daymarket: (Default)
[personal profile] daymarket
Title: Stairway From Zion
Rating: R
Warnings: Mentions of torture. Violence, war scenes, cursing, drug withdrawal, medical experimentation, species prejudice, sex.
Wordcount: 63k
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.
 
~*~

3.1: Castiel

Anael’s death plays itself over and over in his head, her screams never fading from his mind. The vague stirrings he had from before are multiplied in intensity until they become something so powerful that not even years of control can rein them in. In a way, it’s like detox all over again. Castiel loses control of his body for the second time in his life, only this time, something deep and primal rises up to compound the ordeal—disgust. Disgust at himself, at the loss of control, at the way he’s betrayed everything by losing control of himself.

It shouldn’t hurt this much. While the Host mostly aims to capture and rehabilitate, he’s spent a period of his novitiate in the different Nests. He’s seen far worse at the hands of the Nest of Love and never had the torture affected him as much as this simple execution. Nothing he can think of can account for it—yes, he knew Anael, but in the way of the Host: as a comrade, another gear in the machinery of the Republic.

When he first wakes up, it’s to hard, rapid breathing and the sense that the air in his lungs is burning him from the inside out. There’s no physical fire, but at the same time he’s burning painfully enough that he can almost feel the fire licking over his skin. It’s completely, utterly irrational and he hates it, hates the way that his body’s betraying him. This time, there are no excuses: he knows with a piercing clarity that he’s Fallen, and that this is his punishment.

To that end, Castiel doesn’t beg for Grace, even though he wants it with a visceral intensity that’s even stronger than the initial detox. No, he’ll take it in silence, because if there’s anything he knows how to do, it’s to keep quiet and take it. Angels aren’t created to think, they’re created to serve, in whatever way the Father sees fit. And when an angel no longer serves, well, what are they good for?

Doubt clouds his thoughts—he betrayed the Father, yes, but didn’t the Father betray him first? What does he owe to a distant god? But no, who is he to judge, this isn’t his prerogative. The seraphs, the archangels, they give the orders, he obeys, and that’s the way it’s always been. Don’t think, angels don’t think. He’s broken, he’s useless, he’s been cast out for his sins, but where did he go wrong and who does he owe? No, just obey, by what right do you claim justice? Who do you think you are, human?

There’s a room waiting for him in the Nest of Love, but at least the fires there can’t be any worse than the fury inside his head. The shouting outside only seems to compound it. There’s hate within and without, and he knows with a fatalistic intensity that he’ll never be free of it. He’s turned his back on the Host, and there’s no place for him with humans. Angels and humans should never mix.

But if they don’t, what is he doing here?

The arm wrapped around him is reassuringly solid, an anchor in the midst of the chaos. The touch and weight and smell and breath slow the thoughts down—not entirely, but enough that for what feels like the first time in days, Castiel can breathe without the taint of smoke burning his nose. Castiel’s Fallen, but at the same time, someone or something is here to soften the fall. The torrent in his head is finally slowing down enough that he can process the thoughts and resolve them. He can control this—well, not control, but he can learn to live with these emotions. He hopes, anyway.

Everything’s new. Angels don’t hope, just like they don’t question or wonder or doubt. Perhaps this means that he’s no longer an angel anymore. But if he’s not an angel, then what is he?

~*~

The shower is a welcome relief after the dirt and filth of so many days. He takes longer than the regimented five minutes allowed by the Host, but only by a minute or so—old habits die hard, even more so as he has nothing to replace them with. He dries himself quickly and dresses in a pair of Dean’s old shirt and jeans. The feeling of clean clothing against clean skin is something that brings an untold amount of relief.

“Everything in place?” Dean asks as he emerges from the showers. Castiel nods silently in response, and Dean hands him a mustard-yellow trenchcoat. “Here. Thought you might be cold,” Dean says. “It’s fucking ugly, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers and all that. Believe me, out of the other choices at the lost and found, it’s the best.” Castiel regards it for a moment and shrugs; concepts of beauty and ugliness are almost meaningless to him even now. He pulls it on and looks expectantly at Dean.

“Okay, then,” Dean says, clapping his hands together. He’s speaking loudly and his voice is a bit too animated to be real, but then again, Castiel has poor judgment when it comes to emotional intonation. “I, uh, I thought we might try Gabriel’s room first, you know?” Castiel nods, and there’s awkward silence for a moment before Dean turns and gestures for Castiel to follow him.

Castiel stays just behind Dean. He feels…well, he’s not sure what he feels. Anxious, perhaps. Tense. Dean’s voice is bright and cheerful, but his posture and stance speak of barely controlled frenzy. Castiel wonders how much it will take to break the dam, and just how explosive the eruption will be.

“I actually wouldn’t be very surprised if Gabriel’s run off,” Dean says suddenly. He slows his pace enough that he walks even with Castiel. “I guess it’s kind of weird when I think about it, though. Gabriel’s been with us for more than a decade, Anna for a lot less than that. I wouldn’t trust Gabriel to spit on me if my hair was on fire, though, much less in an actual fight.”

Dean looks contemplative, almost wistful when he mentions Anna’s name. For a moment Castiel feels something powerful and dark swamp him before it fades away as quickly as it comes. “She was a good sergeant,” he says at last, hoping that they’re the right words to say.

“Define good,” Dean says, raising an eyebrow. “Because I’m pretty sure you and I have different definitions of the word.”

That’s an easy question. “Efficient. Obedient. Decisive.”

“Aren’t obedience and decisiveness kind of contradictory? How can you follow orders but also make decisions?”

Castiel shrugs. “We uphold the will of the Father in many ways.”

Dean raises an eyebrow. “That’s angelspeak for…?”

“The Father orders, the archangels interpret, and the lesser angels obey,” Castiel says. “In the course of our obedience, we act according to the rules of logic laid down by the Word.”

“How do you know if the archangels’ interpretations are right or not?” Dean asks. His voice is a layer of leaves over a very, very deep pit filled with stakes, and Castiel frowns, searching for the trap. “I mean, honestly, Cas—have you ever seen the Father? Really seen him?”

Castiel tenses. “I know my Father,” he says slowly. “He…he may not always care about me. But—”

“Basically, he doesn’t care if you live or die,” Dean says. His tone is careless, almost idle, but the way his eyes slide to look at Castiel is a dead giveaway. “In fact, Cas, I don’t even think he’s real. I think he’s a lie made up by the archangels to keep us all quiet.”

The thought rings too close for comfort, an echo of Castiel’s own worries. Still, while the Father may have abandoned him, it’s another thing altogether to imply that the Father doesn’t exist at all—

Castiel buries the thought, determined to ignore this blasphemy altogether. “I see,” he says shortly, knowing that it’ll be a waste of breath to argue this with Dean.

Dean’s quiet for a moment. “Do you know what happened before the Republic, Castiel?” he asks finally.

“Yes,” Castiel says, allowing his temper to get the best of him. “There was anarchy. The old humans poisoned themselves with radiation in their pointless battles over territory and wealth, and the Republic was the only thing that saved it. And right now, you humans want to plunge us back into the darkness all over again.” He takes a deep breath. “The Host prevents that,” he says, not sure whether he’s trying to convince himself or Dean. “Even if I am no longer a part of it, I understand that.”

Dean sucks in a sharp breath. When he next speaks, it’s deadly serious, without any hint of baiting or mockery. “Cas, if you had the chance to go back to the Host even knowing that they’d kill you, would you take it?”

“Of course,” Castiel answers automatically. He hesitates and almost stumbles, straightening himself up at the last moment. “Yes.”

Dean doesn’t say anything else, and when he stops, Castiel almost walks right into him. Dean doesn’t turn to look at him, instead turning to the door at his right. “Gabriel!” Dean shouts, banging on it. “Gabriel, you son of a bitch, come out!”

Nobody comes out.

“Damn it,” Dean mutters after a few more minutes of fruitless banging. He shoves his hands into his pockets and scowls at the door as if hoping to burn a hole through it with his stare. “Fucking angels.”

It’s not directed at Castiel. Castiel honestly shouldn’t care about the opinions of humans, but still, the words cut deeper than he thought possible. Castiel schools his face to blankness as Dean wrestles with the lock and bangs some more on the door. When it’s evident that Gabriel’s not inside (or doing a very good job of ignoring them), Dean whirls away from the door and starts walking down the corridor at a brisk pace. It can’t be painless from the way he’s also holding a hand to his chest, but Dean shows no signs of slowing down.

They don’t go far before Dean stops at another door. This one has a sign on it: Dr. Badass is IN. Castiel wonders who Dr. Badass is, but there’s no time for speculation. Dean knocks perfunctorily on the door before opening it and striding inside. “Ash!” he calls.

“In here!” a voice replies. A thin man with long blond hair emerges from the stacks, carrying something pointy in his hands. He sets it carefully on the table before turning to greet them. “Dean! Long time no see, my man.”

“Ash,” Dean says. Castiel blinks, startled. Dean’s voice is lighter, friendlier, with some of the tension leeching away from his stance as he talks to Ash. “Need your help.”

“I live to serve. And you must be Castiel,” the man says brightly, holding out a hand to Castiel. “What’s up? It’s great to finally meet the third angel.”

Castiel stares at him flatly. The man’s smile falters before sliding off his face altogether, and he withdraws his hand somewhat awkwardly. He turns to Dean, who’s giving Castiel a look that Castiel doesn’t bother to understand. “So, Dean,” the man says. “What can I do for you?”

“Ash, I need the key to Gabriel’s room,” Dean says.

Ash raises an eyebrow. “And I’m going to have to say no. Privacy, man. It’s the new thing, ever heard of it?”

“Ellen’s trying to find him,” Dean says. “He hasn’t shown up since the raid and nobody knows where the hell he is.”

“And snooping his room’s going to do what again?”

“I’m not ‘snooping his room,’” Dean says impatiently. “I’m trying to see if he’s sulking in there, because he won’t answer my knock.”

Ash shrugs. “Guy wants a little alone time, who are you to say no?”

“Ash.”

“Dean, I can’t just give out keys willy-nilly; Ellen would have my head. Plus, I have a moral code and everything.”

“Really. How’s that working out?”

“Better than you think.” Ash crosses his arms. “Look, I’m not a fan of this idea. He’s an angel, yeah, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some rights.” He rubs his nose for a moment, evidently thinking. “Hey, angel,” he says, turning to Castiel. “What do you think? I mean, Gabriel’s your brother and all, isn’t he? I’ll let you break the tie on this one.”

Castiel blinks as he realizes that Ash is talking to him. Dean’s eyes fix onto his face with a desperate, almost hungry look. Castiel reviews the situation briefly in his head, contemplating the idea of privacy. It’s such a human ideal, to be honest, and the idea of an angel judging is a ludicrous one. “Open the room,” he says briefly, turning away. It’s not his duty to defend human concepts.

Something flashes across Dean’s face, so quickly that Castiel almost misses it. He captures it in his mind and files it away to study later as Dean turns back to Ash, holding out a hand. The other man sighs and rubs a knuckle across his forehead. “Damn,” Ash says. “Should’ve figured the angel would side with you. Is it just me, or do you have a way with them? First Anna, now your boy here…”

“If I had a way with them, I wouldn’t have to resist the urge to kill Gabriel on an almost daily basis,” Dean growls. “The key, Ash.”

Ash sighs again and wanders off into the heaps and stacks to find the key. It takes a moment before Castiel realizes that Dean’s staring at him in a way that’s more than a little disconcerting. He steals a glance out of the corner of his eye, noting that the hungry look is back on Dean’s face.

“Got it!”

He’s saved from having to reply by Ash’s call. Ash emerges from the stack, holding up a key triumphantly. “You have to return this to me ASAP,” Ash warns. “Or else I’ll call the hellhounds.”

“You don’t have any hellhounds,” Dean grumbles.

“I’ll get my hands on a puppy one of these days,” Ash says.

“Yeah, you do that,” Dean says. “Thanks, Ash,” he adds belatedly, pocketing the key.

“Keep your nose clean and I’ll call it even,” Ash says, waving him off. “And angel, loosen up. Get the stick out of your ass, man. You could learn a thing or two from Gabriel, to be honest. Guy gets the best candy this side of the Republic.” He grins at Dean’s exasperated look. “What?”

Dean shakes his head and heads for the door. Castiel lingers for a moment until Dean gestures in a come on motion for Castiel to follow him. Which he does, of course.

~*~

The walk back to the room is quiet and somehow awkward. “You didn’t have to do that,” Dean finally says as they stop outside of Gabriel’s room. “Thanks. I guess.”

Castiel tilts his head inquiringly, confused. “For what?” he asks.

Dean looks at him and frowns. “For siding with me. That was unexpected.”

Castiel blinks. “I don’t understand.”

Dean opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. Castiel watches him fumble through the words before shaking his head and closing his mouth again. “Nothing.”

He turns his back to Castiel and fumbles the key into the lock. There’s a moment of maneuvering before the lock gives way and Dean pushes the door open, turning on the light as he enters. Castiel looks around. He has to take a moment to process the scene, as the room is a bright explosion of color, the polar opposite of the austere angel barracks. Castiel walks over to the walls, examining them. They’re covered in…paintings. He wouldn’t have expected this from Gabriel, but then again, he knows very little about his brother. In fact, he’s starting to realize that he knows very little about people in general.

A riot of bright colors dominate the paintings on the wall, depicting scenes of nature that Castiel once regarded with indifference. He recalls that the sunrise Gabriel brought him to watch, and how blankly he’d looked at it. He draws a hand across its canvas counterpart, wondering at the blend of colors above the star itself, at the faint mist that lingers at the edges. It’s strange. He can name the shades, and with a little calculation he’s willing to bet that he could also find the proportion of each color. But simple numbers and ratios don’t tell the whole story, another telling difference of the complexity of humans.

Behind him, Dean lets out a low growl. “Fuck!” he says. “Where the hell has the bastard gone?”

Castiel glances back at him. Dean sounds angry. Not just exasperated or irritated, but genuinely, completely angry. Castiel frowns, trying to puzzle it out, but Dean’s already talking again. “I guess I could try his radio, but it’d be just like Gabriel to leave it behind while he runs around outside even though he knows damn well it’s against the rules. You know, for an angel, Gabriel sure likes breaking a whole lot of rules,” Dean says, whirling around to glare at Castiel in an almost accusing way. “I thought you guys would stop breathing if your precious ‘Father’ told you so.”

Castiel tenses as Dean takes a step closer towards him. “Gabriel is not confined to his rooms,” Castiel says warily. “There was never any guarantee that he would be in here—”

“Shut up!” Dean snaps. “Stop being so logical all the time and just—fucking—listen!” With a brutal, almost vicious movement, Dean pulls one of the paintings off the walls, sending it crashing to the floor. “Waiting, waiting, waiting. You know what, I’m fucking sick of waiting. Anna died while I was waiting!” he snarls, his hands curling into fists. “And Sam—what the hell, if Sam’s not dead already, he could be getting tortured at this very moment, and all I can do is wait—”

Dean’s visibly shaking with pent-up energy and rage, and Castiel finds himself analyzing it even as he shifts his stance to a better defensive position. Emotion is tricky ground, and Castiel falls back on his old tool, logic. “Getting angry will get nothing done,” he points out. “Whereas Gabriel might simply be outside and—”

Dean turns onto him, eyes wild. Castiel moves without thinking, dodging the blow that Dean throws at him. Castiel turns and slams into Dean’s chest. A strangled wheeze erupts from Dean at the impact. As Dean stumbles, Castiel catches Dean’s arm and pulls it back hard, pushing until Dean slams into the wall and dislodges a painting. Dean’s face is pale with pain, the whites of his eyes showing as Castiel holds him still. “Let me go,” Dean rasps through pained breaths, struggling in Castiel’s grip.

“No,” Castiel says. His eyes flick down the bandage on Dean’s shoulder, but he doesn’t ease his grip. “You’re not rational right now.”

“I’ll give you rational, you son of a bitch let me go—”

“No,” Castiel growls. “Anger won’t help you in any case. You have work to do.”

“To hell with the work! I swear, Castiel, if you don’t get your hands off me I’ll fucking rip your head off—”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Castiel says. His heart’s pounding hard and adrenaline’s coursing through his veins, making him struggle to keep his voice steady in a way he’s never had to struggle before. “Stop shouting for thirty seconds. Calm down. Think. There are a dozen reasons that Gabriel might be missing—”

“It’s not about Gabriel, you moron!” Dean says. Castiel thinks that it’s meant to be an angry shout, but Dean’s voice sounds broken, almost…desperate. “Even if I did find Gabriel, it’s probably too late. They’ve already killed Anna, Sam’s probably already dead, and I can’t change the past. What the hell’s the point of it all, Cas?”

Castiel takes a deep breath as realization washes over him. “You want to find Gabriel…to find Sam?”

“I’d tear the world apart for Sam,” Dean answers, his voice raw.

The words hit Castiel like a blow, cutting to the heart of something that Castiel wasn’t even aware existed inside of him. The world is off-kilter once more, filled not with cool, clear-cut logic but with the sticky, writhing chaos of emotion.

And Castiel hates it.

~*~

3.2: Dean

The angel lets go of Dean, stepping back just out of reach. Dean sags against the wall, breathing hard. Fuck! His chest and shoulder hurt like hell, and it takes all of his energy just to suck in air past the pain in his ribs. Fucking angels.

He’s aware of Castiel’s gaze on him, silent and watchful and unnerving as hell. Dean looks up at him. The trenchcoat hides a fairly underweight body, but Dean’s felt the strength in those arms firsthand and knows that appearances can be deceptive. Yesterday, Castiel was at his mercy, easy to break or bend as Dean wished. To think that one night of touch could make such a difference—

—and it could have been much more different—

The stupid bastard doesn’t know how lucky he is.

“I wanted to torture you at first,” Dean says through clenched teeth. “I’ve done it before. I enjoyed the hell out of it, too. Right after I came back from Hell, I thought that every problem could be solved with the blade of a razor.” He takes a deep breath and flinches as his ribs protest. “Almost like an angel in that thought.”

“But you didn’t,” Castiel says, meeting Dean’s gaze. “Why?”

Dean smiles bitterly. “It’s my job to take care of Sam,” he says. “Sometimes it works the other way around, though.”

Castiel pauses, and when he next speaks, his voice contains a low note of uncertainty. “You sought to honor his memory?”

Dean rolls his eyes. “That sounds so fucking lame. I didn’t want to honor anything. I just—I wanted to be somebody else.” Someone who could be what Sam thought he was: the big brother, the responsible one. Not fucked-up Dean Winchester.

“What happened yesterday, Dean?”

Dean frowns, surprised by the question. Castiel looks back at him with inquiry in his eyes, sincere enough that Dean reluctantly answers. “Your asshole buddies torched sector four. Tons of people died. Gwen’s dead, Victor’s dead, a bunch of other good people are dead or dying.”

Castiel shakes his head. “Yesterday night,” he says.

Dean grimaces. “You were there, why do you need me to tell you?” he asks in lieu of an answer.

“I don’t fully understand it,” Castiel says, and for the first time, his gaze wavers and he looks down. “With Grace, it was easy to discern motives and psychology. It’s…different, now.”

“Yeah, well, sucks to be you,” Dean mutters. “Sucks to be everyone else in this whole fucking world, because if you’re not the angels’ bitch, you’re the demons’. Can’t win, being a human.”

“You seem to have done all right for yourselves.” Dean looks at Castiel sharply, but Castiel’s staring off at some point in space. “Oldtown is not as unstable as we were informed.”

Dean snorts. “Yeah, but I’m sure you’re ‘informed’ a whole lot better now that the Host destroyed sector four.”

“You were there?” Castiel asks, leaning forward slightly.

“Yes,” Dean snaps, hating the taste of iron that rises in his mouth as he remembers. “I saw the children’s compound burn, you son of a bitch. I don’t know how many people died on that zeppelin, not to mention the whole attack.” He sucks in a deep breath. “They were noncombatants, you son of a bitch. Old people, kids.”

A crease appears between Castiel’s eyebrows. “They attacked children?”

“Used them for fucking target practice,” Dean says, crossing his arms. “What, don’t tell me you’re all broken up about it? Spare me the fake sympathy.”

Castiel shakes his head, but he doesn’t say anything for a moment. When he does, his voice is quiet, almost subdued. “Families are a human concept,” he says. “Only the Chosen are allowed such a luxury, and even so, they are…regulated.”

“Efficiency rules all,” Dean says sarcastically. “Long live the Father. Huzzah.”

Castiel doesn’t rise to the bait, but he does look at Dean again. “You left when you were eight,” Castiel says.

It’s enough of a non sequitur that it gives Dean pause. He takes his time before saying grudgingly, “Didn’t do it alone. Dad pulled us out.”

“John Winchester. Why did he wait until you were eight to leave?” Castiel asks, leaning forward.

There’s a strange intensity to his voice, but Dean brushes it off, irritated. “How the fuck do I know? I was eight.” Dean glares at Castiel, increasingly annoyed. “This has nothing to do with here and now. You’ve got no right to pry into the past like this.”

Castiel’s eyes give him the Look, but Dean refuses to give way. There’s a long moment of silence before Castiel straightens up and looks away. “I understand,” he says quietly.

There’s silence. Dean’s won a victory, but it’s anticlimactic enough that feels like nothing. “Whatever,” he mutters, deflated. Silence. “I don’t have time for this shit, okay?” He pushes himself up to his feet, wincing as his ribs protest. “I’ve got to go and find Gabriel.”

He picks up the key from the floor and pushes past Castiel, who doesn’t move. “Shut the door behind you when you leave,” Dean throws over his shoulder as he leaves the room.

~*~




Chapter 3b
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