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“Dean. Sam.”

Cas materialised in the den, sword in hand, ready to deal with whatever had prompted such desperate prayers from not one but both Winchester brothers.

No matter what it might be: angels, demons, some monster that had breached the notable defences at the yard.

Since Lucifer’s escape from the cage, the whole world had seemed unsettled, and Cas’s family had been working harder than ever to secure the Winchesters.

But he wouldn’t allow it. Those boys were his charges; they were his friends.

Cas would kill anything that tried to hurt them.

When Dean and Sam came rushing towards him, Cas readied himself to grab them and take to flight; once they were safe, he could return to finish whatever they were running from.

He shoved aside, for a moment, how uncharacteristic it was of them to run, and started to unfurl his wings.

“Fire in the hole,” Dean yelled, and then he and Sam rushed past the angel, and, yes, Dean vaulted over Bobby’s desk and ducked for cover, and Sam….

Cas turned his head enough to see that Sam was trying to hide as well….

Behind him.

Cas stared at him, wondering if Sam had been hit on the head again (in the year and a half since he’d come to know the younger sibling, he’d observed that happened to Sam a lot). Because, while his true form in the ether was immense, his earthbound form was not, and was certainly not as large as Sam’s.

This was something he felt Sam...ought to have noticed.

Sam tapped his shoulder, and gesticulated forward with a cringing look on his face.

Cas turned to face the oncoming threat, but he heard it even before it came into view.

“I’m telling you two, ya damn idjits; ain’t no way you’re benching me while you go try to take on the devil! Now get your asses back here!”

The voice sounded...old and yet young, an impossible combination, and Cas started to wonder what odd magic was at work there.

When the small figure rounded the corner, he was greeted with the most belligerent of stares, and it lost none of its sharpness because its owner’s clothes seemed too large for his body.

Shirt sleeves were pushed up and immediately fell back down to dangle past clenched fists.

“Dammit,” the boy said. Then he returned his attention to the angel. “What the hell are you looking at, feathers? Guess you can’t fix this, either, huh!”

Cas put his sword away. “Bobby. You seem to have...changed.”

Bobby stomped closer, and tilted his head back to glare; the tatty baseball cap was dislodged by the acute angle, but Cas caught it and handed it back.

“Thanks,” Bobby said, though his tone suggested the gratitude was feigned at best. He looked around the angel, at the poorly concealed Winchesters. “You two just had to go call the God squad on me, huh.”

Sam was almost plastered to his back at that point, and Cas firmly dislodged himself from his grip and stepped aside.

Sam hissed his name, but stood his ground, though it was interesting trying to see him turn his six foot five frame in on itself. Dean stood up from behind the desk, slowly, as if the room held a wild creature that might launch itself into a brutal attack at any moment.

Glancing at the furious but three feet shorter Bobby Singer, Cas thought that might be an apt comparison.

“Bobby,” Dean started, and Cas knew that tone. It was the one Dean used when he was about to try and talk you into something he knew you didn’t want to do, but he wanted you to do it, and he would use whatever emotional tool at his disposal to get his own way.

Cas had never seen it attempted on Bobby before and, while he didn’t know exactly what had happened here, he was curiously (and perhaps a little vindictively - he was an angel, not God) eager to watch things play out.

“Don’t. You. Bobby. Me.” Even delivered in that higher pitched voice than the gruff baritone Cas was used to, each word was like a roll of thunder.

Sam, without his angel shield, retreated to stand behind the desk with his brother.

“We were only,” he started, but Bobby shut him up with a look.

“Only trying to treat me like a kid.”

“You are a-“ Dean said.

Cas had come to love those brothers dearly. He had ventured into Hell to save one, faced the torture of re-education for both, and then been murdered by one of his archangel brothers to help them avoid their heavenly decreed destiny.

But for all that, he had no intention of getting between them and Bobby Singer.

“Say it,” Bobby said. “Go on, I dare ya.”

Dean shut up, but glanced desperately at Cas.

“Oh, he ain’t gonna save ya, Dean.”

Cas sighed.

++

The box that had been delivered to Bobby’s house had come from a hunter just outside of New York, who’d called him to say he’d found some books in a witch’s house he thought would be better in Bobby’s collection.

That had been a week ago; the books had arrived that morning, with a hand written note taped to the box warning they were heavy and Bobby should probably get help in moving them.

“Turns out,” Dean explained, “Mickey’s been dead for three weeks. So we figure he didn’t Fedex us that shit.”

No, Cas didn’t think so. He circled the box carefully; though the initial damage had been done, he wasn’t about to be reckless.

His siblings could be notoriously sly when they had to be and this had their cunning all over it.

It wasn’t difficult to see how they expected this to go. A heavy box delivered to an older man with two strong boys in the house.

Naturally, Sam and Dean would have picked up the box for him, and that would have triggered the curse placed on it, and no doubt the angels thought as helpless children the Winchesters would be easier to catch.

Cas wondered if they’d forgotten who they were dealing with, but their plan hadn’t worked; they’d clearly been unaware just how stubborn Bobby could be.

“How is he walking again?” Sam asked.

Cas didn’t answer straight away, busy carefully unpicking the knots of magic on the box, and then finally rendering it safe.

He moved closer, and looked inside to find it was indeed full of books, but none of them typical for what you might expect to find in a witch’s home.

He picked up the top book, some paperback with a scantily clad cowboy on the cover, and tossed it to Dean.

He got a scowl in return, and barely managed to hide his smile.

“The spell they’ve used regressed his age to before he was injured,” he explained to them. “It’s a simple incantation.”

He didn’t have to look to know Dean was mouthing ‘simple’ behind his back.

“So you can un-incant him, right?”

Satisfied the box held nothing further of interest, Cas turned to himself subjected to two stares; one hopeful, the other demanding.

“No,” he said. Were he not cut off from Heaven, he could probably have reversed what they’d done, even though it would have taken some time. But intervention might be unnecessary. “It will wear off on its own, though.”

Dean didn’t look too happy. “Right. How long’s that going to take?”

Cas was too used to Dean’s withering glares by now to be much moved by them. “As long as it takes.”

++

Bobby had little confidence in him, and Cas knew it. He’d failed to stop the brothers releasing Lucifer, failed to heal him and left him confined to a wheelchair, and now couldn’t undo the magic that had regressed him, physically at least, to childhood.

So he wasn’t surprised to find Bobby balancing awkwardly on a chair as he tried to grab an armful of spell books from the top shelf of his bookcase.

He was on tip-toes, straining, and the chair creaked and then tipped, and Cas sprang forward.

He put Bobby down quickly, and watched calmly as the hunter rolled up his sleeves again, and tried to do the same with the excess material in his pants so that they weren’t dragging beneath his feet.

“Since you’re here,” he snapped, and pointed to the book shelf.

Cas took down the books Bobby had been trying to reach, and set them on his desk, and watched him heave himself up into the chair.

“They won’t help,” he said.

“Yeah, looks like same’s true about a certain damn angel.”

Cas bit down on his temper. He was tired of being treated like he constantly let these humans down, like they had set the bar low and he still disappointed.

They had no idea the forces at work in this, the sheer power amassed against them that he was resisting on their behalf, on humanity's behalf, and that what they saw as the simplest of tasks were simply not.

But he wasn’t about to get into the same old argument with Bobby about what the difference was between refusing to do something and not being able to.

Bobby needed someone to blame for what happened to him. His anger kept him going. Castiel gave a face, a presence, to be angry at, and if it kept him going, because they needed him, the brothers needed him, Cas was willing to endure.

It didn’t mean he liked it.

“But you will regain your years without the need for counter spells.”

Bobby slammed shut the book he’d been reading. “Right. And I guess the apocalypse is just on hold in the meantime. And when it does happen, I’ll be cha-cha-cha-ing my way around the yard, right?”

He realised Bobby already knew the answer to that.

“Fucking angels,” the hunter said, and Cas took that as the dismissal it so clearly was.

++

The next few days didn’t go easily, for any of them.

Castiel was used to dealing with difficult personalities. Heaven was full of them, and he was related to most.

But Bobby Singer could have given lessons in how to make an angel want to pluck out their feathers in frustration.

It helped a little that Castiel alone didn’t bear the brunt of the older human’s temper. He shared it evenly between them, so much so that Castiel wasn’t surprised to hear Bobby cursing loudly two evenings later and then stomping into the panic room.

Since Bobby’s physical predicament would have to fix itself, in a sense, Castiel had sought to be of use in other ways, and had starting putting additional wards on the panic room.

With only a finite amount of Grace available, since Heaven had shut him out, he’d been doing it the old fashioned way, and he put down the paintbrush as Bobby came raging into view.

“Where the hell are those two boys?”

Cas gave him a look. Since he’d burned the sigils into Dean and Sam’s ribs, he had no way of finding them, just like the rest of the angels didn’t either.

And he’d been downstairs for more than an hour, alone, making it impossible to answer Bobby’s question.

“Is the Impala outside?”

Bobby scowled at him. “No.”

Cas went back to painting the next section of warding on the wall. He knew the brothers wouldn’t have gone far, on a hunt for instance, not as things were, or at least not without saying so.

More than likely, they’d just wanted to get away from Bobby’s temper for a while, and Cas couldn’t blame them.

“They’ve probably just gone into town.”

He could feel Bobby glaring, but Cas didn’t react; he kept doing what he was doing, and finally heard footsteps retreating, though not as heavily as before.

Reaching into his pocket, he grabbed his phone and sent both brothers a quick text.

At least tell me you are both safe.

It was Sam who replied.

Just needed to get out of there for a bit. Sorry. You be okay with him?

Cas heard a door slam loudly upstairs, and some muffled cursing.

Probably.

++

When he was done in the panic room (and he might have stretched out the task to avoid him having to go upstairs sooner), Cas ventured up into the house.

The first floor rooms were empty, and he was starting upstairs when he heard a knock at the door.

He turned back, and peered out through the window to see who was there.

The brothers, he knew, had keys, and so wouldn’t be knocking for entrance.

And he didn’t recognise the three men standing there anyway.

Cas opened the door, enough to see out, and stared at them expectantly. “Yes?”

One of them craned his neck a little, trying to see past the angel.

“Uh…. The Winchesters home?”

Castiel studied them. Not angels. Not demons. Humans, but he could sense deceit in them.

“Who’s asking?”

He heard the voice behind him, young but with the confidence of years in it, and it was a distraction at exactly the wrong moment.

He turned, intent on waving Bobby back, and one of the men stabbed him.

With an angel blade.

Cas staggered back, lashing out as he did so, and breaking the wrist of the man who’d attacked him.

His aim, thankfully, was off; the blade was lodged in his shoulder, short of the kill spot, but it hurt and his strength seemed to be bleeding out even as his shirt turned red.

The other two men surged forward, one of them going for the hurt angel, and that was when the shotgun blast came, sounding like thunder in that small space.

Bobby was standing on the third step, coming down from upstairs, and that put him about level with the intruders.

He was carrying a shotgun that looked immense in his small hands, but there was no doubt his capability in using it hadn’t been lost with his years.

One of the men, the one who’d grabbed at Castiel, was on the floor, groaning, clutching at his side.

“Dutch and his no good pals,” Bobby spat. “Should have known. What’d they offer you, huh?”

The one Cas presumed was Dutch, the only one still standing unhurt, raised his hands, but Cas knew he’d try something if he had a chance.

“Bobby Singer, look at you! Yeah, they said they thought their little present might have got somebody else. I did this one for free, old man,” he said. “Chance to fuck up those Winchesters? Huh. I’d have paid for it.”

Bobby let off another round, this one landing inches from Dutch’s feet.

“Get the hell out,” he said. “I see you around here again, around my boys, I’ll kill you where you stand.”

Cas had never used a firearm. But he had sat watching Dean clean several, and had picked up some basic knowledge.

Which was why he knew Bobby had just made a serious mistake.

His shotgun held two rounds.

He’d discharged both.

Dutch seemed to know it as well.

He rushed Bobby, pulling a knife from his belt, with an eagerness Cas knew would be lacking if he was faced with Bobby as he had been a few days before and not this much shorter, smaller version.

Cas yanked the angel blade from his shoulder, stepped into Dutch’s path as he lunged towards the stairs, towards Bobby, and shoved him.

Hard.

Dutch went flying back a good twenty yards, and when he fell he didn’t get back up.

Cas rolled the angel blade in his good hand, and stared down at the other two humans.

Behind him, he heard Bobby reloading, and then the hunter was next to him, using the shotgun to nudge the guy with the broken wrist.

“Get your asses out of my house,” he said. “Before I let him loose on you the whole damn way.”

Cas bristled (he wasn’t an attack dog) but said nothing as the two men hauled themselves and each other to their feet and staggered outside.

They went to Dutch, and tried to move him, but then stepped away, and looked angrily back at the house, and the two figures watching them back.

Then they dragged themselves away, and a moment later the angel and the hunter heard a vehicle speeding off.

Cas looked at Bobby, shaking with anger and probably a little fear.

Cas couldn’t blame him. That had been too close, but he supposed he should have known Heaven would still try to take advantage of their situation.

“You’re bleeding over my floor,” Bobby said.

Cas looked down to see he was dripping blood into the carpet.

Bobby grumbled something under his breath, and then tugged the angel back and shut over the door.

“Get your ass in the den,” he said. “Let’s get that stitched up, idjit.”

++

Having a wound stitched was...unpleasant, Cas decided.

Even before being cut off from his home, Cas would have felt an injury caused by one of their own weapons.

Treating it would have been unnecessary. It hadn’t killed him so he would have pushed on, and with full Grace even the attentions of a Rit Zien wouldn’t have been required.

But here, as he was, he felt every single tug of thread through his skin, maybe because in that body Bobby struggled a little more with the job.

It did stop the bleeding, though, and Bobby taped a dressing into place over the site until Cas was able to heal it completely.

“What the hell will they try next,” he muttered, as he tidied away the trash.

Cas stared at him. “Say that again.”

Bobby glared at him. “They stab you in the ear and you didn’t tell me?”

Cas came quickly to his feet, and maybe a six foot angel was intimidating after a fight when your body was three foot and forty years different from how it used to be, but Bobby took a sharp step back.

“Your voice,” Cas said.

“What the hell about…”

Cas saw Bobby’s eyes widen as he realised, and it happened very quickly after that.

He had time to catch the older hunter as the change reversed, and Bobby’s legs gave out, and only Castiel’s hold stopped him crashing to the floor.

“Dammit,” he snapped, and lay there panting in Cas’s arms.

“Where’s your chair,” Cas asked, gently.

Bobby pointed through to the front room, and stiffened when Cas went to pick him up.

“Don’t you damn well dare,” he said. “Go get it and bring it here.”

Cas nodded, and did as Bobby had asked.

He put on the brakes, and stepped back when Bobby waved him off and hauled himself back into the chair, getting his feet onto the rests, and fastening the belt around his middle.

There didn’t seem anything to say, but Cas wished there was something. He didn’t know what comfort Bobby would accept, and then realised he probably wouldn’t accept any.

“Better ring those boys,” Bobby said. “And you tore your stitches, dumbass.”

Cas looked down to see blood staining his dressing, and sighed.

++

The brothers came back to find Bobby restored, a bleeding angel and a dead body in the yard.

Sam took care of the body, while Dean redid the stitches in Cas’s shoulder as Bobby and the angel took turns filling him in.

Near as Cas could figure, the burst of adrenaline from the fight had hastened Bobby’s return to normal.

They didn’t miss how he’d snorted at Cas using that word to describe him. Cas knew Bobby wouldn't want, or accept, their pity, but he still wished there was another way to heal now he was cast out.

Bobby deserved better than this.

But then, so did Dean and Sam. Their lives deserved to be better.

It wasn’t much comfort to Cas that, even if he still had his previous powers, there would still be limits to what he could do for his family.

Yes, his family. Even Bobby, gruff and resentful and sour.

Maybe he was no longer the angel he had been, but whatever he was now, he’d do everything he could for them.

For the humans he’d come to love.