He's been waiting for thousands of years and Castiel still hasn't been assigned a human.
It's getting embarrassing.
His supervisor, Michael, assures Castiel it has nothing to do with his relative skill. Castiel's passed all the tests with the highest scores possible. Intellectually, he's more than ready. But, as Michael explains patiently for what seems like the thousandth time, the Father only passes down assignments to angels that exactly fit the job. It's supposed to be reassuring, but all Castiel hears is that out of the billions of humans who request their assistance, Castiel isn't good enough to help any of them.
Castiel knows his colleagues have moved past pity and are beginning to wonder if Castiel deserves his position. They are starting to wonder if Castiel's strange appearance means he's not really one of them after all.
What's worse is that his garrison is typically very busy. Uriel barely has enough time to collect his prayers before he's assigned another human in need. Anna is highly sought after for her skill in emergency life-saving. Zachariah can take credit for the creation of several powerful nations.
And then there's Castiel. Young inexperienced Castiel with his too large wings and his days spent keeping the books for his garrison because he literally has nothing else to do. There's only so many times an angel can fly the obstacle courses or study the manuscripts or listen to Michael's many educational lectures before they have it all memorized. Castiel feels certain he could teach a class on how to run a garrison and yet, he's never even met a human. He's little more than a glorified secretary.
Which is why he doesn't suspect anything significant is about to happen that morning when Michael greets him in the council chambers.
"Hello, Castiel," Michael says as he peers around the room Castiel spent the night cleaning. "Did you not rest last evening?"
"No," Castiel answers simply. He resists the urge to remind Michael that he has no need to rest since he rarely expends any of his grace. Michael would judge the comment too close to complaining.
"I see," Michael says. He sets his usual stack of papers on the table and takes his seat. "You know I want you to rest every night, Castiel. You never know when you could receive orders."
"Of course," Castiel says automatically. He thinks they both know exactly when Castiel will receive orders. "I won't stay up anymore."
"Good," Michael says, whipping out his reading glasses and plunking them down on his thin nose. "Let's see what we have this morning then."
Castiel draws out the chair beside Michael and sits. Since he is the only angel with free time, Castiel helps Michael sort through the assignments each morning and gather the necessary warriors to carry them out. Despite his poor mood, Castiel feels himself relax a little. This is his favorite unofficial duty. It's exciting to see all the crises and worries humans lend to Heaven and to find out which of his many brothers is suited to dealing with them.
"A young woman in Esenguly, Turkmenistan sends a request on the behalf of her dying sister," Michael reads. He hands the paper to Castiel. "Urgent slot, if you please. Send Anna."
Castiel slides the paper into the thin narrow slot marked URGENT REQUESTS. He hears a low booming sound that signals Anna's departure to her newest charge. Another human helped. Castiel smiles and again, feels some of his bitterness slipping away. Even if he can't help them, he's glad his kind is available to soothe the distresses of humanity.
"A five-year old boy in Ottawa, Canada wants us to heal his sick hamster," Michael says with vast amusement. It's a good thing that request was sent to their garrison. Michael is fairly indulgent of these types of lesser claims. Unlike Gabriel, who believes tough love is best. Or Raphael, who is easily annoyed when he feels humans aren't taking them seriously.
"This is time-sensitive, but not urgent," Michael decides and he shares a conspiratorial grin with Castiel. "Our Father wants me to send Uriel. I think it's His way of knocking Uriel down a few pegs."
Castiel tries not to laugh at his brother's expense, but it's a difficult task. If anything could ease Uriel's arrogance, being forced to perform a miracle on a rodent would be just the thing. Castiel takes the paper and slides it into the BY DAY'S END slot. Uriel will have to take care of the hamster before the night shift, but he doesn't have to go now.
Michael picks up the next page.
"Let's see. A man in Kansas wants us to help his brother find a love match," he reads. Castiel nods. He assumes the Father will send Rahmiel because she's known for her match-making skills. Castiel does not envy her the job. Love matching was always his worst subject in school. Not because the rules are hard to follow, but because Castiel has trouble understanding human romantic love. Love in general, he gets. But the whole process of finding a soul-mate involves far too much jealousy and angst for Castiel's tastes.
"We're to send..." Michael trails off as his light brown eyes flick down the page to the assignment box. "Oh, dear."
"What is it?" Castiel asks.
"Our Father has given this job to..." He looks up at Castiel with uncharacteristic consternation.
"Well, to you."
Castiel grabs the sheet from Michael and reads it with a growing sense of disbelief.
REQUESTER: Samuel Winchester
LOCATION: Lawrence, Kansas, United States of America
REQUEST: It's probably stupid, but I was wondering if you could maybe find someone for my brother. He's just...he's really lonely. He needs someone. I just want him to be happy.
SPECIFICS: The subject of the prayer is Dean Winchester, 30 year old male who has yet to meet his soul-mate. The assigned angel will need to find him a partner and has authorization to appear to both requester and subject. The search shall last no more than seven days.
ASSIGNED ANGEL: Castiel
"I don't understand," Castiel says faintly. "I'm not..." His eyes snap up to meet Michael's. "You said our Father would give me a job that suited me. This doesn't suit me at all. I'm terrible at romance!"
He's dangerously close to full-on panic. How could his Father trust this poor man's happiness to Castiel? How is it possible that Castiel's waited for thousands of years only to be given a task he's certain to fail?
"Castiel," Michael says, tone commanding. He clamps both hands around Castiel's shoulders and shakes him slightly. "Calm down. You know better than that. If our Father gave you this job, you can be sure there is no other angel who could possibly accomplish it."
A smile spreads across Michael's face and he eases his grip.
"This is what you've been waiting for, Castiel. Your first assignment. Don't panic. This is a time of joy," he says with such obvious sincerity that Castiel is able to let some of his turmoil go. Not all, but enough for rational thought to return to his mind.
"I have nothing, but faith in you," Michael says. He takes the sheet from Castiel's shaky fingers and slides it into the URGENT REQUESTS slot. "Perhaps not exactly urgent, but after waiting all this time, I'd say you should get a move on, don't you agree?"
Castiel can do nothing more than nod and stand. His wings tremble against his back and for a brief terrible moment, Castiel fears they will refuse to work. This is the first time he's ever left Heaven. The first time he's used his huge clumsy wings to do more than flit from one celestial building to the next.
"Good luck, brother," Michael says solemnly. They match gazes for a long moment, long enough for some of Michael's conviction to transmit itself into Castiel's grace.
Michael is right. Their Father doesn't make mistakes. He keeps that thought in the front of his mind as he transports to the launching pad and steps on it. A second later, it activates and Castiel is shot away, breaking past the higher barrier into the human world.
The first thing Castiel does is get lost.
The two-dimensional maps are a lot different than the real thing. He doesn't expect so many places on Earth to look the same. Or at least they do in the area where his requester lives. It takes two tries to find the correct state in his country and three more till Castiel locates the correct town. Once he finally lands in Lawrence, Castiel realizes he can vaguely sense the direction of his initial prayer. The sensation is so alien that Castiel pauses in the street, just so he can bask in the sweet glow of trust and need.
A few passing humans stop to stare at him. Angels are common enough in daily human life, but Castiel knows he makes a strange picture. Most angels wear the same long tight uniform and sport waist-length white wings. But Castiel’s never been given a uniform. He's still wearing the clothes he chose the day before, a plain blue suit and long tan coat.
But it's not his clothes that the humans find fascinating. It's the giant black wings that drape off his back and drag the ground behind him. They've never seen another angel like him and he knows it because he's never seen another angel like him either. He can hear them wondering if Castiel can really be an angel or if he's something else entirely, something sinister and dangerous. Castiel's always been self-conscious of his ugly wings and this does not help. He begins to worry that he will find Samuel Winchester only to be turned away when Sam sees him.
Yet Castiel knows he can't let his fear of rejection keep him from his task. His Father is counting on him, so Castiel shuts out the other humans and concentrates on Samuel's prayer. The light of it carries him away from that street to the front of a stark white house with a blue door. Castiel recalls his lessons on greeting humans carefully before walking to the blue door and rapping his knuckles on it.
A moment later, the door opens to reveal the very first human Castiel will ever properly meet.
The human is male. He is taller than Castiel and his body is thicker. The hair cut short on his head is brown and his eyes are a soft green. His sturdy form is clothed in plain blue pants and a checkered buttoned shirt over another single-colored shirt. When he sees Castiel, his expression of curiosity deepens to confusion. Castiel is surprised by how pleasing he finds this human. He's seen many pictures of humans, after all. None of them compared to the beauty of his brothers, but Castiel thinks this human could possibly compete.
"What the hell are you supposed to be?" the human asks. His voice is deep and a little hoarse and it shakes Castiel out his contemplative silence.
"Are you Samuel Winchester?"
"No," the human says, shaking his head and narrowing his eyes at Castiel. "I'm Dean. I'm his brother. What do you want with him?"
He sounds suspicious and Castiel smells his sudden fear.
"There's no need to be afraid," Castiel says. "He requested my help."
Now that he knows this is the prayer's subject, Castiel takes a closer look at the man. If Dean is unattached, Castiel assumes it's not because other humans find him unattractive. Although, it's possible they have different standards from angels. He'll have to remember to ask Michael later. In the meantime, Castiel searches under the surface details to the soul beneath.
He is shocked by what he sees. Dean's soul is strong and pure and full of love. So much love to give a partner. It glows with protective loyalty and a tendency to devotion. He'd been expecting to find a soul cluttered by selfishness or arrogance or any number of unpleasant human failings that would keep potential mates away. Castiel can see scars crossing over the soul in deep jagged lines and he's recognizes no human is perfect, but despite this, Castiel would have thought many humans would be eager to join with a person like Dean.
He's probably just missing something. This is why he feared this assignment. Love matches require such intimate knowledge of human nature and Castiel only knows what he’s read in books. Like with the maps, he fears the real thing will prove far more complex.
"Well, you can't be an angel with those wings," Dean says, nodding at Castiel's accursed wings. "And a demon would have just busted in here, so what does that make you?"
Castiel flushes with embarrassment. No wonder he's never been given a job before. Most angels don't have to worry about convincing their charges that they actually are angels.
"I am an angel of the Lord," Castiel says, lifting his chin in defiance. "Not all angels are the same, you know."
"I gotta tell ya, buddy, I've not really met a lot of you people, so I wouldn't really know," Dean says and he leans against the door frame. Castiel wants to be aggravated with him, but Dean looks so fetching in that position that Castiel finds it hard to retain his frustration.
"Then why did you judge me so?" Castiel asks.
"Hey, a guy with fucking huge black wings shows up looking for my brother and I'm just supposed to give him over? For all I know, you're the angel of Death and if that's the case, you can just forget it and move on. No angels are taking Sammy anywhere," Dean says.
The protectiveness Castiel sensed earlier flares brightly within Dean and Castiel has no doubt Dean would fight him to the death for his brother's sake. Dean hunches forward, trying to make himself appear menacing, but Castiel finds his defense of Samuel so endearing that the effect is lost on him.
"I'm not the Angel of Death, Dean," Castiel says. "I've never even met the Angel of Death. My name is Castiel and I've been sent to answer Samuel's prayer."
"Huh. Is that so? And, tell me, Castiel, what exactly did Sam pray for?" Dean asks. His tone is light, even mocking, but Castiel sees him growing tense.
"That is not for me to reveal," Castiel says, relieved to fall back onto the rules. Speaking with Dean makes him feel unsettled.
Dean doesn't like that answer, but when he searches Castiel's face, he apparently sees something that convinces him to relax his shoulders. Without taking his eyes off Castiel, Dean turns his head and yells down the hallway leading to the front door.
"Hey, Sammy, it's for you!"
There is a thundering noise that Castiel identifies as someone large stomping down a set of stairs just as Sam bursts into view. Castiel is correct in assuming that Sam is a large human. He is lanky and tall, towering over both Castiel and Dean. When he sees Castiel, his mouth turns up in a cheerful grin and Castiel decides that while he doesn't find Sam as pleasing as Dean, he is still an attractive human.
"It worked!" Sam holds out a hand. It takes Castiel far too long to remember he's supposed to take Sam's hand and receive a shake. Castiel doesn't know what hand-shaking signifies, but after he does it, Dean relaxes even further.
"Come in, come in," Sam says happily and he tugs Castiel into the house. "Wow, your wings are really black. Look at that, Dean," Sam says in apparent wonder.
"I saw," Dean deadpans. He shuts the door behind Castiel and though he is no longer suspicious of danger, Castiel can tell he's not strictly comfortable having an angel in the house.
"They're just peachy, Sam. Now tell me why you asked for angel help," he says as Sam leads them into a wide room filled with sunlight and thick cushy chairs.
"Don't be rude, Dean," Sam says, sidestepping the question. "Have a seat, um...I'm sorry, I didn't get your name?"
"It's Castiel," Dean says before Castiel can answer and he sounds rather annoyed. Sam ignores him in favor of giving Castiel another smile.
"Castiel. Please sit. Are you thirsty? Or do angels drink?" Sam's voice is breathless and shaky with nerves. Castiel's brothers told him that humans often feel overwhelmed in the presence of powerful creatures like angels. Castiel doesn't understand why. Angels are powerful, yes, but they exist to help humans, not hurt them.
"No, thank you," Castiel answers politely. Michael would be proud. He stresses the importance of remaining calm and polite at all times, even when faced with frustrating and irrational humans.
Sitting on the couch is a trying task. His wings refuse to bend under him and none of the chairs are constructed with wing rests, so Castiel is forced to nearly wrap himself in a cocoon of his own feathers in order to get seated. Sam watches this process with wide interested eyes. Once Castiel is finally settled, Sam points to his wings, apparently about to ask a question about them, but Dean interrupts him with an exasperated sigh.
"Sam," he says warningly.
"Alright," Sam says, flinging up a hand to hold back Dean's next complaint. "I prayed for you, ok?"
"Why? There's nothing wrong with me!" The tension snaps back into Dean's body and he crosses his arms over his chest in a gesture Castiel recognizes from his lessons as innately defensive. Sam probably should have discussed this issue with Dean before Castiel showed up and not while Castiel is sitting quietly between them.
"Dean, ever since Jess and I got married, you've been depressed. Since before then even," Sam said heatedly. "You haven't had a real relationship in years. All you ever have are one night stands that make you feel like crap and don't tell me you like it," Sam says when Dean starts to protest.
"We all know you like sex, but I can see it's not enough anymore. You've taken care of me our whole lives and now that I'm starting a family, I don't know, Dean." He looks down at his hands twisting in his lap, obviously in distress. "It's like you're getting left behind or something. But people grow up."
Dean turns away from Sam with a derisive snort, but Castiel can see Sam's words have stirred a deeply entrenched hurt.
"I'll always need you, Dean," Sam says to Dean's back. "You're my brother and that won't ever change. But I have someone to share my life with now. You deserve that too. You deserve your own family and someone who loves you like Jess loves me. And you're not even trying. So yeah, I prayed for you. Sue me. Castiel can help you find someone perfect."
There is silence for a very long time after this short, but impassioned speech. Castiel feels honored by Sam's confidence. He just hopes he won't betray that trust with match-making skills as clumsy and awkward as the wings folded over his lap.
"You really believe that, don't you?" Dean says softly.
"I do," Sam confirms. "I know how you feel about angels, but please just trust me. I really think Castiel can help."
Castiel frowns at Dean. He doesn't know what Sam means about Dean's feelings, but judging by the way Dean's soul darkens, it doesn't sound promising. This job keeps getting more and more difficult. First, he's given a love match on his very first outing and now it seems his charge might not even trust angels.
"Yeah, well...did it occur to you that I might not want 'someone perfect'?" Dean asks while curling the first two fingers of each hand up and down. The gesture's meaning eludes Castiel, but Sam seems to understand because he rolls his eyes at Dean.
"No, not really. If you wanted me to believe that, you shouldn't let me catch you giving me and Jess all those 'woe is me' looks," Sam says. "I swear, I thought you had a thing for Jess for awhile there until I realized you’re just pathetic and needy."
"I'm not pathetic. You're pathetic. Shut up," Dean says, but there is a very small smile hiding at the corner of his mouth.
"That's what I thought," Sam says. He turns back to Castiel finally, which is a relief because Castiel didn't want to deal with a full-blown fight on his very first assignment.
"So how do we start?" he asks eagerly.
Castiel takes a moment to gather his thoughts. Love matches are tricky. First, the assigned angel has to learn as much as possible about his charge, including whether that charge is harboring secret feelings for someone already in their lives. If not, then the angel must begin their search by following their charge to all of their normal meeting places. When the charge is in close proximity to possible mates, the angel can use his powers to project the two humans' future together. The future which most suits the charge will belong to his soul-mate.
In other words, this is going to take a lot of work.