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cut throat: an imperative

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Say what you will about Metatron, but at least when he cuts Cas's grace out of his throat, he heals the wound before flinging him back to Earth.

Cas doesn't see it until several days after the fact, while washing his face in a McDonald's bathroom. There's too much going on: sky falling, hitchhiking, figuring out how a payphone works and then trying to figure out what Dean's directions actually mean once the call finally goes through.

Everything is painful—that just seems to be the norm, so he can't pay it any more specific mind when there were so many senses to field. Humanity has been such an ordeal that Cas hasn't gotten to figuring out what feelings come from where yet—he barely has a handle on the difference between exhaustion and hunger, though thirst, at least, he knows.

As he's watching his reflection, though, one of those feelings becomes abundantly pinpointable. Mapped onto the—his—body. Just as Cas is reaching up to touch the scar, this feeling zaps through him, like being struck by very small lightning or hot needles. Now that he's paying attention, he knows the feeling comes from this scar: this bundle of fresh skin, taut across his neck. It strikes again, then again, charting across the tender flesh.

That's when he sees the scar.

Angel grace, manifested on the physical plane, burns human skin. That's what Cas used to do when he smote demons and the like, burning their twisted souls from the human bodies they commandeered by channeling his grace through them, not inhabiting but cleansing, fiery Heavenly wrath. That's what he also accidentally did when setting Dean back in his healed body, when they first met. That's what healing was, even, though that was a more contained reaction, reined in and balanced, like... laser eye surgery. Cas has seen ads for that on TV. It sounds similar enough. Cauterizing.

But most of the time, it burns.

When Metatron slit Cas's throat, it was with a clean cut by an angel blade. It was in Heaven, technically, but Heaven is different these days (was even before Metatron cast everyone out, since Cas whittled down the population in a revolutionary haze) and permeably physical. It was Cas's physical body that had been dragged up there, and so his physical throat cut. It was Cas's body, even then, though not the same way it is now. Still, it was his and his alone. His grace holding it together.

(What holds it together now, Cas doesn't want to think about. There are some theological conceits he's unwilling to question, even now.)

Metatron cut him with the real blade, real blood spilling into the cosmicparticlewave plane of Heaven, and it burned. Cas feels the remnants of it now as he stares at his smudged reflection, the peaks of mishealed skin fading from red to pink like spiking audio waveforms. Cas was a waveform once. Now, his only similarity is this brand.

Still, it's an oddly neat scar, though the tail end, right where Metatron drew his healing touch away with a flourish, is a bit more raised. The cut itself at the center is exact, almost surgical, a level line above and below which the messy, half-healed burns spread. It's nothing like the crooked collection Dean is so proud of having, each scar winding like the stories that accompany them, rising like the tension of the plot. The pink skin around it is like that, roughshod and haphazardly healed by a human body, but the cut itself is unmistakably deliberate: far too straight to be an accident. It looks like someone held him down and slit his throat, and he did nothing to stop them—and then, for his trouble, they didn't even bother to stitch him up properly, leaving that asymmetrical lump at the end like the blot of a pen that doesn't know how to finish a sentence.

Which is basically what happened.

Cas tries not to think about it. It's easy for a while; humanity is very time and energy consuming. He notices, sometimes, that he gets looks when the collar of his shirt sags with unwashing, sideways glances when he changes at the shelter and other people catch glimpses of this strangely neat, strangely placed scar, but Cas gets a lot of looks anyway. Even being human, he's not good at acting like it. Looking like the almost-victim of a garroting is the least of his oddities. As long as he doesn't pass a mirror, though, he doesn't have to think about it. Doesn't have to confront the reminder and all it symbolizes quiet explicitly.

(Sometimes he has dreams about how it should have felt, if he had already been human. The slick of blood down the front of his body, the heat of it that he knows now from being chased by those who wish he'd at least felt a little of the pain for what he did. He smells the blood. He wakes up feeling the air leaking out of him from a cut too deep, unable to scream.)

When Sam and Dean find him and take him home, Cas becomes more aware of it. He has to explain, which does little to soothe Dean's worried looks, or even Sam's pitying expression when he gets caught off-guard and remembers.

Sam's sympathy is material; he gifts Cas a jar of something one night after dinner, saying simply, "This stuff works. Trust me." Cas reads the label, worn with use, and applies it dutifully to the scar every night until it's empty. Sam gets him another of his own.

Dean is more complicated. He always is.

He tries to crack jokes: the garroting thing was his line, as well as a reference to some movie Cas has never seen but that apparently has someone with distinctive scars that also draws attention and thus prompts them to ask (in an accent he's not sure if Dean is exaggerating or not) whether people want to know how they got them. He doesn't like to look at it—it makes Cas feel small until he mentions it one day and Dean kisses him impulsively before explaining that it just reminds him of how he couldn't protect Cas. He doesn't mind it so much then.

Some days, though, he does. Some days, Cas goes out of his way to never pass a mirror, wears the hoodie Dean gave him that comes all the way up to his chin when he pulls at the back of it. Those are the days that he flinches from Dean's gentlest touches when they come anywhere near his neck, only feeling the burning pressure of Metatron's palm. Those are the days that he won't come into Dean's bed until the lights are out, or locks himself in his own room, unseen, alone, and wakes up unable to speak around the burning feeling, the whitelight of grace in his eyes: burning out of his own throat, through the sky as his siblings were thrown out because of him, through eyes as his siblings died on his blade.

Some of those days, though, when he wakes up, it's to Dean's precious face, wrinkled with sympathy as he wakes Cas with a light but solid hand on his arm. Some of those days he eats breakfast and goes back to his room to find a high-necked sweater folded loosely on his bed with a note from Sam that it "didn't fit him anymore," a very weak excuse as Cas has never seen him wear a sweater in his life. And always, eventually, he's able to fall asleep holding Dean close, tucked safely under his chin, and not flinch when Dean instinctively presses closer in his sleep.

Cas is woken on one of those nights by a more common and irritating human flaw. Still mostly asleep, Dean sighs against Cas's throat, mouthing something inaudible. Rather than argue, Cas starts trying to lever Dean onto the empty side of the mattress. Dean, predictably, revolts.

"Quit movin'..." comes out slightly more legible this time, paired as it is with the arms around his ribs tightening. It would be nice, if it weren't for how Dean's knee is on his bladder.

"Bathroom."

"Mmrgph." Dean's chin digs into Cas's shoulders. "Shhh."

It's as endearing as it is annoying. "Dean."

"Ugh."

Thus relinquished, Cas escapes into the cruelty of cold concrete on bare feet. Sensations of all kinds are worse in the middle of the night, he's learned, no matter how illogical it is. They just are, so he keeps his eyes squinted against the hallway fluorescents, shutting them fully when he turns on the bathroom light on autopilot.

He turns them off again, but it's too late, his night vision is ruined, so he begrudgingly flips the switch again. Human reflexes are never what Cas wants them to be. The image of himself in the mirror is burned into his eyes as he urinates (again). The perpetual circles under his eyes are dark, but the mark at his throat stands out more, angry red. It hasn't seemed to fade, but he still uses the cream Sam gave him.

Cas reminds himself it's always worse in the fluorescent light. He reminds himself the burning feeling that jolts through him then is the nerves reconnecting, not grace pouring out again and again. He reminds himself of what the magazine article Sam sent him said about bodies not reflecting the moral value of the person within. He reminds himself of what Dean said that morning about how "chicks aren't the only ones who dig scars," and what Dean said later, the two of them alone, about how he loves Cas the way he is. He reminds himself, tries to believe it, and turns off the light before he washes his hands.

When he gets back, Dean is right where Cas left him, draped over the spot where Cas was as if there's still someone there to lie on. Cas lifts his dead weight arm like a blanket to crawl under. Lying on top of the actual blankets, Cas watches Dean's face go from deep sleep slack to just aware enough to recognize Cas's warmth.

"Where'dyago."

Cas shushes him and Dean accepts this as answer enough, tucking back under Cas's chin. Still not awake, he kisses Cas there, right on the rough end of his scar.

"Night, dude."

The clock says nine. Above them, the sun has invariably risen, but in the bunker, in their bed, it's dark. For once, Cas doesn't think he would mind the light, but he likes it down here anyway. "Goodnight, Dean."