"I hate them so much."

Castiel stared at his older brother, crouched beside him under the tree. The young angel—just a child, really—gasped, his eyes filled with disbelief. "Balthazar, you can't say that!" he whispered fervently. "They're our family." He shifted uncomfortably, his oversized wings casting a shadow over both of the boys.

"Why can't I?" Balthazar spat, hunched over like a gargoyle with his face hidden. "They sure don't act like they're our family! Those two are always fighting about something, and I heard Uriel harrassing you the other day. You don't have to stick up for them, Cas. They don't deserve it."

The dark-haired angel squirmed slightly as Balthazar mentioned Uriel. The Archangel had made a few comments about his size, but he had tried not to pay attention to them. The fact that Balthazar had noticed it just made things worse. The blonde was the best older brother he could have asked for, but he had a hot temper when provoked. Dad was always getting onto him about it. Or, He had gotten onto him about it. He was just too busy lately to come see them very often. Before Castiel could reply, the other angel began talking again.

"But Uriel's always been a prick, so that's no surprise. I can deal with him, don't you worry about it. He won't bother you again. It's the other two." Castiel shivered to hear that much loathing in his cheerful friend's voice. It wasn't natural; Balthazar wasn't supposed to worry about anything. He was the brave one, the loud one, the big brother who never got upset and always knew what to do.

Balthazar sighed, his words tumbling out in a chaotic, whispered stream of sound. "Why do they have to argue? It's always 'free will' this, 'free will' that." Balthazar tried to mimic Lucifer's deep voice, and Castiel would have laughed if it had been any other time. "That's fine. I can handle the arguing. Really, I can. But then they'll start screaming at each other and throwing things, and you can always here them, no matter where you go. Dad doesn't even try to stop them when He's around at all. He's always off watchig those new creations, the humans or whatever they're called." He fell silent for a moment, and Castiel had to lean in close to hear him when he whispered, "Lucifer...he talks about those human-things a lot too. He says that Dad's tired of us, and He's going to replace us with them. But He still loves us, Cas. He must, right? He has to, doesn't He? Did we do something wrong?"

Castiel's eyes widened in horror as he realized that Balthazar was crying. This was wrong, all so wrong. Balthazar wasn't supposed to cry. He was tough, just as tough as any of the grown angels. The blonde was always the one who stopped his own crying, helped him hold it in where no one could see it. You've gotta be tough like me, Cassie, he could remember Balthazar telling him the first time someone had teased him. Be the bigger seraph and don't let it show. They can't hurt you that way. But now that was long gone, and Cas had no idea what to do. After a moment of hesitation, the blue-eyed angel put an arm around his older brother's shoulders. "It's...it's going to be okay, Balth. Dad will make them stop fighting, and Lucifer doesn't know anything."

The blonde looked up, and Castiel almost didn't recognize him. His eyes, normally a cool gray, were watery and red from crying. His face was shiny with tears, and he looked angry and scared. "Dad?" Balthazar repeated bitterly, his strong accent even thicker than usual. "Dad's not going to do anything. He's never even home long enough to eat with us. It's always going to be like this, and there's nothing we can do about it."

Castiel shook his head. "No, Dad'll fix it, Balth. He'll fix it, and then we can all be a family agaih." He nodded fervently, trying to convince both the other angel and himself.

The blonde angel's eyes flashed with anger. "For God's sake, Cas, shut up! He's not going to help us because He doesn't love us anymore," he snarled. There was a long silence between the two, both equally shocked by the outburst. Cas furiously blinked back tears, trying not to let his hurt show. Balthazar had never yelled at him before. He had always been the one to stand up for him. He looked up slightly when he saw felt a hand resting on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry I said that, Cas," Balthazar whispered quickly, desperate to apologize. "I lost my temper. You're right. Dad will fix everything, and then we'll be a family again just like before." He stood up and wiped his face with the back of his hand, flashing Cas a smile that the younger angel pretended to believe before glancing up at the darkening sky. "Come on, we need to get home. Gabe's probably out looking for us." He spread his wings, dark gold feathers taking on a reddish hue in the dying sunlight, and glanced down at his younger brother. "Well, come on! We haven't got all day."

Castiel smiled slightly and stood, spreading his wings and making the quick flight back to the center of Heaven, where all the angels lived. The two young angels were met at the front door by Gabriel, looking unusually serious. "You two need to go to your rooms," he said, casting worried glances over his shoulder. "It's late." There was the sound of shattering glass from somewhere inside, and Gabriel grimaced. "Just go, okay? It's not a good time." Castiel tried not to notice Balthazar's flinching as the two muffled voices rose to a screaming crescendo and nodded.

The two young angels ended up skulking into their room through an upstairs window, and Castiel felt his stomach twist when he could still hear the yelling from there. Balthazar landed on the top bunk, curling up like a cat and covering his ears in an attempt to block out the sound. Castiel climbed into his bed, shifting around in the covers until he was comfortable. Starlight was shining in through the huge windows before either of them spoke. "We could run away," Balthazar murmured, so quietly that Cas wasn't sure he had spoken at first. "We could leave and get away from this mess."

The dark-haired boy was quiet, considering the impossible idea. He could never leave Heaven, he knew. He could never leave his family. "Dad would find us if we tried to run, Balth."

"Not if we went to Earth and lived with the humans. Maybe we could even pretend to be like them, me and you. Gabriel could come too if he wanted to. He doesn't like the fighting either. We could all pretend to be human, and we could be a family. Maybe Dad would pay attention to us again if we were human. Maybe He would love us again." Balthazar's voice cracked, and he turned silent once again.

Castiel didn't know what to say. Balthazar wasn't supposed to worry or cry or be afraid. He was the big brother, the one who fought off all the monsters and kept things safe and happy. Michael and Lucifer were his big brothers too. They were supposed to agree and protect everyone, just like a family should. Balthazar's dream was crazy and impossible and far, far too good to be true. The yelling started up again downstairs, accompanied by door-slamming and the sound of Gabriel desperately trying to mediate between them.

"I promise we won't ever fight like that, Cassie," Balthazar mumbled, half-asleep as he buried his head in the pillow and closed his eyes. "We'll always be brothers, and I'll always look after you like I should."

Castiel nodded in the darkness, even though he knew the other angel was asleep. "We'll always be brothers," he murmured. They were a family. A real family, just like the one all of the angels had once been. Cas didn't have to worry, because his big brother was going to look out for him, and he would always look after his big brother.