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Wild Touch

Chapter Text

Cover artwork. There is an illustration of a stag facing to the left and Dean Winchester facing to the right with greenish blue shading. At top left and right, white text reads QuillsAndInk and Threshie. At the bottom center in larger white letters is the title Wild Touch.

Castiel slumped dejectedly against the steering wheel of his pickup. Another failed bond. He’d met Meg on FamilUr and he’d instantly been interested. She had razor wit and Castiel could already imagine her lithe mink body around his house when she shifted. He’d hoped so terribly that they would match. But he knew the moment he looked Meg in the eyes for the first time that the likes of her could never bond with a plant witch like him. Their conversation had only confirmed that. Castiel hefted a long sigh. Wasn’t finding a familiar supposed to be easy? They had apps for it and everything. Perhaps he wasn’t the witch his mother always told him he was. Perhaps he was destined to be without a familiar. 


Castiel sighed and got out of his truck. Familiar or no, he still had work to do. He walked up the driveway to his little cottage and unlocked the front door. He stepped inside, shut the front door, and quickly changed out of his trenchcoat, slacks, and tie and exchanged them for a worn t-shirt and ratty jeans, leaving his feet bare to feel the dirt beneath his toes. Castiel walked through his house and out into his garden. He surveyed his plants and the Hoh Rainforest beyond his fence. He breathed gently. No matter his day, this here always gave him peace. He had always been glad that he was a plant witch. Today, with his garden starting to bud and bloom and having had an awful first meeting with a familiar, he was comforted even more.

He stepped out into his garden. The mulch would need to be redone this year. His currant bushes by the steps strained toward his hands. With a spark of magic, he ran his fingers over their leaves, gratified to feel them take his strength for growth. An early spring bumblebee drifted past his nose to land in his Crane’s Bills. Castiel couldn’t help but smile at its fat body as it dove clumsily for the pollen in the flowers. Castiel held a hand out, palm up, and with a gentle summons, the bee floated up once again and alighted weightlessly on his palm. It crawled around for a moment, inspecting his skin for pollen, before flying away to seek more interesting fare.

Castiel sighed. The plants sighed with him. Ants marched on the ground, and another bumblebee joined the first in his forget-me-nots. He could feel each of their little sparks of life. A fern curled a frond toward him. He plucked a few leaves for a potion later. Ferns were excellent in creating resiliency. Once again, Castiel felt a pang. He did all his spellwork and potion making alone. If he had a familiar, their bond would make this all so much clearer. The spells would come easier, and as much as he loved the creatures in his garden, plants and insects didn’t make much company. Castiel needed a harder distraction from his failings. He lingered in his garden for a moment more, then picked through his flagstone path and out the back gate into the Hoh.

Being a witch was an excellent gift, but it didn’t earn much money. Even in Magic, Washington, it wasn’t like the general populace knew about witches. The town’s name had always made Castiel chuckle. How people found ways to like the concept of magic while allowing the real thing to frighten them into violence never ceased to amaze him. In any case, Castiel couldn’t exactly share that he was a witch with anyone in town, so groundskeeping for the Hoh made an obvious—and necessary—job choice.

Scene divider art. A black and yellow bumblebee sits in the middle of the page with a shall gray shadow beneath it.

Castiel walked into the forest in a well-trodden deer trail. Though he did his best to keep visitors off it, they trampled through it all the time, leaving garbage and damaged plants in their wake. Castiel picked up an empty chip bag and sighed. Non-magic folk really didn’t know how to mind the earth. With a little magic, he urged the trampled mosses to lift their tiny leaves once again. He pressed magic into the nearby trees to help them heal over the wounds people had carved into their bark. The spirit of the forest thrummed through him. The early evening sun streamed through the canopy. Castiel smiled softly.

Suddenly there came a croaky noise from the forest. Castiel froze and turned toward it. The noise came again, weak, guttural and not dissimilar to a goat’s bleat. Castiel was strictly a plant witch, and that gave him some leeway with insects, but there wasn’t much he could do for a mammal or a bird. Still, he couldn’t bear the sound of any animal in pain. He had to go see where it was coming from. He delved deeper into the woods, trailing his fingers along the bark of the trees, gathering their strength and attempting to glean what might have come by them. As he got closer to the noise, he noticed dark drops of red on the moss near his feet. Whatever was making the noise, it was injured. Castiel pushed through a cluster of bushes into a clearing and there it was.

Rather, there he was. A stag, all long lines, smooth brown-grey fur, and magnificent white antlers. The fletching of an arrow sprouted from his shoulder and blood darkened a large patch around the shaft. It dripped steadily from behind his foreleg. Castiel couldn’t see where the arrow had buried itself, but the angle toward his chest cavity was alarming. The stag trembled visibly and swayed unsteadily. Seemingly unable to bear the pain, he let out another croaky groan.

“Hello,” Castiel said softly. The stag whipped his head toward Castiel. His long ears pricked in alarm, and he looked ready to bolt. Castiel extended his hands, palms up. The stag’s nose worked. He tensed right up and stayed stock still. That was good. Castiel could work with that. But he still needed the stag immobilized if he wanted to get him to a vet to get the arrow taken out. Castiel needed to think up a plan quickly, though his brain hiccuped when he worriedly observed the expanding pool of blood beneath the stag.

Focus. He needed to focus if he had any chance of saving the stag’s life. Castiel closed his eyes and channeled his intention into his magic. He gave his energy to the earth and with all his strength pulled. With a whispered spell, Castiel raised his arms, and with them thick, bark-fortified vines rose from the earth. They wrapped around the stag, mindful as Castiel was of the arrow. The stag thrashed violently at the first contact of the briar vines. It seemed he was still alive enough to fight. That was good. That meant he had a chance. But he wasn’t doing himself any favors. Castiel worried that his violent movements would push the arrow deeper. Castiel felt a wave of disgust for the bow hunter who had done this.

The briar tightened around the stag’s legs, ribs, and pelvis to stop his movements. Castiel stepped closer to inspect. The bark had nicked the stag all over, and the wound around the arrow had indeed widened. The stag’s sides were heaving like a bellows with his labored breaths. His fur looked like satin stretched over his bones. Castiel felt drawn to smooth his fingers over the stag’s sides and feel the sleek fur, but recalled that wasting disease had been prevalent lately. Then again, the stag’s eyes were liquid and he was wall-eyed with fear. Castiel’s heart broke. The stag didn’t understand what was happening, he only thought he was going to be killed or worse. Deer-borne illnesses be damned. Castiel laid a soothing hand on the stag’s uninjured flank.

The result was electric.

Discomfort, fear, pain. Emotions surged in a roiling, sucking vortex in Castiel’s gut. They were so cluttered and confused, he felt like his body would tear apart. Wrongness flooded through his brain, and Castiel recoiled from the deer. The ruckus of feelings became more muted, but they remained simmering under his skin. Castiel felt a bolt of anxiety spear through him, but that was different from the fear that was humming through his body. Bewildered, he whipped his body from the stag. The deer brayed in alarm at his sudden movement. Castiel pulled his mind from his haze of emotion just in time to prevent the briars from tightening painfully around the stag’s body.

Emotions that he barely recognized still swirled and wracked through Castiel. His chest heaved like he’d just run a marathon. The stag’s sides worked with powerful breaths. Castiel gazed into the dark abyss of the stag’s eyes. The stag, almost defiantly, gazed back. And then it happened. It was so quick, the average person would have missed it entirely, but Castiel was a witch and he’d known since the day he could cast a spell that the devil was always in the details. And there was no missing how the stag’s eyes flashed from a natural black to a mossy green and back again. Shock slacked Castiel’s jaw. The stag was no stag at all. He was a shifter.

 

Castiel was filled with questions. Who injured the stag? Did they know what he was? How had he made it this far? Was the hunter nearby? And who was this stag? Confusion that Castiel didn’t recognize rose up in him, and finally Castiel understood. He picked through himself, a careful witch’s introspection that he had learned from his mother, until he found it. Thin as a gossamer thread and strong as Kevlar, he found a bond between him and the deer. But how?

 

Generally, there was a spell to be cast that bonded a witch to a shifter and made the shifter into a familiar, and Castiel knew the spell would vary depending on what magic the witch practiced. Castiel, being a plant witch, knew the spell would involve the burning of sage to clarify the air, and the grinding of lily pollen for devotion, and a vow, and both the energies of himself and his familiar to create a bond. Bonds took effort and intent and a good connection between the familiar and the witch. Dimly, Castiel thought he had once read something that mentioned an instantaneous bond, but Castiel had scoffed and shrugged it off as pure fiction.

The deer that was looking steadily at Castiel was telling a different story. But slowly, the stag’s head began to loll back. His eyes kept trying to roll; it was clear that he was trying to fight unconsciousness. Castiel snapped out of his reverie. Whatever he had thought previously, the bond was there, and he could feel it weakening. The deer’s emotions seemed to be leeching further and further away. Blood dripped from around the arrow that still stood with gruesome pride from the stag’s body. Castiel needed to act if he was to save the deer’s life. Quickly.

Castiel turned and strode out of the forest. It took a lot of energy to entreat briar to both bear the weight of a fully grown stag and followed Castiel placidly out of the forest with all its greedy ferns and fungi, especially when they strained for Castiel’s attention as he walked. They slid wetly over his bare feet as he passed, begging for help, a little more sunlight, a little less water, please please please. The Hoh was accustomed to a benevolent plant witch who always stopped to help. But today, with non-native briar trailing after him with a deer, he could scarcely lend them a little hello. Castiel would have to meditate here and grant them energy when he next had time. Right now he needed to get back to his truck.

Scene divider art. A black and yellow bumblebee sits in the middle of the page with a shall gray shadow beneath it.

The walk out of the forest took much more time than Castiel had hoped for. Then the briar had a difficult time following him to the rough and hard-packed dirt outside his garden, but Castiel gave them more of his power and they were able to heft the stag around the house and into the bed of his truck. The stag groaned as his body was laid on its side. Castiel’s heart broke that he was in pain, but if he was making sounds, Castiel hoped he had a chance. Castiel dismissed the briar and hurried to his front lawn and pulled a handful of the grass. He spat on the thin leaves in his hand and sprinkled them around the rim of his truck bed. With a little energy and a word of power, the grass grew into an arch over the bed of the truck, perfect to keep the deer on his side.

“It’ll be okay,” Castiel told the deer, with no idea if it was true. He felt the stag’s life and emotions fizzle and spark. He was afraid, but fading. “I’m getting you help,” Castiel assured him.

There was no time to waste. Castiel found his keys in his pocket and got in the cab, started the truck and began to drive.

The drive to Sweets and Treats Animal Hospital was really only a ten minute drive, but it felt like hours to Castiel. He could feel the stag’s life and pain niggling in the back of his mind, but that didn’t mean he knew what to do or how the stag was faring. Castiel hoped he was lucid enough to know he was getting help. There was a complex human mind in that stag’s head and Castiel was aghast that right now he couldn’t even ask the stag’s consent to get him medical treatment. But, Castiel told himself, he was doing the right thing. He and this familiar had bonded and ergo, it was Castiel’s job to look after his well-being when he was in animal form.

Castiel reached Sweets and Treats and parked carefully in the rugged lot, not wanting to jostle the stag. With a pang, Castiel realized for the first time that he didn’t know the stag’s name. That could wait. Castiel leapt from the cab, and went to check on the stag. He was unmoved.

“I’m getting the doctor. I’ll be right back. Don’t move,” Castiel told him. The stag flicked his ears at Castiel’s voice, but he otherwise remained still. Castiel let the arch of grass fall away. He doubted the people of Magic would take kindly to an actual witch in their presence, liberal town or not. Besides, the stag was in no condition to move.

Satisfied, Castiel rushed into the clinic. It was blessedly quiet. Just Gabriel’s surly old shop cat, Toffee, who offered Castiel a growly meow. Castiel went to the front desk and peered down at the young receptionist. She was new. Castiel scowled. Jo at least knew who he was.

“Can I help you?” She asked, staring firmly back up at Castiel.

“It’s an emergency. I need to speak with Doctor Milton immediately,” Castiel said.

“You can schedule an appointment,” she said coolly.

“It’s an emergency,” Castiel ground out.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” said a new voice. Gabriel stepped out of the back.

“Doctor Milton, this man said he has an emergency.


“He doesn’t have an appointment,” the receptionist said. Gabriel sighed.

“It’s fine, Hannah. Cassie here is an old friend.”

“Cas-tee-el,” Castiel corrected on instinct.

“Anyway, Cassie,” Gabriel continued, “this had better not be an exhausted bee again.”

Castiel scowled. “It was a life worth saving.”

“It was a bee. Don’t you have google?” Gabriel said with an eyeroll. Castiel did have google, not that it worked well with his magic being present. Technology wasn’t Castiel’s strong suit.

“There’s a stag in my truck,” Castiel said. “He’s dying. He’s been shot with an arrow.”

Gabriel rubbed his face with his hands. “For the love of God, Cas! How did you manage to coax an injured stag into your truck? Haven’t you heard of the wasting disease outbreak?”

Castiel squinted stubbornly. Gabriel gave a hysterical little laugh.

“Fine. Show me the stag.”

“Thank you, Gabriel,” Castiel said. He led Gabriel out to his truck where the stag lay unmoved. His breaths came shallow and quick and his eyes were closed. Castiel searched himself for their bond. It was faint and fading. Panic that was entirely his own seized his heart. Gabriel huffed a harsh, short breath between his teeth.

“This isn’t good, Cas.”

“Can you fix him?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see where the head of the arrow is. Maybe,” Gabriel said. His voice was tight.

“That’s...concerning,” Castiel said.

“He’ll never be able to return to the wild,” Gabriel said. “Wound like that? I think it would be kinder to put him to sleep, Cassie.”

No,” Castiel growled. If it was an ordinary stag, Castiel might have agreed with him, heavy as the thought was. But there was a man inside that stag and Castiel wouldn’t let him die. “I’ll call rehab facilities. Save the stag. Please.”

Gabriel narrowed his eyes. “You’re pretty invested in him. I don’t tell you how stupid it is to feed wildlife, do I?”

Castiel glared balefully at Gabriel. “He deserves a chance.” Gabriel raised his hands in surrender.

“Fine, Snow White, you win. Help me get him to the operating room.” Castiel tilted his head.

 

“I don’t understand that reference.”

“Jesus Christ, you’re deprived,” Gabriel complained. Castiel shrugged and went to help Gabriel pull the stag out of the truck without jostling the arrow around. Without the use of magical briar vines, it was a difficult task. The deer was well over a hundred pounds and he seemed to have been shaped to be difficult to carry. But between Castiel and Gabriel, who was much stronger than he looked, they were able to bring the deer to the operating table in only a few minutes. Castiel allowed himself to be sternly shooed into the waiting room by Gabriel and took a seat and worried.

He could still feel the bond between him and the stag but that was all. No emotions, nothing. Castiel didn’t know what happened to a bond when a witch or a familiar died, but Castiel was sure he felt life spark through. He hoped it would stay that way. To distract himself, and for Gabriel’s sake, Castiel made calls to local wildlife rehabilitation centers. Several were willing to take in an injured stag. With a whispered spell at the end of his phone calls, borrowed from his friend Rowena, he made each of them forget speaking to him entirely. Now that he thought of it, Castiel would have to invite Rowena for tea. He needed help exploring what happened between himself and the stag.

Castiel mused about how the stag and their bond would fit into his life for another hour before Gabriel emerged from the back room. Castiel immediately got to his feet.

“How is he?” he demanded. Gabriel gave him a tired look.

“He’ll live,” he said, “but he’s in a bad way, Cas. That arrow did a number on him.”

“I’ll take him home and put him in my garage until the rescue picks him up tomorrow,” Castiel said firmly. Gabriel looked like he wanted to argue, but shook his head.

“Fine,” he said in a careworn way, “let’s get him in your truck.”

Carrying the stag back out to the truck was a much easier thing on Castiel’s soul than bringing him into the clinic. He was heavily bandaged around his foreleg and heavily drugged asleep, but the bond was there and his breaths came slow and easy. Castiel felt relief build under his skin. They laid him in the truck and the deer didn’t even flinch.

“I gave him a reversal. He’ll be up in a few hours. And Castiel, for the love of all that is holy do not keep that stag in your house,” Gabriel said sternly.

“I won’t,” Castiel said. Gabriel looked suspicious but he let Castiel return home without more grief. Castiel felt bad for such a thought. If the stag wasn’t a familiar, Gabriel would be doing the right thing. It wasn’t his fault that he was brushing up against a world he couldn’t fathom.

The ride home was quick and less stressful, but when Castiel got out to rise briar take the stag inside, he found a man instead. And what a man. The long lines of a deer had morphed into pale human skin and hard muscles, sprinkled with freckles and almond hair. He was naked. Castiel averted his eyes bashfully. The poor man couldn’t even consent. The deer’s bandages had slid off and the stitches now tugged awkwardly at the new form. Castiel hoped anything internal hadn’t reopened. He summoned the briars quickly and at his bidding, they cradled the man. Once Castiel opened his door for them, they deposited him on Castiel’s sofa.

The man moaned softly. Alarmed, Castiel bustled into the kitchen and whipped up a quick healing salve with fallen sequoia needles and fresh bark. He carefully dabbed it over the man’s wound. With a word of power and some energy, the weak healing settled into the wound. Castiel was no good at healing, especially not on a mammal, but it could help. He draped an old blanket over the man to give him modesty and gently felt for the bond. It thrummed alive. Castiel smiled. The situation was odd, but at least that felt promising. He went into the kitchen to make some dinner. The man would be hungry when he awoke.