Title: Held Together with His Hands
Characters: Castiel, Dean, Sam
Category: Gen, Hurt/Comfort
Warning: Pointless whump. Language. Mild gore.
Summary: The first time Castiel's healing mojo failed to work even on himself was a shock to all of them.
Word Count: 4300
Disclaimer: This is my Father's world, but it's Kripke's playground.
Author's Note: Thinly-veiled excuse to use my new Cas-whump icon from lastwordslinger. Not the Cas-whump idea I was talking about earlier, sorry, that'll be longer. Betaed and posted by an absolutely giddy dickensgirl.
Held Together with His Hands
The first time Castiel's healing mojo failed to work even on himself was a shock to all of them.
The hell of it was that the thing wasn't even supernatural. And it was all Dean's fault.
He was drinking, of course, every chance he got, ever since Carthage. Before the hunt really got up to speed, immediately after they finished. He just picked the seediest, crummiest bar he could find in whatever fly-speck town they'd landed in and parked himself on a stool. Wouldn't leave until they kicked him out or he ran out of money. Not even Sam could drag him away, and the kid tried. Oh, he tried. But he got it, too. He'd been there. He'd helped build the bombs. He'd held her hand in silent farewell.
Sam refused to drink, said it reminded him too much of, of... Ever since Carthage, yeah, he didn't drink anymore. He brought a book to the bar instead, a laptop if there was wireless anywhere around, and sat alone in a corner, reading about Lucifer and what the Horsemen had in store for the world. Fun stuff. Sometimes he hustled. Sometimes Dean hustled. It was harder than it had ever been, though, and not just because the economy made even backcountry po' boy truckers and hillbillies more circumspect with their cash.
And Castiel... He just didn't come around much. Off hunting God with even more vigor than before. Sometimes he sent Dean a cell phone picture from India, or Thailand, or Chile, or Denmark. Once even from Antarctica, a stark white cliff of tumbled ice and snow, glowing blue and green inside in the unforgiving sunlight, brilliant and harsh. Dean saved that one, flipped through his messages and looked at it every now and then. It felt appropriate, that ice. A picture of beautiful white death.
So they had all three pulled away, isolated themselves, poured everything they had into what they had left. It made sense. Dean even avoided calling Bobby anymore, figured they should start doing things on their own more often. Hearing the old hunter's voice over a distance was too much and not enough, anyway.
Dean had gotten himself particularly wasted, this night, and Sam hadn't hung around to drag him back, heading back to the motel for some shut-eye instead. He'd been looking more and more weary, lately, shadows deepening beneath his eyes, shoulders slumping, forehead bearing a permanent crease. The part of Dean that tallied every tiny change in his brother had taken note of it, though he couldn't come up with anything to do about it. It just...was what it was. Like Castiel's absence and Bobby's silence and Dean's search for oblivion.
Then, suddenly, Castiel wasn't absent anymore. He was sitting beside Dean at the bar, staring at him with big, worried eyes. "Dean, why are you doing this again?"
Dean blinked at him, watching as the edges blurred and faded together. One angel, two angel. One angel. "Say wha'?"
"You tried this a year ago. It didn't work then. Why would it work now?"
Dean looked away, his jaw set in a hard line. "Go away."
There was a small hesitation, but then Castiel did the opposite. He slid closer, leaning down against the bar to look in Dean's face. "I fear I have been away too long already," he said gravely. "Dean... When we parted ways, after Lucifer raised Death, you told me to keep in touch. I have sent you many messages. But I have received none in return. I see I should have taken that for the warning it was and returned much sooner. This...method of coping. It will not help you."
"It's all I have!" Dean blurted, rash with anger. He swallowed, forced it down again. "Look, man, I'm fine. Go fly back to your cloud or look for God on the steppes of Russia or whatever. I don't need you here."
Another pause. Dean waited for him to take off, get out while he still could.
"Nonetheless, I will stay," Castiel said.
Dean drank the dregs of his beer, bitter and thick.
Castiel politely waited for him to finish. Then he grabbed the fabric at Dean's elbow and gave it tug. "Come and walk with me. Leave this behind for a little while."
Dean wanted to resist. He did, for a little bit. But Cas was looking at him with those big blue eyes, so earnest and concerned, and it was too much like Sam, and... Dean was never very good at resisting this kind of plea. "Fine, fine. Let me settle up."
He paid the bartender and slung his jacket over his shoulders, and they went. They walked in silence through darkened streets powdered with thin drifts of snow, mottled by the breeze like waves on a beach. Dean kept his eyes on his feet, carefully putting one foot in front of the other. He'd had too much—of course he had, that was the fucking point—and if he wasn't careful he was gonna stagger all the way back to the motel. He was aware of very little except for the snow and his feet and Castiel's presence at his side, calm and controlled and just...there. Silently, to himself, Dean could admit that he found that presence maybe a tiny bit comforting. Just because it was Cas.
Suddenly the peace was broken and there were noises and shouts and Dean looked up and tried to figure out what was going on and there were three guys with knives. "What the hell..."
He stumbled, he'd been pushed, and then Dean was leaning with his back against a brick wall and Castiel was in front of him, arms slightly outstretched, shielding him. "I believe this is what is called a 'mugging,'" he said calmly, as if it was the strangest thing in the world, but yeah, nothing an angel of the Lord couldn't handle.
Which was good, Dean figured blearily, because he was drunk and he was freakin' useless. Damn good thing he hadn't ended up walking back to the motel alone.
"It would be in your best interest to leave us be," Castiel told the muggers. It was the voice he had used against the demons in that barn in Kentucky. The one that clearly promised that shit would shortly be thoroughly fucked up.
No one ever accused muggers of being smart. They came after him anyway. From Dean's perspective it was all a big tan blur of Castiel's trenchcoat moving in front of him, but he clearly heard the snapping of some poor fool's arm, followed by a strangled scream. "What's your problem, man?" one of the assailants yelled, shrill and terrified. Dean could imagine the look Cas was giving the guy just then, and yeah, he didn't blame him.
"You should leave now," Castiel said, and over his shoulder Dean watched the three idiots pick up their pieces and stumble-run away. One was holding his arm, and the other two looked over their shoulders as they went, eyes wide and wild, making sure the angel wasn't pursuing them. An abandoned knife lay on the sidewalk, dripping red into the snow.
Dean blinked, feeling the adrenalin buzz rush through his system and fade away, leaving him almost woozy with clarity. Nothing like some violence to sober you up a little. He straightened against the wall, wincing at the burn across his shoulders where he'd been shoved roughly against the bricks. Castiel's shoulders were slumped, and he was looking down at himself, apparently oblivious to his surroundings. Dean slid around him, tried to get a look at his face.
"Cas, man, that was awesome. Did you do that trick you did with me the first time we met? Like, you know, he stabs you, and you just pull the knife out and drop it on the ground, and then he pees his pants? Because, dude, I would be totally happy if that happened to someone besides me."
Castiel shifted his head in something like a nod, still staring down at himself. Dean looked, too, curious if he would actually be able to see the clothes and flesh mending as he watched. Mostly when Cas healed he was just all battered and bloody one second, then whole and pristine the next with barely a blink between. He'd never caught him in the act before.
What he didn't expect to see was blood, blood, and more blood gushing out of a hole in Castiel's chest and painting his jacket and coat and shirt and tie in a stream of flowing red. He'd seen Castiel beaten, he'd seen him bloody, but he'd never seen him bleed.
Dean worked his mouth around, keeping down the bile. In his defense, he didn't usually get this kind of swirling in his stomach over a little blood, but he'd had a lot to drink. And this was Castiel, who wasn't supposed to bleed like that. It wasn't right.
"Dude... Patch that up, wouldja? It's giving me the heebie jeebies."
Castiel just stood there, staring down at the wound. He swayed slightly, back and forth, just once, then stood statute-still again.
"Cas, c'mon. Fix that up." Dean put a hand on his shoulder and was shocked to feel it trembling. What the hell.
"I'm...trying." Castiel said through gritted teeth, and the blood ran and ran. Then his knees folded beneath him and he flopped gracelessly down into the snow.
Or he would have, if Dean hadn't caught him. He'd already had one shoulder, but when Castiel started to fold up his other hand darted over, got under the angel's other arm, and he managed to guide Cas's descent. He propped him against the wall and knelt beside him, icy melt seeping through the knees of his jeans. And he panted and stared.
"Dude. What's going on?"
Castiel stared at him, eyes wide with fear, and that was wrong too. "I don't know, I... Dean..."
"It's okay. It's okay, I'm here. I got you." Dean folded back the coat, the jacket, found the hole in the white shirt just left of his heart, gushing and gushing. Got his fingers in the soaked material and tore it open, baring the wound. It was deep, and it must have hit something, because the blood just wasn't stopping. "Okay, okay. I got this." He fumbled in his pocket with bloody fingers, got out his handkerchief and pressed it down as hard as he could. "It's just a cut, Cas. Nothing serious. We'll get you fixed up in no time."
Castiel's eyes were fastened to his face, fixed, unwavering. Dean looked back at him, tried to meet the intensity of his gaze with his own strength and surety. "Just a cut, man," he repeated. "Sam and me deal with those all the time. It's no big deal. Nothing to worry about."
His face was too pale, translucent, gray, sickly, as wrong as wrong could be. How much blood had he lost? How much could he stand to lose? "Hey, give me your hand, okay?"
Castiel raised a hand, quirking his eyebrow in curiosity but obeying without question, and Dean grabbed it in his blood-slick palm and pressed it against the handkerchief. "Push as hard as you can. Keep pressure on it."
He tried, but his grip was weakening already, and that scared Dean more than anything else had yet. He'd never seen Cas bleed, and he sure as hell had never seen him physically weak. He kept one hand over the angel's, pressing down, and scrambled for his phone. He opened it one-handed and found the right buttons, not without a few misfires.
"Sam? Sam! It's me. We need help. Cas is bleeding, man. He's bleeding from the chest and he just won't quit. Something is seriously wrong here."
Dean barely listened to his brother's sleepy mumbles over the phone, already looking back to Castiel, holding that blue, unblinking stare. There was a sick hissing sound as Cas tried to pull in a breath, and that was so bad Dean didn't have words for it.
"I should...have told you..." Castiel gasped for air, and no no no, that was bad, that was so bad. Dean had never heard Castiel gasp for breath, not ever, and why did he even need to?
"Cas. Shut up." Dean left the cell phone on the ground, holding the wound with both hands, his palms sliding against Castiel's chilly fingers. "Don't talk, just let me take care of it."
"After Carthage...should have told you... I can't...exorcise...anymore. Fading...it's fading..."
"Cas, shut up!" Castiel was losing his powers, he was becoming more human. Damn it, too soon, it was happening too soon, Dean was supposed to have five years to keep this from happening. And now he couldn't heal himself, and how was Dean going to fix this?
"Dean!" Sam's voice was close and near at once, almost a scream, but faint, carried away by the snow-laden breeze. "Dean!Is the wound sucking? Is it sucking, Dean?"
"Yeah," Dean said shakily. "Yeah, Sammy, it sucks like a bitch."
"Dean!" Oh, the cell phone. His baby brother's voice was coming from the cell phone, still lying open on the ground. Dean barely spared it a glance before looking back to Castiel's eyes. "Is it an open chest wound, man? Is it sucking? Pneumothorax, Dean! Is his lung collapsing?"
"Oh," Dean breathed, and felt kinda bad that he could breathe this easily while Castiel was having so much trouble. "Yeah. Yeah, it's sucking."
"I'm coming, Dean. I'm in the car and I'm coming. I'm guessing you're still near the bar, right? Just hang on."
"Okay," Dean said. "Okay, Sammy." I'll hold him together till you get here, little bro.
"I'm gonna hang up and call an ambulance now. This goes beyond our first aid kit."
"Yeah. Okay. Okay."
Dean stripped Castiel's tie off his neck with one hand and added it to the dark, bloody pile beneath their hands. The bleeding had slowed, but it hadn't stopped, and the handkerchief was soaked through. And the blood that bubbled up now was frothy, pink, mixed with air.
Dean looked around the street, frantically, but there was nothing, no one, not even a candy wrapper blowing around on the ground. Damn it, damn it, damn it. He didn't have a first aid kit, didn't have a chest seal, didn't have any of the material he needed for dealing with a sucking chest wound. Just his hands, all he had was his hands. "Cas, I need you to breathe, okay? Nice long inhale, nice long exhale."
"I don't...know how..."
"Watch me, then. Keep your eyes on me." Not that he even had to ask. Castiel's eyes hadn't left his face for an instant since this ordeal began. Dean shoved the bloody cloths aside, wiping the wound as clean as possible, and got his hand against the skin. He could feel the edges of the wound pulsing against his palm, bringing up more blood. It seemed an inch long and a mile deep. He needed an air-tight seal, and this was all he had.
"All right, Cas, watch my face." Dean drew in a deep, long breath, felt the cold air burn his lungs as it came. His head still spun with booze and panic and the shock of it all, so unprecedented and wrong and oppressively stupid, but the extra oxygen helped. Castiel tried, gave everything he had in an effort to obey this command, his head coming up off the wall and the tendons on his neck standing out with everything he was pouring into it. A spasm shook his body and he collapsed back against the wall, eyes all but rolling in shock. His hand still resting on his chest tangled with Dean's, the one not holding the wound, and Dean squeezed their fingers together with a squelch of red-flowing blood and refused to let go.
Dean could feel the sucking on his palm, but the seal held. No more air got in. None got out, either, and Dean knew it would have to be drained eventually, but he didn't have the tools and he couldn't risk lifting his hand. "Okay, now breathe out. Easy, easy."
Castiel followed him, slow and careful, a faint spiral of steam in the cold air like an infinitesimal ghost, there then gone, passed on from this world to the next. Dean held him down, felt the blood. Held him there in his hands and refused to let him go.
"All right, again. Inhale." Castiel was pale, so pale, losing too much. "Exhale." Dean held him in his hands. He wouldn't let him go. "Good, Cas, you're doing good. You're not allowed to die again, man. Did it once, that's enough. Inhale."
He held him in his hands and he wouldn't let him go. Not again, not ever. Castiel wasn't allowed to leave him, not anymore. It was Dean's fault this had happened, drunk and useless, doing with his words what nothing else in all the centuries or millenia of Castiel's existence had managed to do, and Castiel was not. Allowed. To die.
He began to understand why lots of spiritual people used breathing as meditation. No more words, and the world narrowed down to just him and Castiel, staring at each other and breathing, breathing, in and out. Everything was cold except the pulse of blood against his hand, hot and bright, far warmer than Castiel's fingers still tangled with his own. Red and white and blue, that was all Dean saw, blood and snow and skin and his friend's eyes, slowly fading.
Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.
He held him together with his hands and he would not let him go.
Later there were sirens, the growl of the Impala, voices and lights and hands on his shoulders, Sam's voice in his ear. Dean held Castiel together in his hands and he wouldn't let him go. They breathed in sync, Castiel's shortened, gasping, and Dean matching him because he couldn't do otherwise, couldn't imagine leaving his friend behind.
"Dean, man, it's okay, you can let the paramedics take over. Good, man, it's good, you did good."
There were hands on Castiel's chest, trying to replace Dean's, but these were holding the right materials to help him. Dean gasped, blinked, and the world widened abruptly, full of people and sounds and what Cas needed to survive this. A blanket fell around his shoulders and he glanced up helplessly, breaking eye contact with Castiel for the first time in what seemed like years or decades.
Sam's huge hands held the blanket on his shoulders, briskly rubbing his upper arms. "Shit, you're cold as ice. Sorry it took me so long to find you. You and Castiel must have taken a short-cut that turned out to be a long-cut or something."
Dean looked back to Castiel just in time to watch his eyes flutter shut in unconsciousness, and that was so completely wrong and weird that he didn't know what to do with it. But it was okay, now, because there were people here who could help. They gently but efficiently moved Dean's hands out of the way and got to work, swift and professional, spouting comforting medical jargon like they knew what they were doing. So it was okay, it was gonna be okay. Castiel probably even had Jimmy Novak's insurance card in his pocket somewhere, wouldn't even have to defraud someone to get the care he needed.
"He couldn't heal it, Sam," he said numbly, beginning to shiver now. "He tried but he couldn't. Things are bad, Sammy, they're so bad."
"I know, I know." Sam's voice was soft on his cheek, little brother's long, strong arms wrapped around him, holding him up. "Things are bad, I know they are. But we'll fix it. We'll make it better. We're almost there."
Dean wanted to ride in the ambulance, but Sam wouldn't let him. Castiel was unconscious anyway, and the Impala was toasty warm from however long Sam had been riding around in it. Sam gave him a bottle of water and a ragged towel from the back seat, and Dean scrubbed some of the blood off his hands. It was ingrained around his fingernails, though, in the wrinkles of his knuckles and the lines of his palms. He tried not to stare at it, looked instead at the back of the ambulance racing along in front of them.
That was Castiel's life on his hands.
"I was...I was drunk," he told his brother, his own private confessor. "Cas showed up. Was worried about me. Wanted to take a walk. And then three stupid fucking muggers, man, just people with knives. He protected me, got rid of them, but one of 'em got him and... It's so stupid, Sam. So stupid. How could a mugger kill an angel? That's just not right."
"It wasn't your fault," Sam said, just like always. "You couldn'ta known that Cas's mojo had faded that much. Did he even know?"
"No... No, he was surprised too."
"Okay then. We'll just have to be a little more careful from now on, that's all. Maybe teach him a little about fighting hand-to-hand in a human body. He kind of sucks at that."
"Yeah." Dean huffed out a breathless laugh. "He sucks worse than you do, man. And that's saying something."
"Thanks, Dean. Always good to know how much you respect my skills. And hey, if he hadn't been there... I'm guessing they would have hurt you, Dean. Maybe hurt you bad. So I'm not sorry. I can't be sorry this happened the way it did. It's okay, he'll be fine. The paramedics didn't seem too worried at all."
"You saved him. You kept his lung from collapsing and you saved his life, or at least this body, however that works, I don't know and I don't care. What would have happened if he got hurt while he was off on one of his expeditions? He could have died alone in some jungle and no one would have ever known. Except maybe the angels, but I doubt they would have cared. You saved him, Dean. You knew what to do and you kept it together and you saved him."
He didn't really believe it, though, until hours later, when he and Sam hung around outside the curtained alcove off the ER where they were keeping Castiel, listening to the doctors and nurses bustle around making incredulous noises about how impossibly quickly the wound was healing. Dean peeked around the curtain, saw Cas sitting slumped upright against the headboard, awake and pissy-looking. His hair was incredibly rumpled and it was beyond weird to see him wearing a hospital gown instead of his usual get-up, but those irritated blue eyes were just about the most wonderful thing Dean had ever seen.
"I'm fine." Castiel intoned. "Just let me rest. I will heal very well without your interference."
A wide-eyed doctor was bent over Castiel's chest, his hands framing the wound as he stared at it. No more blood, but Dean could see that the cut wasn't quite closed, either. The doc must have done something, then, because Castiel squirmed suddenly and gave him a piercing glare of extreme angelic irritation. "Your hands are cold."
He looked around, just as wide-eyed as the medics, a touch of that panic that had alarmed Dean so much back there on the street darkening his eyes. "Is Dean here? Where did he go? Is he all right?"
Dean cleared his throat and stepped out where Castiel could see him, giving him a little wave. "Hey, man. It's okay. I'm here."
"Oh. Good." Castiel slumped back, watching him gravely. "Please tell these kind people that I do not require their assistance."
Dean tilted his head doubtfully. "I dunno, man. You seemed to need plenty of assistance not that long ago."
"An anomaly." Castiel gave a disdainful little sniff. "Though I do appreciate everything you did for me, it is no longer necessary. Tell them to leave me alone."
"Nah. I think I'd feel better if I knew you were in professional hands for now." Dean grinned and backed away, listening to Castiel sputter as he went.
It was the best noise ever.
And yeah, maybe an hour later the doctors and nurses were running around even more frantically, searching for a patient who had mysteriously vanished right from under their noses. Dean whistled cheerfully and followed Sam out to the Impala, leaving Jimmy Novak's paperwork behind them filled out with nonsense phrases and made-up medical conditions, just because he could. Castiel's healing mojo had slowed down or whatever, but it came through in the clutch, and that was all that mattered.
Next time, though, Dean would handle the knife-wielding muggers, thank you very much, and Cas could stand by the wall and watch. The angel might be annoyed, but at least he wouldn't be bleeding, and for now, that was all Dean really wanted. He'd held it together, he'd held Castiel together, but he never wanted to do that again.
It wasn't too much to ask for, was it?