Title from Deuteronomy 33:25. A story of how just one thought can set an angel's fate in motion.
And Your Strength Will Equal Your Days
It takes a lot to hack something out of yourself. No matter how abhorrent they might find themselves, most can go on living that way without changing a thing. They know it would take too much effort, looking too closely, realizing what it is they are, and for once knowing that it's flawed. They know that in so many ways it would hurt too much.
This is what most are driven by. Ignorance, obedience, but most of all fear.
Angels are afraid to be afraid and that's what makes her think about it in the first place.
They're wandering alone, in the dark, fighting Heaven's battles without hesitation, without apparent notice from Heaven at all. What sort of Father would bless them with reason as clear as Heaven's clarions and forbid them to wonder, and make them live in fear of retribution for wondering at all?
Her love, her faith, they've never wavered. Only her mind has.
It takes a lot to hack away the thing that makes you what it is you are, even if you can't live with the way things are anymore. She clings to her love for her Father, as hard as she can, and presses on.
Lucifer loved Him as well, so much the jealousy of humanity drove him insane. The thought is enough to stop her hand, but not enough to stop her thinking.
She watches a church. They have no vessels, no need for them, so she cannot go too near the few humans there. A wind brushes through the church as she draws closer, though, and she looks at the crucifix displayed at the center, at the altar.
It is one thing to praise God the Father because it's your vocation, your reason for existing. Humanity has all of Creation at its disposal, the good and the bad, and some choose to come and praise His name without even the slightest proof of the existence of even Heaven above them. Some of her garrison think she's a fool for it, but she finds them incredible.
The air shifts; the candle flames waver, some go out, but it's easy enough for her to light them again, as though they were never extinguished.
It's Castiel. Naturally. She can sense his confusion, but at least it isn't disapproval.
"You come here often," he says.
"The humans here have faith," she says. "Real, true faith."
He senses the shift in her attention, and follows it to the humans scattered amongst the pews, kneeling in supplication, whispering into their clutched hands. "They seem to," he agrees.
"No, Cas. They do. They have all the temptations in this world to distract from their suffering, but they come here to seek out the true joy." He doesn't understand it. She presses on. "They aren't born to it. They are... born to short lives, intense, physical, doubting, and still they seek out the divine."
Finally he speaks, though much to her frustration he is still clearly in the dark. "I understand."
She watches the woman in the front pew drop her face into her hands, her shoulders begin to shake, and without an instant's hesitation, she drifts to her side. Sorrow wracks the woman's body and she stays there with her, doing her best to sense what it is -- this spiritual pain made physical, the desperate attempt to drive the emotions of the soul from her body -- though Castiel follows and says nothing.
"Please," the woman breathes, her eyes fixed on the image of Jesus Christ ahead of her.
It strikes them both, but differently; Castiel averts his attention and Anna reaches down to her, draws her eyes shut, murmurs to her, brings her to tears of relief. He speaks only when she's drifted away.
"You shouldn't have done that."
Her answer is instant. "What would you have me do?"
The question is not so easy. Unfair. But she's accustomed to simpler thoughts, simpler situations, and her rising doubt complicates everything. She's surprised he answers at all, but he does. "You are my commander."
"Should I command you?"
His attention is so wholeheartedly on her, hers on him, that she doubts she could fly even if she wanted to. "I am yours to command."
Everything that they're not saying is making it impossible to find anything to say at all.
"Cas," she begins.
"We should return to the garrison." He's guarding himself against her now, though she wishes he wouldn't. "Our sisters have returned. I was sent to tell you."
Their sisters have returned from the errand she sent them on. The garrison is complete except for her and Castiel, missing, alone, not for the first time. Though Uriel has his share of comments, she has no shame. She has her reasons. Castiel is the last who reminds her of the best of Heaven, one of the most faithful she has ever known.
"Then we should return as well. This is something to celebrate," she informs him. "Come." She flies before he can speak and make her doubts rise again.
She knows the story. They all know the story. Lucifer envied humanity his Father's love and on behalf of angels became the greatest evil. It isn't the favor of her Father that Anna begrudges humanity. She doesn't begrudge them anything at all.
She envies humanity. She envies the insane physicality, though even the angels in her garrison make their jokes about the lower order of the flesh, the so very mortal nature of humanity. She envies them sleep and touch and dreams and tears, she envies them blood and sex and children, because of all the things angels can do, they can't create.
There is nothing for her except the fear of the fear, the rigid cold at the core of her being that says this is what you are, and the certainty that she has known since her creation, the things that pressed her through the war of Heaven. Your Father loves you as he loves all.
As a commander of a garrison she has over fifteen angels at her command and so she keeps them busy, she watches humanity and though the very thought terrifies her, she wonders: Does He love them more?
The worst part... there is nothing there to save her, to make it stop. Merely certainty. Certainty she has always had. Certainty she has never questioned, that it frightens her to even question, and the deepest sense that what she is is right, though her mind rages on that it is wrong.
There is no solution. Eventually humanity moves on, changes the TV channel, or eventually dies. They suffer, but they move on, always moving until they return to their Heavenly Father. The angels of her garrison make a joke of humanity's transitory nature, but it means that their suffering is bound to come to an end.
They were created to suffer, but they were created to die. They were created to be saved.
Salvation is not an option for angels. There is faith, and there is death.
There is only one option.
She's sensed for a long moment on the edge of her mind -- now acrid, weary, sharp -- that Castiel has been watching her, but only chooses to speak now. "We were wondering if you sought revelation."
"I have," she says, turns her attention to him. "Is that why you're here?"
"Yes." There is a pause. "No."
It amuses her. "I thought not."
He takes some effort in the next, measures his words. "Uriel was out of line. I am sorry."
The incident slipped her mind days ago. She has bigger problems than Uriel. "I think we both know that my feelings towards humanity are appropriate," she says. "The garrison knows that. I wouldn't be concerned. "
"Yes." He says it a little too quickly and they both know it. He does his best to cover it. "You are our commander. I would never imply otherwise."
"Cas," she sighs, chastising.
"Anna," he returns.
"Your loyalty is to Heaven, not to me. I hope you remember that."
"And Heaven has placed its faith in your ability to lead us," he reminds her. "You serve Heaven, as do I. I only mean -- "
"I understand," she says, "but it is something to consider."
The atmosphere between them changes, and he recovers with surprising ease. "I don't understand, I am sorry," he says. "Have I done something wrong?"
"No. No," she says. "Over a millennium here, Castiel, and you've stayed so strong. You have done nothing wrong."
"Then I don't understand. Anna -- "
"You wouldn't," she says. "Go. I'll follow."
He defers, withdraws, but before he goes, he addresses her, soft-spoken as an angel can be, daring to touch on the edge of emotion.
"I am no stronger than you," he says, and leaves.
Something about it -- it stays her hand just a little longer.
There's a bombing. The circumstances -- she could grasp the threads of time and understand every last corner but that isn't the point. It's how fragile they are, how some are snuffed out like candles in the church, how others fight as hard as an angel in Hell simply to keep living, how they pull together to save each and every one of their own that they can. It's that even an act of evil can bring the good out of them.
She doesn't envy them anymore. Not the way she used to.
No one tells you how it works. No one tells you how it is you're supposed to hack your grace out of yourself, because you're not supposed to. But her doubt burns in her heart as brightly as her faith once did, and all she can think about is why her Father would want her to suffer endlessly or die by the hands of her own people simply because she dared to consider the wonder that is humanity.
No. They drove her to it. She has no choice now, there is no going back, because you can't unthink a thought and you can't unquestion the justice of your creation.
If there was some relief, some comfort, some reassurance, some sympathy -- but even those who sympathize most in the garrison aren't as far gone as she is. They didn't receive revelation countless times but never find a prayer answered; they never knew half of their orders were attempts to keep them busy for their own sakes and for hers, because Heaven had no use for even those angels as good as hers.
They will never know just how staunchly they serve a Heaven that would not hesitate to kill them for daring to use the mind their Father gave them.
She says nothing to anyone, not even Castiel, simply turns her back, draws as far away as she can, to the edge of Heaven itself, and begins to carve her grace out.
It burns and every part of her is screaming for her to stop but the fact that it hurts at all is a glorious thing, and it's truer than ever, every part of God's Creation is good, even the suffering of an abomination of an angel is a thing of sharp and painful beauty --
And then it falls and she falls and though she has seen so much it's the single most frightening thing that she has ever experienced, but even that has the most exhilirating freedom in it, and she laughs through her terror and her pain because she might be everything she isn't but at least she's free.
It isn't until later -- it feels like a lot later although she knows it isn't -- that it strikes her just exactly what she's done. Humanity has its grip on her now, she's too young and undeveloped and all she knows is the terror --
She has dreams and whenever anyone grabs her roughly she can picture them, see them, terrible as they are in their true visage, angels, archangels, any of them able to --
It's the sword, the sword that scares her most, the sword that can kill even her, the sword that won't hesitate to kill her when she just wanted to leave.
"Anna?" her mother tries.
The man is big and tall and she knows better, she never met her Father but she knows, deep down she'll always know, even if He never shows up.
"YOU ARE NOT MY FATHER," she screams again.
"Anna -- Rich, get the doctor on the phone," her mother tries, and pulls her into her arms.
Anna buries her face into her mother's shoulder. The hug is enough to stop her screaming now, the soft smell of perfume on her mother's sweater, the feel of her arms holding her tight, because --
No. She's not safe, no.
"He's gonna kill me."
The arms tighten around her. "No one's going to kill you, sweetheart, now shh."
It's certainty. Cold, hard certainty. She knows it like she knows that the Sunday school stories are true. "He's gonna kill me when he finds me."
She pulls Anna away, holds her tightly by the shoulders. "Anna. No one is ever going to hurt you. Not ever. Okay?"
The fear's just exhausted her and Anna doesn't answer, just flings her arms around her mother, too busy drowning in adrenaline to notice the conversation that her mother and him are having right over her shoulder. It doesn't make any sense, anyway -- angels can't be beaten by prescriptions, whatever they are.
She wakes up -- screaming, terrified, wide-eyed, desperate to get away, just like the start -- and then it all falls into place. She knows, she understands.
If it wasn't for Lilith, the Seals, if it wasn't for the apocalypse and Dean Winchester being dragged out of Hell, she might've gotten away with it. But part of her thinks it was just a matter of time. Twenty-two years, that's nothing to Heaven, nothing to an angel, but they were everything to her until she woke up back where she started.
The one upshot to all this is that this time, she can curse and swear and have a good time being all pissed off at how unfair everything is.
Of course it's Castiel and Uriel. Zachariah has a sense of humor, and thinks it's appropriate. She doesn't want to say it out loud, she never did and she never will, at this rate, but for so many reasons Zachariah is a sadistic son of a bitch, and even though she's only thinking that, it feels good.
All that aside, even though she volunteered it, no one seems to get that this grace plan is a complete nightmare, enough to make her sick. Sure, get the grace back, escape Heaven, don't get killed. It's a great plan, even if there's some kinks.
The thing is, when you want something out of yourself bad enough to hack it out, you don't want to take it in again. The idea of doing this, the idea of becoming an angel again, that's what drives her into the backseat of a car with Dean Winchester, taking her last chance to feel and soak it in. She savors every second, every touch, because in the worst case scenario, she's dead for good, and in the best she'll never feel this, or anything at all, ever again.
Dean understands. He has something he wants out of him, too, something he can't hack out, and she knows better than anyone else how he feels.
Her heart is breaking for him -- and that's the first time that she can remember truly feeling heartache as herself, as Ananchel, and not just the ache of where her heart is supposed to be.
Play it by ear has worked so far. She waits. If she has to die by the hand of Heaven's most loyal -- so be it.
Heaven may not grant her the sort of clemency she wants. But if she dies, at least it'll be over.
It falls into place, as it does. Angels are agents of fate, and she knew what her fate would be when she first dug her grace out of her body.
Still, it was easier to be cold when Castiel was just a hypothetical, and not standing across the room looking at her as he always has.
She draws closer to Dean (not going to make it easier for him, she'll fight to keep her life, she's still human enough for that trait she loves so dearly in humans) until he pulls away, and she understands.
It takes some effort not to smile in the face of execution.
She leans in, kisses Dean, and even at that -- she can feel Cas just as intensely as she once did, and feel his eyes on her. "You did the best you could," she says, her eyes lowered. "I forgive you."
She steps forward, meets his eyes, Uriel's, offers herself, and at that, demons or not, it isn't as hard as she thought to just do what needed to be done one more time.
The grace overwhelms her, destroys her, sends her straight back to Heaven where she flees without even the slightest hesitation.
She lingers in a church, again, nowhere to go, no vessel to find, unwelcome in Heaven. Not much has changed in the twenty-two years since she's observed human faith as an angel. There are still people scattered through the pews, whispering their prayers and devoting their last hope to a god whose existence even she can't guarantee anymore.
A man in fatigues is lighting candles. One, two, three, and four. He deliberately lights each, his hand starting to shake by the third, and he lights the fourth, jams the taper into the sand. "Shit," he mutters, shaken, his hand going to his mouth before he crosses himself.
Anna tries to remember how this feels -- tries to remember the agony of finding out her parents were dead and gone and all because of her, to remember the fear of death -- but there's nothing there. There's nothing besides a solid base of certainty, colder and more pervasive than ever.
She sees the look in his eye, the troubled soldier, full of loss and doubt, and she draws closer.
"The night may be dark," she murmurs to the soldier, "but the morning will bring rejoicing." He doesn't move, his head stays down, and she touches his cheek, tries to graze her hand to his jaw (in the dim light, he reminds her of Dean) but she's less than air without a vessel. "Go in peace," she says finally.
When he does, so does she; not in peace, not yet, but closer than ever.