Life in the bunker had quieted down. Almost two months had passed since Amara had finally been defeated, but only a few weeks had passed since Castiel had been freed from the confines of his own vessel and allowed to rule it once more. His grace was healing well; faster than he thought it would, given how mangled and shredded it had been a mere few weeks ago.
He still needed to sleep and sometimes his stomach growled at him – though Dean seemed to be on a mission to feed him whether he was hungry or not, so it wasn't often his stomach went empty anymore.
The break had done them well. Sam no longer had dark circles around his eyes and was smiling more frequently and Dean...well, Dean at least seemed a little less abrasive than normal. He too was beginning to smile more, Castiel had noticed.
He seemed happiest when he was cooking, often wiggling his hips to the music on the radio or singing low under his breath. Castiel spent a lot of time in the kitchen with him, sitting at the table, out of the way, with whatever research or translation work Sam had assigned him. It was difficult, sometimes, to keep his mind on the work instead of letting it wander to more interesting things.
And Dean looking happy and acting silly was infinitely more interesting than the dusty and crumbling tome on the table in front of him at the moment.
Castiel sighed, tearing his eyes away from where the ties of Dean's blue apron were coming undone behind his back, and made himself focus on the text before him.
Latin. He traced the elegant, hand written scrawl with his eyes, wondering how such beautiful writing could hold such boring information. And he knew for a fact that Sam was perfectly capable of reading and therefor translating Latin; it's just that Castiel could do it faster. Or, at least he could when he made an effort to. He glanced over at the thick, spiral bound notebook next to the tome. He'd only managed a page and a half so far.
The old ink, worn off the stiff, brittle paper in some places, sat placidly under his gaze. Those words had nowhere to be, Castiel told himself, they had sat in that book for hundreds of years and would continue to sit there and exist for a hundred more. He thought of closing the book and doing it later but was reluctant to face Sam's unimpressed face. It made him feel guilty, much like his disappointed face or his annoyed face or that face he made when he wanted someone to do something for him.
The pen Castiel had been using had rolled off the edge of the notebook and sat a good foot away on the table.
He eyed it, telling himself to just pick it up and get back to work. Instead he rested his elbow on the tome and rested his chin on his hand with another sigh.
“Sam give you something boring to translate?” Dean asked, glancing over his shoulder.
“A lexicon of obscure creatures in mythology.”
“Yes, especially since I am quite sure two of the three mentioned so far do not exist.” Castiel moved to rub at his eyes. “I am starting to think he is giving me this work just to keep me busy.”
“Well,” Dean said, pausing to lick some spaghetti sauce off a long plastic spoon. He smacked his lips and his head bobbed a little in approval, “You were watching an awful lot of Netflix.”
Castiel leaned back in his chair, resisting the urge to sigh a third time – that seemed a bit excessive – and stared at his pen.
It stared back. Was is possible for a pen to exude passive-aggressive hostility? He frowned at it.
“It was Sam that told me to watch Netflix in the first place. I was only following orders.”
He decided he was going to smite the pen the moment his grace was repaired enough to do so. It probably was already. He let it crackle through his fingers as if the pen could be threatened.
The weight of Dean's gaze drew Castiel's attention more than the movement of him turning from the stove, and he looked up to see the hunter giving him a strange look.
It was a look Dean and Sam both wore sometimes, when Castiel said something they found strange. He never knew what exactly he said to make their face move that way – the way that made their lips part like they wanted to say something and their eyebrows lower right before their eyes did. For a while after that look, they always behaved a little differently. The edges in their voices went soft and the sharpness of their movements slowed.
Dean's face was doing it now and Castiel patiently waited, wondering what he'd said wrong this time.
For a moment longer, Dean's eyes lingered on him, then he turned back to the pot on the stove and stirred.
He was building up his words, Castiel knew, turning them over in his head and rearranging them into whatever shape he needed. Dean took longer to do that than Sam did, but they both did it regardless, soon after their faces moved like Dean's just had.
The dial to turn the burner on and off clicked as Dean lowered the heat.
“You getting hungry yet?” Dean asked gently.
Castiel's lips twitched. His edges had softened already. “Yes.”
The lid went on the pot and Dean moved towards the table, absently wiping his hand on the front of his apron.
Still arranging his words, Castiel thought fondly.
It was only after Dean had pulled out the chair beside him and sat down so that he was facing Castiel, that Dean said what he wanted.
“You know you don't have to do something just because we tell – suggest it, right?”
Castiel frowned, choosing his own words carefully. “Why did you tell me to watch Netflix if you did not want me to watch Netflix?”
Sam had told him to watch Netflix and to heal, so he watched Netflix. He healed. Was still healing. Sam asked him to translate this Latin text, so that was what he was doing. Dean told him to eat, so he ate. Dean had told him to wear his clothes and 'lose the suit', so he had.
Dean's face twitched, like he'd just managed to catch some words he didn't want to let out, and rubbed his fingers against his forehead.
“Did you like watching Netflix for ten hours a day?” Dean asked.
There was a right and wrong answer here, he could tell from Dean's tone of voice.
Castiel actually had to think about it, looking back on the first week and a half after Lucifer had been pried from his body. He remembered laying on Sam's bed, remembered not blinking for hours at a time, remembered how he couldn't remember most of the shows he'd watched, only that there had been sound and colour and something to focus on besides the rips and holes in his grace.
“It, um...it helped. I don't remember a lot of what I watched but it was noise when everything was too quiet. When it got too quiet I could hear the...nothingness.”
Nothingness was the best word he could come up with to describe the missing pieces of his own grace, the absent voices of his brothers and sisters and the gaping chasm that seemed to have made a home in his chest.
“So it helped,” he reiterated.
When he looked up, Dean's face was doing The Thing again and he sighed internally, wondering if maybe it wasn't him that was saying the wrong thing but Dean that wasn't hearing the right thing.
Dean's throat made a dry clicking sound when he swallowed.
“Nothingness?” he echoed. His edges had softened even more, but the lines around his eyes had deepened.
“I'm full of holes,” Castiel supplied unhelpfully. He nearly winced, tried to come up with words to explain himself a little better, but found he suddenly had the desire to do so about as much as he wanted to pick up the pen still sitting by his elbow. He thought about maybe taking a nap, a wave of fatigue washing over him. “Like I've fallen on a bed of nails...and everything is just...leaking out.”
Netflix had helped with that, is what he was been trying to say. But he'd said it twice already and Dean's eyes were still wide and worried. Castiel looked down at the book.
“Is that why Sam keeps asking me to do this? If it is, he should know it doesn't work as well as television did. Though I appreciate the effort he's making.”
When he looked back up, he saw Dean unclench his jaw just enough for his tongue to sneak out and wet his lips.
For a long time neither of them said anything and Castiel kept his mouth closed while Dean stared at him. It was obvious, despite his efforts and true to form, that he'd only managed to make the other man more upset with his attempt to explain himself.
Story of my life, Castiel had once heard Dean say when the Impala wouldn't start one morning. He thought this rather fit the moment, given he seemed to spend half his time trying to make things better and instead made them worse. Perhaps he should just stop talking all together.
Finally, after nearly a full minute, Dean looked away – though just for a moment.
He gave Castiel an unsteady smile and said, “You mind watching the sauce for me so it doesn't burn? I'm gonna go tell Sam that supper is ready.”
Unsure of how watching a pot would keep the contents from burning but determined to do as he was asked all the same, Castiel gave a single nod.
He decided not to mention that the pasta noodles were still sitting on the counter in their unopened box.
“Ok, I'll be right back.”
Dean was standing in the open doorway when he paused and turned, his eyes falling on Castiel once more.
“Er, actually, come here.”
Dean went back to the stove and Castiel heaved himself out of his chair, feeling all of him protest the simple action, and moved to stand beside the hunter.
“Just make sure you stir it every few minutes,” Dean instructed softly, lifting the lid off the pot and using the long spoon to stir the contents. “Like this. Ok?”
The sauce looked a little like congealed blood.
Dean left and Castiel looked back down into the pot. Slightly off centre, a bubble of hot tomato juice – not blood, he firmly told himself – boiled to the surface and popped, spattering the edges of the stainless steel pot.
Blood splashed across his face and he stared up at Dean through bruised eyes, silently pleading for him to fight against the Mark.
With a breath punching from his chest, Castiel stumbled back from the stove a few paces, ruthlessly shoving the memory back down where it belonged. Out of the way.
That still happened sometimes – usually when he was least suspecting it and thought he was safe. Though he had told Sam and Dean both that it had only happened the one time they saw. It had been one of the few times he'd managed to say the right thing.
Right now, he endeavoured to see only tomato sauce when he looked into the pot. But the colour was still too dark for him to really believe it. He picked up the spoon and hesitantly began to stir – gently like Dean had shown him – and his muscles slowly tensed. With every dip of the spoon, he almost expected to see a body part cradled in the plastic the next time he lifted it out. A finger or a tongue or an ear. Somehow, when nothing but slimy chunks of hamburger turned up, he became more and more anxious.
His stomach churned and he dropped the spoon back on the counter with a clatter, attention catching on the drops of blood stretching across the linoleum.
“Not blood,” he said aloud. “Not blood.” Speaking it out loud made it sound that much more ridiculous.
Dean would not put blood on spaghetti -
He had to cut the thought off, his stomach heaving at the image.
He went back to the table and picked up the pen, hands shaking.
The words were still waiting patiently on the paper, in no hurry to distract him, so he sat down and read them himself. Around the edges of the chapped ink, the things he was trying to ignore pressed down on him like the sea on a diver's helmet.
He tapped the pen against the tome's delicate page.
Tap tap tap tap tap
“Imps are considered to be the spawns of the Devil,” he translated aloud, simultaneously writing it down in the note book Sam had given him. His hand was shaking too much to hold the pen properly and his usual swooping and elegant handwriting was jerky and ugly. He wrote quickly all the same, wanting to fill his head with words instead of the memories he'd so painstakingly pushed outside his head. They pressed down on him as he read. “They serve their master by spreading confusing lies. The main weapon of an Imp is fear itself.”
Fear; that choking, suffocating feeling. Quite similar to how it felt when Metatron cut his neck open with an angel blade. He'd felt fear then; he'd been terrified.
The glass was cracking, he realized, and water was leaking in.
He carefully set the pen down and swallowed, telling himself to stay calm even as his heart began pounding against his ribs, frantic like a trapped bird throwing itself at the bars of it's cage. Behind him, the faint sound – no, memory, he corrected himself – of Metatron's soft, sadistic laughter blew over the back of his neck like in icy breeze.
It was quite a terrible feeling, to be aware of the control slipping through your fingers like sand and still be unable to do anything to keep hold of it.
He could smell the harsh, acidic tang of something burning and cold dread cut from his gut to the back of his tongue like a blade opening him up; he jerked in his seat with the force of the sensation and tried to tell himself it wasn't what he thought. It wasn't his feathers burning up as he fell, it was something else, he just couldn't remember what.
Panic. Somewhere in the back of his mind the word rose up. He was panicking.
He'd intended to ask Sam or Dean how to deal with it the last time this had happened, but a good time had never seemed to come up. It was hard to ask them something he knew would make them worried when they'd been smiling so much recently. And, he supposed, he wanted to believe he wouldn't need such knowledge again.
Now he was wishing he'd just asked.
His grace pushed against his skin and he wanted to attack something. He wanted to throw himself at the threat and rip it apart, even though he also knew there was nothing to cut in to. Not unless he wanted to drive his blade through his own brain.
He pushed back from the table, feeling too close to everything in the room. The legs of the chair caught in a grating screech on the floor and the sound tangled with the echo of his own screams, so loud inside his skull that he twitched to clutch at his throat, expecting it to be split wide with grace spilling out.
His grace flared again, hissing and spitting like a wounded animal and he clutched the arm rests so hard the wood cracked ominously.
'I can control this,' he told himself, trying to swallow his heart back down, 'I can...I can control...”
But control was slipping from him faster and faster and with every bit of it that escaped through his fingers, despair and frustration swelled in it's place.
Unfortunately for all of them, that was the moment the brothers chose to walk back in to the kitchen.
“I smell burn – Cas!”
Sam and Dean both lurched in his direction, eyes wide and bodies tense like there was something tangible to fight, but then they stopped short at the same time, hesitating. Arranging their words, trying to decide what to do.
“Cas,” Dean tried again, his voice all rounded edges and gentle give. “Hey, Cas, look at me.”
Dean smiled – a shaky, little thing – when Castiel made his eyes slide over to him obediently. Dean had moved closer, but was still hovering a few feet away; behind him, Sam was an anxious throb of a presence.
“Hey, keep your eyes on me, Cas, ok? Can you tell us what happened?”
Castiel nearly laughed, the hysterical sound pushing up his throat and leaking out the gaping hole in his neck before it could reach his lips. Words would only do the same, so he didn't even bother trying to speak; merely shook his head, the barest twitch from side to side.
His grace clawed at the inside of his skin and needled down into his muscles, making him twitch with the urge to fight. But he held fast, clutched at the arm rests until they splintered.
The burning smell slithered up his nostrils, forcing itself in like a wriggling snake that curled around his brain and lungs and squeezed.
Dean's voice seemed very far away, even though he could see him crouching down beside the chair. A little fuzzy around the edges but there all the same.
“That's ok,” Dean assured him, glancing down at where Castiel was still gripping the ruined arm rests.
Tentatively, he raised his arm and Castiel only realized what he was doing when Dean's large hand settled over his wrist.
Instantly, the hand dissolved into a gleaming shackle and sickly sweet laughter slithered into Castiel's ear.
The chair went skidding backwards across the floor with how hard Castiel shoved it away and both he and Dean scrambled away from each other.
His grace swelled inside him, tearing itself like pulled stitches and Castiel gasped with the pain of it, back hitting the wall. He let himself sink to the floor, breathing harshly with the effort of controlling himself, but when he leaned his head back against the wall, the plaster cracked, a fissure spiking upwards like ice breaking over a lake. Another deep breath and electricity arced between the microwave and coffee maker, blowing them both off the counter in a spray of sparks that had the brothers cursing and jumping out of harms way.
'Get it together!' Castiel told himself in a harsh voice that sounded a lot like Dean.
“Cas, it's ok.” Across the room now, Dean tried to reassure him even as he carefully wiped the look of shock off his face. “It's ok, buddy, just – you gotta calm down, man.”
“You're safe here, Cas,” Sam reminded him gently, urgently. “You're in the bunker, remember? This is the most heavily warded place in North America. You're safe and whatever you think you see or smell or hear...it isn't real.”
Briefly, Dean glanced at his brother, a look of understanding dawning in his eyes. He turned back to Cas, and his movements were a little less tense, his words gone even softer.
“This is like last time, isn't it, Cas?” Dean asked him. “This is like a couple weeks ago when you froze up before we left the bunker.” He wasn't asking anymore.
Sam muttered something, the word worse the only one getting through Castiel's muddled thoughts. He wished he could at least calm his breathing. He was dragging air into his lungs too deep and too fast and it was making his heart race and his head spin. Though at least with his back to the wall he could see that it was just the three of them there and Metatron's gut twisting giggles died away.
Dean was talking to him again and he tried to focus, finally giving in to the urge to make sure the wound in his neck had left with the ghost of the scribe's memory. He didn't care that Sam and Dean's eyes both tracked the movement when he trailed his fingertips over his neck.
“You're fine, Cas,” Dean told him, reaffirming what Castiel had tentatively just confirmed himself. “There's...there's nothing on your neck, you still have your grace. You can feel it, can't you?”
Of course he could feel it, the hell kind of question was -
Yes, of course his grace wasn't leaking out his throat, he could feel it trying to burst through his skin. He'd been worried about how it was raging inside him all this time, how could he possibly be worried about both? In his panic, his mind hadn't made the connection.
“I can see it,” Dean continued. “It's definitely still there, buddy, 'cause your eyes are glowin' like 60 watt bulbs right now.”
It was as if he'd been listing sideways – like a top heavy sail boat rolling in the water – and suddenly someone shoved him upright again. His world slid back into place with a jarring slam, shaking loose pieces of unreal things and scattering them like dead leaves in the wind.
It was a few more minutes before Castiel could get his breathing and heart rate back to normal and with it his grace settled and he could feel it stinging in old places inside him.
He fell back against the wall and he winced.
There was smoke curling over the pot of tomato sauce and he could smell it properly now, the sweet scent of charred tomatoes; how had he ever thought it smelled even close to burning feathers?
Sam quickly moved to the stove and took the pot off the burner. Dean slowly took a few steps towards Castiel, his face carefully arranged into something overly alright and his eyes swimming with worry and fear and a lot of other things Castiel did not want to try and name.
“I'm alright now,” Castiel promised poorly, but the words shook and tumbled out too fast to be true.
“I really don't think you are, Cas,” Sam gently countered. It was obvious he wasn't simply trying to contradict him, the concern shining in his carefully calm eyes was much too genuine for that. “How many times has this happened? It was more than just that one other time wasn't it?”
Castiel lowered his gaze, told himself it wasn't lying if they hadn't asked. But they were asking now, so he minutely shook his head, shame burning in his cheeks.
“How many times?” Dean asked. He looked like he was scared of the answer, but determination had hardened his gaze.
“Um...” He wondered what constituted an episode worth counting. “Two or three? It's not usually this...difficult to control. I can usually...” he sighed, having the sudden urge to come clean. “Sometimes I will see something and it takes me a moment to realize it's not really there. That it's not real. Sometimes it gets stuck there but usually it goes away as soon as I realize. But sometimes I don't realize until it's too late and then I'm already...” he lifted his eyes and shrugged, looking from one brother to the other, willing them to understand without having to actually say it. Shame was still heating his face, and it was making it hard to lasso the right words to explain himself.
Dean stood and offered him a hand, pulling him to his feet when Castiel gratefully took hold.
“Ok, sit down, Cas, I'm going to make some coffee and the three of us are gonna figure this out, ok?”
He pulled Castiel's chair back to the table and Castiel winced when he saw the ruined arm rests, flexing his fingers. Grace and power were no longer coursing through him, but throbbing deep down inside like a sore thumb.
“I'm sorry...about the chair. And the sauce.” He sat down miserably and Sam did the same across the table. “I stirred it like you said but it looked...and then it started to smell like...I – I got distracted -”
“It's ok, man, we got lots more where that came from,” Dean assured him with an easy smile spreading thickly under his troubled eyes. He turned his back and resettled the coffee maker in it's place on the counter, leaving the microwave on the floor by the fridge.
“Cas,” Sam said, drawing his attention. “What did it look like? Was that what started everything?”
He nodded. “It looked like blood. Even though I knew it wasn't.” Looking back on it now it seemed so simple and he felt foolish. “I knew it wasn't.”
Dean's back was still carefully turned and his movements were soft and deliberate. The cupboard hardly made a noise when he grabbed the tin of coffee grounds and closed the door.
“And what did you smell?” Sam asked him, once again pulling his focus back on track.
He stared at the younger brother, the answer lodging in his throat. They wouldn't like it, he knew they wouldn't, and he didn't want to tell them in any case.
“Talking about it can help, Cas,” Sam patiently explained. “It can be easier, if it happens again, to remember it isn't real.”
Castiel took a deep breath. “It smelled like burning feathers.”
There was a clatter over by Dean and Sam's gaze grew even more sympathetic.
Castiel looked down at the table because it was easier. “It wasn't, of course.”
The percolator started rumbling in the silence between the three of them and Castiel gratefully let it. For a long time he had never understood what the term 'awkward silence' meant; now he had a painfully comprehensive understanding of it.
So absorbed was he in pretending not to notice how his cheeks were still hot and how he wanted to sink in to the floor, that he startled quite badly when Dean suddenly pulled out the chair next to him. Of course, both brothers noticed, and of course both their faces did the thing, then Dean was moving slow and purposeful again which was even more humiliating for reasons Castiel didn't understand.
But he bit his tongue when the urge to snap tingled up his throat. It was not their fault he felt like this. It was not their fault they were here to witness him at his lowest, most broken point of existence. They only cared, he told himself, they only wanted to help, and he knew what that meant better than anyone. He knew too, better than anyone, that when you wanted to help and got a slap to the face instead that it cut deep.
So he didn't tell them to leave him the hell alone. He didn't remind them that he still had the power to tear this bunker to the ground. He didn't stand up and grab the table by the legs and shatter it against the wall.
He sat, still and calm – on the outside at least, he wasn't a saint, after all – and let the brothers move gently and talk softly; let them keep their idea that he was this wounded creature that needed to be handled carefully.
He looked up at Dean, making sure the turmoil under his skin didn't show on the outside.
“Man, you have to tell us when this happens next time.”
Castiel knew he didn't catch himself fast enough to keep the flicker of a snarl off his face. He wanted to tell them that he didn't have to tell them anything.
Although, if the way both brothers leaned back in their chairs with a cautious look, the words in his head might have found their way onto his face after all. They shared a wide eyed look and then Sam cleared his throat.
“Look, Cas, we know it's really hard to talk about stuff like this. No one wants to admit they might need some help -”
Castiel pulled a calming breath through his nose and closed his eyes. Help. He did not need help. Especially not from two codependent humans that couldn't even help themselves.
He knew the venomous thoughts were out of line but could not seem to stop thinking them anyway and, with a concerning lack of concern, Castiel realized he was only becoming more agitated. His grace, damaged as it was, was still pumping through him in angry waves and the tingle of adrenaline in his limbs was distracting.
Clearing his throat in what was likely a grossly ineffectual signal to end the conversation, Castiel abruptly stood. He needed to work off some energy because it wasn't going anywhere on it's own. Back when he'd still had access to heaven and been on speaking terms with all his siblings, sparring had been his preferred method of blowing off steam. Of course he no longer had that option, but the bunker had a large weapons room that the brothers had put mats down in for practice purposes.
They let him go, didn't chase after him or demand more words from him, and it helped ease a little of the tension thrumming through his limbs. But under his skin, his injured grace still bucked and heaved with the instinct to fight off a threat – even if the threat was his own muddled mind.
He just needed to blow off some steam, that was all. He just needed to exhaust his body and maybe his grace, just a bit, so that he was too tired to worry about phantoms and echoes looming in the corners of his mind.
The weapons room was large, almost big enough to be called a gymnasium. Through the double doors and to the right, most of the wall was covered with an array of melee weapons – all of which Castiel was much more comfortable wielding than the guns the brothers preferred. The rest of the walls were pretty much bare, save for a few family crests that held no meaning to him and some ornate flags up higher near the ceiling.
He wished, as he ran a critical eye over his weapon choices, that he had someone else to fight. Practising movements and sparring with a hypothetical opponent was nowhere near the kind of strain he needed. Even in his current state, it would take hours to exhaust himself.
He grabbed a long, elegant spear off the wall all the same and took a moment to admire the quality of it. The shaft was a deep red and the spear tip bronze with a fine leather chord hiding the weld point. He fed some of his grace in to it, strengthened the wooden fibers into steel.
Under his feet, the mats were thin and hard but enough to keep from breaking bones against the floor and Castiel easily found his footing, hundreds of millions of years of fighting on different lands and in different bodies letting him adapt instantly to nearly anything.
After all, what good was a weapon that couldn't adapt to it’s environment?
He finally let his grace crackle along his veins and breathed with the release of it. There was nothing here that he could damage.
Well, that was untrue. There was nothing delicate like glass in the room that would shatter under the smallest lashing of his grace, but he could still ruin the building if he set his mind to it. But he did not need to be as careful in here, he could let go a little.
The spear moved easily in his hands, spinning in a perfectly controlled, blurring disk at his side as if he'd done it a hundred times a day, every day for the last year even though the last time he'd held a spear had been nearly eight hundred years ago, in a dusty plain on Egypt's border.
He moved through practiced steps, retracing what he'd been shown all those hundreds of years ago by one of the soldiers who had no idea he was teaching an angel inside his comrade's body. He put force behind it, imagining a faceless enemy at the end of his weapon, remembering the sweltering, dry heat of the desert; remembering the way his vessel had sweat and sweat under the relentless sun burning over their heads; remembered the camaraderie and unity of battle; remembered the sound of feet and hooves battering the ground as one beating heart.
He missed it, he realized as he viciously jabbed at empty air and wished for a face to appear at the end of his spear. He missed the simplicity of taking orders, of cutting down enemies, of being part of something as massive and awesome as the Host of Heaven. He missed being able to proudly say he was a Warrior of God.
But long gone was the time he could say that with pride. He'd uncovered too much truth, he'd pulled back too many scabs and exposed the festering wounds of Heaven's lies, leaking poison in to his brothers and sisters' minds like rotten blood poisons a body. He could no longer take orders and believe them to be just. He could not cut down an enemy without wondering if they'd even done anything wrong.
He was no longer a warrior, he was a wounded soldier that had managed to escape a dictatorship – though not without leaving some important pieces of himself behind.
In a flash of fury at his own misfortune, Castiel let the spear slip through his fingers. It sailed through the air, as straight and true as if it had a mind and mission of it's own, and embedded deep into the wall on the other side of the room with a satisfying thunk.
He hadn't even broken a sweat and he reached up to push his fingers into his hair and tug. The sting of it wasn't enough to distract from the way his grace continued to arc between his nerve endings and twitch through his muscles. He wanted to destroy something. More troubling was, with the way his grace seemed to be heaving and bucking and feeding off itself, he wondered if he might do just that.
But this place, this building, it wasn't his to demolish, no matter how frustrated and restless he felt.
His grace spooled faster, pushing sparks out along his veins.
Dean's voice, so gentle and cautious, sent a filament of agitated power whipping around inside Castiel's chest like a broken wire coil, and he visibly twitched.
In the far corner of the room, one of the lights in the high ceiling popped.
He realized then that physical exertion wasn't going to cut it. He needed to let off some power and he needed to do it soon.
Hauling a breath through his nose, long and steady, did little to help calm his grace and he sighed sharply.
“Ok, man you're really freaking us out, ok?” Dean said, still standing safely in the doorway. Behind him, Sam was hovering anxiously again. “Just...just talk to us. Tell us what's going on -”
“I don't know what's going on!” Castiel snapped before he could stop himself. Over his head, the high ceiling cracked ominously and both brothers' eyes shot up.
It was entirely true. Castiel had never felt quite this out of control before. But then again, he'd also never had emotions and he was learning more and more every day that emotions could do funny things to a person. And it was so much more confusing for him, in a way that Sam and Dean could not understand – though they seemed eager to try – because there was no baseline for Castiel to consult. He was the first. No other angel he'd heard of had fallen as far and as hard as him; willingly turned themselves into this hybrid creature that was half human, half angel. So it was up to him to find out just what these new and intense emotions would do to his grace.
He tried to take a step back from himself; tried to look from the outside in, and felt his mind calm just a little. Just enough to see things logically for a moment.
Humans did this too, when they got angry. They raged and threw things and screamed and destroyed. They just lacked the devastating amount of power to cause any true damage. He, on the other hand, had plenty of it, even wounded as it was. He felt a bit like a caged and injured animal – hackles rising, a growl hanging in the back of his throat, the twitchy, itchy need to lash out at something. It was troubling, given that he knew there was nothing here to hurt him.
But perhaps it was just that he was wounded. Perhaps he just wanted to hurt something back.
The idea held appeal. Too much appeal, and something savage clawed at the back of his mind.
“Cas...Cas. Look at me!”
He turned obediently, a little relieved.
Yes. He wanted to say. Another. Give me another order. Tell me what to do.
His fingers twitched at his sides and the brothers were nothing but a smear of color in front of him.
Tell me to fight. Give me something to kill.
His heart was beating in time with his grace, burning so hotly now that he couldn't even feel his wounds.
“Talk, Cas!” Dean barked. Ordered. He barely sounded frightened at all. “Tell us what's happening!”
Castiel felt his lips pull back over his teeth in a snarl and his true form shifted inside his body, slipping unchecked past the barrier of his skin.
“Give me something to fight.”
His voice shook the walls and the brothers were shielding their eyes.
Sam was backing away even more, babbling something Castiel couldn't decipher, and then disappeared down the hall.
Dean remained stubbornly in the doorway, a shifting mass of colours and human. Mostly green, almost the same shade as his eyes, shifted to deeper browns and reds, and his feet inched out into a wider stance.
“You want something to fight?” Dean grumbled at him. “Fine. Fight me.”
Dean walked over and wrenched the spear from the wall, turning back to face Castiel with more ferocity that was probably available to him.
But, in this instance, Dean was not what Castiel needed. Castiel needed something big, something powerful, something that could match the savagery pumping through his veins.
But he would not disobey a direct order.
When Castiel pulled his blade over, he let it grow long, fed some of his grace back in to it until it was proper sword length, glowing brightly with angelic power, and readied his own stance.
For the briefest of moments, uncertainty flickered across Dean's face and, for the briefest of moments, Castiel greedily drank it in.
Intimidating the enemy was Good Soldier 101.
He growled, letting his grace crackle out from under his boots and spider web across the floor, vaporizing the mats to dust instantly.
Dean's face paled but he readjusted the grip on his spear.
“You just gonna stand there and give me a light show, angel?”
The only reason the spear didn't shatter when Castiel brought his sword down on it was because he'd already infused it with his grace. Unfortunately for Dean, his legs had no such reinforcements, and he crashed to his knees under the strength of Castiel's blow, the spear held in both hands like a bridge over his head.
Castiel pressed his weight into his sword, a stab of twisted delight arcing through him when Dean cursed breathlessly, arms shaking as they gave.
Stop now, something in Castiel's mind warned. Stop now before you hurt him.
The grace pulsing through his sword was eating away at the wood in Dean's hands, slowly charring it.
He told himself he'd just been about to pull back. He told himself he was still in control. He told himself it wasn't the sudden, crushing blow to his side that sent him crashing into the wall six feet away that had just kept him from cleaving Dean right down the middle.
His back hit the concrete wall with crushing and destructive impact. He felt it give and crumble under his back; felt his true form rattle through his vessel's barrier again and groaned when he managed to land on his feet – though the only reason he didn't fall flat on his face was because he drove his sword into the floor and clung to it.
It took a few shakes of his head to get the room to stop spinning and when he looked up, something monstrous was taking up a good portion of it.
It was a conjuration, he could tell right away with how he could see clear through it – through to where Sam was back and pressed against the wall beside Dean with a large book open in his hands.
It was ugly. Something vile and evil that looked like it had slithered out of the darkest pits of Hell and it tickled all the instincts ingrained in Castiel that told him to smite. As it shifted ominously in front of him, nearly ten feet tall, Castiel gathered his grace and raised his sword.
This is what he needed.
The thing snorted and snarled across the room, it’s twenty or so beady little eyes all trained on Castiel. He brought his other hand to the pommel of his sword and split the grace running through it, pulling apart with two shorter, one and a half foot long blades.
A flurry of small attacks was the best way to take out this monstrosity. Quick but deep cuts to each of it’s four legs then go for the head once it was crippled.
As the conjuration tensed Castiel felt his grace answer, hissing and spitting under his skin like sparks. He set his stance, crouched low to the ground and the beast lunged for him.
It sailed through the air towards him, short jaws open wide and crammed with too many teeth, and Castiel slipped beneath it, dragging the edge of his right blade through it’s front leg. It didn’t feel as satisfying as flesh and bone, almost like he was cutting through something with a little more resistance than water, but it howled in rage and stumbled when it hit the ground and that, at least, had dark gratification twisting behind his ribs.
It didn’t bleed either, but there was a gaping wound on the inside of it’s leg and it limped when it turned to face him again, the room behind it shifting and blurring as if he were looking through a prism.
It charged at him again with a roar before it looked even close to prepared and Castiel instinctively rolled out of the way; heard its long claws digging into the floor and carving out grooves in the cement as it caught itself and turned to lunge again.
He nearly made it to his feet but then felt three long teeth sinking in to the calf of his left leg and he twisted around with a snarl, swinging his blade at the closest hunk of flesh he saw and catching the beast across five of it’s eyes. It’s face split open and Castiel could feel the vibrations of it’s enraged howl from where it’s teeth remained stubbornly lodged against the bones in his leg.
It snapped it’s head around and Castiel went flying through the air and hit the wall, the concrete giving under the impact and jarring him more than he’d ever admit. His teeth rattled together and his true form shuddered within his vessel, leaving him dizzy.
He crashed to the floor, one blade still clutched in his fist and the other a few feet away.
The beast was already shuffling and grunting and Castiel pushed himself to his knees quickly, pushing grace into his mangled leg and knitting it crudely back together enough for it to support his weight, and with a flick of his wrist, his blade shot like an arrow through the air and halted the charging monster in it’s tracks.
While it screamed and writhed and clawed at the blade protruding from it’s face, Castiel plucked his other blade from the floor and raced forward.
He savagely ripped the sword from it’s face, imagining the shower of blood that would have followed if it had been real, and let his surging grace explode outward in a controlled shock wave. The beast was knocked off it’s feet and all the weapons showcased on the walls rattled and shook; a few even came off their mounts and clattered to the floor.
Castiel barely noticed. They weren’t important. The only thing that mattered was the threat in front of him and the grace coursing through his veins with righteous fury. This is what he missed. This was his normal. This was his happy place. He was at home in battle.
He brought both blades together over his head just as the beast started to regain it’s senses and drove them down, driving them deep into it’s mangled face.
It merely grunted under the blow, collapsing, stunned. He fed his grace down through his blades and into it’s head, curling it around the conjured brain and bone and muscle like a deadly snare, hooking in barbs of his own light and then ripping it all apart.
The beast’s head exploded, transparent chunks of it flying in every direction and, though not nearly as satisfying as the real thing, Castiel admitted it was much less work to clean up afterwards if there was no blood and gore to scrape off the walls.
And it seemed he had accomplished his goal, for as soon as the conjured threat turned to dust and disappeared, Castiel’s grace recoiled like an elastic band, shrinking down inside him and leaving him exhausted and too drained to even think properly.
He staggered back, expecting to hit the wall and was surprised when Dean was suddenly all around him, holding him up, prying the blade from his hand and passing it off to Sam, guiding him out of the weapons room with gentle words and gentler hands. Always so gentle these days, Castiel thought dazedly. Dean was trying so hard to soften his edges.
His leg ached, he hadn’t healed it properly, and after Dean ordered him to lay down on his bed, he went to work undoing the new scar tissue and rebuilding the muscle and flesh properly while he still had the cognitive ability to do so. He was very tired.
But his thoughts had slowed and that tight feeling in his chest had loosened to the point where he felt like he could breathe again.
“Did you at least get whatever that was out of your system?” Dean gruffly demanded, yanking a heavy blanket over Castiel’s legs.
“For now.” He winced around the sting of re-healing. “I’m sorry, I felt…in danger of losing control if I did not expend some energy. My grace, it seemed to react to my…agitation and the more I failed to control myself the more agitated I became.”
Dean sighed and dropped into the chair at Castiel’s desk, shuffling it closer to the bed. “Trust me when I say I know the feeling. But uh, you know there are ways that you can keep it from building up to that point. Talking to us, for starters. Telling us when something’s bothering you or when something you’re thinking or feeling doesn’t make sense.” Dean rolled his bottom lip between his teeth and looked down at where his hands were hanging between his knees. “I know this stuff is all new to you, Cas, and I know I probably wasn’t the best example to learn about mental health from, but uh…I’m trying to change that. Cause I think it’s time we all started some good habits for a change, you know?”
Dean smile was a cautious, guarded and hopeful little thing and Castiel felt one corner of his mouth turning up.
“That does seem a better idea than what we’ve been doing.”
Dean nodded, visibly relieved in the way his shoulders relaxed and he sat back in his chair. He fixed his eyes intently on Castiel.
“That means you gotta tell us if something like what happened in the kitchen happens again. We might not be able to stop it from happening but we can at least make it easier on you.” He took a moment to stare at and fidget with his hands again. “I hate seeing you hurting, Cas. It…I hate that I can’t make you feel better.”
Something warm and rare spread through the usually empty space behind Castiel’s ribs and he let himself reach out and take one of Dean’s hands. Healthy habits. Communication. Yes, he could do that. He only hoped that Dean could as well.
“I don’t wish to case you pain, Dean, and I wish I could tell you with words just what is wrong with me, but I don’t know and there is nothing for me to consult.” He offered the man a rueful smile, “I am the first to have changed myself so much. Perhaps I should write a book, in case other angels wish to follow my inadvisable path.”
“You are one hell of a trail blazer, Cas, I’ll give you that,” Dean chuckled, and then his grin faded to something more sincere. “But you don’t have to do this part alone, ok? I know you’re the first angel to go through all this – this hybrid situation you’ve got going on. But we can figure it out together.”
Castiel felt himself smile and the warmth in his chest traveled deeper, soothing his grace and filling in some of the rips and holes.
Dean squeezed his hand, seemingly just as unwilling to let go as Castiel was. “And besides, I don’t want Sam to have to conjure up some big ugly beast for you to demolish again. The dumbass barely knew what he was doing. Pretty sure he was trying to conjure up a bear spirit and that hellish monstrosity is what he actually brought over. Luckily you’re a ruthless, ass-kicking ninja so we weren’t too worried.”
It tickled when Dean reached up and brushed a few hairs out of Castiel’s eyes and he blinked up at Dean curiously.
“I think you might need a haircut, angel.” There was fondness in Dean’s words and his smile was soft.
Castiel would never say that he was good at deciphering emotions in other people – he certainly wouldn’t say he was good at deciphering what he himself was feeling – but he was sure he was at least competent enough to know that Dean looked almost content sitting there with his gentle words and soft smiles while he held Castiel’s hand.
Dean’s fingers squeezed around his and then let go. “Get some sleep, Cas. We’ll have dinner when you wake up.”
Castiel felt tired – exhausted even – and his eyes closed all on their own despite him trying to keep them open until Dean was out of the room. It was an accomplished tired, though. He felt as if he might have worked himself through something and come out the other side. He felt rejuvenated in a way that wasn’t at all physical and he thought about the way Dean had been looking at him – not the way he usually did, like he was worried or scared or both – but like he had hope that they might pull through this together, now that they were actually trying together.
Castiel felt better, suddenly realizing that Dean’s hope and certainty had rekindled his own.
He wouldn’t be confused about what was happening forever. Eventually things would settle, he would find patterns and would know what was normal for him and what was not. He would grow in to this new skin and be comfortable in it; he just needed to give himself some time. And learn to ask for help when it was offered by those more adept at these new thoughts and feelings than he was.
Asking for help when he’d been the one giving orders for the better part of a few hundred years wasn’t going to be easy, but he was nothing if not tenacious.
Perhaps he should write a book.
Long after Dean’s footsteps had faded, the warmth in Castiel's chest remained.