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a hollow cave in the head

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Castiel can’t sleep.

He rents out a motel room out of habit more than anything else, shrugs off his jacket and lays languid, arms crossed, closes his eyes; waits for the world to taper off. 

He can feel the uncomfortable buzz of grace bubbling up on his lips, this strange, foreign substance that doesn’t belong to him, struggling to eject itself from his body. He feels its warm thrum in his fingertips, a sensation he thought he had missed, and viciously counts sheep, mouths psalms until his lips feel as if they should be numb. As if they should be.

Blinking, Castiel opens his eyes. He can discern objects even in the dark, or can rather sensewhere they are spatially. That had never been a distraction from sleep before now. He curls his fingers into the thin cotton sheets, aching for a spark of sensation, and breathes out slowly. There’s no relief in the exhalation, no feeling like some of the weight in his body is flooding out from his lungs.

Castiel grinds his teeth, knots his fingers in the bedspread, wills himself to sense. The tinny burble of the foreign grace whines in his ears, maddening, and he forces himself to stand, leave the motel room; he brushes past a perplexed maid, walking until he’s outside in a burst of cold air and a thin maelstrom of snow.

He watches his breath pour out of him in smoking gasps, feels objectively the scrape of the breath in his lungs, and he blinks against the snow swirling down from the streetlights. After another desperate moment, he leans down and strips off his shoes and socks, curls his bare toes into the snow clumped on the pavement. There’s no white-hot burn of cold, no numb tingle, and Castiel drops to his knees as if in prayer and clenches snow in his hands, watches it melt through his fingers, the mottled splotches of pink and white skin on his knuckles as his body locks out the cold.

Feel, he tells himself. Feel.

At this moment, as though he’s imagining it, a word breaks through the buzz of grace in his ears: Cas?

Castiel straightens up, his breath catching.

Stardate 2317, Kirk to Starfleet, Dean’s voice jokes, but he sounds shattered, broken. Cas, you there?

Castiel is shaking, and he isn’t sure whether it’s due to the cold or the aching familiarity of Dean’s voice in his head, tangled up in his grace.

If you can hear me, I’m. I. His voice splinters in two places. Cas, I fucked up. I fucked up so bad, God. Please, just please, if you can hear me. I need you, I need you so bad, please tell me you can hear me.

Castiel feels something wet on his cheeks and thinks, absently, that it must be his eyes watering from the bite of the cold wind.

Kevin’s dead. He’s dead, Cas, and it’s my fault, it’s all my fucking fault, and Sam’s gone, maybe for good, and I…I…

Castiel hangs in the balance of those words, waits with his breath caged in his body.

I never wanted you to leave, I never would’ve, you have to know that. You have to know, I…

He can be useful, Castiel thinks. He can find Sam. He can do this, all of this, for Dean.

Don’t make me say it, man. You know, you have to know.

Know what? Castiel wonders. He picks up his shoes and socks, fists the crumpled dollar bills in his pockets, and heads to the nearest bus station.

When Dean answers the door, the first thing Castiel notices are the red, puffy shadows under his eyes, his eyes pink and bloodshot.

He stares at Cas in disbelief for a second, his mouth parting, before he says something that Castiel thinks might be a cross between profanity and “Cas," before Castiel finds himself in a tight embrace. Dean’s anguish throbs dully against Castiel’s grace, and Castiel is much too distracted by the foreign feeling of Dean’s soul to appreciate the warmth of Dean’s arms crushed around him.

This grace does not know Dean, not like his grace had. This grace isn’t pulled into the sheer gravity of him, doesn’t root itself to him like a lost satellite as it had before. Dean had beamed out to him like a beacon once, had called to him even when he had been lost at sea or moored.

Castiel, with sudden visceral rage, hates the foreign substance in his body.

Dean is still hanging onto him as if Castiel is an anchor, forehead ducked into his shoulder and trembling as though with great suppression, and Castiel has the sense to tentatively place his hands on Dean’s shoulder blades, to splay his fingers across his back.

"You heard me," Dean says, muffled. "You—you heard me, then?"

Castiel nods. “I came to help with Sam.”

Dean pulls away at that, studies Castiel’s face with almost injured scrutiny.

"I thought I could be of some use, now that I’m an angel again," Castiel continues, and watches Dean’s brow quirk into a small, confused frown.

"Uh…yeah, I guess that’ll be pretty helpful."

"Where is Sam?" Castiel asks. "When is the last time you saw him?"

Dean seems to buckle at that, and he leads Castiel into the kitchen. Castiel frowns with disapproval at the half-finished bottle of whiskey on the table, the assembly line of empty beer bottles shoved haphazardly onto the counter.

Dean kicks out a chair at the table and gestures to it. “You might want to sit down for this.”

"I don’t need to sit," Castiel replies.

Dean stares at him for a long moment before he nods slowly. “Right. Yeah.” He then, after a few moments of collecting his thoughts, stumbles into a fifteen-minute patchwork of speech, broken in places, riddled with curse words, and Castiel finds himself angry with Dean by the end of it.

"Say something," Dean pleads when Castiel is silent for more than a minute.

"Although I understand your motives," Castiel says with teeth clenched. "It was downright foolish to let an angel you didn’t know from Adam possess your brother. For—" Something breaks inside him, and it’s a human anger he feels. "For God’s sake, Dean.”

"You think I don’t know that?" Dean’s shouting, looking betrayed, terrified. "I did what I had to!"

"You did not have to.”

"Screw you, Cas," Dean snaps. "I didn’t call you here for you to pass judgment on me."

"What," Castiel says, testily, "did you call me here for, then?”

Dean’s mouth shapes an answer but he’s silent, struggling, glowering red-eyed at Castiel.  

"I don’t know how much assistance I can be in helping to find Sam," Castiel continues with an exasperated, tired sigh. "But I swear to you, I will do all that’s in my power to find and help your brother."

Dean’s looking at him strangely now, slightly paler. Finally, he says, “Wow. Who put the stick back up your ass?”

Castiel locks his jaw, irritation increasing. “I have my grace back. I thought you of all people would be pleased.”

"Yeah, sure, but…" Dean makes a vague hand gesture toward him. "I didn’t—I didn’t wantthis.

"Didn’t want what?" Castiel asks.

Dean doesn’t specify, just looks at him with wide eyes, suddenly vulnerable. “You’re back, aren’t you? Heaven’s bitch, no feelings, no…” He trails off, swallows, and looks oddly shaken.

"Why did you call me here, Dean?" Castiel asks again, frustrated by Dean’s seeming non sequiturs. "I thought you needed me to help Sam."

"I needed you to," Dean begins, and falters. He tries again. "I needed you to. To, to be here." He stares at Cas for a long moment, begging with his eyes, entreating him in some way to understand.

As Castiel gazes back at him in confusion, a strange sensation floods him, a phantom limb of emotion. He has a sudden, vivid recollection of curling in on himself on Nora’s shower floor, crying so hard that he shook, so hard that he didn’t know what was shower water and what wasn’t. He remembers feeling every mile between himself and Dean, sobbing Dean’s name brokenly into the heels of his palms, feeling like aches were cleaving him apart, wrenching him open.

"With me," Dean whispers. "I needed you here. With me."

Castiel says nothing, his breath coming faster.

"I thought you wanted to be here," Dean says. There’s an unspoken with me that hangs in the silence.

"I did," Castiel replies. Before.

"Before, before you." Dean bobs his head and swallows. "When you were human, yeah."

Dean’s hands are clenching on the table, trembling, and something rings hollowly in Castiel’s chest, like a suppressed sob.

"Do you miss it?" Dean asks, not meeting his eyes. He stares at his hands. "Do you miss being human?"

Castiel had known. He had known, with every inch of his skin, what it felt like to love Dean Winchester, and to leave him. Had known what it felt like to want him, crave him, to need him. To resonate and shake with the loss of him.

He is empty, laid bare. His hands clench; grace that is not his hums under his skin.

"No," he says.