Title: A Flash of Harmless Lightning
Summary: After a year, Castiel still doesn't appear to be adjusting well to being human. Dean tries to help, and finds the solution in an unexpected place. Written for the deancastiel Secret Angels Exchange, for tolkien_fan195.
Characters: Castiel, Dean, Sam
Warnings: None. Heck, there isn't even any swearing.
Spoilers: So long as you're familiar with Season 5, we're good. Mild spoilers for the whole season, though.
Word Count: 3,887
Neurotic Author's Note #1: So the Secret Angels Exchange is finally, finally over. This posted back in October and was submitted in September, and the reveals were made today, so now I get to post! Whee!
Neurotic Author's Note #2: The prompt I was given was: Dean introduces Castiel to new things to distract him from his "one-year-on-Earth" anniversary. Uh, so, I kind of took liberties with this prompt, tolkien_fan195, I hope you don't mind. It's not exactly what you asked for, but I think it's close enough. It's kind of AU (or a whole lot AU, really), in that it assumes that Cas stuck around and stayed human after they all found some other (unspecified) way to defeat Lucifer. I just got Photoshop, too, so I kind of got excited about that and made a little picture to go with the story.
Neurotic Author's Note #3: Many, many thanks to pkwench, beta extraordinaire, for the inspiration and help on this story!
There were anxious whispers coming from inside the house. It was a little unusual for Sam and Dean to have an argument that didn't involve them shouting, and so at first Castiel didn't pay much attention to the hushed back-and-forth he could hear taking place only a few yards from where he was sitting on the decaying swing on Bobby's sagging back porch. For all that the seat was torn and the wood was splintering in places, it was a sturdy swing, entirely reliable and equipped with an inviting cushion. He'd taken to sitting there in the early mornings and many evenings as well, since he'd become fully human. (Or almost fully: Dean claimed he would always be an alien to him, and Castiel wasn't sure whether or not to be reassured by the statement.) He chose not to think about it too much, relaxing instead against the back of the chair and breathing in the crisp morning air. He rather enjoyed the rhythmic sound of creaking joints and cracking wood, and was experimenting with finding the most comfortable position in which to sit.
He'd never had to sit when he was an angel, but being human had done a great deal to change that. A serious bout of influenza had confined him to his bed for the better part of two weeks, one week of which was spent shivering and half out of his mind with fever, while Sam and Dean hovered anxiously and plied him with a great deal more soup than he was accustomed to ingesting. He was almost fully recovered now, but he still tired easily. Besides, he told himself, all humans required some rest, and staying upright all day seemed unreasonable when other humans sat down at least once or twice. He'd settled on leaning back in the swing, hands folded in his lap, one leg tucked under him, a position best achieved by staying barefoot. There was a honeysuckle plant growing beneath Bobby's porch, and hummingbirds came to feed there, which he found infinitely enjoyable. So much so that he spent as much time watching them as he could manage.
The whispers got louder.
"Dude, we don't even know how long he's been sitting there."
"What, a man can't sit on a porch swing? Maybe he just needs a beer."
"Dean. It's seven thirty in the morning."
"Five o'clock somewhere."
"Go do something," Sam's whisper was imperious.
Which is how, five minutes later, Castiel found himself looking up at a surprisingly embarrassed-looking Dean, who was rubbing the back of his neck with one hand and not meeting his gaze.
"So, uh, Cas."
"Is something wrong?"
"What? No? Why would something be wrong?"
Castiel tilted his head. "Usually when you harbour that expression it means you are troubled by something, or you require my help. Or both."
His statement seemed to catch Dean off-guard. "Really?"
"Oh. Well, uh, no. Nothing's wrong. I was just... I mean, me and Sam are heading into town for breakfast, and, uh, do you want to come with us? You don't have to," he added hurriedly. "It's not like we're going to do anything exciting, just, you know, breakfast and errands and crap. But, you know, you eat now, and I thought maybe you could eat with us if you wanted. If you don't want to that's fine too—"
"Dean," Castiel interrupted the slightly frantic flow of words. "Would you like me to come?"
"Then of course I will join you and Sam for breakfast."
Being human for a year —a year to the day, in fact— had not made understanding either of the Winchesters any easier. Bobby was relatively straightforward, as humans went. He had no trouble saying what was on his mind most of the time, and lacked Sam and Dean's tendency to talk around a subject when nervous. He was also useful in helping Castiel to decipher some of the more obscure things the Winchesters said and did on any given day. Unfortunately, Bobby was now out of town for the next few days, enjoying the recovery of his mobility by going to remove a poltergeist a few counties over.
That meant that, once again, Castiel was left on his own to navigate the tricky waters of Winchester psychology. He was reasonably confident he would survive the experience.
Although he'd been around the Winchesters when they consumed food before, it occurred to Castiel as they entered the diner that he had rarely shared a full meal with them. Granted, up until a year ago he hadn't required nourishment, and then they had been more than a little busy dealing with the apocalypse and its aftermath, and it had simply never been an issue. Sam and Dean automatically slid into a booth facing each other, then apparently both realized simultaneously that they hadn't left enough room for him to sit. Dean immediately moved further down on the bench, and Castiel sat beside him, a little puzzled by Sam's sudden grin. Sam didn't smile much these days, but when he did it softened the impact of the scar that curled down his right cheek, twisting his lip and pulling a bit at his eyelid. It was a small price to pay, Sam would simply say whenever someone brought it up. Better his getting a scar than the whole world ending. On the whole, Castiel thought, they had gotten off lightly.
At Dean's urging he ordered a 'hungry man's' breakfast, in spite of his assurances that he was not, in fact, very hungry.
"Dude, it's got bacon."
"I could simply order bacon by itself."
"But then it wouldn't come with eggs and sausages and waffles," Dean pointed out.
"Don't worry, Cas. Whatever you don't eat will go to filling Dean's hollow leg," Sam was still grinning.
"Hey!" Dean sputtered, but without much conviction, and Castiel nodded.
He poured syrup carefully onto his plate when it arrived, filling each individual waffle square one at a time, until Dean huffed with impatience.
"I swear you and Sam were separated at birth."
Castiel blinked in surprise. "I can assure you that in no way—"
"Just a figure of speech, Cas," Sam hastened to assure him. "He means we've got similar mannerisms. Which isn't true, by the way," he levelled a glare at his brother. "Just because we happen to like our waffles the same way..."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Whatever. If he starts cutting along the waffle lines, I'll rest my case."
"It is the most logical way to proceed," Castiel pointed out.
"Drink your coffee," said Sam.
The debate concerning waffles and the proper method of consuming them grew more heated as breakfast wore on, and expanded to include pancakes and whether or not smearing butter on them constituted an act of abomination. Luckily, by the time they were about to embark upon the intricacies of French toast they had all but finished eating, and Dean settled the matter by putting his brother in a headlock until Sam yelped and surrendered.
"You're a child," Sam glared once he was released, his hair thoroughly mussed, shirt askew.
"Maybe, but I won," Dean was smug, twirling the Impala's key ring on his index finger as he sauntered, triumphant, from the diner. "Cas, you coming?"
"Of course," Castiel wiped his hands on his napkin, fingers sticky from the maple syrup. "Where are we going?"
The Salvation Army, as it turned out. Castiel lingered before a perplexing display of small figurines shaped like gnomes that were, it appeared, meant to be decorative ornaments for people's gardens, while Sam and Dean each went off on their self-appointed missions to acquire new clothes. Hunting was very hard on clothing, Castiel had come to understand. Humans couldn't simply mend the damage done to clothing with a thought, and sometimes the blood and tearing and other substances produced by the things Sam and Dean hunted was more than the fragile fabric could take.
Dean held up a blue shirt. "What do you think, Cas?"
He tilted his head, considering. "It is a nice colour," he ventured.
"It's in your size," Dean tossed the shirt to him. "You need to start wearing something other than your accountant uniform."
"I have been," he protested mildly, but Dean made a dismissive gesture, then tossed another shirt at him, this time a white one with blue stripes.
"You should stick with blue," he said. "It brings out your eyes." He stopped abruptly, and a flush crept over his cheeks. "Uh. I'm gonna go find Sam. Stick to the five-dollar racks. The quality's good enough and you won't get ripped off."
Before Castiel could so much as voice a protest Dean was gone, hurrying through the overflowing racks of clothing. He folded the shirts neatly, and picked out one more blue one before making his way slowly to the cash registers. The rest of the morning and part of the early afternoon passed more slowly than he'd anticipated, simply drifting aimlessly behind Sam and Dean as they made their purchases, re-stocked their supplies: rock salt, ammunition, first-aid, all the things to which, up until not too long ago, he'd never so much as given a second thought. He didn't think about it much these days, either. Being human meant days of having to take new frailties into account, new limitations, and if he was honest with himself he'd admit it was, not to put too fine a point on it, boring.
He looked up in time to see Sam nudge Dean and jerk his head significantly in Castiel's direction. Dean shot Sam an irritated look, and lifted his hands palm upward in a gesture that clearly suggested he was not in agreement with whatever Sam was trying to get him to do. They both caught him watching them at the same time, and an identical look of embarrassment crossed their features.
"So, uh, Cas. You feel like going to the drive-in with us tonight?" Dean cleared his throat. "I don't know what's playing, but I bet it'll be terrible and well worth the price of popcorn to throw at the screen."
For a moment he thought longingly of his chair on Bobby's porch, then nodded. "All right."
The film was of little interest to Castiel, although Dean appeared to be enjoying himself. Even Sam, who was busy pointing out the flaws in the plot and ducking the kernels of popcorn that Dean threw at him as a consequence, was laughing, relaxed in the front seat of the car.
"I don't understand why that young woman is not calling for assistance before going alone to investigate the source of those sounds," Castiel ventured at one point, leaning forward from the back seat. Dean flapped a hand at him.
"It's a horror movie, Cas. It's not supposed to make sense."
He settled back in his seat, trying to get comfortable, resigned to the notion that there was still at least an hour and a half left in this movie, and that he just had to get through it. After a few minutes he felt his eyes slip shut, and made no effort to keep them open. He was long past the days when the need for sleep came as a surprise, and Sam and Dean certainly didn't need his contribution to their conversation about the relative merits of two apparently well-known movie monsters. He folded his arms across his chest, leaned his head against the window, and sank into a dream filled with greenery and the humming of insects, not even rousing when the Impala purred to life ninety minutes later. What awoke him was the sound of voices.
"We shouldn't have kept him out. What if he gets sick again?"
"Dean, he said he wanted to come, don't beat yourself up. Besides, I think he was just bored. Horror flicks aren't exactly his thing."
Someone was shaking his knee, and he blinked sleepily. "Hmm?"
"You feelin' okay, Cas?" Dean stretched out an arm and brushed the back of his fingers against Castiel's forehead, checking him for fever. "You're not getting sick again, are you?"
He straightened up, felt his neck crack from where he'd been slumped in the same position for too long. It felt rather nice, actually, to feel his joints settling back into place. He was wide awake, now, refreshed after his nap. "I am well, thank you. I was merely a bit tired."
"Damn it," Dean swore under his breath. "I should have known we were overdoing it. You sure you're okay?"
"I am fine, Dean."
He followed them to the stairs to Bobby's house, then left them to circle the house and settled back on the porch swing. Sam halted in the doorway, and Dean collided with his back with a curse.
"Ow! Sam, what the hell?"
There was a flurry of movement, heated whispers, and then both brothers were back outside in front of him, looking sheepish. Sam perched on the porch railing, while Dean opted simply to lean against it. Castiel barely refrained from heaving a sigh. Whatever was going through their minds, getting there was proving to be more exhausting than anything else. Sam looked at Dean, who was carefully staring at the floorboards, and rolled his eyes, obviously resigning himself to having to do the talking yet again.
Castiel tilted his head. "Is something wrong?"
"No! No," Sam hastened to assure him. "Well, not with us. I mean, I hope nothing's wrong but... well, we're worried. About you."
"About me?" he couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice, and Sam nodded earnestly. "Why?"
Dean looked up from his study of the porch surface. "Oh, I dunno. Maybe because you're human now, and you're acting, well, weird."
Sam sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "You've been... kind of... I dunno, exactly."
"Mopey," Dean put in.
"Yeah. Withdrawn, or whatever. You don't talk much —not that you were all that chatty before— and you sit out here all the time, and... it's not good for you to brood like that."
"Is there an echo out here? Yeah, brood," Dean said sharply. "Come on, Cas. We know what day it is today, and what with you being so sick before... I dunno. We were worried."
"You were concerned because today marks the anniversary of when I became human?" It was all starting to become clear. "And you were trying to distract me." They nodded in tandem. "There is no need to worry. My health is fine, and I am not... mopey, I can assure you. Everything is fine."
"So what gives with sitting out here all the time?" Dean waved an arm vaguely at their surroundings.
"I am spending time with the hummingbirds."
"Hummingbirds?" Dean's eyes popped out of his head they way they were wont to when he was under strain, and even Sam seemed surprised by the revelation. "Uh, why?"
"I find them restful."
"Restful. Okay, then," Dean rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, as long as you're okay..."
"I am. You don't need to worry."
"You maybe want to come inside? It's dark now, no hummingbirds. You can catch 'em again tomorrow.
He let himself sigh this time. Their concern was touching, but he was beginning to understand Bobby's constant complaints of being smothered. "Very well," he agreed, and reluctantly left the sanctuary of the porch swing to follow them indoors.
Sam bought him a thick coffee-table book on hummingbirds, as well as a field guide to birds, and gave them to him at supper a few days later. Bobby had returned from his hunt, and Castiel was grateful that they were having something other than take-out for supper. Sam couldn't cook, and while Dean was a fair hand in the kitchen, he hadn't been much inclined to stand at the stove for several weeks now, preferring to disappear sometimes for hours at a time on mysterious self-appointed missions. Castiel was beginning to have an appreciation for just how frustrating it must have been for the Winchesters whenever he left them, sometimes for weeks, while he was searching for God.
"Thank you, but I am already well-acquainted with the hummingbirds that frequent the garden."
Sam looked a bit crestfallen. "Oh. Right. Uh..."
"Think of it this way, Cas," Dean piped up from where he was washing soil from his hands in Bobby's kitchen sink, in spite of Bobby's protests. "You can look at the pictures and geek out over how awesome the hummingbirds are even when they're not in the garden."
It made sense. "I hadn't thought of that," he opened the coffee-table book and smoothed the tips of his fingers over the glossy page. "Thank you, Sam. It was a very thoughtful gift."
"Oh, well, you know. I figured since you liked them and all..." Sam ducked his head and smiled, rubbing the back of his neck, much the same way Dean was wont to do when he was uncomfortable. Castiel thought perhaps they didn't realize how many mannerisms they had in common.
Dean rolled his eyes. "If you two girls are done having your moment, maybe we can go back to work?"
"Right, because you haven't been out working in the yard for the past two days. What part of this latest hunt involves coming back covered in dirt?" Sam huffed, but he was still smiling.
"All right, if you chuckleheads are gonna bitch at each other all night," Bobby broke in, taking a swig from his beer bottle, "I'm gonna borrow Cas here. You up for a little translation work tonight?"
"And by 'tonight,' you mean the rest of the week, don't you?" Dean said accusingly.
"I will be happy to help in whatever way I can," Castiel said quickly, before another round of arguing began.
Thus it was that he found himself comfortably ensconced in Bobby's library for the next few days, surrounded by books and a notepad and pen, jotting down notes. Bobby had stumbled across a peculiar bit of prophecy during his last hunt, entirely by accident, and was determined to make sure that, whatever it was, it had nothing to do with Lucifer somehow being freed to roam the earth once more. Castiel was already relatively sure it wasn't the case, but he understood the need for healthy precautions, and the reading itself was quite fascinating.
The days slipped by unnoticed, and Sam and Dean came and went like... well, Castiel was fairly certain that even ghosts weren't quite as loud, but they seemed content to stay out of the way. He could hear them arguing and sometimes just talking companionably, going in and out of the house at all hours of the day. One morning Dean poked his head into the library and in a manner much more diffident than his wont, requested to borrow a truck.
"I got something to pick up in town."
"Knock yourself out," Bobby waved him off. Castiel hadn't bothered to look up from his book.
"You guys need anything? Cas?"
"No, thank you," Castiel chewed thoughtfully on the tip of his pen, still pondering the particular use of the ablative in the text he was studying, and didn't so much as notice when Dean slipped away.
He did notice, however, when Dean came bouncing back into the room several hours later, followed by Sam, whose expression hovered between fondness and exasperation. He folded his arms and leaned against the door frame as Dean, fairly vibrating with excitement, all but yanked Castiel out of his chair.
"C'mon, Cas. I got something to show you."
"Dean," he protested as his pen dropped to the floor and rolled under the desk, "I was in the middle—"
"Yeah, yeah, the research will be here when you get back. Come ion/i, Cas!"
"You better go with him, Cas," Sam said, shaking his head ruefully. "He's been working on this all week."
"Working on what?"
"You'll see," Dean hauled on his arm, pulling him to the back door and off the porch, then pointed, grinning from ear to ear. "Check it out."
Castiel's felt his breath catch. Where before there had been nothing but rusting piles of car parts, Dean had cleared a large patch of ground, about twenty feet by ten feet. There was a sturdy-looking swing seat set up almost in the centre, under an awning, and all around Dean had planted flowers. He immediately recognized a honeysuckle plant, its tendrils just beginning to wind around the support posts. Dean cleared his throat.
"Uh, so I kind of noticed that the birds were coming for that honeysuckle plant under the porch, and I thought, you know, maybe we could get a feeder, or something, so that more of them would come, and you could watch them as much as you wanted. Except when I did some researching about the best kind of feeder to get, I found out that planting a garden is way better. So I got a bunch of flowers, and then I realized I sort of needed a plan for the garden, because I couldn't exactly plant all of it under the porch. And then I realized that if I made a garden, then you wouldn't be able to sit on the porch and watch the birds, but I couldn't move Bobby's porch swing because it's so old, so I found one for sale and fixed it up, and it was finally all ready today," the explanation came out in such a rush that Castiel wasn't sure if Dean had even managed to draw breath.
He took a few steps into the garden, then bent over to fondle one of the delicate blooms between his thumb and forefinger, the petals soft against his skin. For a moment he closed his eyes and simply breathed in the myriad fragrances, mingling softly in the afternoon air with the pungent scent of cut grass.
"Cas, say something, please," Dean's voice came out rougher than usual. "The suspense is killing me, here. Is it okay?"
Castiel ducked his head, and felt a smile tug at the corners of his lips, even as his eyes were no birds as yet, but he knew, with some strange conviction, that before long the garden would be filled with them. He looked up, met Dean's eyes and held his gaze, and knew there was no way to express the surge of warmth inside his chest. It felt perilously close to grace.
"Dean... it's beautiful."