Castiel was human as his wings burned away. Human skin, fragile and breakable, meeting with flame.
The last vestiges of his true form had protected him from the worst of it, Sam's voice; at least there was that, Dean, at least.
Yet, the stench of burned fabric and flesh…
He needs a hospital, Dean. We can't–
And that's how they load a mute, unresponsive Crowley into the back of the Impala. How Sam goes into the passenger seat, how Dean takes the wheel.
How they call an ambulance, how they wait until they can see its lights a few meters ahead and how they take off then, leaving Castiel behind.
There would have been too many questions, too many lies, too messy.
Castiel awakes to pain. To something unnatural trying to control his consciousness and sensations, dragging him under languidly.
Dean? I think he's waking up!
But Castiel doesn't. The darkness promises and is nothing, and right then, that is all Castiel wants.
The second time, Castiel's will is too strong for the drug.
And, there is a pressure of warm flesh and bone upon his hand.
Slowly, his eyes crack open, visage upon the world that is now dimmed, compared to before.
Dean in a chair, Kevin and Sam behind, on the couch.
The brightness of their souls is gone, hidden from him, these weak human eyes.
The loss burns, all-consuming.
Castiel lets the darkness take him once more.
"He'll come around eventually…he doesn't actually hate you, you know that right?" Sam asks, looking at the angel in the eye.
Castiel smiles grimly, "Yes, I believe that I know. His anger is merited. I could have called perhaps, from time to time."
"Yeah, well, you're back now. Just give him time."
"I shall endeavor to be patient."
Sam is about to say something else as a violent coughing fit overtakes him, until he can feel the breath in his lungs falls short, feel the choking force–
Castiel settles two fingers upon his forehead, the pads of the digits blessedly cool against the heat of his skin.
His breathing eases, the obstruction of fluid seeking expulsion from his lungs gone.
"I cannot heal the cause but the symptoms are vulnerable to me."
Sam nods at him, relaxing. "Yeah, thanks Cas."
"It is of no consequence, Sam."
They fall to silence, looking up at the stars, backs against the Impala's hood, outside for privacy and to let Dean cool off.
Sam clears his throat and Castiel looks at him with concern, but Sam waves it off.
"I uh, I actually have something to ask you, Cas…when this is all over–"
When I die
"–Dean's…we're going to need you there, and I just wanted…you'll be around then, won't you?"
"Of course, Sam. I shall watch over you and Dean, and will come when you need me. By that time, I'm sure that I will have dealt with the angel tablet as well. You and Dean will be back to hunting things and saving others, as is your path. Why do you ask?"
"It's just…I see a light at the end of the tunnel, you know? A, uh, light at the end of the tunnel is an expression, it's good. It means I see good things ahead. And Dean, he doesn't really see one, right now I mean..."
"Perhaps he is tired," Castiel says, and there is added weight to his words, something beyond Dean and beyond Sam, beyond hell and heaven and demons and angels.
The youngest Winchester looks at Castiel, long and hard, at the exhaustion and weariness that seems to engulf the blue eyes and the slope of his shoulders.
"Please call me if anything arises," Castiel says suddenly, as he stands and is gone in a flutter of wings, like a gentle breeze blowing fall leaves.
Dean's voice fills the night air, a touch of worry, and Sam shakes himself off, walks back to the entrance of the bunker.
He'll talk with Cas later, he tells himself.
Later, there will be time.
"He told you he was going to fix heaven didn't he?...it's a lie, all of it…you're wrong…Metatron isn't trying to fix anything, he's trying to break it."
The third time Castiel opens his eyes, he stays awake.
It is nighttime, he can see the lights of stars and buildings alike shining through the hospital room's windows.
He registers the scratchy feel of the hospital gown on his body, the roughness of the sheets and blanket on top. The IV in his arm is an annoying prickle, and there is a tightness and muted discomfort across his back.
He wants to leave, he wants to close his eyes and –what's the human expression? Open them again and find that everything was but a passing dream angels don't dream, but he's human now, isn't he?
Dean is staring at him, a smile of relief slowly rising on his haggard face.