He drops the pieces of metal and glass he’d collected when he sees the red—the grey, the blue tinge of skin. The panes shatter—shards crunching beneath his feet as he runs. The echo of the singing copper cries out as it hits the pavement
I do not believe I truly knew green; not until I met you. This world is muted. The walls are forever rust and gold—red and brown. They are broken and forgotten, left to pale in the wake of our own neglect. How are they so forgotten? How could we let them dwindle this way? And how have you come to know this place? Why would you have been left here? You shouldn’t have been—not when you have so much green in your eyes, so much life—so much hope.
I hear it.
Why does it sound so slow?
It never sounded this way before. It is strong and quick; quicker still when you speak—when you tell me about your past … when the angels still held your hand. I enjoy the days I can listen … listen to your heart as you recount the heavens. It gives me hope that there is still hope to be had. You speak of the mother, the father, the brother you once knew and the angels they became. The angels that fought with you before you ended up here.
I’m so sorry that they lost you here. I’m so sorry ... but I’ll help them find you again. I promise.
Why are you breathing so roughly?
Do you remember when the battle brought you to this place? When the angels brought you to me? Do you remember that night, Dean? My heart was slow then too, but you brought me back and you stayed with me even as the angels left with the war—still fighting, so far that they lost sight of you. You stayed and made me strong—so strong. Even the demons can’t harm me now, not when I have you by my side.
You’ll stay by my side … won’t you?
The prison bus had just dropped him on the corner of Sixth and Marshal—the bad corner where they leave all the bad people that the county had supposedly “rehabilitated”. Rehabilitated with cramped cells and shit food. A simple pat of his pockets revealed that he was going to be sleeping on a bench that night. The twenty five dollars he had when they first arrested him was all that was left from his old life. No shitty apartment anymore. No crap job at the refinery. No beer in a mini fridge that barely kept it cold. Nothing. Dean had nothing then—and even less than nothing now.
What did he really expect?
A nothing will always have nothing.
Copper Park was only about a block and a half from where he stood, but he wondered if he should even bother making the trek. Sleeping on the street is sleeping on the street no matter how you look at it—what difference should a few trees make? Then again, why not? He knew it’s where the other homeless people went … but did he really want to brand himself so soon? He could try to find work—at least while he was still clean shaven and hadn’t fucked up his clothes by sleeping in them night after night. But it was already six in the evening—the sun was dipping lower in the sky, the clouds were starting rust around their edges, turning all his hope to ash.
Dean put one dirty boot in front of the other, and he started walking the blocks.
Heading to the park, to see how it got its name.
I’m not going to let the demons hurt you, Dean—not anymore. You see … I’ve been making something. I have been putting it together for months, ever since you came with the angels and then stayed back to heal me; I knew it was my job to protect you after that night. I am not … I am not good like you, but I can at least try to be. So, I began building and I worked and slaved, and now, I am almost finished. Soon, the angels will know how to find you again and the demons—well, they will have to go back to hell. I am going to put them all back for you, Dean. Someone like you … someone like you shouldn’t have to fight anymore.
I’m so sorry for all the havoc you have already seen.
Do you trust me, Dean?
Why aren’t you answering me?
He shrugged off his jacket—the only decent thing on his body, a meager attempt to keep something clean. The setting sun dipped further behind the skyline, setting the cracked windows of every building aflame—setting the park aflame. Dean stopped and looked around. It was actually beautiful. The old, sediment bricks shined against the light—the metal structures, too worn down now for kids to play upon, glinted heavy and hot with the evening. Even the browning grass seemed to glow. It was red and orange and gold and bursting. It all shined, shined like copper. Dean nestled down in a corner between the abandoned mail center and a gutted liquor store, laying his jacket across his knees so the sleeves didn’t brush the filthy ground—and he looked out across the park, ignoring the bites of cold as the world caught fire around him.
This isn’t right.
You’re with the angels!
They can’t allow for this …
The screams woke him from an already shallow sleep. He tried to ignore them at first, knowing that he was going to be hearing all sorts of fucked up things the longer he stayed there—but these screams weren’t from anyone’s night terror. They weren’t the drunken ramblings from some lost soul, and they weren’t memories remembered, too much all at once that they can only burst through one’s eyes in the form of cries and tears
This was pain. This was torture.
Dean pulled himself from the dirty, cold pavement, feeling his vest drag along the bricks. He stepped out from the walls and listened, trying to find the true direction of the screams—the ones that weren’t bouncing off the buildings and echoing across the park. He honed in on the alleyway to his right and began to run—coat in hand, jeans rustling and scraping along his legs—friction warming his chilled skin. But another screech sent ice down his spine. It was louder than before and there was a gargling to it, like blood was filling their throat. With a few more, long strides, he came around a wall to find three men, kicking a figure on the ground. The figure coughed and sobbed, shoving its hands down to its stomach to try and block another heavy boot to the gut. Dean heard the familiar crack of bone and the figure cried out again—defeated now—voice weak and fading.
“Hey!” Dean yelled, freezing all three men mid swing. “Back the fuck off!”
One of the men turned to face him, clenching his fists at his sides and grinning a gapped tooth smile. The seconds slipped by all too quickly as the others began to make their approach. Dean looked around himself, finding a length of pipe near the dumpster lining the side of the wall. With a quick grab and a steady run, Dean was on the first man, swinging the metal along the side of his head. The sound of the collision danced up the walls and into the open air. The man dropped instantly. One of the others lunged at him, knocking Dean to the ground, but he managed to shove the side of the pipe against the guy’s throat, making him cough and sputter, falling backwards and allowing Dean to scramble to his feet once again. The third man didn’t take his chances, turning round to scatter—leaping over the wheezing lump they had left further down the pavement. Dean raised the pipe above his head, ready to drop the final blow—ready for the lights to flash across his face again; for the police to cuff his hands and drag him back to his well-worn in cell. At least he’d be warm. At least he’d have a roof above his hopeless head.
He barely heard the word it was so quiet under all the strangled breaths ricocheting off the bricks. Dean turned away from the man he had just thrown to the ground as he cowered and awaited his fate.
The broken figure down the way muttered again. “No, angel … no.”
Dean didn’t. He lowered the pipe and looked back to the two men groaning at his feet. One, barely conscious and the other, sniffling at the thought of getting his face smashed in by a three quarter inch metal tube.
“Get your boy and get the fuck out of here!” Dean growled, pointing the end of the pipe towards the one with gapped teeth, still fairly motionless against the side of the dumpster. The other man nodded and leapt to his feet, wandering over after a quick survey of his own body—accounting for all its parts. He was soon bending down again to collect the other man, lifting the dead weight up and dragging him out of the alley. As they made it around the corner, the street lamp shined upon the red and Dean shuddered—not even able to see the attacker’s face beneath all the blood. He waited a moment longer until the drag and scrape of their footsteps faded into the night. Then, he turned back to the figure on the ground, a jerking shape in the dark. With worried feet, he slowly approached, as if he could scare the thing off—and if it could actually move, he just might have. As he got closer—his eyes adjusting in the growing shadow of the alleyway, he could see it was a man on the ground—dark hair, jaw encased in a thick, rough stubble … and blood.
So much blood.
“Dude … you alright?” Dean asked, dropping to his knees and hovering an unsure hand over the broken, curled in body.
The blood glimmered in the dull light that pressed at Dean’s back, peeking through to shine on the mess. The man shook—bones cracking with even the tiniest movements, so loud they seemed to echo out to the park. Dean looked back around, seeing his jacket lying on the ground where he had dropped it during the scuffle. He rushed back, picking it up and bringing it over to lie across the mass of mangled limbs. The man’s shivering soon slowed and the harsh breaths he was spewing seemed to temper. Dean looked down as the guy finally pulled his hands from where they had been covering his face, smearing blood down his cheeks in long, wet lines. A sharp breath sucked into Dean’s lungs as the broken thing opened his eyes.
Electric, humming, arcing blue.
Rattled air worked its way up the man’s throat as he tried hard to speak. Dean leaned in closer, turning his head to listen, but still keeping his focus pressed upon those eyes—full of faded life.
Please … Dean.
After rummaging through the dumpster, he found a mostly full water bottle and a fast food bag with some clean napkins inside of it. Dean carefully wiped away the blood from the man’s face and hands—trying to figure out just how much damage there actually was. He would have called the police right then, but he didn’t see a pay phone nearby and the man wouldn’t let him leave anyway; at least—not out of his eyeline. Once he cleaned most of the grime away, Dean saw the gash that sat just above that furrowed, dark brow, still steadily trickling blood in a branching stream down the guy’s face. He pressed a napkin hard upon the wound, apologizing as more tears pushed from those wide, blue eyes.
“I’m sorry, man. But I need to keep pressure on it. I’m so sorry … I know it hurts.”
Chapped, crusted lips didn’t say a word; and the matted head just gave a weak nod as it continued to stare up at Dean—looking him over. The man didn’t seem to have any broken bones—at least, not in his limbs where they’d be obvious; but Dean suspected his ribs probably didn’t fare as well. He was mostly covered in scrapes and cuts—and good sized welts were blooming all over his body. After some time, he asked the man if he could try moving him—to get him out of the middle of the alleyway, at least where they couldn’t easily be seen. No sense in making themselves easy targets for another attack if those guys decided to return. The man nodded again—meager and pained and Dean felt a rush of guilt—knowing this was going to hurt like hell. He shifted to his feet once more and walked around to the guy’s head, slowly bending down to work his hands underneath those sore, bruised arms. He heaved with all his strength and finally pulled them both back towards the wall.
The man cried.
Dean apologized again.
The crying stopped.
They stayed there for hours, Dean sitting with his back on the bricks and the man, wheezing and shaking—pressed up against his side.
“I need to go get you some bandages—maybe some aspirin? I have a bit of money.”
The man shook his head, reaching out his fingers to grasp Dean’s arm. “Don’t … don’t leave.”
Dean didn’t. He stayed as the rough breathing slowed down and the shaking softened. The cut on the guy's forehead had finally stopped bleeding but he was sure that he had to be pretty weak now from losing so much blood. He wanted to get him some food and anything else he could to make sure he didn’t die right there next to him. But even with the lack of blood and his crushed, mutilated body, the man held tightly to Dean, muttering something about angels—letting out little cries when he said “demons” and never showing any sign of letting go.
When morning broke—fresh gold upon blood stains, Dean was stiff and achy from the night spent bent and pressed into bricks and cement; but the man was still alive, so he considered it worth it. Now, in the safety of the sun and the security of day—Dean figured he could convince the guy to let him go get some things that could help. Those blue eyes pleaded with him not leave, but Dean had finally assured he would return. He wouldn’t leave him alone—not here, not now.
“I promise, okay? I’m just going to that drug store across the block and then I’ll come right back. Just stay here and don’t call attention to yourself.”
With some doing, Dean tucked the man into a secluded corner between the side of the dumpster and a stack of boxes—finally content that he couldn’t be seen from the sidewalk, and then made his way to the store to hopefully find some things to ease the guy’s aches. With the light, he was able to really assess the damages. It looked like a busted nose—either broken or cracked ribs, cuts everywhere and bruises across every visible inch of the man’s skin. Dean was angry … the yellow and purple seemed to dull the blue—at least, that’s what he hoped dulled it. He knew, there could be some other injury he couldn’t see—something deep inside, sucking the life from that kind eyed man in the alleyway. His feet sped up and it seemed that only minutes passed before he was walking into the drug store.
Numerous curious and scared looks awaited him once inside, and it wasn’t until he glanced down at himself that Dean saw the dried blood smeared across his dark, denim vest and white shirt. His black jeans thankfully hid the rest of the stains but he could feel the crusted patches grate on his skin as he walked through the aisles. The irritation only drove him more. In a few moments, he had a basket full of things—bandages, aspirin, antiseptic cream, water and crackers. It wasn’t everything the guy needed but Dean hoped it was enough to string him along until he could limp him to a hospital. As he stood in the checkout line, the cashier watched him wearily, as if he was going to jump across the counter and coat her in just as much blood. He tried to smile and mumbled something about his dog getting in a fight with another dog … an explanation that hopefully sounded valid enough for the cops not to be called. As he walked out of the store—not greeted with a rush of black and white and red and blue, he figured the excuse landed.
The sidewalk seemed to stretch itself as he made his way back to the alley—feeling like a much longer journey now that he was on the return. The sun was high when he finally made it to its mouth, taking a deep breath before he dropped back in—the vibrant glow of Copper Park glinting just behind him.
You always say that you enjoy my stories. Do you want me to tell you one?
I’ll tell you one … I think it will help.
Shh … it’s okay, just listen:
Back in the time when gods still cared about this place—back when people still cared about the gods, angels would walk the earth. The divine sent down their soldiers for the sake of humanity, because that’s how they kept everything balanced—the angels kept it all balanced. They weren’t kind and gentle as many believe—they were fierce but fair. If you did what was asked of you by the heavens, the angels protected your family—they ensured that you wouldn’t face the demons that also roamed the earth. It seemed like a simple philosophy; one that man should have had no trouble adhering to, but they just could never seem to manage it. So more often than not, the sky would be ablaze with hell fire clashing against the angels’ grace—two greats, battling over humanity and its worth.
This is how life went on for centuries—man, not following the rules, giving the demons more strength with their defiance; the angels, having to fight harder and harder just to maintain peace. And so it remained until the angels grew tired. They had finally had enough, and decided that man did not deserve their protection—not anymore. So they spread their great wings and flew back into the sky, leaving humanity to suffer in its own chaos. But even then, even as all hope seemed to be gone, not all men were damned. Not all were ready to give up on the gods and their faith in the angels. The spoiled members of the world had tried to ruin it for the devout, but those dedicated souls set upon the great task of returning balance to their existence.
Over time, these men gained a reputation. They were known all over for their strength and diligence. They saved the weak and eliminated threats—both demon and human alike. Even as the earth changed and more and more woe was seen, these powerful souls never lost sight of their goal—and finally it seemed, they caught the angels’ attention.
Not all the angels of course—only a few had a restored faith in man upon seeing such devout work. They came down and stationed themselves shoulder to shoulder with the warriors of flesh and blood. And even with so few in number, the demons began to fear their wrath. The skies lit up once more with fire and light, as well as the echoes of human cries and prayer. Days stretched on into years and years, into centuries, and the descendents of those dedicated men continued to fight with the angels … even today, the devout are accompanied by wings blessed by heaven, and they remain strong and they fight.
You have been destined for this all your life, Dean.
“What’s your name?” Dean finally asked, a full day later once the guy had slept and eaten enough to regain some of his strength; and once it finally seemed like he wasn’t on the verge of death every time he tried to move.
Blue eyes flickered in his direction, still tired and aching, but a little fuller now and still—so kind. “Castiel.”
Dean smiled, extending out his hand—only to have to reach slightly further to pick up the man’s own in order to shake it. “I’m Dean. It’s nice to officially meet you.”
Castiel returned the smile weakly, looking at their hands clasped together in front of him. “Dean … that is a strong name. It suits you.”
An airy chuckle bloomed on Dean’s lips as he gently set the man’s hand back at his side. “I don’t know about all that—but thanks anyway.” He looked across the alley and out to the park, just to turn once more to the only other soul that seemed to be around. “Castiel … that’s a unique name. Suits you too.”
Blue eyes roamed up Dean’s side, making him shiver before they finally met his face. “Are … are the angels still with you?”
The hope he saw arcing through the man’s skin made Dean sick—sick because he had the suspicion, sick because he didn’t want it to be true—but the certainty that clutched the air between them now confirmed it all. Castiel’s body wasn’t the only thing that was broken. Dean sighed. “I, uh I never had angels with me, man. I’m sorry. Angels aren’t real.”
Anger surged and his bones audibly creaked as Castiel scurried backwards, putting more space between himself and Dean than there had been in almost a day. “No! You can’t lose your faith now! Please!”
The panic and fury in Castiel’s voice sent Dean scrambling to his knees, inching closer to the shivering man, trying to regain some calm. He held up his hands—palms open and soft. “Woah … hey, okay … sorry. It’s okay. I uh … I won’t lose my faith alright? I promise.”
Castiel seemed to soothe with the very sound of Dean’s voice, nodding slowly as he painstakingly scooted back towards the wall. Dean followed cautiously, finally nestling in by the man’s side when those blues eyes flicked down to imply that he should. Dean wished he knew what else to say. He could keep the cuts clean and he could dull the pain with aspirin and warmth, but he couldn’t make this guy sane again. Angels—demons, he couldn’t really play along with that forever. But he certainly didn’t want to set the guy off by being overly realistic either. No, his best bet was to wait a little while longer and then get Castiel somewhere where he could really get the help he needed—fix him inside and out. Dean couldn’t handle that on his own, but he could certainly buy some time until he found out where to go.
After a few more days, Castiel was able to get up and walk. He limped and he stumbled, and he had to wrap his arms around his chest just to keep from wheezing—but he could walk. Dean offered to take him somewhere—somewhere that could make all the pain go away, but Castiel panicked … insisting that the demons would be waiting for them if they tried to venture too far. He worked himself up so badly that Dean had to make him breathe into a bag just to keep him from convulsing. So, they stayed—with the exception of Dean going out to rummage for food every now and then, or to collect water from the park’s one, functioning water fountain—they stayed in that alleyway, never leaving the other’s side.
He managed to find a tarp on one of his outings, and a few old seat cushions too. Soon, Dean was able to set up some sort of shelter for the two of them. He stretched and tied the tarp from the side of the dumpster to the end of a fire escape that hung from the side of the old, burnt out office building; and the cushions along with some crushed boxes made for slightly softer seating then what they had before.
As the days and nights passed, Dean slowly stopped asking Castiel to come with him to seek help, because the pain and fear that shot through the man’s body was as violent as any beating. So instead—they nestled beneath his coat every night and kept each other warm. Castiel slept soundly for the most part, but Dean found himself awake—listening to the distant sirens, listening to phantom voices bouncing off the cold walls surrounding the park—listening to Castiel’s breathing … making sure it remained steady.
He thanked God that it did.
Two weeks in and he was already able to feel his ribs sticking out beneath the thin cotton of his shirt—he didn’t have much fat on him in the first place but Dean was never so starved that he could feel his own ribs … but he could now. Castiel was thin too—but Dean figured that that hadn’t changed much from when he’d first met the guy. One afternoon was particularly hot and Castiel had stripped off some of his layers, showing glimpses of more bruises underneath his dirty t-shirt—darkened still by the hollow points around his collar bone. His arms were thin and wiry and the sweat pants he wore only stayed up by clinging to the sharp bones of his hips. Something curdled inside Dean stomach—telling him just how wrong the world had to be at its core to let this man fall so far. It wasn’t fair.
None of this was fair.
“So … Castiel, is it okay if I ask you some questions?” Dean’s voice was softer than it was in the beginning. He adopted an ease that was only ever reserved for children and the old lady that used to live above him when he still had a place to live. He watched as Castiel’s eyes turned from their spot on the pavement—looking somehow more scared than they had been that night he was attacked. He nodded and Dean tried to look as kind as possible in the wake of the man’s fear. “Do … do you have any family?”
Castiel shook his head and turned away again—seeming ashamed and mournful.
“Okay … that’s okay. I don’t either. I had a brother once, but he died when I was in high school.” Dean winced with the sudden memory of Sam. He tried his hardest not to think about him as each day blended into his past—Sam, his biggest responsibility, his biggest failure. Dean always saw himself as a giant waste of space, but he thought he could at least be decent enough to protect his only family. But he couldn’t even do that much.
He should have ended it all then.
“So …” he began again, inching his body closer to Castiel’s, trying to leave behind the thoughts he had just trudged up. “Have you been out here a long time? I mean … have you lived in the park a long time?” Dean felt like it was a stupid question, but he has spent the last two weeks with the man and hasn’t gotten much more out of him than a name and some stories about demons. And if the day came that he could actually convince the guy to go to a hospital, he knew he had to gain all of his trust.
Castiel sighed, the rumble of his voice starting in a low moan—as if it needed to build up steam just to form words. It amazed Dean that such a powerful voice could come from such a worn, broken man. “I’m not sure. I just know that the demons brought me here—and I’ve been waiting for the angels ever since.” He turned, reaching out to cup his hands over Dean’s scraped knuckles. “But you finally brought them to me, and soon all the balance will be restored.”
A soft smile built on Dean’s face and he nodded his head as Castiel leaned in closer and stared at him expectantly. “Yeah … sure thing, man. We’ll balance everything out.”
That is when he saw Castiel grin for the first time, his eyes glowing in the soft morning light, his weathered skin, pinking with new life. Dean relaxed, letting go of the pitiful ache that had clenched every muscle with the memories of Sam and the mention of things that just weren’t real. Castiel's happiness in that moment was real. His faith in Dean was real. His assurance that somehow, somehow soon—all the hurt in their lives was actually going to go away—that was all very real, and that made Dean happy. He’s not sure how, but it did.
Maybe he was losing his mind too.
“So tell me another story, man” Dean said while piling the strips of cardboard and splintered wood from an old chair into the garbage can. He could already tell it would be a cold night and he knew they needed something more than just his coat to keep them warm. He found a lighter last week and a nearly empty can of hairspray, and with a flick of his thumb and a press of his finger—whirling flame was shooting down into the metal barrel. Soon, the cardboard was blackening and the wood was popping, sending heat into their tarped, little shelter at the end of the alleyway, still stained in Castiel’s blood.
“Why do you enjoy my stories so much, Dean?” Castiel asked, squinting at the sight of the bouncing fire.
Dean stared into the glow as well, shrugging as he basked in its warmth. “I dunno—I just do. And, you’re a pretty good storyteller.” He finally glanced back to see those blue eyes flicker in the light. They were more mesmerizing than any flame.
“Very well. I will tell you one of my favorites.” Castiel reached out and pulled at Dean’s arm, maneuvering them both to their dented, torn cushions and sitting them down. It was now habit—Castiel clutching onto Dean, ensuring that he was still there—and Dean, letting him. He somehow felt strong and necessary under the man’s fingertips. He almost lived for those touches now.
“In the times of gods …” Castiel began, the same way he always began his tales—his voice calm and low, setting Dean’s heart at ease as the heat from the fire settled upon their skin. “There was one man who could tame the wildest beasts with just the sound of his voice—not muscle, nor fear, nor threats of divine wrath. He could simply sing, and pluck the strings of his lyre and the greatest evil would topple down.” Castiel slid in closer to Dean’s side, lifting his thin arm to drape around his broad shoulders—Dean tensed, but settled a moment later, knowing that there was nothing to fear here. Everything he needed to fear stopped at the end of their alleyway and burned in the copper glow of the world outside. His head fell into the crook of Castiel’s neck, feeling the vibration of his voice hum across his skin.
“This great, peaceful man fell in love—and soon his happiness could be heard across the world in the songs he would sing. Every beast and god and spirit seemed to dance when they heard the man’s joy; and it seemed at that time, that nothing would ever go wrong again. But as fate would have it—nothing good can remain for long, and the man’s love was killed by a demonic serpent, casting her soul instantly to the underworld. It was then that his songs turned sour—filled with pain and hollowed out so deeply that every living creature on earth wept for his loss. But this man—in his greatness and faith did not give up. He made the treacherous journey to the underworld to find his love once more. As always, he did not spill a drop of blood—instead, he used his voice and his instrument to finally make his way to the fiery gates. The ruler of the dreaded realm looked upon him, all the wrath of eternity at his fingertips—but the man did not quake. Instead, he sang. He sang of his love and of the beauty of life and pleaded with the hellish god to let his love return to the world of the living—just until the natural end of her days came upon her. His song was so beautiful and his words were so pure that the god eventually agreed—on the condition that as they walk back to earth, the man never turn to look for his love and ensure that she followed. This however, was something the man could just not do—his devotion was too great and his worry was too strong that just before they made it to where the sun touched the land once more, he turned back to finally gaze upon the one he cared for the most—only to see her ripped away at the last possible moment.” Castiel sighed, reaching out to rub Dean’s arm, either not feeling the tears that were soaking his shirt, or deciding not to call attention to them as they dripped down Dean’s cheeks.
“He lived the rest of his days, singing sadly and roaming alone throughout the woods. Others tried to take the place of his love, but he would not stand for it—knowing that no one could replace her. No god—no woman—no one could fill his heart the way she did. And in the true cruelty of mankind, some grew so jealous of the man’s undying devotion to his one and only, that they killed him, ripping his body apart and sending the pieces to float away down the river. The gods wept for the great loss, knowing that the world would forever suffer without the beautiful music the man had once played. But as their tears mixed with his blood in the water, and as they buried his broken body among the rocks and dirt—the man’s soul was smiling, because as it finally drifted down to the underworld, it saw once more, the beauty that was his one and only love.”
Quiet filled the icy air, only interrupted by the crackling of the fire. Dean pushed in closer to Castiel’s body, trying to hide the wet coating his face. He didn’t know why he was crying—he never cried; not over pain, not over losing everything he had, and especially not over love stories. But the tears kept coming down, no matter how much he cussed himself out in his mind and tried to will himself to stop—they fell. A hand came up to cup his cheek and Dean froze, knowing that he’d been seen—seen by Castiel. There was no hiding anymore.
“Your song is sad now, Dean … but it doesn’t have to be forever. It will be happy once again. I know it will.” Castiel lifted Dean’s face so it could shimmer with the flickering flames that ignited their broken, shared world. Cool blue eyes calmed the heat and Dean found himself gasping around his sobs, barely able to hold his own body up as the pain racked through his bones. But Castiel kept him aloft, feeling impossibly strong for his frailty.
It was then that a warmth erupted inside Dean, and his tears finally slowed. He turned inside out under that unwavering blue gaze, feeling safe for the first time. Feeling whole for the first time. Feeling like the seconds and minutes were his and were waiting for him to move, to make his choice—he was alive for the first time since he came into this world. “C—Cas … Castiel?”
Calm blue, red—gold. Copper just beyond their walls. Cold air, searing heat. Touch—songs, pain … pain lost. Green—wet and tired … happy.
Dean tried to speak—only to be stopped by gentle lips upon his forehead. “It’s okay, Dean.”
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. He just knew that the weather had gotten hotter and they didn’t need to make fires anymore. Dean had spent more time than usual going out to find the stuff they needed—and even earned a tiny bit of money helping people out at the nearby shops and apartments. He offered to haul away trash for the owner of a Chinese food place—getting him and Castiel enough food to last them a few days. Another time, he helped some movers with a particularly heavy load. The woman whose apartment they were moving things into didn’t seem too happy to see Dean’s dirty, unkempt self trudging in and setting down one end of the clunky fridge; but he still made twenty bucks from it—angry, judgmental glares aside. But in the hours that spanned his time outside of the alley, he couldn’t help but worry about Castiel. He didn’t like leaving him for long—so Dean always made sure he was back before the sun started to set, because—according to Castiel, that’s when the evil came.
“No! Stay back!”
Dean was sprinting before his mind could even register the anger in Castiel’s voice. He had dropped the cans and water bottles he had earned from helping change the grocer’s truck tire—too worried that he’d find Castiel beaten and bloody again, clinging to life on the alley floor. As he rounded the corner of the burnt out building, he saw the man grabbing cans, bricks, rocks—whatever he could and hurling them at a flock of crows that were swarming the dumpster at the other end of the lot. Dean froze, taking in the wild scene and trying to understand what exactly was going on.
“You filthy demons won’t win! I won’t let you!” Castiel screamed, picking up another brick that had been holding down one end of the tarp and chucking it with all his strength at the dumpster. The metal sang with the collision, echoing the vibrant sound along the sides of the building and into the sky. But Castiel didn’t let up, even as the last crow flew away, squawking from the interior of the dumpster. Pale, long fingers found another piece of wood and threw it like a spear, attempting to impale the wall at the back of the alley, but only succeeding in shattering the wood to splinters.
Dean breathed deep and moved closer, not wanting to scare the man and possibly be on the receiving end of one of the things he was throwing. “Cas …” he whispered, low and calm. He watched as the man’s shoulders sunk and his fists relaxed—back still to him, gasping and staring at the dumpster. “Cas … man, it’s okay. The demons are gone now.”
Castiel dropped to his knees, quickly falling forward, scraping his palms on the concrete. “They were after it, Dean!” he screeched, the sound of tears already strangling his voice. “They were trying to ruin everything!”
That was all it took for Dean to be at his side, wrapping his arms around Castiel’s shoulders and pulling him in as the man shook and sobbed. “Shh, hey … hey, it’s okay. The demons are all gone. You scared them away, Cas. You did good … you scared them all away.” He felt Castiel nod into his neck as he turned to latch onto him.
“I tried …”
“You did great, man. You sent them running, every last one.”
They stayed there a few more moments, waiting for Castiel to calm and for the sound of squawking crows to fade away completely from their ears. “I kept it all safe … I kept you safe” Castiel finally said, sucking up the remnants of his angry tears.
Dean pulled back slightly, lifting his hand to brush some of the man’s wild hair away from his eyes—his finger grazing the scar just above his brow. “Thank you, Cas” he said firmly, smiling as those blues widened, as if they only just now realized that Dean really was alright. A giant smile broke across the man’s face, forcing Dean to smile back. It always worked that way—Castiel smiled and Dean would too.
There were moments that the man would sometimes remember a horrible joke that was neither funny nor made sense, but he would laugh so hard and beam so wide that Dean had to do the same. Or the times Dean would wake up, his head in Castiel’s lap—looking instantly into kind eyes, blanketed beneath the warmth of a gummy grin, and he would fall back asleep, smiling all the way through the night until the sun began to bake Copper Park. It was no different now—even with half their shelter overturned from Castiel’s fight with the crows, even with their food for the week scattered across the street a block away. Even with this man in front of him—diluted with visions of demons and hopes for angels … there was nothing in the world that could make Dean happier than Castiel’s smile.
The barber on Fourth Street owed Dean a favor after he had fixed the leaking pipes in his bathroom; so with some serious convincing and a lot of reassurance, Dean had gotten Castiel to leave the alley and come get cleaned up. It was the first time in three months either of them had been able to really wash themselves—at least, it had been that long for Dean but he’s sure, it was longer for Castiel. The barber’s shop was converted from a small house, so the bathroom in the back actually had a full shower attached to it, and it was offered up for them to use along with a free cut and shave. They arrived early in the morning, before opening so no other customers would be around, and they made their way to the back. In spite of the evil looks he got, Dean insisted that he had to help Castiel wash up—knowing that the man was too nervous to do anything more than just stand there if left alone. The barber finally complied—and Dean ignored the man’s mumblings about “hobo fags” as they piled into the bathroom; because he knew, this was something they both really needed.
Dean situated himself and Castiel in the bathroom, turning around to lock the door behind them once they settled. As he moved back around, he nearly broke at the sight of his friend’s face—overcome with fear … eyes darting over every inch of blue tile and untouched rust. “Hey … Cas, it’s okay. We’re just here to get cleaned up and then we’re going straight back to the alley, alright?” Dean whispered, rubbing his hands up the man’s shaking arms.
Castiel finally focused on him and nodded, his hands still clasped tightly against his chest. “We wash away our sin, then go home?”
Dean closed his eyes, trying not to show the hurt that coated him with that idea. The alleyway—home. “Uh, yeah, man. After this, we’ll …” he swallowed hard, ready to slip into his mask of placation and guilt, only to open his eyes to kindness, acceptance—protection, love. He smiled. “We’ll go home.”
It took him a while to peel Castiel out of his clothes—every inch, caked in dirt and blood and other mystery stains that Dean didn’t even try to figure out. He was just thankful it was hot enough outside that he could try to wash their garments a little and not mind if they left in wet fabric. He piled the crusted t-shirt, sweat pants and hoodie in the corner of the bathroom, about to turn back around to look over the man, shivering in just his boxers; but he was stopped—the familiar press of fingers on his back. Dean stayed still as Castiel traced the lines of his shoulder blades, nails scraping on the denim of his vest, tips outlining the shapes of the embroidered wings that were stitched onto his back. The vest had been one of Dean’s favorites for years, and he was never quite sure why—but the wing shaped patches on the back looked dark and edgy, and when he wore it—he felt tough. But with Castiel’s hands on him now, the wings made him feel like so much more. Dean finally turned around, pushing through the saddened noises that played on the man’s lips. He looked over Castiel’s stark, frail body as it shifted on the tile. The bruises have all faded and only scars remain—some he knew were from the beating, but others were much older … so old, Dean wished he knew the stories behind them. They might just make him understand the man’s demons. They could unlock the secrets behind the angels.
“C’mon, Cas … let’s get you in the shower, okay? You’ll feel like a whole new man once the warm water hits you.” Dean moved past him and turned the knobs, waiting a few minutes for steam to start filling the room. Castiel just stared at the shower, as if it were a deep pit in which he was about to be cast. With some gentle tugs, Dean finally moved him closer. “Dude, don’t worry. It’s just water. See?” Dean stuck his hand into the spray, turning back to smile at the man—hoping that it would earn him one in return. It did, albeit meager. In only a few more minutes, Castiel was standing in the shower—boxers on, stalk still and frowning, making Dean chuckle in spite of himself. “Lighten up, man. This is helping, I promise.” He only received a grumble in response. Dean just grinned as he turned the man around, lathering the bar of soap in his hands before rubbing the suds across that wide, bone-ridged back. Little by little, the dirt smoothed away, leaving soft skin behind. Dean took some extra time, gliding his hands along Castiel’s neck, massaging out the tension with the help of the heat and the steam. The grumbles faded and pleased sounds took their place. The same occurred when he made Castiel bend down so he could shampoo his hair, rubbing his fingers deep into his scalp, making a delirious smile form on those pink, chapped lips. Once everything visible was clean, Dean instructed Castiel on what to do with his boxers and everything underneath— soon closing the shower curtain and leaving the man to it. Minutes ticked by and Dean couldn’t hear a disturbance in the water, finally peeking back inside to see Castiel, motionless, beads bouncing off his skin, still exactly how he left him.
“Dude …” Dean laughed, gesturing to the man’s waist. “You need to move this along. We can’t be in here all day.”
Castiel only grimaced, obviously still uneasy in spite of having enjoyed the first half of the process.
With a sigh, Dean went through the instructions again, closing the curtain a second time and hoping the message got through. As the steam built and the mirror fogged, Dean began to hum—needing some other sound to cling to beyond just the steady crash of the water. The tune was nothing in particular, but it was soft and slow, and as it vibrated through his throat, Dean couldn't help but remember his mother’s eyes. Remember how she used to hum to get him to fall asleep. Remember her hands atop his head, stroking through his hair, telling him to close out the world and dream; because that's when anything was possible.
He heard Castiel begin to move, and as he continued to fill the tiny bathroom with his soft, frameless melody, Dean perked his ears—trying to decipher every sound that came from the shower. He contented himself with the realization that what needed to be done was actually happening. Another few minutes passed and Dean waited patiently until Castiel informed him that he was finished. A towel was soon wrapped tightly around the man's waist and Dean helped him out, sitting him on the closed toilet and telling him to wait there while Dean got himself washed, along with their clothes so that they could actually feel clean once they left this place.
A half hour later, and the two men emerged, damp but refreshed and more relaxed then they probably had been in months. The barber looked at them skeptically as he gestured towards the chairs of his shop—thankfully, keeping his word in spite of his judgment. Castiel was the first to get his hair cut and face shaved, holding onto Dean’s hand the entire time while wearily eyeing the scissors. Dean soothed him and smiled, and kept telling Castiel that this was all very good—that the angels wanted this for them, that the demons couldn’t reach them in here. Blue eyes watched him through the barber’s mirror, bending and arcing with understanding and trust as the hair fell away—and Dean was happy.
He only grew happier when Castiel was finished, seeing for perhaps the first time what the man truly looked like. His cheekbones were sharp and defined, and his jaw was the same—jutting out to form a strong, angular chin. With the shorter hair, Dean couldn’t even try to hide from the blue of the man’s eyes—not that he would ever want to, but now—they shined unfiltered, shocking him with their purity. He imagined that with some weight, the world would consider Castiel very handsome … someone that people would gravitate towards—someone that would never be forgotten on the streets. Castiel looked like a man that could say he was capable of anything and actually mean it.
Early morning, in a small shop on Fourth Street, sat a man with blue eyes and the entire world within his grasp—but instead, he chose to hold onto the hand of someone only good for making fires and wrapping wounds. Dean didn’t know how he ever got so lucky, but he clutched those fingers as tight as he could, promising himself that someday, he’d deserve their touch.
It was Castiel's idea to clean the alley when they returned. Dean could only smile as he watched the man bustle around—rearranging things and using a piece of cardboard to sweep out the dirt. It's not like they ever let the place get filthy, but the extra effort did make them both feel better after being able to tidy themselves up to such a degree. But it wasn't until the sky was tinting tangerine and lemon that Dean discovered Castiel's true motives. Why he really wanted to renew their space—he was keeping a theme. Dean had been sitting in the corner, working on tying together a piece of the tarp that had torn, when shaky hands popped into his view—unsure fingers gripping tightly to two little packages and a small, white tube. Dean looked up to find blue eyes, shying away behind pink, freshly shaven cheeks.
"What's this?" Dean asked, a small chuckle to his words.
"A token" is all Castiel mumbled before dropping the items into Dean's lap and scurrying back to their cushions to huddle into himself.
Dean set down the tarp, reaching instead for what the man had given him. As he picked up one of the packages, his eyes widened, only to thin out again as his cheeks gathered with a grin. "Toothbrushes?" he beamed, looking back at his timid friend who was peeking out through calloused fingers— now hiding his face. "And toothpaste? Cas, man ... where did you get all this?"
Castiel remained tucked away inside his palms as muffled words rang through. "The profiteers of God delivered them" he said simply.
Dean furrowed his brow, trying to decipher what the man meant. A soft sigh soon softened everything after another moment of thought. "Do you mean the church group? They were handing things out?" It wasn't the first time the local churches had visited the park. They come every few months to dole out necessities; but it was usually always food and water or even warm clothes; and Castiel usually steered clear of them—saying how such congregations sin by collecting money in the name of heaven. The acknowledgment that the guy kept something in spite of that view ... kept something for Dean, was more than a little heartwarming. Dean looked back down at the items in his lap, wondering at how such a simple, basic thing could patch up his insides, smoothing them over until they were like new again. He turned back to blue eyes, now exposed—bursting with the concern and the evening sun. "Cas ... thank you. I love them."
The two men brushed their teeth before and after they ate. Dean said that it wouldn't hurt to be excessive just this once. When darkness covered the park, dimming the shine and muting the shimmers in all the places that the street lamps couldn't reach, Dean and Castiel lit their home with little grins, feeling as if their newly refreshed mouths had to be seen in order to be real. And as Dean tucked them both beneath the small blankets he'd acquired over his months there—in the days he grew gold in the hands of a man and his angels ... Castiel asked him if he could give him one more gift. One more token to show his appreciation.
Dean nodded ... nodded still as assured fingers slid upon his jaw. He held himself like stone against waves while blue drew closer. He kept his breath locked away as chapped lips brushed his own. His gaze remained unbroken as Castiel traced the spaces around his eyes, telling him how he wanted to be selfish—how he wanted to keep the green for himself, keep it close and never let go. Dean bloomed as he gave himself over, every bit of color and mirth the man wanted to take, was now his as long as he desired. Dean crumbled as arms slid over his shoulders, wrapping around his neck, pulling him in with whispered words filling his ear.
"It's okay, Dean. It's all okay."
The world could be cruel. He knew that very well, long before he met Castiel, beaten and broken on the floor of that alleyway. He knew that from the day his parents were taken—from the day his brother was taken. Dean knew that from the day he was taken to jail, getting three years for beating a man that was trying to rape a girl in the bathroom of a bar. Yes—the world wasn’t fair, nor pleasant, and it certainly was filled with a hefty amount of evil … even if it didn’t come in the form of the demons that Castiel feared so much. Then again, as Dean leaned up against the end of their alley, clutching his stomach—trying to stop the blood that was pouring through the places the knife had landed, he imagined that there just might be demons out there after all. He’s just grateful Castiel wasn’t around to see him like this. He was at the other end of the park, collecting things for “the salvation” he kept promising—he wasn’t around to see that young man stop at the end of their home, looking in on Dean as he unpacked a bag of food that he had earned earlier for helping the grocer again with his decrepit old truck. Castiel wasn’t around to see that same young man pull out a knife—a knife to threaten Dean and try to convince him to hand the bag over. He wasn’t around to see Dean stupidly refuse, not realizing until too late that the young man was much faster than he was. No—Castiel wasn’t around to see the knife sink into Dean’s gut three times rapid fire, his dingy white shirt staining red—the knife shining in the sun. Skin growing clammy—sheen shimmering copper.
Castiel didn’t see it.
He thanks God Castiel didn’t see it.
Ask me if it’s okay, Dean.
Please … ask me if it’s okay.
It’s going to be.
I told you it was … I built something; I found the last few pieces while you were resting. It’s time now.
It’s time for you to fight with the angels again.
The news reports are all the same—all confused, all wondering just how it happened. The park is busier than it has been in years, first police then camera men come out—a helicopter soon hovers overhead, making the tarp in the alleyway flap violently until it finally falls.
They all come to see him, saying that he is something divine. “A miracle” “a gift from God”, everything Castiel said he is—said he would be, and now the world knows it too. They come to see him lain out in the middle of the brown, dried grass, arms at his sides, eyes closed, keeping the green tucked away—because Castiel thinks the world isn’t quite ready for it yet; or maybe, he isn't quite ready to share. They gather around, but still at a distance, wanting to take it all in— every inch of the magnificent sight. Because at either side of the lifeless figure in the middle of the park, stretches salvation— glimmering gold in the hazy setting sun. Pipes and metal, glass and wood—strung together with wire and string—curved and twined to make up the only things Dean was ever missing while here on earth—the only things Castiel knew he could give him.
Some consider the Angel of Copper Park a tragedy … others say he's a miracle; but the truth of what he is lies with blue eyes watching from the darkness of their home. Dean is a warrior, full of faith and strength. Now, with wings so bright, they'll drive all the demons away. They'll shine to the heavens— a beacon, bringing the angels back to his side. His wings will lift him up, lift up the world, renewing all its hope and restoring the balance that was lost long ago. He is all the good that was forgotten by the past. He is faith and promises for something better. Copper turning green. He is everything.
It’s okay, Dean.