Characters: Castiel, God, Sam n' Dean
Warnings: Some language.
Spoilers: Up to and including 5x08
Disclaimer: Supernatural would be much happier if I owned it.
Summary: It's not something he imagined, not now, but the metal burns into his skin anyway.
Author's Note: After three weeks of writing this fic, it's done! A huge thanks to heartoutofstone for all the encouragement and to rainbowstevie for some God talk. I'm sorta ambivalent about parts of it, but if I don't post it now, I never will. Oh, and I'm probably, definitely working on a prequel and a couple sequels to this. Title from Psalm 145:18.
The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.
Dean hates witches. This is something that Castiel has known since he pulled Dean from Hell, struggling the entire way because he did not believe himself worthy to be saved. In his time with the Winchesters, though, he's come to appreciate this abhorrence.
So, when hunting ("Good old, saving people, hunting," Dean said when he last called to inform the angel of his whereabouts. "Even if it is fucking witches.") the not-so lesser servants of Lucifer took a turn for the worse and Sam had called, breath rough and tinny through the phone line, Castiel had been happy enough to help clean up the wreckage.
Perhaps sew up would have been more apt, he thinks, pulling the needle and thread through a slash on Dean's forearm. Sam is showering, washing away sweat and blood, most from his brother's injuries, and Dean keeps muttering about witch reinforcements appearing in broad daylight.
"Shit, Cas," Dean hisses when his fingers press against a wound a touch too hard.
"I'm sorry," he says and frowns; Jimmy is gone, and sometimes it's difficult to control precise movements without that inherent muscle memory. It has been getting easier lately, which is a thought that nags at Castiel, who can't decided whether it's a welcome development or a sign of his fall.
More gently, he takes a strip of Dean's torn shirt and wraps it around the gash to help soak up the blood. The grimace of pain on his patient's face softens when Dean says, "Thanks."
The bathroom door clicks open, and as Sam emerges, towel wrapped around his waist, bruises and small cuts lining his torso, it happens. The amulet Sam once gave to Dean, who, when asked, gave it to Castiel, flares, sharp and hot, against the skin of Castiel's chest. It's not something he imagined; not with the archangels preaching the death of God, not after his slow loss of power, not now, but the metal burns into his skin anyway.
He gasps a small startled sound against the tap of water from the leaky shower head hitting the tile and Sam's shuffled footsteps, but both brothers immediately look at him.
"I have to go," he manages before stretching out his wings and pushing through space.
Two days ago, Dean ate a bacon cheeseburger in a booth across from Castiel in Camden, Alabama. This was before the witches, directly before, because Castiel remembers the groan Dean uttered when Sam called with the case. Twenty-seven seconds later, he shut his phone and shoved it in his jacket pocket, hand coming back with twenty dollars too much for the pie-less meal he had eaten.
"I'll call you when we find the sons of bitches," he said, and slid out of the booth.
Castiel stands outside the same diner and tries to calm his racing pulse. Since he came back, the Jimmy shaped pieces of advice he used to look upon have gone, though that's no real surprise. But Sam takes deep breaths before hunting, so Castiel tries, pulling a mixture of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen into his lungs. His diaphragm expands and his heartbeat slows to a gentle thump-thump against his veins.
It's not courage, but the effect is bolstering enough.
Palm flat against the door, he pushes and listens to the bell above him clang cheerfully as if celebrating what is about to happen. Molly, the waitress from the other day, steps around the counter to greet him, smile on her face full of recognition.
"What can I do for you today, honey?" she asks, and Castiel lets her concern for her sister in surgery pass by without comment. Dean has said that people don't always like to hear reassurances from complete strangers, heavenly though they may be, and the restraint has proved useful over the last weeks. People no longer stare at him like they can tell he's something borrowing a human vessel.
(He wonders why it is demons can inhabit the bodies of neighbors, family, and coworkers, and no difference can be found by the populace, but an angel attracts suspicion. He would attempt a laugh, if it didn't scare him.)
"I'm," he starts, drawing out the contraction so he can glance down both sides of the aisle. At the counter an aged man rests his elbows on either side of a steaming cup of coffee, a cane hooked over his leg. The cook sets a plate of hash browns onto the serving window, hand reaching up to grab the next order. A young family sits at a booth by the window. The mother smiles at her daughter, but there's nothing extraordinarily divine about any of them.
The lone figure in the booth next to them, however, glances up, and the amulet burns his skin and sears his Grace again. "I'm with him," Castiel says.
Molly nods and follows him to the booth, whips out her notepad and pen as Castiel scoots onto the cracked red bench across the table from his Father. The Lord wears an unassuming guise, just a man with a shock of dark hair and even darker eyes, but Castiel can sense more than see the ever changing visage and the power that touches the edges of his Grace flowing freely from the man.
"Castiel," his Father says, voice steady. He turns to Molly and smiles. "I'll have a cup of coffee and a plate of fries, please." She jots the order down before raising an eyebrow at the angel, who shakes his head. Even if he needed to eat, he doesn't think he would find himself capable in this moment.
Molly steps away, leaving Cas and God staring at each other. The grin on God's face doesn't weaken, though something shifts in the air between them, makes it heavy on the shoulder's of Castiel's body, so similar to Jimmy's and so new. The churning that quickens his breathing feels like relief and anxiety, a combination that unsettles him even under his Father's protection.
God blinks, face rippling into a serious quirk of lips and eyebrows. There's a warm brush of something against his Grace, then his Father's expression softens. "Ask what you want to know."
The steady sincerity of His voice washes over Castiel, and he finds himself murmuring, "Raphael said that Lucifer raised me after I helped Dean escape from Heaven."
"Yes," God says, like the subject was expected. That it was raises the hair on his body's arms.
"Did he-" Cas starts, voice rough as Molly deposits a mug and plate on the table. He tries again when she turns. "Did Lucifer raise me?"
The almost warm look on God's face doesn't change, though He quiets and reaches for the sugar packets at the edge of the table. Fingers skip over blue and pink packets in favor of the white ones Dean has assured Castiel hold only the best.
"Castiel, no angel thrown from the Host or sitting in Heaven could have raised you and made you what you are now."
The words hold a thrum of power that washes over Castiel, hitting the feathers of wings that cannot exist in this body. Something caves perilously close to his heart, stops resisting, and the divide between his essence and human atoms is difficult to recognize. Still, he frowns, unable to help the gesture. "Father, I am unable to heal those in pain and the thoughts of my brothers are mere impressions on my Grace. I have been removed from Heaven. Is this not a sign of my corruption?"
A pensive line settles above God's eyes. Slowly, He says, "You disobeyed the orders of your brothers, and they-" The line has deepened on His brow. "-punished you as best they could after you were brought back." He smiles. "You won't have problems with your powers anymore."
Castiel maintains eye contact, though he reaches with his Grace towards one of the cuts a witch with jagged nails had given him. The skin of his forearm seals over the red gash, then fades to its unmarked norm. The faint pressure against his skull disappears as a concussion he hadn't noticed repairs itself. The witches, it seems, hadn't only landed blows on the brothers.
He wonders if he should apologize for his doubt, but God is tossing a fry into his mouth and watching Molly serve the elderly man at the counter another cup of coffee. It feels wrong to interrupt this moment of calm, more incorrect than to ignore his disobedience. The man grumbles at Molly; he doesn't have much time left, Castiel knows. Death is not yet waiting for him, but within the month his soul will be ferried from earth.
Pushing at Castiel's grace is the mother in the next booth over. She laughs at her husband and, there, a coil of life growing by the moment rests in her womb. How much detail he missed without his powers is disconcerting, but another little push from the embryo relieves some of the worry.
Almost against his will, he speaks.
"Why did you leave?"
The words are a harsh contrast to the relative quiet, and for one extended second, he worries about his tone. But God picks up his fork and twists the metal in His fingers, and Castiel doesn't know what to do with the gesture. It seems so hopelessly human, or what Castiel has come to understand as human, and nothing like the God he envisioned.
"Do you remember," God begins, the unfinished question sparking memories as vivid as when they first took place that flood through Castiel and remove all other thought.
Knowledge of heat, sweat, tears, and blood is pushed aside by the sense of awakening. The heaviness of his angelic form as he first lifts his wings is matched with the awe pressing into him that turns to love and joy at the song of the Host. Michael's words burn into him, mark his Grace, "The Creator is divine. His children, the Host, are we."
And all is lost in song, eons of time uncounted knowing only his brethren and his Father, until he looks from the stars to see the earth. He hardly sees the humans there before he hears the song of his brothers quiet. Castiel tears his eyes from the people below to see Michael at Lucifer's throat, and then his brothers descend before vanishing beneath the earth. A strange emptiness remains where fellow Grace once met his, and Uriel shifts closer in the void.
"Made in the Father's image," he says, eyes tracking small footprints in the mud.
Castiel returns to the stars.
Slowly, the stars form a table. God blinks at him across a half-full plate of fries, licking salt from His fingers. "Hmm," He murmurs. "I didn't-" Stops and seems to become more, sending alarms ringing across Castiel's angelic senses. "It was after the Crusades," his Father says instead. "After the war humanity called holy."
The shuddering of human souls as they fight each other is not something Castiel can or could ever over look. He remembers clearly stopping all activity to watch the horror. "I heard a kid crying, one small child among thousands, and I knew I could help her find her home. She lived in a tiny village that had been burned when the Christian warriors tore through. Her mother had barely gotten the child out before the fighting began and she was dragged back.
"I knew I could help her, so I entered the mortal plane and did. Took her by the hand and led her to her mother. I had every intention of going back." God rocks like he wants to shrug and knows how it'll appear, channeling the movement of his shoulders to propel his forearms towards the table. "And then there was another child, a man left to die on the side of the road, the blind woman named witch. I guess, I lost the forest for the trees."
That God could have forgotten the bigger picture even for a moment shocks Castiel, and (implausibly, Castiel thinks because he believes more strongly than ever before) it sends sparks of anger though him. He's angry that God relinquished His position and took to the earth, forsaking those who called upon him, letting Heaven run towards chaos and Hell escape its prison.
Dark brown eyes meet his stare, glinting as their pupils expand. "I heard every cry from every living creature during my time on earth. I knew of Azazel's, then Lilith's, now Lucifer's plans, of Heaven's doubt. I knew when Dean sacrificed himself for his brother, and I am the one who told the archangels to save him. I chose you to raise him and stand by him, though none of you would understand how. I did not abandon you. I would never abandon you."
God sucks in a breath and leans slowly back in his seat. "I just let you do as your characters allow without interference."
"Uriel, then..." Castiel says, slouching as much as he is able. "My brothers in Heaven?"
"Uriel would have fallen in time, through no fault of anyone's but his own pride. And the angels fought while I was in Heaven, too, you haven't forgotten that, Castiel, I know you haven't." God sighs at this. "I would have moved to stop Lucifer now, and Anna would have heard the angels and been captured by demons because Sam wouldn't have let demon blood rule him. Dean would never have gone to Hell. You would have felt doubt but never acted on it.
"I usually find it's best not to worry about the would have beens. I should know; reality has a funny way of winding around me and speaking its truths."
Castiel lets this knowledge roll over him, terrible and certain as it is, and the silence that falls between he and the Lord is companionable. Perhaps the oddest part of it all is that he doesn't feel any different. A reality, one he can't experience, one in which God never left Heaven to walk in the soil, has been revealed to him, and he still misses his brothers, wonders how it will all end.
"I'm not here to destroy or remake you, Castiel," God murmurs.
The old man at the counter rises on stiffened legs, leaning heavily on his cane. Molly guides him to the door and holds it open as the man makes his way into the late afternoon. "I'm going back."
"To Heaven," Castiel replies needlessly as Molly returns to the counter, clearing it with practiced movements. She looks up and raises her eyebrows in question at them.
"Could I have a piece of apple pie?" Molly lights up and with a small bounce in her step, brings God a large slice.
"Made it myself. It's a new recipe from my baking class," she says.
God takes a bite of apple and crust and a small hum of pleasure escapes the Lord's lips. "I wanted to see all this, and you, of course, before I left. I won't be back for a while." A soft ache of sympathy grasps Castiel's human heart and resonates in his Grace. "It's going to be more difficult to go than I expected."
"Humans tend to have that effect on us," Castiel says, and God smiles, all white teeth and kind features.
"Not all of us, not yet." The words hold a bright promise.
The brief reminder of the Host's current mission makes Castiel speak. "My brothers wish to cease the fighting between them. They want eternal peace."
"Eternal peace," God echoes. "None of you can even comprehend the thought, though it's not your fault. Try to imagine," God says, one of His hands curling on the untouched napkin next to his plate, a frown appearing on His face, "Dean without strong emotion for the rest of the universe, however long it should happen to last. Try to see him without grief and joy and that wild spark that makes him restless."
The image of Dean fresh from Hell, despondent and rebellious, but so much calmer fixes before Castiel's eyes. He can feel the contentment rolling off of this imagined Dean in unending waves and it's the first time Dean that has felt wrong to Castiel.
The first and Castiel has been taken to brothels, shouted at, ignored by, hurt by, and shocked at Dean. At peace, Dean would not be the man that Castiel pulled from Hell. It feels like a revelation, though this and Dean’s words in the greenroom are why Castiel resisted Heaven’s will.
"Peace," God murmurs, "Is not meant to take the place of pain. It is not a substitute for happiness." Curious, Castiel watches as God takes a slow, shuddering breath and spreads His palm flat on the thin, white layers of paper. "I never meant for angels to feel emotion, you know. And I'm sorry not that you can feel or that I didn't catch it at the start, just that I let them use emotion to rip Heaven apart."
God looks up from His hand to watch Castiel. The soft quirk of His lips is apologetic and almost awed in the fluorescent light of the diner. It registers, deep in Castiel's essence, that hours have passed since he first left the Winchesters to meet the Creator. The sun is setting outside and the tail lights of passing vehicles glow bright and red in the window.
"I wanted you to keep the order of the universe and remain unmoved when I made humans. I didn't expect that you all would want so desperately, and it was enough to drive some mad. To turn the Host against each other. And I truly understand why they fell now.
"It doesn't excuse their actions or those of the angels in my absence," He says, tone hardening. "But I understand, and things are going to change." Castiel feels his head tilt, pulse slamming into him shaking even his grace. "I'm as sick of the war as Gabriel is, but Dean and Sam won't have to become vessels to end it. I promise," the Father says and it becomes the truth. Castiel wonders if the brothers feel lighter.
The lean body of the Lord slides out of the booth, rising on long legs to tower over Castiel. "It's time to leave." He rises, trailing after the Lord, who pays for the meal with crisp bills before exiting the building. Molly waves goodbye and the bell dings once, twice before the door shuts.
On the street front, the angel waits for a final word. He meets God’s eyes calmly and, after a long moment, God nods. "Help the Winchesters finish their case, then go to the Prophet Chuck. He’ll have information for you."
The vision of the Lord vanishes, though Castiel did not close his eyes, and he is left alone, southern humidity hanging in the air.