Castiel knew a lot about how things worked in the kingdom of heaven. He understood its hierarchy, that some angels had precedence because of long experience or past service. Some angels had to be punished when their missions went awry and against God's wishes. He knew that the driving force for angels was doing God's will, whatever the cost. When the apocalypse was averted, in fact, he had returned to find he was extremely useful to God in the disaster that was heaven today. He'd been through the near apocalypse, and he'd dealt with both renegade and rebellious angels. He understood all sides, and could motivate lesser and greater angels alike. He had a knack for conveying the need for common purpose, for organization and discipline, without coming across, as Dean Winchester would say, 'like a dick.'
So, he knew all that, and he was satisfied to have a useful role to play after the sadness of being cut off from heaven.
But, he cannot forget his time on earth. He cannot unknow that, when his angel brothers rejected him, Sam and Dean Winchester took him in as part of their family. They asked a lot from him, certainly, more than he thought he could give, at times. But, they gave him everything they had to give, as well. They may have been annoyed or frustrated with him, from time to time...maybe. But, they'd cared when he was upset or injured. They'd offered help when he needed it. They believed in him, gave him a purpose, when all of heaven had given up on him. To an angel, service, being useful, was all that mattered. The Winchesters had given him that, when he'd been at his lowest.
They'd also taught him something that most angels never felt or knew about. They taught him what it meant to care, about humans, about the destiny of mankind as a whole. More, they'd taught him how things really were between brothers. That, even when one or the other 'screwed up,' a brother was not to be abandoned. That brother was to be embraced. Perhaps knocked in the face with clenched knuckles, but, brought close none the less. Brothers were family, and family meant everything.
And, Castiel could not unlearn that.
So, even as he served as 'Sheriff' in heaven, he kept a watch on the Winchester brothers.
He saw when God peeled Sam from Lucifer in hell and released him back to earth.
He saw when Dean went to the woman's house and fell into the well of her caring.
He saw when Sam snuck away from the woman's house and headed out on the road. And when his need for Dean would pull him back to the town of Cicero, time and time again.
He saw when Dean stared up at the stars, alone and aching for the presence of his brother, wondering how he was going to go on.
The wrongness of the situation pulled at him. In Castiel's thinking, there was no need for them to be apart. No need for all the sadness and loneliness each was suffering. Still, he tried to leave them to their choices and not interfere. It was what angels were supposed to do. They did not interfere unless God called for it.
But, Castiel was connected to the Winchesters, and he could feel their distress. It was quite insistent and bothersome, actually. And, if he couldn't use his elevated status in heaven to keep watch on the Winchesters, well, what was the point in being 'head honcho,' after all?
Today, Castiel had watched while Sam had hidden in some low-growing plants, while the young boy in Dean's care had kicked a small ball around a grassy field. Something about the noble Sam Winchester, hiding in some shrubbery, hoping for a glimpse of his brother, had pushed Castiel past his patience.
He decided it was time to put heaven on hold and manifest on earth. Just to see if the pain of his human friends, his human family, could be eased.
By the time he stood next to Sam's hiding place, Castiel had seen Dean arrive to pick up the boy and drive him home. Castiel chose to stay unseen by other humans, but revealed himself to Sam. He cleared his throat, just to 'get the ball rolling.'
Sam jumped, glanced up at him while pulling his knife in the same motion. Castiel remained still. He just gazed at Sam. Sam's eyes went wide, he whispered, "Cas? What are you doing here, man?"
Castiel was going to correct him. He wasn't a 'man' after all, but, he had missed these references, these signs that the brothers considered him one of them. Castiel looked out at the field. "They've all gone. You don't need to stay in the bushes."
Sam 'hrumphed,' moved around, found his exit, and came to his feet. Castiel had forgotten how large Sam was. Heaven gave such a different perspective, after all. He looked up, and noticed multiple pink and purple petals decorating Sam's hair. Castiel thought it looked rather festive, but, didn't remark on it. Instead, he gazed at Sam, waited for him to speak. But, Sam just looked down at the ground, put his hands in his pockets, looked embarrassed and dejected at the same time. Castiel sighed. He had missed doing that – sighing. He could convey impatience or exasperation, even fondness or 'you're being a butt-head,' all with a downswell of breath. It was harder to convey those things in heaven, though he kept trying.
Sam looked at him, finally. "I know it's pathetic. I'm sorry if you felt you had to come all this way to tell me. I'm sure you've got much more important things to do." He scuffed his foot on the loose dirt, again. "Um, how are things going for you, now? Up there. They treating you okay?"
Castiel was reminded, also, why he'd developed such an uncharacteristic affection for these boys. "Sam, go to Dean. Tell him you're alive."
Sam shook his head, his shoulders drooped, and his eyes looked sad. "I can't. I'm not taking this from him, Cas. He's happy here. And, you know what he's like. He sees me, and it's right back to 'take care of Sammy,' duty. He'll drop all of this, and I'll feel like shit for taking it all away."
Castiel nodded. "But, you feel like shit, now."
Sam sighed, "Yeah, I know...but he doesn't...wait. Did you say 'shit?'"
Sam gave a soft laugh.
Castiel raised a brow. He returned to the subject at hand. "I don't need to tell you that your brother thinks you are suffering in hell. That is not making him happy. At all."
Sam looked out at the field. "Maybe. But, he'll get over that in time. He's already getting over that. Have you been watching? He has pizza parties – where he makes the pizza. I mean, I've seen him do it, and it's still hard for me to believe. He goes to cook outs and jokes around at work with the guys. He's not moping and staring into the distance. He's okay."
Castiel shook his head, looked at Sam until Sam looked back at him. "You're an idiot."
Sam's mouth dropped open. "What? I'm not an idiot! I'm doing this for Dean. I'm trying to let him live his life in peace."
"You're hiding from him. You're being cruel."
Sam looks away again. "You don't...Just, leave it alone, Cas. I'm sure you have bigger problems than this right now."
"You're right. I do. But, you don't. Sam, give Dean the respect of letting him make his own choices. Maybe he'll stay away from hunting, maybe he'll want to join you on the road. Maybe, he'll compromise and do both. But, you must let him know you are safe. It's haunting him and it never lets him rest. Not fully. Everything I know of you, and your love for your brother, tells me that you would not have him suffering needlessly. So, you must have a reason for wanting him to suffer?"
Sam's face has gone still and tight. Castiel can tell he's made Sam angry. He's surprisingly glad about that. He's learned that, with humans, when the emotions get stronger, the situation is closer to getting resolved, one way or another. Sam breathes deeply, trying to bring his temper under control. "I don't want him to suffer. Shut up. That's stupid."
Castiel tilted his head. "It is stupid, isn't it? I'm glad we agree on that."
Sam huffs a breath in exasperation. He clears his throat, scuffs his toe in the dirt some more. Castiel waits. Finally, Sam says softly, "What do you think will happen if I tell Dean I'm back?"
Castiel looks at him steadily. "I think the large, gaping, sucking hole inside of him will finally close."
Sam actually takes a step back. "Wow. You don't pull your punches, huh?"
"Pull them? I thought one pushed when punching?"
Sam nodded. "Whatever. Listen, are you sure you're right about this 'hole' business? Cause, to me, Dean looks happy. He looks rested and...just, happy. He hardly ever looked like that when he was around me."
And, here we have it, Castiel thought.
He moved to stand directly in front of Sam. "Sam, what you and your brother endured these past few years, it would have broken almost any other humans on your planet. The pain, the sadness and betrayal, all around you, all the time. It was unrelenting, unending. Your brother was tired. He was weary and heartsick and confused and frightened. He was all of those things. But, so were you."
Sam opens his mouth to speak, and Castiel knows he's going to say something about how he deserved it, but Dean didn't. He does know Sam, after all. Castiel holds up his hand to stop the words. "It's important for you to recognize that the last few years should have broken you, both as brothers and as individuals. You should have been bargaining with the angels and the demons to save yourselves, and 'screw the other guy.' It's what most humans would have done. But, instead, you and Dean stayed together. You fought together, suffered together, found a solution, together. And now, you're going to leave him alone? You're going to make all that sacrifice and fighting, all that loyalty and love, count for nothing? Does that seem fair to you?"
Sam nodded. Cas could feel emotions moving through his young friend. His eyes were moist, and his breathing was uneven. All good signs, as far as Castiel was concerned. Finally, Sam, got himself under control. He spoke quietly, but firmly. "No, I don't think it's fair. I don't think one damn thing about our lives was fair. I don't want Dean to suffer. Jesus. Of course I don't. But..." He looked directly at Castiel. His face wanted to crumple, but Sam held on, kept his resolve. "Cas, I just...I don't want to ruin his life. My coming back, it will do that. You see that, right?"
Castiel softened, despite himself. Of course, this was at the heart of it. Sam wasn't giving himself the comfort of his brother's presence, not because he didn't need Dean, but because he thought coming back would ruin his life. These boys would make a stone feel for them. Castiel put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Sam, if I guarantee you that it will not ruin his life, will you go to Dean?"
Sam's eyes flickered with his uncertainty. "How could you possibly guarantee something like that?"
Castiel thought of the many times Dean's sorrow and pain had pulled at him since he'd thought he'd lost Sam. He thought of the emptiness Dean struggled against, so Lisa and Ben wouldn't worry about him. He knew that Dean was suffering needlessly. Sam, himself, was suffering needlessly.
It had to stop.
He gave Sam one of rare smiles. A true smile, that, if he did say so himself, was quite dazzling.
Sam's eyes flickered with hope.
Castiel said, "It is an easy guarantee to give, Sam. Go to him. Give him what he most wants. After everything, give him back what he thinks is lost forever."
Sam closed his eyes, bowed his head, breathed for a few minutes. When he opened his eyes and raised his head, Castiel was not surprised at the quiet, "And you're sure it won't be a bad thing for him?"
Castiel stepped back. "I've told you I am. Stop stalling. Go."
Sam's brows went up. "What, now?"
Castiel was getting perturbed. "Yes, now."
Sam's grin came, slow and wonderful to behold. "So, like, right now?"
Castiel could see that Sam wanted this, but, more, he wanted to make sure it wasn't selfish, that it wouldn't do Dean more harm than good. As an answer, Castiel put two fingers to Sam's forehead and took him to Lisa's front yard.
When Sam opened his eyes, and saw where he was, his eyes went wide and disbelieving. But, Castiel could sense his excitement, as well. Sam rubbed his palms against the legs of his jeans. "So, just knock? I mean, what if it's a bad time?"
Castiel was confused. "Are you really this much of a pussy?"
Sam laughed out loud at that, and some of the tension seemed to leave his shoulders. "Okay. Okay, you're right." He took a step forward, then, turned back to thank Castiel. And was hit with a gust of air as he disappeared. Still, he whispered, "Thanks, Cas."
He walked up to Dean's front door, his heart pounding. Before he could knock, it opened.
And there was Dean. His face was white. His lip trembled and his eyes filled. And, finally, Sam was engulfed in his brother's embrace.
Castiel watched them as he faded from sight.
He knew the Winchesters, alright.