There is a part of me that is simultaneously excited and a bit nervous, considering the awesome critique and pointers I've received. Hope the last chap passes muster! Thanks to all who read and commented, you are all made of gold and awesome!

CHAPTER 8: For I have overcome the world

There was light streaming through the window.

It was the kind of golden light that you only saw on those rare days, like drowsy Sunday afternoons, where the world seemed to stand still and hold its breath, just so the person enjoying the moment could fully appreciate it. The moment was shot through with nothing beyond the slow glow of contentment and peace.

It was something Dean had never felt before, not in his life.

He blinked owlishly at the light, amazed at how it wasn't sharp, or painful. It was practically oozing softly through the room. Come to think of it, he had no idea where he was. If this was another Green Room incident, or so help him, if Zach was pulling another fast one, Dean was going to make sure a certain middle-management angel would beg for something as 'unimaginative' as stage 4 stomach cancer.

And, as per usual, memory came in slow chunks, with all the driving force of an artillery shell. And almost as painful.

He had been standing on the roof of a skyscraper, after he had finally said yes to Michael, sent Lucifer back to the pit and spoken directly to God. And Sam was lying there, dead, at his feet, and a world of pain and hurt was washed clean in one magnificent, symphonic maelstrom of holy, divine light.

"Sam?" Dean quested, voice muddled with sleep. He raised his head, and looked, really looked at the room he found himself in. It was... not a crappy motel. It was comfortable; the mattress of the bed felt like one giant, soft and relaxing orgasm. Comforters, pillows, duvets. No scratchy blankets or plague-bearing sheets. He raised himself up on his elbows, and his eyes, by now more alert and adjusted to his surroundings, scanned the floor. No ratty carpets. The rest of the room? Solid wooden cabinets, plush upholstered furniture and a non-nauseating, non-threatening colour scheme. The scan complete, Dean threw his legs to the side of the bed and placed his bare feet on the carpet, an involuntary little moan of delight escaping his lips as the soles of his feet touched the pliable textures of the flooring. "Well I'll be..." he began, and then he heard the flutter of wings. He looked towards the window, where a much more welcome angel had appeared. Dean frowned, for a moment wondering if this was a dream. For a start, Castiel was smiling. More than just smiling, the angel seemed on the verge of cracking up and laughing like a lunatic. Millions of smart-ass comments ran through Dean's head, but for some reason, he knew that throwing his usual Deanist curve balls resulted in Castiel frowning. And the grinning angel really cheered Dean up right now.

"Where have you been?" Dean asked, and Castiel took a step closer. Since the final battle, and Michael, and Lucifer, and...

"One final task," Castiel replied simply, even his gravelly voice seemingly permeated with barely contained mirth.

"One final task?" Dean queried, frowning slightly. He waited for Castiel to fill in the blanks, but some things didn't change, and Castiel was still a klutz when it came to the more nuanced give-and-take byplay that most humans did as easily as breathing. The angel remained there, grinning like an idiot. "Seriously dude, enough with the mystery crap! We won, didn't we? I mean I spoke to your boss, He's a nice guy, very sharing..." Okay, so maybe it was just too much in Dean's nature to deviate into sarcasm to get a response. Even when Castiel managed to miss the point completely, every time. "For God's sake, get on with it!" Dean snapped, finally, expelling his impatience.

"I will not bore you with the details, Dean."

"Then why are you practically splitting your head in half with a really creepy smile?" Dean fired back. Castiel's lips closed, but the smile remained in place. He lowered his head and looked at Dean from below the brows, sapphire blue eyes twinkling.

"I am... elated, at my Father's mercies. What He has wrought... it is for all of these things that I've held on to my faith, even when the others didn't," the angel replied.

"Great, self-validation. Awesome, I'm happy for you" Dean snarked. He got to his feet, sighing again at the small pleasures he had seemingly lost sight of long ago. He snorted. Yeah, carpets. Who'd have thought they could be so damn... pleasurable? "What happened? After me and God had a talk?"

"My Father has returned to Heaven," Castiel ventured, practically gushing. "He has restored what the host and the demons have undone, and He is –"

"Cas, I swear, if you don't tell me right now, in a straight answer, what I need to know, I will..." Dean sighed. He couldn't really be angry with Castiel. Who was he to deny his only real friend among the angels the pleasure of having his faith rewarded and restored? Hell, Dean knew he too would be voluble to the point of irritation if something like that happened to him. He'd be the first person yelling 'I told you so!' to every last bastard that dared tell him otherwise.

Castiel seemed unfazed by Dean's moodiness. Or he was completely sympathetic, because a chuckle escaped the normally taut lips.

"You made a choice when you spoke to God," the angel said.

"Yeah, I told Him I wanted Sam back. He said no. I think I had a cry," Dean sniped testily, not in the mood to think about everything that had happened, or to personally tell Castiel how the great Dean Winchester had practically begged and moaned like a little bitch before God told him what would happen. Without giving out specifics, in typical 'moves in mysterious ways' style. Maddening. "Then white light, and now I'm in the soft, glowing-fluffy-edges end of a Hallmark movie."

"Sam also made a choice." Dean quieted at Castiel's words. All thoughts of scorn and ridicule fled from his mind, and he found himself hanging on Castiel's every word, staring at the angel as though he were suddenly made of cheeseburgers. "God also spoke to your brother."

"Where is Sam, Cas?" Dean asked, slowly, with the measured tone of voice reserved for someone about to be crushed in a devastating bear hug, or simply crushed. Castiel sighed.

"Dean, perhaps if you let me finish, for once, you'll hear exactly what you've been waiting for," the angel said.

"Then no more Jedi-Vulcan double-speak," Dean snapped. "Where. Is. Sam?" Castiel shook his head ruefully. Of course it would be this way. The angel of the Lord looked down at the ground momentarily, then back at the expectant and soon-to-be-furious hunter before him.

"God deemed that your brother would not be damned for his part in everything that led up to and into the false Apocalypse," Castiel began. "His soul was... salvaged, prior to him saying yes to Lucifer. This allowed God to redeem him and cleanse him completely from the demon blood." The angel paused, looking at Dean, who gave no indication that he was going to interrupt. Stymied by the lack of response, yet pleased by the lack of interruptions also, Castiel continued. "But it was God's Will that he not return to life."

"And yet he seems to be close by," Dean pointed out, hoping against hope and holding out for the possibility that he, Dean Winchester, was alone again. Missing the inflection – as per usual – Castiel nodded.

"Your brother is close by." Oh God, Sammy. You made it! We made it! Dean stormed past the angel, but Castiel blocked his way and held up placating hands when Dean's expression turned stormy.

"Get out of my way, Cas," the hunter threatened in a low voice. The angel pursed his lips, sighed and shook his head.

"Dean, I must warn you –"

"I get it, things might not be the way they were before. Whatever!" Dean snapped. I don't care, I'm alive, Sam's alive, the world is still in one piece, and I'm so not in the mood for your cryptic crap right now! Dean ducked around Castiel and placed a hand on the doorknob. He turned it when the angel spoke again, and the mirth was back in his voice.

"Things are different. And they will be different."

"Didn't I tell you not to speak in circles?" Dean challenged, and this time, Castiel barked a chuckle.

"Just go, Dean," the angel said, and with a whisper of heavenly wind and wings, he was gone. Dean smirked and ducked out the door.

The rest of the house seemed as cosy and comforting as the room had been that Dean woke up in. He didn't care, though, rushing past small stands with photos, and ignoring the rest of the decor. He had one thing running through his mind right now, and it was the same thing that had run through his mind ninety percent of his life. Find Sam, take care of Sam, make sure he's safe. Down the stairs and up to the front door. Okay, find Sam was still in the cards, but Dean doubted his little brother would get far. He was so fired up with anticipation he could barely walk normal. He felt like bouncing around on his feet. Where are you, kiddo? Hiding from your very anxious big bro should be a sin, you know –

"Dean." Dean paused and closed his eyes. How could he not revel in that simple utterance of his name, at the remembered shade of familiarity that had dogged and fulfilled his whole life? Shoulders slumping with relief, Dean Winchester turned around.

There were already tears in Sam's eyes when Dean turned around. But instead of rushing each other, they simply took in the sight of one another, as if it were the cusp of a dream state, and neither of them wanted to make a move, in case it was about to end. Dean mused immediately on how utterly chick-flick the moment was, but he smiled slowly. How many times in the past have they been through this stuff? How many times would he be confronted by his little brother, who wore his heart on his sleeve, doing this?

How many of those times were the tears ones of happiness?

"Hey there Sammy," Dean replied simply, his grin widening. Through the tears, Sam suddenly smiled as well, a beaming, radiant grin that was every bit as powerful as the dreaded puppy eyes, if not more – how often did tears of joy get taken out for a spin? And, in keeping with everything that was just so Sam, Dean was not the first to break that pristine, never-to-be-repeated moment. With just a few strides, Sam closed the distance between them and enfolded Dean in his arms. And for once, the older brother didn't break the moment from his side. He simply let it roll over him, taking joy in it, as he reciprocated and folded his arms around Sam. And it was complete that way, the two brothers meeting at the end of the conflict that had consumed their lives, had demanded everything from them, even life itself twice over. Dean gloried in the quiet, almost painfully beautiful elation that edged on hysterical tears, even as he closed his eyes and let the fragments of moisture slip from beneath his lids. He was just holding on for dear life, not caring that Sam was in full swing, sobbing his heart out on Dean's shoulder even as the youngest was shaking with barely contained laughter. And Dean couldn't help it, because it had always been that simple for him: laugh and laugh well, because if you couldn't laugh, all you would have left was tears. So he laughed. It grew from a strange snorting sound, moving through a chuckle and then into a full-fledged belly laugh. It didn't take long before Sam was right there with him, laughing through the tears.

After several awkward, heart-wrenching, epically entrancing moments, they disengaged, treating each other to the once over. Just no telling with angels and demons. Or God...

"So, how was Lucifer?" Dean asked, trying desperately to lighten the mood even if, for once, he had enjoyed the chick-flick just as much as Sam usually did.

"I dunno, did you ask Michael?" Sam replied, voice still quivery. He accentuated the repartee with a sly grin, even though he could still barely see through the moisture in his eyes. He hastily wiped the heel of one hand across his eyes, sniffing as he did. Dean's head shook with more suppressed amusement, and he regarded his little brother for a moment, at that instant not compelled to participate in more gushing and gooeyness. Sam looked well. Better than okay, come to think of it. He seemed completely at ease, for once, with none of those instantly recognizable tells that could always, in the past, scream volumes of what was going on inside. Despite the tears and the mauled appearance of someone just finished with a traumatic, cathartically emotional spell, Dean realized that he had, in fact, never seen Sam this alive. Not ever. This was Sam with no troubled past, no demon blood, no guilt or enforced 'suck it up' playing through his head. It filled Dean with awe, and pride. He hoped he looked the same, because damn it, Sammy would never let him live it down!

"You look good, kiddo," Dean said finally, deciding what the hell! Sam replied with one of those longsuffering, take-it-then-leave-it smiles, the ones he always reserved for things that ended on a high note.

"So, you're not mad at me?" Sam asked, and Dean shook his head slowly.

"Sam, next time you say yes..." Dean began, not really feeling angry, but finding instead that he was moved to concern, "just... don't."

"Someone had to save the day!" Sam quipped, causing Dean to roll his eyes. "Right back at you, by the way."

"Bitch!" Dean said, adding some extra oomph to the name.

"Jerk," Sam fired back. They stood in silence for some moments, not wishing to break the easy camaraderie, but realizing the awkwardness setting in. Sam sighed. "So, you spoke to Him?"

"Yeah. Nice guy, actually. With a bedside manner like that, He must be busy all the time," Dean joked. "So, what's this choice you made? Cas made it sound very mysterious." Dean raised both hands and mimicked a gesture of apprehension.

"You spoke to Cas?" Sam queried. Dean nodded.

"Bastard's around here somewhere. Either he's getting his jollies from watching this feely-fest, or he's waiting for me to yell at him again." Dean's eyes narrowed. "It wasn't another 'ten years of bliss, and then hellfire' gig again, was it?"

"You think God would give anyone the choice of eternal damnation?" Sam snorted derisively, remembering his chat with the Lord of Heaven. Dean smirked, conceding the point. "No, He gave me three choices."

"Three? Jeez, no wonder the guy's out of service when you need Him; supply is high, but the demand is even higher. So spill."

"I stay dead, go to Heaven and be with mom, dad and Jess. You... you would have stayed here." Dean didn't miss the cloud of pain that crossed Sam's face, even if it was only a momentary break from the still-there elation. Nor did he ignore the jab of pain in his chest at the thought of that. And the intense, almost destructive surge of love and gratitude for his brother, for not making that call. "Number two was me coming back, and you and I do the hunting thing until we die, however that happens."

"Option two would have been... acceptable," Dean said, giving a little step sideways and tracing one finger across the small table standing beneath a mirror. But he knew there was more. "And?"

"I come back, and that's it," Sam finished, expelling a heavy breath.

"That's it?" Dean demanded, frowning heavily now. "Just like that? What, the Impala outside, Cas on his way to deliver more orders, that kind of 'it'? C'mon Sammy, that's hardly a reward for –"

"... don't know what I was thinking. That shade would never have gone with the dining room..." Both Winchester boys stared at each other, frowning, as a female voice reached them from outside the house. Dean's eyes widened, and he looked around the house frantically, finally recognizing it now that the primary objective was satisfied.

"The dining room is fine just the way it is," a male voice added with good-natured amusement. Sam and Dean watched the front door, which was rattling with the sound of keys being used. When the door opened, both boys stared in mute shock at the sight before them.

"Mom?" Dean began.

"Dad?" Sam was close to tears again.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Castiel stood outside the house.

It was the same house he had visited, sixteen years ago, but older, more lived-in, more comfortable. But this time, there was no fire, no demon, no intricate plan played out from both sides, focusing on two pivotal figures. As he waited, overjoyed and filled with happiness at the 'reunion' taking place inside, he couldn't help but wonder if this had been the right course of action to take. But who was he to question the Will of Heaven?

"Question away, beloved son, if you wish." Castiel closed his eyes, moved beyond words to describe at what he felt, hearing His voice.

"Such a loss, to have done so much, and to have it wiped clean," the angel said.

"Wiped clean? Not at all," God supplied, as He took up station next to the angel, towering over the more diminutive heavenly being beside Him. "What they have done will never be forgotten. And what if the Gospel of Winchester never sees the light of day? So what if these two never did what they did, here, in this reality?"

"Father, will they remember?" Castiel asked. It was a given that the Gospel, which would have been a critical element in the true Apocalypse, was now nonexistent. What need for a narration of prophecy on matters that had never occurred? A prophecy that was consecrated, even though, in retrospect, it was divinely misguided?

"For a while longer, the memory will be fresh. It is easy to reshape these things, child, but the people involved... therein lies the challenge." As if reading Castiel's mind, God snickered and added, "Even for Me, Castiel. Even for Me. You cannot remake existence without taking some licence, without contravening the very essence of makes humans... human." Castiel frowned. Surely God did not aim blind, or act on a hunch?

"But the archangels..."

"Are... doing penance for losing faith, and forcing My hand," God stated simply. "Castiel, it will help if you think of it in these terms: there have been many false starts, across many realms, through many realities and possibilities. This one, arguably, came closest to fruition, but it played out no less spectacularly than expected."

"This was premeditated?" Castiel asked, awed, and he looked God full in the face. He found nothing but compassion there, along with a slight hint of calculation that spanned limitlessly beyond his ability to follow. He knew he could never know just what His Father thought, would never know the unimaginable depths and heights of power and its righteous use that the Lord of Hosts commanded.

"Whenever the need arises, the right people will be there to make sure things go as they should. This is what Lucifer could not and never will comprehend, beloved son of Mine. This is why he could never grasp in love what he sought to destroy in hate. What even my most powerful children sometimes fail to perceive." God turned His head askance, allowing Him to look at Castiel in turn. "Some of my angelic children are more astute, and invariably recognize this thing that I have endowed humanity with." Castiel wracked his brain for an answer, and was amazed when he found it, and quite easily too.

"Divinity," he whispered, awed. "You gave them divinity." God nodded, smiling with pleasure.

"Yes, I gave each of them a part of Myself. What they lack in your powers, Castiel, humans make up for in resilience. Where their strength fails them, their hope sustains them. Where hope fails, there is faith, which in humans is unparalleled by even the archangels. You, of all my angelic children, should know how hard it is to hold on to faith, when you were not suddenly aware, one day, aware of yourself, and My presence, partaking of Me as easily as you would your brothers and sisters. Each of these beautiful, flawed, reckless, dangerous, passionate, kind beings that you call human, grow up knowing nothing of My true being, having never seen what they believe in. For just one such irrational and emotional being to make the choices of faith, taking that leap and trusting in Me, is glorious to an extent that very, very few of you have ever experienced, or will. Not as you are."

Castiel pondered these words, running them through his mind. He could not contain the absolute awe and honour he felt, receiving revelation from the very throne of majesty and existence Himself. He had always felt that humanity was worth far more than the simple, dismissive comments his brothers and sisters have made, bordering on heresy. That God entrusted him, a lowly soldier angel, with such knowledge, filled him with a desire to fall to his knees and praise his prodigal Father, until the daylight was enhanced with the full, rapturous unfolding of holy power, breaking free from its human form. And beautiful as it was, he needed to know.

"Father, if not Dean and Sam Winchester, then who? Who will be there when the Apocalypse comes preordained, as it will?"

"Whoever needs to fill that space, when that time comes again, will step up the plate," God replied simply. Castiel, caught up once more in the realization that he would never be able to comprehend even a fraction of his Father's Will, nodded. He would take it on faith, knowing that God knew something, but it was not something that Castiel needed to know. Sighing, he looked back at the house, listening to the sounds from within. Listening to a family reunited beyond natural means, a family that now existed where, before, it never had a chance.

"So in time, they will forget?" God nodded.

"This time was given for them to say goodbye, to remember that they were once part of something truly extraordinary, and to realize that they lost nothing of what has gone before, but rather that it will become an unconscious part of them, even as they settle into the normalcy so long denied them. And no, there will be no relapses. Just this once, we play both sides, and let them have both worlds, if but for a few hours, before the actual memories fade, and even the subconscious, instinctive drive to 'hunt' fades into oblivion."

"This does not contravene their free will in the matter?" Castiel asked.

"Not in this instance. It was not hard for them to consent, because there are no ulterior motives at play. Would you consent willingly to have four decades of damnation erased from your mind, in exchange for nothing more than being normal? Would you agree willingly to wipe clean a demonic taint that has cursed your actions from before you could even utter words of consent? The loss of your one true love? The realization that normal is out there, and within reach, no turning back, and no unwelcome visitors from days past, reminding you of what you've sworn off?" Castiel didn't have to answer. He had been as near as human as made little difference, and he could grasp, with a more-than-human and yet human mind, how critically important these things were. Especially with this family. "The balance has been restored. Gateways have been closed, doors have been sealed. We are in the run for the true Apocalypse, my son. And though these incredible beings have done so much, so selflessly, for so many people, they are worthy of living a life that requires less sacrifice, and offers more than thanklessness and despair."

"Heaven on earth," Castiel breathed, everything finally making sense. For a while, the two beings were silent, simply standing there, invisible, outside a house that had been earmarked for sorrow, and would now blend in with all the other houses. What was greatness, remembrance and reputation, when all you wanted was to be safe, and content? Others would have sacrificed everything to achieve any of the former, but Castiel doubted such second-guessing was taking place in the house right now. He breathed out, and with that simple act came one final realization.

It was over.

"What happens now?"

"In general, or with you and the Winchesters?" God asked, and it was impossible to miss the almost sly cant of His query. Without waiting for an answer, God continued. "They will have their life, as it was meant to be. John never lost Mary, and Sam never lost Jessica. Dean..." God smiled wide, "... has the most leeway here. His potential now is limitless – he can be and do whatever he wants to be. He has that option, now." God sighed with longsuffering. "To play with life, with consciousness and free will, is never done lightly." The implication stood, and Castiel could not miss it. He did not care to try and figure out just how far-reaching this restoration had been, how many people it touched, how many lives it altered. He did know that, even though an eternal rest in Heaven, surrounded by all who have gone before, as well as dearly departed loved ones, was a more fitting payment for the services offered by Sam and Dean Winchester. And yet, just the knowledge that God bestowed this unique gift, which sent far-flung ramifications to all corners of creation, simply for these two brothers, was mind-boggling in its generosity, and unknowable in its execution. But whatever happened, Castiel knew that God had shown His mercies, and had shown them to those who deserved it most.

"As for you, my ever-true child, I also have a gift. Truly, you remained loyal, even when you ran the risk of losing everything that made you what you are. Your sacrifice is worthy of praise in Heaven. I think you know what this gift is." Castiel did know, and he realized he did not want it. No, for once, he was willing to rest in the safety of what he was, and to whom he answered. Bowing his head, he spoke.

"Father, though I appreciate this gift, I would ask that You take it from me. I... I am a soldier of Heaven, and even in peace, soldiers are needed. I do not wish to leave Your service. The gift of humanity is more than I can hope for, but I will not forsake You for my own desires, or hopes." Castiel waited for disapproval, but he should have known, after millennia of service, even when he could not see the Creator's face, or feel His presence, that God's mercy was indeed infinite.

"Then watch over them, Castiel. No harm will come to them, but you have leave to observe the fruits of a handiwork you too had an immense part in shaping." Castiel nodded again, scarce able to hide his relief. He was forgiven of his perceived transgressions, restored to his full status, and God Himself had commanded this. He knew that there would be no more interference from his or Heaven's side. No more talks, conversations or chats with the two Winchester boys. But, also implied, was the final chance to say goodbye. He looked expectantly at God, who nodded, before Castiel vanished, giving the boys a few more hours to enjoy their restored parents.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

When Castiel reappeared at the Winchester home in Lawrence, it was already close to dusk.

He decided, for once, not to pull the appear-disappear trick that neither Winchester had seemed to grow used to. Or like. Instead, he walked up to the front door, composed himself and knocked.

Mary Winchester answered the door. She was still gorgeous, despite her advancing years, and the fading beauty of youth. What attracted Castiel to her was the way her eyes crinkled and laughed, even when her face was smooth. The fine wrinkles, crow's feet and gray strands of hair amidst the lush blonde only heightened her beauty, rather than take from it. It was the beauty of a life lived, Castiel noted, and sent another thank you to his Father.

"Can I help you?" she asked politely.

"I'm looking for your sons, Mrs Winchester," Castiel said, effecting his warmest tone of voice. Dean had often told him not to try and act human, but rather to let his vessel's instincts and reactions guide him. It was practically impossible, but Castiel knew true joys again, for the first time in ages, and letting his emotions overflow into his inflections was much easier than normal, this time. He actually thought that his warmth was truly convincing and real.

"They're upstairs with their father," Mary said, then rolled her eyes. "Men and furniture. It's a trial, I can tell you that. Would you like to come in?"

"No, that will be fine. I'll wait outside for them," Castiel replied, then nodded politely when Mary departed. Moments later, he heard Sam and Dean come trotting down the stairs. Only when their steps halted and they closed the front door behind them did Castiel turn around. Dean nodded, a frown marring his face. It was already becoming harder for them to disengage their real life from the fleeting images of their former life, this much Castiel could see. Sam too seemed to do a double-take, before recognition flooded his face again, and he grinned. Castiel was about to give a formal greeting when the youngest Winchester enfolded him in a hug, accompanied by a snicker from Dean.

"Some things won't ever change," the older brother snorted. Sam ignored him and clapped Castiel on one shoulder as he broke the hug.

"How've you been, Cas?" Sam asked.

"I have been restored, my transgressions forgiven," Castiel returned amiably. "I have come to say goodbye."

"Whoa, what?" Dean interrupted, taking a step forward. "Goodbye? As in..."

"Yes. As you no doubt realize, your memories of what happened before are fading. It took you both a moment to recognize me, for example. This is nothing to be alarmed at. Your choices placed you here, and there will be no going back." He watched this sink in on them, not intending the pronouncements to sound so dire, and yet happy to see that neither of them seemed to interpret them as such. "I represent a past part of your life. A life you both will no longer remember, soon. But I needed to say that... I was... am, grateful, and honoured, to have served and served with you both." Both men stared at the angel as though they couldn't believe what they were hearing.

"So this is your reward, huh?" Sam asked. "You get duty, and we get..." he looked away, at the yard around them, the trees and the house behind them. We get everything we wanted.

"I was allowed the choice to fall. To become fully human, to live a life as one of you, and to ascend to Heaven's fields as a human soul. But I do not wish to leave my Father's service. Now, more than ever, I wish to stay."

"You're just drunk on all that new power," Dean quipped, receiving an elbow in his side from Sam. He grimaced and treated his younger brother to a death stare, which Sam studiously ignored by fixing on the angel again. Knowing there was little else to say, Sam looked down, swallowed and extended his right hand. He looked meaningfully at Castiel, recalling the day he had first met the angel, and the callous typecast the angel had labelled him with. This time, Castiel smiled, took Sam's hand in his own and once again placed the other over it.

"Farewell, Sam Winchester. May your life be blessed, and full, and normal." Sam smiled slightly at the last word. Castiel turned to Dean, who was watching him with a pained expression. Then he moved in and hugged the only angel he ever really trusted, much to Sam's wry amusement.

"Have a great one," Dean whispered hoarsely, voice growing emotional. He disengaged, gave a too-hard clap to Castiel's shoulder and forced a grin. "Now that you have some free time, try and have a little fun. Hook up for some angel cake, while you're at it." Castiel only smiled. It was hard to say goodbye, he realized, when they weren't just empty words spoken to the air, but also invested with a mountain of shared experiences. There was no need to state the obvious: that he would miss Dean's banter, his strength and his resolve. Even his struggles, which had been absolutely enlightening for an unfeeling angelic being. Or that he would miss Sam's triumphs, even in the face of immense adversity, or his kindness and his empathy.

"So, what happens now? When you go poof, I mean," Dean said.

"Right now, you'll go inside, and be with your mother and father. Later, you will go and fetch Jessica from the bus station. Sam will go back to California, and Bobby will be coming to Lawrence for a few weeks to help out your father. Life will go on," Castiel said.

"Bobby?" both Winchesters asked, stunned, then burning on to elation. Dean was the first to draw up and look at Castiel, but before either Winchester could react to the sudden realization of the angel's forced farewell, Castiel raised both hands, lightly touched them both on their foreheads, and vanished from their knowledge altogether, even though he was still standing right in front of them. Sam looked at Dean, who shrugged, before both of them turned around and went back inside. Castiel waited until the door closed, then looked up at the sky, turning rosy as night began falling. "Be of good cheer, Dean. Angels truly are watching over you all." And with that simple, unrequited parting, Castiel vanished. There was a certain man from Pontiac, Illinois, who missed his wife and daughter terribly, and who also deserved a chance at normal once more.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

"I did ask her," Sam said by way of apology. "She still needs to do a few things before next week."

"If she so much as sniffed in the general direction of my baby, I will..." the threat went unfinished as Dean slid behind the wheel of the Impala, and Sam got in next to him. Jessica had opted for a bus to the airport, rather than join them in the Impala. Dean turned to his brother. "Everything packed?"

"Yeah," was all Sam said, then waved at their parents, standing on the front porch, fingers and arms intertwined as they waved their sons goodbye. "Dad gave you the week off?"

"He knows I need a break, and Uncle Bobby will help him out." Dean said. "'sides, when was the last time you and I went road tripping together?"

"I get carsick, Dean," Sam sighed. "So, never."

"You think that's normal?" Dean challenged, eliciting a bark of laughter from Sam. He started the Impala up. "Hey, you don't need to go lawyering right away, do you?" Sam shrugged, puzzled.

"The firm only needs me back next Wednesday."

"I say we hit the Grand Canyon," Dean said, pulling the Impala out of their parents' driveway and speeding off, with both boys waving out the window. Dean reached for the box of tapes behind his car seat, pulled one out and popped it into the cassette player. Sam merely rolled his eyes, his iPod useless in his hands. "And Hollywood."

"Whore."

"Baby!"

"Aww, c'mere you jerk!" Sam cackled and reached for Dean's cheek. Dean angrily swiped the hand away and jerked his head back.

"Hands off, bitch!" Sam kept laughing for some time, and Dean smiled despite himself, as they left Lawrence and headed out west for Palo Alto, and everything in between.

High above them, wings outstretched to their fullest, surrounded by the light of Heaven and the grace of God, Castiel hovered in his true form, looking down and smiling. The angel followed, amused as he heard Dean go on about how much of an adventure crappy motels, pay-per-view and seedy small-town joints were going to be, much to Sam's horror and offended sense of refinement, but also his good-humoured chagrin.

Truly, Castiel had thought, Father had wrought well, both in the beginning and the end, with these Winchesters.