Castiel had not given any thought as to what he would do if, by some miracle, he were to survive the Apocalypse, let alone become an archangel. Mostly, he gave no thought to these things because they were ludicrous suggestions, at best. However, if he had, his ideal notion of surviving the Apocalypse would have gone like this:

Still mortal and inhabiting Jimmy Novak's body without his host's soul, Castiel would have climbed into the Impala with Bobby Singer and the Winchesters. Both of the brothers would have come through the debacle of imprisoning Lucifer with minimal damage, Bobby would have pronounced them all the most reckless idiots he'd ever known (with his customary mispronunciation of "idiot" as "idjit"), and when all four eventually stopped on the drive from Lawrence to Sioux Falls, Castiel would have requested a separate room for himself and Dean, with only one bed. He would have closed the door, and then the curtains, and then the distance between himself and Dean. Deeply and without hesitation, he would have kissed Dean, tasted in his mouth whatever lingered of the bacon cheeseburger and the beer they would've had while driving because there weren't any cops on the road. Dean's shirt would have hit the floor; Castiel's hands would have hit Dean's skin, ghosted over the tension in his muscles, and caressed his map of scars and bruises. His shirt would not have joined Dean's until they'd already dragged each other down to the mattress.

But those were just impossibilities, Castiel figured in what he thought was an entirely reasonable fashion. The incredibly likely event of his death had occurred to him several times over; coming back from it — again — with his angelic powers put back into their proper place had not. Idealism unfettered by practicality had never appealed to Castiel, and that his essence regained consciousness and reappeared on Earth left him briefly speechless. He'd been spared death once before. Only in his most fanciful, irrational dreams had he thought he could come back again, and dreams, in Castiel's experience, were detestable things that never became reality without some atrocious consequence attached.

What Castiel didn't know was that, despite all appearances to the contrary, his Father actually rather liked dreams. He just liked to make His children learn something when they came true. And, generally, He meant something more than what Death thought of Dean Winchester.

Castiel's first action as an archangel was not to thank his Heavenly Father for giving him another chance at life — not to mention restoring him to Jimmy's body, to which he had formed an attachment, even as his vessel's soul had returned to Heaven — or, indeed, to do anything particularly angelic. True, he healed the wounds Lucifer had given Dean Winchester and subsequently brought Bobby Singer back to life, but at the time, Castiel was not yet certain that "new and improved" meant the promotion that it did. As far as he could tell, it had only meant that his previous angelic abilities had been given back to him.

Castiel wished that his first action as an archangel could have been kissing Dean deeply, passionately, or taking him to a motel bed and making him understand what they'd just given everything to save, or simply being around him without feeling the aura of pain that followed Dean everywhere. Some of it, Castiel could have understood — after all, Dean's most constant companion had just sacrificed himself and their other brother in order to put Lucifer away — but hadn't he made his own sacrifices for the sake of Dean's cause? He'd started moving on; it couldn't have been so hard for Dean to do the same, he thought. But none of these thoughts or desires came to concrete acts.

Rather, Castiel's first action as an archangel, and with suspicions of his new condition in mind, was to get into the passenger side seat of Dean Winchester's Chevy Impala.

He left the Impala not long after entering it, but he did not, as Dean thought and as he had implied, immediately return to Heaven. Anarchy would have run rampant in the ranks without Michael, Castiel knew, but there were important things on Earth. Castiel followed his lover, his human charge, all the way to the home of Lisa Braeden and her young son, Ben.

Lingering where he couldn't be seen, Castiel watched as she let Dean into the house and he knew the truths that Dean and Lisa kept from each other. He knew that Ben was Dean's biological son, and that Lisa cared for Dean deeply, but didn't know if she could be in love with him, or if his penchant for walking the earth to hunt things would negatively impact Ben, or if the sex would be worth attempting a relationship. Likewise, Dean had no idea if he was in love with Lisa or not, and to leave his wandering days behind him seemed an impossible task, comparable to excising an entire part of who he was, but Sam had gone to Hell with a promise from his brother, one Dean would let no one keep him from honoring.

As he watched Dean cracking open a beer with Lisa, Castiel felt as though his chest might collapse in on itself, as though it had gotten simultaneously tighter and heavier. Keeping his head up seemed too difficult; he found himself looking at the grass between his feet, but he didn't shed a tear. Memories of his time on earth flooded him — all the arguments he and Dean had put each other through; the burning intensity every time Dean had fixed his eyes on Castiel; the chapped feeling of Dean's lips when they kissed; the gentle way that Dean's hands — so rough themselves — ghosted over, then caressed, Castiel's cheek; the night before they'd trapped Raphael, when Dean had made love to him for the first time, when Castiel had subsequently pinned and fucked Dean on the same motel bed, prompting him to say, "God, you learn fast" …

But for all they came back to him now, and for all the half-mad impulses they created in him, Castiel couldn't bring himself to move. He simply watched. Dean put his hand on Lisa's cheek; Castiel's breath hitched and he coughed to try and get it back. He knew that touch, he'd felt it — and though it belonged to another now, Castiel kept watching. Lisa took Dean's wrist as if to ask for some discretion, and, for a moment, they locked eyes. Human mating rituals no longer confused Castiel, but he couldn't ignore the hesitance between them, the questions Dean and Lisa decided not to ask before they'd even fully formed the things. They kissed as though declaring war. Something sharp shot through Castiel's chest. Tightening his hands into fists, Castiel spread his wings and returned Home.

He was happy for Dean, he told himself on his way back Up. Dean had a family now, one who wouldn't leave him the way that Sam and John had done so many times before; he'd gotten the world that he wanted, and now, he could have baseball games and picnics in the park with Lisa; he could coach Ben's little league team, relish in the power that the whistle gave him over the other children, and be the father to his son that John had never been to him.

Castiel was happy for Dean — he should have been, anyway… but the smile that he forced came up like a grimace, one hacked on his face with a blunt and rusted knife. Thinking about Lisa, about Dean, about Dean with Lisa, about wishing them the best because hating them was for sore losers… It all made something inside the angel's chest burn with a wildfire's intensity.

During his ascent, Castiel looked back only once. Even while making love to Lisa, Dean sweated loneliness, radiated pain, and stunk of that same insane refusal to let anybody help. Castiel turned his eyes back to Heaven and to the resounding clangs of revolution. For millennia, he'd always been a soldier. Even Dean Winchester, it seemed, and whatever it was they'd shared, could not make Castiel a lover.

"…Chuck?"

Although, out of reverence, he'd tried to keep his voice down, Castiel took note of how loud he seemed and how a nearby branch shook when he spoke. At the moment, only one other being — Chuck Shurley, as far as Castiel could see — drew breath in The Garden and the sounds of swords on swords, of brothers and sisters fighting each other, couldn't penetrate the holy silence. Furrowing his brow in confusion earned Castiel no response from the other one. In silence, Castiel stared down the path at the short, scruffy little figure; He said nothing, but smiled back inscrutably, running a thumb down the petals of an azalea.

As Castiel walked toward Him, his convictions wavered — the now familiar feeling of doubt made his steps faster, then slower, for properly discerning who stood before him could have disappointed. Everything looked like Chuck as Castiel remembered him: he'd not shaved for some time or thought to dress that much, and the decrepit green bathrobe brushed around his ankles, but drawing closer to him, though, made him seem less and less like the hapless prophet. For one thing, his smile seemed too even and too certain, and for another, some unfamiliar, pleasant surprise played in the light of his blue eyes. Even as Castiel came closer, He didn't look up again, but only continued examining Joshua's handiwork — the tree beside him, the vines that dangled from it, the dandelion that stuck out of the path at an odd angle, then back to the azalea he'd fingered earlier — and looking on it all with unfathomable love.

Castiel paused by a tangled nest of roses, keeping enough distance between himself and Him, so as not to disrespect. He bowed his head, averted his eyes. He felt his face growing hot, but he couldn't place what was causing it — embarrassment? Shame? Or something different? None of them made sense. All of Castiel's certainty focused on one fact: that kind of love could only have come from one Being and even when there came no retribution, Castiel did not look back up at Him. "Father, I — forgive me, Father," Castiel said, his voice barely above a whisper. "I just assumed… because of Your—"

"I know," He said with a shrug and an off-kilter smile that looked more at place on His current visage. "I mean, I could do the big light show for you, but I thought Chuck here might be easier for you to have a chat with." Castiel nodded, but he didn't look up to see the confusion he was earning in his Creator. "…You can look at Me, you know," He clarified. "I'm not going to destroy you or anything — I reward My children for their faith."

Slowly, Castiel raised his eyes from the ground. Warmth flooded him as he met his Father's gaze. "You mean for me to take over leadership of the angels," he asked with no uncertainty in his voice.

He hesitated, and stumbled over saying: "Well, I actually… I — I sort of had it in mind to, well. …What do you want, Castiel?" Castiel tilted his head and furrowed his brow; He sighed. "You've been so good, Castiel, and so, so diligent, and loyal — I mean, I know I told you all to love mankind, but you went so far above and beyond, and for ages, it's just been following someone else's orders for you, so… what do you want? Any one thing, whatever you want, I'll give it to you."

Castiel paused. He thought of Dean, and of the possibility of going back to him. He thought of how Dean's entire face lit up when he smiled, and how one could read his thoughts in the exact curve of his frowns, and how, infuriatingly, he never would believe that his life had been worth rescuing from Hell. Castiel opened his mouth to speak — to ask to be Dean's lover once again — but then he thought of Lisa.

"I want to serve You, Father," he murmured, once more looking at the ground. "Wholly, and without distraction."

God sighed, and shuffled His feet. He pulled a sword out from inside His robe and held it toward Castiel. "This was Michael's," He explained. "I know you'll use it well."

As Castiel wrapped his fingers around the hilt, he felt his stomach churn — but that reaction, he knew, was pointless and could only be ignored. Even if he couldn't hear it here, the battle still raged in the rest of Heaven. Someone needed to stop it. And that someone had to be Castiel.