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Castiel is caught between two worlds. The gates of heaven are closing fast. Naomi and the others reach out to him. He sees their plan now, he knows their intentions were righteous, even if the execution was… primitive. And longing for his old home tears him apart, makes him want to take wing into the air and fly through that blinding, narrowing circle of light into the only place he’s ever called home.
But on the other side are Sam and Dean. And earth, and God’s creatures, bound together by no greater glue than their common humanity, formed out of mud and a little divine breath and yet so full of potential, so full of accomplishment in the short years they’ve been on earth.
One side has eternity; the other, a future. He’s torn.
”Hurry, Castiel,” Naomi calls, reaching out her hand. She’s brilliantly beautiful beyond the simple aesthetics of her human guise, and his own human heart beats faster with every moment he stares. “Hurry, come home to us. We need you.”
Castiel looks down. Far below him, Dean and Sam are looking up. Not reaching out to him. Waiting.
"What do I do?" he calls down.
Dean’s fists clench, and he looks at Sam. Sam nods.
"Whatever you feel is right, Cas," Sam shouts up. "It’s your decision."
"I won’t see you again," Castiel says. "Not in this life."
"That’s just the thing." Sam squints; the portal must be searing his eyes. "It’s your life. You get to make the decision."
Dean looks up now, and the set of his jaw is that same steel-hard thing Castiel has grown to know means he’s past the limit of his emotional strength. “Cas,” he says, and his words are clipped. “Cas, you go where you gotta go. If that means goodbye, then…” He takes a breath. “Goodbye. And thanks, man.”
"Yeah," Sam says. "Thanks for everything."
Only seconds now, and never in his many, many years have seconds gone by so slowly. They’re letting him go. His home needs him. Heaven needs him.
"Please," Naomi says, and the chorus of angels behind her reach out. "Castiel, we need your wisdom. We need your leadership. Come home to us."
"Home," Castiel echoes, meeting her gaze. "That’s where I want to go. My home…"
Her face relaxes into a relieved smile, and her hands curl to welcome him.
Then they tense, and clutch at air, and she screams. “Castiel, no!”
The grace pours out of him, white light and sparking heat, and he hurls it upward. Where it meets the portal, an explosion rocks both heaven and earth. A tree cracks open and falls. The sidewalk shudders and cracks. The sky splits apart.
And then it’s whole again, and blue, and Castiel is falling.
His body is limp, and Dean runs, positions himself under Cas and reaches out his arms. Sam follows, and together they break the freefall of the crumpled body as best they can. But the impact still knocks them to the earth, and Castiel’s head slips from Dean’s grasp, splits on the sidewalk and starts to ooze blood.
"Oh, God," he hears Dean say before he loses consciousness.
* * *
Dead dead no he can’t be he can’t be dead, he can’t be, they just got him back and now he’s gonna crack his head on the sidewalk and die like a stupid motherfucker, god damn it Cas…
Sam’s pulling him away. “Dean. Dean, let me see, come on…”
"No." Stupid word pouring out of his mouth over and over again. "No no no no no."
"Dean…" but after a minute Sam stops, and he picks up one of Cas’s wrists, limp wrist limp hand not moving no no Dean can’t look, and a minute later he drops it.
"Is he?" Dean manages. Sam doesn’t answer, and Dean doesn’t look to see if he’s nodding or shaking his head. He’s just looking at Cas’s face, his stupid slack face, eyes closed and blood matting through his hair and caking it, black strands in brown, and his grace is gone and his soul is gone and this time Dean’s sure it’s the end, for real, forever.
But he was OK with that a minute ago, he said goodbye, he said thank you, if Cas had passed through that portal and gone home Dean woulda walked away and gotten a burger and thought someday I’m gonna see him again, when this life finally gets to me, we’ll hang out in Heaven and wait for Sam to show up 50 years later lookin’ old and happy. He was OK with that. He should be OK with this.
Maybe he just needs to say goodbye.
"Sam," he says, in a low voice. "You might wanna look away."
Sam straightens up, clears his throat, and turns.
Dean cradles Castiel’s head in his arms. Leans down. “I’m sorry, man,” he says. “Couldn’t save you this time either.”
And for no reason he knows of, he lowers his lips down onto Castiel’s, a bare whisper of a kiss. Pressing, a second, and then gone.
And then Castiel coughs.
Dean jumps and nearly lets Castiel’s head fall and crack on the sidewalk again. “Holy—”
"I tried to tell you he was just unconscious," Sam says, turning back and crossing his arms over his chest and smiling in that smug told-you-so way of his. Castiel coughs a few more times; a little blood has collected at his lip, and he licks at it and shivers.
"I think I need medical attention," he says.
Dean doesn’t know what to do. Laugh, cry, shoot himself, call a doctor, call a parade. He just half-laughs, sniffling.
"Yeah, pal, you do," Sam says, squatting beside him to help him sit up. "Let’s get you patched up."
Castiel allows himself to be lifted to his feet, but as soon as he’s upright, he turns over his shoulder and scowls at Dean.
"Dean," he says. "Did you… kiss me?"
This time it’s Sam that nearly drops him. Dean takes in a shuddering breath. “Awkward,” he mutters.
"Dean?" Sam’s looking over his shoulder now. "Did you…"
"Can we get the guy some freakin’ help already?" Dean snaps. "What’s the matter with you? Get him in the car."
Sam shakes his head and does as ordered. Dean follows, stomping along as they head back to the car with their newly human, banged-up friend. Jeez. Some people just have no priorities.