Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,
Kalliel
kalliel

[Fic] Watchful - Castiel (POV), 11x23 "Alpha and Omega" coda, eschatology

Title: Watchful
Genre: gen, 11x23 "Alpha and Omega" coda, Team Free Will
Characters: Castiel (POV); Sam, Dean, Antonia, Mary, angelic & Heavenly others
Word Count: ~10,300
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: blasphemy, non-linear angelic POV
Notes: Tremendous thanks to alethiometry for providing integral feedback and keeping this fic from the scrap pile. <3 Written for emmatheslayer for spn_summergen 2016, originally posted here.
Summary: The first words, when God and the Darkness go: Mary Winchester is freed. And let's just say there's a reason Ash could never track her down before--six hundred sixty-six of them, actually.

But then, this is only what Castiel thinks. Perhaps his is not a story to tell.

[Or on AO3.]





It sounds like stone to Castiel, which is how he knows he finally belongs here, on earth. Because this means he has found a new first tongue--usage over genesis. He's a citizen of earth now, an emigrant angel. He hears the sound because he is of Heaven; he hears it as stone because he is of earth now, too.

It is sound, ripping through earth's atmosphere, sound as waves in air--brick by brick, a clattering of mortar and stone, plaster and concrete. It's rebar--fluid as snakes, falling in coils. Foundations sliding from a cliff face.

It's dust taking flight.

Castiel follows the sound home.


--


"Sam, it's been like, an hour. Tops."

"I thought you were dead. You let me think you were dead for 'like, an hour.' I mean, what the hell, Dean?!"

"So you shot someone? Was PetHub out of puppies to fenderbend or what?"

"Okay, that was completely unrelated. And she shot me, too, so could you maybe get your ass back here, pick up a mop, and help me with this? Since apparently you're available."


--


Castiel has feared, at various points in the past, that if he stayed on earth too long he would forget himself. Lose his poetry. Begin to doubt.

It's what they said, after all.

Irony being, he's never forgotten the warning. Not even when his Grace had been shorn, or when it had wandered away. It was always his own feelings and introspections that went, or warped. Those are at best a sort of pidgin--a linguistic coupling with humanity to begin with, and highly metaphorical. (In addition to being somewhat hypothetical.)

The actual poetry never faded, because a lesson learned is a lesson learned, and Castiel's learned he will remember God's words long after he forgets his own. The poetry's not going anywhere.

To lose yourself, however, is very real. It is not a histrionic, nor a paranoia. Place has power, and it can swallow you whole. That is real.

What saves him is that on earth, every time Castiel touches down, walks into a room, encounters a face, it is a different one. Things move quickly on earth, shift and fold like lightning. Earth is always different, and as a being watching, you can't help but feel your difference every time. As a young soldier, before they'd even been ranked, he'd been informed that Heaven was special for its light--light so slow it had prisms, it could be closely read, its every atom identified. And perhaps there's merit in this, the slow study of a sunbeam. But in Heaven, art is the replicability of these studies, and the replicability of exactly one kind of light. Art is a narrow thing.

On earth, art is mutation. Improvisation. And it is very, very fast.

And it can be hard to keep up.

Perhaps it's silly that Castiel's saving grace largely boils down to confusion, but when cast against God's omnipotence, it makes a sort of sense. Confusion can be chaotic, and artful, God's gift. It's just that not all of God's gifts are painless.

When Castiel finds Dean on the phone with Sam, it is a gift, a godsend. Not only because Dean is alive, and therefore God must have happened, the Darkness must have happened, something must have happened, but for simpler reasons, too.

The simplest of these godsends is this: Dean is on the phone. Castiel likes phones, because sound through air is slightly slower than light. Sound is easier.

In person, fully visual, the Winchesters are perhaps overmuch; too many inflections of the eye and other proprioceptions, really. Body language isn't really a 'thing' in Heaven. And even if those extra inflections continue to exist, no one's ever been expected to remain beholden to them if you're speaking on the phone.

Of course, even then Dean and Sam's voices patter through their cell network almost too quickly to appreciate. It's been seven years, and he's still barely fluent in their register. (Seven years is nothing in Heaven. An eyeblink.) Nevertheless, Castiel likes phones.

On the phone, in this moment, Dean and Sam say nothing to each other; it's all a long parade of English-language nothing. But it's not the same kind of nothing as before. It never is.

This time, there is one more near death to it, one more disaster averted. One more eternity of separation staved off. One more reboot, because now that all that is said and gone, they no longer have an excuse to fall completely apart. (Nothing, by its nature, can be quite capacious when it comes to such things.)

Castiel can hear its difference between them, nothing compressing accordion-like into syllables, desperate breaths, esophageal panic. When Dean and Sam shove that into nothingness, it comes out the other end as laughter and, curiously, sarcasm.

The point is, this has always been helpful to Castiel. When the world and the Winchesters roil frenetically around him, that makes it easy to find his ow edges. To distinguish self from place. There's no time to blur boundaries, no matter how he changes, and there's a certain calm to differing rates of rotation, planetary separation, discrete centers of gravity. Difference keeps him whole.

Castiel is not sure this chaos serves Dean and Sam in the same way. That they think they are able to jump into the next adventure at whiplash notice doesn't mean they should.

One day they will jump and the structures below them will bleed into dust, bricks toppling beneath their flailing feet. They'll laugh because they have nothing else to save them.


--


You are not whole. This laughter is not whole. This is not the way a soul is meant to speak.


(But what do you know, Castiel?

What do you intend to do about it?)


--


"You let him shoot someone? Cas, how does that count as looking out for him?"

"You're both very comfortable with firearms. I doubt his actions were unintended."

"What are you even doing here? Why aren't you with him?"

"A banishing spell."

"Okay, but what are you doing here? Why didn't you go back to Sam? Actually, hold up--since Heaven's still on lockdown, where do banishing spells even send you guys?"

"Not Heaven."


--


It's not easy to talk to Dean when he's this way. Emptied, somehow. Gabriel, were he alive, would call it 'sitcom-y.' One-liner ready. In pleasant spirits but not actually in a good mood.

None of this seems all that amusing to Castiel. The only remedy he has found to this dilemma, however, is to play his part.

So Castiel reminds Dean, perfunctorily, that they have a profound bond. That he is correct; it is not very easy to return from a banishing, when there is no place from whence to return. Castiel followed the traces that exist, the paths already riven, strings of fate holding taut from earth unto the Veil. He followed Dean's voice, his blood. He followed Dean home.

Because, as Dean will recall, they do still have a profound bond.

The notion makes Dean uncomfortable enough to stop asking questions.

Leveraging intimacy and discomfort in such a way is not very kind; but what can Castiel say? He's learned from the best.

It's a lie this time, anyway. This isn't about Dean.

Profundity or no, Castiel couldn't have heard the meager song of Dean's soul in all this din. Today, Dean's soul is like reveille on the day God cast Lucifer down: It's far easier to hear the screams than the orders.

Today, Castiel hears dust taking flight.

Can you hear her? Castiel wants to ask. But he knows Dean can't hear anything. Bringing it up would only make him ask more questions. Castiel would have to explain--everything. He'd have to put everything--theories of sound, emigration, metaphysical history, the nature of the soul, the terror of bricks, and the list goes on--he'd have to put all that on Dean. And Castiel doesn't have those words. He is tired. And he doesn't think Dean can handle it right now; Dean barely understands the words coming out of his own mouth, let alone Sam's--and certainly not Castiel's. If he did, maybe his jokes would actually be funny. And Castiel is tired.

Castiel is very tired.

I wish you could just hear, Castiel thinks. He means, I wish it were not my choice to hide this now.

(He looks at Dean and he knows that this ability--to hold contradictory thoughts together, to doubt and at once, to refuse to doubt--he learned that from the best, too. From the two best, as a matter of fact. Sam's jokes aren't funny, either.)

"I'm happy to see you again," Castiel says instead.

"Back atcha," says Dean, though he's not paying attention. They've come to a parking lot, and he's assessing its contents. Now he's jittery, and increasingly so; if Castiel had had less of his hopefulness burned out of him, he'd hope that it's because Dean feels what he cannot hear--the bricks coming down. He'd hope Dean shares this feeling with him, and Castiel will not have to find some way to translate it.

But more likely it's because his brother's been shot, and Dean is not beside him.

He hears Dean mutter, "Stone number one," and even then Castiel knows they're not talking about the same stones.

Castiel feels a little despair.

But Dean asks, "So, wanna pick our ride?"

Then Dean takes a deep breath. Re-centers.

He says, "Nothing that tops out under 90. Other than that, go wild."

That's what finally means I'm real fucking glad to see you, too.

"I mean it, Cas."

Castiel knows he does, even if Dean himself doesn't sound exactly sure.

Castiel requires no proof.

So Castiel nods, and surveys his choices. He tries to focus on vision and color and a car worth riding in.

In his head, the dust's still coming, bricks plinking solitary against asphalt before coming down in sheets again--brick upon brick upon brick. He hears the yawn of twisting metal as the floor joists pucker. The sounds convey the nuances and implications of the message well, if not the denotation. There's something about the collapse of architecture--its fullness, its orchestration, its multitude--that English rarely satisfies.

In literal translation, the bricks scream this:

Mary Winchester is freed.


--


One day they will jump, but there will be no floor. Or maybe they just won't have the lift. The strength.

What will you do then, Castiel?


--


There is a woman in the Bunker. He'd been banished so quickly the first time, Castiel hadn't been quite sure. Now he can confirm. She's pale and not getting quite enough blood to her head, but she's been well tended to.

Sam's bleeding down the sleeve of his shirt. He hands Dean the mop.

"Your turn," he says.

(Blood in the bunker again. It's only been a year since the last desecration; but at least there aren't bodies to dispose of this time. At least there are no children. Dean tries on a misshapen smile.

The books all around them still smell like accelerant.)

"Also, this is Antonia. Men of Letters, London Chapter. She wants us dead," Sam adds, when the air goes a little too taut. An announcement of a death threat to lighten the mood.

Neither of the Winchesters are funny.

"Actually, I want you neutered," Antonia corrects dazedly.

"That sounds uncomfortable," says Dean. He's recovered. He makes a vulgar gesture with the mop.

"Neutralized, then. Not necessarily dead. I may have a better, more mutually beneficial idea." / "It's a little late for that. You already shot him; no do-overs." / "Cas, could you--"

Voices, at a rapid clip. Castiel races to keep up. Bodies shift in their configurations and the soundwaves follow suit. Sam's in front of him.

"Thanks," says Sam.

"Stay away from me," says the woman, Antonia, even as Sam tests his mended shoulder. He flexes newly hewn muscle.

"He's an angel," Sam assuages.

"I wouldn't have been able to banish him if I didn't know that much," replies Antonia. She touches the bandage at her torso lightly. "He may be an angel, but this here--this is narrative. And some of us have supervisors back home. Non-nonsensical reports to write. That sort of thing."

"That's stupid. You'll bleed out."

"Is it?" says Antonia. "I'd be dead right now if I hadn't drawn first. I didn't shoot to kill; but you did. I think that's a story worth remembering. Don't you, Sam?"

"Don't try to guilt-trip me. You're the assassin."

"I list 'librarian' first on my vita. Hence my better idea I had. May I share it now?"

"It's not an orgy if there's Dewey decimals involved," Dean calls, from a distance, mopping. His bucket ripples gray red.


--


Castiel hasn't met someone new in some time. He'd forgotten how blurry humans were, until you made the effort to draw their boundaries around them. They're just words and unremarkable visage until you're able to learn their translation. Like a children's game--connect the dots, or paint by numbers--the miracle of humanity has never been immediately evident.

And of course it's intentional, this blindness--moreso than all the world is technically intentional, in that it is by Design. Blindness to human distinction is one of the few of God's intentions that is explicitly writ: After all, you can't play favorites if you can't tell them apart. You're supposed to have compassion for all, without caveat.

Having shared this vessel and this heart with Lucifer, Castiel understands the potential problem of this more clearly now.

God has always played favorites. Lucifer never could.

Truly, Castiel will forget Antonia exists if he doesn't start paying more attention. Her face, her voice--all meaningless. (And it's harder to exceed this now, after Lucifer. It is so much harder. Castiel tries his best.)

Castiel thinks about what she means to Dean and Sam, tries to have as much regard for and memory of her as they do: Sam shot her. She shot Sam. No--reverse the two.

Narrative, Castiel thinks. Imagine narrative.

The bricks are still falling.


--


Castiel forgets her anyway. Sam's gone to wash his hands; Castiel has been charged with watching Antonia. But his thoughts wander inevitably to architecture--to bricks, to dust and dust, and to dust to dust, and Darkness.

"What did She say to you?" Castiel asks Dean quietly. "Before--"

Before what? Castiel isn't certain what happened. Has no conception, in fact. But Dean doesn't volunteer anything.

"She must have said something," Castiel prods.

Dean blinks, shakes his head.

"What--you mean Amara? Uh, you know. Thanks. Then the usual weirdness. And uh, that she'd give me 'what I want most.'"

Dean sounds suddenly exhausted, as though he'd forgotten to be that way until reminded of the cause.

Deus ex machina, Castiel thinks. Forget narrative; nothing will never sound right, or real.

Not this time.

"Don't trust her," says Castiel.

Dean laughs. "You think I want to?"

Then he wipes a hand down his face, and says, "Honestly, even if she's shooting straight, I'm kinda scared of 'what I want most' right now. Because man, I'm just-- I'm so fucking--"

He looks at Castiel, until his attentions dart abruptly away.

"I hope it's a milkshake or something," he says. "Or a bubble bath. I could go for a bubble bath."

Castiel listens to foundations crumble, cosmic dust alighting on Dean's knuckles, to bricks clattering down dungeon stairs. He knows it's neither.


--


Mary Winchester is freed. Mary Winchester is freed. Mary Winchester is freed.



Mary Winchester is freed, and she is coming.



--


Antonia is still trying to put a deal on the table. Civil negotiations, she calls them. Unfortunately, she says, they have no choice but to play the long game now. She may be their prisoner, but they have to know that the way to stay in this game, if that's what they want, is to negotiate. She is but one of many, after all. They are two of two.

It's all admirable, given the amount of blood she's lost. Particularly since for once in their lives, Dean and Sam actually have what Castiel has heard called 'the home-field advantage.'

But even then, Antonia argues there are parts of the bunker she can lead them to. In return for her guidance, she wants certain files for safekeeping--which is not a request, but an offer. Of this, she is very insistent. This is an offer.

These files, they are priceless; and they are not safe here. If you are truly Men of Letters, the safety of the Salt Archives needs to mean something to you, she says.

"You haven't found the lower levels. The dungeon, the garage--"

Sam folds his arms. It's not quite an even motion, like his left's not one hundred percent convinced it's now undamaged. (Narrative, Castiel thinks. A story to which an angel's ministrations do not belong.)

"Come on, give us some credit," says Sam.

"Then why do you keep your ridiculous car in front of your secret base? It's a bit conspicuous."

Sam seems affronted, but Dean's lips purse, and he sucks in his cheeks. "Conspicuous?" he says sheepishly. "Well, I mean. The boosted Silverado I just parked behind it, maybe. It does have racing pinstripes. And flapper girls on its, uh, flaps."

"Jesus Christ," says Sam.

"Hey, don't look at me. That's completely on--"

"So you agree that we need to move the Salt Archives," Antonia interrupts. "You're too exposed. They're not safe here."

"No one's moving anything," says Dean. "This is the safest place in the world."

Antonia looks around her. It's like the can see the flashbomb traces of all that has transpired here, all that has tainted these halls.

Like Castiel can.

Antonia turns to Sam and asks, "Do you honestly still believe that?"


--


There's a story about homes: One of straw, another of sticks, and a third of stone. A wolf huffs and puffs.

The stone isn't meant to give. It doesn't, in the story.

But Castiel knows better.

He can hear the stone, and undoubtedly, it is falling.

"Do as she says," he says. It's a command; he can't help it. "Let her lead you there. Let her take them."

The severity of his tone surprises even Castiel.

Dean and Sam haven't listened to him in a long time, not in the context of obeying. When they obey him now, Castiel is not sure if it's trust or surrender.


--


They are all very tired.


--


So begins the story of the fabled Salt Archives.

Antonia leads them to an elevator no one had heretofore ever thought to use. When Castiel approaches the shaft, he can hear it more clearly--the clatter of stone and the dissolution of bricks.

(It's here, Castiel thinks. She is here. This is where these stories meet: Antonia's, and Dean and Sam's, and Castiel's. Man's and Heaven's and the Darkness's gift.)

"How far does that go down?" Dean asks, because as a rule, stairwells are a safer place to be.

"Two hundred m--" Antonia pauses. Mathematics plays at her browline. "About 650 feet."

"666 feet," says Castiel.

"Oh, naturally," says Dean.

"It's a mine, technically," Antonia explains. "A salt mine. But all hollowed out, it's the perfect vault. Dry, cool, non-alkaline. And encased in a tomb no ghost nor demon could ever hope to touch."

Her voice reverberates with reverence.

"So are you allowed to just go off-book like this? Lead field trips, shift objective…" Sam doesn't quite manage to keep the question from sounding derisive.

She must have insulted him at some point. Or maybe he's annoyed about the elevator--its stupid in-plain-sightness. Sam has always hated that kind of thing. It's not good for narrative.

(Antonia said the word once, and it's like magic--Castiel can't stop thinking with it.)

"Oh, it's all in the book," Antonia assures him. But she wilts against the handrail as they pulley downwards. She doesn't look well.

"I actually have a very busy itinerary," she explains further. "Crossing the ocean to kill one man--sorry, now it's two again, I suppose--isn't economically responsible, after all."

"Right. Because Britain cares so much about global economic responsibility."

Antonia smiles frostily at Sam. "Ideally, I'll be home in time to vote."

"Is that flirting? Is all this flirting? Because if you're flirting with the British chicks again, Sam, I swear to god--"

"Rowena was born in the Kingdom of Scotland, actually," Castiel interrupts. "During a period of great famine."

"I meant Eileen." Dean says, and looks pointedly at Sam.

"Also not British," Sam says, very quickly. "Neither of them are British, I'm glad we had this talk; anyway, let's get this over with, come on, let's go. Let's go faster than that."


--


There is a cathedral made of salt in what is now called Zipaquirá. Before the cathedral took that name,it had belonged to an angel--or that was how her men had pronounced it. Castiel remembers its sound a little differently. In any case, she is gone now.

The cathedral remains. It is 666 feet underground, and it is quiet, preserved, unchanging.

Some years ago, Castiel went there to remember Heaven--when he'd felt his powers waning and he knew there wasn't much time, and the Apocalypse was coming anyway, so maybe it didn't matter. He'd been homesick. (This was, of course, back when Heaven felt like home.)

For that brief but critical moment, Zipaquirá brought him peace.

Such a place is undoubtedly an excellent place for paperwork. Dry, temperate, nigh impervious. Everything Antonia said. But call it what you will--a mine, a storage facility--a place of salt is always something more. More even than Antonia suspects.

There is something more here, beneath this bunker. Castiel is certain. It feels--almost familiar.

Hallowed.

But when they reach the 666th foot down, it is not Zipaquirá. It is dark, and lonely, and it is full of trash.

Of course, Castiel reminds, Zipaquirá is not entirely pure either. Hers was not a peaceful death. (And that's the thing about angels. There are no peaceful deaths.)

Castiel listens for the dust.


--


Mary Winchester is freed.


--


"We'll need your blood to venture further; that's why I shot you, by the way. See? I told you this was all meant to be economical. But since you had your angel intervene, I suppose what's left on your shirt will do. Take it off."

"Okay, seriously. Is this flirting?"

"Dude, drop it," Sam hisses. "Are you okay?"

"It's been a long fucking day," Dean hisses back. "I didn't think we'd be playing Indiana Jones after the whole Last Supper thing. I thought-- I thought I--"

Sam's expression softens.

No, that's not correct, Castiel revises. There is no softness in him. Sam's expression collapses, loses its bones. It coils and falls, like a snake from a tree. Dean's own expression is the tree--a tree in a windstorm, trying to save its snake.

Castiel stops.

Corral your metaphors.

Sam lands upright. He does not disrobe. He slits his forearm instead--one more scar upon many. He lets the blood flow downward and cup in his hands.

"Trace the sigil that's carved into the door," instructs Antonia. "It needs the blood of a Chapter member."

"Does it matter who does the fingerpainting?" Dean asks.

"Not really."

"Good." Dean grasps Sam's hand and bathes in his blood.

"Put pressure on that," he says. "I got this."


--


Zipaquirá.

Zipaquirá, Castiel thinks. She was never a hero in Heaven; she never will be. But the thought of her will always bring Castiel peace, even if her story is incomplete, and her end unclean. She'd built her church regardless of how she'd later burned. She'd at least done that.

Castiel remembers the invention of churches. It wasn't Zipaquirá's doing--this was long before her fame--but perhaps there are threads to be woven here.

Castiel remembers the day the churches came. One morning in Heaven, they'd just sprung up, a sudden collection of forms and shapes and sizes. They'd all been so different the angels hadn't initially realized they were all the same thing. (A millenia over a globe of human cultures, all in a single night in Heaven.)

When it finally became clear what they were--what all these human souls had brought with them, what art had been folded into the human soul and was blooming again in Heaven--then Heaven too became a place of halls, and glass, and yes, pearled gates.

Humans did that. Their souls made Heaven in their image, just as God made them in His.

It was not until the invention of churches on earth that angels began calling Heaven 'home'; Churches were meant to explain Heaven and Heaven looked to churches to become itself.

Castiel remembers how that had felt. What it had meant to see the first churches on earth, then to find them in Heaven--and finally, to see Heaven as it was meant to become.

Hearing the song of the dust takes him back to that. That is what he feels right now: He is 666 feet underground in Lebanon, Kansas, but this is Heaven. Or it will be. This is Heaven, becoming.

This is Heaven.

The thought is clear and certain, and unrelenting. But it is not Zipaquirá, in the image of Heaven; this is Heaven itself.

Right now, they are all standing in Heaven.

Except that doesn't make sense. Because he's still in Kansas.

Castiel blinks.

I am of Heaven, he thinks. I am of earth. I am of Heaven; I am of earth. If he repeats this truth, perhaps it will speak back to him. Perhaps it will tell him what all of this means.

He is answered by the rumble of stones collapsing--churches leveled, sanctuaries denied, prisons broken. Dust and dust and lonesome tottering bricks.

They whisper, Mary Winchester is freed. And she is coming.


--


They are a very long way underground.

"It's disorienting," Cas says, to explain his distraction. They are a long way underground.

It's not a lie; they are indeed a long way underground. And this is troubling, because it feels like Heaven. Castiel merely omits this last part.

(and also this part: marywinchesterisfreedmarywinchesterisfreedmarywinchesterisfreed)

Sometimes, he's not even sure why he does this. Omit egregiously. But at the moment, he suspects it's because he's very confused. And confusion is not always an art; sometimes it is a disease, and one that does not go well with being 666 feet underground.

"Are you… claustrophobic?" Sam asks. But his voice suggests disbelief, not curiosity; it's not actually a question.

"I am," says Dean, and he lights another match. "This place gives me the jeebs."

"What, now you're afraid of the dark?" says Sam.

"Always," Dean replies. He lights another match.

"Why would the Men of Letters need a salt mine, anyway?" Dean asks. "Do they have a problem with the salt selection at Gas n' Sip? I mean, it's not like it comes in 31 flavors, but--"

"It's an archive. I told you," Antonia says thinly.

"It was a joke."

Another match.

"What I mean is, we know what kind of shit they've got upstairs, just lying around. So... How high do you have to rank to get stashed down in max?"

When no one answers, Dean continues, "Cas, do you have like, a flashlight mode or something?"

"No, Dean. I do not."


--


It might be possible, Castiel's decided. This might be Heaven.

He should have told Dean about the bricks when he had the chance, because this is quickly becoming a story with no beginning. How would he even begin to explain? That Heaven is growing in their basement? That their mother is involved? That there is a good chance she is dangerous? And all of that is best told as a nested function of complex recursions which, unlike time travel, human mathematics actually has not modeled yet.

But if there is a beginning, perhaps it is this.

1.5 billion years ago, tectonic movement orchestrated by earth's molten core, supervised by Heaven, and conceived of by God created a continent. Many millions of years after that, it would become a place. It would become Kansa and Pawnee lands. Then Comanche, on horseback. Kansas, 1861. Smith County, 1872. Lebanon, 1876. This bunker, 1902. Home, 2014.

(Of course, if this is Heaven, or a window into it, it's not because Kansas is special. Like Jerusalem, and all the many places before and after it, Kansas was probably just the closest landform to the door.)

Castiel looks up and imagines an apartment collapsing, accordion-like. Floor by floor. He imagines Heaven crashing through earth's atmosphere, through galaxies, through celestial dimensions, and landing here. Mary Winchester tearing it down, at Amara's behest.

I'll give you what you truly want, said the Darkness to Dean Winchester.

Maybe, Castiel thinks. Maybe today is the day Dean chooses peace. Peace, not freedom. Peace, not chaos. Some kind of restful vaguely painful mostly peaceful ending.

It would explain the dust.


--


There's another story, of course: A small animal is convinced the sky is falling.

It's not.


--


Sam's phone has a flashlight mode, even if Castiel does not function in that way.

Dean follows Sam's lead, and their twin lights shine feeble and eerie against the salt walls. The light skates along the kerfs in the floor, evidence of undercutting.

Toppling out from the corners is further evidence of man, not Heaven. This is not Heaven.

(But how are churches built? Whose blood slicks the plaster of all your churches.

Heaven has always been evidence of man. Whether it is full of trash, or churches.)

"Chewing tobacco. Campbell's soup. Cigars--yeah, 'cause smoking sounds like great idea 650 feet underground," observes Sam.

Dean sniffs. "Well, if I had to work in a mine, that's all I'd fucking do. Oh, now we're talking."

Dean picks up a bottle of spirits, just shy of dearly departed. A swig or two of liquid still dances along its bottom.

"You're kidding me."

Castiel can hear in the pattern of Dean's breath, the small trill of his heartbeat, that he's not kidding. At all.

(The sky is falling.)

"That stuff will make you blind."

"Dude, we're 666 feet under our already-underground secret base with fuck-all for a map, an assassin for a guide, and 18% battery left. I really don't see blindness adding to our problem. It's already fucking dark."

"Dude, seriously. Are you okay?" Sam asks again.

(The sky is falling.)

Dean looks at the bottle in his hand. Then he throws it against the wall, and it explodes in a firework of glass and salt.

(The sky is--)

"I wish you wouldn't do that," says Antonia. "This is an archive. These are all artifacts."

This is Heaven, Castiel thinks.

"So who mined this out?" Dean asks, too aggressively. But he's fine; he's fine.

He's fine.

"Not the Men of Letters, if that's what you're asking. Mining is not part of our schooling, as you might imagine."

"Please. Everyone's gotta dig a grave at some point. You shot Sam, remember? What were you gonna do? Leave his body in the library?"

"And that seems like a major security risk--bringing in outside help, I mean. Not, you know. Me, my body--whatever. This would have been a huge project; you'd have like fifty guys running around with Secret Salt Mine Construction on their resumes afterward," Sam points out.

Antonia sighs. "I suppose that's one option."

Dean stiffens. "That had better mean there are a bunch of ninety-year old mole people still running around down here."

"You seem to want very badly to be Legacies. You should know your inheritance."


--


Perhaps it's not a given, that you should always be afraid of the dark. It's not as though the bunker is deficient in flashlights, after all; they could have brought some. Yet here they are.

History has never gotten cleaner under scrutiny; stories do not simplify; and memory does not forgive. So here they are, in an almost willful dark.

When they have been walking for more than 18%, and that dark is dark, pure dark, and the moment seems ripe for ghost stories, Castiel asks, "Do you ever wonder what happens to the ghosts you dispel?"

If it's an odd and sudden question, he's read the mood right. All three of them offer guesses.

"Cas, if you've been sitting on this information this entire time, I'm gonna sock you." / "Purgatory? The Void? The Empty?" / "We don't dispel. Back home, we keep them in jars, in a vault like this one." / "I can't tell if you're joking."

(Voices


voices voices)

"Heaven." Castiel speaks over them all. For a split second, he feels like he's addressing angels. Foolish ones. "They go to Heaven."

"Wait, seriously?" says Sam. He's caught between innate hopefulness and innate skepticism.

In Castiel's opinion, this is the best and worst thing about Sam Winchester.


--


Humanity is more than the bodies that house it. Sometimes humanity is roads; sometimes it is churches.

When Mary entered Heaven, she was a house on fire, and she could not be put out.

That's the way it is with ghosts most times, or rather, souls that have been ghosts. The human soul is as tenacious as it is fragile, and ghosting tears. It breaks and shatters. Most ghosts are broken beyond their Heaven; it simply cannot be achieved. Not without help.

There is a place for such ghosts in Heaven. Some call it the Garden.


--


"It's said God's breath is felt most keenly here," says Joshua to Castiel, one night very long but not so long ago. Castiel has just asked after Zipaquirá. (Castiel remembers now--what happened to her. She'd been one of the angels who'd tried to keep Mary from burning, burning forever. Castiel remembers the sight of her when the smoke had cleared, remembers knowing instantly Zipaquirá would never build again. Not with those hands.)

"What will He do?" Castiel asks. He is ignorant still, believes God will do anything at all.

"What will you?" asks Joshua.

It seemed profound then and seems manipulative now.

"It's Hellfire, isn't it. Zipaquirá will never be free of it. The human soul, Mary--she will never be free of it."

"I don't think so," says Joshua.

"Will you care for them?" Castiel asks.

The answer is yes, of course; Castiel looks around at the lush vegetation of the Garden, sees the ghosts in every vascular cell, fretful and then calm. There are so many ghosts here, like too-small infants in capsules, on tubes. The original NICU (--which is a new word Castiel now wishes he had never learned).

Joshua cares for all of the damaged in the same way; he has found that there are 666 loci where a soul might break. At these points, he grafts his charges to the bounty of God; to His breath, to these tender plants. Every time a ghost feels pain, a flower blooms, and the pain disperses.

Joshua was a carpenter once--he built the Cage. But now he prefers to garden.

Of brushfires, Joshua has little to say.

Even in the Garden, Mary burns. Perhaps that's a good thing, the way of the world. But Mary's fire has already proven a dangerous and deadly thing. Uncontrollable. Unmerciful.

"What will you do, Castiel?" asks Joshua, again.

Do something about this.

"I'll learn how to douse the flames," Castiel replies solemnly. "Learn how to grip souls tight, and raise them from Perdition. I will learn how to quell the fire."

At the time, Castiel had simply assumed that was a roundabout order: Do something. Do this exact thing. Do it now. Orders were the currency of the realm, after all; at the time, it hadn't seemed like it could be anything else.

But maybe it wasn't. Maybe it never was.

Maybe Castiel had simply wanted to help.


--


Mary Winchester is freed, and she is taking Heaven with her.


Mary Winchester is burning still.



--


"Ow, fuck," Sam swears, as he cuts his riven wrist again on the sharp salt walls. He runs into Dean's back when Dean stops for him.

"Straight," wheezes Antonia. "Just--straight. That's the only chamber we're interested in."

"Says you," says Dean.

"Think of it as the difference between bones and ivory. You didn't--" Antonia takes a shuddering breath. "And you didn't want to hear about the miners. I advise you continue straight. Please--"

Castiel takes Antonia's hand. Moves to support her elbow.

"Don't touch me," she says.

Castiel doesn't let go, but he does not heal her.


--


Sometimes, the sky does fall. And there's nothing you can do.


--


she is burning--


--


When it all comes down, he and Antonia have fallen somewhat behind. Dean and Sam are shoulder to shoulder, each reaching out their far hand to trace the wall. Every so often, their fingers lose purchase, drop into emptiness where the tunnel opens sideways. But they continue resolutely straight.

Then Castiel hears Sam ask Dean what happened.

They're surrounded in a deep but separate darkness, and Sam just has to know.

What happened? he asks. What happened with the Darkness. And God, and--

(you?)

"I don't know if I want to tell you," Dean confesses.

Darkness, at least, is honest; you always know there's something out there. Light blinds. Burns sclera from the inside out.

The how and the why of everything, Dean doesn't articulate. His presence is story enough on those counts--nothing exploded. Sam is not alone.

Except maybe he is, albeit in a different way, because maybe Dean's finally learned that it doesn't matter what he wants.

There is nothing voluntary about Dean's timbre. But he does tell Sam.

And he says, "Sam, I don't think they're ever coming back."

Castiel freezes.


--


This should be a good thing.

It is, by rights, an earth-saving thing.

But there aren't words--not in English, nor Enochian, nor any of the million other tongues Castiel's seen fit to learn--for what Castiel feels, if it is a feeling at all.

God is gone, and He is never coming back.

God is gone.

If that is not a feeling, then Castiel feels, at least, that he is many hundreds of feet underground, and very far from home. Heaven or earth, or in the hearth of the Winchesters--it doesn't matter. In his heart these are all God's places, and He is gone.

He is gone, He is gone.

Castiel has felt doubt. Betrayal. Anger. But he has never felt the absence of God like this before. Never felt it at all, in fact. He'd thought he had, a dozen separate times these last few years--but never like this.

This makes earth feel impossible. Like the entire planet, its galaxies, are a fingerprint left by a ghost, or breathy mist on a deserted mirror.

In the darkness, Castiel listens haphazardly for Sam--to offer comfort, he thinks at first; but within moments he's not sure. Perhaps he wants it to be offered. Perhaps Castiel needs to receive.

But Sam has no words for this feeling, either.

Sam is very, very quiet.

Dean says, "I'm sorry."

Dean means it and he doesn't. He doesn't know what this is, so he can't mean it. Not really. He just wants to mean it.

Castiel closes his eyes, shifts the image before him from pure darkness to pure darkness.

It shouldn't matter, he tells himself. God created free will for a reason; this world is His with or without His presence.

Or it should be.

But maybe that's the function of faith; you're meant to believe, with or without evidence of Him. It's almost comforting, the uncertainty--because that is the space of faith. The opportunity to cultivate it.

After all, to have Him confirmed was almost disappointing, Castiel must admit. But to have him vanished--

"Sam?"

Sam exhales. He'd been holding his breath. "It shouldn't matter," Sam says shakily, and he seems honestly uncertain why that isn't the case.

It really shouldn't matter.

"Bullshit," says Dean. "Sammy, I--"

"Stop."

Do something, Castiel tells himself. You are an angel.

An angel of the Lord.

(you left her to burn)

"It shouldn't matter," Sam insists. "I just--"

"You'll always have Paris. Or Kansas, I guess," says Dean. It's not funny, and it's not helpful, and Dean knows it.

"Just keep going," says Sam. "Go!" he shouts, because at first Dean's not sure if he means it literally or not.

"Okay, we're going. Toni, you good? Are you dead yet? Are you a mole person?"

Castiel had forgotten her again. He has his arm around hers and still, he'd forgotten. She feels unreal, like everything else.

"Participation in your religious dramas is not my cross to bear," she mutters.

Do something, Castiel tells himself. You are an angel of the Lord.

Do something, you wingless son of a bitch.


--


she will never stop burning

douse her with your own hands and she will never stop


--


They don't stop. Dean and Sam don't hug, or hold hands. They're not touching each other at all. But Castiel can hear the infinitesimal hiss of air between them, molecule by molecule. In perfect darkness, they still know exactly where the other stands.

That's what it means, in the end, to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.

Except for the fact that they're both afraid--they are all afraid. Theirs is a deep and collective terror. That part isn't written; some things can't be.

But Dean and Sam don't stop. Not for or but for the grace of God.

It's their only way.


--


Do something.


--


Keep going.


--


Refuse to end.


--


Refuse to fear your end.


--


Keep going.


--


Castiel is not sure if this will work.

If this is Heaven, then it will.

If it's not, then it doesn't matter.

In the darkness, Dean and Sam won't even realize he's gone. And if he doesn't return, then perhaps he was lost to wander the caves.

Still, this is a little crazy. Certainly, it's unwise.

That doesn't matter, either.

Castiel concentrates hard on Heaven. Not his, or that which was once his; but the part of Heaven that means something in Kansas, in this bunker, in this company.

Returning to Heaven has never been an effortful task--either it was possible or it wasn't; there were no in-betweens--but this is something Castiel must do, and it doesn't matter if it's possible or not.

And perhaps he is claustrophobic, because this feels like he is pushing a knife up against his own throat. His fingers grab through dimensions and his Grace bubbles up through his vessel like millet in a pressure cooker. His skin turns liquid. It puckers. (He still bears Metatron's scar.)

Castiel pushes.

If this is Heaven, then there is a path to the source. There is a stairway in here, somewhere. Or perhaps a chute, a tunnel, a crevice. Anything. If this is Heaven--

Castiel gasps, and again when he realizes he hadn't used his mouth. It had been a purely metaphorical gasp--a flutter of waveforms and dancing particles.

He's coming undone.

There's no door, there's no door--

(this was very unwise)


Then he feels a hand on his.

"I knew it was them," says the owner of the hand. "Booyah! Ash owes me the source code for his Enochian translator."

Human tongues, he hadn't expected. It takes Castiel a moment to translate the statement, and even then he doesn't comprehend it. But he doesn't have the leisure to dwell.

"Oh, Ash knew it was them, too," another voice assures the first. "But he also owes me. Told him he shouldn't be playing cards with a psychic."


(What?)



"Charlie," says Castiel, as she helps him up.

The name grounds him.

Charlie.


His skin feels loose and hot, its atoms too fast and too few. Voices fade in and out amidst the din of Heaven's avalanche.

Castiel tries to adjust to the brightness of it all.

Charlie, Castiel thinks. He's made it, then. This is Heaven--Heaven proper.

Charlie.

"You don't remember my name, do you." The psychic crosses her arms.

(From total darkness into total light. His Grace itself blinks. Flickers. Simmers. He peers at the second figure.

He finds he knows her too.)

"You never told me your name. And I told you not to look," says Castiel.

Dean and Sam had said her name, though--the day they buried her. Dean had been angry. At the time, Castiel hadn't quite cared. Not enough to listen, in any case. Just enough to feel real guilt for the first time.

Guilt is something Castiel has since mastered.

"Charlie," says Castiel. "I'm sorry."

"Boy, I hope not." Charlie laughs nervously. "I don't-- If it's all the same to you, I don't like thinking about it too much."

"I was supposed to protect you," says Castiel, because it's not all the same to him.

"Yeah, I know. But I had to go do some protecting of my own." Charlie looks physically pained. "And I mean, not gonna lie, I'm definitely a happy ending, fix-it kind of gal, but--I mean. I'll always be proud of myself for what I--"

Charlie bites her lip. "Always."

"You've changed, feathers," notes the psychic, hailing Castiel with her eyebrows. "No apology for me, I notice. But you've changed, Castiel. I didn't think that was a thing. Good for you."

Castiel clenches his jaw. This is a lot of people, and a lot of reunions all at once. And none of them are the souls he's looking for.

But you are an Angel of the Lord, Castiel, he reminds himself. And thou shalt not covet.

You are an angel of the Lord and you serve all of His creations.

"What was your wager?" he asks. He tries to place himself in their strange and abrupt reality. "The one you were talking about earlier."

"Whether the sound had anything to do with Sam and Dean," says Charlie. "'Cause you know, a girl's gotta save herself some front row seats if she's gonna support her friends."

"I suppose it actually doesn't have anything to do with them specifically," says Castiel. "Not really. Or not yet."

Charlie's smile dwindles. "What does that mean?"

She wants to know if Dean and Sam are okay. That's the bottom line, Castiel knows. If this super strange, super-natural thing doesn't involve them, then why doesn't it? And are they okay? Also, are they okay?

Castiel reads all of that clearly. What Castiel doesn't know is the answer. He doesn't think it's possible to ever really know, with those two.

This is what he knows: "They lifted the Mark; they survived Lucifer, and they quelled the Darkness."

When he puts it that way, it doesn't sound half bad.

"But what does that mean?" Charlie asks again.

"They miss you."

"Okay," says Charlie. "But what--"

"They found a salt mine 666 feet beneath the bunker and went exploring without flashlights at the behest of myself and an assassin from London."

Charlie snorts. "Oh, then they're fine."

Castiel doesn't respond.

"I mean--I just mean that that sounds like an adventure, not an obituary," Charlie explains. Her lashes glisten. "Not an ending. And that just--it makes me feel good. That feels right to me. A little fun, a little heart-stopping terror; some trauma, lots of bromance--"

"Is there subtext?" the psychic asks. "And I mean the hot, heavy, unsubtle kind. No censorship, Castiel."

"I wouldn't know the answer to that," answers Castiel.

(Voices voices voices light)

The psychic sighs. "Don't worry--you'll get there. You keep right on changing, Castiel." She says his name the same way she did the day she tried to scry him.

"Thank you," Charlie offers quietly. It's strange, it's all strange, and Charlie doesn't seem entirely at ease with it all, either (her ease on Earth had somewhat failed to serve her) but she does seem cheered.

For the first time in a long while, Castiel has offered something simple and helpful, and it has worked. It feels pleasant.

An adventure, not an obituary, Castiel thinks. That's one way of putting it.

Dean and Sam have drawn and played their cards; perhaps quite a long time ago. So what will you do, Castiel?

What are you going to do?


--


"I need to find Bobby Singer."


--


It becomes a sort of prayer: This is an adventure, not an obituary. Dean and Sam are Dean and Sam, ever-changing and often tangled, but never still. Never done. He tells this to Ash. To Kevin. To Bobby. To Ellen and Jo. He finds souls he's never even met and tells them, too.

It's an assurance, a salve for the concerned dead; because Castiel is an angel of the Lord, and of his many offices, care is probably the most important one. Even a soldier must minister to his fellows.

But more than that, it shows Castiel the way.

Castiel cannot possibly know whether Dean and Sam are well; whether they will continue to be so, in the near future. He can't know if he can keep them safe, or if they want to be safe. There are no certainties where these things are concerned, and there can never be.

But that is the space of faith. What Castiel speaks is faith. And this prayer for him becomes a space of strength. Dean and Sam are going to be okay. Castiel is going to be okay. Heaven, too. No matter the sound of dust.

And Castiel will find Mary Winchester, who is freed. Mary Winchester, who is burning still but free. Mary, who is burning. He will listen to her story.

He follows the sound of her across Heaven, through the Garden, through fire and smoke. The angels whisper, Mary Winchester is freed; she is free, and she is coming.

Castiel will hear her out.


--


My name is Mary Winchester, and I am free.


--


Mary Winchester is as quiet as Dean had been a few hours ago, as Castiel scrambled back from banishment--a whisper in the tectonic shifts around her. Castiel can't make out all the words, but he does hear this: Come with me.

Castiel feels Charlie's hand on his again. Then the psychic's in Dean's, the Mary's around Sam's--John's in Mary's, Azazel's around them both. It's a series of impossible sensations.

Then he feels Zipaquirá's hands. (They're burned gnarled but smooth, like wood well-caressed.)

I'm sorry, she says.

No, it's Mary speaking. She says, I'm sorry. I can't stop the flames; I couldn't. But now I can make them mine. Look, Castiel.


--


Listen.


--


He's back in the bunker, in the tunnels of salt.

He is standing before a thing made of light. Rather, it emanates it.

"Look, Cas."

That's Dean, not Mary.

"At her, not he rock," Dean clarifies.

At Antonia, Castiel realizes. (Not Mary.)

When Antonia touches the rock, her skin knits. When she lifts her hand, it stops. It begins again when she touches her hand to (Azazel's to Zipaquirá's to Mary's to John's to Sam's to Dean's to Pamela's--that's her name--to Charlie's) the stone.

"Cas, what the hell is this?" Sam asks.

"You know," adds Dean. "Just hoping you can weight in on our usual problem--too many weird-ass magic rocks in the world to choose from."

"It's not the rock," says Castiel. It's not the stone, or the sound of it cleaving. It's not even the dust. It's that other sound, that quiet one--Mary's sound. Listen, she'd said.

"Listen," says Castiel.

They do, for a moment. All three of them.

Then Antonia says, "I'm not sure what we're listening for."

Castiel listens.

And he listens.

"Cas," says Sam.

Castiel ignores him.

He listens.

"Cas, seriously," says Dean. He has his gun drawn, however little that will do.

"Bacteria," says Castiel.

"What?"

"That's what's in the rock," he says. "Halophilic bacteria."

Antonia's mouth drops open.

Castiel explains, There are bacteria in this salt formation. This rock. And they are halophilic--salt-loving.

"From the Greek," Castiel adds.

"And that's 'halo', huh?" Dean smirks.

"Yes, well. Were God here, it's likely he would note that the pun was very much intended."

"Yeah, but halophilic bacteria aren't even that interesting," says Sam. "And they definitely don't sit around in caves granting miracles. This isn't Camelot."

"Dude, what version of Camelot have you been reading? I'm pretty sure that even in Camelot, bacteria never--"


--


Castiel has spent all evening--perhaps all his life on earth--waiting for it all to fall apart. He has watched Dean and Sam fall apart, and he watches them even now, fray and mend and fray again. He knows what he sees.

But maybe--

(Maybe they are themselves a space of faith. They are as Heaven is as angels are as humans were made to be. As humans discovered they could be.)


--


Castiel explains it like this: "Something happened to these bacteria, and now they are forming a Heaven. Or a garden. A new piece of Heaven is growing in the bunker. And I think it's an angel. This is another Heaven in its infancy," says Castiel, "and an angel in its earliest instar."

He's about to say more, but Sam speaks first. It's just as well, since Castiel seriously doubts his explanation is adequate, and he's not sure what he might do to rectify that. There is only one way to describe the birth of an angel, and it is simply to be born. There can be no adequate translations.

Sam says, "You know, I wouldn't mind if for once we just had mold."

"I would," says Dean. "Spores are gross."


--


Listen, Castiel. I and the fire made her. This newest angel. This newest swatch of Heaven. I and the fire made her.


--


Castiel remembers the harp-like quiver of Zipaquirá's Grace, the moment she discovered what the churches meant. Why all the souls were suddenly taking such forms in Heaven.

She was the first to understand that humanity wasn't simply expressing a newfound love for polygons. And the first to celebrate the fact that the miracle here was not the invention of worship, or supplication; the miracle was human creation. Humanity could create. It could influence.

Zipaquirá understood what it meant for Heaven to take on human forms--to morph into trellises and balconies and grand halls and tall, colorful windows.

"Infinite beginnings, Castiel. Infinite beginnings, and no ends," she'd breathed.

Then, in what seemed like no time at all (that is, several thousand years), Mary was burning, and Zipaquirá was gone.

That had felt like an end, and a poor one. Because if there's anyone who should believe that death is not an end, it should be those who safeguard Heaven. Castiel has never quite believed that, though. Not if life is truly sacred.

Castiel closes his eyes.

These are spaces of faith, he thinks. God creates contradictions, and these are spaces of faith.

Even in His absence.

Even in His absence, ultimate and final.

Castiel opens his eyes and turns to Sam.

Sam had likened all this to a mold--less than mold, even--which should suggest doubt, and suspicion. But his breaths say otherwise. The light in his eyes--light and biology, light on earth and what the curvature of the human eye can do with it, all things Castiel so rarely comprehends down here--mirrors Zipaquirá's Grace.

This angel before them, she is a beautiful thing. The Heaven that grows around her. The nascence of her. She is a fingerful of hungry, unthinking bacteria, and she is beautiful.

She is continuance. Legacy, even. She is a gift from God and the Darkness both. And like Zipaquirá before him, Sam knows this well.

Castiel looks at Dean and thinks, Not peace, then. It is not a question of peace or freedom, death or chaos, light or darkness.

Dean wants everything. Always has.

"What sparked this?" Sam asks. "I mean, this has to be new. Even if we're in a top secret salt archive, or whatever, someone would have noticed this. We're not actually that far underground. Relatively speaking."

"Yeah," Dean agrees. "I mean, if the Men of Letters knew what this was, that woulda made a few waves."

"Even wild speculation never came this far," Antonia confirms. "When I was sent to retrieve-- We had no idea--"

"Your mother," says Castiel.

"Cas, is now really the time for a 'your mom' joke?"

"Yeah, maybe the ye olde version," Dean snorts. "'Your mother!' really doesn't have the same ring to it, you know?"

"Your mother, Mary Winchester," Castiel repeats. "Her soul. Angels are both born and created. When He made us He'd already intended you, so I suppose it makes sense there'd be some mutual intelligibility between the forms… Enough that perhaps the catalyst might--"

"Cas, that makes no sense at all," Sam argues.

"Wait, if angels are born, who boinked and pooped you out?" Dean asks.

Castiel stares at Dean.

They are in the presence of Legacy itself. A child of Creation and creation. An angel, newly hewn.

And then, Dean Winchester.

"Oh!" Sam says suddenly. "Mary, as in also the Virgin Mary, Immaculate Conception, the birth of--yeah, okay, I get it. Sort of. ...Uh, maybe."

Castiel stares at Sam as well.

"No."


--


Angels are evolution in miniature.

When they'd watched the world build itself, one of them had suggested--and who had it been? Zachariah? Perhaps. This was long before--well. It was long ago.

In any case, an angel had suggested that what they were watching was a document of their own history.

We were those fish once, said that angel, to Castiel. Don't step on the fish.

It's only a story they told, and told again. God has never confirmed. But the way that story goes, evolution on earth is a record of how Grace was formed. It will be a long time yet before earth breaks the light barrier, and then the barrier of time, the way the angels have. But maybe one day, it will happen.

It makes sense, doesn't it? angels whispered to one another. The small ones, the archaea, they mutated so quickly. The bacteria became new societies overnight. Now humans do the same. Slower, perhaps, than the bacteria, but quick enough. Too quick.

Remember what happened with the churches?

Do you think angels are changing, too? Castiel had asked, his Grace sidling down to stroke the slick scales of the fish.

Oh Castiel, Zipaquirá had answered. We can only wish. We can only yearn.

But Zipaquirá had not lived to see the life Castiel has led.

Pace is art. And this, Castiel believes. When angels were created, God had already conceived of Man. And he'd wanted them both. There was space enough in the world, after all.

Perhaps, then, it makes just enough sense. Angels came first, but they are created by Man. They are born inside his soul.

There's a story, Castiel recalls, about a chicken and an egg.


--


If ever there were a soul to burn to life, and not to death, it would be Mary Winchester. It's in her blood. It's in her children's blood. Castiel would know.

Mary Winchester is free.


--


I made the fire mine. I am the mother of all. The newest one.

I am the mother of all to come.


Like a phoenix taking flight.

No fire can end me; I am Mary Winchester. I will never be ash.


--


"If I may interrupt: What do you mean when you say no?" asks Antonia. "So there is 'boinking'?"

"Okay, I kinda like her," Dean whispers to Sam. "She goes straight for the million-dollar questions, at least. First the listening to bacteria thing, and then--"

"She shot me."

"She did shoot you," Dean acknowledges.

"Please, you've probably shot him, too."

It's vanishing, but Castiel catches it.

Forget all levity, all talk of boinking, all of it: For a moment Dean's not sure whether that's true or not. Whether he's also shot Sam. He loses the line between desire and actuality, memory and nightmare. He might have shot Sam, under the Mark; or as a demon. Or maybe neither. Maybe he didn't have to be. Bottom line, he's not sure. He could make himself sure--those memories weren't taken from him. They're still there. But Dean and his past are fitful together, and if he clarifies one thing, all the rest might refuse to vanish, too. And the--

"I imagine the idiom 'doesn't kiss and tell' is appropriate here. However, I can assure you the conception was not immaculate." Castiel says, which is more than he'd wished. But it stops Dean's maelstrom in miniature.

Dean's eyebrows arch, and Sam's match.

Castiel is still an angel of the Lord; the least he can do is offer small protections.

He is an angel of the Lord.

He helps.


--


If they help each other, maybe they will all be okay. It sounds so simple, so stupid. Over-hopeful, even. But then, sometimes there's a stupid elevator no one bothered taking before.

Sometimes simple is the only thing that works.


--


I made the fire mine.


--


"How did you do it, Castiel?"

It's Uriel who asks, when Dean Winchester has been returned to earth and Castiel returns to Heaven unscathed. It is the first time an angel has ever emerged from Hellfire intact. (Dean Winchester is saved. Dean Winchester is saved--)

The truth is, Castiel just pulled. Reached down, gripped tight, and pulled as quick and as hard as he could.

"Faith," says Castiel.

Uriel frowns. It is not a satisfactory revelation.

"The fire may corrupt you yet," he says.

"Perhaps," says Castiel.

He's seen what's inside Dean Winchester, after all. Things a new body cannot erase. Things Castiel is afraid to touch. He hopes it won't matter.


--



My name is Mary Winchester, and I made the fire mine. Now I am the mother of all.

This is the way of all that is now to come.



--


Castiel chooses the large truck with the flames down its sides.

Dean laughs real laughter. "Sam's gonna have a stroke when he sees this thing."

Because they're going to make it, and Sam's going to be fine, and Castiel's aesthetic is going to be worth mattering, because the world will not be ending.

"You know what this means, right?" says Dean. He sounds almost giddy.

Castiel does not.

"All right, monster truck 101: You're only as good as your momentum. That means here to home, we're not gonna stop for nothing."

"Wear your seatbelt, then," says Castiel, and gets inside without hesitation. He traces his fingers around the edge of the door. Feels the metal heat of its painted flames in the sun.


--


We made the fire ours. And we're all going to be okay.


--


"We had an agreement," says Antonia. "You will want to claw your way back into the London Chapter's decently acceptable graces, if not our good ones. And this is how you do it."

Sam regards her uncertainly. "Right."

Antonia fixes him in her gaze. "Nothing is safe here, Sam; you know that. And we won't stop until we feel it is. Don't start a pointless war."

Sam looks at Dean, and Dean looks at Sam.

Dean says, "Yeaaaah, uh. We're seceding. Sea monkey angel trumps M16."

Sam says, "Happy Fourth of July."


--


This is not an end or an end or an end--only beginnings, beginnings in multitude, infinity--


--


This is not an end.


--


Listen, Castiel.



We're all going to be okay.




Tags: fic: spn
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    I dunno what it is about mid-February, but I've gotten like three comments on fics in the last 24 hours and that is super exciting. <333333333 I…

  • (no subject)

    Today Canadian radio was playing Five Finger Death Punch's cover of "Bad Company," and when I switched to Detroit radio, and they were playing Bad…

  • 15x10

    I forgot to mention the music! WHAT A TRIP. Especially the like, saxophone??? brother song arrangement??? That was wild! Episodes that at some point…

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  • 13 comments

  • <3

    I dunno what it is about mid-February, but I've gotten like three comments on fics in the last 24 hours and that is super exciting. <333333333 I…

  • (no subject)

    Today Canadian radio was playing Five Finger Death Punch's cover of "Bad Company," and when I switched to Detroit radio, and they were playing Bad…

  • 15x10

    I forgot to mention the music! WHAT A TRIP. Especially the like, saxophone??? brother song arrangement??? That was wild! Episodes that at some point…