For the Beauty of the Earth
A/N: This one is for my friend Arthur. We had a conversation about the similarities and differences between the Doctor and Castiel, and determined that they needed to talk. =) I hope that this satisfies!
I included direct quotes from the Doctor Who episodes "Rose" and "Gridlock," and the Supernatural episode "The Man Who Would Be King."
"Tell me about Gallifrey."
The Doctor's shoulders tense, but he gives no other sign that the request sends a shooting pain up from his stomach and through his hearts, coming to rest somewhere behind his eyes. The retort is on his tongue before he can remind himself that it's petty and hurtful and he has no right; that the being sitting beside him on a park bench in an ill-fitting body and coat is speaking out of ignorance rather than malice.
He snaps, "Then you tell me about Heaven."
Not even a second later he is ashamed. He glances aside to see blue eyes that have widened a fraction beyond normal. The change in expression is so slight that it's unlikely a human would detect it. But the Doctor has traveled the universe and learned to interpret more kinds of expressions than he can count, so he is not fooled by the subtle and awkward ways which an angel manipulates a borrowed face.
"I'm sorry, Castiel," he says immediately, as he turns away from the bewilderment and hurt, instead tracking the movements of an empty swing disturbed by the wind while rubbing the back of his head in a mostly unconscious gesture of awkwardness. "That was rude. Rude and uncalled for. Forget I said that."
"I am unable to forget on purpose," says Castiel, and when the Doctor glances back to him, he allows himself a small grin at the confused frown on Castiel's face. Whatever pain he may have caused—and he is always sorry for causing pain—has been overridden as Castiel tries to process the unfamiliar human parlance.
"It's a figure of speech," says the Doctor. "It means that I said something that I regret saying, and I don't want you to respond to it after all. That I'm sorry for bringing up something…painful."
"Ah, I see," says Castiel, gazing intently at the Doctor with his head tilted to the side as though regarding a living puzzle box. "It was also not my intention to—"
Before he can finish his apology, the Doctor flaps his hand in dismissal. "I know, it's fine."
And the Doctor pushes down on the turmoil that's so close to the surface, presses it back from his eyes and as low as it will go, which is somewhere in the vicinity of his liver. But the problem with this strategy is that it leaves room for curiosity to bubble up. If trying to contain the pain of Gallifrey makes his organs feel tender and unstable, he wonders how Heaven feels to Castiel now that his once expansive essence is trapped in a body never intended for him. Is he nauseous? Does his head ache, or do the muscles in his back all seize up? Does he even know that these sensations are emotional in origin, can he process trembling hands or pressure in his tear glands as evidence that the dam is about to break?
The Doctor's concern manifests itself as the question, "Is your new body giving you trouble?"
It occurs to the Doctor that this is probably a non-sequitur, that his recent companions complain when he suddenly changes the track of the conversation without explaining the chain of thoughts which lead him there.
But Castiel, who has spent the last several years adjusting to the many nuances of human conversation, doesn't seem troubled. "I am adjusting," he responds. He pauses, considering the Doctor. "My experience in adapting to a new form is likely different than yours. I did inhabit Jimmy Novak's body for several years before becoming bound to it."
"And I was just brand new, all at once with no 'try before you buy' period," says the Doctor, grinning.
Castiel nods solemnly. "In some ways, it must have been more disorienting, having no time to adjust to the workings of a new body. However—" He hesitates. The Doctor waits for him to collect his thoughts in a rare moment of patience. This is a difficult period of adjustment for Castiel, and he needs the little shifts of the everyday Earth to ground him. He watches several leaves fall from a nearby oak, and tracks the progress of shadows from small, puffy clouds which scuttle across the playground, and notes a car stalling at a stop sign before he is ready to continue.
"However, the form you wear now has been yours since its creation. And despite the difficulty of switching between ten different bodies, they've all been yours."
When those intense, blue eyes turn to the Doctor, it occurs to him that the weight of years behind them far outstrips his own lifetime. They are both so young to their own kinds, and so ancient sitting on this park bench.
"I think, Castiel, that when Jimmy looked at the world, it was with different eyes. These are yours."
Castiel frowns, and shakes his head. "I understand the metaphor. I even understand the physicality of it. The vast difference between my thoughts and experiences and Jimmy Novak's is visible in how I inhabit his body, in how I stand and how I move, and perhaps even, as you say, in my eyes."
"But 'to see the world through different eyes' is an expression meant to deal with perspective, not literal eyes and optic nerves and a brain which another being was born to."
Castiel's frown deepens. "Do I what?
The Doctor pushes his glasses further up his nose as though the gesture will help with mental clarity, and leans forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. "Do you see the world differently now that you have a physical brain to store it all, and eyes and ears and a tongue?"
In the distance the stalled car makes a grinding noise, and Castiel jumps, a barely visible tremor, narrowing his eyes at it. "The moment I took a vessel to walk the Earth everything began to change, on Earth and in Heaven and in me. It is difficult to tell cause from effect. I believe that were I still formless in this dimension, a creature of pure grace, I would still be changed."
The "and angels are not built to change" went unspoken.
"When I change form…" the Doctor begins, and stops. He takes a breath, and props his chin on his hand, looking up from his slouched position at Castiel who still sits rigidly upright. He tries again. "My new body is a direct response to the circumstances of my regeneration. Who I was dies, and so my new body has to reflect who I have the potential to become."
There was a war, and loss, and grief, and when he was new it was with shrapnel scraping at his bones. The next time, the battle ended in a kiss, and when he was new it was with the promise of life like a red Rose that bloomed in the flat and empty darkness.
"Potential…" Castiel echoes, and in an endearingly human gesture, he bites his lower lip. When he speaks, it's slowly, weighing every word. "Until I rebelled, I never had potential. I sang the music of stars and felt the shift and pull of the universe and marveled at the fragile beauty of my Father's creation from above. But I believe that I learned potential from humanity. From Dean."
A thought from another lifetime echoes across the Doctor's mind: I can feel it…the turn of the Earth…clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go…
The Doctor smiles. "I used to think that a day would come when I'd be done learning. My neural pathways would be all connected and set, perfect and complete. And then I came to an unremarkable blue planet orbiting a perfectly ordinary star in a perfectly ordinary galaxy, and ever since the human race has never stopped surprising me with all of their brilliant potentiality."
Castiel hunches his shoulders, staring at his hands in his lap. "Most angels would consider it a horror to be one of them. A crippling limitation."
"It's an honor that I don't deserve."
The Doctor sighs, and suddenly sits up, flinging his arm over Castiel's shoulders. Castiel tenses, and regards the Doctor with suspicion.
"Castiel, Angel of Thursday, you helped change a fixed point. This world would be crispy burnt toast without you, and you deserve to live out a perfectly ordinary human life—the highest honor."
And wonder of wonders, Castiel blushes. But he is calm and sincere when he responds, "and yet you, who have been more of a guardian to humanity than most angels, do not believe the same of yourself."
The Doctor takes an involuntary breath before letting his arm slide back to his side and his head fall back to look up at the illusion of a steady blue atmosphere.
"I've caused too much pain."
He doesn't say, "There are too many that I've failed to save, and too many more that I killed."
But of all beings, the fallen angel beside him would know. "What makes your circumstances so different from mine?"
The Doctor merely closes his eyes. It's true that almost every charge he can think of, from delusions of grandeur to genocide, Castiel can also claim, and yet he would never lay the same burdens of guilt on Castiel that he does on himself.
So Castiel answers for him. "Is it because despite my sins Heaven remains, and Gallifrey does not?"
Splayed out on the bench in the weak yet warm light of Autumn, the Doctor lets Gallifrey hurt, this time without pushing down on the grief, and he lets the thought slip from his mind in the presence of one who can possibly understand. "They say that time heals, you know. Humans do. Wounds that go too deep to patch up in the usual ways, the ones that fester, the ones that are so good at laying dormant that everyone but you forgets they're there…they say time heals them."
"What did Time Lords say?"
After the years of running, alone or with a warm human hand in his, the past tense still hurts.
"They said: that which is fixed cannot change."
To the Doctor's surprise, Castiel lets out a little huff of a laugh. He opens his eyes, and Castiel is looking at his hands again, flexing the right one. He says, "I believe I prefer the human way. Perhaps I always did."
The Doctor quirks a grin, and it's bittersweet, which he supposes is better than no flavor at all. But he is honest, and genuinely happy for Castiel when he says, "In that case, this regeneration suits you."
They fall on the quiet but it isn't heavy. Two young children spill out of the stalled car and run to the swings while an adult gets out and leans against the side of the car, half of his attention on the phone at his ear and the other half on the children. It's peaceful and it's human. The two beings on the bench in suits and long brown coats are technically outsiders, but it doesn't feel like it.
Abruptly, Castiel begins. "Heaven isn't one place, but many…" And perhaps because the Doctor can understand the intricacies of dimensions in ways that Castiel's human companions can't, Castiel speaks until the usual gravel in his voice has given way to dust, as the Earth turns and the sun shifts down the sky and the children pile together all of the leaves they can find with only their hands.
Eventually, he says, "As an angel, I did not have my own Heaven the way humans do. Now that I will age and die, I don't know what will happen to me." He is calm about the concept, not entirely devoid of the fatalism of angels even now. "But when Heaven was open to the angels and I walked among human souls…" He stalls, and the Doctor senses a highly personal revelation in the fidgeting of his hands and the sideways shift of his eyes. "…my favorite Heaven was the eternal Tuesday afternoon of an autistic man who died in a bathtub in 1953."
And after Castiel runs out of words to describe the lost sanctuary that he borrowed for his own, the Doctor lets the hurt mix with the beauty, lets his body relax, and speaks.
"On Gallifrey there were two suns in the burnt orange sky. The second sun would rise in the south and the mountains would shine. The leaves on the trees were silver. When they caught the light every morning it looked like a forest on fire…"