Every scream. Every curse. Every sob. Every broken whimper.
Dean’s agony echoed in his mind and bounced off the walls of his cell, surrounding him, enveloping him, overwhelming him. It was an endless stream of torture and torment, the beginning of eternity. It was Dean’s soul being torn and ripped and mutilated and flayed. It was Dean screaming for help. It was Dean begging for Cas to save him.
Cas couldn’t bear it.
He pounded his fists against the walls until skin split and blood spilled and bones cracked. He threw his weight against the bars that shuddered but held. He shrieked curses at Heaven and angels and God himself.
It was futile. No one was listening. There was no escape.
Dean kept screaming.
He was mostly incoherent, out of his mind with pain, his consciousness drowned, only the animal left howling.
But there were moments when the screams formed words.
“Please, god, somebody help me!”
“Make it stop. Make it stop. Oh god, please make it stop.”
“I can’t. I can’t. No. No! NO!”
“Don’t leave me here!”
“Cas, where are you?”
“Why did you leave me?”
“He’s coming. He’s coming back. It’s going to start all over. I can’t take it anymore. Please god, not again.”
“I’m begging you.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Whatever I did, please, I’m sorry. Forgive me. I’m sorry…”
“Cas, I can’t do this.”
“I need you.”
“You’re not coming, are you? You’ve left me here to die.”
Cas remembered that little boy he had caught in his arms. He remembered the flop of soft blonde hair and the green eyes that had stared up at him in such wonder and awe.
He remembered the child who had crawled into his lap and fallen asleep against his chest. He remembered the smudge of his eyelashes against his cheeks and the small fingers that had curled into his shirt.
He remembered peals of laughter as Dean watched him try to manipulate the small device with lots of confusing buttons that were supposed to control the movements of a tiny figure on a screen.
He remembered Dean’s oomph of surprise as he caught the ball Cas had thrown with a little too much force and his mischievous smile as he threw it back twice as hard so Cas stumbled in his attempt to catch it.
He remembered gentle hands and soothing words that patched him up when he was injured.
He remembered life and joy and hope and a future that should have been bright and happy.
But all he could hear was Dean screaming.
It broke his heart.
Cas was in an isolated cell. He’d had no contact with anyone for weeks. Trapped alone with only Dean’s screams for company, he was slowly going crazy.
He was curled up in the corner, head wedged between his knees, hands trying in vain to cover his ears and block out the noise.
“So this is what your time on Earth has done to you,” a voice said.
Cas looked up in surprise and was shocked to see his own angelic face staring back at him. He scrambled to his feet.
It had been so long since he had been without a vessel, Cas almost didn’t recognise himself. The angel before him was younger, his Grace burned brighter and his face was expressionless. He was an angel in his prime, commander of his own garrison, unquestioning in his obedience, the perfect soldier. This was the angel Cas once had been.
“Hello, Castiel,” his counter-part intoned.
“They permitted you to visit me here?” Cas asked. He was well aware of the paradox their duality presented – that was why he had avoided returning to Heaven for so long. Having two Castiel’s standing within feet of each other was surely a disaster waiting to happen.
Castiel was silent; an answer unto itself.
“Why have you come, then?”
Castiel paused, a glimmer of uncertainty wavering through the soldier’s mask. “It is… loud.”
Dean. Even now, Cas could still hear his cries. “You can hear him?”
“He calls for me by name. Rather, he calls for you, but we are one and the same.”
“He is in pain, helpless and alone. I promised to protect him and even now he clings to the hope that I will come for him. But I am trapped in here.” He kicked the bars hard and nerve-endings flared in warning that he was doing injury to his vessel.
Castiel’s eyebrows raised slightly. “That was emotion. You are experiencing an emotional reaction to the human’s predicament and your inability to reach him.”
“But you are an angel. We are above emotion. That is what separates us from them.”
“Emotions are discouraged, but that does not mean we are incapable of feeling. In fact, though you may not recognise them for what they are, you are experiencing emotions right now.”
Castiel frowned. “I am not.”
“Dean’s screams are distressing for you. If you were unbothered by them you would not have come here against orders.”
“I have no connection to the boy.”
“Not to the same degree that I do. But you do know him. You have been hearing his prayers since he was four years old.”
“He was never praying to me. Those words were intended for your ears only. I tuned them out much of the time.”
“Then why can you not ignore his cries now?”
“They are loud.”
“They are upsetting. You are listening to an innocent child screaming for help. You know he does not deserve to be in Hell. You don’t know why Heaven is waiting so long to send in a rescue mission. You hope they will choose your garrison when the time finally comes because you know you will not rest until the child is saved.”
“I am you. I have been where you are. I remember having those same thoughts and doubts when Dean fell the first time. I imagine it must be even harder for you this time around because Dean is so young. Ignoring his suffering goes against every instinct we have.”
“He is just one human. He is not enough to make me question the orders of Heaven.”
“His name is Dean! He is sixteen years old. He has a mother and a father and a little brother he loves more than anything in the world. He likes classic rock music and old cowboy movies. He used to be afraid of flying. His favourite food is pie. He wants to be a hunter so he can save people. He is courageous and humorous and caring and selfless.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because you need to understand that there is no other human like him and there never will be again.”
“All humans are created to be unique. You speak so strongly for this one only because you know him personally. You… care about him.”
“Yes I do. I am not ashamed to admit it.”
“I am sorry, but if Dean was meant to go to Hell, then who are we to question fate’s design? This is all part of God’s plan.”
“God’s plan? No. Our Father loves humanity. He ordered us to protect and cherish his creation. Do you think that if He were still giving the orders in Heaven this child would be abandoned in the Pit as his brother prays for his salvation? This is not our Father’s work.”
“We cannot know His mind…”
“No, we cannot, which is why we shall never know why He left. But I am certain that He no longer resides in Heaven because he would not condone hastening the Apocalypse for the sake of pursuing Paradise on Earth. He loves his creation; that much I do know. He would not destroy it prematurely.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Of course, they haven’t told you. Heaven intends for Dean to break the first seal on Lucifer’s cage. He is to be the catalyst that sets into motion the chain reaction of events that will begin Armageddon.”
“That is not true.”
“Zachariah told me himself. That is why they stopped me from healing his brother. That is why they locked me in here. They wanted Dean to sell his soul. It is all part of their ‘grand plan’. They want the world to end and they could care less about the people who will die as a result.”
“No. I wish I were. I do not enjoy the knowledge that I have spent millennia following the orders of a corrupt Heaven. But if we do not stop them, they will allow the Apocalypse to play out while pretending to oppose it and it won’t just be people who die – angels will, too. In the timeline I come from, six of our brothers died in a single week. This plan of theirs – it is death and chaos and destruction. It is wrong. And somewhere deep down you know it.”
In the silence that fell between them, Dean’s screams suddenly seemed far louder than before.
Castiel appeared conflicted. “Even if what you say is true, what do you expect me to do about it? I am just one angel.”
Cas grabbed the cell bars, leaning closer to his counter-part, feeling hope flare up within him for the first time since he had been imprisoned. “Break me out.”
“Two angels is not an army.”
“I’m not looking for an army. I just need to get to Dean before it is too late.”
“If I let you out, we will both be hunted. We will both be killed.”
“Dean Winchester is worth dying for.”
“You are asking me to lay down my life for someone I have never even met.”
“Then don’t do this for him. Do it for you.”
Castiel frowned in confusion and Cas couldn’t help but smile a little. “You do not want to live in a Dean-less universe. Trust me.”
Castiel narrowed his eyes. “What you mean is that you do not want to live without him. You want me to do this for you.”
“We are one and the same, are we not?”
Castiel shook his head. “This is madness.”
Cas waited with bated breath and eventually Castiel sighed. “But I do not wish to see the world burn. And… I would like Dean Winchester to laugh again.”
The screams still echoed, a constant reminder that Dean was suffering. “I know what you mean.”
“Brace yourself,” Castiel said. Ever so carefully, he touched a single finger to Cas’s hand where it gripped the cell bars.
The paradox of two identical beings inhabiting the same space caused an explosion. Both Castiel’s were blown backwards, but when they recovered enough to stand they saw that the bars that had separated them were gone.
“Go now,” Castiel said. The prison block suddenly began filling with bright light and a high-pitched noise, heralding the arrival of an arch-angel. Castiel gritted his teeth and settled into a battle-ready stance, angel blade gripped tightly in his hand. “I will try to hold off the forces of Heaven for as long as I can.”
Cas took a deep breath, spread his wings wide and dove from the Heavens. He passed through Earth’s atmosphere, broke through Earth’s crust and plunged directly into Hell.