Author's Note: I'm sick with a nasty cold but finally felt well enough to get this piece together. I'm a sucker for Castiel/Sam bonding pieces so when I came across this prompt, "S8. The trials have a bigger effect on Sam than he's letting on. Due to coughing up so much blood and stomach acid with it, it has inflamed his stomach lining. Sam begins to feel dizzy and sick but shakes it off. However, it's Castiel that finally figures out something is terribly wrong and with Dean out researching a hunt, he has to do something." I knew I had to take it. Honestly, I wish the show would have more Cas/Sam bonding! Fan fiction will have to do for now, I suppose. I hope you enjoy this piece!
"A scattered dream that's like a far-off memory.
A far-off memory that's like a scattered dream.
I want to line the pieces up—yours and mine."
—Shiro Amano, "Kingdom Hearts"
Castiel has never understood why humans dedicate so much time to putting them together. Why would a person buy a box filled with 500 small pieces that forms a picture that could easily be seen on the box? Why would someone spend hours, putting pieces together for no real purpose? Yet, when Sam finds a dusty cardboard box filled to the brim with old puzzles from the bunker's original occupants, Castiel finds himself seated at the table as the youngest Winchester focuses intensely on the task before him. 1,000 little pieces lie before him and with the same careful precision he uses when researching a hunt, he begins to put the pieces together.
One piece joins another. Soon, a small row is formed 30 minutes later. With wide eyes, the angel watches as the picture starts to come together.
The clock ticks on.
They never speak; Sam never pauses from his work.
And a few hours when Dean returns from the store, a grocery bag in his hand, the puzzle is completed. A beautiful sunset stares back at them and with a confident smile, Sam turns to his brother and moves to get up.
His knee buckles and he grimaces, but within a millisecond, he is up and over by his brother's side. Dean is oblivious, but the Messenger of Heaven notices it, recognizes it as something ominous to come.
It's Castiel's first piece of the puzzle that is Sam Winchester.
The trials are affecting Sam; that's not something that is in dispute.
The first trial damaged him somehow and the second trial made whatever occurred within his body worse. The angel can't tell for sure what's wrong, nor can he heal it. Sam sports fevers daily and Castiel notices that he takes more ibuprofen than he does food and water. Dean hovers nearby, though he does a lousy job of hiding his concern, much to his little brother's chagrin as he stubbornly insists that he is "perfectly fine". The two brothers argue daily about how ill Sam is and the angel just sits and tries to stay out of the way. He's never been an eloquent speaker, never been able to truly voice his thoughts the way that Sam and Dean seem to.
His gift—as he was praised for constantly back in Heaven, years before this all began, before he changed—is observation. Much like Sam focuses on his puzzles in the late afternoon while Dean cleans the guns—their routine now, the one constant they had in this changing world—Castiel trains his gaze on whatever piques his interest.
Today as Sam gets the seafloor finally put together, it's on the tremble in Sam's hand. There are little symptoms that the youngest Winchester tries to hide, as if to spare his older brother from pain and so far, Castiel has deduced a few things, such as—
Sam's knees are prone to buckle as if he is often unbalanced. His hands shake in the later afternoons, though he often hides this by placing his hands behind his back before Dean sees. Why he is hiding this, Castiel cannot say definitely, but the angel has a few guesses. He does not have enough proof of anything to discuss things with Dean, but he will keep a close eye over the youngest Winchester.
"Yes?" Sam glances up from his puzzle and the angel waits.
"You want to help?" He says it so casually, but he passes a few pieces over and goes back to work on his own without waiting for a reply. The sounds of Dean's rag polishing the metal of his gun stills and Castiel thinks for a few seconds. He's done many "human" things, but puzzles? He did not understand their utility or why Sam insists on spending so much time on them? "Cas?" Puppy dog eyes meet his and the angel gives in with a small sigh. He picks up the tiny fragments of whatever picture they were making and begins to try and force them together.
It's when he manages to get a fish put together that he spots the way Sam's left hand is white knuckling his shirt right over where his stomach is and the way his teeth are gritted.
Another piece clicks into place.
"I'm fine, Dean."
"The hell you're not!" The older brother rages as the two enter the study. Awkwardly, Castiel turns his attention to the latest puzzle that he and Sam will tackle—1,500 pieces that ends up forming a forest. "Look, I can tell Garth to find someone else if you feel crappy—" A mirthless laugh escapes from Sam's lips.
"Dean, I'm just going to keep feeling this way until the trials end, okay?" Dean opens his mouth to protest, but the youngest Winchester continues on without letting him speak. "It's a hunt and you're the closest. You need to go, you know that."
"Sam—" The angel sees the resignation in the eldest Winchester's eyes and he knows that the battle is over, that Dean has made up his mind. It had been weeks since Dean had gone on a hunt, preferring to stay close to Sam in case something went wrong with his little brother. While admirable, Castiel could understand the youngest Winchester's argument. People would continue to die unless the monster died.
Life went on even though you felt like yours was slowly ending right before your eyes.
Turning his attention back to the puzzle, he hears the slam of hands on the table. Eyes darting back, he sees Sam, steadying himself on the edge of the table and Dean practically begging for something he could do to make his brother better, to take this burden off his shoulders.
"I'm fine." Sam forces out, though he sounds anything but. Breathless, he shuts his eyes and takes deliberately slow breaths. "Just was dizzy."
"No, forget it," Dean dismisses with a wave of his hand. "I am not—" His cellphone is by his ear when Sam snatches it and shuts it.
"I'm fine," He emphasizes. "I just haven't eaten in a bit, that's all." A lie, though skillfully told.
"Sit down." Dean orders gruffly and Sam complies. A few minutes later, the eldest Winchester places a hamburger before him and a huge glass of water. "Eat all of it." The little brother does so, despite not being motivated by any appetite.
Castiel starts to get a better picture of what the puzzle is forming.
He doesn't like it at all.
A piece clicks together and the youngest Winchester pushes it to the side and grabs some more pieces from the center of the table. Dean's been gone one day and has already called a total of twenty times to check in. Still, nothing has changed in Sam's condition and motivated by that small comfort, the eldest Winchester continues the hunt.
"Yeah, Castiel?" The angel drops the pieces he has in his hand and tries to summon up the right words to say what he needs to say. Puzzles are easy—once you put the pieces together, it forms a picture and you move on. People; however, are not. Sam will refute whatever evidence he recites, will deny anything being wrong. Still, he has to try.
It's Sam, after all.
He may not know much about humanity, but he has learned this—family wasn't defined by blood ties and for family, you did anything to help them. The Winchester had proven this point to him more times than he could count and now, it was his turn.
"You need to see a doctor."
Another few pieces click together and Sam doesn't even glance up.
"They couldn't fix me, Castiel. You know that—"
"Not for those symptoms, but for—"
He doesn't even get to say anything else before Sam jumps out of the chair, an expression of sheer panic on his face and he rushes to the bathroom. The door slams behind him and the angel can hear sounds of retching. He pauses for a few moments, until it ends and the toilet flushes and then goes to the bathroom door. Knocking gently and getting no reply, he opens it.
Sam slumped over on the seat, sweat glistening on his forehead. On his lips, blood and a black, coffee-ground like substance still remain.
Two more pieces come together and the picture becomes clear.
"M'fine." He breathes raggedly.
"You need to trust me," Castiel kneels down to meet his gaze. "I need you to go with me."
Stubbornly, Sam pushes himself up and forces himself out of the bathroom and past the angel. Anger boils within his vessel's veins. Why this façade? Why would the youngest Winchester force himself to suffer? Wishing not for the first time that he could be as persuasive as Dean when it came to dealing with Sam, he runs out of the bathroom and blocks Sam's path.
"Castiel, move." He's trying to be intimidating, but it comes across as weak and the angel knows that Sam feels awful, must feel even more awful than he sounds or looks.
"Not until you get treatment." He won't give in, not this time, not again. He has never really been able to help Sam, like the youngest Winchester has helped him. He had allowed Sam to doom the world; he had watched as he perished to stop the apocalypse. He had allowed soulless Sam to exist; he had broken the wall and caused endless suffering to the youngest Winchester. Maybe, this was his chance to finally set things right.
For once, he could save Sam, instead of the other way round.
"Castiel, I am fine."
"Why?" His voice cracks as emotion clogs his voice. Shocked somewhat, Sam's words fade and with confusion, he listens as the angel continues. "Why do you force yourself to suffer?" Meeting Sam's gaze, he tries to get him to understand his point of view. "Must you deny yourself even this bit of treatment?"
"They couldn't do anything—!" Sam snaps and Castiel lets the rage consume him.
"No!" He roars and it stuns the youngest Winchester into silence. "You want me to sit by and watch you fade away, is that it?" He shakes his head furiously, letting himself be carried away by the feeling. "I won't!"
"So, what?" Sam challenges. "You take me to the hospital and say what? How are you going to explain the trials?"
"I could attempt to heal your new condition—" Castiel insists.
"And who says I want to be healed, huh?" The admission comes out in a fit of rage and immediately, the angel can see that the little brother wishes he could take it back. "Who says that I deserve to be saved?"
The puzzle shatters and the pieces break apart.
"Is this . . . your penance?" Sam looks away and the answer is clear. "Sam—" He reaches out and the youngest Winchester brushes past him.
"Just . . . stay out of it, Castiel."
Pieces reform and the puzzle is complete.
The picture is so much more than what he originally thought.
Standing there, the angel wonders what to do now.
Sam won't speak to him the next day.
Awkwardly, Castiel lets the silence between them harden into a wall that seems almost impossible to climb over. Rising from the table in the study, Sam walks by him with not even but a word. His bedroom door shuts and the angel debates picking up the phone and calling Dean. The eldest Winchester would certainly know how to handle things, but something within the Messenger of Heaven cautions him against this approach. While Sam's health is a primary concern, there is something to be said about his mental state. If he truly feels that he doesn't deserve to be healed—
A crash pulls him out of his thoughts and without even a moment's hesitation, he races down the hall, throwing open Sam's door.
On the floor, Sam lies in a crumpled heap, blood on his lips and on the side of his face. His skin is as pale as a corpse and for a brief moment, the angel thinks it's all over, that he failed in keeping his friend safe. Kneeling down and pulling Sam towards him—he's so thin that he moves with the barest of efforts now—and he waits those agonizing moments until the weak pulse appears. He lets out a breath he hadn't even realized that he had been holding and he places a hand to Sam's forehead, willing his grace to stabilize things just enough that the youngest Winchester could be moved to a hospital. He couldn't fix everything, nor would the hospital, but if he was right, there was a few things that could be done. Standing up with Sam securely in his arms, he shuts his eyes.
"Hang on, Sam."
When he opens them, they are in the lobby of the nearest E.R.
They let him sit with Sam after the angel lies—quite convincingly; Dean would be proud—that yes, he is Sam's brother. The doctors runs a few tests and she comes back with the diagnosis that Castiel had initially determined—gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining.
"As he's been throwing up blood, I believe he's also been throwing up stomach acid, which not only caused irritation to his throat but also his stomach lining." He nods and she smiles and places a hand on his shoulder. "He is responding well to our medications and with the blood transfusions to make up for all the blood he lost, I believe he'll be conscious very soon." Her pager beeps and she glances down at it before moving towards the doorway. "If you need anything, the nurses are right out here." She vanishes down the hall and the angel takes in all the monitors that surround Sam's bedside. He has no idea what any of them mean or what they are registering—human hospitals still baffle him—but he's grateful for each rise and fall of Sam's chest.
He's alive, that's what is most important.
Cautiously, he reaches out and places his hand over Sam's wrist, squeezing it tightly. He's seen Dean do this numerous times. The older brother had explained it as a sign of sharing strength, of letting someone else know that they weren't alone in whatever war they were waging.
"You do deserve to be saved," He whispers, but he means it with every fiber of his being. "So, please, let me and Dean help you." He swallows nervously. "Because we need you, Sam."
They needed him because it was Sam who reminded them that there was more to life than a hunt or a crusade against Heaven. It was Sam who helped them save countless lives and in the process saved theirs.
It was Sam who had given Castiel the strength to live after every sin he had perpetrated.
Sam sleeps on.
A week later, they are back at the bunker.
Dean finished the hunt and had already been back on the road when he had received the phone call from Castiel regarding Sam's condition. The older brother had arrived right when Sam had regained consciousness. A few hours later, Sam was discharged and here they were.
"Castiel?" The angel places the piece of the puzzle he had been toying with down and rises as Sam enters the room. "Could I talk to you for a second?" He motions for them to move into the library, farther from Dean's room where the eldest Winchester is currently asleep.
The library is one of many in the bunker, but this smaller one is Sam's favorite. Often, the youngest Winchester could be found here in the evenings. Sometimes, he even fell asleep researching and Dean would wake him before getting him settled in his bed. Castiel is privileged, he knows, to be able to witness these moments—moments that few would ever get to see. The world is blissfully unaware of what goes on in the dark and therefore, Sam and Dean would forever be outcasts. This wasn't their rightful reward, but his Father's world wasn't fair. Heaven wasn't good nor was Hell pure evil. Demons could show kindness and Angels could commit sins.
There's no black and white, only shades of gray.
"Are you feeling better?" They haven't spoken since their fight. He hovers by a chair while Sam sits. The youngest Winchester nods his head.
"I'm not as dizzy anymore."
"Cas . . . I'm sorry." Startled by the admission, Castiel moves closer to the younger Winchester.
"What do you have to be sorry for?" He honestly inquires.
"I shouldn't have snapped at you like that when I know you were only trying to help." Sitting slowly, the angel musters his courage before meeting the youngest Winchester's gaze straight on.
"Do you truly believe that you shouldn't be saved?"
"Cas, don't—" He tries to dismiss, but the angel won't let it go. Sam has to understand how important he is, has to truly comprehend how much better the world is because of him.
"Sam, you stopped the apocalypse—"
"I started it." He mutters, but undeterred, the Messenger of Heaven plows on.
"You have saved countless lives through hunting. You brought me back from the brink of oblivion. You saved your brother from giving up hope in himself and more importantly, you proved that Heaven can be wrong and that nothing is written in stone." With a smile, he wills his words to reach Sam's mind. "You stood up to Heaven, Hell and you took down Lucifer. If anything, I think the world at least owes you a few favors."
"People die because of me." Sam protests, grimacing. "Jess, Mom, Dean—"
"Will you let three deaths that you falsely blame yourself for counteract the billions you saved?" Stunned into silence, Castiel rises from the chair, confident that he has made a difference. "I have harmed you as well. I broke your wall, yet you forgave me. Do you mean to imply that your forgiveness does not mean that I should allow myself be healed?"
"No, of course not, Cas—" He interjects, shaking his head furiously.
"Then, either your misspoke or your argument is invalid."
He hears Dean's door open and he nods his goodbye before heading back into the study.
Perhaps, he's finally made a difference.
On the table, he sees the half-finished puzzle and gets back to work.
The next day, the routine is back in place.
Dean cleans the guns. Sam and Castiel work on the puzzle.
And when Sam begins to cough and blood is visible on his lips, he allows Dean to take care of him. He takes his medicine. He makes an effort to eat. He shows signs of actually wanting to get better.
Castiel counts it as a win.
The puzzle is finally finished and the picture it forms gives him hope.
They would get through the trials together.
They were his family, after all.
"What are you smiling about?" Dean asks him with a lazy grin and Castiel shrugs.
"I'm just . . . glad."
And for the first time in his existence, he finally feels peace.
Author's Note: I really wanted to write something with some Sam angst because I know Sam still felt, even during the trials, that he wasn't truly "clean" and wasn't really worth much. So, I hope you enjoyed it. Please review if you have a second! Thanks!