Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. Tis all the belongings of occasionally aggravating Eric Kripke and the CW.
Author Notes: Written before 5x08 'Changing Channels.' Thanks to Claire for stella beta work and awesome encouragement. And Star, whose incredible writings never stop inspiring me to reach out and try.
He is not in any church, or any structure built on holy ground.
Or trapped beneath it.
Time unspools without measurement as Castiel scours the world for his Lord. He does not keep track because it is not important. Keeping himself undetected by his brothers is. Trying to out-think those who shaped his thoughts takes up most of his concentration, especially now that heaven's power has almost completely left him.
He kills two at the edge of an African plain. He buries the vessels.
He is not at the bottom of any ocean.
Dean's pendant stays in Castiel's pocket, inside the coat's lining, close to his heart. The vessel's heart. The line is disappearing rapidly between them. He is Castiel but he is no longer of heaven. And the vessel is empty of all but him.
Even though he knows the pendant is not growing hot, that he has not found God, he is sure that, sometimes, he can feel it burning.
He is not buried inside a star. Or a volcano.
Castiel is focused. He is systematically working his way across this dying damned world until he finds the faintest glimmer of what he is looking for. He knows he will be successful. No other could put him back together so perfectly after such a messy end.
Several times, he reaches for the cheap cell phone stowed in his pants pocket. Before, Dean was the axis on which his work here spun. Castiel could find him within a heartbeat. It is entirely different now. It is an itch that never stops.
He is not inside a prison. That would suit Zachariah's humour.
Castiel needs to sleep. It is a strange discomforting sense of being. He keeps waking up with a jerk, his hand on the sword. He begins to settle into an uneasy rhythm; a few hours' rest and then the search begins again.
Sometimes, his mind fastens on that time between when his life ended and when he woke up, whole and breathless, in the wreckage of Chuck's house. Certain of where he was needed, where he should be.
There was light. And it felt akin to home. But then there was darkness too, as if the sun had been blotted out, and he was pulled, held tightly and protected, and words were whispered into his ear as it reformed. He wishes he could remember them.
More often than not, he wakes clutching the pendant.
He is not in the ashes of the dead, or the laughter of the living.
He is missing something, Castiel is certain. His search goes on, and he follows an increasingly narrowing path. Zachariah is closing in. Three more of his brothers were slaughtered outside of Sweden, another dropped, lifeless, into the sea off the New Zealand coast.
He saves a child from drowning when he swoops over a nearby beach. He cuts his finger on broken glass at the shoreline and finds that it does not heal with a thought. It is slow and sluggish. Almost human. He strains to recognise himself in the mirror.
"What the hell is taking so long?"
Dean's voice is harsh in his ear. Castiel's shirt is ruined and he has to pull the sword from the chest of his brother. There is smoke and scorched earth. All he can focus on is Dean's voice.
It is a reprimand and almost a sigh, an entreaty. Dean stays silent. Miracles do happen.
"I am still searching," Castiel says at last, when he is able. "Zachariah is looking too. It's a problem."
Dean curses, loudly and vehemently. Castiel flinches slightly. His stained fingers brush against the pendant where it hangs around his neck. No warmth at all. But there is Dean talking in his ear. Something is being done.
There are people that Castiel meets who encourage him. Those touched by God are as easy to recognise as those possessed by demons. It's in their eyes and aspect. The pastor, the biker tattooed with skulls and the names of saints, the chirpy waitress, the mechanic with only one leg, the widowed school teacher. They reach out to him and he can hear God in their words.
The pendant glows softly.
Castiel discovers that Dean was right about pie. It is delicious. He can actually taste food now. He needs it and he chooses pie. Perhaps because it is what Dean would do and Castiel is, for lack of a more accurate term, a hunter now.
Apple pie is his favourite. The irony of that causes a smile to flitter across his face. The expression is no longer alien to him. Dean would refuse to believe it, or say something baffling. Castiel finds that he misses those moments. He pushes himself onwards.
Gavreel finds him in Jerusalem. He looks like a local to the area, a tribesman swathed in clean simple robing. But it is obvious when he smiles; it's like looking directly into the sun. Castiel does not draw his sword. He would not even get close enough to strike anyway.
"You're wanted, brother," Gavreel tells him. "Everyone's talking."
"But who are they listening to?"
Gavreel smiles slightly. He has seen God, talked with Him, but he has been on Earth more than almost any other in Castiel's garrison. A holy messenger to God's creation. It shows in every gesture and expression he makes.
"Zachariah is a pustule," Gavreel's words are drenched in disgust. "Our brothers listen. And Lucifer won't be alone."
"I am God's voice."
Angels deal only in absolutes. Irritation creeps in Castiel's insides. For a dizzy disorientating second, he feels the world spin and remembers how Dean looked at him when they first met. Perhaps he now wears a similar expression. His view of the world has warped remarkably, so that it more closely resembles that of a Winchester, rather than an angel.
He wears Dean's paranoia too. Angels are his brothers. But he can no longer trust them.
Gavreel observes him, amusement tugging at his smile. But he comes no closer.
"You have changed, brother," he pronounces.
"The world is ending."
And then Gavreel is gone. Castiel is left feeling vastly irritated and is reminded again of Dean's frequent reactions to his sudden flights.
He enjoys rainstorms; their sudden appearances and how they quench the land. Their beauty and power. Castiel closes his eyes and drinks it in. He feels closer to heaven, to his Father. He doesn't know how long he stands there, but his fingers are now numb. It is the most curious sensation.
Dean is behind him, soaked through and furious. He throws something, a coat perhaps, over Castiel and drags him towards the Impala, shouting obscenities. Castiel lets him.
"What the fuck are you doing?!"
Castiel smiles. Defeated and sad and exhilarated and yearning. Humanity feels so much all at once.
"It's good to see you, Dean."
"Yeah, yeah, let's save this moment."
Dean pushes him into the back-seat of the Impala and takes the front for himself. He throws a thin motel towel to Castiel. He looks angry, but there is relief there too. A smile, if he stopped frowning. Castiel has learned Dean like a psalm.
"Is there any good reason why you were trying to drown yourself?"
It is Castiel's turn to frown. "It's beautiful, Dean."
Dean snorts and Castiel's hand strays automatically to the pendant. It's not only thunderstorms that bring him closer to the Lord.
Sam Winchester wants to change, to atone for his past. He recognises his wrong and seeks forgiveness. Dean Winchester does not believe, but he fights, even when he thinks he will lose.
Dean's eyes are still green. Castiel feels a strange buoyancy at that. Why should they have changed? Why does it matter? Castiel still has an affinity for absolutes. His hand hovers between the pendant and Dean.
He knows so little now. But he does know that the rain feels good against his skin and that apple pie is delicious, truly God-given. That Dean's eyes are green. That his skin prickles with something he now knows as pleasure when Dean is close. That somehow, Dean found him.
He believes Dean's plan is foolhardy and doomed. But he believes that the Winchesters have made it a habit to beat the impossible. He believes that God is out there.
Dean is shaking his head, muttering under his breath. He kicks his car into gear and drives with an urgency that Castiel can feel thrumming through him. His fingers graze Dean's jacket, the back of his neck. Dean's expression flickers and Castiel's grip becomes firm on his shoulder. His axis.
I am here. And so are you.