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Out Where the Shivers Won't Find You

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Despite the obvious parallels, entering Hell to find Sam Winchester is nothing like it had been when Castiel retrieved Dean.

Castiel had fought his way to Dean, tearing through hordes of demons and drenching himself -- befouling his grace -- in their blood. When he'd found Dean carving at souls on the rack, the heat and flames, the screams, and the stench of gore had been overpowering. It had met and exceeded every expectation of Hell that Castiel had carried in his long existence.

None of those things are present here.

There had been little fighting involved in reaching Lucifer's cage; Castiel is stronger now than he was two years ago, and there are far fewer demons in this part of Hell. Unsurprising, as it manages to be uninviting even to their kind. It's frigid, colder than anything Castiel has ever experienced, and the air is infused with a sense of Lucifer's cold rage that cannot be contained within the boundaries of the cage.

He wants nothing more in this moment than to leave this place behind, to shake off the bitter chill that he feels seeping into his grace, but he's come here for a reason, and he won't leave without Sam Winchester.

---

The true boundaries of Lucifer's prison are not physical; he's bound by magic, Enochian sigils and a number of other means that are far beyond Castiel's understanding. The cage has taken a shape over the years, however, forming itself into a prison with solid walls of ice and bone.

Castiel can't see past the barrier, and though he reaches his grace as far as he can manage, the magic that created the cage keeps him out just as surely as it holds the archangels in. A ripple moves through his grace, almost like a weary sigh, and he forces himself to focus on the spell he's learned, on the words he's been given.

He performs the ritual, reciting the spell with careful precision. For a small eternity afterward, he fears that nothing will happen, worries that he's been tricked somehow. When, finally, he sees the walls fall away, he feels a shuddering sense of relief. 

The result is far less dramatic than he might have expected. The walls don't crumble or come crashing spectacularly down.They're simply there one moment, and nonexistent the next. The ritual is meant to reveal the Cage for what it really is, and it has done so.

His grace doesn't tremble at the sight before him, but it's a near thing. Now, he can clearly see the blinding graces of Michael and Lucifer, locked together and fighting without mercy. Far below are two points of light, far dimmer but still brilliant to Castiel's eyes. 

"Come," he utters, infusing the words with a pull from his grace. "This place is not for you."

The response is immediate -- a fresh burst of fear from one soul, and a hesitant swell of hope from the other. He knows at once that the second one is Sam. He pulls again with his grace, harder this time, willing them to understand the urgency of the moment.

Almost simultaneously, they seem to recognize what is happening and they move together, leaving Michael and Lucifer behind them and coming toward Castiel as quickly as they can manage. A horrible scream of rage fills the air, and Castiel knows that they have very little time left. He urges them to hurry, pulling as hard as he can as Michael and Lucifer pursue them.

The human souls pass through the boundaries without incident or any outward signs, but the angels slam into them as if they were solid walls.

Sam and Adam were never trapped here, not really. The cage was designed to hold an archangel. It's only the illusion of a prison that would have kept them here forever.

They're shaking now with exertion and fear, with disbelief and soul-deep exhaustion. They cower in front of Castiel, and he knows he must appear imposing in his true form, but that doesn't matter now. They're free.

---

Sam wakes up screaming. It takes several minutes for him to quiet, to realize that he's awake not in Hell. It's a struggle to hold on to that knowledge, but as he becomes more aware, the last shadows of his nightmare fall away. Finally, he finally hears the soft shushing noises and feels a hand stroking through his hair.

"Dean?" he croaks with relief, wanting to open his eyes but still afraid of where he'll find himself.

"No, Sam, it's not Dean." The sound of that voice makes his eyes fly open anyway.

"Cas? What's going on? What happened?" He feels a growing panic and tries to sit up, but Cas lays a hand on his shoulder and pushes him back down gently. Still, feeling that pressure holding him down, the panic takes over entirely. He only has a moment to shove at Castiel wildly, his heart pounding, before the angel lifts two fingers to his head and everything goes dark.

--

The next time Sam wakes, everything is markedly different. He's sprawled across the backseat of the Impala, lulled by the familiar feeling of the car speeding down the highway. Which… doesn't make any sense, actually, because a quick glance around him reveals that he's the only one in the car.

He's stretched out, comfortable in a way he hasn't been since his last growth spurt as a teenager. Even stranger is the fact that he's not panicking, despite being in the back of a driverless car flying down the road at seventy miles an hour.

I'm dreaming, he realizes, and slumps back into the door.

"Hello, Sam," comes a voice that has him jerking his attention to the passenger seat, where Castiel is gazing impassively out the side window.

"Cas? What're you doing here?" He thinks he remembers something else about Cas, something unpleasant, but it's just out of reach.

"This is interesting. When I directed your dreams to somewhere that you might find comforting, I didn't expect to find you in this car, though I'm not terribly surprised. It was your childhood home, I suppose."

"Yeah," Sam agrees slowly, feeling a bit lost. "So I'm dreaming, right? Why are you in my dreams, dude?"

"I thought it best to approach you under more agreeable circumstances. You were… less than receptive when I tried to speak with you last."

Sam feels that tug again, of knowledge just outside of his reach. He concentrates on that feeling, anxious to remember, and the memories slowly come into focus. He gasps as understanding washes over him; he was in Hell, and now he's not. He remembers Lucifer tearing into him, and then something, something happened and he wasn't there anymore. It doesn't seem possible.

He whips his head around to look at Cas, who stares back impassively. 

"How?" he asks in a small voice. Cas looks away, fidgeting, which is more than a bit unsettling. "Cas, how did you do it? Did Dean…" he doesn't know how to finish the question. He remembers now being with Cas in that room - a hotel, maybe - and he knows that Dean wasn't there.

"It was only me, Sam. Dean respected your wishes and went to see Lisa Braeden. It took time to find the things that I needed, but I could not allow you to stay in that place. Not after everything you've done."

"Everything I've done?" Sam scoffs. "Cas, I'm the one who let Lucifer out in the first place. If anyone deserves to be in Hell, it's me."

"No, Sam," Cas snaps in frustration. "I will never understand what it is about you and your brother, that you can dedicate your lives to helping others and still consider yourselves to be unworthy of salvation." Sam looks away, abashed, and focuses on a small scratch on the passenger side door. A thought occurs to him, and he sits up straighter.

"What about Adam? He was in there with me; is he alive, too?" Adam hadn't been targeted the way that Sam had in the cage, but he had still suffered things - horrible, painful things - that he should never have had to experience.

"Adam's soul, once freed, returned to Heaven. He knew where he belonged, and he is at peace now, reunited with his mother." At that, Sam breathes a sigh of relief.

"What about me, then? Why am I still here?" Sam's not upset, not really; he'd been to Heaven once and the whole thing was pretty boring. He knew it would be lonely without Dean, anyway.

"That is why," Cas says quietly, and of course he'd be able to hear what Sam had been thinking. This whole conversation is taking place in his own head, after all. "Your soul was unwilling to go to Heaven because you still have such strong ties on Earth. Your bond with Dean kept you here." He looks away briefly before returning his gaze to Sam. "I remade your body so that you might return to your life on Earth."

"Like you did with Dean?"

"Yes, something like that."

"So am I going to have a big Castiel-shaped handprint on me, too?" Sam asks with a chuckle.

"No. I was younger then, and in the exhilaration of success I healed him and returned him to his body with a bit too much… enthusiasm. I've learned since then. Your body is unmarred, I assure you."

Sam feels a vague sense of disappointment and chooses to ignore it.

"So, what now?" Sam asks. Cas looks out the window for a long time before turning around to face Sam.

"I've found you a place. It's remote, and it has everything you need. I believe it will take you some time to fully recover from what you've been through, and this place will allow you to do so."

"Thanks," Sam replies hesitantly, "but I feel fine. I don't think I really need any special treatment."

Cas smiles at him sadly, the look in his eyes unfathomable.

"I'm sorry, Sam. It's time to wake up."

---

Sam can't breathe. He feels like he's choking on the cold, as if an icy fist is wrapping around his heart and lungs and squeezing. He claws at his chest, desperate to relieve the pressure, and finds his hand gripped tightly by another.

The hand holding his is warm and firm, and he focuses every ounce of his concentration on that feeling until he can breathe again. It takes several minutes, but he sucks in a large lungful of air and cracks his eyes open.

Castiel is perched on the edge of the bed, watching him carefully.

"I guess I'm not fine," Sam croaks. Cas nods once. "Will it always be like this?"

"I don't believe so." Cas looks around the room once, and then back at Sam. "You were cold?"

"Yeah." Sam shudders at the memory. "Lucifer… the cage was always so cold. I thought it would be hot, you know? Even after everything he said in Detroit." He draws another deep breath. "It still burned, though." Cas nods again.

"I can take you somewhere else, if you like. It's autumn here, and it will be getting very cold soon. I should have considered… I could find you somewhere warmer." Cas looks agitated. "I traveled to a place called the Maldive Islands while I was searching for God. The climate was very pleasant. Perhaps you would prefer it there."

The idea is tempting, of course it is. Even though that initial sensation has passed, Sam is still feeling a chill, but he has no doubt that Castiel put a great deal of consideration into choosing this place. Besides, he really can't stand the guilty, anxious look on the guy's face.

He looks around the room that he's in. It appears to be a cabin, and he can see a small kitchen and a door that he assumes leads to the bathroom. A glance out the window by his bed shows nothing but trees, the leaves brilliant shades of red and yellow fading to brown. There's a fireplace in the corner of the room, a large, brick-lined hearth. It isn't lit, but Sam can imagine the warmth it might put off.

He turns back to Cas.

"This is perfect," Sam assures him. "As long as that fireplace works, I'll be great." Cas gives him a long, considering look before turning away.

"There's food in the kitchen. If you need anything, please call me. I'll be back to check on you soon."

"You're leaving?" Sam asks, feeling his stomach lurch with anxiety. He schools his expression into one of calm before Cas turns around.

"Since Lucifer and Michael fell into the pit, there's been a power vacuum in Heaven." Cas seems to sag as he speaks, and Sam feels a stab of guilt for only now noticing how tired he looks. "I do not presume to fill it, but without leadership my brothers and sisters don't know how to behave. There has been a great deal of infighting and squabbling amongst them."

"So you're, what? Mediating?"

"In many cases, yes. When God restored me, He made me stronger," Cas tells him. Sam sits up in the bed.

"Wait, restored you? What did…" he rakes through the memories that he has of the time after Lucifer occupied his body. He sees that empty building in Detroit and a seemingly endless string of thoughtless destruction. He sees Stull Cemetery, and then, oh.

"Oh my God," he gasps. "Cas, I'm so sorry. I don't know how I forgot about that." He feels sick at the recollection of Cas, so brave despite his humanity, disintegrating at a snap of Sam's own fingers. "God brought you back, though? I'm so sorry, I didn't…"

"That's enough," Cas interrupts quietly. "You are not responsible for Lucifer's actions while he possessed you, and I would never hold you as such."

"I'm glad you're alive, Cas." It seems insufficient, but Cas looks up at him briefly and Sam thinks that he gets it.

"As I was saying," Cas continues, "God made me more powerful. Even if he had not, many angels view my resurrection as an indication that my actions were in accordance with His plan. They respect me, in most cases. I feel a responsibility to use that respect to alleviate any discord that I can."

"And how's that going for you?" Sam asks, his voice light.

"Some days are better than others," Cas responds with a sigh. He meets Sam's eyes. "Some days I can retrieve innocent souls from perdition."

Sam doesn't have a response for that. As he fumbles for something to say, he hears the fluttering sound that he recognizes as Cas leaving.

"Thank you," he tells the empty room.

---

 

After Cas leaves, Sam finds it difficult to stay in bed. It's boring, for one, and he's kind of hungry. He makes his way onto the porch and takes a few minutes just to appreciate the fresh air.

It's cool here (and he realizes he never thought to ask Cas where here is), but it's crisp and comfortable. Maybe a tropical island seems like a more obvious choice right now, but this isn't bad. He can hear sounds of life in the woods around him, birds chirping and an occasional rustling in the underbrush, and it's unexpectedly comforting.

He looks down and sees that he's wearing a heavy flannel shirt, jeans, and warm socks. He decides not to dwell on where the clothes came from or how he got dressed.

A quick inspection of the porch reveals a wooden swing suspended from the roof and a large pile of split firewood. He gathers up an armful of it and brings it back inside, laying it down next to the fireplace before going to inspect the kitchen.

Sam sighs with relief when he sees a semi-modern gas range; he wouldn't have a clue what to do with a wood-burning stove, and he's starting to get seriously hungry.

The refrigerator is well-stocked, and must be running off of a generator along with the lights. Cas really had been thorough, and he hopes the angel knows how much he appreciates it.

Thirty minutes later, he's sitting at the small table with a plate of eggs and bacon. It's not fancy, but he hasn't eaten in what he suspects is a very long time. He's idly contemplating the kitchen wall, wood paneling reminiscent of any number of cheap motels he's stayed in over the years, when it hits him.

---

Towering walls extend so far above him that he can't see the tops. He claws at them desperately, looking for a way out or a place to hide, anything to get away from what he knows is coming. The skin on his hands tears, his fingers scraped bloody from the shards of bone and rock embedded in the ice.

"Surely you don't think you can, what, dig your way out?" Lucifer's voice is dripping with malicious humor. "Michael's having so much fun with Adam, and we haven't had any quality time in quite a while."

Sam turns to face him, trying to fight down the full-body shudder at Lucifer's small, bitter smile. Some part of Sam's mind usually presents the archangel in the visage of his former vessel. Sometimes, like now, he looks like Sam himself. It's always worse when it's like this.

He cowers, any pretense of not being afraid abandoned long ago. He squeezes his eyes shut and waits for Lucifer to make a move. And waits, and waits...

"Sam, wake up. Sam." The voice is accompanied by a hand gripping his shoulder, shaking him gently. Sam jerks upright, looking around wildly. His plate is upturned on the floor next to him, bits of food scattered under the table. He turns back to look at Castiel and there's a moment, however brief, when all he can see is angel.

His arms come up before he can realize what he's doing, shoving Cas away before scrambling backwards across the kitchen floor until he's pressed against the refrigerator, breathing heavily.

Cas, to his credit, doesn't attempt to follow him. He watches Sam closely, hands raised in a placating gesture.

"Sam, it's only me. Do you know where you are?"

"Do I…?" Sam feels shaky, disoriented. The memory is already fading, but there had been several long moments where Sam had been certain that he was somewhere else. Back with Lucifer, his mind supplies, and he shakes his head as if to dismiss the thought. "Yeah, Cas," he answers in as steady a voice as he can manage, though he suspects his pause was long enough to make any assurances seem less than believable.

"Was it a memory of Hell?" Cas asks, and Sam shuts his eyes, shaking his head minutely. "Sam." He sounds exasperated now. "You have nothing to gain from lying to me. It is normal to have these flashbacks, even by human standards. I believe it is known as post-traumatic stress."

"PTSD from Hell," Sam mutters before letting out a humorless chuckle. "Lucky me."

"Your mind will take time to heal, Sam. I know you've suffered; I can see the wounds on your soul. I should not have left you alone so soon." He stares at a spot on the linoleum, and there's that agitation again: Cas is fidgeting. Sam isn't used to seeing him look so nervous, and he doesn't like it.

"What is it, man?" Sam figures the direct approach is always best. "You look like you've got something you want to say." Cas' eyes flicker up, hesitant, before returning to the floor.

"There is something I could do, to speed the process of your healing. As it stands, I don't know how long it will take. It could be months, or even years." Sam's shoulders slump.

"So what's the thing? Because I've gotta tell you, Cas, the prospect of having the devil popping into my head at random doesn't really appeal to me in the long-term." When Cas still hesitates, Sam shuffles closer and shoves lightly at his shoulder. Cas jerks his head up and stares at Sam, expression unreadable. "Come on, man. Don't hold out on me."

"I could attempt to use my grace," Cas finally responds. "To help heal your soul, that is." He says it quickly, almost mumbling, and Sam nearly doesn't hear him.

"Well, what's the problem?" Sam demands, before catching himself and sighing. "Sorry, I'm just a little edgy. Obviously if it would put a strain on you, I would never ask you to do that."

"It wouldn't be a strain, Sam, but it would be quite invasive. To heal your soul would mean to touch it, to know it intimately. I understand that you might find that idea upsetting."

Sam takes a deep breath and lets it out, just a bit shaky. He can tell, based on how seriously Cas is taking this, that it's something to which he should give considerable thought before making a decision. There's no way to tell what Cas will see if he looks too closely at Sam's soul. The thought scares him more than a little, but then he thinks about that nightmare. It was even more vivid and painful than the visions that used to plague him, and he feels fear clench tightly around his heart.

"Do it," he breathes, trying to shake off the feeling of abject terror he feels at the thought of Lucifer, of his time in the cage. "I trust you, Cas. You won't go too far, and I know you wouldn't hurt me on purpose. I just can't stand the thought of living like this." He's embarrassed; he knows how weak he must sound, but all of those years he spent in the cage -- he doesn't even know how long -- have taken a toll. He's not too proud to ask for help. Not anymore.

"If I'm to do this, Sam, you need to be certain," Cas tells him, but he's already standing, offering his hand to help Sam up from where he's huddled on the floor.

He leads Sam into the main room of the cabin and looks around before gesturing for Sam to sit on the bed. Sam raises an eyebrow, smiling tentatively at Cas.

"I didn't take you for the type, Cas." Even to Sam, the joke feels forced, but he's anxious to dissipate the tension he can feel between them. "I thought you'd at least buy me dinner first."

"Were the groceries I brought not sufficient?" Cas frowns. "If you're hungry, we can wait. It would be better for you to be at full strength if we're going to do this."

Sam chokes out a laugh at that, shaking his head. "No, I was just... it was just a joke," he clarifies, embarrassed, before sitting down on the edge of the bed.

"I don't…" Cas looks at him curiously for a long, awkward moment before his eyes widen. "Oh, I see." Cas ducks his head, but not before Sam can see the first hint of a blush on his cheeks.

"Sorry, sorry. It was a bad joke. You can tell I grew up with Dean. I think the talent for making terrible, inappropriate jokes must be hereditary." He ignores the twinge of sadness that he feels at the mention of his brother.

He's been very pointedly not thinking about him all day. If Dean actually did make it to Lisa, and he's even a little bit happy, then Sam has no desire to mess that up for him even if he does miss him terribly. Maybe when he's got his head on straight, but not now, not when he's feeling so unstable. It wouldn't be fair to Dean.

His thoughts must be showing on his face (or else Cas is just reading his mind again) because when he looks up, Cas' expression is soft. Pitying. Sam clears his throat a bit more loudly than necessary, ready to move past this uncomfortable moment.

"Okay, let's do this. What do you need me to do?"

"Just sit there, and attempt to relax. I felt that the bed would be best, as I'm unsure how you'll react to this sort of contact. I don't want you to injure yourself." He swallows audibly. "I feel I should inform you, I haven't actually done this before. I'm technically only working on theory."

"Not gonna lie, Cas, I probably could have done without that information. But whatever, I meant what I said. I trust you. If you wanted to hurt me, you wouldn't have pulled me out in the first place." Sam shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath, then another, trying to force out some of the tension he's feeling. It's not easy, but once he reaches some semblance of relaxation he hears a rustling noise.

He opens his eyes to see Cas kneeling on the floor before him, lifting a hand toward him. Cas pauses when he sees him watching, but at Sam's nod he places his palm on Sam's chest, just over his tattoo.

"This may hurt," Cas warns, and then Sam feels an overwhelming warmth suffusing his body, radiating out from where Cas is touching him. For a moment it feels wonderful, banishing the last remnants of the bitter cold of earlier, but it quickly starts to become too much. He can feel Cas, he thinks, reaching so deeply into him. He can feel him inside his soul.

Sam feels suddenly vulnerable, and all of that trust he had professed becomes quickly irrelevant in the face of his rapidly-building anxiety. He tries to shove it down, to keep it from becoming hysteria, but he can't breathe. He can't breathe.

He reaches up, shoving ineffectually at Cas' hand as he feels his eyes roll back into his head. He tries to force him out, but he wouldn't begin to know how to do something like that. Cas is too strong, much stronger than Sam, and he can't stop him. He distantly registers a pained, keening sound and he thinks it must be coming from him.

"Sam." He shudders at the sound of that voice, and all of the layers behind it that he's never heard before. "Sam, you need to look at me. Right now."

His instincts scream at him to keep fighting, but that voice has power behind it, and he acquiesces, dragging his eyes down to meet Castiel's. They're as blue as ever, but he thinks he can see past them now, into the depths of him, into his grace. He feels the slightest twinge of a connection and shies away from it, painfully uncertain.

"You need to calm yourself, Sam. I understand that this feeling is alarming, but the more you try to push me out the more painful and frightening it will be." Sam shakes his head wildly, though he's unable to tear his gaze away. "If you wish to stop this, you need only tell me, but if you wish to continue, then I am ordering you. Let me in." Sam's skin prickles as the power in those words washes over him, Cas' voice fiercely quiet and booming all at once.

It's easier, somehow, when presented with the choice. He lets out a ragged breath before lifting his hand and clutching at Cas' coat to steady himself. Feeling a bit more grounded and still staring into Cas' eyes, he nods. He sees Cas relax fractionally, relieved, and then everything goes white. He has a moment to feel nothing but that same comforting warmth before he loses consciousness.

---

When Sam wakes up, the room is dimly lit and it takes a long time for it to come into focus. When it does, he sees Cas sitting at the foot of the bed, watching him with a worried expression.

"Hey, Cas!" Sam lifts his hand and flops it back to the bed in an approximation of a wave. He grins lazily. "What's up?"

"Sam, are you well?" Cas is still wearing that same concerned look.

"I'm great!" he blurts out quickly. "I feel awesome. Really, really awesome." He frowns. "Hang on. What happened with the soul thing? I feel weird. Am I drunk?"

Cas chuckles, quiet and sheepish, and the sound of it is enough to make Sam smile again.

"As I said, I've never done anything like this before. I attempted to work too quickly, and I fear I used an excessive amount of my grace. I assume that is why you are feeling... intoxicated."

"Dude, I'm angel drunk?" Sam asks gleefully as he squirms around in the bed, trying to get comfortable. "Does this mean I can fly? Or smite stuff?"

Cas rolls his eyes at that before rising from the bed. "I'm afraid it doesn't work quite that way." He moves into the kitchen and Sam twists around until his head is resting at the foot of the bed and he can see what the angel is doing. "I'm going to make something for you to eat, and then you'll need to rest some more."

"Aw, Cas, I didn't know you could cook! Thanks, man, that's nice. I'm starving." He shuts his eyes, and he must doze off because when he blinks them open Cas is standing over him with a plate, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot.

"I'm afraid my food preparation skills are quite limited," he says, apologetic, before handing the plate to Sam. It contains two grilled cheese sandwiches, one of which is burnt around the edges, and a small pile of potato chips. Sam looks up at him, smiling, and is quietly delighted at the shy expression on Cas' face.

"Thanks, Cas," he tells him seriously, and then he sets himself to the task of devouring the food on the plate. It's gone embarrassingly quickly, and when he looks up Cas is holding out a glass of water. He thanks him again, downing it in several gulps, and puts his dishes on the nightstand before flopping back onto the pillows. He still feels strange, like how he thinks being high would have felt if he'd ever had the occasion.

When he looks up, Cas is staring out the window, his brow furrowed. "I was able to repair some of the damage, but I believe we'll need to do this more than once to heal you completely. It will take some time, and you're in no state to try again right now."

"You're leaving," Sam realizes, and it's not a question. "Why do you have to go so soon?" He's embarrassed at the petulance in his voice, but he's not really in full control of himself at the moment.

Cas turns back to him, his expression regretful. "I was with you all night, Sam. There are things to which I must attend."

"No, I get it," Sam mutters, rolling over to face the wall. "You're a busy, important angel guy. It's cool. I just get bored when you're not here." It's not entirely true, as he hasn't been on his own long enough to get bored yet, but he really doesn't want Cas to go.

"Sam," Cas begins, just a hint of frustration bleeding through, "this feeling of attachment you have is a result of being overexposed to my grace. It should fade in the next few hours, and you need to rest."

Sam punches the pillow underneath his head a few times to fluff it up, and he huffs a sigh. "It's cool, Cas. Really." He twists around to look at the angel. "And thank you, I mean it."

Cas nods slowly, and then he's gone.

---

When Sam wakes up hours later, he stretches languidly and is relieved to find that his grace-borne inebriation has passed. He flushes with embarrassment at the memory of his earlier behavior.

When he rolls over, he's surprised to see a stack of books on the nightstand. A quick glance at a few of the spines reveals a worn text dealing with the Apocrypha, a Terry Pratchett novel, and, incongruously, something by Nora Roberts. He laughs at that before spotting a note tucked under the pile. The handwriting is careful and measured.

Sam,

To keep you from feeling bored. Excepting the religious text, I did not know what you would prefer, so I asked the man at the book store for an assortment. I will return when I can.

Sam can't fight a smile at the thought of Cas asking for help at a Barnes and Noble. He starts to reach for the book on the Apocrypha before thinking better of it and grabbing the Pratchett.

As he flips to the first page, he tries not to think about the fact that the effects of the grace have worn off, but he still misses Cas acutely.

---

Cas doesn't come back for three days. Sam busies himself working his way through the books Cas left him, taking advantage of the warmer parts of the day to drag a blanket outside and read on the porch swing.

It's beautiful here, and peaceful, and the hours he spends in the sun every day keep him from going stir-crazy. There's a distinct chill in the air -- he thinks it might be mid-October, but he's not really sure -- but sitting in the direct sunlight warms him to his core.

When the sun starts to sink in the sky, he comes inside and gets the fire going before making something to eat. It's a simple routine, but it's already familiar and easy. Although he dreads going to bed in the evenings, with nightmares of Lucifer plaguing his sleep, it's still better than the waking nightmare from that first day. He's always tired in the morning, but he does his best not to dwell on the dreams.

On the third evening, he's reading in the chair by the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate that he'd made on the stove. He doesn't know why Cas brought it, but when Sam had seen the block of chocolate in the cupboard he couldn't resist. Even before Hell, he hadn't had hot chocolate in years, and he's pleasantly surprised at the comfort it offers.

He's in the process of turning the page when he hears a fluttering noise behind him.

"Hello, Sam," Cas rumbles, and Sam jumps in surprise before shoving the Nora Roberts novel under the chair.

"Hey, Cas," he calls back, straightening and turning to look at him. "You scared me; I wasn't sure when I could expect you."

"I apologize. I've been rather busy these past few days. You've been all right?" he asks, glancing curiously at Sam's mug before looking at Sam again.

"Yeah, I've been good. No scary episodes or whatever, so I figure that's a plus, right?" Cas smiles faintly at that.

"That's very good. I had hoped that after last time, your memories would be kept at bay for at least a short while."

Sam unfolds himself from the chair and stretches, trying to work out all of the kinks from sitting curled up for so long. He glances over to see Cas watching him very intently, and he feels a faint shiver travel down his spine before Cas turns away. That was weird, he thinks, shaking off the feeling and walking into the kitchen.

"Your timing is great," Sam points out, lighting the burner carefully. "I just made hot cocoa, and there's a ton of it. Just give me a minute or two to heat it back up."

"Thank you," comes Cas' voice from just behind him, and Sam jumps. He finds himself reminded of Dean's frequent jokes about Cas needing a bell. "I appreciate the offer, but I don't require it."

"Cas, nobody requires hot chocolate. That's not why you drink it." Undeterred, Sam stirs the pot over the low flame to warm it back up. Cas just watches him in silence.

When it's ready, he fills another cup before topping off his own with what's left. He hands the fresh mug to Cas and walks back to sit on the stone ledge in front of the fireplace. He gestures to the chair, and Cas sits down with a mildly confused expression.

"Try it," he urges, taking a sip of his own drink. "You'll like it, I promise."

Cas looks more than a bit skeptical as he lifts the mug to his mouth, taking a small drink as he'd seen Sam do. He frowns slightly, considering, before taking another large swallow. He closes his eyes for several seconds, a pleased look on his face, before schooling his features and looking up at Sam with an expression of practiced indifference.

"I suppose it's not terrible," he concedes, but Sam can see in his eyes that Cas is just messing with him now.

"Is that all?" Sam laughs. "Then you won't mind if I finish yours?" He reaches across the gap between them to grab the cup from Cas' hand.

Cas yanks his mug out of reach with a disgruntled glare in Sam's direction.

"You probably shouldn't," he deadpans. "It wouldn't do for you to overindulge." He smiles then, that slight tilting at the corners of his mouth that Sam's learned to look for and appreciate.

"Atta boy, Cas. I knew you'd like it." Cas rolls his eyes at that but doesn't respond, choosing instead to sip slowly at his drink.

Once they've finished, Sam puts their mugs in the sink and goes to sit on the edge of the bed. Cas follows, and they resume their positions from last time, Cas kneeling on the floor to rest between Sam's knees.

Sam swallows, something uncomfortable twisting in his stomach at the open, guileless way that Cas is watching him. He shakes his head once to push away the feeling.

"So, ready to try this again?" He's grateful that his voice doesn't seem to betray his nervousness.

Cas nods, and he places his hand over Sam's heart like before. Sam shuts his eyes and lets out a shuddering breath.

When Cas' grace enters him this time, it feels much like the first time. That same warm feeling works its way through his limbs, though it's infinitely more bearable than it had been before. He hums in pleasure before he can think to stop himself. Embarrassed, he opens his eyes to see if Cas has noticed.

The angel is watching him with a curious expression, and Sam blushes at the scrutiny. He casts about for something to say to break the silence that's beginning to feel awkward, at least to him.

"Doesn't, ah, doesn't it repulse you?" Sam asks, feeling just lightheaded enough to let his worries slip - to ask the questions he might not, otherwise. When Cas doesn't answer, he presses on. "I know my soul is tainted. How can you stand to touch it?"

Cas is still looking at him, but now his eyes look sad. Regretful.

"Sam, your soul was never truly tainted. Since you were a child, the demons' influence has been twisted around it. The blood that you drank only strengthened its hold, but your soul has always been your own, and it shone brightly though Azazel tried his best to crush it." He looks away from Sam before continuing. "I should never have called you an abomination. I sincerely apologize for that. You had no control over the things that were done to you, and yet you were still strong enough to make the right choice in the end."

Sam closes his burning eyes. He doesn't know what made him think this would be the right time for a conversation like this. He already feels exposed and vulnerable with the way that Castiel's grace is sinking in, permeating every part of him. The painful sincerity behind Cas' words is only making it more difficult to keep his composure.

"It doesn't matter now," Cas continues, seemingly unaware of Sam's distress, "as your soul came back from the Cage alone. It's only you in this body now; the demons hold no sway over you."

"I… really?" Sam tries to keep the disbelief out of his voice, but it's hard to imagine that what Cas says is true. He doesn't feel different in any significant way, and life has taught him again and again that good things don't just happen to Sam. To the Winchesters in general, really. He tells Cas as much, and he's surprised when Cas makes a huffing noise that could almost be a laugh.

"You sacrificed yourself to drag two archangels into the pit and avert the apocalypse. In doing so, you subjected yourself to years of pain and suffering. This good thing did not 'just happen,' as you say. You earned it, a hundred times over." Cas' voice is earnest and sure.

That warm feeling in his chest pulses and grows stronger, seeming to punctuate Cas' words, and Sam can feel hot tears sliding down his cheeks without his consent. As quickly as it had come, the feeling fades, and Cas pulls back.

"That's enough for today, Sam." He brushes his hand over Sam's forehead, pushing his hair back from his face. The small action is so tender Sam has to look away. "Sleep," Cas murmurs, and Sam can feel the tug pulling him down.

Sam tries to thank Cas as he drifts off, but he doesn't know if he gets the words out.

He doesn't dream that night.

---

"How did you do it?" Sam asks a few nights later. The cabin is quiet and dimly lit, and they're sitting in the tiny kitchen. Cas hadn't seemed in any real hurry to get started, so Sam had decided to make dinner. Cas had accepted his BLT with murmured thanks, but he's been watching Sam instead of eating the sandwich. It's a little bit unnerving, but Sam's kind of used to the staring by now.

"What do you mean?" Cas frowns at him, picking at the edges of his lettuce.

"I've just been wondering, how did you get us out of the Cage?" Sam's hesitant to bring it up at all, but the curiosity has been eating away at him. "I thought angels couldn't get in or out."

"They can't," Cas agrees. "But I didn't have to get in. I just had to let you out." He stops abruptly, clearly hoping that answer will satisfy Sam, but Sam won't let him off that easily.

"That seems… way too simple." Sam can tell that Cas isn't too eager to explain, but that just makes him more curious. "Was it a spell or something? Was it a pagan thing?" he asks, scrunching up his nose.

"Yes, it was a spell. No, it wasn't pagan. I don't see that it matters. Isn't there an expression about looking too closely at free horses?" Cas frowns, considering. "I don't think I'm getting that right, but it shouldn't be important. It was successful, and that's what matters."

"Uh-huh." Sam squints at him in suspicion. "Why don't you want to tell me about this spell? Did you have to sacrifice a chicken? Did you have to perform it in the nude?" he asks, just a bit gleeful. Cas looks aghast.

"I told you, Sam, it wasn't pagan magic," he snaps defensively. "If you must know, I got the spell from Crowley." Sam doesn't think Cas could pack any more distaste into a word than he does into the demon's name.

"Crowley?" he asks, disbelieving. "Cas, you didn't… you didn't make a deal, did you?" Sam has had quite enough of other people making deals with demons for him, and Cas might be an angel, but Sam will definitely kick his ass if he needs to.

"Don't be ridiculous. I don't deal with demons," Cas huffs, ignoring Sam's skeptical look. "He owed me a favor," he elaborates. "I accidentally saved his life."

"Okay, you know I need to hear that story, right?"

"There isn't much to tell. There were several demons, loyal to Lucifer, that had been causing a great deal of nuisance for us. I just happened to track them down when they were in the process of cornering Crowley. Saving his life was merely incidental to killing them."

"And the spell?" Sam prompts.

"Crowley informed me that he very much dislikes being indebted to others, and that he knew about your situation." Sam snorts at the euphemism, but Cas continues. "He provided me with the spell I needed to free you and Adam, and then told me to 'sod off.' It was a very fortunate turn of events."

Sam's quiet for a long moment, looking for potential problems with that story.

"So you don't owe him anything? You two are even?" He just has to know, has to be sure that Cas hasn't given anything up for him. He can't deal with that weight again.

"We're even," Cas agrees. "Although he said he'd be sending me a bill for the suit I ruined while smiting those demons. I suspect he might have been joking."

"I somehow doubt that," Sam chuckles. "Guy takes his wardrobe pretty seriously."

"He'll be waiting quite some time for reimbursement," Cas confides, a smile flitting across his lips. "As an angel, I have no need of human currency."

At that, Sam laughs outright before nudging Cas' plate.

"You may not have need of human food, either, but if you don't eat that, I will."

Cas snatches it up quickly, demolishing it in four large bites.

"That was excellent," he mumbles through his mouthful of food. Sam makes a disapproving noise, but Cas just stares blankly back at him. Sam thinks he catches a hint of a smirk, but then Cas is swallowing the last of his sandwich and pushing back from the table. "Are you ready to get started?" he asks, offering a hand to Sam.

Sam takes it with a nod, letting Cas pull him to his feet.

"No better time than the present."

---

Over the next two weeks, Cas comes to the cabin five times. Each time is a little bit different, the healing affecting him in different ways, but Sam finds that he never has nightmares on the evenings that Cas visits.

The healing process still scares him, and the connection to Cas' grace is always intense, but Sam finds himself looking forward to Cas' visits more and more. It's not just the lack of nightmares, either. He enjoys the time he gets to spend with Cas before they get to work.

They don't always talk, but the last time Cas visited, Sam convinced him to eat a bowl of chili with him, and he was unaccountably proud when Cas agreed without a fuss.

Sam took more enjoyment than he should have at the alarmed look on Cas' face after biting into a habanero pepper. Several glasses of water (and just as many pointed glares at Sam) later, they established that Cas doesn't like spicy food. He had frowned disapprovingly at Sam's laughter, but there was an indulgent fondness in it that Sam can recognize now.

That was the day before yesterday. Today, he gets up early and bundles up in the warmest clothes he can find in the dresser. Cas had provided everything he could possibly need, from thermal long underwear to a heavy knit hat, and he layers it all on before pulling on a pair of boots and heading outside.

Sam's slowly-building cabin fever is no longer alleviated by a few hours on the front porch, so he's decided to go for a hike. Or rather, a walk in the woods, because he's not really up for anything quite as strenuous as a full-blown hike.

It's still early when he leaves, and he can see his breath in front of his face, little puffs of fog every time he exhales. He stays out for several hours, the exertion of picking his way through the woods keeping him warm. There aren't any defined trails out here, so he makes his own way, careful to always keep the cabin in sight. The leaves have mostly fallen by now, and thanks to the sparseness of the trees he can go a fair distance before he loses view of it.

The change of scenery provides an opportunity for Sam to think. He's been trying not to think of Dean since he came back, but he knows that sort of avoidance can't work in the long term. He feels better, stronger since Cas has been helping him.

Maybe he'll be healed sooner than expected. He'll be able to go to Dean without being a burden. Dean won't have to leave Lisa or whatever sort of life they have, because Sam is done. Done with hunting, done with traveling, and ready to settle in one place with his brother close by. It's idealistic in a way Sam should know better than to be, but the thought of it makes him grin.

Sam works his way in a wide, rough circle around the cabin, taking advantage of the occasional beaten-down animal trail to make his walk easier. He doesn't see any wildlife; he knows he's making far too much noise to accidentally sneak up on anything, but the fresh air is invigorating and he can't help but be glad he ventured out here.

By the time he makes his way back to the cabin, it's mid-afternoon. It's chilly, and he gets a fire going before stripping off his layers and heading to the kitchen. After two bowls of soup and some crackers, he has to concede his own exhaustion from his morning. He imagines Dean laughing at him, getting soft, Sam, all worn out from your nature walk, and it doesn't sting as much as he would have expected.

It's early, but the sky is overcast and he's sleepy. Sam crawls into bed, pulling the blanket up over his head to block out the muted sunlight. He falls asleep within minutes.

---

Sam jolts awake from a nightmare and looks wildly around the room. It's almost pitch dark, only the slightest bit of twilight still filtering through the windows. He's drenched with sweat, turning icy on his skin, and he's wracked with full-body shivers.

His brain is sluggish, and it takes him several minutes to realize that the fire has burned down to embers. He was so tired earlier that he had forgotten to stoke it, to add more firewood, and he curses his own stupidity.

The tips of his fingers and toes are numb, more so than they should be given the temperature outside, and he can feel ice creeping through his limbs like poison. He shivers again, violent, and tries to gasp out a prayer through numb lips.

"Cas," he chokes, barely audible. Several long seconds pass, and he feels it, he knows, he's going to die. He's going to freeze to death in this cabin, too painfully cold to call for help again.

"Sam," the bed dips and he feels a hand cupping his cheek. It burns, so unbelievably hot against his skin, and he would pull away if he had any control of himself. The hand tilts his head to the side and he sees Cas in front of him, his eyes wide with alarm. "What happened?" Cas asks, though he seems to realize immediately that Sam can't respond. He turns to glance briefly over his shoulder, and the fire roars back to life.

He stands up, releasing Sam, and begins shedding his clothes. First his coat, then his suit jacket and tie, but Sam doesn't see anything else as he squeezes his eyes shut against another shudder. He realizes distantly that his teeth are chattering, no matter how hard he wills them to stop.

Even though his intentions had been somewhat obvious, Sam jerks in surprise when Cas slides into the bed behind him, easing himself under the covers before fitting himself up against Sam's back. He winds their feet together and wraps his arms around Sam's waist to grab his hands, breath warm against the back of Sam's neck.

Sam is still shivering, still unbelievably cold, but the difference is immediate. That icy feeling that had been coursing through his veins is abating, slowly but surely. His shivers are less violent, and he thinks he's never felt anything that was such a relief as Cas' body, one long, hot line pressed up tightly behind him. He hopes desperately that Cas will stay.

"You'll be all right. I'm not leaving. You should rest; things will be better in the morning."

Sam's powerless to argue, with a warm pressure pushing him down, enveloping him where Cas's arms can't reach.

He has a moment to think wings before he slips into unconsciousness, feeling safer than he has in a long, long time.

---

Sam wakes up gradually, unwilling to let go of the delicious warmth he feels in the haze of sleep. It permeates his entire body, welcoming and perfect, and he realizes blearily that he's hard.

He hasn't gotten hard since he came back from the Cage.

Sam has no intention of wasting it now, either, already shifting around to get better friction. He ruts down lazily, groaning in satisfaction at the pressure against his dick. In his current state, only half-awake and suddenly very horny, he doesn't give much thought to what he's thrusting against. The mattress, he figures, gasping as he presses down again.

Then whatever it is moves. Sam's eyes fly open, and he sees Cas watching him with a look of curiosity and something else that he can't quite read. He makes a strangled noise when he realizes he's sprawled half on top of Cas, and he's been pushing himself into the hollow of Cas' hip.

Sam draws back quickly as if he's been burnt and tumbles off the edge of the bed. His face is on fire as he disentangles himself from the sheets around his legs before mumbling an apology and making a dash for the bathroom.

Once the door is shut and locked behind him, he lets out a ragged breath. Every instinct is telling him not to, and that it's wrong, but he shoves down his boxers and takes his dick in his hand, dragging his palm up the length of it.

He's so embarrassed, and more than a bit ashamed, and he knows that Cas is on the other side of the door with the same bewildered expression Sam had seen before slamming the door closed. He should stop. He should take a cold shower and go back out there and apologize profusely. At the very least, he shouldn't be jerking himself off with the image of curious blue eyes seared into his mind.

Except he knows what he felt in that moment before he pulled away. Cas had been hard, too. That thought is enough to send him over the edge, biting his lip to keep quiet as he comes all over his hand.

He takes a steadying breath as the shame comes rushing in, trying to slow his heart rate back down to something normal. It takes a few minutes, but then he rearranges his clothes, washes his hands, and shuts his eyes, bracing himself for the awkward conversation waiting in the other room.

When he opens the bathroom door, Cas is fully dressed again, sitting on the edge of the bed. He looks up at Sam, questioning, and Sam sighs.

"I'm really sorry about that, Cas. I didn't mean to… I wouldn't have done that if I had realized what I was doing. It won't happen again, I swear."

Cas frowns and stands up.

"There's nothing to be sorry for, Sam. I trust that you're feeling better?" Sam nods dumbly, realizing after an embarrassing second that Cas is talking about his episode of the previous night, not his frantic masturbating session of five minutes ago. "I need to get back," Cas continues. "I was in the middle of something, and I've been gone for much longer than I expected."

Sam is saved the trouble of finding something to say when Cas disappears without another word.

For some reason, he doesn't feel embarrassed anymore. He just feels like an asshole.

---

Cas comes back two days later, unusually stiff and formal as he instructs Sam to sit in the chair by the fireplace before getting to work. It feels weird, the intimacy of the connection between Cas' grace and his soul at complete odds with the impersonal, businesslike manner in which Cas is conducting himself.

He's there for an hour, deep in concentration and not looking at Sam, before he finishes abruptly and leaves with barely a goodbye.

Sam can't help but think that he's fucked everything up. Over the past weeks, he and Cas have gotten closer than he realized, bonding over easy conversations and the occasional shared meal as much as through the healing sessions. He may not have noticed it happening, but he feels the absence of it like a physical pain and he wishes he could do something to make it better.

It takes two more visits in which Cas treats him almost as a stranger before he decides he's had enough.

It's a sunny day, warmer than it's been in a while, and he's out on the porch with a blanket as usual. He doesn't have a book today, though, and he steels himself before shutting his eyes.

"Hey, Cas, do you think you could come down here?" He doesn't say anything else, leaving it deliberately vague. He might feel bad about misleading the angel if he weren't so afraid he'd be ignored if he explained himself further.

Cas appears almost immediately; for all that he's been distant, he still clearly cares about Sam's well-being and his expression is one of concern. It turns to confusion as he sees their surroundings, since he and Sam haven't interacted outside of the cabin since he's been here.

"Sam? Is there… is something wrong?" He sounds uneasy, though when Sam shakes his head, he relaxes noticeably.

"I just wanted to see you, man. You've been busy lately, which I get; I know the work you're doing in Heaven is important. I just miss hanging out with you, and I was hoping you might have a few minutes free."

Cas slumps, the tension leaking out of his frame.

"That would actually be quite nice. Things have been tedious and frustrating lately, I admit, and I could use the break." He walks over to the swing, lifting the edge of the blanket and sitting next to Sam before dropping it back over his legs. He stares out at the trees for a few minutes, unmoving, but Sam can tell that he's gradually unwinding.

He doesn't know if he should bring up what happened the other morning, but he really, really, doesn't want to. He just wishes things weren't awkward anymore; he wants them to get back to the way things were before.

"I've read almost all the books you brought," he tries. "Well, except that romance novel, but that's not really my thing."

Cas turns and looks at him, his expression carefully blank, though he's radiating amusement. Sam's not sure how he can tell, but he knows that Cas is trying very hard not to roll his eyes right now.

"Okay, okay, fine," Sam mutters. "And it was good, okay? But this stays between us."

Cas nods seriously before letting a smile slip, and Sam feels palpable relief when he sees that fond expression.

He realizes then what's been happening gradually since the first night Cas watched over him, no matter how much he'd been denying it in his own mind. It hadn't been an accident that morning in his bed, it hadn't been overactive hormones or anything else like that.

The excitement that he feels when Cas arrives has nothing to do with the angel helping to heal his soul, though when he thinks of everything Cas has done for him already, he's overwhelmed with gratitude. Beyond that, though, he realizes that all this time, he's been growing to love Cas. As a friend and a brother, sure, but becoming more than that every day.

They're still looking at one another, so close together, but Sam can't make that move. After what happened before, the idea of making Cas uncomfortable or doing anything he doesn't want makes Sam feel sick.

Cas might be his friend, but that affection must have its limits, and Sam can't see any reason why Cas would choose him of all people to care about, to love.

All the logic in the world can't silence the small voice in his head that's shouting to pull him closer, to kiss him, to show him how much love Sam could give if he had the chance.

All of his inner conflict proves to be for nothing when Cas leans in and kisses him first. Sam's mouth parts on a small gasp, and their lips fit together just so. Cas pulls back, looking shocked and for all the world like he's about to fly away. Sam reaches out and grabs his wrist, knowing he can't stop him if he really wants to go, but also knowing that he has to try.

"Cas, wait, you…" he shakes himself, trying to pull his thoughts together when he can't stop thinking about the way Cas' lips had felt against his. "You didn't have to do that just because you thought I wanted it. I know you heard me thinking about it, but I don't want you to do anything that you don't want, too. You mean way too much to me, okay? I understand if you don't care about me… that way." As he talks, Cas looks increasingly perplexed, so he cuts himself off mid-ramble and waits for Cas to respond.

"Sam," Cas begins hesitantly, "I don't read your thoughts if I can help it. I know that humans don't like that, and I wouldn't want to betray your trust, especially after all that you've been through. It's difficult to block them out while I'm healing you or when you're particularly distressed, but I can assure you that I was not listening to them just now."

Sam just stares at him, not sure why Cas is telling him this, and then it clicks. Cas had wanted to kiss him, and he had wanted it with absolutely no influence from Sam. The knowledge makes him break out in a wide grin, and he leans in before pausing to search Cas' eyes for permission. After a minute, Sam sees what he's looking for, and he crashes their lips together.

Cas makes a small noise. For a brief moment Sam reads it as distress and moves to pull back, but then Cas is wrapping his hand around the back of Sam's neck and opening his mouth. Encouraged, Sam surges forward to slide his tongue alongside Cas'.

It's electric, and he can feel the fine hairs on his arms raising as Cas moans into the kiss, tugging at Sam's shoulders like he isn't sure what he wants, only that he wants it very badly.

Sam pulls back and sucks in a lungful of air, having to fight the urge to just dive back in when he sees the way that Cas' mouth is pink and swollen.

"Cas, are you sure? Because I am, I really am, but I don't want you to feel like you have to for any reason at all." Sam knows he's rambling again, but he just has to know. Cas pulls back slightly, taking a deep breath.

"That morning, after I stayed the night with you, was very strange for me. I know that we've been forming a bond since you've been here, but I've never," he pauses, looking back out at the trees. "I've never had feelings of that nature for anyone. I didn't know what to do, but when you fled so quickly, I assumed you didn't share them." Sam groans, feeling suddenly stupid. "When you came back, you assured me it was a mistake, merely a physical reaction. I'm not proud of my actions, but it was difficult for me to spend time with you with that knowledge in mind."

"No, no, I'm sorry. I am so sorry for that. I was freaked out and embarrassed, but it wasn't a mistake. It was you, okay? That's the first time that I…" he trails off, unwilling to spell it out. "Since Hell, you know? It was because of you. Because of the way I feel about you."

Cas nods slowly, reaching across to take Sam's hand. He shifts into Sam's space and kisses him again, chaste and tender, before leaning against Sam's side. They stay like that for most of the afternoon, speaking only occasionally, and Sam can't help but think he hasn't felt this warm in years.

---

Over the next few weeks, they continue with their normal routine. Cas comes by at least every other evening, and he works painstakingly to heal the damage to Sam's soul.

Sam thinks he must be nearly done, because he hasn't had a nightmare or an episode since the day Cas kissed him on the porch.

For all that they follow the same routine, things feel completely different. When Cas' grace connects them, there's a new layer to the intimacy and Sam welcomes it without trepidation. He can feel the link between them growing stronger, and he feels stronger as a result.

The other difference is that, when he's finished, Cas doesn't leave. He crawls into bed with Sam, and they exchange kisses -- sometimes sweet, sometimes heated -- until Sam falls asleep. With a few rare exceptions, Cas is always there in the morning, as well. He waits for Sam to wake up before he says his goodbyes, promising to be back by the following day.

One morning in early December, things change. Sam knows it's early December -- December 4th, to be exact -- because he'd asked Cas once what the date was, and the following morning there had been a page-a-day calendar on the kitchen table. A kitten-themed page-a-day calendar.

When he'd asked Cas about it, he'd gotten a blank stare in return, but he's still pretty sure the angel was fucking with him.

Anyway, it's December 4th, the calendar is showcasing a calico kitten peeking out of a basket of yarn, and Sam is restless. He hasn't felt anything but those minor bouts of cabin fever in the weeks he's been here, and they've always been easily cured by a few hours of fresh air.

This morning, though, Cas left before he woke up, and he's spent the entire day pacing the cabin. It feels too small and too empty all at once, and he debates for most of the afternoon about whether or not to call Cas down early.

He's ready to see Dean. He needs to see him. Sam tries to cook lunch for himself early in the afternoon, but he's distracted with the need to call Cas, to do something, and his stir-fry gets left on the stove to go cold.

Sam is saved the trouble of making a decision when Cas comes back around dusk. He halts in his pacing when he hears him arrive, and turns to see Cas watching him with his brow furrowed.

"Sit down," he orders, and Sam does. This is a familiar routine for them by now, but Sam feels only the briefest flare of a connection before Cas withdraws. He looks up, disappointed, but Cas is smiling. An open, broad thing that takes Sam's breath from his chest.

"What is it, Cas? Is everything okay?"

"I could tell last night that I was close to being finished with your healing, and I thought it might only take one or two more sessions." Cas grips Sam's hand in both of his. "But it seems that your soul has healed the remainder of the damage on its own."

"Wait, so that's it? We're finished?" Cas frowns briefly at his phrasing, but nods.

"Your soul is back to what it was before you fell into the Cage. Better, even, since you no longer have to fight against the influence of Azazel's blood. I'd imagine that's why you're feeling so restless," he adds. "You're free to do what you like now, without worrying about having any more 'episodes.'"

"I want to see Dean," Sam tells him immediately. "I wasn't ready before, and I wanted to get better before I went to him. I didn't want to mess things up for him and Lisa and Ben, but I think I'm ready now."

"I understand," Cas responds quietly, not meeting his eyes. "Your soul knew when you were healed, even before you did, and it's only natural that you would be eager to move on. I will take you there as soon as you're ready to go." He slips his hands from Sam's.

"Whoa, whoa, hold on, Cas." Sam catches Cas' jaw in his hand and tips his head up, forcing him to look at Sam. "I'm not in that much of a hurry. Is everything okay?"

Cas sighs, his eyes darting away again.

"It's been a tiring day, but yes. Everything is fine." His hands are clenched into fists, resting on his thighs, and he's the absolute image of discomfort. Sam almost smiles, because even after everything that they've been through, everything that's changed between he and Dean and Cas, one thing has held constant. Cas can't lie for shit.

"You know, lying's a sin," he teases gently. Cas shoots him an unimpressed look, but he presses on. "I understand if something's bothering you and you're not ready to talk about it, but give me some credit, man. I know something's wrong, and you know you can tell me anything. You already know everything there is to know about me," he adds with a rueful half-smile.

"I may know your soul, but I don't know everything about you. Not even close. You surprise me every day." Cas is so earnest that Sam squirms under his gaze. At least Cas is looking at him now, and he takes it as an encouraging sign.

"Cas," he pleads, "you've already done so much for me. Let me help you, okay?"

"Sam, you don't…" Cas huffs in frustration, clearly unwilling to continue. "You don't need to worry about any obligation to me," he mumbles. "You don't owe me any debt for healing you, and I don't expect you to want to continue this," a pause, "relationship, now that you're ready to move on to a more normal life."

Sam gapes at him, realizing that Cas is mistaking his eagerness to see Dean as eagerness to get away from Cas, which is really, really not okay. He takes Cas' face in both of his hands then and tugs him up into a rough kiss. Cas allows himself to be pulled in, opening up to Sam immediately.

"Cas," he pants after a minute. "That's not what I want at all. I want you, whether it's in this cabin or in Indiana or anywhere else." He kisses him again, exhilarated to feel Cas responding in kind, sharp and messy. He lies back on the bed, pulling Cas with him until the other man is straddling him, groaning into his mouth at the contact.

They haven't done more than kiss since that awkward morning together. Sam hasn't really felt ready, his mind and soul still feeling raw at times. He's pretty sure that Cas has never done anything like this before, so he's been in no rush either.

Right now, though, with their bodies pressed together, he wants nothing more than to feel Cas' skin against his. He hopes Cas feels the same way.

Then Cas is sitting back, pulling off his coat and jacket, and Sam grins because, yeah, they're on the same page. He watches as Cas tugs off his tie and unbuttons his shirt, finally exposing the pale chest that Sam has caught himself imagining more than once. He surges up, burying his face in the curve of Cas' neck and inhaling the scent of his skin.

Cas smells clean, bright and sharp, like the air before a lightning storm. Sam finds that he can't get enough as he darts out his tongue to drag it across his skin, nipping lightly at the curve of his shoulder before leaning back to yank his own shirt over his head. Cas lets out a surprised, pleased noise when he presses their bare chests back together, falling back onto the mattress behind him.

They slow down then, kissing deeply but without the frantic edge from minutes before. There's no hurry here, not at all, and the realization that this is Cas' first time is a sobering one.

Sam rolls them over so he's on top, slotted between Cas' legs just right for their erections to press together. Sam gasps at the friction, and Cas stifles a moan. And no, that definitely isn't going to work. He wants to hear Cas come apart underneath him. He wastes no time in undoing Cas' belt and slacks, shifting to the side to drag them down and off his legs, only pausing briefly to pull off his shoes and socks, as well.

Then he has to stop, because Cas is naked. On a bed, naked, with Sam. His skin is flushed, and his expression is shy and guarded, but his cock is hard and straining toward his belly. Sam gives him his best reassuring smile, waiting for Cas to indicate that he's ready. When he gives Sam a small nod, paired with a nervous smile, Sam dips his head down and places a soft kiss at the jutting bone of his hip.

He works his way up Cas' torso, peppering it with kisses, before stopping to tease at his nipples. Cas' surprised oh and the way he arches up toward Sam encourage him, and he nips lightly at one, then the other, before returning to soothe each one with his tongue.

Cas is panting now, his hand coming up to thread fingers through Sam's hair where it's gotten way too long after two months in the middle of nowhere. Finally, Sam's had enough of teasing, and he drags his lips back down Cas' chest, pausing to drop a kiss over his bellybutton before licking a wet stripe up the hard length of his cock.

Cas cries out, bucking up, but Sam had expected that. He lays a forearm across Cas' hips before lowering his head to slide his mouth down, engulfing Cas almost to the base before he has to pull back. He takes Cas in his hand, jacking him slowly as he works his mouth back down over the head. Cas is steadily pushing up against him now, breath coming in harsh gasps.

"Please, Sam," he begs, and his voice has somehow gotten even rougher. Sam has to press a hand to his own dick to regain some semblance of composure before pulling off of Cas and nuzzling his stomach.

"I'd like to do more, Cas, if you're ready. You can be inside of me, or me inside of you, it doesn't matter to me. I just need to get closer." He chances a glance at Cas' face and feels his cock twitch at the lust and need he sees there.

"I'm ready, I want it," he murmurs. "I've never…" he flushes, embarrassed, and Sam reaches up to stroke lightly at his neck, reassuring. "I wouldn't know what I was doing, so it would probably be better if you… and I…" he trails off again, unsure in a way Sam has never seen him.

"And what, Cas?" Sam urges, needing to be sure that this is really what Cas wants.

"I would really like to have you inside of me," Cas whispers, not breaking Sam's gaze.

"Fuck, Cas," Sam groans, dropping his head again. "Yeah, I want that too. Just give me a minute, okay?" He takes a few deep breaths before standing up from the bed and working off his pants and socks. A quick glance at Cas reveals him watching Sam hungrily, shifting his legs apart in a way that seems unconscious but has Sam biting back a groan.

He stops to think for a minute, wondering what they could possibly use to ease the way, since Sam hasn't had any way of getting lube (or any reason to need it) all the way out here.

Cas clears his throat, looking a bit sheepish now. He gestures at the nightstand.

"Second drawer," he mumbles. Sam pulls it open, and sure enough, there's a brand new bottle of KY tucked away in the back. He grabs it and raises an eyebrow at Cas, unable to keep the smile off his face. "Since our relationship changed, I had hoped we might do this eventually. I know… the mechanics of it, and I thought it would be better to be prepared."

"You Boy Scout," Sam chuckles, before dropping back onto the bed to press a fierce kiss against Cas' mouth. He shifts over until he's between Cas' knees, and he opens the lube and pours some on his fingers, rubbing them together to get it warm.

Cas gasps and jerks at the first press against his entrance, and Sam leans in to kiss him as he pushes the first finger in. Cas' mouth falls open on a moan, and he tugs at Sam's hair, thrusting his tongue desperately into Sam's mouth.

Sam works him open slowly, gently, until Cas is rocking down on four of his fingers and choking out broken cries of please and ready and now. He can't wait any longer, and he eases his fingers out, shuddering at the way Cas' body clenches around them. He slicks himself before lowering his body over Cas, pushing his knees up and out before starting that first slow press inside.

Cas makes a long, broken noise, and Sam pauses halfway in, shutting his eyes tightly to gain a bit of control over himself.

"You okay? You need me to stop? All you have to do is tell me if you do." But Cas shakes his head frantically, bringing his feet up to the small of Sam's back and pulling, and Sam is powerless to fight that. He leans in to place a soft, lingering kiss at the bend of Cas' knee before pushing forward the rest of the way, crying out at the feeling of Cas tight around him.

He drops down, resting part of his weight on Cas, and is deeply satisfied when Cas wraps his free arm around Sam's back, using that one and the hand in his hair to tug him down the rest of the way.

There's nothing between their bodies now, and Sam rocks gently into him, enjoying the whimpers and moans he can coax out of Cas' mouth. They continue that way for what feels like ages, until Cas starts groaning in earnest. Sam knows he's getting close, and he braces his weight on one forearm before reaching down to slip his other hand under Cas' ass. He lifts, pulling Cas' pelvis into his, and thrusts again.

Cas' response is instant, a sharp, surprised cry that galvanizes Sam. He fucks into Cas, their bodies pressed tightly together as he drags across Cas' prostate over and over. Cas whines, confused, and Sam pulls his head back to rest their foreheads together.

"Shh, it's okay. You're okay. Just let go, I've got you, I promise." As soon as Sam says those words, Cas locks up, staring into Sam's eyes as he comes between them with a soft, stunned noise.

The look of awe that he's fixing on Sam, together with the way Cas' body has tightened down impossibly around him, proves to be too much for Sam to withstand. He thrusts in just twice more before groaning as he spills himself inside of Cas. He drops his head to Cas' shoulder as he rocks them both through their orgasms, finally stilling when it gets to be too much.

"Cas, I…" he has to stop the words from spilling out of his mouth, because even if he's feeling what he thinks he is, this isn't the right time to say it. He kisses Cas tenderly rather than finish his sentence, and Cas seems content to return it.

After he eases himself out, he tucks himself into Cas' side. Cas wraps both arms around him, slipping a leg between his, and he dozes off with the first hints of moonlight streaming through the window.

---

It's dark when Sam wakes up, and his position is a familiar one, though he no longer feels embarrassment when he remembers that first morning he woke with Cas. He knows that Cas doesn't sleep, but he has some kind of meditative rest thing that he's gotten in the habit of doing when he's with Sam.

Except he doesn't seem to be resting now. Instead, he's rocking up languidly into Sam's thigh where it's sprawled between his legs. Sam lifts his head and sees Cas, eyes shut and head thrown back on the pillow. His lips are parted, short puffs of breath coming quickly, and if he knows Sam's awake he gives no indication. Sam takes the opportunity to press his leg more firmly into Cas' groin.

His eyes fly open, and he looks right at Sam with an expression so intense Sam thinks maybe he should be alarmed.

Before Sam can register what's happening, Cas has flipped them over, straddling his waist. Sam's already hard as a rock, and Cas reaches behind his back to take hold of Sam's cock before lowering himself slowly onto it.

Sam has to bite back a yelp as the last hazy remnants of sleep are ripped violently away from him. All of his focus is on Cas' ass, still messy and open from last night, and his eyes, which are boring darkly into Sam's own.

He bucks his hips, drawing a moan from Cas, and he can't help but think that he's created a monster when Cas shoves back, impaling himself on Sam. A deep flush covers his chest, and Sam reaches up to drag his thumb over a nipple as Cas rides him slowly. It's perfect, and unexpected, and everything he could want, except… he's missing something.

"Cas," he pants, "I need, I need." He gives up on words, grabbing Cas' hand where it's gripping his hip and pulling it up to rest over his heart. He wills Cas to understand that he wants this, that he wants that connection between them even if his soul doesn't need healing anymore. He's grown used to it, finding comfort and peace in it, and he needs it now more than anything.

Cas stares down at him, eyes unfathomable, before spreading his fingers across the skin of Sam's chest and digging his fingertips in, hard enough to leave bruises. And then he's opening the connection, so suddenly that Sam shouts at the overwhelming rush of it.

Still fucking himself down onto Sam, Cas reaches with his grace, seeking Sam's soul. Sam responds eagerly, and when they meet and twist together Sam nearly blacks out with how good it feels. Neither of them will last long like this, Cas shoving down to meet Sam's thrusts, and as they both hurtle toward the edge Sam hears Cas whispering frantically.

"I can't, I can't stop, Sam, I'm going to…"

"Do it," Sam grunts, not quite knowing what he's agreeing to, grabbing Cas' arm to hold his hand in place while fitting his other hand around Cas' hip. He bucks up, hard, and he only has a moment to feel himself start to come before Cas is crying out, his voice almost enough to hurt Sam's ears. He slaps his free hand down over Sam's eyes, and Sam finds himself enveloped in every warm feeling he's ever felt from Cas, magnified a hundredfold.

Love, unconditional acceptance, awe, and wonder wash over him as he distantly registers Cas' release splattering his stomach and a bright glow edging in between Cas' fingers. It's like nothing he's ever felt, and he wants to cling to it, but he can't handle all of those feelings for very long. Before he can stop it, he's slipping away from consciousness.

---

Sam's entire body feels like jelly. He can hardly move his limbs, but he feels so safe and sated that he can't bring himself to care. He cracks his eyes open, and Cas is right there, hovering over him and watching him nervously. The early morning sun is just starting to light the room.

"Hey, Cas," he yawns, "you okay?" Cas nods, smiling at him shyly. "That was… I don't even know what it was. Awesome just doesn't quite cover it. I don't think I can move right now, though."

"Yes, I expect that's because of the effects of my grace. Our connection last night was intense, to say the least."

"Yeah, I definitely agree with that. Wait, am I angel drunk again?" He frowns, taking a quick inventory of how he's feeling. "I don't think I am."

"No, Sam, you're not. Now, I don't want you to get upset, but I'm afraid I lost control of myself just a bit last night."

"I'd say you did." Sam chuckles, low and dirty. "I didn't know you had it in you, though I am absolutely not complaining."

Cas huffs, exasperated, though the blush stealing across his cheeks takes away from the effect of it.

"That's not what I mean, although I did enjoy… that aspect of it. Very much," he reassures Sam before continuing. "How much of it do you remember at the end?"

Sam's eyebrows draw together, considering. He remembers Cas on top of him, and the feeling of Cas' grace inside of him. He vaguely recalls a white light, and an engulfing warmth, and then nothing. Oh, he thinks, putting the pieces together. Oh.

"Yes," Cas confirms, clearly following Sam's thoughts. "Combining the bond between us with a more… physical bonding proved to be a bit too much for me to control. I'm afraid that my true form came to the surface, if only for a few moments."

"Wow," Sam says, dumbfounded. "It felt... really amazing. But why are you so freaked out? I'm not mad at you. I'm kind of honored, as weird as that may sound."

"I could have blinded you!" Cas fixes an unconvincing scowl on Sam. "You need to understand how dangerous this was."

"Yeah, but it wasn't, was it? You protected me. I told you a long time ago, Cas. I trust you. Even more now than I did back then." He nudges Cas with his knee. "I love you, you know? I was nervous about saying it before, but after what I felt last night I want to be sure you know that."

Cas smiles at him, open and fond, before turning serious again.

"I suppose I should just let you see," he sighs, "as you'll only find out on your own if I don't." Sam frowns at him, confused, and Cas looks pointedly at Sam's chest. Sam follows his gaze, and oh. Wow, wasn't expecting that.

"You branded me?" Sam sits up abruptly, and Cas has to catch his shoulder when he sways dizzily. "This looks like the mark on Dean's shoulder." His thoughts are racing, drawing any number of unpleasant conclusions, and he draws in a ragged breath before silencing them. "Maybe you'd better explain." Cas nods, and Sam flops back against the pillows.

"That mark is the result of my true form connecting with your body. Grace isn't made to interact with humans that way, and though mine has formed a bond with your soul, you're not meant to be exposed to it directly." He takes a deep breath, choosing his words carefully. "Dean bears a similar mark, gained when I returned his soul to his body. I didn't have a vessel then, and it was unavoidable.

"The marks aren't the same, though they may appear so. They're each physical signs of the bonds they represent, and my bond with your brother could not be any more different than my bond with you. I left traces of my grace behind when I brought him back from Hell. Nothing more."

"Okay, so…" Sam closes his mouth, not sure how to continue. "So what does this represent?" he asks, gesturing at the mark on his chest. Rather than answer, Cas fits his hand over it, and an all-consuming sense of love and acceptance rushes through him. He opens his mouth on a silent cry before Cas pulls reluctantly away.

"That is the bond between us," Cas answers simply, and Sam pulls him down for a kiss. He tries to pour all of his feelings into it, even if Cas can sense them already. Sam just really wants him to understand.

"I'm proud to have it," he whispers into Cas' mouth before wrapping his arms around him and pulling him in tight.

He's too exhausted at this point to seriously consider going another round with Cas, to his great disappointment. They lie in bed a while longer, talking about nothing and exchanging kisses, before getting up to make breakfast. Sam makes pancakes, which he knows Cas loves despite his attempts at indifference, and they eat in comfortable silence for a few minutes.

"I think I'm ready to see Dean," Sam tells him, a bit hesitant to return to their conversation from the previous day. It seems so long ago. "Don't think that means I'm done with this, not for a second, okay? I want you to come with me. And wherever I end up settling down, I want you with me, just like we are now. If you want," he adds quickly, not wanting to seem presumptuous.

"I do," Cas assures him, squeezing his hand and smiling at Sam's anxiousness. "But not quite like this. It's something I've been wanting to discuss with you, actually."

Sam's heart leaps into his throat, and he's annoyed at himself for suddenly being so nervous. It's just that now he has this with Cas, he's kind of terrified of losing it.

"What is it?" he asks, trying to keep his voice steady.

"You know that I find little joy in most of my duties in Heaven. Some of the work I do is important, rewarding, but much of my time is consumed by petty squabbling among my brothers and sisters. I've been working on finding a way to delegate those responsibilities in order to allow myself more time on earth." With you, he doesn't say.

"And? Any luck?"

"There are two angels, Balthazar and Rachel, whom I have known for a very long time. I believe I can rely on them to deal with the more tedious, day-to-day tasks. I would still have a great deal of work, but I could be with you almost every night. If you'd like."

"Yeah, Cas, of course I'd like," Sam grins. He flips their hands, squeezing Cas' now. "Just so long as I still get to have you, I'll be good."

"Good." Cas smiles. "You should get ready. It's time to go see your brother."

---


Six Months Later

Sam's sitting on the front porch swing, drinking a beer and watching the sun sink over the neighboring houses. This particular house hadn't had a swing when he'd moved in, but with permission from the landlord he'd installed one.

He missed the one at the cabin sometimes, and although he didn't say anything, he knew Cas did too. They've made a few nice memories on this one already, though, and he smiles just thinking about it.

His phone vibrates in his pocket, and he pulls it out to see a text from Dean.

Dude. Don't forget about the cookout tomorrow, or Lisa will kick your ass. Get your wife to make a pie or something.

Sam laughs and sends back a quick affirmative reply, making sure to let Dean know that he's a jerk and that, sooner or later, Cas is going to overhear one of these "wife" comments and end up smiting him.

Things had been kind of rough at first. Dean had been determined to kill him when he showed up on their doorstep in Cicero, assuming shapeshifter, revenant, and every other terrible alternative to the truth.

Cas' presence had gone a long way to easing his mind, at least, and fortunately their reunion went off without any bloodshed.

Of course, that's not counting the split lip Sam took when Dean found out he'd been back from Hell for two months without letting him know. His anger had been short-lived, though, when Sam had explained -- in deliberately vague detail -- what he'd been doing for all that time.

It's beyond fucked up, but Sam is lucky to have a brother who understands what it means to go to Hell and come back. Their experiences were vastly different, but he knows Dean gets it on a level that nobody else really can.

At least the memories have healed over for both of them, Dean's with time and Sam's with Cas' painstaking assistance. They've managed to pull off some reasonable facsimile of well-adjusted that Sam never would have expected for either of them. Lisa and Ben had accepted him without question, for which he was exceedingly grateful, and Lisa had found him a place in the neighborhood almost right away. He's in a duplex two blocks from Dean, shared with his elderly landlord on the other side.

She's tiny, sweet, and apparently hard of hearing, but that doesn't stop her from throwing Sam and Cas indulgent winks whenever she sees them together. He takes a lot of comfort in the knowledge that if she usually doesn't catch his "Good morning, Mrs. Rogers," then she probably can't hear him and Cas through the walls at night. He fervently hopes not, anyway.

With that thought comes the flutter of wings, and he smiles before pulling another beer out of the cooler at his feet. Cas settles next to him and takes it with a quiet thanks.

"How was your day?" Sam asks, aware of how bizarrely domestic their situation is and finding it impossible to care even a little bit.

"It was okay," Cas tells him, and then sighs dramatically. "Balthazar was complaining about the cherubim; it seems they're being overly affectionate whenever he visits them to deliver orders."

"So nothing new, then," Sam chuckles. Cas nods in agreement before smiling softly.

"I'm glad to be home," he murmurs, and then turns to catch Sam's mouth with his own. They kiss for a long moment, lazy and comfortable, before reluctantly pulling apart.

"Me too, Cas," Sam grins. "Me too."