It had been a couple days since Gabriel had officially moved into the bunker with them, finally agreeing to assist them with their mission to the apocalypse world. Castiel still thought it was surreal seeing his older brother again. He had mixed feelings, definitely, but over all, he was happy to see Gabriel alive. And even better that he was on their side.
So yes, Gabriel was alive, but to say his brother was okay would be a vast misjudgment. Gabriel was jumpy, and sometimes he would space out for a while. Castiel didn't know all the details of what he had gone through as Asmodeus' prisoner—he'd been much more graphic with his descriptions of his time in Monte Carlo—but he knew it was bad. And having his grace continually siphoned off had left it scarred and frayed. It hurt Castiel to look at it.
But his grace wasn't the only thing scarred and frayed about Gabriel. The other night Castiel had found several feathers on the floor, and not his. They were golden, and when he picked them up, he felt Gabriel's essence in them. As he studied them though, he saw they were dull, rough, and dry, the barbs sticking together badly. They were feathers in need of care. Much like Castiel's own.
He bit his lip. He wanted to offer Gabriel help with his wings, knowing his brother had been imprisoned for years with no one to help him and he knew from experience just how uncomfortable that was. But he didn't know how Gabriel would take it; he might be offended if a lower angel like Castiel suggested he needed help with his wings.
On the other hand, he knew Gabriel wouldn't ask—he was too proud for that and just as stubborn about his health as the Winchesters. But Castiel could clearly see the wispy outlines of Gabriel's wings when he snuck peeks at his brother's true form to judge his healing. His wings looked terrible, and Castiel found that he couldn't in good conscious leave his brother to suffer like that.
The Winchesters were out and Gabriel was currently in his room and Castiel decided that now was the time to approach the subject if he was ever going to.
He knocked on the door.
"Yeah?" Gabriel's voice from inside.
"It's Castiel," he said. "Can I come in?"
There was a slight pause, then a, "Sure."
Castiel opened the door and came into the room to see Gabriel setting a magazine aside and throwing his legs over the side of the bed. "Need something?"
Castiel shifted slightly, then decided the best way was the direct approach. He reached into his pocket and held up the feather he had found. "Gabriel, I just…I saw how rough your wings look. I wanted to know if you…" He hesitated at the glare his older brother was sending him, his face shutting down slightly as his body stiffened. "…if you needed help," he finished lamely.
Gabriel hunched forward over his knees. "I'm fine," he murmured.
"No, you're not," Castiel said softly. "You're hurting, and it's very uncomfortable to have your wings in a disarray for that long. You haven't had anyone to help you take care of them and with your grace so low—"
Gabriel was on his feet in an instant, finger waving under Castiel's nose. "Stay out of my business! Okay?"
"Gabriel I'm just trying to help," Castiel almost pleaded. "I know what you went through was bad, but you don't have to suffer alone anymore."
Gabriel had turned his back to him, his shoulders tense. Castiel hadn't really broached the subject with Gabriel about his imprisonment. Yes, his brother had gotten his revenge on Loki and his children, but it hadn't seemed to do all that much for him. Revenge rarely did.
What he finally did say was not what Castiel had expected.
"I can see yours too, you know," he said.
Castiel subconsciously shifted his wings closer to his body on the ethereal plane, even that small movement sending a twinge through them. "What do you mean?" he asked, pretending he didn't know well enough.
Gabriel huffed and finally turned back around, gesturing behind Castiel's shoulder. "Come on, Cas. Your wings are trashed. If you wanted help with them, all you had to do was ask."
Castiel glowered at him, indignation clutching at his chest. "That's not what I was attempting here, Gabriel. I just wanted to help you."
"Well, tough," Gabriel said, folding his arms over his chest. "Because it's quid pro quo or nothing. Your wings are in way worse condition than mine and there's no way I'm letting you help me if you're too stupid to even accept help for yourself."
Surprise washed over Castiel at this turn in the conversation. "I don't…"
"I wanted to broach the subject with you the whole time I've been here, since I first took a look at your true form to see just how much grace you'd lost." Castiel felt self-conscious, but couldn't blame his brother; he had obviously done the same. "I just didn't want to damage your obvious pride."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Castiel demanded, suddenly angry.
Gabriel chuckled. "Woo, that's exactly it. You don't think anything can touch you so you hide all your discomforts so no one knows you're not nearly as strong as they think you are. To save face. Tell me I'm wrong."
"You are wrong!" Castiel said, his hands clenching into fists. "Yes, I hide injuries, but I can't do anything about my wings, and it wouldn't make a difference. The truth is that I hide it because I don't want the Winchesters to see how bad off they are. Most of the damage was done getting them out of Hell and the rest was when I fell, knowing how much pain my wings give me would only be a burden to them. It's the one thing I can hide from them so as not to add to their guilt."
He couldn't believe he had actually said that out loud. It may have been one of the truest things he had ever said. He looked sheepishly at Gabriel who was staring at him with wide eyes, obviously shocked he had said so much too. Then he closed his mouth and his gaze softened. He stepped forward and put a hand on Castiel's shoulder. It was an old gesture, not nearly as familiar as the old days, but it still felt good.
"Cassie, you're not a burden to me," he said softly. "Now, there's not much I can do with my grace so low, but I can still take care of a stubborn angel's wings."
Castiel let out a sigh and had to smile slightly. "Fine. But let me take care of yours first. Deal's a deal."
Gabriel rolled his eyes, but nodded. "Fine."
Castiel waited while Gabriel almost reluctantly pulled his shirt off, and Castiel saw why as pale skin and scars were revealed. He pretended not to notice and let Gabriel get situated, sitting cross-legged in the center of the bed before he closed his eyes, rolled his shoulders, and manifested his wings onto the corporeal plane.
He winced slightly as he did so, and stretched the wings a bit.
"Cramped," he said.
Castiel refrained from making sound as he saw the actual state his brother's wings were in. It was more than just untended feathers, some of them were crooked, others were broken, and there were patches where some of his primaries were gone all together. Gabriel glanced over his shoulder sheepishly before he could ask.
"It's been a rough few years," he said. "Asmodeus didn't exactly start by stealing my grace."
Castiel swallowed hard, gently settling his hand on the arm of one of his brother's wings. "Gabriel, I'm sorry," he whispered.
Gabriel shrugged. "Can't change it," he said but the tenseness in his body told how much the old hurts still bothered him. Castiel knew from experience that you didn't just get over torture, especially when it was prolonged like that.
He started in, the familiar movements coming back to him as he ran his fingers through the ruffled feathers, dislodging all the loose ones, and pulling others that were broken, knowing they caused more pain staying in than coming out. Once that was done, he helped spread the natural oils from Gabriel's wings over his feathers, repairing the ragged barbs and smoothing the feathers. Gabriel was tense at first, but during the actual preening, he finally relaxed, some of the muscles in his back losing their tension.
When Castiel had finally finished, Gabriel pulled his wings around the inspect them.
"Well, it certainly feels better," he said gratefully. "Though some of the feathers are going to have to grow back." He glanced up at Castiel. "Thanks, kiddo. That really did help."
Castiel smiled in relief. "You're welcome."
"Okay then," Gabriel stood and put his wings back onto the ethereal plane, slipping his shirt back on. He gestured to Castiel. "Your turn."
"Gabriel, it's really not necessary," he tried to protest, suddenly ashamed of the state of his wings. Gabriel couldn't see everything when he looked at his true form, just this his wings and his grace were damaged. They would look so much worse on this plane. But the archangel wasn't having that. He folded his arms over his chest and glowered at Castiel.
"Cas," he said firmly. "On the bed, wings out—now."
Castiel glowered back, but sighed and quickly stripped to the waist and sat down with his back to Gabriel. He closed his eyes. It took a moment but he was finally able to pull his wings from the ethereal plane.
Agony crashed over him and he couldn't help but gasp, folding over his knees.
"Cas?" Gabriel's hand was on his shoulder, keeping him steady.
"I'm…I'm okay," Castiel tried, but his wings trembled, barely able to hold the weight of the few feathers left.
"No, you're not," Gabriel muttered and to Castiel's shame, he turned and started to inspect his wings. "Damn, Cassie," his fingers grazed across the right one which had been broken and poorly healed. Castiel flinched and bit back a yelp and Gabriel snatched his hand away, coming around to face him with a furious expression.
"How come you never told anyone about this?" he demanded. "There was really no one to help you? Surely Rocky and Bullwinkle would have helped you if you'd asked!"
Castiel ducked his head. They probably would have. That was the worst part of it. It was his choice not to tell Sam and Dean how bad off he was. They knew he couldn't fly just like the other angels, because of the Fall, but he was sure they didn't know why exactly none of them could fly. That it was because their wings had been burned away, broken, and Castiel's had been bad off before that. The damage they had taken from the Hellfire would never truly heal and his grace being so damaged as well kept him from growing any new feathers in. He just hadn't wanted them to know how badly he was hurt. How he would probably never heal fully.
Gabriel growled at his silence and threw his hands up. "I don't really even know where to begin with this."
Castiel took a deep breath. "Maybe taking out the loose and broken feathers. It's…been a while since I did that." He had a long time ago. He usually left them for the Winchesters when they needed spells that called for angel feathers, but he hadn't even wanted to touch his wings for a long time. They just hurt too much.
Gabriel let out a long sigh and started to work. Castiel bit his lip, trying to keep silent at his brother's ministrations. He could tell Gabriel was being as gentle as possible but Castiel's wings were so sensitive that any touch was painful. Eventually, he was unable to help crying out as Gabriel was forced to pluck several broken feathers. He was very glad the Winchesters were gone.
"I think you're missing more feathers than you have" Gabriel said, only half in jest. "I'll see what I can do about repairing the ones left. But first…" His hand went back to the broken wing and Castiel tensed. "Let me see what I can do for this."
"Gabriel—" Castiel tried to protest but he could already feel Gabriel's grace flooding into his own. The area around the old break in his wing was warm, and then there was a grating pain and he cried out, doubling over, but in another second the pain was gone. Gabriel was leaning against the bed, one hand on his shoulder and breathing heavily. Castiel turned and gripped his brother's arm.
"Gabriel, are you okay? You should not have taxed yourself like that."
Gabriel shook himself and grinned. "I'm good. How does the wing feel?"
Castiel shifted it, bracing for the familiar pain, but it never came. His wings were still a little sensitive, from the rest of the injuries, yes, but the dull, constant ache from the poorly healed bone had stopped.
"It…it feels really good," he said, a lump suddenly forming in his throat. "Thank you."
"Well, don't thank me yet," Gabriel told him. "I'm still not done and your feathers are dry as dust." He started to run his fingers through Castiel's feathers and they scraped roughly. "Your oil glands are clogged, little bro, no wonder your feathers are so bad off."
"Oh," Castiel said sheepishly. He hadn't noticed. Obviously it had been years since he had groomed his wings very well, and even longer since someone else had done it properly for him. He winced as Gabriel prodded the glands to no success and then went to get a warm cloth to try and unclog them. It took a while, and it was a painful process for Castiel but eventually they were properly distributing oil again and Gabriel was able to start in on his feathers.
By then, most of the pain was gone and now it was just the familiar, comforting feeling of an older sibling smoothing his feathers and repairing the ragged barbs. Memories of being a fledgling flooded back—curled up in a nest with his brothers and sisters while Gabriel or one of the other older angels preened their first feathers while they dozed off in comforting rest.
He didn't realize he was sagging now until he heard Gabriel chuckle, which caused him to start, somewhat embarrassed.
"This always did knock you out. Your wings feeling better now?"
Castiel nodded, trying to drag his eyes back open. "Yes."
Gabriel patted the pillows. "You can lay down and rest while I finish. I've still got most of this wing left."
"I was supposed to be taking care of you," Castiel murmured but even as he protested, he slid down onto his stomach, clutching a pillow under his chest and resting his chin on it as Gabriel continued.
"Yeah, well, someone needs to take care of you too, from the looks of it, Cas," Gabriel said fondly, ruffling his hair. Castiel frowned slightly but that too was familiar, if not still just as annoying as it had been thousands of years ago, before there was any talk of an apocalypse, when they were all still just a family. But Castiel had a new family now, and he was extremely glad that he could welcome one of his most beloved older brothers into it.
"I'm glad you're back," he said softly, already half-asleep.
There was a long pause, and he wasn't sure Gabriel had heard him, but then the archangel said, "I'm glad to be back, kiddo."
And then Castiel finally allowed himself to drift off to the comforting ministrations of his older brother.