A hot, arid wind swept through the streets, carrying the wails of mothers on the air. The night was heavy with loss and despair. Castiel watched unseen from his perch above the palace, a frown dragging down the corners of his vessel’s mouth.
“This isn’t right,” he said, turning to look at Balthazar.
His brother shrugged, unconcerned, “We do as we’re told. That’s what’s right.”
“They are children!” Castiel spat. “Children. They don’t deserve to be used as fodder for Father’s plans. It’s reprehensible!”
“Careful, Cassie. Your words could be considered blasphemy to some.”
“It is blasphemy,” a third voice chimed in. “Oh, Castiel,” Naomi sighed. “I would have thought you’d learned your place by now.”
“This is wrong, Naomi. Surely you can see that!”
There was a rustle of wings. Castiel was dismayed to realize Balthazar had left them. Great. Now he had no one to help him argue his case.
“It’s neither our job nor our place to discern Father’s will. We carry out his orders. Nothing more.”
“Well, I won’t. I refuse. You simply cannot make me take a child’s life. Not the Pharaoh's, not a servant's, not anyone’s. I will not have the blood of a child on my hands.” Castiel crossed his vessel’s arms as he stared at Naomi, daring her to make a move.
“Very well.” Naomi nodded and two angels materialized next to her. “Take him to my office. We’ll discuss this later, Castiel.”
Castiel chuckled bitterly. “Discuss it. Right.” Knowing it would be pointless to fight, he let her minions drag him away.
He knew he’d done the right thing.
“You’d let them murder our Father’s own son?” Castiel’s voice raised in anger. “How is that Father’s will?”
“Jesus is the Lamb, the sacrifice, meant to bring salvation for our Father’s creation.”
Castiel looked at the Son, knelt in prayer. He could hear the boy’s cries to his Father, begging him to find another way.
“Even now, he’s terrified,” Cas said, whirling back to stare at Uriel. “How can you accept this? He is the hope and the light and we’re just going to allow these people to nail him to a cross?”
“Yes. Because it is what Father ordered.” Uriel was as immovable as rock. “I do as my Father commands.”
“Castiel, please. If you fight this, Naomi will take you again,” Anna implored, resting a hand on his arm. “I can’t lose you from the Garrison. You’re needed. Please don’t do this.”
“Don’t do what? Fight this ridiculousness? The Son prays and his prayers are unanswered. How is this the will of God?”
“Again, Castiel?” Naomi sighed from behind him. “Forever the rebel. It’s grown repetitive.”
Castiel turned to face her, unable to fight the chill that danced up his vessel’s spine. “Do you see nothing wrong here?”
“I see Father’s will. That’s what I see.”
“I see nothing but humanity destroying itself while we stand idly by. If this is what being an angel means, then perhaps I no longer wish to be an angel.”
Naomi frowned. “Careful, Castiel. You might just get what you wish for.” Nodding to Anna and Uriel, she smiled. “Take him back upstairs.”
“Don’t fight us,” Anna begged.
As they led him away, he wondered, how many times would this make?
“Because Michael has asked for you specifically. Your ruthlessness in battle against the demon scourge is well known. There’s simply no one better to lead an incursion.” Naomi’s face betrayed a flicker of emotion as she stared down at her desk. “At least, not since Anna left us.”
“May I choose my own Garrison?” Castiel asked.
“Of course, if you feel they can be trusted for such a delicate mission.”
“There is no one I trust more.”
“Very well. Godspeed, Castiel. Report back regularly. This mission must be achieved at all costs. You must expect losses.”
Gritting his teeth, Castiel nodded before turning to leave Naomi’s office.
“Why me?” Balthazar whined.
Castiel had finally tracked his brother down in the south of France, inhabiting his several-centuries-old vessel and sipping champagne amongst a throng of naked people.
“Because there is no one I trust more. I feel this mission is designed to ensure I will fail and I need at least one angel at my side whom I can trust completely.”
“Why, Cassie,” Balthazar said, palm on his chest and a saucy grin on his face, “I’m so flattered.” The smile vanished completely. “The answer is still no.”
“Please, Balthazar. I believe Naomi means for me to die on this mission.”
Balthazar frowned. “But why, what purpose would it serve?”
“I’m not—I’m not sure. But there are holes in my memory and I—” Cas shuffled. “Balthazar, I’ve been locked down in Heaven since the incident with Akobel. I feel like—like I’m being punished. If I manage to drag the Righteous Man from Hell—”
“That’s the mission? Rescue the Righteous Man? Why didn’t you say so? Of course I’m on board.”
A wave of relief swept over Castiel. “Thank you, Balthazar.”
The stench of sulphur and the cries of agony were nearly overwhelming as Castiel stood at the Gates of Hell, his Garrison fanned out behind him. Buckles bit into him, his armor just a bit too tight and ill fitting. It was new; Michael had decided Castiel would have the best of everything for this battle.
Except the reason. That was still being withheld.
All Castiel had been told was that Dean Winchester was the Righteous Man and that Heaven— God —had work for Dean. As such, he would need to be removed from Hell immediately. And for some unknown reason, Castiel had been chosen to perform the rescue.
It didn’t make sense.
“Well, this certainly looks like a party, does it not?” Balthazar asked, shifting in his own armor.
“Let’s make this quick.” Castiel charged into the fray.
The battle was fierce and by the time Castiel found the soul, his losses had been incredible. They’d started with fifty angels. They were now down to a party of twelve. Demons had picked up angel swords from the battle ground and used them against Castiel’s brethren. Still, he pushed on, Balthazar close by his side.
A bright light filled the caverns of Hell, growing stronger the deeper they went.
“I can see him,” Castiel said, fighting through a throng of demons.
“Then go fetch him. I’ll hold these charming creatures!” Balthazar sank his blade into the closest demon.
Nodding, Castiel cut through a swath of demons, charging down the corridor toward the light. The smell of blood clogged his nostrils as he drew closer and he could hear someone begging for mercy.
An unknown soul lay helpless, strapped to a rack as the light-bearing soul wielded a knife. Closer now, Castiel could see the darkness beginning to wrap around the bright soul.
Dean Winchester had been in Hell for forty years. He’d succumbed and his soul was in the early stages of being twisted into a demon. Turning from the rack, he regarded Castiel with wide eyes that shuttered from black to green and back again.
“Who are you?” he asked, voice raspy and rough.
“Do not be afraid. I’m here to return you to Earth.”
“I don’t think so,” another voice lisped. “Dean is mine.”
Dean stared at the newcomer and his fear was palpable. He dropped the knife and scuttled back against the wall, clearly frightened. The demon followed him, lifting a bloody hand to drag it through Dean’s hair. Alastair, the Grand Torturer.
“Now, now. I won’t let them take you away from Daddy,” he soothed.
Shuddering, Dean stared down at the floor, ashamed.
“You’re not being given a choice in the matter, Alastair. He’s coming with me.”
“Oh, is he?” Alastair released his grip on Dean’s hair and strode across the floor to stand toe to toe with Castiel.
“Yes.” Focusing his grace, Castiel aimed a blast at Alastair, flinging the demon across the chamber floor.
Dean let out a low, pained sound, pushing himself harder against the wall, eyes downcast. He trembled with fear as Castiel walked closer, a low stream of no’s tumbling from his mouth.
“It’s alright,” Castiel soothed. “I’m here to save you, not harm you.”
“What?” Dean looked at the angel in astonishment. “But I—I’ve hurt people,” he whispered.
“It matters not. My orders are to retrieve you from Hell and return you to your body. Heaven has work for you.”
“I don’t know, but it’s time to leave,” Castiel said, reaching out and gripping Dean’s arm.
They gasped simultaneously, Dean’s eyes widening as he stared at Castiel in wonder. Castiel’s grace danced dramatically, drawn to the bright soul in front of him.
“I don't know. There’s no time.” He pulled Dean tight against his chest and spread his wings, leaving a furious Alastair behind as he took flight. Dean whimpered and turned his face away, not making another sound as Castiel flew him to safety, confident that his garrison would retreat as ordered.
Castiel burst through the Hell Gate with Dean clutched tight in his arms. He teleported to Pontiac and the site of Dean’s grave. “Be still,” he admonished Dean, who’d begun to struggle to break free. “I have quite a bit of work to do.” Castiel reached into the Earth, his true form touching Dean’s broken and decaying body.
He concentrated all of his grace into that central point, knitting jagged wounds and broken ribs, refreshing skin and replacing lost blood. Using the gifts Father had given him, Castiel breathed life into Dean Winchester’s inanimate corpse, pleased when the heart stuttered back to life and began pumping blood through the beautifully engineered network of arteries and veins.
“There. You’re ready.”
“I don’t understand,” Dean whispered.
“You will in time.” He brushed his fingers over Dean’s forehead, preparing to erase all of Dean’s ugly memories from Hell.
“He keeps the memories,” a stern voice said.
Castiel inwardly sighed. “Why? What purpose does that serve?”
“That is what we’ve been ordered to do,” Naomi informed him, coming to stand in front of him. Her sharp eyes swept over Dean, who hid his face against Castiel’s armor. “He must remember everything. Except his rescue...and you.”
“That will serve no purpose whatsoever and—”
“I issued orders, Castiel. I expect them to be followed,” a new voice chimed in.
Somewhat cowed in the presence of Michael, Castiel lowered his eyes respectfully. “I disagree with the orders,” he said, doing his best to keep his voice level, fully aware that Dean could feel the power in the Archangel, obvious by the way the man trembled violently against him. “I just don’t think—”
“You aren’t required to think. Finish the job.”
Looking at Dean, Castiel sighed. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. He placed his hand over Dean’s forehead and shoved his soul back into his body. He tried to ignore how Dean screamed as he performed the procedure, how he fought and struggled. Once the job was done, he wiped all memories of the rescue from Dean’s mind but couldn't quite bring himself to erase his own presence completely. Castiel didn’t heal the burned handprint on Dean’s upper arm. He deserved something to remember this moment by.
“Very good,” Naomi praised. “In the days ahead, you’ll guide Dean and help him discover his true purpose as an agent of Heaven.”
“Well done, Castiel,” Michael added. “Let Dean dig himself out.”
With a powerful beat of their wings, both of them moved on, leaving Castiel alone to stare at the circle of flattened trees around Dean’s grave. Beneath his feet, Dean woke, terrified, and began the arduous struggle to dig himself out. Castiel knew he wouldn’t be able to resist helping Dean for much longer, so he returned to Heaven to be greeted by the cheers of his sisters and brothers. “ Dean Winchester is saved! ” echoed through the corridors of Heaven as a multitude of angels sang the glad tidings.
Castiel didn’t feel much like celebrating and abandoned the others to their revelry. He instead went to seek revelation and to wait for the call of his new charge.
On a bench in a beautiful garden inside a human soul’s Heaven, Castiel thought about all of things that had happened that day, his mind drawn back to Dean Winchester. His grace had inexplicably bonded with Dean’s soul and longed to return to Dean’s side, although Castiel couldn’t imagine what had caused the bond, and he was determined to wait it out.
“Be careful, Castiel.” His sister Hester joined him, settling on the bench beside him. “Don’t lose yourself to Earthly pursuits. Remember that you are an angel. Heaven’s will first.”
As if he could ever forget.
A wave of distress and panic traveled over the bond he and the Righteous Man now shared.
“Excuse me, sister. I believe I’m needed on Earth.”