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the island of conclusions

Take Me to the River (SPN comment fic)

the island of conclusions

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Take Me to the River (SPN comment fic)

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Cas wings
Title: Take Me to the River
Rating: pg
Genre: gen, h/c
Word count: ~1,800
Warnings: General S5, no plot spoilers for any episodes.
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit

a/n: More slightly strange Castiel gen, this time with Cas and Dean only. Written for the wonderful hurt!Dean meme at hoodie_time (prompt at the end).
a/n: Title from the Al Green/Talking Heads song.

Summary: Sometimes help with ordinary things means the most.

Take Me to the River

Dean sat on the closed toilet seat, looking at the dirt on his hands. It was jammed down hard under his nails, ground into the grain of his skin.

There was dirt on his face, too; he could feel it lodged in the new-scored lines across his forehead, winging out from the corners of his eyes. It had even gotten under his eyelids, but he was almost glad of the gritty irritation when he blinked—it was the only thing saving him from perfect numbness.

They had chased a black dog deep into a forest sodden with spring run-off—mud-caked up to their knees before they’d gone a mile. As strong as it was vicious, it had flung them both into the moldy, leafy mire before they could put it down.

“You’re Pigpen,” Sam had said, pointing a dirty finger at him, gasping with laughter.

“Who you calling Pigpen? Pigpen.” Dean retorted, giggling almost, punchy with success.

But the high had faded fast during the long drive back to the motel, and by the time they got to the room they had both been too stunned by exhaustion to speak. Dean had plunked himself down in the nearest rickety chair, barely enough energy to wave a hand at Sam, tell him to shower first. Once he heard the door close, he’d propped his elbows on his knees, his head on his hands, and closed his eyes. It had taken Sam flicking a wet towel at his head to get him to open them again. He’d mustered a tired “get some rest” for his brother as he shuffled past, but by the time he’d made it into the bathroom he’d needed to sit down again—gather some strength before attempting the serious undertaking of getting clean.

And there he’d been ever since.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. He knew he should get cleaned up, get himself to bed. But somehow the thought of facing Sam, even a sleeping Sam, was too much. He was tired of trying to hide how tired he was—though that thought made no sense at all.

Suddenly, the air fluttered against his cheek. He looked up into blue eyes.

“Dude,” Dean was too wiped to give the intrusion the outrage it deserved. “Locked door mean anything to you? Ever hear of knocking?’ he muttered, before he remembered that the answer to both questions was no.

“You’ve been in here over an hour,” Castiel said, “I was worried that you were hurt.”

“Where’d you come from, anyway? Did Sam--?”

“Sam’s sleeping.”

“Were you--watching—?” Dean started, before he decided he really didn’t want to know. “Never mind—don’t answer that. And anyway, I’m fine,” he insisted, though his voice sounded feeble, hollowed out, even to his own ears. He tried to put more oomf into it. “Just getting ready to take a shower. So if you don’t mind--”

Dean meant to get up then, to make some kind of movement that would show Cas he meant business, could take care of himself. But his limbs felt like lead, like the dirt was weighing them down. No—it felt more as if the dirt was piled high over him, trapping him beneath its weight. The thought made him shudder.

The angel watched him, expressionless, for a few minutes. Then he abruptly swept his trenchcoat out of the way, and knelt in front of Dean, started untying the laces of his boots with deft, decisive fingers.

For a moment, Dean was too stunned to respond. Then he batted at Cas’s hands. “Hey,” he said, “hey.”

The angel moved away without protest, and Dean took over the task, pretty sure Cas would take himself off now that he’d gotten the ball rolling. But the next thing he heard was water hitting porcelain. The angel had turned on the bath taps.

“Uhh,” Dean half-groaned, “thanks and everything, but that’s okay. I haven’t taken a bath since I was three.”

Castiel gave him measuring look. “I’m not sure you’re capable of standing upright for long enough to shower right now,” he said, tilting his chin up a fraction of degree, the way he did when he was getting ready to win a fight.

And considering the fact that Dean could barely make his fingers work on the laces, Cas might have had a point.

They stared at each other for another long moment, listening to the water gurgling through the shoddy plumbing, until Dean slumped his shoulders in defeat. He heaved himself to his feet, stiff joints reminding him of how long he’d been sitting, and tried to force his clumsy fingers to negotiate the buttons of his shirt.

“How about a little privacy, huh?” he said, in the face of Castiel’s continued presence.

“I did not know that modesty was one of your virtues, Dean,” the angel said, dry as a desert. He leaned back against the wall, but didn’t go anywhere.

Probably figures I’ll just sit right back down if he leaves, Dean thought, probably right.

Slowly, awkwardly, he got himself out of the rest of his clothes, skin goose-pimpling as the air hit it. It had gotten colder in the room without his noticing. Wisps of steam rose from the water in the tub. It felt weird to strip in front of Castiel, but the angel just watched him coolly. Clearly, embarrassment wasn’t part of his repertoire, just as modesty wasn’t usually part of Dean’s—especially not when he was too tired to care. So he just pushed past the strangeness, lowered himself gracelessly into the bath.

The water lapped around him, chasing some of the ache and tension out of his body almost immediately. Cas handed him a washcloth and a thin yellow bar of motel soap, and Dean began the laborious process of getting the muck off his skin and hair. It was a crappy motel bathtub, too short and too shallow, smelling strongly of whatever disinfectant they’d used to try and get rid of the mildew still visible at the edges. But Dean had to admit he felt better for being in it, felt buoyed a bit by the water around him.

Cas continued to watch him, but he was silent, at least, didn’t seem to have any expectations other than that Dean finish the job. It was peaceful, almost, under his eyes.

When he’d done the best he could with the grime—the water had gone gray with it—Dean propped himself up against the back of the tub, rested one hand along the side, and closed his eyes. He was almost asleep, but he figured Cas wouldn’t let him drown.

After a few moments, though, he felt something tugging at his hand, tickling his fingers. He blinked his eyes open, and found Castiel kneeling by the side of the tub, coat sleeves pushed up to his elbows. He was holding Dean’s fingers loosely in one hand, attacking the dirt still under the nails with a toothbrush. At least it was his own toothbrush, he noted incongruously, not Sam’s; Cas must have snagged it from his kit lying open on the counter.

Once again, Dean was too surprised to respond, paralyzed by the oddness of the gesture.
Castiel wasn’t looking at him, intent at the task he’d set himself

Dean didn’t think anyone had ever done that for him before. Even his mom had been more likely to tell him to march right back there, buddy, and finish the job, than to do it herself. He might have done something like it for Sam a few times, when they were little, and he wondered, with a weird lurch, whether that’s where Cas had picked it up—one of Jimmy Novak’s memories of looking after a kid.

Dean had had a lot of strange things done to him over the course of his life—some a lot more pleasurable than others. But sitting naked in a tub while an angel in a trench coat scrubbed his fingernails with a toothbrush ranked right up there near the top. It wasn’t unpleasant. On the contrary, the gentle, repetitive movement was—soothing—seemed to be laving off some of the layers of exhaustion and dull pain.

Still, it was surreal. He thought he probably shouldn’t let it happen, even if it felt good.

“Hey,” he said, trying to pull his hand away as gently as he could, “don’t—you don’t have to—you shouldn’t—“

But Castiel kept a firm grip on his hand. “Let me,” he said, and there was something in his face, his voice, that hadn’t been there before. A plea almost. Whatever it was, it broke Dean’s heart a little. So he let him; gave in to the rhythm as Cas moved methodically from finger to finger. Closed his eyes, lulled almost to sleep.

“Dean, do you know the tradition of foot washing among some Baptists, Pentecostalists?” Castiel asked, breaking his reverie.

Dean opened his eyes again, nodded. He knew just about every religious practice out there, though most of the time he wished he didn’t.

“Do you know the reasons behind it?’

He shook his head.

“It is a practice of humility. So that they can remember that no master is higher than his servant, no man—no being—is greater than another.”

“And that’s why you’re, uh, messing with my hands?” Dean said, struggling to figure out what Cas was getting at, his thoughts slowed by the warm water, Cas’s touch.

“My brothers have been ruled by pride,” Cas said, voice grim, “They have forgotten that even if God is absent, his works remain.” He reached for Dean’s other hand, setting the clean one back on the side of the tub. “The spark of the divine dwells in all my father’s creatures. I choose to remember that, to humble myself before it.” He lowered his eyes to Dean’s hand. “I know you are hopeless,” he said, voice soft, but unwavering, “yet you have that within you that cannot be vanquished. That is as worthy of love as the brightest star, the greatest king.”

He looked up from Dean’s fingers to his face, his gaze sharp now, cutting through the layers of Dean’s fatigue and despair like a lathe, finding something new and tender beneath them. Something clean.

And if Dean’s face was wet, it was only from the bath water condensing along his skin. And if he caught Castiel’s wrist in his hand and held on tight to steady himself against breath that had suddenly gone ragged, it was only to stop the ridiculous nail-cleaning. And if he welcomed the weight of Castiel’s hand on the back of his bowed head as his shoulders shook, it was only because the steam had made him dizzy.

Sam would never need to know.


a/n: The practice of foot washing has a longer and broader history than Castiel mentions here. It is rooted in the Gospels (and in Roman convention before that). The passage I was thinking of when I wrote this is John 13: 14-17: Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.. But thoughtful readers reminded me of several other instances: Luke 7:36-50 and John 12: 1-7. It is also practiced by other Christian denominations (see comments. Thanks, everyone!

Prompt: Dean's reached the end of his strength. He can't be the strong one anymore. He breaks down in front of Cas because he still feels the need to be strong for Sam. Cas comforts him and proves to Dean that he's worth saving.

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