But I feel a change coming on, rolling out of the blue like a storm
“I'm so sorry, kiddo.”
Castiel wheels around, tattered trench coat flaring out around him as the shadows of his wings beat against the air of this place, slightly out of synch with reality. “You're sorry?” he hisses, feeling the rage welling up in him. In this moment, he does not care who he is addressing, or that it will likely end in him being scattered into a billion little pieces across the cosmos, or that he might never exist at all. He is weak as a newborn... no. Weak as a dying thing, which is what he truly is. The souls of Purgatory have destroyed him in one last act of spite, even as he forced them back. Perhaps that is why he speaks as he does. For the first time in his existence, he truly has nothing left to lose. “All of this, everything I have fought and died for, it was never anything but a cruel joke. You come to me now and you tell me you're sorry?” His knees give out, and his vision grows dim. Castiel is faintly aware of Dean shouting his name. The man's voice his raw, filled with a lifetime of pain and regret. Dean will blame himself for what Castiel has done, because that is what Dean does, and Castiel doesn't even have the time left to correct him.
And there his Father stands before him, looking sadly down at Castiel, laying both hands on the dying angel's shoulders as he kneels down so they're eye to eye. “That was your choice, Cas,” he whispers, smoothing Castiel's hair back. “It's always been your choice. You understand that so much better than the rest of them.” His Father's hand is cool and Castiel's skin is burning hot, like he's going to burst into flames at any moment. Another set of hands grip Castiel tightly by the arms. Dean, clinging desperately to him, uttering his name before turning his attention to God. The ringing in Castiel's ears is too loud now; he can't even hear what Dean is saying, though he can guess that the words he turns on the Creator are not kind ones. His Father is unphased by them, and his expression is gentle.
Castiel has so many regrets, so many things he wants to make right. He knows that he's leaving yet another wound on Dean Winchester's soul, and all he wants is just one more chance to fix it.
Just one more chance, so he could make amends.
Dean Winchester drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of the Impala before turning to look at the angel in the back seat through narrowed eyes. Castiel was staring out the window at the run down apartment building – little more than an ugly concrete box – watching the stream of children getting off the school bus. Dean turned his eyes to Sam, who looked decidedly uncomfortable. “How long are we gonna play Creepy Pedo?” Sam finally asked, giving voice to his discontent. “I mean, we don't even know who we're looking for, Cas.”
“I know. But the child isn't there,” Castiel finally told them, frustrated. “The school's let out, but the child is not here.”
“After school program?” Sam suggested.
“Detention?” Dean suggest to Castiel at the same time. The brothers exchanged a look, and Dean grinned.
“Then we must go to the school.” Castiel answered, turning a slightly peevish look on the Winchesters.
“Great plan,” Dean muttered. “You can barely figure out where the kid lives, and you wanna go find where he goes to school.” He turned in his seat, head tilted to bestow on Castiel his best you moron look. Castiel had the good grace to look faintly ashamed, which only served to make Dean feel a stab of guilt. It wasn't like Cas was running at full strength any more; part of the price the angel had paid after declaring himself the new God.
Still, it was better than how Cas could have ended up... dead or insane, or the only thing left in a dead universe.
That had been what had finally gotten God to show himself, and even then He'd made his presence known only after the dust had settled.
Dean didn't actually remember much about meeting God, and that was probably for the best when he thought about it (which he tried not to do often, because that brought up too many thought of how it all could have gone completely wrong, and how Dean almost lost Sammy and Cas, which he just could not think about). He had a vague recollection of a long winded speech about the importance of people making their own choices, the beauty of free will, and how the kids needed to behave like the adults He'd thought they were and stop expecting Daddy to clean up their messes. Dean suspected the memory would fade more and more, until it was nothing more than a distant dream.
And God had given them a... reward, maybe? An I'm sorry your life's been shit consolation prize, at least. He didn't fix everything (“If I did that, you'd just be my dolls that I take out for tea parties, so spare me the bitching.”) but some things, He'd set right. Adam was free, Sam was whole in body and mind, and Castiel...
Castiel was given a second chance, to redeem himself for almost ending all life in the universe. Because God was proud of his angel for growing the balls to make his own decisions, and more importantly, to own up to them in the end. So God had sent them on their way with a clipped winged angel and a mission, if they chose to accept it.
“So is this kid supposed to be the next Jesus Christ or what?” Dean wanted to know. “Are we the three wise men? Cause if we are, I call dibs on the gold.”
Sam rolled his eyes skyward, silently asking the universe for the patience needed to deal with his brother and the angel. He watched the school bus pull away without really seeing it as children scattered, some heading for the apartment building, some walking away with friends or alone. Soon there were almost no people left at all, and that's when Sam saw Meg, standing on the cracked sidewalk with another woman and looking pissed as she talked on a cellphone. Meg turned to her badly dressed companion, jabbing a finger at her leopard print covered chest while the woman took a step back, hands raised in the universal sign of 'I don't know what went wrong.'
“Guys, I think we're not the only one looking for this kid,” Sam said, pointing out Meg and the woman even as the two got into a car that was way too nice for the neighborhood and sped away. Dean swore, expressively and creatively, as he started the Impala and drove after them.
“Dammit, just once, could there be no demons?” Dean demanded to know, even though he knew neither of his companions could give him an answer that would make him happy.
Sam and Dean had attended a lot of schools in their lives, and despite having not been in them for years, they knew how to recognize the quality of a school. This was not a good school; the building was at least seventy years old and in poor repair, with the bricks were dingy and crumbling with age, and weeds were pushing their way up through the pavement in the parking lot. There were bars on all the windows, making the building look even more foreboding. Sam had always dreaded ending up in schools like the one in front of him; the teachers were often apathetic, the other children disaffected and rarely interested in actually learning, the after school programs non-existent. Maybe a basketball team or something, but rarely the kind of things Sam had been interested in. Dean hadn't liked the schools much either; they were dangerous places, especially for new kids with no friends. This was the kind of school where parents were rarely involved, money was tight, and fights were frequent. Not even a playground attached to the campus.
Meg's car stood out like a sore thumb, all shiny and new and very empty. Meg and her tacky new friend had beaten them there despite Dean's driving, but at least they'd managed to find the place.
Cas was out of the Impala and through the school doors as soon as Dean parked, leaving the Winchesters to scramble after him.
That was when they found the first body; a woman in a faded floral print dress soaked in blood. Someone or something had smashed her face against the wall beside the front entrance until it had been reduced to an unidentifiable mess, with bits of blood, hair, and bone sticking to the plaster. There was a little office beside the door with bullet proof glass that would allow anyone inside to observe who was coming and going freely; the glass had been punched through, and the woman had been dragged out through the hole, if the deep gouges on her skin and the tears on her dress were any indication. The woman had probably been in there when Meg and whoever came with her had arrived.
Deeper in the school, Sam and Dean could hear people screaming, some voices deep and adult, some of them high and young in a way that made Dean's guts twist into knots. Cas had already disappeared deeper in to the school, so Sam and Dean just followed the screams.
Unlike the Winchesters, Castiel actually had an idea of where he was going. He could feel the pull of his duty, drawing him like a loadstone. It was the same pull that had brought Castiel to this city, to the apartment where the child lived, but stronger now that it was so close. A fresh scent after so long dealing with something stale. Castiel could have cursed his Father for not just telling him where the child was, or why it was so important. But Father was ineffable, and Castiel had once again come to accept that fact. It was hard to be angry at someone who was willing to give you another chance after you almost destroy the universe, after all.
Castiel burst through a set of double doors and found himself in the school gym, the stench of blood and offal filling his nose. There had been children there when the demons had come, and they'd had no real chance. Some of the children had died running, others probably hadn't even had the chance to runs. Most were young girls, all wearing the same red and gold outfit, but there were others, boys and girls not in the uniform. Large chunks of fallen plaster were soaking up the blood from where they had fallen from the ceiling.
It was too late for the children, and Castiel could not afford to spare them much thought. Even as he had burst into the gym, the demons who had slaughtered the children were breaking down another door that lead off from the gym. There were two of them, both dusted with plaster and soaked in blood. One wore a sweater vest that might have once been blue, and the other wore a track suit.
They never saw Castiel coming, as intent as they were on their prey.
Castiel wasn't what he once was, but he was still an angel, and smiting came as easily to him as breathing. His hands closed over the heads of the demons, letting the raw power of his Grace surge forth to burn away the evil wearing stolen flesh. The two bodies fell lifelessly to the ground, giving Castiel access to the forced open door. Someone had shoved a rack of weights in front of the door; it'd been knocked over by the demons when they'd battered it down. The room was filled with benches and weights, and it smelled of old, stale sweat. There was only one person in the room, a girl no older than the ones who had died in the gym, balancing precariously on top of one of the benches, a pocket knife in her hand as she worked desperately at an air vent cover. Castiel climbed over the fallen rack of weights as the girl lost her balance, desperately tugging at the air vent cover to get it to come off, falling to the concrete floor hard enough to knock the air out of her. The girl scrabbled back from Castiel until her back hit the wall, dirty blonde hair escaping her ponytail and falling in her face as she looked up at him.
In that moment, Castiel understood just a part of his father's plan. The girl had managed to almost get the cover off the air vent before the demon had broken through her improvised barrier, and even as Castiel watched her, fear and rage mingling on her freckled face, he knew that she was already thinking of how she could get away. A short lifetime flashed through Castiel's head, telling him everything he needed to know; Zoe McGrudder, bloodline of of the Michael Sword.
Her eyes were green, like her father's.
In spite of himself, Castiel found the old words coming to his lips, meant to soothe or at least to keep people from fleeing in terror. Angels had spoken the words to the sons Adam and daughters of Eve since the beginning, and even in his fallen state, they came to him. "Be not a-"
The little dumb-bell would have hit Castiel right in the face if he hadn't seen it coming and gotten out of the way. The girl didn't stay stop to see if the dumb-bell had connected; she scrambled past Castiel as he dodged the weight, like a cat running for cover.
“You run, and you don't stop running,” Dean told the boy urgently as he helped the kid out the window, into the waiting arms of the teacher. Sam was guarding the art room door, clutching one of the iron bars that been pried free to let the group Sam and Dean had found cowering in the art room get out. Sam had hastily slapped together a Devil's Trap with some chalk to guard the escape. Dean stayed by the window, watching the teacher shepherd his students away from the deathtrap of a school. “We need to find Cas.”
Dean didn't like the idea of Cas being in the damn school alone. It hadn't taken long for Sam and Dean to realize there more demons there than just Meg. This place, Dean knew, was going to haunt his dreams for a long time go come.
And Cas, that idiot, had just taken off on his own to fulfill a damn mission from God while he was weak as a damn kitten. He was gonna get himself killed all over again, and Dean just couldn't take that. He'd worked too damn hard for Cas to get himself killed this stupidly, so if anyone was gonna kill Cas, it was gonna be Dean... very likely over this bout of stupidity. After all those years of God jerking everyone around, now Cas was playing the happy little minion again.
All Dean wanted to do was get this damn kid safe, get out of town, and deprogram Cas.
A kid raced right past Sam and Dean as they left the temporary sanctuary of the art room, ducking low to avoid Sam's arm and skidding around the corner.
“Stop her!” Castiel came tearing down the hall, coat flapping behind him. “Before she gets herself killed!” There was a certain exasperation in the angel's voice, like chasing down reluctant humans was an old, frustrating chore that he was used to.
Dean decided that he didn't really want to think about the implications of that. Luckily for him, the next corner found himself face to face with Meg and her black eyed buddies, including the woman she'd been with at the apartment building. There was a moment where the whole world just stopped, like everything was waiting to see who would move first.
“Sorry boys, don't really have time to play right now,” Meg said cheerfully. “Can't let the sweet little moppet miss her last chance to be with her Mommy, now can I?” She smiled like a shark as before dashing down the hall with the woman in tow. “You boys play nice now!” she called as her other minions went for Castiel and the Winchesters.
They caught up with the girl in the basement of the school, past anemic shelves of supplies and in what was probably – judging from the battered couches, desks, and a make-shift kitchen – the teacher's lounge. Zoe had already locked and blocked up the door as the angel and the Winchesters arrived. Somehow, in spite of everything, they'd managed to beat Meg there, but only just; Castiel could hear the sound of the demon's heels clicking on the worn concrete floor. The door proved surprisingly sturdy, refusing to break down under the assault of Sam, Dean, and Castiel, so Dean turned his efforts towards picking the lock, cursing Meg, demons in general, the girl, whoever had decided to turn the teacher's lounge into a fortress, and God. Castiel chose not to comment on anything Dean had to say, instead trying to find another way in while Sam tried breaking the lounge's windows with a fire extinguisher.
There were two ways out of the teacher's lounge; three if you counted the air vent Zoe was trying to get opened. Both doors were locked, with a ratty couch pushed in front of the door Dean was picking the lock of, and a desk shoved against the other, keeping Meg and the woman she'd brought with her out as effectively as the Winchesters had been blocked; if the windows on both teacher's lounge doors hadn't been barred, it wouldn't have even been an issue for any of them. As it was, Castiel blessed the fact that at least Meg couldn't get in either. Only--
The woman -- the demon with Meg pressed her hands to the glass and called out, "Zoe, honey! Don't worry, it's all gonna be okay, I won't let anyone hurt you." She edged past Meg, her face a mask of motherly concern. “C'mon, baby girl, we gotta get outta here.”
And that, Castiel realized, was that. The girl would run to the loving embrace of her mother and right in to Meg's clutches, where she would die just as the other children had, or worse. Meg would probably want to take her time. Castiel had failed before he had really begun.
"Dammit!" Dean snarled at the lock, which remained stubbornly unopened.
Zoe turned sharply, nearly tumbling off the chair she'd stacked on top of the other desk to let her reach then vent, pocket knife coming away from the loosened screws. Her mouth dropped open for a moment, then snapped shut. "I don't know who the hell you are, but you are not my mom."
“I wonder who you inherited your brains from, kiddo,” Meg said, equally amused and exasperated as she started breaking the door down. Dean made a jubilant noise as the lock finally popped open, and Castiel pushed the door open hard enough to shove the couch out of the way and let him get in. Zoe remained balanced on her wobbling make-shift ladder, tottering dangerously as she took a swipe at the angel with her pocket knife when he came close. Castiel ignored the poorly aimed attack, wrapping a hand around one of Zoe's ankles and willing her to sleep.
Dean was the one who caught the girl as she fell, unconscious and limp. He shot Castiel a look that told him that as soon as they were out of danger, there was going to be a loud, angry talk about all the bullshit they were being put through, but Castiel knew he had a bit of time yet before he would be forced to explain; no matter how angry, no matter how badly Dean wanted answers, he would never leave a child in danger. Meg was screaming
"She's awake," Cas announced. Nothing about Zoe had actually changed; she was still laying bonelessly on her side where Dean had put her on the bed, eyes closed and mouth slightly open. It'd been nearly two hours since Cas had put her under before their escape from the school, and an hour since Dean had announced that he'd had enough of sitting around and was going out for food, leaving Sam alone with Cas and the unconscious Zoe. Cas had perched on the edge of the bed, unmoving as a statue the entire time, every answer to Sam's attempts at conversation monosyllabic; the only information the angel had given up easily was the little girl's name. Personally, Sam was willing to bet that Dean had left to keep himself from blowing up at Cas for being so damn quiet. Not secretive, exactly, but it was pretty clear he wasn't ready to spill why the girl on the bed was so important. Eventually, Sam's thoughts had turned to how they were going to handle the whole sleeping thing; he really wasn't looking forward to that conversation with Dean. Honestly, it was an easier problem to deal with than 'What the hell are we gonna do with this kid?'
Still, Sam had no reason to doubt Cas's statement, so he got up from his laptop and approached the bed, crouching beside the girl. He could just make out the glitter of eyes through her eyelashes when he got close. "Hey, there. You okay?" Sam's hand closed on Zoe's thin shoulder, and that's when she moved, rolling away and swinging her legs around and up, the filthy sole of her shoe smashing in to Sam's nose.
"I'm okay," Sam insisted once again, holding the ice pack to his nose in an effort to stop the swelling. Dean grumbled something that was probably meant to be 'No you're not', shooting a dark glance across the motel room. Zoe was sitting against the headboard, with Cas standing between the Winchesters and the girl. Dean was glad they'd thought to take her pocket knife away, locking it in the trunk; if she'd had it, she probably would have tried to stab Sam instead of just kicking him.
Dean would find Sam's blackened eyes and swollen nose funny later. He was already composing jokes about Sam getting beaten up by little girls, to be gleefully doled out once they'd gotten the kid somewhere safe and they could leave this whole mess behind them. "Some gratitude. We saved your life, you know."
Zoe glared sullenly around Cas. "Why?"
“Wouldn't I like to know,” Dean muttered, sotto voce, to Sam, who in turn gave Cas a grim look. They'd all agreed, no more secrets, no more lies meant to protect each other, because those lies had a nasty way of coming back to bite the three of them on the ass. Zoe's glare moved from Dean to Cas, putting all eyes on the angel. Cas looked around the room, grimacing slightly before turning to address his answer to Zoe.
“I am an angel of the Lord, and I have been tasked to watch over you, Zoe McGrudder. You are the latest of an old bloodline, and that has put you in considerable danger.” Castiel looked briefly over his shoulder at Dean, licked his lips, and said, “You are of the bloodline chosen to be the vessels of the Archangel Michael.”
The announcement was met with silence, as the three mortals in the room digested this new information.
"Bullshit,” Zoe and Dean concluded at the same time.