Hey everyone! I hope I haven't lost you all during the wait for an update. I've got a long one for you this time. And it's kind of a wing!fic. I hope you enjoy it! Thanks again for the favorites - I'm so happy to know that people like this story! Finally, extra thanks to Mandy for the lovely review. :)
"Dean. Dean, wake up," Dean hears a gruff voice – Cas – saying as he's shaken awake. Dean startles upright, knife already in hand, looking around for any possible threat. He's never been a light sleeper, and Purgatory only cemented that. But he only sees Castiel's familiar, worried blue eyes.
"What is it?" Dean asks.
Cas simply raises his arm and points to Dean's right. Dean looks over and sees – a hive. He groans. "Cas, if you woke me up just to show me some bees, I swear to God –"
"Those aren't bees, Dean," Castiel says, still looking anxious. Dean's not sure if Castiel is just more expressive now or if Dean's gotten better at reading him, but Dean can see the concern in his eyes and in the way his fingers are clenching and releasing into his palms. On Dean's mental scale of How Much Cas is Freaked Out, it's probably a six or seven out of ten. Hardly apocalyptic, but not good, either.
"Well, then, what the hell are they?" Dean asks. "Monster bugs?"
Cas nods miserably. "They're not very nice, Dean. We have to go."
That's all the warning Dean gets before Castiel places two fingers on Dean's forehead and they flap off to somewhere else. Angel Air is as fun as ever, and it takes Dean a while to get his bearings. He glances around, but there's not much to see except trees. He doesn't see any hives around here, though, or any other obvious dangers.
Dean glances at Castiel, who is frowning. He doesn't look very happy to have finally discovered insects. Dean mostly isn't happy because he had to wake up and, well, he had been having a pretty awesome dream about that one girl – Tammi, he thinks her name was – and what she could do with her tongue. Waking up to Purgatory hadn't been much fun.
"We clear?" Dean asks.
Dean waits for a second, but Castiel doesn't say anything else.
"Alright, then I'm going back to sleep. Keep watch," Dean says. He knows by now to grab his restful hours while he can. When he's awake, he's either running, fighting, eating, or walking. He doesn't feel like doing any of those things right now, and he doesn't have to, so – sleep it is.
"Yes, Dean." Castiel stations himself by Dean's side as Dean lies down on the ground. One surface is pretty much as good as another here. Dean closes his eyes and falls into a restless sleep.
Dean wakes up to a lot of blue. He blinks a few times, and the blue resolves itself into Castiel's unblinking eyes, staring at him from inches away. Dean only jumps a little this time. Sadly, he's almost gotten used to this. The first time he'd bolted upright and nearly slashed Cas with his knife before he got his bearings. Needless to say, that hadn't gone over well, and it'd taken a while to calm Cas down. Now, Dean just groans.
"Dude, could you stop doing that? It's freaky."
Castiel casts Dean a wounded look. "But I am guarding you."
Dean sighs. He appreciates the sentiment, but – "I can take care of myself. And when you're keeping watch, you're supposed to be watching the stuff around us, not creeping on me."
"Oh." Cas finally backs up a bit, still staring at Dean, but now he's giving puppy dog eyes. Dean remembers Castiel's eyes when they were cold and unfeeling, instilled with a smug self-assuredness in Heaven and God. Those eyes now seem as if they belong to someone else, an entirely different Castiel. And that's not too far off, really – there's no denying that Cas has changed from the cold-hearted dick with wings he was in the beginning. Now he can give puppy dog eyes.
Still. Dean can vividly remember Castiel telling him that he wasn't here to perch on Dean's shoulder and threatening to throw him back into Hell. He recalls the static energy in the air and the smell of ozone as Cas somehow towered over him despite being physically shorter. He remembers the awe and fear that he grudgingly felt when he realized that he was getting a smack-down from an honest-to-God angel.
Dean looks at Castiel, assessing him. His eyes are soft, filled with innocence, timidity, and what Dean suspects is a mix of willful ignorance and denial about the hard stuff. And, of course, the disquieting but distinct lack of sanity. Dean misses the intimidating warrior angel.
"Okay, well, I'm safe. Relatively," Dean says, shaking himself out of his funk and getting back to business. Weirdly enough, sometimes Purgatory gives him too much time to think. He's glad not to be running all of the time, though. But they can't ever stay in one place for too long, so he adds, "Now let's get going before something finds us."
Cas nods in agreement. He stands up from his crouch at Dean's side, wavers unsteadily, and then promptly falls down on his ass. Then he just sits there, looking faintly perplexed.
Dean stares, feeling the first faint stirrings of concern. He can't even bring himself to laugh at the funny sight he just witnessed. (Maybe later, if everything is okay. But maybe there won't even be a later.)
Cas has never been clumsy. He's always possessed a superhuman grace, possibly because of his actual angel Grace. This is not normal.
"What's wrong?" Dean asks, keeping his voice steady.
"I… don't know," Cas says, still looking slightly confused.
"Well, what happened? Why'd you fall down?"
"I stood up, and then… the trees looked like they were moving, but I'm pretty sure they weren't, and then I was on the floor."
"So… you got dizzy."
"Dizzy," Castiel says slowly, as if he's testing out a new word. (Maybe he is.) "Yes, I got dizzy."
"Do you know why?"
Castiel just blinks at him, innocent and childlike. Dean sighs.
"C'mon, let's get you up," he says, reaching down to take Castiel's hand. With a grunt, Dean heaves the angel upright. This time, Cas is steady, and when Dean cautiously lets go, Cas stays standing.
"I think I'm okay now, Dean, thank you," Cas says. "The trees are staying still."
"Okay, great. Now, why do you think they started moving in the first place? Have you been feeling sick?"
If Castiel is getting sick, that's a problem. Not only because he's Dean's only ally here, but also because angels definitely don't get sick. Could this dizziness be an indicator of Cas's failing Grace? Or something much worse?
"Dean, don't you think our experience in Purgatory would be greatly improved if we sang marching songs? I believe they would help us maintain a rhythm to our travel and create the illusion of time going by faster," Cas says in that far-off voice he gets when he starts spouting his particular brand of nonsense.
Dean refrains from rolling his eyes through a supreme force of will and replies, "I don't know any marching songs, Cas. Now try to focus and tell me – have you been feeling sick at all?"
"I don't – what does 'sick' feel like?"
"Crappy," Dean says. "You have a fever, your throat's sore, your head hurts, it's hard to breathe… stuff like that."
"No, I have not experienced any of those symptoms."
"Great. Well, tell me if you do."
And with that, the issue is settled. For the moment, at least. Dean heads in a random direction and Cas trots over to join him, and they keep walking.
It doesn't become an issue again until later that day (or maybe it's a different day, it's not like Dean can really tell). Dean is picking some questionable yellow berries off a bush (Cas said they were edible, and Dean may not entirely trust him or his mind but he does trust angel intuition, even from a broken angel). Castiel is standing guard while simultaneously rambling about… something. Hopefully at least part of him is focused on their surroundings. Dean's got one ear tuned to Cas's voice and one ear focused on sounds from outside, just in case.
"When the Homo sapiens sapiens discovered fire, that's when some of the angels grew excited. For so long we had watched humanity struggle with the simplest tasks, and we knew that the discovery of fire would be an important milestone. It keeps predators away, it cooks food, provides light and energy and warmth…"
"I could really use a fire right now," Dean mutters ruefully. Unfortunately, in Purgatory, lighting a fire is only effective as a way to advertise your presence. The monsters here aren't afraid of a few flames.
"You can't light a fire here, Dean," Cas says. "It's not safe."
"I know that. I just said that I could use a fire, not that I would make one."
"Oh! Fires! That reminds me. When the Homo sapiens sapiens discovered fire, the angels grew very excited. For a long time we had watched you –"
"Cas, you just said that," Dean interrupts, exasperated. He can barely handle Castiel's ramblings once. There's no way he's going through them twice.
Cas frowns. "I know I did, Balthazar," he says, and okay, whoa. That's when Dean's alarm bells start ringing. Because Cas's particular brand of insanity has never involved confusing Dean for Balthazar, or hallucinating, or whatever's going on here. Coupled with Castiel's dizzy spell earlier, Dean feels his concern skyrocket.
"What did you call me?" Dean asks.
Cas stares at him in confusion. "Dean. That's – that's your name, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but – you didn't call me Dean. You called me Balthazar."
Cas huffs, looking slightly peeved. In his new hippy peace-love persona, "slightly peeved" is the equivalent of "very annoyed." But Dean's too worried (and yeah, he's man enough to admit it, in his own mind at least) to care.
Cas says grumpily, "Why did you ask me what I called you if you already supposedly knew the answer? Perhaps you just thought I said Balthazar."
"Yeah, because Dean and Balthazar sound so similar," Dean scoffs. "Seriously, are you feeling okay?"
"Yes, Dean. I feel fine. Better than fine, actually. I am experiencing this pleasant floating feeling – similar to when I would hover above the earth – except this time I am not hovering, at least, I don't think I am, but sometimes it's hard to determine the exact state of my vessel. Of course, it wouldn't be my vessel that would be doing the hovering, if in fact I was hovering, which is still uncertain –"
"Okay, Cas, I get it," Dean says. "Please shut up now. Oh, and you're not, uh, hovering, and I don't know why you think you are."
Dean thinks he was the epitome of patience and politeness, but Cas looks a little hurt, like he doesn't understand why Dean cut him off. The worst thing is that he probably really doesn't get it. Dean has to remind himself of that when he starts getting annoyed with Castiel (which, frankly, is often). Whatever tenuous grasp of social conventions and normal conversation that Cas once had, it's all gone now, and Cas doesn't even realize it. From what Dean can tell, Cas really thinks that everything he says is fascinating, important, and worth sharing. Dean doesn't always agree.
"I'll stop speaking," Cas says.
Good things do happen, Dean thinks snidely. Relief at last.
But they've only gone a few more steps before Castiel says, "Sam's right. If we can somehow trap Lucifer back in the Cage, we may stand a chance of averting the Apocalypse. It's at least a more sound plan than killing the devil."
Dean stops walking, wheeling around to scrutinize the angel. Dean's gotten used to hearing weird and useless things from Cas, but there have been too many out-of-the-norm moments lately. The rambling is normal. The name-confusion, the repetition, and this apparent revert to the past or loss of memory is not normal. And in Dean's experience, "not normal" is always bad.
"What is going on with you?" Dean asks roughly.
Castiel glances at him with an expression of carefully restrained annoyance. "I know what I'm doing, Uriel."
Okay. That's one too many times that Cas has confused Dean with one of his angelic dick brothers, and Dean's just not gonna take that anymore.
"Alright, that's enough. Come on, Cas, it's me, Dean. Tell me what's going on. Why're you amping up the crazy right now, huh?"
"We have to go," Castiel says instead of actually answering (of course). He reaches out for Dean before the hunter has time to draw back, and Dean braces himself for Angel Air yet again.
Instead, Cas gasps in pain and his hand tightens briefly on Dean's shoulder before he lets go and stumbles backwards. Dean watches in shock as Cas sinks to his knees, breathing heavily.
"Cas?" Dean says, breaking out of his trance and hurrying forward. He kneels down beside the angel. "What's wrong? You gotta tell me something, man. I can't help you if I don't know what's happening."
Cas grits his teeth as he looks up at Dean. His eyes are clearer than they've been since he took on Sam's Hell-baggage, and for a perverse moment Dean is grateful for Castiel's pain and this shitty situation, because at least it's brought a little bit more of his friend back.
"I believe something is wrong with my wings," Castiel says. "Also, I may have a fever. That's when a vessel's temperature is abnormally high, correct?"
"Uh, yeah," Dean responds intelligently. He's a bit stuck on the idea of Cas's wings. Of course he's always known that Cas is an angel and has wings and can fly and shit. He's even seen their shadows a few times. But it's one thing to know it and another thing to actually deal with it. How the hell is Dean supposed to fix an angel's wings? And in Purgatory, of all places?
"Do you think insects experience fevers, Dean?" Cas asks. His eyes are already losing their clarity, and wow, that was fast. Dean has to snap out of it and learn how to help Cas while Cas is still focused enough to tell him.
"Maybe. What's wrong with your wings? Can you fix them?"
"I'm not sure," Castiel says. "Let me…"
He trails off, and Dean's about to prod him again, but suddenly he hears that familiar rustle of feathers. Except this time it's accompanied by visible wings. Dean watches in barely-disguised awe as the two huge wings unfurl from Castiel's sides. They're a sooty grayish-black, their length spanning many feet, with huge, sleek feathers. Dean stares.
"I thought angels' wings were supposed to be white," he finally says.
"Then why –"
"Hell has a tendency to… stain… things. Even after multiple resurrections, my true form is tainted, and this manifests in my wings because they are the closest to my true form."
Dean nods vaguely, still staring at Cas's wings. He feels awful at the thought of Cas getting tainted because of him and Sam, but he forces himself not to dwell on it. The wings are still pretty awesome. And he might be imagining things, but it looks like they're glowing faintly. Not enough to hurt Dean's eyes, though, or even light up the forest much.
"Hmm?" Dean snaps his gaze away and looks back at Castiel. The angel looks faintly exasperated.
"Can you see if there's anything wrong with them?"
"Oh. Right. Sorry," Dean says, bringing his mind back to the task on hand. It's really weird for Cas to be telling Dean to focus, instead of the other way around.
Dean looks at the wings more clinically now, really hoping that he doesn't find anything amiss because he really wouldn't know what to do. Of course, if he doesn't find anything that means that he won't know what's wrong with Cas, and that wouldn't be good either. It's hard to see clearly with the dark feathers and there's nothing obviously wrong with Cas's wings, but then Dean sees a spot that seems to be glowing more than usual. He scoots forward and glances at Cas hesitantly.
"Can I –"
"Go ahead, Gabriel," Cas murmurs. Dean stills for a moment at the further sign of just how out of it Cas is, but then he forces himself into action. The sooner he figures out what's wrong, the sooner he can get Cas back to an acceptable level of insanity. Hopefully.
Dean tentatively parts the feathers surrounding the heavily glowing area. They feel just like bird feathers, but warm. Of course, that could be 'cause Castiel has a fever. Dean looks at the extra-glowy area and notices an unhealthy-looking swelling that seems to be leaking light. (And wow, does that sound weird.) It almost looks like the angelic equivalent of a very bad bug bite. Which, wait a minute…
"Cas, those monster bugs or whatever that we saw this morning. Do you think one of them could've stung you? Or, more specifically, stung your wing?"
"Insects don't sting me, Dean," Castiel says as if talking to a very small child. "We are friends. In fact, I gathered some honey from the bees myself and they di–"
"I'm talkin' about the mean bugs, Cas. You said they weren't very nice. They coulda stung you. I think they stung your wing, right here," Dean says, indicating the swollen area.
"Oh," Cas says. He cranes his neck to look at where Dean is pointing – an area on the top of his right wing. The angel frowns.
"I don't like the insects here, Dean."
"Yeah, me neither," Dean mutters. He figures that's as close to a confirmation that he's going to get about whether or not it's actually an insect bite. Dean decides to assume that it is.
"Okay, so how do we cure a monster bug bite? Can you heal yourself?"
Cas doesn't respond. He's whispering something to himself, in what sounds like Enochian, and his eyes are fluttering shut. Dean really can't adjust to how Cas seems to be switching from more with it than usual to way more lost than normal. Either way, There's one thing Dean knows for certain – this is no normal bug bite. It's causing dizziness, confusion, pain… they need to fix this, fast, before a monster finds them in this vulnerable position or Castiel gets worse.
"Cas, I need you to tell me what to do," Dean nearly pleads.
Castiel slowly opens his eyes. "Honey," he murmurs.
"My baggie of honey. It'll help. Rub it on my wing."
"It'll leech away the poison. Hopefully."
Cas doesn't answer. His eyes are closed and his lips are moving. Dean wonders if he's praying.
"Okay, here goes nothing," Dean mutters. He reaches randomly into the pocket of Castiel's tattered trenchcoat and pulls out the baggie of honey. Cas has just been carrying this with him all throughout Purgatory? Damn, he is friends with a really weird angel. Also, this could've really come in handy one of those many times that Dean was searching for food. But Dean can't bring himself to feel bitter about that, not if this honey will really save Cas now.
Still slightly tentative, Dean opens up the baggie and scoops up a handful. He leans forward and smears it onto the injured part of Castiel's wing. Some of the feathers are bent out of shape, so he smooths them down. They're surprisingly soft. Castiel murmurs something and his eyes blink open to gaze blearily at Dean.
"That feels nice," the angel says quietly.
Dean is startled to find that he'd been stroking Castiel's feathers for a while now. With a grimace, he draws back. He's not worthy to touch an angel's wings, even ones stained by Hell. Plus, it seems kind of… forward. Still, Dean decides to make Cas an appointment with a masseuse if they ever get out of here.
"Is it working?" Dean asks.
"Mmm," Cas says, sounding almost sleepy. "Maybe."
"Right," Dean says. "That's helpful. I'll just wait here and hope you don't die, then."
His voice breaks at the end of his sentence and he hates himself for being so weak. Why should he need Cas, anyway? Cas is insane, useless, and annoying. He betrayed Dean and hurt Sam. He's the reason they're stuck in Purgatory right now, the reason that Dean might never see Sam again, even indirectly the reason that Bobby's dead. Dean shouldn't want anything to do with him. And yet…
Dean looks at the creature lying before him. Castiel's messy hair, ratty hospital scrubs, and torn trenchcoat are illuminated by the faint light of his two enormous wings. Wings that are stained and gray because Cas rescued Dean and Sam from Hell. Dean watches the slow rise and fall of Cas's chest. He thinks about Castiel rambling about bees and smiling at him. About the angel's simultaneous strength and fragility.
As crazy as it seems, Castiel is his best friend. It doesn't matter that he's not human and that he's not even sane. He's Dean's friend, and Dean has lost him too many times, and he just can't go through it again.
"C'mon, tell me it's working," Dean says (well, begs) after several agonizing minutes. "Do you feel better?"
He doesn't know what to do if it doesn't work. He doesn't know if this bug bite is fatal. He doesn't know anything.
"Yes, Dean, I feel better. Thank you," Cas says.
Dean sits down next to Cas, nearly knocked off his feet by an incredible wave of relief. He finally lets himself relax. Castiel is going to be okay. Thank God. Or, well, not God, probably. Thank the fact that Cas is crazy enough to carry honey around with him and that it actually helped the bug bite.
"Good. That's good," Dean says fervently.
"Mmhmm," Cas hums.
"We're damn lucky that the honey worked."
"I swear I won't make fun of your creepy love of bees again. I love them too, now. Well, as long as they're not the ones that gave you that bite in the first place."
"Dean?" Cas says, lifting his head a little to gaze tiredly at his human friend.
"Please be quiet."
Dean laughs. Cas is so polite, now - supposedly manners help stave off conflict. Maybe Dean should suggest that Cas "please be quiet" the next time the angel starts rambling. Maybe he should – okay, yeah. Dean's definitely rambling this time.
"Okay, Cas. Sorry."
Dean leans next to Cas as he rests. The open wound on Castiel's wing seems to be slowly closing – angelic healing at work. It's kind of fascinating to watch, especially when Dean still hasn't gotten over the fact that he's looking at a goddamn angel wing.
"Your wings are pretty cool," Dean admits. The adrenaline still leaving his system must've loosened his tongue.
Cas smiles. Not one of those open, crazy, enamoured-by-bugs smiles, but one of those soft, rare, barely there half-smiles that Dean remembers from the old Castiel. The one who fought by his side and accidentally scared off prostitutes and sometimes got sassy. Seeing that smile now feels like a gift.
(Wow, Dean's getting sappy, but somehow, he can't bring himself to care.)
"Thank you, Dean," Castiel replies. "Your… jacket… is very nice."
Dean grins, wondering if Cas will ever truly obtain social skills. He kind of doubts it. "It is, isn't it? Too bad it has Purgatory gunk all over it."
"I may be able to clean it," Cas offers, reaching a few fingers towards Dean, who quickly swats his hand away.
"No. You need to rest, not waste your mojo on dry-cleaning."
"Dry-cleaning," Cas huffs a little laugh. "That's funny. You're funny, Dean. You tell good jokes."
"That wasn't a joke," Dean says, confused. Of course, the first time Cas actually laughs at something he said and it's not even one of his witty one-liners. Then again, Castiel thought that Uriel was the funniest angel in the garrison, and Dean certainly hadn't seen any proof of that. Maybe Cas just always had a skewed sense of humor, even before his brain went all funny.
"Oh," Cas says. "Regardless, I could try to clean your jacket."
"No thanks, Cas. Seriously, It's fine. Rest."
"Okay." Castiel nods, finally quieting down and closing his eyes. He looks much more peaceful now than he did in the throes of his fever, and the wound on his wing is almost entirely closed. Soon they will have to get back up and continue their endless journey. Eventually they'll run into something that they can't cure with a baggie of honey, and that will be that. But for now, Dean keeps watch over his angel as the ancient being breathes quietly next to him.
Tomorrow is a new day. But for now, they can rest.