Title: The Best Laid Plans
Chapter: 7
Summary: Castiel learns that even his most carefully executed plans aren't always adequate to stop the pain of life. Sequel to 'The Dilemma of Human Investment'.
Rating: M
Disclaimer: 'Supernatural' was created by Eric Kripke. No disrespect is intended.

The two days Dean had requested passed even faster than he'd thought they would.

He laid beside Castiel, a hand on her bare hip beneath the covers. In the morning, she'd be leaving, returning to those angelic duties. Dean felt more calm now, as though her being well soothed him at a soul level. He knew he really didn't have to worry about her. She was fully capable of taking care of herself. There was a subject on his mind though, something he wanted to ask her and wasn't entirely sure how to broach it. He wanted to ask about that high fever and if it had hurt Risa, deciding maybe he should just spit it out. She was likely expecting such a question. He propped his head on his other hand and asked, "How is she, Cas?"

She blinked and frowned, touching his cheek, fingers warm against his skin. "You mean Risa?"

"Yeah, is she -"

"She's fine. She's safe." She looked at him like he shouldn't have to ask, as if his even asking was an affront.

"Are you sure?"

Castiel sat up, the sheet sliding down to pool at her waist. "You doubt my word."

With a noise of protest, he rolled onto his back. "No, of course I don't."

"But you don't trust my answer. You're suspicious that I'm lying to you about her and I'm uncertain why you'd think that, because she's essential to me now. As she said, we're united." Her eyes narrowed. "Dean, you were never concerned about Jimmy's welfare. Why are you concerned now for Risa's?"

"I didn't have a personal relationship with Jimmy."

One brow arched, lips pursing a moment as she studied him. Her reply was tart. "No, you mean you didn't have sexual relations with Jimmy."

He glanced at the door and back to her. "Yeah, I mean that and you don't have to act like it's an unreasonable question. You did have a high fever and last time I checked, humans don't survive that. How was I to know whether you were able to shield her from it or whatever it is you do to keep her safe? I can't be concerned about her now?"

"Of course you can be concerned about her, Dean. I know that you are, but you also know I'm good with my vessels, or as much as is possible. I take care of mine far better than most angels. You can trust my word on her." She rested a hand on his chest. "Risa is as well as a vessel can be. The process didn't hurt her. I can speak with her, though like with Jimmy, it takes a moment for her to wake. She was…cranky at first after the fever passed. It did affect her to some extent. She didn't care for the process and was plain that if she'd known she'd feel any of that she would have refused."

"Well, three cheers for ignorance for all of us." They all three had gotten what they'd wanted. He got Cas, Castiel got him, and Risa didn't have to die.

Her stare became annoyed, but she didn't pursue the topic. "She asked about you; if 'your own time' had happened yet."

Dean took a deep breath and slowly blew it out as he clasped his hands behind his head on the pillow. "You can tell her yes and no. Yes, because I can say she was dying, that she was going to die. I can say it. But that no is there because it ain't gonna happen and there's nothing to face." Saying it before, with Risa and Castiel separate, would have made it a reality. He would've had to face it, think about it long and hard. Now though? It was no longer real. Risa wasn't dying. That cancer inside her was stopped in it's tracks. She was alive with Castiel, which made her a very long way from death. Even if it wasn't a life like what she'd had before, it was more than a cold grave, her body rotting and soul in that place that passed for heaven. She had something here that he thought was preferable to that.

This was as close to dealing with that reality as he was going to come and Dean decided he was okay with that.

"You can't pretend she has an actual life apart from me, Dean."

"What she has with you is better than what she'd have otherwise. Just…. Take good care of her."

"You know I will." She laid down beside him, her head on his shoulder. Her fingertips traced random patterns on his chest and Dean closed his eyes, hoping he could sleep and knowing he wouldn't, not when morning would take her from him.

During the two days that passed, Castiel waited with patience. She learned those things that Balthazar had told Dean and pondered them. Balthazar would lie when he thought it helped him somehow, but Castiel couldn't see where a lie would have benefited him unless he assumed he'd gain Dean's favor. Why would Balthazar need Dean's favor? He had little use for humans, either unable or unwilling to understand Cas's view on them, so that didn't seem likely. Perhaps he thought he could brag about being her friend, that it'd give him some sort of clout? That was far more likely. If he was thinking about rejoining the efforts, it made sense to her that he'd try to come in on a higher level than what he'd left.

Why had he given Dean that information? It couldn't have been because he cared whether or not Dean had peace of mind. Because he'd known Dean would tell her? It was certainly helpful to know how he planned to annoy her, that dance they'd been engaged in for awhile now. He'd annoy her and she'd track him down and stop whatever it was he was doing that he shouldn't before he'd disappear and be blessedly silent for a few weeks.

She kissed Dean goodbye and left before he could come up with yet another reason for her to stay. She thought she understood his fears, however, reassuring him was growing tedious. The only way to truly reassure him would be to leave and return as herself, thus proving he was worrying over nothing. She left Bobby Singer's house with a feeling of satisfaction in the transition about herself. She felt as strong and sure as she ever had in a vessel, which was a good sign.

Castiel's return to her own camp wasn't what she'd thought it'd be. Her allies looked at her differently, lending credence to Balthazar's words. They treated her as though she had more authority than she'd had and she immediately hated every second of it. Why did she have to be the one trying to pull them all together and coordinate the resistance efforts? She felt wholly unskilled for the task, uncertain in her ability to lead. It seemed they looked to her for all the answers when she, in fact, had none. She'd never had the answers or any real idea what she was doing.

Dean called it 'flying by the seat of one's pants'.

She was glad Balthazar was aiding them at present despite his murky intentions. It took a large portion of the heat from her. Balthazar was zipping all over the globe, contacting angels and sometimes even literally shouting the information he had about Castiel. The reaction had been instantaneous.

Raphael was furious, calling the vessel change ludicrous until Castiel made several public appearances far from where Raphael was purported to be. She didn't want to fight Raphael personally unless it was a last resort and tried to keep a step ahead of him.

The angels recognized her and word spread. Balthazar did his part to keep Raphael and his supporters agitated, doing everything he could to stir them up. The war was quickly escalating and Castiel sensed matters were coming to a head far quicker than any of them had ever thought they would. She had hope that maybe it wouldn't be forever and some day soon she could step back from leading anyone and let someone else take over the burden.

Unlike her brethren, she had a refuge from it all.

Dean. It wasn't that he was a physical refuge, but rather an emotional one. She could relax with him, enjoy his company, and indulge in human behavior and feelings that she now knew she needed. Whoever would have guessed that an angel could need humanity.

It helped to touch down on earth, assess how much time had passed, and take a few moments to think about him. She'd close her eyes, remember him holding her, hear his voice telling her he loved her, and feel centered and whole once more, able to push on in her tasks. Coordinating battles. Planning strategy. Hearing Micah's reports on Jimmy, Amelia, and Claire.

Micah had been a good choice for them. He was fascinated by all things human and soaking up every bit of the experience of living with a human family that he could. Already, he'd bonded with them, made them a part of his idea of family. Castiel was pleased she'd chosen him for it and decided the reports could come further spaced apart. She'd have them come every month and if it still went well, she'd let the time between reports become longer. Maybe one day she'd go by and see them for herself. Maybe one day they wouldn't need a guard to protect them.

Three weeks passed and halfway through a fourth, as she was going over strategy with others, she had the thought that it had been long enough. Castiel needed to see Dean and she needed to immediately. She finished the conference and left, heading to Dean's location.

Would he realize she was keeping track of him when she simply appeared without warning? Or would he bother questioning it? Probably it would be Sam who asked that question, but that was okay. She'd tell them if they really needed an explanation.

As she appeared beside Dean, she found herself excited to see him, so much so that she didn't care who was watching. Castiel kissed Dean hello as though she'd been away for months and felt herself become whole once more in his presence.

For three weeks, Sam watched Dean sweat out Castiel's absence, much like he had those first days a year earlier. They didn't talk about it, but Sam knew they were both wondering if the Castiel who returned would be Dean's love or an emotionally challenged angel once more. Her appearance would set the tone for the next weeks and Dean kept glancing at his phone and sometimes Sam's, obviously wanting her to call. Frankly, Sam was surprised Dean didn't try to contact her. He'd never shown a reluctance to before.

This time was different though. She was changed and there was a good chance Dean might be afraid that change had gone for the worse in her absence from them.

They ordered dinner and were just settling back to wait for it, when Castiel appeared without warning, an indication to Sam that she'd been keeping watch on where they were. Without a word, she placed a hand flat on the table, a hand on Dean's neck and leaned down. The kiss she gave him was better suited for the bedroom than for a public venue and Sam looked away until he heard her slightly breathless, "I've missed you". It was obvious to him that she'd missed Dean and to anyone else in the restaurant who happened to be watching.

There wasn't anyone watching.

Dean's shoulders relaxed, those lines of strain that had been etched on his face disappearing. "Missed you, too."

She took the chair beside Dean, scooting it close to his, her attention turning to Sam across the table. "Hello Sam. You look well."

"Thanks, Cas. You do to."

"I can't stay long," she said, hand closest to Dean dropping below the table. Sam could easily speculate where she put it by the flicker of pleased surprise on Dean's face and how he shifted in his seat. "I didn't wish either of you to worry." Her other hand straightened the silverware on the napkin at her place, each piece precisely placed, even at the handles.

"I wasn't worried," Dean denied with a quick glance about the restaurant.

Her brows rose. "Of course you were, Dean. I knew you would be and chose to come here to assuage that worry." Her mild amusement slid directly into uncertainty. "Was my decision in error? I thought you'd be pleased. In the past, you've been upset with me for not contacting you at regular intervals. It seemed important to me now to comply with your wish on the subject. Should I not?"

"No, I'm glad you came. I want to see you."

"Then I regret that I can't stay longer."

The intimate look they shared made Sam slightly uncomfortable, but he ignored the feeling. He suspected he'd feel that way plenty of times from here on out. If this relationship brought Dean back into that healing place however, Sam would take whatever came with it and be happy for Dean. "Well," Sam crossed his arms on the table, "I'm glad you're you, Cas."

She returned her gaze to him, blinked about four times and said, "I'm…glad you're you as well." Without looking down at the table, her hand stretched out, fingers tapping the sweetener packets until they were all even on the top, then placing the salt, pepper, ketchup, and mustard containers at even spaces apart from each other in a square.

"No, I meant…." He smiled. "You haven't changed by changing vessels - aside from the obvious and the little things."

"Little things? What little things do you refer to?"

Dean placed his hand on hers, stopping her from arranging the silverware again. "Like this little OCD straightening thing you've got going on."

She lowered her gaze to the table and their hands, a confused frown appearing. "I didn't realize I was doing that." Castiel snatched her hand back, putting it in her lap.

"It's okay. Everyone has their little OCD sort of quirks." Sam tried to reassure her.

"It's a human thing." She seemed disturbed by it more than he'd thought she'd be.

"And a female vesseled angel thing," Dean replied. "Remember? Your contact? I'm betting they all have OCD quirks."

"Will it bother you?"

Dean snorted. "Like I don't have my own OCD moments?"

Their server brought their order and coffee for Castiel. Sam wondered how she'd known to bring coffee.

"How's the war," he asked, surprised that she hadn't left already like her usual m.o.. It was a thing that drove Dean nuts, how she'd appear, then leave, usually while he was right in the middle of a sentence.

She sat up even straighter. "Going better for my side at the moment, except I wish Balthazar wouldn't attempt to help with the zealousness he's displaying."

"He told everyone about the female vessel process," Dean guessed with raised brows.

Castiel nodded. "He did. He's drawn attention to himself and off of me. While I'm grateful for an easing in the pursuit of me, when Raphael returns his attention my way, the fight will become more difficult. He'll blame me for the defections in his ranks of late. I admit my switching vessels does seem partly to blame, however, his tactics with his own followers don't appear to engender trust among them. He rules them through fear and an army held that way cannot last. When your own soldiers fear you and despise you, they become…unstable." She shook her head. "Balthazar's recent support centers largely on what he thinks he's getting from me in return, whether directly or indirectly. He sees me as the having the winning side and if he can 'stick it', I believe the phrase is, to Raphael, he will. He's enjoying the challenge of taunting an archangel and managing to remain out of reach. Raphael has been unable to keep him quiet, which is frustrating him." She pursed her lips and after a moment, added in a dry tone, "I can relate. Balthazar frequently aggravates me."

"Has he joined up, then?"

Her snort was hardly ladylike. "Until it suits him to leave."

"But you'll take that support while it's there." Sam took a bite of his dinner and waited for confirmation of that fact. It wasn't long in coming.

"Yes." Regret was heavy in that word. "I've learned to take the support I get when it's there and prepare for a loss at a later date, staying on the move as much as possible to keep the other camp confused as to my whereabouts. War is unpleasant. I've accepted that."

Dean laid his arm on the back of her chair and leaned in close to her. "You're not going to bury these emotions, are you? Let them slide away as one of those regrettable things you once talked about having to do in war?"

She stared at Dean. "No. Not this time. I'm changed. I can't be the sort of angel they are because it's not me anymore. I feel and I like it. Raphael can paint me as deviant as he wishes, but the fact is…. More angels wish to be like me than I ever would have imagined. Experiencing emotions is a seductive thing and after much contemplation, I don't believe it's a wrong thing." She tilted her head back, staring at the ceiling, head cocking like she was listening intently to something only she could hear. "I regret I have to leave now. Duties call me."

Sam expected her to disappear. Instead, she leaned over and kissed Dean again with as much warmth as her greeting.

"I'll be in touch," she said and this time, was gone.

Her kiss held a hint of desperation that Dean fully understood. She didn't want to leave any more than he wanted her to go, but they both had their jobs. She had heaven to take care of and he had evil things to hunt. A lot of evil things. When she'd gone, he felt lighter and balanced inside, ready to charge ahead on a hunt.

"So, Sammy, what's up on the job front?" He tucked into his meal with a gusto he realized he hadn't shown for awhile now.

"We can pretty much take our pick in this area. Poltergeist two hours north, an actual Trickster a little to the west, and a ton of other weird things happening."

"A real Trickster? I thought Gabriel was the Trickster."

"He was pretending to be one, but I don't think it was just him. Tricksters are in quite a few cultures all over the globe. I guess it could have been him, but he would have had to be pretty busy hopping around the planet."

Dean nodded. "Let's check that out. Sounds promising."

The days passed, sliding into weeks. Sometimes Castiel was there and mostly she wasn't, but when she was there? She completely made up for those times she wasn't. If she was pursuing the end of that civil war in heaven with the same sort of vigor that she pursued their relationship, Dean was sure heaven wouldn't remain in turmoil for much longer. A determined Castiel was like a force of nature.

Their emotional connection, shaky at first from their time apart, grew again and life became beautiful to Dean once more. He could look at the world and see more than monsters and the normal life he'd never have. He saw the possibilities of what could be and Dean was happy, that real happiness he remembered the last time Castiel had Risa as a vessel. Dean loved and was loved. He stopped thinking about kids and families because he had his family. He had Sam and he had Castiel, the two together bringing every aspect of his life into harmony.

It wasn't perfect, no, but it was his life and it was turning out to be a damn sight better than what he'd ever thought he'd have. Despite the pain it had caused initally, Castiel's failed plan to make him happy had brought true happiness back to him.

Sometimes, there was good from the pains of life.

He was damn glad he'd finally found the good in his.