For all that he's cautioned Sam and Dean to keep their distance when the shockwave comes rushing toward him Castiel realizes he's standing much too close. He tries to fly but the wave is faster; while he avoids the brunt of the impact the edge still catches him as it rips past, hurling him through the air like a lost kite. Something twists and tears in the maelstrom and he hears himself cry out, the sound small and lost in the roar. He remembers that endless moment of pain just before Raphael tore him to pieces.
He never feels himself hit the ground.
Someone's calling his name. Not his true name, not Castiel, but that's all right. Only his enemies ever call him that anymore. He blinks his eyes open and sees Dean's face hovering over him, so blurry and indistinct he brushes his fingers against the hazy shape to be sure it's there. Dean's lips are moving and Castiel focuses hard to make out the words. "Cas, you hear me?"
Castiel nods. He feels strange, a distant, fuzzy-around-the-edges numbness. When he tries to speak Dean shushes him, his thumb stroking along Castiel's hairline. Dean's eyes keep cutting to his right; when Castiel tries to look over he feels Dean's hands hold his head still. "Easy, Cas. You just keep looking at me. You're gonna be okay."
Dean's hands are shaking; there's real fear deep in eyes and Castiel starts to wonder just what it is Dean doesn't want him to see. The numbness begins to fade and Castiel feels surges of pain, dull at first and then bright and sharp as they echo through him. A whimper escapes his throat before he can even try to keep it back. "Shh. Sam's bringing the car around and then we'll get you out of here."
Castiel doesn't understand. They'd left the car back at the main road because Dean had thought the dirt path too risky to drive on. ("not gonna tear up my baby's tires on all this") He doesn't know what's changed. And there's no need for that anyway, he can get Dean back to the car much faster than it would take Sam to reach them. He presses his fingers to Dean's temple (it's so hard to move, like his vessel weighs thousands of pounds) and tries to shift them them both through space, the simplest thing in the world.
The pain is immediate and stunning, white and hot and so powerful he can't even make a sound against it. He hears Dean talking but the words are muffled and very, very far away; when his vision clears he stares up at Dean as if answers could be found in his eyes. "Hurts," he whispers, still so surprised it hasn't occurred to him yet to be alarmed.
The lines around Dean's eyes deepen. "I know. I know it does, Cas. You're gonna be okay."
Castiel wishes Dean would stop saying that. It's confusing. His eyelids are suddenly very heavy. "I'm tired," he says, not thinking to ask why that would ever be.
Emotion flashes through Dean's eyes, like he's debating with himself for an instant, then he nods. "Okay. Okay, Cas, you rest. I'll be the first thing you see when you wake up, I swear."
Castiel nods although he's not sure why. As his eyes close he feels Dean kiss his forehead, a gentle touch barely brushing his skin, as if Dean were afraid any more pressure would shatter Castiel into a thousand pieces. It's an unusually tender gesture from Dean but before he can ask why Castiel slides back into unconsciousness, like slipping beneath the surface of still water.
He pulls himself back to awareness, the achievement taking so much effort that by the time he forces his eyes open all he wants to do is close them again. And just as he'd promised, the first thing Castiel sees is Dean looking down at him. "Hello, Dean," he says, the words as rough as if they'd been dragged over sandpaper. There's no comforting numbness, the pain's come back with him, but at least now he remembers why. "Did it work?"
Dean's lips quirk up. "Probably a little too well. Sam just called, it looks like he and Bobby are going to be stuck there a few days doing damage control. Apparently people get pretty upset when you vaporize a few square miles of national park."
They're in a bare bones motel room, the faded wallpaper decorated with busy patterns that make him dizzy him when he looks at it for too long. The beds have been pushed together in a T pattern, which strikes Castiel as odd. He's also stripped to the waist, and when he glances up Dean gives him an apologetic look. "I had to cut all that off," he says. "Figured you could fix it later. You cold?"
Castiel shakes his head, catching sight of something out of the corner of his eye. He looks to his left and suddenly understands the reason for the strange arrangement of the beds. "Oh," he says, a violent tremor running through him. He doesn't technically need to breathe and the room still doesn't hold enough air.
His left wing is stretched out on the horizontal bed, twisted out of shape and shredded, the dark feathers matted with blood from so many cuts and tears Castiel can't count them all. Chucks of dark feathers are ripped out in places, while in others he can feel them half pulled out and hanging by painful edges. Panic wraps around his chest and squeezes..
"It's not as bad as it looks, Cas." Dean's voice is faint compared to drumbeat in his ears as he stares at his mangled wing. Dean grabs his chin and forces Castiel to look at him. "You hear me, Cas? It's not as bad as it looks." He doesn't understand how that could possibly be, but while there's fear and worry in Dean's eyes he doesn't see any deception there. Dean believes what he's saying.
So Castiel chooses it believe it, too. He swallows hard and takes a few harsh, deep breaths. "How...how bad is it?" he whispers, hating how his voice breaks on the words.
Dean stokes his thumb along his jaw once before answering and Castiel tries to focus on that sensation instead of the pulses of pain spiraling from his wing. "This is why I didn't want you to see it before, you were already in shock and I didn't want to make it worse. Believe me, limb injuries always look like hell, Cas. When I was fifteen I got chewed up by a chupacabra, ripped me open from my elbow all the way to my wrist," he says, gesturing down his arm. "Freaked me the hell out, I thought I was gonna lose my arm. I got stitched up and by the time those hell hounds got me you could barely even see the scar." He shifts off of the bed, moving one hand over the injured wing. "You're really sliced up and it's dislocated here and here," he says, pointing to the large joint in the center and the smaller one closer to the tip, "but Cas, I swear, I don't think anything's broken. There's nothing there that can't be fixed. You understand?"
Castiel nods. He has no choice but to believe Dean. He sees the open med kit sitting on the pulled over bed table and tries very, very hard not to think about the needle and thread laid out and ready.
"Cas," Dean says, and Castiel pulls his attention back to him, "Your arm was all torn up too and that healed up on the ride over. Why's the wing different? Why isn't it healing?"
Castiel swallows, looking back at his ruined wing. "Vessels are...easier. Wings require...require tending to."
Dean nods absently, as if that just confirms what he's already decided.. He places one hand on Castiel's chest, warm against his bare skin. "We couldn't find you," he says, so softly it's almost as if he's talking to himself. "You got thrown almost a good fifty, sixty yards. Then when I finally spotted you, you weren't moving and I wasn't close enough to see that the wings were real, all I saw was black wings..." He trails off and Castiel can read the rest of that sentence in his eyes. Dean lets out a long breath and his jaw sets into a stubborn line. "You don't have to worry about anything, Cas. By the time I finish patching you up it'll be like you never got hurt."
Castiel's not convinced that's possible but can tell Dean wants to believe it. He sees Dean shake the memory away, tousling one hand through Castiel's hair as he gets up. Dean stands over the injured wing and Castiel feels his his heart start to race. He's seen Dean and Sam fix their own dislocated limbs enough times to know what's coming. Dean glances at him, searching his face. "I gotta be honest, buddy, this is gonna hurt like a bitch. It's okay to scream." Castiel hopes he doesn't; Dean's forgotten how badly it would go for him were Castiel to really scream. "I'll do it on three. Okay, Cas?" Castiel nods and Dean takes a short breath. "One, two..."
Dean snaps the joint back into place before Castiel's prepared and the pain. It feels like lightning traveling through his wing and setting his Grace aflame; he chokes down the scream but just barely, looking at Dean with undisguised betrayal.
Dean smooths down the feathers over the joint and that echoes though his Grace too, warm waves of sensation chipping away at the wall of pain. "That was my dad's trick," Dean says, lips quirking into a half smile. "It's easier if you're not all tensed up. Breathe a bit and I'll do the other one."
Castiel realizes his hand is latched onto Dean's arm and moves it away, wincing when he sees he's left a bruise. "I didn't expect...when you or Sam do that it looks uncomfortable but not..." He doesn't even have words for it.
Dean snorts. "Dude, you have any idea how many times I've thrown my shoulder out of joint? I could practically pop it in and out at will after a while. It always sucks the first time." Dean tips his chin up. "You up for round two?"
He's not but nods anyway. There's no way for Dean to trick him into relaxing and this time the pain is even worse, his good wing thrashing weakly despite his best efforts to lay still. "Shh, I'm sorry, Cas, it's okay," Dean says, reaching over to steady him. Castiel moans when Dean touches his wing, overwhelmed by the competing sensations, and Dean jerks his hand away. "Did that hurt too?"
"No," Castiel says, shaking his head. "That helps. It does."
Dean cocks his head to the side, as if looking for permission, then he nods. Castiel closes his eyes, sighing when instead of the rough touch he expects all Dean does is trace a finger along the contours of one feather. "I didn't think your wings would really have bones and feathers like this. Thought they'd be, I don't know, light or something. Kind of a trip."
Castiel can feel each ridge of Dean's fingerprint. "They're manifestations," he says, watching the rapt expression on Dean's face. "Their true form isn't..." Dean rolls the feather between his thumb and index finger and Castiel's eyelids flutter. "Isn't compatible with this plane."
"How come you never...whatever, 'manifested' them before?"
Castiel shakes his head. "It's difficult. Usually it happens because of a spell, or trauma."
A shadow crosses Dean's face, as if he'd almost forgotten. He looks up and Castiel feels a flutter of fear. "You okay for more?"
Castiel nods. There's more lie than truth in that, but he can see Dean understands. "I gave you a shot of lidocaine while you were out but with your tolerance I don't know if that's going to do anything," Dean warns. Castiel nods again and lets out a long breath as Dean pulls up a chair and picks up the needle. "I'm not gonna fuck up your wing, Cas," he says, and Castiel again gets the sense that Dean is talking to himself.
He wants to tell Dean he knows that but doesn't have the chance before the needle pierces his skin. It feels like being stabbed again and again with ice and Castiel can't stop his hands from clenching in the bed sheets. "Breathe, Cas, just breathe," Dean murmurs, his face a mask of concentration. He starts talking to Castiel, telling him about a hunt he had been on as a teenager with his father. For a while it helps, picturing the younger Dean of the story lost in the mountains but as time goes on Castiel slowly loses the words. He clings instead to Dean's voice, trying to follow the rise and fall of it, but eventually even that comfort fades; the prolonged pain brings back the memories of being at his brothers' mercy in Heaven, of his sins being scribed into his Grace, the thousands of other persuasions he'd never imagined existed. He'd fought so hard to push those memories away but can't keep them from bubbling to the surface now; he's again in that moment when he began pleading, promising if they would let him go back he would be good, he would obey.
He doesn't realize he's speaking aloud until he feels Dean pause.
The shame is suffocating, crawling over his skin like something living. He feels Dean's eyes on him but can't meet them. "Cas." The word is a jagged-edged order and Castiel opens his eyes, expecting to see disgust, the recrimination that had always been in Dean's eyes after his return from Heaven.
So it's something of a surprise when Dean kisses him. Dean's lips are chapped and Castiel feels stubble scratching his skin; Dean's hand brushes down his good wing and for one miraculous instant there's no pain. He wants to return the kiss but doesn't know how; his lips part reflexively and Dean shudders, telling Castiel that might be a good start.
When Dean pulls away Castiel's never felt such profound disappointment. Dean's lips are close to his ear now, his breathing hot and ragged. "You give me some names and I will gut them like fish, Cas."
Castiel closes his eyes. He's always found that fascinating, Dean's ability to mix gentleness with violence in almost the same breath. "They don't have names, Dean. And they don't leave Heaven. They just are."
"It being a challenge just makes it more satisfying." He hears Dean let out a long breath. "Okay, I'm gonna go back to it. You start getting overwhelmed again, dude, tell me. It's no big deal to need a break."
Castiel nods. "I like hearing you talk."
"Good thing running my mouth's one of my many talents." He feels Dean's hands tremble slightly as he touches Castiel again, carefully smoothing down one of the twisted feathers . "I don't like hurting you like this, Cas."
Castiel frowns. "But you're helping me." He doesn't understand the small scoffing sound Dean doesn't quite hide. Then the pain is back, waves of it, but this time he's able to focus enough to hold onto Dean's voice, as if clinging to it by his fingernails.
And if he's to be honest, in the worst moments the image of Dean gutting the Persuaders "like fish" is wonderfully diverting.
Castiel has no idea how much time has passed when Dean stops. "Is it done?" he whispers, his voice so raw he barely recognizes it.
He doesn't like how Dean pauses before answering. "About halfway."
Castiel's can't smother the groan. "Why did you stop, then? Keep going."
"No. No way. You need a rest."
"I don't like how hard you're shaking, Cas."
Castiel wants to protest again but he feels it now, the shivers wracking him, and clenches his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering. He feels Dean wrap a blanket around him and lets out a frustrated sigh. "I'm not a very good patient."
"You kidding?" Dean's lips quirk up in an amused grin. "I've seen big-ass dudes faint when a needle gets near them. And you're sitting through it with practically no anesthetic. I'm fucking impressed." Dean sits next to him on the bed and strokes just the tips of his fingers against his feathers, even that faint touch enough to make Castiel sigh. "This really help?"
Castiel nods. "I'm not sure I could bear this otherwise." He stretches his wing into the touch and hears Dean chuckle.
"Dude. You're like a cat." Castiel isn't sure if that's supposed to be an insult. "I know it's taking forever, Cas, but I've gotta go slow. I've never stitched up a wing before, it's a lot more complicated than I thought. I..." He glances up. "I gotta be honest, I have no idea what I'm doing here." He shakes his head with a rueful sigh. "And that's probably the last thing you ever want to hear your doctor say."
Castiel studies Dean for a long moment, seeing tension twitching the muscle in his jaw. "There's no one else I would trust to do this."
The corner of Dean's mouth twitches. "Wait until I'm done and see if you still feel that way." He slides his hand under the longer feathers, tilting them up to the light. "Your wings are pretty fucking awesome, Cas."
"They don't feel that way just now."
"Yeah, well. We're working on that." A shimmer of color dances across the dark feathers as the light hits them. "Dude. That blue matches your eyes. That's so cool." He'd never expected Dean find them so fascinating. He touches his Grace, shifting the tint of color from blue to a hazel-touched green and watches the astonishment brighten Dean's face. "Awesome." Dean looks very young in that moment. "Can you change them from black?"
Castiel shakes his head. "I can't consciously determine their overall appearance. Manifestations can be...unpredictable."
"Why'd they show up black, do you know? Other than to give me a heart attack?"
Castiel is quiet for a moment. "Because I was dying. Or I would have been without aid."
He sees Dean's jaw clench. "You're not dying now, Cas."
It's more of an order than a statement. "No," Castiel agrees. "I don't believe I am. Still, the main appearance is set on manifestation."
"Well, whatever the color, it's pretty badass to be able to see them like this." He lets out a breath. "Still, man, gotta say, this would be a thousand times easier if they weren't so sensitive. I barely touch them and you twitch."
"It's not that they're sensitive, as such. It's that they're not buffered by my vessel." He sees the confusion in Dean's face and shakes his head. "It's the difference between this," he says, touching the rough fabric covering Dean's shoulder, "and this," he says, brushing his fingers against the bare skin of Dean's wrist.
He sees understanding flash through Dean's eyes, tight lines forming around his mouth. The touch gets even more careful. "So this is really...you sure this is okay?"
Humans are so confusing. "Of course it is." He settles back against the pillows, trying to find a slightly less uncomfortable position. He feels Dean's fingertips massage into the muscles running along the top of his wing, finding each tight knot and soothing them away. Pulses of warmth radiate out from each touch and his eyes slowly begin to drift closed. He's hardly even shivering anymore. "Should...should we go back to it?"
"Shut up. You're resting."
Castiel nods. He realizes this is the first time he's truly felt warm since his injury. "I liked when you kissed me," he murmurs. "You may do it again."
Dean chuckles. "I may, huh?" Dean's slowly growing bolder, the massage getting surer and deeper until Castiel's breath comes in soft sighs. "Maybe when you're feeling better."
He wants to tell Dean that he actually is feeling better but falls into the comfortable darkness beyond awareness before words can form.
He wakes to Dean's fingers on his cheek. "I'm gonna start up again, okay?"
Castiel groans. "Why did you wake me?"
"'Cause I'd rather do it now than have you come to in the middle of things and panic. I've done that and it's no fun." Castiel supposes he can see the wisdom in that. "You sleeping is weird."
"Were you watching me?"
"I do not."
"Not loud, though. Little angel snores."
It finally occurs to Castiel that Dean is having some fun with him. He lays back against the pillows, satisfying himself with his best glare, then glances at Dean's work, examining the rows of neat stitching stretching across his wing. He feels his heart sink at how much left there is to do. "We're truly half way though?"
Dean nods. "Little more than, I think." He picks up the needle again. "Any particular tales of my misspent youth you'd care to hear?"
Castiel swallows hard. The needle seems impossibly large. "I...you mentioned you were wounded by a chupacabra. I'm not certain what that is."
Dean grins. "Miserable goat eating fuckers. Actually dealt with those things twice..."
Castiel lets Dean's words wash over him; the story isn't important and he suspects Dean is making up most of it, anyway. It takes all of his focus to keep his wing still; every instinct screams at him to escape the pain, to fight. He watches Dean's expression grow tight as he concentrates and remembers sculpting each line and imperfection in that face, remembers wrapping flesh and skin around the bones of the hands touching him so carefully now. Dean Winchester has always been his favorite miracle.
He doesn't know he's passed out until he feels Dean's hand tousle through his hair. "Hey," Dean whispers into his ear, "all done. Check out the damage." He opens his eyes and looks at the patches of white swaddled around much of his wing and decides he looks utterly pitiful.
But much more importantly, the pain has dulled to a manageable if throbbing ache and Castiel is so relieved his eyes burn. "Thank you."
Dean is fidgeting, glancing from Castiel's face to his wing and back again. "It's okay? You can tell?"
Castiel stretches his Grace, feeling each seam and stitch but the Grace doesn't rebound. "Yes. You did..." It's overwhelming when Castiel realizes how much care Dean put into saving him. "Thank you," he whispers again.
"Jesus mother fucking Christ," Dean says, and Castiel blinks at that much unexpected blasphemy in one place. "Do not ever make me have to do that again, Cas."
"I would prefer you not have to." He sees dark shadows under Dean's eyes. "You should rest."
Dean shakes his head. "Nah, I'm good." He laughs, a shaky, elated sound. "Way too keyed up. You..."
He sighs. "Dude. You're just gonna zap me and force the issue aren't you."
Castiel nods. He's not sure if he has the energy to do such a thing, but Dean doesn't need to know that. He shifts over as much as he can to clear some space on the bed and Dean curls up next to him, tension immediately draining from his shoulders. "Don't go disappearing, okay?"
"I couldn't if I wanted to. And I don't."
Dean nods, his expression already drowsy. "Good." He strokes one hand through the sea of dark feathers just above his head. "How long are you gonna have the wings...what's the word?"
"Until the healing has progressed. A few days, at the very least."
Castiel listens as Dean's breathing slowly deepens. After a few minutes to be sure Dean really is asleep he leans over and brushes his lips against Dean's, curious what that would feel like. As his own eyes grow heavy he traces the edge of one feather against Dean's lips, savoring each spark the sensation sends racing toward his spine. He suspects the next few days will be extremely illuminating.
Then his own eyes close and the only sound in the motel is their soft, mingled breathing.