Castiel's head was throbbing.
Awareness had faded in slowly. A dull ache in the center of his head radiated out, and for a moment all he could see was the bright red glow of Jimmy's eyelids. An infuriating itch on his ankle made him twitch his foot, pressing it down and rubbing it against the smooth cotton of what he presumed was a bed sheet. What he was doing in a bed was beyond him, but his reasons for being there took second place to the fact that he was unable to open his eyes.
Something was seriously wrong.
He tried again to open his eyes, but they resisted, and he took a long, faltering breath. The air rushing down to his lungs caught in his throat, which felt dry and raw, and he had the uncomfortable-if not slightly painful-sensation of a plastic tube which had, weeks earlier, been pushed through his nostril and down to his stomach.
Every couple of seconds a high-pitched beep sounded from someplace nearby, driving through his aching skull like a nail, and the strong odor of antiseptic permeated the air. It mingled with the sickly smell of burnt flesh, blood and fabric detergent, and at once he knew where he was. He had spent enough time in places like this, seen and unseen, to know those sounds and smells in an instant. A hospital.
Finally, he forced his heavy eyelids open.
Even once the sleep-induced blur had gone, his vision was dull. The room around him was faded out at the edges like an old photograph, and he had the distinct impression of looking at the world through a slightly dusty window.
The lights on the ceiling blared down on him, and he squinted, the fluorescent glare intensifying the pounding in his skull. He tried to take a look around. His stiff neck made it difficult, and he told himself not to dwell on why his neck should hurt at all as he took in his surroundings.
He was alone.
The room was small, walls coated in bright yellow paint that seemed somehow too cheery, and along the wall to his left were two windows which looked out over a sea of rooftops. The wall on his right was almost entirely made of glass, and a constant stream of people rushed past. No-one looked in.
As he leaned to the side, trying to see further out into the busy corridor, he felt an unpleasant tugging and raised one hand to feel at the tube that ran through his nose, and as he did he noticed a flash of blue on his wrist. He squinted, waiting for the words to come into focus, the messy doctors scrawl even less discernable with his tired eyes. Finally, the letters stopped moving, and the paper band identified him as DOE, JOHN.
He recognized the name as a placeholder, and wondered what he should tell the doctors when they inevitably came to check on him.
Dean would know, he thought, and immediately his eyes widened in panic. Dean.
He had no idea how much time had passed since he had carved the sigils into his chest and sent himself, along with four other angels, as far from the beautiful room in California as he could.
In the meantime, anything could have happened. Images of Michael and Lucifer tearing through the planet burned in his minds eye.
It had taken him too long to remember, and he was instantly furious with himself. How long had he been awake? Five minutes? He had been awake almost five minutes before he had even remembered.
He could be dead.
What if once Castiel was gone, another angel had come and forced him to say yes?
Fear ate at his core like acid as a million awful possibilities presented themselves before rationality, finally, mercifully, took over. With a glance out the window, he could see that the Earth had not yet become a war zone. He exhaled slowly. So Dean had said no to Michael.
Before he could stop it, a feeling of warmth and something like pride spread up from his chest and settled in his eyes. Whatever happened, Dean had said no. A wide grin flashed over his face and he wondered briefly if this was one of those rare occasions when it would be okay to break the strict personal space rule that his friend had put in place. He hoped so. He thought a hug would be fitting when he returned. Partly in apology for his doubt in the hunter, and partly because he was relieved (happy?) that Dean was still himself.
Knowing that for the time being the world was intact, Castiel moved to properly sit up and inspect the damage on his vessel, but beyond turning his neck slightly every movement sent flashes of pain through him. This was not a pain he was used to. This felt more visceral somehow. Solid.
Healing himself was rarely something he needed to think of-it generally just happened on its own-so that there was any pain at all was something to be concerned about. The fact that even with his attention focused on the pain, willing it to subside, willing his vessels scars to heal, it refused to leave-that was downright terrifying.
He took in a deep breath and reached out with his grace, letting it unfurl from his center and reach out into the ether. If he could at least hear the other angels, maybe he would be able to work out what was happening. But the ether was like a fog, and what he heard was not the clear song of angelic prayer so much as it was a faint whisper too quiet to interpret.
With a sinking feeling in his chest, Castiel tried to ignore the voice in his head that said, maybe this is how falling starts.
In this strange room, in this strange town, without the songs of his brothers or the company of the few humans he had come to know as friends, Castiel had never felt so alone. He resolved himself to find Sam and Dean, as soon as possible, and decided that the best place to start would be Bobby's house.
Whatever was left of his grace wasn't anywhere near enough to send him back to Sioux Falls, but he tried anyway. Even if he could only move himself a little way in the right direction, it would be preferable to being here. He focused what little energy he had, trying harder than ever before to concentrate his grace like a beam of light through a magnifying glass.
It was a mistake.
The exertion was too much. His head spun, his vision blurred, and he slipped back into unconsciousness.
When he came to twenty-eight hours later a fuzzy shape was moving over him, apparently inspecting the state of the cuts on his chest. He stared up at it through bleary, half-closed eyes, blinking as it slowly came into focus. A woman in a white coat. A doctor. She had her head turned away from him and was talking to someone he couldn't see.
"I'll need you to replace these bandages."
One set of footsteps moved away and out the door, and Castiel tried to sit up. The sudden movement pulled at the tube in his throat. He grimaced. He still hadn't healed. A little part of him quietly wondered if his grace was completely gone. He pushed the unwelcome thought to the back of his mind, but the more he tried to tell himself that he was overreacting, that he hadn't fallen, that he couldn't have fallen, the harder it became to believe.
My grace is not gone, he thought. Just tapped out.
He opened his eyes again to see the doctor standing at the foot of the bed, still turned away, making notes on a clipboard. The world still lacked a great deal of its color, but now Castiel considered the possibility that this was merely the limit of human vision. He wondered how they could stand it, all this dull color and physical pain and hunger and thirst. His mouth was bone dry.
The feeding tube that traveled through his right nostril shifted again in his throat as he tried to speak. He felt as though he were choking. He hadn't even needed air before, and now he was choking. He grasped the tube and pulled, coughing and gagging as he wrenched it free. The knowledge that he needed the oxygen was more painful than the sensation, and he felt a prickling in his eyes as he clutched at his throat.
The doctor, startled by the sound, turned to see him doubled over in pain. She rushed to him, and with a hand on his shoulder, rolled him onto his side.
"Lay back, you're all right."
She smiled the kind of reassuring smile usually reserved for dealing with madmen who you don't want to upset. Castiel saw a glimmer of concern in her eyes that had little to do with his health.
She thinks I might be dangerous.
He wanted to tell her not to worry, that in a world like this one he was the least of her worries. He wanted to say that after a little rest he'd be good as new and on his way, but the coughing fit had left him exhausted. She handed him a glass of cool water, and after barely three sips, he lay his head back on the thin hospital pillow and slept dreamlessly.
The following morning, the doctor returned.
Castiel had awoken at sunrise, and had been hoping he would be able to get out of the bed without further injury. As soon as he tried, he felt his legs begin to give way, and sat heavily back down.
In the few hours that had passed, he had been wriggling his toes, willing the muscles back into action. It had taken time, but what was left of his grace seemed to slowly be reversing the atrophy. The fact that every second of effort seemed to pull his grace further away from him did not escape his notice.
Now, as the doctor inspected his chest, he knew that if nothing else he could stand.
That was something.
"How are you feeling today?"
Castiel cleared his throat, worried that any attempt to talk would start the coughing again. He answered slowly, quietly.
"Thirsty," and after a short pause, he added, "hungry."
"Someone will be in with food for you soon. How about your head? Your chest? Any pain?"
Castiel nodded, frowning as he gingerly rubbed a hand over his chest.
It wasn't the intensity of the pain that was bothering him so much as the fact that he had been unable to repair the damage that was causing it. It was more than the physical cuts that were causing him pain-something in his chest was aching, and he didn't want to think about it. He decided to focus on things he could control. He looked at the doctor.
"How long have I been here?" he asked, and then realizing he had missed another important question, added; "Where am I?"
"You're in the General Hospital in New Orleans. We've been looking after you for a little over two weeks."
The doctor paused, waiting for this to sink in, and Castiel frowned. New Orleans was a far cry from Van Nuys.
"You were brought in by the men who found you... two fishermen," the doctor continued, "You were on a shrimping boat near Delacroix. Do you remember?"
Castiel shook his head and sat up a little straighter, trying to picture the boat, the fishermen. Nothing came. The doctor sat down on the edge of his bed.
"They said they found you on deck all of a sudden, when they were half an hour away from the shore. You were unconscious, and you had all of these cuts-"
She gestured to his chest, and Castiel glanced down at the criss-crossing bandages.
"You gave them quite a scare. They'll be relieved to hear you've woken up," the doctor smiled warmly, "We all are, actually. Good to see you awake and talking."
He looked intently at the doctor and had the distinct sense that she hadn't expected him to wake up at all. He wondered if she would be able to repair the broken parts of his vessel. She seemed competent enough. He imagined it being not dissimilar to Dean fixing the Impala. It was just a matter of locating the faulty part, patching it up and sweet-talking it into working again. He pictured Dean patting the cars hood with grease-stained hands when he had it-her, he reminded himself-running smoothly. His mouth quirked into an unexpected smile as he thought of that, and he wiped it away quickly, embarrassed without quite knowing why.
The doctor, meanwhile, was ticking off her mental checklist. The patient was responding to questions with clear answers. His eyes appeared to be focused. Relaxed. He smiled, but it seemed pained, and that was fitting with a person in his position who was trying to stay positive despite themselves. All healthy behavior. Satisfied that her patient didn't appear to have any serious brain damage, she moved right along. She had a lot of questions.
He had been in the hospital for over two weeks, and they still hadn't identified him. The higher-ups were asking a lot of irritating questions about medical insurance, and she was looking forward to having this particular batch of paperwork sorted. She asked his name, where he was from and what had happened to him.
The more he explained, the more she reconsidered her original diagnosis.
To his credit, Castiel did not tell her that he was an Angel of the Lord or that he had ended up on the boat by momentarily converting his being into a multidimensional wavelength of celestial intent and thrusting himself blindly through space.
He did tell her his name was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, though, and the good doctor felt that perhaps that called for further observation.
She left him to his breakfast-a cold, flavorless oatmeal which was likely to be all he could stomach for the time being anyway-and promised to check back on him in an hour. The madman-pacifying smile was back.
Even with his limited grasp of human facial cues, Castiel knew this was a problem.
After the doctor left it didn't take long for him to realize his mistake. The name. He'd chosen one that was far too old, and possibly far too famous. People just weren't called Wolfgang anymore.
He tried to remember one of the aliases that Sam or Dean had used, but failing that came up with one on his own. The next time the doctor came in he gave her the confused expression that always seemed to lead to Dean explaining things to him, and told her his name was Jimmy Winchester.
"I need to call my friend," he paused, thinking she might not understand his meaning, "on the telephone."
After a moment, he added;
"My friend will pay for my hospital stay."
The relief on her face did not go unnoticed.
He'd had a phone in his hand within ten minutes, but once he had it he realized that he didn't actually know Dean's number. He didn't know Sam's number. Or Bobby's, for that matter.
They had all been programmed into the cell phone he'd carried in the breast pocket of his trench coat, and though he had seen Dean's enough times, he had never bothered to memorize it. Beyond the first six digits, he was clueless. He had a feeling there was a seven in it somewhere, though.
He picked up the receiver and flexed his fingers. Starting with all zeroes, he worked his way up until finally, on his 179th attempt, a familiar gruff voice answered.
It had only taken him an hour.