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Heaven's Descent

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Summary: Castiel is killed again, and brought back, fifteen years earlier. Something's changed about our favorite angel, and even he doesn't know the whole of it. AU from Season 5 SPN.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Supernatural > General
Stargate > General
KagekoFR15652,5951133,9847 Oct 1219 Nov 12No

Chapter Two: The Road Less Traveled

Title: Heaven's Descent: The Road Less Traveled

Rating: Teen or so?

Characters/Pairing(s): Cas (SPN), White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland?)

Summary: Finding allies isn't what it used to be. Now if only he didn't have to have his mind broken by this trippy ass Garden

Disclaimer: All I own is the weird stuff from my brain, and even some of that is just borrowed. Anything SPN is Kripke, SG1 is MGM, BtVS is Joss, and whatever others got their fingers in the copyrights cookie jar. Alice in Wonderland isn't mine, but this version of the angel Kushiel is, as are most of the minor characters that appear in this segment.

Warnings: Spoilers up to the end of Season 5 of Supernatural.

Chapter 02: The Road Less Traveled

~@~

Castiel was a bit surprised at the landscape just inside of the Gates of Hell. Chaotically overgrown was perhaps the best description he could come up with for the plant life surrounding him. Next to him, a brightly colored leaf, with greater length than his entire wingspan, touched the rich earth beneath it. A few feet away, kelp grew, reaching for a nonexistent sky. The leaf's purple veins seemed to pulse vibrantly with life, and Castiel himself paled to insignificance next to it.

He wondered what its flowers would look like.

He also wondered about this fake physical bullshit. It certainly suited Kushiel, from what Castiel could remember. Unfortunately, it also echoed many of the things that the other angels had implied about him. He adjusted his wings in a way he never had to while in a human body. They brushed the leaf, and the purple veins began to have an ominous gleam.

Several smaller plants got up and walked away. Castiel decided that he had better do the same. It was difficult to tell what could harm him here, and he was rather sure that he didn't want to find out just how dangerous the foliage could be.

Should he walk or fly? The angel stared up past the branches of an incredibly large rhododendron and saw large fish, as though he was walking through a kelp garden deep beneath the sea. Flying didn't seem like the better option, he decided. If a minnow was that big, he didn't really want to see a salmon or a shark... or an alligator. There were probably nastier things up above, and Castiel didn't want to invite their attention. So, walking it was.

Even other angels often underestimate how difficult it is to walk with wings. Of course, most angels have never had the opportunity to try and do so. The dense, jungle-like flora encroached upon his position more with every step, and he couldn't help that his wings brushed against leaves and brambles of every conceivable color. Castiel suspected that if he had a more botanical bent, he would find it difficult to keep moving, because he was sure that few of these plants existed in any form elsewhere.

Hidden in the foliage were bestial forms, and they were all watching him. Not that the angel hadn't known that already. Castiel was more perturbed by the fact that nothing worse than briars had truly attempted to impede him yet. No matter how strange the area looked, it was still a part of Hell. It may be a part of Hell he and his comrades hadn't gone through when searching for Dean, but it was still Hell.

And with the way the bushes were rucking up his wings, it was obvious that it was Hell.

A small meadow, beatifically free of things with thorns, and the angel was grateful to come upon it, was right in his path. It looked quiet, though looks could be deceiving, with smaller, less alien looking flowers, and a couple of comfortable looking boulders. He wasn't sure why the boulders looked comfortable. They just did. He supposed that he should take a break, and maybe sit on one. They looked really comfortable.

Castiel walked straight to the closer boulder. He found it already taken. He decided to sit on the other boulder, which looked decidedly less occupied. He saluted the tiny being on the opposite boulder, and it looked impressed. "You're awfully polite," it buzzed. And it saluted back.

It was a bee. It was a strange looking bee, but Castiel knew a bee when he saw one. A drone bee, all red plaid instead of black and yellow stripes, and all of one inch tall; it was seated comfortably on the other boulder. He had been right. The boulders were rather comfortable. "There is no reason not to be polite to one's equivalent in rank." The bee was exactly what the angel would have been, were he still in Heaven.

The bee folded in upon itself, taking a humanoid form, and buzzed over to Castiel's outstretched hand. "Very polite for a visitor to Malik's Garden," the bee informed him. "I would even go so far as to call you a benevolent visitor." It buzzed happily across his hand. "So kind, even, for one with such power, likens himself to me." The bee chortled with glee. "Most of our visitors, Large One, are of the malevolent sort."

"Indeed," Castiel murmured; the bee was in Hell, after all. Bees rarely evidenced such cheer, except when going about their duties. Perhaps it felt that this conversation was necessary to its duties? Bees were far easier to understand than humans. In fact, they were quite like angels in a way. "I intend no harm here, it's true, but I've come seeking one called Kushiel. Do you know where I may find him?"

The bee thought long and hard. "I don't know that name," it finally confessed. It even seemed disappointed in being unable to help Castiel. "You are kind to me, and I have little to offer in return." It buzzed unhappily for a moment, then perked up. "I may have something for you!" it finally exclaimed. "It's a warning, passed down by all Things on Wings, and I feel it could be very much help to you... It's a warning, of something that hates us all." It began to recite,

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!'

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!

...

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came waffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!
"


The bee paused, and then cocked its head. "I'm sure that there's more to it. They said once that the Jabberwock was killed, but it's a terrible, powerful thing. So I doubt it. Things that hateful don't just die." It preened for a moment, joyful that it had remembered something important.

Castiel thought on the bee's warning. He turned it over in his head, and decided that it could very well be important. He wasn't sure how, but "jaws that bite...claws that catch" sounded nasty, in a way; even if it was disjointed. "Thank you," he replied, both grateful and touched that it felt him to be worthy of a warning. Bees aren't notorious for giving warnings; not even disjointed ones.

A loud and jolly voice from nearby startled both Castiel and the bee with a cry of "Company! Oh the Joy!"

The bee gave the angel a sheepish look, and hurriedly made its excuses. "I almost forgot! There's an important battle today, with the Redcoats... Erhm... God save the Queen!" And the bee buzzed off, just in time to get away from the much larger newcomer.

"Good evening, good evening," cried the jolly tones, and Castiel saw, as the voice approached, a man-like spider. One of its four hands held a cane; another, a top hat, with which it saluted Castiel.

Bemusedly, he saluted back.

"It's been a while now, since I've had good company," the spider confided. And Castiel understood spiders a little less than he understood bees. Spiders were, under most circumstances, loners. This one's desire for company baffled him. "Say, you know those damned stupid twins? You wouldn't believe what they've been up to lately..."

The angel sat back to listen as the spider eventually detailed the glorious (or ignominious) lives of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And from there, the spider rambled on about all of the other denizens of the Garden, occasionally digressing into his own opinions of the reasons behind certain actions.

Castiel supposed it would be a while before the spider got out all of his gossip, and so settled in for the long wait.

Once the spider slowed down, and offered the wayward angel some of the cider it had brought along with it to the meadow, with an apology ("really, should 'ave brought it out earlier, you're so patient...), it waved at the meadow with one of its hands. "Lovely place for conversation, isn't it?"

"Indeed," he replied, politely. "I don't suppose you know of Kushiel, do you?"

"Kushiel?" asked the spider. Its lips pursed as it thought. And Castiel knew that spiders didn't usually have lips, but refrained from commenting. "No, I don't know of a Kushiel. Perhaps Malik would know." It didn't really look like it felt that this was a good thing. "And if you're looking for Malik, my boy, be aware that he dwells at the center of this Garden. It's not a place to go, if you don't know yourself through. However, if finding this Kushiel is terrifically important, then he's the one to ask."

The cider was quite good, so Castiel said so.

The spider seemed much encouraged. "It's my favorite. You're a kind fellow. Most just try and run, but you listen, and you even like my cider. Well met, really well met!"

It was hours before Castiel managed a polite getaway. And by that time, he was more than a little inebriated. It would be some time before the drunken angel remembered the spider's warnings, as they had been far less conspicuous than the bee's; though, as he would later find, they were no less important.

~@~

It was more difficult travel ling through the bizarre jungle while drunk. The colors were less distracting, but it wasn't long before the foliage began to speak to him. "Come here," sighed a sweet voiced weeping willow. She was a beautiful tree, Castiel admitted to himself, but he suspected that her healthy glow came from the rotting bones poorly hidden behind her fronds.

"I think not," he replied dryly. Perhaps there was acid, or some sort of deadly toxins dripping from her branches. He was unsure of how such a thing would affect him here.

"Why not?" she asked, sounding as naïve as though she didn't know exactly what was feeding her.

"You're a weeping willow that weeps something dangerous, aren't you?" he asked. Even if she said nay, he still wouldn't step into her foliage.

"What makes you say that?" Now she sounded slightly guilty; still sweet and beguiling, but definitely guilty.

"Just a hunch," murmured the angel, eying the bloody bones at her base. Yes, he would go around her, no matter how lovely her foliage.

~@~

There was another meadow. This one had no comfortable boulders sitting in its middle, just sharp blades of grass, glinting and pointing skyward. An angel could easily fly over it. There were still large dangerous shapes overhead, so flying should probably remain out of the equation. He would have to walk around.

Halfway around the meadow, a large feline shape draped itself over his shoulders. It hadn't climbed up to the position. It hadn't flown in from over his head. Castiel could only assume that it had materialized right there. If he had made that assumption, he would have been right.

"Clever, clever," a voice cheered quietly, directly into his ear. His wings puffed up as his back stiffened. "Not to even take a blade for yourself? Not so sure that that's clever, but not to walk through it, yes, you are." Claws dug in as the creature stood, only to face the side of Castiel's head. "And what do you make of yourself?"

"Little, most times," he replied. Honest enough, especially lately. It wasn't that Castiel wasn't trying. It was merely that he still wasn't certain what he should do.

"So, the bird is a modest bird," said the cat, a wide grin on its face showing that it had, perhaps, more sharp teeth than a cat ought to have. "But is it an honest modesty, or is his modesty false, like to turn to arrogance when things face perfectly his way?"

Castiel also wasn't sure exactly what the strange cat wanted. "Modesty is said to be a virtue," he replied with a thoughtful frown. He had never really considered himself as modest. "...though I prefer honesty. Neither are true Virtues, however, they are often mistaken for Prudence and Justice."

"Is that so?" pondered the cat. "Trust an angel to know the difference. I've never heard of a modest angel, though."

"I am a mere soldier," Castiel replied harshly. "I have no use for modesty. Lying to oneself is a path that leads to death, and not just for oneself." His wings flicked themselves back into order, and he began walking again, not caring that his quick, bouncing (because of his wings) gait was disturbing the cat from its perch. He also found that he had to ignore the claws that dug into his shoulder as the cat showed its displeasure at the disturbance, and it lashed its tail violently into his face. He spat fur from his mouth.

The cat was silent for a few minutes, possibly due to being jostled. "So," it finally hissed, again in his ear. "Why didn't you take a blade for yourself?"

Blade? He wondered if the cat was talking about the grass in the meadow. "Why should I take that which I don't need?" he asked. It was growing difficult to place his feet on the ground, as there were vines growing more and more thickly, some raised nearly knee height and most of the rest barely a few inches from the ground. It was enough to trip him up, a lot.

"Don't forget, Angel," the cat murmured. "Don't forget that you are in Hell."

"Yes?" Castiel paused to give the cat his full attention. He wasn't making much progress with the vines, anyway.

"Hell has a strange way of providing," the cat continued. "It has a very peculiar way of providing what a seeker seeks. Be careful what you seek. After all, I know what you seek, and how dangerous it is. But if you wish to persist... who am I to stop you? There's a rabbit that works as groundskeeper in this Garden. He'll lead you to what you seek, if you don't tell him you saw me."

Its weight faded from his shoulder before he could so much as offer thanks.

~@~

One of the strange things about the Garden, that Castiel noticed, was how obscenely large almost everything was; the fish overhead, most of the flora, and often the fauna he passed along his way. To see something that was equivalent to him in size, or rather, sized as it should be in comparison to his mostly human sized body, was rare.

When he saw the rabbit, it was a bit shorter than him, about half his height. Soft white fur was ruffled up beneath its red waist coat. It had a watch in hand, and ran back and forth for a moment before exclaiming how late it was, and then it took off running down an actual path that Castiel wouldn't have noticed if the rabbit hadn't been using it.

It was nice that somebody knew where they were going around here. It was likely that this was the rabbit that the cat had been speaking of. Castiel followed.

It wasn't long before it ran through a glowing purple waterfall, having whipped out a paper umbrella for the span it was needed. Castiel shielded himself with a wing as he crossed beneath it.

The waterfall wasn't made of water, and what he had mistaken for water was a strange, glowing purple vapor, that he found himself inhaling against his better judgment. He coughed. Fake. Physical. BULLSHIT.

Castiel rather thought that his ability to curse was coming along quite nicely. 'Bullshit' was a far better sounding curse than 'Assbutt'. Dean would probably agree. He sputtered a bit more, and then looked around for the white rabbit in the waist coat.

Instead, he saw a door; a colossal, gold rimmed door, which would take a giant to open. The rabbit was opening the door. The rabbit was big enough to open the door.

The Garden was a strange place, so far. Castiel understood that. He had rather thought that his mind could withstand its eccentricities. He had been wrong. The angel coughed a couple more times, and the door closed behind the rabbit. He choked a bit on the vapors, and forced himself to breathe again. And he tried to let his mind reboot.

Cough. Was the door getting smaller? Cough. It was. It was getting rapidly smaller. Soon, the doorknob was at Castiel's waist level. He coughed one more time and stared at the door. What was it that Dean had said?

Castiel shrugged. "When in Rome..." He opened the door and stepped through.

The blast of hot air was startling, and the accompanying dust and sand made the feathers of his wings instantly itchy. The discombobulated angel coughed again. This Garden...

He shook his head. It was probably best not to think about it. For one thing, there were no longer fish in the air above him. However, there was a dust devil leering at him. Castiel considered it an even trade. He looked behind himself to find that the door was already gone. A small herd of very small camels trotted past the angel's foot and he frowned, watching their passage.

What he really should do, is figure out where the rabbit went. He could ask the dust devil, but the way it was leering worried him. There was no telling what it would ask in return. The camels were already gone, and Castiel vaguely wondered where to. He could have asked them.

His frown deepened. He could ask the dust devil.

Somehow he really didn't want to. "Excuse me?" he asked, scowling worriedly. The dust devil perked up, and its leer grew in vulgarity. He coughed again. "Have you seen a rabbit?"

"Maaaaybe," it suggested, smarmily. "What do I get if I tell you what I've seen?"

"Ask," replied the angel, "then I can see whether I can grant anything in return."

"Tis a simple matter," replied the dust devil. "I just wish my letter to be delivered." It wriggled up and down in the air, in a disturbingly suggestive manner, and then produced a letter of browned paper. "I can't get anyone to deliver it for me... They're afraid of My Love." It wriggled in a far more crude manner, at this.

"I think I see why," he replied dryly. He gave the dust devil a bemused look. "Tell me what you've seen first, and then tell me where to take your letter." Castiel was unsure that the dust devil would agree to his terms.

"Perfect," it sighed, then wiggled toward Castiel. It was almost around him before he could move. "The rabbit went in the direction of My Fair Lady." It swirled around Castiel, who had to hold his breath in order to keep from breathing it in. The letter was in his hands, and he was being ushered toward the desert sun... which shouldn't be shining in Hell.

"I take it that I'm supposed to go this way," he murmured as the dust devil finally let go.

"Ooh, I like you," it smarmed, "you're very quick."

"Thank you," he replied, trying not to sound sarcastic. Perhaps the sun would go down on him in this desert. He wasn't looking forward to that idea coming to fruition.

~@~

The angel walked at first. The desert was vast, however, and mostly empty, especially in its skies. He eventually determined the area worthy of flight. It was quite some time before he spotted the rabbit, in spite of this, and it was trekking through the sand at quite a speed. It looked nervously up at him, and kept going, carefully skirting an area where the sand looked more wet than anything else, therefore not safe to travel through.

By the time he and the rabbit reached the town, it was nearing dark. Shadows descended across the dunes, and as they grew bluish in the dawning night, Castiel thought he could hear the distant roar of the ocean. He wasn't convinced, however, until the rich smell of sea salt reached him.

The desert was turning to ocean, even as night descended.

Castiel landed in the town, and the rabbit disappeared. The desert ghost town was coming to life as a cavorting wharf town, with pirates and the like. At least, the angel thought they must be pirates. It was hard to be sure, as the merrymaking was growing louder and louder as natural light disappeared.

Malik's Garden was a world unto itself, Castiel decided. A matronly woman brushed by him, and he had to double take... That matron was a succubus, and she reeked of both age and, though Castiel's mind told him that it couldn't be possible, virginity. He stared at her bemusedly. Castiel had been feeling that way a lot lately. The things that he was seeing in the Garden only emphasized the feeling. "Excuse me, Miss?" he asked, half-hoping that she wouldn't respond.

"Yes?" she queried, pulling her skirts close, in a very proprietary manner.

"I am to deliver a letter," he began, "and I am unsure of the identity of the recipient."

An eyebrow rose stiffly. "Have you no description of this recipient?" When he shook his head, she asked, "How about a description of the sender?"

"It was a dust devil, in the desert," he replied, and was surprised when she chuckled.

"That would be for me, then." She held out her hand, and he placed the dry, crackling paper into it. "For this delivery, I suppose I owe you. Ask for your boon," she ordered archly. Her posture dared him to demand something inappropriate. It dared him to mention what she was so that she could beat him for making assumptions based on her species.

The angel remained bemused. "I am seeking one called Kushiel, but would settle for information on the location of a white rabbit in a red waist coat."

She looked surprised. "Hmm..." And she smiled. "I like you. I saw your rabbit, though I know not of this Kushiel. Your rabbit went into the Honeybee Inn. Perhaps he's staying the night?" The smile turned coy. "Thank you, stranger."

With a swish of heavy matronly skirts, she was gone.

~@~

He found the Honeybee Inn. He also found his bee friend from earlier. The bee, now of a size with him, was patting its companion on the shoulder. "Hey, see? This is the guy I was telling you about." It nudged its companion's attention in Castiel's direction. "Hey, come on, have a drink with us!"

Castiel left the Honeybee Inn the next day, to follow the rabbit back into the desert, nursing a hangover. Actually, he was pretty sure that the rabbit had one too. There was a simple equation that easily explains what had happened to give both him and the rabbit hangovers. The equation goes something like this:

Soldier meets Soldier +

Peaceful times +

A bar =

Everyone has a hangover the next day, even the rabbit.

Castiel possibly picked up some good intel, as well. The bee, that is, his friend, the red plaid bee, had a specific designation, though it had no name. Its designation was 564 of the 75th Squadron of the Red Plaid Queen's Royal Air Force. Its companion was 238 of the 83rd Squadron of the Blue Checkered Queen's Royal Air Force.

For the first time in a long time, Castiel thanked his Father for giving angels eidetic memory.

The bees were impressed with the importance of Castiel's Hive when he gravely told them his name. His low rank, and his having a name, was apparently what stressed this importance to them. Castiel didn't bother to dissuade them. He had always rather thought that bees were quite important, in their own way.

Castiel was growing weary again. So was the rabbit. Eventually, the rabbit came to a complete stop, looked up at the angel, and waved a little white flag in the air. He drifted down to land nearby. "I give up," said the rabbit. "Why are you following me?" it whined.

He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I have no directions for what I'm seeking," he responded, seriously. "You are giving me a direction in which to search, and you seem to know where you are going."

It stared up at him. Up close, it was actually a bit shorter than the angel, but stood nearly as high as his chest. "I suppose that that makes sense," it muttered, almost as though this made no sense at all. "What exactly are you looking for, all the way out here?"

"The master of this place," Castiel answered. "Or, if at all possible, one called Kushiel."

"No, no. No, I don't think so," the rabbit grumbled nervously, wringing its paws together. "No, I can't do that. No, no. I don't know this Kushiel, but Malik doesn't see visitors, no, no..." It rocked back to look at him again, shaking its head. "No no, I really can't do that. No, no, no." Castiel almost asked "Why not?" but the white rabbit took off running again, with a litany of "No no, nonono..." trailing behind it.

The rabbit seemed more difficult to catch up to this time. Its litany was still heard, though, making trailing it rather easy. The angel was surprised, however, when, while his eyes told him that there was just more of the same ahead, his feet told him a different story. He hit the water with a mighty splash. He floundered briefly, knowing that, as an angel, he had never had reason to swim, and tried to figure out how to extricate himself from the water.

Eventually, Castiel managed to flounder to the embankment, but he couldn't quite gather the strength needed to free himself from the sucking grip of the water's surface. He shivered miserably. It had only been a couple of days, but he was rather certain that he really didn't like Malik's Garden, if it made him feel like this. This was almost like humanity slowly encroaching upon his Grace, and it itched too. He moaned in despondence. This was awful.

~@~

When he wrenched himself back into reality, or the local variation thereof, it was to something picking through his feathers, and talking over his head. "Fledges, these days, don' take care of theyselfs whatso ever... Still, luv, hush hush," the croon was soothing, and, as it suggested, Castiel stilled beneath picking claws, or fingers; whatever they were. "Don' take care of yerselfs and yer bein' in the water... What do yer think yer is? A duck?"

"Some days," the angel murmured in soft reply, "I'm so silly as to think I'm approaching human."

"Oh, tehrble, poor quack," the soothing voice clucked sympathetically. "Tehrble, real luv. Tehrble. Humans swim jes fine, liken to the jakes. Or ducks. Poor quack."

Castiel decided that "quack" was being used as an endearment, and that he shouldn't take offense to it, anymore than he would take offense to Dean calling him a "junkless sissy". Though, from Dean, he doubted that it was intended as anything so much as an instigating insult. "I didn't think that I could swim," he protested, figuring that that was the safest thing to protest at the moment. "I fell." And that was a metaphorical kick in the metaphorical balls, truly. Ironic.

The voice clucked again. "Silly quack, why din yer take to wing?"

"It was rather sudden." He winced as pin feathers were rearranged to where they were supposed to be. Some of his feathers had been out of place for longer than since his recent dip into the water. He attempted to turn, to look at the one grooming his wings, only to have his pinions yanked on.

"Be still, fledge," the voice warned in a sharper tone. Castiel allowed his curiosity to subside. He obviously wasn't going to see who his rescuer/groomer was until they were finished with what they were doing. "Why weren't yer to wing to begin whit?" The voice sounded genuinely curious, and in spite of the previous sharpness, still fairly friendly.

"I was following something afoot," he explained. "It was difficult to see it, so I was tracing it by sound."

"Ah, poor quack, I see." The angel winced as the owner of the voice yanked a few more feathers back into place, dislodging a fair amount of encrusted sand. "Poor quack must be lonesome. Wings is all a mess. Is a pity, is." The hands/claws stilled on his wings and moved up to his hair, and for the first time since entering the Garden, Castiel realized that he must still look like Jimmy to an extent. His hair got groomed too.

"May I move now?" asked the angel. He was rather surprised to be allowed to do so. When he turned about, what he saw surprised him again. The harpy was well groomed for her kind, and almost pretty. A couple of missing teeth were most of what detracted from her visage. "Are you intending to eat me?" he asked thoughtfully. He doubted that she intended to, but the question begged asking.

She looked amused and folded her wing/arms in a manner that suggested sarcasm. "A fellow humanish bird? Noo, why would I be doin such? Is almost sacrilegious, is."

"Why did you help me?" he asked. Again, the question begged asking.

"Yer poor soddin' quack," she said, looking like he was the most entertaining thing since tape, "because half-drownin' sucks sumthin awful, does." She laughed cheerily. "And such a purdy fellow humanish bird, too, though the human cloths is rather detracting. Yer would be more luverly without, methinks." Castiel was suddenly really uncomfortable with the freshly lusty look in her eye. "And such luverly wings yer has."

He found himself coughing low in his chest. "A-hem. I'm sorry ma'am," he began, hoping that she wasn't thinking what he thought she was thinking, "but my kind are asexual." He felt his face heat up. It was weird, having that problem. He'd seen others do it any number of times. However, he was quite sure that this was his first time blushing.

She had been thinking what he thought she was thinking. He knew this when she heaved a disappointed sigh. "Tehrble," she sighed, giving him doe eyes. "Tehrble, really. Yer so luverly, is tehrble yer kinnae pass it on."

He was sure that that was intended to be a compliment. "Thank you? My kind seems to be exempt from the obsession with propagation." He shrugged, still uncomfortable.

"Tehrble," she mourned, shaking her head. "Be sure yer be wantin' to return to yer chase, then, eh?"

Castiel couldn't help but feel bad for her, but he was being nothing but honest, and to allow her to think otherwise was inviting trouble. He really didn't want to enter into that kind of trouble. "Yes, I need to return to my chase... unless... Do you know of one called Kushiel?"

She blinked dolefully at him and shook her head. "That's a powerful name, quack. A very powerful name. Such as don' belong in Malik's Garden, quack. If any as know of this Kushiel, would be Malik, no doubt. But Malik is nae one to speak to, less one is willin' to see more sooth than mos', quack."

The angel thought this new information over. "Truth," he decided out loud, "is not something I fear."

The harpy looked as though this was distressing.

~@~

The harpy led him back to the water, and they were both amused to find that his quarry hadn't moved all that far along. Some ways from the shore, next to a rock, rocked a little boat with an oar lying across it. On the rock next to the boat, his quarry rested, calming itself with a nice hot cup of tea. The rabbit had been more than frightened at the sight of two large winged shapes in the sky and had chucked its tea cup into the air at them before leaping into its little boat and rowing like a demon promised a way out of Hell.

Castiel thanked the harpy and watched her bank off into the distance before following the tiny speeding boat beneath him.

It had been a long time since the angel had had to fly for such a long time at once. Hours stretched into a day, and then two and they were still over the watery expanse, the rabbit paddling furiously while Castiel pondered the wiles of the albatross. He also pondered the continuity of this sub-reality of Hell. The designer had to be either utterly mad, as Castiel had heard Kushiel was, or a paranoid genius, which Castiel was beginning to believe was closer to the truth.

There was a design beneath it all, that Castiel could almost see, a strange sort of logic that bound everything together with some kind of rules that Castiel just didn't know yet. He was growing surer and surer as he went along that this "Malik" was Kushiel. Only an angel of the highest order could hold something like this place together, and impose the bizarre sense of reality on it.

Castiel could only hope that when he finally reached the "center of Malik's Garden" that Kushiel would be willing to speak to him.

~@~

A few days later Castiel fell asleep.

~@~

Castiel came to some time later, floating in the water, on his back. The white rabbit glared down at him. "About time," it said. "You wrecked my boat, you clumsy oaf."

"My apologies?" he asked, hoarsely. The rabbit sniffed disdainfully, and kept on paddling while standing on his chest. "I'm in the water?"

"Yes, you bird brain," it grouched. "If it weren't for you, I'd be where I was going by now." It frowned and shifted. "And my feet would be dry. It's really a good thing for those wings. That's the only thing keeping you afloat. Underneath that coat, you're all glow and no substance. Everybody knows that glows don't float."

Castiel coughed and looked to the side. He spotted several glowing things floating on the water's dark surface. "What about those glows?" His voice sounded like it was going to go out soon; perhaps, never to come back.

The rabbit glanced to where he was looking. "You dimwit, those aren't glows. They're glimmers. Glimmers float. Glows don't."

"I see," the angel murmured. It was a lie, and a poor one at that. He just wasn't sure what the difference between a glimmer and a glow was. The rabbit seemed to take his words at face value, though.

"You could help, you know," it said, jabbing him in the ribs with a foot.

Castiel suppressed another cough. When he spoke again, his voice wheezed. "I can't swim," he confessed. "I actually have little understanding as to why I'm floating... I suspect that I may be the first of my kind to do so." He wondered how long it had been since he entered the Garden. "How long was I unconscious?" he asked.

The rabbit seemed unsure. "I don't know. You killed my boat. It could have been a week, maybe more. It's hard to tell day and night in these parts." It moaned unhappily. "I really should be working. The Garden just doesn't run properly without my supervision! This is terrible, terrible indeed. Oh, Malik is going to be so unhappy..."

"Why would Malik be unhappy?" Castiel winced as his head bumped into something.

"It's just mangroves," the rabbit informed him. "I'm supposed to be running things, you know. Making sure that things happen in their proper time. Like this, I can't do anything, and that hare will have a better time of it this spring, just you wait and see, and my dearie, well, she won't be seeing me now, will she? But Malik, this is His Garden, and I'm the caretaker, you see. You've had me distracted all this time, and I just don't know what to do!"

Castiel sighed, and then winced again as his head hit something else.

"Mangroves, my good fellow. Just mangroves," the rabbit said again.

"Perhaps it would be best to just let me follow you," he told the rabbit. "And there wouldn't be a problem. You'd be getting where you need to go, and I'd get where I need to go."

"You have a point," the rabbit admitted. "It just goes against the grain, you know, to lead you all the way to the center. Not that I think you'll be able to enter His abode, of course not, but it's still discomfiting, you see. Embarrassing, even, and it's really very awkward besides. And it's unprofessional!"

"Ah, Mr. Rabbit," called a lovely feminine voice from nearby. "I've been meaning to see you!"

"The nyads," the rabbit informed him. "Pay them no mind."

"The mangroves have been sinking lately," complained a deeper voice from closer still. "We've sent complaints to the Bureau."

The rabbit sighed. "I can't see to anything until it's cleared the tape, stout fellow." It adjusted itself and its paddle, and looked down at Castiel. "That one isn't a nyad," it said, helpfully.

The feminine voice that had been identified as a nyad came closer. "I love your new boat. It has such lovely feathers."

"It's not a boat," the rabbit replied waspishly. "It's a stupid bird. Maybe a harpy. Anyway, it crashed my boat, so it's replacing it for now."

Castiel was too tired to complain, or protest the remarkably grave insult. He just floated and wheezed, wincing occasionally when his head came roughly into contact with things.

"Ah, now. Here's our stop, bird brain," the rabbit applauded. "Finally. Now, if you want to follow me, you'll have to get your soggy feathers out of the water." It hopped off of his chest and apparently waited patiently for Castiel to do just that.

It took quite a bit of effort to turn over in the water, and when his face went under, he returned vividly into full consciousness, flavored with an edge of panic. Even with the added awareness, it still took precious minutes, perhaps a dozen of them, to wearily drag himself out of the water. All he managed was onto his knees. Castiel wasn't quite sure, but he felt as though he'd never been so worn down.

The rabbit was being surprisingly patient. Castiel wasn't sure if he could even stand up. His wings felt as though they weighed a full metric ton, apiece. They shuddered on either side of him, mostly on the ground with his hands and knees. This place, Castiel decided, officially sucked.

It was sad, that after all of that work the harpy did, that his wings were already down to this sad state. He wondered if he should warn the rabbit about what would happen once he managed to stand. "You may want to find shelter," he warned somewhat raucously. He carefully dragged his shaking legs beneath him and pushed himself to his feet. Once he got there, his wings snapped completely open, sending their watery contents into the air, and startling the fauna that had come far too close.

The rabbit yelped somewhere in the foliage, and Castiel beat his wings in the air, drying them as best as he could in the cool damp shade. "I'm done," he informed the rabbit, once it was fact. He would just have to leave his wings open behind him.

The rabbit glanced warily out of a bush. "Are you sure you're done?" It sounded as though it had just remembered the fear it had had of Castiel when the angel had been like an eagle above him; like it was the prey and Castiel was the predator. Those certainly weren't a peaceful bird's wings. The pinions were too long and the lines were too sharp. They were beautiful wings, the rabbit admitted to itself, even if seeing them outspread really made it wish to run from their bearer. "I'll be moving onward, then."

~@~

There was a familiar looking willow in their path, which the rabbit skirted carefully around. When Castiel saw the blood soaked earth and the bones left to rot beneath her fronds, he saw why the weeping willow was familiar. It was the same tree he had spoken to after drinking with the spider. "Ah, there you are," she sighed, and the rabbit stopped, staring at her with horrified fascination. "Not you, sweet thing," she murmured. "I was speaking to the pretty bird."

The angel reluctantly stepped closer, in spite of the mistaken species, and tilted his head queryingly. "What can I do for you?" he asked politely.

"It's been bothering me, sweety. I just wanted to know what gave me away." She seemed quite sincere in her desire for self-improvement.

"Are you sure you want to know?" he began. "It isn't very flattering." Castiel felt as though he should warn her, at least a little. After all, it wasn't her fault that her nature was unsavory; with the exception, of course, of whatever had damned her soul to Hell. The angel steadfastly ignored whatever that reason may be. He could see it, her reason, that is, if he looked. He just didn't want to look. There were already too many disturbing things in this Damned Garden.

"I can't fix a problem that I don't know is there, now can I?"

"While your foliage is quite stunning, the..." He studied the refuse that he might properly describe it. "The melting corpses detract from you beauty." And they did. There was nothing like melting corpses to distract one from the greenery.

"My food?" She seemed surprised. "Now, how can I fix that?" He could tell that she was genuinely concerned, and would gratefully listen to any advice he had to offer. It wasn't a surprise that she might have difficulty disposing of the refuse. She was, after all, a tree.

So he offered her the best advice that he could. "Find yourself a symbiote," he suggested. "One to clean up after you; that you won't eat." The rabbit agreed silently from a slightly greater distance away.

The willow grew thoughtful. "If that's what I need to do," she decided, "then that's what I need to do."

~@~

The rabbit had disappeared down into a hole in the ground, and Castiel had heard it let out a shrill scream. He quickly peered into the hole, which turned out to be the entrance of an oubliette. There was a rag woman at its base. She stared up at him. "Go away," she said.

"I'm sorry, but I must be following the rabbit," he replied. He didn't see the rabbit in the oubliette, however. "Did you see a white rabbit?"

"Oh, yes," she rejoined with a grin. "He took a look at me and screamed his wee rabbit head off." She patted at her head. "Is my hair that bad?" she asked.

Castiel cocked his head. He hated to admit it but "Yes, it is that bad." A small flea shaped like a rabbit ran across the floor near her feet. "Did he do anything after he screamed?"

"Why yes," she said. "He took one of my brownies." She offered one to Castiel.

He stared at it dubiously, crawled into the oubliette to follow the rabbit shaped flea. As it neared the wall, he stepped as close to it as he could, and took a bite out of the brownie. It surprised him by not tasting awful. Although, it did taste strange. "Thank you," he said to the rag woman, even as he began to shrink. It tasted mildly like chilies smelled.

Then he was flea sized, along with the rabbit, and had to run again to catch up. He was already through the tiny door in the wall when she tugged at the animal remains in her hair. "Is it really that bad?" she asked the wall.

"I've been telling you," the wall responded, "all these years! Please, either cut it off or go find somewhere else to be alone, I don't want to see it for the rest of your existence."

~@~

There was a long series of abandoned ant tunnels. Once they left these, and were out in the open air again, the rabbit waved to him. It stuck its thumb in its mouth and blew. With a loud popping sound, it returned to a more normal size. Castiel stared at it, then contemplated his own thumb. Well, if it worked for the rabbit...

Pop! Again he was head and shoulders taller than the rabbit, and the small house in the middle of the clearing was obvious to his now much larger eyes. "Is this..?" he asked the rabbit.

The rabbit agreed. "Malik's abode. You've got to knock, first."

Castiel shrugged and took the wooden steps up to the tiny cottage one at a time. The door had a message inscribed above it in ornate script.

"Take my hand,

Truth to seek.

Worthy holds no

Fear of me
."


He took the door by the handle, assuming that that's what the inscription meant, and the door turned entirely into a mirrored surface.

In the mirror, Castiel saw himself. His illusions, he mused, had already been stripped from him, many times. Kushiel's mirror held no power over him, but to show him what he didn't know. It was more depressing than horrifying.

Crystalline threads wrapped around his mirror image, its wings were crushed beneath their weight, its eyes were blinded by their layers, and thicker cords stifled its mouth, preventing it from speaking its secrets. Castiel already knew these secrets, obviously. He also knew that the bindings on his mirror image were imposed on him as well. It was painful to look at, he admitted to himself. But he had known better than to think that he knew the whole truth.

Several shining threads fell from him as he stared at his mirror image. "It was a good try, however," he grumbled. It was a very good try. He had barely been able to see himself through all of the bindings, and that was very worrisome. The white rabbit gasped behind him, and a large, solid hand wrapped around Castiel's.

"An angel looks into the Mirror of Truth," a husky voice murmured into his ear. The body that belonged to both the hand and the voice had managed to place itself between Castiel's body and his wings. He could feel other, much larger wings pressed against the backs of his, confining him. "And the angel will see the Truth. No angel of these times, of Heaven or Hell can handle the Truth. Angels are the worst of those wrapped within their own illusions. Most will lose their sanity, from knowing the Truth of what they truly are." The body moved closer and the hand at Castiel's wrist tightened painfully. "And yet, here you stand, unchanged."

There was a threat in that voice. Castiel would have had to have been really stupid not to hear it. He sagged against the angel behind him, in spite of the still painful seizure of his wrist. "Here I stand," he agreed, wearily. "Here I stand..."

~@~

The white rabbit served tea and biscuits on a lovely tea set in the middle of the clearing in front of the cottage. The tea was spiked, Castiel rather thought, for his benefit. He had been right. Malik was Kushiel. Kushiel also wasn't mad from what Castiel could tell. In fact, he seemed disturbingly lucid in comparison to the near month it had taken for Castiel to reach his abode. The Garden was insane. Kushiel... wasn't?

He was also very civilized, for being alone for so long, without the company of his brothers. "I still don't understand why you are here," Kushiel murmured, abyss black eyes narrowed onto Castiel's own. "I don't think I even know you," he began and Castiel interrupted, supplying his name. "Even so. The Castiel I remember was an errand runner. Hardly a second glance to him. Certainly nothing of interest there."

"Time has a manner of changing all things," Castiel replied somnolently. The slight buzz was making him feel a bit better, but it wasn't helping the clarity of his thoughts.

"Not angels," Kushiel dismissed darkly. "I saw 'Castiel,' I read him. You are not him. I don't know who you are, but you are not that Castiel."

"Knowledge," Castiel protested. "Back then, not one of us could even fathom the things I know now, the things I've seen. Change can come, Kushiel, even to our kind." He nibbled reluctantly at a biscuit, hoping that would help his head feel more even. "Knowledge is the greatest perpetrator to change. And I," he admitted, "I have come to know too many things." To his surprise, though dry, the biscuit was exquisitely sweet; far sweeter than the strange brownie from earlier, or anything, really, that Castiel had ever eaten. He wasn't sure if he liked it.

"That drone couldn't have looked into the Mirror of Truth." Kushiel drank his tea seemingly on autopilot. His wings readjusted themselves in a manner which belied their grandness. It reminded Castiel of the discomfort of sitting in this place. His wings didn't just phase through things like they should. "That drone wouldn't even know what the mirror was, upon seeing it, no less."

"Knowledge more obscure has benefited me more," Castiel remarked. "I enjoy keeping rare knowledge. The things intentionally left unremembered by the Host, I have been thinking of, especially lately."

"That 'Castiel' likely would have never had access to that knowledge," his host refuted.

Castiel shook his head. "No, someone as obscure and forgettable as myself is often told things, so that I can be unremembered again, and soon."

Kushiel looked disgruntled.

"I suspect that even now those I've queried are remembering what they can of me," he pointed out, gnawing on the biscuit with more enthusiasm than previously. He thought that maybe he did like it. He was also drunker than he should be, he was sure. His head was starting to feel rather funny. "And they'll be remembering all of the things they've told me, just to make me go away. But they won't be able to ask Gabriel," he added, remembering how many times in the distant past he had the archangel speak to him, just to speak to someone. "Gabriel's gone."

"Where's Gabriel gone?" Kushiel asked sharply. That information had obviously startled him, though he didn't shift from his lounging position.

"Not Heaven..." and maybe Castiel was starting to feel a bit sleepy again. Yawn. "Not Hell..." He leaned forward onto the tea table, yawning again. "I'll tell you a secret," he confided, as his eyes started to shut involuntarily. "Heaven doesn't yet know what he's done, but I do." Clank. His head fell to rest on the table.

Kushiel stared down at him. "Not possible," he muttered, and watched the white rabbit waffle nervously behind Castiel. He waved the Garden's caretaker off, and shook his head. "Not possible," he repeated, and for good measure, "It's not."



Author's Extra: You know what? I'm going to beg again. Also, though I know where I'm going in the end, if anyone wants to offer interesting suggestions? Hey, I might write it. See you next time!

Next Time:Strange Bedfellows (aka: Castiel Meets People and Things) In which Castiel finishes his business with Kushiel and returns to find that his vessel has been tangling with vampires.
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