Sam and Dean Winchester weren't going to make it in time.

The grip of Castiel's sword was slippery with his own blood; the self-inflicted wound had closed up, but the blood remained, staining the hem of his coatsleeve and dripping down his knuckle. There was no time to draw another sigil, however, and the first, though powerful, would not work a second time.

The three of his brethren that made up the second wave were without vessels, glorified, with faces like bronze, weapons like gold, their wings filling the warehouse with light that Castiel's vessel could barely stand to look upon. But Castiel did not dare to vacate his vessel just yet; perhaps, with luck, he would escape in time to tell Dean Winchester the truth: Lilith's death would open the final seal upon Lucifer, and that was what the Host of Heaven desired. Even now, the thought of such a betrayal of God's beloved children filled his being with dread.

He had no illusions of escaping this whole conspiracy alive.

In battle Castiel was known best for his speed; his prowess with the blade was nothing to be laughed at, but his intelligence was the greater foe. Against three of his brothers, unhindered by human flesh, the battle would prove short indeed. The only good news was that their weapons could not harm the body Castiel wore - only Castiel himself, which was, in some ways, worse. But Castiel had only need to escape, not win.

He darted in under one of them, met the blade behind his own with a shower of sparks and the blow jarred his vessel to the teeth. The blades slid apart; the brother before him, Elijah, came in low, and Castiel jerked sideways. The third, Jeborah, was a grappler, and he reached for Castiel's shoulder, but the searing touch only brushed his elbow. Castiel dropped low and swept Jeborah's feet from under him, and he rolled away in time to only feel the lightest clip across his thigh from a sword. He brought up his sword just in time to counter Elijah's strike; the sound was like thunder, and Elijah's set face like lightning. It took all of Castiel's strength to push Elijah's blade away. Then the brother Castiel did not know was striking out, and Jeborah with him, and Castiel grasped one weapon-holding fist while parrying the other blow; Elijah, never one to miss an oppurtunity, dealt Castiel a punishing wound across his chest, throwing the vessel-bound angel back and through an overhead catwalk.

Castiel caught himself on the railing and hauled himself up with effort, wings out to aid him, but his brothers were on him in an instant. Castiel released a burst of energy to body-check Jeborah across the warehouse, destroying a railing and some of the waiting shipments with the sheer force of his existence, and the unnamed angel grabbed Castiel by the ankle and hurled him in the opposite direction. The vessel's back broke when Castiel's arc was checked by a steel girder and he tumbled to the ground, his legs paralyzed.

The girder gave way; a shower of sparks from broken wiring and a groan of concrete predicated the collapse of a good portion of the ceiling. Castiel gripped his bloody sword and remained where he was for a long moment, his vessel's spine repairing itself rapidly, but not fast enough. And then Jeborah was there, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and tossing himself and his vessel effortlessly across the warehouse. Helpless, bound to a body healing, Castiel uncontrollably rolled until he fetched against a wall, and he watched numbly as the warehouse partially collapsed thirty feet from his resting place. The sounds hurt his vessel's eardrums and the dust made him blink, but he didn't look away. Jeborah had not thrown him aside for his own sake, but for the sake of Castiel's vessel.

His broken spine was almost whole when sandaled feet approached him; Castiel rolled his head to look up at his brother's faces, unmoving from where he lay on his side. The brother he did not know was frowning; Jeborah grimaced, as if unsure whether or not to bare his teeth. "Cease this foolish fighting," Elijah said, his own face a mask of indifference. "The archangels are coming, and I would not see you killed, Castiel, my brother."

Castiel did not answer; instead, he snapped out his wings, fast as light, and made to flee.

A hand closed on his feathers and jerked him back.

Not much could stop an angel in flight. Their paths were quick as thought, and Castiel knew Dean thought of it as teleportation. But nevertheless Castiel felt the crushing grip come down on one wing, and he was hurled down to the floor of the warehouse once again. The force was such that Castiel felt as though the air had been sucked from the warehouse, and he struggled for breath, on his hands and knees in the rubble of the collapsed ceiling. The wound dealt by Elijah seared his chest and his wing, crippled by a hand so strong it broke bone, throbbed where it lay across his back.

"That's a good look for you," said a jovial voice above the angel. Castiel tensed and made to look up, but the snap of a wing had him quickly dropping his gaze so as not to be smote. He saw shined leather shoes and neatly creased pants, and glory so great it could only belong to an archangel. Castiel's heart sank and dread pressed in around it.

"Zachariah," Castiel said quietly, reverent with fear.

"On your hands and knees, I mean," Zachariah continued as if Castiel hadn't spoken. "Appropriate, given your recent attitude. Castiel, Castiel ... what happened to your good attitude?"

Castiel did not dare answer. "Speak!" Zachariah commanded, and the angel flinched involuntarily.

"I ... I do not understand why we are doing this," Castiel admitted, his voice roughened by pain. "Why we are leading the world to the End of Days - leading Sam Winchester to his--" He cut himself off when a hand dropped into his vessel's hair; he could feel, faintly, the wedding ring Zachariah's vessel wore.

The hand did not strike him, but rather smoothed down to his neck. Castiel held himself still, trembling; he dropped his gaze further to the concrete floor, and looked at his vessel's hands. A plain wedding band on the left ring finger; a scar on the right pointer. He had known his vessel was married but he wondered about the scar. Why it concerned him he couldn't be certain.

"Cas," Zachariah said in a gentle voice. "That is what Dean calls you, right? - Cas. Did Dean give you the idea that we are somehow responsible for what Sam is doing to himself? Is that what this is all about? Dean Winchester's petty, childish complaints against the will of the Lord God?"

Castiel hesitated to answer. Surely they would not strike down Dean; he was still ignorant of their intentions, and he was the righteous man the Host required. But his hesitation was enough to make Zachariah's hand press down, heavy with threat, and Castiel hastened to reply: "My doubts are my own!"

"Really?" Zachariah said, disbelieving, and Castiel swallowed heavily; somehow this made Zachariah laugh. "A nervous gesture! You really are going native." The hand fell away from Castiel's neck, but not without a lingering graze of fingertips against his hair. "Okay, I'll be straight with you. I think you've just gotten a little to close to the game."

Game? Castiel thought, and every bit of his being bristled. The End of Days, and Zachariah called it a game!?

"Lost track of the big picture. Maybe you've been away from Heaven too long to remember the Will of God," Zachariah continued.

Castiel began to lift his head at that. The Will of God was to destroy all that He had wrought, with such love? Surely not!

He barely saw the polished shoe move; then the sole of it was pressing down, the heel on the back of Castiel's head and the toe against his neck, heavy with the weight of Zachariah's wrath. Slowly, limbs shaking, Castiel bent down till nose and forehead touched the dirty warehouse floor. He heard a gasp from Jeborah; Castiel's dirty, blood-crusted fingers clenched into fists, and he was surprised when the humiliation of it made his vessel's eyes wet.

Angels never bowed to their superiors: only to God.

"An angel who does not do as he is told is worthless. Refuse to be thrown in the garbage, or dirt--" Zachariah's foot pressed harder--"to be mopped off my shoe. Do you agree, Cas?" The question was asked in such a sweet tone that Castiel felt as if the wind had been knocked from him again.

"Yes," he said, the answer dragged from him, and he closed his eyes.

Zachariah's foot came off his neck, but Castiel did not dare to lift his head one inch from the ground; the archangel made an approving sound. "But don't worry; I'm sure the taint of humanity can be scrubbed off with a few good, sound washes. A little detergent, maybe some bleach." Castiel could nearly hear Zachariah's smirk. "So, Castiel, it's time for a vacation."

Castiel bit his lip, but it seemed like Zachariah was waiting for an answer. "Yes," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "... sir."

A whisper of cloth in the deathly still warehouse, and Zachariah's hand stroked the wrong way down Castiel's injured wing, a grazing touch that ended at the base of it where his vessel's shoulder bones lay; Castiel startled at the fingers, but resignation followed on its heels. He grit his vessel's teeth and drew a deep, shuddering breath through his nose, and then Zachariah pulled.

Castiel made no resistance; he was pulled by the wing from his vessel. The experience was not a pleasant one and he whimpered behind closed teeth; the vessel twitched and Castiel's glory, even dimmed as it was now, made the body shine with blinding light. Finally the vessel - no, James Novak - slumped to the ground, unconscious. Castiel, unable to meet Zachariah's eyes, was shoved into the waiting arms of Elijah and the brother he did not know. Exhausted and injured, Castiel slumped against them when they held his arms and did not resist. Jeborah would not look at him.

Zachariah looked disdainfully at the discarded body and used his shoe to flip James Novak over; the man rolled onto his back, but did not respond. Zachariah shook his head, then lifted his face to look at Castiel; Castiel turned his eyes away, but not down, in a flash of pride.

Zachariah's knuckle brushed Castiel's chin, and although the vessel did not touch him the angelic being within did; Castiel turned his head obediently, and finally met Zachariah's eyes. The archangel smiled. "Don't worry," he said. "We'll straighten you right out."

fin