It's the expression on his face, really, that tips Dean off that something isn't right. Not that Castiel actually has expressions, he mostly has variations on one expression (Intensely Serious Business) and all of those variations are subtle, the sort that require a lot of deliberation, to decide whether Castiel is actually that serious all the time or if the angel is just fucking with him. (He mostly decides that Cas is fucking with him. He has to be. Nobody can be that fucking earnest all the time without something exploding).
Except that this expression isn't any of the twenty-eight variations of Intensely Serious Business Face, and it isn't anything like the expression Dean's only seen once (He doesn't like to think about it but he does call it the Sad and Alone Face). This expression is nothing like those and perhaps that is what worries Dean the most.
"Cas, wait," Dean says, but he's only gotten halfway through the angel's name before he's suddenly alone in the motel room with Sam. "Dude," Dean turns to his brother and tries to look serious, which is pretty fucking weird. "What did you say to him?"
"No idea," Sam said. He's a fucking liar, though, so Dean tries to remember what the real answer is.
It was some shit about reading the Bible. Dean's done that a lot, but he still hasn't found God. He wants to think that Cas can find his dad -- Dean found his, after all, when John was ready to be found.
But Dean is human and his father is, too, but Cas is an angel and his Father is The Lord God Almighty, which sort of skews his perspective.
It's pretty easy for Dean to pick up the motel copy of the Bible -- just a cheap New Testament with one cover falling off -- and flip through a few pages.
Jesus Wept, he reads, and that's the exact fucking opposite of comforting so he shuts the book and tosses it back into the side table drawer before flopping onto his bed and going to sleep. When Dean has nightmares, Cas isn't there to wake him.
It's not so much a flap of wings as it is a loud and pained thump, and Dean is out of bed with his gun cocked and pointing at the intruder even before he's properly awake. Sam is bleary-eyed across the room, shotgun aimed at Cas's back, and he looks almost as surprised as Dean.
It's the blood.
There's blood everywhere, running down his arms and back in bright red rivulets. It's soaking into his clothing, the shredded scraps of fabric clinging to his skin, and Dean is uncomfortably reminded of having his own flesh torn apart, bones crunching loudly and --
"Dean," Castiel says, and the sound of his voice manages to snap them both out of it. Dean holsters the gun and heads to the bathroom, while Sam drops his weapon and tries to pick Castiel up off of the floor.
"What the shitting hell did you do, Cas?" Dean yells from the bathroom as he scoops up all their extra towels, tries to figure out what the hell Sam did with the last of the dental floss. "Who the fuck were you fighting with?" And he's not really surprised when the angel doesn't answer him.
"Dean," Sam yells, and Dean books it back into the room to see Cas struggling up from where Sam had dropped him -- onto Dean's bed, the little fucker, but whatever -- and was attempting to stand. Sam wasn't having any luck holding him down, and Dean surmised from the expression Cas' face that the only reason Sam was even alive was because Cas didn't want to bitch-smite him.
"What are you doing?" Dean asks, but Cas is ignoring him too.
He takes off the trench coat. On closer inspection, he looks awful, pale and with deeper wounds than Dean had realized. The suit jacket and shirt are completely drenched in blood.
"Stop it," Dean says, because Cas is -- he's got to be in a lot of pain.
"Dean," Cas says, and he stumbles towards him, falling to his knees before he can make it more than two steps. It hurts, it physically hurt him to see Cas like this, but Dean can't do anything to stop it, can't do anything to pick his angel up and make him stand, can't do anything to make him stop crawling -- fuck, Dean things, appalled, he's fucking crawling, and that's why Dean drops to his knees and wraps his arms around Cas' shoulders, pulling him close even though the hug probably hurt like a motherfucker.
It it did, Cas doesn't let on. He sighs, breath puffing warm over the skin of Dean's neck, and then he curves his arms around Dean's back, lightly, almost as if he's afraid to hurt him. Cas. Dean closes his eyes. "Who did this to you," he says, not expecting a real answer. Cas is really, really fucking bad at answering questions.
"I would like to say," Cas says, his head still resting on Dean's shoulder. Dean can feel blood running warm down Castiel's back, it seems like more blood than a single human vessel could possibly hold. "I would like to tell you that -- that -- I am sorry, Dean Winchester," and Cas raises his head and gives him the patented Very Serious Business Face (subsection: I Can Throw You Back in the Pit).
"You need to explain what the fuck is going on," Dean says. This is the truth, it is also the only thing he can think of to say. Cas bleeding is fucked up, Cas apologizing is somehow worse. It's like Cas -- it's like Cas expects to die, which is so beyond fucked up that --
Cas kisses him.
Cas actually fucking kisses him, mouth-to-mouth contact, Dean's lips and the angel's lips, and it's just like that, Dean knows Cas must be dying because angels don't kiss humans. Cas doesn't kiss people. Cas doesn't kiss him.
Except the kiss is soft and sweet, Cas' lips are dry and a little bit warm, and he tastes fresh and sweet like mint toothpaste and chocolate and just a hint of lightning underneath, he's like flowers and nighttime and ice and then it stops being soft and sweet and gets really fucking intense.
Somewhere in the room, Sam is making a noise like utter shock or confusion, but which sounds a lot more like a muttered 'you've got to be freaking kidding me,' but Dean doesn't pay attention to his idiot brother when he has far more important things that he needs to be doing, things like kissing Cas.
Cas, who is the most amazingly wonderful thing Dean has ever tasted, ever breathed, better than oxygen after almost drowning, better than pie, better than sex.
It's electric and painfully sweet and intense, because Cas is intense about everything he does, and this would be no different. It's frightening, Cas' lips against his, the soft brush of Castiel's fingers against the nape of his neck. It feels right, and beautiful, and perfect in a way that nothing has ever felt right to Dean since he carried Sam out of a burning house, and when Cas leans backward, leans away, breaks the kiss and stares up at Dean through the bluest eyes in the world, Dean tries to get him back.
"Dean," Cas says, and then Dean is not himself.
A small eternity later, a single second has passed and Dean's used to it, almost, the strange and heavy feeling that threatens to weigh him down. There are invisible weights around his arms, his legs, his wings, dragging him to earth and keeping him mired in this fragile human form, a form which is barely enough to contain his essence as it is. He stares at his own hands, which are familiar and unfamiliar, and his feet, which are familiar and unfamiliar, and at Castiel, who is unchanged and who is weak and fragile.
"Cas," Dean says, remembering a little bit more of who he is with every passing nanosecond, and he opens his mouth to What have you Done, but instead his mind connects the pieces and he understands.There is probably shame, somewhere, in crying in front of his brother, but Dean lets the tears fall regardless. He is not human. Those rules no longer apply. "Cas," he says, and Castiel's expression when he looks up at Dean is rapt and worshipful.
"You sneaky little bastard," Dean says.
Cas does not die.
Cas doesn't die because Sam sews up the gashes on his back (with fishing line instead of dental floss, since they're out of the latter) and washes the wounds twice daily. He doesn't die because when he handed his angel mojo over to Dean, he kept just enough of it back to save himself. (That's what Dean tells Sam, even though it's a lie. Cas doesn't die because Dean won't let him, because Cas won't do anything without Dean's permission even now.)
He mostly feels like himself again, just a little bit stronger and faster and sort of all-powerful, in a scary way. Like he's afraid he might accidentally explode and level the entire state if he takes a wrong step, which is a disconcerting feeling Dean doesn't want to have to deal with. He's filled with so much fucking power, though, unfamiliar and strange and -- it scares him. A lot.
Sam is making his confused bitchface, so Dean ignores him until he thinks Sam is sufficiently distracted by Castiel's wounds. Dean, who is wracked with guilt and also who wants to sucker-punch Sam every time he lays an over-sized unwashed hand on Castiel's still body, stands up abruptly, ignoring the drunken sway of the earth beneath his feet, moving dizzyingly fast and suddenly in a way he could sense, and he staggers over to Sam. "Let me," Dean says, and Sam obeys probably because he's trying to figure out the easiest way to segueway into an intensely uncomfortable talk about their feelings.
Dean does not check the bandages, he lays his hand on Castiel's shoulder.
Sam stares at him.
"Oh," Dean says, staring at the suddenly smooth, un-scarred skin of Castiel's back. The former angel is breathing softly, suddenly asleep. Sam, unsurprisingly, is still staring at Dean.
"Fucking kidding me, he tore out his Grace," Sam says, furiously angry, and then Castiel interrupts them with a hitched breath that both brothers immediately clue in on.
Sam's soul is a chaotic tangle of guilt and shame and misery, desperation mixed with quiet determination and peppered with spots of hatred and love and anger and peace and devotion, but everything is colored in depression and the guilt and shame taint everything else with their dark stain. Dean finds it hard to look away from Sam, because Sam is -- Sammy, he's Dean's little brother, he's everything that Dean has ever wanted from a little brother even if he is a whiny little bitch with no sense of humor or perspective.
It's impossible to tell how long Sam's been carrying this burden -- Or it isn't, Dean can tell exactly how long Sam's been carrying it, and apparently that shit is Dean's fault, compounded twice and made worse by Sam's own choices. It's almost funny, except as far as jokes go, nobody's laughing. Nobody's even pretending to.
"What?" Sam asks, uncomfortable with the scrutiny.
"You have no idea how freaky you look right now," Dean explains because he doesn't want to lie -- he knows that angels can lie, it's just that he's not quite sure where he is on the spectrum, or whether or not Cas is going to get mad at him if he does.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"What did you do?" Dean demands, but this time he is talking to Castiel.
Cas gazes back at him, serenely. He's still bare-chested, wearing his bloodstained suit bottoms as he pushes himself into a sitting position on Dean's bed. The wounds are all gone, but Castiel looks -- familiar, vulnerable in a way Dean's not at all comfortable with
Cas, in true form, tilts his head very slowly to the side. "Dean," He says. "I did what must be done."
"Bullshit," Dean says, and even as the word escapes his mouth he knows that he is lying. Shit.
"I am sorry," Cas says. "If I had asked your permission, you would not have given it."
"Am I the only person who isn't a part of the conversation?" Sam asks. "Because that's really, like, really awkward."
"Sam," Dean says evenly. "Cas gave me his Grace."
Cas turns his gaze to Sam. "I did what must be done," He repeated. "I could not kill Lucifer. You can not kill Lucifer. The only thing that can kill an angel is another Angel, the both of you knew this. If you would not allow Michael to take his vessel... Only one thing can kill an angel."
There is a long fucking silence.
"I really fucking hate it when you're right," Dean says, stomping off to take a shower. Afterward, he should probably start sharpening his sword. Something is telling him he's going to need it.