DEATH--

"Sir."

I did not raise my gaze from the table this time. It was undoubtedly another update regarding the movements of our old friend The Darkness. Boring as the creature's ambitions were in my opinion, it's passion to see them realized was always such a treat to observe. It was without recognition. It had no such moral conflict as right or wrong. It had no such material distinction between profit and loss. It knew only the end of all things that were not one with that inky blackness.

"Sir--we found something."

Now that caught my attention. I looked up from my cafe table and regarded Sera as she took a seat across from me. She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and cleared her throat when she noticed my heavy gaze resting on her. I offered that same empty smile that I always did. "When you're ready, bella mia." She nodded her head and opened up the sleek black binder that she carried with her everywhere. She removed a sheet of paper and read over it--one of our scouts reports--stopping somewhere in the middle to speak.

"Well sir...as I told you before we're doing our best to keep a careful watch out there. We're barely keeping up with what's happening in Hell--and to be honest sir we don't have a remote clue as to what's happening in Heaven."

I nodded in understanding. I was still new to my role. I hadn't quite mastered the abilities that were now at my disposal. Moving through space and time with an all-knowing perspective that I'd never though I would ever experience. I was one much like Sera. Just a loyal soldier to an all-powerful leader. But now that weight had fallen to me. Yet I was not just satisfied with that purpose; I was overjoyed to have it. I would ensure that this time--things were done by the books.

"I can only ask the best of you. When I am confident it will be without consequence; I will unearth their respective intentions. Now...is that all you came to tell me, Sera?""

She shook her head firmly. "No sir." She brought her finger back to the top of the paper and continued on. "While we haven't been able to directly observe any actual activity regarding the Angels, one of our scouts reported that they have discovered the presence of one here among the mortals. Furthermore he seems to be somewhat firmly entangled in the Winchesters' activities over the last few years. His name is--"

"Castiel."

"--Ca..yes sir." I could feel him even now. The moment she'd finished saying that he'd been a part of the Winchesters' activities I had known who he was. Even as a Reaper I'd known the rumors of Castiel. The most righteous and convicted of all his breed. Of course I was one of only very few who shared that opinion. Many believed him to be rebellious...arrogant...foolhardy and reckless. But I knew better. I had seen his efforts for what they truly were.

In the moment that I'd realized his name...I felt his power. From across the world I sensed the traces of his flickering Grace. Like a lamp desperate to stay alive despite the fact that darkness was fast-approaching. Such a conflicted and harrowed soul. But I would not leave him without the truth of these past events. Without another word I rose from my seat and set the remains of my joint into the ashtray. "Sir! Wait--" Sera objected as she scrambled from the chair and fixed her glasses.

I smiled down at my Grand Reaper. I reached out and placed my hand onto her shoulder. "Fret not. I am much more than I was before--but my principles will never change. He has done what he believed right in the name valor. I would not see him harmed." I removed my hand from Sera's shoulder and she exhaled in relief. She had always been a timid girl. An excellent study and the best Reaper I'd ever known; but still trapped in her shell.

"When I return we will discuss how we shall replenish our fold." She nodded her head; not really listening at first. "Wait--" But before she could ask where I was going I had already vanished. I moved through reality with such precision that I arrived in a fraction of a second. The woods in which I'd traced his power seemed to be littered with traces of other unique energies. Mortal ones for the most part but unique nonetheless.

Castiel sat in the center of a clearing. His fingers interlaced in front of him with his elbows resting on his knees. He sat on the trunk of what once was a dying tree; though signs of life were now returning to it...undoubtedly to his occasional presence. He had his back turned to me and was not yet aware of my arrival. Instead he was stretching a pair of magnificent ivory wings. The feathers that lifted and curled with their every movement were a dazzling pale white--and you would be hard pressed to find such a glorious visage.

For it was in their wings--and in their eyes--that you could recognize an Angel for their Purity. While I had no love for most Angels themselves, the concept of the Angel was something to be admired as beautiful. A legion of guardians to watch over and protect; bearing with them light and feathers of radiant white. A true bane against such evils as Hell and The Darkness. An Angel's Grace merely told how old or powerful the being had become. It did not dictate how noble they were in heart.

"Icarus...his wings set ablaze by Ra himself."

At the sound of my voice Castiel rose from his seat and turned to face me--tense and ready to defend himself. When he found my dark form standing tall on the opposite end of the clearing I wondered if he would be able to recognize me for what I truly was. If my very presence was not enough...than the new accessory I'd brung with me would certainly do the trick. For leaning against the front of my shoulder was a black metal pole nearly eight feet in length. At the top of that pole was a curved, wicked, and razor-sharp metal Scythe that was long enough to pass well over my opposite shoulder.

I stepped away from where I was standing and began to trace a half-circle in Castiel's direction. "The Morning Star...his feathers torn from his back by the Father he brazenly defied." Despite my body leaving it behind the Scythe did not fall to the ground. On the contrary; it lifted itself from the ground and trailed behind me. It caught up to my pace and placed itself at an angle against my back--with the hidden force I used to keep it near my person at all times. I came to a stop near Castiel and kept my hands hidden in the depths of my coat pockets.

"These were fools who suffered just as they deserved. You, Castiel...for all my memory of dividing clemency from perdition...you and you alone have earned your pair of wings." I allowed my statement to hang in the air as I glanced over my shoulder. My Scythe raised itself from my back and seemed to fade from reality itself. I did not need it here; but I wanted to make sure it was seen nonetheless. I turned my gaze back onto Castiel.

"Soldier of God--of righteous Choir--...do you know who I am?"


CASTIEL--

Castiel sat alone, in his clearing in the woods that surrounded the academy grounds proper. A stump of some long-dead tree – a tree that was slowly coming back to life, though he had not yet noticed – was his perch this time, where he could sit with bare feet planted against the soothing bare earth that surrounded the stump. The winter cold, while he felt it, didn't bother him. It was worth any minor discomfort he experienced to just be able to feel that connection to the earth through the soles of his feet. It was a dim thing compared to feeling the world through his wings, the very feathers themselves more sensitive than the borrowed flesh of his vessel. But, dim or not, it was still welcome.


His coats, shirt, and tie were folded neatly atop his shoes and socks, sitting at the base of the stump to his side. His angel blade, gleaming silver, rested on top of the pile, where he could reach it easily. Clad only in his ill-fitting suit slacks, he sat resting elbows on his knees, his hands folded together before him, his eyes closed. He gave every appearance of a man lost in thought, were it not for the wings shifting about him, flaring out, then pulling in close to his body, then shifting forward as though to hide him away from the world. Stretching healing wings, lost in the feel of muscles too little used bunching and expanding, lost in the thrill of the faint breeze ruffling through feathers fluffed up with pleasure, with a kind of raw joy.


An unfamiliar voice came, sounding out overly loud in the quiet of the clearing. Castiel's head jerked up, reaching for his blade even as he rose and whirled to face the intruder with the flared wings of an instinctive move to intimidate and even threaten. For all that he might appear human, grace and true form folded together into the vessel, he was anything but; that was never more apparent than in the rare instances when he manifested his wings – the only part of his true self that could exist on Earth without the potential for causing harm and even death - on the earthly plane.


A man stood at the edge of the clearing – <i>his</i> clearing – dark-clad, hands stuffed casually into the pockets of his coat...and exuding a presence that belied his human form, much as Castiel's own vessel hid his. The angel gripped his blade tight, held at the ready as he watched the being standing there. His head canted to the side, the flesh around his eyes crinkling into a squint as he considered what was before him.


Slowly, his blade lowered, held loosely at his side, his wings folding tightly against his back. Respect and wariness replaced wrath in his expression and in every line of his lean, athletically muscled body. His eyes flicked to the large scythe – no, he corrected silently, <i>Scythe</i>, <i>the</i> Scythe – resting against the being's shoulder, and he inclined his head to show the wary, hesitant respect he grudgingly felt.


The figure began to move then, moving in a slow seemingly casual half-circle, speaking again of wings, of Lucifer's wings, and Castiel's bright blue eyes followed him, though he remained otherwise still in the presence of the powerful being. What could he possibly want? For there was no doubt in the angel's mind that he'd been sought out for this encounter; there was nothing of chance in this meeting, though what it could mean he couldn't begin to fathom.


Briefly, he felt a thrill of fear for Meg, and then a lesser, more resigned sort of fear for himself. Perhaps he was here to punish Castiel for his latest sin, for the sin of an angel who dared to love a demon. He adjusted his grip on his blade, tensing once more, readying himself. He had no hope, of course, if it came down to a battle; he knew that, yet a fierce determination to <i>live</i> flared up in his chest, his grace reacting to the emotions roiling within him with an unconscious flare of power readied to come to his defense, should he need it, his wings flicking out restlessly in their own response to his barely suppressed turmoil. He had no intention of going without a fight, not while he was still needed, not while Meg still needed him, not while Claire still needed him.


When the being finally stopped, too close for Castiel's comfort, though he knew better than to protest, words sounded into the tense silence of the clearing once more. <i>...you and you alone have earned your pair of wings.”</i> His mouth opened, then closed again, not sure how to respond to such a peculiar statement. Heaven knew – quite literally – that he was, perhaps, the worst of angels, the most reviled by the Host, the most mocked, and....quite possibly, even more guilty of sin after sin than Lucifer himself. He was, in the eyes of Heaven, nothing; a tool that was broken, expendable.


In the following silence, the Scythe faded away in a casual display of power, one that he couldn't ignore, though he wasn't sure if it was meant as a threat, or merely a statement. The angel shifted himself, turning slowly, cautiously, to face the being radiating power he could feel deep in the roots of the feathers on his half-flared wings, which trembled in response to that power.


Some deep instinct caused him to touch upon his grace, his own source of power, and with a thought he folded his wings, the tertials working in a maneuver that pulled the wings out of the physical plane and back into the aetheral plane. Another touch of his grace, a gentle push against the power, and he was once more fully clothed in the comfortable and familiar garments he'd worn – in some form or another – since he'd first taken Jimmy as his vessel all those years ago.


When the question came, he nodded slowly, still wary, but still conscious of the need to remain respectful; it was, he felt, the only chance he had to survive the encounter, slim though he judged that chance to actually be. Pulling himself up straight, he searched the being's face for any hint of his intentions. He saw only calm, the endless calm of a being secure in it's place in Creation.


You are Death's successor,” he answered finally, his voice low and strained. “But you're wrong. I'm no longer a part of the Host, no longer my Father's soldier. I have sinned, I have rebelled. I have fallen, in every way imaginable. Worse still, I don't regret that first choice that lead me down this path; I refuse to regret it. Humanity deserved better than what Heaven had planned.”


Castiel's head tilted to the side, studying this new Death for a moment. “And what would Death want with a fallen angel?” There was a casual tone to his rough voice, even if a bit forced. “Have you come to exact Heaven's vengeance on me, after all this time? Or, perhaps, for my latest sin?” His grip shifted on his blade, a subtle movement, but one he was sure the being would catch anyway. He had a feeling little escaped the piercing gaze of Death. “I don't believe I'm worthy of a simple social call from Death himself.”


DEATH--

Ugh...again with the tension.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm quite pleased to have the sense of authority that I now carry with me wherever I go. If I were to say I didn't feel superior would not only be a lie; it would also be a clear sign of being incapable of my duties. Death will always be superior. It is in it's finality that all things find a sense of limitation and caution. Death is the deterrent which keeps us from leaping from bridges just to see if we can fly. It will always come first before anything else. But fear and respect were two entirely different concepts.

It is simple to acknowledge a figure of authority. New-born children naturally acknowledge parents as such. But to have genuine respect for something is to admire it for what it is. These poor souls were so accustomed to my predecessor's sense of tyrannical command. He and I had very a very different sense of efficiency. I would build a new reputation. To the extent then when the mortals who knew of my physical form--who were strong enough--would not be clutched by the hands of fear. They would know me as an element of nature.

They would know me as they know their fleeting Gods.

"I am never wrong, Castiel. You will come to know the truth of this...in time." I stepped away from Castiel and went to stand by the log he'd been sitting upon earlier. I looked down at the bright green that was barely visible at its base. His presence had indeed nurtured the few shreds of life left in this poor entity. You'd be surprised how much a good tree can better the days of simpler minds. I turned back to Castiel and listened to his questions. I had not yet responded to his claims of being a sinner--of being fallen. I had dismissed them whimsically for now.

Then he asked me if I'd come to exact Heaven's vengeance on him after all this time. The booming laugh that radiated throughout the clearing may come as a surprise to him. As I said before; I am not my predecessor. It does not always have to be fire and brimstone. Perhaps his constantly-furrowed brow had been what blinded his judgment. I would not allow events to influence me in such a simple way. I shook my head with a smile.

"I do not entertain the concept of 'Sin,' my friend. Nor am I oblivious to the...relationships...you've recently cultivated." I said the last part with a little wink in Castiel's direction. "I am no one's Flaming Sword and--I daresay that--as Death...only I can determine who is worthy of my presence. Whether my visit be social or otherwise." As I finished my statement I reached into my coat and removed a black and silver case. I unclasped the small silver latch and revealed a neat row of cigarillo's inside.

I removed one of them and put the clasp back into my coat. I placed the cigarillo underneath my nostrils and took a deep breath of its flavorsome scent. I then placed it in my lips and removed a lighter from my pocket. All of these trivial, meaningless actions that I could easily achieve the same ends without. But it was the little acts in mortal life that made its rewards so fruitful. Something I'm sure Castiel knew very well. I snapped my zippo shut and dropped it back into my pocket.

"Now then--let's circle back. I recall you saying that you are Fallen--that you have sinned--and worse that you have done so without a shred of remorse." Castiel seemed to cast his gaze down at the ground only for a moment before raising his chin to meet my own. He stared back proudly and answered with only one word. 'Yes.' I smiled and shook my head as I sat down onto the tree trunk he'd only moments ago occupied himself. Unlike my predecessor I did not allow my power to run rampant through my body.

The leaves did not die; the trunk continued to live in its blossoming rejuvenation.

"Undoubtedly those burns help to make the image seem all the more believable. But I do not see the frayed wings of a broken soldier...no. I see the wings of the only Angel I would ever call True." I took a long drag from the cigarillo I'd held in my lips. Castiel would smell quite easily that it was Not tobacco that I was smoking on. I exhaled a thick cloud of gray and then went on to explain not only the reasons for my arrival but also my reasons for respect.

"My predecessor would have told you much the same. That you are a fool--and a martyr. That your actions have been without profit and without logic. Trust me...I know. His every memory and experience are now a part of me. Not even the most ancient text could tell you where he ends and I begin. However--his opinions are not my own. As a Reaper in his fold I watched you Castiel. I observed you and the Winchester's both. I followed your hellish campaign from long before the moment you descended from the White City."

I rose back up from the tree trunk and began approaching Castiel once more. "My predecessor measured the value of souls by their actions. For a mortal perhaps this is wise...but not for beings like us Castiel. Actions are part of a physical plane that we are only visitors of. It is in our intention that I find the value of a man. Your intention Castiel has always been the protection and absolvement of all mankind. I have a deep admiration of you for that conviction, my friend."

Once again I let silence hang in the air between us, before taking another long drag of my smoke and then speaking again. "Don't misunderstand me. Angels, Demons, Heavens, Hell...all of these are merely concepts. Idea's by entities with far too much power and time on their hands. Even your God I see as a child--stranded alone--with this world as his only toy. Life and Death are the only two truths of existence and I am the harbinger of those truths.

Yet even if I tear from you your title as Angel...you have still done more than any of your breed can claim. You have protected the balance of life and death in this world where my predecessor should have done so--time and time again. It is because of your resolute and unflinching resolve that I have come here today. I have come here to thank you. Allow me to do so."
It is then that I removed the cigarillo from my mouth and placed my free hand behind my back. It wasn't anything too superfluous mind you, but--

--I closed my eyes and took a small bow.

I rose back up to my full height and spoke evenly. "I look upon you and feel that this world may yet have a chance at redemption." I take one more drag from my cigarillo and then flicked it into the forest carelessly. The sound of several shrubs being smacked by the small item could be heard for many yards before I spoke again. "Should you ever have need of me Castiel...I will come. Whether it be for a social visit or to tear your enemies asunder. For the forces you stand against are the enemies that I pursue." I turned away and was about to make my leave when I recalled something--and the tone shifted back from brimstone to brazen.

"Ah--but ehm...do try and call me for a social visit now and again? It would do me well to share a smoke with you--see the world through your eyes. It's all too often that I don't get to hang out with the people I enjoy until I'm ferrying across that black river. Oh and if you really are enjoying that latest relationship of yours...then I invite you to separate it from the word 'Sin.' Your Angelic brethren have done far worse than you Castiel. I believe that lonely child would forgive you for being a little heartfelt. Now...have you anything you need of me before I make my way, my Angel true?"


CASTIEL--

Castiel could only watch this new Death warily, his words ringing in the vaults of the angel's mind. <i>'I am never wrong,'</i> he said, as though Death could just wipe away his whole sorry history, his entire string of bad choices and betrayals and rebellion. If only it were ever that simple. Yet, the tremendous bad as well as the little good he'd done made him who and what he was today, for good or bad. Even if Death could dismiss all of that, Castiel himself could not. He might feel remorse for his mistakes, his sins, but he couldn't force himself to regret who he was now.


Rich blue eyes traced the powerful being's movements, and, again, Castiel wondered what exactly he wanted. The ache to be with Meg flooded him briefly, but he pushed it away as quickly as it had arisen. He wasn't sure how much of a grasp this new Death had of his powers yet, and he needed to protect the secret Meg carried within her – the powerful cambion child she carried and would eventually bring into the world – simply because he didn't know what, if anything, Death might do about the situation if he saw it within the angel's mind. Of course, much like humans, he sometimes found trying <i>not</i> to think about something made one think about it all the more.


The wink, well...now that took him by surprise. Without thinking about it too much, he found his grip on his blade loosening just the slightest bit, some of the tension draining away at Death's words. Some of the fear was draining away, as well, replaced by a growing interest in what the powerful being truly wanted with him. Because, well, he still couldn't bring himself to believe this was a mere social call. Death surely had far more important things to do than visit a lowly fallen seraph.


His head tilted again, watching with interest as Death went through the motions of very mortal actions, despite the power that radiated from him, clear even to Castiel's crippled angelic senses, despite the restraint that seemed to mask it. Yet, he found himself understanding it, true respect for this new Death growing. Despite the seriousness he still felt the situation deserved, his lips quirked into a not-quite-restrained smile.


Ah, yes, what he'd said flung back at him. Perhaps he'd been a bit too quick to relax, he thought, his gaze dropping away from Death's, unable to meet his piercing eyes. But, no. He pulled his bowed head up, chin raising in defiance of any judgment he felt Death was about to make against him. His eyes met Death's, his gaze steady, his grip tightening again on his blade as he replied simply, but with a force of conviction he'd not felt since that terrifying, dizzying, painful moment he'd agreed to let his own brother ride his vessel out of Hell in hope of stopping the force he'd help unleash upon the world.


“Yes.”


Burns? The flesh around Castiel's eyes crinkled with confusion as he regarded Death. Then it hit him as Death continued, his eyes going wide. His wings. Death was talking about the long-gone burns of hellfire on his wings, burns that had damaged the very roots, causing his feathers ever after to molt in as a midnight black speckled with gold instead of their former silver-chased white. He could feel his wings shift restlessly, as though suddenly feeling a gaze upon them, even though they were tucked safely away within the aetheric plane now.


Again, his chin lifted in defiance, even as Death continued to speak. He could not regret that change to his wings, the very feathers forever changed by raising Dean Winchester from Hell, just as he'd been forever changed by that act. He couldn't regret it, and he wasn't at all ashamed of it.


Being thought a fool...well, that he couldn't argue. He, himself, often felt he was a fool. A martyr, however, that one he might have objected to, and was certainly faintly offended by. Still, he held his peace, at least for now. It was, he felt, worth waiting to see what point Death was coming to, even if it was a slow, meandering path to that point so far.


When Death rose from the stump and approached, Castiel's grip shifted on his blade, purely out of instinct. The scent of burning greenery wafted from him as he came nearer, and the angel couldn't help the flash of amusement that the smell brought. Brief memories of Dean indulging in the very same thing at times he needed the relaxation he'd insisted to a confused Castiel it gave him brought the barest flicker of a smile to his lips. Yet another human affectation by this new Death, and yet another reason Castiel found himself slowly, warily, warming to the ultimate Reaper now standing before him.


Intention, Death now spoke of. Yes, he'd always had the best of intentions. Always. But, the humans had a saying, one that he'd thought of much of late. <i>'The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.'</i> The rest of Death's words washed over him, heard, but not really absorbed, not entirely. Instead, he was caught again thinking of all the wrong he'd done – the worst of choices with the best of intentions, always.


Suddenly, he wanted to talk to Claire about it all, though he also knew he'd never burden her with this, nor with much of the sins of his past that she was yet unaware of. Such a human thing, he thought to himself, the desire to unburden painful truths when such things, in his view, only caused more pain for the one who did the listening.


He blinked, eyes crinkling up and head tilting in confusion. Death...was bowing to him. To him? Bowing in...thanks? It was too much to grasp, though he ran it through his mind again, going over what had been said while his thoughts had momentarily been on Claire. Ah...Death, this predecessor to the stern, even frightening being he'd known before Dean had ended him... This Death seemed to genuinely admire him. There was no game here, no manipulation, the angel finally realized. Just genuine words, genuine expressions of a view of himself that he could never imagine anyone would have. Not even those humans he'd fallen for seemed to be able to hold him in the same high regard this new Death truly seemed to.


Castiel wasn't sure what to do with this understanding.


Nor was he sure what to do with Death's next words. <i>'Should you ever have need of me Castiel...I will come. Whether it be for a social visit or to tear your enemies asunder. For the forces you stand against are the enemies that I pursue.'</i> An offer of alliance, of...simple help, should he need it. An offer of...could he dare to call it something like friendship? He was beginning to feel that, perhaps, he could. He nodded slowly, accepting in that simple motion the offer that had been extended, his blue eyes warming with a blooming gratitude.


Slowly, he went through the motions of tucking his blade back up into the sleeve of his trenchcoat, the tiniest flare of grace keeping it hidden away until he might have need of it again. The act was intentional, displaying in the simplest and most direct manner he could conceive that he was willing to trust the powerful being standing before him.


Answers,” he said quietly, his rough, gravelly voice tinged with some emotion he couldn't quite name. “If I may,” he added, thinking back over the entire conversation. “You said... My wings. You said you didn't see them as.. 'the frayed wings of a broken soldier' yet... That's all they are. But I'd like to know how you see them, if you're...willing.” His wings...the one thing he had left, he felt, from before he'd been crippled, cut off from Heaven when he fell...and even those had been taken from him for far too long. He had them once again, and they were – mostly – as healed as they ever could be while he, a mere seraph, was cut off from Heaven.


Mind you, I have no regrets for them,” he hastened to add, pride creeping into his serious expression as he considered the midnight black of them as they were now. “I would let them burn in hellfire a thousand more times if it had been required to save Dean Winchester from Perdition.” That same pride crept into his rough voice, as he unconsciously straightened himself, lifting his chin just slightly, before he relaxed again with a sigh. “But sometimes, I miss what they were...before. What they represented...when I wasn't left crippled by Heaven's disapproval...”


DEATH--

I watched as the proud angel tucked his blade into the place he kept it sheathed; a gesture of peace. A smile tugged at the corner of my lips not only from that simple act; but from the smiles I'd managed to rouse from this tortured being. His personality belonged among my own. He belonged among the deities for keeping that mind of his. Were it that I had the knowledge--and the need--I would see him raised into celestial influence greater than he held now. But for now his perceptions were limited to this chaotic world...and he was all too willing to tie it's fate to his own.

"Answers," was the one word that kept me from leaving. I turned back to face the proud angel as he raised his chin and spoke to me. That was another admirable trait. No matter how bloodied he may be; he was never unbowed. "If I may," I waved through the air dismissively. I'm sure he recognized the very human gesture. I didn't require any formalities when it came to Castiel. We both knew our respective purpose; and the certainty of that existence came with a clarity of word. "You said...My wings." I listened carefully as he explained his query. I nodded my head in understanding when he told me that his wings were in fact, 'the wings of a broken soldier.' But there was no such thing for an Angel as true as he. As I said before...

...bloodied--but never unbowed.

"I would let them burn in hellfire a thousand more times if it had been required to save Dean Winchester from Perdition. But sometimes, I miss what they were...before. What they represented...when I wasn't left crippled by Heaven's disapproval...." I couldn't help but chuckle at the very audacity of his statement. I nodded my head a few times as I took another drag from my smoke.
"A thousand more times...were it anyone else I would chastise them for such brazen ignorance. But I can hear the truth in your words. Just as I hear the remorse." I gave him a 'come on, now,' sort of expression as I began closing the distance between us yet again.

"You are not remorseful of your actions; nor are you comfortable with Heaven's disapproval. Well I will purge your mind of such doubts Castiel. You are correct...Heaven would see you erased from existence for what you've done. Yet you and I both know that--as I said before--you've had only the best of intentions. So naturally your next question would be, 'Why?' Certainly at some point or another you must have wondered. 'Why would God--in all his wisdom--let me suffer when I have done what I believe to be Just? When I have abided by the good will of his Word? The answer is simple...he wouldn't.

In fact I would go so far as to say that your God may even love you, Castiel, as much as these mortals he so fascinates himself with."
I tossed my cigarillo aside and it landed at the base of the trunk. It didn't burn for more than a second before going out against the moist bark. I turned back to Castiel and shrugged my shoulders. "My predecessor allowed one of our own to be possessed by Azazel. The young Winchesters may know him better as the, 'Yellow-Eyed Demon.' Just as criminal as Azazel's actions was my predecessor's Failure to prevent it.

Therefore, I must arrive at the conclusion that even I am not impervious to the schemes of others. When deities grow old they grow complacent; and your God is just as old as I...perhaps. If not younger...hm."
More memories rushing back. Thousands of years brushing by my subconscious in mere seconds. Filling my mind with knowledge and wisdom untold. I turned my attention back on Castiel--doing well to maintain my focus. "My point being; Your God and Heaven are two separate things. His power and his eye will always be superior to their own--no matter how they may strive to scheme beneath his gaze.

As per your Wings...I believe that I can provide you that answer and at the same time prove my point. It's a gamble--not even I know for certain what or why your God's intentions are...but I'm never wrong."
I raised my hands from my pockets and straightened my coat. I was still getting the hang of this whole Omnipotence thing. I pointed at Castiel and gave him a stern look. "Don't move. This might take me a bit." With that I lowered my hand--and vanished. Castiel was left standing in the field alone.

Thirty seconds went by. Then a minute. Then two. After ninety seconds the sound of my feet crushing through the leaves could be heard behind the righteous angel. When Castiel turned to look he would find me approaching him with a smile. My right hand was in my pocket. My left hand was raised up to eye-level, palm upwards, with my fingers curled in like talons. Hovering above my makeshift claw was an orb of dazzlingly bright light. A rainbow of gorgeous colors flittered over the surface of the energy every few seconds--and it emitted a constant low hum.

"That brothers of yours--Raphael, was it?" I shook my head and rolled my eyes before pressing on. "Even in Death he fought tooth and nail to say his piece. My word..a very opinionated creature." I stepped closer to Castiel and tilted my head as I prepared an explanation. "Beautiful, isn't it?" Before the young angel could answer I moved my hand away from the orb. It hovered in front of my body as if held on some invisible leash. I spoke casually as if our exchange was something that occured every other day.

"Normally when an Angel dies--any Angel at all--I ferry them over and 'Let God sort 'em out.'" I paused just to chuckle at my own use of the human phrase. I think it was in an action move I saw once. "Their soul belongs to me until I place it where it belongs...each destination unique to the soul. But the Grace is a part of your White Kingdom. I have no claim to it...and so it is sent back into the vast power of your God. That power is torn from the one who wielded it. Taken from space, from time, from the mortal plane entirely. It is always so--such a great power must be accounted for. Yet with the intention to reignite your faith in your God I went searching for an ArchAngel's power and 'lo--

--an ArchAngel's power I have found."
I stepped forward and the light moved with me. In perfect synchronization it levitated in front of my chest--right between the two feet of space that remained between myself and the angel. "Your God is one of the few entities in existence that I truly respect...as are you. Cherish the relationship you have with him. As he clearly does the same for you." I raised my right hand from my pocket--and pushed at the empty space in front of me. Without a word of warning the orb of light moved forward; and sank itself into Castiel's chest.

The power that would surge through his veins was nothing like anything he'd felt before. He was now of the highest choir; one of the greatest of his breed. Every Angel in Heaven would feel and know this rise to power. They may not know from where it comes; but they will know who bears such tremendous influence. He was now of a class that only I, God, or The Darkness could truly defeat. But more importantly would be the rejuvenation of his mind and body. His wings would flourish with a new strength; a new light. He was Castiel.

Rebellious ArchAngel.

"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast...." I trailed off with a light chuckle once Castiel was done basking in his newfound glory. "I have given you the power to stand up for what you truly believe in, Castiel. So don't waste your strength wondering if it is what Heaven would or wouldn't want. That power--God's power--is your proof that it doesn't matter." I looked over my shoulder--as if I heard someone calling out to me. It was almost certainly Sera. I turned back to Castiel with a casual shrug. "Alas...our time is up."

I stepped past the proud ArchAngel and spoke as I did so.
"If you come across the Winchester boys I'd like a word with them. I have a message to deliver--" I stopped walking and turned around to smile at Castiel. "--don't worry. The same sort of message I delivered here...although I don't think I'll be as generous." I winked one last time before turning away and reaching for my case of cigarillos. "Oh and...I'd like to speak with Meg."

I could almost hear Castiel's heart drop against the ground.

"You have my Word Castiel...I only wish to talk. The three of us have quite a lot to discuss concerning recent events, I would think." I stopped at the edge of the clearing and reached out to my left. My fingers curled around the black shaft of my Scythe which seemed to manifest without so much as a sound. "I'd be a happy man if you survive until our next meeting." With a passing breeze my body disappeared; leaving Castiel with his own thoughts.


CASTIEL--

Death approached him once more, and he stood his ground this time, no longer afraid of the powerful being...though, still wary. He didn't even try to deny Death's observation. Yes, he felt remorse. But remorse wasn't regret, not exactly. As for ignorance? Well, he was an angel – a fallen seraph – certainly not gifted with the vast near-omnipotence a being like Death was. The very human-like expression, however, made Castiel's lips quirk despite himself.


No, of course he wasn't comfortable with Heaven's..disapproval – though that word was far kinder than what Heaven as a whole generally felt about him. He'd been created to obey, to serve. He had chosen differently, but that never stopped it from being incredibly uncomfortable for him. He was just an angel, he'd not been created with the independence the archangels had; he'd never been intended to need it. Yet, it had happened to him all the same.


He was a broken tool, expendable - worthless. The only reason, he felt, Heaven had stopped trying to end his existence was purely down to it having become too costly to continue to try. He might be fallen, broken, expendable, crippled...but he wasn't beaten. Those days, dark and grim still when they loomed in his memory, were long gone. He had reasons to keep fighting, now. Now...when he was required to go to war, he knew who and what he was fighting for.


He had wondered why his Father had created him the way he was, to ultimately rebel and disobey, to choose against Heaven when that choice needed to be made, to choose in humanity's favour. And why, if he, like his brethren, had been commanded to love humanity as they had loved their Father, then why, when Castiel had done just that, he had been made to suffer for it repeatedly. Even to the point of suffered repeated resurrections, where the cycle only repeated once more, somehow growing worse each time. It was a thought that was often on his mind, though he rarely let it show. But...Death had seen those innermost thoughts, anyway.


His head tilted, and he regarded Death with open interest. There was little point hiding anything from this powerful being, for he would see straight to the heart of the angel, anyway. Castiel recognized this, now. He'd never really thought to question his Father's love for him. At least, he thought he hadn't. But, as Death spoke of it, he realized he had, somewhere deep within. He had wondered, and doubted, and finally denied. He still, despite all his doubts, loved his Father. But, at some point, he <i>had</i> started to doubt his Father's love for him. Hearing from Death himself that he believed God still loved Castiel, well... He found it meant a lot to him,


Castiel quirked a brow at Death, trying to puzzle out his words. What could he possibly be planning that would be a gamble...and that involved the angel's wings? His head tilted to the side, an unconscious motion he often employed when he was confused, and he was <i>very</i> confused at the moment. <i>"Don't move. This might take me a bit,"</i> Death said, pointing a finger while looking quite stern. Castiel opened his mouth to speak, to ask what was going on, when...Death simply vanished.


The sudden absence of the powerful presence was almost like a punch to the gut to the angel. But, while his eyes darted about, searching, as though he might be able to somehow see where Death had gone, he obeyed his last command and remained still as only an angel could, and in place. While he remained still, his mind raced. Death had given every indication that he wished no ill will toward Castiel. So, what could he possibly be planning? But, nothing came to him in the entire time the being was gone.


Suddenly, the feeling of Death's return swept over the angel, only barely preceding the sound of footsteps crunching through long-dead leaves behind him. He turned, slowly, cautiously, wondering at the sense of something else along with Death's almost overwhelming sense of power. Something familiar, and yet...strange, at the same time. Castiel's eyes widened, not so much watching Death's approach as what he held, bits of rainbow colours reflected in the depths of his blue eyes as he stared. He knew instantly what it was, though how it could be contained so easily escaped him. More puzzling to him, though, was...how it could even exist.


Castiel nodded mutely to the question, even though he suspected it had been rhetorical in nature. Raphael, the brother he had killed, never realizing he was upsetting a delicate balance, never imagining that there had been four archangels for a reason, and that there had been something out of balance ever since. He winced, just slightly, at the mention of Raphael's death, before pushing the guilt away. Now was not the time to indulge in such things, he sensed. Something very important was about to happen; he could feel it, even if he couldn't imagine what it would be, an even if Death spoke as though these events were commonplace.


Again, Castiel only nodded silently. It <i>was</i> beautiful. He'd never seen grace before that hadn't had the essence of the angel it belonged to enfolding it, not like this. Not even when his own was taken, and then eventually returned, had it looked anything like this. Even then, his stolen grace had retained some portion of his own essence, his being. But this...this was different. This was the raw power of an archangel's grace, and without an real trace of that archangel's essence left to it at all. It had been stripped raw, and hovered there now, waiting for...something to come.


He listened to Death's explanation closely, though his eyes never left that glowing, pulsing, flickering ball of light. He couldn't help himself, really. He stared, enrapt, the grace calling out somehow to his own, like something lost that had finally been found. <i>"Yet with the intention to reignite your faith in your God I went searching for an ArchAngel's power and 'lo-- an ArchAngel's power I have found."</i> No matter how hard he fought to dismiss such a silly, inane notion, he couldn't quite make the thought that the shining bit of grace hovering now in the small space between them was <i>his</i> and had always, somehow, been meant to be his.


Slowly, he forced his eyes away from that shining orb, up to meet Death's. <i>"Your God is one of the few entities in existence that I truly respect...as are you. Cherish the relationship you have with him. As he clearly does the same for you."</i> Castiel had only the movement of Death's hand as warning, before the raw grace moved forward, and his world exploded in a rainbow of colour, before whiting out entirely.


He could see nothing but white that sometimes turned almost golden, and sometimes shone with a silvery edge to it. White and white and white, and nothing beyond it. Within the white, however, was the raw, painful rush of power flooding him, changing him within, adjusting and melding with his own grace. He was utterly lost to it. It could have been minutes, days, eons. His usual precise awareness of time was lost in this place within.


Slowly, awareness of the world outside himself began to return. With it came the awareness of his own vessel...something that he now knew more certainly than ever before was truly <i>his</i>, that had been crafted for him over and over by his Father, lovingly, a gift for his service, and not the punishment he'd thought for so long. He could feel his wings, invisible, immaterial, yet stretching wide with the power that raced through them, healing them, restoring them, and yet...he somehow simply <i>knew</i> leaving the gold-chased midnight-black feathers he'd come to wear with pride.


Shivering, he forced himself to focus on Death, seeing him with new eyes, new sight that dazzled and distracted him as much as the strange-familiar feeling of the power thrumming through his very being. Now that he was no longer trapped within by the changes that had taken place, he realized it hadn't actually been all that long, and that Death had waited patiently, watching over him until the process had completed.


<i>"I have given you the power to stand up for what you truly believe in, Castiel. So don't waste your strength wondering if it is what Heaven would or wouldn't want. That power--God's power--is your proof that it doesn't matter." </i>


Death's words freed him almost as much as the warmth of the power singing within him. He was, for the first time, truly free of Heaven. No longer did being cut off from the Host cripple him. He was an archangel, he was a power unto himself, and not even being fallen could change that now. He could protect those he considering his charges – no, his <i>family</i> – in ways he could never have even hoped for before. He could keep Claire safe, should the need arise. He could defeat whatever was coming for Meg, and protect her and the cambion child she carried. Oh, it might not be easy. But now...he had a chance. He was no longer Heaven's broken, expendable tool.


He was free.


He nodded, then, to Death. He would deliver the message to Winchesters. Maybe not immediately, not until he was more sure of himself and the power that rested within him...but he would do as Death bid him, at least in this.


<i>"Oh and...I'd like to speak with Meg." </i>


At this, Castiel froze. Not Meg. Not even gratitude for what had been given to him was enough to make him give up Meg, or the child she carried. His hands curled into fists, the surprise at the power that rushed up in answer to his sudden rage enough to make him gasp. <i>"You have my Word Castiel...I only wish to talk. The three of us have quite a lot to discuss concerning recent events, I would think."</i> The rage, the need to protect, it vanished almost as quickly as it had come, and the press of power along with it, leaving him breathless.


<i>"I'd be a happy man if you survive until our next meeting,"</i> said Death, before vanishing and leaving the clearing empty of all but the newly created archangel. Despite the rollercoaster of emotion, he found himself laughing at the parting words. He sighed once the laughter had finally died away, his thoughts drawn back to Meg. She was waiting for him. He needed to get back to her.


It took barely a thought and only the slightest flex of his wings, and he was back at the academy's main cabin. He paused, feeling out the changes within himself, the ease with which he'd been able to exercise what had so recently been a major expenditure of power. Shaking his head, his lip quirking into a lopsided smile, he slipped into the main cabin to gather what he'd originally come for...grateful that it seemed to be a rare time when no one was actually about. Just now, he didn't want to face anyone for fear that they might be able to sense the difference in him.


No one but Meg, that is...