"He was wrong."
Dean turns around to find Castiel standing nearby, straight and motionless with his arms at his sides. That same old stoic stare. Dean doesn't try to hide the glisten in his own eyes or the plain devastation on his face. Castiel shows only the slightest empathy in his expression.
"You're not supposed to be here," Dean says. "Go back and make sure Sam's okay."
His voice comes out husky with grief, breath white in the bitter cold of South Dakota air.
"He is quiet now," says Castiel. "The worst is over."
Dean turns his back on the angel again.
"Go stay with him," he says. "He shouldn't be alone."
"Neither should you."
Dean pauses for a moment, bottom lip twitching once. He drinks more whiskey. For a while, he and Castiel stand where they are, not talking or moving. Dean knows without looking that the angel hasn't left; he can feel it. Castiel looks at Dean's back with sad blue eyes-until an idea strikes him.
"He was wrong," the angel says again.
"What are you talking about?" says Dean, exhausted and not in the mood for talk, much less ambiguity.
"Famine. You are not dead, Dean. I can prove it to you."
"Just leave me alone, Cas. Please."
Dean's voice, so full of pain and weariness, draws Castiel to him. The angel lays a hand gently on Dean's shoulder, and Dean closes his eyes, a single tear falling down his face. All Castiel can think is how he will find God. He must find God for Dean.
"Come," the angel says, voice quiet. And for some reason, Dean can't refuse; he turns and follows Castiel back inside, head hung with despair and whiskey bottle held at his side.
Castiel begins to open the door to the panic room, and Dean's face furrows.
"What are you doing?" he says.
"Trust me," says Castiel.
He waits for Dean to go inside first, and they look at each other as Dean hesitates. No sound rises from the room. Dean steps in, and Castiel follows, shutting the door behind him. Sam lies on the thin cot in the middle of the round room, limp on his side. He's pale, covered in sweat, and Dean can see the evidence of tears on his face. He has to fight back his own tears, mouth pursed tightly shut. He kneels beside the cot and looks into his brother's face.
"Sam," he says. "Sammy?"
Castiel watches him. Dean reaches out and lays a hand on Sam's shoulder, saying his brother' name again until Sam cracks open his swollen eyes and answers.
"Dean," he whispers. "You came back."
Dean loses another tear, his hand now curled into a loose fist full of Sam's shirt sleeve.
"Are you all right?" he says to his brother.
"I thought you were gone," says Sam. "Forever. You said you hated me for being a monster."
"You were hallucinating," Dean says, whispering now too because he doesn't trust his voice otherwise. "I could never hate you. You're not a monster. You're my brother, Sammy."
Sam weakly stretches out his right arm and takes hold of Dean's shoulder, trying hard to focus on his brother's face.
"Don't leave," he says. "I-I need you. I need you."
Sam closes his eyes again and holds on tight to his brother, letting Dean's solidity ground him. Tears flow freely down Dean's face, and he can't say a word. He just looks and looks at Sam. Castiel steps forward, taking advantage of the silence.
"Dean," he says. "We need to move Sam to the floor."
"Why?" says Dean, barely audible and still looking at his brother.
"I'm going to help you. Both of you."
Dean looks at the angel, and Castiel silently reassures him. He leans in toward Sam and tells him he isn't going anywhere, before letting go and standing up. Together, he and Castiel help Sam sit up, and they lower him down on the cold, concrete floor. Sam curls up on his left side again. Castiel moves the cot away, clearing the center space, and Dean watches him expectantly while kneeling at Sam's side again.
"Now lie down beside him," says the angel.
"What?" says Dean.
Dean gives Castiel a questioning look, but the angel just stares at him and waits. He moves around to Sam's other side, somehow knowing that's where Castiel wants him, and lies down at Sam's back. The floor is hard beneath him, and he hopes they won't have to lie on it long.
"Take hold of him," says Castiel.
At any other time, Dean would have bitched and complained about cuddling and being gay, but right now, his brother's suffering, he's suffering, and Castiel says this will help. He's still tentative about it, but eventually, Dean scoots closer to Sam and embraces him. Sam's broad back pushes against Dean's chest in a hulking mass of warmth and shallow breath. Dean shuts his eyes briefly at the wave of relief that comes, only because he figures Castiel can't see it. He hears the sound of the angel's shoes approaching and Castiel stops to stand right next to the brothers, looking down at them. It makes Dean uncomfortable.
"Close your eyes," Castiel says. "Do as I tell you."
Dean obeys, hoping like hell that Sam stays unconscious for whatever this is.
"Breathe," says the angel. Dean breathes, his brother's scent strong. Castiel's voice continues above him. "I only want you to have awareness for Sam. Do not let your mind wander. Be present with him."
Dean tries his best to follow the instructions, to center himself and put away his grief and worry for now. Slowly, he pays more and more attention to what he can sense physically: his brother's smell, the warmth and weight of Sam's body against his, the feel of Sam's heartbeat somewhere near where Dean's hand lies on Sam's chest, the pace of Sam's breathing.
"Stay where you are," the angel says. He begins to chant in a different tongue, not his usual angel speak. This tongue is softer, the sounds more beautiful. It almost sounds like the angel is singing.
Dean listens and listens, lying still and holding onto his brother. The sounds flow over him and begin to lull him into a peaceful state. He feels himself relaxing into it, his body softening against Sam's, all the misery seeping out of him and away. The longer he listens, the more he feels as if he's losing connection his body. He forgets where he is. All he knows is Castiel's voice and Sam somewhere on him, everywhere. He sinks deeper and deeper into the chant, into the floating sensation, until something snaps into place.
He'll never be able to describe it. The peace explodes into an overwhelming light that he doesn't see with his eyes yet sees. He is overwhelmed with feeling. The light reaches him in places that he can't remember having ever experienced sensation. He realizes, after some time, that what he feels is Sam-pure, unadulterated, uncontained Sam. He's engulfed in his brother's soul, and he can feel his own soul shrouding Sam's in an incomprehensible exchange of consuming and being consumed.
Sam is everywhere, inside him and around him, in all of Dean's senses. And he can feel himself inside Sam and around Sam, lost in his brother without control. They are utterly revealed to each other, joined in a way Dean didn't think could be, and the shock and power of it is so colossal, Dean can't even begin to interpret the feeling as pleasure.
He can't see anything but the white, blinding light that is Sam's soul and his own and their merging, but he knows and receives everything of his brother.
He feels Sam's feelings-the fear and guilt and shame and anger and grief and remorse-and he feels Sam feeling Dean's feelings: the fear and guilt and shame and rage and grief and remorse. Dean is Sam, and Sam is Dean. They are together endless, two different threads woven into the same fabric, forever one.
Dean feels Sam's love for him: the indescribable depth and vastness and power of it. He feels Sam's love in a way he's never felt love before in his life. It touches the most raw and tender places in his soul, so that if he knew how, he would scream for the mix of pain and pleasure it brings him. Sam's love washes over Dean's loneliness, pours into Dean's empty wounds like cleansing salt and alcohol, saturates the desert of Dean's need.
Sam feels Dean's love for him: the inconceivable depth and vastness and power of it. He feels Dean's love in a way he's never felt love before in his life. It touches the most ravaged parts of his soul, so that if he could, he would scream for the mix of pain and pleasure it brings him. Dean's love crashes into Sam's darkness, waves without mercy against his self-loathing and isolation, flooding into every guilty, sorry crack inside of him.
They flow and flow and flow into each other, and they don't know anything except the light, until they feel like they can't take any more. But they can and they do.
Their bodies are clamped tight together, gasping for air, eyes pressed shut furiously, faces pink, Dean's hands fisting Sam's shirt and his head pressed into the back of Sam's shoulder and Sam's hands on top of Dean's. Tears stream down their faces and they don't know it. They may as well be all soul, bodies left behind like corpses.
It never occurred to either of them that the most profound desire of their hearts was for this kind of union with each other; even if they had known it were possible, they could not have put it into words. But Castiel saw, knew all along, knew that this was always their only salvation.
Everything inside them broken beyond deliberate repair now somehow finds relief.
Although Castiel does this for Sam as well, it is Dean he especially wants to help. So the angel lies down beside Dean, still murmuring the strange words. He shuts his eyes and slowly moves in to embrace Dean. It doesn't take Castiel more than a few seconds to let go of the physical world and enter the realm of pure soul, where the brothers continue to merge. He lives Jimmy Novak behind and comes into his true, angelic form-harmless to the souls of men despite being unbearable to the bodies.
Castiel knows the light of Sam and Dean together, and it is such love that he knows his Father would be pleased to see it again. The angel marvels at his Father's creation. He sees the entirety of Dean's soul and Sam's soul, although both are now lost completely in each other like black and white sand in one jar. He sees all that which is terrible in their souls (their burdens, more than their sins) but none of that is powerful enough to dim the light.
Castiel, in his pure and disembodied form, surrounds the merged souls of Sam and Dean as if in a wide embrace. He loves them freely and with his whole essence.
Father, let me heal in them what I can, he thinks.
Castiel has never felt love like this before, a love much more personal and emotional than what he feels for God. It frightens him, the sensation almost like unraveling, but he doesn't pull away. He allows Sam and Dean to fill him with their light, moving him in a way that is no less indescribable for him than for them.
In some small corner of Castiel's heart, there is the undeniable rush of particular love he feels for Dean. In its organic and unrestrained form, its intensity and depth surprises the angel. He feels himself holding Dean's soul close, just as he holds Dean's body somewhere in the physical world, and it fills Castiel with a tenderness he has never known. He wants to protect him, protect both brothers, so much that the desire feels more like need. He wants to remain here with Dean-and Dean with Sam-forever. His instinct tells him this is dangerous and wrong, but something deeper disagrees.
Just when Dean thought he had reached the limits of his sensation, the light flashes and brightens, a new presence overcoming him. He almost thinks he's dying, until he recognizes Castiel's energy for what it is. The angel sweeps through him, touching those same vulnerable spots where Sam already overwhelms, and Dean faintly registers the angel's energy as love, greater than he ever would have guessed. There is memory where Dean and Castiel meet, memory that Dean could not grasp in his physical body: the moments when Castiel raised him out of Hell. They met this way then, soul and soul.
In Castiel, Dean finds none of the darkness Sam's soul possesses. Only an expanse of love and forces he cannot comprehend. The angel surrounds him, rains down on him in sparks and rays of light, healing things inside him that he thought could never be mended.
Dean responds with his own love for Castiel, and the angel startles, a sensitive virgin to emotion so powerful. For what little time and distance the angel withdraws, Dean's soul radiates love for him even more. The angel draws nearer again, opening himself tentatively to receive when receiving is never his intention.
Man and angel share communion, neither of them possessing the language for their connection, only feeling it helplessly.
None of the three know how much time passes as they remain in this merging but it feels long. Castiel withdraws first, pulling away from Dean reluctantly and gracefully. He comes back into Jimmy Novak's body and finds himself wrapped arms and legs around Dean, his face pressed warmly into Dean's back. He lies there calmly, orienting himself, waiting for Sam and Dean to return. He stops chanting and listens to the sounds of their breathing.
Dean lingers with Sam after he feels Castiel go, at the same time wanting to stay with Sam like this forever and wanting to return to the less frightening world of his body. He savors this completeness he's wanted his whole life, tries to commit Sam's soul to the memory of his own, and gives Sam a farewell that might look like Sam's head in Dean's hands and a kiss in Sam's hair-if souls were bodies.
Dean opens his eyes first, Sam after him. He grows aware of being sandwiched between his brother and Castiel, hears Sam breathing aloud and feeling the angel's warmth on his back. Nobody moves for a while.
By the time Castiel leaves Dean's side and stands back up to stare down at the brothers again, Dean and Sam have calmed and are full-on cuddling, quiet together with their eyes closed. Castiel doesn't say anything, just watches, and Dean doesn't say anything because he knows that once he acknowledges his own consciousness to the others, he'll have to get up. He hasn't felt the absence of all his issues in too long a time, and he's afraid that once he breaks away from Sam, they'll come raging back.
Sam, suspecting Dean might be asleep according to his breathing rhythm, keeps still with his eyes closed too-feeling more at peace than he has in years, his pain gone for the time being. Maybe it's weird for him to be lying on the floor with his brother spooning him from behind, but right now, Sam doesn't care. Castiel watches them for several minutes, then disappears from the room without using the door. Dean hears the angel's voice in his head afterward.