A sleeper wakes...
"I swear, if you even think the word 'Midol' I will end you."
There was nothing.
And then there was darkness. This was the only frame of reference it had, of any sort of beginning or end within the void. The concepts were, in and of themselves, strange. And yet familiar.
Familiar to what?
There was awareness there – it was the consciousness. It existed in obscurity, oblivious of anything except the darkness. And now itself.
The dark was terrifying. It was constantly sucking the consciousness deeper within it, suffocating it. The sentience was too weak, too fragile, to fight it off. In the end, it simply floated – if it even had enough form to float. It didn't know.
At an indeterminate point, something changed.
Something rippled within its being, something that was there but not present in any way that it could define. That something caressed the consciousness, prodding it more and more until it became a constant. Soon it was something else that existed, along with the darkness and the consciousness. This…feeling.
The blackness still frightened it, and while the presence had no sense of itself, it sensed that this feeling was somehow safe. It grasped at it with what little strength it had, and used it to ground itself. The more it held onto the feeling, the less hold the darkness seemed to have. It preferred it that way, and held on tighter, drawing strength from the feeling.
After an eternity of time, suddenly there was light.
The new sensation was too bright for the consciousness, almost excruciating in its intensity and the glaring, nagging familiarity. It shied away, briefly losing its grasp on that persistent feeling of safety.
The darkness returned, but it was such a terrible thing that the sentience sought out the light again, ignoring the burn and the agony of it, because it was nevertheless so much better than being lost in the void. It gripped tight to the secure, grounding feeling, and soon this became a little less difficult. Even so, there was some challenge. The light continued to be hard to endure after so long a time lost in darkness, and the consciousness nevertheless had to let go of it sometimes when it became too weak to hold on. But the times of illumination were beginning to last longer, until the consciousness spent half of its time in obscurity and half basking in the light.
Shadows moved on the periphery, sometimes, and these seemed sinister to the consciousness. It began to venture into the light only when there were no shadows about.
And then, another constant was altered.
The feeling that it had cleaved itself too changed, bringing with it the fleeting impression of something else. The sentience knew what it was, knew there was a name for this flash of…
Color, it told itself after many cycles of light-dark. It…remembered…color. It knew that there were many different colors, shades and hues. It knew it had seen that infinite spectrum once. But right now, it could only focus on this one color.
Green, it recognized, its indistinct and feeble awareness saying the word over and over. Slowly, it recalled the names of the other colors, and those began to move around within it, almost in a blur. It continued to feel comfort in the memory of the color green, though, and realized that much of the safe feeling which had brought it out of the darkness was associated with that color.
It couldn't remember why, and the matter seemed important, and so the consciousness focused all of its energy on trying to deduce the reason.
Slowly, the color took shape, becoming more intense, and the sentiencey imagined it flashing different ways, conveying different emotions – anger, sadness, amusement, concentration, gratitude –
'Dean,' its mind-voice whispered, the first true pseudo-sense it could remember using. The word – the name – was important, and with it came other names, notions that it had once known.
God. Heaven. Choice. Cas –
This last word felt like it belonged, and the consciousness knew that the name for the being experiencing these thoughts and feelings and memories must be 'Castiel'. It had – ze had – a name; many names, in many tongues, although this one was the most familiar. Despite that sense of ownership, though, there was an undercurrent of alienation that the word brought with it. Ze decided ze preferred Cas; it seemed closer to who ze was than the other name. Both were given to zir by others. One, ze was born with – brought into being and assigned – and the other was a diminutive, given to zir by someone important –
Dean was a being as well. A person. A human.
Castiel had not been human, ze was – had been? – was still? – an angel.
That knowledge seemed to open the floodgates, and remembrances rushed in, seeping like sand in an hour glass. Gradually they became more in volume and in strength, bringing zir back through the millennia of zir life.
Ze had never experienced this confused jumble of thought and remembrance, nor the difficulty in trying to unravel and categorize and understand zir experiences.
It was fast becoming painful, like too many objects being stuffed into a container that was too small. The pressure threatened to explode, threatened to rupture zir very being. Ze wanted it to stop, wanted the recollections to stop coming, but ze couldn't find a way. There was no way to express that discomfort – ze knew ze should be able to, but couldn't remember how just yet.
Ze knew millennia of existence, but those memories didn't stick. It seemed that the farther back ze went, the more indistinct the remembrances became, until they were nothing more than flashes of color and events that ze forgot almost before ze'd experienced them. They were consigned away to some part of zir mind that ze would likely never revisit again.
Some of the memories felt like burning, like ripping and shredding and pain and despair, and although those things had never been done to zir, ze had seen it. It had been all around zir, and ze had felt the negative energy eating into zir, but there was light somewhere, light ze needed to save –
This was a memory of Hell. The light was Dean. Ze had to save Dean.
Ze had saved Dean.
That knowledge somehow made things easier, made it less of a strain to quantify everything that came before and after.
It was the 'after' part which concerned zir.
Ze could now recall the time – two mortal years out of zir long angelic life – with precision, summoned up how it had felt to experience the echoes of emotions and sensations for the first time. Could remember the friends and loved ones – not just Dean, but Sam and Bobby as well – that had come to mean more to zir than the Host of Heaven. Ze remembered the tearing feeling of betrayal and the bubble of hope. Ze considered Dean's palpable suffering at the knowledge of his brother's fate.
And then Castiel thought of the deal ze had made, and it threw everything into sharper relief.
Sensation flooded back to zir, but ze could not move. Time passed, and ze was aware of it, but wherever ze was – whenever ze was – ze was trapped.
Castiel had not expected this.
Having been dead twice before and experienced the utter oblivion of non-being, ze was bewildered to find that wherever ze was now, ze was hurting. It was exactly that which puzzled zir, for angels did not feel pain – not in the mortal sense, anyhow – and yet it seemed like zir vessel had been crushed beneath the weight of a million stones, and ze was feeling every single application of pressure.
Ze was breathing, ze realized, and every draw of breath was like dragging sand across an already inflamed wound. Ze knew the pulsing beat of the vessel's heart, heard blood rushing in zir borrowed ears as that organ pumped life's essence through the entire body. There was a gnawing sensation deep in the core of zir vessel, vaguely uncomfortable, which ze instinctively knew from memory and knowledge of human anatomy to be hunger. The acrid taste in zir mouth and the accompanying dryness suggested thirst.
In that instant, a chilling insight occurred.
Castiel could no longer feel zir grace.
Not a trace of it remained. The only thing ze was aware of now was zir body – not zir vessel's after all, because without Jimmy Novak, ze was alone in it – and because of that, the pain. It was somewhat familiar, in a vague way; ze knew the diminished sense of self from zir time cut off from heaven, that sense of frailty.
Ze was mortal.
He was mortal.
Humans had gender. Now Castiel did as well.
At that realization, Castiel struggled to bring zirself – no, himself– to wakefulness, desperate to confirm zir – his - suspicions, but some deep-rooted exhaustion continued to hold zir – him – hostage. This in and of itself confirmed his fears, and in that instant he knew the truth.
Such a thing should have been impossible, Castiel reasoned. He was supposed to be dead. The deal with Crowley had been straightforward and ironclad, the terms and results clearly understood. The demon could not have done anything to change it even if he wanted to, because the act of handing his grace over to the demon was a stipulation written down by God.
'Did something go wrong?' Castiel thought, suddenly desperate.
Perhaps not wrong, but unexpected.
Ze – he – had given up his grace, his very being. The first time he had been cut off from Heaven, it had still been there; there had remained a fraction of it to keep his sentience in place, the quality of himself that had always been Castiel, in any guise, human or mortal. But now that he knew he was completely graceless, he had no idea how it was that he continued to…endure.
Was it possible that his unexpected survival might have affected the deal? The gnawing in zir – no, in his – stomach was joined by a sinking, heavy sensation. Did this mean that his sacrifice had been invalidated, if he was here? Was Sam down in Hell even now – and by corollary, did that mean Dean was continuing to suffer?
Out of habit, he attempted to reach out across the connection that he and Dean shared since ze – he – had grasped him tightly from the mire of broken souls and suffering in Hell – only to find nothing there. Somehow this hit him harder than when he had realized that he was cut off from Heaven.
It was the first time in his entire existence, Castiel was truly alone.
Agony ripped through him, followed closely by something else – fear.
For the first time, he felt the true ravages of fright, unfiltered by his grace and the body he wore.
He was alone.
A sweeping hysteria threatened to take up space within him, but he tamped it down with effort. He couldn't afford to give into that emotion, not until he knew what had happened to him.
It had to have something to do with the deal, he decided, trying to concentrate on the problem at hand and not the emptiness he felt without both the Host or Dean to keep him grounded. Humans often believed themselves to be alone and managed to withstand their trials and tribulations. He could do so as well.
Was ze – he – even in any condition to live as a human, though?
Castiel tried to focus his thoughts and responsiveness, tried to take a better inventory of his self despite the current mental blocks he was encountering.
He could now sense that the shadows milling about him were people – he could smell a sharp, slightly familiar smell of disinfectant, urine and blood – but he could not achieve any active reaction to it beyond observing it. Although he could feel the weight of his body and the scratching itch of material beneath him, he couldn't move. He couldn't seem to remember how to speak, or how to see; he knew how to do so once, had manipulated the actions of his vessel, but now it seemed impossible.
The insurmountable nature of the task exhausted him, and he was forced to lessen his efforts. He would have to try again when he had not expounded so much energy regaining his awareness. Completely cut off from the concept of time, he didn't know how long it would take, but he had millennia of practice in patience. He would bide his time and heal himself from whatever had happened to him.
For now, he was obliged to let his mind recede back into the darkness.