“I wasn’t the only one,” Sam answers without thinking.
Even in the silence, he knows he’s right. Dean may not have understood the Grace in the exact same way — heard what Sam could only smell — but they both had felt Castiel’s overwhelming presence in their own way, something that plied at Sam’s curiosity more than he could help.
“Is it… a vessel thing?” he asks finally, shifting in place to cross his knees over each other.
To anyone else this might be a mundane portrait, the two of them sitting here on the back of a porch, hanging out with some friendly mutt. Funny that it should all be so much more complicated than that. Sam settles back, fingers skittering to a uncertain halt as he looks beyond the Castiel he knows to grasp at the Castiel that truly sits before him.
It’s been years since the first time they met, some vaguely fateful moment amongst a cadre of fateful moments, but that doesn’t stop the breath from pittering out of Sam’s lungs like a light that can’t quite catch its circuit. He spent so long withering and willing himself back and forth through that fight, desperate to prove himself to the arrogant sons of God, to show that he had made the right choice and he only wanted to save the world from the demon that tore his brother away from him, but it never worked. Every decision only thrust him further down that path, further away from the salvation he’d been craving for so long. Yet here they are — despite misgivings and failures — Sam is able to sit here with his hand pressed against someone who never should’ve looked at him twice.
He swallows hard, leans in with a gentle nudge because he needs to be able to feel Castiel out, needs to reach him and feel him push back so they both know this is real and despite the odds, this could actually be okay.
“I never noticed it before. Never. Not even when I first met you, but I… I still knew it was you. I’ve been smelling it all day — reeking of it,” he admits, eyes cast downward as he licks the sun from his lips.
A mark. All the angels are gone, but the instinct is still there, and Castiel has been marking him this whole time, branding him in a way that Sam couldn’t understand until now. The realization burns on his cheeks, lips tipping upward in a bashful smile that dimples his face.
“So… if there were angels here now, what would they know about me?” He’s cheeky this time, sly in a way that doesn’t happen often with Castiel about, but Sam can’t let the opportunity to ask slide right by, not after what Cas has just told him.
Sam always has questions. So many questions. It’s the way he enters the world, how he navigates a constantly shifting landscape of legend and mythos and prophesies come to pass. Dean has always been a creature of experience, who learns by doing, making mistakes, and trying again. But Sam is best served by the information he gathers, compiled and analyzed and put to use. It’s endearing, Cas thinks, how eager Sam is for it—he’s certain he’s never known another human being to be so curious.
And on any other day, Castiel would be happy to oblige him. He lives for the opportunity to share his knowledge, but right now… he just doesn’t have it in him right now.
Sam is trying so hard to distract him; Castiel can see that plain as day. He smiles and he presses and grins in a sly way that Sam very rarely shows. Castiel can feel him, a golden red presence in his mind pushing in through the darkness of his periphery just enough to make itself known. It’s the closest to a true distraction since Sam first posed the question about this mysterious scent, and Castiel nudges back gently, warmly, as much as he can manage with all this heavy guilt and thoughts scattered to the wind.
What would the Host think of Sam, bearing Castiel’s mark in more ways than one? Castiel doesn’t know. He will never know, and though he could guess, it’s not something he can put into words, Enochian or otherwise. Silence falls between them once more, and Castiel is reaching out in a different way now, untwining his hand from Sam’s and brushing warm fingertips over the scrape of Sam’s jaw, into his hair, thumbing the soft swell of his lips. Sam’s eyes close and he leans into it, wholly trusting in a way that clinches like a vice grip around Castiel’s heart, and the sigh that escapes him then is ragged, shaken, trailing fingers down the side of Sam’s neck before dropping his hand aside entirely.
“I don’t know,” he says, and it’s a broken admission, voice lowered and eyes downcast as he collects himself, collects his thoughts. It’s not just this—though Castiel hopes actions speak louder than words here—it’s everything. He doesn’t know why Dean could sense it, too. Doesn’t know why even Sam could sense it in the first place. This—all of this is uncharted territory in a way far beyond even the days after his rebellion, when they rewrote the story and changed the world, for better or worse.
“There are a great many things I don’t know, Sam. I’ve never… known this to happen, to anyone. I have no point of reference.” He sighs, shrugs his shoulders up and then drops them back down on an exaggerated exhale that provides no relief to lungs unused, to body sustained by Grace. “I can… assume that you recognize it because you are vessels. I can assume the effect was dampened by my own. But I… I don’t know.”
Castiel scrubs a hand through his hair at that, shoves unruly bangs away from his face and closes his eyes for a moment of darkness and peace. It’s almost ironic, that one can see the path ahead and still be utterly lost, and Castiel catches himself missing the days before Grace, when as disconcerting as wandering in the dark was, he had an excuse. Wandering, it seems, is part of the human condition.
“Even my foresight fails me.” Castiel laughs, a quiet sob of a sound that could almost be bitter with a little more conviction behind it. This is hardly what Castiel intended to say—he hadn’t intended to say anything more at all, but the words spill out of him with a surprising ease, and Castiel doesn’t have it in him to stop them. “It’s as if every path, every one is lost in a fog, and all I can see is the road we traveled to get here. What was, what could have been.”