Raphael's eyes slide open like beetles' wings, parting with an efficient click. He's standing still in the center of the circle, body loose with the exception of his vessel's hands, clenched into fists. “Castiel,” he acknowledges, dully.
If Raphael sees the change in him, that he does not choose to acknowledge. It doesn't matter. Castiel takes a step forward and kneels down at the edge of the slow-burning fire circle. Calmly, he lowers his fingers into the flames and presses the tips, softly, against the cracked floorboards beneath.
The fire snuffs itself out, as quickly as if the air had been sucked from the room.
Castiel straightens up. “I apologize for the lengthy wait,” he says. “It's time to go home now.”
The look Raphael gives him is not one of respect. Perhaps it is fear. He'll take fear.
Castiel stretches his newly restored wings, the array bigger and brighter than ever.
—Good, he says.
The Garden looks precisely as he remembers Eden, back at the very beginning. Joshua stands at its center, not tending anything, because nothing needs tending. Everything is lush and fragrant and perfect.
Castiel has finally come home.
—Welcome back, Castiel. Joshua's body ripples and Castiel, too long among humans, interprets the motion as a smile. —Perhaps you will stay and rest a while.
Castiel looks around at the soft grass, the towering trees. He remembers what it is like to feel tired, not just in spirit but in body: a bone-deep weariness, the motion of the road sweeping by beneath him, the seductive warmth of soft leather. —No, thank you, he says. He looks out onto Heaven. —I find I have much to do.
Bobby is frowning at the chess board and trying to ignore the smirk on the face of the man—the demon—across from him. He takes a sip of his scotch, which goes down so smooth it makes him wish he'd bothered to put on a clean shirt. Not that he'd had any warning that Crowley was going to pop in with his gleaming expensive bottle and a challenge in his eyes. No, apparently it's just something the demon does.
Bobby's trying to make this bother him more than it actually does.
“Do you require more time?” Crowley asks. “Because I could always go water my plants, perhaps move some stocks and some stockbrokers around, come back later.”
“How many centuries you been around?” Bobby asks with a scowl. “Think in all that time you could've learned some patience.” Disgruntled, he scooches his remaining white bishop forward.
Crowley's eyes light up. He's uncoiling from his slouch, surely about to deal a blow to Bobby's king and his pride, when a breeze whips through the room, sending papers swirling off Bobby's desk. The smell of ozone fills the air and then Castiel is striding toward them like he's just stepped off an invisible escalator. “Bloody...” Crowley says, starting back in his chair, staring at the angel. “Did they ever drop the full upgrade package on you...”
Castiel seems to ignore this, advancing. “Heaven wishes to reward you for your service,” he says, in that flat, robotic way of his. And then...
The next few seconds pass very quickly. Crowley attempts to scramble back: “It was nothing, really,” he says, and the genuine fear in his eyes prompts Bobby to rise, say, “Hey, now, just a minute—” But neither of them is quick enough, or Castiel is simply too fast. His fingers brush Crowley's forehead and Bobby hears the demon let out one heart-stopping shriek before he explodes in a pulse of light.
Bobby clutches the desk, reeling. He stares at Castiel, who looks back at him with an expression of utter calm on his face.
Maybe it's that that makes Bobby boil over. “What the hell did you have to do that for?” he sputters. “He wasn't— And he's still got a contract out on my soul, dammit!”
“That contract is now void,” Castiel says. Then without another word, he vanishes.
Bobby slumps down again, staring at the pieces on the board: the still-standing black king and the half-empty glass of expensive scotch. His own glass is in reach, but for some reason he can't bring himself to drink it.
Joshua is trimming back a snaking vine and looking, with only minor interest, at the figure lying near him in the Garden's soft grass when Castiel appears between them. Joshua's mild, inoffensive movements translate for Castiel as, for some reason, an eyebrow raise. He ignores this, turning his attention instead to the third angel curled at his feet.
—How do you feel? Castiel asks him.
—You're a bastard, the angel says, then shudders visibly at the sound of his own voice. Castiel watches as he rights himself, slowly.
—That was completely uncalled for! the angel protests, looking Castiel in the eyes. —I didn't—I never asked for this.
—Forgiveness can be a gift, Castiel says.
The look he is being given is decidedly unangelic, which Castiel, somewhat worryingly, finds almost refreshing. —You had no right.
—Perhaps not, Castiel says. —But I do have work for you, Caphriel.
Caphriel takes a deep, unnecessary, and somewhat physically improbable breath. He turns his heads and stares wonderingly around the Garden. Castiel wonders what he sees.
Eventually Caphriel turns and looks back at him, his folded wings flexing nervously on his back. —You could've at least let me finish my scotch. Wanker.
Castiel remembers the rich burn and glide of scotch, the way it spread warmth like reaching branches deep in the center of his belly. He remembers the loamy fullness of beer and champagne's bubbles and vodka's icy slickness. He remembers being made dizzy by it, and Sam's big, steadying hand on his shoulder; and Dean's arms around him, holding him up and guiding him to safety.
At the end of many weeks' work, he “mojos” up a bottle of Irish whiskey for himself and Caphriel. Together they drink the whole thing to the bottom, even though it's clear that neither of them can taste or feel anything at all.
Castiel wanders through the Garden until he finds Joshua, who's plucking weeds that have sprouted around the base of a worn wooden bench. —Brother, Castiel says, —I seek your advice.
Joshua rises. He is smaller than most angels, more contained. It is not something Castiel has really noticed before now.
—What can I do for you?
—Our sister... Castiel begins, then stops. —Anael. She had a friend who helped her build a human body, so that she would not be required to take a vessel.
—And what need have you of that, brother?
For some reason this question makes Castiel shiver, though it's perfectly true: Jimmy Novak has been gone since Castiel's first resurrection, and even now he can slip in and out of his human body at will, like a man sliding on or shrugging off a coat.
—We all have need of it, Castiel says. —Now that there is once again order among the host, I think it's time we enact some more significant changes.
Joshua's gaze should be comforting; he is the most peaceable of all Castiel's brothers. And his strength is certainly no match for Castiel's now; no one's is.
Still Castiel feels an awe when Joshua nods at him. —I believe I can point you in the right direction.
Crowley—he still thinks of himself as Crowley; it's been too long and he can barely remember who Caphriel was anymore, but he'll answer to the name if it makes it easier for everyone to look him in the eye (and he in theirs)—Crowley is busy grooming his wings with a fastidiousness he had to, until recently, apply merely to carefully delinting and fixing the lines of a number of crisp black suits; he doesn't bother to glance up when he senses Castiel return. He knows that Castiel's choice of him as lieutenant was motivated largely by some badly buried dramatic, symbolic urge—the Archangel Castiel (or however he could be classified) proving to all and sundry that this was a new era. An era of change and forgiveness, or some such bollocks. Whatever. Crowley's just here to— To—
All right, it's possible Crowley hasn't figured out quite what his angle is on this little bit of unasked for redemption yet.
So for the moment, he simply lets his wings slash out in an electric crackle-snap—nearly hitting Castiel, he knows, right in a face—and drawls, —Back so soon?
—I believe I found someone who can help us with the issue we were discussing, Castiel says. —Aziraphale here is one of our longest-standing operatives on Earth...
Castiel keeps droning on, but Crowley doesn't hear him. The layered array of his wings goes rigid, and he tries to think, frantically, if there's any way he could just simply never, ever turn around. Which, he realizes belatedly, is without a doubt a moronic thought worthy of the brothers Winchester: it's not like Aziraphale's going to recognize him like this, is he? Pillock.
—...render the taking of vessels obsolete, Castiel concludes. —Caphriel?
—Oh, yes, lovely, Crowley says, lowering his wings and turning slowly around; thinking, “Lovely”? and something like buggerbuggerbugger.
Aziraphale is standing beside Castiel, awkward without his human body and yet somehow still recognizably Aziraphale. Crowley has time to think, Shit, before Aziraphale breaks off in the midst of his jumbled explanation of —Far from an expert, you must realize and —Just seemed such a waste to take them away from their families, the poor dears and —Not trying to make waves, but it honestly seemed so much more practical— Aziraphale's eyes all go comically wide. Then he says, —Crowley?
Crowley wants to blush a deep scarlet, flee, and/or bash Castiel and Aziraphale's heads together, which, as options go, are none of them possible, dignified, nor particularly helpful at this present time. Instead he simply hunches up under Aziraphale's shocked stare and Castiel's mild —You know each other?
Aziraphale answers this question with a slight, rapid gesture that sends Crowley crashing back into a pillar. —You let me think you were dead! You let me think you'd been dragged back downstairs and, and— Here Aziraphale's imagination apparently fails him.
—I was dragged back downstairs, Crowley hisses. (He is sadly a less accomplished hisser than he once was.) —Do you think the past twenty years have been easy for me? I slithered back out of the Pit and stopped another apocalypse, I'll have you know!
Castiel makes a noise suspiciously like a cough.
—Well, I helped, Crowley amends.
—And as you can see, Castiel reminds them both, —your contribution was appreciated.
Crowley shakes out his wings, embarrassed. Never got embarrassed as a demon, did he? Fucking Castiel.
—Crowley, I— Aziraphale starts toward him, then stops. —Caphriel. I don't know what to say.
—You can get my bloody name right, for a start, Crowley grumbles.
In these forms, their faces aren't really equipped for it, but Crowley would swear he catches Aziraphale smile. —Of course. Crowley.
Aziraphale glances quickly at Castiel, who is watching them both from some distance away. Then he looks back, an achingly familiar kindness on this unfamiliar countenance.
—I think I will enjoy working with you again. It simply hasn't been the same without you.
Crowley can't think of a clever, cool way to dispel the sincerity of this remark, so he decides to let it slide for once.
Quite some time later, he realizes that Castiel has left without a word of goodbye.
Castiel sits on the single bench at the center of the Garden. He watches the wind—which he knows to be an imaginary wind, as much a product of his own mind as everything else about this place—rustle through the leafy green trees. Some of the leaves are changing colors at the edges, Castiel notices: turning red, orange, brown. As he watches, one breaks free and drifts slowly to the ground.
—Can I help you with anything else, brother? Joshua asks, appearing like a ghost at Castiel's side.
Castiel thinks for a moment.
—Thank you, he says. —But no.
The hammer is heavy in Dean's hand, a steady, solid weight. If he concentrates, he can narrow his thoughts to nothing more than this object in his hand, and the nails in front of him. Position, connect. Position—
“Fu—freak!” he corrects, clutching at his throbbing thumb. He scrambles down from the ladder and turns to see Lisa standing by the back door, her hands covering her mouth. “Oh, God,” she says. “I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking.”
“It's okay,” Dean says, through a wince, adding, rather flippantly: “I've had worse.”
Lisa still looks guilty. “You don't have to do that, you know,” she says for possibly the fourth or fifth time. “We don't really use that shed anyway...”
“Well, maybe now you can start,” Dean says. Hopefully he manages to keep the desperation out of his voice: if he can't fix the shed, he'll have to start inventing problems with Lisa's actual roof, just to give himself something to do. “What's up?” he asks, hastily.
There's something slightly odd about Lisa's expression, he sees when he gets closer—a minute arch to her eyebrow, something. “Your...friend is here.”
“My friend?” Dean asks, just as incredulous. “Bobby?” Lisa looks blank; she doesn't know who Bobby is—Dean's never even mentioned his name. “Uh...older guy? Beardy?”
Lisa shakes her head. “No, just sort of stubbled. Dark hair, rumpled, wearing a trenchcoat—”
Dean's already pushing past her. It takes him less than fifteen seconds to cross from the back of Lisa's house to the front, and in that time he goes from excited to angry to relieved to furious again. He has no idea what he's going to say or what tone he's going to take. He just throws open the door and says—
Nothing. He's got nothing. Cas is standing on the doorstep, and he looks the same as ever (well, almost—the dark despairing circles are gone from under his eyes). “Hello, Dean,” he says, and Dean can't decide whether he wants to hug him or slam the door in his face. So he doesn't do either.
“Would you like to go get a drink?” Castiel asks the statue Dean has become—very precisely, like he's practiced it.
Dean swallows around his thick, dry tongue. “A drink?” he manages, finally.
“Yes,” Castiel says, “I believe the mutual acquisition of beverages to be customary among friends. Also, I miss the taste of alcohol.”
“You miss the taste of alcohol,” Dean repeats, feeling a nasty ache, like heartburn, start to sizzle in his chest.
“Also the texture. And the effects.”
Dean grips the doorframe harder. “Maybe you should've called ahead. I'm kind of busy here right now; Lisa needs me—”
“No, I don't,” Lisa says hurriedly.
Dean whips around, startled to find her behind him. He stares at her, slack-jawed. “You should go have a drink with your friend,” she reiterates, soft but firm.
Dean feels pinned between them, two strong forces of will—and him in the middle, out of strength entirely. A few moments later, it does not come as a complete surprise that he find himself wearing his jacket, standing beside Castiel on the front stoop.
“All right,” he says, shoving his hands deep in his pockets. “Zap us to some bar or whatever.”
“I would like to ride in your car,” Castiel says.
Dean's not sure how he feels about having someone in the passenger seat again. He's taken Ben out a couple times, but it hadn't been as fun for either of them as Dean had hoped it'd be. He's trying; he's trying so damn hard. But nothing— Nothing's the same.
Bar. Pretty bartender. Wink. Tip. Drinks. Booth. Circles of condensation, traced on the wood.
Castiel's smacking his lips and sighing contentedly across from him. Dean glances up, sees Cas' tongue chasing drops of moisture off his lips. “Thought you were all super-angel now,” Dean says.
“Yes.” Pride is apparently not Cas' most easy-to-steer-clear-of sin.
“You never used to drink,” Dean points out. He feels wary, jittery in a way he can't quite explain. It's just Cas. Cas who's just popping in for a drink, before he vanishes from Dean's life again.
The look Castiel gives him—cool stare, minutely raised eyebrow—suggests that Cas is disappointed, once again, in Dean's intellect. “My powers have been restored and in fact enhanced, but I am not what I once was. It's not as if the last two years didn't happen.”
Dean grumbles, “Tell me about it.”
“I doubt you would enjoy such a recitation.”
Dean rolls his eyes; Cas thinks he is hilarious, but he is not.
He takes a swig of his beer. “Well, don't expect me to buy up this place's entire store of liquor or whatever it'd take to actually get you drunk at this point.”
“That won't be necessary,” Castiel assures him, leaning forward a little, rolling his beer bottle between his long fingers. “I have a fr—a brother, who showed me how I might temporarily dampen my grace, allow myself to experience alcohol as a human would.”
“Do you have to experience the hangover too?”
“No.” Castiel flashes his equivalent of a grin: a slight lip quirk.
Dean shakes his head: as if he's disappointed, as if he cares. “Sorry, Cas. That's cheating.” He polishes off his own drink. “Why do you want to feel human, anyway? You sure as hell didn't seem to like it when you were...well, when you were.”
Cas pauses with his lips parted; glances down at his hands. Hell if Dean hasn't learned to read far too much from such an infinitesimal display of emotion. If— If Sam were here, he'd put a hand lightly on top of Castiel's; say, It's okay, man. You can talk to me about it. But it's just Dean here now, so he leans against the hard wooden back of the booth and stares Cas down until the super-angel admits defeat, changes the subject.
“I have implemented many changes in Heaven,” Castiel announces, like he's just been selected as executive vice president of Paradise PR.
“Oh yeah? Fluffed the clouds, restrung all the harps?”
“The taking of vessels is now prohibited among the host,” Castiel continues proudly. “Instead, my brothers and I are devising a method by which angels can create their own bodies when they choose to walk the Earth.”
Castiel—back straight, head held high like an eager straight-A student—looks like he's waiting for Dean to pat him on the back, tell him Attaboy!, give him a big old high-five. The beer churns in Dean's stomach.
“Well, a fat lot of good that does me and Sam,” Dean says—so low that for a second it seems like Castiel hasn't heard him. Then the plaster of pride spread across Cas' face starts to crack. His little lip quirk—what passes on him as a warm smile—falls and fades. His hands slide away from his beer bottle and under the table, back to his sides.
“Dean,” he says after a moment, “I'm sorry there wasn't more I could do—”
“No, you know what, can it.” Dean finds himself on his feet, tugging crumpled bills out of his pocket and dropping them on the table, forgetting he's already paid. Whatever. “I'm sick of everyone being sorry. You're sorry, Lisa's sorry, and I bet your Dad is really fucking cut-up.” Dean knows he's being an ass, being unfair, but he just can't care anymore. It takes too much energy to fake it. “Well, screw all of you. You can cry me a fucking river,” he says, hating the quaver in his voice. “But it won't get me Sam back.”
He's staring at Cas, looming over him. For a second he sees a flash of— of something in the angel's eyes: a determined look that, if Dean weren't already so worked up, would fucking scare him. But before Dean can dwell on that any longer, before he can even finish making his dramatic exit, Castiel vanishes. Between one angry word and the next, he's gone.
Dean slinks out of the bar, his anger burned down to a dull shame. He wonders how many months it'll be this time, before he sees hide or hair of Cas again.
Dean wakes with a sharp, sucked-in breath. Castiel is looming over him, his face mere inches from Dean's. Dean starts, shoulders grinding uncomfortably against the seams of Lisa's couch. Cas is so close, Dean's almost afraid to breathe.
“Jesus, what are you—” Dean blinks back troubled sleep and tries to regroup. It's only been a few hours since Cas left him at the bar, and now he's back, that intense look in his too-near eyes, power radiating off his skin where it's brushing against Dean's. Dean feels it like a buzz in his bones, like he's standing dangerously close to a live wire. He hasn't felt anything remotely like this near Cas in years—not since that first night in the barn, maybe. He wonders if Cas was keeping it tamped down earlier—and why he's stopped bothering now.
“Dean,” he says again, and now he's clambering up onto the couch, straddling Dean, and oh fuck, it's this dream again. “I want to show you something.”
Dean lets out a long breath, tells himself to relax, go with it. “Yeah?” he says, sliding a hand up Cas' arm to curl around his bicep. Castiel eyes him curiously. “What do you want to show me?”
Cas hesitates for half a second, like he's making a critical decision of some sort. Then he says, “Try not to close your eyes.”
Dean wets his lips. “Wouldn't dream of it.”
Castiel nods, then lifts his hand, middle and forefinger extended, almost like he's making a shaky attempt to flash Dean a peace sign. Dean starts to chuckle—Cas can be so clueless!—when he realizes the fingers are much too close, their points are right in front of his eyes, they're against his eyeballs and pushing in—
Dean screams, but Cas' other hand is there, palm solid against his mouth. He bucks up against the angel's body, but Castiel's knees have him pinned tight. He kicks and whimpers, writhing against the intrusion, and it's all so instinctive—fight fight FIGHT—that it takes him a while to realize that he's not in any pain. Not really: it's discomfort more than anything else, a fullness where there should be none, and an odd thrumming burn, a fire spreading out from his eye sockets and across his entire skull.
Then he feels a strange sucking sensation, like something trying to slide out of him despite resistance. Castiel's fingers are drawing back, retracting; and then they are gone, and Dean's staring at the familiar cracked ceiling of Lisa's living room. It looks grey and indistinct in the dim light, somewhere in the small hours of the morning. Dean blinks, swallows; for a second he thinks this was all just a dream.
Then he lowers his gaze and sees Castiel sitting at his feet.
It's like a sudden case of double vision: too many blows to the head finally catching up with him. Cas' familiar figure—tousled hair, baggy trenchcoat, stupid tie—is over- (or under-?) laid with that of a bright, complicated creature that Dean can't fully comprehend. It looks like something out of a Picasso painting: overlapping itself at odd angles, sensible only if you're a resident of the fifth dimension. Its wings—too many for Dean to get a fix on—are tumbling all over each other, looking more like Quetzalcoatl than any Christian interpretation of an angel. But its heads, all of them, are tilted curiously to the side, and even if Dean didn't also have the flesh and blood cheatsheet of Jimmy Novak's body, he'd still know it's Cas.
“What did you do to me?” he asks, pulling himself up and back into a sitting position.
“I made the adjustments necessary for you to be able to see angelic bodies without suffering damage. I hope it wasn't too uncomfortable.”
“You stuck your fingers in my eyes!”
Castiel's human body blinks at him. The wings shift, forming a sort of halo above his persistent bedhead. Dean wonders idly if this is where that idea comes from.
“It was necessary,” Castiel tells him. “The alternative would be killing you.”
“I'm going to take you to Heaven,” Cas says. And before Dean can protest, he's reaching forward, wings ghosting across Dean's body as a pair of cool fingers brush his forehead like a kiss.
The next thing Dean knows, he's standing in the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. He lurches a little in place, recovers, cranes his neck upward. The metal and glass dome arches high above his head, vibrant green foliage stretching toward it. All except one tree, Dean notices for the first time, which seems almost to be pushing through the glass, its reaching branches endless and unstoppable.
Dean swallows and lowers his gaze. He's in Heaven, Paradise, and yet he can't feel comfortable here. He feels watched, judged: like an intruder at some fancy party where he doesn't remotely belong.
—That's because it is not yet your time.
Dean whips around. Even with the shimmery, half-there angelfied Cas he glimpsed in Lisa's living room to prepare him, Dean doesn't feel fully equipped to deal with the real thing. In spite of what Cas did to his eyes, it's still almost too blinding to look at, too twisted and strange to comprehend. Dean can't shake the feeling that he's looking at something he was never meant to see.
—I'm surprised to see you again so soon, Dean Winchester.
That isn't Cas. It hits Dean like a blow, and the last degree of safety he feels evaporates. The leaves on the trees rustle, victim to a sudden wind.
He retreats a few feet, his heel connecting with the back of a concrete step. The helpless panic he felt last time he was here is back: he's entirely powerless here, completely out of his depth. Heaven is not as obviously frightening as Hell, but it's still alien—possibly even enemy—territory.
He turns around again, feeling like a confused audience member at a tennis match. Another angel is standing at the top of the steps, slowly descending toward him. This time he really does recognize Cas: feels the recognition deep in his gut. Several sets of eyes blink at him, but there are no mouths to smile.
—You have nothing to be frightened of. Heaven remains under my command.
—Which is why I would of course not question your decision to bring a human here, says—or thinks or projects the other angel: either way, if this is how they really speak, Dean thinks, no wonder Cas made his ears bleed. The other angel regards him. —A living human, at that.
—Dean has important business here, Joshua, Castiel says, sounding oddly apologetic for the big boss-man he claims to be.
“Wait, Joshua?” Dean says, looking the other angel over again. There's no trace of the sad-eyed man who bore the bad news last time he was here. There's also nothing he can see to distinguish one angel from another—except that when he looks at Castiel, he just knows.
It is at roughly this moment that Dean remembers that he came on to Cas not too long ago.
Fortunately, it seems Castiel was too oblivious to notice. All business: —Would you be kind enough to summon Caphriel for me? he asks Joshua.
Joshua makes a motion that may be something like a nod. Dean shoves his hands in his pockets and glares at Cas. “What's this 'business' that's so important it required you to go all Minority Report on my eyes before yanking me up here for seven minutes in Heaven?”
—We're going to try to rescue your brother, Castiel says calmly. —It will almost certainly take longer than seven minutes.
For a moment Dean can't move. Then his fists are clenching and he's lurching forward, his chest squeezed tight like a vise. “You didn't think to try this sooner? Goddammit, Cas, he's been down there for months!”
—Until now, I have been unable to arrive at a plan that would not carry too great a risk of freeing Lucifer as well. Sam wouldn't want that, Castiel says, and it's true: Dean's breaking his promise right now, just being here probably, ready to agree to whatever crazy stunt Cas is about to propose. Fuck, Dean thinks.
It was a stupid promise anyway.
“What do we need to do?” Dean asks, but before Cas can answer, there's an odd shift in the air and then there are two more angels standing in the Garden.
Castiel turns toward one of them. —I did not summon you, Aziraphale.
The angel's wings flap in agitation. —I'm sorry, I don't mean to intrude; it's just we were in the middle of a conversation, and you know how it is: one can become distracted so easily, when summoned, and entirely lose one's train of thought...
Dean's brain is probably pulped at this point, but he would swear this angel sounds British.
—Never mind, Castiel says. —You may in fact be of some assistance.
—I'd be happy to help, Aziraphale says, looking much less flustered all of a sudden. Dean is pretty sure Cas just got played.
Or maybe Castiel's playing some larger game, outside any of their imaginations. —Aziraphale, Caphriel, he says, —will you accompany me to the base of the tree?
There's no need for anyone to ask him to clarify which tree he means: the one at the center of the Garden is so impossibly vast, it does seem definitive. At Castiel's instruction, he and the other two angels encircle it. —First you make me an angel, now I'm a tree-hugger, the one Dean's pretty sure is called Caphriel says, fairly nonsensically. —You'll probably make me a ruddy vegan next.
“Yeah,” Dean interjects, “I'm glad you guys are getting back to nature and all, but how exactly does this help Sam?”
—Dean. Several of Castiel's heads swivel to him. It should be more unnerving than it is, Dean realizes, to see his...his friend transformed into this creature. Though really—fuck. Really, it was this creature that somehow transformed itself into his friend.
“Yeah?” he croaks.
—Remember how you asked me what you needed to do?
Much steadier, “Yeah,” he says.
Caphriel makes a sound Dean takes a moment to realize is a laugh; he stops when Aziraphale hushes him.
To Dean's surprise, it's Joshua who interrupts next. —Castiel, he says softly. —Are you sure this is what you wish to do?
It's to Dean that Castiel turns, that he looks when he says, —Yes.
Dean feels his heart start to thud in his chest. Whatever this plan is, it's going to be big.
There's a nervous energy flowing through the Garden. Branches sway, leaves rustle. The tree Castiel and the other two angels stand around is huge and groaning. —When I count to three, Castiel tells them, —I want you to pull.
For a moment, they are silent. Then Aziraphale says, —Oh my.
Caphriel makes that weird laughing sound again, though this time it sounds rougher, more of a bitter, scotch-worn chuckle. —You crazy bastard. Well, it was nice having wings while it lasted.
—This is a request, Castiel clarifies. —Not an order.
—Yeah, I heard you the first time, Caphriel says.
—Oh dear, says Aziraphale, his eyes all sliding shut. But he tightens his grip on the bark.
Dean's heart is racing. “Wait, Cas,” he says. “What kind of plan is this? Is this a me kind of plan? Because—”
—Three, Castiel finishes, too quickly for Dean to have even processed the one or the two. The next thing he knows, the angels are straining, their wings beating with a sound like a cloud of locusts. The massive tree seems to sway, moaning like a ship caught in a hurricane, leaves and fragments of bark raining down on their heads. Dean stares, slack-jawed, frozen, and it takes Joshua wrapping him in a strong curtain of not-quite-feathers and pulling him away for Dean to realize he's about to get crushed. Dying in Heaven: wouldn't that just be extra special.
The great tree sways, the earth at its base crumbling to dust, shooting up into the air as it's disturbed. The angels seem to be tiring, however, and still the tree stands: even as Caphriel, then Aziraphale let out epic gasps and crumple to each side in piles of quivering wings. Soon Castiel stands alone, gripping the tree and heaving like he means to bring it down upon himself. Watching, Dean realizes that he's crying: that he's letting out great choking sobs. Somehow, this is one of the worst things he's ever witnessed. He doesn't understand how this is going to get him back Sam, and he almost doesn't care. He just wants it to stop.
“Don't,” he whispers, but it's too late. The tree shudders one last time, and then it's crashing down, tumbling endlessly toward the earth. Everything seems to Dean to be moving in slow motion: the ground shifts, the tree falls, Dean tries to rush forward, Joshua holds him back. And Castiel falls, disappearing beneath the tangle of branches and leaves. Silence descends on the Garden. The tree falls and they are all there to hear it, but when it lands it doesn't make the slightest sound.
“Cas!” Dean feels the grip on his arm lessen; he races forward. The roots of the great tree are splayed high in the air, tangled like a massive black spiderweb. Cautiously, unreasonably afraid, Dean picks his way through them, calling out Castiel's name. “Cas! Goddammit, you stupid angel—”
Dean nearly trips over himself. Castiel is there, climbing out slowly from between the trees roots. He looks all right: some of his wings seem to be hanging at odd angles, maybe, but then, it's sort of hard to tell.
“You're crazy,” Dean tells him, stepping closer, wanting to reach out, but not really seeing anywhere on Castiel's strange body that'd be reasonable to touch. He has no understanding of angel anatomy; it'd be really awkward if he ended up groping Castiel by mistake.
More than he already has, that is.
Castiel straightens to his full height, which in this form is quite a bit taller than Dean. —I know what I'm doing, he says austerely.
As if in divine reminder that pride is a sin, Cas' stride breaks the second the words are out. There's a moment, half a second, in which he crumples in on himself. Dean blinks, not sure he's really seeing what he thinks he's seeing: a flash of dark hair, clenched human hands. “Are you okay?” he asks.
“I'm fine.” A second later, Castiel's straightened up again. —Go check on Caphriel and Aziraphale.
Dean doesn't particularly want to do this, but he starts clambering around the massive tree roots to find the other angels. When he finally spots them, he stops short. “Am I interrupting?”
Caphriel removes his heads from Aziraphale's maybe-a-lap, and Aziraphale stops whatever weird thing he was doing to Caphriel's wings. —Not at all, Aziraphale says.
Somehow, Caphriel manages to leer at him. —You're welcome to join in.
—Really, my dear, Aziraphale says, sounding about a tenth as appalled as Dean feels. He stumbles swiftly back through the tree roots.
Castiel's standing at Joshua's side, talking or transmitting or whatever too softly for Dean to hear. Castiel looks up as Dean emerges, and once more he seems to flicker. But then he's striding forward again, full of impossible energy and power.
“They're fine,” Dean tells him. Then amends: “Aziraphale, anyway. Caphriel...where did you find that guy?”
—You'd be surprised, Castiel says.
—Not by much, says Caphriel, emerging, along with Aziraphale, behind Dean.
—Good, says Castiel. —Because we are far from finished.
“I don't get it,” Dean says. “What are you doing? How is drastic landscape redesign going to help Sam?”
—The tree is a conduit, Castiel explains. —A physical channel for Heaven's power.
“Like...a lightning rod?” Dean hazards.
—That comparison is not entirely without merit, Castiel says—which, for Cas, is actually pretty close to a compliment. —And like a lightning rod, he continues, —it can be climbed.
“But you just knocked it down.”
—I told you, we're far from—
Castiel stops suddenly, buckling. Dean definitely isn't imagining it: for an instant, he sees in the angel Castiel's place an image of Cas in human form, of Jimmy Novak bent at the waist, his chest heaving. Then he's gone and Castiel's mass of swirling wings and multitude of faces are back. “—From finished,” he says. —Caphriel, I will need your help to aim it.
—At the Inner Pit? Caphriel asks.
Caphriel shakes his heads. —You have no idea how badly I want a drink.
Dean watches as Castiel and Caphriel reposition themselves at the tree's upturned base. He can feel Joshua watching silently, too. For his part, Aziraphale swishes his wings and says, —Do be careful, which is not nearly so intimidating.
Slowly, Castiel and Caphriel begin putting pressure on the tree trunk, holding onto the upper roots like a rudder and pressing firmly down. The top of the tree—if there is a top—is too far away for Dean to see, but gradually he realizes that the whole thing is slowly dipping down, penetrating the earth, sliding through the soil like a pendulum. “Son of a bitch,” Dean mutters, figuring it out. Somehow—the metaphysics of the situation are still far beyond Dean's understanding—they're reversing the tree so that it runs not through Heaven, but out of Heaven and down...to Hell.
—Dean, come here.
Dean walks over to the roots of the overturned tree, the only part of it still visible above the soil. They're clinging to the earth now, like this is natural, like the tree had always meant to grow this way. It makes Dean nervous, to come too close. It can be climbed, Castiel had said. Which means anything could come up.
—No, Dean, Castiel promises. —Only those who truly seek our Father's forgiveness will be able to make the climb. To anyone else, the bark will burn.
—But I can touch it, no trouble, says Caphriel, for some reason sounding surprised.
—Yes. Castiel's tone is mild.
—Oh, says Caphriel, after another moment. —Bugger.
But Dean finds he's shaking his head. “I don't know, Cas. I mean, I appreciate everything you're doing and you—” He swallows hard. “You gotta know I want Sam back more than anything. But this— Maybe he was right. Making me promise. Because this seems like too much of a risk. Something nasty's gonna get through. It always does.”
—Perhaps, says Castiel. —But there's another precaution we can take. Give me your hand.
It's possible Dean doesn't hesitate nearly long enough before giving it over. Castiel touches him, gently, and then Dean sees the skin of his wrist part like a mouth. It doesn't hurt, not nearly as much as it should, but for some reason he feels a sting when his blood hits the roots of the tree, when it starts rolling down. “What good's this going to do?” Dean asks through a choked breath.
—You're the Righteous Man, Castiel says, like he still thinks that means anything. —And Sam is your brother. Your shared blood will call to him, help him find the way out.
“Okay,” says Dean, relaxing in Castiel's grip. He'd let Cas drain him dry if that's what it took to save Sam.
But Castiel lets the blood flow for less than a minute before he touches Dean's skin again and the wound closes up. A red line is running down one of the largest roots, a steady stream, like a piece of string. “Now what?” Dean asks.
—Now we wait, says Cas.
There's a wooden bench not far from the inverted forest of tree roots; Dean leads Cas or Cas leads Dean over to it and they sit down. Dean feels kind of light-headed: maybe he gave more blood then he thought. Beside him, Cas' wings are fluttering shakily, moving as if guided by a series of great heaving accordion breaths. Cas' eyes flicker shut in waves that spread from face to face.
“What's happening to you?” Dean asks.
—It's nothing, Castiel says. And then: —I have less time left than I thought.
“Less time?” snaps Dean, staring up at Castiel's faces. “What do you mean? Less time for what?”
Castiel shakes his heads. —It's not, he says, and then shudders, and Dean has the solid weight of a human arm under his hand. “Of import.”
Cas' teeth are gritted. His hair hangs sweaty and lank over his forehead. “Bullshit!” says Dean, tugging him around so that they're facing each other. But then he shifts again, and Dean has a hand buried in a mass of wings that feel like a combination of electric sparks and cobwebs. “Dammit, Cas, tell me what's going on!”
—The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
Joshua stands beside them, a pillar of angelic serenity. “You've got to be fucking kidding me,” Dean snaps. “You're giving me bastardized Metallica lyrics?”
Joshua says nothing.
Dean finds himself, swaying, on his feet. “He's given everything for you! You tossed him out, kicked him around, and he still came back up here and did everything he could to try to clean up your stupid messes! And this is what he gets?”
“Dean.” Castiel looks up at him. “It's” —all right. I've been “expecting—”
Caphriel's shout carries easily over from where he and Aziraphale are still guarding the tree. They're both intently regarding the earth between the roots, which is rolling and shifting like something is pushing up against it from below. Dean casts one last look back at Cas, who says —Go or “Go”: Dean's mind is too much of a blur to tell the difference. He races over and throws himself on his knees in the dirt, scrambling to clear space around the pale white fingers that are poking through. “Sam,” he chokes out. “Sammy...”
His hands close around a slim, bony wrist. Dean should know then, but his mind refuses to accept it until Adam is sprawling in a heap at his feet, gasping for breath. “Thank you.” Adam's muddied cheeks are streaked with tears. “Thank you.” Dean steps away. He lets Aziraphale help Adam up and clean the dirt from his face, lets Adam have a moment to look around and take in where he is. But that's all Dean can give him.
Once Dean's waited as long as can reasonably be expected, he barks, “Where's Sam? Did you leave him there? Is he coming right behind you?” That would be just like Sam: making sure Adam got to safety first.
But Adam shakes his head. “Sam's gone.”
Dean knows it's not nice to threaten your newly-rescued-from-Hell brother, but he can't help getting in Adam's face a little. “What do you mean he's gone?”
Adam shrinks in on himself, but not a lot: it's that damn Winchester blood. “I'm not sure he was ever even really there at all. All I remember is Michael and Lucifer...they mostly left me alone, but I still—” He swallows roughly, looks around himself again. “I'm still dead, aren't I? Or I mean...I'm dead again?”
Castiel comes over, moving slowly, but looking fully angelfied again. He's pulled himself together well, but from the nervous little looks Aziraphale and Caphriel are giving him, Dean can tell that they, too, can see the way Castiel's wavering at the edges.
—Yes, Castiel tells Adam. —But I can return you to life, if that's what you wish.
“Cas—” The censure slips out: Dean doesn't want Castiel reanimating a mosquito at this point.
Fortunately, Adam's got his own issues with this plan. “I was told I'd get to see my mom.”
Dean shakes his head at him. “Zachariah sold you on some major league bullshit, kid. It's strictly solitary confinement up here.”
—That's no longer true.
For a moment, Castiel sounds stronger than ever: defiant. His wings twirl with pride.
—Human souls may now move between the realms of Paradise, as they so choose, Castiel says. —So of course I can take you to your mother, he tells Adam, —if that is your desire.
Adam casts Dean a brief, apologetic look before he nods. Castiel steps forward again, but Dean catches him...somewhere. “Uh-uh, buddy, you're not going anywhere.”
Castiel looks like he wants to protest, but Aziraphale steps smoothly in: —I'll accompany him.
He smiles at Dean's youngest brother.
—I knew a nice young lad named Adam once...
They vanish. Castiel does not pull free from Dean's grasp, nor does Dean let go of him. “What did he mean?” Dean demands, dreading the answer. “How can Sam be gone?”
—Your brother is not in Heaven, nor is he in Hell, says Joshua, who has the annoying ability to make you forget he's there until he steps in with these little nuggets.
“So where is he? Limbo? He can't just be—” No longer in existence. Dean's afraid to even think it. But that can happen, in extreme circumstances, and plunging into Hell with Satan riding you all the way down is definitely something that even the supernatural X-Games don't see every day.
—Limbo is a myth, says Castiel. —No, Dean, I'm sorry I didn't think of this sooner: Sam must be on Earth.
“What? So we just did all that for nothing?”
—I would hardly call it for 'nothing,' says Aziraphale, reappearing in the Garden. —We've given damned souls a means of escape once they've atoned.
The look he gives Dean is both mild and kind and much, much more intimidating than Dean would have given him credit for.
—Something you can appreciate, I'm sure.
—Oh, wonderful, says Caphriel, —undo all my hard work.
Huh? Dean can't deal with all of this right now. He just can't: “How can Sam be on Earth? He would've found me! He wouldn't just not let me know that he's okay!”
Castiel just looks at him. And oh, fuck: even on messed-up angelic faces, Dean can read the truth. There are all kinds of reasons that Sam might not come to Dean: out of some sort of idiotic mistaken nobility or to protect Dean or any number of other bullshit reasons and Dean's gonna have to throttle Sam as soon as he finds him. Because he's gonna find him.
“Cas, this has been fun and all, but I gotta get back down there right now—”
Dean feels Castiel's weird, whispery wings slip from his fingers, and then he realizes what an asshole he is, because Cas is on his knees in the grass, flickering in and out like bad satellite reception, and he's in no state to take Dean anywhere. Dean fights the urge to drop down to his knees beside him, to try to squeeze him tight and hold him until he's safe in one form or the other, like in that fairytale he once read while he was doing research. But he knows he doesn't have the strength to hold Castiel anywhere he doesn't want to be.
“What's happening to him?” Dean whispers, glancing at Joshua. “Cut the cryptic bullshit. Just tell me.”
—His time has come to an end, Joshua says. —He prayed for a chance to right the wrongs he witnessed. His prayers were answered. Now he is done.
“Right. Of course.” Dean clenches his fist, tries to remind himself that punching an angel's about as helpful as tossing a Hellhound a handful of Kibbles 'n' Bits. “Nice retirement plan you've got up here.”
He lowers himself down next to Cas despite telling himself he wouldn't. Castiel still seems aware, his eyes—alternately two and so many more—focusing even as his bodies tremble and shake. “Cas,” Dean says, because fuck. Fuck. What's he supposed to say? God, it's so much worse like this, when it's slow; sudden's horrible, but he's used to sudden horror. It's the long, drawn-out things that kill him: kissing Jo one last time, having to turn his back and say goodbye...
“You're better than all of them,” Dean whispers, reaching out, grabbing at something that is sometimes a hand.
And then: then Castiel does something Dean knows immediately will haunt him for the rest of his life. He looks up at Joshua and somehow manages to say, “Has” —it been “enough?”
Joshua looks down on him. Suddenly, even in the shifting layers of his angelic form, Dean can see a sadness to him. He reaches out, caresses the top of Castiel's head. —Yes, my son.
Castiel's hand loosens in Dean's grip.
—Are you ready?
“No!” yells Dean, struggling to get up, throw himself at Joshua, something. But he feels wings close around him like smothering moths, and he knew Aziraphale's tea-and-crumpets gentility was too good to be true, because he's ripping Dean away from Castiel and Castiel is falling back onto the soft grass, his wings dissolving in the wind that whips itself through the Garden, tearing at the leaves and the flowers and the dark strands of Castiel's hair as his face turns with sightless eyes up toward the sky.
—Hush, Aziraphale tells him, and then despite Dean's protests and his sobs, he's torn out of Eden and thrown back to the real world.
Bobby's working on teaching himself Russian out of sheer boredom when his living room erupts in sound and movement. A man—make that an angel—he's never seen before appears holding Dean, who's scratching and hissing and generally making more fuss than a wet cat. Bobby fumbles for the angel-killing blade Dean passed on to him, figuring stabbing's stabbing no matter what you're up against, then nearly drops it entirely when he sees a much more familiar face appear at the angel's side. “Crowley?”
“Oh, excellent, this won't be at all awkward,” Crowley says. He has, Bobby is shocked to note, an unconscious Castiel cradled in his arms. His gaze whips over to the other angel. “Aziraphale, put us all out of our misery and knock out the Histrionic Man until he's ready to deal with this rationally.”
“That seems rather extreme,” the one called Aziraphale says, at the same time Dean spits, “I'll deal with you rationally, you two-faced son of a—” Dean slumps suddenly in Aziraphale's arms. The angel regards his pair of extended fingers with some embarrassment and offers Bobby an apologetic shrug.
Okay, that's about as much as Bobby can stand. “Just what in tarnation is going on?” he bellows, coming around the desk and forcing himself into Crowley's personal space. “I thought you were dead!”
“He has a bad habit of doing that,” Aziraphale says. He appears to be having some trouble arranging Dean's unconscious body on Bobby's couch so that it won't slip off.
Crowley carries Castiel over to the couch and lays him beside Dean with surprising gentleness. Bobby's still not sure he's not going to need to start banishing and exorcising folks any second now, but something about the care Crowley's taking makes him pause. Also the fact that Aziraphale seems about as threatening as a tea cozy.
“Just a slight misunderstanding,” Crowley says, straightening up. If Bobby didn't know better—did not have, in fact, quite a lot of personal evidence to confirm that Crowley lacks all sense of shame—he'd think the demon were embarrassed, too. “Well, several, actually.”
Bobby folds his arms. “I'm feeling surprisingly patient. Why don't you start from the beginning.”
When Dean wakes, he tries for a moment to pretend that it's Lisa's couch cushions his face is pressed against. But he would—and in fact, does—know Bobby's house with his eyes closed, and as much as he'd like to tell himself otherwise, he knows that the last...however long was not a dream.
Cas is gone.
It doesn't feel any better now that it has all the times before: when Cas had been missing, when Dean had known he was dead, when he'd seen him die. There's a yawning ache in Dean's chest, but he pushes it down, wipes the disgusting salt trails off his cheeks, forces himself to breathe and sit up and face the day. Good things have come out of all of this. He helped rescue Adam—and in the years to come, who knows how many others—from Hell. And Sam: Sam is here, on Earth. Dean can find him. He will find him, whether he wants to be found or not.
It just hurts even more than he thought it would, realizing he's going to have to find him alone.
No, not entirely alone, Dean forces himself to remember. Bobby will help him. “Bobby,” Dean calls, swinging his way onto sore legs.
“Over here, you idjit,” Bobby calls back, sounding much closer than Dean assumed. He looks around the corner, and there's Bobby, sitting at the kitchen table with what looks like an absent-minded professor who got abandoned in South Dakota by Mary Poppins and—
“You!” Dean growls, going for the knife that, since he started living with Lisa, hasn't been in his boot. Dean recovers, tries again, addressing Bobby this time. “What the hell is he doing here?”
“Oh, Dean,” Crowley clucks. “Not the brightest crayon in the box, are we?”
“You're the crayon I'm about to snap in half,” Dean says. He returns his attention to Bobby. “I thought you said... I thought you said Cas made sure the deal was done with.”
“He did,” says Bobby.
“Yes.” Crowley smirks. “Pushy pushy. I was getting around to it.”
Weapon or not, Dean's had enough. “Don't you talk about him. Just don't. I will exorcise you where you stand.”
“Oh,” the demon purrs, “I would love to see you try.”
“Crowley,” says the professor, in an accent so plummy it makes Crowley seem like he's from Wisconsin. “Don't be childish.”
“Yeah,” says Bobby, finally stepping in, “you're in my house. Try to be less of a dick.”
Crowley lets out a dramatic sigh. “Fine. Dean, you can't exorcise me because I'm no longer a demon. I'm a—” He seems to choke on the word.
“Angel,” prompts the professor.
“Right. That.” He gives Dean his best attempt at an angelic smile.
“Yeah, and I'm the pope,” says Dean.
“Hello?” says Crowley, with a sarcastic wave. “Remember me? Caphriel? We recently frolicked around the Garden together? Didn't Castiel improve your eyesight?” He reaches out and tries to tap at Dean's skull like it's a finicky microphone. “Is this thing on?”
“I don't—” believe you, Dean is going to say, but then something in him focuses, concentrates. He remembers Cas kneeling at his feet, both of him—one on top of the other, superimposed. Simple as a slide he can shutter up or down.
Dean blinks, and suddenly there are two angels sitting at Bobby's kitchen table. Weirder still, Dean recognizes them. Objectively, he couldn't tell you what differentiates one from the other, but that one is clearly Aziraphale, and that little annoying fuck is Caphriel. Crowley. Whatever.
“You know,” Dean says, taking a deep breath, “I didn't think it was possible to hate you more. But now, knowing what—knowing who you really are—I do. I really do.”
Bobby's eyes narrow. “Now you're the one being a dick, son.”
Dean chuckles, but he's not amused. “Sure. Just like I'm sure they told you what they let happen to Cas, what they did to him—”
Bobby's palm connects sharply with the back of Dean's head. “Cas is outside, you idjit.”
“Why don't you go join him?”
“Yes,” says Crowley, sweet as venom, “let the grown-ups talk.”
Dean stumbles toward the door, unable to even croak out a reply. As the screen door slams behind him, he hears Aziraphale say, “Please tell me you have some wine.”
“Nope,” says Crowley, distantly. “I've switched to the hard stuff. Bobby, pour him a glass.”
“Once a tempter, always a tempter, huh?”
“Shut it, the pair of you.”
Then their voices fade into the darkness and the whisper of crickets.
The field in which Castiel stands is full of light. Tiny glowing points that bounce and sway. Castiel watches them, breathing in the still night air. Summer is fading into fall, the air growing colder. Castiel rolls up his shirtsleeves, feels the faint breeze tease across the fine hairs on his arms. He lifts his head to the sky, his eyes on the moon as it rises.
When he senses Dean behind him, it's not because he's become aware of the warm brush of his soul. It's something else, some instinct Castiel hasn't yet learned how to quantify. But it's enough to make him smile to himself, flushing warm despite the chill. “Hello, Dean,” he says—and he turns, and he sees him.
Then he sees Dean's fist, rushing toward his face.
He knows what he is now, but the adjustment's not as simple as that. The pain still takes him by surprise, knocks him off his feet more than the actual blow. So it doesn't get easier, he thinks, tumbling back into the grass, just because you've experienced it before.
“Shit! Cas.” Dean crouches down beside him. The expression on his face is confused, so many different emotions at once.
Castiel feels more focused. “You hit me,” he says.
“I didn't think it would hurt! Well, not you. Maybe my hand.”
“Why did you hit me if you thought it would hurt your hand?”
Dean touches Castiel's jaw, and Castiel lets him, flinching only a little when Dean wipes the blood away. “Because periodically, Cas, you make me want to throttle you.”
“Oh.” They get up, Castiel leaning on Dean just a bit. “The feeling is mutual.”
“I remember,” Dean says. Then, on an exhale, “Your heart's racing like crazy.”
“Is it?” Castiel inspects his chest through his shirt. “I assume it will stop eventually. Racing, I mean—not beating entirely. Though eventually—”
“Stop it.” Dean is staring at him, his features twisted into an expression that looks painful. “How can you— Earlier today you were the most powerful angel in creation.”
“Yes,” says Castiel.
“And now you're perfectly okay with being stuck back down here in the muck with the rest of us mortals?”
Castiel can't answer that question; not in a manner that would leave either of them satisfied. Instead he says, “Power corrupts, Dean. And absolute power...”
“...Corrupts absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Do you really think you would have gone all Evil Overlord on us? 'Cause I can't say I can see you rocking the shaved head and feline sidekick look.”
“I wasn't aware that that was a requirement,” Castiel says, and then ruins his joke by smiling. He can feel it, an involuntary tug at the corners of his mouth. Where did that come from?
Dean's giving him a strange look. Castiel wants to reassure him: that this is the best possible outcome. That this is a gift. All of life is. Castiel's held it now, the power of creation—and its dark twin, destruction: had them both in his grasp. He thinks he finally understands.
He's at a loss to convey any of this, though: clumsy human tongue, inadequate human language that relies on words. So instead it burbles out of him as laughter, an utterly shocking sound. He laughs, staring up at the sky—not looking at Dean, whose expression is becoming increasingly horrified.
But eventually he has to look. He looks at Dean, and then he takes him by the shoulders, just like he's seen the people do on Dr. Sexy when they need to tell each other something important.
He says, “It's going to be different this time.”
Dean's gaze feels hot, just like his skin beneath the thin fabric of his shirt. “How do you know? Is it because you have faith?”
Castiel shakes his head, although he does. But he wants Dean to understand. “Because we're going to make it different. We're going to find your brother, and vanquish whatever shadow may be hanging over him. Then we can address any lingering demonic threat, which thanks to your corrected sight should be a fairly simple—”
“Hm?” He pauses, blinks up at Dean, who seems to have forgotten his own edict about personal space.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, Cas.” Dean's chest is pressed up against his now, Dean's hands sliding along Castiel's shoulder blades. He can practically taste Dean's breath in his mouth when he inhales.
“I don't know what that means.”
Their lips find each other, soft and easy, inevitable. Castiel feels a rush of exhilarated surprise, which wars with the contradictory chant of of course of course of course echoing through his brain. Because, obviously. He sucks on Dean's bottom lip and Dean grabs at the short hank of hair at the back of Castiel's neck, and Dean is warm and close in Castiel's arms, his taste on Castiel's tongue, his heartbeat beneath Castiel's hand. Castiel's been both human and conscious for about forty minutes now, and he thinks he may have already found his most favorite thing ever, what he wants to keep doing for the rest of his life.
“All right,” he tells Dean, some time later. “I'll take your suggestion under advisement.”
Together, they head back toward the house, making plans.