The world went white with power.
For a few days that was all he could feel— the euphoria of having power again, of being safe.
When Jack had lost his grace it was as though the ground had fallen out from under his feet. It was his foundation, the closest thing he had to a raison d'être, the steady lynchpin of his world. Morality and society were complex, but power was power. Anything with a nervous system could understand the fall of a fist, and his grace was like the coiled muscle that put strength behind a blow.
He’d been disarmed, in the celestial sense. And now, with Michael’s grace surging through him, like a current through a live wire, that security was finally restored. The world was a much safer place when you didn’t need to sleep or eat to survive it.
But every high had to end.
This one did so in the most mundane of ways, at three in the morning, on his third consecutive sleepless night. Jack was sitting in the kitchen, drinking coffee that finally tasted right again, and the world seemed to... flicker, almost. Like he’d blinked for too long, like there was a fault in the wiring that lit up Creation.
Jack set down his coffee, frowning up at the lightbulbs above like they could explain the sensation. As though it had been a change in illumination, rather than a blip in his ability to perceive the universe.
He felt suddenly too warm. Shrink-wrapped in his own skin.
He didn’t want his coffee anymore.
By that evening, the feeling was worsening. Everywhere seemed so comparatively cold, a harsh contrast to the burning heat in his body. He half expected his breath to come as steam; the heated bunker felt like winter.
Something was wrong, and it didn’t even occur to him until Sam leant across the dinner table— to press a hand to his forehead— that he might just have a fever.
Sam was worried, and it turns out, right to be.
The kid was burning up; his skin hot and clammy to the touch. The last ten minutes had been an exercise in compounding concern, darting worried eye contact with Dean as Jack mashed his salmon and potatoes into a uniform slurry.
“You’re...pretty warm, Jack.” he said. Tried to phrase it nicely. “Are you feeling okay?”
It was obvious that he wasn’t— it showed in the too-pink flush that painted his face, the shift in his posture. Something was wrong.
“I’m fine!” Jack insisted. Smiled, in that childish unconvincing way he sometimes did. “I think I’m just… adjusting.”
“Or you could just be sick.” Dean broke in.
Jack had been… off, since he’d killed Michael. Quieter. They’d both noticed it, and they both knew what foreign grace had done to Castiel. They both...wondered.
“Maybe.” Jack said, shrugging, and Sam realised just how casual he was about the whole thing.
How oddly unafraid.
“You should probably take it easy for a while, anyway.” Sam suggested. Tried to gauge how he’d react. “See how this shakes out.”
“That’s probably a good idea.”
Jack ate a forkful of his fish-potato mush, and the rest of the dinner passed in silence. Afterwards— via phish food based bribery— Jack even yielded to Sam shoving a thermometer in his mouth. Kid was running a fever of 102.
The compliance was reassuring— though Jack refused to take any tylenol, being yet to successfully swallow pills— and Sam allowed himself to be reassured. To watch their resident cosmic entity curl up on the sofa and to watch disney movies, as though he was just a normal kid coming down with something, as if he wasn’t capable of tearing holes in the universe.
Like everything was fine.
The illusion broke a few hours later, when Dean put his hand on Sam’s shoulder, nodded surreptitiously to the nephil, and said, his voice hushed--
“We need to talk.”
It was futile, to put walls between oneself and a cosmic being. But they did so anyway. Castiel was waiting for them in one of the most distant rooms.
“Is he going to be alright?”Sam asked, his voice tangled up and lost in Dean’s “what the hell is wrong with him”, and didn’t get a definitive answer.
“He still has something of a soul.” Cas explained. “Part of it. Enough that it should be keeping him human.”
“So you’re saying it isn’t?” Dean’s words were barbed, but the tone itself was toothless— like Sam, he was scared.
“Something is still wrong.” Sam sighed, scrubbed a hand over his face— just when they’d dared to think they might be out of the woods…
Above them, the naked light bulb flickered. They all looked up.
“Foreign grace doesn’t always...take, exactly.” Cas said, and the light bulb flickered again; built to something like a strobe. The wires whined—
And the bulb shattered.
But the room didn’t go dark.
Jack was there, abruptly, his eyes glowing faintly with residual energy, like a fading camera flash.
“I can hear you, you know.” he said, teeth gritted. “I don’t— shouldn’t you be talking to me?”
His breath hitched at the end of the sentence, and the coughing came back. The light from his eyes faded out, and Sam was left to find him in the dark, wrap an arm around his shaking shoulders, and guide him back into the light.
He didn't cough up blood, that time. Just disgusting greenish phlegm that ended up smeared across his sleeve.
“See?” He croaked, shoving his gunked-up sleeve in Dean's face. “No blood. I'm fine.”
And for the briefest moment he appeared to be— he strode confidently down the hallway, back towards the tv room. And slowed. The lights flickered again, and Sam caught up with him.
Jack was almost still now, his eyebrows furrowed into the distinct expression of confusion he'd worn pretty much constantly for his first few weeks if life. His hands were splayed across his stomach, fingertips glowing like fireflies. He was trying to heal.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked, already almost certain.
“Nothing,” Jack snapped. He swallowed hard, and continued at his attempt to storm off. “I told you. I’m fine.”
Sam stopped him with a touch, a hand on his shoulder, his grip on his soft sweater sleeve.
“I really don’t think you are, Jack.”
“Well-” a telltale break for a swallowed gag. “I-” another, the colour draining from his face. “I don’t think you get to decide that for me?”
The sentence twisted halfway through into a question. Sam tugged the kid’s sleeve.
“You should probably get to a bathroom,” he said, and took a step forward.
Jack dug his heels in, and staunchly refused to move. Sam swore he could feel the weight of the universe behind the obstinance. Petty objection winning out over the rules of physics.
“No!” Jack managed. “No, I’m not-”
Then, with a hiccupping prelude of a breath, he vomited. Sam winced.
It was an abrupt and messy process— Jack had never done it before. Tears welled up in his eyes, spilled down his cheeks, a physical inevitability. He was left starting at his shaking hands, evidently watching the pink fluid drip from his fingers to the floor.
“That…” Jack's face crumpled into a new expression; caught between confusion and pain. He yielded to Sam, taking a stumbling step forward. “That hurt.”
“Yeah, that didn't look fun.” Sam said. “Do you want to go get cleaned up?”
Jack nodded, finally relenting.
Jack had never felt so awful in his life. Not like this. Dying had felt like dying, but this was different. The discomfort seemed to surpass his physical form, stretch through his entire understanding of himself.
The ache in his bones extended to his wings.
Right now, he was sitting on a tiled bathroom floor, waiting to see if he was going to puke again. Sam had to help him out of his ruined sweater, so Jack was shivering in a t-shirt, stained where it'd soaked through.
“You should probably shower soon.” Sam told him. Every word seemed to shuck beneath his skin and itch; like the older man was rubbing it in on purpose that he wasn't coping.
“You should probably go away.” Jack mumbled.
Everything hurt. Not in the internal sense, but like the world was making jabs at him through light and smell and sound.
The roiling ache in his stomach reached a crescendo, and he threw up again. He'd never hated an experience more— the helplessness of it, the way the muscles in his abdomen tensed that step too far and hurt like hell, spluttering through the acid burn of the aftermath.
Sam rubbed soothing strokes on his back, and didn’t break the contact when Jack stopped heaving.
“You could just get changed and go to bed,” he suggested. Every word was painstakingly soft and gentle, and Jack hated it. “If you’re not up for showering.”
“I don’t want to go to bed.” Jack whined, unable to articulate the why.
He felt… overcharged, almost. Like a hundred thousand volts of electricity were rushing through the circuit of his nerves, with nowhere to go. There was no way he could just lie down and sleep; if he tried, it’d burn him alive.
“You need to rest.” Sam said, and Jack dug his fingertips into the floor tile so hard it almost cracked.
“But I don’t want to!”
“Humans have the concept of sleeping things off for a reason. You’ll feel better if you rest for a while. Even if you just go lie down.”
It wasn’t like Jack wasn’t tired— the heavy husk of his body was exhausted, for logical reasons— it’d been a rough few days since he’d killed Micheal. But it was countered by the sheer shock of having energy again, fizzing like static in his bones. He wanted to rest, but at once he didn’t, couldn’t…
“I’m going to go talk to Cas and Dean,” he said. “Give you some time to cool off. Okay?”
Jack didn’t answer. He just drew his knees up to his chest, and let Sam awkwardly leapfrog over him to get out the door. The minute it fell closed, however, he began to regret that— now he was alone, with nothing but his misery. He suddenly felt very small.
The spiteful, angry majority of his mind didn’t care, because everyone was babying him and now they knew and he didn’t like it.
Whenever they found out something was wrong, it seemed to throw the world into chaos, a hell of everyone panicking and fretting and fear he’d put in their eyes. It seemed to make it real. Sam, Dean, and Cas still served to outline his world. They knew just about everything, and so much of his experience was blocked in by their benchmarks.
They had drawn his map to the universe.
And now they’d left him alone.
And he was upset about that, too.
The problem wasn’t...concrete, like things usually were— everything hurt and he didn’t know why, didn’t know how to remedy the itching discomfort under his skin. His head was pounding, and he was still trapped in the loop of too cold-too hot discomfort.
At least he didn’t feel like he was going to throw up again.
Three sharp knocks pierced the air, and the door creaked open. Jack made disparate eye contact with Dean’s brown leather boots.
“Hey, kid.” Dean said, dropping into a squat to be roughly on his level. “Sam says you aren’t cooperating.”
“Sam is being mean,” Jack said, even though Sam wasn’t. “I- I don’t want to sleep.”
“I get where you’re coming from,” Dean said. “If you ask me, Sam’s way too harsh about that kind of thing.”
Jack huffed his agreement, slumping out of the ball he’d curled up in. He rubbed his eyes, trying to keep himself together. The anger he’d been banking on was beginning to run out. Dean made him feel secure.
“If Sam got his way,” Dean continued. “We’d all live off kale smoothies and wake up at five every morning to go jogging.”
That was impossible not to giggle at, even though giggling right now hurt Jack’s stomach. And that moment of levity was the reason he didn’t react in time to Dean diving for him.
He couldn’t parse out the physics of it, but Dean grabbed him and swung him across his shoulders in one swift movement, then rocked dizzyingly back to his feet. Jack tried to fight his way out of the hold, and quick failed— he didn't want to hurt Dean, so he had to rely on human strength, of which he seemed to have none.
It wasn't fair. Every time jack got hurt, or sick, or anything, he was suddenly treated like a toddler. Like he hadn’t earned his autonomy by now.
That was what the world was like, when you were weak. And even with the burn of energy coiling through his bones, and the taste of bile still in his mouth, he felt like it was worth it. To get stronger, when this was over.
If Jack raised his head he could see Sam and Cas, following at a distance, heads bowed in conversation. They weren't going to help him either.
Just when the swaying of Dean's steps was getting too much to bear, they reached Jack's bedroom door, and he was inelegantly deposited on his mattress. The blankets had been pulled back.
“Fuck you.” he said, because that was the worst thing he could come up with.
“You too, buddy.” Dean answered, and patted his head. “Now get some pjs on and get to sleep.”
Jack had never felt so betrayed in his life.
“I don’t sleep any more.” he protested. “I’m not-”
His sentence was broken by the intrusion of a yawn; it hurt his throat to breathe that way.
“Sure you don’t.” Dean said. Behind him, the door opened.
Castiel and Sam joined them, and Jack began to feel crowded; like there wasn’t enough air in the room for all of them. He was suddenly much more aware of the smell of his sweaty shirt, of the acid-dry taste of sickness in his mouth. It was like someone had found the volume dial on sensory experience, and turned up the world.
Something was...off. Grace responded to grace, and there was a sudden distance with Castiel’s; like clocks beginning to go out of sync.
“Well, that doesn’t look like sleeping.” Sam said, quietly enough that Jack wouldn’t have heard, had he been human.
“Jack,” Castiel stepped forward, looking past Dean completely. “What’s wrong?”
The million dollar question, and one Jack couldn’t answer— because everything hurt, in a wordless and animal way, and he couldn’t even begin to put words to the humming heated static in his bones, like white noise for the nervous system.
“I...I don’t know.” he said. “And-” it was suddenly a little bit harder to breathe. “I don’t think any of you do either.”
“We don’t have to know, just yet.” Sam said. “For now, we can just… try and keep you comfortable. So if you’re a little more specific…”
Jack frowned, and tried. What he wanted more than anything was to feel better, regardless of what it took.
“Water?” he asked. Just to shift the horrible sticky film forming over his teeth; to try and cool the burning, shifting ache in his stomach.
“Would tea work?” Castiel asked.
Twenty minutes later, Jack had resigned himself to being coaxed into pajamas, and was slowly sipping a mug of peppermint tea. Castiel had shooed out the humans to hold him, let Jack slump shamelessly against his body and lose himself in the childish luxury of touch.
There, in his father’s arms, sleep at last came easily.
Dean could cope with this.
Maybe not on the celestial scale. He wasn’t great with angel-centric issues that he couldn’t stab or punch. But on the human level? In the practical, hands-on sense?
Their kid was sick.
And he could deal with that. Archangel grace or no, souless or not, the wonders of modern medicine could at least do something about the puking.
The automatic doors of the CVS swished open, and Dean stepped into the air-conditioned silence. It'd been a while since he'd gone on a shopping trip where he wasn't planning on lying to a pharmacist or stealing anything. The bunker was stocked for battle wounds, and that meant they were up to their ears in suture kits and antibiotics and morphine derivatives. They weren't really equipped for something so… routine.
Dean grabbed a basket, and tried to remember what Sam would have wanted, as a sick kid. Turned the idea over in his head, and abandoned it— childhood illness in their family tended to correlate with off-brand chicken soup and ibuprofen cut to dose with a knife.
There was something almost decadent, in being able to actually pick out and pay for pepto-bismol and pedialyte. A luxury, which didn’t stop Dean slipping a pack of sour-patch kids into his pocket, the act caught between habit, rebelion, and practice.
Jack probably wouldn’t eat them.
Jack hadn’t been eating much of anything, lately.
They could still drag him into communal meals by the combined power of social pressure and Sam’s heartbreaking worried puppydog eyes, but things were...different. Before, in the long-form sense of before, when Jack had been born— he hadn’t needed to eat like a human. But he’d wanted to. Had that drive to explore the world, at least partially by shoving it in his mouth. Especially if it was brightly coloured or sugary.
Dean found a bottle of cherry-flavoured liquid tylenol. It looked gross, but he tossed it in the basket.
What had caused that change?
It was something of an internal bias; Dean could recognise that. But it was hard not to assume. Kid had spent the last couple months eating away at his own soul, and ganking an archangel had to have taken one hell of a chunk out of it. Whatever was going through his head right now could be...
Ginger Ale, because that was a good idea. Six cans clunked into the basket.
Usually, soulless humans were violent, desire-driven things, and Jack had yet to express that. But the kid was two years old— his idea of unrestrained, unempathetic pleasure-seeking probably still revolved around gummy worms, and he could just go into the kitchen and get those. It wasn’t like he’d had time to develop a moral code to violate, really— he was too new to the world, too compliant.
He followed orders.
And if they reached the point where he snapped— if whatever was anchoring him to the sickening sweetness of his personality was overwhelmed— they’d have hell on their hands. The power to destroy the universe, in the hands of someone with twenty-two months of life experience and the barest understanding of stranger danger.
Dean wandered through the aisles until he found canned soup. Gatorade. Saltine crackers.
He loved the kid. Loved him like his own flesh and blood. But that didn’t cancel out the fact that he was still a little wary. Anything that strong was dangerous, regardless of intent. Even if today had made that pretty damn hard to keep in mind.
Jack was just so… young. And so upset. It was hard not to draw the parallels— to take in his pained confusion, and see Sam at two, three, four, when he was little enough that the basic mechanics of illness were all new and scary to him. Dean still had a heart, buried somewhere under all the booze and trauma. And it was driving his priorities.
Nephilim needed grace and a human soul.
And if Jack had lost his soul…
Dean prepared for another drastic decline.
But that wasn’t quite what he found, when he got home.
Jack woke to the sound of the door slamming, and the jolting buzz of his mind. His stomach twisted, a burning heat building beneath his breastbone. He jolted upright, and someone was immediately shoving a trashcan in his face.
That someone was Sam.
“What do I-” Jack began to ask, before he vomited.
Into the trashcan.
Oh, he thought, choking on bile. That made sense.
The itching feeling under his skin was even worse— burning out from his bones, roiling prickly static. It was almost to the point of unbearable. He coughed the last of the acid out of his mouth, then buried his face in a pillow and groaned in frustration. Raking his nails over his chest and arms did nothing.
“Where’s Cas?” he mumbled, turning just enough to see Sam.
“Researching,” Sam said, setting the trashcan down. “How are you feeling?”
“Bad.” Jack twisted awkwardly to try and claw at his shoulder blades; to scratch something that wasn’t quite an itch. “Really bad.”
“What kind of bad?”
Dean stepped through the door, hefting a plastic grocery bag. The sound of crinkling cellophane exploded through the room.
“Y’know…” Jack fought for the language he needed. His mouth felt far too dry, like his tongue was made of wadded up cotton. “Once… once you showed me a video of— of… calcium carbonate, and… hydrochloric acid? And it feels like that’s happening, but to my skeleton.”
“Ouch.” Sam said, all sympathy. Dean plopped the bag down on the end table.
“Yeah, Nyquil might not help much with that,” he said. Jack didn’t know what nyquil was, but he whined his agreement anyway. It was getting painful to vocalise; his throat was too sore and dry to allow it.
He pressed his fingers to his adam’s apple, and did his best to heal the pain. That did nothing for the persistent acid burn, or the desert itch of thirst.
“Can I have some water?” Jack blinked up at Sam and Dean, too tired to do any more. The whole world seemed to be shaking slightly, vibrating like a tuning fork that had been struck.
“Sure.” Sam left, and returned with a half-full glass and some saltine crackers.
Dean poured a rainbow of dosing cups, and Jack stewed in his misery.
It seemed like too much effort to stay sitting upright long enough to drink all those slow sips, but drinking any faster just made him feel sick again. So he took it in painful turns, until Dean found enough pillows to keep him upright without any real effort.
As he shifted forward, something sharp and damp poked into the small of his back.
He reached for it, and grasped the soft edges of a long, smooth feather.
It wasn’t his. Or, it wasn’t what his used to be; when he’d been born, what he was used to. This was bigger and better formed, orderly, in a way his feathers weren’t. A rich, dark red, in comparison to the whitish-greyish speckling of down.
The tip of the quill was tinged with blood.
“I think we should get Castiel.” he said.
The dosing cups sat forgotten on the end table, opaque pink, then gel-like clear orange and red. Castiel appeared with a book under his arm, trailed by Sam, so fast that Jack thought for a minute he’d flown there.
Jack showed him the feather.
His father took it, frowned.
“May I try something?”
When Jack nodded, he closed his eyes, and Jack did too.
He felt the pull of grace. Reaching for his own, like two notes coming to harmony— then, in a physical sense, a hand on his wing.
And at once, fire. The buzzing in his head built to shrieking crescendo, until he swore his eardrums were going to burst; a supernova of light turned the inside of his eyelids pink. When he opened his eyes, everyone was staring at him— but the buzzing feeling had subsided, very slightly.
Castiel was clutching his hand to his chest.
Jack felt his heart drop like a stone.
“Did I hurt you?”
“Not...badly.” Cas said. “Take your medicine, Jack.”
Jack did so.
In all his many millennia, Castiel had never experienced something like that before.
Jack wasn't the first nephil to be born, nor the first to live this long. But he was the first Cas had extensive contact with, and the first to consume an archangel's grace. And that seemed to have been what hurt him— burnt a perfect circle into his palm, like the entry wound of lightning. Grace, fighting back.
Jack had nodded off again once he was adequately medicated, and none of them wanted to disturb him, so they’d let him be. It was getting late enough that the resident humans should think about sleeping, anyway.
Two days passed without event. Jack stayed sick, stayed cranky— which Sam and Dean insisted was concerning, but within the realm of normal— and lived off ginger ale, medicine, and exactly one saltine cracker that he’d been bullied into eating. He lost more feathers, probably because the nutritional value of cough syrup was near enough nil.
It hurt, to see him suffer.
And Sam, at least, was convinced this was just Jack’s first run-in with being sick in the way humans got. That he’d finally seen enough faces and touched enough grungy door handles to pick up something that could contend with his immune system.
But that didn’t provide a solution. So, after a breakfast Jack slept through, they gathered in the library.
Because Castiel had an idea.
Which probably wasn’t going to go over very well.
“It’s something of a last resort,” he explained. “And I know it sounds drastic, but… we could look for surviving Rit Zien.”
“The mercy killers?” Sam said, his eyebrows making a valiant effort to touch base with his hairline.
“You think this is gonna get that bad?” Dean added, equally horrified.
“No.” Castiel said. “But they’re healers, too. And if any are left alive, they might have more success than I could.”
“So how do you find them? Put a call out on angel radio?”
“Something like that.”
Cas consciously tuned in, and-
The faintest implication of a sound. Not conscious vocalisation, not a speaking soul, but the hum of something heavenly, coming into being.
And he was close enough to localise it, too.
He turned abruptly, and walked back towards Jack’s room.
The boy was still sleeping, his face smushed halfway into the pillow, completely peaceful. Until Castiel crossed the threshold, and he snapped awake, his eyes glowing gold.
Jack sat up stiffly, and stared, silent and unmoving. Then, a shiver went through him, and his posture collapsed. He scratched frantically at his scalp and neck, like he was trying to claw through his skin. Tore his shirt off over his head, rough enough it almost ripped, as though the cloth was burning him.
“Cas- dad- help-” he choked.
And the room exploded into feathers.
Somewhere, from the mottled mess of his wings, Jack gave a contented sigh.
Castiel had seen them before, sort of, in the half-real sense of a power display, when their true image was obscured by the dimensional planes they were caught between, but never like this; like wings were in the early days of heaven; translated into touchable things, made corporeal.
“This is… good.” Jack mumbled, sounding like a great weight had been taken from his shoulders.
“Jesus fuck.” Dean mumbled, squished into the doorway and Castiel’s personal space.
Something was wrong. Very wrong.
Wings were an expression of power, but— not like this.
Jack’s wings— speckled grey-white down, a raincloud in the distance- had been consumed by a mess of Michael's blood-red flight feathers, producing a chaos of gaps and irregular lengths, the edges ragged. The needles of new pinfeathers poked through. The kid had been just about ready to molt, before he’d done this.
Jack wiggled onto his front, so he was hidden almost completely beneath his wings. Extended one experimentally, and made a satisfied little humming sound when it brushed the ceiling.
“Is that bad?” Sam asked.
“It’s...abnormal.” Castiel answered, unsure of the implications, here.
It took a lot of power, to do that. The raw energy required to drag an expression of your true angelic form down to the cramped world of the merely atomic, to fit it into the space between molecules of carbon and hydrogen; twist it up in chains of keratin.
But Jack seemed to have done it by accident.
And that didn’t make sense.
If one were to look at Jack- really look at him, study his true angelic form— there was hardly anything to see. It was all too intermeshed with his body; his wings were the only thing to be outside that outline. An angel in a vessel looked like a coiling superstorm of celestial energy, orbiting the core of their grace. Jack just looked like himself. New grace and new wings, burning bright from a body that gave the illusion of age.
There was no control there. Not the sort of focus that manifesting wings required.
It showed in the way he was moving them now; clumsily and curiously, like an infant becoming slowly aware it had a body. He freed one arm, and grabbed weakly for the trailing flight feathers, each a good foot long. Missed. Decided instead to work outwards, tugging feathers gradually further away from his body, until he could grasp the jumbled wingtip.
“Abnormal how?” another question, again without a real answer.
“It takes a lot of strength,” Castiel explained. “Strength he shouldn’t have.”
The handful of feathers Jack had grasped came suddenly free, and the wing swung up towards the ceiling. Jack stared at the feathers for a moment, folding his wings gingerly back into place.
“You okay, kid?” Dean asked. Jack didn’t take his eyes off the feathers.
“My stomach really hurts,” he slurred, still not quite awake. “But… my bones feel better.”
“See?” Dean said. “He's fine.”
Castiel didn’t really trust that self-assessment. Jack didn’t have a good handle on pain in general; his scale was two opposite poles. Everything that didn’t feel like death was ‘fine’ to him. He hadn’t been alive for long enough to work out the grey areas.
Sam abandoned Castiel, and went to talk to Jack instead.
“Do you feel up to eating something?”
Jack didn’t, was the thing.
But he didn’t want to upset Sam, and Castiel had been looking at him like a bomb that might go off at any second. So he figured that toast or crackers or whatever would be worth it.
It didn’t make any sense, to treat this like a human issue. Jack was pretty sure it wasn’t— if it were a human issue, humans would be a lot more afraid of things like this. He felt hellishly trapped by his body, even with the new wings.
Which were getting in his way, somewhat. It had been fun at first; the way their existence lifted the cramped humming pain out of his body; the new feeling of their physics. But the magic wore off pretty quickly— the human world wasn’t built for things with wings, nor was the human spine.
Jack worked his way awkwardly upright, one arm slung across his aching stomach.
The buzzing feeling in his bones wasn’t quite gone. And his vision kept going funny, patterns of greenish-dark creeping in from the edges at any strain. His back ached, maybe from the weight of the wings. There was a strange itch in the skin beneath the feathers, worse where they were slipping free.
The skin across his chest itched, too, and was beginning to break out in round, pink blotches where he’d scratched, too big to be hives.
Sam had brought him a glass of water first, and Jack took slow sips of it. Everyone was always fretting about water, and how he wasn’t getting enough of it.
He just wanted to avoid throwing up again.
Sam returned, with toast. One slice looking very lonely in the middle of a small plate.
Jack had changed his mind. The singed-carbon smell of toast turned his stomach; it seemed suddenly alien, as if he’d never had toast before. Like it was entirely distant from food as he knew it.
But he picked up the toast anyway. And took a bite.
It was incredibly difficult to get around the flavour— like his ability to taste had fallen apart into its constituent parts; like everything was just atoms on atoms in the stickiness of his mouth.
But he swallowed it anyway. Because… it was going to help. Seeing him eat— even if he didn’t feel like he needed to— would calm Sam down some. And the fact that Jack wanted to do that still was good. It meant he cared; meant he had a soul.
His ribs itched. Under the skin, right in the core of his bones.
Something was changing.
Slowly, painfully, Jack finished his toast. Then his glass of water, then half a can of ginger-ale that had been left to go flat on his nightstand. But that didn’t really seem to help any, and every morsel hurt more.
Sam was doubting him, probably because of the stupid rash. He could feel it; see it almost— hovering in the air around him like a blown-out shadow…
When he blinked, the illusion was gone.
Then all at once, his stomach lurched up into his throat and over spilled again into the wastebasket Sam presented. This time it was different, worse, burning through the inside of his nose and almost choking him.
When he opened his watering eyes, this time, still wheezing from the time without air— something was different.
Diffusing into the slurry in the wastebasket, like ink in water, was the glow of grace.
“I’m just gonna go get Cas, okay?” Sam said, as calmly as he could manage.
Jack nodded, looking vacant— like he couldn’t get his mind around what was happening. Like he hadn’t just thrown up a mess of grace and blood and carbohydrates Sam had forced on him. He didn’t even move to wipe his mouth.
Sam slowly stood up, left the room, and broke into a run.
Castiel was in the library, still buried in research, still trying to find any evidence of something similar. He’d said once that there was little by way of records, and the blast radius of open books around him indicated that to be true.
“Cas!” Sam stumbled to a stop in the doorframe, panic thrumming in his chest.
He didn’t even need to finish the sentence, because Castiel snapped to attention, and for a brief moment, the air thrummed with acting grace; like the feeling before lightning struck. Then Cas bolted. Sam had to jog a little to keep up with him.
Jack seemed to have unfrozen somewhat, since they’d left him— he’d abandoned the wastebasket on the floor, and had wrapped himself in his trembling wings. Sam felt a stab of guilt; he’d left him without much reassurance or explanation.
“Jack?” Castiel asked.
Sam stayed at the door; he felt suddenly outside the interaction. This was a matter of angels, now.
Jack made a sound that was obviously a swallowed sob. It was difficult to see him; cradled as he was by the cupping wall of feathers. Sam didn’t know what angel wings should look like made physical, but Jack’s seemed fundamentally wrong in a way that made him itch by proxy, like looking at an infected wound.
“Can I…” Sam had never heard Cas talk like that before— like he was approaching some sort of scared animal. He watched as the angel reached out, pressing a hand to Jack’s mottled chest. Jack flinched away with a great rustling of feathers, moving like he’d been burned.
“What are you trying to do?” Sam asked.
“I’m trying to check on his grace,” Cas said. “This is reminiscent of when a vessel rejects an angel’s grace. But Jack doesn’t have a vessel, he’s just… himself.”
“But it’s not my grace,” Jack lowered his wings a little, peeking up at Sam over the centre joint of one. His voice was still hoarse, his cheeks streaked with tears. A thread of blood had worked its way from the corner of his mouth, chillingly familiar. “It’s Michael’s. I-” a hard swallow. “I thought it would work, I thought if- if Lucifer could do it…”
He looked up at them with wide, pleading eyes, pupils blown fever-wide, consuming his sky-blue irises. Sam noticed, at that angle, a soft swell in the line of his collarbone, about the size of an almond. Wondered briefly what it was.
“That’s not—” Castiel cut himself off. “That wouldn’t look like this, normally. Foreign grace…atrophies. It gets used up, and when you run out, it stops being able to keep your body running. It doesn’t do this .”
“I’m…” he took a deep breath, and aborted his sentence. “Please could I have some more water?”
Sam got him another glass, and watched him drain it like he was dying of thirst.
“I’m not an angel.” he said, his voice wet. “It might not be the same.”
More tears, now. Sam wanted to hug the kid, but the air prickled when he stepped forward.
“I don’t want to die again!”
Those words seemed to break him. They took him straight through to sobbing, great gasping breaths that shook his whole body. When Sam finally cracked and embraced him— following Castiel’s lead— he heard them repeated like a mantra, mumbled against the cloth of Castiel’s shirt.
“You’re not going to die again,” Cas said. “We won’t let you.”
Jack had cried himself to sleep, eventually.
Castiel had stood vigil for a while— Feeling like a hole had been carved in his heart; like something had broken through the shell of his vessel and sank sharp teeth into his grace.
Because this was all too familiar.
And fate might prevent him from keeping his word.
He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to bear that, or if anyone else in the bunker could. Especially now, knowing that Jack wasn’t even safe in heaven. Which was why he was back in the library, back at poring through books at inhuman speed, this time with two very human volunteers. There was a frustrating amount of almost— the few times things like Jack had existed in history, they had made impressions, but far enough back or enough cultures removed to be footnotes and rumours, with no convenient linked immortals who could have clued them in.
They had to do things the hard way: scouring for information in increasingly less likely places. And Cas was prepared to spend days doing that, reading incessantly and putting out feelers to the few remaining angels he could halfway trust— until he heard it.
Not a sound, not really. Sound was a thing of the physical realm. Of moving atoms. This poured itself directly into his mind and thrummed through his grace like a shockwave. It had been aeons since he’d last heard that— not since the world was new.
It was unmistakable— the sound of a fledgeling, crying out for help.
Blind, bilious instinct tore him from his books and towards the sound, his blood running cold. Vessels didn’t tend to react to angelic emotions much, but this time he could practically taste the flood of cortisol and adrenaline. It’d been a long time since he’d experienced a need this base: make the crying stop.
Jack was still mostly asleep, twitching slightly, every exhaled breath a whine. In the physical realm, he seemed relatively calm, but over angel radio he was wailing, and Cas couldn’t pinpoint why.
In the intermittent hours, the rash had spread, crawling out across his shoulders and starting down his arms. But that couldn’t be it— if it had been painful, they would have known. Jack was beyond the dignity of hiding things, now.
“What is that?” one of the remaining angels, almost drowned out.
Castiel peered through the empty space of atoms, to the resonant light that curled through every cell of Jack’s body. His grace— or the amalgam of his and Michael’s, if that was what it was— was burning too bright, like it had somehow caught his fever.
It was always in the vague shape of his physical form, strung between nuclei like fairy lights. But now, it was changing. Clustering like hot spots on a map of infrared, studding his wings and chest with little blooms of light, crowding around his intercostal muscles. Doing… something.
“Lucifer’s little abomination.”
But Castiel didn’t have time to contemplate that, because things went south. The hollow constellations of Jack’s organs suddenly seemed to melt; like his lungs and stomach were collapsing in on themselves.
His face contorted, and he twisted awake, tears already welling in his eyes. Tried to avert a disaster Cas lacked the humanity to see coming.
Jack managed to prop himself up on an elbow, right before the heaving started.
There was nothing left for him to bring up to begin with; just blood and bile and glowing grace. It poured from his mouth and nose, and into the tangle of blankets and feathers and skin below. The psychic crying grew louder. Castiel reached out to him, rested a hand on his shoulder in preparation for an eventual hug— and it slowed slightly. Jack finished vomiting, took a deep, rasping breath, and slumped forward into Castiel’s arms.
Cas held him close, clean clothes be damned, and tried to provide some sort of comfort.
“I know this sucks,” he said softly, trying to block out the cacophony of confusion angel radio had descended into. “Are you up for a shower?”
Jack nodded into Castiel’s shoulder. Slowly peeled himself away, and— with a great effort, leaning on Cas for support— stood.
“He would have been happy in heaven.” Naomi’s voice broke in.
Castiel tuned them out.
Jack just about managed to stumble to the communal showers, Cas bearing most of his weight. His wingtips dragged, picking up dust from the linoleum floor.
He left a trail of fallen feathers.
When they got to the shower room— built because barely any of the rooms had ensuites— Castiel had to let him go. Jack sank slowly to the floor, between two heads in the bank of showers. He looked so tired, slumped back against the wall, wings limp on the tile. The gaps in his wings were starting to show.
When they were both down to their boxers, Jack startled, curled forward suddenly, hands pressed over his ears.
“I can- I can hear them,” he said. “The angels…” Castiel turned one of the showerheads on. “What are they saying about me?”
“ -think signal dies out in Hell? ”
“ Please be quiet. Please .”
“ Castiel, we KNOW you're listening- ”
“Nothing good.” Cas translated. Very gently, he grasped Jack’s soiled wing and unfurled it into the spray. Jack flinched, but stayed blessedly still as Castiel carded his fingers through the feathers. He just stared into space, brow furrowed.
“I…” Jack raised a hand and looked at it, slowly flexing his fingers. “My bones hurt again.”
The sobbing in his soul grew louder. It ached to hear him speak; the ocean of tears caught behind the veneer of his voice.
“I’m sorry, Jack.” Cas said, rinsing wet down feathers from his fingers. “I wish I could do something to help.”
Jack just grimaced and turned his head away, a whine escaping from between his teeth.
At the bone of his wing, where Cas was holding, something moved. Nosed into his fingers like a little living thing. The skin across Jack’s chest— flushed and spotted with something he’d thought was just a rash— shifted. The grape-sized spots rose into welts, and eyes roilled to the surface, like bubbles in boiling water.
It looked agonising.
But the crying stopped. All the tension lifted out of his body in one smooth movement.
“Jack?” Cas hazarded. Jack blinked languidly at him with sixty sets of bright blue eyes, some peeking up through feathers, some turning to focus from...everywhere, from his shoulders and hands and sternum.
“I’m okay.” He said, some of the eyes falling closed. “I... this feels much better.”
“Okay.” he said, picking through the feathers one last time. His mind was a storm of anecdotes and theory, because that was a deeply familiar anatomy. “Do you want to get dried off and head back to bed?”
Jack nodded, stifling a yawn. His numerous eyelids drooped.
At least he still acted like himself. Despite the obvious difference. The eyes had cemented it.
Jack was beginning to look like an angel.
Dean wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting when Cas text that they needed to talk, but it sure as shit wasn’t this.
Jack’s room was dark, lit by the faint light that spilled in from the hallway, reducing everything to fuzzy shadows. It took a few minutes to even find the kid.
Jack was asleep again, bonelessly slumped against Cas, who was sitting upright on the bed. Cas was idly running a hand through Jack’s hair, and they looked utterly peaceful, until Dean clomped in in his combat boots and Jack opened his eyes.
All five fuckzillion of them.
Dean startled back, watching the eyes. They seemed to have a hard time coordinating. It took a few seconds for them to all focus on him at once.
“Hi.” Jack mumbled, his voice still soft with sleep.
He dropped his head onto Castiel’s shoulder, and put his fingers to his mouth, like he was planning on sucking his thumb but hadn’t quite worked out the mechanics. Kid was practically in Cas’s lap, and that was weird— where had that clinginess come from?
“Hi.” Dean replied, frantically jumping around the smattering of too-blue eyes, then deciding it would be best to just look at Cas instead. “What’s...going on?”
On instinct he fumbled for the light switch, and the minute he found it, both Cas and Jack winced. Jack buried his face in Cas’s shoulder, all the other eyes squeezing shut. Dean turned the lights back out.
“We need to talk,” Castiel said, slowly disentangling himself from Jack. “In private.”
In private turned out to be just outside Jack’s door, because Cas had apparently stuck some kind of heavenly toddler leash on the kid, to make sure he never got more than 20 feet away.
“I think I know what’s happening.” Cas told him. “Jack’s grace is overwhelming his human side. It’s...altering his body. Trying to reflect its true form.”
“You said your true form is the size of the chrysler building,” he said. “How’s that gonna work underground?”
Cas looked at Dean like he’d just informed him that the sky was blue.
“What- why would Jack-” he cut himself off mid sentence, to give the sort of explanation one would offer a particularly slow child. “He’s an infant, Dean. Infants are small.”
“I don’t know how you guys work.” Dean said, shrugging. “What do you mean ‘overwhelming’?”
“It might be something to do with his soul,” Cas said. “That could have been what kept him...human, physically.”
Jack hadn’t been acting soulless. He’d been acting like a sick, whiny child. But if whatever sliver of a soul he had left was being…conquered, like this, what was the difference really? How much of that was genuine?
“So you think he hasn’t got enough soul left to stop himself from going all Junji Ito on us?”
“How do we fix that?” Dean asked. Castiel opened his mouth to answer, then his eyes glazed, and he abruptly turned to the door. Dean recognised the look.
“Yes. Jack has been tapping into that, too.” A pause; the angel was deliberating. “I can hear him crying.”
“Oh.” Dean felt a stab of sympathy.
“And so can every other angel on this planet,” Cas explained. “Someone is… honing in.”
“Shit.” Dean said. “Who?”
“I… don’t know yet.” Cas was obviously distracted. “There aren’t many of us left, but it’s not like they wear name tags.”
He kept glancing back to the door as he spoke, concern bleeding into his expression.
When they opened it, Jack was curled up on the bed, facing them. He’d been waiting for them to come back. All of his eyes were screwed shut, and one hand was pressed to his side— where something was moving.
Dean was about to crack a joke about some kind of ‘Alien’ scenario, when Jack screamed. It was a nightmare of a sound, ripping itself from his throat despite the hoarseness of his voice. People didn’t make sounds like that under any circumstance but agony.
The twisting thing beneath his skin burst free.
It was an arm. Covered in blood, tearing a scythe-shaped hole through his skin as it peeled away from the bulk of his body. The wound healed instantly, glowing gold as the edges knit back together. Jack shuffled frantically upright, and the process was mirrored on his other side. The screaming finally trailed off, gave way to quiet, hiccuping sobs, then silent tears.
With all four arms, Jack reached out to Castiel.
Jack didn’t like his body like this.
Or the world like this.
He wasn’t sure which was wrong. He just knew that it hurt, that it seemed to be burning into him like a brand every second he was conscious. The scope of the world had exploded, and he couldn’t seem to process it— every waking minute made his head ache.
So much more of it was visible. Not in just in the sense that he could see behind him now, and it made him feel nauseous every time he turned around, but in the sense of… invisible things. The world had resolved itself into a sea of dancing molecules, to all the eyes but those in his face. It made him sick to look at it— there was too much. Vastly, vastly too much. Little squishing things, made of other smaller things within themselves, the undulating wall of bacteria on the buzz of atoms that made up the bricks of his bedroom wall. Even dulled by the dark, it was starting to drive him crazy.
He ached from sleeping wrong, from trying to position himself around the wings and eyes and agony.
And he could hear the voices of angels.
Only snippets in the static, all gibberish.
Enochian. Just a language, but one he didn’t know. They sounded really angry with him.
The anarchy of angel radio was interrupted by knocking on the door.
Castiel. He could see the light of grace pushing through the walls and his eyelids, blooming out in tendrils, humming like radiation.
Jack responded with a wordless groan, face pressed into his pillow. He heard the door open, and felt the precipitating pound of air molecules against his ears.
“Could you sit up for me?”
Jack did so, opening only the eyes in his face. He could see in the dark, now, but the vision of those was limited by flesh and blood lenses; the world still looked human, just slightly enhanced.
Castiel had brought a steaming mug of something, and a thermometer. Jack obediently tucked the thermometer under his tongue— although, he didn’t understand why that was really relevant anymore— and waited.
Jack was thinking about cave spiders, and how they had no eyes. How wonderful it must be to be free of that barrage of stimulation.
“You’re in pain.” it wasn’t even a question, the way Castiel said it.
Jack shrugged absently. He knew his pain was being heard; every other angel on earth was yelling at him for it. But he didn’t know how to make it stop. Whatever he was doing, it was borne of that simple thing— the need to be heard, because maybe if just the right person heard him broadcasting his agony across the cosmos, they could come and help.
“Could I try… singing you something?”
The thermometer beeped. Castiel took it; tutted in a very human way— Jack’s fever had gone up.
“You can try that.” Jack mumbled. “It might work, right?”
So Cas moved into his space, and hugged him, and sang.
The words weren’t English, and they weren’t vocal— they seemed to bloom right into Jack’s mind, warm and melodic, euphorically soothing. Jack had never heard anything like that, and it was probably impossible to hear it in the conventional sense. His father’s voice was the most wonderful thing in the world— until it was interrupted.
Something cutting and feminine, then an answer from Castiel. Then, in the same sort of achingly odd thought-words—
Castiel’s hold on him tightened.
Jack wanted to answer, but the contents of his head weren’t that precise— what he managed was wordless confusion. The anonymous angel cooed at him, then spoke again.
“I’m — through Mexico —” they said, wobbling in and out. “But — to help— .”
Nobody from heaven had been helpful before. It didn’t make sense. But it wasn’t like there was anything he could do about it. So Jack just gave in, and revelled in the pleasure of having two voices to sing him to sleep instead of one.
Sam was having a difficult time with the arms.
It had been about two days, since he’d come home from a shopping trip and found Jack halfway through animorphing into something straight from the pages of lovecraft. It had been scary then, and it was— conceptually— scary now.
But at least Jack was feeling a little bit better.
Sam was heating up some soup for him, because he was finally eating again. That was progress.
He was apparently also being stalked, which wasn’t.
Cas had told them about it. Madame mystery angel, chatting to Jack in English, through the angelic telepathy-wires. A vast majority of angels wanted to vaporise Jack into a fine pink mist for the crime of being born, so Sam couldn’t exactly catagorise that as good.
Catagorising anything as ‘good’ right now felt distinctly like lying, because Jack was still sick and they still had no clear background on why, and they all remembered watching him deteriorate last time. Sometimes Sam wondered if the angels had a point— if on some great karmic level, the universe didn’t want nephilim to exist. It was certainly doing a good job of it, if that was the case.
Sam emptied the saucepan into a bowl, and grabbed a spoon from the cutlery drawer.
Jack had sprouted eyes on all four of his palms, and didn’t have much experience with cutlery to begin with. So things tended to dissolve into here-comes-the-aeroplane style spoon-feeding surprisingly fast. None of them minded it, though. That they could be ready for.
When Sam got to Jack’s room, where the boy was doing his whole thing with lying face down in the dark and listening to angel radio. That was pretty much all he could do, right now. The rest of the world was, as he insisted, too much.
He looked like a renaissance painting, in the dim light from the door. One arm thrown forward across the pillow, his face turned just enough to the side that he could breathe. And draping from his body to the floor, a great patchwork of red and white and clashing texture, his wings.
And maybe the composition was why Sam made his next awful mistake.
He turned on the overhead light.
Jack wailed, and stopped being Jack.
It was a very abrupt thing— it looked like his body had burst into red welts, like the type left by a burn. Then they started moving, and Sam realised there was nothing underneath the silhouette, just more...things. They looked like centipedes, almost, but without exoskeletons, soft and fleshy and visceral red, like his organs had sprung out and were trying to run away.
“Shit,” Sam said, as the creatures began to scatter, breaking down the shape of a human body. “Dean!” he called out, trying not to take his eyes off the wriggling abomination. “Cas! Get over here!”
He didn’t want to move. Partially because the writhing nightmare that had been Jack was just that— a nightmare— and he didn’t want to touch it, partially because he wasn’t gonna risk killing any member of the swarm.
Hurried footsteps approached, and Dean half-ran to Sam’s side. Then he looked into Jack’s room, and jerked back with a short, sharp sound of disgust.
“What the- Sammy, what the fuck are those?”
The worms were flooding out across the floor now, carpeting it undulating red.
Sam felt like he might throw up.
“I… don’t know?” he said, despite the obvious. “Jack was there, and then… these things were, instead.”
As if on cue, the swarm turned as one unit, swivelling towards the door frame, and began to approach.
“Oh jesus.” Dean said, stepping back as they got closer. “Oh. Oh fuck no.”
He stumbled back as the worms encroached on them, the first reaching and climbing onto Sam’s shoes. Dean turned, probably to run for the raid, and bumped directly into Cas.
“Jack,” Castiel said. “Don’t.”
The shifting sea of worms stopped. Changed direction, began to cluster underneath Jack’s bed.
Castiel stepped forward, and picked up one of the worms. Both humans shuddered as it crawled along his hand, making a beeline for the undefended opening of his sleeve. Cas, apparently totally unphased, picked it off and held it between his left thumb and forefinger.
“Good shape shifting.” he said, to the worm in his hand. “But ultimately a bad idea.”
“Are you.” Sam swallowed nervously. “Talking to the worm?”
“They have ears.” Cas said, and cast a pointed look at the illuminated light fixture. “But they don’t have eyes. This species of velvet worm is completely blind.”
That was his reaction to light. Bending the universe in such a way that he became something that couldn’t even see. Sam had had migraines before, and he could understand the urge— so how much had everything been hurting him, before then?
“He can’t hold this form forever.” Castiel said, placing the worm back on the floor and letting it run back into the mob. “Swarms are... difficult.”
As if on cue, the worms began to agglutinate, twisting together and fusing. After a few minutes of nightmarish inbetweens, the writhing lump was Jack again, curled up under his bed with his wings splayed to either side. Two of his arms were pressed to the eyes on this face, two wrapped around his abdomen.
He moved his wings up and through the mattress, like it wasn't even there, readjusting to his body, then crawled out from under the bed to sit criss cross applesauce on the floor and glare at Sam
“That hurt .” He said, sounding betrayed in only the way a child could.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said.
Jack didn't reply, just scratched at the closed eyelids on his chest.
“I brought you soup,” Sam offered.
Jack was silent. His fingers stopped over one particular eye, and—
Plunged into the socket.
“Oh, no,” Cas was the first to step forward, sounding only moderately disappointed, like Jack had picked up candy off the floor and eaten it. Like tearing an eyeball out was a minor infraction.
The eye came free with a wet pop, and Jack whined in displeasure. Castiel grabbed two of his wrists, but that didn't stop him from crushing the eye like an eggshell, fluid running through his fingers as his two free hands grabbed for more.
“Jack, they're just going to heal,” Castiel said, and Sam shoved the soup at Dean and ran in to help restrain him.
He noticed, distantly, in the middle of it all, that even with a hundred eyes, Jack only cried from two.
Castiel hadn’t been prepared for the self-mutilation.
They’d gotten Jack to stop, by way of Castiel making him unconscious. But it had been horrifying. The whole ordeal was horrifying.
“ I’m in Kansas, now, ” came the cheerful update from their stalker. “ I hope you’re ready, Castiel .”
There was an inherent horror to a body like that, caught in-between. Because Jack didn’t look so human anymore.
He looked like an angel gone wrong. Smoothed out and lifeless, missing pieces. How Castiel had imagined the fallen, back at the beginning of the world, when he was newly made by God. The empty gape of the eye sockets he’d successfully hollowed out only added to the image.
The state of his wings was perhaps the most sickening part.
They seemed worse every day. Worse every hour. All he could see of them was the negative space; those gaps left by the soft down of childhood. Michael’s sharp, blood-coloured flight feathers seemed to be winning out.
Castiel ran his fingers through the feathers, comfort-grooming, and more came loose. This time, they trailed blood, wetness welling between the eyes at the top of each wing.
Jack startled awake, and began coughing. Slowly pushed himself up to kneeling, as if in prayer, eyes all wild. Castiel imitated something he’d seen humans do; patted his back. Jack wheezed, brought up mess of blood and phlegm, then— silence. Tears streaming down his cheeks, because he seemed to be choking now, unlike before, completely unable to get any air.
It looked like agony. Like something they’d make happen in hell. Jack’s lips were tingling purple, sliding sharply towards blue. He clawed at his throat, fingers glowing with his best attempt at healing. Then, with one great heaving breath, he hacked up something slick and dark, patched with light. He caught the main bolus of it, then pried more bloodied pieces from his mouth, panting from the exertion of it.
Jack was coughing up feathers, slick with blood, the spines broken.
“What…” he said, looking to Cas, a hundred bright blue eyes in the dark.
Then he froze.
“Help me,” he whispered, reaching desperately for Cas with his free hands, voice cracking. “Don’t, don’t let this happen—”
He lost his words, the sentence crumbling as speech failed him.
Then, at once in two planes of being, he screamed. In the halls of heaven they heard him.
The skin of his back stretched, like his spine was trying to break free from his body, and from the splits that yawned open beside it, paralleling bumpy trail of his vertebrae— two wings emerged. They were nearly fully feathered, newly formed, soaked in blood from where they’d cut through his body.
Castiel could see, briefly, the tracks they’d left through him. They’d been formed, soft-boned and incomplete, wrapped around beneath his skin, and scratched every inch as they unfurled. He could see and smell and sense the way Jack’s organs were spilling into each other. But it was all wiped away quickly, in a glow of healing light.
“I hate this,” Jack mumbled, crawling into Cas’ arms. His heart was weeping, that unrestrained yell of a cry, infantile desperation. “I hate this more than anything.”
The other angels at least had the decorum to be silent.
Castiel had nothing to do but hold him; to reach out with his grace and his body, to put himself between Jack and the world. He rocked him slightly, human instinct, left over in the neural architecture of his vessel’s brain.
He had a plan, or the awful bones of one, at least.
If they could strike a balance. Get whatever was left of Jack’s soul in tandem with his grace. Then maybe they could end this.
But that would mean quantifying his soul in the first place.
And Castiel wasn’t sure he could do that.
Jack seemed too delicate for that, too small and soft and unprepared. As though the act of searching his soul would break him. He was already so unstable; wasting away from the energy being poured into altering his body, too many sharp angles and bones.
Cas thought of the grace extraction kit they’d found in the bunker’s lab. Of sticking a needle into the soft skin of Jack’s neck, and risking his life to save it.
Of how much pain the process had caused Sam.
Abandoned that idea. None of them would be able to hurt him like that.
“I’m going to be there soon .”
There were no real names in angel radio. This one had introduced herself as the ‘protector of youth, Father’s hand of mercy’, and Castiel had been too distant in the hierarchy of heaven to know who that was. But he knew what hand of mercy meant— a fight. Because chances were, she was coming to kill his kid.
“Do you want to sleep more?” Cas asked, running a hand through Jack’s hair. “That can happen, if you’d like.”
“No.” Jack said firmly, peeling away. “I want— I want to wait for her. Whoever’s coming for me.”
“Whoever’s coming for you might be coming to kill you, Jack.”
Jack shrugged, all four wings moving with the action.
“But she might not.”
And to Castiel’s horror, he made his best attempt at presumptive consent. It was mostly just a tide of positive feeling.
Waiting didn’t last so long. Castiel could hear her getting closer— mindless updates. She passed through towns and cities, mentioned landmarks. And Jack… helped.
He couldn’t speak telepathically yet, but there were signals, still, even when he wasn’t crying. Feelings and half-sounds; the precursor to proper communication. And it was drawing her.
“ Will he want to see me? ” Enochian, so that Jack couldn’t understand.
“ Would you be glad to to see your executioner? ”
She didn’t deny it, was the thing. And why would she? It was part of why she had been made—to kill, when it was necessary. To offer respite.
Three hours later— three hours of warding and preparation— she arrived.
Sam, Dean and Cas were waiting just inside the inner door, and listened intently as some sort of rattly old motor scooter hiccupped up to meet them. Footsteps descended the stairs, and she knocked.
“Open the door!” Dean hissed, and Castiel did so, after momentary hesitation.
The angel standing outside certainly looked like she’d been on a road trip. Her hair— her vessel’s— was mussed from the neon green helmet she had tucked under one arm, the outline of its rim traced on her face in a squared-off tan line. Her chosen vessel was suspiciously unintimidating— soft-cheeked and young, with warm brown skin and dark hair, braided at the nape of her neck. The body came up to maybe Castiel’s shoulder, at most. Glasses— entirely a tool of deceit; if her vessel had bad eyesight she could easily heal it— perched on her nose, framed in chunky pink plastic.
She was wearing a bright blue backpack.
“My name is Afriel. I was drawn here,” she said, holding out a hand. “Are you going to let me in?”
“No.” One of the humans— Dean Winchester— said. “Last time we met one of you guys, he was turning people into silly putty. Why should we trust you?”
Afriel sighed. It was probably useless to attempt reasoning with him, from what she understood of the man. She looked to Castiel instead, because he’d been hearing the fledgeling too. When that proved fruitless, she turned back to Dean.
“I rode here from Guatemala on that thing -” she gestured to her collapsing scooter, which had been fueled solely by her grace and anger for the last few hundred miles. “-to spit in the face of heaven, aid this traitor-” she pointed to Castiel— “and help the son of Lucifer. What ulterior motive would be worth that?”
She was compelled, really. In a word, possessed; being torn forward by the pull of angelic agony. It had been such a long time since she’d heard crying like that. The youngest angels had fledged before the first man was made, and learned to weep in words.
Pain was a cold, sharp-edged thing, needling through her grace like a shrill sound.
“A lot of them, honestly,” the other Winchester, Lucifer’s perfect vessel, said.
“Castiel,” she pleaded. “ Talk to them.”
Castiel gave her a look of squinty-eyed disinterest.
“You might decide to kill Jack.” he said. “That line seems rather… arbitrary.”
Afriel dug her heels in, figuratively and literally, size-six hiking sneakers pressing into the dirt as she craned her neck to glare into the other angel’s eyes.
“I want to help him,” she insisted, swinging her backpack off her back, propping it up on one knee. “What is so hard to understand about that?”
On the tip of her angel blade, she pricked her thumb, hastily sketched a sigil on the inside of the cloth. She just needed enough time to get inside, and from there on out it would be easy.
“We have rather different ideas of what constitutes help,” Castiel said. “And-”
“What are you looking for in there?” Dean asked, stepping forward, shoulders squared for defense.
A millisecond too late, for him: Afreil slammed her hand into the centre of the sigil, and Castiel vanished in a burst of heavenly light. In the flare of it, Afriel dropped her backpack and pressed two fingers to each of the humans’ foreheads.
They dropped, like marionettes with their strings cut.
Afriel picked up her backpack, and stared for a moment at the threshold of the bunker. The little nephil had already invited her in, but… well. She’d heard a lot of things about the warding on this place.
She raised one foot, half expecting to be incinerated—
And stepped easily across.
It wasn’t hard to find her way to the nephil. The wailing had started up again. It lead her through the labrythine bunker, tearing at her grace as it did so— this close, pain was a physical thing, urgent and devouring. Stopping it was instinctual, pressing as a bodily need.
Jack’s pain was… interesting. Afriel rolled the feeling around her perceptual plane, like a sommelier with a fine wine. It was such a strange blend of sensation— constricted grace, ill resonance with the celestial spheres— angel things. Intertwined with animal sensations; firing nerves and exhaustion and hunger, damaged cells.
When Afriel reached and knocked on the correct door, nobody answered. She tried the handle, and found it unlocked.
The nephil was huddled in a ball on his bed, cocooned in four ragged wings. And, very faintly, glowing gold.
He peeked above the wall of feathers at her.
And exploded into spiders. Spindly little pale things about the size of a thumbnail, which were also glowing. They scattered in all possible directions; secreting themselves in the bedding and closet, clustering into clumps in the corners of the room, pooling around and surging past her shoes, some choosing to simply go over her rather than around. Within seconds, they were all out of her reach, except the few that had become tangled in the knitwork of her sweater.
She picked one of those out, holding it delicately by a leg.
“I told you I would come help,” she said. “And you really shouldn’t shapeshift, when you’re like this. You’ll only make yourself feel worse.”
Begrudgingly, the spiders began to creep back together, and assemble them into the shape of a boy. Then, at once, they were again a boy, wings and arms and eyes and all.
That was, except for the ones caught in Afriel’s sweater.
She gathered those, and placed the unmoving creatures into one of Jack’s hands, careful to avoid the eye that blinked from the centre of his palm, like some perverse sort of stigmata. He stared at them for a moment, looking confused— then swallowed them whole.
“Where is everyone?” he asked
Afriel smiled warmly. Put on her best 'pediatrics' voice.
Castiel wasn’t sent too far.
He was sent clean through a wall, which was always lovely.
As he crawled from the wreck of drywall and concrete, he tried to hone in on the signal Jack was sending— and couldn’t find it.
Anger boiled in his stomach. At Afriel, and at himself, for not realising what she was planning sooner.
“You’re still in town, you know.” Afriel said, over the faint chorus of mockery inherent to such a moment. Cas looked around. “You can just walk here . ”
“What did you do to him?”
“Gave him some applesauce,” Afriel hummed. “I apologise from my heart of hearts for feeding your child.”
Castiel cursed his inability to fly. He could have been there in milliseconds; he could have taken her out in the time it took him to ask that question. But now, he was resigned to walking. Navigating the relevant streets the human way. Afriel hadn’t lied to him, at least. It wasn’t far.
He ran the few miles back to the bunker, and found the door hanging open, Sam and Dean unconscious--but otherwise fine— on the floor just inside the doorway. Warm air and leaf litter were blowing in, and he could hear, from deep within the structure, the sound of singing.
Afriel and Jack appeared to be at peace, at first.
Afriel was kneeling on the floor beside Jack’s bed, and he was sprawled out in front of her, his head in her lap. She had two fingers pressed to each of his temples, radiating golden light. Her voice was sweet and clear— a healing chant in old Enochian, from when the new generation of angels had been naive enough to stumble off mountaintops and pinheads and need to be repaired.
It was changing him, and Cas could see that— the feathers of his wings were fuller, and the eyes he had carved out were slowly returning. But it wasn’t all for the better. The eyes in Jack’s face were clouding over in the half-visible sliver between his eyelids. A fine red line started just above one ear, and looped around his jaw to mirror of that place on the other side of his face. The bones of his fingertips had broke through the skin, into short, petal-shaped claws.
Castiel rushed forward, and ripped Afriel’s hands away from him. He met no resistance, at first—
He felt at once compelled to let go. Like being given an order, for the first time in millennia — like being commanded by God.
“What are you doing.” he glared at Afriel, holding her arms above her head.
“Nothing.” she said, smiling. “Look down.”
Jack’s eyes— all of them— were locked on Cas. Glowing gold. His face was a wreck of pain and anger. The line at his jaw had split, revealing the angry red of oral mucosa. A second mouth, twisting into a snarl. All at once another surge of demand hit Cas, charging through his mind like a tsunami— and he dropped Afriel’s hands. Restraining her was the most ridiculous idea he’d ever had; conceptually nonsensical. He couldn’t parse in hindsight why he would do such a thing.
He needed to check on Sam and Dean. They’d been fine when he left, but they might be waking up now, and it’d be scary for them if they didn’t know what had happened. So he should go be there, and make sure they knew what was going on.
He could leave Jack with Afriel. She knew how to help him feel better. So it was okay to leave them alone.
Disrupting them had been really bad of him. He should, and did feel bad about that.
He left them alone, so Afriel could heal Jack, and went all the way away to Sam and Dean. They were starting to wake up, Sam stirring first. Putting them under was the only way Afriel could have helped Jack, so it wasn’t a big deal that she did it. It was a good thing. And Castiel was happy that she did it.
Dean gasped awake, bolting upright.
“Cas?” he asked.
And all at once the veneer of fluffy, simple happiness slid away. The momentus weight of what had just happened hit like a slap.
Jack had taken over his mind. Remorselessly reached into his consciousness and overwhelmed his agency. Which was very, very bad.
“Something is… wrong.” he said, as Dean prodded his brother back to the waking world.
“Something is always wrong, Cas.” Dean answered, reaching out a hand and helping haul Sam back to his feet.
“What happened while we were out?” Sam asked, sounding panicked. “Did she hurt Jack?”
“Hurt... isn’t exactly the word.” Castiel explained.
Jack felt so much better.
That was all he could think about: the warm-light-soft feeling that flooded his body whenever Afriel was in contact with him, whenever she was singing. It was like all the pain in the world lifted out of his body at once, leaving him finally free to breathe deeply, to move freely. He would have, if he’d had anywhere to go— but the world had collapsed to the size of his body and his euphoria.
When she’d let go— when Castiel broke their contact— it had been worse than dying. The pain which she’d banished suddenly crashed back in, like the red sea after it was parted. It was the difference that made it sting, he was pretty sure.
Even then, guilt stirred in his stomach.
He’d done something very bad to get his feeling back.
“I’m going to have to go, soon. To talk to your parents,” Afriel said. “So I can’t be healing you forever.” then, before he could object— “Do you want me to help you sleep some?”
Jack hmm ’d an affirmative, already suddenly tired. He couldn’t feel bad if he wasn’t awake to feel anything at all.
“Wait-” he said, tilting his head back to look up at her. “Am I going to get better? Can you heal me all the way?”
Afriel didn’t smile, like she had been the whole time. Her lips pressed into a thin line.
“We’re going to work on that,” she said.
And before Jack could question her further, the world went black.
Sam didn’t generally get along with angels. Especially not angels like this.
Afriel was sitting unnaturally still on the sofa opposite Sam and Dean, holding a glass of water that she seemed to want more for gesturing than for actually drinking. She looked bookish and unassuming, like a girl he’d have crushed on in college, down to the glasses. Understanding the power that lay just behind that sweet smile made him feel slightly sick.
But she wanted to help Jack. Genuinely wanted to, in the way that a landslide wanted to fall, or a snake wanted to bite. Heavenly duty was a force as strong as gravity, and pretty much all the angels had left.
Cas was leaning over the back of the sofa, watching Afriel like a bomb that might go off.
“I think I know what’s happening to Jack.” She said. “And… if it was a normal angel—”
Beside Sam, Dean adjusted his grip on the angel blade he’d grabbed upon waking. Afriel raised her eyebrows.
“ If it was a normal angel ,” she continued. “I’d tell you to find him a new vessel. His current one isn’t suitable, and it’s burning from the inside out.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Castiel said. “Jack is…like a human, almost. He can’t leave his body. He is the vessel.”
“I know.” Afriel said. “That’s what’s…interfering, here. His grace is trying to form a body it can fully manifest in.”
Which didn’t sound possible.
“How does that work?” Sam asked. “We’ve met nephilim before, why doesn’t that happen to all of them?”
Afriel opened her mouth to speak, then frowned.
“How do I explain this to something like you…Well…taking a vessel, it’s like… putting on a glove,” she said. “In Jack’s case, it’s like…. If you put on the glove when you were six years old. And you kept wearing the same exact glove, even as your hand grew. And the thread kept cutting into your skin, and going deeper and deeper. What’s happening to Jack’s body is something like what would happen to the glove if you had a growth spurt.”
“Yeesh.” Dean commented. “That doesn’t sound good. How do we fix it?”
“I don’t know.” the angel admitted. She sighed in frustration. “If nephilim took vessels, we wouldn’t be having this problem. And honestly, if he’d had… if he’d had Heaven, his grace might have… settled better.”
“It’s not just his grace.” Cas said.
“Of course it isn’t.” Afriel grumbled, staring at the coffee table. “But that shouldn’t be… like this. If we were in Heaven—”
“Please, could you shut up about heaven?” Dean interrupted.
“No, because if he were in Heaven, he would have been brought up normally, and-”
“There is no ‘normally’,” Castiel said, cutting her off. Sam flinched away from his sudden anger. “There’s no precedent for situations like this, for people like him, because heaven murdered the rest of them at their creation.”
“There’s weird and then there’s negligent, Castiel.” Afriel insisted. “He’s… fledglings need to experience Creation. Has he even seen a sun? Any sun. Honestly. The local sun would do. And just… hold him.”
“Kid’s five foot ten,” Dean broke in. Sam could feel the argument rising, like a storm. “It’s not like we can pick him up and rock him.”
“Adult humans also need contact comfort,” Afriel said. “I’m...not surprised, but—” she paused. “Did you do it on purpose?”
Sam titled his head, a question forming on the tip of his tongue.
“Treat him like a human,” came the preemptive answer. “Ignore a good half of his needs. He’s so powerful, even now… If you were to... indulge him, he’d crush you like insects.”
“Look, lady-” Dean began.
“Afriel.” Sam cut his brother off, swallowing his own hot rage. “Those are… long-term goals, if these things are really important, but we need to help him now .”
Afriel took a deep breath— a very human gesture, and probably a false one— and composed herself.
“Honestly, if you wouldn’t kill me for it…” She shrugged. “I’d go back to that room and put him out of his misery.”
“You said this was about vessels,” Sam said, trying to offer restraint, speaking calmly, because Dean was maybe five minutes away from ganking this girl and it would be hard to blame him if he did. “If… if Jack were to use his body like a regular vessel, would that fix this? How would we do that?”
“He’d… he would have to leave his body, then do some very complicated quantum things and… just kinda…” Afriel gestured ineffectually, glanced up at Cas for help that didn’t come. “You…make it so that the amount of spacetime you occupy is… scaled, so it fits. It’s hard to explain.”
A series of terrible metaphors followed. Angels were like layer cakes. Like nitrous oxide. Angels were puppeteers and taco filling and casper mattresses in the boxes they were shipped in. Angels were, effectively, incomprehensible to the mushy human brain.
“But it might work.” Dean said, halfway through Afriel drawing an eye-achingly complex diagram on the back of her hand.
“It might. If we could safely separate his grace from his body,” she said.
Cas shook his head. They all knew why.
“His soul can’t sustain his body alone.”
“Then I will.” Afriel shrugged. “Human bodies aren’t very complex. I’ve been doing that for people ever since the fall.”
“It could kill him.” Cas protested.
“If it did, it would be quick.” Afriel said. “The alternative will kill him. Slowly. Like being burned alive, over a fortnight.”
“I…” English seemed to fail him, then; Castiel half-whispered a reply in Enochian, something crushingly sombre even without comprehensible words.
“Then you can go with him.”
Dean wasn’t sure this was going to work.
It was Sam’s idea, and Sam was a goddamn genius, but that didn’t mean it would work. It was angel fuckery, and they couldn’t risk getting their hopes up.
They were waiting on Cas and Jack, stewing in the awkward silence that emerged from time with Afriel. She was squashed between the two of them in the front seat. At least it made it easier to keep an eye on her.
They'd gone over the plan twice, which Dean considered enough talking for her. The angel had responded to being frozen out by pulling out a medical journal, and was flicking through the articles. She seemed to be deliberately turning to the most gruesome pictures.
They were going to drive out to BFE, and do another stupidly complicated bit of angel fuckery to avoid blinding any unlucky mortals in a twenty mile radius.
Castiel stepped into the garage, and it took Dean a second to parse out that he was carrying Jack, koala-style both of them almost hidden by the kid's wings. Those same wings took up most of the backseat, and pretty much obliterated the view out the back windscreen. Jack was sleeping again, or sedated— whatever Afriel had done to him, it had stuck. He’d apparently nodded out the second Cas finished talking him through their idea.
Dean would have been more concerned if the kid didn't snore .
They drove for about two hours of soft, snuffly breathing, then parked on the shoulder of the road, and woke Jack up. Afriel knelt on the bench seat, reached back, and poked his cheek, and he snapped abruptly back into consciousness.
“Wha-” he said. Yawned, an action that made his face swing horrifyingly up like a trapdoor, revealing a nightmare of sharp teeth and tongue. “Are we here?”
In the centre of a vacant, muddy field, they prepared.
The plan was to tug the intertwined being of Jack’s grace and soul out of his body, and cloak it in a vessel as it emerged. Dean didn’t really understand the process. He’d lost track somewhere around the point where Afriel had started talking about things in terms of taco shell flavours and unravelling sweaters.
It had to work.
“Are you ready, Jack?”
Afriel was beaming up at him, her voice kindergarten-teacher condescending.
Jack nodded, and Afriel took two of his hands.
“This won’t hurt,” she said. “We can make sure of that.”
She reached out to Castiel, too. They looked like a little line of angelic paper dolls.
The air went sharp, like lightning was about to strike. Seemed to cloud around the trio. Castiel gently cupped Jack’s face, his fingers glowing.
“Are you ready?”
It was like a bomb going off. The oxygen was sucked out of the air, with a faint fwoom . Jack’s body collapsed, dragging Afriel to her knees, and Cas with her.
The air filled with the glow of grace. It bloomed into existence above Jack's body, blindingly white, attached by a filamentous thread to his chest. There was a sort of haze around it, though— like watching the process through a frosted glass window.
The first coherent thing to form was a hand.
A stubby-fingered sky-blue hand the size of a smartcar, which crashed down into the dried-up dirt just feet from where Dean was standing. Its mirror mushroomed from the diffusing cloud of grace. Both dug into the loam, pulling— clawing . Opposite them, yet more hands erupted from the glow. These were different— these fused at the elbow, two to each upper arm.
“Holy shit ,” Dean exclaimed, his voice lost in the roaring of energy.
The hands crawled in opposing directions, clawing madly at the earth, until the head got free. On the righthand side, the shoulders were slashed with opening eyelids.
A vividly blue eye the size of a paddling pool blinked open, and swivelled to focus on Dean.
More arms emerged, crawling free on either side. The end result was a fleshy, snakelike body— far too reminiscent of the worms Jack had scattered into. The bulk of the thing was ridiculous, like three squishy semi trailers laid end to end. The arms at the back— or, the end away from the head, at least— had bent at the elbow, to keep the body level. Like a human on their hands and knees.
They were suddenly lost in soft-edged shadow, as Jack unfurled his wings. Red and white feathers stretched into a ceiling overhead, four great wide wings blocking out the sky above them.
Then, movement. At first, Dean thought the feathers were rotating, somehow, their undersides flashing gold. It took a few seconds to work out what was happening— the red feathers were evaporating. Burning away all evidence of Michael. Without them, the soft expanse of Jack’s wings, with sunlight ringing their edges gold, looked like clouds.
There was a moment of silence. Just the hum of a heavenly thing, like standing in a static field. The burning glow had faded, swallowed by a physical form. It was terrifying, but in a way beautiful, in the same way a forest fire was beautiful. Dean looked to Sam, momentarily— his brother had a hand up to his mouth in awe, tears welling in his eyes.
One of the closest hands shuffled backwards, then the others. Jack was scrunching his body up like an outsized inchworm, putting his head level with Dean and Sam.
He stared at them with wide, wet eyes.
At the jawline, his face split. Revealed a vast, toothless mouth, stretching into something like a smile.
No. not quite— breaking through the odd, silver-blue of the gums, Dean could see the white edges of teeth the size of paving slabs, just barely visible.
Jack cheeped . Like a baby bird, if baby birds were the size of a building and loud enough to make your ears ring.
Not knowing what to do, Dean waved.
Jack seemed to like that— one of the spare sets of hands lifted from the ground and clapped gleefully. It suddenly hit that this was their kid, in this headache-inducing serpent of a body. Dean reached out to pat the kid’s face, and got a feeling in the skin of his hand that was almost like microphone feedback— by the time he’d picked out the sensations of soft, smooth, strange energy, Jack had moved on.
He was still doing the inchworm thing, but to an even more extreme degree. The y-shaped arms straightened, and the rest pushed off from the ground, forcing him upright. That was much more impressive— the towering shadow of something utterly inhuman, barely visible against the cornflower blue of the sky. For one brief moment, he looked like the being he was.
And then one of the y-shaped armlegs got in the way of the others, and Jack stumbled abruptly to one side, wings and arms flailing for the elusive chance of regaining his balance.
All at once the atmosphere seemed to vanish. There was a sound, like the inverse of an explosion, but it quickly fell to the shrieking hum of nearly-broken eardrums. Dean thought for a minute he’d gone blind— then the lightning-bright whiteness faded, and the world came into existence again.
Jack was being propped up by… a hand. Something huge and almost skeletal; hewn from glass or diamond, prismatic crystal that seemed to glow from the inside. In the back of the hand, below the knuckles, there was an immense eye. It didn’t look nearly as human as Jack’s— the sclera seemed to be made of moving metal, like mercury, the iris a ring of of roiling inky blue, like the night sky being boiled. Dean could see the shallow backside of the eyeball, and the shadow it cast.
He looked up. And up, and up, and infinitely neck-craning up. Suspended in the sky, like celestial neon, was a ring of white light. It felt like looking at the sun.
“Cas?” he breathed.
The halo— because that was what it had to be; a halo that could swallow a city— bobbed, as the angel nodded.
It was as though Dean had stepped out of an airlock. He felt like he’d opened his eyes to the vastness of space itself. Castiel radiated power, in thrumming tides. Dean felt at once like a satellite; as though he’d been sucked into orbit around a new star.
The ground around him was a dappled rainbow of colours. Vivid red and emerald green, like the light of Cas’s grace was pouring through a stained-glass window. Castiel wasn’t even standing at his full height— he was nearly kneeling, to reach down to Jack— and he still verged on incomprehensible.
At once, Dean was the focus of that great, grey-silver eye. Affection hit him like a tsunami; love and pride and joy, probably because Dean wasn’t quite a gibbering wreck yet.
Jack shrieked another chirp, drawing Cas’s attention. It was suddenly much easier to parse out their respective bodies— the softness of Jack’s face and limbs, the odd proportions— everything that should have immediately scanned as baby .
True to his nature, Jack made a birdlike coo of a sound, and with four sets of arms, reached upwards for Cas.
In this form, Jack radiated love. Love and reverence and the unquestioning trust of the young. It sing-songed through his grace, a trilling vibrato as Cas lifted him from the muddy earth, held him close in the first real embrace they’d ever shared. He’d made it out intact, and that was incredibly reassuring— that he’d survived this far, despite not being an angel.
Castiel held Jack up, hands under his uppermost set of arms, watching from a thousand eyes as his son’s mouths split into huge smiles. Jack was so happy it almost hurt to watch; like the sting of something too sweet.
If only they could stay like this forever. Freed of their bodies and constraints. In a state where Jack could be the child he deserved to be. Cas cradled him closer, to nuzzle their heads together, hum forgotten hymns against the smooth skin of his forehead.
Jack made a familiar, instinctual movement; wriggling his way up Castiel’s chest and tucking his head into the crook of his neck.
That was much more bittersweet. A plea for something Cas had never assumed he needed.
Castiel focused on Jack’s grace, the exact detail, its frequency and rhythm. Matched it, eight steps down.
It was a warm, wonderful feeling. That resonance, to be like harmonizing notes; to feel Jack stir into strength and awareness in response. This was how angels were made whole; how fledgelings fed. They both went soft and silent to the peace of it.
Then, a burst of Enochian— Afriel announcing in no uncertain terms that they’d better get back in their vessels pronto, or she was going to let go of their hands.
Jack whined at the separation, but allowed himself to be coaxed back into his body all the same. It was a strange process, like dressing someone else by hand; all the reversed movements and strange contortions it entailed. But they got there, in the end, and Castiel watched to make sure Jack woke all the way up before stepping back into his own body.
The world was dulled, by that, but in away that felt familiar. Comforting, almost.
Jack was propping himself up on his elbows, frowning slightly.
Nothing in his appearance had changed— none of the physical alterations were gone. But the constant screaming posture of pain, that had left him, and even as he hauled himself awkwardly into a sitting position, he seemed a hundred thousand times more comfortable.
“Jack, you know how you can show your wings?” Afriel was explaining. “Think of the opposite, and try to do that.”
“Wha-” Jack squinted up at her, like she was talking nonsense. Castiel got to his feet. “Y’know what?”
The wings turned ash-grey and crumbled as Cas walked over, then the second set of arms, then the eyes. His wholly human form was back, grace cradled inside, completely stable.
“How do you feel?” Castiel asked, reaching out to him. Jack took the offered hand, letting Cas pull him back to his feet, and smiled wide.
Jack spent the car ride home trying to snuggle through the grip of a seatbelt, and mostly succeeding. He had to stay in contact with Castiel— keep their vessels touching, put only two thin layers between his and his father’s grace.
The interlude had been brief, and now Jack could be fed again.
‘Fed’ wasn’t the right word— it wasn’t quite hunger, the absence he’d felt. But now, it was finally beginning to fade. Warmth was creeping through him, a full-body version of the feeling of drinking hot cocoa on a cold day. He couldn’t quite grasp the whole sensation, not while in a human body, but the important parts shone through.
It felt... safe , on a celestial scale. A comfort that consumed his world, like being held closer than humanly possible. In that moment, curled up on the back bench seat and wholly content, he could believe that nothing in the world would ever hurt again. It was a glorious tangle of sensation— the human pleasure of being slumped against another body, of Castiel stroking his hair, the euphoric absence of pain. That coupled with the proximity of other angels— he could feel the hum of Castiel’s grace, in the same way he’d felt his mother’s heartbeat in the womb. A titanic protective force, steady and absolute, setting the pace of his own.
“Jeeze.” Afreil said, on the edge of his perception. “Maybe slow down a little?”
“He’s doing fine .” Castiel insisted, briefly squeezing Jack closer.
Jack didn’t answer Afriel; he just let himself fall further into the soft wonder of being cared for, the energy he was being given. He didn’t even realise how drowsy it was making him until the slam of the car door woke him up. Sam, Dean and Afriel had bailed, and Castiel was reaching gingerly over to unbuckle Jack’s seatbelt.
“Oh,” he said. “You’re awake. Hi.”
“Hi.” Jack replied, rubbing his eyes. It was good to be down to the two of them again, but he was having a difficult time keeping them open. He was tired, weighed by the events of the day and the soft heaviness of satiation. He wanted to curl up somewhere cosy and sleep for a hundred years.
It turned out, two hours was enough.
Jack woke to the soft sound of spoken Enochian. He’d curled up on the couch rather than returning to his mess of a bedroom, and the threads of conversation reached him before anything else.
Castiel and Afriel were talking. Afriel had been caught in the act of leaving; she had her helmet on, as yet unbuckled, and her backpack slung over one shoulder. Jack was slightly hurt by that— he’d hoped she would at least say goodbye. But Castiel was smiling at whatever she was saying, and she hadn’t walked out yet, so maybe there was still time to make a friend.
“Afriel?” Jack said, and both angels looked his way. Someone had draped a blanket over him at some point, and he worked his way free. “Don’t leave yet!”
She was suddenly alert again, a clinical hardness settling in her eyes as they scanned him.
“I just…” Jack was aware of her in the angelic sense now; of the power coiled in her small body. “I wanted to say goodbye. And thank you. For helping me feel better.”
He wondered what she looked like under the skin, without the vessel. Was she as big as Castiel? As shiny?
“Oh,” Afriel said, the tension draining from her body. “You're welcome. I hopefully won’t come back here.”
Castiel came with Jack to say goodbye, but the Winchesters hadn’t really warmed up to her yet. Jack watched as her little scooter stubbornly didn’t fall apart, all the way down the dirt road that lead up to the bunker. When it became clear she wasn’t going to ‘try anything’, as Castiel had put it, they left the humid warmth of evening and went back inside.
Afriel’s farewell hummed through Jack’s mind in the language of angels. It didn’t even hurt anymore.
A fuzzy memory struck him.
“You sang to me.” Jack said, looking up to Castiel. “You both- you sang me this… lullabye?”
“Something like that.” Castiel said. “You liked it, right? That didn’t hurt you?”
“I loved it.” Jack smiled. The question forming on his tongue made him feel like an intruder, like he was about to walk into someone else’s bedroom and make himself at home. “Could… could you teach it to me?”
Castiel lit up at that. His smile and grace burned bright.