This is from a prompt at the afterthecold commentfic meme on LJ.
Title: Where Angels Fear To Tread
Prompt: From the lovely and talented pkwench, who really needs to stop posting awesome prompts: The End (my favorite thing to prompt) - The angels ditch in the dead of winter, leaving Castiel behind. He sets out into the winter night, amid blizzard conditions, wandering croats, demons, etc to do who knows what - find someone to take him along, get himself killed, whatever. Future!Dean, that surly honey, goes in search of him. One or both of them succumbs to the cold - your choice who, why, and how that warms up and resolves. Gen or Cas/Dean - whatever makes you happy
Spoilers: Spoilers for 5.04 The End
Word Count: 3,677
Disclaimer: Alas, I lay claim to nothing.
Neurotic Authorial Disclaimer: No beta, written in a rush. You've been warned.
Extra Neurotic Authorial Disclaimer: This turned out to be not really very much at all like the given prompt, except in its barest requirements. Gah. I'm sorry.
Further Neurotic Authorial Disclaimer: I'm not really a fan of Castiel. Or, at least, I wasn't up until really really recently. I have NO idea why this story decided it needed to be from his POV, and I'm not sure I got him exactly right. I think I started liking Cas when I saw "The End" and saw how he might turn out. Uh... anyway, yeah. I don't know if I'm really doing him justice. So, sorry.
Castiel is a bad angel. No one ever comes outright and tells him so, but he begins to suspect this some time after he begins associating with humans in a more direct fashion. At first he wonders if human failings can somehow be transmitted, like the diseases that spread among them, because sometime in-between the moment when he pulled Dean Winchester out of hell, permanently marking him as his own —as Heaven's own, he corrects himself, though not quickly enough— and the moment in which Uriel perverted Dean's purpose to further Lucifer's agenda, ia when Castiel began to doubt. Doubt is a terrible, gnawing beast, and once it sinks its teeth into Castiel's consciousness, he finds it impossible to be rid of it, and he carries this new burden like a young mother would an illegitimate child: half in shame, half in awe, and with a tenderness that surprises him. Eventually he comes to realize that his doubt doesn't come from humans, because neither Sam nor Dean doubt at all: not Dean, whose scorn has been apparent from the first, and not Sam, whose faith has been shattered beyond doubt.
The doubt is his, and his alone.
Angels are not built to doubt. Castiel is half-convinced that taking on a human vessel opened him to the possibility, even though Jimmy Novak was never possessed of doubt either. He finds it wearisome and unsettling, and if he were truly able to experience proper human emotions he would likely be afraid. As it is, the only true fear he knows is that of the sublime, and he has only ever caught glimpses of that, flashes of illumination that fill him beyond his capacity to describe it even to himself, because the Almighty cannot be encompassed, not even by an angel. Castiel has never stopped looking, carries Dean Winchester's amulet wrapped like a lover's token in a handkerchief in the pocket of Jimmy Novak's trench coat. He is anxious, sometimes, that the doubt is unravelling him, strand by strand, like a fraying cloth, and that when the time comes and he receives the revelation he is looking for, that he will come undone. That he will be undone, entirely.
Castiel is a bad angel. He comes to know this the day Sam Winchester says "Yes," to Lucifer. It's January 24th, 2011, and Dean is 32 years old. It's the choice of the date that makes Castiel understand that he is a bad angel, was a bad angel even before he deliberately broke ties with his brethren and rebelled, might in fact have been worse then because of his ignorance. He is in Detroit when Sam says "Yes," watches his lips form the words, watches Lucifer smiling sadly at him, place a hand in a mockery of benediction on Sam's forehead, and when he sees the look of almost blissful surrender on Sam's face he feels something new. He doesn't know what it is at first, because human emotion is so alien to him that he cannot recognize it for what it is: guilt. He staggers where he stands, presses a hand to his chest, can't fathom how Sam and Dean have managed to live with this sensation for so very long without being crushed by its weight. He thinks he may suffocate, human host or no.
This is his fault.
The doubt joins forces in his mind with the new emotion, and all the revelations and insights he thought he received before this are nothing compared to the epiphany that's being seared into his mind, stitched into the fabric of his being with a thread of fire. Somewhere hundreds of miles away, Dean Winchester is about to have his heart broken, and it's Castiel's fault. Because he was not given only Dean Winchester as a charge, he knows this now: where Dean goes, so does Sam, and where Sam goes, so does Dean, or so it went. Until Castiel intervened. It doesn't matter what his intentions were: there is a human expression that sums up nicely what good intentions lead to. Castiel made a catastrophic error in judgement, and now humanity, and Sam and Dean in particular, must pay the price. Doubt and guilt and shame clamour for attention in his thoughts, because he knows that Sam said "Yes" to Lucifer because Lucifer offered Sam what no one else had, after all those years of being alone.
Human lore has it that compassion is the purview of angels. Castiel knows this to be a lie, because he has not known a single angel to show a shred of compassion for humanity. At best the angels show a benevolent tolerance for their Father's creations, at worst they use them mercilessly for their own ends, see individuals as expendable, pawns on a chessboard so vast that the pieces rarely know it even exists. Their compassion is wasted on humans, or so Castiel was led to believe. He certainly didn't waste it on Sam Winchester, tainted blood running through his veins, careening at full speed down the path to destroying both himself and the world. Castiel remembers with shame the way he recoiled from Sam in disgust, refused to touch him, refused to even look at him much of the time when he was being seduced by the demon Ruby. If ever there was a way to destroy a man's faith, he thinks, that was it. Castiel is the one who taught Sam that there was no forgiveness, no absolution to be found from Heaven. Who pulled Dean away from him when he should have been pushing them together. Who all but threw him into Lucifer's waiting arms. Lucifer, who invaded Sam's dreams, who looked at him with that look of terrible, compassionate sorrow, and who promised Sam the one thing that all the combined powers of Heaven couldn't: that, in the end, he would see his brother again.
At seven minutes past midnight on January 25th, Castiel's cell phone rings. There is only one person who knows this number —only one person who cares to have it, and to whom he has ever bothered to give it. For the first time in his existence Castiel contemplates being wilfully dishonest for the sole purpose of avoiding personal discomfort, because he does not want to break Dean's heart, and he knows what uttering one simple sentence will do to both of them. Dean's heart has no secrets from Castiel, not anymore. Not since Castiel battered his way past all the defenses that Hell was able to erect against him and his troops and cut a swathe through to the very centre, where he found a broken, desolate creature which radiated hatred and defiance and shame and pride and shone like the brightest star in the heavens amidst the squalor. Even in his downfall Dean's soul had been beautiful, brilliant, flaming with purpose, and there had been nothing that suggested submission when he sank to his knees at Castiel's feet, staring up at him with blue-green eyes that seemed to see right through him. He simply took the hand that was extended to him, didn't even flinch when his flesh seared under Castiel's touch. That was when Castiel first thought he might understand the meaning of salvation.
"Cas? Where are you?" Dean's voice is brusque, angry.
"I am in Detroit."
There's a long silence. "Is it true?"
He considers lying. "Yes. It is true."
There's another silence, and Castiel is the first to break it. He surprises himself by not lying.
"I am sorry."
He wonders if the line has been disconnected. He is about to check his phone, when Dean speaks again. His voice is low, barely audible above the static of the telephone. "Can you come?"
"Of course. You are still at Camp Chitaqua?"
"Where else would I be? Too much snow to go very far, anyway."
"I will be there shortly."
He thinks he can hear Dean mutter something about "freaky teleporting skills," but the line disconnects, and he decides to file that away for another time. There is so much about being human that he doesn't understand, doesn't think he'll ever understand, including Dean's tendency to make indecipherable comments in times of duress. Sam once tried to explain it to him, that it was a way of keeping fear at bay, something he called "whistling in the dark," but he never really understood it even then, and eventually Sam had given up trying to explain things to him. Had given up even speaking to him, by the end. Withdrew from any contact with Castiel long before he and his brother went their separate ways.
He forces himself to focus on the here and now. Dean requires his presence, and that is still easily accomplished, in spite of his diminished powers. He simply concentrates on the location of Camp Chitaqua, moves out of this plane and into the next, in which travel is so much easier and faster, feeling Jimmy Novak's body become an insubstantial thing, so easily carried. He expects to be with Dean within the next few minutes, perhaps a bit longer depending on where he ends up: the enochian sigils he carved into Dean's bones still hide him quite effectively from the sight of any of the heavenly host.
There's a flash. A blinding, searing, tearing sensation, his mind filled with wordless shrieking, and suddenly Castiel is spinning, screaming, slammed back into the flesh of Jimmy Novak's body. He feels his back arch, his throat scraped raw, his hands claw futilely at his back —can't quite reach the place where he knows his wings ought to be, feels as though he's being torn apart by two forces, one pulling up and away, the other dragging him inexorably downward. The latter wins out and he falls, spiralling, back toward the frozen earth.
He lands on the icy ground with a jolt, sprawls forward on hands and knees, skinning his palms and ripping his pants and tearing open his kneecaps. He stays stock-still, stunned, doesn't understand what just happened, only that everything is horribly, terribly still. There's snow swirling about him in great gusts, and he feels as though he's been ripped open and turned inside out, and everything is so quiet it's like a huge gaping void of silence that has swallowed everything for miles.
He doesn't know how long he stays there, still on his hands and knees, heedless of the stinging pain of the ice against his skin. Still doesn't understand. Nothing works the way it should anymore, and the silence is deafening. A thought pierces through the fog: Dean. He promised Dean he would come. Slowly, painfully, he pushes himself to his feet, takes a tottering step forward, feels the ground lurch beneath his feet, falls forward again. He can't see, blinded by the snow and the terrible empty darkness engulfing him, and so he crawls, trying to ignore the searing pain and the silence beating dark wings against the inside of his skull. He doesn't make it very far. Jimmy Novak's trench coat tangles around his legs, and his limbs are numb in a way he's never felt before. He wonders how many new and terrible things he is expected to experience and learn today. Isn't sure he'll survive it at all. Another new thought: death.
There is no comfort here.
He collapses on the side of a road he doesn't recognize, simply tips over into a snow bank, which cushions his fall somewhat, and envelops him in cold and wet. He watches as his hand melts the snow beneath it, watches his fingers slowly become covered with new flakes. The very first time he saw snow while in human form he was transfixed by the crystalline purity of the flakes, mesmerized by their uniqueness, and now he takes a certain amount of comfort in seeing that they are just as beautiful as he remembers them being. He stays very still, feels snow melting on his cheeks, soaking through his clothes, tries to remember something Sam said to him an eternity ago on a day when Dean had become stranded somewhere in the cold. It had been only of academic interest then, something to know in case Dean was ever in a similar situation again, but now... he isn't sure. He closes his eyes against the memory of Sam, doesn't think he can handle both that and the aching empty darkness all at once. Instead, he lets his thoughts float, tries to find peace in the softly falling snow. It's so very quiet, now, and he wonders if this is what humans feel when they sleep, or when they die.
He thinks he knows the voice. There are only two people in the world who call him that, and one is lost forever. But Dean can't be here, it's not possible. He's hundreds of miles away, where Castiel left him. So he shuts his eyes more tightly, tries to ignore the one voice that has replaced the chorus that was there before.
"Cas! Castiel!" He's being shaken, roughly, so hard it hurts. He hears someone utter a low moan, realizes with detached curiosity that it's himself. This has never happened before. "Cas, for the love of... come on, now! Don't do this to me! Cas!"
He blinks sleepily. "Dean."
"Thank God," Dean breathes, probably doesn't even realize what he's saying. "What the hell, Cas?" He's wearing a shabby winter parka, snowflakes settling in his hair. Castiel notes with detached interest that Dean appears to be shivering, which means it must be cold. In fact, he's quite sure he felt the cold before, but it's not the case anymore. "Cas! Snap out of it! Are you hurt?"
"I am uninjured." It seems like too much of an effort to keep his eyes open. No point, anymore. "They have gone," he explains, half to himself.
"What? Who?" Dean is tugging at him, trying to pull him up. "Dude, you are freaking me out, here. What happened?"
"The angels. They have gone."
Dean all but drops him back in the snow. "What?"
"They have gone." He can't think of any other way to say it.
"All of them? Where?"
Castiel surprises himself by letting out a sigh that sounds more like a whimper. "I do not know."
"Son of a bitch." Dean rocks back on his heels, reeling from the implications. Then he's all business again, ruthless and efficient. "Okay, we'll deal with that later. You're freezing, dude. We have to get you warm."
"I do not feel the cold..." He thinks this may be a lie, now. Yesterday it would have been the truth.
"Dude, your lips have turned blue. I have no idea if angels get hypothermic, but you're doing a really good impression of it. Whatever's going on, you're an angelsicle. Up you come," he slips his hands under Castiel's arms, hauls him up by his armpits. "Come on, Cas, you gotta help me a bit on this. You're not as gigantic as Sam," he falters, makes a visible effort to keep himself together, desperation lending a harsh edge to his words, "but that doesn't make you light as a feather either. Get up!"
Dean is not going to leave him alone here. Castiel knows him well enough by now to know this. Regardless of how much more pleasant it would be to simply lie here and let the silence claim him, Dean will not let that happen. He forces himself to move, groans as even shifting his weight sends tendrils of pain running along his arms and legs. Dean is a solid, warm mass next to him, and he understands, now, why Sam leaned on him all these years. He lets himself be half-carried, half-dragged to a vehicle —not the Impala, it's already broken and beginning to rust on the grounds of Camp Chitaqua, yet another thing Dean refuses to discuss— and Dean shoves him into the front seat.
"Don't move, I'm getting you a blanket." He vanishes, and Castiel thinks this may be what was complaining about when he accused him of "poofing away" before. It is unsettling. A moment later his unease is gone, because Dean is back, and the musty smell of an old woolen blanket is filling the cabin of the truck. "You have to stay awake, Cas."
"I do not require sleep," he replies muzzily, eyes still closed.
Dean climbs over him into the driver's seat, switches on the ignition, and Castiel hears him fussing with the dials, feels a whoosh of hot air that's tinged with the scent of gasoline. It's surprisingly painful, his joints protesting as the heat begins to seep into them.
"How did you find me?" he wants to know.
"One of the kids told me he saw something falling out of the sky, so I went to check it out. Lucky for you," Dean says grimly, hands tight on the steering wheel. "You could have frozen to death half a mile from me, and I'd never have known."
He's still marvelling at his proximity to the camp when Dean hauls him unceremoniously out of the vehicle, pulls him into his own cabin and lays him down on the bed. The colours in here are muted, so unlike the blinding whiteness of the snow outside. Everything is muffled, everything except the silence, which continues to throb like a living, breathing organism all around. Dean is pulling off his clothes: first the trenchcoat, then Jimmy Novak's suit, tossing everything into a crumpled, sodden heap on the floor and pulling several extra blankets on top of him.
"What are you doing?"
"Hypothermia 101. Get you out of your wet clothes, keep you dry, get you warm before your heart stops. Guess angels don't have boy scout troops."
"Never mind. It's not like I ever was a boy scout anyway." Dean is stripping out of his own clothes. At Castiel's curious look, he stops, and a flush creeps up his cheeks. "What? Body heat, Cas. I don't know if you noticed, but we don't exactly have central heating here." He tosses his pants aside, slides under the blankets, wraps his arms around the angel. "No getting fresh with me, you hear?"
"Never mind. Just take it easy, okay?"
"Very well." A few moments later Castiel realizes just how cold he was. Pain invades him like a besieging army breaching fortress walls, and he gasps involuntarily. He's shaking, something that he's never done before. "What is happening to me?"
Dean holds onto him tightly, breathes a huff of laughter. "You're shivering, Cas. It's normal. Good, even. Your body's trying to get warm again."
"It is... unpleasant." He bites back another moan. "I think it may be painful."
"You think?" Dean's hand strays to rub his arm, and that is decidedly not unpleasant, but Castiel thinks the question was not sarcastic, genuinely curious. Sometimes it is hard to tell.
"I have never experienced pain before."
His wings are gone. He is certain of it now, the confusion receding with the cold. Everything is gone, save his mind and Jimmy Novak's body. He doesn't know what to do about it, indeed, suspects that there is nothing to be done.
He is human.
He must betray something, because Dean raises himself on one elbow to look at him. "All right, Cas?"
He shakes his head. "They are gone. They took my grace with them."
Dean blinks. "You're... human now?" Castiel doesn't know how to interpret his tone. Dean's heart holds no mysteries for him, but that does not hold true for the rest of Dean Winchester.
"I believe so."
"Is it because of Sam?"
"I do not know." He can hear the pain in Dean's voice, is a little surprised that he can: he always thought that was a God-given power. It turns out it is something humans can do as well. He's not sure what to make of that.
"I'm sorry. Really. I'll find a way to make it right, okay?" Dean says softly, almost as though he's not really speaking to Castiel. "Hey, Cas..." He reaches over, gently runs the ball of his thumb under Castiel's eye, and he feels wetness there, unaccountably warm, tastes salt on his lips. "Don't cry, Cas. Please."
He has never wept before. Doesn't understand the mechanics of it. He lies very still, feels tears slip unbidden from his eyes, doesn't know how to make them stop. Doesn't trust himself to open his mouth and ask how to make them stop. When Dean nudges him he turns on his side, lets him pull him closer, rub his arm comfortingly. He presses his forehead into Dean's chest, breathing in the strange mixture of dust and sweat and that indefinable essence that is Dean.
"We'll make it right, I promise. You and me, Cas. You with me?"
Guilt and shame surge in Castiel's chest, that Dean should be the one comforting him now, of all times. When he opens his eyes he finds Dean staring at him, and he can see the bright flame of Dean's soul lighting up the green of his eyes. His breath catches in his throat, and he understands now in way that he never has —not even when he deliberately fell for the sake of this terrible, dangerous, broken, brilliant creature— that he is both lost and found, and that there is no turning back from the path on which he has set out.
"Yes," he says, with something that feels like terror, and could be salvation. "Yes."