“I can’t … need a little help here!” Dean sawed at the spelled leather cuff on Cas’ wrist. He’d taken too long already getting the ones off his ankles. The dim lighting made it hard to see what he was doing, and he didn’t want to risk cutting the angel up any more than he already was, even if he was just using a normal knife.
Sam ran to the other side of the structure, pulled out a blade and began doing the same. “What, no key?”
“Crowley has the key,” Castiel muttered, one eye flickering open. “You will not succeed in time. Sam is right. You should both leave.”
“That’s not what I meant, Cas,” Sam replied. “We’re not going anywhere without you.”
“You don’t understand …”
“Shut up, Cas,” Dean bit out as the cuff finally gave way. He went to work on the restraint on the angel’s jaw. “We’re getting you out of here.”
The last bit of leather gave way, and Dean helped Cas up from the table. He sagged under the angel’s weight but managed to keep them both on their feet. All they had to do was make it outside, and they’d be fine. Not far. Just …
“I’ve got him, Dean, go!” Sam yelled as he pulled out his shotgun.
Salt rounds weren’t going to cut it, not for long. Dean just hoped Sam knew what he was doing.
“Where’s the car?” Cas asked.
“Just outside,” Dean replied, confused. Where else would it be?
Cas lurched from Dean’s grasp, flinging out an arm to grab Sam’s sleeve. Sam’s shot went wild, taking out one of the few weak lights hanging from the ceiling. Dean lunged for Cas, sure he was about to fall and wondering just what the hell he thought he was doing.
They were in the Impala.
“Drive,” Cas ordered. The word ended in a series of wet-sounding coughs.
They’d gotten Cas back to the bunker and had him lying on Dean’s bed. Sam had wanted to use the table in the war room, which would probably be better on their backs, but Dean couldn’t see Cas on another damn table. Dean’s memory foam was going to get wrecked, probably, but at least it was soft. Even just getting the ruined suit off him had been agonizing, as dried blood had glued the fabric to the wounds. That was probably the point, dammit. Dean had grabbed a towel to preserve at least some of Cas’ dignity, but damn if Crowley hadn’t cut into him there too.
“How’d he even do this to you?” he asked as he washed the blood from the gashes and cuts that were just everywhere on Cas’ body.
“Does it matter?”
“It does if it tells us how to help you heal,” Sam replied.
“Crowley has been experimenting with angel blades,” Cas said with a wince. “I depleted much of what remains of my Grace getting us out of there. There is nothing you can do. It will simply take time for my Grace to recover enough for me to heal myself.”
“Should we … I don’t know … stitch you up, like if you were human?” Dean asked. “At least close some of these up?”
Cas closed his eyes, and for one horrible second Dean thought they were losing him after all. Then they opened again.
“It may expedite the process somewhat to have the wounds closed, yes,” Cas finally said, “though I do not relish the idea of being sewn together with needles.”
“We can use butterfly strips on most of these,” Sam said as he rifled through the med kit, “more than we could get away with if you were human.”
“There are a couple that are way too deep for that though,” Dean said. He looked at the gaping wounds in Cas’ thigh and shoulder. Sam was right. Most were shallow enough for the strips, though. Obviously Crowley had been going for pain more than damage.
Dean was going to kill Crowley extra slow for this.
“Almost,” Cas said. He groaned and rolled over.
Dean knew he didn’t remember seeing any marks on Cas’ back. The skin was completely unblemished, and that was actually making it a bit difficult to stay on-task at the moment. “What are we looking for?”
“Of course.” Cas sighed. “You would not be able to see. It is not of import.”
Something brushed against Dean’s arm. Something soft.
“He did something to your wings?” That just really offended Dean on a level he couldn’t even describe. He wasn’t sure if it was the fact Crowley had somehow harmed Cas’ wings or just the fact he’d been able to. “That’s of import, Cas. What did he do to them?”
Dean’s anger dialed down a half a notch at that, but it was still pretty high up there.
“But the way he bound me on that table, and the sigils he used to do so, meant they were crushed.” Cas paused. “I am unable to groom them myself to remove the damaged feathers. New ones will not be able to replace them until the old are removed.”
“Oh.” Dean swallowed. “Oh.”
Sam, meanwhile, had been gathering up the mess of used sutures and washcloths. He caught Dean’s eyes, nodded at the door, and left to get rid of it all.
“How do I help?” Dean asked once they were alone.
“If you … comb your fingers through my feathers, you should be able to feel which ones are damaged,” Cas said. “Some will probably just come away on their own. Others may need to be pulled.”
“Isn’t that going to hurt?”
“Awesome.” Dean frowned.
He reached out blindly to where he thought the end of Cas’ wing might be but just got a handful of air. Trying again, he aimed closer to Cas’ shoulder blade, and this time he felt feathers under his fingertips.
“Am I hurting you already?”
Dean wasn’t buying it, but what else could he really do? Curling his hand into a loose claw, he carefully drew his fingers through the soft feathers. One came away, becoming visible as soon as it was loose.
“Nothing just … I guess I can see your feathers when they’re not attached anymore.” Dean turned it over. At first it had looked black, but as it caught the light, he could see glints of just about every color imaginable. “What should I do with it?”
“That is useful. It will be easier to keep track of them,” Cas said. “Just find somewhere to set them for now. You and Sam should keep them here. Angel feathers, even damaged ones, can be very useful for a number of spells.”
Of course they could. Dean wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but it didn’t really matter. He picked a spot on his nightstand, moving the picture of his mom a little so that he could place this feather and any others in front of her. That, at least, felt right.
Soon, Dean found himself getting into a rhythm. Comb, comb, comb, feather, comb, comb, comb, pull. The pile in front of Mary’s picture grew, and when Dean switched to the other wing, he brought the picture and pile to the other side of the bed with him. When he reached the tip of the second wing, he was almost disappointed to be done.
“I think that’s it, Cas,” he said. “Cas?”
The angel didn’t reply. His breathing, however, was slow and visible in a way Dean hadn’t seen since the Apocalypse, the last time he knew of that Cas had slept.
“Goddamn Crowley really did damage your Grace,” Dean muttered.
Carefully, he guided the end of the wing he’d been working on back towards Cas’ body. It went easily, so at least he didn’t seem to be bending it the wrong way or anything. Walking around the bed, Dean kept his hands out in front of him to find the other, but it seemed either Cas had folded it in before or else when one wing folded so did the other. Who knew how this crap worked? The main thing was it wasn’t just hanging out there to get walked into or whatever.
Dean ran his hands gently down both wings from Cas’ shoulders to be sure. Yup. Both tucked in. With that thought, he grabbed a blanket out of the closet and draped it over Cas’ sleeping form. He flicked off the bedside light, and, before he could think better of it, pressed a kiss to Cas’ hair and whispered, “Rest up and get better, okay?”
It would be very tempting to just stay and watch him sleep. Creepy, as he’d pointed out to Cas himself plenty of times, but tempting. And unlike any of the times they’d had that argument in some cheap motel, there was no justifying it as Cas needing to be guarded as he slept, because if anything managed to get into the bunker, there wasn’t much chance Dean was going to be able to stop it.
He turned off the last light as he left, stealing one last look at Cas sleeping peacefully in his bed, Dean’s mom’s picture watching over the damaged feathers on the bedside. A trick of the shadows made it look like Cas was smiling. Even if it was just an illusion, it made Dean feel a little better.
He closed the door quietly and leaned against it for a minute, closing his eyes and basically getting his shit together before going to wash up and join Sam. Too many thoughts rattled around in his head. Way too many. The only two that mattered, though, were getting Cas better, and then killing Crowley slowly and painfully. With that resolved, he pushed off the door and went to get cleaned up.