Title: The Guilt of Still Being
Summary: Castiel and Risa survive Lucifer's trap by the skin of their teeth, only to discover there was a reason he let them go.
Disclaimer: 'Supernatural' was created by Eric Kripke. No disrespect is intended.
The cemetery was overgrown with weeds, the headstones and statues cracked and worn. Castiel took his place, hidden from obvious view, while Gabriel strode to the center of the cemetery. Cas had his doubts about this plan. When he'd told Risa it was probably iffy like Dean's plan, he'd meant it and was correct. Gabriel was going to keep Lucifer distracted while Castiel snuck up and stuck him with the sword, which may or may not kill him since Cas was mostly human. Somewhere along the way, Gabriel also wanted to open up the prison and shove him in for good measure.
Risky, desperate, and reckless? Hell, yes. But what else could they do?
Cas crouched and looked at them. He was close enough to see both of their expressions.
"I was surprised you wanted to meet. Our last encounter showed your feelings on my actions quite well." He crossed his arms. "Come to join me have you? Seen the error of your human loving ways?"
"Actually, I came to contain you."
Lucifer's laugh was loud and amused. "You? I'm sorry, Gabriel, but I do have to laugh. The runt of the litter fight me? You do recall that even Michael had trouble the first time? And you think you can stop me?" He 'tsked' and beckoned with one hand, condescension on his next words. "Okay, come on. Hit me with your best shot."
He was still smirking when he came to rest against a headstone halfway across the cemetery, obviously stunned by the strength of Gabriel's blow. He shook his head. "Not bad, little brother. Not bad at all."
Castiel gripped the sword tight, watching. Fear made him feel weak. He had to work his way closer, enough to do his job.
"I've been working out," Gabriel said with a shrug.
"You can't win this fight, Gabriel. Not alone." Lucifer got to his feet, brushed dirt from his clothes with a fastidious air that Castiel found bizarre. Why did he care if his clothes were dirty?
"Who says I'm alone?"
"Aside from that band of demigods you ran around with once, you tend to work alone. Yes, I know about them, about your hiding in plain sight. Very clever, Gabriel." He walked back towards Gabriel. "I believe it's my turn now?"
Gabriel was thrown farther, harder, his landing worse and Castiel winced, expecting Lucifer to press the attack. He didn't. Why wasn't he continuing? Was he expecting Gabriel to back down? Yes, that was what he was expecting. Castiel realized it as Gabriel got to his feet and returned to the center of the cemetery. Lucifer was actually concerned about Gabriel.
"Still want to fight? We don't have to. You go your way again, I go mine, and you agree not to get in my way."
"I can't do that."
"Of course you can."
Castiel felt a sudden crackling of pure energy and turned his head in that direction. Dean stood at the entrance, only it wasn't Dean. Cold arrogance fairly radiated from him. It was Michael.
Michael's gaze turned to Castiel for merely seconds, but in that time, he felt stripped naked. If Gabriel had gleaned most things from his mind, Michael pulled all of it out in the open, seeing him, his motivations, everything. What had been and what was now. He rolled through Castiel's mind without trying to hide the fact and it was a relief when Michael's attention slid to Lucifer and Gabriel. That complete scrutiny through Dean's eyes was worse than anything, leaving him shaking.
"What's going on here?"
Lucifer and Gabriel froze where they were, heads turning, seeing Michael there.
"What are you attempting, Gabriel? Better do some fast talking little brother, because it looks to me like you're trying to fight my fight."
"You can't be in him, Michael. Not the dead."
"You think you're the only one who can put a person back together? The only one who can breathe a soul back into a body? Castiel shoved Dean back in his meat suit. I can surely do the same as a lower level grunt."
"He was ashes."
Lucifer watched them, listening, his head cocked. He didn't strike at either of them, eyes narrowed, assessing.
Michael waved a hand. "Mixed him back up, plucked him from rest, and put him back in. He agreed once. Besides, I figured knowing that that silly toy gun didn't work would make him agreeable."
"Did you ask?"
Michael's chin raised a notch. "I didn't have to ask. He'd already agreed once."
Disgust slid over Gabriel's face. "This is wrong, Mike. You know it is."
Approval flickered in Lucifer's eyes.
"What are you crying about? He said it once. I'm merely acting on that compliance." He came forward. "And when I'm done, he'll be returned to the dust from which I took him."
"Brother," Lucifer began, "you've been paying attention to my sort of methods."
Michael shrugged. "Fight fire with fire, right?"
Gabriel shook his head. "You're both dicks."
"Why are you protesting so loudly, Gabriel? I'm here for the party, aren't I? I'm fashionably late. Or are you just afraid the earth will be too torn up for your little human whore to live when we're done?"
They weren't paying any attention to him and Castiel raised from his crouch into a standing position, taking a slow step in Lucifer's direction. When there was no reaction, he continued forward.
"That's a terrific point, Michael." Lucifer crossed his arms. "How can you defile yourself with one of those creatures that way, Gabriel?"
"Might I point out that you're both in humans right now? Sort of hypocritical seeing as how you're wearing Sam and Dean." Gabriel didn't look at him, gesturing with his hands, raising his voice, and generally doing everything he could to keep their attention on him and off of Castiel. "High and mighty doesn't exactly work here for either of you."
This was going to be the day he died. Cas knew it. As the only human present here, it was inevitable that either Michael of Lucifer would take him out. Perhaps he could lay the groundwork for Gabriel to somehow bring a peaceful end to this before he died.
He felt the same euphoric sensation he'd had in that building with Risa.
"Why do you love them, Gabriel," Lucifer asked, crossing his arms.
"They can do something that apparently none of us ever learned: forgive. They're not perfect, but that's all a part of their charm."
"You prefer them over us." Michael took a few steps to one side. The move placed him where he could see Castiel slowly working his way towards Lucifer's back.
"Considering the fact that you locked me out of heaven entirely - yes."
"Whine, whine, whine. I'm sick of your whining about that. Is that all you ever do? Maybe we should just put you out of your misery right here and now."
"You going to kill me, Mike?"
Lucifer chuckled. "Maybe I will, Gabriel. Since you insist in getting in the way."
Surely Michael knew he was there? He had to see him, yet gave no sign other than that first stare. Castiel moved forward before he could really stop and think about it, adrenaline surging through his body. He raised the sword, was so close -
"Hello, Castiel." Lucifer whirled. "Come to try to stick me with that, have you? Did you really think I didn't notice you there?" He raised a hand. "Goodbye, Castiel."
Cas squeezed his eyes shut, anticipating pain, and reopening them when that pain didn't occur. He was down the road from the cemetery, so far that he couldn't see the gates, standing by a sign for the cemetery that had an arrow and the words 'two miles'. Someone, probably Gabriel, had saved him at the last second, throwing him clear of the field. He wondered if the battle would be over by the time he got back.
Taking a deep breath, he started to run back towards the cemetery.
Michael had always been a quick draw. Gabriel remembered that. When Lucifer raised his hand, Gabriel knew what was coming with the words and knew he wasn't fast enough to send Castiel away to safety. Michael, however, was. He'd anticipated Lucifer's reaction. Even as Lucifer acted, Michael yanked Castiel away, following that with a blow to Lucifer that was every bit as hard as the one Gabriel had received. As Lucifer came to rest across the cemetery, Michael turned to him.
"If you're determined to contain him, get it open now while he's getting up," he growled. "Hurry! This has to be quick or he'll pull us both in with him."
He reached in his pocket for the rings. "You're on my side?" Gabriel opened the prison, wondering just where Michael had sent Castiel.
"Not the time to chat about it. Get ready." He was already moving forward to meet Lucifer.
"Two against one? That's hardly sporting, Michael," Lucifer called out.
"Like you care about sporting," was the reply before their bodies hit.
They beat each other against the ground, against trees, and headstones, Lucifer trying to steer clear of the open prison and Michael trying to throw him back into it.
"This isn't how this is supposed to end," Lucifer yelled, landing a punch the made Michael stagger back against a statue.
"Plans change," was Michael's curt, grunted reply. He used the statue to launch himself, the shove toppling the statue completely.
Both fought hard and fast. Seeing an opening, Gabriel created a sword from a piece of trash on the ground. It wouldn't kill Lucifer, but hopefully, it'd shock him enough to release Michael and lose his balance. He plunged it into Lucifer's back, hating that it had to be the back. The ploy worked and in that split second when Lucifer realized it really was two against him and Gabriel wasn't just standing there watching, Michael was able to pry his fingers free and give him a shove that sent him careening into the prison.
As the prison closed, he saw Castiel come through the cemetery gates. Cas stopped, looked at them, and when he saw no sign of Lucifer, he sat down on the ground with the air of someone exhausted.
Michael's wounds were gone, all hints of blood with them. "It's done," he said, dusting his hands off, then wiping them on his jeans. "You asked for a diversion, I gave you far more."
"You listened to me. You actually listened."
He rolled his eyes. "You made a point. It happened to be a good one - and I always listened to you, Gabriel."
"I made several points and they were all good." He moved to a headstone and leaned against it. "But you claiming to always listen? Please."
"Whatever. Anything else before I go home?"
He did have one thing in mind, something he'd been thinking about. "Restore Castiel."
Michael flicked his glance towards where Castiel sat waiting, watching him. Cas leaned back on his hands and Michael shook his head. "No."
"Come on, Mike. Hasn't he suffered enough?"
"He chose his path, Gabriel."
"And you cut him off from the power tap, further hastening his descent."
"He made his decision and has consequences for that."
"No." He shook his head. "He's happy with that female. I can see that in his mind. He's found some happiness in that human life. Do you want me to take that away, because you know what will happen if he gets the powers back. Those human emotions will go away and he'll leave her. You want that? It would essentially destroy both of them."
"Of course I don't want that."
"He chose to disobey, which means he knew he'd have consequences from it. Castiel knew he'd be punished. All angels know. Actions always have some sort of consequences. Disobedience must be punished and severely or I'd have garrisons running off all the time. Surely, as a leader for a human army, you've come to understand my responsibilities? One soldier deserting can lead to more and I had to act on how I thought best for those under my command. His disobedience was punished. To take that back now and restore him would show me as weak and pliable. I can't be either. Even coming here and aiding you has cast doubt on me."
"Oh, please. Anyone seeing you as weak is an idiot."
Michael paced a moment, touched a forefinger to his lips, then pointed it his direction. "There's one thing I can do for Castiel, however, a thing that may…help with the wild range of feelings he's been overwhelmed by." He gestured with both hands.
"What would that be?"
Michael pursed his lips and blew out a long breath. "Since he's not an angel anymore, he has no need of a live soul in that body that said 'yes'. I can part Jimmy Novak from him, send Jimmy on to rest, leaving Castiel in sole possession of that body." His brows rose. "It's all I can give and as far as the others know, it'll deepen the feelings, make his punishment worse. It's not something I'm forbidden to do. There's leeway."
"Will it make it worse?"
Michael leaned forward a little, voice lowering as if imparting a secret. "No. It'll ease the feelings because he's been feeling Jimmy's emotions as well. He'll feel better. It's all I can do."
"Then do it. Will he know when it happens?"
Michael snapped his fingers. "Done."
Castiel gasped and sat up very straight for a few long seconds, then slowly relaxed, a confused expression upon his face.
"Look, I came down here because your point was a good one, your arguments sound. I shoved Lucifer back in despite your outright attempt at assassination and threw Castiel out of the way when Lucifer would have killed him. Don't read more into this. You have the earth and the people you like so much. I've done you enough favors. You all get to live to fight another day. Croatoan is gone, the infected with it. Begin anew without fear."
"Don't be such a dick."
"According to you and Dean Winchester that's all we angels are."
"I am an angel."
He snorted. "In a class all your own."
"So sue me for being different."
"You want to play guardian over the earth, fine. Just remember it's all on you if God does come home and finds the fight didn't end how it was supposed to."
"Oh, it did, Mike. You two still fought, but you showed compassion for dad's creations by containing Lucifer again. Don't you think that might count for something?"
"Perhaps." He glanced at Cas again. "But like I said. It's on you, not me. Play guardian, live with your human lover. Don't expect any help from us, Gabriel. This is where it ends."
"You know you'll be watching," he told Michael. "You can't look away." There was a spark of curiosity in his eyes now, because if Gabriel, his archangel brother, would fight so hard to save humanity, there must be something there he'd not noticed. "Some day, you might even be curious enough to reopen the gates of heaven and come down for a visit."
"Don't hold your breath."
"Oh, I'm a champion at that. Bet I can out wait you."
Michael rolled his eyes. "You're trying at times and rather juvenile, but I do love you." He slid his hands into his jacket pockets and added, "I do love all of my brothers and sisters. And Gabriel? I did give Dean the choice. Knowing what he knew, would he accept me and aid you in taking care of the Lucifer problem? Or would he rather stay at rest? He didn't even have to think about it. So maybe I'm not such a dick after all, hmm?"
He was gone then, leaving Gabriel alone with Castiel.
Gabriel walked to where Castiel was sitting, thinking the first kind thoughts he had about Michael in a very long time. Dick or not, he'd come through in the end.
Cas looked up at him. "Is it over?"
He laid a hand on his shoulder. "It's done. The end has passed. Lucifer is contained once more." He gave Castiel's shoulder a squeeze and released it. "Mike's gone back upstairs."
"What about Dean?"
"Took Dean with him like he said he would." He joined him, sitting beside him. "He won't restore you, Cas. I asked him to and he said no."
"Did he say why?"
"Surprisingly, yes. He said that you're happy with Risa and restoring you would destroy both of you."
"What's the rest of it, because I don't recall Michael giving a damn about happiness, least of a human's."
Gabriel sighed. "You do know us, don't you? He said you made a choice, choices have consequences and he won't negate those. Basically, you have to face the results of your actions and we angels aren't exempt from that." It was the same thing he did with Jo when she got hurt on the job. He let her feel the consequences. He did it from an affection, a love for her. Could it be inferred that Michael acted from an affection for Castiel? He had said he loved all of his brothers and sisters.
"I am happy with Risa," Castiel admitted. "She makes me happy."
"You knew you'd have to face your actions eventually."
"I did. But I didn't realize how much agony would occur."
He considered all that had happened and decided to venture a question. "Given a second chance at that point, where you made that clear decision, would you do it again? I mean, knowing it causes you that much pain."
Castiel tipped his head back, gaze traveling across the sky. His reply was slow in coming, yet the word itself was said with a certainty. "Yes."
He sighed and shrugged, turning his head and meeting Gabriel's gaze. "Because…helping Dean was still the right thing to do. No matter what happened later, it was right, a righteous decision. I knew it then and I know it now."
Gabriel put his arm around Cas in a half-hug. "Do you even realize how strong you are?"
"Me?" He laughed. "I'm not strong. I'm weak. I think that's been amply shown."
"No, brother. You're strong. You'd do all of it all over again because the decision you'd made was the right one to make. You'd face agony and earthly hell. How many of us in heaven and on earth would do that? It's strength to realize you'd not change a single thing despite the pain the action caused you. You're stronger than most, Castiel. I think if anyone can survive the fall to humanity, it's you."
"Maybe? Tell me, how do you feel right now? I mean physically?"
"Physically? Fine, I guess. Tired."
"Now that's a difference. It's strange. I feel weird. Almost…calm." He shrugged. "Happened suddenly."
"I can explain that." Gabriel got to his feet. "Michael took Jimmy with him when he left. That body is all yours now. He said you've been feeling not only your emotions but Jimmy's as well. With Jimmy gone, that should ease."
"Am I fully human then?"
"No. Once an angel, always one. That tiny percent of angel is still there, but it's so little you hardly needed Jimmy there." He held out a hand to help Cas up, smiling a little when Cas did take that hand. "Well, shall we go back?"
In a blink, they were back at the base in the same place they'd left from. He released Castiel's hand. He asked Cas to wake Risa and go to the south gate at dawn. It was only about an hour away.
Gabriel took a walk around the base, smiling as he did so, because for these people, the world was now safer. They'd all wake to a world changed for the better and someday, history books would once more make references to the mystery of Croatoan. Where had they gone? Why had they gone? The fact of the Apocalypse would be forgotten and life would go on.
He took a deep breath. The air smelled sweeter, the atmosphere felt lighter, and he couldn't wait to see the reactions of all he knew.
He returned to his house and slid into bed beside Jo, carefully wrapping an arm around her and drawing her to him. She made a contented noise, snuggling back.
"Mmmm. Where've you been all night?"
"I had something to take care of." He pressed a gentle kiss to her neck.
"Like ending the Apocalypse. It's over. Michael came through at the last minute with a bit of subterfuge that really had me believing it was him and Luci against me and Cas."
She shifted to lie on her back. "Wait, what? What did you do, Gabriel?"
"I made this world a safer place. Well…." He raised up on his forearm and brushed her hair back from her forehead. "Castiel and I did, with Michael's assistance. A lot of Michael's assistance."
"How? How did you stop it? And what did you mean Michael came through? Dean was dead -"
"He raised him, gave him the options. He was the honorable, righteous Michael I remember." He pressed a kiss to her mouth. "What's say we go take a gander out the south gate at the Croat free world? Meet Castiel and Risa there?"
"I think it's a good time."
She was ready in minutes.
Castiel strolled slowly back to Jo's house. The end had been averted. It still didn't feel real to him. Michael had actually helped contain Lucifer. He shook his head in disbelief, wondering how that had come about. However it had happened, he was glad. The fight had happened, but not the way it had been foretold. It hadn't been the ultimate smack down destroying the world completely, but rather a containment effort that saved what world was left.
He was glad Dean was at rest; that he'd chosen to leave it long enough to finish the fight. Without him and Michael, both Cas and Gabriel would have died. He knew it.
Going into the house, he woke Risa, handing her clothes. "Risa, come on."
There was a difference in the air now, that calm that occurs when a storm has finally passed on. He could feel it and wanted her to as well.
She asked sleepy questions he didn't answer, while he stood fidgeting.
"Cas, what's going on?" Her hair was mussed from sleep and she ran a hand through it. "Where's my brush?"
"Don't worry about it. You look beautiful." He beckoned with a hand. "You need to come now. Hurry up."
Once she was dressed, he led her outside, towards the south gate that was always a trouble spot. It was the place the Croats headed for every time. The base was quiet.
"Feels strange out here," she said.
The sky was lightening, dawn approaching.
Gabriel and Jo were waiting at the gate. It was open.
Upon seeing that, Risa gave a sharp tug, trying to pull her hand from his. "The gate! It shouldn't be open!"
He embraced her, held her tight to him. "It's okay. Trust me. Do you trust me, Risa?" This was a moment of pure trust. If she wanted to run, he'd let her go.
Her lips parted and she looked at Jo and Gabriel, who were both calm. She took a deep breath. "Every part of me says to run."
"You don't have to. It's over. The Apocalypse is done."
"Done? What do you mean done?"
"Stopped. It's over and there's nothing to be afraid of. Do you trust me?" He slid his hands to her arms, trailed them down to grasp her hands and squeeze them.
Her gulp was loud. "Yes, Castiel, I trust you."
He smiled at her and led her towards the gate, stopping beside Gabriel and Jo.
"It's a brand new day from here on out," Gabriel said, his arm around Jo. "This world will be what we make it."
"It's really over," Risa asked. "No more Croats? No more…fear of infection?"
Castiel nodded. "It's really over." For the first time in a very long time, he was hopeful for the future. For himself, for Risa, and for them both together. They still had issues to work through, of course, singly and together, but now there was time to do that. There was time to try learning how to like being human.
Gabriel motioned towards the outside. "Let it not be said that we're not gentlemen. Ladies first."
A week earlier, there would have been Croats running at them. Now, all was quiet in the rosy rays of the rising sun. Jo went out first, looking back until Risa joined her. Castiel exchanged a glance with Gabriel and together they stepped forward. They stood there, an angel and a former angel, their human women between them, watching the sun shine brightly on the first day of a new earth, one without an Apocalypse hanging over it.
Risa slipped her arm around his waist and leaned against him. "So…. Did you leave us here like helpless girlfriends?"
Jo glanced at Gabriel. "See. Not just me who thinks that."
"You did, didn't you?" Risa's voice was resigned.
"It's that whole protection thing," Jo commented. "Still, to not have to fight the biggest, baddest monster ourselves? I think I can excuse it. I've had about all the monsters I can take for awhile."
Reveille rang out loud and clear in the air.
A new day had come for all of them.