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You just smile, looking straight at me.

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Twenty-six months, six days, five hours, forty-seven minutes ago:

“What's with all the Kryptonian names, anyway?”

Castiel blinks, dragging his eyes up from the plate of sad, lopsided food items in front of him. Burger and fries, supplies the part of him with access to Jimmy’s memories. Jimmy enjoys burgers. Castiel is… undecided. Dean has purchased this for him and refusing the hospitality of the righteous is prideful. Still. Castiel is unused to consuming food and the items look… unappealing. Limp. Artificial. Not at all in-keeping with either Jimmy’s memories or the various images displayed around the restaurant of, ostensibly, the same dish. Nor, for that matter, with the last food Castiel consumed in a vessel, the ashishim and dvash temarim offered to him by a grateful girl millennia ago and half a world away.

He is grateful, then, that Dean’s question gives him a distraction.

“I do not und—”

“Understand that reference,” Dean finishes. “Right. I mean, the whole House of El thing. Castiel, Uriel… hell even Michael. What's up with that?”

“It means ‘of God’,” Castiel says, because it does.

“Oh,” says Dean. “Is that all?”

Castiel thinks about this carefully. “Yes,” he says. “That is everything.”

It’ll take him a long time to realize the irony.


He remembers the conversation. He doesn't remember the exact moment he went from Castiel to Cas. From being Castiel-of-God to being Cas-of-Dean-Winchester. Maybe there was no moment, no sharp and defining fall. Just a gentle and inexorable slope, a comfortable glide from there to here, the distance only noticeable from the bottom.

By the time Cas had been in a position to notice, he'd slipped well past the point where he’d cared. Better to be Cas-of-Dean, neither man nor angel but someone, than be the mindless instrument of an absent and uncaring Father. Or so he’d wanted to believe.

“Fuck. I hate flying.”

Cas tries not to take the words to heart, furling his wings as the Winchesters regain their footing on the cracked blacktop of an empty road in Trenton. Cas had tried to follow Dean’s directions as best he could, but they'd been vague, and Cas is… tired. So perhaps Sam’s confused, “Where are we?” on landing is not unexpected.

Trenton has, for whatever reason, escaped the majority of the devastation wrought across the rest of the world. As such, it only takes Dean a moment of studying street signs and pacing up and down the road to determine they're on the other side of the city to the Impala’s garage.

“Sorry,” says Cas.

Dean just shrugs. “Whatever. We've got legs. Let's go.” And starts walking.

Cas does indeed, have legs. Two of them, in fact, and it takes several stumbling steps to get reacquainted with their operation. As always, it seems like such a strange and unnecessarily awkward way to move. Not like the liquid flow of the dozen limbs in his other vessel. The vessel of Castiel-of-God.

Castiel is a warrior and a sentry and a messenger. Like all angels, his form follows his function: eyes to witness, fangs and claws to smite, hands to grasp the weapons of Heaven, wings to carry God’s Word to all corners of creation.

Cas, meanwhile, is a friend and ally. He has a human face to form human expressions for human connection, human limbs to operate human tools, a human body to wear human clothes and portray human status.

He couldn't quite get the clothes. Not forming the vessel himself. Human clothes are just so… unnecessarily complicated nowadays. He'd tried—tried recreating Jimmy’s old suit and coat—but the results had been unimpressive. Much easier to appear naked and wait to be assigned appropriate coverings by Dean.

(In the secrecy of his own mind, Cas can even admit to feeling a warm thrill at the idea of wearing clothes still hung with the myrrh-rough smell of their owner. Because Cas-of-Dean has human desires, too, unshielded as he is by the buffer of a vessel’s soul. And if the loss of that buffer had happened a little earlier than perhaps he'd lead the Winchesters to believe? Well. It's a small, private secret, harming none.)

He isn't sure how long they walk. Dean and Sam move ahead, chatting amiably. From their conversation, Cas gathers the brothers believe New Jersey has been spared because it's “not even worth destroying”. Cas has nothing to add to this conversation, so remains silent, simply enjoying the feel of Dean's soul brushing bright and warm against his grace.

He knows the right building before it's pointed out, the wards inscribed on the side registering it as a kind of dull void to his senses. He can't enter, so sits out on the sidewalk to wait. The process of retrieving the Impala takes longer than simply turning a key, and is accompanied by a lot of blasphemy on behalf of Dean. Cas closes his eyes and furls his grace around his vessel, allowing himself to drift in the state of not-quite-sleep he requires.

“Hey. You okay?”

It's Sam who emerges to find him, looming tall and concerned against the star-smeared sky.

“Tired,” Cas admits, because he's flown a long way. Carrying and protecting the cruise ship burnt through the grace he took from Theo; reconstructing his vessel and making the return journey took most of his own.

“Er. Should we be worried?”

“No. My grace is finite but won't burn out. I simply require rest.” Cas doesn't know how he knows this, exactly, only that he does. The fatigue he feels is less the queasy, roiling weakness that had overtaken him the last he'd broken from Heaven and more the sort of satisfied weariness he’s previously only known secondhand from Jimmy. It's the weariness of a good day’s labour, not the exhaustion of a fever.

“I'll tell Dean,” says Sam. “We can find somewhere to crash and get moving tomorrow.”

“I can sleep in the car,” Cas assures him. “I know you want to get to Bobby’s.”

“You sure? ‘Cause it's no big deal, man. Dean's been kind of crazy looking for you. He’ll be pissed if you burn yourself out because—”

“Sam.” Cas opens his eyes, tries to remember how to rearrange his face into something reassuring. It’s both more and less difficult than before. More difficult, as he no longer has Jimmy’s muscle memory to draw on. Yet less difficult, as without the buffer of a soul his vessel—his body—feels more like something he is rather than something he has. “Thank you. But I'll be fine.”

He must achieve some success, as Sam gives him a worried smile. “Okay. Just… look after yourself, okay?”

“I will.”

“And Cas?”

“Mm?”

“Good to have you back.”

At those words, Cas does not have to consciously think about the smile that curls across his lips.


He’s woken by the sound of a car door, some uncounted number of hours later. The Impala is silent and there's sunlight streaming through the windows.

“Wakey wakey, Stevie Nicks.”

Cas blinks, eyes coming into focus on Dean, looming over him through the open rear door. It's not the worst sight he's ever regained consciousness to.

Cas lifts himself up, vessel feeling strangely sluggish and ungainly. The skin of its cheek makes a tearing sort of sound from where its spent so long in contact with the Impala’s back seat.

“W’there?” he manages to murmur, accepting Dean’s hand when it's offered to haul him from the car.

“You okay, man?” Dean's brow furrows, one sweet little line appearing between the brows. “You’ve been out for, like, a day.”

Cas gives a noncommittal grunt, stretching himself in both vessel and grace. The beat of his wings raises little whirls of dust and debris, earring some startled gasps from the two brothers.

“Cas?”

“Fine,” Cas says. “Just… waking up.” He rolls his shoulders and resettles his wings. He feels… both refreshed and cramped, all at once. Like he's just experienced a well-earned rest on the back seat of a moving vehicle.

“How's that working out for you?”

“Strange,” Cas admits, because it's Dean who’s asking. “But revivifying.” He attempts a smile, because Dean’s scowl hasn't lifted.

Dean's eyes search his for a moment, and Cas can't help but reach out with his grace. Just a little, just the lightest brush of feathers, and represses a jolt of pure and thrilling joy as Dean's soul pulses, bright and warm in response, and his expression shifts into an approving smirk.

Dean's soul is always so responsive to the touch of Cas’ grace. Hungry and wanting. It always has been, ever since that first instant in Hell, when Castiel had been dreading the notion of carrying it. In his experience then, human souls had always been brittle and sharp and unwelcoming at the best of times, with those tainted by Hell smothered in an oily veneer of demonic filth. And Dean, Dean had had both—the sharpness and the oil—and yet, when Castiel’s grace had curled around and lifted him, both feelings had cracked and shattered and burnt until only that bright core had remained, hypnotic and pulsing with the ecstatic adulation of, Oh God, oh thank you, you came back for me.

Castiel hadn't understood it at the time, the intensity of the feeling. Had been frightened, almost; reassembling Dean’s broken body then fleeing and, well. Perhaps not thinking clearly of the consequences for Dean.

But, still. He had come back. Again and again. And now here they were.

Which, speaking of:

“Where are we?” Cas looks around, squinting at the single building on the otherwise ruined street. “This isn't Bobby’s.”

“Executive decision,” says Dean. “While you were out of it. We figured Bobby can hold out another day.” He says it casually, but Cas can feel the anxiety shifting underneath; concern for the Winchesters’ surrogate father and his unknown fate. Cas rests a hand on Dean’s shoulder, squeezing briefly. He's been trying to get better with that, using physical touch as well as grace. Ever since his vessel became his and his alone, it’s seemed… acceptable in a way it hadn’t before.

The gesture of comfort isn't just for Dean’s benefit, of course. Not when the house they're standing outside of is that of the Prophet. Cas’ last memories of being here are… unpleasant. Even knowing that, rationally, he's unlikely to suffer the same fate today he nonetheless feels a flutter of apprehension.

The brothers must feel it too. The three of them hesitate on the cracked blacktop, staring up at the looming building; the last piece of civilization in the centre of a mad angel’s destruction.

“Nothing ominous about this at all,” says Sam.

“Stop being such a little bitch,” says Dean, swallowing sharply and striding forward. The braggadocio causes Sam to roll his eyes at Cas, who blinks in agreement, though they both follow Dean to the door.

What follows is a good few minutes of futile knocking. Plus yelling.

“No one is here,” Cas says after a while. He can’t sense any living human souls inside the house. It’s not a guarantee, but…

“Right,” says Dean. Then, louder, “Coming in, ready or not. Put on pants if you’re naked.” He nods at Sam, and the pair draw guns in readiness.

One hard application of Sam’s boot to the door splinters the jamb and busts the lock. The movement displaces a cloud of dust and stale-smelling air that has the Winchesters spluttering and Cas refraining from breathing altogether until it clears.

“Dean,” Sam says, “I don’t think anyone’s been home for a while.”

“Yo, Chuck?” Dean calls, waving away dust and stepping into the house. “You been forgetting to vacuum, buddy?”

Despite the day outside, the inside of the house is dark, curtains and shades covering the windows. Flecks of dust float like stars in the rays of light that do filter through, beautiful and ominous. Their feet kick up more as they enter the house, the Winchesters raising their weapons and lowering into predatory stances.

There is movement, but it’s small; rats and roaches, scurrying for cover in light of the invasion. Other than that, the house is silent.

They’ve taken four steps, maybe five, when Cas catches a scent beneath the dust. He sniffs, trying to reconcile the input from his vessel’s senses with that from his grace. Dean watches, eyes sharp and bright. “Cas?”

“I smell it too,” Sam says, inhaling deeply. “It’s like… roses?”

“Oh-ka-ay. Could be worse,” Dean says. Cas isn’t sure.

They search the house, finding more of the same; layers of dust and empty rooms. A shattered picture frame, seemingly knocked from the wall by the wind through an opened window, the print inside (illustrated versions of Sam and Dean, no less) ruined by rain from the same. All the while, the cloying floral smell grows stronger.

And then, in the study:

“Ah, fuck.”

“Jesus, Shurley. You sad sunovabitch.”

And here they find the Prophet, dead. Hanged from a black rope noose strung through a heavy steel hook, seemingly affixed to the ceiling for exactly that purpose.

The Winchesters have seen enough bodies in their time to spend only the briefest moments on shock. When it dissipates, they get to work. Cas supposes this is how they deal with grief, not with mourning but with action. Checking over the body and the room, looking for clues, for leads. For the start of a hunt.

And then:

“This is weird.”

“Hm?”

Sam is holding a torch in one hand, the fingers of the other wrapped around one of the Prophet’s wrists. Checking for a life Cas knows isn’t there. “Either this literally just happened, or…”

“Dude, he’s covered in dust. This did not ‘just happen’.”

“Yeah, but. Check it,” Sam raises the Prophet’s hand, its fingers curled into a fist, and presents it to Dean.

Dean inspects it, cursorily at first, before double-taking to look closer. “What the hell…? It looks—”

“Like I said: it looks like he literally just died. No rigor, no decay. Nothing’s had a chew. He’s cold, no pulse, but…”

“Incorruptibility,” Cas says.

Sam looks up, scowls for a moment in thought, then his face animates in recognition. “Right,” he says, fingers snapping in Cas’ direction. “Right. That would account for the smell, too, yeah?”

“Yes.”

“Want to share with the class, Cadfael?”

“It’s, um. It’s a property associated with Catholic saints,” Sam says. “That their bodies don’t decompose after death. And have this sweet smell, it’s, um—”

“The odor of sanctity,” Cas supplies.

“Right.”

“Okay,” says Dean, looking up at the Prophet, now slightly swinging from the jostling. “I guess on the scale of Winchester Weird, non-decomposing hacks are a, what? A solid two?” Then, without waiting for an answer. “What’s he got in his pocket?”

The Prophet is dressed in boxers and an undershirt and a robe. His fisted hand is free, but the other is in the pocket of his robe. Dean carefully extracts it, revealing a cell phone, the Prophet’s finger still poised above the power button.

“He was trying to make a call while hanging himself?” Dean takes the phone, presses the button; it takes a second, but the screen lights up. “Huh.”

“Dean,” Sam says. His voice is careful, eyes scanning the floor beneath the Prophet’s hanging feet. “I… I don’t think Chuck did this to himself.”

“Huh?”

“I mean, how did he get up there? There’s no, I dunno. Chair or anything. So unless you think he jumped… or flew…”

Dean looks around, eyes narrowing as he realizes his brother is right.

“Neck’s not snapped, either,” Dean adds after a moment, voice quietening. “He didn’t drop.”

“He was dragged up there.” Sam points at the rope; it extends through the hook and down against the wall, the end tied to a radiator. “He, uh. Suffocated. You can see it…” He makes a gesture around his neck. Incorruptibility prevents decay, not the wounds of death, and the Prophet’s neck is black and purple, the flesh of his face grotesquely bloated.

Now that they’re looking, there are other signs, too; displaced papers, an overturned plant, shattered glass in a picture frame. Signs of a struggle, not just wind and abandonment.

“Hell of a way to go,” Sam says, after a moment.

“Yeah.”

They look at each other. Cas knows that look. It’s a look of a hunt with no limits on time or distance. It’s the look of something’s eventual, painful, demise.

Something that murdered a Prophet of the Lord. Cas might not always be Heaven’s favorite angel, but there’s still enough of his Father in him to feel the slow, hot coals of wrath begin to burn beneath his wings.

“Alright,” says Dean. He starts pacing, tapping the cell phone against the palm of his hand. “Alright. Something jumps poor ol’ Chuckles. Starts stringing him up—”

“You think he saw it coming?” Sam says. He’s looking through the papers on the Prophet’s desk.

“I think he had enough time to turn his phone off,” Dean says. “So the battery wouldn’t be dead when we found it.” He starts tapping at the screen. “Last call… a one-nine-hundred”—Sam scoffs—“date, uh. Shit.”

“What?”

“Morning of the Vegas Landing.” The day Heaven and Hell vanished. The day the angels all went mad. Even the thought of it sends a chill of fear through Cas’ feathers.

Sam looks up, frozen. “Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“And the call before that?”

“Uh… huh. Three days earlier. To Becky. Becky Rosen.”

“I thought they broke up?”

Dean gives his brother an incredulous look. “Okay, Perez Hilton. It’s still a lead.”

“Assuming she’s alive.”

“I will add her to the list,” Cas announces. Then, when two sets of eyes turn to him in surprise: “Of people. That we’re looking for.” Bobby, Lisa and Ben, the Campbells, the Novaks, Becky Rosen.

“Right,” says Dean. Blinking as if trying to remember Cas is still there. “Right. You getting anything in here, Cas? Weird mojo? Demon footprints?”

Cas shakes his head. The gently swinging body of the Prophet is… unsettling, but the feeling is emotional. Not what Dean is asking.

“Well, we've got another dog in the nighttime over here,” says Sam, gesturing at the desk. “Papers, books, empty bottle of vodka, mouse, backup drive—”

“No laptop,” says Dean.

“Bingo.”

“You think whoever topped Chuck took his computer?”

“Or he gave it to someone.”

“Becky Rosen.”

“That's what I'm thinking, yeah.” Sam taps at the desk. “There's nothing new here. Prophet-wise, I mean. It's all stuff from before the Landing.”

Dean nods. “Keep looking,” he says. “Me and Cas will do something about…” He jerks his thumb at the body of the Prophet. “Guy deserves a burial, at least.”

“I'll sever the rope,” Cas says, pulling forth his blade.

He moves towards the radiator while Dean prepares to catch the Prophet’s body. The knot securing the rope at this end is complicated, expertly tied. This cord itself isn't fibre like Cas had initially assumed, by rather some kind of twisted steel, flecks of dull silver glimmering in between dark, reddish-black rust. Steel will not stop an angel’s blade, however, and Cas reaches out a hand to grasp the rope in preparation for the cut. His fingers close around the braid and—

The jolt is immediate and excruciating, a thick lance of agony that sears through him in a burst of blue-white grace. Cas cries out in shock and drops to his knees. His blade clattering forgotten to the floor, his wings beating furiously in a panic that sends papers scattering and curtains billowing.

“Cas? Cas!”

Dean’s hands land heavy on Cas’ shoulders, the man himself dropping beside him. Cas balls his injured fist, pulling it away and trying to use his body to shield Dean from the oozing, wounded grace. He feels his hold on his vessel slip, the flesh shuddering and threatening to tear like wet tissue forced to hold up a lead weight. He forces down the rising panic. He can't risk disembodying, not here, with both Winchesters so close. So instead he slams his eyes shut and focuses on the way the air rushes in and out of his vessel—through the mouth and nose, into the lungs, ribs and diaphragm heaving—to ground himself into the world.

One breath, two. Dean's hands are warm and solid against Cas’s shoulders, his smell thick and musky from the road. Physical sensations, and Cas clings to them.

“Cas? Cas, what happened?”

Cas opens his eyes, fills himself with the sight of Dean, whose own eyes are wide and bright and green with panic.

“Zir—” No, not that. Try again: “I— I am… fine,” Cas manages to force through his panicking vessel’s lips.

“You don't look ‘fine’! What the hell was that?”

Breathing is coming easier now, barely. He isn't unravelling. He isn't being expelled. “I don't know,” he says. “It felt…” He uncurls his fist, grace safely tucked away. The flesh of his palm is unmarked. Not a physical injury, then. “Touching the rope,” Cas says. “It felt as if.. as if it caused my vessel to expel me.”

Dean sits back on his haunches, hands lowering. Cas’ shoulders feel cold without the touch. “Like a banishing?”

Cas shakes his head. “Like an expulsion. Like my vessel turned against me, like it was denying my use of it.”

“I though you said Jimmy wasn't home any more?” Sam, looming large and worried behind his brother. “That it was just you in there?”

“It is.” Cas looks down at his hands, opening and closing the fingers. “I believe that's why I was able to resist it.”

Dean's hand returns to Cas’ shoulder, shaking him in an awkward offering of comfort. Cas allows his vessel to submit to the manhandling, feels himself relax further at the touch. “You're okay, though?” Dean is saying. “Any injuries?”

Cas shakes his head. His grace still feels raw and seared but there's nothing Dean can do about it. Physically, Cas is fine.

“I guess it makes sense,” Sam says, studying the rope. “I mean, if you're going to hang a prophet, make sure it's with something his guardian angel can't touch.” He reaches out his own hand, tentatively tapping the rope with his finger even as Dean exclaims in protest.

“Sammy!”

Emboldened, Sam grasps the rope more firmly. “Guess it only works on angels,” he says.

“Speaking of,” says Dean, hauling himself to his feet then reaching out a hand to help Cas with the same. “Where was Raphael when all this was going down? I thought he was supposed to be Chuck’s babysitter?”

Dean's hand is dry and calloused in Cas’ own. Cas wants to hold it, to run his vessel’s own smooth fingers across every crease and scar. To feel the bones and tendons shift beneath pale skin. He wants that hand to touch him in turn, to feel its rough fingertips catch on the skin of his arm, his throat, his chest.

Cas drops the hand. Wanting is not having, and it certainly isn't deserving. He feels the shame ball up within his gut, pulls his feathers close as if it can help to hide it.

“I… I believe that maybe my…” he starts, and can't force himself to finish. Can't force himself to meet either Winchester’s eyes. This is the unease he's felt since they entered the house. “The War in Heaven,” he says. “Raphael’s attention was likely… elsewhere.” And there it is; because of Castiel’s pride, a Prophet died an awful death.

Yet, when he dares glance up, he doesn't see revulsion or censure. Just Dean and Sam, sharing a weary and knowing sort of look.

“Hey,” says Dean. “It's not your fault, all right?” He bumps his shoulder against Cas’.

“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “It's no one’s fault but whoever it was who slipped that noose over Chuck’s head.”

Cas nods, glad for the words even if they do nothing to smooth the tight knot of guilt. It's a very Winchester thing, he thinks; the urge to forgive everyone’s transgressions but your own.

They still need to do something about the Prophet. In the end, Dean and Cas switch jobs; Dean sawing through the rope with Cas’ blade, Cas’ arms wrapped around the Prophet’s hips to catch his weight. Sam helps with the rope—to stop the freed coils of it hitting Cas again—and between the three of them they eventually get the body laid out on the ground. Sam slips the noose from around the Prophet’s neck and—

And the Prophet’s eyes snap open, and he lurches upright with a gasp.

“Holy shit—”

“Shoulda seen that coming.”

Cas is closest to the body, and can't help the gasp as the thing lurches upright to grab at his shirt. It's dead; registering as nothing but lifeless matter to Cas’ senses. Nonetheless, it's grip is inescapably strong. A cold hand presses into Cas’, forceful enough to shift his vessel's bones. There's something hard pressed between the palms. Something burning.

Cas gasps, tries to pull away. A part of him is aware of Sam and Dean, moving and shouting around him. The rest is focused on the filmy, glassy eyes of the dead Prophet as it croaks:

“Ca— Cas-oiad, in drilpa ci-ciaofi… pil dods dril Lucifer toxzir. Z-zir— iaida micaman. G-gi…”

Cas’ blood runs cold. Funny. He'd never understood that expression before now but, yes. Yes that's exactly what it feels like, every muscle of his vessel locking tight, shivering with a chill that comes not from without, but within. His grace, too; contracting sharply inwards, curling tight and defensive and… and…

Cas-oiad, in drilpi ciaofi. Castiel, my greatest mistake.

Dimly, very dimly, Cas is aware of Dean, hauling him out of the dead Prophet’s grasp. This time, the fingers drop easily, the awful animation behind them dissipating into the aether. Sam is doing something to the body. Pressing on the chest and… CPR. He's doing CPR. It won't work. There's nothing for it to work on. But he tries. And Cas…

Cas…

“Cas? Cas!”

Cas blinks. The world seems to come back in a rush; sound and color and light. And Dean, face very close and very open and very worried.

“I'm… fine,” Cas lies. He's not fine. Maybe he never was.

“Was he… what did he say to you?”

Cas opens his mouth. It feels dry and rough, his tongue thick and sluggish. What did the Prophet say, indeed. What were His last words on Earth, dripped like honey venom into the heart of Cas’ grace.

“N-nothing,” Cas lies again, shudder of revulsion curling through every corner of his being. “Just… nonsense.” So proud. Too proud to admit his shame.

“Didn't seem like nothing.” Dean is scowling. Not angry, just worried. “You look pretty shook up. If there was something—”

“I said it was nothing!”

“Jeeze, all right. Sorry for giving a shit.” Dean throws up his hands, stalks off to where Sam is going through the motions of checking breath and pulse.

Cas’ fists are still tightly clenched, and he forces himself to unclench them. The left—the one the Prophet had clasped—sends a sharp lance of pain up his arm. There's also something there, balled between the fingers, and somehow, some part of Cas is unsurprised to see it's Dean’s amulet.

Beneath it, Cas’ skin is a blistered, angry red. A burn, right in the centre of his palm. One that isn't healing.

It won't heal, Cas knows that much. At least, not any faster than the same burn on a mortal body. This is an injury Cas’ grace can't touch.

Not when it's come from Cas standing in the presence of God, for the first time since Creation.

Standing, and being found wanting.


They end up burying the Prophet in his own backyard, taking turns to dig into the hard soil. Cas helps, because it stops Dean from asking questions Cas doesn't want to answer.

The endeavor takes hours and ends with two shirtless brothers and a mission for Cas to retrieve bottles of potable water from the nearest still-standing gas station. He flies there and back and it isn't a hard task, especially not when he's rewarded afterwards with a handful of long, peaceful moments sitting next to Dean on a pair of half-rotted wooden chairs.

Dean is half-watching his brother and half-watching nothing in particular. Cas, of course, is watching Dean. The smooth, firm hills of muscles across his shoulders and chest, glistening with sweat. The dark lines his tattoo, the soft mound of his belly, the heavy musky smell of him. Cas wants to touch. Cas always wants to touch, but knows Dean won't allow it. So Cas contents himself with watching, eyes tracing the faded outline of a handprint and thoughts curled around the memory of Dean asleep and content in Cas’ palm.

Dangerous, prideful, fallen little seraph. Who brought war to Heaven and destruction to Earth. Who would be perverse enough to share grace with a mortal and would share more besides. The greatest mistake of an infallible Father.

“Cas?”

Cas blinks. Dean is looking at him, brow furrowed again.

“You okay?” Dean asks. “You’re kind of… looking at my bracelet like you want to smite it.”

“I don’t want to smite your bracelet, Dean,” Cas says. “I like your bracelet.”

“Yeah?” Dean examines the item in question; a braided leather cord, looped three times and threaded with three green stone beads. “Bought it from a hippie who told me it would prevent nightmares.” A pause, then: “She was full of shit. But it's cool, I guess.”

Cas looks down at his own hands; naked fingers, unadorned wrists. Jimmy had had a watch once, Cas thinks. And a smooth, pale band of skin at the base of his left ring finger. He hadn't worn the ring when he'd given himself over. Cas hadn't understood the significance of why, at the time. Now, he's glad.

“We should raid a mall,” Dean announces, apropos of nothing Cas can see.

“What?”

“You know,” Dean says. “Drive to… I dunno. Somewhere. Where things aren't totally wrecked. See if we can't get you some clothes and whatever.”

“What's wrong with these clothes?”

“Dude. They're my clothes.”

“Oh.” Of course. And, of course, Cas supposes I like wearing your clothes is one of those answers he shouldn’t give.

“We could probably even find you another ugly trench coat,” Dean adds, with a grin.

I don’t want to wear an ugly trench coat, Cas thinks, suddenly and keenly. I don’t want to wear anything you think is ugly. He wants to wear something Dean will find appealing. To change his form to fit his function, where that function is pleasing Dean. He has no idea how to achieve such a thing. Dean himself wears clothes Cas has come to realize are utilitarian. Hunter’s clothes. Jeans and canvas and cotton and leather. Jimmy’s clothes were professional, but also a costume; he’d worn the suit and the tie to work and to church, not when home with his family.

So they’d been appropriate for Cas’ initial purpose; when he’d been performing the job of Heaven. But Cas hasn’t been doing that job for a while. Especially not now, when when Heaven is gone and Cas is…

Cas is… at home with his family.

(He can think it, in the quiet of his own mind, even if it isn’t really true.)

Maybe he’s going about this the wrong way. Cas knows the things Dean finds pleasing are short skirts and tall boots and tight tops with too-few buttons. Cas doesn’t know for sure, but certainly suspects, Dean would certainly not find these things pleasing on Cas’ current vessel. Maybe that was his mistake—his pride—in choosing to re-create the form he knew, the form he’d grown comfortable in, rather than taking the opportunity to make something more appealing to others.

You must love them more than you love Father, Cas had been told about the first shivering, crawling beasts that would one day become humanity. In serving them, you serve Him. And hasn’t Cas done exactly that? Hasn’t he put the human world—its people, its existence, its ideals—above himself, above Heaven, above God Himself? And for what?

“Cas?”

Yes. Of course.

Dean is looking at him again, eyes bright and brow furrowed. His soul oozes concern, flickers with love, pulses from care; all the emotions Dean won’t say, will deride as “girly shit”, but feels and feels so keenly it’s like a star Cas is helpless but to orbit.

“You sure you’re okay, man?”

“I… I should dig,” Cas says. “Sam must be tired.”

Dean looks at him for a moment longer, then nods. As if he’s agreeing to a question Cas didn’t even ask.

“Yeah,” Dean says. “Whatever you need.”

Sam is just a head peeking out above the disheveled lawn by the time Cas approaches. He pulls himself out and hands over the shovel gratefully enough, tossing around jokes with his brother about warm beer and, “How did you dig out of that, seriously?”

Cas, meanwhile, digs down. Every slice of the shovel blade into the earth jarring hot and sharp against the burn upon his palm.


They wrap the Prophet in a clean cotton sheet patterned with black and white stripes like a zebra.

“This is more than I ever really wanted to know about Chuck’s bedroom,” Dean comments. Nonetheless, he wraps the Prophet with care and he and Sam lower the body into the hole with a reverence that belies their vulgar words.

Filling the dirt back in is faster than taking it out, and soon they’re all standing over the small mound of disturbed earth.

“I feel like we should, you know. Say something,” Sam says.

Castiel wants to sing. To resume his true shape and unleash his Voice unto the Heavens. To call grief and reverence and to lay a trail on which a Prophet of the Lord may find it fit to ascend into eternity.

Castiel wants this, except Heaven is gone and God has turned his back, and so Cas stamps down the urge and says nothing. Instead, it’s Dean who offers:

“To Chuck Shurley. You died the way you lived; in your underwear and robe. May the worms appreciate you in the way the public never did.”

“Amen,” says Sam.

And that’s that.


The Winchesters decide the appropriate wake for a Prophet is to drink every last drop of alcohol in his house. As such, Dean raids the cupboards inside while Cas and Sam get to work building a bonfire in the road. They make it from debris from the other ruined houses, and have no shortage of fuel. Sam struggles a bit with his lighter, so Cas tells him to step back and then unfurls his secondary wings. Just a little. Just enough to have the bonfire wood spark and catch and burn.

They’re dragging out chairs and talking about food options when Dean returns, arms laden with canvas bags covered in publishing house logos and filled with clinking bottles.

One bottle, however, he’s holding in his hand.

“Check this shit out.”

The bottle is a empty bottle of whiskey, the label proudly displaying the logo WRITERS TEARS above a logo of a black teardrop. Inside, Cas can see the curl of a single white piece of paper.

“Message in a bottle,” Dean continues. He tosses the bottle to Sam, who catches it easily.

“Where was this?”

“In the liquor cabinet,” Dean says. “By which I mean ‘Chuck’s kitchen’. Because the whole thing? Liquor cabinet. Also? Ramen and jerky. I got us some.”

“Wonderful,” says Sam, and Cas doesn’t need to be able to see into his soul to know he’s thinking about fresh roasted vegetables and dew-crisp salad greens. “How do you think we get this out?” Sam shakes the bottle as he says it.

“Gee, Sammy. Big, wide road of hard bitumen. Small, fragile bottle of glass. I just don’t know…” He doesn’t look up from where he’s unloading the bags.

Sam just scoffs, turning the bottle over again in his hands. Then he sighs, says, “Well, here goes nothing…” and throws it down the street.

The bottle shatters. Sam goes to fetch the note left behind amongst the shards, scowling as he examines it on his way back to the bonfire.

“What does it say?” Dean asks.

“Have a look for yourself.” Sam holds the note out while Dean and Cas cluster around.

“What the fuck?”

The note is less that and more a page of nonsensical numbers and letters. The first seven characters are “IA B2676”, followed by a string of brackets-encased numerical sequences separated by colons.

“If I was taking a wild guess,” Sam says, “I’d say it’s a book cipher.”

“A what?”

“It’s like… you encode a message by referring to words or letters in an existing text. So, see here where it says three-colon-twenty-six-colon-five-colon-two? Maybe that’s like chapter three, paragraph twenty-six, sentence five, word two.”

Dean blinks. “That is… I don’t even have a word for how fucking lame that fucking is. Didn’t Chuck have better things to do with his time?”

“Like what?” Sam snaps. “Making out with his girlfriend who, oh yeah. He dumped.”

“Dude. Projection. Also, the guy just died. Chill the fuck out.”

“Dean, we only just found him. He’s been dead for ages. And why would he dump Becky? Becky was nice.”

“She literally wrote about us having sex, Sam. Graphically. On the internet.”

“Because she wanted us to be happy! Is that a crime?”

There’s a long, awkward sort of silence. It’s the sort Cas isn’t invited to, the sort that involves a lot of meaningful looks between the brothers.

“Sammy,” Dean says eventually. “You know I, like, love you or whatever, but—”

“Jesus, Dean, that’s not the point!”

“Then what is?”

“The… the point is we need to find out what this fucking note means.”

“Right, yes. The note. Great. How?”

“The first seven characters are different,” Cas says, because the conversation is at the point in which he feels he can contribute. “I assume it’s a reference to the decrypting text.”

“Right,” says Sam.

The three of them stare at the note. “This is going to be like the forty-two dogs again, isn’t it?” Dean says eventually. “Like, we’ll only know what we’re looking at when we see it?”

“Very likely,” Cas says.

“Okay.” Dean snatches the note, despite Sam’s protests, and balls it up in his pocket. “Okay. No note then. No mysteries, no cases. Tonight, it’s alcohol, and Chuck, and jerky, rah-men.”

“Rah-men,” Sam agrees, and so it is.


There are a lot of bottles to get through. A lot. More than Sam and Dean can safely consume on their own, which mean Cas has to step in to intercede. Because that’s what he is. An interceder. Intervener. The guy who intervenes on behalf of others.

“—Selflessly,” he finishes, just in case Dean missed that part. “‘Cause that’s… that’s what we do. Angels. We inter— intervece— intercede. Oh behalf of mortals. ‘Cause Father said. Said we had to… to love you.”

It’s later. Much later. The sky is dark and the fire is low. They’ve since dragged more things out from the house. Soft things. Mat-things. Matt— Mattresses. Pillows. And stuff. Blankets.

Sammy is passed out on the other side of the fire, on what used to be the Prophet’s guest bed. Cas, meanwhile, is with Dean. The mattress beneath them was—in Dean’s words—“a bitch” to get out of the house. It was also the Prophet’s bed and it smells like male human. Male human that isn’t Dean. Cas likes the smell of Dean but he doesn’t like the smell of male-human-that-isn’t-Dean. Except maybe Sam. Sam is okay. Tolerable. But not nice in the way Dean is. Cas could just roll over and rub his face in Dean’s armpit all day to smell how nice he was. He could. He totally could. If only Dean would allow it.

It is, Cas thinks, entirely possible he’s drunk too many bottles of liquor.

“That’s kind of fucked-up, man,” Dean is saying. He’s lying on his back, looking up at the stars. He likes looking at the stars. Cas thinks maybe one day he should offer to fly Dean up there to see them properly. Not tonight, though. Tonight Cas is too drunk. He’d probably drop Dean or forget about oxygen or… or something. And that would all be… not good. Very, very not good.

Tonight is not for not good. Tonight is for Cas, looking at Dean.

“You can’t just love somebody because someone else tells you to,” Dean continues. “You hafta love them because, y’know. You love them.”

“I love humans,” Cas says, when what he really wants to say is I love you. “You’re… emergent.”

“What?” Dean says it with a bark of laughter, head rolling to look at Cas as he does.

“Emergent. Father… When Father created us, it was… it was all, ‘Castiel, I give thee eyes that thou might stand guard over the Heavens, and hands that thou might wield Heaven’s weapons in its defense.’”

“Jesus,” splutters Dean, suppressing laughter. Quite possibly at Cas’ attempted impersonation of God’s own Voice.

Is that blasphemy? Impersonating the Voice of God? Cas can’t quite remember. Or remember if he still cares.

“So I stood guard,” he continues instead. “Millennia, just… standing guard. Waiting for a non-existent adversary.”

“That sounds pretty fucking boring.”

“I didn’t get bored,” Cas says. “Boredom wasn’t… wasn’t part of the plan. I had not been imbued with the property for boredom, and thus had no capacity for it.” He’d get bored now, Cas is sure. At least after a century or two. “If there was something to fight, I fought it. If there wasn’t, I waited for something to appear. The whole Host was the same. We had jobs; running errands, praising God—”

“God created angels just to tell him how good he was? That’s… that’s messed up.”

“I think,” Cas says, “eventually… eventually Father grew bored of us. Of our predictability, our limitations—”

“But he made you that way!”

Dean sounds honestly so affronted, Cas can’t help the small smile that tugs at the corner of his mouth. “And so He made you, instead. Not at first, and not like He made us. Instead He made… made the potential for you. Wrote the rules that would chain molecules and drive selection. To create something with no predetermined form and no preordained purpose. It took millennia. Father’s special project, while the rest of Heaven continued in His absence.”

“You know,” Dean says, “the more I hear about God, the less I like the guy.”

Cas exhales, eyes sliding closed. “When He returned, there was much rejoicing. I didn’t… we were not important parts of the Host. Just soldiers. We only heard later what had happened, when the messengers brought the new to our garrison. That God had created a new type of being. Something holy like an angel, but… not.”

“Humans.”

“Yes. We were told to bow before God’s new creation, to love them more than we loved Him.”

“And Lucy wouldn’t do it.”

There is a though here, a blasphemous little revelation Cas has nursed deep within his soul for a while. He’s never voiced it, barely even admitted it to himself, lest the very presence of it turn him away from God.

Except what harm now? When it’s God who’s turned away from Cas?

“Humans came from Father’s desire to create beings he could not predict,” Cas starts, voice soft and slow.

“That whole ‘free will’ thing again.”

“Yes,” says Cas. “Your behavior… it wasn’t set, wasn’t designed. It was emergent. That’s why Father loves you, why he commanded us to do the same. And sometimes I think…” Here it is, that awful little seed. “When Lucifer rebelled, when he became the first angel to defy an order from Father Himself—”

“Wasn’t he only trying to show the exact same attitude God had just been praising in his pet humans,” Dean finishes.

Cas nods, tight and miserable. “Yes.”

Dean is silent for a while, eyes turned back up to the sky. Cas shifts, just slightly. Just until he can feel the edge of Dean’s warmth against his skin. It’s not enough to fill the cold void of misery churning within his grace. But it’s a start.

“Okay, so. I know I’m not… y’know. Mr. Religion or whatever,” Dean says eventually, “But… Lucifer? He’s kind of a huge fucking bag of dicks. Like, let’s not undersell this: I really, really do not like that guy. But that’s the shitty thing about free will, right? It’s not that you have it, it’s what you do with it. Putting on your Free Will Hat just so you can throw a huge tantrum and wreck up your dad’s house? Not cool. That’s like… it’s like kiddie shit, man. It’s why you get sent to the Time Out Corner.” Dean says this, Cas thinks, with the authority of someone who has not just sent others to said Corner, but has also spent a fair bit of time there himself.

“And I mean,” Dean continues. “Free will, it’s… it’s like, it’s such a crappy term. Y’know? The rest of us, in the real world, we call it ‘growing up’. It’s like, when you’re a little kid and your parents are like gods and you believe everything they say and do whatever they want, because they’re your ‘rents. Then you get a bit older and start thinking, y’know what? Fuck this shit. This is bullshit, I don’t have to do any of this shit. And you get into a big fight and maybe someone throws a few punches and— and someone storms out, and…” He stops himself, huffing a breath.

“But, y’know. You’re still young and dumb and you’re breaking everything in sight, telling yourself it’s okay ‘cause you’re so fucking grown up. But you aren’t really… you aren’t… I mean, because. If you really messed up? Like, for real? Then Dad would still come bail you out. Eventually. And maybe you’d get a beat-down for it, but… he’d do it. ‘Cause he’s your dad. And in the back of your mind, you know that. And because you know that, you can do all the dumb shit, and pretend it’s ‘rebelling’ or being an adult while it’s not, because you’re not… you’re not accepting responsibility for what you’ve done, y’know? You’re still shoving the clean-up off onto someone else.”

“You… believe this is Lucifer?” Cas says, scowling, trying to follow the rambling words.

“Not just him,” Dean says. “A lot of people. Maybe most people. They kind of… get stuck. Play-acting adult while still waiting for daddy to come bail them out. They never really grow up. Because the next part of growing up? It’s hard. It’s realizing daddy is gone or… or, worse, that he messed up and now you need to bail him out. And it’s, like. It’s knowing—really knowing—that the only one responsible for you is you. And you can still do all that crazy dumb shit but, hell. If you do, you’re gonna have to clean up afterwards. Post your own bail, y’know?”

“I… am not sure.”

Dean sighs. “Me either. Maybe I’m just drunk and talking shit but… I dunno. That was the only way I could ever think of it that made sense.”

“Free will?”

“Yeah. Free will is accepting that you get to make choices but you have to live with the consequences, too. None of this ‘God’s plan’ or ‘following orders’ bullshit. Maybe there were circumstances and maybe the choices were crappy but… but you still made them. And you still own how that goes down.”

They’re quite for a while. At some point in his rant, Dean has shifted onto his side, so they’re lying face-to-face. Their hands are very close to each other, curled and relaxed on the mattress between the brackets of their bodies. Cas could reach out and…

And Dean would pull away. And scoff. And make some sneering comment.

So Cas reaches out with his grace, instead. It feels… safer, Dean’s soul pulsing bright and open beneath the attention. It’s not enough, not close enough. Cas wants to share grace again, to gently open Dean’s soul and slide inside, but he isn’t sure how to ask for it. Not in this form, or this place, or with these words.

Instead, he asks:

“Dean. Do you believe in God?”

Dean’s eyes have fluttered shut, but at the words they snap open, expression focusing into something sharp and confused. “What kind of question is that?”

“It’s… a question,” Cas says. It occurs to him perhaps the liquor is wearing off. He feels… unsettlingly sober. “I just… the way you speak about God and God’s plan… When you make choices, how do you know what you’re doing is the right thing?”

“I don’t,” Dean says. “I have no fucking clue, man. No one does, not really. You just… you try and do your best.”

“What if it’s… not enough?”

“I don’t think it ever is. There’s always some other shit, but… I guess… you just have to stop imagining ‘enough’ comes from someone else. It comes from you. And you just gotta… find your own ‘enough’, one you can live with, and try and hit that.”

“And that… works?”

Dean laughs, but it’s dark and humorless. “Not even close, man,” he says. “But it’s what I got.”

Cas nods, curls himself tighter into the bed, one of the Prophet’s dusty crochet throw-rugs pulled around his shoulders. It’s not quite the sensation of nestling within his own wings (or another’s, he thinks quietly), but it’s close enough.

“Thank you, Dean,” he says.

This earns him another huff of laughter, plus a rough pat on his shoulder as Dean rolls over to face the stars once more. “Whatever, man. You’re a maudlin drunk, you know that?”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. Better than an angry drunk.”

Cas thinks he’s plenty angry, but not with Dean. And so he says nothing, just listens to Dean’s long, slow breaths even out into sleep.