A/N: This story is a tag to 4x19 "Jump the Shark," but it takes place in the middle of the episode, after Sam has been captured and tortured by the ghouls and then rescued by Dean. Sam's injuries seemed unusually severe to me in this episode, but other than the rescue itself we never see his recovery - Sam and Dean go straight to burning the bones.
This episode is also right before "The Rapture," when Castiel is brainwashed, and I tried to capture some of where he might have been emotionally in this story. Primarily, though, this story is just about Cas and Sam - this is my take on what might have happened in the middle of the episode, when Sam was still in pieces. There are times when knowing an angel could really come in handy. This story comes over Castiel's shoulder, the first I've attempted. Hopefully the style has worked.
Note: Set after/during 4x19, "Jump the Shark."
Pairing: Castiel + Sam, light.
Castiel had hesitated.
It was a tenth of a second, the length of time he hung in the void between one place and another, debated changing course toward the voice that was suddenly pounding in his head, Dean's call, as ever, unmistakable: Cas if you don't get your righteous ass down here in the next four seconds I swear the next time I see you I'm gonna tear off your wings and baste you in fucking barbeque sauce—a tenth of a second in which he had considered ignoring the empty threat of the irreverent child he had dragged from perdition kicking and screaming, the flailing whip still clutched in his hand—for a tenth of a second, he contemplated not answering. Then he was gone, hurtling toward the sense of Dean's presence with two thoughts raging in his mind.
For an angel, a tenth of a second was an eternity.
The second thing he was thinking was that angels didn't hesitate.
As soon as he landed, he knew something was wrong. The air didn't smell like one of the Winchesters' hotel rooms, an irksome clash of alcohol and old carryout—this place, wherever he'd appeared, smelled like gunpowder and rot, and a great deal of blood. Sam's blood. Castiel whirled, scouring the shadows of the rundown house, his eyes wild. It was an eternity—tenths of a second—before he caught sight of them in the kitchen, Sam sprawled unconscious on a long table, crimson dish towels bound over his forearms, Dean leaning over him and gripping both of his brother's wrists in fists so tight his hands were shaking. He wasn't screaming inside of his head.
"I'm serious, you divine asshole—I thought being dickless made people light on their feet—"
Dean's head whipped around, his half-crazed eyes fixing on Castiel's face with the same intensity he usually exhibited before he shot something.
"About fucking time! What, did'ya take the stairs?"
He didn't need Dean's petty tirade, because he already knew exactly what was wrong—he could feel Sam's soul quivering inside his body. He could see that the younger hunter's eyes had rolled back in his head, the whites streaked with the red of shot veins. If it had been worth the time it took to force Dean's silence he would have done it, because he didn't need to be told off, because when he'd stepped toward the table he'd kicked something and looked down to find it was a porcelain bowl half full of Sam's blood, three crimson drops hanging in the air for tenths of a second—an eternity—before splattering onto the hem of his overcoat. But it wasn't worth the time, because Sam didn't have it. Castiel stepped over the bowl to the edge of the table.
"Move," he said.
Dean spluttered. "I'm not going anywhere. If I don't keep pressure—"
"Move," Castiel ordered again, letting a little of the static of his true voice come through—because there wasn't time to explain anything, and for a man so desperate Dean was impossibly stupid sometimes, when it came to Sam.
Dean looked down at his brother and hesitated—so much time lost forever over worthless hesitation, and Castiel wasn't thinking about his own sin because there wasn't time and it didn't matter right now and it would never happen again, whichever Winchester called him—and then Dean let go of Sam's wrists and slid off the table, staggering back into the counter with his bloody hands held out before him. Castiel tore the dish towels from Sam's arms. There were three slits in his right arm and only two in his left, but the cuts in the left were deeper, through the vein and the muscle, almost down to the bone, and they were gushing blood again already, draining into the sleeves bunched up around his elbows—Castiel seized the young man's forearms and pressed his eyes closed, and tried not to feel the wisp of doubt in his mind.
Angels did not doubt, nor fear. He did both in the eternity—a quarter of a second—it took for Sam's skin to knit under his hands.
"Sammy? You okay? Cas, is he okay?"
Castiel opened his eyes. The cuts were gone, but both of Sam's arms now bore his bloody handprints, sharp stains of color like the rope burns around his wrists, a frayed cord still knotted to one of them. There was a wound in his side, too, which the angel had almost missed; in a tenth of a second it had closed as well. Castiel touched Sam's neck and felt the faint but racing pulse in his fingertips.
"No," he said. He removed the rope cuff and tossed it on the floor, then looked up at Dean and the useless hands he was grinding into useless fists. "He is very weak."
"You think? They used his blood to repaint the kitchen, no shit he's—" Dean bit down on his tongue, kicked the cabinet door behind him. Grabbed something from the shadows at his feet—a tank of kerosene. "We gotta get him out of here."
Castiel didn't watch Dean douse the headless corpses and light the bodies on fire. He was watching Sam. He was watching Sam's eyes flicker too fast under his lids, listening to the pulse trembling in his bloodstained wrists, counting the tenths of seconds between his heartbeats. The time between the first splash of kerosene hitting the floor and the rasp of Dean striking a match was an eternity.
"Beam us the fuck out of here," Dean said as he dropped the whole matchbook.
Castiel knew why he reached out to touch Dean's shoulder. He wasn't sure why he cradled Sam's head to his chest before they disappeared.
The hotel Castiel had chosen was on the other side of town—a room unoccupied for the night, two beds dark and empty until Sam's body crashed into one, the springs creaking under their sudden arrival. Castiel unfolded himself from the younger Winchester and chose not to be bothered when Dean physically shouldered him out of the way, pressing his hands to Sam's forehead and his own, scraping anxious fingers through his cropped hair. The angel had been around long enough to know that this was what concern looked like on the man he had been assigned to. Worry made Dean angry.
"Come on, Sammy. Don't you do this to me. Enough with the melodrama—I promise I'll give you a royal welcome, princess, so open your eyes already."
Dean shook his brother's shoulders and then rounded on Castiel, the desperation back in his dark irises. Castiel didn't like that look—it reminded him of the way Dean had looked with his back to the fire, watching the angel descend toward him with outstretched hands. A manic curl to his lips like he hadn't decided if he wanted to be saved.
"The fuck, Cas? I didn't call you down here to do a half-assed patch-up job and then sit on your damn hands!"
Sometimes Castiel wanted to tell Dean that he wasn't afraid of his anger—that he had stood at the edge of the angry gash that fell away into Hell and felt the lip of the precipice crumbling under him, and that there was a fury to that heat that could not be outdone. All the rage of the hunter's searing temper was a dying ember compared to the bonfires he'd stared into. He didn't bother because that ember wasn't worth addressing. Castiel straightened from where he'd stood hunched over the body of the younger brother, gauging the pace of Sam's rapid, shallow breathing by the trembling of his lips, and returned Dean's endless stare.
"I have healed his wounds, but Sam has lost a considerable amount of blood. His body will have to restore that in its own time."
"You're supposed to be an angel!" Dean barked, like that explained everything.
Castiel sent him a pointed look. "Even angels cannot create something from nothing."
He didn't say angels don't hesitate. They don't doubt or fear. They don't worry. He just watched as Dean threw himself down into the chair beside Sam's bed to wait, his restless limbs splayed over the arms—then Castiel sank into a seat on the edge of the second bed, his hands folded in his lap, and surrendered to the last of those violations, tracking the weak rise and fall of Sam's chest with sleepless eyes.
An hour and a half passed before Sam opened his eyes for the first time.
Dean had his feet up on the foot of Sam's bed, his head slumped back against the crown of the armchair. Castiel hadn't moved. He was staring at Sam's arms, white as bone against the checkered coverlet, seeing again and again what he'd glimpsed for a tenth of a second—the deep red chasms in his forearms, the skin so shredded that Castiel had doubted, for an eternity, whether the edges of his flesh could truly be sewn back together. His handprints marring Sam's skin like a scabbing brand. He couldn't explain to himself afterward how he had stared so long without noticing that those deathly pale arms were shaking.
They heard the strangled cough at the same time.
Dean surged up out of his chair and braced his hands on either side of Sam's head, burying his fists in the pillows. "Sam? Sammy? You okay?"
Sam's eyes came open slowly, vacillating under his heavy lids. Even open they remained unfocused, staring over Dean's shoulder into the cracks of the dark ceiling. Castiel counted the beats of unsteady eyelashes against Sam's cheeks, tenths of a second, each flutter lasting an eternity. He barely felt himself stand.
Sam's head rolled to one side. "Dean?"
"Yeah—yeah, Sammy, it's me," Dean answered his brother's croak, a relieved smile touching his lips. Dean grabbed both sides of Sam's head and braced it against the pillows—harder than he should, harder than Castiel wanted, watching the older hunter's knuckles turn white against the disheveled strands of Sam's dark hair. Dean breathed out into a hoarse laugh. "Damn it, Sam—you've gotta be one dumb shit to wind up the main course for the fugly twins. The hell happened?"
But something was wrong. Castiel noticed it a tenth of a second before Dean—the shuddering that was racking Sam's body, the fingernails he raked into the dark comforter, the way his eyes refused to track, drifting fearfully away from Dean's face. The moment hung over them for an eternity, half a second between exhale and inhale, long enough that Sam's words had already dropped into the pit of Castiel's stomach before the younger hunter spoke.
Sam blinked shakily up at his brother, his voice a harsh whisper. "It's so—so cold, Dean. Why's it so cold?"
Dean let him go in an instant, tossing his head. "Shit. He's in shock. Get the cover off the other bed—now!"
Dean's motions were always rough when he was angry. Still the shove to his shoulder caught Castiel off guard, startled him back a step. The backs of his knees knocked against the nightstand and the alarm clock tumbled to the floor. The angel glanced down but chose not to bend. The violence in Dean's movements did not surprise him—it hadn't taken long in Dean's company to understand that it was a brutal rage that awoke in the older hunter when Sam was threatened, or when Sam displeased him. What surprised Castiel was the viciousness he felt coursing through his own hands as he tore the coverlet from the second mattress.
"He has been in shock for over an hour and you did nothing?"
"Not the time, Cas," Dean snapped. "Throw me a pillow, too." Then he gritted his teeth, and Castiel heard him mutter, "Just didn't think of it, okay? Sam's the one who thinks of crap like that."
The angel said nothing. He knew Dean Winchester well enough to know that he was never comfortable shouldering the blame.
Sam was shaking with cold by the time they got the blanket around him. Still he fought every touch of their hands, kicking his brother ferociously as Dean struggled to prop a pillow under his feet. Sam was impossibly weak but he was terrified—Castiel could feel the electric thrum of adrenaline rippling in his soul, and it kept him going, tossing his body one way and then the other. At last Dean reached out and caught his brother's wrists, trapping his shivering arms in the air above his head.
"Sam, knock it the hell off! I'm trying to help you, okay?"
Sam stared at his arms, wide hazel eyes darting over every centimeter of his unbroken muscles—and Castiel knew what he was seeing, because he had been seeing it all night: five deep grooves cut into unnaturally pale flesh, the blood-red slick draining from his forearms, the wounds writhing across his skin with every twitch, every horrified withdrawal. It was a tenth of a second from where he stood in the thin space between the beds to the edge of the mattress beside Sam's head—it was an eternity before he pried Sam's arms out of Dean's angry, helpless hands and pressed his thumbs to the veins at the base of the younger hunter's wrists, just hard enough to detect the thready pulse quaking under his skin.
Angels' hearts didn't beat. Castiel's was pounding too loud in his ears.
He leaned down and stared into Sam's bleary eyes. "You are hyperventilating," he said, softly because the silence felt tenuous in his ears. Softly because Sam felt tenuous in his grip. Softly because he had just realized what a fragile thing this was that he loved, fragile like a blossom on still water or a slant of light through a break in the clouds; something that could be destroyed by a stray gust of wind or one drop of rain—five deep wounds from the edge of the darkness. The angel pressed his lips together. "Slow your breathing. Look at your arms. You are not injured."
Sam's eyes strayed back to his arms, and he blinked slowly—once in ten seconds, or twenty, hundreds of tenths of seconds, eternities spanned between one brush of erratic eyelashes on his cheeks and the next. His breathing began to settle in his chest, the high, short breaths giving way to the precariously steady rise and fall of his rib cage. Then he turned his gaze back to Castiel, and folded his hands down, his fingertips just grazing the curve of the angel's thumbs.
"Cas… you fixed me," Sam murmured.
Castiel wished he could.
When Sam slipped back into a dreamless sleep, Dean stood up from the foot of the bed, his hands shoved deep in his pockets.
"I need a shower," he grunted.
Castiel watched him walk away but made no reply. He could see the separation building in the older hunter's eyes already—the sheen of carelessness, dull and glassy, the eyes of a catatonic thing. He knew without asking that after his shower Dean would go out to get Sam a bottle of water and pain medication, and then a meal for himself, and then would set off to collect the Impala, to burn that house to the ground, because their presence was in the walls now. Like a child Dean would wander farther and farther from the hotel room, untethered from Sam by his unconsciousness, until he settled somewhere with a drink in his hand, his expression as blank as the brown glass bottle, his catatonia complete. Castiel listened to the rush of the shower through the slammed bathroom door and wondered why it was that angels were permitted to feel things like disgust and pity but not love and hate—why he was allowed to be appalled but not angry that Dean distanced himself from Sam's pain, why he was allowed to feel mercy but not sympathy for the shivering figure in the bed beside him, his sweaty hands still locked in Castiel's. Angels didn't hate but Castiel did, listening to the shrill hiss of the shower—he hated that sound because it was the first wall Dean was putting between himself and his brother, because as long as Sam was going to be all right Dean didn't want to be there to see it, wanted it to be over already. He could drink away the time in between.
Dean had said it was too much for one person, carrying the weight of the impending apocalypse—said it like he had already suffered enough. Castiel looked down at Sam and wondered what enough was.
The water turned off in the bathroom. Castiel considered Sam's cataleptic features, studied the pattern of his bloody fingerprints fastened like shackles around the young man's wrists. Then he stood and moved to the vanity on his side of the bathroom door, wetting a washcloth with warm sink water. Not until the washcloth came away scarlet did he realize he still had Sam's blood all over his hands.
He was still washing them when Dean left the hotel room. Castiel didn't count how many seconds it took him to walk away.
Dean had been gone for four hours when Sam woke up again.
Angels didn't wait. They didn't have to. Castiel spent every tenth of a second of those four hours seated on the edge of the bed next to Sam's sleeping form, his trench coat spilling around his knees, wiping the last traces of his crimson handprints from the young hunter's arms. The stain of dried blood was gone now, nothing but the discoloration on a wadded washcloth gradually drying out on the nightstand.
One of his hands had drifted to Sam's neck an eternity ago to measure his thin pulse, and it had stayed there, resting in the curve beneath the young man's jaw. It was the warmth of his touch that brought the quiescent figure back to the surface with false expectations.
Sam groaned and fought to open his eyes. "Dean?" he rasped.
Castiel pressed his lips together. He leaned over Sam until that wandering gaze settled on him. "He is not here," he said simply, and hated himself for how painless he made that sound.
There was a tenth of a second where Sam's eyes refused to focus, fighting to morph Castiel's features into another face. A tenth of a second of quiet denial that lasted an eternity. Then the expression broke, acceptance smoothing out the lines of Sam's countenance, and something like relief touched his lips, parting slightly around the angel's name.
"Cas." The young man's eyebrows drew together—he forced his eyes closed and then open again, blinking hard to clear them. "You're still here."
"You have lost a significant amount of blood," Castiel told him, softly because he would not be the breath of wind that broke him. "You have been ill, and you are still very weak. I would not leave you like this." And angels were allowed to feel disappointment, but Castiel knew it wasn't supposed to simmer like this, like it was only one tenth of a second from becoming wrath. Wrath was only allowed in the name of God—not in the name of pale, shaking hands and quivering hazel eyes and sweat-slicked strands of brown hair stuck to a young, open face. Castiel lifted his hand and pushed Sam's bangs back behind his ear, and wondered what he should be more ashamed of—these trespasses that angels didn't make or that he chose to conceal them from the figure beside him. "How do you feel?" he asked.
Sam's eyes rolled up and he stared at the ceiling, his gaze distracted as if he were considering the entirety of himself. "Honestly? Fine, I think. Pretty much normal…" The lie ceased abruptly as Sam tried to roll up onto one elbow and then flopped heavily back into the pillows, squeezing his eyes shut. "Okay, actually it's more like… really dizzy and lightheaded…"
"These may help." Castiel reached behind him to the nightstand and threaded his fingers through the handles of a plastic bag, retrieving a bottle of water and a box of cookies—two of the offerings Dean had thrown down in the white drugstore bag before he pulled his collar up around his neck and walked back out into the wind, a lighter and his car keys the only articles in his pockets. Castiel pried the top from the bottle of water and handed it to Sam, setting the cookies on the floor next to his feet.
Sam lifted his head just enough to take a drink of water. He swirled it around his mouth before swallowing, and for the first time Castiel wondered if there were a bad taste coating his teeth, blood or bile, and wished he had considered that. For a fraction of a second, a tenth of a tenth, Castiel confronted his own uselessness—the abrupt clarity of the knowledge that he would never know what Sam needed without asking, never be able to offer comfort before the young man was even conscious he wanted it. Then he put it out of his mind—not because angels didn't feel helplessness, because they never cared about things they did not have the power to change—but because Sam was looking up at him, his fingers curling around the lukewarm bottle of water.
"So where's Dean? Is he okay?" Sam asked.
Castiel hesitated. Felt the tenth of a second throbbing in his borrowed bones. "He is fine. He went to retrieve his car." And even though the part of Castiel that knew angels never lied compelled him to disclose that Dean had left hours ago, eons too long for a five-mile walk, he held his tongue, watched the flickers of expression shifting over Sam's face. "I can get him for you," he said aloud, leaving out the conviction that if Sam asked for his brother, he would retrieve Dean whether the older hunter came willingly or had to be dragged back by the collar of his leather jacket. It wouldn't be the first time Castiel had pulled him up kicking and screaming. But Sam only shook his head, reassurance gracing his features.
"No, that's… as long as he's okay, it's fine. He's probably pretty sick of doing the vigil thing." Sam took another drink of water and then pushed the water bottle shakily onto the corner of the nightstand; Castiel cupped his hand over the young man's trembling fingers and guided the bottle farther from the edge. Sam laughed under his breath—Castiel thought it was a laugh, at least. "I think maybe this is karma."
Castiel frowned. "Why do you say that?"
Sam shrugged weakly against the comforter. "Last week I got this email about, you know, donating blood. I wasn't going to do it, but… they got me anyway." The young hunter glanced up at him—but he must not have found what he was looking for in Castiel's confused, disconcerted expression, because he winced, rolling his head back into a divot in the pillows. "Not funny yet. Got it."
Angels were not creatures of touch. Castiel never really had. He could do all that was necessary with his fingertips, revive or destroy, raise or topple. Dean had desensitized him to the unavoidable truth that humans in his association felt they had the right to touch him, to rest a hand on his shoulder or push him bodily away. But Castiel knew it was the younger Winchester who had caused this most inexplicable mutation in himself, the compulsion he now felt to reach out to others of his own volition—especially to Sam, because there was something in Sam that never stopped asking to be touched, or held close. Castiel had stopped trying to stay his hand. In the darkness of the anonymous hotel room, he reached down and pressed his palm to Sam's pale cheek, tilting the young man's face until their eyes met.
"I was unaware you were in danger," Castiel said, brushing his thumb down the bony curve of Sam's cheekbone. "I should have come sooner."
Sam didn't understand what he meant by that. He just laughed a little and closed his eyes for an eternity, tenths of a second that stretched out like the smile that was overtaking his lips again—but Castiel thought the expression might last this time, because it was one of Sam's better smiles, neither self-critical nor precariously wistful, just a soft curve that brought out his dimples, made him look happy. Angels did not abide by wishes, because faith was so far beyond hope that hope was left diminished and withered in its wake, but that didn't stop Castiel from wishing that Sam would smile that way more often.
Sam shook his head. An eternity ended in a tenth of a second. "You came before I lost anything really important," the young man murmured. "That's all that matters."
Castiel wondered about that, but he didn't argue.
For a moment, they were quiet with each other. Castiel let his hand slide down to rest against Sam's neck again, his shoulders relaxing unconsciously when he detected the young man's stronger, slower pulse, beating steadily now under his chilled skin. Sam glanced out across the room as though looking for something, then lifted one arm and regarded his watch face. Castiel doubted he could even read the numbers in the dark. Finally Sam pushed himself farther down the bed and stretched out slowly, giving the angel a glimpse of the rope burns that still blackened his wrists like deep bruises. Sam pulled his arms in with a shiver.
"Hey, um—I'm still pretty woozy, so I'm going to try to nod off again, okay?"
Castiel shifted on the edge of the mattress. "I will stay with you."
Sam shook his head, offering one of the smiles the angel didn't like as much. "Cas, you've been here a long time. If you have to take off—"
"No," Castiel said.
Sam broke off and looked up at him. Castiel held his gaze for an eternity—tenths of a second, half a second, two seconds, six seconds—and let his grace rise up in him like catching fire, trying to make the young man understand that he was as stone on the edge of this bed, immovable and timeless—trying to make Sam understand everything without speaking a word, because Castiel's words were most often in his way. Then Sam's body relaxed, and he sunk back against the folds of the bedclothes, nodding gently toward his pillows.
"Well, if you're staying… do you want to lie down? It's a big bed and… just, it might be more comfortable than sitting there."
Being prone was unnatural for Castiel. Angels did not rest, at least not horizontally, and comfort wasn't something that concerned them, not even in the body of a host. Castiel thought about telling Sam that he had sat this way for almost five hundred years, barely the blink of an eye, on the rising peaks of grinding mountain ranges, on coasts being pulled under the ocean one grain of sand at a time. But he hesitated for a tenth of a second, his lips already parted, and then changed his answer—because Sam was looking up at him with a hopeful expression, like acceptance would mean something to him, and Castiel was already reaching out to him again, strands of Sam's hair slithering through his fingers.
"If you are sure," he said.
Sam shifted over to make room on his side of the bed. Castiel braced himself on one hand and then lay down beside him, sinking into the smoothness of the double comforters, the stiffness of the pillows, and coming to rest on his side so that he could still face Sam, blue eyes unimpeded in their watchful contemplation. Sam rolled over to face him, too. Then the young hunter shifted, something sparkling in his tired eyes as his hand flitted out and five cold fingers brushed the lapel of his trench coat. Castiel felt the touch all the way through his shoulder.
"Do you have enough space?" Sam asked, so softly that Castiel almost missed the question, mistook it for the rustle of cloth between them. Castiel nodded once.
"I do," he said. Then he lifted his own hand and pressed it over the young man's heart in return, feeling the softest flutter of Sam's pulse in his fingertips, eternities disappearing in the spaces between those beats.
Sam made a soft sound in the back of his throat. Castiel could not determine whether it were protest or assent. Angels did not have the burden of uncertainty but for a long moment Castiel did, considering not for the first time whether, for all that Sam longed to be reached out to, Castiel's was not the touch he wanted. But then the young man relaxed beside him; Castiel felt his soul uncoiling, stretching out to fill the hollows of his quieting form, and Sam's hand flattened out against his shirt. Castiel wondered what the gesture meant but chose not to question it. He just unclenched his wings and allowed them to hover in the air over the bed, the outstretched feathers casting delicate shadows across Sam's face, one more layer of down to keep him warm.
It was not something an angel would have done.
Thanks for reading. Thoughts always welcomed.