Hi! Oh wow, if you're here at this TWELFTH chapter thank you!
I really enjoyed writing this, and could probably easily fall into continuing in this AU.
Disclaimer: Once again, checked everywhere, and no sign of renegade angels or hunters either in my bed or under it. No piles of money being made from this fic either. I hang my head in melodramatic defeat.
Nothingness. There is nothing. Like the old religions of The Great Mother, destruction leads only to a gentle floating oblivion, returned to the womb of creation. There is no pain. There is no weariness, no burning heat, no fear or worries about the self or any other. There is no loneliness, no loss, and no sense of painful isolation. There is only the soothing comfort of wanting for nothing, and feeling nothing.
A name, an identity, a designation given to some created form is whispered. It glints there in the darkness of all-encompassing silence. It floats on The River Lethe, a tiny blue flame in the deepest of voids.
The susurration travels through the nihility of this place rippling the still waters of forgetfulness, forming, stirring... Timeless, immortal hands disturb the inscrutable waters, gently coax the little spark, sing to it, blow on it ever so gently, aware of its fragility. Gently...so gently...
Ripped from the dark womb of nothingness, life is bestowed like a cruel barrage. He is. He is again. He is Castiel. He is here and now and choking, gagging around an unfamiliar intrusion, when all he wants to do is draw breath. His heart is hammering hard and fast and he does not know where he is. Alarms are sounding all around him and unfamiliar people rush into the room. Someone is speaking to him, but he can't hear them over the screaming pitch of his own panic, as he tries to flee from this prison of flesh and finds he cannot. Firm hands hold him down and he feels terror bloom deep in the animalistic pit of his human body.
A sudden rush of drugs hazes over the panic. Obscures it, and the room drifts... He can feel moisture leaking out of the corners of his eyes...a gentle calloused hand over his brow...a much smaller, softer hand slips into his palm at some point, and he feels small fingers curl and squeeze comfortingly...Eventually, he sleeps.
Tumult. He is trapped afloat in a raging ocean. Every time he struggles to the surface, to wakefulness, he is swiftly dragged back under... He cannot make sense of the whirling thoughts and information his human senses are flooding into his brain. It is too much... He chokes as the horrible intrusion in his throat is removed and he struggles through the first breaths on his own...A deep, soothing voice...Anchoring hands...he grasps at where his grace should be and feels cold dead space...He cries out in pain and despair...more soothing words...drugs again...He drifts down into the silent fog...
Opening his eyes has never been such a monumental task, but Castiel determinedly drags himself to awareness despite the inviting pull of drugs and exhaustion. He pulls in a breath, grateful to be doing so on his own again, but he feels incomprehensibly heavy and earthbound. Jimmy's limbs- no, his limbs, refuse to move, to obey even the slightest command. His previous conceptions of what weariness is were apparently laughably naive. He feels hollowed out, feels vital pieces of himself missing.
As his eyes adjust to the pale sunlight filtering into the hospital room, they fall on the sleeping forms in the chair next to the bed where he lies. Dean is passed out in the hard, plasticized chair, with a little girl with dark hair curled up, asleep on his lap. Their breaths rise and fall together, the very picture of stillness and peace. Dean shifts restlessly, and then Castiel is looking into eyes, he knows even better than Jimmy's.
His mouth is too dry to respond and his throat feels like it's lined with sandpaper. He winces.
"Cas? It is you right? I mean..."
He succeeds in a small nod, and sees relief flood his charge's features.
"Hang on man..." Dean mutters, carefully extricating himself from the little, sleeping figure lying across his chest, settling her in the chair, against his jacket and a pillow.
The hunter offers him a few ice chips, which Castiel accepts with gratitude, slowly letting them melt in his mouth as he's instructed. They offer cool relief, as Dean pulls up a second chair and sits at his side. It reminds him of when their positions were reversed, when he sat at Dean's bedside after Uriel's death, after Allastair's destruction. Then, he had looked at the human and had been reminded just how fragile his charge was. Dean didn't have grace to draw on to heal himself, to protect himself...
"Hey," a hand descends on his shoulder, "You still with me?"
"Yes," he manages.
"You scared the crap outta me man," the hunter mutters," Seriously." Dean glances briefly at the little girl, still asleep in the chair. She doesn't stir, and he turns back to Castiel, "I mean, it's been almost a week since you nuked Pestilence, and I wasn't sure if you were even in there anymore. I was beginning to think you were dead, or vacated, or I don't know," the hunter gives a tense laugh, "got fed up with being pummelled by Heaven and Hell's cronies. Y'know went off to Tijauna or something..."
"I had no intention of leaving you."
There is silence for a moment. Dean swallows.
"Yeah, well...good." The hunter clears his throat, scrubs a hand over his face, and breaks eye contact. "Alexandra came by yesterday with her kid," he says, after a moment, motioning to the little girl on the chair. He shakes his head. "Kid was chatting away to you in some geek language Sam was all excited about; apparently there are a couple of dead languages even Sam doesn't speak; and you just woke up. I mean I didn't know if your mojo was back or if it was even you, since you know you were still so out of it...But she was convinced it was you."
Castiel looks at the little girl napping contentedly. He hears the voice echoing in his mind again: Castiel; calling him back from oblivion. He heard it in the throes of fever, heard it when the little girl in his dream told him to drink the tea, just before he let his grace explode out of this fragile human vessel...
"Cas? You OK?"
His mouth is dry again instantly, as the little girl, stirs and yawns, sitting up. She looks directly at him and beams.
He blinks. There is nothing in those dark eyes but childish innocence and youth. Foolish. What had he been expecting?
"I'm fine," he mutters.
The voice, like a dream, fades.
The girl hops off the chair and scoots up to a nearby table where a small tray of half-finished pie is sitting. She grabs a fork and munches away. Moments later, a tall red-haired woman, he recognizes as the witch Alexandra, the little girl, Amira's, mother, appears at the door to the room.
Alexandra smiles, "Hi," She looks at Castiel, and even as she thanks him for destroying the horseman and effectively saving her mother, wishes him well, he feels her grey eyes penetrating the surface of him, seeing how deep the damage genuinely goes. They fill with warmth and sympathy, but she doesn't comment.
"Amira," she tells her daughter, "Come on, we have to get going. Say bye to Dean and Castiel."
The little girl sighs, "OK."
She wraps her skinny arms around Dean, in a quick hug, obviously having taken a liking to the hunter, and leans in to give Castiel a quick parting kiss on the cheek, blushing immediately and scurrying to her mother who bundles her out the door with a chuckle and a wave. Castiel watches them go, mother and daughter, parent and child, and feels emptiness.
He cannot hear the angelic chorus. He cannot feel the presence of his brethren, the once all-pervasive love of his father.
"Hey, Cas?" Dean sits again in the chair, "Are you sure you're OK?"
He isn't. He has been burned, beaten, filled with scalding holy fire, and misled by ghosts of his own foolish faith, to trust in his own wishful thinking that his father has been here, has guided him in any of this. His return from the void has left him emptied. He can't feel his grace, his wings, any of that which makes him what he is. He trusted that God was there to catch him if he took that leap of faith, but he has been allowed to fall. There's no choice now but to be honest.
Dean shifts so that he catches Castiel's eyes, even as the angel tries to look away, "Does it have something to do with why your angel mojo hasn't healed you completely?"
"Yes," he concedes quietly.
"So," the hunter searches his face, "When you blew Pestilence to hell, it didn't fix what was going on with your grace? Which, man," Dean shakes his head, "How did you OD on mojo in the first place?"
"No, to the first question," he winces as his throat gets progressively drier again, "I don't know the answer to the second."
Dean's eyes widen, "You still in danger of going up like a bonfire then?"
Castiel feels a bitter laugh rise in his throat, "My problem is exactly the opposite. I couldn't burn out of control even if I wanted to. I'm completely drained. I can't heal myself, I can't do anything Dean, I'm..."
The weariness presses in on him with renewed force. The hunter is silent, watching him, until understanding slowly dawns on the man.
"Human," he breathes.
Castiel swallows and looks away.
Dean sits back in the chair, taking the new information in. "...I'm sorry."
The silence is heavy. Dean unsure of how to console someone who has basically now lost absolutely everything , even his own identity, and Castiel, steels himself for what he knows must necessarily come next.
"I'm grateful for..." Castiel licks his chapped lips, searching out the words he knows he has to say, but can't help feeling selfishly reluctant to. "For the assistance you've given me, for your staying with me here. But I know you want to move on to the next battle...to find the next horseman..."
He ploughs ahead, "I realize I'm not as much use to you in this fight anymore."
"And I would understand if you...wished to move on. I can stay here and convalesce-"
"Cas, would you shut up."
He looks up into his charge's eyes, momentarily stunned.
"Jesus, Cas," the hunter shakes his head in disbelief, "You think I'd just up and leave you here alone in a hospital where the nurses aren't even hot?" He sighs at the angel's confused frown at his attempt at levity, "Look, you said you weren't gonna leave me, and chick flick moment or not, I'm not about to return the favour by abandoning you. Dude, I can pretty much guess what your dick brothers would do in a situation like this, but you're forgetting one, pretty important little detail here: I'm not one of them. You're my friend, man. I mean Cas, just because you lost your mojo doesn't mean I'm gonna toss you on the scrap heap. And yeah, I wanna go after the last horseman, but I'm doin' it with you beside me."
Castiel searches the human's eyes, and even without his angelic ability to read his charge's thoughts, the fierce honesty he sees in Dean's eyes makes his throat tighten. The hunter would not lie to him.
The door to the room opens, and Sam appears, hefting his laptop and two Styrofoam cups of coffee.
"About time," Dean grumbles, breaking the moment with a show or griping, and getting up to snatch one of the cups from his brother. Once Sam is seated, sparing Dean a little brother's annoyed look, he turns to Castiel.
"Cas, hey," he grins, "Welcome back."
"Thank you," he replies gravely.
Sam, oblivious to their previous conversation, opens a ragged folder he's deposited on the bedside table and opens it excitedly, "I've been doing some more research on the last horseman...and the lore surrounding the rings. There might be a way to track down this last one using the other three rings. It's dangerous though."
Dean rolls his eyes, "Yeah, 'cause usually our jobs are nice and cushy."
"Anyway," Sam sighs dramatically, "It's doable. We've got three horsemen in the bag already. One more to go." He turns to Castiel, "What do you think Cas?"
He no longer has the power to travel any distance at will, or heal himself, or bend time. He is no longer the invincible warrior, the powerful angel of The Lord. He does not have the backing of heaven, or the assurance of his brothers' protection in battle. They have abandoned him. He can be injured and bleed and suffer and die.
Dean catches Sam's eye, shakes his head, and Sam looks questioningly back at his brother.
He has only the strength which this limited mortal body allows. He is hunted, a rebel; God Himself has turned his back on him, does not answer his prayers. The Winchester brothers are his only family.
But they have promised not to abandon him, not to leave him to bleed, suffer, or die alone.
He looks at the two brothers, and feels a deep seated resolve settle into his being.
He is not alone.
The patient who came in with his two brothers, who was pronounced brain dead only days ago, and who has somehow found his way back to the world of the living is given a sedative that night, a careful rotation of nurses checking in on him periodically.
But no one seems to see the small child that appears at the patient's bedside not long after his eyes fall shut at last, and sits with him through the first long, lonely night of humanity, small fingers, carding back and forth through the dark hair of the sleeping man, until the first rays of morning filter in.
That's all folks! I had A LOT of trouble ending this one, so I hope the way it turned out is at least somewhat satisfying. I just had to end with a human Castiel, because I feel like the show never really exploited that plot twist for all it was really worth. I mean, seriously! There's some meaty stuff there!
If my muse, and real-life demands oblige, I may try to continue this kind of AU set-up I've got going...maybe let the brothers and Human!Cas try to take on Death. I liked the canon version of Death, and would have loved a whole episode devoted to exploring death. I mean come on! ALL of the characters have died now at one time or another. Doesn't death deserve a little more screen time?
Anywho, once again, my sincere thanks for reading. Also a BIG thanks to everyone who reviewed. My muse is seriously well-fed with your lovely comments. I hope you enjoyed this one!