Castiel finds himself in a human body, which in itself is strange enough. It is even stranger that he cannot move his arms or legs. He flaps his wings furiously as he strains against whatever holds him down but he is unable to free himself.
He opens his eyes. The light is too bright and he blinks a few times when a face appears in his field of vision. It's a young woman, and it takes Castiel a moment to realise she is talking to him.
"Sir! Sir, I need you to calm down. No one will hurt you. You are in a hospital. You were struggling in your sleep so we had to restrain you. Can you hear me? Please calm down."
Castiel stops his fight, part confusion, part tactical decision. His grace is too weak to be of any use right now, and since he does not seem to be in any immediate danger he better save his strength.
His eyes quickly dart around the room as he takes in everything, from the white walls, to the second, empty bed, the closed door, and the large window that lets in bright afternoon sunlight.
When he feels someone touch his right hand, his eyes find the woman’s face again. He is almost curious now.
"My name is Sarah. Can you tell me yours?" she says with a smile, and the energy she radiates is genuinely friendly and kind. Castiel may not like the situation he finds himself in, but he decides that this girl is not to blame for it.
"Castiel," he tells her in a voice rough from lack of use.
"Okay, Castee-el." She struggles to pronounce his name. "Do you know where you are?"
"In a hospital. You just told me that." Annoyance creeps back into his voice, and maybe he doesn't like her that much after all if she continues to ask him stupid questions.
"That’s good. Do you remember how you got here? Do you remember what happened to you?"
He doesn't, and that is the most disconcerting part yet. He is an angel. Angels do not forget. Something is wrong. He needs to leave. He needs to get back to his brothers. He needs to find out what happened.
Castiel starts struggling against his bonds again, his wings ready to take him home, when he remembers that his grace is gravely weakened. He goes limp and closes his eyes, suddenly wondering if he wouldn't be better off dead than being in such a broken state.
"Castee-el?" The young woman tries to get his attention again. "What is the last thing you remember?"
Castiel stays still for a moment, hoping for the memories to return to him. They don't.
"Heaven," he finally says, and it is barely more than a whisper.
"Heaven?" she sounds confused. "I don't think I have ever heard of a town by that name.”
Castiel's eyes fly open, and his head tilts to the side, which he finds is an uncomfortable movement when lying on a hospital bed.
"You carry a biblical name, Sarah," he points out to her. "Surely you have heard of the heavenly realm."
"Oh. Okay." She seems a little unsure how to react to that, which Castiel thinks is understandable. Angel have not descended to Earth in a very long time.
"I'm not much of a Christian to be honest. What were you doing in... heaven?"
"It is my home," he explains to her. "I'm an angel of the Lord."
"When you woke up, you told the nurse you were an angel?"
The human across him looks tired, like he has had too many conversations like this. He taps his pen against the folder in his hands which Castiel finds annoying, but he is tired himself so he just briefly closes his eyes with a sigh.
Sarah had not reacted in any way he could have anticipated. Nor had any of the other humans in this institution. Instead of showing him the respect you would expect towards a warrior of God, there have been never ending questions and examinations.
Half of the time Castiel doubts they even listen to his answers.
Still, Castiel finds he does not hold a grudge against these humans. They are ignorant and annoying but Castiel believes them when they tell him they mean no harm.
He is weak, after all, they are right about that. The mere fact that they can hold him down proves it. The problem is that they won’t understand that their doctors and medicine and questions are not what he needs to regain his strength.
"Yes," he sighs, answering the same question for the 12th time.
"Why do you think you are an angel?" the human enquires but Castiel hardly listens.
His eyes have found the mirror behind the dark mahogany desk and he sets eyes on his human form for the first time. Deep blue eyes stare back at him under unruly dark hair, and Castiel feels a strange tug of sympathy and regret towards the owner of his vessel. He can't fathom why he would feel like this. Surely this man gave his consent freely. These are the rules.
It is only then he realises that the man's soul is not with him, the body entirely his own. He feels relief at the though of the human owner safe and at peace in Heaven.
"Castiel?" The human doctor looks at him expectantly. "Can you tell me why you think you are an angel?"
Castiel still does not answer. He just glares at the man.
"Do you know how you got here?"
Another question he has heard too many times already. But while he has learnt that trying to explain his angelic nature to them only leads to more questions, other answers seem to somewhat satisfy them. This is one of those.
"I have been told that I was found unconscious at the shore of a lake. I have no memories of how I got there. The first thing I remember is waking up in this institution."
It goes on like that, the same game over and over again. Faces, questions and answers start to blur into one.
Castiel wonders if he is being punished. What for, he does not know.
The only time he finds some peace is in the little room he starts to think of as his. It is not the one he first woke up in. The walls are just as white but this one is smaller and has only one bed. More like a cell than an actual room, the bars in front of the window makes him feel trapped. The hospital personnel assures him that they are for his own safety.
Castiel does not care too much. It is enough for him to be able to retreat into himself, and try to put the pieces of his damaged grace back together.
When he is sure that he has regained enough strength, he tries to reach out to his brothers and sisters. Praying to the host in general does not seem to get any results, so he tries to contact single members of his garrison instead. Uriel, Rachel, even Anna despite her Fall. And, of course, Balthazar. It is that moment when he realises with a shock what is missing.
All angels can contact each other using their grace but the connection is only formed when needed. Castiel's bond with Balthazar is different. It is a constant touch of grace to grace, a flow that blurs the edges of their essence into one. It is an eternal bond formed before the very beginning of time that allows them to always feel each other's presence, no matter how far apart they are.
Except that now Castiel can't. Where his brother’s warm, steady glow is supposed to be Castiel finds nothing but a dark loneliness.
Castiel forgets everything else, the hospital, his vessel, his missing memories, his still weakened grace, and reaches out for the one brother he cannot exist without. His search becomes more frantic and desperate with each passing moment, but Balthazar does’t answer.
It is only when the nurses storm his room to sink a syringe into his arm, that Castiel realises that his human voice is hoarse from crying out his brother's name.
Time is even more of a blur after that. People come and go, more question are asked but Castiel has stopped answering them altogether.
Soon they mostly leave him alone, or maybe Castiel just isn't aware of their visits anymore, he cannot tell. He mostly just sits on the corner of his bed that’s farthest from the door, wings wrapped around his human body to shield him from the world the best he can.
Even his plans for finding a way to return to Heaven are forgotten for now. The loss of Balthazar's grace is too painful, worse than anything he has ever felt in his entire existence.
But it is even more than that. Something that goes much deeper. Something even more horrible that he cannot remember and, for the first time, does not want to. Not now, maybe not ever.
The next time he comes out of his haze the voices that cut through to him sounds familiar even though Castiel cannot place them. They are directly outside his door, and for the first time in a long time, Castiel raises his head to listen.
"Yes, Doctor, we are sure that he is better left in our care. And either way, I don't think you have much of a choice but hand him over to us, do you?"
"We are experts on his kind of... condition. There is no need to worry."
The door opens and two men walk into his room. Castiel does not know anything about human fashion, but he cannot shake the feeling that their suits do not quite fit their personalities.
They both look at him like they have seen a ghost.
The taller of the two takes a step forward, holding out his hand like he wants to calm a wounded animal. The other one doesn't move, just looks at him with green eyes and an impression Castiel cannot read.
Castiel looks at them in turns. His entire being is flooded with a mixture of familiarity, guilt and fear, and Castiel has no idea on which of these feelings to act.
"Who are you?" he asks, because he can’t think of anything else to do or say.
They share a look, and now Castiel is sure that he sees pain in the green eyes of the second man who still hasn't moved.
Again, it is the other one that speaks.
"I'm Sam. This is Dean. We... we are your friends. We are here to take you home."
Somehow Castiel doubts that by ‘home’ he means Heaven, but he thinks that he would prefer any place over being trapped here, where he will not ever find his brother, or his way home, or as much as hope. He can also feel that low hum of warm energy that indicates that there was something like friendship between them once.
He nods and stands up slowly, signaling the two men that he agrees to go with them.
This building is older than the hospital, colder too. It contains only a threadbare couch and a table with two chairs in a dusty room. But there are no bars at the windows, and the door isn't locked, so Castiel feels less trapped.
The man with the green eyes, Dean, hardly speaks to him. He just looks at Castiel a lot, but Castiel still finds himself unable to read his expression.
The first time Castiel hears Dean’s voice is when the human hands him some sort of beige coat like it is the most sacred item in all of Creation.
"I just thought you might want this back," he says.
Castiel does not quite know why Dean thinks he would want a piece of clothing back. His appearance isn’t something he particularly cares about. But when he takes the coat from Dean and wraps it around his shoulders, it does make him feel a little better, almost like he regained a part of himself.
The other human, Sam, seems a little wary, like he is not entirely sure if Castiel can be trusted. He hides it well enough, though, when he asks him questions about his past.
Fortunately Sam does so in a far less annoying way than the people at the hospital. He also never doubts that Castiel is an angel, seems even glad that Castiel remembers this about himself.
Still, despite acknowledging Sam's attempts to help, Castiel can't seem to concentrate on their conversations for long, and quickly finds himself drifting away into his own mind again, not able to stay away from the gaping hole where he still expects to find his brother's presence. It is never there.
At least his own grace is growing stronger again, which, he assumes, is something.
Sometimes he listens to the two humans talk when they think he is asleep or too absorbed in his own thoughts to hear them, but he cannot make much sense of what they are saying.
"He can't even remember what happened." - "That's a damn shame. Those Leviathans won't kill themselves." - "Stop pretending like you don't care, Dean. It's not helping anyone."
It is in the middle of another one of Sam's elaborations on the Apocalypse, and Leviathans, and how it would really help if he could remember even if it’s painful, when the question just bursts out of Castiel.
"Where is Balthazar?"
Sam looks over at Dean who is watching them from the door to the small, dirty kitchen, some sort of amber coloured beverage in his right hand, and the room falls uncomfortably quiet.
"My brother," Castiel tries again. "Balthazar. If we fought in the Apocalypse together, as you say, he must have fought with us. Where is he?"
Something in Castiel’s grace knots together painfully, and the severed bond throbs like a phantom limb, but he has to know.
It is one of the rare times Dean answers him.
"He is dead, Cas. You were the one that killed him."
"Dean, maybe we shouldn’t..." Sam starts, but before he can finish the sentence, glass shatters, and Castiel has Dean pressed against the wall, one hand at his throat. A rage he has never felt before searing though his body and grace.
"I would never hurt my brother," he snarls, face just inches from Dean's.
The human’s eyes challenge him for a moment, but humans can only go without air for so long, and soon Dean starts choking.
"Cas. Can't breathe."
"I'm sorry, Cas, but that is what happened. We saw his wings," Sam calls to him a little desperately when Dean’s eyes lose focus.
Castiel lets go and sinks to the ground. He hardly notices Dean's hand clutching the doorframe for support. It cannot be. Balthazar can not be dead, and surely not by his hands.
But there is a part of him that knows that his earlier rage sprung from nothing but the knowledge that it is true. Deep down he has known from the moment he discovered their missing bond back in the hospital.
Windows shatter, and Sam and Dean crouch down, hands pressed to their ears, when Castiel cries out in pain.
In the deafening silence that follows, Castiel does not move, until suddenly the walls threaten to suffocate him, and he stumbles to his feet and out into the night.
The cool night air helps to clear his head a little and brings him back to his senses. He takes a deep breath, and stares up into the clear sky. His eyes trace the constellations and stop at one star. It is not particularly bright, nor does it stand out in any other way, but Castiel cannot take his eyes of this one light amongst thousands.
“Hey, man, I’m sorry for dropping that on you like this.”
Castiel doesn’t look at Dean, but nods slightly and clears his throat to answer the human.
“And I’m sorry for almost suffocating you.”
Dean moves closer, holding a bottle out to Castiel, dropping his arm when Castiel doesn’t take it, while taking a sip from a second one.
They stand in silence for a moment.
“How… how did it happen?” Castiel asks, trying to keep the tremble out of his voice.
“I’m not sure, but I think it’s safe to say that you weren’t entirely yourself at the time. If that helps any.”
It doesn’t, but Castiel still turns to Dean for the first time since the human joined him outside, to give him a small, grateful smile.
“Thank you.” He is not quite sure what he is thanking the human for, but if feels like the right thing to say.
“Yeah, whatever.” Dean waves his hand that is still holding the bottle, spilling some of the liquid inside, and grins back at him. Castiel wonders if this is getting a glimpse of the friendship that once might have existed between them.
“Do you mind if we go back inside? I know you guys don’t feel cold but I’m freezing my ass off.”
Castiel’s eyes drift back to the star, finding it again more easily than should be possible even for an angel.
“I’d rather stay out here for a while longer if you don’t mind.”
Dean just shrugs. “Suit yourself.”
When Dean’s footsteps have faded, Castiel flexes his wings experimentally, taps into his healing grace, and takes flight towards the star, spiraling higher and higher until the Earth is just a forgotten planet far below.
He closes his eyes and lets his grace carry him. The wind beneath his wings is soothing as he floats in the darkness. For a moment he exists outside of time and space, free of the physical world, free of pain, free even of himself..
When he opens his eyes again, two grey ones look back at him, crinkled at the corners in amusement, and at the same time full of worry and affection.
He cannot remember ever seeing his brother in this particular vessel, but he thinks that he probably has. He drinks in the other angel’s form, and if he didn't know better, he could swear that he can feel his brother's grace reconnect with his.
"Balthazar," he whispers. He knows that this isn't real, that Balthazar isn't really here. Except that he is.
Balthazar's voice is calm, but the words make Castiel’s grace flare up with emotions that are both painful and comforting.
"You've always got little old me," Balthazar assures him, and without remembering Castiel knows that the words comes from a memory. A bad memory that, right in this moment, is changing into a new one with a new meaning.
"Yes, I always have you," Castiel answers without a moment of hesitation or doubt, before he dives back down to Earth, ready to face past and future alike.