Rating: PG-13 for language
Characters: Dean, Castiel
Word Count: 3000
Summary: Sequel to my earlier fic, “Knights, Kings and Sparrows.” Dean and Castiel have a post-"Heaven and Hell" conversation about Sam, Anna, and the nature of angels.
Author’s notes: If you are unfamiliar with the fic that precedes this one, a one-paragraph summary is below the break. Additional author’s notes also below the break.
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Generic warning on all of my fics: A small number of my stories contain character death. For artistic reasons, I prefer not to give it away in the headers. If you will not read a story unless you know whether one of the Winchester brothers dies, click here for the spoiler.
One-paragraph summary of “Knights, Kings, and Sparrows:” An alternate ending to “Heaven and Hell” in which Sam has a crisis of faith, provoking Castiel to first rage and then compassion. Castiel assures Sam that salvation is possible and promises to pray for him, even if the day comes that Castiel must smite Sam. Dean is made deeply uncomfortable by the God talk and weighed down by guilt about his time in hell. The story ends with Dean asking Castiel to step outside so that Sam can pull himself together.
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Castiel was still waiting for him when he came out of the barn: not the biggest surprise of the day, but a surprise nonetheless. Another surprise was his reluctance to approach him. Uriel’s pettiness and Castiel’s normally composed demeanor had lulled him into thinking of angels as super-octane humans; Castiel’s contained rage when Sam provoked him and then his eerie calm in the aftermath had served as sharp reminders that the figure leaning against the fence was only a screen between him and a being as old and alien as the stars.
He stuffed the hesitation down, because Dean Winchester is intimidated by no one, and joined the angel. Castiel was seemingly engrossed by a study of the woods skirting the cleared area around the barn. Long-ingrained habit prompted him to scan the trees for some potential threat, but there was nothing there—Castiel just liked the view.
“Want me to flush out a rabbit for you to look at?” he offered.
The corners of the angel’s eyes crinkled. “You should try to appreciate God’s creations more,” he said.
He tried. The trees were just trees, so he looked at the angel through his peripheral vision instead. Castiel’s trenchcoat hung in the same lines it always did, and the fabric was as clean as it had been before Alistair had knocked the angel’s host to the filthy barn floor and tried to throttle the light out of him. He wondered if the guy who loaned Castiel his wheels would have straightened his tie or taken it off for the Apocalypse, or shaved that morning if he’d known he’d be wearing stubble into eternity.
Then he caught the lines of fatigue on the angel’s face and noticed how heavily he was leaning against the railing. “Are you, uh, hurt?” he asked, remembering Castiel’s stunned expression and impotent struggles as the demon's hands tightened around his throat.
“Let us say that I’m grateful Alistair’s call for hell’s aid was interrupted,” Castiel answered with a nod of thanks.
“I owed you one,” he mumbled. Seizing the opportunity, he tagged on, “What about him? The vessel, I mean.”
Castiel looked down at the body like he’d forgotten he was wearing it. “He’s safe. Alistair could not have harmed him.”
That didn’t reveal whether the host was already dead, in suspended animation, or hanging around in a waiting room with fluffy white couches and King James Bibles until Castiel was done with the body one way or another, but it was more of an answer than he’d expected, so he figured he should count it as a win.
“Dean, do you know what you and I share that Sam lacks?” Castiel asked, interrupting his thoughts.
“I dunno,” he answered, startled. “An angel’s fingerprints?”
That got him a half-smile. “A warrior’s spirit.”
He bristled automatically on his brother’s behalf. “Sam does fine. He does great.”
“Of course he does. You and your father taught him well,” Castiel answered. “But he does not easily find peace in the midst of strife—or so it seems to me.”
“You’re not wrong,” he conceded. “Thanks for, uh…” Giving him hope and then crushing it. “Thanks for trying with him.”
Castiel shook his head. “There’s no need to thank me. I’m no healer, but I would be a poor defender of souls if I abandoned one in peril without doing what I could.”
“Did you believe what you told him?” he couldn’t help but ask, since the angel was in an answering sort of mood.
“Of course. I question my own judgment, Dean. To doubt the Word is…inconceivable.” For once Castiel’s expression was peaceful rather than impassive, like thinking about Scripture had smoothed away whatever tension was caused by getting choked and then losing his quarry in a ball of demon-sucking light. “Sam would ask if that is my faith, or an angel’s nature.”
“Does it matter?”
The angel’s face was inhuman in its serenity. “Nothing could matter less.”
Without skipping a beat, he added, “Dean, you must understand this changes nothing. I empathize with Sam as much as my kind can, but if the worst should come to pass, I will show him no mercy.”
Mercy. He couldn’t remember the last time he thought mercy played a role in this world. “An angel’s got to do what an angel’s got to do, right?” he said, trying to keep his tone neutral.
“And I do remain a heartless son of a bitch,” Castiel responded amiably.
“Whoa,” he said, rocking back on his heels. “I didn’t know angels could swear.” He wasn’t about to apologize for something they all agreed on, but still…whoa.
“What soldier can’t?” Castiel countered with what he would have thought was the ghost of a smirk, if he didn’t know better.
Maybe he didn’t know better. The angels had been dicks from the beginning but not emotionless; he suspected that Anna’s human brain chemistry couldn’t fully process the memories of the angel experience. Well, she had that back again, want it or not—at least until the others caught up with her.
“Cas, can I ask you a question?” he ventured.
“It appears that I’ve given the Winchesters free rein to ask questions today,” Castiel responded. His tone carried no rebuke, but it was a subtle reminder that, as Uriel made clear, an angel had no reason to speak to him civilly, let alone treat him as a peer.
“You’ve never seen the face of God, right? You take him on faith. What about, uh….” He felt like a five-year-old, but he wasn’t going to give up the chance to ask this question because it sounded stupid. “Have you ever been to heaven?”
Castiel’s expression turned wistful. “There are different spheres in heaven, and one of them is the angels’ true home. Yes, I’ve been there.” He studied a vine twisting around a rusting piece of farm equipment. “I have been among choirs of angels singing praises to God in harmonies you cannot imagine,” he said, which was true—the only voice he could imagine less harmonious than the angel’s borrowed voice was his real one.
“Being away can seem like…banishment,” Castiel finished, his voice filled with resigned acceptance of the homesickness that Anna cut out her own grace to escape. “But it is necessary.”
“Because orders are orders,” he said, hearing too late the note of sarcasm in his tone.
“Because humanity will not stand long against Satan’s armies if the hosts of heaven abandon their posts,” Castiel said mildly. “Anna knew that as well as she knew the penalty for desertion. Which is no different from what yours was, when last I visited earth,” he added.
“We’ve evolved,” he muttered, glancing away anyway. Deserter—he’d managed to avoid thinking the word until now. “She was alone for two thousand years,” he appealed, looking back to Castiel. “How was anyone supposed to handle that?”
“Through faith,” Castiel answered. “Faith that one day God’s plan will be fulfilled and the angels will be recalled to heaven. And when that happens, two thousand years, two thousand millennia, two thousand eons will pale in the face of eternity.”
That preternatural calm settled over the host’s features, turning them into something ethereal. He wondered what it said about God, that his most beautiful creations were his weapons.
“I told her, ‘Have patience, my sister. There is no need to covet another creature’s fleeting pleasures,’” Castiel went on, half to himself. “But it is not my place to spout platitudes at my betters.”
“Anna told you that?” he asked. The more he learned about angels, the more dickish they got.
“At length and with a certain volume.” Castiel looked down at his interlaced fingers. “I suspect that giving me this assignment appealed to someone’s sense of poetic justice.”
Yeah, they just kept getting more dickish.
“You don’t think she deserves to die, do you?” he asked, remembering Castiel’s apology before Alistair interrupted them. He wasn’t sure why he was pushing it. Maybe because every minute Castiel spent talking about Anna was another minute on her head start; maybe because he was holding out hope that the closest thing he had to a friend on this earth was something close to human. “I mean, I bet you didn’t tell Lucifer you were sorry the hammer got dropped on him.”
Castiel chuckled. Out loud, twice, which was probably the angel equivalent of laughing until his teeth fell out. “I’m a footsoldier, Dean. The triumph over Lucifer belongs to Michael alone.” His eyes took on the distant look of recalling past battles. “I didn’t even see it—Michael was so far in the vanguard that we in the ranks saw little but the flames of his sword. In a certain…irony, I followed Anna into the battle.”
“She said you were like foxhole buddies,” he prompted, because stalling tactics aside, there was one hell of a war story coming up if Castiel kept talking.
“She led what you would call my centuria.” The angel rolled the ‘r’ of the last word in a way he’d never quite heard before, the way it must have been pronounced back when Castiel’s vessel was wearing a toga instead of a suit. Sam would probably kill to get a recording of this guy reading a Latin exorcism. “My company,” Castiel amended, correcting for time and place.
The archaic analogy was a weird slip for someone familiar with modern warfare. He did the math on when Anna had been assigned her last post, when Castiel had last been beamed down to earth, and came up with…
“You two served together from Creation up to two thousand years ago?” He winced at the mental picture of Uriel’s glee when he’d reported to Castiel just how far his former CO had fallen. “That’s some history.”
“Even for an angel,” Castiel confirmed. “In answer to your question, Dean: I regretted Anna’s fall as much as my kind was able to, and I…would have preferred not to receive this assignment. But it is not in my nature to trust my judgment over that of my superiors, or to permit such feelings as I may have to influence how I execute my orders.”
‘How,’ not ‘if,’ he noted, like disobedience didn’t cross an angel’s mind even in the abstract. “Such feelings as you have?” he repeated out loud.
“Yes. Angels are not automatons: we have some emotions and can make some choices, but we cannot choose as freely or feel as intensely as you do. Not because we are forbidden to do so, but because we were created without the potential to.”
Castiel fell silent, but gave no indication that theology class was over for the day. That’s when it occurred to him that if the angel had enough strength and control to somehow manifest his true size while using the vessel to protect Sam from his blinding visage, he was probably strong enough to play through the pain or at least limp back to let Uriel off his choke chain before they lost Anna’s trail.
Well. There’s disobeying orders, and then there’s making on-the-ground decisions about what takes priority.
“Y’know, that thing about God remembering the sparrows went straight over my head, and it sounded important,” he tried. “Maybe you could take me through it again, real slow.”
“The game with Anna has changed. She is no longer your concern.” Busted, though he couldn’t tell from the flat-voiced response if Castiel was wigged out about him screwing his former CO, wasn’t wigged out about it, or if angels are missing the wigging-out gene. He could swear he saw another ghost of a smile, though, when the angel added, “But since time may be of the essence the next time we meet, in my judgment it’s better to show you a few minutes of undeserved patience now than to deal with a new rebellion then.”
God. Four months ago he’d been Alistair’s blue-eyed boy while Sam was fighting evil and screwing a demon, secure in the faith that two immutable forces of good were the angels and his big brother. Now he was conspiring to help a fallen angel escape after showing her a good time in the back of a vintage car, and Sam was alone in a decrepit barn, struggling with his crumbling faith. God’s sense of humor was sicker than Lilith’s.
“My life would have been a lot easier if Dad figured out that worked on Sam,” he said. The angel gave him a ‘What idiot couldn’t guess that?’ look, and a custom-designed heartless son of a bitch now officially had better parenting instincts than John Winchester.
And he’d run out of reasons to put off asking his real question.
He gripped the rough-hewn fence rail, steeling himself. “Before my dad, uh…before he died, he told me I should kill Sam if I couldn’t save him. It was the last thing he said to me.”
“He shouldn’t have asked that of you,” Castiel said when he paused. The angel was probably talking about horning in on the smiting gig, but hearing the answer from a neutral party was such a relief that he didn’t care why.
“But he was right, wasn’t he? I’d put a bullet in Sam’s head in a heartbeat if it would save him from the Pit.” Hearing the words aloud didn’t horrify him as much as it should have. There was no condemnation in Castiel’s face, there might even be a trace of sympathy, so he gripped the rail tighter and asked, “Do you know where he was before I brought him back?”
Castiel shook his head. “Not directly, but a demon cannot rip a soul from heaven, and Sam would have been shown no leniency if there were fear his powers had been brought back from hell,” he answered. “Sometimes a spirit can linger until the body is laid to rest; he may have chosen to stay with you until the last moment.”
“Yeah, Sam would figure he could go on his own schedule.” He swallowed. “But I know what kind of people are in Hell, and Sam wouldn’t have gone there. So maybe…maybe he’d be better off if I’d let him go.”
Castiel sighed. “I have two answers, Dean, both true, and you won’t like either one.”
“Is one of them ‘Have faith?’”
“Yes. And the other is, ‘I don’t know.’ The will of our Father”—Castiel stressed the pronoun—“is as much of a mystery to me as it is to you. But we both know that the situation we’re facing today was generations in the making. Your actions are not the only ones that put Sam where he is now, and you can’t protect him from the choices he’ll make in the future. Or, ” he added, his gaze cool and level, “from their consequences.”
This was the marble-statue perfection Anna described, the invulnerable guardian his mother trusted, and he saw his brother’s death in those gunmetal blue eyes. Two deaths: one pitiless, with a murmured prayer of sorrow for a lost creation as the angel pulled his blade free and stepped over the corpse without breaking stride; the other gentle, with the whispered hope that an angel’s prayer might win mercy for a soul not past redemption. Whether he agreed with the command or not, Castiel would kill Sam without blinking if the order came down from on high.
“Yeah, Dad and me learned early on that you can’t get between Sam and his choices,” he said.
“God’s gifts are not easily taken from his creations.” Castiel stepped back from the fence. “Will you accept a word of angelic wisdom before I go, Dean?”
“You and Sam share a rare bond, and he depends on you more than he realizes. He’d rather lose you than have you follow him if he falls, but if his nature changes, that might change too. Stay on your guard.”
He thought back to what the angel had told Sam earlier. “Just why are you so sure that a swaggering ape would choose you over my brother anyway?” he asked.
“You may not like us or our methods, but you know that our ends are right. The memories of what hell will do to even the strongest and most virtuous of spirits is seared into your mind for a reason, Dean. Never forget what will happen to the billions of souls on earth if hell comes to them.”
He looked away from those unblinking, piercing eyes, almost choking on phantom sulfur. Distantly he heard Castiel say, “I pray for you too.”
“Thanks,” he said, feeling the knife in his hand again. “That’ll come in real handy.”
“It won’t hurt.” The angel’s voice was almost indulgent. “And it wouldn’t hurt you to learn a little virtue of the body and control your tongue. The world doesn’t have enough time for all the hosts of heaven to learn to like you.”
He snorted. “I guess angels can’t be all bad if they have a sense of humor.”
“Who said that we do?” the angel asked, but his teeth flashed in a smile before he vanished in a flutter of wings, leaving him alone in the space between the barn and the encroaching forest.
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Further A/N: I thought I’d be able to wrap this story up a week or so after “Knights, Kings and Sparrows” was posted: I was wrong. Sorry for the delay.
Comments are welcome, and all my fic may be found here.