuffed. He returned to his books.
Dean lasted a little longer than last time before he spoke. "What does he think he's doing running off like that? Just poof--" he snapped his fingers-- "gone, I bet."
Sam shot Dean one of his patented Winchester looks of disapproval. "Do you even hear all that hypocrisy?"
A short wide eyed pause passed before Dean said, "I'm not the one with memory problems."
"Really? 'Cause it sure seems like it to me. You seem to have forgotten you're the one who told us to not give up. You're the one who doesn't believe in destiny. You're the one who told us to fight."
"I'm full of shit. You know that."
"No, Dean. Not about this."
The handcuffs rattled. "Once I'm outta here, I'm still saying yes, I hope you realize that."
"I'd never forgive you. Bobby won't. Cas won't, either," Sam said. "I hope you realize that."
Sam and Dean stared at each other, chins held high. Both of them issuing a challenge, both of them waiting to see who would break the silence first.
"So," Dean said. "You gonna lock me up in the panic room? Can't say I don't deserve that."
Sam tapped his pen against the desk. He could do that, he supposed, until Dean's moment of weakness was over. He didn't want to, however, because he knew how awful it was to be stuck down there, even when it was the right thing to do. It was not the right thing to do. Sam stood, reaching into his pocket. Dean watched him the whole time, his face wary. Sam unlocked the handcuffs, throwing them into the corner of the room with a clatter, and sat back down.
Dean didn't move. "I-- I don't…"
"You see, I don't think you will say yes."
"I will. You know I will."
"You won't. 'Cause you're my big brother and my big brother has never let me down."
"How can you say that?" Dean asked, his voice small.
Sam locked eyes with Dean and smiled. "I have faith."
The first to arrive at the designated meeting place in the Boreal forest, unseasonably warm this far north, Castiel had nothing to distract him. He paced, kicking leaves and twigs with each step, fighting the urge to rip the nearest tree from the ground and throw it down the hill. It wasn't the tree's fault the man he loved was a complete and utter idiot.
He was at the point of peeling away the bark on the tree, trying to find the layers underneath, when Anna flew in.
"Good," she said. "You made it."
"You called me," Castiel said.
"Your suspicions were correct. They have resurrected the boy."
Anna watched Castiel for a long moment, the hum of power in her gaze. She touched his cheek, her fingertips cold.
"You've forgotten," she said softly, a weariness in her voice not directed at him. "That's okay. I'll explain. Adam Milligan. He is of Winchester blood and thus will work as another vessel for Michael. Though not as powerful."
The reveal was not a shock, but Castiel did not recognize the name. He must have known at some point. He must have still believed Dean would not become the vessel.
"I see. Where is he now?"
Anna chewed her bottom lip. "We were too late. He was heavily guarded and--"
"The angels have him."
"Well, the end of the world hasn't happened yet. There must be something else to all this."
"Hannah is looking into that now. We'll call you when there is more information."
Anna crossed her arms. "He is off investigating something." She stared off into the distance, the picture of innocence.
"Would this something have to do with my situation?"
"It could," she said.
Castiel shook his head. "A waste of time."
If Anna had a reply, it was lost when a new voice perked up behind them.
"My, my, you are a difficult one to track."
Castiel whirled around, calling his blade into his hand. Beside him, Anna did the same thing. The new arrival straightened his tie, acting as if their response did not affect him in the least. The man's face was made of long, oily shadows fanning out from his head. Red smoke shimmered in the air, emulating from his body. His human face grinned along with the shadows.
"The infamous Castiel. In the flesh!" He stepped forward and Anna raised her blade. It did not stop him. He closed in on Castiel, making a point of racking his eyes over his body, a smirk forming at the corner of his mouth. "To think Dean Winchester is the one batting up."
"Who are you?" Anna demanded, pushing herself in between Castiel and the demon.
"Relax. I'm a friend."
"You're a demon," Anna said, her voice dripping with venom.
He clicked his tongue. "Racist."
"Technically, I believe this would classify as speciesist," Castiel said.
The demon chuckled, giving Castiel another long look, his eyes lingering enough to make Castiel take a step back. "Cute, funny, and smart." The demon shook his head. "Why are all the good ones always taken?"
Anna kept her attention on the demon. She studied the situation, her sword hand hovering between the two men, waiting to see how Castiel would react.
"You still haven't answered her question," said Castiel.
"What? Your boyfriend never mentioned me?" Or did you just forget?" He clutched at his heart and gasped in mock distress. "Either way, I'm hurt."
"That is still not an answer."
"Ah, but teasing is so much more fun." Twin angelic glares made the demon stand up straight. "Fine. Name's Crowley." He waited for a response that never came. "Really? Nothing? King of the Crossroads?" The angels gave him a blank stare.
"I may not have killed you yet," Castiel said, "but I'm beginning to change my mind."
"Alright, touchy." Crowley raised his hands, palms stretched. "Rumour has it there's a group of angels are trying to stop the Apocalypse. I guess your lovely bodyguard here is one of them." Crowley winked at Anna. She frowned. "But you, Dory, are the one to watch."
"Rumour has it?" echoed Castiel.
"What? You lead a raid in Hell, cause a bunch of havoc in Heaven, and think we wouldn't keep an eye on you? I have my ways." Crowley grinned at Castiel's squint but continued to speak, "And since my last plan was completely and utterly cocked up-- thanks to your Winchesters by the way-- I now find myself coming to you." He paused. "Each and every entendre intended."
"To do what?" Anna asked.
"To make a deal, of course. It's kind of my thing." Crowley pulled at the lapels of his suit coat which were, now that Castiel could look closely, stained with a dark red liquid. "King of the Crossroads."
"Make a deal?" Anna scoffed. "We're angels. We don't have souls to bargain."
"Well," Crowley said, risking Anna's blade to take another step closer to Castiel, "you don't have anything I want"
Castiel blinked, staring blankly until he realized what Crowley's pointed stare meant. "What? I don't have a soul."
Crowley studied Castiel again, humming low in his throat. "Really? I mean you got something sparkly on your shoulder there. Alas, it is already claimed. No. I'm not looking for a soul."
There was nothing on his shoulder. Castiel rubbed at it, glancing at Anna with the same question in her eyes. She had no idea what the demon saw, either. A bluff, possibly, a way to make him seem to know more than he did. Castiel decided to ignore the comment for now, knowing that they listened to this Crowley talk for far too long.
Castiel asked, "What do you want?"
"I don't want the world to end," the demon said. "I mean, you can't collect any souls if all the humans are dead. So I propose: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. You get my help. We fix this whole devil problem and after, well, you just leave me be."
"Leave you be?"
"Yeah. You tell the angels to leave me alone and I… do what I want when we're done."
"I tell the angels to leave you be? Me?"
"Trust me, Cassie boy. They'll follow you." Crowley let his head drift toward Anna. "I mean, you've been quite the inspiration thus far."
The whole conversation made Castiel uncomfortable but not because of the demon's thinly veiled suggestiveness. The idea that people were watching him-- Heaven, Hell, and those in between-- waiting to see how he would act, caused Castiel to feel a sudden, suffocating weight descend upon his shoulders. Castiel did not want to be a major figure in the fight against the Apocalypse. Castiel wanted to live out his dwindling days out in peace. But no, he could not, because every time he tried he could not stay still, could not stay out of the battle. He never could let innocent people suffer.
Rarely any good came out of making a deal with a demon. Crowley had his own aspirations, his own plans hiding under those swinewy shadows. Allies were few, Castiel knew, but working with a demon made his wings twitch.
Castiel must have been quiet for too long because Crowley began to speak again. "I have a vested interest in helping you quickly-- after all you can't hold up your end of the bargain if you're dead-- and my help comes in many forms. The deal does not expire until the devil no longer walks the Earth." Crowley clapped his hands together and rubbed his palms together. "So, what do you say?"
Castiel did not trust this demon. He did not trust any demon. Yet, Crowley was correct. If everything went to, well, Hell, then any deal Castiel made would be moot. It was not a bad idea to have at least one denizen of Hell in their corner, if only to receive information they lacked. However, Castiel still--
"Oh, come on!" The red smoke fanned out around Crowley's head. "I know I'm not the first demon you've been in bed with. What? The meatsuit not to your liking?"
That comment caused Anna to stare at Castiel, her sword hand wavering and her forehead creasing. Castiel kept his face carefully blank.
"'The enemy of my enemy is my friend.' That sounds like a human saying," Castiel said.
Crowley shrugged. "They have their good points."
"There is some truth to it."
"Does this mean we have a deal?"
"We have a deal."
Crowley's grin radiated from his human face to every shadow, every bit of smoke. At the same time Anna's grace flashed bright but she said nothing.
"Excellent!" Crowley took another step forward. "Shall we kiss on it?"
Blade still in hand, Castiel raised it. A short burst of thunder sounded in the distance and blue light swirled behind his eyes.
"Alright. Point taken." Crowley waved his hand and Castiel felt a sharp pain in his side. He knew if he pulled up his shirt he would find a burn on his hip. "There's your contract agreement. Just keeping with your aesthetic. Now, I believe you need someone to find the third Winchester?" Crowley waved as he blinked away.
As soon as the demon was gone, Anna spun around, her eyes full of fire.
"You and I both know we no longer have the luxury of time," Castiel said before she had a chance to speak. "We cannot turn away help, even if the source is unsavory."
"I know." Anna sighed, her fire fading. "But a deal with a demon?"
"Out of all of us," Castiel said, "I have the least to lose. There is a chance I'll run out of time before he comes to collect."
"I think you have the most." Anna smiled at Castiel's confused squint but she did not elaborate. "You should return home. I best warn Hannah about our new, uh, friend."
Anna was gone.
Castiel stayed where he was, contemplating how satisfying the crash would be if he hurled a whole tree down the hill. His conclusion: not nearly enough.
Castiel closed his eyes and took a deep, stabilizing breath before returning to Bobby's house. Anna called it home. Castiel supposed it was, in a way. His family was there. Dean was there. That was still a good thing, no matter how much he vexed Castiel. He looked for his family and tried to hold tightly to every possible thread, every possible piece of power and influence he had in an attempt to keep them all intact. He would do whatever it took to save them. He would do whatever it took to save the world.
For some reason, Sam thought it was a great idea to drag Dean to California, right into the angel's beautiful room. Such a stupid, smart guy. That was where the angels wanted Dean, so he could say yes. He had an added incentive now, if the rumor of Adam was true, as the kid wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for Dean's steadfast refusal to do the right thing.
Dean planned to do the right thing now.
"You're sure?" Cas asked.
"The kid is definitely in there."
That was Crowley. The demon Crowley. The demon Crowley who was now working with Cas. Dean wasn't exactly a fan of that revelation but Cas made it clear he was not going to hear any protests from Dean. Even Sam didn't say much about it.
Oh well. It wasn't like that was going to matter much in a few hours, anyway.
"Did you see him?"
"Heavens, no. Bunch of angels in there. That's how I know."
"The demon is correct." Hannah looked like she'd rather swallow her tongue than admit that but she nodded to Cas. "There is at least five angels. It is far too heavily guarded to be anything else. There is no way we could fly in and rescue him."
Interesting how Cas seemed to have a whole group of misfits reporting to him now. He had neglected to mention that. Not that there was much opportunity, with how he and Dean had been giving each other the silent treatment.
"Very well." Cas nodded to Hannah then eyed the warehouse, his angel eyes looking at something the humans couldn't perceive. "You've done well, Hannah. You can go."
"Are you sure? I--"
Cas put a hand on her shoulder. Dean recognized the softness in Cas's eyes. He did not like seeing it directed at someone else.
"I'm sure," Cas said. "The others must need your help."
Hannah chewed at her bottom lip and stared down at her shoes for a few beats of silence. She locked eyes with him and, after a nod, she was gone.
"I did good, eh boss?" Crowley stepped in close enough that even Cas looked uncomfortable with the invasion of personal space.
"Just…" Cas stepped back. "Get out of here."
"Gladly. Try not to die yet."
Cas wasn't any less tense once Crowley left. He walked to the Winchesters, the three of them the only ones left in the warehouse's parking lot.
"You think it's wise to send them off?" Sam asked.
Cas shrugged out of his overshirt, the flannel fluttering to the pavement. "I'd send you away, too, if I thought you would listen."
"Glad you know me well enough not to try."
A distracted hum was the only response from Cas, who was busy scanning the warehouse again. "You wait here," he said before he headed straight for the doors.
"Whoa!" Dean grabbed Cas's arm before he thought better of it. Cas didn't fight him. He turned without a fight.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Cas squinted at Dean. Could angels (or semi-angels, whatever) have dark circles? Because this one definitely had dark circles.
"I'm going to clear out the angels."
"Hold up, dude. Didn't Hannah say there were, like, five of them in there and that's why she didn't just fly in?"
"And you're gonna take them on yourself?"
No way. Nope. Nuh-uh. No how. Not on his watch. One of the biggest reasons Dean was doing this was so Cas didn't die. This Cas, the one who put himself on the bench worried he could no longer fight, the one who wasn't at full power, the one who couldn't even remember where he put his angel blade until a few days ago when Sam handed it to him, was talking about taking on five full powered angels.
"Maybe it is. But at least this way I won't have to see you fail. I won't see you give in to a fate worse than death."
Dean couldn't move. He tried but his body wouldn't move; his mouth unable to form any sounds. Cas stared at him with sad eyes, his thumb tracing Dean's lips.
Cas turned away and addressed Sam. "When they're cleared out, you'll know. Take your chance as soon as you can. You won't get another."
"Got it," Sam said. "You better rendezvous with us as soon as possible."
Cas nodded, then turned back to Dean still frozen in place. "I know we have our disagreements but--" Cas touched Dean cheek. "I love you. That will never change."
Dean wanted to reply but whatever magic Cas had used on him kept him locked down until the door shut with an ominous click. He gasped when the hold released him. He gasped louder when the wave of power flowed from the warehouse. The shrieking shockwave heralded the death of an angel. Dean didn't want to think about which one.
Sam grabbed Dean and they ran into the building, nearly tripping over a dead angel along the way. Not Cas. No time to stop. They made it to the beautiful room. Adam was there. So was smug faced Zach, his victory causing him to glow with power.
Dean was going to say yes. He really was. But then, Sam looked at him, kneeling as Zachariah tried a new form of torment on him, and he had that look in his eyes.
It was faith.
Zachariah was dead. Dean made it happen. Adam was left behind. Cas was nowhere to be found. But--
Dean was still Dean. Sam still believed in him. If he could believe in a wreck like Dean then Dean should at least try to live up to it.
Kind of sucked, didn't it?
Better than the alternative.
"Sir? Sir? Can you hear me?"
Bright lights. White and loud. Movement. Faces staring down, mouths covered.
"We're losing him!"
Beeping. The sound of electricity. A thousand words, many voices.
All of it faded away.
Blackness. Deep and dark. Quiet.
The ceiling was white. The bed was a slab.
"There he is. How are you feeling?"
The voice belonged to a scrub clad woman. She leaned over the bed, her hands holding a pen light. She turned it on and the world went white.
"You just popped right out of nowhere on that boat. Gave everyone quite the surprise. Good to see your eyes open."
Who was she talking to?
She reached down and there was the sensation of touch. Two hands appeared, one small with well manicured fingernails, the other large with nails filled with dirt.
"Make a fist."
There was a long delay. The small hand disappeared, but the large one stayed up. It stayed like that for a moment. The fingers closed.
"Good. That's good."
The thumb flowed across the other fingers, the skin rough in some places and smooth in others. Lines of black ended at the wrist. The hand moved downwards, filling the view. The hand touched a face.
"Alright, blue eyes. You got a name so we can stop calling you John?"
"John?" The voice from his mouth surprised him with its deepness but he knew it belonged to him.
"Yeah. You know, John Doe."
He figured out how to move his head. He angled his head so he could see the woman's face. Her eyes were brown.
She smiled. "There he is. So, I'm Liz." She indicated herself with her hands against her chest. "And you are…" she splayed her hands toward him.
The man blinked.
"I--" His throat was dry.
He looked down, seeing the rest of his body outlined under the blankets. This body was his, he knew that much, but he felt detached, unsure. The woman helped him take a sip of water.
"I am--" He cleared his throat and tried again. I--"
"Yes?" Liz prompted.
The man stared at the vast whiteness of the ceiling, no colour to be found.
"I don't know."
The nurses tried to help the man figure out his identity. All he owned was a set of work boots, a pair of jeans, and a t-shirt. Luckily, he carried a cell phone in his pocket. Unluckily, said phone was 'bloody old,' according to one nurse, and also drained of power. No matter how many of the nurses and doctors-- even a few patients-- tried, they all had to concede it was too water damaged to ever work again.
The man spent his next days trying to settle in to his body. His body felt too confining, his skin too rigid. He did not have any wings. He felt like he should have wings, like he should have been able to fly away.
"Do you ever feel like your body is just too small?" The man asked Liz during his latest check up.
"Honestly," she said, setting his chart back in its holder, "usually I feel like it just too big." She headed for the door. "Alright, blue eyes, you're looking better every day. Hopefully we'll find someone who knows you soon."
She smiled at the man's wave goodbye.
The man hoped for the same. He could feel something pricking at the back of his head, something important. Sometimes, late at night, he felt a pull at the centre of his being. It was as if he could feel someone else's longing, someone else's sadness, someone else's grief. Every time he felt it, he wanted to twitch his non-existent wings and find whoever was at the other end.
But he did not know how.
The next night, he was permitted to leave the bed on his own. He spent that time looking in the bathroom mirror. He was covered in art; his body full of colour. Curling script flowed over his arms, his chest, his legs. They said something. They had too. Too bad the man could not read it.
He turned and there they were. His wings. They were broken, scars at his shoulder blades in two parallel lines. They looked like a burn.
There were other scars. Liz called the one on his shoulder a bullet wound, the lines swirling around it, making it part of the art. His other shoulder had a small pock mark that ached the night it rained. Another lay on his hip, a once deep wound healed into a white line. On the opposite hip was a burn that looked like the script that covered the rest of his body in ink.
His arms held the most colour, it weaved in and out of the lines, compelling him to look closer. He ran his fingers over the skin, feeling the marks that the artwork hid.
Whoever he was, he had not led an easy life.
The longing pulled at him again, and he traced the green colour on his skin.
"It's true then. You really have forgotten."
The man acknowledged the new arrival. The bathroom door was still closed. He did not feel surprised that the new person had appeared out of nowhere.
"You're not the usual night nurse," the man said.
For one, this person was male. He did not look like a Brenda but the man was not one to judge. The man did not have a name at all. The newcomer had a deep voice with an accent the man could not place. He could not place any accent, though, not the way he was now. He just knew the newcomer did not sound like the rest of the hospital staff. The newcomer was short but the shadows hiding around the edges of his face suggested a power within him, one that could not be seen with human eyes. Why the man could see red smoke emulating from the newcomer's body was beyond his knowledge but it did not scare him to see it.
"What? Clearly I'm a doctor. Got the stethoscope and everything." The newcomer rattled the cord around his neck, caught in the collar of his scrubs. "Couldn't find the coat on short notice, unfortunately."
"Okay then, 'doctor,' why are you here?"
"Wait a minute. Did you just finger quote me?"
"I suppose I did."
"You are such a square."
"You say that with familiarity." The man leaned over the sink and watched his weary face blink. "A real doctor would have sent me back to bed."
"Oh please. That'd be pointless. After all, you don't sleep."
"So you do know me." The man backed away from his reflection. Two eyes did not feel like enough. "Are you going to tell me what I am?"
"Not--" the fake doctor raised his hand as if he needed to protect his face-- "yet." He closed his eyes, his body tense. He held that position for a moment before opening one eye. "Really? No reaction at all?"
The man stared at the so-called doctor. "Would I have done something?"
"Hey, no complaints here! Makes my life much easier. I need loverboy to do a few things for me, then I'll give you back all wrapped up in a shiny bow."
"I," the man began, "have no idea what you are saying."
"Yeah, that's probably for the best." The shadows around the 'doctor' writhed and shimmered. "Don't worry. I got the whole place on supernatural lock down. We're the only ones who can get in here."
The shadows went still. The self proclaimed doctor watched the man, his expression neutral. The smoke receded, holding close to the other man's body. It made him look almost human.
"Right." If the man could read emotions, and the man was not so sure he could, the word the doctor spoke sounded sad. "Four days from now you're going to receive a call on that brick you call a phone. Do be sure to answer."
The doctor disappeared in front of the man's eyes. Even though he knew that was something most people could not do, he was not surprised.
The man opened the bathroom door and lay on the bed. He closed his eyes. Sleep did not come, not that it was supposed to, and the man felt that pull, that longing one again. He heard words, not from anyone in the hospital but from somewhere deep within. They cut into the man's core, a deep grief he could not understand.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
They had all the Horsemans' rings, safely stored in one of Bobby's many lock boxes. Dean knew how to use them. He hadn't killed Crowley yet because he could still be useful, because Bobby could walk again, because he kept dangling hope in front of Dean's nose every time they spoke. They had something resembling a plan, not that Dean had to like it, and all the pieces were set. Almost.
One piece was still missing.
Dean tried Cas's phone again, though he knew there wasn't much point. Straight to voicemail each time. At least he got to hear Cas's confused voice when he dialed. The man had such a difficult time with technology.
To Dean's surprise, he heard a dial tone. He stayed on the line, listening to that sound play over and over. It rang and rang and rang and Dean sat there, paralyzed, his heart thumping out of his chest. He was half convinced he saw it burst out into Bobby yard, a far cry from the garage his body was still in.
"H-hello?" The voice on the other end was feminine and hesitant, her greeting a whisper.
"And who the hell are you?"
Dean hadn't meant to sound so angry, so vicious. Someone he did not recognize had Cas's phone. There were a lot of people (or not-people) eager to get their hands on him if he were still alive and Dean knew Cas had more enemies than friends.
"Excuse me but this phone was broken until about thirty seconds ago. I think I'm the one who can demand answers. Who the hell are you?"
Dean clenched his free hand into a fist. He opened it upon release of a deep breath. "I'm Dean."
"Yeah," she said, still grumpy from his earlier greeting. "That was the name on the display."
"Do you have a name?"
There was an excruciating pause on the other end before she said, "Doctor Elizabeth Brown. Pleased to make your acquaintance Mister…?"
A doctor, then. Hopefully not a demon doctor. He was about to find out.
"Winchester," he said.
"Alright Mister Winchester. Clearly we got off on the wrong foot here. Why are you calling this number?"
She didn't seem like a demon. A demon would have taunted him at this point, made demands, and alluded to an obvious trap. No, she sounded like a real professional. Now he had to hope she didn't look up his name. He had a bit of a rap sheet. Not all of it was his fault, stop judging.
At this point, Dean figured honesty was the best policy. Maybe with some slight editing.
"I'm looking for Cas."
"Cas?" She really wasn't a demon if she didn't know the name. "Who's Cas?"
Well, that was the million dollar question, wasn't it? Dean had never given Cas a title. Boyfriend sounded too high school, partner sounded strange because he called his brother that on the job, and husband wasn't possible nor something he really cared about. They used the brother cover plenty of times before in some less than welcoming places but Dean no longer wanted to hide it from the world. He loved Cas and he sometimes wanted to shout it at random passerby on the street. Not that he would. That'd be weird. He settled on reminding his brother once in a while. Sam rolled his eyes every time, but he smiled big.
There was one thing, however, he knew for sure.
"Cas is family," Dean said.
"Okay," she said. "And what does this Cas look like?"
An odd set of questions but Dean had to work with her if he was going to figure out what was going on.
"Uh, he's like, six feet or so. Dark hair. Dude's full on covered with tattoos. Got wings on his back-- little on the nose but he thinks it's hilarious. Even after he got sober." The woman made a noise of recognition, but she didn't say anything, so Dean, of course, continued to ramble, "he's usually has the beginning of a beard because I'm pretty sure he has something against razors and, uh, he cannot use a computer to save his life. It's adorable. I'm still kinda shocked he can use a phone. He is a giant dork with a smile that'll make your heart melt. Oh and, right, he's got blue eyes and a way of staring at you that makes you pretty sure he can see your soul and I would really like it if you'd say something so I can shut up now."
The woman on the other end sniffled. "Sorry, I had to be sure." Her voice was pinched, as if she caught a head cold in the last five minutes.
"Sure of what?"
"That you knew him." Dean heard a loud shout on the other end of the line. "You really put your heart out there, huh?"
"Didn't used to."
"And I bet we have our blue eyes to thank for that."
"So he's there?"
"He's here." There was another shout on her end followed by the squeaking wheels of some kind of cart. "But…"
Dean knew it was going to happen. It was a very different thing to have someone confirm it. The doctor spoke. He listened. He knew it would be even worse to see in person but he had to make the drive, had to see for himself. He had to see how much of Cas was left.
Afterwords, he was going to summon Crowley, dump him in a vat of holy water, and calmly ask if he knew about Cas the whole time. Then he would take that lovely demon knife and use it. Slowly. Every single comment that bastard made in Chicago as they looked for Death came running back into his mind. The fucker knew.
First, he had to make the day long drive to Louisiana. God help any cops who tried to pull him over.
While the staff did their best, the man knew they would need the bed for someone actually sick soon. The man did not remember who he was but, in the physical sense, he was completely healthy. The administration clerk, Ahmed, managed to give him an extra day to prepare. Three of the nurses-- Shantelle, Lynn, and Leslie-- provided him with enough information to keep him off the street for the next few days. He refused the money, but they managed to slip a few bills into the notebook they gave him. Now he had to figure out how to give them back.
The man lay on his bed and stared out the window. He wore his original clothes and he picked at a splotch of white paint on his knee. Perhaps he was a construction worker. The paint and the sturdy work boots he owned suggested it to him. He adjusted the collar of his new coat. He had tried to refuse it too, but Brenda had insisted he take it since her son did not need it anymore. She had apologized for the beige colour, which the man did not understand. He found it appealing. A large amount of hospital workers came by to wish him well throughout the day. They all looked pleased when he greeted them by name. It seemed important, having a name.
The last person of the day did not have a name. Or, at least, the man had forgotten it. Liz had told him that a person would come by to see him, but he had never let himself hope.
Shadows moved under the closed door as footsteps sounded from the hallway. The man stayed silent and turned to watch the sunset through the window. Blue and purple and a slight tinge of pink hovered over the horizon and the man felt the urge to capture it in a painting.
A pang in his heart caused him to falter. He did not know where it came from but the sensation became stronger, louder, as the door swung open. The door squeaked as it moved, the action taking an eternity. The man continued to stare out the window, even as the new arrival walked in the room. Neither person said anything.
The man tucked his feet under him and sat crossed legged in the middle of his bed, facing the new arrival. The longing sensation gained more force, then burst as soon as the man met green eyes.
A fascinating colour, that green, a green that reminded him of the tattoos on his arms. The owner of the colour started back at him, not breaking eye contact as he moved forward. Each step closer made the man's heart beat faster, but not from fear.
"Hello,' the man said.
The smile on the other man's lips was a beautiful sight, even if it was tinged with sadness. "Hey, you."
"I'm told you know me."
A small laugh. It was nice. "Yeah, you could say that."
The man watched as his visitor moved a chair to sit directly across from the bed. He sat, crossed his legs, uncrossed them, folded his hands together and pulled them apart. He opened his mouth a few times, took a breath as if he would speak, but said nothing. He sunk into his chair.
"Are you alright?" The man asked.
"Right as rain." He sat up in his chair. "Long drive. That's all."
"'Right as rain,'" the man echoed. He cocked his head to the side. "How is rain right?"
It seemed like an innocent enough question. Green eyes filled with water and the other man stood. He took the last step towards the bed and held out his arms.
The man leaned into the embrace. It was warm and comfortable and right. He breathed and let the scent of leather calm his heart.
"Oh, Cas. I'm sorry," the green eyed man mumbled. "I am so fucking sorry."
"Cas." The man wrapped his arms around the green eyed man's shoulders, smooth leather under his palms. "Cas is me?"
"Yeah. Cas is definitely you."
Apparently Cas had managed to make half (or all) of the hospital fall in love with him. Dean couldn't blame them but he did have to give the man behind the counter a raised eyebrow before he'd stop flirting long enough to check them out. How unprofessional. Each person who crossed their path on the way out said goodbye. Cas knew all of their names.
He was still Cas.
He didn't remember much but he was still him. He still had the same smile, the same deep look in his eyes, the same laugh. He didn't remember Dean but they fell back into the same pattern, an easy familiarity still between them. Dean did his best to answer Cas's questions, to fill in as many blank spots he could. The short car ride wasn't nearly enough time to make a dent in his lack of knowledge.
He was not an empty shell. He was Cas. Dean stopped himself from reaching out to touch him. Dean hadn't realized just how often he felt the need to do that until he couldn't.
Dean debated on whether or not he should say something about their relationship, or whatever they wanted to call it. It seemed wrong to dump that all on him when the dude only learned his name a few hours ago. Dean didn't want to force anything on this version of Cas.
Dean debated on whether or not he should tell him about his angelic nature. Cas seemed calm, content almost, and Dean knew the angel stuff had always caused him to struggle. Still, the Apocalypse hadn't stopped yet and angel powers would certainly be useful and needed very soon.
Maybe Sam could help Dean. Dean's insides were all wrapped up in intricately designed pretzels and he couldn't separate the thoughts in his brain with the feelings in his heart. Though, the single text Dean sent Sam could hardly convey the depths of his problem.
When Dean opened the motel room door, Sam was already on his feet. The moment Cas wandered in behind Dean, Sam became earnest and puppy dog eyed.
Sam and Cas exchanged polite words but Dean didn't listen. He couldn't. He couldn't hear anything over the sound of his mistakes.
Cas wandered to the middle of the room, touching everything he could find. He opened the dresser drawers, looked in the closets, and unzipped Dean's bag. Dean never stopped him.
Sam walked over to Dean, who remained by the door. "How you holding up?"
Dean bared his teeth and tried to laugh. "You're really asking me that?"
"Yeah," Sam said, his chin set. "I am."
"It's Cas," Dean said, watching Cas flip though dad's journal. Anyone else and Dean would have snatched it out of their hands. "A Cas who doesn't remember us. Me." Dean turned around, his hand on the doorknob. "And you're still on your crazy plan and I'm--" He opened the door.
"Where are you going?"
"Gotta clear my head. Look after him for me?"
Dean glanced at Sam. Whatever Sam saw in his face made his brother back off quick. He nodded and Dean left the room.
The crossroads wasn't far. The summoning ritual was second nature now. To think Dean once worried about taking on a single demon obsessed with airplanes.
Crowley popped up in the middle of the crossroads, halfway through pouring himself a drink. He paused, looked up at Dean, and clenched his jaw.
"You knew the whole time?" Dean didn't have enough energy to yell.
Crowley glanced around, but the dark path and sparse vegetation gave him little to work with. Or hide behind. He finished pouring his drink.
"I needed you to work. You needed motivation."
"You couldn't just tell me?"
"Well, no. I'm a demon. I don't care about your precious little feelings," he said, drawing out the final word. He rolled his eyes. "I care about results."
"Right," Dean said. He reached into the inner pocket of his coat. "Time to kill you, then."
Crowley eyed the demon knife, the single streetlight glinting of its sharp edge. "Oh, come on! I'm the reason your boyfriend didn't get turned into lunch meat in the first place. Do you have any idea how many demons came sniffing around that place?"
"Excuse me if I don't fall to my knees in gratitude."
"If only you would." Crowley held his glass out to Dean. "You look like you need a drink."
Dean glared at Crowley then shifted the knife in his hand. He walked toward the demon. Crowley mumbled curses under his breath but didn't move otherwise. When Dean was close enough, he snatched the bottle out of Crowley's hand and retreated to a safe distance. He downed half the bottle in one go.
"That," Crowley said, "is a very expensive bottle."
"Oh, is it?"
Dean drank the rest and threw it toward the treeline. It shattered, little pieces shining like stars on the pavement. Cas would have complained about Dean littering. He wondered if this Cas would, too.
"See this," Crowley said, closing half the distance between him and Dean, "this is why you don't have nice things."
"Yeah, I break everything."
Crowley shrugged and didn't disagree. "Well, if we're done being petulant, I figure you should know that I don't want Feathers dead and I don't want him be…" Crowley finished off what was in his glass, then snapped his fingers, willing it out of existence. "Well, what we have now."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that if you kill me now you'll be killing one of the few chances your twinkle toes has left."
Dean could feel the effects of the alcohol now. Or maybe Crowley's words were what put him off balance. Or maybe both. Hope. He hated hope, especially delivered by a demon. Hope made him dumb.
"I hate you," Dean said.
"Oh, you flirt," Crowley said. "Auf Wiedersehen!"
Crowley was gone. Dean didn't feel any better. Not that he expected to. He sighed and headed back out to the road, the Impala waiting for him. He decided to walk to sober up his head and maybe clear his mind. It didn't work.
Cas seemed fine to Sam. In fact, he seemed better than he had in a long time. Which was kind of sad when Sam thought about it. Cas sat on the bed Dean had claimed as his own and aimlessly clicked through the TV channels. He looked fine.
"Both you and Dean keep pointing your souls at me," Castiel said completely normally.
"What?" Sam gave up on the laptop. He wasn't paying attention to it anyway.
"It's as if," Cas said, turning off the TV, "you both want to tell me something but feel you can't. And Dean, he--" Cas stopped there, his hands out in front of him, trying to grasp something Sam couldn't see. He angled his body toward Sam. "I must have been someone important to you both."
Wow. Sam couldn't believe he never considered how all this would affect Cas. He'd been too worried about Dean flying off to do something stupid that he forgot that Cas was the one who lost his memories. That had to be scary, not knowing who he was or where he came from, and it couldn't be easy to place his trust in a couple of strangers who claimed to know everything about him.
Cas looked fine. Of course he did. Cas usually appeared calm. He was still angelic, giving him that otherworldly stillness, even if he couldn't remember his nature. Castiel was Castiel, memories or no. Cas was still Sam's friend.
"We're family," Sam said.
"Dean said the same thing." Cas smiled. "I don't think you mean that in the genetic sense?"
"No. Why do you ask?"
"Because you're both human."
"What and you're not?"
"You ask that as if you don't already know." Castiel raised his hands, his palms cupped together. He concentrated, then a small ball of light swirled in between his hands. He clasped his palms together and the light went out. "Humans don't do that." He watched Sam's face for a moment. "And you are not surprised."
"No. I guess I'm not."
"Dean was," Castiel said, placing a finger to his temple before finishing the thought, "hurting when we spoke. Perhaps you could help me with my questions?"
Sam answered what he could and tried to steer away any questions about Dean. Dean was in an awful situation and Sam couldn't, nor did he want to, imagine what Dean was going through knowing that Cas didn't remember him. No, best to let Dean figure out his feelings and let him decide what he would tell Cas about their past.
Castiel did, however, seem vaguely aware of the Apocalypse and the fact he was an angel. All he did was nod to both revelations and make a mild comment of confirmation. If anyone asked Sam, and they might, he would say Cas was still capable of a fight. Which was good because they desperately needed help in the coming days.
Sam was terrified of what was coming and he didn't want to do it in his own. He knew what he had to do, but he would be the first to admit his fear.
Castiel asked questions for hours. There was so much to remember, so many years in Cas's life that neither he nor Dean could fill. It wasn't enough.
The questions stopped when Dean returned. A pained look on Castiel's face cut off his last one. Dean didn't say anything. He flopped down on the bed, fully clothed, and ignored any attempts to get his attention. Sam tried to sleep after that and Cas took over the laptop. Sam heard him cursing at it well into the night.
Bobby greeted them at the door, standing on his own two legs. He held the door for the three men to file through, something Bobby never ever did before, with a smile on his face. Sure, a lot sucked right now but Bobby walking again was a definite win.
Cas and Dean sat on the living room couch, one person on each end and a mile of space between them. They needed their privacy, so Bobby and Sam nodded at each other and set up in the library, closing the door behind them. There wasn't much need for research now. They had a plan. Somehow, Sam doubted there was a passage about how the trap the devil in his body. He tried to find it anyway.
Bobby cleared his throat and forced Sam to look up before he spoke. "So, are we going to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?"
"Saying yes to Lucifer. Jumping in the pit. Jason Bourne in the next room. And Dean. Like, in general."
Well, that was a compact summary of the last few days. Sam huffed out a laugh and folded his hands in his lap.
"Think we could drink instead?"
A full bottle of whiskey landed on Bobby's desk, followed by the clink of two glasses. They were Bobby's fancy ones, made to look like crystal. Sam didn't see Bobby grab them from anywhere. Sam wouldn't be surprised if Bobby mastered an alcohol summoning spell.
They drained the first glass together and the second was poured. They drank those and went for a third. The fourth round came around and left almost as fast. They reached a fifth. Then they started to talk about it.
"Obviously I don't want to spend eternity in the pit," Sam said, his drink sloshing over the lip of the glass as he waved his arms about, "but I'm the one who popped the lock. I'm the lucky freak who has to-- and can-- put him back in."
"I know, I know." Bobby poured himself another drink. "But Hell? With the devil himself?"
"I know." Sam leaned forward, setting his glass on the desk before he dropped it. His hands seemed determined to talk. "And I already said I wouldn't do it until everyone agreed."
"Wait." Bobby went still. Very still. "Didn't we already have this debate?"
"Yeah but that was…" Sam twisted around but he couldn't see anything through the closed door.
"Oh." Bobby took a drink. "Cas."
"Yeah." Sam spun back around, wondering when his normal chair became a rocking chair. "But it's not like I can really ask him."
Out of all of them, Sam had the least to complain about in this particular situation. Sam hadn't lost his memories. Sam hadn't been forgotten by the love of his life. Yet he still felt the absence of a friend. One he wished he could speak with right now. Cas had told him, so long ago in Mercy's kitchen, that Sam could talk to him anytime. Sam wished he could take him up on that offer.
Bobby blew a raspberry. "Well, I give you blanket permission to do what you gotta. I'm no angel friend but I do have a pretty good shotgun collection."
Sam laughed. "I bet we'll need some."
"I don't know," Bobby said. "You Winchesters might win on stubbornness alone."
"You're one to talk."
Bobby handed Sam his glass. They clinked them together. Each toast brought them closer to the end of the bottle.
"To victory," Sam said.
"To being a stubborn bastard," Bobby said.
"To kicking ass."
"To free will."
The fake crystal rang true.
His name was Castiel.
Cas-ti-el. Three syllables. Three separate sounds brought together, ringing true. It was his name. Given by God. Maybe given by God. Castiel did not know where angels received their names.
He was also Cas.
That was what the Winchesters brothers called him. One syllable taken from three. It was a nickname, spoken fondly. Given by friends. Maybe his friends. The green eyed man-- Dean-- looked at him much differently than Sam.
Like now. Dean stared at Castiel from his place on the other end of the couch. It must be hard to stare like that, out of the corner of his eye while maintaining the appearance of focusing on the wall, but Castiel allowed Dean to believe his rouse was successful. Castiel stared at the wall, too, pretending to be fascinated by the wallpaper.
Dean's soul was loud. Castiel figured Dean did not know what he was doing, that he was projecting his longing, his grief, his desire, toward Castiel. It was a prayer, one Castiel wished he could answer.
Dean's hand rest in the empty space between them. The fingers pointed towards Castiel, as if the hand were an offered lifeline. Castiel took it.
At first, Dean had no reaction. Castiel's touch was light to start, but then he leaned into the space between them. He placed Dean's one hand between both of his own. That made Dean look. Dean looked at their joined hands, at the line they made to bridge the gap between them, and waited.
Their hands remembered each other. Castiel knew that he would find rough calluses along the side of Dean's hand, from the use of his gun. He knew that Dean's knuckles would be uneven, from one too many fights. He knew that Dean's palms were soft, with the centre being one of the few places he was ticklish.
There was one more thing Castiel knew. What his mind had forgotten his body had remembered. Dean's fingers fit into the spaces between Castiel's perfectly, easily, like they had done it a million times. Dean's hands were warm, his grip strong, and Castiel knew this was right.
"We are..." Castiel made Dean look in his eyes, so he could read his true question. "...only friends?"
Dean leaned forward, his tongue caught between his teeth and sucked in a breath. His answer came quickly, a burst of air behind the word. "No."
"Then we are more than that," Castiel said.
It wasn't a question. Dean nodded in reply, his mouth clamped shut.
"Then what are we?" Dean opened his mouth to answer, but Castiel stopped him. "Other than family, I mean."
Dean stared down at their still joined hands. He licked his lips. He stared for a long time, then squeezed Castiel's hand.
"Well that," Dean said, looking back up, "that'll be up to you."
Castiel couldn't read emotions well and he couldn't figure out what Dean's eyes wanted to tell him. His soul, however, his soul, sent a bright burst of feeling that nearly overwhelmed Castiel. A wave crashed over him, full of hope, guilt, longing, and love.
"I don't know yet," Castiel said. Dean's face fell and he nodded. Castiel squeezed his hand. "But I'd like to stay." He leaned in more, their faces close together now. "I'd like to find out."
Castiel was close enough to hear the stutter in Dean's breath. "I'll be there," he said. "Whatever you decide."
They ended up together in the middle of the couch, their hands still entwined. Dean closed his eyes and rested his head on Castiel's shoulder. Castiel let him stay there, even after his breathing grew deep and long, and never let go of his hand.
Dean loved Cas. Dean would always love Cas. That was clear.
What wasn't clear was how Cas felt. He was still Cas. He still looked at Dean the same way. He had always looked at Dean that way.
Dean wasn't going to force anything on Cas. Cas had to figure out for himself what he wanted. It didn't matter what Cas decided, if he fell in love with Dean again or not, because Dean had promised that he would stay with him. Dean had wavered in his promise before but not anymore. Cas was stuck with him, in whatever capacity he wanted. No matter what.
Dean woke up on the couch, Cas's new almost-trench coat draped over his shoulders. He didn't remember falling asleep. He did remember feeling comfortable, more at peace, after speaking with Cas. Maybe the exhaustion finally caught up with him after their chat.
The coffee lived in the kitchen so Dean dragged himself off the couch. After neatly folding Cas's coat and leaving it on the couch arm, he trudged into the next room. Bobby greeted him with a grunt, standing (standing!) in front of the coffee pot, waiting for it to finish its work. Bobby brought him a mug when it was done and joined him at the table. Oh, that was a bad sign.
"How are you holding up?" Bobby asked.
"Oh no," Dean said. "We're not having a talk, are we?"
"Right. Because you have no problems at all."
Bobby watched Dean as he brought his mug to his mouth.
Bobby took a sip.
Bobby set the cup down. He stared.
Dean squirmed in his seat. "Sam's still doing what he's doing. We had that talk already. It's, well, not fine, but I agreed. Remember? You were there."
Bobby hummed, then tapped the table with his fingers. He stared.
Dean grumbled and threw his hands in the air, letting them slap the table on the way down. "He's Cas, alright?"
"And what? It's him. I know it's him. He just--"
"Doesn't remember you."
Hearing someone else say it hurt. All of it hurt. It hurt that Cas didn't remember their history. It hurt that Cas hadn't even remembered Dean's name. It hurt because the person Dean wanted, needed, to talk to about his problems was the one person he couldn't talk to at all.
But it didn't matter. It didn't matter because he was Cas. He was Cas and Dean didn't have the right to ask him to be more.
"We'll make new memories. I mean, if he wants to," Dean said. "I--I hope he wants to."
The hair on Bobby's head was grey. Dean knew that but he hadn't really noticed it before. He did now.
"It's tough," Bobby said, "being in love."
"Yeah." Dean caught the wistful glint in Bobby's eyes, and he remembered. He had met Bobby's wife. Kind of. Karen had a case of the undead at the time. "You still are, huh?"
"Always," Bobby said. "Had a big fight the day before she died. Never resolved it."
"Not even when…?"
"No." Bobby took a deep breath. "I'm not going to tell you that you're lucky to have another chance or whatever. Because that ain't easy. But I will tell you this: this Cas looks at you in the exact same way as the old one."
Dean didn't have a reply. Bobby didn't expect one. They drank the rest of their coffee in silence.
What was it with coffee and serious talks? Dean briefly considered giving up his morning cup to avoid them but there wasn't a goddamn chance he'd actually do it.
"Did I walk in on a moment?"
The voice was familiar, but not one Dean had expected to hear. One his muscles had unclenched enough to move, he motioned to Bobby to not use the gun taped to the underside of the table. Balthazar cocked an eyebrow at Bobby, but otherwise said nothing about it. He turned to Dean.
"Alright. Chop, chop! Time to gather the troops," Balthazar said.
"Why?" Dean asked.
"Because I am the greatest of all angels and the answer to your prayers." Balthazar groaned when the humans didn't move. "No, seriously, get the other two. I have a way to help Cas."
That got Dean moving. They gathered in the living room. Sam, with some serious bedhead going on, tried in vain to smooth his hair down from his place on the couch. Cas, also on the couch, watched Balthazar pace the room, his head in danger of turning completely sideways. Dean and Bobby stood, keeping a close eye on the babbling angel.
"See, Cassie? You said it was a waste of time. But here we are."
"I'm sorry," Cas said, "but I--"
"Don't remember. Yes, I know." Balthazar rubbed his chin. "We're missing one."
In a blink, Balthazar was gone. In another blink, he was back, a confused Mercy beside him, still holding her mug full of morning tea.
Balthazar pushed her aside before she could finish the word. Mercy sat beside Sam, who bent down to whisper in her ear. Hopefully he caught her up well enough.
"Are you gonna explain any of this?" Bobby asked.
"Oh no, not at all," Balthazar said. "That would not be nearly dramatic enough."
Balthazar walked around the room, peering into the face of each person. Mercy and Sam tried to become one with the couch. Cas blinked. Dean glared, crossed his arms, and refused to step away. Bobby reached back, his hand on a shotgun.
"I shot you once," Bobby said. "I could do it again."
"Yes, and that worked so well for you." Balthazar returned to the centre of the room. "Alright. We need the book. I believe Cassie left it upstairs."
The former inhabitants of the couch hit the floor when they were transferred into what had become Dean and Cas's room. Dean hadn't used it since the last time he and Cas were together. Thankfully, Cas must have cleaned it up. It was a lot messier the last time Dean saw it.
Balthazar went straight for the desk. The book he mentioned earlier was a notebook with a mess of papers and artwork shoved inside. The whole thing had trouble staying together when he picked it up.
He waved a hand and the bed moved to the centre of the room. Bobby and Dean skipped back to avoid being hit.
"There, that should be all," Balthazar said. "Oh. Except--"
"I can't believe you left me. In Alaska!"
Crowley. Of fucking course it would be Crowley. He appeared on the other side of the room, clutching a bouquet of pale blue flowers against his chest.
"Quite sorry about that." Balthazar extend a hand. "Give me those."
"Alaska," Crowley emphasized. He twisted his body away from the angel, holding the flowers close. "I'm sorry but which one of us has over a hundred years of experience in witchcraft?"
"I have a millennia of experience," Balthazar said. "Hand it over."
"Right and the holy angels have so much love for dark magic."
"Not that holy. Not that dark."
"Hold on," Sam interrupted. Well, someone had to. "Are those forget-me-nots?"
At the same time, Balthazar and Crowley slowly, very slowly, turned their heads to look at Sam. They even made the same lip curl.
"What?" Crowley said. "The symbolism a little too on the nose for you?"
"I mean," Sam said, "kinda."
Balthazar glanced back at Crowley. "I mean, he's not wrong."
"I didn't make the spell!"
"I know you didn't," Balthazar said. "The redhead did."
"Could we please get on with it?" Bobby's sharp tongue caught everyone's attention. "So you can all get the hell outta my house!"
Nearly everyone else joined in. Bobby growled about his unexpected guests. Mercy pleaded for someone to tell her why she was plucked out of her kitchen. Sam wanted to hear about the logistics of the spell. Dean yelled at Crowley because, good god, did that feel good.
The only voice that didn't join the chorus of anger and confusion was Cas. He sat on the floor, cross-legged like he had on the couch and watched. His face blank, he acted as the calm in the middle of the storm.
The shouting continued. The bickering grew louder. With so many stressed out hotheads in the room, no one wanted to give someone else the last word.
Cas stood. Dean hardly noticed it. He did notice him, however, when Cas moved to stand on the other side of the room. And he certainly noticed when Cas unfurled his wings.
It was easy to forget, sometimes, how much power he held. Even Cas had for a while. Ever since his latest hospital stay, Cas showed more and more control over his grace each day. More than Dean could recall. Cas demonstrated that control now, making the room flash white with unseen lighting. The boom of thunder followed, not heard by the ears, but felt in the soul.
Cas never spoke, never lost his blank face, but everyone clamped their mouths shut and looked at him.
"Right," Balthazar said, once the static in the air cleared, "good point." He stood before Cas. "Excuse us."
With that, Cas and Balthazar were gone.
Snow and ice and biting winds should have felt cold. Castiel felt none of it. Angels must not feel cold. Despite that, his human body's response was to wrap his arms around himself, aware that his t-shirt was not made for this weather. Beside him, Balthazar appeared exactly as he had in Bobby's house, the change in scenery leaving him unfazed.
"Where are we?" Castiel asked.
"North," Balthazar said. "A little less ice these days, a little less cold, but it's the same place."
They stood on a mountain, white all around them. Castiel peered down to the ground and could see the beginnings of spring, far, far off in the distance.
Balthazar dropped into the snow, his clothing still dry. He lay back, his arms and legs splayed out. He brought his arms and legs together multiple times, digging into the snow.
"What are you doing?" Castiel asked.
"Humans call them snow angels." Balthazar sat up, looking back at the outline he created. "Not very accurate, I suppose. Though, I bet Michael would look quite fetching in this dress."
Castiel sat beside Balthazar, his jeans instantly soaked. "Why are we here?"
"You and your questions." Balthazar lay back and pointed up. "Look."
The snow should have been cold. It was a soft embrace. Castiel looked up.
On top of the mountain, Castiel saw white and only white around them. Castiel figured out the reason. All the colours had ascended from the ground and were set free in the sky. The colours danced across the cosmos, creating shimmering lines which filled the empty spaces in between the stars. That green, that beautiful green that curled around his arms and sparkled in Dean's eyes, lead the other colours-- pink and blue and red when he looked close-- as they embraced the word. The colours shone, a testament to creation, a glimpse at the Earth's soul.
"It's beautiful," Castiel said.
"That's what you said then, too."
It only occurred to Castiel, when Balthazar touched Castiel's arm to dry his wet clothes, that he did not know this angel, not as he was now. Balthazar's angel grace radiated warmth, his song tinged with familiarity. Castiel lay on a mountain far from any civilization with someone he just met and he was at ease.
"It was-- Well, I'm sure only our Father knows how long ago now," Balthazar said, "but I do know I had barely figured out how to use my wings when I was assigned to watchdog duty. Terribly boring. Didn't even get to use my sword for a thousand-odd years. We just observed the Earth."
"That doesn't seem so bad."
Balthazar laughed and he smiled, fondness in his eyes. "Yeah, you thought that then, too." The smile faded. "We were a group: you, me, Anna, Uriel. Pretty sure Uriel hated watch duty even more than me. That's not the point. Anyway, we flew everywhere. And we flew by here. This very spot."
Castiel watched the lights in the sky, seeking out the stars. He hoped Balthazar did not expect him to contribute to his reminiscence. He did not recall any of what Balthazar said but, at the same time, he knew it to be true.
"We weren't meant to stop here," Baltazar continued, "but you did anyway. And you said, 'It's beautiful.'"
"It's true," Castiel said.
"Of course it's true!" Balthazar said. "Every angel knows that creation is beautiful, the so-called masterpiece of God." Balthazar's voice, raised before, lowered as he finished his thought. "It wasn't what you said. It was how you said it. Not as a fact, but as a feeling."
A feeling. Yes. That was the correct word for it. The sublime beauty of the Earth and everything in it. Oceans and deserts. Forests and tundra. Humanity and the things they created. Art. Hope. Love. All of it, all of it, was untouchable, unknowable, unexplainable and yet people tried so hard to capture it, to explain it, to understand the beauty in divine creation.
"We didn't understand it," Balthazar said, "and we moved on. Followed our orders. But I came back here next chance I could. And I looked. Really looked."
"What did you see?"
"A whole bunch of sparkly lights." Balthazar grinned, starlight in his eyes. "Never figured it out. I don't think I'm equipped for it."
"You keep coming back," said Castiel. "That must mean something."
"It means I'm a stubborn bastard." Balthazar shook his head. "Nah. Love just isn't meant for me."
"Yeah. It's like your whole thing. Took me an embarrassingly long time to figure that out." Balthazar raised one hand, tracing pictures in the sky with one finger. "But you know that's what makes people like me--" Balthazar stopped, dropping his arm into the snow with a soft thump. "--makes me able to help you."
Castiel tilted his head and glanced at Balthazar. Balthazar stared up at the sky but Castiel could see that his focus was elsewhere. Castiel knew not to push Balthazar to complete his original thought.
"Alright," Castiel said. "How does that help me?"
Balthazar blinked and he was returned from his reverie. "All those people in there, in Singer's house, are connected to you in some way. I would have liked to bring a couple more but they're busy keeping an eye on the devil. Anyway, all those people-- even the book-- have a piece of your memories. Bring them all together and..."
Balthazar groaned. "He's there because-- and don't you dare tell anyone I said this-- he actually does know a few things."
"Yes, fine, it's witchcraft. But that doesn't mean it's bad. We're quite literally using the power of love here." Balthazar sighed and sat up, the snow collected around his body slid down and filled the empty space he left behind. "Wow. That sounds like a terrible made-for-TV movie when I say it out loud."
Castiel sat up as well. "Will it work?"
"Honestly? I don't know. Which is why I brought you here. It's quiet and--" Balthazar looked at Castiel then, the colours of the world reflected on his face-- "I forgot to ask if this is what you want."
Castiel was given a chance to recover his memories, an opportunity to collect his past. A part of Castiel screamed at him to jump, to say yes, because he did not know what to call himself without his mind, his memories, his past. It would allow him to understand why Sam stared at him so sadly, why Dean looked so heartbroken. He would know himself. Another part of him, however, the part of his he looked over his body in a hospital mirror, told him to stop and think. The picture his body painted was not one of ease, of happiness. Castiel was content as he was, even with the world falling apart around him, and he could not guarantee his recovered memories would give him peace.
Balthazar sat silent, waiting for Castiel to speak. Castiel cleared his throat and opened his mouth.
For some godforsaken reason, Crowley saw fit to order the rest of the group around, taking great delight in making Dean move the same chair over and over. One inch to the left, Crowley ordered, two inches back, two forward, and then, finally, one to the right. Dean wondered if there was a spell to make looks kill. But Dean couldn't kill Crowley yet because they were close (so close) to getting Cas back. All of him. That is, if he and Balthazar ever returned.
Crowley managed to make Sam move the other chair in a complete circle just as the missing duo arrived. Balthazar launched into technical mode, shouting orders and moving around the room. Cas stood still in the middle of the chaos, watching everyone bustle around him. His whole body glowed with cold, his cheeks flushed with red. Dean moved closer and saw that his eyes were alive. He looked at Dean and smiled.
"It's going to be okay," Cas said.
Dean didn't know what happened in the last few hours. In fact, for him, they dragged as he tried to keep himself from falling into a worst case scenario spiral. Whatever occurred while he was away gave Cas the spark of life. Dean hadn't seen him so vigorous in a very long time. He reached out, took Cas's hand and squeezed it.
"Seriously?" Balthazar said, "you couldn't even keep all of them together?"
The angel must have never heard of stairs. He flew out of the room and returned a second later. Bobby stood on one side of Balthazar and Mercy, who looked a little green, on the other.
Events happened fast after that. Cas lay on the stripped bed, now in the centre of the room, with the homemade book on one side and the flowers on the other. Dean was bade to sit on Cas's right side, Sam on his left. Mercy stood at his head and Bobby at his feet. Nobody said anything, the lull in activity allowing Dean to notice Crowley's prolonged stare.
"What," Dean stated.
"Come on! Does no one else see it?"
A glance around the room showed visible confusion. Sam, Dean, and Bobby, the humans in the group, looked to the others. Mercy, the psychic, put up her hands and continued to do her best impression of a wall. Balthazar and Cas made eye contact, shook their heads and stared at Crowley.
"What," Dean emphasized.
"The glow," Crowley said, throwing up his hands. He pointed at Dean, then Cas. "Right there. You got the same--" he cut himself off and sucked in a breath-- "Oh."
"What!" Dean yelled.
"It's a brand. A mark on the soul," Crowley said. "King of the Crossroads. I can see that stuff. Guess angels can't, probably because you all suck."
"You say that like it's an insult," said Balthazar.
Crowley gave Balthazar a long look, raised his eyebrows, and turned to Dean. "Anyway. Take off your shirt."
Dean crossed his arms, keeping his flannel shirt closed. "Uh, why?"
"Not like that." Crowley paused. "Okay, maybe a little like that. Not my point. I want to see what's on your shoulder."
Dean knew exactly what he was talking about. He stood, took off his overshirt, and draped it over the back of the chair. The room had too many eyes staring at him, so he sat back down and, after glancing over everyone in the room, rolled up the sleeve of his t-shirt.
He hadn't expected a gasp, but he forgot that, other than Sam and Bobby (Cas, of course, wouldn't remember), no one had seen the handprint scar. In the last year or so, it had healed. It was less angry, less red, but the shape of it held, raised on his shoulder in white.
Cas sat up from the bed, his focus in Dean. Dean could hear the others talking, bouncing one snarky one liners off each other and not getting much said. It was that kind of group. Dean didn't bother with listening. Instead he watched Cas reach out to him, a faint glow at the centre of his palm. The noise faded away as he got closer and--
Castiel sat on the edge of the step, hunched over to protect the flame from the wind. The cheap plastic lighter struggled to do its job but, after losing one layer of skin on his thumb, he managed to light his cigarette.
Another sunrise. Castiel had not expected to see another one. Between the hospital and his empty jail cell, he figured that was how his life would end.
He should paint the sunrise, capture those beautiful colours in a canvas. That is, if he ever painted again. He had not. Not since--
"Don't sleep much, do you?"
Mercedes, Castiel's new benefactor, joined Castiel on the steps. A strange woman, taking an unknown man into her home. She was the one that found him in the asylum. She was the one who was there when he was released from jail. She was the one who believed he still had a purpose. Castiel was not so sure.
"Never do," said Castiel, releasing a puff of smoke through his nose.
Mercedes coughed, waving her hand through the air. "I told you. No smoking in the house."
"I'm not in the house." Mercedes rolled her eyes at the response. "Besides, I can't get rid of all my vices."
"Well, as a friend looking out for your health, not smoking would be much better for you."
"I'd be impressed if it's the smoking that kills me." Castiel flicked ash over the railing. For the first time in a while, he found himself smiling. "Friends, huh?" Mercedes nodded. "Then you should call me Cas."
"Only if you call me Mercy."
Cas snatched his hand back. Dean's eyes darted around the room, each individual staring at him with confusion.
"Did you just--" Dean began.
"Was that resonance?" Balthazar asked. "How does that even--"
"See, I told you there was something," Crowley said. "We could--"
"I saw that." Mercy's voice was quiet. "Maybe that's how you soul was healed? I--"
Sam muttered to himself. "What the f--"
"Holy shit!" Bobby shut everyone up. "Could we please get on with it?"
"Those," Cas said, making everyone pay attention. He looked at Dean. "Those were my memories?"
It had happened to them before. Years ago, when Dean and Cas had finally made it out of the nameless town, they found a redwood tree which spilt the road in two. That tree held some angelic power and, when Dean had touched it, Dean saw Cas’s memory of falling down to Earth. The experience Dean just had reminded him of it. He hadn't let himself think about it ever since he left the tree behind.
Dean covered his scar with his hand. Just skin. "Yeah. I think it was."
Balthazar circled around the room to stand by Dean. He peered at the scar for a long time. Dean almost toppled his chair trying to lean away from the intensity.
"Gotta wonder if you did that on purpose, Cassie," Balthazar said. "Either way, we definitely can use that."
Crowley grinned. "Well then, shall we begin?"
Crowley began to chant a long string of foreign words. Dean guessed it was Gaelic or something similar. Sam would know better than him.
The angel and the demon circled the room. Balthazar pushed the humans into place as he passed them, making sure they stay put. When he reached Dean, he made Cas reach out to touch the scar again. Crowley's chant grew louder and louder, then--
The woman's only crime was loving someone of the same physical shape. Castiel could not understand how love like that could be wrong. The woman and her lover were not even real witches. Apparently, their living situation was enough for the mob.
They stood on a pile of tinder, tied to the stake. They reached out to each other, fighting against the bonds on their hands. Love remained in their eyes, even after the end.
The chant continued. The power filled the room. Dean could no longer find the line which separated his mind from Cas but that didn't really matter anyway.
"You ever been in love?"
The elderly lady handed him a smoke. She was homeless, a drifter like him. They found each other on the road a few days ago, deciding to stick together while they traveled the same direction. They would part soon, Castiel knew, but it was nice to have someone to sit by him on the park bench.
Castiel took the offering. "Yes."
"Then you're lucky."
"Really?" Castiel filled his lungs with smoke, savouring the feeling before he released it. "Sure doesn't feel like it."
"Nah, you're lucky. Most people go through life setting for 'good enough' but love-- real love-- that's hard to find."
"How do you know it's real?"
"The look in your eyes," she replied. "That kind of heartbreak only comes from something real."
"My eyes sure say a lot," Castiel said. He handed back the smoke. "You're saying I'm lucky to have my heart broken?"
"No," she said. "I'm saying your lucky to have experienced true love."
Dean was aware of the wind in the room, the force of it sending the loose pages in Cas's book flying around his head. Crowley had to shout to be heard over the din.
The grass, still wet from the rain in the afternoon, made a comfortable bed in which Castiel could watch the stars come to light. The crunch of boots against grass alerted him to his visitor.
Dean's head popped into view, floating amongst the stars. "What are you doing out here, buddy?"
"Want some company?"
"From you? Always."
Dean lay on his side, his body curved towards Castiel. It did not take long for Dean to fall asleep. It was a long drive before they found this motel in the middle of nowhere. Castiel pulled Dean close, keeping him warm. In a short while, Castiel will carry Dean back to their room, making sure he would sleep in a proper bed. That was in a short while. For now, Castiel wrapped his arms around Dean and enjoyed the moment.
The memories came faster now
A Hell full of demons were no match for an angel looking for his human. Another one fell to his blade as he continued his search, the rest of the group trailing behind.
Fly, fly, fly, away, fall into the sea of green. The needle makes the pain go away.
The fish took its first gasp of air and Castiel nearly stepped on it.
Michael, of course, found out. They always found out. Castiel took the lashes. He had saved a life. That mattered more to him then his own pain.
Heaven's punishment was almost commonplace now. Castiel waited for it to end.
Everything went white.
Dean heard Crowley reach the end of his chant. The room filled with a whine, the sound of an angel's power. The noise made everyone clutch their ears, a gasp of pain running through the group.
Castiel lay on the bed, his body glowing at his heart. It spread all over his body and then filled the room.
Everything went white.
"Aren't you dead?"
"Yeah. And let's keep it that way. Unless the Winchesters actually manage to pull this off. Then we'll see."
"You think they will?"
Sam cracked the door open wider, trying to get a glimpse of who spoke. The voice sounded familiar but he couldn't quite place it. Balthazar sat in a chair near the bed, his feet propped up on the low bedpost at the foot of the bed. His head whipped around at the sound of the creaking door. When Sam entered the room, there was no one else there.
Well, no one else but the sleeping forms of Cas and Dean. The mattress was still bare but at least someone thought to lay a blanket over them. Two days had passed since the spell and, during that whole time, the two of them had been asleep. Crowley, before he snapped off to places Sam probably didn't want to know about, claimed that was expected. Castiel had a lot of memories to untangle. A millennia of them. Many of which Dean had evidently been holding within him without anyone realizing. It had been a rather wild week for the Winchesters. Even by their fucked up standards.
Balthazar stared at Sam expectantly.
"Who are you talking to?" Sam asked.
"Nobody." Balthazar raised his eyebrows and made a gesture toward the bed. "My companions aren't exactly in a talking mood."
"Ignoring that blatant lie," Sam said, entering the room. "How are they doing?"
Balthazar rolled his eyes. "Same as the last time you asked. And the time before that. And the time--"
"Alright! I get it."
"What are you in such a hurry for, anyway? Lucifer knows you're coming. He won't do anything without you."
Well, that was alarming.
"Um, how do you know that?"
"Anna and Hannah are keeping an eye on him. Hasn't moved for a week."
"Right. That's…" Sam walked into the room and took the remaining chair. "Unsettling."
"I bet." Balthazar put his feet on the floor and swiveled his seat in order to face Sam. "For what it's worth you got, uh, Cassie's Angels on your side. All fou-- All three of us."
Sam raised his eyebrows at the slip-up. "All three?"
Balthazar shrugged. "Couldn't decide if Cas counted or not."
Balthazar was rescued from further questioning when Cas sat up. Both Sam and Balthazar jumped from their chairs.
Cas turned his head toward the noise, blinked once, and said, "Excuse me."
He left with a flap of his wings. Dean never moved.
"Where did he go?" Sam asked.
"How should I kn--"
Castiel returned. He appeared in the centre of the room, standing amidst the flower petals and book pages on the floor. He turned in a circle, making a clear line through the mess on the floor and was gone again, as quickly as before.
Sam didn't even have time to gesture angrily at Balthazar before Castiel showed up again. He didn't disappear this time. Instead he stood, chin in hand as he observed the room, and said nothing.
Cas didn't answer Sam.
"Uh, Cassie? Care to let us know we didn't break you?"
Cas reacted to Balthazar. "How broken I am is a point of debate."
Sam and Balthazar looked at each other. Yep, that was Cas.
"I was checking," Cas continued. "To make sure it was real." He walked over to the bed, his hand on Dean's forehead. "It was real."
Dean sat up in the bed, grabbing Cas's arm. They stared at each other for a long moment. That was all they did and yet Sam felt as if he was intruding on something private, something not meant to be shared with anyone else.
"I remember," Cas said.
Balthazar vanished as soon as he gave Cas and Dean a once over and cleared them as healthy. Sam left the two of them alone and walked downstairs.
Mercy and Bobby sat the kitchen table. Sam had to wonder what they talked about. If at all. As it was, Sam usually found them sitting in silence. Bobby noticed Sam's entrance first. He cocked an eyebrow, his question obvious.
"It worked," Sam said.
He was breathless. He hadn't noticed on the walk downstairs but once he spoke he could feel the air return to the room.
Bobby remained still and silent but Sam could see how the lines on his forehead smoothed, how his hands, gripping the edge of the table, released their hold to rest in his lap. He nodded once, and that was all he would say on the matter. That was enough.
Mercy jumped up, a wide smile on her face. "Too bad this man doesn't have any proper tea, because this occasion calls for some."
"I have tea!"
"No, you have brown water."
Mercy shook her head, and ushered Sam into the next room. Sam looked over his shoulder as they left the kitchen and saw Bobby lean over the sink, one hand wiping at his eyes.
"So," Mercy began as they settled on the couch. "Did that angel really leave without returning me to my house?"
"It looks like he did."
"Angels," Mercy muttered. She folded a leg under her, and turned her body toward Sam. "Now, then. The last couple days I've heard some interesting news."
Sam's heart beat faster at her tone but he was going to make her work for it. "I'm sure there's a lot of that going around. End of the world and all."
Mercy hummed, completely aware of Sam's avoidance tactics. "Right. So you're not planning to win a battle of wills with the literal devil."
Sam sighed. "I've already had pretty much every argument about this you can think of so--"
"Oh no," Mercy said. "I'm not trying to talk you out of it. I'm only mad you didn't come to me for help."
Sam didn't know what he expected to hear, but he knew it wasn't that. "You-- you what?"
"A battle that takes great focus, a calm mind, force of will. You know, all that stuff I spent months teaching you."
"But, all that psychic stuff is gone now. I don't--"
"That doesn't mean you can't keep up with your studies."
Sam stared at Mercy. She glared at him, letting him know she disapproved of his lack of practice but grinned afterward.
"Besides," she continued. "You're getting out of practice. I can feel your anxiety over the angels song, even when both of them were here. That is one hell of a feat, let me tell you."
Sam tried to formulate a response but he didn't have one. Of course he was anxious. It wasn't like he wanted to jump into Hell but he needed to do it. He needed to grab his destiny and shove it back into the deep hole it belonged. He needed to shape his destiny as he saw fit, not follow the whims of some uncaring God.
"Wouldn't you be nervous?" Sam asked.
"Obviously," Mercy said. She stood and turned in a circle. "There's gotta be at least one patch of grass in this whole place." She headed for the front door, pausing with her hand on the knob. "Right?"
Turns out, it was completely possible to meditate on the hood of a rusted out old truck as long as the mind remained clear. Mercy called it a challenge. Sam figured that was a good thing, as now that the group no longer had Cas's situation to distract them, he was hurling towards the biggest challenge of his life.
Dean had not let go of Castiel since they were left alone. They stood in the middle of the mess that was once their bedroom, their arms wrapped around each other. They did not say anything. Castiel was content to wait as long as Dean needed, who seemed to have no plans to move. Dean hands locked around Castiel's shoulders, his face buried in his neck. Castiel could hear each of Dean's breaths and feel the slight tremor in his body.
"You know," Castiel said after Dean settled, "keep doing this and I might start to think you like me."
Dean laughed, which was the goal.
"Oh no," Dean said. "We wouldn't want that."
Dean loosened his grip and stepped back, sitting on the edge of the bed. Castiel sat beside him. Looking around at the room's messy state, Dean quieted. Castiel gave him a few moments to collect his thoughts. A lot had happened, especially over the last week, and there was still more to come.
Now that Castiel started to think about it, he needed a few moments himself. His memories had begun to fall into place, a multifaceted puzzle a millennia long, and his brain worked hard to piece it all together. The memories were there, but it would take some time to piece them together.
Castiel did, however, remember the things that were most important.
"Thank you, Dean," Castiel said.
"You stayed with me." Dean stopped staring at the floor, face uncomprehending. "Even when I didn't know who you were, you stayed with me."
"Well, yeah," Dean said, his face softening as he figured out Castiel's meaning. "I'm not making that mistake again."
Castiel reached out and took Dean's hand in his own. They leaned on each other, holding each other up.
Castiel shifted so he could look Dean in the eyes. He blinked a few times and hummed low, too comfortable and warm to spend any more effort on words. Dean grinned, ruffling Castiel's hair.
"I love you," Dean said.
"I remember," Castiel said. "I love you, too."
They fell back into the bed. All they did was hold on to each other, taking the time to just be together and breathe.
After detaching himself from a sleeping Dean, Castiel crept down the stairs. As he turned the corner, Castiel bumped into Bobby. Bobby stopped dead in his tracks. Silent, his watchful eyes scanned Castiel up and down. Castiel had no idea what Bobby was looking for, but he waited, curious to see the purpose of this inspection.
Bobby ended the search. He clasped Castiel on the shoulder and nodded, the shine in his eyes clear even in the low light. Bobby looked down, pursed his lips, then threw both his arms around Castiel's shoulders. He squeezed him one, pat him on the back, and let go. By the time Castiel had realized what that was all about, Bobby had already retreated.
Amongst the giant piles of books in the library, Castiel could see a tuft of hair sticking over the stack on the desk. A rather impressive bunch of books, able to hide a man the size of Sam.
A few minutes passed before Sam peeked over the nearest book. He stood, steadying the pile closest to him since he hit it on the way up, and stepped out from behind the desk.
"Cas!" Sam smiled. "How's the head?"
"Compiling," Castiel said. "Thank you for all your help."
"Oh come on, man. You don't need to thank me."
"Regardless, I still feel I must." Castiel closed the distance between him and Sam. "Dean told me about your plan to end the Apocalypse."
Sam stuttered, running both hands through his hair. He looked like he had done that a lot the last few days. Sam gathered himself, then faced Castiel.
"Uh, right. So what do you think of it?"
Castiel did not say anything. Sam shifted his weight from foot to foot, his rhythm becoming faster the longer Castiel did not speak. Making his decision, Castiel reached out to Sam, taking both his hands in his own.
Years ago, Castiel used grace in an attempt to help Sam find peace. He had failed. Partly because he had done it in order to protect himself and partly because Castiel did not have control over the power.
Castiel had control over his power now.
He hummed, his song flowing through him, filling the empty spaces in his body, making him whole. The song sounded different now, but it was more natural, more elegant than the one that came before. Castiel suspected the loss of his memories triggered the change. His powers faded when he was in the hospital, growing back the longer he had been awake.
The spell, specifically the people Balthazar brought together, had reshaped him. They had brought all their memories, their feelings, their knowledge about Castiel and the result was his rebirth.
Castiel, once created in God's own light, had been left with a crack in his being. He had thought of himself as broken, defective amongst a group of obedient angels. Now he knew that crack, that broken part of him, was what allowed him to love, to see the beauty in life, to understand all the hardship that came with that knowledge.
Every person in that room during the spell had touched that part of him. They all placed a piece of themselves, the piece that remembered Castiel, into it. When Castiel awakened, the bits and pieces of grace still floating within him had been brought together, molded into something more by the people who loved him.
His song had become one of love, its once somber notes filled with joy. Castiel had become something new, something whole, and he knew he was complete.
There was a crack in Sam, too, Castiel could see it now, a darkness given to him as a child by a demon with yellow eyes. That darkness in Sam had reacted with the light within Castiel. Those incompatible powers had clashed before, causing them both pain. Now, however, Castiel had control.
Yes, they both had a crack in their being but Castiel know knew one thing for sure.
"We are not broken," Castiel said.
Their joined hands glowed. Sam stared at the light, his eyes shimmering. The glow brightened, ascending from their hands, to gather into a ball in between their bodies. It floated right above the middle of the line created by their arms.
"This," Sam began, struggling to form words, "this is-- this is different. What is--"
The ball raised to the ceiling. It spun, faster and faster with each rotation, until it shattered. Pieces of the light shimmered as it fell to the ground, a million tiny shooting stars containing all the colours of the universe.
The light faded and the room grew dark. Castiel looked into Sam's eyes and saw wonder.
"Humanity--you-- have a habit of exceeding my expectations," Castiel said. "I think, if anyone could pull something like this off, it would be a Winchester."
Castiel released his hold. He heard Sam's deep breath, and noticed the tension melt from his face.
"Then-- you'll be there?" Sam asked.
"Of course I will," Castiel said. Sam nodded in response. "There is one thing I want to say first, however."
"You don't deserve Hell."
Sam gasped. His eyes flicked back and forth, suddenly wet. He reached out and pulled Castiel into a hug.
That must be some kind of record for number of hugs in a day. Castiel was certainly not complaining.
Morning came and Mercy had not even opened her eyes before she grabbed Castiel and held him close. She was always straight to the point.
Yes. Definitely some kind of record.
Over the last couple days, while the group prepared for their final battle, Dean had spent more time sleeping than anything else. He was exhausted. Now, that wasn't a surprise. Dean had been running on empty for years now. No, what was surprising was the dreams.
The nightmares didn't bother Dean. Or, at least, he was used to seeing Hell when he slept. Now, though, his dreams were just plain weird .
Sometimes he dreamed in colour, swirling around him in confusing shapes. Other times, he hurled through the stars flying (oh god, flying) through the infinite universe. Last night, he spent the whole time at the base of a waterfall. Not a normal waterfall, oh no, this one was pink before it gave him a technicolour light show.
Balthazar popped in for about thirty seconds to give them an update on Lucifer. He told them the devil was down in Detroit. Dean already knew that somehow. Just before the angel left again, Dean asked him about the dreams. He paused, silent for a moment, which for someone like Balthazar told Dean all he needed to know. Anyway, Balthazar came up with the plausible theory that Dean was still tapping into Cas's memories. Too bad he had to watch the more avant garde pieces of Cas's life. Or maybe that was a good thing.
Now that they were down to the last wire, Dean needed to do something productive, possibly even useful. He parked Baby in the garage and gave her a long overdue tune up. He touched every part of her, giving her the attention she deserved. After that, he shined her up. They were going to the final showdown in style.
About the time Dean finished waxing the Impala to a mirror shine, Cas found him. One hundred percent authentic Castiel, with all his memories and his cute little half smile, walked into the garage and leaned against the workbench. He watched Dean finish up his work, an appreciative glint in his eyes.
"Dude," Dean said, grabbing a rag from the bench to clean his hands. "What are you looking at?"
"You," Cas said and that one word sent shivers down Dean's spine.
"Really? I'm all sweaty."
Cas leaned in, his body warm and his eyes dark. "That's how I like you."
Dean's cheeks burned. There was a time, or at least he thought so, that Dean was the one with the smooth lines and the heated stares. Cas was putting that perspective to shame right now. Turns out, Dean was the blushing mess when it came down to it.
Cas grabbed Dean's hips, pushing him against the wall. He moved Dean to exactly where he wanted him. Dean was too flustered to do anything but follow, not that he wouldn't anyway. Cas pressed himself against Dean, but, as always, waited for Dean to close the distance.
"Cas," Dean said because he always had to run his mouth when his heart beat fast and his blood rushed in his veins, "this has been such a crazy fucking week. I can't even think straight."
"Good," Cas said. He ran a hand under Dean's shirt, hot on his skin. "If you could 'think straight' then I have not been doing my job."
"I fucking love you," Dean said.
Dean gripped Cas by the shoulders and closed the gap. They took their time, tasting each other, holding each other, knowing that there was little calm left before the final storm.
The half smile was definitely a smirk now, the kind of smirk that promised Dean great things. Cas led Dean by the hand to the Impala, opened the door to the back seat, and all but threw Dean into the car.
Maybe if Dean had any blood left in his brain he would have complained about Cas messing up his freshly cleaned car. As it was, Dean had no complaints at all when Cas lay on top of him, hands making quick work of their clothing.
Dean fell apart but Cas was there to put him back together, to bring him close, to give him the relief he needed. Dean paid him back in full, muttering into Cas's skin about how good he felt, about how much Dean needed him, about how much he loved him.
Cas gripped him tight and raised him from the seat.
The next morning, Dean, Sam, Bobby, and Cas piled all the weapons they could fit into their two vehicles and stood in front of Bobby house. They stared at each other, no one wanting to be the person to say anything and send Sam to his doom.
Mercy hitched a ride back home with Cas earlier that day. Dean couldn't blame her for not wanting to join them at ground zero. She did, however, make sure they were prepared. For once, Dean's green cooler was filled with more than a bunch of beer.
Sam was the one who told them to move out.
With Cas at what Dean assumed was full power, they could have blinked straight for Detroit in a matter of seconds. Cas didn't offer. Dean didn't ask. He hadn't said it out loud, but Cas understood that Dean needed to drive, needed to spend those hours with his brother. Cas rode with Bobby without a complaint and Dean and Sam took their places in the Impala, the same as they had for years. Dean tired not to think about how empty that seat would be on the way home.
The first few hours passed quietly enough. They stopped for gas, the group only pausing to pass on vital information. Balthazar would meet them in Detroit with the supplies. Right. The supplies. At least it sounded better than demon blood. After that stop, Sam decided it was time for the heart to heart.
This patch of highway was particularly dark. No passing trucks, no streetlights. The only hint of civilization was the twin headlights of Bobby’s van trailing behind them. No distractions, nothing to see but the two-lane asphalt illuminated by the Impala's lights.
Therefore, Dean had no real excuse to avoid what was going to be a difficult conversation. He also knew that tonight, of all nights, Dean had to let Sam say his piece. Dean owed him at least that much.
"Once I'm-- once you're done, do you think you'll go to the beach?"
"You deserve a vacation. So does Cas. I mean, have you two been on a real actual date?"
"I don't know. Does stabbing a werewolf count?"
"Not for most people. For us? Maybe."
"Guess you could call that our first date."
Sam laughed, high pitched and full of anxiety. "Our lives are weird."
"Yeah, well, normal just ain't our style."
They were silent through the next few mile markers, but Dean could hear the thoughts churning through Sam's head.
"You really think so?" Sam asked, barely loud enough to be heard over the rumble of the engine.
"That we can't do normal?"
"Where is this line of questioning going, Sam?"
Sam chewed his bottom lip as he stared blankly through the windshield. "When this is over, I'm not coming back."
Dean clenched his jaw and swallowed down the angry words that popped into his head. Sam made his decision and Dean had to let him follow through. Time to let his brother grow up.
"I'm aware," Dean said.
"And, and I know what you're-- what we're-- like."
"So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't want you to try to go out in a blaze of glory once I'm gone."
While he wanted to protest, to claim that he was totally fine and would never do that, Dean had a proven track record. In fact, it was one of the reasons they were in this mess. And no, he was not fine.
Undeterred by Dean's lack of response, the one word even toned and bland, Sam continued, "So, maybe you should give normal a try. You could-- oh, I don't know-- open a bed and breakfast with Cas, adopt of couple of hunter kids, open your own mechanic shop, or rent a house on the beach and marry Cas. Whatever. Just--" Sam took a deep breath and Dean looked at him. Really looked. "Live."
Dean corrected Baby's course, casually, like he hadn't spent the last solid minute watching Sam and failing to form a response for him.
He settled on stuttering. "I-- you-- you're just--" Dean took a breath. "You just fucking sprug that on me out of nowhere."
"No," Sam said. "I've been thinking about it for a while."
"Cool. Thanks." Dean took a few more breaths. "I can't marry Cas. We're both dudes."
"Yeah, and the government thinks you're a dead serial killer and Cas is technically not a person." Sam shrugged. "You could still have a wedding."
Dean was committed. He didn't need a ceremony to prove that. On the other hand, he never did ask Cas how he felt about all that stuff. He always assumed it was too tied up in religion.
Not that any of it mattered. Not now.
"Not without you," Dean said.
"But will you at least think about it?" Sam asked. "I mean, it's kind of like my last wish."
"Wow." Dean scoffed. "You're going right for the jugular there, huh?"
"As long as it works."
No more lies. Dean unclenched his jaw because if he ground his teeth any more they would be nubs by the time they made it to their destination. More miles passed in silence and Dean played Sam's plea over an over in his mind. It didn't sound all bad.
"Okay," Dean said. "I'll try."
And there it was: that damn smile. The same happy smile Sam gave him when Dean snuck him into his first R-rated movie. That same smile when they lit fireworks on the Fourth of July. That same smile when Dean made it back from a long hunt. He'd do anything he could to make that kid happy. It took him too long to realize that all he really had to do was exist.
"That's great! You--"
"Though I doubt I'll open a B and B," Dean said. "Too much work."
"Fine. But you should try and keep your options open."
"I do like beaches."
"There you go!"
Sam smiled. That was enough.
Sam knew it wasn't going to be easy. He hadn't known it was going to be this hard.
Sam had to watch his brother's horrified face. Sam had to feel his own face twist into a snarl against his will. Sam had to hear his own mocking voice, his mouth filled with words he would never say.
Lucifer laughed at him, took his body wherever he pleased, showed Sam how his whole life was constructed to fulfill his destiny. Lucifer laughed at every one of Sam's attempts to take control, telling him it would be a thousand years, a million, before Sam would be strong enough to beat him. Lucifer laughed loudest when Sam said he would never give up, even if it took that long.
Jokes on Lucifer. He was Sam Winchester and Sam Winchester does not go down without a fight.
"This can't be it. This cannot be it!"
Gathered around the Impala, not a single person looked at Dean. Not Bobby, not Hannah, Anna, or Balthazar took their eyes off the asphalt. Castiel did not make eye contact either. He could still feel it. The cry, the call, the absolute joy from the citizens of Heaven and Hell when Lucifer received his vessel. There was one for Michael-- Adam, a child who never asked for any of this-- and one for Lucifer. It was not a perfect match but it was enough for the final confrontation between them.
So shall it was written, so shall it be.
"Come on," Dean pleaded. "There's gotta be something we can do."
"We all knew it was a long shot," Anna said, her tone aiming for comfort.
"All we can do," Hannah added, "is prepare for what is next."
"How?" Bobby demanded.
Hannah blinked and flapped away.
Balthazar never said a word, never moved from his place a foot from the group. The silence grew thick and he was gone without a sound from his wings.
Dean paced the length of the parking lot, his hands on top of his head, eyes wild. The rest of the group watched as his strides became slower, as his shoulders dropped lower and lower with each lap. He stopped, leaning against the Impala's door for support.
"It can't end like this," Dean said.
Castiel stood beside Dean. He did not touch him, even though he wanted to reach out in comfort, because Dean's body was a solid line, trembling with the need to act, to lash out. Castiel leaned against the other door, hoping his presence would work as an act of support.
"What do we do now?" Bobby asked Anna.
"I don't know," Anna said. "Get drunk? Say your goodbyes? Ride it out to the end of the world?"
"No way," Dean said. "There's got to be a way to stop this."
"We can't. It's in motion now. Michael and Lucifer are going to the chosen field for the battle." Anna looked at Castiel. "You can feel it too, can't you?"
Castiel did not like the feel of all those eyes on him. He especially didn't like Dean's wide eyed stare, hope in his eyes. Castiel did not like having to confirm the truth, to see that light fade away. Castiel nodded.
"Fine then," Dean said. "Where's this chosen field?"
"I don't know," Anna said. "I'm sorry.”
Castiel finally understood what people meant when they said someone started a hole in their head. Dean was doing it to him now. Castiel could not look at him, could not say anything. Castiel shook his head.
"Come on!" Dean was in front of Castiel now, his hands tangled in his coat. Castiel still could not look at him. "There's got to be something! Someone has to know!"
Castiel looked up then, at the tone of Dean's final sentence. As soon as Dean said it, he knew exactly who to ask.
"Take me there," Dean demanded.
"Take me there!" Dean's voice echoed through the alleyway, his despiration making the others wince.
"Dean, I--" Castiel forced Dean to loosen his grip on his coat, but did not make him let go. "I need you to understand that, even if you get there in time, all you will see is your brother being torn apart."
"Then at least he won't die alone."
Dean held eye contact with Castiel for an endless moment, hope fading with each second. Castiel hated doing this to him but he hated the alternative even more. Dean pushed Castiel into the car, stalking away.
"You useless, spineless…" Dean's insults faded as he walked away.
"Dean," Castiel plea was enough for Dean to pause. "Don't make me lose you, too."
Dean walked out of the alleyway, hidden from view.
"He'll be back," Bobby said. He tapped the Impala on the hood. "No way he'd leave her behind." Bobby leaned forward trying to catch Castiel's eye. "Or you."
"I'm going to go," Anna said. "You know what to do if you need me. Or any of us."
"What are you going to do?" Castiel asked.
The empty air did not reply.
Bobby sat on the asphalt, his back against the Impala, tapping away at his phone. From what Castiel could see, he was trying to rally the hunters. Castiel mirrored Bobby's pose and looked to the sky. The stars were gone, no colours to be found. Just black.
The storefront window, filled end to end with televisions, showed the news. Each television was tuned to a different news channel, each anchor trying, with varying degrees of success, to remain calm and impartial as they reported the end of the world. Dean saw his own haggard face reflected back at him in the window.
Dean didn't think it mattered where he died. It was going to happen to all of them if the news was to be believed. Dean didn't think it was a bad thing he would prefer to be with his brother.
So, of course, Sam had to have that big important talk on the way down and Cas had to say that, with such sadness in his voice, as Dean walked away.
Dean stared at his face in the window. The same look in his eyes could be seen on the reporters' faces.
"You going to keep pouting or are you going to contact the prophet?"
Balthazar's face appeared on the window, his eyes glowing. His reflection was almost unrecognizable in the glare.
Balthazar rolled his eyes. "I got wings too, you know."
Dean turned around. Balthazar made no effort to hide his angelic nature, a bright spot among all the drab buildings and grey concrete. The passerby didn't even give him a second look.
"I know," Dean said. "I don't know why you'd help me."
Balthazar shrugged. "Pretty sure time is of the essence." His hand hovered over Dean's shoulder. "You in?"
Chuck pushed his chair back, stretching his arms above his head. He stood from the computer. He stepped aside and pushed his chair back in. He turned and leaned on the desk, watching his new arrivals, chin in hand.
"What?" Dean needed to break the silence. "You see this part too?"
"Not exactly," Chuck said. His stroked his chin. He must miss the beard he shaved. "I must say, you were the surprise of this story."
The last comment was directed at Balthazar.
"I do try to keep an air of mystery," Balthazar said.
"Castiel never did what he was supposed to, either. He only did what he thought was right." Chuck pushed off from the desk, taking a few steps towards Balthazar. "You're not that hard to read, my loyal friend."
Balthazar backed into the couch, kicking a pile of novels to the side. "That better not be in your damn books."
Chuck only smiled. It was strange. Chuck seem calm and ready, almost rapturous. Every other time Dean had seen him he'd been a drunk, nervous wreck. There was no time to dwell on it, however.
"Sam said yes," Dean said.
"I know. I saw it," Chuck waved a hand toward the computer, the screen only a blank page and a blinking line. "I'm just working on the pages."
Dean got right to the point, asking where the archangels would battle. Stull Cemetery. Right outside of Lawrence, ending where it had begun. The universe must be trying to write poetry. Dean didn't like poetry.
"You don't have a lot of time," Chuck said. "You better start driving."
The emphasis felt important but Dean had no time to consider it. A hand descended on his shoulder and he was back in front of the Impala, Bobby and Cas watching him. Balthazar was nowhere to be found. As he drove away, Dean wished he thought to ask Chuck if he knew the ending.
Warning: Alcohol as a coping method
Every punch covered Sam's hands with Dean's blood. Every time Dean told him it was okay, he was here, he would stay with him.
Sam, encased in the prison of his own body, raged against the confines of his cage. He pulled at his ribs, trying to escape through the spaces in between. He followed his veins in the hope that, at the end of the line, he would find a way out. Sam did not give up. He fought and he would always keep fighting, right to the very end.
Lucifer thought it was funny to let Sam see Dean's face, let him know what it felt like to tear his family apart. Such a prideful thing to do. How human of the angel who hated them the most.
Dean was there. So was their home. The Impala held so many parts and pieces of the brothers, their memories stored inside. Every one of them brought Sam closer and closer to the surface, until it was Lucifer raging in the cage.
Dean was right. It was going to be okay. He hoped that Dean understood that, with his one final act, Sam's soul felt peace.
Cas drove Dean away from the cemetery. Away from Sam.
Dean was vaguely aware of Cas and Bobby talking, of Bobby taking off in his own car. The words didn't really register. The patch of grass where the portal closed looked so normal.
He felt Cas reach into his jacket pocket. He heard the jingle of keys. He followed Cas's pull at his shoulders and stood. He let Cas fold him into the passenger seat. He watched that same patch of grass as they drove away.
It's funny really, that all Dean could think about as Cas turned into the highway was that Dean didn't remember letting Cas drive the Impala. In fact, he was quite certain he never had. Yet, Cas drove her in a careful practiced manner that made Dean believe he'd been doing it for years.
He should have let Sam drive the Impala more.
Dean curled into a ball, pressing his body against the car door. He didn’t want to take up too much space. He watched the highway pass by him, every roadside the same. Still daylight. Hard to believe, but the sun was still up, shining bright enough to make Dean squint. Whatever. It was five o'clock somewhere.
He reached into his inner pocket and downed his flask. In respect of Cas’s sober living, Dean tended not to drink as much around him. Damn that angel, being a good influence on him. Today, however, Dean deserved an exception. He reached into the back seat, shoved aside all the food in the cooler and found a beer. He drank that too.
Cas didn’t say anything. He drove.
The alcohol warmed Dean’s insides. That was the only place it reached. Dean didn’t feel much. He felt empty. He felt like he was supposed to cry or scream or despair. He didn’t. He stared out the window, blank.
Cas didn’t say anything but he did look over to Dean every few miles. Dean sild across the seat, little by little, until he was lined up with Cas. The alcohol’s warmth could never hope to match the warmth of Cas’s body. Dean leaned into him and Cas took one hand off the wheel to wrap an arm around Dean’s shoulders, pulling him close. Dean may have felt empty inside but borrowing Cas’s warmth, so freely given, made him feel something. It bubbled beneath the surface. Dean didn’t have a name for it. He was only an empty shell.
Cas didn’t smell like smoke anymore. He smelled like rain, power, and lightning and Dean pressed in closer to find it. It couldn’t have been easy, driving with a full grown man clinging to his side, but Cas was up to the challenge, never taking his hand off Dean’s shoulder.
The something kept bubbling, kept threatening to bust through the surface. Dean didn’t have the energy to fight it. He tightened his grip on Cas and tried his damndest to hide the sob that forced it way out of his lungs. Cas kissed Dean’s forehead, whispered a few soft words to him, and continued to drive. Dean couldn’t hold it back after that, burying his face in Cas’s neck and making a mess of his coat. Cas held him.
Dean fell asleep. He must have. He awoke once, in a dark gas station, and didn’t remember the rest of the journey after that.
He did, however, remember the feel of Cas’s body against his own, of his strong hands pulling him out of the Impala and into Bobby house. He remembered being guided up the stairs. He remembered being led to the bed, of being stripped down into more comfortable clothing, of being tucked into bed. He remembered hearing Cas’s voice before he slept again.
That was all he remembered of the next few days. The rest of it passed in a haze. Dean blamed Bobby’s liquor cabinet for that.
The river rushed past him, its waters clean and full of fish, the life within it indicative of the Earth healing from the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse that almost happened. The Apocalypse which ended. The Apocalypse ended by Sam.
They won. It sure did not feel like it.
Castiel had to leave Bobby’s house for a while. He did as much as he could for two men determined to drown themselves in a bottle. Castiel did not blame them for their need to cope. Castiel had to leave before he started thinking it was a good idea himself. Though now, Castiel might need an entire state’s liquor stock before he could even feel a buzz, maybe the entire country's reserve to become drunk. That was probably a good thing. Castiel did not exactly have a good track record when it came to mind altering substances.
Thus, the river. Castiel sat on a bouder and watched the water flow across the land and into the horizon. Their actions-- Sam’s actions-- had protected countless pieces of creation just like this all over the world. A beauty worth saving, or so they believed.
Seeing Dean’s eyes, now devoid of the light Castiel had always admired, made Castiel question. He questioned the divine plan, the clash between Heaven and Hell. He questioned the suffering of those on Earth, of Dean and Sam. He questioned the reasoning behind making such beautiful creations-- humans-- and enacting a plan designed to wipe them all out.
Castiel questioned Him.
“This is it?” He stood, his feet placed at the edge of the riverbank. “This is all?” He looked up. “You give them free will then rage when they use it? You place them on this Earth, then abandon them?”
Castiel had regained his memories. He remembered why he fell. He remembered learning that Heaven was not led by God, had not been led by God for years. God had left them all, human and angel. He remembered hearing about the beginning of the end. He remembered not accepting that, tearing himself apart, and falling to Earth.
He remembered losing his way.
“They gave everything to win this fight. They sacrificed everything to keep your creation alive. They gave all to save billions of lives. Humans. Your greatest achievement. The ones you claim to love.”
The river flowed. Castiel followed it. He reached the edge of the cliff, where the water cascaded down. The water changed it song as it crashed against the rocks below, from a soft gentle solo to a powerful chorus. Castiel peered over the cliff’s edge. At the bottom, the water had become something new, something powerful, something beautiful. He jumped into the pool below and floated under the waterfall, listening to its song. The current pushed him out of the pool, firm but gentle, and Castiel washed ashore. He climbed out of the water, allowing his clothes to remain dripping wet.
“It can’t end like this,” Castiel whispered into the soft earth on the shore. “I won’t let it end like this.”
Castiel stood, his arms spread wide. He breathed deeply and his wings unfurled. Birds launched out of the treetops, every one of them looking his way.
When Castiel made his final call, the birds answered with a joyous scream.
Empty bottles flew from the shelves and rolled out the overflowing bin of beer cans. No matter how much or how hard Dean searched, he couldn’t find anything he hadn’t drank. He also couldn’t find Bobby or Cas. Dean choose to blame them for the lack of liquor left in the house.
After spending the last few weeks drinking and not thinking, Dean already felt the cumulative hangover start to hit him. He wasn’t drunk now so he grabbed his keys and headed outside with the intent to do a supply run. One supply.
He didn’t get far. He stepped out Bobby’s front door and walked in on the middle of a scene he wasn’t meant to witness. At first, Dean though he might still be drunk or he had yet another crazy dream, but when he rubbed at his eyes and pinched his cheeks, everything was still there.
The portal opened. The portal Sam jumped into, where he said his final goodbye. No way Dean could ever forget its blackness, the crackle in the air as it opened, how its power settled on the skin like frost biting at the skin. All around the portal stood angels: Anna, Hannah, Balthazar, and (Dean blinked a few times to make sure it wasn’t a trick) Gabriel. Death didn’t seem to stick to anyone these days. Except his brother.
The angels stood at the edge of the circle created by the portal, their faces serious, their clothes and hair blown back by the wind coming from below. Dean took one more step forward and saw Cas, his back directly to Dean, shout over the wind. The words were incomprehensible to Dean but the angels nodded, their faces staring into the abyss. A shout made the wind pick up and Dean shivered despite the bright sun.
Cas noticed Dean first. He looked up from the portal and slowly, so very slowly, turned his head. His eyes glowed a radioactive blue, all his power brought to the surface. Cas smiled at Dean.
“It’s going to be okay,” he said.
He spoke quietly, but Dean heard every word. Cas turned back around, the other angels watching him. He stood tall, his body glowing the same colour as his eyes. Lightning struck and Cas stepped over the edge of the abyss.
Dean didn’t shout, didn’t cry, didn’t reach out. He did, however, hit the ground. His legs just wouldn’t work anymore. The impact shot through his legs and up his knees but Dean had a hard time feeling it.
That was it. The two most important people in his life lost to the same pit. Maybe Bobby, wherever he was, would want to get in on it, too. A three for one sale on breaking Dean apart.
Dean wanted to be mad. He wanted to shout about how Cas never said anything about this plan, but Dean was well aware that any time Cas tried to talk to him the last few weeks Dean had brushed his off, pushed him away, and never tried to listen. Cas had only wanted to take care of him and Dean had only made time for alcohol.
That was it. Dean reached capacity. No more feelings. No more moving. No more anything.
Dean stayed where he was and watched the remaining angels close the gap Cas left behind, their hands joined. They formed a line around the portal, their power flowing through the air. Had Dean been capable of feeling anything else, his skin may have buzzed. As he was, he stared forward, watching the blackness that took his light away.
Dark. Castiel expected dark. He had spent so much time in the deep dark that he greeted it as an old, familiar friend. The blackness no longer frightened him. He found his way out so many times before.
He fell. He had a habit of falling, of hurling downwards wondering what waited for him at the bottom. The impact had not killed him yet and he did not plan on letting it happen now. He needed to find his way back to Dean.
Castiel knew he neared the bottom because of the cold. Even at full power, Castiel could feel the chill on his skin. The cage was, after all, the devil’s domain. Lucifer was the brightest, most brilliant, of all the angels. Michael’s fire could not compete against him, especially in his lesser vessel.
Castiel unfurled his wings, slowing his descent. The dark gave way to a sight no human would be able to comprehend. The angels on the Earth above him, waiting for him at the edge of the pit, lent him their power in an attempt to protect him from the combined archangels' might. All of that assistance, all the precautions and failsafes they put into place, everything they tried to prepare for before setting this plan in motion did not prevent Castiel from stumbling as he touched the bottom of the cage.
For a moment, Castiel though he landed in one of his paintings. Colours swirled around him, stars shone at his feet, and lines pierced through the darkness, filling the empty spaces in between.
It seemed that way at first glance.
Castiel looked closer and saw the colours shimmer and quake. The stars burst, a facsimile of a supernova, then went dark, leaving a scar behind. The lines cut the word into pieces, not bridging the gaps between the spaces, but keeping everything in isolation.
The colours dulled as Castiel walked, searching for the prisoners within this cage. He carefully avoided the lines, lest they cut him, and sent out a prayer for the lost stars.
He walked for what must have been days. He walked and never saw a single soul, never found a hint of grace. He walked, every step a chance to run into an archangel, every step a chance to lose.
Off in the distance, Castiel saw a colour that was different from the dull shades around him. A bright orange appeared at the edge of the darkness, giving the appearance of a sunrise on the horizon. Castiel followed it, knowing he walked in the right direction. He continued forward and the space around him began to change. The colours faded away, the stars all blew out, and the lines became covered in frost. The cold permeated the area and Castiel felt the chill deep in his body’s bones. He wrapped his coat tightly around his body and never stopped, never slowed.
The orange refused to fade. Castiel saw it flash, saw it waver, but not once did it fade away.
The tips of Castiel’s hair went white with frost. His lips became dry and blue. Whispers assaulted him from the darkness, the sound crawling up his spine and scratching his wings.
The whispers’ volume increased with each step Castiel made, closer and closer to the colour. They became a physical thing, each word cutting into his skin. The whispers told him he was a failure, useless, unneeded and unloved. They said Castiel would die here. Tendrils of darkness grabbed at Castiel’s ankles and slithered their way up his legs.
The whispers changed their tune. The tendrils crawled up to Castiel’s waist and caressed him, offering warmth from the cold. Castiel pulled them off his body and threw them away. The whispers hovered around his head offering him comfort, rest, freedom from pain, and bliss. Castiel looked up and saw the orange flare bright, surrounding another colour Castiel could not clearly see.
One more step and Castiel found them. Two bodies, side by side, laying in a cocoon of colour amongst all the black. Castiel pressed his hand against the orange, smooth like glass, and asked a question. A few seconds passed then a line, a crack, formed in the colour, enough for Castiel to slip through.
The bodies never moved, their eyes closed as if lost in restful sleep, but Castiel could feel the massive effort from both of them to keep their physical form. Castiel kneeled between them, a hand on each of their arms, and called upon the angels to help them.
Sam and Adam sat up, their eyes open and staring at Castiel. He helped them stand.
The cocoon wavered.
Castiel turned around as the orange faded away. He grabbed hold of Sam and Adam, pressing their faces against his shoulders to shield them from the terrible sight ahead.
Fire on one side and ice on the other. The elements were ever turning like a wheel, if a wheel could be made out of anger and fury. Eyes, many eyes, stared at them, red on one side, blue on the other. Wings of darkness surrounded them and, when Castiel looked at them, he recognized the places he walked. Castiel's power paled in comparison to the two archangels. He was a small dot compared to their true forms and peering any closer at them would drive even an angel like himself insane.
Castiel gripped Sam and Adam tightly, slinging one body over each of his shoulders, and freed his wings. He called upon the other angels for help, but he could not be sure they heard him over the archangel’s radiance. It was hard to fly weighed down by two bodies but Castiel did not come here to give up.
Feathers fell into the darkness as Castiel gained altitude. Lucifer roared as Castiel flit passed him, his snake head spewing venom at his feet. He swerved to avoid it, and did not see Micheal behind him, intent and quiet. His sword, small in his hand but huge to Castiel eyes, glinted righteousness as it stuck Castiel’s right wing. Castiel screamed as his feathers separated from the bone, his grace fighting valiantly to repair the damage. The chill air whistled through the hole in his wing and Castiel could feel it all through his body.
He could still fly.
Castiel continued his assent, his grip secured on the humans. He panted, each flap of his wings painful and laborious, his grace fading with the effort to repair the damage. He would not give up.
His near miss with a stream of Micheal’s fire made him drop down another foot. Castiel, already stretched well beyond his limits, felt heavy. He did not stop beating his wings but, each time, he dropped lower. Michael and Lucifer stopped their attacks, every eye on all their faces watching as Castiel moved closer and closer to them. He was falling. He cried out for help.
Two hands, one each shoulder blade at the root of his wings, pressed against Castiel’s back. The hands were still for a moment, then warmth radiated through Castiel’s body. The orange returned, bright and powerful, and the other colour, more unpracticed and uncertain but just as determined, followed the orange’s lead. The colours swirled around Castiel as they found shape, covering Castiel’s body. The colour squeezed against Castiel’s broken wing and filled in the empty spaces in between the lines of bone. Castiel, now dressed in a suit of armour made of colour, no longer fell.
A temporary fix, but it was enough. Castiel summoned a powerful gust of wind with the last of his drained grace. Lucifer and Micheal raged, their wings carrying them great distances as they pursued Castiel. Castiel paid them no mind. He could see the exit now, the light of the Earth’s sky beating down on his forehead. The sun was so beautiful.
Castiel rocketed through the portal, landing on the concrete of Bobby scrapyard, his grip still tight on his human charges.
The last thing he heard before his grace gave up was Lucifer and Michael slamming against the wall of their cage.
Sam was alive.
It still amazed him, days later, that he walked on the Earth's surface. Sam didn’t know what he did to deserve salvation for everything he had done but, damn, it was good to feel the sun on his face. He leaned back on the Impala's hood and breathed fresh air. Well, as fresh as it could get at Bobby’s house.
Adam couldn’t be out of the house fast enough. They managed to contact some of his mother’s relatives and Adam took the first bus out of dodge, clearly stating he wanted nothing to do with his half-brothers. Sam couldn’t blame him. He hoped the kid would be okay out there, whatever he decided to do with his life.
Sam knew what it was like in the cage, he knew what happened there, and he knew Adam had to carry those memories around with him forever. So did Sam. He knew that, wherever he closed his eyes, he would always see Lucifer’s face. His true face. Sam tried not to think about it, didn’t want to talk about it, and certainly would not admit how it made him feel.
Maybe that was Sam’s punishment: to see Lucifer’s face at night, even with him locked in the cage.
Either way, Sam wasn’t complaining. He expected eternity. He got a few weeks. Or months. Years. He was still figuring out the timeline.
The front door slammed closed and Sam turned to see Bobby dragging two full bags of clinking glass bottles down the porch.
“Anything?” Sam asked as Bobby passed him.
“Same as yesterday,” he said. He stopped, hand on his hip. “Is it just me, or does that guy pass out a lot?”
“It’s for a good cause.”
“Saved your ass. All our asses. The world’s ass.” Bobby shook his head. “Now the lazy bastard thinks he can sleep his way through the rest of his days?” He hefted the bags over his shoulder, the bottles loud as they hit each other. “Doesn’t he know there’s recycling to do?”
“I’m sure Cas will appreciate you sorting the bottles for him.”
“Whatever. You’re the one who made him into a tree hugger.”
“And yet you’re still gonna drive out to recycle those.”
Bobby scoffed and threw the bags into the back of his truck. Before Bobby could jump in the truck and drive away, Sam called out.
Bobby’s hand hovered over the truck’s handle. “Hasn’t moved. Tired to get him to eat but, uh…”
For a short moment, Bobby stared at Sam, stroking his chin. Sam could see the question on Bobby's face, could see the words start to form on his lips. He didn’t ask it. Sam was thankful. Sam didn’t have an answer when someone asked if he was okay because he didn’t know himself.
Bobby shrugged and opened the truck door, starting the engine as soon as he was inside. Sam waved as he drove away. The sun moved behind the clouds and Sam took it as a sign he should go inside.
Sam knocked on the bedroom door and, in the absence of any protest, entered the room. Apparently, Dean liked sitting in the dark because the curtains were drawn over the windows. Sam blinked as he stumbled into the room, barely able to make out the lumpy form of Cas’s body on the bed under the blankets. Another step and he saw Dean leaning forward in his chair, his arms pressed against the mattress and cradling his head. Dean was asleep.
Good. Dean needed sleep. He had been keeping vigil over Cas ever since they returned. Though, Sam doubted Dean’s back was going to like Dean’s sleeping position. Oh well. Whatever worked.
Thankfully, someone had cleaned up the room. Sam didn’t have to worry about slipping on any flower petals as he walked to the window. He drew back the curtains and light filled the room. Sam breathed easier when he saw the sun peek out over the clouds. Dean snorted and Sam turned around in time to see Dean squint at the light and sit up, rubbing at his neck.
“Dude,” Dean grumbled. “What’s with the bright?”
“It was dark,” Sam said.
“Oh? No kidding.” Dean stretched his arms over his head and Sam heard his back pop in at least four different places. “What do you want?”
“Just, uh, checking in,” Sam said.
With the light, Sam saw the details of the room. He saw the desk Cas had claimed, covered in spilled paint, his supplies pushed towards the back in an effort to organize his usual mess. He saw the pile of laundry in the corner, spilling out of a duffel bag, shirts Sam had seen both Dean and Cas wear on different days. He could see Cas’s face, eyes closed and face peaceful, as he slept in the bed, same as the last time Sam had been here.
“He’s the same as always,” Dean said, his blank tone doing nothing to hide the worry in his hunched shoulders.
“I know. What about you?”
“You’re here,” Dean said. “That’s a pretty big fucking deal.” A real, genuine smile burst out of Dean then. Sam appreciated the unabashed sincerity of his words. The smile faded when Dean looked over Cas, replaced by worry. “Now all we need is to get this nerd to wake up.”
“He will,” Sam said. “He better. I need to thank him.”
“Yeah.” Dean leaned over and brushed the hair back from Cas’s forehead. “Me too.”
The room silenced, not a single breath, foot shuffle, or bird cry disturbed the mood. Dean and Sam watched over Cas.
“Now, don’t you all get up at once.”
Dean’s chair spun on one leg when he shot up and turned to face the latest arrival. Sam squint into the dark side of the room from his place by the window. He crossed his arms and didn’t move. Crowley didn’t deserve a reaction.
“And where the hell have you been?” Dean demanded.
“Yes, exactly,” Crowley said. “Pure chaos downstairs. Lots of work to do, thanks to you three.”
“Wow, I’m not sorry.”
"I'm shocked," Crowley said, his tone bland. He moved further into the room, rolling his eyes when Dean tried to block Cas from his view. “Look, do you want your precious not-angel to wake up or not?”
“What are you going to do?” Sam asked.
“Tie up a loose end.”
Sam glanced at Dean, who shook his head. Right, Dean didn’t know what Crowley’s comment meant, but Sam had a feeling he did.
“So you’re helping him?” Sam asked.
“Have been so far, thanks for noticing.” Crowley stared at Dean. “Will you let me through already? I will remove you if you don’t.”
Dean narrowed his eyes, watching Crowley for a long moment. His eyes drifted over to Cas, to his unmoving form, and his face softened. He looked at Sam and, in response his nod, moved to the side.
Crowley straightened his tie, smoothing it down countless times. “Was that so hard?” He sighed, then stood over the bed, looking down at Cas. “Don’t think this is going to get you out of our agreement, Feathers No Longer. I held up my end and I intend to collect yours.”
Crowley rest his hands at the centre of Cas’s chest, whispering low words Sam couldn’t understand. He whispered them over and over until--
“Oh come on!” Crowley shouted. “Just wake the Hell up, will you?”
Castiel opened his eyes. He didn’t seem too pleased to have Crowley looming over him. Sam wouldn’t want to see that first thing in the morning, either.
“Losing your wings doesn’t mean you can’t hold up your end. I better not see any angels,” Crowley whispered to Cas. He straightened his posture and glared at everyone in the room. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have Hell to put in order.”
Crowley was gone as fast as he appeared. Sam and Dean should have thought about what Crowley said but then Cas sat up. He blinked a few times, sleep still in his eyes, and noticed the brothers staring at him.
“You two look worried,” Cas said.
And with that, the Winchesters forgot anything else. Dean launched across the room, wrapping his arms around Cas on his right side. Only a second later, Sam joined them, latching on Cas’s left, laughing in relief. Cas sat rigid for a moment, eyes darting from one side to the other, likely suspicious of such a blatant display of affection. Eventually he settled into the embrace, sparing one arm for each brother, giving as good as he got. They stayed like that for a long while. They were a family, together again. They were ready for their new beginning.
“Nothing? No mojo at all?” Bobby asked.
“As far as I can tell,” Cas said, flexing his hands as he would to summon a ball of light. Nothing happened. “Perhaps I burnt it out during our escape.”
“Sorry about that,” Sam said, handing Cas a mug of steaming hot coffee.
Cas took the mug and breathed in the smell, his eyes closed and his smile soft. “Don’t be.”
Dean didn’t say anything. Dean couldn’t. All he could do was look at his brother and his love sitting around Bobby’s kitchen table, alive and healthy.
“Well, we saved the world,” Bobby said. “Shouldn’t we get a parade or something?”
“I thought this --” Cas spread his arms to encompass the whole table-- “was the point. No Paradise. No Hell. Just more of the same.”
“Fair enough,” Bobby said. “Don’t like parades anyway. Too loud.”
“I mean,” Sam said, “this is all good, really, but what do we do now? I’m sure there’s still ghosts out there that need hunting.”
The world was saved, warts and all. Sam was right. There would always be something out there, someone who needed the Wincheter’s help. They could do that. Hell, they probably would. But not now. They saved the world and people who saved the world deserved a vacation.
“The beach,” Dean said.
Cas and Bobby stared at Dean like he grew a new head but Sam beamed.
“What?” Bobby asked.
“Come on, guys,” Dean said. “We just prevented the goddamn Biblical Apocalypse. If that doesn’t earn us a vacation, nothing will.”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “I think we earned it.”
“But it’s gotta be in the good ol’ US of A,” Dean said. “I’m not flying anywhere.”
Sam grinned. “With little umbrella drinks?”
Dean scoffed. “Of course.”
They spent the rest of the morning debating the best beaches within driving distance. Everyone had an opinion. The secret was that Dean didn’t give a shit where they went, as long as he went with his family.
The group continued to talk and Dean smiled at the increasingly excited gestures Sam made as he spoke. Even after everything Sam had gone through, his eyes still lit up the same way they did as a kid. Dean leaned into Cas and rest his head on his shoulder. Dean felt the solid lines of Cas’s body against his own. Cas reached out and took Dean’s hand, his grip strong and sure.
In that moment, surrounded by his family, Dean looked forward to the rest of his life.
There were loose ends. There would always be loose ends. No doubt, with the failure of the ineffable plan, the proof that God’s word was not, in fact, unbreakable, Heaven was in complete disorder.
Castiel could not find it within himself to care.
There was, however, a few last things to do. Castiel sat in Bobby’s living room and sighed. Since he no longer had the use of his wings, he had to make a call.
Mercy answered the phone with a gasp. “You’re calling me. Why are you calling me?”
“To say thank you.”
“Thank me? Shouldn’t I be thanking all of you? You know, since the world isn’t ending anymore.”
“No, because you played an essential role in helping us achieve that. Thank you. For everything.”
Mercy’s side was silent, then she said in a burst, “What the fuck, Cas? It is way too damn early to cry, yet here I am.”
“Is it early?” Castiel smiled. “My apologies.”
“Asshole.” Mercy sniffled, then took a deep breath. “So, what are you going to do now?”
“Dean said something about a beach. It sounds appealing.”
“Good. Spend the rest of your life sipping drinks out of a coconut if you want. You’ve all earned it.”
Rest of his life. Castiel focused inward, searching for the power he seemed to have lost. The sword strike against his wing had done lasting damage to Castiel. He felt a phantom pain in his shoulders, right along the two scars. The injury had made his grace frantic in its efforts to heal him and Castiel theorized that burned it out. Perhaps it was like a battery, depleted but needed to be recharged. Castiel doubted he would find hidden grace around the world this time. He did not mind because when he focused, searched deep down within himself, he found something.
At his core, there was a light. The light glowed warm and was blue in colour. It was not his grace, but it felt similar. Whatever it was, Castiel liked it. It made him feel whole.
“It’s quite possible there is a finite number of years for that, now,” Castiel said.
“Wait,” Mercy said. “Does this mean you're mortal again?”
“I believe so. Only time will tell.”
“How are you feeling about that?”
Castiel chewed his bottom lip as he thought about greying hair and joints that ached in the cold. He thought about gaining weight, slowing down, and decaying teeth. It all sounded strange and scary but Castiel remembered that he would do all that with Dean. When he thought that way, it did not seem so bad. They could do it together.
“Good! Good.” Mercy paused. “Hey, you know I’m only a call away, right? So hurry up and go to the beach. Don’t worry about me.”
“I will. And Mercy?”
The next day, after speaking with Dean and Sam, Castiel went into the woods. He found a suitable clearing amongst the tall trees and kneeled in the grass. There, he raised his voice in prayer. The response came much faster than he expected. Perhaps he should have done this sooner.
“Cassie!” Balthazar shouted, grabbing Castiel’s arm and hauling him to his feet. “It’s about time!”
“You had us worried,” Anna said. “Hannah here almost broke her promise not to disturb you.”
“I--” Hannah pursed her lips and stared at the forest floor. “I didn’t, though.”
“Either way,” Balthazar said, “good to see you on your feet. But--” Balthazar peered closely, looking into Castiel’s core. “No more grace, huh?”
“Seems that way.”
“You know, I think that suits you better.” Balthazar took another long look. “And there is something there.”
Castiel nodded, Balthatzar’s words only confirming his suspicions. “How’s Heaven?”
“About what you’d expect. They’ve been--” Hannah swallowed. “They’ve been looking to me for help.”
“Good,” Castiel said. “Heaven needs more angels like you.”
Hannah flushed and hid her face in her hands.
“Don’t worry,” Anna said. “She has help.”
“I sincerely hope you’re only talking about yourself, there,” Balathazar said. “I have brandy to find.”
Anna rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to reply but was interrupted by a shout behind her.
“Sorry I’m late!” Gabriel saunted up to the group, the other angels scattering to give him space. “Terrible traffic. Hey, did you all know Raphael is still alive?”
“Is he?” Castiel said, trying to keep his tone neutral. He found it hard to do that when talking about the one that killed him.
“Yeah. He really doesn’t like that your case of the dead didn’t stick. Caught him trying to rally up some loyalist angels. You know, the guys who want Apocalypse Now?”
“And,” Gabriel continued, “I cannot believe you dragged me back into all this Heaven drama!”
“So you’re going to take care of it?”
“Only because I can’t let little Raphie get the better of me. He’s got the name of a damn Ninja Turtle. I ain’t losing to no turtle.”
“We,” Anna said with a pointed look at Balthazar, “will handle it.”
“Fine,” Balthazar said, drawing out the word. “One last battle. But that’s it.”
“This is no longer your fight,” Hannah said to Castiel. “We will make sure the world you fought to keep will remain.”
“Oh good, I have the misfit angels on my side,” Gabrial said all in one breath, his palm laid dramatically across his forehead.
“You say that like you aren’t a misfit,” Balthazar said.
“Don’t sell us so short,” Anna said.
“Fine, fine.” Gabriel grinned. “We better go. Lots of work to do.”
He waved his hands and, with that, was gone.
Balthazar stepped forward, gripping Castiel’s hand in a firm handshake. “You better keep a cold one for me in the fridge, okay?” He stepped back, eyes filled with power. “Goodbye, my friend.”
Anna took the place Balthazar vacated, “You know, I used to be in charge of you. So, consider this my last order.” She unfurled her wings. “Live your life. And don’t you dare come back to Heaven until you’re old and have died of natural causes. So long, Cas.”
Only Hannah remained. She remained still in the way only an angel could, and watched Castiel.
“What is it?” Castiel prompted.
“I have a request.” Hannah stood before Castiel, her hands rigid at her side. “It’s over. The Apocalypse is done.” She indicated her body. “It’s time for Caroline to go home. Will you return her to her family for me?”
Hannah eyes were wide and pleading. She reached out and took Castiel’s hands in between her own, touching him for the first time. He felt a current of her grace run through his skin, a warmth in her song that he could only describe as love.
“I will,” Castiel said.
Hannah smiled, the expression human and beautiful. “I fear this will be the last time we meet.” She squeezed his hands. “I will make sure Heaven goes back into order, do not worry.” She stepped forward, their bodies close. “Thank you for everything you taught me.”
She released Castiel’s hands and tilted her head towards the sky, her eyes bright in the sun. Her mouth fell open and Castiel watched as Hannah, now a brightly coloured piece of grace, left her vessel and ascended to Heaven.
All the angels have left Earth. They would keep Heaven in order. Castiel doubted another angel would be seen outside of Heaven for a very, very long time. That should be enough to satisfy Crowley's deal. If not, Castiel would deal with it in due time.
So intent upon watching Hannah, Castiel nearly let Caroline fall to the ground. Thankfully he managed to catch her in time.
“Hello,” he said to her, “I’m--”
“Castiel. I know.”
Caroline looked down at her hands and wiggled the fingers. Her face radiated joy as she laughed. She was free. She was free to move her own body. She was free to do what she wanted. She was free to go home to the one she loved.
They were all free.
Chapter 50: Epilogue
*casually slides this towards the writers as my my pitch for how the show should end*
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The good thing, Castiel decided, about the Earth’s incessant need to shift seasons all the damn time was that when it warmed it was a lot easier for Castiel to appreciate the amount of time in between the original end of the world and the rest of his life. He leaned back against the door of Bobby’s house and resisted the urge to smoke, as quitting meant a longer life span and a longer life with Dean. He squinted at the sphere of yellow light, bright in the cloudless blue sky, and thought about the persistence of the sun, how its hot summer rays tired to warm the Earth, even in the cold winter. The seasons changed but the sun remained through it all, working to keep the land alive. It did not have to make up its mind. It did not have to decide to take one side or the other. The sun simply had to be.
Then again, Castiel thought, absently running his hand over the shape of a box in his coat pocket, some decisions had to be made. Perhaps the sun should consider its relationship with the moon.
They took that beach vacation. They spent weeks with the sand between their toes, watching the waves crash onto the shore. Castiel even learned how to surf, the feeling of wind in his hair as he caught a big wave giving him an overwhelming sense of freedom. The nights he spent with Dean were endless and indescribable, the feeling of being with him better than any high he once chased.
One day, a short while ago, Sam, Dean, and Cas nodded at each other and they knew it was time to go. After all, there were still monsters out there, still people in need of help. So they packed up and returned to Bobby’s house, each one of them agreeing that someday, when they were in need of rest, they would return to the beach.
Castiel managed to peel himself from the door before Dean opened it, the bags in each hand blotting out Castiel’s ability to see within the house. Dean stepped forward, giving Castiel a wink as he passed by on his way to the Impala, throwing the bags in the trunk. Sam followed behind Dean soon after, bags of his own in his hands. As he crossed paths with Castiel, Sam grinned. Sam knew exactly what day today was.
Sam hopped down the steps, and threw the bags at Dean’s feet. Castiel watched as they exchanged words, Sam pointing towards Castiel and Dean shuffling his feet, confusion on his face. Either way, whatever words Sam said worked on Dean.
Dean walked onto the porch and joined Castiel where he stood. “So, Sam says you want to talk to me?”
“I, I, yes. Yes I do,” Castiel said.
His nerves must have shown on his face, because Dean tilted his head, concern clear in his eyes. Dean turned his body so he and Castiel were face to face.
“Everything okay, buddy?” Dean asked.
“Yes, yes. Of course.” Castiel had not felt this nervous before, even when he jumped into Hell. “Or at least I will be.”
“Okay.” Dean cocked an eyebrow. “Wait. You’re not pregnant are you?”
“What? No!” Castiel could feel himself flush from head to toe. “That’s-- That’s not possible.”
Dean laughed and reached out to ruffle Castiel’s hair. “You’re cute when you’re flustered. Doesn't happen enough.” Dean paused, one hand stroking his chin. “But, seriously dude, you’ve been on edge all day. What’s got you all worked up?”
Castiel looked into Dean’s eyes and saw the real concern there, floating in the green. He recognized Dean’s attempt to lighten Castiel’s mood with a joke. Dean knew Castiel, could read his mood so easily. Earlier that day, Sam had commented on how calm Castiel appeared, even with the importance of today. Castiel figured he had been carrying himself well but Dean knew. Of course he knew because, sometimes, Dean knew Castiel better than Castiel himself.
Castiel blinked and looked into the green, the green he had seen all those years ago deep within his dreams. Those dreams lead him to paint, lead him to Dean, lead him to here, this moment, standing on this porch, certain of only one thing in life. Castiel loved Dean.
Dean blinked. “What?”
Reaching into his pocket, Castiel managed to wrap his clumsy fingers around the box. He pulled it out and opened it, revealing what was inside.
Dean blinked again. “Holy shit.”
The band was simple, made from silver rather than gold. Silver was a much more useful material for a hunter. Symbols wrapped around the length of the ring in the same style of Castiel’s tattoos, written to protect a loved one. Those symbols, designed by Castiel and etched in a rather expensive process at the jewelry store, were created with Dean in mind, meant to keep him safe on the field.
Castiel told Dean all of this, knowing he was rambling on and on but unable to stop in the face of Dean’s silence. He was somewhere in the middle of waxing poetic about Dean’s laugh when he was cut off by Dean gripping his shoulders and kissing him deeply.
That worked so much better than talking. Castiel secured the ring box, then leaned into Dean. His body said what his words could not and Dean’s did the same. When they finally released each other, Castiel no longer worried. He knew the truth.
“I take that as a yes?” Castiel said.
“Yes.” Dean pulled Castiel close, his body shaking. “To think I didn’t get you anything.”
“It was meant to be a surprise.”
“Well, it fucking worked.”
“A good one?”
“Yeah, yeah. A good one.”
Dean backed up, wiping at his eyes. It did little to hide the happy tears still in his eyes. Dean reached out and took the box out of Castiel’s hand. When he opened it, the tears threatened to fall onto his cheeks.
“Dude. This is-- this is awesome.” Dean looked up. “Can I put it on?” At Castiel’s nod, he took the ring out of the box and put it on his left ring finger. He stared at it, his smile wide. With no warning, Dean looked up, his eyes huge. “Wait, wait. I got this.” Dean reached into the inner pocket of his leather jacket and produced a silver band of his own. “Stopped wearing it ‘cause it got beat up. Used it to open one too many beer bottles I guess. I, uh, I mean, it’s not a nice as yours but it’ll work until I--”
Castiel took the ring from Dean’s hand and put it on his finger. A little big but Castiel loved it all the same.
“Thank you, Dean,” Castiel said. “I love it.”
Dean’s cheeks flushed pink. “Alright. Cool. So, uh, how does this work, anyway? It’s not like we can go down to the courthouse or whatever.”
“We don’t need any of that.” Castiel clasped their left hands together. “All we need is a promise--” Castiel’s gaze drifted to the side and, right on cue, Sam appeared-- “and a witness.”
“Wait.” Dean addressed Sam. “How long did you know about this?”
“I don’t know,” Sam said. “Maybe about halfway through the beach vacation?”
“What?” Dean shouted. “And you couldn’t give me a heads up?”
“I promised Cas I wouldn’t. And besides,” Sam said with a little brother grin, “you’re cute when you’re flustered.”
“He was very helpful,” Castiel added. “And gave his blessing.”
Dean looked back to Castiel, right into his fond expression, and shook his head.
“I can’t believe I married you,” Dean said.
“Almost married me,” Castiel said. “We still need to make a promise.”
“Uh, okay. How do we do that?”
Castiel tightened his grip on Dean’s hand. This part, this part he knew. This part was easy.
He said his promise in Enochian. Castiel had said the same words more than once to Dean. As he spoke, he saw Dean’s eyes light up with recognition at the sound. Castiel had no way of doing the words justice in translation but, from the look on Dean’s face, Castiel was certain his message was understood. When he finished speaking, both Sam and Dean started at him, mouths open but silent.
“Wow, Dean,” Sam said. “You are never going to top that.”
“Quiet, you. I-- I didn’t have time to prepare.” Dean stared at Castiel with pleading eyes.
“That’s okay,” Castiel said. “All you have to do is promise to be with me.”
“Um, okay, so.” Dean cleared his throat. “I, Dean Winchester take thee, Castiel of no last name but should totally be Winchester, as my not-so-lawfully wedded, uh, husband.” Dean looked like he was about to stop there, but then he would not let Castiel release his hand. “Look. You’re stuck with me, dude, before this and after this. I ain’t leaving you. Never again. I promise you. And I promise, even though you got your memories back and shouldn’t forget, to remind you, every day if I have to, that I love you.” Dean took a breath and looked around the porch, as if he expected some sign from above. “Was that okay?”
Castiel wanted to tell him that was more than okay, that Castiel could not ask for anything more, but there was a lump in his throat preventing him from speaking.
“Hey, Cas?” Sam said, recognizing his trouble. “You should totally kiss the bride.”
Castiel reached for Dean and did as suggested. Their kiss was full of warm, gentle, promise, and, when they released each other, Dean made no effort to hide his tears. Castiel expected a comment from Sam. A sniffle from Castiel's side made him look over to see Sam wiping at his eyes.
They took a moment to gather themselves.
“So,” Dean began. “We’re thinking ghouls, right?”
Sam sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Um, yup. Bobby’s already out there doing the FBI thing. We’re the backup.”
“Cool,” Dean said. “Man, Bobby’s gonna be pissed we got married without him here.” Dean beamed at Castiel.
“He already knows,” Castiel said.
“Yeah, we called him,” Sam said. “He said the whole thing was-- how’d he put it-- ‘too sentimental’ for him. Though I’m pretty sure he’s taking you out for dinner once the case is done.”
“I cannot believe everyone was in on this! How did I not know?” Dean threw up his hands and started to head for the Impala. “And now we’re gonna honeymoon in a graveyard and get covered in ghoul guts. How fun.”
“It’s the Winchester way,” Sam said, following Dean.
“Guess so.” Dean looked over his shoulder and smiled at Castiel. “The way for all of us.”
Castiel joined the brothers at the Impala’s trunk, stuffing his last bag into the space in between Sam's and Dean's duffels. Nothing left empty. He stood between Sam and Dean and his heart swelled at the promise of the free open road, of traveling down that asphalt line along with his family.
Dean reached up to grab the open trunk, his new ring glinting in the sunlight. He nodded to Sam, then to Castiel.
“We got work to do,” Dean said.
The Impala’s trunk slammed shut.
*calmly hits post, lies down on the floor, and has an existential crisis*
Fun fact: I created the file for 'Empty Spaces' on December 26th, 2015. A whole lot of life happen between then and now and I still can't believe I managed to finish it.
Thank you all so much for taking this journey with me. I hope you enjoyed this fic and I hope if (Who am I kidding? When. I am so not ready to let go of this stupid show) I post something new you'll want to read that, too.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!