He can sense them all, nearby, sense the pressing weight of their hope – of their awe. More than that, he knows without the slightest doubt that he can end them. Any of them. The scattered fragments of Raphael are a testament to that – Castiel can still feel the reverberations from that, the shockwave of fear and shock that the archangel's departure from existence sent spinning out into this universe. The humans, they are even easier – it will be like candles blowing out in the wind, if he ends the Winchesters now.

But that is unnecessary. They will learn to understand. They will bow down. The new order will set right what has been left untended for so long. That is the Plan. That must be the Plan – out of all his brothers, it is he who has inherited his Father's work.

A delicate sound of feathers, no more than a whisper, announces the arrival of another angel. One of the flock must have grown bold enough to approach him, finally. They would all follow, eventually. With Raphael gone, there will be no questioning any more. The startled intake of breath he hears from the Winchesters, from Bobby Singer, doesn't cause him to turn – he won't lose focus now. Whoever has come, they will not interfere. They cannot. It is much too late for that.

"Well... look who's all grown up."

...that voice. Forgetting, for a moment, his curious need for these humans to understand, Castiel spins, honestly surprised for the first time this night. It is impossible. But there his older brother stands, that same impish smirk on his face that he's always worn.

"...Gabriel." He has never been particularly verbose. Not until the Winchesters, at least. He can still hear them, the way their hearts have sped, the almost silent rustle of fabric as they twist to look at each other, seeking some explanation. He ignores them, and just watches his brother, who is inspecting their surroundings, shaking his head.

"Didn't think I'd see this place again." Although Castiel hears the words clearly, Gabriel must have meant them purely as self-narration, as they are barely murmured. But when the archangel turns to face him, a gentle smile on his face, Castiel knows the next words are meant for him. "I guess Dad wants me to talk some sense into you."

Castiel gathers the power – so much power – of the souls he's ripped from Purgatory, and although for all of Gabriel's previous existence he has looked up to him with the near worship of a child, he finds himself ready to rip every molecule of his brother into different dimensions.

"I told Him what I was planning. This is the right path, Gabriel. He would have sent a sign if-" his sentence is cut off, Gabriel raising placating hands but speaking with a pleading forcefulness.

"I have a story for you, Castiel. A human story." Castiel pauses, frowns. What is Gabriel talking about? But he can see no harm in letting Gabriel speak his piece – or maybe there is a small voice in his mind saying that this is Father's sign.

"There was a man who lived alone, a man who had great faith in God." The entire room is silent, aside from the battered breathing of the three humans. Gabriel continued, his eyes never once leaving Castiel's.

"It happened that a great storm was coming, one that would flood the town in which the man lived, and all the man's neighbors began packing their things, preparing to leave. The man just smiled, knowing that God would protect him." Castiel is confused, and doesn't understand what this story has to do with anything, but he doesn't interrupt.

"The rains started, and before long the man's house began flooding. He moved to the second floor, and one of his neighbors came by in a boat, and offered to take him to safety. 'No, thank you,' the man said, full of confidence. 'God will protect me.' So his neighbor finally paddled away." Castiel believes the man in the story is a fool, but says nothing.

"The rain didn't stop, and soon enough even the second floor flooded, so the man had to move to the roof. A rescue helicopter passed by, and a man lowered on a ladder, telling the faithful man to come to safety. 'No no,' the man said again, 'God will protect me.' So the helicopter left. But the water kept rising, until it covered the roof, and the man drowned." This story makes logical sense, but Castiel is growing impatient – what does the man's drowning have to do with God's Plan?

"The man went to Heaven after he died, and angrily approached God. 'God,' he said, 'I was faithful to you all my life! Why didn't you save me from the storm?'" Castiel has never seen Gabriel's eyes like this. They are so impassioned, so... sad. He doesn't understand.

"'My son,' God said, gently, 'Who do you think sent your neighbor's boat? And the helicopter?'" For a long moment, there is nothing but silence. Castiel waits for Gabriel to explain, though he is beginning to see.

"Dad doesn't always send miracles, Cas. Sometimes he sends your friends. Sometimes he sends your family." Dean's words ring loudly in Castiel's head. We were family once. He remembers Balthazar, the way he gasped as the angel blade did its work.

"There was no other way." He is insistent, perhaps defensive. The soul-power is getting stronger with his anger – he is surprised to find that it is a bit painful, now, to restrain it.

Doubt. He thought he was done with doubt.

"It's done now, Castiel. But you still have a choice." Part of him wants to believe Gabriel, but part of him is sure that the archangel is just like all the others – he's only saying this because it worked.

"This isn't over, Gabriel. I have more to do. I am the new G-"

"Don't." Castiel doesn't like being interrupted again, and he readies his power. Gabriel's voice is insistent. "He's our Father. Don't say that to me." Another flutter of wings, and Gabriel is suddenly closer. Castiel wonders if he is going to try to kill him, just as Sam did.

"Look at yourself, Cas! That look on your face..." Although he was yelling at first, Gabriel is whispering now, his voice so intense, so serious. It is wrong for him, somehow. "I've seen it before, Castiel. I've seen my brother be so sure of something so wrong before." Castiel pauses as that sinks in, remembering the fight with Lucifer. But that was before all his friends betrayed him. That was before he had the power to make it right – to make it all right.

"You don't understand." He was so sure of this a moment ago. It all made sense. But it's so hard to think suddenly, with the building pressure of the souls pulling at his attention. So much power... it wants to be used. It needs to be used.

"...I'm sorry." It's all Castiel can think to say. He knows what he has to do.

He'll remember the look on Gabriel's face, in that instant before suddenly he had no face, had no form, forever. It had to be done – he didn't understand. And this time, there will be no coming back.