This is hands down one of the best fics I've ever read. Death POV on Dean Cas and Sam. If you haven't read it, go! Read! Be amazed!
Here Open The GatesAuthor: takadainmateRecipient: dropoutRating:
Up to around 7x6Summary:
Death watches Dean Winchester. After eons of existence the feeling of something different, something original, is a novelty.Author notes:
I took the prompts of time being fluid to an angel, of slow relationship build-up, and of team free will, and somehow I ended with this. I hope you'll enjoy it! Many special thanks to my hardworking beta-elf who saw fit to teach me how to breathe.1. Trench coat
Watching is in the nature of Death.
Of all the worlds he presides over, of all the living in existence, he sees every one of them as they turn from warmth and breath and impulse to rotting flesh, apart from the physical world, changed. Most are lost and confused, but it isn't the business of Death to care for the emotional welfare of the deceased. His function is to take from the world what should not be there and that is all. It is certainly not in his job description to care for the welfare of the living
And yet, Death finds himself watching Dean Winchester.
He tells himself it's because Dean Winchester is an anomaly. He and his brother have died and been resurrected so many times Death can no longer tell if their souls can ever be fully removed from the world. They are both abominations to the natural order, and Death watches in wonder as they hurry across their small, insular world unconcerned that, in many ways, they are as supernatural as the creatures they hunt. The living, Death has come to understand, rarely stand still, always moving forward, moving on frantically, instinctively knowing that their time is limited. Dean and Sam Winchester live faster than most to such an extent that sometimes they are difficult to follow. Death has infinite aspects, is infinite in his scope and his presence, but even that is impossibly overcome by the Winchesters' vivaciousness and unpredictability. Death finds them to be irritations. He finds them brash, reckless, illogical, irreverent, annoying
, and yet he likes
them, and this is something new. After eons of existence, such a long time watching that Death can no longer remember when the universe was young, if it ever was, that feeling of something different, something original is a novelty.
Indeed, any feeling at all. Death hoards it as Dean Winchester hoards guilt.
He watches Dean Winchester unravel as the angel Castiel transforms himself into an unstable, half-crazed thing. Death foresees the angel's end, and is surprised that Dean Winchester cannot see it himself. He denies it, drowning himself in alcohol and regrets, and it is in his hopelessness and defeat that Death understands; Dean Winchester blames himself for all of it. He will be torn apart by the angel's death because, inevitably, Dean does
know it is coming.
This is something that Death has always admired in Dean Winchester, that he always fights against the inevitable. And Death helps him.
It makes little difference to Death if he should or he shouldn't because these are meaningless concepts to him. He does what he must to keep the universe in balance. But, he realises as he watches Dean Winchester half-carry an angel to his death, he would have helped even if it had not been to the benefit of Equilibrium. Dean Winchester intrigues him, offers him food in a way no human has sacrificed to him for centuries, reminds him that he might be Death but he, too, is a creature with his own Will.
When the time finally comes to take the angel Castiel for the first time in his existence Death hesitates.
He sees Dean's grief, how the angel's death will start him on a path to self-destruction, to losing everything he clings to so ruthlessly.
Death hesitates and in what is for him an instant is for Dean hours and days. Already Dean must drink to sleep, must drink to stay awake, looks at his brother with worry and envy and a sick feeling in his stomach that even having this much can't last.
In secret- which is not a secret at all because Dean spends almost every moment of his existence in close proximity to his brother- he holds what was once the overcoat of an angel's vessel. He speaks to it as though it were a living thing, as though it could hear him.
"You're an asshole," he tells the clothing. "You're a fucking idiot."
He flinches when anyone speaks the angel Castiel's name. He dreams of Castiel drowning. Of him burning in Hell. Dean dreams of Castiel in bed with him, mouths pressed together in that awkward way humans have of expressing affection for each other, and those are perhaps the worst of all because then Dean wakes and remembers that there is no one beside him and never will be.
After millennia of reaping no angels at all, within the past three years he has taken so many Death is certain one little angel will not be missed in the balance of things. It is neither judgement nor a gift, it is just that Death does not want to have to reap Dean Winchester, knowing full well that his death will not stick, and if the impulsive human continues along his current path of self-annihilation he will
end up dead.
In any case, the angel Castiel is almost as bad as the Winchesters for unlikely resurrections.
"I don't deserve this," the angel says as Death rebuilds Grace and the flesh within which to house it. Pointless. Death neither knows nor cares what he deserves.
"I would consider it well deserved," Death tells him testily, because angels are infinitely more complex than humans to reform, to breathe life into, "If you would stop dying
He leaves the angel Castiel on the shores of the place where he died, as that is how it must be, and he waits, watching.
Two days pass before Dean and Sam Winchester find him there.
"This isn't real," Dean denies when he sees Castiel's eyes open. There is mud smudged along Castiel's cheek and sand in his hair. His suit is torn and soaking wet from lying out in the rain for so long. It is still raining, water running down Dean's face, getting into his collar and making him shiver. Death thinks it is as it should be.
Dean demands, "What are you?" He is angry, furious
. In his hands he holds a bottle of cleaning fluid threateningly. "Are you one of them?"
The angel Castiel just looks at the bottle blankly before looking back to Dean, blinking.
"My coat," he says. "Do you have my coat?"
Death watches as Dean's eyes widen, his throat constricts, he draws in a sharp breath and in that instant he allows himself to entertain the possibility that this really is the Castiel he knew.
It is a beginning and Death muses on the contradiction; Death does not create, he is not the start but the end, the dissolution. Except not today.2. Two
Death doesn't rest. He knows there will be no end to his work until there is an end to everything
Death doesn't rest, but sometimes he pauses
It is often the case that Death pauses, quite coincidentally, wherever Dean Winchester happens to be, and this time he wishes he hadn't.
He crouches in a sewer beneath the vast and exhausting expanse of New York and it is early morning, before the dawn, and Death has no doubt this is a hunt. At least this place is dry and unused, but there is a lingering smell and Death remembers he has reaped many from these tunnels over recent human years.
Beside Dean is the angel Castiel, looking much more alive than he had been the last time Death had seen him. He leans gingerly back against the sewer wall, his wings tucked close as though he imagines that somehow this most human of places can somehow touch that aspect of himself. It is also, Death thinks, because he doesn't like this small, enclosed space. Angels have always preferred the open expanse of the worlds in-between where they can stretch their wings and fly. He is silent and cautious, listening both to Dean and to the sounds of the world around them. Dean laughs softly.
Inexplicably, Death finds himself pleased.
"Ninja turtles, Cas," he's saying. "I tell ya. They're awesome and they lived down here."
"These 'ninja turtles' are not suspects in this hunt?" Castiel asks and Dean's grin widens to the extent that Death is certain the fool is teasing the angel.
"No, Cas. Definitely not suspects."
He shines his flashlight down the tunnel behind him, the light reflecting the eyes of a rat and Dean shivers.
"Yeck. Can you make the rats go away?"
Castiel ignores him, hunching in on himself as though he is cold. It is strange behaviour for an angel. He wraps his overcoat- and Death remembers this overcoat, for so long hidden amongst Dean's belongings, a precious thing- around himself and this doesn't go unnoticed.
"I know they're pretty gross," Dean frowns, stops speaking and shines his flashlight on Castiel's face causing the angel to squint and turn away. Death is not well-versed on the many and myriad contortions that make up human facial expressions, but Dean sees something there he doesn't like. "But that's not it. What is it?"
"Nothing," Castiel answers immediately, automatically. And Death was no expert, but there was no mistaking Dean's irritation, his frustration.
"We've been through this, Cas," and he sounds as though he is scolding the angel. "You tell me if something's up."
Castiel opens his mouth to say something but seems to change his mind, instead looking down at his human feet.
Death has no place reading the thoughts of the living, he has no need for such an ability, but he finds himself very interested in that moment to know what the angel Castiel is thinking.
"Angels don't like small spaces," Castiel admits, shakes his head. "But it is nothing."
"Claustrophobic," Dean says. "I didn't know, man."
This is something tentative, something new and fragile; Dean reaches out and lays a hand gently on Castiel's shoulder. Humour, deflection, these are the tools Death has seen Dean wield the most but here, in this dark drain beneath the earth where there are just two and no one else will ever know it, Dean's hand slides from Castiel's shoulder to his wrist, holds onto him.
"We can leave," he offers. "Me and Sam can handle this, easy."
For a moment Death is sure that Castiel means to shake off Dean's hold, but instead he just stares at where Dean's fingers circle his wrist.
"I don't mind," Castiel replies, sounding surprised at himself. Looking up, he meets Dean's gaze- easier for Castiel who can see in the dark than for Dean who is relying on the dim, orange light from an old flashlight- and they stare at each other for longer than Death has ever seen a human or an angel stare at another being with such intensity. Stranger still when Dean's lips tug upwards into a very slight smile.
There is a skinwalker closing in, approaching with long-learned stealth and baying for blood, but Death knows that it is the skinwalker he will be reaping soon, not Dean Winchester nor the angel Castiel. He does not bother to wait for the inevitable, ending the creature's life long before it reaches them.3. Torino
There are many crypts in the world, places where flesh rots and bones flake away, and Death resides in them all, his presence echoing from every cold wall, every monument and slab and decaying shroud reverence of him. The voices of the living are loud in these places, the voice of Dean Winchester even more so.
"That is so creepy." Death can hear him shiver. "Who the hell decides, I know what'd be really awesome here; a line of skulls on the wall wearing crowns. Yeah. Classic.
Death doesn't bother to look at them. He is busy, and sight as it is for humans means little to him. But he listens. He can hear every footfall and he can feel every breath. All three of them are there in this mausoleum.
"They are reminders," the angel Castiel explains. He touches his fingers lightly to the marble of the walls and frowns. The dead are restless in this place and they covet the life of something so bright and warm. "It may be difficult finding the body of the ghost," he says.
"Most of those buried here are... not at peace."
Dean heaves a sigh, put upon. "Can't we just torch the entire place?"
From one of the inner rooms Sam's voice echoes, sounding horrified, "No! This is a national monument. A really cool national monument. We are not torching>
"We'd be doing them a favour. Preventative hunting," Dean argues. "Cas said so."
"Yeah, I don't think so." Sam moves from where he was investigating the glass covered tombs into the main chamber, closer to his brother.
Dean ignores Sam in favour of turning to Castiel. "And what the hell kind of ghost haunts someone from a whole other continent anyway? How is that even possible?"
"The ghost must harbour very great hate. Or love." The angel understands what the humans could not; that the physical distance between earthbound locations is nothing to the distance between life and death. The distance that must be travelled for a spirit to be created. Something about Castiel's words makes Dean shift uncomfortably.
Death wonders how long it has been since he last took note of Dean and Castiel in the sewers of New York. There is still an awkwardness in the way they interact, this is obvious even for one who neither understands nor cares to understand human relationships.
Dean Winchester watches the angel Castiel, and Sam Winchester watches his brother, and Castiel is distracted by the clamouring of the dead around him. They seek peace and redemption and they see the angel as a means to it. Castiel shakes his head, puts his hands to his ears in a very human gesture.
"What's wrong?" Sam asks, concerned and cautious, expecting the worst. The Winchesters always expect the worst and Death wonders what they would do if they found themselves in a world that was good
to them. Without purpose, without pain, would the brothers even know how to live?
"They are loud," Castiel says, and Death agrees. He could silence them with a thought but he is interested to see what the brothers and the angel will do. Instead, Death waits.
"The dead?" Sam has always been quick to understand the world around him. "You can hear them."
Castiel nods slowly. "Yes."
"You'll be okay though, right?"
In the sewers it was Dean who worried for the angel, and here it is Sam. It is an unlikely thing for humans to worry or care for an angel. It is something Death has never seen before. Before the Winchesters Death doesn't know if it could ever have been possible. No other beings he's ever met have been so contradictory to nature. An angel should not need the care of humans, and perhaps Castiel doesn't, but it is impossible to miss the way his grace shifts and expands. This is the love of an angel. Neither Winchester can know it.
"It's just noise," Castiel says.
Dean snorts. "Just noise. Like how your true voice
is just noise?"
Castiel sighs testily.
"It's not my fault," he says shortly, "that you aren't capable of hearing my voice."
"You made my ears bleed," Dean retorts.
Across the room, Sam turns away from the argument, muttering to himself darkly and moving deeper into the crypt to where there the roof slopes downwards, away from the open light of the main mausoleum, to where the dead fill the walls. It is a mistake.
The dead sense an opportunity; a soul touched with darkness, a mind that is filled with cracks, open to them where the angel wasn't. All Sam feels before he is overcome is overwhelming cold.
These are souls that chose to stay, too afraid or too confused to do anything else. They are not the business of Death anymore and he is certain, in any case, that Dean Winchester and the angel Castiel are entirely capable of exorcising these spirits.
Almost immediately Castiel senses the change, that something isn't right, and he interrupts Dean, calling, "Sam!"
There is no reply.
Predictably, Dean is filled with dread, guilt, worry. Without consideration, he makes to run to where Sam is but Castiel stops him and Dean lets him.
"What?" Dean demands.
"The dead," is Castiel's explanation. "Stay behind me."
That, Death thinks, is very unlikely.
"Like fuck." Dean tries to move past Castiel, but the angel is immovable when he wants to be and he forcefully keeps Dean at his back.
"Sam will be alright," he assures Dean. He holds Dean's eyes to make sure he understands. It is a miracle Castiel has this much control over Dean Winchester that he concedes. That he believes
him. It is an interesting facet of humanity that they can forgive so very much, and for those he loves Dean can forgive almost anything. As he watches Castiel cautiously following Sam's footsteps into the darker, damper extremes of the crypt Death wonders if the angel even realises how much power he has over Dean- over both Winchesters. How much trust Dean instils in him, even now. Dean follows, remaining silent, allowing Castiel to lead.
There is a clicking sound, Dean flipping the switch on his flashlight. They don't have to go far until they find Sam. Within him, the ghosts fight for control and Sam tries reason and threats and all the time he's remembering hell, hell, hell
. Castiel sees all this, but Dean Winchester is limited to the eyes of a human and he sees his brother standing, unmoving.
"Sam?" As limited as his sight is, he can still tell that something is wrong.
"The dead have possessed him," Castiel says. That part of Sam which is not physical is squeezed and torn and suffocated and Castiel gathers himself, angered by these spirits. "I will exorcise them."
Sceptical, Dean questions, "Easy as that?"
"Yes," Castiel replies shortly.
He reaches out, puts his hands to Sam's face and pulls
The ghosts cling to everything that is Sam and Death knows that it must be painful. Something of this pain must show because Dean calls out, "Cas, what the fuck?"
There is no time, no attention Castiel has to spare for Dean, instead he concentrates, meticulously picking out every sliver of spirit that is not Sam and drawing them all into himself. He wraps them in his grace, trapping them. The ghosts fight viciously against the angel and Castiel takes it all, willingly. When all that is left is Sam, Castiel heals what he can, soothes what he can't and by the time he releases Sam, Dean is cursing them both.
Sam leans heavily against the crypt wall, his head thunking loudly against the stone. "Shit," he says. "Jesus. That sucked."
"I agree." Castiel closes his eyes, wraps his arms around his stomach as though he is nauseous. Perhaps he is because the spirits are angry. They can't win this fight and they know it. They are callous and vindictive and seek now to make this hurt
"Sam?" In the next breath Dean is patting down his brother, gripping his shoulder. "You all there?"
"Think so," Sam grins, but then he turns to Castiel. "But, dude, it felt like you put those things in yourself." Dean immediately goes still. They both watch as Castiel shivers, grits his teeth and forces the ghosts to dispel.
"Fucking idiot," Dean berates. He sees it the moment Castiel begins to fall and he and Sam are at Castiel's side, holding him up. "Come on, man. Tell me you're okay."
At his most base Dean has always been the caretaker, the one who puts those he loves above every part of himself, before the world, and Death has watched Dean long enough to know that the thing he hates the most is when he must see his family suffer and to not be able to do anything about it. He grips Castiel's arm tightly because it is the only thing he can do.
It takes some seconds before Castiel can rid himself of the restless souls and even this is apparently too long for Dean because in that time he threatens and curses and encourages until Castiel relaxes, opens his eyes.
"They are gone," he announces. Dean smacks him on the shoulder.
"How many freaking times, Cas. Don't pull shit like that."
Castiel looks to Dean and to Sam and then back again. "It was expedient. I was in no danger."
"Didn't look like it from where I was standing."
This is an argument Death has heard from them before, and it is one that neither Dean nor Castiel will give ground in, and to Death it is tiresome. To Sam, too, because he cuts them both off, "Seriously guys. Shut up."
It doesn't work but unlike Sam, Death can bleed away, close his eyes to this crypt of expensive, impersonal marble. There are no dead here any longer. It is silent.
The last thing Death perceives is Dean telling Sam and Castiel that now there is no damned way he isn't going to burn the mausoleum to the ground. 4. Tarantula
From the greatest and the oldest creatures, ancient gods and long forgotten giants, to the smallest insects and corals Death takes them all. In the end they are all the same. They turn to dust. Death hears every one of them.
It is how, when Death sees the Winchesters next, both brothers standing agitatedly on the angel Castiel's knees, that Death can understand them. They are much smaller than the last time Death saw them.
Dean speaks without human language and Castiel, too, understands.This is messed up,
he says. I want to make a freaking web, like, desperately want to. And I'm
Castiel gently runs a finger soothingly down what is now Dean's back, a hairy thing, and a human woman passes by them in the park where Castiel sits on an old, worn bench, a terrified expression on her face the moment she catches sight of them. She hurries on. Dean prods Castiel with every one of his eight legs irritably.
"I can bring you food," Castiel suggests, and Dean shakes off Castiel's hand, scurrying into the folds of his coat. Death doesn't think he dares climb up, still unfamiliar with what this new, strange body can do. Sam appears to have no such qualms, sitting on Castiel's shoulder.
This, Death thinks, is entirely too entertaining. He pauses in his work, distributes his reapers, watches as Dean Winchester- now a tarantula with legs four inches long- fights the instincts of a spider. He would applaud whatever being has turned Dean and Sam into such small, unusual creatures.
Despite his hunger, Dean declares, I am not eating
"Sam does not think they would be so bad," Castiel tries. "Dean, you must eat."
It is an absurd conversation, and Death knows that if he were corporeal he would be laughing.
Dean ignores Castiel's plea. How come you can talk to Sam and I can't anyhow?
he demands to know. Where is he?
The sight of a spider is so completely different from a human's that Death wonders whether Dean can even process it. If he can Sam is too far away, by a spider's standards, to see in any case.
"He is on my shoulder," Castiel says. He offers a hand for Dean to crawl on to and cautiously Dean accepts, testing the solidity of every finger carefully as he moves. "You can't speak to Sam this way because spiders have no shared, similar language."That makes no sense
, Dean complains. Go slow, okay?
he adds hesitantly.
Careful to keep his hand level, Castiel gently raises his hand to where Sam is sprawled with his long legs splayed across the shoulder of Castiel's coat, tipping downwards. Even as a fucking spider he's a freaking giant
, Dean complains. Death has to agree that Sam's leg span is impressive.
They may not be able to communicate with words, but brought together Dean pushes at Sam's back with one of his legs and Sam pushes back and this is apparently satisfactory to the Winchesters because Sam says, Asshole
, and Dean says, Pussy spider
It is then that a child, a young fearless boy, runs up to Castiel, eyes affixed to the tarantula forms of Dean and Sam Winchester.
"Mister!" the child says excitedly. "Can I hold your spiders?"
The child fidgets where he stands, grinning widely. He holds out his hands.Oh, freaking awesome
, Dean deadpans. Tell the kid to scram
, he orders.
"No," Castiel says. Perhaps realising the impoliteness of his reply from the child's shocked expression he adds, "They are... fragile."
Dean pinches the skin of Castiel's palm with his pincers. I'm not
"I'll be real gentle," the child argues. He's gonna pull off our legs
, Sam says and pulls at Dean, encouraging him onto Castiel's shoulder. Dean lets Sam pull him along, down Castiel's back to hide in his pocket, trusting him more than he'd ever trust himself or his new spider form.
"I cannot allow it," Castiel shakes his head and the child's expression crumples into one of disappointed unhappiness. There might be tears, Death thinks.
"But I want to hold the spiders," he demands. The child looks back over his shoulder, to his friends Death observes.
In Castiel's pocket Sam and Dean vie for what little space there is, snipping and bitching
- as the Winchesters would say- at each other even though they share no spoken language. It is simple enough to understand the meaning when you are being shoved aside.Next time I want my own pocket
, Dean complains. And Cas? What the fuck is all this crap in here. There's like, a million candy wrappers.
Castiel ignores the brothers in favour of staring at the child standing in front of him. He doesn't speak, just tilts his head curiously and looks
. Death wonders if the angel does this on purpose to discourage the child or if he really doesn't know that this type of behaviour is generally thought of as bizarre. Creepy
. In either case Castiel's unflinching gaze is enough to drive the child to back away slowly before turning and running. He heads back to his group of friends huddled together beneath the sprawled grandeur of an old tree.
After a moment of silence, Dean asks, Did you scare him away?
"I did not scare
him away," Castiel defends.
Cautiously, Dean scrabbles his way to the edges of Castiel's coat pocket, one of his long legs attempting to find purchase in air. Only when he has balanced himself on his brother's back, his head out of the pocket, does Dean realise he can't see very well like this. Or at least, he doesn't understand what he is seeing. He stays where he is anyway, possibly just to irritate his brother.
Dean ignores Castiel's comment. I bet you gave him the stare. Did you give him the stare? That's guaranteed to make anyone run away.
"What is the stare?"
Again, Castiel offers his hand to Dean, and this time Dean crawls onto it without hesitation.With you, whenever you look at someone
, Dean tells him.
Bringing Dean up to his eye-level, Castiel says, "You
never run away."
And Dean doesn't seem to have any reply to that. He scratches at Castiel's hand instead, demanding, Get us the fuck out of here. We need to find the fucking dick that did this to me and Sam.
Castiel nods.In the other pocket
, Dean insists when Castiel moves to place him back with Sam, and Castiel obeys.
It is a shame, Death thinks as the angel takes flight, that the Winchesters will not stay as spiders for longer. In that form he could almost imagine they could cause less trouble.
There are many hidden creatures that inhabit the Earth. They hide in the darkest, inky-black places of the world, where humans and their hungry fingers haven't yet reached. They hide in places humans don't even know exist; between the worlds, in splits between one time and another, in the deepest, most silent holes. Death knows them all, as he knows every living thing and every place. There is, after all, no hiding from Death.
Angels know some of them.
It is often the case that the First Borns of God think they know more than they do, but in this case it might be a case of knowing more than is good for them.
In the oldest, deepest of lakes the angel Castiel seeks Scylla. Once, the story that angels have heard goes, long forgotten by humans, the Leviathan hated the Scylla. Under the fierce waves of the primordial sea they lived in competition, tearing each other apart if ever they were given the opportunity. This went on for a long time, or perhaps a short time because time had yet to be invented, until the time of humans came. The Leviathan, hungry, vicious creatures by nature were thrown into purgatory. Scylla, loyal things, were allowed to remain on Earth, hidden away, watching humanity as it extended itself across the oceans that are its home, into the deepest most ancient of lakes. They took tributes to themselves in the shape of ships and boats, their long, powerful limbs legendry amongst those who built lives upon the seas.
Death hears Scylla stir and it is something he hasn't heard in a long time.
It is to the Winchesters' credit that Death thinks first of them at the first sound of its ancient, almost-forgotten calls. Only the Winchesters could ever be audacious enough to raise such a powerful thing.
This, he thinks, he must see. Though he can't see it, Death wonders if perhaps this might be another chance to take Dean or Sam or Castiel from life. A chore might be a better word. Habit. Annoying exercise in futility.
In the dead of night lit under the brightest of full moons, on a pebbly beach surrounded by thick forest the angel Castiel divines. It is a ritual Death has never seen before, something the angel must have created himself and Death is impressed by his ingenuity. Creativity, original ideas are not as a rule attributes that angel kind are blessed with.
It is a hot night and Dean fidgets uncomfortably, stripped down to a t-shirt and sweating. Beside him stands Sam, of course, and he holds Castiel's own sword.
"You sure about this?" Dean asks. He hovers close to Castiel's back, watching the waves of water gently lapping against the shoreline.
Castiel breaks off from his ritual, pouring water into a beaten bronzed bowl, replies simply, "No, I'm not."
There are many meanings to his reply that Death can discern from the tense set of Dean's shoulders, from Sam's determined expression, from the way Castiel returns to the ritual, chanting words in his own language with more fervour, louder. Dean is afraid, but they are all resolved to the necessity of their actions. In this place, with Castiel standing so close to the waterfront, Dean watches Castiel closely and Death imagines he is reminded of the lake into which the angel disappeared. Where he died.
With everything he is, Castiel calls to the ancient Scylla and Death imagines this is some attempt at redemption. He must know that all he did in the name of God is irreversible, and yet perhaps this is not his main concern. More, he seeks Dean Winchester's forgiveness, not realising that Dean forgives those he loves almost without question.
From the depths, Scylla reaches out, his arms as long as any shoreline.
The previously placid surface of the lake begins to churn, the waves along the shoreline becoming rough, fast, flooding the beach now right up to Castiel's feet. Then over his feet.
"Cas," Dean warns.
The angel can no longer hear him, his being filled with Scylla's replies, its language more a thing of feeling than words. It is a difficult thing even for an angel to comprehend, this knowledge from before even their creation.
At the creature's welcome Castiel begins walking into the water, towards its reaching arms, and Death is unsure as to how much volition Castiel has in this. Scylla has been alone for a long time and it is curious, relieved, confused as to why an angel would want to speak with it. It wants desperately to remember what companionship was like.
There are a thousand questions at once; is it the last of its kind, what of the seas, what of God, what of the humans that had been nothing more than single cells when Scylla had last seen the world. Castiel struggles to reply to them all, to keep the ancient's power from overwhelming him.
Dean moves towards Castiel. "Answer me, man," he says, and his concern is clear in his voice.
"Maybe he's talking to the Scylla," Sam guesses, but cautiously, as though he doesn't expect his brother to take his suggestion well.
Dean doesn't. "He should've told us it'd be like this," he insists.
"Dean," Sam tries. "These monsters were around even before Cas. He couldn't have known."
This does nothing to appease Dean, who frowns deeply, looking torn between hauling Castiel away from the water and letting him be.
The waters have reached Dean and Sam now and beyond, the waves flooding further up the beach almost to the tree line. What was once a calm surface swells and ebbs. The white moonlight illuminates the high edges of waves, the outline of shapes emerging from the lake.
Dean notices the movement instantly.
"You are fucking kidding me."
His eyes are wide and disbelieving as thick, graceful arms rise out from the surface, made translucent by millennia spent in the dark. Through the skin the lines of the creature's veins, its muscles, its sinews can be seen contracting and relaxing as its limbs move. And in the next moment an arm lashes out, almost too fast for the human eye to see, snaking around Castiel's ankle.
Death can't fault his instincts because then, just as Dean's fingers brush the material of Castiel's coat, the angel is gone, snatched away. The arms retreat back to below the surface and no trace is left of Castiel.
Dean roars after him, "No! Give him the fuck back!"
Hissing against the cold of the water, Dean begins wading into the lake and Death can't imagine what he imagines he's doing. Unless Dean intends to meet Death again.
Sam runs after his brother, grabbing at his shoulders and trying to pull him back. Dean resists, attempts to shrug Sam off.
"Let me go, man," Dean demands. "The fucker took Cas. Fucking tentacles
The waters are beginning to calm, to recede back to gentle waves, and though Dean doesn't know it, below the surface of the water Castiel fights hard to remember he is an angel and that he doesn't need air. It is a dark, heavy place the Scylla drags him down to, passing the lake bed down into a deep fissure. These are not the places angels tend to like and Castiel tries to make himself heard over the creature's thoughts that this is not what he came for, that he can't stay here, that he might die here, like this, without the sun and the air and flight and Dean.
Death hears him and almost wants to help the poor angel. This desire to become involved in the lives of mortals, this inclination to assist them in their meaningless, short lives has been an unwelcome, unfathomable consequence of being acquainted with the Winchesters and Death doesn't know if he likes it. He watches and he waits. That is his place in the universe. It is unlikely the Winchesters and this angel of theirs will ever learn this lesson; that all things have a place and a role to play. Though it shouldn't be, the trait is almost endearing.
Still, he cannot let the Winchesters become reliant on him. Even if Death did save Castiel from a very watery end once before,*** it is not for him to get them out of their self-created mishaps, so Death watches Castiel sink to the lakebed, watches as the arms of Scylla embrace him, and watches as Dean fights with his brother to let him go
, to help him
when they both know there is nothing they can do.
"Cas can survive underwater. We know he can," Sam tries to assuage his brother but his words have the opposite effect.
"Yeah, we know he can because he survived underwater for months the last time he was-" Dean can't seem to finish the sentence, breaking off and looking away towards the water. The surface is still again, as though nothing has changed. Dean stands shivering on the shoreline in sopping boots, jeans soaked up to his knees, watching for any sign of movement.
"Yeah," Sam offers softly and he lays a hand gently on Dean's shoulder. "But he can do this. He escaped the Leviathan. He can do this too."
Despite the fact that it was Death himself who brought Castiel back from the grip of the Leviathan, Death understands what this is; belief in one another. This is the greatest strength of the Winchesters.
"We're waiting here," he decides. "Cas knows we'll be waiting here."
Even if Dean appears to mistake Castiel for a young child, for all his remove from humanity, Death understands the sentiment.
It is a tiresome task, and Death will never admit that it is for anything other than his own sanity, but he looks upon Castiel and the over-enthusiastic Scylla who holds the angel close and talks and talks and talks and he tells the creature, "Listen
For a moment it falls silent, and in that time Castiel can be heard speaking in the language of the angels, less like screeching underwater and more like a strange, sonorous bubbling, "I can't understand you," he says, and, "We ask your assistance," and, "I require air," and it is enough. Scylla hears.
When Scylla rises again, more slowly this time, carefully holding Castiel above the waves, Dean is murderous and Sam is relieved and Castiel is hopeful.
Set down on the beach, he smiles at Dean, "We have an ally."
"An ally who tries to fucking drown you?" Dean spits venomously, eyeing the purple arms still creeping close to Castiel.
"Scylla meant no harm," Castiel says. His voice catches and he coughs, water filling lungs he doesn't even need. Dean hits him soundly on the back, standing close. Taking a deep breath, Castiel grabs Dean's arm and steadies himself. It is the first time in Death's memory that Castiel- that any angel- has ever willingly, impulsively, of their own accord, reached out, clung to
a human. It is trust. "This is a good thing, Dean," he insists.
Dean frowns at Castiel but doesn't shake him off. Of course he doesn't shake him off. Dean is unconvinced. Concerned. The default for Dean Winchester. Castiel leans on him and Dean will not let him go.
For his part, Sam stares at what he can see of the Scylla in the moonlight- long arms playing in the night air, large, sad eyes half-hidden by the surface of the lake- and he looks on in awe.
Perhaps now, Death thinks, watching the way Dean and Castiel gaze at one another, and the way Sam finds beauty again in the world, the Winchesters might finally find the victories they are seeking.6. Time
Dean Winchester is dead.
It happens with such frequency that Death doesn't bother looking into it on most occasions any more. Sooner or later he returns, mostly alive and intact, and Death has come to accept this as a fact of the universe.
This time, though, something is different. Dean is not so much dead as he is gone
. Body and soul disappeared, as though he had never existed in the first place.
In a small, damp motel room outside of Denver Sam paces and Castiel looks to the remains of a very ancient and very dangerous ritual. The room smells of dried myrrh and lingering magic. It is a spell of finding, and a powerful one, and from the pinched expression on Castiel's face Death imagines that he has found what he was looking for.
"I'm going to kill him," Sam says. "I'm going to rip that asshole to pieces."
From the venom in his voice Death doubts that Sam is talking about his brother.
Castiel, who is all calm endeavour on the outside but whose grace burns with fury and an aching to see Dean safe, says, "We will deal with this Leviathan when I have retrieved Dean."
"I?" Sam stops in his pacing and frowns at Castiel. "I'm going with you."
Castiel shakes his head regretfully. "I don't have the strength to carry you with me, Sam. I'm sorry."
"You did before," Sam argues.
"I wasn't taking you very far that time," Castiel explains. "And you will remember even that was too much for me."
Sam looks suitably chastised. "Yeah. Yeah okay. Just. Bring him back, Cas."
A brief nod and then Castiel gathers himself, drawing up his wings. He flies, and Death follows.
Time is not Death's forte. Time is, for the most part, meaningless to him; an arbitrary construction of linear events that all lead to the same end. Death.
For the angel Castiel, though, it is a barrier, complex lines of choice and destiny that twist and unravel around him as he pushes through them. He travels a long way, so far that the history he passes through burns him. He grows tired, losing his way several times so that he has to backtrack, re-find whatever thread he was following and then press on again. Death draws closer.
In a time at the beginning of human history, before cities and pizza and artificial colourings, Castiel comes to a stop. Death is as comfortable here as he is in any time or place, for he is everywhere and eternal, but the angel looks out of place in his trench coat and tie, standing in the desert, the suffocating wind scratching at his human face. He falls to his knees there and for a long time just breathes. Bright red blood drips from his nose, mixing with the yellow sand. He doesn't move for a long time.
This was a time when angels roamed the Earth more freely, when God could still be perceived in every aspect of this world he created, untouched by human hand. Castiel must work to hide himself from his brothers. From himself.
Finally he stands. The sun is just beginning to set, the temperature around him dropping fast and Castiel draws his coat more tightly around himself. It is the curse of humanity, Death knows, even if he's not human. Along with love and individuality and warmth and welcome comes fear and loss and the cold. Castiel walks quickly, his leather shoes leaving imprints in the sand for only an instant before they are covered over. It comes as no surprise to Death that Castiel can tell exactly where he needs to go; Death can sense Dean Winchester in this place too.
For a long time Castiel walks, the sun replaced by the moon and the sand replaced by stone as he follows a path that no human could see, but both he and Death can. It winds through narrow crevasses, along ledges only inches wide, out into open land and always taking Castiel upwards. Sometimes the incline is steep. Sometimes it is gentle. Castiel doesn't stop to rest.
At any other time he might fly, but this is the time before and Death imagines that
taking to the skies would only attract the attention of his brothers.
The moon sets and the world is pitch black, but Castiel doesn't need the eyes of his vessel to see. This vessel that has slowly become Castiel's own physical body, fitted to him closer than Death has ever seen an angel inhabit a human form. The ground beneath Castiel's human feet turns uneven, loose rocks crumbling under him. He stumbles, but doesn't fall, carrying on as though nothing has happened. Scorpions scatter, hiding themselves behind cool stones. Snakes avoid the angel, as they always have.
It is just as the night is turning to dawn, as a hint of moisture fills the air, that Castiel stops.
"I know you're there," he says. His eyes are closed. He looks worn and tired and red blood still stains the once-white collar of his shirt. "You could assist me. Assist Dean."
That is within Death's purview. Castiel knows this.
"Then is this entertainment for you? Do you follow us for your own amusement?" Castiel asks. "I have sensed you many times these past months."
He looks neither angry nor afraid, more curious. The angel had never given any indication that he had perceived death's presence, but then it wasn't as though Death had ever tried to conceal himself.
"And yet, you have never showed yourself either. Not to Dean. Not even when you raised me," Castiel says.
No. He hadn't. There had never been any purpose in it.
"There is no purpose in this," Castiel points out. "Neither of us will die here."
He sounds so sure, but then, Death supposes, there is ample precedent for confidence in their continued survival.
And Castiel is right. Death has no reason to be here, other than curiosity. It isn't concern, he believes. If it was concern he would have put an end to their fight with the Leviathan long ago.
Castiel shakes his head slowly and there is something like amusement curling his lips. "Dean wouldn't have appreciated that."
Death is almost certain that isn't why. It's not his concern, any of this business with the Leviathan. Any of this business with Dean Winchester. Yet here he is.
"Then let us find Dean." Castiel speaks as though Death cares
. As though he is looking for him too.
It is a good thing that he says nothing further, returning instead to walking, one foot in front of the other, an endless, steady pace up and up and up.
The sun heats the bare rock, its white colour reflecting back onto Castiel. His skin dries out, burns, cracks. His lips bleed.
As the sun reaches its highest point Castiel says, "I wish to stay with Dean. I have never wished for anything before. Not like this." His voice is little more than a hoarse whisper.
It's truth, but it's madness too, the heat slowly leeching the life from Castiel. He says nothing more.
In the afternoon Castiel slows.
There is an ocean a hundred miles or more away and Death finds himself creating a cool breeze from it. By the time it reaches Castiel it is a meagre thing, but the angel sighs with relief when he feels it across his face.
Another sunset. They are high up in the mountains now, around them is a vista of endless, empty land. A human from the time of the Winchesters might think it beautiful, or else frightening. Castiel stumbles again, comes to a stop. Death brings water in the form of ice, hidden amongst the crevices of the rocks. It is unlikely and Castiel stares at it for a long time.
"This is either an illusion," Castiel says, "Or you are unsubtle."
He reaches out his hands and the impossible ice crumbles. Castiel drinks greedily and Death ensures there is always more.
With a long, heavy sigh Castiel stands and starts walking again.
"He is never easy to find." Castiel sounds resigned to this, as though it is his fate. And perhaps it is, but Death thinks it is rather more like Castiel's choice
. After knowing Dean Winchester for so long, having been through so many things together, Death doesn't believe Castiel would have Dean any other way. "Just once," Castiel laments, "I would like him to be easy to find."
This is not a difficulty that Death ever has, but he finds himself listening anyway. As the night wears on there are times when Death is almost walking beside Castiel with human feet, his heavy coat swaying around his calves. Many times Death has followed weary travellers but never when he thought they would ever reach their destination.
With the rising of the sun on the third day Castiel knows he's close. For the past few hours the steady incline has finally turned into a decline. There is scrub here, so there must be at least a little water. There has to be or else Death really would be welcoming Dean back into the hereafter. But then Castiel stops dead, and it is not like the other times. This is shock. Disbelief.
Death can understand why; there is an angel close by. It is a young thing, as far as Death can tell. A foot soldier, no more. Castiel could deal with it easily even in this depleted state.
It is moving towards them, and Castiel hurries towards it now, new strength found no doubt from the thought of seeing Dean again, from the need to protect Dean.
When they finally meet, though, when they come into view below them clambering up the steep rocky path it is not to Dean Winchester that Castiel looks. It is to the other angel.
The instances in which Death has found himself to be surprised by something, to realise that he hadn't known
something, are the rarest of all. Death savours the feeling, letting recognition and incredulity overtake him. This is Castiel, as he was, thousands of years ago. He wears another vessel, but that isn't what is surprising. That isn't how he's different. It's what's inside that vessel, the part that's angel which is so utterly unlike his current self as to be almost unrecognisable. This creature is order and absolute purity. Castiel, as Death knows him, is sharp, jagged edges and contradiction. He is so much more
. The other, younger Castiel looks upon his older self and for an instant Death thinks the angel might be sick.
"Cas!" Dean calls as they approach. "Jesus fucking thank Christ!" He tries to pull away from where the younger Castiel has a tight grip around his arm. "Now get the fuck off me, asswipe," Dean demands, and with such dislike that Death is certain Dean cannot realise who this angel is.
They stop a short distance apart, sizing each other up. The young Castiel glances at Death standing beside his older self. Even such a young angel would not fail to recognise Death.
"What are you?" he demands. He looks at Dean, looks back at Castiel. "What is this?"
"Your future," Castiel says simply. His younger self looks very much like he wants to argue, but he is silent. This older, scarred Castiel makes for an imposing figure even if his vessel is half-dead from exposure and thirst.
Dean can't see this. All he sees is a man in a torn, stained overcoat. All he sees is his friend in pain. "What? Crap, man. Cas. You look like shit."
Without taking his eyes off of his past self Castiel greets, "It's good to see you too, Dean."
"Yeah," Dean snorts. He looks between the two angels, at the way they take each other in. The younger Castiel has a thousand questions he wants to ask. Even so long ago, even this Castiel who is all soldier and no thought, has elements of the creature he will become. Inquisitiveness is not natural for an angel, but apparently for Castiel it is. "This dick said he was you," Dean says.
"He is," Castiel tells him. "How I was a long time ago."
"You sucked." Dean looks pointedly down at where the other Castiel still grips hold of his arm.
Castiel tilts his head to the side and Death thinks it is his approximation of rolling his eyes. He tells his younger self, "Release him."
As is the nature of angels, the younger Castiel obeys. With as much bravado as is possible Dean walks quickly on unsteady legs over to the Castiel he knows, rubbing at his arm and muttering, "Crazy asshole," under his breath.
Once Dean is at his side Castiel turns away. "Come on," he says. He doesn't look back.
Dean hurries to follow. "You're not gonna talk to yourself? Give yourself tips?"
"He won't remember this," Castiel tells him.
"How do you know that?"
There is dirt streaked across Dean's face, a bruise around one eye, and Castiel reaches for Dean and brushes his fingers lightly across his cheek, healing him. Dean doesn't flinch at the touch.
Castiel says, "Because I don't."
They walk in silence for a time, side by side, so close that their arms touch.
Finally Dean asks, "So that really was you? From when? I kind of got the idea that we're somewhere in the time of the dinosaurs or something, but how long ago?"
"We're not in the time of the dinosaurs," Castiel corrects. "We're around eight thousand years before you are born."
"Jesus." Dean stares at Castiel in something like awe. "You are seriously old
Castiel shrugs. Another human gesture.
"But you kept me alive," Dean adds. "So I guess you weren't all bad. I guess even when I first met you, you weren't all bastard.
Castiel is unimpressed. "You are too kind," he says dryly and Dean grins.
He's shifting uncomfortably as they walk, his clothes ragged and damp with sweat. "Your old vessel looks a lot like Jimmy," Dean comments.
"His ancestor," Castiel explains, and then he does look back. "He will get to go back to his family." There is regret in his voice. Dean must hear it too because he changes the subject.
"So we're going home, right?"
"Yes," Castiel confirms. "I am- Yes."
"You're okay to do it though, right? You're not gonna kill yourself trying? I know what you're like, Cas." Dean prods Castiel in the arm as though he's testing if the angel can stand up straight. "You really do look crap."
In journeying to find Dean without rest Castiel hasn't stopped to repair his vessel or his clothes and Death agrees that he looks terrible.
Death is sure Castiel hears his opinion because he very clearly thinks, I didn't ask for your opinion
To Dean Castiel hesitates to answer, torn between the lie and the truth. He settles on, "I will survive."
"Well that fills me with confidence," Dean scoffs and Castiel glares.
Dean puts his hands up in surrender. "Dude. I just mean, we can stop and rest or whatever you need to do so we can get back without you almost-dying."
So Castiel's steps slow, then stop. "Then," he admits, "I would like to rest. Not for long. We have no water or food. But I would like to rest."
"Let's find a nice rock to hide behind," Dean suggests lightly. He looks up at the still-rising sun. "It's gonna be another hot day."
find shelter in a crevice split into a sharp incline and crouch there in the meagre shade.
"So this sucks." Dean looks over his shoulder as though he expects someone to jump them at any moment. Perhaps he expects the other Castiel, but more likely this is just the way Dean is; always on guard, wary of his surroundings, particularly unfamiliar, wild surroundings such as these.
"It isn't ideal," Castiel agrees. He rests his arms on his knees and leans forward, closing his eyes. Dean watches him carefully.
After a long pause, the world more silent than Death can remember it being in a very long time, even for him, Dean admits, "I didn't believe he was you, at first. I got that he was an angel, but not you."
Death wonders what Dean would think if he knew that even he
failed to recognise the angel. He wonders what Dean would say if he realised exactly how much Castiel is different
, not only from his former self but also from any other angel- or being- in existence.
"I have changed," Castiel agrees.
Dean picks at loose threads pulled from his filthy jeans. "You're okay with that?"
"I am what I am," Castiel replies dismissively.
"Yeah, not really an answer, man," Dean complains.
Castiel sighs. "What is it you want to hear?" Castiel waves his hand in the direction they came. "When I was young I was content. I knew nothing. I was foolish and naive but I didn't know any better. Now I have my own will and my own mind and I am alone and I want
Carefully, slowly, meeting Castiel's eyes Dean asks, "You want? What do you want?"
It is with familiar ease that Castiel meets Dean's gaze and they sit, hidden from the world by distance and time, and neither looks away.
The afternoon- what will, when humans begin to carve up the days they live through, be the afternoon- passes. Castiel doesn't answer, but Death supposes he doesn't really need to. The two of them, human and angel, have been coming to this for a long time, no matter how much Dean might try to deny it.
Death doesn't know why he lingers to watch this, but he suspects he is curious. He also suspects he might be concerned with seeing them back to their time in one piece and wonders if this is how a worried parent might feel. It is no mystery to him that God has brought Castiel back time and again.
Eventually, Dean says, "I guess I should say thanks for coming for me. I knew you would, you know."
More rare even than Death's surprise, Castiel smiles.
"Of course, Dean." He offers his hand to Dean, and Dean takes it. "Let us go home."
As they pull each other to their feet Dean asks, "You're good?"
Dean takes a step closer to Castiel. "There're no wild killer animals around or anything are there?"
"No," Castiel assures him, and Dean grins, wide and open in this place where no one but Castiel can see him. Or so he believes in any case.
He says, "Cool," and leans forward, uncharacteristically easy. Perhaps it is the heat and the dehydration, but Death is not so ignorant of human ways that he can't tell that this is what Dean has wanted for a very long time. Away from everything he is familiar with except for Castiel, the insignificant distance between the two of them, makes this not strange at all. Death is not even mildly surprised.
He watches as Dean tentatively presses his mouth to Castiel's, his eyes open, searching. Whatever he sees, it is encouragement and Dean closes what little space remains between them, bodies pressed together. He kisses more insistently. Castiel makes no resistance, kisses back, slides a hand slowly up Dean's bare arm.
For humans, Death thinks, watching this moment between the two of them might be thought wrong, voyeuristic
, but Death is not human. He is curious. And whilst Dean may not, Castiel knows he is here.
Or perhaps he had forgotten because then Castiel pulls away from Dean and frowns.
"Okay?" Dean asks looking worried, as though maybe he has done something terrible, thinking that Castiel drawing back is a reaction to this. To him.
"Yes," Castiel assures him, then more softly, one hand resting against the back of Dean's neck, punctuated with a light kiss, "Yes."
It's the right thing to say and to do because Dean grins again, the anxiety washed from his expression and he pushes their noses together.
"Just not the place, huh?" Dean laughs. "You want a candlelit dinner or something first?"
Infinitely serious, Castiel replies, "I require no dietary bribes."
Dean laughs again. "I never know if you're messing me with when you say shit like that."
"About this," Castiel says with another kiss, "I would not 'mess'."
The words make Dean grimace but he nods. "Yeah, I get it. Fine. Okay. We're going home. We're getting a room."
"And a shower for you," Castiel adds, and before Dean can voice the indignation Death can see in his expression Castiel has fingers pressed to Dean's forehead and like that, half-embracing, bodies together, mouths almost touching Castiel flies.
The empty space they leave behind is warm with their affection, as still as their dedication to one another. Death will remember long after they are gone, as all things must eventually no matter how many times they are resurrected. Perhaps that was why he lingered; to see something begin for once, when all he ever saw was the end.
Taking himself back to the present, away from Dean Winchester and the angel Castiel, Death contemplates Sam Winchester's reaction to the two of them when they return to that dingy motel room outside Denver wrapped in each other. He laughs to think that he will likely never forget this day either. End