Glass falls in sharp diamonds to the cobbles below.
Raphael looks up at the dark casement where the window frame hangs sad and empty behind its bars. A moment later, another window breaks, more glass falls in a sparkling cloud.
Raphael curses under his breath, then calls for his brothers.
He had hoped this night would never come.
Dean leaves the window, the candelabra still in his hand, and hurries to the door, where he smashes at the plate that bears Castiel's name. He hammers hard until the letters are blemished and broken.
Castiel lets out a shuddering breath, clutches the wall.
"I think...I think it's working...how did you-"
"I'm guessing," Dean says, eyes searching the whole room for any kind of weapon. "They'll be here soon."
He raises the candelabra and strikes the name again.
The whole house trembles as Raphael hurries up the stairs, Baldur and Michael in tow.
The chandelier over the hall trembles, it's crystals tinkling, the stairs and walls creaks, and tiles shudder loose from their moorings in the hearths and break.
"No!" Michael shouts, reaching the landing. "Stop it, Stop it at once!"
The name is almost distorted beyond recognition.
Castiel touches Dean's arm. He is white and strained, his wings full and flaring out behind him.
"I'm almost done."
Dean turns, and finds himself staring into a pair of pitch black eyes.
"I think we've made a terrible mistake." Castiel breathes.
As one, Raphael, Baldur and Michael reach the doorway of Castiel's chamber.
The door in front of them shimmers out of existence, followed by the walls, the floor, and then they too fade away like an old painting before the rays of the sun.
Dean stands aghast as the whole house disappears like faye mist. Until it is just him and Castiel, standing in the middle of a field by a twisted old tree, from which a flock of ravens burst, startled.
Dean falls to his knees, the sudden transformation of the house having sucked the strength from his very bones.
Some distance away, a group of white mice, Bobby, Ellen and the rest of the staff of the hall, run through the tangled grasses, one of them still sporting a stubble, the other a pair of tiny stays.
Castiel stands beneath the starry sky, beneath the full moon and the clouds. He stands beneath the atmosphere, the stratosphere. The galaxies between him and the end of everything. He can see it all.
And beyond that, is heaven.
How could he have forgotten heaven?
Tears fill his eyes, falling over his face. He had forgotten hell. Now it returns, in all it's bloody horror.
Every inch of his skin shivers.
God, if only he'd known. Known just what he was doing...he might have spared himself all of this.
Castiel turns and finds Dean standing on shaking legs. He is young and good and...soiled, Castiel can see that. He has done this. There's dual pang in him, there's the horror that he is the one who has taken this boy's virginity, followed by the sweetest tang of belonging.
"I remember now."
Dean swallows, takes a step forward. "The house..."
"The house wasn't real...none of it was." He looks about himself. "I think...I think I made it."
"What..." Dean shakes his head as if trying to clear it, though in the process he almost loses his balance. "You made the..."
"I created it." Castiel touches the dark trunk of the tree. "I emerged here, from hell. I was hurt, desperate. I needed somewhere to hide myself away, so I created this place, made it my home, with wards and guards and spells to keep them out...but I didn't know they'd make me forget how I came to be here."
"Hell?" Dean says, his voice cracking. "You came from Hell?"
Castiel turns to him, and Dean flinches away. Sorrow strikes Castiel through the heart.
"I thought you were an angel."
Castiel blinks, how to explain, that he can be both and nothing, everything and a negative space all at once.
"I was." He looks down at his hands. Where had he found this pattern, this body? It was an illusion he had created, but still, he was not the most imaginative, it had to be from somewhere. Returning his gaze to Dean he says softly. "You had best return to your family...thank you, for freeing me."
Dean doesn't move.
"I gave you permission to leave," Castiel says.
Dean shifts a little, as if he's nervous, but his words come out exact and solid. "I don't want to."
If Castiel was once an angel who had difficulty understanding the whys and wherefores of humans, his most recent past has made it ten times worse. He no longer understands himself, let alone other angels, let alone demons, let alone humanity. He does not understand Dean's refusal to leave him.
Put, nevertheless, he is pleased by it.
"Then stay by me."
Dean comes forwards slowly, but he lets Castiel seat them both on the grass, settling one wing around him. The feathers smell like the night sky, like distance and age and a deeper dark and brighter light than Dean will ever know.
"It's cold out here," Castiel says quietly, "I'd forgotten that I could be cold."
"I don't think I've ever not been cold," Dean scrunches up, knees to his chest, "Sam and I...well, there's never enough wood around for a proper fire, most of its wet, and Dad doesn't haul it anymore."
Castiel cocks his head like he's trying to comprehend such a small, human thing as lighting a fire to stay warm. He remembers fire, but not the kind of which Dean speaks. Not the kind that keeps you warm and comforts you with its dry crackling. He remembers the fire that burns from the inside out. The fire that eats only the flesh and sweetness, leaves the bitter and dark.
"When I was an angel," he says carefully, "I didn't feel either, the heat, or the cold...I don't know if that was better."
Dean shifts and looks at him, and Castiel knows that the fear in him isn't gone, but it is somehow tempered by love. While he understands the one, the latter is something he's only been witness to, but he can feel it growing in his breast, and, as savage might acknowledge a strange new plant without understanding it's biology, genus and evolution – So Castiel appreciates the slow growth of love inside himself. In a place he'd thought burnt to ashes.
"You're different," Dean says at last.
"I am." Castiel agrees, "because I remember."
"How did you get to hell?"
"The normal way." Castiel says, then, seeing that Dean frowns innocently at his response, he elaborates. "I fell...a long way."
"You couldn't fly?" Dean strokes his wing as he says it, and though Castiel has experienced pleasure before, this is a new kind – it's a prideful, sorrowful kind of pleasure, and he closes his eyes to feel it to the fullest.
"I wasn't able to fly, no...my wings were injured."
"By the other angels."
Dean goes quiet, and Castiel draws him close to his chest, wraps his arms and wings around the small human, barely more than a boy, still but half turned into a man, who had come to him when he was alone, when he'd lost himself, and made him remember.
Thought it hurt to remember, it was a rapture to hold him in his arms, and the two sensations made Castiel tremble.
The things he'd endured in hell were things that he had no words for. With his command of every language, both human, infernal and celestial, he had no words for the agony of the pit, because it was a pain that occurred on a level that wasn't purely physical or spiritual. He had had parts of himself taken that he couldn't name, other parts twisted and cut and moulded until they were unrecognisable. The Castiel after hell was not the Castiel before hell, and yet he was at a loss as to how to explain the difference. True, he felt now, felt more – but like what he couldn't say.
One thing was certain, he would never forgive them for pushing him, for flinging him in their terror down into the pit.
And why? Why had they done it?
Because for a second he had looked below and wondered...wondered for no more than a splintered second, if there might be...more, if maybe he wasn't quite sure that he didn't want...more.
That maybe God, and heaven and the other angels wasn't enough.
That maybe he wanted something for himself.
A selfish angel...that was something they had no encountered before.
"If I go back to Sam, to my Dad...you're coming with me, right?" Dean asked softly.
Torn from a lighter plain of memory, of bloody feathers like knives and clouds that boiled with hate, Castiel blinked and came back to the night, to the boyish man in his arms, to the softness of skin on his, the breath of night air.
"Of course, if you want me."
Dean cupped their hands together. "I can't remember not wanting you." He says, with such a human clumsiness that Castiel's broken, scarred and seared heart bleeds all over again for him, with tenderness, with love. "I think I've always wanted you...just, I didn't know it was you."
"When I was in hell," Castiel said, "they used to whisper to me, that I was alone, that I was a kind of...oddity. The angel that became a demon, that I would always be a single entity, That angel, the one that fell into the pit. And I believed them," he turns Dean's rough fingers in his, looking at them, "I think, this is the first time that an angel, any angel, has been glad to be wrong."
Castiel traced a hand over his feathers, then his wings shivered and disappeared.
"Far less likely to attract attention now," he said, then, noting Dean's expression of loss, "I can still show them again, if you'd like me to."
Together, Dean, who was not quite a man, and Castiel, who was not quite an angel, walked through the woods towards where John and Sam had settled. They travelled by foot so as to not attract suspicion, for Castiel feared that the angels were watching him. But he heard nothing of them, not a voice in his head, not a flutter in the air.
When they reached the cottage that Sam was caring for, while his father grieved and slept in equal measure, Castiel was accepted readily as another pair of hands and a back that would take any work placed on it.
At night, Castiel parted the illusion that cloaked his wings and showed them to Dean, showed him all he could of his nature, both angelic and demonic, and though Dean was often afraid of the strange things Castiel could do, or show him, or make him feel, his love never wavered, and that surprised Castiel at every turn.
The silence of the angels ceased the worry him eventually, perhaps they no longer cared about him. Perhaps they couldn't feel him, now that he was no longer entirely an angel. Perhaps there had been another war in heaven, as when Lucifer fell. It could be that his entire species was gone, wiped out, with only burnt earth in patches over heaven's surface to mark their passing.
Castiel loved Dean, and that was the limit of his cares.
To be selfish...was that not the greatest luxury?