Author's Note: Not much to say. Old fic that I forgot about, found, and uploaded. Takes place after Purgatory.
Alexander Pope said: Men would be angels, and angels would be gods. But what came after the fall, after penance? And was penance ever really paid due?
His reflection seemed to stare blankly back at him. Castiel tried to muster the courage to finally pick up the toothbrush waiting patiently on the sink. He'd looked at himself for so long now that he didn't think he could stomach another second of it. Somehow, he'd turned his efforts of normalcy onto the unassuming hygienic tool, staring as though it held all the answers he wasn't sure he desired. After what felt like hours under the reflection's numb gaze, he was admittedly more scared of looking at the face in the mirror than what awaited outside the bathroom door. Eyes that had become his own were haunted, a noticeably dimmer shade of blue. The unknown was not something he'd ever had to worry about before; he'd been privy to so much, possessed so much time. Everything now felt dreadfully short. His connection to Heaven was little more than a memory, senses tarnished—but that was the least of his worries.
Knuckles splashed white, he gripped the rim of the cheap porcelain sink. The toothbrush lay beside the faucet next to a can of shaving cream. There was food and drink in the other room that he was expected to partake in, so as not to waste away. Castiel's shoulders bowed over the sink, head hung low between them. It was too quiet in here; it offered his imagination too much freedom.
Freedom is a length of rope…
A shudder ran through him. And like a rope given too much slack, it slipped through weak fingers, going wild—drumming up monsters that weren't there, sounds that, while cultivated by the tormented corners of his own mind, made the hairs on the back of his neck rise. The cold, yellowing tiles beneath his feet became the grimy scales of a creature that looked something between an armadillo and komodo dragon, though seven times the size of either. The bristles of the cuticle brush to his left were like a hundred razor-edged teeth closing in. Gray hand towels mimed the fur of feral skinwalkers, prowling just outside every shelter they'd managed to find. The lights above his head, so bright it hurt his eyes, became the orbs of ravaged spirits in eternal search of vengeance. Dark wallpaper, scored to give it that aged effect, housed patterns of berries—chilling bloodred eyes glaring from the trees.
Edged memories and his own conjured nightmares assaulted his mind when he wired his eyes tightly shut against the various triggers. Castiel shuddered again. A flash of anger rolled across his face, dread burrowing in the pit of his stomach. In addition, what felt to be a giant hole in his chest welled deeper, reminding him of the hollowness that couldn't be filled in her absence. Something pulled tight behind his ribs, longing to reach out for what he knew he couldn't grasp. Gone, the voice in his head whispered. She is gone.
There was too much silence coming from the bathroom. When Dean slipped quietly into the doorway, he eyed the fallen angel with wary concern. Castiel's rigid posture and hunched shoulders were neon signs that gave away his agitation. He shook a little under the plague of emotion, and Dean tensed at the sight. "Cas?"
Every coiled muscle and bone locked in a permanently defensive stance spoke otherwise. Dean understood how difficult it was still to focus on the safe reality of four walls and civilization, but he had Sam to help distract him. Who did Castiel have? He'd had it so much rougher than Dean in that twisted place, being a target for every foul creature consigned to an eternity there. For a moment, just a moment, all violent efforts had ceased against one another and the denizens of Purgatory had focused every ounce of rage on the angel, ripping and tearing until every ounce of Grace had been destroyed.
Castiel was like a sinew pulled taut, ready to snap at any second. But when Dean gripped his shoulder with a firm hand, ignoring his own reflexive flinch, he settled some. "We're out, man. Alright? I know readjusting is gonna be a bitch, but you'll get it."
"It's too warm here."
Dean sighed. "I know."
Purgatory was a wintry place, leaving both hunter and angel in a constant state of being cold. It wasn't enough to cause any permanent damage or hypothermia, but it found them pining now in a contrary way back on earth. They were either too cold or too hot; Purgatory had impaired their internal body temperatures, and yet they had adapted to the climate there, too. It was worse for Castiel. He wasn't accustomed to acknowledging the temperature around him in any way; he'd never felt heat, nor the cold. Everything was vivid now, leaving him scrambling to adjust.
Dean didn't think Cas was sleeping, either. It was necessary for him now, but Dean wasn't even sure the stubborn thing knew how to sleep, in all likelihood. And, when he was tired enough and it claimed him without his consent, Castiel had nightmares. Awful ones. He hated them, Dean knew. Who didn't, of course—but whatever vile things plagued the angel's mind in twilight hours left him particularly shaken. His eyes were heavy with exhaustion, the bags underneath darker than was healthy, and his brow was furrowed into a permanent frown. Dean figured it would be the angel's own obduracy that eventually got him through this. Something inside Castiel just refused to go down, even after the tidal wave of trauma he'd endured over the last few years.
Dean cleared his throat, nodding at the supplies on the sink. "You okay with this?"
Do you need help, the unspoken said, but he'd never say it like that. It'd feel too much like an insult, and the guy just didn't need to be babied right now. If there was anything worse than nightmares for Castiel, it was to be treated like the fragile trainwreck he was so determined to prove he wasn't.
"We'll be right out here, if you need us. Alright?"
"I can do this."
Dean wasn't sure whose benefit that was spoken for. "There's pie and sandwiches, when you're done."
Long after Dean was gone, Castiel stared again into the broken image of his own reflection. "I can do this," he whispered.
Castiel ran both hands down his chest and over his new attire, staring uncertainly. "I feel strange." He'd foregone the shaving cream, deciding to deal with that aspect of grooming at a later time. They'd spent weeks in this motel, gaining their footing, and now it was time to go.
Dean busied himself with loading up some of their equipment into the trunk. "They're a little big," he agreed of the clothes.
"It's all we've got," said Sam, with an apologetic shrug.
Castiel shook his head. "No, they're an adequate fit. It's just… different." He frowned, shifting uncomfortably. He missed his trenchcoat. He missed a lot of things, and angels were not so good with change. Thousands of years adhering to one pattern made any amount of adjusting a difficult one.
Dean slammed the trunk closed. "Well, you're smaller than Sam and I. Anything we give you is going to fit like a bad glove."
"I am not smaller than you," Cas snapped suddenly, his expression fiery. "I told you once already the magnitude of my true form. Do well not to forget again."
The brothers quieted, the air becoming thick. The former angel's expression was cloudy with suppressed rage. Sam was the first to speak up. "Cas…"
Dean wasn't so diplomatic. "Buck up, crab ass. You know that wasn't what we meant." Castiel opened his mouth to retort, but the hunter cut him off before he could. "For now, you're stuck in that meatsuit just like the rest of us, at least until we figure out how to get you your mojo back."
Castiel offered him a halfhearted glare, looking away. It was as close to an apology as any, the brothers figured. "I know it sucks, man," Sam weighed in, with more optimism than called for, "but we'll fix it. Just give it time."
Cas sighed. "No, we won't. But I appreciate the lie, Sam. Thank you."
Dean spread his hands when an uncomfortable silence descended. "Screw this drama. Let's go find a bar and get plastered. I need gratuitous debauchery right now, and so do the two of you. Move it," he demanded, hopping into the Impala's driver seat.
His two companions grudgingly followed. Dean Winchester had his own way of coping, they knew, and there was no sense getting in the way of his methods.
The second they were in the bar, Sam hurried off to the nearest pool table. "You two have fun." He didn't care to stick around to see whatever trouble Dean was sure to get himself and Cas into.
"Come on, Cas. We'll find you the strongest alcohol in the joint. Make your troubles disappear."
"Somehow, I doubt that," the former angel replied, but followed nonetheless. He glanced around as they moved, renewed curiosity sprouting up at their surroundings. Even so, his detached interest seemed to have taken an even stronger plummet, as any desire to be here weighed solely on keeping Dean happy. A glimpse towards the bar, however, had his brow dipping in confusion. He ignored the anomaly and moved on.
"Any preference tonight, Cas? Bloody Mary? Tequila shots? Whiskey?"
Dean shrugged off his friend's dull tone. "Eh, we'll find you something with kick."
Castiel blinked. There it was again. "That woman is watching me."
Dean looked over his shoulder. "What?"
Castiel jutted his chin towards the bar. "That woman. She watches me, but when I meet her eyes, she looks away. She's been doing this since we arrived. Could she pose some kind of threat?"
Dean chuckled. "Dude. That means she's interested."
"In you, genius."
Cas looked at him, confused. "I don't understand."
Dean stopped walking and sighed. He moved his hands, in an effort to gesticulate better. "You know… interested."
His company looked only more perplexed, staring at him as though he could will the answers right out of the hunter. Surprisingly, though, Castiel's expression cleared as comprehension dawned in his eyes. "Oh. She wants to have sex with me."
Dean's pride showed through and he gave Cas a nudge. "Bingo. Go talk to her, man."
With weary resignation, Castiel stared back. "And say what?"
"I dunno. Make conversation. Keep a low profile of course, but compliment her hair, chat her up about what she does for a living, listen to her complaints—you might even get lucky tonight."
"I have no desire to have intercourse with her."
To Dean, he might as well have said Leprechauns were real. "Are you kidding me? What are you, blind?"
Castiel dropped heavily onto the barstool, followed by the hunter. "No, but that would be fitting, wouldn't it?"
"She's an attractive woman, a fact I won't dispute. I find her body appealing and her face memorable. But I don't… I'm… simply not interested."
Dean shook his head. "I can't even compute that. Bartender! A Purple Nurple for my friend here, and a Jack for me." He noticed Castiel's wide-eyed, furrowed stare at the unusual drink and ignored it. "So, what's your problem?" he asked the ex-angel when their drinks were served. "Too good to mix with the mudmonkeys?"
Castiel poked suspiciously at the purple drink in front of him, frowning. "That's not what I meant, nor what I feel." Glancing to his right and seeing Dean's expectant stare leveled back at him, Castiel looked away. "Who I want is… lost to me."
Dean pulled a face, confusion painted across his expression. "The hell? Who…?" Since the hunter had yet to get drunk, it didn't take long for him to figure out who the fallen angel was referring to. "Meg." Off Castiel's look, Dean went on, shock welling within him. It wasn't just memories of Purgatory that were haunting Castiel, it was the absence of that damn demon. "You miss Meg. Cas—Meg is gone."
"She's not here, we don't know that she's gone. If I still possessed my Grace, I could besiege Hell and pull her out. I could save her. Instead, I'm sitting in a bar that's too loud, with people I don't know, completely useless."
The deep sadness pooling in those blue eyes was too much. Dean scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed. "Man, you gotta live a little. You really think Meg would care if you got a little lovin' on the side? I'm sure she'd do the same to you. Besides, your need to get laid has reached an astronomical level. You gotta swan dive into the human experience, or you're never gonna get over all the crap that happened. Pick a bar fight, break a leg, try something new—for example, her." He gestured to the girl at the end of the bar with almost comical insistence.
Castiel pursed his lips tightly, averting his eyes. "There is nothing new I need to learn in that regard."
"Observing is different than doing, my friend. It still creeps me out that you guys used to watch us all hours of the day, by the way." Castiel gave him a guarded look and went back to poking at his drink. Dean stared harder. "What… wait a minute…" Horror and something disturbingly close to pride crossed the hunter's expression. "Cas… did you do the nasty with Meg?"
Dean's voice rose in pitch with his shock, yet lowered almost to a whisper as though he feared anyone else should hear. Castiel shifted uncomfortably. "That's none of your business," he mumbled.
"Holy crap, dude! When the hell did this happen?!"
"Not of import."
"You get your angelic cherry popped and it's not of import? Since when do you have a filter?"
"I'd just rather not talk about it. May we please move on?"
At the genuine melancholy in his friend's eyes, Dean relented. "Alright, fine." He sighed, still reeling from this new information. He took a long gulp from his own drink and started again. "Why don't you look at it this way… if Meg were here, what would she say? You think she'd want you wallowing over her? Hell, she'd probably get a kick out of watching you put the moves on Blonde Beckinsale over there."
Castiel took a tentative sip from the purple concoction in front of him and grimaced.
Tone softening, Dean lowered his voice. "I get that you miss her. God knows why, but I get it. It's not your fault Crowley got his hands on her."
A muscle clenched in the angel's jaw. Sam had been the one to tell him upon their return that the King of Hell and his followers had taken Meg. "I'm powerless, Dean. I can't help her. I don't even know whether she's alive or dead."
"Meg's tough. If she's still kicking, she'll break out and come find us. That, or hightail it to the nearest middle of nowhere."
Castiel said nothing, staring instead into the contents of his drink with solemn dismay. He'd worked through most of the post traumatic stress involved with surviving Purgatory, enjoying the blessed numbness when he could go a whole night without nightmares. But now he experienced nightmares of a different kind. Now, there was fresh pain everywhere he looked, originating in the empty space the loneliness of her absence left behind. He'd gotten so used to her presence, her role in his recovery and restoration of his sanity. He needed her talking to him, picking at him, challenging him. He needed to hold her at night, when the shadows came, even though she hated that. More than anything, he needed to know she was all right. He would never know that comfort. Because even if she were still alive, she was a prisoner of Crowley. Of Hell, once again. A Hell that now hated her, sought to punish her. Somehow, she'd dug her way into his heart and now he couldn't get rid of her.
"I'm gonna go give Sam a run for his money," Dean said, breaking through his thoughts. "You can join us, if you want."
Castiel focused on the contents of his glass. "I'll stay here."
"Want my advice?" Not waiting for an answer, Dean continued. "Get drunk, have fun." He clapped the other man on the back. "It's what humans do."
Castiel watched him go, then turned back to the bar and hesitated before taking a healthy drink from the alcohol.
What humans do.
Well… that was the problem, wasn't it?
Castiel glanced up, the girl from the end of the bar filling his vision. He'd been expecting this to happen eventually, but somehow hoped it wouldn't. He withheld a sigh, not wanting to be impolite. "Hello."
"Where'd your friend go?"
He glanced towards the back of the room to indicate the laughing Winchesters. "Playing pool with his brother."
The woman looked bemused by that. "So you wanted to stay here all by yourself?"
Castiel angled back in his seat and took another drink. "It's better this way."
She leaned against the bar, eyeing him up in a way that was curious rather than lewd. "I don't think that's true." She smiled a little, in an offer of encouragement. She was nice.
Nice was something he'd never deserve. Castiel stared down at the contents of his glass, rotating it in a manner that couldn't even be called thoughtful. "It's come to my attention that you're… interested in sex. With me."
That made her laugh. "Wow. Straight to the point with you, huh?" she said with a smile, not unkindly. "Blunt way to put it, but I'm starting to get the idea that you don't do this very often."
"I think you'd be better off looking for the man I came in with. He'd enjoy spending the night with you, and would probably be better company than I would."
Her brow quirked a little and she tilted her head. "Well, I'm not interested in him. I'm interested in you." She told him this in a voice that was peculiarly soft. Sweet enough to catch his attention. Why on earth would she be wasting her time with him? Couldn't she see he was broken?
Castiel glanced at her, remorseful blue eyes combing over her face. "I'm sorry."
"You are so in the wrong town, honey," she murmured, genuine fondness now lighting her eyes. "How about this… let's just sit here and swap stories. No one should have to sit alone. Why don't you buy me a drink?"
Castiel ran his hands over the pockets on his chest, looking to her then a bit sheepishly. "I don't have any money."
"So I'll buy you a drink. What do you like?"
"I'm not sure." He stared down at the drink in his hand. "And I'm not entirely sure what this is."
She laughed again, and Castiel thought maybe it sounded like bells. He missed the tolls of Heaven, and it was a lovely sound. "Two more of what he's got," the girl requested of the passing bartender. When their drinks were served, she took a sip of hers and laughed, pretty face contorted up. "Hoo, boy. How do you even knock this back?"
Castiel shook his head, as much at a loss as she was. "I suppose I have a high tolerance." Not even the burden of humanity could remove it, apparently. The former angel wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
"No lie, you do." Bravely, she took another healthy, long draw. Castiel couldn't help the fleeting smile at her gumption. "What's your name?"
"Cas," he replied, after a moment. He didn't think he would ever be Castiel again.
Of course. It had to be. Castiel felt an immediate pang of longing in his chest, and smiled regretfully to himself. "Hannah. The Anglicized form of its Hebrew origin. Mother of Samuel, wife to Elkanah." He looked at the girl, blue eyes sad and tormented. He couldn't help the gratitude he felt towards her presence now. "It means grace."
Hannah paused at the sudden quiet intensity of his voice. Soon though, her lips pulled apart in another lovely smile. "I didn't know that, actually."
"Names are very important."
"What does your name mean?"
Thursday. My cover is God. Castiel lowered his gaze. "I don't know."
The bartender served them another round.
"So, Cas… what's with the wallowing? Girl trouble?"
He didn't know why he felt so suddenly compelled to confide in her, but he did. Slowly, he began, trying to find his verbal footing. Make conversation. Keep a low profile. "I recently returned from a… bad experience." The more he spoke, the easier it became to lie, which surprised him. "I was at war. On this battlefield were things I've never seen before, things I never want to see again. Those men I came in with… I served with them. The one you saw with me I fought most recently beside. This war was… different. Worse, somehow. And, when I came back, my…" He suddenly had no idea what to call her. His voice hitched, breath caught in his throat. "Someone I cared about was gone. She died, while I was away." It felt like a betrayal to say this aloud, and something twisted painfully in his gut. "I couldn't save her."
It was quiet between them for a moment, and he could feel Hannah's large green eyes boring gently into him.
He was surprised by the genuine sincerity of her tone. Swallowing down the lump that had formed, Castiel stared back at her. "So am I."
"Do you know what happened to her?"
"That must be awful. You have to know that it isn't your fault, though, right?"
Castiel said nothing, choosing to disregard the topic entirely. Instead, he took a moment to comb his gaze over the woman sitting next to him. She was a pretty thing to look at. Everything about her seemed soft; open. There was understanding in her eyes, and a compassion that no being could convincingly fake. He wondered what on earth she was doing here, of all places. "Why are you sitting with me, Hannah?"
Her stare seemed just as intense as his own, layers of concern peeking through. "You seemed sad. Sadder than people usually are in places like this. You looked like you could use someone to talk to." Hannah shrugged. "Everyone needs that, you know? Any friends we have, they're important, but sometimes we all just need a stranger to listen now and then."
Castiel considered this carefully. "What you're saying doesn't make any logical sense, and yet it feels true."
The feel of her hand as it rested over his arm caused him to look down in surprise. The warmth there kept him from pulling away. "Why don't you come home with me? You look like you could use a break."
The fallen angel hesitated. Blue eyes rounded in an almost pleading way—for what, he didn't know. He missed Meg, and every individual thorn of her twisted pain. But his own pain he desired to rid himself of with a desperation he could barely ever remember feeling.
"I won't hold you to any obligation. We can talk a little more, get to know each other. Take this someplace quieter and escape for awhile, you know? Or… I can help you forget. I just don't want to spend the rest of the night in a bar with Jack Daniels. Do you?"
There was something about her that was so… warm. Peaceful. Castiel stared back at her, almost enchanted by her goodness, and the feeling of safety her company promised. Every awareness narrowed until the people surrounding them were lost in the fog.
He had no idea where the Winchesters were. And, for once, he didn't care.
Her legs are wrapped around his waist as he presses her back into the wall. Her fingers comb patterns through his hair while he leaves open-mouthed kisses along her throat and collarbone. Hannah works at the buttons of his shirt, in no hurry, and it throws him.
She doesn't scratch him or claw at him with her hands or true form (nor can she, because she's only human). Everything about her is gentle and tame, and it doesn't feel right. It's not the same, but he doesn't care in that moment because he's lonely and the walls are closing in and he just wants to forget about the nightmares. About everything.
There are no shattered lights, no broken furniture. (Because now he's human too.)
Hannah notices his scars and connects them with featherlight fingers, like the whisper of wings he can no longer feel. She's so different from his queen of thorns.
Sometimes he has dreams of saving her. Dreams of still being an angel, of still being useful and not a broken shell of a creature he'll never be again. Every buried secret rises once more to the surface, misery and guilt being the foremost of these emotions. What he's done, what has been done to him.
"Who's Meg?" Hannah asks him quietly when they are lying tangled in the sheets of her bed together. The morning sun peeks through gossamer curtains, bathing the room in muted light.
Castiel realizes then that he's probably whispered her name in his sleep, as he so often was prone to do lately. With a sad rumble, he replies, "She saved me once."
Men would be angels, and angels would be gods. After the fall, gods would welcome humanity with wounded hearts and broken wings.
Author's Note: Love me some reviews. Praise, constructive criticism, favorite part, whateva.