~The sons of John Winchester ~
A hundred generations of humankind have come and gone before my Father's hands since He willed me into being, and in that time I have seen sublime love and hideous cruelty, tolerance and intolerance, joy, sorrow, righteous anger and righteous fear, stupidity, cupidity, vengeance, repentance, malevolence and benevolence, all of every kind, and I believe I can say without the smallest taint of falsehood or exaggeration that in all that time I have not seen any sons of man as trying as the sons of John Winchester.
When Zechariah of the house of Aaron and Abijah doubted one of my brothers, all it took was 'I am Gabriel who stands before the throne of God!' to shock the man into muteness for the two hundred and eighty eight days that passed from the conception of, until the naming of, his son the Baptist.
I pulled Dean Winchester from hell and what I received as gratitude was 'yeah, thanks for that,' just before he plunged a knife into my chest.
Who can stand before such a man?
When I received my commission to save a righteous man from hell, I praised God in His glory and mercy. When that commission to save this righteous man was extended though he had shed blood in hell, I was practically in ecstasy that such a beatific man could exist and that I was charged with both his safe return to life and the ministration of his mission after that return.
To be of service to such a man could only be a joyful and bountiful experience.
Then I met Dean Winchester.
Surely no man has been so completely exasperating since the sons of Zebedee were given the immensely appropriate appellation 'Sons of Thunder'.
At first I took measure of Dean's incredulity as a lack of faith; after all, righteous need not equal devout. So I explained to him that God had rescued him from the pit of damnation because He had work for him to do.
After all, what more incentive could a righteous man need than a summons to do our Father's work?
Apparently more incentive than I offered Dean Winchester at our first meeting.
Our second meeting was no more productive, the lack of a knife sticking out of my vessel's sternum notwithstanding. Dean was not moved by the deaths of six of my brothers, he was not cowed by the prospect of Armageddon. Granted, the threat of a return to hell did seem to give him a moment's pause - but a Winchester moment seems but an infinitesimal fraction of anyone else's moment.
Our third meeting was occasioned by my receipt of the knowledge that the demon Azazel had an as-then unknown end game in motion for Sam Winchester, Dean's younger brother. I arranged a bend in time for Dean to go back and witness the origins not only of his life but of his lifestyle, and to show him how far back his brother's path to destruction had begun. I thought that would give him the proper perspective and motivation for the direction and containment of his brother's steps on that path.
It did indeed give Dean perspective and motivation - just not the perspective and motivation I wanted him to have. That I expected him to have.
I didn't expect Dean's first action to be the redoubling of the emotional wall of protection he has around his brother, so strong it can literally be seen from Heaven. I didn't expect his single driving motivation to be Sam before all else.
I expected him to take an objective view of his brother, to view Sam's activities with the same antipathy with which we did. I expected him to take decisive action for the sake of the greater good. I expected him to stop his brother, because he was told to.
Then I learned: many things may come between the Winchester brothers but one of those thing had betternot be me because - to paraphrase an angelic axiom born with Uriel - 'God may have mercy on you, Dean Winchester will not.'
Dean Winchester will not be told how best to treat with his brother. He will accept information and tolerate suggestions, but he will not be told. And to overlook that truth is occasioned only at one's peril. There are the beloved of God and there is the beloved of Dean Winchester and I find the latter all the more awe-inspiring because, even as it proceeds from imperfect human might and imperfect human intention, it is as absolute as that which proceeds from God Himself.
And then I learned I was to meet Sam Winchester.
At first I hesitated at the prospect of meeting 'The Boy With Demon Blood'. I was inclined to scoff at the designation 'boy'. The ingestion of demon blood in his infancy was certainly without his consent; but what he had been pursuing these past months because of it certainly was not. He was an adult making adult decisions, and if Dean Winchester with nothing more than his spit and spine could be so arrogant, so adamantine, so muleheaded, how much more so would Sam Winchester be, having set his face against the wishes of God and to the destruction of mankind. What arrogance must exist in that heart.
Still, he was the brother of Dean Winchester, and the son of John Winchester. A child of God. A work of art. And he prays. In spite of or because of all that has happened in his life, Sam Winchester prays. Dean himself first informed me of this - in fact it was the first item in a quite lengthy list that Dean presented to me of all that he knows to be good in his brother - and when I made inquiries among my own brothers as to the veracity of the information, I was pleased but surprised to learn that Sam Winchester does indeed have a deep and an active prayer life.
I did of course think of the line of scripture, 'Not all who say "Lord, Lord" will enter Heaven.' But Sam Winchester had worked and continued to work tirelessly alongside his family, saving the lives and souls of people of whom he had no intimate knowledge, people for whom - if he could see into their souls - he may well have harbored dislike, even hatred. And he accomplished this work most often at the peril of his own safety.
These were truths most distinctly at odds with the incipient menace of demon blood within him, and my hesitancy in meeting him grew into interest in wanting to learn if my initial thoughts of Sam would suffer as great an upheaval as my initial thoughts of Dean had.
As Uriel and I waited for the return of Dean and Sam Winchester to their temporary lodgings, I prepared myself to meet with an infinite range of qualities in Sam: pride, confidence, hauteur. Perhaps disdain, arrogance, disbelief, even loathing of the mere presence of angels in his sight.
I was not prepared for joy.
As he stepped into the room where two ostensible strangers waited them, upon becoming aware of us, Sam instantly drew his gun and - eyes blazing as surely as his weapon would be in a moment - this warrior son of John Winchester took on the task of defending himself and his own to the death.
Yet, all it took was one word from his brother,'Castiel', and the warrior evaporated and the boy emerged. I had allowed Dean glimpses of my true nature and a full view of the shadow my wings and none of it was enough for him to believe. One word, one word, from Dean and the eye of Hell's Hurricane became a boy overcome with joy.
At meeting me.
In the great expansion and contraction of my Father's time, my brothers and I in human form have been greeted with quiet acceptance, open disbelief, lubricious threats, solemn awe, and - not to forget the most recent greeting - a sharp knife and a few double-barrelfuls of rock salt.
Sam Winchester greeted me with complete acceptance, stammering awe, and joy so palpable it charged the air around me, and it was not within my power to do other than greet him warmly,
"Oh my God -." Surely, from Sam, this was a prayer not an imprecation, yet he seemed to earnestly want to apologize for it. "It's an honor to meet you. I've heard a lot about you."
Since I could find no reason to envision Dean being as effusive in his descriptions of me to Sam as he is in his descriptions of Sam to me, I could only surmise that Sam had been persistent in his questions about me, and an unbidden image arose in my mind of a little brother tirelessly pestering his big brother until he'd exhausted both the topic of inquiry and the big brother.
Another image totally at odds with what I'd been expecting from Sam Winchester.
He offered me his hand, a ubiquitous gesture in this age of man. I have never shaken hands; indeed, no human has ever initiated actual physical contact with me, and I hesitated in my response. He was, however, so earnest, so expectant, so ingenuous at that moment, that I could not but take his hand in a return of his greeting.
"And I you." Truly, I could quote chapter and verse of everything Dean had told me about him. But right now, I had only one thing in mind. "Sam Winchester. The boy with the demon blood."
I said it as an accurate statement of what I knew about him and to gauge his reaction - denial, excuses, acceptance. Would he own this truth about himself or would he apportion the blame somewhere else?
His face fell as though he was disappointed, saddened, that this was my opinion of him. As I could not be unaware that Dean was in the room, and that he was monitoring my interaction with his brother, and knowing that hurting this brother in any way is not among the things Dean Winchester tolerates, I immediately offered to Sam my understanding and pleasure that he had chosen to give up his 'extra-curricular activities.'
"Let's keep it that way." Uriel intoned from the window and if Dean had been an angel surely his wings would have bristled at the interference. God and His angels may have knowledge of the questionable activities in which Dean Winchester's brother has been engaging - only Dean Winchester is allowed to admonish him regarding it.
"Who's your friend?" Dean asked of me. In the intervening moment, he had moved to stand right behind his brother. I saw it as a protective posture; only two steps more would be required to place himself in front of Sam - between Sam and Uriel.
Being sure that the introduction of Dean Winchester to Uriel would produce the same result as introducing perpetual motion to nitroglycerine, I moved away from greetings to the ostensible point of our visit - removing the witch from existence in this plane before Samhain could be raised. Either the Winchesters would accomplish it or we would. Which of us it was to be was entirely up to Dean Winchester.
Only I wasn't allowed to tell him that.
"The raising of Samhain, have you stopped it?" I already knew the answer but I asked it of Dean anyway.
"Dean, have you located the witch?" I asked him again and my impatience was not part of my scripted performance. Ever guarded where he could be, Dean could not, would not, and did not, give me a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer.
"Yes, we've located the witch." He finally answered me, his impatience matching my own.
"Is the witch dead?"
Again, I knew the answer to this question; I asked it of him anyway.
"No, but - ." Sam answered this time, though he kept looking to Dean. Perhaps not as guarded as his brother, Sam had nonetheless recovered enough from his initial awe of me to now be particular of his answers to me.
" - we know who it is." Dean finished the sentence his brother had begun. I found this a peculiar but telling tactic. Sam had answered the question I put to them, no more-no less, and then left any clarification of that answer to Dean.
"Apparently the witch knows who you are, too." I told them.
I moved to the bedside table to pick up the hex bag I had found and showed it to them. As the brothers turned to follow my movements, Dean ended up in front of Sam. Though it happened as a matter course - when they were facing one way, Sam was in front of Dean, when they turned, Dean was in front of Sam - I did wonder if protecting Sam was so ingrained in Dean as to make such movements instinctive.
"This was inside the wall of your room." I told them. "If we hadn't found it, surely one or both of you would be dead."
Dean looked chastened at this news. Sam however only appeared to be annoyed. At me, at himself, at the witch - it was impossible to say.
"Do you know where the witch is now?" I inquired of them. Another question to which I already knew the answer, but which was required to be asked of them.
Dean looked to Sam who tilted his head. Opinions and permission being asked and given, I surmised. .
"We're working on it." Dean didn't say that until apparently after receiving Sam's permission to offer that small bit of intelligence.
"That's unfortunate." I gave a quick look to Uriel still facing the window. Unfortunate for a lot of reasons. Not the least of which was Uriel.
"What do you care?" Dean asked.
"The raising of Samhain is one of the sixty-six seals."
The Winchesters looked appropriately worried; this was the Apocalypse we were discussing after all, I would hope they would be worried.
It didn't last long.
"So this about your buddy, Lucifer." Dean said. His tone indicated he believed all fault to be mine.
"Lucifer is no friend of ours." Uriel intoned in an even deeper tone of voice. He still stood at the window.
"It's just an expression." Dean informed him. He sounded annoyed, and a little wary.
"Lucifer cannot rise. The breaking of the seal must be prevented at all costs." I said to Dean. Unnecessarily I hoped.
"Okay, great. Well now that you're here why don't you tell us where the witch is," Dean said as though it were that easy. "We'll gank her and everybody goes home."
"We are not omniscient." I told him. Which, in truth, we are not. "This witch is very powerful. She's cloaked even to our methods."
"Okay, we already know who she is." Sam spoke as though he was trying to stop an argument between Dean and myself. "So if we work together…"
"Enough of this." Uriel commanded. Though he directed this at me, he said it in reference to Sam Winchester's entreaties and had Dean indeed been an angel, I'm sure his wings would have unfurled terrifically at that and his sword would have blazed more brightly than the one that bars the path to the Garden.
As you do not menace the Lord's beloved, so you do not menace Dean Winchester's. As a good leader - as a good brother - does, Dean drew Uriel's fire to himself, demanding of him:
"Who are you and why should I care?"
Though I was, at that moment, of the firm belief that Gabriel himself would have no effect on Dean Winchester, I was aware that introductions were at last unavoidable.
"This is - Uriel. He's what you might call - a specialist." I could not completely disguise the disgust I felt.
Uriel abandoned his post at the window and strode toward Dean. Uriel had received a human vessel, just as I had. I wasn't cognizant of the particulars of his vessel's life, other than being a devout man just as my vessel had been. But Uriel's pugilistic strut often made me wonder if his vessel had been a devout thug.
"What kind of specialist?" Dean asked that directly of Uriel, but Uriel didn't answer him. Sam looked worried, even scared. Dean looked unhappy. And then I recognized the moment he grasped that our plans might be at cross purposes.
"What are you gonna do?" He asked.
"You -." So there would be no mistaking what I meant, I was careful to explicitly include Sam. "Both of you need to leave town. Immediately."
"Why?" Dean asked. It was an odd inflection. He didn't sound as though my order to leave bothered him or even worried him. He wasn't a soldier asking for clarification, he was a general asking for intelligence.
"Because we're about to destroy it."
Dean and Sam exchanged looks. I wondered what communication passed between them.
"So this is your plan?" Dean asked, spreading his hands in what I believe is the human gesture indicating his belief that Uriel and I were less than mentally competent. "You're gonna smite the whole friggin' town?"
"We're out of time." I informed him. Again, technically, this was true. But only if Dean concurred. Uriel continued to stare at Dean as I continued to speak to Dean. "This witch has to die. The seal must be saved."
"There are a thousand people here." Sam said, with boyish fervor. I was impressed that he actually had an idea how many people were in the town.
"One thousand two hundred fourteen." Uriel corrected him with profound disinterest. As though he was merely delivering a necessary, mundane sum.
"You're willing to kill them all?" Sam pressed. I continued to be impressed with his explicit concern for the people of this town. Dean's area of interest in any hunt was the logistics of the engagement; Sam's area of interest was every person in the line of fire. Dean was here to save the entire town; Sam was here to save each individual soul.
Needless to say, Uriel was not impressed.
"This isn't the first time I've - purified - a city." He bragged.
Before Dean or Sam could answer that boast, I pressed on with our comparative deception.
"Look, I understand this is regrettable -." I said. The best way to get a response from Dean is to trivialize the people he is driven to save.
"Regrettable?" Dean asked, both rancorous and sarcastic.
"We have to hold the line." I informed him. "Too many seals have broken already."
"So - you screw the pooch on some seals and now a whole town has to pay the price?" he asked. Since Sam's appeals to my feelings hadn't worked, apparently Dean was up again.
While I had no idea what 'screw the pooch' meant in human vernacular, I sensed that it would be neither polite nor legal in most pockets of humanity.
"It's the lives of one thousand against the lives of six billion. There's a bigger picture here." I told him.
"Right. 'Cause you're 'bigger picture' kind of guys."
I walked closer. Dean is taller and broader than my vessel, but it was not physical intimidation I was after.
"Lucifer cannot rise. He does and hell rises with him. Is that something you're willing to risk?"
As I had surmised, threatening Dean with hell gave him a moment's pause. As a good brother does, Sam stepped up to draw my attention away from Dean and to himself.
"We'll stop this witch before she summons anyone. Your seal won't be broken and no one has to die." Sam said. As though it was as easy as that.
I continued to stare at Dean and didn't spare a look to Sam. Dean finally glanced at his brother, nodding his tardy agreement. Perhaps his gratitude.
"We're wasting time with these mud monkeys." Uriel intoned yet again. Sam's expression went from worried to insulted. As humble as Dean has informed me Sam is, I surmised his indignation was for all of humanity more than for himself.
"I'm sorry. But we have our orders." I said. These just weren't technically our orders. I wasn't used to maintaining a pretense, much less for this amount of time. I feared my demeanor might give way. I was anxious for Dean to make the right choice; I wasn't sure that what I felt that choice should be wasn't sounding in my voice and mannerisms.
"No. You can't do this." Sam entreated us. His joy sputtered out of him like a flame deprived of fuel. I was no longer an object of awe, and I was quickly using up my acceptance. We were threatening the very people the Winchesters have second on their lists of people to protect after each other: everyone else. "You're angels. I mean, aren't you supposed to -."
Uriel chuckled but Sam persevered, with emphasis.
"You're supposed to show mercy."
"Says who?" Uriel mocked.
"We have no choice." I said.
"Of course you have a choice." Dean said. "I'm mean - c'mon. What? You've never questioned a crap order? What are you? Both just a couple of hammers?"
"Look, even if you can't understand it -" I was only partially feigning anger. We could stand here and argue all day – and surely the Winchesters would - but we didn't have the luxury of time. The witch needed to be found and the summoning needed to be stopped. "Have faith. The plan is Just."
"How can you even say that?" Sam demanded.
"Because -" I addressed Sam. Just as I felt hell would give Dean definite pause, I felt the opposite would give Sam pause. "- it comes from Heaven. That makes it Just."
As I thought, invoking Heaven to Sam Winchester did put him off a little. Once again, Dean stepped in to draw my attention onto himself.
"It must be nice…to be so sure of yourselves…"
Briefly I turned my eyes Heavenward and wished for patience. More patience.
"Tell me something Dean - when your father gave you an order, didn't you obey?"
Dean was maybe caught off guard, but not for long. Dean had told me of his father, of his father's last charge to him – a charge that Dean had not obeyed. I don't know what I expected from the sons of John Winchester. I know what I hoped they would do, I know what I prayed they would do. I had not been of their acquaintance long enough yet to know what they would do.
The knowledge was not long in coming. I saw the change in Dean's eyes.
"Well, sorry boys, it looks like the plans have changed."
I hid my relief and feigned surprise instead. Dean was on mission at last.
"You think you can stop us?" Uriel asked him. Until this moment, Dean and I had been negotiating. Now Dean turned.
"No." he answered Uriel, managing to be cocky and condescending both at the same time. "But if you're gonna smite this whole town…" He walked right up to Uriel, showing no fear, whether he felt any or not. It occurred to me that he had purposely moved toward Uriel to confront him away from Sam. "Then you're gonna have to smite us with it, because we are not leaving."
Us. Without so much as a glance toward his brother, Dean had chosen for Sam as well as for himself. Which apparently was fine with Sam as he made no objection.
"You went to the trouble of busting me out of hell, I figure I'm worth something to the Man Upstairs." Dean was quite correct in this conjecture, however Uriel's expression didn't change. "You wanna waste me? Go ahead. See how He digs that."
"I will drag you out of here myself." Uriel threatened with a gravel voice.
"Yeah, but you'll have to kill me. Then we're back to the same problem…" Dean let his threat hang a moment. "But c'mon. You're gonna wipe out a whole town for one little witch? Sounds to me like you're compensating for something."
Uriel didn't say anything, but I could read his opinion of Dean in his expression, 'Snarky little mud monkey, isn't he?'
There was a visual standoff. Uriel didn't answer and Dean appeared to take that as a victory. He turned back to Sam and myself.
"We can do this." He said, again speaking for Sam. "We will find that witch and we will stop the summoning."
We will. As though it were that easy. But to the sons of John Winchester, apparently it was that easy. They would stop it, because they would stop it.
Uriel had objections, naturally.
"Castiel." He bellowed. "I will not let these…"
"Enough." I commanded Uriel without looking at him. I only put up my hand to stop him and stared right into Dean's eyes. "I suggest you move quickly."
With that, Uriel and I left, and left Dean and Sam Winchester to save the town or die trying.