Feedback is loved! Please note the rating once again (there's explicit sex in this part). Anyway, this is it! Thank you to all those that have reviewed, and as always, feedback is loved!
Castiel stares into the darkness, going over it again and again, every word, every action, every twitch Dean made. His knees are up, his hands clasped in front of him. He hasn't moved in hours. Maybe days. He's not sure. Time goes, then restarts, Dean's face in front of him, falling away into Michael's, warmth to stone and horror. Start, end, restart.
Sam's breathing evenly, asleep, on a mattress Ceria acquired from somewhere. He hadn't wanted to sleep, but sheer exhaustion forced it, eventually. Not before hours and hours of hysteria and questions. Lots and lots of questions. Castiel figures by now Ceria's said enough to write a book on the subject of angels, all necessary explanations for angelic mythology included.
Light from a streetlight comes in from one of the windows in the warehouse. He can make out Ceria's shape, sitting by Sam's bed. She's stuck close to him, the only one in the room with any degree of calmness.
Anna's somewhere else. She'll come back in a few hours.
Right now, all that matters is making sure the network, what remains of it, survives. At least until Michael comes. Oddly enough, it's Sam's life holding that in the balance - Michael's plan cannot continue without Sam to hold Lucifer. Michael made a mistake when he revealed that, and Castiel took advantage of it. It's also true that things are static, for right now. Anna disappeared and then came back a few hours later, saying that Joshua informed her that Michael brought Gabriel back to heaven, alive, and with one of heaven's weapons in hand.
Castiel still has the archangel blade. It's Michael's. He recognizes the pulse of power, now, stuck in his mind as Dean's.
When it nears dawn, Anna comes back, a quiet shift into the warehouse. She walks to him, silent.
"I was good at this," Castiel says dully. "I trusted no one, I helped our family fall, and I never compromised. I was never compromised."
Then Dean, like a spark of life, twisting Castiel around him, loving him.
"I know." Anna's voice seems to have lost the edge.
"Ceria should hide Sam," Castiel says. "From all of us."
Anna looks away, nods slightly. "I agree."
"And then?" he asks, hoping she's seen something he hasn't.
She meets his gaze. "Then we run. Unless Gabriel, by some miracle, escapes." She sighs, shifting her shoulders, then, "I'm sorry, Castiel."
She gives him a small half-smile. "You didn't do it deliberately, and you're not responsible for Gabriel's actions. Ceria was right, he chose to act stupidly. You tried to stop the damage from spreading, when you found out who Dean really was."
"I don't think I deserve your forgiveness." He saved Michael. Anna doesn't know about that. He's not sure he can admit to her, and lose what regard he has left.
A full smile, sadness within it. "I haven't quite forgiven you."
Castiel almost laughs, hurting. "Understood."
"Explain it to Ceria," Anna says. "I'm - I'm going to try and convince others to join us, be spies in heaven. Maybe one day, if Michael continues to let Gabriel live, we can break him out."
"I understand," Castiel says. And he does. A small hope, one that Castiel doesn't feel. "I won't join you," Castiel adds.
"I know." She pauses. "Michael's hunting you with every force at his disposal, like nothing he's done before. You can never be among the network again. It's too dangerous for us. We can only survive by hiding." She raises a hand, almost withdraws, then places it along his cheek. "Goodbye, Cas."
With a flick of her wings, she's gone.
Castiel turns and walks towards Ceria. Sam starts to stir, stops at a touch of Ceria's hand to his forehead. "What is it?"
Castiel sits next to her, taking a deep breath. "Michael intends for Sam to be Lucifer's vessel."
A pause, then, "Shit."
"As long as Sam is free, as long as Sam is alive, Michael can't go forward with the apocalypse."
"Sam will die eventually, if only of old age," Ceria points out. "Then all Michael must do is resurrect him."
"I know. But it's all we can do, delay things."
"Sam will not understand."
"Don't tell him," is Castiel's calm answer. "Tell him he's in danger, but not why, or give him some other reason. No one needs that kind of burden. Take him and run, Ceria. Disappear. Don't contact the network, don't contact anyone, and watch Sam constantly; I don't doubt he'll try to contact Dean, if he can figure out a way how. It's not much of a life, but ... you're the best one to do it." Ceria is calm, quick, and clever. He doesn't know how to say that, other than this.
She smiles, as if she knows. "It's all right. I know."
"Be safe," Ceria says, and Castiel turns to the light outside, spreads his wings and flies away.
Castiel is what he never wanted to be. Alone and cut off from his family. It reminds him of when he first awake on earth, the complete, unwilling solitude. Those first weeks of blind running, more than a dozen times he thought about turning himself in, letting Michael kill him all over again, if only to be with his family one more time. To end what seemed like a purposeless existence, that he lived for no reason at all. That was before Anna called to him.
No one will call to him now.
But the apocalypse hasn't started. Michael doesn't feel it's safe enough or Raphael's not dead yet or Ceria is still hiding Sam, but Castiel walks down the streets of New York, skyscrapers like shields against the sky, and humans walk along, hurried and unhurried, concerned with their own business, wrapped in coats and staring straight ahead. He hears traces of conversations, talk about business and socializing and intercourse.
A flash of Dean smiling at him, and Castiel blinks it away, keeps walking.
Michael's blade is a constant presence, shifted just out of this plane, so Castiel can walk around with a weapon in hand. The sense of Michael's presence in it hasn't dulled over time. It's comforting and painful all at once, a feeling only Dean could make arise.
Castiel sees a man on the streets, a cup in front of him, a sign that says he's a veteran. He focuses on Castiel, intently, and Castiel sees the recognition, hears the prayer lift up.
Castiel's gone, flight unseen in a crowd, before he finishes.
He doesn't know why he bothers with places with people. It leaves him vulnerable, but he feels compelled to do it, if only to watch another intelligent being, to watch people laughing and smiling, overhearing snippets of conversation which in turn intrigue and confuse him. He can't participate, not without appearing strange, and he shuts down the impulse to talk to anyone.
He's not sure what Michael would do with anyone Castiel connected with, but he doesn't want to find out.
Much of Canada is covered by fresh snow, the result of a recent storm. Castiel settles down in the middle of it, snow soft beneath his feet, freshly fallen, a white and silent world.
He's been running for days.
He sinks into the snow, feet of it, curling his arms around himself, cold pressed against his skin.
No one knows he's here, and that's why he falls apart. It works through his body like shudders, an uncontrollable ache in his chest, body curling in on the pain, and that's when he realizes he's sobbing, grieving, shaking, the human expression of pain. He brings his wings into this plane, shifts them around him, black and shot with silver, marked by Michael forever, and he wishes the rest of him was so scarred, his mind and his heart, so it would stop hurting.
But it keeps bleeding, itching like it will scab, then a look or a glance or a word tearing it apart, a flash of dark red in his mind.
He once told Dean it was hell to have no purpose. Castiel has no purpose anymore. He lost it, through his own foolishness. Michael was right; he knew. He didn't know the details, but he knew something was wrong within Dean, and he pushed that knowledge away, because he didn't want it to be true. He comforted himself with lies about how human Dean was, how human he would be forced to remain, because no angel who had ever fallen betrayed the network, betrayed the humanity etched within them by their years on earth.
Lies, stupid lies, and it still hurts.
His breath is fogging the air, and his tears freeze in tracks on his cheeks, and he scratches at them, scratching so hard he looks down and sees blood under his fingernails.
He hates Michael. He thinks he may still love Dean, except Dean's dead.
Maybe that's why he still loves him. Because that way, Dean was real, if briefly in existence. Now there's only Michael, shades of supposed mercy, offering Castiel a chance to come home.
Michael said he regretted killing Castiel. Castiel wonders if that's only because of the chain of events that followed, weakening Michael's position, or because something within Michael grew a conscience, Dean's conscience, and was able to see it as wrong.
He'd stepped close to Castiel. That's the last thing Michael did, before Gabriel appeared and it all shattered so quickly.
He'd touched Castiel, touched Castiel like Dean would, that use of physical contact that only Dean had ever tried.
Castiel looks up, watches the curving away of the sun above his wing, slow and steady, darkness falling, Castiel cold and enfolded within his wings, lying on the snow.
Chile, Tibet, Japan, Greenland, Antarctica. Sometimes he is seen, sometimes not. There's a hint of Michael's power stirring, a slight rise in natural disasters. Castiel's not sure what it means.
He's wandered, but now he thinks he knows what to do. It's night. It's the business district, an abandoned office building in a nest of other abandoned buildings. Castiel found minor signs of demons in this city, mostly strange weather, some bizarre and unexplained deaths, a result of a welcome visit to a library, inhaling the scent of musty books before turning to the computers.
For a moment he's outside, watching the light flicker through the windows, then inside, and there are three of them, sitting around a table with various arcane substances on it. They turn towards him, eyes flashing black, and all three start to run. Apparently they want to keep their hosts if they can do so.
Castiel moves forward quickly, flying in short bursts to catch up, touching one on the side of the face, the other on the forehead, both dying with bursts of light through their eyes and mouths.
The third's already left the possessed person, formless smoke escaping through a crack in the doorway.
Castiel moves to follow, and instantly runs into three angels.
Muriel's standing slightly ahead of the other two, a calm look on her face. He knows her, fairly well - she's has near the level of power as Zachariah did, but she was less ambitious, loyal but quiet. Castiel knows speaking to her would be useless.
"You were waiting for me," Castiel says. Michael remembered their conversations about killing demons when they come across them, it appears.
"Apparently you're predictable. Don't fight, Castiel."
Castiel exhales. "I have to try to escape."
"So be it," is her answer.
They surround him, and he takes out his blade. Michael's blade.
Muriel glances at it, seems to recognize it, but says nothing. Instead, she attacks, slicing at him while the other two go for his back and side. He manages to dodge two of the attacks, and the third hits, cutting deeply into his side. He smashes the hilt of the blade into one's chin, knocking him back, disarms the other, but before he can press his advantage Muriel's there again, and he barely escapes her blow.
The other two angels back up, Muriel taking the lead again. She feints and then moves for the hand that holds the blade, violently trying to disarm him. He doesn't let her, but she uses her other hand to strike Castiel across the face. He feels one of the other angels grab his arm, and he deliberately goes lax, forcing that angel to carry his weight, before jerking away. The other angel recovers, shifts out of phase enough to cut into Castiel's wing, and he flares both of them, pushing that angel away, pain arcing through him.
He breathes deeply, Muriel twirling her blade. "You won't escape. Surrender."
Castiel's hand tightens around his hilt. There's that pulse of power again, the echo of Michael. He pushes it through his body, healing his wings.
Then he throws the blade at Muriel. She attempts to dodge, and doesn't quite make it. The other two angels use the distraction to attack him, but they move on opposite sides, and Castiel uses the momentum of one to crash into the other, slicing his throat with his own blade. The other stumbles back at the flash of light, the dying of grace.
Muriel yanks Michael's sword out of her shoulder, groaning, letting it fall, and her eyes are full of anger as she approaches him.
Castiel gasps out, desperate, "Do you think Michael would want you to kill me?"
Castiel grabs Michael's blade, she turns, and her anger makes her form sloppy. He slices into her wing, and runs.
The other angel follows, but is injured.
Castiel escapes, breathing hard, wounded.
He sinks to the ground beneath Anna's tree, hand to his bloody side, moonlight falling across the tree, scattering through leaves of endless green. He deserves this, deserves being alone and hunted. He let his emotions guide him, and now Gabriel's gone. Gabriel's gone, and Anna flees, and all of those who fall cannot connect to heaven again, so that even if they regain their grace, that grace will fade over time.
His own connection never failed him. He woke up with it, as he woke up with this body. Gabriel used to sarcastically call Castiel 'Daddy's favorite' for that reason, and Castiel thinks he'll never hear that teasing again.
"Dean," he whispers, and leans against the tree.
Will he follow Castiel here, remember this as he remembered every moment he lived through Dean's eyes? There was no name affixed to this place, and Dean had no grace then to be able to recognize it again.
Castiel stares up into the green leaves, still breathing heavily and hurting.
Castiel hadn't known romantic love. He knows the power humans attribute to it, but angels rarely feel this way towards each other, or anyone. An angel's emotions are slick and cool, structured. They exist, but within certain constraints - constraints which can be broken. Falling is the easiest method, but Castiel knows all too well now that falling isn't necessary. The choice to feel is all that matters. Love is meant to be unconditional, pure, free of grudges and pain, but Castiel's love is all twisted up inside of him now, clear for that time, muddied by Michael.
He can't help but wonder if Michael feels the same.
Michael touched him. Castiel goes back to that moment, again and again.
Michael hunts him, and that is the Michael Castiel knew before.
Maybe Dean isn't lost. Just hidden, transmuted by a nearly endless memory.
Or that's all Castiel's wishful thinking. But Castiel has nothing more to risk, save his own life. He's cut off from the network, from Anna. He can no longer be used. Anna left him behind for that purpose, because Michael hunts him with a previously unknown thoroughness, that intensity formed into orders for every angel on earth. Castiel was a nuisance, then, a crack in the plan that spread and spread, the beginning irrelevant to the end.
An end Castiel has hastened, and now Castiel runs, like a coward, and Dean - Michael ...
Something Ceria said. If anyone could hold him to us, it would be you. Ceria pushed Dean at him, encouraged it. So did Balthazar, but for an entirely different reason. But they were both logical reasons, a battle that would have to be waged within Dean.
Castiel's hand falls to his side, to the dry and yellow grass he sits on. Ceria saw clearly when Castiel did not. Balthazar saw an opportunity to be pressed, and Ceria saw a weakness.
Castiel fled Michael. Perhaps that was a mistake.
He curls his grace inside himself, feeling the slow heal of his injuries, and breathes.
He wanders, again. Cities, towns, villages, and ultimately to places that lack any intelligent life, places full of quiet and the rest of God's creations, but not any humans. Not any angels. Just the ground and the sky meeting one another, nothing in between but birds and trees reaching high. These places are the safest, but they make the dull ache in Castiel hurt worse, that sense of loneliness Castiel had ignored for so long arising, the careful covering Castiel had constructed ripped away by a few weeks with Dean.
He kneels in the moss beneath a tree in a forest, somewhere, and thinks that he cannot survive this way any longer.
It would be better to be dead.
The thing about love, that Castiel has come to understand, is that is meaningless if not absolute. It is meaningless if not unconditional. He's watched human families fall apart and re-gather a hundred times, and those two things were always the key. He thinks this is where the family of angels fails. Love is conditional, linked to obedience. Love is ephemeral, and it began disappearing when God left.
Humans went and re-found love in each other, after God, but no one else did.
This is the last thing Castiel can give Dean. Dean gave, and taught, Castiel love. Castiel can do the same in return, with his dying breath. It's not about Dean or Michael deserving it, or Castiel, because to many eyes, neither deserves any such thing. The person Castiel fell in love with still exists in some form - the parts of Dean that were born in Dean are still there, just like Michael always lurked in Dean. Seeing only Michael was Castiel's fault, the afterimage of Michael burned into Castiel with trauma. Dean was always Michael, shades of before influencing the now, the person Dean Winchester was raised to be.
And so finally, he comes to understand: he saved Michael because it was Dean, because he loves him against all reason. As Gabriel did.
Castiel is nothing now, ready to be cast to the wind. If God intended the network, it will survive without him. There is only this last thing that Castiel can do - one last act before death.
Lights, like little beads in a line, a spot there, a steady interval of darkness, and light again, weirdly unnatural. City street lights sometimes still seem odd to Castiel, even though in the past thirty plus years he's felt like he's aged millennia. Human invention spread in circling patterns all over the world, even and regular the way nature almost but never quite manages.
Crack. The light above Castiel goes out, sparking, falling harmlessly to his shoulders. His grace is extended, easily visible, a light tower.
He approaches the next one, dark road beneath him, and the light flickers before it, too, fails.
There's a sudden presence behind him, with no whisper of sound.
"Cas," Michael says. Dean's name for him. "I think it's time you came home."
There's a hand on Castiel's shoulder, familiar, and Castiel turns to see Dean's calm, considering expression. A rare one, for Dean, usually hidden by jokes or a searing intentness, but it seems like one Michael wears easily, and even in Castiel's head Dean/Michael is nearly schizophrenic, illogical irrationality.
Michael spreads his wings, miles long and high, trailing through the human world unseen, and then they're gone, elsewhere.
Heaven is a set of jagged and misplaced sets of reality, a landscape of dreams and wishes and memory. Angels travel a level beneath this, moving as pure energy in a time and place which has no forward or backward, no left or right. They are wavelengths, a reverb from when God spoke and time began.
Michael places them both standing in a starkly colorful place, endless blue sky marked by a kite, grass springy beneath his feet.
Michael still stands at his shoulder, feet not leaving a mark on the fresh, green grass. Castiel's not looking into his eyes. "This is your favorite heaven, I understand."
"How do you know that?"
"I asked, Cas."
Dean lets his hand drop, casual, expression intently focused. "When I came back, I spoke to every angel that knew you. I investigated your entire life, since God spoke you into being."
Castiel is silent. His head hurts, his heart hurts, and he doesn't know what to do, decision made and all the decisions afterwards still in limbo.
"Why did you give yourself up?" Dean asks at last.
"To see you," Castiel says. He waits a long moment for Dean to respond, then adds, "When I first woke up on earth, after you, I considered just turning myself in, to be among my family again."
Dean looks away, a small line appearing between his brows. "You love your family."
"As I love you." He doesn't parse words.
Dean's gaze goes sharp, distrusting, and Castiel realizes with a flash that he thinks this is a manipulation. "If you don't join me, I will have to kill you, Cas. I can't afford to let you live and split heaven even more."
"Kill me, then," Castiel says. He expects nothing less, really. But at least he's gotten to see Dean again, some part of Dean, the part of Dean that he knew, and he'll probably never know the part that is Michael. He's had his chance to speak. "I'll still love you."
"You'll love me to your death," Michael answers, cold.
A slow sigh, and he meets Michael's gaze. "Do it, Dean," and he says the words with some relief.
Dean raises his hand, fingers poised to snap, and Castiel can feel Dean's grace in his body, feel the parts begin to slip apart, and it's already painful, and before it didn't last this long. He waits, blood dripping from his nose, and then Dean's hand falls.
"I killed Raphael." It's a blank statement, said with no emotion.
Dean's head lowers a bit, oddly familiar. "I was certain I wouldn't have to do the same with Gabriel, certain I could convince him to stay with me, keep our family together. That's why Gabriel left after Lucifer fell - our family shattered. It seemed only reasonable to bring him back, that once he was back we could enfold him again." His eyes focus on Castiel. "No, he's not dead. I don't like killing my family."
"You've killed dozens of us. Hundreds, maybe, if we're right and you catch some before they fall."
"And how many have you killed?"
Castiel closes his eyes briefly. "I don't have much of a moral high ground. I know that. But you have none."
Dean's hands clench and unclench, then he walks away, settles underneath a tree, into the shadow of spring. Castiel follows, curious, and sits next to him, wiping the blood on his face away.
Dean stares down into his clasped hands. "I went and spoke to John."
Too surprised to speak for a second, Castiel finally asks, "What did he say?"
Dean smiles faintly. "Yelled at me, at first. He knew what I was, then, who I really was, and he still yelled at me like I was his kid." The smile fades. "He told me he did the best he could, that he knew he failed us, but he tried to keep us safe. Sam is safe, isn't he?"
"Yes," Castiel says. "You asked me to keep him safe, and I did that, even from you."
"I suppose asking you where he is would be pointless," Dean says.
"I don't know where he is. So yes, you're correct," Castiel says frankly. Sam seemed like Dean, from the brief time that Castiel knew him. Intensely curious, conflicted and yet loving his family. This, after a while, he came to understand - why Dean brought John there, in front of Castiel. "I know why you killed him."
Dean looks at Castiel, hard wariness in his gaze.
"Why you killed John," Castiel explains. "Anger at an absent father. That drives you, always has. I heard it, when you awoke to yourself, when you spoke to me; John Winchester was an echo of our real father. You want to hate God for what He's done, don't you?"
Dean half-smiles, something dark in his eyes. "I don't like my motives being parsed like that."
"You aren't perfect."
Michael leaps to his feet, suddenly angry, knowing what Castiel is getting at. "They can't do it, Cas. They can't survive without orders, without absolute obedience in the structure we were given by God."
"We have," Castiel says, meaning the network he's no longer part of.
Dean glares at him. "It's not the same."
"We became adaptable," Castiel says. "We started out the same way, you know, the strongest with the most sway over how things are done. It's been slipping, though, this whole time. Ceria was an excellent agent, better than those stronger than her, and I helped Anna lead us for a long time, though I have considerably less power than her. And we managed it without killing each other." Unlike Michael and Raphael. "This didn't start with me, not really."
"No, I suppose not," Dean admits, anger fading. "It started with just the three of us, when our father left," Dean says. Gabriel left first, Raphael second. "And spread like cancer. Like sin."
"We aren't well-equipped to deal with freedom."
"So you admit it."
"I admit to being flawed, as we all are," Castiel says. "But I still think freedom to choose, and to still choose right, is the best thing we can do."
"You're still so fervent a believer, when the network itself has abandoned you?"
That stings, leaves Castiel breathless for a moment with loss. "For their safety, not for my stupidity."
Dean leans against the tree, still standing, Castiel still sitting, almost at his feet. "You weren't stupid," he says softly.
Is that comfort?
Dean looks down at him sadly. "I have to destroy you, Cas. I have to destroy the network, and I can do it. I have been doing it, hunting you down one by one. Your numbers will lessen and lessen, with Gabriel here in heaven, apart from you."
Castiel looks out, knowing that's true, hurting, and then knowing he didn't really come here to try to change that. He doesn't have that power, and he didn't expect to survive long, much less talk this much with Dean. "You told me once that you can always make a choice to change, and you were right."
"You think it's that easy?"
"I don't think it's easy. It wasn't easy when I made the choice to to be with you."
Dean kneels in the grass, frowning. "I can't let you free."
"Then let me stay here, with you."
"And have you here, always trying to convince me to stop what I'm doing, to stop myself from doing what's right?"
"I'm not so sure you believe that," Castiel says honestly. There are shades of hesitance in Dean's responses, something Castiel had not expected.
"I was so certain when I killed you. I think that's the last time I was." Dean pauses, still not looking Castiel in the eye. "How did you survive? Is what you told me true?"
"That I simply awoke in this body? Yes."
"You were dead. Utterly dead. Angels can't go back from non-existence, Cas."
"Why do you think so many take it as a sign of God's will?" Castiel shrugs, the action uncomfortable, fluttering his wings slightly, more attune to that part of him here, in this more malleable plane.
"Doubt and belief in that one act," Dean says.
"If it was God, you have to admit it was elegant."
Dean laughs. It's Dean's laugh; he doesn't know if anyone's heard Michael laugh. It fades after a few seconds. "I miss you," Dean whispers. "I miss Sam. And Dad."
Castiel surges forward, and kisses Dean, firm and certain and terrified, with his heart beating fast. Dean's breath hitches when he does it, but he doesn't return the kiss, just sits there. Castiel withdraws enough to say, "I have missed you so much."
"It doesn't change anything," Dean warns him, breathing close, and it's not quite love in his eyes.
"Dean." Castiel sighs. Every time he thinks he's getting somewhere, that Dean is looking at him and being honest, he withdraws again. "This isn't a manipulation. You're angry, I can see that. Angry and alone, actually, your brothers turned against you. You think I don't know how that feels?"
Dean presses his lips together, doesn't answer.
"You were right. It doesn't have to be this way. Be - be our family, not our ruler. Be Dean, be mine, not - not Michael the archangel."
"I am Michael the archangel. I told you before, I'm not Dean, some human ... thing."
"Dean isn't a thing. He's you, with a different set of circumstances."
Dean pushes him away. "What if I wanted you to love Michael?"
Castiel comes back, just as quickly, to Dean's side. "Do you remember what I said, about the fallen? How it changed them, but it made them more open? It made them - more, Dean, more of themselves, feeling more. I did fall in love with Michael, who loves his family and would do anything for them. That's you, Dean. Or Michael, or whatever else you want to be called."
"I don't believe you." He takes a step away, like Castiel's the frightening one, the dangerous one.
Castiel follows, can't help himself. "Please," Castiel whispers. Please what, he doesn't know.
Dean gasps out loud, face a bare inch from Castiel's, almost a kiss, breathing into Castiel's skin.
Then Dean pushes him, hard, and it all goes blank.
There's no sensation of waking; he's in one place, then here, legs crunched up uncomfortably, a curved roof close over his head. He sits up, testing his body, and realizes finally that he's in the backseat of a car. He looks around, sees that the car is parked before some kind of rural cabin, surrounded by a mismatched forest that seems like a collection of different trees, some distinct, others not.
This is the first thing that warns Castiel he's still in heaven. He's not in a heaven, though - it's not the absence of any soul that tells him that, but when he tries to spread his wings, dip into the current of the host, he finds that he cannot. After a moment of consideration, he's not terribly surprised by this - of course Dean would make it so he could not leave. Dean must have constructed this place somehow, to hold him. He wonders if Gabriel is in some place like this.
He goes to the door, opens it, and climbs out. He casts a closer look at the car, and realizes it's older, a black sedan from the late sixties or seventies. It looks well taken care of, not rusty or dirty, though the cabin opposite him is in worse shape, roof tilted in a way it probably shouldn't be.
He breathes in the fresh air for several seconds, noting the twilight time of day, then begins to walk around, see where the boundaries are.
A few miles into the forest, he finds himself turning around even though he's walking straight, the reality of this place adjusted slightly to curve inward, not a distinct end. Castiel lets himself be turned around, finds himself back to the cabin and the car.
He wonders what this place is based on. A memory of Dean's? That would seem most reasonable. He goes to the car and looks in the trunk. The trunk, beneath a false bottom, is full of guns, salt, and dozens of other items useful for a hunter, wooden stakes and silver, a dream catcher and even a couple books, tucked into a corner.
The driver's seat is next, and this confirms it for Castiel that this place is a memory of Dean's. He finds a tin container in the glove compartment, nestled in tapes with handwritten titles, and opening it finds various fake ID's, some with Dean's face, some with John's. Most are law enforcement, a few others are more eclectic, medical, forestry.
Castiel replaces them carefully, searches the rest of the front seat and finds a small gun hidden beneath the seat, which he also replaces.
He shuts the door with a clunk, and heads for the cabin, heading up uneven stairs. The door opens with a squeal, no lock, and he enters to find a small kitchen, a dilapidated couch, and two beds. There's three duffle bags, two on one bed and the other duffle on the second, and a plastic bag full of groceries on the kitchen counter. He inspects that first, finding mostly canned and preserved goods.
The duffel bags are stuffed full of clothes, as Castiel expected, but there are also books in one, Vonnegut and Catcher in the Rye, listed as belonging to a library in Illinois.
He also finds photos, an image of John with a young blond woman, a toddler and a baby. John, Mary, Dean and Sammy.
Castiel exhales, there's a sense of someone else, making Castiel start, and he says, "Dean?"
He waits several minutes, but nothing happens. He moves over to the next duffel, finds more clothes, guns, and a leather journal.
He opens to the first page. It starts, I buried my wife today. It goes on to detail the days and weeks after her death, pen strokes marking the paper deeply at I went to Missouri and learned the truth. The rest of the journal is scribbled text about anything from shifters, to werewolves, to pagan gods. Demons take up entire pages, mostly theory and research, random notes in the margins that Castiel doesn't understand, that probably only ever made sense to John Winchester. The journal, dated, covers everything from when Dean was four to when he was twenty, showing a life along highways, always searching for the next hunt, for the next information on what killed Mary. It stops about a year before Castiel met Dean.
That must be where this memory is from, when Dean and his family visited this place.
Castiel runs his fingers over the worn leather, then puts the journal down.
He said no, and Dean didn't kill him. Instead, Dean placed him here, in something from his human life, a window into the years before Castiel met him, the years after Michael fell.
He wonders what Dean wants him to see.
After a few hours of stillness, of waiting, of wondering how long, exactly, Dean will leave him here, he places one of the duffels on the other bed and lays down, staring at the log ceiling, noting the hastily scratched 'Sam + Dean' in a corner, like they were hiding it.
Time passes, Castiel still and silent, and then he abruptly becomes aware of another presence, sitting up in surprise.
Dean's there on the other bed, sitting with his elbows on his knees, staring at the floor. "Don't speak," Dean warns without looking up.
Castiel shuts his mouth.
After a few seconds, Dean's gaze shifts from the floor, meandering around the cabin, never quite looking Castiel in the face. Then he stands up, getting close to Castiel, and Castiel opens his legs, letting Dean step in between them, staring down, meeting Castiel's eyes now. There's a depth of sadness in Dean's eyes that Castiel has never seen, an age and weight behind it that Dean didn't have, even after his mother's death and the ensuing life as a hunter. Michael is Dean, but more.
Dean touches him, fingertips tracing the side of Castiel's face. Castiel turns his head, Dean's fingers trailing over his mouth, and Dean's breathing stops entirely for a moment.
Lowering a hand to Castiel's shoulder, Dean pushes him backwards on the bed, curving over him, holding himself up with hands on either side of Castiel's body.
"Are you frightened of me?"
"A little," Castiel says honestly. "Mostly in the broad sense," he adds.
Dean mouth quirks into a small smile. Then he leans over Castiel, and Castiel can feel the warmth of Dean's breath before Dean kisses him, close-mouthed and slow, and he finds himself following Dean when he withdraws.
Castiel brings his hand around the back of Dean's neck, pulls Dean to him, and they kiss again, and then Dean's groaning, pushing into it, pushing into Castiel's mouth, body falling to be pressed against Castiel's, covering him. A hand smoothes over Castiel's hipbone, fingers running along his skin and pushing up his shirt.
Castiel brings his hands up Dean's sides, to lay flat on his back, and very faintly he can feel the presence of Dean's grace extending outwards, creating his wings; they're not quite visible, not quite corporeal, but Castiel can almost touch them, and then suddenly they flare out, Dean breaking the kiss as his wings appear, white and glowing, form without shadow.
Castiel's grace presses against his human skin, reaching out, and then Dean pushes him away. Castiel pants, lips wet, and stares at him, waiting and wanting.
Muscles moving smoothly beneath skin, Dean pulls off his shirt, a strangely physical thing, and the shirt passes right through his wings, and his pants disappear with similar quickness. Dean pushes Castiel back on the bed, hands smoothing over his body, clothing there one second, bare to his touch the next, Dean's grace a warmth in his fingertips, power almost crackling in the air. Dean slides his entire body against Castiel's, cock against Castiel's cock, a smooth thrust against Castiel's body, human and physical.
Castiel's already hard, arousal and intimacy, like when Dean touched his wings, but it's more powerful now, because Dean has grace that can reach back, sink beneath skin, to the self beneath.
Dean kisses him hard, forceful, tongue sliding into Castiel's mouth, withdrawing to bite his lip, and Castiel's mouth glides over Dean's cheek when Dean starts and gasps, responding to Castiel's thrust of his hips into Dean's body. Just like that, they're rubbing against each other, and Castiel's aroused beyond words, keeps gasping, making little sounds he can't repress, and Dean's almost silent, all his communication in his body.
Hands moving over Castiel's sides, then his stomach, making Castiel twitch, then Dean moves both hands along Castiel's thighs, before lifting them, entering Castiel in one smooth thrust, and it should hurt, but it doesn't.
Dean growls, green eyes fierce, thrusts again, dragging over that spot inside, and Castiel's meeting his thrusts, his own hands wandering over Dean's body, slick with sweat now, and Castiel's knows he's the same, and he easily loses his grip on Dean, fingers grasping. Dean's hold is secure, holding Castiel open for him, and he moves and moves and Castiel surrenders to it completely, head falling back and eyes falling shut.
There's a feathery light touch over Castiel's body, and his eyes snap open, to see Dean's wings enfolding them, twitching and moving as Dean does, and Castiel brings out his own wings, translucent and flared open, open like Castiel is, and Castiel wishes Dean sees it, how much he loves him.
"I do," Dean says, eyes glazed with pleasure, focused only on Castiel, all that Dean can bring to bear. Then Dean says, "Say my name."
Castiel gasps, and says, "Michael."
Dean whimpers, small and faint, and leans in, "Say my name," he says again.
"Dean," Castiel answers, breathless.
Dean sighs, shakily, then comes inside of him, eyes rolling back and then closing, a chain reaction beginning in his physical body, moving to his grace, which extends beyond his physical self, touching Castiel everywhere, overpowering and intense like lightning falling across Castiel's skin. Castiel feels the pleasure rise deep in his stomach, then spread throughout his body, cock jerking as semen splatters, and is utterly, completely overwhelmed by the sensation.
Reality drifts back in, hazy, Dean lying beside him, Castiel lying on Dean's curled up wing, flight feathers along Castiel's back. The other's folded to Dean's side, not fitting on the bed, endlessly long, half there, half not. Castiel's hand lies on Dean's chest, over his heart, and after a few seconds Dean looks away from wherever he was focused, and turns to Castiel, hand stroking back and forth on a small spot along Castiel's back.
"I think I'm more frightened of you than you are of me," Dean whispers.
Castiel considers that, feeling confused. "Why?"
"You make me remember, and twenty-two years should count for nothing among the millions I've lived. Those weeks with you should count for nothing, but they do." Dean sighs, placing one hand over Castiel's. "This isn't the kind of love angels are meant to feel."
"Are you sure of that?"
Dean sits up, and Castiel follows the movement, Dean's wings slipping away from him, making Castiel feel loss, almost reaching forward for him.
Then Dean's grace flares, bright and powerful like the sun, and Castiel is flung away, out of heaven, shifting through dimensions half-conscious, the last thing he sees being Michael's face, his true face, staring down at him, and then there's pain, and nothing.
There's dried grass and brush waving over Castiel's head, bits of blue intersecting with gold. The ends of the grass are sticking into his back uncomfortably, from where his sweater's risen up. He sits up, grass rustling as he stumbles to his feet. He brushes bits of grass and dirt off his sweater, then looks around. There's nothing, no sign of civilization, just that same dried grass until the horizon in all directions. It reminds him of the first time he woke up on earth, in this body.
Dean isn't here.
Castiel takes a deep breath, and doesn't stop until they come out evenly.
He starts walking, wings tucked behind him and still. There's a strange ache in them, from when Dean cast him out of heaven so violently, and he doesn't quite trust them enough to attempt to fly. And it's not like he's needed urgently anywhere, and he's in no more danger than he was before. Dean knows where he is, and Dean left his own blade with Castiel, Michael's blade, still with Castiel and shifted just out of this plane. He squints, looking up at the sky. Dean placed him here, in a specific spot, and he wonders why. He wants to know why, so he keeps walking and looking.
He finds a house, after a while, worn down, the inside of it completely empty. He's exhausted and confused, and his wings are still hurting. He settles on the floor, and almost misses it: that faint trace of grace, familiar.
Anna. He runs his hands over the wood floor, boards uneven and grain smoothed out by time and use.
She was here, and recently. A week, perhaps, or a few days, Castiel's not entirely certain. The trace could be dependent on how long or brief a time she stayed here. But it tells Castiel one thing - Anna lives. Dean spoke of hunting down the network, finding them, but Anna's still alive.
He doesn't know if this place, Dean putting him here, is a sign of comfort, trying to tell Castiel that Anna's still alive, or a sign of warning, saying he's on her trail.
By now it's begun to get dark, and so Castiel curls up in the middle of the floor, head resting on his hands, and waits the night out, finally falling asleep when the sun begins to rise.
More weeks pass. He's walking down a busy street in a Midwestern city - just doing something that other people are doing provides some distant connection - when he sees Muriel. He freezes, but all she does is cast a glance his way and then disappear. Castiel waits several minutes, standing still, but she doesn't return, and no other angels appear.
Dean must have given orders to leave him alone. Castiel's not sure what to think about that. Dean's intentions are a bit of a mystery at this point.
Nevertheless, he keeps moving.
This place was an old haunt of Castiel's and Anna's, a location they used to meet regularly before the network grew to a large size and became more of a threat to heaven.
It's an old house in the outskirts of a small town, an account set up to pay property taxes and other necessities, but otherwise it's been largely abandoned. The wooden furniture has survived, but the couches and beds are sunken in and unusable - not that Castiel would be eager to use them anyway. He sits at the kitchen table, staring thoughtfully at the empty and open cabinets, and goes through what he knows in his head. He thinks about the network and Anna's plan to wait a year before contacting any others. When he gave the message to scatter, the command was undefined, the length unstated. He suspects some will try to contact Anna much sooner, and others will drift for years before allowing themselves to be seen.
It will take so long for them to recover, to come to any semblance of what they once were.
But Dean remains still. The natural disasters have largely stopped, what little that was arising. Castiel isn't sure what this suggests, but chooses to take it as a good sign. He worries, nevertheless, about Anna and the network, Ceria and Sam. He reminds himself, again, that's he's done all he can, but the tightness in his chest doesn't fade.
He was in a large city again, then it started raining, so on a whim he came here, a way of remembering. This place, so distinct in his memory, is a concrete reminder of the way things were, when he was not alone.
He goes through the lists in his head, the ones he'd looked over with Dean, trying to find the spy. He wonders if there are others, even though Anna said she thought there were none. Balthazar was certainly in deep cover for a long time. If there are other spies, the command to scatter has rendered them useless. If there are any left who worked for Raphael, their leader is lost.
There's a thousand ways this could go, the network shifting and changing, Dean adapting.
He puts his hands flat on the table, and misses Dean intensely, in a myriad of ways. He looks out the window, sees nothing but darkness, maybe a faint street light, far away.
There's a shift of sound, and Castiel shoots to his feet, chair falling over as he turns.
Dean's there, arms wrapped around himself and shoulders slightly hunched, smiling sadly. "Hey, Cas."
Castiel steps forward, hesitantly, closer to Dean, and Dean's eyes flick up and down, watchful, the smile easing into something more real. "Dean." Another step, and he's fully into Dean's space. "You've been keeping tabs on me," Castiel says.
"It wasn't to find the network," Dean says hastily.
Castiel raises an eyebrow. "I didn't think it was. I would never lead you to them."
"One of the things I love about you, Cas, how straightforward you are."
A surge of affection works through Castiel. But all he says is, "What are you doing here?"
"I always thought," Dean begins, careful and intently staring, "that free will was an impossibility for angels, that any choice we could make would lead us down the wrong path, like it did Lucifer. I didn't think you would be able to do what you've done, the existence of the network - I told you, and I believed it then, that my power makes me right, that God made me the most powerful made the leader, the one in control. But it doesn't seem like that's the way it is, anymore. I don't understand my place, or yours."
Dean pauses, and Castiel says, "Dean, I -"
The smile on Dean's face turns kind of tremulous, uncertain. "I'm trying to give a meaningful speech, here, if you don't mind. I planned it out and everything."
Castiel unwillingly smiles, surprised. "My apologies, go ahead."
"You saved me," Dean says slowly. "Even knowing who I was, that I murdered you and I would kill the network, you saved me and doomed yourself. That proved it to me, that you once loved me, some of part of me, at least. You came back to me, knowing - thinking - I would kill you, and you still - you still love me, don't you?" Dean doesn't wait for an answer, looking away. "You are right, Cas. I think you always were, since when you told me that the others should know about our father, and that's why He saved you."
There's a pain in Castiel's chest, and he places his hand over it, and thinks it might be hope.
"I guess ... He didn't just save you, He saved me, too."
"What do you mean?" Castiel asks, honestly puzzled.
"You're worth it. Changing, I mean, or being what I once was as Dean, I don't know." Gaze up, firm. "It'll take some time, but ... I have a plan, to work things out between us." Dean pauses, then adds wryly at Castiel's confusion, "Heaven and the network, and you and me."
"I haven't liked your plans before." That little bit of wariness still remains, mixed with hope, a painful combination resulting in uncertainty. Daring, hoping, but Castiel doesn't want to be deceived again, by Dean or himself.
Dean gives that little grin that says he's got one up on Castiel, but there's little confidence behind it. He looks down, breathing deeply, oddly nervous, and says, "Can I come home?"
There's really only one way Castiel can answer, hope and fear aside. "Yes. Yes," Castiel says, takes Dean's face into his hands, and kisses him, and Dean groans into it, and their bodies almost meet.
Dean whispers, breaths intermingled, "I'm making a choice."
Castiel chokes on a sob, eyes blinking open wetly. Dean isn't just Dean anymore, of course. He's more than that, more than a single lifetime. But Castiel thinks he can learn to love it all. They're the same, in some ways, and always have been, Michael and Dean standing here before him, offering the world.
"I know what you gave me," Dean says, green eyes searching Castiel's. Love without condition, without hope of return. "You gave me everything you had, and I want - I want to do that for you."
Castiel can't speak, just nods.
Dean kisses him lightly, withdraws after a second, waiting.
"What about - what about heaven?" Castiel thinks to ask. Dean, Michael and the network are all tied up in each other, Dean and Castiel never alone, their relationship bound up in their relationships with others.
Dean sighs, faintly, and says, "I've given orders. Some are ... skeptical, to say the least, but you and the network, Castiel? You're safe. I let Gabriel go, and, well, things are ... a bit chaotic."
So Dean's given up control by issuing orders to that end? It sounds like a contradiction, but considering Balthazar's easy dismissal of any evidence to the contrary, it is hard for angels to choose anything on their own. "There must be still angels who believe in an archangel leading them, who will not do otherwise. Who would fight to serve you."
"I wouldn't want you to bored," Dean says.
"That's you, not me."
Dean laughs, fading after a few seconds. "I want you to understand - that I'm trying." He pauses. "I sent John back."
Castiel opens his mouth to speak, to say again he doesn't know where Sam is, but Dean raises a hand. "He wasn't meant to die, not then. I expect he'll find Sam, eventually, without either of us helping. He's insanely determined that way, and I wouldn't put anything past John Winchester. I wanted to give them something, after I destroyed their family. My family," Dean adds after a second. "I want to make amends, to everyone, at least in the ways I can."
"I understand," Castiel says softly.
Dean continues, as if Castiel hadn't spoken, "I took them there in front of you to prove it - to prove it to you, but also to myself. I stomped down on Dean so hard, and I had to destroy him. I had to destroy me, because that's the only way things could go. I was always trapped, Castiel. I couldn't see my way out of things - free will is always the key, and I didn't learn it the way you did. It took being human to do that."
Castiel closes his eyes for a second. "Yes. Many are that way, I think. I was forced by circumstances, but most others are not."
"Forced by me," Dean says. He stares at Castiel a moment longer, then nods to himself. "I swear to you this is the truth. This isn't a trick."
"I want to believe you," Castiel admits. He can believe Dean on his own behalf; he doesn't fear what Dean could do to him, though he thinks in truth Dean wouldn't hurt him. The rest, he is less certain.
Dean absorbs this with a slow nod, no anger. "I want to show you something."
He takes Castiel's hand, leading through the kitchen to the door leading to the back of the house. A huge tree covers the sky, bare limbs a mess of black lines over a black sky, and Dean's hand is warm and holding Castiel tight. He takes them out into the field behind the house, far past the tree, strands of grass waving and brushing along their joined hands.
Dean looks up, and Castiel follows, eyes cast out to the darkness.
Spread across the curve of the night sky, there are dozens, then hundreds of them: points of radiance moving fast, the hearts of angels wrapped in bright, seizing light - falling.
Falling, Dean's hand tight in his own, and Castiel can't breathe for a second. He looks at Dean, speechless, and hopes Dean can see it in his eyes.
"I love you," Dean says.