Author's note: So, so late on this. I have no excuse. Forgive me.

(sidenote: once this is finished I'll be going back over it and doing a giant rewrite - I happened to find all my old notes, much to my combined relief and chagrin)

V is for Vertigo

It's a normal enough day. Sun shining, birds singing—no bad omens to speak of. When the brothers call him, he can sense their hurry, so he has little time to waste. Whatever it is, it sounds urgent. Jody looks up from her yard work when he snaps his cellphone shut, raising an inquiring eyebrow.

"I'll be back shortly," Castiel says. "Dean and Sam are in Maine and need assistance."

Jody smiles over her shoulder at him, the bandana on her head catching the breeze. "Bring me back a souvenir, would ya? Something that says: 'you can spit on Canada from here.'"

Castiel smiles too, eyes crinkling at their corners. "Of course."

Something alarming happens, then.

Flying, for angels, came as natural to them as breathing did to humans. There was no need to really think about it, no need to devote conscious effort into making it happen. Additionally, there wasn't much that could hinder an angel's capability of flight, save for actual damage to the wings themselves, which was no easy task.

There's only one other culprit that could ultimately be responsible.

Like any other time, Castiel managed to propel himself five or so feet off the ground in a great leap. Every launch starts with a leap, after all. It is at the peak of that, however, that his ravaged and deteriorated wings start to flap wildly when his momentum unexpectedly gives out. No warning, no slow descent, just a sudden dead-in-the-air feeling that sends a jolt of panic arching through him. His wings twist, pounding at the air for half a second that feels like forever, until they eventually wither and Castiel starts to fall.

Sheer, unadulterated terror lances through him. The act of falling from grace is one thing—an impression he's become all too familiar with—but actually physically falling is a concept so foreign to angels that any number of them would easily claim to never having experienced the sensation before. The sudden inability to do something so familiar and so natural was like a human suddenly losing their ability to breathe. One of the most terrifying instances in the world grips at him, pulling him down down down.

The impact jars him, and Castiel feels his bones scream from the trauma. Mercifully, none of them break, but he ends up face down in the grass nonetheless, grimacing and trying to quash down the terror that had risen so quickly. Worse, and what was most humiliating, was his horrified embarrassment at having floundered so badly in front of Jody.

"Cas? Cas!"

"That was unpleasant," he mutters.

She's calling out to him, and he can hear her footsteps pounding over. Castiel tries to push himself up, but his arms give out and he goes back down. He shuts his eyes, a shuddering sigh jerking through him, and a moment later he feels Jody's hands on him.

"What happened? Cas, answer me! Are you all right?"

The angel groans—is he really even an angel anymore?—and feels his muscles coil painfully. "I think you should probably call Dean," he murmurs, voice barely audible to her. His head is spinning and throbbing, and his vision swims when he tries to open his eyes again.

Jody stares down at him, alarm, concern and dismay splayed across her features, because she understands now what's gone wrong. "Okay," she whispers, petting gently at his back in a soothing way. "Okay. Sit tight—let the bad landing wear off a bit before you try to move. We'll figure this out. Everything will be okay."

"You… need to call them. Tell them I can't reach them. Jody, please?"

"Alright. Alright, where's your phone, honey? Do you have it, still?"

Castiel rolls over slowly and with a groan, feeling his pockets with stilted movements. Jody finds it first, tugging it out of his jeans and dialing. It hadn't broken during the fall, a small miracle, and she waits for Dean to pick up. She sees the muscle clenching in Castiel's jaw, the rigidity of his posture. He closes his eyes miserably, avoiding eye contact. Jody takes his hand without asking and holds it while he catches his breath. He has trouble breathing as well now, and it's possible he's cracked a few ribs. So, he grips back, and waits for the inevitable—for his breath to come back, for the brothers to look on him like the useless entity he is, for his body to eventually give out when the cons of mortality outweigh its few advantages.

Castiel waits.

The sky is black, littered with millions of glittering stars. There are so many of them, so many colors; reds, greens, blues, yellows, purples—all swirling together in faraway clusters, in breathtaking chaos. Twisting and turning patterns gravitate around each other with ethereal light, winking guilelessly at the earth below. The sky seems more beautiful than usual tonight; a final glimpse at what is now beyond his reach.

Castiel looks up, ancient eyes watching the cosmos spin through space and time, rotating through galaxies bigger than even he could ever comprehend. With every hour that passes, they all seem dimmer. Like he's slowly going blind. A sad expression slips through the stoic exterior he's kept up and he sighs.

The Heavens stare back at the figure beneath the tree, in a way that the fallen angel thinks can only be regret. Beneath his skin, he can feel the weakness in his bones, the ache from his accident that morning… the jigsaw line between his human vessel and his true form is faded. It's been smudged out. Shame fills him. A poor shadow of an angel, he's become. A disappointment to humans and celestials alike.

Almost reverently, motivated by the desperate notion of nostalgia, he lifts his palm halfway to his eyes, studying his hand. A small ember of light wakens there, and it takes a good deal of concentration to keep the Grace alive. It flickers precariously now and then, but he can at least hold it steady for a little while before it winks out.

"You look like hell, Feathers," comes her soft voice from above him.

"Hell is dark and full of demons. I am neither of those things."

"He quips," Jody observes, quirking a smile.

His eyes, illuminated by the stars, regard her wearily. "It's cold, Jody," says Castiel quietly. "You should go inside."

Jody brushes off his selfless comment with her usual grace and huffs, settling down beside him. "You'll keep me warm."

Any protest dies on his lips when she invites herself into his arms. Castiel sighs, holding her tight and resting his chin on the top of her head. The moon reflects off the pond ahead of them, mirroring the milky glow of twilight. A breeze plays with the reeds as crickets call out in symphony; Castiel closes his eyes.

"I think I've Fallen," he tells her one day.

"What do you mean?" she asks. Jody knows he rebelled. She knows the whole story by now.

Castiel shakes his head, mournful. He's been slowly losing even the powers he retained after the river. "I can't feel my Grace anymore. Not really. It's…" he hesitates. Discouraging? Demoralizing? Foreign, frightening? "Confusing."

Jody's brow knits, and there's compassion in her eyes when she looks at him. "You think you're human now?"

"I don't know," he answers honestly, hating how utterly helpless he sounds. How uncertain. He hates not knowing, because he should know. How could he not know?

Her thumb drags gently across his cheek. "Would it be so bad?"

It's an honest question. They're always honest. Never hold back, was Jody Mills. But her honesty is never brutal; it's always been one of the many things he admires about her. She's almost like him, in that way. And so he thinks, really thinks. And, as he does, he counts the shades of brown that make up her eyes.

"Perhaps not," he replies, lips tipping in a small smile.

"It'll be okay," Jody tells him now. She sounds so tired and he regrets that he's kept her up worrying because of him. "I promise, Cas. You're not broken. You're not less than what you were. And you still have me, what little that'll do. But you've got me."

Castiel presses a little closer to her. With his power drained, he's more subject to temperatures, and this night is cooler than most. It's more than just him keeping her warm. This is comfortable, even with the chill. Because, despite that it isn't always convenient, even though he wishes she'd refrain at times, Castiel knows how fortunate he is to have the woman he holds—a friend that cares enough for him that she'll push and push and push to find out what's wrong, beg and demand her way into helping him, and try her mightiest to lighten his load when it's too much. Castiel wonders how long they've been sitting here, beneath this tree. Sometimes it feels like they've always been here. Unlike humans, who eventually were required to get up and move, angels had always been capable of staying still for extended stints of time. Jody, through no surprise, gives no indication she has any desire to move.

He remembers thinking her an angel when they first met.

"It's everything, Jody. Having you is… everything."

Castiel knows he will be okay because of her. As long as she's beside him, he'll be okay.

Yes, Castiel knew of love—had seen it and heard of it, knew what it looked like. But never in all the millennia he'd been alive had he ever experienced it. Never in all his thousands of years of servitude had he ever loved anything or anyone more than Heaven, more than his Father. But then, he met the Winchesters. He met Bobby.

But even that could never compare to the day he met Jody Mills.

Like a hurricane, she swept him from any sure-footing—leaving him lost and simultaneously found in such an absurdly contrary way that, half the time, the angel wasn't certain he hadn't gone crazy.

"I was never meant to feel," Castiel whispers, so quiet it's mostly to himself.

Jody smiles nonetheless, just a tiny quirk of her mouth, but it's enough to let him know. Powers or not, Castiel always knows when Jody smiles. Huddling closer into his chest, fingers slotting through his, she asks him, "And do you?"

Does he?

"You're safe."

"That book in your hands offers up a lot of faith, something you believe in already. Maybe it's time to turn that belief around."

"The memories will come exactly when they need to."

"Because. You're family."

"She's kind to me. She makes me feel... better."

"I'll always forgive you."

"I have something for you. Let's see if you're any good at Angry Birds."

"You scared the hell out of me, angelface."

"Paradise Falls reminds me of the Grand Canyon. I'd love to go there. It's on my list, if life ever gets back to normal."

"The world isn't going to end just because something nice happens to you, sourpuss."

"I'd like to kiss you again."

If he has to kill every last angel so that she can live, he will.

"You saved me."

"You're so much more precious than you realize, Cas."

Something stirring in his chest, something far more reckless than the baser desires of his human vessel.

Falling is not so scary when she is the one he's falling with.

When she looks at him, it is without judgment or derision. Before she'd known who he was, after she knew what he'd done. This is the night Castiel starts to forgive himself. In these moments, where happy sighs become breathless gasps and broken moans. When, for the first time, the angel wears every emotion on his sleeve; awe, astonishment, and desire flittering across his face in a cacophony of sensations. As Jody whispers every sweet thing against his cheek. It's the first time Castiel has ever felt loved. The buildup of emotional trauma and this slowly burning ember between them compels the seeking of a far more intimate union. Because maybe they've both been lonely. Her back arcs beneath him and their fingers entwine. Pulses pound within their coupled hands, creating one fervent heartbeat. Their lips seal, not an inch of space between them, and Castiel has no idea where she ends and he begins.

Maybe it's the whisper of her hair like silk against his skin, the endless relief and serenity at finally being able to hold her like this, but he never wants it to end. Castiel could stay like this forever, trapped in the spell she's cast over him. Without thinking, without doubting the reason, he bends his head, pressing his lips against the hidden place just below her ear, before whispering every thought there, wanting her to know that because of her, he can forget the damaged world, the creatures of his own making out there doing sick and twisted things. He's at peace. Because here, in the arms of this human woman, he knows he's home. How odd it is, this sense of all-encompassing relief. Like he can finally breathe again. He wants to protect her, he wants everything for her. It feels sudden and very alien, this desire, but Castiel reflects that the first stirrings of this feeling had bloomed the moment he'd laid eyes on her.

Castiel understands now what it means to belong to someone.

To the universe, she is an insignificant and ephemeral wavelength of humanity; here and gone too soon to really be labeled a remarkable existence. But she is important to him.

Before she can step away, his hand is clasped around hers, holding her in place. He's staring at their joined fingers through half-lidded eyes, somehow utterly fascinated even while in suffering. "It's strange," he says, quiet. "In my true form, I would never be able to do this." His fingers squeeze hers just a little tighter, and Jody feels a delicious ache in her middle.

"Hey. I love you, you big dumb lug." She stresses it, like she needs to say it, like it's important. His eyes fly to hers and he's startled by what he finds there. The sheer level of conviction. "With all I've got in me." It isn't so new. Love, that is. He'd always gathered he was, in a way. But to hear the words spoken aloud, to him, is… exhilarating. He knows though that he's never been loved like this. This is not the giving of a life for a mutual cause or the laying of it down for a friend or brother. This is the giving of one's heart, and therefore so much more terrifying. Castiel shrinks a little inwardly, startled anew, "No one's ever said that to me before." Jody looks into his sincere, desperately scared eyes and feels her heart tug painfully. "Well, that's a damn shame, Castiel. Because you are the single most lovable guy I've ever met."

"I know I want to spend whatever time I have here with you."

"I'm so sorry." Her lips are at his temple, his forehead, "I know. I know." It takes him a long time to pull himself back together, but he does. He gets up, squares his shoulders, and follows the boys onto the next case. After all, disgraced humans made natural hunters. "I'll be here when you get back," Jody promises him. Castiel stares at her like it's exactly what he needs to hear. He pulls her close and holds her tight, unwilling to let her go for a moment. "I don't think I could do this without you," he whispers into her hair, closing his eyes. Jody feels her heart swell up painfully, and she's suddenly blinking back tears of her own. So often after the death of her family, before the angel came into her life, the world just didn't seem worth being a part of. "Me either," she whispers back. They both have so far to go, but together, the road seems shorter and not so dark.

"I was never meant to feel," Castiel whispers, so quiet it's mostly to himself. Jody smiles nonetheless, just a tiny quirk of her mouth, but it's enough to let him know. Powers or not, Castiel always knows when Jody smiles. Huddling closer into his chest, fingers slotting through his, she asks him, "And do you?"

"Yes," he replies, like every single emotion he's experiencing is packed into that single word. He reaches up, smoothing a hand down her hair. His thumb caresses over hers, a tingle of sensation fluttering in his belly. "I feel a great deal."

As an angel, he'd never experienced vertigo. Oh, but even with every power at his disposal, even with Grace shining bright as Heaven's beacon, he did with her.

He did with her.

Being with Jody is flying and falling all at once. It's pain and it's pleasure, it's love and it's belonging.

It's home.

Author's Note: Once again, sorry for the lateness!