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Stairway From Zion 1b/6 (SPN, R)

Title: Stairway From Zion
Rating: So R
Warnings: Mentions of torture. Violence, war scenes, cursing, drug withdrawal, medical experimentation, species prejudice, sex. 
Wordcount: 63k (oh my god what is wrong with me)
Summary: Orwellian AU. During the same raid that had Castiel crashing through the windshield of Dean’s getaway car, Dean loses both Sam and Anna to the hands of the angels. Human and angel should hate each other as circumstances dictate, but life has a funny way of changing the preordained path.

~*~

1.3: Castiel


Grace is required for everyone in the Republic: one pill daily, no exceptions. Castiel’s followed this rule faithfully every day of his life, never even considering disobedience. The punishment for disobedience—punishment that Anael will face—is harsh, but that’s not why he keeps to the path. It’s because that Grace sharpens the world until there’s nothing but black and white, and he can’t imagine life without it.

But whether he wants it or not, this is life without Grace. And it is absolutely, completely Love in every sense of the word. Castiel wakes up with his mouth dry and cramps racking his lower stomach. His head feels like someone’s trying to split open, and even the dim light from the lamps makes his eyes water and burn.

There’s a short woman sitting next to him as he painfully opens his eyes. She turns to look at him, her eyes wary and watchful. “Thirsty?” she says, and Castiel manages to give a short nod. She fills a glass with water and tips it so he can drink. He takes a few swallows of water before leaning back.

“How long?” he manages, not sure at all if she’ll answer.

The woman runs her hand through her long blonde hair. “Since you got here? A bit more than a day.” She sits for a moment in silence and then says quietly, “How bad is the pain?” He doesn’t reply, and she adds, “I’ve never taken Grace, but I hear the side effects are pretty bad.”

Castiel forces himself to pull a deep, steady breath, ignoring the stabbing pain from his ribs and the cramps. Pain is irrelevant; this is more important. They’ve known for a while now that there was a rebel community outside the Republic’s control, but this is far more than they imagined. This woman must be at least twenty years old, and she’s never taken Grace. That means that the roots of the rebellion have been there for much longer than they’ve thought. “You’ve never…” he rasps, and then breaks out coughing as his still-dry throat protests. Each cough sends a sharp jab of pain along his ribs.

“Nope,” the woman says. “Surprise, huh?”

He doesn’t bother to answer that, focusing on moving instead. His arms are still tied down, but the straps around his legs are gone, letting him curl into a more comfortable position.

“So,” the woman says as he moves. “I can’t keep calling you ‘creepy angel guy’ in my head forever. You have a name? It’s got to end in ‘el,’ right? You guys were never big on creativity.”

Castiel looks at her through bleary eyes and considers it for a moment. This is harmless information, and it could only serve to buy him trust if he answers. He weighs the pros and cons for a moment more before the ache in his head stops his thoughts. “Castiel,” he says at last.

“Castiel. That’s a nice name. Well, it’s an angel name, but it’s a pretty nice one, I guess. I’m Jo.”

Jo. Castiel glances at her face and fixes her image in his memory through the pain in his head. Jo, mid-twenties, female, shoulder-length blonde hair—he manages that much before his headache forces him to stop. “Where am I?” he demands.

Jo raises an eyebrow. “You don’t waste time, huh.” As Castiel remains silent, she says, “You’re in no shape to plan an escape attempt, so don’t bother. Which reminds me…” She unclips a small black box from her waist and enters a message into it, nodding as it beeps in response. “Dean wanted to know when you woke up. I think he wants to yell at you or something.”

Dean. Dean Winchester. The name is vaguely familiar in his head. Castiel closes his eyes and summons up what he can. Zachariah showing him the case files. Crowley, Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, the warehouse. Anael. And waking up, when by all rights he should be dead.

Castiel opens his eyes and searches the woman’s face. She has a strange look in her eyes that he can’t identify even with his comprehensive training in primitive facial movements, and right now it seems like too much effort to try. He opens his mouth to say something else, but stops as dizzy black spots sweep across his vision. The cramps grow worse by the second, and it takes all his training to substitute for Grace and keep him from screaming.

A cramp wracks his stomach, and he finds sour heat filling his mouth as he vomits. Jo’s there with a wastebasket to catch some of it, but the rest of it dribbles down the side of his mouth and onto the floor. Castiel slumps over the side of the bed for a moment, his entire body feeling unnaturally flushed and hot.

A rough, warm cloth pats his chin, wiping the worst of the vomit away. Castiel doesn’t look up, but some leftover Grace in him lets him analyze Jo’s hands, both of them, on the wastebasket. The hands holding the cloth belong to someone else. “Shit,” a familiar male voice says. “Okay, man. Easy. Deep breaths.”

Castiel lets himself be pushed back onto the bed like a child, unable to muster up the energy to resist. Dean looks down at him with a small frown, the cloth held in his free hand. Castiel can’t read his gaze, and Dean’s body language gives away no hints to what’s going through his head. Some last remnant of energy in Castiel forces him to meet Dean’s gaze, to try to understand the man’s motives.

“Maybe we should sedate him,” Jo says.

“You can’t, not without Croat to ride the detox out. He’ll puke anyway and choke in his sleep if you do,” Dean says, not looking away. “Anna almost asphyxiated her first night here when I tried that.”

“So maybe we should give him a shot of Croat?”

Dean shakes his head. “No.”

“Why not? It’ll ease the pain.”

“It’s not a good idea,” Dean says, his voice flat.

“Damn it, Dean! You want him to go through detox solo?”

Dean doesn’t look away. It’s a long moment before the tension finally breaks. Dean places a hand on Castiel’s forehead and brushes his sweaty hair to the side. He sighs and closes his eyes briefly before opening them again. “Look, Jo,” he says, his voice much stronger, “the aftereffects of Croat addiction are much worse than a few hours of pain. It’s better to ride it out.” He hesitates, and then Castiel can feel Dean's hands on his wrists, undoing the bands that hold him to the bed.

"What're you doing?" Jo says, sounding wary. "You know Mom said that we shouldn't—"

"Well, I'm assuming that since we've already gone to all this trouble, that the idea is to not let him die his first night," Dean says, his voice harsh and containing an undertone that Castiel can only identify as resentment. "Besides, how exactly is he supposed to plan an escape like this?"

When Jo next speaks, her voice is much softer. "Dean," she says. Castiel approach Dean warily, almost as if he's a wounded wild animal, down but not out and still infinitely dangerous. "What're you planning to do?"

"You think I'm going to torture him?" Dean says, not looking at her. "Use all the tricks I picked up from the demons? Take revenge for Sam?"

There's a heartbeat of silence. It stretches on, and Castiel knows there's an entire conversation going on without a single word being said. There's something that he can't understand going on here, despite all his training in primitive psychology.

"Dean," Jo says finally as she places a hand on his arm. "I know that ever since your dad died, you—”

Dean explodes into motion, shoving her hand away. "Don't mention Dad," he says between clenched teeth. "How many times do I have to say this, Jo? I'm fine."

“You're not fine," Jo says, standing her ground. "It's been barely two months; no one expected you to volunteer for the meet! Even Bobby thought it was weird, that you would deal with the demons so soon after John's—"

"Shut up!" Dean snaps. His voice is grating enough that even Castiel knows that it's filled with the emotion anger. "Damn you, Jo, not now!"

"Shouting's not going to change the fact that you need help!"

"Oh yeah? And I suppose you're the one qualified to talk me through my woes? If you haven't noticed, Jo, we're living in an underground bunker trying to beat an impossible enemy. Oh, and did I mention that our best source of information and my brother are in the hands of said enemy? Now is not the time to get my head shrunk."

Castiel knows from his psychology texts that extreme banal urges cause irrational actions, effectively mimicking the effects of Croat. This is good in battle, because individuals afflicted with extreme emotion are easier to take down than opponents with Grace. In this particular case, though, Castiel thinks that the advised action would be to stay down and stay quiet, especially in such a weakened state. Despite his best intentions, though, Castiel finds himself curled up as another cramp shakes him and he ends up vomiting again. There's nothing left in his stomach, but he gags anyway.

The two humans spring into motion. Jo picks up the wastepaper basket again while Dean's arms wrap around his shoulder. Castiel tenses and closes his eyes in anticipation: the logical action here would be for Dean to incapacitate him. That's what the angels do; they take down their opponent while the opportunity is available. Instead, Dean's hand rubs circles along his back in a slow, rhythmic motion. "That's it," Dean says over his head. "Let it all out."

"How long does this last?" Jo's voice asks.

"Couple days, give or take." One of Dean's hands slides from his back to his forehead. "He's running a fever."

Castiel opens his eyes. He can see Dean's face hovering just in front of his, his eyebrows knitted and a small frown on his face. This isn't how it should be going. Illogical, it's completely illogical. He could be—is—dangerous. They should take him out while they can, because if and when Castiel gets back on his feet, he'll show them the Father's mercy.

"Right," Jo says decisively. “Well, I’m going to give him some Croat to ride it out. We can deal with the addictions later.” She looks at Dean, who sputters in protest but abruptly cuts it off as he looks down at the trash can.

Castiel tenses at the word Croat. No. No. Croat is poison. It’s worse than poison; those who touch it fall from the Father’s sight, become shadows of their own selves. “No,” he mumbles. As Jo fumbles with the needle, he says in a louder voice, “No!”

“What?” Dean says, looking down at him.

“No Croat,” Castiel says, working hard to make sure each word comes out clearly. He reaches out and grips Dean’s wrist hard, fighting the dizziness that threatens to swamp him.

“He’s not in his right mind,” Jo argues. “Look, Castiel,” she says, her voice softening. “A bit of Croat will help you through the worst of the pain. It’s just a small dose, so you won’t get addicted.”

“No,” Castiel says.

“I’m sorry, Castiel, but you’ll thank me later—”

“No,” Dean says, catching her wrist as she moves to inject Castiel. “He said no.”

“He’s not rational,” Jo says. “He’s suffering and in pain!”

Dean shrugs. “If he’s a masochist, that’s his problem.”

Jo frowns. “You can’t seriously be that heartless, Dean.”

Dean laughs harshly. “I’m glad that you have such a great opinion of me. Look, he doesn’t want it, okay? It’s against their code, or something. Anna was the same.”

There’s a moment of silence. Castiel glances at Jo and sees that her mouth is slightly open as she stares at Dean. “You and Anna—” she begins, then stops. She bites her lip and glances from Dean to Castiel and back.

Dean stares back at her, and Jo inhales sharply. “Get out,” Dean says.

“Dean—”

“I said get out.”

Dean doesn’t say anything more, but there’s a clatter of metal as Jo sets the needle down. She leaves quietly, closing the door with a click behind her. Dean settles down next to Castiel, breathing hard.

“Anna knew you,” he said suddenly. “She told me not to shoot you. You’re going to give me a reason for that?”

Castiel closes his eyes and concentrates on breathing.

“You’re just going to sit there and ignore me?” Dean asks.

Castiel nods. Dean huffs softly.

“Well,” he says. “I’ll give you points for honesty, then. I’ll take off a million for Sam, though.” He lets out a low growl. “Gabriel says that he doesn’t know where the Nest of Love is. What kind of fucked up name is that, anyway?”

An appropriate one, Castiel thinks distantly.

“I don’t know if you do. Gabriel was an archangel. I’m guessing that you’re not, huh?”

Castiel says nothing. A long moment goes by before Dean speaks again. “Damn it,” he mutters. “Fucking angels.”

Despite the epithet, his grip is gentle as he tilts Castiel’s chin and wipes his face clean. Castiel doesn’t have the strength to pull away, but he keeps his eyes closed against an expected blow. It doesn’t come.

~*~

Castiel drifts in and out of a strange half-doze for the next few days. He vomits a few more times, knows that he’s soiled himself once or twice. He has dreams, strange dreams that he can’t quite separate from reality. Gabriel comes, but Castiel can’t focus very well to hear what he’s saying. Dean’s there as well. A distant part of Castiel’s mind tries to measure the heat of Dean’s skin and verify his earlier conclusion, but he can’t seem to organize his thoughts long enough to reach any sort of conclusion.

He hears Anael’s voice, too. Not often. It’s like a half-imagined, half-real phantom at the edge of his consciousness. Reality and imagination jumble together, mixed with a heady dose of pain, vomiting, and cramps. Sometimes he wonders if he’s dying, and knows that it’s all wrong: he’s not meant to wonder. Grace paints a straight line, with no room for maneuvering. But now he’s off the path, and he doesn’t know where he’s going.

Angels were never meant to fall from grace.

~*~

As if from a dream, Castiel wakes up.

There’s a vital difference between now and all the times before: there’s no nausea. No splitting headache. There’s a dull ache in his ribs and wrist, but compared to the agony of the past few days it’s nothing.

He opens his eyes. He’s still in the same room as before, but some things have drastically changed. For one, he’s not restrained anymore, although the door is closed and probably locked as well. His clothes are different as well; someone’s taken off the tattered remnants of his uniform and replaced it with a plain blue shirt and drawstring pants. There’s bandaging around his ribs and wrist, but the wrappings are neat and clean. All in all, he’s in much better shape than he was when he was first captured.

He feels weak enough that it takes him two tries to push himself to a sitting position. Dizziness swamps him, and it takes him a moment or two to regain his composure. He braces himself on the bed for support, noting distantly that the ties for the straps are gone as well. He swings his feet over the side of the bed and tries to stand.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Castiel looks up to see Gabriel in the doorway, and he straightens his posture instinctively. It takes him a moment to remember that this is a renegade, a traitor of the Republic. “What do you want?” he says, his hand dropping to his waist for a moment before remembering that his weapons are gone.

“Relax,” Gabriel says. “I would think that your current situation is infinitely preferable to the kind clutches of the Nest of Love.” He comes a few steps nearer to the bed and lounges against a table nonchalantly. He’s eating some sort of red thing that Castiel can’t identify. “Well, you’re alive, even if you look like shit. Feeling any better?”

Castiel watches him warily for a moment. When he doesn’t reply, Gabriel gives a short, sardonic laugh. “Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Angel stoicism and all that. I gave up all that a long time ago, believe me. The human way’s more fun, although I don’t think so much of the demon way.” He shrugs. “Well, when you have one, you’ve got the other.”

Castiel remains silent, his eyes flickering around as he searches for a way out. “There isn’t one,” Gabriel says, correctly interpreting his look. “And you’re in no shape to launch a grand escape, anyway. Not without some decent food in you. You look like you’re going to fall over any moment, kid.” He fumbles in his pocket for a moment before pulling out a plastic-wrapped stick. Stripping off the plastic, he reveals a round red core, which he offers to Castiel. “Lollipop? Not very nutritious, but tasty.”

Castiel stares at it blankly for a moment. What type of ploy is this? He’s prepared for physical and psychological torture, and no doubt that this is the latter. He’s a little thrown off by the lack of physical torture: while he’s in much worse physical condition than he was before his capture, he doesn’t think that it’s the result of intentional torture. No doubt that they’re planning a psychological route in. He tilts his head and studies it for a moment, calculating his odds. He’s too weak right now to resist them, whatever they’re planning. If he goes willingly, perhaps they’ll consider him to be more pliable and loosen their guard.

“No?” Gabriel shrugs and pops the red core into his own mouth. “Your loss. No doubt you could use something more filling, anyway.” His eyes flicker up and down Castiel’s form for a moment. “Want to get out of this room?” He holds out a hand.

Castiel comes to a quick decision: he’ll go along for now and try to find his wings. In the meantime, he’ll collect information to escape with at the best opportunity. He takes Gabriel’s hand. The renegade pulls him to his feet and waits as Castiel steadies himself. “So!” Gabriel says as he opens the door to the room by keying in the numbers on the keypad. He blocks Castiel’s view of his hand with his body, stepping back only when the door’s open. “Your sixteenth day in a rebel hot zone. Thoughts, suggestions, comments?”

Castiel doesn’t answer, his focus taxed as he tries to both stay on his feet and observe his surroundings. The former is far more difficult than he expected; there’s a terrible weakness in his limbs that keeps him from utilizing all his concentration.

They emerge from the room into a brightly lit hallway, cluttered with boxes and other random paraphernalia. Castiel guesses that the base is underground, although some parts of it could extend to the more disreputable areas of Oldtown—the parts ruled by the demon underground. A few other rebels squeeze past them as Gabriel leads them confidently down a series of twists and turns. Castiel expects the hostile looks they give him, but he makes a note of the sideways glances they give Gabriel as well. He’s not trusted here among the renegades.

A few more turns, and Gabriel leads him into a larger room filled with large tables. At one end of the room is a table with trays of multicolored objects in them. Gabriel fills two trays full of different items. Sitting Castiel down at one end of a table, he slaps a tray down in front of him. “There you go. Just like the Nest of Joy used to make, huh?”

Castiel stares at him and then at the objects. Gabriel gives a snort. “It won’t kill you. Tastes like shit, but hey, considering the crap they fed you lot in the Host it’s a huge step up.”

Even with the hint, it takes Castiel another moment to realize that that’s food. Multicolored, bright food, very different from the prepackaged angel fare. Castiel threads his fingers together, trying to ignore the strange sensations coming from his stomach. They’re trying to wear him down. It’s not a tactic he’s familiar with, but the basic response is the same: ignore it.

“I didn’t know Ellen gave the okay to take him out of his room.”

The voice behind him saves him from the temptation. Castiel looks up to see Dean standing at the other side of the table, his arms crossed as he stares at Castiel. Castiel feels his heart skip a beat and grits his teeth as he presses a hand to his chest. This is a sign that he’s losing Grace. He’s losing control.

Gabriel gives Dean a wave, but Dean’s expression doesn’t change. “Dean!” Gabriel says. “Join us?”

“Nope. You’re supposed to be in the briefing room, Gabriel,” Dean says.

“Was just going there, but I couldn’t neglect our guest, now could I?” Gabriel says.

Dean grunts. “What’re you doing with him, Gabriel?” he says, his voice hard.

“I care about all my brothers,” Gabriel says as his lips curve up. “I’m giving him the grand tour. Also, now that he’s not dead, trying to ensure that he stays not dead.”

The aggression in Dean’s stance increases. “You weren’t supposed to be in his room. How’d you know that he was awake, anyway.”

“I have my ways,” Gabriel says with a shrug. He steps over the bench and motions for Castiel to follow. Castiel finds himself unwilling to rise, but he does so anyway: it’s the tactical decision, the right one.

“Where are you going?” Dean demands.

“I thought I was wanted in the briefing room?”

“And you’re bringing him?”

“Why not? It’s not like we’re actually discussing anything important,” Gabriel says.

Dean’s eyes darken at the statement, and Castiel finds himself wondering at the motivation behind the action. He tries his best to analyze Dean’s posture for clues, but it’s strangely difficult. Castiel shakes his head, trying to force the cloud of fog out of his head. He can’t afford to be weak, not now. Dean notices the motion; when Castiel next looks up, Dean’s studying him with a frown. “He looks thinner,” he says.

“Yeah. Hence, the food,” Gabriel says, waving a hand at the trays.

Dean hesitates before turning away. “Not my problem,” he says.

“So what am I supposed to do with the kid here?” Gabriel asks his retreating back. “I can’t just let him wander around.”

“You should return me to the Republic,” Castiel interrupts before Gabriel can reply. His stomach twists slightly as both Gabriel and Dean train their gazes on him. It’s a strange physical reaction that he’s never had before, and repetition would be inadvisable.

“Don’t think so, no. We just spent two weeks detoxing your sorry ass. Plus, they’ll kill you if you return,” Dean points out.

Castiel looks back at him steadily, working hard to keep his breathing calm and steady. It’s surprisingly difficult—adrenaline is something he understands, but this is different. His body works against him, conspiring to quicken his breathing and heartrate in ways that Castiel can’t control. He doesn’t understand Dean’s motivations here, but understanding is not his priority. He needs to return to the Nest of Peace. He absolutely has to, because the longer he stays here without Grace, the further he’ll be drawn into sin.

“That is something I can accept,” he says finally, and he watches as the lines around Dean’s eyes deepen. He can’t even begin to unravel the reason behind the action, but he’s saved from having to do so as Gabriel gives out a short huff and slaps Castiel on the shoulder.

“Actually, I think the others would be interested to know that our guest’s woken up,” he says. “Why don’t we all head down to SR together?”

Dean’s lips thin and tighten as he gives a curt nod and walks away. Castiel’s stomach does that strange twisting motion again, and Castiel twitches involuntarily as a wave of…tightening…races up his spine. Breathe, he reminds himself, closing his eyes.

~*~

Somehow, Castiel manages to stand up and move a sizable distance without falling over despite the hated weakness in his limbs. After a short walk, they arrive in a large, brightly lit room. He’s scrutinized by at least a dozen pairs of eyes, demon and human alike.

Evidently, this is SR.

“Heeeere’s Castiel!” Gabriel announces loudly behind him, and Castiel can see the others’ faces contort in displeasure. He spares a thought briefly to analyze the disparity of this situation: Gabriel Fell many years ago, yet it’s clear that the rebels don’t truly accept him as one of them.

“Cut the theatrics,” a low male voice growls. Castiel looks at the speaker: a short, bearded man with a cap on his head. Castiel watches as Gabriel slides smoothly ahead of him, giving an elaborate shrug as he does so.

“Hey, you said come, I came. Wow, that sounds really dirty.” Gabriel pauses for a moment. “Anyway, salacious wordplay aside, I live to serve. When I can, of course.”

“He looks like he’s about to fall apart,” a female voice says. A woman leans forward, eyes scrutinizing Castiel intently.

“Sixteen days of detox do that to a person,” Gabriel says, waving his candy around. “I don’t know, something about the puking—”

“Shut up,” the woman orders. She focuses her gaze on Castiel. “Sit down before you fall over.”

Someone pushes a chair out for him. Castiel stares at it for a moment, trying to work through the angles to this situation. His head feels light, and despite his best efforts to focus, nothing is clear anymore. He’s Graceless and alone.

“Sit,” the woman repeats, and Castiel gives up the fight. He sits.

“Well,” a harsh female voice says decisively, “enough of this tiptoeing around. Harvelle, I’m going to add another demand to the list. We want the angel.”

“Excuse me?” the woman, Harvelle, asks.

The other woman stands up, her lips twisted back to bare her teeth. “You heard me. Winchester’s incompetence lost us some of our best agents. You owe us.”

“Owe you?” Harvelle says. “Whoa, don’t you think you’re getting ahead of yourself, Lilith? How do we know it wasn’t your idiocy that brought the angels down on us?”

“Winchester’s the one who chose the meeting place,” Lilith says. “But hey, I’ll stop pointing fingers right now. Give me the angel and we’ll call it even.”

“Whoa now, keep your panties on,” Gabriel says, stepping forward. “Who do you think you are? Nobody’s giving you anything, demon.”

“You keep out of this,” Lilith snaps at him, the expression in her eyes not unlike some of the Father’s most vengeful angels. “We haven’t forgotten what you did, Gabriel, so shut your trap or you’re next.”

“Ooh, I’m so scared,” Gabriel says.

“Enough! You’re not getting the angel,” someone says, and Castiel looks up to find the most unlikely advocate—Dean Winchester. “If you wanted him, Lilith, maybe you should’ve been quicker to say so.”

“Why, Winchester,” Lilith purrs, but her eyes are flat and hard. “Of course you have a right to him. After all, he’s the one who captured your brother, who no doubt is currently enjoying the fine hospitality of the Nest of Love this very instant.”

“Lilith,” Dean says, his voice dangerous.

“I’m sure they’re treating him like the Father himself on the off-chance that he’ll tell them everything,” Lilith says. “Isn’t that nice?”

“You shut your mouth, Lilith,” Dean snarls.

“Or what?” Lilith retorts. “Don’t think for a second that I’ve forgotten your debt to us. Or maybe you’d like to visit Hell again?”

Castiel sees Dean’s fists clench and knows that in the next second, he will erupt into violence. Castiel moves without thinking—his arms wrap around Dean’s shoulders and pull him backwards, preventing him from lunging at Lilith. With the last of his strength, he pushes Dean into his chair and puts his hands on Dean’s shoulders. “Don’t move,” Castiel growls into his ear.

There’s silence from the room behind them. Dean stares up at him, his chest heaving up and down. “Get your hands off me,” Dean says very quietly, not looking away.

Castiel blinks and lets go, his hands falling away. He stares at Dean for a moment, feeling—wait. No. Not feeling; angels don’t feel. But he is puzzled, his equilibrium thrown out of balance by his own actions. He swallows hard and forces himself to keep his face blank, refusing to acknowledge it.

“Well,” Harvelle says after a moment. “We’ll do this the civilized way, then. Demons, keep out of this. Those in favor of tossing the angel to the demons, raise your hands.”

Castiel doesn’t allow himself to turn around and count the hands. It makes no difference either way, should make no difference either way. “And those against?” Harvelle asks from behind him. There’s a pregnant pause, and then Harvelle announces, “Five against two. Sorry, Lilith, you and your friends are going to have to go without on this one. So, now that we’ve cleared this issue up, can we move on? We’ve got an hour left and we’ve barely touched the agenda.”

“Is he going to stay here?” Dean asks, his voice harsh.

Castiel can feel Harvelle’s glance as it sweeps over them. There’s a moment of hesitation before she says, “No. No, I don’t think so. Jo, can you take him back to his room, please?”

“Mom!” Jo protests, but it’s swiftly cut off. Jo makes a few more grumbling sounds, but Castiel feels a hand latch onto his shoulder and knows that it’s hers. “Come on,” Jo said. “Let’s go.”

Castiel allows himself to be pulled along without protest, and they make the walk back to his room in silence. “Well,” Jo says as she presses the numbers on the keypad lock to his door. She does a poor job of shielding, and Castiel tracks the numbers automatically: four six nine two. “I guess you’ll have to stay here for now. Don’t try to go anywhere, okay?” She pauses. Castiel ignores her as he walks unsteadily to the bed, forcing himself not to show weakness as he sits down slowly. “Do you want food? I could bring something from the cafeteria.”

He stares back at her. He’s thirsty and hungry, but he’ll never show weakness here. Jo bites her lip but refuses to back down. “Fine,” she says. “I’ll leave you here, then.”

The door swishes closed. Castiel looks at the keypad on the inside and tries to calculate his odds of escaping. He’s performed enough raids on their clandestine meetings to know how long each supply run will last, and when they need to restock. He needs to learn a little more about the layout, but if he can do a rough map of the truck routes he can find his way back to Zion and return to the Nest of Peace. Well, he’ll have to find his wings first to fly out, so that’s another complication. But when he gets back, he’ll tell the Nest of Justice what he knows, and then—

Well. Then he’ll receive the Father’s benediction. Of course. He would expect nothing else.

~*~

He falls into a fitful sleep despite his intentions to stay alert and awake. The next time he wakes up, Gabriel’s sitting in the room next to him, humming tunelessly under his breath. “Morning, sleeping beauty!” Gabriel says as Castiel wakes up. “Sleep well?”

Castiel closes his eyes, determined not to answer. Gabriel doesn’t seem to mind. “Cafeteria’s finest,” he says, pushing a tray filled with ‘food’ under his nose. “Vegetable mush and soup. Still, when you’re fighting a war you can’t afford to get fancy. Mush?”

His throat is as dry as sandpaper, but Castiel turns his head away. Gabriel sighs and reaches across the table, pouring a glass of water. “Angels,” he mutters. “Little brother, you’re an idiot, sad to say. At least drink some water before you collapse.”

Castiel wavers as Gabriel thrusts a glass of water under his nose. Slowly, promising himself that he won’t yield otherwise, Castiel takes a few swallows from the glass, and a few more, until he ends up drinking it all. “There you go,” Gabriel says. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

Castiel says nothing.

“I remember that look,” Gabriel says as he watches Castiel. “I used to have it too, believe it or not, till I started ditching Grace. But it was easier for me, since I wanted to get out of the hellhole of the Host anyway.” The corners of his mouth curl up. “Trust me, Falling was a piece of cake. It’s what comes after that sucks. Which reminds me…”

Gabriel stands up and starts pulling open the drawers of the bedstand. Castiel watches him, silent and wary, as Gabriel pulls out a leatherbound volume. “Here we go!” Gabriel says. “Initiation. Ta-da.”

He flips the pages to reveal a page covered with brown spots surrounded by yellow irregular ovals, with lines of green extending from the bottom. Castiel stares down at them, uncomprehending, before glancing back up at Gabriel’s face. “No?” Gabriel says, frowning. “Sunflowers aren’t doing anything for you? Huh. They did wonders for Anna, let me tell you.” He flips through the pages again. “How’s this?” He points at a page covered with blue circular waves of varying shades and sporadic yellow dots. “Starry Night. Apparently, it was painted by this guy who chopped off his own ear. Could’ve given Croats a run for their money, although I’ve seen a particularly psycho case gnaw her own arm off. Anyway, it’s a classic. You like?”

“What do you want?” Castiel says, pushing the book away.

Gabriel’s eyebrows rise. “Okay, obviously not. Paintings suck anyway,” he says, closing the book and putting it aside. “Let’s try something more—”

“What do you want?” Castiel interrupts as he pushes himself to a sitting position. There’s a tight knot underneath his breastbone: he doesn’t like it, but at the same time some primal part of himself welcomes it as it gives him strength. “You betrayed the Father; isn’t that enough without turning this into some sort of mockery?”

Gabriel pauses. “Get your head out of your ass, Castiel,” he says, his voice carrying a tone that Castiel can’t identify. It’s strangely light and absolutely foreign. “Sorry to break it to you, but the Father’s an asshole. I ran the Nest of Omniscience before I Fell. I know a hell lot more than you do even though I’ve Fallen for years. Don’t preach to me, please, it makes you look stupid.”

He waggles his eyebrows at Castiel. Castiel stares back, fighting down the strange flush that’s sweeping across his face. “But!” Gabriel says. “I will admit that it’s been a while since I’ve done this whole initiation gig. I mean, yeah, in theory you know that everyone’s unique, but it’s just so much easier when they break down at something pretty and, I don’t know, see the light or whatever. Sure the flowers don’t do anything for you? No?” He closes the book with a loud clap and puts it aside. “Well, the psychologists say that sound’s another popular option. Your precious Winchester went spastic over rock sound. It was kind of sad, actually, they put the sound player on and—”

“He’s not my Winchester,” Castiel says, his voice flat and low. He pushes himself into a sitting position. “Stop this, Gabriel.”

“Oh, so it’s Gabriel now, huh?” the former archangel says, his lips still curved up in that infuriating expression—a smile, Castiel thinks. He’s smiling, and Castiel can feel the knot flaring in his stomach. “Little brother, I’m honored.”

“I am not your brother,” Castiel says tersely, throwing the covers off. Gabriel raises an eyebrow and stands up, his palms held up by his sides. “You turned your back on Him; you voluntarily threw away your Grace. We have nothing in common.”

“Don’t we?” Gabriel says, and his voice is suddenly serious, the smile gone from his face. “I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion so quickly.” He narrowed his eyes. “You’re no longer part of the Host, Castiel, and you might as well accept that. If the Father cared so much about you, don’t you think that He would’ve saved you already? Instead, He tosses you aside like so much filth, left here to rot with the rest of us—”

The knot’s burning now, and Castiel is shaken by the intensity. He wants to destroy Gabriel, smite him for the blasphemy. It’s not the logical decision and it would achieve nothing, but it would be so satisfying and—

And it would play right into Gabriel’s hands.

The realization washes over Castiel like a cool rain of Grace. He sucks in a breath as his body relaxes, the knot of fire doused. Gabriel’s trying to disturb him, deliberately provoke him into Falling. “It’s not going to work,” Castiel says, calm once more. “You waste your time, renegade.”

Gabriel purses his lips. “Huh. Thought I had something going there. Guess I’m just going to have to try harder.” The smile’s back, but Castiel can see the hard lines around his eyes. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.”

Castiel doesn’t waste his breath on replying. Gabriel watches him for a moment more, tapping his fingers against the table as time trickles by. “Well. Paintings didn’t work. Pissing you off didn’t work. I have to congratulate the Nest of Peace, actually; kudos to their brainwashing techniques.”

Don’t answer, Castiel reminds himself. He’s trying to corrupt you. Don’t let him win.

“Huh. I’ve got an idea,” Gabriel says, getting up from his chair. Castiel refuses to follow as Gabriel goes to the door and keys it open. Gabriel looks back at him, the smile on his face deceptively bright. “Don’t make me drag you, Castiel.”

Logic dictates that he can’t win a physical fight, not now. Still, Castiel vows as he gets up from the bed, he’s not going to let Gabriel take his soul. Not now, not ever.

Gabriel pushes the door open and walks out after Castiel. The corridors are dimly lit and almost deserted. “Dawn’ll be coming soon,” Gabriel says by way of explanation. “You’ve got perfect timing. Although, if you also had the soul of a romantic, it would make this so much easier. You know, I always said…”

Castiel tunes out his patter, focusing on putting one step in front of the other. Despite the fact that he’s just slept for what feels like days, the damnable weakness is still there, making every step a challenge. He keeps his eyes on the floor, one hand surreptitiously brushing the wall for balance.

Gabriel pushes open yet another door, and Castiel looks up at the sudden breeze. “Technically, I shouldn’t be doing this,” Gabriel says with a shrug. “But, you know what they say about rules.” He pauses. “Or you might as well learn, anyway.”

Castiel peers through the doorway. It leads outside to a narrow twisting alley, but at least it’s out of the underground compound. “I could run,” he says, half-warning and half-speculation.

“You can,” Gabriel says, “but you won’t get far. First off, I’ll take you down. It’ll be easy, trust me. Second, even if you do get away from me, you’ll never make it out. Welcome to Oldtown. The demons rule here for a reason, little brother.”

Castiel looks at him. Gabriel meets his gaze squarely, no trace of smile lingering. “Don’t try it,” Gabriel says firmly.

Castiel doesn’t say anything. Gabriel grips his arm firmly and pulls him forward, leading him through the maze of streets. Castiel doesn’t actually see anyone as they make their way through the streets, but he can feel people watching them from the shadows. Oldtown is the blind spot of the Nest of Omniscience, and in these alleys, he can see why.

Looking up at the sky, he can see that the dark black is beginning to be punctuated by streaks of orange as the sun rises. How long exactly has he been asleep? More to the point, how long has he been away from the Host? They’ll have replaced him as squad leader by the first three days or so: Uriel, most likely, would take his place. To find another angel to complete the quartet would be more difficult, though: say, a week. One week later, and it’s as if he was never there.

Castiel grits his teeth as his stomach does that peculiar twisting thing again. It’s efficient, he reminds himself, but the sensation doesn’t stop. No, he thinks, bearing down hard on it. It’s not his place to defy the will of the Host, and he won’t start doubting even though he’s Graceless.

He keeps close to Gabriel as they move through the streets. The renegade leads the way with a strange determination that Castiel doesn’t care to question. They emerge from yet another twisty alley to reach a concrete junkyard, filled with structures of scrap metal. “Ah ha,” Gabriel says. “This might be a bit tricky. Think you can manage it?”

Castiel folds his hands behind his back, determined not to answer. Gabriel shrugs, but he begins climbing the tallest tower of metal with quick, graceful movements. “Well, come on, then,” Gabriel calls once he reaches a platform about ten feet up. “You coming, or do I have to drag you up here?”

Climbing is difficult, and more than once or twice Castiel has to stop and rest. With his wings, he’d be able to soar over this without a second thought, but now he’s grounded like some human. Filthy mud monkeys, Uriel’s voice echoes in his mind.

“You okay?” Gabriel says as Castiel levers himself up to sit next to him. “Jeesh, you look wiped.”

Castiel folds his hands in his lap and stares at him. “Why am I here?”

Gabriel shrugs and spreads his hands expansively. “Isn’t it obvious? Look, it’s the best view in all of Oldtown.” He points to the east, where the sun is rising. “Look.”

Castiel looks. The sun is rising; a mass of hot, glowing gas is illuminating the world. He glances at it and then back at Gabriel’s face. The renegade’s eyes watch the color change with a strange intensity that Castiel doesn’t comprehend. “Well?” he says after a moment.

“Hmm?” Gabriel asks, sounding distracted.

“What did you want me to see?”

Gabriel turns to him halfway, his eyebrows rising. “Want you to—Castiel. It’s the sunrise! It’s gorgeous! And you’re just—” he shakes his head. “You’re telling me that this does nothing for you?”

“Should it?”

Gabriel stares at him for a moment before shaking his head. “Wow,” he says. “My hearty congratulations to the Nest of Peace.”

Castiel doesn’t reply. It doesn’t matter what the renegade thinks of the Nest, he reminds himself. Gabriel’s opinion is insignificant. His train of thought is derailed by a voice down on the ground. “Gabriel!” a hoarse male voice demands. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Oh, look,” Gabriel says. He looks away from Castiel and back to the ground, shaking his head. “The cavalry’s arrived.”

Dean Winchester stands at the bottom, his arms crossed. “What the hell, Gabriel?” he says. “Get down, you asshole!”

“Mother’s calling,” Gabriel says to Castiel. “Bit of a nice change from Father, though, don’t you think?”

“Go fuck yourself,” Dean snaps. “Get down, you asshole! Jo’s got the whole complex looking for you two idiots. Dammit, Gabriel, was this your idea?”

“Don’t get snappy at me, Dean-o,” Gabriel says as they make their way back down. “I was trying to initiate him, which, by the way, is a lot more than you ever did, you know.”

“And you can’t initiate from inside the compound?” Dean says, glaring at Gabriel. “We have psychologists for a reason, you idiot.”

“He didn’t react at the sunrise,” Gabriel says. Dean looks unimpressed.

“Not everyone’s a tree-hugger like you are. Everyone’s trigger is different, you know that,” Dean says. He looks around at the concrete park. “I’m surprised you made it out here without getting ambushed. Oldtown doesn’t like angels.”

“They don’t like anybody,” Gabriel says dismissively.

Dean throws him a cursory glance before returning to scanning the park. “They don’t like you because you’re a dick, Gabriel. And frankly, I’m not going to argue with them there. Now come on, let’s get back to the compound.”

Dean leads the way, setting a quick pace that has Castiel half-leaning on Gabriel for support. He exaggerates the effect as much as he dares; too much and Gabriel will know that he’s deceiving them. His eyes scan their surroundings, absorbing every bit of information he can: even if they lock him in his rooms again, he has the keycode to his door. He has a route out of here. He briefly considers running now, but he’s in a weakened state and although he’s reasonably certain that he could take Dean down, there’s Gabriel to consider.

He’s not going to run now, but he will soon, he promises himself. As soon as he finds his wings. The Host has awaited him for sixteen days, and it’s not as if his information is particularly time-sensitive. His squad won’t need his presence either, as they’ll have replaced his position within seven days of his disappearance.

Castiel stumbles as his heartbeat skips at the thought. Dean turns to look back at him briefly while Gabriel’s hand tightens on his shoulder, and Castiel doesn’t pull away from the contact. He tells himself that next time, he’ll run. The Father needs him, yes, but…just not right now.

~*~

Chapter 1c

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
cotymundi
Jul. 17th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
A fic this well-thought-out should have loads of comments! I love that you're not going for the quick-fix with Cas, although I'm sure I know what his fix will be (enough hints given!) I absolutely love it, it's even taking my attention away from being hungry; addictive stuff!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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