At 11pm, first of October, Castiel leaves the small town for what feels like the last time; any thought of Winchesters abandoned, alongside their cramped motel room and the smell of greasy food. He remembers to turn on the headlights but as soon as he starts driving north, it does not matter.He drives past the ROAD CLOSED sign standing on the side of the entrance to the forest and further into the night. The town is now what feels like hours away, forgotten and nonexistent in the face of the call.
In front of his windshield there is nothing but a tunnel of trees and the old road spreading further than the light of the car's headlamps can reach. So deep it resembles an old well - its only promise a total darkness and deadly cold, black water at the bottom. His car fits perfectly in it.
Each sensation, each bump in the road is muffled, as if something else is pressing on his vessel's every nerve ending, taking up space inside him, pulsating rhythmically in the cold autumn air. Silence encompasses him. The radio has stopped receiving signals miles back, and the sound of the engine fades into the corner of his mind until there is nothing but thick, empty muteness around him, so persistent he has given up fighting it hours ago. Years?
In that total silence, he listens, watches as the call beats in the air like a heart. The darkness sings to him in a language he does not know. One so primordial it's been here before him, before anything has spoken and formed speech for the first time. It is one that a being doesn’t know until it hears it and realizes it is for everyone and that thing in particular. It is calling him. So he comes.
An empty sound escapes him and with the sensation of pain and hot liquid dripping down his eye he realizes the car is no longer moving, even though his foot hasn’t stopped pressing the gas since he entered the forest road. Or maybe earlier. Maybe he has been driving here his entire life, foot on gas until he reaches the only destination that matters.
There is no more road to drive so he steps out of the car, looks at the front, dented inwards by one of the tree trunks, and turns away. He doesn't need it anymore anyway.
In his car’s headlights he sees his vessel’s long shadow - a twisted mockery of how he views himself, so with relief he steps out of the light and continues into the night’s thick blackness, the shadows pulling him in with small hands and claws. They grab his clothes and pull his hair, creep in between his fingers and under his fingernails, pry open his eyes and mouth until he is full with thrumming, singing darkness.
He moves smoothly down the road, the sound of footsteps in the soft soil mutely echoing in the back of his mind. The ground pulsates, as if it's a breathing being with earth as its skin, stretching and contracting with each beat of the call.
After walking for what feels like years, blind in the darkness, he reaches the clearing.
The freezing wind comes from behind him and sends shivers down his spine, sucked into the center like everything else in this forest. It beats in the rhythm of a heart with a force just barely contained, one that could break space in a million halves. The energy just under his skin beats alongside it, he realizes, and for what feels like the first time he moves and stares at his wrist, at the invisible light pulsing under his skin alongside his heart, so close to breaking through in an explosion of blood and bones he's able to see it in the back of his mind and for a few seconds believes he is dying.
The whisper calls closer and for the first time he sees it.
Despite it being a full moon there is nothing in the sky, like it’s been covered with a black dome that even an angel’s eyes cannot see through. There is no light and there is no shadow, so he squints his eyes, tries to make out the shapes.
In a careful dance he steps over the stone root that digs deep into the ground and slithers in it like an aggravated snake. His gaze follows to its origin, to where the veins come together at the center and fall down into a sucking darkness nothing can get out of. It’s a hole just big enough to fit him, he realizes - an invitation. Standing there, staring into its mouth he trembles, hesitates. It pumps the movement, the beating, the pressure on him, were he human, could burst his every blood vessel. The call bangs in the forefront of his mind, screams and bleeds with black ooze that’s filling his brain, clearing it of all thought, and he begs it to stop but steps closer. The rhythm only grows more persistent, until there is nothing in his mind but the pulsating pressure. It is the end, he knows, because there is nothing beyond here and there is nothing more down there but the mouth that devours any and all light just as it will devour his own.
He wants to grit his teeth, dig his feet into the ground, claw his way out but the thrumming in his ears screams for food and sacrifice, it is hungry and it will always be hungry, he knows, because no matter how much it eats it will always be empty.
It is a realization that makes him gaze at it with sadness. It kisses his skin, crawls up it and cries with no tears and no sound, just a whimper of the air, a shaking in the ground. It begs and screams and cries and demands and pulls on his clothes and twists around his ankles and wrists and it shakes the world until there is no up and down anymore, and so there is no in and out, and so it does not matter if he is out here or in there.
The mouth exhales and inhales in slow beats, moves the air and ground around it in a gesture of invitation. The air comes with it, in slow waves it gives in and goes along with the current, drums the rhythm until it almost bursts his eardrums. Every tree, every blade of grass beats alongside it. He steps closer, just a bit, just until he is at the edge, staring down into the hole. The thing, it feels like, is staring back at him, through it’s nonexistent eye. He takes another step. But doesn’t fall. Something crawls around him, around his arm, making him turn, he doesn’t see anything anymore and the flash of light blinds him. The thing around his arm squeezes it, yells and pulls him away. His feet trip on a vein and he bends in half, he hears his name and realizes that he has forgotten it.
The mouth screams in fury, it beats and thrums and it’s anger crackles in the air like electricity. It is a mute noise that only he can hear, it slips only his ears and covering them does nothing. His knees collide with the ground and he screams alongside it, his lonely voice breaking through the silence like lightning. Wet tears run down his cheeks and he sobs into something soft, screams from the pain that is breaking his mind in half. It is pulsating in his veins, behind his eyeballs, in the endings of his nerves, in the black veins underground and the rippling in the air. He burrows deeper into his hiding place even though no sensation of warmth and closeness, no hands grabbing and pulling him up, no calm voice calling his name is able to calm him down until the world blurs around the edges and warm light lays him to sleep that feels like death.
The world is warm and soft around the edges as he resurfaces, vibrations and the smell of leather seats gently nudging him into the waking world. For a long while it is all fuzzy, the low hum of an engine and the sound of Dean’s fingers methodically removing a cassette tape and putting in another one, calm breaths and a beating of a human heart close to his ear. A soft tune that Castiel doesn’t know starts playing from the Impala’s old speakers, male voice slowly stretching out the vowels as it sings. He sighs softly and something moves beside him.
“Cas?” An inhale.
At a snail’s pace he blinks his eyes open and pushes his head away from the soft warm surface he’s leaning into. The material is thick and stiff under the skin of his chin, yet the body under it is warm and firm. His hand caresses the thin layer of the old blanket tightly wrapped around his torso and shoulders. With a gentle move of his head, just enough to look around the car’s interior and to witness Dean’s shoulders stiffen in the driver’s seat. His hand is heavy, he realizes as he sets it down on the warm body he’s lying on. He lifts his gaze just enough to see Sam’s worried face. The car stops at what is probably the side of the road and the engine’s rumble cuts off.
“Cas?” Dean sits sideways in his seat and leans over the backrest, trenching his arm and grabbing the angel’s shoulder. “What’s going on, man? You okay?” he demands.
“What happened?” rasps the angel. He watches the brothers exchange worried glances. .
“What do you remember?” asks Sam. An arm tightens around Cas’ shoulder and he allows himself to lean into it.
He frowns and pauses for a few seconds until he remembers what has happened.
“I told you I heard something,” he says finally. Dean stares right back at him, his eyes widen in realization.
“Jesus, Cas,” he turns back around and slides his hand over his face. “I’m- We shouldn’t have ignored you like that.”
“It’s fine,” says the angel. “It was… I don’t know what it was. It was calling me, as soon as I left you I just couldn’t resist it… How’d you find me?”
“You drove into the woods and didn’t come back for the night,” Dean shrugs. “You didn’t pick up our calls, so we figured maybe you were right. We tracked your phone GPS and got you back here but you wouldn’t stop freaking out, scared the shit out of us.”
Cas frowns. “You didn’t call me.”
“We called you like a million times, dude! Your phone wasn’t even on silent, you just straight up ignored us!”
Castiel lifted his head to see Sam nod at him.
“Yeah, you ran a bunch of red lights and crashed your car in the woods.”
“I walked on foot, I remember. There was a hole in the ground… It wanted…” he paused. It wanted to devour him and everything around him. It sucked life out of him until there was nothing inside it but its own dark, empty essence. He listens to the erratic pulsing of his own blood, the noise in his ears encompassing his entire world for a few seconds. Sam squeezes him tighter when his body shudders and Cas tries to absorb as much of the hunter’s warmth as he’s able to.
“Where are we?” he asks.
“We’ve just crossed the state line,” says Dean somberly.
“And that thing?”
Dean shakes his head. “I went back there. There was nothing, Cas, it’s gone.”
Cas lets out a shaky breath into the fold of Sam’s jacket. “Good, leave it.”
Dean doesn’t say anything. With a determined face he lights up the ignition switch and steers the car back on the road.
“We’re out of there, Cas, you’re safe.”
Castiel hides his nose in the blanket and the material of Sam’s clothes and nods. “Thank you,” he whispers and leans into the younger Winchester.
He doesn’t close his eyes. Only watches the blur of the yellow and orange trees as they pass by them and stares into the clear blue October sky until his eyelids are just too heavy and he allows himself to rest. The car vibrates under him and jumps with every small bump in the road, the sound of his own heart slowly pumping blood thrums in his ears, the slow rhythm of drums in the song sounds a bit too familiar, as well as Dean’s finger, drumming to the same constant, slow pumping that is moving the thick air around them. It beats. And beats, and beats, in a single rhythm that the world breathes in. It calls.
Castiel opens his eyes, squeezes Sam’s hand.