Castiel's search for something to believe in after everything changes. Leans towards Castiel/Anna but pretty much gen. Spoilers for 5x04, "The End." Also, briefly not in chronological order.
"You did the best you could. I forgive you."
Anna's looking at Dean but Castiel knows it's for him, just knows the way he's always known her (or thought he knew her).
He can sense Uriel doubting him, sense him questioning the way the garrison endlessly questioned him when the orders came in. He's determined to stand strong, though, to carry his orders through and give her a warrior's death, something honorable and quick, the sort of death he can never be convinced she doesn't deserve, no matter her indiscretions against Heaven and their Father.
She steps forward and for a fleeting moment Castiel envies the Winchesters. He envies the depth of anguish in their eyes, the grim set of their jaws, the true regret that Anna coolly declares beyond him. It is this that drew Anna away from him, their garrison, from all that was right and good.
Anna flees into the sky on the wake of her grace and he watches her go, astounded, awed at the glory of it all. Though they have gravely failed Heaven and the orders given them, unlike Uriel, he cannot count himself disappointed.
Castiel sends Dean a look before he goes, warning, grateful, searching, but he is not courageous enough to stay a moment longer to see what Dean may say against his adherence to Heaven's orders.
Castiel sends the garrison away in his humiliation, drops his gaze away from Uriel as the silence settles. It is a different silence than the one with the garrison, one filled with doubting and cool looks, uncertainty and sneers. His one vice is too well-known but only now relevant. He is loyal, unflinchingly loyal, unchanging even when the circumstances change.
At last, Uriel speaks. "All this because Ananchel was reborn as a human."
"Yes," he says.
"And the Winchesters strode in to save her. From Heaven." He scoffs. "How... blundering. Typical."
Castiel casts a warning look in Uriel's direction. "We will find them. Find her."
"Are you certain we can't simply..." Uriel gestures. "Cleanse the area, raise Dean Winchester once more? He clearly can't be reasoned with -- "
"Our orders are to kill Anna Milton," he says tersely. "Not Sam."
"Of course. Sam Winchester has been such a great help to Heaven's efforts in these End Times."
Even without the skeptical tilt of his head, Castiel can sense Uriel's utter disapproval. It is unfortunate, but it isn't Uriel's decision to make. "I'm sorry if our orders are not to your liking."
Uriel snorts. "Are they to your liking, Castiel?"
He ignores the implication, as he ignores all the rest. "She can hear us," he says. "As we can't see them, that is our only means. We must speak to her."
"Ludicrous, that she can hear us now," Uriel says; Castiel has recently concluded that he talks only to hear himself. "Nothing but trouble even as a human."
"She is still one of us," Castiel reminds him.
The moment it leaves his mouth, he realizes it is the completely wrong thing to say, and Uriel stares skeptically back at him. "She is fallen," he reminds Castiel crisply.
He stands firm, unmoved, not showing the creeping twinge of -- something. "But still an angel."
"Not one of us," Uriel retorts. "The furthest thing."
"I am aware," Castiel says, an edge in his tone.
There is a moment where he stares at Uriel, daring him to comment. He says nothing, so Castiel speaks decisively. "We have our orders. We must convince the Winchesters to surrender her."
"A pity we need them," Uriel says, flippant as ever. "It's a joke. Apes running loose, meddling in Heaven's affairs."
These conversations always make him uncomfortable, brushing too closely against blasphemy. "They couldn't know."
"Of course not. That's exactly what I mean, Castiel. They're short-sighted, limited animals, running on impulse and ... pheromones, stumbling their way into every temptation. Why else would Dean Winchester be foolish enough to seduce a fallen angel?"
It's enough to strike Castiel silent for a long moment as he forces back this unpleasant feeling at back of his throat and front of his mind, and brings himself under firm control. "Enough," he says harshly. "Dean has only one weakness. We must exploit it."
Uriel defers with a nod, though the respect in his posture is not echoed in his eyes, where he mocks Castiel still.
It comes as no real surprise when Uriel is put on point when they are warned of plans to break another seal, even less so when Castiel is stepped past on the next. Though Zachariah spoke harshly to them immediately after the incident, there is no formal punishment or doubt in Castiel's ability to fight on behalf of Heaven.
There is no need for a formal denunciation, or open doubt. Those who understand what happened in that barn pity him and can't find the right words to say, and those who don't merely consider him a fool, or worse.
Castiel thinks the best of his brothers and sisters. Behind the pointed silence surrounding the topic of Ananchel's escape, they could be thinking much worse.
Dean is calling for him. It is a relief to have an excuse to leave the garrison, where he must sit and wait for Uriel to receive revelation in his place. Thankfully no seals have fallen since the last, two days previous, and Dean seems to be in no real danger or troublesome situation.
This begs the question of Dean's intentions. Castiel has learned that Dean's intentions are at best unpredictable and at worst completely contrary.
Dean is clearly suffering the effects of drinking too much alcohol the previous night, and is slouching against the headboard of his hotel bed with a cup of coffee clenched tightly in both hands when Castiel first arrives.
"Man cannot live on bread alone, Dean."
He raises the cup of coffee to Castiel. "That's why I'm getting breakfast." He considers that, and grimaces. "Soon. Not now."
Castiel watches Dean drink his coffee in silence -- troubled silence, he can sense the pain in his guarded face -- and in that moment, it becomes clear to him what seems so strange about the situation. Sam is conspicuously absent, though the scent of demon blood lingers in the room.
Dean suddenly cuts to the point. "How long until the big dance, Cas?"
He sees no reason to lie. "It ... approaches. Thirty-seven seals have fallen."
"And we're sitting on our asses doing nothing because..." Though Dean looks pointedly to him, Castiel turns his face away, bothered once more at how easily Dean can bring himself to say the unspoken thing that troubles him -- how similarly they seem to think, though angel and human. "You dragged me out of Hell to fight this thing, Cas, we're halfway there, what the hell are we doing?"
He has no answer for that. He has even fewer answers than the last time they met. Much has changed. "I have no direction for you. When I do, I will bring it to you."
"So that's all I get, the score and 'tune in next week'?" Dean retorts.
Though he's clearly disappointed in what little information he's been given, Castiel still finds the gesture reassuring -- Dean has faith in Heaven's efforts and his role in them after all. "Yes."
He looks skeptically at Castiel, who remains unmoved, and clearly gives up. "Great. Thanks for not bringing that douchebag Uriel, anyway."
Castiel can only imagine the look on Dean's face if he knew the situation back at the garrison. It is not a pleasant thought. "You called for me, and he is otherwise occupied," he answers simply.
"What, is there a puppy that needs kicking?"
A strange question, even for Dean. "No, Uriel is not kicking dogs."
Dean throws his hands up, as frustrated as Castiel is confused. "Whatever, we'll just sit on our asses waiting for the red phone to ring. If Sam doesn't jump the gun and kill Lilith himself."
Castiel is not sure what to say to that, though it explains much of the new darkness in Dean's eyes. A rift growing between the Winchester brothers; he is sorry to see it, as he himself is growing far too familiar with such problems. "That would be unwise," is all he can think to say.
"No kidding." Dean crosses the room, gets his wallet. "I've got it handled, Cas."
He finds many things about Dean Winchester incomprehensible, troubling, enviable, but for the first time, he thinks he truly understands one of the newest wounds that Dean is left nursing. This sympathy frightens him less than it should. "Family does not always act as we would have them," he says after a moment.
Dean snorts, good-naturedly. "That's because they're family." He rifles through his wallet and eyes Castiel, and changes the subject with the usual lightness. "Do you eat?"
"I can. But it is not required." That is not to say he hasn't tried, but that story is for another time.
"But you don't?" He stuffs the wallet into his back pocket. "Dude. End of the world. You need to have a bacon cheeseburger before there's only Twinkies and cockroaches left."
Castiel sends him a blank stare. Flummoxed may be the word. It is for the best that Uriel is not here to observe this. "I... don't understand your fixation," he confesses. "But I do not find it necessary."
Dean shrugs it off. "Use your angel mojo, get yourself to Tennessee. Best damn bacon cheeseburger, you'll find it necessary after a bite. Trust me."
"Tennessee," he repeats slowly.
"Come on. Live a little, Cas."
His exasperation amuses Castiel in a somewhat ironic way. "Thank you, but I will take your word for it."
Dean shakes his head, good-natured. "You sorry SOB. Anna was right."
Dean and Anna. Hidden from Heaven, they spoke, did more than that, and the reminder changes Castiel's expression imperceptibly, and with it, the tone in the room. "Anna has given some impressions to you that... are not entirely correct."
"Really." Dean leans against the table. "You really think you're better off than the rest of us, Cas? With your Heaven's happy soldier schtick? I mean, I'm the last one to say that humans are great, we're nasty sons of bitches most of the time, but there's a whole lotta good mixed in with the bad. Starting with the food."
"Not better." Castiel moves closer to him, considers him, to keep his mind from wandering to Anna, and the continued orders to kill her on sight. "Different. Made to serve Creation in different ways."
Dean raises his eyebrows. "So you're built to be happy to just do what you're told and nothing else?"
His belligerence should anger Castiel -- bother him, lead him to lash out or leave -- but he finds himself intrigued by Dean's courage to speak his mind once again. "Yes. This is how we fulfill our true nature."
Much to his surprise, Dean laughs. "Yeah," he says, "that's what I used to think, too."
It pains him to hear it, and he reminds Dean again, "Good things happen. This is the day the Lord has made."
Dean is looking at him and it takes Castiel a moment to recognize the expression he wears -- something nearing pity. "How many good things happen to you, Cas? Or are you just not built for that?"
It is an absurd question. Castiel raises a hand, gestures, indicates the world around him. "There is life. Time. Creation is good."
Dean gives a short laugh but says nothing to that. "Isn't Anna a part of the whole Creation thing?" he asks pointedly. "Or are people only good when they're doing what you tell them to?"
He speaks evenly, restraining the first pinpricks of righteous anger. Dean does not know, cannot know. "What she did... it was a betrayal."
"And she deserves to die for that?" Dean presses, incredulous. "Were you actually going to kill her?"
"Those were my orders."
The sharp look in Dean's eye reminds Castiel why he avoided this conversation. "Man, I don't know how you expect me to believe in a god who runs things like that," he says, shakes his head, walks past Castiel. "One mistake and you're dead? Even Donald Trump isn't even that much of an ass."
"The plan is just." Dean can think what he wants; it is easier to let his faith speak than his emotions. The length of time in this vessel has had its toll on him. "We still have orders to kill her."
"Of course you do." There is a beat of silence, where Castiel cannot bring himself to look at Dean. "Do you want to?"
"That is of no consequence." He looks to the window.
"Sue me, I'm curious."
Castiel stays quiet a moment longer, before he finally speaks. "I meant what I said to her. That I was sorry."
"You had me for a second there, Cas." Dean seems ready to drop the subject, so Castiel looks back at him, inquiring. "Thought you were another one of those brainwashed jerkoffs." He checks his cellphone. "People deserve a second chance. A chance to prove if they're any good."
He has surer footing in this conversation. "He knows that."
"Does He?" Dean retorts.
"Then maybe He can give it a shot every once in a while."
Castiel tries to bring the conversation to something less dangerous; what has transpired so far has exhausted the limits of his courage. "One day, Dean, you will find your faith. And it will surprise you."
The door opens before Dean can form a reply. Castiel leaves in that instant, arrives at the garrison, and settles among his brethren as though nothing at all has occurred.
After a moment, away from Dean and his deep-seeded doubt, he has managed to convince himself of the same.
Being envesseled, among humanity, has changed the way Castiel feels Anna from across the room. For two thousand years -- more than that -- she was a constant presence, immaterial but firm, unchanging and unwavering, a flutter of dark wings that he recognized without a second thought. Now his pulse jumps, his shoulders tense -- the body is aware of her as well, in ways that make him uncomfortable.
He can still remember the way her hand grazed Dean's face. And worse -- more.
He pushes it from his mind, doesn't turn to her, stands firm, unmoved but unmoving, even to seize her on Heaven's orders.
When she leaves -- when he sends her away -- he can still feel her hand on his. Though she's gone, he can feel where she was, where she isn't, a lack he has not felt in enough time that the reminder is pointed.
He's feeling, and that's the most disturbing part of all.
He turns his head away from the door. Behind it, Alistair is screaming his throat bloody with a brazen laugh, and Castiel can just hear the snap of Dean's voice as he asks the question once and again, on Heaven's orders.
This betrayal is the second their garrison has suffered, the first at Ananchel's hands as she tore herself in half and denounced her role in Creation, and the second at Uriel's as he simply tore them apart and denounced the Creator Himself. Castiel is left with less than half a garrison, his brothers and sisters dead and fallen and his faith left much the same.
"I'm sorry. It's time to think for yourself."
Anna leaves him with his thoughts -- leaves him without orders or direction, and it doesn't feel right at all. He sees no options, nowhere to go but Heaven to find some orders, to Anna to find direction. Though his trust in God's plan is keen and certain as his hand in combat, he has lost sight of his own path.
In time, it sinks in. Though it abhors him to realize it, he is becoming everything he once condemned, like Uriel, Anna, even Lucifer. He is an angel who uses Heaven's power to work against Heaven and its orders, who conspires against those who the Creator ordained to protect Creation.
He is not a hammer. He is a traitor.
His garrison halved, they fight their hardest but seals continue to slip from their grasp. Anna comes to him when he asks for her, once, twice, and a few times more when he dares, as he has realized the truth of his turn.
It has always felt right to be on her side. At her side.
They sit in the grass at twilight; the dull light shades Anna's face, makes her eyes seem dark, but he sees the light in her. "There are no orders for those like us, Cas," she tells him. "There's no revelation. That's the difference. You have to react. You have to be ready for anything. To do anything."
"Why would I not be ready for anything?" he asks, genuinely.
"Because you still trust them."
Her hands are warm as they clasp around one of his. He tilts his head away from her, so she can't quite see his face.
There's silence between them for a moment before she says lightly, "There are other things to have faith in, Castiel."
He knows. He has faith in something, there is a new sense of certainty in him that he doesn't quite understand. "I know," he says, leaves it at that, and speaks openly, if hesitating, about his suspicions, his fears, of the coming events. Speaking unprompted and out of turn is new and freeing and strange to him, and he presses on in vague imitation of Dean's brash spirit, glad to have regained Anna's confidence and attention.
Though he does his best, Castiel isn't strong enough or fast enough to discover the truth and bring it to the Winchesters. He fails, he's discovered, and he's dragged back home despite his best efforts.
Pain is a thing of flesh and blood, something angels can't feel even when envesseled. Heaven cannot punish or jail its own kind, and their only way to torture them into obedience when they have radically gone against the will of God is agony of conscience.
Raguel takes it slow, pulls Castiel to the scene of each misstep, his voice sharper than the sword as he comments through each of the conversations with Anna, Dean, Zachariah, each of his betrayals.
"Consorting with the fallen," he says. "Refusal to follow orders and kill a disobedient angel. Doubt of God's plan. Conspiring against Heaven. These all are grave sins, Castiel."
In the scene before them, Anna tilts her head towards the Castiel sitting beside her on the park bench as he speaks quickly about broken seals and his fear of further corruption in the ranks of Heaven, until she puts her hand to his face and he breaks off, instantly.
Castiel can't look away, just as he couldn't when he had originally lived the moment. "I know."
Raguel snaps the scene away; Castiel is left aching in the shame of his betrayal. "Let us see where this ... rebellious path of yours will lead us all."
He sees Lucifer rise; he sees the Croatoan virus savage the planet; he sees the angels abandon humanity, and him; he sees Dean Winchester lead him to his death; he sees the End at Lucifer's hand.
"Our Father has appointed us the guardians of Creation. Not humanity. And certainly not the Winchesters."
The burden is unbearable -- of what his foolishness could lead to -- the savaged Creation before him, the end of humanity, of all that he's fighting for -- there is no greater pain than realizing the betrayal he might continue against Heaven, against Creation, in imitation of Dean Winchester, a simple human, and his failure to understand what must be done to bring the suffering of all of Creation to an end.
Raguel releases him. "You have seen what you have done?"
Castiel can barely bring himself to speak. "Yes."
"You have seen what consequences your continued work against Heaven would have?"
And he will never forget. "Yes."
"Then go and do your work in the name of Heaven."
He receives his orders, and speaks to the Novak girl. He fixes all of the mistakes he has made, in Heaven's name, and turns his back on the Winchesters.
He has no will and no reason to resist. There is no changing what will happen. It is written.
Agony of conscience is a slow and painful process even to the immortal and immaterial mindset of an angel. All your wrongdoing unwound in front of you, deliberately, with every flaw and mistake observed and noted. Every last consequence of your failure to the cause and the order you have strived your whole existence to uphold pressed into your mind.
It feels like millennia and Castiel had hoped he would never experience the like again. But when he returns home and sees Anna there, it hits him all at once.
"You really shouldn't've come."
Steely-eyed, tensed, her voice cool and sharp, her rapt focus and her hand on her hilt, he recognizes her from across the room. Not Anna -- Ananchel, an angel reborn with a new garrison, who listen just as raptly as he once did, not doubting her loyalty, because she is one of them once again.
One of them.
For the first time, Castiel understands what that truly means. For the first time, he understands what she found so abhorrent -- why she fell.
He was the one to offer her up to be broken and remade in the image of angels like him, who strive to preciptate the End.
It is Heaven's will. But --
"You know what's real? People, families -- that's real."
He has only one vice. He is loyal, unflinchingly loyal. Or he was, once.
Anna turns back towards him, recognizes him, but he can't bring himself to face her -- not after what he's done. He leaves his garrison, returns to the Green Room, and before Dean can say a word, clamps his hand over his mouth and seizes the knife.
Dean nods and that's all the confirmation Castiel needs. His path is set before him, it may not be easy, but it's right. He has a path, he has faith, and -- well, it's time to think for himself.