This was a Supernatural story, started in S5 but veering sharply off from canon by midseason, because midseason was around the time canon began to intermittently irritate the hell out of me. The premise was that in the middle of recon for a hunt, with no warning, Castiel is suddenly rendered mortal. Not fallen -- he's still got his grace -- but trapped completely in the vessel, almost completely devoid of any angelic abilities beyond the sensory ones. This was basically a story started out of annoyance, really: with canon's ever-increasing boner for Winchester destiny-induced manpain, and with a string of beautifully written stories I'd read where Cas falls and as a human is a fragile and delicate creature to be protected by Dean Winchester's martyred love. Like I said: lovely stories, excellently written, and I'm being unfair to both their writers and their premises with the previous sentence, but I just couldn't square that characterization with the Cas I saw on screen. In canon, he's a soldier, he's an asshole, he's surly and sulky and more than a little socially awkward, and he's always working a mission larger than himself, though how he defines that may change. I wanted to try my hand a story that preserved those qualities, along with the close-knit Winchester dynamic of S1-2, and that did justice to all the awesome side characters in SPN that the creators kept disappearing, maiming, or killing off pointlessly. Not to mention the flawed yet awesomely hubristic scale of the mythology.
Why is this story (probably) abandoned? A couple reasons. First, it was going to be epic, 50,000 words at least. I narrowly avoided a plot structure that would've made me write the apocalypse, and while shaenie helped me come up with a much more interesting direction, it didn't make the thing any shorter. But that might've been okay. Second, and more important: I lost interest in SPN. I'm sorry, guys, but I just cannot get it up for this show anymore. For all the reasons you're thinking of, and a few others you've seen people griping about on your flist. It just doesn't excite me or please me. I think of it and am filled with a world of "meh."
What's the excerpt? This is from the middle of the 7,000 words I'd written, picking up directly after Castiel's slapped with the baseball bat of mortality (metaphorically speaking) in the middle of a job. I picked it because it's the bit I like best, both for Cas's interior voice, and for Dean, Sam, and Bobby's actual voices. Especially Bobby's. I love that guy.
In the car, Dean thumbs the buttons of his cell phone and cranes his neck around as he throws the car into reverse. The passenger seat jostles and tilts under Castiel as they retreat off the grooved dirt road and make a hard turn to the south. Sam's taken the back, an aberration from their usual custom. Castiel can't determine if it's a gesture of consideration, or if Sam's trying to keep him in his line of sight.
"Rufus," Dean says. "Listen, we've got kind of a thing happening -- uh, I'm not real sure, but we were in the middle of a job and now we've gotta bail. Indiana -- there's a pissed-off pioneer mixing it up with the Culver Military Academy. Think some stupid kid must've raided a grave or something -- who knows, probably some kinda hazing ritual. Chamber of Commerce has the old graveyards on the historic register. I'm calling in that favor. What? Yeah, sure, whatever." He thumbs the phone off again and shoves it back into his pocket with an eye-roll. "Jackass. See if I come running to stop him from committing mass murder next time."
"Where are we going?" Castiel asks, one hand pressed to the window glass. The cold is soothing, reliable among the jolts they take from the holes in the road. Burr Oak recedes in the mirror on his car door, which labels the worn buildings as closer than they appear. There are messages everywhere in the present world. So few of them are useful.
"Somewhere else would be a good start," Dean says, with a sideways jerk of his chin for emphasis.
The leather of the back seat squeaks as Sam scoots into the middle, likely to position himself to see both Castiel's and Dean's expressions. "Who do you think could have done this to you?"
Castiel considers. "I don't know," he says. An extremely large truck pulls out of a parking lot and nearly cuts into their path. Dean makes a sharp exclamation of protest, and he and the truck's driver both sound their horns. Loudly. Castiel winces. "I've never seen the angels do this. Heaven's punishments tend to be more -- pointed. But, as Zachariah said, they've had to get creative."
Dean scowls at the word creative. "Great. You think it's them?"
"Perhaps. It might simply be tactical, a way to disable me. Or Gabriel could have done it. There's not much he can't. As for the demons, they use magic Heaven will not bother with. There may be many things in their power I wouldn't know."
"So, basically you've got no clue," Dean summarizes, hands crossing over each other as he takes a hard corner onto a larger road, disregarding the red octagon that commands he stop. The force of the turn throws Castiel toward the driver's seat, and he grasps belatedly for the notched bar set in the inside of the door.
Dean glances up into the central mirror, and the two brothers conduct a silent conversation via the glass. The car stays precisely in the dashed lines despite Dean's inattention. Castiel is both nauseated -- he thinks, he has never really felt the sensation before -- and impressed.
"Bobby's," Sam says.
Dean sighs and digs his phone out again. A muffled tone emanates from its speakers, and then Bobby Singer's voice issues a terse reply. Castiel could tune his ears to catch the words, but does not. The thought of eavesdropping on Bobby, or perhaps of being caught by him while doing it, makes him uncomfortable.
"Hey. We've got a situation." Dean gives him a quick, assessing glance. "Somebody kicked Cas's cord out." In the back, Sam snickers, and Dean's teeth flash white before he pulls on an expression of vague irritation. "Hell if we know. What? No. Or so he says, anyway. But it looks like he's mortal now. Gee, Bobby, I dunno. I hear there's an apocalypse coming, might be good if when it gets here, our pet angel's not declawed. Yes. Fine. Yes, we'll bring beer. See you in fifteen."
"Minutes?" Castiel asks hopefully, once Dean has hung up.
Behind him, Sam rummages through the duffel until he retrieves a book, then wedges himself against the door with his long legs stretched down the length the back seat. One wide hand emerges and pats Castiel's shoulder. "If only."
"Hours, baby." Dean grins tiredly and drums his hands in a fast flourish against the steering wheel. "Welcome to this mortal coil."
When they roll to a stop in the buffer that separates Bobby Singer's house from the graveyard of vehicles around it, Castiel climbs out of the car and into the dark with some difficulty. They made three brief stops totaling less than 45 minutes, in which Dean refueled the car, Sam purchased portable food and beverages, and Castiel put his theoretical understanding of his bodily needs into practice. That experience, though lacking dignity, at least offered the brief satisfaction of competence.
Other than that, they have spent the entire day and much of the ensuing night seated, and several of Castiel's joints and muscles feel as though they have slipped out of their proper alignment. Willing them to ease works as well as willing the cut to close had. Which is to say, not at all. It appears that the knowledge of how to comfortably maintain a fixed position for hours is not instinctive.
He will have to practice.
Beyond the physical complaints, the drive had been a strange immersion. He has never before understood the breadth of the world as humanity experiences it: the wide fields clustered unevenly with buildings, power lines, blankets of plant life both cultivated and wild. The long and flattening stripes of asphalt, the scattering of towns and cities, the endless and sporadic processions of head lights. These are all things that Castiel was aware of before, because all angels possess a comprehensive knowledge of the physicalities of God's creation. But this is the first time that he has been married to a fixed, though moving, point. This is the first time he has experienced it at its intended scale.
He had not anticipated the way that the sheer multitude of places and people would blur into monotony, or the way things would leap almost at random into prominence in his attention. The sloping roof of an abandoned barn. The silhouette of an electric tower against the clouds. A woman's thick shoulders and distracted face. A kestrel hovering, the shadow of an unseen mouse.
Castiel thinks of all the places in the world they might need to go to, and how long it would take him to make the journey now. He thinks of insects trapped in sap, then in amber, and twitches away from the cold wind on his neck.
Bright lights spill out of the house's dirty windows. Sam and Dean grab their duffels from the trunk, Dean settling the case of beer they'd purchased onto one shoulder. Just short of the wooden stoop, Castiel slows to a stop. He can hear the television inside, a nasal murmur.
The absence sound of his footsteps catches Dean with his hand halfway to the knob. "What? Bobby ward the door or something?"
"No," Castiel tells him. He is aware of Sam beside him, studying his face. Castiel looks at the windows, the glimpses of the rooms he can see inside. "Wouldn't a motel be better? Harder to trace?"
"It'd take us a week to lay down a tenth of the protection Bobby's got on this place," Dean says. Castiel nods, but does not move. "Why? There a problem I don't know about? If you've got a better idea, you could've spoken up, oh, anytime in the last six hundred miles."
"I don't have a better idea." Castiel pushes the tip of one shoe against the dirt. It's been tamped down by a recent rain.
Dean makes an interrogatory noise. Castiel winces. "Bobby. He ... doesn't care for me. I don't want to impose."
Sam releases a surprised laugh, looks rapidly back and forth between Castiel and Dean, laughs again. "I'm sorry," he says, half-grinning. "It's just -- you and the other angels have hijacked us, like, ten times in the last year. Not even counting the fact that Michael and Lucifer want to borrow our bodies for Armageddon. I wasn't aware 'imposition' was even a word in the heavenly lexicon."
"All words are in our lexicon," Castiel says. It's true. He does not say, when you have the power of Heaven or Hell behind you, no one can stop you from imposing.
"Hey." Castiel looks up, and Dean shrugs the case of beer off of his shoulder and thrusts it toward him. Castiel takes it. The bottles clink. "First rule of imposing," Dean says, holding up a finger. "You're less likely to get kicked out if you come bearing alcohol."
"I'll remember that," Castiel says, clutching the box to his chest.
"What are you waiting for, the butler?" Bobby hollers from somewhere inside. "This ain't no cotillion, ladies. You can open the door your damn selves."
Bobby meets them in the hall outside the library. He gives Castiel an appraising once-over. "So. You're human now."
"Close enough," Castiel says. He holds the box out. "We brought beer."
"Damn right you did," Bobby snorts, and he hooks the case out of Castiel's hands and drops it onto his lap, then pivots the chair and wheels toward the kitchen.
All previous visits to Bobby's begin in the same way: over the books, in the library. So Castiel is taken aback when Bobby retrieves a bottle-opener and a large bag of chips and the brothers crack their beers and settle in against the countertops.
"Shouldn't we begin the research?" he asks in bewilderment.
Bobby hooks the top of his beer under the arm of his wheelchair and levers the cap off with a sharp twist. "We in a rush Dean-o here forgot to mention? Don't tell me you're gonna turn into a pumpkin at midnight."
"It is past midnight," Castiel corrects immediately, alarmed. "Did the books say I might turn into a vegetable?"
Sam snorts, beer tipped up against his lips, and Dean braces his weight on the palm of his hands and grins over at his brother. "Tomorrow, somebody's gonna have to find Pinocchio a book of fairytales," Bobby says in a stern tone. He shifts the brim of his cap up and spears Castiel with a look. "I'm asking if we're on a timeline here."
Castiel's face grows warm and tight. It's a strange sensation. "I have no idea," he says, which is true. What he wants to say is yes, which is not, but feels true regardless.
Bobby raises the beer, as though saluting the statement. "Then we'll pick it up in the morning." He swipes the bag of chips off the counter and tosses it to Castiel, who catches it automatically.
Anger bubbles mutely up against his closed lips, a sensation he knows from discussions with his superiors that had ended in him being summarily dismissed. Bobby, unlike his superiors, pauses when he notices Castiel's expression.
"Listen, son," he says. "I took a first pass through the library, but nothing jumped out at me, and this is the first time in months you-all have rolled through town where it's not because somebody's just died or somebody's about to. Therefore, this is the closest thing to not a crisis that we've had since somebody flicked the first domino over on the Apocalypse. I get you're not happy, but staying up all night when we don't have to's not gonna get us an answer faster. Unless it's a wrong one."
Castiel parses his way through the negatives. His nod is short, ungenerous. The reins on his temper are strain tonight. He sighs and lifts a hand to run it over the edges of his hair, as he has seen Dean do when irritable. The strands are greasy to the touch, but their movement makes his scalp prickle in a way that is somewhat soothing.
"You hungry?" Bobby asks.
He looks down at the bag of chips, which proclaims its contents now possess Twice the Spicy Nacho Flavor! "I don't think so." His stomach does not ache, as it had earlier, but his body feels restless and tense. He thinks about this for a moment, then says, experimentally, "But I believe I could use a drink."
Dean slides a beer from the box, pries the cap off with his ring, and holds it out. "Trade you," he says, in an approving voice. Castiel hands him the chips in exchange and, aware of the three of them watching him, takes as long a swallow as he can comfortably manage. The bubbles burst against his throat. He doesn't care for the taste particularly, but the carbonation is distracting. He appreciates that.
He settles his weight against the table and drinks as the other three talk. They're exchanging updates from different contacts. Castiel pays little attention to it. He is in earshot, so he will be able to recall it later if he needs it. When he empties the beer, he contemplates another, but crossing the kitchen to retrieve it or interrupting the conversation both seem like they will involve effort. Instead, he slips into a chair and rests his elbow on the table, stares at the scarred wood.
Dean's voice cuts through the haze that has slowly risen. "Hey. You're not drunk off one beer over there, are you?"
"No," Castiel says, and looks up at Dean to prove it. There are three or four bottles already collected behind Dean's elbow, and the color in his face has warmed. The effects of alcohol, or perhaps the fact that he has been smiling. Castiel's body feels heavier, a barrier between him and the rest of the world. "But I am ... tired."
Everybody looks at him. Sam offers a smile, to break the silence. "Huh. That must be a new one for you."
The remarkable thing is that it's not.
Bobby sends Dean upstairs with him, to retrieve the bedding and show him how to prepare the bed in the spare room. The mattress creaks and settles beneath Castiel as he sits down. Shoes, he thinks; unless circumstances are urgent, people do not sleep in them. He will need to remove them, and likely some other layers of his clothing as well. He reaches up and grasps the knot of his tie, find the free side with his fingers, and pulls until it slips from around his neck to drape over his hand.
He hears Dean's feet shift on the boards, and a muffled clearing of the throat that is Dean's usual prelude to exiting a situation for which he lacks protocol. "Dean," Castiel says, right as Dean is about to open his mouth, likely to deliver a joke that will not really be funny.
The tie is dark, with a matte sheen that catches the glow of the floodlights Bobby has planted among the vehicles. They cast conflicting shadows through the curtains, like false moons. "I've never slept before. Is there a trick to it?"
Dean's gaze shifts off him, a change he feels rather than sees in the dark room, with his eyes still on the tie. "You ever find one, you let me know," he says, and there is a note of humor in it that means he knows neither of them will find it funny. There is little point in responding. Castiel waits for Dean to walk away. Dean taps a loosely-fisted hand against the door frame, then says, "I think about driving. The long flat parts. Sometimes it works."
"Thank you," Castiel says. "I'll try that." He sets the tie down on the nightstand and turns to face the door. "Good night, Dean," he says, a ritual he has heard but never participated in.
Dean's silhouette is dark in the doorway. Castiel wonders if Dean is relying on the lack of light to block his face. "Night, Cas," Dean says, and he pulls the door shut with a soft click as he heads back downstairs.
Castiel shifts the coat off his shoulders and drapes it over the end of the bed. In his hands, the fabric is surprisingly heavy. He unknots the laces of his shoes, sets them in front of the nightstand with his socks laid on top. The buttons of his shirt are small and cool against his tired fingers. He lays it over the coat, slips his pants off his legs. For a moment, he considers the undershirt, which observation suggests is left to the wearer's discretion, but some impulse moves him to hook his fingers under the hem and pull it off over shoulders and head, careful of the seams. He pushes the shorts off, hesitating, knowing these are less optional in shared quarters, but then he is free of the vessel's clothing, and for the first time he is alone with his body, pale and narrow in the slices of light.
Cautiously, he sets a palm to his chest. There is a difference in temperature -- he cannot tell if his hand is colder, or his breast. The spot where his skin presses against itself feels warmer, and the rest of his body chills in contrast. Castiel pushes his way under the covers and folds them up over himself, lying on his back until some animal instinct folds his limbs inward, multiplying the places warmed by the touch of his own skin. Turning his face away from the window, he closes his eyes and calls to mind the longest, flattest part of the drive, field after field brown and quiescent with the change of seasons, ornamented only by the darting shapes of birds. He traces the unending arcs of the power lines, and at some point sleep rolls over his body and swallows him down.