Mental hospitals aren't all they're cracked up to be, Jimmy thought to himself as he reluctantly sat up in bed.
There was a pun in there somewhere and if Dean had been here, he would have said it with a smirk and possibly a wink. Jimmy didn't miss the demons or gore or terror and he certainly didn't miss the pervasive stink that went with it all, but he did, all too often, and in a way that was bordering on nostalgia, miss Dean.
He wondered how Dean was coping with retirement from the hunting life. It was weird to imagine Dean Winchester living a life of domestic normalcy not so unlike the one Jimmy had been forced to leave behind. He tried to put such thoughts out of his head.
"Yo, Dean! Second call! Last warning! One more and you're on the board!"
Of course, there had been a very unfortunate choice of pseudonym when he arrived that made forgetting Dean more difficult. Reason #97 for hating Castiel. James Dean? Really?
Jimmy got off the bed with effort and staggered to the narrow cupboard that made do as a closet. It was specifically the need for clothing at this hour that irked him the most. One thing everyone knows about mental hospitals is that you get to shuffle around in your pajamas all day. Apparently, what everyone knows is wrong. Breakfast was served in the cafeteria promptly at seven o'fuck in the morning and if Jimmy wasn't dressed and standing in line within the next ten minutes, he would be getting his name on "the board."
For a man who had been possessed, tortured, and exploded into gooey puddles—more than once even—this should not have seemed like much of a threat. Yet there was something deep in his sad little soul that was susceptible to the grammar-school system of reward and punishment at Forest Glade. Seeing "Jimmy D." neatly printed on white paper which was glued to a rectangle of green construction paper which was in turn pinned in the proper place on the center bulletin board made Jimmy feel safe.
Not the left bulletin board where the overachievers were earning gold stars and the extra privileges that went with them, that strangely unnerved him more than "the board" on the right that he was currently being threatened with, where the disobedient patients had their infractions tallied with frowny faces.
He had carefully drawn Enochian symbols on the back of his name card with a red marker. He didn’t understand them—Castiel had explained nothing in the years they were joined—but he remembered a few symbols that the angel had drawn for protection and hiding and so he hoped it might help. The ward nurse had praised him with cheerful condescension for being, "So creative! But only the front of the card will be seen. Perhaps you could draw on that side." Jimmy had declined.
He glanced at the board as he hurried by, buttoning his shirt. Jimmy's name card had already been moved from the center to the right board the day before, but it still had just a single frowny face (earned for swearing at one of the staff) so he hadn't been counted late for breakfast yet. "Jimmy B." was up to seven frowny faces, just one away from some mandatory quiet time. If he hadn't earned it by lunch, Jimmy figured he could provoke something. He could spare the extra demerit himself and the entire ward would thank him if he could get the other Jimmy off the floor for a spell. Jimmy B. was a serious pain in the butt.
"About time, Dean. All right, everybody's here, let's go."
There were no men in white either. He’d never expected them to be brandishing actual butterfly nets, but he had somehow expected lots of people in white. There were none. Patients and staff alike wore normal street clothes. Staff were identifiable only by their name badges and their tendency to twitch and snarl somewhat less often than the patients.
He had no idea if the man in khakis and a brown sweater was a nurse or an orderly or a social worker or just some guy off the street who'd applied for a job herding nutjobs around. His name was Dave, but that was true for half the staff. They had more Daves than Jimmies. This Dave was mainly known as Big Dave and they had a patient on the first floor known as Little Dave (taller than Big Dave, but skinnier than Death, so there was no irony in the name). There was David (never Dave) who was also Forest Glen staff and Hank and Morton, both Daves but relegated to their middle and last names respectively.
Jimmy had just been Jimmy for the first three weeks and then Jimbo had arrived, which was still fine. There was a James on staff and a Jamie (on one of the female wards) and again that was all fine. It wasn't until Jimmy B. arrived that Jimmy got renamed. The B stood for Buscemi or Buschelli or something like that and there were several disagreements on how it was pronounced (with Jimmy B's own view outvoted as wrong) so clearly Jimmy B. couldn't switch to a last name that always provoked arguments, especially not when good, old Jimmy Dean had such an easy-to-pronounce last name that sounded like a first name anyway.
He could deal with the sausage jokes and the people who wondered aloud if he had delusions that he was a 1950s movie star. He was not sure that he could deal with people calling him Dean on a daily basis. In desperation, he'd told the therapist the truth. It was not his real name and he'd just said his last name was Dean because it was the first thing that popped into his mind (technically Castiel’s mind as the angel hadn’t asked for his input at the time).
His therapist hadn’t seemed to take him very seriously, though he did ask Jimmy what he would prefer to be called instead.
He’d even nearly suggested Cas, which was equally as disquieting but at least something he had practice answering to, but that would have been as big of a red flag as giving his real name if anyone happened to be looking. Maybe no one was. Instead of relief, that thought made him feel even more abandoned and forgotten.
"I just want to be Jimmy again," he had said in quiet defeat. His therapist couldn’t possibly know how literal that desire was.
No one at Forest Glade worried overly much about the patient who claimed to be there under a false name. Every bill they filed under "James Dean" got paid, even quite a few expenses that all the other insurance companies denied, and that was that. Jimmy had not expected Castiel to understand about hospital bills and it almost annoyed him to feel a twinge of gratitude. He would have expected Cas to drop him in an alley or leave him to starve in the desert. Yeah, that sounded fittingly biblical. Instead, he had walked into Forest Glade, given the receptionist an account to send his bills to, identified himself only as "Jimmy", stuttered out "Dean" when pressed for a second name, and then ...
"I must leave."
Castiel rarely spoke to him. He’d probably said more that first night when he’d taken him than during the following years combined. Jimmy was too stunned to even answer. The idea "What?" was barely formed in the back of his mind, but Castiel answered regardless.
"I need to go somewhere. I need to do something. I can’t take you with me."
Castiel’s last words echoed in his mind even as Jimmy realized he was now in control of his own body: "I may have need of you again."
Which it turned out that Castiel did, and which it turned out was Castiel’s tough fucking luck.
When Cas turned up two weeks later wanting Jimmy’s body back, Jimmy most emphatically said no. The mental hospital wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but it sure beat being dragged around the country by Mr. Psychoangel. It seemed Castiel really didn’t understand how hospital bills worked, because Jimmy’s tab kept getting paid even when Cas was pissed off at him.
There was probably just some bank account somewhere with a trust fund full of gold bricks and it just didn’t occur to Castiel that all he had to do was cut it off and Jimmy would be on the street. At the mercy of the big bad world, he might not be so resistant.
But instead Jimmy Novak, aka Jimmy D., stayed on as a not-quite-model patient in a place that sounded like a cross between a cemetery and an air freshener and no matter what meds they switched him to every so often he still heard voices, or rather one specific voice.
Castiel’s voice was too powerful to ignore. Not loud exactly, though he was certainly capable of being earth-rattlingly loud if he wanted. There was no true volume to it, but when he spoke he was the only sound Jimmy heard even when no one else heard a whisper. It was as if he were hearing with his bones instead of his ears.
As it happened, Jimmy wasn’t even trying to provoke a fight with Jimmy B.
"I don’t give a fuck about Sam!" Jimmy shouted to the fluorescent lights in the cafeteria line. Castiel's voice didn't come from any particular direction, but he couldn't shake his childhood idea that angels were "up" in relation to humans.
It wasn’t true. He cared. He liked Sam. He was glad when he found out that Sam had escaped from hell. But he still wasn’t going to invite Castiel back in just because Sam was out there somewhere praying for answers. Jimmy never got answers. Why should Sam?
Jimmy B. said something extremely rude that Jimmy literally did not hear because Castiel was still prattling on about Sam and the war in heaven and something about Crowley which didn’t make any sense at all.
"What the hell has he got to do with anything? Why would you believe anything a demon told you?"
Jimmy B. then said something even ruder about Jimmy’s parents which he still didn’t hear, but which got the attention of one of the staff. Jimmy was only barely aware of the commotion when suddenly Castiel and his voice were gone and the cafeteria line became a cacophony of sound again. He was dimly aware of some minor pushing and shoving, but Jimmy B. was quickly carted off and when Jimmy showed no further tendencies to shout at the ceiling, the line continued again. Behind the counter, Agnes quietly slipped Jimmy an extra helping of hash browns.
Jimmy took his yellow plastic tray and followed Carlton to a corner table. He and Carlton had become friends for reasons that Jimmy failed to understand. Carlton had simply followed Jimmy around until he’d no longer questioned it.
"Do you think you’ll be off restriction by Library Day?" Carlton asked around a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
Jimmy shrugged. He was technically only one frowny face away from having his day trip privileges restored, but if his therapist got word that he’d been shouting at voices again it would be unlikely.
He was not particularly interested in a field trip to the local library anyway. It was there that he first learned that his wife and daughter were dead. Jimmy had to get the news from Google. A car accident. Possibly a mundane, ordinary sort of death. Possibly something far more sinister which the local newspapers didn’t bother to look into. He wasn’t sure which bothered him more. The library made him feel slightly ill now.
If Castiel had known about their deaths, he’d never mentioned it. Not that Castiel ever mentioned anything. Jimmy could, while still possessed, see and hear what Castiel experienced, but he’d never been able to tune in Angel Radio and he’d certainly never been able to understand what went on in Castiel’s mind. (Though sometimes it wasn't that hard to guess when his eyes locked on to a certain person's eyes—or butt—for an implausibly long period of time. He still wasn't sure that Castiel understood what that meant.)
"If not, I could check a book out for you," Carlton offered.
"The Sparrow," Jimmy suggested.
"Never heard of it." Carlton nodded as he spoke. Carlton always nodded. It was, Jimmy felt, one of the most striking things about him. He wondered if anyone had thought to make a note of it in his chart. Nods when saying no. Nods while disagreeing with you. Nods while shrugging. Was there a diagnosis to go with that? If not, maybe they could call it Carlton Syndrome.
Of course, that wasn't how it worked, was it? It would be named for the important person who wrote the paper in the medical journal, not the person who lived it. That's how the world worked. On earth, as it is in heaven.
"The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It's the story of a man of God who volunteers for what he believes to be a noble mission only to be tortured, slandered, and cast aside. I read it years ago. I found it very upsetting at the time because I didn't feel that that was how God worked. It would be interesting to re-read it from my current perspective."
Carlton nodded. "If they don't have it, I'll bring you something with a dragon on the cover."
Jimmy took the final bite of his scrambled eggs. They weren't good eggs exactly, but for institutional food it was adequate and Castiel had left him with an appreciation for food that he would never take for granted again. "That's fine too," he told Carlton, knowing the latter was much more likely anyway.
By the time that Library Day arrived, his frowny-face had expired and Jimmy's name was back on the center board. However, his therapist had heard about the incident in the cafeteria line so there was no chance of his signing off on a day trip.
Jimmy watched from his window on the third floor as the van pulled away. The windows at the hospital were oddly picturesque—tall, narrow, leaded windows with "decorative" muntins that, only upon closer examination, proved to be solid iron. Many people never noticed that the windows, effectively, had bars on them.
The day was gray and damp. It had rained earlier and seemed likely to do so again. It was chilly for a summer day and Jimmy felt a strange tug of nostalgia for autumns past. Time was contradictory. Autumn was a lifetime away, not a single leaf had yet turned, but it felt like it would be tomorrow. He was filled with a craving for hot apple cider and pumpkin bread. And pie. He supposed that even here they would serve pie, pumpkin if nothing else, though he thought wistfully of pecan or just classic apple like Dean liked.
He shook off the thought and paced the room. He was being ridiculous. It was August now, months since Lucifer was trapped in the cage, but months to go before Thanksgiving or Christmas. He could have his holiday freakout when the holidays actually arrived. Not now.
He contemplated curling back up in bed. He wasn't tired, but he had nothing left to read and didn't feel up to the common room.
It was at that point that his roommate Rick stomped into the room in a whirlwind of obscenities. "That fucking dick Dave! He's such a fucking dick! Fucking Dave!"
Jimmy nearly asked, "Which Dave?" but realized that would only prolong a conversation that he didn't actually care about so instead agreed, "Such a fucking asshole," before adding, "Gotta pee," and excusing himself.
He didn't actually have an urgent need to relieve himself, but emptying his bladder would give him something to do for a few minutes and, moreover, Jimmy still had an odd aversion to lying. If he said he was going to the bathroom, he should at least go there.
The bathroom contained a half dozen toilets and two urinals on one side and three showers beyond an archway on the other. There was also a single tub alongside the showers, but it was uncurtained and Jimmy hadn't ever seen anyone use it. For a population that included more than one person with indecent exposure on their record, the ward was unusually modest...or possibly just paranoid.
Above, large pipes ran along the ceiling. Jimmy couldn't help but feel that they were just begging for a noose to be slung over one of the larger ones. He wondered why the hospital hadn't thought to drop in a suspended ceiling to at least hide them from sight. Jimmy couldn't be the only patient who felt a certain hypnotic call from the plumbing above.
"I have need of your body."
To his credit, Jimmy barely flinched and only got a relatively small splash of urine on the floor.
He sighed and glanced at the stalls, all empty, before responding. "Sam again?"
"There is a battle raging in heaven."
"You don't need my body for that. I imagine a human body would a hindrance in an angelic war."
"There are tasks to be performed on the earthly plane. Your body would facilitate that."
"Should have thought of that before you dumped me here." Jimmy winced at his own choice of words. Dumped. That made it sound as if he had wanted to stay with Castiel and the Winchesters. "Also, 'facilitate' is not the same as 'need'. If I were necessary, you would have said so."
Castiel said nothing more and, after a few moments, Jimmy decided the angel was no longer there. Saying goodbye was a skill Cas had yet to master.
Jimmy zipped up, washed his hands, and headed to the common room. It was large for a living room, small for what Jimmy had imagined a common room would be. The hospital grounds were divided into many buildings. The main building itself had three floors with two wards per floor. Jimmy was on the top floor in MEN III. Forest Glade was not original when it came to naming the wards.
The MEN III common room gave the effect of being small and dorm-like. It felt almost cozy. It reminded him of his college days, from the furniture to the bland religious decorations to the Foosball table in the corner. He poured himself a paper cup of coffee from the urn and headed over to the sofa next to the record player. Joe and Tyrone were playing backgammon at one of the two tables and he offered them a mumbled "hey" in passing.
The record player was on the ancient side, but had already outlived the CD player which, though still working when Jimmy first arrived, had shortly thereafter succumbed to wear and tear and daily abuse. He flipped idly through the box of vinyl albums. It was an odd collection of presumably-donated records. About half were "contemporary" Christian music from the 1970s. Forest Glade was a private Christian hospital, vaguely Protestant though Jimmy had never inquired as to which denomination. The other half were anti-establishment rock (mainly spanning the 1960s through 1980s). Jimmy thought of the categories as music-we're-supposed-to-listen-to and music-they-expect-we-want-to-listen-to.
Dean would have approved of some of the classic rock options. Jimmy considered some of them before deciding to be a cliché and putting on Pink Floyd's The Wall instead. He started with the double album's side three. Joe and Tyrone seemed to approve. There was a skip near the beginning of the last track, clearly a favorite song of patients past, that he'd have to keep an ear out for it. Or not. Sometimes it was interesting to see how long it could repeat before someone else fixed it.
Carlton returned from the library with two paperbacks for Jimmy to read, neither of which were The Sparrow. One, indeed as promised, had a dragon on the cover and was apparently book number four in a series that Jimmy had never read. The other was book number thirteen in another series that Jimmy had also never read, but at least it was a story with which he had a certain...familiarity.
Jimmy thanked Carlton for the books, resisting any comments about his taste in literature, and returned to his room to settle in to read Route 666.
Based on Castiel's reverence for the Winchester Gospels, Jimmy was a bit surprised by Chuck's writing style and he was wholly unprepared for the sex scene. He found himself skimming through it, ears flushed, torn by the conflicting desire to read while averting his gaze. He skipped entire paragraphs only to find the new passage his eye alighted on to be even more graphic than the ones before.
It was a violation. It wasn't just Dean's body revealed to hundreds of anonymous readers, detailed anatomical descriptions that Jimmy had no business knowing about. Dean was exposed heart and soul. The desperate yearning to love and be loved. Had Dean finally found that now with the Braedons?
Jimmy carefully held the book to block his face from Rick's view. His roommate would not let him live it down if he got choked up over a pulp novel like Route 666.
Between meal times (not optional) and movie night (not optional) and activity time (not optional) and social hour (optional, but it involved both pizza and the possible opportunity to make out with Andrea from the WOMEN II ward), it took Jimmy three days to read Route 666. He then went back and re-read certain sections more than once and somewhere around the fourth reading of the sex scene, Jimmy had to admit that he was getting a little more out of it than fond memories for the Winchester boys.
By the next Library Day, Jimmy had earned two more frowny faces. A staff member had caught him and Andrea in the corner during social hour. If it had been Big Dave, or even Hank, they would have gotten off with no worse than a cough and a raised eyebrow, but Morton had strangely puritanical ideas about what grown adults were allowed to do in a Christian hospital. His therapist had followed up with a stern lecture about consent, something that he and Andrea apparently did not legally have the ability to give.
He gave Carlton back the dragon book, which he had finally read only out of boredom, but he claimed to have misplaced the Supernatural book, promising to find it again before Carlton would incur any fines. He wasn't entirely sure why he lied, nor why he was compelled to keep the book out longer, and especially not why he was tempted to permanently lose the book. In one moment, he would have the thought that it was practically noble of him to take Dean's private moment out of public circulation, and in the next moment, he was re-reading the offending passage and fantasizing about what it might have been like if Castiel had ever given in to his vessel's baser urges.
Jimmy was frankly annoyed at being blamed for Castiel's weaker moments. He had never been much of a drinker, or a binge eater for that matter, and he wasn't the one who always stood so close to Dean that he could smell his skin until Jimmy's nether regions began to tingle with the thought that just maybe they were going to finally see some action. And, under the circumstances, that was hardly his fault.
In the end, Jimmy returned the book. He checked out several of the other Carver Edlund books eventually working his way through the entire published canon, though not in anything resembling chronological order.
Nearly a year passed. Patients and staff came and went. Carlton's insurance ran out at which point he was miraculously cured, at least enough for release. Jimmy learned that the question to ask new patients, if he wanted to know how long they'd be sticking around, wasn't their diagnosis or what possible laws they may have broken to get the attention of the American mental health system. It was which insurance plan they were covered under.
A typical stay was 60 to 90 days. The more generous plans covered six months. Many were good for a mere 30 days and a few patients were in and out in no more than 10. The only other patient who had been there longer than Jimmy was also a private pay.
At times, on another patient's discharge day—a patient who was lucky enough to be going home or to a halfway house of some kind—Jimmy would feel envious, trapped by a system that saw no reason to acknowledge any improvement as long as there was money still to be made. At other times, on other patients' discharge days—patients who were being transferred to government institutions or prisons or simply shown the door with directions to the nearest shelter—Jimmy was content to view the ward as an unusually clean college dormitory and be grateful for it.
Jimmy was better. Castiel hadn't spoken to him in months and by those last few times Jimmy had mastered the art of pretending he didn't hear so, as far as the staff knew, he'd been auditory-hallucination-free since before New Year's.
And then one day, about a year in, more or less, time stopped. It was in the cafeteria line again. All murmur of lunatics and the clatter of trays and utensils ceased, which wasn't surprising at all any longer, but then Jimmy realized that no one was even moving. It took a moment for Jimmy to notice that even he wasn't moving.
"I have need of your body."
Second verse, same as the first, Jimmy thought without much feeling.
"I don't have a great deal of time to debate this. State your terms."
Really? Jimmy stared at the large glop of cheeseburger macaroni that was defying gravity by not sliding off the cafeteria lady's serving spoon as it hovered over his tray. Time is something we seem to have a lot of.
"I have no control over time. I have only altered your movement through it."
"And your movement remains linear and steady. I temporarily sped up your mental processes so you can understand me in the very little time we have."
And again Castiel talked about wars and heaven and demons and souls and plagues and Sam and Dean.
"He is praying to me now."
And he's on a case with Sam? Wasn't he supposed to be retired? Happily ever after? What happened?
"I cannot ask him that without a human body."
You can talk to me without a body, Jimmy pointed out.
"You are my vessel," Castiel answered. "Unfortunately, Dean is not."
I don't suppose you could talk him into that. Jimmy was quite confident that the answer was no, but it annoyed him that Castiel didn't even pretend to be considering other options.
Jimmy would have laughed if he could have. Even communicating telepathically, Castiel wouldn't know a rhetorical question if it bit him in the ass.
"I could appear to him in a dream, but that would be time-consuming even if he were sleeping now, which he is not."
The glop of cheeseburger macaroni was noticeably farther down the serving spoon though Jimmy hadn't been able to detect any movement. He wondered if it would fall in slow motion as well or if there would be a moment where it detached and would suddenly fall with a plop as gravity reclaimed its place in the universe.
"Dean is praying to me now," Castiel repeated. "What are your terms?"
Kill me. Just...kill me.
"An angel cannot possess a dead body. It is just one of the differences between demons and angels."
For the record, it's not one of the differences that makes you better.
Castiel did not sound particularly sorry, but it was as close to contrite as Jimmy ever expected Castiel to get.
Jimmy was hypnotized by the macaroni glop. The macaroni had clearly slid beyond the end of the spoon. Only the cheese sauce connected it to the utensil, appearing to hold it in place like a viscous glue rather than whatever it was that the cafeteria "cheese" really was.
Admit you want to bang Dean and I'll agree.
"That was unclear. You'll agree to becoming my vessel again or you'll agree to banging Dean?"
If Jimmy could have moved, he would have burst out laughing there and then. Fuck it, both. Just admit it.
The soundless voice somehow managed to sound confused. "Your terms are that I have sex with Dean?"
No. All I'm asking is that you admit that you want to. I'm tired of staring at his lips while you pretend it doesn't mean anything.
Every second that passed—or perhaps failed to pass was the better description, locked as he was in his slow-motion reality—increased his fear that perhaps Castiel had gone again, leaving him trapped like this forever. Maybe Castiel would come back in "a month" when he'd made it to the end of the cafeteria line and ask to renegotiate terms. Jimmy was about to scream out for Castiel to come back, when the celestial voice returned.
Almost reverently Castiel said, "He is very beautiful. I am not blind to his aesthetic appeal. His soul itself is magnificent. He has a nobility and strength of character that he habitually denies."
He's also rash and stupid and sometimes a bit of a dick. I didn't say you had to worship the guy. Just admit you want to get naked with him.
"Dean would never agree to sexual congress."
Stop debating feasibility. We're just talking about desire. Admit that it's something you want.
"I...it would be presumptuous to...I have no physical body of my own and I couldn't ask you to..."
You can ask me to sacrifice my life for you? Die for you? Kill for you? But you draw the line at asking me to have an orgasm for you?
"You are offering consent to such an act?"
I can't imagine the hell you are going to put me through if I agree to be your vessel again. If I'm going to consent to that, I'd like to make it clear that I also consent to anything pleasant you have the chance of. For the record, I consent to hot baths and the occasional chocolate shake too. Don't deprive me in an attempt to dehumanize yourself.
"I was never human. I do not need to be dehumanized."
The cheese strand connecting the macaroni glop to the spoon was stretched thin. The glop was indeed going to fall in slow motion, now suspended nearly an inch below the spoon.
Is Dean still praying right now? Jimmy asked.
"I could release you. Send your soul to heaven to rejoin your family while I retain the vessel."
You just said you couldn't do that. Angels need live bodies to possess.
"You would technically still be alive. The body and soul are not synonymous. I can disconnect you from yourself, send your soul to heaven and possess your body here on earth."
Now that, Jimmy thought with a mental sigh, sounds like a plan. He was too numb to feel real relief. After all this time, could he really be this close to going back to his family?
He should have just said yes and been done with it. But some stubborn streak that he suspected he'd learned from Castiel, or maybe from Dean, held on for one last moment. Admit it and we have a deal.
"If it were feasible, which it is not..."
Don't hedge. Just say it.
"If it were feasible, I believe that I would very much enjoy experiencing physical intimacy and exchanging orgasms with Dean Winchester."
And I think I'm a little bit sorry that I won't be there for it.
"...bitch doesn't answer," Sam Winchester told his brother. "He's right behind me, isn't he?"
The cheeseburger macaroni plopped onto Jimmy's tray a fraction of a second after Jimmy's tray hit the ground. Agnes screamed. Several patients had their medication adjusted unnecessarily which took months to sort out.
The escape of James Dean was never officially reported. As he had no known criminal record and no relatives came inquiring after him, the hospital administration opted to classify it as a self-discharge and all of the necessary paperwork was properly filled out, if possibly backdated with questionable signatures.
Agnes never returned to Forest Glade. She ended up working in a liquor store where she was robbed at gunpoint twice and still never regretted her career change.