Pair: Castiel-focus, Dean & Sam later, Balthazar. Gen (or various slashy hints if you squint, I suppose).
Warning: amnesiac!Cas, err... pure woobie!Cas & the awesomeness of rhinos. Also... language, some brief gore. A little angst with overall fluff.
Spoilers: If you've seen 6.3 "The Third Man," you're safe. It's pretty vague after that.
Note: Inspired out of a conversation with misstwi on Twitter, where a fic about Cas having a pet rhinoceros seemed mandatory. Because we're weird like that. I was going to be utterly cracky about it, but somehow this took a... completely different turn.
Relevant fanart below! \o/
Summary: "Is that... a rhino?" / "He's my friend," Cas says. "I've named him Babe."
If you'd rather, you can also read on FFN.
Rhino rests in the cool grass next to his mother, curled against her hide as he listens to her heartbeat. He's dozing lightly, which is all he'd learned to dare while the Alpha of their herd paces warily back and forth along the perimeter of their encampment. Something has the Alpha nervous, and this makes the infant rhino even more-so. He's afraid it's something terrible, like the Lions again, or those herds of Men that had killed his cousin some months earlier. Not even to feed, that was the worst of it; they'd hacked off her horn and then left her bleeding carcass for the carrion, her once beautiful hide bitten with maggots as she rotted in the sun.
With that terrible image burned into his mind, the infant rhino is finding sleep to be elusive, his own heart beating wildly in contrast to his mother's. Nothing ever scares the Alpha but the Men. Not even the Lions had scared the Alpha before.
His mother rumbles slightly underneath his head, both soothing and stern in equal measure. Rhino shuts his eyes again. The Alpha snorts loudly through his nostrils, pawing at the grass.
He hears the rustle of the weeds, swaying in a light breeze. It lulls Rhino like the finest music, and he starts to fade, a sense of warm comfort sinking into his bones... and then there's a high-pitched whistling overhead, like a scream of the sky being sliced by a blade of white light. The Alpha roars, and then his mother's up and running, crying out for her son as panic ensues over the herd.
Rhino is lost. The sudden pounding of hoofs confuses him, and the world seems to tilt on its axis when the fear seizes his lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. He can hear his mother's voice, and he runs towards its direction, but it's too dark to see. Rhino wails, terrified and sure that he is going to die. His mother gives an answering cry, and he can hear the Alpha snarling at her to move on--the infant rhino runs, runs faster than he ever had before, faster than even when the Men came.
The sky is on fire.
Rhino looks up, breathless, as his hoofs pound to a stuttering halt. There are several points of light clashing together in the night sky, each resulting in a deafening boom louder than any battle he'd ever witnessed, louder than even the Men. The lights seem to be divided in two separate armies; one set slips back as the battle continues, overwhelmed by the forces of the other. Rhino watches, awed, as one of the lights at lead in the losing army clashes with the lead of the other army, and then there's a shock-wave of light so bright that it temporarily blinds him, a bang so loud that it leaves him deafened. He blinks, struck dumb, as wind slams the Savannah and nearly causes the infant rhino to lose his footing.
When his vision clears, he sees that the light with the losing army is tumbling towards the Earth, towards him. He runs, runs aimlessly with no hope for rescue, having already lost track of his mother and the herd. He squeals in panic, heading for the trees, heading anywhere but out in the open, vulnerable to the sky and the whims of these terrible bright lights.
But they're so far away now. He can't find the herd anywhere. He's lost, lost and alone out in the middle of the Savannah, and he's sure he is going to die--
THIS ISN'T OVER, CASTIEL. I'LL KILL YOU. I'LL--
Sir? Are you okay?
--FUCKING KILL YOU.
MARK MY WORDS--
Stay where you are, sir. We will come for you.
--YOU WILL DIE BY MY BLADE.
He groans, fingers clawing into the grass underneath him, pushing himself upright. He leans back on his arms, sprawled like wounded prey in the middle of the Savannah, his eyes wide, pupils dilated. He shakes his head. It's a mistake. Pain bashes against the inside of his skull, and sears down his spine in a white-hot path of fire. It temporarily blinds him; he groans again, louder this time. He clutches at his forehead with a shaking hand, and his fingers come down coated in blood.
His face feels hot and sticky. He scrunches his eyes, and glares overhead. The Eastern sky glows with the hint of dawn, and reds, blues, violets and yellows peek from the edges of the horizon, like half of a rainbow had been spilled there. It makes him stop and stare at the beauty of it. He mutters a brief prayer without realizing, and then shakes his head again, bewildered.
He curses at the pain that results.
His memory is like broken bits of smoked glass, in that there are fragments, but they are difficult to peer into and understand. He knows that there had been a battle during the night. A battle, and something about a sword, and wings etched in lightning as they sizzled and crackled through the upper atmosphere. There were in-human eyes glowing with insanity, and a voice screaming something wretched, something that ripped him in ways he couldn't quite enunciate, even in his thoughts. It had been beautiful, that voice, but terrible in its madness.
After that, he remembers pain. And then falling.
Everything hurts, even the bits of him that he can't see or touch beyond this form, because he knows, somehow, that this is not his body. It's confusing to him, and restrictive. He stretches his fingers once--the fingers that aren't his--examining the blood-stained palm and wondering why it isn't bigger. His hands should be bigger. He should be taller. Brighter. Different.
Something is wrong, but he doesn't know what it is, because he doesn't remember what had been right in order to fix it. But there's a presence humming deep inside him, burning hot, and it calms him slightly. It's just the right kind of warmth, like it's something he's grown used to, and he reaches for it tentatively, deep inside his body. It tingles when he touches it with his inner self, and then it moves slightly, shivering, and he hears a brief, irritable muttering.
Leave me alone, Cas.
It falls quiet again, and twists a little, as if rolling over to go back to sleep. Giving him a cold and angry shoulder.
He sighs, bewildered again. But he feels... safe in the knowledge that this presence is there, like it's precious to him, and he knows without knowing that he'll do anything to protect it. He clutches at his chest both physically and mentally, and wraps his inner self, his true self, around that warmth, shielding it from the pain still lancing through him. It comes on instinct, this protective urge, like a mother in danger curling around the infant in her belly.
The presence inside of him is silent, however, and it offers no further voice on the matter. He doesn't ask, even if he wishes could demand answers of it--it needs the rest, he senses. It sounds tired. Is it always this tired, he wonders? Did he do something to make it tired? Why had it been so irritable? Did he do something to anger it? He would never hurt it, he knew, not intentionally. He loved the presence very deeply, so deeply that the thought of any harm coming to it physically ached him, even more than pain of his wounds. But if he had hurt it, why did he? How could he? This thought troubles him. He isn't a bad person, is he? He doesn't feel very bad, but he can't remember. Perhaps that is why he'd been in that battle--perhaps he is a bad person fighting on the wrong side of some ongoing war. Perhaps he is more than bad, perhaps he is terrible. Perhaps, in spite of his love for this odd presence deep inside, he has hurt it willingly, and now...
He breathes in lightly, and wipes his bloody palm on his slacks. Quietly, he thinks that if he did do something bad to the presence, perhaps the presence will forgive him someday.
He certainly hopes so.
He touches his forehead again, gingerly this time. He hisses. The blood is seeping from a deep slice over his right brow, like some sort of blade had run across the edge of his skull. It's scabbed and crusty, and he winces at the sensation. But at least it seems to be healing, and he smiles a little at this, because maybe then the memories will return to him, and all of his questions will be answered.
He looks around, turning his head in either direction very carefully. There's no sign of civilization. There's no sign of anyone or anything. It's just... fields.
He'll need water soon. There are trees in the distance. He thinks perhaps looking for a river should be his first goal.
He gathers himself to his feet, wobbles a little, then steadies. Staggering through the pain of his Other Self, he begins to walk towards the forest. Everything hurts, but he tries his best to bear through it.
Tentatively, Rhino licks at the quiet river, his ears pricked for even the slightest noise. Without the herd, his days are numbered. A Lion could get him, or a Man, or something Else. He's tired, too, after a night of panicked running, but he'd only ever run in circles and the herd is no where to be found now.
He misses his mother. He wants to sleep, but he doesn't dare. The water, however, is cool on his tongue, and he allows himself the temporary luxury of getting lost in the sensation, savoring the relief. Then there's a rustle of grass to the side--he startles, snarling as menacingly as he can, and turns--
It is a Man, his face bloody, hands free and splayed a manner that seems both nervous and nonthreatening. Rhino remains tense, but quiets at the sight of the Man, for they are rare and curious creatures, and this one has no weapon. He has never seen one injured before. Shouldn't it know better than to wonder the river bank smelling of fresh blood?
"H-Hello," the Man says, and Rhino is surprised to find that he understands creature, as if it spoke his language (which is very strange indeed). "I am lost... I-I won't hurt you..."
Rhino relaxes, but only a little. He moves towards the Man, and the Man stumbles backwards, strangely terrified.
Rhino snorts through his nose.
"Do you... have a name?"
He doesn't understand the concept of names, and stares at the Man, because he is such an odd creature. The Man should bathe in the river, before it lures the Lions--or something worse--and Rhino briefly tenses when the awareness of this seizes him. Rhino steps closer still, each step slow and tentative, and the Man panics, stumbling backwards away from Rhino, falling gracelessly into the muddy bank. Rhino closes the distance between them, and nudges the Man with his horn, very gently, into the river.
It's like pushing a newborn; there is hardly any weight to the Man at all. The Man laughs nervously, stumbling into the water as all of him is quickly soaked. The blood is washed away, leaving only a crusty, closed wound behind on his forehead.
Rhino huffs. This is much better.
"You're just a baby," the Man says, his eyes wide with wonder now. "I will call you Babe."
Babe grunts at him happily.
Two days later, after learning that he does not need to eat or sleep, after his wounds are long healed and after he discovers that he is quite strong, defending Babe effortlessly against several large, growling beasts, he receives his first clue about who and what he is. It comes in a voice that is both crude and somehow intensely familiar, ringing in his head like the finest song he's ever heard in his life... if it were a song played one too many times, on a scratchy, overused record.
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to Cas to pick up the goddamn angel phone.
He knows this voice like he knows the presence inside of him, but he's not sure how and he doesn't know who it is or what to do. Riding along Babe's back, he tilts his head, frowning. It speaks up again after a short moment, apparently unhappy with his silence.
C'mon, Cas. I need your help.
"My help? I don't understand..."
His name is Cas. He can sense this to be true by the way the name jerks a memory of warmth and belonging from deep in the places where his mind still seems a bit shattered. It pleases him to remember anything, let alone something useful. Babe snorts quietly beneath him, chewing happily at patch of tall grass, ignoring Cas... who is apparently speaking to himself and no one else, because the voice doesn't seem to hear him.
Cas, you stubborn son-of-a-bitch. I know you're busy, but this is important. Get your feathery ass down here.
But still, the voice doesn't hear him.
Fine, it says, indignant. Don't blame me with another piece of Moses' big stick goes missing again.
Moses? Cas frowns, and slides off Babe's back, patting the side of the rhino's great neck. "I don't understand what's going on," he says. "Can you hear that?"
Babe says nothing, chewing the weeds with abandon. The rhino has chosen to tolerate Cas's presence because with Cas around, nothing and no one in the Savannah could hurt them. This is all that matters to Babe now, until he finds his herd again.
Cas sighs a bit morosely. "No, you can't."
The voice comes back again, this time tinted with worry. Wow, I thought that would get you. You really must be tied up. Just get here when you have a free moment, okay?
"Very odd. Is it normal to hear a voice in your mind, Babe? Am I going mad?"
The infant rhino pauses for a minute, and glances at Cas. Whatever he sees there, doesn't seem to worry the animal in the least. Babe returns to his meal with a soft snort, as if to say, No more mad than usual.
Cas pats Babe's massive shoulder, and sighs again. "Thank you, friend. Perhaps you are right. It is no great matter."
Another day passes, and then another. Babe learns that the Man likes to be called Cas, and he is looking for his herd as well.
"I remember little from before waking here, but I know there had been a great battle," the Man says, tilting his head slightly, a frown twisting his lips. "Surely someone is looking for me. Do I seem like the type to be missed, Babe?"
Babe isn't sure how to answer, so he continues to trudge through the forest, his keen ears pricked for the slightest sound. The forests are dangerous. Even with the Man, Babe does not feel safe here--but he'd caught smell of the herd before, and it given him hope that perhaps they had come this way. The Man had said earlier that hope was a very good emotion, and one that should be pursued to the very end.
"I hope I am the type to be missed," the Man continues. "It seems like if you are missed, you are a good person."
Babe climbs over a large root. The smell of the herd is gone--he's afraid he's truly lost now, and he'll never see his mother again. Even with the Man for protection, the fear of this reality sinks in. Not for the first time in many days, Babe wishes instead for his father. The Alpha had always seemed so sure, until the Men came...
"I am lost too," the Man whispers, caressing Babe's front horn. "I wonder if I have a father as well? Surely he is looking for me..."
Suddenly, the Man stiffens, and cocks his head slightly, as if hearing a noise. Babe tenses as well, though he hears nothing--it could be a beast. There has yet to be an enemy the Man could not defeat, but this is not to say the Man is untouchable. And without the Man's protection, Babe knows that he will die.
He rumbles softly, in question.
The Man mutters quietly to himself. "Dean? That's a strange name. I apologize, Dean, but I can't reach you. I don't know how."
The Man looks worriedly at Babe. "Perhaps I am doing something wrong?" To the sky, the Man says, "I don't know what you mean by a summoning spell. Why are you angry with me, Dean? What have I done?"
And then, suddenly, the Man's eyes begin to glow very strangely. He doubles over, as if in pain, and Babe hears the curious sound of wings. Wings that are beating erratically in panic. The Man grasps at Babe's leg, and utters, "I feel quite odd..."
There is a burst of white light from the Man--Babe recognizes it immediately, but it's too late to run.
"Cas? Jesus Christ, it's about fucking time!"
The first thing he is aware of is the presence of two young men. He feels his inner self pulled towards the man that had spoken first, a curious man with furious green eyes who seems to tremble with worry when Cas looks at him, blinking curiously. The man is the one who had been speaking to him inside of his head; he knows this, because he recognizes the voice. Cas is relieved to discover that he is not, in fact, mad.
Or no more mad than usual, he amends, thinking of his friend.
But he is interrupted from any further introspection by the panic of Babe to his right. The infant rhinoceros lets out a squeal to the sudden change of scenery, and Cas feels a sharp spike of terror soar through the animal. Acting with instinct, he gently lays a hand on Babe's lower jaw, and whispers softly, feeling a curious power seep through his hand into the animal, which echoes of sleepy contentment.
"It's alright, Babe," he says. "I think these are my friends."
He can tell it's true by the way that they look at him. The smaller one is angry to be sure, but there is worry too. In both of them. If there is worry, it means that they care, and he already knows they've missed him because they've called him here.
After Babe finally settles at his touch--it will be alright, he thinks to the rhino, again, I will always protect you--he looks at the two men, his head cocked slightly, and asks, "You are my friends, are you not?"
"What the hell is wrong with you? Did you hit your head?"
"Yes," Cas says, pleased to be finally getting somewhere. "It hurt." He touches his forehead in memory, but the cut is long gone. "How did I get here?"
"Summoning spell," the taller man says, speaking up for the first time. He's holding an old book and looking at Cas strangely, as if he were mad after all. Cas is worried, now, and considers asking if he is a good or bad person--he never did learn which--when the taller man looks at Babe, his eyes so wide that Cas is sure they could pop out of the poor man's skull. "Is that... a rhino?"
"He's my friend," Cas says. "I've named him Babe."
"Oookay," the smaller man chimes in, suddenly angry again. "You've gone Jason Bourne and you've got a pet rhino. I know you're weird, Cas, but this is fucked even for you."
"I don't understand," Cas mutters back, because these people are both very strange and very rude. He looks around--they are in some kind of empty warehouse, and it's dark outside. The building smells of oil and soot. He asks again, because they didn't answer earlier, "Are you my friends?"
"Yes," the taller one says, but he's eying Babe as if the infant rhinoceros presents a threat to him. Babe is still nervous and would be panicking if not for Cas's steady hand on his leg. Babe trusts Cas to protect him, this he knows. Cas reaches up and strokes Babe's horn, calming him further, as the taller man demands, "What happened, Cas? Were you in Africa?"
"I don't recall. Does Africa have rhinoceros's?"
"It does," the taller one nods, and begins to grin, as if amused. "No wonder you never answered those prayers." To the angry man, he adds, "This is pretty messed up, Dean."
"No kidding. What are we gonna do with a damn rhino?"
"I was talking about Cas's memories, but okay. That too."
"Pardon," Cas speaks up, hand lifted politely to catch their attention again. "Babe is looking for his herd. He lost them after I fell. Could you help us?"
The two men stare.
Cas ducks his head, afraid he'd said something wrong. "If you cannot, I'd like you to send us back to... Africa. I promised Babe that would I help him find his family."
"Can't you just fly him back?"
"No, he mentioned falling. Remember? Hey, Sam, do you think this means...?"
"Dean, I don't know. Why don't you ask him?"
They both turn to Cas, and stare again. Cas feels his face burn hot, and he stares at the floor, his hand still touching Babe's horn.
"Uh, Dean... I think we're gonna have to call Bobby on this one."
Cas still doesn't understand what's going on, and now he's ashamed of it. He wishes he were smarter, so that he would be able to follow this conversation. It seems like true friends would be able to communicate effectively. Perhaps these are not his true friends?
The shorter man sighs, searching for Cas's eyes until they both make contact and stare at each other for a long moment. Cas feels his Other Self warm to it, and he fights the urge to step closer to the shorter man. To Dean.
"Dean," Cas says. "That's your name. Dean."
"Yeah." There's a heaving sigh, like the weight of the world rests on this man's shoulders, and that seems like such a burden for someone so slight of build. Calloused hands tremble at Dean's sides for a moment, before they pull into fists. Those shoulders firm into something steely, determined. It is the look, Cas recognizes, of someone who is fiercely protective of their loved ones. He recognizes this because he's felt the same way for Babe, for the presence inside of him, for these two men he does not remember clearly.
Dean's voice is softer, less angry, when he finally says, "First thing's first. What's the last thing you remember, Cas? From before?"
Click me to see the ending.