A/N: I am alive! Feeling much better, but sticking with bed rest for the next few days so I can go back to work Monday. So here we are, a little late but still arrived. This story is based on a prompt from Miyth.
Disclaimer: Supernatural isn't mine. Some dialogue in this story is lifted from episode 9x9 "Holy Terror"; it's not mine, either. Most of this chapter follows canon for the set-up, but then we go way AU. And it's an angst fest.
"So, he's better?" Dean asked, glancing from the nighttime road to the passenger seat.
Sam—or really Ezekiel—was staring straight forward, almost statue like, with a slight dip in his brow he always had that clued Dean in to when said angel had taken the reins.
"Yes," he replied in that monotonous voice. "Sam is much improved."
Well, that was good to hear.
"It shouldn't be much longer now."
Dean's jaw ticked in minor annoyance. "Okay, you know you said the same thing to me last week, right?" At this point, he didn't know whether to think Zeke was lying, stalling, or just not as capable of healing Sam as he'd proclaimed.
"As I told you when we met," the angel replied, giving him a pointed look. "This will take time."
Dean huffed in frustration. Right. Time. It'd been a couple of months already; how much time did the miracle worker need?
"Okay, well, go then," he snapped. "Heal. I'd like my brother back, please."
And not just in this moment, but for good.
Zeke was quiet for a beat. "I must say, Dean," he began stiffly. "I'm very uncomfortable with this whole trip. Investigating crimes involving angels—or anything involving angels—puts me, and therefore, Sam, at risk."
Dean shook his head in mounting vexation; he was really getting tired of Zeke playing the 'Sam's at risk' card. Especially since they were supposed to be getting to the point where Sam wouldn't need Zeke anymore.
"Well, family business, Zeke. Okay? If we ignore this, Sam's gonna think that something fishy's going on."
Zeke's gaze bored into him for a moment before he said snippily, "Then I trust you will be discreet."
Dean might have responded in kind if his brain hadn't picked up on something else from this conversation. "Wait, if you know where we're going, that means you've been listening in. Are you- are you hearing everything between me and Sam?" he asked suspiciously.
Because that was taking this whole awkward arrangement to another level of rubbing Dean the wrong way. Sure, Zeke was helping Sam, but Dean did not like the idea that he was privy to every single thing going on between them.
"No," the angel said. "Just a word here and there."
Dean flicked a skeptical look at him. A word here and there was enough for him to figure out what case they were going to investigate?
"I have better things to do with my time than eavesdrop," Zeke went on, pausing to give Dean a pointed look. "Like heal your brother."
Dean frowned. "Okay, 'cause here's the thing—"
There was a flash of blue in the dark, and suddenly Sam was talking over him.
"I mean, I was gonna say, it seems like it's getting really quiet out there, you know?" he said, scratching the back of his neck. "Not a peep from the angels, even Buddy Boyle goes off the air and stops recruiting for them."
Dean tried to mentally backtrack to what he and Sam had been talking about before Zeke had emerged to give a sit rep.
"Obviously calm before the storm," he said, because that was an answer that was usually true.
Sam lolled his gaze out the window. "Yeah, maybe," he murmured. His attention caught on something, and he abruptly twisted around as the Impala sped past it, expression scrunching up in confusion.
Dean frowned and glanced behind them, though it was too dark to see anything. "What?"
"That sign said, 'Fort Collins, fifty miles.'"
Sam's brows shot upward. "So, last time I looked, like, twelve seconds ago, uh, Fort Collins was a hundred miles."
Dean moved his mouth soundlessly trying to think of a way to explain that. Damn Ezekiel and his bad timing. It was hard enough keeping Sam in the dark—which Dean hated—but if Sam ever found out and kicked the angel out before he was fully healed, Dean might find himself right back in the same position of frantically trying to save his brother's life.
"Well, hey, man, ever since that goddess got her hooks into you—"
"No, it's more than Vesta," Sam cut him off. He shook his head in rising agitation. "I mean, this kind of thing's been happening to me. Like, like, there are chunks of time just…missing. Like there are times when I'm…not here."
Dean's chest tightened. He just had to keep his cool, play if off…not arouse any more suspicions.
"Well, like I've said—"
"Yes, the trials," Sam interrupted harshly. "I know. I heard you. I heard you when you said it the last week and the week before that and the week before that."
"Yeah!" Dean cut in. "Because…" he fumbled. "Damn straight the trials. They whacked you, man. You're not up to warp speed yet, okay? But you will be." He had an angel's guarantee.
Dean turned and smiled at his brother. "Would I lie?"
Sam's expression was pinched as he met Dean's gaze, and the smile faltered. No, Dean wasn't lying about this. And he wasn't technically lying about the other stuff, just omitting certain details.
But once Sam was back on his feet, it'd be worth it. And Dean could put this whole sordid mess behind him.
They pulled up outside the crime scene the next day, a roadhouse not too far from the highway. The place was packed with crime scene techs and investigators, as a massacre of this scale drew a lot of attention.
Dean and Sam headed up the steps to the uniformed officer manning the entrance to the roadhouse, and held up their FBI badges. The guy barely gave their credentials a look before his brows rose.
"Ah, one of your guys is here already," he informed them.
Dean paused, and exchanged a look with Sam as they quickly stuffed their IDs back in their suit jackets. Great. Taking charge was easy to do with local authorities, but it got trickier when real FBI was on the scene.
Bracing himself, they headed inside.
The place was a mess—overturned furniture everywhere, multiple pools of blood spread throughout the room, each one attached to the chalky remnants of angel wings burned into the floor or walls. Local cops were gonna have a hell of a time sorting all this out.
There were more uniformed officers and guys with cameras, as well as a handful of men in suits. Sam cleared his throat to draw attention, but the man who looked over didn't say anything or approach. Probably wasn't FBI.
Dean looked around, and had to do a double-take at the guy in the opposite corner. Oh, for the love of…
He headed over, Sam following.
Cas glanced up and spotted them. "Ah, my colleagues," he said to the man he'd been talking to, and the gentleman stepped away.
Dean came to a stop and fixed Cas with an unamused look. This was not what the ex-angel was supposed to be doing with his time.
Sam, on the other hand, was bobbing his head in barely concealed delight, and clapped Cas on the arm. "Agent," he said, half in question, half in enjoyment.
Cas's eyes sparked, and his attempt to return a serious, "Agent" looked goofier than Sam's.
"Cas," Dean said in a low and displeased tone. "What the hell are you doing?"
Cas blinked, eyes wide and far too eager. "Um." He leaned in. "I still have that badge you gave me."
"Yeah, uh, what the hell are you doing?" he repeated with a growl.
Cas's ecstatic demeanor crumbled instantly. He quirked a confused brow at Dean. "The murders were all over the news. I- I thought I might be of help."
Dean just stared at him. Seriously? After Cas didn't want to get involved with the Rit Zien in Rexford?
"Yeah, but, Cas," Sam spoke up, lowering his voice to a whisper. "You know that this is an angel situation, right? I mean, you left that night because angels were on your ass."
Dean's pulse jumped. "Yeah," he interjected quickly. "And you were living the life, you know? Early retirement, working your way up the Gas-N-Sip ladder."
Cas just looked back at him as though not understanding. "If angels are slaughtering one another, I have to do what I can to help."
Dean opened his mouth to argue, but Cas continued.
"It's a risk we should be willing to take, don't you think?" he added, raising his brows meaningfully.
Dammit, Dean didn't have a counter to that. But this was really not good. Zeke had made it perfectly clear that Cas couldn't be around them at all. And now that Dean had just found out the angel was sometimes listening in on their conversations…he could already know that Cas was here, and he was pissed enough that they were on the case to begin with. How the heck was Dean going to salvage this?
Sam shrugged in agreement and a hint of appreciation.
Cas grinned. "Hey, Cas is back in town."
Dean twitched. "Seriously, did you- did he just say that?"
Sam huffed out a small laugh, clearly digging this little pow-wow reunion.
Cas lifted a file he'd been holding to look at some pictures. "These angels, uh, they were butchered," he said, and passed them to Sam. "Much more violence than was required."
Dean looked over his brother's arm to see the photos of before the bodies had been removed.
Sam's brows rose incredulously, and he swept his gaze around the room. "Definitely took more than one or two killers to pull this off."
"Hit squad? Bartholomew's people?" Dean postulated.
Sam shrugged. "Well, Bartholomew has a faction we know about, but this could be somebody else entirely we don't know."
Awesome. Just what they needed.
"Well," Cas said, reaching up to pat both of them on the shoulder at the same time. "Whoever it is, we'll find them."
And with that, he strode between them to head off, looking like, well, an FBI agent on a mission.
"'We'll' find them," Dean repeated. "That's great." Just great.
And just to add another nail to the coffin, Sam's eyes suddenly flashed blue and his posture straightened abruptly. Ezekiel turned a furious look on Dean.
His throat bobbed, because this time he didn't have anything to say. Both Sam and Cas were determined to work this case, but they couldn't work it together. Zeke would now be listening in on everything probably, and that grated Dean the wrong way, too.
Jaw ticking, he turned and walked away. Maybe the sooner they solved this case, the sooner they could go their separate ways again. At least until Sam was fully recovered.
Except there was nothing to be found at the roadhouse. They knew angels were involved, that the killings had been brutal, but other than that, it looked like they'd need to stick around and do some more digging. Dean tried to keep Sam and Cas away from each other, but his brother was just too damn enthusiastic about seeing Cas again that it was difficult, and Dean spent more time on edge and running interference that he wasn't doing much investigating himself.
They finally called it a night and headed to a bar in town for some drinks and food. Cas was actually eager to have a beer, and Dean couldn't believe his luck that the angel who used to have a stick up his ass was finally loosening up, and he couldn't fully appreciate it because he was still so tense about the whole situation.
Cas's jovial attitude was not helping, either.
"It is so good being together again," Cas said after knocking back a swig. "You know, this is my first beer as a human."
Sam huffed out a laugh as he watched the ex-angel indulging himself.
Cas paused. "I hope it's okay," he said, giving them a wide-eyed, tentative look. "Me joining you."
Sam quirked a puzzled brow at him. "Why wouldn't it be okay?"
Shit, not again.
"You know, Cas," Dean put in. "Are you sure you're ready to jump back into all this? I mean, it seemed to me like you'd actually found some peace."
Sort of. But Dean couldn't afford to let himself dig too deeply there. As much as it sucked, at least when Cas was laying low, working at the Gas-N-Sip, Dean didn't have to worry about him.
Cas just canted his head toward him meaningfully. "Hey, you once told me that you don't choose what you do. It chooses you."
Dean processed that for a moment. "Huh?"
Cas gave him a nod and wink. "I'm a part of this."
Cas clinked his bottle against Dean's, and Dean just hung his head. He could not believe this was happening.
"Like it or not," Cas added, and took another drag.
Or not was right. Or, shit, under any other circumstance, Dean would be thrilled. But not now, not with Zeke lurking just under the surface across from him.
Sam shrugged, accepting. "Alright, well, then, in that case, we have to figure out, uh, who are we up against, what do they want, and how do we stop them."
"Well, Bartholomew wants to reverse Metatron's spell," Cas replied. "Presumably to retake Heaven once his following is large enough." He paused, then added, "That's according to April."
Dean frowned in thought before he placed the name. "The reaper you banged."
Cas just stared at him. "Yeah. And you stabbed."
"Yeah." Shit, this was another avenue of conversation that needed to be avoided at all costs, because Cas had died and Zeke had brought him back, only Dean told them it was April who'd done it… He now intimately knew the meaning behind 'oh, what a tangled web we weave.'
Sam was smiling at them, probably remembering the night afterward when they'd gotten back to the bunker…but that was another memory Dean really didn't want to dwell on.
"Alright," Sam said. "I'm gonna get us another round."
"Nah, I'll get it," Cas replied, hopping off his barstool as he drained the last of his bottle. He'd only taken a step before pivoting around to place it back on the table. "You know, I've never done this before," he said with a grin, and then headed for the bar.
Dean sighed. "One beer, he's hammered."
Sam was shaking his head as he kept an eye on Cas, until his eyes flared with that eerie azure light, and his posture went rigid. Ezekiel glared Cas's direction for a moment before turning that irate gaze on Dean.
"Oh boy," he uttered.
"Well?" Zeke demanded, voice tight with fury and nostrils flaring. "What are you going to do about this?"
Dean flicked a glance at the counter where Cas was waiting for their drinks. "About Cas?"
"He is a beacon, Dean," Ezekiel snapped. "Pulling every angel for miles down on our heads."
Dean shook his head. Of all the angels he might have gotten to help Sam, it had to be the drama queen. "Alright, you know what, Zeke? Level with me—what is it that you're so afraid of?"
Zeke hesitated for a split second. "I told you," he said more softly. "When I chose to answer your prayers and heal Sam, I chose sides. That means I'm not in good standing with certain angels."
"Okay, well, you know what? Cas isn't in good standing with any angel, all right?" he retorted. "But here he is, ass on the line, fighting the fight. So tell me, what makes you so special?"
The fury returned to Ezekiel's gaze, yet before they could continue, Cas returned.
"Here we go. Three brew-skies," he enunciated. One more and he was likely to be completely smashed.
"I'm going to get something out of the car," Zeke said abruptly and stiffly, standing up and beating a speedy retreat.
Dean took a sip of his beer, trying to wash the bad taste out of his mouth.
Cas stared at the table for several long moments before clearing his throat. "I, um, I noticed you look…kind of uncomfortable whenever Sam mentions my leaving." He lifted a questioning gaze to Dean, but Dean didn't know what to say to that.
Cas squinted in confusion and suspicion. "Doesn't he know that you told me to leave?"
Dammit, he did not want to have this conversation.
Cas glanced toward the exit, and Dean was afraid he might go after Sam, so he blurted, "Here's the deal." He hesitated, rapidly trying to form an explanation that would take care of everything. "When Sam was doing the trials to seal up Hell, it messed him up, okay? The third one nearly killed him."
Cas nodded along, brows pinching in obvious concern.
"If I'd let him finish, it would have. He's still messed up. Bad."
Cas frowned in thought. "But you said the angel, Ezekiel, helped heal him."
Dean shook his head and dropped his gaze. Yeah, that was supposed to have been the arrangement. Still was. Which meant…which meant Dean was gonna have to do the absolute last thing he wanted. Again.
"Look, I got to do anything I can to get him back." His throat tightened. "Now, if that means that we keep our distance from you for a little while, then…then I don't have a choice."
Cas's expression fell as understanding seeped in.
"I don't feel good about it," Dean insisted. "But I don't have a choice. It's great to have your help, Cas." He swallowed. "Okay, but we just can't work together."
Cas looked frozen for a second, the same way he had in the bunker that awful night. Processing the words came more quickly this time, and he looked down at the beers on the table.
Dean couldn't stand it. He stood up and dug some twenties out of his pocket, which he dropped on the table to cover the beers. And then without another word, he turned and headed out. He didn't think he could hate himself any more than he already did, but apparently he was wrong.
The shock of cold night air when he stepped outside stung his eyes, and he gave himself a small shake. At least Zeke would be happy now.
Dean scanned the lot, but didn't see his gigantic, angel-possessed brother near the Impala, so he headed around back in search of him. Sure enough, there was a large figure in the alley behind the bar's rear exit, towering over a much smaller person. Dean slowed and kept to the shadows along the wall. Even from this distance, he could recognize Zeke's stiff-as-a-board posture, and wondered who the heck the angel would be talking to.
"What is it you want of me, Metatron?"
Dean pulled up short. What the hell? Metatron?
There was an exasperated sigh, followed by the smarmy voice of someone Dean had sworn to stab in the throat the next time he saw him.
"Just to be your friend. You and I go back a long way. I was actually the one who freed you."
"You?" Zeke said in surprise.
"I was the one who caused all the angels to fall," Metatron proclaimed proudly. "Including the imprisoned ones. You're welcome."
Dean's brows shot upward. Whoa, whoa, whoa, 'imprisoned' angels? Cas had said Ezekiel was a good guy…
"No angels are in Heaven? None at all?" Zeke gasped, sounding horror-stricken.
"No," Metatron replied. "And you know, at first, I thought I would love it. But it's a big place. My solitude is getting tedious."
Dean's fingers itched to grab his angel blade and storm out of hiding to kill the bastard, but he didn't. He kept absolutely still and held his breath, because things were not adding up here in a very bad way.
"And so?" Ezekiel asked.
"And so…" Metatron started conspiratorially. "Plan B. Rebuild Heaven as the place God envisioned it, only with a handpicked few. No more anemic functionaries like Bartholomew. And no more stupid angels." He paused, then added thoughtfully, "Maybe some funny ones." He took an earnest step closer to Ezekiel. "You were His most trusted, Gadreel. You want to take back your reputation? You want to reclaim the Heaven that was? We could do this together."
There was a long moment of silence where Dean felt as though all the oxygen had been punched from his lungs. Who the hell was Gadreel?
"I will consider your offer," Zeke—or not Zeke—finally said.
Dean's heart dropped into his stomach. Oh god, what the hell had he gotten them into? Ezekiel wasn't who he said he was? Was he even healing Sam, then?
Regardless, Dean knew one thing for certain—he had to find a way to evict this imposter, now.
Castiel shuffled into his motel room, heart heavy and confused by what happened at the bar. He thought he'd been pulling his weight with the case, actually contributing something and being of help. He thought if he could prove to the Winchesters that he could be useful, he might start to redeem himself to them.
But apparently that was not going to happen. Dean said they had to avoid Castiel because of Sam and the Trials, but that just didn't make sense. It sounded more like Dean was just trying to make excuses. And Sam didn't know that Dean had told Castiel to leave? Then why had Sam seemed so stiff when he'd abruptly left the table, when just before that he'd seemed happy to have Castiel around?
It was all so confusing.
And it didn't matter. For whatever reason, Castiel could not work with them. Could no longer be their friend. Perhaps he was a liability now as a human. He'd thought they would be good teachers, able to help him navigate this new existence, but that was a burden they shouldn't need to bear, especially when they had enough problems trying to clean up Castiel's mess with the angels falling. That was obviously the last straw in a long line of horrible mistakes that Dean just couldn't forgive.
But that didn't mean Castiel was going to give up. Angels were killing each other, and he had to do something. They were his family, after all.
A family that hated him.
Castiel sighed despondently. Both his families hated him.
But if he couldn't redeem himself with the Winchesters, maybe he could try with his angelic siblings.
Desperate, Castiel went to the foot of the bed and got down on his knees. He had no other idea of what to try. And while it was entirely possible that an unfriendly party might hear this message, he figured they would be too busy with their own affairs to pay attention to one human's voice out of a cacophony of them.
"Okay," he breathed, smoothing down his suit and setting his arms on the mattress. "I'm…unfamiliar with this end of the process." He bowed his head and folded his hands. "Of course…no one may be listening. Um, but I- I do need assistance."
He took a deep breath. "I have questions, and there seem to be no answers. I…I wouldn't presume to ask for help if I weren't desperate, but I need help."
He lowered his forehead to the mattress in a posture of contrition. "I'm lost," Castiel admitted. "I need your guidance."
For a brief moment, he had almost directed his prayer to his father, but he knew better than that. God was long gone, and obviously didn't care about his children, who had been cast down to Earth in a violent rage.
Castiel rolled his shoulder and re-centered himself, aiming his thoughts toward angels, not Heaven. "Please hear my prayer."
He paused, opening his eyes to look around. Nothing had changed. Of course, it wasn't as though he could expect an angel to fly into his room. If anyone did choose to answer his prayer, it would probably take them a while to arrive. Castiel just wished he could have some kind of confirmation that his prayer had been received at all.
He sighed. "I don't know how humans do it."
He could try again later. For now, he stood up and walked over to the TV, hoping to fill the silence in the room and in his head with mindless noise. Yet before he could get the device to turn on, the door was suddenly kicked in. Two thugs bearing angel blades burst inside.
"Well, well, well, look who we have here," one of them said, baring his teeth in a predatory grin.
Castiel could only stare in horror. How? He was warded, and- and he didn't think any of the militants would pay attention to a measly mortal's prayers.
"Malachi was right," the same burly guy spoke again. "Watch for the Winchesters to come investigate the angel killings, and Castiel wouldn't be far behind."
Castiel's heart nearly stopped. Malachi? The Anarchist?
The angel roved his gaze up and down him. "Didn't expect to find you alone, but that just makes things easier."
The two angels surged forward and seized him, and Castiel knew he couldn't hope to fight back, mortal now and no match for angelic strength. As he was dragged bodily outside to a van, he realized Dean was right to send him away. He could have endangered the Winchesters had he still been in their company. He should have stayed away altogether.
And now he would have to face the consequences of his multitude of sins.