“As you push it up through the soil, I’ll shake your filthy hand.
You may be dead to me, but that don’t mean we can’t be friends.
And now it’s time to get over this, long as it’s clear you understand,
That I will never trust a single thing you say again.
You stole so much from me, and there is nothing left to take;
Save a hard-learned lesson on how to not make the same mistake;
And you may be delirious, but that is something that will fade,
After you confess this mess is all something that you made.”
“How’d you get in here?”
Castiel let his gaze wander to his left just a bit, but then he was focused on Dean, trying to anticipate how the rest of the conversation was going to go. “The angel proofing Bobby put up on the house. He got a few things wrong.”
Dean spared a glance at the windows, but per the usual, he responded with bravado and sarcasm and an inability to admit shortcomings. “Well, it’s too bad we gotta angel proof in the first place, isn’t it?”
Castiel didn’t say anything.
Dean stared him down, unblinking, and slowly got to his feet. “Why are you here?”
Castiel struggled for a moment and then stepped closer, lowering his voice, as if Crowley might hear if he spoke any louder than necessary. “I want you to understand.”
“Oh, believe me, I get it.” Dean didn’t even hesitate, eyes stone cold, and Castiel felt his heart sink. “Blah, blah, Raphael, right?”
“I’m doing this for you, Dean.” Castiel was speaking before the last syllable could fall from Dean’s tongue, his disappointment morphing into something hotter. “I’m doing this because of you.”
Dean snorted and turned away. “Because of me.” He kept walking. “Yeah.” He got to the entrance to the kitchen and leaned against the doorframe. “You gotta be kidding me.”
Castiel felt the heat in his chest flare, the beginning of an anger he suspected would be hard to put out. “You’re the one who taught me that freedom and free will—”
Dean turned on him. “You’re a friggin’ child, you know that?” He closed the distance between them, voice raising, hands gesticulating. “Just because you can do what you want, doesn’t mean that you get to do whatever you want.”
“I know what I’m doing, Dean.” Castiel wasn’t sure why he said that, because Dean clearly wasn’t interested in listening, but he felt an overwhelming need to make Dean understand.
For a moment, Castiel thought it might have worked, too. Dean’s anger seemed to fade, his eyes searching Castiel’s almost frantically. “I’m not gonna logic you, okay? I’m saying don’t, just ‘cause.” He shook his head. “I’m asking you not to. That’s it.”
Castiel felt his own anger fizzle out, but in its place was exasperation. He began to gesture, albeit significantly less intensely than Dean, and shook his head, eyes dropping slightly. “I don’t understand—”
“Look, next to Sam, you and Bobby are the closest things I have to family.”
Castiel lifted his eyes.
“You are like a brother to me.”
It fell off Dean’s tongue so easily it couldn’t have been a lie, and Dean didn’t make declarations like that without thinking them through. Dean had been looking at him the whole time, and his eyes blatantly advertised his honesty. Dean was being sincere… but Castiel had goals; he had things he needed to accomplish.
“So, if I’m asking you not to do something…” Dean shook his head and swallowed, eyes glassy. “You gotta trust me, man.”
Castiel’s gaze slowly dropped, his own response making him feel ill, but he said it nonetheless. “Or what?” He could barely lift his eyes in time to end the question.
Dean looked surprised at first, and then it registered. Shock was replaced with hurt, and hurt was taken over by a mixture of resignation and anger. “Or I’ll have to do what I have to do to stop you.”
Castiel nearly scoffed at the idea, but he couldn’t quite scrounge up the detachment needed. “You can’t, Dean.” Raphael might have been able to kick him into next week, but Dean? “You’re just a man.” He locked eyes with Dean. “I’m an angel.”
Dean met his gaze unwaveringly, and they were right back where they started, cold and unblinking with a bottomless chasm between them. Choices had been made, lines had been drawn.
“I don’t know. I’ve taken some pretty big fish.”
Castiel couldn’t look at Dean. He couldn’t bear the thought of Dean viewing him the same way he had viewed Lilith, and Zachariah, and Uriel, and Lucifer, and Michael; viewing Castiel like an opponent, like a target, like a monster.
“I’m sorry, Dean.”
“Well, I’m sorry, too, then.”
Castiel intended to be gone by the time Dean was finished speaking.
He wasn’t. His feet were still on the ground. He hadn’t flown anywhere.
“Question, Cas.” Dean turned away again and walked back to the kitchen archway, leaning against it, looking more defeated than Castiel had seen him in a long time. “If Bobby intentionally screwed up the angel proofing,” he heaved a sigh, rubbing the back of his head, “did he get it wrong or did he get it right?”
Castiel felt the faintest flicker of fear deep in his stomach. He looked down, but he couldn’t see anything. He looked at the sigils on the window; they were definitely wrong. I don’t understand. He tried to fly again—he even closed his eyes to help him concentrate—but he was grounded.
Dean cleared his throat and turned away from the kitchen, soft green eyes brimming with tears, and that was not like Dean. “Things might work differently in Heaven, but down here, sometimes…”
Castiel felt a spark of fear again, and that time, it stuck. What was Dean trying to accomplish? Even if Castiel couldn’t fly, Dean couldn’t keep him from leaving. Dean could try and get holy oil, but Castiel wouldn’t stand by and let himself be trapped. Besides, even if he did, Dean couldn’t leave Castiel in the middle of the library with a fire burning for however long it took to play the game their way. So, what was Dean going to do? How did he intend to keep Castiel from opening Purgatory?
Most importantly, how was Dean keeping Castiel grounded in the first place?
Castiel looked up when Dean came closer and stopped no more than five feet away.
“Sometimes… your family has to do what’s best for you… even if it isn’t what you want.” Dean’s jaw tightened, and he folded his arms over his chest, looking out the bay window to his right. “Sometimes, when you love someone, in order to help them… you have to hurt them first.”
That sense of fear—it might have been slipping into a panic—cut into Castiel’s chest, and he slowly shook his head. “Dean, you don’t know what you’re getting into. Let me go.”
Dean shook his head and swallowed hard, refusing to look at Castiel. “I can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can, now let me go.”
Castiel saw movement to his right and tensed up when Sam and Bobby entered the room, each carrying an armful of supplies. Some of it Castiel recognized, some of it he didn’t, but all of it made his stomach twist. What are they doing?
Castiel looked back at Dean, speaking rapidly, desperate to make them see reason. “If Raphael wins the war in Heaven, he will free Michael and Lucifer from the Cage. He will start the Apocalypse back up again, and everything you sacrificed—” Castiel looked at Sam, “—all the years you spent in Hell—” he looked back at Dean, “—it will all be for nothing.”
“We’ll figure it out, Cas.” Dean finally tore his gaze away from the window, and he seemed genuinely pained, but there was no sign of surrender in his eyes. “But not with Purgatory.”
“Dean, we can talk about this.” Castiel kept his distance from Sam and Bobby but approached Dean. “I can make you understand. Just stop whatever you’re doing, and—”
Castiel was halted by the sensation of straps across his chest and arms. He moved a leg and found the barrier went to the floor. He pushed on it, but it didn’t give. His blood froze.
“No. No, this—this isn’t possible.” Castiel pushed against the invisible barrier again, panic tearing through him in full force and making up for lost time. “We destroyed everything ever recorded regarding angel traps. We burned the books, we crushed the stones, we melted the charms, we wiped hundreds of memories, and that—that was thousands of years ago.”
Sam set his stuff down on the floor nearby and stood back up, hovering close but giving Castiel more space than Dean. Castiel tried to determine the tactical implication. Dean trusts me more than Sam, even if that trust is nearly non-existent at this point. Is Sam keeping his distance because of a weakness in the barrier?
Sam had been speaking, but Castiel only caught the tail end. “…told me angels weren’t omniscient. Did it really never occur to you that Anna might wait until you weren’t looking and bring us some last-resort, anti-angel resources?”
Dean muttered, his voice rasping. “Never thought we’d have to use them on you, but we kept’em just in case.”
Castiel looked down at the floor. It must be under the rug. He looked back up at Sam. Anna? She—she wouldn’t. He looked at Dean. Yes, she would. She was shrewd, and she loved humanity. She must have done it before she met with me; she suspected I would betray her. He looked back at Sam. What exactly did Anna give them? He looked back at Dean. And why not use holy oil instead?
Castiel shook his head slightly. “Dean… whatever you’re thinking… don’t.” Castiel felt a brief flicker of anger, but it was immediately drowned out by dread. “Don’t go through with this.”
Dean crossed his arms and swallowed hard, a single tear slipping down his cheek before he turned his head to hide it. He took a breath and looked back with drier eyes, throwing the angel’s own words back in his face.
Castiel recoiled at that, immediately turning his gaze to the floor in the hopes of finding some kind of tape or paint or blood. What’s the protocol for an angel trap? He had no idea. How long had it been since he last trained for angel trap procedures? Since anyone trained for angel trap procedures?
“Cas, please.” Dean was earnest; desperate, almost. “Don’t fight.”
Castiel tensed, torn between looking for an escape, analyzing Dean, and watching Sam and Bobby to see what they had begun to do with their collection of ingredients. Just the fact that Dean could hardly stay calm was enough to scare Castiel into watching the process with laser focus. Castiel knew what Dean was capable of, and he knew Dean didn’t so readily bare his emotions, so what could he be planning—planning for Castiel—that was so terrible?
I have to get out. There has to be a way to escape.
“Don’t make this harder than it has to be.” Dean looked at Castiel with agony in his eyes. “We’re helping you, Cas. I know you don’t understand or believe that, but we are. So… please.”
Castiel wasn’t quick enough to keep his temper—his pride—from flaring. “You can’t keep me from fighting Raphael, Dean. This is my war.”
“Not anymore.” Dean didn’t look angry at all, and that was one of the worst parts, second only to the pain that flashed across his face as he spoke. “You’re gonna sit this one out.” He looked sick to his stomach. “You can help with strategy and planning, but no more fighting. No Crowley. No Purgatory.”
Castiel opened his mouth to reply but cut himself off when Sam approached again. Sam was holding something in his hands, though Castiel couldn’t quite make out what it was, and he had the same disturbed, almost nauseous look on his face as Dean.
That sent a chill down Castiel’s spine. Castiel had a special bond with Dean, so he expected Dean to be deeply disturbed by their opposing stances, but to see Sam’s face twisted with the same guilty resignation…
“Dean…” Castiel swallowed, “…what are you going to do?”
Neither Dean nor Sam would look at him.
Castiel looked at Bobby, but all he got was a sympathetic brow crease and silence. Castiel wet his lips and tried to think of something that might appeal to Bobby. Bobby was like a father to Sam and Dean, if Castiel made him understand, maybe he could talk them out of—
Castiel hit the floor, Sam and Dean holding him down in the middle of the angel trap.
“Dean?” Castiel twisted, but Dean put a knee on his arm to hold it down.
Dean couldn’t look Castiel in the eye; couldn’t even look at his face. He just shook his head and began to unbutton Castiel’s shirt, occasionally moving a hand to squeeze Castiel’s shoulder before getting back to work.
“Dean?” Castiel planted his feet on the ground and pushed, arching his back to get some part of himself off the floor. “Sam?”
Sam had Castiel’s other arm pinned, a somber expression etched permanently onto his face, and when Castiel arched, Sam’s only response was to put his knee on Castiel’s thigh and pin him again. Castiel kicked his other leg and twisted, but the two brothers were more than enough to hold him down.
“Sam?” Castiel felt his body spasm—it might have been a shudder, but that sounded so weak, and Castiel wasn’t weak—but Sam and Dean were unmoved. Or, if they were, it wasn’t enough to make them stop.
Somewhere nearby, Bobby began intoning a string of words, and Castiel immediately recognized it as an exorcism. It was ancient, no longer used by humans and very rarely used by angels and demons. It was powerful. It was specific.
It was very, very specific.
No. They couldn’t. They wouldn’t.
Castiel began struggling in earnest. Before, he had been focused on finding an escape, assuming the alternative was some kind of imprisonment. He wasn’t assuming that anymore. He was terrified, and he needed to get out.
“We’re gonna be right here with you, Cas.” Dean did the same thing Sam had, pinning Castiel’s leg with one of his own while his hands found their places on Castiel’s shoulder and forearm. “You’re gonna be okay.”
Castiel shook his head, pushing against them with everything he had. Unfortunately, everything he had didn’t amount to much inside the trap.
“Dean, don’t. Don’t do this.” Castiel watched Sam move, watched as a metal disk covered in sharp, risen designs came into view. “Sam, I swear to you, I didn’t know your soul was missing until after I got you out. I swear. I never—I never would have done that to you. Never. You have to believe me, Sam.”
Sam gave him a sad smile and placed the disk in the center of Castiel’s heaving chest. “It’s not about that, Cas.” He pressed down hard, sharp lines cutting into Castiel’s skin as the exorcism continued overhead. “I am so sorry.”
“Don’t—Dean, don’t do this!” Somewhere in the back of his mind, Castiel realized the process had already begun if he was able to feel such intense betrayal and pain and helplessness. Emotions were hitting him harder than they ever had, relentless in their assault. “Don’t… don’t do this to me… Dean, Sam, don’t.”
Dean screwed his eyes shut and turned his head. “We tried to talk to you, man.”
“I—I’ll stop. I won’t fight Raphael. I won’t work with Crowley.” Castiel jerked violently, crying out in pain as his Grace started to pull away. “I won’t open Purgatory. I promise, Dean.” He clenched his jaw, a rough cry pounding against the backs of his teeth. “Dean! Sam! Stop!’
Sam tossed the disk aside, blood beading along the design it had created, and then he grabbed a small, glass vial. He looked at Castiel for a moment, and then he let go of Castiel’s arm to grab a roll of duct tape.
“You have to stop.” Castiel used his freed arm to grab at the tape roll, but Sam just held it out of Castiel’s reach. So, Castiel grabbed at Dean’s arm, trying to tear it off and further free himself. “You have to stop this now!”
Sam put the vial on Castiel’s chest near the bloody symbol and used the strip of tape to hold it in place. Castiel tried to reach for the vial, tried to keep his recently freed hand out of Sam’s reach, but it was pointless. Sam had two arms and Castiel only had one; the limb was pinned in seconds.
“Take a deep breath, okay?” Sam offered a weak smile. “We’re right here with you.”
Castiel barely noticed, wide eyes locked on the stream of Grace beginning to rise from his cuts, and the resulting pain made him throw his head back with a shout.
“Careful! Careful, don’t hit your head.”
“Dean!” Castiel tried to speak but cut himself off, sucking down several lungfuls of air. “There’s—there’s another way to do this. You don’t—”
“We know, buddy, but we’re not angels.” Dean shook his head, that same, sad haze over his eyes. “If we cut your throat to get your Grace, it might not hurt as much, but you’ll be dead in minutes. We can’t heal you.”
Castiel saw his chest flare, saw his Grace begin to pour out faster, and the already unspeakable pain doubled. Castiel threw his head back again—he was vaguely aware of Dean catching it before it could hit the hardwood—unfamiliar sounds rising in his throat.
“Stop! Stop, I’ll obey! Dean, Sam, I’ll obey, I will, just—” Castiel thrashed again and again, his arm somehow free enough that he could tear at Dean’s shirt, but he was getting weaker with every passing second.
Castiel had always assumed angel traps made angels essentially human—that being cut off from Heaven and carving a banishing sigil into his chest had done the same—but that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t even close.
Being human was so much worse.
It was so much weaker and fleshier and slimier.
“I’ll follow orders, I promise!” Castiel was ashamed of his frantic pleas, but not enough to stop. “I swear, I will, just don’t do this to me!”
Sam exhaled sharply, something like a sigh but sadder and heavier. “Cas, this isn’t about obeying. We’re trying to keep you safe.”
“No, no, no…” Castiel shook his head, his whole body convulsing as a hot, burning pain wound through his gut. “Ahh!” He panted, trying to get air into his lungs, he needed air in his lungs, he needed things, like a human. “I was doing what I had to do!” Why couldn’t he make them understand?
“You’re losing it, man.” Dean put a little more pressure on Castiel’s arm, but the crease in his brow and turn of his lips were painted by concern, sadness, pain. “You’re making deals with the King of Hell, you’re trying to open a portal to Silent Hill…” he didn’t sound mad, he wasn’t mad, so why, why, why, “…and you’re gonna get yourself killed or worse.”
“This is worse!” Castiel arched, but he couldn’t get more than an inch off the floor. “Dean, I’m not going to hurt myself. I won’t. I won’t, just—” He let out another yell, screwing his eyes shut, body slowly getting… wet?
Is this—am I sweating? It’s so hot—it’s—it’s so hot. I don’t understand. I don’t—I don’t—what’s happening? Why is my skin tightening? Or—or my muscles? My body is constricting me. What does that mean? Am I dying? Having a seizure?
“It’s gonna be okay, Cas.” Dean kept one hand behind Castiel’s head, gently thumbing the skin behind Castiel’s ear. “Just take a deep breath, man. We’re right here with you.”
Castiel flinched and tried to grab for Dean’s shirt again. He made contact—awkward and twisted; he didn’t know why he could only use half his arm—but he couldn’t get his hands to grip the way he wanted. Maybe because his muscles were sore? No, not sore, it wasn’t soreness, they just wouldn’t work. Maybe they were torn? Or pulled? He didn’t know. He only knew they—they just—he just—he couldn’t—
“Dean… Sam…” Castiel looked down at himself and saw the stream of Grace thinning out. It was almost gone. It was almost gone. “P—please…” He was begging, and he was mortified, but his fear was greater than his pride. “Please, don’t take my Grace.” Every last piece of ego he had gained since he started working with Crowley was crushed. “You don’t understand, I—I need it. I need my Grace, I… don’t take my Grace… please…”
My eyes are burning, my face is wet, what’s happening, I don’t understand, my body hurts, it won’t move, I can’t move, everything hurts, my eyes are still burning, my vision is blurry, my head is pounding, I’m hot, I’m sweating, I’m soaked, I can’t get enough air, I need more air, help, somebody help, please, please somebody help me, please—
Castiel felt the last strand of his Grace break, as if someone had taken him by the ribs and snapped his sternum in half, and he screamed. It rang in his ears, disjointed and rough and painful, tearing up the walls of his throat like glass. His voice broke almost immediately, the scream dissolving into a mixture of whimpers and cries and shouts, all volumes, all pitches, from one end of his range to the other and back again. He was pulled hard, the world tilted, and something was wrapped around him. His mouth watered, the painful throb throughout his body growing worse, turning into a burn, like every nerve ending in his body was on fire. It hurt to breathe, it hurt where his clothes touched him, it hurt to kneel on the floor, it hurt, and he suddenly found he couldn’t emit any noise due to the pressure in his throat.
I don’t—I don’t understand. I can’t speak. I can’t swallow. It feels like my insides are trying to leave my body. Can they do that? Everything hurts. It hurts, how do I make it stop? How do I—why are my insides trying to come up my throat? Make it stop, make it stop!
“Cas, it’s okay. Stop fighting it.”
For a fraction of a second, there was anger—how dare Dean come within miles of Castiel after doing this to him?—but then his entire body was clenching, and he couldn’t breathe, and he was scared. He wrapped one arm around his stomach, the other pinned between him and Dean, shoe scraping sideways along the carpet as he tried to stay as curled up as possible.
“Cas, it’s okay. You’re gonna throw up, and it’s gonna suck, but it won’t last long unless you keep trying to put it off.” Dean pushed on the back of Castiel’s head, guiding it downward toward a plastic basin, his other hand rubbing Castiel’s back and shoulders. “Just open your mouth and let it happen. Take quick breaths whenever you can, okay?”
Castiel shook his head frantically, but the movement caused enough pain to make his stomach lurch again. No, I don’t—I don’t like this sensation. His head throbbed. Everything around him was dark, and he couldn’t make anything out. I want it to go away. He knew he was on the floor, and he knew he was in pain, but that was it. He couldn’t see Bobby or Sam, and the bottle with his Grace was nowhere in sight. How do I make it go away? He opened his mouth and somehow managed to get out a quiet plea instead of… whatever was trying to come out… his hand burning against his stomach as it tried to rub away the discomfort.
“I’m s-sorry, Dean… please, don’t—” his throat closed up, a hard spasm wrenching his body from the inside, “—make me do this. Please.”
Dean only sighed, rubbing Castiel between the shoulder blades. “Cas, there’s nothing I can do. This isn’t Heaven’s Persuasion or reeducation or whatever else you’re thinking. You’re in a lot of pain, and when that happens to humans, sometimes we gotta throw up.”
Castiel took a deep breath. “De—” He jerked forward, acid coming up his throat. What is that? His body spasmed, every muscle clenching so tightly he couldn’t breathe, and the burning fluid spewed from his mouth. It doesn’t taste like blood. Blood would have been a preferable taste. My stomach hurts. His body kept trying to push out its contents, but Castiel didn’t eat; there was nothing in him to expel except the acid, and it hurt, it hurt in ways he couldn’t describe. I can’t stop shaking. He put a hand on the ground to steady himself, thumbtacks digging into his palm. He couldn’t see through the tears in his eyes. My throat hurts, I can’t breathe, my chest hurts, I can’t breathe, my st—
Acid and spit gathered on his lips, dripping from his open mouth but no longer forcing its way out. His body tensed, as if it were about to expel again, but nothing came out. He gasped down air and blinked to clear away the tears. Something is coming from my nose. He shuddered when something soft rubbed against his face; he felt cleaner when it was gone, but there was a tingling, a stinging left behind. He tried to rub it away, but that only made the sensation worse. His hands were shaking so badly.
“There we go. You’re alright, buddy.”
Castiel tensed, fire surging through his core. I—I’m alright? I’m angry. I’m furious. I’m—this is wrong and unfair, and they are—they are overstepping their boundaries! I don’t deserve this. I was helping them, I was saving them, and I— He screwed his eyes shut and collapsed against Dean, shaking despite every attempt he made to stop. I’m scared. I’m so scared. I’m scared like I’ve never been before. I don’t understand, how can it—how can it make my whole body feel as though I’ve been struck by lightning? It’s just—it’s just fear, it’s not supposed to—to choke me and—and debilitate me this way. Is this what human fear is like? Is this what happens to them when they’re attacked? Or confused? How do they—how do they manage to fight and run and—and function when this… this thing is happening to them? Does it—does it get worse than this? I don’t… I’m scared. I—I’m scared, I’m so scared, I’m—
“I know, buddy.” Dean whispered soft words in his ear, and then a hand was rubbing his side, where the muscles were aching for reasons he didn’t understand. “Come on, get up. Let’s get you on the couch.”
Did I speak out loud? Or was I just painfully obvious? Castiel let himself be pulled up and carried to the couch. Let? I’m not letting anything, I have no choice, I’m… I’m completely… helpless. His fear came back full force. What’s happening to me?
“You gotta keep breathing, Cas. Come on, nice and slow.”
Castiel felt the couch underneath him, pinpricks covering the entire back half of his body, and panic shot through him. There was something behind, beneath, and beside him, and Dean was standing in front of him. He was used to open air, used to escaping confined spaces at any given moment, and the idea that Dean could hold him down again—
Castiel rolled out of the way in the only direction he could, staggering to his feet and stumbling sideways. His vision darkened for a moment, head throbbing, and his hand flew out to grab whatever was nearby, which happened to be a bookshelf. Then Castiel could see Dean in front of him again, holding out his hands.
“Cas, don’t. You can’t win, so don’t—”
“I know hand-to-hand combat, Dean. Being an angel doesn’t mean I don’t have to fight with my hands at times.” Though it wasn’t common, and hand-to-hand had never been his strong suit, and he was terrified. “I can still fight you.”
Dean gave Castiel a hard look, spreading his hands in a display of incredulousness more than an attempt to calm. “Oh, really? You think fighting as a human is going to be the same just because it’s the same moves?”
Castiel tried to catch his breath as he stood, his stomach twisting uncomfortably, but he never let his gaze waver. His new body was different, but he had been possessing a human vessel long enough to know how their bodies moved. He could fight. He could.
“Do you know how much force to use? Do you know any blocking moves?” Dean started to raise his voice, progressively more agitated. “Man, last time I punched you, I think I broke my knuckles. That’s not gonna happen this time. Do you know what it’ll feel like? Think it’ll be painful enough to distract you, or can you can focus long enough to strike back?”
Castiel took a step back when Dean moved forward, and though he silently berated himself for it, he couldn’t find it in himself to reclaim the surrendered ground.
“Do you know how to get your bearings after a blow to the head? You’re already out of breath, and once you start fighting, you’ll be exhausted. You ever try to fight with limited energy and the need to breathe?”
Castiel looked down at his hands, at the way they trembled and looked paler than he recalled, and then looked back up at Dean. Castiel breathed heavily through his nose, clenching his jaw, struggling to come to a decision about what he should do. He couldn’t think. His brain kept malfunctioning. Everything was rushing and pounding and… and he didn’t understand. It was a mess. Everything was a mess.
“Cas…” Dean pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh. “You’re shaking, man. Just… come sit down.” He locked eyes with Castiel and lowered his voice. “Please, Cas.”
Castiel slowly dropped his hands, opening his mouth but finding he had nothing to say. He just wanted air. His stomach twisted again, and the room started to tilt in front of him.
Castiel took a few steps forward and collapsed onto the sofa, clutching at the armrest and giving Dean as dirty a look as he could manage. “Dean…” He grit his teeth. “Give me… my Grace back… now.”
“Not a chance.” Dean folded his arms over his chest just as Sam walked through the doorway behind him.
Castiel briefly glanced at Sam, but then his gaze was right back on Dean. “You had no right to take it, Dean. Give it b—”
“No right?” Dean stiffened. “No right?” Just like that, every trace of concern was gone, drowned out in a flash flood of anger. “You’ve got no right to open Purgatory! Last time I checked, that’s not angel jurisdiction!”
Castiel ground his teeth together, growling low in his throat. “And who taught me to step outside my jurisdiction?”
Dean ran his hands through his hair, frustrated but also… torn, it seemed. “You really are a child, aren’t you?” He put his hands on his hips. “You’re unbelievable. You—”
“Dean.” Sam placed a hand on Dean’s shoulder and spoke softly. “Maybe you should go take a walk.”
Dean glared at Castiel for a long time, working his jaw as he considered, but he ultimately stormed out through the kitchen to the front door. It slammed shut behind him, and Castiel looked at Sam, opening his mouth to repeat his demand.
“Don’t.” Sam held up a finger, eyebrow arching slightly as he adapted a scolding tone of voice. “You know what you did, and you aren’t getting your Grace back, so stop asking.”
Castiel glared and clenched his fists, but he couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t do anything, and that was the worst part. He couldn’t fly off, he couldn’t threaten, he couldn’t force—even when cut off from Heaven, Castiel could have taken what he wanted from almost any human. He was still stronger and faster than the majority of the human race.
“How’s your stomach?”
Castiel glared, lips pulled back. “It hurts.”
Sam was utterly unaffected. “What kind of hurt?” His voice was simple and soft. “Do you feel like you’re going to throw up again?”
Castiel’s anger wavered, a helpless frustration overtaking the indignant rage. “I…” He shook his head. “I don’t think so. I don’t—” His anger wavered a little more, a slight slouch trying to pull on his shoulders. “I don’t know.” Thankfully, his nerves were calming down, and when the slouch pulled his jacket tight across his shoulders, it wasn’t terribly painful.
“That’s okay.” Sam got up and moved the trash can a little closer. “If you’re gonna be sick, your mouth will water, and you’ll usually feel it in your throat.” He crouched down again, reaching out to touch the symbol carved into Castiel’s chest.
“Don’t.” Castiel jerked back and smacked Sam’s hand away.
Sam remained completely calm, but he wasn’t ready to back down. “We have to get it cleaned and bandaged, or it’ll get infected. I just want to—”
“It doesn’t need to be cleaned,” Castiel snapped, feeling a sharp twist in his gut. “It’s fine.”
Sam gently rested his hand on Castiel’s forearm, the epitome of patience. “Castiel, you need to trust me on this. You aren’t used to being human.”
“It doesn’t need to be cleaned, Sam.” Castiel sucked air through his teeth, eyes burning. “It’s—it’s fine. It’s fine.” He blinked rapidly, lifting his head enough to see Sam’s sympathetic smile.
“Castiel.” Sam gave the arm he was holding a gentle squeeze. “You’re gonna be okay.”
Castiel sucked down another breath, an uncomfortable pressure building in his chest. He swallowed, finding it harder to do than before, and curled in on himself. “What’s—” He swallowed, taking another breath as moisture spilled onto his cheeks. “What’s happening to me?”
“You’re scared. Upset. Hurt.” Sam stood halfway up and eased onto the couch next to Castiel. “It’s okay, Cas. It’s normal.” He pulled Castiel a little closer, wrapping one arm around his shoulders. “It’s okay.”
Castiel shuddered as his chest spasmed. “It doesn’t feel okay, Sam.” His voice was tight, struggling to make it out of constricted throat. “I w-want my Grace back.”
“Castiel…” Sam’s tone was warning, his threat unspoken.
“I don’t like this, Sam. I don’t—” Castiel shuddered again. “Something’s wrong.”
Sam put a hand to the back of Castiel’s head and pulled it against his chest, gently thumbing the sweaty temple. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, I—” Castiel shook his head again. “There’s something in me. My stomach is twisting, and there’s this—this thumping in my chest and my head. It’s—it’s hard to breathe, and—”
“I told you, Cas, you’re scared.”
Castiel choked on some kind of noise trying to force its way out, hot tears rolling down his cheeks, facial muscles twisting into unfamiliar patterns. “No, it’s—it’s not my thoughts, it’s not a feeling. It’s physical, it’s something—something is in me, Sam!”
“Shh,” Sam hushed him, rubbing his back, not seeming to notice when Castiel tensed under the painful ministrations. “Castiel, emotions are physical for humans. We can get sick from grief and guilt and stress. We can get high on happiness and love.” He ran a hand through Castiel’s hair, and on one hand, it was pleasant, but on another, it felt like Sam was pulling each, individual strand. “Emotions aren’t just ideas or premonitions, they’re something we have a reaction to.”
Castiel shook his head rapidly. “I don’t like them. I don’t—I want my Grace. My Grace can turn this off. I want it turned off.”
“I don’t like this, Sam!” Castiel started to pant between words, an uneasy lightness washing over his head as the edges of his vision lost some of its color. “I don’t like how it feels. I don’t—”
“Castiel, listen to me.” Sam turned them both and took Castiel’s face in his hands, speaking slowly and clearly. “You need to calm down. You are fine. Everything is fine.”
Castiel gasped for air, trying to shake his head, frantic.
“Yes, it really is.” Sam nodded emphatically. “Listen, one of the first things humans have to learn is that what we feel and what we see aren’t always accurate.” Sam turned himself sideways and scooted backward, laying back against the arm of the couch and pulling Castiel toward himself. “You know, it takes babies a while to develop object permanency. They cry when they can’t see their parents because they believe that when they can’t see something, it ceases to exist.”
Castiel resisted, but his struggles didn’t last long. He would either be in pain close to Sam or in pain away from Sam. With his skin so sensitive, there was no reprieve to be had by sticking to non-human contact.
“They learn as they grow when to trust their eyes and when to trust what they know.” Sam pulled Castiel down on top of him and draped one arm over Castiel’s back. “Feelings are the same. You feel scared, and you feel panicked, but that doesn’t mean you’re in danger. It doesn’t mean what’s happening to you is bad.”
Castiel took a few deep breaths, but it wasn’t long before he was panting again, struggling to keep the thundering noise in his head from obstructing Sam’s words. He was sweating and shaking—it wasn’t even hot, it was cold, that didn’t make any sense—his body trying in vain to curl up for no perceivable reason. There was nothing to protect his internal organs from, and no small space he had to fit in, his body just kept trying to get smaller. Sam was stroking his hair, and it hurt, but not enough that Castiel wanted it to stop; meanwhile, the rest of his body just wouldn’t stop aching.
“You’re okay, Castiel. You’re okay.” Sam moved Castiel’s head to the left-hand side of his chest and pressed it down. “Here, listen to my heartbeat. Focus on that, focus on my breathing. Relax.”
Castiel screwed his eyes shut, feet digging into the couch cushions, body pressed tightly against Sam as he tried to do as he was told. He ignored the pins and needles sensation in his arms, legs, and chest. He could hear the steady thrumming right next to his head—so calm and soothing compared to the beat coming from inside his own body—and a few seconds after Sam stopped speaking, there was a slow inhale to listen to as well. Roughly two seconds passed, and then Sam exhaled, followed by a slightly shorter pause and another inhale.
I’m okay. Sam said I’m okay. This house is heavily warded, and Dean is nearby, and so is Bobby, and they can protect me. I’m okay. I’m safe.
But he was human. He couldn’t feel his wings, couldn’t hear his brothers and sisters, couldn’t access his home. He was tired and cold and hurt, and with the stress of the civil war and sting of betrayal lingering in his subconscious, it didn’t seem to matter that he wasn’t panicking anymore. His chest ached, and his eyes still burned, and he felt… sad, he supposed. He felt lonely. He felt fear, though it was less primal and more… subdued and cautious… a trepidatious uncertainty of the future.
Castiel was surprised when a burst of air broke through his lips along with a soft, whimpering sound. He was even more surprised when the sound repeated… and then repeated again. He was sobbing. Not an uncontrollable accumulation of saline in his eyes, but actual… crying. His lips were pulled back, tears were rolling down his cheeks, his shoulders were jerking, little gasps and cries were breaking the silence, his face was hot, his nose was starting to leak, his chest was tight and burning, his throat was closing up, and he was… well, he was crying.
Castiel was crying.
Castiel startled when something soft came down over both of them, but Sam was quick to wrap it around his shoulders, so it was unlikely to be dangerous. Besides, it was so soft… and warm… and his nerves weren’t so agitated that its faint contact hurt… and it made him feel safer… happier, somehow…
Someone took Castiel’s shoes off, dropping them to the floor, and then the soft thing—a blanket, most likely, now that he thought about it—was wrapped tightly around both their legs. Castiel winced at the pain but didn’t complain.
“Thanks, Bobby,” Sam whispered, leaning forward slightly and taking Castiel with him.
Castiel slowly opened his eyes, barely able to make out a bottle of water with a straw in front of his face. He didn’t really think about it, he just opened his mouth when it moved toward him, sniffling in between swallows as he sucked on the tube. He could feel Sam’s hand on his back, rubbing slowly and gently, easing his body into a state of drowsy comfort.
“Sam…” Castiel lifted his mouth off the straw and nestled down in the curve of Sam’s body, shivering. “Cold. M’very… very cold.”
“Hmm…” Sam pressed the back of his hand to Castiel’s forehead and then to his neck. “You feel pretty warm. You might be running a fever.”
Castiel shifted slightly to free up one of his arms, lifting his finger to his mouth but stopping halfway with a defeated whimper. He couldn’t measure temperature with his fingers anymore. He couldn’t do anything anymore.
No, but he didn’t want to explain, so he nodded his head and curled up again.
“Bobby, would you get me a thermometer?”
Bobby grunted, and then heavy footsteps sounded in the general direction of the bathroom.
Castiel could still hear Sam’s heart thrumming under his head, and he kept himself pressed tightly to the source of the sound. He tried to remind himself that he had fallen for humanity—that they weren’t completely useless, that his body wasn’t a ticking timebomb waiting to falling apart—but all he could think was how insignificant they all seemed in the grander scheme of things.
“You can’t, Dean. You’re just a man. I’m an angel.”
But who was lying on the couch with tears on his face?
Castiel blinked his eyes open and tried to pay attention as Sam maneuvered a plastic stick into Castiel’s mouth.
“Keep it under your tongue,” Sam instructed gently.
Castiel laid very still and did as he was told, screwing his eyes shut as he tried to push out the human sensations of panic and confusion. Why would they ever want to be without orders and direction when uncertainty was so paralyzing?
“Yeah, you’ve got a fever. Just a low one, though. Nothing to worry about.” Sam's voice floated from somewhere overhead, the thermometer sliding from Castiel’s mouth, and Bobby draped another blanket over the two of them. “You look tired. Just relax and see if your body wants to sleep.”
Castiel blinked sluggishly, moving his head a little and making himself comfortable on top of Sam. His eyes drifted shut, and he let out a little sigh, hoping he was tired enough for sleep to come to him without him having to really try. He licked his lips, wondering if he would be allowed to have more water, and something told him hunger, while secondary at the moment, would be waiting for him when he woke up.
“How is he?” Dean’s voice floated over from somewhere nearby.
“Better.” Sam gently rubbed Castiel's back as he spoke. “Don't be too mad at him, Dean. He's new at this… free will thing.”
Castiel didn't have the strength to open his eyes, but even if he could, he wasn’t sure he wanted to see the look on Dean’s face.
“Yeah, well… we stopped him. Just gotta keep him safe until we sort this Purgatory thing out… and then we can talk free will.”
Castiel didn't hear much after that, darkness closing in on him and dragging him down to the comatose state humans called sleep.
“Rise and shine, Sleepin’ Beauty.”
Castiel felt something press against his shoulder, aggravating the ache in his neck he had been half-consciously ignoring for about twenty minutes. He slowly opened his eyes, his brain putting chunks of information in a line one after the other. It was entirely different from the elegant, interwoven trains of thought he was used to running.
“Hn.” Castiel rubbed his eye and lifted his head from the couch cushions, grunting at the subsequent pain in his neck and shoulders. “Ow…”
“We tried moving you, but you kept rolling back into weird positions.” It was Bobby, his gruff voice emanating from the flannel-and-denim-clad body in front of Castiel’s face. “We gave up after a while.”
Castiel squinted and tilted his head back to look at Bobby’s face, confused and steadily growing more frightened. His body felt odd—achy in some places, tingly in others, almost numb in a couple spots—but it was his mind that bothered him. It felt so… empty. He was used to directing a thousand different thought trains at once, taking in his surroundings as a whole and dissecting the information into smaller pieces so quickly he didn’t even realize he was doing it.
But lying on the couch, he found information came to him in odd, disjointed blocks. He smelled something good. Coffee? Bobby was staring at him, probably waiting for a response of some kind. It was daytime. There was an odd sense of security in the familiarity of the room, its smells and features. His shoes were gone. So was his coat. It was sunny out. That potential coffee smelled really good.
Castiel blinked again and stared up at Bobby with dumbfounded eyes. “Uh, yes. I am…” he looked down at himself, at his body, poking his own stomach and ribcage a few times, “…awake.” His chest had a bandage taped to it, probably to cover the extraction sigil. They must have cleaned it while he was sleeping.
Bobby snorted. “Yeah, no kidding.” He held out a steaming mug of dark liquid, confirming Castiel’s earlier theory about the presence of coffee. “Here. It’s an acquired taste, but it’ll wake you up.”
Castiel blinked again and started to shift on the couch, watching the coffee. He pulled himself into a sitting position, keeping the blankets wrapped around his legs, and reached his hands out to accept the beverage.
“Thank you,” Castiel said quietly, surprised by the hoarseness of his own voice. “How long was I unconscious?”
Bobby looked at the clock on the wall. “Twelve hours, give or take.”
Castiel’s face twisted up with confusion, eyes warily examining the coffee in his cup. He liked the way the ceramic was warm—hot, really, though not uncomfortably so—against his palms. “Isn’t that… abnormally long?”
“You had a rough night.” Bobby dismissed the concern with a shrug. “We figured your body needed the rest.”
My body. Right. My… body.
Not his vessel. His body. Not a container he could leave, if he so chose, but a physical manifestation of who he was. He wasn’t in his body, he was his body. His body was him.
Castiel brought the mug to his lips and took a sip, startled by the temperature and the bitter tang of the liquid on his tongue. He screwed up his face in disgust, looking around in a moment of confusion before he opted to place the coffee cup on the floor in front of him.
“I will try again when it’s cooler.” Because temperature mattered. Because he could be burned. “But it’s rather bitter. Is it… supposed to be that way?” Because he didn’t know how anything was supposed to be, only that he didn’t like it.
Bobby smiled slightly and nodded, seemingly amused. “Take your time. Not like there’s something you gotta rush off and do, I just didn’t want you sleeping all day long. Won’t be able to sleep tonight if you do that.”
Castiel swallowed and nodded his head a few times, still confused and disoriented, as Bobby ambled back into the kitchen.
“Sam and Dean had to leave. Something about Dean’s girl and her little boy.”
“It was probably Crowley.” It came out before Castiel could even think to stop it. “He needs me to open Purgatory, and Dean is interfering.” Castiel narrowed his eyes, tilting his head up slightly to look at Bobby. “If Dean had just minded his own business, Crowley would have left them alone.”
“You are his business,” was the rough reply. “We never thought Crowley would go after them to get you back, but even if we had, Dean wouldn’t have done anything different with you.” Bobby shrugged his shoulders and sipped his own cup of coffee, looking out the window through the corrected sigils. “Would have brought them here and put them in the panic room to keep them safe, but—”
“How does that even make any sense?” Castiel’s words came out harder than he intended, but it wasn’t as if they incorrectly represented his anger. “If I were truly that important to him, he wouldn’t have done this to me.”
“You idjit.” Bobby looked back at Castiel, disapproval and frustration on his face. “He did this—we did this—because we care about you. Because you and your thick head are a part of this family, and you shot off the reservation like a bat outta Hell.”
Castiel buffered for a moment, but the analogy didn’t really matter. It wasn’t part of the big picture. “This is not how you treat someone you care about,” he growled.
“This is exactly how you treat someone you care about.” Bobby shook his head and huffed out a sigh, lifting his hat to scratch at his head before putting it back in place. “This is what humans call an intervention. Consider this your rehabilitation.”
“I don’t need rehabilitation!” Castiel was surprised at how much of his anger got into his voice. “You do not get to decide what’s best for me.”
“Yeah, actually, we do.” Bobby took another gulp of coffee. “There are some choices you make for yourself, and there are some you don’t. If you were an alcoholic, we’d be tearing the bottle away from you no matter how much you hated us, or how much it hurt, or how much you thought you needed it. It’s up to you whether you let it help you, and it’s up to you whether or not you get better, but it’s not up to you that you’re getting the opportunity.”
Castiel grit his teeth, and he could feel tears springing up in his eyes. He had to get more control over his emotions before he tried to fight, or he would make an embarrassing mess of himself. He wasn’t used to things being so… connected. Chemicals released in the brain affected every aspect of his body, and the chemicals were manipulated by a variety of emotions that were often unpredictable.
Before Castiel could figure out what he wanted to say, Bobby lifted his hat and ran his hand over his head. “I’ve got work to do.” He put his hat back on and adjusted it with a little tug. “If you need anything, I’ll be in my garage. Just step outside and holler—I’ll hear you.”
Castiel looked down at the coffee, not lifting his head again until he heard Bobby go out the door. He looked around, but there was nothing in the room that held his attention, nothing in the room that looked interesting enough to take his mind off of Raphael and the war and Purgatory.
Castiel heaved a sigh and sipped the beverage again.
It really isn’t all that bad, I suppose.
Castiel threw his fists against the door to the panic room again, ignoring the bruises steadily spreading over the sides. “Dean!” He pounded again and again, and he kicked it for good measure before tearing away and pacing in circles around the room. “Dean, you need me!”
But Dean wouldn’t listen. Neither would Sam. Neither would Bobby. If they were even in the house still, which Castiel realized they probably weren’t.
They had watched Raphael’s killing spree on the news.
“I could’ve stopped this. I could’ve stopped this!”
They had remained silent but unrepentant while Castiel reemed them.
“Every one of those deaths is on your heads. This is your fault!”
But they wouldn’t listen, and when they saw Raphael walking unsteadily in a clip on TV, they wouldn’t listen to Castiel telling them it was a suicide mission.
So, of course, it made sense that they wouldn’t listen when he told them they could, at the very least, use him as a distraction.
“Dean! Sam!” Castiel ran back at the door and threw his forearms on the metal. “Bobby!” He did it again. “You can’t leave me down here! You can’t beat him, now come back here!”
But they didn’t. They were most likely long gone. Castiel was most likely just screaming at the sky.
Castiel started to pace again, significantly slower than before, and he could feel his eyes starting to water. He hated it. He hated the helplessness. He hated that he couldn’t fly away, couldn’t overpower them, couldn’t kick down the stupid, useless, infuriating slab of metal—
He was hitting the door again.
Castiel dropped his head down and pressed it to the salted metal, moisture still gathering but not quite pushing out past the boundaries of his eyes. I hate this. He didn’t just want to get out, he had to get out. Sam, Dean, and Bobby were going to be dead in a matter of hours, and with no one to let him, he would starve to death. I hate this. Of course, without his human family, and without his Grace, was there any point in staying alive? I hate this, I hate this, I hate this…
Castiel lost count of how many times he hit the door.
“Dean? You’re alive?” Castiel was on his feet asking the question before Dean could get the door to the panic room all the way open. “Is Sam alive? And Bobby? Did you find Raphael? Did anyone get hurt? Did you—”
“We found him.” Dean licked his upper lip, clearing away a smudge of blood, and a closer inspection revealed a bruised browbone and swollen cheek. “Caught him trying to put the souls back.”
Castiel crinkled his brow, tilting his head in confusion. “What? No, that doesn’t...” He trailed off, shaking his head. “He was putting them back?”
Dean looked at him with hollow eyes, and there was something profoundly angry hidden behind the veil of indifference. Something else was there, too, hidden in the shades of green, but it was unknown to Castiel.
“He swallowed something called the Leviathan when he took the souls.” Dean pointed to the ground between them, gesticulating in tight, sporadic movements. “Between the power overload and those nightmares from monster Hell, he was being torn apart. He didn’t have a choice. He had to put them back.”
Castiel stared, more confused than ever, but as the words sank in, he started to understand why Dean was angry. He watched Dean move, watched the stiff way he jerked his hands around as he spoke, like if he didn’t control every muscle in his arms, he would lash out and start throwing objects or punches. Castiel watched the thin sheen of tears forming over the haunted, passionate eyes.
“Raphael was an archangel, Cas!” Dean sucked in a little breath before he continued. “Imagine what it would have done to you. You wouldn’t even have left behind a body!”
Castiel swallowed hard, struggling to process the onslaught of information with his human brain. “I…” His mouth opened and closed in silence as he struggled to find words. “Raphael is dead?”
Dean snorted, eyes progressively glassier, and braced one arm against the doorway. “Yeah, Cas. Yeah, he’s dead. He’s very dead. He put the souls back, the Leviathan held on, they took control of him… and he walked into a lake, and started floating a few minutes later. We don’t know where the Leviathan went.”
Castiel looked down at the floor, examining his feet, trying to think. Raphael is dead? He was killed by the souls? Or… the Leviathan? He looked back up, something frantic washing over him as he thought about the main reason Raphael wanted the power in the first place.
“Dean, what did he do while he had the souls?” Castiel wet his lips and quick corrected himself. “In Heaven, I mean. We know what he did on Earth, but—but once he had that power, do you know what he did? Did he say anything?”
Dean creased his brow and shook his head, something like sympathy taking over his features. “He killed thousands of angels, Cas.”
Castiel felt the air punch out of his lungs. He felt like he’d been stabbed. “Are you—are you sure?”
“He’s the one who told us. He bragged about it.” Dean shook his head again. “We have no reason not to believe him.” He softened then. “I’m sorry, Cas.”
Castiel took a few steps to the right and slowly sank back onto his cot, staring blankly at the floor, picturing the faces and colors and wavelengths of his brothers and sisters. He knew who had supported him, and he knew who had been in his unit, and he knew they were very likely dead. Thousands? Thousands? It couldn’t have been that many that were willing to follow him. There had to be those who switched sides when they saw Raphael had won. There were always followers who weren’t truly loyal, and there had to be at least some who—
“We’re back for the time being. I’ll leave the door open.”
Castiel didn’t move and didn’t look up from the floor, breathless. How many would I have killed? Even if my intentions were good, how many sided with Raphael? Did he give anyone a chance to change their mind? Would I have? His stomach started to churn, and he rubbed idly at it, tears springing up in his eyes. The Leviathan? They were supposed to be legends… just an old tale woven by Gabriel to scare the new angels… and I could have unleashed them. They would have been my legacy.
Castiel got to his feet suddenly, making his head spin, and he started toward the open door. I have to get out of here. He hadn’t been expecting to leave. He had been expecting Bobby and Sam and Dean to come around, expecting them to apologize, expecting he would forgive them and things could go back to the way they used to be. I was wrong. I was so wrong. They were right to punish me. I almost—I should have listened. But he hadn’t. He had fought them, resented them for punishing an act he believed to be right. I should have listened. They had shown him his fault, they owed him no apology, and things… things would not be going back to the way they were.
Castiel pushed his shoulder into the front door as he turned the knob, stumbling through and stepping out into the cool evening air. I should have trusted them. He looked down at his feet while he walked, arms wrapped around himself. I should have asked Dean for help from the beginning. I should have been honest. His throat closed up, battered boots scuffing the dirt somewhere beyond the blurry veil of tears. I manipulated them once; they showed me free will, and I manipulated them again.
But he couldn’t blame Heaven this time around, could he? No reeducation or brainwashing or thousands of years of ingrained thinking could explain what he had done. It had been his choice—his free will choice—to betray them, to lie to them, to use and manipulate and hurt them.
Castiel reached up to cover his mouth, confused by the contorting muscles in his face. Experience told him he was crying, just like he had that first night his Grace was taken, but he didn’t fully understand why. He felt ashamed. He felt guilty. He didn’t feel sad or scared, and he wasn’t in any physical pain.
Unless… he had hurt himself with his actions? Guilt made his chest ache and stomach churn—that was a kind of pain, wasn’t it? Some sort of secondhand pain; the pain of knowing he had caused pain that wasn’t deserved; the pain of loss and defeat.
Castiel lifted his eyes from his feet and looked around. He was on open road—a half-dirt, half-gravel road—and the scrapyard was shrinking in the distance. He kept going. He didn’t know where he was going, and it probably would have been a good idea to grab his overcoat and a change of clothes, but… he couldn’t face them again.
What have I done?
Never mind what he almost did, what had he actually done? He betrayed the only friends—the only family—he had left. He put thousands of angels in Raphael’s line of fire. He had worked with the King of Hell; willingly worked alongside a conniving, arrogant, self-serving monster who stood for everything Castiel despised.
He became a conniving, arrogant, self-serving monster who stood for everything he despised.
What have I done? What have I done?
Castiel ran his fingers through his hair and hugged himself again, trekking down the road with heavy feet and slouched shoulders. Tears dripped from his chin, cold air stinging the tracks on his cheeks with every gust.
I betrayed them. Sam—Sam actually thought I intentionally took his soul from him. That’s how much trust I destroyed. He thought…
Castiel covered his mouth, choking back a sob. He screwed his eyes shut but was forced to immediately open them when he saw Dean’s face.
“Look me in the eye and tell me you’re not working for Crowley.”
And when Castiel couldn’t, Dean’s face just…
“One drop got through, and it was Eve. And you want to break down the entire dam?”
Castiel clamped a second hand down over his mouth, jumping slightly as a raindrop hit the back of his head.
“I’m thinking a lot of things, Cas!”
Raindrops came faster… time passed… and his thoughts reached no end. There was always another mistake, another rush of guilt, another something waiting for him at the end of his train of thought. So, the train switched tracks and dragged him on to the next station.
“Must be nice, being so sure of yourself.”
I haven’t changed at all. I’m still the arrogant, heartless monster Dean thought I was when he met me. I just decided to follow my own orders instead of someone else’s. I didn’t learn to listen, I didn’t learn to be honest, I didn’t learn to trust, I didn’t—
Castiel buried his face in his arms, legs curled up tightly against his chest. Rain soaked his clothing, the dumpster to his left and the small overhang up above doing little to keep him dry.
What did I do? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
“It's Armageddon, Cas. You need a bigger word than ‘sorry.’”
Castiel let out a yelp when hands closed around his upper arms, whoever had grabbed him shaking him hard. His head snapped up, and he found himself staring into a pair of worried, hazel eyes.
“Cas! What are you doing out here? We’ve been looking for hours!” Sam had to shout over the torrential downpour, already pulling Castiel to his feet. “Come on!”
Castiel blinked rapidly, trying to clear the water from his eyes, and he passively let Sam drag him along. He tucked himself against Sam’s body, shivering from the cold. I made it worse. Again.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, knowing it would go unheard. “I’m so sorry, Sam.”
“Dean! I found him!” Sam waved a hand over his head, looking down the road to the left.
Castiel followed his line of sight and saw Dean coming jogging toward them, just as soaked as they were.
“I’m sorry,” Castiel whispered again.
Sam pushed Castiel forward and grabbed the back door, whipping it open and shoving Castiel in. “Go, go, go!”
Castiel crawled in and startled when he realized Sam was following him, scrambling to get to the other side of the seat to make room.
“What is wrong with you, man?” Dean slammed the driver door shut and shook out his hair. “You just walk off without telling anybody and wind up in a freakin’ alley in the worst thunderstorm of the year?”
“Dean, calm down.” Sam spoke evenly, reaching out to put a hand on Castiel’s shoulder. “It’s been a rough week.”
“I’m sorry,” Castiel whispered again, coughing right afterward. “I didn’t think…”
“Yeah, you’ve been making a habit of that,” Dean snapped, turning heat up to full blast.
“Dean.” Sam hit the back of the headrest. “Knock it off.”
Castiel pressed his lips together, shivering, dripping wet. “I didn’t think it would be a problem.”
“Dean!” Sam moved his hand from Castiel’s shoulder to wrap the arm around the back of Castiel’s neck. “Stop it. Seriously.”
Castiel flinched and ducked his head. I’m causing more trouble. I don’t want them to fight. I want the fighting to stop. I’m so tired of all the fighting.
“Cas,” Sam said softly, pulling Castiel a little closer. “Why didn’t you think it would be a problem?”
Castiel wet his lips and continued to stare at his lap, unable to look Sam in the eyes. “I didn’t find my Grace. I can’t do anything… or hurt anyone… I wasn’t going to cause trouble.”
Sam shook his head. “Cas, we were worried about you. I mean, look at you, you’re soaked. It’s, what, forty-five degrees out there before the wind chill?”
Castiel shivered again, teeth chattering slightly. “I…” He chanced a brief look up at Sam’s face, but he had to look back down right away. “I thought… you wouldn’t want me to…” he struggled to find a way to word himself that didn’t sound as pathetic as he felt, “…be around.”
Sam heaved a sigh. “Oh, Cas…”
Castiel shrank in on himself. “I’m so ashamed of what I’ve done—ashamed of myself. I’m sorry. I—I know I don’t deserve it, but—but if you give me a chance, I’ll find some way to redeem myself. Perhaps—perhaps I could—”
“Cas.” Sam pulled Castiel against him, wrapping both arms around him in a hug. “Cas, we didn’t take your Grace to keep Purgatory shut. We knew Crowley and Raphael—or Crowley and someone—would get together and pick up where you left off. Okay? We did it because we knew if you opened Purgatory, then when things inevitably backfired, you would be the one getting hurt.” He rubbed Castiel’s upper arms. “We had multiple opportunities to kill you. If we were giving up on you, we would have. But you’re family, okay?”
Castiel dropped his head and swallowed a cry. “I’m so sorry, Sam. I’m so sorry, Dean.”
Dean spoke, much softer than before. “We thought you ran off because you were mad. We didn’t realize you…” He sighed. “Cutting you out never even crossed our minds, Cas.”
“Why?” Castiel questioned, his voice raising in volume. “I betrayed both of you; I betrayed your trust and our friendship and—”
“You made a mistake,” Sam admonished gently. “And we forgive you.”
“You thought I took your soul, Sam!” Castiel didn’t mean to yell, it just sort of happened, hot raindrops sliding down his cheeks and mingling with the cold ones. “I made you think that. I made you suspect that of me! That’s not a mistake, that’s—that’s—that’s—”
“That’s a mistake, Cas.” Dean spoke to the rearview mirror, no leniency in his eyes.
Castiel opened his mouth to object, but nothing came out. He didn’t have the words to describe what he had done, and he didn’t have the words to make Dean or Sam understand.
“Come on,” Sam said softly. “Let’s get you back to Bobby’s. You’re freezing.”
Castiel let Sam pull him in closer, ducking his chin down to his chest. “I’m sorry.”
“Cas… please, stop.” Sam squeezed him briefly. “Beating yourself up about this is going to hurt us more than you already have, and I don’t think that’s what you want.”
Castiel shook his head rapidly. “No, never.”
“Then you need to forgive yourself. Not right now, if you’re not ready, but… someday. Hopefully, someday soon.” Sam flashed Castiel a smile.
Castiel stared back, heart thundering in his chest, and after another moment of hesitation, he offered a small nod.
“Let’s go back to Bobby’s.”
Castiel offered another nod, letting Sam pull him into a side-hug.
“Take us home, Dean.”
Castiel looked up from his hot chocolate and stared, eyes locked on the glowing vial in Dean’s hand. His heart leapt in his chest, and there was excitement, but it came with a note of hesitation.
Castiel stared at the vial, and then his eyes wandered to his legs, curled up next to him on the couch. His eyes kept going until he saw the blanket wrapped around Sam’s legs and the book sitting open on his lap. He glanced at Sam’s hot chocolate and questioning look, and then he looked over at Bobby, who was equally confused.
Castiel didn’t answer. He just watched Bobby, who sat behind his desk with a stiff drink, books and papers spread out so he could research something for someone who needed him.
Then Castiel tilted his head back slightly and looked at Dean, standing there in a hoodie and baggy sweatpants, hair still damp from the rainstorm, looking at Castiel expectantly.
Castiel slowly lifted his hand and held it out, letting Dean drop the Grace into his palm. He looked down at the vial, and then he looked up at Dean again, wetting his lips.
“Could I… stay human? Just for tonight?”
For a second, there was confusion, but then Dean huffed out a little laugh and smiled. “Cas,” he said with a grin. “You can be human as long as you want.”
And Castiel smiled.
“Don’t give up, it’s not the end.
There’s hope for every fallen man.
To pick themselves up when they think they can’t,
Because with every passing second comes a second chance.
Don’t give up, it’s not the end.
You’ll get back on your feet again.
Forgiveness can be given when you think it can’t,
Because with every passing second comes a second chance.
Forgiveness can be given when you think it can’t
‘Cause with every passing second comes a second chance.”
- Hope For Every Fallen Man, Relient K