Sam didn't think that he'd ever seen his big brother so far into mother-hen mode. Over the years, he'd gotten used to Dean pulling the whole I'm the older brother, and I'll take care of everything card, and in the more recent Baby-Cas era he'd gotten a glimpse into the kind of Mom/Dad hybrid that the older Winchester was capable of. But this… This was something completely new.
For the last two days, Cas had been pretty out of it with only occasional bouts of consciousness while his Grace or whatever tried to heal his broken wing. It also seemed that Castiel was back to that close-to-human mode, as the majority of his angelness was working on healing himself. And Dean had been there the whole time.
If Cas woke up and needed water for a dry throat, Dean was there with one. If Cas started thrashing in his sleep, Dean was there to hold him still out of worry that he would somehow hurt himself. One time, Castiel woke up screaming loud enough to bring the three hunters running in the middle of the night. Sam and Bobby had watched somewhat helplessly (because, really… How many times have you heard of an angel having a nightmare?) but Dean had just jumped into the fray, shaking Cas slightly to wake him up, and then rubbing his back quietly until the angel feel asleep again.
Sam didn't quite know what to think of it; as far back as he could remember, he had always been the closest thing to a best friend that Dean had ever known. Because of their dad, they'd spent almost every waking second together, until Sam had left for school. But now…
Looking at it logically, Sam had known for a while that there was some kind of special… thing… between Dean and Cas. Their 'profound bond' or whatever. And it made sense to him, really. Because when you thought about it, Castiel had battled his way through Hell, his only purpose to find and raise Dean. That kind of intense focus had obviously affected the angel, playing a hand in the unwavering loyalty that he now felt for the older Winchester. And, the reverse could also be seen: as much as Sam and the others had tried to have Dean's back over the years, he was usually more of the I'll save my own ass type. So Dean had never really had someone looking out for him at quite the same level as Castiel did before.
Sam could tell, just by watching them. Cas had been trained his entire existence to be a good little foot-soldier, but now he was Dean's foot-soldier. Dean had convinced himself through his whole life that the only one he could really count on was himself (and Sam didn't begrudge him that, really… He'd known all along that his leaving for school had been a kind of betrayal in Dean's eyes). But now, Dean had Cas to rely on.
And rely on him, he did. Cas was necessary to Dean now, and it was pretty easy for anyone with eyes to see. Cas was Dean's best friend, Cas was Dean's back-up in a fight, Cas was Dean's go-to guy for things he didn't understand, Cas was family. And Dean had always been the type to do anything required of him and beyond for his family.
Take that moment, for instance. Dean had finally passed out for a few minutes of sleep, sitting on the floor beside the couch that Castiel slept on, with his head tilted back and just resting against the angel's shoulder. Shaking his head with the kind of smile that Dean would kick his ass for if he were awake, Sam grabbed the old and tatty blanket from the back of a chair and quietly spread it over his brother.
Chuckling lowly to himself, Sam decided that he'd go catch some shut-eye in the bed upstairs.
"Yours or mine?" Dean asked, glancing around at their forest library in curiosity. It seemed that lately it didn't matter whose head they were in; the scenery was always the same.
"I'm not sure…" Cas replied with that little puppy head-tilt, a frown scrunching in between his brows. Shrugging the matter off, Dean tapped him on the shoulder with the back of his hand.
"Doesn't matter," He said flippantly, making Cas' freakishly blue eyes zero-in on him. "let's go."
"Go where?" Cas asked, sounding even more confused. Rolling his eyes, Dean pointed upwards.
"To the branch, man. I'm not frigging climbing it today, so bust those wings out and get to work." Just after the demand left his lips, Dean paused. "Actually… C'mere for a minute." Pulling Cas by his rolled shirt sleeve, the hunter spun him around so that he had a better view of Cas' dream-wings.
He wasn't sure if an injury in real-life would actually show up here or not, but he figured it didn't hurt to look. The angel glanced back with an irritated frown and a twitch of his sensitive wings as Dean buried his fingers in feathers, searching out where the break should have been.
"Do you mind?" Cas asked dryly, a small glint of humour coming into his eyes. Dean glanced back up at his face, some heat creeping into his cheeks.
"I just wanted to see if you had your injury in here too…" He explained a little uncomfortably. Cas' eyes still seemed to be laughing at him, and Dean forced himself to get over any potential embarrassment and just friggin' ask. Clearing his throat awkwardly, he pushed the question out in a rush. "Is it like some kind of kinky taboo thing for someone else to get a hand on your feathers?" He could feel his face getting even redder when Cas just stared at him in surprise. "… 'Cause, if I've been unintentionally feeling you up this whole time, it would have been awesome to have been told that."
Then the strangest thing happened. Cas laughed. Full-throated, out loud, no mistaking it, laughed. Dean could feel the feathers still under his hands ruffle up with the angel's mirth, and unconsciously smoothed them down in reaction, which seemed to have the effect of calming Cas down.
When Dean had first heard Cas laugh – when that dick Zachariah had transported him to the 'future' – the sound had sent chills down his spine; it had been the strung-out slightly crazy laughter that came with a lot of desperation and a lot of drugs… There hadn't been a single thing happy in the noise, and it had just about killed Dean to see it coming out of his angel. But this laughter… This had been the absolute definition of happiness, and it made Dean smile back at him.
"No," Cas finally gasped out, his laughter trailing off. "It's nothing like that." Dean relaxed into the knowledge that he hadn't been accidentally feeling-up his best friend this whole time, and instead got curious.
"What, then? I remember the first time I asked, you got your 'weirded out' face on." He said. Cas turned to face him, a smile still twitching at the corner of his lips. The angel wrapped his arms tightly around Dean's waist, and at first Dean thought that Cas was just hugging him, until he felt a tug and then a lack of ground beneath his feet.
As they settled onto their usual branch, Castiel contemplated his charge's inquiry. Dean settled himself back against the trunk of the tree, his slightly larger body needing the extra support to keep its balance. Castiel twitched his wings into a more comfortable position before explaining.
"Angels do not typically let just anyone touch their wings, Dean." He instructed, and the hunter's face frowned in confusion.
"Then why did you let me?" He asked. Castiel shrugged, a very human gesture that he had somehow adopted from the two Winchesters in his time with them.
"At first, your request had thrown me off, I admit. But then I had figured that the wings in this place are not technically real, so what would be the harm?" Dean didn't seem very pleased with that response, but didn't say anything about it.
"But what about – y'know – out there?" He asked, gesturing vaguely off in the distance, but Castiel knew he meant in the waking world. "You let me touch them to set the bone for you out there."
"It was necessary out there; the bone needed to be set." This response did not seem to please the hunter any more than his previous one did. "You are upset." He observed, and a slow flush of red tinted the larger man's cheeks.
"I am not!" Dean disagreed hotly, but the blush did not abate. Realization came upon Castiel suddenly, making him want to smile.
"Rest assured, Dean. Outside of some of my Brothers, you are the only one that I would allow to touch them. Certainly, you are the only human." The tenseness in Dean's shoulders disappeared, though the expression on his face was still uncomfortable.
"Why?" He asked carefully. "Why me?" Castiel pondered his question with a frown, trying to understand why the hunter would have asked such a thing.
"You are my friend, Dean." He replied, but it didn't seem to be satisfactory to the older Winchester.
"Sam's your friend too."
"You are… more so my friend. More than Sam. He and I do not share such a – "
"… 'Profound bond'?" Dean finished for him, with some humour lighting his face.
"Yes." Castiel answered simply.
"So, what you're saying is… I'm more awesome than Sam." It was said as more of a statement than a question, but Castiel answered him nonetheless, a ghost of smile upon his face.
"Yes. In my eyes, you are." Dean nodded, as if this statement finally met with his approval.
"You're awesome in my books too, Cas." He stated, and Castiel did not complain when Dean's large hand reached out to smooth down feathers ruffled in happiness.
They remained there for some time, sitting on their branch or strolling around the forest library while conversing with each other. It was quite a nice way to pass the night, in the angel's opinion.
Dean groaned a little in pain when he was yanked out, mid conversation, because something woke him up. It must have been the numbness in his ass, as he had apparently fallen asleep on the floor beside where Cas was laid out on the couch.
"Don't you two make such a sweet picture." A droll British voice sounded in the quiet room, jerking Dean into complete wakefulness. Blinking his eyes rapidly to clear them, he glared at Balthazar where he was seated in one of the office chairs.
"Shut up." He growled ineffectually, as Balthazar just laughed at him.
"Come, darling. Kiss your wife awake and join the rest of us in the kitchen." Dean flipped him off for the 'wife' comment, but promptly turned to wake Cas anyways. The angel's bright blue eyes blinked open slowly, reminding Dean a bit of his time as a baby. He wisely kept his humour to himself, since Cas was full-grown and probably able to smite people again.
"C'mon man, you're dick of a Brother is here." He said instead, and watched Cas quickly come to full-alertness.
"Which one?" He asked in his gravelly voice, the comment making Dean laugh.
"Good question." He replied instead, helping to haul Cas to his feet. His humour disappeared when he saw the grimace of pain that crossed the angel's expression. "Still that bad?" Cas' only answer was to nod, and he started to slump sideways. Dean's hunter reflexes kicked in, catching the smaller man easily before he went down.
"I believe I require some assistance." Cas said, sounding uncomfortable and refusing to meet Dean's eyes. He knew that an all-powerful being like Cas wouldn't feel too great about being so weak and needing help… Hell, Dean himself usually reacted that way, and he was just a lowly human. So instead he just nodded, and placed Cas' hand on his shoulder while he wrapped a supportive arm around the angel's waist.
"We can go slow, alright?" He said, and Cas nodded in understanding. The limped their way awkwardly into the kitchen, and Dean saw that Sam and Bobby were already in there with the smarmy angel. Balthazar eyed them up, smirking at the close position but for once keeping his comments to himself.
"So I gather that you lads solved the mystery and restored dear Castiel, since he appears to be quite larger than when I was here last." He said flippantly instead. Dean rolled his eyes at the obviousness, but held his tongue when he saw Balthazar frown. "Why is he still injured?" He asked, a true note of concern ringing through his tone. Balthazar took a step forward, but Dean turned them so that he was in between the older angel and Cas.
"Dude, he's hurting. Don't touch him." Balthazar only raised a brow at Dean's protective tone, but it was Cas that spoke up.
"Dean." Was all he said, but it was the tiredness in his voice that caught the hunter's attention. Turning to look at Cas, he took a few minutes to stare into pleading eyes. Just as he had when Cas was in baby-mode, Dean knew exactly what he wanted without the angel having to say a word.
"Alright, alright." He relented, helping Cas sit down in one of the chairs at the kitchen table, and backing up a couple steps. That's all Balthazar was getting, though… Dean wasn't moving any further away than that. The older angel threw him a dismissive glance before stepping to just behind Cas' back.
"Who set this bone, Castiel?" He asked, apparently able to see the wings that Dean knew were there but invisible to the rest of them.
"I did." He answered shortly, before Cas could even open his mouth. Balthazar's eyes popped in genuine shock for a moment, before narrowing at him in speculation.
"Well, well…" Was all he said, before turning back to examine Cas' hidden wings. When the smarmy dick reached a hand out to Cas' back, Dean twitched and had to physically stop himself from grabbing his arm.
Balthazar rested a hand at the base of Cas' neck, where it met his shoulders, and suddenly a muted blue light was glowing where their skin met. Dean frowned as Balthazar closed his eyes, seemingly in concentration for whatever he was doing. The hunter's tense shoulders didn't ease until a sigh of obvious relief escaped Cas' lips, and the pained frowned disappeared from the angel's brow.
"What'd you do?" Sam asked curiously, as Balthazar stepped away from Castiel. Sam could tell in one glance that the smaller angel seemed to be doing much better.
"I used some of my Grace to finish the healing process." He replied simply, but Sam knew instinctively that one angel expending Grace to help another wasn't that common of a thing. His eyes narrowed over it.
"Why would you do that?" He asked suspiciously, seeing that Dean was too preoccupied in studying Cas' face to make sure he was alright to ask himself. Balthazar shrugged a little, but reached out to gently flick some of Cas' wayward hair off his forehead and out of his face. It was an oddly… human thing for Balthazar to have done.
"He is my brother." The older angel replied simply. Sam noticed that he seemed uncomfortable with the affection that he felt for Castiel, though. The younger Winchester had to figure that despite his time on earth, there were still some human emotions that Balthazar just wasn't used to.
Deciding to push the moment to the side, the brothers and Bobby quickly filled Balthazar in on what all had happened. He didn't seem too surprised, obviously having begun to put some of it together on his own, but Sam was gratified to hear the cursing that came from his very British voice when they related which of the angels it had been that attacked Cas.
"How in the bleeding hell did you survive?" He asked incredulously, obviously knowing the sheer size of Hadraniel's vessel, let alone the power the higher angel had held. But at the question, Dean just smirked in that irritating way of his.
"Hey, man… Don't underestimate the little ones. Besides, Cas had us." He stated simply, and Sam realized – not for the first time – the truth of the statement. Castiel did have them, now. Cas was a part of their little rag-tag family, and to be honest, Sam just couldn't picture them functioning without the strangle little angel anymore. Somehow, Castiel had made himself a Winchester, in every sense of the dubious title.
Sam had a small moment of amusement during their discussion when Castiel became a bit agitated, and had Dean reached out to calm him down. Dean's hand had still been about a half-foot away from Castiel's back when he'd begun to lower it, and the momentary shock on his brother's face when his hand met empty air was priceless. It was as if his brother had been expecting something to have been there behind Castiel's back for him to touch, but was startled when his hand met with nothing.
Sam watched a sheepish look come over Dean's face as he realized his mistake. He was pretty sure that he was the only one even paying attention to his brother's movement, as Cas was still facing away from Dean and arguing with Balthazar, and Bobby had turned to the counter to fetch coffee only a few moments beforehand.
Continuing to watch Dean out of curiosity, he noticed that Dean wrapped a hand around the back of Castiel's neck – obviously for lack of his intended target, which Sam suspected had been wings that weren't there – and was a bit surprised when the touch seemed to calm the angel down instantly. Interesting. His thoughts were brought to halt at the question Cas asked next, the smaller man's attention focused down now instead of up in Balthazar's direction.
"Is this a new table?"