lilyleia78: Cas with drawn black wings captioned hope (Supernatural: Hope)
[personal profile] lilyleia78
Title: Aspect of Illusion
Fandom: Supernatural
Pairing: Castiel with background Dean/Cas
Genre: Drama, character study
Warnings: Features non-detailed mentions of the American mental health system, concepts of faith. Brief hints of homophobia.
Word Count: 12474
Summary: Castiel wakes up in a hospital where everyone calls him Jimmy, they've never heard of the Winchesters, and the doctor is trying to 'cure' him of his angelic delusion.
Betas: [personal profile] defeatedbyabridge and [personal profile] m14mouse both looked this over many drafts ago and gave me focus, support and direction. All errors are still my own.
Note: Written for the very patient [personal profile] hugglewolf's [community profile] comment_fic prompt Cas wakes up in a mental ward where the doctors try to convince him he is Jimmy Novak, and that believing he's actually Castiel the angel is just a symptom of his illness. They start to wear him down. Apparently, I fail completely at comment fic. Title is from the quote Great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion. ~ Robert Burton

*Now available in Russian thanks to [profile] ampr

Aspect of Illusion

"Cas."

Dean sounded worried. Castiel disliked it when Dean was worried. For all that his world consisted of one tiny mostly-human family, Dean had far too many people that he took into himself as his personal responsibility - Sam, Bobby, the whole of humanity. Being considered one of those burdens was a source of both irritation and joy to Castiel, and he tried to alleviate Dean's concern for himself whenever it was in his power.

"Cas!" The slight anxiety in Dean's voice had ramped up to anger, a response Castiel knew meant that Dean was trying to talk himself down from outright terror. It was important that he answer Dean and reassure his charge that he was fine very quickly.

Although, now that he thought of it, Castiel wasn't sure that he was fine. He had no idea how he'd gotten to this dark formless place or why he could only hear Dean and not actually see him. He could only conclude that there had been an attack of some sort that had robbed him of his short term memory. It must have been a powerful enemy to accomplish such a thing, but Castiel took comfort in the fact that Dean at least had survived intact. Sam too, presumably, or Dean's concern would not be aimed at Castiel alone.

He tried to answer. "Dean," he said. But although he spoke in his normal tone of voice, no sound came out of his throat - at least he couldn't hear himself if he was in fact making a noise. "Dean," he tried again, louder. He could feel the vocal chords of his vessel vibrating and his throat felt strained and raw as if he'd attempted calling out many times and not just once, but still he heard no sound emanating from his vessel. Not even, he discovered, the expected slide of fabric from the sleeves of Jimmy's trench coat as he reached out toward the sound of Dean's voice. If not for the perfect clarity of Dean's voice, Castiel would have worried for the state of his human hearing.

"Cas, damn it, open your eyes." Dean ordered.

Open his eyes? Castiel obeyed slowly, unaware until he did so that his eyes had in fact been closed.

He found himself looking up at an unremarkable white ceiling and he stared at it blankly, wondering how he had come to be laying down. He certainly had no memory of doing so. Perhaps Dean or Sam had put him in bed, but why? Castiel sat up quickly, swinging his legs over the side of the small bed he found himself lying on and surveyed his surroundings with a single sweep of his head. It was a small, mostly featureless room with one bed, one dresser and no windows except for a tiny one inset high up on the room's single door. And most importantly, no Dean or Sam.

"Dean? Sam?" he called out uncertainly. There was no answer, and Castiel stood slowly, intrigued and disturbed by the slight ache in his back. Something truly powerful must have attacked him to affect both his memory and his Grace's ability to heal himself. He reached for the cell phone in the pocket of his trench coat only to discover that he was no longer dressed in his accustomed manner. Instead he was wearing gray sweat pants and a plain white t-shirt. He frowned at his bare feet, disliking the holes in his memory. Not knowing how he came to be dressed strangely was possibly even more disturbing than not knowing where he was.

Castiel had just resolved to try the door and search the surrounding area when the door swung open to admit a short balding man in a white lab coat. "How are we feeling today, Mr. Novak?" the man asked, not even bothering to glance up from the clipboard he was carrying.

Castiel was mildly surprised at the use of Jimmy's name, and he studied the doctor more carefully. The man was shorter than Jimmy Novak by an inch or two. He was rounded in the middle, but his arms and legs were more muscle than flab. His hair, while sparse was well groomed and cleaned. But neither his own nor Jimmy's memories contained any reference to the man.

The doctor looked up, possibly curious about Castiel's prolonged silence and got caught in Castiel's gaze. Dean often said its intensity was inhuman. That made sense since he was not, in fact, human. "Jimmy?" the doctor prompted, now frowning as if Castiel's lack of response was cause for concern. "Are you okay? Feeling up to your phone call?"

Castiel had been about to inquire about Dean and Sam, but being allowed to call the men themselves seemed a more efficient way to gather the necessary information. "Yes." Then because it was the human thing to do he added, "Thank you."

The doctor laughed. "Don't thank me Jimmy. You earned it. You've made excellent progress these last three weeks."

Castiel kept his silence, but he frowned inwardly. He couldn't have been there for three weeks. He'd been with the Winchesters just a few moments before waking up in this new place. Hadn't he? A feeling of unease rose in Castiel, and he forced it back down. It must have been a remnant of Jimmy's emotions trying to awaken. He was an Angel of the Lord, and he did not feel unease. He would call Dean, and Dean would know - if not what was going on - then at least what to do next.

***
Cas studied the common area of what he now knew to be the mental health ward of a hospital as he was led to a short line of other patients. It appeared harmless enough. There were a few plastic plants scattered around, several tables of varying sizes surrounded by the hard plastic chairs that Dean had once declared where secretly torture devices from Hell. (Castiel couldn't recall seeing any such chairs while in Hell, but he had been, admittedly, very focused on his mission.) On the wall opposite the nurses' station there was a small sitting area with cushioned chairs and a large couch facing a small television. Castiel didn't recognize the animated character running around on the screen, but no one was paying much attention to it anyway so he deemed it unimportant.

All of the patients were wearing various colored wristbands, and Castiel lightly thumbed over the blue band on own his right wrist. He noted that some of the patients in line with him also wore blue bands, though some wore yellow or green. They were all waiting quietly for their turn to use the ward's single phone, carefully supervised by a large blonde woman in pink scrubs. Her nametag told him that her name was Nurse Rippet.

Everything seemed calm and safe and normal, but something… Castiel hesitated to say 'felt off' even in the privacy of his own mind, but it was the term best suited to what he was experiencing.

Castiel tipped his head, pushing aside his human sight to look at the room properly - and found nothing. A quick survey of the room revealed that he couldn't see anything or anyone with his Grace. Their pasts and futures and souls were completely missing. Hidden from him or simply not there at all he couldn't yet tell, but either way it was quite disconcerting. He tipped his head to the side and tried again, but the only thing the second attempt yielded him was a headache.

The woman behind him interrupted his thoughts with a soft tap on his shoulder. "Excuse me," she said with a shy smile, "the line's moved."

Castiel looked forward and discovered that there was now a sizeable gap between him and the young man ahead of him. He took the two necessary steps to rectify the situation. "Thank you."

"Sure," she smiled again, more confident this time. "Are you calling home?"

"I am calling Dean."

Her blue eyes narrowed the way Sam's did when he was trying to puzzle something out in his head. "Is that your brother? Son?"

"Dean is..." Humans did not have a proper word for what Dean was or the nature of their relationship. "my friend." Then because that seemed woefully inadequate. "A special friend."

The woman's smile turned knowing. "Ah, a special friend." Inexplicably, she winked at Castiel. "He must miss you terribly."

"I'm not sure he's noticed that I am gone," Castiel told her, quite truthfully.

Her face fell and then twisted in some complicated way Castiel couldn't understand and she reached her hand out again, this time squeezing his bicep gently. "Oh, I'm sure that's not true. Sometimes it feels like no one cares - believe me, I know the feeling - but you are special and people care about you."

Castiel wished that he could see her into her properly. He suspected her soul would be battered and beautiful. "Thank you. I know. The same is true of you," he answered. Because it was true that his Father, at the very least, loved all of His children. She beamed at him, but before she could say anything more, it was Castiel's turn on the phone. He forced a small, unfamiliar smile for his companion and picked up the handset of the old fashioned, corded phone.

Castiel dialed Dean's cell number quickly, hoping the other man was able to answer it. A woman picked up on the third ring. Her voice was vaguely familiar though Cas couldn't immediately identify it, and that was as wrong as his inability to see things properly. "Is Dean there, please?" he asked, remembering the phone etiquette in which Sam had been instructing him.

For a long moment - three point five seconds to be precise - there was nothing but silence. Then - "Jimmy? Is that you?" the woman's voice was happy but there was a quiver to it, as if she was forcing the note of cheer into her tone.

The sound of her voice saying Jimmy's name sparked a memory not his own in Castiel's head. "Amelia," he said. He double checked the read out and confirmed that he had indeed dialed Dean's number. "Are you with Dean?"

The was a quickly stifled sob on the other end of the line. "No, baby, no. It's just me. Me and Claire. We miss you honey. Do you remember me and Claire?"

"Of course. You are Jimmy Novak's family."

"Your family, honey. You are Jimmy Novak." Amelia had given up all pretense of cheerfulness. She was sobbing openly.

"No…" Castiel trailed off, thinking over the best approach to the situation. Claire's memories had been left intact when her mother's had been altered, and she would possibly be better able to understand his predicament. Perhaps she could get a hold of Sam or Bobby: there was obviously something wrong with Dean's phone. "May I speak to Claire please?"

"No, I don't think that's a good idea right now." Amelia was still crying, but she was firm.

Castiel understood from her tone that Amelia would prefer to shelter her child from pain if she could help it. Therefore, explaining to Amelia was the best possible solution. "As you wish. I am Castiel, an Angel of the Lord."

"Yes, I know you think you're an angel of the Lord."

Castiel was taken slightly aback at the sudden ice in her voice, and he paused briefly before continuing. "This would be easier to explain to Claire," he tried again.

"No. She needs her Daddy, not Castiel," Amelia refused.

Castiel couldn't argue with that. "I am sorry to bring you such news, and to have broken my promise to your family, but Jimmy is no longer in this vessel with me."

There was a loud broken sob from the other end of the phone, but Castiel pushed on. "I'm afraid some of my brethren showed no concern for Jimmy's life when ending mine. I regret not being able to keep my promises to him and your family. But I promise that you will all be reunited in Heaven and richly rewarded for you faith."

Amelia didn't answer. Castiel wasn't even sure she had heard him over the sound of her own pain. "Amelia?" He wished Sam was here - he was better at finding the right thing to say in these situations. He tried to think of things Sam had said to grieving family members in the past, but Dr. Z was suddenly standing in front of him, taking the phone gently and waving Castiel away before speaking in soft, reassuring tones into the receiver.

Castiel was grateful to see someone offering comfort to his vessel's widow. She was a good woman who didn't deserve the hand Heaven had dealt her. He hoped that when she calmed down she would find a measure of comfort in his words and would be able to offer Claire strength and support in dealing with their loss.

"Jimmy," Dr. Z said, disapproval radiating off of him as he hung up the phone. "You shouldn't have said that: your wife is distraught."

"I have no spouse. I was attempting to reach Dean. Do you know his condition and where I might find him?"

The doctor frowned, changing his disapproval to concern in the blink of an eye. "Dean? Dean Winchester? I thought you were doing better, Jimmy."

"Better than what?" Castiel asked, quite fairly he thought. "Is Dean alright?"

The doctor sighed, as if he was already worn out by their conversation. "Am I speaking to Castiel?"

Castiel moved in closer to the doctor and tipped his head to the side. "How do you know about me? Who are you?"

"I'm Dr. Z." The doctor's tone moved from exhausted to soothing with practiced ease. Castiel marveled once again at the human ability to shift emotional gears so quickly. "Do you know where you are?"

"I... No," Castiel was forced to admit.

"This is Sunnydale Medical Center. Your wife, Amelia, checked you in three weeks ago, suffering from hallucinations and delusions. Your name is Jimmy Novak. Your wife is Amelia Novak and you have a single child - a daughter named Claire. Does any of this sound familiar?"

Cas nodded. Of course those things sounded familiar. Castiel remembered Jimmy Novak's life better even than Jimmy himself. "Yes."

"Good," the doctor sounded as if he were praising a small child. Castiel did not enjoy the tone at all. "You've been doing very well." Doctor Z flashed him a small, bright smile followed almost immediately by a frown. "Until today. You shouldn't have told your wife that Jimmy is dead."

"I have no spouse," Castiel repeated, since the doctor seemed to have missed that fact the first time. "Amelia is my vessel's wife and she deserves to know that Jimmy has gone onto his reward and that he no longer shares this body with me." Castiel felt regret and something akin to sorrow in the fact that he'd been unable to return Jimmy to his family unharmed, but he couldn't let them live a lie.

The doctor shook his head and motioned for Castiel to follow him into the relative privacy of the room in which Castiel had awoken. When they were alone, Doctor Z said with a sadness that Castiel did not believe to be real, "I'm going to have to take you out of the blue level and revoke your phone privileges."

That was unacceptable. Without the use of the phone, Castiel would be unable to track down Dean. He'd never been impulsive in the long history of his existence until he'd pulled Dean Winchester from Hell and left his mark upon him without really deciding to do it. But now, impulsively, he decided to fly away at once to find the Winchesters. "My name is Castiel. I am an Angel of the Lord. I am very sorry, but I must leave now to find my friends."

The doctor shook his head with another faux sad smile. "Okay, Jimmy, go ahead, fly away."

Cas hesitated, Dean always scolded him for disappearing in front of people, but he'd already told the doctor the truth of who and what he really was, so Castiel gathered his Grace to him in preparation for 'zapping' out of there and... found it unreachable.

He stumbled back in shock and fell to the bed - graceless in more way than one.

"Problem?" the doctor asked, not unkindly this time. He almost looked sorry for Castiel.

"My Grace," Castiel began with a frown. "It's being blocked. I can not reach it." Castiel didn't know any other way to explain it. He could still feel his Grace, but when he reached for it, it remained beyond his grasp. This was far more troubling than being unable to use his true sight. Many things of even human design could cause that. Castiel could think of only a handful of creatures that could bind an angel's Grace - none of them pleasant. Castiel began to worry.

No, it was more than that. His heart rate and breathing jumped in an irregular rhythm; his forehead and palms began to sweat; and his stomach churned and recoiled violently. Castiel had fought countless wars, been hunted by demon and angel alike, had descended into the very fires of hell, but he had never felt such discomfort as when he reached for his Grace once again and found it inaccessible. He suspected what he was feeling was terror. Castiel tried to push it and his vessel's physical reactions to the emotion away, but was unable to do even that much. That was when the panic really set in, and Castiel handled his fear in true Winchester fashion - by attacking.

"What are you doing to me?" he demanded, standing up and advancing on Doctor Z, "Who sent you? And where are Sam and Dean Winchester?" The last question was nothing more than a slow threatening growl in the doctor's face.

"Orderly!" Doctor Z yelled, nonsensically in Castiel's opinion. Dean was someplace well organized? That was confusing even by human standards. The doctor was backing away with real fear on his face, blocking Castiel's exit from the room. Castiel tried to push his way past the doctor, but whatever was preventing him from accessing his Grace had also taken away his angelic strength, and the two men - orderlies, Cas suspected - that rushed into the room at the doctor's command were easily able to contain him. His struggles to throw them off were completely ineffective and he was helpless to prevent Dr. Z from taking a needle from his coat pocket and injecting its contents into Castiel's neck.

Cas tried to resist the drug's pull, but he lost control of his vessel's muscles within minutes and he could only pray to his Father and weakly call for Dean while the orderlies put him back in bed and secured the restraints.

***

Cas was flying through darkness. No - not flying - swimming, swimming in something thick and black that kept threatening to pull him down. He was... frightened. He thrashed wildly with arms and legs and wings trying to break free, but it was no use. He was going to be sucked under and he had no idea what waited for him in the blackness.

"Cas."

The voice was distant but Castiel heard it and held it close. "Dean," he whispered to himself and crawled his way back toward the light.

"Cas."

"Dean?" the sound of his own voice woke Castiel from the unbroken blackness of unconsciousness. There was no answer and Castiel forced his eyes open, only to close them again immediately against horribly familiar sterile surroundings of the hospital room.

He was no longer tied down - thank the Father - but his throat was dry, raw from sounds he only vaguely remembered making. Castiel crawled out of his too small cot and stumbled on weak legs to the door to his temporary prison. "Hello?"

It was quiet on the other side of the door, and the lights had been dimmed. Castiel tried the handle in vain, and then slapped an open palm to the door a few times when it refused to open. "Hello? I require hydration. I am thirsty."

There were the soft sounds of footsteps approaching his door and an unfamiliar voice called through the door. "Please sit on the bed."

"I don't understand," Cas said genuinely.

"Sit on the bed so I can open the door," the voice repeated.

Cas still didn't understand how one related to the other but he backed up to sit on the bed again. Another man in a white coat - not one of the orderlies from before - opened the door. He had a larger plastic cup of water in one hand and a smaller cup with pills in the other. He handed both to Castiel.

Cas looked quizzically at the medication before downing the water in one swallow. The orderly produced a second glass from a tray in the hallway and handed it over as well. "Thank you," Castiel whispered, sipping at the second cup.

"How are we feeling Mr. Novak?" the man asked in a calm voice that somehow put Castiel more on edge.

"I have no way of knowing how you are feeling. I will be fine once I have left here."

The orderly smiled a smile that missed comforting by a mile. "That's right, Mr. N. We'll have you better and back to your family in no time. Just take your meds and get some sleep."

Castiel frowned. "I do not require sleep. I have only just regained consciousness."

"Come on," the man said in a cajoling voice, "don't give me a hard time Mr. N. You know I'll just have to report it to Dr. Z.

"That sounds like coercion," Cas observed with narrowed eyes.

"Aw, don't be like that, I just want a quiet night for me and a good morning for you."

Castiel doubted that, but he saw no harm in taking the pills. His Grace should be enough to prevent the drugs from affecting his vessel, even without him being able to access it directly. He swallowed the medicine down with the second glass of water and lay back on the cot, intending to put his mind to the problem of his confinement, but sleep overtook him almost before his head hit the pillow.

Thankfully his sleep was as natural as could be expected for a creature that had never slept before and dreamless, except for the insistent call of his name just before he woke up in a voice beautiful and familiar, "Cas."

**

Doctor Z arrived just moments after Castiel opened his eyes to a Dean-less world as if he'd been waiting for Castiel to awaken. "Are you feeling better this morning, Jimmy? More yourself?"

"Who else could I be but myself?" Castiel asked blankly. He reached for his Grace and tried to see the doctor with his true eyes but quickly stopped when the nothingness threatened to drown him in fear again. He locked the emotion deep within himself to examine at a later date. Right now it was unhelpful and was in fact detrimental to his efforts to figure out where he was and how to return to Dean.

"You could be Castiel," the doctor answered finally.

"I am Castiel," Castiel pointed out with a frown. This conversation was pointless. He needed to get in contact with the Winchesters somehow. "I feel much better today, and I would like to use the phone," he said, sitting up in bed to address the doctor directly. "Please," he added as an afterthought.

"Sorry, Jimmy," the doctor said with nothing like regret in his expression, "I've had to revoke your phone privileges after yesterday's incident."

A quick glance at his wrist showed that his blue band had been replaced with a new red band and Castiel narrowed his eyes at the doctor. "For how long?"

"Until Jimmy comes back and you forget about the Winchesters."

Cas drew back a little in surprise. "That's impossible."

Doctor Z's eyebrows went up in what Cas suspected was mockery. "You're the Angel of the Lord. Pray for a miracle."

Castiel nodded. That was possibly the most sensible thing the doctor had said yet. "Given my circumstances I believe it would be cruel to ask for Jimmy to be returned to his body. The risk of him being killed again is too great. But prayer is always a good idea. I have faith that Dean is looking for me: I will pray for my Father to grant him and Sam strength and guidance to help find me."

Castiel slipped off the bed to kneel at its side in the manner in which he'd seen Claire pray in Jimmy's memories, and closed his eyes to beseech his Father or any of his brethren who may have been sympathetic and listening. In the background Castiel was aware of the doctor attempting to engage him in conversation again, but Castiel ignored it and eventually Doctor Z gave up and left him in peace.

**

The orderly from the night before returned at dinner time.

"Hey, Mr. Novak, are you hungry? I got some grub for you."

"I do not require food, my Grace is sufficient to maintain my vessel." Castiel told him briefly before returning to his prayers.

"Aww, come on Mr. N, it's tuna salad, your favorite." The orderly cajoled.

Castiel didn't answer this time, but continued to pray, and after a few minutes, the orderly sat the tray on a the room's single small table and retreated.

For three days Cas prayed. He refused to eat and spoke only to inform the increasingly agitated orderlies and doctors that he would pray until Dean and Sam came for him. Occasionally his vessel betrayed him and he dropped into a fitful sleep, and always, right before he would reawaken he would hear Dean's voice, faint but unmistakably him, calling out - "Cas."

That voice gave him the strength to ignore the pain his stomach and the pain in his head and the terrifying weakness in his limbs and continue to pray. But by the third night he was too weak to fight when the orderlies held him down and the doctor pumped a sedative into him.

Cas didn't like the drugged sleep. It gave him nightmares of bloody feathers and burnt flesh. Once or twice he thought he heard Dean call to him, but it was as if the drugs were effecting Dean as much as they were effecting Castiel, and Dean's voice was fuzzy and far away. Cas struggled toward it anyway, fighting his way past layers of sleep and muddied memories until he heard Dean stronger and clearer than ever saying "Cas, wake up." And Cas did.

Castiel had been moved into another room at some point during his drugged slumber. The room he found himself in now was a more traditional hospital room - like something out of Dr. Sexy - with a TV on one wall and a second, empty bed next to him half hidden by a curtain. There was a needle dripping something into the back of his hand. Castiel frowned at it through the aching in his head and pulled the needle out with his other hand.

Rubbing the small bead of blood dripping from his hand absently, Castiel pushed the blanket off of himself and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Before he could decide if his legs would support his weight a nurse came barreling into the room, her face business-like and concerned. She stopped short at he the sight of him.

"Mr. Novak, you're awake." She seemed surprised, but recovered herself quickly, rushing over to his bedside to push his unresisting body back into the bed and tucking the sheets firmly around him.

"Yes," he said flatly, allowing her fussing for the moment and pretending it wasn't because he was as weak as a new fledgling.

"And you've pulled out your IV," she accused gently, clucking over the wound as she cleaned away the worst of the blood with a Kleenex from his bedside table. "You shouldn't have done that."

"It was making me feel," Cas paused, searching for an appropriate word, "fuzzy."

"It was doing no such thing," the nurse argued, efficiently bandaging the small wound. "It was building your strength back up. Now, I don't have to put it back in, but you'll have to eat something for me. Can you do that?"

Cas did not like being treated like a small child, but even without his true sight he could see that the nurse was acting out of real concern and not a sense of malice so he nodded. Eating would be preferable to allowing an unknown substance into his vessel, despite the nurse's insistence that the IV was unrelated to his confusion.

The nurse smiled brightly at his concession and left with a firm admonishment for Castiel not to move. She returned quickly with a bowl of soup and a glass of apple juice. Cas eyed the food uncertainly but ate without protest. The nurse stayed and watched until he'd finished his meal and then she cleared his tray away, turning out the lights as she left. "Get some rest. We'll try something more substantial in the morning."

Castiel had only a moment to be disturbed at how exhausted he felt and how little control he had over his body's need for sleep before sleep pulled him back under. Just before waking there was Dean's voice again calling his name.

"Cas? Come back. Don't you dare do this to me, asshole. Fight it, Cas. Fight it."

Castiel was grateful for the directive. Passivity had never been his style, but following orders and taking action were. He ate everything that was put before him the next morning and limited his prayers to a few hours a day. He followed his medical doctors orders exactly, anything to aid his recovery, because now he had a mission. He had to get strong and fight his way back to Dean.

As Castiel expected, going a few days without food wasn't a terrible hardship on the human body, and he was almost up to his pre-fasting strength by the end of the day. Unfortunately, his true strength remained as elusive as his Grace. Castiel tried to teleport away from the hospital anyway, but he wasn't surprised when it didn't work. Obviously someone had done something to either his vessel or to the hospital itself, and panicking would get him no closer to recovering his stolen Grace.

No, not stolen - blocked maybe - he could still feel his Grace, weaker and dimmer than when he had first been dispatched to raise Dean from Hell, but still there - as much a part of him as his love for his Father, as his faith in Dean, more a part of him than the flesh that encased it.

Castiel needed to find out the cause of the block before he could remove it. He felt no need for modesty himself, but understood that humans felt shame in nudity, and he slipped into his room's bathroom at his first opportunity. Removing the thin, open backed gown that he found himself was an uncomplicated task, and Castiel let it drop to the floor quickly.

Jimmy's body was fascinating. It was pale and lean and he took time to marvel at the way muscle moved under skin as he bent and twisted. He had observed the muscles of others before, of course, but it was somehow different to be so deeply embedded into his vessel and watch the muscle move in response to his thoughts. It was even more interesting when muscles moved with no voluntary input from him - the rise and fall of his chest, the regular beating of his borrowed heart, the annoying flutter of muscle in one bicep for which he could find no cause.

All humans were his Father's works of art, and now Castiel found himself admiring the one that housed him for long moments before remembering his purpose. He began a careful inspection of his body, cataloguing sensation and inventorying every imperfection, but he found nothing out of the ordinary, and his spirits fell at the revelation. A mark upon his vessel would have been easier to find and deal with than something inside the large building.

"Mr. Novak? Are you okay in there?" The nurse called through the locked bathroom door, knocking sharply to get his attention. "Do you need help?"

"No," Castiel called back, quickly pulling gown and robe back on, "I do not require assistance." He opened the door and allowed the nurse to lead him back to bed.

"I wish to leave this room," Castiel informed the day nurse when he came in later to torture Castiel with needles and self inflating cuffs.

"No can do, Mr. Novak. You should have thought of that before you tried to starve yourself." The nurse looked up briefly from the mysterious notes he was making on Castiel's chart.

"I was not trying to starve myself. It was a religious fast." Cas protested. It wasn't precisely a lie. He knew of many faithful men who fasted in an effort to cleanse themselves. Castiel had been trying to communicate with his Father, even if the fasting part wasn't exactly part of the plan.

However Dean's assertion that he sucked at lying must have been true because the nurse eyed him doubtfully over the rims of his reading glasses. "Uh, huh. Well, it doesn't matter. A psych patient refusing to eat means you're stuck in the here until Doctor Z releases you."

Cas latched onto the words. "In the hospital, but surely not just this room. Is it permissible for me to take a walk?"

The nurse - Roy, according to his nametag - continued to look suspicious but he nodded slowly. "Yeah, maybe. If I tell the doctor I believe you're fit to be up and around."

Cas smiled gratefully. "I am. I would be very grateful. It has been too long since I've seen my Father's creation."

"What?" Roy looked honestly confused, and Castiel assumed he didn't know the reasons for Jimmy's stay in the psych ward.

"My Heavenly Father," Cas added, hoping the nurse would accept the answer as a statement of faith and not see fit to mention it to Dr. Z.

"Oh," Roy's face softened and his smile turned more genuine. Castiel suspected he was one of his Father's faithful. "Yes, I see no reason why we couldn't add short walks to your recovery routine."

"Thank you," Cas said gratefully. "Bless you."

Roy held up a warning finger. "You can't go alone. A nurse or candy striper will have to escort you."

"Of course," Castiel agreed quickly. "Thank you again."

**

The candy striper assigned to him was named Cassie. Castiel believed that was what humans called irony. She was young and bubbly and if Castiel didn't love all of his Father's creations he suspected he would have hated her.

"Good morning, Mr. Novak," she gushed as she bounced into his room. "I hear someone's ready to do some exploring!"

Castiel drew back warily as she approached his bed. "Yes."

"Wonderful. I'll just go get you a robe and we'll be off." She bounced out of the room and back in again is a matter of seconds, this time carrying a blue robe. "Here we go. This will match your eyes," she declared with a smile and a wink.

"Thank you for this." Cas may have been slightly frightened by her exuberant behavior but he was grateful that her presence meant he could explore the hospital.

"Of course, Mr. Novak, it's my job and I'm happy to help." She smiled at him again and her genuine pleasure shone through, making Castiel feel more relaxed despite himself. "We'll just make a circuit of the floor to start with," she cautioned. "If you're feeling up to it we can go further."

Castiel felt perfectly fine after three floors, but after the fourth he was feeling fatigued. The full limitations of his de-powered vessel were frustrating, but he was grateful when Cassie helped him back into bed and even more so when she promised to return in the morning.

The evening after their second walk - when they'd explored all the floors above Castiel's own - Castiel was moved back to the psych ward where he'd started.

Castiel was disappointed, and searched the entire ward listlessly before retiring to his own room. There was nothing there, of course, but he'd suspected as much. If it had been in the ward then being out of it should have restored at least some of his powers.

But shortly after breakfast the next morning- oatmeal with none of the brown sugar and fruit Dean usually put in his - Cassie stopped by the ward to take him for another walk.

"I don't understand," Cas had said when the familiar young bubbly girl appeared at the door that separated the psych patients from the 'real' hospital.

"What's to understand? You like walks, I like walks, Dr. Z approved it." She said impatiently, smiling as she ushered him back to his room to change.

Castiel returned the smile hesitantly and allowed himself to be lead to the lower levels of the hospital. If Cassie thought it was odd that he wanted to explore every single floor of the hospital instead of going outside, she didn't show it. Cassie spent the next few days patiently leading Castiel around every nook and cranny of the hospital, showing off her knowledge of the history and architecture of the structure with great enthusiasm. Castiel listened attentively in case there were clues to his predicament in the hospital's past. There weren't but it did give him an excuse to ask questions and look at things more closely than he might have been able to do otherwise without arousing suspicion.

Castiel told her highly edited stories of his brothers and of the Winchesters, admitting to her that he had no idea what had become of them since he had arrived at the hospital. He lacked Dean's smooth way with women, but Cassie at least seemed to find his awkward smiles and stiff formal speech endearing because she checked both the computers and the extensive network of hospital gossip for news of two brothers who might have been brought to the hospital at roughly the same time as Jimmy. She found nothing, and Castiel was torn between relief that the brothers were presumably free and safe and profound loneliness that they were not nearby.

Castiel looked for them in the hospital anyway, trailing up and down each floor in search of his friends or the sigils binding his Grace while Cassie chatted with the nurses and kept one eye on him. Sometimes a patient or family member would ask what he was looking for and he would tell them a story about his friends Dean and Sam Winchester. After the first time, when he got sent directly back to his room with a stern warning, he learned to leave out his true identity as an Angel of the Lord. He was a big hit on the pediatric floors, and he found himself stopping by regularly although there was little chance of Dean and Sam being kept in the children's wards.

Occasionally a lost soul would call out to him and he would sit with someone for awhile in silence just to let them know that they were not alone, sometimes talking to them of his Father and sometimes listening to their confessions. Sometimes the nurses asked him to speak to someone in particular, and Castiel couldn't refuse to do his Father's work. The only directive he was still sure really did come from his Father was to love one another.

After a week Castiel was required to attend regular therapy sessions with Dr. Z as tradeoff for continuing his walks with Cassie. In the first one Dr. Z asked how he was enjoying the fresh air.

"Cassie and I have not yet left the building," Castiel explained shortly. He did not like these group exercises. The patients all had different problems from each other - and none were anywhere close to his own problem of being a powerless angel trapped with no means of reaching his companions - so the exercise of making them all sit in a circle and talk about irrelevant topics seemed a bigger waste of time than even his own, mostly silent, individual sessions.

Dr. Z raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Oh? You've spent over a week exploring the hospital itself?"

"Yes," he answered shortly.

The doctor stared at him a moment, and when it was apparent that was all Castiel had to say on the subject asked, "May I ask why?"

"Yes."

Again, Castiel didn't elaborate until the doctor asked, with just a touch of exasperation that Castiel couldn't help but feel proud of evoking, "Why?"

"Cassie knows a great deal about he hospital. I believe she is enjoying showing off her knowledge to me." It wasn't the whole truth, but half-truths were something at which all angels excelled.

"I allowed the walks to continue for your benefit, Jimmy, not some random candy stripers," Dr. Z retorted with a vehemence Castiel did not understand.

"She is not a random candy striper. Her name is Cassandra Mills and she would never force me into something I did not want to do. She has a kind and generous heart. I enjoy the walks and her company it a great deal." Castiel considered that perhaps he'd been with Dean too long if he was walking the edge between truth and lies so closely just to be contrary. He didn't dislike Cassie but enjoying her company was a bit of a stretch.

The doctor's gaze narrowed at him but all he said was, "Very well, as long as you're enjoying yourself," and he moved on to pestering another patient. Castiel stared hard at the doctor for the rest of the session, wondering what or who the doctor didn't want him to find.

Castiel redoubled his efforts to search the entire hospital after that, including the areas he had already explored once, curious about the doctor's rush to get him out of the building. A week later, he was certain he'd seen every part of the hospital, including the restricted areas thanks to his budding friendship with Cassie, but had found no sign of Dean or Sam or anything supernatural that might have been keeping him powerless.

At the end of the month with a brief futile search of the maternity ward, Castiel was forced to accept that there was nothing in the hospital binding his powers. He reluctantly turned his thoughts to how to escape from the building without his usual angelic advantages.

He studied the shift changes and visiting hours. He paid attention to the security guards that roamed the corridors and the orderlies who watched him with more care than he liked. He waited and a vague plan began to form after a few weeks.

But desperation, and a hospital staff who had grown used to Castiel's stoic complacency meant that all Castiel had to do was slip away while Cassie was exchanging gossip with the pediatric nurses and he was down the stairs and out the door before anyone knew he was gone.

Castiel wanted to fly. A full month indoors had affected him more than he'd realized and he wanted to stretch his wings in the sun and feel the wind lifting him above the beauty and horror and joy and sorrow of human life, but his wings had been clipped by a force he still couldn't identify and Castiel did the next best thing, he ran.

He ran till Jimmy's legs and lungs burned and then he ran some more, pushing past the physical and mental pain until the only left was the air flowing past him and the thud of his borrowed feet as they pounded the pavement. Until his all too human body failed him again and he collapsed on the grass somewhere in a small park.

Castiel who had always know all time, past and present and future all a river in which he swam freely, had no idea how long he lay there listening to the pounding in his chest and the air laboring in his lungs, but later when things were calmer - when he was calmer - a young woman approached him with a wary but concerned frown.

"Sir, are you alright?" She smiled uncertainly.

That was a very good question. Castiel understood the polite thing would be to say yes, but he'd never been a very good liar. "No, I am not."

"Oh." She shifted her weight from one foot to the other nervously. "Um, is there anything I can do to help? Someone I can call maybe?"

Cas squinted up at her through the glare of the sun. Once he could have seen directly into her soul and marveled at the generosity of spirit there, but now all he saw were kind eyes and a tight smile. "May I use your phone?"

She hesitated briefly, eyeing him again, probably weighing the intelligence of handing he phone over to a complete stranger who (correctly) looked as if he'd just escaped an asylum. But in the end she pulled it out and offered it to him. "Sure, whatever you need."

"Thank you," he said as he took the phone from her and dialed Dean's number. "Bless you," he added as the other line rang twice and then went to voicemail.

Hi! You've reached Jimmy, Amelia, and Claire Novak...

Cas hung up without a word and tried Sam's phone.

"Hello?" an unfamiliar voice answered after the first ring.

Castiel double checked the number but he knew he hadn't misdialed. "Is Sam there?" he asked anyway.

"No Sam here. Wrong number pal."

"I'm sorry," Cas started, but the line was already dead.

After a moment's thought, Castiel dialed Bobby.

"Singer Salvage." It wasn't Bobby, but the name was right and Castiel felt his hopes soar.

"May I speak to Robert please?" Castiel was surprised to find his voice trembling.

"Robert?"

"Bobby," Castiel offered up quickly.

"Oh, Bobby," the voice soften on the name. "I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but Bobby passed on a few months back."

Castiel wanted to ask how and when and for the love of the Father why but something cold and bitter in the back of his head said it didn't matter and he gently ended the call and handed the phone back to his good Samaritan.

"Is someone coming to get you?" she asked.

"No, there's no one." Castiel told her dully. "I am alone."

The girl shifted her weight again, looking over her shoulder as if for help. "Um, I'm sorry. Do you need a ride somewhere?"

Cas smiled. Dean was wrong, humans lied for more reasons than to get what they wanted. "No, thank you. I will be fine."

She stood there uncertainly for a few minutes more before turning away. She turned back just once as and opened her mouth to say something more but turned back again and walked away without a word.

Castiel closed his eyes tightly and reached deep within himself and pulled on his Grace, praying the whole time that he would find it in his grasp and be able to fly away. But it was hopeless, even running as far and as fast as his vessel would carry him from the hospital made no difference. Something heavy settled into Castiel's chest. His shoulders slumped under the feeling and he lay back on the ground abruptly when he identified the feeling as despair.

Castiel stared at the clouds until they had blown away in the darkening sky and the stars blinked into existence. He named each of them as they appeared, by the names given to them by humans and by their true names given to them by God. He was still there, naming, when the police showed up and asked him his name.

When he answered 'Jimmy Novak' he almost believed it.

***

"Why did you decide to start participating in these sessions, Jimmy?" Dr. Z asked the first time Castiel showed up for his individual session following his short escape.

Castiel frowned at the question. "You said I had to attend if I want to leave."

Dr Z studied him quietly for a moment. "You did leave us recently, but you came back. If you are only here in hopes of leaving, why didn't you stay gone?"

"The authorities brought me back," Castiel said evasively.

The doctor didn't let him get away with it. "Only because you allowed it. Surely your experiences with..." the doctor made a great show of studying Castiel's file, although Castiel knew the doctor did not know the need the reminder. "the Winchesters taught you how to evade detection better than laying around in a park, being conspicuous."

"My Angelic nature has made learning human methods of evasion unnecessary," Castiel told him, although he knew that was half truth at best.

"Jimmy." The doctor's tone said he knew it too.

Castiel didn't answer and the minutes ticked by in silence. Finally, inevitably, the doctor looked away and continued. "I think we've gotten off track, Jimmy."

"A common characteristic amongst humans I've noticed," Castiel offered consolingly.

The doctor smiled, surprised, "Yes. Why did you come back, Jimmy?"

"I didn't know where else to go," Castiel answered, looking away from the pity in the doctor's eyes.

"You could go home, Jimmy."

Castiel flashed briefly on Heaven, but the doctor's constant, repetitive use of his vessel's name reminded him that the doctor meant Jimmy's home with Claire and Amelia.

"You mean Jimmy's home."

"Your home," the doctor corrected. "You are Jimmy Novak."

"No, I am not," Castiel retorted automatically, but inside he wasn't so sure anymore. He was aware of no creature powerful enough to alter reality - or an Angel's perception of it so readily. And if Sam and Robert and... and Dean... weren't real, then Castiel couldn't help but doubt everything else he knew - including himself.

If Dean wasn't real then Castiel wasn't sure he cared for the real world.

"So, Jimmy, why do you believe you are an angel?"

Castiel tipped his head, confused by the question. "I am an Angel of the Lord. It is how the Father created me."

The doctor thought about that and asked, "Why Castiel?"

Castiel missed his daily walks with Cassie the most at times like this. It was possible she might have been able to make sense of the doctor's seemingly pointless questions, but that privilege had been revoked when the police had returned him to the hospital's care. "I don't understand," Castiel said finally.

"If you wanted to claim you're an angel why not Gabriel or Michael - one of the big names?"

Castiel shook his head, the doctor was missing the point. "Why don't you claim to be Dr. Einstein or Dr. Freud? Dr. Z is not mentioned in any historical text of which I am aware."

Dr. Z looked amused by the comparison. "Does it annoy you that Castiel isn't mentioned in the Bible?"

"No. Angels do not seek glory for ourselves." Cas hesitated as several of his brothers' recent transgressions flitted through his head. "At least, we are not supposed to."

The doctor must have picked up on something in his voice because he seized on that. "Oh, so Michael and Gabriel are just attention hogs?"

Despite himself, Castiel felt indignation at the doctor's tone. "My brothers did the jobs that were assigned to them, and those jobs were important enough for inclusion in the gospel. That inclusion was neither their choice nor their decision."

"Just like you."

Cas looked up at the question. "Me?"

"When you rescued Dean - the man you say will defeat Lucifer. That sounds important to me," the doctor explained.

Castiel nodded warily. The doctor rarely mentioned Dean in their sessions as a real person and Castiel didn't know why he was doing so now. "When I raised the Righteous Man Chuck Shirley documented the event in the Winchester Gospel, yes."

"And he mentioned you by name?"

"Eventually, yes." Castiel agreed.

"So perhaps you created Castiel in an attempt to feel important?"

"I was created by my Father." Castiel repeated through clenched teeth. "I am not a figment of my own imagination."

The doctor pulled back the question. "Alright, calm down."

"I'm perfectly calm," Cas lied: he'd been lying a lot lately. Dean would be so proud. If Castiel ever got the chance to tell him.

"Alright, one more question and I'll let you go back to your room. You don't even have to answer it now, just listen and think about it. Can you do that?"

Castiel forced himself to relax. "Yes."

The doctor leaned forward to stare directly into Castiel's eyes. "Is it possible that the 'Grace' you can still feel, but not access, is actually the faith of a true believer?"

Castiel opened his mouth immediately to repudiate the claim, but the doctor held up a forestalling hand. "How about this - is it possible that a mentally unstable patient - in theory - could mistake his faith for something more? Just think about it, please."

Cas closed his mouth and reluctantly nodded. Unfortunately, he still kept his promises, no matter how reluctantly made. He would like to deny the theory outright, but he could see that the doctor's thought process was sound. It didn't change his belief - knowledge - of who and what he was.

Castiel tried to explain at their next session. "I have both faith and Grace. They are not the same, but I do not think I could properly explain. In the simplest terms - my Grace is a physical part of myself that I can wield."

"Okay, then, show me how you wield it."

Castiel closed his eyes against the pain as he answered through gritted teeth. "I cannot."

"Oh, that's right, something's blocking it. What is that?" the doctor asked.

"I do not know," Castiel was forced to admit, not for the first time.

"Then…"

Castiel interrupted before the doctor could finish his thought. They'd been down this road many times already and Castiel was unwilling to have the same conversation again. "I am willing to concede that a theoretical human with no knowledge of the true nature of Grace and a mental illness might confuse faith for Grace."

The doctor did not gloat or seize upon the concession in victory: he simply nodded. "Okay, then is it possible that our theoretical patient is in fact an ordinary man of extraordinary faith?"

Cas closed his eyes and fought back an the all-too-human desire to sigh. "Yes."

"Then why is it impossible that our theoretical patient might be you?" the doctor asked quietly.

"Dean," Castiel said immediately, "and Sam. A man of great faith might suffer a mental injury that mistakes his faith for an angel's grace, but why would he invent the Winchesters?"

"Ah, yes, Dean," Doctor Z said gleefully and Castiel had the feeling he'd been waiting to address this subject for a very long time. "What is the meaning of Dean Winchester? That's a good question, and I have a theory." Castiel wasn't surprised - the doctor seemed to have a lot of (really grossly incorrect) theories about Castiel's - Jimmy Novak's - mental problems.

However, the doctor didn't seem to be in any hurry to share this one. He watched Castiel passively from his chair. Castiel watched him back without a word. He sensed that the doctor was watching for him to react in some way, but Castiel had no idea what he wanted from him. And there was no way the doctor was going to out wait an Angel of the Lord.

Finally the doctor sighed heavily, and Castiel didn't miss the disappointment in his eyes. "Okay, Jimmy, why don't you think about it and we'll discuss it next session?"

Castiel would have shrugged if he was human - it didn't matter to him when they discussed the doctor's theory. He would think about Dean between now and their next session anyway. These days he did very little but pray for Dean and think of Dean and wonder when Dean would come for him or if Dean even knew that he was gone.

No, that was self-pity speaking, he knew Dean knew he was gone because he could still hear Dean calling for him every night when he closed his eyes.

**
"Have you thought about the meaning of Dean Winchester?" Doc Z asked without preamble when Castiel sat in his usual chair in the doctor's office.

"I have thought about Dean and Sam," Cas answered truthfully, "But I can think of no reason for the patient - for me - to have invented them. They do not fit in with Jimmy's orderly work or family and I cannot see the connection."

"Dean Winchester. You love him."

Castiel nodded. "I love all of my Father's creations."

The doctor's face contorted into a scowl for a brief moment before it was just as quickly smoothed over. "But not like you love Dean. You are in love with him."

"Yes," Castiel agreed again, raising an eyebrow in Dean speak for 'so?'

The doctor seemed surprised at Castiel's easy capitulation to the statement. He leaned back, confusion making his expression look almost angry. "You admit it?"

"Of course. I'm not ashamed. Dean is the Righteous Man but also a good man. He is kind and loyal and stubborn and brave and frustrating and so full of love that he shines with it in my true eyes." Castiel explained patiently, the very same way he'd explained it to Dean all those months ago when he'd first tried to make Dean believe that he was worthy of everything Castiel could give him and so much more.

The doctor stared in silence so some more, obviously derailed. "But..." he trailed off and then shook his head as if to clear it. When he started again, his voice was stronger, more confident. "Homosexuality is a sin."

"No, homosexuality is not a sin, and I do not like you trying to interpret my Father's will to suit your theory," Castiel interrupted.

Dr. Z blinked at him in surprise and started again as if he hadn't heard. "Homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of the Church. And when you - Jimmy - broke with reality, your sexual feelings for other men manifested in the creation of everything you found attractive in the form of one man - Dean Winchester."

"No," Castiel repeated, "your premise is flawed. Love is not a sin in my Father's eyes, not between a man and a woman, not between two women, and not between two men. Love cannot exist without God."

The doctor didn't look distracted this time, everything seemed to be going according to some invisible script he'd written. "Is it possible that you've made yourself an Angel of the Lord so that you could grant yourself permission to fall in love with another man?"

"No," Castiel said for a third time, because this was possibly the doctor's most ludicrous theory to date.

The doctor glanced at the clock. "Let's cut this short so you can think about it. In fact, I'll even make you a deal. When you are ready to come in here and admit that you might - might - be Jimmy Novak and admit to me that there are no such people as Sam and Dean Winchester I'll start writing up your discharge papers and you'll be free to go home as an outpatient."

Castiel startled at that. "Really? You would allow me to leave?"

"Of course, Jimmy," the doctor said with a smile. "All you have to do is deny Castiel and the Winchesters and you can go back to your real life."

Castiel walked back to his room slowly, overwhelmed by the possibility of leaving, shocked at the cost. He spent much time over the next day in prayer and silent meditation.

He skipped his next two sessions with Dr. Z, but no one came to reprimand him. An hour before his third session was to start, and orderly came to collect Castiel. But not for the reason Castiel thought. "Mr. Novak? You have a visitor."

Castiel followed the orderly curiously to the main lounge, stupid human heart swelling with hope that he'd emerge from the hallway to find Dean waiting for him. The wave of sorrow and disappointment that overcome him when that wasn't the case actually took his breath away and it took him longer than he liked to re focus on the room and find the visitor in question for him.

"Mr. Novak!" Cassie was waving one enthusiastic arm in the air, as if her high chattering voice wasn't enough to draw his attention - and indeed the attention of everyone in the room.

Castiel made his way over to her, confusion and depression slowing his movements.

"Hi, Mr. Novak!" Cassie greeted, standing up to squeeze Castiel into an uncomfortable hug. He endured the embrace briefly before they both sat down.

"Cassie, what are you doing here?" Castiel was disappointed in himself for the harshness of his tone. It was not Cassie's fault that she wasn't Dean. Luckily, Cassie was as relentlessly cheerful as ever then the in the face of Castiel's grumpiness.

"I missed you!" Cassie told him enthusiastically. "I ran into Dr. Z the other day and asked about you. He said I could come visit," Cassie explained, then she hurried to add, "But we can't leave the ward. He's afraid I'll help you escape again or something." Cassie laughed brightly as she said it.

"You did not..." Cas began to correct, disturbed that his bid for freedom may have caused his friend any trouble.

Cassie laughed off his concern. "Kidding, Mr. Novak. I was just kidding. I got a bit of a talking to for not watching you carefully enough, but no one thinks I just let you run away." She paused and looked uncharacteristically nervous when she asked, "Why did you run away?" Castiel wasn't so good at reading human emotions without his Grace to guide him, but he thought he detected hurt in her voice.

"It was no reflection on you. I left to find my friends," Castiel answered.

"Dean and Sam?" Cassie asked, nerves creeping back into her voice.

Castiel shrugged, a distinctly human trait he couldn't remember acquiring. "Or Robert."

Cassie looked uncomfortable as she took a deep breath. "Yeah, about that. I asked Dr. Z if you'd found them - Dean or Sam - and he said... Um, Dr. Z said..."

"That they are not real and are part of my delusion that I'm an Angel of the Lord?" Castiel filled in.

Something like relief spread across Cassie's face as she nodded. "Yeah. And I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. I didn't mean to feed your delusion or make your recovery more difficult."

"They are not a delusion!" Castiel retorted harshly. Cassie flinched back as if physically struck and Castiel softened his voice. "They are real. They are my friends."

The disappointment and sympathy on Cassie's face was more than Castiel could bear and he turned away from the emotions evident in his young friend's eyes. "I do not wish to speak of them," Castiel added, both to ease the Cassie's distress and to alleviate his own.

"Okay," Cassie agreed quietly. After a few moments of listening to Cassie fidget (he couldn't quite make himself meet her gaze again) Cassie suggested softly, "Dr. Z tells me that you have a wife and a young daughter."

Castiel didn't looked up but he nodded. "Jimmy Novak does," he said.

"Would you like to tell me about them?" Cassie asked gently.

Castiel really didn't want to talk about them either, but Cassie had gotten in trouble for something he had done. Cassie had been his friend and helped him find search the hospital. Cassie was possibly the only friend he had in this crazy false world (or was it the real world manipulated for his benefit?) So he sighed and allowed his mind to open up to Jimmy's memories. "Amelia is a strong and faithful woman. Her strength of character and her love of God has carried her through much and will help her pull Claire through as well. Claire is a beautiful, kind hearted child with a sweet smile and a bright mind. She will make her family very proud."

Cassie smiled kind of sadly at the descriptions. "That's great, Mr. Novak, but... um, it's kind of an impersonal way to describe the two people you love most in the world."

An image of Dean and Sam immediately sprang to Castiel's mind, and she was right of course. There was much more to people and relationships than simple descriptions of character.

"Amelia and Jimmy met in high school," he began. "They were paired up in a chemistry lab, and their shared love of learning made them fast friends. They - we - like to tell people we had the best chemistry in the whole state," Castiel said, fondness not his own filling him, smiling at the memory, "Even before we were dating, because we got the top grade in the class that year. We always did anytime we paired up. We were unstoppable together."

Cassie had leaned forward on their small shared table, watching Jimmy raptly. "But you were just friends then? What happened to move things forward."

"She asked him..." Castiel cleared his throat. "She asked me to come to church with her. The Novaks, we were always believers, but in a non-denominational, pray only when we needed something kind of way. And seeing Amelia at church... It was a revelation - the way she lit up in worship, the way everyone there flocked to her and the way her faith radiated in everything she did. She was beautiful. How could anyone not fall in love with her?"

Across from him Cassie sighed softly. She whispered, as if under a spell, "That's sweet. Childhood sweethearts. And Claire?"

Castiel smiled, unexpected tenderness making him feel soft and warm all over. "She was our little miracle baby. We both wanted a baby, and we were so sure it would happen right away. Looking back now, it really didn't take so that long. But we were young and so in love and... We just really wanted a baby."

Cassie nodded her understanding, reminding Jimm - Castiel - that she was very young herself. "And then your wife got pregnant," she surmised.

"Yes, and I thought I couldn't possibly be any happier than that. But I was wrong. The first time they put that tiny, crying baby in my arms... Well, there's no feeling like it in the world. She was - she is - perfect. And I did that. Amelia and I - we did that. We brought that perfect beautiful child into the world. Our miracle baby," Castiel repeated.

"You love them very much," Cassie said, observed, reaching out to place a hand on Castiel's forearm.

"Yes, I do," Castiel answered, surprising himself. He did, and he missed them. He'd never given them a thought since...

Unbidden another of his - Jimmy's - memories rose to the surface. Amelia standing in front of where he sat on the couch, begging him to take his pills.

"Jimmy I know you think..."

"You believe in God, don't you?"

"What kind of question is that? Of course."

"And Angels?"

"Yes, Jimmy."

"Then have a little faith. I'm special; I've been chosen to do God's work."


Now he thought of how that might have gone if Castiel - if he - hadn't shown up and taken Jimmy as his vessel. He saw himself looking up into a silent sky, and hearing no answer from Heaven. He saw Jimmy climbing the stairs back into the house and calling for Amelia.

"Amelia, I..." Jimmy stretches out one hand imploringly. "I want to get help. Will you help me?"

Amelia closed the distance between them quickly and enfolded her husband in a hug. "Of course, Jimmy, anything you need. Let's go to the hospital, okay?"


"I bet they miss you very much," Cassie said, breaking Castiel out of his imaginings - or were they memories? Suddenly, Castiel wanted nothing more than to return to Jimmy's family - a place where he had purpose and faith. A place where he belonged.

"Yes, I believe they do," Castiel - Jimmy? - answered. "And I think... I believe I have an appointment to keep," he said, standing swiftly. "Thank you, Cassie, for everything. You have been very helpful."

"Anytime, Mr. Novak," Cassie said with a smile, standing with him to give him another hug. This time Castiel - Jimmy - hugged her back awkwardly. "Maybe I can meet your family some time."

"I would like that," he agreed.

Jimmy found Dr. Z waiting for him patiently in his office. Before the doctor could say anything, Jimmy - Castiel said, "I believe in the possibility that I may be Jimmy Novak. I would like to see my family. I want to get better."

Dr. Z smiled broadly, indicating the seat across from him. Castiel - Jimmy - ignored it. "Excellent, Jimmy, that's excellent. There's just one more thing you need to do, and we'll start working on getting you out of here."

Ca - Jimmy took a deep breath, then another. "Dean..." he started, but the word tripped him up. Pain lanced through him, white hot and soul - Grace - deep at the very thought of denying Dean. "Dean..." he tried again, immediately doubling over as another wave of pain overtook him.

He remembered the warm sweet weight of Claire in his arms, the radiance of his wife's smile on their last anniversary. "Dean Winchester…"

He thought of the sweet taste of Dean's lips pressed to his, the joy his charge's soul brought to his Grace, and the hollow place in his chest that he'd been unable to fill since failing to reach Dean outside of the hospital. He thought of Sam's smile and his struggles to always do what he thought was right. He thought of Bobby's cranky affection for those he considered his own - Sam and Dean and, lately, even Castiel.

"Cas! Cas, baby, please." Castiel could swear he could hear Dean's voice, something he'd not experienced outside of his dreams in his entire time at Sunnydale.

"Dean?" Castiel called quietly, eyes scanning the room as if the other man might appear before his very eyes.

"Cas, it's me. It's me. I'm right here, Cas," Dean answered, voice breaking on his name.

"Jimmy?" Dr. Z was frowning at his patient. "Everything is okay?"

"No," Castiel answered. "But I believe it will be soon."

Dr. Z glanced around uncertainly. "You were saying? About Dean and Sam Winchester?"

Castiel said nothing, still frantically searching the room for the source of Dean's voice, all thoughts of the Novaks flying from his mind at the prospect of being reunited with his own human family again.

"Well, Jimmy, are you ready to go home?" The Doctor asked, not unkindly, but Castiel imagined he saw a glimmer of triumph in the other man's eyes.

Cas knew this was his cue to say that he was Jimmy Novak and he was having delusions of being an angel and helping two men who were not real to save the world. For the smallest of moments he was still tempted to just do it. He could let the doctor help him, let the doctor convince him that he was a very sick man and eventually he could go home to Amelia and Claire and live an ordinary life with ordinary problems.

But in the spot where his untouchable Grace still rested, where perhaps Jimmy's human soul used to live, Castiel could picture Dean's face and hear him very clearly reminding Cas to hold on. And hold on he would.

"My name is Castiel. I am an Angel of the Lord. I believe in Dean Winchester, and I will wait here until he comes from me."

The doctor's face turned an angry shade of red and he began to speak in Enochian. Castiel startled, astonishment forcing him back a step. The spell was an old one, Castiel could feel it in his restrained Grace, but he didn't recognize it. He did, however, recognize the voice chanting them.

"Zachariah," he breathed.

Dr. Z's features began to twist and shape and morph into something Castiel recognized as his brother's vessel. "You always were too faithful for your own good, Castiel."

Zachariah's mouth opened again, but Cas couldn't hear his words anymore. In fact everything around him suddenly seemed insubstantial and dark. The more Castiel tried to focus on his surroundings the more wispy they got until he was forced to close his eyes against the disturbing vertigo of undefined shadows and shapes.

When he opened his eyes again, everything was clear and solid, but he was no longer standing in Dr. Z's office. He was laying on a hard tile floor. There were maybe a half a dozen faces staring down at him - but Cas only had eyes for one.

"Dean." Cas reached out a hand to the concerned face leaning closest to him. He was vaguely aware of Sam's sob in the background and then the younger man shooing off their audience.

Dean grasped the offered hand in both of his and flashed a smile that did nothing to cover the fading terror on his face. "Welcome back, Cas."

Cas tugged on his true sight, crying out in wordless relief when it came to him immediately. Dean's soul lit up in a white hot blaze, dampened slightly by the angry swirl of fear and worry. Castiel squeezed Dean's hand. "I'm sorry I lost faith."

Dean frowned at him in confusion, but Castiel leaned up to kiss away his questions. "Don't do that again," Dean whispered, forehead still pressed against Castiel's own. "Don't leave me, don't scare me, don't…" Dean's voice cracked on the last word, though his eyes remained dry. "Just don't."

There were a million promises that Castiel could have made in response to that, but none he could keep in wartime. Instead he said, "Thank you."

"For what?" Dean asked, closing his eyes. "All I did was rush over here and yell at you to wake up."

"For having faith." Cas kissed him again. "I heard you, and you called me home."

Dean opened his eyes, wide and serious as he promised, "Anytime, Cas, anytime."

***
The complete list of my Supernatural fiction can be found here.

Date: 2011-01-26 11:25 am (UTC)
mystiri_1: (cloud)
From: [personal profile] mystiri_1
This is an awesome story ♥

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