Dean had not met his eyes as he opened the door, gestured with his head and a shrug of one shoulder at the sparse furnishings, licked his lips. "So, uh, you can take this room for tonight. We'll work out...stuff. Tomorrow." The pauses had been in the wrong places, his tone too tight. Trying so hard to do the right thing when he had no more clue than the rest of them what that even was.
Castiel had given an empty nod and an empty "Thank you, Dean," his voice echoing hollow around the edges of the words as the door closed on them. That had been seventeen minutes ago. He did not know this because of his perfect sense of time. That no longer existed.
He knew it because the alarm clock on the side table had tick tick tick ticked it for him. It was a wind-up clock. Dean had wound it, set it, just as he'd put the soap and shampoo and toothbrush and razor in the bathroom, the spare set of clothes on the end of the bed. He knew Castiel would need those things now. It was kind of him, thoughtful, and accurate. He did need them now.
Accurate to the minute. Tick tick tick tick. Harsh. Mechanical. Unrelenting. A process, a progression, moving, constantly moving.
Tick tick tick like thump thump thump his heartbeat making his veins throb and crawl and move under his skin. Everything moved now, against and apart from his will, and he would be at the mercy of every minute little cellular process that niggled and nagged at him like insects nipping at the edges of a consciousness already bound into a suffocatingly linear and literal confine that made him want to scream and tear at his hair until he split his skull to make room for what he had once been.
He was hungry. He was dirty. He was sore. He was sweaty. He was thirsty. He was tired. His face and neck itched where the ves - his - beard was coming in thick and his skin itched where seams rubbed and hair rubbed but he didn't want to wash or change and he didn't want to eat or drink because that was giving in. That was admitting, accepting that Metatron was right and this would be his life now, sloughing and exuding and consuming and excreting and trapped trapped trapped as what he had only been in.
The controller now controlled. The body would have its way, its revenge, demanding ridiculous amounts of his time and energy to feed it, protect it, clothe it, maintain its temperature, maintain its fitness, let it sleep, manage its sexual urges, hydrate it, scrape the plaque from its teeth and the dead cells and sweat from its body and manage the constant growth of its hair and nails.
Tick tick tick tick.
And all with a capacity suddenly finite, a brain suddenly so much more fallable. He could feel himself panicking - salivary glands constricting, veins dilating, heartrate increasing - as he realized how much he simply could no longer remember about HIMSELF. All the things he'd once so patronizingly told the brothers were outside a human's capacity to understand? Gone. He could no longer fathom his own former nature. It was the memory of a dream, slipping through his fingers but only real enough to trace the shape of the gaping scar it had left in his mind.
It was so much worse than last time. That hadn't been this bad, it had only been partial and the world had been ending so it had all felt right in its wrongness, a symptom of how they were losing control and falling apart. He'd thought he was mortal then and maybe he had been but without the basis for comparison he hadn't realized how much more than a "speck" he'd really retained. It had been sort of human but not. Like. This. This was total. This was supposed to be forev...no, not forever. Human now. Human and Jimmy had been thirty-five so human and forty and that meant if he took care of this thing maybe another sixty years, with it rotting around him the whole time.
Tick tick tick tick.
He loved humanity. They were beautiful, incredible, complex and fascinating and the Father's most perfect beings and he had been driven, always driven and drawn to them so irresistibly. It wasn't anything against humans, any more than he was quite petulantly certain that the humans who devoted themselves to the research of apes would NOT be thrilled if they woke up as one of those. No, that wasn't fair either. They weren't apes, not any more, not really, hadn't been in a long time. But he wasn't meant to be this. It was wrong for him, wrong and cruel and his nails ached in their beds as his hands fisted until the muscles of his forearms trembled with the desire to tear the flesh apart and free what wasn't inside any more.
It wasn't him. It had never been him. He was light and sound and radio and electricity and destruction and healing and kinetic and static and radiant and thought and intent and matter if he felt like it or the occasion called for it. Now he was 99.15% oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium, with the remaining .85% a combination of trace amounts of other elements. 65% water. He shared over half his DNA with the average potted plant.
Tick tick tick tick CRASH.
The alarm clock shattered against the far wall, but the rhythm continued, faster now in his ears from the force of his pulse.
Thud thud SMASH.
He lashed out against the bed, the kick still expertly guided by years of combat experience in exactly this form, but the Men of Letters were also experts in the lore of the Things Under The Bed and this frame went all the way to and was bolted into the floor, and the bolts did not give. What happened instead was an involuntary hiss and cry and he dropped to his knees as the pain shot up his leg, the nerves screaming hot and unfamiliar against the sudden alien bite of adrenaline and a kind of irrational alien animal passionate fury that thrilled and terrified him and he could control no more than he could order the shriek of the nerves to cease.
Gasp gasp THWACK.
He punched the floor. Why the fuck had he even done that. It made no sense. The dermis split over his knuckles. They were bleeding, he could feel the fluid leaking down his fingers and it would fucking take WEEKS to repair itself. Platelets were already doubtless rushing to the site where the skin had torn to staunch the bleeding, white blood cells enrobing bacteria he had introduced to his system, and they were swelling and it didn't matter one whit how much he willed it to be whole again. It would take time. Time and maybe even scar and when he got older he would feel this and every other injury that would suddenly matter.
Drip drip SHATTER.
The lamp from the bedside table went flying, the bulb bursting against the far wall into pieces too small to see as the base snapped in half and the age-brittle plastic shade broke into a hundred jagged shards. He should have stopped. It made no sense. He had already damaged the room. Damaged himself. He was accomplishing nothing. Hadn't he done enough? Hadn't he hurt enough things, enough people, caused enough chaos? There would be no repairing this with a snap of his fingers. It would be broom and dustpan and walk down to storage closets and get new ones and bag rubbish and take it away.
Sob sob CRUNCH.
His diaphragm was spasming, his vocal chords constricted, his eyes producing weak, watery saline and his sinuses mucous and he demanded that it stop but it wouldn't. It absolutely wouldn't and it wasn't even the correct process because he wasn't sad, he was furious in ways and with urges he had never experienced before and had no concept of how to control. This wasn't the righteous building of energy that he had once called anger. This was...this was primal and ugly and rip tear growl moan how was he even making those sounds and he'd never understood before how it could be said that angels didn't feel when he had certainly felt so much but no, they didn't. They experienced a thing that he no longer even had a word for that was like unto emotion but this nerve-screaming bleeding oozing messy THING was FEEL and hate yes hate he HATED it and HATED Metatron and was all but seeing that doughy, smirking, rheumy face on every broken piece of -
The door flew open and for a moment he froze, baffled, certain that for all he was out of control in so many ways he wasn't so oblivious that he could have...but no. It was Dean, his face as unyielding as the barrel of the gun he held expertly in both hands, sweeping the room. "The HELL is going on here?!"
His chest was still heaving, his face still dripping at least two different fluids, his hands still oozing, his thoughts still caged, but Castiel was not completely a fool. He lowered himself slowly, smoothly to his knees, lacing his fingers against the back of his skull. The green eyes had scanned every corner of every shadow and Dean had made a full circuit of the room, kicking over debris and throwing open the bathroom door before they came back to Castiel. "You ok? What happened? Where is it? What was it? We got a demon?"
"No, Dean." He swallowed, took a deep breath, trying to clear himself. "I'm...I'm sorry. I..." it was harder than it should have been to explain the obvious. "I lost my temper."
Dean blinked, frowned, incredulous. "YOU did all this?"
"I don't know." The taut frustration was seeping back into his words, clenching around the edges of his jaw. "I don't understand what's wrong with me either, I just...I'm...Metatron and losing my and the BETRAYAL and...being...I..."
The words became a noise, inarticulate and rough and bizarre, and he didn't know what it meant, but somehow, it seemed that Dean did, because the gun came down and he nodded. "You lost your shit and went Hulk Smash. Makes sense. Don't mean to rub it in, but it's a totally human reaction; you've been through a lot."
Dean was being kind again. Understandable, perhaps. He had his own history of doing irrational things when angered, and perhaps this was a matter of judging not lest ye be. But it seemed more than that. It was enough that the gun was now harmlessly tucked in Dean's waistband and he'd already put the desk back upright and fitted the drawer back in place, even though part of the molding was still broken and the drawer no longer sat evenly. He bent again, picking up the no longer folded pajamas from the floor, shaking the glass out of them and examining the fabric to see if any shards remained. There was an air of long practice to it, an expertise in the way he turned the cloth to the light.
Castiel really had wrecked the room. And now the rage was starting to subside, and another sensation was replacing it. A tightening in his abdomen. A sense of nausea. Constriction of the surface capillaries in the skin that made him shudder as if chilled and created the impression of something crawling in his connective tissues. An ache in his fingertips. The desire to be smaller, to not be looked at. He did not like this feeling either.
Dean was less than ten feet away, and yet he had rarely felt more alone. It wasn't just the absence of his brothers and sisters, though that still cut keenly. That, he had known before and too often. This was the absence of so much more, the muffling of so many things he had taken it for granted to perceive and he felt swaddled, muffled, blinded and deafened and entombed and crushed and lonely. So lonely.
Dean was right there, so close, but so...dull. His was the most luminous, resplendent human soul Castiel had ever seen, and now he couldn't see it at all. Nor the pulses of his nerves, nor the quicksilver glimmer of his thoughts, nor the scintillating aura of his bioelectric energy. Only his skin and his clothing, his hair and his eyes. Spun cotton fibers and dead cells and saline. His friend was there, and his friend was gone and he hated it.
He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, Dean was standing in front of him, reaching out towards where the blood was still drip dripping from the hands he hadn’t even realized he’d let fall to his sides and how strange that the body could move now without his conscious direction when before he’d even needed to take care to blink the eyes and expand and contract the chest as Balthazar had advised him before he took his first vessel made it easier to use it to relate to humans. They found it too distracting if you didn’t. Dean’s hand wrapped around his wrist, lifting Castiel’s arm to examine the injured knuckles. “Not too bad on the surface. No glass, won’t even need stitches, I don’t think. You break ‘em?”
His instinct was to scan the bones. It didn’t work, and he frowned, wincing despite himself as he opened and closed the fingers in a tentative fist. “I…I don’t know. How would I tell?”
Dean chuckled, trying too late to catch it into a cough. “Does it hurt, or hurt like fuck?”
Castiel considered it, comparing it to the pain from the toe that was significantly greater and building and he was increasingly coming to think probably was broken. “I believe it just hurts.”
“Ok, then.” One side of Dean’s mouth quirked up into a smile that made something seem like twisting in the low center of Castiel’s chest because that should have come with the little rush and shimmer that happened when he was amused or happy and was so beautiful, like early morning light on a rocky stream half-iced, not just the creasing of flesh from muscles contracting beneath. “We’ll just kiss it better and call it good.”
And then his head ducked, and his mouth touched Castiel’s bleeding knuckles as his hand gave a slight, friendly squeeze, and another sound came unbidden to the former angel’s lips, stranger than any before, as the palate of his body’s experience shifted radically yet again.
His pulse was once again increasing, and now his skin felt not numb, but hyper-sensitive, even as the pain that had been beginning to increase from his injuries turned and started to retreat instead. He felt the hairs on his arms stand on end, brushing against the inside of his sleeves, and his mouth was again dry, his face flushed warm and blood beginning to gather hot in his groin. He had experienced the vessel’s arousal process before, but this was different, this was a yearning more intense than the hunger he had so easily pushed aside because the idea of chewing and digesting had been just too biological to cope with.
Dean had pulled back, and it was obvious he had noticed some kind of change in Castiel, because he was hesitating now, looking awkward, uncertain whether he’d made a mistake. “You ok, Cas?”
No. He was not ok. He was not ok at all because he felt and he hurt and he hungered and he wanted and yes, there was no mistaking it and it didn’t matter if it made sense, he lusted. He wanted Dean’s mouth on his skin again. He wanted to touch him and be touched and that wouldn’t make anything better and it would make a lot of things worse, and the loneliness was so terrible now that he felt like he was going to implode on it.
What he did then did not make sense. It did not make sense any more than walking fifteen miles through the woods to the bunker and knocking on the door when he could have flagged someone down far sooner and borrowed a cell phone. It did not make sense any more than breaking the alarm clock…or anything else in the room, including what he was now absolutely certain was the first two toes of his own right foot and the skin on seven of his knuckles. It did not make sense any more than saying no to the sandwich Dean had offered or the tea Kevin had offered when his stomach was a growling knot and he felt light-headed and ravenous.
It did not make sense to reach out and lock his bleeding hands into the soft prickle of short-cropped hair and pull his friend’s face so close to his that their noses pushed against each other and he could feel his eyelashes bend against Dean’s freckled cheeks and smell coffee and toothpaste on the other man’s breath and feel the pulse in the scalp beneath his fingers, the sudden tension of the trapezius muscle where it entered the occipital cleft. It did not make sense how rough and raw his voice sounded and how it literally, physically hurt and took so much effort to make such simple words. “I need you, Dean.”
It did not make sense to kiss him. But it was the first thing since losing everything that felt right.