Will spam to a bajillion comms and crosspost later. If you've found this part without me doing so, yay!
Babe doesn't understand the two Men at all, and this seems a bit odd now that he's used to understanding Cas very clearly. He has discovered over the last day wandering the forests that he and Cas can communicate effectively if Babe thinks a thought to Cas, which Cas somehow hears and thus responds back aloud in his curious Human voice.
The infant rhino uses this technique to voice his hunger, and his growing apprehension. Even without the herd, the Savannah and all of its dangers is preferable.
"I do apologize, Babe," Cas says, and looks about the warehouse uncomfortably, his eyes lingering on a filthy window casting yellow rays into the dark building. Babe doesn't like these walls and he doesn't like the cement floor either; he misses the sky, the grass, the soft earth underneath his feet. The cement is too hard, and he aches for a place to rest because he isn't sure the ground here would be very giving to his large and heavy body.
"I hope we can leave soon..."
Babe grunts softly as Cas gently rubs his back. It's soothing, and suddenly, he's never felt safer. He thinks, We will find the herd. You promised. I know you are the type of Man to keep his promises, Cas.
"I am," Cas insists, though he sounds unsure. "I feel that I am, at the very least."
The other two Men have pulled to a darkened corner of the warehouse after Cas had told them his tale, and are now arguing heatedly in a way that suggests they believe he and Cas can't hear them. Babe certainly doesn't care to correct them (not that he could), but Cas whispers quietly to himself, wondering who Balthazar is, and why they feel to the need to mention him now. He hears Cas wonder, "Is Balthazar my friend? Is he a good man, and am I? Will he help us?"
Babe interrupts Cas's thoughts with a nudge to his back. You are a good Man, the only good Man I have ever known. If these are your friends, I trust them, because I trust you.
"Thank you, Babe." Cas still seems unsure, but he's smiling very softly now, as if moved by something both great and beautiful. Babe resists the urge to snort again--surely, it can't be because of him. Men rarely perceive the beauty of creatures such as he, or so he'd thought.
"Your faith is inspiring," Cas says. "I should keep faith as well."
"He could help us, Dean!"
"I don't trust that bastard. He took a kid's soul. Who knows how many others he's got in his pocket? He's a slimy, rotten, no good--"
"We don't have a choice. We need another angel, and we can't help Cas like this on our own. Balthazar is all he's got right now."
Dean looks at Cas, and frowns when they make eye-contact. Not looking away, he tells his brother, "I don't trust him, Sam. Cas has too many enemies, and Balthazar's the type to be sold to the highest bidder. He could be in Raphael's pocket right now, which means we'd all be S.O.L. if he finds out where we are."
"I don't believe that," Sam says with conviction. "He likes Cas. It was in his eyes, you know?"
Dean turns and gives him a look of something caught between disgust and hilarity. "His eyes? What is this, General Hospital? You are such a girl."
"Oh like you’re one to talk, watching marathons of Dr. Sexy--"
“Dr. Sexy is a damned good show!”
“It’s a soap opera, Dean.”
Dean clears his throat, fighting down a blush. “No, Sammy. This is not happening. Balthazar's a slime-ball."
"...So what, then? Do we call Bobby?"
"No, I told you, Bobby's got enough to deal with. We'll figure something else out on our own."
"We don't have time to research this. He's got a pet rhinoceros."
"Yeah, yeah, and we'll figure that out too. What do they eat?"
"How the hell should I know? If we just call Balthazar--"
"No, Sam! In any case, you seem to have forgotten he doesn’t like you much, either!"
“It doesn’t matter how he feels about us, Dean. He’d help Cas, I know it.”
Cas lifts a hand politely to catch their attention, and looks questioningly at the two men, his other hand still on Babe's hide, soothing gently. "Pardon, but who is Balthazar?"
"No one," the two say at once, and Cas winces a little, because the united voices are loud and forceful.
But after a moment, he stands a little taller and looks them both in the eye. "If Balthazar is my friend, then I suggest we call him here. It seems that I would not trust someone lightly, yes?"
Dean makes a frustrated noise and approaches Cas with a bewildered expression on his face. He looks tired. "Cas, it's complicated. You don't remember, but he's a total dick."
"He's not that bad, Dean."
Dean whirls around, glaring at his brother. "Soul, Sammy. Why do you keep glossing over that? He took a kid's soul, and sold him a weapon of Heaven for kicks! He got people killed! Sure they were dicks anyway, but, he took a child’s soul. It’s near-fucking-demonic, is what it is!"
"C'mon. Cas trusted him, remember? He wouldn't have asked Balthazar to be an ally if he didn't."
"But Balthazar said no, which means he's our enemy. We aren't asking him to--Cas, what the hell are you doing?"
Cas looks up at the roof of the warehouse and spreads his arms wide. He’s sure that's how it's done, because the sky is everywhere, in every place, and it is the one constant thing in this world that every person can identify. He takes a deep breath, and looks upward, and imagines what the sky must look like here without the roof resting between him and it. Is it cloudy today? Perhaps there are shards of sunlight peaking through the clouds like the gateways of gold to something better.
"Balthazar? Are you out there? Can you hear me? I would like to speak with you, if I may."
But nothing happens, and Cas tilts his head up at the roof, wondering if perhaps the building is in the way. Perhaps he needs a very large, open field to see the sky properly, and perhaps he needs to speak louder so that Balthazar can hear him.
"I don't think it works like that," Dean mutters, irritated. "But if you're all gonna be stupid, I suppose we may as well do this right. Sam, go get the holy oil."
From a table at a darkened corner of the warehouse, Dean unzips a bag and pulls out several strange objects that smell like something Babe wants nothing to do with. The rhino shifts away, trotting in the opposite direction, when he feels Cas's hand rest on his side, and a soothing force lulls him again. He doesn't understand why, but he feels warm and safe when Cas touches him like that. Though he does not understand the concepts of magic, every animal knows the sensation of beings that are otherworldly. He thinks that perhaps Cas is not a Man at all, but something else, something that is good, wholly good, and beautiful.
You are no Man, he thinks, and Cas tilts his head at the infant rhino, as if confused.
Do you feel like a Man?
"I don't know. What does being a man feel like?"
"Bloody wretched, I imagine."
Cas turns at the voice, surprised, and Babe is surprised too because this is a voice he can understand clearly, just like Cas. It’s much different, however, and lilted strangely, as if born from a place very far away.
The voice belongs to a short man with curly hair who is staring at Cas as if he holds all the answers to questions that had never been voiced aloud. "Hello, Cassie," the man says, and while he lifts a hand and wiggles his fingers almost mockingly, his expression is something soft and malleable, as if caught by too many unnamed emotions. The biggest that Babe can identify is relief.
"Hello," Cas says politely, because he's always been nothing if not polite, though he doesn't sound too sure about 'Cassie' as a name. It sounds vaguely irritating to Babe, which is perhaps the point. "Are you my friend too?"
The man laughs, his eyes sparkling. Behind him, the smaller Man curses, clearly surprised, and the taller Man is scowling worriedly.
"Of course I am, Castiel. My, how adorable you are like this."
"Like what?" Cas tilts his head. He looks at Babe on a whim, and wonders, Is Castiel a better name than Cas?
Babe doesn't answer, because he still doesn't understand the purpose of names. Regardless of whatever name Cas decides to call himself, he will still be the same creature that Babe now trusts with his life, and Babe will still follow him, out of no choice but for the sake of his own survival. The rules are different for beasts such as he, used to the cruel and simple ways of the wild. But there is a part of Cas that smells like the wind and sky, that seems wild in-spite of his human tongue and polite, well-mannered appearance. Perhaps before he'd lost his herd and memory of who and what he really is, Cas had understood this far better than the Men he has claimed to be his friends.
A name, Babe thinks, is the least of what makes any being, Man or Rhinoceros. A name has no proper substance or use, and he finds it strange that Men place such high regard for these things.
But everything about Men are strange...
Dean sighs loudly. "He's not your friend, he's just an occasionally useful asshole." He turns to Balthazar. "We weren't ready. How did you know to come here? And what the hell is going on? What happened to Cas?"
"I heard Cas's prayer, of course. Took me a while to find him, though, because the poor chap's a bit lost." Balthazar smiles at Cas again, and looks like he wants to hug him--or touch him in some friendly manner--but tenses as if he doesn't quite dare. This confuses Cas. Don't friends touch one another in friendly manners? Unless they are friends who do not touch, and what sort of friends would that be?
Balthazar continues, careless of these questions. "Ralphie clipped him good on the last battle, I hear, but Cassie got him back all nice and proper. He's a fighter, our Cas." Balthazar beams at him, and suddenly claps Cas carefully on the back, heedless of his prior wariness as if they are the very best of friends. Perhaps they are... and this confuses him even more.
But when Balthazar smiles at him, his eyes crinkling with both relief and mirth, Cas can't help but smile back a bit tentatively. "The garrisons have been bloody nuts looking for you," Balthazar says. "Good thing Ralphie's in no better condition, or we'd all be dead."
"I apologize," Cas says, but he doesn't know what he's sorry for, because he doesn't remember and he doesn't know who Ralphie is. "I did not know anyone was looking for me."
"Try half of Heaven's choir, mate. Gave us a scare, you did."
"Don't do that, Cas." Balthazar looks a little pained, suddenly, but he's insistent when he says, "You don't apologize to me, right? You're suppose to just glare all puppy-dog like until I do it for you."
Cas tilts his head. He still doesn't understand. Beside him, Babe makes an impatient noise, and Cas rests a hand on the rhino's side again. "Could you help us? Babe must find his herd. I promised that I would help him, and he is very hungry now. I must return to Africa."
"Do you remember what you are?"
"I am... not a man?"
Balthazar laughs again, and it's both hearty and infectious. Cas smiles back, but he doesn't know what's worth smiling about. He just knows he likes it very much when Balthazar laughs.
"No, Cas. Not hardly."
Dean clears his throat, and they both turn to look at he and his brother. "Skip the plot summary. What's gonna happen to Cas and his...?" Dean makes a swirly gesture off the side of his head, like his brains were being scrambled. Is that what happened to Cas?
He hopes not. It would hurt to have one's brains scrambled, he's sure.
Balthazar frowns at the movement, but shrugs a little to convey that he could care less, which seems like an outright lie. Cas is starting to realize Balthazar is a mixture of many contradictions, and it's frustrating to watch and attempt to translate with his limited understanding of such things. He strokes Babe's tough hide instead, and tries to imagine what his home looks like, and wonders if Balthazar has ever been there. If he has a home. Surely he does?
"Cas'll heal up in a few more days, I imagine. He's strong, stronger than all of us save for Ralphie. The memories will return soon after, I'm sure."
Dean looks at Cas disbelievingly. "He doesn't look injured."
"He means his true form, Dean."
"Shut up, bitch."
The brothers elbow each other. Balthazar rolls his eyes, and takes Cas gently by the hand. His other hand touches Babe's hide. "We should be going, then. Africa, you said?"
Dean shakes his head and marches up to Balthazar, rudely swiping at the air as if to declare his displeasure with the entire world. Seeing how angry this man generally seems to be, Cas predicts that's a lot of displeasure. "Oh no you don't. How can we trust you to take care of him? You'll probably drag him right to--"
"I suggest you shut your bloody trap before you finish that sentence, monkey. You know nothing about my debts to Cas. He is my brother."
Cas jerks a little, surprised by this. He opens his mouth to ask for confirmation when Dean opens his and growls, "The lot of good that's done the rest of your family."
Balthazar tenses all over, and appears to debate striking Dean. Cas lays a calm hand on Balthazar, and the two look at him, as if surprised that he isn't drooling in a corner somewhere, what with all this assumed brain damage.
He clears his throat, and is irritated but wary. "Perhaps... we should continue after I recall the context of this conversation. Dean, I... trust, Balthazar. Let me go with him."
"For the love of the Father! You don't need his bloody permission."
Dean is desperate, his green eyes wide, palms splayed up and open. "No, Cas. I don't trust him. You'll be safe with us, okay? Let Bal take the rhino--"
"...Babe, back home, and you can stay here. With us. We'll keep you safe, I promise."
Cas looks behind him, to Babe. They make eye contact.
After a moment, Cas frowns and shakes his head. "No Dean," he says, stepping back to Babe, and stroking the tough gray hide. "I made a promise. I need to keep it."
Balthazar sighs very loudly. "Can we go now?"
"Cas, you don't--"
"I will see you again, Dean. I am sure of this."
Balthazar takes his hand, and it is warm, the palms soft, his grip almost tentative. Cas hears the beating of wings a moment later, and then the world lurches. As his eyes adjust to the quiet African moon, the relief in Babe seems almost palpable.
Babe is surprised when Balthazar addresses him directly, with as much kindness as Cas has ever shown him.
"Your numbers are very rare these days, small one. It should not be too much effort to find your herd again."
Balthazar, he notices, is still holding Cas's hand. Cas looks down at this, and frowns, but is not displeased. Balthazar seems to take it as such regardless and immediately lets go, giving a healthy him distance. "I'm sorry, Cas."
"What for, if I might ask?"
"For touching you," Balthazar says, his brows crinkling in confusion. "You don't like physical contact. It's always confused you."
"Yes." But Balthazar sighs, and, very carefully, takes Cas's hand again.
Cas looks down at their joined hands, and then smiles very briefly. He tilts his head. "I don't understand. Why would I not like this? You are my brother, and brothers seek contact, do they not?"
"We are brothers, yes, but not in the ways of Men. You are not human, Cas."
"What am I, then?"
Babe's ears prick. He can hear the rustling of feathers again, but it seems... nervous, somehow.
"An angel," Balthazar says. Then he grins and adds, "One of my favorites, really."
"I don't understand..."
"You will." Balthazar turns back to Babe, and touches his front horn carefully. "Easy, now," he says, when Babe shifts a little, unused to the intimate touch, and untrusting of this stranger even if he does seem to be a member of Cas’s family. "Let me find your mum."
Balthazar closes his eyes. A cool breeze picks up, and Babe's ears prick again; it's dangerous out here underneath the open night sky. Even with the company of his new friends, he feels so very alone. He wants his mother, and suddenly his heart beats erratically in his chest, daring to hope that it is possible this strange being will find her in the black of night.
"Ah--there she is," Balthazar speaks up, which is strange because all he's done is stand in place with his eyes closed, as if concentrating on the sounds of the Earth. "She's mourning your loss, too, the poor girl. We should move along, then. Hold on, Cas."
They take flight again.
“Are you ready to go home, Cassie?”
“I believe so.”
“You said you trust me.”
“No, but you always were a bit thick.”
“Shush. You don’t need to understand. Just think, Cas. Feel it out. Do you really trust me?”
“...I believe that I do, yes.”
“Then don’t let go of my hand.”
When Babe was very young, he had seen a baby bird fall from its nest. One of its brothers had pushed it over the edge, and the mother had released a loud squawk of panic as the chick tumbled like a feathery stone towards the ground. But just moments before it was destined to die, the fledgling spread its tiny wings and began to flap furiously, managing to slow its decent and control its fall until it was eventually flying.
The mother had come down from the nest and caressed the infant lovingly, relieved that her child was still alive. The child chirped at her happily, and then took off, rising back up to the nest entirely on its own. Watching, Babe was sure he could see fierce pride in the mother's beady black eyes, her feathers puffed and glowing bright in the sun.
His own mother had never once looked at him like this. She loved him very deeply, that he knew, but he'd done nothing to earn her pride, and there had been days lazing underneath the hot African sun when Babe would stare up at the too-blue sky and wish that he could spread wings and fly as well, or perhaps grow faster and stronger to be the proper Rhinoceros that his mother and father seemed expect of him. Babe has always known from a very young age that someday he will leave the herd to find one of his own, to become the Alpha, strong with the blood and might of his father. He always known that it is his destiny, but he's never felt strong or even particularly brave, and part of him has never wanted to be Alpha at all.
He used to lay down in the summer grass and think that he would never amount to anything in his short life, and the idea of never earning his parent's pride would terrify him.
Now, he stands before the herd as they recover from the shock of his sudden appearance in the Savannah, and his mother's and father's eyes glisten with everything he'd ever wanted of them. He's not quite sure how to react, other than to squeal with delight and run for his mother, crying out to her, heedless of the Angels at his back. His mother runs to him as well, the rest of the herd following after her, and when they connect, his mother nuzzles at his horn and rumbles softly, relieved to have gained her son back from the grave.
Mother, Babe sighs, and she nuzzles him further.
The Alpha looks at him with a warm, but cautious respect. It is the look of a parent who has realized his child is becoming an adult, and Babe is surprised to find that he doesn't mind this now. He is, in fact, pleased.
The key to gaining respect in the African wild is to survive beyond all hope, to grow strong and resist the death of despair. There is a reason the fiercest of beasts have spirit. It is the fire inside that keeps them warm on cold and bitter nights, and the thing that will make them fight to the very last against the deadliest of enemies.
He can feel that fire burn brightly inside of him now, and he is glad for it. He is no longer afraid of the wild, but welcomes it freely, and is sure that he has Cas, the Angel, to thank for this. Thinking of his new friend, Babe turns to find and introduce him to the herd, to welcome him into his family. It is the least he could do for someone who has not only saved his life, but has given it a new, profound meaning.
But Cas is gone like a feather in the high wind. They are alone once again to the wild and its dangers--and Babe is left wondering if he will ever see his friend again, and if he will find the peace that Babe now knows and clings to in earnest.
Before he rebelled, Castiel perceived Heaven in shades of brilliant white light.
It was so blinding that it hurt even his eyes to gaze upon it, but he couldn’t look away; no angel could, wanted to, or would dare lightly, not even the Morning Star. The grace that had washed into him from the vast ocean of angels singing his Father’s name was a euphoria of pure connection that men like Sam or Dean would simply never fathom, and it was something he’d never cared to explain. His perception of Heaven in the Before Dean stage of existence had been one of brilliance and blind faith in his calling. Castiel had been only one voice among many adding to the Choir, and he’d been at peace with this, in a manner of speaking.
Before Dean, Castiel and all other soldiers like him bowed to their orders through fear. Fear of the Lord, fear of their superiors, fear of the Arch Angels, and fear of the Morning Star--not of his power, though it was a great and terrible beauty, and something that Castiel dreaded having to face long before he’d realized that day would actually come. No, every angel feared the Morning Star because they had all been there during the Fall, and they all knew the truth of what had inspired it. Lucifer was a horror story to every angel no matter the rank, an example set to teach them that obedience to the Lord in all things was their only way to happiness, and absolutely no deviation from their Father’s law would be tolerated.
The real horror in Lucifer was that in all things he spoke the truth, and he’d only become the violent being humanity would know after having been driven mad by eons caged in the bowels of Hell, as far from their Father’s love as any creature could ever hope to be.
As Castiel looked into sharp green eyes millions of years later, The Righteous Man begging him to save the life of a disrupted boy who hadn’t been in existence for all the time it took Castiel (Before Dean) to blink through a thousand years of history, he’d fully expected the Lord to smite him to the bowels of the Pit in the very same manner as his elders. Castiel knew at once that he would never see the brilliance of Heaven ever again, and this was why he’d been resolved to die as he did in Chuck’s modest apartment, Raphael's wrath raining down upon him.
But the Lord had brought him back, and after his slow, humiliating fall, denouncing faith in his father and everything Castiel had ever believed in, after growing human and losing track of where Jimmy ended and he began, after Dean’s broken promises and Sam’s ultimate sacrifice, after the loss of people like Ellen and Jo, and Gabriel, after everything, he came back... as something better, and Castiel realized that his Father still loved him. He just wasn't sure what he'd done to earn it.
Now, even he doesn't know just who and what he is, anymore. It's been days since his memories had come back to him after the injury Raphael had dealt, and the one thing Castiel can say for certain is that he is not certain at all. Existence was preferable when he knew nothing, or when he felt pain and needed to dream human dreams, and a bottle of whiskey was enough to lull him into a quiet sense of morose joy. Life was preferable when he had no faith but for his deep, self-sacrificing love for two extraordinary men the world seemed fixated to rip apart.
After Dean, what Castiel learned is that love is a terrible thing that will bring down the glory of Heaven and grant the Devil their sympathy. He understands now what had broke Lucifer's heart, and this terrifies him more than anything else ever had in his very long and eventful life.
"Stop brooding, you tit. It's not all bad."
Balthazar has appeared sporadically at his side many times since taking him to his brothers earlier that week... the brothers that now look to Castiel as some kind of hero, or a martyr to some cause that he had never signed up for. Balthazar seems more anxious than usual after Castiel's short fall, though he hides it well. One would think he cared, but if he did, he would give Castiel the weapons of Heaven... so he can kill their older brother.
"I'd like to see the good in this," Castiel says. He is so very, very tired.
"You're all better now, for one thing." This comment makes Castiel snort, but Balthazar continues, "Gave us a scare, you did--"
"I know. You've said that repeatedly."
"Well, try not to die for the third time! I can't keep saving your life, it looks bad when I'm trying to be Switzerland."
"You were never Switzerland, Balthazar."
"It's an expression. It means--"
"I know what it means."
There's tense silence for a while, and it lingers between them like a festering wound that had grown infected long ago. Castiel looks away from the old battered window he'd taken residence in, and goes to sit at a table. This is the seventh Heaven--his birthplace, and the center of his power. It used to be beautiful, but now every manifest within it is old and crumbling. This manifest looks like something out of an Arabic war zone, and Castiel frowns deeper at that, thinking of all the lives that had been lost in both realities.
"Cas. You know I can't give you the weapons."
"I wasn't asking, Balthazar."
"You were thinking about it."
Finally, Castiel turns to look at him. His ally, he wonders? His friend? He has learned lately that friends and allies are two different things, and the summary of what Dean considers family does not apply to his own... but he wishes it did. In some distant way, Castiel is jealous of Dean. At least he'd been given a year before diving back into the fray again.
But it was a year without Sam.
Knowing what that would do to Dean, Castiel frowns again, a line between his brows crinkling with displeasure. Perhaps he has no reason to be jealous. Dean has been angry, and he has every right to be. Castiel thinks then that perhaps he should apologize, because he wishes he could stay with them. He misses them both very deeply...
"You're thinking about him."
"Both of them," Castiel corrects.
"Bloody Dean. I don't understand what you--"
"No, you don't."
"It's not up for discussion, Balthazar. Sam and Dean are my friends regardless of your approval. If you do not like them..."
"I was your friend, once. I vouched for you, Cas. When no one else would, I risked my arse for you, remember?"
"I know," he says, but he doesn't, really. That was another life, so very long ago. He hasn't thought about Zachariah in ages.
Castiel sighs at the weight of this. Another brother lost. "You are still my friend, Balthazar."
He turns. Frowns deeply, and then looks Balthazar in the eyes, head tilted to catch every detail. He looks at Balthazar through his vessel, and wonders not for the first time who this man is, and why he had said yes to Balthazar's presence. Did he and Balthazar share a similar outlook on life?
Castiel feels out Jimmy in response to these thoughts, nervous about his own vessel's welfare. But all he gets is an sleepy growl, and he shivers away from the presence, hesitant to bother the man any further.
Jimmy is angry with him, more-so than Dean ever was.
He sighs again. "No," he says to Balthazar, and the other angel looks suddenly grief-stricken. Castiel continues, "You are more than that. You are my brother."
Balthazar shakes his head. "That doesn't mean what it does to the humans, Cas. You know that."
"It should, and it does to me. No matter what you do or how many people you hurt... you'll always be my kin. It matters."
The other angel's eyes glitter strangely, and his grace pulses with so many conflicted emotions that Castiel squints his eyes slightly, trying to perceive them all. Balthazar smiles limply and says, with an airy laugh, "I love you too, Cas."
"I know," Castiel says, and smiles back.
Suddenly, he's not so tired anymore.