The thing about the swords that all of the angels carried around with them was that humans knew fuck-all about them. There was nothing written about them (other than the stuff on Michael’s flaming one, and apparently that wasn’t even real, it was just a metaphorical manifestation of Dean’s soulless body which, well, fuck) and all of the angels, including Cas, were weirdly tight-lipped about them.
“They are extensions of God’s will. A testament of trust in his servants’ obedience,” Cas had said briefly, when Sam had asked about them.
“How come you still have one, then?” Dean had asked, and Castiel had glared at him.
“A better question, perhaps, would be why Lucifer still does,” he’d growled, and left in a huff of air and feathers.
“Nice,” Sam had said, and Dean had been forced to throw a pillow at him.
So all they really knew was that angel swords were hot shit and killed other angels. These were useful things to know, obviously, but as was the case for everything that appeared unannounced in the Winchesters’ lives, it all turned out to be a lot more complicated than that.
They didn’t find this out until they were cleaning up after the apocalypse, and were feeling like maybe, just maybe, things were about to get better.
Which just about figured, in Dean’s book.
It was pretty clear from the get-go that Castiel hadn’t meant to give it to him. But Dean really didn’t see what the big deal was, at least at the time. Between the dozen-odd rebel angels they were up against and the fact that Cas had picked up a spare blade along the way, it came down to Dean needing an anti-angel sword and Cas having one available.
Dean didn’t know the first thing about sword-wielding, but the threat of dying in some sort of creative and nasty way was enough to encourage fast learning. There might have been some flailing involved, but he managed to only stab things that weren’t himself, and three fairly terrifying minutes and one hastily-scrawled banishing sigil later he, Sam, and Cas were the only ones left standing.
“So that was close,” Sam said, wrinkling his nose.
Dean flicked blood off of the sword and finished the thought. “Too fucking close for comfort, yeah. Here, Cas, thanks for the--” He stopped abruptly. “Dude! What the hell?”
Castiel looked at him. “Is there something wrong, Dean?”
“Uh, yeah. Want me to get a fire extinguisher or something?”
He was subjected to the frustration-inducing cocked head. “For what purpose?”
“What purpose? You’re on fire, Cas!” Dean exploded.
“Dean?” Sam said, and oh, that wasn’t good. The incredulous patronising voice was never good. “What are you talking about?”
Cautiously, Dean stepped towards Cas, who continued to look at him, apparently unfazed.
And okay, so on fire wasn’t entirely accurate. Cas wasn’t just flaring up in the usual bonfire-y ways; the flames were coming from behind him, and followed specific controlled lines and curves, fading to ice blue at the peaks and contours and--
“Holy shit,” he breathed. “Cas, I think I can see your wings.”
Castiel looked abruptly concerned. “That’s impossible.”
“Yeah, well, either you’re on fire or I can see your wings,” Dean replied. He sidled closer like he was approaching a wild animal, and not Cas, nerdy angel of the Lord. Slowly, he raised a hand towards the swirl of flame just above Castiel’s shoulder. It seemed to pull just slightly towards his fingers, like the electricity in those plasma balls in science museums. Tendrils of the stuff flickered towards him, but he only felt it as a vague coolness, like water evaporating against his skin.
Castiel watched him in consternation, and then his eyes fell to the sword still in Dean’s opposite hand. He frowned. “I gave you my sword,” he stated slowly.
Dean tore his eyes away from the arcing inferno at Castiel’s back to raise an eyebrow. “Well, yeah dude, that’s what I was saying before,” he said. “You want it back? ‘Cause I think we’re done here.”
“No, I gave you my sword,” Castiel said again, and this time there’s something tight about his voice, something Dean would call trepidation if it was anyone else. “I meant to give you one that had belonged to one of my fallen brethren. But I gave you mine instead.”
Dean shrugged. “Easy mistake. They’re pretty standard issue.”
“On the contrary,” Castiel growled. “They are very different. They are marked by us the moment we take them up for the first time.”
Dean leaned back. “Okay,” he said slowly. “So does that mean that you don’t want it back?”
Castiel snatched it out of his hands.
The angel was studying the sword like Dean had contaminated it. Dean tried not to be too offended.
Sam cleared his throat. “Can we go now, before cops show up wanting to know why we’re covered in blood and standing in the middle of a bunch of corpses?”
“Yeah, that’d be good,” Dean replied. He jerked his head at Castiel. “You comin’?”
Castiel nodded slowly, still running his hands along the flat of the blade. Then in a smooth gesture he slipped it up his sleeve, and it seemed to disappear altogether. For all Dean knew, it actually had. The angel shrugged minutely, as if to readjust the hang of his coat, but it translated into an arching flex in his wings that Dean instinctively dodged.
Castiel noticed the reaction and grimaced; Sam was looking at them both like they were crazy.
Yeah, this was going to be interesting.
Castiel sat in the back of the car like he always did. It seemed he preferred to keep under the traveling radar while keeping company with the Winchesters nowadays, which was understandable, really. Heaven was a veritable circus, from what Dean had gleaned from Castiel’s mutterings, and playing sheriff allowed for minimal vacation days and maintaining a high threshold of paranoia about competing angelic factions at all times.
So Cas didn’t use angel air so much when he came to visit, and only visited when he was sure he wasn’t being tailed. It wasn’t that often, which was sort of upsetting, but Dean wasn’t admitting that to anyone. It was only sensible anyway—after Sam had come back from his weird-ass sojourn of ‘finding himself’ post-Lucifer and Dean had broken it off with Lisa, they’d both started seeing lines of strain appearing like cracks between Heaven and Earth. Flashes of light coming from faults in the concrete of old abandoned buildings, ashen outlines of wings on the ground, human shells long ago discarded. Shit was going down upstairs, and Cas was stuck right in the middle of it. He didn’t talk about it much unless it threatened human civilisation, but Dean could tell it was taking its toll. So he wasn’t about to begrudge the angel’s reticence, or his long absences.
He and Sam got on with life, cleaning up the mess. It did seem, no matter how many times they got offed or possessed or torn apart, that this was their lot.
It was nice, though, when Cas deemed it safe to come down for a while. Comforting, in its way, just because it meant that Dean still had a friend who he trusted to fight the good fight.
But again, Dean was admitting that to no one.
Castiel was sitting in the car like he didn’t have wings at all, and the wings just sort of dissipated into the leather of the Impala’s backseat. It was unsettling at best. Dean kept looking at it in the rearview mirror.
“Dean. Watch the road,” Sam said.
They made it back to the motel and headed inside. Dean looked back over his shoulder as Castiel got out of the car, plumes of fire curving out behind him, incandescent and yet shedding no light on his surrounds. “You coming in?” he asked.
Castiel considered. “For a while.” He paused, looking at Dean for a moment. “You can still see them?”
“I think I would like to see if you continue to do so.”
Dean couldn’t tell whether it was curiosity colouring Castiel’s voice, or annoyance, or even worry. Maybe all three. “All right,” he said, shrugging. “Come on in, then.”
(Months before, when Sam had first come back, Dean had hugged him, gotten him blitzed on JD (because while Sam might be a fucking giant, Dean was the one with a liver of steel) and promptly put him to bed with the pronouncement, “Okay, sappy girly reunion over, Sasquatch.”
Then he’d gone deep into the woods outside the motel they were staying at, and screamed invectives until he had felt like he would never be able to take another breath or say another word ever again.
It should have been cathartic, but it hadn’t been, not at all.
Except that, between one half-sobbing breath and the next, Cas had appeared at his side.
“I thought you would be pleased,” he’d said, cocking his head.
Dean had stared at him for a long moment, absorbing the way the woods seemed strangely warmer now, and the way his heart rate was beginning to slow. Castiel had remained still, waiting for Dean to react.
“Pleased really isn’t the right word,” Dean had croaked eventually, his voice shot all to hell. “I’m glad he’s back. I’m fucking relieved, maybe even happy. But he’s been alive for three fucking months. Three months, and I hadn’t heard a thing from him. He doesn’t…fuck.”
“He doesn’t do family the way you do,” Castiel had said, weirdly colloquial.
“I know it too, it’s not like I’m surprised, and it’s not like he’s doing it wrong,” Dean had replied, exhaling, and feeling oddly relieved that Cas could distill his confusion and rage into something so simple and true. Too often the angel was awful at finding the right thing to say, but sometimes he just got it, and Dean had found himself stupidly grateful that this one of those times. “It just always hurts, every time. You’d think I’d have developed some sort of resistance to it by now.”
“Some things we cannot build a resistance to, no matter how hard we try,” Castiel had murmured.
Dean had looked at him sharply at that. Cas had sounded like he was speaking from experience, though Dean couldn’t think of anything that could have given him that sort of weary understanding. Maybe faith. He figured that would be a habit an angel would find very hard to break indeed, even with a full-on Godless apocalypse under their collective belts.
He was suddenly, overwhelmingly tired. “I’ve gotta get back to the room,” he had said. Then he’d added, “Do you…do you want to come in for a drink?”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” Cas had said, and disappeared between one breath and the next.
And then Dean had been left wondering why he’d bothered to come down at all.)
The motel was a monstrosity, worse than usual because someone in the seventies thought it would be a great idea to have a rodeo-themed motel in the middle of Washington State. Yeah, Dean didn’t get it either.
The orange carpet smelled of damp and the pictures of bucking broncos on the walls looked like they’d been bought at a flea market. Sam threw his duffle onto his bed and headed straight for the bathroom. Dean collapsed onto the opposite bed without bothering to take off his boots. He eyed Castiel, who remained standing like some sort of awkward statue by the door. “Sit down, Cas, stay a while.”
Castiel considered him, and then said eventually, “Very well.”
It was still weird to see him so fully angelic again. The stiffness was back in his limbs, and he moved like he was made of tungsten just under the skin. He sat in a measured fashion, settling at the edge of the spindly chair by the window. His wings shifted, sparks popping against the arms of the chair before the flames just slid through. Dean’s pretty sure he wouldn’t ever be not fascinated by how they seemed to be both there and not there.
“Wanna tell me what’s got your panties in such a twist over someone else touching your sword?” He made a face. “Ugh, that sounded sketchy.”
“I see nothing related to drawing in what you said,” Castiel replied, and then just stopped, looking away.
“Seriously? We’re not going to talk about this?”
“Our weapons are a sensitive subject,” he said tightly.
Dean snorted. “I cannot believe how phallic this conversation is.”
“There is nothing sexual about it,” Castiel snapped. “God’s weapons are sacred articles, safeguarded by their wielders, to be handled by them alone. In all of creation I have never known a sword of one angel to be handled by another unless that original angel is either dead or about to be killed upon his own weapon. And to give up one’s sword willingly…it’s never been done. It is blasphemy.”
“Well, I hate to say it, Cas, but blasphemy’s hardly been new to you lately. Well, not really lately, but before...you know,” Dean made vague gestures with his hands that indicated everything from apocalyptic happenings to re-angelification.
“This is very different,” Castiel said, unmoved. He looked away. “This isn’t just blasphemy of God, this is blasphemy of…of myself. Not even the fallen entrust their swords to one another.”
Dean frowned, and sat up. “So, what’s gonna happen to you, then?”
Castiel flicked a glance at him, but it only lasted a second. “I don’t know, Dean. But considering you’re the one able to see even a fraction of my true form, I think the question you ought to be asking is, what’s going to happen to you?”
(The night before he’d left, Lisa had cornered him in the kitchen. “I know what you’re going to do tomorrow,” she said, crossing her arms protectively.
“And what’s that?” he’d asked, because as far as he knew he’d given her no clues, no warning at all.
“You’re leaving. You have some unfinished business,” she’d said.
He had been kind of surprised. “I guess I am leaving,” he’d admitted, “But as far as I know, my score is settled. Or as settled as it can be.”
“Uh huh,” she’d said, dry as bone, “You keep telling yourself that.”
He’d shaken his head as he drove, not knowing what to make of her.
Ten hours later, he nearly skidded into a hole in the world that tore right across a stretch of empty highway in North Dakota, and then it was just like old times, calling Bobby on his cell and asking what the fuck was going on.
He’d given a brief thought to how maybe Lisa was psychic or something, but dismissed it immediately after. You didn’t need to be psychic to know how fucked up Dean was, or how even more fucked up the world was.)
It didn’t go away.
Dean was forced to order Castiel away, because having those wings in the room was like having a man-sized nightlight right there beside the beds.
“I may not be able to return for some time if I leave now,” Castiel said, with something like dread in his tone. Dean winced.
“You could go next door?” he suggested. “You don’t have to go just yet.”
“If there are things you need to take care of, it’s cool,” Sam mumbled, already half-asleep and not at all bothered by the radiant glow of constantly shifting feather-like flames rising and falling in time with Castiel’s breathing. Dean glared at his supine form.
“Then I will go,” Castiel said, after a pause.
“You don’t have to,” Dean said, unsure of why he was being so insistent, but Cas really looked as though he didn’t want to go back to being sheriff just yet, and he supposed he felt kind of bad about that. “If you have the time, you can spend it with us. Just, you’re really bright right now—”
“No, I will go,” Castiel said, more firmly. “I will see you as soon as I can get away again.”
And suddenly his wings were expanding in vast plumes, reaching back and sparking, and as they beat against space the usual flutter of wingbeats manifested in a bursting loop of fire.
It whooshed against the motel room wall, and then was gone, like it and all of the air had been sucked out of the room at once.
“Flashy,” Dean commented, a little awestruck despite himself.
“Bhuh?” Sam mumbled.
“Go to sleep, Sam.”
Nothing really happened immediately after the sword incident, enough for Dean to almost forget about how he apparently had some kind of mojo’d eyesight from handling Castiel’s sword. It helped that that very sentence sounded wildly inappropriate even in his own head, and thus was banished to the furthermost parts of his mind.
Sam only mentioned it once more, because of course his giant brain was still mulling over it. “You know, it’s weird,” he said, while they were on the road.
Dean looked at him. “You’re going to have to be a lot more specific than that, dude,” he said.
Sam shrugged. “Cas is usually so…not exactly together, but…deliberate, you know? Like, he decides to do something, so he does it. No mistakes, no snap decisions. Hell, he doesn’t even flinch at archangels anymore.”
“He’s made mistakes,” Dean pointed out. “Some pretty damn big ones, if I recall.”
“Yeah, but even those…they were mistakes of judgement, not heat-of-the-moment stuff. He’s never just, slipped up.”
Dean sighed. “Where are you going with this?”
Sam tilted his head back and forth. “I dunno. It seems weird that he should have given you his sword by accident. He had two on him, but according to him he can tell them apart really easily, because who they belong to is important and significant or whatever. I just…it just seems weird that he’d make that kind of mistake.”
“So, what, you think he did it on purpose?”
Dean thought about it. “He seemed pretty upset after, for that to have been deliberate.”
Sam deflated. “Yeah. I guess.”
The subject was dropped.
They ganked a demon that had come through a new hellmouth-y crack in Montana, and then went after a pack of werewolves in northern Texas, and managed to come out of it with only one set of cracked ribs between them, which was a pretty damn good outcome, considering.
Sam moaned about it and popped aspirin like candy, but it was mostly for show—he even agreed to come out to the bar with Dean and managed to snag himself a hot little blonde bartender at the end of the night.
It was all kind of ridiculously normal, even though Dean was kind of miffed about not spotting the bartender first. Mostly he was just glad that Sam was starting to act like himself again, after all of the angst at the end of the world. It was weird and difficult moving on from that, not to mention incredibly disturbing at times, what with the holes that kept popping up in the world’s fabric, but did feel possible, this time around.
Dean kinda liked that. So he kept knocking beers back, and just clapped a hand on Sam’s shoulder in congratulations when he’d raised his eyebrows in indication that he wouldn’t be going back to the motel room tonight.
Yeah, things were slowly going back to normal. Or as normal as stuff was, for Winchesters.
Dean slept in the motel room alone.
He had a vague dream about stars, roiling nebulae in the distance, and cold fresh air, but he didn’t remember it after it was done.
(The thing about angel swords, that not even angels knew, was that they didn’t actually exist.
The only guy who did know didn’t exactly stick around to explain it. And Chuck? Wasn’t saying nothing.)
Sam came back around four in the morning, and Dean was feeling magnanimous enough to let him sleep in, so despite their plan to set out for New Mexico early in the morning, they didn’t end up leaving until around noon.
Sam paid back the gesture by getting breakfast, leaving Dean to pack.
The sun was out in full force, and Dean felt uncharacteristically cold.
He pulled on an extra flannel as they finally pulled out, breakfast burritos in hand.
“What’s on the menu, Sammy?” he said through a mouthful of egg, merging onto the highway.
“Shifter maybe, or shifter demons. We’ll have to see about the sulfur.”
“Awesome,” he said dryly. He cranked up the heat.
Sam looked at him incredulously. “It’s August,” he said.
“It’s a fucking cold August.”
“It’s eighty-two degrees.”
Sam went through a series of increasingly hysterically bitchy expressions, and then tapped at his iPod Touch in sharp little gestures. He shoved the screen in Dean’s face.
“Eighty. Two. Degrees.”
“Get that thing out of my face.”
“You’re seriously cold?”
“Just a little chilly. Suck it up, bitch, or crack a window.”
Dean pulled onto the highway, and they didn’t talk anymore. After fifteen minutes, Sam stripped down to his t-shirt.
Dean shifted his shoulders in his three layers of flannel. “It’s really not that cold out?” he asked eventually.
“It’s a fucking sauna in here, Dean,” Sam snapped.
Dean sighed. “Shit.”
Several planes of existence away, Castiel scowled, and dusted the iridescent damp of otherworldly snow off his shoulders.
“You’re freezing? How about you have a fucking fever and you’re going through the chills phase. Use your brain, boy,” Bobby suggested, sounding even crankier over the phone than he did in person.
“I feel fine, I don’t have a fever,” Dean said. “I’m just cold.”
“Then put on a sweater and stop bothering me.”
The line went dead.
“So?” Sam raised an eyebrow inquiringly.
“Shut up. And gimme that sweatshirt in the back.”
The whole cracks-in-the-space-time-continuum thing had been iffy from the beginning. As soon as Dean had run into that first one on the highway heading away from Lisa’s, Bobby had called everyone in his network, and received a unanimous reply: They didn’t know what the fuck was going on, but if you ganked enough demons around the problem area, they eventually stopped coming and started looking for other doorways.
It was...a terrible solution. But it was the only one they got.
Cas had been no help at all. He’d come down several weeks after the first incident, had cocked his head in that sober, irritated fashion, and said, “I’ll look into it,” before disappearing.
But he hadn’t updated them since, despite appearing several times more. Dean had resigned himself to the possibility that there was nothing to look for. After all, not a single thing in the world or off it had actually been prepared to live through the Apocalypse. All bets were off.
“This sucks,” Sam observed once, a few more weeks after, when they’d finished clearing out a mess of demons from the Appalachians.
“Tell me about it,” Dean had agreed.
But they had gotten on with it, and did their job. It was something close to normal.
Which was obviously why it hadn’t lasted long.
By the time they reached New Mexico, Dean was noticeably shivering.
Sam kept shooting him concerned glances, which he only found irritating, since it was Sam’s turn to drive.
“Dude. Eyes on the road.”
“What kind of cold is it? Like, weak and shaky kind of cold, or—”
“I don’t have a fucking fever, Sam. It just feels like it’s fucking cold out.”
“Okay, okay. Do you think it was that demon in Fort Benton? She could have sent something your way.”
“Her parting shot was to make me cold three weeks after the fact? That’d be pretty lame, and she didn’t seem that low on the food chain. Third circle, at least.”
Sam winced. It still bothered him that Dean knew so much about demon hierarchies nowadays, despite having had a taste of it himself. His Hell experience had been far more confined, with a lot more hanging around in darkness with a very angry fallen archangel, though, while Dean had…well.
In any case, being in the unwilling employ of demons for a while left a mark, and Dean was done apologising for it.
“Well, do you have any better theories? Because I got nothing.”
Dean just shook his head and hunched his shoulders against a non-existent chill.
The Impala ate up the miles.
“We could call Cas,” Sam suggested finally.
Dean tried not to jump on it too visibly. “Might be a good idea.” He reached for his phone.
Cas didn’t pick up. Such were the hazards of satellites that didn’t get a signal across certain planes of existence.
“Hey, Cas? It’s me. Listen, something weird’s going on with me, so if you get a chance, call me back and I’ll let you know where we are. Um. Yeah. Catch you later.”
(If Dean really cared to remember (and he didn’t), he would be able to recall another time when he had seen Castiel’s wings.
To do so, however, would be remember all of the shit that came along with that first item, all blood and fire and brimstone, and that was the stuff that already lingered behind his eyes whenever he closed them anyway; he had no desire to look any deeper into that cold burning chaos.
If he did, however, he would notice that even then, ragged and exhausted, the wings had been all he had ever seen of hope in forty years, and that they had burned and burned and burned, with nothing but will and justice holding them together as they’d borne him up and away.)
Dean got colder. Castiel didn’t show, and three days past in which he went from layered henleys and flannel to sweatshirts and fingerless gloves and his heaviest jackets. They went up to Montana to take out a circle of kidnapping wood sprites, and he actually thought he was going to get frostbite.
Sam went to a local ski shop and bought him hand warmers. “The guy at the counter looked at me like I was actually insane,” he complained, but it came out sounding more worried than annoyed.
Dean clamped his jaw tight shut, and shoved his hands (with fingerless gloves and the hand warmers clutched in his palms) into his jacket pockets. He moved stiffly, his joints protesting the work. He’d taken his temperature while Sam was out, and it had been a cool 98.6 degrees. It didn’t make any fucking sense.
This didn’t stop him from banishing the wood sprites with extreme malice. But he’d almost blown their cover with the chattering of his teeth, and by the end of the night Sam was practically force-feeding him broth just to see if it would give him some temporary relief. It did, but only for the amount of time it took for Dean to actually consume it.
“This is getting fucking ridiculous,” he complained, huddled in the blankets from the motel beds.
Sam just shook his head, and looked worried. “We’re only taking jobs in the south until we get this fixed,” he said.
Dean didn’t argue. His muscles were shaky and sore from shivering, and it didn’t seem to be abating at all.
The next day, they headed towards Arizona.
(Had they left the motel four hours later, they would have seen the convenience store next door vanish into a fissure in time and space, blackness yawning around its absence before spitting out something bright and sharp in its place.
The bright sharp thing adjusted the fit of its coat, produced a grim little smile, and started to walk.)
Castiel came back finally, inconveniently, two days later on a highway in bumfuck-nowhere Nevada.
He appeared without warning, and Sam took one look at him in the rear view mirror and swerved abruptly over onto the shoulder of the highway.
“We have a problem,” Castiel growled.
“Jesus, Cas, are you okay?” Sam said, slamming on the brakes.
“No,” Castiel replied flatly, swaying dangerously as the Impala came to a standstill. “I am not okay.”
Dean shifted awkwardly around to look at him through the mess of sweatshirts and blankets in which he was nowadays perpetually cocooned, and his eyes widened. “Christ,” he said. “The fuck happened to you, dude?”
“More relevant is what hasn’t,” Cas replied, his voice tight.
Dean guessed that Cas hadn’t actually gotten his phone message.
The angel was a rough sight. He was soaked with what looked like the remnants of melting snow, translucent clumps of it in his hair and on his shoulders. There was a steady trickle of blood down from his hairline to his jaw, and bruising around his throat from what must have been a truly vicious chokehold. The trench coat was ripped in multiple places along the seams and elsewhere, bloodstains streaking the lapels and seeping into the frayed edges, and the usual blue tie was entirely gone.
Most importantly, however, was that Dean could still see the wings, and that even they looked bad. They were dimmed, great swathes of them sparking more than being actively aflame. It made him look strangely more vulnerable than the rest of the mess combined.
Dean opened his mouth to ask for clarification, but then abruptly shut it again. Frowning, he shrugged one blanket off of his shoulders.
Sam leapt in instead. “Where have you been? We called you before.”
“I’ve been…out of this dimension. There was an altercation that didn’t go my way, and I had to get somewhere difficult to reach. Unfortunately,” Castiel grimaced, like his current state was merely vexing rather than life-threatening, “It was a taxing transition between zones.”
“No cell reception in other dimensions, got it,” Sam muttered.
“Altercation?” Dean asked. He had shrugged off a second blanket and kicked it to the floor of the car.
“Angels of Raphael’s thinking. I was severely outnumbered.”
“You’ve been outnumbered before.”
“Yes. Which brings me to my reason for returning to you.” Castiel regarded Dean with an expression Dean had some trouble deciphering—a mix of irritation, worry, and something else entirely that could have been anything from anxiety to unholy wrath. It was difficult, because Castiel had many degrees of wrath in him, and Dean was unwilling to limit him to the ones Dean himself recognised.
Castiel took a breath and the exhaled it almost on a growl. “My sword is unable to kill angels at this time.”
“Your sword’s broken?” Sam said blankly.
“Dude,” Dean said automatically, “You can’t just say that to a guy.”
“I don’t see why not; it’s an accurate description,” Castiel replied.
Dean was pretty sure that if he wasn’t so concerned he would have given himself a mini-ulcer trying not to laugh at that. As it was, though, he was slowly peeling layers of warm clothing away from himself, because for the first time in what seemed like years, he was warm.
A horrible sort of realization took hold of him. “Cas,” he said, looking pointedly at the melting snow on the angel’s shoulders, “Have you been somewhere particularly cold lately?”
Castiel looked at him. “Between worlds, there is only a frozen void. I hid there during the worst of my recovery.”
“You call this ‘recovered’?” Sam muttered.
“Cas,” Dean asked flatly. “Were you cold?”
The angel held his gaze. “I don’t feel temperature the way you do,” he answered.
Sam looked between them and put it together. “Dean. You think…?”
Castiel seemed to finally get it. “You have been cold, Dean?” he asked in consternation.
“That would be a fuckin’ understatement, dude,” Dean said, now down to his t-shirt. “You may not feel cold, but I definitely, definitely do.”
“And you think that this is connected to where I have been?”
“I dunno, man, when did you go out there?”
Castiel thought, eyebrows scrunching together. “In your world, approximately two and a half weeks ago,” he said finally.
Dean looked at Sam. “Two and a half weeks. We took care of that werewolf den around then.”
“And you started freezing just after that,” Sam finished. He pursed his lips.
Dean shrugged. “Simplest explanation. You give me your sword and freak out about it. Three days later, we’re been driving around the desert, you’re covered in snow, and I’m the one who ends up hypothermic. Also, I can still see your wings. It’s Occam’s Razor or some shit.”
Sam threw him a look, which Dean challengingly returned because whatever, he might not be Stanford material, but he did read.
“Then nothing about this situation is simple,” Castiel grimaced. “If you are experiencing my environment over your own, then whatever connection that is enabling you to see my wings is more profound than alterations to your mental faculties.”
“It messed up my mind?”
“If it hadn’t, your eyes and brain would have melted out of your head.”
“We should test this, at least,” Sam interjected. “Just to be sure. Cas, maybe you could go somewhere cold again? Just for a second,” he added hastily, at Dean’s affronted look. “Just to see if it has the same effect.”
“It would probably be prudent for me to leave a trail elsewhere anyway,” Cas said darkly, and in a huge swoop of wings that had Dean instinctively jolting out of his seat, was gone.
“You really can still see them, huh?” Sam said at Dean’s crouched form in the footwell.
Dean looked back at him balefully. “Yes, Sam. I can.”
“What’re they like?”
“Same as always. Big and fiery and wing-shaped. Though they weren’t looking too good this time. Got some dark spots scattered in there. Angel assholes must have done a real number on him.”
Sam gave him a significant look, which he stalwartly ignored. Cas was Dean’s friend—Dean was allowed to sound concerned for his well being.
It only took a few minutes before he could feel the cold creeping back in; he hunched down and grabbed one of the discarded blankets and pulled out his phone.
“Okay, you can come back now, I’m freezing again.”
Cas reappeared in the back seat, looking winded. Sam raised an eyebrow. “Where—”
“Antarctica,” Castiel answered, and then after an irritated pause. “I perhaps should have aimed for somewhere less remote.”
Dean sighed and shrugged off the blanket again. He frowned when he turned to look at him, though. “Dude, those really do not look good.”
Castiel followed his gaze and reluctantly nodded. The wings looked even more weaker now, dark spots creeping like ash between the licks of flame and electrical pulses, sputtering in fits and starts. “It takes a great deal of effort to keep oneself in the transitional dimensions,” he said. “I’ve been…run ragged, I suppose you’d say.”
“And that was for your recovery period? Dude.”
“There are a limited number of places for me to go that are truly safe at all times,” Castiel replied.
Dean pursed his lips. “Yeah, I get that.”
“Maybe we should stop somewhere?” Sam suggested after a second. “So we can try and figure this out.”
Dean said, “All right, but gimme the keys. I’m not shivering like an idiot any more, so I’m driving.”
Seeing as they didn’t actually need to go to warmer climes now that Castiel had come back from the frozen void of inter-dimensional travel, the Winchesters stopped off on the border of Nevada where a one-horse town was a generous description for the smattering of run-down shops and single motel. They went through the usual rhythm of checking in and bringing their stuff inside, while Castiel stayed behind in the car, looking worn and beaten down and slightly damp from melting snow. Dean felt kind of irrationally guilty about that, given that he was feeling great since he was no longer in fear of psychosomatic hypothermia. So when he ushered the angel into the motel room it was with a hand on his shoulder, steering him and his massive scary wings through the door.
Sam was already settled with a stack of books on either side of him on the bed, still managing after all these years to look like a dorky college student in his dorm more than anything else. “So. I don’t suppose you know anything new about angel swords you’d care to tell us, Cas?” he said.
Castiel exhaled. “I don’t…I only know what we were told. At the beginning.”
“Of what? Time? The universe?”
“Something like that.”
“Who told you then? You said you’ve never met God,” Dean said.
“And I haven’t,” Castiel agreed. “Michael was the first of us, and he along with the other archangels taught us.”
Dean waited. Castiel met his gaze, and shifted, wings coming in protectively around his shoulders. Dean looked worriedly at the dark patches still pervading at the crests of them, and in the undersides of the flames that spread and shifted in the place of flight feathers. They hadn’t improved much in the hours they’d been driving. “Cas?” he prompted.
“I’ve already told you most of what I know,” the angel said. “Our weapons are born with us. It has been said that angels are but two things—our wings, which are our Father’s grace, and our swords, which are his justice. We are nothing without both of them.”
“What happened to you being as big as the Chrysler Building, then?” Sam said in consternation.
“That is the size of my true form when unconstrained, yes. My wings and my sword, abstracted into pure energy.” Castiel drew his sword from his sleeve and considered it. “This is condensed into non-abstraction, just as I am condensed to fit into Jimmy’s body. I couldn’t release my sword into its abstracted form on this plane of existence without taking out everything remotely unholy in a ten mile radius.”
Dean winced. “Damn.”
“I don’t understand why my giving it to you to defend yourself should have such consequences,” Castiel said, looking at Dean intently, his voice low with frustration, “Only that I am not surprised that something happened, for the grievousness of my crime.”
“Well, can we logic it out, though?” Sam said, looking accusingly at the pile of books that he’d brought in, but which they’d already looked through and found devoid of useful information. “I mean, okay, so you your sword is symbolic of, or the embodiment of justice, right?”
Castiel gave a reluctant noise of assent, which conveyed in Dean’s mind that Sam was only accurate enough for the purposes of this conversation, nothing more. Sam seemed to pick up on it too, because he put on his determined face and continued, “So you effectively gave Dean your justice or whatever. But then he gave it back. And apparently that’s enough to leave Dean with some special abilities.”
“You know what’d be interesting,” Dean interrupted, musing, “Is if I can see every angel’s wings, or just yours, Cas.”
Castiel narrowed his eyes at him. “Why would that be interesting, Dean?”
Dean shrugged. “I guess it’d tell us whether this is general sort of deal or a personal one.”
He hadn’t really meant it to be a suggestive comment, but Cas seemed to take it like one. His wings hunched in even further, the dark parts flaring weakly with bursts of embers and electrical currents, and…was that a flush? Holy shit, he’d embarrassed an angel. He hadn’t even done it on purpose this time.
He was going to Hell. Again.
Sam was giving him this exasperated, ‘you’ve broken him, you get to fix him’ look, so he shrugged again and said, “Or something, I’m just stabbing in the dark, man.”
Cas’s wings came down slightly. Good. It was interesting, really, how expressive Cas was with them—he’d always seemed so remote and still before, but the wings were always in motion, always telling something about what the angel was really feeling. Dean was kind of fascinated, if he was honest with himself. It gave something for him to hold onto, at least, when so often he felt entirely flummoxed by the complete otherness of Cas, especially now that he was back to full-on angel.
“I suppose,” Cas allowed. “But surely it is more important for us to sever this connection, or at least dull it. I have to travel to remote and often non-physical locations to continue my work in Heaven, and I can’t do that if I know that I may be damaging you in the process. What if I had gone to ground in the Pacific Ocean?”
Dean shuddered. “Yeah, drowning for a few weeks, not so much.”
“Well, you’ve already taken your sword back, so that doesn’t tell us anything,” Sam said to Cas.
“No,” Cas said slowly. His mouth twisted very slightly, and then he set his sword down upon the table. “You still have the other sword I left with you?”
“Yeah.” Sam dug around in his duffle and handed it out. Castiel took it with an unhappy expression, but slipped it up his sleeve without hesitation. And then his wings were hunching up again, tightening around his narrow shoulders. “I think I need to check on some things.”
The wings drew back.
Dean reached forward reflexively, “Woah, wait, Cas, you’re not even—”
His hands closed on air.
“—healed up. Shit.”
“Where the fuck is he going?” Sam asked.
Dean sighed. “Who knows, dude. But if he ends up in the ocean or some shit, we are going to have some strong words when he comes back.”
The sword that Castiel had left, Cas’s sword, glinted on the table.
The advantages of brightness and sharpness were that they’re the tools of swiftness, accuracy, and clean death.
The miles to the border of Nevada were as negligible as desert dust.