All the King's Men*
Disclaimer: Kripke et al own Supernatural in all its glory. If I owned any part of it, Castiel would have gone shirtless at least once by now. ;) No infringement was intended and no profits made in the writing of this story.
Spoilers: Up to Season 5, Episode 14.
A/N: This is written for round 1 of the pledge_a_thon, and donation has been made by reapertownusa to Misha Collins' UNICEF page. Her requests were: Cas/Dean friendship; "I'd especially love a piece that involved Castiel reflecting on finding Dean's soul in hell or post torture of Alistair where Castiel sees how broken Dean is, but also acknowledges Dean's strengths and how hard he's trying against impossible odds. It would be fantastic to see Castiel fumble in that adorable angelic way of his to attempt to understand humans enough to try to help put Dean back together."
Castiel had been anticipating this day. He'd known it was coming from the moment of his creation, but he never understood until now that he'd be the one destined to hold the pieces of Dean's shattered soul together. Standing next to the iron door in Bobby Singer's basement, Castiel stood frozen, the sound of Sam's wailing screams clamouring in his ears, and the sound of Dean's prayers ripping at his very being.
How calamitous the last two years had been! Millennia had come and gone, and many wars had been waged and valiantly fought, and yet more had happened in the infinitesimal amount of time since Castiel had raised Dean from Hell than had happened in the whole of his existence to that point. How naïve he'd been – how trusting of his brethren – until he met Dean Winchester and the scales had fallen from his eyes.
Ever the good little soldier, Castiel marched into Hell to fetch the soul of the righteous man who'd set the Apocalypse in motion.
Reaching Dean in Hell had been a torturous task, and not all of the angels in his garrison had survived the battle to free him from the demon's clutches. Castiel was the one to find Dean– his was the one soul flaming defiantly white in an ocean of vile blackness, despite its being spread tissue thin and sputtering in despair. Castiel never questioned why his superiors had hesitated to launch the mission into Hell, leaving the man to suffer so long in the Pit after he'd fulfilled the prophecy and sliced into his first soul. No; Castiel focused solely on his job, prying the tattered remains of Michael's true vessel from the claws of the damned and rebuilding the man atom by atom. He was ordered to offer no more assistance, even though it didn't sit well with him to stand back and watch as Dean took his first panicky breaths and clawed his way out of his own grave.
Still, Castiel lingered, curiously protective of the newly recreated human. He watched as Dean stumbled about, his senses overwhelmed in his first waking moments. There was no real reason to stay once he'd seen that Dean had found a place where he could consume food and water – the man would survive to fulfill his destiny – yet Castiel remained. Unlike Uriel and some of the other angels in his garrison, Castiel cherished God's greatest creation, and he believed that his Father would approve of him offering an explanation to the man who'd been hand-picked to save the world. And so it pained him greatly when his attempts to communicate caused more pain than comfort.
When Dean summoned him in an abandoned barn just outside Pontiac, Illinois, Castiel was forced to don his chosen vessel and walk the Earth for the very first time. Everything about the experience was uncomfortable and confusing – the sensory overload of having a physical body was almost overwhelming – but when he finally came face to face with Dean Winchester, the man responded in a way that resonated with him. He attacked. He and his bearded friend attacked with their meagre weapons, and when their efforts failed, Dean fought him with words and bravado. Castiel knew from glimpsing into the man's soul that the raw terror of his time spent in Hell had left behind a cancerous knot of doubt and self-loathing that was already starting to eat away at him. Yet despite it all he stood tall and proud, like the great warrior Castiel knew he would become. In that moment, Castiel felt his first real connection to mankind and to Dean in particular. It was a feeling of pride.
As a soldier, Castiel understood the importance of following orders: without absolute obedience, there would be chaos.
Alastair was no more, and Castiel had the answers for which he'd foolishly risked Dean's mental and emotional stability. Uriel had betrayed him – betrayed God – and had single-handedly turned or killed every member of his garrison. And now Castiel found himself caught between Earth and Heaven, and the only person he could really turn to was Dean.
And Dean was breaking apart before his eyes, lying in a hospital bed with more bruises to his psyche than to his body, and Castiel didn't know what to do. Uriel had been right about one thing: Castiel had come to care too much for Dean. He wasn't supposed to feel despair for the pain he'd caused the man. He wasn't supposed to feel guilt, or feel the need to make amends. He wasn't supposed to feel. He wasn't supposed to doubt, either, and yet sitting next to Dean in that hospital room, Castiel was beginning to wonder whether Dean could shoulder the burden they'd hoisted upon his shoulders: whether, in fact, he was meant to.
The only thing giving him hope was the strength of Dean's will. Never had he encountered such an obstinate soul. Castiel was certain that any other human on Earth would have crumbled by now, making them optimally pliable to become Michael's vessel. Dean, however, took orders from no one – bowed to no one – which had frustrated Castiel at first, but was now solely responsible for holding Dean together. And Castiel found more and more that he didn't want Dean to give up and submit.
As Castiel sat watching helplessly as Dean gave in to his own fears and doubts, Castiel decided that he would do everything in his power to serve Dean Winchester.
A man cannot serve two masters. Castiel had been punished for his divided loyalty, but despite his efforts to serve only Heaven, it was Dean whom he ultimately chose to follow.
Castiel had never seen Dean Winchester laugh before. Happiness radiated from him in great waves, lighting his eyes from within and warming the world around him. He couldn't help but smile back, despite the fact that the cause of Dean's laughter was Castiel's inability to perform coitus with a downtrodden stranger on the eve of his impending death.
The fact that Dean was still capable of laughing and smiling was a miracle in itself. It was a testament to the man's strength of will that even with Lucifer walking free and the fate of the world literally resting on his shoulders, Dean could still find joy in life. And Castiel was pleased that he'd been the one to put that smile on the hunter's face. It made him feel accepted – something he thought he might never experience again. Perhaps, should he manage to survive his encounter with Raphael, he might truly become part of a new garrison. Only this time his brothers-in-arms would be righteous, led by a man whose motives were honest and pure. Castiel found himself clinging to the idea, desperate to recapture some of what he'd lost when he'd turned his back on Heaven.
As they drove away from the house of ill-repute, Castiel listened to Dean explain how he'd been more happy in his company than he had been with Sam in years, and it quickly dawned on him that he was not the one Dean really needed. He was merely a poor substitute for the brother Dean had left behind. The realisation shouldn't have stung, but it did, and Castiel left before Dean could see it in his eyes.
'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…'
Lying on a hotel bed in a state of near-unconsciousness, Castiel distantly hears Dean's toast. Team Free Will. Although Dean had been facetious in giving the toast, Castiel was honoured to have been included in the row call.
He would never admit to Dean how dangerously close to death he had come in his endeavour to bend time for him. It was an added burden that the man could ill-afford to carry, having failed yet again to change history in their favour.
Dean had been slipping. The progression had been so slow at first that Castiel had failed to read the signs, but now there was no denying that his fellow renegade was spiralling downwards with increasing speed and was heading for a catastrophic crash and burn.
Castiel had been away, searching for God, and when he'd returned, the man who had clawed his way out of his own grave and defied Heaven and Hell alike was languishing in a sea of alcohol and bleak thoughts. Had they been following the script laid out for them by the ranks of Heaven, Dean would soon succumb to the pressure of responsibility and call on Michael to fill him with his light and make him whole. The fact that Dean's soul was unlikely to survive the transition was apparently not an issue to his fellow angels; but it meant a great deal to Castiel.
As it was, he, Sam and Dean were no longer walking the path that had been intended for them, which meant that Dean was unlikely to call upon Michael to end his suffering. Castiel could only hope that Sam would be strong enough to see his brother through the emotional and spiritual breakdown that was headed his way.
If there was one ray of hope in all of this it was that it seemed God was fighting for them.
When Heaven's Weapon finally fell to ground, there was no one left to catch him. No one, except Castiel.
Sam Winchester was delirious with withdrawal from the demons' blood, strapped down on a cot in Bobby Singer's panic room. Bobby Singer himself was passed out in his wheelchair, having imbibed in spirits to the point of rendering him useless. And Dean's soul was cracking apart.
Castiel could hear his prayers – and if he could hear them, so could the other angels. All it would take to lose Dean forever would be one little word. 'Yes'. There could be no doubt that Michael was perched between the realms of Heaven and Earth, ready to swoop down and claim his vessel at the slightest hint of consent. And judging by the desolate pleas pouring from Dean's lips, that moment was at hand.
Castiel was not about to lose his friend; not after all they had been through together. They had come too far and lost too much to give up now. With no one left for Dean to turn to, and time rapidly running out, Castiel saw that it was up to him to save the man. He pressed his eyes shut and prayed to his Father to guide him, even though he knew God likely couldn't hear him. He had faith, nevertheless, that he'd chosen his path wisely, and his Father would be proud.
With a thought, Castiel appeared next to Dean Winchester in Bobby's salvage yard.
Dean's eyes were wet with unshed tears, and a half-empty bottle of whisky dangled from his fingers. His face was tipped skyward, his voice raw with grief and pain as he called out for help. Castiel stepped closer, unnoticed, and gently placed a hand on Dean's shoulder. The hunter started at the touch, but the fearful look in his eyes dissipated the instant he realised who it was.
"Cass?" Dean asked plaintively.
"I'm here, Dean," Castiel replied softly, putting as much comfort as he could into his gaze.
Dean's face was a mask of anguish. "Is it true? What Famine said about me being empty and dead inside: is it true?"
The question surprised Castiel. He had been so lost in his own hunger that he had not been aware of what had occurred during Dean's confrontation with the Horseman. It was clear that the evil bastard had played off Dean's greatest fears to gain the upper hand.
"No, Dean. None of what he said was true," Castiel answered solemnly.
"Then why wasn't I hungry for something like everyone else? Hell, even you were hungry, and you're supposed to be above all that crap," Dean grumbled, taking a long pull on the bottle of whisky.
Castiel pried the bottle away from Dean and squared off in front of the man, looking him intently in the eye. "I have thought about that. Most people hunger for food or sex or drugs – cravings that Famine could easily manipulate by providing an overabundance. But I believe that what you craved was something over which Famine had no control. Above everything else, you crave peace and an end to the apocalypse, and Famine could not provide those things. You are not empty inside, Dean. You are filled with compassion and kindness. And you are not alone. You don't have to do this alone."
A tear spilled down Dean's cheek – the first in a torrent of tears to follow – and he slowly crumpled forward, resting his head against Castiel's shoulder. It was a surprisingly natural response to wrap an arm around him like a shield, protecting him from all the worries and woes that threatened to pummel him into the ground.
Long minutes later, when Dean had wept himself into exhaustion, Castiel guided him back into the house and stretched him out on the couch. No more words were spoken, but none were needed. Castiel could easily read the gratitude in his friend's eyes, and when he delved deeper, he could see the beginnings of healing taking root in the man's soul.
Castiel held his gaze until Dean's eyelids drooped shut and his breathing evened out into peaceful slumber. As Castiel covered him with one of Bobby's warmer blankets, he felt a swell of affection for the sleeping man, and he allowed himself to express it by laying his hand on Dean's head as he'd seen parents do.
"Sleep well, my friend," he said softly. "I'll be watching over you."
*The History and Origins of the Rhyme
Humpty Dumpty was in fact believed to be large cannon! It was used during the English Civil War (1642 - 1649) in the Siege of Colchester (13 Jun 1648 - 27 Aug 1648). Colchester was strongly fortified by the Royalists and was laid to siege by the Parliamentarians (Roundheads). In 1648 the town of Colchester was a walled town with a castle and several churches and was protected by the city wall. Standing immediately adjacent the city wall, was St Mary's Church. A huge cannon, colloquially called Humpty Dumpty, was strategically placed on the wall next to St Mary's Church. The historical events detailing the siege of Colchester are well documented - references to the cannon (Humpty Dumpty) are as follows:
June 15th 1648 - St Mary's Church is fortified and a large cannon is placed on the roof which was fired by 'One-Eyed Jack Thompson'
July 14th / July 15th 1648 - The Royalist fort within the walls at St Mary's church is blown to pieces and their main cannon battery ( Humpty Dumpty) is destroyed.
August 28th 1648 - The Royalists lay down their arms, open the gates of Colchester and surrender to the Parliamentarians
A shot from a Parliamentary cannon succeeded in damaging the wall beneath Humpty Dumpty which caused the cannon to tumble to the ground. The Royalists, or Cavaliers, 'all the King's men' attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty on to another part of the wall. However, because the cannon, or Humpty Dumpty, was so heavy ' All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again!' This had a drastic consequence for the Royalists as the strategically important town of Colchester fell to the Parliamentarians after a siege lasting eleven weeks. Earliest traceable publication 1810. (./humpty_)