Title: Reaching as I Fall
Fandom/Genre: SPN, drama, romance, angst, spy thriller of a sort
Word Count: 74,000
Warnings: Death of original and canon minor characters, one death of a semi-major character, violence.
Summary: "Service to God was the meaning of existence; service to Michael is nothing but slavery." Castiel is part of an underground network helping angels fall, in resistance to heaven. At the same time that a fallen angel by the name of Dean Winchester turns up, some of those in the network are murdered by Michael's forces – there's a spy. What does Dean have to do with it? Who is Dean? And why are they hunting him so fiercely?
Written for DCBB. My livejournal post contains the link for the art.
Feedback is loved!
Castiel's cell phone beeps. He reaches into the pocket of his jeans, looks down, the silver light of the cell flashing across his face. Latitude: 47-41'19'' N, Longitude: 093-11'46'' W. Nothing else.
He sighs, turns away from the vast emptiness of the Grand Canyon the depths not quite visible to human eyes this late at night, with no moon - and lets his wings spread, shifting across dimensions before piercing through them like a sword through water, effortless gliding until he abruptly stops, halting in a small forest, the sliver of reality he'd left behind him closing. He looks up, and waits.
There's a piercing light, sharp and then fading, falling. It looks like nothing more than a meteor heating up and burning as it falls through the atmosphere, save for that initial flash, the birth of it; the pain of rebirth, of pulling a part of yourself outside and casting it away. Castiel jumps forward, wings aflutter, steps turning into hundreds of meters, following. He curls his right hand into a loose fist, forcing a small container into existence with a small portion of his grace. Only grace can hold grace, after all, just as only an angel can kill another angel.
Castiel has had the opportunity to test both, the latter more frequently than he would like.
He walks forward again, simply this time, dirt beneath his feet, small twigs snapping as he moves. He sees the tree the grace hit, a small sapling that glows to his eyes. His breath fogs in front of him, but he doesn't feel the cold as he kneels, takes the container out and tries coaxing the grace in. It's different, every time, how the grace reacts. He can force it, of course, but he prefers not to. He has no evidence to prove it, but he feels like the transition is easier, afterwards, when the grace rejoins the angel. Such a transference is dangerous without help, and even with it, Castiel prefers to take all the care he can. He waits precious minutes, then closes the top of the container, putting it into his jeans.
"Oh, Caaastiel," comes an off-key, sing-song voice.
Castiel turns to meet Uriel's smile with a flat look of his own, already loosening his blade from its sheath. "Let us end this," he says, letting his blade fall to his hand.
"What? You don't want the whole rigmarole? I can offer forgiveness - again - or provide one of the arguments for keeping unity ..." Uriel's smile widens, tinged with bitterness. "Personally, though, I would prefer a fight."
"I would not," Castiel says, but readies himself anyway. Uriel, he knows, will not listen to anything he has to say.
The slight downward twitch of Uriel's wings telegraphs his next move - he flashes forward, into range, and strikes from above, using all his considerable strength to drive Castiel almost to his knees. The sound of the clash of their blades rings for a second, both to human ears and angelic ones. Then Castiel lets it slide down almost to his hand, Uriel's blade hitting the hilt, and tries to twist his blade around to disarm Uriel.
It fails, and Uriel is dancing back as he laughs, setting back on his feet and away from Castiel, while Castiel takes a deep breath. Whatever mercy Uriel had shown in their first meeting like this, it's gone now.
Castiel feels a small shiver of fear at that thought. Last time, he'd lived only be escaping. Uriel knows him well, knows how he fights. He feels he will not have the same opportunity to flee here.
The humor fades from Uriel's face, and Castiel decides to fight this the way he would prefer, not Uriel. He launches himself through reality, fast, faster than Uriel, but not fast enough to escape notice, to be unseen. To put all of his energy there is asking to be struck down in another way. Uriel follows, waiting patiently for Castiel to stop, knowing that he must. Castiel reenters the human plane of existence in the middle of a desert, and turns to match Uriel's blow. The blade slices into his shoulder, and Castiel lets it. He flickers, going a few hundred meters and taking Uriel with him, still holding on his blade. Uriel lets loose a very human grunt, and then a snarl when Castiel's wings - Castiel's flight - leaves him off balance long enough for Castiel to see an opening and take it, causing a similar wound in Uriel's side.
They break apart, both gasping.
"Would you really kill your brother?" Uriel asks.
"Would you?" Castiel replies, knowing all the names of those Uriel has killed. He doesn't wait for an answer, knows the words mask weakness, tightens his grip on his blade and attacks again, feinting first, then going for Uriel's wounded side.
Uriel's expecting it, and manages to backhand Castiel hard enough that Castiel stumbles, holding out a hand to catch himself. The sand beneath his fingers shifts, and he rolls to the side just quickly enough to see the Uriel's blade bury itself into the sand, where Castiel was. He's on his back in less than a second, and Uriel stabs again, a blow Castiel catches by holding Uriel's hands, but the force of it makes him drop his own blade, which Uriel awkwardly pushes away.
Death is close, Castiel realizes.
Uriel doesn't ask if he yields; Castiel knows that's against protocol, because it's orders to catch angels like Castiel when possible, so they can be interrogated. Instead, Uriel uses the opportunity to push the blade past Castiel's frantic grip and right into his abdomen. Castiel's muscles seize and pain flares, white-hot, and he feels blood bubble in his mouth, slip past his lips.
Uriel starts to smile, relaxing.
Castiel grabs Uriel's blade, pulls it out of himself, and almost manages to strike a surprised Uriel, who stumbles backwards. Castiel flips the blade, blood flying, so it's in a proper grip. Uriel's eyes narrow, and he backs up to take Castiel's blade in place of his own.
"Will you yield?" Uriel asks finally.
"No," and Castiel attacks.
They meet again, and he doesn't know if it's pure desperation or an answer to his prayers, but he sees a moment of faltering within Uriel, and he uses it. Uriel is stabbed through the throat with his own blade, surprise in his dark brown eyes, which fade, colorless as light flows out of his body, the last remnants of his grace marking the ground beneath him in the shape of burned wings.
Castiel stands there for a second, breath hitching; a lung collapsed. He retrieves his blade, and lifts wearied wings to fly around the world, to one of the safe-houses. It's a house with no windows or doors, dark when he arrives, lights coming on with a flick of his wrist. He places both blades on the kitchen table, wheezing from the blood in his lungs. The injuries are severe, but not fatal; angels most often survive anything that doesn't immediately kill them. The walls are almost black with all the symbols traced on them so carefully, sigils of hiding that work both against demons, angels, and anything else they could possibly think of. They do not create boundaries for angels, though they do for other creatures. These places are for the angels like Castiel, who track down the grace of falling angels and the unknowns, those who fall of their own accord, without telling anyone in the network.
He takes out the container of grace and sets it on the table next to the bloodied blades, watching the glow cease as he lets it go. He moves across the room, to the bed, and lays down, curling around his wound, still feeling the blood pouring out beneath his fingers. Blood Uriel had drawn, blood Uriel shared; not in the human way, but in the grace that had once been Uriel's life, remnants still on his own blade. Castiel stares sightlessly for a few moments, remembering, then slowly allows himself to forget.
He closes his eyes, and rests.
It takes him almost six hours to heal completely. He stays in the safehouse the entire time, deciding travelling isn't worth the risk, not when he's disabled. The safehouse has food and running water, but Castiel does not bother with either. Most angels in the network do, largely, Castiel thinks, because they lived a human life before their grace was returned, and eating carries over as a habit.
Castiel is different. He never fell, never tore out his grace. He never wanted to be human; still doesn't. This was never about falling, not for Castiel. Those that don't fall aren't trusted as much as those that do, but ... Castiel is different.
He gets up from the bed, testing his body, his grace. He considers where his cell probably is, where the one he needs to speak to probably is; he cannot call to them, the way he used to be able to with his brothers and sisters, when they had the heart of heaven, the single voice of the host.
He appears in California, on a beach.
Balthazar looks up from where he's lounging in only swim shorts, and takes off his sunglasses. "You do realize popping in and out like that attracts attention?"
Castiel frowns, eyeing Balthazar instead of answering the question. "You are a hedonist."
"Very human of me, isn't it?" He leans forward, eyes twinkling with humor. "I do try, you know."
Castiel looks at him expressionlessly. "Did you track down the angel as he or she was falling? Anyone watching?"
Balthazar shakes his head. "Nope. No one nearby. Also got a list of possible parents, if it is born anywhere close to the spot where the grace fell." He rummages in the pack beside him, and takes out a file. He hands it to Castiel. "Are you ever going to tell me what you do with these? Where they go when they've lived their little human lives?"
"You know the reasons -"
Balthazar waves a hand, dismissive. "You are far too paranoid, little brother."
"Perhaps," Castiel says, not wishing to argue. It would be pointless. Humans call it 'need to know'. Balthazar does not need to know. He has seized upon a human lifestyle, but only portions. The luxuries, the human lusts - yes. Balthazar, as a soldier of heaven, was never too fond of battle, and quite fond of being lazy, and even after decades of being on earth, he still indulges.
"Did it go well?" Balthazar asks.
Castiel looks down, then at the sea, hears the dull roar. "Uriel is dead."
Balthazar pauses, grimacing. "And the grace?"
"Safe, of course." It was what he was fighting for.
"Of course," Balthazar echoes. "Castiel would never fail a mission, after all."
"I don't know what you mean," Castiel says impatiently, then changes the subject. "Be ready to meet with the others in two days. We have received word that there are at least two other unknowns. We think they are being hunted."
"Received word from who?" Then Balthazar stops himself. "Never mind. I'll be there." He slips his sunglasses back on, leans back.
Castiel nods and flits away.
He arrives in another safehouse, away from prying eyes. Anna - Anael, but she chose to keep her human name - is already there, waiting. She smiles when she sees him, approaches and gives him a hug. "Cas," she says warmly.
Castiel awkwardly puts his arms around her, loosens the touch as soon as she draws back, taking a step back awkwardly. He hands the container with the angel's grace to her, which she takes without a word.
"So two unknowns?" Castiel inquires, hands hanging at his sides.
"Always business with you, Cas," Anna says, not insulted. "Yes. We're not sure when they fell, we just know that two are being hunted by Michael's soldiers." She turns away, heads for the kitchen table, which is covered by several large maps, piled upon each other.
"Do we know where they are?" Castiel asks, following her. There are markings all over the map on top, locations circled in various colors. Red stands for confirmed sightings of Michael's soldiers; blue for locations of allies; green for fallen angels still human and anonymous; and yellow for possible sightings of Michael's soldiers. Their ability to track heaven's movements is as limited as heaven's methods are for the network, so the red and yellow circles are scarce. Sometimes they are forced to wait for more, in order to make their own tracking of unknowns easier or possible. Heaven's resources are much larger than their own, if less varied. At times, their first trace of an unknown is by the movement of Michael's soldiers.
"One is on the east coast; the other, I have no idea. They seem to be going everywhere. The only pattern I could discern was that they seem to be searching along the highways."
"That's strange," Castiel says. "They don't normally pay attention to that sort of detail." He reaches out and traces the highways along the red and yellow circles, pausing at the dates, scribbled in blank ink. Definitely a pattern, though it crisscrosses most of the Midwest.
"If they are going to start paying more attention to human structures - and human technology - we may have a problem," Anna says, shifting her gaze from the map to meet his eyes. "Their arrogance in assuming no human technique can match theirs ... losing that advantage would be bad."
"We knew it would happen eventually. The repeated failures they've had would naturally result in a change of tactics." He shakes his head. "At any rate, it will take them time to figure out cell phones, and we're always careful to burn ours. We've prepared for this, Anna."
"I know." She rubs her forehead, then pushes a hand through her red hair. She takes a breath, rolls her tongue around in her mouth thoughtfully, then looks at him. "So which one do you want to take?"
"The highway traveler."
"You would choose the more difficult," Anna muses. "I'll let Haniel's cell know to take the other. With a little luck, soon we'll have a couple new ones to guide through the underground angel railroad."
"Thank you," Castiel says with a nod. He takes another look at the map, noting areas he could search first, memorizing the details.
Anna lays a hand on his shoulder, a warm weight. "I'll see you later."
A whoosh of air, then silence.
So: an adult. Adults are usually the ones hunted because those fallen angels who remember nothing tend not to attract attention. Those that are older are more likely to remember bits and pieces, as well as overhear heaven, though that's less of a problem than it used to be; they don't want the network listening in, and so have learned to guard their communication.
Travelling also indicates adulthood; children tend not to travel this consistently. Possibly some kind of job requiring the travel, a trucker or sales, maybe. The endless variety of professions fallen angels come into never ceases to surprise him. The ones that go into religious ministry most of all.
He looks up from the maps, and turns the light off before he goes.
He starts in the Midwest, a highway in the middle of nowhere. The sun is just beginning to rise, clouds tinged in orange, the yellowed grass cast even further into the color. It's cold, the cold of fall, but not yet bitter winter. He looks east, and starts walking along the dirt bordering the road, sneakers silent as he goes. He stretches his senses as far as they can go, waiting for the slightest quiver, the slightest hint of anything supernatural. Fallen angels don't look holy, but there is always something off, something slightly strange when looked at in astral sight. You have to be close in the same room kind of close to tell for certain, to see it. It's what makes falling initially so safe, what makes it so hard to find them before the forces of heaven do. They simply have more eyes than Castiel or his cell ever could.
He'll call them eventually. He gives himself two days to do it alone, following the ebb and flow of the supernatural world, listening for the echoes of echoes a fallen angel might leave. Michael's followers cannot do the same with precision- they lack the affinity for this plane, their methods more forceful, less subtle. Subtlety is a useful tool for all in the network, these days. It's unlikely that he'll find the person in this timeframe, but it gives him a better idea of where to send the members of his cell, when the time does come, and he feels like it's safer. He trusts his cell, yet he keeps something back. He's not sure why. Perhaps it is just his nature, since his rebellion.
He walks for hours. The sun turns the land warm, though Castiel can hardly tell the difference. He sees more cars, which makes him dip further into the grass, so he doesn't look like he's hitchhiking.
He stops, waits. He feels nothing; his instincts tell him nothing. There is only life here, nothing off kilter. Then he spreads his wings and flies, maybe a hundred miles, and begins again, tireless. More highways, then ponds, lakes.
Then he feels it: a vibration, dying.
It's in a wooded area, brambles hitting his face as he steps through, twigs snapping beneath his feet, bare limbs of trees casting spidery shadows. He finds the source rather quickly - it's a grave, freshly dug up, footprints nearby. He takes a deep breath, tastes the faint imprint of ash on his tongue. Someone salted and burned the bones of an unmarked grave. Someone took the time to salt and burn a body.
You only do that to lay a spirit to rest.
Castiel looks up at the blue sky, watches a crow let loose a loud cry and fly away.
He returns to the highway, and knows what he's looking for now. His fingers twitch slightly as he feels the next one, this time in a small town. A dilapidated building at the edge is the place of it; when he walks along the main road in the town, he can feel the townspeople shying away from it, shying away from even thinking about it. It's a dark shade, but one slowly lifting, Castiel thinks.
Inside the building is a series of rooms, maybe an old hotel. In one, he finds more ashes, the gleam of silver lying among them. Castiel approaches, wood creaking, and reaches down, letting the ash fall through his fingers. It stinks of evil, even now, and falls easily from his skin, slightly repelled. He stands up, walks around the room, trying to gain the sense of who was here. The odd part is that he doesn't feel any sense of a fallen angel, but his instincts tell him he's on the right path. Maybe someone the fallen one knows, then.
He needs to find more, to be certain, to determine what his next course of action should be.
It's a long a lonely road - littered with dirt, concrete split by the irresistible force of weeds, water, and time - that he finds the next remnants, and by then the day has fallen to dark. It was a black dog, bound to the road, he's fairly certain, by some violent act committed here. Darkness seems to make murky the surroundings, even still. Most black dogs are, in Castiel's experience, fairly harmless, as they can serve as protectors as well as sometimes being malicious. The sense of the place seems to suggest the latter was true in this case, although he does wonder how anyone could have found something so remote. Such a place would rarely receive visitors to be victimized. This suggests that either the hunter is very skilled, or that it is the fallen angel who found the place, and he or she is using some part of the supernatural force that remains to be sensitive to such places.
And - there. So quiet. Castiel cocks his head, fingers spreading, calling for like with like. He extends his grace beyond his body, a thing which would blind any normal to human to see, and feels himself react to the traces, lets it mark him, so that he can know it, and know it anywhere. Faint, it sinks into his grace, and he pulls it back within, the road darkening once again.
His fallen angel is a hunter.
He spreads his wings, then pauses. He kneels in the middle of the road, places his hand on it, palm down. He lets loose a little pulse of his grace, purifying the land.
Then he rises, and flies.
The place he goes is known, but not frequented by either side - heaven or the rebel network. It is of very little interest to either. The humans are unaware of the shifting battlefield their world has become, which Castiel's side prefers, for humanity's safety. So to hunters, there is no such thing as angels.
Castiel has never been to the Harvelle's Roadhouse, but he is familiar with what it is, who goes there, and the fact that he should be able to walk in and out without any problem. Almost anything else, the Roadhouse would be impenetrable, so laden it is with traps and bindings, but the knowledge of how to stop an angel from entering or leaving a place is essentially lost. Even the demons still on earth that may have once known are mostly gone, caught in the crossfire. Castiel, and many of the others, enjoy taking time out to smite a demon or two, the moral implications so much easier than the rest of their battles, so any arising of demons is often dealt with before hunters even become aware. A silent gift to their unknowing hosts, perhaps.
He appears half a mile away, and begins to walk. The parking lot is filled with all kinds of cars new, old, used. The electric sign flickers when Castiel nears, and he carefully restrains his presence, waiting for it to blink back on, steady.
When he enters, he almost walks into a man leaving. The man looks at him up and down, and snorts. "Go somewhere else, kid. This ain't your kind of bar."
Castiel's eyebrows quirk upwards, and he pushes past the man, stepping fully into the bar. There's a certain degree of smoke, less than he'd noticed in other places similar to this. The place is worn but clearly cared for, and while the patrons look rougher than Castiel generally sees humans to be, there's a certain air of respect for where they are. Castiel finds it hard to define, hard to pin down, but these people are both dangerous and yet clean, souls bright. They view him darkly, laden with suspicion; there's no innocence here. They will not hurt him unless he gives them cause to do so, but he gathers that his attire - a light blue sweater and jeans - doesn't mesh with this place as well as it does with others. He stands out.
Still, he walks to the bar. A woman stands there, middle-aged with light brown hair to her shoulders, and he is fairly certain this is Ellen. She doesn't stop what she's doing, cleaning out a glass and giving him a look full of skepticism.
It occurs to Castiel, suddenly, that Anna would have been better at this. "Hello," he says.
"What?" replies Ellen, flat.
"I was hoping you could help me," Castiel begins.
"Take a left out of the parking lot, it's a mile back to the highway," Ellen finishes for him, done with one glass and putting it away, taking another.
"I am not lost," Castiel says, wondering yet again why he gets asked that question so often. Does he look permanently befuddled? "This is regarding a hunt I was on. It was completed by someone else, before I got there. I need to know who it was."
Harvelle leans over the counter. "Are you scamming me?"
Castiel blinks. "No."
"Why on earth would you need to know such a thing? And what makes you think I would know?" she demands, quickly, one after the other. He supposes her suspicion is natural - hunters are not known to the public, any more than angels are. Probably less, actually. Some people still do believe in angels, if a less than accurate version.
"You hear things in your profession," Castiel says. "And I have heard this is a gathering place for hunters."
Harvelle puts the glass down. "And you are?" she asks curtly.
"I assure you, I mean him or her no harm."
"That's not an answer," she says.
"A black dog in Kansas, unsettled spirit in Colorado, shifter in Wyoming," Castiel continues calmly. "I need to know how he found them. It took me some time to track those hunts down, and yet he found them before I did."
"So you're a hunter?"
"Yes," Castiel says, without a trace of guilt for the lie.
She looks at him closely for a moment, then asks, "How did you hear of this bar? I've never seen you before."
Castiel begins to answer with another lie, then stops. He slips his hand from the bar, allows his gaze to drift, focusing, and lets his blade fall into his hand.
There's a rush of air, and Castiel is whirling to block the blow before it's done. Their blades clash, and out of the corner of his eye he sees the hunters begin to react, pulling out a variety of guns with a few knives. They will only get themselves hurt, so with a thought, he pushes, hard, and they fly away from the fight and out of their chairs, right into the walls. There's no screams, but grunts and curses become a background noise. He keeps them there, hovering a foot from the floor, as the angel before him disengages temporarily.
"Yield," the angel says. Gaeriel, he realizes, in a male vessel.
"I will not," Castiel says.
"Your death will be quick," Gaeriel promises. A foot soldier in this war, so he has nothing to say. Not like Uriel.
"I hope the same for you," Castiel replies wryly.
Gaeriel's reaction is humorless and swift. He strikes, Castiel dodges. In the background, he hears a hunter begin to say an exorcism rite for demons. The irony does not escape him.
Gaeriel has always been proficient, but Castiel is far more motivated to survive. He has done this before and, with regret, it has gotten easier. Gaeriel is fast, but not fast enough, not guarded enough. Castiel sees the weakness in his form, far more used to the human body he inhabits. He kicks, and Gaeriel loses his blade. Castiel doesn't hesitate to follow up with a thrust upward, beneath the rib cage and piercing Gaeriel's heart. Light bursts violently out of him, and his body falls to the floor with a thump.
He lifts his gaze, barely breathing hard.
"What are you?" comes quick and almost breathless, from Harvelle, behind the bar with her arms at her side, still held by Castiel's power.
"A black dog in Kansas, unsettled spirit in Colorado, shifter in Wyoming," Castiel repeats. He leans over Gaeriel's body, takes his blade. "I want a name."
Harvelle spits. It doesn't quite reach him.
He turns to the others, considering. Gaeriel's presence was completely unexpected and unplanned for. How he came across Castiel is a mystery, though they are likely searching for the same person; he doesn't believe in coincidence. This means Michael's soldiers are closer than suspected. He does not have much time to find the fallen angel, or Michael's forces will catch up to him and her, and death will be the immediate result. Castiel is tired of losing unknowns. It's easier to keep safe those that warn of their falling, but such warnings cannot always be safely sent.
"I want the name," Castiel says again, evenly. There's stubbornness, on most faces. He looks for the weakest, the most afraid. There aren't many, here. They all believe they are staring death in the face and are defiant, but Castiel has no intention of hurting them. Permanently, anyway. He will get information no other way, not now, with the revelation that he is a supernatural being.
He walks up to a young woman, a teenager with blond hair, eyes wide and terrified, but still insolent.
He feels more than sees Harvelle react. He glances back, then at the girl again. "I want the name," he repeats. "And his or her location," he adds after a second.
"I won't," Harvelle says, but he sees it now: the rising fear, the vulnerability. Most likely, the girl is her daughter.
He turns back, and twists his hand.
Blood bubbles from the girl's mouth, and she lets loose a whimper.
"No!" Harvelle screams.
"The name," Castiel repeats, turning his head to look at Harvelle.
"John Winchester," Ellen says finally, the words pulled from her, guilt already twisting inside of her, visible in her aura. "He was on the shifter hunt. I don't know where he is, and that's the truth."
Castiel considers. "A phone number?"
A certain look in her eyes. "I don't know."
"Yes," Castiel says. "Tell me."
She does. Castiel waits a second, feels the truth of it, and turns back to the girl. She flinches back from his touch, but he doesn't hesitate. Two fingers to her temple, and the damage he had wrought is completely undone. He feels a second of gratitude that he can still do this; that his connection to heaven's power remains, one of the few mysteries they have kept from Michael's soldiers. He would not trade a human life for an angelic one.
"I'm sorry," he says to her, truthful, and releases everyone in the room.
He's gone before their feet touch the floor.
He hangs up the payphone. The number has already been disconnected; Harvelle or one of the other hunters had worked quickly.
Castiel frowns, taps his cell phone in his jeans pocket, then disappears off the sidewalk.
He reappears across the country, outside a house located at the end of an old street, surrounded by barren trees so thick one cannot side see the house inside. It's separated from anything surrounding it, both by history - nothing important has ever happened in the town a few miles away, no supernatural hotspots - and distance, as well as being supported by gas generators and a well. Completely isolated and off the books. Michael's soldiers aren't yet using county records to track down the network, but they've taken precautions anyway, this place being a prime example.
He goes past the white picket fence and carefully tended lawn to knock on the door.
Within a minute, Justine's face peeks past the open door. "Hi, Cas."
"I need to track a number." He pauses. "Hello."
She opens the door fully. "Gimme a minute," she says and turns away, walking to a back room.
Castiel follows, shutting the door behind him, knowing the room Justine is going to. (Her real name is Aariuel, but she found she preferred the easier-to-pronounce Justine from her human life; Castiel doesn't see the difference save for an inconsequential number of syllables.) The setup isn't complicated, as it doesn't need to be, so Justine's office, in what was probably once the dining room, consists of three computers and a variety of technical books.
She sits down before the laptop, pushes dark hair behind one ear. "Number?"
He gives it. She nods, starts tracking down the provider, and from there, he can see her checking tower records. Each separate phone call is given a number, as well as the tower used being recorded, so she can find out where John Winchester was, at least. Castiel doesn't know the exact details of how she does it, which is why he needs help.
"You want a whole list of where he's been on this phone, or just the most recent?" Justine asks.
"Recent," Castiel says. "I'm hoping by moving quickly I'll get there before he moves too far."
"Serena, New Mexico," Justine says. "What do you want him for?"
"One of the fallen, maybe."
She nods and smiles. "Be nice to have another newbie around."
Castiel frowns. "He is as old as any of us."
She waves her hand. "Never mind. Sometimes I forget how difficult you find human slang."
Castiel blinks, then dismisses the discussion. "Thank you for the information."
John Winchester is a hunter, and obviously a frequent traveler, judging by both his profession and the hunts Castiel found. So the first places Castiel looks are long-term motels and short-term apartments. He searches without knocking on doors, hoping to find the particular wavelength he'd detected on the black dog hunt. He walks through crowded streets, over broken sidewalks, and past so many drug dealers he began to lose count. None of the areas he is searching are what humans would consider 'good', but Castiel holds no fear for humans, not even armed ones. He ignores them entirely.
He does not find what he's looking for. Either the trace the fallen angel is leaving is too faint, or he was not here at all. Only instinct suggests the hunts Castiel found were even related. The trace could have been left by a partner of John Winchester, rather than John Winchester himself. Or the trace could have been left by a lover or family member. None of which helps, because hunters do not register anywhere under their own names. Most survive by credit card fraud, after all. The other problem is that John Winchester is a common enough human name that he can't google for him easily. (Castiel is familiar with the internet, intrigued by some uses and horrified by others.) Otherwise searching for tragedies and the name might have worked, had the name been more unique. Most hunters are not born into the business.
By the time three hours pass, Castiel stops. Winchester is no doubt out of town, and headed in some direction, moving as fast and far as possible.
Perhaps he can go back along John Winchester's path, and find him that way. Find out who he is, where he was born, and track his character, judge from there where he is likely to have gone.
He appears outside Justine's door, and stops.
He places his hand on the frame of the door. It's splintered, near the doorknob. The force came from the inside, not the outside. He traces it too lightly to get splinters, then pushes the door open.
Beyond the entrance, in the doorway of the back room, he sees the tip of a wing, burned into the wood floor. Justine. He steps forward, and -
Holy oil. He sees it alight, a curve like a C around him, and he raises his wings and flies, desperate and fast. The ring closes behind him, scorching him instead of killing him outright as he passes over part of the circle. He crashes back into reality only miles away, falling forward and catching himself with his hands in dried grass. His wings feel like they're on fire, and he groans. He tries to lever himself up, and ends up falling backwards onto his ass.
He sees two angels appear in front of him, in a male and female vessel - Michael's soldiers - and despite the pain, he spreads his wings and takes flight again, farther this time, pain flowing through him like water. He's in a forest, again, trees curving up around him. He stumbles to a solid trunk, slumps sideways against it, his back hurting. It's the only physical manifestation his body can manage for the damage to his wings. He waits, but no one follows. They were lower level ones, then, not as fast as him. There had been no time to recognize them.
After several minutes of deep breathing, he takes out his cell phone. Did Justine destroy all her records? He knows she had some phone numbers and not others. Some names, not others. Only cell leaders knew Justine, knew who she was, cell leaders like him and Haniel. Anna, of course, knew, but it's unlikely any of them managed to take down Anna and get any information from her - she's powerful, one of the most powerful to fall.
He dials Anna's number.
"Castiel," she says. "Two cells were wiped out. Are you well?"
Castiel swallows, and gives the code word. "Dandy."
A shaky sigh on the line. "Go where we first met our new lives." And hangs up.
It takes Castiel a moment to remember.
Then he spread his wings, still aching, and is there.
The cemetery is silent and empty. It's an old cemetery, some stones so old the names have been lost, none very recent , save one. This area is remote, the town that once fed these graves with bodies abandoned for decades. The cemetery shows those signs of wear, in the wild grass covering names, weeds growing here and there, the heavy bows of the trees hanging low. Wild and unkempt.
"I always feared we would end up here again someday," Anna's voice comes, soft.
Castiel turns. "We are not dead yet."
She walks to a grave, the stone jutting up two feet, the name Castiel had inscribed himself. Anna Milton. She rests her hand on the top. "It was here you told me the truth."
"Service to God was the meaning of existence; service to Michael is nothing but slavery," Castiel says quietly.
"And then I took my grace back, to fight."
Castiel sighs, hands curling into fists, then purposefully relaxing. "We have a spy."
She nods in agreement. "What happened?"
"Justine is dead," Castiel says. "I was almost trapped by holy oil when I walked in. This was carefully planned - I was only gone for a few hours, and they took her."
"Is your cell intact?"
"I don't know. Probably not. If they found Justine, they may know who's in my cell. Only cell leaders and above knew her, Anna. That does not leave a large list."
"Unless someone found out something they shouldn't have. We don't know for sure that we've been infiltrated that deeply," Anna argues. "I can't think of any cell leader I don't trust, that I even have the slightest doubt about."
"But cell members ... we do have ones that never fell. That never experienced human independence." Castiel himself is among that number, of course, but his situation is somewhat different from theirs. "But their knowledge is limited. They don't even know how we made them empty vessels."
"No, but they're not stupid. And Michael must surely suspect that we have an archangel. For reasons of power, if nothing else."
"And he wants to know who and where. Gabriel gone for millennia, Raphael for centuries ..." Castiel pauses. "This isn't about killing us. This is about going up the ladder. That's why they tried to capture me at Justine's. How did you find out the other cells were gone?"
"Didn't meet," Anna says. "I knew their assignments, tracked them. Found bodies and one cell leader had died from purposefully stepping over a ring of holy oil fire. Shit." She runs a hand through her messy hair.
"We have to lie low," Castiel decides. "Separate completely for a time. I'll contact my cell, tell them to disperse. You should tell the same to any others you can find."
"Agreed. Burn your cell, and go to your backup." She pulls out a flashdrive. "Here's the assignments we had over the past year. Two heads are better than one."
Castiel takes it.
Anna takes a deep, even breath. "Meet me back here in six weeks."
"Be safe," Castiel says. "You're the final link to our archangel."
She raises an eyebrow. "So are you."
Castiel lifts his wings.
"Wait," she says, unhurried. "What will you do?"
Castiel stills, then shrugs. "Find the fallen angel, I suppose. Hunting for the mole will take time. Let me know what you find. I'll search myself as well for signs of Michael's soldiers, any patterns. We need to figure out who the mole is, and we can only do that by gathering as much information as possible about what's been going on, on both sides." He turns to go, again, when her voice, faint, stops him.
"Cas. Good luck."
Castiel smiles without looking, and Anna shifts away, dead leaves rustling in her wake.
He follows elsewhere, leaving the cemetery the same as when he came to it: untouched, save by time.
Castiel puts his cell phone down. None of the members of his cell have picked up, or responded to his message. Balthazar, Ceria, and Wynn. He has done all he can, until they get back in touch. He left a code word as the only message, so if the phones are found by heaven's forces, the command will not be understood.
Restless, itching, Castiel turns his attention back to John Winchester once again.
John Winchester likes, as far as Castiel can tell, to choose the most difficult and obscure hunts. Not just in terms of the difficulty of the kill, but also the difficulty in finding the hunt in the first place. This would also suggest he likes to keep away from other hunters, using his skills to avoid them while still hunting. The why for that Castiel can't yet guess.
But if he knows what kind of hunts Winchester likes, then he can find the hunt before Winchester does, and wait.
He stands upon the highways, which are almost like ley lines in how they connect this world, the human world. Power, always shifting, always changing, always moving.
He's found three possible hunts that Winchester is likely to pursue. None of them are near New Mexico. He's fairly certain that state will be avoided from now on, which leaves things more east than west. There are major highways all over the place, of course, but he's been staking out the largest ones, usually for about a day at a time. If Winchester - if the fallen one - travels past, he should feel it and be able to follow. What made tracking difficult in the first place may yet prove the solution.
So he waits, maybe thirty feet from the highway, sitting cross-legged with his wrists balanced on his knees, fingers lax. He's still for hours, and could be for days. It's difficult to tell if Winchester's hunting pattern will change now that he knows someone is looking for him, but it's the only lead he has. There's a possible deadly haunting twenty miles in one direction, a ghost along a highway, killing only once a year in another direction thirty-two miles away, and signs of a possible demon (which Castiel promises himself he'll check out thoroughly later) ten miles away. He's guessing which ones would be the most important, of course. Who knows how this particular hunter prioritizes things.
That's when he senses the other angel, near. He can't define who it is, not yet, but they're powerful, much more powerful than he is, and not bothering to hide their presence. But the sense of it is shifting, moving. The angel is searching, fearless of being seen or caught. His wake is so powerful, Castiel is fairly certain he can remain unseen.
Castiel has been cunning, when he wants to be. He might be able to pull off following this one.
And this may yet have something to do with the mole. This powerful of an angel, bothering to search for something. Heedless of being seen, even, is all unusual. That would indicate his mission is not as important. Or perhaps it only indicates arrogance. Either way, his mission is of interest to Castiel.
So he follows, quiet.
They pass through a city, and another.
It's nightfall when the angel stops. Castiel almost instantly loses track of where, because the angel moves so fast that the wake almost disappears.
Castiel stops under a street light. He glances up, light flashing in his eyes, then around. He's an urban area, streets shining with a sheen of water, rain dusting downward. There's cars parked along both sides of the street, dark buildings beyond them.
Castiel begins to stroll along the sidewalk, watchful. The rain begins to soak into his sweater, dampen his jeans. Drops of water roll down his face from his hair.
He takes a deep breath and then exhales, as something within sparks. He feels it like calling to like. The tinge he'd let within himself, within his grace, is here. He moves himself forward a few hundred feet, and finds himself closer. He's in front of another dark building, a light in a window up above. He looks, and knows: the angel is there, and the fallen angel he's been looking for is there as well. The conclusion is obvious, and for a second, the instinct to survive wars with the instinct to protect.
He appears in the room. It's a rundown apartment, the small living space filled with a shattered chair, a table pushed to a wall, that wall covered with newspaper clippings and photographs, scattered notes in a quick scrawl. An envelope with a from address of Stanford University is on the floor.
The angel, in a female vessel and wearing a suit, turns to him, movements unhurried. Her gray eyes are piercing, amused, dismissive. She knows her power, and Castiel's. "Well well. Little Castiel is here."
"What are you?" a man snarls, middle-aged, dark hair struck through with gray. A teenage boy and a young man join him, pinned to the far wall, the older man and young man both bleeding from minor wounds to the head or abdomen, like the angel had been playing with them like a cat does a mouse.
"You don't matter enough to know," she says dismissively. "Well, Castiel. What are you going to do? Fight me?"
They both know how that will most likely turn out. Castiel dead, the fallen one dead, probably his family dead, and the angel with a mission completed successfully. Whoever she is - Castiel cannot pin down her identity, though clearly she knows him.
Castiel steps in front of the humans, very slowly and deliberately, flaring his wings slightly. "If I must," he says, and pushes, just so, in order to release the family. He hears them moving behind him - leaving the room, finding weapons, most likely - but the angel focuses on Castiel, as he expected she would, raising her hand instead of her blade.
Pain ignites, flaring as she twists inside of him, wrenching internal organs out of place at the same she wrenches his grace. He can feel blood falling in ribbons from his chest, skin splitting painfully. He moans, falling to his knees, coughing up blood, watching it splatter on the floor.
He raises his eyes to see the man, the father, stab the angel in the back with a large knife. She doesn't twitch, save to turn her head, and then she grabs him by the shirt with one hand and throws him back.
Castiel doesn't wait. He smears the blood on the floor, quickly.
She turns back - "No!" she screams, as Castiel completes the sigil and smacks his palm down.
White light burns in the room for a second, fading as she's pushed away by the banishing. Castiel sees the father trying to stumble to his feet, sees the teenage boy helping him, and then the young man, casting both worried and angry glances at Castiel.
He's the one, Castiel realizes. He lurches forward and grabs the fallen angel's wrist, and unexpectedly, a surge of power courses through the both of them. Castiel doesn't know what it is, but there's no time, and he cannot take the entire family to a safehouse.
"Think of a safe place," Castiel says to him, voice hoarse, coughing. They cannot stay here long. She'll be back.
"What?" the young man says. But he does think: Castiel sees it, dimly. He tightens his grip on the young man, and grabbing hold with his grace of the other two as well, he takes flight. It lasts not even a second, instantaneous to human perception, and they are there, somewhere else. Castiel falls back against a wood floor, sees high ceilings. He hears the father muttering a surprised curse at the change of location, and sees the young man enter his vision again as he blearily raises his head.
He watches the young man, green eyes wide with a mix of terror and determination, as he tries to get out of Castiel's grip. "What's your name?" Castiel asks, still holding on.
He blinks. "I, uh. Dean."
"Dean," Castiel murmurs, and his head falls back again. He lets go. He sees someone approaching, dressed in black with a white collar. A church. He's in a church. How ironic. A safe place, indeed.
Then he passes out.