A/N: Thank you, guest Pony for your review! Time for Cas to get back to normal, and for me to fix some things between Team Free Will. ;) One final shoutout to 29piecesofme for her wonderful beta work.
Castiel shifted on the soft surface he was lying on, face scrunching in confusion. The sensation of rising from an abyss of numb nothingness was becoming more familiar than he appreciated. What had he done to end up in such a state?
Frowning, he pried his eyelids open. There was a crackled ceiling above him, a window to his left letting in a stream of light, and cluttered furniture wedged along the walls around the bed he was in. Balthazar stood with arms crossed, leaning against a dresser.
Castiel blinked. "Is this…Bobby Singer's house?" He started at the coarse rasp in his voice, and immediately began a catalog of his body. His vessel seemed fine, but his grace was sensitive, almost achy. It reminded him of when he'd been blown to a million pieces and put back together…a disconcerting notion.
"Yes," Balthazar replied a little too casually, considering how much he despised being anywhere near the Winchesters. For a split second, Castiel wondered if he should be worried about them…and yet, it didn't feel strange for Balthazar to be here. And that was confusing.
Castiel pushed himself up onto his elbows with a grunt, and stilled when he caught sight of his attire: black denim and a plain, long sleeve blue tee. Clothes never really held any importance to him, but the suit and overcoat had become something of a third skin over the years. And the fact that he couldn't remember how he'd gotten this way was also alarming.
Balthazar let out a huff. "You miss the coat, don't you." It wasn't a question. "I'll get you a new one. Just be thankful I was able to resize those."
Castiel didn't follow, but perhaps that was because he was having trouble focusing. With a grimace, he finished sitting up all the way. "What happened?"
"What do you remember?"
"I…" Castiel's brow furrowed. There was a rather large, blank space in his memory. No, not blank. There were flashes, too brief and distorted to make much sense of. But overlaid were sensations and feelings…things he didn't understand. One thing seemed important though. "Where are the Winchesters?"
Balthazar snorted. "Of course. I told them if they set one foot in this room I would turn them into toads."
Castiel quirked a confused look. "Why?"
"For not telling me they almost let a crazed pagan god nearly drain your grace."
Castiel blinked. Well, that might account for how he was feeling—although, that shouldn't have been possible. "I don't remember anything like that."
Balthazar finally dropped his rigid posture. "That's probably for the best." He shook his head. "You have a knack for getting into trouble, you know that?"
Castiel merely stared at him. What on earth had happened to cause Balthazar and the Winchesters to…well, not call a truce, but to be in the same house without resorting to holy fire and smiting?
When Castiel still didn't speak, Balthazar threw his arms up. "Obadiah betrayed you, for one. Tried to extract the location of the heavenly weapons from your mind."
Now that, Castiel started to have a vague recollection of, and he shuddered at the memory of Obadiah's growing madness and desperation.
"He screwed up though," Balthazar continued. "And you were accidentally turned into a fledgling."
Castiel actually let out a small snort at that. "You're joking."
Balthazar angled a severe look at him, one Castiel hadn't seen in nearly a millennia…not since Castiel had been gravely injured in the early battles against Lucifer. It jolted him to see it now, that mixture of protective, worried brother that Dean often directed at Sam. Castiel turned his gaze inward to search his memory for any indication that what Balthazar said was true. But there were still only flitting glimpses of Sam and Dean, of a park, and maybe wings? His memories might have been missing and confused, but at the thought of the Winchesters, Castiel felt an immense sense of refuge, warmth, and…belonging.
He shook his head. "I…I don't remember. Did the Winchesters…?" He didn't know how to ask it out loud. Had he been with them during this ordeal? How had they reacted? How…how had he reacted?
"Yeah, they watched over you while I searched for a reversal spell," Balthazar admitted, almost begrudgingly.
"Oh." Castiel looked around the room. "How long…?"
"A little less than a week. You've been unconscious for a day since being restored." Balthazar crossed his arms again. "Because those idiot apes forgot to mention your weakened grace from an encounter with Hel."
Castiel opened his mouth to interrupt, but Balthazar waved him off.
"The whore from the Pit. She paid a visit topside when she heard about a fledgling running around."
The sensation of piercing icicles ran through him, but were gone just as quickly, replaced with warmth and the feeling of being held safely in someone's arms. Castiel shook the daze off. The Winchesters must have handled her, since he was obviously not drained. "And Obadiah?"
"Dead," Balthazar replied sharply.
Castiel nodded, even as he felt a pang of grief for yet another lost brother.
"You should take some time," Balthazar spoke again, this time gently. "The troops can hold their own for a bit longer. You've…it was close a few times there, Cas."
A cold feeling settled in his stomach at that, and he was both grateful and frustrated that he could not remember. Castiel pushed himself to his feet, swaying slightly under a wave of dizziness. He hadn't felt this weakened since he'd been cut off from Heaven, but at least he knew this was only temporary. Despite the raw edges of his grace, he could feel it slowly knitting back together. However, his initial thought of flying downstairs suddenly didn't seem such a good idea, let alone returning to Heaven.
Castiel looked up to meet Balthazar's gaze. "You'll…take care of things a bit longer?"
The other angel nodded. "Of course." He shook his head and smiled then. "Just try to stay out of trouble for a bit? You're giving my vessel gray hairs."
Castiel's brows knitted together, and he was about to point out that with an angel inhabiting a vessel, the human's body didn't suffer from the aging process, but Balthazar had disappeared. Taking a deep breath, Castiel made his way out of the room and toward the stairs, which had never before seemed so daunting. But as he tentatively flexed his wings, he decided he was definitely not up to flying just yet.
He made his way down slowly. Voices drifted up from the den—Sam and Dean and Bobby.
"He'll be okay," Sam was saying. "You heard Balthazar; he just needs rest."
"We should've waited to do the spell," came Dean's gruff reply. "He was cold and practically having a relapse—"
"And you thought reversing the spell would fix it," Bobby's curmudgeonly voice broke in. "What's done is done; stop beating yourself up over things you can't change."
Castiel finally wound his way into the den. "I concur."
Dean and Sam had been sitting in some chairs at a card table, but both leaped to their feet at his entrance. Bobby just leaned back comfortably in his seat behind the desk, eyeing him curiously.
"Cas!" Dean exclaimed. "You're awake."
Castiel quirked a slightly confused, slightly amused brow. "Yes." Obviously.
"How are you feeling?" Sam asked, giving him a thorough once-over.
Castiel opened his mouth to respond, but held back his customary 'fine.' "Um, confused. And…sore."
Dean's expression immediately became guarded. "You remember what happened?"
"No." He wasn't sure what emotions passed over Dean's face then—relief? Disappointment? "Balthazar told me I'd been turned into a…fledgling." Saying it out loud sounded ridiculous to his ears, but the Winchesters did not break into humorous grins; they merely exchanged a look.
It was Bobby who spoke up. "Yep. You were a three-and-a-half-foot rugrat for a week."
"Fledglings are not rodents." He would have bristled in indignation if he still wasn't struggling to wrap his brain around the concept. Castiel had to do a double-take on the older hunter's words. "Wait, my vessel also became a child?"
"Heh, yeah," Sam said. "Uh, so you don't remember any of it?"
Castiel couldn't tell if the younger Winchester was also disappointed. "Not…specifically, no. I remember…feelings." If he concentrated hard enough, he could hear an echo of laughter, see a flash of a rare smile on Dean's face, feel the touch of paper. "You…you took care of me," he said in sudden realization. "I…thank you. I'm sure it was quite the inconvenience."
The brothers glanced at each other, another silent conversation passing between them.
"It wasn't a problem, Cas," Sam said. "It was actually…enlightening." He almost sounded as though he was glad it had happened.
Dean rolled his shoulder in discomfort, and Castiel found himself growing frustrated, like all the times Dean spoke in common colloquialisms that Castiel couldn't follow, no matter how hard he tried.
The Winchester reached up to scratch the back of his head. "It wasn't a problem, Cas," he reiterated, and a faint smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "And I'm glad you're okay now. We…we were worried after Balthazar did the spell."
Castiel nodded in understanding. "He did seem upset, over something about Hel? I'm sorry he threatened you."
"That asshole," Dean growled under his breath. "But he took off a few times to run interference in Heaven or whatever, and Sam and me were by your side every single minute he wasn't."
Castiel was taken aback by the vehemence in Dean's tone…though not by the declaration that the Winchesters had doggedly stayed at his side. It filled him with a strange sense of deja vu. "Well, thank you, again. I…I suppose I should go now." His chest constricted painfully in a way that took him by surprise; Castiel thought he'd gotten past how much he missed the Winchesters' companionship.
"No," Sam blurted. He shot his brother a pointed look. "There are some things we need to talk about first."
Castiel tensed. "Alright…" They had said his recent…condition, hadn't been a problem, but were they just trying to be polite? No, polite wasn't really in the Winchesters' repertoire. But then what had he done wrong?
Sam turned around to the card table and dug something out of his computer bag. When he turned back, he held up a sheet of paper with a colored drawing. Of the three of them. Castiel stared dumbly at the image for a long moment. He didn't think Sam or Dean had this much skill in drawing, and it certainly wouldn't have been done by Bobby.
Castiel tentatively reached out to take it. "Where…where did you get this?"
Sam grinned. "You drew it. While you were a kid."
Castiel shot him a startled look.
Bobby let out a snort from his desk. "You owe me a memo pad, by the way." He pushed himself out of his chair and retreated to the kitchen.
"Look," Sam continued. "I know everything must sound pretty farfetched and a bit confusing, but there's really only one thing you need to know."
Castiel braced himself.
Sam pointed to the drawing. "You'll always have a place here with us. We're sorry we've only been calling you for help, and never asked you to stick around. I know you want to, and Cas, we want you to."
That…was not at all what he'd been expecting. It must have shown on Castiel's face, because Sam gave him a sad smile.
"And it occurred to me that I never thanked you for raising me from Hell. So thank you, Cas."
Castiel blinked, wondering if he was trapped in some weird dream. Except angels didn't dream. And they didn't get regressed to fledglings. "I, uh, of course." He shifted his weight awkwardly.
Sam elbowed Dean in the ribs, earning himself a scowl. The younger Winchester merely rolled his eyes, gave his brother another meaningful look, and then started to leave. He paused to put a hand on Castiel's shoulder briefly. "Keep that as a reminder," he said, nodding to the drawing. Then he headed toward the kitchen after Bobby.
Castiel glanced between the sheet and Dean. "I seem to be missing some things," he said inadequately.
Dean let out a wry smirk. "I honestly don't know if that makes this harder or easier."
"Dean, if I said or did things…"
"You were fine, Cas. You…" Dean swallowed and glanced over his shoulder as though searching for an escape. "You were a lot more…open about things."
Castiel stiffened, on guard again. "How so?"
Dean finally met his gaze straight on. "Do you really think I only want you around when you're useful?"
Castiel's mouth suddenly felt dry, and he couldn't help dropping his eyes to the drawing in his hand, the drawing that represented his innermost secret desire. He was an angel, and yet he wanted to feel more at home with a couple of hunters than he did his own family.
"Because it's not true," Dean barreled on before Castiel could even form a response. "Sam's right; we haven't done a good job showing you you're wanted. But you are."
There was a lump in his throat now, along with an inexplicable sense of rightness to what Dean said, an echo of a memory he couldn't quite grasp.
"Sam asked you to draw that. As a reminder, like he said."
Castiel's head was reeling. "I…I'm sorry I don't remember."
"That's okay." He reached for a notebook on the table. No, not a notebook, a sketchbook. "This is yours."
Castiel took it gingerly, careful not to crinkle the loose sheet of paper in his hand as he flipped the sketchpad open. The first several pages were full of more drawings of Sam and Dean, even Bobby. And though he didn't remember making them, he could tell they'd all been done by the same hand.
"You loved drawing," Dean said, uncharacteristically soft. "Is…is it something you've always liked doing?"
Castiel ran a finger reverently down one page. "I…suppose it was. A long time ago."
"Why'd you stop?"
Castiel was silent for a long moment, lost in old memories he did remember, and yet seemed oddly fuzzy. He gently closed the book and handed it back. "There's no place for such things in war."
Dean looked down at the sketchbook, and then back up at him. "Alright, well, we'll hold onto this for you. And…and any time you want a break, or some time away to clear your head, you can come use it. No war, no helping us out on hunts, just to hang out."
"I…I think I would like that."
Dean nodded, and set the sketchpad aside. "And Cas…I know I've never shown any interest in this war you're fighting. I'm sorry. If you need help—if you want help, I'm here. I've called on you often enough, it's your turn for a change."
Castiel's stomach tightened. He shouldn't, he really shouldn't…but he so desperately wanted to. And something inside him was urging him to open up, to admit the truth. Though, to what end? Dean would never approve of Castiel consorting with a demon.
"The ends don't justify the means."
Castiel briefly closed his eyes, unsure where the echo came from, but clearly hearing Dean's voice. He did not want to become like Obadiah, blinded by singleminded purpose, no matter how just he believed his cause. Castiel could try to convince himself that he was different because he wasn't threatening others, he was only targeting Raphael, but it was a flimsy excuse and he knew it.
He swallowed hard. "Actually, Dean, I…I am conflicted, about the…methods I've been using in this war."
Dean nodded slowly. "Okay. Tell me and we'll figure it out." He pulled one of the chairs around and sat, folding his hands in his lap with expectant patience.
Castiel hesitated. Was he doing the right thing? Dean would certainly be furious, and that previous invitation of fellowship would be revoked. Castiel would find himself worse off than he'd been when he was just a tool to the humans he cared about more than anything.
Doubt was quickly threatening to overwhelm him and make him lose his nerve, but a burst of warmth filled his chest in response, along with the echo of words he couldn't quite distinguish, but the sentiment was clear: No matter what happens, I'm here for you. Do you trust me?
"I trust you, Dean," he found himself saying, and then proceeded to lay out all the dark secrets he'd been carrying around for the past year. Yes, there was anger, but there was understanding as well, and support. Dean intended to keep his promise—they would figure it out. Together.
A/N: Thanks again to everyone who followed this story! Your engagement makes the experience of writing and sharing all the more fulfilling. :)
Next week comes a brand new story, an AU of 5x19 Hammer of the Gods where Lucifer doesn't kill Gabriel, but takes him prisoner...along with our other favorite angel Lucifer found after Cas used the banishing sigil on himself. Lots of angelic brotherly bonding to be had, along with whump. :D Hope to see you there!