Genre/Pairings: Gen, AU from S5 finale
Word Count: ~8,190
Disclaimer: This is a fictional fan-made story created for entertainment only. The author does not own the characters or situations. No profit was made by this fanfiction.
Warnings: AU, sort of graphic creepiness
Summary: "His wings have already been scarred by the fury of Hell, so Castiel doesn’t fear the damage he’s doing to them now."
A/N: Many, many thanks, love, and hearts to ilfirin_estel, who took the time to beta this and help me through the writer's block and basically be the light of my life <3.
This is my S6 AU. This is not a fix-it fic, so to speak. This is me resolving to address issues where I felt the ball was dropped in the show. Will it go differently? Yes. Will I make the most of characters that were brought into the series then let go abruptly and never mentioned again? Definitely. Will it be epically long and plot-twisty and possibly annoying? You bet your ass it will! So. Enjoy <3!
His wings have already been scarred by the fury of Hell, so Castiel doesn’t fear the damage he’s doing to them now. Dean would accuse the angel of getting cocky if he knew what Castiel intends to do. The last time he’d ventured into the Pit, he’d been nowhere near as deep and he’d been in the company of a garrison of his brothers and sisters. Furthermore, he’d only been there for one soul, no matter how stubborn and obtuse that soul may have been. Now he means to raise two souls, as well as the bodies meant to house them. And he means to raise Sam and Adam from the very clutches of his eldest, most powerful brothers.
So, yes. Maybe he is getting cocky.
But Castiel cannot simply leave Sam or Adam in that cage with Lucifer and Michael. Sam is his friend, and while he never had the opportunity to know Adam, they are both Dean’s family. They will not be left to suffer the wrath of Castiel’s kin. The angel prays fervently that his Father bestow the boys some protection in his absence, just until he can reach them.
Castiel knows better than to chance bursting through the Gates of Hell as he had before with his garrison. The Black Gates are a fearsome thing to behold, dripping with dark-colored tar and covered in showers of ash and sulfur. Demons of various shape and size peer through the spiny walls with glowing multihued eyes. The Gatekeepers, powerful guardians that take all manners of form as willed by their master the King of Hell, prowl back and forth just beyond the portal. They await trespassers such as Castiel and while he can stand against them for a time, Castiel can neither kill them nor they him. Such a stalemate would only leave the angel trapped inside the vestibule, which would not be convenient.
By this logic, Castiel decides against any tactic reminiscent of his first descent and instead falls back on eons of training and expertise in other areas of battle. Dean does not think Castiel capable of subtlety or discretion and while this may be true on Earth, the hunter has never seen Castiel in the midst of battle—and a creature of cunning Castiel has always been. So he plans his descent through a roundabout path, the back doors of Hell. These are passages that few are aware of, cracks and crevices that have worn through the walls of ether that surround the Pit and separate it wholly from the presence of the Father. A demon might slip through these cracks and escape through any of the gates to Earth that there are, but only an angel can slip into Hell through such a passage.
Castiel slips out of Jimmy Novak’s flesh. He leaves the vessel safely ensconced in the light of the outer realms of Heaven, an area he has warded off but that is also outside of his brothers’ typical range of flight. (Castiel wonders why he has become so vigilant against even his own brothers, but he cannot fault his urges to protect the body he inherited from Jimmy Novak.)
Castiel, his true form uninhibited by the confines of a vessel of flesh, flies urgently through the currents between Heaven and Earth and makes his way to the portal into Hell. The angel uses the portal that passes into Stull Cemetery. After all, it seems only appropriate and allows for the most direct route to the heart of the Pit.
Stull Cemetery remains the same as it did when he, Dean, and Bobby left here merely two days ago. There is still a splash of red speckled across the grass near where Bobby had fallen, the remnants of Castiel in his latest demise. Castiel ignores the area completely, and moves toward the Gateway that the demon Azazel had opened once before.
With a push of his Grace, Castiel throws the gates open once again. He quickly fills the space of the portal with his whole self, blocking out the escape of any demons that may linger near the other end of the way. Passing through a crevice in the walls of Hell is different from flowing through its Gate with his brothers. Castiel immediately feels strange, though he recognizes the heaviness in his wings and the shadows that are cast upon his essence as he pours himself through the passageway.
When he shatters through the underbelly of space and time, he emerges into an inverted replica of the cemetery. The open space that represents the sky here is tainted the color of blood and burns with sulfur, replicating the nightglow of Earth during a heavy storm. The glow washes over everything in sight with a chalky black appearance, and the earth is jagged and scarred black and barren. Castiel curls into himself, feeling unwell as he had anticipated. He rests for a moment, curious as to why so few demons are clustered in this area of the Pit. A fierce kind of pressure, the absence of wind in a place deader than the arid deserts surrounding Jerusalem, coats the quintessence with despair and misery. Even this far from the Rack, Castiel can hear the distant screams of tortured souls as they are torn and bitten and shredded to pieces.
He thinks of a pair of bright eyes filled with frenzy and terror. He thinks of a knife clutched in the hand of the purest soul he’s ever known. He thinks of a ravaged voice begging him to leave.
The memory sparks a new urgency in the angel, and Castiel forces himself to his feet. He folds his wings in close to him—he cannot afford to waste them, as he will need them for the return trip. His short sword makes a sound like scraping metal as he draws it close to him. It will be enough to kill demons and he hopes that it will last him awhile before he has to resort to smiting the heathens with his Grace alone. Cut off from Heaven as he is, he is limited. His wings are heavy and his Grace covered in shadows, the voices of the Host muted in the back of his mind. For the first time since he had determined to raise Sam and Adam, Castiel knows unease. He is so small here, so insignificant and so lost without the encouragement of his brothers and his Father.
Castiel shakes himself. It is far too early to fall into that trap. The angel peers around him again, on his guard even as he begins to move across the jagged dreamscape of Hell’s outlands. Castiel remembers to ignore the souls crying out for salvation and mercy as he passes them, as he dodges their clawing hands and their pleading gazes.
The angel reaches the edges of the first ring and plunges into the second.
And so passes Castiel’s first day back in the Pit.
At first Castiel worries about his ability to do this on his own. And then as he moves into the area of Hell where the pressure from absence of air becomes razor sharp and cuts into his wings he realizes that he has another matter entirely to worry over.
He has yet to see any ranking demons.
His movements become even slower, hindered by the cutting bursts of demonic miasma that leave smears of black across his Grace. The lands of Hell are still dismal and colored black, heavy on the horizon. Still, the only heathens Castiel has encountered are the small, pithy shadows birthed by the Seven Sins, echoes of human emotion given strength by the darkness of Hell. They are destroyed simply by the light cast off by his tempered Grace, and Castiel pays them no mind.
Time passes sluggishly, and he turns his thoughts onto the absence of the larger, mindless beasts that should be prowling the outlands he wanders through. Hellhounds and fiends overseen by the lower-ranking demons should be hunting these grounds, scavenging for straggling souls. The angel does not count himself fortunate enough to have found the path of least resistance.
Castiel passes through a ridge made up of decaying flesh, and tries to ignore the stench of rot and evil as the air grows thick with the blood of the damned. He draws his wings more firmly to his back, tense in the knowledge that something is amiss. He scans outward with all his angelic senses, seeking something in the infernal darkness surrounding him.
It doesn’t hit him until the creature is nearly overhead. He tugs himself backwards and folds in on himself, condensing the light that makes up his celestial form. It doesn’t matter. He isn’t quick enough.
The weight that befalls him and the claws that rip into his wings and Grace are not what he is expecting. There is a scream like a lion’s call, smoldering with the hot blaze of Hell as the Guardian tears into Castiel. He takes a moment to process through the jolt of shock—what is a Guardian doing in this level of the chaos? They keep to the Gates and walk the walls to hinder the castaways of Limbo.
In the next instant his habitual urge to twist away from his attacker takes hold, and he slashes out with his glinting blade. The first sweep goes wide as the Guardian leaps away from him. He spares the span of a human heartbeat to flex his abused wings and assess the injury. One wing is twisted, possibly sprained at the joint. He is lucky for that—the bones in his wings are hollow, and easily broken. The other wing bleeds from several deep gashes, the feathers in wild disorder.
The angel only has that split second, and then it is gone as the Guardian gathers itself up again and lunges for his throat. He has no physical form here, but the Guardian knows each point to attack on the incorporeal form of an angel regardless. Castiel swoops low, dodging the more lethal blows but still managing to catch pieces of himself—the edge of a wing, the corner of his chest—on the claws and fangs of the Guardian.
He struggles only momentarily, his grip on his sword slackening then tight once again as he plunges it upward and sinks it deep into the belly of the beast. The tip of the sword pulls and drags, splitting the Guardian open from its throat to its pelvis. The beast’s entire weight lands squarely upon Castiel, dragging him down to the floor of Hell and pinning him there under its death kick.
Castiel lets himself collapse for several moments. Dean would call it catching his breath, but of course angels have no need to breathe. Regardless, Castiel soon shoves the twitching corpse of the hellbeast away from him and casts out with his senses yet again.
He can sense other fiends drawing closer, all of them Guardians. It would appear that someone knows he is in Hell.
On the precipice of the next circle, Castiel closes his eyes tight and lets himself fall backward into the next level of chaos that awaits him.
The injuries begin to pull on Castiel’s limited strength even as he freefalls into the cold gray of the next valley, ice and rain catching in his feathers. The moments he has been here already gather together and stretch across the expanse of his awareness of time and space. Castiel has never felt the need to measure time so closely, but he is limited on the time he has available to him—has been since he became a part of the Winchesters’ lives.
He has already been gone for nearly three human weeks, and the realization startles him even as his strength flickers and fails him. He crash lands into the slush smeared over Hell’s floor, sliding through it until he collides with a mass of boulders that he soon comes to realize are constructed with bone. The thought is hardly pleasant, but still Castiel remains unable to move for a long moment.
When he can move he quickly realizes that his journey is going to be more difficult from here on in as he suddenly finds himself staring down at the guardian of these parts of Hell, a massive overlarge hellhound.
Cerberus, Castiel recalls distantly, watching the beast lope back and forth in a large cavern just below where he has landed. Once the beast catches the whiff of angel on the air, it will hunt Castiel through the Gates to get the chance to feed on him. And if Castiel leads Cerberus to Sam and Adam...
Castiel assesses the situation carefully and quickly comes to the conclusion that he is stuck, for the moment. His injuries feel so cold they’re almost burning; it takes an effort to hold himself still and erect a barrier strong enough to mask his presence. He watches Cerberus as the monstrous hound lopes about below him, tossing up what may be the mangled remains of a torso to pluck it from the air again.
Castiel sighs, and curses himself and every minion of Hell that he can think to add to the list. This may take longer than he had anticipated.
Without the connection to Heaven and the Host, Castiel has no source of energy to draw from if he tries to heal himself. His Grace is already slowly burning itself out, and the angel finds himself growing increasingly more irritated as he silently wills Cerberus away.
He is so invested in tracking the creature that he nearly misses the arrival of another.
By the time Castiel’s senses explode with the aura of filth, the new heathen has nearly skulked right up to his weakening barrier. He whirls, drawing his sword and spreading his wings in a wide arc. The action is meant to intimidate, but as Castiel sets eyes on the new thing he realizes there is no need.
This...is a curious creature.
It doesn’t quite look like a demon, its true form less like the black smoke that makes up a demon’s body and closer to the darkness of a shadow. It isn’t, Castiel thinks, quite unlike the light of Grace that is an angel’s true form. As it approaches, it spreads, wrapping itself around Castiel’s barrier like a leech.
Castiel realizes with a shudder of revulsion that the thing is sucking his Grace from the barrier.
What are you? Castiel demands.
There is a chuckle, dark and foreboding. Wouldn’t you like to know?
Castiel bristles, flaring bright with righteous anger. He infuses it into every word he delivers as he says, By the will of God, I command you tell me what you are.
Why are you here, angel? asks the creature.
Castiel refuses to answer, and he won’t repeat himself. He draws himself together, and searches below to seek out Cerberus. The hellhound is still near, but Castiel can no longer see him. Castiel observes the creature with him, notices little things that do not quite fit. You are not a demon, Castiel thinks. You do not belong here in Hell.
You have such pretty, pretty wings, angel. We want them for our own. Will you give them to us? The creature flexes itself as though reaching out for Castiel’s wings.
Reflexively, Castiel closes his wings more closely around himself. No, he says.
The thing recoils and snaps away, almost like a human staggering back from a blow. Then, it snarls at him. Mean, putrid heaven-thing, it rumbles. So bright, so bright and so unkindly. We don’t like heaven-things that won’t share their hell-things with us.
The implication that his wings are of Hell bothers Castiel, but he remains firm and silent. The creature hisses and darts forward, thrusting itself against the barrier once, then again and again. Castiel flinches back cautiously, uncertain of the creature’s intent.
It soon becomes obvious when a fissure appears in the quintessence binding the barrier. With a gleeful cackle, the thing pours itself around the crack and Castiel immediately feels ill as his Grace responds to the poison of evil attacking it. Something shoves its way deep into his inner light, filling up the cracks that Hell has permeated through him.
Heaven-things will wilt, the creature singsongs, and then the heaven-things will fade, fade, fade away and we will have the hell-things left behind. We want to wear the feathers and the bones, we want to drink the blood in the hell-things. Such pretty, pretty wings on such an ugly, ugly angel.
Castiel braces himself against the illness and gathers up a small amount of Grace, letting it burst outward in a small sonic boom as he cries, Away. Away with you!
The creatures shrieks and darts away, but it doesn’t truly flee. It simply hides itself amongst the havoc of Hell, and Castiel grows tense as he feels along his Grace to find the damage inflicted from the thing’s attack.
He has only to prod at the very core of his Grace to discover the source of his discomfort. There is a mark there, carved by the evil thing’s touch, and it is one that not even Castiel can recognize. He curls his uninjured wing around himself, the dark feathers wet with the manifestation of his Grace like silver-blue blood. With a thought, he strengthens the barrier and casts out again. Cerberus is far enough away that Castiel can now move from here, but he is leery of leading the other creature anywhere near Sam and Adam.
And what do we have here?
Castiel hears the voice and instantly is on guard, though he knows this demon is still a good distance from him. Almost at once, Castiel recognizes the oil-slick tone of voice, and wonders how it has taken so long for Hell’s new warden to sense his presence. Crowley.
You seem to have yourself quite a problem, there, angel-cakes, Crowley lilts lazily. Castiel cannot pinpoint the demon’s location, so he waits until Crowley draws nearer. What sort of thing is that with you, Angel of Thursday?
I am unaware, Castiel answers honestly.
Huh. Fancy that. Crowley is close enough now that Castiel can nearly sense his presence on a physical level more than a quintessential one. It doesn’t seem to be one of my little hellions, does it?
No. Castiel warily scans his surroundings, adjusting his position despite the ache of his wings and Grace. The creature is still close, but it seems to respond poorly to Crowley’s approach. Castiel personally isn’t certain that he wants to be here when Crowley arrives; he and the demon owe one another no kindness, and he expects to be treated as the trespasser he is in Crowley’s domain.
He is wasting precious time. He must reach Sam and Adam.
Don’t get your wings in a twist, Crowley admonishes. Let me try and catch a glimpse of this little beauty first, then you can take that barrier down.
Castiel is silent, but suspicious. He watches the dark cloud that is Crowley as it winds through the knit-together mess of filth and gore, finding the creature in its hiding place. Hell seems to hold its breath as its new King explores the dark intruder, and Castiel hears Crowley curse once in astonishment.
It’s not a demon, it’s a monster, Crowley observes from where he swirls lazily. One of those ghastly little beasties out of Purgatory.
What is one of Purgatory’s children doing here? Castiel wonders. Crowley offers no response, but Castiel sees the King of Hell weave a web of shadows and bone, casting it over the area the child of Purgatory hides within. Everything within the ring of Crowley’s trap vanishes as soon as the edges touch ground. Castiel refrains from comment, though he is well aware that Crowley will likely be putting the poor creature to its paces on his Rack. He reminds himself again that intruders in Crowley’s domain are given no mercy, and a thing of Purgatory that has not escaped to Earth is rare indeed.
When Crowley finally approaches the angel, Castiel draws himself up. He will not be looked down upon here, not by any of Hell’s vermin.
Crowley scoffs at the gesture. Oh, cut the posturing, Castiel. I’m not going to bite.
You will forgive me if I reserve judgment, Castiel replies coolly. No good ever comes of trusting a demon.
If Crowley were within his human body, Castiel very much thinks the demon would be rolling his eyes. Look, it’s easy enough to guess why you’re here. Come for the lost boys, have you?
Castiel ignores him, and starts to spread his Grace over the area to search for his path again. Time is slipping away from him. He can hear the screams rising from the din; it is easier than it should be for his imagination to twist the sounds to fit Sam’s voice or Adam’s.
Nasty curse you got there, Crowley is saying. Was the baby beastie that carved that brand, was it?
Curse? Castiel echoes.
What, you didn’t notice? Crowley hovers outside the barrier, the stench of brimstone hovering around him. After a moment, the demon sighs. No need to be so hostile, Cas.
Don’t call me that. Here where he is already nearly snuffed out by the absence of the Father and his Grace is diminishing, he prefers to at least keep the full potency of his name. Despite the threat Crowley presents, Castiel finds himself lowering the barrier that surrounds him. He admits to himself that it is a foolish move, but he is running low on options and he isn’t sure if the illness that has overtaken him will allow him to move much farther.
Crowley comes in close, but does not touch. After a moment’s examination, the demon smoke bobs and shivers in anticipation. It looks like that curse is drawing the little bit of Hell in you to the surface. You feeling a bit peaky? Yeah? That should fade away in time. Crowley’s demon body swirls around Castiel’s light. Agitated at Crowley’s words but resolved not to let it show, Castiel keeps very still and draws his wings around himself You won’t get far, shape that you’re in, Crowley notes absently. I could help you with that. If you’re interested.
Castiel recognizes a pitch when he hears one. And Crowley does hold a considerable amount of experience as the King of the Crossroads. Warily, he asks, What do you want?
Now why’s it got to be that way? Crowley returns. Maybe I just want to help a friend.
Castiel wastes no time correcting him. We are not friends.
I have a way to clear a path for you, directly to the Devil’s door, Crowley continues as though Castiel hadn’t even spoken.
And that is very interesting. Castiel has heard demons boast that they are able to twist the stuff of Hell to make a clear pathway from one level to the next, but he has never seen any entity other than Lucifer exercise this rumored ability. Still, the proposition is no gift and Castiel is no fool. What do you want? Castiel repeats, as aching with impatience as his wings are with pain.
Crowley sidles closer, and were they in their human forms Castiel suspects the demon would be attempting to sling an arm about his shoulders. Nothing, Cas, Crowley says amusedly. All I want is to make sure that you get what you’re looking for and fly away home in relatively one piece. After a short pause, Hell’s King adds thoughtfully, Which I suppose really depends on Michael and Lucifer.
Regardless, Crowley continues, I only want to offer you a quicker way to the Cage.
And you want nothing in return, Castiel says dubiously.
Crowley relents with a low rumble like the growl of a feral dog. Well, perhaps there is something you could do for me.
And here it is. Castiel would feel triumphant, if he were not so weary of these games. What?
Well there’s nothing you can do for me now, Crowley says matter-of-factly. I’m in my element and pleased as punch. Only thing that could sweeten my sulfur is to put some order to this nonsense. But, Crowley’s tone becomes silky and seductive, perhaps this could be one in a series of mutually-convenient favors. I open up a road to Michael, Lucifer, and your precious lost pets for you...you return the favor when next I find myself in a jam?
When Castiel hesitates for several moments too long, Crowley huffs. Or I could leave your sorry hide to fend off the masses on your own.
Castiel weighs his options as quickly as he can afford to. He shifts his wings discreetly at his back, a gesture of impatient thoughtfulness. He realizes that his Grace is damaged far more than he would have expected from the short amount of time that he traveled through the detritus of Hell. It must something to do with the curse that Crowley mentioned, the angel thinks, and he hopes that the effect will only last temporarily.
Sam and Adam.
His goal is to end the unnecessary suffering of the boys as soon as he can reach them. For now, that goal is his one truth and his one purpose—that trumps everything else. Castiel takes a moment to appreciate the fact that, despite the Winchesters’ lessons of free will, an angel is always an angel. Castiel really has no other choice. He has lingered too long already. And he had come into this fully expecting any outcome.
Fine, the angel finally says to the demon. I accept your offer.
Crowley chuckles, rich and deep. Can’t exactly seal the deal with a kiss here, angel. You’ll have to settle for this.
The demon coils around a corner of Castiel’s wing, sealing his name upon one flame-scarred black feather and striking one of three bargains ever forged between an angel and a demon.
Castiel’s wings are ravaged, but they are fit to carry him into the swirling masses of ice and fire that coalesce beneath him. Crowley is nearby, a formless black figure grinding against the currents of the Pit and shifting their direction in order to apply some system of shapes to each section. When the demon finishes, the product appears like a vortex through the next layers of Hell. The vortex holds form and rotates lazily, a maelstrom of gore and musk that is only just wider than the full span of Castiel’s wings.
You have your yellow brick road, Castiel. Now go see the wizard, Crowley calls to him.
Castiel has no idea what he’s talking about, but he spreads his wings and plunges down into the vortex. The initial tug on his wings causes a shudder of discomfort to roll through the angel in the strange displacement of air that pulls toward the center of the vortex much like gravity. When Castiel stretches his wings, though, they catch an updraft and Castiel rides it down.
He glides past glider demons like gargoyles that fly on tattered, leathery wings and souls that reach past the walls of the vortex to reach for him, crying out things like save me and I don’t deserve this and you selfish bastard and come play with me, pretty.
Castiel ignores them all.
The descent is slow and strenuous against the current of raw, blackened power that pushes out from the heart of Hell. Castiel still finds it odd that there are so few demons that a creature of Purgatory managed to make its way into their land; but that is a mystery for a later time.
The gliders trail the draft off his wings nearly to the bottom of the vortex, their cries like the shrieks of hyenas as they take turns snapping at his primary feathers. He dives out of their reach each time, but his feathers gradually become more frayed and singed.
The lower the angel circles within the vortex, the heavier his wings feel and the colder the void replacing his connection to Heaven seems. He no longer hears the laughing barks of the gliders that have fallen back. Even the screams off the Rack are distant and overrun by the sound of moans. Castiel knows that he is close. He spreads his good wing to bank and slow his descent.
The wing twitches and flaps once, then a jolt like lightning cripples it.
Castiel screams. The sound drowns out the groaning din and the distant cries and carries on across eternity. Castiel turns to clutch at his feathers, and gives a full-body jerk when his Grace slides over ice-crusted plumes.
The angel has only enough time to register the sensations he is feeling as cold and shock and dismay before he plummets into the funnel-shaped end of the vortex. The vortex twists and with a groan, collapses around him even as it hurls him away. The force of his expulsion sends the angel hurtle down to the last level of Hell. Castiel manages to fold his wings around himself to absorb a portion of the blow when he smashes against the glacier at the very base of the Pit.
The ice splinters around his body and rises in great chunks of crystal as it sinks in under the angel until he finally comes to a stop. It takes a second for the pain to catch up with him and when it does he is insensate and the world around him fades to gray.
Castiel comes back to the sensation of many clawed hands tugging at him. It is too dark here for even an angel to see, so Castiel only recognizes where he is and what is happening by knowledge passed down from elder brothers. The lowest level of Hell where the Cage is kept is nothing but frozen misery. He twists away from the offending souls automatically, and cries out at the vicious agony that sears through him. The sound of his voice stills the silent souls that beg for salvation through touch, and Castiel scrambles up out of the icy tomb his wings had carved.
When he touches the solid, cold surface of the icy plateau Castiel rolls away from the opening in the ice. His whole body is covered in tiny gashes that leak the silver fluid of his Grace and he has only ever felt this sick and this hurt during his brief stint as a human. The strange feelings intermingled with the shock of the fall are enough to leave Castiel dazed and struggling to get his wits about him.
Wonderingly, he looks around him. This area of Hell is void of movement, the only sounds the quiet groan of the shifting ice and the muffled whimpers of the souls pinned beneath it. There is no wind here, but the quintessence moves—thick with cold and sparkling bits of ice—in a way that clings to any trespassers. The ice is not colored the customary blue-white of the humans’ winter, but rather it is stained ochre and the iron rust of blood is heavy in the representation of the sky. There are no demons here in this arctic wasteland, so he has no need to fear for his immediate safety unless he falls below the surface of the glacier again.
Castiel gathers himself up uneasily and casts out in a shallow area. He has kept his Grace suppressed as much as possible thus far, preserving it for the rescue of Sam and Adam and hiding its presence from his eldest brothers. He is very far from Heaven here in the lowest bowels of Hell, and he feels it sorely. When he senses a massive, contained power toward the distant horizon he is not surprised to see that the power appears in the shape of a small sun. Apparently some things never change, Lucifer included.
Just as he saw Lucifer’s Grace—spoiled and cracked with despair—on Earth, so he senses it now. Alongside it is Michael’s Grace, weathered already by its short time away from Heaven’s splendor. Powers rise and fall rapidly like a tidal shift, evidence of the ongoing battle that is being carried out between them. It saddens Castiel and hurts him deeply to think that two of the three remaining angels to have seen God’s face are locked away in Hell.
Castiel follows the source of Grace for some time, arcing to circle it as he reviews his planned course of action. He has to be quick and discreet to get Sam and Adam both out of the Cage. It doesn’t matter if he is caught as long as he manages to get the boys and push them to the surface with their bodies healed and intact. If he should fall here, at least his wings will burn a permanent cicatrix of the Glory of God into the place where His light never shines.
Castiel’s sense of the Cage combusts in the same moment that he sees it like a huge, gnarled mass of twisting, coiling twine. The ice beneath him crackles under the dancing spark of electric Grace spilling outward from the Cage’s confines. Castiel is bowed under its brute strength, and he collapses inside the invisible barrier that marks the extent of the archangels’ reach outside their dungeon. Every soul in the shattering ice is still and silent, stunned by his brothers’ power.
The angel lets the overpowering Graces of Michael and Lucifer sweep over him and roll off his wings like oil. He dissipates his form carefully and burrows down between the souls that are still screaming silently for release.
Castiel slides through the ice, slips through each crack, and pours himself toward the Cage.
The Cage sits half-buried under the ice, monstrous and vast. The Father and the archangels had constructed it that way for their lost Morningstar, hoping that such a small comfort as space to spread his wings would ease even some of the agony of Lucifer’s expulsion from Heaven.
Castiel is celestial intent poured into formless light, shafts of it filtering through the layers of ice until the souls trapped there dissipate in quantity, shoved away from the Cage by the might of its prisoners. Castiel quiets the light of his body until it glows only dimly, and when he reaches the coiling outer walls of divinity-infused ether he hesitates before slipping past their barriers.
The Cage is designed to hold archangels, whose power cannot pass through God’s barriers. Castiel knows that souls can slip in and out of the Cage, knows this because Lucifer has turned souls to demons himself over the last several millennia and could not have done so if he had no access to them. He is working on theory alone when he guesses that an angel of his insignificance, Grace dampened and weak, can likely pass through the barriers as well. After all, it is easy to get in—getting out is the problem.
Once he has passed the outer barriers, it becomes more difficult to move than it had been in the gravity of Crowley’s vortex. Castiel is nearly crushed by the intensity of power within the Cage, and it takes an incredible amount of time before he is able to dispel his Grace in small ripples to search for Sam and Adam. He rises cautiously, weaving through the restraining bands of quintessence.
It isn’t long before the angel hears his elder brothers clashing against one another. Neither Michael nor Lucifer speaks, both have long run out of words for one another. They are still frustrated with their confinement, however, and it shows in the undue violence in their movements as their Graces collide and grind unpleasantly. They both aim to cause harm, though that they only use the surface of their immeasurable power belies that Castiel’s brothers are more hurt by each other than they are angry at one another.
Castiel is distracted from the battle his brothers wage by the presence of an unmistakable beacon. The star-bright beam is colored by intelligence and curiosity, tempered by love and a shallow streak of vanity. The soul glows warm hazel and welcoming, and Castiel recognizes it almost as easily as he would recognize its brother.
Near the memorable soul is another, younger and paler in shade, like honeycombs. Adam’s soul is wrought with the scars of his trials, self-imposed through the misleading guidance of angels. Castiel can easily read the exuberance of Adam’s youth in his soul, brimming with energy and honesty and pride. Castiel thinks that it is a shame that the Winchesters had been separated from him for so long; he would have been treasured in their brotherhood.
However unusual and dangerous it is for the physical manifestation to exist on this plane, it is also fortunate that Sam and Adam are still attached to their own physical forms. Pinpointing the location of the souls, Castiel’s Grace twinges with displeasure. The boys are, in perhaps the most ironic display of misfortune Castiel has ever witnessed, cradled just underneath the area where Michael and Lucifer are hashing out years of fraternal friction.
So it seems that Castiel’s efforts to remain concealed up to this point have all been wasted. He may as well have burst into the Cage like a one-angel army storming a castle. There is no way that his brothers will not notice him stealing away their respective vessels now.
The first thing Castiel does is expend more Grace than he has thus far in order to check Sam and Adam over for injury. From this distance, he sees that neither has been harmed by Lucifer or Michael. Castiel is endlessly thankful for this, that Michael and Lucifer have not grown idle long enough to turn their attentions onto their unfortunate companions.
During Castiel’s initial scan, the bright star he knows as Sam’s soul reacts, lighting up in recognition as his Grace sweeps over it. Cas?
Hush, Castiel commands, and the soul is still and quiet. Castiel gives the same treatment to Adam’s soul, which does not know him and thus shies away when his far-flung Grace brushes over it. He retracts the shred of Grace he had expended to check on Sam and Adam.
And then he bursts into motion, a streak of light racing through the Cage.
Castiel feels his wing tear under the thrashing Grace that collides with him when Lucifer finally notices his presence. The Morningstar’s voice, a multitude of cries like those still resounding from the Rack, calls out Castiel’s true name. It sounds like the echoes of an ocean storm, unrestrained by earth or sea or sky. It has been a very long time since Castiel last heard his name spoken in his native tongue, but the anger behind Lucifer’s bellow does not bring Castiel the comfort he would have expected.
And then Michael joins the onslaught, his own voice bursting like shattering mountains as he asks, What is your intention here, little angel?
Michael’s Grace also rends at Castiel’s wings and his essence as he slinks across the edge of the Cage to reach the humans at its base. Castiel curls slightly under the brunt of their attack, but that does little to deter him. Forcing himself up, making himself appear larger than he is, he answers with conviction.
I have come for Samuel Winchester and Adam Milligan. I will not leave here without them.
He hears Michael’s responding laughter. Admirable, but foolish. Your Grace may burn brighter than most, but you are in the presence of God’s mightiest warriors. Castiel is uncertain how to take this backhanded praise.
Lucifer is less amused than their eldest brother. You cannot take them, Castiel. You have no claim here. Both these humans gave their consent; they are ours.
Castiel would grit his teeth, were he within the confines of his vessel. Sam and Adam belong to no one. I am taking them back home. He leaves out the whether you like it or not, though his tone is enough to imply it.
Lucifer has always been bright and beautiful. Even now, twisted and poisoned with darkness, his is the brightest Grace Castiel has ever seen. It flares, cracked and leaking curling smoke and dark, and Lucifer thrusts himself forward, the glint of steel the only indication of his wings as they slice into Castiel.
After the injuries he has already sustained, Castiel only hopes to preserve the strength to send the humans away from this place. He uses only enough of his power to shield himself from the worst of Lucifer’s rage.
Angels in their pure form can use Grace as weapons, but that does not exclude their Grace-forged steel. Castiel knows that Lucifer has drawn his sword when he hears the familiar metallic shift of metal. In this form, Lucifer’s appears like a crystal of light. It narrowly misses the arch of Castiel’s wing as he swoops down below and spirals around the base of his brother.
When he sees Sam and Adam, Castiel releases a sigh of relief. Then he dances away as Lucifer lances his blade toward the younger angel’s wings yet again. Michael does not interfere, apparently choosing to observe the proceedings as his brother attacks Castiel ferociously. Castiel is both relieved and surprised at this, but he has no time to think on it as he makes another dive toward Sam and Adam.
Neither human is aware of what is happening above them. Their souls stir and respond, yes, but in the most basic sense they are catatonic in their physical forms. Castiel had no idea what to expect, but he is almost glad for this. The coma-like state of their bodies will have preserved their physical selves from harm; though their souls are scarred simply by their presence in the furnaces of Hell, they will be easy to piece back together.
With a thought, Castiel pushes his Grace in healing waves over both souls. The humans curl into the warmth, basking in its glow with soft sighs. They aren’t quite content and won’t be until they return to their plane, but this is a start.
Castiel shifts his focus between his charges and his brothers. Michael still hangs back, and Castiel can sense curiosity and—strangely—awe rolling off of his Grace in heavy waves. Lucifer is still enraged, and snarls as he continues to chase Castiel. It is certainly not Lucifer’s fault that he cannot catch the smaller angel. Lucifer is a great warrior, stronger than Castiel by such a far stretch, but Castiel is used to being smaller and weaker than most of his elder brothers. And he is very fast.
Lucifer finally resorts to his own clever tactics and thrusts his poisonous Grace upon Castiel’s even as the smaller angel wraps around Sam and Adam.
Several things happen at once.
Lucifer’s Grace is propelled away from Castiel by the sudden unleashing of a magnificent pale golden light that seems to burst into the Cage from all around them. Lucifer shouts his fury and his pain before he releases his hold on Castiel’s Grace as he flees from the light glowing around them. Castiel has never seen anything like it, and he has never seen Lucifer cower from anything other than God’s wrath. Michael seems inclined to do nothing, and Castiel wonders very briefly whether or not the archangel is to blame for this strange attack.
The angel wastes no time. He is already darting toward the barriers, flying as fast as his wings will carry him with his precious burdens enfolded safely in the cradle of his Grace. The moment he reaches the barriers, the burst of luminosity burns out.
Castiel passes out of the Cage just as Michael calls out to him. They will never welcome you back, Castiel. You carry Hell now.
The small angel tears up and away, and as he flies he pushes with what Grace he has left. It quickens his pace, and he is infinitely glad to have saved his strength for this final push as he had with Dean. Though there are no angels now to keep his way clear, there are also very few demons.
You carry Hell now Michael had said.
One of the souls—Sam, Castiel realizes—bumps against his Grace in admonishment for the sudden unease that filters through him. Automatically, Castiel soothes his charges with a wave of comfort back. Nothing is like it had been with Dean. The more profound connection he shared with the Righteous Man, his first Perdition-bound charge, had been far easier to maintain than his connection with Sam and Adam is now. He finds himself almost distracted trying to appease the lingering terror in their souls, and again when Sam seems to recognize him a second time.
Castiel only pumps his torn wings faster and doesn’t respond. You carry Hell now. A shortage of demons within Perdition. That strange light... Had it been Michael?
Too many questions and too few answers. And Castiel has two souls to return to their rightful place on the mortal plane.
The return flight finds Castiel’s wings raw and missing many of his flight feathers. He barely keeps himself going, coddling Sam and Adam as they ascend through the winding chaos of Perdition. Nothing stands in their way now, and Castiel does not begrudge the gift, though it makes him suspicious. It takes them, by the angel’s rough estimate, nearly the span of a year in Hell’s fragmented time to reach the Gate.
Castiel explodes through the Hell Gate and crashes for the second time in Stull Cemetery.
Trembling and spent, the angel rests against the grass as he releases the human forms of his charges from within him. Sam and Adam lay side-by-side nearby, appearing somnolent and peaceful. Castiel maintains a firm grasp on the souls and as he rests, he lets his Grace move through them.
Like cool water, Castiel pours through every crack and crevice in both the souls shaking under his healing Grace. Adam’s soul gives a quiet noise like a sigh, and says, Angel.
Yes, Castiel responds. Be at peace, Adam Milligan. You will be whole again soon.
Cas, Sam murmurs soft like a breath. Cas, what...?
Be at peace, Castiel says again. It’s all right, Sam. You’re safe now.
Thank you, Sam responds then falls silent while Castiel works.
Castiel tries to gather his bearings as he cures both souls of the shadows Hell forced upon them. He realizes with a start that he left the mortal plane three months past. The angel had spent thirty of Hell’s years in the Pit. Sam and Adam had suffered for nearly five years longer.
It takes a sparse few moments more for Castiel to smooth away the darkness clouding Sam and Adam. When they are again flawless and bright, Castiel gently pushes the souls back into their vessels and takes a moment to let his Grace rejuvenate the connection to hold the souls in place.
Then the angel draws back, silencing his true voice and dissipating his true form into seamless air. He rests once again as he observes the humans resting nearby. Sam blinks his hazel eyes open, and stares at the sky for a moment.
And then he is bolting upright, swiveling his body to look around him in alarm. Slowly, hesitantly, the boy calls, “Cas?”
Castiel, of course, cannot respond. He already knows that Sam cannot hear his true voice. He infuses his Grace with the slight breeze that sweeps over Sam, soothing the young hunter’s worry. The creased lines on Sam’s face ease and he relaxes fractionally. Sam sighs, glancing down at his brother when Adam moans and stirs.
Castiel wishes he could spare another moment, but if he intends to return and offer an explanation he needs his vessel. And even though he is free of Hell and its various miseries, he knows that a visit to Heaven would not go amiss. He is also in need of answers, answers he hopes to find amongst the comforting wavelength of the Choirs. With a rueful look towards Dean’s brothers, the angel takes wing.