Human Perspective

Wreathed in thunder, robed in light

His pockets were stuffed, his shirt was stuffed, he had stopped short of stuffing them into his pants. Now he walked through the woods carrying a bouquet of faintly glowing flowers larger than his head. He had no idea where he was going, but he felt pulled, so he just walked. The landscape around him changed, moved, parted to make way. He kept glancing around nervously, waiting for the other shoe to fall, for something to leap out and point an accusing finger. How dare he, a mere human soul, how dare he? Who did he think he was?

The flowers shimmered and moved in his hands, his pockets, felt prickly and alive and alien. They clung to his fingers, pressed against his neck and under his chin. They knew him and it made his non-existent stomach knot.

He picked his way through the foliage, still barefoot with his trousers rolled up from wading in the stream. He hadn't bothered to put his shoes or socks back on; why should he? He was dead, this was heaven, surely walking barefoot wasn't that hazardous here. Didn't mean he didn't hiss when he stepped on a rock or a twig or something else. Maybe he should go back for his shoes? He stopped a moment. No, why was he even thinking that? What was he even doing? He had living flowers clinging to him, he was wandering in a vast wilderness and he was worried about old dress shoes from Payless Shoe Source? He shook his head. He needed a better perspective. What was this? How was this his afterlife? How was this his his rest, his reward, his anything? Again being dragged into the middle of a surreal situation by an angel he didn't even like. He didn't. He didn't like Castiel, he didn't like what he stood for, he didn't like what he'd done, he didn't like being a vessel, he didn't like the disillusionment with everything he'd read and believed when he was alive and still a husband and a father with a job in a house in Pontiac, Illinois. This couldn't be what God intended.

He took a deep breath and started walking again, because what else could he do? He'd been a willing victim. Really, he had no one else to blame but himself. Oh, he could blame Castiel, he did blame Castiel; but really, Castiel hadn't forced him to say yes. Castiel had laid out his intentions. Castiel had spoken a bunch of flowery ideals and impotent promises; well, okay, he had made good on the protecting his family part. But he'd possessed Claire — but he'd done it to save everyone after Jimmy had spectacularly led demons right to them. This was a circle. He could point a finger all he wanted, but in the end he always ended up pointing at himself.

He was so absorbed in self-incrimination and then self-justification that led to self-incrimination again that he didn't even hear the footsteps until they were right in front of him. He stopped and jerked his head up, blinked at French soldiers in medieval armor, and swallowed.

Dean kept glancing in the rear-view mirror. If this didn't work, if this didn't draw Metatron off, he wasn't sure what he was going to do. Then again, Metatron might not recognize him in this douchey little heaven-made cherry popper car that Ash had dreamed up. For a genius he was sometimes kind of a hoser. Dean was used to running for his life in his baby. He knew Sam thought it was a joke when Dean fawned over his car, but she'd saved their asses on more than one occasion, and she was pretty good for sleeping in, and she'd never let them down, not once. He sure hoped Sam was okay and not all wigged out; who was he kidding, just by being Sam he would be wigging out. But he sure hoped his brother wasn't trying to do anything stupid, like get into heaven to mount a rescue mission or some crap like that. Maybe Pamela could check on him through Mary Patricia, maybe he should have thought to ask her to do that. It never ceased to amaze him, the brilliance he could come up with when it didn't do him any good whatsoever. Way to go, Dean. If Metatron was hellbent on getting his ass shouldn't he have noticed something by now? Like road blocks or tire spikes or cop cars even? Not that he wanted Metatron to be deadly and clever and efficient, that would probably kind of suck, but y'know, it should at least seem like he was trying. Maybe Ash had it backwards and he wasn't this supposed beacon in heaven; maybe it was someone else, like Cas. The thought made his stomach clench a little. What if he was running away and leaving the others to take on Metatron alone? What if this wasn't a good idea? it's not like he had them all the time, and they ought to know that.

He contemplated turning around, even started looking for a wide spot in the road where he could make the turn. Just as he was easing off the gas and the car was slowing down, an earthquake hit — or at least that was what it felt like. The road shook and the corvette shimmied in protest and fishtailed a little, making Dean struggle to straighten out the wheel. He glanced up at the rear-view again and had to immediately squint. The mirror was reflecting a great deal of light and that, he thought, was probably not good. No, probably not good at all, because really, white light was usually not a good sign at all, and for Dean it meant an angel was on his ass. He slammed the gas pedal to the floor again, listening to the engine open up.

“If that's you, douchebag, and I know it is,” he suddenly yelled, “I got this game, let's see if you know how to play it! Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart! You hear that? No answer? It's Psalms, dick! Cas would know that in a heartbeat, he loves Psalms!” His heart was pounding, his palms slick against the wheel. “Come and get me ,cardigan breath! Because I can tell you right now, you seem about as threatening as a bag of week-old lettuce!”

He wasn't sure the taunting was working, but damn, did it feel good.

Sam was running hard. He should be tired, out of breath, every muscle hurting, but it was effortless. The angels ran along with him, like ... in a flock, breaking when they overtook him, parting and coming together in front of him. He didn't want to fall behind. He could see Alat before him, he could almost hear the breathless, tireless whispers all around him, and they ran. He first assumed they would want to fly, but it made sense this way, to 'stay below the radar'. He had no idea where they were going, or really even how long they'd been running, he just knew that somehow it was way beyond his normal endurance. They plunged into a thick, green wood, splayed with dappled sunlight and the powerful smell of pine, darting between the trees, a single, united stream of intent with a purpose and a goal. Alat seemed to hang back and soon he was close to her and she darted out her arm, grabbed his hand in a grip of steel and he seemed to go faster. She turned to look at him, her eyes rings of light around her irises, and she whispered but it rang like a thunderclap in his ears.

“We make for the garden,” she told him, “to the seat of heaven and the throne. If we meet him there we fight to win or die. You can stop now, no one expects this of you, no one would find shame in your decision. This is our home and you've done much already.”

Sam pulled at her grip on him and she loosened her hold. It was enough for him to slide his hand down her arm and grip her hand. Hand in hand with an angel, he ran on.

Jimmy took a few steps back as the grinning man in armor advanced on him.

“You,” the man said, pointing at him, “have been a lot of trouble for a sale pute. Ah, don't look so, you sold your body to an angel and for what? To walk barefoot in heaven and pick flowers? I would run you through right now, only it probably wouldn't kill you and it would mean I'd have to carry your mangy carcass back to camp.” He moved forward again. Everything about him was aggressive. “I got a chewing out by my Captain and it's your fault, so that puts me in a mood.”

He reached one armored hand out to grab Jimmy by the shoulder, and Jimmy opened his mouth to protest when one of the large white lilies in his hands turned and slapped itself against the armored wrist. The soldier blinked in surprise, then laughed. Then he stopped laughing, his eyes widening and before Jimmy's own eyes he seems to crackle and ... what was that computer term for a bad photo? Pixelate, he seemed to crack and pixelate and then pixelate even smaller until he was just a thick, human shaped mist of tiny white dots, and then the flower just sucked him in. All the flowers in Jimmy's arms and pockets seems to throb for a moment and wink with light, then they subsided again.

Well, that was different. Jimmy stood very still. So, if somehow this man was in heaven, even though he didn't seem the type to be in heaven, but then again, it was not Jimmy's place to judge, then he was theoretically a soul. And if he was a soul the flowers just ... ate him. So, an angel's grace could eat a human soul? And how creepy was this? Then again the grace just saved him, in theory, from whatever had been the man's intention. Things were looking up? He wasn't sure how to parse this in all honesty. The flowers in his arms all swiveled suddenly, in a single direction.

Was this a sign? Jimmy turned to look off into the foliage, but he didn't see anything. If only John Wayne hadn't been duped by Metatron, he thought glumly. Then, really, James Novak, that's what you're the most upset about? Or was it simply that he was starting to have trouble processing all this strangeness around him? Or was he just assimilating to it? He was walking barefoot in a forest with an armful of soul-eating flowers and he himself was a soul, and worst yet, he was starting to take directions from an armful of flowers, because he turned and started walking in the direction they were all pointing. And why weren't his pants dry yet? It was annoying how the wet fabric slapped against his legs, and he would think at least in heaven that if something annoyed you, it would stop. One of the flowers patted against his cheek as if it was seeking to comfort him. Yes, best to just conform and come to accept that the afterlife was just as unpredictable and unpresentable as his mortal life had been. He had been possessed by an angel after all, why would he be questioning anything after that anyways?

“Do we even know where we're going?” Pamela groused, ducking a branch and swatting the leaves away from her face. “Does anyone know where we're going?”

Everyone except Pamela looked over at Castiel, and Castiel looked sort of put-upon to be looked at, and twitched his lips.

“We're going to the garden,” he said, “it's the control center of heaven more or less, hopefully we can find some help there.”

“So we're just hoping?” Pamela said and Castiel clenched his fists but said nothing, marching resolutely ahead. In truth, he'd never been to the garden. He was just a foot soldier, he just followed orders, he never laid eyes on the nerve of heaven, only its pulse, following it as a leaf blows on the wind. Then it had all changed, a sojourn on the earth below with a few harsh orders barked at him from afar. He was good at orders, Dean was not and everything he thought he knew, everything he'd thought he'd fought for had shattered to pieces and tumbled at Dean Winchester's feet. He missed Dean. He felt a gaping hole somewhere inside him that he knew nothing else would fill. He had fallen in every way, but for Dean he had fallen most of all. There was no going back, he wouldn't even want to, there was no saving him now. There was only this hope, to help his people, to right many wrongs and to finally, maybe, rest. Not at all what he deserved.

“Well, it's better than spinning our wheels,” Ellen said behind him.

“I'm sure Cas knows more about it than any of us and if he says that we might find help there, then it's best to believe him,” Jo followed up. As ever, she was Castiel's defender, something he deserved even less.

Bobby said nothing, only walking ahead and occasionally glancing behind. Castiel wanted to glance behind, too, but he knew that if he did, this carefully constructed shield he had around him might start to crumble. He owed it more to Dean than to himself to keep looking ahead.

Bobby suddenly stopped, held up his hand, a finger to his lips. The others froze in their tracks. Cas strained every sense he had to listen to the area around them. He heard it then, in the distance: footsteps, running.

Collectively, they retreated, making their own footsteps and light and quick as they could, looking for anywhere to hide, to move to a vantage point where they could see what was coming near them. Ellen and Jo looked at one another, then Ellen was boosting Jo into a tree, and she was climbing with agility and ease toward the top branches. Thick underbrush seemed a flimsy haven, but the rest of themducked into it, squatting down, shoulder to shoulder, to listen and wait.

Bobby sat with his head tilted back, squinting up for any signal from Jo. The air was thick with their tension. Castiel's hands twitched, but no blade glided smoothly down into his palm. They were effectively helpless, weaponless and at the mercy of whatever might overtake them. It made bile rise in his throat, and he turned fleeting thoughts to Dean and swallowed down a prayer as that might give them away.

Indeterminate moments ticked by and Castiel made an effort to control his breathing, quiet his mind, slip into the mode he knew so well as an angel when all was still and silent. It was Jo who broke the tension over them.

Sam!” she screamed from the tree top, and then the rustling of branches was far too loud as she started to make her way down. Bobby and Ellen jumped to their feet and Pamela hissed at them, reaching up to grab Ellen's sleeve, unconvinced.

“It's Sam and a bunch of other people,” Jo exclaimed in breathless excitement. “Come on, we'll lose them!” She dropped to the ground and bolted into the trees and the rest stood for a shocked moment after her, then as one, they ran.

He slapped at the dashboard a few times and then the radio crackled to life. There was a high and whining burst of static that made him slap the dashboard again, and then a voice picked its way through the noise.

“Requests for Winchester radio?” Ash said through the crackle. “Let's see what we got here. I know, how about 'Band on the Run'?”

“Oh god, not McCartney by himself. Come on, you can play me a funeral march better than that!” Dean yelled.

“Dude, Funeral March is by Chopin,” Ash returned, “how about a little Pink Floyd? This one has you written all over it.”
'Run Like Hell' began to pour out of the radio and Dean rolled his eyes a moment and snorted loudly. “Yeah, dude, funny and all but you got any way of finding out just what the hell is going on? I mean, he's an angel and he can't catch a Stingray? I'm feeling like a mouse here, help me out!”

The music cut out.

“Touchy,” Ash said, “but understandable. I know I wouldn't want Metadouche on my ass. He's all over my radar, just one massive blip.”

“That's great and all, but what about me, am I on the radar?” Dean asked, trying not to get exasperated. It wouldn't do to have too much eye rolling at 205 mph.

“Yeah, you're the itty bitty blip running away from the massive blip,” Ash supplied helpfully. “You know, he might have trouble actually seeing you. I think he knows your general vicinity but he's skyscraper tall and you're a speck on the ground. Ah, okay, well, that's not good, he's shifted mass,” Ash said. “Being a non-uniform density because of being a wavelength makes it easy for these jokers.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Dean barked at the radio, “Tell me that again like you're a real boy! Jeezus!”

“He's gotten slightly smaller,” Ash said, “you know, closer to the ground, easier to see you. Dean, I think it might be time to ditch the wheels and break for it on foot, present a smaller target.” Ash's voice wavered a moment. “Dean, he's right on top of you.”

Dean hardly heard the last part because he was spinning the steering wheel madly. Something large, white and glowing had slammed down on the road in front of him. The little corvette fishtailed madly, then gave up and spun a full hundred and eighty degrees, turning again as it slid down the road and slammed its passenger side door into the blockade. The impact slammed Dean into the door, stunning him momentarily, his foot still firmly on the gas pedal. The corvette recovered itself enough to shoot along the blockade, metal scraping in protest and right off the side of the road, breaking through the brambles there before bottoming out in a small ravine. Yup, time to ditch the ride.

Dean threw the door open and hurriedly tried to unfold himself from the interior, only to look up and spot what seemed to be four tall cylinders of light heading his way. They crowded him back into the car and the car tilted crazily up, throwing him into the passenger seat. He became very aware suddenly that the car was moving upwards, like a lazy float. It righted itself and the interior flooded with light and Dean squeezed his eyes shut and tried to get into the floorboard. Then the air around him shattered into high-pitched vibration and he slammed his hands over his ears, gritting his teeth in protest. The car shook. He bounced around the interior before landing half in the driver's seat, the steering wheel slamming into his ribs.

Stop shaking me, you fucking dick, and shut the hell up, I can't hear myself think”, he screamed. Then there was silence. He didn't dare open his eyes; he liked them too much.

“You know, you're in Heaven now, the rules here are different, even for a living soul,” a voice said in his head. He knew that smarmy tone.

“Yeah ,and why the fuck should I trust you?” he sneered, eyes still tightly shut.

“Well for one thing, I'm talking to you,” Metatron said.

He thought he heard his name. He slowed a bit, causing Alat to look at him, tighten her grip on his hand. Now some of the others seemed to sound an alarm and the angels bringing up the rear slowed to a halt, turned, swords in hand. Alat came to a stop as Sam did, released his hand.

“Wait here, Samuel,” she said, moving back to join the others, ready to defend the group of them. He could hear the other angels run on. Whoever was coming toward them made no attempt to hide the sound of their passage, he heard a few more shouts in the distance, and again something that sounded like his name. Then a figure broke through the shadow of the trees and his eyes widened.

“Sam!” Jo cried, running with arms out, and Sam pushed through the line of angels, running to meet her, grabbing her up into his arms and laughing in a breathless way.

“Jo!” He cried back, laughing, feeling like crying, and she flung her arms around his neck, pressed her cheek against his cheek, and they stood there, holding each other, Jo's feet dangling off the ground. The rest of the group broke through and Sam gaped over Jo's shoulder.

“Ellen, Bobby!” he lowered Jo to the ground as they converged on him. “Cas! Pam! Oh my god, you're all here!”

Bobby was grinning huge; he slapped Sam hard on the shoulder. “Damn boy, what the blue blazes are you doing here?!” he asked. “Tell me you're not doing something stupid!”

“No, the angels, we found this spell ... “ he started, then Ellen was hugging him and Pam was rubbing his back and Cas was standing there, alternating between staring at him and darting nervous glances at the angels behind him. “We found this spell, a ladder to Heaven, I know it sounds crazy but it worked. We're going to the garden.” He turned to look at the assembled angels behind him. “Where's Dean?”

“He's here, the last we saw him he was safe, he's running interference,” Bobby said.

“He's being a decoy for Metatron,” Cas interjected: the first time he'd spoken. “He's trying to lead him away from the garden. It's imperative we get there as fast as we can.”

“Then we should move,” Alat said, “and save the reunion for after we've taken back our home.” She was looking at Cas, but she turned away. “Come, we should go now, while Dean is giving us the opportunity,” she said, and she ran.

Sam nodded, gripped Jo's hand and tugged her along. The others came with them. The group that had hugged the back of the line returned there, to run cover in case of an incursion.

Cas remembered this well. Running into battle. The tireless motion, the sound of feet striking the ground in unison. He used to run at the head of the pack, but now he stayed close to the middle, close to Sam and the others.

He knew of Alat, a guard in the seventh hall of heaven, a fierce and noble warrior, one singled out with special favor. If there was retribution for his actions when all was said and done, any atonement leveled on him ... he would think to ask Alat to be his executioner. If Dean were here, he'd call Cas a gloomy bastard. He tried not to think of Dean; he ran on. Talk amongst the human souls while running was impossible, but he was keenly aware of the angels communicating around them. He was sure they were talking about him. But no he ought not to assume that, that was self-centered, wasn't it? Prideful? Oh, it was so hard to keep up with all the human variables. But he was sure they were talking about him. How could they not ? Here was the architect of their folly running with them in Heaven toward who knew what? No, that was blowing his own worth totally out of proportion. They were, of course, talking about how to confront Metatron and perhaps take back the systems of Heaven. Surely that was what they were talking about. Or they were talking about what a tremendous failure he'd been of late, talking about his human corruption. No, surely they weren't talking about him at a time like this ... were they?

His attention was abruptly called away. He felt sharply for a moment a light at the edge of his vision. He almost stumbled and Ellen caught his elbow, running beside him, pulling him steady. He swallowed hard, nodded at her, and she released him. There was a brief burst in his mind, the static and chatter of angel radio. He grabbed at it, but it slipped away. It couldn't mean what he thought it meant, could it?

He ran harder.

“You can open your eyes, you know,” Metatron told him in a reasonable way. “You're in Heaven, regardless of your status, and that means you can look upon its wonders.”

“You're hardly a fucking wonder,” Dean snarled, but still, his curiosity was just killing him. He very slowly opened his eyes to a squint. It was still really bright and he blinked rapidly for a moment, trying to adjust. He lifted his eyes to look out the front windshield, and saw two enormous, glowing silver balls . He stared for a moment, mute and they moved when he shifted to sit up in the seat, track him. Oh … oh fuck, are those eyes?

“There now, see? You're still in possession of all your faculties,” Metatron hummed at him. “You're something of a minor miracle; really tenacious and resourceful. But that ends now.” The eyes blinked slowly. “Let's take a little trip back to the garden shall we? I'm sure your friends are almost there by now. Together we can talk some sense into them.”

“Screw you!” Dean shouted, throwing up both hands and showing both middle fingers. He swung them back and forth to make sure Metatron got a good look. “Dangling me on a hook isn't going to make them stop! They are going to take your ass down, you smarmy dick. You gotta lot of nerve kicking everyone out of the house and locking the door!”

The car gave an abrupt shake and Dean's head struck the roof hard. He grunted and grabbed for the steering wheel.

“Now now, temper temper, we'll let them decide, won't we?” There was a smirk to Metatron's voice. Dean snorted loudly. Great trapped in a matchbox car like a lego figure, just great.

He became aware that they were moving. He turned to look out the side window, but couldn't really see anything but some white vista the car seemed to be sitting on, so he tried rolling down the window and sticking his head out. He craned his head up, because he became aware he must be sitting in a corvette in the palm of the hand of a giant angel fuckhead. He was right. But he really couldn't make out any distinctive features until something on its shoulder moved and it was a head of some animal and wow, how high up were they and okay fuck this and he ducked back into the car and rolled the window up hurriedly, like that would do any good for anything.

“Why you gotta be like this, man?” Dean yelled. “I thought you guys were family, this ain't the way to treat family!” Maybe Metatron needed a good yelling at; nobody had tried that yet, had they? Maybe there was a way to talk some sense into the guy. When they'd first met his dumpy little ass, he hadn't seemed all that threatening; he'd even saved Kevin. But then he'd gone and found Cas; Cas, who trusted anyone that smiled at him and fuck, why'd it have to be Cas? “How could you do that to Cas? He was trying to help you, he believed in you!”

“I'm very grateful to Castiel,” Metatron thrummed. “Why do you think I gave him what he most desired? A way to be with you, wholly with you and not above you. I gave him a chance to be human. You should thank me. If you'd taken better care of what you'd been given, then this mess wouldn't have started in the first place.”

That shouldn't have made Dean go silent. That shouldn't have twisted Dean into knots. He couldn't let this get to him.

“I see you don't have a ready answer,” Metatron continued. “Instead, let's hear a story. Tell me your story, Dean. Tell me how your life changed after I made my coup.”

Dean's life had changed dramatically; this was true. There were crazed angels thrown into the mix of already crazed monsters. He'd hunted; but he hunted anyways. The one notable change, the change that made all the difference was of course the humanization of Castiel, angel of the Lord. Cas was there to be human and vulnerable; to challenge and test Dean; to turn to him, to depend on him, to love him. That was, of course, Dean's big change. He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable in the knowledge that maybe, just maybe ... Metatron had done him the greatest of favors by plucking Cas from the clouds and stranding him on earth. That was fucking selfish, both of this monumental dick of an angel and of himself.

“You didn't give him a choice,” Dean said quietly, knowing he would be heard at any volume. “You were just getting him out of the way.”

“True, but we don't always get what we want, unless of course we do and we are too much of a coward to acknowledge it,” Metatron said mildly.

“Fuck you,” Dean whispered, squeezing his eyes shut.

“You don't get to pretend you're noble and just and your cause is right,” Metatron said, “you don't get to make this quest retribution for wrongs committed against you. Because you're guilty, Dean Winchester, one of the guiltiest of all — and this one, you really deserve. Where's all your vim and vigor now? Where are your useless threats? Here is what is going to happen. I am going to present your friends at the garden a choice, and then no matter what they choose, I'm going to absorb them. You, on the other hand, I'm going to return to earth as a sad cautionary tale for people who can't leave well enough alone.”

“I am going to kill you,” Dean hissed under his breath.

“Well, it wouldn't be you if you didn't try,” Metatron said, not sounding very concerned.

They stopped to get their bearings in a thicket. They stood in groups, the humans to one side, the angels to the other, and Sam nervously pacing between them. The angels huddled up as if to confer, there was some pointing and Sam came over to sort of loom over their huddle a moment, then he paced back to Bobby and Jo and Ellen and Pam. Cas was a little more detached than that, hanging off sort of by himself at the edge of the thicket, a few feet away from the rest of them.

“Okay, so how is it you're running through Heaven with a bunch of angels?” Bobby asked him as he watched Cas pace back and forth at the tree line. Sam pulled his attention to his friends, who were all watching him with expectant expressions.

“Uh, we found this spell, or sort of modified this spell and made a Jacob's Ladder, well, me and Mary Patricia did and then I was probably about halfway here talking with a French guy who was like the ladder tour guide or something and they showed up,” he waved at the group of angels. “Alat's cool, the rest of them are so-so I guess, they're okay. That's it, that's the story.” He looked over at Cas again. “What's Cas looking for?”

“Why don't you go ask him?” Ellen said. “He sure seems distracted. He's a lot easier with you than with the rest of us. Poor guy, he's not having a very relaxing time of being newly dead. I mean, he sort of walked right into a hornet's nest.”

“I guess it's wrong to say he should be used to it, but he should be used to it,” Bobby gruffed. “We never catch a damn break, and we're dead. Well most of us, anyways.”

Sam nodded, glanced over at the angels one more time, and then walked over to where Cas stood, arms folded, foot tapping. “Cas, you okay? What is it?”

“Something is coming,” Cas said without looking at him. “It's ... I don't want to read to much into it.” He did look at Sam then, and almost immediately dropped his gaze. “I'm also worried for Dean.”

“Yeah well, worrying about Dean is one of your specialties. He's smart, Cas, he's crafty, he will be fine.” He slapped Cas on the shoulder. “Back to what's coming; any idea at all?”

Cas looked up at him again. His eyes moved over Sam's face for a moment, and he rubbed his arms. “There is something in me ... singing.” He rubbed his chest. “But perhaps that's not a good analogy. It's a feeling that's blossoming, intense anticipation. There was this one really cold day and Dean dragged me outside the bunker and he had these menthol cigarettes. When we shared one in that really cold air, my head cleared. It was like breathing in winter, Dean called it a rush. It's like that, Sam, it's a rush, and I want to be hopeful, but given my history, I'm trying to be reserved.”

“Cas,” Sam said, watching him intently, “I'm not following.”

Castiel made a frustrated noise and opened his mouth, but the group of angels broke apart, and Alat called to them. They'd decided on a course, and further discussion would have to wait.

They were going to split into two groups now. Cas would accompany Bobby and Ellen along with his brothers Chayo and Gemi. Alat, Jo, Sam, Pamela and the rest of the group would stay on the path they were on now, while Castiel and his smaller group were to take a more circuitous route. The hope was, of course, that if one group was set upon, the other would prevail. It was a sensible strategy, and though Cas felt a pang at being separated from Sam and Jo, he could see its logic. The two angels that joined his group watched him with a quiet speculation that made him a bit edgy, but Bobby patted his back and gave him a nod, and Ellen smiled.

“Home stretch, fellas,” she said. “This place might actually be pretty livable if we get you guys back in charge.” She nodded at the other angels. “Man, I was never in this good a shape when I was back home.”

“You and me both,” Bobby said. “Hell, I thought monster hunting kept me fit, but we've been running flat out for miles. Heaven's starting to have its advantages.”

“It only seems like miles,” Gemi piped up then. “Actually, we are bending space between Heavens ...”

“Yeah, yeah, don't burst my bubble, boy.” Bobby waved him off.

“It is true, you know,” Cas said with a tilt of his head and a lift of his brows, “distance here is only relative. Alat has been choosing our path, think of it as a multitude of little worm holes ...”

“You put a sock in it, Cas,” Bobby snorted. “Starting to sound all uppity like you did when I knew you on earth, thought you had that stick out of your ass now. Looks like they're heading for the starting line. Who's gonna be our point man?”

Chayo gave a nod and Bobby herded Ellen and Cas over to where he and Gemi were standing, then they all began to run again. Cas and his group veered off from the others, following Chayo into the heavier cover of the deeper forest.

Jimmy stopped and looked up at the trees towering above him. They seemed endless and old, a lot like this place. The flowers pushed between the buttons on his shirt, wound themselves around his fingers; some had managed to get a grip on his hair. He was starting to wonder if this was going to be what his eternity was like: shepherding an angel's grace manifested as giant white lilies in the endless forest of heaven. It was poetic but potentially very dull.

He sighed and started walking again, only to have his chin slapped by a flower until he was heading in the right direction. There were no sounds in the forest, no bird chatter, no crackling of dried brush as something (other than himself) walked along the forest floor. He felt completely alone, the single soul in all the forest. That was when the tops of the trees began to sway very gently and the flowers all stilled in his arms.

He craned his head up, squinting against the brightness of the heavenly sky. Something seemed to be moving; at first he thought that maybe it was clouds. Clouds in some amorphous shape moving slowly across the sky; but after he watched them a moment, they seemed to take shape. They looked for all the world like the heads of animals, but he couldn't make out what sort of animals, and he took a few steps forward ,but the flowers pushed against his chest and he stopped. Not only did they look like heads, but shoulders and, well, wings, massive wings, and there were a lot of clouds all clustered in this one group making this one image. It was so strange he wanted to get in the clear, to see it better and more in the open, but every time he started to move the flowers would push and slap him as if it made them anxious. It was this that made him think about what he was seeing, made it come into clear and slow focus. This was an angel? This was an angel, of course, he knew the vague outline he'd seen in his dreams before Castiel dropped out of Heaven and into his body. This was an angel and the only angel in Heaven was … Metatron, of course. Now he was no longer seized with wonder, but instead contemplating a place to hide, and how could he even hide? But Metatron kept moving away, and within moments he was out of sight and Jimmy let go a breath and instinctively clutched his armful of flowers closer. This was the first he'd seen of Metatron and he seemed to be heading in the direction that Jimmy was going and what did that all mean? If the flowers were herding him and the flowers were Castiel's grace — as he was slowly and incredulously starting to suspect — did it mean that Castiel was in that direction? And maybe Metatron knew that, too ,and Castiel would not be alone, the others would be with him, and this surely wasn't a good sign. He licked his lips and considered his options. There weren't really any options, were there? He had to get this back to Castiel, that was the whole point. If somehow Castiel could take his grace back and be an angel again, maybe he could put right what Metatron had broken and Heaven would be Heaven again.

The flowers didn't object this time when he moved forward, and then he started to run.

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