Author's Note: I just want to thank all of you guys for your amazing support and love for this story. This experience wouldn't have been nearly so enjoyable for me without all of your spazzing and freakouts and glee and gifts of art and other things and berating characters in the comments and threatening to kill Ruby and Uriel and constant smooshies and putting the story in favorites and alerts and GIANT FREAKING HEARTS, really, seriously, you're amazing. Happy Solstice, Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Meli Kalikimaka, Feliz Navidad, and have a really, really ridiculously wonderful 2009. And now, here is a little present from me to all of you. Take it as being a gift for whatever holiday you celebrate, along with lots and lots of love from me.

So, picking up in the middle of that last scene…

Alternate Ending

There was nothing else to say. Uriel turned away from them and knelt by the couch, resting his hand on the little boy's head. It was so strange to see tenderness in this being of prejudice and rage and destructive power, but there it was, soft and bright. Castiel shifted under the light touch, a breathy moan escaping his lips.

Uriel put his hands to his chest, and when he drew them out they were full of soft, glimmering light. This time it was not imprisoned in a vial, just held gently in large, callused hands, pooling and swirling as if alive. He poured the grace onto the boy's chest, letting it roll out of his hands like a lost pet brought home to its griefstricken owner.

Castiel jerked as it touched down, his eyes flying open with a startled gasp. Before any of them could react, his hands flew out, pulled at the grace, detaching it from his body and holding it balled it small, trembling hands. "No, no," he whispered, voice broken and cracked, nearly inaudible.

"Castiel." Uriel's voice was shocked. This was strange, too, to hear this supremely confident creature sound uncertain and amazed. "You must be healed. You must return to your true place in the universe."

Feverish blue eyes tracked slowly over to the tall angel's face. "Uri…" His lips moved, but he couldn't seem to shape the last syllable. "Uri. No."

Uriel's brow furrowed. His voice was patient, but here came a touch of that condescension Sam had been waiting for. He explained the situation slowly and calmly, trying to reason with the sick child. "Castiel, you are dying. You are not meant to be a human. You made a bad decision. It is time to fix it."

"No, Uri. No…go. I stay. I stay." Castiel held the ball of shining light toward his brother, his hands shaking. "Mission. Purpose. Dean. Dean needs…Dean needs me. Needs me."

"Dean needs an angel, my brother. The world needs angels. Warriors. We need you. We need you to return to us."

Holy crap. Sam thought Uriel's voice might actually be shaking with emotion. Never would have expected that one.

But Castiel's cracked lips firmed at this, hard and thin. Stubbornness—another thing he had learned from Dean. "Other angels. You, others. Dean needs me. Needs me…human. Human, Uri. This."

The effort of putting so many words together was clearly exhausting him, his hands slowly sinking in the air. He had to pause for breath between every short, painful statement. Sam felt Dean jerk next to him, longing to go to the boy, help him somehow. But he held still, quivering faintly.

"Castiel…" Uriel's voice was wavering, balanced on some thin edge. Sam held his breath, wondering wildly which way he would fall.

"This," Castiel whispered, voice all but gone. "This. I know. I here. This right."

"But, Castiel, my brother…"

"Trust. Trust me, Uri. This right."

Uriel finally raised his hands, catching Castiel's as they sank. He cradled the child's small hands in his, and liquid grace ran out through the pale, slender fingers, gathering in the larger angel's palms. "Very well," he said quietly. "You have made your decision. I will trust your judgment."

Castiel sighed softly and let his eyes fall shut, the last of his energy finally giving out. Uriel tucked the grace away again, but remained kneeling there on the floor, watching his brother struggle to breathe. He laid his large hand on Castiel's forehead, then on his chest, closing his eyes. Sam thought he saw a glimmer of light, like starshine reflecting off a frozen lake, quick and fleeting.

The boy's breath evened, deepened. A faint tinge of healthy color began to creep into his deathly pale cheeks, the hectic points of fever-flush fading away. The painful tension leaked out of his shoulders, leaving him fully relaxed, sleeping peacefully.

It was so good to hear him breathing easily, finally, no longer fighting for every shallow mouthful of air. Sam realized that he was still crying, but for an entirely different reason now. He no longer felt embarrassed by it.

Uriel opened his eyes and climbed slowly to his feet. He turned to Dean and Sam, his eyes hard, though his expression was resigned and sorrowful.

"Take care of him."

It was both a threat and a promise. Dean's eyes sparked, but he just nodded. Uriel stepped back from them. A flutter of shadowed wings, stirring the papers still littered across the desk, and he was gone.

Bobby burst noisily in the door, stomping his snowy boots on the rug. "Hey!" he called as he turned the corner into the main room. "Did I miss something?"

Sam sobbed, then laughed. He looked over at Dean, saw that he was grinning foolishly, eyes wide and bright as a child's. And yeah, Dean was crying, too. Just a little, though, and Sam was sure he would deny it.

"Nah," Dean said. He crossed the few steps to the couch and knelt by Castiel, laying a hand on his head, feeling the lack of fever. "Nah, Bobby. You didn't miss a thing. We're good. It's all good."

Bobby looked at Sam, the skeptical twist of his lips declaring that he didn't believe a word of this. Sam just smiled and nodded.

"Yeah. It's all good."

The End