On Thursday, Castiel kills Dean.
That should be a bigger deal but it really isn't. He's not dead long before Cas, with shaking fingers, revives him again, and they scoop up the shattered remains of the angel tablet and head back to the bunker.
Dean's making himself a cup of coffee in the kitchen when he hears Cas speak for the first time since they got back. In another part of the bunker, he's pleading with Sam, "No, you have to, please," and after a moment of Sam sounding reluctant, Dean can hear the chink of metal against rusty pipe, and he guesses that Cas has just been handcuffed to the radiator.
There should be a process here, he's sure- some right move, some plan he should follow. This isn't the first time Cas has gone off the reservation like this- hell, it's not even the first time Dean's died. Somewhere along the line he feels like he should've encountered a close enough problem that he'd know exactly what to do right now, but he doesn't have a clue. He just waits for Sammy to pass him, nods in his direction as his brother heads back into the library, and sets his coffee on the counter before taking a deep breath to steady himself, and then he walks out to find Cas.
The sight of the angel crouched down on the floor, bloodied and broken and bound to the radiator, jabs at Dean more than he'd expected it to. For a moment, Cas doesn't notice he's standing there, so he shuts his eyes, just for a moment, trying to remember how he dealt with Sam back when the kid was seeing Lucifer.
"Hey," he says, trying to announce his presence before he gets the chance to alarm Cas by moving, and then he heads over to the wall opposite the radiator- all slow, cautious movements, like he's dealing with a wounded animal. "It's me, it's- it's Dean." As he slides down the wall to sit on the floor, Castiel's eyes follow him dully. "You remember… Dean, right?"
The eye-roll that Cas gives him then is so exasperated and so Cas that Dean feels a little jolt, and also some kind of relief that yes, that actually is his best friend and not the puppet of Heaven he'd been earlier. "Okay, uh, good," he allows, with a small smile. He hesitates a moment before asking, "You feelin' any better?"
He deliberates for a while before nodding, slowly, the movement rattling the chain of the handcuffs looped around his left wrist. "So," Dean adds, trying to be just as slow, worried about startling or upsetting him, (Which, really, was ridiculous, he can't help but think. One of them died tonight and it wasn't Cas.) "You wanna take the handcuffs off?"
There's no deliberation this time. Cas shakes his head violently, the cuffs rattling again to prove his point, like he's already decided what he deserves, death and damnation and eternity chained up here under the rasp of the radiator. "'Cause, you know," Dean continues, "they're not doing much. You are still an angel, and if you wanted to get out of those you could just…" He snaps his fingers and then immediately regrets it when Cas flinches.
"No," says Cas, speaking for the first time since Dean left the kitchen, "I- I cut myself off. Before we came in. As long as I'm in here, I can't get to Heaven and they… they can't get to me." Dean half-nods like he's going to talk and then Cas rapidly adds, "I should've done it earlier, I should've- I'm sorry, Dean." Dean watches his wide and frantic eyes and wants nothing more than to hold him tight and tell him everything's going to be fine, everything's going to be okay, but he can still feel a phantom pain in his torso where the blade sunk in and also he really doesn't know if anything's going to be fine, so he stays sitting there.
"You got nothing to be sorry for," he says finally, getting a look of incredulity from Cas.
"I killed you," Cas says as if Dean needs reminding, and the words sound strange in his mouth, like he's been repeating them to himself over and over again until they're just sounds that have no meaning.
"Yeah, well," says Dean, "I mean, if I had a list of all the people that've killed me, it would, uh… well, it'd be a really long list." He presses his mouth into a line for a long moment, trying to think up a better way to phrase that before adding, "Sam's killed me before."
"That wasn't Sam," Cas corrects him immediately, though Dean can't be entirely sure of what Cas is remembering because he wasn't there in 2014 and he didn't know about Sam's Tuesdays.
"And that wasn't you," he says, pointing outside like he's not just talking about the incident over the angel tablet today but also the past few months, all the time Cas has spent running away. "Believe me. I know you, and that wasn't you." Granted, Dean doesn't know who it was, but he's not making the same mistake again and letting Cas disappear. He swears to himself he won't let Cas out of sight before they have some idea of who's doing this to him, and how to stop it.
Cas is watching Dean carefully, and it looks like he's taking everything Dean says and organizing into strips of information, contemplating it all carefully, running through theories. Deliberating. Finally, he asks Dean to get him something he left in the kitchen.
"Yeah, sure," says Dean, hefting himself up. "What d'you need?"
"It's my angel-killing sword," he says, inclining his head to look up at Dean. "I need you to bring it over here, and I need you to kill me."
The way he says it is so direct, so casual, like he's asking Dean to grab his coat from the rack, and it takes a second for the gravity to really set in. Dean tries to answer, "You must be really messed up if you think I'm gonna…" but he can feel his voice breaking before he even gets to the end so he snaps his mouth shut and walks off.
Twenty minutes later, Dean's back with a burger that he sets in front of Cas, presenting it on a plate like he did before with Sam, except that had been a nice afternoon. This was anything but.
"I don't eat," said Cas, mentioning nothing about the reason he'd sent Dean into the kitchen, and Dean wonders if he's already forgotten, if he's got bits of information dropping out of his head, or if someone's editing them out.
"No," says Dean, resuming his spot on the floor, "you don't need to eat. But sometimes you do anyway."
When Cas starts eating, Dean feels like something inside himself that's been stretched out has snapped back, relaxed, because damn, when was the last time he saw Cas eating real food? It's not like it's something he needs, but then there's a lot angels shouldn't need that Cas does anyway. They don't need to breathe- he's sure of this now, and they don't need faith, not really, because they're supposed to just believe whatever the higher-ups tell them, regardless of loyalty or belief.
They don't need the angel tablet, apparently, because the angels pulling Cas's strings didn't seem to have a problem with breaking it to bits. Dean guesses it was more about keeping it away from Crowley than getting it for themselves all along.
"We're gonna fix this," he says after a silence, Cas picking meticulously at his burger. He does look like he's enjoying it, but it's more the way a man on death row enjoys his last meal. "You know that, right? We're gonna get you better." It's a promise he's almost sure he can't keep, but it feels good saying it.
"I'm sorry," says Cas again. Then- "But I could hurt you again, I could hurt Sam-"
"You won't." Again, it's a promise he's almost sure he can't keep. Again, it feels good to say, and he's hoping it feels good to hear. He remembers last month, after Sam ganked the hellhound, the big speech he'd received about faith and freewill, and how he'd been mildly embarrassed at how much better it'd made him feel, and he thought maybe, maybe Cas needed something that made him embarrassed at how good it made him feel. "Cas, I, uh… I believe in you. And I want you to stay."
And God, the words sound screwed up in his mouth and he wants to swallow them, but Cas is just looking at him over the top of his cheeseburger, squinting like he's trying to figure out what Dean means before he says, "Is this what you'd call a… chick flick moment?"
And Dean has to smile at that, smile and shake his head and say, "Yeah, assbutt." When Cas grins at that, it's like something beginning to heal over, and yeah, Cas is handcuffed to the radiator and Dean's got a scar on his stomach, but dammit, he does believe in Cas, and even if angels shouldn't need that like they shouldn't need food or faith, he's guessing that Cas needs it anyway.