A Feast for Two at the Turquoise Dragon
When his phone rings at 4:45AM, Sam feels a wave of joy and relief wash over him. Dean's changed his mind. He'll realize that his logic is faulty, that together they're greater than they could ever be apart. They'll reunite, and he'll prove he's not---
"No, it's me."
His spirits plummet at Cas's voice, but it's something that the angel is still on speaking terms with him. "Oh, hey. How's it going?"
"I have some time before an appointment, and I think it would be beneficial to have companionship. Where are you?"
"Northbound on I-75, coming into Detroit. I'm going to---"
Castiel sits beside him in the Lincoln's front seat. "Hello, Sam."
"Glad you could drop in," he says, and finds that he means it. In a way, Castiel is a link with Dean---if nothing else, a way to pass messages to his brother when the stubborn son-of-a-bitch won't pick up his phone. "Uh, you're not here to smite me, are you?"
"No. And I wouldn't be able to, even if that were my wish." It's good to know he doesn't want to---that's one person who's on his side. Sam glances over at the figure in the other seat. As usual, Cas looks disheveled. And Sam hears rumbling that he knows isn't coming from his stomach. "I'd like to talk, if you don't mind."
"I was going to find something to eat. Why don't you join me?"
At Cas's nod, Sam takes an off-ramp. He's been to Detroit enough times to know a few 24-hour places. With Dean...and without. In fact, adding it up, he's been here as many times without Dean as he has with. There were a couple jobs here during the episode of Trickster-time he'd endured without Dean, and he'd been here again, with Ruby, when Dean was in Hell.
Thinking of that more recent visit, he steers away from the burger joint they'd gone to---she'd pronounced the fries "orgasmic"---and locates a 24-hour Chinese restaurant called the Turquoise Dragon. So what if it's 5AM? Unlike certain people, he doesn't subscribe to the "If it's not eggs, it's not breakfast." philosophy....
The Turquoise Dragon sounds much grander than it is. It has the standard accouterments of red, gold and black, lanterns and fans, but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for by being clean and reasonably priced. There aren't many people in Detroit with a yen for Chinese food at this hour. There's a fat woman with a book open to one side of her plate of lo mein. She twirls her fork around the noodles with one hand and turns pages with the other. An old man displays a half-eaten eggroll on his plate, but he's paying more attention to the bottle in the brown paper bag under his shabby coat.
Sam glances at the menu, decides. Once he's ordered for them---the feast for two should feed them, and maybe leave enough for lunch---he eyes his companion. "So, what's on your mind, Cas?"
"I know it must be difficult, to feel rejected by your brother," the angel says in that maddeningly dispassionate way he has. "But please, stay strong. Don't do anything rash out of a sense of pique."
"I wasn't planning to," Sam says, taking one of the tea cups---it looks like a ceramic shot-glass in his hand---and pouring some of the hot tea the server has brought them. He passes the cup to Castiel, pours another for himself. "I've done some really stupid things, I know that, but there has to be something I can do to---to atone." He hates the break in his voice---it sounds weak---and wishes he felt that easy confidence again---but that's what brought him to this, he reminds himself as he sips the brew.
"There are things I know, and things I only wish I knew," Castiel says, sampling the tea thoughtfully. "I know that regardless of how you may feel---" The server sets bowls of egg drop soup in front of them and deposits a third bowl of fried noodles on their table. "Thank you, Mr Feng, and felicitations on the birth of your granddaughter. As soon as you see how beautiful she is, you really won't mind that she isn't a boy." The server gazes at him for a long moment, bows, and departs. "As I was saying, Sam, there's one advantage that you and your brother have that far outweighs the power of any celestial being save the Almighty."
Sam stirs his soup, thinking about it. What advantage do they have? His own powers are gone, Dean's a helluva hunter, but there's nothing 'special' about him---aside from the whole "Michael's vessel" business.... "What?" he asks. "What's so special about us?"
"The same thing that distinguishes all humanity from the Heavenly Host. You have free will. You can chose to accept Lucifer, or you can refuse him, just as Michael can only claim your brother with his permission. That is the gift that our Creator bestowed upon mankind that my kind can only receive by Falling."
"I thought that was only an illusion," Sam says finally. He's down to the bottom of his soup, and Castiel hasn't expanded on his statement, just attended to his own portion. "When I was at Stanford, I took a course in Religious Theory, and we talked a lot about destiny and free will...and you guys keep saying that this is my destiny, or that's Dean's destiny---so if it's destiny, then how can we possibly have free will?"
"An excellent question!" Cas picks up an eggroll from the platter that arrived while they were occupied with the soup. He gestures with it as he talks with more animation than Sam's used to seeing from him. "Think of a similar word, 'destination'. Destiny is the destination you arrive at by means of your free will. When Dean sacrificed himself for you, he made that choice with his own free will, which made it his destiny." He crunches into the eggroll and chews with obvious pleasure.
"No, I don't buy that." Sam fights down a spark of anger that wants to rage at such an easy dismissal of the horror his brother endured. "If that's true, then why did any of it happen? The only reason I died was because I was stuck in Azazel's verion of Survivor: Cold Oak. Not my idea, Cas---none of it was my idea, not that or being infected with demon blood---not any of it!"
He falls silent as a server---a different server, a woman his age---brings dishes to their table. Cas tells her that her husband will be coming home from Iraq soon, and not to worry, because his wounds won't be serious. She also bows to him before leaving them.
"Very true." Cas continues as Sam reaches for a spare rib. "Azazel infected you and executed your mother. That unleashed your father's quest for vengeance, which was in turn passed down to you and Dean. In the end, you and Dean destroyed him. That was Azazel's destiny." His slight emphasis on the demon's name makes Sam try to interpret it as he bites into the spicy pork. Maybe that's a fancy way of saying the the world doesn't revolve around Sam Winchester? At least, Dad always said that when they were fighting.
"You look confused, Sam," the angel remarks. He's finished the eggroll, and is studying a spare rib as if determining the life story of the pig it came from. "Azazel singling you out was one of the uncounted myriad of variables that permeate Creation, all caused by free will. Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between coincidence and free will. In fact, since I've been here on Earth, I've discovered a saying that sums it up very well: 'Shit happens'."
Sam almost chokes on a piece of water chestnut. "Oh, sure," he says as soon as he can breathe again. "Now I get it. Everybody shits. That's destiny. But we have free will about what we eat, so the end result is up to us." Castiel has one eyebrow raised as he listens to Sam's diatribe. Probably sounds like he's channeling Dean, Sam thinks, but he's tired and a little punchy. "Except for those myriad of variables, like what if the mayo on your sandwich is bad and you get food poisoning. Then shit really happens. Brilliant."
Setting the spare rib down on his plate, Cas leans forward, his blue eyes bright. "Dean has often accused me of interpreting his words too literally," he confides. "It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one who does so."
It isn't funny, but it totally is. It's 6 o'clock in the morning and he's discussing free will and destiny with a fallen angel over egg foo yung and moo goo gai pan. There are people who would actually find this strange.
Midway through his second helping of egg foo yung---because that's not going to keep so well for lunch---Sam brings up a topic he's been wondering about for the last few weeks. "Do you know what happened when Lucifer rose up? I mean, do you know why it happened? How Dean and I ended up on that plane, and how you were...um, put back together?"
Castiel's dark brows knit together. "I've given that matter a great deal of thought," he discloses. "In fact, I will go so far as to say, it has given me hope, because it was truly miraculous. You humans, you toss around the word 'miracle' indiscriminately. You label the products you manufacture 'miracle' this or that, as if plant fertilizer or auditory-assistance devices are somehow more wonderful that what occurs naturally. A seed is planted and it grows into---this vegetable" The angel brandishes a bright green tuft of broccoli on his fork. "And somehow, that isn't miraculous enough for you?"
"Miraculous meaning what, exactly?" He'd better head the angel off---it sounds like Cas is about to start filibustering.
"Meaning my Father has taken a hand in it. Personally. I have two reasons for thinking so. First, what was done to me could not be reversed by any lesser power. No angel, nor any demon could have done it."
"And what happened to us...?"
"It wasn't done by demons, because they would have wanted you to stay for Lucifer to occupy. At the same time, I'm disinclined to believe angels did it. It would be well within their power to do so. However, given their current displeasure, I believe that it would have been more in character for them to save Dean and to rend you to atoms."
Sam notes, with a flicker of thought that's gone after a few heartbeats, that Cas has referred to the other angels as 'they'. Then the meaning of what he's saying penetrates. "You're saying God personally rescued us and put us on that plane?"
"Yes. I am."
Suddenly, Sam feels less weary, more hopeful. Dean may try argue with him, but he usually listens to Cas, and if what he's saying is true, if God hadn't wanted them together, they would've ended up miles apart.
The first server brings them take-away boxes for the leftovers, the check, which Sam appropriates, and leaves two fortune cookies.
"Sam, you were both saved---not just Dean because he's Michael's vessel---both of you! Even though you've been tainted by Azazel, God believes in you. Even though your actions have had disastrous consequences, God believes in you. Even if you don't believe in yourself, God still believes in you."
But Dean doesn't, he wants to retort. Dean doesn't believe in me, and that's all I've ever wanted...but maybe now I can convince him.
"What is this?" Castiel holds one of the cellophane-wrapped cookies, looking at it from various angles.
Stripping the plastic from the other cookie, Sam cracks it in half and extracts the slip of paper. "It's a fortune cookie. There are messages inside the cookie," he explains. Decides not to tell him about the game of adding 'in bed' to the end to make it funnier. That was Dean's little inside joke.
Cas mimics his actions, looks at the paper, then across the table, perplexed. "These messages...are they meant to be prophetic?"
"I suppose they could be," Sam says, his fist closed around his own tiny rectangle. Dead-pan, he remarks, "Maybe it's coincidence, maybe it's destiny."
"I think I should go now. Sam, thank you for breaking bread with me. I suggest that you might want to begin driving with Kansas City as your destination."
Poof, he's gone. Good thing Sam has planned to pick up the check all along. Castiel's fortune is still a little white void on the black tabletop, though, and out of curiousity, Sam picks up the strip of paper. He reads: "Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom."
It's enough to make a guy wonder about things like prophecy and fate and all those random coincidences along the way.
After Sam pays the bill, he's got just about enough money for gas to KC. He has the surplus of their feast for later consumption---hoping it won't cause untoward variations on shit happening---and as he's leaving the table, he drops the angel's fortune into his jacket pocket. It joins a similar slip that says: "Life may change us, but we start and end with family.".