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Where the Cracks Form

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Sunday's are the Lord's Day. Normally, Castiel Novak appreciates that to no end. It's the only day of the week that he feels truly at peace. Except today. Today, he feels like shit. He wakes up aching all the way down to his bones. He thinks he might have the flu, but when he presses the back of his hand against his forehead lethargically, he doesn't feel a fever. Just some deep weariness like he hasn't slept in a week. Which is also strange because he's been sleeping more than normal. Perhaps oversleeping, even.

He draws in a huge breath and reaches for the bedside lamp. He pulls the cord and the light bulb flashes and pops, burning out and shocking his fingers.

He yelps and yanks his hand away, massaging his tingling fingers. "Dammit," he mutters. Maybe he should call an electrician soon. This is the sixth bulb that's burned out suddenly in the past three weeks all over the condo, and they should certainly last longer than they have been. Especially the energy efficient ones.

It's going to be one of those days. He can already tell. Staying in bed for the rest of his life sounds super appealing right about now.

He turns his head towards the window, and the blinds are already up to let in the gray dawn. Hadn't he put the blinds down last night? He never forgets to do that. Whatever. It's raining, dreary outside, which is fine. If there's no sun, his headache won't get any worse. There's one pounding at the back door of his skull already; a constant annoyance in recent weeks. Now he keeps a bottle of Advil right next to his bed for a morning dose. He knocks three back with his glass of water that's curiously colder than it should be, left untouched overnight, and sighs back onto the pillow again.

Contemplating the ceiling fan, he wonders why everything has gotten so hard lately. It's not like anything is wrong per se. He's not unhappy. Perhaps lonely slightly, but nothing serious. Putting stock into relationships isn't necessarily something he's looking for at the moment, anyway. Loneliness isn't that critical yet. At least he has a cat.

Speaking of which, Gabriel shows up a moment later for his daily wake up call. The tawny runt jumps up onto bed, walking immediately over Castiel's chest to start rubbing happily against his stubble. Castiel smiles. It always makes him smile. "I need to brush you," he says warmly, scratching under the cat's chin. "You're shedding all over the place."

Gabriel doesn't care. He rubs away until Castiel has enough stray fur up his nose to sneeze heartily and scare the animal off. "Sorry!" he calls hoarsely down the hallway.

But he feels better. Truly, he believes that old wive's tale that says cats have healing powers. It makes him laugh a little bit at himself; it's foolish, he knows. He's not superstitious in the slightest, but Gabriel had made the ache go away at least a little bit. Enough that he can leverage himself out of the bed and shuffle downstairs to put the coffee on.

x ~ o ~ O ~ o ~ x

Dean wakes fitfully feeling dampness along his back. Great. He hopes he hasn't ended up in a sewer or something. Those are gross, from what he remembers. He had made the mistake of not being picky where he'd appeared in proximity to his witch before, and had found himself in a dank, filthy underground water reclamation tunnel somewhere in the Southern United States. Lesson learned and never again.

He keeps his eyes firmly shut while he takes his first deep breath of air on the mortal plane, hoping for the best. Fresh. It's fresh. He nearly sobs with relief. Not a sewer, then. It smells mossy and rain-damp. He cracks his eyes open and sees the sky above him through green leaves, clouds waning after an early rain. It doesn't smell exactly like a forest, though. Certainly not like the ones from his home, but that's to be expected. Still. There's something... off about this one.

He draws in another, fuller breath; holds it. Ah. He can smell machinery. Oily exhaust, muted. He surmises that he must be near a city, which is fine. He could go for some Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

Slowly, he raises up onto his elbows to peer around the well-maintained alcove he's tucked away into. It's barely dawn, a heavy gray light, misty at the corners. Good. No one will find him and think he's homeless or mad since his clothing is decidedly alien to the human world. He's practiced enough now in human ways that he doesn't make quite so many gaffes. The only problem is that he has no idea what year it is here on Earth. What should he wear? His brother had advised always starting with something simple and "working class" until he can get a feel for the era. Humans change their clothing styles too much.

Dean closes his eyes and focuses on his appearance, gathering it in his mind's eye. The last time he'd been in the human realm, everyone had worn these huge corduroy pants or jeans that looked like tents at the ankles. He hopes it's not like that anymore. Even so, he won't wear that shit. He focuses on denim. Jeans are comfortable, inoffensive. He pictures them relatively loose down his legs to a pair of... hmm... heavy tan boots? No one notices men's shoes, in any realm, anyway. For his torso, he envisions a simple black t-shirt. Those will never go out of style, he's sure. The morning is slightly chilly, though it's edging towards late spring, so he also conjures up his favorite clothing item from the last time he'd been here - a worn, dark leather jacket. He doesn't care if those stop being fashionable. He loves it.

The clothes begin to materialize, drawn by the energy around him, and he can feel them start to add weight to his body. It's a much slower process here. Earth's magic is still lethargic - sticky. But it'll come. It's easier already than he remembered it before. And with greater numbers of humans beginning to channel it... well, it won't be long before it's the easiest thing in the world to call on.

Satisfied that he's appropriately dressed, he stands, stretching his arms over his head. Everything pops and groans. Wow, it never gets easier to transport to this plane.

He steps into the hazy light, sure enough in the middle of some medium sized city in a huge park. There are a few people jogging around the trails and walking their dogs, but for the most part, he's alone. Which suits him. He hates cities. Hopes his charge won't live in the thick of it. Dean prides himself on being able to adjust to almost any setting, but cities are an affront. He was born for and of nature. With no trees, grass, natural fixtures to help him, he'll tire easily. Weaken. Magic or not, cities aren't meant for real, growing things. And definitely not for earth magic.

He can already feel it draining slightly with every step he takes. Or thinks he does, anyway. The longer that he stays on this plane, the weaker he'll become, regardless. Unless he finds his witch.

Exiting the park by the main gate makes him groan with frustration. The city is much larger than he can deal with. Thousands of people packed into skyscrapers and elbowing each other out of the way on the streets as they go through life. Why couldn't his witch have been an old forest hermit? He misses them. They were more demanding with magic, but always understanding of a familiar's needs. Once magic had started to fade, so had the ease of familiars. The last couple that Dean had been called to had all been nearly intolerable. Dean's not sure he wants to be here in the modern world with nobody even knowing who familiars were, much less what to do with them.

He prays it's a child. Children are so much more pliable. They'll believe in anything that takes their fancy, and that helps immensely with magical arts.

Dean's contemplating his hopeless situation when he feels it. A tug in his sternum deep down like a hook in his muscles. Oh, no. It means something's wrong with his witch. Something bad. Worse than bad. Something Dean's needed for. He picks up his pace against the dull throb, now yanking him in the right direction, rubbing his chest. It's not too bad yet. If he can just find the light he's looking for and get to it, it'll be better. But he can't be too long. It'll get dangerous quickly.

More quickly than anticipated, as it turns out. He's not made it a few yards before another pulse hits him that nearly brings him to his knees with a gasp of startled agony. He staggers, keeping his balance, though the pull is so incessant that it actually has the strength to drag his feet along. Bad. Very bad. Where are you?! He's never lost a witch before. Certainly not before he's even laid eyes on them. And the weaker his witch becomes, the weaker Dean becomes. It's a two-way street from the second he'd appeared in this realm. Frankly, he doesn't want to know what will happen to him if he dies on Earth and isn't able to get back home first.

Dean runs.

His lungs feel about to burst, but he keeps going. Going, going, going, until the second he's zapped out of reality and violently heaved into another setting.

"Shit!" he yells. "Shit, shit, I fucking hate that! Now I'm not gonna be able to poop for a week!"

"Sir," a firm voice admonishes, "please don't yell in the hospital."

Dean swings around. A nurse is standing in front of him, frowning like she caught him with his hand down his pants. "Sorry," he mutters, dutifully chagrined.

Satisfied with his compliance, she says, "only family is allowed in here. How do you know Mr. Novak?"

Novak. Good. That's good. A name is good. He rubs his hands together. Time for some good old fashioned glamour. He hopes he has enough magic stocked up to do it. His green eyes flash unearthly bright for a split second as he captures the nurse's conscience. Her eyes widen just in time for him to say, "I'm Mr. Novak's husband. I'm Dean Winchester. I'm staying here." He hopes Sam was correct about same-sex marriages being legal now, otherwise he's up shit creek before he's even got a paddle. And it's a lot easier to claim being a spouse. It's an all access pass to the witch he won't ever have to fight for.

She nods numbly for a moment before her eyes clear. "Yes, of course. I'm so sorry, Mr. Winchester. The doctor will be in to check on Mr. Novak shortly. He'll want to speak with you about treatment options."

She leaves, closing the door behind her.

Dean sighs. Well. Time to get down to business. See what his luck has left him with. He turns on his heel and looks on his witch for the first time. His breath whooshes out of his lungs. "Hey, you're hot," he says appreciatively. Novak is down for the count and obviously can't hear a word being said, though Dean's okay with that. It'll give him some introduction practice before the real thing. "Not that I'm picky," he continues matter-of-factly, "but something I've noticed about you human types is that you get awfully judgmental when attractiveness levels aren't equal." He sits heavily in the chair next to the bed. "I can't really figure that out, either, but I got hit on a lot the last time I was here. Kinda fun. Anyway, I hope you either wake up soon or don't have a ton of family members I'll have to glamour. I'm low on juice right now. Guess you are, too. I can take a little if I need to, but I won't be able to siphon much without your help. Looks like you've got a real backlog, too. Your aura's gross."

It's strange that he's been called here at the last minute. Why would he have been sent so late? Unless... hmm. Mr. Novak must be pretty freaking powerful if magic's bringing him down this quickly. Interesting. He's probably been ignoring i. He looks too old to believe in things that are actually real. Which will be a huge challenge for the both of them, but life and death has a way of making people reevaluate their stubbornness. Dean's never lost a witch on his watch, and he ain't gonna start now.

Of course, he also recognizes that he might just be getting way ahead of himself. Plan for the worst, yes, but it's not so difficult to expect the best. Warily.

Until he knows what he's up against, though, best to hang back and watch some TV. He's missed decades of it.

Three episodes into a Judge Judy marathon that has him fully enthralled, the door opens and Dean's head snaps up. White coat. The promised doctor. Dean turns the TV off and gets to his feet.

The man holds out his hand and Dean shakes it firmly, trying his best to look like a properly concerned human husband. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Winchester. I'm Dr. Cain. I've been going over Castiel's test results, and I won't sugar coat this; it's a real head scratcher."

"What do you mean?" Dean asks politely. He knows what's wrong, of course, but he's never seen what it looked like medically.

"Well, frankly, it's like everything is elevated," the doctor says. "Heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, temperature, blood counts. I'm not exaggerating when I say 'everything' here. There's no indication of trauma, and I've ordered a standard round of blood tests. If those come up clean, we'll do some scans, but." He shrugs. "I've been practicing medicine for more than twenty years and never seen anything quite like this."

In a city like this, Dean thinks the doc probably has actually seen stuff like this before, he just didn't know the cases were related. "Oh," he says, trying to appear shocked with a dash of sad.

He must have pulled it off, because Dr. Cain's eyes leave the chart and soften on him. "Is there any information that you can give us that might be helpful? Has he been exposed to anything that you know of?"

"No," Dean answers.

Carefully, he asks, "drugs? Alcohol?"

"No," Dean says. It's doubtful any witch would be a drug user or excessive drinker. And if they were, they wouldn't get so pent up with energy. It would manifest accidentally much more often with a mind not trying to suppress it.

Dr. Cain nods, believing him. "Has he traveled outside of the country in the last twenty-one days?"

Confused by the question, Dean still answers, "no, he hasn't," even though he might have been. Whatever the reason for that particular question, it's irrelevant here.

The doctor marks everything down on the chart. "Well, I'm not out of ideas yet, so let's stay positive, okay?" He's got a wonderful supportive doctor smile.

"Yeah," Dean says. "Thanks, Doc."

Dr. Cain pats him comfortingly on the shoulder and promises to be back in a few hours to check on him. When he's gone, Dean sits down again and takes Mr. Novak's hand. It's cold. Dry. But it's comfortable and Dean sighs heavily when he feels the spark between them. Unconscious or not, they'd still make their bond.

Briefly, an intense wave of vertigo washes over Dean at the contact. He doubles over, forehead coming down on the mattress and he clenches Novak's arm tightly. It clears, and then Dean's feeling what his witch feels. Hot, dizzy, exhausted, overwhelmed like his synapses are firing too quickly. Too much. It's a jittery, over-caffeinated feeling. He squeezes his eyes shut, panting against the unpleasant rush. "Fuck," he mutters harshly. "This whole time, you've been...?" This man is strong. Strong enough that Dean can't find him right away. It takes several minutes of searching until he's in. Within.

The witch's head is a mess. Partially swimming in whatever drugs the doctor gave him, but also drowning in himself. The most prominent emotions Dean feels are fear, doubt, denial. It's much easier and safer to do this when the witch is awake, but beggars can't be choosers now. Novak is dying and Dean's the only one who can stop it.

He concentrates on where he isn't, removing from his mind the sensations keeping him grounded in the waking world. He can't feel the cold room anymore. Can't smell the antiseptic cleaners. Can't hear the beeps of the monitors. Can't see the spots flickering behind his tightly closed eyelids. Can't taste his own saliva filling his mouth as his heart rate skyrockets.

He focuses on his own, summer grass green pinprick of light in the roiling technicolor panic in Novak's head. Forces it to pulse and glow brighter. Brighter and brighter to dim the rest around him. Calm. Make it calm. It comes slowly, but Novak is starting to sense him. His consciousness is starting to bleed into the colors, soothing and blue. Crystal clear like sea ice. It's the most lovely color Dean has seen in a human in a very long time. Maybe ever.

"Castiel?" he queries carefully. The light pulses in understanding. Dean eases. "Nice name. Can you see me?" The light shies away. "It's okay, Cas. Just focus on me. It'll come. Look at me. Just... look."

Gradually, the blue light begins to bubble and take the form of a man. It solidifies slowly, but more quickly than most would be able to. And much faster than even a talented witch could accomplish bringing them both into being at the same time. "You got it, man," Dean says encouragingly as he watches his hands and legs start to shimmer into form, extremities first and then the more substantial parts.

He keeps his eyes, now able to actually blink, trained fully on Castiel's face as it wobbles and wavers in the ether. But it gets there finally; a man of average height, strong build, dark hair, and glowing blue eyes that won't change so long as their souls are the ones meeting face to face, as it were. "You're naked," Castiel says in a rough, melodious voice that Dean already can't wait to hear casting spells in his arcane native tongue.

"So are you," Dean grins. "Don't worry about it. Once you get better this, you'll be able to conjure us up some clothes. But this'll do for now."

Castiel doesn't appear to be particularly bothered by either of their nakedness; in fact, his piercing gaze doesn't wander a centimeter from Dean's. "Your eyes are glowing."

"So are yours. That'll always happen when we talk this way."

"Dean Winchester," Castiel says with a frown, the name coming like it struggles to be remembered on the tip of his tongue. "But that's not your real name. You won't let me hear it."

Dean shrugs a single shoulder. He can feel Castiel reaching out to his mental walls. Poking at them. It isn't forceful, so Dean doesn't shove back. Mere curiosity. He attempts to keep his emotions as guileless as possible because Castiel will always be able to feel those whenever he chooses, but it's a little hard to tamp down his physical and mental interest in the man. He's incredibly aesthetically pleasing - the kind of looks that one of Dean's kind might pick for their Earth forms. And Castiel's soul is so... clean. Humans are usually complicated creatures. They carry darkness as heavily as they carry light, and only the youngest of children are unburdened. Castiel is burdened, though it doesn't carry the extra sour tang of doubt. Castiel Novak lives without regret. Remorse. Loneliness, but not sadness. He feels like someone who... don't even try. "Safer for both of us if you don't know it," he says flippantly without further explanation. Castiel can tell how serious he is.

"What's happened to me?" Castiel asks, going straight to the point, flying past the less important, though probably more interesting, questions. Dean can respect that. "I'm... hurting."

"You're in the hospital," Dean answers.

His brow furrows. "I must have been able to drive myself here before I... hmm. Well. Do you think I'll get better soon?"

"Yeah," Dean answers. Then amends, "if you let me help you."

"How can you possibly do that?" Castiel asks, sounding confused. "Is this a mind over matter situation where my brain is conjuring up an attractive fantasy to motivate me to fight? Or perhaps I've already got a foot in Heaven?"

Dean snorts. "None of the above. I'm your familiar. I can explain all his shit better when you're awake and I can show you more, but short story: you've got magic, it's killing you, and I've been called to you to make sure that doesn't happen." He beams. Castiel takes a step back.

"I'm going to die?"

"Not if I can help it."

"Well, that's something."

Dean's eyebrow tips up. "You're pretty cool about all of this. Most humans kinda... freak."

Castiel smiles serenely. "I'm sure that won't help my condition, and I'd like to wake up soon. I've had fever dreams before. They're harmless."

"That ain't what this is," Dean says dryly.

"Yes, it is," Castiel answers confidently.

"No, it's not."

"Yes, it is."

"No, it's-" Dean breaks off with a sigh. "Fine. I can prove it's not."

"Oh?" His curiosity - and skepticism - pique.

With a slow, lazy smile, Dean takes five steps forward until he's close enough to touch. Castiel's eyes widen, and for the first time, his gaze flicks down and up in a split second once-over. "Wakey, wakey," he murmurs and kisses Castiel on the lips.

x ~ o ~ O ~ o ~ x

Castiel's eyes snap open. He's staring at a nondescript white tiled ceiling.

"'Morning, sunshine," an extremely familiar voice says.

Dizzily, Castiel dares to turn his head slightly to the side. A pair of moss and gold eyes is watching him. "Dean Winchester," he rasps, throat dry from disuse. "You aren't an hallucination."

Dean props his chin on his arms where they're resting on the mattress. "Nope. Told ya."

Castiel groans and casts his gaze back up to the ceiling. "My head hurts. My everything hurts."

"You've been in the hospital for a couple days now."

"The tube in my dick seems to suggest that, yes," he grimaces.

Cute and funny. Dean's starting to like this situation a lot. He sits up. "You'll feel better if you get rid of some of the magic you've been backlogging. It's gumming up the works in your body. Like I told you before."

"In my dream," Castiel says flatly.

"You remember. That's a start."

He snorts. "Maybe this is one of those things where I think I'm awake, but I'm not?"

Dean rolls his eyes. "You're awake."

"I'm losing my mind, then."

Dean reaches forward and pinches Castiel's arm. He yelps and Dean smirks. "You shouldn't pinch sick people!" he grumps.

"You're not asleep and you're not losing your mind. Look, you gotta trust me here. I really can help you."

With a sudden burst of energy that looks like it's the last he's got, Castiel heaves himself up onto his elbows with a stormy expression that makes Dean lurch back. Lightning splits the night sky outside. "I don't know you!" he growls. "I don't trust you. You're a stranger to me, coming into my room and filling my head with utter nonsense. For all I know, you're an escapee from the psych ward and I should really be calling the nurses to have you removed! In fact..." He grabs the call button hanging on the back of the bed, but doesn't depress the button yet. "I want you to leave."

Dean stands. Shoves his hands in his pockets. "Cas, please..."

"No!" he shouts. Thunder rumbles so loudly the windows tremble. "Get out!"

Dean holds both hands up, palms out. The last thing they need is Castiel discharging a biblical lightning storm on the city. "Okay, Cas. You win. I'll go. But... just listen to me, okay? Think about all of those weird things that have been going on around you; happening to you. Don't just brush all that shit off as coincidence or chance, because it's not. And give me a call before it gets to life and death again. There's only so much I can do for you when you're in denial. I can't save your life if you can't help me out."

He turns and is all the way to the door when Castiel says, against his better judgement, "how? How do I call you?"

Dean glances over his shoulder and shrugs. "Pray." And then with a small, two-fingered salute, leaves.

x ~ o ~ O ~ o ~ x

Castiel watches Dean leave, rubbing at his chest absently. It seems like every step the man makes further from him, tugs at his heart. Another crack of lightning outside and Castiel swears he can feel it sparking through his veins. It feels like fear. Why the hell is he suddenly afraid of thunderstorms? They've never bothered him before. Not even when he was a child. It's got to be the fever. He feels like death warmed over. He presses the button to incline the bed slightly, hoping it will clear the stuffed cotton feeling in his head. Sleep. He needs sleep. But the fever dreams are even more unnerving than the attractive psychotic man who had spoken to him about magic and familiars. Castiel clenches his jaw. Sleep. It will pass. It will pass. It always passes.

Until it doesn't. Eventually, he's able to drift off into restless sleep, but his dreams are frightening. Colors and noises and voices clawing at all his senses until he's crying out for some sort of deliverance. Help me! He screams soundlessly to the raging ocean. God, help me!

Your God has bigger fish to fry, the soothing, handsome voice he says. He won't help you. He wants you to help him.

I can't. There's nothing I can do. I've been good. I've been faithful. I've lived well. Don't make me do this.

The voice is as soothing as laying down in the cool summer grass. Don't be scared. Not of me. Not of anything. You're a miracle.