Disclaimer: The characters belong to the actors, writers, crew, and producers that bring them to life. Thanks to them all! Gigantic cyber cookies to T.L. Arens for reading over the first draft of this! The yummy, no-calorie, make you smarter kind of cookies. And thanks to all of you for reading!
This takes place somewhere late season four-ish, just before Zachariah pulls his 'pay no attention to the man behind the curtain' crap.
Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence. ~Robert Fripp
The brothers would never know he was here. Even if one woke, Castiel had enough strength left, enough Grace, to make them forget his visit. Well, for now he had enough Grace. The day rapidly approached when even that simple task would be beyond him. He wouldn't be able to watch over them at night then. That is, on the rare nights when he actually knew where they were, like tonight. But for now, he could and they would be none the wiser.
He wasn't sure why he felt this urge to check on them, to make sure they were sleeping peacefully, and to verify that they were as well as they could be. The practical, tactical part of his mind reminded him he should just watch invisibly; he could without difficulty. But this: sitting in the room with them, close enough to hear their breathing, to see their chests rise and fall, gave the angel a peace he never knew he lacked, at least until he experienced it.
Castiel pressed his fingertips against his temple. Multiple thoughts swirled without really taking hold. His mind was crammed with plans, worries, and intrigues all scraping at him like a sandstorm. Sighing, he tried to focus on the peace of just being present. Tonight's battle weighed heavily on all of them. Ostensibly, they won, but the lives lost and the pain caused wore on both of his charges. Startled, he wondered when he had begun to think of Sam as his charge. When had he succumbed to that bit of humanity – protecting the very person he should destroy? When they first met Castiel refrained from killing Sam simply he knew losing his brother would damage Dean in unspeakable ways. But it seemed somehow his attitude had shifted. His forehead creased as he examined these new thoughts.
Gradually he became aware of music softly playing in the room. Dean's kind of music. That, in and of itself, was unusual. They both must have been completely exhausted to fall asleep before turning the radio off. Once, he had asked Dean why they didn't listen to music in their motel rooms, since they listened so frequently in the car.
Dean was perched on the edge of the bed, easing his boots off and letting them fall to the floor when Castiel asked his question. The hunter cocked an eyebrow at angel. "Dude, random much?"
"Nevertheless, I wish to know. I am... curious."
Sam glanced up from his laptop long enough to answer. "We only listen to music in a room when we're pretty sure it's safe, something that hasn't happened in a while. Things can sneak up on you when music covers the ambient noise."
"And we never, ever fall asleep with music on, no matter how safe we think we are. Because that is just asking for trouble. Right, Sam?" Dean, in spite of his lazy sprawl across the mattress, fixed his brother with a deadly glare.
Without even bothering to look up from the laptop again, Sam flipped Dean off. "I was eleven years old. It's time to get over it."
Castiel reached for the radio knob to turn it off, but changed his mind. He would wait until he left. It was safe enough for now. Even with the nature of the songs, the music added to his peace.
His gaze drifted over Dean. His first charge slept on his stomach, one hand beneath the pillow, on top of his gun. At some point he had rolled around enough to get the covers wedged beneath him, cocooning his lower torso and legs. Grunting in his sleep, Dean twitched.
"Little higher, sweetheart..." he muttered. A brief smile crossed the hunter's face, and Castiel decided to stay out of Dean's dreams tonight. Previous visits suggested Dean probably wanted 'private dream time'.
Sam was a different story. Tonight, he rested on his back, stretched almost diagonally across the bed. His right arm was tucked under the pillow, gun in hand. His left arm was flung out from his shoulder, hand hanging off the edge of the bed. Under the blankets, his legs were straight and still. He too was dreaming, and Castiel could tell it wasn't pleasant. A quick dip into Sam's sleeping mind revealed he was repeatedly watching Dean be torn apart by hellhounds. Gently, Castiel eased the dream in a different direction. Satisfied with the results, he settled back in his chair to resume his silent vigil.
Once again, the music caught his attention. Frowning, he stopped and actually listened, rather than allowing tones to simply wash over him. What was it about music? This raucous conglomeration of sound and language. Music on Earth was so unlike music in Heaven. In Heaven, angels spoke and it was song. Their singing voices were a perfection of sounds and tones that could never be matched. Even so, Castiel preferred human music, even in Heaven. Angelic music, no matter its clarity, lacked emotion. For his brothers and sisters, music was math and harmonies, but cold. Angelic singing was an ice storm – awe-inspiring – but wrapping up whatever it touched in sheets of chill. But when human souls sang in Heaven, pure joy rippled from their throats. The light in their souls grew brighter, so bright that even the angels couldn't always bear to look. The rapture of that light was the closest to an angel's Grace that the human soul could embrace. Occasionally Castiel wondered if it surpassed it.
He'd watched Ellen once. Invisibly, of course. He thought watching her would help him understand more about humanity. Or at least more about Dean. His charge respected Ellen, cared for her, was even a little afraid of her. Dean Winchester, who wasn't afraid of the worst monsters in the night, the darkest evils, was in a sense afraid of this single human woman. Castiel wanted more information to help him puzzle out the mystery of human choices and actions.
Ellen was sitting at a small kitchen table. A gun lay in pieces before her. She cleaned and oiled each piece slowly, methodically. Music softly played from a radio on the windowsill. Humming along, she was lost in thought. A new song began, and Ellen cocked her head to identify it. When she did, a wince of pain crossed her features. She glanced around the room, almost as if she were verifying her solitude. Sighing, she put down the barrel of the gun she was cleaning and placed her hand on her forehead.
"Dammit, this song always makes me cry," she said out loud.
Castiel moved closer, certain she wouldn't see him. Surprised, he watched her eyes fill with tears that threatened to spill over. Ellen placed both elbows on the table and ran her fingertips through her hair. Then she leaned back in the chair and stared straight ahead, not really seeing anything. A sort of longing, or hunger perhaps, flickered over her features.
"Jo. My sweet baby girl," she whispered and closed her eyes, sending a waterfall of tears cascading down her cheeks. "I wish I knew a better way to protect you, darling." Ellen breathed deeply and let her head fall forward.
Castiel watched in fascination, carefully easing onto the surface of Ellen's emotions, reading what she felt. A maelstrom of emotion swirled within: sorrow, love, a fierce pride in her daughter, and a clawing fear that she wouldn't be able to protect her. So much moved through her, all caused by a simple song.
When the song ended Ellen lifted her head, wiped away the tears, and resumed cleaning the gun as if the previous moments had not occurred. Castiel watched until she finished her task, then left her, more confused than before his visit.
Music unlocked emotions, Castiel decided. He looked at Sam again. When did it change? How did Sam become a charge? The angel stared hard at the sleeping man, willing the answer to emerge. It didn't, of course. He turned to Dean instead. The brother whose soul he had clutched tightly and pulled from Hell. The soul he had gently eased back into its weathered body after breathing life into the husk. This man who constantly astonished and aggravated him in turns, but who accepted him and thought of him as a friend. And suddenly Castiel realized that he thought of both brothers as friends, not just charges.
He decided to try an experiment. If music could unleash emotions in humanity, perhaps it could work for him. Focus on the music, dwell in it, feel it deep inside, he told himself. Let it give you the answers you seek. Castiel shut his eyes, concentrating intensely. One eye cracked open when he realized the music was a jingle for a local car dealership. He frowned at the radio, opened the other eye and waited.
Tapping his fingers against his knee, he waiting through three more advertisements. Finally, the dj announced a half hour of commercial free music and the angel huffed. He took a deep breath as soft, simple guitar chords played. When the singer began, Castiel screwed his eyes shut again and reached inside himself.
Another day in this carnival of souls
Another night's sands end as quickly as it goes
The memories are shadows, ink on the page
And I can't seem to find my way home
He was still contemplating the phrase 'carnival of souls', turning it over in his mind, acknowledging the poetic turn of it, and the aptness of the description when the next line hit him with an almost physical force.
And it's almost like your heaven's trying everything
Your heaven's trying everything to keep me out
How was that even possible? How could this singer know he'd essentially been exiled from his home? The pain of it still tore at him. Heaven was a longing larger than his true form, a hollow deep inside that nothing could fill. Losing his Grace felt like everything inside fractured and he was constantly watching pieces slip away, desperately scrambling to salvage even the smallest bit.
All the places I've been and things I've seen
A million stories that made up a million shattered dreams
The faces of people I'll never see again
And I can't seem to find my way home
'Cause it's almost like your heaven's trying everything to break me down
'Cause it's almost like your heaven's trying everything to keep me out
Zachariah's heaven threatened to annihilate everything Castiel knew of Heaven, of love and light. His picture of Heaven that was slowly eating away at the Winchesters, tormenting them in an agonizingly slow descent toward Destiny. They fought against it; Castiel fought beside them because he didn't want a Heaven forged in the heartbreak of his two charges. But it meant making a choice to abandon everything he knew, everything he loved (and suddenly he understood as never before what that word meant) on the slight chance the brothers might defeat Zachariah. All his fear they would fail and his faith they would succeed crashed together in a single moment. A tempest loosed inside him, frightening and glorious in its raw power. He couldn't breathe or think beyond loss, pain, fear, hope.
The song faded and another began. Castiel didn't notice, focusing instead on the tumultuous riot inside him. Was this what it meant to be human? How did they survive this constant storm inside? He brushed his hand across his face and pulled it back suddenly. Tears.
There were tears on his face. It wasn't possible. Angels didn't cry.
Yet he – Castiel, an angel of the Lord – was crying.
Tentatively, he touched his face again. Still wet. Amazed, he reached over to the radio with damp fingertips and turned the knob until the music switched off.
The sudden silence triggered Sam to roll over sleepily. Only partially awake, he pushed up on an elbow.
"Cas? What're you doing here?"
"Just listening to music. Sleep. Everything is fine." Castiel exerted a little power to send Sam back to sleep.
"But you just turned the music off," he muttered, sinking back to his pillow, already responding to the thrum of suggestion Castiel directed at him.
From the other bed, Dean's muffled voice said, "Shut up, Sam. For once, I'm having a good dream."
The angel knew neither would remember the exchange in the morning. They weren't truly awake to begin with, somehow realizing in sleep that he posed no danger. Castiel could stay a little longer, lingering in this peace. The knowledge that humanity was seeping into him – with all its potential dangers – could wait. For now he could sit, reveling in the echoes of faith and belief that still sang within.
*The song is "Far from Home" by Five Finger Death Punch. It belongs to them.