The first time it happens, Dean is sitting alone on his bed in another crappy motel, Hunter’s Helper in hand. His head hangs low. It’s been a week since Cas… since he… Dean can’t even finish the damn sentence, not even in his own head. He rubs at his chest angrily, inciting the burned and scarred tissue to flare up in pain. He deserves it, for failing Cas, for letting… for letting that happen. Hell, what he deserves is probably worse. He tosses the bottle of whiskey across the room, taking satisfaction in the resulting shatter against the far wall, and flops back across the mattress. He closes his eyes, and he can almost feel it, feel everything the way it was that day. He can feel Cas’ warm weight in his arms, hot blood and grace leaking across the fabric and soaking his shirt, staining it, Cas’ breaths puffing against his neck, coming faster and more ragged, soft feathers trailing across his sensitive nipples…
Dean shoots up with a jolt. What the fuck. His heart pounds in his ears as he glances hurridly from wall to wall. He’s alone, but… but what the actual fuck. He lifts his shirt to peer at his scarred flesh - nothing is different. The mottled red patch spreads out from his chest, individual feathers visible and stained across his torso, Cas’ last permanent mark on this earth. Dean furrows his brow and frowns, chalking up the out of place sensation to the now shattered bottle of whiskey against the wall, and as Sam opens the door with a six-pack and a new case, he drops his shirt and plasters on a fake smile. Like always.
The second time is three days later, and he and Sam are at a diner. The case turned out to be a simple salt ‘n burn, so the boys had a moment to stop in for a good meal. Of course, Dean’s not really tasting his burger. He hasn’t actually eaten much since… since that bastard took Cas away from him. He feels more than sees Sam’s pitying gaze as he sets down his half eaten burger. He’s not in the mood to play Dr. Phil right now, and turns his head to stare out the window. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Sam is taking the hint, and as his brother leans over the table with outstretched arm (most likely to lay atop his hand as Sam tries to be supportive and talk about feelings), Dean turns to face him with an appropriately surly retort on the tip of his tongue when something pinches and twists his nipple hard.
Dean yells (a good two registers above what he thought he physically could) and slams one hand down onto the table, the other belatedly across his mouth. Sam is staring at him with Bitchface #47 (Moose In The Headlights), and the other patrons are all turning to see what the commotion was. The diner is completely silent.
“I, uh…” Dean’s voice is shakey, and breaks a bit on the ‘h.’ “I’m gonna go… check a- a bruise in the bathroom. I think it might be worse than I thought.” He doesn’t tell Sam the truth, because, yeah, phantom tittie twisters? Not exactly a conversation he wants to have with his baby brother (or fucking anyone, really). He dashes from the booth, before Sam can start to level his disapproving glare.
In front of the dirty bathroom mirror, Dean lifts his shirt up again. Sure enough, his right nipple is red and inflamed, more so than the rest of the feathered scar.
“What the hell, man…” Dean whispers as he leans in closer. Tentatively, he brushes a hand over the entire burn. After the first few days the tenderness in the skin had faded away, but much like the handprint that once graced his shoulder, the burn had never callused over, leaving the nerve endings intact and normal. Now though? The whole mark feels hot, transitioning from cool at the bottom edge just past his navel to warmer and warmer the closer it gets to his… chest… area… Dean drops his shirt and fumbles with the faucet, splashing cold water into his face. Something is seriously messed up here.
The third time is in North Dakota. Sam is getting on Dean’s last nerve, whining about how he needs to be more open with his feelings and shit, and Dean’s a little drunk and he gets pissed and he yells and he raises a hand to strike Sam across the face when his nipple is pinched. He lets out a strangled yell and doubles over, hand rubbing at his chest. Sam thinks it’s the scar acting up. Dean figures that’s not technically untrue, so he nods and says “yeah, that’s it.” Then he thinks for a minute and says he misses Cas and that he’s sorry, and he lets Sam hug him and Dean thinks he feels feathers brushing apologetically over his stomach.
In Colorado, they’re hunting down a Werewolf nest in some national park. Sam finds some trail, piled high with rocks and dirt on either side, and they’re trying to be as quiet as they can, but Dean is pretty sure the sonuvabitch knows they’re here. The trail leads them to the mouth of a cave. Sam starts to go in, but Dean feels a sharp pinch to his left nipple and this time whatever it is tugs, and he’s forced to wheel around completely, hissing in pain. Then he sees the Wolf that’s been behind them, stalking them through the narrow path the entire time, likely just waiting for them to finish walking into its trap. He yells for Sam, and they managed to take the damn thing out.
They’re in Michigan again, following up on some poltergeist activity, when Dean finds Sam staring at a painting of some old building.
“It’s… it’s an imagining of what the library in Alexandria might’ve looked like before it was torched,” Sam whispers almost reverently. Dean makes some snide comment about nerds and their books or whatever, and Sam’s face closes over. Dean feels an annoyed flick at his nipple, and though he knows it’s fucking crazy, he thinks to himself ‘the hell was that for?’ as he rubs at his chest.
“Jess loved that library. She would always talk about wanting to fly out to Egypt, and see the original site and the new building. It was one of her dreams…” Sam trails off and huffs as he pushes past Dean and exits the house, shoulders squared and set.
In Ohio, they’re supposed to be investigating a haunting at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Dean is too busy salivating over James Hetfield’s electric guitar. There’s another annoyed (but this time, it feels almost fond) flick at his nipple, and Dean turns around muttering, “yeah, yeah, focus on the job. I got it.”
In Nebraska, Dean is driving the Impala down a desert road, with Sam asleep in the passenger seat. He looks over at his brother enviously, but they left too much of a trail this time, and need to make tracks fast. Still, it would be nice, to just sink back into the leather and close his eyes… Dean is jolted back into the world of the waking with the all-too-familiar pinch and twist of his nipples and a yell of “Christ, Cas!” He shakes his head clear and starts to ease off the gas, odometer having been steadily climbing towards 200, when he realizes what he said. Sam jerks awake and onto the floor as Dean slams on the break and yanks the car to the side of the road.
“What the hell, Dean!” he yells as his brother gets out the car and slams the door. The windows rattle dangerously in their frames, and an astonished Sam clambers hastily from the floorboard and out the door. He damn near jogs around the car to find Dean with his head bowed and knees trembling, palms pressed against the Impala’s frame for support.
“Dean?” he tries tentatively, but his brother just shakes his head.
“It’s fine, Sammy, I just… I need a minute. Get back in the car.”
“Get back in the damn car, Sam!” Sam scowls and stomps back around the vehicle, throwing himself into the back seat instead.
The next two hunts, Dean feels nothing.
The seventh time it happens, Dean is sitting alone on his bed in another crappy motel. Sam is out, interviewing some witness or another. Dean hadn’t really been paying much attention. There’s no whiskey tonight. Dean needs to be sure that what happens is real, not some drunken hallucination or dream. He takes a deep breath, gathering his courage, and leans back against the headboard.
“Cas-” he starts. His voice shatters on the word. “Cas, you son of a bitch. I know it’s you. I know it’s been you.” The room is silent, and for a moment Dean thinks he really is crazy. That the past few months have just been the stress and pressure of the job, of the life, of Cas, finally getting to him and cracking his brain like an egg. Then he feels it. At first, it’s just feathers, so light it’s like they damn near don’t exist, sliding across his torso. Then from feathers to feather-light touches, fingertips hesitantly trailing from his sternum upwards, and then finally palms settling heavily across his pectorals.
“Shit, Cas,” he whispers. “It is you.” He reaches out to the air in front of him, almost expecting to come in contact with a solid body, but there’s nothing. Just air. A thumb strokes at his skin softly. An apology.
“No, don’t- don’t be sorry. It’s my fault, Cas. I should’ve stopped it, I should have done something-” An angry pinch to his nipple cuts him off, instantly followed by a more tender caress as Dean hisses in pain.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” he chuckles. “No self-blaming.” The hands, Cas’ hands, squeeze his sides affectionately. Dean sighs as he lets his head fall back, closing his eyes.
“This is weird,” he mumbles, and Cas’ fingers twitch against his skin in amusement. “But you’ll stay with me, like this, right Cas?” The hand’s lift from his sides for a moment, only for Cas to deliberately place one palm in the very center of Dean’s chest, a solid pressure to reassure him that Yes, I’m here.
The next morning, Dean is in a damn good mood. Freakishly good. A total 180 from the past four months. At first Sam was worried, but now he’s just getting increasingly frustrated as Dean teases him, tugging at his hair, playing juvenile pranks as if he were fucking twelve years old again. He grimaces as Dean turns up the radio some more, and tries his hardest to disappear into the leather of the Impala. As Dean taunts his baby brother, he smiles at the fond, annoyed flicks he knows now to be Cas saying C’mon, cut that out. He just laughs harder, and sings along louder, and starts making plans on how to convince Sammy to gets his own room tonight, so Dean can find out just what else Cas can do through that scar.