"Do you really think Balthazar's going to help us?" Castiel asked as Ariel turned the glowing crystal in her hands curiously.
"He did leave this with me, so I don't know. We'll see. Anyway, he doesn't mean us harm, which is always a plus." She set the crystal in a warded box and shut it before placing it on a hidden shelf. The iodizing crystal had shown up without any note attached in Heaven one day and she'd immediately known who had sent it, since the last time she'd seen it had been when it had turned Raphael's vessel into pure salt.
Raphael had been missing since that day, clearly still vessel-shopping, which bought Ariel and Castiel some more time to strategize and plan a way to either avoid Raphael or strike back. Castiel was keen on hitting Raphael's forces hard before the archangel could return, but Ariel was still intent on at least convincing them to their side and preventing as much bloodshed as possible.
"You still haven't answered my question," Ariel added, turning back around to face Castiel, who frowned in confusion.
"You kept Sam's return a secret from me. Why?"
Castiel looked chagrined. "I thought you had more pressing matters to deal with at the time, what with Raphael's initial strike on us. I'm sorry."
"Are you?" Ariel pressed. "You've been keeping a lot of things from me lately. It just bugged me at first, but now's really not a good time to hide from me."
Castiel's lips pursed as he answered stiffly, clearly upset by her scolding, "I understand."
Ariel relaxed a little, patting his shoulder reassuringly. "We can't afford to be divided now, Cas, that's all." Castiel nodded as he relaxed marginally as well, letting her pass him on the way out before allowing his blank expression to fade into one of hurt and guilt.
Hey, Air? Think we might have a lead on one of your heavenly weapons. Cas is already here. You mind popping down for a sec?
"What's up?" Ariel arrived behind Dean, causing him to start even as Castiel blinked at her from the other side of the room.
"Gabriel's Horn of Truth," Dean answered, causing her to raise her eyebrows even as something in her chest clenched at the mention of Gabriel. "You have any idea where he might've stashed it?"
"I've searched already," Castiel insisted with a sigh, "But Dean refuses to take my word for it. And as you have always been closer to Gabriel-"
"You think I'd know where it's stashed," Ariel finished for him. "Well, I don't. Gabriel covered his tracks well when he left Heaven. For all I know, it's at the bottom of a volcano or something."
Dean looked disappointed. "Yeah. Okay."
"Sorry," she told him sincerely.
"Well, whatever. What about Sam?"
"Sam?" she echoed, frowning. "What about him?"
"You can't tell me you haven't noticed how weird he's been lately. With that kid when Cas was reading his soul, he didn't even say a word about how much pain the kid was going through," Dean pointed out.
"It was weird," Ariel admitted. "I didn't know something was actually wrong, though. I can look into it."
"I'll help," Castiel agreed, standing, and Dean gave him a grateful glance. "We'll make inquiries." He nodded to Ariel before disappearing.
She patted Dean's shoulder briefly. "Let me know if anything else comes up." He nodded, still looking glum as she vanished.
Castiel was waiting for her when she reappeared in Heaven's library. "You're going to look into Sam's behavior," he guessed.
"Of course I am. You think it was some after-effect of the Cage? Lucifer, maybe?"
"Did you sense Lucifer?" Castiel pressed, frowning.
"Well, no," Ariel said with a shrug, "Honestly, Sam seemed fine to me. I'd have to read him again sometime to check, though."
"Don't you think we have more important issues to deal with?" Castiel pointed out.
"What, Raphael?" Ariel raised her eyebrows. "He's still looking for another vessel. He won't be a problem for a while, and none of his followers will do anything unless he's back giving orders. Why're you so keen on keeping me away from anything involving Sam, anyway?"
Castiel faltered, blinking. "I-I don't know what you mean."
"Of course you do. Keeping his return from me, and now trying to keep me from looking into what's wrong with him?" Ariel frowned. "What's up with you lately?"
Castiel shook his head. "I don't know what you mean," he said more firmly. "All I'm asking is that you keep our priorities in order. The Winchesters are grown men, they can handle themselves for a while without your coddling."
"I'm not coddling. They're my friends. You used to think the same way!" she retorted.
"And then this war happened! You may be no soldier, but I am! I had to raise myself that way ever since you left me!" She flinched back, hurt by his angry accusation. "You may not want to hear this, but we are soldiers now, whether you want to be or not!"
Turning sharply, Ariel disappeared as her eyes stung with barely-suppressed tears, ignoring Castiel's call for her to come back, only to arrive in the same spot of the library. Confused, she looked around, finding Castiel looking agitated on the other side of the room.
When he looked up, his expression softened with relief. "There you are. I've been searching everywhere for you."
"I was just here a second ago," she reminded him irritably.
He frowned. "You've been gone for hours."
"I have?" Ariel scanned her own memory, but came up blank. "The last thing I remember is leaving, and then I just showed up back here. I just figured something must've been wrong with my flight."
Castiel looked uneasy. "It doesn't explain why you just vanished for a large period of time. And why you didn't realize you had."
Ariel nodded, anger and hurt forgotten as she ran a hand through her hair. "I don't get it, either."
Castiel hesitated then. "About what I said-"
"No, you're right," she cut in quickly, the words coming almost automatically, "I've been running away from this war long enough. It's time we took the initiative and fought back."
Castiel blinked, surprised by her sudden turnabout, before nodding. "I'm glad you understand, sister. No hard feelings between us?"
She smiled back at him faintly. "We're good. Don't worry." She nudged his shoulder affectionately. "I'll take care of the battle strategies. You figure out what's up with Sam and report back to me." Castiel nodded and vanished, allowing Ariel to sink into a chair at the library and wonder why a chunk of her memory had apparently disappeared.
Something was wrong here, and she intended to find out what.
So I really have no excuse for the long wait and the short update other than lack of muse and attempt at wording this. I've recently gotten into Merlin and I got two new PC videogames (Arkham Asylum and City), so I've been catching up on fandoms and beating up the Joker for the past few months. I'm still sorry for the lack of attention I've paid to this story, though. It's one of my favorites to write, and unfortunately, life's just been getting in the way.
Happy belated holidays to everyone and I hope I can get another chapter or two (maybe short, maybe long, who knows with the way my muse is working at the moment) out before my semester in college begins again! Enjoy!