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Thin Ice

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Castiel stood by the Impala, hands in the pockets on his trench coat, the biting winter wind nipping at his face. Normally he wouldn't notice the chill, but he'd been experiencing a lot more…human traits the last few months, the cold only one of them. His fall was inevitable, and really, seemed fitting. After all, what was he really good for anymore? He couldn't even find his absent Father. Probably because God didn't want to be found and Castiel had been living a delusion that hadn't proven useful to anyone.

Even now, they were running out of time to stop the apocalypse and Sam and Dean had insisted on going off on this case. But really, Castiel couldn't blame them. It hurt him too, to know that children were dying and as dire as their current situation was, they couldn't let this continue.

He glanced over toward the house as the door opened and Sam and Dean came out, heads bowed, somber in their FBI suits. Castiel had opted to stay outside while they questioned the latest victim's parents. He could hunt, he could fight, but he didn't want to see any more pain right now. Not when he was already so full of his own.

Castiel shifted to open the back door of the Impala but didn't get inside yet. "Did you get any new information?"

Sam sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Well, apparently their daughter was out in the woods too and something spooked her so she ran back not knowing her brother wasn't following. She said she saw a 'lady in white' attack her brother."

Castiel frowned. "Do you think this is a woman in white?"

Dean shook his head. "Doesn't fit the MO. Besides you saw the bodies, that wasn't a typical ghost kill."

Castiel shuddered slightly. Dean was right. He'd never seen a ghost that killed that way. The three children and the one ranger that had died in the snow over the last two weeks had all seemed to have died of hypothermia—at least that's what the coroners had ruled as the cause of death. When Castiel had taken a closer look, however, he found that the victims had also been drained of their life force.

"We need to do some research," Sam said. "Can you drop me at the library on the way through town?"

Dean nodded and they all climbed into the Impala and drove off. They dropped Sam at the library so he could look through records in case this was a ghost after all, and Castiel and Dean returned to the motel room to go through some of the lore books they had with them.

Castiel found he was glad to get out of the cold, his nose and fingers actually starting to get numb, tingling now as they heated up again. He found himself staring at his pale fingertips until Dean called to him.

"Cas? Hey, are you okay?"

Castiel started out of his dark musings and turned to the elder Winchester who was putting a pot of coffee on. "I…yes, I'm fine."

Dean eyed him knowingly. "You sure? Because, don't take this the wrong way, but you've been weird since the Heaven thing. And I get it, I do, my dad didn't have the best record for sticking around either, but we're still fighting a war, Cas. We all have to keep fighting."

Castiel felt a welling of anger in his chest and he turned to glower at Dean. "Your father did not take the fate of the universe with him, Dean. He did not abandon the world! Your father still showed up when you needed him most, I don't even seem to have that luxury. Don't bother trying to understand things you could never possibly understand."

Dean frowned, his mouth opening as if about to retort, but then he clamped his mouth shut and gave a sharp nod. "You're right. I don't understand. But I do know that you can't always trust in parents either. They're not is infallible as you might think."

Castiel didn't bother protesting any more. There was no point in trying to compare his situation with Dean. The human hunter could never fathom what it was like to have such a powerful and omnipotent being as a father. To never have so much as seen his face. Castiel had begun to wonder recently whether his Father had ever existed at all. His belief had once been so strong, and now he had to struggle to find a scrap of it at all.

Dean turned back to pour some coffee into a cup, clearing his throat in order to change the subject. "Well, either way, kids are dying, and we need to figure out what this SOB is so we can get back to stopping the apocalypse."

That Castiel could at least agree upon. He sat at the small table with Dean. The Winchester began looking on the computer while Castiel flipped through some of the books they had.

It was a long process, and Sam came back before they had found anything useful.

"You find anything?" Dean asked his brother.

Sam shook his head. "Lots of deaths, some even in the woods where these are happening, but only one woman, and she doesn't really fit the profile of whatever this is. But I never really thought it was a ghost in the first place."

Dean sighed. "Well, I've been looking into local lore and found the grand total of jack squat here."

"There's got to be something," Sam said with a quiet desperation as he grabbed a couple of the books Castiel hadn't gotten to yet and the three of them went back to work.

After a couple more minutes, Sam let out an interesting sound. "Hey, I think I might have found something." He held up a small book with Japanese characters, a picture on one side of the page depicting a woman wearing white, standing in a swirl of snow.

"Only problem is it's in Japanese," Sam said.

"Send it to Bobby," Dean said but Castiel reached out and took the book.

"Let me," he said.

Dean glanced at him with raised eyebrows. "You read Japanese?"

Castiel frowned, confused. "Of course. I can read and speak every language ever created."

"Even Klingon?" Dean inquired as Sam snorted and rolled his eyes.

Castiel furrowed his brow. "I'm…not familiar with that…"

"Never mind, Cas, what does the book say?" Sam asked eagerly.

Castiel looked at the text. "Well, this is a yokai from Japanese lore called Yuki-onna, which essentially translates to 'snow woman'"

"Is it like a Japanese version of a woman in white?" Dean asked.

Castiel shook his head. "No, she's more like a succubus than a ghost, she feeds off the life force of people."

"Just like all the victims," Sam said, eyes wide. "You said their life force had been siphoned off."

Castiel nodded. "Yes. It says she only appears in the winter and often goes after children, probably because they have a strong life force—or men who she tries to secude before she ultimately kills them."

"Bitch," Dean grumbled. "So she's kind of like a striga?"

"Something like that," Castiel said.

"How do we kill it?" Dean asked.

"Typically, a blessed blade will kill most of the things from Japanese origin," Sam said. "I'll have to ask Bobby."

"What about an angel blade?" Dean asked.

Castiel cocked his head to one side, considering. "It should work."

"Okay, well how do we find her then?" Sam asked.

"She only feeds for a limited time each year, and she's not particular if someone wanders into her path," Castiel said. "We likely only have to go out to the area where the other victims have died and she will find us."

"Great, sounds about as safe as our usual plans," Dean said with a sigh. "I say we go first thing tomorrow."

Castiel nodded, looking over the text in the book again. A little distraction and then they would be back to fighting the end of the world. He sighed deeply and tried not to look too distressed at the prospect of spending another night, sleepless and wondering why his absent father would not be found.

~~~~~~~

The next morning found them out in the woods, crunching through a fresh snowfall as they went on the hunt for the suspected Yuki-onna. Castiel once again felt more aware than he should have been of the chill in the air. Sam and Dean had added gloves and hats to their usual gear but he had declined when Sam had offered him some as well. He didn't need them to know just how bad this was getting.

"Okay, so we don't really know what we're walking into, but with any luck we can gank this thing with an angel blade," Dean said as he pulled out the extra ones he and Sam used, handing one to his brother, and then tucking his pistol into the back of his waistband. "Just in case." He slung his bag over one shoulder and nodded toward the woods. "Let's go."

They trudged through the snow, which was rather deep even though it was still mid-winter. Castiel looked around, trying to spot anything unfamiliar or out of place, but so far there seemed to be nothing.

It wasn't long before a piercing scream split the frigid air though.

"Where was it?" Sam asked, whipping around, his angel blade held at the ready.

"That way," Castiel pointed instantly to the left and the three of them hurried on until they came upon a harrowing sight.

Two young girls were running through the snow until a misty white figure appeared in an icy flurry and grabbed one. It was definitely the Yuki-onna, a pale, dangerously beautiful woman in a long white, flowing dress that looked like it was made of ice. She lunged toward one of the girls, snatching her arms and spinning her around until she crouched at the girl's level.

"Stay, darling, you'll only feel it for a moment."

The other girl screamed again. "Katie!"

Castiel and the Winchesters rushed forward. Sam grabbed the girl who wasn't captured and Castiel went for the girl the Yuki-onna had, while Dean lunged directly at the Japanese spirit.

"Hey! You want a real meal, bitch?" he shouted, swinging the blade in a wide arc as Castiel hauled the girl out of the way, feeling her go limp in his arms.

The Yuki-onna dodged Dean's blow and snarled into Castiel's face as he pulled the girl away. Her eyes locked with his for a second and her pale orbs bore into him intently. Something like interest sparked in her expression and she reached out for him before Cas stumbled aside with the girl. The Yuki-onna hissed as she saw Dean lunge at her again and floated away before she disappeared in a swirl of snow, leaving Dean stumbling forward from his momentum.

"Where'd she go?" Dean demanded.

Castiel was kneeling in the snow, the girl in his arms. She was pale and cold, her lips tinged blue. He placed a hand on her forehead, but only then remembered that he couldn't heal her. Despair washed over him and he pulled his hand away in disgust. He couldn't even heal a child anymore.

Father, please, he practically begged. Please at least let me help this child.

"Katie!" the other girl cried, finally getting away from Sam's grasp before she collapsed next to Castiel, grabbing the unconscious girl's hand.

That was when Katie stirred, her eyes fluttering open and Castiel breathed a sigh of relief. Sam and Dean hovered nearby.

"Cas?" Dean inquired.

"She'll be okay," Castiel told them, letting the girl sit up and fall into her friend's arms. They both sobbed, obviously terrified.

"What was that thing?" Katie wailed.

Castiel looked at Sam and Dean. Dean stepped forward, crouching down next to them. "She was a bad woman, but you'll be okay now." He glanced up at Sam. "Sammy, get them back to the car and warmed up. Call a ranger to pick them up; Cas and I will finish out here."

Sam nodded, and bent to pick up Katie before taking the other girl's hand. "Okay, come on, we'll have you back home soon."

Castiel watched as Sam hurried back toward the Impala with the two girls, then he and Dean continued on.

"Where do you think she will be?" Dean asked, looking around. "She seemed to come out of nowhere."

"She does," Castiel said grimly, also searching the area. "But I think she'll find us. She will not be happy, especially after we interrupted her meal." What he didn't say was that the Yuki-onna would most definitely be interested in him. Castiel knew she had seen his grace, a much higher source of power than a human soul. She wouldn't be able to resist.

Dean sighed. "I always hate playing bait."

It was not exactly Castiel's favorite thing either, but he was ready for what was to come.

A cold wind cut through the trees and Castiel couldn't help but shiver. Dean glanced over at him with a frown.

"You cold? You should have layered up."

Castiel sighed and pushed past Dean to follow the gust of wind. "I'm fine. I think the Yuki-onna is near."

They came out into an open space occupied by a lake. It would have been a lovely swimming spot during the summer time, but now was frozen over, the ice frosted by the falling snow.

And then the figure of the Yuki-onna appeared in the middle of the lake, her eyes finding Castiel's even so far away. He gripped his blade as Dean shifted beside him.

"There," the hunter growled. "One of us should go around the other side and cut her off…Cas!"

Castiel was already stepping out onto the frozen lake before Dean grabbed his sleeve and yanked him back. The angel whipped around.

"What are you doing?"

"What are you doing?" Dean demanded. "You have no idea how thick that ice is, you could go in!"

They had no more time to argue though, because the Yuki-onna was floating over to them, gliding over the ice as small flurries swirled around her. One instant she was three yards away and then she was all of a sudden in front of them.

"Cas!" Dean shouted and swung his blade.

The Japanese spirit gripped his wrist in what seemed to be an iron hold and then breathed a puff of frozen air into Dean's face.

"No!" Castiel shouted as the hunter went blue in the lips, his body shuddering before the Yuki-onna threw him to one side, where Dean slammed into a tree and fell limply to the ground.

"I'll get you later, handsome," she said. "This one, I'm much more interested in."

She turned back to Castiel as he surged forward, his blade raised. She dodged one blow, then grabbed his wrist and twisted enough to hurt. Castiel cried out and watched his blade fall into the snow as the Yuki-onna grabbed the front of his coat, pulling him close.

"You," she said, hunger in her eyes. "You are so full of light, of life force. I've never seen anything like it."

She reached up and took his face between her hands, leaning in until her lips almost brushed against his as if to kiss him, then she inhaled and Castiel felt a horrible tugging at his grace as she began to suck his essence out of him.

He let out a strangled, pitiful sounding whimper, the only sound that could escape his throat and tried to pull away, but his body instead only fell limp, cold eking into his bones, replacing his energy. He sank to his knees and she followed him, still feeding off his power.

Then everything shattered. There was a flash of steel and the Yuki-onna screamed, halting her feeding. She released Castiel and he collapsed into the snow, sucking in a shuddering breath as he felt his grace fight to make sense of what happened. She'd taken some of it, though, he knew she had, and he had precious little left to lose.

He finally looked up and saw Dean standing facing her, his blade held ready. The Yuki-onna had a gash in her back, and pale blood was seeping into her white dress, sparking with small silver bursts that looked all too much like angel grace.

She laughed. "I don't think you'll be able to defeat me so easily little hunter. Not now."

She swirled away in the snow and Dean cursed at the empty air before he glanced over at Castiel.

"Cas!"

The angel tried to sit up, and Dean hauled him the rest of the way, gripping one shoulder so Castiel didn't fall back down.

"You okay?" Dean asked.

"I…" Castiel didn't get a chance to reply before the snow swirled around behind Dean again. "Dean, watch out!"

The hunter barely turned before the Yuki-onna backhanded him across the face and sent him sprawling into the snow. Castiel surged to his feet, grabbing his dropped blade and taking a fighting crouch as he faced off with the Japanese spirit.

"Whatever you are, I want more of it," the Yuki-onna said to Castiel. "Come with me, and I will only take as much as I need."

Castiel shook his head. "No." He lunged forward with his blade.

The Yuki-onna sighed. "Then I will just have to take all your power now."

She tried to grab him again but Castiel was ready this time and dodged, swiping at her. He caught her across the cheek and she gasped, turning her head to one side before she swirled away again.

Castiel spun around, looking for her, furious. He couldn't even take out a basic Japanese spirit anymore? Dean was stirring but he didn't have time to check on the hunter. He then spotted the Yuki-onna out in the middle of the frozen lake as if taunting him.

Castiel gripped his knife tightly and started out onto the ice.

"Cas, wait!" Dean groaned, hauling himself up.

But Castiel was already out there, and he stared down the Yuki-onna before he closed his eyes and forced his frozen wings to work, disappearing before he reappeared behind her and stabbed her through the heart.

The Yuki-onna gasped, her eyes glazing over, then she simply dissipated into a swirl of snow.

Castiel took a breath of relief and glanced back toward the shore, nodding to Dean that it was over.

A loud snap sounded out and Castiel looked around with confusion, wondering what it was.

He saw Dean stiffen and wave frantically at him. "Cas! Careful, the ice—!"

By the time he figured it out, it was too late.

The ice cracked directly under Castiel's feet and between one breath and the next, he plunged into the water below.

After that the breath was punched from his body as he scrambled for purchase. He grabbed hold of the ice, but it cracked beneath his hands and he sunk deeper. He flailed his arms and legs, but his heavy clothing made it impossible to pull himself back up through the water. He sank further and further until darkness began to overtake him along with the cold. Water filled his lungs—lungs he suddenly realized he needed, and the darkness encroached upon him.

This was it, he decided. He wouldn't even get the chance to die in the apocalypse, he would die here, frozen and desperate, falling yet again.

Falling with no hope that his Father would save him.

~~~~~~~

Dean's first instinct when he saw Cas go through the ice was to rush after him, but he stopped himself. That would only send him in too.

He grabbed the bag he had dropped when the fight started and took out a rope. Cas was an angel, he should be able to get out of there himself, right? Dean tied the rope to a tree trunk and made a loop out of the other end. Cas didn't need to breathe, right? So if Dean threw him a rope he should be able to pull himself up.

But Cas was falling, and it was only getting worse. The angel was trying his best to hide it, but Dean saw. The weariness that plagued Cas constantly—it was only a matter of time before the angel started to need to sleep and eat. The fact that any injuries he got healed a lot slower than they had before. How Cas hadn't been flying as much as he used to...

And of course, his deepening depression when his search for God had turned up nothing. Dean had seen the signs and he should have done more to help.

But still, that didn't mean Cas was going to die from falling into a frozen lake. That just wasn't going to happen.

"Dean!"

Dean heard Sam's shout and was relieved when he looked over and saw his brother running up the path.

"Sammy, help!" Dean cried.

"What happened? Where's Cas?" Sam demanded. "Did you get the Yuki-onna?"

"Bitch is dead, Cas took her out right before he fell through the ice."

Sam's eyes widened and he glanced between Dean and the hole in the ice. "What do we do?"

Dean gripped the rope, looping it around his waist to anchor himself. "I'm going to try to fish him out. Just…make sure I don't go in too."

"Dean, Cas is…he should be able to get out himself, right?"

Dean swallowed hard. "He's been down there too long. If he had been able to, he would have already."

Sam looked grim and nodded then stood by the tree the rope was tied to, ready to haul Dean back in if anything happened. Dean took a deep breath and stepped onto the ice.

A few feet out, he crouched and laid down on his stomach, spreading his body weight as much as possible. He crawled toward the hole and peered in.

He couldn't see Cas at all.

"Dammit," Dean muttered, not knowing what he was expecting. He looked around frantically, wondering how far the angel had gone. "Cas, come on, man, you're not going to die from this."

He then saw a shape under the ice a few feet away, and recognized it for a tan trench coat. Cas' back was pressed up against the ice from below. Dean hurriedly crawled over, careful as he felt small cracks start around him.

"Dean?" Sam called.

"I got him!" Dean replied. He slammed his fist against the ice, but it was too hard to break like that. He then grabbed his pistol and slammed the butt of it into the ice until it broke. He kept going until the hole was open enough for him to reach into the freezing water and grab Cas around the waist, hauling him out.

The angel sprawled limply against the frozen surface and Dean scooted backward to safer ice as more of it started to crack around them.

"Got him!"

Sam waited anxiously as Dean dragged Cas carefully across the ice and then reached to help him haul the angel onto the snowy bank as Dean collapsed, panting and shuddering from the cold and anxiety over the fact that Cas still hadn't showed any sign of life.

"Cas, come on," Dean muttered as Sam ripped a glove off and pressed his less frozen fingers against Cas' throat, trying to find a pulse. Dean pulled out a blade and held it against Cas' mouth, but no breath showed there. The angel's lips were blue and his face was deathly pale.

Dean set his jaw. He wasn't going to let this be it. Cas didn't deserve to go out that way. He pushed Sam's hands away and pressed a palm into Cas' chest, then pushed down, hard. Then did the same again with both hands, hoping—no, actually praying—that Cas would come back to them.

On the third try, Cas' eyes flew open and water burbled from his mouth. Sam grabbed him and turned him onto his side as Cas choked up the water in his lungs and Dean settled a hand on Cas' back, patting him gently.

"Welcome back, buddy," he said in relief.

~~~~~~~

The walk back to the car was not an easy one. Castiel was shaken, even if he didn't want to admit it, even to himself. He'd nearly drowned. Dean had had to force the water from his lungs, and on top of that, he was freezing.

"Just a little further," Sam promised as Castiel tripped for the umpteenth time.

He could barely feel his limbs, arms slung around Sam and Dean's shoulders as they practically dragged him back to the car through the snow.

He was more relieved than he should have been to see the Winchester's Impala. Dean slipped away and opened the car up, grabbing some blankets from the trunk. Castiel shuddered slightly and felt his knees collapse before Sam took more his weight.

"Easy, we'll get the heater on, and it's only a short drive to the motel." Sam started to peel the water-logged trench coat and suit jacket off Castiel's shoulders, and the act only made it easier for the biting wind to cut through his vessel.

Castiel opened his mouth, surprising himself as his teeth chattered. "Th-the g-girls…?"

"Ranger was already here when I got back," Sam told him. "He took them back to their parents."

Castiel felt relief. At least the girls would be safe. At least the Yuki-onna hadn't escaped before he fell through the ice. He'd at least done something right.

"Sam," Dean called and wrenched open the back door of the Impala, throwing the armload of blankets inside before he sat in the driver's seat and turned the car on, cranking up the heat before slipping out of his own wet coat. Sam threw Castiel's wet clothes onto the floor of the car and helped the angel inside. The blast of the heater tingled almost painfully against Castiel's freezing skin, and Dean was turned around in his seat, wrapping a blanket around Castiel's shoulders as Sam got in beside the angel and shut the door behind him.

"I got him, just drive," Sam told his brother.

Dean didn't need any more urging. He gunned the car onto the road back into town as Sam tucked all the blankets they had around Castiel.

The angel still felt the cold biting into him though, his teeth chattering so hard he thought they might break. He caught sight of his hands and saw his fingernails were blue. His feet were frozen in his soaked shoes.

Sam, seeming to see this, opened his coat and pulled the angel in close to his chest, wrapping his arms around Castiel and rubbing his hands roughly up and down his torso. Castiel was confused by this sudden breach in the human rule of personal space, but then he felt Sam's ministrations start to get the blood flowing thorough him again, making his skin tingle. Sam's body heat was warming his back and the rough wool camp blanket wrapped around him had gotten damp from his wet clothes but was keeping the warmth in.

By the time they pulled back into their motel, he was practically convulsing with full body shivers, teeth chattering too hard to talk.

Sam and Dean bundled him into the room still wrapped in the blankets and the brief walk through the cold air after the heat of the car, made his shivers renew tenfold.

Dean cranked up the heater in the room as Sam took Castiel into the bathroom and unwrapped his blankets.

"You need to get out of the wet clothes," he said gently.

Castiel reached for the buttons on his shirt, his belt, but his fingers didn't work. He still couldn't even feel them aside from the painful tingling sensation that was assaulting his whole body. Sam swiftly took over and efficiently helped him undress before wrapping him in a towel. Castiel felt a brief flare of shame at his weakness, not even able to undress himself, but he realized he didn't care once Dean brought in a pile of warm, dry clothes for him from his and Sam's own bags.

"Here, get these on," he coaxed, grabbing another towel to briskly make sure Castiel was dry, then shoving a long-sleeved shirt over his head, forcing his arms through the sleeves. That was followed by sweat pants and a hooded sweatshirt. Dean pulled the hood up around Castiel's face and then led him back out to the room.

"Lay down, I brought in our heated blanket."

Castiel collapsed into one of the beds, unable to move farther. Dean wrapped a blanket that was indeed heated, over top of him then piled several more on top of that. Castiel was still shivering, but he felt the heat finally begin to seep into his body as he huddled under the pile of blankets, curled into himself.

He closed his eyes and looked inside, searching for his grace. It seemed like it was dormant, not doing anything to keep him warm like it usually did. He nearly panicked as it took him a moment to draw his lifeforce forward, but he finally did, feeling it spark inside of him, flaring a little as he poked at it. It was weak though, weaker than before. The Yuki-onna must have taken more than he realized. He took a shuddering breath that had nothing to do with the shivering.

"Cas?" he felt the bed dip as Sam called to him. "Do you think you can drink some coffee?"

"D-don't, need t-to d-drink," he murmured.

He heard Dean huff. "Come on, man, it doesn't matter if you need to drink of not, this will warm you up inside."

He gave a reluctant groan as Sam helped him sit up and Dean came over with a mug, holding it out to Castiel. The angel fought for a moment to free his hands, but Dean shook his head at him, seeming to see the angel wouldn't be able to hold the mug anyway, and simply put the rim to his lips.

It knocked against Castiel's teeth as he continued to shiver but he managed to sip a small amount of the hot drink. It burned his tongue and throat slightly, both from the heat and the liquor Dean must have added, but as it slid down inside of him, Castiel found the heat soothing. He eagerly drank more, until his shivers finally began to subside and he could feel the warm drink in his belly, offering him a little heat from the inside.

Dean poured him another cup of coffee and this time he could take the cup in his hands since he wasn't shivering so violently. The warmth of the mug eased the chill still in his fingers and he held the warm drink close to himself as he drank it slowly.

"You better now?" Dean asked him as he and Sam sat on the other bed, his eyes not having left the angel since he crawled into the bed.

Castiel gave a weary exhale but nodded. "Yes, not so cold now."

Dean's brow furrowed. "The snow spirit, did she…did she take some of your grace or something?"

Castiel ducked his head, an ache starting in his chest at his continually declining situation. He couldn't even look at the Winchesters for his shame.

"Cas?"

Sam's concerned voice, finally brought him back around and he pressed his lips into a thin line. "She may have…siphoned off some of my power, yes."

"Are you…you know, good?" Dean asked cautiously.

"I'm not human. Not yet," Castiel said a little shortly, hands clenching around the mug he held. But he would be soon, were the words that hung between them. This hunt had just solidified that in his mind. And sooner than he would have before because the Yuki-onna had taken some of the last precious bits of grace he had left.

He finally met the Winchesters' eyes then, lifting his chin to show a little defiance. "I can still fight."

"Cas, we're not worried about that, we're worried about whether you're okay or not," Sam said softly, a concerned frown between his eyes.

Castiel felt a small stirring of affection for the humans who had become more than just his mission, his duty—they had become his friends. But that still didn't help his situation.

"I don't…regret falling," he said finally. "I did what I knew was right, but…it's hard," he finished lamely and slumped further into the bed, a shiver shuddering through him once more as if to prove the point of his misery.

Dean sighed and leaned forward. "Look, man, what you did—siding with us—we're grateful, but you're our friend too, not just a bullet shield. You understand that, right? Powers or not, you're still our brother in arms, and we need all the people who are willing to stand with us on this thing."

"And what if I only put you in danger because I can't protect you?" Castiel demanded, voicing one of his biggest fears. He couldn't help but think of what would have happened if he hadn't been able to take out the Yuki-onna before he fell through the ice. Would she have gone after Dean and killed him? If he could barely stand against her what chance would he have against Lucifer and Michael's armies?

"You're still a warrior, Cas, that will never change," Sam told him. "Dean and I are only human and we watch each other's backs all the time."

"I just don't feel capable. I don't feel strong enough," Castiel said softly, feeling the pressure closing in, threatening to crush him. "I can't seem to do anything anymore. I can't heal you if you get injured, I can't find God, I can hardly even fight a lowly spirit. It might be best if I didn't help you after all. I'm beginning to believe I'm cursed."

Dean let out a sigh and stood, shifting to sit on the side of Castiel's bed. "Cas, look. I know what you're going through is hard…hell, I can't even imagine. But, for what it's worth, I believe that God brought you back for a reason. Why do you think He would bother if you weren't worth bringing back?"

Castiel gazed at the elder Winchester, slightly surprised. "You believe that?" he asked a bit skeptically.

Dean shifted his shoulders uncomfortably. "Maybe I've learned to have a little faith after all. But you know who taught me that? You."

Castiel felt something loosen inside of him, the pressure not quite as crushing. His grace was finally waking up again, and he could feel it seeping through his vessel, starting to warm and heal him. It wasn't much but it was still his own grace, and he knew he would feel better physically at least by tomorrow. And really, perhaps it still was his job to watch over Sam and Dean, to help them win this war. Everything had changed, nothing was as it had been written after all. Perhaps it was time to accept that. To accept they were fighting this war on their own.

Castiel took a deep breath and met Dean's eyes. "Maybe…maybe I also have faith in that," he said decidedly. "But even more, I have faith in you and Sam, that we can beat Michael and Lucifer. Together."

Dean seemed to relax a little at hearing this and Castiel felt the last of the tension ease out of his body, replaced by a simple exhaustion.

"Damn right," the hunter said and clapped Castiel on the knee before standing up. "But not until you get warmed up. I think you deserve a little rest."

Castiel couldn't even be distressed at that idea right now. He simply sunk deeper into the pile of blankets again, warmed by more than just the covers. He had something better.

People who had faith in him.