So bright. Sharp. Hurts.
Spinning can't stop spinning.
Breathe. Faster. Need air. Hit, crack, hard. Dust. Breathe dust.
Push up, stand. Hot, bright. Forward, go forward. Moving, walking.
Walking. Walking. Walking.
Sound. People. Loud, shouting.
Scared, breathing hard. Falling, hard ground. Dizzy.
Flashing light. Voices, urgent, hands. Lifting, carrying.
"He's coming around. Can you hear me, sir?"
He nodded slightly and tried to speak, but his voice was a whisper, tight and dry. A hand lifted his head gently, put a cup to his lips and he drank slowly, coughed a few times. Then spoke in a pinched croak, "Where…?"
"Smith County Memorial," the voice, which belonged to a young woman in blue scrubs, was calm and steady. "You've hit your head, doesn't seem too bad. We stitched you up and checked everything else. Nothing broken, a few scrapes, and your feet are scratched up. Those are bandaged too, so they'll probably feel a little weird right now."
Brightness again, pinpoints against his eyes. He winced away, trying to put up a hand to cover his face.
"It's okay, just checking your pupil reaction," the woman said, putting away the penlight. "Looks good. So," she said carefully, "we have some questions if you're feeling up to answering."
He breathed slowly then said, "Yes."
"Okay, good," she smiled reassuringly. "You were found on the road coming into Lebanon, Kansas before you collapsed. The folks who picked you up said you were wandering in a daze. They brought you to the closest hospital, here in Smith Center."
He nodded, though it meant nothing to him.
"The responders who arrived on the scene said you were wearing just slacks, no shirt or shoes, and it looked like you'd been walking for a while. They're guessing you probably came from a little bit north of town. Do you remember?"
He paused for a moment, squinting. "I… walk…"
"Right. Now they didn't find any identification with you, so we need to know who you are and then we can contact someone to come for you."
The natural thing was to open his mouth and give an answer. But no sound came out. Because he had no answer. After a second of blinking, his eyes flicking back and forth as though trying to find the answer written somewhere nearby, he said shakily, "Don't know…"
He looked up at the woman, his eyes huge and pleading. "Don't know. Don't know…"
In his sudden panic, he began to thrash, nearly tearing loose the IV attached to his arm. The nurse laid her arms across his chest to restrain him, calling for help. Seconds later, he stopped struggling as the world went dark again.
Blurry. Flashes of light and dark. People moving around, talking. Beeps and clicks.
Pain. Head hurts, feet hurt. Arms won't lift. Moaning.
Faces come in an out of focus. Streaks of light follow them where they move. Blues and greens.
Gold. Sharp and sudden, rounded, glowing. Red. Bright long streak, dripping blood. White. Flaring bigger than the world.
Blink and it's gone.
He was gaining cognizance slowly. It was a different place now, busier, more people staring at him, talking around him, poking him. He twitched but didn't speak, furrowing his brow.
"Hello there," came a woman's voice. A new voice.
He turned his head shakily toward her. She was tall and a bit thin, with blondish hair and light brown eyes. There was a soft glow around her, blue-violet and soothing.
"Can you hear me, hon? Understand what I'm saying?"
He gave a small nod.
The woman smiled. "Good. I'm Dr. Donovan. You've been moved from Smith Center to Salina Regional, where we can better treat your injuries." The doctor sat down on a stool next to the bed. "Okay, I know this was done already but we need to ask again. Do you remember anything? Who you are, or where you've been?"
He swallowed hard, and gazed up at the ceiling. "No," he whispered. "I… no." He started to tremble and she placed a gentle hand on his to calm him.
"It's all right. It's not uncommon with a knock to the head like you got," she reached forward and gently pressed around the edges of the bandage on his forehead. He didn't wince this time. "There's nothing broken, just a cut and some nice bruising. We're going to keep a close eye on you, no worries." She sat back and took out a pad of paper. "Okay, honey, I'm here to help. We need to figure things out, so we'll just take it slow. Don't try too hard, just tell me whatever comes to mind, okay?"
He nodded again, licked his very dry lips. "Bright."
"You remember a bright light? Okay." She wrote this down. "Go on."
"Yes, there was a freak storm just before you showed up. So maybe you got caught in it. Bound to be disorienting. Anything else?"
He pinched his face as if trying to squeeze answers from his brain. "No." He felt the edges of panic begin to tug at him, and she seemed to sense it as her hand came down gently on his again.
"All right then, there's no need to push it. You get some rest. We'll do what we can to get you sorted out." She stood up and did a quick check of all the equipment around the bed, some of which was attached to his arms and chest, and adjusted the drip of liquid hanging above him. "I'll be back to check on you later today."
Darkness took him again.
Sounds were muffled and senseless, and they intruded on his sleep until he couldn't keep his eyes closed any longer. He squinted against the light; there was always too much light. Another person was in the room, next to the doctor. He… was familiar.
"Bobby," his voice rasped out the name.
Their heads turned his way and the doctor came closer. "You remember him? That's wonderful, a good sign." Her smile was wide and encouraging. "Mr. Singer's here to help us sort things out. I'll let you two talk for a few minutes."
The doctor stepped back to the door and spoke briefly to the man called Bobby, who came into the room hesitantly.
He blinked rapidly as the man approached, seeing trails of light flow after him. Brown and green, earthy and cautious.
The man, older and bearded, dressed in a plaid shirt, jeans and a ball cap, stopped near the bed and cleared his throat. "Hey, Cas. Sure was a, uh, big surprise to see you back. Doc says you're doing pretty good physically, but your head is banged up a little and you're having trouble remembering things."
"Cas." That was him. Grasping the name like it was a life-preserver, he breathed heavily and closed his eyes. "Cas…"
"Yeah, I was afraid you might not remember that," Bobby looked worried and uncomfortable. "It's okay, I cooked up a story to cover for ya anyway, so at least I can get a handle on things 'til you've got your memory back."
Cas opened his eyes again, frowning at the man. "Not real?" He looked Bobby up and down then flicked his gaze around the room. "Not real…"
Bobby's brows lifted. "Damn, it's worse than I thought. Okay, we'll wait 'til the boys get here and maybe that'll help jog your memory. Sorry, son, I'll do the best I can meanwhile. Don't strain your brain trying to remember stuff, okay, we're working on it."
Cas whimpered, beginning to shiver again. He didn't remember anything. His name was brand new. This man he thought he knew wasn't real. He wasn't real either. It overwhelmed him and he cried out softly, painfully, his hands clenching up to his chin as he tried to curl into a ball.
Bobby backed up and shouted for the doctor, and staff came running to calm Cas down. He was inconsolable, crying out wordlessly for something he didn't understand. Medicine was injected into an IV and he fell softly into the dark once more.
His eyes opened slowly to a room that wasn't so bright this time, and was thankful for the relief. Turning his head, he saw a nurse checking equipment at his bedside and across the room near the door was the doctor and Bobby.
Cas frowned that he was still present. He was fake and Cas wanted to tell someone that, but he couldn't make the words form. Nothing was working right. It was frustrating and terrifying. He shifted in the bed, catching the nurse's attention. She spoke to him, nonsense words. Now he couldn't even understand language. His fear grew and he began to whine softly.
The nurse made to cross the room and fetch the doctor, when a glowing figure filled the doorway.
Golden and pure and warm. Cas's throat clenched in awe at the beauty. The glow approached quickly; inside the glow was a man.
"Dean," Cas's voice was stronger than it had been since he'd first woken in the hospital. The nurse, the doctor, and Bobby all turned to see, looks of amazement and relief on their faces.
"Yeah, Cas, it's me, I'm here," Dean reached him and took his hand firmly.
The man was tall and strong, with green eyes that pulled at something deep inside Cas. There was a nearly unreadable expression on the man's face, a mask of determined control that was a thin veneer over honest terror. How Cas knew this, he had no clue. But Dean made sense to him. The one and only thing that did. Unquestionable.
"Dean," Cas whispered again, his hand squeezing the man's fingers as they were laced together. "Dean…"
There was still great fear in his heart. He couldn't understand anything and couldn't speak those fears, but Dean was here. He drew that into himself and curled around it like a tiny ball of fire in the darkness as he fell asleep.
Sam tried to slow his breathing after sprinting through the hospital. He and Dean had driven like bats out of a very fiery hell to get from Pennsylvania to Kansas in less than two days. If he'd still been a praying man, he'd have thanked God for the blessed lack of police along the way since Dean had broken nearly every traffic law in the book.
"Holy shit, Bobby, is this for real?"
"Yeah, son, I think it is." Bobby shook his head in bewilderment. "As far as I can tell, that's really Cas, back from the dead. Ain't like none of you haven't done it before. Ain't even the first time for him."
"Third, actually," Sam supplied. "Damn, it's been months since he… Dean was finally getting used to being without him. Now…" Sam sighed, hating to sound ungrateful for Castiel's return. But why had it happened? That question would probably have to wait. "How did you even find him?" Sam asked.
"I was scanning the FBI database, just looking around the Missing Persons section. Sometimes I get leads, ya know. And there was his photo, just listed the day before as a John Doe. I just about choked on my beer," Bobby grunted.
"Anyway, I figured I'd better get down and find out for sure. Figured even if it'd been the Novak guy, he could use the help, ya know? The information online said he could be identified by 'unusual scars', no specifics. That was a tricky one. Coming down here, I kept wracking my brains for what they could be and I remembered you telling me how Cas was wearing Dean's amulet when…" He stopped and cleared his throat. "And that it was glowing like fire. So I hoped that would be one of 'em. I was right."
"He's got a scar on his chest? Shaped like the amulet?" Sam gawped.
"Yeah, it's not exact but it's close enough to describe as a little horned head and that was good enough for the doctors to believe the rest of my story."
"Well, if I knew him, I had to have a name, didn't I? 'Castiel, Angel of the Lord' wouldn't have gone over too well. Doc says he's already got trauma-induced amnesia. Just as well, too. If he'd said that, they'd already have him locked up in the loony bin."
Sam bit his lip. "Yeah, would've been way harder to get him out."
"Yeah. So I came up with a story real fast, and then I made some calls and got some ID rushed up here. So Cas is set and you guys can take control of the situation from here."
"Okay, so what's the cover story?"
Bobby hesitated, twisting his face a bit. "He's, uh, my nephew."
Sam's eyes popped. "What? How? You don't have any siblings, do you?"
"I do now. Older brother Richard, wife Miriam, both deceased. They went over to Romania to adopt an orphan back in '82. 'Castiel' is just odd enough a name to pass for something in that region. They traveled around a bit so Cas got a really eclectic education as a kid. They moved back home to the States when he was a teen. Settled in Kansas when he was finishing high school."
Bobby cleared his throat, extremely uncomfortable now. "Uh, this is where it's up to you boys. Had to make it sound like you were old buddies so they'd trust you around him. I said he'd gone to school with you both, his senior year. Same year as Dean, and they ah… well, I kinda let the doctor think they'd been high school sweethearts."
Sam stood with his mouth open for a very long second. Then he started giggling hysterically, as quietly as possible because he was in a hospital, after all. "Oh my God, Dean is gonna kill you."
"Too damned bad for him. Anyway, he just made a perfect case for it when he ran in there and grabbed at Cas like a lovesick fool." Bobby snorted with humor. "Well, here's the papers to prove who he is." He handed over a folder of print-outs, including photocopies of a driver's license and adoption papers, expertly done.
"Wow, this is great work," Sam said admiringly. "We got someone new on the inside?"
"Yep. Remember that gal Holly from Arizona?"
"How could I forget? Not everyone gets turned into a phoenix in the middle of an apocalypse. Glad to hear she's still in the hunting game."
"Said it's in her blood," Bobby chuckled. "But she did retire from active hunting, had a run go south and somebody got hurt. She decided her research skills were a better road to take. She's also got skill in forging, as you see. And apparently being a phoenix gave her some psychic power, or at least the power of persuasion. Because this stuff? She gets so much genuine cooperation from inside authorities it's as good at the real thing. Wouldn't be questioned."
"Wow. Glad she's on our side."
"No kidding. Well, I gotta get going. I told them Cas was on his way to my place when he disappeared, and I was just lucky to be looking up missing person when I found his picture." Bobby grinned. "Don't ya love coincidence. Anyway, the doc said he might be okay for release in a few more days so I have to make sure he can come home with me. And I sure ain't got a room ready enough for him right now."
"I could come help," Sam began.
"No way in hell. You have to be here for Dean. His glue ain't gonna hold for much longer and Cas can't help him. Plus I gotta get back so I can erase Cas from the Fed's database. We can't have them actually getting involved somehow."
"Good point. Thanks, Bobby, for covering so well. Pretty impressive stuff." He smiled, tapping the folder of papers.
"Yeah, I deserve a medal. Or a Pulitzer for spontaneous fiction, or something. Anyway, I put some mojo bags in underneath his bed. Ya never know what the hell's gonna come lurking around and I don't trust for a damned minute that no one might find out he's back from the dead. As for you two, I signed a bunch of consent forms for you to have say-so while I'm gone. He's all yours for now." The older hunter grunted, slapped Sam on the back as a way of goodbye, and left Sam to deal with everything else.
When he was alone in the hospital hallway, Sam finally let out his breath fully. He leaned back against the wall opposite the doorway to Cas's room. Inside it was mostly darkened, but he could easily make out Dean's shape hovering over the bed where Cas lay. This was going to be hard for all of them. But if Cas really couldn't remember anything, it would be doubly so. How much could they tell him of the truth? Would he understand it, or believe it?
One day at a time, he supposed.
For something to do, he opened the folder again and looked more closely at the papers. Castiel Singer, he grinned. Born September twenty-first, nineteen-seventy-eight. That made him four months older than Dean. Jimmy Novak was surely older than that and the body did look it. Of course trauma could be blamed if anyone questioned it.
Wait… September twenty-first. That was familiar.
Sam frowned. That was three days after Dean returned from Hell. It was the same date he and Castiel had their first encounter in the barn. So it was technically the day Castiel first showed up in a human vessel.
Hah, very funny Bobby.
Shaking his head at the slightly morbid humor, Sam flipped through the rest. Where had Bobby gotten a photo of Cas for the driver's license? The only photo he'd ever taken to Sam's knowledge was the one they all posed for just before Ellen and Jo were killed. Did he make duplicates? It looked very similar. Well, there were minor changes which could be Holly's work, if she was as good as Bobby said.
Speaking of photos… Dean might be called on to provide proof of his relationship with Castiel, apparently dating back to their tender teens. Sam grinned madly at the thought again. Oh Dean, you and your tomcat ways are just about to be excised from history. And thanks to Sam, there would at least be photos of their more recent past. Tonight, he would get a hotel alone (Dean probably wouldn't leave the hospital unless dragged away by force) and dig through the files on his computer that Dean didn't know existed. Sam's ninja skills with his cell phone camera were about to pay off.
"Hello, Sam, is it? Sam Winchester?" a feminine voice called out to him.
Sam's head whipped around. He'd been absorbed in scrolling through his cell phone photos and hadn't noticed anyone approaching him. The scrubs, stethoscope, and hospital ID badge identified the woman coming towards him as either a nurse or a doctor. From her walk and manner of bearing, Sam was betting doctor.
Surreptitiously checking her for any oddities (because Sam knew just how easy it was to slip into a hospital and pretend you belonged there) he noted that she was fairly tall- about Cas's height- and lean, hair a sort of amber color, halfway between red and blonde, straight but stylish and barely brushing her shoulders. She was a bit older than him, maybe even older than Dean, but not unattractively so. Her smile was gentle, which made everything else about her that much more appealing.
Warm nutmeg-brown eyes reflected her smile as she asked again, "You are Sam Winchester, aren't you?"
"Uh, yes, hi," he said, flustered. Getting caught by surprise was not something he was used to. She grinned with just the slightest bit of mischievousness as he recovered himself, sticking out her hand, which he shook. Her grip was firm, confident, and Sam was certain he was being sized up, as if she was judging how much to tell him by his reactions.
"Dr. Abigail Donovan. I'm Castiel's attending physician. Neurology."
"Oh, ah, yeah. Hi," Sam smiled, wondering when the hell he'd become so inarticulate. "Well, can you tell us anything? How Cas is doing, when we can expect him to be able to leave?"
"Not precisely. Unfortunately, these things are never precise. Mr. Singer has a fairly mild concussion and there's no bleeding around the brain, but we're monitoring it due to bruising. He has eight stitches on his forehead above the occipital orb which look to be healing neatly. He also has badly scraped feet, a few deep tissues bruises. And some general scratches here and there. All in all, physically he should heal in about a week, maybe a week and a half."
"I sense a 'but' at the end of that statement," Sam said, causing Dr. Donovan's lips to quirk. He didn't know how she was able to do that and not look as though she was somehow glad to be delivering bad news, but somehow she was. Must be a doctor thing, Sam thought.
"But he's also showing signs of mental trauma which could hamper his healing. It isn't surprising since he doesn't know exactly what happened to him. Right now we're theorizing that he may have gotten caught in that freak tornado we had a couple days ago."
"Freak tornado?" Sam frowned.
"Yes, strangest thing. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky, and in seconds it just touched down, no warning. Long skinny rope funnel, just shot down from the sky, running backward. Just did a little zigzag dance across a field, almost smack on top of the Geographic Center marker."
"You know, the Geographic Center of the United States? Just outside of Lebanon?" Smirking outright, she said, "I thought you boys were from Kansas."
Sam grinned. "Yeah, I know what it is. It's just… weird."
"Sure is. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was deliberate." She seemed puzzled by the thought, almost surprised she'd said it.
Sam's scalp prickled at that. Maybe it had been deliberate. The center of the U.S.? And their home state, to boot? Nothing about it seemed at all normal. Which was, of course, the definition of their very lives, so why was he surprised?
She shook her head, as if to clear it. "Well, anyway. Castiel's current diagnosis beyond the physical is dissociative amnesia, caused by both the head trauma and PTSD. That's what's repressing his memory right now."
"So he can't remember anything?"
"Not much. He didn't know his name until his uncle showed up, though he did recognize him fortunately. And, ah," she grinned widely, "your brother. Knew him right away."
Sam chuckled. "I doubt even a lobotomy would make Cas forget Dean."
"Lobotomies don't really affect one's memory," she corrected without a missing a beat.
"Oh. Well, figure of speech, I guess." Sam was embarrassed. Here he was, the supposedly smart Winchester, making a brain joke with a neurologist and getting it wrong. If Dean ever found out he'd never hear the end of it. "So what can we do to help him?" he hastily asked, hoping to smooth over the gaffe. Dr. Donovan gave him a look that said she knew exactly what he was doing, but let it go.
"Right now, he needs rest. And we are watching his condition closely," she reiterated, as if to assure him.
"Thank you," Sam said with relief. He honestly followed with, "We were really worried about him. We didn't know where he'd gone. Dean was..."
"Frantic?" Dr. Donovan supplied, and Sam nodded.
"Yeah. I mean, he's never really been all that good at expressing himself, but when Cas disappeared..." Sam cut himself off, realizing that he was perhaps telling the doctor a bit too much and running the risk of contradicting Bobby's story.
The doctor laid a hand on his arm. "It's obvious he loves him very much. Sometimes, that's the best medicine my patients can have."
Sam smiled, a part of him gleefully anticipating telling Dean that the way he felt about Cas was so obvious even his doctor had already noticed. After years of being accused of emoting like a girl, Sam thought the least Dean was due was a little teasing. "Yeah, I guess it would be. Thank you, Dr. Donovan."
She waved a hand. "Gail, please. And that's why I'm here."
"All right then. Gail," Sam agreed.
Dean did not want to leave Cas's bedside. Sam had to argue with him, tell him that he would be of no use to Castiel if he wore himself down. It didn't help that it seemed like Cas knew Dean was going and was afraid to be alone again. He clutched at Dean's hand, whimpering wordlessly.
"I'm not leaving," Dean said, gripping Cass' hand just a bit tighter in return. Sam wasn't sure if he was telling him or reassuring Cas, but the bed-bound man's body lost some of its desperate rigidity at the words. His brother turned and gave Sam a stare, the message clear: Dean refused to leave while Cas needed him.
A few hours later, Sam decided he needed back up because Dean was teetering where he sat, barely awake but stubbornly refusing to move. He found Dr. Donovan ("Gail, really," she insisted again) at the floor's nurses station and explained the situation.
"Would you be willing to help me?" he asked.
"Of course," was her reply. Gail picked up Cas's chart (and Sam knew it was his because the tab that had previously said 'Doe, John' had been covered by a lurid sticky tab with 'Singer, Castiel' sharpied on) and walked with Sam towards his room.
"Mr. Winchester," Gail greeted him, flipping open Cas's chart as if she needed to check something. Sam knew that a nurse had already been in to gather any information Gail might have needed, but she made a few serious noises in her throat and said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Winchester, but I'm going to have to ask you to step out of the room for a little while."
Dean was instantly on his feet. "Why?" he asked. "Is something wrong?"
"No, no," Gail hastened to reassure him. "I just need to check a few things. As far as I can see, there have been no changes but I just want to make sure."
Dean deflated. His eyes were red-rimmed, and Sam wondered if he'd actually been crying. It made him all the more determined to get Dean out of the room and into a bed.
"Yeah. Okay," Dean said. "I'll just be right out there," he gestured vaguely towards the doorway.
"Oh," Gail said, and Sam had to hand it to her, she had acting casual down pat. He wondered briefly how often she'd had to perform this way for the families of patients; he guessed fairly often, with her ease. Pulling out a syringe, she placed it in the IV and said, "You might as well go and get some rest, Dean. I'm giving Castiel a sedative so he'll sleep peacefully through my exam. He'll be out for the rest of the night."
"Dean," Sam said. "The doctor said he's gonna be out all night. He won't even know you're gone."
It was a testament to how tired Dean was that he didn't snap back. "Okay. Yeah, fine," he muttered.
Sam dragged him away and checked them in to the closest available hotel, knowing that his brother wouldn't accept being far from the hospital. When they trudged up to the room, though, Dean refused to fall asleep. Instead he paced.
"Maybe we should go back to the hospital," he said. "I know that the doctor said she was sedating him but what if he's got just enough angel left in him to, I don't know, make it not work? What if he wakes up and thinks we just left him there?"
"He's not going to wake up for at least a few hours, Dean." Sam tried to reason with him but Dean was not easy to reason with on his best days, and it had decidedly not been one of his best days. "You know what-" Sam growled with exasperation. "Fuck it."
Stomping up behind him Sam tapped the back of Dean's head, asserting his powers fully for a change, and caught Dean as he slumped fast asleep. "Jesus, you're heavier than you look," he complained, dragging him over to one of the beds. He set Dean on top of the covers and threw a blanket over him before crashing, belly down, on his own bed, and falling into a deep sleep.
Lights streaked across the sky, hundreds, no, thousands. Some flared and exploded while others clashed, making it look like they were twisting together in a deadly dance. Others tumbled to the earth like falling stars. Amongst all the streaking light stood Dean, the only solid presence. Blood was splattered across his face, painting the bridge of his nose and his jaw red.
Castiel whimpered and twitched at the sight. Blood on Dean meant Dean was hurt, and if he was hurt then he would stand no chance fighting the twirling stars.
No, something within him said, it was not Dean's blood, but another's. Dean was a warrior with a sword of golden fire, blessed by... blessed by...
Whatever blessings he may have thought Dean was protected by shattered along with the sword in his hands. The shards imbedded themselves in the tops of his thighs and he crumbled with a wordless cry. Cas could see his lips moving, and even if he couldn't hear Dean, he could make out what he was saying. It was his name, over and over.
"Cas," Dean mouthed. "Cas."
He woke with a sharp cry, panting. His eyes flicked from side to side, but it only confirmed what he already knew: Dean was not there.
Shapes and shadows danced around the room. It was from the lighted hallway outside his door, people passing by made the shadows leap at him. One seemed to pause a long time, and he felt the weight of that darkness press down on him until he whimpered. Finally, it moved away and he breathed out again.
Castiel moaned softly and curled into a tight ball, crying noiselessly. The dream and reality were hopelessly blurred in his mind, and all he knew at that moment was that Dean had been injured, and now Dean was not there, and it was somehow his fault.
"I still can't believe you knocked me out!"
"Dean, you and I both needed to sleep."
"What I needed to do was be there, Sam," Dean shouted. "Shit, he's probably already awake. You saw what he was like whenever I left him alone for even a minute."
"Just... calm down," Sam said, holding his hands up in a placating manner. It just served to infuriate Dean. "We'll go get some breakfast and then head over together."
"No. You go," Dean disagreed. "I've been gone too long as it is." With a final glare he slugged down the last dregs of his hotel-room coffee and stumbled out the door, and back towards the hospital.
He made it back to Cas's room minutes after leaving the hotel, and he could tell that Cas was awake as soon as he walked through the door. He was curled onto one side and shaking slightly, his eyes fixed but unfocused on the wall. Dean dragged one of the room's ugly visitor's chairs to the side of the bed Castiel was facing and sat down. One hand reached out and grasped Cas's, but the other found the nurse call button. He pushed it repeatedly until several nurses poured into the room.
"Would one of you fine ladies mind explaining to me," he said, in a deceptively calm voice, "why the hell one of you wasn't in here with my... with him?" Castiel had closed his eyes and was already starting to calm under Dean's touch, and it made the man's blood boil to think that Cas had been alone in this room, suffering, while the biddies he'd passed at the nurses station had been tittering and eating fancy donuts and drinking their five dollar coffees and-
"Mr. Winchester," Dr. Donovan pushed her way in. "What seems to be the problem?"
"The problem is that Cas was in here, awake and in pain and alone while your staff stood around stuffing their faces," Dean snarled.
Gail stepped closer to the bed just as Cas was opening his eyes. They were filled with sadness and need, and Dean turned his attention to him, saying softly, "Hey. I'm here, it's okay." Swallowing, he added, "I missed you."
"Dr. Donovan, there was nothing we could physically do for Mr. Singer," one of the nurses dared to say, and if Dean didn't have Cas clinging to his hand, he would have stood and punched her, woman or not.
"Ladies, don't you have other patients to attend to?" Gail reminded them. As they all went to leave the room, she added to the nurse who had spoken up, "Christie, would you wait for me at the station, please." Her tone clearly stated that someone was going to get chewed out.
"Don't worry, Dean," Gail said. "I'll take care of this. You just focus on Cas, okay?"
Grateful, Dean nodded. "Yeah, I can do that."
Sam returned to the hospital about an hour after that with a sack of breakfast sandwiches, four coffees and a hangdog expression. Dean took two of the coffees and the bag of food without a word, setting them carelessly on a side table. After a bit of cajoling, Sam convinced Dean to eat something and he did so quickly. Cas watched him eat with wide eyes, as if he'd never seen a person shovel food into their mouths that way before and it was possible he hadn't, at least to his memory.
When Dean had to leave the room for any reason, Cas would huddle and cry again. It got to the point where Dean didn't even want to get up and walk the three steps towards the room's toilet. Sam wasn't very effective at helping Cas, though he tried his best. It was during one of Dean's extremely quick visits to the bathroom that Sam got the idea to try speaking to Castiel with his mind. His results were what they expected, but still disheartening.
"So I've been trying to talk to Cas through angel radio," Sam said casually, stepping aside so that Dean could gather up Cas's hand once more.
Dean looked up at him sharply. "And?"
Sam shook his head. "And nothing. It's like he's not even..." He waved his hand in what he must have thought was a pretty good all encompassing gesture, but meant absolutely nothing to Dean.
"He's not even what?"
"Cas doesn't have any trace of grace in him for me to pick up on. At this point, he's actually more human than I am."
Several days passed. Dean did whatever he could think of to make Cas 'snap out of it' as he put it. He talked to Cas softly, but wished he knew whether any of it was actually heard or understood.
Sam tried to tell Dean that he should only talk to Cas about pleasant things, but it was hard for Dean to think of nice, safe things to talk about when sitting there staring at Castiel hooked up to the various monitors. It was a bit easier when his eyes were open and fixed upon Dean's, and he could pretend that Cas was still an angel without a great understanding of the way the world worked. During those times he would describe the way candy tasted, the importance of finding a motel with the most obnoxious theme possible, the dreams he'd forsaken so that Sam could escape a hunter's life and go to college (something that he'd never told anyone, and probably would not have told Cas if he'd been responsive).
He took over for the nurses – sponge bathing Cas, feeding him, brushing his hair, shaving him. He thought about how strange it was that Cas even needed shaving, and that he might just be human forever now, as Dean readjusted Cas's position on the bed or carefully tipped water into his mouth. He'd never imagined himself in the role of caretaker, not like this – if anything, he'd thought some awful thing would happen and he'd be on the receiving end. Complaining never crossed his mind though, even when he watched Cas struggle to communicate or heard him cry when he stepped out of the room, because those things meant that Cas was there, with him, and that was literally an answer to his prayers.
Castiel knew he was fading in and out of consciousness, but he was unable to tell what was reality and what was the dream. There were times when shadowy figures draped in ragged white drifted horizontally past his doorway, and others when it was just nurses, clumping along on their practical rubber-soled shoes. All had various halos of color that surrounded them, muted purples, dusky greens, spikes of brilliant blue or soothing amber. Sometimes when he saw Dean the man appeared badly injured, calling out for him or the tall one named Sam, blood dripping down his chin and arms outstretched as he lay on a bed of chains.
He'd pull himself from those visions, shaking and feeling desperate, wanting to reach for the Dean that would inevitably be sitting by his bedside but unable to do so. Luckily that Dean (his favorite of the Deans, because this one was whole and un-bloodied, even if he looked tired and worried much of the time) was able to tell when he needed him and would reach out to stroke his hair or run a comforting hand down his calf, but it was never enough.
As more time passed, Castiel found it harder and harder to focus on his favorite Dean and he found himself more often with the other Deans, the ones who called out for him, the ones he had to see become battered and bloodied time and again.
And then the thin pale man in the black suit who had passed by the door several times already, came and stood in the room, staring flatly at Castiel with dull whitened eyes. And Cas knew the man was waiting for him to decide…
"I hate to admit this," Dr. Donovan told Sam the evening of the sixth day, "but none of the treatments I've ordered seem to be helping Castiel."
Sam was sitting in the sparsely furnished family waiting room, elbows resting on his knees, fighting the urge to put his head between them instead. "What are you saying?"
Gail sighed. "Sam, false reassurance isn't my style. I think... I think we need to begin to seriously consider discontinuance of treatment." Sam choked and folded in on himself, feeling ill. "I know that the older Mr. Singer technically signed consent forms for Dean, but... I've seen the way he's been taking care of Cas, and... I believe this is a decision that his uncle should make himself."
Horror bubbled up Sam's throat. "You're telling me that Cas is dying."
When Gail replied, her voice reflected regret, but she was firm. She placed a hand on his knee, squeezing slightly. "I'm telling you that everything we've been trying is failing. I'm sorry, but yes."
Raising his eyes to meet Gail's, Sam croaked, "How am I—I can't tell Dean that. Dr. Donovan, I can't. You couldn't possibly know this, but when Cas was missing Dean was... Cas is like a brother to me, and Dean... if Cas dies, I'll lose them both."
They were interrupted by a woman's gentle voice saying, "Sam? Samuel Winchester, is that you?"
Sam stood suddenly, knocking Gail's hand off as he did so. "Missouri?" he said in disbelief.
"Well," she harrumphed, "It all makes sense now."
Sam simply gaped.
"Well, whatcha waiting for, boy? Lead me to him! I can't help anyone just by standing here yapping."
Scrambling forward, Sam impulsively wrapped her in a hug. "You're here for him? For Cas?"
"Sam, who is this?"
"Perhaps now is not the time for explanations, boy. Just let me talk, alright?" She patted him on the back before releasing him and facing Dr. Donovan's confused expression. "My name is Missouri Moseley," she said, extending a ring-bedecked hand. "I'm a faith healer."
"Faith healer?" Gail parroted back. She stared briefly at the short plump woman, with the far-too knowing dark eyes and quirky half-smile, and felt weirdly intimidated. Then she moved her attention back to Sam. "I know I said that our treatments weren't working, but Sam..."
"We could stand here arguing about this all day, but there is someone who needs me, and you're wasting time," Missouri said shrewdly. "Am I right in the understanding that your patients can consult whomever they may choose for treatment?"
"You are," Dr. Donovan said, clearly nonplussed.
At Gail's admission, Missouri made a shooing gesture towards the archway with her hand. "Go on, Sam. Lead the way."
Head swimming, Sam did just that, walking Missouri towards Castiel's room with Gail pulling up the rear.
Missouri stopped in the doorway, and said firmly, "I'm going to need a few moments with these boys alone."
Bristling slightly, Gail said, "I'll need paperwork filled out stating-"
"Missouri?" Dean said, voice hoarse with disbelief. He was holding one of Cas's hands between both his own.
"Poor thing," Missouri murmured, coming to Castiel's bed and cupping the side of his face. He made a tiny pitiful noise and shivered, turning his head to nuzzle against her palm. "Oh, poor thing."
Ms. Moseley, I need-"
"You'll get whatever you need after I've seen to this child," Missouri insisted, turning her head just enough to give Dr. Donovan a gimlet eye. "Dean, do I have your permission to be here?" she said. Sam saw that his brother's eyes were wide, and he looked to him in question. Sam nodded, and Dean swallowed and turned toward Gail.
"It's fine, Doc. Really."
Gail looked from Dean, to Missouri, to Sam, and then finally nodded. "I'll be just down the hall if you need me."
Sam sighed in relief. "Thanks, Gail." The doctor nodded and left the room.
"Missouri, what the hell is going on?" Dean whispered harshly as soon as Gail was gone. His expression was desperate. "Do you know something?"
"Yes, Dean, that's why I'm here. I dreamed about this man. Or rather, this child." She continued petting Castiel with both hands; one on his cheek, the other across his forehead.
"What I saw in my dream was a huge thing with so many blue eyes, flying through the sky. It was burning hot and fierce, like holy fire." The jolt Dean gave didn't escape her notice. "Then that thing was struck down. It grew smaller and smaller. It was like watching a film played backwards, how it shrank down into a tiny little ball. Like an egg. A little egg of white light."
"What the hell…" Dean breathed slow and heavy.
"What you've got here, boys, is a brand new soul. It doesn't know who or what it is, or likely even where it's at. The only thing it knows is that it's hurting and scared. And even with you right here in the room, Dean, it feels so alone." She reached over and grabbed Dean's hand and pulled it forward to lie on Castiel's chest. "I know you've been helping him as best you know how, but bathing and feeding isn't enough for a baby. You've got to hold them, or they wither."
Sam gasped. "It's like those orphanages where babies are left in their cribs, not being touched. They pull into themselves and just… give up."
"Exactly," Missouri said, "and this poor thing is going through that right now. His soul is crying for you, Dean Winchester. It's trying so hard to cling onto this world, but it doesn't feel there's enough reason to do so. You've got to make him know that you want him here." She looked at him cannily. "You do want him, don't you?"
Dean didn't speak for a moment, his throat working hard. "What do I have to do?"
She smiled kindly, and Sam wondered if it was the first time Dean had been on the receiving end of one of Missouri's smiles. "What you do is you take off your boots, boy. And you climb into this bed, and you hold him like he's the most precious thing on this earth."
With only a second's hesitation, (to consider his manliness and pride, Sam theorized) Dean unlaced his boots, kicked them under the chair nearby, and clambered onto the bed. It was narrow, clearly not made for two grown men, but with Sam's help they maneuvered Castiel around until Dean had one arm under Cas's head and the other wrapped around his waist.
Almost instantly, Cas heaved a huge whimpering sigh and curled up against Dean's chest, hands in fists tucked below his chin. Sam's heart clenched painfully. If this was what it took, he knew Dean would lie here every night until Cas recovered. Or until there was nothing else to be done. Sam shoved aside the idea that Castiel wouldn't walk out of the hospital, deciding then and there that he wasn't going to mention that possibility to his brother. He and Gail would just keep that to themselves.
"C'mon," Missouri was at his side, and Sam hadn't noticed her walking towards the door. Maybe Dean had a point about his maudlin tendencies, Sam thought, as Missouri tugged on the sleeve of Sam's jacket. "Let's give these boys some time," she suggested gently. "We can go fill out the paperwork your doctor was so keen on."
"My doctor? Oh! You mean Dr. Donovan."
Missouri leveled him a look that said she was reconsidering the commonly held notion that Sam was the more intelligent Winchester brother.
As he held the door for her to exit out into the hall, Sam said, "Not that I'm not thankful for your help Missouri, but I'm really honestly surprised to see you."
Humming, Missouri replied, "That makes two of us, Sam Winchester. I always had the notion that if I ever came across you boys again it would mean my death." At Sam's alarmed look, she added, "You have to admit, people who are around you and your brother do have a tendency to die. It seems they fairly often come back, but I've never been enough of a gambler to take the chance that I'd be one of them."
"I guess that's fair," Sam choked out. He couldn't help but wonder if Missouri had known that Castiel was with them if she'd have left him to die, dream or no dream.
"Now just you stop that. Right now," Missouri ordered, lips pursed.
Sam winced. Oh, right, psychic.
"I don't need to be psychic to know what you're thinking, Samuel." They were only a few feet from the nurses' station, but Missouri stopped walking and turned to face Sam fully. "And I have to wonder what it is about myself that makes you think I'd leave that poor soul in there to suffer, you and Dean involved or not." Smirking, she continued, "I'd have still come, boy, but I would've brought along a few more protections than just this." She touched the charm necklace at her throat.
"I'm sorry, Missouri," Sam said. He could feel his brows pinching together the way they always did whenever he was feeling contrite.
"Hmm." The woman took a step back, staring at him as if she was considering an especially interesting puzzle. "That's true, you can stick with me after I get the papers signed and tell me what happened to you."
"What happened to me?" Sam asked, but he already had a feeling he knew what Missouri was referring to.
"Yes." Missouri nodded, shrewdly. "You're not the same Sam Winchester who walked into my house all those years ago, scared out of his mind and unable to control the gifts God gave him. Something mighty powerful has woken up inside of you, like it opened its eyes…"
Sam's external eyes bugged wide. "Missouri, I—"
"Tell me in a bit." Linking her arm with his, and smiling up at his completely boggled expression, she gently tugged him until they closed the final distance to the nurses' station. "Now I have to go home soon. Oh, don't worry, I'll stay in touch and see how Dean's boy is doing," Missouri said, off Sam's look. "But in the meantime, there's other things that I can be doing."
Sam opened his mouth to protest, and with a mischievous grin, Missouri said, "If you're that eager for me to stick around for a spell, you can catch me up over coffee," Missouri said. Sam looked up to see Dr. Donovan flicking her eyes between the two of them, one eyebrow raised in a question she clearly wanted answered desperately, but was too polite to ask.
"It's been too long since I've been able to walk around with a handsome young man on my arm, and I'm going to enjoy it," Missouri declared to the station at large.
The nurses all giggled and voiced their encouragement. Gail smiled, something about her expression relaxing as she handed Missouri a clipboard. "Just sign where the 'x's' are, please."
Sam and Missouri hunted down the hospital cafeteria and sat in a corner, huddled together over rather bad coffee and Danish pastries, while he caught her up on the last two years.
She mostly nodded as he explained going to hell as Lucifer's vessel, then coming back soulless, then having a wall in his head to repress the memories, then having the wall knocked down and thus remembering he'd been an angel named Samael before being born as a Winchester. At that point, she remarked on the sharp golden ring inside the blue-green of his eyes, declaring it like a halo hidden in plain sight. Sam's brows rose at the idea and he smiled in approval.
And there was much more. Missouri smiled wistfully as Sam told her about Castiel and Dean, from Cas raising Dean from hell and the ridiculously epic building love affair between them, the many battles and sacrifices and plural Apocalypses, all culminating in Castiel's brave death and unexplainable rebirth as a human.
At the end of Sam's long retelling, Missouri sighed deeply. "Now that was a story worth writing down."
Sam chuckled. "Ah, I forgot that part…"
And he explained about the prophet Chuck and The Winchester Gospels, at which Missouri declared that, no offense, she hoped she wouldn't be alive to see any churches built in their names. Sam had to agree.
After a couple hours, Missouri was readying to leave when she touched Sam's arm. "There's one more thing you should know, Sam, you and Dean both. You've got to watch out for that boy in there, something's already tried to come for him."
Sam's heart thudded. "What, like a demon?"
"Hmm, could be. I sensed something nasty had been outside the room, but wasn't here when I arrived. That one was dark and unnatural. But another one… A spirit was waiting for him to let go and come away with it." She squeezed Sam's hand, tutting at his worried expression. "Looks like I got here just in time. He'll be safe from that one now. But the first one…"
"We've got wards and charms in place," Sam assured her, though he didn't feel very sure at the moment. They could put up protections for demons, but a reaper was another thing entirely. He was gladder than ever Missouri had come.
"Good, you just keep them up. I get the feeling that first one… it'll be watching for him. Something as big and bright as he was – and still is – it's going to attract attention. You boys – all of you – take care."
Sam nodded and walked her to her car. As she drove away, he realized what a true godsend she'd been. Maybe God wasn't so out of the picture as they thought.
After four days, the room had lost some of its sterility. The lived-in languor of rumpled sheets and carelessly discarded clothing was more depressing than any flea-bag motel Dean had ever stayed in. No hospital room should ever look so occupied, like its patient was entrenched. It suggested that either the patient or their families had given up, had decided this is it.
Yesterday, a second doctor dealing with Castiel's case had dropped by the room, his nose wrinkling in distaste for the condition. Whether that affected his attitude toward Dean or not hadn't mattered. When the doctor shoved a pamphlet at Dean and said that the best thing to do for Cas would be to move him to a nursing home… Well, it had been a damned good thing Sam was present. Dean's reaction had been incendiary. Sam had restrained him mentally before he could leap up and strangle the doctor. Dean had reined himself back enough to give the doctor the iciest stare possible, and told him flatly that Castiel was his responsibility, period, and unless the doctor wanted to surgically remove the chair Dean was happy to insert in his ass, then it would be best never to come near the room again.
Today, Dean was still just as furious at the doctor's suggestion. Though he silently, in the depth of his heart, hoped it would never come to that.
Sam had just left the room, having sat vigil for the two hours Dean was willing to leave the hospital. It was only ever long enough to take a shower, really, because Sam took care of everything else. He brought food, clean laundry, whatever else he could think of that would give Dean any sense of normalcy.
He looked around the room with the same disgust the doctor had expressed. It was his own fault, really. In one corner sat his duffel, contents spilling outward in an explosion of disorder; in another was the wheeled table tray piled with books, magazines, and Sam's spare laptop. On the other bed in the double room lay days-old newspapers and a few blurry snapshots of Dean and Cas the year of the Apocalypse, printed out on plain computer paper (Dean didn't know how or when Sam had taken those pictures of them, and normally he'd be pissed to know his brother had done such a thing without his knowledge, but right now all he could feel was gratitude; Sam's creeper tendencies had added verisimilitude to the rather flimsy 'sweethearts' story they'd concocted). There was a half-eaten box mini-muffins next to the snapshots. Normally they were like crack to Dean, little tasty bites of quasi-fruit flavored bliss, but in this room the only flavor he'd tasted from them had been a slightly sour tang of oil and overly-processed flour. Despair was robbing him of even the littlest pleasures.
Dean walked quietly across to stand by the opened window of the room (where he'd cautiously poured a thin line of salt, hoping no nurse would clear it away) and took in a breath of fresh air. He'd scarcely left the room for two weeks and knew he was starting to look pale and drawn, signs of how desperately he was clinging onto the one hope they had. Truthfully, he was clinging onto Castiel for so many reasons he hadn't even begun to examine. It was just too damned much.
He turned back to look at Castiel who was sleeping reasonably peacefully now; it seemed, as Missouri had asserted, that his soul was beginning to settle. When he was awake it was still a shallow state of awareness, but he had stopped crying whenever Dean had to leave his side for five minutes. Physically, Cas was also improving. His feet were healed and the stitches removed from his forehead (it probably wouldn't scar much). His cheeks had regained a flush of health but there was still darkness pooled under his eyes. Dean knew that when he touched Cas's skin it would be cool and slightly dry but radiating warmth, a pliability that said nothing other than 'human'.
Dean was very familiar with that skin now, after two weeks of bathing it. He knew that on the breastbone was a burned scar, still pink like the handprint on Dean's shoulder. Though only an inch across and not perfectly defined, what had caused it was crystal clear to those who knew the shape of an unknown horned god's head wrought in brass. Further down, under the line of the ribs, was a jagged thin scar already turned pinkish-white. It was wide enough to make one think a hand had been pushed inside the body, much like Cas had done to Sam and to Bobby when he'd touched their souls. And Dean knew, though he'd not witnessed it, that was exactly what had happened. Cas had done it to himself, reached inside and torn out his grace. Exploded. To save them all.
Not for the first time, the question he kept crushed to the back of his mind snuck forward and asked itself…
Why the fuck was Cas back?
How, he didn't bother asking, because it was always some mystical thing he'd never understand anyway that kept hauling people he knew back from the dead.
But why? Did the universe, or God, or whatever else that was responsible, want Dean to lose his fucking mind? To at long last crack in a way that really did send him howling to the nuthouse? No wraith would be responsible for his madness this time, if Castiel was lost once more.
Dean inhaled the fresh air one last time then shut the window, closing the drapes to block the light. Castiel was still sensitive to that and loud noises.
Bending down, Dean unlaced his boots and toed them off before setting them underneath the avocado green vinyl chair where his jacket already lay. Then slid off his belt (because who enjoys having a belt buckle digging into their stomach). Jaw set, Dean walked over to the dividing curtain and pulled it shut. That at least hid half the mess he'd made.
Lowering the handrail on the side of the bed closest to him (and who thought they needed to be raised to begin with? Dean was going to have to speak to the staff about more than one thing, apparently—he didn't want Cas feeling like he was trapped) he crawled onto the bed, gingerly positioning himself so one arm slid underneath Castiel's neck while the other draped across his belly. With a small noise Cas turned towards him, weakly pushing himself closer, nuzzling his face against Dean's shoulder.
The cracks in Dean's heart shifted against one another, a softly grinding pain deep inside. Knowing he was helping Castiel in whatever small way made those pieces snug together in such a way that they almost felt whole again. But knowing Castiel was reduced to such a fragile state made them shiver, and the pain crept back in.
Though he would never call it such a thing, Dean prayed to Cas. Please come back. I can't save us both this time.
He'd been floating for ages. He was tired. Home beckoned, yet he wasn't sure where that was. He'd gone so high, his head was dizzy with exhaustion. So easy to keep falling, up into the darkness of the sky. So tired. But so lonely. There were kind hands in the dark, ready to grip him gently and pull him up and keep him in eternal comfort. He didn't want them.
Looking down, he saw the golden light, so far away. He craved it, wanted to embrace it, to be embraced. The light called him without sound. Breathing out, expelling the darkness, he pushed against the sleeping softness that waited. Swimming downward, slow but steady. Struggling away from peace, he broke free, crawled into the sharp bright world.
Castiel jolted awake with a soft gasp.
It took a moment to focus. Then he saw, only inches away, the face of Dean Winchester, frowning even in sleep. He remembered Dean. Castiel almost hated to wake him but the need to see green eyes was too great.
"Dean," he said, and his voice was so strained it nearly squeaked. He hadn't used it for many days, he didn't know how many. He raised a hand to Dean's face, brushing fingertips lightly over the stubbled jaw. Softly, he said again, "Dean."
And those eyes opened, rapidly. For a few seconds they simply stared at one another, eyes locked and unblinking. It was intense in a way that Castiel knew, but didn't know how he knew. It was both thrilling and comforting.
"Cas," Dean rasped, licking his lips. "You're awake? You're okay?"
Blinking once, Castiel nodded. "I… think so, yes."
An expression of profound relief and desperate joy flickered over Dean's face, then was controlled into one of calmness. "That's great, man. Really good." Dean lay there for one more moment, just staring at him before leaning forward to press a soft kiss onto his forehead, nose ruffling his hair. He felt Dean inhale deeply, shakily.
His heart was thudding even though the touch had been so gentle. "I'm… I think I'm hungry," he whispered.
Dean pulled back enough to see Cas's eyes again. His voice was rough. "Sure. I'm gonna, uh, get up now and get the doc, okay?"
Castiel nodded again. "Yes, okay."
Dean slid an arm carefully from beneath Cas' head, and stood up stiffly. He winced at Dean's obvious discomfort, could hear the joints crackling in so many places though the other man didn't seem to care at all.
"Just hang on, Cas, I'm gonna take care of you."
"Yes," Castiel said, his lips lifting in a small smile. "I know."