There are two stars in my sky
And they burn with the amber light
When my hope in this world gone astray
Don't you go away
The first time Dean'd seen Castiel's wings was in an abandoned warehouse. The lights flickered and sparkled and burned, and massive shadows in the shapes of eagle wings stretched above the angel's head, a murky darkness sucking in the flashes of lightning.
"Who are you?" he'd asked, and the deep, gravelly voice answered, "I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition." And just like that, the wings were gone, and in front of him was just a short holy tax accountant angel in a long trenchcoat, and Dean couldn't help but to feel a twinge of loss as he stared at the empty space behind the angel's back.
The next time, they were in a dingy motel room. Sam had gone out in search of food--though Dean suspected that his little brother just wanted to get away and blow off some steam; they haven't exactly been best friends lately--and Dean was stuck with paper pushing duty. He was deep in the bowel of the internet, searching for a way, any way of destroying the Devil himself, so completely lost in the myriad websites that he did not hear the rustles of feathers behind him
"Hello, Dean," Castiel said in that chronic smoker voice--Dean'd grown fond of it, really, but speaking like that all the time simply couldn't be good for the vessel
"Jesus Christ, Cas!" he swore, nearly knocking Sam's laptop over as he whipped his head around to find the angel mere inches from him, so that his face was right smack in the middle of Castiel's chest. For a split second, in his peripheral vision, he could see the shimmering darkness hovering over the angel's shoulders, but it could have been a trick of the light because it was gone as he could fix his eyes on it. "I- never mind, just don't sneak up on me like that again, got it? Stop being a creeper, Cas," he muttered, turning back to his research, the task inexplicably more enjoyable now with an angel reading over his shoulders.
But he wasn't sure if he could truly count that last time in his very short list of Times I've Sighted Sissy Feathers On Cas. Because he'd truly only seen the feathers once, on that night before Castiel's death at the hand of Lucifer. They were alone again, Sam already long gone to meet with Lucifer, pumped on demon blood, and Dean could do nothing but pace the length of Bobby's yard, almost jogging in his agitation, and Castiel a quiet shade stooped to the side, leaning on a rusty brown Sedan and for once not wearing the weathered trenchcoat. It was too hot a night for such garments, and Castiel no longer had the juice necessary to keep himself impervious to human weaknesses.
He'd jogged over to Cas then, huffing and trying to regain his breath and wiping away the beads of sweat pooling at the hollow of his throat, grimacing a little at the way his worn black shirt clung to his back in sticky folds. "Doing alright, Cas?" he'd asked, tracing the tired lines under Castiel's eyes with his own, and instinctively he inched a little closer, close enough that he could feel the way the air was slightly cooler around Castiel's body, and exhaled with a small sigh of relief.
"I am well, Dean," the not-quite angel replied quietly, the eternally pensive expression on his face somehow more pronounced
They didn't speak any more after that, not for a long time, not until Dean's hand found Cas' in a blind, drunken haze, the calloused tips of his fingers grazing the coolness of Castiel's knuckles, and, facing no resistance, he hesitantly placed the whole of his palm over the back of Castiel's hand, their fingers finding each other in the darkness, slick with sweat and a bit of grime on Dean's part, but Castiel didn't seem to mind. And fuck, it was the Apocalypse, and it was really too late for Dean to care about such things as self-image anymore.
"We might die tomorrow," Dean started almost conversationally, his voice completely calm and not at all betraying the fear thrumming in his blood. It was irrational for him to expect a long, peaceful life, but he'd hoped.... Well, he had hopes.
Castiel's voice was without inflection. "We most likely will," he confirmed, and the slight, wistful smile that graced his face was such that Dean could not breathe lest he disturb the moment. "I don't mind, Dean. My only regret when I die would be not being able to see you through this safely; but other than that, I regret nothing." His blue eyes, almost black in the darkness, held Dean petrified. "You will live, if I must die a thousand times over to ensure that. But you will not perish, Dean Winchester, because I would lay waste to this world before I see you hurt-"
"Stop," Dean cried out hoarsely, his grip on the angel's hand tightening of its own accord. "Fuck, don't say things like that, man! I don't want to hear you promise that kind of future to me! I'm not worth the world, Cas, just look at it logically. I get that you're my guardian angel and everything, but just-...." He paused to gather his bearing, and continued in the same tone, "Listen, your objective isn't to keep me safe. It's to seal Lucifer in his cage again and t make sure my brother doesn't go with him, understand?"
There was doubt in Castiel's eyes, and rebellion, and Dean saw very clearly how much the angel wished to disobey, but finally he relented with a curt nod and a squeeze to their still joined hands. "I understand, Dean."
"Good," he rasped, and the world fell silent again around them. From far away came the shrill sirens of an ambulance or a fire truck, he couldn't tell at this distance, and the cloudless night showered them with a million stars, the kind you could only see in a tiny town off the map in South Dakota
And there was that familiar flap of wings again, a sound he had not heard in quite a long time, at least not around Cas. His eyes widened as he tilted his head in an unconscious imitation of Castiel's beloved gesture, and there they were again--darkness, warm and glossy and thick, curling behind Castiel and condensing into the shapes of wings, and for the first time settled into long, tapered feathers that held form and had shape and weight, and Dean could not stop himself from reaching out to a velvety black feather the exact softness of Castiel's hair.
"This- how?" he murmured, enraptured by the way the wings curled so naturally around Cas, and he berated himself for ever seeing Castiel without wings before because they were an extension of him, as natural as a leg or an arm and perhaps even more so
"These are the last remnants of my Grace," Castiel whispered, the lines of his mouth tightening imperceptibly as if in pain. "I cannot fly with them, but I am able to manifest their appearance on a mortal plane."
The edges of his flight feathers were tattered and scorched, the plumes misshapen and bent at odd angles. Dean traced the outline of a particularly damaged one, and the odd smile appeared on Castiel's face again. "Hell was very hot, Dean," he said by way of explanation, and Dean's heart clenched so tightly that it left him gasping for breath. "No, do not fret--I wear these scars with pride; they are badges of honor because I have succeeded in the most important task of my existence thus far."
Castiel reached into the richness of his wings and selected a choice feather, one mostly unburned and intact and shimmering with the distilled essence of a thousand extinguished stars, and he plucked it cleanly from the root, presenting the quill to Dean with a certain proudness to his stance. "A memento, Dean, to remind you of me."
"I'm not going to let you throw your life away for me, you stupid son of a bit-"
"Please, Dean. Accept it."
Something about the desperation in Castiel's face made him do it; he took the feather from Cas's proffered hand, twirling it around between his fingers like he would a pen. "An angel feather," he said. "I didn't think you would have such girly wings, Cas." He tried for a light, teasing tone, but it came out flat and forced and a little bit like he was trying hard not to let his stupid clogged nose overcame his words.
"Yes, well, not all of us have to overcompensate, Dean." Castiel ducked his head and smiled, a genuine one that melded his cheeks with the lines at the corner of his eyes
"You learned that from Sam."
"And Bobby," Castiel added.
"Figured you would pic that p first before learning any actual cool references," Dean complained without real malice, tucking the feather safely in the breast pocket of his shirt because it would definitely snap if he kept it in his pants
He probably shouldn't even think of keeping it in his pants.
"Whatever happens tomorrow, Cas, I just want you to know-," he began, but a glance at Castiel's face made him pause.
"You don't have to say anything, Dean."
"I really think I should, Listen, Cas-"
He stopped, and they looked at each other again, Castiel's unnerving blue gaze holding his green eyes captive. "Dean, I know."
"No more words, Dean."
And that was a relief because he wasn't sure if he could say them, but Castiel knew, and that was all that mattered. The stars were still shining overhead, Castiel's wings swaying in the stillness of the air and fanning them with a gentle breeze, their hands were glued together by sweat and heat, and the feather was safe in his pocket.
And when Castiel exploded into a gazillion pieces in front of him the next day, then somehow came back and healed his wounds and fixed Bobby and abandoned them again, Dean was left staring at the slight dent in the ground where Sam and Lucifer and Michael and Adam had disappeared, and it hit him that he had no brother and no angel, and victory had never before tasted so bitter.
When he walked back to the Impala, he took the feather out from his pocket and tucked it all the way at the bottom of the trunk and covered it with every possible gadget he owned, and still he could feel its velvet weight in his pocket, and for just a moment there was a flash of wings as dark as the Dakota night.
He startled, turned back, but there was nothing. Just a bird, a dark grackle fleeing from its nest, frightened by the commotion going on below.
He must have stood there for quite some time because Bobby's impatient voice rang out next to his ears, and he was sure he wasn't standing that close to Bobby before. "You ready, Dean?"
Was he ready? How could he possibly be ready?
"Yeah, Bobby. I'm ready."