A/N: Sorry this has been a while in coming - I got caught up in finishing my other story, Dancing on the Edges of Reality, and then there was episode 7x17 (*hyperventilates*) and yeah. I also sort of have a life, which gets in the way of fic-writing no end and is generally irritating.
7x17 was awesome. It was also horrendous, but only the end, and in a sort-of good-horrendous way. I just wish Dean wouldn't just keep on leaving Cas behind! After all he's done! But there were some amazing moments, and some wonderful people on tumblr keep making wonderful parallels between this episode and 5x04 'The End' and yeah. I get way too excited over this TV show.
Anyway. Back to the story!
Castiel hadn't expected Hanael to reappear alone – if the angel did return, it was far more likely that Zachariah would send more angels to outnumber them, or possibly even come himself. So when Castiel saw that Hanael was alone, he wondered if possibly he had misjudged his brother. After all, he had taken a great risk in simply speaking to Castiel, let alone actually giving him any helpful information.
Hanael wouldn't rebel to help Castiel, of that he was certain. Hanael was too ambitious, too much of a good soldier for that. But then, so had Castiel been, before he met Dean. But Castiel had always been naturally inquisitive, perhaps more so than some of his other siblings, although he had never been so rebellious as angels like Anna or Balthazar. And yet, somehow Dean had been able to change Castiel's view of… everything. He had taken the doubts Castiel had already had and turned them into something he could use: free will.
When Hanael had left, Castiel had been disappointed that he was, yet again, alone, but part of him at least had been relieved, pleased even, if not for his own sake then for Hanael's. What Castiel had done… betraying his family, turning against them, disobeying orders, fighting his own siblings in a show of rebellion practically unprecedented since the Fall of Lucifer himself… While he still believed his decision to have been right and just, the fate he now suffered was not one he would wish upon Hanael. He felt more at home, more welcome with the Winchesters than he ever had done with his own family, but he was far more alone than he had ever been, and he knew that it would only get worse. He was Falling, one day he would be human, and even if, by some miracle, he managed to retain his immortality, one day the Winchesters would be gone – one day soon, if they continued to behave in their usual way – and he would truly be alone.
And so when Hanael reappeared in Bobby's library, Castiel received his brother with mixed feelings. But when Hanael looked at him with a mixture of a plea and an apology on his face, Castiel knew he had no choice but to do as his brother asked and go with him. Zachariah had found him, as he had known he would, and Hanael had come to give him a chance. He had to use that.
And much as he disliked leaving the others – especially Dean – with no explanation, it was for the best.
Hanael took him to a large, abandoned warehouse (it seemed that all angels conducted their business inside disused storage facilities these days). A few large metal poles and concrete pillars supported the infrastructure of the building, but apart from that it was completely empty. The roof was partly decayed and bright sunlight spilled through the gaps, reflecting off the water that pooled on the uneven concrete floor and creating quite a white glare that almost blinded Castiel at some angles. When he was still 'juiced up on angel mojo,' as he suspected Dean would put it, this would not have bothered him in the slightest, but now, practically reduced to humanity and with no squint reflexes, he found it unnerving.
He may not have been much of an angel, but he still observed all this in under a second, before snapping his focus back to Hanael. His brother turned to him, discomfort on his face, before saying, slowly and carefully: 'I'm not helping you, Castiel.'
Castiel swallowed. 'I understand. I didn't expect that of you. But then why have you brought me here?'
Angels do not fidget, not even when in a vessel – they partake in no actions so human as that – but they do feel discomfort, and Castiel could sense it on his brother now.
'I am sorry,' Hanael said, and his voice was flat, and Castiel had fought enough of his siblings to know the sound of betrayal when he heard it. And he had heard it a great many times, but still it felt like a blade being driven into his heart, and he almost grimaced at the blinding flash of pain it caused him.
All angels followed orders, of course, and he should have known that Hanael would be no different. But he hadn't expected it, possibly because he still saw Hanael as the little brother who followed him around, wanting to be like him – the little brother Castiel would have protected with his life if it had come to that, and not because of any orders or chain of command, but because he, Castiel, the angel of Thursday, wanted to.
'I would prefer not to have to do this.' Hanael was looking directly at him, his eyes dull and hopeless. A movement drew Castiel's gaze and he saw an angel blade appearing in Hanael's hand. Self-defence dictated that he should draw his own, but – cross blades with Hanael? He would rather tear his own wings out.
It occurred to him that he might have to.
'Don't make me fight you.' There was a pleading note to his voice that he hated, but he had no choice. His pride could take the blow. 'I do not want to hurt you, Hanael, but I will protect the Winchesters.'
Hanael glanced away then, pain raw in his eyes, and even as Castiel recognized the conflict in his face, it broke his heart. It was the same conflict that he himself had gone through when Dean first asked him to rebel, the conflict he still went through every time he had to fight one of his siblings.
'I truly wish it had not come to this. I wish you had not made me do this…' He looked back up to Castiel, their eyes meeting across the empty space between them, the void. 'Zachariah has gone to find the Winchesters. He will come after you, too, Castiel…' He took a deep breath, steadying himself. 'My orders are to kill you.'
He had known it was coming, but it still felt like a blow that internally knocked him off balance. Outside, however, he simply nodded his head tersely. 'I suspected as much.'
'I will not disobey my orders, Castiel.' Hanael spoke like one with a mouth full of broken glass – slowly and carefully, placing emphasis on every word and articulating with the utmost precision. 'But, should you win, I would recommend that you return to the Winchesters and hope that it is not too late.'
Castiel squared his jaw. 'What is Zachariah planning, Hanael?'
The sincerity in his brother's eyes surprised Castiel as Hanael spoke: 'I cannot tell you because I do not know. But it is related to Lucifer's plans for the Righteous Man. You must not let Lucifer succeed, but Zachariah's plans, in turn, are… less than ideal. They require your death.'
'I understand.' He swallowed painfully at the thought of what he was about to do. 'Must we fight?'
Hanael's expression hardened to one of resolve. 'We have no choice. I am sorry.'
There was a sudden displacement of air behind him and Castiel whirled around, summoning his own angel blade as his did so, and Hanael came at him with a near blow to the stomach that Castiel only just managed to parry in time. Hanael attacked again, coming higher this time, and Castiel twisted away, ducking to avoid the blow and moving agilely out of range as he did so.
Hanael was a skilled swordsman, but he wasn't used to fighting in a vessel, not like Castiel was. To Castiel, James Novak's body was all but his own, the previous owner having vacated it the first time Castiel was killed. Castiel knew this body, was comfortable under its skin, and although it wasn't his true form, he had become used to it in the short time that he had been acquainted with it. Hanael, however, couldn't have been wearing his vessel for very long at all, and this unfamiliarity might just be enough to tip the scales in Castiel's favor. It wasn't much, but perhaps it could be enough.
He was wrenched from his thoughts when he received a light blow to the shoulder, Hanael's blade cutting through clothes and flesh, making the essence beneath it shine out, singing in pain. Castiel gritted his teeth against the sudden flare of discomfort and channelled his thoughts back into fighting Hanael.
The blows came thick and fast then, and sometimes Castiel was on the offensive, and others it was Hanael. Each of their brows furrowed in concentration as they slashed and stabbed and parried and twirled in a weird parody of some exotic ballroom dance. Anyone watching would have found it difficult to tell who had the upper hand at any given point in the fight, but then Hanael began landing heavy blows on Castiel, who only just managed to block them, backing further away with each parry, his counter-attacks predictable and easily deflected.
And then Castiel felt the hardness of a pillar behind his back and knew that it was extremely likely that he was about to die. Again.
He tried to escape his predicament by ducking away from his opponent but Hanael caught his side with the tip of his sword, and Castiel lost his balance slightly, cracking his head painfully against the pillar behind him and leaning drunkenly against it for support, chest heaving.
Hanael attacked again, and Castiel's arm came up to block it, even though he knew he had very little chance. Reaching inside himself, he felt for his grace, but simply travelling here had taken much out of it, and the injuries he had sustained subsequently had certainly done it no good.
And then, suddenly, inexplicably, something flickered in Hanael's eyes, confusion, distraction, and Castiel seized his chance. He moved forwards, knocking the blade from his brother's hand, and took hold of Hanael's shoulders, spinning him around and forcing him back against the pillar where Castiel himself had been cornered only moments before.
It took a Herculanean effort to raise his sword to his brother's throat.
They were both panting now, their eyes level with each other, and Castiel saw the fear on Hanael's face, and yet the peace that came from knowing he had done his duty to the last moment.
It made him so very sad.
Castiel had killed many of his siblings in his fight for free will, but even as he pressed his blade into the flesh of Hanael's vessel, he knew he could never kill this brother, not if his own life depended on it, and especially not if it didn't.
He would protect Dean Winchester at all costs. All but this one. Free will dictated that he didn't have to follow orders, that he could decide for himself, and, well. This was his first decision.
'I'm not going to kill you, Hanael,' he said quietly, stepping back and sending his blade away. 'I am sorry I dragged you into this.'
And, reaching deep within himself to find what little reserves of grace he still had, he left in a wingbeat.
The Winchesters needed him.
More about Castiel's feelings in this chapter, so I apologise if it gets a tad repetitive. I just get really into writing Castiel stuff, y'know, and then I can't bring myself to cut too much of it... I also want to apologise for the state of the fight sequence in this chapter. Believe it or not, I'm usually pretty good at writing action and fights and stuff, but for some reason I found this one really difficult to do. And I'm still not happy with it. Urgh.
Anyway. I hope you liked it. Please leave me a review to tell me what you think!
Thanks for reading!