Prologue - Before
She stares up at the darkened cathedral and then back down at the tiny baby in her arms. She hugs him closer to her, inadvertently squeezing him too tightly. He gives a tiny squawk of protest, the loudest sound she’s heard from him and she shushes him with a soft cooing sound as she apologizes and brushes a kiss over his forehead.
He is a good baby. Quiet, solemn, his large blue eyes taking everything in. She knows he will be brilliant. Brilliant and handsome, with his shock of dark, wild hair against his pale skin and his impossibly blue eyes.
He is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.
She wishes desperately she could keep him.
His soft, warm, body pressed up against hers. He looks up at her, as though he knows her mind, implicit trust in his gaze.
She squeezes him tightly again. He is perfect to her, despite…
But she cannot keep him. Living with only her father as the troupe travelled around the countryside, it was difficult but not impossible to hide her pregnancy from him. He is not a cruel man, but he is stern. Proud. He has absolutely no knowledge of how to raise a daughter through no fault of his own. He expects her to work and keep to herself, staying with the troupe always. She tries to be a good daughter, the best she can.
If her father knew that his daughter was pregnant, if he had suspected that she had been sneaking off in the night to meet up with a boy, he would have beaten her for disobedience and found the boy and forced them to marry.
But it’s too late now. She thinks of the accident that killed the boy she loved. A fluke of bad luck and misfortune and he was gone and she was left alone… or so she thought, until she realized she was pregnant.
She had been too afraid to tell her father. They can barely get by on their own, they have no extra money for a baby.
Certainly not one as… unique as her baby.
She knows the troupe would say he is cursed. They would most assuredly try to drown him if they saw him, calling him an aberration, or evil.
She cannot let that happen and so she has gone to the only safe place she can think of where her baby will be safe.
She has but one good shawl and she wrapped him carefully in it, securing him tightly against the cool night. She cannot read and write very well, but she manages to make a few letters on a scrap of paper she tore out of a book and she tucks the note deep in the soft folds of fabric, close to his heart where it will be safe, leaving the edge poking out so it will be seen. She takes off her necklace, her one possession from her own mother and places it next to the paper.
She kisses him on the forehead once, and then again, pressing her lips against the lightly scented skin, fragile and soft under her lips. And then before she loses her nerve, she sets him gently down on the front steps of the cathedral and pulls the cord for the bell, turning and running away. She stumbles over the steps, crying, trying not to sob out loud.
She hides behind a pillar on the street, her breath hitching in her chest until she sees the front door of the cathedral swing open slowly. The young priest steps out and looks around. She sees the exact moment he spots the small bundle on the steps. Sees him crouch down and pick him up, sees him pull the note out of the shawl.
Son nom est Castiel. Il est un ange.
The priest looks up, eyes darting around and for a moment, she thinks he’s spotted her and she wants to run back to the cathedral, fall on her knees and beg forgiveness. Forgiveness from him, from God, but most of all from her baby.
But then he turns, takes her baby away from her and goes back inside, the door shutting behind him. Her mouth is open in a silent cry, fingers pressed to her lips where she last kissed him. She pulls her worn sweater up over her nose and breathes in deeply, catching the unmistakable infant smell still on her clothes. She slides to the ground and cries.
Twenty Five Years Later
The bells of the cathedral ring out loud and clear and Dean looks up toward the bell tower. The streets are lonely as he wanders, getting his bearings in the city, new to him as it is. The small cathedral is no doubt in the process of being stuffed like a holiday turkey, nearly splitting at the seams with the parishioners who flock to mass, alerted by the bells when it’s time.
Dean has already been admonished by Sam and his wife Jess for not joining them at mass. Jess said she would say a prayer for him. When Sam kicked up his shin hard under the table, Dean smiled and thanked her.
Jess worries Dean will never find a young lady if he doesn’t make himself presentable and join them at church. Nearly everyone in the city goes to mass. The shops are closed up on Sunday morning tight as a drum. A few of the newer, more liberal parishioners may open their stores late in the day, but the old crowd still sticks to Sunday as a day of rest.
Dean doesn’t feel the need for mass. He knows where he stands with God and they’re good. Although it would probably get him excommunicated to voice out loud, he views himself as a somewhat anarchist Catholic - more than happy to bypass the administration to go straight to the big Guy himself.
It is somewhat ironic that he’s come to the city to be the foreman of the restoration and addition to the cathedral, and probably won’t see the inside of it for mass. He’s never really had a need for organized religion. He gives his word and sticks to it, he drives a fair bargain, he helps out when it’s needed or requested.
Since he’s not been struck by lightening yet, Dean figures God’s okay with him.
He takes this quiet time when the rest of the town is professing their sins and transgressions to walk the streets and get a good view of the cathedral from all possible angles. He can see what the original architect had in mind and where pieces or sections were sacrificed, whether for budget or design, he’s not sure. The heart of the building is beautiful in its own right and he understands why the people of the town are so protective and proud of her.
Our Lady they call her affectionately. No one calls her the church or the cathedral. It is always Our Lady.
Her lines are solid and stately and while she statuary and gargoyles adorn the crest of her skyline, she is not overly ornate nor ostentatious. He feels an immediate connection to her and looks forward to the work he will be doing. He has plans to meet the bishop the following day and discuss the blueprints and plans his lordship has already drawn up.
The cathedral sits slightly off of the center of town and the roadways leading up to it from all four sides flank her with open space. It was long ago forbidden to build to close to Our Lady, and so she stands some what lonely, rising up taller than any other building. From where he stands, he can see the front door of the cathedral, heavy and wooden, their massive hinges kept well oiled and free of debris or they’d never been able to swing her doors open as easily as they do. His eyes roam over the carvings that surround the entry way, recognizing some saints and prophets from his bible studies many, many, many years ago, but many of the statues are unknown to him. He lets his eyes travel upward, along the intricate stonework, his brain mapping out what type of rock was used and the tools that must be procured to match it. He finally reaches the bell tower where something doesn’t seem exactly right…
There is a man in the tower, standing off to the side of one of the bells, looking out over the city as Dean himself is looking over the tower. At this distance, Dean can hardly make out the shape of a man, let alone his face and he wonders in a casual way what the man looks like. The man turns and there is a strange flap of black, a flash of a large cloak or something else, he can’t be sure, and the man is gone.
Castiel runs his fingertips over the bells, tapping against them lightly to hear the note of each one quietly. The bourdon is the loudest, the largest, but Castiel prefers the four smaller ones, their harmonic notes more pleasing to him than the chest rumbling timbre of the bourdon.
Although he favors the smaller ones, he loves all the bells and cares for them diligently. He wishes desperately for a carillon, which by nature would have at least 23 bells. With 23 bells he could play such songs as the city as never heard. With 23 bells perhaps even God himself would hear Castiel and would take pity on him.
Although it is selfish of him to wish for more than what he has and if the bishop knew of his secret desire for a carillon he would no doubt chastise him soundly for the the thought.
He forces his mind away from things he cannot have and instead works on polishing the bells.
It is one of his many jobs at the cathedral. Castiel polishes the bells during the day, and at night when Our Lady is empty, he polishes all pews, oiling their hinges and ensuring they are ready for mass. He equally distributes the prayer books, stacks the baskets for the offerings, and replaces any old and unusable candles with fresh wicks. He is even allowed up on the altar which humbles him greatly. He remembers to keep his eyes cast downward as the bishop instructed him and never looks upward, especially when the lamp is lit and signifies the presence of Christ.
He is grateful for all his tasks, as given to him by the bishop.
He loses track of time during his polishing, the shine on the bells is beautiful when the light catches the curve just so. He tries to avoid seeing his own reflection in the metal, slightly warped and twisted. Especially since he is not wearing his cloak and the full horror of his deformity and curse is spread out behind him in all its blackened monstrosity.
Although he often pretends they aren’t there, he can never truly forget their presence. Heavy and dense, they weigh on his back, shifting and swaying as he moves, accounting for his balance and posture. When he is in the bell towers, as he is now, the wind cuts through at sharper angels, diving into his feathers and stirring the rachis’. He cannot help but pull his wings in closer to his body, both for the warmth and to keep the wind from disturbing the feathers.
It is no mystery to him why he was left on the cathedral steps as an infant. His mother surely must have been horrified by his appearance. Bishop Zachariah has told him many times how fortunate he was to have been given to the church for reformation instead of drowned or smothered, as would have been the normal thing to do. He was doubly fortunate that it was Zachariah himself that found Castiel as a babe and took him in, making a solemn vow to God to redeem his eternal soul, if at all possible, although it was not likely.
Zachariah said God himself must have cursed Castiel with the wings he bore so heavily and if he ever thought Castiel redeemable, he would surely take them away.
When he was a boy, Castiel prayed every night that God would take them as he slept, carve them off his flesh and then turn them to ash.
Every morning he woke with a heavy and despaired heart when they were still there, dark and implacable.
He no longer prays for their removal, but simply prays that he may serve God and the bishop to the best of his abilities and that the heavenly Father will take pity and have mercy on him when he finally comes to the gates of heaven.
He prays that his soul is not cast into the depths of hell, where Zachariah says it would likely burn in eternal fire, horrid as he is.
He somedays wishes that his mother had taken pity on him at birth and drowned him. Zachariah says it’s possible she tried and that is why he is stupid.
So it is even more fortunate that Zachariah found work for him in the cathedral as he would no doubt be stoned upon his appearance outside the holy walls and would have no way to make a living.
Castiel counts his blessings every night. He is grateful for his bells, he is grateful for the books that parishioners donate to the church without which he would have nothing to read. He is grateful that he lives in the cathedral, even when it is cold and drafty without a fire. He is grateful Zachariah took him in and did not let him be drowned.
And although they keep him warm at night and protect him from the rain and the wind, he never expresses gratitude for his wings.
He cannot imagine he ever would.
Zachariah knows he is destined to become a Pope.
He knows this as he knows the back of his hand. It is irrefutable and incontrovertible. The church needs him.
God needs him.
Under his guidance and instruction, the Holy Church will flourish. Gone will be the heretics claiming reform and revolution. Like an infection that must be purged with heat or flame, Zachariah will burn out the seeds of malcontent from the land and in its place, a stronger, more robust faith will spring up.
He will be revered. Lauded. Remembered. And upon his entrance into the heavenly Father’s domain, he will be sung unto by angels.
His life has been a straight and narrow path toward the leadership of the Sancta Sedes for as long as he can remember.
He is the personification of all things the faith needs. Strength, perseverance, intelligence.
And of course, compassion.
No one is as compassionate as the Bishop Zachariah. There is not a parishioner in the city who does not know how he found a poor, wretched babe on the doorstep of the cathedral, while he was still but a priest and how he took that baby in and raised him in the sanctity of the church.
Castiel goes out with Zachariah on occasion, to the markets or when Zachariah is visiting the sick and the dying. He is good at carrying all of Zachariah’s belongings, sacks of flour and grain for the church. People look at Zachariah with such reverence and sympathy when they see Castiel. On more than one occasion, parishioners have mentioned that Zachariah must have an exceedingly kind and gentle heart to take in one such as Castiel.
Castiel keeps his head tilted down, hunches his shoulders in his pale coat, as if he could make the terrible bulges that are his wings disappear by curling inward.
Of course, no one has ever seen Castiel’s wings except for Zachariah and one parishioner many years ago. Zachariah had approached the man, who was a doctor, and asked him, in secret, to take a look at the wings and see if it was possible to cut them off. The doctor had been awed by Castiel’s wings. Black and shiny, they had trembled as Castiel, five years old at the time, stood before the doctor with his wide, solemn eyes. The doctor’s hands had shaken themselves as the reached out and touched the feathered appendages and he had crossed himself, telling Zachariah he would sooner cut off his own hands, for surely these wings must be the work of God.
Zachariah had him ex-communicated and shunned by the city. The doctor left the city in disgrace and shame. Last Zachariah heard, he was off treating lepers or some such horribly afflicted souls.
Zachariah made it clear to Castiel on that day that the wings were most assuredly not of God, but of the devil himself. Such monstrosity must mean a deficiency of the soul and if Castiel were lucky, if he worked hard enough, then perhaps God would not strike him down to burn in eternal damnation.
It is only through the unending benevolence of Zachariah’s heart that Castiel has a place to live.
Although, once Zachariah becomes Pope, he will not be able to look after Castiel. It is unthinkable that the Holy Vatican should be besmirched with Castiel’s presence. Castiel will have to be tossed out into the world, unless the next bishop is as dedicated and compassionate as Zachariah.
But that is neither here nor there and Zachariah cannot afford to be distracted from his ultimate goal by inconsequential trivialities. He must remain focused on the task at hand which is to elevate the cathedral to a level more befitting him. An expansion and renovation will raise the cathedral higher, making it the most glorious house of worship in all the country. Zachariah, as leader of the parish and designer of the building, will have the attention of Holy City and no doubt be given a cardinality for his work.
From there, he will make his way to Rome, to the Vatican.
After that, the Papacy is assured.
Until then, he must toil in relative obscurity, performing tasks that are far beneath the greatness to which he is destined. One of those tasks is to meet with the foreman of the upcoming renovations and ensure the man is up to the task.
There cannot be any missteps on Zachariah’s way to Rome.
He looks over the plans he drew up for the cathedral one last time. They are perfect. Grand and powerful, they will be a crowning achievement for him.
"Your excellency? Mr. Winchester has arrived to see you."
He waves his hand dismissively at his mousy secretary. "Yes, yes. Show him in."
As soon as he sees Dean Winchester, he knows God is testing him.
Dean is masculine beauty, tensile strength and liquid grace compressed into a package with startling green eyes and a charming, handsome smile.
Dean steps toward him, hand outstretched and as his fingers slide against Zachariah’s a frisson of lust shoots down Zachariah’s spine, coiling low and heavy in his body. Dean’s grip is firm and warm, his skin calloused from years of work. His body is that of a worker; sun-bronzed flesh wrapped carefully around corded forearms, strong legs encased in worn fabric.
Dean is introducing himself, low timbered voice rubbing against Zachariah’s body and he can easily imagine those soft, plush lips whispering lewd things against Zachariah’s ear.
The instant thrill of desire, this spark of sin is heady and disorienting and he realizes that Dean is waiting for him to speak, eyes alight with expectation.
"I’m sorry?" Zachariah questions.
"I was just wondering if you had any plans in mind, but it seems you’ve got them laid out already," Dean says, hand gesturing gracefully to the desk where the blueprints are stretched out.
"Yes. Yes of course," Zachariah murmurs.
Dean steps around the desk, coming to stand beside Zachariah to view the plans, bracing his hands on the solid wood and leaning his weight forward, eyes flickering over the prints with a determination. Zachariah cannot take his eyes off him.
He is… beautiful.
"… take these with me?"
"Pardon?" asks Zachariah.
"Your plans," repeats Dean. "I was hoping I could take them with me, to study them. Figure out the material and verify the numbers."
"I assure you the numbers are correct," Zachariah says immediately.
Dean smiles, lazy and warm. "I’m sure they are. I like to run them to make sure I’m familiar with them."
"I see. Of course. Your… wife doesn’t mind you bringing your work home?"
"Not married," Dean says easily, rolling the plans up carefully. Zachariah’s heart beats double time at the revelation.
"You shall have to come to dinner sometime, then. As a ….guest of the cathedral. My guest."
"Sure," replies Dean easily. "We’ll see how the plans go and if I have some free time."
"A man has to eat."
"That he does," answers Dean. He takes a step back from Zachariah. "So, I’ll go over these plans and then we can discuss them."
"By all means. My door is always open to you. Anytime."
Zachariah’s eyes are focused on him as he leaves, watching the muscles bunch and move under the fabric of his clothing. He sits down hard, breathing slightly labored.
Dean Winchester is most certainly a test from God.
After his initial review of the plans, Dean’s got a pretty good idea of where the work is going.
He can’t say he’s overly thrilled or wowed by Zachariah’s designs, but they’re workable. Mostly, they’re just too damn… ‘busy.’ It’s as though Zachariah doesn’t want to leave any surface unmarked or unadorned. Everything screams ‘look at me!’ which will likely have the combined effect of overwhelming the parishioner. They’ll end up seeing none of the intricacies and only be bombarded by the flashiness of it all.
Maybe he can talk to the bishop about it. Tone down some of the designs. Change some of the structures. Some of the numbers too are worrisome. He’s only had a chance to review the measurements on the new additions, but there’s something about they way they sit in the existing architecture that seems off. When a design is right, Dean can feel it in his bones, and when it’s wrong… well, he can feel that too.
There’s something wrong with the plans, Dean’s just not sure what it is.
He’s not exactly thrilled at the idea of having to revise the plans with the bishop. He seemed nice enough at the meeting, but, the same way Dean gets a sense of structure and rightness from buildings, he gets a sense of people. His sense of the bishop leaves Dean with a slightly oily feeling in his brain. The bishop may be a man of the church, a man of god, but something about the way he looked at Dean made the back of Dean’s neck itch. In a bad, bad way.
Problem is, this is the job of a lifetime. Between the money and the recognition he’ll get from this work, he’ll be set for life. And he enjoys it too. Working on a building like the cathedral means that people will see his work every day. It will become part of their lives, forever. The solidness of that fact resonates with him.
If he has to deal with Zachariah for this building, then so be it.
Although he’ll admit he’s glad when he shows up at the cathedral the following afternoon and is informed that the Bishop is out meeting with the city and titled members of the parish in order to secure more funding for the renovations.
It’s a quiet time for the cathedral with only a few parishioners spread out in various pews praying quietly or lighting candles. He lets his eyes wander up and around the building, taking in the current stonework, looking for any defects in the mortar or any stress points that have evolved over time.
His eyes drift up toward the interior of the bell tower and he can almost make out the edge of the bell. If he follows Zachariah’s plan to the letter, the bell tower in its current form will be destroyed, scavenged for materials. The bells will be moved, relocated to a smaller structure that will hang onto the outside of the building, a pulley system being strung so that they can be rung with small levers instead of the large pull-ropes that are used now. It’s a shame as the tower is a lovely piece of work, classic limestone construction with sharply pointed graceful arches. It is spartan in its beauty, with no ornamentation other than the structural supports necessary to bear its weight.
A small movement in the shadows catches his eye and he squints, trying to get a better view.
Someone is up there.
The bells have not rung all day and it isn’t any of the holy days, so there should be no need for the bells to to ring at all.
The dark alcoves of the tower obscure anything he may make out other than the vague impression of motion. Someone shifting slightly. Not walking around, perhaps seated?
He can’t imagine who would be seated in the bell tower other than the someone who was there to work the bells. It would be a loud, drafty place, built for magnifying and echoing the gong of the bell, and not for any sort of comfort.
Dean turns his head at the soft voice and finds a woman of small stature standing next to him, her head tilted up as his just was, staring at the bell tower.
"Excuse me?" Dean asks.
"Desolo," the woman repeats, gesturing to the bell tower. "He is up there, watching us." She has a glorious accent; foreign and fluid. She makes the sign of the cross over herself. "I will pray for him," she adds solemnly, closing her eyes for a moment.
"Who is he?"
Her eyes remain closed for a few seconds longer as she finishes her prayer before turning to Dean.
"You are new here, yes?"
She nods in affirmation, as though she expected as much. "Poor Desolo is our bell ringer, a most wretched and cursed creature, he lives in the tower."
"He lives up there?" Dean questions incredulously. "You can’t be serious."
"On a stack of bibles, I am."
"As I said, he is cursed. Bishop Zachariah in his infinite grace and charity took poor Desolo in as a baby, disfigured though he was. He clothed him, fed him and housed him in the house of the Lord. A more benevolent bishop is not found anywhere. We are truly blessed by his guidance and wisdom. There but for the grace of God, go we all."
Dean skips over her raging endorsement of Zachariah and cuts to the chase. "Disfigured how?"
The woman crosses herself again. "I know only rumors, it is not my place. He wears his coat well, and none shall see his deformity in the light of day."
Dean senses a ‘but’ coming when she pauses. He leans forward slightly. "But…" he leads.
She glances around carefully. "But some have seen shadows, in the half-light of twilight and at dawn. Strange shapes of darkness and movement."
She halts and Dean leans in even closer, waiting for more. She stares up at the bell tower silently.
"And?" Dean finally breaks.
She shrugs. "And I know nothing more."
"How long has he been up there?" Dean kept his voice quiet in the sacred space.
Another shrug. "Many years. He is not so old as me," she said with a self depreciating smile. "I was just married with my first little one when the Bishop took him in."
"No one…" Dean started and then broke off awkwardly. "I mean, you never saw him," he finished, his curiosity piqued.
"Oh no, Desolo’s care was solely upon the Bishop, who was then just a priest. Of course, there were rumors as there always are, and sometimes… sometimes we heard poor Desolo crying as babies do." The woman straightened her squat, flared shoulders. "But he was fortunate to have been taken in by the benevolent Bishop. You will no doubt see Desolo about for yourself eventually."
"He comes out?"
She nodded assuredly as she drew her shawl closer around her. "Oh yes, he goes to the market with the Bishop at times to carry purchases or transport items for the church. Sometimes he is down in the sacristy cleaning or arranging items for his Grace."
"Does he… I mean, is he…" Dean stuttered. He wanted to know if Desolo spoke or if he was possibly a mute, or affected in some other way. "Do you speak to him?"
She smiled. "Oh yes, I’ve spoken to Desolo. He does not speak to me, though."
She tilted her head. "Simply does not, I believe. I have a friend who says that she has heard him speak in the past. She works in the market and quite often the Bishop stops buy to purchase bread and fruit. She has heard him say ‘thank you’ to her in a low, deep voice. She said it made the hairs on her arms rise. A great presence behind it, she said, though he spoke quietly." The woman sighed somewhat forlornly. "Such a terrible shame for he has the face of an angel."
Construction on the cathedral begins and at first Castiel watches with detached interest.
The Bishop had told him there would be renovations and additions to the old structure, warning Castiel to stay out of the workers’ way and not make a nuisance of himself. Often, in the middle of the night, when there were no parishioners about and there was only Castiel to share his thoughts with, the bishop would come into the bell tower and shake Castiel awake to show him the plans that he had for the cathedral. Castiel had learned a long time it ago it was best to put a blank face on and let the Bishop’s words wash over him. It did not matter that he didn’t respond, it only mattered that he was a captive audience.
So, when work begins, it is no great surprise to Castiel and he sits in the bell tower and watches materials arrive, watches men and women organize into groups, watches scaffolding go up and measurements made. It is something different, something to do.
And of course, there is Dean Winchester.
Castiel noticed him on his first and subsequent visits to the cathedral, before the construction begins. Surely God must have smiled and been in an extraordinary mood when he crafted Dean for he is heartbreakingly beautiful to behold. His strong features work elegantly together, no one of them standing out above the other, each a work of art on its own. Clear green eyes, strong straight nose, full lips. Castiel thinks that he could watch Dean Winchester all day, and not grow tired of it.
And then he sees Dean at work.
Dean is kind but firm with his workers. He expects them to do their best and never asks anyone to do anything that he does not do himself first. He is first one to arrive early in the morning and the last one to leave. He helps in all areas - hauling supplies, reviewing plans, sanding planks, counting nails, bringing water. His crew speak of him fondly and work harder than any other Castiel has seen.
Dean’s voice is deep and true and echoes exquisitely in the cathedral. His words are sharp and precise, his diction clear. The Bishop’s homilies are sometimes muddled; his words end up mumbling across the great space and the parishioners in the back figure they need not understand the sermon, as long as they are at church. But much like Castiel’s beloved bells, Dean’s voice does not lose it’s clarity as it travels through the sacred space.
He spends most of his days now watching Dean from the shadowy corners of his tower. He thinks that Dean somehow knows when he is watching, for Castiel has witnessed Dean turning his head up to the raised balconies of the tower, his head cocked sideways, his eyes slightly narrowed as he tries to make something out.
Castiel pulls himself deeper into the shadows. A man as beautiful as Dean Winchester would surely not wish to see someone, something as horrid as Castiel.
From his perch, Castiel can see he is not the only observer Dean has.
Bishop Zachariah has taken to spending part of his mornings and most of the afternoons watching the construction from the sacristy. The sacristy lies behind the main alter, hidden by an impressive array of interior stained glass gothic arches, one of which has a spring latch that allows the bishop or other clergy to travel back and forth to the the room if necessary, and allows Castiel to stock the alter before mass without having to walk the length of the cathedral. Each of the arches has a small spy hole drilled in to the glass, into one of the eyes of the saints the stained glass portrays, for the bishop to keep an eye on his flock. Access to the sacristy is generally through one of the tunnels on either side of the long cathedrals. They are used frequently by parish staff for moving items about the cathedral without being seen during mass.
Castiel has never seen anyone else in the tunnel underneath the building but himself. He stumbled across the tunnel one day after spilling some water he was preparing for baptismal rite for Easter Vigil. The water had run across the floor and disappeared behind one of the walls. Intrigued, Castiel had spent many hours contemplating the wall before reaching out and opening the spring latch door. He finds the catacombs underneath the cathedral cool and full of respite. As such, he is loathe to ask any of the sisters or other members of the church if they know of it as well.
Certainly not the Bishop.
From the sacristy, the Bishop is free to watch Dean unhindered, much as Castiel himself is from the bell tower. The only sign of the Bishop’s presence is a changing of the shadows behind the stained glass as he moves to and from to get a better vantage point on Dean. Watching the bishop watch Dean makes something curl and coil in Castiel’s stomach. Castiel has spent his life separate and apart from others, but he hears the gossip and whispers. He knows the congregation is aware of his vigil.
Just as he knows that no one but him is aware of the Bishop’s.
Castiel finds his time watching Dean split into watching the man himself and watching for the Bishop doing the same thing.
Happily today, the Bishop is off visiting the adjoining hamlets of the town and Castiel is free to watch Dean the entire day. The scaffolding in the nave is complete and Castiel watches in quiet awe as Dean easily hoists and levers himself up onto the the higher levels. He moves smoothly and lithely, each of his movements clearly telegraphing the familiarity he has with the task. Once at the top, he quickly sets up a rope and pulley system with the men down below to transport necessary materials up and down before rappelling down on the very system he just constructed. His willingness to be the first and the confidence with which he moves inspires the other workers and they quickly mount up themselves, climbing up the buttresses as though they were creatures in the jungle.
The day is long and Dean works longer hours than anyone else, the last one in the cathedral, even after the sisters have retired for evening vespers. Castiel watches him clean up small items, moving things out of the way of heavy traffic, and checking things against notes he keeps in his pocket. Finally, with a satisfied nod and a last look around the cathedral, Dean heads toward the doors, his bootheels echoing loudly on the marble floor.
The door shuts and Castiel is left in his silent world again.
He loves the silence of the cathedral. Without any bodies to fill the space, sound travels easily back and forth and he knows that if he dropped a nail in the nave, it could be heard in the ambulatory.
No stranger to climbing himself, he works his way down the arched columns of the tower, slinking down the stone, easily and quickly, instead of taking the long way down the stairs. His wings, trapped beneath the stiff fabric of his coat, itch to be set free, as if sensing he is doing something during which they might be useful. Some nights they cramp and ache so badly he must release them, stretching them out as far as they can reach. Once, in a fit of morbid curiosity he measured their span as three times his height.
His soft soled shoes make a bare ‘thump’ as he lands, his wings ceasing their twitching as he steps out on solid ground once more. He has his own work to do; spacing the choir and prayer books, checking the pews for work required, restocking the prayer candles and removing the burned out blobs of wax that remain from those extinguished. He will then check the Bishop’s robes and stoles, ensuring they are all pressed and perfect, ready for mass if required.
He crosses himself quickly as he stands in front of the stand of votive candles, glancing hesitantly at the Virgin Mary once before casting his gaze back to the flames. He has just finished removing the old candles and is in the middle of placing new ones when a sound catches his attention.
He turns to find Dean Winchester staring at him from just inside the narthex.
He is horrified, frozen on the spot as Dean stands there casually, not saying a word. Castiel wants to flee, to run and at this, the worst moment, his heinous wings betray him and twitch under his coat, the fabric making what sounds like an ear splitting racket in the quiet.
Dean doesn’t appear to notice and instead offers him a hesitant smile.
"Hello," he says carefully, inclining his head.
Castiel nods once back, his eyes darting away. Dean must be appalled to see a creature such as Castiel in the cathedral. The Bishop has warned him many times that he is to be seen as little as possible so as not to offend the publics’ delicate sensibilities. He wants to run, to retreat back to the bell tower where he is safe, but to do so, he’d have to approach Dean.
Then, the miraculous happens. Dean approaches him.
"I forgot some plans I was hoping to go over this evening. I came back to get them."
He takes a few more steps toward Castiel and Castiel hurriedly steps away, moving behind the votive candle stand, keeping his eyes averted from Dean. The Bishop taught him well not to look the faithful in the eyes.
As if sensing Castiel’s fear, Dean pauses, holding up his hands in a calm, non-threatening gesture. "Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you."
Castiel frowns. He is not worried of Dean scaring him. He is worried of horrifying Dean, of offending him. Should that happen, all Dean would have to do is tell the Bishop and the benevolent protection Zachariah has bestowed on Castiel could be rescinded and he would be left to starve on the streets or stoned for his disfigurement.
The Bishop has told him so. For Castiel’s own safety he must always be vigilant.
But Dean does not appear scared, as he moves slowly down the aisle, passing by the votive stand and on his way to the choir.
"You must be the famous man in the bell tower," Dean says casually, eyes focused on him.
Castiel’s eyes dart up once to see Dean’s face and then away again. He nods his head once.
"Desolo? Is that your name?" Dean asks.
"That is what they call me."
Castiel cannot believe the words have passed his lips. He has not spoken more than one or two words to anyone but Zachariah in… in his entire life, though he is perfectly vocal. His voice always comes out low and gravelly from it’s disuse. To him, it is an uncultured voice. The voice of a monster, not a man. He does not know what possessed him to speak to Dean, only that his name is not Desolo, it is only what people call him.
Dean raises his eyebrows in surprise. "It’s not your name?"
Again, his lips are moving before his brain can think better of it. "No. My name is Castiel."
Zachariah once told Castiel that he named him for an obscure angel, in the hopes that perhaps some small fortune may shine or his miserable and loathsome being.
He has strangely always liked the name Castiel. He likes that no one, save for himself and Zachariah, know it. He likes keeping it hidden and secret.
Until now. Until he shared it with Dean. A spark of fear runs through him that Dean may run out and tell the world his secret.
"Please don’t tell anyone," he asks, turning his eyes up to Dean and holding his gaze.
Dean smiles. "I won’t."
Castiel’s shoulders sag in relief. "Thank you."
"And you live in the cathedral?" Dean asks, as if unsure.
"Yes. In the bell tower."
"Your whole life?"
"Yes," Castiel answers easily. He doesn’t understand the look of surprise on Dean’s face. "I was abandoned as a baby because of my horrible and damned disfigurement."
Dean blinks at his words and Castiel frowns.
"That’s… terrible," Dean manages.
Castiel shrugs. "I am quite fortunate she did not drown me, cursed as I am."
Dean stares at Castiel wordlessly. His gaze makes something quiver in Castiel’s chest and he finds himself continuing speak, unable to stop himself.
"Bishop Zachariah took me in. Clothed me. Fed me. Housed me. Were it not for his divine charity and benevolence, I would surely have been stoned by the people of the city. As it is, they tolerate my horridness in exchange for the work I do for the cathedral and by the grace of the Bishop."
Dean’s eyes narrow slightly. "Did the Bishop tell you all this?"
Castiel nods. "Yes. Of course. It is only by his angelic compassion that I am permitted to live."
Dean makes an odd sort of choking sound and Castiel takes a step toward him and then freezes in midstride.
"Is my monstrosity affecting you? I shall leave."
Dean’s words stop him as he turns. "No. Don’t. I, uh, was just…" Dean pats his chest. "Swallowed the wrong way."
Castiel looks him up and down, wary. "My presence is a blight to you."
"No, not at all. I’m just… I’m surprised. That’s all."
Castiel takes a step away from Dean nonetheless. He should leave. He should flee up to the bell tower. He finds his gaze drawn up there longingly.
"So, the bell tower," Dean begins and Castiel turns his eyes back toward him. "Did Zachariah tell you of the plans for the cathedral?"
"His lordship spoke of them many times, although he would not show me the plans."
Castiel looks at Dean as though Dean is a little slow. "I am hardly worthy to review plans drawn up by his Grace."
"Right," Dean drawls easily. "It’s just that the plans, they uh, say the bell tower is to come down."
Castiel feels his heart drop into his stomach. "No, that’s impossible. The bells…" he begins helplessly.
"The plans call for them to be moved," Dean says gently. "You didn’t know?"
Castiel shakes his head, feeling sick. "No. I didn’t…. But I sleep…. And my bells…" a stray thought hits him. "But the tower cannot come down unless you are restructuring the outer facade."
It’s Dean’s turn to frown. "No, that’s not in designs. Why?"
"The tower is the support structure for the carvings on the facade. It is bolted into the load bearing posts of the tower. If the tower goes down… the facade will not hold."
"Can you show me?"
His nervousness forgotten in the face the cathedral’s safety, Castiel nods quickly and purposefully starts off toward the bell tower staircase.
Dean follows Castiel through the nave then narthex, pausing when Castiel swings open an old door and disappears into the darkness. He hesitates slightly before pressing in after him. It’s an old spiral stairwell, built when people were smaller and Dean hunches in on himself and tries not to think about how close the walls are. There is only room for one person’s shoulder width in the darkened space and Dean wonders what would happen if someone was coming down while they were going up.
He supposes that someone would have to turn around and go back the way they came. He can’t imagine there’d be room to pass someone.
It’s dark as pitch and the only reason he doesn’t stumble is that there’s no room to. The stairs are old, but even and each one is the same height and width as the one before. He can hear Castiel above him, climbing the steps methodically, though he cannot see him.
To say he was surprised when he came back into the cathedral and saw Castiel would be an understatement. Though the entire parish and most of the town had at some point or another seen Castiel and he was mentioned as a regular fixture, Dean somehow hadn’t really thought of him as real. It wasn’t until he entered the darkened cathedral to get his plans and had seen the strange man clearing out the old candles that he realized all the tales and stories were true; there was a disfigured man that lived in the bell tower. It was twelve kinds of weird. He had taken a moment to watch the man, known to him then as Desolo. The abandoned one - one of the workers had called him.
The misshapen form of his back was obvious, his coat doing nothing to hide the bulging shape under it. Dean had immediately wondered, as he was sure most people did, what could possibly cause that kind of a deformation. What must it - what must he look like under that coat?
But to talk to the man, there was clearly noting wrong with his brain. He spoke clearly, succinctly, without any sort of impediment. Although some of the things he said… Dean could well imagine what being raised in the church would be like, but it sounded like Zachariah was not as… charitable as he would like to appear. Dean wondered how old Castiel was when he first began hearing how horrid and cursed he was.
They reach the top of the bell tower and Dean breathes slightly harder from the exertion. He looks up and Castiel has lit several small candles, each one casting small globes of light in the darkened tower. Castiel has moved toward the front of the tower, around the bells in the center, where there is a small gap in the brick work.
The entire thing reminds Dean in many ways of a lighthouse he saw once. The bells hang from the center of the tower, large and imposing, the space beneath them empty for the sound to carry downward to the church. Higher up, above the bells, the stonework is open and unhindered - allowing the sound to carry out of the tower and to the city at large. However, the floor doesn't’ meet the walls in many places and as Dean peers over, he can see there is enough room for a man to ease his way through - probably for structural work or repairs as necessary.
He steps over to Castiel who stands silent with this head tilted downward, peering through one of the gaps. He places a candle on the floor and the light edges out just enough for Dean to see the start of the structures underneath the floor.
"You can see, the struts from the facade are bolted into the tower structure," Castiel says lowly. "If you remove the tower, the facade will have to come down as well."
Dean frowns as he stares down. "Does Zachariah know this?"
Castiel shrugs. "I do not know."
"How did you know?"
Castiel looks around for a moment, his eyes distant and unfocused. "As I said, I have lived my life in this tower."
Dean takes in the surroundings. It’s cold in the tower, drafty and slightly damp. The sun wouldn’t make it into the tower, but the rain might. It would be dark, even during the day. Dean spies a small pallet in the corner with a blanket and a makeshift pillow and it shocks him to realize that’s where Castiel sleeps. There is a small pile of books next to the pillow, a bucket of what looks like water, a plate and a loaf of bread.
"You really live here?" Dean asks, ridiculously because Castiel has just told him as much.
"Yes. The tower is my home."
And Zachariah planned on tearing it down without even mentioning it to you, thinks Dean quickly.
"Of course, when I was an infant, I lived with the sisters, but once I was old enough, Zachariah permitted me to live here," Castiel clarifies.
"How old were you?"
Dean can’t hide the look he knows crosses his face. "Seven? By yourself?"
"I am never truly alone," Castiel answers.
Dean tilts his head in confusion. "How’s that?"
"God is always with me."
"Did God make sure you went to bed on time and didn’t freeze to death?" Dean asks sarcastically, his tone biting, though it’s not Castiel he’s angry with.
Castiel looks forlornly away, eyes downcast. "My… deformity is such that I do not have to worry about the cold. I suppose in some strange way, God has ensured I will not freeze."
Dean feels like an utter asshole and jams his hands into his pockets to keep them from fidgeting. He watches as Castiel’s brow furrows.
"Although, since I am cursed rather than blessed, it’s possible that God had nothing to do with it," Castiel finishes.
Dean wanders aimlessly in the small area, his anger building up in his bones. Organized religion, he shakes his head. He’d gotten a slick, greasy feeling from Zachariah when they’d met but this is really something else.
He makes his way over to the pile of books by the small bed and hunkers down, looking at the titles. He sees Thomas Aquinas next to Thomas Paine, Aristotle stacked on top of Homer, and of course, the bible.
Dean senses Castiel hovering close by, nervous as if afraid Dean will touch the books. It occurs to Dean they are likely the only thing Castiel has.
"Like to read?" Dean asks.
"Yes," Castiel answers carefully. "I am fortunate that parishioners often donate books when they are finished with them."
"Zachariah taught you to read?"
"No. I taught myself."
Dean stands and looks at Castiel. "How?"
Castiel gestures toward the stack. "I have a bible and I followed along during masses."
"Wow," Dean answers with a slight jerk of his head. "That’s… impressive. I guess you’re no slouch in the brains department."
"Zachariah says I appear to have been moderately fortunate that my physical deformity hasn’t yet manifested itself in my intelligence, although it is likely a matter of time."
"Jesus," Dean mutters.
Castiel’s eyes widen. "You should not blaspheme. We are in a house of the Lord."
"Right, sorry," Dean says quickly. He’s not actually sorry for saying it but more for the way it made Castiel react.
He watches Castiel who stands solemnly still. Looking at him straight on, you can’t tell there is anything wrong with him, until he moves slightly and Dean catches a glimpse of the bulges and shapes underneath Castiel’s coat. Dean has a sudden urge to ask what’s wrong with Castiel but somehow manages to hold his tongue. It’s chilly in the tower, the cold seeping into his bones and he wonders how Castiel stands it. Though, he thinks, Castiel likely doesn’t know any different. He imagines Castiel as a small boy, lanky and thin living his life in this dark tower. Dean’s mother died in a fire when he was four, and his father worked odd jobs. Sometimes he and Sammy were left with a neighbor or their local pastor, James, a kind man who wasn’t really a man of the cloth so much as a man of spirituality. While it hadn’t been ideal, it certainly hadn’t been horrific. There had been times when he’d been cold and hungry but he’d always had Sam, curled together for warmth or for companionship.
It seems as though Castiel had no one.
Castiel appears slightly awkward in Dean’s presence, but not overly uncomfortable. He is attentive, although careful. His eyes dart over to Dean continuously and then away, as though he wants to know what is going on but is afraid to be caught staring. Dean’s surprised when Castiel speaks again.
"I have work to do. You should leave."
Somehow it doesn’t come out cruel or short - just simple and quiet. "What? Oh, yeah, of course," Dean stammers out, realizing he’s essentially standing in what passes for Castiel’s bedroom. "Maybe we’ll talk again."
Castiel does look at Dean this time, eyes bright blue, even in the half-light. "That would be… I would look forward to it."
"You mean you will," Dean says somewhat eagerly. "It’s not an imagined event. You will look forward to it."
Castiel falters slightly and casts his gaze away and Dean sees a faint blush creep up on his cheeks. "I… yes. I will."
Castiel tells himself the next morning that his conversation with Dean was a blessed event and he vows not to be disappointed when it never happens again.
That night, when the cathedral is dark and quiet again, he watches as Dean packs up his belongings and then stands still in the nave and looks up.
"Castiel?" he says quietly. His voice echoes off the stonework and Castiel’s wings flutter furiously of their own volition for a moment before he calms them with a thought. Dean had said his name. He has not heard it said by anyone in so long. Castiel leans out from his perch in the tower, tilting his face out into the pale light that falls from the dimmed candelabra and miraculously, he sees Dean smile.
Castiel ducks back into the tower and hurries down the stairs. He doesn’t dare climb down as he did the night before, lest his wings pop out and Dean should see them and be horrified at the sight. As he exits the stairwell and makes his way over to Dean, he sees Dean reaching into his satchel and pulling out a book. He holds it out for Castiel who can only stare at it.
"What is it?"
Dean huffs in amusement. "And here I thought you were some kind of genius. It’s a book."
"Yes, of course it is," Castiel replies flatly, Dean’s sarcasm somewhat lost on him.
"It’s for you," Dean says, gesturing with the book toward Castiel.
Castiel takes a step back in surprise. He’s never received anything as a gift before. His clothing, his food, his shelter… all these things are provided to him, yes. But they are necessities. The books he reads are donated to the church, not to him personally. He reaches his hand out, fingers hovering over the pages.
"Why?" Castiel asks, sotto voice.
Dean shrugs. "I dunno. Because you like to read. And I had a book."
Shyly, Castiel’s fingers touch the book, curling around the edges as he takes it from Dean’s grasp. It’s a lovely burgundy hardcover, nearly pristine in it’s condition, although he can tell it’s been read at least a few times. He runs his fingertips reverently over the lettering on the front.
He mouths the words as he stares down at the book, somewhat startled when Dean speaks.
"I, uh.. I mean it’s probably different from what you’ve read, but I… I liked it."
Castiel feels overcome with… something. He isn’t sure what but it makes it hard for him to force his words out past the tightness in his throat.
"Thank you." He darts his eyes quickly up to Dean, catching sight of him smiling.
Work proceeds on the cathedral and Dean makes arrangements to meet with Zachariah regarding the bell tower.
He’s been over the plans and the measurements and Castiel is correct: if the front facade of the cathedral is to remain in place and stable, the bell tower must stay. Dean’s sure once he explains the reasoning behind the change in plans, it won’t be a problem.
After all, the Bishop must be a reasonable man.
He knocks on the door to the Bishop’s office and when he hears a grumbled sound, takes that as a cue to enter. He pokes his head in through a crack in the doorway.
As soon as Zachariah’s eyes meet his, Dean sees them light up and it makes something in his gut clench in distaste.
"Dean," Zachariah beams. "Come in." He waves enthusiastically, motioning Dean inside.
"Your secretary indicated you were free this afternoon."
"You needn’t make an appointment to see me Dean. For you, my door is always open."
Dean manages a firm grimace of his lips that he hopes comes across as vaguely resembling a smile. He taps the rolled up plans he has in one hand against the open palm of the other. "I wanted to speak to you about the cathedral."
"Sit, sit," Zachariah says, gesturing the chair in front of his desk. As Dean sits, Zachariah stands and comes around to perch on the edge of his desk. The change in position leaves him a little too close to Dean for his comfort and he scoots his chair back.
"Are you enjoying our lovely cathedral?"
"Uh, sure," Dean responds with a slight nod. "Great… stone work," he adds for lack of anything else to say. In truth, he does love the building and it’s sweeping arcs and polished stone, but he’s not really interested in having any sort of extended conversation with Zachariah about anything.
"Actually, as I said, I wanted to talk to you about the plans."
"Of course. What I can do for you?"
The intensity of Zachariah’s gaze is unsettling and Dean stands up just so that he doesn’t feel towered over by the Bishop any longer. He goes around the edge of the desk and spreads the plans out, focusing on the fine paper.
"As it turns out, your plans for the bell tower won’t work," Dean says, leaning slightly over to point out the tower on the schematics. He glances over to Zachariah and stops dead.
He knew he got some kind of creepy vibe off the Bishop, but he’d been telling himself to ignore it. However, turning around and catching a man of the cloth outright staring at his ass was a bit hard to turn a blind eye to.
Zachariah has the gall to look up at Dean and smile as though Dean didn’t just notice him ogling his ass.
"I’m sure I can explain it to you," Zachariah says, inching closer to Dean.
Dean eases a step back. "It’s not that I don’t understand the plans, it’s that if the tower comes down, so does the facade at the entrance.
That finally breaks Zachariah’s creepy fond stare and he frowns. "Impossible."
"I’m afraid not," Dean answers, turning back to the plans. "The facade is marble and to support the weight, it’s bolted to the structure of the tower. The tower in turn has several load bearing arches built into it to even out the distribution." He pauses as he points to the areas on the plans he’s discussing. "The tower can’t come down."
Zachariah makes a low sound of displeasure as he stares at the plans. "I’ve never seen these plans, where did you get them?"
"They’re the original plans for the cathedral. They were filed in town hall."
"Are you sure they’re accurate? They must be ancient."
"They’re accurate. I’ve been up in the bell tower myself."
"When?" Zachariah asks sharply.
"The other day," Dean answers noncommittally and somewhat wary. He has the sudden thought that Zachariah wouldn’t want anyone up in the tower to see how meagre Castiel’s lodgings are. "Why?" he adds, just to be contrary.
Zachariah feigns indifference. "I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him, but we’ve an unfortunate. Desolo. He lives in the tower."
"One of the parishioners mentioned him."
"Yes, well. He’s quite… wretched. Barely speaks. It can be…difficult to converse with him. It would be best to steer clear of the tower entirely."
"Really," Dean drawls. "Well, I guess it’s lucky for him then that the tower isn’t coming down."
"Since he lives up there and all."
"Yes. I suppose it is. There but for the grace of God," Zachariah postulates flatly, clearly displeased. "It would be best if you did not engage him."
Best for whom, Dean wonders. "I’ll keep that in mind."
"Well, if that takes care of business?" asks Zachariah, straightening.
Dean nods and rolls the plans up. "Yep."
Zachariah’s smile is back in place, toothy and somewhat feral. "You should come to dinner tonight," Zachariah states, placing his hand on Dean’s forearm.
His touch immediately makes Dean’s spine stiffen and the hair on the back of Dean’s neck rise. "Thanks, but I uh, have plans."
"My, uh, brother and his wife. You know how family can be."
"Of course," Zachariah murmurs and although his smile is still in place, it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. "Some other night."
Castiel hears Zachariah climbing the stairs to the tower. The bishop’s steps are unmistakable. Heavy, solid. Ominous.
He hides the books he has out with the others in his meagre collection behind a loose stone in the masonry. Every one of his books hides there except for his new book. The one Dean gave him. He carved out a special spot for it underneath one of the floor boards, not wanting to risk it with the others which have become somewhat dampened hiding in the stone wall. Dean’s book is precious. Though it’s only been in his possession a short time, he’s already read it through once, noting the pages Dean had turned over while he read it himself. Castiel fingered the crease in the thick paper with his own finger tip, imagining in some strange way that he could almost touch Dean.
With his book safely stowed, he turns to face the door, head bowed, at the ready for Zachariah.
The door opens without a knock, but this is unexpected. Zachariah made it clear from a young age that Castiel is separate and distinct from the general populace and cannot, dare not, expect such considerations. He is not worthy of them.
Castiel understands this perfectly and is grateful to Zachariah for patience he has shown instructing him in these manners. How else would he learn the complicated and intricate ways of the world?
"Desolo," Zachariah says lowly. He never calls him Castiel. He used to, many years ago, Castiel thinks. He has vague memories of the sisters calling him Castiel as well. But at some point, the parishioners became aware of him and started calling him Desolo and the rest of the church follows suit.
"Your Grace," Castiel replies, keeping his head bowed down.
"Dean Winchester informs me he has been in the bell tower."
Castiel freezes. He’s not sure what to say. Yes, Dean was in the bell tower. But it was for the good of the cathedral. Still, it was a horrible mistake. Zachariah made it clear that no one is to come into the bell tower. No one is to be burdened with any details of Castiel’s life other than Zachariah.
"I’m sorry, Your Grace, and humbly beg your forgiveness. Yes. Mr. Winchester was in the tower."
Zachariah circles him. "And you didn’t see fit to tell me. To inform me of this?"
"I…" He doesn’t know what to say. He’s not sure why Dean told Zachariah or what Dean told Zachariah.
But he doesn’t want to lie. He’s already cursed and deformed. Surely if he lies to a man of God, he will be punished. If not by the Bishop, than by God himself.
But telling Zachariah about Dean’s visit, about Dean being in the tower… thinking of it makes his stomach clench and cramp painfully. It’s his. His secret. His to take out and hold close to him when he wants. He cannot bring himself to utter the words.
"I am sorry, your Grace," he repeats.
"On your knees."
Castiel falls to his knees on the rough stone, the sharp pain of the impact shooting through his kneecaps.
"A lie of omission is still a lie, Desolo," Zachariah intones, voice hard and cold. "As you are already overburdened with sin, adding to your load will surely secure you an even more horrid place in hell."
"Yes, your Grace."
"How can I redeem you, Desolo, if you cannot follow my simple rules?"
"Do not speak, it was not a question to which I wanted an answer. I want you think on it."
"Your penance is a week in the tower," Zachariah says easily, without pause. "Your duties below will be attended to by the sisters. I shall bring you water and bread twice, that is all. You may use this time to reflect on your condition and your insolent attitude and ungrateful behavior."
"Yes. Of course," he replies, head hanging down. Oh, he is shamed. To lie, even by omission to the Bishop, after all the Bishop has done for him. And the worst of it is, the Bishop does not even know the full extent of his sin. He does not know that he has spoken to Dean, told him his real name.
Accepted a gift.
His heart is heavy.
"Do you have anything you wish to say to me, Desolo? You will not be permitted to speak this week either."
"I am eternally grateful to his Lordship for the kindness and mercy he has bestowed. Thank you."
"Think carefully, this week, Desolo."
He nods his head once more in silence, the weight of the bishop’s disapproving glare solid and dense on him. Zachariah sighs, long and suffering, before leaving the tower and locking the door behind him.
The first night Dean doesn’t see Castiel, he doesn’t think much of it. It’s not like he knows what Castiel’s routine is, or how often certain things need to be done at the cathedral. When he sees one of the sisters replacing the candles at the votive stand, the same thing he saw Castiel doing the first night, he thinks, well, maybe that’s how it works here.
The bells still ring on time, each and every day, so that is proof enough that Castiel is still around.
The second night, he admits to himself he’s a little disappointed. He can’t quite say why. He doesn’t really know Castiel at all, but he finds him compelling in a strange way and although he’d only spoken with him twice, he looked forward to speaking to him more. Only he doesn’t know when. There’s another sister from the nunnery doing chores in the cathedral on the third day, smiling serenely at him in the way that nuns have. He sees her look up at the bell tower, a sad expression on her face and she crosses herself.
Before he even really knows what he’s doing, he’s approaching her. She sees him coming forward and looks up. She is older, perhaps in her forties or fifties, her skin soft and slightly lined. Her wrinkles indicate she spends most of her life with a look of unflappable calm on her face.
"Hi, sister," he says awkwardly. He is strangely nervous speaking to her. He has no nervousness when speaking to Zachariah. If anything he has a disdain for the man, but looking down at this tiny woman, in her dark habit and open face, he is more scared than he’s ever been in his life.
"Um, I was wondering, if you know… Desolo?" he says.
She smiles sadly. "Yes, of course."
"Uh, I just wondered… I mean, I saw him the other night… and well…"
"Are you troubled by him?" she asks carefully, her expression wary.
"Yes, I mean, no, I mean…" he stammers.
"How can I help you, my child?" She places a hand on Dean’s forearm, and unlike Zachariah who makes him feel slimy, her touch is warm and light.
"I’m… I mean, I just wondered… because I saw you doing some stuff. With the candles and I saw him working around here and I thought he… but I haven’t seen him."
She nods. "Yes, it is my understanding that he is in his tower."
"But he comes out. I mean, I’ve seen him out. Just not… lately."
Her expression is quiet and thoughtful. "Bishop Zachariah asks the sisters, at times, to take over for Desolo. He is generally in charge of the running of the cathedral and he does it very well. But…" she pauses, looking up at the tower.
"But?" Dean prods.
Again, the small sister waits a moment and Dean can see her choosing her words carefully. "I live to serve. The Lord is my master and I must answer the call as it is given, though I may not always understand. I can only trust that his will is served. Ask me another question."
Dean is absolutely flummoxed. He stares openly at her, having no idea where all that came from.
"Uh, sister? I have no idea what you are talking about."
She nods slowly and then squeezes his forearm. "I shall ask you one then. You are in charge of work on the cathedral, are you not?"
She nods again. "Then perhaps, it is your duty to check on all areas of the cathedral."
"Including the tower."
His eyes are locked with her quiet brown ones for a heartbeat and he gets it. "Yes. Yes of course."
She bows her head toward him. "I trust the Lord has a true and faithful servant in you, Mr. Winchester."
Dean can’t stop the huff that comes out. "Sister…"
"Rosetta. Sister Rosetta."
Dean grimaces a smile. "Sister Rosetta, I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m not really into the whole God thing."
She pats his arm, ignoring his protest. "And that is why he has chosen you, I am sure. If you will excuse me, it is time for evening vespers."
Before he can reply to that, she is gone.
The cathedral is empty when Dean begins his ascent up the darkened spiral stairwell. His small candle lights the way and he is still surprised by how small the stairs are, how cramped the space is. He tries not to think about how he can’t even stand up straight and simply focuses on going up one step at at time.
The small door that was open before is closed when he reaches the top, but there is a key jutting out of the old skeleton lock. He tries the handle first and is surprised when he finds it locked, not understanding how it can if the key is on the outside. He turns the key with a whine of metal and the knob squeaks as he lets himself in.
There are no candles burning this time, the small bell tower dark and cold. Dean pokes his head around the door, eyes glancing around.
"Castiel?" he says softly and when he gets no answer, he steps fully into the tower, pocketing the key and pushing the door closed behind him. A few hesitant steps into the room and he sees Castiel, stretched out on his side on his small pallet, a dark blanket covering him.
No, that’s not right. It’s not a blanket, Dean thinks as he moves closer. He frowns, eyebrows drawing together as he moves closer, crouching with his candle before Castiel.
Dark, luscious feathers. They appear black, but the soft light shines on their sleekness, giving off hints of color. A slight reflection of purples, blacks, blues, oranges and greens. Dean imagines in the sunlight, they would be magnificent, lustrous black highlighted with darkened rainbows. They are stretched out over Castiel, like a blanket, moving softly as he breathes in and out. Dean moves the candle slightly, casting the light up and over the feathers, over Castiel’s body, to where his feet poke out from below, pale and fragile.
And suddenly Dean understands.
Wings. They’re wings.
Lying there, sleeping, pale pink lips against alabaster skin, dark shock of hair and even darker feathers, Castiel is beautiful. Ethereal and otherworldly. Without being conscious of it, Dean’s hand is reaching out to touch the feathers.
They are soft and smooth, slightly cool to the touch and the wings tremble slightly as Dean strokes with the grain. Bolder, Dean slides his fingers under them, finding a softer, downy layer that’s warm and silky.
Castiel makes a quiet sound and his eyes blink open, dreamily once and then again, settling on Dean and Dean smiles. Castiel blinks one more time, his eyes widening.
There is a flurry of black, of feathers, a loud flapping and whirring sound. The candle winks out in the breeze and it’s suddenly dark.
"Castiel?" Dean calls out quietly, stretching his hand out and finding nothing but a rapidly cooling mattress under his fingers.
In the quiet, Dean can hear his own heart beating and, if he listens closer, Castiel’s soft breaths.
"I didn’t mean to startle you," Dean says. "I’m sorry."
More silence. And then, "You should not be here."
Dean’s eyes dart over to the corner, where he heard Castiel’s voice come from.
"I was worried. I hadn’t seen you." A thought occurs to Dean then. "Why was the tower door locked?"
"Please, you shouldn’t be here. I… no one is allowed to be up here."
Dean works that over in his head along with the sister’s words and Zachariah’s surprise when Dean mentioned he’d been in the tower.
"Did Zachariah lock you in here?"
"I… I did not tell him you were here. It is a sin to lie. I must reflect on it and do my penance."
Dean grinds his teeth together. "Your penance is to be locked in the tower?"
"For reflection and prayer."
"For how long?"
Dean sets the candle on the ground and pulls a box of matches from his pocket. The match flares with a strike and Dean can once again see. He lights the candle, leaving it on the ground and turns, still crouching on the ground, to where he can hear Castiel’s voice.
Castiel is hunched in on himself, his wings pressed behind him in what must be a painful and awkward position. There is not enough room as he sits for them to be pulled behind him like that. His eyes are downcast, his face solemn and grim. He is shirtless, presumably because of his wings. Folded in on himself, even his bare toes curling inward, he looks like he’s trying to disappear.
"I am sorry," Castiel says, voice low.
"That you should see my abhorrent disfigurement." His wings twitch slightly at that and then sag downward, as if Castiel is trying to pull them in even closer.
Dean is struck dumb for words for a moment, not sure what he’ll say until he opens his mouth and words come out.
Castiel flinches slightly, turning his head further away and pressing himself father back against the stone wall. "I am a monster."
Dean drops his knees down, from his crouch, and shuffles slightly closer to Castiel, approaching him cautiously, like a wounded animal in a forrest.
Castiel inches back, his entire body tense. "Zachariah says -"
"I don’t give a fuck what Zachariah says," Dean cuts him off, voice angry. Dean kneels down in front of Castiel’s hunched form, keeping his hands out, palms up. Confusion roams over Castiel’s face as he stares down at Dean’s hands as if they are things alive on their own, sentient. Dean forces his voice to calm down, become soothing. "You’re not a monster."
One of Dean’s hands drifts upwards, hovering over the arch of a wing where some of the fine feathers are poking upright, their angle spoked awkwardly by the position Castiel has forced them into. He hovers his hand a centimeter above, sees Castiel watching his hand suspiciously.
"No one… not even… I keep them covered, except at night… it’s… I get cold. They are grotesque."
"I don’t think they’re grotesque," Dean says gently.
Castiel’s eyes finally meet his. Even in the half-light, Dean is surprised by the blue of them. Open and afraid, they stare at Dean gravely. Dean doesn’t break his gaze as he lowers his hand carefully and bestows a tentative pet on the wings. Dean turns his eyes from Castiel’s tense face and focuses on the feeling of the feathers beneath his fingertips. He runs his hand over the silky strands and then, emboldened by the fact that Castiel has not pulled away, has not moved an inch, threads his fingers through the veins of the feathers, touching the warm down underneath. Dean shifts, moving his weight from his knees to sit down on the floor, and Castiel starts slightly, flinching.
"Sorry," Dean breathes, pulling his hand away quickly and holding both of them up in a gesture of surrender. "Just sitting down."
Castiel nods his head after a moment, looking from Dean’s hands, to the tip of his wing and then back to Dean’s face. Dean slowly reaches out and starts touching the feathers again, soothing them where they had spiked up in agitation when he moved.
"Can you fly?" he asks Castiel, keeping his voice quiet.
"I don’t know."
"You never tried?" His tone is surprised. It seems to him that if he had wings, he would have repeatedly thrown himself from rooftops at adolescence, just to see if he could.
"They… I don’t… when I go out, I wear my coat. I don’t want to disgust anyone."
Dean purses his lips tightly, not a doubt in his mind where Castiel got his notions of disfigurement and horror.
"And in the tower," Castiel continues, his voice loosing some of its wariness, "there is not enough room. To stretch them out. And…" Castiel breaks off, looking away from Dean’s hands, away from Dean.
Castiel drops his chin down. "And I hate them."
The words are barely audible.
"They’re incredible," Dean says, looking over the parts he can see, his fingers traveling through the softness. As he sits there quietly, not moving other than his one hand stroking the feathers, not saying anything, he can see Castiel relax. The wings inch downward and out, no longer hunched up painfully tight behind him, but starting to stretch out slowly, marginally.
Castiel’s pants are worn and thin, and without a shirt nor his feathers covering him, he shivers in the damp night air. It is cold in the tower. A pervasive, penetrating cold that leeches any and all heat out of your bones, refusing to let your body warm itself. Castiel’s wings probably saved his life, keeping him from freezing to death many times over. Dean is fully dressed, but he still feels the chill himself, permeating his clothing and settling into his body, like a intrusive visitor that will not leave.
Castiel shivers again and Dean marvels at the wings, at the whirring shimmying sound they make, puffing themselves out slightly. He pulls his hand back.
"It’s cold up here."
"It must get colder in the winter," Dean adds and Castiel gives another shrug. Dean can only imagine how much colder the stone walls would get in the winter months, without any hope of the sun warming them throughout the day.
Castiel has had a dismal existence, he thinks. Alone in this tower, with only a man such as Zachariah for companionship, if he can even call it that.
"Are you happy?" Dean asks.
Castiel looks at him strangely, as though the question is incomprehensible.
"I mean," Dean clarifies. "Here in the tower, living in the cathedral, don’t you ever want to leave?"
Castiel blinks a few times. "Where would I go?"
Dean shrugs. "Anywhere."
"I would be stoned upon sight. Or burned at a stake, or perhaps drowned in a well. I am very fortunate that the Bishop in his infinite -"
Dean stops him with a raised hand. "Got it." He studies Castiel. "But what if you could leave? Would you want to?"
"I… don’t know." Castiel looks around the dark tower. "I am safe here."
Dean nods thoughtfully. He thinks he gets it. If he’d spent his whole life hidden away, imprisoned essentially, he doubts he would have any idea there was anything wrong with it. Especially if someone like Zachariah was telling him repeatedly how cursed and wretched he was.
Dean doesn’t know what he’s doing when he inches closer to Castiel. Castiel watches him with wide eyes as Dean scoots in close to him, sitting beside him. He’s so close to Castiel that even in the dim light, he could count his eyelashes. Castiel makes no sound, no movement as Dean slides in next to him.
"It’s cold," Dean says simply. "Your wings felt warm." He gives a little wiggle, settling himself in closer, sitting somewhat upright so there is room behind him for Castiel’s wing. He waits patiently, like he’s trying to lure a wild rabbit out of a bush, and in some ways, he supposes he is. Castiel is timid and easily spooked. Dean has the thought that if he were to make a sudden movement now, Castiel would bolt from his presence, leaping out of a window if it meant he could get away.
So Dean waits patiently, not moving, breathing slow and even.
Carefully, so carefully at first that Dean thinks he’s imagining it, Castiel’s wing moves out and brushes across Dean’s back, pausing at times as if waiting for rebuke, before continuing on. Finally, it settles across Dean’s shoulder, around his arm and it’s blissfully warm, a shocking change from the boundless cold. Dean shifts slightly again, leaning against Castiel, feeling him tense up at first and then ease again. His wing comes further, enveloping Dean in its inky blackness. Castiel has his face tipped away from Dean, even as Dean leans in, his expression timorous and shuttered.
Dean feels inexplicably content, here in the crisp, cold bell tower, sitting on a stone floor next to Castiel, enfolded in his wing. He feels peaceful and calm. He closes his eyes and falls asleep.
Zachariah hesitates with his hand outstretched toward the door handle.
The key is missing from the lock.
He sets the jug of water he’s brought for Castiel down on the step and reaches out, turning the handle slowly. He heads in candle first, holding it in front of him like a talisman to ward off evil.
For it is the least of what he expects.
He cannot say which emotion overcomes him first when he lays eyes upon the scene in the bell tower. Jealousy, rage, horror, disgust, anger, spite all tumble and swirl together in an unholy fervor, helixing around his mind and body.
In the corner of the tower sits Castiel, feet curled up beneath him, head tipped to once side. Leaning against him, beautifully asleep sits Dean Winchester. Castiel’s wings are folded around them both, rising slowly and falling softly with each of their synchronized breaths. He has no conscious thought of what he does as he storms back to the stairs, snatching up the ceramic jug of water and then smashes it down at their feet.
"Abomination," he hisses.
They bolt awake as the icy water hits, them, shards of pottery flying. A small piece slices across Castiel’s face and blood blooms red and bright against his pale skin. Dean jerks upright and his expression goes from confused awakening to righteous fury in a second flat. Castiel pulls his wings in immediately, first in response to the cold water splashing htem and then tries to tuck them behind him even farther when he sees Zachariah’s face.
"Demon-seed, I’ve always known you were the devil in our midst," Zachariah sneers, pointing cruelly at Castiel who is already curling in on himself tighter and tighter. "I have tried to show you the way of the Lord and save your soul, and yet I have failed, your black wings always proving your filth. You are a curse upon this cathedral and I should have drowned you the moment I found you. The holy water alone would have burnt the flesh from your bones and that would have been the end of your corruption. Satan could have taken you and done what he saw fit."
"Enough!" Dean shouts, clambering to his feet. "Jesus Christ, enough!"
Zachariah’s face goes red with fury. "You dare blaspheme in the house of God! In my righteous presence?"
"Yeah, well, if God doesn’t like it, then he knows where to find me, doesn’t he?" Dean answers with a smirk, spreading his arms wide. He takes a step forward toward Zachariah, almost nose to nose with him. Dean’s smile goes somewhat feral. "And if you don’t like it, well, you’re right here, aren’t you?"
They both look down as Castiel, on his knees, his coat spread awkwardly over his wings, tugs on Zachariah’s robes.
"I’m sorry. Please, please, I’m sorry," he whispers. He’s looking at Zachariah as though he is the answer to every question he’s ever wanted to ask.
"No, Cas," Dean starts, sliding a hand under his arm. "C’mon, get up."
Castiel doesn’t break his gaze from Zachariah. "Please, forgive me, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry."
Zachariah sneers down at him. "You are a stain on fabric of humanity." Zachariah grips his robe and yanks it out of Castiel’s grasp harshly, taking a step back.
"No, please, if you give me penance I will do it."
"Cas, don’t. He’s…he’s not… You can’t listen to him," Dean argues as Castiel shuffles forward on his knees. Dean pulls at Castiel’s shoulder, but Castiel is resolute, watching Zachariah with panicked blue eyes.
"You will leave this cathedral, this tower." Zachariah’s voice is imperious and low.
Castiel eyes widen. "No, I… I can’t…this… this is my home."
"This is a sacred house of God and I can no longer sully it with your filth."
"He doesn’t want to live here anyway," Dean shouts. "In your sanctimonious house with your arrogant God and your fake charity and lying pious ass.
"No, please!" Castiel pleads, ignoring Dean’s hand on his shoulder. "I can do better, I’ll pray harder and I’ll, I’ll fast and I’ll never leave the tower again."
Zachariah remains stone-faced and grim in the face of Castiel’s begging and Dean’s vitriolic anger.
"You will leave here and never return."
With that solemn declaration, Zachariah turns, chin high and leaves the tower. The door remains open behind him and it’s clear that he’s dismissed them both from his mind, from his presence. Dean snatches up a piece of pottery from the broken water jug and darts after him, hurling it down the stairs with a curse.
With a huff of indignation, he turns around to face Castiel. He freezes at the sight.
Castiel is staring forlornly at the ground, face open and somehow empty, blood from the cut across his cheek oozing down his pale skin. His eyes are blue and blank. He is still on his knees, his coat flung over his wings.
"Cas?" Dean begins hesitantly. "You okay?"
Castiel’s fingers and wings twitch slightly. "I am forsaken."
Dean takes another step toward him. "This is a good thing, Cas. You don’t want to stay here anyway. Locked in this tower for the rest of your life. You’re… you don’t have to be afraid."
"I have lived here my entire life. I have nowhere to go."
"Come with me."
Dean stretches his arm out, holding his hand palm up in front of Castiel. Castiel raises his head slightly and stares at it like holds the secrets of the universe, strange and fantastical; incomprehensible to mortals.
"Where will we go?" Castiel’s voice is small and timid.
"Anywhere. Everywhere." Dean shrugs. "Wherever you want."
Castiel’s gaze moves up the length of Dean’s arm, across his shoulder, his neck and finally settles on Dean’s eyes. His expression is serious and careful.
"I… am… I know this place. The town. People… people don’t stare at me very much anymore. "
"Then we’ll stay here. Near the cathedral."
Castiel looks back at Dean’s hand, contemplating it and starts to raise his own toward him. Dean tries to hold himself very still, like he’s trying to corral a wild doe in the forest. Slowly, so slowly, Castiel’s fingers slide into his, the skin dry and cool. Dean pulls him up to his feet, until they’re standing toe to toe.
"Let’s pack your things," says Dean.
Castiel turns his head, threading his arms through his coat as he does. His wings are uneasy under the fabric, stiff with nerves.
"There is only one thing I wish to keep." Castiel’s fingers slip out of Dean’s easy grasp and he goes to a floorboard and pries it up, pushing the board aside. He reaches in and pulls out Robinson Crusoe, the book Dean gave him after they met, and clutches it close to his chest.
He comes to stand in front of Dean again. "This is all I want to keep."
Dean doesn’t trust himself to speak so he only nods, resting his hand heavy on Castiel’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze.
They leave the tower without looking back.
Epilogue - After
Sister Rosetta has dedicated her life to God and she has never once doubted him. She has doubted herself, the factual recording of the bible, the catechism of the church, the priests and bishops under which she works diligently and truthfully but she has never doubted God.
One night, many years ago, she dreamt she was walking down a long, dark corridor, with only a small, insubstantial candle in her hand. The walls were dark and wet with something she couldn't’ identify and she trembled but she walked on, knowing that she was not alone.
Be not afraid, I go before you always.
Her favorite song in church since she was a little girl. Be not afraid. She repeated the lyrics to herself, even as she dreamed.
Finally, at the end of the corridor, she found a door and when she passed through it, she found herself in a lush and beautiful forest, the likes of which she had never seen. In the midst of all the greenery and foliage, surrounded by birds, bugs, lizards, snakes, deer, flowers and an elephant, stood a young woman.
She was sturdy and sure and when she smiled, Rosetta had to smile back, her heart was so full.
"I hope you’re not afraid," the woman said. Her voice was like molasses traveling down a warm hill.
"Never. You go before me always."
"I have a task for you, Rosetta."
Rosetta thought her heart might burst with joy. "Yes, my Lord. Anything."
"Tomorrow night, when Dean Winchester comes to you, please direct him to the tower, but do not tell him why."
Rosetta nodded firmly. "It shall be done. Thank you, thank you for your faith in me."
The woman reached out and Rosetta fell into her arms. They were strong and warm, firm and yet… soft.
"It is I who should thank you for your faith in me."
Rosetta awoke with a smile still on her lips, tears of happiness running down her face. That night, when Dean Winchester approached her, as she knew he would, she did her best to direct him to the tower, her heart squeezed painfully with jubilation when she saw him head for the stairs.
Even now, so many years later, she remembers how Desolo, no, Castiel, left the cathedral the next day, led by Dean Winchester, clutching a single book to his chest as though it were the most precious thing in the world. The next week, he was at the market, with Dean introducing him by his name and pointedly correcting anyone who got it wrong.
It was many years after that, long after Zachariah had left for his coveted position in Rome, when Castiel arrived at the market for the first time without his coat. The world had stood still as he shyly stepped forward, head slightly down, fingers entwined with Dean’s.
No one uttered a word and Castiel hesitated, trying to pull his hand away from Dean. Dean stood firm unmovable.
The silence was broken when Mary-Elizabeth Roarke stomped up to Castiel and placed a hand on her eight year old hip.
"You got wings," she stated eyes wide as she took in their span. Dark, inky black, glistening with sparks of color in the sun. They hunched inward, cradled close to Castiel’s body.
"Yes," Castiel said quietly, head nodding once.
"Huh," said Mary-Elizabeth. "I want some."
Castiel looked at Dean who shrugged and then back at Mary Elizabeth. "I was born with them."
Mary-Elizabeth sighed dramatically, as only an eight year old girl can. "Figures," she groused and then, "Oh, look custard!" She darted off as she spied Tom Cairns fresh custard bowls cooling in the afternoon air.
The market was quiet for a moment longer and then as if a seal had been broken, everyone went back to what they were doing.
Now, Sister Rosetta is tired, very tired.
It is time to go home, she thinks. Her breath rattles and her lungs are tight, and everything feels far away and disjointed, like she is viewing it all from a great distance through a small telescope.
The corridor is the same and this time she runs down it, carefree and reckless, laughing as she reaches the door and throws it open wide.
She is still there, standing calm in the woods. She smiles as Rosetta approaches.
"I am home," Rosetta says.
"Please, my Lord, if I may…"
Rosetta hesitates for a moment, the question on her lips.
The woman smiles, pulling Rosetta close and tucking her under her chin.
"Yes, he is an angel."
XVI: Paris to Helen
I wished for you before you were known to me.
Your face was in my mind before I saw you with my eyes:
news of your fame first brought me the wound.
Still it’s no wonder I love, just as if I’d been struck a blow
by the arrows from a bow, fired from a distance.
So the Fates are pleased: lest you try to shy away from them,
accept the words I tell you, in true honour.
My birth delayed, I was yet held in my mother’s womb:
by now her belly was swollen with my full weight.
In the form of a dream, she saw herself delivered
of a flaming torch from her pregnant belly.
She woke terrified, and told the fearful vision of deep night
to old Priam, and he in turn to his seers.
One prophesied that Troy would be burnt by Paris’s fire –
the torch in my heart, such as there is now.