Soulsearching

Summary: Sam is afraid he's lost his soul again, Cas is there to help. Set early season ten.

Author's Notes: Written for Balder12 amazing prompt over at the OhSam Triple Play. The prompt was: 1. Abandoned Church 2. Castiel 3. Soulfisting. Please go check out the Triple Play, there are amazing prompts and stories aplenty.

On with the story:

The stones of the church seem to crumble under Sam's gaze. The windows have shattered long ago, their stained glass glistening in the soft moonlight. Castiel stands before the altar in that strangely stiff way of his, arms too straight and brow wrinkling in a frown. Sam tries not to think of the implications of a fallen angel in a fallen church.

"You prayed for me," Castiel mutters in that deep, gravelly voice of his "What is it you need?"

Sam hums as he thinks of the words to explain what he needs from the angel. He lets his fingers run absently over a row of burnt out candles. They're cold to the touch now, but they were once lit as tokens to an absent God, as little specks of light and hope to commemorate lost loved ones and guide those left behind. Sam has lit a candle for each family member at least once. It never helped much.

"Remember when I was soulless?" Sam asks.

"I would not be likely to forget," Cas murmurs, frown still firmly in place, "As I recall, it was I who failed to carry your soul out of hell."

"I was a terrible person without a soul."

"I have seen worse." Castiel shrugs.

Sam snorts at that, but there's little humour behind the sound. "I'm sure you have."

With some shifting and tugging, Sam straightens a fallen pew. He leans on it for a second, tests that it won't fall over with his weight, then sits down heavily. He sighs.

"I've been a terrible person over the last year, as well."

"I believe it was your brother who turned into a demon and then went on a murderous rampage. Not you." Castiel points out, stepping down form the altar to sit next to Sam.

"Exactly. He was a demon. He had an excuse. I didn't." Sam rubs his face with his hands, "The things I did to get Dean back, the people I hurt…"

With a rush, Sam stands up, pacing the crumbling ground before the pew. Vaguely, he can make out the name of a dead person, carved into the ground. He's walking on a grave stone. On a corpse. He's really trying not to see this as a metaphor.

"I didn't even hesitate to do those things, Cas. I don't even really feel guilty! I mean, that's wrong, right? I should feel bad. I should feel something."

Castiel hasn't moved from his position (neither have his eyebrows, incidentally), and his head swivels to and fro with every one of Sam's moves. He says, "I do not understand what you are trying to say."

Silence stretches through the cavernous space for a moment, Sam stops pacing, breathing deeply in through his nose before he answers, "I'm – What if it's not there anymore, Cas?"

"What?" Castiel asks, eyebrows flying up from their frowning position, "Your soul?"

"Yeah." Sam replies lamely, face screwed up in embarrassment, "What if, after that first time, it was kind loose and it just – I don't know – slipped out? Or what if it's rotten? I mean, all those years in hell can't have been good for it and… I just…" Sam starts pacing again, "I just need to know."

Those last words hang in the air for a while, punctuated by the falls of Sam's giant feet. Castiel remains silent, eyes ghosting over the statues of holy men and women that humanity (or a part of it, at least) worships in their churches. The figures have crumbled, haloes cracked or faded. Much like himself, Castiel muses.

Who is he to think he can help a creature as complicated as Sam when he's living on borrowed power, with plucked and broken wings? He has no authority to speak of something as beautiful and flayed as Sam Winchester's soul.

However, Castiel does know what Sam wants from him. He's just not quite sure it's the right thing to do.

"You want me to check if your soul is still in you, intact." It's not a question.

Sam stops pacing again, hopeful look in his tired eyes. He nods quietly, waiting for the angels verdict, steeling himself for a 'no'. Castiel is conflicted. While he wants to help his friend – and yes, Sam is his friend, more so than Dean, of late – he knows the shear amount of pain caused by the touching of a soul. He has done it once before to Sam, and he does not look forward to doing it again.

"Is it really necessary?" Castiel asks, "Judging by your behaviour now in comparison to when you were soulless, I'm fairly certain it is still in there."

Immediately, Sam starts to shake his head, "Fairly certain isn't enough, Cas. I need to know for sure."

With a tired sigh, Castiel closes his eyes, head falling back as if to look up at the sky. On instinct, he sends up a futile prayer; Father, tell me what to do. There will be no answer. And really, he should know better by now than to argue with a Winchester, it's as fruitless as asking God for help.

"You are aware that the procedure is excruciatingly painful?" Castiel hedges, "I suspect your remember that from last time."

"So you'll do it?" Sam asks, glee in his voice. Truly, the man shouldn't be so happy about having someone reach into his astral body and grope his soul. Humans are strange creatures, Winchesters doubly so.

"If you insist." Castiel nods, "But know I do this reluctantly."

Sam simply nods, and just like that, their fates are sealed. He seats himself on the pew, belt in his hands, ready to bite down and find out where his soul is.

"Funny, church has always been a place for soul searching." Sam laughs nervously. He can't quite tell if Cas doesn't get the joke, or is too busy being serious to laugh at anything right now. For the first time this evening, Sam wishes Dean were here.

As if reading his mind, Cas asks, "Is Dean aware that you are doing this?"

No answer, but Sam purses his lips and looks down guiltily. Castiel shakes his head as he rolls up his sleeves. These brothers and their secrets. It's going to be the death of them.

"You should have told him you were worried about having lost your soul. It's not exactly trivial information," He points out.

"Dean has enough to worry about without adding this to the list. Besides, you said it yourself, it's probably all there anyway." Sam sticks the belt between his teeth and clenches his fist around the edge of the bench, nodding at Castiel to start the procedure. The angel hesitates, then grabs Sam's shoulder in a strangely soothing gesture before plunging his hand deep into the body before him.

Even the belt between Sam's lips can't hold back the scream of sheer, terrible pain. It echoes along the stone walls and buries itself in the cracks and crevices between the stones. The round, bulbous ceiling twirls the sound a bit before projecting it back down with force.

It feels like a hand is squeezing every organ at once, and nothing at all. The alien ligament, forced through skin and bone gropes softly at something that exists in a dimension Sam can barely comprehend. Oh, but he can feel it. Personal and agonising and wrong.

Castiel is enjoying the feeling about as much as Sam is. Souls are wondrous things; pure and beautiful, they are undoubtedly the best of God's creations. They hold all the emotions, fears and personalities a human can have. They are a blueprint, an essence, an iridescent entity that once made, can never truly be destroyed. Corrupted, yes. Broken, yes. But they can never be removed from existence entirely. So holding that in one's hand is both a terrible and a marvellous thing. It's a very intimate situation, like being trusted with someone's heart. Castiel is terrified of breaking this extraordinary, fragile thing.

Sam's soul is scorched and flayed, nudging at the alien hand with curious fear. He can see it as much as he can feel it, see its shimmering yellow glow. There's that trauma, there's that defiance, there's that stubborn hope. The scars of grief are deep on the soul, ill-stitched and sometimes still bleeding. But he most important part is that the soul is entirely, completely there.

Right where it should be.

As soon as he has ascertained that, Castiel pulls back. He catches Sam's shoulders when the man slumps forward, gasping through the last waves of pain, reddened veins like lightning bolts fading away from his face.

Even before Sam can ask, Castiel assures him, "It's there."

Nodding through a last gasp, Sam asks, "And it's fine? It's not rotting or blackening or… crumbling or something?"

"No. In fact, it is in a better shape than the last time I saw it."

"So it hasn't gotten worse than the last time? More stained or corrupted?"

Castiel frowns deeply again, "There was never anything wrong with your soul, Sam."

The sarcastic laugh that comes from deep in Sam's throat surprises the angel, but less than the man's following words, "Yeah, apart from part where I'm Lucifer's vessel, and the demon-blood – "

"There was never anything wrong with your soul." Castiel repeats loudly, irritated by Sam's insecant need to feel sorry for himself.

A look of utter bewilderment crosses Sam's face and he shakes his head as he stands up from the bench. He throws his hands up as if he can pluck his answer out of the sky. He paces until he's standing in front of the unlit candles again, staring where the light used to be for a long time. Castiel waits patiently. Then, so suddenly it almost manages to startle the angel, the hunter turns around.

"But I'm tainted. I'm part demon. That has to affect my soul somehow!" he exclaims, finger pointing the angel's way in mock accusation. Sometimes Castiel wonders if Sam wants to be a monster, he's so adamant in proving that there's something wrong with him.

"The demon-blood is a physical thing, it runs through your veins and grants your body and mind additional powers. Your soul cannot be touched by the physical." Castiel frowns, "I thought you knew this."

"But demon souls are different from human souls. They're black, like smoke. I've seen human souls, they're nothing like that."

"I agree. Yours is nothing like that."

"But I'm part demon." Sam argues. I'm sorry, Castiel wants to say, was it you who saw your soul, or me? The only similarity between the man before him and a demon is that they often share the same measure of untouchable obstinacy. A rather irritating characteristic, the angel finds. Still, he decides to be patient.

"Sam, I do not think you understand quite how extraordinary your soul is," Castiel explains, Sam merely looks sceptical, so the angel continues in his grave voice, "You have spent more than a millennium in the Cage with two archangels, yet your soul has come out of it completely human. Most souls in hell take half that time to burn away and become 'black smoke' as you so eloquently described. Coming out with a battered, yet human soul is a miracle."

For a moment it looks like Sam is about to argue. That's because Lucifer didn't want that to happen. That's because the Cage isn't really hell. That's because it was demonic before I went to hell. At the look on Castiel's face, Sam refrains from speaking all together.

And the angel continues, "You have not seen your soul, Sam. I have. It is beautiful."

An surprised, unbelieving look passes over Sam's face. His heart warms at the kind words, and he has to wonder at the difference between the Castiel Sam met six years ago, and he one before him now. Sentences like the boy with the demon blood and Sam, of course, is an abomination, have always stuck with Sam, but new sentences have replaced them. Sam is my friend and your soul is beautiful.

The smile that curls up the corners of his lips comes as much as a surprise to Sam as it does to Castiel. The angel takes it as a cue that he is – for once – saying the right thing.

"Lucifer left his mark, of course, and it is scarred with grief, but that does not lessen its shine. Your soul is warm, glowing and yellow. It radiates compassion, kindness and hope. Truly, it is a soul to envy. It is an insult to dismiss it so quickly."

Sam can't quite hold back the snort at the curt monotone in which Cas is describing a soul. The poetic words are difficult to reconcile with the serious tone and the stiff, military posture of the angel. It looks like Cas has a lot more to say, but Sam stops him with a raised hand. He surrenders, because he knows Cas will never stop until he does.

"Alright. I believe you." Sam smiles. This time, it's Castiel looking sceptical. Sam nods encouragingly, "Really."

For a moment they stand face to face in awkward silence, surrounded by a carnage of splinters and bricks. The one remaining window lets in a pale miasma of colours through the stained glass. The beam falls right over Castiel, illuminating him in an ethereal light. The trench coat casts a twisted shadow. Sam smiles again.

"I should get back to the bunker before Dean starts wondering where I've gone off to."

At his moment, Sam doesn't want to go back, though. There's only tension and research waiting for him back home. So he savours this moment just a little longer, looks around, stares up at the statue of Mary cradling her son. The image is prominent at the head of the church, golden paint flaking, but face still kind. She shouldn't remind him of his mother – he never knew her, and her pictures look nothing like this perfect woman – but she does. Somehow, she makes him feel safe.

"How is he doing?" Cas asks.

Sam shakes his head. "I honestly don't know. All I know is that I want that Mark off ASAP."

Castiel nods. "We will find a way. We always do."

Another awkward moment passes as they both consider a farewell. In the end, Sam steps forward and pulls Castiel into a bone crushing hug (if, you know, a human was capable of breaking an angel's bones).

"Thank you," he whispers.

Sam leaves the abandoned church with an absurd grace for a being so large, stepping over stray stones and shards of chandelier with predatory ease. Castiel waits. Only when he hears the low growl of the black car outside and the murmur of rubber on tar, does the angel leave.

A flutter of wings and a flurry of dust. In a few minutes the dust will have settled again, leaving everything in its rightful place.