If asked, although he expects no one ever will, Uriel would say it began in the home of a human named Lot.

What he recalls most about the mission is that it seemed so ordinary. Their Father sent his children out to judge the humans much more often in those days, far more often than the humans would manage to record. Uriel understands why these were always his missions; he has certain...skills that make him well suited to the task. A specialist, some would say.

He's mystified why Castiel was so often sent with him, although Uriel never objected. Castiel always grumbled about the missions in a way that felt vaguely rebellious, and it pleased Uriel to see his normally staid brother so uncharacteristically ruffled. Castiel's fascination with humans started early and even then he'd been talented at making allowances for the humans; for every vice Uriel pointed out Castiel could find a virtue, some reason for Uriel to not turn the streets where they stood to so much blasted glass. Looking back, Uriel suspects that was why Castiel was the one chosen to accompany him when so many of their more ruthless brothers would have actually enjoyed the task, that Castiel tempered him, turning him into a much sharper weapon against the truly deserving.

Castiel has his work cut out for him that mission. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are spectacularly corrupt, almost begging to be excised from the planet like twin cancers. Even Castiel has difficulty making excuses for the depravity choking the air.

Later Uriel will wish he'd thought to investigate the tinge of sulfur infecting the place further. They're holed up in the home of Lot, a human favored by their father – it's the first time Uriel's felt truly clean the entire mission – when they hear the commotion outside. Lot rises from the table to see what's happening, his tight expression telling Uriel he knows the noise can mean nothing good. The stench of sulfur is so strong when Lot opens the door Uriel recoils; he can only catch snatches the ensuing conversation but the words "We would know them," come through all too clear.

The disgusting implication escapes no one. They hear Lot offer the crowd the unmarried girls (Castiel's eyes narrow at that, although according to the area's customs of hospitality it is the correct choice) but the crowd isn't appeased. They want to see the angels.

Uriel rises from his chair and sees Castiel do the same. He approaches the door and takes a step back in surprise; he's never seen so many demons massed in one place. Even the humans who aren't possessed carry a taint, their eyes wide and bloodshot as they slaver at the edges of a frenzy. Uriel sees Lust skulking around the edges of the crowd, its touch overwhelming the humans beyond the reach of any reason, human or divine. The old Sin sees Uriel and smiles.

The crowd surges toward the door as one. The true battle isn't as sanitized or quick as the one described in the human's Bible; Castiel barely gets Lot out of the way in time and stations himself between the mob and the humans, Uriel standing as the front line. The choke point is all that saves them in those first seconds; the demons must come at them in small groups instead of an overrunning mass. Uriel almost begins to enjoy himself. He was createdto destroy, and whether his target is cities or demons matters little to him.

Even so two get past him. He sees Castiel brace himself and snap at the humans to keep back; he slays the first demon easily but the other dodges the strike, slips past his guard and grabs his arm. Castiel hisses in disgust when the creature touches him.

Uriel feels his borrowed heart race. Later he'll come to recognize that feeling as adrenaline; all he knows in the moment is that thing has no right to lay its hands on Castiel. He drags the creature back by its hair and in that instant he sees every thought in its head, every filthy thing it wants to do to his brother. He hurls the demon through the wall and turns to Castiel. "We are endingthis." He doesn't know what's wrong with his vessel. He can't catch his breath.

Castiel nods; there's no argument to make at this point. They fight their way to the door and Uriel sees Lust leave just before they slip their vessels. The howls of agony as the eyes of the crowd boil out of their sockets are the most beautiful things Uriel's ever heard.

For once Castiel doesn't argue when Uriel passes judgment. He busies himself getting Lot and his family clear (Uriel would prefer to kill everyone, but their Father is protective of his prophets) while Uriel gets to work. He's destroyed cities before but this is the first time he's actually taken this kind of pleasure in calling down the rain of fire. He conducts the destruction like the artist he is, each scream of terror a note of music no other being will ever hear. And if he feels the edges of his Grace curdle at taking joy in so much death, all he has to do is remember the repulsion in Castiel's eyes when the demon touched his vessel's bare skin.

He doesn't stop until the whole area is sand and glass. Later Castiel will survey the damage, giving Uriel that knowing look of his. Uriel doesn't know why he feels helpless before it. He never has before. "I was never in any danger, Uriel."

Uriel doesn't have an answer for him. He makes a joke instead – that and destruction are the two talents his Father gave him – and is rewarded by one of Castiel's rare smiles. "Come, Castiel," he says, tabling the whole discussion. "Let's leave this place. We've been away from home too long."

888

The plan was never for Castiel to go pull out the Righteous Man alone. A squad was to go into Hell with him, the whole garrison if possible, but the siege has been harder fighting than anyone could have anticipated. The only breach they've managed to open after forty years is barely large enough for one and it's closing quickly; Uriel grabs Castiel's arm, stopping him just at the edge. "Don't. Wait a while longer, we'll open up something better..."

Castiel just shakes his head, the quiver of his wings betraying his anticipation. "I've waited long enough." He slips out of Uriel's grasp and leaps through the breach without a backward glance, clearing it just as the portal closes. Even though there isn't time for Uriel to follow he feels like a coward for not trying.

No one believes they will ever see Castiel again. An angel has never passed through the borders of Hell and certainly none have ever returned; Uriel hears his brothers and sisters leave to observe the mourning and make new plans.

He can't bring himself to go with them. Uriel stares at the empty space in reality, willing it to reopen and reveal Castiel safe and sound. He finds himself listening for a scream but the very walls of Hell are made of screams. He doesn't even know what he would do if he did hear Castiel scream, heard him begging for help that was never going to come. He knows he should pray but he can't make himself believe their Father is listening. He's not even sure he remembers how.

When he finally tries, he means to begin with the word "Father" but the word that comes out is Brother.

Uriel pauses, waiting for his Father's condemnation. Even alluding to Lucifer has been forbidden since his imprisonment, let alone directly addressing him, but the skies don't open and no lightning erupts to strike him down. In that moment Uriel knows to the very core of his being that their Father has abandoned them.

The realization is oddly freeing. For the first time in far too long Uriel allows himself to remember the splendor of the Daystar, his beauty and power. "Brother," he says again, feeling the first kindling of impossible hope. "Brother, one of us is lost in your realm. Hold back your children. Show him your mercy and allow him to escape with his burden." Uriel's words falter. He's never been very good at this. "Please."

Uriel settles in to wait, knowing the vigil might last for all eternity if it proves futile. He can't bear the thought of Castiel fighting his way past all that horror only to find no one waiting. He knows Castiel would wait for him if the situation were reversed.

When he finally hears that soft flutter of wings Uriel thinks that perhaps he's gone mad. It takes another few moments for Castiel to finally break through the dimensional barriers, his wings singed and smoldering from hellfire. His entire being lights up with relief when he sees Uriel standing there and manages to take a step forward before exhaustion overcomes him.

Uriel rushes forward to catch him before he can fall. "I did it," he says, pride making his Grace glow so bright Uriel almost has to avert his eyes.

"Yes, you're certainly the picture of triumph."

Castiel actually smiles at that. "I thought no one would be here," he murmurs, clinging to Uriel in a rather pitiful attempt to stand. "Took so long."

"It would take much longer than this for me to abandon my brother." Castiel's wings twitch and he whimpers as ash falls from the seared feathers. "Look at what you managed to do to yourself. Did the Pit make you so clumsy you flew into every fire you found?"

"There are quite a lot of them." He gives up bothering trying to stand on his own and lets Uriel hold him up. "I'm to go Earth, to guide the Righteous Man."

Uriel hadn't known Earth was being opened back up to them. No one's been allowed on Earth in two thousand years – well, aside from whatever-that-was Anna pulled a few decades back. "It's been a very long time."

"Do you think you'll be sent with me? Like the old days?"

Uriel hasn't received any orders to that effect, but it doesn't matter. "Of course I will be." He starts guiding Castiel further back into the safety of Heaven. They're still too close to the sound of screams. Castiel won't remember this conversation later, and in fact Uriel will be amused to see him frown in frustration when he finds out Uriel's to accompany him. Uriel won't care. He'll remember that he was the one Castiel asked for in his pain.

Uriel will always wonder if he imagined that tug on his Grace just before they crossed the threshold to Heaven. He glances back behind him, down into the swirling energies of Hell, and nods. Miracles always have a cost.

It's one he pays gladly.

888

"I thought Dean performed rather well."

Uriel just gives Castiel a very hard look. His brother looks rather pleased with himself as well, his lips curled up and his wings held loose around him. "We lost the Seal."

"There was no saving the Seal, you know that. Samhain was defeated, that was the important part of the test."

Uriel doesn't point out that if he had just been allowed destroy the town they could have saved the Seal with a minimum of fuss. "He's still too combative. I thought you'd made it clear to him how precarious a position he's in."

Castiel shakes his head. "Yes, I tried your suggestion. It didn't work." He lets out a soft sigh. "Force isn't the way to handle Dean. He just pushes back harder. I've decided to...I think the phrase is to try the carrot instead of the stick." That sounds like far too much work to Uriel but Castiel's wings are set back in that way he has when he's made up his mind. "What is it, Uriel? You've been on edge the whole mission. It's not like you."

"You allow him too many liberties."

Castiel turns to him. "How so?"

Uriel grinds his teeth. It's a habit he never had before meeting Dean Winchester. "I don't like the way you allow him to speak to you." Specifically he doesn't like the hash Castiel lets Dean to make of his name; names are unique reflections of an angel's Grace and the way Dean shortens Castiel's takes the music out of it, makes it harsh and meaningless. Uriel's never been all that pleased when their own siblings get familiar about names and he certainly doesn't like when it comes from a human.

Not that he explains any of that. And if anything, Castiel seems amused by his objection. "Requesting formality from Dean Winchester would be an exercise in futility."

"He should show you respect. He should fear your wrath so much it wouldn't occur to him to take liberties."

Castiel is quiet for a long time. "I don't want Dean to fear me."

Uriel realizes the ground has shifted beneath them when he wasn't looking. He doesn't know how to make it stop.

There are times when Uriel almost believes he can convince Castiel of the rightness of his plan. Every sibling he sways to his side builds that hope higher; sometimes he can almost picture it, him making his argument and Castiel agreeing to stand by his side.

He can almost picture it. Not all of his siblings see the wisdom of joining Lucifer and to Uriel's frustration they always seem to be those he would mostwant to stand beside him. The most loyal ones, the bravest of the garrison's soldiers. The ones who have been able to hold on to their faith.

The ones most like Castiel.

It's easier each time. He's learned to kill quickly, with mercy, how to cover his tracks so the murders appear to be the work of demons. He keeps it a secret how many of the brothers they're losing in the field are actually dead by his hands.

He tells himself it will be different with Castiel. And when his capacity for self-delusion fails him he tells himself that the death will be quick and painless, that he will hold Castiel as he dies and somehow that will make it all right.

There are dark moments when doubt creeps in. When he imagines Castiel looking at him with betrayal in his eyes, the way so many of his other siblings have. Imagines hearing him scream as his Grace explodes from his vessel. They always scream.

This began in the first place because he wanted to saveCastiel. He doesn't know when it all moved beyond his control.

He can make Castiel understand. It just has to be done the right way, the two of them alone at a time Uriel's choosing. He just has to be patient and careful until then. He can make Castiel understand, convince him to make the right choice.

He has to.

888

"Uriel! Just who I was hoping to see!"

Uriel feels Zachariah's voice sink into his Grace like a swarm of poisonous insects. He turns slowly, wondering if his treachery has finally been discovered and hopes the flash of panic doesn't show. He knows it must be serious if Zachariah's on Earth; he's never known an angel who resented having to take a vessel more. His current one makes him look like an unscrupulous salesman and Uriel doesn't think he's ever seen a vessel suit its wearer better.

Zachariah doesn't even give him the chance to respond. "I'm hearing some very disturbing rumors about your boy."

Uriel's so stunned he's not being smited into oblivion that it takes him a moment to grasp Zachariah's words. "My boy?"

"Well," Zachariah says, leaning forward with a conspiratorial stage whisper, "word is going around upstairs that Castiel is getting awfully chummy with the Righteous Man."

He still can't quite believe what he's hearing. "This is about Castiel."

"Some of the higher ups are starting to have questions about his...priorities, shall we say."

The very idea that the authorities of Heaven would send Zachariah to consult Uriel about someone else's treachery is so absurd he can't help laughing. "You can't honestly be saying anyone suspects Castiel of plotting rebellion."

"Now I didn't say any of this came from me, just that it's what's going around. There's been serious talk about recalling him from the field." Zachariah smiles. "That he might need some persuasion to realign his loyalties."

Uriel isn't laughing any more. It's so bald-faced a threat Uriel can't believe he's heard correctly. "Is that so?" He takes a long, appraising look at Zachariah; brothers though they may be, the two of them have never cared for each other. It's always puzzled Uriel in a way because the two of them are very much of a kind, both created to do the dirty work their purer siblings would recoil from. He's wondered if the conflict comes from their different approaches, how Uriel prefers to solve his problems with overwhelming force while Zachariah is as crafty and slippery as any demon (although Uriel suspects his brother would be shocked at how skilled Uriel has become at that in a very short time.) Perhaps being in each other's presence merely reminds them of unpleasant truths. Whatever the reason, Uriel remembers how hard he'd laughed when he'd first learned the meaning of the word 'toady,' impressed that somehow the humans had found a way to entirely sum up Zachariah in two syllables. "So who is spreading these...unsettling rumors about our brother?"

"Now, you know that's not how it works." Zachariah is always so pleased with himself.

The smiles fades as Uriel steps toward him. Uriel is quite fond of his current vessel; it's solid and imposing, the way he prefers them to be. He's learned how to make humans give him room with just a look and he uses that look on Zachariah now, unfurling his wings to add to his mass. He even lets slip a glimpse of his true form, just enough to remind Zachariah that he's standing before the slayer of Egypt's firstborns. He's rarely ever needed to do more to make his point.

He certainly doesn't now. "Now, now, I'm not saying any decision's been made," he says, backpedaling so quickly Uriel's astonished he doesn't trip and fall. "I was concerned. This all sounded so out of character for Castiel that I thought I should come and check with you."

"Perhaps your energy would be better put toward finding out the source of these poisonous lies."

The smile is back. It's difficult to keep Zachariah off balance for long. "Of course. I'll get right to that," he says, his tone saying making it clear he'll do no such thing. "Just make sure Castiel knows we're worried about him." Uriel flares out his wings and Zachariah disappears.

Uriel wonders if he should have drawn his sword while he had the chance.

888

When he sees horror flood Castiel's eyes Uriel knows Zachariah's won anyway. "But why?"

Uriel can only sigh. "The word 'priorities' came up."

"I've done nothing wrong." The words come out in a snarl.

"Of course you haven't." Uriel regrets ever bringing this up. "But you know as well as I do you don't need to have done anything. You have to be more careful."

Castiel shakes his head. "I don't understand. I've never given anyone reason to doubt my loyalty."

The poorly concealed panic twists Uriel's Grace into knots. Castiel's always feared shame and failure far more than the threat of pain; it's what made him the perfect choice to go into Hell in the first place. "Zachariah's a sycophantic little worm who lives to cause trouble. Unfortunately it seems to be your turn."

"You shouldn't say such things," Castiel says, looking around as if Zachariah is lurking there eavesdropping. Uriel is amused that he doesn't try to refute any of that. "Zachariah is powerful. He has Michael's ear." He rakes one hand through his hair, standing it even more on end. "You should distance yourself from me."

"I don't believe you just said that."

"I mean it. There's no need for both of us to be targets."

The idea that Uriel would abandon him is so absurd he doesn't see the need to point it out. "As I said, you just need to be more careful." Castiel nods, his hands tight fists at his side. His vessel reminds Uriel rather strongly of the one he wore that mission in Sodom, another young man with striking eyes. Castiel's vessels tend toward ones that make him seem ordinary, easy to underestimate, ones that make his strength deceptive. Uriel's always found that rather fitting.

He imagines those eyes filled with pain. Castiel may fear the idea of Persuasion more than the reality but Uriel knows that's because he's never witnessedone. They've been through hundreds of battles together and Uriel can't recall ever hearing Castiel scream. Zachariah would change that. Zachariah has a passion for making his brothers scream.

The anxious lines around Castiel's eyes trigger a memory for Uriel, one not strictly his own; his vessel was married once, a woman who died young of illness, and when her mind was troubled her eyes would narrow in just the same way. Uriel allows the memory to float to the surface, how his vessel would kiss her temple in a way that made those lines disappear and her eyes light up like stars.

He wonders what Castiel would do if he brushed his lips against his temple now. If the furrow in his brow would ease and his eyes would shine the way the woman's do in his memory. Wonders what he would do if Uriel backed him against the wall and kissed him the way he's seen humans kiss over the centuries, if he would let Uriel make himself a wall between Castiel and all who would do him harm. If his lips would move under Uriel's, if he would listen as Uriel confesses his sins and begs absolution.

The moment passes. Uriel's gone his whole existence believing he was immune to fear. It's humbling to know it's not true.

So he retreats to the familiar and tells a story, one he first heard at a Macedonian army camp and made bawdier by the translation into Enochian. He can tell Castiel's only half listening, his eyes still narrowed and his wings held high and tight over his back, and Uriel sees the punch line catch him by surprise. His Grace glows as laughter rolls through him and Uriel can't tear his gaze away. Castiel is beautiful when he laughs. It's all the more precious because he does it so rarely.

Uriel takes advantage of the moment and puts one hand on his shoulder. "Let me worry about Zachariah. I can handle him, you have your hands full dealing with the Winchester brats. I believe the humans have a phrase about herding cats that's appropriate."

Castiel lets out a long breath. "Thank you, Uriel," he says, still chuckling to himself, his wings loose around him. He sighs again. "I should go."

Uriel nods and Castiel disappears in a flutter of wings. He stands there for a long time staring at the empty space, his hands slowly clenching into fists.

Castiel was correct, Zachariah ispowerful and well connected. If Uriel's to take him on he's going to have to move much more quickly, be more reckless because he'll need Lucifer at his side.

He has no choice. He won't allow Zachariah to lay one hand on Castiel. He won't allowit.

Uriel disappears too. He has a great deal of work to do.

888

"You see, he has this weakness. He likes you."

Uriel told Dean Winchester that once as a warning, practically pleading with him to use some of the very limited sense he possessed. He knows that by now Castiel's also told Dean his affection for the human has made him a target and Uriel's watched to see if the knowledge has made any difference.

It hasn't.

If Dean had true affection for Castiel instead of mere vanity at being on the receiving end of an angel's attention Uriel knows he would have backed away by now, would have cared that he was putting Castiel in very real danger. He doesn't know what it will take for Castiel to see that the only way to be a priority in Dean's life is to bear the name Winchester.

Dean can never say Uriel didn't give him a chance. It's certainly not his fault Dean failed.

Although he's honest enough to admit he's not exactly sorry Dean failed.

Watching Castiel with Dean is like standing by while someone slowly drowns. His brother seems unable to extricate himself from Dean's influence, like an asteroid trapped in a planet's gravitational pull until all that's left is for it to fall in flames. It's not as if the two of them are even being subtle.

It's become obvious to Uriel that Dean has to be eliminated. Dean would do the same, if Castiel were his brother. In fact, that may very well be the key, the last severed tie that would make Castiel hear reason. He needs only to wait for the perfect opportunity.

The thought warms Uriel's Grace whenever he thinks about it.

888

"Man, I don't get you. Cas has mostly come around but you're still just as big a dick as ever. What the hell is your problem with me, anyway?"

Uriel rounds on Dean, unable to conceal his fury. He steps so close he can feel Dean breathing and fantasizes about the endless number of things he could do to make Dean understand just what sort of creature he's raising his voice to. He manages to get his temper under control at the last second. It's not the time.

Dean's intimidated but too stubborn or too stupid to back away. He can smell Dean's sins, the way lust and wrath wrap around his damaged soul. The combination brings back ugly memories. "You don't deserve the gifts you've been given."

He can see in Dean's mind he thinks Uriel's referring to his rescue from the Pit, to his second chance.

Uriel allows him to. Soon it won't matter what Dean Winchester thinks about anything.

Very soon. He can be patient until then.