I'm an endless sucker for human-Castiel, and always wished the show had shown more of his experiences when he was human in S9. This fic retells that part of S9 from Cas's point of view. Basically it covers the events of I'm No Angel (S09/03, aka "Cas gets kicked out of the bunker") through Holy Terror (S09/09, aka "Cas gets captured and tortured"), but from Cas's POV. Just FYI the fic will diverge from canon midway through Holy Terror (in this version, Cas did not steal anybody's grace and stayed human) and then moves on to Christmas. For the purposes of the fic I've placed the events of early season 9 as taking place in mid summer through early winter, with Holy Terror occurring just after Thanksgiving. We begin several weeks after Holy Terror. Gadreel is gone, Sam is pissed, poor Kevin is dead... and where oh where is Castiel?
Oh and, it's the first day of winter, just four days before Christmas.
Dean's phone began buzzing on the dash just when he was merging the Impala into morning traffic, trying to get onto the highway heading east out of Rapid City. The sun hadn't even risen yet; it was eight in the morning, but the sun rose pretty late at this time of year in South Dakota, and it wasn't all that easy to merge into rush hour traffic in the dim twilight. Dean glanced over at Sam, half-wondering if he'd offer to help with the phone, but Sam was slouched against the passenger door with his eyes closed, well on his way into a nap. Wasn't gonna be much help.
Probably didn't want to help anyway.
Dean managed to merge successfully and scooped the phone off the dash, glancing at the screen. "Unknown caller", said the phone's glowing screen.
He frowned. Unknown callers were rare. They'd just wrapped up a hunt— a simple enough ghost case, made difficult only by the sheer awkwardness of trying to work with Sam at all. At any rate, the hunt was done and Dean hadn't been expecting any further calls on that case. Was this call about something new? Not many people had this particular number.
Dean hit "Answer Call" and said, "Yeah, who is this?"
"May I please speak to Dean Winchester?" said a female voice.
"Who is this?" Dean repeated. (Cell Phone Rule #1 was to figure out who was calling before he confirmed his real name to somebody unknown.)
"I'm calling from Eastern Regional Hospital in Spokane, Washington. Is this Dean Winchester?"
A hospital. Hm. Another case, maybe? Something funny going on in the morgue?
"Yeah, what's up?" Dean said.
"May I ask if you know a Steve Smith?"
Dean hesitated. He didn't know the name, but Cell Phone Rule #2 was to always pretend you recognized any name, whenever someone random was asking. It might be some fellow hunter in need of an alibi or a backstory.
"Steve Smith" was a new one though. Steve Smith...
Dean had heard that name not that long ago, actually. A couple months ago.
At a certain Gas-n-Sip in Idaho.
And, "Smith", their most generic last-name alias.
Cas. Had to be Cas.
Dean sighed. Cas must be trying to work another case on his own. Just like he'd been trying at that biker-massacre scene at the Wyoming bar a few weeks back. Dean had tried to get him to settle down and go back to his thrilling new Gas-n-Sip life; could Cas have tried to branch out into hunting again? Dean had sent him packing so quick that there hadn't really been time to talk to him about how it important it was for Cas to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. (Well, it was Gadreel who had pretty much sent Cas packing, really. Dean hadn't had a whole lot of choice.)
Belatedly Dean realized that he hadn't gotten around to checking on Cas since. Things had been pretty busy.
What with Gadreel killing Kevin and all.
"Sir, did you hear me? Do you know a Steve Smith?"
"Uh... yeah," Dean said. "Steve. Smith. Yeah, I know a Steve Smith."
Sam opened his eyes and looked over at Dean; he was awake after all. Dean mouthed "Cas," at him, and Sam sat up a little as the voice went on, "Steve was admitted to our hospital last night. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to tell us anybody to contact, but we've just located his last employer, and his employer says you're listed in his paperwork as his only emergency contact. May I ask, do you know if Steve has any family that we could notify? It's urgent."
Dean took the very next exit, whipped the Impala under an interchange, and spun around onto the next on-ramp. In two minutes flat they were heading back west. It would be a long drive to Spokane, though— over twelve hours. They wouldn't get in till late at night.
The nurse hadn't been willing to give much information over the phone; only that Cas was "very ill" and that it was "urgent." Dean didn't care to think too hard about what that might mean. He just drove as fast as he could, remembering the last time he'd seen Cas, in that Wyoming bar several weeks ago when Cas had turned up so unexpectedly in his snappy new FBI duds. Dean had meant to check up later; he really had. But with the Gadreel nightmare that had unfolded right after that, and the awful loss of Kevin, it had slipped his mind.
Dean drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, irritated with himself. Should've called to check on Cas, he thought. I was too messed up after Kevin to think about it.
Kevin's loss was still impossibly awful and always would be, but it had been several weeks and the initial shock had begun to wear off. Gadreel had been booted out just a few days after (with Crowley's help), and Sam actually seemed mostly healed, though he was still royally pissed at Dean. Things had settled down to a sad, but relatively manageable, steady state.
Dean really should have gotten around to calling Cas at some point.
He stared now at the long straight road ahead that cut through the South Dakota hills. Sam was ominously silent.
Truth is, thought Dean, I didn't want to call him. Didn't want to bug him. Didn't want to drag him into all this.
All right... Didn't want to confess how bad I'd screwed up.
Because, if Dean had called Cas, Dean would've had to tell Cas what had been going on with Gadreel all along. Dean would've had to explain just exactly how badly Dean had messed up. And how Cas had been booted out as a result. And how Kevin had paid the final price for Dean's mistake.
It had been incredibly awkward saying goodbye to Castiel at the bunker, back at the end of summer. Cas had been very quiet as Dean had seen him off at the front door. He hadn't said a word when Dean had handed him that pathetic little travel bag— all that Dean had been able to come up with to send him off. It was just a crappy old leather shoulderbag that had been lying around the bunker. Everything about it was crappy. Crappy cracked, stained leather; crappy broken buckle; crappy busted strap that Dean had tried to tie back together with a shoelace. But it was the only bag Dean could find to give to him.
Everything Dean had put inside it seemed crappy too: a crappy eighty-two bucks in cash (all Dean had had on him at the time), a crappy fistful of spare change (dug out in a hurry from the Impala's change tray), and one of Dean's crappy spare cell phones and its charger. And, maybe crappiest of all, two sticks of beef jerky and a friggin' pack of saltines. It was all there'd been in the kitchen.
Dean had cringed when Cas had opened the bag and looked inside.
Then Cas had just looked back up at Dean, and given him one of those long searching stares.
"Sorry," Dean had said at last, his voice rough. "It's all I got."
Cas had replied, "It's okay, Dean. I understand." But the look on his face had made very clear: It wasn't okay, and he didn't understand.
Cas had given him one last silent look, and then he'd just turned and walked away, down the long driveway to the road, into the grey chilly morning. Without even a goodbye.
"I'll call and check in," Dean had said then, watching him trudge away. Cas was already a dozen yards away. He just kept walking.
Dean had never been sure if he'd even heard.
Dean spent the first part of the drive to Spokane— and the middle part, and the last part— reliving that moment, and the Gas-n-Sip day too, and the Wyoming bar. And kicking himself around mentally about all of it.
Sam did his part, too; he also spent the first part of the drive (and the middle part, and the last part) kicking Dean around. Sam didn't even say anything for the first hour, and he didn't have to. By this point he could kick Dean around pretty well just by sitting there in stoic silence next to him, doing his thing of radiating silent guilt-rays at Dean.
They both knew the story. Dean had truly fucked up no matter how you looked at it.
But I was trying to save my brother's life, Dean kept thinking. Is that so bad?
Dean drove on in silence, both hands on the wheel, staring out at the bleak December landscape rushing by. Bare-limbed black branches slid past, outlined against dark grey clouds. Here and there the trees gave way to wide empty fields of frozen dirt and dead wheat stubble, frosted with the first snows of the year. First day of winter, Dean remembered. Four days till Christmas.
Sam about hated Dean's guts by now and had shown no signs of forgiving him. Kevin was dead. Cas was "very ill" and in intensive care.
It didn't feel very Christmasy.
After an hour of silence Sam finally said, "I cannot believe you didn't even check on him."
"I know," Dean said.
"And I don't even mean just in the last couple weeks. I mean, in the last six months. What the fuck. I mean, what the actual fuck, Dean."
"I know. I was going to, I just— You were so messed up, and I was so worried Gadreel was gonna find out if I talked to Cas, and that he might just bail and let you die. And Cas had my number, he did, he could've called. And Sam, he was actually doing okay! He had a job, he was figuring things out, he was getting by. Right up till Wyoming, at least. He looked good then, didn't he?"
Sam gave a grudging nod.
Dean added, "I was thinking to just stay out of his hair and stop bringing him trouble, to be honest."
Sam gave a irritated-sounding little huff and looked out the side window. He started fiddling with the window-crank handle with one hand, spinning its little round metal knob around and around. Dean knew that routine: the irritated huff, the staring silently out the window, the fiddling with the knob; it all meant "Sam's Still Pissed."
Dean tried again, saying, "Look, he'll probably be fine. So he's sick, but, he's tough, you know how he is. He'll be okay. The dude's got nine lives at least, courtesy of the Big Kahuna himself as far as I can tell, and he's only used up three or four. I'll even bet the reason he didn't tell the hospital to contact us right away is because he wanted to stay independent, you know? But we'll take care of him. We'll get him outta there and take him back to the bunker where he can rest up, and we'll give him a nice Christmas, even. All the pumpkin pie he can eat. Presents and everything. Everything'll be fine."
Sam didn't say anything for a while.
Ten minutes later: "I can't understand why you didn't at least call him, Dean."
It was going to be a long drive.
"Ah yes, you're the emergency contact for Steve Smith? The one we called this morning?
"Yeah," said Dean. He was already looking over the nurse's shoulder at the ICU bays to try to see where Cas was, but he couldn't see anything past all the little white curtains. "How is he? What happened?"
"He was brought in late last night, about twenty-four hours ago," said the nurse, shuffling through the files at the nurses' station and plucking out a medical chart labeled "STEVE SMITH". She seemed in no hurry to lead them to Cas, and instead started flipping through the chart, saying, "He was found lying by a storefront just a few blocks away. Unfortunately it seems people had been assuming he was homeless and just sleeping there, and were just walking past him, but thank goodness a security guard thought to actually take a look at him and realized he was sick. He has pneumonia; we've been wondering if he might have been trying to get here. By the time the guard found him he'd gotten hypothermia as well. In addition he seems to have already had a number of previous injuries from some kind of accident a couple weeks earlier."
"Previous injuries?" said Dean. "What do you mean?"
"He has a lot of lacerations and bruises on his chest and face," said the nurse, glancing up at them. "He even has quite a few stitches. I mean, he had the stitches already, before he was brought in here. All a couple weeks old. It looked like possibly a car crash. But the odd thing is that the lacerations actually look like they might have been caused by knives. Do you have any idea what happened to him?"
"No idea," Sam said after a slightly-too-long pause, shaking his head.
Dean shrugged, trying to keep his face blank.
Angels. Angel-blade wounds. Angels had found Cas again. And either it had been a hell of a fight, or he'd been straight-up tortured. (Again.) And if the wounds were "a couple weeks old," it had probably happened right after Dean had sent Cas away from that Wyoming bar.
"No idea how he could have ended up like that all on his own," said Sam, shooting a fierce scowl at Dean. Dean looked at the floor.
"Well, fortunately most of those wounds were healing," the nurse said, glancing back down at the chart. "Though slowly. And they can't have been helping his general state of health. I'm afraid he's very ill at this point. Ah! This was the sheet I was looking for." She looked up from the chart, pen poised to jot down some details. "Before I take you to see him, I need to ask what your relationship is with Steve. Both of you. How well do you know him? And just by the way—" She raised an eyebrow significantly, and said, "Just so you know, if you're not family, I'm afraid there's a limit on how much I can tell you about his condition, and also it would mean you can't stay with him after eight o'clock." She glanced at the clock on the wall. Dean followed her gaze; it was past eleven p.m.
The nurse said again, "So how do you know him?"
"He's family," said Dean. "See, he's our... uh..." He hesitated.
The nurse waited.
"Cousin," said Sam, just as Dean said "Brother."
The nurse blinked, and Dean said, "A cousin who's also a brother. You see, our mom's sister... well, it's complicated. One of those family-secret things, you know? Took some getting used to. Anyway, where is he?"
The nurse was starting to look a little skeptical, but she muttered, "Family. Right." She jotted a note in the chart and looked back up. "Let me be frank. We haven't been able to locate anybody else who knows him. He's in critical condition. He was unconscious when he was found, and he hasn't regained consciousness since. His condition's very poor right now. Are you sure you don't know of any... other family? Anybody who should know? It's urgent. If there's anybody else who is close to him, we need to let them know right away."
"Ah. There's... nobody else," Dean said, swallowing. "Pretty sure about that. Um, he'll be okay, won't he?"
She gave him a carefully blank look. "He's getting the best of care. The doctor will speak with you soon."
That didn't sound good at all.
Dean's voice had dried up, and Sam had to step in and say, "Can we see him now?"
"As you are, um, immediate family, yes, you can stay as long as you wish. Particularly since there seems to be nobody else." She clapped the chart shut and stuck it back on the shelf. "Be aware, though, he's unlikely to wake. Also, he's on a ventilator; he wasn't breathing well on his own. If he does wake, he'll be unable to speak."
At last she led them to one of the little bays and pushed the curtain aside.
Cas was barely recognizable.
He'd been swathed in blankets and heating pads, but he was so thin he barely even seemed to make a bump in the blankets. Tubes and wires were everywhere. There were a couple of big corrugated blue plastic tubes draped over the side of the bed and hooked into another tube that right went down his throat, there were more tubes and wires attached to his chest, there were IV's in both arms and a clip-thing on one finger, and there was a whole bank of machines lined up by the head of the bed, including a big bulky breathing machine. The breathing machine was making a repeating click-psshhh noise, every three seconds or so.
Cas's eyes were closed. His face was lined and worn; he seemed years older than when Dean had last seen him. He had bruises on his face, just as the nurse had said; a dramatic mottling of purple and green and yellow that stretched across both cheeks and his nose, with a few more bruises scattered on his forehead and chin. The bruises looked like they'd aged a good couple weeks, long enough to reach the extra-colorful stage. Underneath all the bruises was an icy pallor; even his lips looked a little blue. A crooked gash above his left eye had been stitched neatly. His usual rough stubble was looking rougher than usual, with maybe a week's worth of growth or so. His hair'd gotten a little long too; it was hanging back messily from his face now, stringy and tangled and dull with illness, and looked like it hadn't been washed in some days.
It seemed strange to see Castiel looking so ill-kempt. He looked even worse than he had in Purgatory.
Dean remembered, suddenly, how crisp and clean and happy Cas had looked at the Wyoming bar just three weeks ago. And how he'd smiled when he'd first caught sight of Dean and Sam.
Dean turned away abruptly and walked over to a chair that was way in the corner of the room, by Cas's feet. He plunked himself down in the chair, shuffled his feet a little, and stared at his hands.
Sam, though, seemed unfazed; he walked right up to the bed, reached right out through all the tubes and wires, and patted Cas on one hand. "Hey Cas," he said. "How you doin? It's me, Sam. Dean's here too. We came to see how you are."
The only reply was the rhythmic click-psshhh of the breathing machine.
Sam pulled another chair right up to Cas's side, glanced over at Dean with a bit of an exasperated look, and turned back to Cas. "Hey, Cas, so, looks like you got pretty beat up, huh? You'll be all right now though. Dean and I, we're gonna stay here with you. You'll be okay. You just hang in there..."
Sam rattled on. Dean sat on his plastic chair in the corner and watched. Even from here he could see Cas's chest rising periodically, in time with the click-psshhh as the breathing machine pushed air into Cas's weakened lungs. It was the only sign of motion in his entire body.
Dean had to bite his lip to keep from pointing out to Sam that there was clearly no point in trying to talk to Cas. It was obvious Cas wasn't going to hear anything Sam said.
The doctor came in a minute later, interrupting Sam's one-sided conversation to tell them quite a few discouraging things. Apparently Cas had the flu, which (Dean thought) seemed like it shouldn't have been so bad, but "on top of his weakened state due to his other injuries" it had hit him the wrong way and he'd ended up with a serious case of pneumonia. And then the hypothermia apparently had not been a good finishing touch. The doctor rattled off phrases like "poor physical condition" and "struggling to breathe" and "miracle he made it this far" and "doesn't have much strength left" and "the next twenty-four hours will be critical." And finally the usual "don't give up hope."
All the usual bullshit, thought Dean, remembering Bobby's last hours.
After the doctor left, Sam and Dean settled back in their spots, Dean in the creaky plastic chair in the corner, Sam in the other chair right by Cas. Sam looked at Cas for a minute and then said, his voice low, "He shouldn't have been alone like this."
"I mean, pneumonia? All these years of fighting demons and demi-gods and archangels, and pneumonia is what finally gets him? He probably didn't even know to get in out of the cold." Sam looked over at Dean with a rather stern-looking scowl. "We should have been checking in on him."
Here they went again. "I know," said Dean.
"You should've found some way to keep in touch, Dean. And you should've told me way sooner than this week that you'd sent him off on his own like that in Wyoming. You should've told me the second I got Gadreel out. Cas right in the middle of all those angels, half of which want to kill him, with no grace and no powers and no nothing? He must've been a sitting duck. He had to deal with all that on his own? And now, pneumonia?"
"I know, okay? I know. Look, I told you, Gadreel said— He threatened that—" Dean stopped. They'd been over it a million times already.
Sam gave a sigh and stretched out his legs. To Dean's surprise, he dropped the topic. Maybe Sam had had enough too.
They sat there for a few minutes watching Cas and listening to the click-psshhh's.
"I'll go get some coffee," Sam said at last, hoisting himself out of his chair. "Hey, you know, we should probably get a motel room. I'll take first shift— I can sit with him tonight, you can sleep. You've been driving all day. If he changes I'll give you a call."
"Nah," said Dean. "I'll take first shift. You go sleep."
Sam looked over at him. "You just drove twelve hours straight, Dean. You're wiped out."
"I'll take first shift," said Dean.
Sam gazed at him a moment longer, his face unreadable, and then just said, "Okay." He rolled his shoulders, rubbing his neck with a grimace. "Won't complain too hard. Could use a moment in an actual bed. There's that hotel you spotted right across the street; I'll try there. But you gotta call the second anything changes." He looked back at Cas. A flicker of real worry showed on Sam's face as he added, "I seriously mean that, Dean, don't you dare not call, if... Like, you gotta call immediately if..."
"I know," said Dean. "I'll call."
Sam looked over at Dean once again, and Dean couldn't even meet his eyes.
Sam said, "I'll go get you some coffee first," and he left.
It was a bit of an olive branch, at least.
Dean sat listening to the click-psshhh's, and the distant sounds outside: nurses and doctors talking, people pushing around equipment, wheelchairs and gurneys rolling by outside.
And Dean looked at Cas.
The thing that made Cas so unrecognizable now, thought Dean, wasn't the bruises or the pallor, but was really just how slack and empty Cas's face seemed. Dean had often thought of Cas as being relatively expressionless, but at this moment he realized that had never been remotely true. Maybe Cas didn't smile much, sure, but he always had an intelligent focus in his expression. Without those bright blue eyes looking around— sometimes solemn and sad, sometimes wide and curious, but always alert— it didn't seem like Castiel.
Was he even in there? Could he have vacated his vessel?
But he had no grace. He couldn't vacate with no grace. He wasn't an angel anymore. He had to still be in there.
Sam came back with two cups of coffee in his hands and a worn leather shoulder bag slung over his shoulder. A bag that looked awfully familiar. He handed one of the cups of coffee to Dean, and then held up the bag, saying, "Cas's."
"What?" said Dean, sitting up a little.
"The nurse seems to have decided to really believe we're family. I think she just can't find anybody else to notify. I may have appealed to her Christmas spirit a bit. Anyway, this is Cas's stuff, or what he had on him anyway, and we're supposed to take it or guard it or whatever." Sam plunked the bag in Dean's lap. Dean set his coffee down on a little shelf nearby, and closed his hands over the bag. Yup. Same bag. More beat up around the edges, with some new-looking dark stains now. Probably dried blood.
Sam touched Dean's shoulder. Dean looked up at him, a little surprised.
Sam said, "Maybe talk to him a little."
"He's in a coma, Sam," said Dean. His voice came out a little thick. "He can't hear a damn thing."
Sam shrugged. "Talk to him anyway. You never know." He tapped Dean's shoulder again, a goodbye tap that felt surprisingly friendly, and took a sip of his coffee. "Okay, I'm outta here. I'll aim to be back at seven am, that good?"
Dean nodded, and Sam turned to Cas one last time, to pat Cas's shoulder too. "Hang in there, Cas," said Sam. "We're rootin' for you. Got Christmas coming up, you can't miss Christmas, so get better, huh? I'll be back in the morning. Dean's gonna stay with you. Dean's right here."
Sam left. And Dean was alone with the click-psshhh's, and with silent, still Castiel.
The coffee went cold before Dean remembered to drink it.
Eventually Dean made himself shift over to the closer chair, with Cas's bag in his lap.
He finally roused himself enough to say, "Hey, Cas," but couldn't think of anything to say besides that.
A little while later he thought of opening the bag.
It didn't have much. Cas's angel-blade was in there, with a note taped to it that read, "Found in sleeve of jacket - Steve Smith - please put with personal effects." Under that there was a neat little cloth bundle that turned out to be a a clean button-down shirt carefully wrapped around a clean set of underwear, a pair of socks, and a little ziploc bag that held a cheap toothbrush, a tiny travel-size tube of toothpaste, a cheap-looking razor and a travel-size stick of deodorant.
Well, apparently Cas had learned how to travel light as a human. See, he had adapted after all.
Dean wrapped that all back up as well as he could, set it aside on Cas's little rolling bed-table, and looked back in the bag. The clothes had been hiding a blue spiral-ring notebook with a ballpoint pen clipped to the metal spiral. Under that was another little ziploc bag, this one containing two dollar bills, a nickel, three pennies, a car key, and a couple of plastic id cards. Dean fished the id cards out of the ziploc to take a look.
One was just was a clip-on that said, "Hi, I'm STEVE". Dean had seen Cas wearing it a couple months ago, back at the Gas-n-Sip in Idaho.
The other was some kind of more formal Gas-n-Sip employee identification card. It had Cas's photo labeled with the name Steve Smith underneath, along with an employee id number, the address of the store, and a Gas-n-Sip corporate number. This must have been how the hospital had tracked down Cas's boss, the one who'd apparently had Dean's contact information.
Dean studied the photo. On the rare occasions when Cas managed to get out of his habitual squinty frown, he sometimes landed on an open, innocent look that was simultaneously hopelessly goofy and yet also completely endearing. He had that look in this photo: his eyebrows lifted high, his big blue eyes so wide and bright and shining that it seemed he'd just seen the whole wide world for the very first time. There was a barely detectable almost-smile tugging slightly at the corners of his mouth.
It was about as happy as Dean had ever seen him look.
Must've been when he first landed the job, thought Dean.
Dean put the two id's back in the ziploc bag, put the ziploc by the little bundle of clothing, and then picked up the blue notebook. It was a cheap spiral-bound composition book with lined paper, the kind kids took notes in for school. It had the ruffled, wrinkled look of a notebook that had been carried around for a while and written in pretty often. He flipped it open. The first page read, in Cas's elegant handwriting:
Things to ask Dean when he calls
1. ask if he is ok / Sam ok
2. consider ask if could come back (ask carefully)
- why did Dean not want me to talk to Sam? Is Sam mad at me too?
- Any news on Metatron? Angels? Tablet translation?
- How can I help? There must be some way I can still help.
- Remind Dean I can't hear prayers now - if he's been trying to reach me by praying I won't have heard.
- Really need advice on money.
- what is involved in purchase of car
- identification/proof of citizenship for job? Has been needed several times already.
- Could use some advice on forms of self-defense w/o killing people w blade all the time. Don't want to kill
- Cutting hair? Deodorant? I learned teeth-cleaning and hair-cleaning already at shelter but have many more questions. Need to be presentable. Have to fit in
- advice on clothing. More nuances than I realized. Really need to fit in
- guidance on how to find place to sleep if have no money; do not want to jeopardize people at another shelter like the last one. Need to stay on my own, but where to sleep?
- advice on food. How much food necessary / how much hunger normal?
- Is it bad for health if shiver all night, every night. Sept now - temps dropping at night in the park. Is this hazardous or is it just uncomfortable.
- how to control all the fear - will this make Dean think less of me - Do not ask this.
- how to stop bad dreams
Dean sat and stared at the list, his mouth dry.