Stub of the wings would have been cool but I thought that scars fits better in this case :’—I
They don’t talk about it: not the wrongs, not the rights, not the hows or the whys or what they gave up. When Castiel comes back human, after, stripped down powerless and wholly raw, they take him in, because there weren’t other options.
They don’t talk about it, or they don’t know how to, not quite. The first few days Cas spends being human goes by in a blur of fever and fatigue, and that means Dean gets to put off talking to him. Sam handles most of the conversations they have, because Dean isn’t ready for it yet, even if Castiel’s wearing his shirt and sleeping in his bed.
It was stupid to think he could have put it off forever, but Dean’s always been a great practitioner of denial. He has a week of blissfully awkward silence, and then after that he can’t do it anymore: he can’t lie there on the couch staring at the watermarked ceiling without going to Cas and hold in the caged syllables behind his teeth, he can’t hold in the urge crawling under his skin, the sharp twist in his gut when he thinks about the scars, the nightmares, and Dean has to get up before his courage gives him completely.
It’s past one and Sammy’s asleep in the next room. Dean opens the door and steps in, trying to be quiet, and when he makes out the curve of Castiel’s body curled against the sheets he’s reminded again of how different this is, how different it is now, because if Castiel was still an angel he would never have been this open, unsuspecting. The word vulnerable burns on his tongue, salt-laced and bitter.
Castiel shifts, restless, turning on his side. Something in the arch of his neck makes Dean realize he knows he’s there, and then he realizes it. He realizes that Cas’ still giving him a way out, even now, even after, and Dean can’t bear it.
"Can’t- Can’t sleep?" He says, quietly, in lieu of I did this didn’t I, trying not to jostle him as he perches by the side of the bed. He wants so badly to touch him, to ground himself to the feel of Castiel’s skin, to ground them both to this, but it doesn’t work that way, and if he’s ever had that privilege it’s long gone, now, long gone.
Dean watches the curve of his shoulder, the way he’s got one arm tucked close, fist clenched. The dim lights are enough for him to make out when Cas exhales. “I-” Cas starts, then stops. “My- shoulders. They ache.”
Cas turns enough to look at him, then, but Dean doesn’t catch just the tail end of some hasty glance because Castiel doesn’t look away and Dean can’t, and everything is still raw and aching between them, too full of regrets and apologies and broken things, but he can’t forget that before that they had something beautiful and fresh and right, first.
"Okay," Dean breathes, finding the turn of Castiel’s wrist, "Okay."
He unbuttons Cas’ shirt, slow because his fingers keep fumbling, even when he’s trying to keep them steady, because Cas’s skin is warm where Dean touches his skin and the feel of him steals the breath from under his ribs. Cas watches him, quietly, and when their hands meet at the fourth button Dean has to take a breath, shaky, and he has to tell himself if he’s been strong enough all this time he’s strong enough for this.
He slides the shirt off Castiel’s shoulders, easing him out of it the gentlest he knows how, and he’s grateful for the way Cas doesn’t call him on it. Cas just sits when Dean gets behind him, and then Dean has to try not to press his hands against the scars, not to trace the shape of them and ask if they hurt, because they have to. He doesn’t ask about Purgatory or how it was like there, because he doesn’t know if he has rights to answers anymore.
"This’ll be uncomfortable," he tells Cas, because it’s the closest semblance to an apology he dares.
"Dean," Cas says, instead, and Dean’s almost afraid he’s going to say anything else, so he reaches for Cas’ arm just to make sure he won’t.
Cas exhales when Dean braces his palm against his left shoulder and handles his right, easing it back and stretching out the strained muscle. He turns, slow, trying to work out the kinks, imagining the sour ache of it set deep in his bones, how it had to be for someone who’d never felt it before. Cas inhales in measured breaths, like it hurts, and Dean has to try so hard not to touch him anywhere else, because he’s afraid once he starts he won’t be able to stop.
Cas’ breath comes a little too sharp when Dean raises his wrist just beyond his ear, and then Dean has to say something.
"You have to tell me if it hurts," Dean bites out, sounding like his voice is stuck halfway in his throat, because it’s easier to pretend to be angry than to say the things he wants to, the things he’s spent nights trying to get right but never did (do you think about it because I do I think about it all the time I tried we both tried it wasn’t enough not really but I tried and I fuck it up all the time possibly I’ll always fuck it up and it was fucked up but I wish both of us weren’t) and there’s still the weight of it churning in his gut, that Cas is back and here now and that’s more than he’s had for the past few days, weeks, months, that he’s alive and this is possibility even in the impossibility of it and before he can stop himself he says, “Your trenchcoat’s in the drawer.”
Castiel’s hand slides out of his grasp and he lets it. He doesn’t know what he’s expected, he’s as good as damned himself twice over, and he doesn’t manage to look Cas in the eyes. He’s not strong enough for it, to have him and then let him go twice.
It takes the weight of Castiel’s palms sliding into his to remind him that this is real, not some half-remembered dream here to torment him again. Cas is still so beautiful and the slant of his face aches and Dean loves every inch of him, down to his bones. Once it was easier to shove it all down and bite back the words trapped under his tongue and pretend that he didn’t have this huge ugly vast something in his veins, and then Cas was gone and he realized it wasn’t so easy after all.
His throat burns. “Cas-” Dean says, stops, swallows, his fingers trembling by the side of Castiel’s jaw. He thinks this is one of the bravest things he’s done. “Can we fix this?”
Cas doesn’t say anything about the way his voice cracks. “It’s not broken, Dean,” he says, quietly.
It’s a redux of an old record, scratched back and pieced together, and Dean has to close his eyes this time and think that this is his, this is good and this will stay, that they can remake this and this is something he can hold onto and not lose. This is a second chance, he thinks, this is a second chance and he can’t do it again. Cas closes his eyes like he knows what’s coming before it does, and there’s something that aches in that, too.
Dean leans in to kiss him
and it’s like going home.