It is not just like riding a bike.
Before today, Castiel had nothing to compare it to. Now, he knows to be an irrefutable fact that this slow realignment of himself, stinging and foreign and shocking and slow, has nothing in common with piloting a two-wheeled vehicle down a treacherous country road.
It happens sometime that afternoon, after Crowley left the Winchesters blinking and dumbfounded in their secluded cabin. After formulating their best guess at a plan (sit and wait until they think of the next step), Dean grumbles “Screw this,” and slams the door behind him as he takes a beer out to the driveway. Sam tsks under his breath and pulls out his laptop, then sets to trying to get a decent wireless signal in the middle of nowhere. Meg puts her feet up, files her nails, and drawls something that Castiel probably doesn't understand, and Castiel himself, well...
The encounter with Crowley has shaken him, and he thumbs idly at the sticky plastic satchel of honey in his lap. There's nothing to be done about it, of course—not about Crowley, not about Dick Roman, not about the garrison, and particularly not about his own monumental mistakes. So Cas puts most of his focus into pushing all of that down, freeing up space for the lighter things to rise to the surface. There aren't many, but there are some... like the bees. That's better.
Sam mumbles something about some papers in the car, and excuses himself to the driveway. Castiel stays put, watching his best-formed thoughts as they flutter lazily past, as always ignoring the constant whirring of their more primal cousins beneath. He prefers it this way, Castiel thinks. Things are easier to see, and time slides past in strange intervals. Castiel has forgotten to notice how long Sam has been out in the driveway when he hears the first shouts.
Castiel draws a slow, careful breath, gathering his scarce thoughts in case they'll be needed to keep the peace or to protect his friends. If any good they could be. He straightens, stands, tucks the honey safely back into the pocket of his overcoat, and steps through the door and out onto the porch. He blinks in the sunlight as he takes in the bizarre scene before him.
There is no threat, no intrusion, just the Winchesters: hooting and bickering and sending growls of sport or support in the other's direction.
“Good, Sammy. Circles.”
“Shut up, Dean.”
Castiel's brow furrows as he tries to make sense of the scene in the driveway. Dean is looking on, his face fixed in something not quite happy but a far stretch from his usual frown, as Sam steers a rusty old bicycle in tight figure-eights in the gravel. His limbs are too long for the rickety thing, knees and elbows folding comically as he tries to do a tight loop around Dean. Dean shoves at him, trying to upset his balance, but Sam just grabs his brother's arm and shoves him in return.
“Quit it, I just started!”
“Naw, c'mon man! Lemme go again.”
The bicycle is old, even for Castiel's standards. It's rusty, filthy, with one warped wheel, weak tires, and a loose, rickety chain. It had clearly been abandoned under the porch long ago. The Winchesters regard their prize with absurd, childlike wonder, even though it should probably have been destroyed for it's own good. Castiel decides he doesn't see what that fuss is about, but when he says so, meekly and with downcast eyes, Sam's distraction gives Dean the upper hand, and he takes the opportunity to tip his brother off balance. Sam panics and dismounts with a clumsy leap, bounding just clear of the frame before it twists and topples into the dust. “Geez, Dean!”
Dean chuckles and takes the handlebars, standing the bicycle back upright. “My turn.”
“That was incredibly rude, Dean.”
“Shut it, Cas, hell! I'm not letting Sammy hog this thing.” Dean remounts, dodging a handful of gravel thrown by his brother. Sam gives up the fight, shrugging his shoulders and grinning up at the porch.
“Pretty cool, huh?”
“Um,” Cas is confused, mostly to see the Winchesters happy over something so trivial, but it's not really his business.
Now Dean is doing loops around the driveway, grinning like Cas hasn't seen in a long time. “C'mon Cas. Pull out your wings, we can race.”
“That would probably be unwise,” Cas blinks at their silliness, “I'd have an unfair advantage...”
Dean kicks at the gravel, dismounting from the bike and letting it fall. “Well, fine, then. You want a go on this?”
Cas looks from Dean to the bike, to Sam, then back to Dean.
Dean sniggers, “Oh, that's right...” before he stifles a peal of laughter, doubling over and trying not to look at Cas.
Sam doesn't get it, anxiously asking “What? Dude, what?” But Dean can barely breathe, instead grimacing, closing his eyes, and gesturing to Cas as he struggles to breathe through the laughter.
“He's never - - junkless - - he can't...”
Sam's jaw drops.
“You've never rode a bike?” he exclaims in wonder, the years dissolving from his face as he addresses Castiel with true, childlike disbelief.
“I've, uh, never had occasion.”
Sam turns to his brother incredulously. Dean, recovered from his laughter, just raises his eyebrows and shrugs. In a few moments they've balanced (a suddenly, very nervous) Castiel on the protesting seat and are flanking him on either side, slowly guiding the teetering bicycle along the driveway as Cas tries to figure out what to do with his limbs. Sam is bossy and supportive (“No, grip the bars here. And keep pedaling...”) while Dean seems equally disinterested and over-protective (“This ain't gonna work, I'm telling you... wait, he's tipping—Cas, WATCH OUT!!”), and eventually, they both seem to decide that faster is better and that the angel would stop toppling over if they got some momentum going. So the brothers each grab one of Castiel's forearms, grip the handlebars, and start running down the gravel road and away from the cabin. This feels far too haphazard and dangerous for Castiel's liking, so he tries to voice his protest with an inarticulate “Ummmmmmmmm...” but it is too late. At some unseen signal (the might of familial bonds?) the brothers let go, and Cas goes rattling down the road, his overcoat whipping in the wind behind him, the hair on his head fluttering in the breeze, and there is nothing to be done but grip the handlebars tight and pray for deliverance.
Cas realizes that his eyes are squeezed shut, and that this is probably not wise. When he opens them they sting in the breeze. But the trees soar past at speeds he's never seen before. Their cabin is very secluded; there are no cars on the road. No one is watching, not from Heaven or Hell or the offices of Dick Roman. He can't go home, he can't go back, he can't forget, and there's nothing to be done. Nothing to be done about any of it. Castiel smiles idly as he he feels the weight of all that nothing become, well, nothing. He takes his feet from the pedals (it's downhill from here, anyway) and lets himself coast...
Until Cas and the bike reach a slight dip in the road and several things happen in quick succession: First Cas tries, unsuccessfully, to navigate the curve, but overcorrects and skids. Then, the hem of his overcoat gets caught in a gear and the wheels stop moving altogether. But instead of letting go, allowing himself to fall off safely to either side, Cas panics and holds on tightly, so that when it looks like the bike will go off the road and down the ravine, so will he... oh no.
Momentum flings him forward, the world turns on its head, and Castiel is flying through the air. As he soars, his thoughts all fly from him, and for that brief moment, Cas is alone. It ends all too quickly.
He feels a definitive crunch as he lands in the brush, his vessel's right arm caught almost entirely beneath him as he gazes up to the sky. Everything is still, save for the gentle breeze that rustles through the trees above. Something blunt and solid is digging into his ribs, just below the shoulder blade. It exerts uncomfortable pressure on his vessel's lungs, and Cas realizes he's forgotten to breathe. A sharp pain stretches across his side as he inhales, and Castiel winces, shifting uncomfortably in the dry leaves. As he moves, he feels a thick, sticky substance spread along his side, and he grimaces sadly. So much for the honey. Once he's relieved some of the pressure, Cas wills the ribs in his chest to reknit, the injuries inside to heal, and he adjusts himself to a more comfortable position on the ground. The honey from the punctured bag keeps dripping to the ground; he can't really help that. The sky is a sharp, piercing blue. The autumn leaves flutter and crunch beneath him, and Castiel can smell water, dead leaves, and dirt. It's very peaceful. He's startled from his reverie by the sound of hurried footsteps in the leaves, and of a familiar voice shouting his name (part of his name, really).
The Winchesters are stumbling down the hill towards him. He blinks stupidly and tries to sit up.
“Oh my God, man...” Dean stammers as he catches the sight of him. He tilts his head to the sky and spins away in repulsion. Sam's eyes grow wide as he stops, just shy of Castiel's personal space.
“Dude, you ok?” Sam Winchester looks worried as his gaze flits from Cas's face to his side.
His right arm is broken in several places. Oh. With a frown, he fixes that too, trying unsuccessfully to wipe the honey from his hand and wrist. Then he looks back at the Winchesters, who are both panting, out of breath, and sputtering in disbelief at Castiel's monumental screw-up.
Cas tries to grin; this is all so silly, really. Then he tries to chuckle, an awkward, foreign outburst from his usually composed speech. “Hehheh.”
The Winchesters both sigh in relief. Dean throws his hands up and spins around again.
“That was one epic wipeout, man...”
“Yeah, seriously.” Sam even smiles a bit. “Not bad for a first try.”
Guiltily, Castiel shifts his position in the leaves. The bicycle, which had been trapped beneath him after the crash, had met its sorry end there in the brush. The chain was broken, one wheel bent in half and the frame warped beyond recognition. It probably hadn't been fit to ride in the first place, but Castiel still feels a stab of remorse as he notes that this, too, is his fault.
“It's broken.” Castiel explains meekly, gesturing to the wreckage. “I, um... I broke it.”
Then, Dean's sour expression returns, he drags Castiel up by one arm, grunting something intelligible in reply. He tugs Cas by his previously broken forearm as Sam snickers to himself, patting Cas on the shoulder before turning to the wreckage of the bike. They trudge back up the slope towards the road, Sam carting one wreck and Dean the other. As they reach some level ground, Cas turns back to look upon the misshapen metal frame. Dean grunts again (probably about the honey) and pulls him along, and Cas stumbles as he tries to walk with his head facing the wrong way around. Sam smirks as he catches his footing, and Castiel gives a weak, closed-lipped smile in reply before withdrawing back into his thoughts again. He thinks perhaps he should try to fix it, the bike... but he was never so good with repairing things, and what difference could it make, really? Then, he thinks perhaps he should try to apologize to Dean and Sam, for ruining their fun... but apologizing is all he's been doing, it seems, and again, what difference could it make?
Cas sighs and orders his thoughts. The whirring beneath is louder now, and with a clench of his throat, he wills them to quiet, please. His other thoughts drift past like butterflies, but they are scarcer now, and slower. Watching them pass is frustrating. Cas gives a quiet little groan in his throat, and for a moment Dean starts as though he might reply, but he doesn't. Castiel hates it.
This is nothing like riding a bike.