HIDE AND SEEK

It is 2010 and the motel room is orange and brown.

Sam says, "Castiel?" and then, "Hey, hey -- whoa, whoa, whoa," and his hands are firm and strong, and Dean exclaims, "Cas!," deep and uncertain. "You son of a bitch, you made it." Castiel is distantly aware of Winchesters on either side; the room swims. He is too small for his vessel; the meat is heavy and dark. He is worn away to nothing.

He clings to consciousness, to linear moments, and stares at his hands – at the cells and shadows he is still drawing into place. "I did," he rasps, belated reply. Dazed candor compels him to add, "I'm very surprised." He sees Sam's eyebrows, pulling down, and he is very pleased that Sam is still alive but he cannot say so because time is still spinning and –

(He is plummeting; he hears Sam again, urgent and low: "Whoa! You're okay.")

-- all the pieces are scattered –

.

It is 1978 and the motel room is pink and gold, draped with satin that oozes and drips around him. He tastes blood in the back of his throat, coughs bubbling liquid, feels a hand yank and roll him. It makes the room lurch and does nothing to alleviate the hot pressure in his chest, but he sucks in a breath through the drool of crimson.

"Shit, Cas, you gotta wake up."

.

"Wake up, Cas."

It's more of a request, when Sam says it. Castiel wishes he could reply.

.

Time arches and bends, ripping at his edges; he drags mortality with him, through the spaces between. His own corporeality is cumbersome enough, but now he carries the Winchesters wrapped in his waning Grace, and it is all he can do to keep them whole. He curls himself around them, close and desperate, and feels time shred through his wings like fine paper.

.

When Annael comes to him, Castiel is standing watch – he looks across the Earth with stoic detachment, and draws in his wings to make room as she slips into existence beside him. "It's 1979," she tells him, gently, as though the human marker would matter. Castiel gazes at her without speaking, because he is not certain how to respond, and Annael is beautiful and gleaming. "I came to say goodbye," she adds, and he says, "I do not understand."

There are many things he does not understand about Annael. She is become strange; angels are neither happy nor unhappy, but Annael has a restlessness that Castiel does not know how to assist. Her eyes are fierce and wanting. It makes him… he is not certain of the word.

"I know," she murmurs, and though she is his superior, she reaches out nevertheless, brushes her fingertips across his lips. "But you are a good friend."

She is gone before he can convey his confusion. The next he hears, she has ripped all the glory from her own being, and fallen to the mud.

He does not have a word for that, either. Her absence is a peculiar sort of void.

.

"Cas? I think he moved."

"Castiel? maybe we should --"

"Do what, Sammy? Pretty sure Tylenol won't cut it."

.

The motel room is pink and gold, and he dreams of flying – not as himself, but as a bird does, flitting, air beneath delicate pinions. He dreams of perching on Dean's shoulder, tiny bird talons gripping leather, and sees the hunter's hand slap down, huge and shadowed, to swat him.

He tastes warm copper and cannot breathe.

He has never dreamed before.

.

He almost loses Dean in 1981, jolting as something explodes – a car accident? simple and stupid – through the place and time where they are not. Twisting metal scythes through, a flickering instant; someone screams; Castiel jerks the Winchesters closer, feels them helpless and unaware. Then the moment is gone, and yet to come; time rips around them like a tornado. The angel's Grace gutters and tears.

.

"Castiel? Hey, hey -- whoa, whoa, whoa."

"Cas! You son of a bitch, you made it."

"I did. I'm very surprised."

He is very pleased that Sam is still alive but he cannot say so because time is still spinning and –

"Whoa! You're okay."

-- all the pieces are scattered –

.

Dean says, "Look, man, I am trying to make you cool here – you can't let Sam nerd you up all over again." But they both ignore him; Sam is setting up the worn board, and Castiel watches with fascination. He reaches out and picks up a plastic piece, running his thumb along the groove in the smooth plane.

"That's the bishop," says Sam. "It can only move diagonally."

"I know how to play," murmurs Castiel, and Sam brightens even further, brown eyes warming. "Oh yeah?"

"This is a very old game."

.

He cannot quite make sense of the world – he feels himself in tatters, ragged with exhaustion – but he knows that he is alone. His cell phone does not function here, and he cannot find Dean and Sam because he himself has ensured their invisibility.

It is an alarming state of affairs.

Castiel can find John Winchester, though, if he tries. He spreads flagging wings, and reaches.

When he staggers into being, he finds John and Mary Winchester outside a blue house, laughing. She is perched on the hood of the Impala; her husband kneels before her, arms wrapped around her, ear pressed to the flatness of her stomach and the wrinkled cotton of her shirt.

She is Venus. In that moment, Castiel knows, John Winchester loves even God.

Michael's touch is on their minds, heavy and unmistakable; Castiel reads what has been unwritten, and chokes on it.

He is gone before they ever see.

.

"What do we do if he doesn't wake up?"

"We can't stay here forever. We'll have to throw him in the car." There is a hand on his arm, gripping just above the wrist. "Cas, dude, come on."

He cannot move.

.

He is twelve years old and his mother has made him a cowboy cake; ______He has no need of individual moments; he adores all things,
his sister laughs as he draws a great lungful of air, blowing hard. _________he basks in the glow of his Father's creations.
The flames puff out; the last one glimmers, shaking at life, and ___________Castiel stands guard, keeps his vigil, and drifts through eternity.
he exhales with all the power he has, watching it vanish to smoke. ________Occasionally, he thinks of Annael.

"Did you make a wish, Jimmy?" ____________________________________What is 1979?

He smiles, secret and gleeful. "Yeah." _______________________________What is now?

There are so many shards.

.

"Sam is safe," he wants to tell Dean, but it comes out as a garbled rasp, and Dean says sharply, "What? What about Sam?" Dean's hand reaches for Castiel's shoulder, shaking, and the motel room is pink and gold –

.

-- orange and brown –

.

"You son of a bitch, you made it."

.

"Sam Winchester has to die." Annael's eyes – Anna's eyes – are still fierce. Still wanting.

Castiel holds unholy destruction in his hand, feels the sharp cold length of it. He stares at Anna in the dimness of the old warehouse, and he suspects that she is right. It tugs at a new and roiling darkness, somewhere within him.

"The answer is still no," he says, quietly. "Because Sam is my friend."

.

Castiel slides his queen into place, fingers delicate on the slim gamepiece. "Checkmate."

Sam pulls his head back slightly, perplexed, staring at the board. "Hey," he says, and "Sweet." His hand sweeps up the pieces. "Again?"

.

Anna blinks. "You've changed," is her reply, almost startled – it's true. He has. So has she.

'I remember you,' say his eyes. And, 'I'm sorry.' But what he speaks is, "You come near Sam Winchester, and I'll kill you."

He means every word.

.

He wrenches something the wrong way – he is too hasty, his Grace shredding like rags – and it is 1982 and Castiel stumbles and falls to his knees on the Winchesters' front lawn. He has no place here, no reason, but blood is bubbling hot and wet in his throat.

He presses a palm to the grass and looks up, meeting the bottle-green gaze of the little boy who stands just inside the new screen door.

The world is an ocean around him, cresting in sharp waves. "Dean!" he hears Mary Winchester call, cheerfully, and Castiel realizes that in a breath she will arrive behind her son. He hurls himself –

.

Bobby's camera flashes, and Castiel does not entirely comprehend, but he raises his chin for the photograph, and stands tall. Sam's arm is light across his shoulders, and the others are clustered close -- Ellen, Jo, Dean, Bobby.

Castiel knows that he is being included in something elusive and human, even if it is the last night of the world.

.

The bullet wounds are an irritation, but he can forgive the man's confusion. Castiel knits flesh together with an absent thought, and explains, "I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition."

"Yeah?" The mortal's jade eyes are flat and suspicious. "Thanks for that."

Castiel does not flinch away when the man drives the demon blade into his vessel's chest; he only watches, calm and puzzled. He does not understand why honesty is insufficient. He wonders if Dean Winchester is broken.

.

Castiel clings to the dull linearity of Jimmy Novak's body. Time peels away at his edges; time gouges great holes in his Grace, and he is fighting, and he thrashes and flings himself forward and sideways, all the bits and pieces and scattered wisps because he can almost see the moment where Dean is taking a whiskey bottle out of a bag and Sam is pulling paper covers off cheap motel glassware and they are pointedly not speaking of anything at all --

.

"Cas, do not tell Sam I said this, but you are kind of starting to freak me out. So if you could, you know, twitch, or something… "

There is a warm wetness running across his lip. He smells blood; a moment later, a worn cloth wipes it away.

"Also, you're making a mess. Seriously, come on. I'll buy you a beer."

The room is orange and brown.

.

Raphael appears before him with no warning, and Castiel is caught by surprise but he kneels immediately, bowing his head. The celestial chorus drifts around them, singing. Castiel has never been so close to an archangel and he does not know why he is chosen now.

Raphael does not particularly seem to care for Castiel's obeisance. "The righteous man has entered Hell," he says, starkly; he blazes, replete with God's power. "You will retrieve him."

In his shock, Castiel dares look up, and sees the archangel watching him with narrowed gaze. "I am… unworthy," he ventures, and Raphael's lip curls, perfect and cold.

"You are linked to this mortal," he says, evenly. "You have been for some…" He pauses, then settles on, "time."

Castiel blinks, turning his gaze toward fate's gossamer strands; he sees blood, blasphemy, the wary green eyes of a stranger. Human lives are somehow tangled between his feathers.

Duty and puzzlement flare simultaneously within him. He folds his wings and drops toward Hell.

.

The room is pink and –

.

orange and –

.

gold and –

.

brown

.

"Castiel? Hey, hey -- whoa, whoa, whoa."

"Cas! You son of a bitch, you made it."

"I did. I'm very surprised."

He is very pleased that Sam is still alive but he cannot say so because time is still spinning and –

"Whoa! You're okay."

-- all the pieces are scattered –