"I'm not an angel anymore. I'm your new God. A better one. So you will bow down and profess your love unto me, your Lord. Or I shall destroy you."
"No... Cas..." Dean whispered, his heart breaking a little bit more, though he had thought that impossible. Surely, there was no tiny portion of his already shattered heart left to break? No hope for a tomorrow he had never really dared believe in. Not that it mattered now. It was over. Cas was gone. This new God was something else entirely... and he was impatiently waiting for an answer.
Out of the corner of his eye, Dean caught the look Bobby shot his way as the wily old hunter surreptitiously slipped a hand into his pocket, reaching for God knows what – and God probably does know, Dean thought bleakly.
A quick glance his brother's way revealed Sam shifting restlessly from foot to foot. On the count of three... Sam indicated, his fingers twitching out an old, well-practiced signal. Run!
And then what? Dean wondered, a cold wave of despair flooding his veins.
"And then you die," Castiel answered the unspoken question, his voice eerily dispassionate. "One by one you die. You can't hide from me, Dean. You can't stop me. None of you can. Accept the inevitable. Bow down and profess your love. Now. I will not ask again."
Sam's shoulders slumped; Bobby's empty hands fell back to his sides, fingers curled into impotent fists, his face flushed with rage. Both men looked to Dean for guidance, but Dean's gaze remained fixed on Castiel's narrowed eyes.
"All right," Dean said, his throat tightening as he swallowed nervously. "All right, Cas. You win. I'll be the first to send a little prayer your way. Let's see how you answer it, you bastard."
Castiel frowned, but tilted his head attentively.
Please, Dean prayed. Please, God, for once in my fucking life, can you be here for me? Please, God... Please... Make it right...
A brilliant white light washed through the room, the accompanying volley of thunder deafening in its intensity.
"Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick!" Dean exclaimed.
"I tried that when they first came out," a familiar voice said wistfully. "Looked like fun, but I broke my leg in two places. Hula hoops, Dean. Trust me, they're much safer."
"Chuck?" Dean sputtered.
"Father?" came Castiel's simultaneous query.
"Oh, God," Dean groaned. "You have got to be kidding me."
"Hello, Dean," Chuck said quietly. "Sam, always a pleasure to see you. Bobby, you're looking well. Castiel..."
The new God lifted his chin defiantly. "You're too late," he sneered. "Centuries too late. Begone, Yahweh. Your days of glory are over. This is the dawn of a new age."
"You're not the first new god to think so," Chuck grinned. "You won't be the last. But here I am... and here I stay. And here, I think," he continued softly, "you go."
With a simple wave of Chuck's hand, Castiel was sent crashing to his knees, the floor cracking under the brutal force of his landing.
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me," Chuck intoned. "Did you forget that, Castiel? In your hunger for power, did you forget that I am a jealous God, a vengeful God? Give me one reason why I should not crush you, little angel, as you threatened to destroy these children, my children..."
Castiel screamed as Chuck's slender hand gripped his shoulder. His head tilted back, face frozen in a rictus of pain and terror as beams of light split through his skin, bathing the room in a second fierce burst of blinding energy.
The three hunters squeezed their eyes tightly shut and clasped their hands over their ears as the impossible brightness intensified and Castiel's screams grew louder and more piercing, escalating towards an angel's True Voice.
"What you have stolen is mine," Chuck whispered, every word crystal clear despite the noise. "I take it back. But what should I leave of you?"
"Stop it!" Dean roared. "Stop it, Chuck. This isn't what I prayed for. This isn't right."
"Ah," Chuck said, and his hand eased away from Castiel's shoulder. As if flipped off by a switch, the light show ended. With a final breathless whimper, Castiel collapsed to the ground and curled in on himself, shoulders shaking and head cradled in his arms. "The Righteous Man," Chuck mused. "You presume to tell me what to do?"
"There's no need to go all Old Testament on his ass," Dean barked, blinking to clear the dancing spots that still clouded his vision.
"Dean..." Sam warned, sidling closer to tug at his brother's sleeve.
But Dean stubbornly shook Sam off and moved to stand between the fallen angel and the wrathful God. "You've been around long enough to know that never turns out well," he snapped. "What about turn the other cheek? What about God is love and mercy? What about stepping up and taking a little of the blame here?"
An angry rumble of thunder sounded and sparks flashed dangerously in Chuck's darkening eyes.
"Dean..." Sam moaned.
"Shut up, you idjit," Bobby hissed.
But Dean was only getting started. Instead of withdrawing, he got even further up in Chuck's face, an angry index finger actually poking God in the chest, his other, injured arm awkwardly held to his own breast. "Where the hell were you when all this was going down? Sucking back margaritas in Tahiti? Heaven was at war! Raphael was an asshole. And Cas... Cas screwed up. He screwed up royally. But his heart was in the right place. Right up until those damned souls took him over, he was doing the best he could. Doing your job. What the fuck gives you the right to show up now and – "
All heads turned towards the speaker. Somehow, Castiel had managed to drag his obviously pain-wracked body up to a precarious kneeling position. His face was streaked with blood, his body trembling with the effort to keep himself from toppling over. His eyes were wide with fear, but his voice was strong and sure and pure Cas. Castiel as he was meant to be, as he had always been: Dean's Cas, his protector, his angel, his friend.
"Father, I know you cannot forgive me but, I beg you, forgive him. He knows not what he – "
"I don't need his forgiveness," Dean snarled. "What I need is – " And there he stopped, a look of consternation crossing his face, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, no further words forthcoming and his ability to breathe quite suddenly gone. What I need is you. The thought beat wildly through his head, fluttered madly on his tongue, and was sternly swallowed before the words could spill from his lips. But, once experienced, the revelation could not be forgotten or denied.
I need you. Dean's words. Rarely spoken. Painfully true.
I did it all for you. Castiel's words. Oft repeated. Equally true.
Two sides of the same coin.
Two halves of a whole, forever kept apart, the edges blurred because that coin just kept on mindlessly spinning. But what if it were to stop? What if Dean reached out and grabbed that spinning coin and held it tightly in his hand? Would it be the end or the beginning? Could it be both?
"Do you understand now, Dean?" Chuck murmured, no trace of anger in his eyes, a tiny smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"Yes," Dean whispered. "Yes. I finally do."
"Well I don't," Bobby grumbled. "Would someone care to enlighten me?"
"Later, perhaps," Chuck said absentmindedly. "Right now, Dean and I need to have a little chat." And with a second casual motion of his hand, Sam and Bobby were gone.
"Sam!" Dean cried.
Chuck rolled his eyes. "They are safe, Dean. They're waiting for you in the car."
"But my car is – "
"No, it isn't. It is as it should be."
Dean nodded his thanks and retreated a few steps, unconsciously repositioning himself between Chuck and Castiel. "So, what happens now, Chuck? What about Cas? Forgive and forget?"
"Something like that," Chuck nodded. "After all, 'To err is human'. I'd say he made a whopper of an error, wouldn't you, Dean? So," he shrugged. "Let him be human."
Dean's glance slid to the former God – soon to be former angel. Cas still knelt where he had fallen, his head bowed, waiting to accept whatever punishment his Father deemed just.
"And what of 'to forgive divine'?" Dean said, disturbed by Castiel's quiet acquiescence – but why should he be? This was what he'd wanted, wasn't it? Cas defused. God in his Heaven, all right with the world. He should be dancing for joy. But he was still angry, damn it. Damned angry. Beyond furious. Craving justice – or maybe it was revenge. Cas had betrayed him. Cas had spit in the face of his offer of friendship and brotherhood – but, was that cruel-minded being truly Cas? Certainly he had nothing in common with this Cas. His Cas, an adamant little voice murmured in the back of his mind. And that Cas – the old Cas – deserved a fucking break. Didn't he? But was Dean ready to grant him absolution? Would he ever be?
Chuck's gaze never wavered as he read the conflicting turmoil of thoughts flashing through Dean's mind. "I think I'll leave the forgiveness to you," he said quietly.
"To me?" Dean snorted, the disbelief obvious in his voice. "I don't know if that's a good idea. I'm pretty pissed off at the guy, Chuck. Seriously pissed. There'll be nothing divine about my judgement. After all, as Cas was damned quick to point out, I'm just a man..."
"And, now, so is he. I think that levels the playing field quite nicely, hmm?"
"At least I won't damn near break my hand this time when I punch him in the jaw," Dean mumbled.
"Oh, I think you're better than that, Dean." Chuck said softly. "So... my will be done, etcetera, etcetera. I'll fancy it up when I get back to writing The Winchester Gospels. In the meantime, let's just say this: how much of his divine state Castiel regains depends on how much you are willing to forgive." Chuck moved past Dean and gently rested his hand on Castiel's bowed head. "Until then, you are human, Castiel. Free to live as a human. Free to make mistakes... and free to suffer the consequences."
As Castiel lifted his head, astonishment flooding the brilliant blue of his eyes, Chuck vanished.
In the suddenly silent room, the sound of Castiel taking a deep, shuddering breath was as startling as a newborn baby's cry. Slowly, cautiously, he staggered to his feet and stood there uncertainly, swaying slightly as his eyes moved inevitably to meet Dean's level stare.
Castiel's mouth opened, as if to speak, then closed with an audible snap. What was there left for him to say but goodbye? Obviously, 'I'm sorry' wouldn't cut it. Despite the elder Winchester brother once again defying common sense and springing to an unworthy angel's defence, Dean had made it perfectly clear that they were through, Castiel's deeds and choices unforgivable.
As if in response to Castiel's thoughts, Dean turned and walked away, each step widening the chasm between them.
If I were human, I'd weep, Castiel thought. But he was human now, wasn't he? And tears were already quietly streaming from his eyes as he helplessly watched Dean walk out of his life.
Dean paused with his hand on the door handle. His shoulders pulled back, straightening as they always did when he was steeling himself to do what he must do, no matter how hard the task. "Well?" he growled, his face still turned to the door.
"Well?" Castiel echoed blankly, trying his best to hold back the sob welling up in his throat.
And then Dean did turn, and the look on his face was at once the most beautiful and most amazing sight Castiel had seen in all the many long years of his existence: Dean was weeping too.
"Well," Dean repeated gruffly. "Are you coming, Clarence? Let's go see if we can earn you a shiny new pair of wings."