This was written for the 2010 spn_j2_bigbang on livejournal.
'Angels are everywhere, whether you like it or not.
Whether it be ones with fluffy wings and halos, helping old ladies cross the streets; or metaphorical angels, like the woman across the street who always bakes an extra pie for you on Sundays; or the ones on the Christmas tree, people love, or hate, angels. No matter the wrapping, the package is always the same.
But a lot of people forget about the most basic angels; the earliest ones, the real angels, so to speak.
The angels in the Bible were soldiers, fighting evil to spread God's message of love and peace. Within these warrior angels, there are hierarchies, pecking orders, so to speak. There are the archangels, fifteen elite beings that were chosen to be worthy of coming face to face with God, their father, our creator. Then there are hundreds, if not thousands of angels under their command, collected in garrisons ranging from as few as seven angels to over fifty per garrison.
But angels, as heavenly and perfect as they seem, are not infallible.
Everyone has heard of Gabriel, the most powerful archangel, seventy angels in his garrison, all looking to him to lead them. He foretold the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus, the son of God. He was the anger that would blow the trumpet and foretell the end of days. But how many of you know that Gabriel, disillusioned with heaven, and his brothers and sisters, left, re-imaged himself as a trickster, a demi god present in Norse mythology, native American mythology, Greek, Roman and even Slavic mythology. Loki, Anansi; Gabriel's new being had many names and more faces.
Michael, long foretold as the one who would kill the devil, wielding Michael's sword to banish him to the fiery pit below, wasn't just the field commander of God's army. He was an older brother, loyal to the grave to both his Father and his little brother. To save God's creations, he would sacrifice his own family.
As for Lucifer, everyone knows his story. Lucifer, the morning star, was God's favourite angel. Until he fell. Why he fell? Because God asked only one thing of him. To love His creations, humankind, more than he loved Him. He couldn't do it, so God cast Lucifer out, to hell. The story everyone knows is Lucifer escaping hell to destroy earth and the creations whose very existence secures his fate. And for a lot of people, the story ends there. But Lucifer wasn't really that different to the other angels. He loved his brothers and sisters, and he loved his Father.
Azrael, the angel of death, is viewed through history as the bringer of doom, an angel to be feared. Not many understand that he does not interfere with death, he merely helps people cross over, guiding them to heaven, or, in some cases, to hell. An angel associated with death is not usually an angel we see as good and kind, but perhaps spending eternity with all too human souls gave Azrael some humanity of his own, because he fought on the side of Earth during the war of the heavens.
Other archangels have similar stories, Sandolphon, the angel of music was originally a prophet. Elijah was ascended to the heavens by God, like his brother Metatron, who led a human life as Enoch, a scribe in both human and angel life, transcribing the Book of Life and submitting orders to Gabriel and Sammael. Although, as we know, they don't always follow tradition. The only two archangels whose names don't end in '-el', they are known as the two closest to God, and we would have assumed them to be the most likely archangels to acknowledge and follow His orders. So, working on that assumption, are we to take that as proof that this war of the heavens was something God wanted, or even allowed, to happen? I find that hard to believe. More likely that the angels accepted what a lot of people accepted a long time ago. God wasn't around, or if He was, then the war wasn't something of great importance to Him.
As a man of faith, I initially found it harder to believe than say, an atheist would, but eventually, we knew. We just knew. God didn't care whether he lived or died. But that's not the focus of today's lecture. Or at least, not completely.
Today's lecture is about a branch of angels that surround us every day, and are perhaps the most portrayed in the media today. Guardian angels are with us all, whether we believe it or not.
Guardian angels may not always be welcome, but they are always there, and they genuinely love their charges, regarding their lives as higher than their own. They give us guidance in times of trouble, give us the strength to carry on in an otherwise impossible situation, and when our lives are in danger, they risk their own to save us.
Everyone has a guardian angel, but some guardian angels have hundreds of charges, and have to help them all equally. However some rare angels have only one charge, when the person is deemed important enough to have permanent protection. One such angel is the angel Castiel.
Castiel, an angel of Thursday, he is also the angel in charge of new changes and travel. For a man whose live was comprised almost entirely of change and travel, he was a fitting angel chosen to watch over him from birth.
Over the next month, I won't be teaching you at all. Instead taking the lectures will be someone very important. James Novak was a vessel for the angel Castiel, and is the most qualified source we know of to talk about what it's like being that entwined with what is essentially a living soul, and the important and arduous task of protecting one man. Dean Winchester.
Castiel lived for Dean and ultimately died for him, and the only person who can tell that story is the one outside influence that was there all through it. A vessel for the most important angel in this whole damn war.'
Sam Wesson looks up from his notes, brushing long hair out of hazel eyes.
Assorted students slump in their seats, the early Monday lecture never their favourite. Caleb Gallagher watches the professor stand and talk at the front, about demons and werewolves and vampires and lesser known evils, the tulpas and shtrigas and chupacabras roaming the world for thousands of years. And the hunters fighting them, men and women who give up their lives and families to save the rest of us, their names known to all, written in history books. Harvelle. Singer. Murphy. And Winchester, the most famous of all. Their gospel speaks a million more words than pictures ever could, the stories being about more than fighting monsters, it speaks about family, and life and love and humanity. The three men who were wrapped up in the destiny of the entire world fought harder for their humanity than in any story Caleb's ever heard.
For two years he listens to tales of evil creatures, things that kill and maim and torture and mutilate for no reason other than it's their nature. He learns about demons, and discovers that their nature is evil, that they destroys lives and homes and families for fun and he wonders how in the world God lets such evil exist.
And then today, Professor Wesson walks into the room, wearing his usual uniform of jeans, biker boots and plaid button up shirt, his hair falling in his eyes, just like every other day. But somehow, he looks different. There's a lightness to his step that had previously been absent, his tread heavy on a normal day. He's followed by another man, who takes a seat by the podium. He stares at the ground, at his battered and worn Chuck Taylors, and Caleb pays attention, because this man positively glows. Not in a healthy way, like, eating all his vitamins glowing, but glowing nevertheless, like he's been filled up with unearthly light and drained, leaving a speck of the supernatural incandescence behind. He may dress in holey jeans and an ancient looking band shirt, a couple of days of stubble on his face, but next to the world weary college professor retrieving notes from his briefcase, he looks like the happiest man in the world. Caleb wonders why.
And then Wesson starts talking, his voice holding just a hint of a southern accent, the syllables carrying through the room as he talks of a new supernatural creature, the first creature he's talked of that isn't evil (or at least, not wholly evil, he thinks wryly, remembering the lecture about Anansi three months ago), talking about the one thing that Caleb always has trouble believing in. In the dark it's easy to believe in evil, but even in the light of day, angels seem like a made up thing, an impossible white knight to banish all fears. Angels walk hand in hand with religion, and Caleb knows that there was a war between heaven and hell, he knows that angels came to earth, but he still doesn't grasp the concept of angels and how they're good and holy and above all pure.
But now, standing in front of him, the glowing dude stands up, and Caleb finally understands, that last elusive, hiding down the back of the sofa piece of the angelic puzzle slots into place and he understands. He realises that angels aren't just angels. They can be human too, their soul leaving footprints (Grace-prints?) behind in the people they possess (and something in him makes him wonder if angels can really be all that holy and righteous when they use bodies like demons, but at least demons don't burn the bodies up with angelic energy), but they're part human, part something else-something good, and something hollow-empty like the vessels they inhabit, like pouring white light from a jug and leaving only sediment, the need to obey the Word of their Father.
The guy, James Novak, his mind recalls, stands at the front, looking uncomfortable behind a podium, glancing at the door. Maybe wondering if it's too late to make a run for it? He looks at Wesson, his blue eyes (so blue, Caleb realises, that he can see the sapphire hue from his seat at the back of the hall) uncertain, filling, drowning, bursting with nerves and I-don't-want-to-be-here-why-are-you-making-me-be-here. Wesson smiles, the same genuine smile he uses when someone guesses correctly, or does well in a pop quiz. A real smile, not like the fake ones he recognises only because Caleb's fake smiled at people for years, and knows a fake when he sees one, damn it! But Wesson seems fake sometimes, looks like he's uncomfortable with his own name, taking a second too long to look up when someone calls him Professor Wesson. Maybe he's not really a Wesson. Maybe he used to be someone else. Caleb knows a lot about being someone else too.
But the lecture isn't about Caleb, hell, it's not about Wesson, either, it's about Novak, so Caleb blinks and rakes his fingers through his bangs, pushing them out of his face, focusing in on nuances, like the way Novak nervously taps his foot on the floor, scratches the back of his neck as he surveys the fifty plus college kids on the room that chose to study Demonology 101 or whatever. He wonders what their reasons were. He knows his.
But now Novak's talking, and he seems to have something important to say, so Caleb stops thinking and starts listening.
He's not expecting what comes out in the next hour of his life. He won't regret it, and he'll never forget it. It may be the most important thing he ever learns.
Jimmy clears his throat for what seems like the thousandth time (it's actually the seventh, the anal part of him whispers), looking out at his so called audience, half of which seems to be asleep, and the other half on the verge of leaving, depending on what he has to say.
He doesn't really know why he's here, why he felt the need to say a resounding 'Yes' to one of his oldest friends. Except he does. He knows that for the last three years he's felt a pit inside himself. The piece of his soul which used to burn the brightest is now the blackest part of him. But the weirdest thing, the thing that makes him wonder how much of him had become Castiel and how much had stayed Jimmy and how much they bled into each other's souls is that it hurts because Castiel was ripped from him, but someone else was ripped from Castiel, and now Jimmy has two holes in him. He wonders if they'll ask him about that, at the end, when he's told his story. He wonders if they'll ask him about the Winchesters.
He takes a final, pleading look at Sam Wesson, who smiles and gestures for him to start, so he does.
'I once told someone being possessed by an angel was like being strapped to a comet. Not as accurate as I thought. Being an angel's vessel is like becoming part of the comet itself. Before Castiel found me, I lived in a two up, two down house in the suburbs with a wife and a daughter. I sold ad space. Then Castiel came, and my life seemed insignificant. For three years I travelled with Castiel. It sounds like he's been travelling with me, but I'm just the car he used for the journey. His journey. I had no choice. I was along for the ride, whether I wanted to or not.
'So, I guess that's why I'm here today. Your professor wants me to talk about angels and being a vessel for one, and what that entails. So, I'll start at the beginning of my journey with Castiel, then answer any questions you have at the end, OK?'
Silence as they all watch him. No one's left yet, which must be a good sign, but some still look asleep. One boy, sitting at the back seems to be paying attention though, his young face hidden by a fringe of black hair. A silver bar pierces one eyebrow, hovering above dark, almost black eyes as they watch him, seldom blinking. He's the most attentive one in the room, even more, he suspects, than Sam, who has heard this story before and is doubtless elsewhere in his imagination.
'So, I guess my story begins on August 11th 2007, at home...
I'm sleeping in the chair in front of the TV, having fallen asleep there. I know I shouldn't have, but I was feeling more lethargic than usual lately, and I don't know why. I haven't been working longer hours than usual. I guess maybe I've been waking up a little earlier than usual, but surely that wouldn't cause it. I don't know. The TV mumbles away to itself, some age old program that they only put on at the crack of stupid O'clock, a war documentary maybe. I heave myself out of the chair and head over to the crackly old set, intending to hit the off button and retire to my bed for what little of the night left there is. I reach the set when it happens. The image flickers suddenly, giving in to the inevitable static created by the ancient TV. A wild buzzing fills the air, almost like insect wings, and I hear delicate fluttering mixed in with that, like feathers. A scaly sound completes the raucousness of it all, and I imagine dragons flying over the house, opening their mouths to breathe fire down the chimney and turn us all to ash (I know dragons don't exist, but my mind does funny things when it's tired, creating creatures out of the shadows in the creaky old house I lived in as a child, imagining monsters out of the clothes in a heap on the chair in the corner of my childhood room). The sound increases in volume and intensity and I put my hands to my ears, trying to fight the noise off. It's drilling straight into my skull and the TV flickers even more, the image jumping up and down, epileptic snow. I fall to my knees as the sounds bounces around my brain in such a way that I think of speech, and whatever the wings are saying to me, it's important. I get a sense of urgency and need wrapping itself around me, but I don't know what it wants. If I did, I would say yes in a heartbeat, say anything it wants, just to get this cacophony of flight out of my head. As sudden as it had arrived, it's gone, and I lift my head tentatively. I feel my ears should be leaking blood, scarlet liquid running from my ear drums, my nostrils, escaping from under my eyelids, but nothing. It is as if the sound and the pain it brought had never existed. I turn the TV off for real and go to bed, determined to forget it. If it were like it never existed to the world, then it never existed for me as well. I tell myself that, but still my thoughts soar through the air with birds and insects and dragons, and a curious man, his stark black wings protruding from his shoulder blades as ebony locks fall down past his waist. If insects buzz when they fly, and birds glide through the air on a soft feathery sound and dragons roar with scaly noise, then the winged man flies as all three, his androgynous features happy when he hurtles through the air on wings made of black light, almost shadow but not quite.
I wake, not knowing what the dream meant, but knowing that I can't simply forget. So I don't. I remember. And slowly, over the next year, I notice other things. It evolves from simple static. He talks to me, the winged man. His name is Castiel, and he's an angel of the Lord. He needs me, for an upcoming war. I ask him about the war, who it's against, why it has to be me, but he doesn't speak to me, only at me. Over the months, I find strange things starting to happen. Cas talks to me, tells me that I'll heal any wound. When my wife walks in on me, I'm sticking my hand in a pot of boiling water. The ultimate test of faith. She shrieks, and I pull my hand out. It may not burn, but it's uncomfortable as hell. My hand is pink, but not blistered. Looks like I pass the test. To Castiel anyway. My wife thinks I'm nuts. Therapy follows, meetings, endless meeting with shrink after shrink after shrink. I'm given prescriptions for pills, because apparently I'm crazy. Even my wife, who believes in God, and angels, just like me, refuses to believe that they're talking to me.
She tells me to take the pills. I refuse, I'm not sick. She insists, so I try to make her see. 'I know this is hard to understand, but he chose me.'
Tears are streaming down her face, and it hurts me, knowing that I'm causing her pain, but she has to understand that I'm not crazy.
Castiel, she says. The angel. I can hear the scorn in her voice, and my heart breaks a little more. Then she gives me an ultimatum. I take the pills, or she takes our daughter and leaves. I can't face either.
Ten minutes later, I'm outside in the dark, my trench-coat shielding me from the wind. I stare up at the heavens, a last resort. I don't want to leave my family, but if this is what it takes to keep them safe...
The date is September 17th, 2008. I say yes for the first time.
Jimmy pauses in his lecture momentarily to scan the room. The dark haired boy at the back is wide awake, staring, mouth agape slightly. Everyone else is at least awake and in varying degrees of paying attention. A girl near the front is mesmerized, her eyes slightly glazed as she watches him. Her green irises glisten with tears, and he thinks if he's reached that one girl in some way, no matter how small, his story is told. But he's nowhere near finished, so he takes a sip from his water bottle and continues.
Being possessed, by an angel, no less, is the single greatest, and most painful experience of my life so far. It's like having light pour into you, through your mouth and eyes. It's like absorbing heaven through every pore in my skin. It's like sinking into a pool of righteousness and drowning in everything that's right with the world.
But drowning is still drowning, no matter what you drown in. Honey or vinegar, but burn your lungs as you fight to keep breathing, keep your head above the water. I'm choking on it, the purity of it all. Castiel is forcing himself down my throat, and it hurts, and I regret saying that one syllable more than I've ever regretted anything. Almost. And yet, I find myself wondering what took me so long.
At the same rate the Grace fills me up, I can feel my control leeching away as I turn into a celestial puppet, God himself tugging on my strings. Is this what I've signed up to? I think. Being a hand puppet, not able to walk or talk for myself? As the light fades on the outside, inside I'm burning, my soul engulfed in flames that burn so hot I blister. Inside I'm freezing, my being turning to ice and shattering, leaving only room for Castiel. I'm not Jimmy, not any more. Now I am Castiel, and Castiel is me, entwined deeper than any soul mates could ever dream to be.
Which is why, when Castiel tells my daughter he's not her father, he speaks only the truth, using the words of a categorical lie.
The hour is far from over when Jimmy stops speaking, but he's done for today. He's emotionally reliving the events of over six years ago, the events that brought him kicking and screaming into the biggest war the world has ever known, and he's drained, can't physically continue, won't continue, because if he talks about what happened next now, then he won't stop talking, and that's another talk for another day. Every single person in the room is paying him their absolute attention now. The boy at the back looks close to tears, and the girl at the front is snuffling into a tissue, the tears of earlier now rolling freely down her face.
Jimmy might feel bad about that, if the war hadn't taken all his guilt, used it up until there was nothing left.