characters: Castiel, Sam,[spoiler for fic]Lucifer
warnings: disturbing imagery, gore
story summary: Castiel had been trapped in the room for days, or maybe weeks. He wasn't sure, because every day, after the Engineer finished tinkering, the air filled with smoke and his memory-circuits got scrambled. At least one of his wings was fixed. The other wasn't in such good shape.
notes: written as a pinch-hit for the 2014 spn_reversebang for the awesome prompt piece by sophiap!
be sure to check out the art masterpost
Many thanks to my lovely betas quickreaver and nwspaprtaxis
The air smells like sulfur again, Castiel thought as he opened his weary eyes. He looked around the dimly lit, large grey room and started to go through his checklist.
Was he alone? Yes, though he wouldn't be for long.
Was the door still closed? Yes. It was heavy and solid metal with three barred locks and he never saw it open.
Was the sky still burning? Yes, or at least it looked like it was from the little he could see through the two narrow windows on the far wall. They were made of thick layers of frosted green glass that ran all the way from the floor up to the high ceilings.
Was he still too broken to escape? Most likely.
He lifted his left arm, then his right and felt gears grinding and a spasm from his scapula in response. He logged the reaction, noting it as irregular and unpleasant. Gingerly, he turned his head and peered at his right shoulder. There was a jagged iron rod sticking out of his skin, bronze coating flaking off at the edges. A few copper strands of wire hung down from the rod, all that was left of his right wing.
He turned to the left and carefully flexed his other wing. It responded, slowly and with a pained creak as the damaged rods grated against each other, but they unfolded fully, the white, glossy, synthetic feathers disturbing the dust in the air.
For a few groggy moments, Castiel tracked the floating motes in the air before his mind came fully online and he remembered what he had to do. He only got a few lucid minutes to himself every day, and if he was ever going to get out of here, it had to be now, before the Engineer returned.
He stood, knees wobbling as the pistons inside them moved irregularly, and walked as quickly as he could to the door, testing the handle and the lock-bars in the off-chance the locks weren't fully engaged. But of course they were. The thick metal bars spanned the door and beyond, a good chunk of them embedded deep within the wall. They were far too sturdy for even him to break.
Though he was sure he'd done it on at least one other occasion, he searched the walls for a lever or anything else that could release the locks from within, his heart valves measuring every passing second with their steady rhythm. At most he had three more minutes to himself.
He didn't truly know long he'd been here, too dulled with sensor-dimming drugs to tell hours from days, but it felt like far too long. His last memory was of dinner—the thin grey nano-gruel that sustained him. It was always delivered through a small slot on the far wall. He moved towards the narrow compartment, considering the likelihood of a dumb-waiter embedded behind the opening, and whether or not he could escape if he found a way to tear through the wall.
"Don't worry, I'll give you breakfast," said a voice from above. It sounded tinny through the old speakers mounted near the ceiling.
"No. No, not yet…" Castiel muttered, even though he knew it was futile. The vents in the ceiling began to spew yellow smoke and the scent of sulfur and ozone grew heavier as the room filled with numbing gas.
When he woke again, someone was pulling at his right shoulder.
"Won't be much longer now," the Engineer said.
Castiel tried to twist around, to look at him, but his head was so very heavy. He moved his chin barely an inch, just enough to see the tube sticking out of forearm, feeding him clear amino water. Breakfast. He was, once again, sitting in the sole metal chair in the room. It altered itself to accommodate the Engineer's needs, lifting Castiel's body upright, or laying him flat, depending on what part of him was being worked on. Right now he was upright, and the rear panel of the chair had retracted almost completely, exposing his back. The Engineer gave his shoulder another firm pull and then released it, which resulted in the soft whirring sound of a new ratchet wheel.
"Why—" Castiel licked his lips, mouth dry from the gas, "—why are you doing this?" he asked, proud of himself for getting the question out. He wasn't sure he'd asked it before.
"Why wouldn't I?" the Engineer said, his strong hand pressing down on Castiel's shoulder as something metallic clicked solidly into place behind his neck. "Who else is going to fix you?"
Even drugged to the gills, Castiel knew the answer. "The Great Maker," he said with conviction. "He will always make us whole."
The Engineer scoffed. "Don't count on it, brother."
"Brother?" Castiel turned his head further, spurred on by curiosity and caught a glimpse of the man tending to him. Tall. Dirty-blond hair. Thick set of goggles, obscuring most of his face. "Who are you?"
"I'm the one who took pity on you when your garrison left you for dead," the man snapped, his voice several degrees cooler.
The Engineer had to be a far more advanced breed of angel. Castiel himself hadn't learned how to feel. The statement had been meant to wound him, but it couldn't. "We're at war," he said. "Many of my brethren have fallen. They could not risk their lives to restore my flight. I understand their decision."
"You think your wings are the only thing I've been fixing?" The Engineer clucked his tongue. "Should give you a processor upgrade too, while I'm at it."
The numbing quality of the gas kept Castiel's mind slow and his body floating in a painless cloud of pastel and white noise, but after a few minutes a question wormed its way into the forefront and wouldn't leave.
"Where are we?"
"But...there is nowhere safe. Not anymore. The Wheel, our fortress, is broken. It lies in ruin, Earthbound. The humans have turned on us, and the Blight—"
"Don't worry about the Blight. It's not going to be a problem much longer."
The statement seemed ludicrous. The Blight was unstoppable. Nobody knew exactly where it had come from, though most believed the humans had created it, trying to improve their own species. It was violent and hungry and would not listen to reason, consuming every being it came across and using it as a new appendage. Castiel craned his neck, trying to get a better look at the frame of his new right wing, but the light above, brighter now, made him blink. "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't." The Engineer stepped away and lifted his goggles up wiping the back of his hand across his sweaty face. The stark light above illuminated only enough of him for Castiel to see the small sores running up his cheek and temples, synthetic skin peeling off, revealing blue flesh underneath. "That's all for today, I'm afraid. Get some rest."
"No. Wait—" Castiel said, but the overhead lights flicked off and the thick yellow smoke began to fill the room again as the Engineer walked out, closing the heavy metal door behind him.
"There," said a voice. His voice. It was always the Engineer's voice.
Castiel raised his head and blinked. It felt like only moments had passed since the Engineer had left, but here he was, wrenching something into place that made his shoulder twitch and his chest muscles shift awkwardly as his pectus gears turned. It was uncomfortably tight, but not bad enough to trigger any of his pain sensors.
"It'll take some getting used to; they're not as sturdy as your old ones, but they'll carry you where you need to go." The Engineer shut off a bright light somewhere above and behind Castiel's head and walked around to face him, the dim light from the ceiling reflecting off the bright blue glass of his goggles. "Now. Let's discuss payment."
Angels traded in only one thing: knowledge. They were, after all, beings of intellect, thought given form by the Maker. Knowledge made them stronger, and these days there were so few of them left that it was becoming a precious commodity indeed.
"You know far more than I," Castiel said. "I don't even know where we are."
"Two names. Humans you knew when you were down below."
Castiel nodded in agreement and held up two fingers, swearing an oath to share all he knew.
The Engineer smiled, a hint of anticipation on his peeling lips. A small trickle of blue blood ran down his chin. "Sam and Dean Winchester."
Castiel's data-sorting gears clicked along steadily as he accessed his files on them. "They took me in after I escaped from the human scientists that had captured me."
"Fools," the engineer said and spat onto the ground. "It's because of them that their world is burning."
It was the truth. No angel had ever left the Wheel, but when mankind came to them, in flying ships, Castiel volunteered himself as an ambassador, agreed to return to ground with them if only they'd leave. His sacrifice was applauded by many at first.
He hadn't seen it as sacrifice, as much as his obligation. He had to protect his kind and the Maker, who now lived in the heart of their fortress. Centuries ago, when the Maker's body had failed, they had preserved his mind and his heart, and placed him in the center of the Wheel, where he could watch over them, as he always had. He'd built them well, and their bodies lasted centuries before they began to fail. He'd left them with instructions on how to repair each other, how to improve upon each other, and even how to transfer their minds from one body to another. There were hundreds of spare parts and dozens of whole, empty bodies in the Wheel, but they'd all burned when the Wheel had fallen.
In retrospect, Castiel felt he should have seen it coming. The humans had no intention of staying away from the angels, now that they knew they existed. They just didn't know how to go about attacking them. Not until they'd had a chance to examine Castiel up close.
When the attack came, it was sudden and devastating. The main engine stopped turning and failed altogether, disrupting the power flow to the two-dozen turbines that held them aloft. They stopped turning and they fell, landing below with earth-shattering force. So many of them died in the fall, but Castiel survived. He'd crawled out of the ruins and walked north, picking a direction at random, until the Winchesters found him.
"Sam and Dean Winchester are good men," Castiel said. "They tried to uphold our treaty. When the war began, they faulted their own kind, not us."
"Even when the Blight befell them?"
"Interesting. Tell me more." The Engineer leaned forward, touching his fingertips to Castiel's temples, aligning his sensors with the four corners of Castiel's mind.
When they were fully interfaced, Castiel began the data transfer, showing the Engineer everything he'd learned about the Winchesters. Their passion for life, their skill at fighting, their innovative ways of dealing with a world that had turned bloody and violent. He could send millions of images this way, but he'd promised to trade more than that. He had sworn to share everything.
"They're not as cowardly as the other humans," the Engineer said, his eyes flickering as he processed the information. "Tell me about Dean's death."
"The Blight attacked us. They came in the bodies of men and beasts. Two wolves tore Dean apart. We tried to stop them, but there were so many. There was not much left of Dean, or any of the others. Only Sam and I survived."
"How did Sam survive?"
"The Blight, they…they treated him differently. He attacked them and they defended themselves, but wouldn't retaliate. Almost like they were determined not to harm him. It was strange." Castiel remembered how fiercely Sam had fought to protect Dean. "He tried everything to save his brother, he tore through half a dozen Blight single-handedly, using nothing but his dagger and pistol, but he wasn't fast enough. Neither was I." He shrugged his shoulders, feeling the heft of his new wings. "Afterwards, he was quiet." His databanks replayed his memories and he struggled to put what had happened into words. The images weren't enough to convey to the Engineer everything that had happened. "I told Sam I would try to save Dean, but that I had to take him to the Wheel, so I could use our machines."
The Engineer nodded. "Curious that you would bother to save a human."
"He fought valiantly, he deserved to be saved. And Sam—he didn't agree, but he didn't stop me. I think he knew his brother would die otherwise. I told him I could only carry one of them but that I'd be back as soon as I'd saved Dean." The next set of files were detailed accounts of his hours in the Wheel lab, trying to salvage what he could of Dean's mangled body. "The Blight had ruined most of the body. Humans are next to impossible to repair."
"Yes. And they're so easy to break."
"I was able to download his memories before his brain failed, and I salvaged the heart."
"A wise decision."
The Great Maker had told them how humans differed from them, how they had something that set them apart from angels: souls. The seat of the soul was the heart. The seat of the mind was the brain. A human was incomplete without both. It had to be the soul that gave humans emotions, since most angels were lacking them. It made him wonder if the Engineer had a soul of his own.
"I had to move quickly, but I was able to preserve Dean's heart in an eternity box." He showed the Engineer what he had done and how. The small boxes were designed to keep anything inside going. They were filled with living silicone-gold filament that wrapped itself around the contents and gave them life. "I uploaded the files from his mind into the box as well. He was as complete as I could make him and I thought perhaps we could find a body for him one day."
"Brother." The Engineer cocked his head to the side, lips curving. "What a blasphemous suggestion."
"I know the Maker forbids it, but this human…Dean is a good man."
"A human cannot become one of us."
"Yes, I understand that now." Castiel nodded to himself as he played back the last of his files. The last time he'd seen Sam Winchester. "I brought Dean back to Sam."
"He must have been very grateful."
"No. He was not." Sam's reaction had been the opposite of what Castiel had expected. When he'd shown him the small golden box Sam had smiled at him. Or that's what Castiel had thought, at first. But it wasn't a smile. No, this was something he'd never seen before—madness and sorrow distorting Sam's face into a grimace. Then he'd screamed, hurling insults and attacking Castiel bodily even though he must have known a human could never harm an angel. Not with his bare hands, at least. But the depth of Sam's pain was so great, so daunting, that Castiel found himself paralyzed. He didn't fight back, he couldn't, and Sam got the best of him. Sam had broken his wings, snapped them both at the joint and left him lying face down, conscious but paralyzed, in the same building where Dean had died. Castiel remembered feeling something that day. Betrayal maybe, or remorse. It was difficult for him to distinguish one from the other since he hadn't experienced either before. "I don't understand what I did wrong."
"Humans are base creatures, Castiel. So few of them are worth our attention. But Sam…he does sound interesting. Do you know where he is?"
Castiel shook his head.
"Did you embed a tracker in the eternity box?"
"And the frequency?"
With a thought, Castiel sent the image of the exact resonance and wave of the tracking device. Twenty-four pulses every second at seventy-nine parsecs.
The Engineer straightened and removed his goggles, revealing bloodshot pale blue eyes and a face, one that was painfully familiar to Castiel.
The angel smiled, his lips cracking at the seams. "Thank you for your payment. I hope you find the wings to your liking. They are not like those the Maker gave you, but they will suffice. Enough for one last look from above."
"One last look?"
Lucifer smirked. Blue blood from a wound at his hairline ran down his cheek. "I'll come back for you. I promise. After the war is over. There's only one battle left to fight, and thanks to you it's practically won."
"What do you mean? How can you hope to hold back the Blight? It is everywhere, infecting every living thing."
"Of course they are." Lucifer grinned. "That's what I told them to do." He turned to leave and pulled a small breathing mask from his pocket, slipping it on as he moved towards the door. The vents in the ceiling opened again, bringing with them the hiss of gas that turned the air oppressive and yellow.
"You—why would they listen to you?" Castiel stood and tried to run after his brother, even as the gas hit his circuits, flipping them off one by one.
"Because I am their maker."
Castiel's visual feed began to stutter, his motor functions ceased and he tripped over his own feet, landing heavily on his side. The last thing he saw was Lucifer stripping out of his shirt, and slipping on his wings. He clicked all three pairs into place, slotting them into the holes in his back, and stepped through the open door. The sky was still burning.
It made Castiel angry when he awoke to find himself sprawled on the floor of the big grey room. As angry as someone like him could be, anyway. The Great Maker had given them an understanding of emotion, but not the ability to feel. That was something they learned from observation, from studying everything in the Wheel's great library files. I was a noble goal to achieve a true emotion, because it brought them one step closer to the Maker himself.
He pushed himself to his feet and surveyed the room, reviewing his checklist. He was alone, the door was still locked, and the sky was dark. He walked closer to the nearest window and looked out through the thick tinted glass. The fires had gone out. It was hard to know if that was a good thing or not. He began to think not as he noticed the glass of the windows bubbling strangely. After a few seconds it began to drip down, like a thick green rain, pooling in sizzling puddles on the cold floor.
There was a sound from the door, and Castiel turned just in time to see the lock-bars retract into the wall. He began to walk closer and then froze when the door flew open with enough to force to send a few bits of plaster raining down from the wall.
The air outside smelled rank, all ozone and smoke mixed with the foul-smelling fuel the humans preferred. Slowly, scanning every frequency he could, Castiel stepped forward and looked outside.
He was on Earth, in what looked like a human city—what was left of one, at any rate. The few buildings he could see nearby were broken and charred. He stopped short of the door itself, his first true sense of anticipation making his heart-gears whir. His freedom was mere steps away. All he had to do was walk forwards.
Before Castiel had taken more than two steps, someone landed heavily on the ground just outside the door. The man's fists were pressed into the ground, his knees were bent and his six large wings were spread wide. When he rose to his feet, his bulk blocked the exit completely.
For a moment, Castiel couldn't see a thing, not even the sky, and then the figure by the door shifted, the upper pair of wings folding inwards and retracting behind it. It was an angel, or at least it looked like one. But then it stepped inside.
Castiel recognized the tall, broad-shouldered body, and the eyes that seemed to shift from hazel to gold in the wan light. "Sam?"
The thing that looked like Sam didn't answer, but instead kept walking towards him.
Castiel stepped steadily backwards, giving him space. There was an oily-black aura around Sam; he'd been touched by the Blight. "I did not think I'd see you again," Castiel said. His eyes landed on the square of gold embedded in Sam's chest. Dean. "Or your brother."
Sam raised his hand, revealing a thick network of dark veins running from his fingertips all the way up his arm and over his shoulder. The veins began to flicker with blue light, undulating as energy traveled through them and burst from his fingertips. Lightning arced through the air, striking Castiel and hurtling him across the room. He crashed into the wall behind him, pinned there by Sam's onslaught. His circuits begin to overload and his body contorted as he lost control over his limbs, his new feathers singeing along the edges. "I'm sorry," he screamed, and he felt sorry to his very core. He felt so much and so violently that it hurt, sending wave after wave of agony through him.
The lightning vanished as though it had never existed, and Castiel fell to the floor, wings crumpled beneath him.
Footsteps echoed off the wall as Sam crossed the floor to stand in front of him.
Castiel looked up at Sam, and was afraid.
A pair of blue-glass goggles hung from Sam's belt and when he turned, Castiel got a good look at Sam's wings. He'd seen them before; they were Lucifer's wings, made of gold and silver, mounted deep within Sam's flesh, thick black tissue surrounding the oozing ruptures. They looked painful and wrong, as did Sam. He was a man plagued with Blight made to look like an angel.
"I can help you," Castiel lied. He had no idea what he was dealing with, but he'd certainly try. Sam had saved him once, after all.
Sam slowly turned his head, massive wings shifting and looked over his shoulder at Castiel, with eyes the golden color of his feathers. His lips curved into a familiar smirk. "Brother, you've already helped me so much." The voice was Sam's, but the words were Lucifer's. "Come and see our new kingdom."
The lights above them sputtered in time with Castiel's heart. There was a gentle scraping sound, metal on metal, a gust of wind, and then Castiel was alone again.
The door was open.
Castiel pushed himself to his feet, ran, and didn't stop until he was outside.
The sky wasn't burning anymore. Neither were the buildings. There was nothing left to burn. The air was thick with smoke and ash and held the weighty promise of rain.
Looking upwards, Castiel spread his wings wide, and took flight.