Epilogue – Because I Could Not Stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

As the voices became louder and more insistent Castiel cracked open his eyes. His bones ached on the cold, hard, floor beneath him, but he was otherwise consumed by a detached numbness. For this he was thankful, he was sure when it wore away he would feel nothing but pain. Somebody was kneeling next to him, talking to him, saying things he didn't hear. A name came to him… Dean?

A soft glow drew his attention to Crowley's chest. An amulet held that which had just slipped through his fingers like sand on an endless beach. Castiel knew it was his, it called to him. Weakly he reached out towards it, his hand sliding slowly across the rough, concrete floor. A tear slid from the angel's eye, prompting Dean to look at the demon over his shoulder and growl. "Get out of here Crowley".

"What? Not even a thank you? Oh well… it's been a pleasure as always". A snap and he was gone, taking Castiel's grace with him.

Dean gathered Castiel's outstretched hand between his own. "Don't cry Cas…" So he was human enough to cry. The thought of his angel weeping tore at Dean's heart. Weeping angels stood vigil over quiet graves; they shouldn't lie broken at his feet. Ex-angel Dean corrected himself. For real angels didn't weep, only in humanity's ignorant, sentimental, stone sculptures could an angel cry. Castiel had the joys of humanity to experience now. "We'll look after you, it'll be ok".

-oOo-

Sam found a blanket in the car to wrap around Castiel. Once they'd got him to his feet and out in the fresh air he had started shivering. It wasn't that cold out but being an angel Castiel probably wasn't used to it.

After driving back to Rufus' cabin they set Castiel up on the couch. He quickly fell asleep leaving Sam and Dean to put their feet up and crack open a few beers. It almost seemed like tradition: avert crisis drink beer. Sam tossed Dean a bag of ice with a snicker "that's for your face, not for your drink". After a while Dean pulled out Bobby's flask and carefully placed it on the coffee table.

"Bobby? Are you out there?" He paused, waiting for a sign… Nothing. So Dean set down his bottle next to the flask. "Feel free to help yourself to my beer again… Come on Bobby. Show yourself".

Sam watched the barely disguised anguish on his brother's face and put a reassuring hand to his shoulder. "He'll be back when he's ready. That stunt he pulled on Castiel must have really drained his batteries".

"I know… I just feel as if I've lost them again". Dean rubbed at his eyes with a sigh. He had to believe Sam. He had to hope. But at the back of his mind Dean told himself that saving the world always came at a cost, and this time it was Bobby. Probably Castiel as well. Dean wasn't sure what shape he would be in upon waking. Maybe getting rid of Lucifer had returned his sanity… maybe falling had worsened it. All Dean knew for sure was that Castiel was now human, and that was going to be one hell of an adjustment for the guy.

Castiel suddenly shot bolt upright with a gasp. "Lu… Lu…" he was heaving in great breaths as if he had just surfaced from drowning. His hands twisted tightly in the blanket before Dean came across to gather them up.

"Breathe Cas, it's ok, it's just a dream". Despite Dean's reassurance Castiel's eyes remained wide and unseeing. Eventually they softened and settled on Dean. After a few moments more Castiel seemed to realise where he was and relaxed. He sank back on the couch, his breathing evening out.

"Hey Cas, do you want anything to eat or drink? You could probably use some water". Sam went to grab a bottle.

"No… no… too hot, burning". He tried kicking away the blanket like a tempestuous two year old.

"Water will help, it's nice and cold". Sam unscrewed the cap and handed the bottle to Dean. His brother held it up to Castiel but the former angel shook his head and pushed it away, forehead creased in seeming discomfort.

"Got to go, got to get out…" Attempting to untangle himself from the blanket and get to his feet Castiel ended up pushing at Dean.

Dean quickly handed the bottle back to Sam and grabbed the former angel's wrists trying to gently restrain him. "Take it easy Cas, you don't need to go anywhere, you're safe here".

"Not safe… you're not safe". Castiel continued struggling.

"We are totally safe, nobody knows we're here, we're completely off the map". Dean feared the worse case scenario: that falling had sent Castiel entirely off the deep end. But it was very early days; Dean told himself it was just the initial shock of the whole thing. Castiel would get better.

And then the former angel gave him a look of such pure, unbridled, terror before hissing "You are not safe from me. I am a monster, a destroyer. I will destroy you!"

"No Cas. You listen to me. You are not a monster. Get that idea right out of your head now". Dean used his 'I mean business' voice on the angel, hoping to get through to him.

"He saw into me. He saw the heart of me, and it is darkness". Castiel still had the spooked look on his face, but he lost focus, almost seeming to stare through Dean. "Cage me… kill me. I will hurt you".

"Jesus Cas, is that what he told you? That you're a monster? He's the monster here! That son of a bitch Lucifer poisoned you… He's gone now, he's caged, and you're not going anywhere. You're going to sit on this couch and rest". Dean loosened his grip as Castiel seemed to settle.

"Don't turn your back on me…" The former angel whispered as he closed his eyes.

"I won't Cas". The angel probably meant he would stab Dean in the back if he turned it. However Dean chose to reply to a different meaning. He wouldn't turn his back on Castiel; he wouldn't give up on him or leave him to face this strange, new life alone. They were in this together.

-oOo-

The first difficult week passed by slowly. Castiel slept a lot at first. When he was awake he was lucid in varying degrees. Sometimes he thought he was still an angel, sometimes he thought he was a monster. Every time it was heart breaking. In his more rational moments Castiel recognised his humanity. He would still ramble about the gaping void at his heart, and the wearing passage of time he now felt. But at least he knew where he was and who he was. When Castiel was awake they would try and get him to eat and drink. The former angel always resisted, and he didn't seem to keep much of anything down when they finally succeeded. It was a worry.

They would watch him in shifts. Well, they said they were going to watch him in shifts. Sam noted he spent more time doing supply runs than Dean did. Castiel seemed more settled with Dean by his side anyway, he woke screaming less for one thing… Still, it didn't seem to be doing Dean any good. His brother tried to hide it, but Sam could see Dean's troubled feelings bubbling just beneath the surface. Sam's attempts to corner him and talk things through were always deflected. Eventually Sam managed to get him out of the cabin by appealing to Dean's concern for Castiel. They had tried the former angel with all manner of foods, burgers, soup, pie… Sam suggested he go find something else Castiel might like. Maybe ice cream? Dean had enthusiastically got to his feet exclaiming that everybody liked Ben and Jerrys, even angels had to! Sam only hoped getting out and about in the fresh air would help him.

So Sam found himself sitting by the angel's side. He turned the TV on and lowered the volume. After flipping half heartedly through a few channels he switched it off again. The best thing on was the shopping channel. A cheery middle aged gentleman stood flogging fine, women's jewellery he clearly knew nothing about. Not that Sam was an expert in such matters, but he was sure he could find something more to say than "pretty" and "sparkling" every ten seconds. The silence stretched out before him now, the only disturbance being soft breaths from Castiel and the occasional creak of their old cabin. Sam studied Castiel's face. It was creased and drawn as if he were in pain or concentrating. It crossed his mind to wake the former angel, better to wake him gently now than have him jolt from a nightmare later. But Sam was enraptured, watching…

And now he realised what Dean went through when he sat here. Watching, confronted by feelings with nowhere to go. Sam felt sympathy with Castiel. He knew Lucifer's cold touch; he knew what it was to be smothered by the devil. The horror of being swept away and helpless would always be with him. But he had been born to it; the demon blood had prepared him for it. In some ways Lucifer felt like the missing puzzle piece that made him whole. And it disgusted Sam to even think like that. He didn't want to feel at home with the devil… it was the blood, it was Ruby. He didn't want any of it.

Had it been worse for Castiel? The former angel had only a piece of Lucifer to deal with, a piece that had driven Sam mad. Still, Castiel was not made to house any part of Lucifer. It poisoned him; disease ate away at his grace until they had no choice but to cut it out. Sam couldn't imagine the pain of Lucifer's suffocation coupled with the decay of his very being. And yet Castiel had broken his wall. Was it wrong to feel sympathy? Had Castiel simply reaped what he had sown? He must have known the suffering it would bring Sam. Did he not care? There were other options to distract the Winchesters. Heck, he could have sent them halfway around the world, but he chose to hurt Sam. It spoke to a certain callousness, a disdain, even hatred…

But the wall was crumbling. It would have fallen sooner or later, with or without Castiel. In fact Castiel had warned against putting Sam's soul back. Should he be blaming the one who returned it? Should he be blaming Dean? No… Dean was just moved by the need to have his brother back and in one piece. He would do the same for Dean. He wouldn't give up… but he had given up. When Dean was in hell. He tried and failed, then he threw in the towel and set out for revenge. What kind of brother was he?

Sam didn't want to sit here thinking any more. How could Dean stand it hour after hour? Thoughts going around and around, and always in a downward spiral… Luckily Castiel stirred, a shake of the head and a harried cry from his lips. Now was the time to wake him. Gently Sam shook the fallen angel and coaxed him awake. Castiel stilled and cracked his eyes open a sliver.

"You're closer to death than I am" Castiel half sighed as he came back to the waking world.

Sam wasn't sure if it was directed at him or at remnants of dreams as they faded away… So he ignored it and offered the angel some water. Castiel predictably refused and hitched himself up into more of a sitting position.

"Cas, you have to eat and drink now. I know it sucks but you'll just waste away otherwise. Keep this up and Dean will take you to a hospital where they'll force feed you through a tube". He held out the water again.

Castiel made no move to take it. He lay his head back against the couch and stared at the ceiling. "I can feel this body dying all around me". His words were slow and heavy, as if the weight of mortality itself dragged him downward.

The way it was said out of the blue sent a chill down Sam's spine. His mouth opened to offer some token comfort, but he honestly did not know what to say. In the brief moment of silence the angel continued.

"Every cell is aging, dying, being replaced… Eventually they will cease and I will die entirely. It didn't happen before. I kept it all constant, everything in balance and ever lasting… Time didn't matter, from a minute to an age, I endured. Now every second is filled with death… I am trapped in a dying body. I cannot get out. And maybe this is my punishment; maybe this is what I deserve... You should let me die. I brought this on myself". The fallen angel said it all with a disinterested monotonous voice, as if he had long ago given up on life.

Sam was momentarily rendered mute by the terrible things Castiel had said. But it made him realise what it felt like for an angel to suddenly be human. To have until the end of time, and maybe beyond it… never aging, never dying, and then to be given a paltry number of human years. Humans lived in the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. Their bodies breaking down every minute and every hour of their existence… People know their days are numbered, but angels were not born to die. What could Sam possibly say to ease Castiel's suffering?

"I won't sit here and watch you die. Neither will Dean. Being human… it is not a punishment. Don't see it that way. See it as an opportunity. You have a chance to right your wrongs. Dying won't help you do that. Dying is the easy way out. Do you want Dean's forgiveness? You have a chance to work for it. Now drink". Sam thrust the bottle of water at Castiel, its contents sloshing against the sides.

The former angel didn't say a word, but a shaky hand reached out from beneath the blanket and Castiel gingerly took the bottle.

It was a few hours later when Dean returned. He had bags full of food and drink, but Castiel was asleep again and so the wonders of ice cream would have to wait. Sam relinquished his seat to Dean and went to get some shut eye in the back room. After a few moments he heard the thunk of Bobby's flask being set on the table. It was becoming a daily ritual, this calling for Bobby. But thus far there hadn't been so much as a breeze to tell of his presence. Sam listened to his brother quietly pleading for Bobby to move something. The silence that followed spoke volumes.

Sleep was eluding Sam. He felt tired, but after everything that had happened his mind was too awake. He lay with his eyes closed, just listening. Dean's voice came to him again. This time he was talking to Castiel, the one sidedness of the conversation telling him the former angel was probably still asleep. Talking to someone who couldn't hear must have been preferable to being left with his own thoughts. It was mainly nonsensical chit chat about the hot cashier he'd just seen. How she had a name tag saying "Brenda" over her left breast so he cheekily asked her what the other one was called. Sam smiled, it was typical Dean. But after a few moments of silence passed Dean's voice turned serious.

"I don't know Cas. I just don't know and that's the truth… I don't know how to feel about you, I don't know what to do with you. I don't know… I wish I did. I should hate you. After everything you did, after everyone you hurt and killed. For God's sake you hurt Sammy. You must have known what that meant, you knew it would hurt me too, you knew it would destroy our friendship. You were like a brother to me Cas, and you didn't care". Sam listened as Dean paused and sighed, he could just imagine his brother sitting back and running a hand over his face.

"I already know what it is to have a brother go rogue". At those words something twisted in Sam's gut. He now wished he was sleeping not eavesdropping. Did he want to hear this? "Sam believed he was doing the right thing. From what I gather you believed you were doing the right thing… blah blah Raphael right? I forgave Sam. He's my brother, we might fall out and fight but I love him. It's a bone deep, tied by blood thing… and this life is too damn short to live with so much hate". Sam almost breathed a sigh of relief, the twist in his gut relaxed.

"Maybe we had something like that Cas. Maybe not so deep or tied so strong, but as I said, you were like a brother to me… Cuz I should hate you, but I don't. I have moments when I hate you, but truth be told I can't keep it up. So if I don't hate you, I must like you right? I must forgive you? I can't Cas… I know it ain't exactly logical or whatever. But I'm just talking through my feelings here, they're not logical, and I don't do this ever so I don't get much practice. Geez, when did I turn into such a girl?" Sam lay there smiling to himself. Dean was finally opening up. Sure he thought Sam and Cas were asleep, he thought nobody was listening to him, but he was talking out loud about feelings. To Sam this was a major breakthrough.

"Anyway, I don't like you and I can't forgive you. Not that easily. Not after what you did, especially not after hurting Sammy. I wish it could be different, I wish we could go back to how we were before… and I'm sure you wish this hadn't happened either. But like I can't hold on to the hate, I can't create feelings that aren't there. It's not that they'll never be there again; it's just going to take time. I know you need me now, and I want to help you through this crap. Me being like this isn't helping… I'm trying to hide it, keep it from you, keep up this mask of normality. I'm sure you can see through it. I'm sorry Cas. You keep saying sorry to me and I keep denying you… but I'm so sorry. I want to forgive you and I can't. There's a long road to forgiveness and we'll get there, we've started on that path". Sam really hoped some part of Cas was listening…

"I've said I have moments when I hate you, maybe there are moments I can forgive you. There's so much I don't know Cas, but there's one thing I do know. Right here, right now, in this moment… I for-".

Castiel must have stirred at that point since Dean shut up pretty quickly.

After a few moments of jostling and a brief exchange over some water Sam heard Castiel's weak voice make a request. "Can we go outside? I would like to see the sky… it feels like such a long time since I last saw it".

"Um yeah, sure thing. It's cloudy though, looks like rain later, so I'm not sure you'll get to see any actual sky. Hey, I've got some ice cream for you to try too. We can have a picnic out there".

Sam finally drifted off to the sounds of Dean busying himself about the cabin, gathering things for their outside adventure. He slept with a feeling of contentment for the first time in a long time.

-oOo-

Dean ushered Castiel outside. Wrapped in his blanket, his hair a mussed mess, Castiel resembled the child Dean so often accused him of being. Dean set the former angel down on another blanket; it was spread beneath a tree. Branches reached protectively over their heads acting as a shelter should it rain. While Dean set about getting them some ice cream he noticed Castiel taking several deep breaths. The angel seemed to be drinking in the fresh air like a recently drowned man. Then he looked around, studying the grass, examining the trees… Castiel had the air of a released prisoner lost and marvelling at a world he knew, but one that had changed through his incarceration.

"It's all different" Castiel said as his head swivelled round. "I can't see as much, and yet I see so much more. The past and the future are gone, all the connections and the energy have disappeared. But the present is stronger. Every leaf and blade of grass… there is only now, and it is so bright and brilliant. I never noticed before". His head suddenly shot upward. "I can't see it".

"Well I told you it was cloudy…"

"The tree is in the way… the branches and leaves… It wouldn't obscure my sight before. Such physical things… and the clouds are nothing. I could see, if I were six foot beneath the ground I could see".

Castiel's voice had taken on a melancholy edge that Dean didn't like. He shoved a bowl and spoon towards the former angel. "Here, try this. It's good, not as good as pie mind you… but since you decided my favourite cherry pie was only worthy for the bottom of the trash can maybe you'll like this instead. It's got little bits of cookie dough in, it's brilliant".

Tentatively Castiel raised the spoon to his lips. After a moment he gave a small smile "Yes, it is quite… brilliant". He tried the word like he tried the ice cream. Dean made a mental note to teach him some cuss words now he was human.

Dean watched Castiel eat his ice cream, it wasn't done with relish, but he didn't resist as if they were trying to feed him poison. Most of their previous attempts had turned out that way. And then if they managed to get anything down him it ended up at the bottom of the trash can soon after. So having Castiel eat willingly seemed like a milestone. It felt like they were building Castiel from the ground up. Each milestone was another brick in the building of his humanity. From the devastated foundations of an angel something stronger would arise.

But a storm on the horizon threatened their fledging work with a hurricane. Castiel's spoon stilled in his bowl as a faraway look took his eyes. Dean stopped eating and watched, preparing for the angel's grip on reality to slip as it so often had done of late.

Castiel sat up straight; it seemed as if he was straining to hear something. "The bells are tolling... sanctus, sanctus, sanctus" His voice seemed so lost. Then he frowned as if realising something. "Not a call, but a death knell… then let the angelus ring for the end of an angel. I am holy no longer".

As quickly as it came, it passed. Castiel's eyes cleared and his spoon resumed its regular scraping of the bowl and scooping of the ice cream. Dean let out a breath he hadn't even realised he'd been holding. Thankfully the episode had been a short one.

Castiel finished and put down his bowl, the spoon clattered about in it before settling. "I have decided…" Castiel looked at Dean as if delivering a dreadfully serious pronouncement. "I like ice cream".

"Good, I knew you would. Everybody likes ice cream. Here, let me get you a refill". As Dean took Castiel's bowl and stood to leave he noticed the sky had darkened and gentle drops started to dip the leaves around them. "Though it's starting to rain, we should probably get you inside".

"No… please, I would like to feel the rain. I think it might feel different too". The childlike sense of wonder Castiel had about the world now was quite endearing.

"Ok, but you don't go dancing about in the rain. You sit there under that blanket. There'll be plenty of years to feel rain yet, and you'll get to hate it like the rest of us… and if it starts pouring down you're coming straight in. No arguments".

Dean took their bowls inside and started perusing the variety of flavours. He couldn't quite decide which one to try Castiel with next… the one with chewy bits of caramel, the one with marshmallow and chocolate fish, or perhaps he would like the one with a picture of a polar bear on the front. Talk about a kid in a candy store… He would have asked Sam's opinion, but his brother was snoring loudly from the next room. Sam liked soft, cuddly things; he'd probably go for the bear… Ok, polar bear it was.

Dean took out the ice cream and started dishing it up into their bowls. He was sure he was going to end up with epic brain freeze after all this. Maybe some angelic remnant made Castiel immune or something… The former angel finished the last lot quickly enough without any problems. Before Dean made it outside the violent sound of rain crashing against their windows reached him. Dean swore and put the bowls down. It looked like the heavens had opened.

Rushing outside Dean ran over to their blanket. Even the protection of the tree hadn't saved it, it was sodden. Castiel's wet blanket was there too… but no Castiel. Dean swore again and looked around at the surrounding trees. There was no sign of him. Dean yelled the angel's name and listened for a reply. The only sound he could hear was the relentless hissing of rain making its way through the trees. His own clothes were becoming heavy with the downpour.

Dean's feet slipped on the wet grass as he ran back to the cabin to wake Sam. But in reaching the cabin he froze and looked up. There was Castiel, standing at the apex of the roof, his hair plastered down, his clothes sticking to him, but his face was turned to the sky. The angel's arms were held out at his sides, Dean couldn't quite tell from down here, but he seemed to have a look of bliss on his face. Castiel probably thought he was somewhere else… he probably thought he was someone else. An angel. And if he tried to fly…

"Cas! Get away from the edge! If you fall you'll hurt yourself!" Probably kill yourself… he thought. Dean cursed himself for leaving the angel alone, even for ten minutes, it was ten minutes too long.

Of course, Castiel didn't make a move, didn't even acknowledge whether he'd heard Dean or not. "Ok, stop there! I'm coming to get you!"

Suddenly the cabin seemed like Mount Everest. Dean used nearby trees to help, but his feet slid on the wet wood of the roof. He tried digging his fingers in; the rain blinded him, making it hard to see the next step. Tentatively Dean took a hand to wipe at his eyes; he looked up to see Castiel watching him. The angel stood with his head cocked to one side, his familiar hawk like gaze tinged with bemusement.

"What are you doing here Dean? I didn't feel you dying…". Castiel's voice was barely audible over the downpour.

"I'm coming to get your stupid ass off the roof! You're not in Heaven! Snap out of it!" Dean yelled against the lashing rain to make himself heard.

"No… I couldn't see. Down there it was all obscured. Then I stood and saw a little more. I climbed and I could see. I could see all the way up, I could even see his kite!" Castiel spoke excitedly. "I belong up there, I was there… I am there". His voice became more shaky and uncertain.

"Cas, you know I haven't climbed up to Heaven. No matter what Led Zep say, there is no freaking stairway. You're still on the roof, now step away from the edge". Dean tried reaching out a hand. He was still a fair distance away but he hoped Castiel would take it as an invitation to slide down to him.

Instead Castiel backed away from Dean and took a step closer to the edge. "But my wings… I feel my wings, they were strong, and now strange… but they are still there. I flew on them, back to where I belong". He turned his face to the sky.

"Cas! Look at me! Come here you stupid son of a bitch, you don't have wings any more! You take another step that way and you die!" Dean's desperation and helplessness were perhaps driving him to be a little mean. But all he knew was that Castiel stood on the edge of a knife and he could do nothing... All he could do was use his voice, and if yelling brought Castiel back to reality then he would yell.

Dean tried flinging himself further up the roof, hands and feet scrabbling for purchase. The rain seemed to work against him. For every inch he gained he was dragged down another two. He looked up at Castiel to gaze into eyes filled with fury.

"No Dean. I live". Castiel turned, threw his arms out, and jumped.