He could hear his name but he wasn't sure where it was coming from. Was he still alive? Who was calling him? How long had he been drifting in silence?
"Castiel, it's time to wake up. You're not done yet."
He knew that voice. Was it God? No… it was more familiar than that. Cas tried to open his eyes but they were so heavy. "What do I need to do?" He mumbled tiredly, his mouth didn't want to work. He'd given his all for Heaven and the angels; he'd given up his existence for them, hadn't he? How was he able to live without his life's energy?
"You're well enough to move, get up."
Cas struggled more, his eyelids twitching and barely moving. It wasn't easy, he couldn't even lift a hand to try and force them. All of his energy was elsewhere within him, slowly recreating his consciousness and putting him back to where he should be. It drained through his limbs and he felt a muscle spasm. "You said I'm not done," his voice was a little stronger, "what else is there to do?"
"Confront the one that did this. Now come, I have an eternity but you don't."
Cas was so close to figuring out who it was, the name was at the edge of his slowly waking mind. "How do you know they aren't dead?"
"Because only I can kill them,"
Castiel slowly opened his eyes and looked up at the horseman, Death smiled down at him. He was at a loss for words, his mind barely worked and his eyes were heavy with sleep. If it weren't for Death's demands Cas would've assumed he was there to take him away, "Where am I?"
"You've been resting here in Heaven, everything is finally working again."
"What do you mean?" Cas tried to sit up to look around, his arms felt weak and his head was swimming. He'd definitely given more energy than he thought he could spare, how had he survived? "Shouldn't I be dead? Did you just decide not to take me until it's over?"
Death shook his head, "You were merely sleeping, there was no need to take you anywhere." He started toward the door, "Let's go."
Cas took a deep breath of air he didn't need and slung his legs over the edge of his bed. He looked up and recognized it immediately, faded memories of an old crib and space of his own. It was where they'd been keeping him when he was first made, he remembered Gabriel sneaking in.
As his mind wandered he started to stand, his legs wobbled but remained steady enough for him to stand. He was in his human form, not nearly enough energy in him to conjure wings. Death waited for him outside the door, calmly watching him as he took slow steps, each one getting a little bit easier.
"Do you know who did it?" He asked, taking a short break against the doorframe.
"How long have you known?"
Death hummed softly and looked out toward the great hall ahead of them, "Since it started, sometime before you were born." He turned back toward Cas and looked him over, "You've come a long way, I expected you to be dead a long time ago."
"That's comforting," Cas rolled his eyes and straightened up again, "So then tell me, if you knew why didn't you stop it?"
"Because it wasn't time yet."
Cas knew there was a rule to the flow of life and death and if anyone would keep it at balance it'd be the horseman himself. It irritated him but he didn't blame Death for not interfering. He'd already gotten pretty mixed up in the fray already, in fact it was thanks to him that Cas wasn't dead a few times over. "For someone who expected me dead you really do your best to make sure it doesn't happen." He smiled and earned one in return from Death, a small victory Cas added to his mental roster.
"It was too soon to interfere with the cause because it'd result in the death of a being that could have still existed for millennia. However He's brought this on Himself and time is up." He started walking again and Cas did what he could to keep up, "I interfered and helped you because you have always been the only thing that could bring everything back to where it is supposed to be." He paused and bowed his head shallowly toward Castiel, "And for that I am grateful to you, Castiel Winchester."
Cas felt his face heat up with a tinge of embarrassment in his system, he was certain he didn't deserve that kind of praise but he did his best to accept it. "Uhm… you're welcome…"
He followed Death all the way to God's chambers, Cas could feel the pulse of Heaven as his senses strengthened and they got closer to it. Each was a wave of energy that radiated throughout the realm's core and echoed to the edges. It was a cleansing wash of light and with each step toward it Castiel felt stronger. He closed his eyes and let himself wander toward it. With Heaven full health again it sent healing waves all over the other levels, every one saturated with life energy from what Cas had originally poured inside.
He'd become the very source of Heaven, he was its life and he was its heart. Castiel walked up to it again and watched the flow, mesmerized and feeling a strange tingle in his veins. He reached up, following an instinct and touched the very center. It flashed once and he retracted his hand, fingertips burning with a sensation he didn't understand.
Death didn't say a word to him and instead watched him. Castiel swallowed past a lump in his throat and reached for it again, but stopped short when he saw his fingers. They were glowing brightly and the light was slowly bleeding up his arm. It didn't hurt and he knew inwardly that it was originally his to begin with. Castiel just watched it climb up to his shoulder and felt the burning lead into his chest where it connected to his core.
For a second nothing happened and it almost seemed to fizzle out until he sensed it explode within him. It burst through his body and all at once his life returned to him, Cas stared wide-eyed into space as a familiar force rushed through him. It was like a sun had imploded inside him, his wings ruptured from his back and the sides of his head, and his body shifted one more time. He stood in his true form, flexing his once tired wings and stretching out the muscle in his limbs.
"You never cease to amaze, Castiel." He heard God's voice and turned to see the Almighty next to Death. The two looked at one another with a sort of solemn air to them, like they were old friends meeting for the last time. "I wondered when you'd get here."
"Castiel needed to be present," Death replied, "I still don't know why you've chosen this path, you've cut your lifespan immensely."
"I think you understand," God closed his eyes and looked like he was at peace with Himself, but Cas didn't know what they were talking about. He wanted to ask but felt too far out of place. "Giving another chance to someone over and over again is all part of caring about them. And it was all I could do to give Lucifer another chance," He looked up at Castiel with tears in His eyes, "Thank you, Castiel. You've made every choice better than I could have, thanks to you he'll be able to live like the rest."
"I don't understand," Cas shook his head, his chest started to ache, "What are you talking about? What's going on?"
"Castiel," Death's voice was calming but it did little to ease Cas' growing anxiety, "Everything that exists has been made, that includes me and that includes Him." He gestured toward God who nodded. "Beings like God that are given the capacity to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent are created separately. The universe concentrates into these beings, it combines time and space, bends the rules of reality until the right combination is made. God was given the capacity to create life and everything you've seen. I was given the capacity to take it away, even from Him. You were given adaptation, determination and a strong will, and everything that's ever made you human."
Cas stared at them as Death's words sunk in, "I am… I'm not… what am I?"
"Whatever you choose to be." God offered a kind smile and it was then that Cas realized how sick he still looked, as if the poison had never left Him. "You were born into the angels, given to us as a needed sign of change. But you were raised human, and that is a very large part of who you are." He sighed heavily and looked at Heaven's core again, "I'm sure you've noticed, Castiel, but I was made flawed like anything else. I make mistakes though on far larger scales. I've lost my temper in the past, I've made unfair rules for the mortals I've created, and as their creator I've attempted to control them without giving true freedom because I thought I needed to be worshipped. You've seen many of my faults, but Lucifer… he was my biggest mistake."
Castiel allowed himself to retake his human form, shifting back down to show respect and take away and threat he might pose. He took steps closer to God and Death until he was the same distance apart from each, within reach. Cas wasn't sure what he was doing there, what he was supposed to be doing or what he should have done, but it seemed that was common among all living things. "What happened?" He asked softly.
"I was the one that gave Lucifer the means to escape, and I was the one that gave him the essence of Heaven and the angels." God's eyes were a strange mixture of sadness and relief as he spoke, "I knew what it would do, but I could see what could happen, I could see you, Castiel. With all the right guidance you'd return to us and you'd save him. I didn't foresee your purification of Hell, though. It was one of the first successful worlds I created, I was rather attached to it."
"It was horrible." Cas didn't snap but he kept his tone firm, but God already knew his stance on the whole thing.
"I know it was, I guess I'm a bit of a hoarder… But you did everything perfectly. When I made the angels and Heaven I hadn't ever wanted Lucifer to become what he did. It was always a possibility but I made him anyway, because I loved the idea of what he could be if he were the archangel I'd meant to make. But as I've said, I made big mistakes in the past that I couldn't fix. Lucifer had free will, all of my creations do. I can't take that away and so I can't just make anything happen the way I want it too." He furrowed His brow and looked down at His hands, "I needed something to save him, I tried so many times to give him the opportunity to fix himself but he never could. And I couldn't save him myself…
"But when I saw the possibilities with you, when I saw what you could do I knew what I had to do. For you to come into existence I needed to make an irreversible crack in both Heaven and Hell, so I did. When giving Lucifer every holy essence there was another possibility that he'd see the error of his ways, but it was slim at best." The Father went to sit in his chair, it was simple, as Cas would have expected. He was tired and weak, Death really did mean that time was up for Him. Cas' hands started to shake. "I knew it would hurt so many," God closed His eyes and shook His head slowly, "I just wanted to fix the biggest mistake…"
"Why hasn't my energy healed you?" Cas blurted out, his teeth ground together, "Why? It was supposed to fix everything!"
"It was never made to save Him," Death placed a hand on Cas' shoulder, "That is one of your limitations. You can't heal me either." Cas knew that from before, when Death sat unconscious against the wall of a shelter.
"The angels are doing what they can for Earth now," God caught Cas' eye by making a hole in space to see different areas of the planet. Castiel's mind picked it up fast, watching every piece that was present for him to see. "Six years have passed since you were last there, much has changed but I know you will fix it. Heaven will continue without me, you are its heart and it will gain new counsel. Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer will be in charge here; you may decide where you'd rather be. Heaven could always use your assistance but Earth is open to you as it's been your home far longer."
Cas didn't know what to say, everything happened too fast and he knew what would happen to God any second now. "What do I do?" he asked weakly and the Lord shook His head again.
"You'll figure it out, Castiel. Just know that as this comes to a close I am very proud of you, and I was honoured to get the chance to meet you."
"Likewise," Cas fought back tears, as he knew he was already speaking to a corpse. God's last words etched into him like a carving on his mind. "Death…" he whispered, "What now?"
Death's hand was still on his shoulder, it was a comfort as he squeezed lightly but said nothing. The horseman walked forward and touched God's face, light glowed softly, growing and fading until it was too bright to see. And then there was nothing. Death was gone and so was God.
Castiel backed up to Heaven's core and dropped down, sitting on the floor and staring at an empty room.