A/N: Okay, so I've been in the fandom for a while, but this is my first Supernatural fic. It takes place toward the end of Season 7. It could be seen as slight Destiel if you read it that way, but nothing's really suggested except friendship. I hope I did the characters justice. The song I used is "Hurt" by Johnny Cash and Nine Inch Nails (both versions are awesome, just saying-look it up).
Warnings: swearing, self-harm, blood, slight goriness if you're squeamish about wounds.
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The sharp, stinging sensation was fascinating, and Castiel found himself concentrating on it as it spread slowly through his lower arm and began to dissipate. He had felt pain before, but never so voluntarily. It was a vulnerable feeling, almost magnified by the fact that he couldn't heal wounds inflicted by an angel blade, which was created purely to cause him pain. He saw no reason to stop. Seeing blood leave his body of his own volition and knowing it couldn't just be replenished made Castiel feel more alive than ever before.
What have I become?
My sweetest friend
But he wasn't really alive, was he? Breathing, maybe, but living in a livable world? They called him insane, out of his mind, just because he scrambled for distraction in the meager life he had left, because he wanted to savor what he had before he destroyed it all completely. He was half an angel now, and he didn't even qualify as one in Dean's eyes, regardless of the sacrifices he'd made. He had either betrayed or killed everyone he'd ever loved or called a friend, and he'd indirectly brought about the deaths of thousands more.
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
Even worse was his blasphemy against God, unspeakably disgusting—trying to take His place. Castiel's actions were no longer just similar to those of the mortals; he was below them. When he had first lost faith in God's will to help the people of Earth—it felt so long ago now—he'd thought he had reached rock bottom. But lately Castiel had come to accept that there was always farther to fall.
You could have it all
My empire of dirt
He felt like a child being scolded for trying to steal a jar of cookies or his mother's jewelry, foolish and full of regret and shame—except it wasn't even comparable; he'd murdered thousands of people and brought the wrath of Purgatory upon Earth, playing God when he was never even a proper angel in the first place. He'd lost everything for nothing at all, as he'd told Dean once (in a voice like acid, keep your opinions to yourself). The whole of humanity, in all its intricate beauty and unfathomable knowledge and alluring madness, was approaching yet another wall of fire, this time one of blackness and razor sharp teeth, and not only could he do nothing to stop it... he was the cause.
The sheer magnitude of his failure and worthlessness sent a pulse of rage through him, an emotion Castiel wasn't quite used to yet. He struck out again at his arm, watching his skin split complacently and burn at the touch of the sharp edge of the angel blade. Dark crimson dripped out of it in lines and trickled down over his wrist and into the grooves of his palm, blood leaking from pliant flesh, weak like he knew he was at heart.
Because if he were not a weakling he would not be here. Any absurd notions of power or superiority his brothers and sisters ever had were nothing compared to his. Castiel was sure he was undeserving of God's mercy, only kept alive as punishment for his misdeeds, and it was undeniably a worse life every time he returned. Now—now he was crazy. Now the only escape he had was madness, pretending everything was okay again. And usually he took it eagerly.
Right now, though, it wasn't enough to forget or pretend. He gritted his teeth and pressed the searing blade (identical to that with which he'd killed his family, ironically) back against his skin. An unquenchable thirst for the punishment of feeling clawed at his insides. This was pain that he deserved. I'm at fault. I was supposed to help them, to save them. But I brought doom upon them all. Power hungry, pathetic traitor. That's all I'll ever be. A worthless shell of something that should have been beautiful.
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
He jumped slightly at the abrupt loudness of Dean's voice, angry with himself for not already sensing that he was there. "Hello, Dean," he said softly, not daring to move for fear of revealing just how much he'd cut his arm open. He couldn't heal the wounds, so he'd have to hide them.
"We're gonna head out soon, so if you wanted a beer or anything—hold on, you're makin' a sigil?"
I wear this crown of shit
Upon my liar's chair
In the next split second he prepared to lie for what he knew to be only the seventh time in his entire existence. "Yes. I don't want any more angels to disturb us if they don't want to pull my finger. I should have offered them honey instead... maybe they would have accepted that as a token of my apologies." In retrospect, it wasn't hard to lie when half of what you said was considered crazy anyway. He hurried to pull his sleeve down and raised his hand to paint Enochian symbols on the nearest wall of the cabin they'd found with his newly spilt blood. There was more of it than usual, and upon seeing this his fingers shook, smearing the blood messily. Why was this happening? Why couldn't he hide the anguish like he used to?
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
"Cas?" Along with the call of his nickname he heard creeping tendrils of doubt, Dean wondering if something had gone awry. Fear of discovery gave him the resolve to still his trembling hand and finish the sigil, but he still couldn't make himself look up. He froze when he heard Dean's voice again, his tone now laced delicately with fear and worry, a foreign sound now with all of the yelling and fighting and— "Why'd you use an angel knife for that?"
Castiel swallowed and didn't reply. It was loud in his head.
"Cas, that... that really hurts you," Dean said, his voice slightly strangled with concern. "Why didn't you just use a regular knife?"
"I... didn't have one."
"Oh bullshit, there're weapons all over this house."
"Not... everywhere. This blade was easily accessible. It only harms me severely if—"
"I don't give a damn about how severe it is! Cas, that thing is like poison to you. You shouldn't..." Dean's brow furrowed as he searched for the words he wanted. "You should've zapped upstairs and asked us for a knife. Hell, our blood works too, you know."
In response he could only stare at the wall where the sigil was drying, afraid that something in his eyes would give him away if he turned and met Dean's gaze. He could almost feel Dean's frustration with his lack of reply, but he could not move. Yes, your blood works, but I wasn't making a sigil. And your blood is worth a thousand times more than mine.
He was acutely aware of and terribly distracted by the wetness beneath his sleeve. It leaked out of his veins and dripped over his skin, some of it surely staining what had once been a clean trench coat. "Cas..." His arm throbbed painfully. If it came to discovery, he decided, he could at least try to heal himself, but it probably wouldn't do any good with an injury inflicted by an angel blade, and he wasn't particularly interested in taking away the pain unless completely necessary. "Cas." He'd be fine; it would heal in its own time. He was acting like a mortal—a crazy one, at that—so he might as well endure mortal injuries too. "Hello? Earth to Castiel?"
A few curse words came to mind, but mostly they just made him sad. He settled for, "Yes, Dean?" Need to get away from here.
"Oh, c'mon, you fuckin'—" Noticing him cringe, Dean lowered his voice. "Don't play dumb." Dean's voice was closer now, too close. He might see. "What's happening that's got you so spooked?"
"I... nothing. I was just thinking about words. Have you ever wondered why the alphabet is so jumbled? Over 3000 years have passed since its Egyptian origins, and yet it remains almost exactly the same. The letters really have no logical order. But humans aren't very logical, so that isn't quite so strange, in hindsight." He paused, wondering where that ramble had come from. Pulled it out of your ass, Dean would say. "I should go." He prepared to teleport himself before sensing a blockage and realizing that the sigil he'd just drawn (rather stupidly, now that he thought about it) kept him from doing so. "Ah..." He glanced back, only to see Dean standing there with what he'd call a "shit-eating" grin on his face. He wondered what Dean would say in his situation. (Son of a bitch, maybe.) "Yeah, I should go." He stepped by Dean and headed for the stairs with idle thoughts of freedom dancing in his head.
But Castiel had never been very tactful.
"Holy shit, Cas, get back here! You're bleeding like hell."
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
"Yes, I realize that. I'm fine," he muttered, voice resolute, all the while pressing his arm to his side and biting his tongue to keep from hissing at the searing pain in his nerves. He tried to think about bees, about nature, about light things and insects and careless isolation, but found them all lacking with such a solid sensation there to replace them. "It's just from the sigil. I'm okay, Dean." I need this feeling. (Like how things should be, how they were, pain and anger and greatness and falling.) Let me go.
"No, you're not." The harshness of the statement startled Castiel into looking up, but Dean's gaze was far from unforgiving. He looked upset, green eyes sad and conflicted. "Please, just... c'mere, Cas. You hurt yourself pretty bad. Lemme see."
"There's nothing to see." Castiel looked down at his arm. Red stains were beginning to show. Now would have been a nice time to whisk himself away, if he was able to do so. Feeling the familiar desperation that seemed to come hand-in-hand with conflict nowadays, he scrambled for distraction. "Have you noticed the chrysanthemums outside this cabin? They may be associated with death but they're rather beautiful, and they seem to attract bees very effectively, seeing as—"
"Cas! Would you stop changing the subject!"
But I have to. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to give Dean an adequate excuse for once. I have to make you stop. "I can heal it easily. Wounds from these blades are only permanent when they're fatal." Lie number eight. He could almost feel the disappointment from above. Lying, stealing, killing... pretend it's for the Winchesters, for us, but it's all for yourself, for nothing. You are a failure, Castiel. You do not deserve your Grace. When he looked back up he found that Dean had been watching him, caught off guard by his moment of lucidity. "What?" Remember, I'm crazy. You should just go now, before you catch it.
Dean faltered for a moment, but plowed on. "So...?" He seemed to be expecting something.
"I don't understand."
"So heal it." Castiel opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it. "I'm waiting."
He was definitely having a problem with tact today. He fumbled with his words awkwardly for a moment, avoiding Dean's piercing gaze as much as possible. "I, um... yeah, I'll heal it, I just—later. I need to go now. Chrysanthemums..." He moved as if to leave, glaring at the sigil on the wall, but he still wasn't quite used to goodbyes the human way. Being physically stopped had never posed an obstacle before; he didn't expect the hand that clamped around his right forearm, holding him back.
Castiel would've been amused by the absurdity of the situation had he not been on the verge of panic. "Let me go, Dean." The words were spoken with confusion rather than malice—how had he been trapped in the first place? He could easily physically force Dean away, but he didn't want to hurt him. All he could do was stare stonily at the sigil on the wall to his right and concentrate on the only thing he had—the pain.
"What aren't you telling me?"
You are someone else
I am still right here
"Nothing." He searched for words but found he couldn't bring himself to lie any more than that. He couldn't even force out another meaningless ramble, not right now, not so close to discovery. One last plead, he decided, might work: "Really, it's fine. You're overreacting. I need to—just let me go. Please."
"No, Cas!" So much for that. "God, why d'you have to be so stubborn? Something's wrong, and—just let me see your arm, alright? If you're not gonna heal it now at least let me patch it up. It must hurt like hell, and it's bleeding a lot for one cut, so it must be pretty deep."
That's because it's not just one cut. But before Castiel could do anything to stop him, Dean had grabbed his left arm and pulled back his sleeve, which was covered with scarlet stains. "No, Dean—stop, it's nothing—"
What have I become?
My sweetest friend
He tried to pull away, wondering whether to use what Dean called his "mojo," but by the time he'd moved much it was already too late. Four thick crimson cuts stood out on his forearm, dark in contrast to the pale skin around them. Their edges were raised in slight swelling and all of it was caked in blood that wasn't anywhere near dry yet. Just one of them would've already been deeper than necessary for a sigil.
Castiel swallowed thickly as the image sunk in, feeling slightly nauseous. It wasn't the blood that bothered him; it was the fact that Dean was looking at it too, realizing, judging. What made it worse was that he really wanted to do it again. It felt like atonement, in a sick way, for all the pain he'd caused so many others.
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
After a few seconds of shock, fingers tightening infinitesimally around Castiel's wrist, Dean began to work at cleaning the wound as promised. He sat him down at a table and used the available water, whiskey, floss, needles, and bandages from Bobby's basement to fix it up as best he could, not speaking a word throughout.
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Castiel was slightly amazed by the man's silence, but he was also too ashamed to look up and meet his eyes to find out more. He kept his gaze set on the bloody mess that was his arm between them, focusing on each pinprick of pain and the pull of the floss through his skin. It placated the twisting anxiety in the pit of his stomach at being discovered so soon.
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
And really, this was just another thing that made him less of an angel, enduring mortal methods of healing. Though never enough to be like them, to be one of them or their family; it was just enough to be trapped somewhere he didn't belong, where no one belonged, alone in that dark place of escape they called insanity.
By the time Dean finished wrapping his arm Castiel had fallen into a kind of trance, comfortable with the silence and hoping that its lull would last forever. No questions or problems or fighting, just dull pain and muffled breathing and Dean's rough, careful hands working to fix him. But it ended almost immediately after Dean put the remaining supplies away. It wouldn't occur to him until later that Dean had used the time sewing his arm together to try to figure out what to say.
"Goddammit, Cas..." When he spoke his voice was softer and hoarser—less angry—than Castiel had expected. "This isn't helping anything." Of course it's not helping. It's supposed to hurt. "Would you just—you gotta stop this." He couldn't bring himself to look up from his arm, cuts tied beautifully together with skilled fingers. Like spiderwebs, really, or vines, twined intricately through broken, blood-stained flesh. "For me, at least. C'mon. Tell me—promise me you won't do something like this again." There was something strange in Dean's voice, and Castiel wondered what it was. It sounded like he was choking on honey. He swallowed, and wondered if he was choking on something, too. "Cas, please."
You could have it all
My empire of dirt
"Okay. I... I promise, I'll stop," he said slowly, if only because he felt that he owed it to Dean to say what he wanted to hear.
"Okay. Good." Castiel wondered why he had to stop when it helped. Wasn't it atonement, what they wanted? Wasn't it making him alive again? He wondered when everything had suddenly become so hard to understand. He'd understood before. Hadn't he?
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
From the corner of his eye he saw Dean with his head down, dragging his fingers through his short hair, tugging in a way that looked painful. "Fuck, Cas." Then, almost inaudibly: "Where'd you go?"
Somewhere deep down he had an answer. But it felt like vulnerability and conflict and sanity and destruction, like leaving things to chance and hoping for a livable world instead of making one for himself. So he pushed it down and down until things were once again what he wanted them to be.
"I didn't go anywhere," he said, his voice masked with innocent confusion.
He wondered if Dean understood what he really meant.
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way