Warnings for mental illness and attempted suicide. I do not own Supernatural
Will most likely be made AU by 7x18, but see if I care. Spoilers for 7x17. Small amount of Destiel, vague hints at Sabriel. Huge thanks to the fantabulous mofftiss-is-might on tumblr for doing the reverse of Brit-picking (Amerit-picking?). In case anyone's interested, the song Lucifer sings is Runs in the Family by Amanda Palmer (amazing fanvid for the song can be found at endiness . tumblr . com /post /4252140940 /runs-in-the-family-a-character-study-of-the-angels, just remove the spaces). Now part of the Pub!Verse, see my profile for more details. Reviews are love!
"Hey li'l bro, didn't dad ever tell you that it's rude to ignore someone when they're talking to you?"
The room is white. White walls, floors, ceiling, bed, clothes. White skin, too, although next to the blinding cleanliness of the bed sheets his shaking hand looks almost dirty. He examines it dispassionately, clenches his fingers into a fist, and the shaking stops. Reminding himself of why he is doing this is the only thing that has stopped him from trying to escape so far – he is doing this for Sam, for Dean, for his sins… his nails bite into his palm again, and he shakes his head to try and clear it.
"Oh, right. I forgot. Our daddy just ran off and left us, didn't he? Left you all on your own..."
He wouldn't mind being alone, actually, but he's not. He's not been alone for over a week now – or maybe that is the problem, he's been left alone in this white, perfect, prison-cell room with only his thoughts for company. His hand starts shaking again and this time he can't make it stop, even when he digs his short nails into his palm and bites his lip. (Sam. Dean. My sins.)
"Left you all alone with little old me. Oh, the fun we're going to have."
"Dean?" says Sam eventually, resting his head against the window and gazing out at the dark countryside flashing by. Dean grunts an affirmative, glowering at the road ahead as if it has done him a personal injustice.
"Do you think we did the right thing?" Sam's voice is soft, breath tracing icy patterns on the glass. "Leaving him behind. We did, right?"
It is a long time before Dean finally replies. "He'll be safe there," he says, and it sounds more like he's trying to convince himself than Sam. "And we'll find him help."
Sam sighs, presses his forehead against the glass and stares at shadowy trees, and tries to ignore the fact that Dean has carefully avoided actually answering the question.
"Hello, little angel. Did you sleep well?"
The voice is getting more and more familiar. This worries him, makes him wonder what is wrong with him if he's getting used to the voice of the one that torments him. He's considered trying to run away, but he doesn't think he could escape now, even if he wanted to. His energy is waning, and besides… (Sam. Dean. My sins). It has become his mantra.
"Oh, I forgot. You don't need to sleep. Makes you harder to play with than Sammy, but I'm working on it."
Hands slide around his waist, and there is the solid warmth of a chest pressed against his back. A chin rests itself on top of his head, blowing breaths of air across his messy hair. He flinches, can't help it, and then pulls himself into stillness again, sitting on the edge of his bed.
"Awww, don't go all Spock on me, I know you can hear me. You really are rather boring, you know that, right? Maybe that's why they left you behind."
He doesn't respond – not just because he doesn't understand the reference, but because he decided at the beginning of all of this, two weeks ago, to not pay attention, to ignore the hallucinations. Futilely, he'd hoped this would make them go away. He realises now that this plan will not work, but he still refuses to acknowledge them. To acknowledge the fact he is, indeed, slowly going crazy.
"Oh, I forgot. You don't get pop culture, do you? Shame."
The warmth behind him shifts slightly, leans back, and fingers begin to trail their way up and down his spine. He shivers slightly at the touch, cool even through his white shirt, can't help himself from arching away. And then the fingers skitter up higher, resting lightly on the nape of his neck, and he freezes.
"…Oh. Oh, now there's an idea for you! Told you I'd think of a game we can play."
The fingers begin rubbing in circles over the node of the vertebra at the bottom of his neck, pressing ever so slightly, irritating the bundle of grace that lies coiled just beneath the skin there. This is where it resides, mainly, threading through his spine and shoulder blades, and it is attached to his vessel at the very point those fingers are pressing. The sensation is wrong, uncomfortable, invasive, and makes him roll his shoulders in an awkward attempt to alleviate the pressure. (Sam. Dean. My sins.)
"C'mon, little brother, won't you show me your wings? I bet they're pretty, you look like the kind who'd look after them."
He shakes his head, mute with terror, because this is something too important to ignore. There is a sigh from behind him and then the fingers are slipping through his skin, underneath it, digging directly into his grace, and (this shouldn't be possible hallucinations can't do this), but it can and it is. And then his wings are unfurling against his will out of the protective shell of his vessel, feathers grazing the ceiling-
"Beautiful, well done. Good boy. Now, what to do, what to do…"
A hand skims across the top of one wing, lightly, following the elegant, delicate curve of grey-blue feathers. To any human, they would appear as shadows, barely visible smudges of translucence on a day like this, with sunlight streaming through the windows. To any angel, though, they are perfectly visible – a huge, silvery signal of vulnerability. He attempts to fold them, to draw them back into his vessel, but the hand clamps down on the first joint in his left wing and holds it there, outstretched and quivering.
"Uh-uh. Did I tell you to do that? Nope! We're not finished playing yet."
He swallows, tries to fight back the urge to panic, and fails. His wings jerk violently against the hold, thrashing, hitting the walls and ceiling. The hand twists. Pain, immediate and stunning and choking, races out from the broken bone and sets his back and shoulder aflame with agony. (Sam, Dean, my sins, my sins, help me father for I have sinned–) He tips forward with a scream, crumpling to the floor on his knees, doubled over, broken wing wavering above him in a sick mockery of a flag.
"Oh, I'm sorry, did that hurt? Here. Let me make it better."
The hand releases his wing, and he draws it back against his back with a muffled sob, entire body shaking. (Sam. Dean. My sins.) He's forgotten none of this is supposed to be real, forgotten his vow of silence, forgotten everything other than the hot throb of pain and his mantra. The hands are running themselves through his feathers, now. The motion is gentle, soothing, careful of his broken wing– and then suddenly there are claws, ripping and dragging and tearing through the downy silver until the room is full of floating, grey fluff.
"…I say it runs in this family, we tend to bruise easily, bad in the blood…"
The soft singing is audible even over his choked cries as he prays to his Father, to Dean and Sam, to his siblings, to anyone to come and save him – he'd taken even Crowley, gladly, Zachariah or Annael or Uriel or Meg, anyone, if they'd just make it stop. He begs and pleads for the pain to end, wonders why angels were denied the mercy of being able to black out, screams out for Dean again, claws at the floorboards. Through his blurry vision he can see his feathers floating slowly to the floor, coating the room, making the walls shimmer where the light reflects off of them. (S-sam. Dean. My- my sins.)
"...'cos I just want you to know me, know me and my family, we're wonderful folks..."
Dean does not come, and God does not care, and many of the others he had called for are dead. Most by his hand. The doctors come, though, pin him to the bed and restrain him, inject him with sedatives that won't work. He lays there, wings pulled safely back into his vessel, and prays for the sedatives to work. They don't. He lies there, in pain and not alone, with his brother's blue eyes and sharp smile for company. (Sam and Dean and my sins and won't someone have mercy and get me out of here.)
They've stopped at a cheap café for coffee and breakfast before heading down to some small town in Middle-of-Nowhere, Ohio, where children have been disappearing under the local bridge. Dean's busy inhaling the last of his eggs and sausage with large amounts of enthusiasm. Sam is finished, other than the last few inches of his coffee, and pulls out his phone on a whim, scrolling through the contacts until he finds the number he wants.
"Hello, yes, is this– yes, yes, I was wondering if I could speak to a patient of yours?" Dean looks up from his plate, eyes narrowing in suspicion – which quickly turns to a glare when Sam adds, "Mr. Novak, yeah. No– yeah, I'm a cousin of his, and I–" He pauses, eyes widening slightly. "Oh. Okay, then. Thank you for your time."
By the time he's shut the phone and taken a deep breath, Dean is focused on his food again – or pretending to be, at least.
"He's getting worse," says Sam softly, concern written on his face. "The doctors say he's been having– having episodes." They both know what that means; apparently, Lucifer hasn't been put off tormenting just because his victim has been changed.
Dean makes a low noise that could possibly be interpreted as concern by someone who knows him very, very well. Sam's face hardens and he leans forward, trying to catch Dean's eyes. "You know, it's just, I've been thinking and maybe we should go back and–"
"We stick to the plan," Dean growls. "End of story. No more fucking arguments." He stands up, slaps a handful of bills down on the table and marches out of the diner. He never once meets Sam's gaze, shoulders tight and teeth gritted.
Sam sighs, runs a hand over his face, downs the last of his coffee – and, as always, follows.
It's been a month. He spends most of his time cross-legged on his bed, now, unless he's having one of his 'fits', as the doctors have termed them – when his brother turns up, grinning, and happily drags his wings out of his vessel, pulls the feathers out and snaps the brittle bones, sings over his screams and strokes his hair softly when they come and try to sedate him, and (Sam, Dean, my sins).
He's sitting on his bed now, wings out, one curled over into his lap as he strokes the bare, raw skin where down used to lie in an attempt to sooth the itch of it. It doesn't work very well, and he's sure it just makes the doctors think he's even madder, stroking thin air like he has an invisible cat, but it's the only thing that stops the slow burn that now covers almost all of his wings. The feathers will grow back, in time, but they won't be given time – he's sure of that.
In the back of his mind, behind the permanent fear that never quite leaves, behind the endless (Sam. Dean. My sins), he's terrified of what his brother will start doing when there are no feathers left. The few straggling plumes of silver-blue look rather pathetic, and his vanity makes him half-tempted to pull them out himself. He doesn't.
He can't even ask the doctors for help pulling the bones back into place – he has to do that himself, biting down onto a pillow to block out his strangled sobs – or for some kind of soothing ointment to put on them. None of them can see the wings, although a few have commented on the odd shadows in the room, and they walk through the space the wings occupy as if there were nothing there.
Sometimes he wonders if there isn't, if they're just another hallucination; if his blurry memories – (Sam), a friend with tainted blood, (Dean), a righteous man with burning eyes and a handprint on his shoulder, (my sins) of brothers and sisters, creatures with black eyes and voices of silk, searching for a father he never knew – are just hallucinations too.
He'd be convinced they were, if it weren't for one of the nurses. She comes in, sometimes, after he's had one of his episodes, and whispers soft things to him, kisses his forehead and smiles kindly with too many teeth. She has two faces, though, and black eyes too. When she comes, he screams until she leaves, until he doesn't have to see the second face that twists and writhes and drips with something unholy.
Glancing up at the clock, he notes the time – twelve o'clock, an hour until his brother will arrive. The visits are always punctual, giving him plenty of time to sit there and feel the nausea rising in his stomach. This time, though, things will be different. This time, he will win.
With shaking hands, and feeling as if he's moving through a dream, he shifts his wing off his lap and lifts up his pillow. The crooked nail lies there, dull, just as it had the night before. He'd spent two days working it carefully out of the back of the cabinet when he was sure he wasn't being watched; he has splinters in the tips of his fingers to prove it. His brother had mocked him when he'd first started, calling him a coward, saying he wouldn't dare.
But he would, though, because he deserves this, because (Sam, Dean, my sins). He's not even sure what that is, just four words that cycle in his head and carry with them an overwhelming sense of shame, of guilt, of failure. Part of him wishes they were gone and part of him clings to them as the last remnants of who he used to be.
His brother isn't here now. He's glad – he doesn't want to remember his brother's face. He wants to remember peace, the quiet stillness of being alone. (Don't want to think about Sam, Dean, my sins, but I must.) He wants to remember the faces of those he was sure he had once called his friends – although, if that was true, where were they now? Have they forgotten him, or do they simply not care?
It doesn't matter. He picks up the nail carefully, clenching his fingers around it, and slides off the bed. There is a chair in the corner of the room, and he drags it over to the door, wedging it under the handle – it won't keep the doctors out, not properly, but it might give him some time.
He needs this to work.
It hurts more than he expected, dragging the pointed tip down the length of his left arm. But he repeats the action, until the skin of his forearm is in bloody shreds, before switching arms. It is more difficult the second time over, his injured arm weak and shaking, but he manages. He drops the nail onto the bed, watching as the surprisingly bright red of his blood pools slowly on the covers. It's oddly beautiful. Mesmerising. (Sam, Dean– Sam, Dean… What comes next?)
His head seems fluffy, light, and the room is spinning, so he lies down on the bed. He curls his legs up to his stomach, presses his wrists against his chest – the warmth is nice, comforting. For the first time in a month, he feels relaxed, calm. His eyelids are getting heavy, his vision fogging and blurring at the edges, and he (Sam, Dean, my sins, will this make it better?).
"Oh no you don't! No, you don't get away that easily, nuh-uh. I'm having far too much fun, little brother. Besides, I need you alive to send me back to Sammy's brain."
He laughs quietly, shaking his head against the red bed sheets. No, he is going to die, he is sure of that, and his hallucination will die with him. This man, Sam – (Dean) – the floating memory of someone tall and warm and laughing – he will be safe. This is important, although he can't remember why.
"No, no, no!"
The lights flicker. There is a high, whining sound, escalating to an unbearable pitch – and still, he cannot stop smiling. And then, there is a hand curling into his hair, running fingers through it, as every light and window in the room shatters.
"…my friend has fright, he gets shakes in the night…"
There are footsteps, raised voices, the doorknob rattling against the back of the chair. It holds, and he laughs again, sleepily. (Sam, Dean, my friends.) Then the door flies open, the chair skittering sideways, and the raised voices are in his room, hands skating over him and there are bandages and needles and pressure, but he's so tired…
"…and time takes its toll on him, it is traditional, it is inherited, predispositional…"
The voice lulls him to sleep, and his eyes slip closed to the soundtrack of orders to stay awake and (Sam, Dean, forgive me).
The call comes at the worst possible time – but then, luck has never been a trait of the Winchester family. They are stood by an abandoned well in the back fields of an old farm, covered in stagnant water and the blood of the long, coiled corpse at their feet. Apparently it was a wyrm. Dean doesn't particularly care what it was called, just that it is dead and no longer pulling young men down into the black depths of its hole.
Sam's phone chimes, the irritating, pre-programmed ringtone jingling out from his sodden pocket, and he fishes it out with an air of surprise at the fact it is still functioning. "Hello, who's speaking? …Yes," he says, spitting a fragment of brown leaf out of his mouth, wrinkling his nose in displeasure. Dean is attempting to card pieces of slime out of his hair, having scraped most of the algae off of his face, and not having much success.
Sam freezes after the first few words, eyes widening and mouth opening, breath catching in his chest. It takes Dean a moment to notice, but when he does, he stills too. Bad news for Sam is bad news for them both.
"…O-okay. Thank you for informing me." His voice is shaking, ever so slightly, and that is enough to tell Dean this is something serious. The leaden feeling in his stomach intensifies. "Yes. Thank you. Of course. How– how bad is…?" There is a pause, and Sam swallows hard. "Ah. I see. Well, thank- thank you. Yes." He folds the phone shut with a snap, ending the call, and sinks slowly to the ground, face pale.
"What is it?" demands Dean instantly, crouching down to Sam's level, mildly concerned his brother is about to pass out. "Who was it, what did they say?"
Sam doesn't respond for a long moment, and when he does, his voice is quiet and exhausted. "It was the hospital." Before Dean even has a chance to draw breath to ask another question, he continues, "Cas just tried to kill himself."
All the breath leaves Dean's lungs and he drops to the floor, sitting opposite Sam, head swimming with questions – what, why, how, who, why – none of which his brother will be able to answer. "…Jesus…" he settles with finally, and Sam chokes out a bitter laugh.
"I don't reckon Jesus's got anything to do with it." He glances down at his palm, fingers running over the scar there, and bites his lip. "Lucifer, on the other hand–"
Dean, being his brother, knows where this is going instantly, and shakes his head. "Don't even think it, Sammy."
Sam says it anyway. "It's my fault. He took the hallucinations from me, if I'd been stronger, if I'd–"
"Don't!" snaps Dean, looking furious. He's not angry at Sam, they both know that, just angry. "It's not your fault. He took the– he took your psycho crap willingly."
"He's an angel, Dean," says Sam softly, shaking his head in something akin to amazement – something that would be amazement, if not for the broken smile curling his face. "He's a fucking angel, who has just tried to kill himself. That's so fucking messed up, I don't even–"
"He made his choice," says Dean, again, but slower this time. There's determination in his voice and in his eyes, the slow, burning, furious kind that moves mountains and kills demons and keeps him going when everything else is collapsing and the world is burning around him. "So it's up to us to fix him. Right."
There is silence for a moment, and then Dean hauls himself to his feet and claps Sam on the shoulder. "C'mon," he growls, "we've got ourselves a cure for crazy angels to find. I'm gonna need your researching skills, bitch."
Despite himself, despite everything, Sam smiles slightly. "Jerk," he replies, and then together they burn the wyrm's corpse and head for the Impala.
Time is no longer something fixed, no longer something with cycles of minutes and hours and days and nights. It stretches and bends, wavering and wobbling. The times when his brother appears seem to stretch on forever, endless and painful and terrifying in a dull, broken way (Sam, Dean, my sins). He no longer has the energy to call up true fear. In contrast, the moments between, when doctors visit and the light above him flickers occasionally, seem to flash by. A few blinks, and hours have vanished.
This should bother him, but it doesn't.
After the blood, they moved him to a new room, one where they said he'd be safe. He supposes he is, in a sense, although he's never truly safe, not from himself, not from his brother, not from (Sam, Dean, my sins).
It is still white, but this time it has no windows, no furniture other than a low mattress with cushions and a duvet in the corner. The walls and floor are soft and white, and the light bulb that flickers above him shines white. The bed sheets are white. His clothes are white. He wonders idly, sometimes, if there are any colours other than shades of grey.
Nothing changes, other than the dimming of the light every so often. He assumes this must be when night falls outside his little room, but this doesn't bother him either. He never sleeps, just lies down and closes his eyes to avoid awkward questions (about Sam, Dean, my sins) and more pills. He eats his food, bland and watery and easy to keep down, for the same reason.
The only colour in the whole room is the dirty pink-yellow of his skin, and sometimes crimson when the blood seeps through the white bandages that cover half his arms. He will sit and stare at the roses that bloom there, fascinated by the vibrancy of the colour, the vitality of it, until one of the nurses turn up to replace them.
The words still cycle in his head, (Sam, Dean, my sins) still drumming its path through his brain, but they are quieter now, faded – flickering like the light bulb above his head. He can barely remember why he first arrived here, now, but that doesn't matter. If he wasn't crazy when he came in – and he can't remember if he was, and that should bother him, but it doesn't either – he certainly is now.
He no longer screams when the nurse with two faces comes. She still tries to talk to him sometimes – but, as with everyone else, her words are white noise, a background soundtrack. (As is Sam, Dean, my sins.) Her visits are getting fewer and fewer; he gets the impression she is disappointed with his lack of response.
This is a shame, because he remembers her from somewhere, and wonders sometimes if she could remind him of who he used to be before these dreams of angels and demons and siblings he never had and friends who either do not exist or do not care; wonders if she could tell him who (Sam) and (Dean) are, and explain to him (my sins) so that he might try and atone for them. But concentrating on what people are saying takes energy, and he just doesn't care anymore.
There is movement outside the door, a shadow flashing across the plastic window, and he sits up a little straighter. The doctors and nurses always smile more if he looks awake, and even though he does not care about the world, he likes it when they smile. They are only trying to help, even though they haven't realised that nothing can help him now – his mind flashes him a picture, (Sam, Dean, my sins) bright eyes and a bloody knife and a handprint and hope, but it makes no sense – but for caring about him, they deserve to smile.
The person who opens the door does not wear a white coat. It is not his brother, either, though that does not surprise him – his brother doesn't need doors, just comes and goes as he pleases, stopping only to play games that hurt and make him cry (for Sam Dean, my sins).
Instead, the face in the doorway – handprint, knife, soul, blood, fight – has bright eyes and a sad, lopsided smile. And when he speaks – warmth, kindness, anger, betrayal, family don't end with blood, home – his voice is low and rough, and painfully familiar.
"Hey, Cas. How's it going?"
He stumbles to his feet, eyes wide and confused, emotions tangling in his chest for the first time in what could well be millennia. He doesn't know what to say, and when he tries to take a breath in, he chokes on air and drops to his knees at the feet of – righteous man, I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition, I gave everything for you, I did it all for you, I'm sorry – a man who's name sticks in his throat.
"Dean," he whimpers, chest heaving as though he has run a mile, and he can't breathe through . "Dean." (My sins, will you absolve me of them?) Dean looks down at him, smiles kindly, reaches out a hand to stroke his hair back from his head.
And then the image flickers, twists, breaks (Sam- my sins, Dean, my sins, m-my s-s-sins)like static on a TV – the door is shut, and his brother stands before him, one hand twisted in his hair. The hand pulls his head back to look up, forcing his eyes to focus on that victorious smirk.
"Miss me? Aww, did you think your human was going to come and rescue you? How sweet. My misguided little brother, haven't I taught you enough? Humans are greedy, selfish, flawed creatures who do. Not. Care."
The hand releases his hair, and he falls forward onto his hands to throw up. Horror explodes in his brain, almost blinding him, and he continues to retch even when his stomach is empty, shudders running through him in waves. "Why– Why– Dean–" His voice cracks with a sob and another retch. (My sins. My sins. Sin sin sin, Sam, Dean, my sins.)
"Oh, boo hoo. Now. How about another round of how-many-pillows-can-the-little-angel-fill, hmm?"
The familiar finger digs into the back of his neck and his wings unfurl; broken, twisted, skin-coloured mockeries of their former silver glory. Gentle fingers caress the tips of them, stroking over the reddened skin, the motion too gentle and too comforting. His stomach finally stops clenching and he swallows with a wince, tears rolling down his cheeks, and stares up at his brother through eyelashes. "W-why?"
"Shhh, shhh. It's okay. I'll look after you, little brother. I'll always be here for you."
A month of searching – a month of summoning demons and contacting psychics and begging anyone even remotely connected to the supernatural for any information on how to treat hallucinating, suicidal angels – leads to Dean standing in the middle of a muddy field in the early hours of the morning and screaming at an archangel.
Sam stands on the sidelines and watches anxiously, having moved out of the sphere of conversation once it was clear that it had dissolved irrevocably into an argument. Unlike his brother, he has no desire to be smote by an angry (supposed) messenger of God.
"He's your brother!" howls Dean at Gabriel who is, for once, not smiling. His eyebrows are drawn into a frown, his lips pulled tight, and anger sparkling in his eyes.
"And you left him on his own in a mental hospital after dropping my psychotic elder brother into his head!" snarls Gabriel back. "It's your problem, you go fix it."
Sam feels the need to interject in their defence. "We had no idea what we were supposed to do. I was dying." It feels odd to say those words out loud, almost like a prophecy, as if saying them will make them come true. "It wasn't like we all sat down around a table and had a nice discussion about it and then forced him to do as we wanted – I needed help, and he volunteered. He didn't even tell us what he was going to do before he'd actually… y'know." Absorbed the devil into his brain sounds more than a little crazy when said out loud.
For a second, Sam thinks he sees sympathy in Gabriel's gaze, and then it's gone. "Well, I'm sorry about that kiddo," he says, sounding anything but. "But as I said – your problem, not mine. Considering I was granted one of little Cas's mysterious second chances, I'm trying to stay on the down low at the moment. Off of angel radar. I don't wanna get killed, capiche? And blasting a fragment of dear old Luci's grace out of my baby bro's head is pretty much like painting a 'here I am!' target on my back for anyone and anything that happens to want to get all pissy with me." He grins briefly. "Sorta like your brother over there."
"What? No, no, there's no grace, it's just–"
"Hallucinations?" Gabriel chuckles. "Oh, really, Sammy-boy, did you think that mere hallucinations could do what they did to you? You think Cassy could take hallucinations out of your head? Nuh-uh. Luci managed to stick a little bit of his grace into your soul when it was pulled out of the pit, gave him a direct phone line to planet Sam. That's what Cas took from you. Stupid thing to do, really, grace can only interact with grace. You've got none of your own, so you were safe from anything other than mind games. Cas, on the other hand…" He shrugs, a look of comical sadness on his face.
Sam shakes his head – he can feel his own temper rising, now, although he crushes it down and tries to get Gabriel to understand for the nth time. "Exactly, he's in danger, but you don't get it–"
"No, no, I really do." The Trickster's eyes are wide and mock-earnest. "It's same old, same old with you humans. You do something incredibly stupid, you mess it up, you come whining to a higher power to solve it. Only in your case, you can actually find a higher power. Most people just look up at the sky and do puppy dog eyes." He grins, shaking his head in amusement.
"Castiel," growls Dean, in that terribly calm manner which, combined with his violent hand gestures, means that he's this close to losing it and punching something, "tried to kill himself a month ago. He's still in the high risk ward. And I have no fucking clue about what to do to help him."
Gabriel's eyes widen, and the laughter falls of his face. He opens his mouth to speak, but Dean cuts him off.
"Now, I don't care–" Dean breaks off, sighs, looks down at the ground and then up again, and when he speaks again his voice is soft. "I don't care what I have to do to convince you to help. I will bribe, I will beg, I will get on my knees and fucking well pray to you if that's what you feeds your oversized ego, but– but please. Just… help him."
"Please, Gabriel." Sam steps forward cautiously, now that the risk of smiting is considerably lower. "He's your brother." He hesitates. "And more to the point, he's our family." Sam's not entirely sure who he means when he says 'our', but he thinks he might possibly be offering to include Gabriel in it too.
Gabriel sighs, runs a hand through his hair, and there's a flash of concern in his eyes before it's hidden carefully behind centuries' worth of practiced devil-may-care attitude. He takes a deep breath, and his eyes are on Sam when he eventually says, "…Fine. Okay, then. I've been trying to stay off angel radio for a reason, but… family."
"Family," echoes Sam quietly. He and Gabriel are separated by millions of years of life and an infinite imbalance of power, but they both understand the meaning of the word 'family' all too well. He nods at the archangel, who nods back, face uncharacteristically sombre.
"Well then." Gabriel strides forward purposefully, grabbing Dean's wrist and dragging him along too, and stops in front of Sam. "No time like the present, eh?" He presses two fingers to Sam's head and from the other hand to Dean's. The hunter flinches slightly, but it is a sign of the seriousness of the situation that he doesn't object out loud to angel teleportation as a method of transport.
There is a pause, where a significant amount of nothing happens.
"Where are we going again?" asks Gabriel, twisting his head to look at Sam, brows furrowed slightly. Sam sighs, pushes the hand away from his head, and takes a step back.
"Why don't we just take the Impala?" he suggests, and Dean nods, looking relieved.
"Fine." Gabriel pouts. "But only 'cos you asked nicely, kiddo."
Six months? Six weeks? A year, a hundred, a thousand, the blink of an eye… he's no idea how long it's been. Doesn't really care, he could ask the doctors, but what's the point, he's never going to leave here and there's no sense in counting away the days since he left whatever he was before. He barely remembers, anyway, can hardly dredge up memories (Sam, Dean, my sins) of a time before the white.
They let him out of the safe room a while ago, maybe a few hours, maybe a week or so. He's glad, likes being able to see sunlight through the barred windows again, likes being able to see the stars. He dreams, sometimes, when he pretends to sleep; dreams of silvery grace falling like comets and growing into oak trees. Sometimes he dreams that he is the one falling, because of (Sam, Dean, my sins), and in the dream he wakes wearing a dirty trench coat and a body that feels alien and new.
His brother comes to visit more often now – in fact, he rarely leaves. Maybe the screams of one who has already lost their mind are more entertaining than those of someone who is sane, or maybe it is just another symptom of his madness. He forgets, sometimes, whether his brother is real, or a hallucination, or a real hallucination (or something real hiding behind a hallucination, borrowed from Sam, Dean, my sins). It all seems to be the same thing, in the end.
Part of him, the part that remembers (remember Sam, remember Dean, don't remember my sins too clearly) what things were like before, the part he has locked deep down to preserve those memories, whispers to him about grace and devils and tainted blood, and suggests that maybe the frequent visits are not a symptom at all but a cause. This voice disturbs him when he hears it, suggests scary things, like the idea he might have siblings or friends (Sam, Dean, what comes next?) or a life outside the white rooms, so he ignores it.
The door opens. A nurse peers into the room, smiling at him as he sits on the bed. She says something, and he doesn't bother to work out what it is (maybe she says Sam, Dean, my sins), doesn't even bother to smile back any more, just watches her red lips move and admires the sudden splash of colour in the white. And then she disappears, and there are other people in his room. They wear no white, and the suddden burst of colour makes his head spin and his eyes widen.
"Hey, Cas." The middle one is familiar, voice low and gruff and almost embarrassed. "Long time no see, huh?"
(Sam, Dean, my si- Sam. Dean. Sam Dean Sam Dean Sam–)
"Dean." The word falls from his mouth without his permission, and his eyes widen even further. "Sam, Dean."
"Yeah, that's us." The man, Dean, gestures to himself and the tall person. "Sam and Dean."
He's shaking now. The last time he saw Dean, there were feathers flying and his brother laughing and pain in his stomach and back and heart. "Sam," he whispers. "Sam, Dean, my sins. Sam, Dean my sins. Sam, Dean, my sins." Once he starts saying it, he can't seem to stop.
Dean's face crumples. "Oh god," he whispers quietly. "Jesus fucking– Cas, just calm down, okay, we're not here to hurt you, we–" Dean stretches out a hand and he flinches away, the chant speeding up and growing louder, he needs to stop listening, needs to block out the memories flashing through his mind faster and faster.
"Hey bro." The other one, the one with the sly smile and the second face that glows silver and feels like home, steps forward. The words slow, and stop, and he tilts his head to one side, considering.
"My sins?" he says softly, because Sam and Dean are here, so why not his mistakes too?
The other one looks hurt. "No," the man says softly, walking forward and pressing a hand to the side of his face. "Your brother. Gabriel. Do you remember me?"
"My brother." He rolls the word around on his tongue, tasting it. He is not entirely mad, after all – he does have siblings, Dean and Sam are real. "My sins," he decides finally, nodding at Gabriel. He remembers other siblings now, with silver blades through their throats and wings burnt on the ground and blood down the front of his coat. His sins.
"We've come to help," reiterates Gabriel. "Will you let me help? I can get rid of him for you."
"Please." The word falls out before he can stop it. He wonders if it's because he hasn't spoken for so long that he's forgotten how to hold things back. "They can't see him, the nurses, they can't see the wings. He sees them, he covers the floor in feathers and I have to pull the bones back into place."
Gabriel nods sadly, and the man behind him – (Dean, Dean, my sins) – makes a noise as if he's about to throw up. He wonders if Dean is ill, wonders at the strange urge to reach out an make him better. He's not cared about someone in longer than he can remember, although that's not long. Even the new rush of memories are fading, he can feel them slipping away no matter how hard he tries to hold onto them. "Please."
He shudders, whimpers, bites his lip. He doesn't need to look round to know his brother is there, his other brother, the one that smiles and sings and tears. He shakes his head violently, squeezes his eyes closed – as if that will do anything to stop this, to stop his punishment for (Sam, Dean, my sins) – as the fingers sink into the back of his neck and his wings flare painfully, the half-healed bones aching with the movement.
Sam and Dean gasp, eyes fixed on the wings, though they can only see shadows. Gabriel shudders and looks like someone has punched him in the stomach. He feels irrationally ashamed, then, ashamed of how ugly his wings must be to make his brother look like that, and tries to pull them back into his vessel.
The hand grabs them for that, as normal, twists, and he chokes back a scream by biting down on his lip until it bleeds. If he screams (Sam, Dean, my sins) the nurses will come and take the visitors away, and he needs the visitors to help him, if they can.
"You get my damn hands off my brother," growls Gabriel, eyes narrowing, and through the haze of tears he sees the other man step forward, hands clenched into fists.
"Our brother, our brother, and where were you when he needed you, hmm? I've been doing this for weeks, Gabby, and no one cared, did they, little brother?"
The hand twists his wing again, forcing him to answer and a high, sharp whimper escapes through his teeth as he shakes his head frantically. No one cared, no one cares, and he knows this because (Sam, Dean, my sins) he has killed and done wrong and he deserves this.
"Well I'm here now. Better late than never."
And then his brothers throw themselves at each other, grappling and twisting and clawing, and it feels like knives raking through his head. He would scream, but he doesn't have breath, and besides there is someone in front of him – (Dean, Dean, always Dean and only Dean) – wrapping arms around him and cradling him to their chest and whispering, "It's okay Cas, I got ya. I've got ya. It's okay, I promise."
He feels rather than sees the brilliant flare of white light as Gabriel slams a hand to his brother's forehead and banishes him, sends him back to where he came from – because a fractured piece of tainted grace, even the grace of the Devil himself, cannot hope to compete with the power of a whole, righteously angry archangel. He sobs into Dean's chest and cluches at his arms at the sudden feeling of freedom, as the hazy cloud that has slowly settled over his mind and corrupted his grace begins to lift.
He is not mad. He is not mad. The madness was a symptom, not a cause. (Sam is here, Dean is here, and my sins have been atoned for.)
It will be a while, a long while, before things are the way they were before. He knows this. But he still has his memories, hidden and kept safe, filed far away, and he thinks that maybe when he gets them back things will be better. When his feathers grow back and his wings no longer crackle and ache when he moves them, things will be better still.
There is a hand stroking the back of his neck, gently, and although it still makes him want to flinch – it's too similar, too soon – there is warm liquid grace pouring into him, trickling down his spine and soothing across his wings. The fog his brother breathed into his mind is lifting, and he can feel memories creeping around the edges. He draws them back to him, welcomes them – good and bad, because his sins are still part of him, and his sins have been atoned for now.
"Castiel," he mumbles, voice muffled by the clothes his face is still pressed against. He doesn't want to move, it is warm and safe here and he is tired, so he will stay there until the person – (Dean, Dean), he needs to remember to use names again and it's difficult but getting easier minute by minute – makes him move.
"That's right." The voice above him sounds approving, for which he is glad. "You're Castiel, rememeber?" He nods back.
"It will take time." That is Gabriel's voice, he knows, and it comes from behind him. "Lucifer caused a lot of damage to his grace. He managed to– I suppose it could be described as a back-up copy, he stored everything important at the bottom of his grace, but it'll take a while to filter up. Things'll come back in bits and pieces. He'll be like a child for the next few days, and there'll be big gaps in his memory for a few weeks after that. You have to be patient with him, understand?"
He thinks maybe the one holding him – (Dean, Dean, Dean) – nods, because there is silence for a while. Maybe a minute. Time is beginning to come back to him now. And then the tall one, Sam, speaks too. "What did Lucifer… What happened to Cas? You said grace can interact with grace, what does that… His wings, the shadows, they looked…"
He sounds scared, sick, and he – (Castiel), he can remember his name now and it makes him feel like he's flying – wants to reach out and tell Sam it's okay. He doesn't, though, just shudders slightly and pulls his wings closer to him inside his vessel. The itching has stopped, thanks to the steady flow of grace, but the feathers will take longer to grow back.
Gabriel sighs. "Grace can interact with grace, yes. As far as I can tell, without people around him to remind him of who he was, Lucifer managed to slowly– ah, not wipe, but cloud Castiel's memory. There were hallucinations, too, as you know. He also ripped…" He swallows hard, and then simply says, "Castiel's wings have been damaged."
Sam makes a soft, pained noise, and the arms around him tighten briefly. He makes a low noise and presses forward, trying not to think about wings. It reminds him of pain and fear and shame. So instead he leans forward, relaxes, and mumbles, "I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition," because the phrase is floating through his mind and feels somehow appropriate.
"Yeah." The voice above him is quiet, for his ears only, and seems almost choked. "Yeah, you did, Cas. An' maybe it's my turn to return the favour."
They don't bother trying to convince the hospital staff to release Castiel – that could take days, weeks, and all three of them agreed that that was an unacceptable length of time. So instead Gabriel presses two fingers to Sam's forehead and two to Dean's, his arm brushing against Castiel's back, and they reappear next to the Impala a few streets away.
Dean laughs, grinning at the escape – even though it wasn't dangerous or even particularly difficult, there's still something exhilarating about running away from authority. He's been doing it his whole life, and it still hasn't lost its thrill. That probably says a lot about him and his brother, because Sam's smiling too, but he doesn't really care.
At his side, Castiel sways on his feet, looking mildly disoriented by the sudden change in location. "Colour." He seems surprised by it, and Dean remembers the white uniformity of the hospital and realises that, after all this time, colour isprobably surprising. The angel reaches out a hand, slides his fingers along the slide of the Impala and blinks at the spots of light reflected on the glossy paint. "Home," he mumbles, a far-away look in his eyes, and then he turns to look up at Dean as if for comfirmation.
Dean nods, something large and spiky and warm nestling in his throat. "Yeah," he manages to force out. "It's your home."
"Sam, Dean, my family." Castiel smiles at this new phrase, and Dean remembers the terrifying, stomach-churning chant of Sam, Dean, my sins and decides he prefers this one better.
"Sam and Dean are my family," corrects Sam quietly, and his smile widens when Castiel dutifully repeats it back, absorbing this new information. "Good. Hey, Dean, are you…?"
He doesn't even need to finish the question – car keys are flying towards his face a second after he opens his mouth and they very nearly hit him. He catches them with a scowl and a muttered, "Jerk."
"Bitch," replies Dean cheerfully, still on a high from their daring escape.
"Assbutt," adds Castiel, and then looks confused. "Who is Adam-Michael?" It's the first full sentence he's said that isn't a quote from a memory and hasn't been prompted, and it adds another drop of hope to the small well of it slowly growing in Sam's stomach – hope that maybe, with time, everything will be… not fine, because they've never been alright, but bearable.
"No one you need to worry about right now," says Dean, sobering up slightly at the unpleasant memories attached to both those names. "C'mon, let's get in the car." He pulls one door open, helps Castiel – who still seems keen to try and stay as close to Dean as possible, and also as curled up as possible – in, and then slides in after him. The door shuts with a muffled thump.
Which leaves Sam leaning against the driver's door and swinging the keys idly around on one finger, watching Gabriel. The archangel is… well, lurking might be the best word, a few meters away by the corner of a building, watching Sam back. Waiting. Sam isn't sure what he's waiting for, but decides he can't be bothered to give him time to solve his existential crisis or whatever-it-is, and so he calls out, "Hey."
Gabriel raises an eyebrow, but doesn't move, and Sam sighs at the childishness and intractability of angels and continues, "You coming with us or not?" There is a pause, when Sam thinks he sees shock on his face, realises what the problem might be, and decides that now is the time to take a risk and be assertive. "Correction – you arecoming with us, Castiel still needs your help. So get in, I've not got time to wait all day." Hell, if they're adopting one broken angel, why not add another one into the bargain.
This time he is sure he must be imagining things, because there is no way that Gabriel would everlook grateful – but still, he could swear it was there, a small glimmer in his eyes before he snaps his fingers and disappears. Sam blinks, because he wasn't expecting that, had seriously thought that the archangel might stay. He feels, dare he say it, slightly disappointed.
And then there is a rapping noise and he turns to see Gabriel lounging smugly in the passenger seat and knocking on the windscreen. Dean is scowling darkly and saying something Sam cannot hear from the outside but would bet his life boils down to get your dirty fingers off of my baby. He shakes his head, wondering what on earth he has just done – is it possible to start a second apocalypse whilst the first one is still sort of going on? Sam fervently hopes not – and then opens the door and swings into the driver's seat.
A turn of the keys in the ignition and a roar of the engine later, they are gone. Or, at least, going. None of them are entirely sure where, but then that's never been a problem for the Winchesters.
They think he's asleep, he knows they do, but he's not. Two months in a mental hospital has not taught him how to sleep, but it has taught him how to copy it very closely – he may not sleep, but he does relax, his breathing does slow, and he does allow his mind to wander in a way that he supposes might approximate what humans would call dreaming.
Tonight, though, he does not dream. He remembers. There are still memories working their way up, many of them, too many names and faces and events and words, and he wonders how he can possibly remember them – and also how he could have possibly forgotten them. He welcomes the memories back, all of them, good and bad.
Many of them are not good. In fact, most of them are unpleasant, uncomfortable, sad, angry, hurtful. All have regrets or what-ifs attached. But all of them have him attached, and he is determined to have himself back. Already he can feel himself settling again, filling the vessel, becoming Castiel again. It is a nice feeling. Words and sentences come more easily, he doesn't flinch whenever someone touches him – although the back of his neck still feels vulnerable – and he can hold entire conversations with Sam and Dean and Gabriel about the past and not feel like he is missing something.
The others have been careful with him in the four days since they freed him from the hospital, as if he might break at any moment. He is grateful for it, grateful for the three days and nights they stayed in a hotel and waited for him to re-engage with the world. At some point, when he can remember everything and can find the right way, he will thank them for it.
But now there are demons and omens in a town seven hour's drive away and hunting still needs to be done by someone. He has assured them he can look after himself – he may not be able to fly yet, his wings are still healing, but he can run and exorcise and use an angel blade – but they are still worried about him. This doesn't irritate him yet, but he suspects it might at some point in the near future.
And so they are in the car, driving. Him and Dean in the back, because he still needs to be near Dean sometimes, when the memories are very bad, when he needs the warmth and saftey to cling to. Even though many of his memories have Dean shouting and angry and covered in blood, he still feels inexplicably like safety.
His head is resting on Dean's shoulder as he remembers, eyes closed lightly. Sam and Gabriel are in the front, probably talking about something – when he drifted off, they were arguing about what the best flavour of ice cream was. He can't ever remember having ice cream, didn't have anything to add to the discussion, and so eat ice-cream has been quietly added to his growing list of things to do, or to try and remember doing. A lot of them are food-related, flavours and tastes and textures, but some are experiences – swim in the sea is quite high up in the ranking, along with visit a library, both things Sam had mentioned.
Some of the entries on the list are just people's names, along with things he wants or needs or has to say to them. Entirely too many of the things are simply sorry.
The car jolts slightly, bumping over a pothole, and he is pulled slightly from his waking dreams in time to hear someone mention his name. After a moment of thought, he recognises the voice as Dean's and allows himself to slip back down into his mind. If Dean has something important to say to him, he will say it, or Sam will say it. That, or he will talk to Dean and ask about it later, because his memories tell him that Dean does not always like using words.
At the moment, he is busy puzzling over a new memory that has surfaced. It is short, fairly simple, seemingly meaningless, and he's not entirely sure where it fits in the blank gaps or why he even has it. The emotions tied to it are complex, however – confusion, anger, sadness, an overwhelming amount of warmth that he has no name for yet. It is a memory of Dean, brow furrowed with internal conflict but his eyes still bright and clear and determined.
Another memory follows shortly after, of a woman – his wife, the thinks, from the first time he forgot who he was – and lips pressing gently against his in a soft kiss. This, too, is curious, because it holds the same warmth attached as the other, and he can't work out why. He balances the two memories in his mind for a while, side by side, trying to work out how they link together and why they would surface at the same time.
The memories slide sideways into each other, and he is kissing Dean.
This is not a memory, he knows, does not fit in one of the blank gaps in his mind – but he wishes it would. This surprises him, but maybe it shouldn't, because Dean has felt of saftey and warmth and home and need since he left the white room. Maybe even before that, because he remembers the trick his brother played and remembers the hope and longing he'd felt squeeze around his heart.
He examines the not-memory for a while longer, and eventually recognises it as a desire, a want. It makes him feel warm and light and heavy and sharp all at the same time, and he cradles it in his metaphorical hands, considering. He wonders if he should open his eyes now, turn and kiss Dean, because it would be so very easy with their heads side by side like this.
Eventually he decides against it – now is not the time. He is still working through his memories, still remembering, and cannot remember how one goes about telling someone you want to kiss them. So he moves the want to the side, depositing it somewhere safe where he will be able to take it out again and scrutinise it more closely at a later date. But, for now, there are more memories to attend to, more blank spaces to fill. With a quiet exhalation of breath, he turns back the clamouring pile of them rising from the bottom of his grace, demanding his attention.
But, ever so quietly, kiss Dean Winchester is added to his list.