Castiel shudders. He opens his eyes and blinks. He’s not supposed to be awake. Something’s not right. Why is he awake?
There’s a voice. Castiel would know that voice anywhere.
“Cas!” Dean shouts.
Castiel’s heart leaps as he finds his way to his feet and begins to run.
“Dean!” Castiel shouts.
“Cas!” Dean shouts back.
Castiel picks up the pace. “Dean!” He yells. His eyes fill with tears of relief. He will be saved. Dean will save him. Again…he really is an enormous burden on the Winchesters.
Castiel shakes his head. It doesn’t matter. Dean has come to rescue him.
“Cas! Hurry! We won’t be able to hold him off much longer!” Dean yells. He sounds further away.
“Wait! I’m over here!” Castiel yells. “Dean!”
“Cas!” Dean yells again; Castiel can barely hear him.
“Dean!” Castiel yells as panic begins to course through his veins. “No! Dean! Please! Please don’t leave me!”
Castiel can’t even hear Dean anymore.
Castiel trips and lands hard on his hands and knees.
Someone laughs behind him.
Castiel feels cold.
Tears prick Castiel’s eyes.
The Empty walks in front of Castiel. He looks like Castiel again.
“Like I said before, I want you to suffer.” The Empty smirks. “And you will suffer. Because you have hope. Hope that even though you confessed your sad unrequited love for Dean Winchester, he will still come and rescue you.”
“No,” Castiel whispers. “That’s not true.” Exhaustion washes over him.
“What’s not true? That you are an enormous burden on the Winchesters or that Dean doesn’t love you?”
“No,” Castiel whispers again. It’s all he can manage to say. He’s too busy trying to keep his eyes open to form a more coherent sentence. He has never felt such fatigue and it takes everything he has to stay upright.
“Nighty-night, Castiel.” The Empty laughs.
It’s the last thing Castiel hears for a while.
It happens again.
“No,” Castiel whispers, head hanging.
The Empty laughs and it’s the last thing Castiel hears before he falls asleep.
“No!” Castiel yells. He feels a rush of adrenaline and he punches The Empty in the face.
The Empty just laughs. “It’s really quite sad that you think someone’s going to save you. When are you going to understand? No one is coming. Don’t you think they would’ve come already if they were going to save you?”
Castiel just glares.
“Don’t you think Dean would’ve saved you by now? I’m sure he’d like to have a word with you after your last conversation. Unless of course…maybe your precious Dean is dead. Did that ever cross your mind?”
Castiel feels cold wash over him.
No. Dean’s okay. He’s okay. He has to be okay.
“I’ll just leave you with that thought.” The Empty cackles and walks away.
Castiel blinks. He doesn’t feel tired. Just…he doesn’t feel anything. Nothing. Just…empty.
Dean’s not dead. He’s not. Castiel would know. He would feel it.
No. That makes no sense. It’s just wishful thinking.
Could he really be dead?
Castiel wakes up screaming. He saw Dean killed during a hunt. He got impaled in the back by some sort of rusty nail.
Castiel shakes his head and swipes at his eyes.
No. Dean’s not dead.
Dean is okay. He has to be. If anyone deserves to live, it’s Dean.
Then there’s light. It fills the…well, the empty all around Castiel.
Then there’s screaming.
The Empty is screaming.
And then Dean’s standing in front of Castiel.
“Cas?” Dean’s voice shakes.
“Dean?” Castiel whispers.
And then Dean has pulled Castiel into his arms. He’s hugging him tighter than Castiel can remember Dean ever hugging him and honestly, it hurts a little, but Castiel’s not complaining. He would freeze this moment if he could, just to savor this feeling of being high on hope.
“Dean,” Castiel whispers again because he’s here. He has come to rescue him.
What did it cost?
“What did you do?” Castiel pulls away from Dean.
“What?” Dean asks.
“What did you do? Did you make a deal?”
“No. Jack found a way and we need to leave right now.”
“Where is he?”
“I’m right here.” Jack appears beside Castiel.
“Jack,” Castiel grabs his son and hugs him tightly.
“Dad,” Jack’s voice cracks as he hugs him for a moment and then says, “It’s hard to keep this open. We need to go.”
Castiel nods and releases Jack.
“Oh Castiel?” The Empty asks in a sing-songy voice.
Fear drips into Castiel’s being. This is real. This is real and The Empty is here with Castiel and Dean and Jack.
Castiel steps in front of Dean and Jack.
“Oh, you want to save your family. How…pathetic.” The Empty says. “I bet they came just because they have a new problem for you to solve.”
“Shut up!” Jack shouts, stepping in front of Castiel. Jack pushes his hands forward and sends a wave of energy at The Empty.
The Empty flies backwards.
“Time to go!” Jack shouts. He grabs Castiel’s and Dean’s hands.
“I don’t think so!” The Empty yells. He claps his hands and sends Castiel, Dean, and Jack flying in different directions.
Castiel lands hard on his back. He tries to get up, but he’s slammed to the ground by a rush of wind.
The Empty marches over to Castiel and grabs him by the neck. “I can’t keep you quiet. You won’t go to sleep. And if I send you out with them, you’ll just do something stupid and wind up here again. With me. And I can’t have you keeping me awake any longer.”
Castiel wishes he could make a funny retort. It’s what Dean would want him to do. But there is far too much pressure on his windpipe for that and Castiel is struggling to remain conscious.
The Empty grins. “I’m going to solve my problem.” He digs his fingers into Castiel’s skin and rips his grace right out of his neck, leaving a gash.
Castiel blinks. Did that…did that really just happen? He’s dimly aware of pain in his neck and hot blood pouring down his chin. His vision fogs and he’s beginning to feel as though he’s underwater.
“Cas! No!” Dean screams, tackling The Empty.
The Empty is taken by surprise and drops Castiel.
Castiel lands hard on his back.
“Cas!” Jack slides on his knees beside Castiel.
Castiel covers his neck with his hand, hoping that will prevent his newly human body from bleeding out. This isn’t fair. They were so close. He was almost home. He just wants to go home. Castiel feels tears well up in his eyes and he tries to blink them away, but it doesn’t work, and they begin to spill down his face.
“Hey, hey, please don’t cry Dad, you’re okay. I can fix you.” Jack says. He puts his hand over Castiel’s neck and golden light shines.
Castiel’s body is restored but Castiel can’t feel his grace.
“I can’t, I can’t feel my grace.” Castiel whispers.
Jack looks stricken. “Maybe it’ll replenish? It didn’t look like he took all of it, but it was hard to tell.”
Castiel nods. He feels numb.
Dean cries out in pain and Castiel looks just in time to see The Empty toss Dean…somewhere. Castiel can’t see Dean.
“Dean!” Castiel yells.
“What did you do to him?” Jack screams.
“What I’m about to do to you.” The Empty replies before hitting Jack so hard that he flies out of sight too.
The Empty grabs Castiel by his jacket and says, “And I will never see you again.”
He shoves Castiel. Hard. And Castiel must’ve lost consciousness because the next thing he knows, he’s in a field, lying on his back between Dean and Jack. There are colorful wildflowers all around them. The sun shines brightly on Castiel’s face. There are puffy white clouds in the sky and birds fly overhead, singing happily in the sunshine.
“It worked.” Dean sits up. He sounds excited and surprised.
Castiel cannot help but smile as he sits up as well.
“Cas? What happened to you? Are you okay?” Dean asks.
“The Empty took my grace. Jack healed me. My grace is gone, but I’m fine other than that.” Castiel replies, hardly able to believe the words that are coming out of his own mouth.
“It still might replenish,” Jack says.
“Who cares?” Dean pulls Castiel into another hug. “Grace or no grace, you’re back. We got you back. You’re home, Cas.” Dean says.
And that is Castiel’s undoing.
“Dean,” A small sob bursts from Castiel’s chest and then he hugs Dean back, crying as quietly as he can into Dean’s shoulder.
He’s with Dean.
“I’ve got you. You’re safe now. You’re with us. Sammy’s gonna be real happy to see you too—and Eileen and Jody and Donna and the girls. Everyone’s gonna be so happy you’re back, Cas. They love you. We all do.” Dean says. “It’s so good to have you back.” Dean sniffles.
Castiel doesn’t know what to say. He can’t remember the last time anyone told him that they loved him. He’s sure it must’ve happened at some point…he just can’t think of it at the moment. There is just too much going on right now. He feels tired, but he’s not tired, it’s just that his newly graceless and probably human form is exhausted from all the feelings of the last few minutes whereas his angelic form would’ve been fine with the same exact feelings because angels don’t need sleep. There is no tank to fill when one is an angel...well, there is, but the tank is significantly bigger than a human’s. Now…well, now his tank is empty. So now…well, now is the time to hug Dean and cry. Because he’s alive and he’s so grateful to be alive and he’s with two of the people he loves, and he’s being held by the man he is in love with, and everything is good. But everything before that was horrifying and shitty and Castiel just really needs to cry about it.
Castiel cannot help but notice that despite the novelty of the situation, it feels…right. It feels right to be bursting at the seams as Dean holds him close. If Castiel is going to cry like this in front of anyone, then it feels right that it’s Dean who’s gripping him tightly, raising him from the perdition of his troubled mind.