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The Care and Keeping of Wings

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Dean doesn't really talk about it much, and by much Sam means never. It's not exactly surprising: Dean's never really been a touchy-feely, open with his emotions kind of guy. Still, it's pretty obvious he notices.

More than that, it's pretty obvious he hasn't got a clue what to do about it.

Sometimes Sam thinks he's just so happy to have Cas back--not that he'd ever admit it, of course--that he's chosen to ignore the more obvious changes in Cas'... well, in Cas. And to be fair, this Cas is a hell of an improvement over crazy Cas, and he's certainly better than Leviathan Cas, or Cas when he was trying out for the part of God, so maybe Dean's got it right when he says they shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.

But to be honest, Sam's having a bit of a hard time adjusting.

He thinks maybe it's this whole situation. Things have been a little... tense since Dean got back from Purgatory. Not that Sam blames him, it's just that they hadn't quite found their footing and now this? It's all a bit... strange, and for them that's saying something.

Also, it's really fucking hard not to stare at them.

Sam's not the only one. He catches Dean staring at Castiel's newly manifested wings at least ten times a day--and he's not even sharing a room with them anymore, so who knows how many times it happens out of his eyesight. It probably wouldn't be so bad if it was just them, but the whole fucking world can now see Cas' wings, and it's not exactly making their job any easier. Hunters are supposed to be inconspicuous. They're supposed to slip in and out, do the job and hope no one notices the weird-ass stuff going on in their community. They aren't supposed to draw attention, including every tabloid reporter and religious nut-job within a fifty mile radius of wherever the fuck they happen to be staying at the time.

But that's what's happening. Even now, Impala barrelling down the highway, every car they pass ends in a flash of taillights, cars swerving all over the road when their drivers catch a glimpse of who's riding in Dean's backseat. They're one rush hour away from causing a massive pileup.

The thing is, they don't even get questions. People just seem to know. Sam has lost track of the number of people who have asked to pet Cas' wings on the hope that they might cure some ailment. He's not even sure what's worse: the fact that Cas seems perfectly willing to let them do it, or the fact that Dean explodes in a fit of jealous rage every time they do.

He really wishes that was the worst of it. It's not.

He has no idea why Cas came back from his stint in Purgatory with fully visible, at times massively inconvenient wings. Don't get him wrong, they're kind of cool--Dean certainly seems to think so if his obsessive staring and lip licking is any indication--but it's hard to get past the problems they cause. And no, he's not talking about the talk show offers pouring in by the minute--and where the fuck did they get Cas' cell number anyway?--nor is he talking about how hard it is to fit Cas in the Impala these days. He's talking about basic things, like grooming, because apparently angels need to groom, which he somehow missed before, probably because a) Cas' wings were previously invisible to the human eye and b) Cas used to spend a lot of time off on his own doing God-only-knew-what, which apparently included grooming his wings.

Angel wings require a lot of maintenance, which okay, Sam can deal with that, just like he can deal with Cas preening every time he catches Dean looking, like he's some showy peacock about to puff up his tail, and just like he can deal with Dean staring at Cas' wings like he kind of wants to take them for a ride--and Sam clenches down on that thought before it can fully form. What he can't deal with is the fact that no one--no one--seems bothered by their new routine, which includes a hell of a lot of stopping so that Cas can do whatever it is he's got to do to keep his wings in good flying--looking?--condition.

And Sam honestly doesn't want to know--has gone out of his way not to find out. It feels a little... invasive, watching Cas do his grooming thing, personal in a way that heats Sam's cheeks and makes him want to duck out of the room, or car, or side of the road, or wherever the fuck they happen to be when this... need strikes.

Dean has no such compunction. He seems fascinated by the proceedings, including that one time when Cas licked the ends of his feathers like a giant cat washing the tip of its tail. Sam still has nightmares about that one.

"We should pull over, this is the appropriate kind of dirt," Cas says from the backseat--and did Sam mention he barely fits back there? Because he doesn't. He's crammed into the middle and hunched forward with wing spilling everywhere, both of them half folded so that they don't inch into the front seat--except the one on Dean's side where Cas is very purposefully brushing feather tips against the back of Dean's neck and Sam really, really doesn't want to see this.

And damn it, Dean doesn't even argue--doesn't even ask the most pressing question of all, which is appropriate kind of dirt for what? He just pulls over, soft smile still tugging at his mouth--it seems permanent these days--and glances at Cas in the rear view mirror, gaze skating across the arch of Cas' half-folded wings.

Sam tries very hard not to make gagging noises. It's probably a good thing he loves his brother, and is happy for him, and is no longer twelve.

"Thank you, Dean," Cas says, and then disappears. It's freaky as hell watching it happen when the wings are visible, because they actually move, vibrating and shifting like the horizon during a heat wave. And then Cas is gone and when Sam glances out the driver's side window, he spots him walking towards a dry and barren patch of earth.

Dean climbs out of the car.

Sam hesitates for half a heartbeat before his curiosity gets the better of him. He's pretty sure that's what's going to kill him someday.

To his surprise, Dean doesn't follow Cas out into the field. Instead he climbs onto the hood of the car and leans back so that he's half reclined in the sun, half poised for battle, his eyes never once leaving Cas. He seems expectant, but curious, too, like he's not entirely sure what this is about. Sam hesitates again--though mostly because he's starting to worry he's not going to like where this is heading--and then claims a seat at Dean's side.

"Do you have any idea what we're doing here?" he asks, because they're supposed to be on a hunt, vampires or zombies or maybe a wendigo--he honestly doesn't care anymore, the days blurring together until he's long since lost count of the things he's killed.

Dean gives an effortless shrug, like he couldn't care less, the weight of the last year--few years if he's honest--having lifted with Cas' return. Sam has no idea how they managed to patch whatever the fuck needed patching, but he's rather glad they have. He likes his brother happy. His brother deserves to be happy.

Not that it answers his question, but then, it doesn't take long for the purpose of their stop to become glaringly obvious--and by glaringly he means glaringly to them, because he's pretty sure anyone else seeing this would probably assume Cas had lost his mind, again.

"Is he...?" Sam gets out before he's rendered speechless by the sight of Castiel falling first to his knees, and then to his belly, before rolling onto his back to squiggle around in the dry dirt.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Dean cock his head.

"Huh," Dean says.

And that about sums it up, because Sam has seen Cas brush his wings, and comb his wings, and run a cloth over his wings, and pull stray feathers from his wings, and, on one nightmare inducing occasion, lick his wings, but this marks the first time he has seen Cas dusting his wings.

In the dirt. In a drought-dry field off the side of the I80.

It goes on for a really long time, Cas rolling about, enormous black wings stretched out to their full length--and Sam swears his wingspan has got to be something like twenty-damned-feet--a cloud of dust rising up around him.

He seems oblivious to the fact that he is now completely, all-over covered in dirt, his wings having lost their sheen, his coat about as dirty as the one he wore out of Purgatory. He also seems oblivious to the blissed-out expression he's currently wearing, the one Sam suspects only Dean has seen before now. Sam's not even going to comment on what the display is doing to Dean, who's now leaning forward, hands braced around his knees, knuckles white while he stares at Cas with open mouth and blown pupils.

God, the things he wished he didn't know about his brother. He's starting to feel like he's intruding again, like maybe he ought to give them some privacy, except they're in the middle of nowhere without so much as a tree to hide behind, so there's really nowhere to go.

Also, they've attracted an audience now, several cars slowing and then stopping to watch the much rumoured, highly speculated upon angel taking a dust bath, so even if Sam did leave, Dean and Cas would hardly be alone.

Sam's not certain Dean would care at this point. He's starting to think Cas' wing manifestation came with some kind of freaky angel pheromone thing that only affects Dean--thank God.

The situation starts getting twitchy when the first of the gawkers gets out of their car, camera in hand. Sam tenses, not entirely sure either Cas or Dean has noticed--Cas is still too busy rolling in the dirt and Dean seems set on watching Cas do it, like maybe this isn't as much about wing grooming as it is some strange courtship/mating-dance/ritual thing that Sam doesn't really want to know about, thank you very much.

That unfortunately leaves security to him, so he slips from the trunk and approaches the probably very lovely couple who are wearing matching Cedar Rapids t-shirts, like it's a place people actually go for non-hunting related reasons, and clears his throat.

They turn to look at him, startled.

"Sorry, no flash photography," he says, because he's just spent the last twenty minutes watching an angel roll around in the dirt while his brother probably--and oh god he really doesn't want to know--got off on it, so he's really not exactly on his best game at the moment.

They stare at him, unblinking.

Sam tries again. "Get back into your car and leave." He punctuates this by pulling out a badge--it doesn't even matter which one, though when he glances at his hand he's somewhat pleased to note it reads FBI. The couple's eyes grow wide. They scamper back to their car. The car directly before theirs takes off, too. No one else seems to be getting out, though he can tell they're still watching. Cas' little display is probably all over YouTube by now. Hell, it's probably trending on Twitter.

He can't see any universe in which this doesn't turn out badly, which is probably a sign he ought to break up Cas' little... indulgence, and get them back on the road. After all, they do have something in need of killing, he thinks--hopes.

To his surprise, when he turns around, Cas is no longer rolling around on the ground. He's standing beside the Impala, looking filthy and entirely too pleased with himself. That's not what trips Sam up. No, what trips Sam up is Dean, who instead of looking glazed and horny--his natural state around Cas these days--looks pissed, like Cas has just ripped out his heart and torn it to shreds, again.

Sam kind of sort of hates his life sometimes--read often.

More cars are stopping, because Cas might not be in the midst of a dust bath at the moment, but that doesn't mean the sight of an angel standing at the side of the road doesn't draw attention. It's pretty much a sign Sam needs to interfere, and quickly. He dashes to Dean's side.

Just in time to hear, "No way. Absolutely not. Everyone has their limit, Cas, and this is mine."

"I don't understand. Why did we stop if you're not going to allow me back into the car?"

Suddenly Sam has a pretty good idea of what they're fighting about.

"You are not, and I repeat, not getting dirt all over my baby. The rules of the car are simple: driver picks the music, no dogs, and no dirty angel wings. Got it?"

It's somewhat shocking to actually hear Dean acknowledge the wings. Sam wonders just how much he's missed, if maybe he's the only one thinking the subject is off limits.

Cas, who seems a little miffed by the whole thing, but also kind of dejected in a way that makes Sam feel like he just kicked a dog--when he didn't even do anything--puffs up his wings in defiance. A cloud of dust rains down upon them. Dean glares. Sam stifles a cough. Cas' expression turns crestfallen.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize it would be a problem." He glances down at his coat, no longer tan, but a muddy brown.

Sam watches, holding his breath even though he knows it makes him all kinds of a hopeless romantic. He can't really help it. He's been watching this whole... relationship unfold for the better part of years and, besides, he knows his brother better than anyone. Dean might hide a lot of things from the world, and himself, but he can't hide from Sam. Sam knows his brother in love when he sees it, even if it is the first time.

Dean's face twitches.

"Fine," Dean says. "But just this once and we are not making a habit of it."

Sam wonders if this is a sign he might get Dean to ease off on the whole dog rule. Probably not.

Cas, who's been beaming pretty much from the moment he got back and discovered Dean was relieved and happy to see him, beams even brighter. The expression makes Dean go a little soft around the edges, his smile getting a little wobbly and his eyes a bit misty until Sam once again feels like he's intruding. He coughs, once and politely, partly because he doesn't want to see them kiss--oh god, he doesn't want to see them anything--but also because there are still cars stopping and someone has an honest-to-god camcorder--and really, who still buys those things?--sticking out a window and can they just get on with it?

Cas and Dean turn to stare at him in unison.

"Um, we should probably," he says, gesturing over his shoulder, to where a tour bus is now pulling off to the side of the road.

"Yeah," Dean says, looking both surprised and alarmed by their audience. It strikes Sam then that he was honestly so distracted by Cas that he didn't notice. That's... alarming. Cute, and something he's definitely going to make fun of Dean for at some point, but alarming.

Cas, who seems unfazed by the entire thing, puffs up his wings again--Sam watches Dean track their movement--and gives them a shake. This time the displaced dust somehow ends up somewhere other than all over them, and when Sam blinks he finds Cas more or less clean, save for the dusting of dirt still coating his wings. Dean gives Cas a look that Sam can't quite bring himself to examine, and then smiles like he's won some kind of private victory. He turns and climbs into the car. Cas disappears. Sam has no doubt he's already getting comfortable--well, as comfortable as the wings will allow--in the backseat.

It gives Sam a minute to catch his breath, which he hadn't realized needed catching. He glances back to the road, where the tour bus is now cheerfully parked amidst a line a cars, and then to the field, where the dirt equivalent of a snow angel is spread across the ground. He's fairly certain, when they leave, that the people in the bus are going to get out and take pictures of it. Sam shakes his head, and then circles around the car until he can climb into the passenger side. Dean's already got the music blaring, and Cas is sprawled across the backseat, looking decidedly content.

Dust baths, Sam thinks. Who knew? Just another random curiosity in the list of curiosities that is their life, he supposes. It could also be worse, he thinks, much worse, so he's going to, for perhaps the first time in his life, take a page out of the book of Dean.

Cas is back, and Dean is happy, so Sam's not going to look this gift horse in the mouth.