Author's Note: First chapter is Castiel's out-of-it perspective, the second chapter is the same scene from the Winchesters' significantly-less-out-of-it perspective, and the third chapter is the conclusion.
Title is from A Broken Upper Hand by... wait for it... Demon Hunter.
Humans were bad news.
Everyone in Heaven knew that. Sure, if an angel had their powers, they would be fine. But how often were angels on Earth of their own volition? How often did they fall to the surface with their faculties intact? Never.
"Please… please, don't…"
Hunters were even worse. Hunters rarely believed in angels—they had seen far too much to think there was any kind of benevolence in the universe—and that meant they usually assumed angels fell into some category of monster. Hunters, when faced with monsters, were unparalleled in their cruelty.
"Please… you don't… you don't have to do this…"
Needless to say, when Castiel was punished for putting his faith in humanity—when he was sent into the heart of a battle between hunters and demons, appearing in a blaze of white light that made it very clear he was not of human origin—he was terrified.
"Dean, what is it?"
"Don't you think I would say something if I knew?"
"There's no mention of anything like this in Dad's journal."
"You—you don't have to… to hunt me, please—"
"Hey! I said shut up, Houdini."
"Well, he's a bright one."
"Dean… Dean, he looks really bad."
Castiel whimpered and tried to push himself away from the duo, unable to make out anything besides a pair of boots and shattered glass on the floor. Pain tore through his core, his body instinctively curling up as a result, but that action only let to white-hot lines of pain cutting across his back.
"Well, whatever it is, we've got a job to do."
"Right. Uh, holy water and salt didn't seem to do anything, and there's no way he was on the floor during that fight and didn't get hit."
"Okay, so, silver and iron knives to start."
Castiel felt a sudden pressure and then pain in his side, bloody hands pushing against the stone floor in a desperate attempt to flee. He couldn't find purchase, his body collapsing helplessly on the concrete in front of the two hunters.
"Please," he whispered, shaking his head, trying to find their faces in the haze of shadows and blurred colors. "I…"
He what? He had no idea what to bargain with. He could tell them he hadn't hurt anyone, but why would they believe that? He had no concept of human money or other items they held in high regard; he didn't even know what region of the planet he was in. He only knew what he had been told would happen to him, and he hadn't the faintest idea how to keep it from happening.
"Sorry, we're trying to make this quick."
"Dude, you're not supposed to talk to it. It makes it harder to gank'em if you start talking about your feelings."
"He's in a lot of pain, Dean. I mean, would you make a dog suffer when you put it down just because it was rabid?"
"No, I…" Sigh. "No, of course not, Sam. But we can't help it if we don't know how to put this particular dog down, okay?"
Castiel coughed, the sensation of something wet and warm spraying across his lips. He couldn't see anything, and the voices had fallen silent. He wanted to talk to them—he wanted to appeal to their mercy, because it seemed they did have some—but he could hardly make his tongue move in his mouth, let alone make it form words and sentences.
Castiel jerked violently, pain cutting into his side again, his head smacking against the stones as he writhed on the ground. It won't kill me. He whined, the stabbing pain sending his normally low voice a few octaves higher. But it won't heal. It hurts. It hurts.
"Dean, do we have anything else?"
"Sam, the next thing we would normally try is fire."
Castiel sucked air down into his lungs—not fire, please not fire—and pushed against the floor again, trying to move backward and failing. "P-please," he stammered, choking on his own blood as his body continued to throb. "Please, I won't—" He began to cough again, violent spasms racking his chest, vibrating through his ribs and tearing up the walls of his throat.
"Okay, look, just—just hold on a second."
Castiel felt hands on him, and he responded on instinct alone.
He threw himself as far away from the hands as he could, smacking his head against the stones as he fell. He pushed himself into a semi-upright position and scrambled backward, hitting some sort of wall, black and brown and red all blurring together nondescriptly. Everything hurt, everything pulsed and pounded, everything ached, and he was scared, he was so scared.
"Please," he practically squeaked the word, his damaged vocal chords not capable of much more. "I won't… won't hurt… people, I…"
"You can't be sure of that."
"We're sorry this is hurting, but…"
"…you're forcing our hand, Castiel. This is your own fault."
Castiel gasped for air, manacles dangling from his wrists, hooks embedded in his wings; Zachariah and Raphael and Michael were getting closer, closer, closer, no, please, no more, no more, no more, please, please stop hurting me, please, no more, please!
"You boys freakin' crazy?"
"We didn't know what else to do, and we knew you had the panic room."
"Have you ever seen anything like this, Bobby?"
"No, but that don't mean I can't find something out." Pause. "You said he was beggin'?"
"Yeah. It was—it was chilling. Like a POW or something."
Those voices… two of them were familiar, but the third was new. It smelled different, too, wherever he was. It was salty… and he could feel sunlight on his face. But it had been nighttime… hadn't it? He couldn't have passed out, could he?
If he had, it had done nothing to improve his health. He was still in agony, his body was still very fleshy and broken, and his brain was still too scrambled to put anything together.
Castiel inhaled deeply, trying to determine whether or not he could actually get air into his lungs. He was pleased to find he could.
"Hey, I think he's waking up."
His heart rate picked up a bit, and he slowly forced his eyes open. He was looking at the top of some sort of metal cage, fan blades spinning slowly overhead. Sunlight burned his eyes, the discomfort lasting for mere seconds before the harsh glare was blocked out by a pair of worried brown eyes.
"Hey, there. You, uh… you're awake."
"Smooth, Sammy. Real smooth."
Castiel tried to speak, but his throat was raw—and quite possibly bleeding—and he couldn't quite manage a full sound. He tried to roll over, but he had been strapped to… some sort of bed, if his knowledge of human furniture was correct.
"Hi, uh, my name is Sam. This is my brother, Dean, and our uncle, Bobby."
Castiel tried to turn his head to look at the other two parties, but the movement sent needles into his neck. "C… C…" He stopped to breathe. "C… Cast…" He put entirely too much emphasis on the 'T' and couldn't get anything out after that.
"Cast?" Sam blinked in confusion and looked to one of the individuals Castiel couldn't see, receiving a non-verbal cue before engaging again. "Did someone cast a spell on you?"
Castiel tried to shake his head, a soft whimper escaping his lips.
"You… need a cast? For, like, a broken bone or something?"
"How about you numbskulls get the man a drink?"
"Oh, good idea. Sam, here, take this."
Castiel blinked slowly, watching Sam move in his peripherals, and he tried, unsuccessfully, to see what Sam was pressing to his lips. He had no idea what the humans would try and give him to drink, but he soon found he didn't much care. It touched his lips, and it felt amazing.
Castiel lapped it up hungrily, pulling against the restraints to get as close to the crinkling cup as he could. He didn't know what he was putting inside his vessel, but it made his throat feel less like it was lined with glass, and that made him very happy.
"Woah, woah, woah. Easy there, buddy." That was Dean, if Castiel had followed the interactions appropriately.
"You weren't kidding about the POW thing." That was the last voice, and that made it Bobby. "It's like he's never tasted water before."
"There you go." Sam spoke softly, a quick smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. "Better?"
Castiel gave a slight jerk of his head, eyeing the oddly-shaped glass sadly when he realized it was empty.
Sam only smiled again, but it was still that brief, uncertain smile. "We can get you some more then. Now, you were saying something about a cast…?"
"Castiel," he croaked, coughing his way through the end of the word.
"Castiel?" Sam blinked and thought for a moment, but then he seemed to understand. "That's your name. Castiel?"
"So, tell us, Cas—" it was Dean speaking again, pulling up a chair and sitting next to Sam, "—what are you?"
Castiel looked between the two of them—their blurry outlines and hovering faces—a shudder tearing through his body.
They may have been exceptionally kind hunters, but they were still hunters. They were still humans, and Castiel had still grown up on the horror stories of what they would do when given a helpless angel. He remembered watching between his fingers as his brothers entered the city of Sodom and Gamora, remembered hearing the citizens jeer and call for the angels to be surrendered to them so they could have their way. He remembered watching one third of his family plummet to the Earth, and he remembered spending the next several decades just staring into the abyss, wondering what was being done to them.
Castiel shrank in on himself. He looked up at the duo with nothing short of terror in his eyes, and despite his trembling, he shook his head.
"You sure about that?" Dean questioned, and there was something distinctly dangerous in those pale green eyes. "Because what that tells me is that you know we'd gank you if we knew what you were."
Castiel had no idea what 'ganking' was, but it didn't sound fun.
"Still not talking, huh?" Dean snorted, almost as if he were laughing, but sounded angry when he spoke. "That confirms it, then. Whatever you are, you're bad news, and that means you gotta go, pal. It might take a while, but we'll figure it out. We always do."
Castiel watched him carefully, trying and failing to keep his poker face.
Ironic, he thought, given his reputation for emotionless monotony.
Castiel looked away from Dean and instead focused on Sam, hoping to find more compassion there. It seemed, even if they both thought he was a monster, Sam was more inclined to show mercy than Dean.
But Sam only looked at him apologetically. "You really should just tell us. Maybe… I don't know, maybe we could help?"
Dean snorted but said nothing.
Castiel shrank in on himself even more—something he didn't think was physically possible up until that moment—and shook his head again.
"Why're you so scared, boy?"
Castiel tilted his head back just slightly, catching a brief glimpse of the man called Bobby. He didn't know what to say, so he just looked at the spot next to Bobby's face and waited.
"I've wasted a lot of monsters, and I've never seen someone as jumpy as you." Bobby paused, and Castiel detected the faintest note of concern when he spoke again. "What do you think we're gonna do to you, huh?"
Castiel curled up—only a fraction of how much he wanted to, the chains and leather straps keeping him flat—and he stared and Sam's chest blankly.
"Did someone tell you what to expect? You hear stories about the infamous Winchesters?"
Sam and Dean… Winchester? As in the Boy with the Demon Blood? As in the Righteous Man? As in the destined vessels for Lucifer and Michael? As in the ones who killed Lilith before she could drag Dean down to Hell? Who stopped the apocalypse before it could begin and ruined his brothers' best-laid plans?
"You love them so much, we're going to send you to them. It'll be poetic, don't you think? You, being punished for siding with them by being cast into the arms of those you so desperately support. They'll torture you, little brother, in ways even we won't."
Castiel had misunderstood. Zachariah wasn't talking about 'them' humans; he was talking about 'them' Winchesters.
Castiel blinked rapidly, vaguely aware of a burning sensation in his eyes, his heart rate climbing fast. He pulled against the straps holding him down, summoning what little strength he had left to break the chains.
"Crap, he's out!"
"Get the door, get the door!"
Castiel felt the metal rings pop and snap one at a time, slowly, painfully scraping against his bare skin. He toppled off the bed and hit the floor hard, panting heavily and dragging himself onto his hands and knees. He heard metal scraping, and when he looked up, he saw someone staring at him through a hole in the door.
I can't see the color…
He couldn't see much of anything, the entire world blurring and tilting as he struggled to his feet and tried to walk.
I have to get out of here. I have to—I have to get out of here. They'll hurt me—they'll hurt me so much worse than Zachariah and Raphael and—and I can't do that again, I just can't.
Castiel struggled to grab one of the walls, trying to maintain his balance. He staggered forward and grappled with the smooth surface, collapsing to the floor when he was unable to find purchase.
No… I have to get up… I have to fly… I have to… I have to… but I can't fly. I can't… why can't I fly? What did they do to my wings?
Castiel reached back to feel them, but they weren't manifest.
"Do you remember the old human practice, tarring and feathering?"
He could still feel them; not with his hands, but in the same way he felt his arms and legs. They hurt. They hurt more than he could begin to describe in words, and they were, he realized, the source of the constant throbbing he felt.
"Now, Castiel, stop squirming. All you're going to do is get oil on more of your body, and we both know how unpleasant that will be."
Castiel slumped on the floor and reached back again, clawing at the skin—the human flesh stretched across his bones—hoping to find something familiar, something softer. He scratched and pulled, grabbing wildly at himself until he found feathers.
"If you show some repentance, I'll let you have earplugs. Screaming won't be as loud and painful then, wouldn't you agree?"
Castiel fought with his own body, tearing at the peeling skin of his wings, pulling clumps of bloody feathers out. He could feel the oil on his body, could see it shining in the light on his once magnificent down.
"Oops. Looks like we missed a spot. I guess we'll have to start over."
"No, please, not that, anything but that…"
"Remember this pain the next time you think about defying orders, Castiel."
"Please… Michael, please, don't… don't let him do this… please, not again, please."
"You've earned punishment, Castiel. If you want kindness from us, you must be silent and take the pain you're given."
"Brother, please… Brother… Brother, I'm scared… please…"
"Zachariah, give me the torch. I'll do it."
"Brother? Michael, no, Michael! Please!"
Castiel screamed, not bothering to restrain his volume, not bothering to only emit noises on a human level. He grabbed at his wings again, delirious with pain, ready and willing to tear the appendages off if it meant the burning would stop, and he kept screaming. He just kept screaming, sobbing, shrieking, wailing to the sky.
Zachariah… Raphael… Michael… Uriel… How could you do this to me?
Michael. Michael had been the one brother Castiel thought might care.
I have always done what you told me, always, I just—I just disagreed this one time, Michael, how could you? How could you? He felt a twist in his stomach. But I still want to go home. I'll forgive you, Michael. I will, I promise. We can put it behind us… I just want to come home, please… please, Michael, I want my family…
Pain cut into his chest, dull but poignant, as he thought of the faces he would never see again. He remembered the pain of Gabriel leaving. He remembered losing Anna. He remembered losing a lot of siblings, but the hundred or so he'd lost in his lengthy lifespan was nothing compared to losing them all.
Please, please, you can't—you can't do this to me, please, I'll die. I'll die if you leave me here. You're my family, please! I—I want you. I need you. I… I want to come home! I want to come home, Michael! Please! Please!
"Hey, hey, hey, calm down!"
Castiel thrashed wildly, tears streaming down his cheeks, desperate screams ripping out of his throat as he felt hands on his body. "No, no, no!" Not more punishment, I can't, I can't, I can't. "Let me go!"
"Hey, it's okay. It's okay."
Zachariah was laughing.
"Let me go! Please, mercy! Mercy!"
"Crap. I'm getting Bobby."
"Please, no more! No more, have mercy, please!"
Raphael was grinning. "Put him on his knees."
"Dean, you have to hold his wings!"
"Please, I'm—I'm your little brother, please! Please, stop!"
Silence, but there were still hands on him, there were hands on him.
"Please!" He threw his head back and shrieked when the flames engulfed his wings again. "Please, please have mercy! We're family!" He screamed again, pulling against the restraints—no, not restraints, hands, they were hands—that held him down. "Michael, please, stop them! Stop them, please!"
"Castiel, can you hear me? It's Sam. It's Sam and Dean."
Castiel shook his head, crying loudly, one man keeping him on his knees while the other held his wings out behind him. "No, no, no, no…" No, there weren't two men, there were four men—no, four angels—no, wait, no, it was three men, it—it was—it—
"Hey, Houdini, it's Dean. Remember me?"
I'm not Houdini. My name is Castiel.
"I'm Dean, and this is my little brother, Sam."
I'm your little brother, please, have mercy, have mercy!
"That's me. Um, my name is Sam, and my favorite color is blue."
Sam. Human. Hunter. Blue?
"Wow. Gay, Sam." Pause. "Mine's green."
Blue. Green. Earth. Creation. Beautiful.
"We live out of motels, because we travel a lot to hunt."
Hunting. Traveling. Teamwork. Humanity.
"Crappy motels, and even crappier food. It's the life, let me tell you."
Happy. Gay. Laughing. Smiling.
"We learned how to hunt from our dad. Well, I learned a lot from Dean, too."
Dad. Father. Dean. Brother. Family. Love. Love, love, love, love, love, love, love…
Castiel inhaled slowly, semi-aware of tear tracks on his face, and opened his eyes. He was staring at the floor, his face pressed against an unfamiliar fabric. It was warm. It was someone's leg. His head was pressed against someone's leg, his entire body curled in on itself. They were holding him there, but they weren't hurting him.
"Hey, there we go. Dean, look, I think he's coming out of it."
"Well, that's great, but what am I supposed to do with these?"
Castiel exhaled harshly and practically melted onto Sam's lap, an inexplicable peace coming over him, even as he felt foreign hands on his wings. Those hands could be trusted. He didn't really know why, especially because their owner seemed pretty bent on 'ganking' him, but those hands were safe.
"Castiel, do you know where you are?"
Castiel shook his head slightly, making no attempt to lift himself from the floor.
"You're in Sioux Falls." Pause. "Do you remember anything about the hunt?"
Castiel shook his head again. "Fell." He coughed, and blood got on his lips and chin, but his hands were trapped beneath himself. "Thrown. They—they threw me."
"Where did those a-holes throw you from, Cas?"
"Heaven." It didn't even occur to Castiel to lie. "My Father made man… in His image… and we are… we are supposed to love and protect humans… not hurt them…"
"Your Father?" Sam gave Castiel's shoulder a slight squeeze. "He made us in… Castiel, are you… are you an angel?"
Castiel wanted to tense—he wanted to be afraid, to feel the blood freeze in his veins—but he was so exhausted, and everything hurt so much.
"Cas? Is Sam right?"
Castiel offered a jerky nod.
"Castiel, why didn't you just say so?"
"I mean, be fair, Sam. We wouldn't have believed him."
Castiel thought about moving his arm, but ultimately decided that would take too much effort. "They said…" He sighed softly and let the life drain out. His brothers had said a lot of things, and Castiel didn't know which bits to believe anymore. He had initially thought maybe they were just a bit misguided—wrong about one or two aspects of humanity—but he just didn't know anymore.
He didn't know anything.
"Dean, we have to help him."
"Wow, really? I had no idea." Snort. "How do we treat wings?"
"How do we get him comfortable would be my first question."
"Yeah, he's pretty ragdoll-looking-ish." Pause. "Is he even trying to get up?"
"Nope. He's just… collapsed."
"That doesn't look comfortable."
"I honestly don't think he really knows what's going on."
"Geeze… tortured by his family and thrown at hunters who try to gank him."
"Well, we know better now. We can help him get back on his feet."
"Yeah, and no way the Halo Squad is getting anywhere near him."
"What do you think… him? I mean… details, but… just messed up."
Castiel didn't hear anything after that.
He knew he felt wet after that, pain coming and going along with the sensation of cold air on his skin. Something was crackling around his head, but he sensed no danger. It faded into something much softer, and then he was warm and dry… then he heard a heartbeat. Someone gently touched him, careful of his injuries, and he was allowed to listen to the soothing, rhythmic ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump.
There was singing, laughter, and threats with no malice in them. There were whispers of words he couldn't decipher, the tone and accompanying comfort telling him they were words of kindness and love.
It had been over forty years since someone spoke to him kindly… since someone touched him without inflicting pain… since he hadn't felt the need to pull away from his surroundings and retreat into himself.
It was nice, Castiel decided.
It was nice, and it made him happy, and he needed it.
Thank you, Father… this reprieve… is much appreciated…
He didn't know what had happened to his brothers and sisters, but at least Someone was still looking out for him, and if he had help, well… he would be back home where he belonged in no time at all.