Title: Least I Can Do
Summary: Castiel recovers after a difficult battle against Heaven. Dean stays by his side. Set after 5.04.
Characters/Pairings: Dean, Castiel, Sam; gen (or implied D/C if you're *really* looking, but it wasn't intentional)
Rating: PG-13, for swearing.
Notes: Written for the prompt "Wings" on my hc_bingo card.
"I swear, these burgers have gotten worse and worse." Dean crumples up his bag and lazily tosses it into the trashcan in the corner. It bounces off the rim, but he's lying on his stomach with his arms resting on his pillow, and he's too comfortable to get up. "Remember when we were kids and burgers used to taste so frigging good? And we'd always love it when Dad took us down to the diner and there'd be pie and everything? They suck these days. That's probably part of the angels' plans."
"I don't think the decline of roadside diners and the apocalypse are linked." Sam is lying on his bed too. They killed a pair of Satan-worshipping dudes earlier today; geezers who had been born on the other side of the nineteenth century and had the looks to prove it. They've earned the right to a nice, relaxing sleep. Not that they'll get it. "You liked burgers 'cause they meant you weren't cooking. But when you've eaten them almost every day for the past ten years, you're probably going to get sick of them."
"Fair enough." Dean rolls over and stares at the ceiling. "But something's different. I'm not kidding, Sam. I think that they all, like, got together and decided to—"
Just as he's about to explain his firmly-believed theory about how all the greased-up diners decided to start using Sam's health food tofu-and-bean-sprout crap in their burgers instead of real red cow meat, he hears a sound like wind blowing through a leaf pile and feels a light breeze pass through the room. It does what the littered burger bag couldn't and gets him to sit up.
Castiel appears in the middle of the room and just stands there looking at him and Sam dumbly. His lips part, but before he can say anything, he stumbles, narrowly avoiding a full-on face plant by bracing his hands against the wall.
"Cas?" Dean stands up quickly and gets to him just before Sam does, grabbing his shoulders, and noticing the grimace on his ashen face. It would worry him no matter who it was on, but it kind of freaks him out on an extra level, considering that this is an angel that he's dealing with. "Hey, what's wrong? You hurt?"
"Yes. I believe I am." Castiel stays as he is, leaning against the wallpaper with the olive-colored stripes. Dean just stands there awkwardly holding his shoulders, not knowing whether or not to let go. Cas isn't rejecting the touch, but he isn't exactly leaning into it either.
He figures that it's better to give the support just in case. He really does look like he's about to keep over at any moment.
"Dean, bring him over here." Sam's swept his own dinner trash from his bed and is kneeling next to it, digging through his duffel bag. "What is it, Cas? Anything broken?"
Sam's words seem to rouse Castiel from whatever state he's in. He shrugs off Dean's hands and, looking somewhat reluctant, peels himself away from the wall. He stands even stiffer than usual, like a soldier whose president is standing a foot away from him. If said soldier were to have just had invasive surgery without anesthesia, of course. "No. That isn't necessary; the wounds are beyond the caliber of what you could assist with. I just need sanctuary. Only for the night, I hope."
Dean is about to point out that the Motel 6 here on Route Whatever isn't exactly a sanctuary; if anything he's pretty likely to leave here with an extra helping of bedbugs or lice or something. But even he can tell that Castiel looks like crap on a hot day, so he doesn't push. "Sure. Hell, if you wanna rest I could probably be persuaded to give up my bed for the night."
Castiel stiffly shakes his head. "No. Though I appreciate the offer, sleep would not be of use to me. As it is..." he pauses, and although the room is dimly lit and Dean can't be too certain of what he sees, he thinks that a shudder runs through his body. "...somewhere that I could work on healing without disturbing you two would be of the most value to me. Would I be able to take your restroom for my use? I would leave if either of you required its use," he hastily adds.
"Uh..." Dean glances at Sam, who shrugs, looking as confused as he. "I guess so. I mean, I don't see why not."
"What exactly is wrong?" asks Sam. "Seriously Cas, we've done things in motel rooms that most doctors wouldn't do in a hospital, unless they had the right stuff. We can probably handle it."
"No, my vessel is unharmed. Only my true form was injured. It will require my utmost concentration to repair the damage, hence my request for privacy." He winces as he speaks, and this time Dean is certain that he didn't imagine it. Whatever it is, it must be serious to make him act like this.
"You're sure there isn't anything we can do?" Sam speaks just as Castiel shudders, and that seems to be all of the answer that he needs, because he quickly follows up with, "Bathroom's all yours. Just give a call if you need anything, hey?"
"All right." Castiel lumbers towards the bathroom, and even though it's only a few footsteps away—right across from the beds; it's a really small room, even by their standards—he still manages to make it look like he's in intense pain all of the way.
But he doesn't say anything about it, and the bathroom door just swings shut behind him. Dean looks at Sam and shrugs. "Angels, man."
"He didn't look okay, Dean." Sam stares at the wooden door, like he's Superman and he can see right through it. "Wonder what happened."
"He'll let us know when he's ready." Dean flops back down on his bed, staunchly refusing to let his concern show.
Dean reluctantly falls into a light sleep, losing the fight to just lie there in the dark and let his mind still. These days he tries not to go to sleep without the aid of a good dose of liquor, but he let his supply dwindle until he ran dry, and he still hasn't replaced it. Not for lack of want; there just isn't a place that sells it in this shitty one-horse town.
This night is no exception to his usual dreaming pattern. He's already begun to feel hot coals under his feet and taste sulfur in the air when a scream that doesn't fit into Hell's usual chorus pulls him out of it and back into a reality that's still more pleasant, even under their current circumstances.
He's up in record time, hand on the knob to the bathroom just as Sam turns on the light and springs off of his bed. "Dean? Was that—"
"Yeah." He steels himself for the worst and shoves in the door, ignoring the loud noise that it makes as it slams the wall. "Cas?"
Dean steps inside and ducks to the right, against where faded towels hang on their racks.
In the yellowish lights of the bathroom he sees that Castiel is sitting on the edge of the bathtub, which runs the entire length of the short back wall. His trench coat lies at his feet, shirt and tie thrown on top of the toilet, which is against the wall opposite Dean. He's breathing hard and holding his head in his hands, bare torso beaded with sweat. It's worse than Dean has ever seen him before, but he's alive, and Dean will be damned if he doesn't feel some relief at that.
Not much, though, when Castiel weakly looks up at him. His eyes are just open, his entire face lined with pain. "Dean…"
"Hey. I'm right here. Talk to me, Cas." He steps over to where the angel is seated, nodding at Sam to come in and join them in the crowded bathroom. "Shit.Shit. What the hell did you do to your back?"
It's a mess of bruises and welts from the base of his neck to as far as Dean can see, all mottled red and blue and grey. The marks that cross the bruises aren't bleeding, but they are red and angry-looking, long raised lines that cross his shoulder blades and seem to form X's with his spine. Behind him, Sam gasps and says, "How the hell is that 'unharmed?'"
"My vessel is injured? I hadn't noticed…" Castiel hisses suddenly and shudders, his shoulders tightening and arching back. Dean reaches out automatically to steady him, but that makes Castiel pull away, as if burned, and Dean realized that yeah, with bruises like that, even a light touch probably feels like he's getting a baseball bat swung at him. His hands drop to his sides and he looks away, guilty. "Sorry, Cas."
"You haven't treated that at all, have you?" Sam and Dean both know the answer to Sam's question, even before Castiel glances up at him and murmurs a negative. "I told you that we have stuff for it…for the welts, at least. And we have pain meds. I'll go get them."
Sam steps out of the bathroom door just as Cas says in a low voice, "Don't bother. The wounds on my vessel are superficial reflections of the damage that was wrought to my true form. Your medicines would offer me no relief, and you would do better to save them until one of you needs them."
"If those are superficial…" Dean sinks to his knees, kneeling on the hard bathroom tiles. "What the hell happened to your true form? Who did this to you?"
Cas sighs. He looks so pathetic that it's hard for Dean to be pissed at him for not mentioning everything in the first place. "There were angels; they cornered me when I was in a church…I hadn't thought they would be bold enough to attack me in one of my Father's houses, but apparently I underestimated them. They were Cherubim. They aren't supposed to be fighters; mostly they work in human-related matters…Cupids are a subdivision, you know, though they weren't the ones who attacked me. I am a warrior, and I was able to fight off some of them, but the sheer number of them was overwhelming. They grabbed me as I was fleeing and damaged my wings. I flew to several locations to throw them off before I recalled where you were staying and came here. I expect the flight I took to divert them probably only furthered the damage."
"What kind of damage are we talking?" Not that Dean is particularly familiar with wings or with what Castiel really looks like, but he needs to know if there's a strong possibility that the wounds could be fatal or something. "Like, life-threatening?"
"I don't believe so." Castiel winces, his hands becoming fists so tight that Dean's surprised he can't see blood welling up. "Were I at my strongest, or if I had the assistance of my siblings, I would be able to repair it in a relatively short period of time. As it is, it will take me longer, though I hope to be done within the night. I expect it's still nighttime…"
Sam glances at the clock on the wall. "Just after eleven."
"I woke you, then. I apologize. The scream you heard…one of my wings is more severely injured than the others; fully broken, and partially severed. I was able to get it reattached—mostly—but moving it was more painful than I had expected."
"Don't worry about it," Dean says; Cas is still quieter than he was when he was younger, before he got really good at controlling himself after his nightmares. "So, how much is left for you to do?"
"I'm not certain." Castiel unclenches his fists, breathing deeply. For a moment, he looks almost normal, albeit with a look of loathing upon his face, knowing the pain that's going to come back. Dean can empathize with him; he's had enough wounds to be on a first-name basis with those moments in-between when the pain recedes for a minute or so, and you just want to take the time to relax and pray that it stays like that. "I can leave, if my presence proves inconvenient."
"No way." Sam shakes his head, sleep-mussed hair flopping as he does. "We're not making you leave when you're in that sort of shape."
"Thank you." Castiel sighs, sweat-slicked hands absentmindedly wringing in his lap. "I should warn you, I'm liable to get worse before I get significantly better. It takes energy for me to heal myself, and the more that I use up repairing my wings, the less I have to focus on repressing the pain."
"Cas, we are like the kings of being hurt. Trust me, we're used to it." Dean pauses and then, for whatever reason, blurts out, "Hell, why don't I hang out here with you for a while? I'm used to pain, you're not—we can compare notes."
He doesn't know why he says it, and doesn't really expect Cas to take him seriously. Of course, it's what he's used to doing for Sam, staying by him all night when they were younger—actually, he still does it even now—but it's different with Castiel because, well, he's an angel. He knows Sam and all his human pains. Castiel is a foreign being; Dean doesn't even know what he looks like outside of Jimmy.
Not to mention that Castiel? He really doesn't act like he's into the idea of human feelings and comfort and all that crap. So it comes to a surprise when Castiel looks at Dean, and says, "I would appreciate that greatly, Dean," in a voice that reveals nothing other than the pain that he's going through at the moment.
"Super." Dean slides down so that he's sitting on the cracked, vaguely yellow tiles. It's going to be a long night, but Cas is his friend, and Dean knows that he would be doing a shitty job at the whole 'friendship' thing if he left him alone while he was in this much pain.
Sam hovers in the doorway. "Sure there isn't anything that I can get you? You're not cold, and you're certain that the pain meds won't do any good?"
Castiel tells Sam that no, they wouldn't do anything to help him, and Dean feels some relief at that—not at the idea that the drugs won't help Cas, but at that he won't be taking them. 2014 and the possible future that it holds is still fresh in his mind, and he'll do whatever he can to see that nothing happens to make it like that.
"You sure you don't want me to stay?" Sam asks, looking at Dean, but addressing them both.
Dean shakes his head. "Dude, it's already packed in here. Shove you in and we'd break the damn walls down. Get some sleep; we'll probably be heading out of here in the morning."
"If you say so. Cas, you need anything that Dean won't get, just give me a shout." Sam hesitates. "I, uh, I hope you feel better."
"I appreciate that." Castiel gasps suddenly and throws his shoulders back, grabbing the edge of the bathtub for support. His eyes are closed, and his breath comes out in short, violent wheezes.
Dean awkwardly pats his knee and nods at Sam, who returns the gesture, still looking worried as he closes the door behind him.
"So. You hanging in there? What exactly's hurting right now?" With Sam, Dean always knew what to do to distract him from the pain—read a comic book or something when he was younger; give him booze and tell dirty jokes these days—but with Castiel, it's different. He honestly doesn't know what to talk to him about other than the pain, or something like how the search for god is going. Which probably won't make him feel any better.
He could always try the dirty jokes, but something tells him that Castiel wouldn't really benefit from that, so instead he just sits and waits patiently for him to get his breathing under control long enough to answer.
"The Cherubim managed to tear off some of what you would perceive as…feathers, I suppose. The wounds are scattered throughout my wings, though the top two are the most damaged. And as I said previously, one of them is broken, in a way similar to a broken bone. My focus lies on fixing these two things, primarily the broken wing. The other damages pain me, but not nearly to that extent."
"Oh." Dean nods and wonders how many wings Castiel has. He's pretty well-read on them (it's good to know about the species that wants to take you out to the apocalyptic semiformal, after all) and so he's guessing six, but before he can ask, Castiel speaks.
"You were correct before, when you said that I was unused to pain. I'm very old and I have experienced things across the millennia that a human could only dream of; seen and interacted with creatures that your kind might never meet, and done things that are thought impossible even in the minds of all the poets, artists, and storytellers to ever have walked on this soil. But I am not used to defeat.
"I succeeded even in Hell, as you well know. That day was the first time in centuries that one of my siblings died. At the time I was almost unable to comprehend what such a thing must feel like…the pain that must go with that, both physically and emotionally: knowing that you, an angel, one of God's first-created, was defeated by a lesser being. I still wonder. It must be great. And while I do not dispute the intensity of that pain, I have to ask…is death at the hands of a thousand demons more painful than being killed by your own sibling?" He isn't looking at Dean; is just staring off into the distance, so he can't tell if it's supposed to be rhetorical or not. Either way, he decides to answer.
"Nope. Take it from someone who's been there, done that on the first thing, it would be a million times worse if Sam pulled the trigger. You expect your enemies to kill you, but you're supposed to trust your family, you know?"
"That makes sense," Castiel says, closing his eyes and leaning back against the faded red tiles of the wall. "I expect it, after all, for them to hunt me. I have been forced to kill my siblings, those who choose to pursue you. I wonder if they considered it that way as they died."
"Probably not. Not that I usually speak this way about families, but yours is full of dicks—Cas? Hey!"
He stands up just as Castiel pulls himself to his feet, gasping. He's facing the wall, bracing his arms against it, but Dean can picture his face, tightly screwed in pain.
Dean steps towards him, careful not to touch his back. Even if Cas says that he can't feel it, Dean wants to avoid aggravating the painfully inflamed mess of sores and bruises. "Hey, it's gonna be fine." Carefully he places a hand on Castiel's left wrist, trying to offer support.
Castiel surprises him by painstakingly turning around and facing him, and by sliding his arm up until he's desperately gripping Dean's hand. His face is lined, tired, and sweat pastes down the hair that normally just looks rumpled, like the rest of Castiel's appearance. "I hope that it will be."
Dean tugs Cas's hand gently. "C'mon. Lie down."
He expects a protest, but apparently Castiel is too worn-out to argue. Wordlessly, he allows Dean to gently pull him down until he's resting on the bathroom floor, legs bent to accommodate the lack of space. Dean had originally planned to grab Castiel's forgotten pile of clothes to use as a makeshift pillow, but the angel's head is resting on the rim of the bathtub. He doesn't know how that could be comfortable in the least, but apparently it is for Cas, so he doesn't say anything about it. The way he rests lets his back go mostly without touching the floor or being under pressure of any sort, and maybe that's the point.
Faintly Cas says, "I think that I would like to focus on healing now. The way it's done is similar to the sort of meditation that you're probably familiar with. If you would rather get some rest, I understand…"
Dean shakes his head. "I'm not leaving unless you want me to."
"I don't." A pause, and then Castiel quietly adds, "Thank you."
"Don't mention it. Least I can do for you." Dean scoots back a foot or so, so that he's resting against the right wall, the one opposite the toilet. He watches as Castiel closes his eyes—deliberately, this time, not because of the pain—and begins to focus upon his breathing, steadying it until he inhales and exhales at carefully measured intervals. He looks like he's in a trance.
Dean settles back with half-closed eyes himself, carefully watching him for any signs of distress. Not that he would really know how to help, were there to be any, but it's the least he can do, considering the circumstances.
Castiel stays like that for a long time. Hours, Dean guesses. It's not the most comfortable thing for him to be doing, sitting on the floor of a lousy chain motel watching his friend try to fix the damages brought on by a host of pissed-off cherubim, and he does fidget a few times, try to dispel the pins and needles and awaken the muscles that grow irritatingly useless when he stays still for a long time like this. But he is always careful not to bother Castiel.
Cas is less still during the period of time, often jerking or flinching, and frequently whimpering or moaning. It happens so often that Dean doesn't go to him at every pained sound, worrying that his repeated interference will screw up whatever Castiel is doing. Still, if it goes on for a long time, or if he sounds more pained than usual, Dean will reach over and speak quiet, reassuring things to him, sometimes touching his wrist or his hand, if it seems appropriate. He doesn't really say anything special, just what he's learned has worked from taking care of Sam: "I'm here, it's okay, you're gonna be fine." He can't tell for certain if they work, but he thinks that maybe Cas returns to the motionless, soundless state quicker after he's been talking to him.
Eventually, Castiel stills to the point where Dean has to occasionally check and see if he's still breathing. Dean gets the idea that whatever he's been doing, this is the culmination of it. The final stretch; bring it on home.
Or at least, he hopes that's it. Otherwise Castiel's breath is deathly shallow, and while he never really payed attention to the breathing habits of angels before-hell, he doesn't even know if they usually breathe or not; do they even need to?-it doesn't strike him as being a good thing, unless it's deliberate. And even then, he doesn't know whether or not it's exactly doctor-reccommended.
Still, even that he gets used to after awhile. And at least Castiel doesn't seem to be in any pain. It's better than the alternative, Dean figures.
Dean sighs and leans back against the wall. He's been here for at least a couple of hours, and at this point nightmares are starting to seem attractive. Which is probably what he gets for pulling an all-nighter yesterday. Or the day before yesterday; it's probably tomorrow now. Morning. Fuck, he's really tired.
If he wanted to, he could probably leave Castiel and go out to his hard, bedbug-filled mattress and try to catch an hour or two of shut-eye. It isn't like Cas would notice; not in the sort of trance that he looks to be in right now.
He won't, though. It doesn't matter if Castiel would know, or if he would care when he inevitably found out. It's about friendship, and he'd be a shitty friend if he ever left someone's side just because he was tired. Especially considering that said someone ran away from his own family for his sake.
Dean is contemplating that with half-closed eyes (proof of how tired he is; although he's thought about in passing, he's never actually sat down and just thought about what Heaven must be like, and how the other angels really must be the universe's biggest dicks in order to push Castiel to leave Paradise) when Castiel wakes up.
He doesn't scream, and it passes through Dean's mind as he hobbles up, mindful of the pins and needles in his legs, that maybe it would be better if he did. The strangled gasp that he makes as his eyes fly wide open is worse than an outright cry of pain.
Castiel stands quickly, chest rising and falling in a fast contrast to what it was a second ago. Dean is by him in an instant, grabbing him so that he doesn't fall.
He doesn't give any signs of recognizing Dean's touch and doesn't remark or anything when Dean pulls him close, trying to steady him. "Hey. Cas, it's me. Dean. What's going on?"
Castiel stares straight ahead, eyes wide and unrecognizing. Dean is gripping his shoulders, not worrying about the bruises at the moment, and their chests are pressed so that he can feel how fast his heart is going. He's getting worried now, but there isn't anything that he can do other than keep talking, keep saying, "You're fine. Just talk to me, Cas. Tell me what the situation is."
Finally, after he's gone through about every variation of "It's gonna be fine" and "Tell me what's happening" that he can think of, Castiel blinks, shivers, and murmurs, "Dean?"
Dean thinks that the way he's holding onto Cas, his fingernails are probably going to be drawing blood soon. "Yeah. It's me."
He isn't certain, but he thinks that Castiel leans into what he's only now realizing is an awkward sort of embrace, and yeah, that's something never to tell Sam about. But at the moment he can't bring himself to let go of the angel, so he lets Castiel lean against him, lets his head drop so that it's not quite resting on Dean's shoulder, and asks, "What's going on? Did you heal the wounds?"
"Yes, I did. The areas that are missing feathers have been repaired, if not restored completely. The broken wing I was fixing last...binding it permanently took more out of me than I had to give. I hadn't planned on how painful it would be."
"Story of my life," Dean replies. "How are you now?"
"Better than I was." Castiel shrugs away from his hold and stands straight, and for a moment Dean thinks that he can see the shadows of Cas's wings, the way he did when they first met. He's still bare-chested and covered with sweat; his face still looks worn, and there are still bags under his eyes. But he looks way better than he did when he dropped in.
"Glad to hear it." Dean pauses. "You gonna hang around here for awhile? I mean, no offense, but you're not exactly a picture of health right now. And if it took that much energy to heal your wings, seems like it would be a good idea to wait until you've gotten some of it back."
"I don't think I'll stay. I have work to do elsewhere, and I've been stationary for long enough." Castiel almost sounds regretful, but Dean figures it's probably because he's sleep-deprived and at that point where hallucinating things seems like a real possibility.
"Can't say I recommend it, but I suppose you know best." Dean steps back, puts his hand on the doorknob. "You're always welcome with me and Sam, you know that, right? Call us if we don't tell you where we are first. If you ever need anywhere to rest, or something. We don't mind."
"I appreciate that, Dean." Castiel hesitates. "Likewise, thank you for staying by me. It surprised me, how reassuring it was to know that I was not alone."
"Hey, no problem. Like I said before, it's the least I could do."
"That doesn't diminish the significance of it to me." Cas' clothes are suddenly on him, and he nods at Dean. "Goodbye, Dean."
"Bye, Cas. See ya later."
Castiel is gone before his sentence is finished. Dean shakes his head as he stumbles out of the tiny bathroom that he's spent the last five hours in and sprawls unceremoniously into his bed. Typical.
He falls asleep a few minutes later, and tonight his dreams are actually pleasant, memories of a time when he and Sam were kids and things were so much better than they are now. At one point he thinks he wakes up and sees Castiel nearby, who leans down and whispers, "Sleep, Dean," with his lips very close to Dean's ear, before unfurling a set of thick, dark wings that are perfect and unbroken (and that Dean knows immediately are much a much smaller, scaled-down version than whatever makes up his true form) and touching one gently to Dean. It's only a second before he disappears and Dean goes back to sleep, though, and when the morning comes he only vaguely remembers the touch of large, soft feathers. He passes that off as part of the dream.