"Paper Tiger"

Another half-hearted Saturday drabble. Spoilers up to 6x22.

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Dean had been keeping vigil beside Castiel for most of the night, as he lied in a sunken pile on an otherwise vacant roadside motel bed. He was a slightly paler shade of tan, a less healthy version of strong. Dean knew that after he and Sam had managed to drain him of all of his "nuke", he'd be significantly less powerful, but they didn't expect that Cas would be so depleted he would remain nearly comatose. Dean certainly didn't realize that he would look this powerless, this weak, this drained, this...human. It was, in some meager, inexplicable way, to Dean, almost heartbreaking, since Cas wasn't much without his wings and his smiting and everything that came along with his past titles like angel of the lord and, most recently, God. Dean still looked at him like he was a kinder, more altruistic version of the latter he'd been for about seventy-two hours, but regardless, Dean knew there would be some kind of self-loathing in whatever Cas woke up, and he wondered if he should be prepared with cheeseburgers or amphetamines.

Time marched on, in the slow, oddly familiar way it always did for them, and when Cas finally began to stir, Dean felt his heartbeat quicken. Cas fumbled ungracefully to a sitting position, sloppy and challenged like the rest of the mortals, and Dean steadied him with his hands. When their eyes met, Dean noted how they were less blue than before; a more pallid shade of navy that seemed to represent all of the power that had flamed out. Cas averted them quickly; he'd rather not face Dean after everything that had happened, and it was all coming back to him in a ruthless loop in his mind. He attempted to leave, but when he tried, his body failed him. He tried again, and again, and he focused with everything he had left - which wasn't anything at all except fear and doubt and uncertainty - but each time he opened his eyes he was still there, still perched messily on the edge of a bed, and Dean was still kneeling across from him, eyes all wild with caution as if a newly fragile Cas might just fall over and die, and that might be one trauma too many for the hunter to cope with.

Dean had hoped that Cas wouldn't remember, or at least wouldn't mention, the preceding three days, or any of the resulting collateral damage, but he wasn't so lucky. Cas noticed the split lip in front of him; the way it threw off the symmetry of Dean's face, and how it was red and puffy, and he recalled that there was blood, a lot of blood. There were purple reminders of the same kind of violent impact under his eyes, and when Cas reached out to touch him - fingers laced with the false hope of erasing all of the bruises - Dean flinched.

"I'm sorry." Cas' voice seemed to come out of nowhere, and it startled Dean even more. He had seen Cas at his most vicious, and it was almost as if he thought he shouldn't sound the same anymore; that having been reduced to such a temporal state should have rendered his voice more casual, more human. But it wasn't. Nor was it the calculated tone that foresaw all of the injuries on Dean's face.

You will bow down.

Dean hadn't bowed down, needless to say, and he'd been someone else that needed to be punished, severely.

"I did this," Cas continued, looking increasingly sadder, more guilty, more lost. Dean noted that he sounded naive, in the way that he had always sounded before everything, like when he'd asked him, almost childlike, why humans lied. He wasn't sure if Cas would want to carry on without his capabilities, and felt like he himself had played God by reducing someone who had been nearly omnipotent, and who had done so much to help him, and Sam, to this person who was, well, just that: a person. Not an angel. Not God. It was better than losing him altogether, Dean had justified, shortly after he and Sam had torn the souls from Cas in a painfully merciless seven minutes, and, recalling the screams and the cries made Dean touch the wounds on his face and consider that their cruelty paled in comparison. Couldn't everything go back to normal? Fuck, he hadn't known what normal was his whole life. He leaned his head back, tears pressing against the prison-like lids of his eyes, and he thought about calling Cas, since that's who he always called when he needed help, when he didn't know what he was supposed to do, and then he remember that Cas was sitting in front of him, faded eyes vacant and confused.

Cas tried to touch Dean's face again, and this time he didn't flinch. After all, short of simply punching him, Cas would have a hard time doing any more damage. In his current state, he was, more or less, a paper tiger. "I can't fix you," he said sadly, words like daggers that stabbed Dean all over. Cas stared uselessly at his fingers, and, finally coming to terms, he cradled Dean's jaw and ran his thumb gently over the wounded skin of his lower lip in soothing rhythm. It would have to suffice.

"I'm so sorry, Cas," Dean cried suddenly, his voice loud and charged in the otherwise sound-bankrupt room. "We took everything from you. We didn't mean to. I just wanted you back-Cas, you couldn't be God. It was too much. I was just trying to save-"

"Shhh," Cas interrupted. He cursed the way he felt Dean's pain course through him. It was always that way - angel, human, God - he felt it all.

"I can't." Dean gasped, choking on overdue sobs, the ones he'd held back in all of their fights, and there had been so many. He couldn't finish, because Cas guided his head to rest on his lap, so he could cry, unrestrained, and without his unrealistic, self-made rule to be stoic and stay that way despite his emotions. And Cas didn't really know what exactly Dean couldn't do, but maybe it had something to do with those fights, and those emotions, and all of the pain. Or maybe he was trying to tell him that he couldn't be silent; that he couldn't stop crying because had been silent for too long. Whatever it was, it didn't matter anymore.

Whatever Cas was now, exactly, human or sub-par angel remnants - he really didn't know - was taking a toll. He was tired, like he had never been, he craved sleep, and food, and touch, and safety, and all of the menial comforts he wasn't used to needing. He looked down at Dean, and he weaved his fingers through his hair, and then, and then, he, too, began to cry. Softly at first, and never as desperately as Dean, but just as painfully, in silent tears that blazed a trail down his face, almost as fitting finale to this person he was who wasn't concerned with heaven or God or souls or deals and the only thing that really did matter anymore, and mattered more than anything, was right there, crying against his knee.

"Dean, it's okay," he said, and he hoped his voice wasn't indicative of the tears. It was a tricky art, to be reassuring when he himself was falling to pieces. And he wanted to say - had planned to say - I'm sorry, I love you. But all he managed was, "I'm still just me. I'm still just Castiel."

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FIN