Angels don't sleep. Angels don't dream, not really. But, sometimes, they can get lost in memories; it's as close to dreaming as they come. And, tonight, as everyone in the cabin slumbered, Castiel sat cross-legged on the floor in front of a couch. His eyes were closed to shut out the dim moonlight that streamed in through the many windows and the flickering glow of the fire burning low in the fireplace. It wasn't often he stayed at the cabin itself overnight. There was usually no reason to, with all the humans asleep. Instead, he often spent time elsewhere in other pursuits. Or, more often lately, patrolling the grounds – if he could get away with passing off spending time roaming the vast woods, enjoying simply <i>being</i> as 'patrolling.'
But, tonight, he'd decided to take the open invitation to stay in the cabin. Tonight, he wanted to be indoors, in the warmth, where no one he didn't already trust was likely to run across him. He tilted his head up, letting his vessel – his body, he considered it deep in the furthest reaches of his mind, for it was as much his now as it had ever been Jimmy's when he'd still been alive – relax, muscles loosening and heartbeat slowing. He didn't sleep, but he could meditate, and let himself be lost in memories.
- - - - - -
<i>A hotel room. Daytime. He'd arrived in a flutter of powerful wingbeats, having flown as fast as he was capable to seek out the hostage the demons had been holding for Crowley, the one who could lead him to the angel tablet. He must get to the angel tablet. It was the only thing of importance. Nothing, nothing at all must be allowed to stand in his way.
Two demons were there in the room with him, and he took them by surprise easily. They were weak, ugly creatures, and he took satisfaction in burning them from the inside out, one at a time, his grace filling them with his holy wrath. Just as he'd finished with the second demon, Dean and Sam burst into the room.
“The hostage is in there,” he said, nodding toward the only closed door in the room. The hostage was another demon, he could feel the oily sense of it's essence from here easily. His hand twitched on his blade, and he had to fight the urge to violence. Unlike the strange-haired demon back at the house, this one he still needed alive. For now.
“Aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” That...voice. He blinked, feeling the urge to violence drain away at the sound of that familiar voice. Something was off, something in his perception, in his thoughts, but even that drained away as quickly as the thought had come.
He moved into the room, standing with his back to the window, arms crossed, staring at her on the bed. The hunters started to quiz her in their peculiar – but generally effective – ways. But as for him? All he could do was stare at her, letting their voices wash over him only half-heard. Fleeting images surfaced in his mind, as though they'd been buried beneath far more time than what had actually passed; or, as though they'd been somehow purposefully moved almost out of his reach.
- - - -
...Banter between them. He understood it was flirtation, though it was his first real experience with it. He stood in a ring of holy fire, left there after the conversation Lucifer'd had with him. She stood outside the ring, taunting him, flirting with him. And he found himself flirting back, in his own way. There was something about this demon that was just interesting. He wished he'd had the time to examine it further, but he needed to get back to Dean, to Sam, to warn them. So, he'd lured her close, and he'd used her.
- - -
...Banter again, and that strangely intense interest, and more flirtation. This time, however, he understood more of it. Television, it turned out was an excellent way to learn some facets of the human culture he'd found himself sometimes – more often than not – floundering in, things that neither of the Winchesters thought to explain to him, or cared to explain to him. Meg was flirting with him, flirting that culminated in a kiss from her. A kiss that took him by surprise, but that he found himself desiring. He desired. Running off of some instinct that must surely have come from his vessel, he grabbed at her, turning her and shoving her against the wall. He stared down at her seemingly fragile form for just a brief moment, and then he kissed her, lips crashing against lips in a storm of passion he could only barely grasp. Of course, when she pulled away, she had his blade in her hand. He's done nothing to stop her from taking it, even let her think she'd won some victory. Privately, deep in the most secret parts of his very essence, he felt that he was the one who had won the victory.
- - -
...”Her face! She's one of...” The demon-thing that came out of the little convenience store with Dean interrupted him, taking him by surprise.
“It's okay. We come in different flavors,” she said, her voice smooth and sweet – like honey – despite the hint of sarcasm he could detect. She was a demon, she was evil, she was the antithesis of everything God stood for, and everything Emmanuel tried to embody himself. Yet, she was just so fascinating.
“Meg. Just here for moral support. I mean, after all, we go way back. Dean and me. Just met you, of course. But I think we're gonna be good friends, too.” Did he want to be her friend? Did he want to call a demon friend? He...thought maybe he did.
...The drive had been uncomfortable, but perhaps not in the ways it should have been. He'd found himself wanting to turn to the demon – Meg, her name sounded sweet even in the silences of his mind – and talk. About anything, and everything. It was like the feeling he had for the stranger next to him, yet, so very different at the same time. What was it about these people? What was it about...her?
...When they'd arrived, the hospital was swarming with people. But these people, like the man at Daphne's home – and it had only ever been her home, really, because he'd always known he didn't truly belong there – and like Meg (but also not like Meg, the essence within her was as beautiful as it was dark, she was different), had oily, shadowy, terrifying faces lurking within, overlaying their human faces. “Oh, gracious.” Demons.
They didn't seem to know what to do any more than he did, which concerned him. Somehow, he'd felt they should know what to do, and that they should be able to take care of the problem. When they moved aside to speak, he understood that they didn't realize he could still hear them. “You think it's that cut and dry? Really? You know what he did,” Dean said. The man was speaking of...him? He moved closer as Dean continued, staring at them. “And you want to tell him and just hope that he takes it in stride? He could snap. He could... disappear. Who knows?”
It was too much, his eyes darting between the pair. He had to speak. “I gather we know each other.”
“Just a dollop,” she said, her voice dripping with irony.
His eyes dropped briefly, anxiety flaring up within him. “You can tell me. I'll be fine.” He was finally going to get answers. This pair, they each knew him, knew who he really was.
“How do you know? You just met yourself,” Dean said, his voice tense. It was such a peculiar thing to hear, but it wasn't wrong. That didn't make the words sting any less. What had he been that this man seemed to be so afraid that he should remember? “I've known you for years.”
“You're an angel,” Meg said quickly, interrupting anything else that Dean might have said.
His eyes shot to her, confusion rising up. “I'm sorry? Is that a flirtation?” He found he hoped it was, as inappropriate as that thought might be, he hoped it was.
And so it went on, banter and explanations that felt like flirtations in her honey-sweet voice, gruff acknowledgments from Dean only a background noise under the force of her allure. He'd followed their – her – instructions, and....he remembered. He remembered everything. Dean, Sam, opening purgatory, the Leviathan – it was all there, and remorse nearly overwhelmed him. Two things, only two things kept him from running away and seeking and end to it all – his need to fix what he'd broken in Sam as he'd promised, and memories of lips crashing together with thrilling forbidden passion and a demon who sacrificed herself for an angel and two humans and a cause. She'd been willing to sacrifice herself, he could do no less. And so, he did.
- - -
...Memory mixed with hallucination, past mixed with present, all of it colliding in a way that gave him a strange sense of clarity. He knew the humans around him in this facility where'd been abandoned – mostly abandoned, he had to amend to himself, because one had stayed behind – thought him crazy. But that was of no import to him. Even Meg thought he was insane, but it didn't bother him. She'd been the very first thing he'd seen when he emerged from the darkness. She'd been his near constant companion during that long night and the next day afterward, as he tried to put himself together into something that could at least communicate and function.
“Will you look at her? My caretaker. All of that thorny pain. So beautiful,” he'd said to Dean, to Sam, to her. He'd meant it, every word. There was beauty roiling through the blackened, oily essence he could see swirling within the skin of her vessel. Beauty that captivated him even more than the bees did. She was like a queen bee, drawing him to her effortlessly.
“We've been over this. I don't like poetry. Put up or shut up.” He only tilted his head, letting the adoration and gratitude in his eyes be his only answer to her...
- - - -
He snapped back to the conversation, pushing the memories of Meg away, an annoyance he didn't understand warring with a sense of something lost that he understood even less.
“You know, I get why Crowley calls you "moose" now,” she said to Sam, sarcasm and faint annoyance clear to him from her tone. In fact, he was a little surprised that he could read her tone so easily, the nuances as clear to him as though she were speaking to him privately of the feelings flitting through her. “Yes -- "Angel Tablet." Crowley found out Lucifer had it, figures it's stashed in a crypt.”
“Well, this is news to me, as well. Demons I interrogated, they must have been lying about their true intentions,” he said in reply to the looks he was getting, feeling decidedly uncomfortable. He was lying to them. But...why? He couldn't remember the reasoning, only the need to do so. He watched them snipe back and forth at each other. “We need your help.” It was truth, but there was more too it. He needed her help...and he wasn't even sure why.
He'd followed her when she'd wandered off looking for alcohol after examining the map back at the house. She'd flopped down onto a couch after having cleaned herself up a bit, clutching a bottle she'd found somewhere, while he'd dug up first aid supplies, trying not to think too hard about why he was doing so. Somehow, the feelings of being a puppet on strings lessened around her, letting him relax just a little, letting him breathe and be.
He'd settled himself before her and, taking up some of the gauze, began to wrap her wrist. “These wounds have festered,” he observed.
“You really do know how to make a girl's nethers quiver, don't you?”
The look of amused satisfaction she gave him pleased him, prompting him to answer her teasingly, though his tone was somber as ever. “I am aware of how to do that. Although it doesn't usually involve cleaning wounds.”
“Why are you so sweet on me, Clarence?”
“I don't know,” he answered honestly, wishing almost desperately he had a better answer to give her, and himself. “And I still don't know who Clarence is.”
“Would it kill you to watch a movie, read a book?” She took a swig from the bottle she clutched, and he just concentrated on tending to her wounds. It was the best distraction he had for the urge to lean forward and kiss her. This wasn't the time or the place. He was being watched, he could feel it. Dean and Sam, he told himself, though the feeling was one that was nearly constant these days.
He considered the question briefly, then answered again by teasing her with a seriousness to his tone. “A movie, no. But a book with the proper spells... Yeah, it could, theoretically, kill me.” It was like a game they were playing, this back and forth, his innocence that was part act and part truth.
“You know, you're much cuter when you're shutting up,” she said, and he was compelled to look up at her from his task. Her smile was like a ray of sunshine, shining so brightly it dimmed, briefly, the sight of her true visage beneath it. “So, which Cas are you now? Original make and model or crazy town?”
He wasn't sure, at first, how to answer her. He'd changed, and he was well aware of that. The insanity had changed him, the time in Purgatory had changed him, and his return...well, he had a harder time thinking of that. “I'm just me.”
“So, your noodle's back in order?” There was a hesitancy underlying her simple question, he could hear it as clearly as though she'd shouted it at him.
“Yeah, my... noodle remembers everything,” he responded, nodding a bit. He wanted to reassure her, to let her know he still...felt for her. But, that wasn't how the game between them was played. “I think it's a pretty good noodle.”
He could see the hope flare in her eyes, hope he was certain she wouldn't admit to if pressed. But, still, it was there for him to read. “Really? You remember everything?”
He looked down, away from her, once again fighting that urge to just kiss her, consequences be damned. “If you're referring to the pizza man... Yes, I remember the pizza man.” He looked back up at her, growing serious, all teasing dropping from his tone and his expression, leaving only stark honesty. “And it's a good memory.” Her answering smile was just...beautiful.
She went back to drinking the alcohol straight from the bottle, like it was life itself. He couldn't begrudge her that, not after what she'd been through. “You ever miss the Apocalypse?”
“No,” he answered, bemused by the question that was seemingly apropos of nothing. “Why would I miss the end of times?”
“I miss the simplicity. I was bad. You were good. Life was easier.” He looked up, nodding slightly. He could see her point, though he still didn't agree with it. Then, he'd primarily been filled with the typical wrath toward her, a demon, a thing of evil and darkness. He much preferred seeing her now, as he was, as she was. “Now it's all so messy. I'm kind of good, which sucks. And you're kind of bad -- which is actually all manner of hot.” His eyes slid to hers from where he'd been staring off into the distance, considering her words. He leaned forward in the chair toward her, drawn to her by the look smoldering in her eyes. “We survive this... I'm gonna order some pizza and we're gonna move some furniture around. You understand?”
There was confusion, and he squinted at her curiously. “No, I... I...” She smiled, and he, searching her eyes, understood. “Wait... Actually... Yes, I - ”
“All right. Let's roll, campers,” said Dean, interrupting what else he might have said. He ignored Dean, choosing instead to let his unspoken words show in the steady, serious, accepting look he kept on Meg. If only there was time, his look said. If only there was the chance, that look said. Later, his eyes promised. He rose, and offered her his hand. She took it, and he helped her up, squeezing her hand lightly, communicating with that touch what he couldn't yet say to her.
The short trip to the abandoned warehouse was made in silence,though it felt as though something shifted within him during that trip, something he couldn't quite grasp before the feeling slipped away. When they pulled up into the alley behind the building, they all exited the Impala and strode down the alley toward the warehouse entrance. “So, this is it. Basement?” She seemed so casual about it, but he could hear the faint trace of nervousness beneath her words. Some part of him wanted to reach out to her, wrap his arms around her, comfort her. She'd been through enough already. But, he was focused now, on the mission. The angel tablet must be found and acquired, at all costs.
“All right, Cas and I will head in and get our Indiana Jones on. Sam, you stay outside with Meg.” That was Dean, and he found himself approving of this plan. It made sense.
He let the rest of their words flow over him, responding when required; he had no patience for the petty bickering. His mind was on the angel tablet he was sure was waiting for him. He must get to the angel tablet. It was the only thing of importance. Nothing, nothing at all must be allowed to stand in his way. If Meg stayed outside, she wouldn't be able to get in the way. The...unclean feelings he had for her would not be able to get in the way. And, something whispered in the back of his mind, she would be safe.
Sam was damaged, deeply damaged, at a subatomic level, even into the very essence of his soul. He could see it every time he looked at the man. “No, you're not. Sam... You're damaged in ways even I can't heal. Dean's right,” he said suddenly, breaking off their bickering, regret in his voice. “You should stay here and protect Meg.” He looked off into the distance as he said this, his bearing belying the importance he felt for protecting her. It was a need that, for the moment, warred with the importance of finding and taking the angel tablet.
She turned her head, staring at him with open surprise. “Since when do I need protecting?”
“Since you were held captive and tortured for over a year,” he responded immediately, turning to stare down at her, his voice lowering to almost a growl. He was aware of the discomfort his outburst caused with Dean and Sam, he just...simply didn't care. This was too important.
She relented without the fight he'd been half expecting. “Touché.”
“All right, we'll be back,” said Dean after a few moments of uncomfortable silence. Castiel stared down at Meg for another moment, then turned and walked away, everything fading into the background but the mission as he did so. He must get to the angel tablet. It was the only thing of importance. Nothing, nothing at all must be allowed to stand in his way.</i>
- - - - - -
It was the last he'd ever seen of her. He'd given her the briefest of thoughts as he'd fled, later, with the tablet. But even that brief thought had been something he hadn't really been able to afford at the time. He'd been overwhelmed with remorse, guilt, pain. He'd been confused and lost after Naomi's manipulation and outright control had come to light. He'd only barely escaped it, and after that he'd had to run and run and run.
Still, in the years since, he'd taken time every year to force himself to dwell on the still-present pain that the thoughts of Meg gave rise to. His unspoken – but no less valid – promise of <i>later</i>, lost chances and missed opportunities that made him regret what he'd never been able to explore, and that was now forever out of his reach.
With a sigh, he let his head drop down, blue eyes sliding open to flit sightlessly about the darkened room as he recentered himself, pulling slowly away from the vivid memories he'd willingly submerged into. So much had changed since that day. He'd changed so much since then. But, no matter how much he'd changed, no matter how much he'd lost and gained in that time, he still regretted what might have been but never was. Reliving that pain was his self-imposed penance, his private honouring of that honey-sweet voice wrapped in demon form that was forever silenced.
Castiel spent the rest of the night sitting, still and silent, watching the low fire in the fireplace dim, becoming embers, and then the embers dimming into nothing but cold ash, lost in the thoughts of his one truly secret regret.