Title: The Mouths of Children
Characters: Dean, Castiel, Sam, Ruby
Category: Gen, Humor, Crack
Rating: PG13/T (language)
Spoilers: Through 4.10
Summary: "We still have work for you to do, Dean Winchester," Castiel said solemnly, doing his utmost not to sigh. "This is bullshit," Dean declared in his shockingly high, clear voice. "I want ice cream."
Word Count: 2489
Disclaimer: Pretty sure they're not mine.
Author's Note: Semi-sequel to Entertaining Angels, original flavor, but stands alone.
The Mouths of Children
The hospital smelled like cabbage. Castiel wrinkled his nose, feeling the skin between his eyebrows furrow. Was it supposed to be a healing scent, soothing to those suffering here as well as their family members? Humans were so strange.
"Oh, there you are." The frazzled voice drooped in relief toward the end, and Castiel looked up. Sam Winchester's dark-eyed demon girl stood in the doorway of the waiting area, not quite smiling at him but not regarding him with hostility, either. Her hair was ruffled and mussed, her makeup smudged, her eyes ringed with shadow. It was the look of a soldier watching the arrival of long-awaited reinforcements after a fierce and bloody battle.
"Yes, here I am," Castiel said. "I must admit that I was quite surprised by your summons. What is that you desired my help with? I'm especially curious about why you were so adamant that I come and not any of my brothers."
"Well, I'd think it would be obvious," Ruby said, gesturing to her side. Which meant that she was gesturing at empty air.
Castiel merely tilted his head questioningly.
Ruby furrowed her brow in confusion, then looked to her side and saw that nothing was there. "Dammit!" A petulant stamp of the petite foot. "Damn kid running off all the damn time and won't stand still for a damn minute, damn it all..."
She took off down the hall, still muttering obscenities under her breath. Castiel hesitated, then followed, business shoes tramping sharply on the hospital linoleum. Already he was suppressing the urge to sigh. He had a sinking suspicion that he would be doing that a lot over the course of this mission.
He caught up with Ruby at a nurse's station, where she was scolding a little boy who sat on the desk, swinging his legs and sucking on an enormous lollipop. Castiel halted in confusion a few feet away, watching. The boy looked to be about six or seven years old, fair haired, skinny and a bit ragged around the edges, dressed in a t-shirt that was far too big for him and a pair of scrub pants with pictures of kittens and ducklings. Ruby waved her arms in the air, ordering him never to run away from her again, and the child shrugged unrepentantly, his eyes hard and glittering.
"I hope you realize that this is going to kill me," Ruby finished breathlessly, jabbing her finger at the kid's face one last time, though she was very careful not to actually touch him. "Just kill me. I'll drop dead of exhaustion and it'll be all your fault."
"Serve you right, you skanky ho," the boy said in a clear, sweet voice. "I won't feel bad at all."
Castiel felt his mouth open involuntarily. There was no mistaking that tone and diction.
"Maybe you won't," Ruby seethed, "But how do you think Sam will feel? Who's going to look after things if I'm gone and you're...this?"
The boy shut his lips tight at that, holding the lollipop in one sticky fist. His big green-brown eyes started to well with tears.
"Oh, don't..." Ruby pleaded helplessly, her shoulders slumping and hands falling to her sides. "Don't...don't do that, Dean...."
The nurse behind the desk, who had been watching the entire exchange up till now with fond indulgence, glared at the demon girl. Castiel took a step forward, though he really didn't know what he thought he was going to do to remedy this. And then the dam broke, and little Dean began to sob.
"You're mean! Where's Sammy? I want Sammy!"
Ruby heaved a deep sigh and dropped her head into her hands. Castiel, though, didn't hesitate. He remembered this, through memories distorted and indistinct. There was only one thing to do.
The angel took the final two steps to reach the desk and drew the wailing child into his arms, snugging him tight to his chest. "Everything is all right, Dean. You're going to be fine. It's okay." He had to think hard to remember the other words. Oh yes. "Little buddy. Kiddo. Sweetheart."
He was afraid that Dean would not recognize him, remembering how these transformations tended to play havoc with one's memories, but the boy cried his name with a sort of hysterical relief. "Cas!"
He flung his little arms around the man's neck and squeezed him hard and tight. Castiel repressed another sigh when he felt the damp, hard thump at the back of his head that meant he now had a lollipop thoroughly stuck in his hair. At least the boy knew him and accepted his company.
"Cas!" The child sniffled into his ear, squeezing even tighter. It was a good thing that Castiel didn't strictly need to breathe. "I want Sammy. Can we go see Sammy?"
Castiel looked up at Ruby, even more confused than before. "Did something happen to Sam?"
She took a deep breath, then nodded wearily. "Why do you think we're here?"
Dean loosened his grip just enough so that he could glare at her over his shoulder. "Because you screwed everything up, she-witch from hell."
The nurse behind the desk made a scandalized tutting noise and seemed to be regretting sharing her lollipops with this foul-mouthed scamp. Castiel said nothing. It was a perfectly accurate description.
"Take me to Sam," he said.
Sam Winchester lay still and pale in the hospital bed, surrounded by tubes and wires. Dean rested on Castiel's right hip, arms still wrapped around his neck, sniffing lightly as he stared at his brother. On the other side of the bed, Ruby looked just as morose as Dean sounded.
"What happened?" Castiel asked, turning his head to speak softly to the little boy.
Dean's small face wrinkled up, his bottom lip sticking out. "I don'... I don' remember, 'zactly. But I know it was her fault." He glared at Ruby, who tried to return the favor but ended up just looking exhausted and miserable.
"And how were you transformed into a child?"
"That was def-nitely her fault."
Castiel looked back to Ruby, who rolled her eyes hugely but did not disagree. "I do not understand. Please explain the situation to me."
"Do you really need to know? It's a SNAFU, totally FUBAR. Isn't that enough?"
"Yes, I need to know. Tell me what happened."
Castiel put just a touch of power into the words, the sternness that was never far beneath the surface of compassion and curiosity he preferred to live in. Ruby's hair blew in a sudden breeze and she took a step back, paling, as the lights flickered and the tubes hanging from the IV stand by Sam's bed swayed and creaked. Dean made a sound of appreciative wonderment and tightened his sticky grip on the shoulder of Castiel's coat, pressing himself closer to the angel who held him warm and safe at his side, in the center of the burst of power and therefore untouched by it.
"Sam and I were...working," Ruby said. She spoke slowly, reluctant but unable to resist the command. "It was...something went wrong. He pushed too hard, found a wall that shouldn't have been there, or something pushed back. I don't know, I'm not a psychic. Anyway, he collapsed. I didn't know what to do, so I brought him to the hospital, figuring at least they could keep him hydrated and stuff. They called the next-of-kin number in his wallet without me knowing. And then Dean was here, of course, yelling his head off and threatening to kill me and generally acting like a jackass."
Dean nodded thoughtfully, his soft, fluffy hair brushing Castiel's neck. "Yeah, I 'member that part." He squinted at Ruby, young voice impossibly hard and certain. "I'm still going to kill you. Soon as I figure out how. Pinky swear."
Castiel was beginning to understand what had happened, he thought. "And then you did this?"
"It was an accident!" Ruby waved her hands in the air, voice cracking on the last word. She seemed utterly sincere. "I just...I yelled back, said, 'Quit acting like a little kid, Dean! If you can't be an adult about this you shouldn't even be here.' And then I felt it go out of me, you know, a burst of spell-craft. I didn't even incant anything or use any rituals or anything, I'd swear it on a stack of Bibles. But I remember that feeling of using magic, that strength, the ability to do anything you want to do no matter how crazy or selfish or messed up. It's wild and yeah, okay, it's dark, and sometimes it's all you can do to hold onto it and just try to channel it where you mean it to go."
Castiel nodded solemnly, though he didn't understand that kind of power, not at all. The power he received from his Father was exactly the opposite of that—immense and terrifying, certainly, but the very embodiment of control, light, selflessness. An angel never used this Grace for their own gain, but only to serve God's purposes, to protect His saints or fight His battles.
"And so it was not with malicious intent that you changed Dean into a helpless child, yes?"
Ruby nodded frantically. "I didn't mean to hurt him." She looked at Dean, then, begging him to believe her. "Honest, Dean, I didn't. Sam would kill me if I ever did anything to hurt you. I just...I don't know. I wanted you to get out of the way."
Dean trembled in Castiel's arms, and the angel could feel the child's tears swelling up yet again. The little boy's voice was choked and wavering. "People allus want me outta the way. 'M not worth the trouble, huh?"
Ruby shrugged helplessly, reaching out her hands in a gesture of surrender. "C'mon, Dean, don't... Don't cry, okay? I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you like this."
Castiel pulled the boy closer to him and rubbed his back, small and shaking under the thin material of his shirt. Like this, yes. He remembered, though not clearly, what it was like to be a child. Weak and little and dependent on the adults around you for everything from food to permission to use the toilet, quick to emotion and powerless to control what rose inside at the slightest provocation, whether it was joyful or despairing or maddening. The entire experience was frustrating and exhausting, and he couldn't blame Dean at all for being so moody.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked Ruby, careful to make his face open and sincere, holding back his angelic power so that only himself, only Castiel, remained. "Dean and Sam gave their all to assist me when I was in similar straits, and I will do whatever I can to return the favor."
For the first time Ruby perked up, looking almost hopeful. "Can you just...change him back?"
Castiel turned his head to look at Dean, and found the child already staring back at him. A quick prayer, sending a request to the Throne, and a quick reply. "No."
"Why not?" Without knowing better, he might have said that Ruby was a child herself, her voice was so shrill and whining. "You have all that power—can't you do practically anything?"
"It is not God's will."
Dean sighed heavily, then put his little head down on Castiel's shoulder, surprisingly sweet and endearing. Below, one of his small, bare feet kicked at the man's thigh. "Stupid God," he muttered.
Castiel frowned, but chose to leave that alone for now. He continued to look at Ruby. "It is your task to mend what you have broken. However, I am still here. Is there anything else I can do?"
"Well, if you could look after Dean and just, y'know, keep him out of my hair, that would be great. I'll try to figure out how to help Sam and how to change him back." Ruby bit her lip. "And if you would refrain from sending me back to hell, that would be helpful, too."
Castiel nodded. "This sounds reasonable. I will...what do the humans call it? I will 'babysit.'"
Dean muttered some more and kicked his leg a little harder, but Castiel found it easy to ignore.
Ruby nodded gratefully. "Do you have any money? He needs...he needs shoes. And stuff."
Castiel glanced down at his coat, patting the flat pockets, then opened one side to look at his shirt. Nothing there, either. Ruby made an exasperated noise. "Oh, never mind. Here."
He looked up and saw that she was holding a flat piece of plastic across the bed. When he just stood there staring, she jerked her head toward him and waved it around. "Take it. It's a credit card. Dean will know how to use it."
Castiel gingerly took the thin plastic and stared at it, trying to comprehend what all those little numbers were supposed to mean. Dean made an appreciative noise and grabbed it from his hand. "Ooh, Ruby, you got a platinum. Sweet action." He turned his head to look into Castiel's face, green eyes imperious and bright. "I want a slinky. They got all those stairs leading up from the lobby, and it makes me really want a slinky. Can we get a slinky?"
"I...suppose." Castiel carefully retrieved the card and placed it in the pocket of his white button-down shirt, folding his coat back over it to protect it from tiny, sticky fingers. "Are you hungry? We could retrieve some breakfast."
Dean's eyes widened suddenly, as if he hadn't realized it until just now. "Yes. I'm starving. I want chocolate chip pancakes and orange juice and sausage and bacon and a fruit cup with whip cream and strawberry milk and waffles and toast with jam and butter and some eggs."
"Mmm. You may find that your new stomach cannot handle as much as your adult stomach could."
"No way, dude." Dean shook his head fiercely. "'M a championship eater. My daddy says so." He wrapped one arm around his stomach and bent over at the waist, pushing his forehead against Castiel's bicep. "C'mon, let's go, before I freakin' die, here!"
"Very well." Castiel gave Ruby a nod and headed for the door.
"Um, Cas?" Ruby called hesitantly before he could step foot in the hall. Castiel turned back, raising one eyebrow. She gestured awkwardly at the back of her own head. "You have...uh. You have a sucker in your hair."
"Oh." Castiel reached up one hand to inspect the lollipop buried in his hair. "I will...deal with it."
She nodded, dark eyes wide and sympathetic, and Castiel and Dean went on their way.
It didn't occur to him till much later that the demon girl had gotten exactly what she wanted. Dean was very much out of her way, now, and she had Sam all to herself.