Work Header

These Are Not Real Problems

Work Text:

Castiel has started losing track of time.

It’s a hard thing to admit because he’s blind in so many ways now. Time is one of the few markers he has left, and though he can still count seconds and minutes as finite things, anything higher and he trips. Days are a lost cause.

Now when Castiel’s mind wanders, time slips with it. He doesn’t how to recount it.

Case in point, Castiel has been sitting in the Impala with his eyes closed. Dean hasn’t said anything, so this must mean Castiel’s only been at it for a few minutes. The problem here, of course, is that Castiel shouldn’t have to guess. Castiel should know.

Over in the driver’s seat, Dean is a quiet, ominous presence. “Hey, man,” he says, leather jacket creaking softly when he moves. “You okay?”

Castiel takes a deep breath, the smell of the Impala filling his nostrils. It’s more than just the sum of leather, sweat and gun oil, but Castiel can no more decipher its components than he could pull apart the flavors of burger patty. Crowley once remarked on the Impala’s bouquet on Castiel’s coat, but Crowley had a lot of opinions about a lot of things.

Thinking about Crowley makes Castiel wonder how he might feel about Castiel’s current position. He’d probably say something along the lines of, “Serves you right, you two-bit feather-brained arsehole, that’s what you get for killing the King of Hell.” Funnily enough, this thought makes Castiel smile.

“Dude,” Dean says. The sound of Impala’s engine turns into a soft purr when he pulls the car over to the side of the road. “Cas.”

Castiel looks down at his hands, their skin almost pale as marble in the dim light of nighttime. They’re Jimmy’s hands, grown from Jimmy’s flesh and body, but Castiel wears this skin now, like he wears Jimmy’s shirt and Jimmy’s coat. Since it’s his skin to use, there are red marks behind the knuckles.

He cannot keep track of time, but he can keep track of these. Castiel carefully presses his fingernail into the skin, breaking the surface just enough to draw a red line down the side of his hand.

“Cas, talk to me.”

Castiel raises his eyes. Once, he could look at Dean and see the fine tendrils of soul energy leak out through Dean’s eyes, Dean’s ears, Dean’s fingertips. When Castiel looks at him now, all he can see is skin stretched across muscle and bone. It should be more repulsive than it is.

“I may not know what’s going on,” Dean says reasonably, “But I’m trying the best I can, okay. You can, uh, tell me. If there’s anything up with you. You would, right?”

Dean’s hand is twitching on his thigh. This is understandable, for Dean is a tactile man who prefers to offer comfort in touch instead of words. But he will not touch Castiel today.

“I doubt it,” Castiel says, just before he punches Dean.

A box has eight corners. This motel room has sixteen, but Castiel still considers it a box. In the middle of this box is Sam, who is sitting at a table and typing on his laptop. Sam glances up, body visibly relaxing when he sees that it’s only Castiel.

“Hey, Cas,” Sam says. He sounds distracted, mind preoccupied by research. “Did you want something?”

Castiel has options. Only a few options, but options nonetheless. This time he chooses to walk the perimeter of the room, touching things as he goes. His fingers slide over the wallpaper, a side table, Sam and Dean’s bags where they’re resting on the beds. He stops at the room’s only door.

Sam is watching him.

“No,” Castiel says. He turns the doorknob and pulls the door open. On the other side is another room, which Castiel steps into, closing the door behind him. This room is a box with sixteen corners.

“Hey, Cas,” Sam says from where he’s sitting at a table, his laptop open in front of him. “Did you want something?”

Castiel didn’t really expect that to work, but that’s the dangerous thing about hope. Hope makes you think that maybe this time, or next time, or next time, the outcome will be different. Maybe next time the fire will stop burning, or the moon will finally rise, or the door will finally lead to somewhere else.

Castiel carefully scratches another thin red line on his skin, just above the wrist.

This box is notable because it changes shape. Castiel was in a room, but now he is on a sidewalk. A prop that is pretending to be the night sky is set in place far above his head. The road before him is dark and silent, streetlights casting tracks of yellow across the asphalt.

Castiel knows some things about bindings and cages. Not enough to construct one this elaborate, but certainly enough to know that cages are always weakest at the corners. (That was how he’d gotten Sam out, not that anyone thanked him for that.) It is physically open space all around him now, but Castiel knows that somewhere out there are corners that he can’t see. Jimmy’s simple senses thwart him at every turn.

Standing next to him is Dean, who says, “That’s pretty nice timing—”

“Be quiet,” Castiel says, turning away. “Don’t talk to me.”

Castiel walks away. Dean doesn’t call or follow him, because he is part of the box. The real Dean liked to tell Castiel to go, to come, to fetch, to stop. (Whatever you’re doing, stop.) This Dean does nothing of the kind, so Castiel marches on.

There are no birds in this night sky, no rustling of wind in these trees. Castiel is careful to keep his head facing forward, eyes wide open for a sign, any sign.

Hope drags him on, following the line of the road deeper and deeper into the night.

After a while, Castiel stops. He looks over his shoulder.

Dean is there, an arm’s length away and still smiling. “—Cas.”

Castiel hates it when Dean’s like this, his whole body screaming warmth and welcome. These moments aren’t representative of the whole, for Dean isn’t just made of kindness; he’s also made of ultimatums and vague promises and arbitrary lines drawn in holy fire. This particular flavor is brief and fleeting.

“This was your idea, wasn’t it?” Castiel says. “You could’ve just killed me but no, that wouldn’t have been enough. Oblivion is too easy; I had to remember. Well, thank you, Dean. With you here all the time, how can I possibly forget?”

Dean squeezes Castiel’s shoulder firmly. “Don’t ever change.”

“If we do not change, we do not learn,” Castiel replies. “If we do not learn, we do not grow, and if we do not grow, we’re inviting complacency and death of self. See, Dean? Not all your lessons are correct.”

Dean just keeps smiling.

It’s almost a relief to arrive in Bobby’s house. There are people in the other rooms, but their voices fade to background noise when Castiel goes into Bobby’s study.

Castiel opens his hands and scratches a new line just under his wrist. Some previous marks have turned into scabs and the earliest ones are gone entirely, but even so, something is better than nothing.

It’s a nice touch, he thinks, that his captor only left him with the most basic human abilities. Everything has been recreated faithfully except Castiel himself – he can’t fly or hear or see, but he can bleed – which Castiel takes to be the obvious fingerprint of a Trickster. After all, Castiel has been in a similar situation before under Gabriel’s hand. Gabriel’s dead now, but he’s not the only powerful being in the universe with a twisted sense of humor.

Though to be honest, Castiel doesn’t really care to know how it was done. Just because this cage has scenery doesn’t make it any less what it is.

“Everybody get in here!” Bobby yells. He pokes at his camera and wheels back when Ellen, Dean, Sam and Jo scuffle their way into the room.

The puppets are all recreated down to their most minute detail. Castiel would be impressed if he weren’t aware of how much power it takes to set up a self-contained universe like this. Not all gods are equal. Castiel knows because he’s killed a few.

“Anyway,” Bobby says gruffly. “I’m gonna need something to remember your sorry asses by.”

Sam’s hand lands on Castiel’s shoulder, forcing him to turn and join in the mockery.

Everyone’s looking at the camera, so Castiel looks at them each in turn: Bobby angry in his wheelchair, Ellen and Jo sweetly doomed, Sam and Dean the glue that holds everyone in this room together.

“You are grains of sand,” Castiel says. “So small as to be miniscule, yet you changed the world and spat in the face of destiny.” It’s the wrong line, but everyone still reacts on cue: Ellen with her surprised blink, Jo’s turning to Dean hesitantly, Sam’s hand tightening on Castiel’s shoulder.

“I didn’t underestimate you.” Castiel thinks of Balthazar’s smug face accusing him of weakness, but the thought passes quickly. “If anything, I overestimated you, and your ability to eventually see things my way.”

The click of Bobby’s camera is loud.

Perhaps a change of strategy is in order. Castiel has done all of the obvious: searched the perimeter, searched the props, cast the usual spells, and then cast every single spell that he still remembers. Time to move on to the less obvious.

“I should contemplate your motivations,” Castiel says. He’s in the Impala, Dean in the driver’s seat, faux sunlight spilling through the windows. “Understanding may be half the key. Such was the matter in Gabriel’s case, wasn’t it?”

Dean’s fingers do a dance over the steering wheel. “Thank fuck we’re almost there,” he mutters. “You’re the whiniest passenger ever, Cas.”

“The basis is clear.” The music is annoying, so Castiel turns off the radio. “What was it you said to me at the end, Dean? This is for your own good.

Of course it had been Dean at the end, eager to finish what he’d started with Castiel. Dean may not have been the one who’d built this box, but he’d certainly had a hand in its design. Castiel can just imagine it: Dean, Sam and Bobby in Bobby’s house discussing how to take Castiel out, with Dean the loudest voice of them all, insisting that his way be the only way.

And of course the last memory Castiel has of the outside world is of Dean’s face darkened in anger, blood dripping from his fingers and the stench of old magic all around him.

It makes for a delightful contrast with the Dean puppet currently sitting next to Castiel. The puppet is humming and occasionally making a sound that’s the imitation of an electric guitar.

“Your decisions are, naturally, more important than mine,” Castiel says. He’d almost forgotten to put another mark on his hands. He fixes that now, using a little more space than necessary in the middle of Jimmy’s forearm.

Dean bursts with laughter, eyes crinkling with humor when he glances over. “How can you not know AC/DC?” He reaches over to knock his knuckles against Castiel’s arm. “Look, the journey is half the fun of any trip like this. You definitely miss out when you nose-twitch your way. No, it’s efficient to you. Travelling is an experience all in itself, just go with this lesson, ‘kay?”

Lesson? Castiel looks at him sharply. “You wouldn’t.”

Yes, a bona fide experience, Cas,” Dean says, chuckling. “Hey, don’t give me that look.”

The Impala comes to a stop outside a police station. Dean turns to Castiel, his grin broad with satisfaction. “Now that wasn’t so bad, was it, cloud-hopper?” He steps out of the car. “Great, we made it in one piece.”

Castiel follows.

Dean moves swiftly around the Impala, saying, “And we’re here, why?” He tugs the sleeve of his suit, tweaking his uniform in preparation for a performance. “And he still has eyes? What’s the plan?”

Castiel watches Dean move. He’s perfectly formed in every way, as beautiful as the truth Castiel knows is out there, but hollow where it counts. Castiel scowls.

“Is this supposed to teach me a lesson, Dean? Is all this softness – these reminders of when I was entirely pliable – supposed to make me want to go back to being that way?” Gabriel used to let loose his test subjects in places like these, using his ideas of humor and humility to bear down his lessons.

“Seriously?” Dean says, so incredulously that Castiel can almost pretend that they’re having an actual conversation. “You’re going to walk in there and tell him the truth? Because we’re humans.” He pulls out a fake FBI badge that he places in Jimmy’s jacket –  even lying requires the occasional prop – and moves with proprietary confidence to Jimmy’s tie.

The badge feels stupidly heavy in Castiel’s coat. “Do you intend to keep me here until I feel sorry? Is that what this is about?”

“And when humans want something really, really bad, we lie.” The flat slant of Dean’s mouth belies his good humor. “Because that’s how you become President.”

Castiel huffs, “Or a god.”

Dean wanders off, leaving Castiel to tilt his head up towards to the sun and clouds up above. He has no illusions that they are the real sun and clouds; the information that Jimmy’s eyes, ears and skin tell him is all part of the conspiracy keeping him here. “I think this is what you would call irony.”

At the hands of mere humans, Castiel is now a minotaur in a maze, a god in a toy box.

“Some parts are turning blurry,” Castiel confesses. It’s the first time he’s said it out loud. “Sometimes I lose my concentration entirely. That can’t be a good thing.”

Ellen smirks and says, “You watch me first, ‘kay, Cas?”

Castiel remembers the last time he’d felt this way. It had been in the aftermath of the stand-off with his brothers outside the Green Room, where he’d been thrown off the coast and awoken trapped in Jimmy’s flesh. The world had felt so small, Jimmy’s body as tight as a vice, but the most unexpected thing of all had been the fog in his head. No wonder, he had thought at the time, that humans were so scatter-brained and difficult. They couldn’t see time or hear reality or hold on to everything that is necessary to retain control and clarity of thought.

This is very similar.

“All right, big boy,” Ellen says. “Go.”

The alcohol burns its journey down Castiel’s throat. This is one part where the recreations aren’t accurate. Much like how his fingernails can leave open tracks on his skin, the alcohol he drinks settles in his stomach and sends a cloud of thickness up into his head. He is no longer untouched.

“Salut,” Castiel says. He slowly works his way up the line of shots, coughing intermittently.

Jo’s slow smile of warm surprise is still lovely.

“It’s the loss of control that I despise,” Castiel says, putting the last shot glass mouth-down on the table. “That’s always been true, even during my earlier tenure under Selaphiel’s charge. It’s like...” He pauses, blinking away his eyes’ attempt to go unfocused. “I’d never seen Lucifer’s cage. We weren’t allowed, you see. Forbidden, much like a lot of... other things. But things that are forbidden find ways to ensnare our imagination with longing. Not that angels had a lot of imagination.” Castiel frowns. “What was I talking about?”

Ellen mutters something, the words barely audible.

“Of course you don’t know,” Castiel says, waving his fingers at her. Silly human fingers that only have a finite number of nerve endings and can only touch a limited number of things. “You’re just elaborately rendered dolls sent by your masters to ensure that I will never let these petty moments go. Well, you can tell them that it’s not working.”

Castiel shifts in his chair and tries to ignore the ache in his phantom limbs.

Fine. Maybe Crowley had a point.

“Balthazar said he didn’t like you much,” Castiel says. He feels a pang at the thought of his brother, but brushes the feeling aside. Balthazar is dead and didn’t have any role in Castiel’s predicament, so he can’t be important. “I thought he was only joking at the time, but I suppose lots of things are clearer in retrospect.”

Dean is sitting across from him, his smile sharp with a mischievous, anticipatory edge. Castiel has all the time in the world to watch Dean’s facial tics, now that he is free of Dean’s grumbling and grouching about the sanctity of personal space. So Castiel braces his chin on his hand and observes the nature of Dean when he is hoarding his shallow distractions, his warmth and affection genuine.

In retrospect, Castiel can see how these moments between them were so fragile. Towards the end, after Castiel declared his long-term goals of saving the world from itself, Dean had no more smiles like this left to offer. Oh, he still had his bad jokes and vague references and decorative threats, but no more of this casual kindness.

“Dude,” Dean replies, “You full-on rebelled against Heaven. Inequity is one of the perks.”

“Is it?” Castiel wonders aloud. He gamely swallows down the last of his beer, determined to ignore its foul taste. “I suppose if you’re going by the experiences of Gabriel and Balthazar, then it has to be true.”

Free will and a buffet of choices. (Just because you can do what you want, doesn’t mean that you get to do whatever you want.) Outside, that had meant big choices, life-changing choices, choices that carried weight and pushed the fulcrum of the world. The small choices he’d made were only distractions – imbibing the contents of a liquor store, kissing Meg – but maybe that’s where things went awry. Humans grow up starting with small choices and work their way up; Castiel did it the other way around.

Castiel doesn’t look up when Chastity approaches. He prefers to watch Dean’s eyes, Dean’s smirk, and the barely-there wink Dean sends his way.

“Balthazar knew,” Castiel says. “So did Uriel and Crowley, I suppose. They could see the sway you held with me. They recognized it for what it was.”

“His name is Cas,” Dean says helpfully to the woman standing by their table. “What’s your name?”

“Is that what you want?” Castiel runs his finger across the rim of the mug, flicking the last remaining droplets of beer at Dean. It’s petty, but it’s not as though there’s anyone watching to think lesser of him. “Is that part of the lesson you’re trying to teach me? You want me to know how useless I am? How weak I am, in that you were able to best me? Congratulations.” (Just a baby in a trench coat.)

“Is that kismet or what, buddy?” Dean says. “Well, he likes you, you like him, so dayenu.”

“What I had was a gift, Dean,” Castiel says, wincing when Chastity pulls him to his feet. “I could’ve fixed everything, given you and Sam the happiness you’ve always deserved. I hope that wherever you are, it’s—”

No. Even now, Castiel does not have it in him to finish that thought.

Wherever Dean is, he must be with Sam. Assuming that they’re unchanged by whatever it cost for them to bind Castiel here, they’re probably still hunting, still trying to make a difference in their painstakingly slow, day-to-day way (oh, the things Castiel could have done for them). Maybe they’ve already set thoughts of Castiel aside; the key’s thrown away, the locks buried, the case closed. Maybe he’s just another notch in the Winchesters’ long list of accomplishments.

“He’d do that,” Castiel tells Chastity, when they sit down on the bed. “Dean’s regrets haunt him. They can drown him whenever he has only the night and alcohol for company, but that’s the extent of what he’ll allow. When the morning comes he pushes them off so that he may continue with his work.”

“Interested in anything in specific, sugar?” Chastity asks, coy and forward at the same time. Her fingers pull teasingly at Jimmy’s tie and coat. “I can do requests.”

“Yes, I think it’s far more likely that Dean has simply forgotten—” Castiel shifts uncomfortably while Chastity kisses his neck, “—about me. After all, he was able to walk away from Sam falling into Lucifer’s cage, and Sam is far more important than me.”

“What?” Chastity pulls back, her face pale. Her face contorts in confusion and anger. “What – how – how did you know about...?”

“Then again...” Castiel gets to his feet when Chastity pushes at him, “Dean doesn’t take the term ‘family’ lightly. That should mean something, shouldn’t it?” He thinks of Dean’s face twisted into expressions far different from the cheerful puppetry that are Castiel’s current companions. “But Dean is also a liar. And he was afraid. When it comes right down to it, we all present a front in order to achieve our goals. Isn’t that right, Chastity?”

“Get out, you freak!” Chastity screams, shoving him through the doorway. “I’ll kill you!”

Castiel stands there and waits.

“The hell did you do?” Dean demands, stalking towards Castiel. He boggles at Chastity, who’s screaming her way down the hallway. “Oh, no, man.”

“Corruption,” Castiel says. He doesn’t protest when Dean pulls him away from the bouncers and out of the building. It’s no different from Chastity pushing him around, or Sam guiding his hand, or Dean fixing his tie.

Castiel just goes. He follows Dean down the stairs and waits while Dean laughs.

“Oh, nothing,” Dean says, his fingers tight on Castiel’s shoulder.

Castiel turns away. He’s stopped trying to shake him off, preferring to save his energy for other things.

“Whoo. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed that hard. It’s been more than a long time.” Dean takes a slow breath. “Years.”

In doing these things and bringing him close, Dean made Castiel familiar. He gave him a name, taught him to be curious, subtly reshaped his ideals into new form. The seduction could be considered elegant, if Dean had known what he’d been doing.

“It all comes back to you,” Castiel says. He turns away from Dean’s smile. “Wherever you are, I hope you’re happy.”

Castiel half-rolls, half-shoves Jimmy’s sleeves up his arms. He has the nagging feeling that he’s forgotten something, but the scars near his elbows don’t tell him what it is.

Perhaps he’d found a clue, earlier, on how to escape this hall of mirrors. Perhaps he’d put that clue on the only thing that remains constant here so he wouldn’t forget it. Not that knowing that helps much, since he’s apparently forgotten it anyway.

“Hey, man,” Dean says from the driver’s seat, “you okay?”

“Did you know what you were doing when you sent me here?” Castiel asks. “Are you the key, Dean? Are you seal?” It’s hard not to think about how all the other cages Castiel has known could only be opened from the outside.

“Dude,” Dean says, concern rising off him like a stench. He pulls the Impala over, the engine turning into a soft purr when she stops. “What’s up with you, Cas?”

“Surely you would have left something for me.” Jimmy’s hands are involuntarily clenching into fists. “You are consistent. Even when the world was about to burn you held true to the convictions of your heart. Save the innocents. Value life. Second chances are always worthwhile. You’d give me a second chance, wouldn’t you, Dean?”

Dean has no answers. The unhappy downward curve of his mouth doesn’t change shape, not even when Castiel rises up and climbs across the narrow space between them. There is barely any room in the Impala but Castiel makes room, sitting in Dean’s lap and holding Dean’s face between his fingers.

“You wouldn’t leave me in here, would you, Dean?” Castiel holds the points of Dean’s head to keep him still, trying to look through the shallow worry of the puppet’s eyes. “Surely you have an exit for me. Surely there’s a... there are things I can do to earn my leave. This place, it’s a riddle, isn’t it?”

“Don’t worry, Cas,” Dean says kindly. He’s tilted his head up to look Castiel in the eye, but that is the extent of his unscripted response. Dean doesn’t blink when Castiel’s hands move down the sides of his face to wrap around his neck, thumbs pressing into the hollow of his throat. Dean says, “We’ll think of something.”

Jimmy’s vocal cords are inadequate for the sound Castiel wishes to make.

Castiel rises off Dean to make his escape but hits his head against the Impala’s ceiling. Castiel’s teeth knock together but it’s more embarrassing than painful.

“Surely,” Castiel says through gritted teeth, “this cannot be all there is to it.”

Sam shakes him awake. The touch is gentle but Castiel’s eyes snap open, awareness hitting him like a blast of noise.

Castiel sits up so abruptly that it’s just lucky he didn’t slam into Sam’s chin.

“You’ve been out almost a day,” Sam says. He shifts to allow Castiel more space on the motel bed, and then presses a cup of water into Castiel’s hands. “Thought you might be thirsty. We were getting worried.”

“I’m sure you were.” Castiel takes the cup and drinks.

“Dean’s getting us something to eat,” Sam says, quiet and unsure. He watches as Castiel gets to his feet and starts pacing the room. “You do eat, don’t you? Your vessel needs sustenance?”

“It could be you, I suppose,” Castiel says, wiping a hand over his damp mouth. “You were angrier than Dean, I think, at the end. Dean held the fuse because that’s what he does, but you were probably seething in the background somewhere. You always burned hotter, Sam, didn’t you? Still angry at me because I couldn’t fulfill your lofty expectations?”

Sam just blinks up at Castiel.

“Well, you’re not perfect either, Sam,” Castiel hisses. “Don’t give me that look.”

They both turn when the door opens.

“Hey, Cas, you’re up,” Dean says, kicking the door shut behind him. He puts the plastic bags he’s carrying on the table. “No hangover, Cas? Good. Let’s eat.”

“Dean,” Sam chides softly. “You really should slow down, Cas. We appreciate it, we really do, but everyone’s got to recharge. Even angels. It took a lot out of you to send us back through time. No, stop it. Yes, I know you have to keep searching for God but you need to – Dean, make him stop.”

Dean busies himself chewing on a French fry. “I can’t make Cas do anything. Ain’t that right, Cas?”

“Seriously.” Castiel feels dizzy, his throat is parched, none of his body’s reactions makes sense. “What will it take? Is it an apology you want? My swearing allegiance to you? Honesty in my heart as I grovel for forgiveness for wrongs you believe I have done?”

“He’s a big boy, he can take care of himself,” Dean says, unwrapping a burger.

Sam grabs Castiel’s forearm, holding him still. “I insist, Cas. Okay?”

“I could have made everything better.” Castiel closes his eyes. Sam’s hand feels abnormally heavy. “I don’t understand why you didn’t want that, too.”

“Try it with ketchup,” Dean says.

As an experiment (it’s not like he has anything else to do), Castiel splays his hands out on either side of his body and tries to remain still. The body, however, is weak and restless, and can only manage a few seconds before it starts twitching. Castiel remembers the time when he’d been able to stand guard for centuries without pause or complaint. He’d known that the box had changed something fundamental in him, but this much?

Castiel can barely stand a few more seconds of Sam and Dean’s inane chatter before he crumples.

“Nah, Cas strikes me as a burrito kinda guy,” Dean mutters.

“I hope you choke on it,” Castiel says.

The transitions feel a little like waking up, in the way that riding in the Impala feels a little like flying. One moment, Castiel is standing in a motel room trying to block out Winchester banter; the next, he’s in the backseat of Ellen Harvelle’s car, watching grey scenery go by. The shift is as smooth as the turning between dark and light whenever Jimmy’s eyelids blink.

It isn’t jarring at all, which is what bothers Castiel the most.

“It won’t be long now,” Ellen says. She glances up at the rearview mirror, catching Castiel’s eye and smiling.

Moving from one set piece to another is as soft as a sun’s new rays under Castiel’s wings, or as natural as closing his eyes (his eyes, not Jimmy’s eyes) and finding himself having moved to precisely  where he wants to be. It is easy, effortless. Nothing at all like the discordant experience of his initial slipping into Jimmy’s body and having to make do with three dimensions.

“You doing okay back there, Cas?” Jo asks, turning around in her seat. She is riding shotgun to Ellen’s pilot. “You mind if I turn on some tunes?”

It is almost comfortable to be here, if Castiel stops thinking. Which he does, sometimes, for stretches of time he can no longer keep track of. It isn’t like he’ll miss anything, anyway.

Assuming that any of this is real, of course.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” Castiel says, “If I’m actually in a coma, and this is all a dream?”

“Dean’s into his cock rock, you shouldn’t always listen to him.” Jo fiddles with the radio, pressing buttons that change the music pulsing through the car. “We should try to find out what you like.”

“What kind of music do you have in Heaven?” Ellen asks, glancing up at the mirror again. “Do you guys have music?”

Castiel stares at the back of Ellen’s head. “No, I don’t think that’d be funny at all.”

The sudden touch to his shoulder makes Castiel pull back defensively, but the movement is so abrupt that he loses his balance and falls to the ground. Jimmy’s knees do not thank him.

“Don’t ever change.”

Castiel glares up at Dean. “One of the very first things you did when we met was to invite me to change.” He laughs, the sound absurdly loud in the quiet night. “Challenge my orders, challenge my superiors, challenge everything I have ever known. Wasn’t that your mission, Dean?”

Castiel experimentally kicks a foot out, catching Dean’s shin and forcing him to stumble backwards. It’s a small victory but a victory nonetheless.

“We must change,” Castiel says. “Or we remain stagnant and die. Did you think I would have forgotten that? But I know what you mean by this hypocrisy. You want me to be what you want, not what I want.”

This Dean has no comment for that. The real Dean has so many comments that his mouth can barely contain them all. Castiel doesn’t know which one he loathes more.

“I could say that I regret the decisions I’ve made.” Castiel slowly gets to his feet, satisfied that this Dean’s eyes are at least able to track his movement. “But you wouldn’t believe me, would you?”

Puppet Dean, doll Dean, malleable Dean. Castiel reaches out to cup his chin, stubble and strong jaw under his fingers. Castiel can hear the echo of Dean’s voice (we’ve talked about this; personal space) but this shell’s ability to imitate is severely lacking. He does not say anything as Castiel curls his fingernails into the flesh of his cheeks.

Castiel could press in all the way to bone, if he wanted. This Dean will not complain.

Instead, Castiel leans in and asks against Dean’s mouth, “What do you want from me?”

“You could just tell me,” Castiel says.

Sam tosses his head to get the bangs out of his eyes. He smiles sheepishly, both his hands occupied as he fills up the Impala with gas. He’s talking patiently about mileage, the difference between leaded and unleaded, and why Castiel should never ever make a jab at the Impala if Dean’s within listening distance.

Castiel stands in front of Sam, trying to find a soul inside the doll’s eyes. “You could just tell me what to do.”

“Is the message in the arrangement?” Castiel asks. “Is it in what’s being said? Or what’s not being said?”

Bobby rolls forward in his wheelchair, reaching up to adjust the camera on his tripod. When he’s ready, he shouts, “Everybody get here!” which brings the others in, sober camaraderie in the way they arrange themselves for a photograph that Dean burned a long time ago.

Castiel lets Sam manhandle him into position, joining the others in standing before the camera.

“What am I not seeing?” he asks.

“All right, big boy,” Ellen says. “Go.”

Castiel carefully tips over all the shot glasses.

He sits back and regards Ellen.  “What do you want?”

Dean’s hands are confident, businesslike. He’s done this before. This isn’t unusual for him.

“And when humans want something really, really bad,” Dean says, fingers slipping away from Jimmy’s collar, “we lie.”

Castiel stares at Dean’s throat until he walks away.

“No, really, Cas,” Sam says, “the internet is a great source of information, but you’ve got to be careful about who to trust.”

From his vantage point on the floor, Castiel can look up Sam’s nostrils.

Castiel closes one eye, and then the other. It’s interesting how the angles of Sam’s face change.

“Nah,” Dean says dismissively, “Cas strikes me as a burrito kinda guy.”

This one is easy. All Castiel needs to do is just not get up.

Castiel is sitting on a bench. The sky and clouds are softly lit. There are children laughing in their playground.

In the next bench, Dean’s face is a dark mess of emotions. He glances sideways at Castiel, solemn and suspicious and angry. “Your orders were to follow my orders?” Dean huffs softly. “It was a witch. Not the Tet Offensive.”

Castiel watches the children play. It’s very beautiful.

It’s pointless to deny it now.

The power of the box holds strong. Castiel can feel it bearing down on him from all sides, effortless and effective. No matter what Castiel does, or how Castiel acts, or what Castiel promises, the script holds true.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed that hard,” Dean says. “It’s been more than a long time. Years.”

Castiel looks down at Jimmy’s small, useless hands.

At first Castiel isn’t sure what he’s looking at, or why he’s looking at it.

Chastity is all clumsy flesh and cloth as she climbs into his lap, fingers tugging at the collar of his trench coat. “Interested in anything specific, sugar? I can do requests.” She moves forward, blocking his view.

Castiel leans to one side.

There is a new shadow in one of the corners of the room. A dark patch of non-light, almost hovering above its surroundings, its texture and color marking it as separate. It’s approximately the size of a large dog, or a small hellhound. Jimmy’s eyes can’t tell Castiel anything else.

“What?” Chastity sputters in disbelief. “What – how – how did you know about...?”

Castiel keeps his eyes on the shadow for as long as he can, right until Chastity decisively kicks him out of the room. Dean stomps down the hallway to collect him, confused and indignant. Castiel lets Dean drag him outside, and waits through Dean’s mirth.

The shadow is on the ground next to the Impala, still watching him.

“It’s been more than a long time,” Dean says. “Years.”

This is new.

The shadow doesn’t make another appearance for a while. The gap is long enough that Castiel doubts that he saw it all.

Then during one of Sam’s many poetic monologues on the Impala, Castiel sees it.

It’s sitting by the clear glass doors of the gas station’s convenience store. Dean is inside the store, moving between the shelves and gathering paper-covered food items in his arms. The shadow doesn’t seem to care about Dean, pulsing softly at the foot of the store as it watches Castiel.

The lighting is better here, but the shadow’s features remain cloudy and indistinct. Many creatures can take forms like these, denying physical shape for any of the numerous possible reasons. Some of those creatures are even harmless.

“I know Dean can get a little... carried away sometimes,” Sam is saying, “but she’s one of the few things that have been constant in his life. In our lives.”

Castiel decides to make it a game. Identify the Shadow’s Location, as it were.

It’s usually tucked somewhere unobtrusive, small and quiet as though pretending that it’s part of the scenery. It’s been under the Impala, up in a tree branch, between the legs of an otherwise unmemorable table. Whenever Castiel spots it, he keeps his eyes on it, waiting for movement that never comes.

Castiel finds that he’s almost reluctant to do something about it. Its existence is proof of the unknown parts of Castiel’s maze, but it could be no more useful than lint, brushed away to nothing, or it could be Castiel’s exit, right before his eyes.

He almost laughs at that. No, it wouldn’t be that easy.

Still, he considers the notion. It is easy to think up accompanying fiction – maybe Dean is on the other side, working frantically with Sam to get him out. Since they’re only humans, their magic is probably weak, and maybe this is the extent of their power. Maybe Dean is waiting at this exact moment, saying, Dammit, Cas, we’re throwing you a line here, take it.

It’s nice fantasy, if Castiel doesn’t think about it too closely.

It is in Sam and Dean’s motel room, after Sam has given Castiel his drink of water, that Castiel receives a proper guest.

It’s been a while, but Castiel remembers how to speak. “Atropos?”

She is startled as Castiel feels. He can no longer see her true face, but her external guise is what it was the last time they’d seen each other – fair hair, spectacles, a notebook tucked in the crook of her arm.

For a long moment Atropos stares at him, unblinking and unspeaking as though she, too, is a puppet waiting for her cue. She is startled into action when Dean suddenly enters the room; she takes a quick step out of the way, arms drawn close to her body as though in disgust.

“I didn’t believe them,” Atropos says, surprise and horror tainting her voice. “They said you were here, but I didn’t... I had to see for myself.”

“And now you have.” Castiel sits up on the bed, moving his legs so that Jimmy’s feet rest on the floor. “What’s your verdict?”

To Castiel’s surprise, Atropos approaches him, almost dropping to her knees so that their eyes are level. Atropos is the kindest of her sisters, but the hand she places on his arm is a shock all of its own.

“This is blasphemy,” Atropos says fiercely. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Then let me out.” Castiel grasps her hand between his. The Fates pride themselves on never playing favorites, but Castiel knows that he and Atropos had been friends. He’d even made her smile, once. “Help me return to where I do belong, Atropos.”

She isn’t listening. She’s staring at Castiel, too many emotions behind the sheen of her glasses, not that Castiel was all that good at reading the twitches of human muscles in the first place. He thinks he can see wonder, anger and regret.

Atropos speaks softly, as though parting a terrible secret. “They said that they come here sometimes.”


“Angels, mostly.” She sits down next to Castiel on the bed, not moving her hand from where it’s tucked between his. “I was listening in for rumors, but there are so many. Most of them are untrue, anyway, and I thought this was one of them, it was so unbelievable. But that seems to be what you do, isn’t it, Castiel? You break new frontier wherever you go.”

“It had to be done,” Castiel says.

Atropos starts in surprise. “You still think that? Even now?”

“You knew Raphael almost as well you know me,” Castiel says. “He would not have stopped until he’d gotten what he wanted – domination over all the worlds.”

“Which, of course, made him completely different from you.” Atropos sighs, a harsher edge in her words when she says, “They come and gawk at you, Castiel. You’re an example.”

“But I am,” Castiel says, brushing aside his surprise at having visitors he hadn’t known about. “I am an example of what happens when one thinks above their station. Isn’t that the term for it?”

“I wish you peace, Castiel,” Atropos says, pulling away and getting to her feet. “We’ve had our differences but—”

“You are a goddess.” Castiel spreads his hands – Jimmy’s hands – to show their weakness. “You are destiny incarnate. I am at your mercy, and I’m asking for it now.”

“This is beyond me,” she replies, but not unkindly. “Even my sisters can’t – and won’t – interfere. But I can send a message, if you want?”

“To whom? No one cares that I’m in here.”

“Oh?” Atropos’ mouth thins. “That’s because you killed most of your friends, isn’t it?”

“Don’t you start,” Castiel snaps. He tries not to think about Balthazar, Elon, Rachel, Mordecai.

“You tried to have me killed, too, you know,” Atropos reminds him. “It’s a wonder I even bother with you at all anymore.” She awkwardly pats him on the arm; physical touch has never been their strong suit. “Be content, Castiel. This is your fate.”

“I’ve upended fate before.”

“Then I wish you luck upending this one as well,” she says with a complete lack of sincerity. Atropos starts to turn away, but changes her mind and leans forward to say, “Dean Winchester’s the one who asked me to check on you.”

Castiel goes still.

By the time he snaps out of it, Atropos is gone and he’s missed an entire transition, the motel room having already changed into Bobby’s study. Castiel’s no longer sitting on a bed, but on Bobby’s desk.

Castiel leaves the study, finds Dean in the next room, and grabs his collar.

“Why would you do that?” Castiel drags Dean to his feet. Dean looks at him, and though his eyes are perfectly formed they lack the fierce spark that had been but one of the many things that made Castiel believe. “Why, Dean?”

Castiel thinks he can hear Dean’s voice in his ears: What’re you talking about, Cas? We’re family. Family means dropping in once ‘a while to sure everyone’s okay.

Wishful thinking.

“I knew you had this in you, Dean.” Jimmy’s throat is suddenly too thick. “But I never thought you might...”

“Everybody get in here!” Bobby shouts from the other room.

Dean moves suddenly, grabbing Castiel’s forearms. He’s strong, far stronger than Castiel is here, and his hands are like manacles of stone.

“What?” Castiel says in surprise.

Dean blinks slowly.

Sam’s hands land on Castiel’s shoulders, his fingers as unyielding as Dean’s.

Castiel used to be an angel, Castiel used to be a god. Now he has no idea what he is, only that the he feels pushed to the very edge of Jimmy’s skin and sinew and muscles. This form is smaller and weaker than Dean and Sam, so he is smaller and weaker than Dean and Sam.

Dean and Sam drag him to Bobby’s study, obedient to the script no matter how Castiel curses and bites and tries to pull his way to freedom.

The click of Bobby’s camera is obscenely loud.

With Sam’s hand locking him in place, it finally sinks in that Castiel is as pliant and useless as his companions.

Once, in a moment of weakness, Castiel raised a hand to Dean. He’d used Jimmy’s fists to express a rage he hadn’t been able to understand, let alone control. In the brief respite afterward, Dean had joked that Castiel had a temper as bad as Sam’s. Castiel hadn’t entirely understood the reference, but he’d figured out that by letting yourself care about another, that gives them ammunition against you.

Castiel has used that ammunition. So has Dean. In fact, at end it had been nothing but ammunition between them.

“Dude, you full-on rebelled against Heaven,” Dean points out. “Inequity is one of the perks.”

Castiel can feel that same slow burn of anger now as he looks at Dean. It’s a wonder that he hasn’t tried using Dean’s face to tear down the walls of this place. That’s an ugly thought – uglier than the others Castiel’s had so far – but still Jimmy’s hands curl into fists, the knuckles remembering the feel of Dean’s jaw.

Perhaps that’s what this cage does. Perhaps it strips down everything else, wearing down the extraneous bullshit until what’s left behind is just what’s important.

And what’s important is that the last thing Castiel remembers, from before he was put here, was Dean standing over him.

“You doing okay back there, Cas?” Jo asks. “You mind if I turn on some tunes?”

When Castiel started working with Crowley, he’d made a promise to himself.

Dean and Sam had moved the world, paid their dues, and afterwards still had other things to deal with. How could’ve Castiel considered himself worthy of free will if he couldn’t handle his own problems? It made sense, Castiel knows it did, yet Dean had a way of tearing it all down, twisting every choice he’d made without Dean’s approval into something ugly and stupid.

Still, there are some things Castiel knows for sure. He knows that Dean and Sam deserved more than to be caught up in the war with Raphael. He knows that it was only right he do everything he could (lies are such easy tools) to keep them out of it. He knows that it would have been a mistake to burden them again after everything they’d been through.

He knew that by doing things his way, Castiel would not need to blame them if things went wrong.

In that one moment of weakness, Castiel could have killed Dean. Then he’d been proven wrong, and Castiel promised that he’d never allow it to come to that again. He would not rely on Dean that way anymore.

“All right, big boy,” Ellen says. “Go.”

Oh, Castiel understands why they’d tried to stop him. Dean and Sam fear what they don’t know and cannot control. (‘Family’ is but lip service).

Castiel barely blinked when Sam tried to kill him. The angel knife was sharp, though Castiel hadn’t known for sure until that moment whether it would have any effect on him.

Sam has his reasons. Sam knows about difficult choices that need to be made. Sam understandably fears corruption.

Dean has reasons of his own, but he’s more predictable in his selfishness. Even when the world was about to fall apart, he stood by his brother. Castiel isn’t Sam, will never be Sam, but if Crowley were alive he would attest to Castiel’s inclination to be just as selfish as Dean: Don’t hurt the Winchesters, don’t involve the Winchesters, don’t corrupt the Winchesters by bringing them into this.

It’s because Castiel was too selfish to think clearly that Dean was able to deliver the blow that felled him. Impossible odds, since Dean and Sam are human, but Castiel supposes impossible odds mean little to those who stopped the Apocalypse with a car.

“Thought you might be thirsty,” Sam says. “We were getting worried.”

What about Dean’s uncanny ability to lure angels over to his cause? Did Dean use the same words on Balthazar that he’d used on Castiel?

Free will, he’d said.

Well, Castiel’s first act of free will was to turn traitor. He wasn’t the one who ended up smiting Zachariah, but he might as well have. Castiel’s not so foolish as to think that he was pure before knowing Dean; he was obedient before knowing Dean, which is hardly the same thing. Still, the fact remains that his first decision to rise from thought and conscious and emotion and doubt was: turn against his own family.

Maybe that inaugural choice tainted everything that Castiel’s ever done since, maybe that’s why he deserved his turn in being betrayed. What goes around comes around, so Castiel’s heard the saying.

“Everybody get in here!” Bobby yells.

Maybe that’s what this place is. It is in being here that Castiel can look back and see that none of it was real. That he, Castiel, was a means to an end, and that when real stakes were on the line, Dean would and had cast Castiel aside.

It makes sense. It explains how Dean, reeking of fresh blood, had stood over Castiel’s prone form, completing the task that he’d promised. (I’ll stop you, however I can.) He’d found magic that Castiel had no defense for, and used it without remorse.

In the end, Dean felled Castiel because he was inconvenient, he was in the way, he was holding Dean back.

Castiel can relate to that. It means that he and Dean are not too different, after all.

“Don’t ever change,” Dean says. This isn’t really Dean but it’s as close as he’s going to get, so Castiel grabs the puppet’s collar and pulls him close.

Castiel hisses, “You’re not better than me. You’re not.”

Atropos has no reason to lie. She is efficient, and lies are too much trouble for the likes of her.

Dean cannot be asking anyone about how Castiel is doing. Dean refused to side with Castiel the one time he asked. Dean said the words that drained Castiel of the power he’d lost so much to gain. Dean is the last face Castiel saw before it all ended. Dean put Castiel here.

“You’re supposed,” Castiel heaves for breath, “to have forgotten about me.”

Jimmy’s legs wobble beneath Castiel, weak like the rest of him. His balance is shot, so Castiel sways and brings Dean with him, unwilling to let go and uncaring about the possible invisible visitors (let them see, let him be an example).

Castiel has no more shame left.

He presses his face to Dean’s shoulder and holds on.

Castiel almost forgets about the shadow. He sees it again when Ellen lines up her shot glasses and pours; one glass is filled with darkness, curls of smoke spilling over the edges. Castiel notices this, but the information passes through a curtain of disinterest.

What has Castiel’s attention is how Ellen is smiling faintly, the incline of her head an invitation for Castiel to proceed. “Do you think Dean told Atropos to say that?” Castiel asks. “Or did she only say it to provoke me?”

When Sam wakes Castiel up in the motel, one of the side table’s lamps has a light bulb of black. It pulses gently, but otherwise doesn’t affect the lighting of the room. Castiel rolls away, sits up, and looks at Sam.

“What did she mean, Dean asked her to check on me?” Castiel tips Sam’s glass of water over, watching the liquid trail a river over the edge of the bed. “Was she to check whether I’m alive? Does Dean think that maybe I might’ve died in here?”

Sam berates Castiel gently, insisting that he get some rest.

“I think it would’ve been neater if Dean just killed me, right?” Castiel tells Sam. “Neater for all of us. You certainly agreed on that part. Then there would be no checking up on me, since he’s the one who shut me in here. Well, both of you.”

In the brothel, the shadow turns up in Dean’s glass of beer.

“Is it because you feel guilty, Dean?” Castiel leans down and blows at the sad remnants of the beer’s foam. “Are you thinking about your hand in all of what happened?” When Chastity arrives, he bats her hands away until she proves her strength, lifting him bodily from the chair to fulfill the script.

Castiel drags his feet and calls out, “Do you regret not stopping me sooner, Dean?”

The Impala is actually quite comfortable, once one gets used to the seats.

“I think Atropos may have meant to only collect information,” Castiel says. He stretches out his legs, toeing Jimmy’s shoes off in the process. “She did hint as such, didn’t she, Dean? When she said that she needed to see for herself?”

He glances over at Dean, who’s frowning faintly.

“I know.” Castiel sighs, tapping his feet against the Impala floor. “That’s the thing about gods and demi-gods. They get very pedantic about wording. You asked her to ‘check in’ on me.” He curls his fingers together to make the air quotes. “But what does that mean, really?”

Dean murmurs his concern, the quiet rumble of his voice almost soothing.

“To check in, as one would a motel?” Castiel wonders. “Or as in to enquire about my state of being? And if the latter, what manner of enquiry and information does the seeker need?”

When Dean pulls the car over, Castiel tilts over in his seat until he can bend his knees and lift his feet to the window. It’s an interesting sensation, glass against his soles of his feet. When he tilts his head back, he can observe Dean’s face from a unique angle. The shadow is watching him from a lamp post outside.

“Or was it a throwaway line to curb a vague sense of responsibility?” Castiel stretches his arm, poking a finger at Dean’s chin. The feel of stubble against his fingertips is strange but not unpleasant. “I wonder if Atropos is watching right now. I know I would, if I were in her place. We watch.”

Dean’s frown deepens, which changes the shape of his mouth. Castiel trails his finger around Dean’s lips, then up a line from to Dean’s nose. Dean’s breaths of exhalation are warm against Castiel’s skin.

“Oh, stop with your complaints,” Castiel says, flicking a finger against Dean’s cheek. “Observation of humanity has been our task since near the beginning of time. I don’t expect you to understand. Wait.” He stretches in his seat, knocking the back of his head against some part of the car. “When was the last time we saw Bobby? You know, his study, the photograph before our stand in Carthage?”

Dean murmurs something unimportant.

“Don’t you remember,” Castiel adds, “That time I said that it would be our last night on earth. Or last day on earth, I can’t recall the exact wording. You’re better at lines than I am. Do you think that means something? I suppose you’re right, it’s nothing. This whole place is a lot of nothing. What do you think about Atropos?”

Castiel brings it up with Sam.

“I do believe that it’s been a while since we’ve seen Ellen’s car,” Castiel says. “It’s not as well-kept as the Impala, but pleasant enough for its function. Do you think that’s important? There’s only so many different scenarios we have together, but I rather miss that car.”

Sam mutters inanely about his laptop, uncaring.

Castiel hands are shaking when he grabs the lapels of Dean’s jacket. “It’s true,” he says, pulling Dean close. “Dean, you’re right, there’s something wrong. More wrong. Wrong of increased value.”

Dean affectionately mocks Castiel’s suggestion that they tell the truth.

“How long has it been since we’ve seen Bobby? Or Jo and Ellen? Or that motel with the bad wallpaper?” Castiel pauses, his attention temporarily caught by the sight of his knuckles, the skin paler than usual. He recovers when Dean’s hands move to Jimmy’s tie, fixing the knot. “Dean, what do we do? The cage is shrinking.”

“Because,” Dean says, “that’s how you become President.”

Castiel holds on to his jacket. “What do we do, Dean?”

At the last of it there are only the benches, the beautiful sky, and the playground.

No more shifts, no other puppets. There is only Castiel on one bench, Dean on the other, and vague unnamed children playing their never-ending games.

“Let me guess,” Dean says, side-eying Castiel. “You’re here for the ‘I told you so’.”

“I can’t,” Castiel says. His voice is a hoarse whisper now. “Dean, I can’t.”

The playground and the bench.

On one seat, Dean is turned furtively towards Castiel, cautious and wary but listening. “Your orders were to follow my orders?”

Castiel is on the ground. His trench coat is somewhere. Jimmy’s lungs and hands and eyes no longer obey him correctly.

“Forever, Dean?” Castiel asks.

The bench and the playground. The sounds of children playing, Dean sitting hunched forward, hands clasped and eyes slanted with cynicism.

This is how Castiel knows for sure. He’s no longer an angel nor a god, because angels and gods don’t feel like this when encased by stillness. Waiting was never like this, Castiel having used up the full extent Jimmy’s voice and hands and feet in search of an escape that doesn’t seem to exist.

Dean is a permanent fixture at the corner of Castiel’s eye. He’s still sitting there on the edge of bench, still and beautiful and a perfect mockery of the patience Castiel no longer has.

Maybe the shadow will come back and finish what it’s started.

Maybe Atropos will return with more than two words to share.



Castiel smiles. He can feels the muscles of Jimmy’s face moving, though he’s not entirely sure why they’re doing that. He just knows that he’s smiling, and Jimmy’s ears are lying to him again, telling him that that’s Dean’s voice and that there are footsteps approaching, when there has been no movement and no change and Castiel lost track of time so far back—

A face appears above him. It’s Dean, of course. “Cas, that you?”

Castiel blinks. He tries to identify this one – is it worried Dean from the Impala, or nosy Dean from the brothel, or hungry Dean from the motel? He hasn’t seen them in a while. He kind of misses them.

More footsteps approach, and then Sam’s saying, “Dean, you want to be careful.”

“It’s Cas, it’s really him.” Dean’s voice sounds so strange, full of things Castiel isn’t sure he understands anymore. Dean crouches down next to Castiel, following a new script that has him touching the remains of Jimmy’s shirt and slowly lifting up Castiel’s hand. “He doesn’t look so good. The langs might’ve got to him.”

“Yeah, I’m getting some major readings on that,” Sam says, somewhere off to the left. “I’m going to check the perimeter.”

Dean’s hands are careful as they push Jimmy’s cuffs down. It takes Castiel a moment to realize that Dean’s checking his pulse.

When he can stand it no longer, Castiel says, “Which one are you? I can’t figure it out.”

Dean’s smile is a little crooked, eyes fixated on Castiel’s wrist. “The real one.”

“That’s funny.” Castiel lets his gaze trail down Dean’s stubble-lined face to his dark shirt and jacket, the amulet hanging from his neck. He’s perfect, just like all the others, except for the few strands of grey lining his ears. “It’s almost as if you’re answering me.”

“Well, you did ask a question, Cas.” Dean buttons Castiel’s cuffs back up. “It’s only polite. Or so I’ve been told.”

Castiel goes still. His breath remains caught until Dean slowly lifts his eyes to meet his gaze. The green of Dean’s eyes do not hold an abyss. Dean sees Castiel.


Castiel scrambles to get up, his body clumsy and lethargic from lack of use. He whines his frustration until Dean’s hands land on him to help, palms sliding under Castiel’s arms to haul him up. Castiel allows the manhandling, stubbornly pushing past his dizziness to grab Dean’s face and kiss him.

Dean’s curse of surprise is muffled by the awkward mash of their lips but Castiel doesn’t care. His entire body is screaming for the scent and feel and taste of something true, so Castiel holds on to Dean and feasts.

At least, until Dean pushes him away.

“The hell, Cas?” Dean says. The rough growl and confused glare is genuine. It is rich and vibrant as the dawn after an endless night, and Castiel can’t help but sob his relief. Dean’s expression gentles. “Cas, you might want to breathe.”

Castiel nods. “I hate you, Dean.”

Dean blinks. After a moment, he shrugs. “Yeah, okay.” He carefully wipes down Castiel’s cheeks, smiling wryly when Castiel flinches.

“You cannot—” Castiel grabs on to Dean’s arms, clinging on to the last thing that is real, “—you cannot be here to gloat. Please tell me you’re not here to gloat, Dean.”

“Of course not, Cas,” Dean says, pulling the grass from Castiel’s hair. “Not really on my To Do list right now.”

“Good.” Castiel starts to sway into Dean’s space but holds himself back from sheer force of will. “Good. Now you can let me go.” When Dean scowls, Castiel squeezes Dean’s arms and says, “I said let me go. I don’t care what you’ve done with all the souls, but you can’t keep me in here anymore.”

Dean’s face goes a little strange. “Cas, we’re not—”

“Dean,” Sam says. He’s standing just over Dean’s shoulder, holding a shotgun and a device Castiel doesn’t recognize. There’s no anger in his face, but he’s carrying himself awkwardly, almost guiltily. “I don’t think he remembers what happened.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Castiel snaps. “Of course I remember. The two of you conspired against me, to tear me down from the heights I achieved because of your fear of what you don’t understand—”

“Cas, you were killing people,” Dean says, old sharpness returning to his voice. Castiel almost sighs with pleasure; this is the Dean he knows. “You were gunning down everyone who so much as looked you the wrong way, and there are some things—”

“Be silent!” Castiel would stand up now, if he had the energy. “You will free me now from this cage, and I will be lenient with you.”

“Cas,” Sam says slowly, “What’s the last thing you remember?”

Something in the way Dean and Sam are looking at him makes Castiel hesitant to answer.

“Do you remember Eve?” Sam asks. He lowers himself down to his knees, joining them on the ground. “Do you remember the souls rebelling against you?”

“You cast me down,” Castiel replies, amazed at the unspeakable satisfaction of finally speaking to those who can actually hear. “You cast me down, Dean, as if I would ever forget that.”

“You were fucking with people’s heads, you ass,” Dean snaps, pulling away sharply. “You were hurting people.”

“I was not,” Castiel protests. “I was fixing things, I was doing everything you couldn’t, and then you shut me away because you were afraid of what I could do. Well, I’m not letting you go, I won’t allow you. You will let me out.”

“You want to go back to being literally high and mighty?” Dean asks in disbelief. “Jesus, Cas, all this time and that’s still what you want?”

“Dean,” Sam says, a warning in his voice.

“I am not done,” Castiel says. “I am nowhere near done.”

Dean’s smile is beautiful in its deliberate cruelty. “Hate to break it to ya, Cas, but you are. You’re done. You’re dead.”

Dean,” Sam says.

Castiel’s eyes drift down to where he’s still clutching Dean’s hands. It’s vital that he not let Dean escape. “There are things I have to do,” Castiel says. “There are a lot of things, and I’ve already lost so much time—”

“Cas.” Dean moves, grabbing Castiel’s face to force their gazes to meet. “Cas, you’re dead.”

It’s strange. Dean’s face has been one of Castiel’s constant companions, but all the recreations had been one crucial breath away from perfect. This is perfect.

“Did you hear me?” Dean says. “You’re dead, Cas. This is Heaven, you’re in Heaven.”

“That’s the stupidest lie you’ve ever said to me,” Castiel replies. “Only souls end up in Heaven.”

Dean grimaces, the way he always does whenever confronted by something inconvenient. “Yeah, that was kinda Eve’s fault. After she got her ass reborn, things kinda went pear-shaped. Well, she was pissed about your using her babies as Duracell batteries so you can’t really blame her for going psycho on you.”

“That isn’t...” Castiel looks over Dean’s shoulder to where the Dean-shaped puppet is still sitting on his bench. The Dean currently holding Castiel is different, steadier, older. “I don’t have a soul.”

“Eve took everything else,” Sam says, the gentleness of his voice grating in Castiel’s ears. “We think she originally meant for you to die, but she didn’t want the risk of you ending up in Purgatory with her. So she left you kind of... tattered.”

Castiel thinks back to all the Earth-based memories that had been recreated right down to the perfect detail, playing out one after another to a permanent script. “Heaven is,” he says hoarsely, “the resting place of eternal human souls.”

“Death did it as a mercy,” Dean says. “The balance had been restored, which was what he’d wanted, but he said he could try to fix you—”

Castiel rises up and shouts, “I do not have a soul!”

Things go a little gray after that.

Castiel wakes up to the smell of the Impala. For a few seconds he panics, thinking himself back in the routine of Dean asking him what’s wrong or trying to teach him appreciation of AC/DC. But, no. When he lifts his head up he finds that he’s in the backseat, not riding shotgun, and there are two people sitting in the front.

“We’re clear,” Sam’s saying. “Yeah, little over that way.”

Castiel tries to move, only to find that his hands are tied behind his back. He sighs against the leather, unsure whether to be relieved that the Dean and Sam he’d encountered in the playground weren’t hallucinations.

“Right here?” Dean says. He pulls the car over when Sam hums an acknowledgement. Castiel watches the back of Dean’s head as he steps out of the car and leaves to do whatever business it is he’s intent on doing.

Castiel considers his options, few as they are, and then says, “Does this mean you’re dead, too?”

Sam jumps. He turns in his seat and looks down at where Castiel is trussed up. “Yeah. Yes, we are.”

“I don’t have a soul, you know,” Castiel reminds him. “When I die, I will cease to be. Oblivion is the final fate of angels who are careless with their gift of immortality. So you can stop lying to me, I’d really appreciate it.”

“Well...” Sam says in the tone of one who thinks he’s being clever, “You weren’t really an angel at the time, were you?”

“I think you’re confused.” Castiel pushes against his bonds, flexing his fingers where they’re bound together. “I ate the souls. I didn’t magically get one of my own.”

Sam bites his lip and turns in the direction Dean had gone. “Look, maybe we should wait until Dean gets back.”

“Why?” Castiel asks. “You need his permission to speak?”

“Don’t,” Sam says curtly. “I don’t want to argue.”

“It hasn’t escaped my notice that you’ve tied me up,” Castiel points out. He finally manages to get into a sitting position, and is able to lean into the space between the front two seats. “I can hardly assume that your intentions are noble.”

Sam’s face goes a little funny. Castiel remembers, this is how Sam pauses when he’s rewriting the words in his head before he says them aloud.  “You went berserk on us back there, Cas.”

“Did I strangle Dean?” Castiel asks. “I get that urge sometimes.”

“Uh, no,” Sam says. “But you clawed your eyes out.”

“Ah.” Castiel nods. He rubs his face against the side of Sam’s seat, but his face seems to be clear and healed. “Yes, I do that on occasion.”

Sam seems to have no idea how to respond to that. He stares at Castiel for a long moment before turning back around in his seat.

“They’re only Jimmy’s eyes,” Castiel offers. “And they heal up, anyway.”

“Jimmy has his own Heaven,” Sam says quietly. “We found him not too long ago, actually. He definitely has his own eyes.”

Castiel tries to rearrange that sentence, but he can’t find any way that it might make sense. “Jimmy Novak?”

“Has his own Heaven,” Sam repeats. “Which is a good thing, right, after everything he’s been through? We told him that we’d keep an eye out for Amelia, but we’re not entirely sure if she’s here. Uh, by that we mean we hope the alternative is that she’s still alive, not in Hell or Purgatory.”

Castiel almost laughs at how ridiculous that sounds. “You drive the Impala around Heaven?”

“Don’t look at me,” Sam says with a wan smile. “We didn’t design this place. We’re just working with the options we have.”

“This isn’t Heaven,” Castiel insists. There are trees in the gold of autumn outside, the glint of something that might be sunlight falling through the leaves. “I know what Heaven looks like. I lived there longer than your entire family line has even existed.”

Sam shrugs. “Don’t know what else to tell you.”

“The truth would be nice.”

Sam sighs again, surprisingly patient as he paints his lies. “Dean died first. On a hunt, of course.” He’s turned to look out the window, but Castiel can tell he isn’t marveling at the scenery. “It wasn’t easy to walk away from that, but after everything we’ve been through, it was the least I could do. I salted and burned his body, kept it all neat. Then I took up the Salvage Yard, gave it a fresh coat of paint, stuck it out for a couple more years.”

“Bobby’s dead, too?” Castiel asks gamely.

“Yeah, but he’s completely bowed out now,” Sam says. “He and Karen have their own patch, we’ve agreed not to bug ‘em any more unless there’s an emergency. Anyway, by the time I got here, Dean had already found Ellen, Jo and some others. It was easy to join up with them, take things in.”

Castiel tries not to snicker. “Dare I ask what you do?”

“Mostly, we reunite people across their Heavens,” Sam replies. “There’s a network, Ash and a bunch of earlier hunters set it up before us, we use that to keep track of the known patches and their owners. The rest of the time it’s—”

Gunshots cut Sam off. There are three shots in quick succession, shockwaves of noise that rattle Castiel’s teeth.

Dean stomps back to the car and gets in. “Done and done,” he says, passing his shotgun to Sam. “Finally awake, Cas? Quite a little farm of langs you’ve got going on in this Heaven of yours, can’t walk five feet without tripping on one.”

Castiel scowls and looks around. “This isn’t my Heaven.”

“It’s what left of it.” Dean pulls out a flask and takes a swig. “Langs been working on you for some time, looks like it. Damn near ate up the whole thing.”

“Ash named them Langoliers after the...” Sam trails off uncertainly. “After a human book, never mind. They look kinda like clouds or shadows? They’re parasites, as far as we can make out, and they feed on pieces of Heaven memories, so we take ‘em out where we can, but usually there’s only one or two in any given Heaven patch.”

Nausea starts to rise in his Castiel’s stomach.

“You think maybe there’s so many here because Cas is...” Dean glances back at Castiel, “Different?”

“Hey, Cas, have your memories started breaking down?” Sam asks. “Did you notice anything funny after a while? Cas?”

Castiel carefully lies back down. He presses his face against the cushion, letting Sam prattle on by himself since he’s preoccupied with closing his eyes and refusing to throw up. The Impala rumbles to life when Dean starts the engine.

Castiel can hear them whispering. The fog in his head makes it a little difficult to pay attention, but he can somewhat make out Dean and Sam’s low exchange of, “I think he’s in shock,” “You talk to him,” “No, you talk to him,” and Sam’s decisive, “Dude, I already tried, it’s your turn.”

They’re in a motel room. Unlike the transitions of yore, Castiel actually remembers arriving here. He remembers the Impala coming to a stop, Sam touching his shoulder and helping him get out, and then Castiel’s following the Winchesters into the building. There are no other residents as far as Castiel can see, and if he looks out the window and tries to find the horizon, his eyes start to water.

The chair Castiel is sitting on feels real. It’s made of wood and cloth, firm against his back and under his thighs. The room certainly looks real, as do its two other occupants who are currently hovering over him.

“We’re gonna untie you now, okay?” Dean says, approaching cautiously.

Castiel leans forward a little, accommodating Dean’s hands as they undo his bonds. Once freed, Castiel expects Dean to walk away, and so is surprised when Dean pulls up a chair and sits in front of him.

“Hey,” Dean says softly. Castiel thinks that if Dean asks in that old worried tone what’s up with you, Cas, Castiel cannot be held responsible for his actions. It’s a lucky thing Dean says instead, “It’s good to see you again, Cas. I know it’s been a while, but... some things you don’t forget, right?”

Castiel can see clearly, now, that Dean is older. There are new lines accompanying the shape of his smile, just as there is new age and experience behind his eyes – evidence of a life lived elsewhere.

“Look, I know it can be a bit overwhelming,” Dean whispers, coming in close despite Sam being the only other person in the room. “Being dead can be a major bummer and I swear to you—” he chuckles self-deprecatingly, “—I may have spent a bit too long trying to get back home at first. But there’s still stuff to do here, Cas, and the perks can be great. Watch this.”

Dean’s hands curve an arc in the air. Castiel knows what he’s doing, but he still chokes on his own spit when a cheeseburger materializes in Dean’s palm, sizzling faintly and smelling like grilled sin.

“Takes some practice, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time,” Dean says. He puts the cheeseburger on the table, close enough that Castiel could take it if he wanted. “Most people can only do this – I mean, rustling up whatever we want – within their own patch of Heaven. But me and Sam, we figured out that we can do it anywhere if we concentrate hard enough. Takes some energy out of us and there’s only so many things we can make in a day, but... yeah.”

The aroma of meat is pleasing to Castiel’s nose, but he isn’t hungry.

Dean sighs and gets to his feet, shrugging at Sam.

Castiel remains unmoving while Dean disappears into the bathroom and Sam moves his attention to the laptop on a table. Dean and Sam seem to be going through a familiar routine, as though this is just another Winchester hunt and at any moment Castiel will wake up and feel the stretch of his wings along his spine.

While Sam busies himself with his work, Castiel gets up and approaches the motel door. The knob is cool under his hand, and turns obediently. When he pulls, the door opens not to a mirror of this exact motel room, but to the outside.

There is an outside, with trees and sky and darkness beyond.

Castiel breaks into a run.

Sam shouts an alarm but Castiel is already gone, swallowed by cool evening breeze and the scent of inexplicable pine. Dirt and grass line the path under his bare feet as he makes his escape.

Castiel remembers walking with his brothers in the original Garden. He remembers Joshua’s kind, wizened face, always animated as he explained his duties and occasionally chided Castiel for some unimportant question he’d asked aloud. Castiel remembers Jelaphiel putting a seed in his hands, blessing it with song until it bloomed.

He remembers when new Heavens formed all around the original Garden, sprouting up one after another as human souls came home to rest. He remembers how his kin had erupted with whispers contemplating these new arrivals, and how curiosity drew them close to study the new Heavens of human shape. He remembers Joshua cautioning them of this activity, and he remembers not understanding why.

Castiel commented to Uriel once on how marvelous it was that humans had always-eternal happiness waiting for them at the end of things. He remembers nodding with Zachariah, who’d said that of course the humans would have to be separated, as to put any two of them together would guarantee conflict, so this ensured eternal peace for all.

“We have no need of such things,” Zachariah had said. “Our sphere is clean. Leave them to their part of it.”

The Heavens of human shape are meant for human souls. Atropos was right, that Castiel is here at all is blasphemy.

Dean tackles Castiel to the ground.

It takes Castiel a moment to realize that Dean is yelling at him. It’s hard to notice anything above the roar in his ears.

Castiel wants to stretch his limbs, open his eyes, say his name with his true voice. Instead, he is grappling with Dean in the dirt and grass, the two of them like dogs or meerkats or other earth creatures that communicate by brawling.

“Cas, Cas, you’ve got to stop, you’re gonna hurt yourself,” Dean’s saying in his ear, and how is this right? How can it be that Dean is now able to hold Castiel down with nothing more than hands and body and voice?

Castiel could so easily claw off all of this inefficient skin and flesh and sinew. That will show Dean what he really is, because these physical trappings are means to an end, the only way his kind can interact with the physical plane. And, of course, if he is in Heaven, he doesn’t need those things at all, does he? Castiel, as he truly is, is made of light and thunder and the endless stream of noise that binds stars in their paths.

There is a different sound now, somewhere. Castiel thinks it might be him, making a spectacle of himself.

“Cas, it’s going to be okay,” Dean says. His promises are worth as much as now as they’d been then. Castiel once would’ve broken Dean in two with a touch of his fingers, but now they’ve come to this. Dean’s hands are like iron bands across Castiel’s body.

Castiel has the hysterical thought that it’s amazing how Dean always finds new ways to bind him. Uriel was right, Crowley was right, Zachariah was right – Dean is dangerous.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Dean says, holding on stubbornly. “I’m here, it’s going to be okay.” To Castiel’s chagrin, Dean’s patience pays off, the fight finally sapping out until all that’s left is exhaustion.

This body was made from human memory. It has only two hands, two eyes, one head. Though Castiel had made do with this when it was necessary, he’d only ever treated it as something temporary. Wouldn’t Uriel and Zachariah like to see him like this, squeezed into the final resting place of human souls.

Heaven is eternal, and eternity is far longer than most people realize.

“Sshh,” Dean murmurs, which Castiel assumes is a response to whatever humiliating noise he’s making now. “Sshh, it’s okay.”

Dean’s words are useless, but the sound inexplicably reminds Castiel of easier times, earlier times, when it had been him and Anna and Uriel, walking the line and raising the tips of their wings to brush the edge of the clusters. Castiel turns his face towards the human noise, a source of warmth in the coldness, even though the old warning rises in Castiel’s mind – beware Dean.

There are many problems that come with being trapped in a human body, but none as terrible as what happens when it craves. Castiel feels the tingling under his skin now. It’s pale imitation to the relief of being able to stretch in his true form, but it’s not as if Castiel has a choice now. All he knows is that there are noises and touches that make it hurt less, so he turns towards their source.

Dean makes another sound of surprise, his sharp exhalation of shock hot against Castiel’s mouth. Castiel doesn’t care. He just breathes and touches and takes it in, because Dean is right there.

Just a little, Castiel wants to say. Just a little bit for a little while, that’s all. Then it’s his turn to be surprised when Dean kisses back (Dean’s better at it, of course, just as he’s so much more superior in many things), his mouth offering sweetness.

Castiel turns in Dean’s arms, pushing against Dean and climbing into his lap, seeking nearness and warmth and other things he never took the time to learn about. Dean’s hands are gentle now, stroking cautiously over Castiel’s body.

“Stop me,” Castiel hisses, pulling away to curse on Dean’s skin. “Dean, stop me, please stop me, you’re good at that.”

“Why?” Dean says.

“Because.” Castiel doesn’t understand why Dean is still touching him; why Dean’s hand is sliding a firm line up his spine to cup the back his head. Castiel presses against the flat of Dean’s palm, gasping at the feel of fingers carding through his hair. He points out the obvious, “Because you don’t want this.”

Dean is supposed to say stop. He’s supposed to draw the line that Castiel can’t, shutting this down before any more damage can be done. Castiel can feel the weight of Dean’s watchful gaze on him; feel the pause of Dean’s hand where it’s resting behind Castiel’s head.

Then Dean carefully guides Castiel’s head down and shows him what a proper kiss is.

Dean is nothing like Meg or Chastity – two half-formed ideas that barely came to fruition. Dean’s kisses are firm and in recognition. Hello, Cas, Dean is saying with his mouth, I’m here, I know you, come with me.

Castiel’s spared a thought or two down this line, before it became too impossible to think about at all. He remembers Dean’s casual teasing about his virginity what feels like centuries ago, and having the foolish thought that maybe Dean had ideas on resolving that issue that didn’t involve purchasing sex. That was one dead end among many, so Castiel had let it go.

Yet now, somehow, Dean is actually kissing him. It’s better than Castiel imagined, though it’s utterly stupid that it’d happen now, like this. Arousal, terrifying and exciting, rushes through Castiel’s body at every new touch Dean gives him.

“Yeah, here we go,” Dean says softly, the green of his eyes all but gone as he guides Castiel on to his back. Some unknown instinct has Castiel winding a leg around Dean’s waist, seeking friction that only Dean’s body can give. In response, Dean’s hand slides between them to cup Castiel’s arousal.

There are no boundaries, then.

As Dean peels Castiel’s pants open, Castiel has the vague feeling that there is something wrong about this, but he can’t find it in him to care about that wayward thought. Maybe Castiel’s drawn to the power of Dean’s yes, a craving left over from when he was an angel. Dean is a tactile person, this is what he does, and this time Castiel won’t turn him down.

It’s all revelation after that. There’s Dean’s tongue flicking on the head of his cock, Dean’s lips swallowing him down, Dean’s throat humming around him. Of course Dean knows Castiel’s flesh better than Castiel does, coaxing pleasure from it with ease and expertise.

“Fuck,” Castiel says, when he hits the crest of his orgasm.

When Castiel finally comes down, he’s shaking. Castiel comes to the slow realization that not all trembling is bad, not all loss of bodily control is to be feared. Secondary to that realization is the sudden awareness that there is no angelic equivalent of what he’d just had. Castiel tries to think of a comparison to put it into context, and finds that he can’t.

“Good?” Dean asks. He’s sitting up, looking pleased as punch and lazily palming Castiel’s softening cock. It should not be possible for Dean to be even more beautiful, but he manages it somehow.

Castiel shifts up, reaching for Dean’s belt. There is imbalance here that must be fixed, and Castiel must do that at least. Dean sits back, spreading his legs accommodatingly while Castiel slides his lips down over his cock.

“Go slow, Cas, watch your teeth.” Dean chuckles softly. “Though I guess theoretically it would grow back if anything happened to it here, but I’d rather we don’t – oh, fuck.”

Castiel focuses on Dean’s penis, which is decently proportioned, stretching Castiel’s lips and resting heavy on Castiel’s tongue. There’s the occasional sharp tang in his mouth that Castiel guesses must be pre-come.

After a while of sucking, Castiel looks up. The angle is strains his neck but Dean appears to be enjoying himself, panting softly and stroking a hand over Castiel’s head. Even so, Castiel must be doing something wrong. He didn’t last this long in Dean’s mouth, so there must be an error somewhere.

Perhaps Dean needs to be deeper. Castiel braces one hand on Dean’s thigh and sinks down further, only to choke when he hits a barrier of some sort, pain burning up Castiel’s throat and nose, making his eyes water.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Dean says quickly, pulling out of Castiel’s mouth. Castiel hisses his frustration, following the cock that’s been taken from him until Dean grips his shoulders, holding him steady. “Cas, it’s cool, no need to freak out. Hey, look at me.”

Sucking cock should not be difficult. Castiel isn’t that useless.

“I like kissing,” Dean says, stroking a hand behind Castiel’s neck. Castiel doesn’t like how alert Dean is, how sharp his eyes are. He’d aged when Castiel hadn’t been watching. “You good with kissing, Cas?”

Castiel nods and lets Dean push him on to his back again. This time Dean crawls on top of him, a warm weight that creates a wonderful, if brief, illusion of safety. Castiel follows Dean’s mouth as they kiss again, this time slower, deeper. There is more sliding of tongues and sharing of breath, and after a while, Dean starts grinding against him.

“Shit, yeah,” Dean gasps, his dick pushing a wet line up Castiel’s bare stomach. “Cas, touch me. Touch me, talk to me, something.”

Castiel can do touch. He liked the way Dean’s hands moved across his body so he reciprocates now, following the lines and bends of Dean’s frame. Dean responds with approving moans, rutting with increasing speed and firmness until he finally stiffens and spills against Castiel’s skin.

There’s something funny (and pathetic) about Castiel’s losing his virginity only after death.

Dean rolls over, landing heavily on the hard ground. “Well, goddamn.” He sounds just as surprised by this turn of events as Castiel is.

It’s quiet after that. A little awkward. Castiel busies himself trying to get his eyes to refocus on their ceiling of branches and leaves.

Crowley used to comment all the time on how surprised he was that Castiel hadn’t already opened his legs for Dean. He’d said something about how Dean had called dibs on Castiel, which was – aside from the sexual component of his innuendo – actually somewhat true. Balthazar and Uriel and Zachariah had all warned him.

Castiel turns to Dean. He still looks stunned, so this definitely wasn’t premeditated. Perhaps it is a kindness, Dean has plenty of those. Castiel wonders if he should feel dirty, but he doesn’t, not all. This is the nicest this body has been to him in a long time.

“I’m tired,” Castiel says quietly.

“Okay.” Dean gets up, grunting with the effort. There is no shame in his eyes when he fixes up their clothes and draws Castiel to his feet. “Come on, let’s go back.”

Castiel obeys only because he can’t think of anything better to do at the moment.

Dean and Sam have a new life here.

Once back at the motel – and after a few false starts – they turn enthusiastic in sharing details that Castiel didn’t ask for. They talk about how they have a home base, how they move between Heavens using a compass Dean and Ash worked out together, and how they’re trying to figure out a way to combine Heaven patches for people who want it, instead of merely transferring people between them.

“The angels leave us alone for the most part,” Sam says. If he knows what Castiel and Dean did out in the woods, he makes no show of it where Castiel can see. “There don’t seem to be that, uh, many around anymore.”

That would be Castiel’s doing, mostly. He understands clearly now how his surviving former brethren gained pleasure by secretly visiting him in his cell.

“It all comes down to Jedi mind tricks.” Dean’s sprawled in a chair, eating something he conjured from memory and is no doubt perfect in every way. There’s probably a reason why they chose to design their resting places as the motel rooms, but Castiel doesn’t care enough to ask. “Different people have different strengths or abilities. For me and Sam, seems like we’re best at making stuff and moving between Heavens. Don’t need spells for that like most people do.”

Dean and Sam are special, of course they are.

“We don’t need to eat here, either,” Sam continues, “But it helps—”

“I know how your Heaven works,” Castiel snaps. “I’ve been exploring this sphere since the time your ancestors were climbing trees.” He turns away, shame flushing hot up his neck. So what if he hadn’t known what this place was?

The Heaven of humans was sown for humans. It follows human laws and is built of human memories, and no matter how angels may bask or borrow from it, they will always be visitors. The last time Castiel had been here, he’d been an angel and thus able to see. Without his eyesight or hearing, it is almost as foreign as Earth.

Anna, though, she would’ve liked to end up here. Castiel hopes that she is here somewhere, because even at her end there’d been a part of her that remained human. She would be able to understand this place.

“We’re going to make a move tomorrow,” Dean says, trying to break the uncomfortable silence. “We’re going to round a few more patches longwise, and then head back to home base.”

Castiel has no comment. He doesn’t know why he’s telling him this.

They sleep in three separate beds. True to form, Castiel’s bed is soft and firm, the blankets perfect.

It’s a farce, because they don’t need to sleep any more than they need to eat or bathe, but apparently these casual things are part of Dean and Sam’s Heaven-sent pleasures. Castiel stays under the blankets, makes no sound while Sam turns of the lights, and then lies in the dark to gnaw on bitter gratefulness that this is at least better than the cage with no answers.

In the morning, Castiel learns that Dean and Sam’s current routine is not unlike the routines they had while they were alive. Castiel remains as unobtrusive as he can, only following suggestions whenever they aren’t too much of an inconvenience. He doesn’t eat, but he does have a shower (the warm water makes him remember soaring through the tails of comets) and change his clothes.

Dean and Sam have their own terminology for Heaven things, as if Castiel hadn’t had enough trouble figuring out their Earth-based terminology. Besides their calling each individual Heaven a patch, they use magic-mechanical machines to find their way and contact each other, and they have new wards and spells for various functions they now perform. Hunters will always be hunters, even when they’re dead.

“We could use your help, actually,” Dean says. “I mean, you said it yourself, you’ve been in this circuit far longer than we have.”

“As a visitor,” Castiel says. “The angels’ sphere is separate. The only interlocking piece between the two is the Garden.”

“Joshua’s Garden?” Sam says.

“God’s Garden,” Castiel says, wincing. He hasn’t thought about his Father in a while. It isn’t worth thinking about absent fathers to whom one has given everything and gotten nothing in return. God didn’t interfere when the world was about to collapse, He didn’t interfere when Raphael wanted to take His place, and He certainly hadn’t made an exception when it had been Castiel’s turn to try.

“Hey, man,” Dean’s saying, which startles Castiel until he realizes that he’d somehow ended up on the floor. He’s curled up, and Dean’s trying to pry his fingers open from where he’s gauging the palms of his hands.

“It’s hard to think,” Castiel says, cursing himself for being so weak that he’d admitted that to the worst possible person. “It’s been hard to think for a while.”

Dean strokes Castiel’s palms, murmuring words that seal the cuts. “The Purgatory episode really did a job on you, huh.”

Castiel doesn’t bother to correct him. The billion trillion souls of Purgatory had been freedom, absolute and unspeakable, which Castiel would’ve used to make right everything that was wrong. What Castiel’s become now is what happens after, when such power has been taken away – by the man currently helping him get up, no less.

“Did you put them back?” Castiel asks.

“Eve took them back,” Sam says. He’s frowning a little as he looks at Castiel, as though he’s itching to light some holy fire today. “You forgot that she’s a creature of Purgatory as well. When she died, she went to Purgatory, which you then ate up. So she ended up waking up inside you and... went to town.”


Assuming Sam’s speaking the truth (he’s a consummate liar but he’s never actually lied to Castiel), then that’s actually something of a relief. If Eve had been the trigger for Castiel’s downfall, then there had been no way Castiel could have prevented it. Going after Purgatory had been Crowley’s idea, and the knowledge to break into it had been Eldritch. All Castiel had brought to the table had been the means to carry it out and the will to want it. He couldn’t have seen Eve coming.

“Souls are like candy cigarettes,” Castiel says. He’s not sure why he made that analogy as he’s tried neither candy nor cigarettes, but he knows enough about them in theory to think this is something Dean and Sam can understand. “You can’t just stop at one. Have a taste, yearn forever.”

“Yeah,” Sam says slowly.

Castiel turns to Dean and smiles. “You were my first soul.”

There is a sense of pleasure and accomplishment at the horror on Dean’s face.

If Castiel concentrates, he can hear pieces of the argument Dean and Sam are having. He’s in the back seat of the Impala, sitting where Dean told him to, and not at all surprised that Sam pulled Dean aside before they could make a move.

“I hope you know what you’re doing, Dean,” Sam’s whispering.

“Stop it,” Dean hisses back. “I just... Look, just go with it, okay? We can do something about this. We’re his friends, we can help.”

“That’s your suggestion?” Sam says, not trying very hard to keep his voice down. “We’re not exactly on a good schedule right now, Dean. We need to get someone a little more...”

“An angel?” Dean asks, surprised and skeptical. “No way, man. We’ve been doing a bang-up job expanding the borders, no way I’m letting any of ‘em in anywhere close to us.”

“Look, I agree with you, the less we see the angels, the better. But there were way too many langs in Cas’ patch. That’s got to mean something. Maybe... I don’t know, maybe, he’s being watched. And if he’s being watched, someone’s going to notice that he’s gone.”

“We’re sticking with this,” Dean grunts.

Sam sighs. “Whatever you think’s best.”

Castiel finds himself smiling at the irritation in Sam’s voice. It’s nice whenever he stumbles on something they have in common.

Dean and Sam make their rounds, driving through the veils from patch to patch, and occasionally stopping the car to go out and shoot something or talk someone. Castiel stays in the back seat throughout, contemplating his existence and listening to Dean and Sam’s banter with half an ear.

For the moment, this arrangement works in Castiel’s favor. The longer he’s out of his cage, the better, and he might even have a chance to figure out what his next step should be.

It’s while Castiel’s watching the scenery go past that he finally sees the signs that this is, indeed, Heaven. There is an unusual sheen over the trees when he looks at them long enough, the barest glint of holy light that can be seen by his limited eyes. All plants and greenery here are extensions of the Garden, guardians of the souls that have earned their place here. If Castiel had had his angel’s hearing, he would have known them for what they are.

Now Castiel can see the subtle turn of the trees’ attention whenever the Impala stops. Dean and Sam are, technically, invaders of other people’s Heavens, so of course they’d draw attention wherever they go, but there’s only curiosity in the trees’ gaze, not malevolence.

Castiel presses his nose against the glass and tries to remember the feel of the vocal cords needed to speak to the trees.

“You doing okay back there, Cas?” Dean asks.

Dean wants a neat answer, not a real one. Castiel keeps silent.

His refusal to respond must make Dean uncomfortable, because the man starts talking. Castiel half-listens while Dean explains how they keep track of time, since there’s no longer a universal sun and sky at their disposal. Some humans figured out how to cross between Heavens ages ago, and a clockmaker joined their ranks, starting a central calendar and clock that some patches use to keep time.

“Peter,” Castiel says. “Of Burgundy.”

“You know him?” Dean asks, surprised.

“He has some very beautiful work.” Castiel can remember that, at least. “Uriel had many... thoughts about the use of clocks in Heaven. He said it suggested a discontentment with the ever-constant now. But we didn’t interfere, and Peter was allowed to continue his work unhindered. At least, that’s as far as I am aware. There have been other things occupying my time since then.”

Sam and Dean murmur about this while Castiel watches the view outside. The Impala has been marked with deliberate magic, making the journey between patches of Heaven smooth and almost instantaneous. Zachariah would have been horrified at the apparent ease with which Dean and Sam have not only acclimatized, but warped Heaven itself to their own needs.

“But this portion of Heaven is yours anyway,” Castiel mutters. “Yours to do as you please.”

“Huh?” Dean says. “You say something, Cas?”

Castiel hums softly. “Nothing important.” He catches the way Sam and Dean exchange another look, entire conversations passing within a glance. Castiel would have attempted to decipher their meaning, once.

At another point, Sam’s the one who goes out with the shotgun. Castiel’s stopped keeping count of how many stops they’ve made, preferring to watch the different patches morph into each other. Castiel’s eyes are limited now, but Heaven is still beautiful. Castiel really shouldn’t be afraid of it.

“Hey, Cas?” Dean says suddenly, making Castiel jump. He hadn’t noticed Dean joining him in the back seat, a polite space between their bodies. “You want to go for a walk? Sam’s hunting another lang, but we have some time. I think there’s a river just over on that side, should be something to see.”

“No, thank you,” Castiel says.

“Cas,” Dean says, so softly that it sets Castiel’s teeth on edge. “It’s really not all that bad. Hey, remember when—”

Castiel laughs, staring at Dean incredulously. “You want to start that now?” Dean flinches, but Castiel presses on, “It’s been nothing but ‘remember whens’ since I died, so, I’d say, no. Just stop talking. Your voice hurts my ears.”

Dean goes quiet and, after another awkward moment, returns to the driver’s seat.

They eventually arrive at a place that looks like the Singer Salvage Yard.

The real Salvage Yard is of course back on Earth and has, according to Sam, been inherited by a pair of young hunters he’d been mentoring right up until his death. This pit stop is made from a memory of Bobby’s yard, recreated through the lens of glossy nostalgia. The scraps of metal and broken down cars in the yard have the appearance of having been arranged artfully.

The front porch has a swing. It’s an innocuous addition, but Castiel freezes anyway, ears roaring with the indistinct laughter of children.

“No,” Castiel says.

“Cas, look,” Dean says at his elbow. There is a young woman with red-brown hair sitting in the swing, but Castiel cannot make out her face, as his eyesight gone blurry again.

“Not a hammer,” Castiel says, pushing the words through a throat that’s suddenly clogged up. “How many times do you want me to say that, Dean? Not a hammer, not a trick, not here to say I told you so, how many times before you stop? What other combinations are there, what do you want me to say, why can’t you just—”

“Cas.” Dean grabs his arms firmly, trying to hold him still. “Cas, breathe.”

“I don’t have anything else,” Castiel tells him. “Forever, Dean? Is that what you want, forever?” It would be Dean as Castiel’s sentinel, standing guard over him until the end of time. He can imagine it so clearly, Castiel clinging to Dean’s feet as he fills the entire sky, watchful and silent as a merciless god.

Someone is touching his face. It’s likely that this is Dean, so Castiel shoves back.

“You put me there,” Castiel hisses. “You didn’t believe in me, why couldn’t you believe in me?” He spits every accusation that’s been his companion since death – of Dean’s cruelty, of Dean’s lack of faith, of Dean’s continuous asking of impossible things – and every word he gets out of his mouth makes him shudder and sob with pained relief.

There are raised voices. Strong hands grab him, pulling his arms out of the way and behind his back. Struggles are futile, and when Castiel’s vision finally clears, he finds it’s Sam holding him tight.

“Dean,” Sam says, his breath hot over Castiel’s ear. “You can’t do this. It isn’t helping.”

Dean is standing nearby, his face is an inscrutable statue. “Let him go, Sam.”

“Dean—” Sam protests.

“Trust me,” Dean says. “Please.”

Pretty words make such pretty weapons. Castiel can feel Dean’s many ultimatums – if you don’t help me now, we’re done, just stop – like a wall of rock on all sides, forever trying to shape him into something Dean thinks is worthwhile.

Then Sam lets Castiel go, causing him to stumble forward with surprise. When Castiel looks up, Dean is still simply standing there, as though, haha, Castiel is just a joke, nothing to worry about.

Castiel shapes his hands into fists and launches himself forward.

Dean doesn’t move away, doesn’t raise his hands to defend himself. He just closes his eyes, takes the hit, and falls.

Now Castiel is the one standing, with Dean at his feet. Around them the world remains unmoved, unchanged and uncaring. Castiel blinks down at Dean, startled and confused and inexplicably unfulfilled.

Dean raises a hand to rub his cheek, pain pinching his face. He looks almost, but not quite, like that night in the alley an age ago, when Castiel had felled him with far more blows than this.

Hadn’t Castiel promised himself never to do this again? The world isn’t on the edge of despair this time, and Castiel had promised. Maybe his promises really do mean as little as Dean’s – Castiel’s thoughts immediately skitter away from that, unwilling to examine it further.

“I,” Castiel says.

Dean cocks his head, watching Castiel and waiting. He’s just a man, even if he’s maybe more flawed and beautiful than most. Dean taught him about freedom and cost, love and hate, trust and betrayal, and at the heart of it, fear. Castiel learned too late that he should have been afraid of this (Uriel knew, Uriel tried to warn him), and now he is afraid all the time. One man should not mean so much.

“I need.” Castiel struggles with his clumsy human tongue. “I can’t.”

Dean’s eyes track him when Castiel sinks down to the ground. He doesn’t move or flinch, not even when Castiel raises a hand to touch his jaw. It’s swollen, maybe even broken. Castiel trails Dean’s skin gently, acutely aware that his fingers can no longer offer comfort of healing, even if they are capable of hurt.

Dean manages a smirk. “It’ll get better.”

Castiel pulls his hand back sharply. He turns way from Dean’s penetrating gaze, trying to hold on to anger that’s rapidly slipping away. “Dean needs... ice, I think?”

The woman has approached them, and now Castiel can see that she is Ellen Harvelle, younger and a different shade of lovely from the last time they’d met. She says, “Got something stronger than that. Come on, let’s go inside.”

The interior of the house is an amalgamation of different places, fused together. There are pieces of Bobby’s house, both Winchester houses, the Roadhouse, and a couple of other buildings that Castiel doesn’t recognize. There is no beauty or symmetry to how the rooms fit together, but Castiel guesses that that is supposed to be part of its charm.

A man named Bill Harvelle is there. He introduces himself and shakes Castiel’s hand as though this is a common courtesy call. He explains – in the tone of someone who has done this often – how this patch is an experimental combination of different memories, and Dean chimes in that this is their home base, which is still a work in progress.

Sam hovers nearby, as though at any moment now he’s going to whip out a knife and have another go at Castiel.

“Jo will be back soon,” Ellen says as she pulls out a chair for Castiel at an elongated dining table. A cup of something warm is pushed into his hands. “You make yourself comfortable, okay? It’s check-in night so there’s going to be quite a party.”

Castiel inhales the aroma of the hot chocolate. It is pleasant, like the old forests in summer. He drinks.

Dean and Sam move around somewhere in the background. They talk with Bill about the langs they’ve seen, the tracks they’ve been following. It’s business talk, easy to zone out of as Castiel makes the most out of Ellen’s drink. Castiel glances up only long enough to see the bruises of his handiwork along Dean’s jaw, and then turns away.

Eventually, there are new noises. People are coming into the house, some of their voices familiar but most of them not, and then there’s a shriek that makes Castiel look up.

“Cas!” Jo exclaims. She is startlingly beautiful, her broad smile all the more stunning. “Oh my god, Dean, you found him!”

Castiel has barely time to brace himself before Jo is hugging him. It’s nothing like the intimate brushing of grace or the blinding heat of Dean’s hands, but it’s still... nice. It’s soft and warm and kind, Jo’s touch offering a different kind of safety. Castiel can feel something inside him slowly unwind as she holds him.

“Cas, oh wow.” Jo pulls away, excitement still lighting up her face. “You sitting with us today? That’s awesome.”

Castiel nods, unsure what else to say.

This doesn’t deter Jo, who immediately sits opposite him and starts talking about her latest hunt. Castiel wonders whether she knows what happened on Earth since her death – whether Dean and Sam have told how Castiel has changed since then. Her last memory of him would be of the siege on Carthage, when Castiel still knew what he was doing.

The room fills with more people, men and women of similar cheerful disposition, raising the noise of the house to that of a marketplace. Jo points out some of them, though their names slip from Castiel’s attention as soon they as are spoken. Most of them are hunters, some are psychics, and there are complex interpersonal relationships holding them together.

“That’s Deanna, Sam and Dean’s grandma,” Jo says, waving at the woman who’s carrying a filled tray out from the kitchen. Jo leans close to Castiel’s shoulder and whispers, “We’re still looking for John and Mary, but so far no dice on tracking ‘em down.”

“John would be on Earth,” Castiel says. “Walking out of Hell doesn’t ensure an invitation to Heaven.”

Jo blinks, startled. Maybe she’d forgotten that Castiel could speak. “Do you have any idea how we might be able to contact him?”

“There are ways for those of his bloodline to find him.” Castiel frowns at his now-empty mug. Jo presses a fingertip to ceramic, causing it to fill up to the brim. Of course it would, since Jo is a true resident of Heaven. “Oh. Thank you.”

“It’s okay, we don’t need to talk about that now,” Jo says softly. She puts her hands on Castiel’s. “You just take a rest.”

“Balthazar used to say that,” Castiel says. “You never met him. He was a...” He was a brother, a friend, a companion who’d saved his life more than once and hadn’t been afraid to voice his own opinions even when it went against the majority. Balthazar, who took a stand for what he wanted and remade a life on his own terms no matter what anyone – including Castiel – thought. “I killed him.”

Jo’s fingers tighten on Castiel’s hand.

“Maybe,” Castiel ventures, “it’s a good thing you died when you did. The way things were going, I would have killed you, too.”

All around the dining room people are talking and laughing, their chatter almost as indistinct a soundtrack as the children of the playground. Occasionally a hearty laugh or the slap of arm will rise above the other noises, and Castiel knows that that is genuine. No wonder Jo is glowing, she has everything she could want.

Castiel says, “I can never go home.”

Perhaps Jo knows more than Castiel initially thought, because she gets up, walks around the table, and draws Castiel into her arms again.

This time Castiel allows himself to lean into the curve of her body, closing his eyes. It is nothing like touching another angel, for angels are cold and bright, but in some ways, this feels better.

Castiel presses his face into her shoulder and breathes.

Dinner passes by in a blur of noise and smells. Jo sits by Castiel’s side the whole time, which is a surprising comfort. She explains about the food that’s been served, pushing things on to Castiel’s plate that he obligingly tries, and talks about the things she’s done since her death. She describes the joy of being found by Bill and reunited with Ellen, and proudly details some of the work she’s done in adding to the new Roadhouse.

“I’m glad you’re happy,” Castiel says honestly.

Jo beams.

There are business matters that have brought the group together in the house. Castiel catches snippets here and there – langs have increased in number, there’s some troubles with the lengthwise borders, lang sightings seem to be more common where they find angel tracks. It’s obvious the discussion will go on well into the night, so once Castiel has had his fill of food, he stands up.

Jo takes his hand and leads him deeper into the house, past mismatched doors and windows and hallways, to a specific room.

“This is for you,” she says, pushing the door open.

The room beyond is dimly lit, roughly the shape of Dean and Sam’s typical brand of motel rooms, but larger, cooler, and with wallpaper that’s the blue of newborn eyes. On the bed there is a white towel in the shape of a shark.

“That’s Dean’s,” Jo says with a soft laugh. She pulls at the shark’s dorsal fin, loosening it to its normal, flat surface. “Tomorrow, I can show you around, if you like?”

“All right,” Castiel says. She kisses his cheek before she leaves.

The bathroom is filled with amenities Castiel guesses used to be considered luxurious, but are now part of the house’s basic package. Castiel toys with the dials of the Jacuzzi for a while, and is then distracted by the full length mirror along one side of the wall.

With the urgency of the world ending, Castiel hadn’t stopped to really think about what it would be like to permanently reside inside Jimmy’s flesh. He thinks about that now, shedding his clothes as his reflection watches. He moves his arms and legs and shoulders, testing the give and look of his final resting place.

That thought makes him pause. The only things left that are fully his are jagged edges in his mind and a body designed for someone else?

The bedroom door opens with a creak, followed by footsteps. “Hey, Cas, I – whoa!” Dean turns away, one hand covering his eyes.

“It’s just skin,” Castiel says. “You have some yourself.”

Nipples and hair now mark his chest. A bellybutton of no value adorns his waist. There are fewer muscles along these hips and shoulders, his chest is completely barren of shields, and the distribution of weight along his back is completely different. It is so strange, so alien, yet he is supposed to be responsible for this.

“Well, yeah, but.” Dean keeps his back turned to him. “I brought, uh, my mom’s favorite drink before bedtime, I thought you might want to try it.”

Castiel raises his hands to study them. The flesh inside his wrists are so delicate as to be laughable. He’d had no respect for it before, finding pleasure and distraction in tearing it apart. Just a temporary shell, he’d thought. Of no consequence, he’d thought. How funny.


Shaking those thoughts away, Castiel steps out of the bathroom, the wool of the carpet tickling the soles of his feet. He approaches Dean and peers at the cup he’s holding. “What is it?”

“It’s—” Dean opens his eyes and slams them back shut again. “Geez, Cas, put on some clothes.”

Castiel takes the mug from him. “You’ve performed fellatio on me, Dean. Modesty is a belated consideration, at best.”

“Yeah, but...” Dean shrugs, eyes still closed.

His bruises have all cleared, Dean’s chin and jaw back to their regular appearance. Castiel leans in to observe him up close, and in doing so inhales the faint aroma of skin, coffee and aftershave. The combination is appealing, so Castiel leans closer to sample with his mouth.

“Whoa, hey.” Dean jerks back, cracking open one eye. “This isn’t a booty call, I swear.”

“I didn’t think it was.” Castiel drifts away and sits on the edge of the bed, sipping from the mug while Dean hovers uncertainly. “Thank you for the drink.”

Dean’s boots shuffle as he stalls, hesitant to leave. “So,” he says, a little too brightly, “The house is pretty cool, huh? We can’t decide on a name since there’s a half a dozen masons picking the damn bricks, but that’s the only thing wrong with it, really. You want to have a look around?”

“Jo said she’ll show me around tomorrow.”

“Oh. Heh. You’d think you like Jo better than me.” Dean’s smile falls after a beat. “Too soon?”

Castiel sighs. “Are you here because you don’t trust me to be alone?”

Dean’s fidgeting stops, and he levels a look at Castiel that – oh. It steals Castiel’s breath, makes him feel like that day in the Green Room when Dean stopped being a man and became something else, a mighty rock of the Earth itself, unmovable in his convictions but capable of moving others.

“No,” Dean declares. “I think you’re done being alone.”

Castiel, who had been mentally preparing a speech about how he wasn’t a child in need of care, turns away, shaken. “You were right, Dean. In every way that counts, I am a hammer.”

“Geez, no.” The bed sinks a little when Dean sits. “That’s not what I meant.” He jumps when Castiel touches his cheek, precisely where he’d put bruises just a little while ago.

Dean looks younger right now, like a young man on the cusp of something new. Whether this is an accurate observation or merely due to Castiel’s state of mind, he can’t be sure. This is face that has been Castiel’s companion for years (it must have been years, or even decades), but the difference here is that Dean sees Castiel.

So this is what Castiel craves now. He’d spent so long being angry and he still ended up here, utterly mesmerized by everything that is Dean – the uncertainty in Dean’s eyes, the nervous flutter of his throat, the way his lower lip falls open for a tantalizing glimpse of pink tongue.

That tongue had been on Castiel’s cock.

A shiver runs up Castiel’s body, confusion and arousal and shame blending together. He could try blaming the body for the desire to be closer to Dean, but that’s one lie even he can’t swallow. Castiel timidly shifts across the bed, his wariness and caution reflected in Dean’s face, and then leans in. Dean’s eyes shut just before their mouths meet.

It’s slower this time. There’s less urgency, and Dean sets a pace that’s easier for Castiel to follow. Castiel accepts the push of Dean’s tongue and the glide of his lips, content to take the time coaxing pleasure from each other. Castiel must be doing something right because Dean makes a low sound, one hand clasping the side of Castiel’s neck and forcing him a distance away.

“Are you sure?” Dean asks. His voice is hoarse, but he’s frowning and forcibly holding himself back. “Cas, do you want this?” This is important to him.

“Yes,” Castiel replies fervently, turning his head to press a kiss on Dean’s wrist. “I want this.” When Dean nods, Castiel surges back into his space, dropping bolder kisses to his mouth.

“Heh.” Dean cups Castiel’s face and nips at his lower lip. “Clothes, Cas.”

This is a good thing, an enjoyable thing. Dean touched Anna like this, offering comfort in the language he knows, so he touches Castiel that same way now, drawing his pleasure from the curves and dips of Castiel’s body.

It’ll be different later – when Dean remembers to be awkward and Castiel remembers that this is just temporary – but right now there is just the closeness of their bodies, and it’s so easy.

Dean takes the lead by arranging their bodies, guiding Castiel’s hands and legs into place before showing him how it can be good, great, amazing; every kiss and slow grind better than the last. Castiel takes it all, stunned speechless by the feel of Dean pushing between his legs. He knew that this body must be good for something.

“Good?” Dean’s eyes are dark with arousal, but it isn’t enough to wipe away that look of resignation when Castiel had hit him. Castiel can fix that. He can repay Dean a little, give him something worthwhile.

“You tell me,” Castiel retorts. He glances down at Dean’s cock, which is pressing wetly against his stomach. Castiel carefully wraps his fingers around the shaft, pleased when Dean grunts with surprised pleasure. “This can still be... Dean, move.”

Castiel shoves at Dean’s shoulder, putting just enough space between them so he can roll on to his stomach. After a moment’s pause Dean takes the invitation, pressing down on his back, erection sliding clumsily across Castiel’s lower back. Dean carefully drops kisses to spots on his shoulders, almost but not quite where his wings used to be.

“Just like that,” Castiel sighs. He can feel the increasing thrum of Dean’s arousal, can hear it in the way Dean’s breath slows thickens as he mouths at Castiel’s skin. Castiel reaches blindly behind him, finding Dean’s hand and guiding it to his ass. “Yes,” Castiel breathes when Dean takes the hint, pushing a finger inside him. Yes, this is it exactly.

Surprisingly, there is pain. Castiel would have thought that everything would be perfect in Heaven, so maybe pain is inherent to the experience, as is this apparent requirement that Dean finger him open slowly, rubbing his inner walls as though Castiel’s body is in need of coaxing.

“Cas, you okay?” Dean asks, his voice deep and husky. Castiel nods but keeps his eyes closed and his face pressed against the pillow. “Cas, you... you’d tell me if I’m doing something you don’t want me to, right?”

Castiel nods again. “Don’t stop.”

Dean breaches him carefully with his cock, hands soothing down his sides as though Castiel is something precious and breakable. Castiel almost laughs at how unnecessary it is, for all injuries are healed perfectly here. Castiel knows how this works so he shifts, pushing back and forcing Dean’s cock in deeper.

There’s really no reason for Dean to be moving so slowly. It’s almost as if he doesn’t know what he’s been offered, what Castiel’s giving him. Instead of taking it, Dean’s moving around, pushing Castiel’s thighs apart and changing angles, as though—

“Oh!” Castiel’s body jolts at the sharp, unexpected pleasure. It’s inside, some new secret revealed when Dean snaps his hips that same way again, forcing Castiel to let loose an unplanned groan. It’s as though Castiel’s body has woken up, every nerve suddenly alight and reaching.

“Dean.” Castiel’s hand fumbles behind him again, finding Dean’s thigh and digging in. “Dean, that is...”

“Yeah?” Dean rolls his hips deliberately, a smile in his voice. “Right there, that it?”

“But—” Castiel gasps when Dean’s aim stays true. “But that is... Dean is this good for you? Dean, is this good?”

“Fuck yeah,” Dean says huskily, now working a steady rhythm against Castiel’s ass. “Yeah, it’s just fucking peachy. Goddamn, Cas, you’re, so hot, so amazing, fuck.”

“That’s good,” Castiel manages to say, just before Dean strikes again. His cock hits with precision, causing Castiel to arch his back and wail. Castiel didn’t know it could be like this, Dean hasn’t even touched his cock and it’s already an unbearable heat between his legs. His whole body tightens in on itself, trying to keep up with Dean.

Somewhere in the middle of fucking him, Dean has draped himself along Castiel’s back, one strong arm wrapped around Castiel’s torso as though there were any chance of him escaping. Castiel turns his head, sighing when Dean clumsily finds his mouth.

“Yeah,” Dean breathes. “There you go.”

Castiel’s orgasm starts from low in his stomach, blooming out until that’s all he knows, that’s all his body is made for.

Castiel wakes up with a jerk, betrayal flushing hot across his skin because he hadn’t meant to fall asleep. He may be a soul now, but that doesn’t mean that he’s human.

Next to him Dean is still asleep, limbs akimbo and snoring softly. The sight is strange, but it takes Castiel a moment to realize why: in life, Dean slept like a thunderstorm, on the edge of awareness and always ready to strike.

Dean is apparently comfortable enough to drool on his pillow now. Castiel reaches out, brushing Dean’s hair away from his face for no real reason at all. Dean doesn’t stir.

Castiel’s clothes are still in the bathroom where he left them. He puts them on and quietly slips out the door.

The house is quiet, but that doesn’t make it easier to navigate. Castiel barely remembers the route Jo took him earlier, but after a few false turns, Castiel stumbles upon what seems to be a small study.

Sam looks up when he enters, dropping the book he’d been reading on to his lap.

“Sorry,” Castiel says, backing away.

“No, no, it’s cool.” Sam stands up. “Did you get lost? Happens all the time. I’ve been here a while and I still can’t figure the place out. Do you want something to eat?”

“Thank you, no,” Castiel says politely. “I was just... Where’s the way out?”

Sam’s eyebrows jump up. “You looking to run again?”

Castiel knows how to lie, just as he knows how it feels when lies fall apart. Sam’s face is carefully blank as Castiel contemplates what to say next. “There are gods,” he ventures slowly, “who arrange reincarnation. I don’t have my typical means of contacting them, but there must be a way. I don’t belong here, Sam.”

“I can see that,” Sam says flatly, “But you really shouldn’t. This patch and the circle around it have been cleared of langs, but with the new attacks on our borders it’s not foolproof. Langs keep popping up on the edges – there’s no hard evidence either way, but some of us are thinking they’re sent by angels. It could be dangerous.”

There are so many things in that monologue that Castiel doesn’t understand, but he doesn’t have the time for that right now. “I’d just like to know where the exit is.”

Sam sighs. “And what about Dean?”

“What about Dean?”

“You just going to leave him like that, after he spent so long trying to find you?”

Castiel frowns. “He searched for me?”

“Jesus.” Sam rubs a hand over his face in frustration. “Look, Cas. Dean told all of us not to talk you about some... things. He also said I should keep my distance until it’s all sorted or whatever, but... no. I don’t think you get it at all.”

“All right,” Castiel says.

“You have no idea what you did, do you?” Sam asks. “What you were, at the end. Why we did what we did.”

Castiel restrains from rolling his eyes. “You were afraid.”

“No, you were dangerous.” Sam moves to the side, subtly blocking Castiel from the door. “Cas, I think you misunderstand me and Dean. We get why you did what you did, believe me. We’re not innocent. We’ve done some majorly, incredibly stupid things – I’d know, I’m the abomination, remember?”

Castiel bristles, old anger rising in him like a ghost. “You cannot compare what I did with the choices you’ve made. I was doing it—”

“To fix the world,” Sam says, sounding far too knowing for a mortal who hadn’t lived a century before his death. “Good intentions, road to Hell, heard of that saying?”

“A poorly-translated proverb from the ramblings of a madman,” Castiel says wryly. “Yes, I’ve heard of it, but it doesn’t apply. I tried to help you, Sam, I braved the fire of Hell to get you out and you didn’t even—”

“Oh my god, I barely even remember that part, and it doesn’t even matter anymore.” Sam’s size has never been a problem before, but Castiel cannot think of a way to incapacitate and move him out of the way. “Castiel, it’s not about me. It’s not even about Dean, or about you keeping secrets – well, okay, Dean’s still hung up about that, but you always talked about the bigger picture—”

“Yes!” Castiel exclaims. “Which you and your brother kept refusing to see! Do you not understand what I was working for, what I was trying to do?”

“I understand that you didn’t trust people to run their own lives. A better, present god who listens and takes and decides? The scary thing is, I get how you got there. I can see how you thought it’d be a good idea to get those souls and level up all the way.” Sam sighs, his scowl fading away. “I hate feeling useless, too.”

“I don’t—”

“Everyone wasn’t using free will the way you wanted them to,” Sam says. “So you decided that we weren’t worthy of it. Only you were.”

“That isn’t...” Castiel feels trapped by Sam’s penetrating stare, hating the way Sam breaks things down into difficult shapes. “No more war, no more pain, no more suffering.”

“No more freedom either,” Sam points out. “No more choice.”

Castiel backs away. “You don’t know a thing—”

“You’re really going to say that to me?” Sam says, laughing almost bitterly. “Cas, I get it. If anyone would get it, it’d be me. Dean won’t because he’s Dean, but you... Oh, man.” He exhales slowly, voice softening. “Someone should have told you, right at the beginning, that it’s normal to make mistakes.”

There is an opening. All Castiel needs to do is make a diversion and then he should be able to slip past.

“Are you even listening?” Sam asks.

“You tried to kill me.” If Castiel can grab something, maybe the letter opener, it might work. “You did kill me.”

“Death came to us out of a favor to Dean,” Sam says. “Because Dean did what he’d asked, gotten down to the root of the souls business and, uh, dealt with it. The souls were put back and the balance restored, but Eve... Eve broke you.”

Castiel edges crabwise to the desk. Sam is still staring him down, but he doesn’t seem to have noticed. “Yes, Dean mentioned that Death acted out of mercy. Forgive me for not being grateful.”

No.” Sam is suddenly in front of Castiel, hands and eyes commanding Castiel’s full attention. “Try to imagine it, Cas. C’mon, we’ve both been to Hell, we know what pain looks like. Imagine that on Earth. Imagine that happening to a human body, and imagine that it doesn’t – ever – stop. That was you. That was Eve’s punishment for you, and it was to last forever.”

“I would...” Castiel struggles to push past his final memories of outside, but all he can dig up is Dean’s face and the tang of blood magic. “I would remember that.”

Sam gives him a look. “Would you? Knowing what you do of the limits of the human mind?”

Castiel draws himself up angrily. “I am not human, I am...” He stops, faltering.

“Yeah.” Sam nods. “You have no idea what you are anymore. None of us do.”

Castiel sways, his knees inexplicably weak. There is an exit here, somewhere, because no matter what else has happened and no matter what shape he’s in he will always be Castiel. He is Castiel, and he’s pushed destiny away before. No fate is final, Castiel knows this from experience.

“Look,” Sam says, far too gently. “Dean begged Death to give you an out. He asked for anything that would make your pain stop. Death said that it was possible you might end up in Heaven, but there was no way to know for sure.”

“Ah,” Castiel says, “That’s why Dean sent Atropos to check in on me.”

“Atropos?” Sam frowns. “No, I don’t know anything about Atropos.”

This explains everything. It explains Dean’s kindness, Dean’s lack of anger, Dean’s willingness to touch Castiel so freely. Dean’s imbalanced sense of responsibility towards others continues to hold true. Weighed by guilt, he thinks he’s being merciful towards Castiel.

“So, in effect,” Castiel says, “Dean killed me.”

“But only because he...” Sam stutters, stops, and then tries again, “Because he cares for you. You have no idea how he beat himself up over what went down. So please, don’t throw that back in his face. Just don’t.”

Castiel doesn’t like ultimatums. No matter if they’re coming from Dean, Zachariah, or any other being with an opinion.

“I.” Castiel lets his shoulders droop and waits for Sam to back off. “I can try.”

“Okay.” Sam nods. “All right.”

Castiel waits, head bowed and penitent, until Sam lets him pass. He effects calmness as Sam watches him walk back up the hallway to his room. Then, once Sam is out of view, Castiel turns around and finds his own exit.

His nose is inadequate for capturing the true scent of the trees, his ears inadequate to hear their whispers. Castiel stands between them and tries anyway. It doesn’t help.

Behind Castiel, the house remains quiet, most of the windows drawn. It was easy to find a way out, once he’d moved past Sam. Perhaps Sam was acting as Dean’s sentinel while everyone else rested, their sleeping patterns seemingly in sync.

Castiel turns back around to face the deepening green in front of him, and continues walking.

All trees come from the original Garden, but like all creatures that move into the space of humans, they change with what they see and take into themselves. Castiel remembers working with Joshua and Uriel in cleaning the roots – a paltry task, Uriel had said, though he’d worked the hardest in picking out stones and sand.

Castiel doesn’t know how long he walks on the unmarked path. There are no langs to stop him, no residents to demand his destination.

It is almost peaceful, in the way that Castiel remembers Heaven being.


He stops. There was no one there a moment ago. “Joshua.”

Joshua unfolds himself from where he’d been sitting on a tree root. He has a different form today, older and a little hunched, which is maybe a physical expression of fatigue he feels in his true form. As Castiel can no longer see his true shape, he marvels now how small angels look to human eyes. No wonder Dean had trouble taking him seriously.

“You’re nearing their borders.” Joshua’s human voice doesn’t come close to the warmth of his true one, but it’s a valiant effort. “It’s better if you turn back now.”

“There are no borders in Heaven,” Castiel says. “Only the veils to be passed through, which I no longer can.”

“Ah, so you don’t know.” Joshua smiles, nodding. “Well, the humans are trying to push us out of their Heaven. Reclaiming it, so to speak, in their own name. The group you are with now is only one of many such resistance factions, using new magic to draw new borders that angels cannot pass.”

This sounds familiar. Castiel recalls fragments of conversation between Sam, Dean and the other humans of the house that fit in this description. “That’s their business.”

Joshua starts, surprised. Maybe he’d assumed that Castiel had joined their cause. Narrowing his eyes contemplatively, Joshua stretches out a hand towards Castiel.

Castiel, who knows what it means, tentatively accepts. Joshua’s hand is dry and his grip gentle, but the touch is an excuse to venture into his thoughts, pulling out whatever information he wants.

“You can never be an angel again,” Joshua says eventually. “That is a closed door.” He squeezes Castiel’s hand suddenly, pulling him close. “You keep having innovative ideas, don’t you?”

Castiel’s mouth goes dry. “I... I know.” He remembers Joshua’s true form. He knows how Joshua’s kindness and humility masks power greater than even Raphael, though the difference between them is that Joshua only ever used that power to protect the Garden. If he wanted, he could burn Castiel out with a thought.

“You came out here knowing the possible consequences,” Joshua points out. “Why are you afraid of annihilation now?”

Because Joshua is one of the last – perhaps the absolute last – of the faithful. Because Castiel thought, for the longest time, that he was just like Joshua, steadfast and dedicated to what is right and true. Because when Joshua looks at him now, the doubt that has been pushing at the edge of his thoughts like sand under his eyelids are so much harder to ignore.

“I don’t know,” Castiel says. His hands are shaking, and he feels dizzy. He never saw Joshua during his uprising as a god, never dared go into the Garden. He hadn’t thought why. “I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.”

The confession startles them both.

“Well.” Joshua smiles then, causing the trees to curve gently towards him in friendship. “That’s a start.”

Castiel breathes slowly, trying to hold on to what little dignity he has left before the one person he still has respect for.

“I can see that you’re not meant for this shape.” Joshua runs a hand through Castiel’s hair, and Castiel has the embarrassing, thankful thought that Joshua’s touch is nothing like Dean’s. “In time, the humans will solidify the borders, but there is a way for you to leave now, before it’s too late.”

Castiel watches, still and stunned, as Joshua reaches into his jacket pocket to take out a long piece of cloth. It’s worn down, frayed at the edges and aesthetically simple. When Joshua lays it across their forearms, Castiel jerks at the shock of power.

“You know what this is,” Joshua says.

“A remnant of Joseph’s cloak.” Castiel hesitates, waiting for Joshua’s nod before he touches it. Dormant power pulses under Castiel’s hand, waiting to be used. “What...”

“Take it.” Joshua carefully folds the cloth around Castiel’s hand. “It won’t make you an angel again, but it’s not a bad alternative.”

“But.” This is nothing like the freeing power of the souls, but it is a holy relic, and its powers will be true and just. “But why would you...?”

“It’s my choice.” Joshua’s wrinkled old face breaks into a large smile. “And I choose for you to have this.”

Castiel can already feel the cloth’s power seeping through his skin, travelling up his arm in teasing licks that suggest its true potential. He won’t get his wings back, but he could have something better than wings, mightier than wings. He could soar above this plane, pushing through the veils and learn firsthand what has happened to the universe.

He could find the ones who snuck into his cage and mocked him.

He could find Dean and show him—

“I.” Castiel turns, looking back down the path he came. The house is down there somewhere. He turns back to Joshua. “Could I—”

“No,” Joshua says firmly. “One time offer. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see you again, after all.” He regards Castiel solemnly. “Do you want it or not?”

Castiel hands clenches around the holy cloth. “I want it, but—”

“It’s yours.” Joshua steps back abruptly, leaving Castiel blinking with surprise. “Be well, Castiel.” He disappears.

Castiel gapes.

After his surprise passes there’s a bitter rush of resentment that Joshua hadn’t given him the courtesy of time to think this through.

Castiel looks down at the cloth. It’s the perfect exit. He can already see the things he could accomplish with it – oh, the things he would finally be free to do.

Except one of the first things that came to his mind was to go back to Dean for the I told you so. Castiel shudders; he has had too many ugly thoughts lately.

He carefully tucks the cloth into his back pocket and starts the trek back to the house.

Dean is waiting for him. Castiel isn’t surprised by that, nor is he surprised by the red of Dean’s face when he stomps up to him and snaps, “Where the fucking hell have you been?”

“Having a walk,” Castiel answers.

“A walk?” Dean echoes incredulously. “You have any idea what’s out there, Cas? You have any idea how long you were gone, you stupid fucking...” He grits his teeth and forcibly swallows back the insult. “What in the goddamn hell were you thinking, Cas?”

“I wasn’t,” Castiel says. It’s too soon to already regret doubling-back, really. “I’m back, regardless.” Sam is peering out through one of the windows of the house, but ducks aside as soon as he sees Castiel looking at him.

“Sam said you were going to try and contact some pagan gods,” Dean growls, which causes Castiel to get hit with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Dean Winchester, out for information, how very old school. “Reincarnation, Cas, really? As what? I thought you hated being human.”

“Forgive me for trying to find an alternative to my cage,” Castiel says dryly. “I’m not very fond of my patch.”

“Your patch?”

“Well,” Castiel says reasonably, “I can’t say that I want to go back.”

Dean stares, mouth slowly falling open. “You thought we’re going to put you back?” Hurt bleeds through his voice. “Why would you... You think I would do that?”

“But.” Castiel feels something inside him twist, and he has to forcibly resist turning away in self-defense. Dean should not have that look in his eyes. Castiel may loathe him, but Dean should not have that look in his eyes. “You killed me, Dean. You put me there in the first place.”

“You were crazy then!”

Castiel looks at him incredulously. “I’m crazy now.”

Dean’s expression is like the night they trapped Castiel in holy fire, but worse somehow. Castiel doesn’t know what Dean’s thinking, but his gaze seems to go inward to some hurt and disappointment that Castiel cannot see.

“You can’t.” Dean pauses, visibly struggling against whatever instinct would normally prevent him from saying what he wants to. “You can’t put that on me. I get that it’s a two-way street, Cas, and I’m doing my best to set things right, but you can’t put all of that in my hands.”

“I’m not,” Castiel says.

“Yeah?” Dean says, his laugh taking a bitter edge. “God, you’re such a squirrelly bastard. Blaming me whenever things go wrong, as though both of us didn’t have a hand in it together.” He takes a step forward, his face a dark cloud, and Castiel realizes that this is what he’s been holding back since they’d fetched him from his patch.

“Say it.” Castiel stands tall. “Say what you want to say.”

“I fucked up with you,” Dean says. “I get that free will and making choices, all of that stuff, I get that it’s new to you. Everything you’d ever done was decided by your superiors, by God, whatever, and that made those choices... right, I guess, in your head. Then some shitface hunter with a foul mouth comes along and tells you to choose something different. But you didn’t choose for yourself, did you? You chose it because I chose it.”

Castiel stares at him. Dean is older now. Dean has had years to mull over the things he’s done.

“I get that and I... I guess I can deal with that,” Dean says, shifting uncomfortably. “But afterward. After I went to Lisa and you went on your own – that’s all you. Everything you did, every deal you made, everything you kept secret, that’s all on you. How the fuck do you get off putting all of that on me, as though it was all for me? It was all for you, Cas, because that’s what you wanted.”

“You didn’t,” Castiel starts, chest tightening, “You didn’t stand by me. The one time I asked.”

Dean grits out, “Just because someone doesn’t stand by you, doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Family doesn’t mean accepting every bullshit thing anyone else does. You’ve seen me and Sam, me and Bobby, hell, you’ve might’ve even been watching all the way even before that. Family means being able to call out each other’s crap, that’s what it is.”

“Raphael,” Castiel chokes out.

“Yes,” Dean hisses, “I should’ve listened to you there, not gonna fight on that one. But are you really gonna weasel out of necking with Crowley? You gonna conveniently forget about how you lied to our faces and twisted around us for months, just like your buddy Zach used to do? You gonna ignore that you hurt Sam? You hurt Sam, Jesus Christ, sometimes I wonder why I still bother.”

“Difficult.” Castiel grimaces, hating himself for not being able to think straight. “Difficult choices. Someone had to made them.”

“See,” Dean says, stalking in even closer, “This is the part where you usually flutter off. But you can’t do that now, can you? You don’t like thinking about these things and you hate being faced by questions you don’t know how to answer.”

Castiel says quietly, “I hate you so much.”

“Good!” Dean shouts. “Because I’m not giving up on you, Cas. I’m gonna keep on making you hate me every single day from now on if that’s what it takes.” His throat jumps, emotion tightening his eyes. “And since you asked, I was never going to put you back. I got you out for a reason, fucking hell.”

Castiel feels flayed open all over again, as though their time apart only sharpened Dean’s edges and improved his aim. Castiel holds on to himself, willing whatever strength he has left to not go mad. He will not.

“You’re not perfect,” Dean says gently. “No one’s perfect, least of all me. But you know what? That’s okay.”

“Is it?” Castiel asks. His head spins, making it even harder to think about what should be simple thoughts on perfection and culpability and blame and trust, so many ideas twisted up in each other. Castiel was sure, once. Then Dean had moved him, and kept on moving him, Castiel doesn’t know whether he can trust someone like that.

“Yeah,” Dean says. “Fuck ups are how we learn.” He may as well be on the other end of the universe for how Castiel cannot see his thoughts or understand his logic, yet something in Castiel still wants so badly to listen to what he has to say.

So little of anything makes sense. “I was trying to fix things.”

“I know you were.” Dean tries on a shaky smile. “So was I. But there’s always a cost involved. You ran that one by Bobby and Sam, and me, even, when we tried to take shortcuts exactly the way you did. You’ve got to stop, Cas, but not for me, not for Sam, not even for the world. You need to do it for you.”

The pale skin of Dean’s throat makes Castiel’s fingers twitch. He could wrap his hands around it and squeeze. That way Dean will stop and it will all stop and Castiel can walk away.

He shivers.

Castiel has such ugly thoughts sometimes. He’s thought about killing Dean, drawing him open and saying this is what happens to those who doubt me. Castiel is reasonably sure that anyone who thinks like that cannot be trusted either.

“I’m tired,” Castiel says.

“Okay.” Dean starts to reach for Castiel, but thinks better of it. “Okay, how about we go inside?”

Castiel nods, allowing Dean to steer him back into the house. Perhaps it will be easier to think inside.

In his pocket, the piece of the cloth hums faintly.

Jo is on him immediately, wonderfully distracting when she takes his arm and leads him on the promised tour of the house. Castiel just catches the way Dean nods at her – with approval, maybe – and then starts trying in earnest to follow the impractical twists and turns of the house.

“You’d think that I’d be able to get a hang of this,” Castiel says when he confuses yet another set of hallways. “Four dimensions used to be conservative.”

“Well,” Jo says thoughtfully, “Maybe your brain works differently now. Or whatever works as our brains here, I guess.”

“That...” Castiel clutches his hands together, unwilling to let Jo see them shake. “That could be it.”

Jo is far kinder than Castiel deserves, so it’s only right that he listen and make the effort to at least remember the others’ names. Jo doesn’t mind repeating herself, and this time Castiel pays attention.

Besides Jo and her parents, there are Ash, Jenna, Tamara, Micah and Seymour, the hunters. There’s Deanna and Deanna’s brother Carl. There’s Missouri and Lee, the psychics. They are an organic unit, growing and learning and leaning on each other. Not all of them lived on Earth at the same time, but right now, in this house, they’re all practically equal – except Jo, who whispers to Castiel that she still finds it unnerving that her parents are her almost peers.

Castiel tries to be unobtrusive as he can, staying out of the way while they go about their usual activities. This is easy, because none of the others seem to notice him beyond vague acknowledgement that he’s a friend of Dean, Sam and Jo. They’re more preoccupied with their meetings and meals and arguments over diagrams drawn in liquid silver.

“You can help us, you know,” Sam says, snapping Castiel out of his intense contemplation of how humans stubbornly recreate their Earthly habits when they’re dead. “You know stuff. You know how Heaven works, really works, better than the oldest of us.”

Castiel says, “I’m older than—”

“I know, yeah,” Sam says. He makes himself comfortable in the chair next to Castiel’s, turning towards the tableau of bickering humans that Castiel had been gawking at. “That’s where you have an advantage we don’t. We’re still trying to figure out how to get things done, and it’s all really trial and error at this point. You could, I don’t know—”

“Sam,” Dean says as he drifts past, touching his shoulder. “We can talk about that later.” He wanders off without saying anything to Castiel, which is fine, because Castiel wouldn’t know what to say to him now either.

Sam watches Dean’s departing back and sighs. “He really needs to ease up on the kid gloves.”

After taking a moment to figure out what he means, Castiel shrugs. “The alternative would be to keep shouting at each other. I’d prefer to regain my bearings before trying that again.”

Sam laughs, startled. “Sorry,” he says sheepishly. “Just, you know, the sarcasm of the self-aware, that’s funny. Uh, but in a good way.”

Castiel’s lost again, but for some reason he’s abruptly reminded of Rachel. She was like Sam in some ways, for she, too, believed in saying what she felt needed to be said whether the one listening was ready to hear it or not. Few angels had her kind of passion, dedication and willingness to learn. Castiel had been a poor teacher, but she’d listened better than any of the others.

He killed her.

“Hey,” Sam says urgently, which must be in response to whatever it is he sees in Castiel’s face. “Do you want to... Is there something I can do?”

“No, it’s just.” Castiel tries to shake the thought away – he’ll deal with it later, please, later. “I’m just tired, I think.”

Jo takes over again, tireless in her effort to be welcoming. Castiel has the brief notion that he should be more annoyed about that since he isn’t invalid, until he realizes that, actually, he rather is. Pride kept him from properly acknowledging that before.

“Why are you doing this?” Castiel asks.

“Because that’s what friends do.” Jo says this as though it’s obvious. Perhaps it is, and it’s only Castiel who learned the wrong lessons from the people he’s known.  Then she adds, “You’re not the first person to be disoriented by dying, either.”

Castiel starts. “Really?”

“Heaven’s design is kinda fucked up,” Jo says, which gets a murmur of approval from Sam. “It’s practically solitary confinement, isn’t it? I mean, being able to relive your favorite memories is a great idea in theory, but no more new memories? No more being with the people who helped make your favorite memories?”

“That’s not the...” Castiel bites down the instinct to protest. The defensive indignation in his head sounds like Zachariah, and this isn’t even his Heaven. “You can put it that way.”

“Come on,” Jo says brightly, letting that topic drop, “Let’s watch some old cartoons in den. Sam, you’re only allowed to join if you don’t point out how unrealistic the physics is.”

Dean doesn’t join them, which is for the best, really. He has things to do with the others, which is fine, he’s a busy person, and his activities keep him occupied all the way into the night of their daily cycle.

Then it's time to sleep again. Despite not being confident about his navigational abilities, Castiel tries to find his room without asking for directions. Jo trails helpfully behind him just to make sure he doesn’t get lost, and Castiel gives her a stern look every time she tries to cough a hint.

“Aha!” Castiel exclaims when, after only two wrong turns, he gets the right door. “I’m getting the hang of this.”

Jo affects a playful sound. “Next time we’ll play Hide ‘n Seek.”

As Castiel enters his room, he realizes that it’ll be his first time being alone after his extraction from his Heaven. It’s obvious Dean is giving him space and won’t join him tonight, and though Castiel isn’t sure that’s a wise decision he can—

Castiel freezes. “What are you doing?”

Jo looks up from where she’d conjured up extra pillows. “Bunking with you.” At a snap of her fingers, the pillow cases turn a complicated pattern of blue and green. “I don’t snore. Well, actually, I used to but that’s mostly gone away by now. You can throw things at me if it starts up again.”

“You don’t...” Castiel backs away until his shins hit the bed. “Please don’t. You don’t have to do this.”

“I’m just keeping you company.” Jo’s smile drops when she sees his expression. “Cas? Oh. I hope you don’t take this wrong way, but you really shouldn’t be alone. At least for a little while. But if this makes you upset, you can just say so, I won’t take it personally.”

Castiel studies her for a long moment. Jo is so earnest, so kind, Castiel hasn’t yet fucked things over with her, so he should make every effort not to.

Jo isn’t Dean, but she is still a beloved friend. Castiel takes a deep breath, closes the distance between them and reaches for her.

“Whoa, tiger.” Jo firmly pushes him back, frowning. “What are you doing?”

Castiel blinks. “Isn’t that what you want?”

“What? No.” Jo stares at him, some quiet revelation slowly clearing her eyes. She briefly turns away to glare at something Castiel can’t see, her jaw tightening. “No, Cas, what I want is for you to be safe. I know you never slept... before, but it helps. Can you try that for me now?”

“I don’t want to,” Castiel admits. “But I can try.”

The bed feels too large without Dean in it. Castiel slips under the covers anyway, curling into himself as he tries to remember how to fall asleep. But it is too quiet in the room, too quiet for anything but thinking, and there is no chance that all that thinking will let him sleep.

“Breathe,” Jo says soothingly from the other side of the room. “Count your breaths. Think of something simple and good.”

Castiel tries, but his earliest memories remind him of what he doesn’t have anymore and his middle memories were used to cage him in. Shameful and weak, Castiel presses his face into his pillow and ends up thinking about the way Dean whispered meaningless endearments against his skin.

The next thing Castiel knows, he’s being shaken awake. He blinks through his disorientation, eventually registering that it’s the entire room that’s jostled him to awareness. Jo’s already up, cursing softly as she pulls her sweater on and opens the door.

“Attack on the house, attack on the house!” someone shouts outside. There’s running through the halls and rooms, more shouts and curses, and then Ellen comes past their room to bark orders at Jo. Castiel’s only instructions are a curt, “Stay here” which he would obey, if he didn’t know what it is that’s come to visit.

Castiel knows this song. His ears are imperfect, but he knows.

Jo leaves to join her army, so Castiel makes his way to the nearest window. The near-blinding light that’s trying to swallow the house’s compound is angelic in nature. Castiel closes his eyes and tries to recognize the voice, but he cannot.

“Motherfucker!” Dean shouts from somewhere below. Castiel covers his eyes and squints; the humans have spilled outside and appear to be trying to ward off the intruders. Castiel cannot make out which of the figures is Dean, but that’s definitely his voice. Dean snaps, “They broke through, what the hell happened?”

Angels pass through the veils between the Heavens. This is ingrained knowledge to all, yet the humans managed to build borders where there had previously been none. Castiel can easily imagine some angels considering those accomplishments an affront to the natural order things.

But still, why would angels need break through at all? This Heaven belongs to humans.

“Hold the line!” someone shouts. “Don’t let him get past, hold the line!” Someone else, or maybe it’s the same person, screams.

“Get back, get back!” Sam growls.

The house shudders. The wood underneath Castiel’s feet groans, and he knows with full clarity that the angels are going to destroy the patch. Not just the house, but the entire patch and everyone in it, because that is how they work. Angels only smite when they mean to be thorough.

Outside, an angel screams a warning.

Castiel turns from the window and trips in his haste to get to his jacket, still draped carelessly over a chair. The holy cloth is still in the pocket, and Castiel ties it around his neck, pulling a knot where Dean’s hands had repeatedly tightened Jimmy’s tie.

Power, sudden and white-hot, rushes through Castiel’s body.

He is Castiel, but he is also more. He has eyes that can see, ears that can hear, and a voice that can speak. He speaks now, and the angels – there are five of them – pause in their attack and turn their beautiful faces towards him.

Castiel stretches. The house is small, inconsequential. Castiel stands above it, allowing his gaze to move from one angel to the other. Now Castiel can see, so he sees the crux of their mission and the pettiness of their thoughts. They are afraid, for the humans have gotten too strong.

You have your own, why do you encroach on others? Castiel asks. You have the most glorious of spheres. When Castiel lifts his head, he can even see those highest spheres, lining the far edges of Heaven.

They cannot, an angel replies. His voice is familiar and Castiel may have walked with him before, but his name is unimportant. They have banished us from Earth and now they banish us from here as well? They cannot!

They can, for this place is made for them, Castiel replies. You remind me of one of your brothers. He was the brightest of you all, save for this exact shape of envy he felt when the humans came to be. He’s still in his cage, isn’t he?

They scream. The angels charge at him with their knives and spears and sharpened wings. Castiel can see the filth around their mouths where they have feasted on things not meant for them.

Castiel raises his hand and they are gone, pushed beyond the edges of this Heaven and back into their own. With his other hand Castiel reaches for the closest cracks he can see of the human borders, sealing them with a touch. They will still need to be reinforced; human magic is unfamiliar to Castiel.

Human magic, new magic. Humans can be truly ingenious, but there are flaws in the design that Castiel now can see. The cracks were made by the langs, parasites who rose from the ether in the aftermath of the failed Apocalypse, and then tamed by angels for their own use. Castiel can even see tracks where angels have deliberately left langs to feast; it is no wonder there had been so many in Castiel’s patch.

Langs eat human memories. Of course they’d be able to eat borders made from human magic.

Castiel could fix that. He could make the borders perfect and impenetrable and all-encompassing, so no one would have to worry about intruders ever again. Castiel could then open all the veils between the patches so that the humans can pass freely and without restriction. And then he could return to Earth and see with his own eyes what has happened since he died.

There are so many things he could do.

It’s this knowledge that makes it so very hard to reach up to the cloth around his neck. His hands seem to not want to obey, resistance at every breath until he finally manages to twist his fingers into the material and pull.

Then he is just Castiel, tucked back into a stolen human shape, five human senses to his name.

“Cas?” Dean says.

Castiel blinks. He’s in the outer compound with the others. There are burns marks and splashes of liquid silver all over the grass. Lee is fallen on the ground, Deanna crouching over him, while all the others – Dean and Sam included – stare at him. Castiel wonders what they saw and heard, how their minds processed what just happened.

The cloth hisses in Castiel’s hand. He looks down at it, fear and disgust twisting him inside. Castiel has ugly thoughts and cannot be trusted.

“Here.” Castiel shoves the cloth towards Dean. “It’s a piece of Joseph’s cloak. It can bring desire to reality. Joshua gave it to me.”

Dean looks at the cloth, then at Castiel. His hands don’t move from his sides. “That’s yours. I can’t.”

Castiel growls but Dean just shakes his head and takes a step back, which, what? Castiel gapes at him, angry and bewildered until he remembers Dean’s previous rant – you can’t put that on me. “Fine.” He detours towards Sam instead. “Take it. Take it, damn you.”

Sam hesitates. He eyes dart to the side, checking for Dean’s reaction, and then slowly opens his hand to accept the offering. “I’m just going to hold it for you, okay, Cas?” Sam says carefully. “It’s still yours to use whenever you want.”

Castiel throws his hands in the air. “Burn it for all I care.” He heads back into the house, hoping that of all the decisions he’s made, this isn’t one of the more stupid ones.

Sam puts the cloth away. Jo, Ash and Deanna circle the house to do the necessary repairs. Missouri and Pamela start making calls to share the news of the attack – the first direct one by the angels, they say – and that the borders need to be checked. The others check the house’s internal defenses.

Castiel watches them scurry around, and is actually a little surprised that it’s Ellen who approaches him to ask, “What did you do to those angels?”

“I pushed them back into their sphere,” Castiel says. “They’ve been directing langs to eat your borders, which is how they were able to get through. I tried to fix some of the breaks, but they might not hold since I don’t know exactly how they are made.”

“So the langs are being used by the angels,” Jo says, nodding with satisfaction. “We suspected as much, but there was no way to know for sure.”

“Did they follow you?” Ellen asks. “Is that how they found our home base?”

“Oh.” Castiel thinks back; Dean had said there’d been too many langs in his patch, hadn’t he? “I don’t know. Maybe.” Sudden fear grips him and he stands up quickly. “Joshua was able to get in to see me, he gave me that cloth, maybe he wanted me to turn on you, it’s – oh no, I’m endangering you, I should leave—”

Ellen clasps Castiel’s shoulder firmly, pushing him back into his chair. “You’re really not all that special, sport. Everyone here brings something bad to the table.” She smiles, gentling the touch on his shoulder. “But everyone also brings something good. That’s kinda how teamwork goes.”

“Teamwork,” Castiel echoes. He looks around and is suddenly aware that these people are a garrison. This haphazard crew is part of the resistance – Joshua’s words precisely – but he hadn’t stopped to think about what actually meant.

This is a war. Heavenly territory is its battleground and reward.

“There are layers,” Castiel says. “Heaven has layers from the original Garden, and the trees are... Oh, there’s so much, I don’t know where to start, what do you already know? Tell me. Tell me what you’ve been doing, what the angels have been doing.”

They talk. It is as Joshua described, where the humans are taking back their Heaven and trying to rebuild communities, though it’s not as simple as merely banishing the angels and moving people between patches. There are other headquarters just like this one, interconnected in a massive network that’s been working together in figuring out the challenges of rebuilding.

Clocks and synchronized daily cycles and psychics capable of communicating between patches are just the start of it. Humans are so very resourceful.

“I can tell you what I know,” Castiel offers, “But it’s just as likely that my knowledge is outdated by now.”

“It’ll still be worth a hell of a lot,” Jo says. Sam, who’s joined them, takes out an actual notebook and pen.

Castiel starts talking about the Garden, the veils, the trees and the layers of spheres using as simple terms as he knows. As he speaks, his body feels lighter, his mind sharper and his thoughts clearer. This is what he’s always wanted – to be useful, to stand for something – and although this isn’t his home, this is the humans’ Heaven and the angels can fuck off if they think they can continue their parasitic behavior.

“Fight for your home,” Castiel says fiercely. “Take it all back.” Humans are capable of so much, maybe it’ll only take a little more to tip the scales. Castiel can help them, Castiel can show them how to trap his former brethren and force them—


Castiel claps his hands over his mouth, swallowing nausea.

“Cas?” Sam says, alarmed. “You okay?”

“No more for now,” Castiel says, eyes scrunched shut and head spinning. “I can’t, I need to think. I don’t trust... Just let me think.”

He can’t let himself slip back into that old anger and pride. Not now, not anymore.

“Take a break, guys,” Dean says, appearing like a ghost at Castiel’s shoulder. Of course he would, Dean has such perfect timing. “Deanna’s rustled up some of her crack meatloaf, go check it out.”

Castiel says quickly, “I don’t want to argue right now,” even as Sam and Jo gather their things and go without argument. Castiel squirms under Dean’s attention, half-bracing for a blow and embarrassed that that’s the first thing he expects from Dean nowadays.

“Cool, neither do I,” Dean replies, dropping into the chair next to Castiel’s. “Hey, can I show you something? It’s from my patch. We connected it to this one a long time ago, so we can just pop over. If you want. I think it could be, uh. Nice.”

Even Castiel winces at how awkward that was. “Do you want me to?”

For a moment Dean just stares, and then he bursts with a sharp, troubled laugh. “Is that how it’s going to be from now on? You going to fight me every step of the way except for when you randomly decide to go along without letting anyone know what the fuck you want?”

Castiel’s sure that Dean has plenty of reasons to be upset with him, but the meaning of this one is elusive. “What are you talking about?”

Dean’s eyes briefly flick sideways towards Jo, who is sitting on a table and drinking down what looks like an ice-cream sundae. Dean leans towards Castiel and says quietly, “I thought you wanted me, not just... anyone.”

Castiel’s face flushes hot. “Well, forgive me for wanting to pay you back.”

“Pay me back?”

“For the first time,” Castiel explains. “In the woods, when you comforted me. The previous night – after we arrived at the house – I wished to give you comfort in return. That’s correct, isn’t it?”

“Jesus.” Dean has that look that means Castiel has failed to get yet another reference. He isn’t laughing, though. “Well, I guess that can be correct. For some friendships, yeah. But. But with you, I wasn’t... I didn’t do that just for you, I did that for me, too.” He runs a hand over his face, groaning. “For fuck’s sake, Cas, did you think I forced myself on you?”

Castiel makes a face. “What, am I supposed to believe that you want me?”

Dean doesn’t seem to find that amusing at all. He says, albeit with a great deal of reluctance, “I used to wonder.” Guilt shadows his face. “Back then. About us.”

Castiel stares. “What? When?”

“I don’t know,” Dean says, shrugging awkwardly, whole body tensed up. “I think it started from that night, that stupid thing we did at the brothel? After that thing with that girl crashed and burned, I wondered what it would be like if I kept that promise instead. I don’t know.”

Of course Castiel remembers that moment, and not just because a portion of it was used in his patch. It was one of the precious few easy moments they’d had in their fragile friendship. “Then everything else happened,” Castiel says. “And everything else just kept on happening, so it stayed an impossible idea in your head. Never to be known.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, surprised. Castiel can see the exact moment he gets it, shock and hope laid bare in his eyes. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Then Dean’s coming forward, hand grabbing behind Castiel’s neck to pull him in. This time Castiel rises up to meet him, fingers clutching for purchase and pushing his lips against Dean’s. They kiss desperately, all mouth and tongues and teeth, Dean growling his frustration through each kiss and Castiel meeting each one with a hiss because they hadn’t known. For a brief moment they’d been on the same page and they hadn’t known.

Castiel moans into Dean’s mouth and tries to get in deeper, seeking the sinful heat and closeness offered through physical touch. They’ve lain together already but there’s a different, brand new excitement coursing through Castiel’s body as Dean ravages his mouth – he hadn’t known that there could be more, and why couldn’t he have earned Dean’s love before they destroyed each other?

“Need you,” Castiel whispers, which has been true for so long he never thought it was worth saying out loud. “Don’t know why. It’s always been you.”

Dean’s hands slide out of Castiel’s hair, dropping down to hold his face with such gentleness Castiel knows without question that no matter how strong he thought he was, that was a lie. Castiel is every bit as weak, for Dean still has this; Dean still has him.

“Give me a chance, okay,” Dean says, voice barely audible and cracking. His thumbs move across Castiel’s cheeks, wiping away the wetness. “We can try.”

Castiel grits his teeth, shame making him shiver. “I think,” he whispers, not daring to say it any louder, “I think there’s something wrong with me. Just. Fundamentally. Maybe I wasn’t made right.”

“None of us are.” Dean drops a soft kiss to Castiel’s mouth, brushing their noses together. “C’mon, Cas, try to remember the parts where you’re pissed at me. You got good reason for that, too.”

Castiel presses his face into the juncture of Dean’s neck.

So this is what Castiel is now, a patchwork soul in someone else’s Heaven when he’d once been a fully-formed soldier, proud and true. He remembers walking the line for millennia until time and thoughts wore grooves into his faith. He remembers later, of rising against Raphael and being so sure – so sure –of his cause, because even if his faith in everything else turned to dust, he at least still had faith in himself.

He should have wondered, back then, why he’d found it so easy to kill his brothers and sisters. Why it had been so easy to turn on those he’d known and supposedly loved, not least of all Rachel, who loved him enough to call out his crap, and Balthazar, who turned to the Winchesters exactly the way he’d done before.

“I want to be fixed,” Castiel confesses, voice muffled against Dean’s shoulder. “But I know it can’t be done by you. Or anyone else.” He sighs. “I want it all the same.”

Dean’s too wise to offer useless platitudes now. Instead, he just holds on to Castiel and lets himself be held. This is, strange as it seems, enough. This is the closest Castiel’s known of contentment in longer than he can remember.

“Your patch,” Castiel says after a long moment, “You said you wanted to show me your patch?”

“Yeah.” Dean pulls away a little to study Castiel’s face. “Do you want to go?”


It takes magic to cross the veil, though this time Dean decides to walk instead of taking the Impala. Castiel takes his offered hand and follows him through a door with silver markings, blinking with bewilderment when he sees what’s on the other side.

Dean grins. “Nice, huh.” He pulls Castiel’s hand gently, drawing him deeper into the patch.

“I should have guessed,” Castiel says.

He’d had a glimpse of this once, briefly. At the time Dean’s dreams had been filled with scars left by Hell, but Castiel remembers one that had been similar in shape to this very patch Dean has drawn and filled for himself. Castiel shouldn’t have expected a bar or brothel, not when Dean could have a lake under a sky of perpetual sunset, lined with trees always in the full bloom of summer.

“It’s beautiful.” Castiel stays rooted to the spot, even as Dean tries to pull him forward. “This is yours. Is it proper that you share this with me?”

“What?” Dean boggles at him. “Of course it is.”

“But I don’t...” Castiel takes a deep breath. “I’m done. I have nothing left to give you.”

Dean comes in close, cupping Castiel’s face. Castiel would almost think Dean an unbearably patient and wise person if Dean didn’t smirk right then and said, “You angels make the weirdest fucking leaps of logic.”

“Not an angel,” Castiel mutters.

“Still an angel where it counts.” Dean taps his fingers on Castiel’s chest, just above where the human heart would be. “Born one, think like one, feel like one. Doesn’t matter what the crust’s made of, or even the filling.”

“Then perhaps angels are just not made for free will.” Castiel drifts forward, brushing his cheek against Dean’s chin and sighing. “Look at all of us who sought to have it to ourselves. Maybe that’s why Father gave it to you and not us. We’re just not built for it. Only Anna had the right idea.”

“Maybe.” Dean guides him towards the pier, pointing out details along the way that speak of how much of Dean is in this place. The path is made a particular type of sand that Dean likes to feel under his boots, the grass is the kind he remembers growing behind his childhood home, the lake is something he’d seen during the early travels with his father and brother but had been unable to ask to see up close.

“There’s fish, sometimes.” Dean kicks off his shoes, encouraging Castiel to do the same. “But I usually don’t care about that. I just like sitting here, really.” He sounds sheepish, as though there could be anything wrong about wanting to bask in what he’s earned.

“You’re at peace.” Castiel sits next to him, following his example of dipping his feet into the water of the lake. The water is wonderfully lukewarm, of course. “You died in peace. That’s good.”

“Hey, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” Dean shoves at Castiel’s shoulder. “That was a joke.”

Castiel rolls his eyes. “I know that was a joke, I just don’t think it’s very funny.” He pushes his feet through the water, surprised at the pleasant way it moves through his toes. It feels a little like how the essence dust used to push through his wings after a battle. “Just so that we’re clear on this, did you bring me here to have sex?”

Dean just makes a thoughtful sound; no leer, no wink. “Mostly I just wanted you to see this. Your patch wasn’t a good experience for you, I can tell that much. So here, have a bit of mine.”

“Thank you.” Castiel relaxes, surprised by how relieved that makes him feel. Sex is supposed to be easy, and it had even felt easy when he’d lain with Dean, but they’d messed that up anyway. “No, really. Thank you.”

“There was a...” Dean frowns as he recalls a memory. “Zachariah once showed me a possible future. I think it was a possible future, who knows how that guy worked. Anyway, in it, I saw you, a possible you, with your Grace gone and practically human. That you used sex as a substitute, too, so I should’ve seen that coming.”

“Don’t be stupid, Dean, you know how much I wanted it,” Castiel snaps. He immediately feels bad when Dean’s mouth thins, so he adds, “We were both in error there, let’s leave it at that. But this, here...” He looks up at the flawless sky, streaked with vibrant color. “Does this help? I know your Heaven is imperfect, but it has it good parts, doesn’t it?”

“’Course it does.” Dean kicks at the water, grinning childishly at the flying droplets. “It’s got its fucked up flaws, but one thing I got here that we didn’t have back on Earth is time. Now I can slow down and see people, and sometimes just... sit. Like this.”

“Time.” Castiel turns his gaze to the vast, unbearably beautiful place that has been given to Dean. Castiel never thought that Dean would enjoy something like this, what with his penchant for things that made loud noises or smelled strongly, but that just shows how little Castiel knows him.  “Now you have time.”

“Now you have time, too,” Dean points out.

Time to get better, maybe. Time to regain his bearings and relearn the rules of this new life. Time to get to know Dean. Time to figure out how to tell Dean the extent of what happened in Castiel’s patch; it shall be difficult, for Dean will take it upon himself to feel guilty for having even a distant role in nurturing Castiel’s insanity.

More important of all, time for Castiel to get to know himself and figure out where it went so wrong.

“I wish you could have seen my true face,” Castiel blurts out. “My original true face, I mean.”

Dean’s gaze turns speculative. “What’d you look like?”

“It was a face. I don’t know if it was a handsome face, but it was mine.” Castiel leans towards Dean’s shoulder, turning his face to brush against the cloth of Dean’s shirt. “We don’t have mirrors in our sphere, you must understand. The concept of observing one’s own appearance is something we learned from you. That said, I miss my voice more. The things I used to be able to sing. I think if you could have heard me, you would’ve liked it.”

Dean squeezes Castiel’s arm. “I’m sorry you don’t have that anymore, Cas.”

“Tell me about you.” Castiel lifts his feet out of the water so that he can slide his legs over Dean’s lap. “Tell me what your life has been like since I died. I’ve missed so much.”

“Eh, same old stuff.” Dean shrugs self-deprecatingly. “Boring stuff.”

“Dean.” Castiel gives him a sharp look. “I don’t know you. I have only the barest understanding about what you like, what you want, what makes you happy. I thought I knew you back then, but then I got so much of it wrong, and I don’t want it to be wrong anymore. I’m not...” He takes a deep breath, not sure if he articulated himself well.

“One of the earliest memories I have,” Dean says quietly, “Is of my mom singing. I don’t even know what song, actually, but I remember there was the smell of baking. I think it was cookies, and my mom sang as she baked.” He smiles. “Your turn.”

“I...” Castiel thinks. “I was born fully formed. They told me my name and I knew that I was made to serve. We were all born with knowledge sewn into our eyes and into our hearts. So I flew, for I knew that that was my task, and my brothers flew with me so that we could see the extent of God’s creation and praise it.”

“Hey, first successful cultural exchange, go us!” Dean laughs and drops a soft, casual kiss to Castiel’s mouth, as though this is normal, as though they’re friends. Maybe that’s a possibility now, despite everything that’s happened.

“That’s good.” Castiel wants to keep Dean’s smile there. There are so many corners of his own mind and heart that he doesn’t know, and Castiel is determined that his promises mean something again. He thinks he can get there, though. He is stubborn enough, and this time he’s not alone.

“What next?” Dean asks cheerfully.

“I don’t know.” Castiel stares at him. “There’s so much.”

Eternity is longer than most people realize, but Castiel doesn’t find that as terrifying as it once was.

“Hey.” Dean sits up suddenly, a thought occurring. “Let me show you how to make stuff. You know, with your mind.”

“Human magic.” Castiel looks down at his hands – his hands, not Jimmy’s. They’re the wrong size and the wrong shape, but they’re only size and shape he has left.

No matter. Castiel is resilient, Castiel can adapt, Castiel can make do. If this is what he has now, he will learn to roll with it.

He nods at Dean. “Show me.”