Things in the Men of Letters base were eerily quiet now. It seemed too big with just Castiel and Sam within its walls. Somehow, Cas felt like an intruder without Dean’s presence there making everything alright.
Sam was seated against the end of the table in the library, the angel’s hands framing the sides of his face as he tried to ascertain the damage to the inside of the hunter, prioritizing what he needed to see to first, while keeping in mind what could be taken care of easiest. There was residual grace from his brother within every atom of Sam Winchester’s body, reflecting that it was the angel that had actually been keeping Sam from falling to pieces, that he had, in fact, been working to slowly heal Sam- slowly, because his own injuries were so great, it took everything in Gadreel to keep them both alive.
There was evidence Gadreel had been forced to expend a great amount- given Sam’s and his condition, a dangerous amount- of his grace multiple times. Castiel made a note to question the hunter about it later, if his blocked memories were all in order. Then again, perhaps it would be best to ask Dean instead.
His hands fell away, frowning as he worried over what he was suppose to do. Cas would give just about anything to have his wings back, to have the ease of just being able to appear by Dean’s side to check on him, to make sure he wasn’t alone. He couldn’t though, didn’t even know where the hunter was, and couldn’t leave Sam long enough to go search for him. Healing Sam from the outside in, and without his previous amount of power, meant frequent low-level healings.
So lost in his own thoughts, Castiel didn’t notice the hazel eyes that had opened and now studied his face, worriedly.
The angel blinked with a start, stepping away with a shake of his head to allow the other man to rise.
“I apologize, Sam. I got distracted.” The human made no move to rise, and Castiel looked at him with a nod. “You will be fine. If we continue regular healing treatments, all the damage the trials did to you will eventually be repaired. Gadreel appears to have been putting you back together molecule by molecule from the inside.” He didn’t miss the way Sam clenched his teeth, audiblly drawing in a breath and releasing it through his nose. Cas winced again. “I didn’t- I mean…” He shoved his hands into his pockets and glanced away. “You’ll be fine, Sam. In time.”
The younger hunter bobbed his head, casting his gaze about but not really seeing anything of the library and base around them.
Finally, it was Sam that voiced the question on repeat in Cas’ mind. “Well, what now?” he asked, making the angel’s eyes widen a fraction.
The question was too big, too ambiguous for Castiel to even fathom. He had no answers or solutions to anything that was going on, what with the war between angels, the war between demons, the eventual war between the two victors over earth and humanity.
To be honest, Cas hadn’t even thought as far as that. His mind was as consumed with the image of Dean walking away from them as it had been in that moment, the gut wrenching, hollowing out feeling of having to let Dean walk away, because Dean wanted him to look after Sam, to see through what had started this all to begin with: saving his brother.
Castiel didn’t know enough words to properly convey what it had been like to have to let Dean leave, muted and suppressed though his feelings were by his newly acquired and foreign grace. Without his Grace to help him focus on the mission he’d been tasked with, Cas knew there would have been no way from him to not take off after Dean, whether on foot, or to eventually jump back into his stolen car and head after him, phone pressed to his ear, praying Dean would answer.
“I don’t know,” he told Sam finally. The other man nodded as Cas continued, “I’m here to aid you, Sam, so whatever you decide is what we shall do.” He shook his head. “I have little idea of what you and your brother have been up to between the last time I saw you and when I received Dean’s call for help.”
Nodding, Sam looked down at his hands. “Can’t say I know what to do, either, Cas.”
“That is okay, too.”
A bitter laughed escaped the taller male as he rake a hand through his hair, anger flaring to life in his eyes. “I mean, part of me knows what I need to do, get back to work, keep figuring out the tablet, do what we’ve been doing, because that whole cluster is still hanging over my head, but at the same time, part of me is so… angry, I can’t-“ His voice did a weird thing, making Cas regard him with a frown as Sam’s mouth clicked shut, lips twisted at the corners in a sharp, cutting smile as he shook his head and tried to reconcile the war within.
“Nothing has to be decided today,” Cas told him finally, voice even and smooth.
The man snapped his head to look at him, brows raised in surprise, before the whole of his face softened, shoulders sagging as he nodded his agreement. Pushing to his feet, Sam clapped a hand on the angel’s shoulder as he passed, Cas’ gaze locked on the wood grain of the table, missing the way the hunter paused in the door way, pivoting to regard the angel’s back.
“Hey,” he called softly, making the shorter man turn, brows raised in silent question. Sam jerked his chin at him. “What about you? How are you holding up?”
Cas’ mind thrust forward his desperate, keening need to go after Dean, his anxiousness and anger at being unable to. It reminded him that even were he to call the hunter right now, the other man would not answer, probably trying to steel his resolve to walk away and leave them behind, knowing that hearing from Cas or Sam would crumble his will to dust.
The angel thought about the foreign grace in his body that allowed him what little help he could offer, thought of the way Castiel had felt so stripped, vulnerable, and lost when he’d been forced to become a human, everything so much and so new and confusing. Now the way he could compare what he’d lost in becoming human, and what being an angel took away from him. He hadn’t realized it until he’d become host to an angel’s grace again how his grace controlled what he felt, how much he felt. It made him want to rail against what felt like a glass wall separating him from the depth of emotion that was his by right, the emotion he was slowly beginning to properly understand.
Like the fact that Castiel was in love with Dean.
Or, well, human Castiel was in love with Dean. As an angel, his grace only let him experience his own emotions to a certain point and no further. So while he knew he loved Dean differently than, say Sam, that it was somehow more desperate, it was also carefully controlled so as to keep them at a distance from each other, to still keep Castiel tied to Heaven.
The memory of those stripped and cut off feelings haunted Cas like phantom appendages were said to ache with pain. He could still feel them, though the whisper of his grace told him they weren’t actually there, and the whole of it truly made Castiel wonder if what he lost as a human was worth what he gained as an angel, if he was truly contemplating willingly giving up his grace and his power in order to be free instead. Free to live and to love, and possibly be loved in return. Could he not be as brave as his humans, his fragile humans who had never known his power and fought anyway, be as brave as they were and willingly join them this time? To be able to fully appreciate his humanity rather than running scared because of it?
Could he call Dean and just assure the other man that when he was ready, the blond could come home and that they would be waiting? That the two of them have never had anything but the best of intentions, but despite it always getting turned around the worst way possible, it didn’t mean either of them should stop trying and just give up, either.
Sucking in a deep breath, Cas straightened and squared his shoulders, nodding his head once to Sam as he finally answered, “I’m doing the best that can be expected given the circumstances. That’s all we can do.”
And it was.