A/N: This was written for the Dean/Cas bigbang on livejournal - the original post for which can be found here and the magical artwork for which, done by my darling Shlee, can be found here. Many thanks as well to my betas, Askance and Yam, and to Kat for her ridiculous endless support. Aaaand I hope that you enjoy it!
Warnings: Reference to non-pairing character death, self-harm, some dub-con, Dean being a whiny bitch.
A LOT LIKE FALLING
The cabin's dark and doesn't smell too bloody. Okay, there's skin and flesh and bone on the floor, more shifter evidence, but it's fresh. It doesn't stink like it would if it'd been around long. Fairly new to the game - fairly easy to gank.
Dean kills the flashlight, gesturing for Sam to do the same. Castiel can see in the dark so it doesn't matter for him; Dean's just a little sad that the lights aren't on so he can see Castiel doing that stupid walk he does when he's trying to be really quiet, like he's Scooby Doo creeping around looking for freaking Scooby snacks. It's sort of goofy.
Dean trips on a loose bit of flooring and remembers to get his head in the game. He tightens his grip on his pistol, scanning the hallway's end further down before barging shoulder-first through the door to the left. It's lighter in there, the last rays of dusk falling in stripes across the dirty floor through cracks in boarded-up windows. From what Dean can see of the room, there are no bodies. No-one, living or dead, tied up so that a shifter can hold them hostage, use their form to go around killing people.
It's weird. Quiet, too.
Something smashes into the back of his head and almost instinctively his knees buckle, hands flying up to protect himself. Then fight trumps flight and he's straightening up, swinging around – but another punch has already caught him off-balance. The pistol is loose in his hand now as he's unfocused, dazed, and before he can get to grips again it's knocked out of his hand.
The body in which the shifter appears in front of him is female, petite, blonde. Not really his type anyway.
He draws the knife from the back of his jeans and goes for her throat.
She blocks it. Twists his arm. Pushes him back. Kick to the kneecap and he's down. Then Sam's got her. He grabs her by the arms, bends them behind her back but she's bendier than should be possible and manages to kick him in the face, way over her little curly-haired head. Two punches, one to the jaw, the other to the solar plexus, and Sam's pistol falls into her hands. Then the shifter throws Sam to the floor, and in a flash of hot panic that never goes away no matter how many hunts they go on, Dean sees the blunt press of the muzzle of a gun digging a claim in his brother's throat as they struggle together. Dean's on his feet in a second, skidding on broken glass and the soft shed flesh of the shifter's last body, but it takes him a second too long. Castiel gets there first, grabbing a handful of the shifter's long blonde hair and jerking her violently backwards away from Sam; he twists her to face him before he presses the flat of his palm to her forehead.
Dean and Sam instinctively flinch away, screwing their eyes up from the inevitable flash of blinding white as a bucket-load of angel mojo burns through the shifter's head.
The light never comes.
Castiel stands frozen, his eyebrows drawn tight together in concentration. He doesn't seem to recognise that his powers haven't worked until the shifter laughs and kicks out, catching him square in the chest, stiletto-heel-punch, and knocking him to the floor. His calm, careful and-now-shall-my-angel-juice-smite-thee-down expression slips and Dean sees his eyes fly impossibly wide with surprise and with something that Castiel would swear on his Father wasn't fear.
He scrambles back up, but then the shifter climbs elegantly to her feet and lashes out with a punch that crumples him again. He tries to prop himself up on his elbows one more time; one pointy boot lashes out at his face – once, twice - kicking Castiel's head back with a crack that sends him back to the floor, the back of his head hitting the concrete.
"What's wrong, angel?" she says, settling one foot on his chest and leaning seductively over him while he squirms. "You've barely got the grace to fry an egg. Huh. Where's Daddy when you need Him?"
Dean finds a crowbar left at the edge of the room by whatever labour-men used this cabin first, and hefts it up into one hand, ready to swing - but before he can take another step towards them, the shifter looks up, training Sam's pistol on Dean's head.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," she purrs, a smirk twisting her red-stained lips.
Dean laughs. He tightens his grip on the crowbar and attempts his most charming smile. "Look, lady, there's no way in hell that you can—"
The shifter lowers the pistol – now level with the crown of Castiel's forehead. Dean almost laughs again, opens his mouth to call her bluff, remind her that little bullets won't do shit on an angel of the Lord. However, there's something in the way that Castiel struggles beneath her, overwhelmed but too proud to call for help... it makes his stomach twist, like there's something he hasn't realised.
"Oh sweetie," she says lightly. "If you're not even up to smiting a shifter then how good are you going to be at healing the gaping hole in your skull?"
There's the click of her thumb cocking the pistol. Castiel is still now; he's fighting to keep his head up, blood dripping from his nose. Every breath is loud, shallow, ragged, as the shifter presses her foot down tight against his lungs.
"And how good are you gonna be at cleaning up your own blood from the walls?" Dean says arrogantly with a grin, swinging the crowbar experimentally. He won't look at the blurry movement behind the shifter; if his eyes so much as flicker, it's over. "I wouldn't be too sure about the little trenchcoat fairy, either," he goes on. Buying time. "I've seen him bluff his way through situations and smite the ectoplasm out of bigger bitches than you without breaking a sweat."
She arches one eyebrow. "Is that so?" She twists her heel into Castiel's chest and in spite of all his bravado, a low groan of pain pulls from his lips like she's squeezing it out of him. "I have to be honest... I'd like to see him try."
Then everything happens at the same time.
The shifter's finger flexes on the trigger – Castiel's got that stupid wide-eyed look of deer-in-headlights - Dean's eyes flash to his brother's with an unspoken NOW, SAMMY! – she realises what's happening, fear in her eyes – and Sam, having reacted even before Dean's signal, thrusts the small silver blade up through the back of her throat.
She judders twice, her spasms sending the gun off, but Sam has already grabbed her and twisted her away, out of harm's way.
Dean lets go of the crowbar and races to Castiel's side, dropping to a crouch next to him. "Cas," he says urgently, grabbing his shoulder. "Dude, you okay? Cas?" He clenches a fist into the material of his trenchcoat, shaking him hard.
Castiel's eyes open blearily but don't focus. "Dean?" he asks. His voice is rougher than usual, the blood on his lips cracking as he speaks. He flinches as he tries to sit up; Dean holds on tight to the material of his coat and drags him to his feet. He sways.
"What the hell happened back there?" Dean demands, still not entirely sure that Castiel isn't just going to crumple like a house of cards.
"I don't know." Castiel spits out a glob of blood and stumbles. "I can't feel my grace."
Dean and Sam exchange a worried look. Then it becomes evident that the how's and why's are going to have to be something they focus on later, because Castiel's knees are slowly buckling and he's T-minus-ten from hitting the floor.
"Don't worry about it, man," Sam reassures him warmly, laying a hand gently on his shoulder. "We'll sort it out."
"I feel very unsteady."
"I'm not surprised," Sam comments. "I mean, no offence, but you really got the shit kicked out of you."
Castiel doesn't answer. There's a tight, hot lump in Dean's throat, looking at the blood dried on Castiel's face, the distant apathy in his eyes like surrender. Dean doesn't voice that; instead he wraps his arm tighter around Castiel and helps him out of the cabin, while Sam takes care of the shifter's body.
The two make slow, unsteady progress to the Impala, with Dean muttering blind encouragement like it's the only thing keeping Castiel up. By the time they reach the car, the acrid sting of salt and kerosene is already wafting through the air, indicating a job well done. Dean glances back only once at the flames flickering distantly in the tree-line. That shifter got everything that was coming to it.
Castiel sits heavily on the Impala's hood, propped up by Dean's shoulder so that he doesn't just fall off into the dirt. "Just wait one second," Dean tells him quietly, wrapping a hand around his upper arm for reassurance. "I've gotta get the first-aid kit. Can you sit up? Come on, Cas. It's barely ten seconds to the trunk. Alright?"
When Castiel nods, the movement nearly slides him off the front of the car, but he plants his feet solid against the dirt and holds still. Dean darts to the back, rummaging through for their med-kit and wondering what the hell they're gonna do. Castiel won't be able to fly and they'll have to drive him to Bobby to find out what the hell even happened.
He comes up triumphant, and hurries back. Castiel's eyes lift to watch him approach, plaintive and hopeless, and as soon as Dean sets down the first-aid box on the hood, he sags against him like a child.
"Cas, can you try to wake up a little?" Dean grumbles. "Come on, I can't do this if you don't sit up."
Castiel leans back a bit so that Dean can fish out a length of cloth that doesn't look too dirty from the box and dab tentatively at his head wound, but beyond that, Castiel has little enthusiasm for consciousness. He's awkward, with his drooping head and floppy limbs, but he's small and skinny enough that Dean can sort of control him.
"Seriously, Cas. I feel like I'm in charge of a big puppet." He lifts Castiel's cold arms like a big rag-doll. "My name is Castiel," he mimics in a ridiculously low voice, "and I am an angel of the—"
"Stop that." Sam comes up behind Dean, breathing heavy with a smudge of soot over his nose.
"Dean Winchester," Castiel mutters, "when I recover my power to smite... you will be the first on my list."
Dean's face falls and Sam throws him a smug I-told-you-so look. He guiltily focuses back on tending to the blood still trickling down Castiel's face, although not before telling Sam to call Bobby and let him know what's going on. Over Dean's dead body will Sam stand around doing jack all while Dean has to sit around clinging to their bruised, broken warrior of God to keep him upright.
Sam nods, burrowing in his pocket for his cell. Dean tips his head to better see the injury, gently pushing Castiel's hair back. "Sorry about the puppeteering," he says, but a smile cracks his lips. "Gotta admit it was pretty funny though. How are you feeling?"
"Tired. Pained." Castiel pauses for a moment. "Human."
"I don't get it – what happened to your mojo?" Dean asks, frowning as he wipes away the last of the blood. The wound's not too bad; it'll clear up. He reaches for a bandage. "Is it some kind of celestial cock-block? Or have you... you know - fallen? "
Castiel shakes his head, which is a little too energetic at the moment. He looks like he might throw up but then settles again. "No," he says quietly. "I still have my wings... which leads me to believe that my Grace is still present, if dormant." He looks up through eyes that are already swelling into the mother of all black-eyes, and he looks hopelessly lost. "I cannot imagine what would do this."
"Don't worry about it," Dean reassures him, feeling a surge of protectiveness wash over him as he carefully applies a small square gauze strip to the cut on Castiel's forehead. "We'll patch you up, get you to Bobby's and then we can work out what's going on, okay?" He rearranges the lapels of Castiel's coat carefully, seeing the way that Castiel flinches whenever he moves. "How're your ribs?"
"I don't think they're broken," he said quietly. He closes his eyes for a moment, looking old and thin and worn by war, but quickly opens them again when Dean opens the front of the angel's grubby trenchcoat. "What are you—"
Dean feels Castiel's eyes on him, serious and studying as ever, as he checks each rib. His calloused fingers press lightly through the thin material of his shirt, feeling each bone for unusual lumps or shards, feeling the dried blood crusted onto the cotton, feeling the soft warmth of Castiel's skin. One rib in particular makes Castiel's breath hiss through his teeth, tensing under Dean's hands. Dean feels bad to poke it again but does, just to be sure.
"Yeah – none broken," he confirms, straightening up, "but that one's cracked and you're going to have a hell of a stiletto-shaped bruise... I think you'll live though." He almost claps him on the shoulder but the way that his raised hand makes Castiel's eyes wary like an injured bird stops Dean.
"All the same... I don't think that the high-heeled shoe was one of my Father's greatest creations," Castiel says wearily.
Dean has to stare at him for a long moment to realise that he's making a joke and it's the knowledge that Castiel's trying to be funny, more than the nature of the joke, which makes Dean laugh low and shake his head, grinning. Then Sam comes striding back into the picture.
"Yeah," he's saying into the cell phone. "Yeah, sure thing. We'll see you in a couple of hours then. Alright. Thanks – bye." He presses a button, slides the cell back into his jeans and comes to join Dean and Castiel. "Bobby's at home and he's not doing much at the moment so he's gonna start looking up what could have happened to Cas' powers. He has a few ideas but we can discuss it when we get there."
"Okay." Dean bobs his head, hands in pockets, considering. He turns to Castiel again. "Right. In the back you get, then."
"Well, I'm guessing you can't just click your heels and there's-no-place-like-home your ass to Bobby's, so you'd better get in the car," Dean points out, holding Castiel's elbow to haul him clumsily off the hood.
"I don't have any magic shoes," Castiel replies, a frown creasing lines between his eyebrows.
Dean stops dead, staring in disbelief. "The Wizard of Oz?" he asks incredulously. "Of all the awesome references I make, you get The Wizard of Oz?"
Castiel tilts his head slightly like always, pigeon on a phone-line. "Sam showed me," he replies. "I liked the Munchkins."
"Sammy?" Dean growls. For God's sake. It's like his brother is determined to undermine Dean's masculinity – or, more accurately, his attempts to turn Castiel into a real human being. A dude human being – not some fluffy, Munchkin-loving musical buff. However, very conveniently, Sam's already in the passenger seat, tucked away safely where he knows that Dean won't be able to attack in case he gets blood on his beloved upholstery. He appears to be sleeping innocently. Dean huffs. "Come on," he grunts at Castiel. "Can you walk okay?"
Castiel gingerly tries out his legs. He stumbles a little, but makes it to the backseat without hurting himself. Dean feels like a grumpy mom fussing over him with his seatbelt and do his ribs hurt and is he comfortable – but Castiel is already burrowing down into the leather like a tired toddler.
Dean swings into the front seat, slamming the door loudly so that the whole car shakes. Sam remains kindly oblivious, except for a loud, obnoxious snore that ruffles his girly fringe. Jesus. No way Sam would really sleep through that with no reaction.
"The Wizard of Oz? Really?" Dean demands.
"I like the Munchkins," Castiel repeats tiredly from the back.
Sam's lips twitch like he might laugh but he doesn't give himself away. Whatever. Dean lets him continue his exaggerated snores.
No-one snores like Castiel though. At first it's hilarious and just a tiny bit adorable but after a drive made two hours longer than it should have been by the snow on the roads, Dean is ready to stuff a sweaty sock into the angel's mouth to make him shut up. Sam even agrees to turning up Blue Öyster Cult to maximum volume in the hopes that the music would either wake him up or drown him out, but to no avail.
They climb out of the car at Bobby's, complaining unanimously.
"I thought angels couldn't sleep," Dean grumbles.
"I thoughts that they were supposed to be peaceful and quiet," Sam adds.
"Yeah – and sound pretty or something." Dean snorts. "Not like the Apocalypse was starting all over again."
The front door swings open before they reach it.
Bobby already looks cranky and they haven't even said a word to him. "What're you two griping about?" he asked sourly.
"Cas snoring," Sam explained.
"He does now. Loudly, too." Dean rolled his eyes and pushed into the house. It was getting cold outside and he wanted a sandwich. "We left him in the car to get it all out of his system."
Sam looks like he might shrug off his jacket but instead zips it up. It doesn't seem like Bobby's ever heard of heating but the fireplace in the library is roaring comfortably so they all trek in there, leaving cold dirt footprints behind them. Every surface is piled high with books in dusty haphazard stacks, but it's the one already open on the coffee table that they all squeeze around.
"So I gotta couple theories," Bobby says, flipping through several pages that have been marked with curling stickers. "Number one - the men in black aren't happy with him," Bobby suggests, "in which case there ain't nothing we can do."
"No," comes a familiar, gravelly voice from behind them. Surprised, Dean turns to see Cas walking towards them, his movements stiff with a discomfort that's he tries to conceal. His face is fresh and dewy from sleep, his hair sticking up like dishevelled hedgehog spines. "It isn't the angels."
He walks slowly, fighting for breath, and even talking seems to take it out of him. "If they were displeased with me," he says quietly, "they would either take me back to Heaven to be punished or they would banish me completely." He settles beside Dean, side-by-side with arms brushing comfortably. "What is option two?"
"Humbling Spell." Bobby spins the book for them to see. "There's only a couple of mentions of it I could find but it sounds the most likely from what you described of his behaviour when you were driving over." He points at a passage in the book and the drawing above: a feral, blood-splattered young man clinging to a pile of caricature bodies. "Someone thinks that their victim is too superior – they get turned into an animal. Personality-wise, of course. They become wild, violent and usually gank a couple of people before they run out of energy. Fizzle out. Then they die."
Dean frowns. "That doesn't sound like Cas."
"Well, that's the thing. There's no record of it ever having been done on an angel," Bobby tells them. "Says here that the victims constantly describe themselves as feeling animal or wild." He raises his eyebrows pointedly. "Cas keeps saying he feels human, doesn't he?"
All eyes turn to Castiel. He shifts awkwardly. "I still have my wings," he reminds them.
"Your body doesn't change. Just your mind. You get the worst of animal nature – the brutal bits." Bobby shrugs. "Maybe he's gettin' the worst of humanity. The weakness, the tiredness, the pain."
Dean grins at Castiel. "Hey it's not that bad," he jokes. "Sense of humour... sex... lots of burgers." He throws him a saucy wink.
"How do we fix it?" Sam interrupts, giving Dean his best bitch-face.
"No idea," Bobby says brusquely. "Far as I can tell, most people put 'em down or just wait for them to burn out."
Dean doesn't say anything aloud but in his opinion it's the worst plan ever. Just wait for Castiel to go animal-crazy, tear into a couple of innocents and then give up the will to live – or whatever the human equivalent is? He still has a weird protective instinct from seeing so Castiel bruised and broken sheltered in his gut. An instinct that makes him stand close and listen to the rise and fall of Castiel's breath to see if his ribs still hurt. The idea of letting Castiel just go all Hannibal Lecter is more than frustrating, it's offensive. Like they'd ever let that happen to Cas.
Sam leans over the book, skim-reading the whole page in ten seconds flat because he's just a dork like that. "If we find out how the Humbling Spell is cast, we could go back to the concrete cabin and look for signs that it was done on Cas," he says. His voice is distorted by his proximity to the book; Dean is worried as ever that one day Sam'll just come out as a proper bibliophile and bring on the weird papery orgies.
"Sure, Sammy," Dean says absently. "You get to work on that and I'll go make myself a sandwich." He dodges the leg that Sam deliberately sticks out to trip him up and heads into the kitchen.
The house is cold but familiar and, possibility of Castiel turning cannibal aside, Dean feels content that things are under control. Sammy's safe and searching for a way to fix him, there are no demons after them, and there's actual bacon in Bobby's fridge. For once everything seems okay, he thinks, satisfied. This'll all be cleared up by the end of the week and maybe they can have a barbeque.