A/N: So sad to see this over so soon! Thanks to each and every one of you who's dropped me a line :) I love hearing from you guys! I hope everyone continues to enjoy this. To anyone who may review anonymously, thank you in advance since I won't be able to say it later.
One of the scenes from this chapter was inspired by that demon in the episode Road Trip: "Human Castiel? Eh. But feathered Castiel?" *fans self* Makes me wonder how he appears to a demon when he's feathered! ;)
Hengrimm, thank you once again for pitching this fic and for your amazing enthusiasm and eagerness that helped motivate and enthuse me as well! I hope this ended up being what you were hoping for! ^_^
The Gate Meg led them to wasn't far, and the group went unchallenged. Castiel almost wished Crowley would show his face, knowing the demon didn't stand a chance against him in a fair fight. On the other hand, he had people to protect. Better to get out of Hell as soon as possible and worry about Crowley later.
"It's just up ahead," Meg directed, still dwarfed by Sam's arms. She winced as she pointed. "See that column there?"
"Got it." Castiel took the lead, turning to keep an eagle eye on their backs as the rest of the group caught up.
Bobby cleared his throat. "So, uh… how does this work? I just step outta here and float off to the Pearly Gates?"
Nodding, Castiel passed one of the blades off to Dean so that he had a hand free. "I'll carry you out," he explained. "Once we reach Earth, your soul will ascend on its own. I'll keep an eye out to make sure no demons try to interfere."
"So… I guess this is good-bye," Dean said as he stepped forward to Bobby with a downcast expression. The hunter shook his head. "I wish…"
One side of Bobby's mouth curled up in a half-smile, and he nodded. "Yeah. Least I got to see you idjits one more time."
"And hey… good-bye isn't forever," Sam pointed out with a distinctly misty-eyed grin. "I mean, Ash figured out how to hop around personal heavens. We'll see you again, Bobby."
"You'd better." Bobby angled a look at the boys, before adding, "But not too soon, hear?"
"You bet," Dean agreed. He sniffled, letting Bobby pull him in for a quick hug.
Bobby patted his shoulder as he stepped back, then turned towards Castiel. The angel straightened, preparing to take hold of the old hunter so he could raise him from Hell, but Bobby spoke up first.
"And you, Feathers. Thanks."
Castiel blinked. "Meg and Sam were the ones who-"
"Yeah, I know. And… thanks for that, you two," he added, a little skeptical as he eyed Meg in Sam's arms, but as sincere as ever. "But that ain't what I'm talking about."
Cocking his head, Castiel gave Bobby a baffled look.
"Thanks for coming after me, and… for watching over these two. Never thought I'd see all three of my boys again, and I know I'll rest easier upstairs knowing you've got each other."
All… three…? Castiel continued to stare as the words sank in. Oh. He'd never imagined… Bobby had always been so gruff… But then, he was gruff even with Sam and Dean, yet the angel knew how much he cared for them. Then…? Castiel's mouth opened, but no sound emerged. His throat closed up and he couldn't help but smile weakly.
Bobby just snorted. "Don't go getting weepy on me now."
"Of course." Castiel cleared his throat, then motioned for Dean to stand next to Sam. "You three go first. I'll bring Bobby."
With one more shared look, and many unspoken words, Dean and Sam turned and stepped through the Gate, taking Meg with them. Castiel took one last look over his shoulder to make sure no demons were lingering in hiding, then glanced at Bobby.
The hunter wasn't smiling now, expression serious as he murmured, "You alright, son? Looked like Crowley really did a number on you."
"I'm not hurt," Castiel replied. He paused, but who was Bobby going to tell? "It's… not the first time someone has been able to control me so completely."
Bobby raised a skeptical eyebrow and shrugged. "Not sure what happened before we showed up, but I do know if Crowley didn't have Dean, he couldn't have made you do squat. Whatever went on, I know it was just to protect Dean. Everything you did was. Even if we didn't always agree, I do know that."
Memories of all his mistakes flooded Castiel: working with Crowley, swallowing the Purgatory souls, horrible choices in the interest of protecting Sam and Dean. A task he hadn't even succeeded in. But Bobby's nod of affirmation was forgiveness and understanding, and only then did Castiel realize how much he had wanted exactly that. His eyes burned.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"Uh-huh. So you gonna stand there all day, or get to raisin' me outta here?"
Castiel bit back a smile and then set a hand on Bobby's arm, and together they stepped through.
"Wait, no, that's not where it ends," Meg protested, lacing her fingers through Castiel's. "You're leaving out the best part."
"Where are we?" Sam asked Meg as the Winchesters stepped out of the Gate with her.
Meg glanced around; she had never used that particular exit, and it had been a while since Azazel had been in the picture enough for her to remember such things. "New Mexico, maybe?"
"Maybe?" Dean repeated with a glower. "Could you be a little more specific?"
"Do I look like Google maps?" she snapped back tetchily.
Sam shook his head. "It's fine, we'll figure it out."
Though Dean's tense shoulders didn't loosen, his eyes traveled over Meg, still held in Sam's arms. "How you doing, anyway?"
"Sweet of you to care." Actually, it kind of was. Relenting, Meg motioned for Sam to put her down. "Getting better. I can stand, anyway." Maybe. She was going to have to lay low for a while and finish healing up, though, maybe pass out for a bit if she could risk it. Meg hadn't dared close her eyes in a long time, constantly on the run in pursuit of Crowley's demons or being pursued by them.
"Sammy?" Dean asked next, turning to his brother with the same constipated look Meg was coming to associate with the hunter. "What about you? I thought we agreed you were gonna stay out of Hell."
Raising his eyebrows, Sam shot back, "I thought we agreed you were just gonna grab Bobby and come right back."
"Touché," Dean muttered. "I'm fine, though. Cas is the one that Crowley…" He trailed off, looking away and clenching both jaw and fists.
Meg understood the anger, especially because—knowing Crowley—Dean had been the means to gain Castiel's cooperation. There was no way the King of Hell could have ever gotten him to do what the demons had been saying, otherwise. No wonder Dean was furious. And speaking of Cas, what was taking so long?
The Gate thrummed as though in response to her question. Meg felt a thrill of relief as Castiel emerged, carrying the brilliant, white light of Bobby Singer's soul. All eyes turned to the angel, who lifted his hand without a word to release the glowing stream. No one moved or spoke as the soul twisted and twirled upwards, heading for Heaven at last.
Dean took a deep breath, then murmured in the silence, "So long, Bobby."
Still, the moment lingered, until Dean finally shifted towards Cas.
"And you," he growled, grabbing him by the lapels of his overcoat. "Why didn't you fight Crowley?" Dean's pitch rose with fear and anger, his fists clenching even harder as Castiel stared at him. "You didn't even try to stop him! Why didn't you fight back?"
Sam and Meg traded a look, but Cas only shook his head. "You know why."
"Damn it, Cas…" Dean bowed his head, taking deep breaths as he continued to clutch the angel with clear emotion. Cas didn't move. Finally, Dean ground out, "You deserve better. Don't you ever let someone treat you like that. Not because of me. What if he had-" His voice broke. "Meg's right. We've taken you for granted. We left you. We- we hurt you, Cas. I know we did. I know we do. So next time someone tries to use me against you, don't let them! Got it? Don't let them, Cas."
"No! Don't you let anyone talk down to you, don't ever let someone treat you like their property. Not Crowley, not Heaven, not us."
"Dean's right," Sam interjected, voice soft and full of guilt. "You know, we're supposed to be a team. It's not us calling the shots and you doing whatever we say. But… lately-" He broke off and cast a swift look at Meg before amending, "Actually, always… we've been acting too much like it is. But we're gonna try harder to do things right. You deserve better than that, Cas. Especially from us."
Well. Wonders never ceased. Meg looked between the boys—contrite and emotional—and Cas, who seemed just perplexed by the sudden outburst. He clearly didn't know how to respond, but Meg's shrewd eyes detected the straightening of his shoulders, the lifting of his chin, and knew that he'd needed to hear exactly this.
Gruffly, the angel said, "I- well… of course." Then, after a pause, he added quieter, "Thank you. But you're my friends, my family. I can't promise not to protect you if you're threatened. You would do the same for each other."
"We'd do the same for you, Cas," Sam replied.
Castiel nodded, and a silence descended. Meg shifted, feeling exhaustion starting to overtake her aching body, and wanting nothing more than to wrap this up and find a place to hunker down.
"Glad we've settled that," she started, drawing Cas's eyes back to her.
"Meg, you're still wounded." He set two fingers to her forehead, almost reflexively, then paused as he realized his mistake.
Meg smirked. "You know that's not gonna work, Clarence."
"We need to get you somewhere safe so you can finish healing yourself, then. You need rest."
Dean cleared his throat and stepped forward, trading a quick look with Sam. "You, uh… I guess you could… you know, chill at the Bunker."
"Thanks, but don't worry about it," Meg brushed him off. "I'll grab a motel room."
Castiel nodded shortly. "Then I'm going with you."
Meg raised her eyebrows, too surprised to work out a protest. Behind Cas, she could see the two Winchesters trading another look, unreadable, but neither of them protested either. Well… she certainly wouldn't turn down Cas's company. Not to mention, with him there, she would feel safe enough to actually rest.
Shrugging her agreement, Meg turned to the two hunters standing by and stepped over to them. There was one last thing she needed to do. "Glad you're seeing the light and all," she said, "but like I told Sam… if you could see Cas, just for one second, the way I do? You'd never forget again."
Dean started to shoot a quizzical look at his brother, who was frowning in confusion, but Meg didn't give either of them a chance to ask what she meant. She would just show them for herself.
Her hands shot out, grabbing both the boys by their upper arms. Though they were warded against possession, she had no need to go that far. Their human eyes would have burned out of their sockets if they caught even a glimpse of Cas's true form on their own, but hers beheld him all the time, so it was through her eyes that she shoved the image into the Winchesters' minds.
They gasped in unison as they finally saw the angel Castiel truly was. His true form was indescribable, as Meg gazed at him along with the hunters. Castiel's entire body was awash with light—not just haloed by the rays, but containing that light from within so that his very skin seemed to glow. Physically, his vessel was shorter than both Winchesters, and yet his presence seemed to tower, dwarfing all three of them and radiating power so tangible that the air crackled and sparked unseen to human notice.
He was somber and perfect, every line on Jimmy Novak's face erased and smoothed by the ageless grace of an angel. With the imperfections gone, he was a little terrifying, something alien, something amazing. Meg could see both parts of Castiel at once; the bright, breathtaking blue of his physical eyes, but also the endless, burning pools of radiance that beamed from beneath.
But his wings…
The feathered appendages stretched out on either side, enormous and vast. They were black, touched by Hellfire and yet somehow still glowing like the rest of his body in a paradox that human eyes could have never comprehended. The dark light emitting from those incredible wings illuminated the streaks of grey and iridescent bands of green and blue of each individual feather. Singed edges still smoldered slightly from the latest stint in Hell, but the light wreath of smoke it created was diffused against the radiance of his skin and grace, only making him all the more intimidating and impossible.
He was incredible.
Dean cursed shakily as Meg let go, not daring to show them longer than a few seconds; even filtered through herself, it might damage them, to stare directly into the sun. She stepped back, watching the boys with satisfaction. Their slack-jawed stupefaction and awe was the most gratifying thing she'd seen all day.
"C-Cas?" Sam breathed, still staring even though feathered Castiel had receded back to normal in his sight. His mouth opened and closed a few times, but there were clearly no words.
Dean looked like he was torn between turning his head and being unable to. Meg understood. That was how angels had always been to the demons, the reason why early humans who had beheld these terrifying creatures were so afraid.
Now they had finally seen all of Cas, and maybe now they understood. Because there was Cas, and there was Castiel. Cas—Clarence—was loyal, and clueless, and awkward, and fun to tease.
Castiel was dangerous.
And Meg loved a little danger.
The angel heaved a sigh now, rolling his eyes and shattering the awe-filled moment as he turned to Meg and chastised, "That was a risky stunt, Meg."
She shrugged. "They're fine, no harm done," she pointed out, though both Winchesters were still goggling at Cas with open mouths, visibly shaken. Good. They should be. They should be in awe every day, every moment of their lives that there was a freakin' angel living with them, who deserved their respect. And maybe now they understood the pure lunacy that they—little humans—had been giving orders to him.
"Dean, Sam," Cas went on, looking a little pained, a little pleading. "I'm not… I'm still me. Please don't…"
Sam offered him a weak smile, exhaling in a soft laugh. "No, of course. Just, damn, Cas, I never… I mean, I always knew- you know, true forms… I mean, wow, I can't believe we got to see-" He couldn't even finish, beaming wider and wider, like a fangirl geeking out. "So that's what angels- I always imagined- wow!"
Meg bit back a smile, rather pleased with herself, and starting to wish she'd done this a long time ago.
Cas still seemed unsure, giving them a sidelong look, but he nodded. "I can take you back to the Bunker," he offered. "I believe we've emerged just outside of Los Lunas, New Mexico, so if you want-"
"No, n-no!" Dean quickly stammered. "No, Cas, you don't have to do that. We, um… we can take it from here. Besides, you've got more important things to worry about." He nodded towards Meg, who smirked.
Definitely should have done this a long time ago.
Cas frowned. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," Sam assured him. "We can drive. You don't have to- no, just take your time with Meg."
Dean paused, then clapped Cas on the back. "And we'll leave a light on at the Bunker," he finished. "For when you come home."
The smile that blossomed across Cas's face definitely made this whole stupid day worth it. Meg's work here was done. Castiel stepped away from the boys, taking Meg's hand with one final, grateful nod to his friends. Then they flew.
"Okay," Meg said. "Now you can say 'the end'."
"The end," Castiel said dutifully, smiling as he let her final narrative sink in. He'd never heard her describe him before; the angel had to admit he was stunned by how she saw him. Of course there had been a time when the angels had been well aware of their domineering presence and used that to invoke fear in demons, but Castiel had given up such pride. He'd never considered that it might still be cause for awe.
On the other hand:
"I still think that was a dangerous trick to play on Sam and Dean," he told her regretfully.
Meg only snorted. "I wouldn't have done it if I thought your humans might actually get hurt," she assured him, which they both knew was probably stretching the truth a bit. "And it worked, didn't it?"
"Of course, if they could see any of the other angels' wings, they'd be substantially more impressed," Castiel pointed out. "Mine are so badly burned. I'm… not much of an angel."
"Wait… seriously?" Meg asked, tilting her head up to stare at him. "I've seen the others. Those pansy angels with their lily-white wings. Don't get me wrong, they can still smite a demon with the best of 'em, but they don't do anything for me. But yours?" Meg exhaled, then gave a low whistle. "Blackened. Badass. Every demon who looks at you and your wings know."
Castiel cocked his head, frowning in question.
"It's written all over you, Castiel. Your wings say that you've been to Hell… and you won. And that?" Meg shook her head, staring at Castiel with eyes that burned with passion and earnestness. "Oh, honey. That's all kinds of hot."
That was certainly not what Castiel had been expecting, a new way of looking at things that he would have never considered. Though he'd never even for a second regretted his choice to rescue Dean and then Sam from Hell, he'd also written his wings off as a sacrifice to the cause, something that would thereafter be tainted and a source of scorn at worst and pity at best.
Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined the burned wings to be a symbol of power, an inspiration for awe.
How incredible it was, Castiel thought as he brushed his fingertips over one of Meg's wounds, that he had come here to help her heal and was instead being healed himself. The things Crowley had made him feel began to slip away, his inadequacy and powerlessness replaced by the strength that Meg elicited in his heart.
Meg yawned. "Tell me another story," she murmured, eyes falling closed as she leaned into Castiel's chest.
The angel felt her breathing start to even out into a restful cadence. He gazed down at her, a smile spreading across his face. "Once upon a time," he began obligingly, voice soft in its gravelly rumble, "a demon loved an angel."
"You're talking about me."
Her voice was barely audible, and then her body fell slack in slumber at last. Castiel didn't ease away from her, but continued to hold the thorny beauty in his protecting arms. He would stay until she woke, refreshed and healed. Leaning back against the headboard, Castiel sighed with content and continued the story, though she was fast asleep.
"And the angel saw what she was, and loved her in return. Everything else was details. The end."