I hated “The French Mistake” the first I watched it. Like, flames-on-the-side-of-my-face hate. Supernatural and I broke up for like two weeks over that, for reasons that I can’t completely explain. It just pissed me off, is all. It felt mean-spirited and so inside-y baseball as to be incomprehensible.
Basically, this is the ep that pushed me towards the real-life side of fandom before I was ready and I freaking resented that for a long time.
But I got over it, got to a point where I could sort out the bits still that make me want to throw things and the bits that are clever and intriguing.
One of those bits? Is meta!Misha. This story been rattling around unfinished for months, going nowhere fast. Then that besweatered bastard claimed it for himself and I didn’t have it in me to resist. So. Here goes.
There’s Chaos Theory in My Blood
Nobody believes me when I tell this story. That’s why I don’t tell it at cons.
Now it may be because I’ve cultivated what you might call, oh, an ethos of extravagance.
People tend to not take me seriously, for some reason. Most of the time, that’s a relief. Because if they did, then I’d have to, and I find that—terrifying.
That said: no matter what you’ve heard, minions, I swear this one is true.
The first thing Castiel ever said to me was:
It was three years ago. Wait, no—almost four, I guess. It was before Kripke called me. Before my agent had even heard of Supernatural. Before I’d had to imagine what an angel might sound like.
We were in LA, drifting merrily towards Christmas.
And I wasn’t in the healthiest of spaces, mentally.
My wife, she knew this. Knows me.
This is only part of what makes her worthy of awe, this willingness not only to put up with my shit but also to try and understand. To assign logic and meaning to the chaos theory in my blood. She is the force that makes me human.
She’d seen me sinking, seen me falling past the vertical, and she had planned my retreat. A sort of Pickett’s Charge in reverse.
She’d found a room for me at some inn or something up the Intercoastal: “A place where you can breathe,” she said, the day she’d decided I should leave.
There was no hint, no sign, or maybe there was and I was too self-involved to notice, too deep in myself to care. Either way, she startled me over breakfast. Dropped rental-car keys in my teacup and said: “Go.”
When I just sat there crosseyed, she kissed me and slapped my ass and said, again: “Go.”
She did give me leave to pack a bag. I grabbed some t-shirts and a handful of underwear and then:
“Ok, ok,” I sighed, my forehead on her shoulder, my back against the car. “I’m going. I’m gone.”
Now, an aside:
One thing that I like about acting is that stasis is the status quo.
You spend way more time between jobs or waiting on set for a job to start or auditioning for jobs that you actually do, you know, working. Some people get unsettled by that, having all that idle time. Because most days, you spend more time thinking than doing and I would argue that most people are less comfortable inside their own heads than in any other space.
But that’s not me, you see. I like what goes on in my brain sometimes more than I dig what’s happening outside. So all that stasis, all that standing around or reading bad magazines in waiting rooms or sitting at the kitchen table and sketching while I listen to Vicki write—that’s good for me.
Sometimes I get more work done dozing in my chair between takes than I do on a whole Sunday in the garage: where my tools can outfox me, talk wood into taking a turn that I don’t like, and that sends me backwards, you see, rather than on.
The drive, then, that long pretty trek up the coast alone should have done it. Should have given me back my me legs. Should have brought back to life.
But I kept staring over at the sea, this living creature out my window, the one flicking its hips at the curve of the cliffs. All that movement. All that space. I kept expecting to see the Kon-Tiki float by with my corpse lashed to the mast and Thor Heyerdahl shaking his head and humming, “Oh, Dmitri. Oh. What have you become?”
Thor has this amazing Norwegian accent—I saw him interviewed once on TV—and so I spent 30 miles trying to perfect mine, because it’s sort of like Russian with a little less spit and just a touch more disapproval, but it didn’t work. Didn’t chase the depression away.
What made it worse, I think, was that there didn’t seem to be a reason why I felt like shit. There’d been nothing to precipitate my falling off the cliff inside my own head. No job lost or terrible day on set or fight with Vicks, no. In fact, it was good, my life. Ours. And it had been for a while: days of sunshine and hemp-flavored roses. A month of beautiful strawberries.
“God, you look happy,” she’d said, her fingers pressed soft on my eyes.
“Hmm?” I said, because technically I was asleep.
She laughed deep in her throat and the sound sank into the pillow, hummed its way into my ear.
“Looks good on you,” she whispered. Her face in my shoulder. “That peace.”
And that’s when I realized it, there on that windy drive. What it was that had changed.
It was the questing. I’d lost the quest.
It’s like the sophists believed, right: the valor, the virtuosity, it’s in the questing for achievement, the search, the strife. The achievement, eh, they thought that was ok, too, but it was in the engagement, the grappling, that they found joy. Purpose.
In Greek, they call it “areté.”
At that point in my life, then, in ours, there we were: semi-legit but still us, she and I. I was still me, too, except I got paid by direct deposit instead of in cash or broken prayer beads. I got recognized in Ralph’s one Thursday afternoon, made my agent the good kind of busy killing trees to send me scripts.
I wasn’t “successful,” scare quotes, because I hate that whole idea, but I wasn’t struggling, either.
That was it.
There was no more quest for me. No hope of areté. And worse of all, what really made me itch, was some part of me was happy with that. With the kind of virtue I’d managed to find and pour straight to Vicks’ heart for safekeeping.
The road, she sang to me in Russian, Norwegian, a brush of ancient Greek. Stand still, she said, and be happy.
By the time I got to the inn, retro perfect and private, my head rang with it, that song.
I hurled my bag at the bed and threw myself at the unsuspecting beach.
Still with me?
Ok, so another turn:
I don’t get pissed off very often anymore. When I do give in to that shiver hot red, I’m madder at myself than anything else because anger’s never been productive for me. It is for Vicks; when she starts shouting at the laptop and slamming her fists on the keys, I know she’s got it cold. But it just makes me want to punch things, to shake my tiny fist at the universe which, I have learned, does not give an actual shit about me and whatever I may think are my problems.
Which is good. It shouldn’t. The universe has black holes and poverty and supernovas and pilot season to worry about. I’m glad it doesn’t pay me any mind.
But there I was, stomping around in the sand with no one else in sight. The wind was a bitch and it was cold as fuck but I was getting into it, the Hulk smash shit of it all. Was it productive? No. But it felt better in my body, in my fist, than in it did inside my head.
I flung shell after shell towards the waves, worked my way up to chucking driftwood and something that once was a brick and just shouted my fucking brains out: no words or thoughts but just discordant sounds, the live version of the noise in my skull.
I stared into the sunset, screaming, my eyes filled with this terrible beauty, this awful sense of expanse, of empty, of Orion, and I started to cry or got sand in my eye or something and reached down, blind, got a hold of a goddamn log, it felt like, and heaved it as I hard I could.
I hurled the thing right into the other guy’s face.
It bounced off his cheek with what should have been a crack and he didn’t so much as blink.
Just dusted the sand from his raincoat and straightened his tie.
“Hello, Dmitri,” he said.
I had no sound left, it seemed.
He stared at me. Didn’t smile or anything. Tilted his head instead, the sunset pouring over his shoulders, and looked deep into my eyes.
I mean, he had them.
“Who are you?” I managed. “And why are you wearing my face?”
“Your—?” he said, puzzled. “Oh! Yes. I should have anticipated your distress.”
“Um,” I said. I took two big steps back and stumbled and boom, there he was, right at my side. His hands fluttered on my elbow.
“Please,” he rumbled, his voice a hard pack and a couple of loosies. “Do not injure yourself. Here. Sit down.”
He guided me to a rock and pushed me to meet it. Settled next to me, easy, like a cat.
He smelled like ozone and nutmeg, a super-clean version of Christmas.
He didn’t seem human.
“I am here,” he said after a minute. “To bring—to bear—good tidings.”
“Oh shit,” I spat. “I’m not pregnant, am I?” Mostly kidding.
He looked startled. “What? No. Dmitri, surely you know that human males are not capable of—”
I laughed. Couldn’t help it. He seemed so shocked.
“Sorry. For a second there I thought you were gonna tell me that you were an angel of the Lord bearing news of a virgin birth or—” I caught his face. Our face.
“Um,” he said, a little pained. “Rest assured that you are not with child.”
We just let that one sink in.
“Don’t angels have better things to do?” I said, finally. “I always imagine you guys are like the celestial A-Team, but with scimitars instead of cigars.”
He shook his head. “Your metaphor is nonsensical, although I suspect it is not too far from the truth.”
Now I was confused. I volleyed his puppy-dog stare and he sighed. Scrubbed his hands on his knees in a very not-me sort of way and leaned towards the sea.
“Dmitri,” he said, and every time he said my name it was like a Mack Truck in my gut. “Something in your life is about to change. Something—significant.”
I waited. I wanted to make a smart remark just to cut away the tension but I held my tongue, that time. Waited for the angel to give me a cue.
“You are—you will get a job soon. In what I believe is your chosen profession. One that will bring you financial success. And fame. Your name will be known throughout certain enthusiastic subsets of the global population.”
My heart threw itself at my shoes. Got tangled in the seaweed and sank into the sand.
“Oh,” I said. “Ok.”
He turned his head. “This doesn’t please you, this news?”
“Uh,” I stuttered, because you’re not supposed to say “no thanks” to a heavenly declaration. “It’s just—it does, but—”
“You are unhappy,” he said. Not a question.
“No, I mean, I’m fine, I am happy and that’s—kind of not very—” I flapped my hands around and flung my fingers at words. “I’m grateful, angel of the Lord, really, but—”
“Castiel,” he said gently. “My name is Castiel.”
“Oh,” I said, because now things felt formal. “Hi, Castiel. I’m Dmitri.”
Something like a smile rumbled across his face, but he took my hand. Shook firm and dry.
“Yes. I know.” He studied me for a minute, careful and intent. “Though I must admit, you are not what I was expecting.”
“Well,” I said, aiming for arch, “if it makes you feel better, you’re not really screaming ‘angel’ to me either.”
He opened his mouth like he wasn’t sure what it was for, exactly, and I could see the celestial clockworks turning.
“Um! No, I mean. You don’t look like an angel, Cas.” I looked sharp at his back. “Exhibit A: No wings.” I petted his head, and wow, I needed some new conditioner. “Also: no halo. I mean, you’re more in the Michael Landon mode than Precious Moments. Not really adhering to the dominant cultural myths here, is what I’m saying.”
Castiel’s lips twitched, and crap. I recognized that expression. “I was unaware that you put such stock in such myths, Dmitri.”
“Hey! I’m a product of this society just like anybody else,” I blustered, busted. “Despite my best efforts.”
He leaned back a little and turned his face back to the sea. “Admittedly, if you were just like everyone else, I can assure you that we would not be having this conversation.” He sighed. “But unusual circumstances call for unique solutions, don’t you think?”
I shook my head, felt like I was a few logical proofs behind. “Was I supposed to do some homework for this chat, Cas? Maybe some supplementary reading? Because I have no fucking clue what you’re—”
He cut me off with a frustrated huff. “I’ve brought you glad tidings, Dmitri. Isn’t that enough? Rest assured, there are few among your kind who have—”
“Oh please,” I groaned. “I’ve read the Bible, ok? And the gnostics. There’s always a catch. God doesn’t dispatch you cats like Hallmark cards.” I poked him in the shoulder. “I mean, this isn’t a thinking of you visit, Castiel. Anyway, I’ve been a little out of it lately, sure, but I still remember how to sign a contract. How to take a goddamn job. No need for heavenly career counseling here.”
He shifted away from me. Looked down like he was trying to count up the grains of sand, and I knew we weren’t the same person, matching visages to the contrary, but there was something in the shifty that felt familiar.
My gut went cold and I just—waited. Sword of Damocles and all.
“The part that you’ll be offered,” Castiel said, finally. More to his sensible shoes than to me. “It’s me.”
My brain bounced. “I’m sorry?”
He met my eye with mine. “The ‘role’ you’ll be asked to play. Is me. Castiel, angel of the Lord.”
At times like that, when the fabric of reality on which I have (at best) a tenuous hold seems to quiver, I have this unfortunate tendency to laugh.
I say unfortunate because other people tend to interpret said reaction as a sign of my general insensitivity, of my inability to treat the most serious situations with the gravitas they demand.
Like when Vicks proposed to me, reality began to rent in this beautiful, terrifying way around us and I started laughing.
Vicks says I bayed at the moon, but I’m pretty sure that’s a gross exaggeration.
And even though she knows me better than anyone—had seen this very same inopportune reaction a dozen times before, at least—she was pissed.
Worse than that: she was hurt.
Vicks, she’s freaking made of steel. And I made her cry.
Yeah. I’m an asshole.
But despite my conscious understanding of the unhelpful nature of this kind of response—hilarity in the face of life-changing concrete—I’ve never been able to head it off at the pass.
The sound was out of my mouth before I could swallow, this crack of laughter boiled in despair.
I fell over, off the log and into the sand, and kept at it, Castiel this startled bolt of worry at my back.
“So you’re fictional?” I managed after an ice age or two.
I felt the angel’s hand on my back for a second. I think he was convinced I was broken.
“Um,” he said softly, somehow louder than the waves. “Yes. And no.”
I groaned and buried my forehead in the sand. Caught a glimpse of khaki as Cas settled at my side.
“That was perhaps unhelpful,” he rumbled. “Allow me to be more precise: in this reality, the one in which you live, I am fiction. I will be, that is, when you play me. When you make me manifest.”
I broke out of downward dog and sat up. “Ok. And yet—” I took him in with a sweep of my hand. “Here you sit.”
He rattled his trench. Rolled his shoulders and summoned something ethereal into his face. “Indeed. For, suffice it to say: in other versions of reality, Dmitri, I am fact.”
“Oh,” I said. “So. You, uh. Came all this way just to make sure central casting snagged the actor of your choice, huh?”
Castiel smiled just a little, just enough.”Something like that.” He stood up, one fluid grace, and offered me his hand. Pulled me back to earth.
The sun had disappeared, the last of the light peeling over the dunes, and there I was in the dark with a freaking angel of God holding my hand and glowing pretty blue in my face.
You’ll understand if my usual linguistic bliss abandoned me for a moment or two.
“So it’s important,” I said, a little hoarser than usual. “Me taking this job. Is that it? Some reality-crossing bullshit hinges on it, right? You just can’t tell me what it is without risking some Spock’s beard-level paradox.”
He laughed, this little aftershock of sound. “Something like that,” he repeated. He reached out with two fingers pointed and brushed them over my throat. Cut a soft smile in my skin from ear to ear, his fingers gentle blades under my chin. “Take the job, Dmitri,” he said, his voice dropping down to my shoes. “It’s important. You are.”
Have you ever wanted to make out with yourself? It’s kind of unnerving.
Especially when you decide to go with it and and lean in and the other you pushes you away. Gently, but a pretty clear rebuff nonetheless.
Castiel stretched, like his skin—mine?—was getting too tight. He smiled. Raised a hand. “Goodbye,” he said, simple and plain.
And fire smoke and Aslan? No. Just a blink too slow and he was gone.
Other people, I know, would have used such a moment of weird—a doubleshot of the divine—as the springboard for a freakout. Hell, the angelic twin thing was nothing if not great kindling for some pretty serious therapy. Or would have been, for most people.
But like the angel said: I’m not most.
Castiel was the cure for my crisis of conscience, the salve for my striving soul. He put the areté back in Dmitri, in me; gave me something to search for. What better quest than to find out why you’re so important to an angel of the Lord?
Three years on and counting, and I’m still trying to figure it out.
You can see why nobody ever believes me, when I get drunk enough to tell some version of this tale. Why I don’t tell it at cons, no matter how bitchy the boys are being, what with their no-talking bullshit. I keep hoping they’ll grow out it. Maybe season six will be better.
Anyway. Whatever you’ve heard, Mishamigos: I swear this one is true.