For a few weeks now, Sam has kept an eye on Castiel. He isn’t as fast as he used to be on the hunt and even took a few blows from the last creature they’d brought down as a team. He would normally dodge the attacks with expert movements.
Personality wise, Castiel is the same, however - the more human he seems to become he seems to become tired more easily. Even the simplest tasks leave Castiel trying to catch his breath. Concern for his friend is growing and Sam has taken to being by Castiel’s side, even crunching in the back of the Impala; somewhere he hasn’t been since he left for Stanford.
“Dean,” whispers Sam through the two front seats, glancing at Castiel as he disappears into the gas station to pick up the burritos Sam told him to pick up for the three of them. “Something’s wrong with him.”
“What’re you talking about? He seems alright to me.”
“He’s been slower than usual and more tired. I think we need to take it easy on
him for a while. He doesn’t have the strength he used to. I can sense it, Dean. His angel-juice is running low.”
Dean settles in his seat leaning his head back, closing his eyes sighing heavily.
“Yeah. I noticed too. But he hasn’t said anything.”
Sam shakes his head, “It doesn’t matter. You know he’d keep hiding that if he had to in order to spare us any kind of worry.
“Look, if Cas were really sick he’d say something. Trust him for now.” Sam isn’t sure he can.
Castiel comes out, clutching the dollar bills in one hand and a bag in the other, walking over to the Impala. Sam sits back watching him as he enters the cars and gives Sam the bag and dumps the leftover cash in his lap. Sam looks at him carefully and pats him on the shoulder.
“You didn’t need us this time.”
“No, I didn’t.” He cracks a small smile and pats Sam’s shoulder right back. “Good teachers, and I’m observant enough for all of us.”
Sam smiles back and splits his burrito with Cas, giving him the larger half. Dean eats as he drives and they sit in silence aside from the radio playing loudly. Castiel spends the drive leaning against the window watching and Sam stays distant, save for his thigh touching Cas’, he doesn’t give any indication he even feels it. Sam almost prefers it that way.
The library is almost empty with an hour left until closing time. Dean dropped the two of them off stating that he had better things to do than look up information in the database when he had two of the best nerds to do the job. Time was better spent with him checking around town and investigating what the locals had to say about the sighting of a creature among their mountain ranges and dragging people up every now and then for a snack, leaving only traces of the person.
Sam and Dean had concluded it was a wendigo but needed more time to be sure and be properly armed. Castiel and Sam were huddling around an old off white monitor while Sam took the job of typing. Castiel was handed his laptop, typing slowly with his index fingers when Sam relayed information.
Sam yawns and leans back watching Castiel type the last person’s information slowly. It’s almost cute the way Castiel bites his lip in concentration and runs his tongue along his lips as if that might help him with his coordination.
A sharp pain runs through Sam’s back and he blinks hard to rid himself of it and sits forward again, leaning over the desk. It had to be the way he was sitting, except it wasn’t because it came again. Sam twists his head to look at Castiel who is shifting in his seat, his eyes tightly closed.
“Cas?” Sam whispers, glancing around to make sure no one was around. “Hey, Cas?” He ignores his own stabs of pain and wheels his chair closer to Cas, his large hand wrapping easily around Cas’ thigh; his fingers pressing lightly into his shoulder.
Cas opens one eye and tries to shake his head. “S’nothing, Sam.”
“Bullshit.” Sam hisses, clutching Cas’ thigh and shoulder, beginning to turn him in the chair to face him, splaying both hands on Cas’ thighs and bringing his face closer to his, eyes wide and concerned.
There’s a long moment where it’s just blue meeting hazel, Sam almost breaks first almost lets his hands slide when Castiel shifts again and another stab of pain hits Sam on the right side of his back and he doubles over.
“I am very sorry, Sam.” He says softly, reaching his own hand out to grip the material around Sam’s chest to push him upright. “This was never meant to get to you.”
Sam blinks in confusion, rubbing his back but the pain is dull, tilting his head he eyes Castiel carefully chancing a glance at the hand propping him up by his chest.
“What’re you - “
“You know that you’ve felt it, Sam. You’ve always been more tuned in to the wavelengths of the universe. You sense things others cannot. It’s in your make up after...”
Sam doesn’t need Castiel to finish his sentence, they both know. The demon blood that runs through his veins and Castiel can barely say the words. Sam’s skin crawls knowing what exactly runs through his veins. “So? You feel this too, right? I’m just picking up on it.”
Castiel looks at the floor, “Yes.”
“What is it? Why are you hurting like this?” Sam narrows his eyes and keeps his eyes locked on Castiel, the grip he has on his thighs tightening nervously. He wants to ignore the spike nerves running up his spine and how he prickles at the thought of Castiel actually feeling this intense pain and attempting hide it from him. He knew Castiel was tired and worn down but didn’t know he experienced this.
“My wings are deteriorating.”
Sam freezes, unsure what that really means. “Is this why you’ve been so tired?”
Castiel sighs his knuckles turning white around Sam’s shirt. “I suppose so, yes. When I fell, my flight feathers were singed beyond repair. A new molt did not come for me and I do not think it will. The bones ache and my feathers...”
Sam backs off, noticing how Castiel pulls away from him and how empty his eyes have become. He cannot sense anything but a dull ache in both sides of his back. “I’m sorry. How long have you felt like this?”
Castiel shifts in his seat and does not look at Sam and gives him no answer, instead he types again; slowly pressing his index fingers down onto the keys. Sam tries to smile. “I’ll have to give you some pointers on typing.”
Castiel’s mood lightens and Sam spent some of the remaining time they had giving Castiel advice on how to type faster. Castiel was soon typing with four fingers instead of two index ones. Sam laughs at how proud Cas looks being able to type just a bit faster and turns back to his own computer. Sam can’t just let Castiel suffer like this.
He begins searching for common bird ailments and how to treat wings after they have been damaged and looked up ways to wash birds. He didn’t know much about angel wings, he didn’t know whether they materialized but that’s what he assumed... but Castiel could feel them. He’d seen his friend naked enough times to know he couldn’t see them. He printed out a few pages and collected them, shoving them in his research folder and he and Castiel exited the library waving and thanking the librarian.
Dean was waiting outside in the Impala, rolling down the window. “Hey, took you long enough.”
Sam rolls his eyes at his brother and sits himself in the passenger’s seat, explaining to Dean what the two of them had found, and it most likely was a wendigo.
Dean snorts, “I told you we didn’t need to research. The people in town were no help other than telling me what I already knew. People go up the mountain and never come down. Someone saw something last week stalking around the perimeter of the town. Must be a hungry son of a bitch.”
Sam nods, glancing back at Castiel. He’s squirming in the back seat, his face scrunched up in discomfort. Sam can no longer feel the pain and did not give it further thought until they pull into the motel parking lot.
Dean gets out, shutting the door carefully and leans over the top. “You guys should get your own room. I’m going to be busy tonight before we head out into the field to get that damned thing.”
“God, spare us the details, man.”
Dean laughs at his brother and digs into the trunk to grab his leather duffel and tosses Sam his, catching it with his stomach and hands. “Sure, just keep quiet in there with Cas, huh?” He winks and Sam blushes glancing at Castiel.
Castiel doesn’t seem to have heard a thing as he grabs his own small green bag. Sam makes a note to buy Castiel more clothes so he doesn’t stay in the same outfit all year. He has already taught Castiel that since he isn’t a full-fledged angel anymore, he’s got to do manual things like wash clothes and his body. That wasn’t an awkward lesson or anything.
Castiel’s hand on his shoulder snaps him out of his reverie. “Sam? Dean’s already walking inside.”
He nods and leads the way inside, finding a happy Dean checking himself in as some dude named Charlie, giving the woman behind the desk the full Dean Winchester compliment service, and it seems to work because she gives him a good room.
Sam approaches and Dean stops him in the middle of the lobby, twirling two sets of keys on his finger. He slaps Sam on the shoulder before passing and dangles the keys in front of Sam’s face.
“Already checked you in, no need to thank me.”
Sam swipes the keys from his brother and glares playfully. “Thanks. Remember to suit up.”
Dean makes a face and rolls his eyes, “Whatever, Sam. Sleep tight.”
Sam sighs with relief when Dean makes his way to the end of the hall and he notices the rooms are only two apart. Not far away enough for there to be an issue if one of them were to be attacked, but Sam hardly thinks there will be an issue tonight.
Sam takes the bed furthest from the door at Castiel’s urging and he doesn’t object, he knows better than to argue with him when his mind’s made up. He would have taken the one Castiel claimed but he bristled and flinched as he moved, Sam didn’t have the heart to argue with him.
Instead, Sam settled on his bed, using his duffel bag as a footrest when he stretched out. After a while, when the room is too quiet and Castiel is laying on the bed He opens the folder and flips through his findings, contemplating his options. He throws a look Castiel’s way and only finds him in the same position as the last time he looked over: curled up into a ball with his eyes shut tight.
Sam swings his legs over the edge of the bed and watches Castiel. He knows Castiel is not asleep, his breathing is too fast for that. “Hey, Cas?”
Sam swallows and slides off the bed, resting his palms on Cas’ bed, causing it to dip and Castiel to straighten and look up at him, propped by his hands and Sam reaches a hand out to steady him when he sees how much Cas is struggling.
“If you show me your wings, I’ll try to help. I read some things about birds.”
Castiel laughs and Sam recoils, “Angel wings are not bird wings, Sam.”
Sam sucks in his bottom lip, tearing at the skin. “It must be the same principle.”
Castiel shakes his head, shrugging off Sam’s hand that tightly grips his shoulder and holds onto Sam’s wrist as he slides himself to the edge of the bed, not letting go. “What would you have planned to do?” His eyes rest on Sam’s face. Sam isn’t sure if he’s genuinely asking or if he’s setting him up to be rejected.
“I wanted to see if there was something I could do to ease the pain from your wings, you mentioned they ached. I was hoping warm water might work to release the tension at the joints. You said there was never a new molt and when you Fell and your flight feathers were singed and I hoped...with coaxing I might be able to help.”
Sam shifts uncomfortably, he’s acutely aware of the burning sensation on his wrist where Castiel continues to hold him. Castiel draws in a shaky breath, eyes still watching him.
There’s a moment where Sam thinks Castiel will refuse him, where Castiel is just looking at him, unmoving and Sam is sure it’s a challenge to see if Castiel can get him to back down, but he won’t. He’s caught off guard and nearly jumps when there’s a soft rumble from the back of Castiel’s throat.
“If you’re this positive it will help.”
Sam nods, and misses the cool burning on his wrist when Castiel lifts his hand off and begins to walk towards the bathroom but stops, Sam can see his shoulders shaking lightly. He rushes to his side and throws his large arm around Castiel’s shoulders, pulling him to his side and walking him gently to the bathroom.
“Don’t tell Dean about this.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Castiel grunts as he is sits down on the side of the tub. Sam hadn’t really thought this through in the slightest and how he would even begin to wash Cas in this...or how big his wings really were.
“Uh, Cas.” Sam stutters a little looking around. “This’ll be big enough to contain your...wings, right?”
Castiel’s eyes narrow his mouth curving upwards in amusement, “Yes.”
“A-alright.” Sam turns away and begins fumbling with his toiletry kit and brings out his body wash, hand soap and shampoo. There’s squeezable hand soap at the sink set out for their convenience. He checks the back of his body wash, making sure there no elements that would be harmful to birds before he turns.
“It’s unscented to it will help, and I’ll just help you take off your shirt and you can probably keep your...” Sam nearly chokes when Castiel’s coat falls to the floor at their feet and begins to unbutton his shirt.
“I’ll keep them on.” He finishes, saving Sam who only nods and bends himself over to start the water, their chest brushing up against each other. Sam tries to focus on what he has to work with to help Castiel. The shower has a removable waterhead, no problem, he’ll keep the water pressure down, it just needs to heat up.
When he pulls back waiting for the water to heat up, Castiel stands dangerously close to him, in nothing but black boxers that he’s pretty sure he’s seen on Dean more than five times. He really makes a mental note to buy Castiel more clothes just for him to use.
“I need you to show me your wings, Cas.”
His mouth is set in a tight line and averts his eyes. “You will not like what you see.”
Sam reaches for Castiel’s bare arm and rubs it slowly. “You’ve seen me with blood dripping down my face and trapped in a room where I was begging for help while I detoxed. We’ve both been down paths that are less than favorable, we’ll get through it like we always do. Together.” Sam steps away and offers a reassuring smile. “Show me. I won’t be afraid.”
Castiel lifts his eyes solemnly and straightens up. Castiel refuses to be seen as anything other than the warrior he is, even at his weakest. Sam watches as the dark grey of his wings materialize in front of him like heat on pavement at first but quickly become tangible. He can see the edges of his wings are singed like he said, bald and bright red.
Sam steps forward and nods for Castiel to turn around so he can assess the damage, but what he sees is nothing like what he used to read about angel wings. They were probably once grey and strong, filled with feathers capable of flight. This... isn’t something Sam was prepared to see.
Castiel’s wings are burned and scabs have formed along the underside and back. He runs his hands lightly over the rough surface of his wings, his heart twisting as the pads of his fingers run over a scab. The feathers are rough and almost feel grimey and under his touch the frail bones just underneath shiver. Castiel tries to shrink them back against his body but they won’t bend that far and he whimpers quietly. Sam hushes him, nudging him towards the shower. “Get in the heat and steam, it’ll help.”
He says nothing as he steps in the water, standing so just his wings are under the spray. Sam steps close, adjusting the water to cooler temperature at Castiel’s request and takes the showerhead off the wall. He sees how hard it for Cas to remain upright and strong but says nothing, this is how Castiel will feel most comfortable.
Sam shimmies out of his own pants and kicks his socks off before hopping into the tub, finding it hard to fit with how Cas’ wings take up most if not all the space. Castiel remains silent as he places his hands against the back of the shower.
Sam rinses his wings with warm water, shaking loose feathers off that drift toward Sam’s feet, collecting at the drain. Sam tries to fight a lump that forms in his throat as the grime and feathers collect at his feet by making conversation.
“Castiel, what was it like for you to fly in heaven?”
There’s a moment where Sam isn’t sure the former-angel will answer him, but he does, in a voice so full of longing that Sam’s chest feels as though it’s cracking open.
“It was one of my favorite activities. My brother, Balthazar, taught me to fly. It was scary at first but it was easier with a supporter like Balthazar. We flew down to earth, surveying the plant and animal life. I saw what was the first human.”
Sam dips down and grasps his body wash spreading some through Castiel’s remaining feathers, and soft circles in the bald patches. “What was that like?”
“A fish crawling up out of the ocean. Balthazar told me not to step on it in jest. As if I would step on Father’s creation in his image - or what would become his image.”
Sam nods, working his fingers around the tops of his wings and down, Castiel shudders with a gentle croon that stirs something in Sam’s chest, he tries to focus hard on the task at hand, but he sees that Castiel is allowing his wings to stretch further. He isn’t as stiff as he was only minutes before so Sam keeps going with the ministrations of his large gentle hands.
“Do wings have a heavy meaning for you?”
Castiel’s shoulders shake and Sam misses his wings for a moment with the handheld showerhead and sprays his back, water cascading over the small of his back, dripping to his ass, soaking his boxers that cling to him now. Flushing, Sam mutters a curse his breath but Castiel appears unaffected.
“Wings are just something we were created with. They weren’t special but... somehow it seems a cruel joke to gives wings to your children who were never meant for freedom. Or to taste human emotion. We weren’t built like humans, we can feel and be free...but most of us, cannot handle them.”
Sam nods, unsure if this answers his question but takes it as is. “Are you feeling better?”
“It certainly is easier to move and the sensation of your hands is pleasurable.”
Grinning, Sam nods, rinsing his wings one more time. “Do you think you’re ready to get out or do you think you need more of this?”
Castiel places his hands against the back wall. “Just a bit longer, please.”
A tingling sensation makes it way down Sam’s back and he knows Castiel has accidentally let his guard down and will not alert him. He wants to feel what Cas is feeling and works his hand at the base of the wing tentatively, soap suds falling down Castiel’s back. Sam bites his lip and tries his best to ignore the groan coming from Castiel that tightens Sam in all the wrong places.
“I have to admit, Sam. I did not think this method would work.”
“So you were just humoring me?” Sam smirks and slides his hands over the damp feathers and sees that the scabs and bald spots are not the angry red they once were.
Castiel turns around, his wings brushing up against the side of the shower and shows Sam that awkward slanted smile. “Thank you, Sam.”
Sam nods nervously, side stepping out of the tub wiping his feet on the rug and looks down at the drain. “I’ll clean up in here. You should go rest, we have a big day tomorrow.”
Castiel leans down and picks up one of the feathers, running it under the shower head that now rested in its place on the wall. “You can keep this. Angel feathers can protect and heal.”
He holds out the beautiful deep grey feather to Sam, he takes it in his shaking hand. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you.” Castiel’s voice is firm and Sam makes no move to argue and allows Castiel to pass, his wings brushing against his face as he exits the room, and while Sam cleans, he keeps the feathers in a small tin box of his with little gifts that Dean has gotten him over the years.
They don’t really speak of what transpired unless they’re alone and Sam most of all won’t tell Dean he keeps an Angel feather in his pocket when they hunt over the next few months and Dean strangely doesn’t ask many questions when he and Cas ask for separate rooms every now and then. As time passes, Castiel’s wings grow stronger with the care of Sam’s hands and they find there’s comfort in lying next to one another and that’s how they find themselves now.
Castiel wraps Sam in his scarred wings while his much smaller arms stretching out against Sam’s chest, pulling him against him. “Your faith is something to be admired.”
Sam snorts and closes his eyes, hovering just out of sleep’s reach.
“When you believe in something, you believe with all of your body and soul. It’s why it works.”
“The washing and healing, specifically. But...you’ve done far more.”
“You didn’t have faith that it would?” Sam turns to face Castiel, the grey wings tightening around him as he speaks.
“No, but you always have faith enough for all of us.”
They fall asleep like this and Sam’s last passing thought is how he had it in him to heal his angel. He feels as though it isn’t possible and he briefly wonders how Cas even became ‘his’ but sleep takes him swiftly away from doubt.